Silkpunk and Steam: A Memory Thief World Novel
Sumiko is a descendent of colonists from Earth’s Asia, whose ancestors came to the planet Aynu-Mosir during the world’s first era of spaceflight millennia ago. After thousands of years of peace, her planet is in danger.
Orphaned and alone after her people are annihilated by terraforming starships, a young native girl struggles to survive and rebuild her home. When she falls in love with a woman from the stars, she must decide if she’s willing to risk dishonoring herself, her family and her people’s traditions to save not only her love, but all of her people, from the merciless destruction of her world by the outsiders.
This is the fifth novel in The Memory Thief World, the first novel in Sumiko's Series.
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An Excerpt from Silkpunk and Steam
When Ponce de Leon discovered an intact warehouse of ships in the Americas in 1513, the science of spaceflight was reestablished after being lost for thousands of years. When explorers used those ships to leave Earth, no one expected to find planets already colonized by Earth’s original spacefarers, such as the Jomon on Planet 157.
—The Guidebook of Colonization and Interplanetary Relationships, Fifth Edition, 1882
The day my village was attacked by off-worlders started out like any other.
I was five and I couldn’t keep up with my teenage brother’s longer legs as I chased after him. I followed Taishi out of the crowds of visitors in the village and into the jungle. It was hot and humid and the effort of running after him made sweat bead up on my upper lip.
“Big brother!” I called. “Take me with you.”
He didn’t answer. He ducked behind a tree. I hurried after him, stepping on fallen twigs that crunched under my feet. When I darted around the tree, he wasn’t there. There was no path. I pushed through the long red leaves of a bush and scrambled over a fallen log, but he wasn’t anywhere.
“Boo!” he yelled as he leapt down from the branch above.
I scrambled back and screamed. My heart pounded like a drum in my chest and tears filled my eyes. My brother’s hair was black and his face wide like mine, but his cheeks looked like he’d stuffed too many sugar fruits into his mouth. When he smiled, his eyes reminded me of two crescent moons frowning at the sky.
He bent over laughing. “You’re such a baby.”
“I am not.” I bawled up my fists at my sides. “I want to come with you.” Even if he was mean and a trickster.
“Go back to the village, little sister. You’ll just be in the way.”
“You never play with me anymore.”
He picked up the gourd jug he’d stashed in the bushes “Today is the most important gathering of our lifetime. Do you understand that? Nipa gave me duties to perform. Go back and play with the other children.” He mussed up my long hair and pushed it into my eyes.
Didn’t he understand? I hardly saw him anymore. I missed him so much it made my bones ache. Why couldn’t he let me come with him? I could be his helper. I wanted to tell him this, but I didn’t know how.
When I didn’t budge, he shoved me toward the Chiramantepjin village. “Go, Sumiko. Now.”
He must have been mad. He didn’t use a polite honorific after my name.
I trudged back, wearing my disappointment like a burden on my frame. I passed a group of women visiting from another village who sat in the jungle under a large shady tree. They wove red flowers into crowns and chatted amiably. I overheard them say they had traveled for weeks to get there, which seemed like forever just to come to our Flower Festival. I didn’t know until much later the yearly festival wasn’t the reason for all the visitors.
Off the path, traveling away from the village was one of the off-worlders. He was different from the rest of them with his orange hair and spotted skin. I’d thought he had some kind of sickness the first time I’d seen him, but Taishi had assured me the man was “normal.” Or as normal as a gaijin, or off-worlder, could be.
The orange-haired man didn’t see me watching him. He left the path and walked into the jungle with purpose. The visitors from the stars were always getting lost in the jungle and needing our help. I’d met this man several times before, though I couldn’t remember how to say his name. He had been nice to me. He’d given me something chewy to eat that he’d called “candy.” It was sweeter than a sugar fruit. I didn’t want him to get lost. I called after him. He probably couldn’t hear me over all the music and singing coming from my village.
I ran through the brush and around trees, trying to catch up with him. His legs were even longer than Taishi’s and he walked so fast. Maybe if I helped him not get lost he’s give me more candy. I stopped running when I saw two men in red jackets. They were pale like him, but I’d never seen these gaijin before. I thought I knew all the off-worlders there were on my world—eleven from the starship they called the Santa Maria.
The strangers spoke to the orange-haired man, but I didn’t understand much of what they said other than my tribe’s name and the names of other tribes. I didn’t like the sour look on the men’s faces and ducked behind a tree. The orange-haired man shook his head adamantly and shouted something. One of the men punched him in the stomach and the other struck him in the face. I flinched back. The orange-haired man doubled over. He moaned as they carried him off.
One of them spoke into a funny little box made of metal and laughed.
I didn’t know who these men were or how to help the nice man who had given me candy. My brother would have known what to do, but I didn’t know where he was now. I knew where my mother was, but she wasn’t going to be happy when I interrupted her.
I ran back to the village, sweat pouring down my face. I leapt over clusters of red flowers that had fallen into the path. I passed a group of men and women wearing the purple and green furs of the tanuki dogs. The thudding of drums and conversation grew louder as I neared the village. Huts built high in the trees came into view. The brown and green of our treehouses and sky bridges were almost hidden in the canopy of the trees.
My flight into the village was brought to a near standstill as I entered the crowd. I squeezed past clusters of visitors dressed in colorful leaves, feathers and festive flowers. I tried to find someone I knew, but strangers from the other seven tribes swarmed our normally quiet village. Never had I seen so many people in my life.
Mother stood in the shade underneath the largest pavilion, talking to the group of gaijin. There were ten of them. I’d seen them many times and knew them by sight, but I didn’t know how to say their names. Heat rose in waves from the men’s black hats and coats. Even with only a skirt on like my mother, I sweated profusely. I couldn’t imagine how the gaijin could stand it.
Two young ladies with yellow hair and eyes as blue as the sky fanned themselves. One of them was the girl my older brother spent time with, but I didn’t know which. Their sleeves were puffy and their collars high. They wouldn’t have had to fan themselves if they’d worn sensible clothes in the heat. The taller girl smiled at me. These people were friends with the orange-haired man.
I was out of breath and panted like a chiramantep beast after too much play. I shifted from foot to foot in impatience, waiting for my mother to look to me and permit me to speak.
One of the bearded men said something to her in their tongue and one of the young ladies with yellow hair spoke to my mother in Jomon. “My father thanks you for your hospitality. We are still waiting for one more in our party to join us. Please don’t allow his absence to delay the proceedings.” The young woman had enough sense to bow and keep her eyes on the ground to show her respect.
My mother wore her chiramantep eboshi, the hat-like headdress made from the head of one of the blue beasts our people were named after.
I tugged on the red leaves of her skirt. “I need to tell you something.”
She greeted me with a frown instead of the warm smile she would have gifted me with if she had been herself. But she was her other self. She was Nipa. She performed her duty as leader. I should have known better than to bother her.
She barked out words, sounding as sharp as the horns and teeth decorating the animal eboshi on her head. “What are you doing wandering about? Go join the other children.” She waved a hand dismissively toward the children being watched by the grandmothers in a pen like untamed chiramantep.
“Mama,” I said in a fluster. “I need to—It’s important—tell you something about the gaijin.” Looking at the horns and teeth on her eboshi made it hard to concentrate on the right words.
“I’m busy with my duties. I must attend to the gaiyojin.” She used the polite word for off-worlders. Her eyes narrowed at me as she said it as if to point out that I hadn’t used the polite word. “If you want to be helpful, don’t shame me with bad manners while I’m serving as our tribe’s nipa. Ne?”
“You have to listen.” Frustration flared inside me. I had to make her understand, but my words all rushed out in a jumble. “The red men—the bad men—I don’t know them. They hurt the nice gaiyojin man. They dragged him away in the jungle. I saw it. You have to go help him.”
The young woman with yellow hair asked, “What does she mean by ‘red men’? Who is she talking about.”
“Nothing. She has an active imagination.” Mama turned to me. “One more word out of you and I will drag you to the center of the village and publicly cane you. Is that what you want? For everyone to see your shame? For you to shame me with your bad behavior?”
I shook my head. Tears filled my eyes. I was just trying to help.
Mama returned her attention to a man with a silver beard. He said something and mopped at his brow with fabric that was as white as his skin.
The young woman translated. “My father asks what you think will be the verdict of the other tribal leaders. Will they wish to establish trade?”
I backed away from Mama. I was invisible in the crowd of people. Everyone had more important things to do than to pay attention to me. The tantalizing aroma of roasting chiramantep meat rose from a fire pit where a group of young men sat. Women played music and danced. No one noticed me.
I stayed away from the pen of children, knowing from experience what torture that would be. If I met other children I would have to introduce myself. That always led to problems.
I made my way toward the center of my village where my family’s treehouse was located, hoping to find my father. He always had time for me. He would listen.
I saw my father standing on one of the sky bridges between trees and called out to him.
“Daddy! Down here! Daddy!”
Drumming started up and drowned out my voice. Father spoke with another man, and the village around me was abuzz with people’s conversations. I wove through the jungle of legs toward the ramp to the sky bridge. A group of people wearing leaf skirts blocked the ramp that led up to our hut. My father spoke to a man from the Tanukijin tribe. I could tell what tribe he was from because of the purple and green furs he wore. Over his face and head was a purple and green eboshi with teeth and horns like my mother’s. That meant he was someone important.
I stopped pushing through the crowd when I saw a little girl next to the group of adults. She started one way and then the next. Tears were in her eyes.
I smiled. “Hello. Are you lost?”
She nodded. “I can’t find my Mama.”
“I’ll bring you to my father. He can help you.” I took her hand.
She dried her eyes and smiled at me. From the leathery green skirt she wore I thought she might be from the Isepojin tribe, but I wasn’t sure.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Shipo,” she said. Her name meant “little excrement.” It was a traditional name for a child. She offered me a half smile. “What’s your name?”
I hesitated. She wouldn’t make fun of me if I lied. “Nanuwen,” I said. That meant “ugly.”
A loud laugh came from behind me. Ayay, a girl a year older than me, wove through the legs of adults. So much for avoiding the torture of the children’s pen. Other children had found me anyway. My spirit sank.
I tried to dodge around her, but Ayay stepped to the side and blocked my way.
Ayay’s parents had named her after the sound of a baby’s crying. She was so lucky. Ayay sneered down at me. “She’s lying. Her name is Sumiko.”
Shipo’s eyes went wide. “Oh, that’s a pretty name.” Shipo must have been very polite. She didn’t laugh like other children did.
Ayay pointed at me even though that was considered rude. “Sumiko-chan’s mother didn’t want another child, so she gave her daughter a name to tempt an evil kamuy to steal her away.”
“That’s not true!” I said. No one would want an evil spirit to steal and eat their child. “My parents wanted me. I already had my naming ceremony. That’s why I have an adult name.”
“I don’t remember you having a naming ceremony,” Ayay said. “And you’re too small for an adult name. You must be four, ne?”
“I’m five. Almost six.”
“You’re a liar.”
“No, I’m not!”
Her little cousin, Munin stood with her. His name meant “rotten.” They had been named after foul things that would keep the spirits away. My chest ached every time the other children pointed this out, especially since no one in my family wanted me around. They wouldn’t have noticed if kamuy had come to steal me away.
“Come play with us,” Ayay said to Shipo. “Sumiko-chan is bad luck. Play with her and a kamuy will snatch you both away.” Ayay held out her hand to Shipo.
Shipo looked from me to them. She bit her lip. “I want to go with Sumiko-chan. We’re going to find my mama.”
She smiled at me. I was so relieved. She was the one person who had been nice to me all day. She’d talked to me anyway, which was almost the same thing.
I said, “I’ll prove to you why I have an adult name. My father will tell you they wanted me.”
Ayay waved a hand toward my father. “Better hurry before he gets away. Ne?”
My father and the man he had been talking to walked down one of the far ramps, past the crowd. I tugged Shipo after me as I headed in that direction.
“I had a naming ceremony for a big girl name,” I told Shipo. “My mama said I have to grow up faster when my parents have important jobs.”
“Yes, big sister.” Shipo bowed to me as though I were her elder.
I liked her even more. We squeezed around a cluster of young women wearing flowers in their hair and pushed past another group of strangers.
“I have something important to tell my Daddy,” I said. “He’ll help you find your Mama and help the gaiyojin man who was hurt.”
“My Mama and Papa don’t like the gaijin,” Shipo said. “They said they’re digging up the mountains in the south and they make our water dirty.”
“My mama said the gaiyojin have nice things they can give us. Have you had candy?”
Shipo hadn’t. Not every village had their own off-worlders to give them gifts.
There were many people blocking my view. I couldn’t see my father anymore, but I’d seen which direction he’d walked. I hurried the best I could in the mob, tugging Shipo along with me. At the edge of the village, I saw him far down the path, making his way deep into the jungle with his friend. I waved my arms and yelled for him to stop, but he didn’t hear me.
Father and his friend were almost invisible in the vivid rainbow of the jungle. Father wore a skirt made of red leaves and his body was painted with red dots for the dancing ceremony he’d been part of that morning. Father glanced around. I recognized that sneaky way he moved. It was like my older brother when he snuck out to see his gaijin girl.
We ran after them, but I lost sight of Father again as we descended the hill. I knew where he headed now, to the forbidden ruins. I wasn’t supposed to go there, but it would be fine if I caught him before he reached the bottom of the hill.
“Come on,” I said.
Shipo bowed. “Yes, big sister.”
I was surprised she listened to me. No one listened to me. I could tell we were going to be the best of friends.
We followed the path through the jungle. The buzz of talking and music from the village grew distant and was replaced by the chatter of tree snails and the womp-womp-womp of nose birds diving through the canopy in search of nectar. The breeze carried the perfume of the giant yellow flowers hanging from the trees. It was peaceful away from all the people.
The jungle sloped downward and the trail grew steeper. I had to grab onto vines and shrubs to ease myself down the muddy ledge of steps. Shipo was taller than I was and she was better at navigating the slope.
“Why are we following your father again?” she asked.
“So he’ll tell you how much he loves me,” I said.
“I thought it was because of the gaijin.”
I’d forgotten about the orange-haired man. I wondered why those strangers had hit him and carried him off. He hadn’t done anything to them.
Shipo pushed her sweaty hair back from her brow. “Those other children were just being mean. He doesn’t need to tell me. I believe you.” She swatted at a nose bird that must have thought her ear was a flower.
“I want him to tell you,” I said. I wanted her to see I wasn’t always a liar. “But we need him to help you find your mama too, ne? And I have to tell him something important about what I saw in the jungle.” Father would care about what I’d seen. I wondered if he would make Mama listen to me.
Shipo sat down on a rock. “Maybe we should go back. I don’t want to get lost.”
“This is my home. We won’t get lost.” When I looked back up the hill, the top looked so high. I’d never climbed this far down. “We can rest if you want. Are you from the Isepojin village? My mama said our hills are hard for some of the tribes.”
She jumped to her feet. “I’m not tired. I’m Tatsujin. I’m strong.” She roared like a dragon, the animal the tribe had named themselves after and kept on walking.
I laughed. “There’s chiramantep in my blood. I’m strong too.” I growled for her and she giggled.
We walked so long my legs ached. My feet hurt and I wanted to sit down. I couldn’t see or hear my father and his friend anymore. The trees at the bottom of the valley were smaller than the ones closer to my home. The air was just as hot, but the trees grew less close together and the breeze that rustled through them felt nice.
The trail changed from uneven dirt and knobby roots to stones that had been laid flat along the path. The smooth stones felt nice to walk on. A stream babbled somewhere nearby. Green moss grew alongside the path in between the shrub-like sakura trees bearing their red fruits. The spicy fragrance of the herb my people called “memory moss” wafted toward us.
I stopped. I wasn’t supposed to be down here in the valley. The places where the memory moss grew were sacred. I didn’t see my father. If I kept going I would get in trouble. If I didn’t keep going, I would never tell him about the gaijin man and what I’d seen.
“Are you tired?” I asked. “Maybe we should go back.”
Shipo lifted her chin. “No. I’m Tatsujin. I can keep walking forever. Rarr!”
She kept walking, so I did too. The moss grew taller, higher than our heads. I’d never seen moss like this before. The plants near my home were shorter. These smelled almost the same, spicy and fresh, only this perfume was stronger. Little white moths flew up out of the plants. I swatted them away from my face.
A wide hole opened like a yawning mouth in the side of a little hill. Carvings of spirals and geometric patterns decorated the opening. They looked like the ones weavers used on our attush robes. Some of the stones of the cave were shiny like the surface of the gaijin ships. The shiny stones didn’t look like they belonged here in this temple.
I didn’t feel like I belonged here.
Shipo sat herself down in the moss. She tore out a handful of the herbs and rubbed it against her feet. I would have liked to do the same, but my parents would have disapproved. The memory moss was used for courtship and rituals for transferring memories from one person or another. Children were forbidden from using it.
“Don’t do that,” I whispered. “We aren’t supposed to touch the moss here. This is a special place.”
“My mama lets me use it when my feet hurt.” She jumped up again. “What is this place?”
Shipo stepped toward the gaping mouth in the hill. “Are you afraid of the dark?”
I stared at the impenetrable darkness that could hide just about anything, evil kamuy included. I swallowed the lump of fear lodged in my throat. “No, are you?”
“No. I’m Tatsujin.” She pushed a handful of her dark hair out of her eyes. “If you aren’t afraid, why aren’t you going in?”
“I don’t think we should. We might get in trouble. Ne?”
“I think you’re afraid.”
“I’m not afraid.” I didn’t want her to think I was a liar and a coward. I held out my hand. “At the same time.”
Her hand tingled from the moss as she took mine. We stepped in together.
It was only dark at first, but after that, a faint purple glow to the walls illuminated our path. There were places in the passage that were smooth and shining, that flashed with patterns and symbols made of light. They reminded me of the swirling designs on my mother’s belt and the tapestries the old grandmothers wove to decorate walls. The floor was gritty under my feet and slowly sloped downward. We squeezed around a section of crumbling wall and turned left, following the light.
Wind whistled through the tunnel, sounding like a lullaby. Cold air breathed against me and I shivered. The song of wind sounded like a voice. My parents said all of Aynu-Mosir and the life on our planet had a kamuy. Some places had spirits that were so strong you could sense them. This place was like that. I could feel someone watching us. The purple light in the wall pulsed. When I touched my hand against the smooth surface, it felt like a heartbeat. I jerked my hand away.
Shipo squeezed my fingers so tightly it hurt. The place where her hand touched mine prickled against my skin like thorn leaves. It was the medicinal moss she’d rubbed on her skin to help with her feet, but I didn’t think it was supposed to feel like this.
The light ahead was as bright as sunlight. Voices echoed from a room to the right.
My father said, “We are in the belly of one of the sacred beasts. It’s just as the stories say. This may be one of the last relics of how our people came to this world.”
“I thought our people came to this world riding in the belly of a tatsu,” Shipo whispered. “This isn’t a tatsu. It’s a cave.”
I shushed her. “Let’s go back. I don’t want to get in trouble.”
My heart hammered in my chest. We shouldn’t have been in this strange place. Any moment I was about to get caught. Shipo tried to walk forward, but I grabbed onto her arm to hold her back.
My father’s friend’s voice echoed from down the hall. “Do the Tatsujin know about this place?”
That was the dragon clan they spoke about, Shipo’s people.
“Why do you think they invaded our territory seventeen years ago?” Father asked. “Unayanke Nipa was possessed by a kamuy who told him where this one was. He wanted another forbidden temple to become more powerful.”
Shipo whimpered. I thought it was because they were talking about her tribe and her people’s former leader. I tugged on her hand so we could go back outside. She ground her heels in the gritty floor. I couldn’t make her budge.
“Then your nipa knows about it?” the other man asked.
“She knows and has broken with tradition. She has told the leader of the gaijin.” Father spat out the word for “off-worlders” like it tasted bad in his mouth. “They’ll be just like the Tatsujin and desecrate this ground. It is our duty to protect the sacred places of our ancestors and keep their secrets. Ne?”
I yanked on Shipo’s arm. My hands burned where I touched her, but I ignored the pain. She cried out and stumbled toward me.
“Shush and hurry up!” I said.
“Why involve my tribe in this?” the stranger’s voice asked.
“You are the nipa of the Tanukijin.” They were the tribe of the green and purple racoon dogs. “Shoko Nipa respects you. She listens to you.”
The man snorted. “You expect her to listen to me when she refuses to hear the words of her own husband?”
I tugged Shipo back toward the entrance. She sniffled and choked on a sob. I was going to get in trouble because of her. I shouldn’t have followed my father, and I shouldn’t have let her convince me to go into the temple.
“My duty is to my village first and my family second,” Father said. “I must protect the interests of everyone when we are in danger. We have traditions for a reason, ne?”
“Perhaps. Come along. I’m already late for the meeting of the elders.”
I dragged Shipo far enough down the hallway that I could see the light from outside. We were almost out. I wasn’t going to get in trouble!
That’s when Shipo let out a high-pitched wail. My hand throbbed, but I was too distraught at the idea of my parents’ wrath to care. I tried to quiet Shipo, but she threw herself on the ground and screamed hysterically.
My father was at my side a moment later. His face looked purple in the light from the walls. He shook my arm. “What are you doing here?”
I trembled in fear, knowing I was going to get caned for following him somewhere I wasn’t allowed to go.
“Who are these children?” the Tanukijin man demanded. “When I find out who these brats belong to, I’ll publicly punish—”
My father’s face flushed purple in the strange lighting. “This is my daughter.” His glare stabbed me like daggers. I lowered my gaze to the ground.
Shipo screamed again.
“What did you do to her?” Father demanded.
“She’s of the dragon clan, a Tatsujin,” the stranger said. “She’s been spying on us.”
“They’re children. Even if they had heard us, they wouldn’t understand.”
Father lifted Shipo into his arms. She kicked out at him as he carried her toward the entrance. Outside the light was blindingly bright. The heat came crashing down on me all at once. My hand felt like it was on fire. Shipo’s face was bright red as she screamed. Father tried to hold her still to look at her hands. They were covered in red blisters. Her legs and feet were just as bad.
“Did you touch the moss?” he demanded.
“No,” I said quickly. I hid my hand. I hadn’t touched the moss. Only Shipo had, but for some reason my hand hurt too.
Father shook his head. The red paint on his tan chest was smeared from carrying Shipo.
The other man’s face was hidden under the purple and green furs of his tanuki hat, making his expression unreadable. He crouched over Shipo who lay on the ground screaming. “Memory moss wouldn’t do that,” he said.
“No, it wouldn’t.” Father gestured to the meadow outside the cave. “But this isn’t memory moss. This is toxic. We need to wash it off of her before it drives her mad with pain.”
He was careful not to touch the moss lining the path as he carried Shipo. I followed behind. The moss only grew outside the cave and soon we came to purple ferns and red-leafed foliage that crowded out the moss.
A stream trickled past a cluster of trees, and my father waded through the purple ferns to bring Shipo to the water. I tried to follow, but my father shook his head at me. “Stay with Shiromainu Nipa.”
My hand throbbed. I didn’t want to go mad from pain either. “What about me?” I asked.
Father set Shipo on a rock in the shallowest section, splashing water over her legs. “You’re fine.”
“No, I’m not.” I decided the pain in my hand was worse than whatever punishment I was about to be given for being bad. I raised my hand and showed Father’s friend the blisters.
Shiromainu sighed and shook his head. He lifted me up under the armpits and carried me to my father. “This one has the same injury.”
Father’s eyes crinkled up in concern as he came closer. “Oh, Sumiko-chan!” He hugged me to him as he carried me the rest of the way into the water.
I was hot and sweaty, but I felt comfortable in his arms. It felt like forever since he’d hugged me that morning when I’d woke.
He stroked my hair. “Memory moss isn’t for children. You know that, ne?”
“You said it wasn’t memory moss,” I said.
He sighed in exasperation. I had that effect on adults.
“I didn’t touch it,” I said quickly. “Shipo-chan did, even though I told her not to. Then she touched me.”
He set me in the water next to Shipo. The shock of the cold took my breath away. It eased the pain in my hand, but the blisters didn’t go away.
“It hurts,” I complained.
Father crouched down next to me. “Show me your chiramantep strength.”
I growled as ferociously as I could.
“That’s my girl.” He tweaked my nose. “Now, don’t touch your face and don’t rub your hands. You’ll only make it worse.”
“Do you think Mama will spank me?” I asked.
He stroked my hair again. “Not if we don’t tell her.” He winked and I giggled.
Shipo whimpered. I hated for her to steal his attention from me at that moment, but I could see she was still hurting. My father shifted closer to her and spoke softly. Shiromainu shifted from foot to foot in irritation in the foliage, making no attempt to conceal his impatience.
A loud crack echoed like thunder from the hill. The sky was sunny and blue, but smoke rose from the jungle in the direction of our village. A giant spaceship, like the ones the gaijin arrived in, flew overhead. Arrows made of blue lightning shot out of it and exploded in the trees. Flames danced across one side of the mountain, spreading as the wind blew.
Shiromainu ran to the path and pointed to the clouds of smoke. “It’s just as you said. The gaijin have come for our treasures.”
“Run!” Father pushed me south, in the direction the stream flowed. He jumped out of the water and onto the dry land. “Hide yourself and your friend.”
“Wait! Daddy, don’t leave me,” I begged.
An explosion boomed from the other side of the hill.
“Do what you’re told, Sumiko-chan. Run!” Father looked to me one last time and pointed down the stream.
Father and his friend hurried off toward the village. I never did tell him about the gaijin and what I’d seen. I told myself I would tell him when he came back for me.
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