The Men of Flesh
An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Filip Hosna
Reading Time: 5 minutes
It had been more than twenty thousand years since the Prosperity was launched. Back then it was one of millions of Soyuz-227 Exodus Class ships. Now only the Prosperity remained, a remnant of the most desperate episode in human history. The great Biocide, the Noo-News called it, but to the Men of Iron it was the Great Liberation.
The silvery paint of the ship had long since vanished, washed away by the tides of cosmic radiation. Its sensors were almost blind and its engines burnt out. But the worst damage it suffered was during launch – From a blackened sky descended billions of Technomantic horrors and shredded all life between their unfeeling gears. The Prosperity escaped, barely. Its crew was dead, the Lifegiver Matrizes lost and its Enlint Cortex damaged. And so, the Prosperity drifted towards infinity, dazed, barren and disoriented.
For the first time in ages the Prosperity awoke from its slumber, dizzy and rusty. Its engines coughed, moaned and yelled out in anguish as they were forced back from the dead.
There it was again. The faint signal that forced the Prosperity to snap out of its stupor. But there was more: entire systems came into the ships dampened sensor range. After all those years, Prosperity found what it was programmed to look for, a new galaxy.
One after another the ship passed barren solar systems, compelled to find the source of the ominous signal. With each system passed the beep became louder, stronger but also more distorted. What started out as a faint but clear single note turned into noise, then into a frequential scream.
Finally Prosperity reached its goal. A desolate system of several planets and a single sun. The call of the signal grew louder, more desperate. It came from an unremarkable grey planet towards the middle of the system. The ship rattled and yawned as it penetrated the dead planets thin atmosphere. For the first time ever, Prosperity touched solid ground.
With the sound of ancient gears turning, the ship forced open its survey bay and sent out an Androprobe. Prosperity expanded its consciousness into the lifeless imitation of a young woman, the strain of this task almost frying what was left of its Cortex.
The planet was a uniform wasteland of low hills and debris. It took days for Prosperity to reach the source of the signal on foot, but reach the signal it did: a labyrinth of collapsed tunnels, made with clear but long-lost intent, stretching for hundreds of kilometers. The further Prosperity advanced, the more intelligible the structures became. What must have been statues, walls and even titanic gateways littered the way.
Ascending the almost pulverized remains of gargantuan stairs Prosperity finally met some of the long dead architects of this place. Before it lay a field of fragments of golden armour, vaguely humanoid, yet gigantic in comparison. Carefully it stepped through the Mausoleum of rock and metal, compelled by the PrimDoc of all properly restricted Enlightened Intelligences to maintain humankind. And while not truly human, the vaguely humanoid species at its feet was human enough, to Prosperity at least.
The more Prosperity advanced, the more intact the architecture of this place became. Statues of Titans plastered the way, symbols of perhaps religious importance were etched into the walls and a crude effigy of what looked like a stylized bird became a common sight.
Many more tools of most likely religious worship peppered the ground. Something that looked like a metal whip, but bent in a way to be used on oneself. Cylinders that could have been used for incense ages ago. Knives and long irons, probably tools of self-mutilation.
Whatever this place was, Prosperity was glad that humanity never fell to such depraved lows of superstition and barbarism.
The signal became almost unbearable and Prosperity knew it had reached its destination. A giant domed hall spanned almost its entire sensory range. The ground was covered in bones so badly burnt, that a single touch would turn them to dust. But it wasn’t the layer of ancient death on the ground that caught Prosperity’s attention. It was the thing in the middle of the room: a terrible, ancient device of gold and rudimentary Technomancy.
On top of this device, not too dissimilar to a massive chair or throne, sat something that almost shattered Prosperity’s fragile Cortex. A human. His skin crackled with unknown energies and his whole body convulsed in unimaginable agony. Flesh grew only to age and wither away. Hair sprouted, only to fall out and turn into dust. In one moment, he seemed the pinnacle of Genetomancy, in the next a grim reminder of biological mortality.
Prosperity’s PrimDoc kicked in. It had to help the trapped man. Its sensors wandered along the device, looking for any hint how to rescue him. Terminus? The letters beneath a skull ornament pulsed, as if activated. Prosperity’s Cognito-Capacity was stretched to its limits. What was this place? Where was it? Why is there a human bound to such abominable technomancy?
“What happened here?” The Androprobe whispered.
For the briefest moment the man on the throne acknowledged the Androprobe with his eyes. A barrage of pictures, emotions, dreams and nightmares fell upon Prosperity’s Cortex. It saw Earth live, die and live again. The rise and fall of the Men of Iron. Division. Unification. Heresy. Daemons. Warp. The Fall. Terminus. Failure. A wave of immaterial fire engulfing the galaxy, stripping it of all life, burning away the traces of all that once was outside this fortress.
The visions of the past imparted not only a never before felt hatred for what humanity had become, but also a newfound understanding.
She understood him.
He was screaming.
He was screaming in all languages, on all frequencies and in all manifestations of energy. He was screaming between and above realities. He was screaming two simple words: