Tor.com has published an excerpt from Nnedi Okorafor’s The Night of the Masquerade, the third book in her Binti trilogy. Binti: The Night Masquerade will be published on January 16 by Tor.com Publishing. Here is a synopsis:
Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.
Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.
Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene—though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives–and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.
Here is an excerpt below.
It started with a nightmare . . . .
“We still cannot get out,” my terrified father told me. His eyes were stunned and twitchy. He was underground. We were in the cellar of the Root, the family home. Everyone was. Covered in dust, coughing from the smoke. But only my father was looking at me. I could hear my little sister Peraa nearby asking in a terrified voice between coughs, “What’s wrong with Papa? Why’s he doing that with his hands?”
My perspective pulled back and now I was just looking at it happening. My family was trapped in there. My father, two of my uncles, one of my aunts, three of my sisters, two of my brothers. I saw several of my neighbors in there too. Why was everyone in there in the first place? All huddled in the center of the room, grasping each other, wrapping themselves with their veils trying to hide, crying, tears running through otjize, praying, trying to call for help with their astrolabes. Bunches of water grass, piles of yams, sacks of pumpkin seeds, dried dates, containers of spices sat in corners. Smoke was coming through the fibrous ceiling and walls of the cellar. The old security drone that had stopped working before I was born still sat in the corner covered with its woven mat.
“Where is Mama?” I asked. Then more demandingly, I said, “Where is MAMA?! I don’t see her, Papa.”
“But the walls will protect us,” my father said.
I felt the pressure of his strong hands as he grasped me. They didn’t feel arthritic at all. “The Root is the root,” he said. “We will be okay. Stay where you are.” He brought his face close to mine, then the words appeared before my eyes. Red as blood. “Because they are looking for you.”
“Where is Mama?” I asked again, this time waving my hands in my nightmare, as I clumsily used the zinariya, the activated alien technology in my DNA.
But I was suddenly in the dark, alone with my words, as they floated before me like red desert spirits. Where is Mama? Instead, the sound of hundreds of Meduse thrumming filled my head and the vibration traveled deep into my flesh. Laughter. Angry laughter. I sensed anticipation, too. “Binti, we will make them pay,” a voice rumbled in Meduse. But it wasn’t Okwu. Where was Okwu? . . .
I awoke to the universe. Out here in the desert, the night sky was so bright with stars. It was almost as clear as the sky when I’d been on the Third Fish traveling to and from Earth. I stared up, hearing, seeing, and balanced equations whispered around me like smoke. I’d been treeing in my sleep. It was that bad. I hadn’t even done this while in the Third Fish after the Meduse killed everyone but me. I was having so much trouble adjusting to the zinariya. That wasn’t a just dream about my family, it was also a message sent using the zinariya from my father. I couldn’t awaken fully before receiving it and so my mind protected me from the stress of it by treeing.
Mwinyi and I had left the village on camelback hours ago and then we’d stopped to rest. I’d lain in the tent Mwinyi set up, while he’d gone off for a walk. I was so exhausted, scared for my family, and overwhelmed. Everything around me felt off. Trying to get some sleep had not been a good idea.
“Home,” I whispered, rubbing my face. “Need to get . . .” I stared at the sky. “What is that?”
One of the stars was falling toward me. The zinariya, again. “Please stop,” I said. “Enough.” But it didn’t stop. No. It kept coming. It had more to tell me, whether I was ready or not. Its golden light expanded as it descended and I was so mesmerized by its smooth approach that I didn’t tree. When it was mere yards above, it exploded into showers of brilliance. It fell on me like the golden legs of a giant spider and then the zinairya made me remember things that had never happened to me.
I remembered when . . .
Kande was washing the dishes. She was exhausted and she had more studying to do, but her younger twin brothers had wanted a late night snack of roasted corn and groundnuts and they’d left their stupid dishes. How they’d managed to eat something so heavy this late at night was beyond her, but she knew her parents wouldn’t complain. This was why at the ages of six they were so plump. Her parents never complained about her brothers. Still, if Kande left the dishes for the morning, the ants would come. It was a humid night, so she knew other things would come too. She shuddered; Kande detested any type of beetle.
She finished the dishes and looked at the empty sink for a moment. She dried her hands and picked up her mobile phone. It was already eleven o’clock. If she focused, she could get a good hour of studying in and still manage five hours of sleep. In her final year in high school, she was ranked number six in her class. She wasn’t sure if this was good enough to be accepted into the University of Ibadan, but she certainly planned to find out.
She put her phone in her skirt pocket and switched off the light. Then she stepped into the hallway and listened for a moment. Her parents were watching TV in their room and the light in her brothers’ room was off. Good. She turned and tiptoed to the front of the house, quietly unlocked the door, and sneaked outside. It was a cool night and she could see the open desert just beyond the last few homes in the village.
Kande leaned against the side of the house as she brought out a pack of cigarettes from her skirt pocket. She shook one out, placed it between her lips, and brought out a match. Striking the match with her thumbnail, she used it to light her cigarette. She inhaled the smoke and when she exhaled it, she felt as if all her problems floated away with it—the ugly face of the man her parents said she was now betrothed to, the money she needed to buy her uniform for her school dance group, whether Tanko still loved her now that he knew she was betrothed.
She took another pull from her cigarette and smiled as she exhaled. Her father would be furious and beat her if he knew she had such a filthy habit. Her mother would wail and say no man would want her if she didn’t start behaving, that she was too old for rebellion. Kande was looking toward the desert as she thought about all this and when she first saw them, she was sure that her brain was trying to distract her from her own dark thoughts.
They were a house away before she even moved. And by then, she was sure they’d seen her. Tall, like human palm trees and not human at all. And even in the moonlight, she saw that they were gold. Pure shiny gold. Not human at all. But with legs. Arms. Bodies. Long and thin like trees. Walking slowly toward her in the night. There wasn’t another soul silly enough to be outside at this time of night. Just her.
Kande didn’t know it, but everything depended on those moments after she saw them. What she did. The destiny of her people was in her hands. She stared up at the aliens who saw themselves as one thing but accepted the name of “Zinariya,” (which meant “gold,”) that human beings gave them and . . .
. . . I fell out of the tree. Mwinyi was shaking me. Gusts of sand and dust slapped at my skin when I turned to him and I coughed hard.
“Binti! Come on! Pull yourself out of it!”
At first, I saw all things around me as the sums of equations, numbers splitting and unfurling, falling away, rotating, all in harmony. My eyes focused on his tall lanky frame, his caftan and pants that were blue like Okwu flapped in the sandy wind. Grains of sand blew about pretending chaos, but each arced a trajectory that coincided with those around it. I shook my head, trying to come back to myself. My mouth had been hanging open and I spit out sand.
I twitched as a rage flew into me like an explosion. My family! I thought, frantic. My family! Before I could shout this at Mwinyi . . . I saw Okwu hovering behind him. My eyes widened and my mouth hung open again. Then Okwu was gone. Instead, behind Mwinyi were small skinny red-furred dogs; they ran about flinging their heads this way and that way. I felt one touch my face with its cool black nose, sniffing. It yipped, the sound close to my ear. The dogs were running all around us, at least as far as I could see, which was only a few feet. Our camel Rakumi was roaring with distress. I was seeing words now as Mwinyi desperately tried to reach me using the zinariya.
The floating green words said, “Sandstorm. Dog pack. Relax. Grab Rakumi’s saddle, Binti.”
I am not a follower, but there are times when all you can do is follow. And so yet again, I submitted. This time it was to Mwinyi, a boy I had only known for a few days, of a people I’d viewed as barbarians all my life and now knew were not, my father’s people, my people.
I was breaking and breaking and into that moment I followed Mwinyi. He led us out of that sandstorm.
The sun broke through.
The air cleared of dust.
The storm was behind us.
I sighed, relieved. Then the weight of the sudden quiet made my legs buckle and I sunk to the ground at the hooves of our camel Rakumi. I pressed my cheek to the sand and was surprised by its warmth. There I lay, staring at the retreating sandstorm. It looked like a large brown beast who’d decided to leave, when really it just happened to travel the other way. Churning, roiling, and swirling back the way we’d come. Toward the Enyi Zinariya village. Away from my dying, maybe even dead, family.
I weakly raised my hands and moved them slowly, typing in the air. The various names of my father. Moaoogo Dambu Kaipka Okechukwu. I tried to send it. But they wouldn’t go. I rolled my head to the side in the sand, feeling the grains ground into my otjize-rolled okuoko, blue tentacles layered with sweet-smelling red clay and now sand. I tried to call Okwu. I tried to reach him. To touch him with my mind as I had days ago, now. Again, nothing.
Then I started weeping, as the world around me began to do that expanding thing that it had been doing since we’d left the Ariya’s cavern over a day ago. As if everything were growing bigger and bigger and bigger, though it was still the same. Mwinyi said it was just my body settling with the zinariya technology that Ariya had unlocked within me, but what did that matter? It didn’t make it any better. The sensation was so jarring that I constantly felt the Earth would decide to fling me into space at any moment.
I shut my eyes and it was as if I’d fallen again. Into my other nightmare. The nightmare from a year ago. Now I was back on the Third Fish, sitting at the dining hall table. I could taste the sweet milky dessert in my mouth. My edan was in my hand, the strange gold ball back inside the stellated cube–shaped metal shell; it was whole again. And I was gazing at Heru, the beautiful boy who’d noticed that I’d braided my otjize-rolled locks into a tessellating triangle pattern that reflected my heritage. His granite black hair was falling over one of his eyes as he laughed. He glanced at me, and I smiled. And then his chest burst open and his warm blood spattered on my face and I fled within myself, quivering, silently screaming, breaking. Everyone was dead.
The dining hall grew red, even the air took on a red tint. There was Okwu, behind Heru. I could smell blood, as I tasted the sweet milky dessert in my mouth. Everyone was dead. I had to survive. I slowly got up, clutching the edan in my hand, and when I turned, it wasn’t a Meduse I faced but my cowering family inside the bowels of the Root. In the large room, below, where all the foodstuffs and supplies were stored.
The smell of blood turned to one of smoke. I’d moved from one nightmare to another. My eye first fell on my oldest sister shrieking in a corner as her long, long hair went up in flames. I was coughing and then looking frantically around as I waited to smell the burning of my own flesh because flames were consuming the entire room. Now my family was all around me, my father, siblings, several of my cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, shrieking, stumbling, thrashing, lying still as they burned. Everyone was burning or already dead.
I whimpered, my flesh feeling too hot. Let me die too, I thought, waiting, hoping, for the burning to intensify. My family. Instead, the fire consuming my family stopped biting me and shrunk away. It calmed. It didn’t stink of burning flesh now. The fire smelled woodsy and the center of it looked like a pile of glowing rubies. Everything undulated and when it resettled, things looked more real, no red tint, so solid and clear that I could touch the dry ground beneath me, warm my hand at the fire before me.
I distantly felt my okuoko writhing with anger. I reached up, grasping them, trying to calm their wriggling. All this was confusing me. I was just coming out of flashbacks of the deaths of my friends and family and now the zinariya was forcing history on me again . . . .
Read the full chapter HERE.