What would you be willing to risk to save a child?
Gad Thaddeus Skark was presented with this question.
As a factory worker in the middle-hive, he had a more comfortable life than others. He had to work fourteen hours a day, sweating in a haphazard hazmat suit, but he knew the light of the sun. The water he drank wasn’t like the dreg-filled slime seeping into the underhive’s cups. The food he ate contained vitamins belonging to green life, like the vegetation he could see in the upper-level gardens when the smoke cleared.
A few tree branches hung over the ledge, stirred by the winds, and his gaze moved up there, attracted by the gesture of greeting from nature. An appeal made for the human souls, maybe of hope, maybe of menace. He restrained himself from scratching his arm while contemplating those matters. From there came a more profound question: Am I still part of nature, or have I been rejected?
The rest of the hive’s facade was a grey-on-grey termite mound where he’d vanish every day into the mass of menial ants.
That fateful day the worker’s procession was slowed as many people stood looking up. Gad felt a familiar sting of guilt, this time for previously thinking he was unique among them when admiring the greenery. He always thought their attention was up only to practical, material needs. He shuddered. If they had the sparkle of imagination, hiding between them would become more risky. He proceeded to follow their gaze, searching for clues of the aggravation of his situation.
Suddenly he saw the youth in danger. Immediate relief, a mundane preoccupation. Then the sting of guilt, he was dismissing the life of a child. The boy was hanging from a branch, the dichotomy between hope and menace stronger than ever in Gad’s eyes. He saw no questions in the other menials, only the expectancy of those watching a tragedy unfold with morbid fascination. Instead, Gad risked what he had, climbing the nearest plasteel-lattice support tower.
As he ascended the boy looked at him, eyes so wide they looked like fruits on the branch. This survey reminded Gad of his supervisor. The man has never punished him for being late, knowing Gad took time in the locker room to pray while others changed into work attire. Half a facade, half the fear of a sinner. Aside from that, Gad had a good productive quota. Or so his superior said while offering him a promotion. Meritocracy in the Imperium, can you believe it? Gad refused while hearing assurances about leisures like shorter shifts, medical checks almost for free and a ration increase.
‘Things that can allow a man to raise a family properly!’ were the boss’ words. Gad left the office repeating to himself: To a man…
When the child fell, Gad reacted by instinct. He fully unfolded his right arm, ripping the vest sleeve with the unnatural multiple joints of his mutation but managing to grab the boy. Small hands closed around his wrist, and a surge of self-loathing swelled inside him from being touched on his deformed skin, on his manifested shame. He almost released his hold on the structure. A part of him considered that dying doing a heroic act may still save his soul in Emperor’s eyes, but was silenced by his survival instinct.
He reached the ground doing his best to hide the mutated appendage. Guardsmen that had been careful not to intervene before rushing to take the child.
‘Are you injured?’ asked one of them.
‘Just some scratches and a sprain officer, nay worries. Emperor protects.’ A military salute was all the remaining gratitude the soldiers left him with. He was truly grateful they hadn’t cared more.
As someone banged at his door, his stomach dropped. He spat the water he was drinking before the image of the polluted piss he’ll be sent to drink when deported to the underhive. He opened with the spirit of a man resigned to the beating of an Arbites, finding a liveried messenger.
‘Herr Skark, today you stood out for your value.’ He didn’t want to stand out, far from it. The man misunderstood Gab’s fear for righteous awe and went on. Gad gulped down the news that he was granted a favour, having saved the upstanding scion, the only thing he managed to eat that evening.
The next day he was pondering if he should ask to be transferred to agriwork, hoping nature would correct his wrongness when his superior called him to his office. There, Gab was faced by an Inquisitorial Rosette. While he was escorted out of the building, he noticed his coworkers trembling as if they were under scrutiny. He wondered if some of the bowed heads held secrets akin to his.
‘Your mutation is categorised as a type-13, minor and usually ignorable if found on productive individuals.’ The flower of hope didn’t dare bloom inside him, and rightly so. ‘But you touched with your accursed part a noble sapling. Caution predicts eradicating the origin. Without the roots, it’s less likely to propagate. In light of your recent heroism, you will be granted a painless death instead of the pyre. May the Emperor forgive your sins.’
The inquisitor started for the door when Gab dared a request.
Gab raised his head to the branches, so close he could reach them.
What did I have to fear still, discovered? I’ll return to nature.
He was already connected to the branch with an umbilical cord of soaped rope fastened around his neck. The owners acquiesced, bragging about the poetry of exchanging a life for a life right there. His muted existence coming to a close because, unlike the others, he had raised his head one too many times.
Will I be down there as a citizen again if the Emperor still has a place for me?
He dived to find out.
About the Author
When not lost in the folds of the Webway, Enzo lives on the shores of Lake Como, Italy, Holy Terra.
He writes mostly about ttrpgs, he’s an avid scholar of both history and mythology of our world and various lore of the fictional ones.
It is said that he loves to make others laugh, crafting plots that intrigue and surprise them.
Worshipping Tzeentch has granted him some eldritch powers like being invisible when nobody looks at him, and turning money into books.