Celail Fuizi bred the Fuizi dog on the planet Ird. The animal passed into legend quickly, known by many names: assassin dog, white ghost, violet-eyed witch dog, the swift death, dream killer. Bred by Celail with human intelligence, the Fuizi dog appears in tales throughout remote portions of the Aggregate to this day.

Warm rains blew through mostly deserted streets. The planet Ird's moon, Monstroso, shed light even through the thick clouds. Coir kept close to the walls of stone buildings, emptied houses and deserted shops. He wiped rain off his face, shifting his pack as he searched for the house he wanted.

Though the Dread was a time of misery, violence, and death, of late Coir Takeshi's life had taken a turn for the better. He slept out of the wet in places emptied by flight or death and pickings from those empty homes and shops kept his belly full.

Seeing movement down the street, Coir slipped into an alley. A huge dome of yellow umbrella emerged through the rain, sheltering a clan noble with the umbrella-bearer and an attendant. The umbrella's color placed the noble as Third Moiety, but the sigil markings that should have identified clan and specific rank were obscured.

As the three approached--the only other people Coir had seen in several days--he shifted further into alley shadow, back pressed to the wet stone. There was no mistaking that Coir was Zaminder, bearing as he did the distinctive stripy coloring, his skin irregularly ribboned pale and olive, which marked men and women of the Zaminder underclan. With Zaminder dead, Coir, one of the few survivors, was a ghost and the ghosts of a dead clan were pariahs, reminders of death and the utter failure of humanity to be better than their own worst nightmares.

The noble resolved into a woman wearing dark robes that glinted with metal. Her hair hung in black ropes past the coppery skin of a severe face. Height and bearing, and the wiry muscles of bare arms, made her a warrior. The attendant at her shoulder, a pale man whose eyes shifted nervously about, wore the dark green of a clan kivist. So the noble, though she moved through the night streets with clan markings covered, still wanted an archive made of the activity. The umbrella bearer was heavily muscled with a scarred face and no underclan markings.

They passed through the wet night, down the otherwise empty street. When they were gone, Coir found he was trembling and drew deep breaths, waiting for the shaking to stop before he continued on his search.

He found the house: tall and deep, set back from the street with a thin formal hedge. Ordinal Clan's city house had dark green lintels over gray stone set with the Ordinal crest. The house seemed empty, but a rumor he'd tracked said Soutine, Administrator Printep of Ordinal, was still in residence.

When Ordinal Clan's engineered plague took Zaminder, it had taken Coir's mother, brothers, his love Adine, friends, and the world he knew. All gone.

Using the bloodtech for which Ird was known, Ordinal Clan had targeted their plague specifically to Zaminder and its underclan. Zaminder had been powerful, opposed to Ordinal on subjects of underclan rights and Aggregate trade. There was also the land Zaminder held, with sea access, rich soil, deposits of valuable minerals.

Beyond that, Coir didn't know the reasons for the machinations of the powerful that had caused the Dread.

Anger and despair were what he had left, alternating like the pale and olive striping on his skin. Whatever goal Ordinal and the rest of the clans sought, Coir knew he was over, ended. He wanted only to take some reason with him, to know why--to bring some meaning to it all. To understand.

The riot of assassinations and targeted blood plagues that was the Dread was forever tied, in Coir's mind, to Ordinal Clan.

Now here was Ordinal Clan House, and, possibly, someone to ask: Why?

Coir shifted his gaze to the house across the alley from Ordinal House. Best to watch Ordinal for activity awhile, he decided.

An open servants' entry in the house neighboring Ordinal Clan's caught his eye. A humble door below the grander portico of the main entrance stood wide on a dark corridor. With a furtive glance along the street, Coir stole down the several steps into the alcove. He put out a hand, skin twitching in anticipation of the sting of an energy barrier, but the energy barrier was down.

Inside, he paused until intimations of light showed him a narrow hall. Wary for the presence of other people, whether legitimate denizens of the house or scavengers like himself, he went further in. A cavern-ceilinged kitchen opened around him. It smelled empty, abandoned. The light came from high windows, Monstroso's drowned illumination, and from low-burning everlumes.

Exploring, he found the coolbox empty, but robbed the larder of dried fruit, proteins, and heatable tea packets.

Chewing a length of protein, he found the room with the window he'd marked from outside. A small, oddly-spaced room that served as the laundry, with one thin window set off-center. It gave Coir a good view of Ordinal House.

He'd gown up in a laundry, his mother a laundress in the Zaminder Clan Borough House. Laundries were larger affairs in a clan borough home, out in the country. This laundry's shelves were still partially stacked with clean linens and clothes.

He searched the rest of the house briefly, warily, found it empty, and returned to the laundry.

Observing Ordinal House through the window, Coir stripped. He pulled servant's clothes from a shelf, throwing his own wet things into the dryer.

Like most of the tech on Ird, the dryer ran on an organic battery cloned from human cells. All of the house tech--coolbox, ovens, processors--ran on such organic battery cells. Their life hum continued, oblivious to the disappearance of their human brethren. Coir passed a hand over the control pad to engage the dryer.

He shivered, his skin chilled despite the warmth of the rains. He didn't think there was any shock left in him. Shocked too many times, maybe one lost the habit of it. He sat on the dryer and watched Ordinal House through the rain.

He thought of the noblewoman under her yellow umbrella, out in the night somewhere. He'd found an abandoned clan umbrella a while back, in a courtyard off a public building. Flowering trees had left silvery blossoms all across the stone paving, pooled about the umbrella. The white of First Moiety, its Gnothi Clan markings made it the Gnothi Prognosticator Printep's. He left it. No one carried umbrellas but Clan. Underclan, like Coir, marked physically as part of their overclan, only carried umbrellas as bearers for clan nobles.

Nothing moved outside but the rain. He snapped the filament on one of the tea packets and pressed the pad at the end of the packet to his skin. The drink pack heated using the minimal charge of his body's electrical current. When it was done, he held the warm bulb between his palms and sipped the steaming tea, shivering harder in reaction for a moment.

The laundry scents of ozone and heat crept through his memory, echoes of comfort, safety. His mother had served in Zaminder Clan's laundry all her life.

Now nearly wiped from existence, Zaminder was outlawed, the few survivors--genetic sports like Coir--unwanted ghosts. Some found shelter with the Ahmi sect present on Ird, as on most planets. Others went to Ird's bloodtech labs, to be fed and sheltered while they donated bits of themselves--cells, blood, the chemicals of life.


About the Author

Jessica Reisman's first novel came out in 2004; she has stories in recent anthology Otherworldly Maine from Down East Books and upcoming anthology Passing for Human from PS Publishing. Find out more at www.storyrain.com