It was a long way down from the spires of the hive. Alena shifted her skirt over the curve of her hip: not an enticement but a warning, a declaration of war; most of all, a concealment for the autopistol tucked beneath the bustle. It was a cheap, ugly dress, but if she had come this far in the luxury she was usually accustomed to, she’d have been kidnapped within minutes. She couldn’t risk a guard with her. No, a guard would have told her father, and if he knew, he’d ensure she’d be wed away within the week, likely to one of his equally mediocre acquaintances.

Still, she could scarcely conceal the tremor in her hands as she stepped forward slowly, passing a glance around her. She had never been this far down before. It was dirty and dim and full of decaying metal and grim faces, and each long hallway was lined with so many doors…she focused on reading the numbers that labelled them, and finally found the one she was looking for.


Just getting that number had cost her most of the jewellery she had hoarded away since she was twelve years old. She took a breath, and pushed the button to enter. She felt the stale, icy air hidden behind the door race past her and couldn’t help but shiver briefly before pressing on through it. This was worth far, far more than a few measly hours of discomfort and fear.

‘No’, said the burly guard standing within, steadying her long-las in her mechanical hand.

Alena didn’t like that word at all. She tended to ignore it when she heard it. ‘I’m here to see the Cogitator’, she said, hoping the confidence and command in her voice were enough.

The guard looked her steadily up and down, shifting from one foot to the next. She tossed the barrel over her shoulder and outstretched her palm. ‘And?’

Alena rolled her eyes and tugged a gem-studded bracelet from the pocket on her skirt, then pushed it into the guard’s calloused hand with far more force than she needed to.

‘Go ahead, then’, replied the guard with a derisive smile. ‘Don’t waste her time. Speak plainly. It’ll go better.’

The room inside was equally as chilled, the massive data banks that lined it flickering a thousand tiny lumens in her eyes, the stink of musty old tomes on every spare surface assaulting her nostrils. She didn’t know what she expected, but the woman with her back turned certainly didn’t match any expectation she might have had. A dozen servo-skulls flitted errantly around her, all tethered by twisted, knotted cables that came to meet at the base of her neck. The woman let off a rattling sigh, then turned and smiled, her teeth glinting silver, her augmetic eyes glowing red. What little skin was visible was wrinkled and pocked with data ports, and her squat, heavy form gave no hint of muscle. This woman was an assassin? She thought. She had expected that the woman would be more… impressive, somehow. Certainly not what the rumours had led her to imagine.

‘Name?’ asked the woman in a metallic and hoary voice.

‘Alena Molann’, she replied.

‘Alena Molann’, she repeated, and paused for a moment. Another deep, rattling sigh. ‘Father: Calleb Molann. Sixteenth generation. Mining. Fortunes declined thirteen per cent this generation. Mother: Atritia Wesley. Twenty-fourth generation. Mining. Fortunes increased four per cent’, said the woman. Yet another pause, another sigh. ‘Payment will be one per cent of household earnings, tithed for five generations.’

Sounds about right, thought Alena. ‘That’s fine. I heard you can arrange… things’, she said.

The older woman sighed again, but did not speak.

Alena took a deep breath. ‘I want to arrange for an accident.’

‘Oh?’ asked the Cogitator. ‘What kind of accident?’

‘That’s your job’, she replied.

Another pause from the Cogitator. Her servo-skulls bobbed around, and she gently caressed one as it shifted to the air by her face. ‘Acceptable. Target?’

‘All of them. My father and mother, and my brother’, she said. ‘It’s mine. I was the firstborn. I won’t have it taken away from me.’

Another pause. The old woman walked achingly slowly toward one of the nearby shelves, then tugged out a massive roll of parchment. She placed it on the desk in front of her, and unfurled it. Alena looked closer. It was a map, one covering the expanse between the three spires towering above their head.

‘Perhaps a fall?’ asked the Cogitator, tracing her gnarled finger along a long line connecting two spires. ‘There is a bridge between your estate and the church. It is not well-maintained.’

A fall. So simple. It would be quick, and mostly painless. It seemed right to make sure it was painless: they were family, after all. More casualties would do better to pull attention away from her, as well. All in all, a suitable plan.

Yes, this was perfect.

‘So, what happens next?’ asked Alena.

The woman took an intolerably long pause this time.

‘Sanguinala mass, four months from now. You will be too ill to attend the service.’ Another rattling sigh. ‘And this is what you want?’ said the Cogitator.

‘The House will be better in my hands. My brother is too much like his father’, she said, though the command in her voice had dampened considerably.

The old woman bobbed her head. ‘Ave Imperator.’

‘Ave Imperator’, Alena replied.

She exited the musty room and nodded wordlessly at the guard as she left. Now, all she needed to do was wait for the months to pass. She headed toward the nearest elevator with as much haste as seemed appropriate, and hoped that she would never have to travel that far down again. That being said, she was now realising it was of significant advantage to have these kinds of connections. No one needed to know.

It was a long way down from the spires of the hive, after all.

About the Author

Jamie Isfeld (she/they) is a web developer, comic creator, and former agri-worlder. She delights in telling stories of all kinds and making pretty things. Jamie lives with her on-call game-mastering partner Thurston and her majestic cat in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.