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.”