World-building: Strings (2004)

Rain = tears: from Strings (2004)

Strings (2004) is a film acted by marionettes though it could be said that all the actors are puppeteer-marionette-pairs. This reading would help explain the only instance that a part of a marionette handler is seen.

A problem for me personally is the lack of subtitles in lieu of the absence of living lips to read. Hence, the intricacies of plot and story, for me are gappy. It’s a coming-of-age story.

A king kills himself and leaves a letter explaining–the letter is taken before his son can read it–and not knowing any better, the son goes out to avenge his father. There is a happy ending, but not before the scene (above) where the prince makes it home to witness his sister’s death.

It’s easy to become so engrossed in the Strings world that one would forget that marionettes are dependent on their human technicians and human voices for every move, every expression, and every placement in a scene.

In one scene a human foot is seen hastening up a stair out of a cellar after the puppeteer apparently drops their character to the ground with a definite and frightening crash.

I wondered about the editorial decision to leave that scene as-is. Is it that the foot can be seen as a reminder of who the agents are in this entertainment, or is it to remind viewers of the technical skills that have got the story so far? Either of those could then be seen as instances where the viewer trips and falls out of the story. A no-no in fiction in general that I didn’t want to suspect of the producers.

After some thought, it seems to me that there was no possibility other than a deux ex machina moment, literally a god-in-the-machine, to explain how that character came to be in that cellar, and that the puppet’s handler as portrayed by her foot represents that god.

While I knew that there is much more to world-building than concrete nuts-and-bolts world design, seeing in Strings how dialogue and character actions translate into very specific cultural metaphors, had me on the edge of my seat.

On the Plain of Death, for example, the soldiers’ strings snap-freeze and break. In a contrasting war scene portraying war with a desert people, death is signified by strings burning.

“We are all connected,” says the Prince’s desert princess. She glances at the string-filled heavens where all strings go, and where, above the clouds, it is believed that strings are connected. The pair making love is symbolized by their strings mixing and weaving together.

Writers of science fiction are warned away from metaphor. (Card, 1990) Yet in Strings, the outcome of many of the actions hinge on, or are influenced by marionette-specific metaphor. One of many such actions is the outgoing king committing suicide by cutting his own head-string. He isn’t buried, but god-like, is strung up on a wall.

The Prince’s sister tries to stop him leaving her by holding onto his hand-strings.

A pair of children quarreling get themselves tangled up in their strings.

The Prince’s uncle goes to receive a prophecy from a bunch of ancient puppets, bunches of slack stringless limbs, with only their head-strings still intact.

The gestation of a baby is signified by being carved from an appropriate wood. At the moment of its coming-to-life, light-filled strings descend from heaven that are reverently attached to the head, hands and feet.

There are dozens more of such moving moments.

If a story is to be more than a theatrical experience, it needs visual backdrops, props, and processes for the characters to interact with.

The Prince is of a people who have plenty of water in their land. Rain is common at times of great sadness. Raindrops on sad puppet faces in lieu of tears is a nice extrapolation.

Cells in a prison are delineated by overhead frames that contain prisoners’ strings and restrict their movement.

When all strings attached to the living rise up to an unseen heaven, it makes sense that hooked machetes, for instance, are a preferred war weapon. An enemy can hook in and cut an opponent’s head-string to kill them. Or an enemy will gather all their target’s strings and cut through the lot with one fell stroke to deliver an even worse fate.

Slave drivers use a weapon reminiscent of a carpet hook to in-gather the strings with which to control their captives.

The tents of the desert people are truncated into architecturally natural shapes to allow for the ascent of strings to the heavens.

Again, these are only a few of the instances. Watch the film, is what I’m saying.

There is a better quality version than the one below available on SBS, an Australian free-to-air television station.

How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy (p91-92) 1990, Orson Scott Card, Writers Digest Books, NY.

Fiction: Half Shaman, 2

2: Wake-Up Call

We have till the following day.

“Hear that?” he says. “Guards tramping up the stairs. Do something!”

“I hear them.” There’s nothing gentle about the sound of guards and their echoes tramping. I wake into the moment. “We will sing the Eagle’s Totem. Repeat each phrase exactly as you hear it.” I don’t tell him which Eagle’s Totem we’ll sing.

“A sing-and-response chant,” the prisoner says. “Easy-peasy.”

I begin. “He soars with his great wings reaching across the … His yellow feet clench the fish that is his …”

I aspirate the final word of each phrase, needing that little silence to keep track of the guards along the stone corridor. The prisoner copies me exactly.

The guards stop halfway and make a lot of work unlocking and opening a fiberglass door. An awkward squawk comes from the person they thrust into the cell. 

The guards tramp away and down the stone stairs while the prisoner and I sing the rest of the Fishing Eagle’s lines: “He grasps a problem as if it is prey. Tears it apart and consumes it.”

As the guards come tramping up again, I begin to sing the Harpy Eagle’s difficult qualities. “Lest the soul in a harpy eagle’s care founders … The harpy tears through the self-imposed …”

This time, I hear a light hard-edged pattering in the echoing stairwell.

“They’re bringing up the fauns,” the prisoner chants. “They’re throwing them into the cells.”

No sound from the guards for a minute. By my calculations they have just closed a door on a young faun, a man with hooves said to have descended from genetically engineered stock from the Ark Ship. I don’t believe it.

Were the guards only listening to the prisoner, or to both of us? Was he singing to them, telling them what he is telling me at the same time that he is telling me? Is he telling them he has my trust?

As if.

The prisoner continues to rephrase the traditional replies. “They’re just kids. Except for the faking headman. He’ll probably double-cross you.”

The guards laugh as if they know exactly what is going on. They have one up on me there, for I have no idea what the prisoner intends with his information. Though the totem learning was never a secret, I worry that the Lotor-born might begin to listen more carefully. 

The guards stop near my door. Apparently there is another cell between the one they stopped at previously and mine.

“We’ll repeat the qualities of the Sea Eagle,” I say.

This time the prisoner sings them proud and strong.

The cell door to my right squeals open then squeals shut. Click clack go the feet of a faun into the cell without any help of the Lotor-born. The guards tramp away, chatting and laughing among themselves.

“You are a Sea Eagle,” I sing.

“And you were a Harpy Eagle.” He laughs. “Is that why you went to be a shaman? Because to be shaman you get to drop your totem for the chance to study them all?”

He knows that? By every word he speaks and sings, I learn things about him. He has a lot of volume to his singing so he is strong and fit. I learn that he is taller than me from where his voice echoes against the wall between us.

He continues his teasing. “He must have hated you who gave you that totem.”

“She,” I say. I want to hear the lengths he will go to to discomfort me. “A woman shaman gave me that totem.” I don’t tell him what she added. “With the Harpy Eagle’s qualities to live up to, you may turn into a decent person.” At the time it sounded more like a curse than a compliment.

***

The prison’s inner walls are a double ten-cube thick where a ten-cube is about as long, wide & deep as a forefinger. Maybe the original forefinger was exactly ten what-evers. They are a measurement lost in history.

I hear no sound all night from the cells to the right (this is with me facing the cell door) not even via the gap under the door. Only when the porridge is brought next morning, I hear a whisper, like the rustling of someone pushing through dry corn stalks. The head-faun speaks? I can distinguish no words. 

The Sea Eagle spooning his porridge up echoes me scraping my porridge from my bowl. The exact moment I put my spoon down after my last mouthful, he says, “I’m Thayne. What can I call you? I’m thinking now that I know you better, that we should keep your half-title a secret.”

He knows me hardly at all and he asks me my name? He suggests we keep a secret together? I think not. Only when I am dreaming, am I still Jeb.

The river of memories unleashed in me by the totem singing, becomes a slipstream of unfamiliar moments: things that haven’t happened yet, I realize. In one of the scenes I imagine being called by a strange name and not answering. That mustn’t be allowed to happen. “My name is Jeb.”

“So. Jeb,” Thayne says. “When you look at the gap above the wall between our cells, what do you see? What color is the light from over my side?”

It seems to me that Thayne wants me to think that he speaks ideas as they come to him. And that this is meant to be just such an artless comment. Though it sounds calculated. “Um,” I say. “I see the color of unpainted stone.”

“The walls in here are unpainted stone. I see a glaring white stripe on your side. Why?”

I wonder if it is safe to tell him. “Because everything in here is painted white,” I say. “Floor, walls, ceiling. I need to peer from under a blindfold half the day to protect my sight against the sun-soaked brightness.”

“Have you sketched the totems?” Thayne asks hungrily. “They teach you that in shaman school, don’t they? I guess I’ll have to imagine the wall covered with their glory. The Harpy Eagle at the top, her wings outstretched over the whole pantheon.”

He knows I haven’t? He must have contact with the guards. He is not an ordinary prisoner. Do they really think I’ll unburden myself to the likes of him?

“What would I use for a writing stick?” I say when a fingernail is the only writing stick I needed to inscribe the stars as they appear to anyone living on Earth. My half-training has readied me to imagine the lines between.

I shiver. What if the prisoner is an emissary of Lotor, and Lotor wishes to learn the map of Earth’s skies? One of the secrets taught at shaman school is that Lotor is a manufactured entity, a hostile self-learning construct.

Fiction: Half Shaman

Trial Book Cover
  1. Vigil

Jeb gulped water. She flailed and splashed, but sank to the top of her head. She hit a wall with her knuckles. Rose. Breathed, big gulps of air. Saw the sky, a round dark disk. No stars. Called. “Help!” Heard a couple of some-ones running away, their feet pounding on the hard dust of the central yard.

She trod the water faster to keep her head above it. Earth water was thinner than Lotor’s treacle-like stuff. The Earth-born ate Lotor’s water from a spoon. She bent her neck. Sucked in cool melt-in-her-mouth water with hardly a scent or flavor.

No cistern-woman would ever tolerate someone dunking in a cistern. Accidental or not, Jeb would be hauled to the magister and sentenced to waste-and-water-carrying for the rest of her time.

But this was a dream. Lucid dream, she’d had it so often. She stayed upright by paddling with her hands, hating the nightly drowning.

The sides of the dream-well tonight were dressed stone. Impossible. Lotor’s thirst for Earth’s water was legendary. Lotor would suck a human dry … say a man wandered home drunk between a pair of villages and accidentally stepped from the stone path … Lotor would’ve tossed aside his husk by the time the man’s friends came looking for him. As a child, Jeb always wondered how Lotor would suck a human dry?

But anyway, real cisterns had seamless metal envelopes inside their extruded-stone walls. How did this water not soak away between the dry-laid stones?

****

I open my eyes. Only while dreaming can I still be Jeb and even that isn’t my real name. I tip my head back to see the state of the day by the light in the window slot high in the wall opposite the door. The sky is grey. Therefore the time is dawn. Can I recall anything useful from the dream?

The fact that everything followed logically could mean something. I am getting better at lucid dreaming?

Clink.

Be still. Don’t move. I listen. I’ve been here for three years and now they put a prisoner in the next cell? Does it mean they have discovered me? Who I am? What I am? During my first week here, guards told me every day they’d be fixing the gap between the top of the share-wall and the ceiling. Nothing was ever done.

Suspicion flares through me. They left it undone purposely. It took them all this time to find the right informant? The gap is about the height of a ten-cube, enough that I hear every move the new prisoner makes. He snores now. Why not before? He snuffles sometimes. Am I meant to think that a guard broke his nose? To make me believe he is not in their pay?

Clink.

That tells me that he is in chains. He’s meant to be dangerous?

I grin silently and ferociously. He has to be dangerous to be next to me. I creep out of bed. Sling my cloak around me and silently slide down to sit cross-legged against the opposite wall.  

“I heard you, you little fake,” the prisoner says.

My cloak slithered down the wall. I laugh silently. I’m pretty sure we’ve never met. I doubt he’d call me names if he did know me.

“You’re the shaman,” he says. “It’s up to you to save me.”

“What?” I’m so astounded that I forget that I’m masquerading as a young man.

“You’re the shaman that people out there are talking about.”

The man appears not to have taken in the girlishness of my voice. I hug myself to hold still my wobbling heart. “I’m not a shaman. I was kidnapped from the school after only three years training.”

 “Half shaman, then. A fake. Couple of hundred of Lotor-born sleep in the right-hand yard. A Field of Dreams is their destination and you know what happens there?”

I don’t say a word of what I know. All Earth-born know Soowei’s story inside out. She who was the daughter of the first Captain-of-the-Ship, saved herself from the first Field of Dreams and told her story to all who came after her.

The man continues without even taking a breath. “The fifty Totems in the left-side yard are here for saving and though I’m not one of them, so am I. They’re saying that all the shamans know the way home and that there’s only the couple of you remaining. Process of elimination, wouldn’t you say?”

My heart rolls over, I swear it. When I was taken three years ago, there were eighteen shamans still in the world. Oh tell me tell me what do someone?

There’s never any answer to such whims, of course. Next time I have a minute, I’ll have to recall Soowei’s story. Might be something in it that I can use.

The prisoner is the griping sort. “Where I want to go too,” he says. “Home, I mean. I picked a fight so I could get in here alongside you. Get you going? If you do nothing, I’ll be taken to the Field of Dreams with the worn-out Lotor-spawn. So get your act together and save us.”

I narrow my mind’s eyes. Him fighting in the Lotor-born yard or in Earth-born yard makes a big difference to my suspicions as to whom he might be. I niggle at his logic. “And if you hadn’t picked a fight?”

“The salt mines. No one comes back from them either.”

With that he tells me he picked his fight among the Earth-born.

Clink. Clink.

 “Something going on outside,” he says. “Damn it, I can’t reach the window.”

Every night I stand below the wide slot in the wall that serves as my window and look up to see the stars. I look for a fast-moving speck crossing the sky. The Ark Ship. Never seen it yet.

To see the exercise yards at the base of the building, I need to step up onto the piss-pot and grab hold of the bars in the slot that stop me escaping. I cling to them while I wedge my elbows into the sides of the blessed width.

The slot’s narrow vertical dimensions are to prevent a grown man crawling through. How would it even help him with the cell not on the ground floor? Never mind, a prisoner’s lot is not to reason why. I push my right toe into a depression in the mud-bricks worn there by every prisoner in this cell since the beginning of time. With my other foot I scrabble for the angle the back wall makes with the side wall.

Spread-eagled, I can see out. “The Lotor-born are being encouraged to rise,” I say. “They that need it are helped quite gently. They are allowing themselves to be marshaled into lines. There’s a soldier doling out hunks of bread.”

 “To chew during their walk,” the prisoner says.

I contradict him. “Their gates remain shut. It seems to me that they are being trained in the lining-up procedure.”

I’m chilled by the sight of the Lotor-born cast out from their villages for being sick, lame, old, and unproductive and being ministered by prison guards. I slide down to the floor. I sit down again, hunching my cloak around me.

“If the guards don’t come to get me in the next three minutes, you’ll have till tomorrow to spare me from the salt mines,” my neighbor says.

Fiction: Page 2 …

Page 2 of Mongrel, Book 1 of the DOOMED? Series; Link to Page 1 https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/ritadeheer385131918.blog/194

Up again. Quick look around to see what there was to see. On the glassy water’s surface, his surfboard rose a finger-width. The swell? He counted seconds. Cooler water from the depths raised goose bumps on his skin. Twenty. The board lifted again. Yep. It’s the swell.

Grung grung grung grung grung grung.
A vibration?
He sank to feel it better.
Rung grung. Rung grung. Rung grung.
Has to be a boat engine. A fisherman on his way home?
Up again to the surface.

The swell increased noticeably in strength and height while Tardi trod water waiting for the boat to pass and the water to calm after the boat’s passage.

RUU-UU-UNG. GRUU-UU-UNG. RUU-UU-UNG. GRUU-UU-UNG!

The water trembled and he with it. The increasing swell with him in the trough between two wave crests hid the boat till the last moment. It was coming straight for him! His heart hammered at his ribs. Frantically he sculled back down. The boat crunched down on his surfboard. Displaced water punched him down, hard.

Oof!

He slid along the wreck then along the sharp coral. Toxins from the coral flamed through him like a fire front ahead of a storm wind. He breathed in water. His chest burned. Lungs bulged. He was drifting away. Fading out.

Wait! He had to live! He had to live for his little brother Steve. Up! Up! Up!

Slivers of skin and trails of blood rose and twirled alongside as he exploded through the water ceiling, coughing, snorting, sucking in air with rasping gasps. His blood clouded the surrounding water. How long before a shark came nosing by? Where was the damned boat?

A huge pink tongue slurped over his back, wiping off blood and threads from his clothes and … Was that something in his mind? The toxins were at work already? For a moment, he forgot how to swim. Then he remembered Steve and spat out bloodied seawater. He kicked hard and hauled seawater from in front.

MONGREL by Rita de Heer (2019) books2read.com
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Page 1 …

This is page 1 of Mongrel Part 1 of the Doomed? series. If you like what you read, hasten to your favorite ebook distributor, the 99c sale ends on 14 July.

1: Tardi

Tardi Malko dived down the water column to where the wrecked trawler lay on its side six meters below, the water as cool and smooth as satin bed-sheets. He stopped a meter above the wreck, sculling with his hands. He’d break the perfection of the display if he touched down, but now that he’d seen the silver coral, he definitely wanted to use it in the video clip he intended to submit for the Virtual Surfing job.

He smiled closed-mouthed to not let any water in. Oh yes! This little addition is going to swing the vote my way, he thought. He swam up for a breath, aiming for the dark torpedo shape of his surfboard floating above.

Out of habit, he checked for triangular fins when his head broke through the surface of the water. Not that he expected any of the really wild wildlife that passed through; not the season for it.

In the east it was still too bright to see much, with the rising sun seeming to hang only a couple of hand-widths above the horizon. He turned, scooping at the water with his hands and kicking with his feet. The Byron Shire coast was dark blue and rumpled with hills. The surface of the sea had the bronze tints of a Roman mirror, no wind and still no swell. His surfboard only moved because he’d troubled the water near it.

Deep breath.

He dived, squeezing his eyebrows together to adjust the goggles for magnification. On the way down, he flicked the side of the goggles near his left temple to switch to the cam function. With the goggles videoing, he swept his gaze back and forth over the silvery clumps for a background sequence of the squared pattern. There were ten rows of the clumps on the near-horizontal side of the wreck. To create a pattern like this the coral must have been seeded.


Up for a breath, and down again.

The early sunlight trembled through the turquoise water and reflected off what looked like barbs, the coral’s hair-like structures. The sun’s rays glancing over the hairs must cause the shimmering effect people had told him about. Good score, Tar-boy. All my problems solved.

Art by Dan van Oss of Covermint

MONGREL by Rita de Heer (2019) books2read.com
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Read Doomed? 1: Mongrel

Mongrel … the fellow in the banner … is available for just 99 cents from 30 June to July 14 … click on Universal Book Link: https://books2read.com/u/bW9Pgq for your favorite ebookshop

The first installment of a series set in The Eleven Islands, Mongrel tells the beginning of the story of Tardi Malko, a 22nd century surfer and trucker.

He needs a second job. While videoing his application to work at Virtual Surfing, he’s thrown against some alien coral. The Moogerah Monster, an alien entity, instantly invades Tardi’s mind and starts to force Tardi to help it break out of its prison.

Tardi begins his resistance by intending to stay himself. His ex-girlfriend signs him up for a job with her, and his drowned brother wants to stay dead next time his CPU freezes. Then the Stormies, a mysterious underclass, claim him as their own. Tamer, they call him. They expect him to control the alien monster, to use it for the good of all Stormy kind.

How will he stay human?

Wordsmithing

The excerpt below is written in a fictional, grammar-based dialect. It has one word I made up … skanzy … and some that are used in different ways than you might be accustomed to.

Watercolor painting of what one of the characters described might look like.
A typical skanzy is hard to see when you’re
trying too hard.

“A skanzy by kind and a skanzy with aptitude is what I am, though I’m quite long-winded as well. The bottom falling out of the bio-engineering market left a lot of us product scrabbling for a living. Cities wouldn’t have us, or anywhere you live. You who are not mis-made.

“Down to the rivers is where we drifted, and where we now live in permanent river-camps, despite floods and melting floes. The some of us what hold down jobs support us all. The jobs never notice there’s an unending succession of us—seen one, you say, seen us all—so when one of us is too sick to get out of bed, injured, or arthritic of a morning—someone else will turn up.

“We can’t afford to lose any of the jobs so we have a rota and a job school in every camp where we all learn all the jobs.

I’d love it if you leave a comment on how well you can understand it, and would maybe like to read more by this character?

Fiction: Scrim’s Story

As she had promised, Kate followed Aunty Jean into the robot-proving ground without a word. Beats testing robots in a transport parking facility. They waded the ebb-tide round the wall, separating the scientists’ dormitory village from the proving ground, where it ended in the sea to prevent errant robots ingressing. On the beach Kate read a sign, Welcome to Hell-city. Huh? I thought we lived in Zinc City? How is it a hell?

Aunty Jean mouthed words. No questions now. Aunty Jean entirely too good at reading Kate’s expressions. They started down the dusty uneven road that ran parallel to the wall. Kate glanced stealthily at the ground. Wait? Was that …? A robot’s footprint? Aunty Jean frowned. Shook her head. No stopping now! Too dangerous!

Too dangerous? When Aunty Jean talked Kate’s parents into allowing Kate to participate in her latest project, she’d stressed the benefit to Kate’s dream of getting a summer job helping to train robots. How would “too dangerous” every five minutes help with that?

Aunty Jean took Kate’s arm and pulled her alongside for them to walk together into a street running into a westerly direction. Every street corner had a tall egg-shaped steel sentinel. “The Nubian-class robots, at present folded-up and at rest,” Aunty Jean said. “They are one hundred percent smarter than the Martian-class robots.” Common wisdom said there was nothing to fear from the Nubians while they slept. Duh. So the Nubians were dangerous to humans when they were awake?

Finally, Kate saw what looked like the garbage mountain Aunty Jean had installed to discourage snooping. “This way.” Aunty Jean led Kate into a narrow alley between two concrete house-and-yard walls that ended at a T-junction, down two right turns and they were in a backyard. Two large chicken-wire clad aviaries, both filled with cooing pigeons, left only a narrow path between to a house door.

“Make yourself at home. I need to go out and I may be gone the rest of the day.” Aunty Jean showed Kate the guest room and bathroom. “Okay if I go out too? Explore?” Kate said. “Any other humans in this town?”

“Other than the robots, everyone is human,” Aunty Jean said. “Explore? Without knowing how the proving ground, the robots, or the people work? You’re to stay at home. Your grandfather’s marine telescope is in the comm-room. You can look out of any window so long as you stay out of sight. And also, out there I’m known as Harmless.”

Kate laughed. “People think you are harmless?”
“Out there my name is Harmless,” Aunty Jean said.

#

Scrim stood by the window of his high-up, chewing the crust he found. The whole top of a loaf of bread. And he got a half-eaten fruit this morning. He looked out over his ground. Two Nubies sat folded up in their steel egg-shapes, one at each end of the street. One of them Yellow Leg–his leg had yellow steel–who supposedly slept, but probably knew everything going on.

When he finished the bread, Scrim was still hungry. He raced his mind over the hell. Where is there more food?

Fingers sat folded in his tall egg-shape at the bottom of Scrim’s high-up. Always there, always guarding. On his way out, Scrim laid his hand on his friend’s ID pad, so Fingers might know Scrim had left the high-up.

When Fingers felt Scrim’s hand, he raised his head and slid his steel shoulders-and-arms free from the egg-shape. Every couple-of-months Scrim asked the same. “Why did them scientists put men, all-you, in steel cans and call you robots?”

Fingers got his name when Scrim-friend replaced his left-side finger blades with toe bones off a dead Nubie. He was the only Nubie who could handle things without cutting them. But Fingers still talked by skitzing his finger blades. “Some-of-we can sense their every part. They teach us to know that we are still whole men. More secrets to keep, Scrim-friend.”

A no-answer meant the Nubies-themselves still dint know. Scrim put the secrets in his heart alongside all the things Fingers told him for Scrim’s future. The dolphinate mate for life. The silver is magic. The mud is alive. Fingers and Scrim are of the dolphinate. “Whisper me about the three cities,” Fingers said.

Scrim leaned against Fingers’ shoulder where the mic was. “Humans say we are a hybrid. Human-dolphin, at first equal shares. For twelve generations, only the dolphinate lived in the delta. Our people were made by the scientist who brought us to the delta after she bought it from an overlord. He died, the three cities grew, and farmlands spread into the old floodplain. Farmers come into our creeks to swim and fish …” he stopped. Sometimes he remember-dreamed how Hell-city’s hunters stole little-Scrim. “The hunters come into the delta to make us fewer?”

“The cities force them to take a quota of us in return for hay from the delta for their camels,” Fingers skitzed. “These things I heard while serving them in their tents, while we traveled here.”

Scrim’s stomach grumbled. Give me more food it said. Out in the street he heard Harmless talking here and there. “I have to go,” he said. “Get more food.”

Read the rest of this story–by Arit Reede, my username on the Worldbuilding Magazine site–in the Gender & Relationships issue of https://www.worldbuildingmagazine.com/