Fast Fiction

Efficiency

Efficiency

An Unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Justin Boyle
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Nathaniel hesitated before loading the shotgun. The shell was one of Engineer Abimelech’s personal creations. It housed an inverted cone of vectordet behind a copper plate, which inverted into a molten slug upon detonation. A shaped-charge projectile, able to punch through a half-inch of ceramite. Abimelech was good at making weapons. Nathaniel slid the shell into the weapon and racked the slide. He knew what he had to do.

The sense of vertigo could be chalked up to the fading effects of adrenaline and supplementary stims. Nathaniel was keenly aware of how everything hurt. It wasn’t just the fragmentation in his leg or the cut on his scalp. It was a bone-deep ache in his muscle and a brand-new wound to the soul. But Nathaniel counted himself lucky. Of all the colonists, he was the only one who had served a stint in the Guard. He’d seen and done terrible things, and left pieces of his conscience all over the Segmentum. It was a mistake to assume the wars had left him anesthetised to the horror.

A woman crouched next to a gun-servitor. One arm rested on the caterpillar treads, and her face was buried in her elbow. The floor was littered with heavy stubber casings. It stank of lubricant and carbon. The weapon was almost two meters tall, mounting quad stubbers that reminded him of a Hydra flak tank rendered in miniature. The biological targeting system looked as if it had been added as an afterthought. The fact that the installation was a rush job didn’t help. He tried not to stare too long.

The enginseer was waiting. The command throne was a mess of wires and pipes, much like the occupant. If Abimelech felt any undeserved satisfaction, Nathaniel couldn’t see it. The brick-red robes and thorough augmentation concealed most of his ugly face. It was impossible to tell precisely what Abimelech was doing. The screens surrounding the throne displayed gibberish patterns of machine code that Nathaniel could not decipher. The enginseer did not move, with the exception of his mechanical third arm, that occasionally adjusted the dials.

A servo-skull drifted to within a foot of Nathaniel’s face and studied him for a moment. Whatever its purpose, the machine was apparently satisfied. It moved away without comment. Nathaniel felt a sudden hatred for the thing that he had never felt before. The damned things were common as rats, especially around tech-priests, and usually Nathaniel would have ignored it completely. But now it made his heart burn with contempt.

‘Speak,’ Abimelech prompted. He did not look up from his work, whatever it was. The voice was a flat, mechanical buzz that lacked any inflexion and originated from the right shoulder rather than the throat.

‘It’s over,’ Nathaniel said.

‘I know this.’ The mechanical arm moved to a new dial and rotated it slightly. ‘Hostile forces have been routed and withdrawn to eighteen kilometres. I estimate thirty-seven per cent casualties among the hostiles, when compared to fourteen per cent casualties among defenders.’

At this point, Abimelech finally condescended to look at Nathaniel. He was a mechanical cyclopes, with a mask of rococo-patterned bronze surrounding a single green optic lens centred directly over the bridge of his nose. An ornamented gorget concealed most of his lower face. Nathaniel had seen the Enginseer often enough to know he had no lower jaw, but rather a mass of wires and tubes piped directly into a neck-hole that he hesitated to call a mouth.

‘The colonists performed above expectations,’ Abimelech continued. ‘Combat efficiency and responsiveness were far below standard for regular military forces, but nonetheless above that expected of disorganised militia.’

‘But the servitors–’ Nathaniel said, angry that Abimelech would so blatantly ignore the proverbial hydraphant in the room.

‘Also performed above expectations,’ the enginseer interrupted. Now he rose from his throne, cables snaking across the deck and disappearing beneath his robes. He stood straight, with his back unnaturally erect, looking down on the peasant before him. 

Nathaniel couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated. But he knew how to handle fear. And at that moment he was too pissed off to care.

‘Combat servitors displayed acquisition speed and synaptic alacrity twenty-one per cent above baseline. This is almost certainly due to the donor subjects’ heightened reactions and improved visual acuity. I estimate the servitors were responsible for seventy-eight per cent of all hostile casualties. It is safe to say we would not have survived the encounter without them.’

Abimelech began to turn back towards his apparatus, but he hesitated as if he forgot something. The tortured face turned back to Nathaniel and regarded him for a moment. The single optic lens made a scraping sound as it refocused.

‘You should be proud,’ Abimelech said.

At that, Nathaniel raised the shotgun and put a shaped-charge penetrator straight through Abimelech’s eye. It was a practised and fluid movement, honed to the point of instinct by hours of drills and bloodshed across a half-dozen battlefields. The gunshot in the confined space was deafening. He could hear nothing past the squeal of tinnitus. 

Abimelech stiffened but did not fall. Without his inputs the augmetic limbs just locked in place, turning him into a flesh-and-bronze statue.

Nathaniel pumped the shotgun and ejected the spent shell onto the floor.

Heartless son of a bitch. 

He shouldn’t have used the children.

 

About the Author

Justin has been in and around 40k since the 90’s, but now he’s just a cranky old grot who plays Kill Team.