A Routine Malfunction

4.75/5 (2)

‘… and never respond to anything not addressed to you directly,’ Madgie said, placing the crystal champagne flutes on the serving tray.

Adma nodded, shifting the tray to compensate for the weight. ‘You can stop fussing, it’s been four months. They like me. I’ll be fine.’ 

‘Yes. Of course. But you know they never found Vanchesa’s body.’

‘I can be discreet. I’ll definitely not mention the mysterious death of the Sakarine ambassador or his missing secret blackmail dossiers.’

Madgie blanched.

‘I’ll be fine,’ Adma laughed. She pushed open the doors with her hip, the tray of drinks balanced expertly in one hand and hors d’oeuvres in the other.

‘There she is! Our favourite waitress!’ The four figures at the table let out a cheer as Adma curtsied. The wall of bodyguards parted wordlessly to let her through.

‘I heard you were having a party, and I wouldn’t want to miss it,’ she said as she finished serving the drinks, and moved on to placing the golden Mangfruit forks.

Lord Grelkar wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer.

‘We should really get to know each other better, you and I,’ he leered. 

She gently slipped from his grip. ‘Perhaps, we’ll find some alone time someday.’

‘I’m a good tipper,’ he winked.

The men laughed, spurred on by the pre-dinner drinks and an undercurrent of fear of their ringleader.

The screeching of alarms interrupted his advances. The lights dimmed to near-darkness as an orange gloom embraced them.

It was cold. Freezing. She could hear something. Laughter? No, it was crying. Wailing. Something skittered behind her. She felt long fingers begin to slide through her hair, nails scraping her scalp.

The return of the ship’s lights was blinding. Two of the bodyguards were on the ground, their eyes missing from ragged sockets. Another was in the corner, weeping.

‘What the hell was that?’ Grelkar demanded of the remaining wide-eyed guards.

++Gellar Field Malfunction. Four minutes thirty-six seconds until complete Gellar Shut-Down,++ A robotic voice politely informed the increasingly panicked clientele. 

Several people screamed. Some began to sob. Grelkar went pale. He grabbed the gaping bodyguard by the lapels and shook him.

‘Don’t just stand there, you fool! Get me to an escape pod!’

Adma allowed herself to be swept up with the men at the table. They pushed ahead of the crowd to reach the door, when the lights dropped again.

++Gellar Field Malfunction. Four minutes two seconds until complete Gellar Shut-++

She was alone. Then she wasn’t. It looked like a woman. Huge, red insect eyes covered her face. It shuffled forward, its limbs growing and shrinking between blinks.

++Gellar Field Malfunction. Three minutes forty seconds until complete-++

Light flooded back and she was running. The crowd was crushing her. Bodies were trampled. Bones crunched underfoot.

++Gellar Field Malfunction. Two minutes twenty-two seconds-++

Crawling on stumps, creeping on stilts. She heard the sound of clanking, grinding chains. Its black skin bubbled like boiling tar.

++Gellar Field Malfunction. One minute-++

The floor was slick with blood. She jumped over a body that’s intestines had been fed into its mouth. She grabbed Grelkar’s sleeve and held on.

++Gellar Field Malfunction-++

Arms of steel scraped across the deck, dripping with vibrant green venom.

++Gellar Field-++

As they ran into the docking bay, Adma saw piles of bodies arranged in concentric circles. Bodily fluids marked out sinister runes across the floor and walls, and dripped from the cavernous ceiling.


Thick chains extended up into the darkness, pulling its limbs to propel it forward like a hideous marionette.

++Gellar Field Malfuncfuncfuncfunc-++

Shots rang out as armed patrons forced their way to the escape pods. Next to Adma, a woman with a jagged piece of metal stabbed a man before climbing over him.

++Gellar Fieeeeee-++

Red eyes were inches from her face. Its head fell back and shoulders dropped, as its fang-toothed maw opened and began to speak.


Adma whipped back around to see Grelkar scrambling into an escape pod that was already rising toward the docking bay hatch. Sprinting forward, both her and one of Grelkar’s dinner companions leapt and grabbed onto the closing door. 

Grelkar stepped forward and put his foot upon the man’s fingertips.

‘But- Uncle! You never could have set up the Sakarina coup without me. We were both going to be rich!’ his face twisted with fury and fear in equal measure.

‘And I thank you for your service. I’ll enjoy the fortune enough for the both of us.’

The boy cursed as he fell. The lights flickered.

Grelkar reached out his arm to her. Adma grasped it and dragged herself up from the precipice of the bay doors.

For a moment they both stood, catching their breath. They were swallowed by a sea of cold, silent stars outside the pod.

‘You’ll do,’ he looked over hungrily. ‘A few days until planetfall. Just the two of us.’

She smiled, leaning in closer. ‘Finally, we are alone.’

The phase sword hissed softly as it emerged from its long-dormant sheath, followed by the soft thud of his head falling to the steel grate floor. 

Adma stretched as muscles and cartilage rearranged themselves under her skin. She peeled off the bloody rags her clothes had become to reveal her synskin body glove underneath. 

Leaning down, she plucked the pendant from around his severed neck and removed the data wafer from within. Kicking the decapitated head aside, she made her way to the cockpit.

She slid the wafer into a pouch while she keyed in her new coordinates. Unfortunate nature of the circumstances aside, she was now four months ahead of schedule. Her handler would be pleased. Though the Assassin disliked it when things didn’t go to plan. But that wasn’t what this feeling was. That cold, tugging under her ribs. The unshakable unease.

She looked up at the display screen and saw reflected back her big, red insectoid eyes.

About the Author

Jenny Strath is the author of fast fiction and audio drama ‘The Consuming Gaze’, as well as fast fiction ‘The Good Citizen,’ ‘Setting the Stage’, and short story ‘The Silk Spire.’

A lifelong lover of fantasy/science-fiction, horror and gaming, she found her home in Warhammer. Based in Melbourne, Australia, her other passions include history, heavy metal, high heels and her Alaskan Malamute, Fenris.