Author: Chana Kohl

With my blade’s edge poised and a steady hand, I watched a decade of locs fall into the sink. A military uniform, once diligently maintained, hung lifeless in a closet. A soft tunic slid across my clean-shaven head, worn over jute trousers, and cinched, not by a tactical belt, but with a long, violet sash of Tasserian worm silk.

Afterward I gazed at my reflection in the rain-slickened window, searching for someone I recognized.

After war ripped the planet to shreds, citizens on both sides scrambled for haven. From my duplex balcony, squinting past the murky hills outside the Capital, I saw lights from the orbital tower pierce the night sky.

I hoped to escape this ravaged rock altogether.

A few kilometers past Capital walls, piles of vehicles smoldered. A last line of resistance, the fortress of charred metal and burning rubber seemed a fitting symbol for the Cause, a movement my father, a staunch Capital loyalist, vehemently believed in.

Until he was executed by the Roenthosi.

My mother was Roenthosi. When the Capital tried to execute global dominance, her people fought them like Shihavian devils, eventually winning control of the planet’s major roads and ports, including the launch ring. Cut from vital resources, the Capital folded.

Then it crumbled.

The only thing that stood between me and freedom’s promise on a new world was to pass the crucible that was once my homeland—while avoiding any connection with the Capital.

I packed a modest bag, my maternal family’s documents and, under the cover of night, I snuck past city walls. I never looked back.

On the maglev outside Pirclav, I sat across from an elderly Roenthosi woman and a small boy— I forced myself not to stare— how much she reminded me of my grandmother! Despite any actions I took performing my duty to the Capital, however distasteful… it was understandably, I would argue, in the name of survival. I never once believed the Roenthosi were my enemy.

Some of my happiest memories from childhood, like bittersweet wine, were bottled and corked in Roenthos.

I asked the woman, in my mother tongue, if I could give the boy some fruit and a chocolate. She smiled and he ate gratefully.

When the shuttle reached the orbital tower, a patrolman checked my documentation. The lines of his face flattened, then tightened as he pulled me aside.

“Your chip confirms your birthplace as ‘Rantos’, yet you were educated in the Capital, Mr… Ryogi?” He scrutinized my features as if to ascertain my ancestry.

“My mother’s family is from Roenthos,” I said, clearly correcting his, most likely, deliberate mispronunciation. “My father… was a diplomat.”

“Of course,” he didn’t sound convinced. “You’re alone?”

I ignored the cold heat prickling my face and neck and instinct grabbed hold, “See, over there?” I pointed to the elderly woman and child at the elevator gate. I mustered every artifice I could construct, every convincing demeanor, “That’s my aunt and nephew.” Then I casually smiled and waved across the hub.

They waved and smiled back.

“OK, then,” his smile, wry and cold, “If it’s as you say, what’s the safest road from Roenthos?”

Of course, I didn’t know there were no roads from Roenthos. At least not anymore. The only way in or out of the fragmented city was through the old sewer tunnels. But all I could think of were the picnics spent in my youth with my grandmother, and the memory of a forever winding road that skirted the edge of a serene sea.

It’s what I think of now, as I await my execution.