It’s been a while since James Swallow has authored a Warhammer 40,000 anything. When I saw his name attached to an Adepta Sororitas short story, Red & Black, I jumped all over it. I loved the Blood Angels books/short stories he wrote, not to mention Flight of the Eisenstein. While yes, this short story is also available in the Sisters of Battle Omnibus, this is the first time I’ve personally seen it. Back in 2017, I was not interested in the Battle Sisters; I was too busy understanding the Warhammer 40,000 universe as a whole.
The point is, I was excited to see anything from James Swallow. Thanks to books like Celestine and Mark of Faith, I’ve become far more interested in the Adepta Sororitas as of late. They may be a little too black and white for me—or black and red—but I enjoy them all the same. Swallow’s short story was no exception.
An Unusual Messenger
A warp storm has veiled the planet Hollos for nearly two thousand years. The Imperium wrote them off as a lost planet, but now the storms have abated, and a messenger from Hollos brought the news that they still live and live loyally to the Adepta Sororitas. However, this messenger is not entirely human. She’s a replicae, a clone, and the Battle Sisters’ immediate thoughts are to exterminate her on site. However, as they kept her in isolation, they noticed she sang Battle Hymns and prayed to the God-Emperor.
Despite her instincts, the Prioress sends Sister Miriya and her Celestian squad to return to Hollos with the messenger Rho and find out if this is a world worth saving. Miriya must determine if Hollos is damned with clones or if it can be returned to the Imperium in full. Naturally the replicae’s appearance has gotten the attention of the Adeptus Mechanicus, who have insisted that Miriya bring a Magos Biologis with her.
An Unusual Planet
The planet is far from anything Miriya could have expected. Even though warp storms have covered Hollos for thousands of years, the planet is peaceful. The number of replicae do not outnumber the humans, but in the governing city, it is clear the replicae are in charge. Technically, the clones should be servants of the humans, acting as soldiers and the like, so their pacifism is strange to Miriya on two fronts.
For starters, she’s unsure how a planet surrounded by the warp for so long could be daemon-free. Secondly, to quote Miriya directly, “There was no place for the pacifist way in Miriya’s world. There was only war, and the need to fight to live.” Her confusion only deepens when they are all suddenly attacked by red-colored clone berserkers. Only the humans fight as the replicae cower behind them and Miriya’s Celestians.
And if things couldn’t get more confusing, a group of humans abduct Miriya just to get a chance to talk. Miriya comments how dumb they all are to do so, and I have to agree with ya, Sister.
After she finishes choking their leader, they tell her they want her help to rebel against their replicae oppressors. Miriya agrees that this planet cannot stay its current course, but she promises no help.
The Usual Plot?
At this juncture, I was rolling my eyes in regards to the predictability of the plot. Of course the humans don’t like the replicae ruling them. Of course the replicae found a way to ignore their original programming to become pacifists. Of course they want the Imperium to help liberate them. Is there anything here we haven’t seen before? UGH.
James Swallow, you disappoint me.
That is, until the rebellion begins and we learn the rebels have pledged themselves to Tzeentch. Oh Tzeentch, you are one tricksy daemon god. Does anyone ever expect Tzeentch? Considering Hollos was trapped in a warp storm for a few thousand years, I should have expected SOMETHING, but it took me by surprise. It was also surprising to learn why the replicae were pacifists, what the red replicae were, and the answers to really any other questions you would have while reading the short story.
Bravo, Mr. Swallow, bravo. I’m going to have to be on the lookout for a reprint of the Sisters of Battle Omnibus to see what else you’ve written about our favorite Nuns with Guns.