Colors That Tinted the Sky
Inpu sneezed. Gentiums believed that the beast-gods didn’t sneeze and that they spoke no words. Inpu was one of the beast-gods who opposed letting them believe such myths, although establishing a psychomental link was more convenient than maneuvering his tongue in his doglike mouth. Sometimes he wished he weren’t a beast-god, if that would prevent him from growling advice to anyone who sought his wisdom.
But that was beside the point. Even in the depths of the cave, where a half-embalmed body lay on his stone table with his ointments, Inpu could smell the sulfur and chemical components any Gentium would deem “heavy odor,” if they could smell them. The advantage of having the head of a canine was that he had the beast’s acute senses. The advantage of his Gentium body was that he had a superb intellect and freedom of movement.
Inpu sneezed again. The smell was getting more intense. With his fingernails, he cut the bandage with which he had just finished wrapping the face of the Gentium with no existence and dashed to the exit of the cave. It was imminent, terrible, and expansive. His reason compelled him to seek refuge, but his curiosity propelled him to lean out, even if he was miles from the vanishing point.
Because he knew the origin: it was that cursed place about which his father had warned him and his siblings, Sutej, Horus, Bastet, and Ast. He had ordered them to stay away from it, or misfortunes would sweep Eastern Terra and the beast-gods would be forgotten. It wouldn’t be the first time. When Terra was still young and other gods roamed there, well before Inpu and his brothers were born, the beast-gods were wiped out by the greed of Gentiums.
Inpu stopped running as he left the cave and raised his nose toward the rock formations to the east. He shut his eyes and by the smell could establish distances and shapes, determine materials, and almost feel the exact place of the leak, the cause behind it. He was too far away to establish a link with a Gentium and alert him to the incident. He couldn’t understand how no one noticed what was happening! Even though they could build so much with so much technology, they still had no clue!
He felt it: it was imminent, a matter of seconds—no, hundredths, thousandths, microseconds! Inpu hurled himself inside the cave just as it happened. A deafening sound rumbled in the distance. Then a gust of stale air rushed at the rocks with more strength and power than any dry storm or sand Inpu had known. He had to hold his breath, cover his ears, and curl up into a ball, or he thought he’d burst from the inside out. His howl of pain faded in the storm, and then came absolute silence. Inpu stood up and cautiously peeked out of the cave, his eyes fixed on the peak, beyond the East Riscos that were his lands.
The sky appeared like a mixture of molten metals in shades that went from the violent orange of the fire to the streaked black of the dormant volcanic rock. The column of smoke spewed out glowing specters of lightning as it touched the clouds.
When new smells reached Inpu, he was horrified. Without even looking for a bottle of water or taking more precautions against the toxins, he went down the gorge of the rock formation, and as he touched the sand, he darted toward the place marked by the red turbulence in the night sky.
A pungent odor filled the air. With each desperate puff she managed, her lungs burned with clogging phlegm. Her eyes stung as though they were full of sand, tears brimming over her eyelids, which were swollen and smeared with a sticky discharge. Her top and bottom lashes kept sticking together and tugging at her flesh, causing tiny pinpricks of pain.
She tried to move her hands and found them stiffly clenched against her body. They didn’t seem to belong to her, they no longer obeyed her, and she wasn’t even able to move a finger. Her legs also failed to respond. Her neck was stiff, immobilized by some invisible force. She was trapped facing the cover of her tomb. It was made of metal plates that began to smother her in the heat they radiated.
As terror filled her in a matter of seconds, she fought with all her strength against what paralyzed her. No, I don’t want to stop existing! Her mouth hung agape, but no words came out. She barely let out a harsh squawk before she burst into a fit of coughs. She moved convulsively from the action and pulled herself from one side to the other, desperate. The smoke grew denser and more suffocating. No, please no! She managed to open and close her fists. Then she peeled her hands away from her sides and rested them on the hot iron. Her hands were bony and fragile, and she didn’t remove them even when she felt her palms burning. She stopped shaking and pushed the metal cover a little until she heard it grind. With effort, she shook her feet and raised her knees to drive them into the structure that covered her. Next, she struck a sudden blow against the plates, which emitted a muffled crack and gave in with a crash. Then she shut her eyes against the hurtful glow of the fire.
Trembling, she managed to sit up and crawled on all fours with difficulty. The air felt cleaner, but not entirely, because when she raised her head, she started coughing. Her long black hair dragged along behind her until it became gray from dust and ashes. She brushed it away from her face and looked scared, not recognizing any of her surroundings. How did she arrive at this place? What had happened? She also noticed that she wasn’t dressed, her chest bones were visible beneath her skin, and the excessive heat hurt her. She tried to crawl away from the chaos, but her arms, exhausted from the effort of freeing herself, failed her, making her collapse. She felt the salty taste of the stone and her skin began to burn on contact with the tubes and metal plates. Her mouth was dry and her lungs ached again with each breath.
Afterward, everything was a procession of confused images and perceptions: the enormous head of a black dog with long, triangular, erect ears. He watched her with leonine eyes outlined by some golden pigment. Right away, she felt a sensation of floating, the air cool away from the fire, her body bent over something that kept her in the air, her hands wobbling, a slight pressure on her waist, sand that sank under dusky feet that weren’t her own and left a trail of human tracks that were erased by the wind.
Inpu watched the Gentium girl lying asleep in a nest of blankets, sheltered in the depths of his cave. The light of the photovoltaic lamp that hung from the ceiling fell upon her face, which was as pale as lichen-covered crags, but her eyelids were bruised, and her mouth was marked by the pressure of some respirator. He found it difficult to suppress her strength and keep her nails from tearing his skin while he carried her. She was so weak and bony that he was afraid of breaking her. He estimated her age to be around sixteen, based on her soft skin, the absence of wrinkles on her face, and the texture of her black hair.
The building complex had exploded with such a thunderous blast that it reduced entire areas to ash. He could smell it when he took his hovercraft out of the cave. He felt annoyed because it was in a state of disrepair and didn’t move at the usual speed. His fury escalated when he noticed, just before reaching the place, that everyone had ceased to exist. Except for her, who struggled to survive as she was trapped under metal plates. And to preserve his honor and fulfill the task his father had entrusted to him and his siblings, he fought against the flames, the toxins, and everything else to save her.
Inpu pricked up his ears and turned them toward the sound as the Gentium girl moaned, though he had already sensed her return to consciousness. She stirred lazily, her bony hands fumbling with the edge of the blankets. Her movements became more noticeable. Now she squeezed her eyes shut at intervals and scratched at her face. She must feel strange without her respirator, concluded Inpu.
As she opened her eyes, her pupils gleamed in the photovoltaic light. After a few seconds, she sat down. Clumsily, she checked the linen cloths that covered her naked body, as if she had difficulty accepting that she should wear clothes. Her gaze wandered lost in the irregular ceiling of the cave, to the neighboring gallery, where the lifeless body was already embalmed in its entirety. Then she spotted the lamp and stared at it as if nothing could hurt her pupils.
Finally, she looked at him and gasped. Inpu smelled her fear and tried to establish a psycho-link. His doglike brow furrowed. The Gentium girl resisted his attempt to access her mind. She rejected him again and again. They waged a silent battle for a few seconds. She stared at him in horror, without moving. His dark skin was beaded in sweat. With a last onslaught, Inpu subdued the Gentium girl’s fatigued mental defense. She relented, but she still attempted to resist, at least physically.
“You must not fear. I’ve rescued you from hell. I have no intention of sending you back there,” Inpu telepathized. “You’re safe here.”
She squeezed the fabrics over her chest and moved her eyes from side to side again. She looked around to search for a potential escape route or to learn where she was, trying to take in her situation. Inpu hid his concern. For the first time, he was unable to correctly interpret a Gentium’s mind. He didn’t even find memories, thoughts, desires, or ideas. Had he lost the link?
“Gentium,” he said. She looked at him again. She was tense, but her attention showed that they were still telepathically connected. “I’m a god, Inpu of the East. I’m your savior. I wish to know your name. Speak. I’m listening.”
She parted her lips, then closed them again. “I don’t know.”
Inpu’s ears trembled. She too knew how to use a psycho-link. The Gentiums were supposed to vocalize; no one should be able to respond using that advanced form of communication, which was reserved only for him and his siblings. He was curious and, at the same time, uncertain, which could only stem from a vague suspicion. But he didn’t let himself sink into the doubts or fear brewing inside him. Not so fast. First, he should find out more about the strange Gentium girl.
“What do you remember about your existence?” he tested, entering into her link with gentleness. “What did they call you in the structure where you were? Do you know what caused the explosion?”
“I don’t know. Everything is dark inside me,” she explained. Her blinking had returned to normal. Inpu sensed her fear begin to fade away. She still distrusted him, but the psycho-link was no longer closed. “I don’t know what I’m called, where I come from or where I should go. I just remember suffocating in the heat. I couldn’t move anymore, and then… later, I found myself at your shelter, Inpu of the East.”
The Gentium girl stopped telepathizing through the psycho-link and observed Inpu with anxiety. The cave, the embalmed body in sight, and the beast-god’s presence no longer disturbed her.
Inpu was deep in thought for a couple of minutes before getting up. He approached her, placed one hand on her head, and closed his eyes. “I’ll help you remember, Gentium. Together we’ll discover your plans on Eastern Terra,” the beast-god telepathized. “I, Inpu, your savior, protector, and Daonai, name you Nade—the Reborn, a disciple of the gods.”
Inpu turned away from Nade. Her liliaceous eyes gleamed with gratitude.
“You must eat,” Inpu telepathized as he walked toward the other side of the cave. He returned with a clay bowl filled with nuts, rat meat, and salted river fish. “Tomorrow we’ll leave this refuge, and you need to remain on foot to start acquiring my wisdom.”
Nade received the food. Like the beast-god himself, she needed no sounds to give thanks.
Malena is looking for an English-language publisher for her 2015 novel Nade. The Spanish version is available here.
Edited by Steve Hovland
Malena Salazar Maciá is an award-winning Cuban writer of science fiction and fantasy. She has authored several novels, most recently Aliento de Dragón (2020). Translated by Toshiya Kamei, Malena’s short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, The Future Fire, Mithila Review, and elsewhere.