Graka da Oddmek knew bombs – loved ‘em. Knew humans too – but didn’t like ‘em at all. It only took him a moment to decide that the shiny console with the flashing screen was definitely a human bomb. He gave it a quick thump to see if it’d stop.
The Kaptin’s voice buzzed in his ear, ‘Well?’
‘Ticker on the bridge,’ Graka answered. The pair of grots with him were still covering their heads.
‘Can you stop it?’
He knew he could, down in the Deep Green, but part of him didn’t really want to. It’d been months since they killed a ship, really killed it, and Graka was getting antsy. Antsy, like the boyz prowling the room, ordered to guard him instead of fight. To watch him.
‘Oddmek?!’ the voice cut through the thoughts, backlit by the sounds of distant combat.
He sighed, ‘Aye, Kaptin.’
Graka tried to focus. He knew instinctively it was a self-destruct, the little symbols dancing on the screen a countdown—one less now than when they’d blown the doors. He’d seen the numbers before, even managed to work some of them out. The axe was bigger than the spear, the spear bigger than the claw, the claw bigger than the stick. These all made sense—relatively—but then there were a bunch of other shapes he couldn’t make sense of.
He pressed his thick fingers into his eyes as the shifting symbols began to blur together. The longer he spent here, the more likely the ship would explode, or the fighting would end without him. Time was running out.
A grot bumped into his leg and Graka readied a fist… then paused. The runt was holding a distinctly Imperial-looking dataslate, eyes ahead and tongue poking out over his upper lip, scrawling the symbols down as they appeared on the console screen.
‘What you got there?’ The grot flinched, but too slow to stop Graka from snatching the square from his hands.
He ignored the protestations, furrowing his brow as he read. The grot had been scribbling the numbers down in order as they appeared… but had quickly run out of space and begun adding them at random around the other numbers. Useless.
‘Where’d you get this?’
The grot drew himself up as tall as possible, head tilted so far back that his nose crested Graka’s upper thigh, and any further would cause him to topple backwards. He met his eyes with a sneer, ‘Mekboss! Now give it back!’
Graka bounced it off his head and chuckled as the grot skittered after it towards the doorway. It faded when he turned back.
The number on the furthest left disappeared. Bad sign. He tried to experiment with the strange controls, but his massive fingers were too thick for the keys, and the console refused his input. Graka put another dent in it for good measure, but now he was out of ideas.
He looked around. The grot from before was frantically trying to piece together a shattered screen, while the other waited a wary distance away. The boyz set on the door were gone, likely slipped off to the fighting, while the rest idled around a screen showing combat elsewhere on the ship or wandered around taking trophies off heedless servitors.
Graka gestured the second grot over and the sullen runt obeyed, stood on tiptoes to press the buttons as the Oddmek instructed. But still, nothing happened beyond a little flashing red square. He started to worry.
‘Maybe you should krump it?’
Inspiration struck like his backhand, and he spun to the others as the grot toppled.
‘Oy! You lot! I need fingers!’
The boyz cast confused glances amongst themselves, and their Nob turned, pulling a blade from the sternum of a convulsing servitor. ‘What?’
‘Their fingers. Bring me ‘em.’
He had a pile in minutes and set the grot to trying them one-by-one against a scanner set into the console. They tried dozens, yet still nothing. Another number disappeared from the left, another dent appeared in the console. Graka eyed the door.
‘You should krump it,’ the grot mumbled.
The Nob saved him a slap. ‘You nearly done? I wanna scrap.’
‘Those aren’t orders.’
The giant squared up to him. ‘You ain’t the Kaptin.’
He’d been a Blood Axe… Blood Moon…? The Big Green said all were equal under the Waaagh!
Yeah right. Graka was bigger than most of them and more kunnin than the rest. He’d take lip from a grot he needed in the moment, but if the Nob didn’t have a forehead over him, he’d have buried his choppa in him then and there. ‘You’ll be off First Toof.’
‘Sog this!’ The Nob tilted his head up, baring his throat and sneering, ‘Fight’s this way boyz!’
They poured out after him like a flood, trampling the kneeling grot in their way, and it was all Graka could do not to go charging off with them. Then he was alone with the grot, the dead, and their fingers. There were three shifting symbols left on the screen.
An alarm blared. The grot flinched so hard from the sound he knocked the rest of the pile onto the floor. Graka was among them before he realised, scrambling on the ground like the trampled grot had, pawing at digits, at the console.
‘You needa krump it!’
More fingers, more nothing. Graka smashed the console with both hands and the image flickered and dimmed. Unless…
One number. ‘Boss please!’
Graka roared and snatched up his shoota. He squeezed hard until it clicked empty, until the sparks stopped and the screen died. He shook, but the air was still, the alarm quiet.
The grot should’ve shut it too. Graka’s armoured boot flicked out and he hit the far wall with a satisfying crunch.
Another far-off explosion rocked the deck beneath him, almost drowned out by roars and cheering. Graka reloaded his gun and chased the noise with a grin. Another day in the life of a Freebooter.
About the Author
UK-based writer L. James Elliott is a longtime Warhammer 40k fan and general fantasy/sci-fi nerd, recently turned to amateur 40k author, with one published short story thus far. When not struggling to write a bio, he aims to bring a fresh voice and new directions to the darkness of the far-future.