They don’t realise that I can hear them as they crawl over me like flies on a rotting carcass. But unlike those who feed on a dead animal, these insects are responsible for keeping me alive.
And I hate them for it.
I listen to their mindless talk: sometimes about me, sometimes about themselves, sometimes about the Crusade. They wonder why I am so angry, these insects who give me life. They wonder why I am not grateful for their benevolence in caring for me before they release me to fight for the Emperor once more.
They do not understand me.
I was born hundreds of years ago to a family I forgot soon afterwards. Without dying, and without asking, a few years later I was forcibly born again to a new family, an exclusive brotherhood of warriors. In time, I accepted my new life and grew to enjoy slaying the Emperor’s enemies wherever I found them. I never wanted responsibility and was proud to remain a line warrior throughout my career – a much vaunted and decorated line warrior though!
And then I died.
Not in a glorious and heroic manner. My drop pod was torn open during a combat descent and the combination of onboard fire and impact injuries was too severe even for my gene-enhanced constitution to survive. Not that I minded. I had fought the good fight for long enough and I had seen the future. When Guilliman’s new warriors arrived, I understood what this meant for me and my brothers. Ours was the generation which lasted for ten thousand years, but overnight we became relics-in-waiting, left behind by Arkhan Land’s unnatural process of accelerated evolution. Death held no fear for me. After hundreds of years of life, I was ready for it. But I did not want or expect to be born a third time after my first death.
Yet again, I was born in the dark – screaming, wet, in pain. I tried to thrash my limbs, to break free from whatever literal and metaphysical restraints bound me. Time had no meaning, and I do not know how long I struggled. Did I drift in and out of consciousness? Probably. Did I improve my situation? No.
At some point I made the major discovery that I was no longer who I had been before. I had lost my arms and legs, and all that remained were stubs like the flippers of some primitive water creature. I couldn’t see the stubs. I couldn’t see anything, but I could feel their absence in a strange inversion of normality. What did this mean? In my agonised state I presumed that I had been captured by an enemy who had imprisoned and tortured me, that I was being turned into a monster and that my mind had blanked my most recent experiences. In hindsight, I was correct.
Thoughts of a water creature made me realise that I was submerged in a liquid and had been so since I was brought back to life. This knowledge made me thrash furiously once again as I suddenly became aware of the liquid in my mouth, nose, throat, and lungs. It burned my respiratory system, bringing a primal fear that my multi-lung wouldn’t save me. Had I been resurrected just to die anew? In my desperation, it took time to realise I wasn’t drowning at all, but that the liquid was providing oxygen to my normal lungs. Someone had deliberately chosen to keep me alive.
After another indeterminate period, I felt something being forced into my prime spinal connector. The feeling was horrific, like an enemy invading my body, and I became as an insect pinned to a surface, able to squirm but not to escape. Was the horrible experiment which brought me back to life about to begin again?
Suddenly new sensations flooded my ruined body – feelings of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch overwhelmed my nervous system and set my mind afire. I could see in multiple spectra across such a wide field of vision that even my occulobe struggled to cope with the sensory overload. I could see a gigantic workshop, staffed by hordes of tech-priests labouring under the control of a senior member of the Mechanicus. I could smell the potent mix of incense, oil and sweat that saturated the bodies of these men, women, and servitors. And somewhere else, I could track the scent of one of my brothers – was I not the only prisoner? The noise within the workshop was deafening, yet I was able to hear the beating hearts of the other creatures in a way which my Lyman’s ear had never been able to do before. My neuroglottis could taste multiple competing chemicals within the workshop, even though my mouth was still full of the liquid.
But it was the sudden sense of touch which scared me more than anything. I felt mighty. I felt powerful. I felt invincible. Even though I knew I had no limbs, my right arm was a devastating multi-melta and my left arm was a power fist larger than most tech-priests I could see. My legs were immovable objects for all bar me.
And my hearts were a thermic reactor.
I knew no fear. I knew no dread. I was a dreadnought. Yet I was terrified.
I have been born three times, yet only once have I died. I had no choice in any of those events. No-one has ever asked me what I wanted; I have never chosen my own destiny. I am now taken from a well-deserved oblivion and brought back to walk amongst the living once more, preserved as a relic for the next generation to revere. Do the insects know how I feel about that? Do they appreciate the irony of the moment I would happily have gone to meet the Emperor being ruined by yet another of his subjects deciding how best I could serve him?
And they wonder why I am angry?
About the Author
Mark Butterworth lives and works in the UK.