Fragments of Memory
by Malena Salazar Maciá
Translated by Toshiya Kamei
Other TTTV stories by Malena Salazar Maciá
Morgo had a hunch everything was going to be all right. That day, his black market hunting party was going to get the head of the Goddess of the Lake: a woman with a shiny body who transformed into a snake and ravaged the Azona River during the flood season. Many attempted to slay her, but their bones ended up resting among algae. The few survivors of the attacks spoke of a metallic hum that suddenly pierced the air, and their companions were already dead. Or they were maybe dismembered, but no one wanted to look twice before taking to their heels.
Some male settlers on the shores swore that in dreams, a silver woman lay with them until they were drained dry and, since then, they’d been free to fish in the Azona River without any fear. The testimony was given, of course, before witnesses mysteriously disappeared a few days later.
Others attested to the existence of shamans of savage tribes who worshiped her. They performed blood sacrifices and raised their offspring born of the oneiric mating with the Gentiums until they could fend for themselves.
It didn’t matter whether or not all of the rumors were true. During the floods, the Goddess of the Lake continued attacking the villagers. Fishermen’s boats disappeared and, on moonless nights, a luminous woman danced on the water near the settlements on the shores of the Azona River, only to massacre them later.
The authorities of Western Terra would pay handsomely for the Goddess’ head; the black market paid twice as much. That’s why Morgo preferred to deal with the latter and, if his endeavor was successful, it meant enough money to live free from want for the next five years.
The chief hunter confirmed their luck. The sky was clear. Storms wouldn’t turn the forest floor into a large swamp, although nothing stopped the bestchanĭcuses Morgo and his crew mounted. The animal-shaped steam machines were the ideal means of transport in Western Terra, built with metal plates that protected dozens of flexible pipes and joints. They advanced untiringly while steam circulated in their boilers. The hovercraft was for the Domini, who hated even the thought of getting dirty and preferred the paved roads to the intricate paths of the jungle. The Domini couldn’t navigate their hovercraft in the forests anyway, due to their size and armored forms.
At the sudden sound of a military precision gallop, Morgo straightened up on his bestchanĭcus: a horse with black burnished coating. Behind him chugged two oxen bestchanĭcuses with provisions and equipment. Gathered around him were six hunters on horse machines, plus a spare one. They formed a noisy ensemble with the clinking of metal on metal, the hiss of steam escaping the joints, and the clanking of plates in need of lubrication. It wasn’t appropriate if they wanted to go unnoticed, but there was no other solution because it was dangerous to travel on foot in Western Terra. One of his hunters, Palco, approached hurriedly. His machine didn’t have the coating and grace of the one that belonged to Morgo. Palco rushed to open and close the keys that regulated the pressure at the base of the neck of the machine, and it slowed down to walk alongside Morgo.
“Everythin’ all right back there?” Morgo asked. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “We’re almost there. The Goddess must be in the lake because it hasn’t rained in the last couple of days, and she doesn’t go down to the river. We’re gonna camp a mile away so she won’t hear us arrive. We gotta bring bait to make sure she’ll show up…”
“We’ve got a problem,” Palco interrupted him. He was a Gentium with bronze skin and wolf eyes. “Those two settlers we picked up, they think we’re merchants, and we promised to take ’em to the nearby village. But we can’t take ’em now; the lake is very close, and we’ll be found out. They’ll tell the guard that we’re black market hunters and we’ll all be killed. What should we do? You tell us. Everybody’s worried…”
Morgo rose in his saddle to look at the end of the party. Two lost settlers who had begged for charity were astride the spare bestchanĭcus. He couldn’t refuse the settlers because he and his crew pretended to be merchants in case they ran into undercover guards. The rescued settlers were a Gentium and his daughter, attacked by a shadow-tiger. She was beautiful: pale complexion, ink-black hair, and graceful figure. She could pass for a daughter of some Dominus. Her hands were wounded, and so was her chest, judging from the scraps of cloth that squeezed her breasts together. Her eyes were bandaged. Her anguished father didn’t seem to lose hope. He laid his hand on her forehead and leaned her against himself. He whispered soothing words to her, although the girl emitted no sound. Morgo admitted that his heart broke at the sight. It wasn’t his habit to deny help to the powerless as long as they were fooled by their disguises as merchants, of course. But now he saw the result of his charity as a problem. Palco was right. The priority was to reach the Goddess of the Lake. There was no time to take them to some village, so they would have to go with them to the camp. These Gentiums had tongues, and the father still had his eyes.
“Well… yeah, this ain’t good.” Morgo wiped his nose with the back of his hand and smiled. “We need bait, ain’t that so, Palco? And they say the Goddess of the Lake likes Gentiums.” The hunter imitated his boss’s smile. “All right, tell the others… I’ll give ’em the signal to stop.”
Morgo raised his hand. The hunters guarding the oxen bestchanĭcuses approached them to close the keys and stop them. Morgo masterfully maneuvered on the back end of his saddle. The water-tank boilers came to a halt. His bestchanĭcus stopped with a series of whistles. Escaping steam wrapped his bestchanĭcus in a cloud of white mist. He touched the gun he wore under his linen shirt and dismounted. His hunters were already brandishing different weapons, from double-edged daggers to electric projectile guns.
Palco had fulfilled the task of communicating the orders to his men and was now at the end of the party. He grabbed the Gentium and his daughter and threw them off the saddle unceremoniously. When Morgo reached them, the man and the girl were kneeling on the muddy forest floor, back to back. Morgo unholstered his gun and looked the Gentium in the eyes. He had shallow green eyes, with a honey-colored star around the pupil.
“We told ya wrong, villager,” Morgo said. “We ain’t no merchants, we’re Black Market hunters. It’s your lucky day! We’re gonna hunt down the Goddess of the Lake, that serpent woman who drives e’erybody on the Azona River crazy when there’s a flood. You can help us. We ain’t got no bait for the Goddess… but I think we’ve found some…”
He pointed to the kneeling Gentium’s forehead. To his bewilderment, he remained calm.
“Are you looking for the Goddess to behead her and sell her in the Black Market?” he asked in a low voice, with a different accent and in the Dominus’s language. That made Morgo nervous. “Yes, it’s funny. Very funny.”
“What, Gentium?” Morgo mumbled. “Say it before we kill ya. What do ya know? What do ya find so funny?”
The man smiled broadly. “I will answer in order. We know it’s not easy to kill the Goddess, let alone behead her.”
Morgo had no chance to understand the confession. Neither did his hunters. They heard a metallic buzz and Morgo saw two of his Gentiums with their guts spilling out. Palco was left without his head and right arm. Another hunter lost both legs at the thighs. It all happened in the blink of an eye. Before Morgo could react, he felt a sharp blow to his stomach, and his gun was taken from him. In a flash, the situation was reversed. He was on the ground, and the Gentium he intended to use as bait stood before him, pointing the gun at him.
The girl with the bloodstained bandages performed graceful movements, like someone dancing on the water to lure unsuspecting settlers to their doom, and the remaining hunters fell shrieking, diced into pieces. Dead before the same sound spoken of by the survivors of the Goddess of the Lake. Morgo perceived the invisible power buzzing near him, but the Gentium who overpowered him shouted, “That’s fine, dear! This one is mine.”
The noise faded away. Trembling with terror, Morgo looked at the Gentium. He maintained that triumphant smile of someone who stays five steps ahead of his enemy.
“What’s funny is that you were looking for the Goddess, but her daughter found you first. Now, you can stop existing in peace.” He turned his head with a grimace and used a voice that was his own and, at the same time, someone else’s: “Or we can allow you to exist, so you can talk about the new Goddess who walks in Western Terra…”
Morgo found himself nodding frantically at that option. He risked sitting up when he thought the Gentium was losing his nerve. But he also watched the girl. Her skin was almost luminous, bewitching. When Morgo was fully upright, he gasped as he felt the barrel of the gun press against his chest. The Gentium flashed him a sly smile.
“I was joking. It’s been a long trip, and my little girl is starving.”
The bullet struck Morgo and knocked him to the ground. A few seconds before receiving another shot between his eyebrows, he thought he’d been a fool. The Gods were capable of forcing the Gentiums to do things they weren’t aware of. Even offer charity to their children and serve them as involuntary food.
This story originally appeared in Selene Quarterly Magazine.