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 The Individual Man John Smith: A Glimpse Behind the Mask

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Mr. Serious
Knifeman
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PostSubject: The Individual Man John Smith: A Glimpse Behind the Mask   Tue May 31, 2011 6:12 pm

This is the last testament of the individual man, John Smith, Medicae Officer of the Legion, 322nd Placators Division.

Where I am of no importance, and, in all honesty, and I assure you, honesty is all that is left in me, I am not sure I could tell you.

But, as I said, it does not matter. I have pierced the enigma, and have seen… What have I seen? Oh… God… what have I seen?

The Knifemen, those ever present servants, scholars, given all the attention and focus of furniture. After the Legion had found and brought in Earth, they had installed themselves in the Legion’s very infrastructure. A small guild embassy popped up here and there, but before long, they were on every ship, every world. Their numbers had exploded and no one had noticed.

And I don’t blame them for their lack of sight. Who would cry out against having an army of warriors, assassins, servants with eidetic memories, and uncomplainingly efficient administrators? But we never considered the cost. So many souls.

I had long thought that to fit so much skill, so much knowledge in a single being, something must have been removed to make room. How could I have known how right I was?

I am rambling, and my time is so short. My step over the brink into knowledge, the abyss, began on a world you’ve likely never heard of.

It was your standard crusade of assimilation and subjugation. It was for their own good, or at least, that’s what we told ourselves.

I worked one of the forward medical tents. You know the kind I mean, those cramped, movable med-centers, filled with groaning bodies and the mixed smells of blood, sweat, and antiseptic. Those days I felt more like a factory worker than a surgeon, patching up and putting back together broken soldiers with ruthless and mechanical efficiency.

It had been edging its way through twilight for hours, and the last moaning patient was being wheeled away. I remember taking this moment to simply breathe before I could begin stripping off my gore stained scrubs. Our forward surges slowed in these hours, and I did not expect another patient till morning.

In those moments time and events seemed to blur together and run by me, faster than my mind could comprehend.

Without realizing it, I had removed my gloves and made my way to the wash basin. The last of the light from the sun was gone; the only light was coming artificial and harsh from the overhead bulbs.

Just as I started moving to shut down the lights, I heard the clack of armored boots outside, followed by shouting. Before I could move to investigate, the source of the sounds came barreling into my operating room. It was a squad of Legion soldiers, specialists by the markings on their uniforms.

Their faces were anxious and the dark rings under their eyes marked them as having just come back from a long and sleepless mission. I realize now that I never found out what it had been. It hadn’t been my place then, but I have such a craving for knowledge these days.

The thick group parted, bringing forward what I had mistakenly taken for a fallen squad member. It was not. Instead, on a makeshift stretcher of ripped cloth, they carried a fallen Knifeman of the Guild.

Immediately, my mind had shifted into the mechanical aspect, searching the body for reparable trauma. In a glance, my practiced eye identified at least a dozen puncture holes in the void-black robes. My gaze fell upon the iconic mask. Despite the Knifeman’s general perforation and the ragged state of his robes, the mask was pristine. The ceramic-silver meld of the mask sat starkly against the blackness and the darkness of those eyeholes had seemed to be burrowing into my soul.

I broke out of my trance-like state just in time to hear the last of what was presumably the squad’s sergeant’s explanation.
“-saved us, but got ‘imself shot up awful doin’ it. We felt like we owed him at least this much.”

I don’t remember what I said to them; my thoughts were too disjointed at the time for me to give any but the most automatic of responses. Whatever I had said, the men nodded and placed the Knifeman on one of the many operating slabs. I must have gestured for them to leave, because one of the soldiers took the rag-stretcher and they left as a group.

I had walked over to the body then, and I remember how particularly leaden my steps were, the way every step echoed away for years, yet rang hollow like the futility of fighting at the very end of the universe. I had shaken myself then, asking myself what had brought those words to mind. I pulled myself to the present. I had a wounded and potentially dying man on my operating table. If he was, in fact, a man, I had wondered as I gazed at the robed figure.

Never having operated on a Knifeman, this presented an entirely new experience for me. However extraordinary they were, I decided to work from the assumption that they were still close to human. Following this assumption, I lifted the wrapped wrist and checked for a pulse. I felt nothing. Dead. A shame.

I leaned against a nearby tool shelf, thinking. It was so odd, you see, pronouncing something dead that I had never really thought of as alive. It made me fell horrible, at least for a moment, to realize how thoroughly we dehumanized these servants. But that epiphany quickly passed away as a perverse curiosity overcame me. What lies beneath those enigmatic robes?

I brought myself back to the body, looking at the fallen Knifeman again. My decision made, I began to gently pry open the robe-tunic of his chest. The material was deceptively heavy and I realized why as I saw the inner side of the cloth. It was lined with blades of every type, be they knives, scalpels, razors, and sharp things I couldn’t quite recognize. Fascinating, I had thought then, that they can be so agile while carrying so much weight. I had assumed then, I made so many assumptions back then, that my eyes were playing tricks on me. As I pulled away the cloth, the shadows on the skin underneath seemed reluctant to move, sticky, and clinging to the body. After a moment however, the shadows parted, revealing skin so pale that it looked as though it had never known light. I assumed it was just paleness emphasized by blood loss. It was a perfectly shaped marble carving of lean muscle, its purity parred in several places by holes that seeped too-dark blood.

Strangely, most of the holes were half-sealed. The soldiers had probably used their med-spray supplies, I had thought, and the blood was probably contaminated with it. Looking at the body, I knew my curiosity was not yet satisfied. I wanted to know, to understand. It was my duty, from the medical perspective.

The dark pits in the mask watched me, and, I felt, egged me on. I reached onto the tool shelf and grabbed a tray. On it, I had all the tools I would need.

From the very first cut with the scalpel, a slow, steady seeping of that too-dark blood began to run down the Knifeman’s sides. It was strange, but I was committed then. In a few moments, the dense muscle tissue was parted and the abdomen was open to me.

There was a soft clinking sound as my scalpel bounced off the floor. I had never seen anything like it across a hundred species. The only thing I had thought I recognized was the liver, and even then, the shape was off. I saw before me and amalgamation of designed flesh and metal. A series of crossing bars came up from the pelvic region connecting with the mid to lower spine and the lowermost ribs. Even the familiar bones that I could see were off in hue, darkened and too smooth.

Strangest of all, there were no traces of the standard digestive system in large organisms, save what might be a liver. No stomach, small or large intestine, nothing even resembling the alimentary canal. At least, not in the lower half of the torso.

I began to wonder how such a thing functioned. Exceptional as the design was, everything looked pallid and dead. I know it sounds absurd, since the Knifeman was dead, but I mean that the body looked as though it could never have held life in the first place. It was so… inhuman. In the back of my mind, the thought echoed that that was the very thing they had sacrificed.

I had picked up the scalpel and began to sanitize it. In a way, the body was perfect though. Perfected. I thought about my human limitations and felt somewhat envious of the thing in front of me. I was eager to continue my exploration.

Just as I prepared to begin revealing the superior cavity of the torso, I heard a crash come from the other side of the med-center. It had sounded, for lack of a better word, intentional and for a moment, I was almost certain that I was not alone. But, no other sounds were forthcoming and I put the thought from my mind.

I couldn’t shake off the feeling, though, that I was caught doing something I shouldn’t be. Almost guiltily, I patched up the Knifeman corpse as dutifully as I would any other patient.

When the painstaking work was finally done, I decided I should probably send the body to the morgue. Stripping off my gloves, I turned, bumping into a cold nightmare.

Screaming and losing whatever dignity I might’ve thought I had, I fell backwards and started madly scrambling away from the three Knifemen in front of me. I could move no more when my back slammed into the side of the operation table.

I don’t know why these apparitions filled me with such utter terror, when I was so familiar with their visage. Perhaps it was the manner of their arrival, but I think it was the accusations I read in those black, soulless pits in their masks.

Slowly, however, my fear began to shift into a yearning, and with it, my perception of their masks also morphed. At the time, I believed I had seen understanding, empathy. They could appreciate a man who worked by the blade of a scalpel, such as I. I could not have known just how incapable of that they were. They had taken me. Twenty minutes later, the locals had pushed forward, burning the med-center to the ground.

I was listed KIA, which is all well and good. I mine as well be dead. That was six months ago, now, as I write this. They’ve been training me, teaching me so much that my skull feels like it is going to burst. That won’t last much longer. I’ve seen the slab, the massive granite block, lined with flowing, squirming script that hurts the eyes to look at. Absolute purity, perfection. They never asked me, but then again, they never had to. I will serve.



And it will only cost me my soul.



They’re here.



I am afraid.



- Volume MXIII: Excerpts From the Fallen

Somewhere at the end of the world, in just shy of cataclysmic darkness, footsteps echoed. There was no need to be silent. Not in this hallowed place.

A hooded figure walked the hall, the spines of millions of books supporting the walls, like the backs of the many serving to support the Legion.

In his hands was a thick, leather bound book. Suddenly, he stopped. There was a faint moment of hesitation. An old memory. In one surgical motion, the last sign of John Smith was slid into its slot on the shelf. One book among countless millions. The Knifeman, faceless, nameless, soulless… shifted, and was gone.

_________________
A knife in the dark is worth more than a thousand swords at dawn.
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