Calliope Drouth is about to cover the story of her life.
The Emperor did not just rule through fear. But also through information.
In StarWars.com's exclusive excerpt of "The Voice of the Empire," an original story written by Mur Lafferty with art by Jason Chan, and featured in the new Star Wars Insider: The Fiction Collection Volume 2, HoloNet News' ace reporter Calliope Drouth meets with her editor. What she soon learns is that the Empire has seized control of HNN, leading the once-vaunted network and Calliope to an uncertain -- and possibly dangerous -- future...
Don’t say a word. Stone-faced HoloNet News editor Mandora Catabe didn’t say it out loud, but the message was clear. Calliope Drouth’s eyes flickered from Mandora, seated at her desk, to the man standing behind her, smiling widely, hands clasped behind his back. Mandora’s face was set, grim, her eyes fixed on Calliope’s.
That’s an Imperial smile. Calliope had hoped to be called in to hear about the promotion she’d asked for, but that hoped died when she saw Mandora’s face.
“Calliope, sit down,” Mandora said, indicating the chair opposite her desk. “This is Eridan Wesyse. I wanted to tell you first: I’m retiring, effective immediately, and Mr. Wesyse will be your new editor-in-chief.”
Where Mandora was small and shrewd, suspicious of anyone and everyone, Eridan looked as if he would always listen sympathetically, smile kindly, and report whatever fit the kind of story he wanted to tell; Calliope, knew the type.
She nodded. She’d seen the man around, doing Imperial PR. “Nice to meet you, sir,” she said. “I’ve seen you at some events, haven’t I?”
He nodded, smiling wider. “You do have good eyes,” he said. “Mandora said you’d be my star reporter. Yes, I’ve done some work for the Empire, and I will continue to as Mandora’s replacement. You see, the Empire wanted to have a tighter…” he paused, searching for the word, “connection to HNN. We’ll want to keep on all of the loyal staff, though, so you shouldn’t worry about your job.”
Calliope couldn’t help glancing at Mandora.
“No, I’m the only one leaving. I was already contemplating my retirement,” Mandora said, her eyes indicating no such thing. “The Empire just made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“How generous,” Calliope said, her mouth going dry. “What plans do you have for HNN, Mr. Wesyse?”
“We’re going to start by giving you a promotion!” he said. “We’re promoting you to senior reporter and calling you the Voice of the Empire. We were so impressed with your work on the Wookiee threat.”
Calliope froze. Her piece on the Wookiee “threat” had been heavily edited by Imperial censors, removing the main part of her story entirely and nearly causing Calliope to quit.
“Based on your noteworthy history with HNN,” Wesyse continued, “it’s obvious we want to promote you. It’s quite an honor to be the one person on camera that countless citizens will watch to get their news!”
“That is an honor,” Calliope agreed, using the smooth voice she used on sources she knew were lying. “Thank you for the promotion. I’m looking forward to the new direction you will take us in, Editor Wesyse.”
She wanted to take Mandora aside and ask her what was going on, why was this happening, but Mandora’s normally animated face was set, which scared Calliope more than anything.
“As our newly appointed Voice of the Empire, we’re throwing you at your first story, actually,” Wesyse continued. “You are to cover the Imperial Ball tonight. We got you an invitation, which was no easy task.” He paused here, as if to give her a chance to thank him, but she pulled out a small keyboard and started taking notes, nodding for him to continue. “You are to go and interview the dignitaries, report what people are wearing, mention how good the food is, and so on. Your job is to show the Empire in a way the public doesn’t get to see it. Make it more accessible. By giving them the inside view, the Empire becomes their Empire. Understand?”
Before Calliope could protest that investigative journalism was her preferred area of news, Mandora pushed something across the desk at her. “I’m giving you Zox. I won’t need it after I retire. It’s yours now.” She patted the little droid, an elderly X-0X unit about the size of her hand. “It’s been very good to me, and I know it will serve you the same way.”
The droid was dome-shaped, and its original color was probably red or orange, but it was hard to tell as the paint had worn off with age. It extended three spidery legs and rose from the desk, wobbled, and fell over on its side. It beeped plaintively until Mandora righted it.
“It will probably be better on your shoulder, now that I think about it,” she said, smiling fondly at Zox and ignoring Calliope’s confusion entirely.
“But X-0X doesn’t transmit, it only records,” Calliope said. “Why can’t I take one of the new droids?”
Wesyse frowned. “Unfortunately, the military did a recall of all of the transmitting droids reporters were using. Turns out there were some technical problems.”
Calliope wanted to laugh, but her spine had turned to ice. Did he know how transparent he was being? Stifling the press by removing their ability to transmit video feeds would drive the press in a direction Calliope didn’t want to go. She opened her mouth, but Mandora interrupted her.
“Anyway, I’m retiring and it needs a good owner. I know you will treasure it as much as I always have.” She gave it another push, her steely blue eyes locking onto Calliope’s. Take the droid.
Calliope’s mind raced as she put her hand over the small dome. They were balanced on the edge of something very sharp now. “Thank you, Mandora. I’ll treasure it.”
Much of the HNN staff had plans to go to the terrace of the HoloNet News building to watch the Empire Day parade below. Thousands of officers and soldiers marched by, flanked by the Empire’s machines of war. They were followed by small vehicles showing off the new Imperial TIE striker, designed for both suborbital flight and atmospheric flight, using state of the art technology in navigation and speed.
Calliope shook Mandora’s hand, wishing she could talk to her and find out what was really going on. She waved to her coworkers and left during the parade. She was hardly dressed for an Imperial Ball, as she had been expecting an average day at the office, and had to rush home to change.
Calliope spared a look over her shoulder as the new TIE fighters were displayed to the crowds. She had hoped to do a story on them, but doubted she’d get the chance now if she was doing shallow interviews of famous people.
Calliope rummaged in her closet for her few pieces of fancy clothing. She had reported from the front lines of wars, from the bridges of starships, from high atop a tree as she reported on a raid on a droid manufacturing plant. She’d endured a broken arm, several burns, and one cut on her cheek, which she refused to surgically remove, as it was a reminder to all about how seriously she took her job.
And now she had to pull out the ivory gown that she had worn to her sister’s wedding. She had to admit it was beautiful, woven with smart strands of synthetic fiber that gave off shimmers of different colors depending on the angle of the light on the dress. The ivory contrasted well with her dark skin and delicate features, although accessorizing with a rusty droid would be challenging.
Finally dressed, she put X-0X on her shoulder. It beeped inquisitively at her. Its beep was more like a strangled chirp: this droid had been around for decades, and her boss had never replaced it.
“Why Mandora insisted I bring you, I’ll never know,” she said, and then stopped abruptly. X-0X whirred in a way that sounded much like the newer, sleeker droids, and its scratched ocular lens glowed. Had it been modified?
A hologram appeared in front of Calliope. Mandora paced within the small circle of X-0X’s beam, showing finally the energy and fierceness that Calliope had expected.
“Calliope. I don’t have much time. As of right now, the Empire is taking over HNN. I’m out, but you can still stay in. They will censor you. They will silence you. They will enrage you.” Mandora stopped and jabbed her finger at Calliope, spitting out one word per jab. “But I need you to stay where you are.”
Read the rest of "The Voice of the Empire" and other stories in the Star Wars Insider Fiction Collection Volume 2 available starting November 9, 2021, and subscribe to Star Wars Insider now for more of the latest news, in-depth articles, and exclusive interviews in every issue!