Code push scheduled for Sunday night

Apr. 27th, 2017 03:03 pm
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[staff profile] karzilla posting in [site community profile] dw_maintenance
We are planning to do a code push late this weekend, at approximately 8pm PDT / 11pm EDT / 3am UTC on Sunday, Apr 30 (or May 1 for you transatlantic types.).

I don't have a list of changes for you yet, but most will fall into the following categories: things users have complained about to support volunteers, things support volunteers have complained about to developers, things [staff profile] denise has complained about not working the way she expects them to (and as we all know, The Boss is Always Right), and things that were printing warnings over and over in the production server logs, making it hard to spot when less frequent, more urgent errors were being printed. Oh, and also all the unused code I ripped out at the roots, which if you notice that, I did it wrong.

To sum up: we are rolling out a bunch of requested changes, so thank you all for your feedback!

If you're new to Dreamwidth and interested in tracking our development process, our commit logs are published to [site community profile] changelog and [community profile] changelog_digest, and every month or so, one of our volunteers will translate those often-cryptic entries into witty, informative code tours! The most recent one was published on April 1, so we're about due for a new one. Hint, hint.

We'll update here again to let you know when the code push is imminent!
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Posted by Niall Alexander

Following his triumphant trek through Area X in the cerebral Southern Reach series, Jeff VanderMeer mounts a more modest yet no less affecting expedition into uncharted territory by way of Borne, a surprisingly beautiful book about a blob which behaves like a boy and the broken woman who takes him in.

Her name is Rachel, and when she was little, she “wanted to be a writer, or at least something other than a refugee. Not a trap-maker. Not a scavenger. Not a killer.” But we are what the world makes us, and no poxy author would have lasted long in the world in which this novel’s narrator was raised:

Once, it was different. Once, people had homes and parents and went to schools. Cities existed within countries and those countries had leaders. Travel could be for adventure or recreation, not survival. But by the time I was grown up, the wider context was a sick joke. Incredible, how a slip could become a freefall and a freefall could become a hell where we lived on as ghosts in a haunted world.

There is hope even in this haunted hellscape, however, and it takes a strange shape, as hope tends to: that of “a hybrid of sea anemone and squid: a sleek vase with rippling colours” Rachel finds in the festering fur of a skyscraper-sized flying bear called Mord.

She brings the titular thing, Borne-to-be, back to the Balcony Cliffs, a broken-down apartment building where she lives and works with Wick, her sometime lover and a secretive biotech beetle dealer who pushes a memory-altering product “as terrible and beautiful and sad and sweet as life itself.” Out of the gate, Rachel intends to give her purplish prize to him to pick at—but something, the beginning of some instinct, stays her hand. Instead, she places it in her room, and tries to take care of it.

“This required some experimenting, in part because [she] had never taken care of anyone or anything before,” but equally because her amorphous mass is a complete mystery. Certainly Wick has never seen its like, and having worked once for the Company, he has seen everything there is to see. To wit, Rachel treats this colourful clump like a plant to start; reclassifies it as an animal after it starts to move around her room; and then, when it shocks her by talking, she takes to behaving around it as she would a baby boy. She talks to him; teaches him; comes, ultimately, to love him—and he her in turn.

This all happens fast—in a matter of months at most. Rachel’s experience is in many ways that of a parent’s, albeit with the long years squeezed into brief weeks. Crucially, though, little data is lost in the compression process. VanderMeer’s focus on the magical and the miserable moments of motherhood is so fine that by the time Borne is grown, it feels like a life has been lived, and an unbreakable bond formed. Thus, when that bond is broken, and that life almost lost, it is as momentous and as moving as it needs to be in a novel that may feature dizzying grizzlies and biotech-bred beasts but is at bottom about a relationship most sacred.

That’s not to say there aren’t some weird and wonderful things happening in the background. “Strange things were flourishing,” in fact. More bears have joined the monolithic monster that is Mord, and the Magician—another outcast from the Company in direct competition with Wick—is somehow changing the city’s children:

A growing army of acolytes helped make her drugs and protected her territory against Mord and the others; Wick had only his peculiar swimming pool, the bastion of the Balcony Cliffs, a scavenger-woman who could make traps but kept secrets from him, and a creature of unknown potential that he desired to cast out. […] Worse, the rumoured Mord proxies had finally made their presence known and seemed more bloodthirsty than their progenitor. They knew no rule of law, not even the natural law of sleep.

Both Mord’s proxies and the Magician’s children make moves against the ragtag family that call the Balcony Cliffs base camp, but this aspect of the narrative only really takes centre stage come the cacophonous climax, which boasts a long-in-the-coming confrontation, a couple of great character-based revelations and a truly vast battle made all the more majestic by the relative restraint its author displays elsewhere. Deliberately, I dare say:

There comes a moment when you witness events so epic you don’t know how to place them in the cosmos or in relation to the normal workings of a day. Worse, when these events recur, at an ever greater magnitude, in a cascade of what you have never seen before and do not know how to classify. Troubling because each time you acclimate, you move on, and, if this continues, there is a mundane grandeur to the scale that renders certain events beyond rebuke or judgment, horror or wonder, or even the grasp of history.

Happily, despite the presence of a big ol’ robot bear, an invisible woman whose gadgets basically make her magic and a talking blob that can in time take on any shape it dares—despite, in other words, the creative freedoms VanderMeer gleefully flexes in this fiction now that his very deliberate and massively taxing trilogy is done—Borne doesn’t give us the chance to acclimate to the action, or to the fantastic.

It has both, of course, but it isn’t ever overburdened by either. At heart, Borne is a small story, a sweet story, a sad story; a cunningly punning, playful and flavourful exploration of parenthood more interested in feelings and in fun than fungus. It’s definitely one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read, and it may well be one of the best. Bravo.

Borne is available from MCD in the US and from 4th Estate in the UK.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.

Divine Cities Sweepstakes!

Apr. 27th, 2017 07:30 pm
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Posted by Sweepstakes

The third book in Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, City of Miracles, is available May 2nd from Broadway Books—and we want to send you a set of all three books in the series!

Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do—and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And—perhaps most daunting of all—finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

Comment in the post to enter—and read on for a sneak peek from City of Miracles!

From Chapter One: Fallen Trees

There she is.

There sits the woman herself. The woman descended from the Kaj, conqueror of the gods and the Continent, the woman who killed two Divinities herself nearly twenty years ago.

How small she is. How frail. Her hair is snow-white—prematurely so, surely—and she sits hunched in a small iron chair, watching the street below, a cup of tea steaming in her small hands. Khadse’s so struck by her smallness, her blandness, that he almost forgets his job.

That’s not right, he thinks, withdrawing. Not right for her to be outside, so exposed. Too dangerous.

His heart goes cold as he thinks. Komayd is still an operative at her heart, after all these years. And why would an operative watch the street? Why risk such exposure?

The answer is, of course, that Komayd is looking for something. A message, perhaps. And while Khadse could have no idea what that message would contain or when it might arrive, it could make Komayd move. And that would ruin everything.

Khadse whirls around, kneels, and opens his briefcase. Inside his briefcase is something very new, very dangerous, and very vile: an adapted version of an antipersonnel mine, one specifically engineered to direct all of its explosive force to one side. It’s also been augmented for this one job, since most antipersonnel mines might have difficulty penetrating a wall—but this one packs such a punch it should have no issues whatsoever.

Khadse takes the mine out and gently affixes it to the wall next to Ashara Komayd’s suite. He licks his lips as he goes through the activation procedure—three simple steps—and then sets the timer for four minutes. That should give him enough time to get to safety. But if anything goes wrong, he has another new toy as well: a radio override that can allow him to trigger the blast early, if he wants.

He dearly hopes he never needs to. Triggering it early might mean triggering it when he’s still too close. But one must be sure about such things.

He stands, glances out at Komayd one last time—he mutters, “So long, you damned bitch”—and slips out of the hotel room.

Down the hallway, past the bloodstains, then down the stairs. Down the stairs and through the lobby, where all the people are still going through their dull little motions, yawning as they page through the newspapers, snuffling through a hangover as they sip coffee or try to decide what they’ll do with their vacation day.

None of them notices Khadse. None of them notices as he trots across the lobby and out the door to the streets, where a light rain is falling.

This isn’t the first time Khadse’s worked such a job, so he really should be calm about such things. His heart shouldn’t be humming, shouldn’t be pattering. Yet it is.

Komayd. Finally. Finally, finally, finally.

He should walk away. Should walk south, or east. Yet he can’t resist. He walks north, north to the very street Komayd was watching. He wants to see her one last time, wants to enjoy his imminent victory.

The sun breaks free of the clouds as Khadse turns the corner. The street is mostly empty, as everyone’s gone to work at this hour. He keeps to the edges of the street, silently counting the seconds, keeping his distance from the Golden but allowing himself a slight glance to the side. . . .

His eyes rove among the balconies. Then he spies her, sitting on the fourth-floor balcony. A wisp of steam from her tea is visible even from here.

He ducks into a doorway to watch her, his blood dancing with anticipation.

Here it comes. Here it comes.

Then Komayd sits up. She frowns.

Khadse frowns as well. She sees something.

He steps out of the doorway a little, peering out to see what she’s looking at.

Then he spies her: a young Continental girl is standing on the sidewalk, staring right up at Komayd’s balcony and violently gesturing to her. The girl is pale with an upturned nose, her hair crinkled and bushy. He’s never seen her before—which is bad. His team did their homework. They should know everyone who comes into contact with Komayd.

The gesture, though—three fingers, then two. Khadse doesn’t know the meaning of the numbers, but it’s clear what the gesture is: it’s a warning.

The girl glances around the street as she gestures to Komayd. As she does, her gaze falls on Khadse.

The girl freezes. She and Khadse lock eyes.

Her eyes are of a very, very curious color. They’re not quite blue, not quite gray, not quite green, nor brown. . . . They’re of no color at all, it seems.

Khadse looks up at Komayd. Komayd, he sees, is looking right at him.

Komayd’s face twists up in disgust, and though it’s impossible—From this distance? And after so long?—he swears he can see that she recognizes him.

He sees Komayd’s mouth move, saying one word: “Khadse.”

“Shit,” says Khadse.

His right hand flies down to his pocket, where the radio trigger is hidden. He looks to the pale Continental girl, wondering if she’ll attack—but she’s gone. The sidewalk just down the road from him is totally empty. She’s nowhere to be found.

Khadse looks around, anxious, wondering if she’s about to assault him. He doesn’t see her anywhere.

Then he looks back up at Komayd—and sees the impossible has happened.

The pale Continental girl is now on the balcony with Komayd, helping her stand, trying to usher her away.

He stares at them, stupefied. How could the girl have moved so quickly? How could she have vanished from one place and suddenly reappeared across the street and four floors up? It’s impossible.

The girl kicks open the balcony doors and hauls Komayd through.

I’m blown, he thinks. They’re on the move.

Khadse’s hand is on the remote.

He’s much too close. He’s right across the street. But he’s blown.

Nothing more to do about it. One must be sure about such things.

Khadse hits the trigger.

The blast knocks him to the ground, showers him with debris, makes his ears ring and his eyes water. It’s like someone slapped him on either side of the head and kicked him in the stomach. He feels an ache on his right side and slowly realizes the detonation hurled him against the wall, only it happened too fast for him to understand.

The world swims around him. Khadse slowly sits up.

Everything is dim and distant. The world is full of muddled screams. The air hangs heavy with smoke and dust.

Blinking hard, Khadse looks at the Golden. The building’s top-right corner has been completely excised as if it were a tumor, a gaping, splintered, smoking hole right where Komayd’s balcony used to be. It looks as if the mine took out not only Komayd’s suite but also Room 408 and most of the rooms around it.

There’s no sign of Komayd, or the strange Continental girl. He suppresses the desire to step closer, to make sure the job is done. He just stares up at the damage, head cocked.

A Continental man—a baker of some kind, by his dress—stops him and frantically asks, “What happened? What happened?

Khadse turns and walks away. He calmly walks south, through the streaming crowds, through the police and medical autos speeding down the streets, through the throngs of people gathering on the sidewalks, all looking north at the column of smoke streaming from the Golden.

He says not a word, does not a thing. All he does is walk. He barely even breathes.

He makes it to his safe house. He confirms the door hasn’t been tampered with, nor the windows, then unlocks the door and walks inside. He goes straight to the radio, turns it on, and stands there for the better part of three hours, listening.

He waits, and waits, until finally they begin reporting on the explosion. He keeps waiting until they finally announce it.

. . . just confirmed that Ashara Komayd, former prime minister of Saypur, was killed in the blast . . .

Khadse exhales slowly.

Then he slowly, slowly lowers himself to sit on the floor.

And then, to his own surprise, he begins laughing.

Reprinted from City of Miracles Copyright © 2017 by Robert Jackson Bennett. To be published by Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on May 2.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on April 27th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on May 1st. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

I have a job now

Apr. 27th, 2017 10:10 pm
schneefink: (FF Kaylee in hammock)
[personal profile] schneefink
I wanted to make a post about how I was doing at my new job, and then I remembered that today at 5pm a guy from IT told us not to turn off our computers today because of an important update, and today at 6pm I left work and of course turned off my computer just like I always do. *facepalm* Great job, self. Have fun tomorrow morning.

Overall it's going well though. I think. It seems like every few days one of my bosses tells me of a silly mistake that I can't believe I made and reminds me not to do it again and it's very embarrassing. Fortunately triple redundancy is pretty much built into every step of the process, but still.

The people are nice though, I'm getting used to the hours, and I'm not bored yet. (I will eventually, but my contract only lasts until July anyway, and I'll start sending job applications again in May. Not looking forward to it.)

Firebrand

Apr. 27th, 2017 07:00 pm
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Posted by A.J. Hartley

Once a steeplejack, Anglet Sutonga is used to scaling the heights of Bar-Selehm. Nowadays she assists politician Josiah Willinghouse behind the scenes of Parliament. The latest threat to the city-state: Government plans for a secret weapon are stolen and feared to be sold to the rival nation of Grappoli. The investigation leads right to the doorsteps of Elitus, one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. In order to catch the thief, Ang must pretend to be a foreign princess and infiltrate Elitus. But Ang is far from royal material, so Willinghouse enlists help from the exacting Madam Nahreem.

Yet Ang has other things on her mind. Refugees are trickling into the city, fleeing Grappoli-fueled conflicts in the north. A demagogue in Parliament is proposing extreme measures to get rid of them, and she soon discovers that one theft could spark a conflagration of conspiracy that threatens the most vulnerable of Bar-Selehm. Unless she can stop it.

Author A. J. Hartley returns to his intriguing, 19th-century South African-inspired fantasy world in Firebrand, an adrenaline-pounding adventure available from Tor Teen.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

The thief had been out of the window no more than a minute but had already shaken off the police. The only reason I could still see him was because up here we got the full flat glare of the Beacon two blocks over, because I knew where to look, and because he was doing what I would be doing if our positions were reversed. Moments after the theft had been reported and the building locked down, he had emerged from the sash window on the fourth floor of the War Office on Hanover Street—which was probably how he had gotten in in the first place—and had climbed up to the roof. Then he had danced along the steeply pitched ridgeline and across to the Corn Exchange by way of a cable bridge he had rigged earlier. The uniformed officers in the pearly glow of the gas lamps below blocked the doorways leading to the street, milling around like baffled chickens oblivious to the hawk soaring away above them. If he hadn’t shot one of the guards on his way into the strong room, they wouldn’t have even known he had been there.

But he had, and he was getting away with a roll of papers bound with what looked like red ribbon. I didn’t know what they were, but I had seen Willinghouse’s face when the alarm had been raised and knew how badly he needed them back.

Not Willinghouse himself. Bar-Selehm. The city needed them back, and I, Anglet Sutonga, former steeplejack and now… something else entirely, worked for the city. In a manner of speaking.

The thief paused to disassemble his cable bridge and, in the act of turning, saw me as I rounded a brick chimney stack. His hand went for the pistol at his belt, the one that had already been fired twice to night, but he hesitated. There was no clearer way to announce his position to those uniformed chickens below us than by firing his gun. He decided to run, abandoning his dismantling of the bridge, betting that, whoever I was, I wouldn’t be able to stay with him up here on the ornamented roofs and towers of the government district.

He was wrong about that, though he climbed expertly. I gave chase, sure-footed in my familiar steel-toed boots, as he skittered down the sloping tiles on the other side and vaulted across the alley onto a metal fire escape. He moved with ease in spite of his formal wear, and the only time he looked away from what he was doing was to check on my progress. As he did, he smiled, intrigued, a wide hyena grin that made me slow just a little. Because despite the half mask he was wearing over his eyes, I knew who he was.

They called him Darius. He was a thief, but because he was also white, famously elegant, and limited his takings to the jewelry of wealthy society ladies—plucked from their nightstands as they slept inches away—he was known by the more romantic name of “cat burglar.” I had never been impressed by the title. It seemed to me that anyone whose idea of excitement—and it clearly was exciting for the likes of Darius—involved skulking inside houses full of people was someone you needed to keep at a distance. I’ve stolen in the past— usually food but sometimes money as well—and I wouldn’t trust anyone who did it for sport, for the thrill of standing over you while you slept. For all his dashing reputation and the breathless way in which the newspapers recounted his exploits, it did not surprise me in the least that he had killed a man tonight.

I was, I reminded myself, unarmed. I didn’t like guns, even when I was the one holding them. Especially then, in fact.

I too was masked, though inelegantly, a scarf of sooty fabric wrapped around my head so that there was only a slit for my eyes. It was hot and uncomfortable, but essential. I had a job that paid well, which kept me out of the gangs and the factories that would be my only tolerable options if anyone guessed who I really was. That would be easier if anyone realized I was Lani, so my skin stayed covered.

I crossed the wire bridge, slid down the ridged tile, and launched myself across the alley, seventy feet above the cobbled ground, dropping one full story and hitting the fire escape with a bone-rattling jolt. Grasping the handrails, I swung down four steps at a time, listening to Darius’s fine shoes on the steps below me. I was still three flights above him when he landed lightly on the elegant balcony on the front of the Victory Street Hotel. I dropped in time to see him swinging around the dividing walls between balconies, vanishing from sight at the fourth one.

He might just have hidden in the shadows, waiting for me to follow him, or he might have forced the window and slipped into the hotel room.

I didn’t hesitate, leaping onto the first balcony, hanging for an instant like a vervet monkey in a marulla tree, then reaching for the next and the next with long, sinewy arms. I paused only a half second before scything my legs over the wall and into the balcony where he had dis appeared, my left hand straying to the heavy-bladed kukri I wore in a scabbard at my waist.

I didn’t need it. Not yet, at least.

He had jimmied the door latch and slipped into a well-appointed bedroom with wood paneling and heavy curtains of damask with braided accents that matched the counterpane.

Fancy.

But then this was Victory Street, so you’d expect that.

I angled my head and peered into the gloom. The bed was, so far as I could see, unoccupied. I stood quite still on the thick dark carpet, breathing shallowly. Unless he was crouching behind the bed or hiding in the en suite, he wasn’t there. The door into the hotel’s hallway was only thirty feet away, and I was wasting time.

I took four long strides and was halfway to the door when he hit me, surging up from behind the bed like a crocodile bursting from the reeds, jaws agape. He caught me around the waist and dragged me down so that I landed hard on one shoulder and hit my head on a chest of drawers. For a moment the world went white, then black, then a dull throbbing red as I shook off the confusion and grasped at his throat.

He slid free, pausing only long enough to aim a kick squarely into my face before making for the hallway. I saw it coming and turned away from the worst of it, shrinking and twisting so that he connected with my already aching shoulder. He reached for the scarf about my head, but I had the presence of mind to bring the kukri slicing up through the air, its razor edge flashing. He snatched his hand away, swung another kick, which got more of my hip than my belly, and made for the door.

I rolled, groaning and angry, listening to the door snap shut behind him, then flexed the muscles of my neck and shoulder, touching the fabric around my head with fluttering fin gers. It was still intact, as was I, but I felt rattled, scared. Darius’s cat burglar suaveness was all gone, exposed for the veneer it was, and beneath it there was ugliness and cruelty and the love of having other people in his power. I wasn’t surprised, but it gave me pause. I’d been kicked many times before, and I always knew what was behind it, how much force and skill, how much real, venomous desire to hurt, cripple, or kill. His effort had largely gone wide because it was dark and I knew how to dodge, but the kick had been deliberate, cruel. If I caught up with him and he thought he was in real danger, he would kill me without a second’s thought. I rolled to a crouch, sucked in a long, steadying breath, and went after him.

The hallway was lit by the amber glow of shaded oil lamps on side tables, so that for all the opulence of the place, the air tasted of acrid smoke, and the darkness pooled around me as I ran. Up ahead, the corridor turned into an open area where a single yellowing bulb of luxorite shone on intricate ceiling moldings and ornamental pilasters. There were stairs down, and I was aware of voices, lots of them, a sea of confused chatter spiked erratically with waves of laughter.

A party.

More Bar-Selehm elegance and, for me, more danger. I had no official position, no papers allowing me to break into the hotel rooms of the wealthy, nothing that would make my Lani presence among the cream of the city palatable. And in spite of all I had done for Bar-Selehm—for the very people who were sipping wine in the ballroom below—I felt the pressure of this more keenly than I had Darius’s malevolent kick. Some blows were harder to roll with.

I sprang down the carpeted stairs, turning the corner into the noise. The hallway became a gallery running around the upper story of the ballroom so that guests might promenade around the festivities, waving their fans at their friends below. Darius was on the far side, moving effortlessly through the formally dressed clusters of startled people. He was still masked, and they knew him on sight, falling away, their mouths little O’s of shock. One of the women fainted, or pretended to. Another partygoer, wearing a dragoon’s formal blues, took a step toward the masked man, but the pistol in Darius’s hand swung round like an accusatory fin ger and the dragoon thought better of his heroism.

I barreled through the crowd, shoving mercilessly, not breaking stride. The party below had staggered to a halt, and the room was a sea of upturned faces watching us as we swept around the gallery toward another flight of stairs. As I neared the corner, I seized a silver platter from an elegant lady in teal and heaved it at him, so that it slid in a long and menacing arc over the heads of the crowd below and stung him on the shoulder. He turned, angry, and found me elbowing my way through the people as they blew away from him like screws of colored tissue, horrified and delighted by their proximity to the infamous cat burglar. And then his gun came up again and they were just horrified, flinging themselves to the ground.

He fired twice. The gilded plaster cherub curled round the balustrade in front of me exploded, and the screaming started. Somewhere a glass broke, and in all the shrieking, it wasn’t absolutely clear that no one had been seriously hurt, but then someone took a bad step, lost their balance, and went over the balustrade. More screaming, and another shot. I took cover behind a stone pillar, and when I peered round, Darius had already reached the stairs and was gone.

I sprinted after him, knocking a middle-aged woman in layers of black gauzy stuff to the ground as I barged through. My kukri was still in my hand, and the partygoers were at least as spooked by the sweep of its broad, purposeful blade as by Darius’s pistol, though it had the advantage of focusing their attention away from my face and onto my gloved hands. A waiter—the only black person in the room that I could see—stepped back from me, staring at the curved knife like it was red-hot. That gave me the opening I needed, and I dashed through to the stairs.

Darius had gone up. I gave chase, focusing on the sound of his expensive shoes. One flight, two, three, then the snap of a door and suddenly I was in a bare hall of parquet floors, dim, hot, and dusty. A single oil lamp showed supply closets overflowing with bed linens and aprons on hooks. The hall ended in a steel ladder up to the roof, the panel closing with a metallic clang as I moved toward it.

He might be waiting, pistol reloaded and aimed. But he had chosen this building for a reason. Its roof gave onto Long Terrace, which ran all the way to the edge of Mahweni Old Town, from where he could reach any part of the northern riverbank or cross over into the warren of warehouses, sheds, and factories on the south side. He wouldn’t be waiting. He was looking to get away.

So I scaled the ladder and heaved open the metal shutters as quietly as I could manage. I didn’t want to catch him. I wanted to see where he went. It would be best if he thought he’d lost me. I slid out cautiously, dropped into a half crouch and scuttered to the end of the roof like a baboon. Darius was well away, taking leaping strides along the roof of the Long Terrace, and as he slowed to look back, I leaned behind one of the hotel’s ornamental gargoyles out of sight. When next I peered round, he was moving again, but slower, secure in the knowledge that he was in the clear.

I waited another second before dropping to the Long Terrace roof, staying low, and sheathing my kukri. The terrace was one of the city’s architectural jewels: a mile-long continuous row of elegant, three-story houses with servants’ quarters below stairs. They were fashioned from a stone so pale it was almost white and each had the same black door, the same stone urn and bas-relief carving, the same slate roof. Enterprising home owners had lined the front lip of the roof with planters that, at this time of year, trailed fragrant vines of messara flowers. The whole terrace curved fractionally down toward the river like a lock of elegantly braided hair. For Darius it provided a direct route across several blocks of the city away from prying eyes.

The nights were warming as Bar-Selehm abandoned its token spring, and the pursuit had made me sweat. We had left the light of the Beacon behind, and I could barely keep track of Darius in the smoggy gloom, even with my long lens, which I drew from my pocket and unfolded. At the end of the terrace, he paused to look back once more, adjusting the tubular roll of documents he had slung across his back, but I had chosen a spot in the shadow of a great urn sprouting ferns and a dwarf fruit tree, and he saw nothing. Satisfied, he shinned down the angled corner blocks at the end of the terrace and emerged atop the triumphal arch that spanned Broad Street, then descended the steps halfway and sprang onto the landing of the Svengele shrine, whose minaret marked the edge of Old Town. I gave chase and was navigating the slim walkway atop the arch when he happened to look up and see me.

I dropped to the thin ribbon of stone before he could get his pistol sighted, and the shot thrummed overhead like a hummingbird. He clattered up the steps that curled round the minaret and flung himself onto the sand-colored tile of the neighboring house. He was running flat out now, and I had no choice but to do the same. I jumped, snatched a handhold on the minaret, and tore after him, landing clumsily on the roof so that I was almost too late in my roll. Another shot, and one of the tiles shattered in a hail of amber grit that stung my eyes. I sprawled for cover, but Darius was off again, vaulting from roof to roof, scattering tile as he ran, so that they fell, popping and crackling into the street below. Somewhere behind us, an elderly black man emerged shouting, but I had no time for sympathy or apologies.

As the narrow street began to curl in on itself, Darius dropped to the rough cobbles and sprinted off into the labyrinth which was Old Town. The streets were barely wide enough for a cart to squeeze through, and at times I could touch the buildings on either side of the road at the same time. There was a pale gibbous moon glowing like a lamp in Bar-Selehm’s perpetual smoky haze, but its light did not reach into the narrow ginnels running between the city’s most ancient houses. Down here his footfalls echoed in the dark, which was the only reason I could keep up with him as he turned left, then right, then back, past the Ntenga butchers’ row and down to the waterfront, where I lost him.

The river wasn’t as high as it had been a couple of weeks before, but it filled the night with a constant susurration like wind in tall grass. As the carefully maintained cobbles gave way to the weedy gravel around the riverside boatyards and mooring quays, any footfalls were lost in the steady background hiss of the river Kalihm. I clambered down the brick embankment that lined the riverbank and revolved on the spot, biting back curses as I tried, eyes half shut, to catch the sound of movement.

There. It may have been no more than a half brick turned by a stray foot, but I heard it, down near the shingle shore only fifty yards away. It came from the narrow alley between a pair of rickety boathouses that straddled a concrete pier. I made for the sound, opting for stealth rather than speed, one hand on the horn butt of my kukri, picking my way over the rounded stones, my back to the city. Even here, in the heart of Bar-Selehm, when you faced the river, you stepped back three hundred years, and there was only water and reeds and the giant herons that stalked among them.

I heard the noise again, different this time, more distinct, but in this narrow wedge of space between the boathouses, almost no light struggled through. The river itself was paler, reflecting the smudge of moon in the night sky and touched with the eerie phosphorescence of glowing things that lived in its depths, but I could see nothing between me and it.

Or almost nothing.

As I crept down the pebbled slope, I saw—or felt—a shape in front of me as it shifted. Something like a large man crouching no more than a few feet ahead. A very large man. I slid the kukri from its sheath, and in that second, the shape moved, black against the waters of the Kalihm. It turned, lengthening improbably as it presented its flank to me. It was, I realized with a pang of terror, no man. It was as big as a cart, and as it continued its slow rotation to face me, a shaft of light splashed across its massive, glistening head. I felt my heart catch.

The hippo rushed at me then, its face splitting open impossibly, eyes rolling back as it bared its immense tusks and bellowed.

 


CHAPTER 2

I scrambled up the riverbank, knowing the hippo could easily outrun me and that those jaws would fold and break me like a steam hammer. My boots slid on the wet stones. I was falling.

I felt the mad, blood-rushing horror of dropping to the ground in front of the great beast. I knew how it would trample me, toss me, rip me apart.

And then, somehow, I was recovering my balance.

In a blind madness of terror, I vaulted the embankment, feeling the hippo snapping its great coal-hatch door of a mouth inches behind me. Then I was clear and shooting up the slope toward the dim huddle of domes and spires that was the edge of Old Town.

The hippo roared again: a tremendous, window-rattling wall of noise that raised every hair on my head. I squeezed my eyes shut and slammed my hands against my ears, even though I knew it couldn’t get over the embankment. Or not there, at least. In places where the brick had crumbled, it was not unheard of for hippos to blunder into the outskirts of the town. I needed to move on.

My feet took me instinctively away from the snorting hippo in the dark of the riverbank, but I had no conscious idea where to go next. I had lost Darius completely.

Or so I assumed. In fact my detour to the river had taken only seconds. As I looked back, I caught the movement of a distant figure standing alone on one of the long brick jetties.

It couldn’t be.

But it was. He must have lost me when I went down to the river, and he was no longer hiding. He was, in fact, waiting.

I dropped into a balled crouch, then skulked crablike along the embankment wall to the head of the jetty and peered over. The hippo was grunting restlessly below me, some twenty yards to my left. Darius was perhaps three times that distance away. I watched as he drew something from inside his jacket and adjusted it. A white light leapt from his hand, vanished, then came back.

Luxorite. Probably a signet ring or locket he had purloined from some opulent bed chamber.

The light came again, then went. He was signaling.

I pulled out my long lens and started scanning the water, still aware of the heavy, shuffling breaths of the hippo in the dark, but I saw nothing beyond Darius’s dim silhouette. On the far side of the river, a half mile away, there was a distant glow of firelight: some large warehouse or factory on the south bank was ablaze. I smelled the smoke despite the distance, a strange and unpleasant stench quite unlike wood fires. I checked my surroundings, my eyes fastening on the rusty scaffold of a crane that loomed over the nearest boathouse. Its gantry stuck out over the river, the end well past Darius’s spot on the jetty.

Perhaps from there I would have a better view.…

I moved, stepping carefully, not looking back to Darius till I had reached the foot of the girdered tower. He had resumed signaling, his attention elsewhere. I grabbed the rust-bitten edges of the iron struts and began to climb. Pushing my boots into the triangular holes where the support beams intersected, I worked my way up, thirty feet, forty, till I reached a catwalk that gave onto the operator’s winch. In operation, the chains would be connected to a steam engine below, but the pulleys and cables were brown and furred with rust, as if the crane hadn’t been used for months, even years. The great arm of the main boom stuck out over the water into the night, pointing indistinctly toward the burning building on the other side. If it wasn’t structurally sound, I might not know till it was too late.

I pulled my way up over the cab and onto the lattice boom through which the main hoist ran. It had a triangular cross section, a yard wide on top, the bottom a single beam, the whole crisscrossed by supports like the rungs of a ladder. I crept out on my hands and knees, staring through the boom as I left the wharf and inched out over the dark and steadily moving water.

I was halfway along before I saw the rowboat approaching Darius’s position from the south bank of the river, and two thirds of the way along when someone stepped onto the arm of the crane behind me.

I stared as he hauled himself up. Not Darius, who was still down on the pier. Someone else. This new person, a white man in an incongruous suit and tie, stood tall on the girders of the boom, hands at his side, a revolver in one and what looked like a small pickax in the other. It sparkled coldly. Even at this distance, I could see that he was smiling as he took his first step toward me.

It was a cautious step, but he seemed quite composed, staring fixedly at me, his blond hair blowing slightly in the breeze that came up off the river, and as he took another, his confidence seemed to grow. Soon he was walking toward me with easy, measured strides, despite being fifty feet up in the air. It felt less like the skill of a steeplejack and more like the carelessness of someone who thought himself beyond harm.

It was frightening.

I kept crawling, though I had no idea where I would go when I reached the end of the crane’s jib. Maybe the cable would be hanging, and I would be able to swing to safety.…

Maybe. Probably not. But the alternative was the man with the gun and the pickax and the smile. It was the last that scared me most. He came on, a man who could not fall, eyes locked on mine. I struggled to my feet and drew the kukri, knowing that it was futile against a man with a gun. His smile widened, and I was first baffled, then terrified, as he slipped the pistol into his pocket and kept coming.

He wanted to fight me.

I felt the breeze stir my clothes as I stood up on the narrow boom, my weight balanced over my feet. I held the kukri by my right ear and extended my left hand toward him. He didn’t even slow. He took three more steps, slightly faster now, and I swung the kukri at him, a broad, slashing chop at his shoulder. He leaned away from it fractionally. The blade cut through the air, and I almost overbalanced as my arm came round. Instantly, he reached and tapped me on the side of the head with the pick as if he were striking a bell in a temple.

The blow stung like a wasp. I clapped my free hand to it. It came away slick with blood. He smiled again, and I knew that to him, this was sport. Entertainment. I stepped back unsteadily, then dropped to the boom, grabbed it with my hands, and scythed a kick at him.

He jumped. High up above the river and with nothing but two slim rails of metal to land on, he actually jumped over my kick, landed, and tagged me again with the spike of the pickax, this time in the small of my back. I cried out at that, less in pain—though it was real— and more in terror.

This, I thought with absolute certainty, is how I die.

I stepped forward and swung wildly at his face with my balled fist. He pivoted back out of range, and my momentum turned me away from him. As he closed in, I regained my balance and seized his outstretched wrist, trying to tug him off the boom, but I succeeded only in plucking his cufflink free. It arced through the night, sparkling bluish, and bounced on the iron frame before falling out of sight. He felt blindly at his flapping cuff, and a pulse of irritation went through his hard, pale eyes. He would kill me for that alone.

I couldn’t fight him. That much was clear. He was too strong, too fast, too skilled. Nor could I get past him. My only choice was to scramble to the very limit of the crane’s boom. I turned and half stepped, half jumped to get out of his range. He did not lunge after me, not right away. Seeing how futile my retreat was, he approached more cautiously. I backed away as far as I could, but in a few feet, I was out of room and there was nothing below me except a long fall into deep water.

There was a flash in my peripheral vision and an almost instantaneous bang. I looked down. The boat had reached the jetty, but as Darius had stooped to extend a hand toward it, the boatman had shot him down. The cat burglar crumpled, and the man in the boat reached up to tug the document roll Darius had been carrying free. The dead man spilled softly off the jetty into the water, his luxorite lamp lighting the river up with a greenish, dreamlike haze from below, as the boatman pushed off and rowed away.

I tore my gaze away and turned to the man on the crane, who moved almost close enough to touch. He held the pistol loosely at his side once more, but his right hand, the one with the pick, was taut and ready. Its spike was already tipped with the smallest touch of crimson. My blood. He was making no attempt to hide his face. A very bad sign. He did not intend for me to live long enough to tell anyone who I had seen. He was still smiling, a bland, unsettling smile at once ordinary and terrible. Though he could easily have shot me where I was, I knew instinctively that he would prefer to use the pick.

I jumped.

In fact it was more a fall, a desperate lunge into the airy nothing above the water, and I had just enough time to remember the hippo before I hit the surface.

Hit the surface I did. Hard. I have always been healthily afraid of water, because I can’t swim and I know what lives in and around the Kalihm, yet it had never occurred to me that falling into water would feel like falling onto concrete. I slammed into the river, my left knee, thigh, hip, and shoulder taking the full impact. The pain shocked the air out of me. For a second I was incapable of my own distress, stunned into inaction, turning over and over as I sank.

Then I was drifting to the surface again, borne toward the ocean by the current. All I felt was pain, so that I was not even able to keep my eyes and mouth closed. Before I broke the surface, my throat was full of the warm, soiled water of the Kalihm. I coughed it up and promptly swallowed more. My body screamed with the agony of impact and my lungs filled.

I was dying.

 


CHAPTER 3

“Well, obviously I survived,” I said.

Willinghouse watched me, his face stern, while the man I had known as Detective Andrews—now Inspector Andrews, thanks to his part in the Beacon affair—motioned one of his men to replace the sopping blanket around my shoulders with another.

My left arm was dislocated, and they had strapped it in place till someone from Saint Auspice’s could tend to it properly. My face throbbed. Most of my left side was suffused with a deep and coloring bruise that made the slightest movement painful. More to the point, as Willinghouse’s very first question had made clear, I had neither the stolen plans nor any clue to the identity of who had orchestrated the theft. The police had recovered Darius’s body and were planning to put notices in the papers requesting assistance from the public to confirm the cat burglar’s real name.

I had described the man with the pick, but he was nondescript in everything but the strange detachment with which he had planned to kill me, and I couldn’t put that into words they understood.

“He was white,” I said. “Blond. Ordinary-looking but well dressed.”

Willinghouse, never a man to hide his disappointment in me, scowled and looked away across the river to where a thick smudge of smoke hung over the remains of what ever had burned the night before. I had drifted only a few hundred yards down the river, my barely conscious body pulled into a central channel too deep— mercifully—to run afoul of the nearby hippo pod. I had snagged upon a raft of driftwood on the central stanchion of the shifting and rickety Ridleford pontoon bridge and been spotted by Mahweni longshoremen on their morning ferry ride to work. They had alerted the coast guard, who were out in unusual numbers.

“What burned last night?” I asked, following Willinghouse’s green eyes.

“What?” he asked, as if just remembering I was there. “Oh. Nothing. An abandoned factory. It’s not relevant.”

And that was Willinghouse. There was work—which was relevant—and there was everything else. I hopped from one category to the other like a secretary bird hunting snakes.

“Why all the coast guard boats?” I asked. I could see three this side of the Ridleford pontoons. They had armed men in their bows, and one seemed to be towing another vessel—actually more a raft bound together with rope and buoyed up unevenly on rusted barrels— crowded with people. Black people. Thin and ragged looking. Almost all women and children.

“Illegals,” said Andrews. “Trying to sneak into the economic paradise that is Bar-Selehm.”

I watched the people on the raft as they gazed from one shouting officer to another, uncomprehending and scared, the children huddled around their mothers, their faces tear streaked.

“How are you feeling?” asked Andrews. He was a thin-faced, cleanshaven white man whose eyes had a predatory intensity, but his voice was soft, and his concern sounded genuine.

I reached for my injured shoulder with my right hand, but couldn’t grasp it before the pain became too much. I winced, and he nodded.

“Anything other than your shoulder?” he asked. “That was quite a fall.”

“Just my pride,” I said, still watching the children as they were lifted from their listing raft and into the arms of the police who clustered around in the thigh-deep water. One of the women—wearing a filthy and soaking orange sarong that stuck to her sticklike limbs—was nursing a tiny infant.

“Why did you jump?” asked Willinghouse, peering at me from behind his wire-rimmed spectacles. “You couldn’t have, I don’t know,
fought them off or something?”

“No,” I said.

“I thought you were more adept at this kind of thing.” He didn’t sound critical as much as curious, and when I glared at him, he shrugged. “What?”

“The one who came after me was too strong, all right? Too skilled.”

“And you saw nothing to identify either him or the gunman in the boat?” Willinghouse pressed.

I shook my head, feeling stupid and useless, looking back to the ragged immigrants, then caught myself.

“There was something,” I said. “He lost a cufflink as we fought on the crane. It might have fallen in the river, but it might not.”

“Where?” asked Andrews.

“I’ll show you,” I said, getting to my feet with the inspector’s help. I scowled at Willinghouse, but he was watching the raft and seemed to have forgotten me entirely, so I led Andrews along the riverbank to the steps and the pier and the crane, a uniformed officer trailing us, uninterested. The hippo was still there, its back turned to the water, pinking in the sun.

“There,” I said. “We were at the midpoint of that boom when he lost the cufflink. It went behind him and hit metal on the way down.”

I shrugged apologetically. It wasn’t much of a clue.

“Benson!” called Andrews to the uniformed officer, pointing.

“Down there, sir?” protested Benson. “There’s a bloody great hippo!”

“Well, keep your distance from it,” said Andrews, not very helpfully.

Benson gave me a baleful look.

“Was it luxorite?” said Willinghouse suddenly.

“What?”

“The cufflink your assailant dropped. Did it contain luxorite?”

“I don’t think so. It was bright but only by reflection. Why?”

“If it was luxorite, he would have had an easier time finding it in the dark,” Willinghouse said with a noncommittal shrug. “Unless it fell into the river, in which case the point is rather moot.”

He said it sourly, the scar on his cheek tightening, as if where the item had fallen was somehow my fault. I talked to push away the sense of failure.

“Probably just crystal or enamel,” I said, “but large and blue.”

It took a moment for this to register in my employer’s face, but the transformation was marked.

“Blue?” snapped Willinghouse. “You’re sure? What shape?”

“I didn’t get a good look at it—”

“Diamond shaped?”

I thought hard, sensing how much he needed me to remember more than I had seen. I shrugged, and my shoulder cried in protest.

“I don’t know for sure,” I said. “Could have been.”

“On a white background?”

“White or silver, yes,” I said. “You know it?”

“Oh yes,” said Willinghouse, and there was something more than pleasure in his face. His jaw was set in grim resolution. He hurried away and was soon poring over the ground behind Andrews and Benson, who was peering into the water below the crane’s piers, keeping a watchful eye on the hippo some thirty yards away. I joined the hunt, but only for a moment. Willinghouse suddenly straightened up with a cry of “Huzzah!” He held the cufflink aloft, and his face was full of grim triumph.

“What is it?” asked Andrews.

“Elitus,” said Willinghouse, holding out the cufflink for Andrews to inspect it. It was indeed a blue crystalline diamond on a silvery white enamel background. “A club. Very exclusive.”

“Never heard of it,” said Andrews.

“No,” Willinghouse answered. “You wouldn’t have. No offense meant. If it’s any consolation, they wouldn’t have me as a member either.”

Andrews raised his eyebrows. Willinghouse was only a junior member of Parliament, but he was a man of considerable means, which was how he was able to employ me.

“Excuse me!”

We all turned to look down to the shore, where Benson gazed up at us with a look of considerable unease. “Did you find what you were looking for? Only, this hippo is eyeballing me something awful… ?”

“Oh, for crying out loud, man!” exclaimed Andrews. “Yes, we found it. Get up here.” He turned back to Willinghouse irritably. “You were saying you wouldn’t be allowed to join this Elitus club. Why not?”

Willinghouse smiled mirthlessly.

“Well, I’m not a member of the right party for one thing, but…” He hesitated. “Let’s just say that the cufflink’s white background is… symbolic.”

Andrews looked taken aback, embarrassed even. He knew that Willinghouse was a quarter Lani, though it wasn’t clear from his appearance. His hair was jet-black like mine, but his eyes were green, and most people would assume he was merely a little tanned by the Feldesland sun. His socialite sister, Dahria, passed even more completely for white.

“Did he see your face? Your skin?” asked Willinghouse.

I bit back my irritation.

“Are you asking if he saw who I was or what I am?” I said.

“Both. Either.”

I looked away.

“My face was masked,” I said. “He didn’t get a good look at me. Whether he could tell I was Lani… I don’t know. Maybe.”

Willinghouse scowled, dissatisfied.

“There’s no need for that, old fellow,” said Andrews. “Miss Sutonga has had a singularly trying experience—”

“I don’t dispute that,” Willinghouse shot back. “I’d just like to know whether our enemy realizes the government has a Lani agent working for them.”

“Your concern is noted,” I said, frostily, “but I can look after myself.”

“My concern,” said Willinghouse, “is that if they do, in fact, know that the person who pursued their agent was Lani or, for that matter female, then your use value just went into a sharp decline, wouldn’t you say?”

Fury got the better of me.

“My use value?” I spat.

“Your function as a government operative.”

“You’re not the government,” I said, swinging wildly now. “You’re a member of Parliament in the opposition’s back benches.”

“Who serves the interests of the city with the means available to him,” Willinghouse retorted.

“Meaning me? I’m the means available to you?”

“Meaning… no,” he said, stuttering to a frustrated halt. “I meant using my family’s fortune, a small part of which has been used to secure your services.”

“And excellent services they are too,” inserted Andrews, trying to keep the peace.

We both glared at him. There was a long silence.

“I’ll also remind you,” said Willinghouse pompously, “that while my party is not currently in power, this is an election year and the Brevard membership has high hopes of—”

“This Elitus place,” I said. “How do I get in?”

Andrews frowned.

“Miss Sutonga,” he said, “these people, whoever they are, have already demonstrated they are quite ruthless. Two people have already died trying to stop them. The documents are gone. The enemy have them, and nothing we do now will change that.”

“What are they?” I asked.

“That is confidential information,” said Andrews. “Even I don’t know—”

“Plans for a new machine gun,” said Willinghouse.

Andrews and I both gaped at him. I had seen a machine gun in use once before. I did not know how they could be made more lethal than they already were, but if someone had that knowledge, someone I had failed to stop…

“The documents were stolen from the War Office,” said Willing-house. “I was in a meeting across the street when the alarm was raised, which is why I was able to alert you to what was going on before the thief made his escape. The shadow secretary for defense spoke to me in the heat of the moment and was, you might say, unguarded in his speech. Something he now regrets. Anyway, yes, the plans are for a new machine gun, and word in government circles is that it’s the Grappoli who took them.”

“Of course,” said Andrews. “They always suspect the Grappoli.”

The Grappoli were the city’s colonial rivals, and they controlled considerably more of Feldesland, the continent of which Bar-Selehm was the jewel, than we did. Bar-Selehm had been established three centuries ago by King Gustav II of Belrand, a country on the northern continent of Panbroke: a pro cess equal parts military conquest, barter, and legal sleight of hand. The city-state eventually became an industrial sprawl unrivaled in Feldesland, but pretty isolated from its neighbors. It had leeched parcels of land away from the indigenous Mahweni over the years, but Bar-Selehm’s total holdings still amounted to no more than a few thousand square miles. The Grappoli’s native lands were in southeast Panbroke, their people still white, but tending to darker hair and eyes than the Belrandians, and their expansion across the sea to Feldesland had been a more concerted effort to dominate the continent. They had taken over whole countries in the north and west and seemed to be perpetually looking to expand farther. It was one of those bitter colonial jokes that when anyone referred to the “Feldish,” they meant the white colonists from Belrand, not the Mahweni who had always lived on the continent and who had called the land something different. I didn’t know what.

Willinghouse nodded.

“I know,” he said. “But this time… the Grappoli are moving east, north of the Hagrab desert. They are claiming obscure legal pre cedent based on settlements made a century or more ago. Reports suggest that they are fuelling tribal conflicts that are driving the locals off the land, and the only modern military resis tance they are encountering comes from local warlords who are fighting only to protect their opium fields. The people who live there are caught in the middle. We don’t know for sure what is happening yet, and there is no suggestion that the conflict might expand south toward Bar-Selehm, but it’s a mess, and a bloody one. Trade routes are being watched; sanctions against the Grappoli are being drawn up. Potential deals between Bar-Selehm and the Grappoli that might in any way augment their military capacity are being debated even as we speak. Some of my more hawkish colleagues are suggesting we send troops north to support the cartels, while others say that the drug lords are clearly the lowest of the very low, and that if we are to take sides at all, we are better lining up alongside the Grappoli. My party’s position is that the Grappoli’s current landgrab may not involve us at all, but we must ensure that Bar-Selehm does not support it, however indirectly. In the long term, the consequences could be dire.”

“The long term?” I said. “What about the northern tribes whose land is being taken now?”

“Miss Sutonga, let’s not make this a crusade, shall we?” he said. His eyes flashed to the now-empty raft surrounded by the coast guard, and I made the connection.

“Them?” I demanded. “That’s what this is? You said they were illegal immigrants.”

“They are!” said Willinghouse.

“But they are also refugees?”

“The lands north of the Hagrab desert are not Bar-Selehm’s concern,” said Willinghouse. “The people who live there have sovereignty over their own territory. Interference on our part would merely spark diplomatic discomfort. The results could easily escalate into trade sanctions, the closing of embassies, the collapse of interna.
tional trade agreements—”

“We’re talking about the Quundu, yes?” I said.

“There are various tribal territories involved,” said Willinghouse wearily, “but yes, the Quundu, the Delfani, the Zagrel—”

“Who all have their own sovereignty,” said Andrews.

“Yes,” I said. “You know what else they have? Spears. Shields covered with buffalo hide. Knives. While the Grappoli have machine guns. But let’s be sure not to spark diplomatic discomfort.”

“You can’t take things like this personally,” said Willinghouse. “It impairs your judgment.”

I watched where the police and coast guard were gathering the weary huddle of women and children together on the shore. Some of them had collapsed. How long had they been at sea? Days? Weeks? There were bodies on the raft that I had thought were sleeping, but they had not moved after the others disembarked. One wailing woman splashed through the water toward a small body, while a policeman pulled her back.…

“How do I get into Elitus?” I asked again, turning back to Willing-house, my tone neutral.

“I really don’t think—” Andrews began, but I cut him off with a look.

“How do I get in?”

“If someone of my status can’t get into Elitus,” said Willinghouse, “how on earth am I going to get a full-blood Lani girl in?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “But I can’t wait to find out.”

Excerpted from Firebrand, copyright © 2017 by A.J. Hartley.

Critical Role Ep 57-94

Apr. 27th, 2017 08:57 pm
schneefink: (FF Kaylee excited)
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More quick Critical Role episode notes! Over 6k words, oops. Not cleaned up and with very rough time stamps, mostly taken while watching, and I wanted to edit them a bit but then I'd probably never get around to posting.

Episodes 57-94 )
Talk about your favorite parts of Critical Role with me? :D
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Posted by Maurice Broaddus

One of the things I’m passionate about is community development. In trying to figure out how to do this using writing, I became a part of an arts collective called The Learning Tree. We’re a group of organized neighbors that specializes in Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). We identify and invest in the individuals, organizations, and the community to see and celebrate the abundance in our neighborhood. Simply put, our neighbors are our business partners.

The community I work in, like other communities, is rich with gifted talented individuals who care about each other and their community but don’t have financial stability. The problem is that poor people aren’t being seen. There is a misrepresentation of poor people, in terms of who they are and what their capacity is to effect change within their communities. The dominant narrative about poor people or neighborhoods is that they are impoverished, broken, and filled with needs. Most stories of the poor focus on their economic and personal failures. Stories define a people. Stories reflect a people. Stories shape our perception, from the news to media to politics. The thing about stories, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, is that it’s easy to let a bad one in you. Once labeled, it’s a constant battle not to live into that label.

Inspired by the book Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day (by Stuart Rutherford, Jonathan Morduch, and Daryl Collins), I was hired on as the staff writer to help collect the stories of our neighbors. Our thinking is that people in the neighborhood need to see themselves, their potential, their gifts, their talents, something to show the best of themselves. And there’s no better mirror than story. We pay attention to people’s gifts, seeing them as cultural, social, and productive assets within the community rather than consigning them to economic exile. As a part of getting to know our neighbors, I write profiles emphasizing their social capital, their skills, talents, and passions; their ability to fix things, trade goods, grow things. I write about how they commercialize their hobbies, invent, produce art, produce music, educate, and care for one another.

Where the system falls short, poor people slip through society’s cracks. We measure our neighborhood’s economic vitality and map their assets. We discover the informal economy outside of the consumer one. As we know people’s social capital, continue to build trust and cooperation, we organize. So what does this look like in action?

One day a group of neighbors from our community stumbled upon 25 doors dumped in an alley. This was a perfect metaphor of how our neighborhood was seen from the outside: someone in the city decided we were no longer useful or had any value so we’d been discarded and left to be forgotten. One of our artist neighbors came up with the idea to have the artists in our neighborhood—we had come to know over two dozen—paint their stories. As word got out, people started donating doors to us. We have about 70 painted doors which have been a part of several exhibits and are now traveling around the country.

It’s not just art for art’s sake, but rather using art to bring economic development for our neighborhood residents. We want to build their financial portfolio through employment and vocational opportunities. Through grants and investments, we pay our artists. We hire folks the system chews up and spits out, for example, formerly incarcerated young men to curate our art galleries. So for us, art is about survival.

Art brings people together. From music to story, narratives are important. Narratives shape. Narratives build capacity. Narratives are educational, with people learning from one another. This year we want to explore using story even more with a project we’re calling Sawubona 46208 (“Sawubona” is a Zulu greeting meaning “I see you”). We will take the stories of some of our neighbors, create short plays and monologues, and stage those stories on the porches of abandoned houses and street corners to reclaim those spaces (and quietly highlight the issue of gentrification in our community). Stories of the history and legacy of segregation in the city. Stories of the experiences with the criminal justice system. Stories of struggle, survival, and hope. We will film the productions to eventually create a documentary on the story of our neighborhood.

We’ve already assembled our Design Team—hip hop artists, actresses/actors, poets, visual artists, videographers, musicians—all from within the community. Each were artists out in the community largely doing their own thing. We thought it important for us to see and get to know one another. To see what sort of resources we had within the community so that we can support what each other s doing. And to show each of us that we weren’t out there alone anymore.

For a long time I struggled with the notion that “I’m only a writer, what can I do?” and, if I’m completely honest, used it as an excuse to do nothing. Art lifts community. Story creates identity. If we don’t control our own narratives, others certainly will. Our communities are more self-sufficient, more capable, than the dominant narrative wants to portray. Through art, through writing, we can catalog the positive things happening in our neighborhoods, we can make the invisible visible, and be the change we want to see. Through art, we resist.

Maurice Broaddus is the author of the urban fantasy trilogy The Knights of Breton Court. Some of his stories have been collected in The Voices of Martyrs, out now from Rosarium Publishing, and he has a novella, Buffalo Soldier, available now from Tor.com Publishing.

November 2016

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