Ex Nihilo, Short Stories, The Augmented World

Ex Nihilo – The Waters of Excess

We are fat with the waters of excess. Running a cool hand across my shoulder, I shudder not unpleasantly in the lukewarm breeze blowing from the ocean. It’s hard to even think that word, ocean. Gazing upon the rough, scarred skin of my hand, I remember the basin of cold water that had cooled it, not more than a few minutes ago. Those scars tell the story we are forcing ourselves to forget, a story whose verses, letters and songs claw at our throats like rivers of sand, pushing against the cliffs of our newly erected social structures. From my window, I can almost feel the tension dictating the steps of the dozen or so people in the street: skirting around a barrel filled with water, once a prized possession worthy only of kings, nodding curtly to each other while not looking too directly at the scars and vicissitude surrounding their not yet recovered faces and most of all: pretending not to hear the ocean while forcing themselves past whatever locals line the streets, politely but insistently pushing them aside, hungry for the quiet of the indoors. Away from the pulsing waves.

The ocean, here on Black IV, is the ocean of dreams. It has storms but they are beautiful, contained things, powerful enough to send the human mind wondering but timid enough to pose no real threat. Most of the year, nearly three times a Heartbeat, is calm and gentle. There’s water, everywhere. From the ocean slopes an easy plain, containing most settlements on planet. There isn’t much land but what land there is is covered with snaking rivers, brooks, streams and offshoots, all flowing down from the mountains to the west. The water, oh the sweet, beautiful water which even now brings a shudder of ecstasy to the small of my back, is ice-cold, remembering its mountain source. The people of Black IV are much the same: timid, aloof, cold, easy going. Nearly ten years ago they invited us here, to stay. They have enough land, they said. They have enough water, they said. They would welcome us. And, as eager children, newcomers to the Heart’s embrace, we gladly accepted.

Who wouldn’t? Our home was a terrible place. We had lived there for hundreds of years, our past almost completely forgotten in the blaring heat of the sun. The desert stretched across the planet and into our souls, creating a society of silence, rough familial units and violence. That’s where my scars come from: sinkholes, tribal knives, religious treks through never-ending sands more akin to glass and dry, bitter winds. And most of all, there was no water. What little water we had we didn’t conserve, fueled by a passionate creation story and a fervent religion springing from it. And so we, terrible desert warriors that we were, looked to the stars. And so we find ourselves on Black IV, sheltered by these silent people, themselves only doing what was expected of them, what was now expected of us: to be a part of the Heart, to aid our fellow humans.

But we grow fat with the waters of excess. I see my people’s eyes, I hear their well-disguised sighs. They miss the desert. Tempered within its horrible crucible, they know not what to do without it. Our terrible social muscles, the tendons and ligaments of family, tribe and Hold, move and coil beneath the skin we have sewn for ourselves. Clothed in Galactic customs, shrouded in their words which we have forced ourselves to don, we ache. We remember our home and we ache. We remember our suffering, we feel the rough maps of our scars, and we cry for return. But there is no return. That is not the way the Heart works. Now, here, this, this land of endless rivers, rolling plains and achingly beautiful ocean, this is our home. Or so they tell us. They’ve been here many times in the last ten years, which I am told is a high honor. Bow, they say. Drink deep of the water you have been given, they say. Rejoice, for we are the Sisterhood of Man, eternal, they say. And we murmur and nod our heads and drink deep of the water we have been given.

But we grow fat on these, the waters of excess. And I’ve had enough. Turning from the window, the hand that grasped my shoulder going to my sash, the general’s crimson sash, I face my command. Hardened men and women, scars flaring as if ablaze, clad in the armor and weapons we were not supposed to bring. But bring them we did, stowed away in the Black ships our hosts brought us on. I reach across with my hand, firmly grasping the crimson sash, and fasten it across my breasts. Only then is the armor donned, by my closest guard. I smile faintly at her, brushing away that strand of hair I love so. With a tight expression, she harshly tightens the last strap. Yes. This is who we are; taut, harsh, scarred, leather, sand. Sand piling into the room, into the street below, as the first cries of the locals, our hosts, pierce the distant sound of the booming waves. I can hear faint explosions  from the other side town, where my brother should be killing the Provost from Heart by now. I look at my command. I take a step forward.

“We are fat with the water of excess. It is time to bring the desert back”. My last words are swallowed by the harsh, welcoming, perfect sound of swords being drawn.

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