The ongoing weekly serial continues. Click here for the introduction,  here for Part 1, here for part 2, here for part 3, here for part 4, here for part 5, here for part 6, and here for part 7.


Chapter Fourteen


Maahes worried me from the start.

To be fair, the twins did, too, but at least they would look you in the eye and make you think they were on board. It always seemed like a big part of Maahes was somewhere else.

He was difficult to talk to. He never looked at you and kept his voice so low as to be almost incomprehensible. The scar didn’t help, either. Maahes’ father had tried to slice through both of his eyes at the same time with a kitchen knife. The result was a thick, jagged purple line twisting horizontally from temple to temple. Even his eyeballs looked scarred, and I didn’t think that was possible. I treated him like everyone else – like I wanted to be treated – but still couldn’t shake the feeling something was sideways.

“Horus,” Ra announced as the twins escorted Maahes into what we now called the ‘Team Room.’ “I want you to meet Maahes.”

I held out my hand and was greeted with a limp, clammy handshake.

“Welcome,” I said, then turned to Ra. “How much does he know?”

“He knows everything,” Kuk answered, “and he kents it.”

‘Kent’ is another Gebian word that is hard to translate because of its religious connotation. Augur is often described as someone who not only believed the word of God but internalized it to become God’s strongest advocate. He kented God’s word. This is the meaning Kuk tried to convey, that Maahes understood and internalized our mission. But Kuk also kented the 0-6 New Jerusalem Vikings would make the playoffs that year, so he wasn’t always precise in his use of language.

“I do, sir,” Maahes mumbled, “you can count on me.”

“Good,” I replied. “Now I understand you boys brought other presents with you.”

“We did,” Ra said, stepping back into the hallway. He returned a moment later and set a black backpack on the table. “There are six of them, and they’re not much to look at.” He unzipped the bag and pulled out what looked like a hundred-year-old gun, coated with brownish-red rust.

“And they need a little work,” Kuk added.

“Plasma?” I asked.

“Nope. That’s the best part,” replied Ra.

“These fire actual projectiles,” Kuk said.

“Do we have any?” I wondered.

“Hundreds of them,” Kuk said.

“Kuk didn’t want to bring them.”

“Ass! I wanted to, but you said no, they’re too heavy.”

“Stops. We’ll get them on another trip.”

I picked up a weapon and turned it over in my hand. It had a good, healthy feel. “Where did you get these?”

“If you know the right guy, you can get anything on Geb,” Ra said.

“And if you don’t know that guy, you end up with these.” Kuk finished the thought.

Maahes whispered something I couldn’t pick up.

“What’d you say?” I asked.

“He said we brought cleaning solution and scrubbing pads,” Kuk said.

We spent the next hour scrubbing the rust away. I cleaned two. Ra and Kuk cleaned three despite their fighting and fidgeting. But when Sekmet rushed in, Maahes was only partially done with one. I couldn’t tell if he was meticulous or lazy, but I didn’t care for either.

“Did you hear?” She wheezed, out of breath.

“What?” I asked.

“They attacked a naval ship on Earth, in the South China Sea. First reports are over fifty dead.”

“Fifty?” I heard Maahes squeak.

“Here we go!” Kuk exclaimed.

“So, what do we do?” Ra asked. “There is no Navy here.”

“Don’t take it literally,” Sekmet said. “We don’t have to attack a ship at sea.”

“We don’t?” Ra looked to me.

I stood up and walked over to the far wall, grabbing a black marker from a box of office supplies. I pushed a crate of explosive precursors to one side, then drew a vertical line on the wall, as tall as me, and bisected it near the top with a horizontal line. I wrote ‘Prosledites’ on the left-hand side and ‘Augur’ on the right.

“This,” I turned back around to the group, “is our ledger. On the left is the input. Each time they kill in the name of the Prosledite religion, the number goes up. Sekmet says fifty are dead, and I believe her, but first reports are always wrong. Never add a number to this column until it’s confirmed. On the right is our tally. Augur’s tally. The confirmed deaths from our operations, and the same rule applies. Got it?”

Four heads nodded in front of me.

“Now, we need to come up with a target. What should we attack first.”

Ra snapped his fingers. “I know the perfect place.”




“How do I look?”

I spun around to show Sekmet my Augur hair and makeup.

“Wrong.” She pointed to my wig.

“It is? Why?” I turned back around and compared it to the picture I’d taped to the left side of the mirror. We looked exactly the same.

“He parted his hair on the left, which is why everyone on this planet does the same. You’ve made yourself look like a reflection of the picture, not the picture itself.”

My heart sank. “I am an idiot.”

“I know.” She patted my head then sat on the bed. “Make sure you put that mole on the other side, too.”

I pinched the mole between my fingers and peeled it off. “Did you look at the new draft of the speech?”

“It’ll do, as long as you get the pronunciation down.”

“Is it that bad?”

“For a prophet, yes.”

“I’m putty in your hands.” I re-parted the wig hair and teased it in the opposite direction.

Two hours later, I sat cross-legged in front of a plain white sheet, staring at the camera and waiting for Sekmet to delete the data from my latest take. I’d stopped counting how many times she’d corrected me for mispronouncing a word. I didn’t feel like I was making any progress. In fact, I felt like I was regressing.

“Ready?” She asked, checking the camera shot.

“I don’t think this will work.”

“You’re doing fine. Just remember that’s a soft vowel. Do not hit it hard.”

“My legs are numb, and I’ve been talking so long I don’t even remember how to pronounce my name.”

“This is how it’s done. Through painful repetition that will make you hate the language and resent me for the rest of your life. Take ninety-seven in three, two, one,” she pointed a finger at me.

“To the Prosledite faithful, I send you greetings. Two hundred years ago, I discarded this body to be with God in paradise. But before I did, I left you with a message of hope and joy, and peace. God was pleased as he watched you spread this message throughout the galaxy. More people look to him now than ever before. You have remained faithful to him, and he has remained faithful to you. But God has another command. You should not judge anyone in this world. He alone will judge his people in the next. Heed these words, or I will exact retribution upon his people as he has commanded. God loves those who are peaceful, especially when confronted with unbelief.”

I rolled forward unto my stomach and stretched my legs out behind me, unleashing slivers of prickly pain as blood flowed back into them. I prayed as Sekmet taught me until I heard her yell, “Cut!”

“You didn’t stop me,” I said, craning my neck up. “Did I do it?”

“I think you did it,” she clapped her hands. “Do the thing with the voice, and let me hear it again.”

I pushed myself off the floor and stumbled over to the camera. “This better not be a joke.”

“If it is, you can have your way with me tonight.” She took my hand and put it up the front of her shirt.

“Maybe the blood will have returned to the lower half of my body by then.” I worked the camera controls with my other hand.

The camera’s voice matching function was nothing special. Similar products have been available for decades. We fed it about an hour of ancient Augur recordings, and through a fair bit of trial and error, I discovered the correct combinations of settings to make my voice nearly identical to his. A professional algorithm could, and eventually did, spot minor differences. Still, considering Augur’s real voice was captured by two-hundred-year-old technology, not even the algorithm could conclusively rule out a connection.

When I finished, I played the stream back for Sekmet.

“That’s it,” she said.

“Should we do one more?” I asked, desperately wanting her to say no.

“It’s perfectly imperfect,” she said. “You nailed the delivery. The message is right. And there’s just enough of an old-time feel.”

I exhaled and reached up to take my wig off.

“Hold on! Not yet.” She grabbed my wrists.

“Why not?”

“Before we leave for the mission, I want Augur to have his way with me tonight.”




Four days later, after returning from our near failure in the Oken Desert, I stumbled back into the Team Room, scrawled the number twelve on the right side of our ledger, then collapsed into bed next to Sekmet. But I didn’t sleep.

Morning gave way to mid-day, and the shadow from the Retusa tree outside our window crawled down the wall and disappeared. I turned the mission over and over again in my head, chopping it up and putting it back together, trying to figure out where I’d gone so wrong.

Sekmet woke at 1400 and rolled over.

“How did you sleep?” She asked.

“I didn’t.”

“Don’t blame yourself. Nobody knew about the dogs.”

“It’s not the dogs. It’s everything. I could have got us all killed.”

“But you didn’t.” She kissed my forehead and pulled me closer to her. “How’s your arm?”


“Why don’t we go out tonight? We won’t think about anything except having a good time. I know a great place.”

“Can’t,” I shook my head. “Have to record another stream.”

“Afterwards, then. Come on. You’ve been working hard for weeks. For one night, let it go.”

“Only if we can bring everyone together tomorrow and learn some lessons from what happened.”

“Please don’t do that thing where you pretend you don’t know anything, and everyone else has the answers. That will never work. You’re in charge. Act like it.”

“Who was in charge last night? I told you to drive, and you disobeyed.”

“That’s different.”


“I was right.”

“Irrelevant. If you want me to be in charge, you have to treat me like I am in charge.”

She pecked me on the cheek and rolled out of bed. “I’m going to have a shower. Coming?”




“What could we have done differently?”

My question met with confused silence. I had asked everyone to come to the Team Room for two reasons: to answer this question and to figure out what our next steps would be.

Nobody wanted to answer the question.

Maahes crossed his arms and looked at a crate near his feet. Ra and Kuk squinted their eyes, pretending to think. And Sekmet gave me her best ‘I told you so’ look.

“I don’t know, boss,” Ra finally said, “I think it went pretty well. We got twelve of them and shot down a Scorpion. Everyone made it back. I’d call that a success.”

“Me, too,” Kuk added.

“We made it back because we got lucky, not because it went according to plan.”

“We made it back because of you,” Maahes offered.

“You were brilliant,” Ra said.

“Unbelievable,” Kuk piled on.

“You were,” Sekmet smiled knowingly.

“So what happens if I’m not so brilliant the next time?”

“You will be,” Ra answered.

“How could you not be brilliant?” Kuk thought it was a rhetorical question, but I could think of a thousand ways I could screw up the next operation.

“Alright, what are we doing next?” Sekmet asked, signaling a subject change.

She’d warned me Gebian culture was incredibly deferential to people in power – in this case, me. If a powerful person planned something that went awry, then asmatzenbadu, God wanted something else to happen. The idea was so pervasive, every one of the committed atheists in the room still subscribed to it. In a place where personality becomes power, the powerful become infallible.

In the end, Sekmet was — once again — right. If I wanted to learn how to plan operations without getting all of us killed, I’d have to figure it out myself. I wasn’t infallible, not by a long shot, but I had to act like I was.

“I say we hit a basic training unit next,” Ra offered.

“They would be easy,” Kuk added.

“What about the parade?” Maahes asked.

“What?” My ears were still recovering from the explosions, and I couldn’t hear what he said.

“The parade next week celebrating Augur’s ascension to heaven,” Sekmet explained. “It’s been two hundred years.”

“The military always marches,” Maahes continued.

“Hundreds of them,” said Ra.

“What about civilians?” I asked. “We cannot kill any civilians.”

“We don’t have to hit them in the middle of the parade route where the spectators are,” Sekmet answered. “We can hit them at the end where one else will be around. I can show you.”

“We’ll have to go ourselves,” I said remorsefully. “We don’t have the birds anymore.”

“Can you get more of them?” Kuk asked.

“I hope so,” I answered, knowing they were not only nice to have but integral to the ultimate success of my plan. “But they might not arrive for a while.”

I’d already sent word to Gabriel — he could send more birds, he did own the company — but, like the message I sent explaining my plan after landing on Geb, he had chosen not to reply.

“We won’t need them for this attack,” Sekmet offered. “It will be easy. And every reporter in the city will be there. We will dominate the news.”

“Do we have the right ingredients to make bombs?” Maahes asked, loud enough for me to hear this time.

“Not yet,” I answered. “I’m still missing a few things.”

“I can get them,” Maahes whispered.


“Just tell me what you need, and I’ll get them. Don’t worry.”

I told him, but I won’t tell you. I don’t want anyone – kids especially – to reverse engineer the explosives we made, which were surprisingly simple and powerful.




True to his word, Maahes came back to the Team Room three days later with everything I’d asked for and more.

In the meantime, I did some reconnaissance work using my own two feet for a change.

I missed the birds.

Sekmet and I walked the entire parade route, beginning in the Central Business District and ending at the Garden River. The river was named for a modest island less than ten meters from its southern bank. The first settlers on Geb used to wade out to the island, but a walking bridge built some decades ago connected it to the mainland. The Heka described Augur living there for extended periods of time, growing and cultivating many different species of flowers. If any part of Augur’s legend was true, it was probably this. The vast majority of the island was blanketed with magnificent, multicolored flower gardens.

“When he returned from Earth, Augur came back to this island,” Sekmet explained as we strolled down a path carved out of a sea of teal and orange rose bushes and into a clearing. “That’s why they end the parade here.”

“So everyone marches past this point.”




“What about security?” I asked.

“Starting tomorrow, the island will be closed so they can set up. You saw the sign on the bridge.”

“So how do we get here to plant the bombs? You said this would be easy.”

Sekmet stopped and surveyed the north side of the clearing, her eyes tracing the slope of the land as it dropped down until meeting the slow-moving water beyond.

“We need a boat,” I said, the pieces finally clicking together.

“We need a boat.” She squeezed my hand and pulled me into the rose bushes.




Compared to our first attack, the one on Garden Island was ridiculously simple to execute.

The night after we visited the island, Sekmet and I discussed the details. My instinct was to overcompensate for our near disaster in the desert and throw in unnecessary branches and sequels and safety measures. She talked me out of almost everything and streamlined both the preparation and execution, and the next day, we brought everyone together to lay it out.

“Our mission,” I began, “is to place four explosive devices on Garden Island near the end of the parade route.” I spread a map out on the table and pointed to the spot. “Then, when a formation of soldiers marches past, I will detonate the explosives, hopefully causing around forty-six deaths.” I pointed to the ledger behind me with fifty-eight on one side and twelve on the other. The number of casualties in the South China Sea had been revised upward in the days after the attack.

“You don’t have to pull the trigger, boss,” Ra interrupted.

“Yeah, I can do it,” Kuk said.

“Let him finish,” Sekmet scolded the pair.

“Thank you. It’s a good suggestion, and I’ll talk about it at the end. Now, our method of execution is rather simple. Ra and Kuk, I want you to go out today and buy four clay planters about a half-meter long. Try a back alley second-hand store, somewhere that takes cash and doesn’t keep sales records. This will be the largest piece of evidence we leave behind for the authorities. If we buy them from an ordinary shop or pay the normal way, they’ll figure it out in no time.”

“Can we steal them?” Ra asked.

“Yeah, what if we steal them?”

“Just don’t get caught. The bottom line is, twenty-four hours from now, I need four planters the authorities cannot trace back to us. Understand?”

They both nodded their heads furiously.

“Good. While you’re busy with that, Sekmet will buy, obtain, steal, whatever, some plants to go into these planters that won’t look out of place on Garden Island. Maahes, I want you to find a boat. We will only need it for a couple of hours two nights from now, the night before the parade. This is something else that can’t be linked back to us. Pay cash, borrow, or steal. Got it?”

“Got it,” he muttered.

“While all this is going on, I will make the explosives and the detonator. In two nights, we put it all together. I will put the explosives and the shrapnel into the planters that the boys have supplied. Sekmet will add the plants. We will transport them to the boat, take the boat to the island, and place them along the route. The next day, Sekmet and I will go for a walk along the opposite riverbank, and at the right moment, I will hit the button.”

“Sounds simple,” Ra said.

“Too simple,” Kuk added.

“It will work, trust me. And I know you want to set off the explosives, but I’m sorry. It’s my responsibility. I will do the honors. There will be plenty of opportunities for you later on.”

“You’re the boss,” Ra said.

“We understand.”

“This operation,” I continued, “is much different than the one in the desert. Here, all the danger we face is after the fact. I know how to make bombs, I learned from one of the best. I need each of you to make sure nothing you do can be traced back to the team. Do you kent?”

Four heads nodded in unison.

“All right, let’s get it done.”




Three days later, just as we’d planned, Sekmet and I strolled down the walking path on the green north bank of the Garden River. There were hundreds of birds around, frolicking in the delightfully cool morning air. Ducks and swans mingled with families on their blankets in the grass, hoping to pick up some picnic scraps. Laughing children chased the birds away, but only for a moment.

I’d gotten used to the deference paid to me by Gebian adults, but this was my first real encounter with children.

Wanda doesn’t count. She was special. And she never did what these children did.

At least a dozen times along the path, a small child ran up and touched me, gently, on my forearm before scampering back to its family. At first, it was a curiosity, but eventually, it became a little too weird.

“All right, what the hell?” I asked Sekmet after a boy ran away from me, laughing.

“They just want to touch you,” Sekmet snickered.


“Because you’re adorable.”


“They want to see if you’re real, that’s all. They never see someone like you in person. My entire childhood, I prayed to Augur, but until I met you, I’d never seen a real dwarf.”

“It’s just curiosity?”

“They want to go back and tell their teachers and friends they saw Augur on his holy day.”

“Right before a huge explosion killed scores of people,” I said, thinking maybe the twins were right, and I should not have insisted on pulling the trigger myself.

“If they connect the two, which they won’t, they will only think you kept them safe because you were here with them on this side of the river.”

We sat on the riverbank directly across from the flowerpots. The parade had been in full swing for over an hour, but the first people – a school marching band – were only now passing through the blast zone. I pulled the parade schedule out of my pocket even though I’d looked at it dozens of times and knew what it would tell me: the 2nd Retusa Battalion, the first military unit in the parade, was tenth on the list.

It was fitting, I suppose. The 2nd Battalion was one of the units responsible for recruiting and training Prosledites to conduct attacks on Earth. I had no way of knowing if they had recruited the people who killed my parents, but I was almost certain they had recruited the Johnsons. Alan made a cryptic reference one night on the Columbus I didn’t fully understand until I arrived on Geb.

Sekmet and I held hands as we waited but didn’t talk. We — and by we, I mean Sekmet — decided to place the detonator between our palms, and to detonate, we simply needed to squeeze three times in quick succession. I’d told the group this was my responsibility, but Sekmet reminded me we were a team and did everything together. Including this.

I grew more nervous as the seconds ticked by. We had planned to remain on the riverbank for a few minutes after the explosions, then drift away, along with everyone else. But the kids spooked me. I was starting to think the less time we spent there, the better.

“I think we should go,” I said, standing up.

“What’s wrong?”

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

“I’ll tell you what doesn’t feel right. Not sticking to the plan.”

“We can still do it while we’re walking away. It’s fine.”

She eyed the ground next to her and pulled my hand back down, causing the detonator to click once.

I sat down fast.

“Just a couple more minutes now,” she said, surveying the scene around us. There was a family ten meters to our left with a waddling of ducks hovering around, waiting to nip any food that strayed off their blanket. A thick stand of trees stood on our right. Dozens of people were in the park behind us, but no one paid us any attention. I had no reason to be nervous, but I was nonetheless. I can’t explain it.

Looking back across the river, I watched as the 2nd Battalion reached the first flower pot. They suspected nothing, and neither did anyone else. Seeing flowers on Garden Island was like seeing sand in the desert. Their absence would look out of place, not their presence.

When the first rank of soldiers reached the third flower pot, I started a countdown from five in my head. Five more paces until we clicked the detonator.

Four. Three. Two.

I nodded to Sekmet, and we squeezed the detonator three times. There was a half-second lag before the bombs exploded, sending dirt and debris and a fine red mist into the air.

Sekmet was right. We didn’t need to deviate from the plan. It would have looked more suspicious, in fact, if we had been walking away from the blast while everyone else was rushing toward it to catch of glimpse of what had happened.

Once they did, most of them covered their children’s eyes and hurried them away from the scene, allowing us to leave the riverbank.

As word of the explosions spread, panicked people filled the streets. I didn’t anticipate civilians dying in a stampede following our attack, but as Sekmet and I tried to find a way to get home, it looked like a distinct possibility. Like a school of fish evading a predator, they rushed away from the site of the blast. But unlike fish, people only move in two dimensions and as a result, the sidewalks and intersections closest to the river immediately clogged. Cars are dispassionate and can automatically avoid traffic to take the most efficient route. But people under duress act irrationally and not in their best interest.

Panicked parents pulled their children behind them as they ran through the park and pushed in on the crowd already gathered at the park exit. Near the back, we managed to avoid most of the pressure but saw women and children crying and collapsed on the grass as we filtered out onto the street.

The crowd thinned a bit as we trotted away from the park. The panic on the faces around us lessened the farther away we got from the blast site. The panic on my own face was real, but not for the same reason. You don’t really know fear until you’ve been midget in the middle of a stampede.

An hour later, the streets were almost back to normal, and in total, it took us two hours to make it back to the shelter.

“Thank you,” I said once we were inside. “Without you, that would not have been a success.”

“I know,” she said.

“So we’re going with modesty now, are we?”

“You don’t have to thank me for something we both know was the right suggestion. And I won’t thank you for your brilliance in putting those bombs together.”

“Well, I mean, you can.”

“You don’t have to thank me every time we have sex, either.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“But if we hurry upstairs, I might let it slide this time.”

I stopped and pulled her arm around to face me. “Are you serious? After what we just did? How can you be in the mood?”

She crouched down and kissed me softly on the lips. “I’m not in the mood. I hate this and just want to make it all go away. You do that for me. I don’t think about anything else when we’re together except for how much you love me and how much I love you. And right now, that is all I want to think about.”




The next morning, I spotted light spilling out underneath the Team Room door as I waddled to the bathroom, so I pushed it open and went inside.

Startled, Maahes stood up and turned to block the ledger on the wall behind him. A black marker dangled from the fingers of his right hand, and when he saw me looking at it, he whipped it behind his back.

“It’s ok,” I said. “Let me see.”

He bowed his head and stepped aside. The number on the right had not changed, but the number on the left, the ‘Prosledite’ column, had increased.

“Did something happen?” I asked.

“Cairo,” he said. “They hit a bus. Every news outlet says twenty dead, but this includes the two terrorists. We don’t count them, right?”

I shook my head.” They don’t count.”

“I thought not.”

“You’re here early.”

“I heard about Cairo, and I looked at all the reports to make sure we had the right number and when I had it I wanted to make sure I told you so I came here and Qetesh let me in I didn’t break in or anything and when I got upstairs your door was closed so I came in here and the wall was just there I thought it couldn’t hurt to write the number there and then you came in.”

“I think that was more than I’ve heard you say, ever.”

“I’m shy in groups.”

“I know the feeling.” I thought about Amanda for the first time in a long time. “What about our attack? Any news?”

“All the reports say it was an accident. Unexploded ordinance.”

“And my streams?” I asked hopefully.

“Twenty-six people watched since yesterday. Eight on Earth, Eighteen on Geb.”

“Amazing,” I shook my head. “Augur has come back to life and is taking credit for killing people, but nobody cares.”

“Nobody believes it. It’s not real yet. But, I have some ideas. I think I could help.”

“Sekmet already helps.” I pulled out a chair for him and hopped on the one next to it. “Besides, it would be boring for you to spend hours with me in this room, correcting my grammar.”

“Well,” he said as he sat down, “I was hoping to take a slightly different role on the team.”

“Why? Are you not happy with what you’re doing?”

“I am. I just…Do you know how I got this scar?” He closed his eyes and traced the line with his fingers.

“Ra told me your father did it.”

“Did he tell you why?”


“To punish me. For refusing to go to Earth with him and my family. The only reason we were going was so one day I could die in an attack. I had to die in the attack. My father was clear on that point. He said it was my holy duty, but I know he only wanted the money. I told him no, I would not do it, but he wouldn’t listen. When it was time to leave Geb, I refused. He beat me. Right in front of the whole family. My mother, my brothers, my sister. Then he pulled out the knife.” He traced the scar with his fingers again.

“Why didn’t he kill you?”

“He would have, but I broke free and ran out of the house. My whole family just watched. No one tried to stop him. No one tried to help.”

“Why the eyes?”

“Augur once cut out a traitor’s eyes, although I doubt my father read about it in the Heka. He’s never read a book in his entire life.”

“So, what does this have to do with us?”

“After they left, I was alone. I was on the streets, looking like this, and I grew so angry. With my parents, religion, the government, everyone. The whole system exists to serve God, and I wanted to tear it all down. When Ra and Kuk told me about you, I thought this was perfect. You want to tear down the system, too, and I can help. But something happened in the desert. Fear overcame me. I was paralyzed. I don’t want to die. It’s the only reason I found the strength to fight off my father. I want to live to see the next year and the year after that.”

“Most of our operations will not be like the desert. They will be like Garden Island.”

“I was as afraid the night we planted those bombs as I was in the desert. I just hid it better.”

“You don’t want to do this anymore?”

“I want to take a more administrative role. You won’t be able to count on me out there, in the middle of an operation.”

“So things like research or streams or anything that keeps you out of harm’s way.”

“I know the others will not understand, and I will be an outcast, but I don’t care. I still want to help.”

I thought for a few moments but didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t say no. There was no protocol for leaving the group, and we needed every warm body we could find. So I had to say yes, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling of distrust I had for him. So I decided to see if I could change that.

“We’re all outcasts, Maahes, but you and I are related through shared experience and friendship.”

I hoped he might respond to that phrase better than Sekmet did, and I was right. He fell onto his knees and held his hands out in front of him, palms up. He chanted something unintelligible, then fell to the floor, stretching his arms out until he lay, fully prostrate, on the floor in front of me.

“I thought you were an atheist,” I said flatly.

He lifted his head off the floor. “Old habits.” He scrambled back to his feet.

“It’s ok.” I jumped off the chair and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” He asked.

“To the bathroom, which is where I was going before I walked in here. Besides, you have work to do.”


“We have an imbalance in the ledger, don’t we? By the end of the day, I want to see at least two proposals to fix it.”




“You’re an imbecile.”

Sekmet was characteristically subtle when I told her about my conversation with Maahes.

“What would you have done?” I asked, picking up the clothes on our bedroom floor while she made the bed.

“I would have made sure the door hit his ass on the way out.”

“I couldn’t do that. He’s on our side.”

“He’s not on our side if he’s not willing to fight.” She slammed her fist into a pillow for emphasis.

“At least he has the courage to admit that he’s afraid. He knows his limitations.”

“And you brought him into your trust. Our trust. You’re like a child who’s found his father’s knife and is running around carving his initials into everything. You banned asmatzenbadu. I’m banning this phrase. You can’t use it anymore unless you talk to me first.”

“You’re overreacting. I don’t trust him, that’s why I said what I did. I don’t want him blabbing to the authorities one day because he thinks we mistreated him.”

“How are you not getting this? Tying him to us means tying us to him. I don’t want him dragging us down into his bullshit.”

“This is just about the mission. It doesn’t have to get personal.”

“You just made it personal.”

She had a point. I didn’t want to admit to her I hadn’t fully thought through the consequences of what I’d said. It was a gut instinct. I hoped I wouldn’t live to regret my decision with Maahes, but it was done. There was no use talking about it anymore.

“He says he wants to help me do that streams,” I said, trying to change the subject.

“Won’t that be too scary for him?”

I ignored the jab. “Why aren’t more people paying attention. Am I not saying the right things?”

“We have to be patient,” she sat down on the bed. “The story will spread. People will ignore the truth if the lie is more interesting. But the government’s lies are achingly dull. A gang of thieves in the desert. A hundred-year-old unexploded bomb on the island. Our truth is much more interesting. And before this is all over, we’ll have a fascinating lie to go along with it. Ten people may hear our story today, but tomorrow it could be ten thousand. And the whole planet after that.”

“So we shouldn’t change what we’re doing.”

“We are changing. You just hired a new script advisor to check your grammar and pronunciation.”

“But you haven’t done it long enough. You don’t hate me yet.”

She got off the bed and pecked me on the cheek. “I wouldn’t be too sure about that.”




“I don’t think this should be all about you,” Maahes said as I tried to secure the wig on my head.

“Who else should it be about?” I asked. “The point of this whole thing is Augur coming back to Geb.”

“Augur did nothing on his own. He made his pronouncements, and his followers obeyed.”

“Except I have no followers. Nobody is listening.”

“No one has to know that,” Maahes said. “Make it sound like you have followers. A lot of them. And they are the ones conducting attacks in your name.”

“Won’t they think less of me if I can’t magically blow things up?” I hadn’t spent much time thinking about how people would perceive the mechanics of our attacks.

“Augur’s a General, not a God. Only God can perform miracles.”

“How many is a lot?” I asked. “A hundred? A thousand?”

“Don’t talk numbers. Augur speaks in generalizations. Make it sound like you have followers everywhere without specifying who they are or how many.”

“Eventually, we will need followers everywhere. We can’t fool people forever.”

“But we can fool them long enough.” He leaned over to study my makeup through the mirror.

“Should I give them a name? When I talk about my followers, what should I call them?”

“Don’t call them anything. The more mysterious you are, the more meaning people will attach to your words. But don’t worry about it, you put that mole on the other side of your face, and I’ll re-write the speech.”

“Shit!” I leaned in and looked at Augur’s picture.

I’d done it again.


Chapter Fifteen


“There are two things we need to do,” I began, as soon as everyone was assembled again in the Team Room, “We need to plan our next attack. I approved the target Maahes presented to me last night. We also need to recruit more people to the team, not just in New Jerusalem, either. We need to diversify.”

“We have some thoughts on why no one is watching your streams,” Ra said.

“I have thoughts. You never do.”

“Shuts,” Ra put his hand in front of Kuk’s face. “Everyone knows the Grover concert is this weekend, right?”

Nods and affirmative murmurs rippled around the room. We’d all seen Grover’s face plastered around the city. 

“Do you know how many flyers are posted for the concert?” Ra asked, already looking triumphant.

“Five million,” Kuk answered, making it obvious they’d worked this bit out beforehand. 

“Just three hundred and fifty.”

“Bullshit,” Sekmet blurted out. “There’s no way you counted them.”

“Didn’t need to. I read it in an article.”

“I read it,” Kuk said. “He can’t read.”

“Hold on,” I said. “Are you suggesting we use flyers? We’d have to get them printed and put them up, and we can get caught doing that. Our streams are untraceable, everyone can see them, and Sekmet and I believe they’ll start to get noticed soon.”

“You’re wrong,” Ra said.

“Way wrong,” Kuk agreed.

“If the government finds your streams,” Ra continued, “they will shut them down. They’ll never reach large numbers of people.”

“It doesn’t matter if they take them down,” Sekmet objected. “We’ll put them up somewhere else.”

“Somewhere no one will find them,” Ra answered. 

“And if the government does find them again,” Kuk added, “the result will be the same. We’ll never get the exposure.”

“Won’t flyers be torn down, too?” Maahes said in a tiny voice.

“Yes,” Kuk said, “but before that happens, thousands of people will walk by. They can’t help but see them. Flyers bring the message to the people instead of forcing the people to find one specific stream amidst the billions of streams floating around.”

“Even if it works here,” I asked, “what about Earth?”

“Yeah, that’s a problem,” Ra answered.

“We’ve got nothing,” Kuk added.

“What about a reporter?” Sekmet asked. “One who can broadcast our story on both planets. Then we wouldn’t need flyers.”

“Hey!” Ra howled. “We haven’t finished our flyer pitch yet.”

“We can do both,” I interjected. “More is better.”

“I think we need a visual, too,” Ra continued. “A logo.”

“I thought of that!”

“You had your chance to get on board with this,” Ra needled his brother. “We need something that catches people’s attention as well as Grover’s frightful face does.”

“He reads one article and he’s an expert,” Kuk taunted. 

“What visual?” I asked.

“Something sinister,” Ra answered. “Like a skull.”

“Or a bomb. Or a gun,” Kuk added. 

“Something that lets everyone know we mean business,” Ra said.

“We could design a crest,” Sekmet weighed in, warming to the idea. “Or a seal like the ones that are on every temple.”

“How about a Retusa Tree?” Maahes asked.

“That’s perfect,” I said.

“Do you want to lead them straight to the building? There’s one right outside.” Sekmet pointed to the window.

“It doesn’t matter,” I responded. “There are thousands in the city.”

“There are exactly three hundred and twelve Retusa Trees in New Jerusalem,” Ra said. 

“Really?” Kuk and Sekmet asked simultaneously.

“No. I’m screwing with you,” Ra giggled. “I have no idea.” 

“Augur waited behind it to attack his enemies, right?” I turned to Sekmet. “That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

“I just hope it’s not too obvious.” She crossed her arms and leaned back.

“Any objections?” I asked and waited for a few moments before continuing. “It’s settled. After the next attack, we’ll do both a stream and flyers. I’ll write the script for both and give it to Maahes for corrections. Then he’ll figure out how to get three hundred and fifty leaflets printed up for Ra and Kuk, who will by that point have a plan for where to put them.”

“Got it, boss,” Ra said.

“More importantly, I’ve got it, too.”

“Quickly, our next target is the military reception station in the Industrial District. There is a courtyard in the middle where people congregate at various times during the day. It’s the perfect place for a bomb.”

“We checked it out,” Ra said. “New recruits take their break there in between classes.” 

“And as of yesterday, you can just walk right into the courtyard from the street,” Kuk added. “No security.”

“Perfect,” I said. “I will build the explosive and give it to Sekmet, who will drop it into a trash can at the center of the courtyard, then pull the trigger when the time is right.”

Sekmet nodded. 

“Now, the last item for today. Recruiting. Here’s how I want this to work. The five of us here are the core members of the organization. We all know each other, and if any one of us is captured, we could potentially give up the whole organization. From here on out, we create separate cells of people who do not know each other or the rest of us. Each of you is responsible for recruiting three or four people into your personal cell, but no one else can know who they are.”

“Including you?” Maahes asked.

“Including me. You each have my full trust. If you want to bring someone into the organization, I will not second-guess you. We’re doing this to limit the damage should anyone get captured. If one of your recruits, Maahes, gets arrested, he can give you up, but he can’t give up Kuk, for example.”

“What if we want to give up Kuk?” Ra asked.

“Shuts,” Kuk said.

“And we can’t limit our recruiting to this city,” I continued. “We have to expand beyond New Jerusalem. Except I have no idea how to do that.”

“I do,” Sekmet raised her hand. “I’m going to a conference in Orguny in two weeks. Reps from every shelter on Geb will be there. I can think of at least two people to talk to. Whether they will join is another matter.”

“You’re leaving in two weeks?” I asked, my face reddening. She hadn’t said a word to me.

“Yes.” She looked at me as if to say, ‘We’ll talk about this later,’ but I wanted to talk about it now.

“Ok, that’s it for today. Anyone have anything else?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “Good. Meeting adjourned. Sekmet, my dear, a word?”




After researching reporters who published on Earth and Geb, I decided to make contact with a woman named Ingrid Brown. She lived in the city and worked for the New Jerusalem Times, but most of the major markets on Earth picked up her stories as well. She seemed as fair and impartial as I could hope from a reporter, but there were a few others on the list in case she didn’t work out. 

We batted around dozens of ideas for how to contact her. Sekmet thought a live stream would be too risky. If Ingrid went to the police – and she did, eventually – they could trace it to us while it was running. Meeting her in person was even riskier. But Maahes came up with the perfect solution. He found out where she lived – a corner penthouse in Skloot Towers, journalism is apparently a lucrative profession – and went to the building. After making his way to the roof, he lowered one of the hand-held radios I’d brought from Earth onto her balcony. Then he waited for her to come home. When he saw her open the balcony’s sliding door, he told me to speak into the other device I had back in the Team Room.

“Ingrid. Ingrid!” I yelled into the radio. The link was encrypted, and no one else could, accidentally or otherwise, intercept our conversation. 


“Ingrid Brown, I’d like to speak to you for a moment. I have some information that will interest you.”

“Cute way to get my attention. Who is this?”

“I want to give you a story. An exclusive story. But before I do, I have two conditions.”

“What’s the story?”

“First condition. You will not–”

“Listen, whoever you are, tell me what the story is, or I’ll throw this radio off the balcony. I have hundreds of stories competing for my time. Why is yours more important?”

“Because I’ve killed a lot of people, and I’m planning to kill many more.”

A few moments of silence followed. 

“Why?” She asked.

“If you want the answer, you must agree to my conditions.”

“What are they?”

“First, the authorities will be looking for us, hard. You can answer any of their questions about our conversations, but you must not tell them about the radio you have in your hand. It will be of no use to them. They can’t use it to find me. But they will take it anyway, and we will lose our only means of communication. Second, I want you to relay our statements in full to the people of Earth and Geb. I don’t care what else you include in a story, but our entire statement must appear. In return, I guarantee you exclusive access. I promise not to speak with any other reporters. Violate either condition, and your access goes to someone else.”

“Is this a joke?” She scoffed. “Am I on camera?”

“This is no joke. We have already struck on Garden Island and in the Oken Desert.”

“Garden Island? That was an accident.”

“No, it wasn’t. It was God’s retribution. The Prosledites have taken it upon themselves to pass judgment on those who don’t believe in him. For every attack committed in his name on Earth, an equal and opposite reaction will be felt on Geb. We’re keeping a ledger, and we’re preparing another attack.”

“I’m sure you are.”

“Ingrid, I’m serious.”

“Most crazy people are. Tell you what. If you have some information about these so-called attacks that isn’t in the news, then give it to me. If it checks out, I might take you seriously.”

“In the desert,” I began, “We brought down a Scorpion. And on Garden Island, there were four bombs, not one.”

After another few moments of silence, she asked, “you shot down a Scorpion?”

“I did not say we shot it down.”

“Who did you say you were again?”

“Hold on to this radio. Turn it on at 2200 each night after an attack. Goodnight.”

“There’s no way this is real,” she said. “Hello? Are you still there?” I kept the radio on to see what she would say but had no intention of responding. 

Sekmet walked into the room. I smiled at her and held one finger up. “I’m almost done.”

“Did you turn the radio off, or are you still there and pretending not to listen?” Ingrid said, making me chuckle. 

I switched off the radio and turned to Sekmet.

“I think she might work.”




A week later, as Sekmet and I waited in the Team Room to talk to Ingrid, I wasn’t so sure. There had been two more attacks on Earth, and earlier that day, we had responded with one of our own, yet there was still a media blackout of our activities. Ingrid had not published any stories on either planet. Nobody was watching my streams. The flyers Ra and Kuk had put up were mostly gone within a day, so it was hard to gauge their impact. And our attacks had been explained away so thoroughly by the government that I began to wonder if they’d fooled themselves into thinking they were, in fact, accidents. 

At 2200 I clicked on the radio.

“Ingrid, are you there?”

I glanced at Sekmet sitting next to me. We had a substantial wager riding on whether or not she answered the radio. The winner would receive the sexual favor of their choice, and we both sat for a few agonizing moments waiting to hear which one of us would be happy later on.


“Yes!” Sekmet clapped her hands in glee.

“Shh!” I waited until she calmed down before keying the radio again. “Do you believe us now?”

“Standing up this time,” Sekmet said, unable to control her excitement.

“I believe you,” Ingrid said.

“We’ll see,” I said to Sekmet, then keyed the radio. “Will you publish our statement?”

“We had a bet! You can’t go back on it now.” Sekmet said when I released the push-to-talk button.

“I’m not going back–”

“They’ll never let me publish your statement,” Ingrid answered.

“I don’t know if it’ll work…geometrically.” I keyed the mic and said, “Why not? You have the story. You know it is true. Publish it.”

“Sure it will,” Sekmet stood up and pushed in her chair. “Here, stand up next to me.”

“That’s not how it works. Editors approve everything I publish, and they have to check with the government first. I guarantee they won’t approve your story,” Ingrid replied.

“Aren’t you in favor of free speech and a free press? How can you work for an organization that muzzles you?” I put the radio down and stood up.

“See,” Sekmet said, pulling my face into her crotch, “you’ll just have to bend down a little.”  

“This is demeaning,” I said.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Ingrid replied. “The government allows me to be here and gives me access that no other reporter on Earth has. It’s this access that’s important. But in exchange, I can’t always write what I want.”

“Maybe I can stand on something,” Sekmet said, looking around the room.

“It is crucial that people on Earth and Geb know what we’re doing and why. If our story doesn’t get out, none of this works.”

Sekmet found a small crate and put it in front of me. She climbed up on it but was way too tall. “Damn it,” she cursed and hopped down.

“Give me something else,” Ingrid said. “How many people are working with you?”

“We’re done here, Ingrid. You either publish our story, or you never hear from me again.”

“Heels!” Sekmet squealed and ran out of the room.

“Do we have to do this now?” I yelled after her.

“Wait! Wait! Listen, right now, this story is boring. I’ve got a faceless, nameless male voice coming out of a radio that magically appeared on my patio. You have to give me something else.”

I thought about giving her another nugget of information, but Sekmet came back into the room in a sexy pair of very high heels and walked right up next to me. 

“Perfect,” she said and peeled her pants off. “Let’s do this.”

“Ingrid, this will be the story of your career. If you want to pass on it, I don’t think there is much I can say to change your mind.”

I clicked off the radio, turned my head, and saw Sekmet standing half-naked behind me. 

“Should we at least close the door?”




When Sekmet left for the conference a week later, our ledger showed a deficit of thirty-nine. The number of attacks was even. We had conducted two in response to two attacks on Earth, but we hadn’t killed as many as the Prosledites had. 

Our deficit was growing, but I wasn’t concerned. Our organization was growing, too.

Ra and Kuk each reported that they had each recruited new personnel, but I didn’t ask who or how many. The conference might allow Sekmet to expand our reach beyond New Jerusalem. I wouldn’t know for sure until she returned. But Maahes was mum on the subject. I never told him he didn’t have to recruit. He just didn’t do it. 

Ra and Kuk twice put up flyers around the city, both times in the dead of night wearing horrible disguises they excitedly modeled for me beforehand. There were still no news stories, and my streams were not attracting any views. I didn’t think we were getting the exposure necessary for our attacks to have a deterrent effect. 

Scott began to change my mind.

He an older gentleman who knocked on our door the day Sekmet left. She’d put me in charge in her absence, but only after she’d spent a few days showing me the ropes. 

Guests always came and went. Isis and Ma’at had left together weeks before – Sekmet said both would be back. Qetesh was gone as well – for good, according to Sekmet. Others I only knew by sight continuously filtered in and out, and it was one of them who came to get me when Scott arrived.

“Yes?” I said through the intercom while watching the stream as Sekmet taught me.

“Hello. I understand you help people…I was told you do…by, ahh…anyway, I…I need help.”

Sekmet had warned me to be suspicious of older men seeking refuge from a society that revered older men. Usually, they didn’t need assistance but instead are looking for a wife or sister or cousin who ran away. I had to talk to him. The shelter never rejected anyone without vetting them first. But my standard for evidence had to be very, very high. So after making sure he was alone, I let him in and conducted an interview.

“Standby for a second,” I said and closed the door to the dining room and kitchen so he couldn’t accidentally see any of our clientele. “Coming in!” I yelled upstairs to warn anyone who might be thinking about walking down. Then I went back to the front door. After dragging a stool over to reach the top lock, I finally opened the door.

“I’m Horus. Why don’t you step inside our office, and we’ll have a chat.”

“Horus. Interesting name. I’m Scott.”

I pointed him to the small office Sekmet used for this purpose and engaged only the locks I could reach without the stool. Then I followed him into the office and closed the door. 

He remained standing while I climbed into Sekmet’s desk chair. When I did, he took a seat on the opposite wall. He had a round, puffy face and gray eyes of a color I’d never seen on Earth. He was nearly bald and wore a grungy, unwashed long-sleeved shirt and greasy pants. Like most people who ended up at the shelter, he’d spent a few nights alone on the street. I could tell he was fit and healthy – a sign of wealth on Geb – which made his presence here all the more suspicious. 

“Tell me your story, Scott. What kind of help do you need?”

He fidgeted with his hands in his lap before answering. “I just need a place to stay for a while, to figure things out. I can’t go home.”

“Why not?” 

“I… I just can’t. I wouldn’t be very welcome.”

“I need to know why Scott. The people who stay here are extremely vulnerable, and we don’t let anyone in without checking to make sure they are who they say they are.”

“Margo told me to come. She said you would understand.”

“I’m sure she did.” Margo ran a Cafe a few streets away. She sometimes directed people to us, but usually just to keep them from loitering and making her customers feel uneasy. She was a sweet lady but asked no questions whatsoever. “But I still need to know who you are and why you’re here.”

“Is there, maybe…someone else I can talk to?” 

Then it clicked. Sekmet had also warned me this might happen. The reverence which Prosties afforded people of my size made them reluctant to confess anything resembling a sin. 

She’d told me what to say to ease his mind.

“You do not need to worry. I grew up on Earth, and I am not a Prosledite. I do not judge, nor do I speak to anyone who will.”

He exhaled audibly. “I’m sorry. I… I know it’s stupid. You run this shelter. Why shouldn’t I trust you?”

“Let’s build trust together, Scott. Tell me why you’re here.”

“Well, I’m different from most people. Always have been. But I tried to fit in. I tried to do what the holy book says. I mean, I got married and had a family, and I can tell by the look on your face you don’t care about any of this.”

“Everyone here is in mortal danger. They have nowhere else to turn. I sympathize with people who are just different, but they don’t stay at our shelter.”

“I’m a woman.” Scott squeezed his eyes shut.

“I’m sorry?”

“My brain is much more female than male. For all intents and purposes, I am a woman.” 

“Oh, ok. So?”

“What do you mean, so? Four days ago, I confessed this to my wife, who told her brother, who went to my office the next day with a knife and tried to kill me. Then he told everyone at our temple, and fifty of them broke down our front door. They would have dragged me into the street and beaten me to death if I hadn’t snuck out the back with only the clothes I’m wearing.”

I felt smaller with each word he spoke – not an easy feat for me. I’d heard a few stories about how transgender people were treated on Geb, but they always sounded too fantastic to be real. I thought the people telling those stories were making them up or being overly hyperbolic. Hadn’t we solved this problem hundreds of years ago? How could it come back like this? It’s as if someone told you a doctor was still treating cancer with chemotherapy. It wouldn’t compute.

How did this happen? Religion. Augur said transgender people were sick and needed to be treated psychologically. And this is how a fit, wealthy middle-aged person like Scott can go from a respected community member one day to a person worthy of death the next. 

“Please, accept my apologies. On Earth, the story you told would be unimaginable. I sometimes forget I am now on another planet, both literally and figuratively.”

He smiled and wiped tears from his eyes. “Apology accepted.”

“Can you tell me where you live and work?”


“I need to check your story. If your brother-in-law came to your workplace and a mob broke down your front door, we should be able to find evidence of this.”

“You don’t believe me? You need to go to my house before you give me a room? How long is that going to take? I could be dead in the meantime.”

“There is no certainty without corroboration. If I verify your story, you will have built trust in my eyes. And by completing that verification process, I will be building trust in your eyes. You will know the next person I let in won’t be one of that mob trying to kill you.”

“Quite right,” he said, then gave me his home and work address.

“Good,” I said, writing it all down. “I’ll get word to Margo one way or the other by this time tomorrow. Check in with her periodically.”

“The Cafe?” He looked deflated. “I don’t really like hanging around that place. Too many people.”

“Margo makes good food.”

“I’m worried the Alegad might strike there.”

“The who?”

“The Alegad. The terrorists. The ones who attack people here after an attack on Earth. I’ve seen their signs, the one with the Retusa Tree on it. Have you heard of them?”

“I have,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm and even. “I didn’t realize they had a name.”

“That’s just what people call them.”

“I’m not familiar with the word,” I said. “What does it mean?”


“And why do you think these disciples will strike the Cafe?”

“I don’t. But there are a lot of people there, and I know more attacks are coming.”

“How do you know that?” I asked, hoping to hear the correct answer. 

“Because there was another attack on Earth yesterday. An attack here cannot be far behind.”

He was right. 

When he interrupted me, I was building the explosive we would use in an attack the next day.

We wouldn’t plant it at Margo’s Cafe. There were civilians there. But I didn’t tell him that.

“If you don’t feel safe, you can come here tomorrow and wait out front instead of waiting at the cafe. But I will send word to Margo just in case.”

“Thank you, Horus. Why did your parents choose that name, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“They didn’t. Inside these walls, we are all Egyptian gods. And if you come back, you will be, too.”




Not only did we verify Scott’s story, we found out he was in much greater danger than he realized. 

His wife and children had disowned him – an inexact description because there is no single word in English to describe what happened. Her father initiated the action since a woman on Geb has few legal rights where marriage and family are concerned. And because her father had ‘given’ his daughter to Scott at the time of their marriage, he retained the right under Gebian law to take her back if the marriage was found to have been consummated under false or nefarious pretenses. When Scott told his wife he was transgender, this gave her father reason to annul their marriage. All of Scott’s property – his home, bank account, even his personal effects — were now legally owned by his ex-wife’s father. 

Scott no longer had anything to his name. 

But there was more. Transsexuality was not only prohibited by the Prosledite religion, it was also illegal. Scott would be arrested and prosecuted if the authorities caught him before the mob did.

He was in danger hanging around Margo’s cafe, but not the terrorist danger he envisioned. 

I wondered how much time and effort the police put into finding people like Scott and if it was more or less than the effort they put into finding people like me. It would be an interesting thing to study, if I ever have the time.

But here is my favorite part of Scott’s story: the mob that broke into his house didn’t just turn around and leave empty-handed. They dragged Scott’s bot out into the street and set it on fire. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking: this doesn’t make sense! Except there was a perverse logic to it, one I don’t believe even Gabriel’s efforts to change the Gebian education system could address.

The Heka says nothing specifically about bots. Augur lived long before they were mass-produced, but he did live in the computer and internet age. He saw the technology of that age as a step away from God. He understood people using this technology could more readily read scripture or connect with others who were like-minded and faithful. Still, those pious purposes were easily overwhelmed in his mind by the other temptations of technology. Augur didn’t strictly forbid his followers from using computers, but he did prohibit any usage that didn’t promote God’s message. 

When bots were first introduced to Geb, a vigorous debate ensued. Some religious conservatives argued bots should be prohibited because they do not glorify God, and they promote deadly sins like sloth and gluttony and greed. Moderates countered with the idea that anyone relieved of menial tasks like cooking or cleaning has more free time to glorify God. The two sides fortified their positions, and something of a compromise was reached. Bots would not be banned on Geb, but they would not be produced there, either. 

Like everything else not subjected to market forces, the rich were the only beneficiaries of this deal. Only they had enough money to import bots from Earth, and once they did, they quickly learned to keep them hidden away at home. The lower classes did not like to be reminded of their status and the unlikelihood of ever moving up, especially when the object in question was religiously contentious. 

In just a few short years, mere ownership of a bot became prima facie evidence of moral turpitude, no doubt fueled by incidents like this. If ‘sinful’ Prosledites – like Scott – own the only bots you see, it becomes easy to confuse correlation with causation and believe the bots to be responsible for the sin.

Scott was stoic when I explained how his father-in-law had dissolved his marriage, but he was devastated to hear about his bot.

“Stephan didn’t do anything,” he hung his head. “He was in our family for years and knew me better than anyone. Better than my wife…”

We were on the third floor, standing in front of his room. He had nothing but the clothes on his back. The same clothes he wore yesterday. 

I held out the key. “Here you go. You can stay as long as you like, subject to my wife’s approval, of course. And I think you’d be a perfect candidate for asylum on Earth if you’re interested. No need to give me an answer now. I know you have a lot to think about.”

“Thank you, Horus.” He took the key and turned it over in his hands. “But I don’t know if I’m ready to go anywhere yet. This is my home. If I can’t live here…”

I let the silence linger for a few seconds before moving on. “Kitchen is downstairs. I wouldn’t recommend leaving the shelter but if you feel the need, come find me on the second floor. Have you settled on a name?”

“Caitlin. I understand the Egyptian God thing, but I’ve always wanted to be called Caitlin, and I’m tired of hiding who I am.”

“Caitlin it is.”

Suddenly, I heard feet pounding the steps behind me. 

“Horus!” Maahes cried out. He ran up and grabbed my shoulder. “The police are here. Out front.”


“The police!” Caitlin’s eyes widened, and she clutched her chest.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll take care of them. Maahes, show her to the panic room.”

“You better hurry,” Maahes responded. “They don’t look happy.”

“They never are,” I said and jogged toward the stairs. 

Two women ran past me, heading upstairs. When I got to the first floor, I checked the kitchen and dining room to make sure they were empty. I thought about running back to the second floor to ensure everything in the team room was locked away, but I was typically meticulous about tidying up before leaving that room, and the pounding at the front door grew more frantic.

I pressed the intercom button and, in my best falsetto, asked, “Who is it?” 

“Open the door!” Officer Minkle yelled back.

“Oh, Officer Minkle. I didn’t know it was you. Hold on a minute while I get the locks.”

I had let Caitlin in a few moments before, so the only engaged locks were ones I could reach. I waited for thirty seconds or so anyway, just to piss him off. When the pounding started up again, I opened the door.

Black uniforms came flooding into the shelter, and this time they didn’t stay in the entryway. Two bolted into the dining room, and four others sprinted up the stairs. Minkle strolled in afterward with two officers — who couldn’t have been more than teenagers — in tow.

“I did NOT give you permission to search the shelter, Minkle.”

“I don’t need it,” he crooned. “We are in direct pursuit of a wanted criminal seen entering this shelter minutes ago.”

“He’s not here.” Sekmet hadn’t prepared me for this. I was improvising. 

“How do you know who I am looking for?” 

“If you’re looking for a man called Scott, he was here, but he left.”

His face fell at the mention of Scott’s name. “Where did he go?”

“Out the back.” I pointed toward the kitchen. “We don’t harbor fugitives here, and you know that. But that doesn’t mean we hold on to them until you arrive.”

“Impossible. I have a team out back.” 

“Well, then you need to have a talk with them. I said goodbye to him personally less than five minutes ago.” Minkle might be bluffing about the team out back, but even if he wasn’t, it was easy to get lost out there. The alley wasn’t lit, and there was all manner of places to hide. 

“Perhaps we’ll find him upstairs?” He walked toward the stairs and looked up.

“No chance. The only people up there are Alegad terrorists.”

He whipped around. “What did you say?”

“That’s a joke, Minkle. You’re going to find the same thing that you always do. Nothing.”

“What do you know of the Alegad?” He approached me slowly.

“Only whispers from the street.”

“You know,” he hiked up the fabric of his pants and bent down in front of me. “Your wife and I have played this game for years. Women come here after running away from their husbands for this or that silly reason. Your wife hides them. I come here and pretend to look when my boss tells me to. I don’t look too hard because, in the end, there is a reason why these women run away, and they usually return home soon enough on their own. But the Alegad…now they are something entirely different. I don’t care if you hurry a transsexual out the back before I show up, but if I find out,” his eyes bored holes through mine, “you did that with a terrorist? Well, I might have to come in heavy one night. You won’t like me if I come in heavy.”

The two officers emerged from the dining room. “First floor is clear, sir.” 

“Did you check the back?” Minkle asked, eyes still focused on me.

“Yes, sir. We didn’t see anything.”

“Perhaps you are telling the truth, Horus.”

“Listen, Minkle, I am a Gebian first, and the terrorists are our enemy.” My joke about the Alegad had him spooked, and I needed to make him think helping them was a line I would never cross. “If one of them walked in here, trust me, you would be the first to know. But here’s the part I don’t get. I hear about them only from people on the street. You don’t say anything to me. You don’t warn me about them. There is nothing in the media. How do I know what’s real and what’s rumor?”

“I don’t understand politics,” he stood up and stretched out his knees. “It’s one of the reasons I’ll never be promoted. But you must trust me. The stories you hear are true. If you ever have any information on the Alegad, you need to tell me.”

“You have my word,” I said, completing what I thought was a pretty good all-around performance. 

“Sir, top two floors are clear,” reported one of the officers who’d returned from upstairs. 

“Of course they are,” Minkle said, holding his hand out to me. “Time to go, boys.”




When Sekmet returned, I gathered the principals – what I now called the group’s five original members – together in the Team Room. The ledger was almost even for the first time since we’d began. Our last attack, which happened shortly after Officer Minkle left the shelter, had almost settled the score. But our attack wasn’t the reason I called this meeting. 

Officer Minkle was.

“I had an interesting conversation with Officer Minkle a few days ago,” I began, pacing back and forth in front of the ledger. “He knows the Alegad exist, and he’s looking for us. Ordinary people have begun to react to our threat. The last gentleman to come into the shelter told me he’s worried about frequenting places where lots of people congregate. We may not see it in the news, but we have started to change the rules in New Jerusalem. We need to stay ahead of it.”

“How?” Ra asked.

“Stupid question.”

“It’s not a stupid question, Kuk. I don’t have an answer–”


“–but what I do know is we should stay unpredictable. You’ve put flyers on the same corners three times in a row now, right?”

“Right,” they both said in unison.

“Don’t do that anymore. In fact, don’t put them up yourselves. Pay someone to put them up on different corners. Tell your cells to be careful who they talk to. Only do limited recons of a target. The more data the police have, the easier it will be for them to put one of us at multiple attack sites.”

“That’s why we wear disguises,” Kuk beamed.

“Face recognition can see through some disguises,” Sekmet said.

“Not ours,” Ra said defiantly. 

“Listen,” I barked, “the point is to never get yourself in a position where the authorities can predict what you’re going to do or where you’re going to be. Thus far, we have been predictable by limiting ourselves to New Jerusalem. But now we have other options. Sekmet?”

“Right,” Sekmet cleared her throat. “I recruited two people at the conference. Bast from Konstantini and Hathor from Orguny.”

“They are now principals, founding members, just like all of us,” I said.

“They were more than willing to join,” Sekmet continued, “and said they would start recruiting their own people.”

“And when they are ready,” I jumped in. “Maahes, they will need support and supplies.”

Maahes raised his thumb into the air.

“Maybe we won’t need them,” Ra said. “We’re close to even now. Maybe there won’t be any more attacks on Earth.”

Kuk snorted. “Don’t be stupid.”

“I hope you’re right, Ra. But something tells me not enough time has passed, and not enough people have died.”




Chatting with Caitlin made me realize I was spending far too much time locked inside the shelter. Sekmet had said the same thing many times, but her reasons were personal. This was business. From inside, I wasn’t getting enough information about what was happening out on the streets of New Jerusalem. So, after Sekmet returned from the conference, I took her to lunch most every day at Margo’s Cafe. 

We didn’t talk much while we were there. Instead, we watched and listened to the people around us. Most of what we heard was standard, information-free gossip. But every once in a while, we heard people speak in hushed tones about the Alegad. 

“I’m not scared,” said one guy with an impossibly thick mustache. “That’s what they want. And besides, they don’t kill civilians anyway, so we’re safe.”

“Not yet,” said his companion across the table, a woman wearing a flamboyant, ornate wig.

“If we vary our routine at all, they win. We just need to do the same things we always do.”

“I saw a guard at the metro station this morning. Never seen that before. Why would he be there if they only target military folks?”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. They’re winning. Getting us to change our routine.”

I glanced at Sekmet. It didn’t feel like we were winning.

Wig lady took a sip of tea. “Did I hear your sister is getting married?”

“More bad news,” mustache man answered. “The guy is an asshole, but he has money, so my parents are pleased.”

“Where are they having their party?”

“They were having it at the Red Room, but now it will be in his parent’s backyard. They don’t want to be a terrorist target. I wish someone would catch these people so life could go back to normal.”

“But even if they were caught, the news wouldn’t report it.”

“That, they would report,” mustache man countered. “They suppress the embarrassing stuff.”

The two talked for a while longer about the wedding and other irrelevancies before getting up to leave. Sekmet and I followed shortly afterward, long ago having finished our lunch. 

“Did you catch what they said about the guards at the metro stations?” I asked on our way home.

“We should tell the others.”

We walked in silence for a few seconds before I continued. “Those two made it sound like we are having quite the impact.”

“On this planet, maybe. What about Earth?”

“We can’t really gauge our impact on Earth.”

“Sure, we can. Two attacks there in the last three days. Thirty more people dead and thirty more here we have to kill.”

“Twenty-nine,” I corrected. 

“Has nitpicking me ever worked out for you?”

“Ingrid is publishing articles on Earth. You’ve seen them.”

“They’re not under her name, she calls herself Lauren White, and maybe three people see them. And I swear to Augur if you nitpick that number, I’ll cut your balls off and feed them to the birds.”

“I’ll talk to her after our next op. Tell her it isn’t working out.”

“We also need to think about moving out of the shelter. Minkle might just surprise us and actually raid the place one day. I don’t think we can count on the Team Room being safe forever.”

“Where should we move?” 

“I don’t know. But we need to find something.”

“What do you think about me recruiting Caitlin?” I asked, changing the subject again.

“I’ve barely talked to her. She leaves her room less than you.”

“I think I might. She says all the right things. I think she just needs a little push.”

“A little push is all you can give her.” She squeezed my hand.

“A short joke? After threatening to cut off my balls? Nothing for you tonight, standing up or otherwise.”

“We’ll see.”




The next day I invited Caitlin into the Team Room and locked the door behind us. 

“I didn’t know there was a storage room in here. What’s in all these?” She ran her hand over the top of a crate. 

“Have a seat. I want to ask you something, but only on one condition.”

“What’s that?” Caitlin asked, sitting near the window. 

“Nothing we discuss here can leave this room. You have to promise me that.”

She chuckled uncomfortably. “Ok. Why? What are you going to tell me?”

“If you don’t want the burden, fine. I understand. I kept your secret when the police knocked on our door, and I need you to do the same.”

“You’re starting to scare me.” 

“Just promise me, Caitlin. Or don’t. But I won’t say anything more until you answer.”

She thought for a moment, then licked her thumb and held it out. “Thumb pact.” 

“Thumb pact?”

“Didn’t you ever do this as a kid? If you go back on your word, the other person gets to cut your thumb off.”

“Never heard of it,” I said, holding my thumb out to her. “But thumb pact it is.”

“You have to lick it.”


“I don’t know. It doesn’t work if you don’t.”

I licked my thumb and she grabbed with hers and shook them both vigorously. 

“Alright,” she said, letting go. “What do you want to ask me?”

“That’s it? Nothing else with the thumbs?”

“The pact is sealed.”

“Good. Do you remember the first time we met when you told me about the Alegad?”

“Sure. Why?”

“Funny thing about that.”




I had to hand it to Caitlin. She remained stoic the entire time I spoke, never betraying her emotions. When I finished explaining our rules, she looked out the window at the Retusa tree for a long while before speaking.

“So, you kill innocent people?” 

“Not exactly. They’re military and government—”

“It’s a binary state of being. Either they’re innocent, or they’re not. If I say, do you kill innocent people, and you say not exactly, then you don’t get to say anything after that.”

“I’m guessing you’re not interested in joining us.”

“All my heroes are non-violent, and they changed the world. Gandhi drove the British out of India without firing a shot. We can do the same thing here.”

“I used to think like you,” I said, “until I realized what made Gandhi successful.”


“The British.”

“Wow. You are evil and ignorant.”

“Peaceful civil disobedience in the furtherance of human rights is only effective against those who view both peace and human rights as virtues. As long as the only source of virtue on this planet is the Heka, non-violent revolutions are doomed to failure.”

“People here want to live in peace.” Caitlin’s tone was defensive. “They value human rights.”

“If your point is humans in general desire those things, then I agree. But religion overrides both here. Augur preaches violence, as you know all too well, and the government cares nothing for your rights as a transgender person.”

“Peace is still the only way to change a system. You can’t do it by killing people.”

“To the contrary. More systems of government have been overthrown by violence than by any other means. The Gandhi moments in history are rare. But killing isn’t our only plan. We have something else in mind as well.”

“And what is that?” she asked.

So, I told her the rest of my plan. Most of it anyway. I probably shouldn’t have, but at that moment, I wanted to change her mind. Sister Hillary and I had almost this exact argument, but I played Caitlin’s part back then. Hillary had changed my entire outlook, and I wanted to see if I could do the same for Caitlin. 

I failed.

“I take it back. You’re not ignorant. You’re insane.”

I grinned. “I’ve always wanted someone to say that to me.”

“I’m serious. You can’t think this will work.”

“The only way to change an emergent behavior is to change the rules governing that behavior. I don’t know if we’ll be able to help you, it might be too late. But if we’re successful, young people who are today just figuring out they are different might be able to live openly by the time they’re your age.”

“I can’t…I mean…don’t ask me to support what you’re doing. I can’t. It’s just not in me.”

“I get it. And I want you to understand that this won’t affect your status here. I will protect you with all of my strength and help you get off this planet if you want. I’m on your side. I don’t need you to be on my side, but I beg you not to turn against me. I’ll have to cut off your thumb.”

I tried a smile, but she wasn’t in the mood.

“I won’t tell on you,” Caitlin’s voice was solemn. “But I also won’t lie for you.”




“We should kill her,” Sekmet said as she undressed for bed.

“Were you not listening? I promised to protect her.”

“Exactly. She’ll never see it coming.”

“Out of the question.” I threw open the covers and scooted closer to the wall.

“In that case, we need to move out of the Team Room much sooner than we discussed, and you need to distance yourself as much as possible from the rest of us.” She crawled into bed next to me and pulled the covers over her.

“I don’t think Caitlin will give me up. The authorities are looking for her, too.”

“Now you’re not even listening to you. Didn’t you say Minkle cared much more about us than he did about Caitlin? Don’t you think Caitlin could trade information about us for her freedom?”

“Even if Minkle doesn’t arrest her, the mob would still kill her if she went back home. We can move the Team Room. Where we put our headquarters needs to be as unpredictable as the rest. But I don’t think Caitlin is a threat.”

She leaned over and kissed me on the mouth. 

“You always do this,” I said, pulling away.

“Do what?”

“Use sex to get out of an argument.”

“You disapprove?” She kissed me again, but this time she let her hand wander underneath the blankets.

“Not necessarily,” I said, our lips still touching. “I’m just pointing it out.”

“Speaking of points.”


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