Finding my way back home

“Home” for me is writing. I have never suffered as much as I do when, for whatever reason, I give it up for a period of time. Whenever I turn back to it, it welcomes me back with open arms. I lose myself in it. It is my personal process of healing. If I don’t write, my unspent creative energy builds up into a big block of worry, and that is unhealthy.

In my autograph diary in which I got autographs from my teachers and schoolmates back in high school, one of my teachers told me to keep a hold onto writing, as she herself regretted letting go of it. Whenever I experience the peaceful bubble I can cocoon myself into when I write after a break from it, I recall this piece of advice from her and doubly appreciate it. I would be a fool to give up writing permanently. It is just hard-wired into my brain.

My brother is my personal cheerleader as far as writing goes. He is responsible for getting me to set up a “writing tracker”, which is basically a notebook in which I chart my writing progress. As usual, I either have several works in progress at one time, or none at all. I suppose it’s “all or nothing” for me.

My latest return to writing has been a happy one. I finally started writing my book, for real this time. I started a serial story for one of the magazines I write for. Both projects are enough to keep me on my toes. I aim to see both projects through to completion. That would be a serious achievement for me as a writer.

So, here goes nothing. I’m all set to continue my writing journey. I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes!

 

Love, a four-letter word?

It’s that time of the year again, when the noblest of actions is reduced to a love-themed merchandising day. I am talking, of course, about love. Love is something that we as a nation must understand completely before we can accomplish anything worthwhile. If we keep misunderstanding love, we keep wasting our precious time and energy in chasing a lie.

Defining love

Love is a verb. This means that love is an act between two people. Love, the feeling, is a product of love, the verb, plain and simple. If you do actions of love for someone, it will result in creating a space for that person in your heart, and a space for you in that person’s heart.

What, then, is an action of love? Let’s stick to the basics. The most basic action of love is the way in which you look at a person, the way you use your eyes in his or her presence. If you look at the wording of our traditional poems and songs, you will find that they are filled with description of the language of the eyes. The poet talks about sitting in wait so that he may gaze upon the beloved, the singer sings about that one glance he is dying for, and we everyday people are stuck scratching our heads and wondering whether Cupid ran out of arrows when it was our turn. The reality, dear readers, is simple: whether or not you believe in your life partner being determined by fate, finding that life partner is hard work, arranging to be married to them is harder work, and keeping a marriage alive and working is the hardest job of all. Love is work, and work is effort. The concept of love being something that happens all by itself due to the beauty of a random person’s body and mind catching your attention, is a nice little story to tell by the fireside, but it is not a law of life to believe in.

The effects of “crush culture”

When young people decide to spend their free time admiring celebrities, the girl next door and the cousin from abroad, a “crush culture” is established that results in heartbreak. By “crush culture” I mean the time and energy spent in watching the crush, thinking about the crush and obsessively discussing the crush with friends. Schoolgirls are notorious for this–they do not even spare the teachers who they see all year round or the invigilators who they see during their annual exams. Any and every pretty person they see is a target for their whims.

What is frustrating about this is that this heartbreak is completely avoidable. It is simply a matter of how much you value your own heart and your own ability to love. Are you going to throw away your heart after every pretty face on the TV screen, or that cute boy or girl in the tuition centre? Yes, it is completely normal to be attracted to what appears beautiful to you. What I am asking you to consider is: is it worthwhile to fill your mind and heart with every person who attracts your attention? What do you get in the end, from all the hours you spend fascinated by that personality? The answer is that you get nothing at all. You, your mind, your heart and your time are worth more than that.

The myth of “the one”

This problem begins when we take our different forms of entertainment too seriously. The media sells the lie that there is only one perfect match available for you in the world, and that you have to be very high up in the social rat race in order to find that one match, and you will never have “chemistry” with anyone else. The reality is that there is a range of compatibility we have with many people, and out of them we can choose the one who appears to suit us the best. For a man, that would probably be the best-looking woman out of all the women of similar personality that he can approach for marriage. For a woman, that would probably be the most “well-settled” man out of all the men she finds to be compatible with her own self. The thing is, in real life, suitable matches do not line up for selection in this manner. Life is not a reality TV show. Really finding and choosing someone for marriage involves considerable patience, prayer, planning and preparation, and how can we grow all these qualities and techniques in ourselves when we are young, if we are impressed by fictional stories?

Love conquers all

In our experience of life, we come across many different people. There are people we like, people we dislike, and people who don’t matter to us. Out of all the people we like, we spend more time with a select few. The others are just there to pass the time with when our close friends aren’t around. The way we approach people in general has a big effect on our effectiveness as an individual member of society. The human heart has an incredible capacity to love, if only we understand this. If you consider love simply as a positive force that you use to brighten up your little corner of the world, starting with loving your own self, then the time passes more pleasantly. Don’t get me wrong: approaching every aspect of life with love is not easy, and discussing how to do it is beyond the scope of a single article, but it is possible. I will go beyond even the word “possible” and say that love is the purpose of existence–just don’t get stuck on the romantic version.

The importance of self-love

By self-love I mean regarding your own self in a positive way. A lot of us are caught up in self hate simply because of negative body image, peer pressure, family problems or some other reason. Call it self-esteem, call it self-care, whatever you call it, stop right where you are and take a deep breath. We are all human and certainly, desiring marriage to a suitable life partner is perfectly acceptable. It just doesn’t make any sense to waste our mental, emotional and spiritual energy on “time-pass” connections and end up neglecting our own poor hearts that need our urgent attention. Like they say, “bloom where you are planted”–easy to say but hard to do, certainly, which is why actually doing it takes a lifetime.


This article originally appeared in Us Magazine for the youth, The News International:

https://www.thenews.com.pk/magazine/us/185111-Love-a-four-letter-word

Life of a bookworm (Opening up my cabinet of curiosities # 3)

Austin Kleon‘s book “Show Your Work” has a list of questions that bring out the creative mind in you. I decided to answer all the questions, one by one, in order to express my creative side in a personal way. Today’s question is:

What do you read?

What I choose to read has certainly changed with every change in circumstance as I grow older. When I was younger, novels predominated. Now that I am looking to root myself in the real world and shut off the dreamland that preoccupied my waking hours since I was eight years old, I choose biographies, memoirs, humorous books and non fiction. I still sneak a novel or two in sometimes, for old time’s sake, but novel-reading is no longer the intense activity it was, the way it used to be when I was a child/teenager. Somehow, the novel addiction has weakened. I suppose that’s called growing out of something.

Non fiction is something I am definitely growing into. During a book fair last year, I picked up basic books by heavy-duty names like Ghazali, Rumi and Iqbal. One book was actually about how Rumi inspired Iqbal, so it was about both of them at once–I really enjoyed that.

Now that I am past the grueling college years of student life, and have some time unburdened by academics, I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into some good non fiction reading, with the topics of interest being the history and lives of Muslims in South Asia. I also want to place particular emphasis on an introductory study of Quran and Hadith. For Quran, I would be following my online “Quran Program” classes at Zaynab Academy Online, as well as reading up on the sections taught in class by looking them up in reference books, namely Maariful Quran and Tafseer Ahsanul Bayan. For Hadith, just to get started, I will be reading and reflecting upon Riyadh us Saliheen. May Allah accept my intention and increase me in all that is good.

I have always been an ambitious reader. Every book has somewhere to take you and something to teach you. I aspire to go somewhere and learn something every day of my life, and books make it possible for me. Here’s to another year of happy reading. See you at the bookstore!

 

 

 

My Interview In Us Magazine

Waqas Hassan's WebPress!

Tea with Us!

It is a law of nature. The sun will rise. The tides will flow. Fans want to know more about their stars. Where celebrities are concerned, the tabloids fulfill this demand, but what about the fans of Us? Something had to be done.

And done it was. It took some doing, but I managed to book Café Online. I sent out the invites and got my notebook and pen ready. I didn’t know any shorthand, but I was going to get those interviews!

Us is made of regular sections and contributions. I couldn’t invite everyone who’d ever contributed, but I invited those who had carved their own niche in Us and earned appreciation from the readers in doing so, both senior and relatively new writers.

And not only this; for today…

View original post 5,798 more words

The Experiment

Athelney Jones was thirty-five when Death came knocking at his door. After the initial shock, a strange calm washed over him. He was able to stand erect to study the apparition on his doorstep.

It was the Reaper himself, no doubt. Who else could have taken pains to appear as ghastly as possible, Athelney reflected, taking in the gaunt figure swathed in black from top to toe, with a single grisly eye protruding from the forehead. He matched his eerie one-eyed stare with his own stony gaze. Both recoiled from each other: Death saw the man as one blackened by his sins, so the revulsion was mutual.

It was Death who spoke first.

“Good morning, Mr. Jones,” he drawled lazily. “I am here to inform you that this was your last day on Earth.” He paused as if to invite a response, then continued: “As you have a long list of wrongdoings to account for, you are not permitted any time to settle affairs, bid farewells and so on. However, you are entitled to one last request.” Plucking dirt off his sleeve, he waited.

Now, this Athelney Jones possessed a remarkably quick and deft mind. While Death was engaged in formalities, he was racking his brains for a solution to his predicament. He absolutely refused to accept that his time had come. He thought feverishly: “What to do…what—ah! Now for the greatest experiment of my life!”

There was an eccentric side to Athelney Jones. He loved to poke about with everything, just to see what would happen. He would do completely wild feats in the name of “experimentation”. Only this morning he had doused his beetle-infested roses with hair spray instead of insecticide, which killed the pests but left them stuck on the plants. This kind of lifestyle led him to think of everything in terms of an “experiment”. At that moment, for instance, his line of thought ran thus: “Experiment: to beat Death…apparatus: cunning…procedure……”

A high, irritated voice filtered through his thoughts: “Mr. Jones, I

have the right to withdraw your only claimable right if you take too much time.”

“Oh!” Athelney, masked with sickly civility, mustered all his wits and turned to face reality. “If it won’t take too much trouble, if you’d be so kind—”

“What do you want?” Death snapped, dropping his businesslike manner.

“Only a red rose from the backyard.”

Death eyed him piercingly; Athelney felt annoyed.

“What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing,” Death answered easily, rising into the air. “Having known you for over three decades, you surprise me. I came prepared for some struggle on your part. Pity you’ve wizened; I’d have had fun restraining you.” He glided idly out of sight; Athelney closed his eyes in anticipation. Any moment now…

One minute…two minutes…five minutes passed and no sign of the hooded threat. Finally Athelney summoned all his courage and tiptoed over to where the rose plants leaned over the brick wall. An insanely comic sight met his eyes.

Death was halfway up the wall, seemingly clinging to the roses with his rotting hands and feet, struggling and shrieking with rage. Athelney took one look at him and dissolved into a guffaw that went on and on.

“Just look at you!” he gasped. “The Grim Reaper stuck on the roses!”

“Let me down!” demanded Death. “Right now!”

“No!”

“LET—ME—DOWN!”

“No way!” Athelney chuckled. “What do you take me for?” He sauntered towards his house, adding as a parting shot: “That’s where you’ll stay!”

Stay there he did, through three miserable weeks. When Athelney approached him again, he was in a pitiful state.

“Do you care to negotiate a treaty?” he asked cheerily.

“Anything…just get me off this bush!” Death begged wretchedly.

“OK.” Athelney was seated on the grass, rubbing his hands together

with glee. He could have what he wanted most…

“If I let you down,” he intoned carefully, “you’ll never come to take me.”

“Impossible! Besides, you don’t know the value of life!”

“Oh, well, a thousand years, then,” Athelney said offhandedly, “and I won’t age.”

Death saw the rapt look on his face, and sighed resignedly. “You have your prolonged life, but after that…” His voice fell on dumb ears; Athelney was dancing all over his garden.

“A thousand—a THOUSAND! Oh, the things I’ll do, the places I’ll see…”

“Ahem. What about me?”

“Oh, you!” He bottled his bliss so he could speak calmly. “I’ve bribed some neighbourhood kids to scrape you off that bush.”

“WHAT?”

“That’s the best I can do. It’s that or an eternity on the roses,” Athelney said imperiously.

It took the combined efforts of twelve boys with their spades to prize Death off. As they ran away to play, Death towered above Athelney. “Remember, you never learned the value of life,” he said dejectedly, before melting away into the air.

“That’s a successful experiment!” Athelney bubbled with satisfaction. “In fact, now begins the real part of the experiment…how I spend all these years!”

The prospect that hundreds of years were laid out before him was electrifying. Athelney Jones decided to “utilise wealth and live life to the fullest” by which he meant that he would begin by revelling in the fulfillment of all his selfish worldly pleasures. Time went on as he globe-trotted for enjoyment. The life he had known became history. He took root by the sea and watched the world’s constant changing, like kaleidoscopic patterns spinning by. The years rolled on. Nobody remembered him. For the first time Athelney was bewildered by the constantly-changing world and the rapidity of the passing time. He travelled northward as the world was scarred by wars, and when he retreated into a little secluded valley dotted with villages, he was no longer the blissful joy-rider he had been when he embarked upon his

journey. He was three hundred and fifty years old, looking not a day over thirty-five.

It was in this valley that he made himself a bungalow to remember the old days by, and there he remained.

“What have I done? Why have I brought this curse on myself?” he moaned. “I am utterly alone…nobody who loves me…nothing I know…all gone…and I, I have to remain still, and endure more torture. I’ve seen so many lucky people come and go, people who spend their lives on good causes and leave peacefully, respectfully. I can’t rest like they can. How dare they taunt me with their graves? They can spend their lives suffering!”

His curse became true for everyone in the valley. Drought and fire ravaged the land. Save for Athelney, nobody was left, only the skeletons of villages. The very seasons withdrew, refusing to grace the land with their individual beauty. The harsh and featureless landscape mocked Athelney; he now knew what it was to be abandoned by nature. He decided to make his days worthwhile. He found seeds in the ghost villages to make a garden, a vast garden enclosing acres of space with a high wall. He toiled for years, and it flourished as he nurtured it. It became his world, a world of fruits, vegetables and all kinds of flowers, including roses on the walls.

Years passed. The world began to heal. One day Athelney spotted a moving speck on the barren land beyond his green-walled one. He peered closely. It was a family, a couple with four children and a baby, trudging through the waste. They apparently thought his bungalow was another charred skeletal building, having gone far past it. Athelney thought no more of them; his was an unfeeling heart.

The next morning he looked into his garden, and what did he find at the walls? The travelling family, gazing yearningly at the lush greenery within!

Athelney was consumed with fury. He could not bear them even looking at his garden. He was about to unleash his wrath upon them when the sound of the baby crying stabbed him. The memory of numberless hollow years shamed him at last; he opened the door.

“Come in, all of you…”

Gratefully, they entered. In the shade, Athelney gave them food and

water and asked them to stay. Their gratitude knew no bounds. Their stay grew to two days, then a week. Soon there was no mention of leaving, and Athelney preferred it that way.

One morning he woke to find his room flooded with a soft, glowing white light. It dimmed so he could discern a familiar face—but how changed!

“It’s you,” he said quietly. “But it’s not a thousand years yet…”

Laughter rang around the room. “You deserved a thousand years to suffer, but I came earlier as a reward.”

“Why?”

You learned and acted upon the purpose and value of life, which is the real achievement…now, come with me!”

Athelney went. He felt them rising together, breaking the bonds of the Earth, emancipated. They were on the final journey to where all paths meet…

Conquest

It was a sheer drop, fifty feet at least. He did not go easily; he had to be
dragged by the shirt collar, kicking and squealing, with a cuff and a curse
added for good measure. The bottom of the gorge was deep and dark, with
no way out save to scale the vertical walls.

He didn’t like the dark.

“I want some light around here!” he called. His voice was needle-thin. It
barely penetrated the thick, stifling air. The echoes laughed, and there was
no light.

“Light!” he repeated, beginning to grow a trifle annoyed, “I asked for light!”

“Asked?” said a voice.

“Yes, asked,” he repeated angrily.

“Asked?”

“You heard the first time! I asked!”

“You didn’t ask.”

This was an unforeseen obstacle. He tried to peer through the darkness, asthough to cleave it with his very gaze.

“I asked,” he ventured eventually; in what he thought was a winning tone.

“You didn’t ask,” the voice persisted.

He sank into thought. He had never been compelled to think before,
accustomed to having everything served up on a silver platter the moment he
lifted a finger.

“OK, I didn’t ask,” he said finally. “I’m asking now…I want light.”

“You demanded, you whined, you moaned, but you didn’t ask. You didn’t
and haven’t asked. I don’t call that asking.”

“Well, I do! I want some light and I want it now!”

The echoes laughed merrily along with the jeering voice.

“You call that asking?”

“Yes, I do, and you’d better get used to it!”

Silence.

“Light!”

Silence. Not even the echoes chuckled now.

“I—want—light!”

He was getting afraid now. Every time he spoke, his words splintered and
scattered away like slivers of glass, and the silence came rushing back in
waves.

There was something uncanny about that voice: he had heard it before. It
seemed to be a part of him, and yet…so completely alien to anything he
remembered.

“Please give me light,” he whimpered, throwing his head back, trying to
catch a glimpse of light from where the walls of the gorge fell back to admit
the sky. Even up there the darkness was complete.

He was devastated. He began to scrabble at the unyielding stone walls,
feeling along the cracks, begging, pleading.

A terrible laughter exploded in his ears, and it was not the echoes’ laughter
this time. It was the voice, laughing without mirth, enjoying the spectacle,
unfeeling, unheeding.It was the laughter that jarred his memory. The laugh ringing in his ears used to be his not long ago, not very long ago, before he had been pushed into the
gorge. How often had he laughed like that, and at how many people, he
could not remember. He had laughed at the very possibility of himself
scrabbling in the dark, believing that the eternal light was his forever. He
had laughed—scorned, even—at the very idea of himself battling that which
he had never feared before…

That voice—that voice! How often had he spoken like that, in such
unyielding tones?

Was it possible that he was facing…himself?

Himself as he had been—as he had been, and would be again, if he ever
escaped from this gorge. For human nature is like a rubber band, springing
back to its true essence when there is light, and straining to its humbler form
when bent by darkness.

Laughter again. Louder this time, threatening to drown him, envelop him,
tear out his eardrums.

“You couldn’t beat me.”

He didn’t reply.

“You never could. Your good side was always your weak one.”
“I could!” The words shot out of his mouth before he knew it.

“That’s exactly the problem, you little wimp. You could, but you never
will.”

He couldn’t answer. How could he overcome the challenge of self? The
challenge the darker side always presents to the better one. Beat me, or
submit to me. He had submitted. His heart, mind and soul.

But there was a third choice. There always is. Beat me, submit to me, or stay
quiet. And the good side replies, “Yes, I’ll stay quiet, but when the darkness
without is greater than the darkness within, let’s see which side triumphs, me
or you.”And here he was. Reduced by hardship to his meagre good side. His
willpower was in such a poor state, it couldn’t cope with his dark side, being
used to being propelled by it instead of challenged.

So he chose to remain quiet. Chose not to answer the challenge posed by the
voice, his dark side. Beat me, or submit to me. I won’t give you any external
light. You must beat me with the light within. First he had begged, pleaded
—his internal light couldn’t handle his dark side. This was what he thought.
But the flickering flame within him just needed the fuel of his will to spark
up and engulf his dark side, and swallow it forever. But he would not
provide that fuel. The fuse was inches away from the flame, but he wouldn’t
let it light.

It was a battle lost before it had even begun. It was as if the enemy had flung
aside its weapon in a bid for him to show his strength, but he, having
depended on power instead of strength all his life, couldn’t—wouldn’t—take
up the challenge.

When he ventured to look upward again, he sensed a change. Maybe it had
all washed over and the challenge was no longer standing? A light kindled at
the top of the gorge. A flickering little flame. His heart leapt at the sight.

“I am here to help you,” the light called. “I will lend you my strength. Defeat
your dark side. Then you can climb out.”

But he was already on his feet, scrambling up the wall of the gorge.

“Defeat that part of your self!” came the cry. “Don’t use my help to escape
—use it to conquer!”

He was almost there…he’d made it. He sprinted away towards the faraway
glittering lights on the horizon.

The flame nearly fluttered out with exasperation. “If he had stopped for two
seconds…but he didn’t. He thirsted for the attractions his darker side
offered, and wouldn’t defeat it.” It blinked, shivered, and winked out.The gorge waited silently. Don’t wait for your turn in there to think yourself
out—is your better side your reigning one or your suffocated one? Only you
can tell. Or the gorge will certainly teach you.

***

Originally published in Us Magazine, The News International.

Destiny

Centre N, Sector 12, Satellite Reina. Extraterrestrial addresses differed from earthly ones like House 6, Wenn Street, Merrittown, Svalbard. The same address in space terms: Earth, Svalbard, Merrittown, Wenn Street, House 6—the order reversed to specify the largest scale first because Earth was no longer the only home. Now just the First Home, it was the launching pad for the first colonists as rival entrepreneurs set off in opposite directions to establish civilisations that orbited stars other than the sun. Man-made empires with man-made foundations and man-made conditions; materials from the planets they stripped bare of resources and light energy from the stars (or “centres”) around which their cities revolved. The enterprisers vied with each other, hoarding their knowledge and technology behind walls of jealousy. They called those few who chose to remain behind on Firsthome foolish followers of the old planet-dependent order, saying that they would never get anywhere. Yet an emissary from Firsthome was going further than any Groundling had ever gone before. Centre Nagavi had only two residents. One was the two-person team of Shumneya and his daughter Reina, making machine parts for everything from spacecraft engines to scent sprayers. Their unique technique set them apart. The other was the scout squad of the star-city Koryak, headed by Commander Kronotski, nosing around in the wake of every noteworthy activity, scavenging for spoils. He was determined to sniff out a windfall somewhere, but Shumneya and Reina were as unyielding as Kronotski was resolute.

 

“Reina,” Shumneya called from the observation bay. “We have a visitor. Let him land.”

 

Silence from the control deck. He could see her eyebrows arching with surprise. “He’s giving the correct admittance signal,” he prompted. “Open the dock.”

 

As she obeyed, he saw her shaking her head at his willingness to let a complete stranger enter the ship. He smiled.

 

That was how the Groundling found the two: Shumneya smiling serenely, Reina with her features set in an uncompromising expression.

 

“Mr.?”  Shumneya asked. “Zibell,” the man replied.

 

“What brings you here, Mr. Zibell?” Shumneya inquired pleasantly. “I assume that you’re not the latest gimmick from Kronotski. You don’t look like you come from Koryak.”

 

“No, I come from Earth.” A silent mixture of surprise and disbelief was his only answer. “I used a dark tunnel in the vicinity. It opens near here. A journey of many years over in a few seconds. I came quite deliberately, with a message…for Reina.”

 

“You must be mistaken,” Reina said. “I have never been there; my father left it when he was a young man. We have no ties there.” Her father appeared startled at her finishing words.

 

“You are not right there, my dear,” he said quietly. Turning to Zibell, he said, “You come from Ragnar?”

 

“No, Advendalen.”

 

“What—?” Reina began to ask, but Shumneya silenced her, indicating that Zibell should talk.

 

Zibell spoke, addressing Reina. “Before Shumneya left Firsthome, he worked with a man called Hijau. Due to some differences in opinion, they separated and went their own ways. Shumneya got the rights to the blueprints they were working on; with them he made an advanced design for long-distance spacecraft. Hijau founded a rival organisation, Ragnar, determined to use what knowledge he had to cause Shumneya’s downfall.” Reina stiffened. Shumneya asked, “But Hijau’s fight is with me. What does this have to do with Reina?”

 

“Everything,” Zibell answered. “When your partnership with Hijau broke up, you sealed your work against him with your brand of DNA coding technology so that he could not operate it. Even now, only you two can access your experimental, cutting-edge work.” His listeners were thunderstruck to hear that he knew about that. “He can’t use you to break your code because you blocked his DNA using your own, but Reina is your daughter. She has half your DNA, therefore she could access whatever you could once you enabled her to do so, but she is not directly protected against Hijau like you are.”  

 

“How do you know all this?” Reina exclaimed suddenly. “And why are you telling us?”

 

Zibell smiled. “I know it because I am the Vitrazh. We made our way and swore to safeguard it long ago; delivering this message was a crucial part of my responsibility. As for why I am telling you—Kronotski is Hijau’s man. He follows you more deliberately and precisely than you know. You cannot stay here. You must return to Firsthome, where we can protect you.”

 

“This—is—ridiculous!” Reina exclaimed. “Father, why didn’t you tell me before?”

 

“I did not want to worry you,” Shumneya replied. “Our techniques are too precious to hide, but they would be dangerous in the hands of someone like Hijau; he is disturbingly ambitious. We can only—”

 

Zwing. The sound of one of their one-man shuttles being powered up interrupted him. They both wheeled around in shock; Zibell was operating the switchboard. The controls were accessible by DNA coding only to Shumneya and Reina; it was technically impossible for anyone else to use them.

 

Reina leapt forward, but by the time she reached the switchboard, Zibell was in the cockpit.

 

“The coordinates to the dark tunnel are 89-V 40-C,” he called. “I’m going to distract Kronotski. You don’t have time to waste.” Without further ado, he shot off towards Kronotski’s headquarters, leaving two very astounded people behind him.

 

After a few moments, Shumneya turned to his daughter. “You must go in the other shuttle,” he said. “Don’t let his sacrifice go to waste.”

 

“Sacrifice?”

 

“Yes. When Kronotski discovers that you managed to get away because of Zibell, he won’t be happy.”  

 

“But…” Reina stared incredulously at her father. “What about you?”

 

“I have done my part in preserving this knowledge. Now you are destined to do the same.”

 

“You mean that I have no choice in the matter?”

 

“If our objective was destined to fail, we would never have gotten any chance to save it. This opportunity, however, lets us choose to strive for a possible outcome by acting, or resign ourselves to an inevitable outcome by not acting. The choice is there. The choice is yours.”

 

Reina stood gazing at Shumneya in silence for what seemed like a long while. Finally, she tore her eyes away from that beloved countenance and moved towards the shuttle. She knew that no matter how much she prolonged her last time with her father, it would never be enough.

 

***

 

“How can you say she isn’t from Tilago? They’ve tried to sneak in before.”

 

“A high-speed craft blasting right into the warehouses? Quite the opposite of sneaky. Besides, that shuttle isn’t of Tilago design.”

 

“Why did she go straight for the supplements storage, then? I spent months wagering that deal to get our hands on those. All gone! And you say it’s an accident!”

 

“You’re paranoid, Pervenets.”

 

“And you’re foolish, Uzon.”

 

“Are you two done arguing?” A third voice interrupted.

 

Two pairs of eyes, one alight with curiosity, the other tainted with suspicion, swivelled in the direction of the voice. Reina stood on the threshold, studying them guardedly.

 

“You must be quite disorientated,” Uzon said, “after a crash like that. You’ve been unconscious for awhile. How did you leave your room? It was locked.”

 

Animated by derision, Reina forgot her reserve. “You call that a lock?” Pervenets scowled.  

 

“You must be quite nifty with mechanisms to break out like that.” The interest in Uzon’s face sharpened. “Where did you come from?”

 

“Nagavi.”

 

“Where on Earth is that?”

 

“It’s not on…it’s in the Ustinova quadrant.”

 

“Oh.” Uzon’s eyes widened; Pervenets went pale. “You’re extraterrestrial! No wonder our locks seem feeble to you. Well, Starling, how come you’re anywhere near here?”

 

“Advendalen sent someone to fetch me,” Reina said.

 

“But…” Nonplussed, Uzon looked at Pervenets, who looked equally confused. “We’re Advendalen.”

 

“You?” It was Reina’s turn to be perplexed.

 

“Pardon me,” said Uzon; “we should introduce ourselves. I am Uzon Cronon, and this is my brother Pervenets. Together we run Advendalen, which doesn’t make as spectacular spacecraft as yours, but it’s good enough for Earth. We never called any Starling here.”

 

“Do you know about an Earth-based spacecraft company called Ragnar?”

 

“No; there isn’t any such company on Earth. If it existed, we would know,” Uzon assured her.

 

Reina was silent before venturing, “May I see my shuttle?”

 

“Why not,” Uzon said easily. “Come along.”

 

Even though it was mangled beyond repair, the shuttle still showed signs of its remarkable craftsmanship. Reina swept her gaze over the Earth-machine parts scattered among the debris of the warehouse. They were distorted, but her experienced eye could still make out their design and function. She turned one of them over with her foot.

 

“Look at that,” she said critically. “The shape! The joins! What a horrible contraption!”

 

Pervenets was in danger of bursting with indignation but Uzon was tingling with excitement. “Exactly,” he said.

 

“Excuse me?” She was surprised.

 

He indicated the shuttle. “Flawless technique.”

 

“So…?”

 

“You don’t realise the implications of wrecking a commercial warehouse, do you? Investigations, explanations—in this case, cover-up stories. It takes a lot of work.”

 

“So…?”

 

“That” (Uzon indicated the shuttle) “can compensate for this” (he indicated the destroyed warehouse).

 

“My shuttle?”

 

“Your knowledge.”

 

Reina raised her eyebrows.

 

“I’m not forcing you,” Uzon said steadily. “It’s your choice. I’m the manpower and Pervenets is the infrastructure. If you joined us, we’d have skill. The output would be colossal.” Seeing Reina glance at Pervenets, he added, “He won’t die. He’s just overly cautious.” Pervenets grimaced.

 

I’ll have somewhere to stay while I sort this out, Reina thought. “Advendalen,” she said aloud, “welcome Reina Shumneya. I’m not going to be easy on you.”

 

“That’s exactly what I want,” Uzon said.

 

Later on, when they were alone, Pervenets said to Uzon, “This is insane. The Groundling-Starling difference alone can’t account for the difference between our technology and hers. It’s unsettling.”

 

“In a good way,” Uzon countered. “Just think of where she will take Advendalen.”

 

“You were always mad,” Pervenets replied, “so it was natural for you to just start talking to her like that, but why she was crazy enough to reply so comfortably, I don’t understand.”

 

“Like responds to like,” Uzon remarked. “I fancy I see a kindred spirit in her.”

 

Pervenets just shook his head. A week later, he had more concerns to spill.

 

“All the products DNA-encoded to her!” he stormed. “No control left in our hands! All this time I’ve been watching you two gushing over this spindle and that joint, but enough is enough! This isn’t improvement, this is taking over! She’ll kick us out!”

 

Uzon smiled. “She’s committing herself to the work. Besides, her techniques don’t work any other way.”

 

Reina’s roommate, Dolina, had her own way of looking at things. When Reina came back from work at 5am one day, Dolina was waiting to ambush her.

 

“Where were you?” she squealed.

 

“Working,” Reina replied.

 

“With Uzon?” Dolina demanded. “Till 5am? Alone?”

 

Reina smiled, prolonging the suspense, watching Dolina squirm. “And Pervenets,” she added, “and Fram and Nansen.”

 

“WHAT?!” Dolina howled. “Reina, you—are—pathetic!”

 

Six months later, with many designs successfully implemented, Uzon asked Reina to be his wife and she agreed. This satisfied Dolina’s matchmaking instincts (though she had had no influence on the match) and quelled Pervenets’ anxiety (he no longer feared that Reina would take over Advendalen).

 

“Do you know what you have done?” Dolina asked Reina one day.

 

“What?” Reina asked.

 

“You have created a special bloodline. You can enable access to your kids because they have your father’s DNA, right? They’ll run Advendalen after you, and their kids after them, and so on until this pattern is disrupted. It’ll take a lot to disrupt it, though; the Vitrazh is always tough.”

 

“The…what?” Reina’s voice quavered, but Dolina did not notice it.

 

“Vitrazh. Protector related by blood; usually a sibling. Never wondered why Pervenets went berserk when you first came? He’s the Vitrazh for this generation, protecting Uzon with his own life. It’s an ancient system for large organisations like these.”

 

Reina recalled Zibell’s words: “We made our way and swore to safeguard it long ago.” Our way…the way of exclusive control in the hands of Shumneya’s descendants. Long ago…When? In the future of the present, but the past of the future. Pervenets would put the baton in one of her children’s hands, where it would ultimately pass on to Zibell, who, by discharging his duty, would ensure that it passed back to Pervenets again…a chain of choices, united because every link made the right one. That is destiny.

***

Originally published in Us Magazine, The News International.

Note: Forgive me for being so verbose in this story. As one of my English teachers used to say, “Avoid pomposity and verbosity”, and nobody pointed out to my face exactly how pompous and verbose my writing was at the time of writing this story, so here it is, in all its immaturely worded glory. Forgive a teen for being a teen, eh? I get embarrassed reading stuff from my teenage now that I know better.

Oh, and the names are mostly from a National Geographic article about volcanoes and geology. Go figure! I took a leaf out of J.K. Rowling’s book; she used maps for names, I used a single Nat Geo article. *grins*

This story is set in the universe of my novel, so consider it a backstory that sets the stage for the rest of it. Wish me luck. Rather, pray that I get to write down my novel successfully one day. I have a physical ache from carrying it around, unwritten, all these years. For those non-writers among you who don’t get what it means, think of it as an unborn baby in the third trimester. You’re tired of carrying it around everywhere and you just wanna get that sucker out! Only, there is no automatic natural process to birth it; you have to extract that novel from your self with tweezers and tongs, changing yourself irreversibly in the process.

Writing is hard. Never assume otherwise.

–Iqra Asad.