In the Luna VR, the he-goat Dalia met removed his mask and pointed to the closed door.
“Who was she?” Waweru asked.
Zev toggled his avatar, removing the Pink Piggy mask. The room changed into an industrious workroom where Zev created code for his customers. There were two large tables loaded with tools and digital cards, some of them complete, others in various levels of completeness. Zev spent most of his free time here. Waweru sometimes helped finish some of the coding projects.
“Her userID says her name is Dahlian. She wants permission to use the code I uploaded to the KISTech database,” Zev said. “I’ve been upgrading it for weeks. I’m not sure if I should give her permission to use the original upload, or hand her what I’ve been working on.”
“The difference between you and me is that you won’t put your code up for a bid in the Lunar Marketplace,” Waweru said, sinking into the couch opposite Zev’s worktable. “What did you want to show me?”
Zev stopped fiddling with the greenhouse model he was making for his sister. He reached for a digital card on the desk and passed it on to Waweru.
“What is this?” Waweru asked, downloading the code in the virtual card into his own console. He took a few minutes to study the string of code Zev shared with him. Waweru grinned. “It’s a framework to map and calculate the gradient.”
“I saw the device you created to test the types of soil in an area. If you add this code to the analysis on the device it will be useful to architects,” Zev said. “If you can’t fight your father on going to KISTech, you could focus on refining building applications.”
“Are you giving this to me for free?” Waweru asked, narrowing his gaze on Zev.
“I’m not enrolling into KISTech,” Zev said. He sat back in his chair and faced Waweru. “I’ve accepted the apprenticeship at Santi Corp. The academy counselor sent me a message that they had accepted my application. I won’t have to go to Kirit.”
Waweru let out a soft impressed whistle.
“You’ll end more valuable than us who enroll at KISTech,” Waweru said. “Santi Corp apprenticeship means you can rise up their ranks, Zev. Congrats. I will miss you.”
“Did you talk to your parents about changing classes?” Zev asked.
“Miss Leya helped me fill out the forms and she even wrote a recommendation to Jenga Construction Technical University. I went home to start a conversation. Baba did not give me a chance. He handed me an envelope with a KISTech ID tag, an enrollment package, and the keys to the dorm I’ll share with one of his friend’s kids. He has paid for the first year.”
“Damn,” Zev sighed. “I’m sorry, Waweru.”
Waweru shrugged and lifted the digital card from Zev.
“Thank you for this. I’ll make use of it.”
“It won’t be easy,” Zev said. “KISTech’s only agenda is research on ghost wraiths and how to end them or fight them off. Every student has to do research on ghost wraiths. Are you sure you’ll be okay?”
“I’ll manage,” Waweru said, shaking his head. “I don’t think I have a choice.”
“I’ll miss you, Zev. It won’t be the same not having you as a deskmate,” Waweru said.
“We can always meet here,” Zev said, indicating his workshop. “We’ll call each other and message.”
“Yeah,” Waweru said, with a quick grin. “So, did the hot Dahlian really pay five hundred credits to enter this workshop?”
“Yep,” Zev grinned. “She’s helped pay for three months of our shop’s membership with Lunar VR. I worried the pink piggy would have to turn it into a private room soon.”
“Can I message her?” Weru asked. “She looked like she would talk to me—”
A long beep sounded in the earpiece Zev wore in his left ear.
“I have to go,” Zev said, saving his work on his sister’s greenhouse. He got up, stretched his arms over his head, and grinned at Weru. “See you kesho at the village center.”
“Yeah, man,” Weru said. “I’ll go stalk Dahlian’s account and see if she will message me.”
Zev grinned and logged out. He removed his Luna VR glasses and stared at the screen in front of him. The Luna VR site had a prompt blinking his logout confirmation. Touching the screen to confirm, Zev noted the green light blinking on the wall behind his monitor. His sister was buzzing him.
It meant his parents were home and looking for him. Pushing back his comfortable office chair, Zev stretched his arms over his head and got up, adjusting his dark t-shirt over the grey sweat pants he wore. He hurried out of his room eager to get some food.
The Mablevi home was not extravagant. It was also not a simple house. It was built as a ranch-style house on a one-acre piece of land. Over the years, Zev’s parents added rooms and space as the family grew. When Zev turned four, and his sister was a baby, the house had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a common bathroom, and a living area.
Now, the old living room had turned into a second bedroom for his sister. His parents added two more bedrooms to accommodate their youngest children and a larger sitting area with a dining room.
Zev walked from his room taking the long corridor to the kitchen. He stopped at the kitchen entrance when he found his father giving his siblings an impromptu history lesson.
“It is not known why Mount Njaro rumbled to life, spewing tons of molten lava out into the peaceful forests. After the volcano stopped filling the sky with dark ash, lightning and thunder filled the sky. Our empire’s ancients only know that after the thunder came, instead of rain, Ghost Wraiths arrived.”
Zev crossed his arms against his chest thinking about Dahlian who wanted to find a way to end the ghost wraith menace. The Ghost Wraiths were dark, large phantom-like creatures. Resembling massive wolves with slick, oily black skin in place of their fur, their mouths were filled with teeth sharper than razors. They could crush a human’s body with one bite.
They all learned about ghost wraiths in their first years of school. The creatures varied in sizes and preferred traveling in packs. They wreaked havoc in the villages, injuring defenseless souls, tearing up families and homes, leaving devastation behind. The Ghost Wraiths disappeared when the thunder and lightning ended.
“When the Ghost Wraiths arrived, Afrotheria became a realm under siege,” Luca Mablevi said, his voice engaging. His two youngest sons watched him with wide eyes, drawn into the story.
Amare sat on a chair at the kitchen table next to Luca Mablevi. She was helping their father peel potatoes. Zev’s two little brothers were perched on a bench they used at the kitchen table. Their mother was at the kitchen counter kneading dough.
Amare glanced up from the potatoes she was peeling and saw Zev standing by the kitchen door.
She smiled and waved him closer, pulling out the chair next to hers. Zev grinned and moved to sit next to her as Luca continued his story, winking in acknowledgment of Zev’s arrival.
“The empire’s ruling class began an earnest quest to rid Afrotheria of the specter-like creatures. Despite their best efforts, no solution has proved useful in the one hundred and sixty years following the first invasion. The Sable Council, which has always been the highest authority of the realm, has focused all its attention and efforts on creating better defenses for the affected provinces, the capital, and smaller villages.”
“They bolstered the Protection Class, made them grow in power. The Protection Class now runs the formidable Theria Guild. They are responsible for every citizen’s safety in this empire.”
The Theria Guild consisted of powerful men and women who trained in the art of destroying Ghost Wraiths. The citizens of Afrotheria called these men and women Guardians. Zev frowned, thinking of the members of the Protection Class.
It was both a curse and a blessing to survive and prosper in the Theria Guild. Afrotherians revered and feared guardians in equal measure. As a result, guardians preferred to live in a large compound called Oasis. Each Oasis was named after the team stationed in the compound.
“The members of the Theria Guild are our treasure. It is said that the more battles a guardian survives, the higher he or she climbs the ranks,” Luca said, his voice filled with mystery and wonder. “The most dangerous and skilled guardians are found in the Strike Force. The weakest and the trainees are found in the Swala Force.”
“I want to be in the toughest oasis,” Silas said, making their mother gasp.
Silas was Luca and Elina’s youngest son. Zev’s youngest brother. He loved listening to stories about the guardians most, so Luca tried to make them as exciting as he could.
Zev hid a smile and shook his head, stealing a glance at Elina at the counter. He wondered what she would do if one of her children became a Theria Guild Guardian.
“Has our village ever faced a reckoning?” Grey asked.
He was the third born of Luca’s children.
A reckoning was a village’s encounter with a pack of ghost wraiths.
Luca glanced at his wife, Elina, before he nodded, his gaze filling with remorse. He shifted on his chair and continued peeling the potatoes his wife had placed in front of him.
Amare was almost done with her share.
It was not a surprise to find Luca helping his wife with household chores. He often helped with cooking tasks because he loved how Elina smiled at him when he was done.
Luca looked up from a peeled potato to find his four children watching him with wide expectant eyes.
Grey and Silas’s gazes held innocent interest, while Amare, his second-born and only daughter had empathy in her eyes. However, the one who made him pause was his eldest son, Zev.
Zev looked at him with jaded expectation. He had heard Luca’s stories too often. Either that or Zev remembered his grandparents and knew there was no mystery or wonder in a reckoning.
Luca took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. He finished peeling the potato he held before he met Grey’s expectant gaze.
“You were not born when our village endured a reckoning,” Luca said. “Your mom and I only had Zev and Amare. They were home with your grandparents when the thunder and lightning came. The Strike Force Guardians saved us. They were running exercise maneuvers close by and came to fight off the ghost wraiths. They saved us.”
“Not all of us,” Zev said in a quiet voice, reminding Luca of their family’s tragedy.
“You’re right,” Luca said, acknowledging their family’s saddest memories. “Your grandparents were caught in the fight and ended up leaving us.”
Zev was five years old when the reckoning came. Amare was three years old.
Zev remembered their grandparents.
Luca knew his oldest son missed them and hated that the ghost wraiths had taken their lives. He often wished he knew how to heal Zev’s broken heart over the loss of their grandparents. He wished he could wave his hand, and Zev would forget the horrifying day, but that was just wishful. Luca finished peeling the last potato on his tray and washed his hands in the water in the bowl.
Luca wiped his hands on a clean cloth on the table and reached out to squeeze Zev’s slender shoulder.
“We lost your grandparents to a reckoning,” Luca told his other children. “We’re not the only ones who lost loved ones, but we are grateful that our home survived the attack. After the ghost wraiths attacked, the Theria Guild built a training Oasis for the guardians in our Teru Province.”
Grey nodded, his gaze turning serious. He was only seven, but he was the most inquisitive. Silas who was five had already lost interest and was now staring at the open pit fire in the corner. He stood up from the bench and went to sit on the low stools by the fire. He picked up a stick to poke at the firewood. Amare allowed it for a few minutes, and then she got up and went to swipe the stick away from Silas earning a protest.
Luca looked around their comfortable kitchen. The pit fire was built into the wall of the kitchen, meant to warm the room. Their kids liked sitting around the fire in the evening. Elina had insisted on making the kitchen the warmest part of the house.
She was busy at the kitchen counters on the opposite end, where a pot simmered on the cooking range next to the counter she was using.
Luca’s gaze shifted up to the steel grate installed under the roofing sheets. It was as high as the main house’s roof. Specialized steel netting covered the grate. It was designed to keep them relatively safe if the Ghost Wraiths attacked.
Luca did not know if it worked. He had only read the paperwork that came with the steel grate from Santi Corp. He prayed and hoped daily that they would never have to test grates.
“Baba, what is the name of the Oasis in Teru Province?” Grey asked.
“Swala Force. It is a training institution where members of Sokwe Recon train new recruits in the Swala force,” Luca said. “They are not the strongest, but they are quite useful. They have managed to give us ten years of peace in this province.”
Grey sighed in relief.
“I’ll join their team when I’m old enough. I want to protect our town too.”
Luca blinked, staring at his son. He could never have imagined any of his children wanting to join the Theria Guild. Luca glanced at Elina and found a similar concerned look on her face. He gave her a slight smile and hoped that Grey would outgrow this childhood dream. It was too frightening.
“What about you Zev?” Luca asked. Zev was seventeen and on the brink of joining a training institute to determine his lifelong career. He was a gifted Technical Class student. “Where do you want to enroll after you graduate from the academy?”
“The academy counselor helped me apply for a tech apprenticeship with Santi Corp,” Zev said.
Luca got up and took the bowl of peeled potatoes to the sink. She was busy rolling pieces of dough into round mounds, ready to make chapati. Luca passed his hands under the kitchen tap. It came on and his gaze lingered on the label on the tap’s knob.
Santi, it read.
Santi Corp was a large corporation in Afrotheria with a group of hidden owners. They were creators and manufacturers of most of the advanced technology used in Afrotheria. Their biggest competition was KISTech in the capital city, Kirit.
“Why does your advisor think you will fit in at Santi Corp?” Luca asked, wiping his hands with a disposable paper towel.
When Luca finished with the paper towel, he turned to throw it into a trashcan that opened just because he was standing close to it. Once again, the name Santi was engraved on the lid.
“She says I have a gift of imagination that Santi Corp will appreciate,” Zev said, with a small, pleased grin.
Luca watched Zev take the tray of peels, his and Amare’s, and take the potato peels to the biodegradable bin made by his wife.
“I’m glad they accepted me,” Zev said, bringing the now empty trays to the sink. He rinsed the trays and started washing the peeled potatoes in the basin. “Baba, I want to do this. I don’t want to move to Kirit for four years at KISTech. I want to stay here in Teru close to you guys. Santi Corp is always looking for gifted tech scholars. It will be a good opportunity for me.”
“I really wish you would join the Conservation Class like your father and me,” Elina said, looking at their eldest son with a frown. “I’ve heard the Tech Class working for Santi has labs in the Deserted Lands of Afrotheria.”
They called the four provinces near the forests closest to Njaro Mountain Deserted Lands. The Ghost Wraiths had rule over these lands. Regular folk could not survive in the Deserted Lands.
“My boss confirmed that Santi Corp is said to have a station close to Njaro Mountain. Their scientists are studying the fracture in the vents that allows the wraiths to invade our lands,” Elina said. “I don’t think I could handle you being so close to danger, Zev.”
“Mom, I will be a trainee. I doubt they would send me out to their most exclusive research center when I know nothing,” Zev said, shaking his head. “Besides, my apprenticeship is in the compound where Swala Force Oasis runs. That’s where we will have our classes. Mama, I have already been accepted into the program. I confirmed with my counselor last week. You don’t have to pay for anything because it is a scholarship.”
“Oh,” Elina said, bracing her hands on the kitchen counter.
Elina studied Zev, apprehension clear in her eyes. Luca could not blame her. This evening was full of hits. Their third-youngest wanted to join the guild. Their oldest son wanted to join the most debated company in the empire.
Santi Corp had dangerous grey areas. He dared not imagine what kind of experiments they carried out at the facility near Njaro Mountains. It scared him to have Zev working with Santi Corp.
Parenting was not easy, Luca decided.
“Alright, enough talk about the future,” Luca said, clapping his hands. “Come on, Zev, let’s help your mother finish making our supper. Amare, take Grey and Silas to the living room. First, they finish homework, then you make sure they don’t watch grown-up shows on the screen. I renewed our subscription for toons yesterday.”
Amare got up, gave Zev a knowing glance before she urged Grey and Silas up and led them to the living room. Zev continued washing the potatoes at the sink.
Luca moved closer to Elina, wrapping an arm around her waist. She leaned into him and let out a sigh. When she met his gaze, he read fear and worry.
“What would we do with a guardian in the family?” Elina asked, keeping her voice too low for Zev to hear. “Grey would have to leave our home and only visit late in the evening. People are so wary of Guardians.”
Luca shook his head and pressed a kiss on her cheek.
“He’s seven, it’s just a dream,” Luca soothed. “You have plenty of time to show him the wonders of conservation science.”
Elina let out a small chuckle. Even after all these years, Luca felt lucky that she had chosen to marry him and given him four children. Outside their cozy home, she was a talented scientist who worked in a small laboratory on strengthening agriculture in Teru Province. She was beautiful, amazing, and brilliant.
“Maybe Amare will follow in your footsteps. She is the only one who loves plants the same way you do,” Luca said, letting Elina go so that they could get started on making the evening meal.
“Maybe,” Elina said, continuing her work with the dough.
“Amare does like plants, but she wants to teach little kids,” Zev said, bursting their bubble with a quick grin. He found a flat round iron pan his mother used to cook the flatbread.
Luca watched Zev turn on the cooker with a fast swipe of his finger over the console. Zev placed the pan over the fire. When he looked up and saw Luca and Elina staring at him, he laughed.
“You still have Silas,” Zev said, his tone soothing. “He might like conservation science and agriculture.”
“Cheeky boy,” Elina said, shaking her head.
Luca grinned and the memory sunk into Zev’s conscious. So did the kiss Elina brushed on Zev’s cheek as she helped him add oil to the flat iron pan. Elina placed the first flatbread on the pan.
“Turn it around, let it feel the heat, Zev. Add a little oil…”
Luca instructed Zev on how to cook the flatbread making sure it didn’t get burnt. Elina watched them with a smile, as she rolled out the next flatbread.
It was a moment in time Zev would never forget.
Genre: African Science Fiction, Novels set in Dystopian Africa