Deep in the power core of asteroid mining station G-Secundus, a small framed servitor designated E777, or E-triple seven, squeezed through a narrow maintenance tube. It reached hand over hand, crawling on the thickly insulated cabling that carried power through the station like the veins of a giant. Some distant part of E777’s mind registered the hearty thrum of the power core’s engine as a rapid heartbeat, and that it was now a piece of the machine’s body, like a white blood cell in a human crawling through a blood vessel. That was its eternal duty now, a servant to the machine, its own body given up for the station, but enhanced with powerful bionic equipment to complete its required duty.
E777 neared the anomaly it was sent to investigate, the metallic pieces of its machine harness snagging on a bunched cable as it dragged itself one more body length. A dead rat lay on the tunnel ahead; the fur burnt black, its front paws cooked to charcoal by the strength of the charge it unleashed upon itself. A bite in one of the conduit wires lay bare a thick coil of copper wiring, and E777 noted it as the reason for the drops in power in the superintendent’s room.
A thought pulled at the edge of E777’s mind, memories begging to be let out of their surgically induced cages. But, it was a servitor, and it had a job to do.
E777 reached back to its harness, pulled out the requisite repair kit and mentally noted its use. E777 had to report all supplies used to the central command system, which dutifully recorded every scrap of supplies used on the station and managed the growing legion of servitors that managed the facility.
With the repair kit prepared, E777 closed the remaining distance with one final pull, the harness still caught and trailing along the tunnel’s ceiling. E777 set the patch for the cabling and activated it, but somehow, its body came in contact with the vast power flowing through the cable.
With its body grounded to the ceiling through its harness, the shock raced through E777. The servitor acknowledged the destruction of its hand as the skin turned red and black as dead nerves burned away in its flesh but it felt no pain. It reached up with its other hand and completed the patching process before slowly pushing itself back from the tube. As it travelled, something connected in its brain, neurons that had been cut reformed connections, slowly, and for the first time in over a year, it remembered its name: Cortis.
Cortis fumbled as it emerged from the maintenance tube and stumbled, its mind trying to grasp its surroundings. It knew something was missing, but it couldn’t figure out what. Other servitors shuffled by on the gangway, each headed to their appointed duties, but Cortis stood there slack-jawed. One of the servitors stopped for a moment and looked at him. Its glazed-over eyes seemed to focus for just a moment. The waxy skin of its face was laced with small blood vessels visible just beneath the surface and pulled tight over the skull as a sign of near starvation. A crude metal implant disk kicked out from the side of its right temple, weighing the head down at a sideways angle. Cortis vaguely understood he had one too. The rest of the body hardly resembled its once human form anymore. Its skinny, bare torso ended below a crushed rib cage, all of it wired into a large, oily machine with piston-like legs.
Cortis had a flicker of recognition in the back of its mind, the slightest hint of self-awareness, but that feeling died out as a new voice, a fearful voice, screamed from deep within Cortis’s mind. Fists banged on the closed walls of unconnected nerve endings. But, then the other servitor moved on, and E777 fell in line.
The servitors stretched out in a long, fleshy line, waiting their turn for Central Command to process them. Each filed slowly forward through the specified door, and dark metallic claws inspected their bodies and mechanical implants. Servo skulls repeatedly flew by each of them, scanners set into the hollow eye sockets, appraising them for damage or malfunction.
E777 found itself targeted by one of the floating skulls, which let out a small alert. One of the metal claws dragged it out of line and towards a steel door with flaking red paint. The door squealed open at E777’s approach, revealing a corridor dimly lit by a single orange glow bar. At the end, a steel platform waited beneath the open jaws of a Mechanicus surgical machine.
‘Walk forward to the platform,’ droned a vox speaker.
E777 complied and felt a small release of dopamine upon completing the direct request.
A tall hooded figure loomed out of the industrial gloom, red eye lenses burning in the shadows.
‘Burned extremity, nerve damage, weak flesh,’ it said as long mechanical arms unfurled from behind its back. The enginseer approached E777 like a spider examining the prey caught in its web.
A cold memory begged to be let out. Cortis, from some locked away place, tried to raise a mental alarm, but the body wouldn’t respond.
‘Do not move,’ the enginseer’s voice buzzed as the monstrous machine overhead lowered with a hydraulic growl. The smell of old blood descended over them.
Metal restraining claws bit into E777’s flesh. One of the enginseer’s appendages gripped the damaged hand while a rotary saw whined to life above. Fear overwhelmed the drowning voice in the back of E777’s mind, but it had no ability to act. It watched as the body stood still, no rise in heart rate, no attempt to escape, as the bloody saw bit through its wrist, shredding the delicate bones of the joint and shearing the hand from its body. Despite the servitor’s dulled senses, a feeling of wrongness still registered, and it let out a groan.
The enginseer clamped a metal ring around the spurting stump of E777’s wrist. The bionic hissed as it fused with the servitor’s flesh, mechanical nerves binding to organics and cauterising the rest of the wound. Then, a tangle of cables bound together descended from above. The grip on E777’s mutilated arm forced it to rise, and the monstrous machine overhead installed the oily cables into the bionic. The servitor felt a new physicality where its hand once was, but couldn’t understand the ramifications.
‘You are further blessed by the Omnissiah, drone, give thanks with what little power your feeble mind can process and rejoice in your continued service. Your new assignment is to Docking Station Beta. Go.’
E777 turned toward a door marked with blue paint and set off at a shambling pace. The cables swung just above the ground with each step, the weight slightly throwing off its gait. The door slid open at its approach, but the servitor paused when it heard the enginseer announce, ‘Next,’ from behind it.
Two bionically enhanced servitors dragged in a woman who hung limply in their grasp, clearly sedated.
‘Begin servitor protocols,’ the enginseer droned, and the monstrous jaws lowered from the ceiling once again.
Docking Station Beta was the mining colony’s busiest port. E777 watched as vast cargo vessels docked and specialised servitors unloaded and reloaded the craft, the wheels of Imperial logistics spinning ever onward. E777’s new task entailed hooking into the dockyard’s sensor systems with the new cable bionics and reading the diagnostics of approaching vessels, flagging any that fell under suspicious parameters, or allowing entry to those whose codes ran clean. It stood there, motionless, for cycles at a time. E777’s mind was hooked into the gestalt system, the quiet voice of burgeoning consciousness hidden by all the information noise until finally, Cortis broke through, back into his own mind, raging like a red-hot lance through a swollen blister.
It happened the day the superintendent visited for an inspection.
E777 stood plugged into the dockyard’s system, eyes glazed over as its spreadsheets and timetables ran across its mind. As it gathered the data on the next incoming trading vessel, the machine paused, giving off a “Priority Alert.” Using what little autonomy E777 had left, it pulled itself out of the system.
A small group of humans moved through the expansive docking station; most were scattered, lone souls caught in the orbit of the group in the centre, which seemed to march in formation. The servitor wondered what could possibly be so important as to halt the great work, so it followed them with its motionless eyes.
‘Seer Mathos,’ rang an imperious feminine voice from the main group, ‘Once servitor integration is complete on the dockyard, I want the next patch to oversee the mining drills. We can increase boring efficiency twofold if you can make me operators who won’t mind their brain shaking for twelve hours at a time.’
The group stopped as the woman took a look around, even pausing for a moment to notice E777.
‘I will inform your masters that you have done well here should you continue such exemplary service.’
Her audience gave soft applause, the sound of which hardly reached where E777 sat.
‘Ma’am, we have an update from Rear Admiral Halk,’ said one of the attendants.
‘This better be good,’ she said.
‘Well, um, he said that the navy has not been able to contain the raiders. They have a technology that allows them to jump through space on a whim. He recommends that we increase our outer defences.’
‘Bloody navy, bloody guard, what good are they? They’re soldiers. They’re born to die until they figure it out. This rear admiral is only half as useful as one of my servitors. Maybe he’d be able to do his job better if he got some treatment from Mathos here.’
The crowd laughed, an over-zealous laugh, a threatened laugh.
E777 felt an intense headache build.
‘Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to mount a strong defence. We will have to lay low and let this scourge pass us by.’
The one called Mathos spoke up; the tiny words from its vox emitter sounded out of place among the others. ‘We can purchase defences from—’
The woman cut Mathos off with a wave of her hand.
‘I’d rather not spend the money if I don’t have to, nor risk the attention that installing them could gather.’
She stopped her walk and pointed to a large black ship parked not far away. ‘If these raiders arrive, escape will be our best option. I will have to leave the miners, but that’s what miners were born for, to dig until they die.’
E777’s mind ripped apart. It groaned from its perch and swayed for a moment before a hidden voice swelled into its mind.
‘Kill her,’ it bellowed. ‘Crush her, break her, rip her to pieces. There is no end to the blood on her hands!’
Images passed before his eyes as though witnessing a moment for the first time. Two black ships side by side in the hangar, everyone gathered together to watch as a man he recognised handed a golden pick over to this new woman—a change of ownership. The crowd cheered wearily as she held it up before handing it to a hooded form in red robes behind her. The previous superintendent boarded one of the black ships as the new step forward and addressed her subjects. She appeared young, but that could have been juvenat treatments. Something about her gold-trimmed black jacket, and cold eyes sent a shiver down Cortis’s spine.
‘Miners of G-Secundus hear me well. The Administratum has sold the ownership of this site to the Glamis Organisation and I will be overseeing the transition. Fear not, each of you will continue to serve the Emperor at your current station, however—’ Here she paused for a long moment, ensuring everyone was focused on her words. ‘—lapses in discipline will not be tolerated. Any failures will result in the loss of personal sovereignty. You will still serve the Imperium with your body as a servitor.’
Cortis pulled himself back from the moment and his waxy face felt wet. Tears dripped from his unblinking eyes in a slow stream, and he realised a droning moan had escaped his mouth. He felt broken pathways reforge in his mind, and who he was then had access to who he had become.
He watched her now with the hunger of mindless hatred, the only emotion now contained in his rambling mind. From where he sat, there was little he could do but open the airlock, but instinctual self-preservation held him back. Instead, the growing heat in his heart festered.
Cortis continued his assigned duty; on that account, he had no choice. He found the dopamine rationed out to his brain for completing his tasks to be the only relief from the tormented ghost voice that filled his waking mind. As the days passed, new names and years of memories accompanied the faces he saw about the station. Miklos, a man with the immense strength of life on a higher gravity world, walked with bent shoulders, unwilling to glance Cortis’s way. Mathea, ever quick with a joke and an easy laugh, now bore red-rimmed eyes. They hurt; they piled rage upon hatred in heaps upon Cortis’s heart. With nowhere to focus the feelings that were supposed to be denied to him, Cortis submerged himself in the dock system cogitator, to the effect that the shipment process saw a significant increase in speed and efficiency.
But, in his feeble dreams, Cortis sought his revenge. He saw himself walking slowly through the darkened halls of the mining station, the cables from his arm rasping on the rockcrete like a blade upon a whetstone. Then, in the stillness of an empty passage, he would find her alone, and the cables would come to life in his arm. They would spring forward, wrapping around her neck from behind and coil around themselves; he would feel her windpipe collapse, and she would turn to see him, her bulging eyes showing the first real emotion he had never seen in them: fear. She would try to push him away; she would pull at the cables, but her strength would fail; her eyes would pop from their sockets, and she would die, there in his grasp. Instead, he woke and the banality of his existence carried on.
One day, not too much further on in Cortis’s burgeoning consciousness, he waited in a hallway surrounded by mindless drones as the floating servo skulls inspected their charges. He was in the mine side of the station now, a separate facility with its own airlock capable of separating either side in an instant were a breach to occur on the other side of the station. The enginseer Mathos had moved here to a larger room to complete his work and store the growing number of servitor bodies.
Cortis stared out through a glass partition at the coverall-wearing labourers going about their duties. A new type of human had arrived at the station: soldiers. Most were too old or too young, as far as Cortis’s reduced mind could tell, and their gear looked cracked or rusting, but they were still better armed than the Glamis security team. This was a garrison unit, or so Cortis heard them called. Most had duty on a few large posts, but some patrolled the station. Any reverence he felt he owed them as an imperial citizen to a guardsman was outweighed by the sense of hatred he felt for their service to the superintendent.
Cortis watched one of these groups now, the voice in the back of his head wondering how he could get a hand on one of their weapons to carry out his revenge when he realised they were not a patrol but a guard. They walked before and behind the superintendent, defending her from people who could not even bear to look at her. She had a new servitor accompanying her, someone who was once a woman and lacked most of the augmentations the rest of their kind had. Cortis noticed her tattoos, the eagle of ancient Terra on her neck and the miner’s tools on her arms, and a recognition stirred in the back of his mind.
Cortis found himself back in his old body, able to truly feel the cold, recycled air of the station as fans whirred overhead. He sat on a plasteel crate in a back room, hidden from prying eyes, and he wasn’t alone. Mathea sat on the crate next to him, hugging herself in nervousness, and Miklos paced back and forth. In front of all of them stood Raya, brows furrowed and arms crossed. He remembered now, he had loved her once, and even though it had not worked out in the end, he felt that she still held some part of his heart.
‘We have to do something about this new superintendent,’ she said, rubbing the tattoo of a miner’s drill on her arm.
‘What can we do?’ He heard himself say. ‘It would go against the Emperor’s will.’
‘Emperor’s will? Ha!’ Miklos started, ‘We may be producing more under her, but the quality is terrible. I used to be proud of the work we did here, knowing that wherever our steel went, it would be put to good use. Now, I fear for anyone who uses what comes from our station; servitors can take no pride in their work, and I doubt that is the Emperor’s will.’
‘We could make something look like an accident,’ Mathea said. ‘A mishandled charge of explosive or a machine breaking could do the job.’
‘Glamis will just send someone else,’ Cortis heard himself say, a pathetic whine in his voice.
‘Would you sit and do nothing?’ Raya said, pinning Cortis with her eyes.
‘We could wreck production, show them her ideas don’t work, get her replaced,’ Cortis said.
The others scoffed, and Raya looked at him with disgust.
‘You’re talking about killing a servant of the Emperor here—’ Cortis cut off as they all heard bots tramp down the corridor to their hidden room.
‘Give it up; we know you’re back there!’ A loud, imperious voice yelled out.
They jumped up with a start and raced for the crawl space, their escape hatch, the way Cortis, Mathea, and Raya had found this place when they were children. Cortis was last through the vent, but before he could escape, he felt someone grab onto his leg and yank him out of the vent with phenomenal strength. Cortis found himself surrounded by black-clad Glamis guards with truncheons, and the superintendent loomed over him; her cold, bored eyes belied the danger of the laspistol she held in her hands.
‘No,’ he yelled, ‘I’m not one of them, there’s a mistake, I—’
‘Shut him up and send him to Mathos,’ the superintendent said. ‘We’ll get a hold of the others eventually.’
One of the guards wrestled Cortis down and shoved a needle in his arm; moments later, everything went black.
When Cortis found himself back in his servitor’s body, he realised he was staring at Raya, and her blank eyes were staring back at him. He wondered if she remembered him, if there was any recognition in her mutilated brain, any anger that she had been turned into the superintendent’s personal servant. Or, did the steady drip of dopamine for completing assigned tasks keep her docile? The superintendent had taken the best of them and stolen her humanity away. Raya had seen what he and the others had missed. The problem would not just go away, and there was no simple life under the superintendent’s tyranny. The only option she left to them was to take drastic, direct action, or live as a herded animal. He decided that even the guardsmen stationed here were complicit. They saw what was happening here and said nothing.
Several more weeks passed, and the news of the interstellar raiders grew worse. An ambush had taken place in the void, severely crippling the Imperial Navy’s presence. Reports of what the xenos left after their raids were horrors beyond description.
Cortis noticed more servitors and fewer human labourers working about the facility. Production numbers had significantly increased, but complaints were beginning to come in from the forgeworld the station sent its steel to. Some small part of Cortis realised part of what had held him back from taking too drastic action was the thought of consequences for his past life’s friends, but too much time had passed. He had nothing left but to fulfil the long-simmering hatred of his heart. So, during an otherwise uneventful shift, Cortis used a bypass in the system he had long since discovered and increased the signalling output of the station threefold. Now, anyone looking for life out among the asteroid field would see the station as a beacon calling out to them.
Cortis knew nothing of xenos as nearly his entire life had been spent on the mining station, so he let his mind run wild. He wished that every horrible thing the preachers of the Ecclesiarchy had ever said would burst into the station. He dreamed of slobbering behemoths ripping Mathos apart like a child’s toy, of spiked creatures with technology beyond his comprehension, reducing the superintendent to bloody shreds; what he got instead surpassed his cruellest imagination.
During one of his shifts, while Cortis thought up other ways to draw the raiders to the station, he noticed a hidden alert on the cogitator. A small superstructure alarm had tripped, normally not something to worry about yet, but a maintenance team would need to check on it. Then, the station shuddered as if it had been hit. All the labourers stopped what they were doing. The landing platform went silent as everyone looked around curiously. The lights died in an instant, plunging them into near-total darkness. Someone screamed, and heavy crates tumbled to the ground as emergency lighting slowly burned to life.
‘All personnel, go back to your side of the station,’ yelled a veteran guardsmen. He held his lasgun in easy readiness, but his grey hair and cheap prosthesis clearly made him unfit for frontline warfare.
The guardsmen at his outpost began spreading out, nervously turning their heads to look for threats while directing the citizens of the station to the airlock, back to the other side towards the mine and the hab units.
One of them, a short man with a cap instead of a helmet, took a step forward, only for his knee to blow out beneath him with a snap. He let out a groan as he toppled sideways.
The other soldiers took up hasty firing positions as everyone else began screaming and running, but there had been no audible sound of the gunshot.
Cortis noticed a slight whistle as a projectile passed out of the darkness and crunched into one of the guardsmen’s flak vests. The armour splintered, and the man dropped to the ground.
One of them yelled and ran over to him. She operated the vox caster for this squad, and Cortis had noticed her affection for the downed man before.
‘Get back to your spot!’ yelled the veteran squad leader as the others shifted uncomfortably.
‘I can’t see anything,’ one of them yelled. ‘What is happening?’
‘I’m okay, I think,’ called the man on the ground, sitting up behind a crate. He pulled up his uniform to look at his armour plating. ‘I think it stopped—’ he cut off with a wretch and slammed his back into the crate. A spew of blood and bile erupted from his mouth as whatever poison was now coursing through his veins took effect.
The woman screamed and took a step back. She shouldered her rifle and fired out into the darkness; red las beams burning into the shadow.
‘Die, damn you!’ She yelled as the man who had been hit slumped forward, his drooling head falling between his knees.
‘Hold your fire!’ the veteran yelled, but he was far too late.
Another whine in the air, and then the guardswoman’s head exploded with a wet slap.
The rest of the squad fired their weapons wildly into the darkness, and Cortis watched as unknown weapons took them. It happened slowly, as if the attackers relished the confusion and pain they caused. One guardsman dropped his gun and took off toward the hallway. The sergeant tried to stop him, but he slipped through his grasp.
‘Xenos, xenos!’ the man yelled as he ran.
A flash of shadow and pale grey flesh dashed out of the shadows, hit him, then continued on back into the darkness.
The guardsman hit the ground with a thud; then, his legs started twitching as he convulsed on the floor.
‘By the Throne, stand your ground!’ the veteran yelled and drew an old chain sword, revving it to life. He levelled his laspistol into the darkness and fired. There was a squeal in the shadows, and the firing stopped for a moment.
Cortis watched, passively aware that all of this was his fault, as black-clad figures strode into the emergency light. They were impossibly long and thin, with wickedly spiked armour and tall helmets that re-introduced fear into Cortis’s mind. There was a brutal gracefulness about their movements that defined them as alien, like a cold nightmare. They held weapons that looked not dissimilar to a lasgun, but where lasguns were blocky slabs, mass-produced, their weapons were all rounded organic shapes, clearly the work of expert craft. Both sides held the tense standoff for a mere moment as the guardsman who had lost his leg groaned on the ground.
The veteran and the remaining guards raised their weapons. Cortis could hear the lasguns rattle in their shaky hands.
They started firing, and the xenos danced away with harsh, melodic sounds that Cortis thought must have been laughter. While the guardsmen were distracted, Cortis heard soft footfalls racing from the darkness. Five figures, black-clad and pale-skinned, flipped out of the shadows like the vengeful ghosts of his dreams. They hit the guardsmen in a rush of blades, and in an instant, the humans were all down except for the veteran.
He swung his chainsword in a wide arc, and it sparked off the armoured gauntlet of his assailant, but the xenos spun, turning with the force of the blow, and stabbed out with a blade that took him in the shoulder. The chainsword dropped from his prosthetic, its connection to the rest of his body now severed. The xenos grabbed his face with the casual air of a master performer and then slowly slid their blade across his throat. It triumphantly opened its mouth to catch the arterial spray before throwing the dying veteran to the floor.
The xenos turned its crimson face to look at Cortis, seemingly noticing that it was being watched. The creature appeared to be a female of whatever species this was; Cortis found her uncannily close to the human form in a way that made her uncomfortable to look at. Like the other black armoured figures, she was too long and stretched out, and the features of her face were as sharp as a blade. Her armour was like that of gladiators he’d seen from games on far-flung worlds; light and made for dextrous movement with one arm armoured in interlocking plates. She gave him a bloody smile; it seemed to know he was a worthless servitor, and then dashed off into the darkness with the rest of her unit. The guardsman on the ground whose leg had been shot off remained there, groaning, the only one still alive.
Cortis had dreamed of their deaths for a long time now, the deaths of the guards, of Mathos, and the superintendent, but now that he saw it, he realised the horror he had unleashed, and not only on them but anyone else unlucky enough to be caught in the station. They didn’t seem interested in any of the material in the docking station either, only attacking to cause pain and bring death. It took Cortis a moment to realise that was all he wanted them to do, and he had the eerie thought that the only difference between him and them was the ability to act. The xenos seemed to see him as another servitor, another mindless drone of no consequence. He noticed they ignored the other servitors in the facility as well. If he could get to the master control room, he could isolate the mining side of the station; he could save most of the labourers. Cortis left his position and passed over the remains of the battle. As he stepped over the only remaining guardsman, the soldier looked up into his dead eyes with pleading. Cortis knew he couldn’t do anything, so he didn’t stop.
Slowly, Cortis worked his way across the docking station, relying on his appearance as a disguise.
Before he had been turned into this machine, the greatest terror Cortis had ever considered was a mineshaft collapse. He had seen one once before. He was down deep, the dark stone illuminated by only a few small hand torches as he worked with a prospecting crew to find a new vein of ore. He
wasn’t sure how it happened, but an explosive charge set up to clear a passage went off before everyone had cleared out. Rock cracked, and huge slabs fell from the unsupported tunnel. Most caught by the blast died instantly. Cortis just barely escaped, and in the choking dust and dying lights, he heard the mewling, broken cry of one of the workers trapped under the fallen stones. He and a few others tried to find the man, scrambling around in the dark until one of their beams of light finally fell on the half-buried worker. He was grey from the dust, and little could be seen from under the stone besides his shoulders and head. The image of those pale, pleading eyes set in a face so masked with dust as to appear inhuman and the sound of his anguished, hopeless cries would forever haunt Cortis.
Cortis heard those same cries again ahead of him, paired with cruel alien laughter. He rounded the corner of the hallway to the command room. Two of the xenos, one evidently male in the tall dark armour and the other a female in the gladiator armour. Below them lay a man in the Glamis uniform; one leg had a large hole blasted into it, and a pool of blood grew beneath him. The alien in the black armour wrestled one of the man’s hands up against the rockcrete wall, and then the other stabbed it with her blade, pinning him to the wall. The Glamis man let out a scream that turned into a sob, his eyes closed and face screwed up with sweaty fear. Cortis continued walking, approaching the ongoing murder as if it meant nothing to him.
The male alien turned, pointing its gun at him, and started yelling something that Cortis couldn’t understand. The female ignored him and drew another small blade. She closed on the Glamis man’s pinned hand like a stalking predator.
Cortis pretended not to notice them as he continued his unchanging pace. The alien got in front of him, pointing the bayonet at the end of his gun right at Cortis’s guts. He walked straight into it, feeling the cold steel slide in was painless except for the strange feeling of wrongness. The alien kept shouting in his face, but Cortis continued forward, his blood spilling down the front of him in a warm stream. The alien backed off, seemingly confused, as the female contentedly sliced off the Glamis man’s fingers one after the other while his feet uselessly pounded the ground in pain.
Cortis got to the steel door and found it locked. He was standing next to the Glamis man and the female alien; he turned, looking over them both, realising the male alien watched him with a curious tilt of his head. The female paused her torture as Cortis slowly, mechanically, bent down, one arm reaching out to pad through the Glamis guard’s pockets. The female alien twirled the man’s index finger and watched Cortis with a bemused look as he pulled a key card from the panting man’s pocket. The guard tried to lock eyes with him, tried to call out to him, but Cortis did not respond. Then, he stood back up and turned slowly back to the door. He unlocked it as the alien began gouging the Glamis man’s eye out with his own finger.
The male alien followed Cortis as the door opened to three people cowering in the back corner of the room. They screamed, and one got up to run to the room’s back door, but the male xenos quickly shot them all with its strange weapon. They collapsed in groaning heaps, limbs splayed out across the floor, as the poisoned projectiles shut their bodies down.
Cortis paused for just a moment, heart sinking at the carnage; the boiling anger of his heart had long since given way to a numb terror. He realised he was losing a lot of blood from his wound.
He marched up to the cogitator terminal and plugged himself in with the cords on his missing arm while the alien watched him. Immediately, the systems reached out to him with dire warnings of intruders and lost capability. Indicators of dead guardsmen and Glamis employees flashed harshly through his mind. The station had a difficult time tracking the xenos as they worked their dance of death through the facility.
Cortis had a choice. He could try to seal off the other half of the facility, the mine and labourer habs, and hope to keep them safe, or he could open the airlock, welcoming in the void and death itself, for humans and aliens alike. He thought the xenos watching him would likely kill him if he took the first option, but then again, he would surely die with the second as well. The communications system blared damaged warnings at him, competing with every other damaged system for his attention, so there would be no call for help.
He almost did it, sacrificing himself to seal off the other side. He would have become the unsung hero to the other survivors, others who never would have known that he caused their plight in the first place, but he hesitated. Then, he saw her lifesign.
The superintendent had crossed over to the other side, seemingly readying a defence with the surviving guardsmen. He felt his body sweat in response to a suppressed feeling of stress, a stress that only partially worked past his augmetics to his mind. The cold, calculating, machine part of him fought with unassailable logic, willing him to listen to his servitor programming, to follow the directive of self-preservation.
By now, the female xenos had entered the control room to discover what was happening. She stood next to the male, and they silently judged him.
In the end, it was their silent footsteps that forced his emotions into action. He knew death or torture he would be unable to feel awaited him if they took him, but the worst torture of all would be knowing the superintendent was still alive. That’s what this had all been for. That’s why he had called them. That’s why, a part of him believed, they had answered. All this death was for one man’s hate, the kind of hate whose ends were only limited by the power and resources available. This was his opportunity now, and no one was left to stop him. His fury and self-hatred could finally reach her now and boil them all in the void.
Cortis triggered the airlock to open. After beating back the overrides and alerts, an alarm blared through the facility one final time. The xenos reacted quickly; they took his head, neatly severing it with a quick, practised stroke. He didn’t know which one killed him. It didn’t matter. In the final moments his brain processed, his cheek pressed against the cold metal flooring in a pool of evaporating blood, he heard the sound of the alarm dim as a great wind blew past him. The facility vomited its atmosphere into the void, and the void crept in to kill them all.
About the Author
Chris Acuff is an aspiring writer currently living in Gainesville, FL. He can be found on Instagram at bookish_chris_a.