WORSHIPPING FALSE IDOLS

Any soldier found worshipping anything other than the Emperor or a saint of the Imperial Cult will be mind-scrubbed and sent for use in the workshops of the Adeptus Mechanicus as a servitor. This infraction includes verbal or written benedictions or setting up an unsanctioned shrine.
(Art7690/56a)

Chapter One: Principles and Regulations, Section Two: Rules and Regulations.
-The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer

The smell of bleach hit me first. Heavy footsteps behind me indicated I should continue into the room. Back in this cell, this sanctuary, Madness surrounded me, and the walls seemed to crack a little more every day.

I half-limped to a rusted camp bed without a mattress, my weakness betraying me further. I sat down. The bleak rockcrete around me was encroached on by the rising damp, gravity no obstruction to the black decay seeping upwards to the white ceiling.

They had plastered over my dates, my last tether to reality. I gritted my teeth and made sure it didn't matter. They watched every tic, read every emotion.

With the cry of tortured metal my 'friend' arrived. Dead Eyes was a Killing Machine. Empty marionettes dancing grotesquely on fibre-optic strings.

The Dance of Death.

The smell of the counterseptic conspired with the bleach, making my eyes water. I was off balance, disorientated by all these conflicts and shades of things. Was this a hospital or a prison? I looked to the rusted bars. Definitely prison.

My hated friend standing guard certainly fused the medical with the criminal. Crimes against the soul and the God-Emperor-if he still lived. Imagine a butchered corpse, stitched together with blackened wire, and strapped with a Gatling gun arm. A friend or family member would be unrecognisable.

They defied reason, yet killed with cold logic. So far beyond human horror....

His stretched face had a look of pain to it, wires awkwardly splitting the not-quite-dead flesh into a smile. A rigor mortis grin. It made him unique, special to me. I was closer to him than I acknowledged, closer to him than the rest of God's creatures.

If he was still human, he'd be screaming. I'd seen it happen before, in the faulty ones. They'd be sprinting at us and suddenly stop and stand. 'The Ghost in the Machine', we called it. They would wake up and see the horrors inflicted on them and remember.

They killed themselves then.

A Second Death.

That it got a laugh indicated the grimness of the war. I walk through hell in my sleep. I was the survivor, the last living soul. We fought like machines against them, God-Machines. They made machines as gods, we were god-machines. The young men, the weight on their shoulders, knocking on that last darkened door. Pushed to the limit we dragged ourselves in and waited for them to come. Ammunition checked again and again. We found that child. I wish I could say he didn't suffer. The sadism wasn't programmed; it was some old humanity poking through the code.

The blood, the lights. The blood, the darkness.

My hand convulses as I stare at it: A dull ache from some old trauma. The machine in front of me twitches, reliving some past horror. We are kin, cousins if not brothers. Two dead souls, held against our will.

My captors had been taunting me with pictures of my daughter recently. She looks happy in her mother's arms. The woman triggers no recollection in me, but the child....

Perhaps it was before I was corrupted by wires. Perhaps she does not exist, the product of some misfiring neuron. They need me to break down, to implicate, to collapse and tell them everything. They mistake my absence for subterfuge. I simply know nothing.

I shifted from the edge of the bed onto the bare springs. Lying back, they took some of the strain away, complaining in a squeaking child's voice. They will erase me soon. It will be bliss. My hands searched their way to my face, augmetic nerves feeling the waste and degeneration of what was real. The journey was coarsened by unexpected grasslands along my neck, then cresting the ridge of my chin to find a veritable forest.

A buzz of something rose in my chest and a smile ghosted my lips. Kalma. Sepia tints filled the room. Warmth and numbness pulled me into in the floor, a patch on my arm administering a brief cure for this human condition. I sighed, almost in pleasure.

Even in this wonderful, drowsy state I picked out boots coming up the corridor. I rose to my feet. It was always better to stand.

Human contact.

Oblivious to my nakedness he handed me a mirror, shaving foam and a cup of hot water. Sipping it, I studied myself in the mirror. A junkie glow suffused what was still human, the rest of my shell oddly robust and pale against this golden brown toast-rack. There was nothing in the eyes of the soldier who stood at my door, not even fear or disgust. Lobotomised Skitarri, he was less human than my brother standing beside me. Strange, this was a zoo. I was a rare and exotic creature, the last of a race of monsters.

My new acquaintance turned to go.

'A razor?'

Wordlessly, he jerked his head towards my brother. Four pneumatic blades punctured the air.

'Of course...'