I awake only to find a miasma of my living chamber. Sweat runs down my face. I look up and see that the ventilation duct is dead. A thick coating of spider webs tells me that it’s been dead for a long time. As I wake up, I remember that it died years ago. Why I never bothered to make it work is beyond me now. I had the skill, yet lacked the will to act. The air is thick with foul smells. Dirty sheets on the thing I call a bed. Dirty laundry on the small table by the wall. Dishes and canisters all over the mentioned laundry, and the floor oozes with the rotten remains of food rations. A few thick files buzz their way as they gorge upon the filth. How I can live like this, I wonder, but again, the answer is beyond me. I stand up and find my implants itching and hurting. It has been years since I got them, but they never found a way to work with my body. How happy and proud I was on that day. How naive too. They work their job well, allowing me to manipulate things, work on cogitators, send commands to machine spirits, and anoint the blessed oils over the sacred machinery. They just do not work well with my flesh.
My flesh is so weak. Omnissiah bless them, the machine parts of me are strong, but the flesh is weak and useless. As I stand up and look around, trying to discern something to eat in the turbid light coming from the small, stained window; once again I realize how much I hate my flesh. It demands food, it demands care, and when not cared for, it rots, stinks, and hurts. Giving up on my eyesight, I switched on the implant. It makes darkness into light, blood-red light that hides most of the unpleasant things all over my hub. There is nothing to eat today, I realize. I don my cloak and get out. It is time to go to work.
I walk down the dark, narrow passages. My workplace is very far away. Lacking the monetary resources to use transportation hubs that snake all over the hive, monorails, grav lifts, conveyors and many other ways of transport; so I simply walk. It would be a very long walk if I used the normal passages and roads, but out of necessity I found a shortcut. It leads through the parts of the hive that no sane soul would use, but I had no choice when I was allocated here. Every time I leave the light and enter the dark, I feel something akin to fear. Today is no exception.
Filth of all imaginable and unimaginable sorts covers the stone and ferrocrete I walk upon. It is pitch dark on some parts, but my eye implant allows me to navigate the trash pits full of dung that spills out of broken pipes, and the corpses. Yes, corpses.
There are so many corpses on the road I walk. Nobody comes here to sniff or investigate, not even Arbites. Some of the dead I already know like old friends. They were fresh, bloody corpses the first time I saw them. Gang members, poachers, bandits, tradesmen. Lost souls, all of them. Now, years later, they are no more but dried husks infested by vermin. Still, I greet them as I pass them by. Faithful souls they were, I fancy. Loyal servants of God Emperor, some of them at least. The first was surely a gang member. A young male draped in a simple outfit with gang clan ornaments to show his allegiance. His hands were bound with a piece of thick wire the first time I saw him, and his throat slit from ear to ear. Second was definitely a robbery victim. The third was a mutant, his body nothing but a mass of deformed limbs. His death must have been very violent. Other bodies were nothing but gore, found by things that dwell in the dark. As I pass many of their final resting places, I also meet and greet the Duchess.
A female adorned in what once was a dress meant to draw the eyes and minds of men. Her gorgeous gown that hid little. I remember well when I first saw her. She was fresh, dead for a few hours at most. Vermin had not done any damage to her pale flesh. Beautiful in death was she, lying there on a rare patch of clean floor. Never knew how it was she got there, or how she died. No blood or wounds, not even bruises. She looked as peaceful as if she were just sleeping. This was not a place for the likes of her. She must have belonged to the court of some rich dwellers of the highest levels of the hive. A courtesan or a mistress. Who knows? Something made me feel sorry for her, so I made sure no mutant, or worse, could reach her. So using metal scrap I found lying here and there, I welded a simple cage around her body, never touching it in some morbid fear that I would desecrate her in some way. On that day I had to run the rest of the road in order not to be late to work. She was nothing but a dried out husk now, but I greeted her as I passed by, just as I did every single day for the past year. Nothing of the beauty remained. Her gown faded, covered in a thin layer of dust. Her beautiful hands I once watched with admiration looked like claws now. Her face, once beautiful with porcelain white skin, fell off just like how paint peels off the walls, turned into dust. Pale bones and a calm grin of naked teeth were all that was left of all that beauty.
I hate my flesh even more as I look at the Duchess. I spend a few moments there and move on.
At least they do not wish to hurt me, the corpses. Others do so, and I have to run and hide. Others are alive: mutants, freaks of nature, products of pollution and radiation, or worse. Mindless beasts that roam the dark, sniffing the soiled air in search for food. Often I am that food. Although I am usually hungry and tired, I am also fast, so I run. I am still young, but I already fear the future, aware that I will not be young forever. Not being mindless like them helps too.
There are others. Not mindless but vile, rude, and ferocious—criminals, gang members. They do not live down here, yet use it for reasons similar to mine, to move across the hive far away from the eyes of the authorities. I am of no interest to them, so I make sure not to be in their way. There is nothing they can take from me, so they ignore me as worthless. I am only sick and rotting flesh, and some implants they do not need. A few times some of them approach me, seeking my services, needing simple repairs on their weapons and other equipment. Few of them treated me badly. Few were almost nice to me, giving me warnings about dangerous parts of my road; once one of them even gave me a small food ration as a reward for good service. I do not like any of them though.
I walk down the forgotten alleys and streets, long ago abandoned and buried under the endless growth of the hive. Just as a cancer it grows, this hive. It amazed me once, when I first came here.
It only sickens me now that I walk down its bowels.
I am close now. There is a faint, red light in the darkness. For hours, I ascend, climbing the worn out stairs billions once climbed. Countless roads lead left and right into other countless parts of the hive. I am not alone here. Other people are here, cloaked and in a hurry. Approaching the red lantern, I stop and look down at the passage it marks. My hearing is not improved with any implants, yet I hear the sounds. Faint voices and moans, laughs and cries, screams of pleasure, pain and agony, everything muffled. Pleasure Alley they call it. A place for workers that toil their lives in forges far above me, to go and spend their hard-earned money on a few moments of strange, filthy pleasures. A place for the rich to indulge in the worst of their fantasies and debauchery, hidden away from the eyes of their peers; here in the place where they can buy anything, even life. I am ashamed of myself just for standing here and hearing the sounds of corruption.
Soon I reach the entrance, where an ancient servitor awaits me. It’s a rotten thing, its ribs sprung open to reveal crude machinery that allows it to toll its mindless, worthless un-life.
As I approach, it detects me, slowly turning over. It looks much worse than any of my dead friends in the dark alleys of the hive underground.
‘ADEPT: HY-218; DESIGNATED NAME: AMAGON; CONFIRM ENTRANCE CODE.’ it creaks in its metallic voice. Eyes that once filled the gaping holes in its skull are long gone now, replaced with crude visual sensors. I approach the simple console, followed all the time by precise movements of a multi barrelled weapon, attached to the massive armoured dome on the right side of the gate. I type the code. Nothing happens for a few moments, but the grinding of the gate mechanism tells me that my code has gone through.
‘CODE ACCEPTED’, it creaks again.
It is the same every single day. I enter the hallway. Compared to the road I walked to get here, one could consider it a sterile environment.
The air is filled with incense and murmur of prayers to Omnissiah and machine spirits. I do not greet any of the other Adepts I meet, just as they ignore me. Following the well-memorized route, I head to my final destination.
Today, my goal is not my console, where I spend 12 hours regulating the pressure in one of the minor manifolds. Today I walk further along, unaware of what I am doing, passing one gate after the other, typing in codes I should not know. Every gate is the same as the one I entered first. Servitor on the one side, weapon sentry on the other, thick steel plate in the middle that slides away.
I am someone else at every single one of them.
CODE ACCEPTED’, I hear them say. The servitors do not look that bad here, and their voices are clear. The Omnissiah blesses them.
Nobody notices or pays any attention to me as I approach my final goal. A massive gate adorned by the large sigil of Machine God — the Skull and Gog. Once again, I type in the code under the scrutiny of four servitors and a whole array of heavily armed sentries. They do nothing and allow me to enter. I close the gate behind me and lock it, so nobody can open it from the outside.
I see my goal clearly now. The master control chamber and the High Adept, the one I called my master, its only occupant. Swiftly I go to him, and with strength I never knew I possessed, I rip him away from the main console. The High Adept screams as he crashes onto the clean, marble floor, blood and oils pouring from the sockets I’ve ripped open. His high-pitched binary screeching annoys me; and I step on his head and crush his skull. So much flesh there, I watch with disgust as his brain oozes through the broken bones. He had many implants, yet he had far more flesh than he made all of us, his subordinates, believe.
I place myself on the throne of the main console. Codes far above my safety clearance are somehow in my head, and I type them in complex sequences I’ve never learned. For every new request the machine spirit of the main console makes, I know the answer. Many clicks later it is over. One more command. I type it and the machine spirit obeys. Safety locks of the hyper massive plasma reactor that powers the hive are all lifted. Nobody besides me knows that in only a few moments the new star will flash in the darkness of the galaxy. Untold billions toil their entire lives here, unaware of what will happen. As the thundering of the reactor turning into death incarnate reaches me, and klaxons start to wail, I remember.
Finally, I remember.
Some time ago, I walked my dark path through the foundations of the hive; and I passed by the Duchess and greeted her.
I remember the day she answered me.
About the Author
A child that survived the horrors of war, destined to be chosen by Omnissiah, mechanical engineer Selmir Ikanovic has shown a major interest in reading and writing since his youth.
He lives and works in Bosnia and Hercegovina where he spends hi free time exploring Warhammer lore and tinkering with machinery.