Location: Tiran, Ocean World in the Arros System, Segmentum Ultima
The sky above looked like a grey ocean of clouds moving like tides, merging into one firmament and dominating the heavens as far as the eye could see. The waters below were, likewise, also the colour of dark grey, broken from time to time by the white foam of the falling waves. It was a sight that turned sailors into poets.
‘I’m enclosed by endless oceans,’ thought Uther. ‘As above, so below’.
His ship, the Tiranian Whaler Harpoon, sailed the waters of the Northern Ocean, known for its frequent storms and remorseless winds. The area was desolate, for most ships saw no reason to venture so far north from the equatorial ring of isles where the bulk of the planet’s populace lived. There were no islands, no settlements – only the ocean, all the way to the northern icecap.
And this was exactly why whalers travelled there, as this far from civilisation the sea was rich with life forms of titanic size.
Though this time they weren’t hunting whales. No, this time their prize was much more valuable – Tiranian Terror Jaws. Sharks of gargantuan size, able to drown unsuspecting vessels by biting through their hulls. Easily able to swallow a man whole, they were the natural predators of whales and krakens, with teeth the size of man’s arm, growing in rows all throughout the gullet. Their fins were the height of a man, and their heads were plated in bone as dense as ceramite which they used to headbutt ice-water kraken. Truly terrifying monsters.
But also full of oil, which was a favourite remedy for illness of nobles all throughout the system and sub-sector. The meat was also considered a delicacy, provided one knew how to cook it, and one could even find buyers for the bones, as they were viewed as the finest of art supplies. One terror jaw could set a captain for a season or two.
Uther Heriot stood on the bridge, smoking a pipe, one hand on the helm, the other resting in a pocket. He was a hearty man, wearing black overalls covered in pockets full of handy things, and on his belt hung a holstered laspistol. The seas could be dangerous sometimes, and not only because of the monsters below.
As the ship pressed forward, Uther kept an eye on one of the screens laid out before him. Their sonar had picked up a potential Terror Jaw a few minutes ago, slowly heading their way. His ship was small, but his crew were ready for the beast. They sailed towards it, harpoon cannons primed. The terror jaw would die before it could sink its teeth into the hull. It had to, if they were to survive.
‘How many kliks, boy?’ Uther asked his navigator, a young sailor he had picked up on the Isle of Mists named Ishmel.
‘About five boss. We are closing in fast – he’s rather slow, that one,’ responded the boy, consulting the navigation-console. He was handy with machines, trained somewhat by the adepts of the Mechanicus who dwelled on the Isle of Mists. The machine cultists had been interested in keeping him, but Uther had managed to tempt him away with the promise of the open sea. ‘It’s… some seventy metres deep,’ added Ishmel.
‘Not too deep,’ commented the captain. ‘Time?’
The navigator closed his eyes and made the necessary calculations in his head. ‘Will be around two minutes or so,’ he responded.
‘I didn’t ask you to guess. Give me the time boy, I know you can do it’.
Ishmel sighed deeply and looked at the screen again. ‘Two minutes, forty-six seconds. Satisfied?’
‘Satisfied, Captain,” Uther corrected, “and watch your tone, boy. You might be a fuggin genius but I’m still your boss.’ Despite the reprimand, Uther kept his tone light. He quite liked the boy. He turned on the vox-speaker and brought it to his mouth. ‘To your stations men,’ he said. ‘In two minutes we’ll get our prize.’
From the deck below he could hear the cheering of his crew. There were sixteen of them on the deck, though just three of them, with the captain, would be firing the harpoons. The rest were there to make sure that they could haul their catch onto the deck.
Uther observed his men, noting their performance with satisfaction before changing the vox channel.’Mado, how is the engine running?’
‘She’s fine Cap’n,’ responded Mado, his engineer. Uther could hear the man’s aide chanting some Mechanicus spells and working the valves. ‘Though she’s runnin a bit hot. We could really use some work in a dry dock on the Isle of Mist, methinks.’
‘We’ll fix her up,’ promised the Captain. ‘After this catch, we’ll have enough money for that. Now, when we harpoon the beast I want you to reverse the engine. Standard pattern. Auto will let you know when.’
‘Aye boss. Mado out.’
Uther put down the vox-speaker and turned to Ishmel. ‘Go join the crew. I’ll be right there.’
‘Aye,’ responded the boy, heading out.
Before following, Uther turned to the third figure, which had been standing perfectly still behind him in a wall recess.
‘Auto. Wake up, you creepy piece of metal in a fleshsuit.’
The servitor looked at him with the visors attached to its temples. The actual eyes of the things were non-functional, little more than just pieces of white, dead matter. Its pale face showed no emotions, no thoughts, at all.
‘I am operational, Captain Uther. How may I serve you?’ the thing answered in its synthesised voice. Though it spoke from its mouth, the lips did not move. Not for the first time, the Captain regretted having bought a servitor with a vox unit. The emotionless speech of Auto left him uneasy every time the man-machine spoke.
‘I’m giving you the wheel. Keep Harpoon steady and when we reach our prey, match the speed and put it on our starboard. Understood?’ ordered Uther.
‘Compliance, Captain Uther,’ the twisted mockery of a man responded, walking over to the steering wheel. Its metal-rod reinforced hands gripped it and held steady.
Whilst Uther preferred to steer the ship along with the waves and currents to keep its movements smooth, Auto had no such compulsions. The machine kept the ship’s course dead straight, forcing it to plough through the waves, the deck rising and falling wildly. The hull groaned at the added stress, but Uther knew Harpoon could take it.
Satisfied, Uther walked out of his cabin, taking a moment to breathe in the fresh and salty air outside. This was the stuff that made Tiranians strong.
The chill wind blew away the rest of his poetic mood. He was cold, he was being sprayed with sea water, and he was surrounded by a steady crew, closing in on a Terror Jaw. He felt alive. He was going to be rich.
He grabbed the handrail for balance as he surveyed the sea. There was a storm coming, as it always was, and they would need to catch their prey before it bore down on them. Uther looked down, onto the deck of his cutter.
The crew was in position, ready for action. Three of his men were manning the harpoon guns, looking at the radar screens and re-checking the controls. The harpoons were metal rods almost the size of a man, with nasty barbed blade tips. Long steel lines connected them to massive cranes and winches which would rewind them after the terror jaw was slain, pulling the beast’s carcass out of the water.
The rest of the crew was standing next to them, ready to help in pulling the catch out, in case the winch engines weren’t up to the task. Normally, two men would have stayed at the very front of the ship, manning the small autocannon, but during their recent trip to the Isle of Mists, Uther had managed to barter the services of a tech-adept to slave the weapon to the controls on the bridge, freeing up more hands to help with the fishing.
The ship hadn’t always been armed, but much like Uther’s las-pistol, it was there for their protection. And Uther hated the fact that he needed either. The seas used to be safe once. Safe from others, anyway.
Uther descended from the wheelhouse, turning to a small shrine as his boots hit the deck. Built into the metal wall, surrounded by a circle of candles made from impure dark wax, it consisted of a small figurine of the God-Emperor of Mankind.
To Tiranians, He was the Destroyer of Darkness and the Conqueror of the Deeps. The heavily stylized figure of the God-Emperor had him clutching a harpoon in one hand, and raising a roaring torch with the other. Sailors knew Him as the Lighthouse Perpetual.
Uther lit one of the candles with his lighter, just as custom demanded. Personally, he doubted that the God-Emperor ever even owned a harpoon. Or had strayed anywhere close to Tiran, for that matter.
‘Captain on the deck!’ yelled one of the crew.
‘Shut up, Igor!’ responded Uther, also yelling to be heard over the crashing waves. ‘This ain’t a navy vessel! How many times do I have to remind you of that?!’
‘Sorry boss. All ready boss!’ responded Igor, the only off-worlder on the crew. What inspired an agri-world boy to serve on a sea-faring vessel Uther could never guess, but the lad had enthusiasm, which was very helpful for the morale of the crew. Plus, he was strong as hell.
Uther walked to his harpoon-gun, Ishmel already tinkering with some of its machinery. He gave a thumbs up as he saw the captain approachThe grizzled seaman sat in the seat and donned a vox-headset.
‘Everybody hearing me?’ he asked.
‘Aye,’ responded John, his second gunman.
‘Aye,’ added Samy, his third.
‘Affirmative,’ finalised Isaach, the fourth gunner.
‘Very well. You all know the drill. I go for the head, John and Samy go for the sides of the fugger, and Isa gets his tail,’ said Uther, his crewmen responding with confirmations. ‘Wait for my signal,’ he added, watching the scanner.
They were almost upon the Jaw and he felt Auto realign the ship to have the beast on Harpoon’s starboard. Uther could already see in his mind’s eye the thrones he was going to get for selling the beast.
The scanner pinged. The Terror Jaw was now level with the ship and only some twenty meters underwater, just as Ishmel predicted.
‘Now! Fugg it!’ yelled Uther, pulling the trigger on his control stick. The harpoons shoot off into the water, his in the lead.
‘Target hit!’ confirmed Isaach, precise as ever.
The metal lines jolted and stretched as the shark convulsed.
It didn’t last long, Uther’s harpoon having struck it directly in the brain. The ship, just as ordered, reversed engines, bringing it to an almost halt. The easy part was over. Now they had to haul the beast onto the deck.
Uther waved his hand at the rest of his crew as he got up out of the gunner seat, and the winches whirred as they retracted the cables.
Making his way to the side, Uther peered into the roiling water, and soon enough a dark shape took form. A smile spread across his face as the Terror Jaw’s remains were pulled closer and closer. The fish was truly gargantuan, easily half the length of his ship.
‘We are all going to be rich boys!’ he yelled to his crew. ‘Pull this bastard out!” he added over their cheers.
‘Aye, Captain!’ yelled Igor, setting the winch machinery to max power, the cables groaning and hoist wheel smoking from the traction.
The beast is heavy, thought Uther. Too heavy. What the hell was he eating?
Even as the thought occurred to him, the ship started leaning heavily to starboard. Crewmen cried out and caught what they could to maintain their footing. Pieces of equipment which were not tied down – Uther noted to reprimand the deckman for that – crashed down the suddenly angled deck, some rolling over the side and falling into the water. A portable torchlight crashed right next to Uther.
‘Auto!’ he yelled into the vox unit. ‘Compensate, God-Emperor damn you!’
‘Compliance, Captain Uther,’ responded the servitor, calm as death itself.
Inside the hull of the ship, heavy ballast tanks of promethium fuel rolled along their tracks, countering the weight of the beast. Slowly, the ship regained its balance. Uther let go of the ship’s side as the cranes finally hauled the carcass of the Terror Jaw above the deck.
‘Igor, get the melta-knife!’ commanded the Captain. Around him, the crew worked feverishly to prepare the deck for butchering. Crates were moved aside, hooks and knives prepared. Igor returned from below deck with the knife, though it would have been more accurate to call it a broadsword. It was so large it required two hands to wield effectively, and bore only one sharp edge. The other side of the blade was covered by plating, which protected the heating device.
All along the plating ran cables, descending down the hilt, winding into one thick cable on the pommel,connecting the weapon to a powerpack on Igor’s back. Even Igor, the largest of the crewmen, could barely hold it straight.’Do it,’ ordered Uther.
Igor flipped the switch on the hilt, and the crew stepped back as the blade started to glow, turning the sea spray into mist. He walked to the belly of the beast, hanging just above the deck, keeping the blade as far away from himself as possible. Carefully, he slid the heated blade just below the head of the shark, and then ran across the carcass, cutting a straight line all across its body.
Immediately, the stench of the Jaw’s burnt intestines twisted the faces of the crew as the internal organs and half-digested food fell onto the deck. Uther knew that the organs needed to be harvested quickly, for the biggest values were for perfectly fresh examples, which were frozen right after acquiring. He nodded to his men to get to work.
Then there was a loud, metallic thump as something else fell from the shark’s insides. The crew froze, surprised.
‘What is that, boss?’ asked Igor.
Uther carefully approached the pile of gore and organs, gently pushing aside chunks of fish with his boot to uncover a humanoid shape, covered in muck and blood, laying on the deck. He knelt down to inspect it closer, wiping the filth with his gloved hand.
‘It’s… some kind of statue. Made of metal, I think,’ he said. The crew gathered around him, attracted by the curious sight.
‘It doesn’t look human,’ noted Isaach, standing right behind the captain. ‘Look at its head… or… skull?’.
The statue looked like a mix between a skeleton and one of the Mechanicus’ servitors, thought Uther. It was clearly inhuman, now that they could make out the details beneath the bloody mess.
‘Think it’s xenos?’ asked Ishmel, kneeling next to his captain. ‘The tech-priests would be very interested in that. They might even pay us for it. Have you seen its hands? It has knives for fingers!’.
His remark got Uther thinking. True, the Mechanicus would be interested. They would probably start asking questions. In fact, they would probably send an entire fleet of vessels to scour the area where they found this… statue. They would ruin his fishing grounds – and it was highly unlikely that they would pay them anything.
‘I don’t like it,’ he declared. ‘It’s some xeno abomination that should never see the shine of our sun. Let’s throw it back into the depths where it belongs!’
Ishmel tried to protest, but the crew murmured their agreements with the captain, stepping forwards to try to lift the statue. Yet the metal thing refused to shift, its weight too much.
‘Come on men! Get your backs into it!’ yelled Uther as more of the crew joined in lifting it. Collectively, they managed to lift it up, just a few feet.
And then the statue came to life.
Green light sparked in its eye sockets as its limbs twitched. The crew scrambled away from it as it moved suddenly, slashing its knife-like claws slashed across one man’s chest, shredding his skin and bones.. The xeno-life form, showing its incredible agility, managed to turn mid-air and landed on its feet. It stood hunched, looking at the shocked crew. The blood of the unlucky crewman dripped from its blades. Almost unceremoniously, as if without a thought, the beast started to stab the dead man’s body. As it did so, it still looked at the crew with its green, hateful eyes.
‘Emperor,’ whispered Ishmel. ‘It’s alive…’
Uther’s hand slowly reached for his laspistol. He didn’t know what this thing was, but he knew he was a good shot. His crew was frozen with fear.
The xeno just… stood where it had risen, repeatedly stabbing the mutilated remains of the man at its feet. Then, suddenly, its head tilted to the left, then the right, almost like a curious animal. An abomination.
The skeletal xeno shifted, as if gathering to pounce. The captain didn’t think, instinct taking over. With one fluid movement, he drew his weapon and fired.
The red laser hit the xeno right in its metal forehead. It half-stepped back with a shake of its head, the steam of the impact quickly fading.
Not even a single mark marred the metal.
The xenos machine-beast charged. Panicked men tried to run, but it was futile. Whatever the thing was, it was quick and deadly. It crashed into the group and started cutting and slashing like lightning. Its claws flicked out and one man’s arm went flying in a spray of gore.
Someone hit it from behind with a heavy pipe, but the xeno didn’t even flinch. It threw its arm backwards, in a manner that would have dislocated the arm of a human. The metal claw scraped away the attacking sailor’s face. The faceless body slumped on the deck, its blood flowing out onto the already slick deck. All around the skeletal nightmare men were dying, screaming in fear and anguish.
Three of Uther’s men managed to slip from the maelstrom of death around the xeno. Ishmel, ran towards the bow of Harpoon, absolute panic dominating his face. Two other crewmen sprinted towards the broadside of the ship and jumped straight into the water.
The ocean would kill them without a doubt, but they chose that over being ripped apart by a frenzied unknown. The sailors knew the ocean. It was their home.
Uther could not move, frozen in terror. Just a few steps from him, the beast they unknowingly caught was slaughtering his men in ways more gruesome and visceral than he had ever thought possible. There was blood everywhere.
Only a few of his men remained, desperately trying to move away from the gore-soaked machine. Soon it would slaughter him too. He tightly held the laspistol in his hand, too afraid to shoot it. He cursed his cowardice.
Not everyone was as craven as him, however. Igor managed to avoid the wild swings of the beast for long enough to re-heat the blade of melta-knife. Now, he held the glowing weapon in both hands, like a knight preparing to strike. The heat spawned blisters on his arms and bare chest. He was wincing in pain, but his sweating face was full of righteous fury.
‘Die xeno!’ he roared, charging. ‘For the God-Emperor!’
He swung the knife over his head as he moved, striking a mighty overhead blow at the beast, his rage giving him just enough strength needed to wield such a mighty weapon.
He was strong at that moment, adrenaline pushing him to levels beyond mere man. Perhaps he would have been strong enough. But he wasn’t fast enough.
Warned by his yell, the machine-beast turned towards Igor and, with impossible speed, raised its arms to block his attack. The melta-knife, swung at the creature’s neck, was instead caught in its clawed hands, cutting into the metal. Bravery fled from the man’s face as he realised that this weapon was stuck.
The xeno closed one of its hands over the blade, the heat making the talons begin to glow.There was no sign of any pain on the beast’s metallic face. It tilted its head to the side, as if amused. Its free hand flicked out in a downward swing, and severed Igor’s arms at his elbows.
Igor opened his mouth to scream in pain. But once more he wasn’t fast enough. The sliced cable of the melta-knife sparked as the old generator he was wearing registered a malfunction and tried to compensate, overloading and exploding into a ball of fire that consumed both Igor and the monster.
The power of the explosion hurled Uther into the crates behind him. He felt something in his chest break – likely his ribs. Smoke and steam shrouded the deck. He could barely see anything. His crew were likely dead, but so was the beast. There was no way it could have survived such a blast.
‘Auto,’ Uther voxed, his voice was weak. He could feel his consciousness slipping away. ‘Come in Auto, damn you.’
‘What do you require, Captain?’ the emotionless voice of the servitor sounded in his ear.
‘Deploy the emergency beacons. Call for help, quickly. There has been… an accident,’ Uther ordered.
‘Unable to comply, Captain,’ responded Auto. ‘This unit has not been furnished with such protocol.’
Uther felt his anger rise, despite his exhaustion.
‘Curse you, machine-man. Curse the low-life scum that spawned you. Curse the fuggin priest that constructed you. Cu… rse…,’ the captain wheezed as his voice failed.
It walked from the smoke, no longer hunching. Its arms were spread slightly, as if it wanted to show its bladed hands to Uther. No, the man quickly noticed what the beast actually wanted him to see. The cut on its hands was healing, the metal coalescing around the wound like living tissue, but far faster.
They hadn’t been able to hurt it, no matter how hard they had tried. On its shoulders, the xenos wore scraps of his men like a macabre cape. The wind, gaining in strength as the storm bore down on them, tugged at the flayed skins of Harpoon’s crew
Hand trembling, he aimed his las-pistol at the horror and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The explosion must have broken it. A realisation came upon him, as cold as the waters of Tiran: he was dead, irrevocably, without any chance of survival. Not even a miracle from the God-Emperor could save him. Yet… he felt at peace.
‘What are you?’ he asked the last question of his life.
The beast did not answer.
Ishmel felt the bitter wind on his cheeks as he hastily crossed the wires in a dismantled panel of the ship’s autocannon. The first drops of the cold rain and distant sounds of thunder indicated that the storm had finally caught up with the ship.
Not that it mattered. The young man worked frantically, ignoring everything else, trying to gain control of the cannon. He heard the explosion behind him and the last words of his Captain, but did not stop for a second. He understood that he would be no match for this monster.
Yet, even panicked as he was, he did not give up. He had resolved to stop the monstrosity, even if he had to destroy Harpoon doing so. The cannon was hardwired to be controlled from the bridge, but the beast blocked any route to it. Ishmel could hear the sickening sound of metal stabbing over and over into flesh.
The crew was dead. It was just him. His hands were shaking.
‘Override, override, please, oh ye Spirit, override,’ he whispered the chant. He did not remember all the sacred words the priests of the Machine had taught him, but he prayed the few he could recall would be enough.
‘Oh ye Machine, override, please, please,’ he cried silently. He wasn’t sure if anything he did made any sense. When he started he had some idea how to reconnect power and control wires to give him control, but now he felt lost. It could be that it was due to his wrong incantations.
‘I hate you, you stupid Machine. May you rust,’ he whispered, resigned as he plugged the last wire, being sure it would amount to nothing. Yet, to his surprise, the panel came to life. He had control.
‘Omnissiah,’ he muttered in amazement, inputting the command into the panel. The cannon groaned as it swung about.
Amongst the carnage of disembowelled bodies and blood, the mechanical monster reveled like a wild animal. It rolled on the deck, stabbed at unrecognisable piles of meat and cut them even further. It bathed in the blood of men, his brothers. It seemed almost jovial, in the most macabre sense. A frightening scene it was, but a one that also invoked hatred.
‘Die you fuggin xeno!’ yelled Ishmel as he pressed the trigger.
The thunder of the shells shook the deck, tripping him. Deafened by the sound, he saw only the inferno of high-grade explosives being focused on a single spot. Standing so close to the cannon, the sound of each shot was like a hammerblow to his head, and he fell to his knees, clutching his ears.
It took a moment for the pain to subside enough for him to look up.The explosive shells had blasted a large hole in the middle of the deck, but it seemed as if the hull had managed to hold. The Harpoon sailed on, a sturdy little vessel bruised and battered but not defeated. Hope blossomed in Ishmel’s heart. He could still steer the vessel back to civilization. It would be difficult, but he could do that.
And then he blinked as a shadow fell over him, his hope turning to chill terror. The machine-beast stood over him, clothed in the remains of his friends. It looked at him, radiating some inhuman sense of curiosity. It bobbed its head from right to the left like a Trianian vulture.
Thunder boomed. The waves grew taller than the ship. The storm had caught up with them.
‘What? You couldn’t ha.. hav..,’ he tried to speak. The beast plunged its knife-hands into his chest and lifted him up. The air escaped from his punctured lungs, and he could speak no more.
The last thing he saw was the face of his captain, Uther Heriot, slowly sliding off from the smooth, metallic visage of the monster.
The last thing he heard was the crack of his ribs being torn apart.
But he felt nothing.
About the Author
Mateusz is a twenty-something Polish Warhammer fan, who first learned and fell in love with the universe as a kid playing the original Dawn of War. He spends his free time painting minis (slowly), writing stories (even slower) and daydreaming about what he could write (very intensively).