The heavy mining laser cut through the hull plating in complete silence. Inch by inch the unfamiliar alloy was pealed from the superstructure housing, Tanner hoped, a weapons system or some other vital component. The small repot-pod was shaking from the laser’s straining energy generator. The air in the cockpit was stale and putrid from insufficient circulation, some barely recognisable audio file blaring from a decaying speaker with frizzing wires dangling from its belly. Must have been around the same time Tanner had stopped keeping himself in shape that the condition of his repot-pod had started deteriorating in sympathy. A certain dereliction was not uncommon in his line of work. Doing business with the Carrion for as long as he had, it was practically inevitable.
Once a humble cargo hauler, decades of retrofitting salvaged components from uncountable sources had transformed the Carrion into a lumbering chunk of metal. The outer hull was studded with docking rigs and landing platforms, a whole fifteen decks had been transformed into the barely navigable bazaar of black market merchants, arms traffickers and scrap dealers it was famous for. Famous, if you were socialising in certain circles. Trade convoys were the most numerous customers, but also smugglers, pirates and more sketchy figures appreciated this remote outpost, even the occasional rogue trader. Rumour had it that years ago even an Inquisitor had been aboard to acquire some very specific goods. Tanner did not believe it. Business was good, but it came at a cost. One of the many threats the Carrion was facing was being discovered by a Mechanicus reclamation fleet, despite how low the chances were, considering the sheer number of remnants from long forgotten battles were scattered throughout the galaxy.
Tanner prepared to engage two robotic arms to pry open the hole the laser was cutting into the hull. He had scavenged through the bowels of enough imperial ships over the years to usually know what he was dealing with, but this was unfamiliar terrain. He had spotted the strange piece of debris yesterday in-between a large cloud of shipwrecks. The battle must have been pretty bad. Or the catastrophic engine failure, who knew. Probably battle. It usually was. Tanner did not know who had fought here, nor when. Could have been a year ago, could have been a thousand. The Carrion had arrived five months Terran standard ago, and with it the shoals of repot-pods.
Reclaiming the merchandise from the broken carcasses was arduous work and fell to men and women like Tanner; harvesting metal, electronic components, weapons, basically anything they could drag back to the Carrion. Tanner had been gutting shipwrecks longer than most and had a nose for where to dig for valuable treasure. The scavengers sold their goods to the cabal controlling the Carrion, who naturally kept the most valuable pieces for themselves, before they opened up the rest of the inventory to the merchants of the bazaar. And of course they charged Tanner for a bunk in a mass quarter. And the lease of the repot-pod, obviously. His chances of amassing enough credit to escape this line of work were about as slim as his slender frame. And so here he was. Cutting open the next wreck, and doing it again tomorrow, and the day after, until also this graveyard had been picked clean, and the Carrion moved to the next one.
A frozen body bumped into his cockpit cover, dislodged from a wreck by the destruction work, perfectly preserved in the total vacuum of space. It was slowly drifting away from what had been its tomb, now destined to keep floating through the endless void until time itself ended. Yet its long voyage was cut short, as it was picked up by another type of pods foraging through the debris. Other people dealing on the Carrion bought these finds, and Tanner had never asked what for.
Finally the laser had cut through the last part of the hull. Underneath was an array of alien tech Tanner could not make sense of, but it looked largely undamaged, and he was sure it would feed him for a week. He switched to a more delicate laser to cut the most valuable looking components from its housing. A pulsating green glow, like a heartbeat, started emanating from a strange device as the laser cut into the reinforced structure around it. Tanner marvelled for a second at the alien technology still holding residual energy even in this state of destruction. The exotic material was far more resilient than its flimsy appearance would suggest, and it would take Tanner hours to cut through.
The short-range comm unit burst into action before Tanner was finished. Hectic calls rained down on the repot-pod, cut short by static. A warning klaxon signalled an approaching enemy and reluctantly he left the spoils of his endeavours behind. Tanner emerged from the dense cluster of wrecks to sleek alien vessels appearing out of nothing in bright flashes, darting through the maze of debris and repot-pods with mind-boggling speed, their design very much like the one he had been cutting open mere moments ago. The Carrion returned fire, but two much larger alien vessels appeared on the opposing side of it, punching giant holes into its hull with blazing energy weapons.
The Carrion tried to manoeuvre out of harms way in a futile attempt to outrun the superior alien vessels, and Tanner tried the same. But just as the Carrion suffered a hull breach in its midsection and was split apart, Tanner’s small repot-pod was torn asunder by multiple hits.
Everyone out here knew stories like this, myths almost. Fleets appearing out of nothing, destroying lone freighters or convoys, leaving no survivors, and often enough not even bodies. For a time, this debris field would now be shunned by reclaimers like him. Too dangerous. A haunted place. But for how long? Years? Months maybe? Hard to say. With the Carrion’s demise, the spoils just had become that much richer.
Carrion was submitted to Cold Open Stories‘ latest Warhammer 40k contest, themed “The Stars are Cold”.
This story is creative fanfiction. Warhammer and all related subjects are registered trademarks by Games Workshop Limited