- Dec 13, 2003
Masha stepped off the trolley and, for a moment, took a long, deep breath. Still alive, she thought. It was unfortunate that such a thought would occur in her mind, but it had become commonplace. Her mother had written her a while ago, and told her she couldn’t believe she even bothered riding on the trains at all. There had been, in the past year alone, at least three incidents where trolleys had been blown up by the Communists. Each time, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks both took credit, though it was hard to tell which one had actually carried it out. After that, there would be a while where police would monitor the trolleys, but after that things calmed down – only for another trolley to blow up a few months later. Masha assured her mother that the incidents were rare and scattered across the country – not just around Moscow. As much as she was frightened at times, there was statistically little chance for her to die in a Communist attack.
Not that the law of averages didn’t at times rear its ugly head…
Besides, Masha had no choice: she couldn’t afford her own vehicle or a taxi, and she had to ride the trolley to get to work. Jobs were scarce enough in the country as it is. Men who couldn’t work had to join the army, sign up with the Communists, or leave the country. Not that other countries around the world were faring much better. Some places were just now getting off their feet, but many others still struggled. Although the military enjoyed a steady support from the plurality of the people, at least a quarter supported the Communists, with others supporting democratic reformers and others fleeing to Kornilov and his Russian Fascists. Sometimes she was amazed the entire country didn’t fall apart.
A few blocks from her stop, she arrived at the radio station. Catching her own reflection in one of the outside windows, she paused to adjust her wavy, blonde hair, to keep it from frizzling out of control. She adjusted her blouse over her full figure and modified her skirt as well… then realized she was standing at a window overlooking someone’s desk. The man eyed her with a brow raised. Masha smiled awkwardly at him, then quickly darted in through the front door.
Down the hall, last door on the left, and she was in the control room. Ivan and Alexei were there, where they normally were: Ivan at the controls, and Alexei rummaging through the papers. He looked up, his face enshrouded with the smoke from the cigarette dangling from his lips, and his eyes peering through the bottle-cap glasses on his nose. He pulled the cigarette from his mouth with an audible pop noise. “Maria. There you are.”
“I’m sorry I’m a bit late,” Masha said. She took the script. “Is this the final copy?”
“Oh, how should I know?” Alexei muttered. His voice was cracking, as it often did under stress. “The way they change things last minute, they might have a new one for you by the time you get on the air.”
“Don’t make her more nervous than she is already,” Ivan remarked. “It’s her first day.”
“Alright, alright.” Alexei took a deep inhale of his cigarette, then waved into the studio. “Go on in. They’ll be starting in a few.”
Without another word, Masha walked into the studio and closed the door behind her. She could no longer hear her high heels click-clacking, given the thick carpet underneath her. Some parts were torn a bit, but she knew the station was hard pressed to complete any kind of renovations. As she sat down in the chair, she heard an audible squeak come from below. Alright, so she won’t be able to move her hips too much during this – she’ll have to sit as still as possible. Ivan held up his pinky and ring finger high so she could see, and Masha gave him a curt nod. The headphones she put on brushed over her blonde locks, and she felt the cushioned ear pieces fit snugly over her. The dark microphone stared back at her as she looked down to review the sheets of paper in front of her.
A yellow light turned on in an upper corner of the room. Go time.
“Dobroye utro. This is Maria Stepanova for the Moscow service. Here is the news.”
First time I’m uttering those words, Masha thought for a moment. Hopefully not the last!
“General Pyotr Wrangel announced yesterday that the government will be launching a stimulus package for businesses in the empire to assist with economy difficulties. This will be directed at larger and medium sized businesses. The government said that a longer term solution will be sought after soon.”
Masha paused for a moment to shift papers, then continued. “General Wrangel also announced some incentives in the realm of development. Imperial researchers are currently seeking to bring Russian electronics to a higher standard with the rest of the world.” Out of the corner of her eye, Masha saw Ivan mouth to Alexei, Can they get us new equipment? “Funds are also being placed to update construction equipment, in order to assist with the expansion of industry. Finally, Wrangel announced that there will be efforts to update the support weapons in the Imperial Army. Military analysts have said that current weaponry is woefully inadequate, with many soldiers still carrying artifacts from the Great War.”
Masha pushed the paper aside, then continued. “In response to mounting violence from Communist forces, the government announced that it was expanding the Okhrana in an effort to suppress terrorist activity. Citizens of the Empire are still encouraged to report all suspicious activity. Citizens are also warned about traveling in the Urals, where in-fighting between Menshevik and Bolshevik forces has intensified in recent months.”
“And now for international news: pushes are being made by Adolf Hitler, the Fuehrer of Germany, for the removal of foreign troops and influences from the Rhineland. German forces of the Wehrmacht marched right up to the border of France earlier this month. Analysts say this is a violation of the Treaty of Versailles – however, there has been no major response from the French or British governments.”
Masha turned her head and buried her mouth in her elbow in order to cough. Taking a deep breath, she continued. “Also, in Africa, Italian forces are pushing into Ethiopia, and destroying every defense before them. Reports from the front say that the death toll for the Ethiopians thus far has been roughly 21,000, while the Italians have lost little more than a thousand. Ethiopia is expected to surrender by the end of the month.”
Through the studio window, Masha could see Ivan lift up his index finger and wave it around in a circle. She nodded quietly. “That is the news at the top of the hour. We now have for you Danse des Petits Cygnes from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. This is Masha Stepanova, with the Moscow service.”
The light flashed off. Through the window, Masha saw Alexei stand up and walk out with a start. Ivan gave her at thumbs up before returning to the dials. In her headphones, she could hear the low hum of the music. As she began to rearrange the papers before her, the door clicked open and Alexei rushed in. In his shaking hand was a new sheet of paper. “This was just typed up. Updated news. Ethiopia fell.”
Masha glanced at the sheet, reading it over. Sure enough, it was a script for her to announce the surrender of Ethiopia to Italy. The producers had detailed over twenty-thousand casualties for the Ethiopian side, with only a thousand casualties for the Italians. With a sigh, she said, “Well, that means the world is at peace again, right?”