Home is Where...
Three years ago“She’s dead. All of them are.” Tom Beartooth could still see the dark blood stains across the ground. Scorch marks on rings of rock were all that was left. He just stared wordlessly. Over a hundred head of bison—the Two Hawks ranch’s entire livestock—gone. He didn’t fight the tear forming in his eye, and didn’t wipe it away as it traced invisible battle scars down his face. “It is sad that these things have happened, Little mahihkan,” said Grandfather George, who was standing at Tom’s shoulder, looking out at the same sight. Tom often wondered what it was his grandfather ever saw staring out like that. He couldn’t imagine it then, and certainly not now. There was nothing left. “I wish I could’ve been here, Grandfather,” Tom croaked. “I tried to get them to transfer me here. They...with everything going on, and then the surrender and all...” His voice cracked again. He cursed himself for looking so weak. But the fact was his face was fallen; his spirit was crushed. “If you would have been here, you would have been just as dead.” George took a tin of homemade cigarettes from his shirt pocket and lit one. The sweet smell of the tobacco drifted over the air offering to bring memories of better times. But instead, it only made Tom’s stomach clench with the stark reality lying before them both. “We are as good as dead now, Grandfather. At least I could’ve fought for what took you your entire lifetime to build up from just two head.” George took a drag and continued to look out at the silent emptiness. He shook his head and kicked at the dust, making a little cloud of it around his boot to mirror the exhale from his lips. “The Fourth Thing that makes us a People has never been the accumulation of stuff. The Fourth Thing is our People, Little mahihkan. Remember? We have food vouchers from the government. That is enough for now.” Tom turned and looked hard at George. His fist clenched, and he jammed them into what ended up passing as a symbolic uniform in the Independence Army—a common long, brown coat extending to the knees. A triangular green and yellow insignia with a blue star patch was still sewn haphazard on the right shoulder. Tom’s particular kind had fringes made from the once plentiful deer that browsed for forage all up and down Serenity Valley before hellfire and damnation rained down on the last major battle of the war. Now those deer, the rabbit, and even the lousy scrub they ate was all gone, stripped and hunted to extinction by the desperate women and men left in that godforsaken place like living tombstones—both Independents and Alliance alike praying that any extraction ship would finally clear the mountains of red tape it took just to go into that zone. Meanwhile, their superiors dined on beef, buffalo, and bison steaks commandeered from the homesteads and ranches unfortunate enough to border that stinking hell—like the homestead of Tom’s grandfather, George. “Vouchers?” Tom retorted. “Grandfather, Alliance isn’t thinking about feeding Hera. They’re either busy congratulating themselves or discretely licking their wounds. So unless them vouchers are made of high-protein food supplements, vouchers is all you’ll ever see. And even then they ain’t nowhere worth what they took. This is why I went to fight. They don’t think twice about fèiwù like us. Hera doesn’t have enough food to feed itself, and it’s gonna take another generation before it does. You think this is a story that wraps up nice and neat? This isn’t some gorram story. It’s real life, and real life doesn’t give you answers and meanings and happy endings.” George frowned as Tom went on his tirade, nodding and smoking and looking out. When Tom stood there, heaving breath, appearing to wait for an answer, he quietly extinguished his cigarette. The silence hung there like the disappearing smoke. “You have been among the wasi’chu for a long time, haven’t you? I think you have forgotten how to be among Human Beings.” Tom’s face folded. He quickly looked away. “Oh, Grandfather. I didn’t mean no disre—” George held up his hand. Tom went silent, swallowing hard but not quite getting past that stone that he didn’t realize was living in his throat. “Your fathers and brothers are all gone,” George said. His face was as lined as the crags and crannies of the canyon he faced. “Either killed in this war or taken away well before it started. So I have thought long on this. You, Tom, are the oldest man left. Your grandmother has decided. The women and younger ones will stay here. What we are about to ask of you will take more courage than you have faced, even of these last months of the War.” Tom nodded, trying to remember how to quietly listen just as he did when a younger version of himself listened to the stories that were lessons in disguise. His grandfather was right. So Tom choked down the bad habit he’d picked up of asking rapid-fire questions and interrupting his elders to demand clarification. That was not the way he had been raised. He had been raised to listen for the answers already there—not a kind of blind obedience, but an expectation of the listener’s intelligence. Asking questions in the way he just did of his grandfather was a sign that he really wasn’t listening at all. Tom wondered at what point he’d forgotten how to do that. His grandfather had pointed it out accurately. Time spent among the Browncoats as a technician, setting up and tearing down vital communications equipment or anti-skiff guns or repairing hovertanks under heavy fire forged a different way of being that wasn’t like his childhood. It wasn’t the open work-ethic of doing things only when a need made itself known. He had calcified into his bones the hurry-up, double-check, plan ahead and question everything thrice except the blind orders from the ranking officer of desperate soldiers fighting a war sinking into the panic of hopelessness. “Your nohkom and I think that a grandson kēkēhk is to go to Persephone, to our iyiniw kin on Redbird Reservation where there is work. That training you got working machines should come in handy. You’ve flown in Independence bulk freighters and faced many enemies. This is a very difficult thing to say because it will mean that you will be apart from your family. It hurts our hearts to ask you to become like a kīwāci–nāpēw ...a man without relatives. But we need you now to face the hardest enemy of all—yourself—so that our People can eat.” Tom flinched when his grandfather used the kēkēhk family name. Back when he was waiting around with his Independent buddies in the trenches during a lull in fighting, they would laugh and reminisce about how they knew they were in trouble when their parents used their full name to call them home. But Tom wasn’t laughing now. This wasn’t a punishment from his grandfather. His request basically highlighted just how serious this whole thing was—so serious, in fact, that Tom was beginning to feel that the Unification detention and processing camp that he was recently released from was preferable. At least there, you got three meals, a synth-plastic blanket, and a foam mattress to curl up on. Tom kicked at the dust with his boot. There were already a couple of generations of his ancestor’s bones lying in the dirt—enough to make the land that they had come to long ago a sacred place—one of the Fourth Things, as his People called it, that made an Injun like himself identify as an iyiniw... a First Nations person ...a Human Being. Back then, Grandfather George trusted his grandmother and grandfather that this place on Hera had invited them to stay and make it a home for the entire clan. Now, it was Tom’s turn to trust his grandfather. Tom heard how it was killing George to ask this—to break up the family like this. So he simply nodded and stuffed his hands back into his jacket. “I will go,” Tom muttered. George gave a pained smile, reached into his shirt pocket again and handed Tom a cigarette. “Best I can do for a gift.” Tom accepted the cigarette and lit it. The two of them stared out down the dark valley, smoking long after the Georgian suns set in the west. It would be the last night Tom would see of home.
Now“Is this really necessary?” The paramedic dabbed at Tom’s eye with a cold compress to try to take down the swelling. She looked directly at the security officer and gestured with her other hand at Tom. Tom would have held the compress to his face himself, but his arms were pinned behind his back with security straps. Or perhaps he would’ve just continued to sit there in the gutter on Longhouse Street, letting the blood cake while fuzzy thoughts of Jessa continued to flow from a more critical but invisible wound. The officer didn’t even look up from his datapad. “We detain all repatriated citizens, ma’am. Just do your job and let us do ours.” She scowled and looked around for her partner, but he seemed to be laughing it up with the other officer as they exchanged information a few paces away. By now the witnesses were done being questioned, the crowd had been dispersed, and the body of Wilhelm was zipped up in a bag and stowed in the medical transport. Tom flinched and sucked in a sharp breath. “Oh, I’m sorry,” the paramedic said, flinching sympathetically with him. “Here. Let me put a little more antiseptic on that cut. It should really get stitches.” Tom just sat there, staring down at the pavement trying to look as dignified as a cuffed man could be on a sultry Persephone night, lit by the neon of Jiang Feng Ironworks. “Can’t afford it. Besides, I’ve had worse.” She gave an extended look, this one peering beneath colored skin. “I’ll bet you have.” She replaced the cold pack over his eye. “They’ll find her, you know? Don’t you worry. Your daughter probably went home. That’s what most kids would do when they’re scared out of their little minds. They go right back home.” Tom shook his head. “You all keep saying she’s my daughter.” The words came out thick as soaked cotton and bit the insides of Tom’s face like rattlesnakes. “Well, that’s what I heard the officer say. Sorry. Your sister, then?” Tom spat red on the ground and remained silent. He’d learned from the War that wasi’chu take silence for either affirmation when they don’t take it for doubt, so he figured he had just better keep his mouth shut for now. Besides, his mouth wasn’t terribly kind to him when he moved it just then. “Alright, Mister...” The officer glanced one more time at his datapad as he ambled behind Tom. “...Mister Beartooth. We’ve got your statement. But I’m going to ask you one more time before I let you go on your own recognizance. Where did Miss Jessa Doe go?” Tom looked up sharply. His mouth said nothing but the surprise on his face spoke volumes. “Yes, we reviewed the public camera feeds. Biometrics read ninety-eight percent likelihood. We know who she is, and we’re currently trying to run a Cortex scan for more information.” He grimaced and waved the glowing words away like bothersome mosquitoes, mumbling something about the system being down before resuming his Officer Friendly act. “Don’t worry, sir. We got several eyewitness testimonies that indicate probable self-defense. We just want to take her into custody and question her. Get her side of the story.” Tom’s gaze returned to the dark spot on the pavement. He nodded silently a couple of times. Officer Friendly, however, moved behind him. The restraints released, and Tom’s arms sprung back towards a more natural pose. He rubbed his wrists, and continued his downward silent stare. The officer leaned close to Tom’s ear. His tone was cold and sharp, revealing the no-nonsense authority lying in ambush behind his warm and fuzzy exterior. “It would help our investigation if you could tell us where you and the girl live. Mr. Tom Beartooth, where exactly is home?”
Two years agoFirm hands grasped his shoulders. “Alright, Beartooth. You’ve had quite enough.” Tom felt the room spin, partly because, in fact, he was literally being spun around in his chair. But the rest of the sensation came from the overabundance of alcohol in his system. The blurry face came as close into focus as it was going to get that night. “Oh. Hi there, Jimmy. Listen, I’ma comin’ into work okay tomorrow. Don’t you worry none.” Tom grinned as pleasantly as he had been taught how. Jimmy Crow just sighed and shook his head. He gripped Tom’s collar harder, hauled him out of his chair, and made it halfway to the door before the bartender pumped his shotgun. “Yer friend ain’t done paid his tab.” Jimmy growled and reached into his pocket. A few more clicks and cocked hammers of weapons sounded in various parts of the room. Jimmy froze for a moment and slowly pulled out a thick wallet. He flipped it open in plain sight and let a few more bills than was necessary slide onto the bar. When the barkeep relaxed and lowered his weapon, Jimmy resumed his rescue mission and dragged Tom’s sorry ass out the door. “You’re nudanvdvna,”he finally muttered to Tom when they were out of earshot (and most probably a few other shots as well). “This is the fourth time I’ve had to haul you out of a Persephone bar that is not only unfriendly to Natives, but don’t check weapons at the door. You got a death wish or something? Might as well walk into an Alliance-friendly bar on Unification Day with that Browncoat of yours.” “You’re so nice, Jimmy. Always lookin’ out for me. Lemme buy you a drink, m‘kay?” “Gorramit, Tom!” Jimmy set him down not so gently on the sidewalk. He tried desperately to wipe the stink off his hands while glowering at Tom who was still swaying on the cement. “I will not let you become a cliché stereotype. We went out of our way to get you a job on the Rez on accounta your grandfather, and here you are makin’ a gorram fool of yourself and him. You work on Redbird Reservation, you have to maintain a positive image. None of this drunken Injun crap! We’ve worked hard these last centuries to debunk that myth.” The dopey smile on Tom’s face melted to reveal the scowl lying underneath. “Positive image? Positive gorram image? Cliché stereotype? Just look at Redbird Reservation. It’s just a Red suburb of DisneyVerse™ or...or FoxWorld™.” “Hey now,” growled Jimmy. He crossed his arms tight. “Those are Core amusement park attractions. We are a cultural enclave all of our collective Peoples worked hard to carve out in order to maintain our original way of life free from those wasi’chu influences.” “Oh, cut the fèihuà you try to pan off the tourists, Jimmy. I’m sick of playin’ a plastic Injun to a bunch of insulated Core folk just so they can point at us and say, ‘Oh, Reginald!’” Tom tightened his voice into a mock Londinium accent and waved his fingers about daintily. “‘Look at how we preserved the Earth-That-Was Savages just as they were hundreds of years ago! If it weren’t for us, they’d all be extinct. Don’t they make a great collection? Mwa-ha. Wot-wot!’” Jimmy Crow threw up his hands and started walking off into the relative night. “That’s it. Don’t bother coming in to work tomorrow, Tom. We’ll wire your last paycheck. Sober up. Go home.” Tom was still swaying as he watched Jimmy’s diminishing form. When he was out of sight, his shoulders deflated and he leaned on his knees with his elbows. “Home? Where’s that?”
Now“Wilhelm is dead, sir.” Geoffrey Brigham turned and looked up from the number of digital smart papers in his hands. A recent copy of The Cortex News still danced across one of them. Others were loaded with spreadsheets of stock figures, transport manifests, and various and sundry bits of information. The rather plain, middle-aged man pushed at his silver round spectacles and gave just a slight frown. “Already?” he said in his epitomical Londinium accent with little sign of real surprise or passion. “Pity. I was hoping to contract a few more jobs from him.” He shrugged and turned back to his papers, making a mark with a digital pen on one, which he downloaded to his datapad. The messenger fingered the hat in his hands awkwardly and he glanced at his partner next to him. “Uh...he was murdered, Mr. Brigham. Girl—‘bout yea high.” The messenger held his hand up maybe four feet off the floor. “We’re guessin’ ‘bout ten. Maybe eleven.” Brigham looked up at them again, this time with narrowed eyes. The two men shifted uncomfortably and the messenger rubbed the brim of the hat in his hands fiercely. Brigham set the smart papers down on his broad oak desk and took off his glasses. He kept his eyes drilled on the messenger, who was beginning to get that pit in his stomach related to the old saying—particularly the part about not killing that messenger—which, in this case, was himself. “And?” Brigham gestured at them with the hand holding his spectacles. When the messenger couldn’t get any immediate sound out of his gaping mouth, Brigham sighed like a viper. “He was my investment. I am the one losing money on the incident. As long as you are in my employ you can expect your payment as if your Wilhelm Brody was still your chief foreman.” The longer the two of them stood there silent, the colder the room felt. “Well...sir... we was wonderin’ an’ all if you want us to bring th’ girl an’ th’ Injun to you, or do ya jus’ want us t’ kill ‘em?” Brigham rolled his eyes and let out an annoyed groan. “The girl and the... ‘In-jun’?” He spoke slowly at them as if they were little children babbling nonsense in front of their schoolmaster. His dower face loomed closer. “Dear man, whatever are you speaking about? Was it a girl or a man of American-Indian descent that terminated Mr. Brody’s contract prematurely?” “W-well, the girl had the knife, but the Injun done started it.” “Then put out a notification, you simpleton, and stop wasting my time. I have more important things to do than trifles and old business. And I don’t need you wasting your time on revenge when I need you to pursue matters of greater imperative.” Brigham waved his hand and brusquely turned around. “Five hundred credits ought to suffice. Certainly, Persephone’s docks are rife with eager mercenaries and bounty hunters looking for work and notoriety.” He thumbed through his datapad, tapping on a few numbers with his finger. He pursed his lips and then looked up. “You’re still here?” “Uh, five hundr’d each or t’gether? An’...you want ‘em dead or alive?” “I don’t care. It’s a wonder the street urchin didn’t gut you all and feed you to the dogs.” He slapped the papers down and adjusted the cuffs of his mighty fine shirt. “Wilhelm’s demise is an inconvenience to me, so it’s only logical that I reciprocate proportionately.” He stared at them while the two thugs gave one another shrugged glances. “Right. I suppose I’ll have to spell it out in a wave myself. And, quite possibly, look into hiring a much higher caliber of help next time to replace one Mr. Brody.” He tapped at a calculator function on his pad and pursed his lips again. “Three hundred for the child, brought to me alive...” He tapped at the dedicated source box on his desk. “I can sell her to one of the local workhouses and recoup some of my losses,” he muttered. He looked up and snapped his fingers at them. “Name?” “Oh! Uh—didn’t git her name, but the Injun was Tom Beartooth, Mr. Brigham, sir.” Brigham looked at them sharply. His eye narrowed again.“Wait. What did you say?” “We don’t know the girl’s name—” “Not her! The Amerindian. ‘Beartooth’ did you say?” “Uhhhh...yes, sir. Tom Beartooth.” Brigham snapped his fingers and put his other hand in his chin. He began to pace a couple of steps behind his desk. “Beartooth. Beartooth... Oh, no, it couldn’t possibly be that easy. A coincidence of this magnitude out of millions of people?” He pulled another piece of flexible semi-transparent sheets from a drawer. It also danced with digital images and numbers. An old First Nations man’s image was one of them. “Kekehk clan. How interesting.” Brigham’s finger traced down lines of text. It stopped suddenly over one of those lines and his lips mouthed one word: “Tomas”. His head snapped back up to face the former henchmen of one demised Wilhelm Brody. “Five hundred credits bounty for the American Indian, Tom Beartooth. Alive, please. For now.”
One year ago“It’s great to be alive,” Tom hummed to himself as he walked behind a couple of stacked shipping containers. He flipped through the satisfyingly fat wallet and pulled out a picture of a blonde woman and three children dressed in Core finery. “Oh, she’s xiù sè kě cān.” He chuckled and threw the picture behind his shoulder. His fingers danced once over the gaudy colors of money before quickly hiding their way into his pocket. His smile exploded, though, when he came to the Alliance IdentCard. “Welcome to Persephone, Mr. Bradshaw.” The card would fetch more money for him than the gaudy bills. He discarded the wallet into a garbage bin and whistled as he meandered back into the ebb and flow around Eavesdown Docks. He let his raven hair out of his nondescript hat and stuffed his hands into his fringed brown coat. His eyes scanned the merchants and passengers, pilots and dockworkers moving about like frenzied ants. Frenzied, preoccupied ants. There. That gentleman there in the shiny outfit. Holding a physician’s bag. Hauling around a rather suspiciously large cryogentic crate. Yes. He’d do nicely. Tom tucked his chin down and quickened his pace as he moved towards the gentleman. He made sure to steer clear of the obvious tong wearing black and crimson. His hand was still jammed into his coat pocket, clutching his hat. He looked off at an incoming Orion Cruiselines transport—the Brutus again—while his other hand slipped in the direction opposite his gaze, reaching out towards his mark. It was a kind of misdirection maneuver Tom had perfected. “Hey! Ah! Watch out, you kělián de jiētóu liúlàngér!” The man was jostled and rocked by a small group of children as they bolted by. Tom snapped his hand back and slipped and rolled his body to avoid the collision, bringing the man and Tom inadvertently face-to-face. “Whoa, there, oginalii,” Tom blurted the Cherokee word for ‘friend’ as another misdirection. He reached out with his hand and steadied the man’s arm. “You okay, mister?” “Yes, yes,” the young man stuttered. “Such ill manners. I never...” He patted his coat pocket and his eyes went wide. “My—my wallet! Police! Security!” The man went running off towards a couple of black jacketed, silver helmeted officers while Tom decided it was a good time to hide under his hat and slip away. Best to cut his losses. He was pretty impressed, though. Those kids working as a unit like that? And they were all of...what...seven to ten? Boys and girls? Core folk always fell for their little innocent faces... “Tā māde!” Tom fished around his own pockets. No cash. And the IdentCard. Gone! He turned to look at the tail end of the marauding horde of children disappearing down a corridor between a shop and a few more shipping containers. He watched one in particular. Yes. It was her. “I see you, Little wāpos,” he muttered. Tom wove his way deftly around the throng in pursuit. To be denied a mark was one thing, forgivable—part of the sport of it, really. But to be denied his own hard-won prize? She wasn’t going to get away that easily.
One Hour from NowHome. The word sounds strange in the mouth of someone ain’t never had one. Oh, there’s places aplenty to hide. Places to store your stuff, if you’re lucky. Places to sleep. Places to eat. But home? No, home is a special kind of word reserved for folk who can afford such a place. To Jessa, she was almost sure that it was a made-up word—that there wasn’t no such thing in all the ‘Verse. A story orphans and runaways told one another when they ran out of tears in the midnight hours of the Odynova Children's Workhome. Jessa squeezed past the chain link gate, careful not to jiggle it too much so that it would remain silent. She used to slip in and out of such gates without much care, but even scrawny eleven year old girls grow. For another year or two, she wouldn’t have to give it too much thought, but every year it got a little more challenging to slip past folk and fences unnoticed. Fortunately, there weren’t any guard dogs in this spaceship supply and repair yard. Even if there were, though, chances are Jessa was already on a friendly, first-name basis like she was with most of the mutts around Eavesdown Docks. She scampered in the waning dark towards the door of the ship—an old Bernard class with a huge painting on the side of an elephant’s head with one tusk missing. Horrible splotches of neon and pastel colors spattered the rest of the hull as if an old Earth-That-Was Jackson Pollock painting had exploded all over it. Jessa looked over the electronic keypad and studied it for a while. She touched the pads, feeling their surfaces. Tom had taught her that there was a fine art in patiently watching and listening. While the world of the docks moved at blinding speed, it was important to slow down and simply take in everything. That is how the world around would reveal the secrets of those too busy to notice. Like this keypad, for instance. She had watched its owner punch it four times. And there were four buttons whose numbers were worn thin and felt smooth: 2, 4, 7 and 8. She gave a self-satisfied grunt. It was his birth year, of course. She punched the numbers in sequence: 2-4-8-7. The door gave a much fulfilled hiss open. She scurried in, then closed and locked the door. The rescue ship’s many fold-down bunks were already lowered and littered with all manner of parts—grav boots and compression coils, actuators and regulator couples, and more nuts, bolts, and bailing wire than were needed to hold any ship in the ‘Verse together. Jessa slipped in between a large generator and an aft fairing. Now, safe, she allowed herself to finally sleep, to finally think, and, most of all, to finally cry. Home. Had she ever known home? Her earliest memories were of the Workhome. There the Headmistress, Alexeyevna Yakovlena, simply and coldly told her that she was delivered “unto her care” by spacers who had chanced upon her in a life pod with her dead mother. During some of her many escapes from Yakovlena's Workhome, she was able to learn bits and pieces more, but not much. She had learned, for instance, that the pod she was found in had its emergency locator beacon disabled. And the spacers who found it were able to plot the origin of the ship where the pod came from—a zone somewhere between the Uroborus Belt and the planet, Shenzhou, in the Blue Sun system. When they investigated, it had looked like the ship had been hit by brutal pirates...only, none of the valuables had been removed. But it was the last piece of information that Jessa discovered that hurt the hardest. The reason why her mother was three days dead in that pod was because she had killed herself. Why had she done that? To save air? It was a miracle that the pod was found at all with its locator beacon disabled. Or had her mother—a wedding band still on her finger—gone mad, killed the crew of the ship, and then ejected in murder-suicide style? But if so, why take Jessa with her? It made no sense to a little eleven-year-old girl. It made no sense to anyone. But whatever the real story was behind all of the strange series of events in her life, “home” was something Jessa never had. Home was something that had been taken away from the very beginning. It was never handed to her. It was always hard won, if it ever was at all. “Home” always came with a heavy price. They say “home is where the heart is.” Jessa had found that to be the truest sense of home when she found Tom. But now even Tom—probably in jail already—was taken away, just like every other place of home. It looked pretty sure to Jessa that that home was something she would never have again. Jessa froze when the ship’s door burst open with light and sound. A man’s boots clomped heavily along the floor, rattling the myriad piles of components and other junk along the floor. She heard what sounded like the activation of a rifle. “I know you are in here. There is no use hiding, Jessa.” The steps moved quickly across the floor, not even hesitating in between. They came right to wear she was hiding. At the last moment, she looked up to see the small camera installed in the corner of the room and gasped before her sight was obscured by the large shadow of a bald man. “There you are!” The shadow folded its arms. She couldn’t see his face, but she could still tell he was frowning. “There’s someone who is going to be very happy that I found you.”
Translation LogWarning: May contain strong language fèihuà [Chinese]
iyiniw [Cree] – pronounced like “ih-yi-niwh”
“junk”, lit. “abandoned thing”
kělián de jiētóu liúlàngér [Chinese]
“First Nations person; Indian; Human Being; person, man”
“miserable street urchins”
“a bereaved man”. Literally “man without relatives”
Tā māde [Chinese]
wāpos [Cree] – pronounced like “whāh-büs” (yeah, like Elmer Fudd might say...)
“(taboo curse) damn it!”
xiù sè kě cān [Chinese]
“non-Native”, lit. “White Chief” but took on derogatory connotation post-Contact; akin to Yiddish “goy”
“beautiful”, lit. “a feast for the eyes (idiom)”