Two thousand meters under the surface of a fallen world, in the pitch-black depths of the Imbrium Ocean, there sounded the guttural cries and clashing arms of a great rebellion. It was an era of great tumults.
“We can defeat them. Remain steady! We are the Ummah! La tahzan innallaha ma`ana!”
Do not fear, God is with us.
In the year 934 “After Descent,” in the rocky, deep land of Eisental, armies arrayed themselves over a chasm that yawned red with ancient blood. Thirty three ships on one side and fifty-two on the other; the grey and gold Imbrian ships with beveled prows, winged fins, heavily filigreed in the symbols of Empire; versus the boxy, brown, almost brick-like vessels of the “jihadists” challenging them.
As they approached, the combatants saw each other only as blurry images on computer screens. Sonar sensors, laser imaging arrays, computerized rangefinders. To the opposing side, they were each concealed physically within their own vessels and invisible. Never would they meet; they would not see each other bleed. Yet it was a war all the same, with the weapons of the age locked and ready to kill.
It was said that the Imbrians were stronger, that with less ships they could still win.
It was said by defeatists, “one Imbrian ship is the equal to ten of the ships we can make.”
This was neither science, nor was it respectful of themselves and their ummah.
Mehmed Khalifa knew that the Shimii could not only fight the Imbrians; they could win.
This Imbrium Ocean had seen so much upheaval, been the site of so much pain.
Once referred to as the “Atlantean” ocean after a civilization that had control of it, the Imbrium lay in the western hemisphere of the world, fenced in by the dead continents of Occultis and Nobilis and bifurcated by the presumed remains of “Atlante” now called the “Khaybar Mountain,” which divided the Imbrians north to south, east to west in their waters. This was the ocean’s secret history, known to a few– in 934 After Descent, this ocean was only known by the name of its latest conqueror, The Imbrian Empire.
Mehmed Khalifa kept the secret — and how he learned it — to himself.
“Atlante” was an irrelevant word. Only the world of the here and now truly existed.
It was because this Imbrium Ocean had seen so much upheaval, because it was divided, that Mehmed knew that he could win. If the Imbrian Empire was founded over this, then it was founded on the corpse of a world and its own Imbrian Empire before it. So then, what precluded Mehmed from building his own Empire over this mass grave? He had the power to rule, and he had the site to lay down his palace.
As he stood on the bridge of his flagship, as the ships neared a kilometer of each other and began to fire their blazing weaponry, Mehmed Khalifa watched the computer screens intently. He had divined the enemy’s intention and put together his strategy. Now all he could do was watch it unfold before him. To believe in the men and women he trained, to believe in the powers that he had given his people.
For a moment, he was gripped by a great anxiety–
At his side, a heavy hand set down comfortably on his shoulder. It felt warm, familiar.
Mehmed turned, his cat-like ears vibrating slightly at the touch, locking eyes–
Smiling, as a deep voice told him, “Imam of Imams, I am blessed to fight at your side.”
In return, a fond whisper drew from his lips–
One word, full of all of his love. “Radu–”
Inside the apartment a percussive noise began to play from the room’s sound system. Along with the reverberating sound, the bed was also gently vibrating to awaken its occupant. Her limbs seemed to wake before the rest of her, her legs kicking out while her hand groggily laid on the wall. Around her hand a square outline lit up green on the wall surface, authenticating her to the room.
Homa Baumann lifted herself up to a sitting position. Head pounding with fading visions.
With the room lights off, a tiny crack of yellow light from the hall cut across the floor.
Blearily, she rubbed her hand over her face and over her hair. Her cat-like ears folded forward as she ran her hand over them. Behind her, she swished her short, fluffy bobbed tail. She had an odd dream, but the sight and sound of it was slipping away from her as her senses returned. There was a lot of praying in the dream, in Fusha— a language Homa knew embarrassingly little about for a Shimii.
From across the room, she heard a low, whirring mechanical noise.
LEDs lit up on a little machine; a timer, and a temperature reading.
For a moment, with her legs out of bed but her mind lagging behind, Homa sat quietly.
Aside from the noise of her cooking pot, reheating yesterday’s lonac, everything was quiet.
“Turn the lights on, dim.”
At once, the LED clusters on the roof came to life, casting a gentle white light.
Homa found herself surrounded by smooth, metal walls. Behind these walls were various amenities tucked away with sliding plates. There was a tiny bathroom, tighter than a public bathroom stall, with a combination shower, toilet, and sink subject to water fees. There was a small closet that could warm and spray down her clothes for a tiny fee. Most of her possessions lived under the square frame of her bed, which had a remarkably soft mattress, about the only room feature that felt luxurious.
Her most prized possession, however, was her multicooker digital pot.
Sat atop a small refrigerator in the corner opposite her bed, the pot had a simple computer and a panel for touchscreen controls on the front. It could hold around 7.5 liters and it had a metal pot that could sear meat, and it could also boil, and cook under pressure, as well as having other modes. Every morning, Homa could get up from bed and finish off yesterday’s lonac, and then cook today’s stew in it.
Homa’s head began to simmer with the directives of daily living. She made herself get up.
She slid her hand over the wall behind her fridge and multicooker and it slid open.
Inside were a few plastic bowls and cups, cutlery, and other items, along with three pill bottles.
She popped open two of the pill bottles and took into hand a pink pill and a yellow one.
Taking a cup from the little closet, she went to the bathroom, slid open the door, and with her elbow, hit the touchpad on the wall to bring up the sink, which slid out of the wall inside the bathroom stall. There was barely enough room to actually enter the stall with the sink raised up, so she did everything at arm’s length, taking water from the sink and drinking her pills before returning to the multicooker.
Homa made a mental note that she was running low on her pills.
She would need to make a trip to the Gender Equality Institute– if it was open at all.
These days, with the whole Volkisch thing–
She didn’t want to think about it. Food first; then go to work. That was her life.
Cracking open the instant pot, she found, freshly warmed up from its slumber, a bowlful of an orange and red stew, thick with pale green cabbage, glistening with rendered fat, shredded chunks of red-flecked brown meat tucked away like little treasures inside. While the stew was traditionally made with many vegetables, her “bachelor’s lonac” was composed of mainly cabbage, with a bit of stew meat, flavored with tomato paste and “Zlata,” a seasoning blend of dried and powdered vegetables with a little salt.
This meal was her humble companion, keeping her alive. It was her little ritual.
She filled her bowl by pulling the pot out of the multicooker base and tipping the contents into it. Then she set the pot back. Before eating, she bent down to the refrigerator and checked her current stocks. She had some cubed stewing beef left, which she put into the pot, and then set the pot to sear it nice and hot for a few minutes while she ate; she still had a bag of cabbage for today’s pot, but she would need to get more. She had a bit of bread, and a cupcake that a neighbor had given her, along with her seasoning bottles and tubes, which were still decently in order. Satisfied, Homa returned to bed with her bowl.
Homa lifted a spoonful of stew into her mouth and instantly shut her eyes with pleasure.
Lonac warmed her heart. Every morning and every night.
That vegetal, tangy cabbage and savory meat made her want to keep living.
Everything was tastier when she was hungry, but this stew was her little masterpiece.
Despite everything, despite all the hardships, she could at least do this–
Tears welled up in her eyes. She tried to fight them back as she ate.
There was no use crying. Crying wouldn’t make anything easier than it was.
Every day that she lived, God willing, was a day where something good could happen.
So she focused on the taste of the food, how good it felt to eat. She forgot the bad things.
“Have to get food ready for tonight, and then get to work. That’s it; that’s everything.”
Homa cleaned out her bowl, and by then, the cubed beef got a bit of a sear and rendered some fat into the pot, to join whatever drippings were left over from the last pot. Homa took a mug of water and poured it into the pot, along with a squeeze of tomato paste from a tube and a half-dozen shakes of Zlata seasoning from a “family size” shaker bigger than her fist. She stirred the liquid, paste and seasoning until it formed a uniform yellowish-orange, flecked with red. Then she layered shredded cabbage and topped everything off with a bit more liquid before sealing and programming the pot.
Those beef cubes were very tough; tender marbled beef was expensive for Shimii to get. However, the beef cubes were full of flavor waiting to be unlocked. Cooking them all day in the pot broke down the tough meat and spread rich, savory flavors into the cabbage, making a little meat go a long way.
Tonight, she would come home to enough lonac for a big bowl for dinner and breakfast.
To ensure that would continue to be the case she would have to hit the market after work.
And to do that, she needed to get paid.
If a ship came today, or if she got some kind of gig at the docks, she could make it.
Inshallah, she would make it.
She double checked the pot, double checked the fridge, and then walked over to the closet.
From the closet, she withdrew her black lycra diving suit, a sports bra, and the jumpsuit she wore to work. She stripped off the camisole and shorts she wore to bed, putting them in place of her work clothes so they would get freshened up inside the closet. Because showers cost money, she only showered when she came back home from work. In the morning, she still felt pretty fresh from her last shower.
Then from the cupboard, she withdrew a necklace, a weathered old thing, valueless.
She carefully, even reverently, put it around her neck. She would zip her jumpsuit over it.
In terms of sentimental value, it was a priceless good luck charm.
And she needed all the good luck she could get.
Homa dressed, pulling her fluffy little bundle of a tail through the holes in her diving suit and jumpsuit. She tied up her blue-black hair into a fluffy ponytail, donned her work boots, and from the same cupboard with her bowls and pills, she withdrew a trio of ID cards clipped to a lanyard. One was her dockworker pass, another her resident ID, and the third was her work permit for the main Kreuzung station, so she could leave the segregated Tower Eight. Those papers were her entire life.
“Power saving mode until I return. If there’s an outage, apply battery to the multicooker.”
She gave instructions to the room computer, and an acknowledgment appeared on the wall.
Then she left the room.
Directly outside her room was a hall, a few meters wide, soft brown matting covering the metal floor, while the walls were the same bare metal colors as the rooms. Room doors lined the walls, and the hall branched at every 10 doors. Each room had a customizable framed plaque space where something could be displayed to add color to the hall. Homa did not use hers for anything but her next-door neighbor on the right, who had given her the cupcake, had a banner with Al-Fusha characters, purple and gold colored. Homa could not read it, but her neighbor told her: it meant “God loves those who do good.”
Homa followed the hall to an elevator, and she took this elevator up sixty stories.
Kreuzung Tower Eight was known as the “Shimii District.” It was “tower eight” because it was situated at the 8 o’ clock position from the central tower. There were twelve towers in total, each connected to the core station by a tube. Shimii were rarely allowed to live in the main tower, so Tower Eight had rooms, shops, mosques, and other amenities distributed across the tiers of the tower for their use, so that they would never need to leave its confines. At the very top of the tower was the tram that led into Kreuzung, along with a small dock exclusively for the delivery of goods via the cargo elevator. That tram was Homa’s destination, but she would stop at the market a few tiers down from it on the way back home.
Her room was underground, in the cheapest habitat to live in.
Above her, there were tiers with real houses, even a simulated sky with rain.
And the sort of people who could afford to live in them– certainly not her.
She spent several minutes on the elevator, people infrequently stopping to get in and out. Doors opened and closed quickly shut on seedy commercial areas, a beautiful garden plaza surrounding a mosque, a massive warehousing district, an expensive housing habitat, all piled up on top of each other, slices of the layer cake of Shimii living in Kreuzung. Finally, Homa looked out the door onto the upper tier.
Homa stepped out onto a metal floor —
–and found herself, immediately, crushingly, surrounded. Surrounded by something enormous.
Staring up, helplessly, and recalling the details of her life, framed beneath the metal and glass.
She did not just live in a normal room, contained in a building, with her pot of lonac.
It was the year 979 A.D. in Kreuzung, capital station of the Imbrian province of Eisental.
Homa lived 2500 meters under a vast ocean beneath the dead surface of the planet Aer.
It never got easier to look at the enormity of the cold, dark, and vast Imbrian Ocean under which they all lived. Tower Eight’s upper floor had reinforced metal ceiling girders with enormous gaps between them that were glass paneled, exposing grand long streaks of the swirling black water outside, along with the occasional glimpse of marine life. Along with that glass and metal dome overhead, the thick, sturdy tram tunnel connecting Tower Eight to Kreuzung loomed in the distance with its sealed metal hatch.
That tram tunnel, massive and industrial, was like an arm that Kreuzung had extended out to Tower Eight, clapping on its head and squeezing, uttering ‘you Shimii belong to me, and this is your place.”
For just a minute, Homa felt a sense of foreboding. Maybe it was the long elevator ride that took something out of her at just that moment every day, and the combination of that and then staring at the deep blue-black eye of Shaitan threatening to crush her from overhead. For a moment, she felt like a speck of dust. Her breath caught in her chest, her eyes briefly spun, she felt vertigo. But every day, she mastered herself, closed her fists at her sides, and made herself walk to the tram station.
“Go to work, come back, eat dinner. I can do this.” Homa whispered to herself.
She did it every day– today was no different. It would be the same for the rest of her life.
There was a checkpoint beside the tram platform, with an armed, uniform Imbrian officer in a booth behind safety glass. Homa could see the waiting tram engine and its two cars on the track. There was no line in front of the checkpoint; a paltry few cat-eared, cat-tailed people were waiting on the tram station already having crossed the gate. She walked up to the guard’s booth by herself.
“Card up against the reader. You know the drill.” Said the guard in a disinterested voice.
He was watching a video on a portable terminal.
That guard was not there to operate the gate and card reader. They operated themselves.
He was there to shoot gate jumpers or arrest people with forged papers.
Homa held her work permit card up to the touchpad on the guard’s booth.
A few seconds later, the gate partially opened, allowing her through, before shutting again.
“Have a wonderful day at the Kreuzung core station.” The guard mumbled.
Homa did not respond to that. She walked to the edge of the tram platform and waited.
Finally, the train doors opened, Homa walked in, and took a seat.
There were less than a dozen Shimii around, and all of them dressed in work clothes, Homa saw a woman who was clearly a desk secretary, a man in a padded suit, maybe from a cleaning company, and others like them. Unpainted metal walls, barely padded plastic seats, there was not much to say about the tram itself. When the hatch into the tram tunnel opened however, the dark, yawning maw ahead was just a bit unnerving. With the few people in the tram, and everyone keeping to themselves, there was nothing to hear but the indistinct metallic sounds of train on track, stirring right through Homa’s gut.
At first the tunnel was fully sealed and there was nothing to see out the windows.
As they approached Kreuzung, there was a section that was made of glass, and through the ceiling panel window of the tram car, it was possible to see the vast shadow of Kreuzung ahead of them. Tower Eight was about 700 meters tall, with about 400 meters of it above ground, but Kreuzung was over 1.2 km tall and it was even wider than tall. Compared to Tower Eight, it was its own separate, entire world.
All of this, the vast Kreuzung, and its twelve clockwise towers, was set into an enormous crater itself several kilometers in diameter, and Homa had heard the crater was actually ringed with external facilities, and the walls of the crater had habitats for mineral workers and soldiers, and military and industry installations– overall, the Kreuzung crater and the entire complex housed millions of people, it was massive. It was not even the largest such complex either– the Palatine and Veka both had a city complex larger than this. And Shimii legends told that their ancient cities were bigger and grander.
Nevertheless, that moment in the tunnel, staring up at the distant shadow of Kreuzung, an enormous pillar that rose to fill the sky, its millions of lights barely outlining its figure in the vast darkness of the Imbrium– Homa almost felt like it was meant to make her feel small. Like it was deliberate.
As if to say to her personally, that there was no possible way to change any part of this.
Homa Baumann, a poor mixed race Shimii, brown skinned, dark haired, sitting alone in that tram in her blue jumpsuit and workboots, her fluffy tiny stub of a tail caught against the seat, her yellow eyes staring up at that pillar. Struggling for food, struggling for medicine, struggling to control her life, segregated from the Imbrians who could come and go where they pleased, who owned this ocean. None of this could be challenged by someone like her. All she could was sit down and stare at it every day.
In the shadow of a thousand year history of her people that led to this day.
Things she barely knew or understood, loomed over her, whispering shadows.
Sitting there alone on the tram with all of this in sight, she thought–
How did it come to this?
How did it come to be that their people lived with these injustices?
But she never even learned Fusha, she barely really knew their religion. She didn’t know their history.
She went to school with the Imbrians and never learned much there either.
So how could she even begin to think about such things?
She held a hand up to her head. “Just go to work, come back home, and eat.” She mumbled.
Homa stepped off the tram in Kreuzung to a sectioned off platform where Shimii were subject to yet another inspection before they entered the station proper. At the gate out of the platform, she had to go through a combination heat, laser, and acoustic body scanner with a gate. She shut her eyes; she knew it was over when she felt the rumble of the ground sonar shake out over her skin.
“Free to go. Next in line, come on!”
She was ushered out of the gate area by an additional guard, and down a slightly angled ramp. She walked through a dimly lit maintenance tunnel before coming out through a nondescript door that fed into Kreuzung. When she stepped out, she was already in the middle of a crowd. It felt like they wanted her to blend in, but she always felt like she was committing a crime by coming here with how walled off and surreptitious everything was. Like she broke in despite being let through.
Kreuzung was so enormous, it didn’t make much sense to think of it in terms of tiers like she thought about Tower Eight. Each “tier” of Kreuzung had multiple modules inside it called “blocks” that could have vastly different uses and layouts. Homa found herself in an enormous, vast pavilion with multiple stories. Each ring was divided up into spaces for storefronts, restaurants, and other businesses, connected by a spiraling staircase in the middle, or by elevators. Everything was ritzy, the thoroughfares were carpeted blue and fenced with glass panels beneath pearl-white guardrails. Every storefront had colorful digital signage and prominently displayed its hottest merchandise up front, such that scanning the horizon was like looking through a catalog of clothes, electronics, food, toys, jewelry, home decorations, anything Homa could possibly think to buy was sold here, maybe even by a few different shops a piece.
Unlike Tower Eight, where the ceiling never got far enough to ever feel like a sky, this pavilion alone had stories that were twenty meters tall each, and at the top, where Homa was, the domed glass ceiling that was projecting an artificial sunlight looking down into the mall was forty meters up. Even in the tiers of Tower Eight that had individual “buildings” instead of just halls of “rooms,” most of the “houses” were maybe, at most, 10 by 10 meters inside, much bigger that Homa’s room but not extraordinarily so.
Here, each shop was bigger than that, and even the humblest storefront was the size of six or seven or eight of Homa’s room. It was truly insane, the amount of space being devoted to commerce.
Homa could sometimes afford to shop at some of the stores here, or to eat at the restaurants, but she preferred to frequent the shops in Tower Eight because she always felt like people were staring at her in Kreuzung. Not only that, but every item was also more expensive in Kreuzung, even in budget shops, so where she could buy two shirts and a pair of sturdy boots in Tower Eight, she could buy a shirt or some synthestitched sneakers in Kreuzung– though they’d be from flashier brands at least.
It was lean times for her company, however, so her wallet was looking worse for wear.
She could forget about trying on a dress or any more feminine clothes than she had–
If they didn’t get a few ships today, she wouldn’t be able to make rent this month.
She would have to ask for help– maybe even do the unthinkable, ask Madame Arabie–
No way– things had to work out today. Homa waded her way through the crowd.
Making it to the elevator, and down to the dock owned by Bertrand Shore Works.
B.S.W. was a bit out of the way, for a commercial dock.
They were at the bottom of the Kreuzung pillars and Homa had to take an elevator, walk through a residential hallway, and then take a second elevator, to reach a dark, grimy old cargo ramp that she took into the dock’s “dry” structure. That sense of grand scale returned as she crossed the bulkhead door from the ramp into the docks proper, and everything opened up in front of her, from a tunnel into a grand and open mechanical space, 50 meters tall from the walkable floor, but up to 75 meters tall in the berths.
Attached to the dock platform, BSW owned two cage berths, enormous boxes with titanium walls and massive glass windows that could be sealed for extra protection. These structures opened and closed into the Imbrium ocean outside. Each berth had complete water and pressure control, separated between the two, multiple magnetic arms, and the ability to extend platforms to the docked ships so they could work on them “dry” or while flooded. Both berths could hold up to a Cruiser in size. One of the Berths, the one farthest, was attached to a massive mechanical conveyor, its mighty gear-works exposed on the far wall, that could take a ship up and out of the berth, out of B.S.W and into the city itself, for heavy duty work at a contracted or private yard– or for scrapping and parts sale. It was a gate into the tower proper.
Everything was black metal and green grime, sharp angles and discolorations, rainbow pools of oils, chemical weathering in parts of the floor from accidents, burns on the walls, it was an ugly place, but it was massive, industrial, the kind of place that Homa wanted to work in, piloting huge machines and working on ships. There was an open space where they could work on parts repair for individual ship sections, flanked by a parking space for a forklift, a crane, two demilitarized Volker Diver suits and a wheeled ferrostitcher assembly the size of a truck. Just off of the ship conveyor at the far wall there was a shitty little plastic building that housed the main office, the bathroom, and the breakroom.
Homa walked along the edge of the berth walls, glancing at the massive, empty windows into the Imbrium. Because these were lit up by the berth’s lights, the water was a dark, greenish-blue rather than pitch black. There was nothing there, but she was trying to manifest it. Today, they would get a ship in, and get a good chunk of cash out of the deal. Or at least a gig around the station waters.
As she approached the back of the main building, she heard a lively discussion.
“–it’s crazy, isn’t it? They work for Rhineanmetalle, make way more than we do, with benefits, and they’re still bitchin’? No one would give a shit if it was us here making a fuss at old Bertrand, nobody would give us solidarity, but those guys can throw a fit and have TV cameras up their ass in one afternoon.”
“Ehh, no use thinking about it. I don’t think the Volkisch are going to let it drag on long.”
“Those Volkisch haven’t been able to oust old Werner from the high tower. They weren’t able to stop the riots either. We were lucky that mess stopped itself. I’m telling you, these guys’ tantrum is gonna last for weeks and give us all headaches. What if ships don’t come in when they hear of it? It could get bad.”
“Ships already are barely coming in. I don’t think strikers are gonna change any of that.”
“But that striking shit, it scares off the business type guys. I’m telling you, it’ll be trouble.”
“What are you two hollering about?”
Homa approached from around the corner of the office, brows arched with curiosity.
She found her two older coworkers, Becker and Aicher, chatting away with their backs to the plastic wall beside the office door, small disposable coffee cups in their hands. They were both dressed in the same blue jumpsuit coveralls as she was. They were old hardy men, olive skinned, rough voiced, with lots of facial hair and little on their heads, rough hands, big shoulders, and bad backs.
Both of them put on their best facsimiles of a smile when Homa appeared, as if it took some effort to get their faces beyond sneering. Becker and Aicher had been sneering for a long time.
“Mornin’ little sunshine!” Becker said. “Homa, did I ever tell you you’re about the only damn reason to want to come to Bertrand’s junk pile these days? Did I ever tell her, Aicher?”
Aicher rolled his eyes. “I really wish you never had, not now and not before.”
“Oh come on.” Homa frowned at Becker. “At least bug me later in the day than this.”
“Sure thing doll.” Becker said. “We were talking about the strikers.”
“Yeah, you know, when folks get mad at the boss, and try to take over the equipment.”
“I know what a strike is– I didn’t know one was going on.” Homa replied.
“It’s the steelworkers at Rhineanmetalle. Tower Nine.” Aicher said.
Becker scoffed, shaking his head. He was clearly impassioned by the topic.
“I was just tellin’ Aicher, those guys make a killing compared to us greasemonkeys at the docks, and they’re still throwing fits? They should be happy to have a job at all. Not everyone gets to live in a place like Kreuzung, it’s not cheap, but at least it’s nice, there’s opportunity. Every room has a computer! Those guys make enough to eat at nice places, have good rooms. They oughta be keeping quiet.”
“I guess so.” Homa said. She was immediately worried.
Rhineanmetalle was a lot of the reason Kreuzung was the way it was.
It wasn’t just the steelworks at Tower Nine. It was almost everything.
The factories in Tower Three, the engineer habs in Tower Ten, the semiconductor plant, and hell, the equipment for the police and the garrison too. Kreuzung had a huge school mainly sponsored by Rhineanmetalle for its STEM program. Homa began to worry, that if there was some trouble with Rhineanmetalle in one place, it would make trouble for the entire station complex.
She wasn’t angry at the steelworkers– if she could shout at old Bertrand for more money and get anything out of it she would have been happy to do so. She couldn’t blame them. She was anxious and a bit annoyed, verging on anger, at “the way things were” in a vague sense. Any kind of disruption would just get the Volkisch riled up. People might get hurt. Prices of stuff might go up. She barely got through the week of the election back when the Volkisch took over Thurin. That was an absolute nightmare.
Everyone at Kreuzung was panicking and taking advantage of the panic.
People did get hurt and prices did go up, despite how far away the violence in Thurin was.
And Tower Eight locked down. The Shimii were left to fend for themselves.
Even when liberal old Werner remained the governor, people still panicked at Kreuzung.
“Man, this sucks.” Homa mumbled. At least back then she had a little money saved up.
Becker nodded his head. “Well, what else can we do? Let’s just hope whatever head-cracking goes down will just go down fast and be done. Homa, you need the money more, so I’ll let you tool up the vehicles, that’s what Bertrand wanted us doing today anyway.” He pointed to the machines sitting at the edge of the workspace. They needed tire changes, battery checks, and other routine maintenance.
While this was partially him fobbing off work on her, it was also kind on Becker’s part.
Homa might have gotten fired by old Bertrand if she had nothing to do for this long.
Becker and Aicher and the other crew had seniority. Homa was the new kid, and a Shimii.
Even with her Diver piloting certification. They had another pilot– they could do without.
So she saluted old Becker with a little smile. She wasn’t opposed to working.
She preferred to have a job than not; and she liked getting to poke at the heavy equipment.
Homa walked inside the office, waving at the secretary behind the desk, a compact lady with short brown hair named Emma. She waved back with a smile, while working on something on her desktop terminal. The interior was white plastic, far less dirty than the exterior, with nothing more than Emma’s desk, the closed door to Bertrand’s office, and the door to the breakroom. Homa put her hand on a scanner on the wall next to the breakroom door, which would clock her in and automatically clock her out at the end of the day. Dockworkers were paid by the hour, but their base pay was subpar because without ships or cargo they were being paid to sit around, and Bertrand was stingy about it. But on top of their mediocre hourly pay, they had opportunities to earn some real cash through piecework and gigs.
Once she was clocked in, the tools locker would allow her to take out needed equipment.
Thus she began her business of the day.
Her first target would be the Diver, since they could get a gig at any moment that might require her to go out in it. They had two demilitarized Volkers, stripped of their curved round armor so they looked like a pair of crates with arms and legs and an exposed camera system for a head. Some of the ductwork for the hydrojet backpack and its front-facing water intakes was exposed. It was still a Diver, a large humanoid armor built for braving the ocean, so it could still withstand pressure and allow the operator to go out in the water and perform work (or fight bad guys, in some far-off impossible fantasy of Homa’s.)
However, without its armor, it needed regular maintenance to remain operable. Seawater would wear away the so-called “waterproof” lubricants and seals on the exposed joints. The armor on a Diver was alloyed against seawater corrosion, but the interior works meant to be hidden behind armor were not as protected, and without the armor, corroded much faster. That meant the lubricants and waterproof sealant had to be reapplied judiciously, and the machine had to be checked for corrosion, and any exposed weld joins or bolts or joint balls exhibiting advanced stages of corrosion had to be completely replaced. Thankfully the metal could be partially broken down and reused by their Ferristitcher, or else Homa would probably be paid even worse by Bertrand if he had to buy new parts all the time.
As long as Homa caught problems in time, it wasn’t too bad.
As she worked on the Diver’s legs, checking the knee and its internal water intake, the “pelvic” platform to which the legs attached to the cockpit structure of the chest, the ankle joint that allowed the angling of the hydrojet on the sole of the foot– Homa looked up sometimes, her heart soaring with a bit of awe at the machine. Standing over 6 meters tall and close to 4 wide, it towered over her. One swing of that arm would break every bone in her body. There were larger things than a Diver, but only a Diver was shaped like a human, shaped enough for comparison. It had arms, legs, a body and a head. A metal human.
These machines fascinated her– that was why she had wanted to work in the docks.
Out of all the dirty jobs Madame Arabie had in mind for her, this one appealed the most.
And so, Homa diligently cleaned the old Volker suit, took note of the observed levels of corrosion in the parts, none of which needed immediate replacement, and reapplied lubricants and waterproof sealant gel wherever needed. Sometimes, with the gel fully dried, it almost looked like the Volker had some of its armor back on its shoulders and hips, between the joints in its arms and legs. With the exterior taken care of, she brought over the wheeled lift to help herself up to the cockpit to check the instruments–
–when her favorite part of the maintenance was interrupted.
She heard a cracking, buzzing noise coming from Bertrand’s building.
Over a loudspeaker, the old man’s voice boomed,
“We got a ship incoming! Cruiser size on the second berth, taking the lift. Homa, get a portable and go check their papers out. Sound off when you do, and the boys can get the lift going.”
Responding at lightning speed, Homa quickly took off her greasy gloves, dropped them in a bucket of cleaning solution, and ran back to the office. A huge smile had crept up on her face, almost mad with elation– a ship! They finally had a ship coming in! As she ran, she saw, in the distance, the outer wall of the far berth opening and the magnetic arms shifting to grab hold of the incoming Cruiser.
It was real; it was real!
She hadn’t had shipwork pay in almost two weeks!
Emma came out of the office and handed her a portable terminal as she approached, and then Homa took it like a baton pass and ran a dozen meters from the office to the edge of the conveyor up from the second berth. She opened the door to a booth which had a touchpad with the controls to the berth doors and to start up the conveyor engine. She also had controls for a movable airstair so that the crew of a ship on the conveyor could come down and show their papers or haggle with the dockworkers.
From the booth Homa had a good view of the Cruiser as it began to pull into the berth.
With a clanking noise the outer door of the berth closed, and the magnetic arms affixed themselves to the hull to hold it into place. Powerful pumps drained the berth water into the ocean outside. The arriving ship was gruesomely ugly. A massive, brown, and roughly rectangular vessel with rounded sides and a slightly angled deck and prow, with thick fins on the midsection and rear. It looked like the kind of ugly old hauler with trick cargo holds to ran poppy for Madame Arabie, except scaled up to be twice as big.
That was the one thing it had going for it– this was a huge cruiser, heavy-looking and substantial.
Homa checked her portable, which had the arrival information from the port dispatcher.
“The ‘Pandora’s Box’, huh?” She whispered to herself. “It was christened really recently too.”
Treasure Box Transports. Extremely shady– no wonder they came to Bertrand’s dock.
‘Transport Company’ usually meant some barely above board criminal outfit.
But if they hid all their stuff right, they could go in and out of Kreuzung without problems.
As long as you were good and prompt with money, nobody cared about anything else.
Once the berth was entirely drained and the mechanical arms holding the ship completed an automated stability check, a light appeared on the touchpad in Homa’s booth. She pressed a button to open the berth into the dockyard, and the thick metal door slowly lifted to allow the Pandora’s Box to be deposited inside and onto the conveyor. Homa’s entire view of the conveyor was filled by brown metal as the ship took up half the interior of the yard. Becker or Aicher or one of the other guys was operating the conveyor, and it was them who attached a series of magnetic clamps to keep the ship in place.
With the Pandora’s Box fully inside, Homa closed the berth opening behind them.
For a moment she was bewildered by the sheer scale of the operation. Bertrand’s was just a lot of space when it was empty, but with a ship inside, Homa felt like she truly understood once again the degree to which everything around her was massive, industrial. It was just a little daunting as she got to work.
From her booth Homa controlled the boarding airstair, guiding it on a rail until it aligned with the bulkhead on the Pandora’s Box. Once she got it where she wanted, she left the booth, and walked along the side of the vessel, flicking her finger on the screen of her portable to bring up the program that could scan and verify the documents from the incoming crew representative. She felt a bit of a thrill as she walked alongside the enormous ship. Yes, it was ugly and unadventurous and it did not look romantic at all, nevertheless, it was a ship. It sailed the oceans, it saw different vistas and peoples all the time.
A workaday cat like Homa envied even the relatively small freedom of working on a ship.
At the top of the airstair, Homa waited for the bulkhead door to open.
A few minutes later, she heard the hissing as the door unlocked.
“Good afternoon! Thank you so much for your hard work. Very reasonable prices too!”
From behind the bulkhead door of the Pandora’s Box appeared a representative of the crew, and what a representative she was! Tall, busty, and leggy, with long, wavy blond hair, green eyes, and a mature, sophisticated affect. Her uniform was sharp, a white button-down and tie with a teal half jacket, long-sleeved, along with a black pencil skirt, tights, and black shoes. She was stunning, as if the world had heard Homa’s brain muttering her taste for adventure and responded in kind with this woman.
“Can– Can I get your name please?” Homa said, trying not to sound too dorky.
“Captain Korabiskaya. Ulyana Korabiskaya.” She gave Homa a handsome smile and a little wink, before turning over a portable terminal with their papers. Homa could not meet her eyes.
The bashful Shimii took that thick portable and waved her own smaller portable over it.
There was a little green flash of acknowledgment. Crew, cargo, passengers; their manifest just checked out. A ship’s manifest was like their passport, and this one was legit and up to date.
“Your papers are in good order.” Homa said, trying to neither lift her voice too high nor to murmur at her attractive customer. “Um, do you all– do you have a loader lined up to take your ship somewhere? We have some contacts– good guys, they’ll get your ship where you want it–”
Captain Korabiskaya interrupted gently. “We have something lined up. Thank you.”
“Alright.” No commission for that part, but it was fine. “Can I get your destination?”
“We’re taking the ship to a rented drydock in the main tower, it’s leased to Solarflare LLC and the contact for it should be under Theresa Faraday. If you need to reach us personally about it, you can get a hold of Ms. Faraday on Tower Five, Tier ten, Block D. Will that suffice or do you need more information?”
“Yes, thank you. That’s everything.” Homa said simply.
She figured these people had their situation planned out already.
So she would not be able to upsell them on additional services. But it was fine– just getting a ship up on the belt and signed in was piecework for everybody, and Homa would be going home with a decent chunk of cash she had not been expecting. A little closer to making up her upcoming rent.
“Keep working hard, cutey.”
By the time Homa recognized the compliment, Ulyana Korabiskaya was back in her ship.
The Pandora’s Box closed its bulkhead, and it was ready to be slid uphill into Kreuzung.
As quickly as that mysterious ship and its alluring Captain had appeared, they exited.
Massive, grinding metal works towed the ship up the conveyor ramp and through gigantic metal doors into the interstice of the tower. A gargantuan network that could take material from the docks to the huge shipworks or scrapyards inside of the monumental Kreuzung complex. The Pandora’s Box was on its way to its next adventure. Homa hadn’t worked with a ship in so long she almost forgot how it felt.
Those little glimpses, as if of another world entirely, flashing by Bertrand’s–
Out in the water, something was always moving, always stirring, all of the rest of life.
She felt so,
–but there was nothing she could do.
Homa lived 2500 meters below sea level of a scarred world without justice or peace.
In the bottom of the Imbrian Ocean, the throne oppressing a whole hemisphere. Everything was in tumult, the future was uncertain– and all she could do was go to work, return home, eat and sleep–
She couldn’t even pray– she had never learned the words properly in Fusha.
At the end of the day, Homa left the breakroom, waved all of the guys and Emma goodbye, and left old Bertrand’s behind for home. Her bank account was a little bit buoyed– apparently the Pandora’s Box did not haggle even a mark down, which was rare for private docks like Bertrand’s, for whom there was a relationship of mutual desperation to the erstwhile clientele of lowlife crews. Bertrand was greedy, but sharing the spoils was part of the code of honor of any thief who wanted to keep a crew together.
So the Pandora’s Box “overpaying” benefited her quite directly that day.
She retraced her steps, back up the Kreuzung elevators, up to the still crowded pavilion, through the checkpoints at Kreuzung and then at Tower Eight, and there she stood again. Hours later, and the Imbrium Ocean was still staring down at her from overhead in Tower Eight. That mighty and overwhelming force loomed in heaven, outside the dome, as she waited for an elevator.
“I hope the price of meat hasn’t gone up already. I haven’t heard any more news.”
Homa hadn’t been paying attention to any news.
Some part of her didn’t want to know; but if the strike made things really bad again–
Well– she would find out anyway if the tower locked down again.
There was a ringing noise that startled her out of her thoughts.
An elevator had arrived to take her down.
She entered and pressed the button for the eighth tier commercial block.
When the elevator doors opened, she stepped out of the tube and onto a double-wide concrete street. Up above the metal roof used a pattern of blue and yellow LEDs to try to represent a sky, but it was not so high up that it made any sense as such, it was nothing like the skies they were taught about in school or in scripture either. On both ends of the wide street there were shops, many of which were also the homes of the shopkeepers, who did business on the street level and slept in a second floor. All of the homes were made of plastic. Some of them had coats of green or purple paint, but most of them were the grey, brown, and black of the various interwoven, synthestitched pieces that made them up.
There were small plants in bubbles along the road for decoration. One of them had a flower.
Homa briefly stared at it– she couldn’t smell it because of the glass bubble protecting it.
Sometimes, she was struck by a brief but powerful longing to be able to smell such a flower.
But that would entail breaking the glass, and maybe killing it– and certainly receiving a beating.
At all times, it passed her over quickly and she walked past.
Some of the shops sold hand-made goods or offered services like room or home repair or haircuts or cosmetics or instruction in Imbrian language; others sold prepared foods like shawarma, cups of soup or stew, and wraps; but there were several that boasted affiliations to known Imbrian companies.
“Proud Volwitz affiliates” were authorized to sell Volwitz Foods products to the segregated Shimii– “Part of the Epoch family” meant they were selling Epoch Clothiers textiles. “Arleiter Tools Subsidiaries” sold everything from power tools to cables to fireproof suits, Homa bought her jumpsuit there. There was at least one shop for each of the big brands. Many Shimii couldn’t get papers to enter Kreuzung. Homa was “privileged” in this way. Most Shimii could only stay in Tower Eight or immigrate to an Agrisphere or to a Shimii quarter in some other station. So for many they could only get branded goods at these stores.
Even at this time of the day, there were a lot of people out on the streets.
Workers coming down in dirty clothes after clocking out, or towngoers dressed in their best and most colorful synthetic tunics, perhaps on the way to bars or dance clubs or even to gamble. Women who had just gotten their hair done up to go dancing, pulling along friends who dressed modestly and wrapped their hair, ears poking out of the hijab, all laughing together. There was such a huge variety of people. Homa could tell who the really religious folk were because they were hurrying back from the shops to the elevators in order to make it home by the nightly prayer. Other people would make it up when they did get home, “for Allah is most merciful;” others still would simply not pray, or only when convenient.
In all of this, Homa was alone.
Watching from afar; feeling at once compelled to be a part but also separated from the rest.
As the kind of Shimii she was; as the kind of woman she was– and whether or not people treated her as either of these. Watching the teeming mass of life around her, people joyous, people down on their luck, people haggling to the last cent or dropping a lot of money on name brands– it felt like a world as separated from her as the distant stations of the rest of the Imbrian Ocean. Places like Thurin, or the imperial seat at Heitzing in Palatine, so far away and so unreachable that they seemed like legends.
Fitting in among the Shimii here also felt like a distant fantasy.
She got herself moving again, casting her eyes at the ground and away from people’s faces.
Homa had one particular store that she bought from, located atop the bend in the street.
Named only “Hasim’s” but this one was not only painted royal purple: it had a Fusha sign.
Homa would say she “didn’t know a lick of Fusha” but she knew a good few common words and she was familiar with the really popular Surah passages, and the one on the sign in particular: “Not even an atom’s weight escapes your Lord on earth or in heaven.” Any given passage of scripture had a multitude of interpretations, but Homa knew the message of this one to be: God is always watching you, and He will see crimes against you redressed. No one can ignore the presence of God and sin without consequence.
In this context: it was one of the passages featured on businesses to show they were owned, protected, enabled, or otherwise associated with the gangster Madame Arabie. On the surface, these were just pretty words in Fusha language, but everyone here knew that it meant that this shop couldn’t be messed with. And that friends and supporters of the shop could get in good with the big boss herself as well.
No matter how she wanted to view herself, Homa was one of Madame Arabie’s goons.
So she shopped cheaper at Madame Arabie’s shops. It was another silent privilege.
Hasim’s was the only place worth checking if you were as “privileged” as she was.
If Hasim did not have something, it was not worth checking anywhere else. Nobody else had the same supply line as he did. Madame Arabie was probably giving him some kind of special treatment, or using him to smuggle stuff. Hasim always had the best goods, best prices, best selection, and all he sold was natural stuff. Not factory prepared Voltwitz meatloaves, but real meat, vacuum packed and frozen.
“As-salamu Alaykum, Hasim.” Homa said, trying to put on a smile as she entered the shop.
“Wa Alaykum Assalam, Homa!”
Hasim responded with ten times the cheer that Homa had. He was older than Homa by several years but could still be called a young man, particularly by his looks. He was slim and had a handsome boyish face, with the hair on his ears and tail perfectly trimmed (fluffy ears and tails were more of a woman’s fashion). Golden-skinned, with bright eyes and a brighter expression, colorful clothes, he was his own mascot.
His shop was as richly decorated as his clothes were. There were all kinds of religious souvenirs about, little hanging pictures of beautiful mosques from who-knew-where, colorful tassels between shelves of boxed products, his meat freezer’s walls had patterns of Girih tiles in blue and gold– very festive.
“Anything I can help you with?” He asked, cracking a big smile at her.
Homa cast a glance at the large meat freezer on the side wall of the shop, which looked like it had been picked clean aside from some vacuum-sealed beef bones and pile of frozen whole chickens. He had bags of vacuum sealed fresh cabbage in the refrigerator, and some fresh-ish steak that looked too expensive. In a pinch she could use dried chipped beef, but neither boxed nor canned did she see any there.
“Can I trouble you for any uh, budget, frozen stewing beef? Are you sold out?”
“Afraid I’m all sold out of the cheap beef Homa. Trying to get more in. It’s very popular, everyone can tell it’s a good deal, you know? Big beef eaters around here. Thrifty schoolmarms can feed an army of kids with my stuff too.” He pretended to look around, as if there was anyone else in the shop but the two of them. “For you, though, I could interest you in the steak? You ought to treat yourself, don’t you think? You work hard! You deserve some luscious, marbled beef melting in your mouth, today, only–”
As charming as he tried to be, Homa was not interested in his line delivery or the upsell.
Silently, she balked at the price. She needed to make rent. “Not today Hasim.”
She turned her eyes back to the frozen beef marrow bones. They would have to do.
“Pleasure doing business as always Homa!”
Before leaving, she turned to him, bags in hand, a bit of worry across her face.
“Have you heard anything about prices going up?” She asked.
“Homa, I have the best prices on the station! Why would they go up?”
“There’s something happening in the Rhineanmetalle towers, I heard.”
“I heard about that but– you know, successful businesses adapt to the conditions–”
“You just don’t know yet.” Homa gently interrupted, her ears drooping a little.
“Valued customers will always be the first to know my prices, Homa, you know that.”
Hasim smiled at her, but she could tell he didn’t like the topic. His tail was straight up.
She took it as a tacit admission. Yes, if things got bad again, he’d raise his prices.
Having any amount of forewarning wouldn’t change anything. Prices were prices.
When she walked out of the store, her bank account was still quite intact, and she had a bag of frozen beef bone sections with a nice cylinder of marrow in the center of each, and a fresh pack of cabbage for nutrition, along with a can of beans to bulk it up a bit. She was feeling positive about it. While she wouldn’t have the nice falling-apart beef cubes, the marrow would add good flavor, especially if she seared the bones, and the beans would fill her up nicely in the absence of shredded beef.
Her heart was lifted up a bit– tomorrow’s lonac would still be good, and she had money.
And then, almost instantly, her heart was cast far, far down. Slammed into the ocean floor.
When she met those razor-sharp emerald eyes approaching, she was instantly cut down.
A voice soft as song with the wickedness of sorcery–
“Salam. Homa, darling. I’m so blessed to have run into you before you left.”
As beautiful as she was deadly, a walking promise of pleasure or pain.
Her flowing chestnut brown hair swayed behind her in the gentle breeze blowing from the air circulators as she approached. Long-limbed, lithe, dressed in a fashion hopelessly unattainable to anyone who aspired to her level. Her tunic had a finish as if lacquered, deep red filigreed with golden lines tracing dazzling geometric patterns across her chest. Shoulders cut wide, neckline plunging deep to punctuate her hefty bust, with a skirt that seemed modestly long but had a slit on one side unveiling some skin.
Her red lips briefly sucked the end of a vaporizer pipe held on slender, long, and deft fingers, rumored to have seen the insides of both men and women’s bodies in contexts of love and violence both.
Behind her, a fluffy brown tail traced gentle lines in the air. Her ears were sharp, fluffy, perfectly manicured. She was beautiful, strikingly beautiful, the most beautiful woman on Aer, perhaps, with a mature affect in the expertly applied cosmetics on her olive-tan face. A radiance in her smile and the bleak, hopeless, crushing pressure when that smile turned to disdain. Madame Arabie, the sanctioned ruler of Tower Eight under the distant and callous eyes of the Imbrians. Demon and woman, love and hate, believer, and heretic; Madame Arabie trod a path that was sheer power in itself.
It was in her every step, it was the softly blown sweet fig smoke from her pursed lips.
It was Homa’s purse strings, which she completely controlled. It was life and death.
In a sense, it was even Homa’s very identity, permitted only under the Madame’s decree.
Homa could not speak.
She stood rooted in place, watching the woman approach with a sense of utter helplessness. Her mind flashed, between kisses and beatings, stroking hands, and slicing claws, blood and spit cast against wine and perfume. It all flashed in an instant, and she wondered where the slot machine would land.
An insane part of her heart felt almost relieved.
If this was her monthly run-in with Madame Arabie, then so be it. Let it be now, let it come.
Homa mastered herself, used all of her willpower not to flinch, when the silken skin of Madame Arabie’s fingers caressed her chin, and the woman planted a gentle kiss on Homa’s cheek.
She parted slowly from her and looked at her with the fondness of a mother.
A tiny grin on her lips suggested not motherly affection, however, but incoming depredation.
“Working hard as always. Come with me to the restaurant. I’ll get you changed, get you a good meal– we can catch up. Don’t worry, I’ll get you back home before bedtime. What do you say, darling?”
What do you say? She heard it in her mind as a shout. She knew what she needed to say.
“Thank you, Madame. I’m always happy for your hospitality.” Homa forced a smile.
On the southeastern side of the Kreuzung complex, an ordinary passenger ship descended the crater and crossed Tower Four before being flagged into the eastern end of the Kreuzung core station itself. It was a small, workman-like ship with maybe two dozen people inside, so it could dock almost anywhere.
Within the hour it was berthed at the Kreuzung International Seaport, and its passengers stepped into the station. A massive, shining steel-blue concourse greeted them, with posters everywhere boasting the many attractions of Kreuzung, its affiliation with Rhineanmetalle and its association with many large brands. In fact, the concourse itself was proudly named Arleiter Tools International Concourse– a brand now owned by Rhineanmetalle. Volwitz Foods was the next most prominent advertiser. Signs directed the concourse-goers to stop by the Volwitz Restaurant Pavilion after they were fully checked into the station.
Before the war, there were hundreds of interminable lines of passengers being checked by customs authorities, coming and going through Kreuzung as the vast flows of intra-Empire commerce itself did, but comparatively, the Seaport was almost barren that night. Those who were traveling now were only people from Rhinea itself trying to make business work in the silent chaos of the Civil War.
–and opportunists from abroad slipping in to fight their own shadowy battles.
“Hey! Not that way! Shimii! We process your people over here, come on!”
One of the border guards waved over a pair of women who had come out of the little ship last.
They had been headed for the wrong line to be processed out of the concourse.
Judging by their attire, the two women must have been wealthy, to be Shimii with freedom of travel and such colorful clothes. One of the women had on long brown slacks and a shirt that was blue and adorned with bright green and yellow palm trees and half-moons. She was carrying two jackets in arm, hers, and her companion’s. The leading woman’s skin was an odd grey-brown color, her shoulder-length hair a silvery pale, and one of her ears looked like it had all its fur singed off, smooth, grey, and overlong, crooked at an odd angle.
Her companion was a vibrant young girl, sandy brown skin with sandy brown hair in a ponytail, wearing a yellow sundress over a white, long-sleeved nylon bodystocking with a brown sun-hat. She was all smiles, quiet and peaceful, and quite obedient. Possibly younger. Such pairings were not altogether unknown.
No one would judge them overmuch– their money was still good here, if they knew the rules.
When called, the pair headed cheerfully to the immigration line without a care in the world.
They handed over a portable terminal that had their papers on it.
“Confirm your name, origin and business, please.” Said the border guard.
Speaking for the party was the woman with the odd ear. She grinned calmly.
“Madiha al-Nakar. Came by way of Mostar, and she and I are just here for pleasure.”
She pointed at her companion. “Her name is Parinita Al-Muhairi.”
“Alright. Your papers check out. Enjoy your stay– but listen up first,” the border guard leaned closer to the slot in the glass shield of his booth, so Madiha and Parinita could hear him whisper. “Go to Tower Eight. Talk to Madame Arabie in the Flowing Scarlet, it’s a restaurant in Tower Eight, Tier 4. You can’t miss it. She takes care of Shimii around here for us. Don’t dawdle or you’ll get in trouble. Kreuzung is real segregated. You can’t avoid that with just money. Go to Arabie and get Kreuzung papers there.”
After listening to the whispered instructions, the two women pretended everything was normal.
“Oh what a happy coincidence. That’s exactly where we were going first.” Madiha said.
“Alhamdulilah.” Parinita added with a big girlish smile.
“Fantastic. Then don’t let me stop you ladies. Get your luggage and have a great time, alright?”
In front of them, a little gate opened, allowing them out of the concourse into baggage claim.
The guard tipped his hat to them, and Madiha smiled knowingly back.
Hands in her pockets, taking in the sights. A tiny flickering flame of violence in her heart.
“Are you ready? My mawla in the making?” Madiha asked.
Parinita took in a deep breath. Holding her gentle, unbloodied hands to her heart.
“Yes. I’ve got to be. For our people’s future.” She said, with a sad, sighing breath.
Madiha smirked. From between her lips, a tiny bit of smoke blew out.
Her eyes glowed briefly red with determination.
“Don’t worry. I’m here for you. Anyone tries to touch you, I’ll incinerate them.”