My name is Roboute. I maintain the servitors that clean hab block 117. Like so many others, I am named for the Imperial Regent, son of the God-Emperor, but I am not a great man. My parents wished more for me than what I am. They gave me that name, as countless others were given it, as a hope that I would grow worthy of it. But I did not. I’m just a disappointment who feeds and cleans the flesh machines in the hive. A nobody who exists in the shadows. A no one with the name of a god.
I am a janitor, son of janitors. I was born into servitude. I wasn’t given the opportunity to be anything else. But if I had a chance, just one moment of destiny, then I could prove myself a hero, prove myself the great man my parents wished I would become, prove myself worthy of my name.
Growing up in a hive world of billions, I knew more children named Roboute than I care to remember. They all went on to do great things. One is working his way up through the ranks of the Planetary Auxilia, already hailed a hero and great man after leading the defence of Hive Tertius. One is an engineer of great renown, resisting the advances of tech priests and making weapons so beautiful the elite come to him alone to be armed. One, an athletic and quick-witted boy, disappeared when we were young, and everyone says he was taken to join the Emperor’s Angels.
And then there’s me, stuck in the depths of the hive where no one knows me. And in a sense, I’m happier that way; I fear that people will ask my name, and I’m ashamed of myself for not being able to live up to it. I’ve never done anything of note in my life. I’m just a shadow in the bowels of the world. But I dream of being more.
The servitors don’t judge me. I’ve grown to appreciate their blank, uncaring company. With them, I can be anyone I want. Sometimes during my long shifts, I pretend that they’re my soldiers; I arm them for battle with mops and brooms and give them a speech to inspire them for the coming fight. For a fleeting moment, I’m something more. They can’t hear me; they’re dead flesh, sculpted into human form and animated. While I inspect their sleeping alcoves and feeding tubes and refill their nutrient gruel, I imagine I’m a thrall to the Emperor’s Angels. Instead of a janitor, I am a revered serf, cleaning their weapons and armour. They’re so impressed by my care and diligence that I am selected to become one of their own. No one sees my work but the empty eyes of the servitors. I carry out repairs, mending a broken arm, sewing up a lesion and replacing failing organs and damaged pipes, and my mind wanders. I am a hero, guarding the Imperium from countless unknown evils. My prowess in battle is unmatched; my gun thunders, and enemies fall. There is a parade, people cheer my name, and I am worthy of it.
But I am not. And I am even more miserable and ashamed.
At the end of my shift, I trudge back to my small room. I only have a few hours before I start again, but I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts and my wretchedness. I drag my feet and look down. I don’t want to see anyone; I don’t want them to see me. Or ask me my name. And then I hear the scream.
In the deep hab corridor, it echoes, shrill and despairing. I look up and face the sound. It comes again, angry, helpless. So much emotion in one noise. And closer now. I hear footsteps, heavy, running. Running towards me. I don’t move. I don’t think I can move. The scream again. I hear the words now.
‘He stole my baby!’
And then I see someone barrel around the corner, an indistinct figure dressed in rags clutching a bundle to his chest. He’s running right at me. The corridors are low and narrow. I should move. I need to move. He’s going to collide with me. But I don’t. He’s coming closer. I see the eyes of the child at his chest, wide and blue. I hear the scream again. I stand still. I stand against the enemy.
This is my moment. This is where I will prove myself worthy of my name, where I am strong and brave, where I will perform deeds that will inspire others.
I will strike.
My fist will connect with his nose. I will hear the crack of bone and the wet thud of blood and flesh. He will topple, and I will pluck the child from his arms before he falls. The mother will call me a hero and ask my name.
My name is Roboute.
He passes. The screaming woman closing in fast. I stand in the shadows and bow my head in shame.
My name is Roboute, and I am a coward. I am no one and nothing. And that is all I will ever be.
About the Author
Jennie works as a software engineer. She lives with her partner and her dog, Fox, and spends her time drinking tea, reading too many books and painting models which she posts about on Twitter.