Cold Steel by David Guymer. An Apocalypse short story, originally published by The Black Library, July 2013. Approx. 25 pages.
Death is rising from the bowels of the prison colony on the moon of Ixus IX. The soulless, unstoppable necrons have risen from their slumber. Wait a minute, necrons and Ixus IX? This sounds awfully familiar..... Yes, Cold Steel is a companion piece of sorts to David Guymer's nicely done Cold Blood, only with more of a focus on the necrons than on the Traitor Marine Chapter the Bloodlords.
Since necrons are somewhat lacking in what we call personality, Guymer centers this tale around one of the ah, "guests" of the penal colony. Meet Drax, a cheerfully malicious former Imperial Guard tanker, who has earned his stay by murdering his former crew. Be that as it may, he can drive the war machines of the Emperor, which makes him invaluable to the remaining prison crew hoping to make an egress as the onslaught of metallic skeletons continues.
Drax makes for a fun protagonist. He is immediately sold on the idea of grabbing a Chimera and getting the heck out of Dodge, although his version of the plan involves significantly less prison guards joining him. He is the classic wild card; impulsive and unpredictable. He was raised on a tough miner's world, and served across many brutal fronts, and maintains such an easygoing manner that you can't help but root for him, even though you know he is first and foremost a heartless bastard.
Not that the necrons make for much more sympathetic entities. Guymer again writes for them very well. As they lumber through the passageways (the descriptions of the smooth mechanics of their anatomy are done masterfully), I get that same vibe that I felt as a 10 year old watching the T100 skeleton for the first time at the end of The Terminator. They are frightening in that they are both implacable and nearly indestructible. The way the Gauss weaponry of the necrons is explained also stesses their terrifying capabilities.
The atmosphere of this story has a cinematic feel; as if scenes from films such as Alien 3, The Terminator (as mentioned), and even the scary blinky light corridor scene from the first episode of The Walking Dead were cobbled together. It's a premise that generates a panicky urgency when a complex designed to keep you locked in threatens to do that well when it's a matter of life and death.
After an enjoyable opening act of introducing the characters, Cold Steel really takes off as Drax and company find themselves in the middle of the battle we were treated to in Cold Blood. So now, not only is there the undead threat to contend with, but also the Bloodlords in their desperate bid to slake their thirst. This actually lends to an interesting "choking" motif connecting these two stories: in Cold Blood, the Bloodlords had their hearts threatening to explode by not satisfying the blood thirst, while in Cold Steel, when the atmosphere control goes awry, the people inside feel a "cold steel" constricting on their hearts.
Cold Steel, like Cold Blood, becomes little more than a commercial in the final few pages. In Cold Blood, it was for the Lord of Skulls. In Cold Steel, the item being hawked is a Tesseract Vault. Again, I am not knocking these stories for being glorified commercials (I mean that's the point of the entire Black Library). All we want are stories that are good quality commercials, right? And that's what Cold Steel is. Guymer integrates the Tesseract Vault into a grand climax to this story. It's size, scope, and devastatingly destructive capabilities are well realized, and lend to a satisfying payoff for this duology.
Here's what it is:
David Guymer's companion commercial to Cold Blood offers more Necron, Chaos Marine, and Imperial Guard action, with a spotlight on another super unit. This story gets slightly higher scoring for the simple fact of having a more enjoyable central character.
Like with Cold Blood, we have a silhouette of the big unit involved, this time the Tesseract Vault. Why not just put a picture of it? Even if it is a picture of the model? Black Library novels have long had pictures of models for sale on the inner back covers. It's not like we don't realize you are using a picture of the model on the cover anyway, albeit blacked out. At least the greenish hue is sufficiently necron-appropriate.
Cover Final Score: