- Dec 13, 2003
9 September, 1938
Masha stepped off the trolley and pondered how, a little over two years ago, she had done so with the fear of it being blown up. She stilled remembered that one fateful day, which was the first in her job at the radio station, when she had spent the entire ride with her heart thumping within her chest, and how she had breathed a sigh of relief after stepping off. That was when the military still ruled the government, and Communists were committing attacks against the populace left and right. How things had changed now, and not just in regards to the safety of public transport. Stepping off the trolley now, people seemed much more content, and life seemed to be returning to a state as normal as any other nation in Europe.
Even Masha had found life improving for her. Ever since she covered the trial of Yakov Yurovsky, and the American report on her had spread back to Russia, people had begun turning in to hear the voice of “Moscow Masha”, as she’d begun to be known. It was a silly nickname, but one she much preferred over “the Va-Va-Voom Girl of the Volga”. The studio executives had taken notice of it, and had rewarded her with an increase in pay. She’d used it to treat herself a bit: no longer dressed in plain clothes, she’d gone out shopping for a silk white blouse and a light gray pencil skirt. She’d even gotten her hair some curls, which she caught a look at in the reflection of a window as she headed towards the studio. A few pats of the side of her head followed, as she tried to gently adjust it. For once she was actually fairly proud of how she looked.
Of course, one thing that hadn’t changed at all was her relationship with her coworkers, Ivan and Alexei. She found them at their usual places in the audio booth, with Ivan keeping a watch at the controls and Alexei puffing away at a cigarette. The ash tray beside him only had about five butts, which meant Alexei was having a calm day. As soon as she entered, Alexei looked up briefly from a script and gave her a wave with a cigarette-stained hand, while Ivan gave her a greeting, but proceeded to stretch the limits of his peripheral vision as his eyes glanced back at the controls.
“Here’s your script for you,” Alexei said, handing the papers over.
“Thank you.” Masha clutched the papers. “Anything I should be aware about?”
Alexei shrugged. “Nothing, really. More of the same from Spain, a little bit on Germany, and a few bits about the Empire. It’s probably going to be a boring day.”
Masha shrugged again, then walked into the studio. She took her spot at her desk and began to get herself settled. As she placed the large headphones over her head, it dawned on her that her brand new hairstyle would probably get disheveled. Ah well. At least she looked good on the trolley ride.
“We go on in a few,” Ivan called out. He held up a finger for emphasis, and Masha nodded in return. The minute passed by rather quickly, and it wasn’t long before Ivan was giving her a countdown with his hand. As the last finger went down, the light in the corner of the room flickered on.
“Dobroye utro. This is Maria Stepanova for the Moscow service. Here is the news.”
She looked down to her script.
“The Spanish Civil War continues to rage on the Iberian Peninsula. The Communists have launched a massive offensive, taking much of the northern territory and pushing the Falangists towards the northwest. Meanwhile, the Republicans have attempted to regain ground lost in the south. Gibraltar was retaken after a long battle, and the Republican government has relocated there after the Communists stormed the symbolic location some months ago. Reports from Madrid say that, because of the damage done to the city and the many times it has switched hands during the campaign, it is all but a ghost town.”
Masha turned the page.
“Talks have begun with the Belarusian government regarding a potential unification with the Russian Empire. Belarus was part of the Empire before the last war, but gained independence during the chaos of the Civil War. As part of her policy in reuniting Russian lands, her majesty has opened channels with the different levels of Belarusian government in a peaceful unification. The Belarusian legislature has agreed to hold a vote among the people to see whether or not the two nations should unite. Belarusian President Vasil Zacharka has condemned this move by Empress Anastasia as shameless imperialism, and has urged the Belarusian people to vote against unification. He has even compared the move to Adolf Hitler’s recent plebiscite to reunite Austria.”
Masha turned the page.
“Negotiations continue in Europe over the Sudetenland territory in Czechoslovakia. This region, largely inhabited by native Germans, has been claimed by Adolf Hitler’s government after claims of atrocities by the Czechoslovakian government. The Czechoslovaks have denied such claims, and accuse Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist Party of inciting riots within their borders. France, Czechoslovakia’s ally, has stepped in to defend Czech autonomy, with President Edouard Daladier claiming that this will only be the first of many demands for concessions from Hitler. Romania has likewise pledged support of Czechoslovakia and has promised troops to assist Czechoslovakia against any German invasion. Britain has made calls for intervention and mediation, with Prime Minister Chamberlain asking for a talk on potential concessions to avoid a full blown war.”
Through the glass, Masha could see Ivan give her a countdown. She nodded in acknowledgment. “And that is your news for this top of the hour. We now turn to Islamey, composed by Mily Balakirev. This is Maria Stepanova for the Moscow service.”
The light flickered off.
Alexei muttered something to Ivan and stood up, walking out of the room with a trail of smoke following behind him. Masha had to imagine he was going to have a chat with some of the producers. She was never privy to those conversations, anyway. After placing the headphones down on the table, she stood up and walked over to the door of the studio, opening it. She crossed her arms and leaned against it as she glanced Ivan’s way. “How’s he been?”
“Oh, puffing away. I’m amazed at times he hasn’t transformed into a train.” Ivan’s eyes glanced along Masha’s form. “You dressed fancy today. Have an event at the palace with the Empress?”
Masha giggled. “No, I just wanted to treat myself. Is there anything good at the cinema I should go and see?”
Ivan stroked his chin. “Actually, there’s that new movie out I was really wanting to see. Alexander Nevsky – have you heard of it?”
“No, I don’t think I have.”
“It’s by Sergei Eisenstein. It’s about an invasion-”
Rapid footsteps were heard outside. Alexei suddenly came barging through the door, a piece of paper crinkled in his hand. “We need to do a cut in!”
“What’s wrong?” Ivan asked.
“We need to go back on air right now! Maria, back in the studio! Ivan, get it ready.”
Masha was about to head into the studio when Alexei cursed and quickly handed her the newest page of the script. Masha snatched it and scurried into the studio, plopping into her seat. In a rush, she practically threw her headphones over her hair, and she was certain it was messed up now. She read over her script once… and froze. The words stared back at her.
“Maria?!” called Alexei. “Are you ready?”
Masha nodded. The light flashed on.
“We interrupt this broadcast for a special news bulletin: Germany has just declared war on Czechoslovakia. I repeat: Germany has just declared war on Czechoslovakia. There is no official statement from the Imperial government, but we will keep you posted as information comes in.”
The light switched off, and Ivan began to transition back to the music. Alexei was already lighting up another cigarette. “This is bad. Oh this is bad, this is bad.”
“What are you worrying about?” Ivan asked. “They didn’t declare war on Russia.”
“Are you an idiot?” Alexei barked. “Don’t you realize what this means? France will declare on Germany. So will Romania. Britain won’t want France to be overrun, so they’ll join in too. There’s about to be a major war in Europe that may grow into something like the last one.”
Masha had placed her headphones down and walked over to the open door. It only dawned on her then that they had been in such a rush they hadn’t bothered to close it. Not that it mattered, given how short they’d been online. She just hoped half of Russia didn’t hear Alexei puffing away on a cigarette.
“You think it’ll be as bad as the last one?” Ivan asked.
“You think Hitler is going to just give up after a border skirmish? You think he’s going to give up if things go south for him? No, he’s going to fight until he gets what he wants. He’s going to fight until he has Czechoslovakia, Romania, France, and any other nation in his way under his thumb.” A deep inhale consumed half of his cigarette. “Mark my words, this war is going to be bad.”
“What do you think the Empress will do?” Maria asked.
Alexei opened his mouth, then closed it. He shook his head and puffed on the cigarette. “I don’t know… we’ll have to see…”