Luck of the Dice (HOES Entry: Rebirth)
Ibdah cracked open one eye, and wished he were still asleep. His mouth tasted like rustcrawler dung; not the firm stuff that you could barter with Hake to put on his mushrooms, but the runny stuff that oozed off the ceiling onto your face. Odd thing was he seemed to be sitting up and when he tried to spit his tongue was drier than starchbread.
Finally some pieces of last night started to crawl free of his headache. He had gone to the Olympia after second shift with Ardias and Fenoff....
Ibdah creased his head in concentration. "You lost the last five throws, so it don't seem clever to back you."
"Nah.... I'm telling ya....", explained Ardias to Ibdah's shoulder, "swell known fact... chances of getting skull are one in sis as there's sis sides see... and I lost the last five..."
"Then only side left is skull ain't it... so he's gots to win", completed Fenoff triumphantly.
Despite all logic and reason the bone came up coffins. It similarly refused to bow to the law of shaking it real hard. It even defied the well known requirement to roll the winning face if you blew a pretty girl a kiss across it; although Ibdah reckoned that might be because Ardias had a lazy eye even when he was sober so the kiss was aimed more at the man to her left who - although he returned the kiss - might not count as a girl.
Everything ached and something was wrong. Ibdah's eyes had been rutted since he got moved onto the sulphur baths at work, and the hangover wasn’t helping, but the shapes definitely didn't look like his room. He tried to stand but his limbs refused to co-operate. Even his head was rebelling, although squinting sideways as hard as he could he could make out something pressing against his cheek. After several more attempts to stand, with no noticeable effect other than pain, he began to think he was actually wedged. Merri was going to be mad when he got back.
His brain finally catching up with his ears, he noticed that there was a regular beeping noise coming from somewhere behind him. Trying to ignore the presscast running in his head he struggled to understand his surroundings. The air smelt clean but oily with a slight hint of the stuff the cogboys used to commission new presscasts, and he could just make out the occasional sizzle under the beeping.
Where the rut was he...?
"Come on.... I'm late already and Merri will get proper rat if I ain't in bed when she wakes up."
"Emp's Gaze, you're loos' piped letting her reg' you," said Ardias.
"Yeah," crowed Fenoff, "loose piped."
"Rust you. Leas' my bed's warm. When's last time either of you got your pipes serviced?" For a moment Ibdah felt the savour of winning, before his losing streak returned with his supper.
Swaying wildly, the three friends continued their circuitous walk to the transit station. More by luck than judgment they arrived without further incident. After several minutes they realised the gate was not opening.
"Wakey wakey," shouted Ardias banging on the latch, "we're here an we.... bleurgh...."
"You chucked," sniggered Fenoff, "can't handle your... ouff... bleurgh...."
"I'll show you cant's handle drink," said Ardias, removing his fist from Fenoff's belly while trying to wipe vomit off his jacket with the other. Succeeding only in evening out the stain, he slowly turned and, carefully lining himself up, started hitting the latch again.
Meanwhile Ibdah had been blearily studying the wall. "Hang on... s'notice... TS9-43’s close' for reconrecsecation."
"Was reconscration?" asked Fenoff, picking himself up.
"Means pour liquid over something," replied Ardias.
"Well I gotta reconsicrafe soming," declared Fenoff tugging at his overalls. "Hey I gotta idea. Lets do the door so it opens."
"Don't seem right,” muttered Ibdah, watching his friends try to aim at the lock.
"You just don't wanna drop your overalls cos you don't wan' us to see Merri took your nuts," laughed Ardias.
"Least mine ain't pointin' at Fenoff," jeered Ibdah, fumbling with a strap, "But if'll shut you up fine." Letting out an exhalation of relief he jetted straight into the centre of the lock.
A juddering hiss broke Ibdah's recollection, and he felt something move below his waist. His legs felt slightly lighter... if it shifted a little more he might be able to stand! Struggling, he felt a slight movement before falling back.
"You are conscious. Remain still."
Ibdah tried to turn to face the voice, confirming his head was still stuck.
"Remain still. Your flesh suffered damage. The weakness been replaced with tracks."
Tracks? Ibdah discovered his last memory of the station was agonising pain. Trying to ask questions he emitted only a breathy rasp.
"Non-essential systems offline to aid repair process."
Offline? Ibdah's mind carefully dragged itself to a conclusion. He was not wedged; he was in a surgical bay and an Adept was healing him. How badly injured was he?
"Bioelectrical activity outside optimal range. Adopt efficient function."
What? Racking his mind he realised the Adept was trying to keep him calm. Personal care cost money. How long had he been here? What had Merri done to afford it?
"Interaction Protocol indicates that the flesh is calmed by information in excess of functional necessity. Commencing audio patch....
"You and your companions committed an act of defilement on the lock of Transit Station 9-43. The machine spirit struck back. Your companions' waste disposal processes were flawed resulting in vengeance striking all of you. Lacking efficient surge protection this rendered you offline. You were found when we investigated the machine spirit's distress call. As your flesh was aberrant we commenced optimisation. Your biological and neural distinctiveness has been reduced.
"Interaction Protocol indicates that flesh is calmed by association with familiar flesh. You will be assigned to function alongside your companions.
"Initialising Test Routine Epsilon Delta."
Ibdah tried to understand the words but they kept slipping beneath the fog of his hangover. Lost in his silent battle he did not immediately realise that he was moving; however the sight of a cutting disc rising slowly into his field of vision followed by his upper arm ended his search for answers.
With a faint clatter, something rolled into view.
"This cuboid talisman was discovered in your pocket. Inspection showed that inferior production methods had resulted in an imperfect cube. It has been optimised."
The skull filled Ibdah's vision before madness euthanised his vestiges of self.
- 1096 words
A tiny part of Relle Lawsea’s brain was having a conversation with itself. The rest was struggling mightily to keep him alive.
“How the feth did we end up like this?”
“We? Your gunner is dead. You’ll join him soon enough.”
“Shut up. We’re not dead yet.”
Beeping warnings, flashing runes and a dozen or more dead systems were enough to tell a straight leg infantryman his Vulture was dying.
“Come on girl, give me something,” Lawsea begged. The banging on the port side suddenly picked up in intensity then stopped abruptly.
“Well there goes the wing.”
“No it didn’t. We aren’t in a flat spin stupid.”
“Feth you, you dying piece of grox crap. Just give me a chance.” he screamed.
A new light started blinking. Fast. “Oh no, that can’t be right,” he thought. The fuel indicator was below one hundred pounds. And the Vulture was burning fifty pounds a minute.
Two minutes of flight time to go at least two hundred kilometers. Going Emperor-knows how fast. The very first shell impact had torn the whole augur package away. Airspeed, ground mapping radar, altitude, everything essential gone in an instant.
‘Too bad the ejector is broken.”
“Thanks for remembering.”
Yanking the activator bar he tried again. Nothing.
Suddenly the pitch of the engine changed from the thrumming roar of a redlined turbine to a grinding screech. What he couldn’t hear were the impacts of fan blades shattering and smashing against the inside of the engine housing.
The RPM’s lurched upwards when the blades broke free. The needle stuck hard against the stop causing another light to start flashing.
He tried the thrust-vectoring control again. Did his forward thrust start dropping?
“Yes!” he almost shouted.
Flipping a switch he turned on the forward floods. Bright spotlights illuminated the ground. The rubble-strewn Emperor-damned rough ground.
“Hey, did you notice we aren’t hovering?”
“Then why is forward speed dropping?”
“Engine is out.”
“No, it’s not. Listen.”
“I am. And feeling. Feel that? That is a shaft losing blades.”
“What do you know?”
“No up thrust,” Lawsea noticed.
“No fething up thrust.”
Pushing the vector lever forward again did not increase thrust. The noise of the slipstream dropped enough so he could hear the dying buzz of the turbine. The banshee wail caused him to feel the engine for the first time since the warning lights had started up.
“Oh no,” he realized.
“Sacred Father of the Imperium…” he began.
The impact was bone-jarringly rough. The light frame of the Vulture collapsed around the dead gunner and the live pilot smashing them against unyielding metal.
Before the blackness took him he tried vainly to finish the prayer.
“…take us to your bosom, we faithful, we servants…”
And all was black.
“So this is death.”
“Are we dead?”
Were you not there for that crash? Yes we are dead.”
“Oh? Did you expect something different?”
“Yeah. A bright light. Everyone says they see a bright light.”
“I don’t know. They just say that.”
“No bright light.”
“No bright light…”
Utter blackness. And pain. Terrible, burning pain. “Why do we hurt? Shouldn’t death be painless?” Silence reigned. Silence and utter, impenetrable darkness. Distant sounds and a faint spot of light disrupted the nothing. Just barely.
“Is he alive?” one faint, female voice asked.
“I think so. His pulse is very faint,” answered a deep male voice.
“Will he survive?” the female voice asked.
“I don’t know,” the male voice replied.
The noise and light faded. Silence and dark.
Gradually the silence faded again. Was it again? Or the first time? What caused the silence?
“The crash. We crashed.”
“I didn’t ask anything.”
“Did we crash?”
“I think so. Why?”
“Then what is that noise? The engine sounds terrible.” A keening wail, metal on metal abruptly broke the silence.
“That is not the engine.”
“What is it?”
Bright light invaded the dark. Bright light and unbearable pain. They only lasted a moment.
Through the quiet, noise began to filter in.
“A fan. Air recirc maybe.”
“Yeah. And a constant beeping. What the feth is that beeping?”
“Low oil warning.”
The sounds were muffled. Or filtered. Something about the noise was off. They were so muffled as to be incomprehensible. There were smells too. Not the smells of flight and combat. Different smells.
The pain was suppressed somehow. Suppressed to just below excruciating.
“I don’t want to die.”
The light and noise and pain leapt into full being. The light was so very bright, painfully bright even. And the pain was unbearable.
“He’s crashing!” a voice yelled.
“Ressetrex is charging,” another voice answered.
“I told you there was a bright light.”
Utter blackness enveloped everything again. In the deep dark time was meaningless. The total lack of sense was a bit disconcerting.
“Am I dead?”
“I don’t know. How could we tell?”
“I don’t know either. I thought you’d be able to tell somehow.”
“It still hurts.”
“I don’t think we’d hurt if we were dead.”
“So we’re alive?”
“I think so.”
“Morlan didn’t make it.”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Fething stupid lucky shot by a backwater, chaos-damned PDF.”
“It hurts so bad.”
“Don’t be weak. Fight the pain. Never show them you hurt.”
“I remember the mantra.”
“Then live it. Fight the pain.”
Slowly, ever so slowly, the light filtered through the dark. What is dark anymore?
“Hey trooper,” a familiar voice said.
“He’s waking up,” another familiar voice.
“Where are we?”
“I don’t know.”
“I know those voices.”
The light and sound still seemed filtered and strange.
“Hey Relle. You awake?”
“He knows me.”
“I know him. I think.”
Gentle pressure on his shoulder broke through the pain, the fog, and the drugs.
The pain was lingering, a backdrop to consciousness.
“Hey buddy. Can you hear me?”
“Come on Relle. Wake up buddy.”
Relle opened his eyes. Bright, powerful lights flooded the room, chasing shadows away.
“Where am I?” Relle asked quietly.
“The medical annex.”
“You don’t remember?”
“I remember the crash…”
“Loyalists found you and brought you in.”
“How long have I been out?”
“You died. Three times.”
“You’ll live. Welcome back.”
how many entries this month???
Looks like 11. A good crop of stories this month. Maybe they'll be a couple more in the last days?
There are normally 2-3 stragglers. I for one have 3 stories in progress, each about at the 500 word mark, and I still have no idea which one I actually want to finish haha. I'll get these latest added to the ToC later today.
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