There was a new family across the hall. That would be bad enough in any case. But this time it was the worst.
Gudi waited as long as she could that evening before breaking the news to her husband. “And they’re Wamai,” she finished.
Her husband, Tayra, had been sitting as usual, semi-somnolent before the television after dinner, but at her words his eyes snapped open and he came bolt upright in the chair. “What? What did you say?”
“They’re Wamai,” Gudi repeated. “The family across the hall.”
“How the hell?” Tayra yelled. “How can the Council let bugs move in here? This is a human town!”
“I don’t know, and please don’t shout at me. It’s not my fault.”
Tayra didn’t seem to hear. “Stinking damned bugs! How can this be allowed? I’m not going to stand for it!”
“They aren’t stinking,” Gudi ventured to protest. “I saw them moving in. There wasn’t really any smell at all.”
Tayra turned bloodshot eyes towards her. “Don’t be ridiculous, woman. Bugs are always stinking. I know.”
Gudi shrugged. “Well, what can we do about it anyway?”
“It was bad enough that we weren’t allotted that flat,” Tayra shouted, “but to have it handed over to bugs – that’s too damned much. I’ll have them thrown out. See if I don’t.”
“How? If they got the flat they have permission. And if they’ve got permission, there’s not much we can do.”
“We’ll see about that,” Tayra shouted. “First thing in the morning I’m going down to the Council office.”
And early in the morning he did go. Gudi stood at the window and watched him march down the street. His back was stiff with anger, and he hadn’t even had breakfast. Except for a murderous glare at the closed door across the hall, he hadn’t mentioned the new family at all.
Gudi sighed. This was a complication she hadn’t wanted. With the baby coming and all, peace and quiet, not to speak of a larger flat, would have been nice. But they hadn’t got the larger flat, and it seemed that peace and quiet wouldn’t be forthcoming, either.
Automatically, she reached out and ran her fingers down the window, as though to remind herself that the wall of glass was there. The morning sun was shining on the domes of the factory district, glittering with solar panels. Tayra’s shift started in an hour.
He was so angry, Gudi thought. So angry, and it would probably be so futile. But he wouldn’t stop, even when the Council turned him away. It wasn’t like him to ever give up.
All she’d wanted, Gudi thought, was to have some peace and quiet to have her baby. And that was just what she would be denied.
Her fingers rubbed, mechanically, up and down, up and down, the glass.
It was just the next day that Gudi met the Wamaina for the first time. They both happened to emerge from their respective flats at the exact same instant. If Gudi had looked at the security camera first she would’ve waited, but it was too late. She hesitated, poised on the verge of ducking back inside.
The Wamaina showed no such reaction. SheThey inclined HerTheir heavy black headshield over joined minor forelimbs in polite greeting. Gudi managed to stretch her features into a smile.
“Er, good morning,” she said. It was the first time she’d ever been so close to an alien of any kind, let alone a Wamaina. The huge creature seemed to fill all the available space. HerTheir spiny tail waved back and forth. “I believe you’re our new neighbours.”
“That is correct,” the Wamaina said, in impeccable English. HerTheir voice was surprisingly musical, the enunciation perfect. Gudi had anticipated something like an insect’s buzzing. “IWe am very pleased to meet you.”
“Er,” Gudi replied, inadequately, “yes.” She introduced herself. “My husband’s called Tayra.”
“IWe am KaRaha.” The Wamaina’s heavy head shield was still politely down, and Gudi realised that the alien was probably being submissive. HerTheir enormous physical size – Gudi’s head barely reached the creature’s spiky shoulders – made this strictly a matter of interpretation. “Your husband is known to us. He’s been to the Council office to have us evicted.”
Gudi blushed instinctively. “I’m so sorry. He’s, well, he thinks, he thinks this is a human-only space, and...”
KaRaha waved a minor forelimb. “It does not matter, really. We have permission to be here. It is only that it would be more, ah, comfortable if he were better disposed towards us.”
“Well, you know.” Gudi shuffled her feet. “I really can’t...I can’t change how he behaves.”
“It does not matter,” KaRaha repeated, firmly. “IWe merely meant it would make it easier to serve you. You are, after all, our lords.”
Gudi winced. “I’ve got to go,” she mumbled. “Where do you work?”
She knew with a sinking feeling what the answer would be even before it came.
“The damned things are in the factory,” Tayra shouted. His voice bounced off the walls and assaulted Gudi from all directions. His eyes were bloodshot and bulging with fury. “They’re on the factory floors!”
“Calm down,” Gudi begged, with no expectation of success. She wasn’t disappointed.
“Calm down?” Tayra screamed. He slammed his hand down hard enough on the dining table to make the vase jump. “Is this why I served in the war, and fought the bugs, so that I’d have to work in the same place as them?”
“Surely it isn’t that bad,” Gudi said. “I mean, they aren’t taking over your job, are they?” She decided not to point out the fact that Tayra had been a mechanic on a maintenance crew, and hadn’t come close to any actual combat.
“No, they’re down on the factory floor, servicing the robots and doing repair work. But so what? They’re here, and we didn’t fight them so they could come over to Earth. We fought them to take their planet, not give them ours.”
“It isn’t exactly giving them our planet if they’re doing bottom level work,” Gudi said mildly. Tayra glared at her for a moment, and then suddenly remembered something.
“Muna is supposed to give a speech tonight,” he said, turning on the television set. Gudi always kept it off when she was alone at home. She hated television. “Let’s see what he says about this.”
Muna was a politician whom Tayra admired intensely. He had been a senior officer in the war, and had resigned his commission in protest at the peace treaty which had ended the conflict short of the genocide of the Wamai. Tayra had voted for him in every election since then.
“He’ll be sure to suggest laws to put the bugs in their place,” Tayra said, as Muna appeared on the screen. His high cheekbones and deep-sunken eyes had always reminded Gudi of an animal barricading itself among a pile of rocks.
He’d already started his speech. “...and about the recent decision to import Wamai to serve in our mines and factories – ”
“This will be good,” Tayra said.
It wasn’t good. Gudi, watching her husband’s purpling face, soon realised that it wasn’t good. It was so far from good that she quietly took the remote control and switched off the television before the speech ended. Tayra sat staring at the blank screen for a moment before he exploded.
“The bastard.” He began quite softly, just above a whisper. “The bastard, he’s sold out.”
“Now, Tayra – ”
“What the hell do you mean, now, Tayra? Did you hear what he said? “We have to recognise that the war is over, and we need to work together for mutual benefit. Mutual benefit!” Tayra’s huge fists opened and closed. “Is it mutual benefit that we didn’t get the flat across the hall, though you need it with the baby coming? That’s mutual benefit, isn’t it, when the bugs are crawling over our factory floor?”
Gudi tuned out for a while. She realised with a start that Tayra had put on his shoes and was pulling on his jacket. “Where are you going?”
“I told you, didn’t I? I have to talk to someone about this.”
“Someone who can help.” He didn’t say help in what way. “Don’t wait up, I’ll probably be late.”
The door slammed behind him. Gudi didn’t stand at the window to watch him go.
The morning came and Tayra was still not back. Gudi tried to call him and discovered that he’d left his phone at home. Feeling restless and worried, she put on her coat and decided to go looking for him. She’d probably not find him, but it was better than sitting at home waiting.
There was a Wamain coming up the stairs. HeThey moved aside quickly at the sight of the woman, and bent his little head shield almost to the floor. “Good morning, ma’am.”
Gudi smiled wanly. “And you are...?”
The Wamain’s nictitating plates flicked over HisTheir black eyes. “Ma’am? IWe do not understand.”
“HeThey doesn’t have a name,” KaRaha’s voice came from behind Gudi. “Wamains don’t, you know. They’re only an adjunct of Wamainas, really.”
Gudi glanced from HerThem to the Wamain. HeThey was diminutive compared to KaRaha, only slightly bigger than Gudi herself. “How many of you are there?” she asked.
It was KaRaha who answered. “Only four of us, in our flat. IWe and three Wamain.”
Half-remembered tales came to Gudi’s mind. “That’s not a large Wamai family unit, is it? I heard you usually have about ten or eleven.”
“That’s right, but...” KaRaha gestured, and the Wamain, pressing HimThemself deferentially to the wall, squeezed past Gudi and into the flat. “That’s right,” the Wamaina resumed. “But that’s only true for the top orders. And IWe are bottom level worker caste.”
“You are?” Gudi blinked. “I didn’t know that.”
“Why do you think IWe were sent here to your world to work for you? The top orders do not do such things, ever.” The Wamaina’s voice sounded faintly mocking to Gudi. “But are you going somewhere? Am IWe keeping you?”
“I was going out to look for Tayra. He...went out and, well, he should have been back earlier.”
“IWe hope you will find him soon,” the Wamaina said politely. HerTheir major forelimbs touched Gudi’s shoulders gently. “Come and visit whenever you want,” SheThey said.
“Yes, er...” A movement in the corner of Gudi’s eye caught her attention. It was down the stairs. Peering down past the railings, she saw Tayra coming up, the top of his head and his familiar jacket. “There he is,” she said, in relief. “I’d better get back inside quickly. If he saw me with you...” She caught herself quickly, but there was no need.
KaRaha had disappeared.
Tayra looked exhausted but triumphant. “We’ve made a start,” he said. “We’re organising.”
“Never you mind. You look after yourself and the baby, and let me worry about this.”
Gudi watched him move heavily about the flat. “Did you eat at all?”
“Yes, don’t worry about that.” He waved a dismissive hand. “I’ll be late coming back this evening. There’s a meeting after work.”
“You’ll come back, though, right? You’re not going to leave me alone, again?”
“Of course I’ll come back. Now sit down, you’ll upset the baby. I’ve got to get to work.”
But it wasn’t Tayra who came that night, it was a black-clad squad of the Security Police. Gudi had just come out of the bath when they opened the door with their master key and entered, without attempting to knock. They could do that, of course. The Security Police didn’t need warrants for anything. She just had time to wrap a towel, however inadequately, round her expanded girth.
“Where is he?” the squad chief demanded. From the voice it was a woman, though, of course, Gudi couldn’t see anyone’s face through the mirror visors of their helmets. “Where is your husband?”
“He must be at work,” Gudi said.
“Don’t play games with us, woman. You know as well as I do that he did not go to work today. If he had, we’d have picked him up there.”
Gudi stared at her, open-mouthed. “He didn’t go to work? But...”
The squad leader made a disgusted noise. “Search the place,” she told the others. “Strip it bare. And you, don’t you move.”
Gudi was trembling by the time they finished, and only a little was from the water crawling down her body. They didn’t find anything, of course. She’d no idea what they’d been looking for.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“You know quite well. Your husband is plotting to start a civil war.”
“Civil war?” Gudi yelped. “What on earth are you talking about? He...” she stopped abruptly.
“Nothing. I don’t know anything about it.”
“No, you probably don’t,” the squad leader answered. “I don’t think your husband would be stupid enough to tell you. You’ll find out, though. You wouldn’t be human if you don’t, now.”
“And suppose I do?” Gudi felt reckless, the blood rushing to her head. “Do you suppose I’d tell you?”
“Oh, you would, if I decided to get it out of you. The only reason I’m not arresting you right away is that.” The squad leader pointed at the bulge of her belly. “Don’t push your luck.”
Gudi shivered, clutching the towel around her. The leader watched her crew leave one by one.
“We’ll be back,” she said over her shoulder. “We’ll be back, much sooner than you think.”
They didn’t even bother to close the door behind them.
Gudi didn’t bother to straighten up the place. There wasn’t any point; they’d probably be back in an hour or two and toss everything around again.
She dressed quickly. She needed to go out. The flat had suddenly become intolerable. The walls seemed to be closing in on her like a fist.
The streets were dark and empty already, and silent except for the familiar grinding and clattering of a police half-track. But the vehicle was several streets away, and she did not see it at all.
She didn’t know exactly where she was going. She’d never gone out with Tayra, and didn’t know who his friends were. But she had to look for him somewhere, however futile the exercise was.
Walking past the deserted local school, she had an idea. Once, she’d seen him with a man he’d introduced as Mit. She’d never really met Mit again, but she’d seen him several times, usually near the market that catered to the factory workers. She’d noted, almost by accident, where he probably lived.
It was one of the oldest buildings in the city, of dark yellow stone and green paint on the door. When she pressed on the bell, nothing happened for a long time, so she rang it again. Then the door slid open enough for an eye to look at her.
“Go away.” It was Mit. She couldn’t see more than the one eye, but his voice was terrified. “Go away, and don’t come back again.”
“I know who you are. Please don’t create trouble for me. I’m not involved in this.”
“In this? What is this?” Gudi snapped. “My home was raided by the Security Police, my husband has vanished, and you won’t talk to me. How would I create any trouble when I don’t even know what this is about?”
Mit stared at her and then, reluctantly, opened the door a crack more. “I suppose you’d better come in.”
Gudi squeezed inside. It was a dimly lit room with too much furniture. Mit pointed to a chair and locked the door quickly. “I take it that he didn’t tell you anything?”
“About what? It’s not illegal to demonstrate against the Wamai, is it?”
“Demonstrate?” Mit blinked. “Where did you get the idea that he was going to demonstrate?”
There was a long silence.
“You poor woman,” Mit said at last. “So you really don’t know what this is about.”
“Go out the back way,” Mit said. “They might be watching the front.”
Gudi was still feeling dizzy from what she’d just been told. She didn’t have to ask who they might be, though. “They don’t know I’m here,” she objected.
“You might have been followed. It’s not safe.”
“Nothing’s safe,” Gudi said bitterly, as she went through the tiny kitchen. The back door opened on to a tiny walled garden with a narrow lane beyond. Mit ducked back inside and shut the door without a word more.
The last thing she could do now was go home. She looked up and down the lane quickly, almost expecting hulking figures everywhere, but the shadows were dark and still. Was it too silent for this time of night?
“Stop it,” she muttered to herself, hurrying down the lane. “Don’t get paranoid, now.”
The lane opened on to a side street, lined on one side by the canal and on the other by a row of storage warehouses for the factories. Even in the daytime this was a fairly dismal place. At night, it was not a place anyone would want to be.
She was half way along the street when she saw the glow. It was only a flicker at first, among the factory buildings, a flash of yellow. A moment later, it erupted in a white-hot fireball rising over the domes like a blossoming flower. It was so bright that she cried out involuntarily, holding her forearm up over her face.
There were noises, a snap and crackle and a distant roar. When she could open her eyes again, the main factory was wreathed in red and yellow flames. The heat was intense enough to make her flinch.
Little figures were already rushing about in the distance, arcs of water rising up towards the fire from pumps set up beside the canal. She could hear shouts. Something exploded with a hollow bang, and another fireball shot up, even brighter than the first.
Burning debris began raining down. Something large bounced on the pavement beside her and disappeared into the canal with a hiss and puff of steam. It was only after that that she realised her own throat was hoarse with screaming.
Turning, she began to hurry back towards Mit’s house.
She saw them in the lane just in time, four or five in the uniforms and helmets. If it hadn’t been for the flames lighting up the sky behind her she wouldn’t have seen them at all. Mit was with them, looking tiny and scared. He pointed vaguely, in the wrong direction. The Security Police didn’t seem impressed.
Her heart thudding painfully, Gudi pressed herself into a slice of shadow thrown by a tree on the wall. Behind her, the fire was now a tower of light licking at the stars.
Something caught her by the shoulder and pulled. A hand clapped over her mouth, stifling her scream.
“What the hell are you doing out here?” Tayra hissed in her ear.
“They...they’re looking for you,” Gudi stammered. “Mit said you’re planning an armed rebellion.”
“Did he?” Tayra had dragged her to a warehouse set apart from the section that was burning. He’d pulled her to a room that was little bigger than a closet and thrust her down on a wooden bench. “What would he know about it?”
“What is this place?” Gudi asked. Neither Tayra nor the other two men in the room, neither of whom she had ever seen before, answered. One of them was peering into a large bag, doing something inside. The other one had earphones on and no expression on his face. “Tayra?”
“We’re the ones planning an armed rebellion?” Tayra shouted suddenly. He pointed towards the tiny skylight, through which the fire could be seen, still soaring skyward. “What do you call that?”
“But...” Gudi licked her lips. “Wasn’t it your group that set the fire, then?”
“Us? Why would we want to burn down the factories? We want it for ourselves, without the bugs. Does it make any sense that we’d set it?”
“Who did, then?”
“I have no idea. Whoever did, though, they’ve started something bigger than anyone can control.” Tayra grinned. “Maybe it’s your friends the bugs who began it. They’re certainly stupid enough, to set fire to something they were supposed to be given on a platter.”
“What if it’s...an accident?”
“Listen to that.” Tayra laughed harshly as an explosion sounded from the direction of the fire. “You think that started by itself? An armed rebellion, did you say? It’s going to be a lot bigger than any armed rebellion, now.”
Gudi changed tack. “Where have you been all day, then? Didn’t you care what I’d be going through?”
“You’d have been all right as long as you stayed at home. The police didn’t hurt you, did they?”
“No, but...” Gudi felt pulled in multiple directions. “How could you expect me to stay waiting without news?”
“Don’t you understand? There are more important things going on than you.”
There was an immense flash of light and something heavy crashed down outside. The man rummaging in the bag looked up calmly. “Fire’s spreading, Tayra. We’ve got to get out.”
“Come on, then.” Tayra pulled at Gudi’s arm, dragging her to the door. Outside it was bright as day, and so hot that she thought her hair and eyelashes might shrivel. The other two men were close behind.
“Where do we go now?” the third man, wearing his headphones around his neck, asked. His voice was soft and had the unmistakable accent of the farm country to the south. “Site B’s already been found and...”
The half-track erupted out of the flame and smoke like a shark parting the sea, its tyres smoking on the concrete. Sparks flew from debris as its churning tracks crushed them down. The gun mounts swivelled like fingers searching for something to point at.
For a moment everyone seemed frozen with shock, and then Tayra reacted. He thrust Gudi away so hard she went staggering. “Run,” he shouted, his voice almost lost in the noise of the fire and the half-track’s engine. “Get out of here!”
Gudi managed to stop herself falling and turned. The other two men had already disappeared. She caught a glimpse of Tayra, looking over his shoulder at her. He mouthed something at her and disappeared behind a pall of smoke.
Gudi straightened, her breath harsh in her throat. The half-track was hesitating, as though confused about which way to go. Its gun muzzles swivelled, aimlessly, and then, as though making up their minds, turned towards her as one.
There was no way she could run, with her belly, even if the air hadn’t been fire in her throat. She stood there and waited as they climbed out of the half-track and came to her.
“So you didn’t know where he was?” the Security Police officer said. “Just how much of a fool do you take me for?”
The inside of the half-track was cramped and smelt of oil, but the air conditioning kept the heat of the fire at bay. They’d pushed Gudi down to the floor, where she crouched between their boots. Over the noise of the half-track’s engine she could hear explosions. She had no idea what they were.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked once.
“Shut up.” A boot prodded her, not too kindly. “I’m not going to tell you again.”
Gudi subsided. The terror she’d held at bay all day now came over her in waves, threatening to overpower her. She’d heard tales of what happened to those taken by the Security Police. That she was pregnant might have postponed her arrest once, but it would not save her again.
“If only you hadn’t been wasting time,” she heard someone say bitterly over the noise of the engine, “we could have got them all. Instead, we just have the woman, and you could have got her anyway.”
“Shut up,” the squad leader snapped. “If you hadn’t lost the signal from the tracker, we’d never have had to...”
It was as though a buried giant had woken and smashed up a fist through the earth into the floor. It threw Gudi into the air. For a moment the half track spun around her, filled with screams and flying equipment. And then something slammed into her head and she was knocked out.
When she regained consciousness, she was outside. Someone had her under the armpits and was dragging her along the street. A short distance away, the half-track sagged, tilted over almost on its side, broken metal links scattered around a crater in the ground. The gun ports swivelled, muzzles flashing, firing aimlessly, their noise merging with that of the explosions and the fire.
“Can you walk?” a voice shouted in her ear. “We need to move quickly.”
“Yes,” she managed to gasp. She did not know who the man was. There was another one with him. They pushed her along, down an alley and into a narrow space between buildings which were still untouched by the fire.
“Please,” she managed to gasp. “I can’t go any further...my breath.”
“Well, you’ll have to.” The man’s fingers dug into her arm. “The commander asked us to get you, specifically. Why do you think we’ve been looking for you all night? Why do you suppose we hit that half-track, for fun?”
“The commander?” Gudi blinked in confusion. “But Tayra was with me just before . He told me to run.”
It was now the man’s turn to peer into her face. “Tayra? What are you on about? I’m talking about the commander. Muna.”
All of a sudden some things became clear to Gudi. “Oh, god. He’s the one who planned the rebellion. And he wants me to use as a hostage, against Tayra. Isn’t that so?”
“What does it matter why he wants you?” the man grunted. “Now are you going to walk, or should we carry you?”
“Carry her,” the other man snapped. “We can’t dawdle like this.”
“No, I’ll walk.” She wouldn’t let them carry her, wouldn’t sacrifice that much of whatever little dignity was left. How many factions were there, and what was she to them except a tool? To the police she was a source of information about Tayra. To Muna she was a hostage to control Tayra. And to Tayra she was...what, exactly?
“Almost safe,” the man who’d wanted to carry her grunted. They’d come out into a small square. The buildings around were dark and silent. “They’ll never find us here.”
“Just a moment.” Gudi pulled at her captors’ sleeves. “Just one moment, let me breathe.”
The world exploded.
When Gudi could hear and see again she was lying on her back next to a wall. She caught a momentary glimpse of it then – the bat-winged shape of a drone overhead, just visible from the reflection of the fire. Smoke and dust from its missiles was still rising into the air in slow motion.
Dazedly, she sat up. There was no sign of the men. They’d probably run away and left her for dead. If it hadn’t been for her last minute plea for a rest the three of them would have been blown apart.
Gudi had stopped thinking. She no longer had much idea what she was doing. She let her legs carry her whichever way they wanted. No way was better than any other.
After some time she realised she was on familiar territory, the street but one behind her own building. Obediently, as though drawn by an invisible signal, she turned towards it.
Limbs strong as steel came out of the shadows behind her and picked her up like a child. She felt herself held close to an armour-plated chest.
“You aren’t looking very well, ma’am,” KaRaha’s familiar voice said. “IWe think you need help. Am IWe mistaken?”
“No,” Gudi whispered, and the word repeated itself like an endless echo. “Nonononono.”
“Here,” the Wamaina said. SheThey eased Gudi onto the van’s padded bench, steadying her against the swaying and lurching of the speeding vehicle. “It’s lucky IWe saw you before we left.”
“Where are you going?” Gudi mumbled. The Wamaina filled the interior of the little vehicle almost to overflowing. One of the Wamain was in the front, behind the wheel. The other two were nowhere to be seen.
“Out of the city. It’s not healthy here, as you can see for yourself.” There might have been irony in the Wamaina’s voice. SheThey gestured with a minor forelimb at the fire climbing over the factories. “Now take off your clothes.”
“What?” Gudi asked.
“Take off your clothes,” the alien repeated patiently. “We – IWe and you – don’t want to be traced. You’ll see.”
They found one tracker in the seam of her jacket’s collar, clinging on with tiny mechanical legs. Another, like a little worm, was dug into the heel of her shoe. KaRaha pitched both out of the window. “Let them try and find you now,” SheThey said.
Mechanically, Gudi dressed again. “That’s how they knew where I was,” she muttered. “They must have seeded all my clothes with trackers while searching the flat.”
The Wamaina blanked the van’s windows. “Now we only have to get out of town before someone puts up roadblocks,” SheThey said. “We only need a little luck. Not that it matters, of course, in the long run.”
“How do you mean?” Gudi asked.
“There’s no way we Wamain can get back home. All Wamain here are trapped. Sooner or later, we’ll probably be hunted down. But not for now.”
“I’m sorry,” Gudi whispered.
“For everything. It’s not your fault you’re here, caught in our troubles.” Gudi winced as something very loud exploded not too far away. “It’s not your fault you’re here and can’t go home.” She had a thought. “Where are your other two Wamain? Are they in another vehicle?”
“They will not be joining us.” KaRaha’s nictitating plates slid back and forth over HerTheir eyes. “They have stayed behind to do what they have to.”
“What?” Gudi struggled to sit up, but the Wamaina easily and gently pushed her down again. “They’ll be killed!”
“Of course, but that does not matter. Wamain are not really independent thinking creatures. And in any case it is a sacrifice in a worthy cause. As will MyOurs be, when it comes. After all, I’m only a tiny part of the great Wamai Hive, a very small and expendable one.”
“Worthy cause? What worthy cause?”
There was no mistaking the satisfaction in the alien’s voice. “Our liberation,” SheThey said. “It starts tonight.”
Gudi lay back silently, waiting.
“You humans,” KaRaha went on, “wanted to enslave us, and thought you’d succeeded. And then you thought we would be paid off with petty little jobs in your factories and farms. But just because you thought it would be that way doesn’t necessarily mean anything to us. Do you understand?”
Gudi’s lips moved. “The factory fire...”
“One of MyOur Wamain set it. Very successfully, IWe might add.” KaRaha gestured with a minor forelimb. “We Wamai have been studying you, ever since the surrender. We’ve seen your internal splits and fissures, your tribal resentments and social divisions. All it takes is a hard blow in the right place to break it all apart. And it’s not just this one factory complex, of course. All over your world, mines and farms and factories, power stations and communications centres, everything Wamai have access to, everything is going up in flames right now.”
“Civil war,” Gudi said.
“As you say, civil war. It would have come sooner or later, but now is the time when it will cause the maximum chaos and destruction.” KaRaha’s head shield slid back and forth as another blast shook the van. “How many factions do you suppose are going to be at each other’s throats by this time next week?”
“And I?” Gudi cried out. “Why did you save me? Why did you bring me along?”
“This city will be destroyed, and more likely than not everyone in it.” The Wamaina touched the woman’s face. “You deserve to have a chance at life elsewhere, you and your baby. After all, we don’t mean genocide. We aren’t monsters.”
There was a long silence, except for the van’s engine and distant explosions, before KaRaha spoke again.
“We’re just the family across the hall,” SheThey said. “And all we want is freedom.
“Is that so very wrong?”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2017