An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Daniel Summerbell
Reading Time: 31 minutes
‘Going live in 10, 9…’
Blinking in the floodlights, Katya stole a look at the figure beside her. Eduard Domaris. She still couldn’t quite believe it. He caught her staring at him and winked. Katya blushed and looked down, pretending to examine the sheaf of papers in front of her. She re-read the note she had pinned to the front page.
‘Courage, darling. You can do this, for us. Love, Pyotr.’
‘…3, 2, 1, on air!’
‘Good evening,’ Domaris began, ‘and welcome to Vox Populi. It is 2200 hours local time, local date 465, Imperial date 3301265.M41 The Vox News tonight is brought to you by Katya Tsalparov.’
Amidst the white glare shining on Katya a single light flashed green. For one long, heart-stopping moment, her tongue seemed to catch in her teeth. She took a breath, slow and deliberate, and began to read the words scrolling across the screen in front of her.
‘Our main story for 465: Aedile Sacha Mendiar announces an incentive scheme to tackle rising absenteeism on the production lines. The Aedile expressed confidence that decisive action now will avert a crisis. More details later on this programme.
‘465 Business news: Markets continued to surge, in response to strong demand from civilian and military fleet building sectors.
‘Fleet traffic has been heavy, and tailbacks at the Mandeville point approach have caused some operators to cancel low-value launches.
‘465 Society section reports from Hive Zayin, where a host of celebrities, local dignitaries and house nobility have gathered to celebrate the birthday of Zinovia Vyla. We bring you exclusive footage of the celebration, and an interview with the actress herself.
‘In other news, a Grox has been spared the slaughterhouse at Hive Dalet after workers noticed its markings resembled the holy sign of the Aquila. The animal has been adopted as a mascot by the Fourth Malatian Regiment.’
‘Those are your headlines at 2202, 465. Back to you, Eduard.’
The green light winked out. Eduard was already talking to the camera, smiling engagingly. He did not look back at Katya. A technician beckoned to her from the doorway and she slipped silently from the studio.
‘How did I do?’ she asked the technician. He shrugged noncommittally.
She took a seat in the green room. After a while, a man in a dark suit entered.
‘Miss Tsalparov? I am Historitor Pisets. I believe you are on trial with us?’
Katya nodded, too nervous for words.
‘Your performance this evening was adequate. Return tomorrow at the same time to continue the trial. Good night.’
With a sense of anti-climax, Katya found herself on the walkway in front of Vox House. The air here was stale, less well filtered than the cool stillness of the studio.
A short walk brought her to the nearest ’tube station. Katya winced as the barrier sounded the ‘low balance’ alarm. As if she needed reminding. The platform was almost deserted, the only other rider in her capsule a tired-looking man in uniform.
It was not long before she was stepping out of the station nearest her hab. A wave of heat rose to meet her. It brought with it the scent of cooking and unwashed bodies. She waited a few minutes while her eyes adjusted to the low light. Then she set off for her block, walking briskly. She tried not to look directly at the figures lying in the doorways, crouching in makeshift shelters or fanning themselves with scraps of cardboard.
As soon as the door of her hab had locked behind her, Katya flopped down facing the wallscreen. She fumbled for the remote amongst the cushions of her chair and hit the redial button.
Her call was answered almost at once. A young man, wearing the uniform of the Malatian Guards, grinned boyishly at her from the screen.
‘Pyotr darling, did you see me?’
‘Angel, you were marvellous,’ Pyotr replied. You were so collected, so calm.’
‘I didn’t feel calm. I was scared witless,’ said Katya.
‘It didn’t show at all,’ he reassured her. ‘You did so well. Do you think they’ll keep you on?’
‘They’ve told me to come back tomorrow. That was all they said.’
‘Well that’s marvellous,’ said Pyotr. ‘The auditions were the hard bit, anyway. They’re hardly going to ditch you now you’ve been on air, not unless something goes really wrong.’
Katya shuddered. ‘Don’t say that. I couldn’t bear it.’
Pyotr nodded sympathetically. ‘How long before they pay you?’
‘Trial period is six broadcasts,’ replied Katya. ‘Pay at the end of the month.’
‘We can wait,’ said Pyotr. ‘And it will be worth waiting for. Just think, a place of our own, and in the Upper Hive to boot. I hate the thought of you living in that neighbourhood on your own. Would you like to watch the broadcast again together? It’s on the Archive already.’
‘Oh no,’ Katya said hurriedly. ‘I hate hearing my own voice. Besides, it’s late, and I’m on early again tomorrow.’
‘Of course,’ said Pyotr. ‘Let’s drink to the first day of your new job.’
He brought out a bottle of Rahzvod and splashed a generous serving into a glass. Katya brought out her own bottle and poured a thimbleful for herself.
‘Ura!’ Pyotr tossed back the spirit. Katya swallowed her own. The raw alcohol made her cough.
‘Goodnight, my love,’ she spluttered.
‘Goodnight,’ said Pyotr with a smile, and closed the connection.
Katya flopped into the narrow bed. After a brief struggle with the oppressive heat, exhaustion won. She slept.
The sound of her alarm wrenched Katya from her bed. She pulled on grey overalls and boiled up a cup of recaff. Within twenty minutes, she was retracing her steps to the ’tube station. This deep in the hive, the cycles of day and night had little meaning. Hands still stretched out from the darkness, begging. Katya kept carefully to the centre of the walkways.
The ’tube capsule ascended into the mid-levels of the Hive. It was crowded, with barely room to stand, let alone sit. It spat her out into a teeming throng of others heading for the early shift. The queue at the factory gates was already long.
Once inside, Katya punched her pass into the timeclock and sat down at her workstation. The conveyor belt running through the soundproof booth whirred into life, bringing a component for testing.
Katya plugged the device into her rig and pulled up the familiar checklist on the screen. She began to read out loud.
‘Commence startup sequence.’
She waited for the green light. Then she went on.
‘Commence door seals check.’
‘Commence hull integrity check.’
‘Commence engine startup.’
The list ran on, and on. The work was dull, but at least it required a human being to do it. Katya liked to pass the time by imagining she was at the controls of her own craft, preparing for takeoff. Rumour had it that Eduard Domaris had his own private spacecraft. Perhaps one day…
A red light jerked her from her reverie. She tried the phrase once more.
‘Check defensive systems’
The light flashed red again. Katya grimaced. Faulty units counted against her score, but she had no choice but to reject this one. She sent the unit for reconditioning. Another appeared in its place. She began again.
‘Commence startup sequence.’
‘Commence door seals check.’
This unit passed its checks. Katya sent it through to the next cubicle. There, another colleague, with a different accent and intonation, would run through the same checklist. Once it had successfully recognised a thousand different voices, the device would be passed fit for service in the Imperial Fleet.
Despite the failed unit, Katya had completed three checklists by the time the lunch buzzer sounded. She left her booth, following the stream of employees down to the canteen.
Nobody spoke to Katya as she swiped her pass and spooned stew and fried vegetables onto her plate. As she sat down, however, a colleague hurried out of the queue and took the seat next to her.
‘I saw you on Vox Populi last night,’ she gushed. ‘You were brilliant, looked so at home alongside Eduard Domaris. You’re already a star!’
‘Thanks Judith,’ managed Katya, ‘but there’s a long way to go yet. They could fire me at any moment.’
Judith laughed. ‘That’s true for any of us. But this is your big break. We’re all rooting for you.’
‘Not all of us.’ The voice came from behind Katya. A skinny woman in overalls was standing there. Katya didn’t recognise her. ‘Why are you still here, if you’re so high and mighty?’
Katya looked down at her half-finished plate of stew. ‘Just trying to make a living,’ she said, quietly.
‘You’re blocking others from making their living’ the woman insisted. ‘My sister has been on the waiting list for months. Get out, and take your lapdog with you.’
Judith leapt angrily to her feet, catching the lip of Katya’s tray. It clattered to the floor, taking Katya’s meal with it.
‘What the blazes is going on here?’ A supervisor was elbowing his way through the crowded canteen, his yellow overalls conspicuous among the grey.
Judith froze, stew spattered across her overalls and guilt written on her face.
‘Right, you,’ snapped the supervisor. ‘Out.’
The other woman had melted into the crowd. Judith caught Katya’s eye in mute appeal. Katya looked away.
‘Come on.’ The supervisor grabbed Judith’s arm and dragged her out of the canteen. Katya spent the rest of her break clearing up the mess.
That afternoon, Katya did her best to concentrate, but had completed only two more checklists when the buzzer sounded once more.
The ’tube ride home was as hot and crowded as the way out had been. Once home, Katya divested herself of her overalls, and wetted her face and hair in the washbasin. Then she slipped on a second set of overalls, cleaner and better pressed than her work gear. She recalled the disdainful expression the Vox News stylist had worn at auditions.
‘We want you to look like a factory worker, girls,’ the woman had said with a sneer. ‘But there is no need to smell like one.’
Katya spent a half an hour applying a little of her jealously hoarded makeup, using the wallscreen as a mirror. She tied her hair back into a regulation bun and tidied away a few loose strands. Then she headed for the studio.
She arrived a good twenty minutes early. The security guard examined her temporary pass and let her into the green room.
She was surprised to see Historitor Pisets walk in, only a few minutes later. Her pulse quickened. Was she no longer needed?
‘Miss Tsalparov?’ Pisets’s voice was dry. ‘I am glad you are here promptly. I am afraid that you made a mistake during the broadcast yesterday. We need you to re-record it.’
Katya swallowed. ‘I’m so sorry…’ she began. The Historitor waved her into silence.
‘The last item concerned an animal adopted as a regimental mascot,’ he continued. ‘You stated that the animal had been discovered in Hive Dalet. This was incorrect. The animal was in fact discovered in Hive Gimel. You need only re-record that part of the broadcast.’
Katya’s curiosity got the better of her. ‘That was yesterday’s news,’ she said. ‘Why does it matter?’
Pisets stared at her for several seconds. ‘The Archive must be correct,’ he said at last.
Katya allowed herself to be led into the studio. The camera crew and various technicians were already waiting for her, and she flushed with embarrassment. The floodlights flicked on, the green light blinked, and words appeared on her prompt. Katya began to read.
‘In other news, a Grox has been spared the slaughterhouse at Hive Gimel after workers noticed its markings resembled the holy sign of the Aquila. The animal has been adopted as a mascot by the Fourteenth Malatian Regiment.’
‘Those are your headlines at 2202, 465. Back to you, Eduard.’
The green light went out. The floodlights died. Pisets appeared in the doorway.
‘That will suffice,’ he said. ‘You may as well wait in position for the live broadcast to begin.’
By 2145 hours, Katya’s bladder felt ready to burst. Still, when Eduard Domaris strode in, nodding first at the camera crews, then at her, she thrilled at being his colleague. The crews ran through their checks, the floodlights lit up once more, and Domaris introduced the headlines.
Katya’s cue light came on. She began to read:
‘Our main story for 466: Aedile Mendiar has resigned after attending a private celebration in Hive Zayin. The Aedile denies any impropriety, but has referred himself to the Ordo Administratum for a full investigation.’
‘466 Business news: Markets have slowed, following reports of interruptions to freight links across the sector.
‘Civilian fleet traffic has also been down, resulting in launch windows being available for auction for the first time in several months. Delays minimal, and traffic flow generally good.
‘466 Society brings you live coverage of the buildup to tomorrow’s Scrumball Final between the Zayin Zuzim and the Alef Ants. We have exclusive interviews with both coaches.
‘In other news, Quaestor Anya Tsadamar has sent personal thanks to eight-year-old Misha Nadenka, who contributed his family’s entire stock of cooking utensils to the Hive Alef Salvage Drive.
‘Those are your headlines at 2202, 466. Back to you, Eduard.’
Katya crept from the studio as the floodlights died once more. She waited in the green room with a sick feeling in her stomach.
Pisets came in. ‘That was adequate,’ he said to her. ‘You may go. Return at the same time tomorrow.’
‘You… you’re keeping me on?’ Katya managed. ‘Despite my mistake?’
‘We will continue your trial tomorrow,’ the Historitor replied.
Katya made her way back through the ’tube system in something of a daze. She called Pyotr as soon as she got home. He appeared on the screen with a smile on his face and a glass in his hand.
‘Another great night darling. You were simply marvellous,’ he began.
Katya cut him off. ‘Oh Pyotr, I nearly messed up the whole thing. Last night – I said Hive Dalet when I meant to say Hive Gimel. They noticed and made me re-record it.’
Pyotr’s smile vanished. ‘Did they fire you?’
‘No, no,’ Katya reassured him. ‘But I’m on my last warning.’
‘Well,’ Pyotr said cautiously, ‘you must have impressed them otherwise. How was the factory?’
Katya shut her eyes. ‘People don’t realise that even if I keep the Vox job, it won’t pay me enough to quit the production line. Some horrible woman tried to start a fight, and poor Judith took the bait. She got sacked.’
‘Better her than you,’ said Pyotr. ‘Keep both jobs and we’ll have enough to get us out of the Lower Hive. We’ll have each other. That’s all that matters.’
Katya’s face finally broke into a smile of her own. ‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘That’s all that matters.’
‘Let’s drink to your success then,’ said Pyotr, topping up his own glass.
‘Not tonight, darling. I’m not in the mood to celebrate.’
‘Then I’ll toast you for both of us,’ Pyotr insisted. ‘Ura!’
Katya’s smile faded slightly. ‘Goodnight my love. Sleep well.’
‘Good night darling. And good luck tomorrow,’ said Pyotr. He closed the call.
Katya slept fitfully, and in the end rose half an hour earlier than normal. Her passage to the ’tube station was eerily quiet. All the cardboard boxes and makeshift shelters had disappeared. So too had their occupants. A few security enforcers, their faces hidden behind respirators, were hanging around the station.
She was through security and outside her workstation with 45 minutes to spare. She considered going to the canteen for an extra dose of recaff, but it meant spending some of her lunch money. The morning shift passed smoothly, and she had completed four checklists by lunchtime.
Katya kept her head down at lunch and managed to avoid speaking to anyone. She tested another three units in the afternoon and left the factory with a feeling of relief.
Outside the gate, she ran into Judith.
‘Katya, you’ve got to help me.’ The woman was frantic. ‘My rent is due, but the factory cancelled my backpay. They’re going to throw me out.’
Katya shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, Judith. I’ve not been paid yet either.’
‘Please Katya.’ There were tears in her friend’s eyes.
Katya dug her pocket. ‘Five creds is all I have.’ She pulled her arm from Judith’s grip. ‘If I hear of any work going, I’ll tell you, I promise. Now I must go, I’ll be late.’
It was only when she tried entering ’tube station that she remembered that she had set aside those creds to recharge her pass. There was no way she could get back to her hab on foot and still be at Vox House on time. However, from here it was a direct ascent to the broadcasting complex. She would be tired and sweaty by the time she arrived, but at least she would make it. She located the doorway to the nearest staircase and began to climb.
Katya had always avoided the staircases whenever she could. They were usually packed with homeless, and badly lit. This time, however, the landings were clear. The only other people she met were two masked enforcers coming down the other way. They examined her pass and waved her on without a word.
Katya arrived at Vox House late, dishevelled and drenched in sweat. To her horror, Pisets was waiting for her inside the door. He looked her up and down with barely concealed contempt.
‘Go and get cleaned up,’ he said. ‘Then go to makeup, and once you have, head to the studio immediately. You have more corrections to do.’
Feeling like her heart had shrivelled up within her, Katya let herself be directed to the changing room. The room had showers, and warm water, but she had no time to enjoy them. She washed as quickly as she could, dabbed ineffectually at the stains on her work overalls, and pulled them back over her damp skin. A corridor led to the makeup studio.
The process was swift and efficient, but Katya, used to using a minimum amount of makeup to maximum effect, left the studio feeling like the foundation had been applied with a trowel. Her hair was a solid mass of hairspray. She forgot all about it, however, when she saw Pisets’s expression.
‘Hurry up,’ he said. ‘We found two more mistakes in your first broadcast.’ Katya was hurried into the studio. The floodlights were already burning and the telescreen lit. Katya began to read.
‘Our main story for 465: Quaestor Anya Tsadamar announces an incentive scheme to tackle rising absenteeism on the production lines. More details later on this programme.
‘465 Business news: Markets responded cautiously, in response to mixed demand from civilian and military fleetbuilding sectors.
‘Amid rumours of a potential grounding of the civilian fleet, traffic has been heavy. Tailbacks at the Mandeville point approach have caused some operators to cancel low-value launches.
Katya watched the screen go blank. The cue light went out, but the floodlights kept burning, making her sweat under her thick makeup.
‘That takes care of Broadcast 465,’ said Pisets, barely visible behind the glare. ‘However, there was an error in the following day’s broadcast as well. It will suffice to re-record the business section. Stand by.’
Katya’s cue light flashed green once more. Once more she began to read aloud.
‘466 Business news: Markets have stuttered, following reports of interruptions to freight links across the sector.
‘Civilian fleet traffic has also been down, ahead of a two day moratorium on civil launches ahead of a planned fleet exercise. Delays minimal, and traffic flow generally good.’
The floodlights died. Pisets was gone. Katya stayed in her seat. She did not have long to wait before the crews reappeared, followed by Eduard Domaris. He nodded at the crews, and turned to Katya.
‘Hello Katya,’ he said. ‘Good to see you.’
‘How…’ Katya bit down on the question. Her name was in his script. ‘Hello Mr Domaris,’ she managed.
‘Eduard, please,’ said the anchorman. He turned to the camera.
‘…brought to you by Katya Tsalparov.’
Still a little starstruck, Katya almost missed her cue. She began:
‘Our main story for 467: Anya Tsadamar has been appointed Aedile with immediate effect. Credited with tackling absenteeism across the region, Aedile Tsadamar will be a steady hand on the tiller in uncertain times.
‘467 Business news: All civilian and merchant flights have been halted for two days ahead of a planned fleet exercise.
‘The price of promethium has crashed, as the moratorium on civilian launches has led to storage facilities exceeding capacity. The Imperial Navy is expected to send a fleet tanker in due course to help ease the crisis.
‘467 Society reports that the Officio Medicae has issued an edict proscribing mass gatherings, amid speculation of an outbreak of Mortlock’s Disease. As a result, the Scrumball final has been postponed. We bring you reactions from players and coaches.
‘In other news, a Veteran of the First Malatian Regiment has delivered a remarkable boost to recruitment. Captain Tomek Prichalit had promised to ascend the staircase nearest his hab every time a member of his old school enlisted in the Astra Militarium. The story seems to have struck a chord with the populace of Hive Zayim, with enlistment up 175,000 on this time last year.
‘Those are your headlines at 2202, 467. Back to you, Eduard.’
Pisets was waiting for Katya in the green room after the broadcast. ‘I shall come straight to the point,’ he said. ‘Why were you late for broadcast this evening?’
Katya stared at the floor. ‘My ’tube pass expired,’ she said, ‘I didn’t have the creds to recharge it, so I had to come straight from the factory on foot.’
‘I see,’ replied Pisets. ‘Sign here.’
‘What is it?’ asked Katya, with a sinking feeling.
‘An advance of twenty credits on your first month’s salary. If your employment is discontinued before that salary is paid, you will of course repay the advance in full. I trust that is understood?’
‘Y…yes’ stammered Katya. ‘Thank you.’
Pisets handed her the chit with a blank look. ‘You will arrive an hour early tomorrow,’ he said.
The journey back to her hab was even quieter than usual. Both the streets and the ’tube were deserted. She called Pyotr as soon as she got in.
‘Darling,’ she said, as soon as he appeared on the screen. ‘You would not believe the awful day I have had.’
Pyotr laughed. ‘Well you look fantastic for it.’
Katya was baffled. ‘What the hells do you mean?’
‘Your hair. Your face. You look great!’
Katya’s hand flew to her cheek. Only when it met the thick, unfamiliar coating did she remember the makeup. ‘Oh,’ she said, a little coldly. ‘Yes, they put me in makeup for the studio. But wait until I tell you why.’
She outlined the events of the day.
‘Well,’ said Pyotr when she had finished, ‘if they’re paying you an advance, they must like you.’
‘It’s only a loan,’ said Katya, doubtfully, ‘so if they fire me, I’m in even worse trouble.’
‘Money is money,’ shrugged Pyotr. At least you won’t have to walk to work this week. You’ve done three great broadcasts in a row.’
‘Oh,’ Katya recalled, ‘they made me re-record the last two broadcasts. At the time I was too flustered to think, but now I’m not sure it was my fault at all. I think they’re trying to change the stories after broadcast.’
Pyotr frowned. ‘Let’s not talk about that. You’re halfway through your trial. We should celebrate!’
Katya sighed. ‘Darling, I’m shattered after climbing all those stairs. I think I’ll go to bed.’
Pyotr waggled a bottle at her. ‘Drink first, then sleep.’
Katya reluctantly reached under the sink for her own bottle.
‘Ura!’ Pyotr cried, and sank his glass.
‘Ura,’ echoed Katya. ‘Goodnight, my love.’
Katya stood crammed into a corner of the ’tube, rubbing at a cramp in her leg. Her face was raw from where she had scrubbed the makeup off. She was relieved to see the board indicating her stop.
Emerging from the station, her heart leapt into her mouth. She had never seen such a crowd at the factory gate. More bodies were flooding out of the station behind her. There was no way she would get in for the start of her shift.
‘What’s going on?’ Katya asked a tall man ahead of her. ‘Can you see?’
He shrugged. ‘Gates are closed.’
‘Someone said the factory is shut,’ volunteered a woman a few rows ahead.
The impasse was broken by a squad of enforcers, armed with megaphones and shock-mauls.
‘THE FACTORY IS CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE,’ squawked the speakers. ‘RETURN TO YOUR HABITATIONS AND AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.’
The troopers herded the crowd towards another ’tube station. It took Katya two changes of line and a lengthy walk between stations before she finally arrived back at her hab.
She lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling. Without her income from the factory, she was completely dependent on her work at Vox House. She resolved to arrive even earlier than Pisets had directed.
On the way to the ’tube station, she encountered two more enforcers, batons in hand, faces inscrutable behind respirators.
One of them held out a hand. ‘Halt. Return to your hab. Await further instructions.’
With a courage born of desperation, Katya faced them down.
‘I have to go to Vox House,’ she said steadily. ‘If you want to stop me, take it up with Historitor Pisets.’
One of the troopers spoke into his vox-unit. After a short delay, he waved her on.
At the studio, Katya was sent to makeup once more. She had arranged her features and hair after her own style, which she thought suited her better than the thick layers of the previous night. The stylist disagreed, and once again Katya found herself wearing more makeup than she usually purchased in a year. The dispute over her hair resulted in a compromise that satisfied neither of them.
Pisets was waiting for her in the green room. ‘I must issue you with a final warning,’ he said without preamble. ‘It has come to my attention that you query the need to correct broadcasting errors. Continuing to do so is grounds for immediate termination. Is that clear?’
Katya nodded, dumbfounded.
‘Good,’ said Pisets. ‘You have several corrections to make. Go to the studio without delay.’
Katya paid close attention to every word that scrolled past on her screen. Aloud, she read:
‘In other news, a Grox has been spared the slaughterhouse at Hive Zayim, after workers noticed its markings resembled the holy sign of the Aquila. The animal has been adopted as a mascot by the Forty-Third Malatian Regiment.
‘Those are your headlines at 2202, 465. Back to you, Eduard.’
‘Adequate,’ said Pisets, behind the camera. ‘Stand by for next recording.’
‘Wait,’ said Katya. ‘I want to ask something.’
Pisets held up a hand. ‘Well?’ he asked.
‘I know I made a mistake the first time, when I said the Grox was found in Hive Dalet. But I was so careful to get it right the second time. I don’t want to lose my job because someone thinks the mistakes are my fault.’
Pisets was silent for a moment. ‘Miss Tsalparov,’ he said at last. ‘The location to which you have just referred does not exist. Do not refer to it again.’
Katya was bewildered. ‘But…’
Pisets cut her off. ‘Enough. I gave you a warning earlier. I shall not repeat it. Stand by for recording.’
Katya’s gaze fell on the papers scattered across her desk. Pyotr’s note was still among them. She swallowed, looked back up at the screen, and read:
‘Our main story for 466: Quaestor Anya Tsadamar has given advance warning that Hive Alef will enter a four-day public health lockdown later this week. Factories and training centres will close, and citizens will be required to remain in their habitations until further notice.’
‘Adequate.’ Pisets’s voice came from behind the floodlights. ‘Stand by for next recording.’
Katya’s cue flashed again.
‘467 Business news: All civilian and merchant flights have been halted for four days ahead of a planned fleet exercise.
‘Newly appointed Aedile Anya Tsadamar has spoken out against stockpiling essentials in advance of the planned shutdown of Hive Alef at 0600 tomorrow. She assured citizens that there were abundant supplies for the entire Hive, but that anybody purchasing more than the minimum would face punishment. Security services have requested a temporary ban on the sale of alcohol and other narcotics.’
The floodlights died, leaving bright spots in front of Katya’s eyes. They had barely faded by the time Eduard Domaris strode into the room, greeting the technicians and camera crews. He flashed a charming smile at Katya.
‘Good evening, and welcome to Vox Populi. It is 2200 hours local time, local date 468, Imperial date 3301274.M41. The Vox News tonight is brought to you by Katya Tsalparov.’
‘Our main story for 468: A Hive-wide lockdown began at 0600 this morning, in response to the public health crisis. Factories and training centres shut down as planned and compliance has been excellent. We bring you amazing footage of the empty halls and forums of once-bustling Hive Alef.
‘468 Business: Early reports of food shortages soon dissipated as supply chains accelerated deliveries to remote areas of the Hive. Seventeen executions for hoarding and four for the illegal sale of alcohol were reported by security services.
‘Citizens on the upper levels have experienced an unaccustomed silence as all launches, from terrestrial to extra-orbital, have been cancelled. Keen skywatchers will be rewarded with a spectacular display as the live-fire fleet exercise commences at 1800 tomorrow. It is expected to last an hour.
‘468 Society brings you reporting from the live Vox-Party, hosted by actress Zinovia Vyla from the safety of her luxurious Hive Zayin habitation. Citizens are invited to join the link from 2300, as Ms Vyla does her bit to maintain the morale of citizens confined to quarters.
‘In other news, an off-duty Malatian Guards fitness instructor has proved a surprise Vox-hit. Millions have tuned in to watch Instructor-Sgt Fitil. Youngsters who send in footage of themselves completing his routine will be fast-tracked into the Astra Militarium pre-registration service.
‘Those are your headlines at 2202, 468. Back to you, Eduard.’
Katya rode the ’tube home in thoughtful silence. She turned over and over the Press pass she had been handed, without ceremony, as she left Vox House. Only a few days ago – it felt like months – she had dreamed of owning such a pass. She waved it at the enforcer guarding the station entrance, and he stood aside without a word.
She slumped into the chair in her hab and called Pyotr, but the call rang and rang without answer. Eventually she gave up and dug the bottle of Rahzvod out from under the sink. She poured herself a glass, replaced the bottle in its cupboard, and climbed into bed.
Katya woke with a tongue like sandpaper and a pounding headache. The hab was uncomfortably warm, but she couldn’t afford to run the cooling unit. Unable to shift the nagging feeling of being late for work, she found it hard to sit still. The entertainment possibilities of the wallscreen were soon exhausted. Pyotr still wasn’t answering her calls.
She was lying once more on the bed when the screen flashed, indicating an incoming call. A man’s face appeared when she answered.
‘Miss Tsalparov.’ It was Pisets. ‘There is a problem. Come to the studio at once.’ He rang off, without waiting for a reply.
Katya dressed in a hurry.
Pisets was waiting for her in the lobby, with a face like thunder.
‘Go to makeup. Do not argue. Do not interfere with the instructions I have given them. Come to the studio as soon as you are presentable.’
The stylist glowered as she yanked Katya’s hair into a bun and fossilised it with a full can of hairspray. Makeup was applied once more in thick layers. Wondering what on earth she had done to offend the woman, Katya stumbled out of the chair and headed for the studio.
The floodlights were already on as Katya sat down behind the presenter’s desk.
‘Miss Tsalparov,’ Pisets began. ‘It is not your place to interfere with the professionals who ensure you present a consistent appearance. Your doing so has precluded the successful correction of your broadcasts. You will therefore re-record all your broadcasts to date. Any future alterations to your appearance from its current state will be treated as an act of deliberate sabotage. Is that quite clear?’
Katya nodded dumbly. Her throat was dry.
‘Very well,’ said Pisets. ‘Stand by for recording.’
Katya read the broadcasts in a daze, the words leaping from the screen to her lips without the intervention of her brain. Occasionally a phrase would stick in her mind.
‘…Quaestor Anya Tsadamar appealed to citizens to minimise consumption of essentials, ahead of projected interruptions… ‘
‘… a host of celebrities, local dignitaries and house nobility have gathered to receive blessings from Pontifex Chennik….’
‘…Quaestor Anya Tsadamar has given advance warning that Hive Alef will enter a ten-day lockdown…’
‘…eight-year-old Misha Nadenka, who reported his own father for stockpiling essentials…’
‘…All civilian and merchant flights have been halted for fifteen days…’
‘… Aedile Tsadamar warned that continued hoarding would lead to shortages across the Hive…’
‘…the long-awaited digital clash will pit simulacrums of the Alef Ants…’
‘… factories, training centres and supply depots shut down as planned…’
‘…food shortages caused by illegal stockpiling were partly mitigated…’
‘…seventy executions for hoarding…’
‘….four day fleet exercise…’
‘…Volunteers who send in footage of their routine will be fast-tracked into Astra Militarium service…’
The floodlights died. Pisets’s face was expressionless.
‘That will do,’ he said. ‘We will see you back here in twenty minutes for broadcast.’
Katya stared at the wall of the green room, trying to piece together the threads of the altered broadcasts. By the time she returned to the studio, Eduard Domaris was already at his desk. He looked grave. Katya sat down, and the countdown began.
Katya took her cue.
‘Our main story for 469: A total curfew is in place across Hive Alef. Citizens are instructed to stay in their habitations for their own safety. Essential workers must ensure their travel permits are visible at all times, for their own safety.
‘Food rations will be delivered direct to habitations. Temporary disruptions to the supply chain may delay deliveries. Attempting to purchase supplies outside of your habitation will be considered black-market activity and treated accordingly.
‘Citizens living on surface levels of the hive are required to shelter away from external walls, until further notice. If this is not possible, request evacuation by contacting local security services. Do not attempt to self-evacuate.
‘At 0800, 1300 and 1900 each day, Pontifex Chennik will be conducting live Ecclesiastical services via Vox Link. Attendance is compulsory.
‘Praise the Emperor, and He shall protect you. May He be with you and your families, and light your way through this crisis.’
The floodlights died. Katya, blinking, made her way into the green room. Pisets was waiting for her.
‘What in the name of the Holy Emperor is going on?’ Katya demanded.
‘The situation is fluid,’ replied Pisets. ‘It is not safe for you to return to your habitation this evening. One of the staff will direct you to temporary accommodation within the complex. Tomorrow I shall endeavour to demonstrate to you both the nature and the importance of your duties.’
The accommodation Katya found herself in was rather larger than her hab, and she was pleasantly surprised to discover a drinks cabinet. After a lengthy shower, she poured herself a drink and tried to call Pyotr, without success. Eventually she gave up and lay back on the bed. Darkness overtook her.
Katya woke late, disorientated by her unfamiliar surroundings. Nobody called her. With nothing else to do, she browsed the Archive, trying to spot where old stories had been changed. Eventually she took another shower, for the novelty of it. She was still in a state of undress when a knock came at the door.
‘Just a moment,’ she called out, and struggled into her overalls. ‘Come in.’
Pisets entered. His glance took in Katya’s dishevelled appearance and the half-empty bottle on the counter. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘We do not have time to waste.’
Pisets led Katya to an elevator, which carried them up to a deserted corridor. Pisets unlocked the door of an office, and waved Katya to a seat. He removed a packet from a wall-safe and sat down opposite her.
Miss Tsalparov,’ he began. ‘It has become necessary for you to grasp the enormity of the situation. It is a little early in your career to take you into such confidence, but there is no other option.’
He tossed a photograph on to the desk between them.
‘You will recall that I told you that Hive Dalet did not exist,’ he said.
Katya examined the picture. It was an aerial photograph of a Hive city, torn open to the sky. Great holes had been punched through the outer skin of the city, and the towers and minarets that adorned its surface were in various states of collapse.
‘It would have been more accurate to say it no longer exists, Pisets went on. ‘What you see there are its remains.’ He tapped the corner of the corner. ‘Observe the parallel lines here.’
He handed Katya another photograph. From an oblique angle, the lines resolved themselves into row after row of scaffolds, stark against the reddish earth. The figures hanging from them were blackened and coated in a thick layer of dust, but it was clear they had once been human.
‘Most of them had been flayed alive,’ Pisets went on. Katya found his calm obscene in the face of the horror before her. ‘The cult who did this, did it not for power, nor for revenge. They did it for pleasure. The corruption begins with hedonism, drink, and vice. It ends as you see before you.’
He let his words sink in.
‘Such is our enemy, and we must fight them with every weapon at our disposal. Our intervention came too late to save Hive Dalet. Hive Gimel hangs in the balance. It falls to you to ensure that neither Hive Alef nor Hive Zayin suffer the same fate as their sisters.’
Katya had tears in her eyes. ‘How?’ she asked.
‘Maintaining the perception of control is crucial to maintaining order,’ replied Pisets levelly. ‘It is not possible for the Administratum to predict every aspect of the future. Yet that is what the citizenry expects. Therefore, we must adjust the records of the past such that those expectations are met.’
‘And people believe that?’ Katya asked incredulously. ‘Believe the Archive against the evidence of their own eyes? Their own memory?’
‘Memory is fallible,’ the Historitor replied. ‘Besides, it is not necessary to change citizens’ minds completely. The injection of doubt is enough to defer action. And action deferred is action forestalled. Thus is treason averted.’
Katya followed Pisets back down to Vox House in silence and dutifully reported to the makeup suite. The same stylist unsmilingly arranged Katya’s hair and readied her appearance for the cameras.
As Katya headed back to the studio, one of the technicians collided heavily with her, causing Katya to stumble into the wall. The man had disappeared before Katya could get a look at his face, let alone demand an apology.
It was only then that she realised he had pressed a note into her hand. Instinct made her retreat into the lavatory before unfolding it. The handwriting was shaky, but familiar.
‘Tell the truth,’ it read. ‘My friends will make sure your words go out live. Love, Pyotr.’
Katya read it again. Then she tore the note into tiny shreds and dropped it into the lavatory.
The crew were waiting for her in the studio. Eduard Domaris was already seated at his desk. He looked pointedly at his watch as Katya walked in.
‘Good evening, Eduard,’ she said, calmly.
The countdown was already running as she sat down at her desk.
‘…3, 2, 1, on air!’
‘Good evening, and welcome to Vox Populi. It is 2200 hours local time, local date 470, Imperial date 3301280.M41. The Vox News tonight is brought to you by Katya Tsalparov.’
The cue light turned green.
Katya took a deep breath.
About the Author
Daniel Summerbell is a player of Age of Sigmar, and author of Erynost and Other Stories, an accompanying novel to the Realms At War narrative event. This story is his first foray into the 40K universe in over a decade, but he’s always had a soft-spot for the PBI, or whatever they call the Guard these days.