Chapter 33

Conmer stepped through the shipyard’s front door into one of the crowded hallways that ran through the entire city, and took a deep breath. The sturdy metal ceiling above him stood as a silent guardian, protecting him from the whims of nature. The void outside was merciless but predictable, which meant that there was no chance of malfunction in defenses from the chaos of weather. The carefully laid architecture was practical and simple, yet laden with a deep and hidden artistry. Deliberate shadows and muted pastels contrasted sharply with streetlights and brilliant neon colors, guiding the eye along premeditated paths. Graffiti covered every reachable surface, a hidden message board in a secret language and an art gallery twisted across each wall.
It was all beautiful, but the people were the most beautiful of all. Conversations roared and battles raged, yet nothing more than a polite murmur escaped their careful smiles as they swarmed in the narrow corridors. It was anarchy. Calculated anarchy steered by whoever was winning, but only for as long as they kept winning – and that never lasted long.
Conmer checked to make sure that Tenra was still with him, then began to push through the crowd. He followed the signs half-heartedly hidden in graffiti toward the local information shop, picking pockets along the way. Five wallets gained, three lost. Tenra had six. Their contents were all useless, of course. He knew it was childish to get distracted by something silly like wallets; no rosearn with anything worth stealing would keep it in their wallet, but it was fun to try and steal them nonetheless.
Blood red arrows pointing in circles around a white rose petal meant Conmer was almost there. He turned down the next alleyway, where he found an intricate mural on the ground in front of an unpainted dead end. About a dozen rectangular shapes stood out in the mural, arranged to form traditional rosearn dance notation. Clearly, it was a C-Block dance lock – as amusing to say as it was to open. The pattern was from the 37th page in the Lexiko Choros, which the painter had made only a minimal effort to hide. It was clear the lock was made to be an invisible barricade to the Alliance, but a welcome mat for any rosearn. As such, it likely used the universal password that every rosearn learned in kindergarten. There was a song and everything. “7 Little Foxes” it was called, and Conmer couldn’t help humming it every time he opened a lock, whether or not it used the password. 6, 7, 4, 2, 3, 1, 5. That meant he needed to stomp on the 6th, 13th, 17th, 19th, 22nd, 23rd, and 28th steps in the dance. Amusingly, all those steps were in the same exact spot.
Seven stomps later, a door slid open revealing a small corridor on the other side of the unpainted wall. Conmer slipped inside, moving as quickly as he could without attracting attention. Tenra seemed to get the memo, and entered the corridor with an unnervingly silent speed.
About a dozen meters down the corridor and to the left, there was a small shop where a young woman was talking on the phone. “So then he said, ‘I can’t just act positive all the time, that’s not who I am!’ He was a prick like that. I mean, honestly, if you can’t keep a smile on your face for just six hours, then one, you’re a moron, and two, you shouldn’t be working in the service industry. Making your customers feel welcome and comfortable is literally in your job description, so it isn’t the manager’s fault if your stupid-” The woman paused, glancing toward Conmer. “Hang on, I’ve got a customer. Yes, I know the store is supposed to be closed, but I know this guy. He’s a big spender…” Her eyes wandered over to Tenra. “…and he’s got something interesting with him.”


A note from the author ninja:

Home is a funny word. It paints a different picture for every person, but evokes the same emotion in everyone. It’s a friendly place, a place that just makes sense. A place that makes you feel safe. Even the most paranoid of rosearn feels a little relief when they finally return from alien space, and land on a colony filled with their own kind. Rational, calm, and thorough people. Dangerous, maybe, but still predictable and familiar.

Speaking of rosearn, how about a little history lesson? (Disclaimer, the following is rosearn history as taught by rosearn, accuracy is not guaranteed.)

Rosearn culture first began long ago, in the ancient human era. Specifically the second of humanity’s six ages, the Age of Metal. It was in this age that the first ninja appeared, a human that relied on cunning instead of physical ability or scientific knowledge. They were thieves and spies, and they ruled the age of metal until they were outlawed by a powerful and ignorant man known as the “shogun.”

But the ninja were not so easily destroyed, and escaped punishment by disappearing into the shadows. After a long and unrelenting hunt, the last ninja was thought to have died in the early years of the Age of Wisdom. This was, of course, a ruse.

It was during their time in hiding that the ninja wrote down their wisdom in three books: The Art of Shadow, The Art of Smoke, and The Art of Wind. Collectively, they were known as “The Art(s) of Subtlety.” Not much is known about The Art of Shadow or The Art of Smoke, but The Art of Wind was further divided into five categories: Dance, Music, Food, Truth, and Lies.

Several thousand years later, in the Age of Glory, a group of conmen known as “The White Collar Gang” were terrorizing the galaxy. Despite their infamy, they were nothing more than a cover for more important ninja operations. Many of them had been succesfully locked away in various prison colonies, and not even a week after a particularly large group of White Collars were caught…

“It” happened. What “It” was, no one can say. All we know is that “It” ended the reign of humanity forever, and destroyed every last piece of technology they’d made. This meant the prison colony of Tyur’son was completely cut off from the rest of the galaxy.

For generations, Tyur’son was covered in war and violence, divided into gangs that flew into a rage over the slightest transgression. All except for one gang, the Rose’s Arm. They were a scrappy group of conmen, inside traders, corrupt police, and ex-White Collars, who were too physically weak to survive on the battlefield. So, they pulled the strings from the shadows, turning the other gangs against each other. Killing them off one by one without ever pulling the trigger themselves.

Finally, only the Rose’s Arm – now known as the Rosearn – remained. Along the way, The Art of Shadow and The Art of Smoke had been lost, but much of the ninja’s wisdom still persevered.

In fact, many believe that the ninja still walk among us, ruling from the shadows. Of course, there’s no way to be sure… unless you happen to catch the eye of one of their recruiters.

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