The wheeled chair creaked in protest as Skarthax leaned in, squinting at the monitor. Despite the shift in angle, the contents of the spreadsheet remained as indecipherable as ever—a jumble of competing functions that had populated every last cell with depressingly low numbers. Productivity was down. It’d been down. And no matter how hard Skarthax tried, the boxes in the ‘Totals’ column stayed highlighted that angry shade of red.
“Bloody excel,” the World Eater muttered sadly. He wished he could go far back in time and disembowel the wretch who’d invented the cursed program.
Well, wishing didn’t accomplish much, and his totals weren’t going to change themselves.
Sighing, Skarthax focused his attention on row 463. He narrowed his eyes at the contact info—and groaned aloud at the name he saw there. “Not again…” Dejectedly, he crammed on his headset and punched out an alphanumeric on the keypad of his vox set. A repeating monotone sounded in his ear as the number rang out. Beep…. Beep… Beep… Beep…
Just as he’d resigned himself to leaving a voicemail, the speaker crackled into life. He shifted in his seat, licking his lips hopefully. “Hello?”
There was a series of muffled scraping noises as the driver presumably rummaged in the seat cushion for his handset. A few curses. Then, ”Yeah? What?”
“Hello!” Skarthax said with entirely false brightness. He forced a smile onto his craggy features, his sharpened teeth turning the expression into a leer that his listener fortunately couldn’t see. Smile when you’re speaking on the net, the trainers had constantly repeated during orientation. It’ll find its way into your voice! Customers appreciate a positive attitude! “Hello,” he fake-grinned, “this is Skarthax, I’m with Transportation. Is this… uh…” He glanced fleetingly at the contact info, “…Bardus?”
“No,” the speaker said with annoyance. “I don’t know who that is. This is Alpharius.”
Oh for the love of Khorne. “Alpharius. Right, that’s fine, my mistake.”
“Damn right it’s your mistake!”
“Look, Alpharius, I need a status on this shipment you’re carrying. The Company of Misery is counting on that ammo and they keep calling in saying they expected it yesterday. Can you give me an ETA?”
“I can’t say.”
Skarthax fought to keep his agitation under control. “You’re not one of the bloody Mournival and we’re on the same team here. All I want to know is, when can the customer expect his shipment?”
“Sorry but I’m just not in a position to guess at that. Have you seen traffic on the belt recently? Plus, the nuclear fallout is really messing with my GPS. If I gave you an ETA, it’d be a lie, and you know how bad my legion hates lying.”
The World Eater minimized his window and pulled up the tracking system. “But my tracker says you’ve been stopped at your current coordinate for 36 hours!” He knew for a fact that there was a Slaaneshi bordello at that precise location, but it wouldn’t have been seemly to point that out.
There was a feminine giggle in the background, quickly suppressed. Then, “Uh… Bro, there’s a tunnel coming up. Actually I’m going in now. Tzzzzzztttkkkzzzzzztzz…”
At this point Skarthax lost his cool completely. “Oy! What the hell? There’s no tunnel! You’re making that sound with your mouth! Oy! Alpharius? Alpharius?” But the line was already disconnected.
Aggravated, he tore off the headset and tossed it against the monitor, which flickered in protest. “Fuck!”
“Alpha Legion, huh?” Dago emerged from the cubicle beside him, arms folded. The Iron Warrior’s pristine battle plate was half-covered in yellow and black chevrons. It gave the distinct impression that some construction vehicle had chugged into the office and gotten a mite too comfortable.
“Who else?” sighed Skarthax. He wished his coworker would just bugger off, but he was too nice a guy to say so.
Dago nodded sympathetically. “Never a straight answer from that lot. You need to talk code with those guys. Just spit out enough cryptic-sounding bull and they’ll sing like songbirds. In code, of course.”
“Yeah, well, it all comes naturally to you,” snapped Skarthax. Bloody Iron Warriors were all the same. Prissy oversized cocks and their inferiority complexes, always trying to prove how smart they were. With forced civility, he continued, “Straight forward is the way I prefer things.”
The Iron Warrior’s face took on a smug expression. “How’s that working out for your numbers?”
Skarthax’s choler rose and he was this close to telling Dago to fuck off. But the anger just as quickly faded. What was the point? Beating Dago into a pulped mass of quivering muscle fiber and ceramite splinters wasn’t going to help anyone, least of all him. At this point he just wanted to go home. At least there was cognac there. If Cadians knew one thing, it was cognac. Not that it would get him anywhere near drunk, but still, alcohol was a mute companion and that was awfully welcome.
He glanced at the clock. 2:45. Great. He’d gotten off lunch an hour ago and it felt like he’d been wedged in this office chair since the Great Crusade. Sighing once more, Skarthax swiveled back and forth with all the enthusiasm of a hamster who’d just emerged from hibernation in his balsa wood mini house—disoriented, sleepy, covered in wood shavings and tufts of wild fur growth. It was a bad synonym, sure, but he was too jaded to come up with a better one.
He sniffed as a foul odor permeated the air conditioned space. “Did someone fart?”
Dago’s armored shoulders lifted in what must have been a shrug.
“No, that was me.” Their boss shuffled into view. Monty was Death Guard, and a picture of decay. His rotten green armor was covered in buboes, which wept rancid pus that dribbled onto the floor with every shuffling step—a ready-made meal for the miniature swarm of flies drifting around his head. His bloated face was spread into a swollen facsimile of a grin. “How’re things over here, lads? I heard some strong oaths just now. And you know how I feel about swearing in my office.” He clapped Skarthax on the shoulder, leaving a mucus handprint on the World Eaters sigil.
Dago pointed immediately. “That was him, boss.”
Halfway disgusted at the sycophancy but too tired to care, Skarthax raised a gauntlet. “Yeah, it was me. I cussed.”
“Alpha Legion?” Monty prodded kindly.
The boss chuckled. Some stale coffee splashed from his mug. He swilled the remaining liquid absently. “Ah, those boys. Just when we thought our jobs weren’t difficult enough, pulling order out of chaos and all that.” He alternated a nauseating grin between the two workers, hoping for a laugh. Receiving only faint smirks for his trouble, his shoulders drooped. “Well. Suffice to say we’re a bit unappreciated sometimes. If only people understood that a Black Crusade isn’t going to supply itself! If only they could realize the value of logistical work! But don’t you worry, lads, they’ll figure it out sooner or later. For now… Skarthax, you go ahead and take the rest of the day off, eh?”
“What?” The World Eater jerked in alarm. “You aren’t firing me, are you?”
“No, no, no! You’re one of my best, lad!”
It was a lie, but Skarthax supposed Monty was just being nice. A World Eater stuck in a cubicle. That was utter failure waiting to happen but it hadn’t stopped Lord Sirdag from transferring him. The bastard was probably still laughing.
Monty went on, “I wouldn’t just let you go like that! No, you’ve had a rough day, that’s all. We all have those. Even Dago over there has one every so often. Right, Dago?”
“Absolutely, boss!” the Iron Warrior piped, so giddy at the attention that he was visibly trembling.
“See? So there, you just head on home. I’ll clock you at the usual time. You won’t see any drop in your paycheck. How’s that?”
Understanding that he had no choice in the matter, Skarthax stood. “Well alright. I’ll… uh… I’ll see you both tomorrow.”
“Wednesdays are good days! Extremely productive! We’ll make up for this tomorrow, don’t you worry. One thing before you go, though…”
Skarthax paused mid step, absolutely positive now that he was about to be fired.
Monty pointed at the waste bin. “You mind if I get in there for a minute?”
“Uh… Sure, boss. Go right ahead.”
“Great, thanks.” Monty leaned over and, with infinite care, drew out a crumpled tissue paper. Tongue stuck between his teeth in anticipation, he dropped the tissue into his coffee mug. He took a careful sip, completely unaware of his workers’ appalled expressions, and smiled indulgently. “Ah, yes, now that’s the good stuff. Do I detect a hint of… strep throat?”
“Just got over it last week,” confirmed Skarthax.
“Well you just made my day, lad. Thanks. Now go on, scat.”
Horrified at the poop reference, Skarthax fled in all haste.
He navigated through a veritable labyrinth of cubicles, each populated by a hunched figure in power armor. The dregs of every legion was represented here, and the occasional renegade battle brother as well--though most traitor chapters weren’t so beholden to the Despoiler that they were expected to contribute to the bureaucratic workings of the Black Crusade. The rings of incoming calls reverberated through the amply-sized office, and the gentle tapping of keyboards. The sounds of productivity.
By the Blood God, Skarthax hated this place.
He trudged on through. He passed the secretary, a luscious daemonette named Sin-die, who giggled behind one spotted hand. “Bye, Skar! Be sure to call me if you aren’t doing anything!”
“Sure thing, Sin,” he grumbled. She said the same thing to every Astartes who worked here. All talk and no action, that girl.
A set of shattered glass doors slid open in his path. The walk outside was made of Cadian flak plates, smashed up and artfully arranged so that the bloodstained pieces formed an overlay of eight-pointed stars. Lovely, really. The Word Bearers who’d rechristened the administratum building had really known what they were about. They’d even laminated the whole arrangement in liquefied stained glass plundered from a cathedral. The attention to detail was enviable.
“BOO!” An Astartes in midnight blue armor sprang from a hedgerow, talon-tipped arms flapping theatrically.
Skarthax shuffled by with a nonplussed wave. “Nice try.”
The Night Lord dropped his arms sadly. “Was it, though?”
“It’s the bat wings, brother. I saw them sticking out of the bushes before I even stepped out of the door.”
“Don’t make fun of my bat wings!” the marine bawled.
“They’re bloody stupid. Lose them and you might be getting somewhere. See you around.”
Out in the parking lot, Skarthax felt a welcome stirring of joy. Sarah was there, faithfully parked where he’d left her that morning. Her warp-spawned plates glistened with a fresh sheen of sacrificial blood, and the bronze trim was so brightly polished that he could see his reflection from twenty paces away. The juggernaut snorted at his approach. She pawed the asphalt, eager to be off.
The World Eater smiled. He gave her spiked head an affectionate pat. He retrieved his helmet from the saddle. Once the helmet had borne a proud set of Khornate bunny ears, but a lascannon burst had shorn one off in the first week of the Crusade. With a forlorn sigh, he crammed it over his head. He stooped and peered at his reflection, hoping against hope that he wasn’t as sad a sight as he imagined himself. He was sorely disappointed.
His crimson armor was battle worn, the plates scratched and dented by thousands of blows. A flurry of lasbolts had melted half the Khornate emblem on the breastplate, so that it now had the look of a lumpy capital ‘E’. The dangling chains were devoid of their usual decoration; teenage cultists had broken into his flat and filched the trophy skulls months ago. Uncaring rainfall had washed off every last lovingly-acquired bloodstain. The lone bunny ear only accentuated the unhappy fact: he was a shadow of the berserker he’d once been.
He turned in faint recognition. “Oh. Corey. How’re things?”
His fellow World Eater stopped short. “Corpser,” he corrected in a plaintive tone.
Within his helmet, Skarthax smiled whimsically, remembering the long-gone days when he’d shared that same enthusiasm. When he’d had pride. He missed that. “Sorry, Corpser. It’s been a long day.”
His fellow brightened a bit. “Yeah well, that’s alright. You’ve been at it a while. Say,” he gestured at Sarah, “I’m liking the hooves. What’s that, warp onyx?”
“It is! Glad someone noticed! I installed them last weekend.”
Corpser squatted beside the juggernaut, eying the new hooves appreciatively. His gaze panned across the mount’s ample bulk. “She’s a beaut, bro. Love what you’ve done with her.”
“Get your own,” laughed Skarthax.
“Aw, someday. Tickets to the Bloody Realm are tough to come by these days. Looks like it’ll be a while until I get to the dealership. Despoiler doesn’t want his Crusade wandering off on him. So I’m stuck here, with that.” He jerked his head at the scarlet rhino on the opposite side of the lot.
“That’s not a bad ride. I like the spikes. How’s the gas mileage?”
“Oh, fantastic.” Corpser rolled his eyes. There was an awkward pause. Then, “Well, the reason I came over here. You look like I feel. Like you’re needing an escape. There’s a thing tonight. At the arena. Gladiator fight. I’ve got a spare ticket if you want to go.”
Skarthax frowned. “You’re not asking me out on a date are you?”
Corpser looked genuinely horrified. “Oh by the Bloody Lord, hell no. But you’re the only other World Eater around here, so I thought I’d make you the offer first. Better you than some sorry ass Night Lord. That one back there try to get you too?”
“He did. Poor bastard. He’s been trying for months now.”
“Those bat wings are totally fucking stupid.”
“Totally,” nodded Skarthax. He winced at the youth-emism. Shit, but he was old.
“But really, you want the ticket or not?”
Skarthax thought about it. “No, that’s alright. Try giving it to Royd. You know, that amped-up Word Bearer in accounting?”
“You sure?” goaded Corpser, waving the scrap of parchment at him. “They say the Betrayer himself is attending! I mean, that’s not necessarily a good thing but they’re gonna draw random ticket numbers, and the winners get to run out in the arena and kill a few Cadian prisoners. Strictly B-Y-O-B, is the only catch.”
“Bring Your Own Battleaxe, dolt.”
“I’m too old for that stuff now, brother. Acronyms and such. I just can’t keep up anymore. Give the ticket to some young berserker who can appreciate it. I’m just going to head home.” Sarah stooped obligingly, and he heaved himself into the saddle with a grunt. “Enjoy the arena, Corpser.” With a happy snort, the juggernaut trotted off, her hooves tearing deep gouges in the pavement.
The young World Eater watched him go, still holding the ticket out. “You’re only old when you let yourself be, bro!”
“Thanks!” Skarthax called over his shoulder. He gunned the completely unnecessary motor, and he and Sarah took off at a gallop, their passage marked by a great swirling cloud of black exhaust.
[More to come. Stay tuned!]
- April's Featured Fiction winner!
A World Eater survives another day at the office (barely).
Last edited by maelstrom48; 04-05-13 at 03:06 PM.