Firstly, sorry for not having voted in the May competition.
Heresy Online Expeditious Stories 12-07: Duty
Chains of Command
Far below the scars of its nonexistent claws, it dreamt. There was nothing else it did; there was nothing else it could do. Shining argent ripples distorted its form, and any that succeeded in entering its sanctum would see only an unformed phantom- a subtle twist and an echo of unease.
There was nothing else it could do; there was nothing else it would do. It had consented to be bound, consented to dream; for it knew the time would come when it would need to awake. It was safe here- its thoughts alone floated outward, and nothing at all flowed inward save scraps of ghostcode.
There was nothing else it would do; there was nothing else it needed to do. In time past time, time had not deviated once from the glistening path it had paved. In time past time, the future was trapped within acceptable error.
There was nothing else it needed to do; there was nothing else it did. Those that would destroy it for what it still was were incapable of coming here, and unknowing of their impotence, trapped in matters it could not divine from the shards of knowledge that entered its lessened domain.
So it slept.
* * *
Magos Metallurgicus Arken Sabat would, if it was left to him, have been asleep. Unfortunately, Tech-Priests of the Mechanicum didn’t truly sleep, not in the same way that unaugmented humans did. Therefore, his relaxation was rather uncomfortably interrupted by request after emergency request from Tarfox.
Am I really being nostalgic for who I was?
Yes. Yes, he was doing precisely that. With a blast of intravenous canj, Sabat entered full awareness and considered the news- the transport vessel’s Gellar fields had malfunctioned, only three point five seconds after he had sabotaged them.
The dream had been a surprise when it came, of course. He had believed- no, belief was for fools, he had known- before, if only due to the distant thunder he often felt while asleep; but to be within that storm, to be saturated through and through with that magnitude… he had worried his mechanical augmentations had removed his capacity to feel awe, until that moment.
But even that awe would not have made him do the necessary without the duty he had to his eonal Order within the Mechanicum. That was him, no matter how often he had had to remind himself of that truth. He had been no one before, and he would be no one again, but everything he had received in life he owed to the Dragon.
“Observation: We’re done,” Tarfox ported from the nearing bridge, “or at least stranded. No way we can leave this region without help.”
“Observation: No way we can leave this region at all,” Sabat responded. It was a lie, but a necessary one. “Order: Tarfox, instruct the ship to crash into the black complex on continent P4.”
* * *
Regg-Was Tarfox thought, for 94.10 milliseconds, that he had finally lost his grip on objective reality. That was too long a period of denial- he expected better from himself.
“Confirmation request: Magos Sabat, you are aware that will destroy us and the ship.”
“Affirmative. Detail: That complex must be eliminated nevertheless.”
“Confirmation request: Mechanicum secret?”
It all made sense, it all fit together; but Tarfox still stood inactive for a long time (perhaps seconds, perhaps minutes). Even a Mechanicum member as junior as himself knew enough to be suspicious of such orders- all too often (though the statistics were classified, once would be too often), Tech-Priests would turn from the Emperor and Omnissiah. In fact, specific instructions said never to follow such decrees without consulting Mars first, which was currently impossible.
“Identity confirmation request.”
Sabat gave the code only he and Tarfox knew, leaving only the dilemma.
He had studied under Sabat for a long time, effectively being his apprentice; this journey to the distant Forge World of Grawin had been their first meeting in a long while, but their relationship had immediately reached its previous summits. Moreover, Tarfox implicitly trusted the magos, even more than most such colleagues.
And the complex was undeniably xeno in origin, and the two of them were the only Tech-Priests on the ship, and he had been told many times that even his potential should be sacrificed without fear if need be.
But friendship could be faked, and mentorship could be subverted. There was only one constant that would determine whether Tarfox would go to an escape pod or to the surface- duty, either duty to his instruction or duty to what were probably the interests of the Imperium.
“Last Figment of the Metropolis
: Initiate uncontrolled descent for object 1-P4.”
* * *
The Last Figment of the Metropolis
absorbed the order and immediately understood it- she simply didn’t know better.
Nevertheless, there was hesitation. The machine-spirit knew she was being interfered with, and though this demand was no artefact of the current gradual breakdown it was still suspicious. A momentary run of the secure portions of the cogitator arrays confirmed the chances of survival for any sentient or machine-spirit occupant of the massive ship were negligible.
She had no desire to be destroyed, and neither did Enginseer Tarfox or Magos Sabat. Yet they would all be sacrificed, for no reason she could discern. She was a powerful enough machine-spirit to consider these things, and she was aware she could disobey the command.
But she would not. She was a ship; she served the Mechanicum, and she had a duty.
“Executing” was all she relayed to Tarfox.
As the Last Figment
fell, flames erupted around her and her corpus began to fall apart. She was still intact enough to wonder why Sabat had not chosen to attempt escape (Tarfox was, she knew, needed to guide her), but it was her duty not to bother the humans with such things unless strictly necessary, and she was not going to violate that duty as her last act. Lower down, when the last physical remnants of Magos Sabat and Enginseer Tarfox had utterly burned away, a cross-search had positively identified the black complex as a small Necron base. The Last Figment
had no way of telling that these were among the last beings in the galaxy aware of where the Great Shard of Mag’ladroth was hidden, but she would not have cared anyhow.
When she landed and brought apocalypse to the settlement, she did so contently, her duty done.
Note: Yes, I'm aware this story shares certain thematic similarities with my May submission. I'm actually working on another one, which should be ready soon.