Warsong is a sci-fi series where humanity has fractured into capitalist Earthers, communist Martians, and renegade Mavericks. In the upcoming book Stretti, we see a setting on the brink of the biggest conflict in history — and this short story serves as an introduction for newcomers.
Warsong: Stretti publishes from Arcbeatle Press on October 27, 2022 and can be found for preorder here.
The First Tiger
By Andrew Davis
The Date, I
The lively chatter of the restaurant only drew the silence between Yumi and Kippli into greater focus. It was not an angry silence; no offence had been caused, as no harsh words had been spoken. In fact, no words had really been spoken at all, beyond a brief greeting, and Yumi’s failed attempts to start a conversation. Instead, it was a silence rooted in awkwardness and confusion. The awkwardness was Kippli’s; he stuttered in his brief replies as if her questions were an interrogation, and his eyes darted about the room, never settling on her. The confusion was Yumi’s; how could a diplomat be lost for words? He hadn’t had any problems asking her to dinner earlier that day.
She looked at her watch. Five minutes had passed since she’d arrived. Five minutes since he’d stood, wincing as his chair squeaked against the floor, leant forward as if to kiss her on the cheek, before seeming to think better of it, instead offering his hand as he forgot the customary Gongen greeting of a bow. Luckily for him, Yumi was quite happy to ignore custom and accept the handshake, drawing a few scandalised looks from patrons in the restaurant, but now they were stuck here, in this bizarre Mexican stand-off of a non-conversation.
To be fair, she’d had worse dates. But she couldn’t see this one going far.
The Tiger, I
Picking Kisho up, Yumi cradled him in her arms, gently rocking him in a vain attempt to stop his crying. Kippli had always been better at comforting Kisho, but Kippli wasn’t here right now, and hadn’t been here for some time. She suspected that Kisho knew, even though he wasn’t yet a year old, and that he missed his father as much as she missed her husband.
This was always going to happen, you fool.
Ignoring the voice in her head, she sat down, sinking into the armchair while still holding Kisho close.
“We’ll have to make do without him, darling,” she whispered, letting him clutch her thumb with his tiny fingers. “It’s just you and I now. Come on, I’ll tell you a story. The story of the first tiger.”
It is not well known, but humans were not the first citizens of Earth to travel to Gongen. The animals left first, fleeing the noise and the smoke and the gas like a leaf on the wind, floating through starlight until they settled on a sphere of red clay and dust.
Many species of all sizes and personalities could be found among the first settlers, from the Elephants, wise and venerable, to the Lions, fierce and warlike, to the snakes, shy and silent. But quite unique amongst them was the last living tiger.
She was the only one her kind to survive the last battle between her people and the leopards, a desperate scrap of tooth and claw fought over the dwindling land available to both clans. Her people lost, but she survived, limping away with a wound in her side she would carry with her for the rest of her life.
As she parted from the other settlers, and made her way to a nearby pool of fresh Martian water (in those days, they called Gongen ‘Mars’, and we should respect that), she felt, for the first time in a long time, the beginnings of hope. On Earth, she’d been lost, but here, she was new. She was no longer the last tiger on earth. Now, she was the first tiger on Mars.
The Recovery, I
The chill sliced through Yumi’s bones like a Katana to the hamstring. She was familiar with both sensations, and did not appreciate either. But there was work to be done. Turning her head, she looked to Niko.
Niko nodded. “Then take my hand.”
Niko helped Yumi to her feet, the wheelchair nudged an inch backwards as she rose. Yumi slipped her arm over the older woman’s shoulder for support. Then, together, they started walking slowly across the garden, frosted grass crunching under every step they took.
Shivering, they passed the frozen pond, their blurred reflections just visible against the ice.
“Thank you,” said Yumi, “For agreeing to help me.”
Niko smiled. “Don’t thank me yet. You’ll hate me before this is over.”
The Recovery, II
Knees muddied with dirt, panting with exhaustion, Yumi stared at her reflection in the pond, eyes tracing the path of the scar across the bridge of her nose. She splashed the water in frustration, ripples spreading across the water. When the surface still was still, Niko’s reflection stood over her, her face stern and unmoved.
“I hate you,” growled Yumi.
Niko shrugged. “I did warn you. Now get up.”
Yumi rose to her feet and readied her sword. She lunged forward, and the clash of steel against steel rang across the garden. Every thrust she made, every slice and jab, was easily parried: she spun and she kicked, but Niko held her form, her footwork immaculate. Finished easily fending Yumi off, Niko went on the attack, leaving Yumi desperately weaving and dodging, until, with a simple flick, Niko sent Yumi’s katana spinning from her hand, and shoved her to the grass.
Holding back tears, Yumi, beat her fists against the ground. She didn’t understand: she was back to full fitness, using every trick she knew, but she couldn’t do anything to beat a woman several decades her senior.
Niko discarded her sword, and sat in the grass next to Yumi. “You’re holding back.”
Yumi blinked, felt the anger rising in her chest. “I’m trying everything I know!”
“The old Yumi would have tried what she didn’t know. You’re trusting your training, but not your instincts. You’re afraid.”
“I fear no pain,” growled Yumi.
“You’re not afraid of being hurt. You’re afraid of losing control.”
Yumi stayed silent, refusing to dignify the statement with a response. Niko rode out the pause in the conversation before speaking again.
“Why did you choose me? When you asked for someone to help you regain your prowess, why did you choose me?”
“Because you’re a master of the blade.”
Niko shook her head. “I’m not the best. You want revenge on the best.”
“I am the best,” said Yumi, through gritted teeth.
“No,” replied Niko simply. “Definitely not now, and not then, either. The best don’t get beaten.”
Yumi didn’t have an answer to that.
“We’ve been training for long enough. It’s time to be honest. Why did you choose me?”
Closing her eyes, Yumi told the truth. “I needed someone who knows. What it’s like to come back. I need to know how you came back. How you got to be the same as you were before.”
Niko didn’t respond straight away. Instead, she leant forward, and rolled up the right leg of her trousers to reveal the prosthetic limb underneath. “I didn’t,” she said, then tapped the limb. “And not because of this. It did all the things my old leg could, but bleeding from the stump of your leg while you hold your dying comrade in your arms? That changes you. Being beaten and maimed by an old friend? That changes you. Until you accept that you’ve changed, you won’t be as good as you were before.”
Picking up her katana, she rose and picked up Yumi’s, before throwing it to her feet. “Now get up, and start again.”
The Date, II
Finally, Kippli broke the silence.
“Do you want to see a coin trick?”
Yumi blinked. “A coin trick?”
Kippli pulled a small piece of silver out of his wallet, and handed it to Yumi. She examined it as it sat in the palm of her hand, rusted, its details faded.
“This is Earth currency.”
He nodded in affirmation.
“Then why are you carrying it with you? It’s not like you can spend it.”
He grinned. “And I thought Earthers were the filthy capitalists. I use this for magic, not as currency. You get used to the feel of a coin in your hand, you can’t do the trick with anything else.”
“Alright, show me the trick,” said Yumi.
“You’re sure you want to see it?”
“Go on, impress a girl.”
“Then I’ll take the coin, if you please.”
She handed the piece of silver back to him, and he took it in his right hand. For a moment, he held both hands flat, before rapidly flipping them over, curling them into fists as he did so. He then tapped both fists together.
“Which hand is the coin in?”
“The left hand,” answered Yumi instantaneously.
“Are you sure?”
“You flicked it from the right hand to the left when you flipped your hands over. I’ve seen the trick before.”
Kippli opened his hand to reveal a small piece of silver.
“So I was right,” grinned Yumi.
“Take a closer look.”
She took the coin from him. Upon closer inspection, she saw that it was shinier than the first, and when she looked at the engravings…
“This is Gongen currency.”
Smiling, Kippli unfurled his right hand to reveal the Earther coin. “How did you…”
Kippli grinned. “A magician never reveals his secrets.”
The Tiger, II
Kisho was burbling gently, now. His tiny hand curled around Yumi’s forefinger as she continued her story.
The first tiger lived a solitary life in the freshly terraformed forests of the southern mountain range. She hunted, and foraged, and drank from the river that ran through the woods. She felt safe in the forests, hidden from the world. She relished the feel of the wind on her face, the taste of the rain, the hum of the insects.
But one day, as she drank from the brook, she heard a rustling in the bushes on the other side of the stream. Startled, she rose to leave, but a voice called a muffled “wait”.
Slowly, with trepidation, a leopard emerged from the bush, a chunk of meat lodged in his jaw. This did not comfort the tiger, and that was before she recognised the twitch of his ear, the scar across his eye, the shape of his claw. He was the leopard that had scarred her.
“Leave this place,” she growled, “and don’t you dare come back.”
The Leopard dropped the meat. “I’ll leave,” he said. “But I wanted to bring you this first. You’re alone out here, and there isn’t much to hunt. I thought you’d be hungry.”
With that, he turned away, and disappeared into the forest.
The Tiger looked at the meat. Her stomach growled. Water soaked her ankles as she crossed the stream. Then she bent her head down, and started to eat.
The Tiger, III
Setting Kisho down in his crib, and kneeling next to him, Yumi started the final part of her tale.
One day, the Tiger and the Leopard sat side by side, eating the kill from their latest hunt. Building trust in one another had taken time. First the leopard had merely brought her meals, and left immediately. Then she stopped telling him to leave, and he understood that he was to stay and watch over her as she ate. Finally, she began to talk, and he would join the conversation.
“I have a question,” said the Tiger.
“What do you want to know?” asked the Leopard.
“Why did you become my friend, when we fought before?”
“That was Earth,” said the Leopard, “And that was war. This is a new world, and we can start again.”
Kisho was sleeping now, eyes shut tight and snoring gently. Yumi sat down, and watched him, trying to convince herself her story was true.
The Recovery, III
The clash of training swords echoed throughout the garden. Yumi grunted in exertion as Niko dodged her latest swing, but she held back her anger, taking a moment to breathe as Niko regained her form. Blocking and weaving, she held off a series of attacks from Niko, letting her opponent spend her energy as she took time to recover and ready her own attack. Then, as Niko lost her shape with a swing too many, Yumi made her final move, sending Niko’s katana spinning to the dirt. They both stood still for a time, eyes locked, until Niko bowed, and Yumi did the same in response.
“A good battle,” said Niko, taking her seat in the grass. “Well done.”
Yumi sat next to her. “That’s three wins in a row. I’d say I’m back to my old self.”
“We’re never our old selves,” replied Niko. “We’re always changing. Someone new’s constantly taking our place. Just make sure you have a handle on who you’ve become.”
The Date, III
Couples frequently went to the Shocho plaza after dates in town: the soft orange lighting and secluded nature of the space lent it a warm, romantic atmosphere for young lovers and long-term partners. Hand in hand, Kippli and Yumi walked past a young couple giggling excitedly, and two middle aged men, one resting his head on the other’s shoulder, before coming to a halt underneath a cherry blossom tree in the centre of the plaza.
“This was nice,” smiled Yumi.
“It was,” replied Kippli. A frown formed on his face. He’d relaxed over the course of the evening, but now the visible discomfort was back.
“What is it?” asked Yumi.
“Do you think this could work? A Ma- a Gongen and an Earther ambassador.”
Yumi noted the effort he’d made to use the correct name for her home planet. She also noted that it needed effort. She discarded the thought.
“I don’t know,” she answered honestly. “No one ever knows.”
She leant forward, and kissed him gently. “But I’d like to try.”
This time, he leant in and kissed her back, as a breeze went through the plaza, blossom from the tree falling around them.