The World's Other sideMature

The World's Other Side is a 100, 000-word alternate history novel about minority rights, religious extremism, love, and flying robots. You can learn more about it at http://bensen-daniel.deviantart.com/gallery/27912685

 Chapter  1
George delivered justice with a bottle of burning gasoline.
The home-made grenade traced an arc of fire through the air, as neat as a line drawn by a compass. George heard the bottle punch through the window and reached back for another.
"I still say we should kill him for what he did." Henry-Stephen slapped another sloshing bottle into George's hand. "I know Molly. Know her family."
"So do I, but it's too risky." George unfolded his plasma lighter, and applied its flaring tip to the to the oily rags spilling out of the neck of the bottle. "Besides, a man like this keeps his soul in his wallet." He selected one of the triangular skylights, high up on the curved roof of the pagan's townhouse. "This way, we hit him where it hurts." Another trail of fire, then the tinkle of glass.
The Ilinwa man who lived in this house was wealthy. Wealthy enough to afford such a large place in downtown Shikaakwa. Wealthy enough to employ a housekeeper, albeit a Christian one. Wealthy enough to buy off the police after he had raped her, and then beaten the hell out of her. Molly had been in sick-bed for a week, and looked to stay another.
Another bottle. Flames jetted up out of the little triangular windows around the pole of the house's domed roof.
"This doesn't seem like enough, somehow," said Henry-Stephen.
"I know." George took the bottle from his friend and lit it. This time he aimed for one of the larger window-clusters, a place where four of the triangles of the geodesic had been paned with glass.
This was only small restitution for the pagan man's crimes. Perhaps if George had caught this bastard with Molly, he could have offered more immediate and appropriate justice. With a mallet, perhaps. George clenched his teeth. He could almost feel the man's skull crack.
Sirens interrupted his imagination. George glanced back. Only three bottles remained in Henry-Stephen's sack, but the Ilinwa police approached in their cursed drones, those metal and plastic avatars that slid over the streets on their cushions of air and lightning. "Let's go." George snapped his plasma-lighter back together, and waved away the next bottle. "Pack it up. There mustn't be any evidence."
Packing was the work of seconds. Henry-Stephen hoisted his sack onto his shoulder, one hand still clutching a bottle-grenade.
"Throw that one if you want." George hopped onto his two-man air-bike, and yanked hard on the chord. The machine's little gas motor coughed, then roared, then settled into its normal purr. Flywheels spun. The air crackled as George lifted into the air.
The air-bike rocked under Henry-Stephen's weight. "All right! Let's go!"
George pushed the pedals. His bike rose and shot forward in a single smooth arc, like a thrown grenade.
They darted through backstreets, heading south and east. Henry-Stephen laughed. "Another perfect retribution! You're a God-damned genius, George."
"Am I?" George yelled over the howl of wind, "and don't swear."
"Oh I'm sorry, Father George!" his friend gave the honorific a sarcastic slant. "What would your teachers at the seminary say if they could see you now?"
George felt Henry-Stephen move behind him, swing his arm. Over the growl of his gas-powered air-bike and the rising wail of the sirens, he heard the last bottle smash against something.
"They would weep," he said. George twisted the handles, and he and Henry-Stephen shot away into the night, toward White-town.
***
The passenger projectile sank into the landing Grid of Shikaakwa International Airport with an electric hiss.
Bounce Nakmara Three-five-four  leaned forward against the insistent deceleration and grinned.
Out the window, beyond the crackle and flare of the Grid, there was Shikaakwa. The Ilinwa Republic. The other side of the world. She had finally arrived.
"We have been safely caught by the landing Grid," said a voice in her ear-bud, "but please do not manually release your crash-netting." The projectile rocked a little, and Bounce heard clunks from below as the landing legs touched the tarmac. "You will be free to collect your luggage and move about the cabin once the projectile has been completely degaussed." A crackle and spark from the window. "The captain and crew wish to thank you for flying with North-West Rail-gun Airlines. Local time is six pm, and the date is 16 Zip 11.13.11.3.8. For our connecting passengers, good luck on your next launch, and if this is your final destination, welcome to Shikaakwa."
The crash-netting snapped away from Bounce's belly and shoulders. She rose, rubbing her squished breasts. Around her, other passengers were doing the same. Rising, that is. As far as Bounce could see, large breasts were her curse alone. Brown-skinned, blank-faced Americans stretched lanky limbs and rearranged elaborate skirts and hair-dressings, while Bounce's fellow Gondwanans, rubbed at their bare chests and bellies, facial blots writhing. A few were re-greasing themselves right there in their seats or the aisle, using the complementary bottles provided by the Rail-gun Airline. Not Bounce, though. Bounce wanted to get out of this freaking projectile.
The terminal was crowded and mundane. Fall where it was spring in Gondwana, decorated with North American motifs in black and red, but there were still customs inspectors, and a baggage claim, and a physical sign in three languages reminding patrons to reactivate their coms.
Bounce's hand went to the fat crescent of wood-colored plastic hanging at the base of her throat. She slid her fingers across the com's upper surface and held her hand in front of its camera eyes. She waited until it vibrated, then signed a series of commands into the cameras. The machine buzzed again, and her wireless ear-buds chimed. In her lower peripheral vision, her opticals flashed.
Bounce couldn't help but grin as her field of vision filled with messages and notifications, pings from her automated luggage, and augmented reality pop-ups. She was really here. Logging on in Ilinwa.
And there, prioritized over the well-wishing texts from her Gondwanan family and friends, were the messages from the university. <Welcome to the Teach Gondwanan Abroad Program!> <Teacher-in-training Orientation Schedule: Please Read!><Culture Shock Seminar: Dealing with Ilinwa. Attend? Yes/No><Standing call request: NEW ADVISEE, PLEASE CALL IMMED. Sig. Grandstand Japaljarri Outngelekenhe Akampele Rrakarrulerenye Five-eight-six-six.>
Bounce's grin widened. She had a personal message from her advisor, a schedule of study and work prepared for her, a new country and culture to explore, a new life and new opportunities just waiting for her to step up.
Her glee lasted right up until she actually called her advisor.
"A home-stay program? What home-stay program?"
A blot of dark skin rose over Grandstand Japaljarri Five-eight-six-six's right eye. "I thought you would be pleased, Bounce."
The professor floated in the chat window projected by Bounce's opticals, a mound of greased, pale flesh nestled in the cup of his tastefully wood-trimmed cradle in a university office.
"I…" Bounce tried to look away, but the chat window only followed her gaze across the curving transparent sleeve of the air-taxi. "I…" I'm not a college student any more, Professor Grandstand, she wanted to say. But what was this teach-abroad program, really? Another year of college. An antechamber between the pampered college hothouse and the freezing reality of the outside world. She had applied for this program precisely because she couldn't handle being a real adult yet, so why should she complain if her advisor wasn't treating her like one? "I suppose it'll be a good opportunity to improve my Ilinwa."
"Ilinwa?" Professor Grandstand blinked golden eyes at her through his window. He was Gondwanan, and his soft bulk combined with his symmetrical, chocolate-colored facial blotting to give the man the look of a confused pudding. "Oh I see." <No> He signed the negation in Gondwanan hand-talk.
"'No' what?" Bounce turned back to the taxi's optical pickups, looking her advisor in the eyes.
"You won't be with an Ilinwa family," he said. "You're staying with the…" <ahem> He closed his eyes, reared up from his cradle, and enunciated the foreign name with a philologist's relish. "…Miller family."
"Mee-what?" Bounce's elation was wearing off fast. The Shikaakwa streets rushing by under the automated taxi looked just like the streets of any Gondwanan city, only dirtier. "That doesn't sound…I mean, what kind of name is that?"
"An English one." In the chat window, Professor Grandstand settled his manifold bulk back onto his cradle's chest-plate. He glanced at her through the window. "English?" He repeated, then grunted. "You don't recognize the name?" His blotting stayed carefully neutral, but his hands twisted to sign, <Disappointing…>
"Is that another Algonquian ethnicity?" Bounce nervously adjusted her ochre hair ornaments and smoothed out of the quills of her skirt. Algonquian people of whatever nationality were notorious sticklers for appearances, and they traditionally wore way more clothes than was usual in Gondwana. Bounce fiddled with the com hanging over her greased-up breasts. She hoped she was dressed up enough to meet her host family.
"Bounce," came Professor Grandstand's voice, inescapable, in her ear-buds. "I am a professor emeritus of the Languages of the Germanic Diaspora."
Yes, and what on earth was a Germanic languages specialist doing in North America? Bounce had wondered before, but only now did she recognize the warning sign. Because Professor Grandstand couldn't hack it in competitive Gondwana, and the real Germanic people in their reserves in Western Eurasia would have eaten him for breakfast. Maybe literally.
"English," he repeated. "The indigenous people of the island of England, off the northwest coast of Eurasia. They are extinct over there, but a large group was relocated to North America back in the tenth Baktun to work in the colonial timber plantations in what is now East Algonquia."
 "Oh, I see," Bounce closed her eyes. The twenty-hour projectile flight settled on her like warm plastic wrapping. "You mean," she said, "Aggilisk?"
"I used their endonym," <Of course.> Professor Grandstand signed, his fine blots spreading in a patronizing smile.
<But> Bounce's hands flailed weakly. "I don't speak Aggilisk!"
"English," he corrected, moving his hands into a <take note> sign. "And it shouldn't be difficult for you. You've studied the Germanic Languages."
"I've studied a Germanic language!" Bounce's hands twitched <for like a year> before she could stop them. <Crap> she signed.
Professor Grandstand frowned and wriggled against his cradle. <Harrumph!> Light gleamed on the grease over the blotted folds of his torso as he signed. "Your resume said specifically…" <command: display: Bounce Resume: Yes> Her advisor's eyes flickered behind the old-fashioned lenses of his LCD opticals as he scanned her documents. "…ah, I see. Germanic Studies Intro., 9 Oc 13 Kayab… fall semester? So you only have six months of study." <What was it,> his eyes focused on her chest. <A Goth boyfriend?>
Bounce fought the childish impulse to fold her arms over her breasts. Several uncomfortable seconds clomped by before Professor Grandstand sighed. "Well, you're still the best qualified post-grad for the position. Not that Gothic is particularly similar to English." <command: message: will you accept a download?>
Bounce signed that she would.
"Here are the documents about the program," said her advisor. "Your schedule is on top, then the contact information for the Millers. Actually," he coughed, causing the blots on his chest to jiggle, "just their address. The Millers aren't really on the Grid."
<WHAT> Bounce's hands spasmed. Not on the freaking Grid? Did these people live in a cave or something?
"Don't worry," said Grandstand. "I've even appended an English phrasebook."
A red light blinked in Bounce's lower peripheral vision. <Got it> her numb fingers formed the signs, <thank you.>
<You're welcome> "And I suppose I can arrange remedial English classes for you with one of my graduate students."
On top of the Gondwanan classes she was supposed to teach?
"You'll learn fast, I'm sure," said Professor Grandstand, completely misinterpreting her expression. "And I'm sure you'll find English to be a fascinating language. No grammatical gender, nearly extinct conjugation and declension. Its morphology is nominative, of course, but in many ways…"
Bounce's academic instinct finally came to her rescue. While her body nodded and smiled, and even command-signed notes to her com, her mind began the task of destroying and re-assembling her preconceptions.
So. No dorm. No room-mate. No networking for that job she might eventually want to get. A commute between campus and wherever-it-was this taxi was taking her.
But on the other hand, what was she here on the other side of the world for? And west-Eurasian culture was certainly fascinating. The Goth boy had been a pretty good lay, too. She wouldn't mind trying Germanic again. Bounce smiled in earnest.
<Excellent!> Professor Grandstand signed his approval. "You should be excited about this opportunity! Nobody else in the Gondwanan program will get their names in the journals, after all."
"Names…?" Bounce said blankly, before her eyes scanned back over the notes she had taken and she understood what her advisor had been talking about. "Oh! You're going to publish my…findings?"
"You can give me a double-sized report next week. I imagine you'll be too busy settling in to make one before the end of this week," said Professor Grandstand.
Reports?! Bounce did not say or sign. She wasn't this man's grad-student! She was supposed to be learning how to teach Gondwanan to Ilinwa students! But… "That would be generous," she said instead. Crap on a cracker, she needed this lazy idiot."Uh, if that's everything…"
<Yes, yes> he signed some commands to his com. Bounce's taxi's trip-information window flashed. "You're almost at the Miller family's residence."
Outside the taxi, the neighborhood had become distinctly seedier. The glass and cement cylinders and domes of downtown Shikaakwa had been replaced by squat wooden and brick structures, weirdly rectilinear. Trash swirled through the air, and thin, cloth-covered children turned blank, blotless faces up toward her taxi.
"…should probably change."
"What?" Bounce focused back on the chat window.
Her advisor's blots furrowed over his brows. "I said you should change, Bounce. The Millers, like most of their community, are superstitious. They belong to the cult of Iesous Khristos." His eyes went to her chest again. "You did bring a shirt, didn't you?"
"A what?"
"A shirt," Grandstand repeated. "It's the English word for the chemise. Do you have one?"
"No!" Said Bounce, horrified. "They force women to wear the chemise here? This is Shikaakwa, not…not Roma!"
A comma-shaped blot over Professor Grandstand's right eye twitched. "I expect my advisees to be more open-minded, Bounce. You will be living with these people."
And doing your freaking field-work for you, you lazy, washed-up hack! Bounce did not say it.
 She looked out the window and tried to control her breathing. Eurasians? The Goth boy had been interestingly exotic, but he had been third generation Gondwanan. He spoke her language and had no problem at all with bare breasts.
But real Eurasians? Superstitious Eurasians? Yes, she could see one now on the street, its gender impossible to distinguish under folds of choking fabric. Shrouded like a corpse, it scuttled across the street, long hair the unnatural color of sand whipping behind it. The figure looked up at the passing taxi and Bounce caught a glimpse of a face as pale and blotless as the underside of a snail.
No, the thought was unworthy. Bounce wasn't a racist person. It was just that Bounce heard "Eurasian" and all she could think of now were the Eurasians she'd seen on the news. Women in the chemise. Men in the chapeau. Superstitions. Cults to this or that ancient charlatan. Exploding embassies in Turitg. Riots in Yanjing. And, more to the point, bare-chested female tourists beaten to death in Roma and Yerusalem by fanatical cultists.
"I'm sure I mentioned this in the documents I sent you," said Professor Grandstand, then his hands came up in a letting-go sign. <No matter> "You don't have time to stop to buy something now. You're already late to their evening meals, and they'll be upset if you make them wait further. Hospitality rituals you know."
"Oh," Bounce felt dizzy. "Hospitality rituals. You aren't going to introduce me, at least?"
Professor Grandstand signaled negation with a twitch of the hand. "I don't think personal introductions are necessary."
The taxi was slowing. Stray dogs scattered as she settled to the ground. Boxy wooden structures leaned drunkenly toward a single mid-sized energy pylon in a shabby central square.
"Have fun, Bounce," Professor Grandstand said "and…" Bounce focused on the chat window to see that he was signing at her. But it wasn't a sign she knew.
Her advisor's fist was clenched, stretched out at her as if to reach through the virtual window and punch her in the face. Professor Grandstand's thumb popped up out of the fist. He said two words in English. Then, "Good luck, Bounce."
The taxi beeped as it settled onto the filthy ground. <Thank you for riding Shikaakwa Speedy Motors> Its computer sent her. <Confirm payment? Yes/No.>
Bounce signed the confirmation with tingling fingers and stumbled out of the taxi, followed by her luggage. Dogs barked at her. The smell of burning garbage filled the air. People, wrapped head to toe in shabby cloth, scurried away as she walked across the square. Bounce swallowed, and tried not to imagine barbarian eyes glaring at her nipples. She had arrived.

The End

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