“This is a Skitarii weapon?”
The copilot of the crawler, tugging with a finger at the heavy rubber straps of his respirator, did not respond. Either he did not hear or, more likely, was doing it to annoy her.
“Answer me. Is it Skitarii?”
He used one heavy boot to kick away the desiccated arm that was draped on the weapon. The limb ended just above the elbow with a ragged edge that had been softened by time and exposure. Idly, he gave the item a perfunctory glance then turned it over with his toe and nodded.
“Aye. See the markings on the magazine rim.” He jabbed a gloved finger. “That’s the insignia of the Menshus sector, Skitarii sub-armoury 4-B. Can’t you read the glyphs?”
“Continue your impudence and I’ll have you assigned to menial status for a cycle.” She glared at him; he went back to adjusting his straps. “I’ll need you to examine it to determine how long it has been out here”
“You want me to pick it up?” His eyes boggled in the bug-like sockets of the mask. “The propellant sealant will have degraded. I’m not losing my hand to a dodgy weapon.” He crossed his arms firmly.
The same damn stubborn streak as that driver, she thought. If only there were two others she could have recruited who weren’t so completely exasperating. Still, they were making good time and there’d been no chance to get anyone else.
“Very well, I will ensure the Machine Spirit is content.”
Ignoring his vaguely interested, vaguely disgusted look she extended her mechadendrites. As the uncoiling metal snakes reached close she willed the sensor probe into activation. A rounded nubbin on the foremost dendrite split and a ball of metallic fibres slid out. They uncoiled like a dust flower blooming then slowly the hair-like wires caressed the weapon. It took only a second until she was connected but there was nothing there. The Machine Spirit had departed and only a metal shell was left.
“Omnissiah, bless and welcome the humble spirit of your creation. In the almighty machine find a place for it.” The prayer, whispered under her breath, was automatic.
Sacred duty carried out she resumed the study of the Skitarii weapon. There! Her filament sensors found the ident flek of the unit and a small speaker grille on her shoulder burst to life.
“Unit 63355572-18365 identified. Personnel-level-area-suppression-rotary-fed multiple-projectile-launcher.”
“It’s an automatic shotgun,” The copilot interrupted. “Don’t need all them words to describe it. So, the spirit happy?”
This blasphemy and disregard for proper manners was beginning to grate heavily. She was glad to have left behind her impure flesh face; holy metal saved the unconscious reactions to bothersome stimuli like witless drivers.
“It is a creation blessed in the Omnissiah’s eyes and should be referred to as such.” She snapped.
Thankfully her augmetic eyes could, quite literally, glow with irritation. She made sure the copilot could see them as she continued.
“The Spirit is placated, now examine the weapon.” A small lie but after all, he was only a driver, barely above a menial in he eyes.
“Just a damn shotgun.” He muttered rebelliously, gingerly bending to pick it up.
Once it was in his hands and failed to explode straightaway he looked a little calmer. Betraying knowledge (that he shouldn’t have, she noted) the copilot detached the drum magazine and racked the chamber. A brass cartridge, gleaming only slightly in the dim light, soared out to slide down the slope next to the trail. A small puff of red dust marked its landing, a small trickle of sand showed its path and then it became one with the landscape. She smiled internally at the sight. It was most…proper when something of the Omnissiah’s became one with the natural world. It marked one step taken towards the Promised Land.
“The seal’s been broken, it was fired,” He said, weighing the drum in one hand. “About a third full.”
“How old is the seal?”
“Can’t see all the markings but it looks like the armoury issued it maybe fifteen cycles ago. Could be a few more or less, some marks are worn off.” He shrugged. “Them shells that’s left are still good though.”
About fifteen cycles…Thaleos had departed sixteen point four cycles ago according to his encrypted file’s she’d broken into. It had to be his expedition; they must have gone this way. She sent a prayer of thanks to the Omnissiah and turned to the crawler.
“We are on course, prepare to leave.” She saw the driver nod through the dusty viewing glass.
“Get back on board,” She said to the copilot. “And bring the weapon. It must be returned to the forges and its spirit soothed.”
“Right.” The man said, a grin visible under his mask as he hefted the gun.
She took a small satisfaction in the faint patchy rash visible on his neck. He’d fiddled with the straps too much and bared some skin to the harsh atmosphere. A short exposure like this wouldn’t kill him but he’d be itchy for days. It was just one more thing that made her eternally glad she had moved beyond the confines of the weak flesh.
She was satisfied the Omnissiah was with them. The witless man would suffer slightly for his improper respect and, more importantly, they were on course.
A small thought routine niggled at her though. What had Thaleos and his expedition met that left a weapon two thirds depleted and ripped off a Skitarii’s arm?