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5 mos ago
Current I RP for the ladies
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5 mos ago
#Diapergate #Hugs2018
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6 mos ago
I fucking love catfishing
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7 mos ago
Every time I insult a certain coworker, i'll take money from their jar. Saving for beer would never be easier!
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11 mos ago
The Jungle Book is good.
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Late August: Addis Ababa
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It'd rained hard for most of the week. Every dip became a pond, and the main roads transformed into shallow rivers. The muddy back roads washed out onto the paved streets, coating everything at ground level with mud. Then it ended. The sun came out unusually hot, and the water on the ground became vapor in the air, the mud drying up and leaving the city caked in dirt and dust. The humidity was stifling, making a person sweat as soon as they went out doors, filling the city with the filthy smell of dust and mildew and body odor. The Imperial household treated this as an opportunity. Emebet Hoy Eleni invited a select number of guests and dignitaries to spend a night on Mount Entoto, above the sweltering city, to rest in the shade of the eucalyptus trees in the fresh air, and to camp like the biblical patriarchs and the Ethiopian Kings of old. Sahle came too, his presence expected. Not that he didn't want to come. There were people he wanted to see in the Queen Mother's company.

But he did not come for the mountains themselves, and fresh air didn't hold his attention for long. He and Rudolph von Lettow-Vorbeck went into one of the several one-hundred year old buildings that made up Menelik II's palace. Compared to the Imperial estate in the city, the Entoto Palace was a quaint compound, a series of cottages really, with rough plaster walls and floors made from eucalyptus planks. The rooms weren't much bigger than huts, and the roofs were thatched.

Rudolph sat across the table from him. The Ostafrikan wore a fez, a relic of a recent tour of the Muslim world, and a red patterned kaftan robe, giving him the appearance of an old relic of the Imperial era, a white man visiting foreign lands, looking to experience the sensual fantasies of the Orient. His skin was tanned beyond the natural color of his race. He'd brought Hashish from Esfahan, and presented some to Sahle as a gift.

"Early gift, for Enkutatash" Rudolph said, placing the last hand-rolled joint in an empty wine glass.

"That's weeks away." Sahle said, plucking from the glass. "I expect a gift for that day too."

"I have more treats from Djibouti." Rudolph replied. He watched as Sahle lit the stained paper cigarette and leaned back. The room filled with the acrid scent of the drug.

Outside, the after-sounds of conversation could be heard. The walls were thick, but the shutters on the glassless windows were not.

"Would I like Esfahan?" Sahle asked.

Rudolph smoothly picked a joint and lit it in one flawless move. "Perhaps. It's bohemian. The women are the creative types."

"That's worth a state visit." Sahle said. The tension in his body blew away with the wind whispering through the trees outside. He took a deep breath, the joint smouldering in his fingers. "Anywhere else?"

"Sevan yes." Rudolph said, "You may have to spend a week there before it bores you. Istanbul... no. It's a slum."

"Cairo?"

"Of course. Haven't you been there?"

"State visit." Sahle leaned forward. "A real one. Nothing but Empire business. It does not count."

"You should visit soon. I think it will go to shit before to long."

"I will."

The two men leaned far back, staring at the ceiling, waiting for the chemical warmth of the drug to take effect. There was no true ceiling, but rather the skeleton of the roof itself, holding up the thatching still maintained by caretakers though this site was rarely visited by the royal family.

"Do you think she can love me?" Sahle said. He hadn't planned on saying it. It just came out.

"The American girl?" Rudolph replied. Sahle was aware from his periphery that the Ostafrikan looked up at him when he said this, but Sahle kept his gaze on the rafters above. "I don't see love in her. She seems like a child, to be frank."

"She does? Well, she is an adult." Sahle said.

"I don't think she is part of the world yet."

"I don't know what you mean."

Rudolph took a long drag, and ended it with an expectant pause. "You know." he said, not looking at the Emperor

It went quiet again. Just for a moment. But Sahle's mind was fixed, and his tongue was the only way to exorcise the fixation.

"But can she love me?"

"Perhaps. I am no expert. I just haven't seen it."

Sahle closed his eyes. He would find out tonight. She was just outside, with the other dignitaries, enjoying apéritif's in the mountainside wilderness. The conversation out there sounded boisterous now, but he could not hear the words. He worked on calming himself, to return his mind to its native carelessness.

There was a hard knocking at the door. Sahle and Rudolph looked up at once.

"Your majesty. There is a problem." he heard the familiar voice of a guard, a man whose name he did not know.

"A problem?" Sahle replied.

"The Tsehafi Taezaz wants you."

Sahle stood up and went to the door. He could still hear the active conversation. Now he was suspicious of it, and what had once sounded like lively conversation now sounded... menacing. It sounded a lot like shouting.

He went outside and saw two guards. They didn't look scared, but determined, the lions-mane ruffled atop their pith helmets, sub machine guns held close to their chests. He could hear the shouting now, coming from the courtyard. The sun was falling, and the shadows of the trees stretched long across the compound. Rudolph came up behind him. The two men followed the guards in the direction of the noise, where strings of lights illuminated a party in paused awkwardly mid-progress, well dressed ferengi looking embarrassed, sitting at white-clothe draped tables. Rudolph quietly whispered for the guards to put down their weapons.

All eyes were fixed on the scene in the courtyard. It was like a court's play, dinner and a show. Eleni watching stonily from the dais, her guests trying to look more uninvolved than they already were. In the middle, Desta Getachew stood like the walls of Harar against a man gesturing wildly in his face. After a moment's drug-hazed recollection, Sahle recognized the second man as Maxamed Nuux, the representative of Sahle's powerful subject Ras Hassan of Adal.

"There is his majesty!" Maxamed jeered, turning on Sahle as soon as he entered the light. Before the Emperor could come up with a response, the Somali turned his head like a cobra and spat at Sahle's feet. There was an audible gasp. Sahle recoiled. His guards rushed forward drove the Somali to his knees.

"What is this?" was the only reply Sahle could produce.

"You spit on our people, so I spit at you! That is what I do! Why do you station soldiers in the Ogaden? Why do you send your agents to spy on us? Are we not brothers?"

"Agents?"

"We caught two of your swine! Your Shotel pigs! They spy on the Emir!"

"There is better ways to broach the subject." Desta said sharply. The Tsehafi Taezaz hadn't looked up at the Emperor. His gaze was reserved for the fuming man beneath his feet.

"I spit on you too!" he said, spitting on Desta's feet. A guard acted instinctively and drove Maxamed's head into the dust.

"Don't do that." Desta said, "I won't have it said we abuse our guests."

"We will have our revenge!" Maxamed said the moment he was let back up. His lip was bleeding.

"Is there a message you mean to deliver?" Desta said calmly.

Sahle remained quiet. He saw his mother look at him disapprovingly. What had he done? Or was he just imagining her ire?

"Remove your soldiers!"

"Adal is part of the Ethiopian Empire. We are brothers. Our soldiers live on our shared land as comrades. I have no doubt that Ras Hassan sees it the same way."

"We demand you remove your soldiers and allow the Emir the right to his own defenses!"

"Demand?"

"I am making a reasonable request!" the Somali roared.

"His Imperial majesty has heard your request. Would you be so good as to remove yourself, knowing your message is delivered?"

"I demand an answer now! Justice demands it!"

The two men watched each other intensely. At last, Desta nodded. Maxamed was dragged away. Oddly, he did not say a word. Desta snapped his fingers, and a small band in the corner began to play. Desta looked meaningfully at Sahle and walked to the dais. Sahle followed.

"Have the agents been returned?" Eleni asked.

"Not yet." Desta replied.

"What agents?" Sahle said, keeping his voice low.

Eleni looked at him. There was a sharpness behind her maternal gaze, and Sahle felt guilty that he'd been partaking with Rudolph only moments before. After a moment, she spoke. "Hassan has gathered his warriors. Isn't that suspicious, son?"

"It is suspicious. Why did I not know about it?" Sahle's embarrassment about the hashish morphed into an embarrassed anger. He was the Emperor. Why was he the last to know?

"It is a delicate situation, your Imperial majesty. But one I have in control." Desta said with a smile. "I do not think Hassan is powerful enough to try anything. We have taken the necessary steps, but we don't want to provoke."

"You aren't thinking on withdrawing the troops?" Eleni asked, casting a severe look at the Minister of the Pen.

Desta smiled. "Of course not. But we shouldn't take this insult as anything more than foolishness."

"That man spit at the feet of the Lion of Judah!" Eleni said, "That isn't just foolishness! Do we allow everybody to spit at my son's feet?"

"He spat at my feet too." Desta looked out at the party.

"Your feet are not sacred."

"We will handle things as they come." Desta caught somebody's eye. He turned around and bowed to the Emebet Hoy. "I have business to attend to." She nodded. He walked away. Sahle was left alone with his mother. It was only then that he noticed Rudolph had left his side.

"That man is a coward." Eleni said, "He would not protect you."

"It doesn't seem wise to start a war over nothing." Sahle responded. He took a seat next to his mother, looking out at the party. Desta was at the table of Daniel Gablogian, a stout Armenian handling Negus Coffee's business in his country. Rudolph had disappeared. Sahle's eyes fell upon Livy Carnahan, seated at the same table as the corpulent pomegranate of a man Jefferson Davis Bacon.

"War is not the answer to everything, but it is not the only result when you stand up for yourself. Being a coward is more dangerous. If Hassan thinks we are weak, he will take advantage. If we show that we are strong, he will back away."

"I did not know Hassan was our adversary."

"You do not know because you chose not to know." his mother scolded.

"I cannot know if nobody will tell me." Sahle retorted. He looked at his mother. She kept facing forward, her expression placid but bold, like the statue of a pharaoh.

"It is your duty to take control, not to let control be given to you. If you spent more time thinking about being Emperor, instead of thinking of yourself. If you hadn't sent away your siblings, they could help..."

"We won't speak about them again." Sahle muttered. He sank in his seat. Every time he talked to her, she lectured him. It made him weary of her. Only this morning they'd argued about the other thing.

He looked back at Livy, a daffodil yellow dress on, seeming to glow among the rest as if she were the holy mother. She looked up at him shyly, then went back to her conversation with Bacon.

The evening was dead. Sahle knew a finished party when he saw one, and this was one. His mother brooded in the seat next to him. Outside, the conversation was low, eyes shifty. It was as if someone had let out an audible fart and everyone was avoiding taking responsibility or being blamed for it.

Eleni stood up. The music died. "I am an old woman, and I have yet to say my prayers! Let us retire to our tents! You will find your place in the field behind us. Your names should be posted."

Sahle stood up. The guests stood up and bowed.

"Go! Find your place! God bless you all!" Eleni gave the benediction. Sahle strode across the packed dirt. Rudolph came up along side him, a girl in his arms. "I have a place I assume?" he asked.

"Yes." Sahle waved him away, not looking him in the eye. He only had eyes for Livy.

She was surprised when he came to her table. Bacon bowed, and Livy quickly followed his lead. "How are you, your majesty?"

"I am well, my friend. I have came to tell you that you don't need to stay in a tent."

"Oh?" she looked uncertain. Off balance.

"I have a place near here for you. Come with me. I will show you."

"Are you bringing Mr Bacon?" she asked, looking at the old man. Bacon had been watching the exchange as if he didn't see it, but when Livy talked to him, he smiled wide. "You kids have fun without me." he said. He turned to Sahle and bowed. "Your majesty." then he walked off.

Livy looked at him. "Okay." she said breathlessly. They walked together.

She climbed into the Landrover with him. Two Mehal Sefari rode in front with the driver, another clung onto the back with his feet balanced on a steel beam welded to the car for exactly that purpose.

She seemed shy. That woke some instinct in him, to protect her, draw her closer. He embraced her, and she took a moment to accept it, leaning into his body. She felt warm. The wave of red hair beneath her hat smelled of flowers. "Thank you for the invitation, your majesty" she said. Her voice was like a squeak.

"You don't need to be in the wilderness." Sahle replied.

"I haven't been camping in a long time" she giggled, looking up at him. In the moonlight her eyes were the color of tears.

"I have a better thing for you than tent life, my friend" he said.

"You are a good friend." she said.

They came into the drive of a manse balanced on the edge of the mountain. It was in the Italian style, looking like it could be a wing of the Imperial palace. They stopped. The guard on the back hopped off and looked around nervously. Sahle was not nervous. He drank in the smell of Livy, and of eucalyptus on the mountain breeze. Beyond the manse they could see the lights of the city below.

They went inside. It was decorated with new furniture, and smelled of fresh lumber. There was a record player on a sturdy mahogany table.

"This is a beautiful place." Livy complimented. Her heels tapped against the hardwood floor.

"It's yours" Sahle said.

"What is?" she casually browsed a crate of records.

"This house. It is a gift to you."

She looked at him, slowly comprehending. "The house?"

"And the land it is on." Sahle replied, grinning.

There was a twinkle in her eye. Her shyness seemed to drip away slowly as she comprehended, looking around. What was going through her head now was a mystery to him. He wanted to know. Her mouth gaped slightly open, and she held her tongue up as if preparing to speak. "I don't know what to say." she said..

"You accept it? Surely you don't want to stay in the city."

"No. Yes. Of course I accept it. Yes! This is the nicest thing anybody has given to me."

She spread open the red curtains. The moonlight poured in, and danced on the crystal water just outside. She gasped. "There is a pool! I have not seen one in this country!"

"I know it is a feature Americans like. I requested it be put in."

"This house is new?" she went to the back door and opened it, letting in the strong smell of chlorine.

"Well, it has been redone. The pool is new." he said. She went outside. He followed.

On the deck, she kicked off her heels, showing off painted toes, a line of dust ending where the shoe had started. She looked out at the city twinkling below. The clouds were the rusty pink of an urban sky.

"This will be so good when it is hot." she said, smiling at the still water.

"Try it." Sahle suggested.

"I haven't brought a suit." she said. Then she looked at him. The excited grin fell down to a warm, slight smile. She looked back down at the water. Then she reached behind her back and unzipped her dress.

Sahle's heart pounded like a drum. In the few months after meeting Livy, he'd slept with a dozen or so women, but that hadn't meant anything. They'd been his like servants, his at the snap of a finger. But there was something else here. The other women had been the mechanical release of desires. Livy was love in the flesh revealing herself to him. She slid out of the yellow dress. The skin beneath was so white it took on the colors around it, in this case blue from the dancing water. She wore a matching set of beige undergarments, the panties coming up to her belly button. Her gaze went from him to the sparkling water as she unclasped her bra and pulled it gently away. The sight of her petite breasts made his soul jump into his throat. She reached down and pulled off her last item of clothes. The moonlight on the pool danced blue against her smooth skin. She jumped in.

Her red hair was soaked, turning auburn when her head plunged up above the surface. The rest of her body danced below the rippling water the same color as the reflected moonlight. Sahle, without realizing it, began to undress. His manhood was stiff as a rod once he was naked. She saw him and watched as he jumped in after her.

That shy look returned to her eyes. The pool was only deep enough to come up to his chest. He walked over, the water cold against his skin. He took her in his arms. His manhood pressed against her soft belly.

"You are good to me, your majesty." she said softly. He kissed her. In his mind, she was already his Queen.
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Mid August: Addis Ababa
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"Yared is playing the krar, Marc is playing the cornet, Zuber is playing the drums. I am Ab and I have a piano. Tonight we play for you jazz!"

Leyla was bombarded by things new to her. The music filled the room all at once like a gunshot. It was upbeat and wild, exotic to the point of being sinister. The earthy scent of stone mixed with the smells of alcohol and body odor. The music was loud, so much she couldn't hold a train of thought. People moved onto the polished floor. Though this place was hidden, there was not much illegal about it. There was certainly nothing against the law about serving liquor in a country where every soldier carried a beaker of bright yellow tej with him on campaign. And what could be wrong with music, even something as strange as this? It was the dancing that worried her. Men grabbed hold of women and whirled them around, touching their bodies with obscene familiarity, swinging them between their legs, holding them close. They were breaking profanity laws. She was dreadfully certain of that.

Chemeda Magana led her to the dance floor, her dress brushing against the stone. And what was she to do? She followed. It was what everyone in the room was doing. Was it wrong? A public display like this, it seemed like it should be wrong. It had to be. She felt naked on the dance floor in front of everyone. He showed her how to dance like them, and she followed the best she could. She felt like everyone was watching, judging her, the whore of babylon. But they couldn't be watching. They were doing the same thing. How funny that was. How unaccountable.

She liked Chemeda. Her feelings were mixed. He was handsome in his crisp brown dress uniform, a thin mustache on his lips. She'd avoided him in public, not wanting to be lead into marriage. Her senses wanted him, but her mind didn't.

The music bounced. It was like the folksy string music played in coffee houses across the country, if that sound was given a soul and brought to life. He swung her. She felt her muscles strain as she danced faster with her handsome young officer. She could feel his strength. She wanted that. But. She couldn't. She knew she couldn't.

Could she be a woman and a man? Had her friends have been right about this? Was a career a good idea? A female Shotel?

The people in that snug jazz club did not look like criminals. They looked much like her and Chemeda. Half of the men wore officer's uniforms. Others wore western clothing. The women all looked beautiful, their hair wide and natural like hers, their dresses modest enough. This couldn't be wrong. It was exotic, exciting, a whole other world from the dusty streets outside where trucks shared the road with donkeys. That didn't mean it was wrong.

"This is fine!" Chemeda shouted to her over the swaggering music. It was half a statement, half a question. She smiled, feeling dumb, overstimulated, uncertain what to say. The room smelled like sweat, but in a good way.

There were no lyrics to the music, except for the occasional wordless shout from the musicians, which seemed unplanned, like they were letting out pent up energy building in them as they played.

This was different than the world she knew. She felt free. Wasn't that what she wanted after all?

When the dancing was done, her limbs felt tired but invigorated. She followed him to the bar. Chemeda leaned smartly against the wooden counter and looked at the tender like he was a subordinate. He appeared in total control, and she felt as if she wanted to become part of him, to experience that power of control through him.

"Two gin rickeys"

"Okay." the tender said, falling to his work behind the bar.

"I'm not sure if I want to drink." Leyla said. Hadn't she learned enough about the world tonight? She felt like such a child.

"You should try it. This is the new life, Leyla. Enjoy it."

She said nothing.

Two men and a woman came up to the bar right beside her. They seemed more at home. There was none of her anxiety in the woman's eyes. Her dress was not as modest as most, coming to a stop at her knees, and she looked at the men like she was one of their own.

"Three Djiboutis" one of the men said. Leyla wondered what was in that concoction. Would she be asked to try one too? Chemeda didn't try to make conversation. He stood, almost posing, looking important.

"I want to go to Djibouti." the woman said. Leyla had her back turned to them now, but kept listening.

"Djibouti stinks."

"I still want to go. I've heard you can have fun there."

Leyla knew Djibouti's reputation. It was a den for sailors, a place pirates could live in ease if they paid off the right people. A nest of thugs and vermin. A man she'd worked with in the propaganda office was an admirer of American detective novels, and when he excitedly explained the plot of one of them to Leyla, he'd added "Of course, if Sam Bennett took a job in Djibouti, he'd be dead in the first chapter." Such was the reputation of that place.

"I can have fun right here. Look. If the Emperor can have fun here, so can I."

"But you don't have a whore like the Emperor's ferengi." the third man added. All three chuckled to each other, as if it was an in-joke only they knew.

Leyla felt uncomfortable hearing these words. Talking about the Emperor in this manner just wasn't done. It wasn't illegal per see, but it just wasn't something people did, in the same way they didn't shit in a coffee house or blaspheme the lord. Of course, it happened, but... it wasn't done. She'd read the Kebre Negast in school. The Emperors were a root reaching down through the past into the holy days of Israel. She wasn't sure she believed the stories in that book, not really, but the office of Emperor still felt sacred.

She looked at the picture of the Emperor hanging up above the bar. He was a handsome man, a lively face, maybe a little gangling for an Amharic. He was just a man. But a man with whores? Well, she knew the stories about him. But should he be thought of so commonly?

"Here." Chemeda shoved a glass in her hand. It felt cold, and there was a slice of lime floating on top. She took a sip. The alcohol stung her senses. She thought she tasted tree mixed in with the sour citrus.

"It is good, isn't it?"

"Yes." she lied.

"We serve our country, we should have the good life." Chemeda said, "I will command men, and you can protect the capital with that trigger finger of yours."

"Maybe I will be in the field with your men."

Chemeda's eyebrows arched wide, like he was watching an opponent strike an unexpected blow and was impressed by it. "Well, all things are possible" he said once he regained his balance. He raised his glass. "To the new world!" There was a pause. "Now you touch your glass to mine." he said. She blushed, feeling like she should have known that, and she did as he asked.

He ordered more drinks, but she only accepted the one. He talked about the army. About himself mostly. Like so many young officers, he expected his career to take him to the pinnacles of society. Leyla's mind wandered. She had an interview tomorrow. She was to be assigned to a Shotel field agent for training. When she thought about it, she felt overwhelmingly intimidated, like she was looking over the edge of an immeasurable precipice knowing full well she had to leap.

"I believe the Emperor will take us to war with Egypt." Chemeda rambled, his voice slowing down and speeding up as if he no longer had control of it. "That is our ancient foe., but they aren't strong. We can conquer all the way to Jerusalem. I believe we can do this because Armenia will aid us. Did you know the Master of Drills is Armenian? They are good soldiers. We will fight with them to Jerusalem, if they join us it will be an easy thing."

Would she like the agent she was assigned to? Would he like her? Were there other women in the Shotel? Other agents? She hadn't heard of them, but perhaps they were secret. She hoped for another woman, but it seemed unreasonable to hope.

"A war will be good for me. If I become a general... well, that would be a pleasant surprise. But if I become a General, I want to be made a General on the Temple Mount. I hope the Meridazmach is there. And Ras Hassan. And Mikael Serovian. I read his biography. I want to meet him. These are big dreams, I know, but they are my dreams. I'm sure you dream about being a great Shotel."

"Wouldn't Aden be the next target, if there is a war?" she asked.

Chemeda looked stunned. He answered slowly, as if he had to pull his shattered thoughts back together. "Well, that would be for the navy. They don't need the army to hunt pirates."

"Oh, that is true."

"To our dreams!" Chemeda, recomposed, brought up his glass. Leyla met it with an untouched cocktail, but she did not bring it to her lips.

It was dark when they climbed out of the downtown basement and into an ally. The walls here were painted. On one side was a simplistic, almost cave-drawing like depiction of white and black men in military khakis stabbing black children with sharpened crosses. On the other side was an equally simplistic depiction of Hou Sai Tang, the subject obvious only because the artist had captioned it, using sunny yellow paint for his skin. He had two eyes and a thin nose, but no mouth. They exited onto the street, beneath a canopy of tangled electrical wires that buzzed and crackled in a pattern that sounded like breathing.

Addis Ababa seemed alive at night. All across Africa entire villages were already asleep. This was true of most neighborhoods in the capital too. But here there were still some trucks and people on the street. Electric lights further illuminated the blue moonlit night.

They caught a cycle rickshaw back to base. There she would drop off Chemeda. The city went by slowly.

"You don't have to go home." Chemeda said.

"What are you asking?" she turned to him, staring at him real hard this time, hoping her eyes would stop this conversation before it started.

"I'm only saying. Well. You are a modern woman. And I am a modern man. We do not want to get married, not now, am I right?"

She kept looking at him. He drew himself up like an officer in the trenches preparing himself to lead his men over the top. He continued. "Well, we are not getting married, but I am not a priest, and you are not a nun. There are things men and women are supposed to do."

"I cannot hear this." she said. She wanted to hear this. What she dreaded was facing the temptation.

"We will face dangers. We may not live."

She took a deep breath, hoping to sound exasperated. Instead she heard her breath shake. Had he heard that too?

"It is true. You should not feel ashamed."

"I am not your whore of babylon, Chemeda." she said.

"We can be married one day. But we must put it off because of our careers. Why should we punish ourselves for serving our country?"

"I don't want to hear another word." she bit her lip. They were coming up to the statue of Mikael of Wollo mounted proudly in his roundabout. She only had to stay strong a moment longer.

"Look at me, Leyla." he said. She looked. His eyes broke through her, and she felt like he could see her thoughts. It made her feel vulnerable, but it was seductively intimate, and she felt herself melting into his power. He continued. "You and I will see great things. And we will see bad things. We deserve to know the happiness of a man and a woman before that happens. You deserve it. Come with me. I want to see all of you."

She felt her body pushing her up. This was it. She'd almost made the decision to go. But her conscious required one last defense. "Chemeda, we have been happy tonight, and we have known each other like a man and a woman. Don't ruin it with this unseemly thing. Go to bed."

There was a silence. She wanted him to make one final argument, one that would win her over. Her heart pounded in the suspense. They came to a stop. He looked at her, looked down at the seat, and continued the unfair tension.

"Okay." he said. He stepped out of the cycle rickshaw and walked silently into the blue night. She watched him pass the gate, and when he was gone, she sunk into her seat and told the cyclist the address to her home.

--

She woke up early, before the sun was up. She wasn't really sure if she'd gone to sleep. The night before, and the morning yet to come, tugged at her and stretched her out so she felt more tired in the morning than she had when she came home the night before. She washed herself and put on her brown khaki uniform with its long cotton skirt. A crossed sword badge adorned her breast pocket. Her father wasn't yet awake when she left the house. The sun was still not up. There were no shadows, but it seemed like the whole earth was under a great big shadow, only the morning star visible in the new light. She walked through her neighborhood alone.

When she reached a main road, she passed a shabby police booth. The uniformed officer inside was asleep on his stool. There were few cars on the road. The smell of brewing coffee wafted from nearby corner coffee houses. She felt sick to her stomach, and passed them by as if they were garbage heaps. It was several blocks before she found transportation, reaching a bus stop where a half dozen people waited to go downtown. The number doubled before the bus arrived. It was barely large enough to fit everybody waiting, and Leyla watched it ominously as it approached. When it stopped, its shocks made a snapping sound, but the driver didn't seem fazed. The door opened and a thin layer of smoke came out. They climbed on. It smelled of frankincense, emanating from burning resin in a clay pot embedded on the dash. Room was spare, and they shared the corners of seats, stifled in each other's body heats. She felt lonely in this place. People eyed her, and she read menace in their expressions.

Downtown lay beneath the gentle rise where the Emperor's palace stood. It sat in the luxurious shade of a eucalyptus grove. Her mind went to the conversation she overheard the night before, and then to the rest of the night with Chemeda. She sighed and crossed her legs. What was the Emperor like? How would he compare to a rogue like Chemeda?

The Shotel Headquarters was a three story Italian-style building resting beneath the Imperial hill. It looked more like an embassy than a military structure. The bus stopped and she was let off along with two others who ignored her. She walked across the Headquarter's pampered grounds feeling like an imposter. It smelled of freshly cut grass. She entered the open doors, and was met by an ink-black man in the male version of her uniform.

"You don't look familiar. What are you here for?"

"You know everybody in here?" she asked, attempting a smile.

"Yes. Who are you?"

"Agent Leyla Masri. I was sent here from the Propaganda office."

The black man flipped through notes on a clipboard. He didn't look up. "Second floor, north wing. Captain Telehun Gelagel."

"How do I get there?"

"The stairs." he pointed. She nodded and continued.

The staircase was marble. Her shoes clapped loudly against the stairs. There were more people on the second floor, none of them looking at her. Apparently she'd already made it past the guard. She went down the north wing as instructed, but she felt more lost than before. The hall was wide and full of desks. The banks of desks were divided only by shelves, creating makeshift departments. Most of the people behind the desks were men, but there were a few women too, making her feel an unaccounted mixture of pride and disappointment.

"You are Leyla Masri." a man said somewhere to her right. She jumped and looked at him. He was a foot taller and a decade older than her, clean shaven, his hair short. He smiled with only one side of his mouth, but with both of his eyes.

"Who are you?"

"Come with me." he said. She followed as he lead her to an office in the corner. The door was open. Her guide barged in.

"I found your girl." the man said just as she entered.

"Who. Ah." an older man stood up. He had a closely cropped beard and a hairline receded to the middle of his scalp. "You are Leyla."

"Reporting for duty."

"Good. I am Telehun Gelagel. This is Elias Zelalem. He's one of my best."

"Ato Telehun, Ato Elias, I am happy to be working with you." she said. She felt awkward. How must she look? She was making it up as she went, not feeling in control.

"Woizerit Leyla." Elias smiled. He turned to his boss. "I have explained my reservations about your assignment, but I am told you have skills. Do you think you can translate good aim into field work? There are more skills for you to learn than just that."

"I am ready." she said sincerely. "Is there training? I need to know what happens next."

"How do you train for the real world?" Elias asked, "And that's not a rhetorical question."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"You train for the real world by being in it. You can't prepare for it. Not even in your head. The best you can do is just, do it. And that's what happens next."

"An assignment?" it was all coming at her at once.

"Yes." Elias looked back to the man behind the desk. "You want to tell her, boss?"

"Well, Woizerit Leyla." the Captain said, smiling warmly, "You are going to be stationed in Djibouti. Elias knows the mission. Learn from him."

"Djibouti?" she said, her voice sharper than she meant it to be.

"She's going to need a gun." Elias added, the corner of his mouth perked up.
--------------------------------------------
Mid August: Hargeisa, Somalia
--------------------------------------------

Azima's room was austere, its walls bare, its furniture plain wood. The only colors were the rug, the pillows on her bed, the clothing laid out on a wooden stool, and her handmaids. They were clothed head to toe in red so only their ink black faces stuck out. The two of them said nothing, since their grasp on Somali was tenuous. They went about their work as if she weren't there, as if she were a statue of a piece of furniture to be decorated, covering her in rich embroidered fabric, the scarf around her head almost translucent

She didn't want to be here. Sometimes, she wished she'd been raised her father's daughter, saved from the discomfort of her unnatural life pretending to be an equal among men. Then days would come like this where she got her wish, and she felt the absence of the things she loved about that unnatural life. She longed for the independence, and to be distant from her father, the Emir Hassan al-Himyari.

She was certain she was an ugly girl. The handmaids put rings on her fingers, and a golden circlet around her head, but that seemed to make it worse. She was skinny, stringy, scars on her face that were barely visible, but visible enough. Somehow being so dressed up made her feel worse about her appearance, so much that she wondered if this was any worse than going out naked. At least in that case her unfortunate features would be competing for attention, rather than the few that were highlighted and tragically contrasted with the rich clothing she wore now.

"Pray for me." she said softly to the handmaids. They said nothing. She heard the buzz of an engine, soft and coming from outside.

She went out, into the brown halls, the two black handmaidens following behind her. Outside she heard a lute being played.

Her father was in the courtyard, entertaining a tall man in a black robe. The man wore a red turban with jewels on it, and had a close cut salt and pepper beard. She knew who he was as soon as she saw him.

"Ah, Taysir, here is my daughter!" Hassan said, motioning to Azima. She smiled politely.

"This is the son of Hassan I have heard!?" Taysir bin Faisal said, his eyes growing wide and his smile animated as if he'd just been offered the privilege to eat sweets off her naked tummy.

"Am I what you look for in a boy?" she replied.

There was a brief pause. Hassan's face didn't flinch, but Taysir looked at her inquisitively for a long moment. Then he laughed. "She has a mouth on her too! Yes! I don't feel I am talking to a girl, no, you are like talking to a man. I don't mean to offend."

"The Sultan of Muscat cannot offend so long as he is in my house." Hassan said.

"Well I am your servant. I can offend though. But you are so hospitable, I am your servant." Taysir said. He pulled a flask from his robe and took a swig. Azima's eyes met Hassan's for just a moment.

"Taysir has agreed." Hassan told his daughter.

"Oh?" she sounded. She was really surprised. So quick?

"Well, it is not difficult to agree, I want to see things happen in my lifetime." Taysir started, "And the Emperor of the Abyssinians is a weak man, isn't he? I have heard things. The American thing? Eh. He is a fool. Though I am surprised he hasn't caught you yet. You are amassing an army and your Emperor hasn't even wagged his finger?"

"They know." Hassan said simply, "I am certain of it."

"If they know, why would they not do anything?" Taysir sat down and plucked a fig from a bowl presented to him by a young male servant in harem pants.

"They have the weapons. And war has its uses, doesn't it?"

"I would have out with it. But that is why he is a bad Emperor, isn't it?"

Airplanes flew over. There were three of them in V formation. Fighters. The desert sun reflected off their hulls. On their wings were the crossed swords of Oman. "That is what they don't expect!" Taysir said.

Azima noticed they were bi-planes, their engines sounding old and choked. "I am surprised those old things still fly."

"Why would they not?" Taysir looked hurt.

"I know the Ethiopians have better. I saw them in Mogadishu."

"I have more."

"I hope."

"That mine are older are no matter I think." Taysir said, "It is the heart. That is what matters. Is there heart in Ethiopia? Under this Emperor? The believers will fight with us. And I have seen the people you've trained. I am told you have trained with the Dervish? Hassan showed me his warriors jumping from horseback onto moving automobiles. That is a feat! We have all the heart!"

"Is a good campaign ever started by disregarding your enemy?" Azima asked simply.

"Well, they have their abilities of course, but I do not think their abilities are fatal for us."

Azima sat down. Her handmaids flanked her likes guards. "I know this thing is inevitable, but could it not be delayed until a better moment."

"This thing will not be tomorrow, but we cannot wait for too long. Desta is aware of what we are doing. You know how many Shotel we have caught. He has plans. I don't know what they are..."

"Perhaps he plans to let you undo yourself." she said, "He won't have to sit up for it."

Taysir inspected her for a long moment. "Your daughter does have a mouth on her, Hassan."

"She strategizes." Hassan said. "This is what I taught her to do. She is right. We should not underestimate Desta. But being aware our enemy is capable is no reason to put everything off. We have made our own plans. It was inevitable that our enemy would be more than a pile of manure waiting for us to burn it. What happens next is we test our plans against theirs. That is inevitable. That is every war in history."

-----------------------------------------
Early August: Beijing, China
-----------------------------------------

Yaqob woke up to the sound of soft knocking on the other side of the wall. He was sprawled out, sheets wrapped around his naked torso, a book laying open on the edge of the bed. Wen Chu Ming and the Manchurian Campaign. He swung himself up and grabbed the stiff fabric hardcover, smoothing out its rumpled pages, feeling ashamed as if he'd been caught doing he shouldn't. Hou himself had gifted him this book. He closed it, making sure the pages went flat, and placed it on a nearby shelf. The shelf, and indeed most of his furniture, was of near-black ebony wood. Everything in the house had a dark hue, its colors black and dark crimson, grey stone peaking out in places. It soaked up the light like a dungeon and made him itch to go outside.

There was the knocking again. He hopped out of bed, his skin goose-pimpled in the cold air as he found a robe and threw it on. The sound again, tap tap bump. It wasn't at his door. He thought of his older sister Taytu, shot by evil men in America. Though she'd survived and was recovering in Spain, the thought of danger was no longer as far from his mind as it used to be. What should he do? Yell out? That felt foolish. The sound was too gentle for him to be scared of it. He slowly pushed the door open.

It was a woman. Not one of the Ethiopians working in the embassy, but a Chinese woman. She looked young, perhaps his age, wearing a conservative baby-blue dress. She was turned away, bent over slightly, doing something he could not see. He pushed the door open just a crack more and saw she was dusting the seat of a chair.

Well, she couldn't be that dangerous. He opened the door to greet her, but stopped when she jumped. Her face turned red and she bowed.

"So sorry." she said over and over again, holding her bow at a wobbly angle "I am sorry. I am. Accept my apologies."

"You're fine." Yaqob said, "Stand up please."

She did as requested, but she did not look at ease. Her eyes darted away from his as if she was desperately hoping to get back to work.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I am Shun." she said, "The congressman hired me for you. As a gift."

"The congressman?"

"Their excellencies are... they are outside." she said.

"They?" before she could answer, Yaqob waved his hand. "I'll go out there. One moment." He went back in his room, quickly bathed himself with a sponge and a basin of water, and put on a tight-collared mandarin suit. He did not disturb the young woman as he passed through the drafty house and outside. The sunlight felt harsh on his eyes, and the wet morning air was heating up, promising a humid day. Ambassador Akale Tebebe sat in a gold-gilded kaftan robe. Across from him was a middle aged Chinese man in a mandarin suit, looking to Yaqob like all other middle aged Chinese men. His hair, so black it looked somewhat blue, receded and left behind a long forehead

"Prince! This is Congressman Deng Zhong-shan."

The congressman bowed in his seat. Yaqob smiled politely and took a chair. A servant - one of the familiar Ethiopians - served him tea.

"It is an honor to meet you of course. A real life prince! We no longer have such things in China. It is a privilege to meet one."

"Thank you." Yaqob said, "Of course, your country no longer needs such things."

"We have disposed of the tradition. Our royalty failed their duty. It was a necessary change for us. I am pleased to know Ethiopia's royal family has not failed."

Yaqob replied with a slight nod. Akale jumped in. "Mr Zhong-shan is part of the financial faction. He has connections who are interested in the development of Ethiopia."

"There's a financial faction?" Yaqob said, failing to veil his disappointment. Neither the world 'Financial' nor the word 'Faction' had a place in the Houist future he imagined.

Mr Zhong-Shan smiled. "Yes. Well, it's hard to avoid. We have to interact with the world, it's not like we can avoid that. And if our economy is going to understand the economies of our partners, well, our finances must be clearly defined. Dependable. Your country seeks loans, correct?"

"Yes." Yaqob said. He didn't know much about that, but he wanted to look confident in front of the ferengi stranger.

"Then we need financial policy."

"I understand that, but why is it a faction?"

"Well, I am a member of the committee, but the chairman of the committee is part of the Old Guard. We don't necessarily agree on all things. Much of what happens in finances appears to be bourgeoisie to the Old Guard."

"The Old Guard? You disagree with the revolutionaries?"

Mr Zhong-shan had thus-far been calm, even playful. Now he seemed rattled. His skin went blotchy as if his body were trying to hide a blush. "In small things only. Yes. Yes. This is allowed. Think of it. If we could only agree with the Old Guard in all things, why not make Hou an Emperor? Hou would not want this. Rule by the people means there will be some disagreements."

"Of course." Akale spoke. He looked directly at Zhong-Shan. "We are strangers in a strange land. Much of your world is new to us."

"Of course." Zhong-shan composed himself. "Yes, yes. Of course."

"So Jiang Fu will be expecting us tomorrow evening?" Akale said.

"He would be honored." Zhong-shan replied.

"Jiang who?" Yaqob asked.

"Jiang Fu." Akale said, "He is the man who oversaw the construction of the rail-line to..."

"Urumqi" Zhong-shan said.

"Urumqi." Akale repeated. "He might take an interest in helping us develop rails in Ethiopia, so I am told."

"It is true." Zhong-shan confirmed.

"Okay, but he just took an interest today? This is such short notice!"

"He sent invitations two weeks ago." Akale said, "I assumed you'd be interested."

"But what if I had something to do?" Yaqob protested.

"Well. Do you?" Akale asked simply.

Yaqob paused. "Well. No. Okay. We will go to this man's house."

"Very good." Zhong-shan smiled.

--

Jiang Fu was not a neighbor. After breakfast, they rode in Zhong-Shan's car eastward out of the city, toward Tianjin and the sea. The drive from Beijing to Tianjin took them past the hutongs of inner-Beijing and into the modern suburbs. Past that were waving fields of grain until they reached Tianjin. It was an odd city, its look essentially Chinese on the surface, but built over the remains of European buildings like a first coat of new paint over an old color. They slowed down as they entered the port along the river. It was not a thin snaking river like those so common in East Africa. It was big, slow moving and wide like the Nile. "We could take the ferry of course." Zhong-shan said, "But there is no need to cram in with so many people when I own a boat."

The port along the Hai river was split into sections. They were far down from the commercial section where big barges shimmered near the horizon in the mid-morning humidity. They passed by a disorderly area of tightly packed docks where wooden single-sail vessels seemed almost stacked one atop another. From here fishing boats with ribbed sails entered onto the river like bees leaving their hive. As they went further along, Yaqob saw bigger vessels. Only slightly bigger, but their section was more orderly. They turned off of the road skirting along the dike and went down to the rivers edge, parking on a fresh cement tarmac.

Zhong-shan's boat was the Shùncóng Nǚrén, a single-sail junk with ribbed sails. The sides of the boat were painted yellow.

"I've never been on a ship before." Akale said, smiling, shielding his eyes from the sun.

The sailors all seemed to be friends of Zhong-shan. When the congressmen introduced a few, it turned out they were distant relatives. The scene was perfectly picturesque, young sailors going happily about their work, the city caught in the process of modernization staring down benevolently on a river busy with activity. The breeze near the water was cool and pleasant, and it gently pressed on the sails as they entered the river traffic and went for the Bohai sea. It was slow going down the river. Yaqob watched the city give way to farmland, the farmland give way to tide-water, and tide-water to the open sea. To the east was nothing but water.

They spent the entire day on that boat. Akale did not like it, and threw up several times an hour over the side. It got so that he was only heaving. But despite Akale's sickness, the boat was designed for comfort. They had a full meal of steamed dumplings and fresh fish. The sailors talked very fast, of people he did not know, places he never heard of. The air smelled like salt and fish. The boat creaked and the sea sloshed. With the sun setting, the air was cooling down. Yaqob looked east at the thin light on the horizon, wondering how much of that light was the fleeing sun and how much was the great cities of China. The talk among the sailors turned to war. Yaqob's attention snapped back into the boat.

"There was a skirmish on the Onon river. The Siberians still fight like the Mongols."

"I heard they are hairy naked men and they ride into battle with guns they made out of scrap metal."

"Well that is ridiculous, but I know they still ride horses."

"That war will not last long unless the Japanese are involved. If the Japanese join the war, then it will be a great war."

"We will drive them to the sea again. And I do not worry about the Russians."

"My betrothed's brother is in the coast guard. He said that dead European bodies wash up on the shores of Korea with signs of weird diseases. They are told not to touch them. He said they sailed past an island of floating burnt bodies, held together by melted fat like a ghost raft. They gave it a wide berth."

"I will go to Russia if I have to. It is my duty to the revolution. But I don't want to go. I think it is too wild of a place."

"I don't see the point. How can you build communism if you can't built anything better than a log cabin?"

"To liberate them from the horsemen."

"To liberate them from the Japanese."

"I heard the Russian women grow hair in all the same places the men do."

"That is not good! The men grow hair in all their places!"

The conversation went on to women they knew, and Yaqob's mind began to wander again. When it was time, they all went into the cabin to sleep.

Dawn came. For breakfast they had leftovers of the last-night's dinner. They sailed for most of the day, the sea endless. Akale seemed better now. Yaqob was getting bored of the sea, and he wished he'd brought a book. His afro was damp from ocean spray.

Mid-day, with the sun shining directly above them in a cloudless sky, they spotted land. Yaqob watched as the thin green line slowly populated mountains and beaches. When they came close to the shore, they began to follow it, close enough that the occasional building could be seen. A tower appeared to rise from the top of one tree-covered mountain. The scene was tropical in Yaqob's mind. This was not the tropics it was true, but it was lush and lively, nothing like Ethiopia's searing desert coastal cities. They came around a bend. At first it looked to Yaqob like the mouth of a river guarded by smooth bluffs, but soon he realized it was a harbor. The tower, which had dropped behind the hills, reappeared watching over a port city.

Zhong-shan smiled brightly at Yaqob and pointed at the tower. "That is White Jade Tower. The Japanese built that to honor their dead when they took this city from Russia."

"This city used to be Russian?"

"Oh yes. They used to call this place Port Arthur. We call it Lushun."

A car was waiting for them when they docked. Yaqob could see the Russian flavor of the city. It's public buildings echoed the stark eastern-European style of Slavic kremlins, the specters of castles in their churches and public halls. The city was nestled along the harbor, beneath gently-rising mountains. Everything was alive and green with trees. They left the city and drove up a narrow cement road into the overlooking hills. Something like a mirror caught the glint of the sun on the top of a hill in front of them.

Zhong-shan pointed up at the shining point. "There it is." he said, "Our destination."

The house stood atop a wooded rise, glimmering in the sun. It was glass. Not entirely glass, but dominated by massive windows taking up entire walls, looking like a modernistic Buddhist temple with slanted roofs and earthy woodwork, the glass reflecting the setting sun.

"I warn you, do not take offense. Jiang Fu is very good at starting to talk, but he is very bad at stopping." Zhong-shan said.

"It is okay. I hope he has something interesting to say." Yaqob replied.

They stopped in a gravel drive. There was enough shade beneath the trees that they could see through the windows, but Yaqob tried not to, afraid of being rude. They walked up to the door where they were greeted by a servant woman dressed in all white. Upon entering, the wooden floor creaked, and the servant led them into another room.

It was sparsely furnished, only tables and wooden chairs, but the walls were absolutely covered, mostly in maps. On one wall hung a massive fur blanket. Yaqob approached it and petted it like a cat. The fur was smooth, but course.

"Like it? Mm?" An old fat man with a bulldog face croaked in the corner. He made a sound like he was clearing his throat, but he seemed to wield it as a kind of punctuation mark, meaning whatever tone he put into it.

"It is interesting. Is this some kind of buffalo hair?"

"Mm. That is a ten thousand woman flag. It's women's pubic hair."

Yaqob withdrew his hand.

"Yes. Mm. The Boxers carried it into battle. They believed that the magic in this flag would make them bullet proof. Mm. I suppose their wives and sisters and mothers were happy to let their genitals go cold if it kept the men alive."

"It didn't work?"

"Well of course it didn't work! If women's pubic hair could stop a thirty-forty krag I think body armor would look a bit different nowadays, wouldn't it? Mm! They got gunned down in the millions."

"Mr Fu, this is Yaqob Yohannes, the Prince of Ethiopia." Zhong-shan said, somewhat nervously.

"Yeh, Mm, I saw that you were a negro." the old man stood up. Yaqob, towering above every one of the Chinese he'd met so far, was especially aware of his height as Jiang Fu hobbled toward him. If he were to stack one Jiang Fu atop another, he wasn't sure the top one would even reach his chin. "An American sailor told me you have to watch out for negroes because they are such big animals they can maul anything they want to. You are a big thing, Mm, but I'm not sure you have much mauling in you."

"I've never mauled anyone." Yaqob said.

"Yeh. Mm. You got a place for superstition in your mind?"

"What?"

"Thinking the pubic hair flag could stop bullets?"

"Ah, no."

"Mm. Good. I wasn't sure if your race had any sense. I've been looking over your maps. You think building a railroad in Ethiopia is a sensible idea?"

"I don't know." Yaqob admitted.

Akale spoke up, "Why would it not be? Is Ethiopia worse than any other country?"

Jiang Fu seemed to swing around quickly despite his age, facing the other man. "Here. Mm. Here's the thing. I don't put much stock in the idea that one group of people is all that much more special than the others. Mm. China built the greatest civilization in the world and just half a century ago our people were waving pubic hair in the streets trying to stop bullets. I can look at a piece of ground and tell you exactly how the people there are going to do. Any idiot race could make an Empire in China, or in America. It's communication. Transportation. Mm! That's what matters. Your country is all mountains. Mm! Good for goats! Bad for transportation."

"But what should we do?" Yaqob asked.

"Fly." Jiang Fu said, waving a liver-spotted hand.

Yaqob wanted to ask more, but dumplings were brought out, and Jiang Fu hobbled toward them like a starved basset hound. Yaqob stared out the window at Lushun in the red light of the setting sun.

"I built it. Mm. Mm." Jiang Fu was choking down a dumpling like a snake struggling with a mouse.

"What?"

"This house. Mm. My friends said I am stupid. People are going to see in. See what I do."

"It's not easy to see in. The sun blocks it out." Yaqob assured.

"Mm. What am I doing in here! I don't murder my servants! I don't hide skeletons. What am I hiding? I don't sit around the front room naked. Mm. And so what if I did? I'm not a blushing maiden. If you look into this house and see me naked, that's your problem. And if you keep looking? Why would you do that? Do you stare at toads? Mm!"

Yaqob said nothing, uncertain if he was getting a rant or a lecture.

"Mm! Come on. Eat."

They all sat down, chewing on the fishy tasting dumplings. Congressman Zhong-shan spoke up. "These men came here because they wanted to know about how we may help them develop their rail."

"Mm. This will be harder than Urumqi. That was desert. This is mountains. I can do it. It will cost a lot. Oh. You wanted it built here they told me?" he pointed to a map as he sucked the guts out of a dumpling. Yaqob looked. He was pointing to the south of Ethiopia.

"Yes." Akale said.

"There aren't many towns there. Does anybody live there besides, Mm, jungle pygmies?"

"This is the coffee growing region."

"Oh. That's important. So you want to ship coffee then? That doesn't have to be as smooth of a line."

"So you can do it?" Akale asked.

"Mm. That's up to the government. I'm not a congressman."

"I will begin work." Zhong-shan said.

"During a war? Mm. Hou is a practical man. I don't think he would agree."

"We'll show him why he should agree." Zhong-shan said.

"Mm. Show him. Mm! He'll show you! I keep telling your friends, I know that you have disagreements with the Old Guard, and that's fair enough, those communists are all tea and roses. But Hou? He is very practical. Mm! I'm not a communist. I'm not a capitalist. I am practical, and I can see practical."

Yaqob felt some sort of oddly placed pride swell up in his breast. This was exactly the sentiments he felt about Hou and his communist project.

Jiang Fu continued. "I think it's good that Wen Chu Ming died. Don't tell Hou that. Mm! Never tell Hou that, don't tell him I said it. Mm! But Wen Chu Ming was an idealist. I think. I never met him. Well, Hou lives in the real world. Remember the Tenth Anniversary celebration? Of the end of the revolution?"

"Oh." Zhong-shan said, sounding like he'd been kicked in the gut.

"I don't think the old man knew it, or maybe he just let them have their fun, but the committee for the celebration put together all these theatrics! They had a dozen orchestras, and built this massive set with this big dragon, being held up by a bunch of ten-foot workers, or maybe they were giving it a belly rub. Mm. I dunno. The thing was ridiculous! Then it comes time, and it's night, and all the orchestras are playing together. Then they stop. Hou comes out of the dragon's mouth to make a speech. Only, he doesn't do it puffed up or anything like they expected! He comes out so meek. I remember him having a cane. Mm. I don't think he had a cane, but I remember him. Mm. Having a cane. He looked like someone's grandpa was lost behind the set! You could have heard a stick drop in the crowd. Mm. I think I heard his cane. Did he have a cane? Well, he gave his speech, and it was so casual. Practical."

"He did not have a cane. The Chairman is in good health." Zhong-shan corrected.

"I like that man. The communists come up with ridiculous things. The leftists. They say. Mm. 'We can teach the peasants to make steel when they are not farming.' and Hou says, 'No, there is no reason for that, what is the purpose? Let them farm so we can eat.' Mm. I don't want to know what will happen to China after that man is gone."

"The revolution will carry us forward." Zhong-shan said dully.

"Right. Mm."

"You said something about flying earlier." Yaqob said, "That Ethiopians should fly instead of build railroads."

"Mm. Yes. Airplanes, airships. That might be less expensive, at least for a while. Mm. Here, think of it, you can build your roads and your railroads slowly over time, a little here and a little there. But in the mean time, train pilots, buy aircraft. The future is in the air."

"Is it?"

"It's faster. Mm. The future is in rockets. Space! Think of it. How quick might you get coffee to market with rockets? It's expensive now, but when it is as cheap as a donkey and a cart, Mm! That's the future. The future might be good to Africa. I can tell by a piece of land how good their people will do. Africa is a wilderness. All jungle and deserts and mountains."

"We still want to try with the railroads." Akale said.

"Mm." Jiang Fu nodded somberly, "Yes. I will see what I can do, when I am given permission to work."
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Early August: South of Fort Portal, Swahili People's Republic
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"They sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes, and they pant after the dust of the earth on the heads of the poor."

Worldly education was brought to the deep parts of Africa by missionaries. They tacked the knowledge of their civilization on the word of God, so that Christianity brought with it instructions on the ways men and women are to behave, the ways people should dress, and work, and pray. They brought the ideas of nationalism, of democracy, and of socialism. The revolutions that convulsed East Africa were midwifed by men with crosses around their necks and bibles in their hands.

Marcel Hondo-Demissie thought about this, sitting in the canvas-covered bed of an old truck. They bumped down a rutted trail cut through the grassland beneath the shadows of the Rwenzori mountains. He was surrounded by his fellow Watu wa Uhuru, sitting with knees folded up, clutching their guns to their bodies as if the weather-worn rifles were their children. So much had been brought by Christianity. How could the Freedom Army of God claim sole right to interpret God's will, and administer it by the edge of a machete? The massacres perpetrated in the north chilled Marcel when he heard of them. But didn't he know they would happen? He'd been hesitant to make a deal with that particular devil, and he'd been hesitant for a reason. African history, like the history of the rest the world, was littered with barbarian tribes. That was to say warrior tribes: people who didn't define themselves through the functions of civil society, but by their sheer strength, focusing their efforts on physical power, and unleashing that power in ways urban civilization found destructive. Shaka Zulu was the spiritual cousin of Attila the Hun. And who were those first Anglo-Saxons, landing on the shore of Roman Britain, but the cousins of the Bantu people who did the same thing to much of Africa, steel sword replaced with iron spear, wooden buckler replaced with hide shield. The Freedom Army of God were wrought in that same image.

Had he unleashed them? Was he to blame? Or was this in their make-up, they a human virus, uncontrolled and uncontrollable? Could he blame himself anymore than the Romans who first paid tribute to Attila might be blamed for his onslaught?

There was light conversation between the hunters. The Force Socialiste wore their tattered blues, while the rest of the men wore casual clothes, shirts and trousers. Few men wore shoes. It was not unusual for their leader to share the back of the truck with them, and none of them reacted to his presence. Whenever he could, he killed the mystique of authority, introducing his Watu wa Uhuru to a classless way of life.

Blue clouds prophetic of storms hung over the mountains to the west. Those were the mountains of the moon, a place known to the ancient Europeans as the source of the Nile. So close to the plains, they were green and climbing with tropical vegetation. Further up and beyond the sight of the hunting party, the mountains were covered in snow as deep as the European alps, creating the barrier that divided the Swahili east front the Belgian Congo.

The truck stopped. They were near the last place where elephants had been spotted. Here the landscape forced them to go on foot. They had one truck, and it was their plan to load it with ivory. He would have brought more if fuel wasn't so dear, but resources had to be saved. The truck was parked in a grove behind a thick mango tree. They marched into the hills.

Would this world last? An anarchist paradise constructed from the naked will of the people? Grace was left behind in Fort Portal, managing the hospital and aiding with the affairs of the people there. It was too easy to imagine the Freedom Army of God burning the town and murdering its people. Murdering her. They were creating a new world, but could it survive the old one?

Of course, Christianity didn't bring socialism whole-clothe. Africa was not a tabula-rasa. Socialism had its own natural logic in a world so tightly tribal, where it was often logical to assign goods according to their use rather than a tight system of property. But property hadn't been new either. Like so much of the world outside of Europe, the east African plateau hosted a long and storied history largely ignored by outsiders. The Empire of the Moon once ruled along the lake-shores, spreading their influence by the leaf-edged spear. Later it was the Buganda around whose cane-fence compounds arose cities, host to thousands of long war canoes, watched over by warrior-magnates beneath who's fences flowed the blood of children sacrificed to the world of magic. They knew their own property in this way, their compounds an iron-age cousin of English estates, the children beneath the blade of the witch-doctor kin to the children mangled underneath the looms of Lancashire. They knew socialism in the tight relations of the village tribe. They knew it in the way rural farmers knew better how to handle their own crops than urbane kings. It was this natural common sense, unattached to the superstitious logic of the west that said the mangled child beneath the loom was necessary for progress, that'd allowed communism to take root here. Marx wasn't leading the way, or blazing new trails. The people were. They didn't need to be taught. They knew. When the priests came, they gave Africa the vocabulary of the West. Words rule the world. What seemed almost innate became revolutionary by their power.

The storm winds came down from the mountains and made the tall grass hiss. The air was full of power and change. The wind in their ears sometimes created illusions of thunder, and made them wonder if they should take shelter. They climbed up a hill passed a wide umbrella tree. Though it was mid-day, the shadows beneath the tree were as dark as night.

They climbed up and down the green piedmont. This was a tropical vision of Europe beneath the alps, green rolling hills, mountains in the distance. They went up and down and up and down until their feet hurt. This would be good land to hunt by horse. If it wasn't for the Tsetse fly, they probably would have. As it was, European livestock could not live in this part of the world, not for long anyways, and horses weren't viable. A number of horses had been sold across the lake to the anarchists a year before. They were all dead now.

When the rain came, they camped in a grove of trees, using thick canvas tarps as large tents. They lit fires in the dry places beneath a dripping umbrella tree. Thunder rolled in the distance, and rain danced on the leaves. The hunters sang a song and ate salted fish. Marcel used a skinning knife to cut open a mango. A rogue drop fell from the canopy above and ran down his knife like a tear.

"You have been quiet today." said Achille Ngongo. Achille was his second in command in the old Force Socialiste. He held his position by simple fact he was still alive and thriving after so many of their comrades had been lost.

"I have been thinking." Marcel said.

"Do you worry? Is there something I should know?"

"You know what I know." Both men leaned against the tree and ate. Achille looked at Marcel. Marcel looked at his hunters.

"Our position is good." Achille said, "The other groups fight between each other. You have made a wall out of your own enemies. This is good work, like you always do."

"What is good work?" Marcel looked at Achille. He looked deeply into his old friend, hoping for answers.

Achille returned the look. "It is work that advances our cause, or protects it. We are in a better place now than we were a month ago because you have made the decision you have."

"That's effective in the moment, but is it good?" Marcel returned, "If I were to burn down a village of my enemy, from a statistical perspective I would be doing good. But what would the other villages think? If I burn down two villages, I might look better to the mathematician, but what would be my reputation?"

"What have you done wrong? You have burned no villages."

"I don't know." Marcel looked west at the dark clouds above the mountains. "That's what I am thinking about."

When it was too dark to see, they crawled into their make-shift tents and slept. Marcel stared out into the rainy darkness for a long while, his mind keeping him awake with possibilities. He did not notice himself fall sleep.

When they woke up they were damp with dew and dripping rain. It was a cool morning, but the wet air threatened choking tropical humidity when the sun came out. They got moving, looking for signs of elephants.

Two hours after waking they found their quarry trumpeting in a meadow. There were a number of elephants bathing in the mud, making sounds like groaning trees. The hunters with the biggest caliber guns took positions on a hill. They took out two bulls, three females, and a calf, the rest bellowing like they themselves were dying, running to a nearby forest for cover. The land to the south was covered in a wide forest, an outcrop of jungle like that in the Congo, the sort of land the Force Socialiste had fled out of many years before.

They went down to half-dozen fallen elephants. Half of the men went at them with saws, removing the precious ivory. The other men watched the forest in case the others returned. Elephants are unpredictable like humans. There was still the possibility of a rampage. Of revenge.

Marcel looked down regretfully at the corpse of a calf. A shot had went low and struck it in the neck. It's eyes were glazed dead, but it still wore the playful smile so common in young elephants. A shout brought Marcel out of his trance. He looked up and saw that all of his men were looking in one direction.

Something moved in the forest, not large enough to be elephants. The men pulled up their guns. Marcel imagined warriors of the Freedom Army of God. But would they be so far south? Perhaps they were monkeys? Something was moving in there though, and more than one something.

A man walked out. He was less than five feet tall, wearing nothing but a grass skirt. His skin was leathery. He held an iron-tipped spear, but uncertainly. The pygmies knew what guns were, and what they were capable of.

A whole band came out speaking in a language Marcel didn't know. Achille did know it though, and he spoke with the leader of the band. They were hunters too, but their luck was bad. Could they have what the other men didn't use? Achille translated this question to Marcel.

"If they will carry the ivory to our trucks, they can have what is left. Does this sound right?" he posed the idea to the other hunters. Some assented. Most ignored him. Achille nodded and translated this back to the pygmy. They were elated by the idea. All this meat for a little work? They smiled, and nodded, and made agreeable sounds. One of their own ran back into the bush to find men for the elephants. The rest went about their work.

They hefted the blood-spattered tusks over their shoulders, muscles working like cords as they moved, carrying them with what seemed to Marcel like joy. Simple joy. That simplicity seemed so good and so useful that Marcel made a mental note of how to cultivate it in the movement.

The grass was wet and heavy, the ground muddy beneath their steps. The pygmies did not seem to tire. In the end, they camped beneath the same tree, the ashes of their campfire turned to a goop of charcoal mud, the impressions from where they'd slept still visible. Here they fell into the same patterns. The pygmies kept to themselves.

"What a life to live." Achille said, "To be naked in the jungle. To live on bush meat and fruit. I know they do not live long. There is no medicine. And look how old they seem to be. Even the young ones. Their skin is like shit that had dried out in the sun!"

"I would not judge them." Marcel said. "Why would they feel the absence of what they do not know?"

"They must know what they miss when they see us."

"They can see us, but I do not know that they envy us. Do you envy demons?"

"Demons." Achille scoffed, screwing up his face so that Marcel wondered if he had offended him. "That's not a fair comparison."

"Demons live forever. They do not worry about wants. I suppose if demons live for whatever mischief they cause, then they have desires and fulfill them. But you would not want to be one. I wouldn't want to be one. I would miss the sunlight. I would miss my habits. I would miss love. Ours friends have their own world. It might not be as comfortable as ours, but they wouldn't know what to do without it."

Achille looked at the small men. This time his gaze was far off. Thoughtful. "I don't envy them though."

"I wouldn't expect you to." Marcel said, "They have their world and we have ours. I cannot say which one is better or worse because I cannot feel all things. I only know one thing."

Achille looked at Marcel with an expression of expectancy, but he didn't say a word.

Marcel spoke. "I want to live as Marcel."

"I am glad you have that." Achille smiled.
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Late July: Addis Ababa
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"You did the right thing." Emebet Hoy Eleni told her son. Sahle said nothing. It was bright cloudless day, but he felt hung over, his head throbbing with his heartbeat, his entire body sapped of energy. He stood in front of the Gebi Iyasu, his courtiers and guards all in formal clothing creating a solid line of royal formality, immaculate gold and beige.

"The Americans did a bad thing letting your sister be hurt." his mother added, goading him to speak.

"That's not what Desta says." Sahle replied. He looked straight ahead, across the eucalyptus shaded lawn. Beyond that was the stone-anchored iron fence protecting the palatial grounds from the road. Past the road, the hill declined toward downtown Addis Ababa, its hodge-podge of modern buildings bathed in equatorial sunlight.

"Desta is the serpent." Eleni said. She spoke in a hushed voice so Desta, standing ten feet in front of them, could not hear. "He sent your brother and your sister away."

"I sent them away." Sahle said. "To improve themselves."

"Desta put those false ideas in your head. What Emperor in history has sent his family so far away? What is in China and America that is not here? Besides assassins it would seem." his mother spoke in the tone a person uses when trying to restrain their emotions for the sake of tact. She seemed stuck between despair and conversational calmness, which sounded to Sahle like cruel sarcasm.

"It's a new era. The world has changed." he said. Every word felt like work and he resented each one she forced from him.

"Let the world change. We do not have to change with it. Don't let the world poison you and make you forget who you are."

The arrival of a caravan of staff cars cut off their conversation. The royal party came to attention, greeting the procession with the solemnity expected of Sahle's station, everybody taking a position like soldiers on parade. A warm breeze rustled the leaves of the trees and the tufts of lions-mane topping the Mehal Sefari's pith helmets. The cars crawled, matching the speed of the khaki-clad retainers marching alongside. Three slim banners, green yellow and red, hung above the fenders of every vehicle.

The first car stopped. A soldier opened the door and announced its prime occupant. "Ras Wolde Petros Mikael!" he shouted. The old Ras crawled out, dressed in a white robe and silk cape. His beard was trimmed. He held his hand out for his wife, helping her out of the car.

"Woizero Hiruteslale Giyorgis." The soldier announced.

She was the age of Sahle's own mother, wearing a conservative white dress with a silk shawl, and her hair was an impressive afro. A slender girl followed dressed in similar fashion.

"Woizerit Fetlewerk Wolde Petros." Her hair was pulled in tight cornrows to the back of her head where it exploded out in a thicket.

"He brought his entire family." Sahle whispered to his mother. Wasn't this supposed to be a political meeting? Another car cycled.

"Ras Giyorgis Temare Mengesha" the glum old man stepped out dressed in plain conservative robes. He was alone. The next car pulled up.

"Mesfin Issayas Seme." Sahle knew the man as the angry official who'd crashed his birthday party earlier in the month. The thin, boyish looking Mesfin scanned his fellow statesmen, his lips drawn tight and his eyes narrow and unwelcoming.

More men came. Meridazmach Zekiros Argaw, commander of the Army. Hector Santareál, the young Cuban who commanded the Air Force. They bowed as they processed past the Emperor and his mother. Desta spent a moment in hushed conversation with each one of them, allowing the Emperor to preserve his majestic distance. This was fine with him. His head was throbbing more than before, and the sun was making it worse. He did not look forward to the meeting.

"Make way for his Imperial Majesty." a page shouted. The guards escorted Sahle through the colonnade into the courtyard garden where dinner was served. The tables were set up in the grass next to the fountains, the menu offering a choice between filet mingnon or redfish, to be served with a lemon-asparagus vinaigrette and poached eggs. The menu wasn't particularly Ethiopian, but it reflected something common enough for the Imperial household: an intent to appear worldly, cosmopolitan. Ethiopia was a conservative country, its traditions rooted in the stone of its mountain hold-fasts and ancient churches, but they were aware they needed to communicate with the world around them. Time would inevitably wear down the mythology of the Kebra Nagast, and after that, the Imperial government would be left to trade on its merits alone, merits including its ability to act as the translator, a bridge between Ethiopia and the rest of the world. Imperial grandeur surrounded these political signals like the yoke around an egg. Perfume was mixed in with the fountain's water so the courtyard garden took on a pleasant feminine scent. The Emperor sat on a Dais overlooking his subjects, the lion Muse panting at his feet. A page came by and offered the Emperor and his mother canapés. She took one. He declined. "Wine." he asked. The page looked confused. Sahle snapped angrily in the page's face, saying nothing, and the page went off in a hurry.

"What is wrong with you?" his mother asked. Her mouth dropped and she looked at him with that matronly expression of alarm. "I don't feel like this." he said, motioning discreetly at the tables set in front of them "Any of this."

"You have your duty."

He said nothing. The page brought the wine and poured. Sahle grabbed the stem of his glass and drank deep. It filled him with its intimate warmth. When he put the glass down, he caught Desta looking at him like a schoolmaster who'd caught his pupil preparing a prank.

They plates were brought out all at once. They ate dinner, keeping to their own circles. Sahle fed half his filet mignon to the lion at his feet. The beast inhaled it, only taking a single bite. Down below, Sahle caught the eyes of several guests watching the lion carefully, and he puffed up as if the big cat's majesty was his own. He noticed Woizerit Fetlewerk watching it with rapt attention, her mouth hanging slightly open. She was a bony creature, not Sahle's type, but he saw a kindness in her eyes that warmed his heart, more akin to the type of affection he had for his mother rather than the kind he associated with his conquests.

When the meal was done, Ras Wolde Petros brought his family up to the dais, each one bowing in turn. "I am pleased to see you in good health, your Imperial majesty." He said, voice strong and confident.

"We are pleased to see our servant Ras Wolde Petros." Sahle said blandly.

"If it pleases you, this is my wife Woizero Hiruteslale, and my daughter your cousin Woizerit Fetlewerk."

"Your Imperial Majesty." the two ladies bowed. Fetlewerk smiled maybe a little too broadly. Her thin lips peeled back and presented more of her teeth than Sahle wanted to see. It made her seem young and awkward, like another little sister.

There was an awkward pause. Sahle took a drink. What was he supposed to do here? The whole day was turning out to be tedious. "We are happy to entertain the ladies." he replied politely. The answer didn't seem to please anybody except maybe young Woizerit Fetlewerk, who seemed taken away with the pageantry. They went away. Desta, who'd chose to eat with Issayas Seme, moved to the the table of Ras Giyorgis Temare Mengesha. Why couldn't Desta conduct this whole affair on his own? He had the ability.

"How do you like your cousin, eh?" his mother asked.

Sahle looked at her, the pieces coming together in his mind. "What is the meaning of that question?" he replied.

"Nothing. Well. You know what I mean. It is not wrong for a mother to want her children to be married! You are responsible for your bloodline! Why are my children carrying themselves like American reprobates? My daughter gets herself shot, my younger son is playing the tourist, and my eldest son will not be married. It is your duty to marry, and to marry somebody worthy of your greatness, which I can say your jezebels are not." She'd melted seamlessly into the rant, though keeping her voice low enough that nobody else could hear.

"This is a discussion for another day." Sahle waved his hand.

"You put your whole life off for another day." his mother got in the last word. Satisfied, she looked out in front, making herself as regal as ever.

Desta rose up and went to the dais, moving like water. He made a quick unthinking bow. "The guests are ready, and we have business to discuss. Shall we?"

Sahle stood up. "It is hard for us to send away the pleasant company of the ladies." he said, "But us who are men have business to discuss. Emebet Hoy Eleni wishes to entertain the royal women. We men shall retire to the throne room." The Queen Mother went down and joined the two ladies, leading them into the building, a retinue of servants following. Sahle led the men, guards flanking him, and they went into the door opposite from the one the women had entered. He was divided from the rest, and he rubbed his head as he walked, wondering if their council would be finished early enough that he might get away and make a visit to the Vin Rouge. They entered into the throne room with its dark colored walls and velvet draped furniture. The crimson throne and room below soaked up so much of the light that it gave off an almost dark-aged vibe. Inside were Minister of Foreign Affairs Benyam Felege, the moon-faced Treasurer Bejirond Medebew Fek-Yebelu, and the Minister of Justice Afe Negus Telaye Haylu, the latter looking like he could be Sahle's bearded older brother. Traditionally the Minister of Justice served as mouth of the King, but the force of Desta's personality had relocated that duty to the office of Minister of the Pen. Everybody sat down as if along an imaginary table with Sahle at its head.

"Bitwoded Desta, what business do you bring before my council?" Sahle said.

"Your Imperial majesty is to be congratulated." Desta started, standing up and delivering his speech like an actor giving a monologue, "I have spoken with his excellency Mr Bacon of the United States, and he has assured me the administration of President Norman is willing to meet some of our demands." the room didn't react with the much excitement, the mood drowned by the bigger issue hanging over all of them like a sword strung up by twine, but there were sounds of mild approval. Sahle himself smiled, but he didn't know what he was smiling for. It was at this moment that he realized something about the American scandal: what exactly had been his demands? His heart knew, but his mind wouldn't accept the answer, and so he nodded his approval if only to appear in control.

Desta went on. "There is a matter of the honor of the government that must be rectified." he said, "Mesfin Issayas Seme makes an accusation against your uncle and the commander of your armies, and it is a serious accusation."

"Speak, Mesfin Issayas Seme." Sahle said, shifting to a comfortable position in his seat. Sahle was never one for sitting up. Desta often admonished him for his slothful way of carrying himself, like a sack of grain that'd been thrown into place. When he was feeling up to his job, he did his best to sit up straight. Today was not one of those days. He slouched like syrup running out of the seat as the Mesfin took the center of the room.

"Ras Wolde Petros, Ras Giyorgis Temare Mengesha, Meridazmach Zekiros Argaw, and the ferengi Hector Santareál conspired to enter my territory and make violence against my people!" the Mesfin complained.

"Violence against criminals." Wolde Petros said, "I admit to that. Issayas harbors shifta bandits who do not recognize their Emperor as sovereign!"

"You lie through your teeth!"

"Behave like gentlemen!" Desta pleaded. His voice cut between the two statesmen like lightning, and they both quieted. "These are serious accusations to bring before his Imperial majesty."

"I bring evidence!" Issayas said, his voice high pitched and triumphant. "I have presented reports of the battlefield from my people, and images from journalists. It is bloodshed in my borders. And you have heard Wolde Petros admit to this violence! It is in the hands of Afe Negus Telaye Haylu."

"I have received it and can confirm, your Imperial Majesty. A number of shiftas were killed in a skirmish near the border of Begmeder and Wollo." Telaye said.

Issayas looked smug, smiling for the first time Sahle had ever seen

"I have evidence too." Wolde Petros stated. The room went silent. Wolde Petros took out a rolled up piece of paper and handed it to Desta. The Minister's face twisted as he read it, and it looked for a moment as if he couldn't read it at all. "What is this?"

"The Declarations of the Rights of Man. A French document from history. It has been distributed among the people of Begmeder, under the nose of the Mesfin." Wolde Petros explained, "The people who published it two hundred years ago went on to murder their King. The shiftas of Begmeder want revolution against you, your Imperial Majesty. We extinguished this rebellion. I am proud to say I did it."

"You have the evidence of this?" Desta asked the Afe Negus.

"I went to Begmeder to interview the Neftanya. They verify this information." Telaye said.

"I proudly fought with Wolde Petros." Ras Giyorgis stood up.

Meridazmach Zekiros stood up next. "I sanctioned the action against the shiftas."

Then went up Hector Santareál. "I flew against the shee-stahs." he said in heavily accented Amharic.

The four men seemed ready to pounce on Issayas, who looked like a mouse that'd been cornered. "This man is a harborer and friend to traitors!" Wolde Petros accused.

"Then arrest him." Sahle commanded. The four men grabbed the scrawny Mesfin. "Mercy!" he cried out, "They are the criminals! Mercy for me!"

"Wait." Desta ordered. Wolde Petros looked at the Minister of the Pen, then up at Sahle, uncertain what to do. "Have the revolutionary leaders been caught yet?" Desta asked.

"No." Wolde Petros said.

"So if we arrest the Mesfin of Begmeder, we risk the entire province going into revolt. If his government is so corrupt, wouldn't the guilty parties join this revolution? Might we not have a fully realized rebellion?"

"If we arrest this man the issue becomes clear, and his Imperial majesty can officialize an intervention."

"So we become a country that, having just closed our borders to America, then enters a civil war? Is this good for the return of commerce?"

"Commerce will return on its own time!" Wolde Petros said, "Are you so greedy you will miss a few weeks payments?"

"Your majesty," Desta turned to Sahle, speaking in a smooth tone, sounding as if his advice was so natural that it should be obvious to everybody in the room. "Return the Mesfin to Begmeder on probation, require him to root out this shifta menace. This is a quieter way of fixing the same error."

"Then that's how it will be done." Sahle said.

There was a moment like at the beginning of an explosion, where the air seemed to be sucked out of the room, everybody bracing for the impact. Wolde Petros became like a man on fire. "You cannot arrest a man and undo his arrest! This is foolish!" Ras Giyorgis, his hand tight on the Mesfin's shoulder, wore the expression of the angel of death. Meridazmach Zekiros looked disappointed. Santareál uncertain.

"The Emperor can do as he pleases." Desta said.

"This cannot be justice!" Ras Giyorgis added indignantly. "We demand the right thing be done for the men we lost in the field!"

"The field you shouldn't have fought on." Desta reminded, "Why did you not go through the structure of command?"

"To do so would be to involve the Emperor in scandals he does not want!"

"This is true." Sahle said, "I do not want these scandals. You have all made many headaches for me today. But I agree with Desta. We should keep it quiet, and allow the Mesfin to do his duty."

"So his Imperial majesty was wrong on his first decree?" Wolde Petros challenged.

"You are out of line." Desta said, his voice strangely quiet, like a pin drop breaking the tension of the room.

Wolde Petros bowed. "Your majesty." he said tight lipped, storming out. His faction followed with him.

"Thank you for your mercy, your Imperial Majesty." Issayas said, smiling warmly. When he left, the only men in the room were members of the Crown Council.

"That went badly." Sahle rubbed his head.

Benyam Felege, who hadn't talked throughout the entire meeting, spoke up. "I think your majesty did the best that you can do."

"Your uncle is too aggressive." Desta said, watching the door as if he could see through it. "He does not think of the consequences of his actions."

"He might have been right, in the end." Telaye Haylu spoke up, "I suspect Issayas will cause more trouble before this is over with."

"That is a future problem." Desta looked sharply at Telaye, "We don't need to compound our present problems. The Rases will be a handful after the way your majesty handled them tonight." Desta's eyes met Sahle's, and the Emperor felt himself withering under his minister's gaze.

"How I handled myself?" Sahle said, raising his voice higher than he had intended, "What could I have possibly done?"

"Not arrest the man, and then free him."

"You asked me too."

"You shouldn't have ordered his arrest so quickly."

"Well if you think you have this all down, I'll leave right now." Sahle said standing up. "You can do the work of government from now on."

Desta's lips tightened, and his renewed stare seemed to hold the Emperor in place. "Do not be foolish, your majesty. I need you here, and I need you to stay here for the Americans. Whether you like it or not you have the duties of a monarch that nobody else can do them."

"Anybody can do it. All I have is the pedigree" Sahle sat down, "Let in the Americans then. Let's get this over with."

"I cannot conjure them from thin air, your majesty. We will wait until they arrive."

Desta went to Benyam, and the two old men talked quietly to each other. The Afe Negus looked at the wall as if his mind were focused on something on the other side. Bejirond Medebew Fek-Yebelu, who had been quiet, pulled out a yellow paper-back book and read. Sahle didn't want to talk to any of them. He leaned back, closed his eyes, and listened to Desta and Benyam's whispering until it faded away.

Sahle didn't know he'd taken a nap until the harsh call of a page woke him up. "His excellency Jefferson Davis Bacon. Mr Bradford Carnahan. Ms Livy Carnahan." Sahle sat up, cleared the sleep from his eyes, and watched the three Americans march in. Bacon came first, wearing a smart white suit, his face tomato red. Bradford wore a blue suit and looked stony-faced at nothing in particular. When Livy came in, Sahle smiled unconsciously. She wore a yellow dress and matching shoes, and looked meek behind the two men. Sahle saw her steal a glance at him. They all made their bows, Bacon struggling, Bradford stiff and formal.

"What news do you bring, your excellency Mr Bacon." Sahle said.

"The American government apologizes for what happened to Le'elt Taytu Yohannes." Bacon said stiffly.

Sahle waved for him to go on.

"We want no conflict with Ethiopia, and President Norman has agreed to compensate you for your pains, so long as our citizens are allowed to move freely from your Empire."

"What is this compensation?" Sahle was aware of Desta's eyes on him.

"The American government has agreed to partially subsidize Ethiopia's agricultural imports through Boston's port. Their uncle Milford Carnahan has introduced this decision as part of a spending package that is fully expected to pass Congress. This offer has two conditions; first, you lift the restriction on free travel. Second, that it cannot be discussed in public. If the Ethiopian government brags about this, our government will be forced to withdraw the offer."

Sahle nodded. Is this what he wanted. Should he speak?

"We thank the American government for its reasonable response." Desta replied. The eyes that had been on Sahle looked to the Minister, and Sahle felt the pressure let off his shoulders.

"So are we allowed to leave, your majesty?" Bradford asked, his tone icy. Desta and Bacon's heads snapped back to look at the youth.

"Yes." Sahle said. "This is all I wanted." Even as he said this, he felt bad, defeated. By what? About what?

"Ms Livy Carnahan has agreed to work in the embassy for a time." Bacon said, "As a representative of her family. I am hoping the two of us will repair whatever damage might've happened between our two great nations."

Sahle looked at Livy, her pale skin and uncertain blue eyes, her red hair falling in waves upon her shoulders. She would stay. He sat up straight and smiled broadly. "We look forward to working with you both." he said, "I hope Ms Carnahan finds Addis Ababa to be a new home."

"I hope so too, your majesty." she said.

The Americans were dismissed, and filtered out of the room like a defeated army. Sahle pushed himself violently up from his throne.

"You did well, your majesty." Desta said. "The American crisis will not be a memorable thing."

"I think I did well too." Sahle said. He approached Bejirond Medebew Fek-Yebelu, an aging bureaucrat with a moon-shaped face, his features drooping as if he'd suffered a mild stroke for breakfast, though Sahle knew the man well enough to know that was just how he looked. "Your majesty." Medebew greeted. He'd been there for the entire meeting, and like so many meetings before, he wasn't used to being addressed directly by his Emperor.

"There is a purchase I want to make." Sahle said, "How much money do I have for property?"

"We may have to borrow."

"That is fine." Sahle wrapped his arm around the man's shoulder, "Let me tell you what I want."
--------------------------
Late July: Sidamo
--------------------------

The wet season was over, and Sidamo bloomed green. Humid forests clung to the rolling mountains of southern Ethiopia, table-top ambas partially obscured by haze in the distance, appearing like apparitions from a fairy tale land. Floyd Switzer thought it was damned foolish to build highways in this landscape. Damned expensive at least. Perhaps he was just feeling a smidgen guilty about bringing modernity to a place like this. And perhaps, somewhere deeper in his mind, he thought highways were the darkest form of modernity.

"Here." Floyd said, looking down from the tailgate at Betty Lou. She wasn't the begging type, but she always made sure to be there when food was on offer. Floyd threw a cube of stewed goat to her and she inhaled it. "You've had enough" he reproved her, but she looked up at him with sad eyes and guilted him into throwing her another.

"Schweinhund! Hosenscheisser!" August Ibel shouted in his native German. His face went plum red, but Floyd had known the man long enough to know he enjoyed rage. He was the Foreman, and an Ostafrikan, a heavily tanned white man with buzz-cut grey hair and a neatly trimmed mustache. He yelled at a pair of native African workers who'd stopped their work to stare into the wall of forest clinging to the hillside. The men went back to work. August went to Floyd's truck, wiping the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his threadbare white long-sleeve shirt.

"They say they hear growling." August said, "Growling! Imagine that! In Africa! You think they would know this is nature since they live so close to it." Floyd said nothing. After a pause, August continued. "You have the shell shock, jah?"

"I've heard it called that."

"Well then you'll want to put your petticoats in your ears, those rocks are going to blow." August said, grinning sourly, looking up to where the African workers were fleeing the blast site. Floyd pulled a pair of rubber ear-plugs from the front pocket of his overalls and put them in. Several seconds went by he heard his own heartbeat echoing inside his skull. The explosion came to him as shaking and a dull punching sound. He flinched, paused as the sound faded to memory, and slowly unplugged his ears, breathing heavily.

"...that's why I have this." Floyd was surprised to see August had produced a long double-barreled shotgun.

"What is that for?"

"Whatever beasts are in these woods! These guns are brutal in the killing, but they are quite good. I know your Americans, you used them in your war, jah? Very brutal." he shook his head like he were reproving Floyd for it, "But animals? They don't have souls. No dishonor in using such an uncivilized weapon. I'd recommend it! Hah!"

Floyd got up, grabbing a bundle of small flags from the truck bed. These flags were essentially just sticks with pieces of colored canvas dangling from them. He walked up to where a pair of Africans were standing with surveying equipment and went to work. Betty Lou followed, eyeing the Africans suspiciously, growling in the back of her throat as she passed them. Together, they studied the hillside changed slightly by the day's efforts, using the flags to mark what would be done the next day. The road was coming together, albeit slowly, located in the middle of nowhere. They'd started the highway project in Sidamo, connected to Addis Ababa by only the old gravel War Road, slowing the process down. The rainy season had been especially brutal in this regard. Rain washed out parts of the war road on a regular basis, delaying the flow of supplies, the laying of fresh blacktop slowing down to an inch-by-inch crawl.

August watched the native workers clear the blast site, standing alone of a bare tuft of ground besieged by the highland wind. He paced back and forth, moving slowly toward where Floyd worked as if he was being pulled so slightly in his motions by gravity, if gravitational pull was given out by his fellow white men.

"You are American, jah?" August asked. Floyd knew he knew the answer, it'd came up only minutes ago, but he resigned himself to the plea for conversation. "Yes." he said.

"You hear about the Imperial decree about Americans?"

"Yep." Floyd had heard it. He wasn't disturbed. After all, he had no interest in leaving.

"You know the story of Theodore the Second?"

Floyd sniffed. He drove a flag into the ground where he'd been gestured to do so. "Maybe? I haven't paid attention to history."

August's face lit up. "Well, you see, two hundred years ago Muslim warlords overran the old Abyssinian Empire, and they entered a tribal period... a sort of warring states era. All the Rases were at war with the Muslim warlords, and they at war with each other. Then, a hundred years ago or so, a Christian warlord named Theodore came to power and united all the tribes and brought Abyssinia back together. He brought in European advisors and teachers to improve Ethiopia. So the Europeans brought new guns and ideas, but Theodore wanted more guns then they gave him. He wanted cannons. So he started writing letters to the monarchs of Europe, worried what would happen if his enemies received better weapons than him. He became paranoid, starting locking up the families of anybody he thought may be his enemy. Soon the entire country hated him, so he became more desperate for European weapons. He asked his European advisors to build him cannons. When they said they could not, he locked them in prison along with the Ethiopian nobles, and he tried to ransom them to the European monarchies in exchange for better weapons. You can see now how this is like the boy Emperor Sahle, jah?"

"I guess."

"Queen Victoria wouldn't have that. She sent an expedition to save their imprisoned countrymen. They came thinking it would be like a war, that they would have to fight their way into the interior, but when the British arrived they found the entire country hated Theodore, so the Abyssinians just guided the British to the mountain castle where the mad Emperor was hold up, helped carry their baggage and everything. And..." August tittered, "They brought the guns. Only, not to give over of course."

"Don't think it'll be like all that." Floyd replied. He watched worried as Betty Lou went up the hill, nose to the ground.

"I hope not. The British won of course. Theodore had to commit suicide."

Floyd was no longer paying attention to German. He put his hands to his mouth and yelled. "Betty Lou! Get down here!" His voice was harsh, causing some of the Ethiopians to stare at him, watching him for his intentions.

"There are things in those woods." the German laughed. "But do not worry. I have this." He patted his gun.

The sun went below the wood-line and the air cooled down. Worked came to an end. Women from the village brought fresh bread and vegetables for their men. Floyd watched the women, wearing homespun dresses, feet bare and caked in mud, hair wrapped in turbans and scarfs. There had been a time when Floyd though of finding a woman and settling down, living like a normal man. Seeing the simple relationships play out between the Ethiopians, the men smiling as they saw their wives or sister or whoever it was who brought food for them, reminded Floyd of what he was missing. His heart felt the pang of that loss. But nothing could be done. He was detached now, an observer in this world, not a participant. This fact, something he accepted as simply as he accepted gravity or Newton's laws, soothed the feeling of loss. He reached down and rubbed behind Betty Lou's ear.

Most of the men went home with their women, but some of the younger men stayed behind, camping near the freshly laid black top in spite of, or maybe because of, its acrid stink of tar and modernity. August and Floyd had their own tents away from the Africans, where they sat on folding canvas chairs with crates for tables. The two men opened cans of tinned meat, eating it with some of the bread given to them by the Africans. August shared a bottle of wine. The insect song of late afternoon serenaded them as they ate. August took an unmarked glass jar of white liquid. It looked like pus, and Floyd watched as August took some and spread it on his bread. It was strange, like watching a man spread jam on a steak.

"You want some?" August asked.

"What is it?"

"Hippopotami lard." he said, "It's sweet. A bush delicacy. I lived on it when I was in the Schutztruppe."

"No thanks." Floyd replied, looking to his own meal. The two men enjoyed a few moments of quiet. The silence seemed to itch at the German, because he soon again broke it.

"The Abyssinians are too friendly to the Communists, nein? The Commandant would have cleared BEA of their communists if the Abyssinians were not protecting them."

"I don't know much about the politics." Floyd gave a piece of gelatin covered beef to Betty Lou, who's wide eyes followed his every move as sharply as a sniper following his victim.

"They are children. I think that is the problem. They are men of course too, these negroes I mean. Real men. If you pit a single negro against a single white man, especially a European white man, in any game of manly skill, I will bet on the success of the negro. Every time. But as a society? Huh. They don't have that quite yet. There isn't the chivalric tradition. They didn't go through the history. That is how they are children."

"Abyssinia?"

"Abysinnia has the tradition. This is true. This is a real country I think. But the other negro countries are not advanced enough yet. They are still foolish. That's why they like communism."

"I've never been to Europe, I cannot make the comparison." Floyd wasn't looking up at the German anymore. He scratched behind Betty-Lou's ears.

"Europe is shit. The countries are too advanced, no longer make men. You go to Europe and the manliest men you'll meet are old soldiers who think hunting partridges in the forest park is a sport. In a few decades, they'll say reading a newspaper is sport! They have no country any more. Look at this. In front of us. You can't get this in Europe so easy! There, this would be polluted by many perfect little roads and manicured little inns, and industrial parks, and railroads crisscrossing and shit and shit and shit!. No, there is no real country in Europe. It's all in Africa, and the Americas. I know your people still have country. They still have men, no? Men like your Theodore Roosevelt? The white men of Europe are wasted. The true white man lives in Africa and America now. And... uh, the name of that place... Australia. There too."

"So America and Australia are the only civilizations?"

"And Ostafrika of course. And Rhodesia." The German raised his wooden cup. "To America."

"To Ostafrika." Floyd mimicked. He felt out of place toasting, but when in Rome...

They went into their canvas tents to sleep. Floyd slept with Betty Lou, while August brought in his shotgun, promising that he would be ready for whatever had been scaring the natives. It took a long time for Floyd to sleep. That was normal for him since the war. There was something unnatural about the darkness anymore, a feeling that it hid enemy operatives, or that any unfamiliar sound was the bombers coming back to repeat the massacre in Denver. How strange it was he dreamt evil dreams of things his own side did during the war. That was the way of the thing. What kept him up wasn't the politics after all. It was the creative bloodshed, the horrible industrial efficiency of it all. Sometimes he didn't feel like a man, but like a single stalk of grain, standing alone, open for anything to mow him down.

When he did sleep, it wasn't satisfying. His dreams were red and filled with bad memories. He relived the death of comrades over and over again every night. He knew they would only truly die when he did, and he resigned himself to that truth. But it was when the sound of bombs returned, when his head echoed with explosions that'd went silent decades earlier, that was when he woke up. He repeated this process several times a night. Every night. And he would do this forever. When the dreams were too much, he shot up, clothes soaked, the air around him humid and stifling except for the breeze through the open tent flap. He didn't weep. This was normal. Beside breathing heavy, Floyd did nothing but stare into the darkness, feeling alone, and feeling like this was the way it was supposed to be.

It took him a moment to realize Betty Lou was gone. He crawled out of the tent and into night-time Africa.

The wilderness was dark. There was no electricity for dozens of miles, and the only thing to light the night were the stars and the moon. He put on his boots, wearing only them and his long underwear. "Betty Lou!" he yelled. His voice was hoarse from sleep. He stumbled to the back of the truck and felt for a flashlight. The light flickered on. In the wild dark, the beam was strong and well defined, a thin strip of daylight in the middle of an endless nowhere.

"Betty Lou!"

He marched toward the forest, the light hitting the wall of deep green and stopping dead, hiding who knows what. Enemy patrols? He put that ridiculous thought of his mind.

He heard barking. His uncertain march became a gallop. Plants slapped him as he pushed his way past.

"Betty Lou!"

He heard her again, barking, growling, then a blood-curdling whine. She was crying. He heard something else. It was a monster sound, the slobbering growl associated with any man-eating creature in the dark. He held tight to his flash-light and ran forward.

"Betty Lou!"

He crashed through the underbrush into a clearing. His bare arms and face stung, and he was breathing heavy. Something out of sight growled, and the sound made all his hairs stand on end. The beam of light hit where red blood stained the muddy ground. Floyd's heart jumped into his throat, then sank down like the sun. Betty Lou lay motionless in that puddle, her fur caked in blood. He started to run to her, but the growl became a violent feline roar. His light shot upward, where he saw a leopard posed in a tree, mouth wide open, pink tongue and bloody fangs bared for him to see. He froze in spot and watched in horror as the cat hopped down, standing over Betty Lou's body, moving slowly toward the unarmed man. Its spotted fur was vivid, almost bright in the beam of the flashlight.

The natives had known something was here. He hadn't seen them camping when he came out to look for Betty Lou. They'd sensed the danger and went home, because they knew better. Floyd held his flashlight like a club. The big cat sounded like an idling motorcycle as it stalked toward him.

The forest exploded all at once. Floyd didn't have time to see what had happened. He fell to his belly instinctively, his ears ringing, images of fire and blood flashing through his mind like a slideshow project possessed by death. His hands crawled over the back of his head, checking for blood, pushing his face into the mud.

"Scheizkerl!" he heard a familiar voice. The cat growled again, but their was a second explosion. A shot! The old German was laughing.

Floyd pushed himself up and plucked his flashlight from the mud. The first thing he saw was the corpse of the leopard, its face blown apart as if it'd been caught by an airplane's propeller. He swept the light to where Betty Lou was, and saw the shirtless German crouching over the dog.

"Your hound's alive." he pronounced, "And a hunting hound too! Look what a prize I just bagged!"

"Alive!" Floyd said. He was aware of his heart beating again.

"It took a beating, but I've seen dogs be dealt worse by badgers and live to howl about it. We'll have to be careful moving her."

Floyd was over her. Her wounds were ugly bleeding gashes, hard to tell how deep they were. But she was breathing. She was breathing, and she was softly whimpering. "It did a number on you, girl." he said to her, running his fingers through the fur between her ears. "But you got it. Look over. You got it."
----------------------------------------------------
Late July: Swahili People's Republic
----------------------------------------------------

"The world complains at what happened in Mombasa! Where was this clamor when the legions of Europe ravaged Africa? Where were the shrieks of the moralists, the condemnations of the Ostkaiser? Why is it we who have been handled with injustice must walk meekly like children when enemies of the revolution resist? If there is not justice for all, there is no justice at all, and no wrong can be done by the warriors of a better world!"


The voice came wrapped in static through the cockpit radio. Murungaru grinned. It was a familiar voice, the deep dramatic roar of Chairman Lutalo, coming over the airwaves from Revolution-Town's own tower. Finally, after a long time in Kisumu, Africa's red army was coming home.

Lake Victoria spread out forever under the three big-bellied seaplanes, Chinese made Féi é. These were the largest prop planes Murungaru had ever seen, more like airships in size. They produced a deep-throated bumblebee hum that pervaded their steel fuselages. The outsides were scrappy and dented, save for the massive red stars on their sides, and the communist graffiti covering their easy to reach underbellies like barnacles do on ships. They were so large that the cockpits could fit several dozen people. Murungaru stood next to Li Huan, behind Agricola and his co-pilot, watching with arms crossed. The radio was completely swallowed by some unintelligible message, a static stew.

"Look!" Li Huan shouted. Her stiff Houist uniform made her appear younger by contrast, and her voice was high pitched and bubbly. "Land!"

"That's the city." Agricola agreed. Murungaru saw it, a pearl on the horizon guarded by swampy islands. Agricola grabbed the radio's microphone. "Revolution Town, this is Red Leader, code 1917, are we clear to land?"

There was a pause. "Yes Bwana. Welcome home!"

Agricola nodded as if the man on the other side could see him. "Reds, we are coming in. Let's bring these fat birds down one at a time, comrades. One at a time."

A pause.

"Red 1 copy that, comrade."

"Red 2 copy."

The propaganda radio came back, now playing music. Murungaru smiled when he heard an American song, one he recognized from a record collection they'd taken in Mombasa. He'd sent it ahead on a small plane loaded with special loot, a first taste of conquest for Revolution-Town. It was played now as if Communism had liberated it, made this music its own, another thing saved from those coastal ruins of capitalist decadence.

"Come on over baby
Whole lot of shakin' going on"


"We're bring her down. Sit down, hold on." Agricola's German-accented English sounded thicker than usual. Everyone obeyed.

"Yes I said come on over baby
Baby you can't go wrong"


"Here we go." the vessel rattled as it descended, steel chattering. Murungaru doubted whether it was safe. Everyone looked quietly at one another, hands wrapped tight around whatever they could grab.

"We ain't faking
Whole lot of shakin' going on"


The craft shuttered as they powered down and came closer to the water. Agricola guffawed. "Landing on smooth water is dangerous. But good thing for us, these things won't let the water be smooth."

"Well I said come on over baby
We got kickin' in the barn"


"Why is smooth water dangerous? I thought that was good." Li Huan yelled. Her small voice barely overcame the engines.

"Come over baby
Baby got the bull by the horn"


"When the water is like a mirror you can't see where it is, just the reflection of the sky. But look." They all looked out and saw how the plane's massive propellers disturbed the lake below them, sending white sheets rippling toward the shore. Tan Egyptian geese took flight in every direction escaping this new monster bird.

"We ain't fakin'
Whole lot of shakin' going on"


They came closer, and closer, the engines slowing down more. They seemed to hover over the water for a good long while. Then, all at once, the craft shuddered worse than before, skipping over the water, helping to slow it down. They felt as if they were being jerked forward. Steel whined.

"Well I said shake it baby shake
I said shake it, baby shake
I said shake it, baby shake it
Said shake, baby shake
Come on over
Whole lot of shakin' going on"


They came to a stop in front of the marble walls of Revolution-Town. It was a strange sight, like a theme-park version of ancient Rome, a manic cluster of gleaming white buildings crammed into a square mile or so on a peninsula guarding the bay into Kampala. It'd been rushed together in that sweet grace period when the revolution was at its zenith, before the Anarchists and Reactionaries rended everything apart and brought civil war to the People's Republic. On some of the marble was painted the faces of great revolutionary leaders: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Hou Sai Tang, James Lutalo. These faces were tarnished by the spray from the lake, and from the hot African sun, but even though they were pale and chipped in some places, they still looked on, watching the southern horizon with determination, perhaps looking out for lake-born reactionaries. There were opening in the walls that led to the beach, places where floating docks jutted out. Those places were crawling with people, pushing out trawlers and boats and make-shift rafts, ready to receive what the pregnant-bellied seaplanes birthed.

They were drifting now as the plane turned around, facing the direction it came, it's comrade planes circling above.

"We must thank Comrade Hou for the seaplanes." Murungaru said dispassionately, turning to Li Huan, her wide eyes and wider smile warming his heart.

"What is the first thing I should see?" she asked.

"What?"

She blushed. "I'm sorry. You think I'm silly, but... this is just so magical! A city in the jungle!"

"Let's go see it. I'll tell you what to look for." he said. She went in front of him, following the pilots.

They walked out onto the wing, stepping carefully on the slick steel surface. A seaplane circled above while another lowered for a landing, creating two conflicting droning roars that drowned out all other sounds. The lake gave off a wet, fishy scent. Below, boats and rafts took to the water, piloted by casually uniformed soldiers and men in civilian dress, moving like sharks in the direction of the hatches. A rope ladder was thrown down, hovering over a small boat. They descended.

Work began immediately. Soldiers hiding in the hold of the craft joined their lake-born comrades in unloading the loot. There were crates, and piles, and bundles, and boxes. The larger items, mostly furniture or vehicles, were carried out one at a time. A Handwerker Familienwagen was pushed onto a log raft by a half dozen people, the raft bobbing back and forth, nearly tipping and taking the car with it.. Murungaru saw that the ocean spray had power-washed away the graffiti from the fat gut of the plane, leaving only smears of paint and the dripping communist star.

"Look!" he heard Li Huan call out. He looked up and saw who had captured her eye. Standing at the edge of the docks was the figure of Chairman James Lutalo, the sun gleaming off his polished breastplate. Murungaru felt about this reunion the same way the working man in the trap of capitalism must feel when coming back to their exploitative boss. It was the price he had to pay. The price of revolution.

Lutalo saluted as the second plane slowed to a stop further down the coast. With a megaphone, he accompanied the salute with a familiar hymn.

"Arise you people from your slumbers
Arise you prisoners of want."

Lutalo didn't really sing, more like barked, but the soldiers drilled to this song did sing it, belting it out in manly voices like a warcry.

"Humanity in revolt now thunders!
Now ends the age of cant!
Away with all your superstitions!
Enslaved masses arise, arise!
We’ll change all the bad traditions!
And fight the dust to win the prize!"


At the refrain, everybody joined in, and the entire lake rang with voices louder than the third plane touching down behind them.

"So comrades, come rally!
And the last fight let us face!
The Internationale unites the human race!"


There was a cry, shouts and ululations, celebrating the song as if by merely singing it caused everything it it's lyrics to have already happened. The singing stopped just as they reached the mossy edge of the dock.

"General Secretary Murungaru! The people welcome you!" Lutalo bellowed.

"They honor me." Murungaru replied. They were brought up onto the dock, Lutalo helping them personally, big hands pulling them up one at a time.

"I am humble to meet you, great Chairman Lutalo." Li Huan bowed. Lutalo, standing nearly twice as tall as the slender Asian, seemed to inflate at this greeting.

"Revolution-town welcomes you, little prize." The Chairman said. They walked into the compound, along a path of stone.

"There is not a thing like this in China." Li Huan complimented.

"You like it? It is the vision I had for the people, and the people have made it so."

Murungaru felt burning jealousy in that moment, and that jealousy chipped away at the edifice of Revolution-Town Lutalo was so busy praising. He saw how the buildings seemed compact, sort of squeezed together and stunted in side as if they were miniatures of real monuments. He saw the Parthenon-style structure called the Temple of the People's Will, which Lutalo had ordered constructed out of limestone and white dalati marble, but when it turned out not white enough to his liking, he had the beautiful stone whitewashed, the paint now chipping on the humiliated edifice.

"These are the homes of our most important party members." Lutalo pointed to a row of six colonial style homes.

"Mine is the second from us." Murungaru interrupted, placing his hand on her shoulder. "If you go there, I will be with you soon."

"I want to see more!"

"Soon, little prize." Lutalo interrupted, "But there is important business for us to conduct."

"I'll take her." Agricola said. Murungaru nodded and watched as the aging German led the beauty away.

"Murungaru, I sensed you were worried I would take your girl?" Lutalo teased.

"You have sensed the wrong thing, Mister Chairman. I am only wondering now what business you are talking about."

Lutalo went from playful to somber. "Come then and follow me, Mister Secretary. We have bad news. I don't want to tell it, but you have to hear." They went inside Senate of the People's will, a compact and rather bland romanasque building who's only outstanding features were its dome and a number of inexplicably placed carvings of laurel sprigs.

Inside was no bigger than a classroom, designed as a stepwell of stone benches leading down to a likewise stone podium. It all was the same color, an image harsh on the eyes broken only by the red ceiling with its Houist star, and broken by the solid figure of Paulo Madada, party treasurer, standing near a bench.

"We are all here together!" Lutalo announced, "The great brains of revolution, eh? This is good. We have a problem to work out." Lutalo pulled a charred piece of wood from a holster Murungaru had assumed to hold a pistol. "This is a gift our enemy left for us." he slammed it on the bench, leaving a black charcoal smear.

"You carried that thing with you?" Murungaru asked, "What kind of joker do you think you are? We did not need a show!"

"Shush, mister Secretary." Lutalo said. "This was left behind by the Freedom Army of God. They burned the village of Nabiswara, and they crucified all of the Muslims they could capture and sent everybody else fleeing. Three revolutionary soldiers were murdered."

Murungaru said nothing. He felt like he'd been shot in the gut.

"This is the second raid the Freedom Army of God has conducted south of the Victoria Nile." Madada added.

"Why would they be so aggressive?" Murungaru finally said. He felt himself going hot. He wanted to march out now, to bring war to the religious freaks. Lutalo seemed to catch Murungaru's flaring temper, as the Chairman's eyes lit up too. "Our enemies are becoming one thing. If we wait too long to destroy them, they will overpower us." Lutalo said.

Murungaru slammed a fist onto the nearby stone bench. It made no sound. "This is what comrade Marx warned us about the anarchists. They have no theory. They will fight everything we do and destroy the revolution!"

"Are we so certain Hondo-Demissie has anything to do with this? It could be a coincidence." Madada warned.

"Perhaps it is a coincidence, though I doubt it is..." Murungaru said, "But what does it matter? Either our enemies are working together and Hondo-Demissie has betrayed the revolution, or they are not working together but Hondo-Demissie is looking the other way as reactionaries do great murders. In both situations the answer is the same. Our enemies must be destroyed! We marched on the white people in Mombasa, though they had many friends and the world was against us, and we wiped their fortress from the face of the earth..."

"Fine work." Madada said "The world hates us for that. They point and say 'look, they are communist and black so they are savage, and this proves it!'"

"You do not have the balls for revolution!" Murungaru shouted. His voiced echoed through the small marble room.

"Let us not fight each other." Lutalo said, "We do not need this sort of thing, no? I agree with Murungaru. We need to destroy our enemies. But our enemies are crafty. It will not be an easy war."

"The problem is at the source." Murungaru said. "The Freedom Army is evil, but it will crumble. The real evil is the anarchists. We must focus on Marcel Hondo-Demissie. We must destroy him and unite the left! Then the reactionaries will fall."

"I would like revenge for what they did to me at the Nabakazi river." Lutalo smiled, slapping Murungaru on the back, "I was hoping that was what I would hear! Come then. Madada, do we have a unanimous agreement?"

Madada shrugged. "I have a feeling this is an incomplete plane. But you are the warriors, so I bow to your decision."

"Let's wipe that little booger out of the jungle then, eh?" Lutalo laughed.

Murungaru said nothing. His blood was hot. He wanted to go back to his home, to find Li Huan, and to have her like he'd never had a woman before. He wanted this so bad he was nearly shaking. After that, it would be time to plan a war. Then something came to mind.

"Yes." he said, "I know the tools to do it. There is a friend to the revolution..." he paused for a second, "There are medicines that make warriors fight like supernatural things. I know how to get them."
((Collab with Wyrm))

What is it you call the dead when they come alive? They were ghosts, or ghosts of corpses, bloodied, bloated, and grey, dressed in tattered leathers, boots rotting off their feet, pus oozing through the holes in their broken bodies. Blood poured like water from a crater in the stomach of the big bearded one, and his eyes were white and clouded. A smaller man with a torso peppered in bloody spots walked beside him. But their leader, that... that thing, he was the worse of all. The top of his head had been blown off entirely, shot away as if by a howitzer shell, stringy gore and broken skull like eggshells in the pulp where his brain had once been. There were no eyes anymore, and blood poured from his goblet-like top as he walked. These ghouls, night-visions of a horrific unknown dream, the fevered imaginations a wrinkled debtera might tell children to warn them away from cemeteries, they walked together alone in a desolate desert landscape. They were Highway Rangers. She knew it. Whats worse, she felt like she recognized them. The world around them, rock and dust and the bricks and planks of forgotten homesteads, seemed to fracture and break like pieces of glass as they walked, rearranging all around them, a landscape uncertain what it wanted to be. The creature with half a head still had lips, and they seemed to babble something, random cracking sounds interspersed with the sick gurgling of a drowning man. The sounds came together into words which she wasn't sure about. The words became ideas, and formed into something familiar in her mind until it became a song. It was as if the creature had grabbed hold of something in her subconscious and yanked it out of her.

Yes, I'm gonna walk on that milky white way
Oh Lord, some of these days


It started as a cracked sentence, but soon it picked up a melody, and a band, and the ghouls walked in harmony with the song.

Well, I'm gonna walk that milky white way
Some of these days, well, well, well, well


The landscape broke below them, and their walk turned seamlessly into a descent. Fire lapped from below them. They were walking down a staircase like a basalt formation, and it led straight into the pit.

I'm gonna walk up and take my stand
Gonna join that Christian band
I'm gonna walk on that milky white way
Oh Lord, some of these days


The fires burst forth and blackened the dead things. Blood boiled over the half-head of the singer, pouring over the top like Victoria Falls. The creature smiled, seemingly at her, though she didn't think she was there for it to see. It licked its lips, face basking in rising hell-light, and a grin curled across its peeling face.

She woke up.

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Mid July: Madrid, Spain
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Taytu was recovering in America before politics happened to her. Her brother chose to overreact, and she'd been sent out of the country to Rome where one of the best doctors in Europe was prepared to help her, but fever overtook her over the Atlantic. Instead they landed in Spain, a country she knew little about, as infection ravaged her and made it difficult to think, or to remember.

How silly would it be to die over this? A bullet wound from some commoner in the American desert?

Her ribs felt like gelatin. She stayed still, afraid to move, afraid to cause the pain, though the entire back of her body felt as if ten thousand little pins and needles were trying to push her up and force her to move. She fell in and out of consciousness, aware only of the odor in the room, a mix of her own sweat, of soap, and a sickly dank scent like rotting paper in an old library. The walls were the yellow of old parchment, the mattress thin on a harsh metal frame. Her nurses were nuns, women dressed in thick white cotton, their habits hiding their hair, their pale faces having the pudgy softness of sexless creatures who'd given up on themselves long ago.

Her dreams were horrible. They were shifting deserts and plagues of the dead. She dreamed of the death of family members, of the disease that ate her father, of forlorn battlefields littered with brutalized remains left behind the angels of war to rot in the open air. She was aware of Noh Mareko, appearing occasionally, talking to her, saying nothing she could remember. What she mostly remembered was that rotten paper stench. It seemed to grow, become mixed with a putrid smell like rotting flesh. How much time had went on like this? It seemed like months, though she'd lost track somewhere in Nevada. She was relieved when a nun helped her into a squeaky wheelchair and pushed her out onto the balcony. The pain was fading by then, but the medicine dripping into her veins from a glass bottle hung on a pole kept her numb and only half conscious. How long had that medicine been there? It was in this state she saw the sun for the first time in what seemed like a year. Her face felt flush in the intense heat, and the light hurt her eyes and made her squint.

There it was all in front of her. Madrid, that antithesis of American ambition and futurism. Europe had deflected the alteration of their culture coming from across the Atlantic, swallowing the modern world and regurgitating it into something more fitting to old dignities. The high rises and flashing commercial wonder of New York City was narrowly reflected in a different light, replaced with somber neo-gothic architecture, a city of high rises like cathedrals and basilicas to material need, the streets neat and orderly. It was, essentially, a good catholic city, the church spires hardly distinguishable from towers of industry and finance. This gave it a dignity, but also an Imperial harshness.

She came back slowly over the course of the week. She learned she was at Hospital de San Sebastián el Mártir, not far from the city center. Sleep was the only thing she had to do most of the time, but twice a day the kindly nuns helped her outside, and she spent a moment watching the city. Airships came and went slowly, the native transport of a culture that saw leisurely slowness as a natural part of dignity. She noticed the soldiers in the street, and noticed how nobody else seemed to notice them. Madrid was crawling with uniformed military men, guarding crossroads, checking papers in front of government buildings, stationed on busy roads just... watching. She knew something was happening, a slight impression, something she'd heard in her sickness, or perhaps just intuition. But what was it? Spain didn't seem to mind. It went by casually, the people perhaps slightly slower and more venerable in their way then Americans, but casual all the same.

Noh came back to her in her room. When she saw him, the airiness of her situation went away. She felt grounded to the world again. Vulnerable.

"What am I doing here?" she demanded of him. Her voice was weak. She could feel it, and it bothered her.

"You had an infection." he said. She'd already knew that, but she looked thoughtful as if this was new information.

"I didn't make it to Rome." she stated.

"No."

"Where were you?"

"It's hard for me to get through."

"Through?"

"The blockades. Soldier blockades. I'm a foreigner, so they deny me entry most of the time. They are real tough around here since... well, you don't know about it."

"What?"

"There was..." Noh bent down, his expression pensive, maybe a tinge afraid. "The King has replaced his government. The military has helped him."

"There was a coup." Taytu said blandly.

"Shh! We are guests."

"We are dignitaries." she said, "And I've just been shot. Do you suppose everybody wants to put a bullet in me? It's a coup. They won't want to cause an international incident."

"I do not know. I wouldn't want to know. There is a rumor a German nobleman was murdered."

This piece of information made her pause. A smart revolutionary, one who had the competence to be a true statesman, will leave a foreign dignitary alone. No reason in raising international ire. But the problem with revolution is that they don't guarantee deserving leaders. What sort of creature might be lifted out of the gutter, their idea of government based on fairy tales and things they read about in books, to be made King until Darwinian nature intervened and plucked them from the throne? She might be caught in a burp of history, unlucky enough to be put to death by a someone forgettable.

"Have you informed the embassy?"

"They know you are here and are doing what they can, but I get it they are confused."

Confused. Naturally. It was a revolution. Who could you trust?

"Tell them I'm awake." she said, "I want to speak with the Ambassador. Whats his name?"

"Dejazmach Wendem Cherkos."

The name was familiar. She could put a face to him. A nobleman, not a man she knew well, but still a man she knew. "Get him. I don't want to be stuck in this country much longer." Noh left her in the company of the taciturn nuns.

Silence has a sound. Its like hushed air, and the long echoes of every little thing nobody pays attention to in a normal setting. She was awake now, anxious, uncomfortable with this strange atmosphere. With no radios in the building, she could hear whispering old nuns from the other side of the hall. She heard moans from fellow patients. Sometimes, when the silence grew so loud the air could be heard like static, she swore she could hear screaming. Tortured souls? No wonder these people were Catholic. Or was she dreaming this too?

Still, she was feeling better. Healing was no longer a problem. She was left in a strange despair that seemed ridiculous to her. Bored, not five minutes after Noh had left her, she struggled to hike her gown up her side so she could see the wound that had cost her so much pain and time. It was there, just above the jut of her hip bone, looking like some strange formation on the moon. Her entire side was discolored and bruised black around the webbing formation of scar tissue, at the center a brutal scab. Seeing it made it sting.

"No no!" a nun rushed in. "No no no!" The camel-faced woman grabbed her hard by the bottom of her gown and tugged down with some force, and Taytu realized she'd exposed more than just her hip. But what did it matter? She glared at the nun until the unhappy woman retreated, leaving her alone again, in the quiet with her wheeling thoughts.

An image appeared real quick and unformed in her mind of cracked lips and blood. Her heart twinged with fear. Was she going insane?

She couldn't just stay here. Noticing the wheelchair in the corner, she made a hasty decision. She pulled herself out of bed, her limbs feeling suddenly weak as if she were old and invalid, he side bursting in artillery shells of pain. When her bare feet felt the cold linoleum floor, her legs seemed to beg her to put them back in bed, but she persisted, and rose like Lazarus from the dead. The pain followed her march to the chair, feeling as if she were being folded sideways. She imagined herself to look like a leper, haggard, skeletal, an entirely broken woman, but none of that mattered so long as she could reach the shining excellence that was that ancient wheelchair. She sat in it, propping her good side against the bar, letting her spiking pain subside.

When she was comfortable, she started to roll. It was work, especially dragging the awkward pole and bottle with her so it didn't tug at her arm. The wheels whined with every turn, and her arms were shaking, but she kept it moving until she was in the hall.

It was a well kept hospital for all its depressing faults. The walls and floor were clean and maintained, decorated with the occasional crucifix or muted painting of a praying saint. She wheeled herself past nuns and white-coat doctors. They didn't seem to mind. She passed a young soldier standing guard, brown uniform and cap, in front of a closed door. What was that about? The coup? It didn't matter. She was looking for outside, for a world beyond the smell of old paper and ether. Her blood seemed to know where it was. She followed it and the memory of sunlight on her skin.

When she found the door to the balcony, it gave her energy, and she turned the wheels with more vigor. A kindly old nun opened the door and she was out. The Spanish sun struck her immediately, and it made her feel well again. She was outside! On the street below she could see soldiers. Someone somewhere was strumming a guitar. It reached her like a sound she wasn't supposed to hear, overcoming the car noises in the busy street, hitting her ear as if it were just around the corner. A yellow and black checkered airship hovered lazily over the hills to the north. She closed her eyes, let the sun shine its cozy orange light through her eyelids, and smothered the anxiety inside herself.

Somewhere, at some time, a church bell started, and a dozen more answered all at once. She was vaguely aware that she was cold. The world faded away.

She was in a small sort of airship at night, standing on an outdoor platform made of steel surrounding the balloon, a number of soldiers with her, floating just above the treeline. She knew she was an American, but how that had happened she didn't know. They were all holding heavy rifles. A grizzled veteran standing next to her was singing to himself.

I feel so bad I got a worried mind
I'm so lonesome all the time
Since I left my baby behind
On Blue Bayou


The moon was gone, and the darkness was nearly total. The landscape was dark blotches and shadows against a deep dark blue.

"Wake up." a gruff voice whispered, "When we start, we'll be sitting ducks. Toast or be toasted."

Saving nickles, saving dimes
Working til the sun don't shine
Looking forward to happier times
On Blue Bayou


"Is that? That's them! Toast them!"

They all started shooting at shadows below. She could vaguely make out the reflection of their fusillade against the sides of trucks.

"Cajun chickens!" one man screamed manically, "Bok bok bok bok!"

The singers voice became something of a shout.

I'm going back someday!
Come what may!
To Blue Bayou!
Where the folks are fun!
And the world is mine!
On Blue Bayou!


She became aware that some of the dark figures scrambling beneath them were Highway Rangers. Her finger pulled hard against the trigger. So hard that it hurt.

Enemy gunfire pinged against the armored gut of their airship. But something heavier belched further ahead, flashing like a red star in the black swamp, and moments later the air behind them burst into flame.

She woke up, breathing heavy, the night completely silent around her, sweat on her brow. It took her several seconds to realize it was another nightmare. She was in Spain, in bed, safe, but she knew there would be no sleeping again tonight. She stared at the shadowed ceiling and listened to the drip of liquid from the bottle hooked up next to her. The drip had a rhythm, like a metronome keeping time for a silent orchestra. It seemed to go on forever until she disappeared from it.

The next morning, she was wakened by a worried looking nun. "There is someone here to see you." she said, "Are you well?"

Noh. She didn't see him, but he must have got the ambassador through. "Yes." she croaked, pulling herself up. The nun grabbed the sheet and pulled it up to Taytu's neck, then scurried off. There wasn't a wait, the person was just outside the door, and it wasn't somebody she recognized.

The woman who stepped through the door and in that sterile white room was as out of place in Spanish Madrid as Taytu herself. There was an air of confidence to the woman that Taytu almost envied as a hovering nurse was shooed out of the room with a stern word or two in broken Spanish. Her visitor was, almost unbelievably, a black woman. Even beneath the politely ankle length dress and high collar Taytu could still see that this woman was incredibly fit and found herself returning the broad smile.

As she swept into the room the faint smell of roses came with her, cutting through the sterile smell of disinfectant. She was pretty, well dressed, but in a way that Taytu recognized as being entirely forgettable. It was no accident, of that Taytu was sure, and in her experience only one group of people dressed like that, intelligence agents and spies.

"Your Majesty, I am Sara Reicker. I bring you the warmest regards of Viceroy Delgado and be apologizes for not being able to attend to you personally." The woman spoke flawless Amharic, though her dialect was slightly off, she was clearly from somewhere south of Ethiopia, Rhodesia maybe. She bowed her head slightly, enough to be polite. "How are you?"

"Miserable." Taytu complained. "This isn't the quality lodgings I'm used to."

“It is a shame then that your companion didn’t disclose your true identity to us sooner.” Sara smiled broadly, a smile that failed to reach her eyes. “The Viceroy has placed a small palace at your disposal if you wish.”

"Am I free to leave this country if I choose?" Taytu said wearily.

Sara looked confused for a moment. "Of course. Why would you not be?"

"I'd like to meet with the Ambassador from my country. Can that be arranged?"

"Your majesty is not a prisoner. You have but to ask the nurses to use a phone. Since you seem intent on ignoring my generous offer, think about it, and call me when you have made up your mind." Sara stood and then placed a stamped card on the table. It bore only a phone number and the words Foreign Office. "Until then, your majesty."

"Wait." Taytu said, throat dry. "I didn't deny anything. I want to meet with my ambassador. Here is fine. So is this palace."

"Then I will send word for him to meet us there." Sara had paused in the doorway but now turned back again and barked something in angry Spanish. The nuns appeared quickly and Taytu could not miss the hint of fear on their faces. They conferred for a moment Sara, their strangely pale faces in stark contrast to her black one, then they nodded and hurried into the room to help Taytu dress.

He ran, feet conforming to the red earth they knew so well, that he'd known since his birth. He no longer felt pain in that quarter, the ancient jigsaw rocks that littered to roots of the ambas and mountains having long ago cured his soles of their more delicate senses. It was normal for him to cover the rugged distances between the old monasteries of Wag province on a daily basis.

The rainy season was passing, farmers returning to their crops over washed out trails, struggling with ornery pack mules in the dense summer air. Wet dirt from the pockets and gullies not yet dried by the sun caked his feet and the fringes of his cotton tunic as he ran. The green scrub land smelled of vegetation and life, and sounded of birds.

In a cloth sack hanging from his shoulder was, a letter, addressed from the Abba of one monastery to another. Telegraphs didn't connect the small villages or the old places, being a miracle reserved for the budding cities as they grew into something unfamiliar to the older ways of life. Out here, a runner was the fastest form of communication, and young athletic monks the replacement for the phone line.

If the distance was too long, he couldn't complete it in one day. To run at night was foolish. There were lions on the prowl after sunset, and bandits, and far worse things. As a boy, he and his brother had seen an ugly thing swim a river near their village at dusk. He hadn't known how to describe it, but his brother had. "It was a buda" the older boy told their friends self-importantly, as if the experience had turned him into a wizened storyteller. "A man-hyena, searching for a child's skin to make into a shield." The wild places of the world held dangers like this after dark. There were budas, and witches, and falasha, and the ghosts of cursed men who'd fought in ancient wars during the times of Yodit. He would not run at night. When the sky went yellow and the sun crowned the mountains, he made sure he was near his home village, on those familiar trails, safe from the truly evil.

The hut he'd grown up in still stood, now the home of his elder brother and his family. His nephew and niece were playing with the goats in the pen, teasing them through the fence. When they saw him, they ran to catch up with him, mimicking his wide gait in their clumsy childish way, shouting his name as if it were a childhood game of its own.

His brother came out at the commotion, wearing a threadbare tunic and trousers, looking every bit the respectable farmer. That boyish face was still there, covered in a thin mask of wear it was true, but his eyes were unchanged. The two grown men smiled and embraced. Even though they had spent their youth together, any time he saw his older brother, the same memory always appeared. It was the night before he went to the priesthood, his brother leading him through the frightening twilight like a scout ahead of an army. It was a memory of darkness and fear, the appearance of the old witches hut on the edge of the river, the smell of her when he went inside and saw her undressed, the only time he'd saw the secret place between a woman's legs. She bragged to the village she was barren, that no man could put a baby in her, an invitation that might have made her an outcast if the people of the village didn't also believe deeply in her knowledge of magic. She was an eccentric, and a filthy person. She liked to argue with priests and elders in public. As he'd grown older, he'd became a member to the secret everybody knew, that every man in the village had lain with her, and that everyone pretended they hadn't. And so he took his turn before he joined a life of celibacy, that strange night in his youth at a time when he still felt much too young for such things. It was a living memory, or one that came alive when he recalled it, the fear mixed with animal like pleasure, the feeling of having slipped into some unnatural netherworld, the fear of being cursed. It was why, when he saw his brother, he felt joy and guilt and discomfort all in one odd emotional sensation.

"Have the old men made you into one of them yet?" His brother said, repeating the same line he said whenever they met, still making himself grin like the clever man he knew himself to be. Both men laughed the laugh of old friends just glad to be in one another's company.

His brothers wife watched them, smiling a soft empathetic smile, standing over a hot pan cooking over a fire. Smoke billowed dark and heavy from the wet kindling, making her eyes water. A thin pancake on injera cooked below, filling the air with its tangy sourdough scent, mixing together with the smell of the earth and the grassy scent of goat shit that wouldn't be appetizing to an outsider, but reminded him of home. The brother ordered the children to help their mother with the food, and the two men went inside. "I have something for your eyes" his brother said just as they left the red light of sunset behind and entered the musty hut.

The floor was made of the same red dirt outside, the simple handmade furniture peppered with dust and thatching. The walls were stone, and littered with small openings. A mosquito bit the runners neck. He swatted it and inspected his palm.

"Mosquitoes rule a great empire." his brother said, paraphrasing a Scottish missionary who'd visited their village when they were children. This quip about mosquitoes was all the elder brother had retained from those early theological lessons. He reached down and grabbed a piece of parchment from the table, handing it to the runner. "It is from our brother. I know his mark, I compared to the others. But I can't read the rest." The young monk looked down, scanning over the scribbled Amharic script.

"Brother." The young monk started to read out loud, his voice filling the small room, "I am in the Ogaden. My leader tells me that I cannot tell you where because it is an army secret. I eat well. The Somali women bring us food, and it is like what we eat at home, though just like all things in the Ogaden there is more sand in it than there should be. The wind blows sand everywhere, sometimes in big clouds, and we must cover our eyes. The other men are surprised I can write. I write for them sometimes. I wish I could write for the men from the city because their stories are so wonderful, but they already know how to write, so I only hear some. The country men pay me with parts of their rations. They say I will grow fat like a city writer! I do not grow fat though, because there is always work to do and patrols to walk on. I know our brother is reading this. He should come out here to be a priest. There are many Muslims who do not understand god, and he could teach them. I hope to see you when I am put on leave for Meskel. I pray for you."

The children came in with a stack of injera. Their mother followed holding aloft a pot of stew, bubbling and sticking to the container. The bread was served like plates and the stew piled in the center, a mess of greens and chili peppers with eggs poking up like lumps of marble. The brothers tore pieces of bread and used them to pinch the stew.

"What do you think? Is he useful in the Ogaden?" His brother asked, his wife slipping a wooden cup full of Tej, home brewed honey wine, next to him.

"I think his imperial majesty's service will make a man out of him." He said, a cup slipped next to him at well. It smelled heavy and dangerous, but he could vaguely smell that small nugget of sweet too, a mustard seed size of golden honey in a hive of bees, inviting him to drink despite the warnings.

"Maybe so, but what is there for him to do?"

"Fight shiftas? Or desert bandits?"

"There are big hairy wild men out there too, who used to fight naked for the mad mullah." His brother turned to the kids now and spoke in the mysterious voice of a traveling storyteller, "They tie knives to their manhoods and swing them at Christian soldiers, and grunt like monkeys like this." He puffed up his cheeks and made an apeish hooting noise.

The children laughed, but their mother did not. "This is not a story for children" she scolded. The runner smiled. "It is not a story for my ears either" he said. The others laughed. "Besides, the mad mullah has been dead for so long, his hairy wild men must be old now. Ras Hassan rules Adal now."

"The Mad Mullah's son! Just as mad!"

"I do not think so." The young monk said, unsure. "He is a subject of his imperial majesty".

"Impossible! Impossible! True subjects of the King Of Kings must be Christian. That is the law."

"These laws are too big for me." the runner surrendered.

"That is why you still have a brother! I am here to tell you these things!"

Their mirth carried into the night, when the darkness closed in and their village became a fortress against the dangers. The runner went to bed content, well fed, and happy to be alive.

--

He left when light first peaked. His sister in law was just waking. She handed him bread as he went out the door, into the fresh morning air, the smell of dew and goat shit strong. He inhaled deep, taking pleasure in the songs of birds and the solemn dignity of the red mountains rising up like monuments. And then he ran.

He ran non stop, past the forest where the old witch used to live, past a herd of cattle grazing along the road, past a babbling creek, and the smell of the village with all its pungent humanity. Fields went by, and rocky crags inhabited by goats. A troop of baboons sunned on the rocks and lazily watched him go by.

This felt more natural than walking sometimes. Stones and farms and trees went by. Fat baobabs acted like familiar markers. His breath reached a steady pace and stayed there. In the way a mariner might navigate by the stars, he navigated by the shapes of ambas he's passed hundreds of times before.

His arrival came mid afternoon, at the foot of a scrawny amba split by the flow of two small rivers. A dusty station seemed to lean against the incline. Further above, nestled in the rocky peak of the amba, was a serious of scrappy stone churches and houses. Here was Debre Melekot, his destination.

"You're going to have to wait your turn, young man." an elderly bent over debtera warned, shaking a weathered prayer stick. The old man was being helped into a basket by two young acolytes. Once inside, the old man looked absolutely ridiculous, like a baby goat stuffed into a satchel belly up. A long rope ran up the side of the cliff, which would be pulled by acolytes at the top once they got the signal, helping the old holy man up the sheer cliff. The runner made sure his satchel was secure. "I think I can make it on my own." he said. The debtera grinned like a devil, but said nothing.

So they went up together, a crazy pair, the old man in his basket, the young runner grasping for rocks as he climbed barefoot up the sheer face of the amba.

"I used to be able to do that too." the old man said.

"Yes, abba." the runner huffed, reaching for a rock.

"Old age is not kind to the body. It is a lesson we all must learn. You will learn it to."

"Yes, abba."

"Careful now, you'll fall. Now. When I was young, I climbed everything I could see. Ambas, mountains, trees. I don't know. It was easy."

"Yes..."

"Are you the young man the priests have been looking for?"

"What?" The runner stopped, hanging onto the vertical climb, watching the old man be jerked up in the swinging basket. The old man got above him and looked down at him like an ornery monkey from a tree.

"The government came looking. The King of Kings. You have an important summons."

"It's probably not me."

"You might be needed. Perhaps there is a princess in it for you. You will have to renounce your vow..."

"It's probably not me."

"Oh, we'll see." The old man looked up at the approaching faces of the acolytes looking down. He snapped at them as if they were machines that could speed up on command.

The runner was breathing heavy when he reached the top. Instead of running, he walked. Debre Melekot was a thin pathway along the edge of the amba, stone house dangling off the precipice, monks in cotton robes sitting folded up under rock-hangs watching him go by. The old debtera didn't seem to notice him any more, detained by an old friend he met among the monks, their creaking greetings falling behind the runner as he made his way to the church. It was a two-story building of stone and plaster, colorful crosses painted on the side. The runner pulled out his sealed message and went in.

Inside, a number of priests in black robes stood near the alter, talking to an ugly hunchback in military uniform. A new acolyte, unable to fit into army life?

"Ah!" the head priest said, "Ashenafi Werku". The runner smiled at being recognized and held out his message. The priest continued. "Let me introduce you to Tekwashi Girima, the great army hero! He is making his Imperial Majesty's Olympic team, and he heard about you!"

Ashenafi froze.

"You are a good runner?" the ugly creature said. For a second, the runner was reminded of that thing he'd seen so long ago when he was a child, that thing his brother had announced was a buda. A were-hyena.

"I run all the time." he said, surprised.

"Good. That is what his Imperial Majesty wants. You will come with me?"

"He will come with you." the priest beamed, "It is the will of God that brought you so far!"
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