Excerpt from a new book I'm working on, The Last Stories of Human Kind.
“So our first raid is because an Outsider is an idiot?”
The room was filled with aliens.
A dark man was cross-legged on the floor, pots of colored ink around him. He dipped in a needle, shook off the excess, and tattooed his own arm. Another stood by the wall-window, quietly counting stars. He wore just a loincloth and body paint, projected beside him was Patterson’s Undergraduate Guide to Astronomy. A bald, jet black man in fatigues unrolled a cloth. Inside was a grooved club and flakes of razor sharp stones. He dipped a flake into a pot of resin, it clung in strings as he lifted it away. He fitted the flake into the club, like a tooth in a jaw. At the far end was a giant: arctic pale and gray bearded. He pulled polished rune stones from a leather bag, they clacked in his hands.
The speaker was a small, brown woman with a bowl of straight hair. Bone-handled daggers poked from scabbards tied to her biceps. Sitting across from her at the table was a tall, Mongol-looking woman. She wore a metal headband, side-tassels hung like two bookmarks of steel leaf. Set over her forehead was a jade stone.
“It is not a raid, Younger Sister,” said the Mongol without looking up. She picked a bead from the Mancala board and moved it. “It is a mission.”
“But Older Sister, she’s a scientist. Aren’t they supposed to be smart?”
“Maybe she’s a social scientist. It’s your turn, play.”
“Younger Sister Enzeta is right,” said the man gluing flakes. “Why are we bothering with this? She’s good as dead. If they want her back, the Outsiders will just make a demon of her.”
The man tattooing himself, stopped at that.
“They have a journey,” continued the gluer. “A journey that matters more to us and our people, than it ever will to them. We should be starting on that journey.”
“Well, our leader’s orders are to save her,” said the man by the window, his eyes never leaving space.
The gluer stopped and turned to look at the graybeard.
“Well, he’s not my leader. Are you, Udmurt?”
The old giant just kept pulling out rune stones.
“He means the Security Chief, Al-Mukhtar, Older Brother,” said the Mongol woman. “You will do what she says.”
“I won’t take orders from a woman.”
“Then Kro, you’re not much of a man.”
“Al-Mukhtar is not even one of us,” said the tattooer, dipping for more ink. “You know what she did, before she joined this expedition?”
“She was a protector,” said Enzeta. “She guarded land and water for her people. As all of us have.”
“She was a killer,” the tattooer stabbed the air with his needle. “There were already people on that land, in a great desert. True People. Then the Outsiders brought water, and turned the desert into forest. Then more Outsiders came, they built their towns and their fences. The True People lost their hunting grounds, so they fought back. The Outsiders crushed them, and forced them into camps. That’s what our Security Chief did. She even keeps one of their weapons as a trophy. I too, will not follow her.”
“Survivability,” the voice was old as bones under tundra. “‘Survivability Test for Aboriginal Reboots’, STAR,” he closed his hand around one rune. “That’s what we are, part of a test. We call ourselves the True People, but we existed only in a machine’s mind. Two doors down, is everything we love. Millions of people, riding, hunting, gathering. Protecting the land, the animals, their ancestors. All the True People, inside a single, Outsider machine.”
The others said nothing.
“Younger Sister Enzeta,” he quickly pointed, the bone beads in his braids clattering. “Why did the Outsiders make the STAR Device?”
“Longevity and sustainability. Aboriginal peoples have a bond with the land, it’s resources. We would preserve the galaxy, not wreck it. The Outsiders are so greedy, they burned their world rather than give it to their children. They are scum, but some of them know they are scum. They want to see if True Peoples can be spread through space, but also, still survive.”
“Survive against what?”
“Anything. Asteroids, climate change, disease.”
“And against other people,” said the Mongol woman. “Against Outsiders. They say it as about rebooting models of human societies that will preserve worlds, but that’s not the deep reason.”
“And what is the deep reason, Yakuta?”
“Shame,” said the stargazer, interrupting. He finally turned arou from the universe. “They destroyed them all. Australian stories 50,000 years old. The dances of Asian horse folk. The holy trees of Siberian reindeer hunters. It took a thousand years, but all the True Peoples have died out, or merged with Outsiders. Total destruction. The Outsiders fear: it is their great survival trait. Their rich fear poverty. Their fat fear hunger. Their conquering heroes fear extinction. Now that we are extinct, they can afford to feel shame at their handiwork. Now they can recreate us, fix us, to be better this time. They can both forgive themselves, and feel that we somehow owe them something.”
“And are we True People, though we come from worlds we cannot touch and smell?”
“Of course we are True,” said Kro. “The Transcendents made us. They are the gods. I know you have lived among the Outsiders for many years Udmurt, and you cannot see this anymore. But it is true.”
Most of the others nodded.
“And how then Kro,” said Udmurt, “did the gods design us?”
“In the false words you understand?”
“Humor an old wolf.”
“In those words, they designed us on the patterns of those before us. Recurring institutions, like medicine men, and young men’s camps. Rituals for harvests, coming of age, and respecting ancestors. They knew enough: the True Peoples were documented, as well as Outsiders could achieve. Those patterns were run, in the STAR Device. Out here, it has been just fifty years of simulation.”
“And in there?”
“A thousand. True Peoples have risen and fallen. They have become new folk, and made new ways. They have warred, traded, lived. There is just one thing different from those that died out on Earth.”
“And what’s that?”
“I am not your student, answering questions for a pat on the head.”
“We are what’s different, Older Brother,” said Enzeta quickly. “We are protectors.”
“But there have always been protectors.”
“But we are chosen to leave our worlds. To live here, in slow time, while all we know grow old and die. We learn rifle, and drone, implant and starship.”
“And Johnny Sokko and Astrophysics,” said the stargazer. “But even most Outsiders don’t appreciate these things.”
They looked at him. He looked down and back out the window. The stars understood him. They always had.
“Then you can see,” said Udmurt, “why we must go on this mission. Why we must obey Al-Akhtar, as if she was chief.”
“I will not,” said Kro.
“We are here as the first serious test, of STAR. If we in this room cannot work with the Outsiders, cannot function in their world, what chance do our people’s have? What chance when Outsiders arrive, carrying beads and tainted blankets?”
Kro said nothing.
“Our actions are the true test. We are being judged by Outsiders, with every step.”
“I will not live my life to please them,” said the stargazer.
“Don’t, Longir. Live your life, to prove it can be lived. Look around at each other. In all our peoples’ history, we are the only protectors that will matter. The Outsiders are like a great river. If we hide in the dirt or charge it, we drown. But if we build canoes and nets, we can feed the whole village. That is how we will protect our children, and honor our ancestors. That is why we must do this.”
The room turned quiet again.
“It is the same for them,” said Yakuta, the Mongol. “The Outsiders must learn to survive their Transcendents. Can gods and humans truly live in the same lands?”
“No,” said Kro. “But we will be far, far away when they find out.”
“We don’t need to succeed,” said Longir, the stargazer. “Even the makers of the STAR Device expect us to fail.”
Udmurt frowned. “How do you come to that, Medicine Man?”
“Because the STAR Device is here, ready for a journey out of the solar system. Why build new devices on other worlds, and print out tribes to walk their soil? The solar system is rich in worlds and sunlight. If there was faith in STAR, they would not be ejecting it. We are an honest attempt, but no one expects us to succeed. Our peoples will live, but they’re expected to hide. Away from the hedrons, maybe no one will ever come. We can spread to worlds the greedy will never want. It will be alright, Elder Brother.”
“You do not know greedy people,” said Udmurt. “I have seen them. They are as sick as the possessed. They will come, and they will take, even if their own children starve. Life gives us nothing, Longir, and we must fight like dogs to keep it.”
“That’s true both out here, and in there,” said Enzeta.
He opened his palm and showed the room the rune.
This is Fehu, a rune of magic.”
“I have not seen you with this before,” said Longir, walking to take a closer look.
“It is not of my folk, it belongs to one of the lost True Peoples, the Norse. I have cast their runes for the advice of the gods. This was their answer.”
Longir took the rune and held it up to the light. “What does it mean?”
“Power. The power to win what is desired, and the power to then keep it. The gods have spoken, Medicine Man. I will go to rescue the stupid Outsider. I intend to fight like a dog. I would that you all join me.”