The Hinterlands Chronicles: Bilqis

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It’s been a while friends. I’ve been busy with work, and even more grat­i­fy­ing, I have been get­ting some con­sis­tent writ­ing done. I’m not mak­ing the great big leaps that I’d like but con­sis­ten­cy is more impor­tant in my esti­ma­tion. I haven’t for­got­ten about my blog here, or my read­ing, but with a full time job, well, some­thing has got to give, yeah? And some of my indie writer friends have had recent suc­cess­es (Lind­say Buro­ker being one such per­son) that have inspired me to work even hard­er to com­plete this project. I believe in this sto­ry and it has been with me for sev­er­al years. I’m still quite a way off but I am so very hope­ful. So hope­ful in fact, that I thought I would share a lit­tle snip­pet from Bilqis. Read and enjoy.

Look alike hanger

Some time had passed since Bilqis left Sec­tor Five, but not enough to for­get how being there used to make her feel, like both prey and preda­tor, both afraid and empow­ered. What came over Bilqis as she stepped from the ground floor plat­form was an instinct born of the emo­tions that came rush­ing back to her. The abrupt and easy squar­ing of her already broad shoul­ders, the cool set of her jaw, bright eyes hood­ed yet keen­ly alert was so deeply intrin­sic it was as if she had shed a cos­tume to reveal her true self. She had after all spent her entire life behind the invis­i­ble sec­tor bound­aries and it was only nat­ur­al that she would, as much as she hat­ed to admit it, find a cer­tain com­fort in the famil­iar yet treach­er­ous sur­round­ings.  

The weak didn’t sur­vive Sec­tor Five and many of the strong didn’t either. Bilqis moved east toward Mid­dle­ton, com­pelled by some deep need to revis­it her old home, cut­ting through the human­i­ty and the detri­tus like a scythe.  

Author­i­ty inves­ti­ga­tors were still no clos­er the find­ing the per­son respon­si­ble for insti­gat­ing the riot and the destruc­tion of Aju­tine Aero­nau­tics, although a sketch of the name­less sus­pect, in his mid twen­ties, with a broad deep brow, dark deep set eyes, and a sen­su­al­ly curved mouth that seemed some­how too petite to belong to a man, had been plas­tered across the city. Bilqis stopped to study one such fli­er print­ed on thin bright yel­low plas­tic paper. The dig­i­tal image of the sus­pect rotat­ed nine­ty degrees to the left and then to the right. When the image stopped cen­ter, it closed its eyes. She didn’t rec­og­nize him.

Beside the sketch of the sus­pect hung a fad­ed fly­er encour­ag­ing res­i­dents to vis­it their local clin­ic for free vac­ci­na­tions and health exams. Peo­ple com­plained about Goodwill’s tough poli­cies but Bilqis thought that the efforts he made to take care of Ajutine’s res­i­dents were com­mend­able, and more than pre­vi­ous may­ors had done.

A left at the next inter­sec­tion and three blocks east took Bilqis to Mid­dle­ton and Bright. She was stu­pid­ly mol­li­fied to find that her old apart­ment build­ing, all of Mid­dle­ton and the two scant blocks north of it, had been spared the blaze that ate up near­ly an eighth of Sec­tor Five, though she was unsure why. She’d nev­er liked liv­ing there. The plumb­ing always backed up foul green muck and every inti­ma­cy and indig­ni­ty could be heard through the paper thin walls. And it wasn’t as if Taha would ever return. Too much time had passed.

A set of crum­bling stairs led from the brief court­yard to a grungy lit­tle foy­er lined with bro­ken mail­box­es, accord­ing to mem­o­ry. She didn’t go inside. It was enough to see ithat the build­ing had sur­vived unashamed­ly ugly amongst even ugli­er build­ings and cir­cum­stances. The res­i­dents here, like in much of Sec­tor Five, were steeped on the kind of pover­ty that was worn beneath the skin. Even now, three years out, when she had plen­ty, there was always a lin­ger­ing hunger, like an itch that no scratch would ever relieve.

But her suc­cess wasn’t so sin­gu­lar. Not every­one who could wished to leave Sec­tor Five. Some were deter­mined to call the place for­ev­er home, think­ing them­selves noble and devout. Accord­ing to them the price of leav­ing was too high. Accord­ing to Bilqis they were fools. They refused to take the pledge to forego faith, unwill­ing to sign away their gods. Bilqis had been will­ing.

May­or Good­will sought only to enforce the laws that already exist­ed, under which Sec­tor Five would cease to be a safe haven for the faith­ful. Start­ing at the begin­ning of the com­ing year every­one would be forced to sign the pledge of faith­less­ness or take their life to the hin­ter­lands, eke out a life there on the vast bar­ren plains. Bilqis fig­ured that when that time came, plen­ty of peo­ple would let go of their notions of pride and sub­mit. No num­ber of riots or fires was like­ly to stop Goodwill’s plans to cleanse Aju­tine, to pre­vent anoth­er dis­as­ter like that of 2035, to allow anoth­er Bilqis Har­ban, sword of the peo­ple, to be cre­at­ed.

Weav­ing through vehi­cles jammed at the inter­sec­tion Bilqis crossed to the oppo­site side of the street. Half a block up she stopped at the cart of a street ven­dor and bought a sand­wich of dried meat and onions and cheese wrapped in soft yeast­less bread. She took a bite of the sand­wich, unaware until that moment just how hun­gry she had been..

Not pro­tein meal,” she stat­ed and enquired at once. She hadn’t eat­en real ani­mal flesh since leav­ing Sec­tor Five. Every­where else such fare was con­sid­ered parochial.

The ven­dor unabashed­ly took her in from head to foot as he spoke. “Course not. I only sell real meat.” He point­ed to the fad­ed writ­ing on the umbrel­la over his cart.

What kind of meat is it?” She took anoth­er great mouth­ful.

He held up a fin­ger as if struck by sud­den inspi­ra­tion. “Now that’s the ques­tion, isn’t it?” He didn’t elab­o­rate fur­ther but he did extend his hand. “You owe two bills for that sand­wich. Four if you’d like anoth­er.”

Bilqis paid the old ven­dor and left. Three blocks east, Bilqis turned into an alley. It was dark and buffered the clois­ter of nois­es from the street. She found the door at the very end of the alley where it butted up against a brick wall.

Bilqis knocked three times, wait­ed five sec­onds and then knocked twice. Sec­onds lat­er the door inched open, but Bilqis could see lit­tle more than a sin­gle glassy eye as it looked out at her.

Who?” demand­ed the dis­em­bod­ied voice.

Bushrah.” Bilqis crossed her arms. “She here?”

The door eased open a bit more and a face, mid-teens and male, emerged from the dark­ness. “Show me,” he said nod­ding.

Bilqis unzipped her jack­et and pulled down the col­lar of her shirt to expose the tiny black fist tat­tooed just beneath her col­lar­bone. He flashed the beam of a hand torch onto her face and then low­ered it to the mark on her chest. His hard angu­lar face soft­ened beneath the weight of naked respect. “Band­ed in red,” he said, awe chok­ing the tim­ber of his voice, fur­ther betray­ing his youth.

Her mem­o­ry of that tat­too was strong. Her broth­er Taha had drawn it him­self, the nee­dle loaded with ink laced with the oil of the atarahu. “So that you’ll nev­er for­get the pain of our peo­ple,” he’d told her. The tat­too had burned beneath her skin for months after it had healed. The very mem­o­ry revived the old tat with stabs of prick­ly heat.

The black fist was the sym­bol of The Walls the largest and most fierce of the Sec­tor Five cabals. The black fist rimmed with red indi­cat­ed a mem­ber of high rank. In the case of Bilqis, it was not she who had pos­sessed a high rank, but her broth­er Taha. He had ensured more than her safe­ty with that red line. He’d guar­an­teed her pro­tec­tion. She was prac­ti­cal­ly roy­al­ty among The Walls, untouch­able.

Who wants Bushrah?” he asked, back to busi­ness.

Bil­lie,” she said reclaim­ing the nick­name she hadn’t used since leav­ing Sec­tor Five.

He pushed open the door and sig­naled for her to enter ahead of him. “Okay Bil­lie,” he said eyes flick­ing back to the area below her left col­lar­bone, “I’ll take you to her.”

  • house­ofwilliams

    First impres­sions. Not bad at all! And I’m quite intrigued. I’ve said it before, your writ­ing has a cer­tain spell­bind­ing qual­i­ty. I’m also get­ting a sense of Dis­trict 13 going on here. Ever seen that, French movie by Luc Besson? A kick ass spec­ta­cle, and you’ve got some seri­ous­ly dystopi­an themes which I would like to read more of…

    • khaal­i­dah

      Yes, yes I have seen Dis­trict 13 and it was a fun movie to watch. Park­our galore, which I love. Its amazin the con­trol some peo­ple have over their bod­ies. Awe-inspir­ing.
      Thanks for you thoughts. This is indeed dystopi­an and I’m enjoy­ing the mood that I’ve been able to set. Lets see if I can keep it going.

  • six blocks east of mars

    Good stuff here. I would very much like to read more. I real­ly like the line, “Who wants Bushrah?” It feels like it could have a lot of weight to it, and that alone gives some char­ac­ter to her.

    • khaal­i­dah

      Thanks so much for stop­ping by to read. I con­sid­er your remarks high praise indeed.

      • six blocks east of mars

        And thank you for the kind words.