A/N: Thanks, Dave, I took time to set up this one better.
Chapter 6: The Enemy of My… -Quit shooting me!
…Eat the strong man… Be Strong… Feed the hive… Survive… Hide… Eat… Kill… Hunt… Shadows hide… Shadows are ours… Let weak men have light… Kill from shadows… Wait… Wait… Waiiiit! Must not be found… Wait for strong men to be gone… Cannot wait… Must have stronger man… Must feed the hive… Kill stronger man… More coming to kill blue men… Eat… Hide… Wait…
Stronger man too is stronger! Stronger man is too strong! Cannot eat, cannot kill! Must hide! Wait for others to come! Be here soon! Must…
You mustn't do squat, I'm in charge now…
It keeps quiet after that, leaving only emptiness and silence, something my lunch was terrified of. It's like pulling a tooth out then feeling the empty space with your tongue, feels good but wrong at the same time.
This… Voice, was both my prey and something else, talking as one, following one will like two fingers of the same hand. I probably just ate a nail, not the whole finger, because it showed no sign of being worried or angry when I jacked the connection, just curious as to why I wouldn't obey.
But the last thing it said gives me something to think about. Others are coming. Flyers who spit fire like fairy tale dragons.
I turn to the Ultramarines. Half the monster I just ate is bleeding out on the floor behind me, missing its brain and spine. They have their weapons raised and ready to tear me apart…
I could retreat into the darkness where my lunch had been hiding, but its memories tell me there is no way out back there, so that's not an option. The Chaplain takes a step forward, staff in hand, and orders the others to hold their fire… For now.
"What is your name, boy?" He calls, apparently talking to me. I suppose you could mistake my hesitation for fear, that's likely what he did. Doesn't matter, maybe we can actually sort this out now that I'm talking to someone with half a brain.
"I'm Jan…" I'm also Janus, but that isn't relevant right now.
"You are not of Chaos, you fight the Tyranids… Where do you stand?"
That… Is quite a good question. Looking around, I find a satisfying answer, “On top of a monticule.”
The Ultramarines are not convinced, I just went through massacring their trainees, took a massive bite out of a 'nid and now here I am, snapping snarky lines at their resident warp expert. That doesn't fit comfortably in their nice and clean worldview.
Welcome to the club, just being alive right now doesn't fit into my worldview…
"There is an old saying," the Chaplain speaks, "seek out the enemy of your enemy and you will have found a friend." Yeah, right, by old he must mean it predates the Imperium, because I can tell you that’s not part of the Imperial Creed.
There's only four of them left; the Terminator, Assault Marine, Chaplain and a Tactical Marine with cracked pauldrons, way too few to take out the wave of Harpies and Gargoyles bearing down on us. Way too few to take me out.
Their Thunderhawk is the only flyer they have in the area, it won't do them much good in either scenario, but there's little chance I can take out the Tyranids on my own, not to mention these blueberries could tell me what's happening.
No, not with the invasion, I don't really care about that, I want to know why I can jump-kick man sized boulders and crush scout marines with them.
"Famous last words," I don't let him think about it and quickly follow up, "Enemy flyers are inbound from the south, Gargoyles and Harpies, you guys better seek cover…"
Tactical guy looks at the Terminator, then the Chaplain, then me. All three of us nod and his cracked shoulders rise slowly in a deep sigh.
"I think I saw this in a vid once." He growls, hopping down in an impact crater, the one I left when hitting the ground.
This is messed up in too many senses, one second I'm plowing through their ranks, picking them out like daisies, the next we're shoulder to shoulder –shoulder to waist, since the Terminator and I are kneeling behind the same burnt fire truck and that's just hilariously ironic if you ask me-.
I never saw a Gargoyle before, but Janus did and it's not pretty; bioplasma projector, swarms that darken the sky, fangs sharper than a chainsword teeth. He never saw a Harpy first hand, however, but studies indicate they serve as bombers of sort.
That thing, the one I just ate, was a Lictor, an ambusher, I try to switch to its form, like I turned into Janus, but though I can feel its essence in me –which I do realize comes across as utterly disturbing-, I cannot seem to bring it forth.
I could do it with Janus, but there really is no point in further spooking my new allies. Instead, I focus on parts of its essence, the claws carapace and barbed tendrils.
Everything's a trade-off, not just in me, in everything; mankind improved their brainpower at the cost of muscle strength, the Eldars more so, the Orkz did the exact opposite, developing an hyper-resilient biology at the cost of reduced brainpower. I can evolve on the personal scale, however, and that means a conscious investment, not to mention trial and error.
Sentience guides my body, but the laws of nature bind it. The Lictor's claws are too alien for me to integrate them to a human morphology, it wouldn't be viable, carapace is even worst. The tendrils, however… My chest is too narrow for the required musculature.
I feel like a kid with a new and complex toy. Right now I’m fumbling around clumsily, but soon you can bet I’ll be doing party tricks and looking back at this moment as being back when I didn’t know what I was doing.
DNA spins, uncurls, combines and is repurposed in a matter of seconds. My left arm extends by thirty centimeters and expends by half as much. Muscles are exposed, skin is merely a barrier against infections, one I don't need. The long barbed organ is curled around a thin bone inside the arm, about ten meters of length, though I can produce more if needed.
The Terminator is unfazed and merely readies his massive gauntlet gun. It's on the left arm, same as my new weapon… Funny.
Jan Rey, the cancerous dock worker, wouldn't have heard the hellish flight's approach, but I do. I track its movements from eight streets away. The others, set up ten steps back, in the crater, hear it too, so no need to warn them.
At the last second, I trade another of my arm's functions, the retracting muscles, set up on my upper arm, to strengthen the propellers and gain more flexibility. The Lictor used its tendrils like a Chameleon, to bring back its prey. I only need them out of the sky.
Seventy meters. They're at the intersection now, perpendicular to our position. You know, maybe running away would have been a better idea? Bolter rounds just kicked through me, but bio-plasma will certainly do far more damage and there is more than a dozen gargoyles out there…
The deafening scream reminds me there are Harpies as well, but it doesn't bother me as much as it does the others. They have super-acute earing, whereas I just edited out my eardrums.
Silence makes everything look so peaceful. It's in complete quietness that I shoot my first length of biological barbed wire. Ten meters of hooks and twitching muscles programmed to contract as soon as they hit something; they graze a Gargoyle and, faster than the eye can follow, it is wrapped like a roast-beef, tumbling out of the sky quietly like some dark snowflake in the first days of winter.
Plasma showers my position, splashing against the Terminator's chest as he rakes in a few impossible kills with his lumbering gun. Another length of tendril flies out and this time hits an Harpy's left wing, bunching the limb like leathery paper, but I don't see the thing fall.
The Thunderhawk opens fire with everything it's got and, all of a sudden, I feel rather redundant.
Hundreds of Gargoyles are blow apart like so many balloons in a hailstorm, whatever they throw at the massive vessel just bounces off harmlessly or trickles down like rain…
Every tendril I shoot weakens me, takes away some biomass; it's not much, but for a long-lasting battle, it's not viable. I grab a gargoyle with this new whip and slurp it back into punching range. It's resilient, but I'm strong and soon break its carapace open like a clam.
Once again, what was two become one and I hear that voice, questioning me on my nature and allegiance. The humans won't let me live, but the hive would welcome me to its fold, I would be… and it's gone.
What do we have now? Wings? Useless, I'm way too dense and it would take way too much muscle mass to keep me aloft. Bioplasma projector? It would cost even more than the tendrils to fire, but it's possible. Claws? Weak, I'm better off punching stuff…
Odd, however, that they wouldn't use these… Fleshborers? The guns they normally use.
Janus really was no scholar, but these Gargoyles are not average, they are costly units and hardly more efficient than regular Gargoyles, so why the waste of resources?
Could they have known I'd be here and developed a different tactic just to take me down? Fleshborers most likely wouldn't have worked on me, so they brought the big guns… That Lictor told them I had been knocked flat by the Terminator's plasma weaponry and it attacked as soon as my weakness was revealed.
This hive mind wants me, it's obsessed by me. Good, I'm hungry.
This time, I latch to an Harpy in the middle of a bombing run and it is I who gets pulled up.
Not a second too soon; the Terminator gets melted down to the cellular level a second after I leave the ground. Almost got me there you overgrown… I don't know, call me crude, but I can't think of an analogy. Sure isn't a flying horse, because when I try to ride it, it goes berserk and rams itself into the Thunderhawk.
Oh, and it's worth noting that said vessel is currently crawling with Gargoyles looking for a weak spot. They shoot, they bite, they claw and they die when my ride smacks into them.
Switching back to my fists, I dive headfirst into the writhing mass. Janus was one hell of a psychopath, but bringing up his battle lust sure makes this stupid idea far more enticing. Something bites me, something dies horribly.
A gapping maw snaps at my face, saliva and blood sprinkling my skin as it fights to close the distance.
Yeah, a fist through the chest tends to reduce one's mobility.
I absorb the Gargoyle like a sponge on a recaf spill. Another takes its place and gets its lower jaw ripped off.
So, yeah, maybe I got carried away just now, fortunately, my friends the Tyranid look after me and splash my back with either acid or plasma. Another Gargoyle joins the party in me and the voice comes back.
You are the apex. We are the apex, only one will live, one will feed the other. Join us, feed us, you will be the greatest hunter of all.
I want to. Before, it could only transmit words, but for every Tyranid I consume, I lose some weight, it gains ground, makes more sense, makes me want what it offers.
I kill again, letting the corpses fall off the ship, and search myself for the source of its power. Tyranid essence; it fuses with mine, makes me like them, the more I have in me, the strongest the hive mind's influence will be in those short seconds after I consume a warrior. Once I've assimilated, digested if you will, the prey's essence, the voice becomes quiet, but comes back stronger the next time.
I'm tuning in, with every Tyranid I consume, the connection gets stronger… Let's be more selective of who we assimilate from now on, shall we? A dead Gargoyle makes for a decent projectile, plasma reserve going off when it smashes against an Harpy's face.
There's my answer for you.
Not much activity from the Ultramarines, guess they didn't make it.
Their dropship isn't going to last much longer either… Scratch that; Gargoyles just pried the side hatch open, it's good as dead now, time to see if the grass is greener elsewhere. Janus would have stood his ground and fought to the very end, but seeing as he ended up as an appetizer, Janus is really no reference.
Chapter 7: Body Snatcher
I know this city like the back of my hand, which doesn't mean much since my hand is now a mangled mess of muscles and bones and this city was bombed out of shape when I was not looking. It's like an abstract painting; you recognize the shapes, but dimensions and perspectives are all wrong.
Buildings are bent, leaning on each other or reaching across the road like structurally superfluous bridges. Cracks in the ground and rows of craters open new arteries and alleys amongst the streets, rivers flow through the residential district and the docks are on fire, a super tanker full of promethium slouched on a landing pad, its exposed flank spurting out fuel like a stock pig. That’s where most of the smoke comes from.
Gargoyles fill the sky, looking for me, but stay away from the fire, not even bothering to fly over it. Maybe they know something I don't, or maybe they see in infrared and this furnace is a dark spot to them.
I'm perched on a stone gargoyle, built into the governor's palace, itself built at the highest point of the city. The slums and old park are located somewhere behind and to the left, out of sight. The Astarte were killed in the administrative district, dead ahead, and although Janus would be infuriated to have abandoned his brothers, whoever I am now does not care.
That is quite the question; who am I? No, I mean, what am I? A shape shifter, that much is obvious, but it's much more than that.
I have been thinking a lot in the… What? Twenty, thirty minutes I spent running away. Not just about what to do next, but about everything I know, everything Janus knows and all that Diana taught me, about biology and evolution, mutations and adaptation, over the many discussions we’ve had.
Basically, I'm not a shape shifter; I'm a genetic scavenger, like the Kroots, only I can reorganize my body to the cellular level, which means… What does it mean? Do I have a spine? A heart, lungs, so forth? Perhaps that's what limits the shapes I can take on; biological viability.
You know what's funny? Neither Jan Rey nor Janus were half that knowledgeable, but then we came together, I started thinking and there we are! The more I think, the easier it is.
But back to my parasitic traits; Putting some effort to think up new forms, simple claws or a shield, won't work. I need genetic material, blueprints if you will, to show my body what I want. Perhaps if I consumed a biologist, or were one myself, I could have created new appendices, but right now, I am what I eat.
Makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint; why invent the wheel when you can steal it from your neighbour?
Except my current neighbours have some watchdog guarding their wheel and it'll steal my whole cart if I come too close…
But let's get to the fun stuff, right? While getting chased, it occurred to me that I was regenerating and producing biomass out of thin air.
Warp magic? Doubtful. My guess is that whatever it is I am now is neither plant not animal and both at the same time, it's a virus, a bacteria and a fungus, yet none of the above. It's whatever it has to be. It will derive nutrients from sunlight and ambient humidity if needed, draw insects to itself like a fly trap and eat them as well.
Basically, I heal up whenever I'm not getting shot up, this overclocks my muscles, or Janus' muscles, making them infinitely more efficient than they normally could be, like fueling your hovercar with rocket propellant. Damages done to the muscle tissues as a result are irrelevant and instantly fixed, and the improved Astarte bone structure Janus helpfully provided, combined with the lightweight carapace of the Lictor…
Well, I don't know. A magos or Apothecary would know more, but the deeper aspects of my own nature elude me…
In fact, I'm starting to think whatever this organism is, it merely uses my consciousness as a… Driver, out of convenience, by default. What if I hadn't been in there when it consumed Janus? Would his consciousness have been the dominant one? Perhaps I was this thing's first victim…
Doesn't matter, it wants to live and I’ve got nothing better to do at this time, so I'll play along. First things first, there are two apex predators on this planet, the Tyranid and yours truly, by mother nature's own rule, one of them has to die.
It won't be me.
The 'nids have numbers, but I have a face and it can be anyone's. Why do you think I'm sitting on the Governor's palace?
The place is well guarded, but I managed to slip through the defense grid when I lured a thousand
Tyranid flyers right to it, meaning the harder part is already taken care of.
Getting in the palace proper? Impossible to a regular dock worker. A walk in the park to me.
I shoot tendrils out the heel of my boots and run along the building's wall like a gecko on recaf. Another stone gargoyle forces me to resume horizontal navigation, hopping on the thing's ugly head and leaping across the fifteen meters to the next one and so on until I am in position over an overweight PDF sergeant trying to coax a recruit barely out of puberty into taking his pants off.
They're in an alcove four meters ahead, thirty meters down. A quick look around to ensure nobody's looking and I dive in with a short backflip seconds before landing.
Hey, I'm fast enough to dodge bullets, or see them coming, at any rate, why not have some fun here and there?
"Who… What…" Are the Sergeant's last words. He's not even fully facing away from the boy when my fist punctures his bloated face.
Yuck… Oh by the fields of Terra! This man had… Yuck! Emperor preserves me from fat Sarges with a taste for pre-teenagers!
Okay, you fat son of a goat, what's your name? First Sergeant Bellan Ashker. A wife, two daughters… Oh you sorry excuse for a human being! A man that does that to his own daughter deserves to be ripped apart by some nightmarish creature fallen from the roof.
The gate code, the Sergeant's deployment orders, the names of his squad members… Okay, let's get out of that man's mind and never touch it again.
I need a shower. With a flamethrower
The kid passed out, saving me a lot of trouble, so I just leave him there and make my way to the front door. The courtyard is filled with tents and ammo dumps. Half the PDF got crammed around the palace, but our good governor won't let the men use the palace as housing and cover.
Doesn't surprise me, corrupt noblemen are as common as… Well, corrupt PDF officers.
This guy doesn't understand his people are getting slaughtered in the streets, he only cares about his own safety because he's never known anything else. That and how high he can raise the taxes before people get uncooperative.
They let me through the door without a hitch. Soft music and softer lights greet me. The Sergeant was a big fan of that kind of music and I almost enjoy it as a result. Almost. It's like someone fell asleep on a piano and twitches every once in a while.
Me, I'm a slum kid, I like my music to cause sensory overload and ear bleeding, I need to feel the sound with my bones and hear ringing for months afterwards.
Ah, but there’s no time to fill out a complaint, is there? The main stair is covered in what looks like red pubic hairs. Ashker knows it's an expensive carpet, but I mentally choke the Sarge's personality until it recedes.
By the time I stop seeing pictures of things that would make a Dark Eldar sick, I'm right outside the Governor's chambers.
The Sarge's fists are like a baby's and they make a dull sound when knocking against the expensive woodwork.
I've never been overweight, it's strange… Blast, I have breasts!
"What do you want?" Roars the Governor from within his chambers.
"Sir, I have an update on your evacuation request." I don't know if he actually requested an evacuation, but, come on, who am I kidding? This must have been the first order he gave when the ‘nids showed up.
"Come on in!" I'm barely through the door that he's over me like a drunk sailor on a cheap whore. "What did they say?" Bloody fields of Terra, couldn't I, just once, get to consume someone that does not weight as much as a Dreadnought and look like they were smacked in the face with a shovel minutes after birth.
"Talk to me, Sergeant!"
Room's empty. Good. "I've arranged something." I switch back to my original self, the muscular, thin and comparatively good looking dock worker, "You'll be coming with me." I didn't mean for him to soil himself, I just wanted to be myself for just a moment before being some other overweight piece of fat.
The feces soiling his robes don't seem to bother the tendrils much as they tear him to pieces and pull every last bit of biomass into me. And that is just… Ugh, I miss being dead.
The Governor, despite being lazy and a coward, was actually quite smart. Couldn't be bothered to learn the configuration of his own capital city, but history, art, philosophy… Wow, the man had some actual standards! He pulled the PDF out of the way to avoid unnecessary losses while Space Marines cleared the city, knowing he was not a skilled enough leader, nor his men good enough fighters to make a difference.
That was then.
A sevo-skull hovers to me, awaiting instructions from the Governor.
"Contact…" No Generals, no Colonels, the Planetary Defence force is led by a Major. A corrupt Major. "Contact Major Vaner and Captain Olenk." I order, "Tell them to meet me in my chamber."
And I get to work on the overall strategy as the skull beeps in acknowledgement.
There's plenty of entertainment material in this room, all of which I stow under the bed. Drapes, curtains and expensive painting are all stashed in a corner of the room and I rip an ornate map of the capital off the wall by the bed.
Now, the thing is not exactly to scale, gothic letters take way too much space, hiding details from view and much of the alleys and newest sectors are not being shown, but it is a faithful representation of the city, which gives O’ran even less of an excuse for not knowing a thing about this place.
On the opposite wall, hung in between two expensive looking stained glass windows, is a depiction of the whole planet, with the location of every city across the four main continents.
How many people live on Baria? Thousands? Millions? More? So much biomass… That's what the Tyranid are after.
Blast, that's what I would be after. Baria is an industrialised world, the type the Adeptus Mechanicus hate most, because we apparently don’t show proper respect to our machines. It also means we can live in every climate, live longer and have lots of children…
Two officers enter the chamber, but only the Captain, a small woman not good looking enough to have earned her rank by sleeping with superiors, salutes me. One other thing about Baria; our PDF is whoring itself out to merchants and cartels all over this system.
I'm on the tall, muscle bound Major's case within a heartbeat. "What's wrong, Vaner? You don't take orders from me anymore? Or did saluting superiors grow out of fashion while I wasn't looking?"
He blinks repeatedly, his mouth opening and closing like a fish's in a bowl. Vaner has friends…had friends, ones that allowed him to blackmail his way to the rank of Major.
"I don't want to hear it, Private, you're out of the game, check with Sergeant Ashker for your new assignment!"
Vaner finally speaks. "You can't…"
"One more word and I have you executed for incompetence, treason, abuse of authority and being generally too dumb to live!" I love this. I should have stolen the Governor's face years ago!
"I know things, Sir
…" The Major's tone grows dangerous. "If I fall, you're…"
Olenk needs nothing but a nod on my part to smear the bed with Vaner's brain.
"No, you knew things." Damn shame I had to kill him, he'd have been a far more pleasant… Host? Face?
Olenk jumps a little when I turn to her. "Captain, you're the new acting commander of the Planetary Defence Force…" I wave her over to the maps, now spread on a desk that must have cost more than I make in a year. "I need to know where all our forces are on the planet, but in the meantime, I need you to take our reserves and secure the business district."
She frowns, her massive hat tilting forward without the support of her eyebrows. "What Reserve forces, Governor?"
"The ones I stationed at the palace. Don't worry, captain, I have my personal guard, now spread these men into three groups and enter the district from the North, South and the skyway, to the West."
Olenk nods slowly, "A pincer formation." She mutters. Smart girl, could have been an Imperial Guard officer, hadn't some old pig, who's body I'm burrowing right now, held her back. "How do we get troops to the North?"
My plump finger traces a path along the edge of the docks. "There's a ruptured drainage pipe here, goes all the way from… Well, it goes far." I shouldn't reveal too much, they'll wonder how I could know from sitting in my bloody room.
"Understood, sir…" She goes to leave, but freezes, "Uh… Sir, might I ask you a question?"
Take a guess what that question could be. Why did you suddenly go insane and grow a pair? Have you been hijacked by some xeno scum?
"Not now, Major, I’ll answer everything in time, for the moment, let’s save this planet!" She salutes me once more and leaves without sparing a single glance to Vaner's corpse.
The servo-skull hovers back to my side, as though reading my mind, and I turn to it. "Have someone throw him in the furnace before he starts to stink…" It beeps in agreement and I fetch the Major's bolt pistol.
Better to shoot things while I'm supposed to be some overweight slug, punching through a Genestealer's chest to pull its heart out would be out of character a bit…