Blood and Rust
Blood and Rust
In the Dark Age of Technology, the ancient Mechanicus created mechanical marvels beyond all reckoning of those from years past and established a zenith of understanding that would never be reached for the rest of humanity's sad history.
Most notable of these machinae mysteries is Mars, the Cradle of Technology itself. Those ancient and sagacious tech-wizards created pure iron from the very rust that composed the planet's entirety, and used the pure ore to create many alloys that were sent all across the galaxy, and were instrumental to the colonization of Mankind. Much of the metal was used on Mars itself, as the planet was hollowed out and filled with quadrillions of tons of metallic entrails that created a labyrinth of unimaginable complexity.
Amongs the alloys of mars, however, there are some machines that outdate humanity by eons upon eons, lost in the deepest hell-pits of the Cradle of Technology.
"Thou Holiest of Unseen energies, Guardian of the Mysteries of His ancient wisdoms, shed Your Reckoning upon Your machina servants. Guide them with Your Holiest and most subtle inclinations, behold your Kingdom among the steel instruments of Humanity. Hear the Benediction Against Failure: I convert this instrument of art, to breathe in half-life, to convulse in sonic wave. That which thou desires is accomplished, be thy will performed, and all mine demands fulfilled. Grant that unto succour, favour and unison, by the Invocation of thy Holy Name, so that these things may serve us for aid in all that we wish to perform therewith..."
By the end of Xerxeus's Litanies of the Machinae, his mind was exhausted and a distinct pain existed behind his still-organic eyes. He was nonetheless more pleased then he had ever remembered when the instrument panel he had been anointing for hours on end sputtered to life with the connecting of the wires. A distinct humming was cast in the air, and Xerxeus understood this to be the beneficent hum of the Machine God, breathing life into His servants. The panel was a control hub for an entire section of Deep Mars that had been offline for centuries, only recently had the Administratum Machinae of Mars and the Holy Order of Tech Priests transcribed the ancient texts that revealed the instructions for activation.
The room was filled with the ancient computing engines of ancient times and was lit by a single candle that Xerxeus had brought with him to help him not go insane by the billions of tiny lights in the darkness. Miles and miles beneath the surface of Mars, Xerxeus was the only living being to enter the sector for thousands of years. The control panel was in front of a large glass window that oversaw a vast hall of mysterious machines, the tiny pinpricks of light they gave off made it resemble the galaxy.
"This is Xerxeus, I.D. AF13928, complete with protocol 952 at sector 19.45.31, requesting further prompt," the rather young tech priest said into his comm link, which was installed in his throat somewhere and was activated by brainwave. As a relatively young tech priest, at the age of 68, the few mechanical augmentations requisitioned to him were two mechanical servo hands, an internal power cell in his chest, and his vox comm.
"Message received. Tech priests FC13899 and S135 will join you for the assessment of the sector," the drone voice on the comm responded. That could have meant any amount of time between twenty minutes and twenty days.
Xerxeus sat down in the center of the cramped machinae control room and examined his steel hands, thinking about the glorious day he could finally have his emotions blanked out, like the shutting of a light or the disabling of a misfunctioning machine. It was the goal of the Tech Priest to become as much of the Machine God as they possibly could. Xerxeus even envied the Servitors, they never felt mental anguish after reciting tomes of activation prayers, let alone have to spend days upon days in a maze of mechanical behemoths with his racing mind constantly plaguing him, distracting him.
Xerxeus stood up and looked out on the galaxy of lights from the endless hall below. Gradually, tiny lights turned on one by one. Streams of sparks came from some angular towers of machines, these Xerxeus would probably have to repair. The rest would just be documented and categorized. The task of labeling all the machines in the Mechanicus archives would probably consume the last 300 years or so of the Priest's life, until his memories were added into the vast library of knowledge held by the Mechanicus hierarchy.
Hours passed of tireless mental disraction until the two other Priests arrived, their arrival made apparent by the echoing clanks of their footsteps on the steel catwalks, the sound bounced off of countless steel angles and machine walls in the labyrinth. Finally, Xerxeus heard one say, "Come, AF1," which was the shortened version of Xerxeus's serial number, "let us begin our task."
"Welcome, FC1. S135." Replied Xerxeus. FC1, who was identical to Xerxeus in his red robes, mechanical forearms and servo-harness, gave a short bow in welcome, muttering his name of Tursias, but the elder one had no response. S135 was a blank, and had his mind converted a living machine of the Mechanicus, and therefore had no concept of human interaction besides understanding of the language and commands.
"Time is short. We only have 634,231.76, repeating, of course, days to complete our task." Muttered the Blank Tech Priest, almost completely mechanized. Xerxeus saw a metal grate in his mouth whenever he talked.
With introductions over, the three descended flights upon flights of metal catwalk stairs to the floor of the forgotten hall. The clamor of their descent now echoed off the hall, and came back like the chatter of a thousand daemons. The darkness was so complete, the guiding light of S135 was the only beacon they could follow to navigate the stairs, for the elder Tech Priest had nightvision bionic eyes.
As soon as they reached the bottom, a sudden noise shocked the two emotionally capable Tech Priests. It was the mix of an engine's hum and the sound of a smothered, dying human. In the bleak lighting of the tiny pinpricks on the machines, the Tech Priests could barely make out some tiny sphere whizzing between two obelisks of technology, darting into the mess of girders and metal tubing.
"Did you sense that presence, S135?" asked Tursias to the elder Tech Priest. The tech priest turned, responding with whizzing from a hardrive somewhere in his gut.
"The being was unclassified, undoubtedly an incarnation of one of the Machine God's servants." He rambled off. "Come, forget this distraction, and begin our task."
The other two reluctantly followed S135's orders and pulled out their data tables, and began scanning the towers of metal and light in the forgotten library. Most of the towers were described as ancient computing engines, their functions would probably be unidentified for another century. Xerxeus found a giant cube of metal and glass that he identified as a builder station, probably that constructed more computing engines. The work was fascinating for the two non-blank priests, while S135 efficiently labeled machines at a rate twice of that of the others.
After several hours, the three met up to finish the first of a thousand stations, when the tiny pinpricks of light suddenly extinguished. The completeness of the blackout was made complete by the absence of S135's servo-lights. Xerxeus asked, "S135, are you online?" No answer. Tursias asked, "S135, can you identify the situation?" No answer.
Suddenly a lightning flash brightened the entire hall for a fraction of a second, blinding the tech priests. Xerxeus held his eyes in pain, the afterimage of pure white stuck on his retinas. "What is this, another incarnation of the Machine God?" Xerxeus vaguely heard Tursias ask.
After several minutes of tender rubbing of the area around his eyes, the afterimage finally began to fade, growing darker and darker, the image of the towers of machines and their bizarre angles now lingering. Then, like looking at a photo-file, Xerxeus saw something in the afterimage in his own eyes. "Tursias, do you see that??"
"In the afterimage of the light, yes." He responded. What both Tech priests beheld was the image of three round, insectoid machines, resting on the side of one of the obelisks of ancient knowledge. When the afterimage finally faded away completely, the two found themselves in the dark again with an offline tech priest elder. "Should we say the litanies of reactivation?" Asked Tursias.
Almost in reaction to the tech priest's words, a shower of sparks erupted from beside Tursias with a violent hiss and all the tiny pinpricks of light in the hall flashed back to life. Even S135 came back to life, muttering in a low, robotic voice, "Reactivation achieved. Please insert prompt. Tech Priest ID S135, online. Whereabouts unknown. Please insert data files and prompt."
"Silence." Said Xerxeus, and the incapacitated priest obeyed. "We need to take him back to the nearest tech station and have him re-calibrated."
Tursias nodded, looking vaguely frightened by the series of events in the dim light. "Yes, I know the way, its approximately waaaaaaagrreraaa-" Tursias was interrupted by a barely visible shining construct, it snuck up behind him and lifted him in the air with a spiked arm, skewering the Tech Priest through the chest. A single green eye flicked on and Xerxeus watched in the green terror his companion being ripped limb from limb by a monstrous spider beast of metal.
"FOLLOW!!!" He prompted S135, and the two raced off into a dark corridor, blindly trying escape the monstrosity that tore Tursias to shreds. Xerxeus barely felt his legs and arms being pummeled by outreaching instruments and metal pipes, his heart raced uncontrollably. He turned a corner and the lights flashed bright like a strobe light, and to his horror, Xerxeus saw a living skeleton of metal walking towards the two, wielding a glowing weapon and having eyes of glowing green.
Xerxeus span around and raced down another hall, making as much distance between himself and the horrors as possible. He began muttering improvised prayers to the Machine God beneath his breath, "Oh merciful One, please protect me from the rouge servants of Your divine will. Please call off those machines who thirst for flesh, may their hunger be sated with Your divine influence...."
Xerxeus found another giant building station and crawled into one of its ports with difficulty, having to disengage his servo-harness and leave it behind, and dragged S135 with him. The building station was better lit than the hall outside; lighted panels beneath an ancient conveyor belt revealed the nature of the room. It was an ancient manufactorium of a long-outdated pattern boltergun. Xerxeus found one in a crate, and barely lifted it up, it was almost fifty stones of pure steel. The ammunition was even more burdensome, and Xerxeus ended up loading up S135 with as many ammo belts as he could hold.
"S135, do you know of any exits from this sector?" Asked Xerxeus to the haywire Priest.
"Unreadable prompt, Please try again." The robotic voice responded.
"Exits! Location of Exits?" Xerxeus tried again.
"Unreadable prompt, Please try again." The robotic voice repeated. Xerxeus made a fist and knocked the elder priest on the head with a violent THUD. "demmerbershchimbt derberbleberble derrrrrraaaarrrrr How dare you strike an Elder Tech Priest of the Mechanicus? Your offense has been recorded and will be reported to the administratum upon arrival to an information station."
"Yes, S135, and where is the nearest information station so that you may report my malicious actions with haste?" Asked Xerxeus.
"Right this way. Let us exit this manufactorium." S135 responded and guided him to a proper exit. The techpriest hit a panel and the door slided open. Instantly, a hail of green energy trails struck into the open door, and Xerxeus pulled S135 out of the way seconds before destruction. An entire squad of the skeletal warriors stood outside, firing in, their skull-faces seeming bloodthirsty.
When the volley of fire ended, Xerxeus heard the clicking of their footsteps closing in. Xerxes clicked a heavy ammo belt into the bulking boltergun, and held it at the waist, not being able to hold it any higher. He jumped in front of the door and opened up on the approaching attackers. With no combat training and questionable strength, the gun's recoil pushed the Techpriest back against a machine panel and sprayed from side to side. He could barely keep it from flying out of his hands, but Xerxeus was thrilled to see that three or four of the skeletons fell in clumps on the ground. The belt was exhausted, so Xerxeus fell back behind the wall and out of the way of the doorway as the attackers fired more energy blasts through the open door.
"Follow." Xerxeus said to S135.
"You cannot just order me about as you please, insubordinate one! That is a second offense for you, you will be confined to an existance of servitordom, and don't expect a pain-negating surgery." Xerxeus grabbed the rambling priest and ran to the other side of the manufactorium. There was another port, simular to the one they entered, and they crawled out. "Where are you taking me, this is kidnapping of a member of the Mechanicus! This is unexcusable! You will-" Xerxeus pulled a holy magnet out from its case and threw it into S135's mouth. It stuck on the vox emitter and disabled it.
The two ran in and out of hallways, which were increasingly bright with the specks of light, which now lighted the way so that Xerxeus could dodge the outcroppings of pipes. He barely felt a deep cut he received from his mad dash before when he slashed his leg on a wire sticking out from a computing engine.
Suddenly the lights went again. Xerxeus followed S135, who still was able to find the way to the nearest exit with his nightvision, but he could not see what was the source of a clamor of scratches and clicks coming from all around him. The techpriest suddenly went offline, as he did before, and their progress stopped.
It was pitch black. The only stimuli Xerxeus could detect were the everpresent smell of rust and the louder scratching and scraping of metal on metal. Suddenly the lights went back on with a lightning with the same force as the first one, and Xerxes had the image of hundreds of torso-sized mechanical spiders climbing on the sides of mech-towers and hovering over the ground around him.
Xerxeus got his back to S135 and began firing wildly in a circle, hearing the clicks coming closer and closer, but not seeing. The dead weight of S135 helped Xerxeus fire the bolter without flying backwards, but he would rather the Priest come back online to escape. Xerxeus continued spraying fire randomly and heard shots land on many targets with the wrenching sound of metal cutting through metal, and many of the spiders were heard exploding. But still the humming of the hovering ones came closer and closer and the ones climbing on the sides of the buildings kept clanking their claws, crawling closer, surrounding Xerxeus on all directions.
With a pathetic clickclickclickclick the boltergun ran out of ammo. Desperate and panicking, Xerxeus ran back to S135 and grabbed another ammo belt from off of his shoulders and blindly tried to ram the end in the socket. White hot pain rushed up his leg and he screamed in agony as a mech spider sunk one of its claws into his soft flesh. He somehow managed to slam the belt home and fired down where he imagined the spider to be, and heard the satisfying destruction, but fired too wildly and felt as his foot was literally blown off by a bolter shell.
Xerxeus fell to the ground, but continued to fire on the advancing spiders. His vision had already came back slightly, but he wished it hadn't, for he had barely scratched the surface of the attacking machines. Suddenly, S135 jumped back to life, saying, "Reactivation achieved. Please insert prompt. Tech Priest ID S135, online. Whereabouts unknown. Please insert data files and prompt."
Immediately red lights lit on S135's carapace, and his voice sounded much more urgent, "Mechanicus under attack. Defensive maneuver 21 initiated." S135 scooped up the damaged Xerxeus in his strong robotic arms and sprang off, pushing through the savage spider-bots and being slashed and hacked at in the process.
The dashing cyborg then ran down an alternate hallway and set the injured down, and immediately pulled up Xerxeus's bloody stump of a lower leg. Xerxeus watched with anticipated pain as S135 produced a laser cutter from his servo arm and held it to the wound. The cut was clean and agonizingly effective, and from somewhere in his red robes, the elder tech priest pulled out an archaic looking artificial peg-foot that curved at the end. With surprising speed, S135 attached the foot. It would not be as good as a robotic foot, but it would serve him well enough to flee the attacking monsters.
"Thank you, S135," said Xerxeus, pulling himself off the ground.
"Unreadable prompt. Please try again."
Suddenly an unspeakable horror leapt from the top of a machine and landed on S135. The detached tech priest did not even move as the monster pulled him away quickly into the shadows. The monster made an unintelligable screech that sounded like a cross between a baby crying and steel scraping on steel. Xerxeus could barely make out, "Unreadable promote. Please t- ach, aaaaaaooooooooooo-" and his final moan of ignorant pain was cut short without further ado.
Xerxeus got up and dashed in a random direction; he was stuck miles from help, without any idea of where to go. Again, he began praying to the Machine God, "Oh, Diving purveyor of knowledge! Light my way to escape, I plead of you!"
Suddenly a great green light lit a large area in the middle of the hall. Almost falling to his knees to thank the Machine God, the tech priest made a mad sprint towards his beacon of hope.
When he got to the source, it was evident he made a grave error. The light was springing from an ancient artifact, suspended by human construction, but juxtaposed to the mysterious Imperial machines, it was obviously alien in origin. More hovering spider-bots glided on the top of the structure, which may have been some kind of carrier ship.
That would be his mission. He would end the threat of these invading aliens forever. The tech priest produced a knife from the end of one of his mechanical fingers and said a quick prayer to the Machine God, and consolidated his soul to Him. Then he jabbed his knife into his chest, making a circular incision. The pain was imbearable. He fell, blacking out for a second.
Then he got back up, ignoring his pain, and forced his emotions away with pure will. He finished the incision, and reached into the gaping wound in his chest, ripping out the power cell that had been installed to help bring machines to life. The power cables that spread out from the cell that connected to the machine port were the most painful, as they pulled out from their flesh tunnels violently, taking flesh with them. As painful and dishibilitating as this act was, it wouldn't necessarily kill him, he knew. He had to deliver the knowledge of this horror to the Mechanicus Lords.
He crawled over to the alien machine, each move he made causing more blood to gush out of his wounds, looking for a port to throw it in. He reached over the top, finding a small circular port, and dropped it in.
The three techpriests ventured down the dark catwalks, bringing Skitarii bodyguards to prevent any trouble. They heard a report of missing tech priests, and were supposed to investigate the disturbance.
The darkness was cut like a knife with a bright flashlight one of the Priests carried with him. The light revealed the tall stacks of machines in the huge hall, lit like the universe. Suddenly the red cloaked figure of a tech priest was visible in the machines.
"Tech priest, identify yourself!" Shouted one of the investigators. The figure instead did not reply, and hobbled over towards them, limping extremely, walking in a bizarre way.
"I repeat, tech priest, identify yourself!" Said the investigating tech priests, but the red hooded figure ignored them. The figure then lifted his head, his face illuminated in the light. A look of terror was evident on his face, it was completely still, and pure white.
"He is in shock! Let me investigate," said a tech priest, and he ran down to help out Xerxeus. Xerxeus flung off his hood, revealing himself to be a metal skeleton, covered in strips of human flesh, the face of Xerxeus spread over the metal skull of a monster. The Flayed One then proceeded to slaughter the tech priest, and a second and third Flayed One leapt from their hiding places on the tall ceiling and massacred the Skitarii and remaining tech priests.