Another sneak peek at New Persia: the Tempest. From the land of first drafts, the reformed bandit Zafir awaits the coming of the seed storm…
Zafir had been in many dangerous places in his short life. He had faced death many times at the hands of enraged cattle owners and the fathers of the girls he had led astray. Most recently he had faced both the gallows and the Azanian Land Force. He had escaped the gallows by agreeing to participate in a suicide mission against the Azanians holding airfield K-2 to the southwest of Kerman. The mission itself had left him as one of only two survivors. Zafir did not wonder why he had lived and his comrades had died. He knew the answer: Fate. God’s will. Nothing he did would allow him to live a day longer in this world than was already written.
He had failed to find a way out of town before the coming of the seed storm. All the trains leaving to the south were reserved for military traffic and civilian refugees. A sometime member of the Kerman Militia did not qualify, and the regular Railway Commission men had been replaced by Militia who were not easily bribed. Zafir had jumped trains before, but on these, even the cattle cars were full of people. An able-bodied young man could not escape notice and would never be allowed to travel south while the Azanians came from the west and the storm from the north.
Zafir could have tried his hand at disguising himself as something he was not, as a woman or an old man, but he had decided it would be tempting Fate. If God willed, he would see the coming of the seed storm in Kerman, who was he to object to the will of God? It would be much better to face the storm as a free man than as a member of a prison gang, several of which were outdoors clearing fire breaks and carrying water from the Karun River to cisterns all over the city.
As a man without a fixed
abode, Zafir found himself inside the main temple shelter. He endured
the glance he received for being a young, able bodied man taking shelter
with the families of the city workers. He had no neighborhood, and no
family of his own. His cousin had died in an Azanian air raid, and
Zafir had avenged his death ten times over. The family of his cousin
had left on a train going south, leaving whatever they could not carry
to the mercy of the storm. There was no concern given to the
possibility of looting. There was no theft in Kerman. Nothing would be
gained by Zafir watching an empty house.
Councilman Kermani’s assistant found Zafir sitting against the central pillar of the temple taking a nap. The women and children around him pressed against the windows to better see the calamity approaching their city. With nothing to lose, Zafir took the opportunity to sleep.
When the assistant reached out to shake him awake, Zafir’s knife was out of its sheath before the man’s hand reached Zafir’s shoulder. The man jumped back in surprise and fear. Zafir quickly sheathed the knife and smiling, spread his arms apart.
“I am sorry, friend, you woke me,” he said.
The assistant led him to Councilman Kermani. Zafir frowned. He had paid his debt to this man. He had not counted the mission against the Azanians as a favor, as it had been a family matter. Zafir had sent a certain Army captain to his judgement to repay his freedom. Now he was being called again. This wasn’t part of the deal.
Kermani addressed the obvious first. This could have been taken as rudeness, but the circumstances called for no time to be lost.
“You do not owe me. I am only saying it would be a good thing, if you could find my family and bring them here.”
Zafir grunted. Kermani was deferential, despite their differences in status, and spoke to Zafir as an equal. It is good to see the old ways preserved, Zafir thought.
It was odd how one deed of valor branded him with his new reputation as a brave man. He knew he was not a brave man, but now what could he do? People expected him to be brave, and a man was no more than his actions.
Zafir chose himself for the task, as it did not seem proper for the hero of the assault on airfield K-2 to be cowering in the temple with the women and children.
Perhaps the storm would incinerate him and leave a legendary ghost to haunt the streets of Kerman. Zafir thought the possibility even funnier than being thought brave.
“I will do this for you,” Zafir said. Who knows, maybe someday you will repay the favor, he thought. If I live.
He left the temple with a new robe, dust mask, and goggles. He took nothing else but a canteen of water. He pushed his way against the stream of people heading to the temple and safety.