The scene became a frozen tableau for a microsecond.
The Man of Iron was the first to move. It twitched its head back and forth like it was sniffing at the air. The shocking change in its sophistication and the ease with which it had annihilated the servitors was terrifying to all three humans before it.
As though it were planned, all three of them moved at once. The pilot turned and scurried back the way they had come, the copilot leapt for the shotgun and she went for the shard gripped in the creature’s hand. It wasn’t logical. She knew that the power of the Man of Iron was far beyond her and that the only logical course was to run for the crawler but she couldn’t help herself. Her mechadendrites lashed out to deflect any attacks as she stretched out her hands, one real and one bionic, to wrest the shard away.
The creature ignored the bladed tentacles as they dug scars into its dull metal dermis and caught her around the throat with its hand. She felt herself being lifted up until her feet dangled and was painfully aware of her vulnerability. The Man of Iron did not squeeze though, it reached out with the other hand into her robes. It didn’t make sense, she thought. Why was the creature not destroying her as it had destroyed the servitors and Thaleos’ expedition? The answer became apparent as it withdrew the other metal shard she had held in her pocket.
Two things happened. The first was another huge increase in the coordination of the Man of Iron as now its movements were graceful as well as effective. The second was the interaction of the two shards of metal. They gleamed more brightly than before, as though the whole was greater than the two parts. As soon as the metal hand clasped them together there was a smooth trickling and when the fist opened, there was one shard in place of the two; they had melded together.
Now the Man of Iron looked up at her and she could sense the satisfaction and hunger in its emerald gaze. The fingers around her throat began to close, slowly choking off her air and the blood flow to her brain. She struggled helplessly but she was close to passing out and her mechadendrites seemed unable to do more than leave small scratches. As dark rings closed around her vision, the Man of Iron tilted her head so that she was looking into its glowing green eyes. It smiled at her.
Then the metal face spun to one side with a loud bang and she fell to the dusty ground, coughing and retching.
The copilot looked over the small wisp of smoke trailing up from the shotgun.
“Did I kill it?”
A moaning howl was the response as the Man of Iron stood back up. An ugly furrow had been gouged across its face by the solid slug and as the copilot watched the metal skin flowed across the wound until it was pristine again.
He racked the gun and fired. Then again, and again, and again, and again, and a click. A jam? Of all the Emperor cursed times to jam, what the frak? He looked at the Man of Iron as its skin welled over the bullet craters until there was no mark left.
“Sod this.” He yelled over his shoulder as he dropped the gun and sprinted after the pilot.
The Man of Iron walked over and raised a metal foot. She rolled her head out of line but the leg landed squarely on her bionic shoulder. The entire arm was severed and the shooting pain of the injury was coupled with electrical shocks as her power systems short-circuited. The creature looked at her briefly but it was the other one that had damaged it and now it was hungry for retribution. She wasn’t going anywhere fast. It broke into a loping gait down the trail towards the crawler.
Left in a growing puddle of blood and oil she gathered her wits and tried to formulate a plan.
“Get it open, Jakos!” The copilot yelled as he scrambled across the rocks.
“I’m trying you frakker,” The pilot yelled. “The cog jammed it.”
“Then cut it, we’ll seal the cockpit with the bulkhead.”
“But what if the seal fails?”
“We’ll wear masks all the way back, just do it now!”
A howl like a bloodthirsty wolf came out of the small ravine they had just left. Jakos needed no more convincing. He turned the plasma torch up, way beyond its rated maximum, and began opening the door.
It would be close.
This was it, the only plan she could come up with. The necessary procedures had been carried out and it was all in the hands of fate now. Her mind wandered with the pain as her body struggled back along the path to the crawler. Where had it gone wrong? Had she not performed the proper rituals and shown the humility due of a servant of the Machine God? Perhaps it was the drivers who had sullied the area with their blasphemy. Perhaps, the thought galled, perhaps her hidebound seniors were right in thinking the Men of Iron were heretical. Perhaps she’d been doomed to failure since the start. She forced the thought away; it did not have the same logical priority as carrying out her last duties. Onwards she struggled, hearing the sounds of death and destruction ahead of her.
She rounded the final rock and came upon the crawler, or what was left of it. The Man of Iron had pounded through the power lines as it had with the other crawler but that wasn’t enough. A still-glowing hole in the bulkhead marked where the men had cut their way in and the torn metal beside it marked where the creature had expanded the gap and followed them in. Now there was just a limp arm draped out with a trickle of blood running down, stilled by death in a last attempt at escape.
She walked closer to the wreckage.
“Abomination,” Her voice was weak but audible. “Come forth and face thy judgement for sinning against the Omnissiah.”
For a moment there was nothing and then the Man of Iron climbed through the hole, eyes ablaze with power and the combined shard gleaming in its grip. It looked down at her from the top of the boarding ramp for a second then leapt to the ground. As it stalked towards her she felt no panic at her approaching end. It was the will of her god, this was her punishment for consorting with tech-heresy and she knew she deserved it. Now all that remained was to play the final card and undo the damage she had done.
It reached her in a few seconds and, as it lashed out with a lightning blow, she lashed out with three of her own. In the nanoseconds before the connections were distorted she felt her mechadendrites hit home with perfect accuracy. She felt herself flying backwards through the air and the impact on the ground cracked one of her neuro-spinal feeds. Half of her world became dark as the bionic implant failed and she felt the burning drip of harsh chemical fluids from her shattered metal face begin to flow into her throat. As soon as it passed the augmented vocal chords the flesh shrieked in agonised protest but she did not notice. It had worked and by the angry howling of the creature, it realised.
Even as its fist had sundered her face, two of her mechadendrites had knocked the shard from its grip and the third had launched something in an arc to meet the shining fragment. Something brassy and rounded. Something that righted itself, clasped the shard in small pincers and jetted off towards the canyon lip, hundreds of metres above. Her servo skull.
Her hunch was being proved right as the creature lifted its forearms to shoot down the small target and cried out as nothing happened. Something about those gleaming pieces of metal had been the wakening for the Man of Iron. The closer the proximity it had to them, the more effective its systems. And now, with its driving force racing up and away, the creature was stiffening and failing again.
It looked down on her, fading eyes full of furious anger. For the first time in her life she wished she still had a human face so she could give it a mocking smile.
“May the Omnissiah…abandon you, monster.” She burbled through a ruined voicebox and throat.
It roared madly, forced itself over to her and closed its terrible grip on her throat.
The light faded in both of their eyes. Magos Delpheus Arkas of the Adeptus Mechanicus died alongside her prize, content in the fulfilment of her final duty.