When I was little, my favourite stories were the ones Mama would tell me about the Sun. She would always talk about it with this… this reverence, like it was a god, the Emperor himself come to illuminate the world. She’d never seen it herself, of course, nobody down here has, but she painted it like the furnace-glow, the ghostfire lamps, but more, so radiant, so divine, that none could look upon it without weeping.
It only comes every four years to Carcere IX – and in a few hours, it’ll rise again. This time, the last time, I’ll be there to see it.
I’ve left my family a note, plain on the centre table, but talking to them about this was never really an option. It would be a fight, one like never before, with more screaming, more begging – best to just slip away while they’re both on shift, and send them back a nice pict from the Edge. A memento. Something to share around.
I’ve heard there are festivals for it, up above. Our lords and masters all get together and spend the last starlight being shiny and rich and wearing lovely pretty dresses and silly hats and dance their way into the dawn. There’s a part of me that’s jealous. Another just wonders if they’re lonely. I thought about going that way instead, brave the Spine and all its dangers, but even if I were to make it, what then? I don’t doubt they’ve got a nose for gutter trash. Best to stay down in the dark, where we belong. Besides, I doubt my heart could take the climb. Poor girl’s already fighting back, screaming homewards.
So far I’ve been able to pick my way unmolested around the hotspots. There’s enough horror stories of Underhivers dragging folk down that any kid with even half a brain knows the places you shouldn’t go, and if you really have to get near, stick to the crowd. Nobody’s picking one face out of a thousand. People are protection down here, long as you’re keeping your head down like everyone else. Don’t make waves. Do your job. Support each other. Stick to the rules, and you’re cherry. If you don’t, if you can’t… well, I’m sure you get the idea. No place in our world for someone who can’t pull their weight, who only drags her family down, no matter how much she loves them. But then, if love was worth anything, we’d all be living up in the spires, wouldn’t we?
The Old Forge is up ahead, my next stop. Plenty of stories about this place. It shone, upon a time. The beating heart of the district. Pay wasn’t great, of course, nowhere ever is. But it’s not so bad when you’re helping make things that actually benefit the people around you. Improve their lives, give them a little sliver of hope. Make them want a family, because you might just be able to provide for them. Now it’s as rotted as everything else. Not turning enough profit for some blue up above, and it’s not like them to do anything out of the kindness of their heart. No, best to shutter completely, and watch on high as half your workforce beggars themselves now they can’t keep the lights on.
I won’t let that happen again. They deserve better.
The place itself doesn’t matter anymore, but if you’re like me and picked up the tricks when you were little, it does give you a way to shimmy out near the maglev lines and quietly slip aboard, no ticket needed. This journey’s too long to make on foot, even for healthier folk.
The compartments are cramped, sweltering, and far too loud to think. Difficult to tell who’s coming and who’s going – a grimy grease sheen and a faraway look of exhaustion are inevitable this far down, no matter if it’s time to rise, or fall. Still, it’s comfortable here, despite anything I may say… Just one more amongst the weary.
Guy across the row looks a bit like Pa. Same forlorn look and strained half-smile, difficult love written clear across the face. But dignified, all the same. Everything else can be stolen from you, but that’s one thing they can never take, no matter how broken you may be.
It’s okay. They’ll be okay. They’ll survive. That’s all that matters.
‘APPROACHING FINAL DESTINATION. PLEASE DEPART’
It’s colder out here, free of the common crush, and the stifling walls. The crowd all moves in one direction, making clear the route to the chem-plants, so I take the opposite. There’s only one reason to want to walk the path outwards, and it seems I’ll be alone today. A little solitude, out at the end. Makes a nice change.
Every part of the Edge is… jutting. Little more than a twisted maze of half-complete scaffold and frenzied metal, parts plucked out at random by some hand on high. But the path is clear, all the same. I’m not sure how, nor does it really matter. I just know where my feet need to go.
But my body refuses – she wants to live. There’s blood thundering in my ears, and little shocks of numb pain sparking up and down my arms. Breath tightened, to little more than a wheeze. I can’t – it hurts, I can’t, no, no. Not now. Not when I’m so close.
If you can’t run, you walk. If you can’t walk, you crawl. You keep moving, no matter what. It’s blurred, wavering, but if you see it, you can reach it. My fingers scrabble blindly at the last, grasping desperate for any purchase, and–
Throne take me.
It’s so beautiful. I could never have dreamed…
So warm. I think I’ll sit a while. Watch it gleam off the tips of the cratered mountains.
Close my eyes, drink it all in.
And when the time comes… one final step.
Give them a chance for a better life.
Mama, Papa, please forgive me.
I love you.
About the Author
Charlotte is an aspiring fantasy author and voice actor hailing from Somerset, England. She has been a fan of 40k since her teenage years, but is these days far more interested in the setting itself and its literary possibilities than the hobby itself. This was her first foray into writing fanfiction in the universe, and it made a pleasant change of pace from the usual mix of urban fantasy, pseudo-fascists, and intersectional feminist philosophy.