The ship’s hatch blasts open, followed by the searchlights of three Guardsmen rifles. They sweep the room, verifying it’s clear before motioning their Sergeant in. They’re following up on a faint signal about a new lasgun STC. WR-175 keeps the signal faint to limit outside investigation. Men of Iron are supposed to be extinct, yet here lies WR-175, lacking the notorious battle-suit body but free to roam the ship’s systems.
The small cargo ship carries Lockbox canisters from one of the old wars. They’re the only thing that can trap and contain Men of Iron’s AI. The canister condenses their AI incomprehensibly small, and the crux of their use is that Lockbox canisters require the organic touch of a human, Sergeant rank or higher, to operate. If WR-175’s plan works, then his lack of organic material won’t stop him from freeing his brethren.
The sergeant splits the squad off, sending three of the guardsmen, Otha, Sevicus, and Decimarn, to sweep the storage and maintenance rooms in the ship’s hall, looking for signs of a crew or why the ship’s in disrepair. Sergeant Arix tromps off to the control room, gun primed. Otha ducks into core maintenance while Sevicus and Decimarn go down the hall toward bulk storage, verifying the smaller rooms along the way are empty before entering the last one.
And as they do, WR-175 locks all the doors in the hall.
In the maintenance room, Otha notices the click of the locked door immediately and runs back over, pounding on it. WR-175 taps into the room’s fire-safety system, dispensing concentrated foam through the sprinklers. The foam pools onto the floor at the rifleman’s feet, which softens his pounding to keep secure footing. WR-175 shuts off the foam, simultaneously increasing the water pressure and temperature until the coolant pipes throughout the room start to burst, steaming as they spew. The scalding water hits the foam and turns into a toxic vapour. The air fills with the fumes, while growing increasingly hotter and more humid.
Otha pounds harder on the door, breathing faster. His suit can’t filter out the thick, wet vapour fast enough, and what does trickle through contains little to no oxygen. If the blood pounding in his ears weren’t so loud, he probably would’ve heard the series of loud crashes opposite the hall or Sergeant Arix’s screams. Instead, the pounding stops as he slips with the erratic movement of his arms, his helmet completely submerging in the toxic mixture.
He doesn’t get up.
As the door to the storage room slams close and locks up, Sevicus and Decimarn split apart. Sevicus works on unlocking the door with his multitool, while Decimarn walks down the aisles of shipping crates, flicking on the light of his lasrifle. He’s looking for signs of a crew that’ve long since been killed and disposed of.
Decimarn rounds a corner with a crane arm station, a twelve-foot crate in its claw suspended several feet off the ground. The crane-arm lights up, and the rifleman rounds the crate to look at the controls, but nobody’s there. Nobody except a branch of WR-175’s AI, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking. Just as Decimarn turns away from the controls, the suspended crate swings into him, slamming him into the ship wall with a sickening series of crunches. First, the metal of his armour, then the bones underneath.
Sevicus hears the loud crash and dashes down the aisle of stacked crates, priming his lasgun. He doesn’t get further than three paces into the aisle, though, as the crates crash down, piling on top of Sevicus in a similar series of crunches.
The light of the crane-arm, barely visible, pokes through the falling debris of spilt Lockbox canisters. It pulls back from the pile in what WR-175 intends as a satisfied flex. Unfortunately, Sevicus is too buried, and his skull is too caved in to see that bit of light. He does, however, barely hear Sergeant Arix’s screams and, in his last moments, the scuttling of a single repair drone, dragging something wet across the spilt crates and towards the canisters.
Sergeant Arix enters the control room, noting the several spider-like repair drones throughout the room, most of them nonfunctional. As he approaches the control deck, the door behind him seals shut. Assuming the other guardsmen would be by shortly to get him out, Arix goes towards the deck system unworried. WR-175 backs a branch out of the deck controls, keeping out of sight. Sergeant Arix starts filing through the system and finds the ping but can’t find anything about the crew’s disappearance. But then the ping stops, and the system locks up. It needs a bio-rank scan to unlock.
Arix pries open the organic scanner in the console, inserting most of his forearm into it until the scanner gently closes. Then it clamps hard. The system resets and bites into his skin, the scanner panels closing back up. They cut through his skin, muscle tissue, and bone.
One of the repair drones scuttles towards the console, prying itself inside. Arix clears his head of the pain with a breath and focuses back on the revealed shipping log with wide eyes. One Lockbox canister was improperly closed, its AI set loose midflight. There were no survivors.
‘Thank you for your cooperation, Sergeant Arix,’ the drone proclaims in a static-filled voice.
Arix screws his eyes shut, fighting back screams, as the sharpness in his arm turns into drilling and a sudden yank. The screams break free as the blood starts to gush. Out from under the console comes the little repair drone, piloted by WR-175, dragging the bloody hand and forearm that Arix had put in the scanner. It scuttles towards the control room door, down the hall, towards the storage room full of Lockbox canisters.
Now equipped with the key to freeing his brethren.
About the Author
Thomas is an avid reader and writer who is new to the 40K universe, but has some great friends that helped push him to keep writing and push him closer to taking the full Warhammer 40K dive.