by Jonathan Edelstein
It took two years for Faji Doumbia to travel from Madankoro to Mutanda on the free trader Mweshi: two years of sleeping in cargo holds fragrant with spices and scented woods, two years of waiting on each world as the captain concluded his business, two years of jumping through the ichiyawafu and dreaming of the dead. He worked his passage, and there was time enough to learn the dead language that the ship’s computers spoke and discover how to tend machines that no living person could build. There was time enough to contract two ship-marriages, and by the time Faji came at last to Chambishi Port on the forty-ninth day of the Year of Migration 30,891, he had given a son to the ship-clans.
What he found when he took his leave of the Mweshi was both more and less than what he expected. Ninety thousand people lived in Chambishi Port, far more than any town on Madankoro, but forty million had lived there once, and the new city seemed like a collection of villages amid its former glory. Some of the towers north and east of the port were four kilometers tall: the war that destroyed the Union had gutted them, and after six hundred years forests grew in their upper stories, but they loomed over the thatched houses that lay between them, and from a few, the remnants of the High Streets and High Gardens hung crazily.
It was minutes before Faji could bring his eyes down from the towers to the ships – the ships hundreds and thousands of years old, that the Union had built and that now served its children. By then, the dockmen were well started in unloading the Mweshi. He stopped one and asked where the numusokala was, and when he got no answer, he remembered that the people here used different words. “Where are the… washiri?” he asked, remembering the word he’d been taught. “The blacksmiths?”
The dockman turned to the north. “You’re one of them?” he said. “Yes, you’ve got the look of one. That way, through the old city. You’ll hear the place, and even before that, you’ll smell it.”
There was a hint of distaste in the dockman’s voice, and he walked away as if he couldn’t leave quickly enough. That, too, wasn’t what Faji had expected.