Priest and Beast

asusruins

Part one here

 

‘From the temptations of the Flesh, Silica cleanse us

From the ravages of the Destroyer, Anima shield us

From this rotting cage of biomatter, Machine God set us free.’

-Catechism of the Machine Church.

For he bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, he layeth it low; he layeth it low, even to the ground; he bringeth it even to the dust.

-Liber Arcadia.

_

Archimandrite Quine began to snip away the flesh of his dead servant. He worked quickly, neatly as the suns of Wodenheim set and the desert winds blew. He blessed each implant and bionic part as he removed it and laid them carefully in a lead-lined box. He removed the small glowing chunks of wyrdstone that powered them and slipped them in a pouch inside his robes. One of his many mechanical arms swung a censer of sacred incense over the operation to stop the oxidation of the monk’s blood and the fouling of the remaining holy systems still within the body. Quine had hoped to save these parts for the next recipient, but a giant monster had pulverised the control system of the implants and eaten some of the corpse. Without the proper sacraments, these parts would rust and fail in the blighted desert. The bionics were useless without a control system, and he had no hope of finding another in the desert, but Quine continued with his work out of reverence for the sacred steel and silicon. His remaining brothers secured the site against interlopers while chanting their evening prayers.

“Your second-such salvage operation, Quine,” the technosatyr said from behind him.

“Be gone beast. You shall scavenge nothing from my fallen monks,” Quine replied. He had to tolerate the presence of the technosatyr, as he was their guide to the dead city where the meteorite had fallen. He had to preserve the site for the Machine Church and await the prophesised blessing of the Shepard.

The beast tittered, and there was a grinding creak as it flexed a new and powerful hydraulic claw. Quine tried not to look directly at the fusion of beast, man and machine. He knew the technosatyrs modified themselves as they pleased, without caring for the rules of the Shepard. This one wore a horned skull over its mechanical face. Quine was increasingly disgusted by the monster, since it grew stronger as they travelled. Where was it finding all this treasure?

“The desert has a rich bounty… if you know where to look,” the technosatyr said. “But perhaps- “

“I will not divert from the grand schema laid down by the Shepard’s book, beast. To do so invites the anti-pattern: corruption of form and mind from unsanctioned modification. And that means death – spiritual death,” Quine replied.

“Your orthodoxy is your downfall, priest. Too keen to show your power in battle, too keen to run headfirst into ambushes and feigned retreats. You have spent too long in your monastery. You need to change, to adapt. Otherwise you will find your pilgrimage a short one, ending in real, physical death. And we shall never reach the green glow prophesied by the Shepard,” the technosatyr said.

“I will not take maintenance advice from a mutant and heretic such as you! Be gone! Cavort in the sands and install what you please!” Quine shouted. The beast sneered, and slunk out of the ring of monks defending their master while he worked. Quine tried to return to the operation, but his hand still made of flesh was shaking.  He had lost two of his most trusted hieromonks in their first two skirmishes with the bandits and monsters of the deserts. While the surviving brothers trusted him absolutely thanks to their faith implants, Quine was not sure in himself. He had been too eager to show the might of the Shepard’s word after such a long period of confinement on Mount Asus. While they had slain many foes, their victory had cost them dearly in blood and oil. The path towards the dead city where the green meteorite crashed was growing fainter as they journeyed on. Quine felt his task becoming heavier and heavier – a task only he could bear.

He opened the Liber Arcadia for sustenance, the book written by the founder of the Machine Church on the planet and the foundation of the Mount Asus monastery. Every faction and every Conclave on the planet cleaved to its word and every power-hungry zealot had a spin on it. Quine had grown tired of the infighting in the city and journeyed to Mount Asus nearly a century ago. Since then, he had produced nothing but prayer, taken nothing but a strict diet of machine oil and steadily followed the Via Mechanica until all that remained of his weak flesh was his right hand and his brain. But this path of pilgrimage to the source of the green glow seemed so narrow and beset at all sides with danger. Quine began to read and pray for guidance.

“I seek an inheritance uncorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away…” His prayers were interrupted by a yelp and a crash from outside the circle of monks. He snapped his vision to the source of the disturbance: a puff of dust in the direction the technosatyr went. Quine covered the operation for now and hurried to assess the situation.

In the flinty dunes, Quine saw a new and gaping hole in the ground. At the bottom of the deep shaft, the technosatyr lay in a twitching heap as its systems rebooted after the fall. Quine recited the Rite of Maglev Transcendence and stepped over the rim. He began to fall at the speed of a feather, able to counteract the pull of gravity with powerful electromagnetic fields generated by his implants. As he descended into the cave, there was a metallic rattling as small bits of rusted scrap danced in the wash of his energy. It seemed this was not a natural cave of stone, but one of steel. He flicked on his lamps and the light was reflected in a panel of control screens tilted at a crazed angle. This room looked to be man-made, with storage tanks either side. Perhaps it was an ancient factory, lost to the shifting sands? There was a legend inscribed over the bank of panels, superimposed over the cog and skull symbol of the Machine Church. Quine heard the technosatyr panting behind him as it staggered over. It jabbed a pale and clawed finger at the terminals.

“Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you,” the technosatyr said, pointing to the words.  “This has always been the motto of our Conclave, even before the others cast us out for our crimes. We never betrayed the Shepard’s command to hold fast against the Children of Green. In return for our faith, he prepares a table for us even in the presence of our enemies,” the technosatyr said.

As if on command, one of the terminals flickered into life.

+++MACHINE ADEPT DETECTED+++

+++LOADING INVENTORY SUBSYSTEM OF EXPLORATOR SHIP ‘PANDORA’S GIFT’… LOADED+

+WARNING – IMMENENT PLANETARY COLLISION: ADVISE ALL PERSONELL TO EVACUATE+

+MAJOR DAMAGE DETECTED – BRIDGE CONTROL LOST, ASTRONAVIGATION LOST, ENGINES LOST, NETWORK MODULE LOST+

+STORAGE TANKS 54% FULL. RELEASE CLAMPS FUNCTIONING+

+4,204,800,000 MINUTES SINCE LAST REPORT FROM BRIDGE CONTROL+

+WHAT IS YOUR COMMAND?+++

Quine had never seen anything like this before. It had lain untouched for thousands of years, as if waiting for him. He fell to his knees and began to pray before this manifestation of the holy machine. But the technosatyr merely made the sign of the cog and shunted his tangle of cable into the interface and raked his fingers along the keyboard. There was a hiss as one of the storage pods began to open in the room, spilling out a jelly-like grease.

“Stop beast, you profane this most holy place with your tampering!” Quine said as he grabbed the technosatyr by the horns and pulled it away. The technosatyr shoved back, and Quine fell to the ground. The technosatyr hung over Quine, making the difference in their strength clear. Behind the horned skull, he saw glittering optics and whirring dials. He felt fear – what if the technosatyr had lured him here to strip him of his machinery? But the technosatyr stalked away to the pod.

“Less of your sermons, priest. I know what you need to salvage your pilgrims.” The technosatyr picked up a handful of parts, cables and connections, then dumped a control chip onto Quine’s chest. Quine groped for it, and the silicon felt warm in the flesh of his hand. He had never seen this design before, but it was beautiful. There was some residual preserving grease, but a quick test with a burst of electricity showed the ancient chip was working. Quine shook his head.

“I… can’t. It’s unsanctioned. I have no idea what this might do to my monks. I can’t tell whether it would warp them beyond recognition or turn them insane,” Quine said. The technosatyr hunched down in front of Quine. It locked eyes with Quine for a long time.

“Install it in me. Along with these,” it said, splaying out strength boosting circuits, pain-shunts and combat-skill nodules.  “No one outside this room needs to know,” it finished.

Quine weighed up his options. The beast would likely install them anyway. It would be better if he could oversee it and observe the results before risking the others. As much as the technosatyr disgusted him, his natural curiosity was getting the better of him. There was a shout from above that made Quine start.

“Archimandrite – are you down there?” Brother Phystor called down.

“Yes brother, yes… Nothing to concern yourself with. The technosatyr has damaged himself in a fall and I am repairing him,” Quine lied, adjusting his faith implant master unit to maximum power. “Maintain your watch and do not disturb us.” The monk shouted his assent and joined the watch once more. He was thankful for his servant’s obedience.

“Are you ready, priest?” The technosatyr stripped off the armoured panels and loincloth to reveal old scar tissue and cancerous looking growths around existing upgrades. He kneeled before the priest and stretched his arms out as if crucified.

Quine’s hand was shaking again.

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