The corridors of the Machine Empire Troopship echoed with the lumbering, irregular footsteps of an organic being. A repair droid was shoved aside as the Overlord of the Wastes strode towards his appointment. Just as chains hanging from his wrists told of his past and the rolls of fat on his stomach told of his greed, the sweat on his face told of the heat of the wastes and the exertion of his travels.
Turning the final corner, the obese barbarian found himself face to face with a gaunt cyborg. The hybrid's face twisted into a mocking smile, one eye glowing with a red light, the other glittering with keen intelligence.
"Slade." The disdain in the Overlord's voice was evident.
"Your Lordship." Slade sneered back. "Heard you made a right mess of protecting that Yufoe Ship. Doubt the Masterminds are gonna be happy."
The Overlord's face twisted into a snarl. "Shut your shrakking hole, tinman! Shrakking Genejokes managed to block those worthless mek supply lines. We had to try and break out before we ran out of food and fuel. I took out one of those hellborn Maulers before they could finish off my boys."
"Guess you're lucky you got away yourself."
"Shrak you. It's not like it matters anyway. You've seen those mek armies. The minute they've got..." he paused and spat, forcing his voice into a crude imitation of the monotonal drone of the Machine commanders, "'A Complete Database of the Topology of this Sector', they'll roll right over that mudhut the Twisties call a fort. Hell, they probably regained control of the damn Yufie ship before I was halfway here."
As he paused again, a service robot scuttled out of the processor core, its spider-like legs clattering on the metal deck plating. "All Organic Units Will Follow" emanated from it, and without waiting for their response, it re-entered the processor core, the two men following behind.
Even after all he had encountered in the Wastes, from the ruins of Nuyark to the Ion Storms of the Plaguelands, Slade still found something nightmarish about the Masterminds. Sealed into the middle of the core, its body lined with cables, pincers and hinges, Primus was simultaneously among the most vulnerable and the most powerful of the Machine Empire's units. The fragile crysilicon tubes within its skull flickered with light as it calculated the most efficient path to Machine Empire supremacy, and delivered instructions to the vast armies of the Empire. But it was when Primus spoke that Slade felt most uneasy, instinctively aware of the insanity of conversing with engineered circuitry, unsettled at the ability of a flat monotone to somehow convey the condescension and contempt the computer felt for all organic life.
Machine Empire Assault forces have retaken wreckage of Alpha-class equivalent interstellar craft from native insurgents. Command designate Tyranicus has assumed command and is beginning preparations for the final assault on the source of the insurgency.
"Well, that's a relief Sir." The overlord's voice was slick with obsequiousness "But if you'll take my advice, you'll let me-"
Failure of Overlord unit to successfully defend critical base section is unacceptable.
"Now wait just one-"
Assault Function Groups were vulnerable for 2 quadratrillion-googleplex processing cycles.
"Less than 2 days? There's no way those muties could have-"
Bio-Augmented Indigenous Forces status irrelevant.
Overlord Unit failure to secure base indicates design flaw.
"Yeah, I shrakked up, won't happen again." Slade could detect the faint fear behind the Overlord's arrogant and defensive voice.
Self-analysis insufficient, flaw requires correction.
"Well, how do yo...What the Shrak!"
Slade's targeting sensors went wild as parts of the floors and walls flowed apart and then coalesced, forming thick metal cables. The cables wrapped around the Overlord's torso, pinning his arms, before sprouting needle thin tendrils that slid towards his face. Slade instinctively moved to help the man, but backed off as one of the cables spun towards him, its tendrils crackling with electrical charge. As the Overlord tried to swing his head away, the needle-like tendrils sunk into the area around his left eye, paralysing the muscle and forcing his eyelids open. Both men stared in horror as one final tendril moved into position, pointing directly into the centre of the Overlord's left eyeball.
The voice of Primus echoed through the chamber. Resistance is futile and irrational. Augmentation of neural network will prevent further failures in function.
"You Mekka Bastards can go and augment your-!" The Overlord's voice became a scream of pain and fury as the needle punched through the pupil of his eye and plunged inwards.
Reconfiguring neural paths.
With his cybernetic eye, Slade could see nanites leaving the needle and swarming up the ocular nerve. He deactivated his sensors, wincing from the feedback, but unwilling to watch as sub-microscopic machines spread throughout a human brain.
The screaming ended suddenly, almost as if a switch had been flipped. The Overlord held position for a second, then, as the needles retracted and the cables merged with the floor, moved stiffly to attention.
Overlord Unit reassignment: reconnaissance in South-Eastern Sector.
"Confirmed." The Overlord's voice was flat and monotonal, horrifyingly distinct from his earlier impersonation. Without so much as acknowledging Slade's presence, he spun and marched out, his gait stiff and regular.
Slade Unit reassignment: Defence of Unidentified Alien Crash Site; Designation H17439DP." Primus' voice continued, "All remaining unaugmented organic forces are now under your control.
Slade nodded, saluted, and marched out. He made it all the way to the outer hull before he began to vomit.
2 days later...
Slade picked up the radio he had retrieved from the corpse of a mutant female. His patrol had stumbled upon the woman within their base, but had been unable to capture her alive. His face was grim as he adjusted the set. Suddenly it crackled to life. "Hizal, report."
"The bitch is dead. This is Sergeant Slade of the Marauders."
"Slaaaaade." The voice snarled. "Mekkaman. Slave of Mekka."
"Shut up and listen. You need the coordinates for the main "Mekka" control centre. I can provide them for you."
"Trick." The guttural voice had become surly and suspicious.
"Why would I bother to trick you shrakkers? We both know the Empire's gonna roll over you in a few minutes of combat. 'sides, what've you got to lose?"
"Slade Mekkaman, why help mutants?"
"Shrak it! Alright, I might have a few upgrades here and there, but me heart and mind's still human, and I'd like to keep them that way. Way I figure it, that'll be more likely with you muties running the wastelands than those metal monstrosities."
A few seconds passed before the voice returned, now cultured and refined, the pretence of barbarism dropped completely.
"Very well, Sergeant, your information on the Machine Empire may indeed be of some value, and as you say, we have few options. What are your demands?"
5 days later...
Across the wastes, the armies of the Machine Empire stood frozen. Mutant armies were already beginning to tear gigantic automecha apart, while scout-dragons sought out the few remaining independent and rogue encampments. Slade stood again at the entrance to the processor core, smoking a cigarette.
Before him, the mutant commander Blastomere sat with a carved bone winecup, his arm resting on the dismembered chassis of Primus. The helpless Mastermind gave out a tinny screech as the mutant overturned his cup, spilling fermented liquid into centuries-old circuitry. The few intact service droids lying around the room shuddered and arched for a second, and then collapsed back into dormancy.
"Congratulations Slade," the commander began, "your information about the Machines' deployment was absolutely accurate, and the passcodes you provided solved our few problems magnificently. As promised, the UFO base is yours, as are the resources of the surrounding sectors. All we ask is that you remain neutral in our conflict with the so-called 'Human Empire'."
"Just like that?" The eyebrow over Slade's organic eye raised in suspicion.
"Do not underestimate our gratitude for this matter, Slade. A Machine assault force was within hours of reaching our last refuge. And the risks to you were hardly insignificant. If your treachery had been revealed..." The mutant paused and then stood. "While we are on that subject, there is something I would value your opinion on."
As they walked out of the room, a service drone reared and swung wildly at them. The mutant, without so much as breaking stride, tore the robot's head off and threw the rest of it away. As they walked down the corridors towards the deeper sections of the ship, the mutant spun the droid's head on his finger, seemingly at peace with the world.
Slade knew without being told that they were headed for the brig. Even under Mutant occupation, no other part of a machine ship could smell so... organic. They headed for the only cell which still bore a door.
"Some of my tribe found this in a gorge to the South. While I am aware that it is technically no concern of yours, I felt you might have a unique perspective on the matter."
The Overlord was unwashed and unshaven, his clothing was torn, and his body continually twitched and shuddered. His eyes were darting randomly, but for mere milliseconds, they seemed to focus on Slade's own, a twisted visage of desperation and horror. A buzzing, scraping sound emerged through a rictus grin.
Slade had reholstered his gun before the corpse hit the metal flooring. The disgust and pity in his eyes was almost undetectable, even to the enhanced senses of the mutant. As he turned, Blastomere put a hand on Slade's shoulder. "A noble act, Sergeant."
Slade looked at the hand on his shoulder for a second dispassionately, as if merely analysing it, then forced a grim smile as he shrugged it off and walked towards the exit.
"To be honest, Genejoke, I never liked the shrakker anyway."