An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by James Marshall
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Mother suspended herself in the upper stratosphere. Manifest in many brilliant forms— slender, seething and corpulent—her terrifying generosity knew no bounds. She poured herself upon the surface of Photon.
Oceans boiled in receipt of Her gift. Forests splintered under the weight of celebration. Chittering tides of Her Divine Flesh, descending in storms of claw and chitin, surged across the sundered landmasses.
Mother and her Organs were magnificent in ways unfamiliar to believers in the Imperial creed. As the atmosphere of Photon buckled under the intimacy of Her embrace, so too did their thin faith in the corpse-god Emperor. Mother’s sheer kilometres of musculature flushed his emaciated image from their minds. Some simply gawped. Others took flight, thrashing about for desperate passage off-world.
District Hab Nurse Erin tried to slow her breathing. Deep and circular through nose and mouth. Her steadiness cut through the arthymic effort of the service lifter, and calmed the ragged group arranged about her. Expectant mothers all, she pressed down gently on their sorrow. She tasted it herself, this heady mix of jubilation and disaster.
Erin glanced up from tending to her charges, and through the greasy lumen light, her gaze met Olf’s. Fear and shame sat tightly in the Imperial pilot’s thin jaw—the hard angles of his flak harness out of place amidst the swollen bellies of Erin’s brood.
He’d abandoned his post, that much was clear. But whether he’d intended to lead this evacuation effort beyond rescuing his sibling, Erin couldn’t know. That he did not understand the significance of his place in Mother’s plan, Erin was certain. There was blood about Olf’s neckline that was not his own, and the grip of his knuckles pinched white around his sister’s young frame.
‘Thank you,’ Erin offered. ‘This is a terrible burden for them.’
Olf blinked at her words, and managed an unsteady nod. ‘We’re approaching the lander,’ he breathed. ‘Stay behind me.’
The lifter gave a shuddering halt before the maw of the airlock doors. Atmosphere ripped into the shaft, and before them squatted an idle shuttle on an exterior lander pad. The sight beyond that was too much for Erin’s mothers.
Mother’s Organs had reached out Her Divine Flesh and gripped the neighbouring Hab Spires. Where more would have marked the horizon, Mother had already churned them up to mix their remains with Herself. The light had turned. Her touch had cracked Photon’s glacial sheets, and muddied the crystal atmosphere.
The mothers, caught up in rapture, fell to their knees and wept. Their burden suddenly too much to bear at the threshold of their leaving. Erin herself was overcome for a long moment, and she resisted tugging at their minds. Great silhouettes of Mother’s Organs, fuzzy in the shrouded atmosphere, hung before one of Photon’s suns. The atmosphere shifted, and almost coyly now, Mother shared grand glimpses of her seething Flesh with faithful and ignorant alike.
Erin gulped at the air, her muscles singing at Mother’s proximity. The Organs resembled so closely the shadow puppet gestures that generations had used to render this moment for one another, in secret scholas and hidden congregations. To reach out between murky lumen light and filthy Hab-Block wall with crude human hands and imagine Her.
Subconsciously, Erin’s hands shifted at her sides through the poses for rendering this Organ and that. Fingers splayed and knotted to resemble in-miniature the titanic forms she saw before her. This was Mother’s gift, Erin realised. Not just the clutch these mothers carried, or the aspects of Her that Erin’s more fortunate cousins wore. But the chance to reach outside themselves and imagine some salvation beyond brittle Imperial thought.
But it was not to be. Not for Erin, not for these sibling-mothers. At Mother’s behest, the very moment of joyous reunion was now turned solemn pilgrimage off-world. The whine of engines drew Erin from her bitter reverence. Olf had begun the ignition sequence of the lone shuttle. Knowing that she would never see Mother again, she turned from the divine landscape, and drew the wailing brood towards the drop-ramp of the idle shuttle.
Olf climbed steeply towards the stratosphere’s edge, intoning audibly a prayer to his Emperor for deliverance. Erin cradled the sister, both strapped into co-pilot position. Beyond the cockpit armourglass other ships on similar escape vectors formed a spectacular tableau against the thinning atmosphere. Few would succeed. Mother’s Organs, offended at the expression of such ingratitude, reached out to swat the fleeing shuttles. But not theirs, Erin knew. Mother willed they would pass.
The sister wept in terror, and Olf’s ministrations raised to a shout as some resplendent element of Mother’s Divine Flesh bisected a lumbering freighter above them. To see such scale of glorious flesh surge through Imperial engineering, tearing and folding it to ruin even while its lifeless steel-wrought frame retained some void-bound momentum – Erin too began to weep, but now at the beauty of it. Some tatters of falling remains glanced off the hull, and for a moment, Erin’s selfish instincts trilled. She willed them to plunge back to the surface and find communion with Her. But Mother willed it otherwise. The shuttle slipped the atmosphere, excused from Her embrace, divined to bring Her gift to the next world, and the next, and the next.
Photon’s gravity receded, and with it did Her voice in Erin’s muscles. Instead a great morass gripped her, matched with fresh weeping from the mothers in the hold below. They felt it too. Such bitter privilege – to be rendered the very limbs of Her embrace. The further they reach, the further they go from Her.
Olf peered into the void, pointing with ignorant relief at a motley collection of refugee ships. He surveyed the instruments, voice hoarse and awash with adrenaline. ‘By the Emperor— no pursuers. And a survivor fleet,’ he spared her a glance, meant to reassure. ‘They’ll take us in. We’re saved.’
Erin spoke nothing to his salvation. Only smiled sadly, and went below to tend to her own.
About the Author
James is an amateur writer living and working in London. He’s currently completing a Masters degree, and is keen to do more writing – both fiction and academic.