This story segment contains scenes of violence and death.
Across Ayvarta rushed the grey tide. From the bordering nations of Mamlakha and Cissea, once a part of the same land, the grey tide charged Shaila and Adjar. It turned along the curve of the Kucha, capturing Tambwe and Dbagbo on its sides, headed east, northeast, to the red sands, to Solstice, and beyond, across Ayvarta.
The Grey Tide snuffed out the fires lighting the beacon of socialism.
Aster, Hazel, Postill, Lilac, Yarrow, gone. It was done. The Grey men won.
Ayvarta turned grey, and the grey men marched in their uniforms. From then on it was all pickaxe and plow for the red people. Coldly they were watched as they toiled until they died. Iron for the factories, grain for the tables, gold for the coffers, oil for the burners, thousands of miles away in the land of frozen hearts. Disunited the world watched them.
But wealth was not eternal. Over a hundred years the plow would hit rock and the pick would find no more rock to hit. Coffers dried of yellow gold and the black gold no longer drew from the coffers. Again the grey men would march. At first it would be with honeyed words. Requests, exchanges, fair trades, free markets, supplies and demands; backed by a diplomacy of unquenchable thirst on one side and helpless desperation on the other.
There was no longer one red people. Everything looked red to the grey.
Every nation had something they wanted. Lubon, Hanwa, Kitan, Svechtha, Helvetia, Higwe, Mankarah, Bakor, Borelia, Occiden, and Cassia – the eyes would turn to them.
At first with honeyed words. “You have things we desire. Give them to us.”
But what was desired could never be given fairly or peacefully.
Grey uniforms, marching, marching, told the world needs more picks and plows.
On would the grey tide go; bombs fell before them that exploded like earthbound suns, mobile fortresses like battleships on land crushed whole cities, planes that covered the globe in the blink of an eye subjugated all resistance, tanks impregnable to weaponry rolled over the new plowers, the new pickers. From one land to the next until they were all grey.
Such was the way. Wealth clamored for wealth. Power needed power.
And then what? Once the wealth was drawn and the power had gone?
She could see no more of it. She did not want to. It could not happen.
13th of the Postill’s Dew, 2008 D.C.E
Solstice Dominance – City of Solstice, Sarahastra District Hospital
Several days since the Ayvartan Revolutionary Declaration
Outside the room door the nurse pleaded for her patient to be left alone.
She informed the unannounced visitors that the patient that they sought was not doing well, that the fighting in the streets had her skittish, and that she was vulnerable and needed rest because of her deteriorating, chronic condition. The Hospital was unaffiliated, she said, and they wouldn’t allow access to patients to either side of the conflict.
In her eyes they were all the same, she went on to say, thugs, murderers–
Kimani grabbed the nurse and brandished a pistol, pressing the barrel to her temple.
“I’m not asking for your political opinion; I am demanding you move aside now.”
Weeping and choking with sobs, the nurse nodded slowly and unlocked the door.
Kimani nodded toward the hallway, where someone else had been watching the scuffle. Her companion approached, a tall and slim child in worker’s overalls, a boy’s long button-down shirt and a red beret too large for her head. Kimani was about 1.9 meters tall, a head taller than the nurse; for an 8 year-old Madiha was tall at 1.5 meters.
She was almost the nurse’s size.
Madiha passed the two of them, turned the door knob, and peeked inside.
Silently she looked over her shoulder and nodded her head affirmatively to Kimani.
“Go in.” Kimani said. She released the nurse, who hurtled down the hall in fear.
They had reached their objective, but their time was running out. They hurried inside.
From the bed, a shriek. “Messiah defend me; a demon assails me in this dark hour!”
Madiha averted her eyes from the bed, rubbing her upper arm in discomfort. She was silent. Kimani rubbed her left temple in frustration. She walked past the bed and looked out the windows. Madiha could hear the rifles up the block; pow pow pow. Just by craning her head a little she could see the streaks of smoke across the sky. All around the city there was smoke and death and gunfire. She had caused some of it – a crucial sum, in fact.
On the bed the woman thrashed away from the visitors, covering herself with her sheets. She had lost all of her hair, and her eyes looked sunken. Her complexion was paler than ever, and her Ayvartan was more difficult to understand through her accent and through the slurring of her voice, probably a result of painkilling drugs.
She seemed to be wasting away.
“I’m not a demon, Sister Benedicta. I’m Madiha, Madiha Nakar. I want to ask you–”
Sister Benedicta lashed out. “You are! You are a demon! From the moment I saw you I knew! I knew you had been wrought by the devil herself! From your skin to your eyes!”
Kimani returned from the windows, hands over her eyes with exasperation.
“We don’t have time for this, but she won’t talk if I thrash her anyway.” Kimani said.
“Yes, please do not thrash her. Or anybody else if you can help it.” Madiha said.
She had become very eloquent for a child over the past year.
Reading tough newspapers and books, to understand socialism, had done a lot for her speech. But she was still a child – she still looked at sister Benedicta with helplessness. This was a person who had always wielded immense power over Madiha, and still did.
She still held something precious, too precious to strike her down for her sins, but so precious she would always withhold it for its power. The situation was intractable.
“Does she even know?” Kimani said. “Maybe she has no idea, Madiha.”
“I know she knows.” Madiha said. She sighed. She had gladly gone to chase after this ghost, but now she understood. “She’s not going to say it, because she knows it hurts me.”
From the bed sister Benedicta smiled, an evil, cruel smile.
“For all anyone knows or cares it was the devil that made you child! It’s the devil that controls you! You brought the devil to a place of worship and you brought it to this city, and you cast God out of this city, and you ended God’s enlightenment and blessing here, and that is why your people kill each other on the streets! The Good Lord who gave His flesh so we would be free of sin, and you spat in His face! You Ayvartans are all the same!”
Kimani grit her teeth and nearly raised her pistol to the nun, but Madiha held on to her arm, so that she would not shoot her. She grabbed her arm and pulled her away from the bed and toward the corner, and though Kimani was much stronger than her, she allowed herself to taken. Madiha was certain that she would have shot otherwise. She had already shot a lot of people today – and yesterday, and the day before. It was becoming easy and routine. It was more frequent than Madiha ever thought. All of the adults around her were whipped into a mute fury, and in Madiha this manifested only as a skittish fickleness.
Certainly she had wanted to come here.
She had convinced Kimani to take her from the safety of the compound, into the fighting streets, and out to this hospital, when they learned that a sister from Madiha’s old orphanage was here, one that might know. But seeing her in this state, and seeing the city in this state, and Kimani in this state; Madiha’s problems and questions looked so small. She just wanted to get back to her comrades in the compound now.
“Madiha, I don’t want to let this demagogue hurt you any longer.” Kimani said.
“She’s a sad old woman who is all alone and it doesn’t matter.” Madiha said.
“It matters! You have a right to know. I thought you wanted to.” Kimani said.
“I thought I wanted to know too.” Madiha said, avoiding Kimani’s eyes.
“Couldn’t you peer into her mind? Couldn’t you pry her head for your answers?”
Holding her hand tight the child shook her head despondently. “I could potentially search her mind for it, but to do so I would have to endure all the hatred she feels too.”
Kimani rubbed her free hand down her face again. Madiha slowly let go of the other.
“Shacha and Qote are going to be quite annoyed with me for this. I put you in danger.”
“I’ll talk to them. Sorry I roped you into this. It was silly. I’m being really stupid.”
Sister Benedicta watched the two of them with trepidation while they spoke. Finally she let out a hollow, croaking laugh. “God’s Fire is coming child! You and your barbaric horde will be brought low by flame! You turned from his light, and now taste the inferno!”
Madiha looked at the laughing, screaming nun in terror, and she saw past her, through the window; a pillar of smoke and fire rose up toward the heavens in the distance.
“Chinedu! Is that–”
“A Prajna!” Kimani shouted in disbelief. “They fired one Prajna! How, at what–”
This was all the time that God or whoever gave them on the surface of Aer.
In the next instant the earth shook, the building rumbled. The 800mm shell of the Imperial Prajna supergun had soared through the sky with a trail of fire, and crashed through the roof of the Sarahastra hospital. Had the structure been any smaller, certainly everyone inside would have been annihilated instantly in the massive blast.
But the district hospital was a mammoth of concrete, and the gargantuan explosive only split the building in half. Prajna’s shell impact was like an earthquake and the burst shattered every window, cracked every floor and threw everyone off their feet.
When the shell hit Madiha felt the shaking, and her vision blurred, and she lost all control of her body. Walls cracked, the roof collapsed, Sister Benedicta was crushed screaming in her bed, the floor crumbled, and then Madiha fell, soaring through the ruined gap, through the smoke, as the hospital’s twin halves settled away from one another like a poor carve cut out of a large cake. She felt nothing, and saw nothing.
She was suspended in a void.
She would not see anything again for years, not as herself. But in that instant she had fleeting vision – she saw through the eyes and the mind of Chinedu Kimani.
Kimani had fallen against the door during the quake and the burst.
Much of the room had gone – a wedge shape across half of it had sunk into the slope of debris that became the cleavage between the building’s halves. She was in terrible pain, as though her body had been put in a bag and viciously crushed. Not one bit of her seemed to have gone unscathed, but she was not bleeding, and nothing felt broken.
Blearily she moved her legs, her arms. She was not dead.
She grabbed the door knob and pulled herself up to a stand.
The Hospital had sunk toward its side, and the once flat floors were laid at an angle. Sister Benedicta’s bed was gone with the wall and much of the floor, all open to the air. Kimani saw the street, pockmarked with mortar craters and a handful of bodies; the sky, streaked with smoke. Across the gap where the building split, she saw its other half, the rooms laid open, survivors crawling and scampering away, and the dead lying and dangling.
She inched her way to the room’s new edge.
Atop a steep hill of debris below she saw Madiha, thrown over the remains of the nun’s bed. There was blood on her, over her peaceful face, over her little chest, on her still hands.
“Madiha.” Kimani said, but she did not voice the words.
Her lips moved but there was nothing above the sound of fire and the wind and the sifting of dirt and the shifting of debris. Her heart quickened, and her breath left her. Her mind was battered by hundreds of images of this girl, barely eight or nine years old (she did not know exactly, nobody knew exactly). Madiha screwing her eyes up while reading difficult papers; Madiha taking time out of her deliveries to ask if hot and cold formed a dialectic; Madiha, eyes white hot with rage, the world stirring around her presence.
She had gone through so much, too much, much more than any child should have – and every step of the way she affirmed that this was what she wanted. Everyone ahead of herself – everyone the equal in a perfect world, but she always put them higher than herself.
She was no demon.
A crash; the door to the room finally collapsed. Kimani turned over her shoulder.
At the door, a man in a brown uniform and a cap approached.
Both his shaking hands held a submachine gun – an automatic weapon the Imperials had purchased in small quantities from Lubon, like a small rifle that loaded many rounds from a vertical magazine atop the bolt group. Judging by that weapon he was one of the Imperial Guard, but he was young, probably a cadet in an ill fitted uniform.
He stood at the doorway, standing slanted toward the right.
“Don’t move, communist!” He shouted. “Come closer with your hands up!”
“Don’t move, or come closer?” Kimani said, her eyes wide, her lips quivering.
He grit his teeth and approached, his weapon up to his face, rattling in his iron grip.
“Don’t move!” He shouted. “I’m going to disarm you! You are under arrest!”
He took tentative steps forward, eyes scanning the room through the iron sights, obscuring by the magazine. Kimani raised her hands; and before he could reaction she hurtled toward him, shoving his gun against his face and away from her. She seized his belt with her free hand and drove his own knife through the bottom of his head.
She stared down at his body, breathing quickened, livid. Her hands shook with rage.
Kimani took the guard’s weapon and his ammunition and charged out of the room.
She had to get to the lower floors.
In the adjacent hallway a pair of men in imperial uniforms stopped upon seeing her thrust out of the room, and coldly she raised her carbine, slid to a knee, and opened fire, holding down the trigger while the bolt on her gun flailed, and the bullets sprayed from the barrel. Both men hardly recognized her appearance before automatic fire punched through their chests and bellies, and they clutched their wounds and dropped to the floor, flopping like dying fish. Kimani picked the explosive grenades from their belts and ran past.
These were not mere policemen – imperial grenades were blocks of explosive in a can and would have set ablaze any suspects and any kind of evidence. This was a purge.
Two floors worth of stairs had been crushed together like layers on a flattened cake, and a hole leading to a steep slope of piled up staircase rubble was the only way down. Downstairs she heard a commotion and though she could not see anything in the dark hole below, she knew more men were coming. She pulled the pins and threw the grenades down the slide, taking cover behind what was left of a balustrade.
She counted and closed her eyes.
Twin explosions, gouts of flame rose up the hole; a series of screams confirmed her suspicions. Kimani leaped down the hole, and her feet hit the rubble and slipped out from under her, and she rolled roughly down onto a bed of men concussed and burned by the grenades. Her whole body ached, but she picked up her gun from the floor, attached a new magazine atop the bolt group from the belt of a dying officer, and pushed on.
They didn’t matter; she didn’t matter.
Kimani didn’t know how many floors down she was, but she found out soon enough. Running from the slope’s landing, she shoved through a broken door, into a room full of dazed patients. Like Benedicta’s room, their wall was open to the air.
She hurried to the edge.
She saw Madiha again, still unmoving, at peace, her little mountain meters below.
She saw a dozen men further below her, combing through the rubble, climbing the mound, standing at the foot of the slope where it had overtaken the street and road. All were men in imperial uniforms. Several more rushed through the street and into the building, armed, yelling orders, shoving around any unlucky survivors they encountered.
There was probably a whole platoon of officers involved.
Silently, Kimani took a knee near a piece of wall, large enough to shield most of her from any fire coming from below. From her pack she withdrew a flare gun and aimed for the sky above the street below. She fired and as the bright green flare burst into a flash under the cloudy sky, she peered from cover and shot the carbine at the men below.
Firing in controlled bursts, Kimani raked the men climbing around the rubble with bullets, moving from target to target, pressing and depressing the trigger quickly.
At first they stared in rapt confusion at the light from the flare, but when the bullets opened on them each man went his own way, either hitting the dirt, leaping from the slope, rushing to the remnants of the walls opposite her perch, all scrambling for cover or escape.
None of them were fast enough.
Four bullets on a man, pause, scan, four bullets on another; just moments apart, grazed and perforated and pricked, none able to escape. Six men went down in a vicious succession, knees and shoulders and arms bleeding, hit wherever Kimani could first hit them. Her element of the surprise now spent, she ducked behind rubble, her barrel hot and smoking.
Bullets struck the concrete at her back, and men started screaming for backup.
Kimani dumped her magazine and set it aside with few bullets left.
She attached a new one.
Six men down, six left on the street.
Below her, the slope of rubble spread out over the street and onto the road, and here the men had been stationed in the middle of the street at the foot of the rubble-strewn mound. All of these men were now likely shooting and screaming at her.
Kimani saw bullets go flying past, and compacted herself as much as possible.
Chips of concrete fell over her and saw dust kicked up. Every officer on the street had zeroed on her perch and were emptying their guns on it in fully automatic mode. She could scarcely count the rounds, and the lull between shooters was not enough to retaliate.
She grit her teeth and tried to count the bullets. She had to focus on this to survive.
Each of them had the same gun she stole – a Mitra 07. Thirty round magazines, she repeated to herself, and tried to feel all of the impacts, ignoring the jabs against her head and shoulders and limbs as the sprays of bullets sent fragments of rubble flying every way. Mitras were inaccurate and pistol caliber rounds lacked the punch to penetrate concrete.
But she was focusing on another problem with the gun’s design.
She counted and counted.
Sharp cracks started to issue from below.
The hail of gunfire abruptly slowed and stopped.
Kimani stood fully upright over her chunk of the broken wall and boldly resumed her attack on the men, pressing the trigger down and planting her feet, her upper half exposed. As though wielding a hot sword she slashed through the six men on the street with a furious wave of gunfire, perforating each man in turn by simply turning her waist and arms while her gun emptied out. Barrels smoking, magazines near empty and bolts jammed hard, the men fell aback with their useless guns clutched in dying grips.
Mitras clogged up easily.
After fifty or sixty rounds you could expect the bolt to get stuck.
She cycled the bolt manually, ejecting a round through it.
Wouldn’t do have it catch too.
Replacing her magazine, Kimani rushed along the ruined edges where the rest of the wall once stood, threw her gun down onto the hill, and she dropped, and skillfully dangled from the jagged cliff with both hands. She released herself as her momentum carried her against her half of the building, and landed on the remains of another floor below.
She was at least 5 meters closer.
She could see Madiha quite well now.
She was injured, unmoving, probably concussed; maybe even dead. Tears welled up in Kimani’s eyes. What would it have taken for Madiha to have a better end than this?
Had she killed more people, planted more bombs, would it have made a difference? All she wanted to know was who her parents were – that was why she left the compound, why she went to face a woman who had tormented her through her whole life.
Madiha had seen and done many things but she had only been a girl.
Ancestors damn it all.
There was no time for this.
Kimani took a breath, and immediately she took off running. She leaped off the edge toward Madiha, arched her body, bent her knees; she hit the ground with her feet first and with gargantuan effort pushed herself to roll, diffusing the fall. But her roll smashed her into a heap of rubble and she came to lie on her back, breathing heavily.
Her back felt split open, and she couldn’t stand. Kimani reached out her hand. Madiha was only centimeters out of her grasp. She struggled and struggled, feeling her shoulder burn. Her hand came to lie atop Madiha’s little fingers and she curled them. I
‘m sorry, she thought.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t be what you needed. We couldn’t be.” Kimani whimpered.
She heard boots, and soon saw shadows stretching over her. She felt something press on her side, and then kick her over on her side. They forced her hand from Madiha.
“Take her to the garrison, she’ll know where their base is–”
As one the shadows turned, and there were shouts.
There was a scramble, movement, gunfire.
When the shadows returned they were gentler.
“Lieutenant Kimani, ma’am, we came as fast as we could!”
It was her comrades, come fresh from the fighting upstreet.
“Spirits defend, Madiha’s very hurt! We need to take her back now!”
Kimani was too injured and exhausted to reply or to explain, and would not be able to supervise the actions of her subordinates. She gasped for breath and her consciousness wavered as the Red Guards approached offering aid. Her vision went dark and in turn so did the last window that little Madiha, with her powers, had left into the world.
Madiha fell and fell and fell with no destination. She was gone from reality.
This connection severed, Madiha would go on to lie in a coma bed for two years and awaken in a new world. Ayvarta was won, socialism was slowly implemented. She would live, but despite the triumph of her allies it would be a long road for her. In the care of the state, a pubescent Madiha, her muscles wasted, speech gone, her precocious intellect eroded away, would go through several years of a new, painful childhood, out of which she would only return to her old healthy state at the tail end of her teenage years.
She caught up in her education, found love, and moved on.
All of these things, and what happened before them, she would go on to forget.
The Madiha known as Death’s Right Hand and The Hero of the Border would know only through hearsay and from the tellings of comrades that she performed heroically in the Civil War, that she spent years unmoving, and then years unable to speak coherently, years rebuilding her bodily health. She did not know these things first-hand.
To her these would be only legends and distant history, as if performed by a distant sibling. Thus there remained a strange, alien emptiness in her that she would struggle to fill. What was a person, what truly was a person, other than a vessel for experiences?
What was a human while empty of history?