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Scorched Juice Thief

Scorched Juice Thief

Legends tell of the Terran gods of old who cast lightning unto Earth to hunt humankind for punishment, yet a traitor demigod captured some bolts and gifted ancient man with the knowledge of how to harness that sparkling power to pull his burdens and light the darkness, and ever since that fabled day have electricity coursed through cables crafted by human hands. Most legends also tell of the renegade demigod's horrendous penalty, usually involving an eternity of being shocked through sensitive body parts, nigh unto death in everlasting fits of cramp and agony, for the gods of old are said to have been jealous of their power, and knew boundless hate for anyone wishing to steal their lightning from on high.

Thus it was that the folklore of disparate human savages during the Unification Wars and the Great Crusade made many tribes recognize the lightning bolts of the variant Imperial Aquila as indicator of the Emperor's god-ordained status as humanity's chosen subjugator, arbitrator and saviour. For truly did the Imperium carry awe-inspiring forces at its disposal, and indeed did its star-sailing arks cast lightning unto anyone who crossed the nascent Imperium of Man. Such raw power and exalted, lethal might could not be denied by anyone but the most foolhardy.

To this day, many scattered human colonies who have survived in regressed isolation and squalor since the Age of Strife, react to the arrival of Imperial missionaries, explorators and invasion forces with the same awe-struck reverence. The Imperium may not be a good force of philantropic morals to adore, but to most men and women it nevertheless stands as a fearsome edifice of bristling strength and power to which they must submit for the good of all. Indeed the Imperial symbols of the soaring but cruel predatory eagle and the the treasured but deadly lightning bolt represent the essential character of the Emperor's domains since the Imperium's very inception.

Innumerable human cultures across the Milky Way Galaxy retain some sense of the God-Emperor's connection to lightning in the heavens and electrical power alike, usually held to be a material grant from the benevolent Imperator in His guise as the Omnissiah to unworthy humanity. Thus accidental deaths from electrocution will often be taken as proof of His Divine Majesty's disapproving judgement on wayward sinners.

Human civilizations have been dependant on the forces of harnessed lightning since the early Age of Terra. Indeed electricity is as essential for higher technological cultures to persist as air to breathe is. On a million worlds and uncounted spacebound habitats, the works of superstitious man run on captive power, and without it he would be nothing but a dirt-bound barbarian left to the mercy of the night.

Many known STC systems involving the most advanced levels of electronics and electricity are too complex and refined to manufacture and maintain for the populations of most planets and voidholms to experience in everyday life. Instead, utilitarian Imperial society is often stuck with more primitive and robust means of power, preserved among the simpler systems left over from the scattered heritage of the Dark Age of Technology. More advanced electrical hardware of new production is usually only seen in the hands of higher Imperial Adepta, rich noble Houses and a low number of tech-clans with an exceptionally well-preserved grasp of some tech (e.g. Van Saar in Hive Primus on Necromunda), as well as in the hoarding Adeptus Mechanicus.

Safety is usually a minor concern among electricians and Guilds in the Imperium. By far more important is the safeguarding of one's powerlines from competitors and parasitical scum who would wish to feed off your juice. Electricity theft is a rampant problem all across the more civilized worlds of the Imperium, with an ever-renewing horde of crims and scummers willing to risk their lowly lives by hooking into your grid and harvest your bitterly begotten electricity. Such juice thieves will climb and crawl and cut to get to the sweet voltage inside cables and conduits and power stations, and they live only a knife's edge away from a scorched death at the hands of the lethal current they so lust after. Sin is indeed often its own reward, as innumerable scorched corpses attest to.

Juice thieves usually only leach off minor power lines, along which Guild personnel, hired gangers and armed techmen regularly patrol to unhook thief lines, pick down burnt power poachers and shoot any leachers on sight. Yet a few daring souls will attempt to tap their illegal lines into the massive juice trunks which feed major hive industries and Guilds directly from the geothermal heat sink at the heart of the hive. This is an exceedingly dangerous endeavour, since mere proximity to a loaded power trunk is enough to kill in an instant, yet even so a few daredevils manage to pull the stunt off. Such treasured leach lines will often feed power into entire settlements and sections in the Underhive, warming and lighting uncounted filthy inbreds down in the nightmarish city depths at the expense of honest Emperor-fearing people uphive.

One such juice thief was Sinden Kass from the Underhive quake hole settlement of Junktion in Hive Primus of Necromunda. Junktion once led a prosperous existence as a dirty boomtown, taking hefty fees to winch travellers and their wares high up into the lower hive, cutting down travelling times for Underhive expeditions by a great deal for anyone willing to pay up. The magpie known as Sinden Kass was a lamplighter of Junktion, a thief who dared to plug into a massive power trunk which fed the Mercantile Guild counting-houses in the Orlock quarter.

As a result, all the lights in these Guild chambers started to flicker, which irritated Master Vlitz Thaki, Mercantile Guild Senior Deputy Comptroller of Satrapies for the 81st Subdivision of the Hive City of our all-providing Hive Primus. The workhouses around Master Thaki's counting-houses shone bright enough without such flicker, since they took its electricity from separate lines. Master Thaki gave a brief order to his artificers and techmen to "do something about that, see to it." These techmen first cross-fed some electrical power to stop the lamps flickering, then they backtracked their lines found some Underhiver's bodged cable-tap.

In response, the adjutant of Master Thaki told one of his captains to retaliate against the filthy scum down there. The captain sent out one of his own subordinates, who took some well-equipped Guild armsmen and rappelled down the Well into Junktion. Their quick and furious raid saw dozens killed indiscriminately. Punitive explosives were planted to sabotage the local water supply (leading to bloody thirst riots and gang war), and then the boomtown fathers were publicly executed in the square of the little settlement. The only small report that made it up the chain of command through the adjutant to Vlitz Thaki, was one of the power line having been fixed without even bothering to mention the raid, and Master Thaki was happy to see his lights working as they should again.

Thus one lamplighter's juice theft fuelled an inbred boomtown in the Underhive, until the righteous armoured fist of uphive forces crushed the bastards, and restored good lights to the Mercantile Guild. Such events are numerous beyond counting in the hive cities and voidholms of the Imperium, and simply part of the violent routine of drudgery which constitutes life for a majority of Imperial subjects across the galaxy.

Thus the ancient legends of lightning theft and vicious punishment play out again and again in the everyday life of our species in the grim darkness of the far future.

Cower in fear of the lightning, and soothe the machine-spirit's wrath. Far has humanity fallen. And far into hell has it gone.

- - -

Tribute to Matthew Farrer's excellently immersive grimdark Underhive novel Junktion, whose main protagonist is an electricity thief and lamplighter.
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warhammer2546's avatar

I'd say it's worth it. Have you seen the power bills?

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