When Asala landed on Gan-De as a child, so newly thirteen that the tattoos on her cheek marking transition to adolescence still glistened wetly, she’d made a decision. There were two roads before her. One: grief—a longing that would never abate because home never left a person. The second road, the better road: life. It meant abandoning the idea of home altogether as a social construct designed to hold people captive to places and traditions long after it was good to do so.
Asala had remembered Dosli Saktal ef Naktal, “The Wind Is Here and Then It Isn’t,” an epic by the ancient Khwarizmian poet and philosopher Ruxandra Esh. It followed the story of a boy of sixteen who, like all Khwarizmians, lived among a nation of nomads, traipsing the planet in search of coolness, moisture. Always one step ahead of the sun.
His nation, the Ceth, had been ruled for a century by one corrupt family. Fearful of change, people were reluctant to oust them. The boy tried to change their minds, but couldn’t, eventually leading to a fight to the death between him and King Bet. The boy won, but his people wanted nothing to do with him anymore, and he lived out the next few years in exile until he stumbled upon them once again by accident; and in the night he attacked their sleeping quarters with fire. Most perished. The children who didn’t, he took in. The adults who didn’t, he slaughtered. Every year, he and the children returned to the spot, and he would remark, “The wind has blown all that was left of them away.”
Asala hadn’t loved it, struggling with the meter and the ancient language, but it had been the last book that one of the clan mothers had assigned her for her tutorship. When her home mother told her to pack a bag, it was the only book that was out and easy to grab quickly.
Asala didn’t believe in signs now as an adult. But at thirteen, she could see no other reason why, out of all the books, this was the one that had made it all the way with her to Gan-De if it didn’t mean something important. Hypatia was no longer home. Gan-De was. For a time. Everything was always and only for a time.
The wind had blown all that was left of her past away. Hypatia was nothing to her anymore, and as the shuttle bringing them from orbit touched down, Asala unlatched her harness, stood, and took a deep breath the same way she had before that first step onto Gan-De decades and decades ago. Hypatia was just another world.
The rucksack she’d packed back on the Altair had fallen out of the storage compartment on the journey from the spaceport to the ground. She picked it up and slung it over her broad shoulders.
“Not exactly Khayyam,” said Niko, whose bag was only still in the compartment because the locking mechanism was stuck. They rammed their shoulder several times hard against the metal hold, and it eventually popped open, dropping their bag onto them. Niko caught it before it could do any damage. At least they’d left most of their gratuitous equipment on the ship. “I’m honestly a little surprised we made it to the ground.”
“As am I,” said Asala, buckling the strap of her rucksack around her waist and tightening it more securely than was comfortable. She’d thank herself later. It was a heavy load, and if the auto-shuttles were any indication, transportation on Hypatia hadn’t improved since she’d left thirty-four years ago. The two of them might have to hoof it from the shuttleport to Almagest. Nine miles if memory served.
“You may now release your harnesses,” said an automated voice as the main doors lifted open on either side of the shuttle. They were in a six-seater, but the other seats were unoccupied.
“You may now stand to retrieve your luggage,” said the voice as Niko and Asala exited. In their wake, thirty seconds later, Asala heard, “You may now exit.”
Niko snorted, and Asala smiled. They were a decent kid. Decent company, too. If they felt any nervousness about touching down on a planet that was pretty hostile to life, they didn’t show it. They led the way, following the various signs, their stride confident with no trace of hesitation.
Aside from a basic glance at their perimeter, Asala kept focus on reaching their destination. The moving sidewalk they were on that didn’t move anymore. The rubber was so worn that the underlying mechanisms were visible in several places, many poking out. Niko’s clunky boots caught multiple times.
“Don’t look so damn smug,” they said, noting Asala’s footwear—lightweight, flexible boots with thin soles. Asala could easily feel every disturbance on the ground.
“Not smug. Right,” she said.
It wasn’t long before they reached border patrol, though “patrol” was a misnomer. It implied a level of vigilance and intensity that was...