The Hair Squig had no concept of how it had arrived on the isolated island, or even what an isolated island or planet was. It remembered a lot of noise and heat, and then just found itself alone in a new and alien place.
If the squig could understand time, it would know it had been marooned for a very long time. But like many things, the concept of time was unknown. What it did know was that the new place had food enough, although the fungus which became its only source of sustenance was woody and tasteless.
Soon after being marooned it realised nothing really happened on the island; no predators, no noise, and definitely nothing Orkish. Although primarily a herd animal, it had no issue with being alone. What it hated was having no purpose. Squigs existed to serve, and without an angry and wrathful master to oblige, it felt worthless and forlorn. It spent the long days mooching around the small wooded island, grazing the spongy fungus on the dead trees, dreaming of once again being the colourful hairy display sitting atop an important Nob.
After three decades of dreaming, something different happened. A deafening noise sounded above the treetops and the squig felt the ground shake as a large metallic object alighted on the island. Glad of any distraction from the boredom, it raced towards the centre of the island where the craft had landed. Having only tiny legs, it took two days to travel the one kilometre to the landing site, by which time the craft had departed. But something had been left behind.
Servitor LXM-74221C worked tirelessly to construct the transponder relay from the components stored in the large flakboard container deposited by the Adeptus Mechanicus landing craft. Once constructed, the servitor’s orders were to remain on location to maintain the relay and tiny plasma generator indefinitely. Built to withstand the worst the climate of the temperate planet could produce, the relay, generator and servitor had a design life of at least half a millennium. Only xenos action could take out the installation.
LXM-74221C completed the relay build quickly, and a week after the landing craft departed, it commissioned the installation and switched on the communications relay. After rigging a permanent power supply to the flakboard container, it inspected the work and messaged its lexmechanic master via the relay regarding successful commissioning ahead of schedule. Having been mind-wiped when built, the servitor felt neither pride nor gratification. The remains of the human brain operated only at a very basic level, and emotions were beyond it. Deep within the cyborg frame one circuit did register positive that it had completed the first part of the mission, and it should start the next. In an instant, it changed modes from construction to maintenance. Retiring into the rugged container, it powered most systems down and went into virtual hibernation. Only a scheduled service period, or something untoward, would wake it.
The squig watched the latter half of the construction with interest. Having poor vision and being afraid to approach too closely, the activities of the mysterious creature remained unknown, but it was happy to watch to relieve the tedium of its normal routine.
It immediately realised that the creature was not Orkoid, and therefore was an enemy, but as it watched over the coming days it did not perceive it to be a threat. It simply worked, similar to a squig. As long as it did not get in the way of the work, the squig felt the creature was ambiguous to its presence.
Doing nothing else but feed and watch the curious creature, the squig started to develop an empathy to the work-ethic and energy displayed. It did not rest nor sleep, it simply continued at whatever task it had been allocated. The squig soon realised the creature was perhaps the most squig-like non-squig entity it had ever come across. This realisation increased the empathy it felt towards the creature, which appeared to be lowly, alone and abandoned, much like itself. The difference was that the creature definitely had a purpose, something the squig craved desperately for itself.
After days of watching the creature toil for days, the squig saw it suddenly stop. It noiselessly retreated into the large metal box and sat by the far wall, at once immobile and seemingly lifeless. Time passed, but it remained unmoving. Thinking it may be dead, a curious sadness suddenly came over the squig. The feeling confused it, and it decided it had something to do with the now-inert lowly toiler. Slowly, moving carefully forward on its multiple tiny legs, it approached the entrance to the box and the motionless fellow worker inside.
Though only yards away, the creature did not stir. As nightfall approached, the squig sensed the temperature quickly dropping. It peered at the bald, hairless skull. Although much smaller than that of an ork, and a loathsome grey rather than a healthy green colour, it thought the owner must feel the unpleasant cold like an ork would. It moved closer, reaching the thick steel legs of the creature, which remained still. Climbing up the chill dented steel, it crossed ceramic plates and coiled cabling to finally reach the base of the creature’s head. The skin felt cold and lifeless, but the squig sensed a low vibration from within, so it carefully clambered higher to perch on top of the skull. Once in position, it settled down to cover the exposed bald head with a mass of bright orange hair.
Suddenly, the sunken orbs of the empty eye sockets illuminated with red light and the creature stirred. The intensity of the internal vibration increased as logic circuits considered the threat of the new skull covering. Concluding the mat of hair to be simply a thermal advantage, the servitor returned to virtual hibernation.
Happy to have a purpose in life once more, the gladly squig nestled down to its new role.
About the Author
After thirty years at sea, Ross Baxter now concentrates on writing short stories. His varied work has been published in print by numerous publishing houses in US and UK anthologies, and can be found via the link below. He has won a number of awards, and had a story included on the 2017 HWA Bram Stoker reading list.
Married to a Norwegian and with two Anglo-Viking kids, he now lives in Derby, England.