If the Marshal had still had lips, the top one would have curled in disgust when he saw the shuttle dropping from the stratosphere. But his lips were long gone, along with a whole load of other shit no sane person really needed, so he contented himself with vocalising a kind of sigh through the vox-grill occupying the site of his former mouth.
He swung up onto the back of Ironside, his mechanical mount, and urged her forwards. Trouble with the redcoats was, they was always trying to take shit that didn’t belong to them. The Marshal knew. He’d been one of them. Sure, it was a while back, so long ago that his own red coat was ragged and faded to a pale green, and the cranial data banks where the memories were stored were starting to corrode. But he remembered how they thought.
They didn’t understand that this world and everything on it belonged to the Chief, and the Chief did not take kindly to having offworlders uplifting His property. That was why He kept the Marshal around. To make sure His law was respected.
The Marshal opened his mind to the Chief’s biosphere and saw, through the myriad eyes of a cloud of flies, that the redcoats had landed their shuttle right in the middle of the old spacecraft ruins. Took a lot of nerve, that did.
He switched to an amphibian tasting the air nearby and slurped down the data from its tongue. About ten of the cog-kissing bastards, he reckoned. Ironside’s four locomotors squelched in the mud and sloshed through the pools of stagnant water as she carried him closer to the interlopers.
She had seen better days, had old Ironside. Rust covered her like a lichen, eating into her joints and plating, and she always seemed to be leaking some kind of foul-smelling liquid. By all rights, she should have stopped functioning years back, but that was the thing about the Chief’s gifts: they were beyond understanding. All you could do was be grateful, maybe a little awed if that was your inclination.
Heck, the Marshal himself probably should have stopped working by now – his own augmetics were gummed up with sludge and oxidisation, his flesh-parts bloated and putrefied, pus oozing through his body alongside the blood and oil. But he worked on.
He reined in Ironside on the rim of the old impact crater and cranked his vox unit up to maximum volume. ‘Halt, in the name of the law!’ he thundered. The Skitarii working below him paused in their work and turned their optics on him. ‘You are trespassing. If your cog-worshipping asses ain’t airborne in that shuttle in the next thirty seconds, you’re going to face the consequences,’ the Marshal told them.
The redcoats were setting down their excavation gear and reaching for their rifles. Well, the Marshal didn’t need to wait to find out what would happen next. He lifted his carbine, picked one of the redcoats off, slid down off Ironside’s back and took cover behind her. She rocked a little as their shots hit her side plating, but not enough to spoil the Marshal’s aim as he took out two more of them.
Even now, the squad’s Alpha would have calculated the optimal counterattack strategy and be broadcasting it to the rest of the unit. Sure enough, they scattered to find cover of their own among the half-submerged shards of the spacecraft. The Marshal laid out another skitarius and then plunged down the side of the crater, going after the soldiers in cover.
A shot from a galvanic rifle seared the socket where his right arm met the flesh of his shoulder, but he barely felt it. Another reason to be grateful for the Chief’s gifts. ‘Come on, ya cog-kissin’ sons a bitches!’ he vocalised.
He had dealt with another three of them, his own shots finding their mark while he shrugged off theirs, and was turning on the remaining three when his limbs were seized by a sudden paralysis.
The Marshal tried unsuccessfully to move, his mind scrambling to figure out what had happened. The answer presented itself as a red-robed figure descended from the hold of the redcoat shuttle, holding a short staff tipped with a kind of spiked iron ball—a magos.
‘Stand down, Skitarius 5H37-1FF,’ the magos said.
Despite her many augmentations, she had retained her birth face, although the circuitry behind it meant it moved strangely – or rather, failed to move – as she spoke.
‘So,’ she said. ‘It’s you who has thus far thwarted our attempts to recover this STC. One of our own. What in the name of the Omnissiah happened to you?’
It was a rhetorical question; the Marshal was unable to vocalise an answer. But it set him to remembering. He remembered the flight. The crash. The deaths of his squad-mates, the silencing of their thoughts, which had for so long been nestled against his own in the noosphere. The loneliness. The hopelessness.
Then, whisperings in his head, flashes of vision. The discovery of another kind of noosphere, more complex than anything the Mechanicus had ever made, a living network connecting everything on this strange planet: birds and beasts, flora and phages.
The Marshal had faced a choice: he could join this wonderous new network or face a long, slow death alone. All he had to do was bend to the Chief’s will. Well, he’d been built to be part of something larger.
‘Kneel,’ the magos said, and the Marshal was compelled to obey. In doing so, the inflamed flesh of his left knee came into contact with the marshy soil of the planet’s surface. He reached into the biosphere.
They came from the undergrowth, all the Chief’s creations, slithering, scuttling, wriggling, oozing. Within seconds the remaining redcoats had been overwhelmed, torn down, chewed up, reduced to their base elements and incorporated into the matter of the planet.
If the Marshal had still had lips, he would have smiled.
About the Author
Jack is from New Zealand and enjoys painting grey plastic and stumbling around in the grimdark.