As Darzen, the tech-priest, attended to simmering fluids within elaborately-shaped glassware, he reminisced about the events of his apprenticeship which had resulted in his current situation. He recalled the dozens of occasions he had been reprimanded for "insufficient reverence to the machine-spirits", and the more numerous occasions where he had been shunned for his apparent "reluctance to embrace the path of the bionically-enhanced".
With the latter thought he scratched at a rim of necrotic flesh around the breathing apparatus surgically attached to his face. This was one of his last additions, necessitated by an order to work in the noxious environment of the acid reclamation pits - itself the result of multiple demotions that saw him slide to the very bottom of the pecking order within the Adeptus Mechanicus. And, apparently still dissatisfied with his performance, the overseers had deemed it fit to ship him here, off-world, to while away the days in the hive city of Necromunda.
His assigned tasks were simple and banal, merely the upkeep of a half-dozen plasma reformers that fed some factory levels of minor importance, and the ease of his station allowed him plenty of free time for his own projects. In particular, gangs of hivers were always in need of skilled hands to repair their bionics and re-fit their weaponry, and, over the years of his residence, Darzen had learned to become quite at home with the less salubrious aspects of the hive-city.
He was dragged from his reverie by a staccato sequence of knocks on the steel door of his workshop. Darzen fumbled with a valve on his glass apparatus before lowering part of it into a galvanized bucket filled with ice. Taking one step back, he cast an eye over the arrangement and satisfied himself that it was not about to explode before he scuttled to his door and rotated the locking mechanism, the door shuddering inwards on hydraulic actuators.
Through the doorway, Darzen appraised the black body armor of his visitor: an arbiter, enforcer of Imperial law and keeper of order, at least, in the parts of Necromunda that were somewhat civilized.
"Going to need to take a look around, sir", the arbiter's voice issued from behind his opaque faceplate, "got some strange readings in an emissions monitoring report recently, and we've also got some questions about those shipments of chemical precursors you've been receiving".
"W-Whatever do you mean...?" Darzen wheedled, taking two steps back and kicking a discarded syringe beneath his workbench. "Everything's accounted for here. All above-board."
"We'll see", the arbiter said, fussing with the clasps on his helmet. "Also had reports", he continued, "that you've not been fulfilling the codified requirements for", at this stage he removed the helmet entirely, "hanging around with us, man, where ya been?"
As Darzen recognized the face, the tension left him, his feelings of dread replaced by relief.
"Throne! You had me going there", he wheezed, shuffling over to the arbiter and clapping him on the shoulder, "you devil".
"Good to see you again, Darzen."
"So, what brings you to my workshop?", the tech-priest inquired. "Running a little low, are we? Or could it be..." he leaned in to the arbiter and held his face a few inches away "did you find one... for me... like I asked?", his voice punctuated with sucking noises from his respirator cartridges.
"Affirmative on both counts. My colleague should be here shortly with-" he was interrupted as Darzen produced a girlish squeal of glee, although it ended up more of a metallic burst of high-pitched static.
"Wonderful, marvelous, fantastic, I knew you'd be able to find one", he gushed, staggering around in a lurching pirouette before crouching down in front of a safe beneath his workbench and prodding at the keypad.
"As for my end of the deal, I think you'll be satisfied with this." Darzen reached into the safe, pulled out a carefully-wrapped, brick-sized mass, and set it down on the table as he returned to standing, kicking the safe shut. He pushed the package across the workbench to the arbiter.
"See what you think."
The arbiter sliced one edge of the packaging with his multi-tool, and removed the first layer with a rustle of plastic. A few more layers into the tightly-wrapped packet and he had reached its core, a block of white, powdery material. First licking his finger, he collected a dab of the substance on his fingertip before rubbing it on his gums, wincing slightly.
"Mmm", he said, running his tongue around his mouth, "That will do nicely." He smacked his lips, and carefully re-sealed the packet, stowing it in a pocket of his combat armor. "Hans should be here any minute", he reassured Darzen.
A couple of minutes passed.
The arbiter laughed nervously.
"Hmm?" inquired Darzen.
"Oh, it's nothing, just something... the other day."
"Heh, right, right..."
"I ah, I hear the Van Saars have been at it again, eh?"
They were spared by the rapping of a gauntleted hand against the workshop's doorframe, which heralded the arrival of a second arbiter. "Got a deliv'ry for you, guv", he said, waddling in under the weight of a large sack over his shoulder. "Where should I put-" "Oh just here, here is fine, just a moment." Darzen swept off the surface of his least-recently used workbench with a metallic crash as the piled junk hit the floor. He dusted over the surface with the sleeve of his robe, removing grit and lathe-turnings. "Oh wait, wait, cleanliness, can't forget that", The arbiter leaned impatiently, shifting under the weight of his burden, whilst Darzen scrubbed the surface down with the sort of solvents that hive-scum frequently huffed from paper bags. "Okay. Ready."
The second arbiter heaved the sack onto the surface with a thud, which elicited a squeak from its contents. Together, they worked to manhandle the sack from around its contents, and, casting it aside, Darzen surveyed his delivery.
The girl looked to be in her late teens. The arbiters had done a good job in packaging her for transport: her wrists and ankles were bound with broad strips of black tape, with more of the same covering her mouth, effectively silencing her.
"We'll leave you to it, then", said the first arbiter. "I'm sure you've got a lot of things planned for this young lady, you old beast".
"Well gentlemen, it's been good doing business with you", Darzen replied. "Enjoy your product. Oh, and-", he caught them just as they were walking out the door, "don't snort it all at once, or you'll be sneezing your brains out for a week!" the coarse laughter of the arbiters was cut off by the door as it closed, pistons hissing. The automatic lock rotated and solid titanium bars clunked back into position, barring the door. The girl flinched.
"Now then..." Darzen muttered, "let's make you a little more comfortable." He retrieved a storage bin from across the workshop, placed it on a table, and then returned to the girl, who had managed to squirm quite close to the edge of the workbench. Darzen maneuvered her back into the center whilst shaking his head. "Can't have you going anywhere, no no no." His hands lingered on her body he had shifted her, as he took a moment to savor the touch of the warm softness of her skin.
He rummaged through the storage bin, eventually locating, and setting aside, a set of heavy metallic restraints. He busied himself over the girl, carefully cutting away just enough tape to fit one manacle around each limb at a time, before chaining it to the workbench. After a few minutes of repositioning, the girl was spread-eagled on the cold metal surface, her chest heaving as she strained against her bonds.
Darzen stood beside the girl and leaned over her, looking into her tearful eyes. He was met with an expression comprised of equal parts fear and defiance. His gaze drifted downwards as he evaluated the rest of her body, simply clothed in unremarkable garments.
Whilst part of the tech-priest's repertoire of offenses to the overseers had included a reluctance to sacrifice his flesh to bionic replacement, Darzen did still find some of his augmentations useful. He rolled his left sleeve back, uncovering a metal forearm. From the tip of his left finger emerged a small blade, two inches long, razor-edged.
"This tool", he said to the frightened girl, "I find especially... handy."
She managed a few desperate squealing noises as the blade approached her sternum, and then penetrated the material of her top. Darzen drew the blade down her torso, cutting through the fabric and removing her clothes gingerly, like a child unwrapping a birthday present. Her skirt followed, and soon she found herself lying in her underwear, the metal surface of the bench uncomfortably cold and hard against her naked back.
The tech-priest's blade hovered around her crotch. With two slices of the blade, he removed her panties. Grabbing them in his hand, he held them to his face and inhaled deeply. A few seconds later his brow furrowed and he cast them aside.
Darzen toggled a switch on a console partially obscured by a mound of tools. On the wall opposite the table, a hitherto dormant black rectangle glowed softly whilst a cursor blinked in its upper left corner. Scan lines washed down the monitor, and, in response to Darzen's tapping at the console, lines of text started to follow them. A rune of the inscrutable machine god emerged onto the screen: a curious design like a rectangle that had been pinched in the middle. Every so often it rotated through a half-turn. The console clicked and whirred.
"If you will excuse me just a moment." Darzen shuffled to the door of a storage space, opposite the entrance. He slid the door sideways, and stepped in, before leaning his head back around the corner. "Do make yourself at home."
The girl heard what she assumed to be laughter emerging from the tech-priest's half-metallic face, a sound like the cackling of metallic crows, as he disappeared into his cupboard. She tensed, testing the strength of her bindings, and found her limbs to be completely immobilized. The cruel metal edges of the manacles dug into her wrists. On the screen at the foot of her table, the rune flickered away to be replaced with an arrowhead-like design. Computer-generated images rotated lazily, accompanied by enumerated lists of data, the text to small to read from her current position. A depiction of a skull took up half the display in orthographic projection, with suggestive, dotted lines demarcating regions on its surface.
She clenched her fists, then extended her fingers in the desperate hope that she would find something within their reach, some implement, anything that could hold hope of escape. With some difficulty she lifted her head up to take a look around the room. Work-surfaces were piled high with clutter, discarded papers and tools littered the floor. Her abdominal muscles no longer able to support her, she slumped backwards, supine. A pair of fluorescent lamps glared harshly, set either side of a metal track embedded in the ceiling.
Presently Darzen returned bearing an armful of yellowed, thick books, and a toolbox. The latter he placed reverently on the adjacent workbench, squaring it up with the table's edge before snapping its clasps open and raising its lid. He sidestepped to begin ruffling the pages of his books, affording the girl a clear view of the neatly-arrayed tools in the box's lid: a family of scalpels rested upright, neatly arranged from the smallest, barely larger than a pencil, to a wide-bladed, spatula-like implement. Above them, a series of drill bits was arranged opposite a selection of saw blades. Other, more complex implements with inscrutable functions occupied their own alcoves in the box's molded lid.
Darzen pondered a moment whilst picking at the loose, white skin around his respirator. "This procedure's going to be a little complicated", he said, half to himself. "But that means", he danced over to the table, placing one hand either side of the girl's chest and leaning in uncomfortably close as she flinched away, "that you'll get to meet my good friend!"
The tech-priest attempted to introduce a skip into his step, and then settled for merely walking over to his console, raising a clear plastic cover from over an extravagantly large red button before depressing it with his thumb. One of the trash piles in the workshop's corner erupted outwards in a shower of discarded food containers and scrap metal as a shape emerged from within it, a fat clump of machinery hanging from a spindly arm that dangled from the metal track set into the ceiling. As it shuddered across the room, myriad limbs unfurled from beneath it, some tipped with electronic devices, yet more carrying delicate surgical instruments. Pistons and actuators twitched all over the machine causing it to convulse like some mechanical spider, and it completed its self-test routine as it settled into place above the girl, its arms poised over her belly.
"No sense in delaying!", Darzen said cheerfully. He reached up with some effort to the tool-bearing monstrosity and attached it to his console with ribbons of data cable. He depressed a runic design on the keypad, and the machine sprung into life once more, a pair of arms questing downwards, one bearing a set of small blades, the other a delicately-articulated set of pliers.
With a whine of precision motors, a pair of mechanical limbs drooped towards the girl. Old traditions dying hard, Darzen recalled an arcane chant from his days on Mars and started wistfully murmuring it in a monotone: "Suu-ku-ri-ma-shou... suu-ku-ri-ma-shou..."
As the tools came within inches of her skin, the girl started trying to scream, although her cries were effectively muffled by her gag. She managed to wriggle her hips from side to side, the tools tracking her body with perfect accuracy, mimicking her movements. Darzen heard liquid trickling off the table and spattering his boots, and saw that the girl was urinating. A few seconds after that, the straw-colored liquid mingled with a red hue as the tools started their work. Forced to lie immobile to stop the tools tearing her flesh indiscriminately, the girl started sobbing. Tears streaked her face as she thrashed her head from side to side, her eyes screwed tightly shut. She felt another set of tools probing around her abdomen, and then the intrusion of cold metal as a thin implement forced its way into her bellybutton. She opened her eyes long enough to see another arm, bearing a cluster of needles, descending towards her face and hang there, poised.
One more of the multitudinous appendages swung in from the side, bearing a pair of delicate metal clips. The sophistication of the machine allowing both speed and accuracy, the girl was moments too late to flinch her head away before the arm settled over her left eye, the clamps, lubricated with some synthetic compound, slipping beneath her eyelids and holding her eye open. Her pupil darted about like some penned animal, focusing directly ahead in time to see the needle assembly looming towards her eye, following a smooth, flawlessly controlled trajectory.
She tried to scream once more out of reflex, a futile act, producing muffled squeaks as a pair of sharp metal rods sank into the white of her eyeball. Shadows obscured her sight as the needles penetrated her eye’s interior, blood swirling within the vitreous humour and producing a likeness of dark, floating threads before her vision in that eye faded entirely, the only sensation a fine pressure as the needles performed their delicate work at the rear of her eyeball, hair-thin manipulators flaying and re-knitting individual nerve cells.
Without the sight from her eye to emphasize the surgeries proceeding therein, the girl’s focus returned to the machine’s activities on her lower abdomen, pain surging through her in waves in time with the machine’s blades as it flayed strips of skin from her groin, passing a device like a printing head over the raw, inner surface of the flesh with a whining noise before smoothing them back down onto her and passing over the wound with a pair of electrodes that crackled as they glided over the parted skin. The sparse wisps of vapor that the process emitted carried with them the odor of burning flesh.
Darzen continued his monotone chant as he oversaw his machine perform its programmed tasks. The girl had lost some of her color now, he thought, and was clenching her fists less tightly. He fumbled through his toolbox without breaking stride in his chanting, retrieving a syringe and needle, removing them both from their sterilized packaging and screwing them together. He took the girl’s arm and was surprised to find she offered no resistance whatsoever. Her expression was almost serene, her untouched eye focused at infinity and staring dead straight, tears welling up along her eyelids to coalesce and trickle down the side of her face. He injected the syringe’s contents into her, a cocktail of stimulants and biochemicals that would prevent shock, vomiting, or other responses that could complicate the procedure. Such as loss of consciousness.
The stimulants infused the girl’s circulatory system, and Darzen was able to see firsthand the moment they crossed over into her brain as she tensed, dragged out of half-consciousness into full wakefulness once more. She clenched and unclenched her fists, the skin of her knuckles taut and white. Her hands remained in that position until another phase of the machine’s procedure rolled around and a pair of shears unfurled themselves from above the device, zeroing in at the mid-point of both her arms just above the elbow. Darzen thought that even, through the bewildering array of different agonies being inflicted on the girl, he saw a glimmer of realization on her face a second before the shears snapped shut, lopping off both her forearms. A few minutes after that her legs followed, and Darzen gathered up the limbs and placed them in a brightly-colored biohazard waste receptacle.
The drone of Darzen’s chant mingled with the whining of motors and the girl’s soft cries as the hours wore on, until the final incision had been stitched closed on the girl’s ravaged body. The robot curled itself up into a tight little bundle of blades and pain, and returned to its resting place the other side of the workshop, swinging to and fro every so often on its track as it initialized its self-cleaning programs.
The girl groaned as Darzen hefted her into a sitting position on the edge of the table. She felt barely strong enough to hold herself upright as Darzen skipped across the lab to a pile of scrap, pulling out a full-length mirror and carrying it back under his arm before leaning it against the wall opposite her.
“Have a look… see what you think,” he said. “And it turns out you won’t be needing this any more either”, he said, ripping the tape from where it had covered her mouth, the stinging sensation barely registering in light of the last few hours’ agonies.
She could see the skin on parts of her body bulging outwards as it tried to conform to new shapes imposed by subdermal machine components. Both her arms now terminated in stumps at the elbow, the criss-cross of surgical stitches pulling the skin tight. Her thighs tapered unnaturally towards her knees, where a row of thick metal staples driven through her skin delineated the sudden transition to the machinery of her new legs: bundles of tubes, supported within a bare metal frame. Pink streaks of inflamed flesh criss-crossed her glabrous scalp, radiating outwards from a complicated machine interface socket that had been embedded in her left temple towards the end of the process. The periphery of her eye was blackened and bruised, the eyeball itself completely bloodshot and only able to see in hazy shadows. As her eye strained to regain focus, a marquee of computerized text swam into view, fed into her retina by delicate circuitry.
For a split second she managed to scream, but then the sound caught in her throat as her trachea bobbed up and down and an electrical hum became audible to her, the endogenous sound carried by her bones so she could hear it directly inside her skull. She slumped forward, tried to bury her face in her hands, realized that even that was impossible, and started to weep silently.
She continued to gaze at the floor, watching her tears fall and splash against the concrete, as Darzen rooted though a drawer in one of his workbenches. Pulling out a fistful of datacards, each one about the size of a fingernail, he spread them around the desktop, taking each one in turn, examining its label, tutting, and then returning it to the pile. Apparently satisfied after going through a dozen or so cards, he held one carefully between his thumb and forefinger as he approached the girl. She felt him handling the back of her head, and then there was a fleshy sound as he reopened a cut in her skin.
"Wouldn't want any chance of you being disobedient now, would we?" The girl felt a clicking noise inside her skull, and she was wracked momentarily with pain as the inserted data card interfaced with her newly installed neural jack. The pain passed, and Darzen stood in front of her.
The girl stood as if in a reflex action, like withdrawing a hand from a hot stove. The command completely bypassed her conscious control. She tottered unsteadily on her narrow metal legs, as stepper motors strained to keep her upright.
Trying with whatever mental fortitude she could bring to bear, the girl desperately tried to keep herself upright, and was rewarded with a jolt of pain that coursed down her spine and spread across her torso. Her legs folded beneath her as she sank to her knees.
Darzen unfastened his robes and spread them open, exposing himself to her. The shapes of cables buried beneath his skin looked like some bizarre, electrical vasculature. Here and there one of the cables emerged from his skin to snake across the outside of his body, sometimes re-entering it, sometimes terminating in a peripheral port or connection valve. She twinged in disgust at the sight of his cock becoming turgid, like some little animal emerging from its burrow. The tip of his member swelled and reddened whilst a small light affixed to its side pulsated steadily. "Open your mouth." Unable to resist, her jaw hung open. Darzen brought the head of his penis to rest on top of her tongue, and stood, motionless. It tasted like iron filings.
"Actually, I have a better idea for you. Lie on the table."
Apparently spared no extra time to fulfill a more complex command, the girl scrambled to climb onto the table as the pain from the implant mounted. With some difficulty she squirmed her way on, pawing at the table with her stumps. The agonizing pulses ceased when she had positioned herself, face up, spread out on the work surface. Darzen grasped the still-human parts of her thighs, then, and pulled her forward to the table's edge. With a rasping sound from his breathing mask, he entered her, and she rocked back and forth slightly to the rhythm of his penetration. It was like being ravished by a scuba diver.
After he had finished, Darzen had set about cleaning the girl's intimate regions with a sort of perverse tenderness. Carefully he had removed the fluids of their coitus with a small suction tube, and then swabbed the area with solvents that felt cold and dry on the girl's skin and bore a sharp, chemical odor. Then he had shifted her to her present reclining position, tilted backwards, strapped into a chair by bands that encompassed her ankles, thighs and neck. He had laid out several more delicate instruments on a square of blue surgical cloth, alongside the pile of datacards from before, on a cabinet next to her.
He rummaged through the datacards once again, before selecting one, and putting it aside.
"Whilst it's all very well to have you lie there like so much meat", he said, "I think it might be more interesting for the both of us if you were under the impression that you were enjoying your new duties, hmm?" He took the datacard and waved it in front of her face, mockingly. "This little set of programs shares some things in common with the other chip... although it controls your pleasure centers, rather than pain. So now, you'll be able to do everything I ask of you, and love every minute of it!" Darzen stood with his legs either side of the girl's. "Doesn't that sound wonderful?!", he inquired, grasping her shoulders and shaking them roughly. He paused for a moment, before carefully stepping back from the chair. He set the datacard back down, and started probing at the back of the girl's skull through a hole in the headrest, parting the still-tender skin that concealed the neural jack. He pressed down on the chip, clicking it out of its slot, and then placed it on the surgical cloth. A blob of pink, mucous material clung to it like jelly. "Now, get ready for a wonderful world of-", Darzen was cut off by a series of thuds against the door. Grumbling to himself, he turned on his heel and walked off towards the source of the noise. "Don't, ah, don't go anywhere now, will you?”, he said, looking over his shoulder, attempting to wink but looking more like he was having a seizure.
The girl watched Darzen's back as he heaved at the door's locking mechanism. He allowed it to open half way, before leaning around nonchalantly to address whoever was outside. She tried to scream, but her voice was cut off again by the electronics that had been surgically grafted into her larynx.
She looked askance at the datachip on the cloth next to her, and experimentally reached out with what remained of her arm. Straining against the pain building in her as she contorted within the limits of her bonds, she managed to bring her stump down on top of the chip. Apparently Darzen hadn’t deemed it necessary to restrain her arms when only half of them remained. Across the room, she heard his voice escalate as he conversed in circumspect terms about "the product" and "the stuff".
Awkwardly, with the muscles in her neck now cramping painfully, she prodded at the data card, barely within reach, and eventually managed to flick it off the cabinet. The tiny card hit the floor, bouncing twice, coming to rest in a pile of rags and floor sweepings. Finally, with her arm and torso burning in pain from her awkward contortions, she clumsily mashed the remains of her arm onto the top of the pile of chips, sweeping sideways, pushing another one out. She did the best job she could manage of returning it to roughly the same position that the last had occupied, and then, muscles aching, relaxed into her original position.
She lay there as Darzen finished conversing with his unseen visitor, and they seemed to part on amicable terms after the exchange of a few wads of currency and a slightly battered-looking bolt gun, which Darzen had some difficulty manhandling from his workbench over to the doorway. After his dealings, the door swung closed, and he once again turned his attention to the girl.
"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted", he began, "a wonderful world of pleasure and sensuality".
"And here we are." Darzen plucked the chip from the table, and brought it towards his face, to scrutinize it. The girl started to writhe as much as her restraints would allow, flailing her stumps ineffectually, causing the tech-priest to regard her with a disapproving expression. He leaned in closer to meet her eyes, whilst his hand brought the chip around to the back of her head, slipping it into the jack, and she felt the clicking noise once more as it seated itself.
In the corner of her vision, a pair of words pulsated gently, overlaid on top of her normal view:
The words continued to flicker insistently as Darzen unfastened the restraints holding the girl into the chair.
"Stand", he said.
No pain. Her mind felt normal, unmarred by any electrical control.
"You'll feel much better once you stand..." the tech priest insisted.
The girl wobbled to her feet. Darzen was looking at her expectantly, so she forced herself to grin spastically. Her mind was completely clear.
"See, what did I tell you?"
Could she take him on? She didn't rate her chances in her current state. Best to wait for the right opportunity. She looked around the room, searching for anything that might provide an advantage, and found nothing obvious. Her gaze was brought back to Darzen as he clicked his fingers impatiently, and she saw that he had discarded his robe, his bare skin given an almost blue color by the fluorescent lights. He hopped up onto the table, still stained with her own blood, and reclined, his fingers laced together behind his head as he lay back, his manhood thrust upwards and quivering slightly, twitching in time with his heartbeat.
"Now get over here", he said, "and suck my cock."
The girl moved around to the foot of the table and leaned over before clambering on top, bringing her face level with his crotch, supporting herself on her elbow stumps. Opening her mouth, she slid her lips around the tech-priest's cock before locking eyes with him, smiling sweetly, and biting down as hard as she could.
The tech priest howled, a primal, animal noise transmuted by his respirator into a distorted cacophony. The girl kept her jaw clenched tightly shut as she wrung her head from side to side, feeling sinew and cartilage tearing in her mouth. Blood welled up past her lips and she wrenched her head backwards with a wet sound like an elastic band snapping. She spat out the mouthful of blood and chewed-up meat and it flopped to the floor. Heaving herself forward she brought her face in line with his, before tilting her head backwards, and subsequently smashing her forehead down into the tech-priest's face.
She rolled off him, catching herself on her metal legs before supporting herself against the workbench. The tech-priest writhed, apparently unable to decide whether to clutch at his smashed face or ruined genitals. His voice was a constant stream of howls and unintelligible curse-words.
Darzen's console caught the attention of the girl, in particular, the red button with its clear plastic cover flipped open. Hastily, she thumped the button with her mangled arm, and once again, the spider-like surgical apparatus trundled out on its metal track, coming to rest above the table. The tech-priest was blind to these happenings, assuming a curled, fetal position as the girl indiscriminately hammered the console's keypad, causing gleaming arms to extend from the machine's body. Flailing under the conflicting commands of the girl's random entries, a storm of metal implements descended on top of the tech-priest. His screams intensified as the tool-arms became stained with blood and viscera.
With some difficulty, the girl managed to open the workshop door, pawing at it with the raw ends of her arms, tearing out surgical stitches with her clumsy efforts. She stumbled out into the tunnel, and the cries of the tech-priest receded behind her.