The boy crumpled at the snarl of my autorifle. His sternum had been reduced to mincemeat from a burst of point blank supercavitating rounds. Gunfire erupted around us, as though exploding off the starting blocks to the sound of a race gun. Beyond the collapsing corpse of the boy more House Guard, hungry men in rich-man’s rags, scrambled for weapons or cover.
All except one – a bulky yet emaciated ghoul of man, his right arm cut off at the shoulder and replaced with a vicious bullet-spewing automatic rifle. Metal plating glinted through torn, leathery flesh and half his skull was given over to cybernetic targeting enhancements. My stomach tightened. It was no man but a man-shaped, brainless flesh-vehicle, lumbering forwards on ruthless subroutines to effectuate calculated slaughter: a combat servitor.
I ducked behind a heavy hardwood pew as the graciously haphazard return fire splintered off the lip of the backboard. The boy lay near my feet. His face bore the same disbelief as when we began our exchange. His sidearm holster was still buttoned.
Small arms fire raged across the chapel, the most enthusiastic coming from the slow, implacable advance of the combat servitor. Our cell had worked it’s way into a vaguely defensible position on the east side near the primary entrance and were doling out fury to anyone caught out of cover. Crisis the tech adept and Mur the sharpshooter were picking their targets carefully, keeping those pinned they could not kill. The Sister was stalking between the rows of benches clutching a bastard sword as long as she was. It protruded behind her like the tail of a great predatory lizard. Proteus dropped the nearest House Guard with a blast of his shotgun, but didn’t see the second one stand up behind him.
“Proteus! On your six!” someone yelled over the cacophony of combat and the battle hymns from the Sister. He turned just in time to find himself staring down the twin barrels of a House Guard shotgun. Proteus smiled calmly and his lips began to move, presumably in some cutting slight on the Guard’s parentage, and took the full impact to his chest. Strips of meat and shredded flak vest filled the air, and Proteus tumbled backwards through a pew.
A split second later the House Guard’s neck was opened and his life fluids painted his uniform a new shade of carmine. Smoking brass pinged out of Mur’s hunting rifle. His face was blank as he thumbed another round into the breach, already lining up another shot. I couldn’t tell if his actions were a comradely retaliation or it just happened to be the clearest shot at that moment.
No matter. It was better to die for the Emperor than live for yourself. There were more pressing matters to attend to, and the weight of its augmented legs shaking the tiled floor I sat on indicated those matters had become extremely pressing. The weight of fire from the servitor was tipping the scales in their favour – Crisis was clipped by a round and sunk behind cover and Sister Leora was struck full force in her plate armour in a staggering display of sparks.
I slung my rifle over my back and unhooked the shock baton from its resting place on my hip, blindly feeling for the activation rune as I tried to keep an eye on the seven different skirmishes that were developing in the confines of the chapel. I hated how ugly and clumsy it felt in my hand when it wasn’t active.
I waited, back pressed against the pew, and prayed. All I needed was an opportunity, a brief pause in its firing solution to change ammunition hoppers, or the ticking of cooling metal as it vents heat from its overloaded weapon.
The Emperor granted me serendipity in the shape of an overweight agri-trac repairman. A warning is blurted across the chapel from the flesh voice of the Tech Adept, followed by a fizzing metal object arcing over the bullet-scarred benches. My hands were already covering my head and burying my face in my flak-lined coat. I knew what happened next.
I heard a single syllable barked from a House Guard, a muffled yelp of warning too little too late.