A woman stands in the street.
Her smile is bright and wide. She clutches an armful of recycled parchment to the front of a white smock. In contrast to the filthy gutters and cracked, crumbling hab-block walls, she is clean and composed. She urges the downcast faces that hurry past to read her offerings, though it is not to the better-dressed and tight-lipped she directs her main attention.
The ragged and gasping are where her best effort lies. “What if I told you,” she calls over the low murmur of the crowd, “that you could find new work, greater purpose, and renewed faith with only a few small changes in your life?”
That’s the word that breaks the lockstep walk: change. They stop like stupefied sleepwalkers. Others push around them, grumbling. The woman smiles wider. She takes a sheaf from her collection and presses it, still warm with the heat of her body, into trembling hands. Their eyes do not leave hers as they move on, mingling back into the bloodstream of the Hive, irrevocably altered by that brief contact.
Soon, very soon, another white-smocked smiler appears on another filthy street. Perhaps they will seem familiar. They call out to those that once closely resembled themselves. “Once,” they say, “I was like you. But with a few small changes within myself, now I shine. Now I can change the world.”
Their grin expands like a supernova.
“Would you like to know more?”
All a stunned fish can do is gape as they are cast back into the sea, tattered parchment held closer than lover or offspring. Late of the night, beneath stuttering lumens, they will trace the written words. Understanding scars their face with wonder. A faint taste of crimson and copper. The hook gently pulls their expression into something more contagious.
Would you like to know more?
Follow the fledgelings to a beautiful chapel. Walls washed in white, scrubbed clean of accumulated grime, gutted of the old faith. Their caution fades quickly. How could something so pure, so bright, be wrong? Within, robed attendants serve purified water and fresh bread. The fledgelings fall eagerly upon this bounty. The attendants smile with approval.
Lessons follow the feast. Gentle teachings of self-worth and affirmation. There is strength in solitude, but more in mass - the congregation affirms this. They chant the words, mouths opening and closing in rhythm.
Soon come the tests. There are limitations unique to every individual, barriers to be overcome in achieving their true potential. Malleability is assessed. Some prove more set than others. Some break before they can be bent. This is not unusual, the flock are assured. Change can be difficult, for all that it is necessary. This encourages fluidity in those that remain.
The broken are escorted to the chapel’s lower levels. They do not return.
Further lessons are applied. These tend towards more mundane physics: stellar cartography, light waves and carcinogens. Those who have changed now learn what is truly transformative. Projections of cell structure dance. Soon they are replaced by tumours crawling across the too-bright walls.
The fledgelings grow. They turn to their teachers like flowers to the sun. They absorb. They mutate. The tests continue. The pressure mounts. Balances. Equalises. And in that precarious equilibrium occurs the desired result - the sacred growth.
Fusion. The birth of shining young stars.
Each is accorded a stainless white smock and a sheaf of teachings to distribute. Each is assigned a run of streets to preach the transformative creed. Assurances are given in relation to local gangs and Arbites - there will be no interference. The immune system of the Imperium does not stir.
Joyously, the stars scattered through the galaxy of the Hive, bringing their light to every dark corner.
Notice is taken. Productivity rises. Birth rates are up. Mortality rates decrease. Criminal activity and corruption are subverted. Administrators and enforcers reward themselves and are rewarded in turn for an increase in planetary tithes. Hive expansions are planned and completed. The population brightens with health and vitality. Glows. Shines. Swells. Ripens.
Beyond the sector, deep in the void between worlds where even light fades, a fleet of horrid chitin awakens. There is a call that the titan-mind heeds. There is a hunger that gnaws holes in space where once there were trillions.
A woman stands in the street.
She has worked hard today. Many have heeded her words, taken her scripture. She has changed so many lives. Soon she will return to the bright chapel, exchanging pleasantries with her peers. Something like the scrape of scales will follow her. She will nod to the watchful attendants and descend to the chapel’s lower levels, where only those who will rise are permitted.
Where the highest worship is conducted.
Where the greatest change is enacted.
Where stars feed the hungry dark.