A slave soldier who carries the son of a man worshipped as a god leads a rebellion against him and the rigid caste society he has ruled over for one hundred generations.
The first draft is underway and slotted to be finished early Spring 2021.
I think my back is broken.
I’m gazing up at a ring of yellow flame licking around the umbra of the gas giant Achot. The eclipse is beautiful. I’ve seen it a thousand times, but I always took it for granted. You notice these things when you die.
Except I’m not dead, not yet. I wish I was. The pain is unbearable. Even breathing hurts, like a sword being plunged down into my lungs.
The best ablative armor only protects you so much when you’re blasted out of a skimmer flying in excess of two hundred knots. After sliding and tumbling like a rag doll for a few hundred meters across thorny scrub and rocky earth it gives way and you’re flayed alive as your muscles are ground into hamburger. And that’s after you slam into a brick wall at negative twenty-five g’s of deceleration when you first hit the ground.
My ferrofluid under-armor didn’t do drek for that.
One moment I was perched on the skid, watching my vector for desert rats and the next I’m pinwheeling across the ground, seeing nothing but staccato flashes of sky, dirt, sky, brush, and more sky. I didn’t even hear the RPG alarm.
“Ash,” I subvocalize, my teeth chattering in the frigid cold. “Now would be a good time to hit me with some pain meds, don’t you think?”
I can’t do that right now, a calm voice in my head responds. It doesn’t sound right. It’s Ash’s voice, but it’s not her.
It appears you are offline.
Pain. Pain and panic. Neither are sensations I’m accustomed to. I begin to hyperventilate. I’ve never been offline. It’s impossible. Ash has been with me every conscious moment of my life since I bonded with her as a child. There’s no protocol for disconnection. It never happens.
“Ash, I need you.”
Attempting to reconnect, the voice responds. Please wait a moment.
I moan and beg and plead. The calm voice suggests I’m likely experiencing high levels of anxiety and I should take several deep breaths. I tell it to go shtup itself.
Eventually I pass out.
When I come to, I am welcomed by the excruciating sensation of my body knitting itself back together. I can feel my ribs snapping back into place and my shattered hip mending. Skin closes over shredded muscle and compound fractures. Nerves are regenerated and I can suddenly feel my legs again. It’s like being eaten alive by a swarm of ants. I’ve been injured many times before and am familiar with the feeling of the yetaknu that flowed through my bloodstream doing their work, but this is the first time I’ve experienced it without anesthesia.
Pain, I eventually discover, can be managed. I bite my lip until it bleeds and stare at the eclipse overhead. It’s very cold. Fits of anxiety come and go.
I try taking deep breaths.
It is only a matter of time, I remind myself, before connectivity is restored and Ash can help me figure out what to do.
Shivering, I sit up slowly and inspect the repairs. The large patches of fresh pink skin covering my arms and legs are disappearing under the shredded fabric of my ferrofluid bodysuit as it mends itself. My eyesight is blurry, but twenty-five g’s of deceleration will do that to you.
Standing, swaying slightly, I place my hand over the small swell of my belly and feel a brief fluttering deep inside me. I offer a silent prayer of thanks. By some miracle my son has survived.
I see nothing at first but silvery desert swallowed up by darkness in all directions. Then there is a sharp pain in my temples as my eyes adjust, the yetaknu rapidly growing a tapetum and multiplying my rod cells eightfold greater than normal.
The wasteland stretches out before me, a greyscale world of shadow on shadow.
Somehow the darkness was preferable.
It looks like you are offline.
Panic grips my chest.
“Lo khara. Get me back online.”
Attempting to reconnect. Please wait a moment.
“What’s taking so long?”
You are likely experiencing high levels of anxiety. Try taking deep breaths.
“How long to connect? Can you estimate?”
Hmm…I can’t answer that right now. Can you try again in a little while?
“This is fakakt!” I swear.
My home, the desert moon Ha’olám, orbits Achot over the course of eight yamim—twenty-four-hour periods that compose one shavua, a day on Ha’olám. It’s now only three hours into Yom Shachar, the period of dawn. The eclipse will last for two hours before light and warmth gradually increases for seventy-two hours—throughout Yom Boker and Yom Tzohorayim—as the central star Ima bakes our moon until it’s death to be out in the open.
The ferrofluid bodysuit I wear is designed to reclaim water and protect against extreme temperature fluctuations, but even it can’t protect against the coldest and hottest parts of the moon’s cycle. And the water reclamation system is only designed to be supplementary.
Less than three yamim to find shelter. And if I can’t find water, I might not even last that long.
I remove what’s left of my exo-armor. Even the helmet is beyond salvaging, and I eventually locate my pulse rifle, shattered in hundred pieces. I swear again.
Our mission was a long-range probe into the wastelands for suspected desert rat outposts. In and out. A clean recon job. We had provision for twenty-four hours, nothing more; survival gear is generally considered superfluous anyway. To be stranded in the wastelands is a death sentence. No reason to give someone false hope.
Not that it ever happens. Rescue crews are quick and efficient. No one is ever left behind.
Without a connection I’ll be considered killed in action. There’s a chance a unit might be dispatched to salvage the wreck, but this far into desert rat territory it’s unlikely.
I watch dawn break slowly as spears of red-gold light shoot out across the horizon. Ima will rise first, blinding and yellow, followed by Savta and Saba, the small orange and red orbs that follow Ima’s wake in their endless dance.
Wandering the wreckage, I keep an eye out for desert rats as I stretch and attempt to get my circulation going. I wander from one smoldering heap to the next, looking for anything salvageable.
“How’s that connection coming along?” I subvocalize.
Uh-oh, there appears to be a problem connecting, the calm voice in my head replies. Please contact Tech-Link for diagnosis.
“What’s the issue? Damage report?”
Hmm…I can’t answer that right now. Can you try again in a little while?
I silently curse the Hakham who programmed this fakakta offline mode of the wetware embedded in my skull. Obviously not a lot of thought had been put into it. Without an active connection it’s worse than useless. My companion, the entity Asherah, exists in the cloud. All that resides in me is a shallow layer of I/O software and the necessary connectivity hardware.
For most of my life Ash has fed me information, taught me skills, and controlled my emotional regulation with a cocktail of chemicals designed to ensure unit cohesion, loyalty to the chain of command, and maximize my combat efficiency. Without her I’m at the mercy of my limbic system—and the mammalian brain is winning. I have never felt more afraid, more alone, or more helpless. Several times I fall to my knees as panic consumes me entirely. It feels like I’m having a stroke.
You are having a panic attack, the calm voice in my head observes. Attempt to take deep breaths. Focus on a distant object or a physical sensation. Think of a peaceful time or place.
Falling over into a fetal position, I fix my eyes on a giant monolith in the distance. There are many such towering rocks in these wastes. This one is called Metzurot. My breathing slows. I feel my hands clenching and unclenching, the rough ground beneath me, the flutter of life inside.
I remember my mother, but vaguely, like in a dream. Faceless, warm, comforting. The smell of fresh baked challah, the taste of warm honey on my tongue. My father, strong and tall, the feeling of being wrapped in his arms, protected and safe, a rough beard against my cheek. Others run and play nearby—my siblings—the small home full of laughter. But my father is crying, and I feel a hot tear fall on my face. Mother sits beside him, her hand on my head. They are praying. My mother wails, for it is the yom before Katif, and this will be my last few hours with them. I am too young to fully comprehend that I will never see my family again, yet old enough to understand I am going far away to a place with other children my age. I have been called to serve Elohim.
“She is so small,” I remember my mother saying.
“But she is fierce,” my father replied. “She will serve well and have a better life than we do.”
“Feh!” Mother cried. “What is the life of a soldier or concubine? Either to die young or languish in a harem. To have no family of her own. To be a slave.”
“Are we not slaves already?” Father replied. “She will serve well, and she will be rewarded.”
“My little zeeskeit,” Mother whispered. “What will become of you?”
“It is in the hands of HaShem now, not ours.”
And then the El Kohanim came, and I was taken away. I didn’t cry. It was a time to be brave. It was a time to be strong.