Luci held the coin tightly as she ran through the crowded halls of the market district. She nimbly dodged an almac vendor, ducking beneath the swaying bottles that hung suspended from the yokes strapped across their shoulders. The glass vessels chimed a discordant song as they swung together and the aged salesman turned to berate her. They were too late; Luci was already gone. She turned into the narrow alley between two refectories and squeezed through the gap in the link fence at the back. The chains scraped her shoulders and she wondered how much longer she’d be able to use the shortcut. Maybe another year. Maybe that wouldn’t matter.
She stopped outside her hab door, taking a moment to catch her breath before going in.
‘Mam! Da!’ She cried as she entered, overcome with excitement, ‘look what I’ve done!’
Her mother turned from the tiny stove, eyebrows arched in consternation.
‘Wait,’ she said, gently but firmly, ‘what do we do first?’
Luci sighed and walked over to the tiny shrine. She knelt before the worn pasteboard image of the Emperor, bowing her head to pray. As she finished, the door to the ablutions chamber opened and her father emerged, drying his hair with a thin towel.
‘What’s the commotion, little one?’ He asked.
‘Look what they gave me,’ said Luci, opening her hand to show them both. ‘I came top in the exams, and I won this.’
She placed the tiny coin on the table, the Aquila stamped into its face shining in the sodium light.
‘That’ll fetch a sum,’ said her father, ‘we could get a fine bottle of Almac.’
‘Da!’ Luci yelled as she snatched the coin back.
‘I jest, little one,’ he said with a broad smile, pulling her into an embrace. ‘We’re very proud of you.’
Luci leant on the railing and watched the crowds on the levels below. A light rain fell, condensation from the heat exchangers many levels above. The droplets were caught in the lamplight as they passed through the landings, turning the warm updraft into shimmering bands of gold. She held her lucky coin tightly in her hands, nervously passing the tiny disc of worn metal between her palms. Luci glanced at the massive chrono that dominated the atrium; Donno was late. She corrected herself. He wasn’t late, he still had two minutes, but to someone as punctilious as Luci, if you weren’t early, you were late. Donno liked to tease her about it, deliberately slowing down when they were on the way to meet friends, knowing how much it drove her crazy. Her ma had once told her that Donno was good for her, that he lessened the leash she held herself by. Luci smiled sadly at the thought, she missed her ma.
At one minute past exactly Donno tapped her on the shoulder, and she spun around, startled out of her reverie.
‘You’re late,’ she admonished him with a forced frown, ‘I can’t wait forever you know?’
‘I can,’ he said with a grin, completing their usual back and forth.
‘What are we doing here?’ asked Luci.
‘You’ll see,’ said Donno, ‘just be patient for once.’
‘Fine!’ said Luci with mock exasperation. ‘You really are insufferable.’
‘I know,’ said Donno. ‘Look.’
Luci turned to see where he was pointing and watched as the great iron shutters behind the chrono wound up, revealing the massive armaglass panes and the arid landscape of Antreus. As the shutters stopped, the planet’s star emerged between the clouds and the land. Sunlight hit the drizzling rain and refracted, causing the golden bands to shatter into a rainbow. Luci reached out to touch it, marveling at the play of colour on her skin.
‘Oh Donno, it’s so beautiful,’ she said as she turned back to him.
Her words caught in her throat as she saw what he held.
‘I know this isn’t the right time,’ he said as he held out the chain, ‘but it never is.’
Luci stared, looking between the links of copper and tin and his earnest face.
‘Aren’t you going to say something?’ He asked.
‘Can you wait forever?’ She said finally.
‘I can,’ he said as he reached up to fix the necklace around her neck.
The ship shook violently as it rose through the atmosphere, sudden jerks and clangs eliciting cries from the nervous passengers. Luci held herself still in her seat, one hand holding the wafer of plastek, the other running fingertips over the chain around her neck, feeling the junction where it passed through the hole she’d carefully drilled in the coin. Donno had seen her off at the starport. She’d tried to return the chain, but he’d refused to take it. He’d told her he’d wait forever. She hoped he wouldn’t. The wafer creased as she tightened her grip on it. She couldn’t let it go; it was too big, too important. No one from her hive had ever been called before. Her overseer had barely concealed his jealousy as he handed her the chit. She was on the way to great things. The centre of everything. Terra.
She lay back in the seat and dreamed of destiny.
Servitor D11-36 loaded the body carefully into the open bag. The care was expedient. Sometimes the dead weren’t found for days, and sudden movements caused them to fall apart. Once it was loaded onto the trolley, D11-36 reviewed the cubicle. The files had been removed and reassigned. A line blinked green on the monitor of the cogitator, waiting for the next user to enter their credentials. D11-36 wheeled the chair into its ready position and sprayed counterseptic over the desk. As it turned to go, light caught on a chain hanging from a tack. Lifting it clear with a small claw it analysed the item: copper and tin links, a worn coin of brass. D11-36 dropped it into the recyc drawer and entered the aisle, pulling the trolley down the miles-long row amid the clatter of duty and broken dreams.
About the Author
Andy Clark is an avid reader of all things Warhammer having rediscovered the setting with the Horus Heresy series. He’s recently got back into painting models after a two-decade gap and wonders why he ever stopped. This is his first foray into writing 40k fiction.