The last native king has been killed. Colonization is almost complete, yet Kriti’s people have life yet. She opens a soup kitchen to feed the war’s orphans, and to share the culture that she herself is forgetting.
Like Kriti, Vado grew up in the first generation of orphans, but has since risen to criminal power. Now he aspires to gain the conquerors’ favor; to prove his allegiance, he tries to close Kriti’s cultural center and hasten the assimilation of their people.
Kriti must dive into dark aspects of her people’s religion in a desperate attempt to preserve it.
At the edge of the foyer, Barnam men drank and played a Conta card game. Two boys slumped against each other on a blue couch, tattoos and red lines marking their skinny arms. They couldn’t be more than eight. Their eyelids fluttered.
Kriti looked away; grief would hinder her. She’d ask after them later, try to get them coming to the soup kitchen where she could do them some good.
Kriti wished for the same unbroken culture that her parents had known. They’d received a current from their ancestors, and had passed it on to their children. She wanted that flow, that powerful guidance, but now she stood on an island, cut off from the mainland of her people. She had to get the kids home, but she’d never been there herself.
“Some say progress is in a straight line, others in a circle. But that god said it was both: a spiral going forward through time, but returning again and again to correlated points.”
A glimpse of the Story
Whoom crick. Goddess Parma, it sounded like something metal banging the old wooden door. Old wall-lamps clattered; their light spidered across stained floorboards.
Sweat still trickled down the small of Kriti’s back and made her dress into wet rubber. The blistering day had only just cooled.
She swore, doing a last wipe of her soup kitchen’s counters. Who the hell was coming at this hour? She’d fed more than two hundred of her people today, and this clean-up had already eaten into her little bit of peace at the end of the day. She should already be changed into her nightie and reading until sleep came.
The knock came again, a splintering whoom.
Kriti swallowed down her fear. It never helped. This was a nuisance, not a danger. Who was it, a Conta patrol? She wasn’t teaching the kids about any of the forbidden gods, or worshiping them herself. At least, not outside her mind. “Who’s there?”
“Cousin! Someone’s outside,” she yelled back into the dark building, trying to keep her voice steady.
Cousin didn’t answer, probably a little high. She kept calling until a muffled, “I’m coming,” emerged from the scents of cabbage and spices and sweat that permeated the walls of the soup kitchen after a long day. She’d renovated a bungalow using panels from old shipping crates; the wood still remembered and released smells of the sea, too.
Whoom. The door shook harder still. He’d break in before long.
“I’m coming,” she called to the man behind it. A woman wouldn’t pound it so. “Cousin, get in here!”
Cousin emerged from the hallway like a skinny bear from a cave. He blinked at the dim lights, and still wore his greasy leather jacket. He grimaced with the working side of his face, making it match the other, and flicked open a switchblade behind his back. As he approached the door, his hollowed eyes met hers. They completely belayed his bedraggled manner, looking sharp and fearless. Inside him, a strong father sometimes took over from the overgrown teenager. With a nod of his narrow head, he warned Kriti to move away from the door.
Keeping one hand on his knife, Cousin pulled open the deadbolt with a clunk. Kriti stood ten paces back, looking over his shoulder. He stepped back and kicked open the door.
Outside, yellow streetlights carved a suit-clad body and furrowed, predatory face. “My employer would see the lady of the house.” His voice sounded like crumbling concrete.
Kriti glowered at him. “Kitten.”
The man peered inside and smiled to see her. He’d gotten the name from how kittens play with terrified mice. Kitten was a Barnam, a native like them. In the old days he might have been a king’s assassin, not a freelancer. He’d have had poisoned darts and daggers, a black horse and shadowy apprentices. Now a limousine hovered behind him, and luminous symbols orbited his head.
Cousin folded his switchblade with a click. Kitten had weaponized implants and professional training; they’d do what he said.