Author Topic: Man of Iron  (Read 1902 times)

Offline Swarbie

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Man of Iron
« on: November 04, 2010, 11:30:33 AM »
The machine-man sat cross-legged in the cave, watching the centuries pass by outside. Civilization came and went. Things started anew. Those who had been left behind crawled out of the forests, clothed in leaves and mud, carrying crude shafts of wood for weapons. They settled in the valley below his cave. A few decades later and their farms spread out into the distance. And still the machine-man sat and watched.

One day, a small girl from what had become a small township went exploring. She wandered up into the hills that the elders said were full of unimaginable horrors and she found the cave. She wandered in, and seeing the machine-man sitting motionless, she became curious. She walked up to him, inspecting his rusted joints, his metal-sheathed limbs, the few patches of flesh he had left, covered in gelatinous rejuve liquids. Then she saw the blue glow of his eyes, and, being frightened, ran home screaming.

When the elders heard her tale, they sent a band of warriors to investigate. The brave men of the town gathered their crossbows and went to the cave. They saw the machine-man and their hearts quivered, but not wishing to be seen as cowards, they crept up to him and gently touched him, to see if he was among the living. When they felt his cold, cold flesh they grew afraid, and sent for the elders.

All of the elders agreed that the machine-man could not be among the living, and so they sat around him in a circle, poking and prodding, chattering among themselves. Then one, the oldest and most learned of them all, saw that there was a thread of red cloth upon the ground. He knew that this had not come from them, for they did not have the dyes to make red clothing. All the ancient legends of his people said that the men with the power of gods, with control over the lightning and unloving metal had worn red robes.

He told the others of this, and after much argumentation and insults, they agreed. The machine-man was clearly an idol of the ancients, an image of their powerful god. So, seeking to earn the god’s favor, they polished the machine-man until the rust was gone from him and he shined, and then dressed him in robes daubed with the blood of sacrificial animals.

Then they kneeled before him praying. All through this, the machine-man listened and learned. After several days, he had deciphered their language. Deeming the moment to be right, he spoke and his voice was harsh and grating from millennia of silence.

He asked them if the armored angels still descended to take the strong, if the red robed god-men still made lightning in the mountain ruins, if witch-children were still born once a generation. When the men of the town found the courage to answer, the machine-man learned that almost all that he once knew had changed.
The angels still descended, but now only to make war on the giant predators of the plains. The witch-children were born often, causing havoc. The god-men had not been seen since the Exodus, now five hundred generations past.

The machine-man considered all this. When the townsmen told him of floating castles to the west, he knew where he must go. After more than three thousand years, the time to fulfill his Purpose was near. He got up, and walked away, leaving the townsfolk lost and confused.
Soon, he was gone from sight.     

+ + +

The rogue trader had been shocked to discover the strange servitor waiting in his cabin. He was also shocked when he realised it had its own free will and that it wanted passage. He was pleased when it produced a bag of gold Thrones for preliminary payment.

Soon the servitor, whom he had come to think of as an overly-augmented nobleman, was sitting in his
collection room. When offered amasec, it refused. Its attention was caught up in one of his treasures.

+ + +

The machine-man could not remember ever having been on a spacecraft before.
He had walked from the town, heading west until he discovered the spaceport. When he got there, he had shed his bloodied robe and stolen a coat and money, to help him blend in. After asking for information, he had realized that he could not fulfill his Purpose. Not here.

So he had hired passage with a weak once-born, whose gold lust was obvious. Now, he had found something to fascinate him.

The clockwork doll was beautiful. His eyes could see the flaws of mortal manufacture upon it, but still . . . He turned to the merchant.

“” he asked.

“W-what?” stammered the trader. “I don’t understand. What are you saying?”

The machine-man paused, puzzled. For some reason he had reverted to his native tongue. Shaking his head, he rerouted his speech-circuitry and tried again.

“WHAT IS THIS OBJECT’S PURPOSE?” he asked, his voice monotone and harsh.

“It – it has no purpose? It is an ornament, nothing more.”

Fascinating. An object, like himself in miniature, but with no Purpose. It brought back hints of sensations, of memories he should have lost millennia ago. For the first time in his memory, he felt . . . alone. He shook his head, angrily this time. He should not have Emotion. All he required was his Purpose. It was his entire being.

That is not so, whispered something at the edge of his mind.

The machine-man cried out, grasping his great metal head in his iron fingers, twisting his cabled dreadlocks. A memory flashed into his rusted mind.


A little girl, and a beautiful woman, sitting beneath the trees. Laughter. His own self, throwing a rubber ball for a small furred quadruped. He runs back to the woman, and lifts the little girl high, holding her close. He put her on the ground and took the woman in his arms. Their lips met.

The memory ended. The machine-man raised his head, acidic tears brimming in his eyes. The trader watched him, looking scared and confused. The machine-man reached a decision.

“I WANT IT,” he grated. The trader shook his head.

“N-no. It’s mine . . . Y-y-you can buy it though!”

“NAME YOUR PRICE.”

“Four hundred in silver?”

“I DO NOT HAVE MORE CURRENCY.”

“Th-then you can’t have it!”

The machine-man stood, to accentuate his bulk. As an additional measure, he let his claws slide from their sheaths. Fear was a good motivator. The trader trembled visibly.

“D-d-don’t hurt me!”

“I DO NOT WISH TO CAUSE YOU HARM. I MERELY WANT THE DOLL.”

“T-t-t-take it!!! Please!”

“IT IS NOT . . . CORRECT TO TAKE IT WITHOUT PAYMENT. WHAT IS IT YOU DESIRE?”

“W-w-wealth?”

“I DO NOT HAVE CURRENCY.”

“Health?”

“I AM NO DOCTOR, BUT MY BIO-SCANNER INDICATES YOU ARE IN RELATIVELY GOOD CONDITION. ESTIMATED DATE OF DEATH, ASSUMING NATURAL CAUSES, 999. M41.”

“Only fifty more years? That’s not what I want!”

The machine-man sighed, the sound a hiss of static. “WHAT DO YOU DESIRE?”

The trader frantically scanned his mind for something he needed.
“P-p-protection!”

“THAT I CAN PROVIDE. I WILL PROTECT YOU FOR THE DURATION OF OUR JOURNEY IN EXCHANGE FOR THE DOLL.”

“V-v-very well, then. Can you please . . . put away your claws?”

The machine-man retracted his finger-blades. He took the doll to his cabin, and then sat on the Purposeless bed, staring at it.

So beautiful.

+ + +

The space-port was a bustling area, full of the activity that comes with trade and travel. The machine-man strode alongside the trader, whom he had come to know as Izzius Glock. His journey was not yet complete, so he still owed Glock protection. The machine-man was intrigued by Glock’s name. He could not remember his own. Not being able to do so made him feel . . . apart. He had given up on trying to suppress the Emotion that now frequently surfaced in his mind. Perhaps he would choose a name, and overcome his differences to those around him.

Glock was nervous. The machine-man could hear his rapid heartbeat and smell the rancid sweat coating his hands. They arrived at a small stall. Inside, a man was conversing with a robed astropath. When the man became aware of them, he turned around, a grin on his face.

“Ah, Izzius! What do you have for me today?” he said, as he embraced Glock in a crushing bear-hug.

“Take a look,” Glock replied. “Tell me what you think.”

The man turned to face the machine-man. A whirring bionic replaced his left eye, and the machine-man felt the tingle of electrical and light-based scanners playing across his frame.

“Izzius, you’ve outdone yourself. He’s magnificent. And very, very old. It might even be pre-Heresy.”

The term puzzled the machine-man. “PRE-HERESY? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF PRE-HERESY?”

The man blanched. “Izzius! You didn’t tell me it was sentient!”

I wasn’t sure,” Glock replied. “He may just be following artificial programs designed to give the appearance of sentience.”

“No, he’s sentient alright. After a while, those programs evolve, giving more and more human traits until sentience is reached. He’s curious. That’s a human trait. Jives, shut him down. I’ll look over him later.” The astropath nodded, and then placed a hand over his empty eye-sockets.

The machine-man felt a light brush against his rusted mind, and then coldness welled up in the back of his head. The astropath staggered back, terror graven on his face.

“What are you?” he asked, scrambling away.

The machine-man didn’t answer. He couldn’t. The cold was running through his body. In his head, he heard words forming.


K.E.M. program activated . . . Running warm-up codes . . . Warning, psychic threat detected. Classification; class Delta. Advised course: Eliminate.

The machine-man’s claws slid from their sheaths. As he stepped forward, he heard a malign giggle in his head. Free, it said. After all these thousands of years, free!

He continued to step forward. His arm shot out, claws catching the astropath in the throat. Blood spurted into the air, and the machine-man watched as the psyker’s pulse flat-lined.


Threat eliminated. Deactivating program . . . Deactivation failed. Running override scripts . . . Override failed. K.E.M. program unrestrained. Advising closest Adeptus Mechanicus outpost . . .

The machine-man felt the signal pass from a unit in his lower back into the Empyrean. Something screamed inside him. NO!!! I’m not going back! Not now! NOT EVER!!!

He lunged forward and decapitated both Glock and the other man, who were frozen to the spot. The machine-man felt something like sorrow as he picked up their heads, turned around and started to run.
     
   
And I saw her body burning,
With it, my world
To dust returning