Elam froze in the doorway of their meagre hab-apartment. He looked back at the wreckage of his wife. Her skin was grey, her hair lank and unwashed, her cheeks sunken and eyes red and inflamed. Yet they held a flicker of hope. A hope that broke his heart.
‘We can’t do this again, Roza,’ he replied, swallowing the lump in his throat. ‘I… I can’t have this conversation again.’ He fought back the rising flood of tears as he glanced down at the bundle in his arms. ‘I haven’t got the strength.’
Broken-hearted sobs followed him out into the dimly lit streets of Hive Redemption. This late, during the night shifts, the streets were near empty and, by keeping to the shadows, he went unnoticed. His footsteps echoed endlessly as his mind wandered through melancholy thoughts.
He knew Roza would never forgive him. He would never truly forgive himself, but he knew they had no choice. If – when – their secret was discovered, the Arbites would come for them. Or worse.
Finally, he stopped several levels down, on the edge of the lawless underhive – as deep as he dared go. He opened the bundle he’d carried close to his chest, close to his heart, and stared down at the face of his son. The face that had torn his heart in two.
Asleep, his son looked so beautiful, so perfect. So normal. His rounded, chubby cheeks and screwed up eyes hid the reality of what he was. What had made Roza scream as she had laid eyes on their child for the first time.
Careful not to wake him, Elam kissed his son and hung an amulet around his neck – a simple wooden aquila he had painstakingly carved throughout the long nights of Roza’s pregnancy. The twin of the one he wore.
Laying the child on the ground, he took a step back, but found he couldn’t walk away. Not yet. Tears streamed as he watched his son wriggle against the constraints of his blanket. The babe began to wail, a sound that finally broke the dam in Elam’s heart.
‘I’m sorry,’ Elam sobbed. He ran then. Ran back home. ‘I had no choice,’ he told himself. The words echoing through his mind.
‘The Imperium has cast you out!’ The Apostle’s voice boomed out, carrying easily across the cavernous chamber despite the lack of a vox-speaker. ‘Banished you! Driven you into the ruined places that it deems below its own citizens! And for what crime? Because you are different!’
Andros roared his anger to the sky. His voice joined with a thousand others. He beat his fist against his chest. The crack of gunfire whipped above the fury of the crowd, their song of violence amplified in his heart.
‘Yet they accept the verminous ratlings and brutish ogryns, then turn their backs on you. Trample you into the dirt. Call you mutant!’
Andros howled with the crowd. The air reeked of sweat, gun smoke and rage. His mind raced back through the scramble for survival that had been his life. Mutant. That word had been a curse throughout his life. It had dogged him from place to place, never allowing him to settle until ‘The Brotherhood’ had taken him in. They had given him a home and the chance to strike back at the cruelty of the world — a chance for revenge.
The only other constant in his fragmented life was the amulet that hung at his neck. A simple thing: a hand-carved Imperial Aquila and the only thing his flesh and blood parents had left him. He despised everything it stood for, had carved hateful signs into its wood, yet still he couldn’t bring himself to discard it. It was his good luck charm.
‘But not the Blessed Pantheon! Not the Divine Brotherhood! Not the True Gods! They embrace you, for you are their children! And they demand but one thing from you.’
Andros felt himself panting, each breath heavy with an unbridled rage that consumed the rational parts of his mind. The parts that had kept him alive all these years.
‘That you cast down the False-Emperor and His lies!’
Andros bellowed in reply. His anger finally let loose and sanity drowned amongst the chorus of a thousand other voices. He pulled the cheap stubber pistol that he carried from his holster and fired into the air. The tide of the crowd surged forwards, carrying him towards the upper levels of the hive and the bloody vengeance that sang through his veins.
Elam ran. He felt piss running down his legs, but he didn’t stop. He didn’t look back.
He ran from the screams of the dying, the crack of guns and the howls of monsters. Monsters that he had been sent to fight. Rounded up and given a lasgun, he, like thousands of others, had been sent to the lower levels as the hive descended into madness. But that lasgun was gone now. Gone like his courage. Like his spirit — broken nearly 20 years before when he had abandoned his son. When he had come home and broken down at the sight of his beloved Roza’s lifeless corpse.
He tripped. Blood filled his mouth and mixed with his tears. Footsteps echoed close behind and he looked back.
A man stood above him. A pistol in one hand and a bloody piece of piping in the other. It smiled, revealing row upon row of pointed fangs. A sinuous, snake-like tongue slithered across them. Mutant, thought Elam. One of the monsters he was supposed to be fighting.
The mutant raised its piping above its head, ready to strike. Elam’s eyes locked on to the amulet that hung from its neck. Despite its desecration, he would know it anywhere. Even as the pipe fell, he reached inside his shirt and wrapped a hand around its twin.
About the Author
J. S. Savage is a teacher in the UK and has been an avid of all things 40k and Warhammer Fantasy since he accidently found his way into a Games Workshop store as a young boy. When he was younger, he was a keen writer but has only just started up again recently. Between work and being a parent, he doesn’t get nearly enough time to paint, read and write as much as he would like – or as much sleep as he needs!