The air was a thick soup of infestation. Tyrannocytes punctured the storm-wracked skies of Segmentum Solar. Microscopic nano-spores swirled in every breath. The Tyranid microorganisms invaded the cavernous prime manufactorum like cancerous blood in an ailing heart. Eligius stood at attention beside the final station of the lasgun production line. Hundreds of his fellow workers stood with him, stretching away into the gloom, a crooked line bent from years of labour. Staying at their posts was mandatory, the grizzled Confessor-Supervisor boomed from his pulpit. Eligius didn’t know of anywhere else to go.
Eligius mopped his brow with a dirty rag. His vision swam. He wasn’t certain if it was the days of hunger, or something more sinister. Filtration units coughed and wept black tears from the ceiling. Spores crept in and settled on the production line, threatening to foul the exposed focusing optics and give birth to stillborn lasguns.
Whispers were traded up and down the line. This was to be the final batch. Eligius paid no heed. He couldn’t imagine anything ever halting production. The prime manufactorum loomed over his whole existence like a grey, cyclopean obelisk.
The Rituals of Resetting complete, the line shuddered back into life. After ninety seconds the first lasgun rode the conveyor belt to his station. Eligius hauled down on the lever and the press stamped the winged skull of the Astra Militarum onto the gun’s casing with a thud-hiss. He watched as the finished weapon continued its journey, sliding from the end of the belt neatly into a supply crate.
‘One,’ whispered Eligius. If this really was going to be the final batch it was going to be the finest of his life.
Eligius had performed this task by rote for the last thirty years. By the time he whispered ‘ten’, his mind was straying to thoughts of Celia, his greatest regret. Sweet, beautiful Celia had worked on quality control, one station upstream. They shared so much in common, like their love of lasguns, and their devotion to the manufactorum. He had made her laugh with his wry, sidelong interpretation of the Catechism of Alignment – when the Confessor-Supervisor was out of earshot, of course. But she had been promoted into administrative duties, and then out of the manufactorum altogether. Celia had begged Eligius to apply for promotion too, but Eligius knew that he was married to the manufactorum. He just prayed that wherever Celia was, she was doing the Emperor’s work.
By the time he whispered ‘twenty seven’, he was aware of sounds other than the production line. The distant firecracker pop of small arms, and the chest shaking reverberations of heavy ordinance crept into his world. He spared a moment to look down the line. Nothing to see yet. He wiped the sweat from his brow and coughed, noticing the skin on his hands looked red and infected.
At ‘thirty six’ he thought about how he had never bequeathed a child to the manufactorum, to take his place when he was no longer fit to serve. To not leave a child to take over his toil seemed tantamount to heresy. To admit to himself that he now might not get the chance seemed like a greater heresy still.
‘Fifty two.’ The light had changed. The stolid gloom that Eligus had known all his life had been replaced by flickering blue and green light that threw alien shadows across the vast ceiling.
‘Sixty nine.’ An endless chittering could be heard rising above the relentless pounding of machines.
‘Seventy one.’ The Confessor-Supervisor stepped down from his pulpit, chainsword spluttering into life. He vanished upstream, away from Eligius.
‘Eighty five.’ Eligius was working in perfect harmony with the machine. He lowered the press as the lasguns were still moving, timing the impact perfectly. Things scuttled in his peripheral vision, but he didn’t dare look. The ear-bleeding roar of fighting drowned out the sound of industry now.
‘Ninety two.’ A severed head hitched a ride between lasguns on the conveyor. Eligius batted it from the belt without looking closely, but he had a horrible feeling it belonged to the Confessor-Supervisor.
‘Ninety six.’ Eligius’s arm burned as he operated the lever. Someone fled past him, screaming in terror. He knew that must have been one of the Astra Militarum guards. His fellow workers would never abandon their stations.
‘Ninety nine.’ Eligius allowed himself a moment to look up. That’s when he saw the scythe-limbed horror bounding towards him along the production line, drool whipping from its maw. It was a lean and spindly thing, but Eligius knew from a life spent around tools that those hooked limbs would pierce his coveralls with little effort.
The one hundredth lasgun slid beneath the press as the xenos creature closed the distance with frenetic speed. Eligius had any amount of wrenches, pipes, and metal jig sticks within easy reach with which to defend himself. But that would mean letting go of the press lever…
The beast leapt, hunger glittering in its black eyes. Eligius yanked the lever with all his might.
The final lasgun left the production line with a thud-hiss, sliding into the crate just as the creature’s talons pierced Eligius’s torso with a snik-snik. He tried to cry out, but the crushing pressure in his chest stole his breath. Eligius fell backwards into the cold embrace of the manufactorum floor. The Tyranid kept moving, skittering towards the full supply crate, but the servitor-controlled galvanic crane swooped down and scooped the crate into the gloom above, accompanied by an escort of cyber-cherubs.
‘One hundred’, Eligius tried to whisper, but no sound escaped his lips.
The crate of one hundred lasguns flew serenely through the clouds of purifying incense dispersed by the censer-wielding cherubs, high above the anarchy of the battle below. Travelling along pre-programmed routes as it had done for millenia, the galvanic crane finally deposited the crate onto the dismembered bodies of the Adeptus Munitorum loading crews, in a staging depot seething with unnumbered Tyranid beasts.
About the Author
Chris Buxey is a writer, laser safety officer and occasional Tony Stark impersonator. He lives in southern England with his wife and two children. Chris has been travelling the Warhammer 40K universe for nearly thirty years and has so far managed to keep his heresies hidden from the Inquisition.