Chapter 13 One Grot in a Million
Somewhere nearby Smirking could hear hammering punctuating the guttural drawl of ork voices. Their familiar combination of dim wits and jackdaw enthusiasm told him which side of the battle lines he had ended up on and approximately how far away he was from any real enemy threat. The dizzying solvent smell of oxidised-copper paint over the smoke and bodily reek of the battlefield confirmed his suspicions. He knew without even opening his eyes that Deathskull blue was all around him.
His eyes, he thought, pulling them open with an effort. Suddenly afflicted by both a searing headache and a blinding blue sky he shut them hard. That was not the blue he was thinking of. He tried to twist, to roll, to shift a leg or an arm, a finger even but his head and body ached too much to endure the effort. He thought about Snikkit, bitterly recalling the brutal death of his companion. His last friend gone, no-one left to find him here, to help him up, to shield him from the burning sun. Slaka wouldn’t have minded the sun, Smirking recalled; he was an odd one. Old SkagNet’s gang was full of them. Nurd with his smarty-pants know-wots and Smudge all filthy and sneaky. Little slippery Runt, Big strong Unki and fat old Fungrot. Even cock eyed Fuggit or for that matter that bumpkin Naff could have been of some help to him out here. Smirking lay helpless, listening to the lively sounds of looting bands all around him, abandoned, left for dead, hoping for recovery or resurrection, or at the very least a thick cloud to pass overhead.
A kind of humming muttering song broke the monotony of the orks’ incessant hammering. An uncharacteristically happy ork was obviously going about his business with a deal of enthusiasm and enjoyment. Smirking thought it sounded like he broke his rhythm every now and then to inspect an item and would occasionally annunciate his tune along with his whacking when he found something worth whacking at. The bubbling throaty melody was coming closer when it stumbled and fell away.
“Ello ello ello. What ‘as we ‘ere?” The voice was coming from somewhere above Smirking’s head. A shadow blocked the light from his eyelids and he chanced a glimpse catching a toothy grin and a pair of huge red eyes magnified through a large head mounted lens apparatus.
“and Alive!” the newcomer gasped. “Veeery Int-er-est-in…”
Smirking cringed and wished he hadn’t as shots of pain lanced through his cranium. He tried to calm the raw nerves but immediately the stranger had him in a pincer grip around one leg and he was hoisted upside down to his immense discomfort.
“’ole in ‘iz ‘ead izzit?” the ork inspected the wound without sympathy clucking his tongue and sucking his teeth meaningfully.
“clean ‘ole. Nuffink ta worry ‘bout. Reckon I’ll ‘ave ‘im! Jus’ wot ol’ Grodders is lookin’ fo’!”
The blood rushing down to Smirking’s head and presumably pouring out made him dizzy. Memories of a Mekboy and a Painboy discussing grand plans and swinging Fuggit around by the ankle like a spare engine part floated into his mind. He was tossed into the back of a vehicle and soon the thrumming of the engine lulled him to a fitful sleep.
SnazzGutz tossed Smirking onto his work bench and swung a light overhead. The grot slept with a mild grin on his grossly swollen lips and SnazzGutz grinned back preparing his largest syringe with a viscous yellow serum.
“Jus’ you keep smilin’” he chuckled as he inserted the needle directly into Smirking’s brain through the convenient hole WazzBad had made in his skull. Smirking’s eyes shot open as his mind was violently propelled back to the waking world. Everything was suddenly very lucid, the glow of the light, the toothy grin on the Painboy, the rusty dripping needle in his hand and the pain. Smirking tried to squirm away but he could not. His legs and arms were not responding. His eyes twitched frantically around the room searching for an exit as if his paralysed body would move of its own accord should he catch sight of one. He couldn’t even scream.
“Scared are ya?” asked SnazzGutz rhetorically. “Yeah. Dey all are…” He resumed humming as he gathered his tools and prepped his workshop for surgery.
“Orderlyyy!” he suddenly chimed. “I needs me wiring rig!”
A clang somewhere outside of Smirking’s limited field of vision told him they were not alone.
“Not dat one, de ova one”
An oddly mechanised scurrying approached Smirking’s bench, the orderly was in a hurry. Smirking was growing used to the light now and the odd sensations of heightened awareness, the immaculate detail in the most mundane objects, the tangy scent of burning hot metal in the air, when a green small hand appeared holding a hot iron for SnazzGutz. The orderly’s hand, a grot’s hand, receded away with the sound of pneumatic valves releasing air but soon reappeared holding a coil of wire followed by a bucket of electrical components. All the while pistons popped and air whooshed from unseen valves.
“Dis’ll only take a minit.” SnazzGutz mused over a mouthful of loose cable ends “I reckon dis little geezas gonna be a natural.” The Painboy tested the heat of the iron on the back of his hand and winced pleasurably. He shot the orderly a sharp look.
“Go tell ol’ Grodders I’ve got ‘is urty gubbins ‘ere an I’ll be dere sharpish!” Pistons pumped as the grot orderly departed without a word.
Smirking watched a trickle of smoke rise and curl in delicate concentric spirals as SnazzGutz set about soldering and wiring components together. The Painboy chatted convivially like one used to one-sided conversations discussing Smirking’s personal opinions on how the Waaagh! was going and agreeing wholeheartedly. The swirling smoke pooled and coalesced in the lampshade, lent a luminous halo by the glowing bulb it filled Smirking’s consciousness. Like the smoke of the Waagh! that rises and blots out the sun, creating a perpetual night for the Waagh! to flourish. Nurd had turned to smoke hadn’t he? Perhaps it was Nurd who hovered about in the halo above him. Smirking stared into the smoke as SnazzGutz worked until eventually the ork downed tools and held up the completed article. He showed it to Smirking. It resembled something broken
“Know wot dis is?” he turned it around “’course you don’t. But I do, an’ trus’ me, I fink yer gonna luv it!” He grinned maniacally.
“Bu-ut” he hesitated cringing with every tooth in his face “yer not gonna love dis!” he shoved a fistful of ragged loose wire ends into the hole in Smirking’s head and screwed them in hard. The pain was unbelievably keen. Somewhere inside Smirking’s mind he screamed and yelped and struggled as the jagged metal stabbed and cut and shocked.
“Tol’ ya.” commented SnazzGutz “didn’ I tell ya? Didn’t like dat didya? Hmmpf,” He chuckled remorselessly at his patient’s paralysed smirk “Yer still smilin’ though.. Can’t ‘elp it can ya? You’re jus’ de ‘appiest little git I ever seen.”
The pain began slowly to recede until Smirking felt he could open his eyes, but when he saw the lethal medical implements in the Painboy’s hands he wished he hadn’t. “Just gorra make a few more ‘oles.” he explained. Somewhere behind Smirking’s watery eyes he screamed again.
* * * * *
GrodMek finished welding the heavy crane arm into place high on the side of a reinforced oil drum like a hunch-backed shoulder and arm, and arranged the pneumatic tubing over the top to the rear of his machine. He swung the assembly over his head and inspected the business end of the arm. Testing the bearings on a lethal jagged spinning blade he winced with mock sympathy for the humans the weapon would surely dismember.
A knock on the workshop door caught him admiring his handiwork and an oddly noisy creature entered. Its telescopic hydraulic legs puffed and wheezed and made it wobble and jerk as it walked. The Painboy’s grot orderly was a strange and unusual creation. He had obviously been the subject of innumerable ‘eksperiments’, some of which had made him more useful as an orderly; his elongating legs could help him reach high storage areas for tools and parts and would also raise him to the level of the Painboy’s workbench. However a number of surgeries had not been quite so practical or indeed successful. One empty eye socket exuded a tangle of frayed wires which connected to an angle-poise lamp bolted on to the top of his head which blinked on and off when his remaining eye blinked or closed.
“Hooow!” GrodMek peered over the top of his welding mask at the unfortunate grot. “SnazzGutz really did a number on you eh? Dat’ll teach yer ta sneak inta my shop yer little thievin’ git.”
Fuggit stopped and blinked stupidly. The lamp bobbing on top of his head blinked on, off, on in sympathetic unison.
“Oi, gerr-out ovit!” SnazzGutz, arms full and preoccupied stumbled into the back of his hapless orderly and he nearly dropped his cargo, a limp ,skinny, green bundle of flesh and mechanics all wrapped in a tangled lump. He complained as he shoved his lobotomised underling out of the doorway with his boot.
“Yer nearly made me drop dis.” He brandished Smirking’s broken body like a prize.
“Dis ‘ere iz delicate ‘quipment.” He enunciated to his stricken charge who cowered for fear of further reprisal. If Smirking was the prize then Fuggit felt every inch the wooden spoon.
GrodMek still stared over the rim of his welding mask at the unfolding drama. He discarded the welding lamp noisily to announce his observation of his visitors’ antics.
“Nah not really, iz it?” SnazzGutz hastily concluded and tossed the limp bundle on top of a nearby workbench. He threw open his arms and smiled toothfuly in the most infuriatingly ingratiating manner he could muster.
“Groderz me ol’ pal… well lets ‘av a butchers at da merchundize.”
Smirking enjoyed a rest on the bench not concerned in the least about being so casually tossed aside. Indeed that was perhaps the most normal thing that had happened to him all day. Somewhere behind him the orks’ continued argumentative drawl was punctuated by the loud clanging of heavy metal implements. Smirking, still immobilised watched as Fuggit rounded ponderously into his field of vision, flinching and gibbering in time with the orks’ commotion. His remaining eye glanced almost guiltily, in Smirking’s direction at first. Then with a determined flick of his lamp he turned his head-light on his former comrade and stared at him determinedly, unflinching.
Smirking and Fuggit: both had seen much in their short harrowing lives. Steep learning curves, hard lessons and brutal life experience had taught both gretchin that there was little opportunity beyond what they could take for themselves. Little hope beyond what their own little hands could strangle out of this miserable existence. The element in Fuggit’s lamp glowed and buzzed louder and brighter as he stared, his beady red eye looming resolute behind the flare, refusing to shut it off, refusing to blink.
A heavy boot caught the underside of his robotic pants and launched the orderly into motion.
“Gerrramoovon you!” the painboy groaned, “I needs me tools, me urty fings, me bag-o-bitz. . .”
Fuggit scarpered and Smirking was grabbed and hefted under the ork’s dirty oxter. An unpleasant scraping of metal on metal accompanied Fuggit’s return as the heavy tin tool-box was dragged over the threshold.
“Givus dat,” The Painboy snatched something from his orderly.
In the blinking shadows cast by Fuggit’s light on the wall behind, Smirking tried to make out what it was. Something long and pointed. Containing a vial of fluid, red and viscous. The thing bled, raised high and dripping in the painboy’s hand. He brought it down slowly and in a flash of white pain Smirking’s world went black.
Smirking awoke to the sound of hammering again, at first he thought he was back on the battlefield still leaning against the wrecked warbike; that the Mekboy and the Painboy were just a horrible nightmare. He found to his terror that he was very wrong. Whilst rendered unconscious he had been strapped into a metal frame wires and tubes and cables covered his arms and legs and his head felt like it had just had six nails hammered into it. SnazzGutz moved into his field of vision with a hammer in hand and a nail still dangling in his teeth, confirming that this was in fact exactly the case.
“Dat’s it Grodders!” he called over his shoulder as the nail dangled and dropped unheeded.
He stared at Smirking obviously pleased with his handiwork, his breathing dropped to a rapt intensity and he almost whispered to Smirking, as if in private confidence.
‘Ee’s ready fer. . . insuhrsh’n!”
Suspended in a cage of steel and wiring Smirking was swung about until, rotating into his field of vision, there came a spectacle of deadly power and orkish ingenuity. There beside the machine was Grodmek, tools in hand, feeling every inch the BigMek he aspired to be. His creation was one in the mode of Orkish stompiness. A crude, mechanised walking gun platform crafted in what could be both mockery and celebration of the orks’ own form: Feet to charge, weapons for arms, a body of steel with no discernable head. A thing of deadly design, a metal monster, GrodMek’s Killa-Kan.
A large oil barrel had been commandeered and reinforced as the main body frame onto which were mounted crude but functional legs and equally crude and lethally functional weapons for arms. The whole contraption was powered by an engine in the rear attached a huge pair of exhausts mounted up high. They stood out on top giving the machine the impression of a set of infernal horns. Greasy smoke wreathed the scene in dire gloom as the machine belched fumes and noise.
On one side of the Killa-Kan a massive big-shoota complete with a bucket of slugs comprised the left arm and on the other, a long hinged boom carried a jagged motor-driven rotary blade. Smirking pondered the blade imagining all of Snikkit’s spiky stickas welded together into one psychotic spinning star.
The whole assembly was mounted on thick piston driven legs, with heavy, broad four toed feet not unlike the ones that had squashed Smudge. The front face of the machine was missing it’s main frontal armour panel revealing an empty void within. It looked to Smirking like something was missing, some vital part that would lie at the heart of the machine.
Even as they pressed his cage inside then began connecting his wires Smirking struggled to surmount his utter astonishment that he might be that part. He stared forward from the bowels of the machine a riot of contradictions bewildering his diminutive faculties. The front armour panel stood propped against the opposite wall. Fuggit was busily applying paint, some glyph or branding or such device as would proclaim GrodMek’s greatness or simply cover a nasty looking dent, Smirking couldn’t tell. It wasn’t until SnazzGutz finished his tests and GrodMek completed his tinkering that they called for the Grot to quit his task and relinquish the panel.
Fuggit stepped aside with all the mustered grace of an artist rightly proud of his masterpiece. And there upon the armoured face of the beast he had described a large red grinning maw.
“Smirking” he explained before ducking a wrench.
The panel was at last secured as the final thundering rivet was hammered home. Before the echoing within the machine had time to subside the engine once again roared to life sending a shuddering vibration through Smirking’s remaining teeth. He quivered inside the machine still unable to move a muscle when a sudden searing flash of electricity shot through the wiring into his head and coursed down through his lank green body filling his belly with fire and, incredibly, his limbs with power. Smirking could move.
He flexed his arms and bounced on his newly fortified legs. The machine in GrodMek’s workshop leaped to life. Its jagged blade whirred and flailed, its gun mount swivelled and pivoted like the shrugging of a shoulder. It took a few tentative steps before stomping for sheer brute physicality. Smirking was in control. A wave of power, intoxicating and at once thrilling washed clean his filthy inhibitions. A chorus of greenskin pride and malevolence returned unbidden to his flapping purple lips. Smirking was big! Smirking was stompy! Smirking was smirking.
“Da Killa Kan!” GrodMek intoned in a strange mix of pride and reverence. Although it was but a thing of his own creation he regarded it still as something beyond the realm of natural Orkdom; an effort toward orkish perfection, something approaching Gork and Mork themselves. GrodMek, the humble prophet of such mechanised glory.
“Its just a prototype.” SnazzGutz complained “Now dat I’ve p’fekted da ‘urty bitz we can make ‘em even bigga!” he enthused, “Put proppa Boyz in ‘em! We’ll leave da grotz ta da Deffskull spannaboyz. I’m torkin’ DeffDreads!”
“DeffDread? Bah!” GrodMek would not be outdone. “I’m finkin’ bigga! Stompas!”
“Gargants!” SnazzGutz parried.
Smirking caught sight of a flash of gold in his view port; one of SnazzGutz teeth glinting in the light of Fuggit’s dim headlamp. The sight of his broad sadistic smile made Smirking’s fists ball and at once his weapons responded. A fistful of slugs barked from the mouth of his kannon and buried themselves in the teeth of the grinning ork Painboy. GrodMek, stood agape, blinked stupidly then threw up his hands in delight. His creation was already performing beyond his wildest fantasies. He stood over SnazzGutz, gloating and counting the Painboy’s remaining teeth.
GrodMek died happy as the spinning blade severed his head from his shoulders in one brutal blow, scattering tools and body parts around the floor of the workshop. Smirking sang and danced and destroyed in the fire and smoke and dust. And he laughed.
A blinking lamp in the corner caught Smirking’s attention. Fuggit was watching the scene and cowering at a distance. Smirking turned his Kan, himself, toward the miserable grot and lowered his arms. Fuggit came forward and stepping clumsily around the body of his former employer, relieved SnazzGutz of his diagnostic tools which he slung in a bag along with GrodMek’s adjustable spanner. By now the fumes from Smirking’s engine were filling the room with a miasma of oily smoke and he turned about, looking for the dock exit. Fuggit, tool belt and bag in hand clambered aboard and pointed the way as best he could with his own head lamp, and held on.
Smirking smashed out of the dingy workshop into the clear light of a full moon, huge and deadly and hell bent on revenge. Revenge for his misery, for his brutal life, for his friends all dead. Revenge against everyone who ever pushed him around or shot at him or tried to stomp on him. Now Smirking would do the pushing, the shooting and the stomping. On Humans on Orks on any fool who might stand in his way. And Inside that Killa-Kan he’s still smirking, he’s always smirking.