They Burned All Their Ships
In Alberto Yanez’s short story ‘Burn the Ships,’ the Aztec people of Mexico reanimate the dead to fight their conquerors.
The following is a short story by Alberto Yáñez titled ‘Burn the Ships’ from the collection New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction By People Of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl.
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction By People Of Color
There are no obsidian blades in the camp. The Dawncomer guards have learned enough to make sure that no ritual knives get smuggled in. Without obsidian, Quineltoc can’t spill blood properly—he can’t keep the law, can’t observe the rites of the Living Lord as a man of God must. The ghost-colored invaders who came from beyond the rising sun trust in their vigilance and in their cold technology to protect them. It does.
The People make do. They’ve had to, for over a decade now—ever since the Dawncomers laid aside any pretense of friendliness and openly usurped the Emperor’s power. But there is always the Lord.
Quineltoc keeps faith.
It’ll be enough.
But tonight, need drives him, as relentless as a snakedriver’s whip. He sneaks into a tight corner between the latrines, hidden from the sight of the guards. The stench of watery shit and piss is thick despite the cold, dry winter night. It’s long after curfew and he’ll be shot on sight, but Quineltoc is alone for the first time in months. In an overcrowded hell, solitude itself is almost worth the risk.
The wind picks up and moves the clouds across the blue-black sky, revealing stars glinting like frozen tears on the bruised face of night. The waning quarter moon gives little light, and Quineltoc shivers as he contemplates the dark between the stars. His copper brown skin, sallow from poor rations and exhaustion, tightens and prickles as he shivers. The Tzitzimimeh dwell in the vast emptiness.
He doesn’t precisely fear the dark goddesses, orthodox man that he is. God’s sisters made willing sacrifices, he reminds himself. The Bone Women gave their lives for the Living Lord, for His law. The law itself keeps the People safe, and he keeps the law.
Their blood, their flesh, to nourish Him.
The grey hair on the back of his neck stands up. He tells himself it’s the biting wind that makes him feel small and naked under the pitiless stars.
Quineltoc steels his faith and straightens his back, ignores the cold, and starts to softly chant the bloodletting prayers. He takes a shard of bone out of the pocket of his thin grey pants. Carefully, he doesn’t think from who that bone came, and focuses on the prayers he uttered as he honed the shard’s point, whetted on hope and dismay. He shivers again, harder—shudders—and pulls the sleeve of his dirty smock back, slicing the flesh of his left forearm. The red blood is black in the shadowed starlight.
He should call out, proud, happy at an offering given, voice ringing like a bronze temple bell to proclaim his bloodletting, but the guards would hear him. After a long moment trembling in the cold, Quineltoc is able to focus. The year’s count is ending soon, and with the power of time turning behind his prayers, Quineltoc hopes that the Lord will listen despite the lack of incense and obsidian.
Maybe provide a different answer.
The wind dies down and Quineltoc hears nothing beyond himself and the blood surf, deafening, in his ears. The pounding of each heartbeat one more note in a space where experience and grace have taught him to expect to hear the voice of God.
Even with no incense to carry his pleas surely God will hear him? Answer! he thinks deep inside himself, and then stifles the demand.
Ever since he was newly a man and became the youngest lawspeaker of the People of the Starry Codex, the voice of God has answered him at prayers. More than forty years. Now, with the scent of misery the only incense, Quineltoc dreads the reply.
Excerpted from the book, New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color. Copyright 2019 edited by Nisi Shawl. Reprinted by permission of Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd.