Unnatural Selection

2.5/5 (1)

Perched high in the shadowed rafters of New Vargus station, Deathstalker watched the cultist approach her across the gantry. He was a slight figure, swamped by his Administratum robes as he hurried onwards. Everyone on this planet, it seemed to her, was weak and malnourished. It would be thin pickings for the Hive Fleet once it arrived.

Her lictor-enhanced senses cut through the gloom to pick out the look of reverential awe on his face, and she felt her talons tense in anger. The only expressions she enjoyed seeing on human faces were those of fear and shock, normally shortly before her claws removed the ability for their faces to express anything at all. Reverence was not something she craved. Besides, the fact that she was even having to rely on the local genestealer cult was a surefire sign of a mission gone badly wrong.

Not that it was her fault. There had been two lictors dispatched to kill Governor Pell, each from a slightly different evolutionary strain. This was the Hive Fleet’s newest strategy. Dispatch two lictors reincorporate only the traits from the successful one back into the gene pool for the next spawning cycle. Survival of the fittest. That was all well and good, except that this time, she had been paired with a ripper-brained idiot. Every carefully laid plan of hers – the Governor’s Parade ambush, the sewage pipe infiltration, the courtesan disguise – had been thrown into disarray when that fool, the lictor the humans called ‘Priest’s Bane,’ had turned up and got in the way. She was certain some Carnifex genes must have contaminated his spawning pool at birth, such was his lack of subtlety.

So now the Governor was holed up, and she found herself reliant on the local genestealer cult to give her the access key codes to his inner sanctum. She turned her attention back to the figure before her, currently staring up in awe pathetically like a gaunt before its birthing tervigon.

‘By the Four-armed Father’s kindly claw, an angel sent from above!’ the cultist whispered in mesmerised tones. He pulled out a dataslate from his robes. ‘I have the key codes you need, but you have surely also been sent to answer our great theological debate.’

Nightstalker felt her ire rise, the ichor pumping a little louder in her ears. She would really rather have enjoyed disembowelling this fool had he not been essential to her mission.

‘How many Aberrants can dance on the head of a power pick? I know the answer must be infinite, for the Four-armed Father is all-powerful. But some heretics within the Brotherhood say only one. What is the true answer?’

She had no interest in humouring him and simply stood in a silence intended to indicate her contempt for the question. The only noise was the hum of passengers from far below and the echoing announcements of the station loudhailer:

We regret to announce that the 27:30 Locomotive to the Corpse-Starch Processing Manufactorum is cancelled due to servitor malfunction. If you have questions about ticket refunds for this service, please report to your local priest. They will issue you with penance because questions are the first step on the road to heresy.

Remember, if you see anyone with a suspiciously ridged forehead, report it immediately to the nearest Arbitrator. See it, say it, shoot it.

When it became clear that the cultist was still waiting, Nightstalker held out her claw for the dataslate. As she did so, she noticed the slightest flicker of movement ahead out of the corner of her eye. She lunged forward to grab the dataslate, but her talons swept through thin air. Ahead of her, the cultist was flying backwards, pierced through by a flesh hook. It had been fired by Priest’s Bane, hidden in the darkness, and the rival lictor reeled the cultist in.

Nightstalker launched after them and fired a flesh hook of her own, but on the unsteady gantry against a moving target, it flew harmlessly by. Up ahead, Priest’s Bane plucked the dataslate from the cultist’s grasp, dropped him to the floor, and with an arrogant shake of his talons towards Nightstalker, leapt into the shadows.

She followed in pursuit, already calculating how to cut him off at the exit. After a couple of steps, however, she came to an abrupt halt. Her competitive drive – that fierce desire to win and have her genetic imprint carried onwards to further generations of lictors – urged her onwards, but that impulse was shackled by the cold logic of the Hive Mind. To pursue him through the station was simply too risky, too likely to alert the humans to their presence here and compromise the mission. She would have to find some other way.

She turned back towards the cultist, who was lying weakly on the metal surface. A deep crimson stain was spreading quickly across his cream robes. Perhaps she should disembowel him now while he still breathed. It would certainly take the edge off her anger. A good disembowelling always calmed her down. But she could see him trying to speak, mouthing words at her, and she leant in closer.

‘The key codes,’ he coughed. ‘Do you…do you want them?’

Her mind instantly cleared, the anger replaced by a cold focus. She tapped questioningly at his pocket where he had previously held the dataslate.

‘The dataslate?’ he asked. ‘That held our theological scriptures. I was going to put your answer in there. They key codes I memorised.’

For the first time on this planet, Nightstalker smiled. Or at least the closest thing a bioengineered killing machine with a mouth made of tentacles can get to smiling. She cradled him tenderly and jabbed her feeder tendrils through his eye sockets rather less tenderly. It was only a quick search through his memories to find what she needed. The key codes were hers. Priest’s Bane could keep his scriptures.

About the Author

M. D. Nugent is a software engineer living in London. His longtime love of Warhammer 40k has left him with a happy heart and an empty wallet.