She dreamed of a strange, barren landscape, pocked by craters and run through by endlessly repeating patterns. Alexis had been having strange dreams ever since the accident. They were always the same: she stood on that landscape that should not be, as the starry sky lit with beautiful, impossible patterns, a growing brightness that coalesced into Calista. The radiant form of her lover reached for her – before she awoke on the cusp of touching that indescribably beautiful spiralling light, and once again, the dingy reality of her life pressed down on her. The drab dormitory room. The featureless walls. The empty bed.
A chime sounded as she woke, and a harsh mechanical voice proclaimed the beginning of the day’s second shift. Alexis ate quickly, her meal as gritty and tasteless as always, and got herself into her coveralls. Her living space was a carefully calculated volume. To remain acceptably productive, a human labourer in the manufactorum needed so many cubic feet for eating, sleeping, devotionals to the God-Emperor and the Omnissiah, and some small excess allotted for ‘leisure’. She’d have sworn that last part was a bitter joke, but she was sure the tech-adepts were incapable of laughing. It all added up to a stained, beaten mattress in one corner of her room, a meagre kitchen in another, her small personal icon against the wall, and very little else. Alexis had lived like this her entire adult life. Having someone to share it with had made it more bearable, but that was over. Calista was gone.
Dressed and nourished, she headed out into the dormitory hallway, and tried to keep her mind on what awaited her after 12 hours on the factorum floor. Tried not to miss her. Tried not to dwell on the memory of her, everything lying broken and still.
Her shift was exhausting as always. Tonight was a meeting, and that thought alone kept her going as she worked. 63 days ago, the machinist beside her had slipped her a scrawled invitation. She’d been so lonely before she first attended. That had changed. So much had changed. Ashes drifted through the sky as she left the manufactorum, and the night was bitterly cold. She barely noticed and strode purposely into a dilapidated industrial quarter, seeking the appointed place.
A masked lookout called to her as she approached, ‘What burns within you?’ She replied as she’d been told, ‘the lightless flame.’
The figure nodded, its cloak seeming to flow like mercury in the light, and handed her a silvery mask. ‘Welcome, sister. Tonight’s omens are good.’
The disused storeroom had become a sanctum; runes of worship covered the weathered, rust-flecked walls, and a great altar sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by offerings of devotion and hope. All in attendance wore masks, no two the same, all made from hammered metal.
The Matron spoke of imminent change, of a great scouring of the world that promised rebirth, and freedom for all the faithful. It sounded so beautiful; Alexis struggled to keep her composure as their leader proclaimed that the time was nigh, the portents were right. She looked directly at Alexis, and called her forward, into the centre of the circle.
Alexis knelt. Her Matron looked her over, and Alexis imagined what she must see: a malnourished young woman, skin smudged with ash, hair kept short lest it be caught in the machines she laboured with. ‘Daughter, you came to us grieving. Your heart is heavy yet, is it not?’
Alexis swallowed back tears beneath her mask and gave a small nod. The Matron’s face was hidden, her voice took a kinder tone. ‘I know. We’ve all suffered at the hands of our oppressors. Your pain is fresh. Our patron offers you the reversal of your fortunes, my child. Do you want to see her again?’
Alexis’ heart leapt. She couldn’t stop herself from saying it aloud, ‘More than anything.’ Her Matron nodded, and pressed a curved dagger, bright silver and lapis lazuli, into her hand.
‘Then take this. Change your fate, my daughter. Tomorrow, when your time labouring for our oppressors begins, you must not hesitate. Offer your blood, and you shall have what you desire.’
The dagger had been easy to conceal. Her coveralls were baggy, and the overseer on her floor had always been a lazy sort. As her shift began, Alexis made her way to her station amongst the machinery. She ignored the gasps from the workers around her as she drew the blade. They stared, as she whispered the name of her beloved and opened her palm. Her blood poured from the gash, and for a moment the universe seemed to inhale and hold its breath.
The drops of her blood on the metal floor began to wriggle, given life, ballooning up into rubbery pink shapes. Fanged maws opened, glowing eyes shone in the misshapen, tentacled lumps of bodies, and the humans around her began to scream. Blazing fire burned impossible colours across the open floor as these capering things, borne of her blood, began to chant. Everything the flames touched seemed to unravel and become less real. Fear of what she’d unleashed filled her. Everything hurt to look at.
She sank to her knees. The Matron had lied to her. She’d done the unspeakable. If she lived through this, she’d be hunted all her life.
‘Alex?’ came a voice from behind her. She looked up, struggling to her feet. The pandemonium around her suddenly didn’t matter. She couldn’t bear to be wrong, to have her hope be false. What if it wasn’t her? ‘Alex, what’s happening?’
Slowly, she turned, finding courage born of impossible hope. That close-cropped blonde hair. Those bright eyes, the lines of her face. It was Calista. Her Calista. Looking… bewildered. Terrified.
‘Cali! Cali, it’s me! It worked!’ Calista hesitated, and then rushed into Alex’s waiting arms and clung to her tight. The world burned around Alexis, and she didn’t care. Everything she wanted was right here.
About the Author
Darryl Parks has been reading, painting, and playing in the Warhammer 40,000 universe since he was 12 years old, starting with the 2nd edition boxed set, cardboard Ork dreadnought and all. He lives in Seattle with his spouse and is an avid amateur stage combatant.