Dwellers In the Past
12/11/2009 in Warhammer 40K
Author’s note: Please take this work with a grain of salt. GW has written very little about the Necrons or their past. I’m taking what I know from the official canon and extrapolating wildly. Also bear in mind that the characters mentioned herein will have their own personal motives and goals. Not everything you read may be the truth or 100% accurate from their point of view. I ask only that you read the story and enjoy it for what it is.
With that, please enjoy ‘Dwellers in the Past.’
They called the world the Cauldron, and the marine could think of no better name for a planet so permeated by chaos. When the crimson sky did not scream with endless thundering peals of lightning and the roiling clouds did not bleed thick bloody torrents of red rain, the world sat motionless, utterly devoid of all life, sound, or thought.
Naturally, those times were the worst. No breeze stirred, no animal called, no person spoke. The ability to hear falling leaves is occasionally a curse, thought the marine even as he suppressed a wince at the relative volume of his inner voice. But of course that was foolishness. Whatever things might hear his thoughts he would certainly hear breathing in the inky darkness.
Reporting Progress: Mission 0001 1100 0010 0111;
Transmitting updated subject evaluation criteria…
Encrypt Key: *** *********** ************ *******
Evaluation Criteria UPDATED
Resume Mission 0001 1100 0010 0111
Synchronizing bioelectric waveform…
The space marines had deployed in glorious fire, dropping from the sky like vengeful thunder. Their drop pods had landed true, in the midst of the densest firestorm between factions of Chaos and the beleaguered Guardsmen. As executors of the Emperor’s will they devastated the enemy ranks with bolter, plasma, and crushing hammer. The Guardsmen, blessed be their courage, did not fall back but began the hail of righteous shells, crushing all hope from the Chaos ranks. The Space Marines had arrived in the Cauldron, and the citizens of that small world, shattered by the impact of the massive Space Hulk, could take heart in the fact that the Emperor did not forget His beloved children and that He had sent His sons to see their enemies mercilessly crushed.
The marine turned his thoughts from the darkness and concentrated on his task. The perimeter needed constant patrol. Such was his commander’s will. Such was the Emperor’s need. He wondered for a moment at his line of thought. But surely contemplating the Emperor’s light and glory was a task acceptable for a marine on patrol.
The Emperor. The marine’s thoughts lingered for a moment on that shining radiance, taking comfort in His supremacy. The pervading darkness seemed lesser somehow, and the dead air did not seem quite so ominous. He recited the Litany of Vigilance deep within his mind, mentally hurling it out across the alien landscape in defiance of those who would stand against the Emperor’s divine authority.
The Emperor is my courage, so my steps will not falter.
The Emperor is my light, so my eyes shall see true.
The Emperor is my will, so I will act justly.
I am the Emperor’s wrath. Let His foes beware.
No answer returned. Yet he was heard.
Reporting Progress: Mission 0001 1100 0010 0111
Subject Evaluation: NOMINAL
squad NI-1010 prepare for warpspatial transport…
Request combat protocols?
UPDATE Directive 6604
Directive 6604 UPDATED
Re-configuring for non-lethal force…
Weapons set to minimal charge
Transport status: READY
Warp-space traversal routine engaged…
Interpolating warp terrain…
From Darkness they came. Brilliant pinholes of fiery green pierced the night around the marine, converging on him from all directions. Where once the air hung dead and silent, now came the unmistakable tread of synchronized steps upon rocky ground. With ultimate precision the huge forms stepped from the shadows, melting into existence. Huge Necrons, larger than most, ebon in hue, and their shoulders ruddy in the limited light. The silver scarabs on their chest crests stood out in the darkness, in seeming contempt of their black shells.
The marine knew this foe and instantly knew his fate. But he would not die without savaging these mechanical abominations with the Emperor’s wrath.
“Brothers!” he bellowed into his comlink. “The enemy is upon us! Sector four, Grid two! I count six Necron Immortals!” All response drowned in the roar of his bolter as it disgorged a deadly hail of explosions, tearing into the approaching rank of Immortals. One of the massive mechanical ruptured in a shower of sparks and twisted metal.
WARNING! Incoming Fire!
Squad 1010 unit 1001 OFFLINE
INCOMING CONTINUOUS FIRE
Continuing Directive 6604
The machines did not return fire, continuing their implacable approach uncaring of the sharp detonations on their black metallic chasses. The marine growled through clenched teeth as he turned his weapon’s fury on each abomination in turn. A second fell, and a third, only to rise back their feet again after a moment of sparking in the dirt.
Assaulting enemy unit
Coordinating attack routines…
They were upon him, swinging their weapons clumsily and grasping at his armor with huge metallic hands. Seeming clumsiness proved a clever deception as one mechanical horror would move predictably, exposing the marine to vulnerability so others could take advantage of his predicted strikes. He felt the evidence of their strength in the impacts on his armor. He did not yield.
Advanced training honed to instinct lent him strength in the fray, moving faster than their huge metal bodies would allow. Sparks flew and metal imploded behind the force of the marine’s righteous blows and close-range bolter fire. But so to did his armor suffer the punishment of their crushing hands.
Anger and passion drove him onward against the ever-regenerating tide of black metal and fiery green eyes. The marine whirled faster and faster, pushing the mob back as they encroached ever forward. Finally an opening appeared in the seemingly closed circle and the marine dove towards it, seeking to circle behind his slow-moving enemies and inflict more damage from their rear.
His rapid pace came up short as the largest Necron he had ever seen stepped from the darkness. Like others of its ilk the chassis spurned the light. Silver mechanics and golden highlights encircled its scarab crest. It carried a metal staff of ancient design, the surface riddled with arcane runes of long-dead meaning. The marine sought its eyes and saw they glowed with the same fire as the others as they blazed down at his shattered armor.
All motion seemed to cease as the marine and Necron Lord locked gazes. The sounds of battle faded to nothing as the marine stared deeply into the fiery green blazing from beneath the huge gold and silver headdress. But with the emerald fire came nothing. No pity, no anger, no hatred, no fear; no emotion of any kind evinced in those jade flames. It seemed the complete antithesis of feeling, carrying no strength of faith, morality, or conviction.
Without warning the ornamental staff head blazed an intense gold and arced towards the marine in an impossibly fast stroke. The marine, his armor no longer fully functional, reacted slowly. An impossibly strong blow, far greater than those of the Immortals, sent the marine flying back into their grasping arms, his armor torn asunder. His last conscious view was of fiery eyes and black metallic hands moving towards his face.
Perception returned where sensation should have existed. The awareness shone pure and unfiltered, flooding the marine’s mind with its vast presence. The marine floated in that place of ill-defined reality for an unknowable time, his mind exposed to the naked ebb and flow of something far greater than himself.
Slowly, agonizingly, the world began to take shape around him. A sky, golden and dusted with thin clouds, melted into being before him. He looked about him, only to realize that he had no body and the cloudy sky before him extended in all directions as far as his eyes could perceive. His view shifted downward and upward, in all directions as he willed it. He existed as a single point in an unimaginable place.
Land, featureless and gray, appeared suddenly, rising beneath him. His perception stabilized and the land settled to its traditional position several feet below his point of view. Only the motion of the clouds above gave him any sense of depth.
An immense pyramid appeared without fanfare, moving into view as his perception circled to the right, filling his view and giving depth to his world. He looked quickly left and right, as alien trees, tall and flowing materialized around him. New details became apparent with each shift in view. The marine tried in vain to will his eyes closed to stabilize himself in this insane place. But he had no eyes to close, and the perceptions continued to bombard him. Trees and a strange reddish grass appeared about him, and there, further in the distance more pyramids and monoliths rose beyond above the treetops, but none rivaling the immense height of the initial pyramid.
The building tops and vaulting spires rose all around his forested grove. The sound of running water flooded in, startling him with the sudden sound. Now sound echoed all around him. Alien sounds, similar to Terran birds trilled into the golden sky, and the whispering breeze ghosted through the trees, causing them to sway under its gentle caress.
Feeling crept up on him and with a start he discovered the caress of the breeze on his face and skin. He blinked and his body was there. He looked down at heavily muscled forearms and was surprised to see himself wearing a makeshift tunic of dun-colored. He ran his hands over his face and through his thick black hair. This could not be! He, like all his brethren, had been grafted into his Black Carapace for the proper interface with his powered armor. It was gone! He stared in horror at his bare skin, tinged golden in the strange light of this alien world.
“Is the body incorrect?” came a deep, sighing voice from behind him.
Instinct seized his mind and he whirled into a combat stance, hands and arms raised and prepared to execute horrific violence on any threats he might detect.
The alien regarded him with disturbingly human eyes set beneath a huge third eye filling the center of its conical head. The sight of the thing caused him a moment’s pause. It stood equal to his own impressive seven-foot height; it’s oddly conical head and overall willow appearance lending to its stature. It had no ears, merely strange depressions where ears might have been. Its mouth, quite small and narrow, pursed at the bottom of its distended head, seemingly almost an afterthought.
An irrational part of his mind thought of the tall and willowy Eldar, but this creature stood taller than even they, and where they had hair this thing had none. Its light slender frame seemed built for a life of easy luxury without physical labor of any kind. It too was dressed in a dun-colored tunic; its slender arms bare and its elongated feet sandaled much like the marine’s.
The marine’s mind absorbed the image of the creature instantly, pinpointing its joints and possible vulnerabilities. He launched himself through the air at the alien, his arm swinging up for a devastating clothesline aimed at the slender neck. He met with no resistance as his arm swished through empty air. He whirled and prepared for a second attack.
The creature stood a meter away, its tunic flowing gently in the soft breeze, its expression quizzical. With a roar the marine charged again, this time launching his foot squarely at the alien’s chest. The creature stepped backward almost lazily, passing just beyond his reach. He swung his fists, grasping and slashing with his hands, wanting to seize the slight creature and rend it limb from limb.
The creature avoided each blow in turn, ducking or stepping just beyond his reach.
“Is combat always your first response to a new situation?” asked the creature in that low, whispery voice. “Know that we can do this for centuries if you so choose.”
The marine halted, his eyes glaring hatred and loathing at the being before him. “Where am I?” he demanded in his deep baritone.
“An interesting question,” answered the creature. “But with a rather unsatisfying answer. You are nowhere.”
“Ridiculous!” snapped the marine. “Answer me truthfully or suffer retribution!”
“I assure you the statement is accurate, regardless of how you may perceive its veracity,” said the alien with a three-eyed blink. “Let us start with easier questions and answers. I am Vortanaxxannutep. This is as close an approximation to my name as can be made within your species’ sensory perception, even for one so advanced as you.”
“Save your pleasantries, alien,” said the marine imperiously. “What are you?”
“This is not our way,” said the alien with a down-turned mouth. “I have given you information. It is only polite to trade in kind. What is your name?”
The marine glared at the alien, hesitating to play its game.
“Do not pretend that you are incurious,” advised the alien with a mildly reproachful air. “You would seek to know us, had you the means. Here now is an opportunity. I suggest you take it.”
The marine’s gaze hardened beyond stone. His mind searched for some fissure in the wall of impassive logic, but found no such fault. “I am Damodred, Marine of the Sixth Company of the Ultramarines Chapter of Space Marines,” answered the marine grudgingly.
“I greet you under the sky and wind, Damodred, Marine of the Sixth Company of the Ultramarines Chapter of Space Marines,” said the creature formally with both hands held upwards, palms extended. It lowered its arms and continued. “It is known to us that your kind prefers to shorten formal names. As such, the Servitors call me Vortep. May I call you Marine Damodred?”
The marine’s expression remained stony, but he gave a slight nod.
“Excellent,” said Vortep, its expression clearly pleased. “Let us now return to your first query. The answer is best demonstrated within the city beyond this park,” it gestured towards the spires and obelisks rising in the distance surrounding the titanic pyramid. “Let us walk.”
The alien began moving easily with light graceful steps through the trees in the general direction of the pyramid. The marine watched it go, contemplating staying where he was. But a logical part of his mind told him that he would gain little by simply sitting in a park. Grudgingly he picked up his pace to fall in beside the strange alien.
“I do not expect you to trust me, Marine Damodred,” said Vortep as the marine fell into step with the bizarre alien. “My motives are my own and remain private for the moment. However, I wish to understand you, and through that understanding, divine the nature of our conflict.”
“What’s to understand?” shrugged Damodred, eyes locked forward. “You are not human. You must be cleansed.”
“That’s a very straightforward approach,” said the alien with raising an eyebrow and causing its large third eye to squint strangely. “Why must we be cleansed?”
The marine glanced at the creature, eyes narrowed slightly. “You are an alien. You are a threat to the Emperor.”
“But I have not threatened your emperor,” said the creature, puzzled.
“Your very existence threatens the Imperium,” said the marine resolutely. “A threat to the Imperium is a threat to the Emperor. A threat to the Emperor is a threat to the Imperium. As such you must be cleansed.”
“Interesting,” said the alien with a nod. “Is this thinking common to all humans or is it specific to sub-humans such as yourself?”
“Sub-human?” whirled the marine angrily, halting suddenly.
“My apologies, Marine Damodred,” said the alien with a strange palms-out gesture. “The term is not meant to be derogatory. It has been observed that marines are far more advanced than those sharing your same basic genetic structure. As such, you are a sub-classification of human.”
The marine’s glare remained set, his jaw locked, but he resumed his trek through the huge park. The alien fell into step beside him. “The question begs again,” continued the creature unabated. “Is this sense of unity embodied in your Emperor common to all marines? Or is this a condition which exists even in the less-developed creatures of your species?”
“I’ve already given you information, alien,” said the marine. “Isn’t it your turn to answer a question of mine?”
“You are adept at trade, Marine Damodred,” said the alien with an approving nod. “Very well, you may ask.”
“What are you?” asked the marine, still looking straight ahead. He could see the edge of the park through the trees now.
“Again I marvel at how such a simple question can have such a complicated answer,” said the alien. “Perhaps a more short-term solution will suffice.” The creatures voice changed abruptly to a deep, thundering tone. “You would know me in this body, Marine Damodred.”
The marine whirled to see the huge form of a Necron Lord, its metallic cloak shimmering in the gentle breeze, it’s arcane staff planted firmly in the ground at its side. Fiery green blazed from beneath its brow, and its black metallic skin reflected none of the golden light filtering down through the alien treetops.
The marine launched himself at the Necron, his powerful hands reaching for the creature’s throat, defying the logic that such a being need not breathe to survive. The Necron Lord moved faster than possibility allowed, sweeping beneath the marine’s attack.
“But, of course,” said the alien voice returned to the singsong sigh, “that is but a vessel for my true self.”
The marine whirled and stopped short, seeing the alien returned to its willowy, three-eyed form. “Explain!” thundered the marine.
“In due course, Marine Damodred, “said Vortep amusedly. “That particular chassis is designated NL-010. You would call us Necrons. We are in fact the Necrontyr.”
“Impossible,” muttered the marine. “Simply not possible.
“Why do you say this?” asked the alien, perplexed. “Why when the proof stands before you?”
“Your kind were created by a long-dead alien race,” answered the marine. “Necrons are all that remains, fighting on though your masters are long since dust. This is well-known to be the Emperor’s own truth.”
The alien burst into singsong laughter, annoying the marine further. “This knowledge is common amongst humankind?”
“Of course,” said the marine, resuming his stony visage.
The alien gave a final sighing chuckle. “Then I can understand the source of your disbelief, Marine Damodred. But that answer is more than you have bargained for presently. You were explaining the Emperor.”
Now the marine laughed grimly. “It is not for a mortal such as I to explain the divinity that is the God-Emperor of Man,” said the marine. “The Emperor is my heart. He is my strength. He is my shield, and I am His willing instrument.”
“You speak figuratively, of course,” said the alien, curiosity evident in its eyes.
“I do not,” said the marine, passionate conviction in his voice. “The addition of the Emperor’s superior genetics brings us closer to His greatness and lends us His might to strike at the enemies of Man.”
“Why am I your enemy?” asked the creature.
“I’ve already explained this,” said the marine simply. “You are alien. You are not human and therefore you are against humans. Isn’t it my turn to ask a question?”
“Please do,” said the creature, a pleasant expression appearing on its face.
“What planet is this?”
“This is not a planet,” said the creature with a disturbingly human shrug. “Why do you believe-“
“Just a moment,” interrupted the marine with an upraised hand. “Not a planet? Explain.”
“That is an answer you have not yet paid for, Marine Damodred” said the creature with an amused squint in its third eye. “Why do you believe your every action to be guided by the Emperor’s hand?”
“His divine presence guides our actions,” said the marine almost absently. “What do you mean, ‘not a planet?’”
Vortep tilted its conical head slightly, an expression of faint disapproval on its face. “Your information is hardly worth an answer of that magnitude.”
“Count yourself lucky that I even play this game, alien!” snapped the marine.
“Indeed, I am pleased that you have chosen to trade,” said Vortep with a nod. “Very well, I can see that your species is as driven by curiosity as our own. I will make this concession to you. In exchange, you will provide me with two answers, given fully and completely to my satisfaction. Agreed?”
The marine narrowed his eyes slightly, wondering what trap was being laid before him. “Your have the advantage, alien,” said the marine.
“Of course,” said the alien. “And would you not have the advantage if I sat in one of your crude interrogation centers? And in such a place would you give information in trade for the knowledge I would grant you? I think not. So let us reconsider who should count themselves ‘lucky’, Marine Damodred.”
The marine considered for a time, his expression narrow and untrusting. Yet the question burned in his mind. And what could he possibly tell this creature that it could not learn through some psychic probe or some other nefarious means? “I agree to your terms, alien.”
“Excellent,” said the creature with the same three-eyed squint of approval. “Let us continue our trek.” The creature turned, heading for the edge of the trees with the marine following closely behind.
They stepped onto a broad road of large cobbled stones. Tall buildings, both monolithic and pyramidal rose along the broad avenues. At irregular intervals sat large elaborate fountains, sitting beside small copses of trees and comfortable looking stone benches; altogether an idyllic setting, carrying with it an air of ancient civilization and culture.
The marine then noticed the people; or rather the alien people scattered about the streets, walking leisurely or conversing beside the fountains and sitting beneath the trees. They looked very much like the creature beside him, tall and willowy with conical heads and the bizarre triple-eyed faces.
He looked closer, as something struck him as inherently wrong. The source became evident when one of the beings passed near to the walking pair. The creature was translucent! The marine could clearly see the building beyond through its ghostly form!
“What shades are these?” he asked, somewhat horrified.
“Shades indeed,” said Vortep, a faint sadness touching his whispering voice. “An apt term.”
“You seem solid enough,” said the marine.
“To understand where you are and the nature of the people here, I must begin my tale from the beginning,” said the alien. “Once our empire spanned fully half this galaxy, bordering even the space where your species originated. We lived in luxury and peace, maintaining our technological superiority over all other species.”
“You never conquered us, alien,” asserted the marine. “Some record of you would exist in the Administorum.”
The alien’s expression was hurt, “We did not conquer, Marine Damodred. Such was not our way. Other species understood the benefits of our allegiance. They wanted for nothing, and we celebrated life in the galaxy and devoted our time to self-improvement and civilization.”
The marine’s expression spoke volumes.
“Well,” shrugged Vortep. “That’s how we liked to see it. Regardless, know that this was some time before your species even existed. We did not find conflict with your species until recently.”
“How long ago?”
“More than sixty million of your annual units,” answered the alien.
Again the marine’s expression turned skeptical.
“Believe what you will,” said Vortep simply. “Our civilization grew and thrived for millennia, dwarfing even your own Imperium in scope and longevity. The Eldar may still remember us, although they were but a child race when ours spanned the night sky form horizon to horizon.”
“There is little to be gained by speaking with the Eldar,” said the marine with a shrug. “They are doomed to extinction now.”
“Perhaps,” said the alien, once more with a hint of sadness. “Their survival is in their hands now. But that is another tale, and not part of the answer you seek. As I was saying, we lived happily for millennia, until our Doom rose from the Warp to strike us at our very core.”
“I fail to see what this has to do with this not being a planet,” the marine gestured about him.
“All in due course, Marine Damodred,” replied Vortep mildly. “To all things there is a balance, and in our superiority we forgot that lesson. Peace and tranquility has its place in the galaxy, but so does war and destruction. And in the absence of such basic emotions, creatures from beyond our reality saw this void and sought to fill it.”
“You were beset by an enemy?”
The alien nodded. “You would call it Khorne.”
“It is forbidden to speak of Chaos,” said the marine stiffly. “It invites idle speculation and breeds heresy.”
“Indeed?” said Vortep, with sudden interest. “Is this ban universal in your society? Surely not else you could not formulate your strategies against them.”
“It is not for me to speak of,” said the marine steadfastly.
“Ah,” said Vortep, somewhat disappointed. “Very well. But know that in this place you may speak on whatever topics you desire. There are no such restrictions here.”
“I am bound by my honor as a Marine,” the marine replied. “I will not speak of it.”
“I respect your oath, Marine Damodred,” said Vortep formally. “I will not question you about them further. Indeed, I know them all too well. Our superior civilization and vaunted technology had made us soft and vulnerable. It was known to us that emotion manifests in the Warp as physical disturbances. Such an overwhelming beacon of peace and compassion drew the Blood God as a scavenger to a carcass. A single Bloodthirster devastated an entire planet before we could devise some means of driving it back to the Warp.”
The marine suppressed his sympathy. He had seen the Bloodthirsters and knew them to be formidable, but compassion was best saved for humans. Yet a question nagged. “You did nothing to defend yourselves?”
“What could we do?” asked the alien holding its hands out in another disturbingly human gesture. “We were scientists and philosophers, poets and architects. Not warriors. No Necrontyr had died against its will except by extreme catastrophe in millennia. The Eldar spoke out first and strongest, rallying to our banner and teaching us the martial arts that were so ingrained in their proto-culture. They demonstrated easily and effectively how our most innocuous inventions could be used for destruction. Finally we fought back against the bloody tides.
“The devastation of so many of our worlds brought the attention of other beings from beyond,” continued the alien. “Nurgle feasted on the slain and Tzeentch took notice of our efforts to tap the Warp itself for destructive potential. It seemed that no matter what course we took, we were doomed to draw more and more pain and suffering upon ourselves. And then an answer came to us. To avoid the minions of Chaos, we needs must avoid the Warp.
“Our most advanced heuristic algorithms were redesigned to incorporate martial skills on both strategic and tactical levels. We constructed machines of war armed with weapons of hideous power to house our thinking programs. And then with no small sense of dread, we unleashed them upon our enemies. The effect was, to say the least, impressive.
“Everything about our mechanized warriors was designed to thwart the powers of Chaos. They had no emotions, and so no presence in the Warp making them hard to find for the creatures that dwell there. They did not rot or decay, and so did not hold Nurgle’s interest. They did not use sorcery and so did not attract minions of Tzeentch. And they did not fear or bleed, and so they thwarted Khorne. Their bodies were immune to corruption, their minds impervious to scrutiny.”
“Were you victorious?” asked the marine directly.
“Yes and no,” said Vortep with an ironic tone. “Our warriors worked well. But they did not eliminate the source of the problem. Us. For as long as we existed, Khorne’s minions and the powers of Tzeentch would find us. A second solution presented itself to a faction of our blasted empire. On one world there existed a race of creatures linked by their minds and wills to create a single vast intelligence. Individually they were non-sentient and animalistic, but in great numbers they rivaled our own most gifted thinkers. I do not know what the reasoning was, or how we could ever have conceived of the notion, but it was from these beings that the creatures you now know as Tyranids were born.”
“You! You created those things?” shouted the marine. “You are to blame for the devastation wrought by the Hive Fleets?”
“I had nothing to do with it personally,” said the alien with its eyes down turned. “But the Necrontyr are guilty of unleashing that devastation on the galaxy. I have conjectured that the Tyranids were devised to take worlds already corrupted by Chaos, devastate them beyond habitability, even for beings of Chaos, and in so doing grow stronger to attack the next world. The warpspatial incursion you call The Eye was nothing compared to the great rent in reality brought by the coming of Khorne. Literally thousands of worlds were overcome by its inception.
“The Tyranids were a mistake, however. For once unleashed, how does one stem their tide? We eventually devised a lure that attracted drew them across space like a magnet. It projected its beacon throughout the galaxy, drawing them towards it. We set the beacon on a ship and sent it hurtling through space towards a distant star cluster that we had determined to be incapable of supporting life. Without a constant influx of biomass, the Tyranids will eventually starve. The fact that they have returned, and in greater numbers, indicates to me that they found some source of sustenance out there in the darkness and that the galaxy is in even greater danger now than when the first Chaos War erupted so many eons ago.”
“A sad and woeful tale, alien,” said the marine, his voice solemn. “But it does not answer my question.”
“Patience, Marine Damodred,” said Vortep. “Patience is perhaps a warrior’s most potent weapon. A lesson we finally learned at great and terrible cost. For had we given our warriors time to work, they would have eventually driven chaos from our galaxy. But time was not our ally, for as long as we remained, Chaos held its interest here. Finally, when we were but a few million, struck down from more than a quadrillion beings in just a few short decades, we found our final solution. We had to vanish from the Warp forever.”
“Impossible,” said the marine.
“You are fond of that word,” said Vortep. “Yet the evidence stands before you. How else could we hold a conversation if the plan had not been successful? We looked to our warriors for the key and designed heuristic processes that would mimic our own with near perfect accuracy. We discovered means by which a conscious mind could be supported within a machine, and how that being’s memories and thoughts and desires would remain with that being for as long as the machine existed.”
“No,” said the marine, a horrific premonition dawning on him.
“We reconstructed our worlds within computers of supremely durable design. We devised means by which the computers would communicate with each other over infinite distance. We put them on ships and spread ourselves across the galaxy, fleeing before the last waning tides of chaos. Once we arrived at our destinations, we built massive tombs to house our computers against the ravages of time and designed guardians to watch them against enemy incursion. Our colonies were built and our galactic network functioned beyond expectation. And then we departed the material world and came here. Our entire civilization has existed within the computers for sixty million of your years.”
“NO!” shouted the marine his face at once pale and flushed from the dreadful knowledge of his fate. “Why have you brought me to this mockery of reality? Why have you taken me from the Emperor’s light and salvation?”
“You exist here and now to answer my questions, Marine Damodred,” said Vortep, clearly displeased by the marine’s outburst. “Your body is being examined in the physical world while your mind is being examined here. Rest assured that once we are done with you we will return you to your brothers.”
“I do not believe you, alien,” growled the seething marine.
“That is your choice,” nodded Vortep. “Nevertheless that is what I intend. You now understand that you are nowhere, and that this is no planet.”
The marine struggled to quell his racing mind. “Where then is my body?”
“Not an answer you have bargained for,” said the alien coolly. “Nevertheless, I will answer out of compassion for your plight. I know what it means to be cut off from your people. As your kind measures it, your body is on a planet some seventy-six thousand lightyears spinward from the place you call the Cauldron.”
“Ridiculous!” asserted the marine.
“First violence now disbelief. Why does your kind not recognize truth when they see it?” asked the alien. “You have doubtlessly seen our ability to move in and out of existence. The Warp is no longer as perilous for us as it once was. Teleportation works much more reliably through warpspatial folding than through matter/energy conversion, as your kind tends to prefer. You are in what the Serivtors call the Emerald Temple, which doubtlessly comes from their rather dramatic introduction to us some months ago. But that is another tale, and I believe you owe me two answers now.
The marine struggled with the concept. Why me? he wanted to ask, but refrained. If the creature desired information he wondered why it didn’t simply appear in the halls of the Black Library and remove whatever volumes necessary to sate its curiosity. If he were to return to his battle-brothers, he would wish to take as much information about this enemy as possible. “You may ask,” he said finally.
“Is your emperor capable of conscious control over your species as individuals?”
The marine’s brow furrowed. “Conscious control?” he reiterated. He thought for a moment. “The Emperor guides us with His divine presence. His will is administered by the High Lords of Terra. Through their instruction do the diverse forces of the Imperium move to enact His divine will. So in essence, yes, the Emperor does have conscious control over us. If you’re asking does he inhabit our bodies and make decisions for us, no. He walks with us in our hearts and minds, but we are free to make our own decisions, however foolish they may be.”
“Interesting,” said the alien neutrally. “And now the second question: How would I convince your emperor that my kind is no threat to he and his so that we may be left in peace?”
“Knowing that you are the creators of the Tyranids, I honestly do not think it possible,” said the marine darkly.
“Oh but we are not responsible for them in their present form,” said Vortep defensively. “They have evolved considerably since the time of their inception.
“That hardly matters,” said the marine, entertaining the notion of wringing the Necrontyr’s neck.
“Suppose we told you how to lure them out of the galaxy?”
The marine’s eye’s bulged and he stood shocked to his core. “You must tell me how this is done! The benefits would be incalculable!”
“I agree that the Tyranids must be removed,” said the alien with a nod. “But I have no guarantee that such knowledge would be used for the betterment of all races. You see, if one can direct the power of the Hive Fleets, then one can direct them anywhere they might be needed. To Ork-infested worlds, perhaps? Or an Eldar craftworld? Perhaps even other species as yet undiscovered by the Imperium? No, I’m afraid that knowledge would come with a very high price, very high indeed.”
“You are threatened by these creatures as well!”
“Not so,” said Vortep. “What do we have that they could want? Our construction materials are devoid of mineralogical merit. Should they consume the biomass from a planet, how does that in any way diminish our own digital worlds?”
“You are monsters,” accused the marine. “You’ll do anything and everything to ensure your survival above all else.”
“A phrase comes to mind,” said Vortep, raising a thoughtful hand to its chin in another human gesture. “Something from your own culture about pots and kettles. I wish I understood the references entirely. Nevertheless you take my meaning. You are in no position to take a moral high ground with us.”
The marine glowered at the alien once more. “I can at least say that when a Space Marine makes an oath he follows it for good or ill until his oath is fulfilled or he is dust in the earth. I would pledge such an oath to you for the knowledge to rid the galaxy of the Tyranid menace.”
Vortep examined the marine carefully. The marine stood calmly, his eyes resolute, his expression solemn.
“I believe you,” said Vortep simply. “But I must be realistic. However much I might wish to make such a grand and sweeping agreement, I know that you have not the authority within your culture to back up your own oath. That is partially why I brought you here. First for study, second to determine if your emperor could indeed make decisions through his people. It is clear to me now that he cannot, however powerful he may be.”
The marine had no answer for the alien, but struggled to find some solution to the problem.
“So am I to take it then that your answer to my second query is that I cannot convince your emperor that we are not a threat?” asked Vortep.
“It would certainly not be an easy task,” said the marine. “But I do not believe it impossible. There have been other species in the galaxy that we have left in peace, despite whatever misgivings the Administroum might have about it. Are your temples hard to find?”
“Our tombs evade all psychic detection and are constructed of non-specific material. It is also possible to use warpspatial folding generators to mask our presence. Note that we have existed on many worlds alongside your people without detection.”
“Then it may be possible,” said the marine.
“Excellent,” nodded Vortep approvingly. “There is one final bit of information that you must know before you return to your brothers. Know that I am the only Necrontyr in this particular planetary server.”
“But,” began the marine with a gesture towards others on the street.
“Notice how they have not reacted to your presence in any way,” pointed out the alien. “Some time ago, the planetary system in which this server resides was subjected to a transient stellar mass, causing a disruption in the Oort cloud and destabilizing planetary orbits. The planet was subjected to stresses we had not anticipated in designing our tomb. The server was badly damaged, rendering most of the heuristic processes inert. What you see here are mere simulations.”
“I thought these servers were all interconnected,” said the marine.
“Additionally, our Hypernode connecting us to the other galactic servers was destroyed. We will eventually restore full connectivity, but it will take time and materials.”
“So you do not speak for your entire race?” asked the marine.
“No,” said Vortep simply. “Most of them would share my sentiment though. We simply wish to be left alone. Some may not, however. And if others have experienced similar catastrophic failures in their servers or hypernodes, they may be stranded as well. If all Necrontyr heuristics are inert in those servers, I cannot say what instructions the guardians may follow.”
“How do I know you can be trusted, alien?” asked the marine.
“You do not,” said Vortep with a slightly amused squint. “However, as a token of our goodwill, you will be returned with a device that will nullify the Tyranid hive mind over a large radius for at least a brief time. The device will burn itself out after use, but it will demonstrate to you that we do indeed know how to manipulate them. Do not attempt to reverse-engineer the device. It will destroy itself should you try. Remember that we maintained our technological superiority over the entire galaxy for millennia. We’re quite skilled.”
“You have my word as one of the Emperor’s chosen warriors that I will convey your words and the device to my chapter master,” said the marine solemnly. “But I cannot say what he will do once the information is his.”
“That is acceptable,” said Vortep after a moment’s consideration. “Until then, necessity dictates that we remain at odds. Implanted in your mind will be a number corresponding to an electromagnetic frequency through which you may contact us on the Cauldron. We will await your response. Go carefully beneath the stars and moons, Marine Damodred.”
Before the marine could answer, the alien dissipated followed by the people, the buildings, and the landscape. The marine felt himself falling and all was darkness once more.
He awoke slowly after another eternity of blackness. He found himself lying on the ground, dull red clouds swollen and threatening in the sky above. The all-pervading silence echoed in his mind once more, and the marine leaped to his feet, eyes searching this way and that for any threat.
He saw instead a strange box, perhaps the size of a fusion backpack, clearly of alien design. A large red button graced its surface and the marine knew it to be the device the Necrontyr had promised him. He retrieved his weapon from the ground and picked up the device. He noted without surprise that his armor was repaired and his wounds healed.
The chronometric display in his helmet showed that barely more than twelve hours had passed between his capture and his release. He began the trek back to his basecamp, wondering what his brothers would think of his amazing tale. The thought that he could easily garner the Inquisition’s scrutiny sat heavily on his mind. But he had given his word and he believed the sacrifice well worth possibly ending the Tyranid menace.
He topped a rise and saw the basecamp far below, swarming with activity as crewmen carried munitions and supplies this way and that and his brothers readied themselves for deployment. The slightest sound of metal on stone caught his attention and he turned to see an ebon Necron Scarab perched on a stone some fifteen paces away. He looked into its fiery green eyes and a trick of his mind caught the glimmer of recognition there.
With firm resolve he turned his back on the Scarab and proceeded down the hill to meet his brothers. The Scarab observed the marine for several long minutes before activating its comlink.
Reporting Progress: Mission 0001 1100 0010 0111;