an excerpt from The Black Tides of Heaven
“WELL?” he repeated.
The man grunted in assent and replaced the device amongst its brethren. The warehouse he chose was in a row long since abandoned, air thick with dust and choked with the smell of rotting grain. And quiet. That was the important thing.
Satisfied with his inspection, the man reached into his sleeve and tossed Akeha a small pouch. It landed in his hands with a solid metallic clunk. He looked inside and nodded.
In the distance someone screamed.
Akeha frowned. A street over, the Slack burst with flowers of activity. Tensors fighting, clumsy sledgehammer attacks that betrayed a lack of pugilistic training. He listened: in shouts, in Kuanjinwei. At least three involved.
His buyer noticed. “Protectorate business,” he said.
Akeha grimly tucked the pouch away as he continued to listen, to watch the Slack. The pattern clarified: three attackers, one defender. All Tensors.
“Don’t get involved,” said the buyer. Not a warning, just advice.
“Our business is done,” Akeha said. He straightened up and walked away. Behind him, the man snorted in derision of Akeha’s judgement.
The streets were dusky and silent enough that muffled shouting echoed. This part of Jixiang, a mercantile quarter, had been abandoned in the tides of changing fortunes. Warehouses sat with gaping mouths that could swallow thieves, smugglers, the poor, the desperate. Akeha crossed spaces briskly: the fighting had subsided into a fierce glow in the Slack. All four Tensors remained alive, clustered in one of the yawning derelicts.
Akeha stayed in the shadows by the warehouse’s entrance, his footprint in the Slack light and practiced. Three soldiers woven up in the Protectorate’s padded gray faced a gasping young man in civilian dress. Blood covered half his head, seeped through the front of his tunic. The soldiers stood in a fan: two flanking the leader confronting the bleeding man with some kind of tube weapon.
“Tell me where it is, and this can end,” said the soldier with the tube. A man. The weapon crackled as he smacked it in his hand.
“You can threaten me with pain or death. I’m not afraid. And I won’t tell you—“
The weapon sang, and electricity struck. The young man screamed and fell to his knees. Chemical burn seared the air.
In the ringing silence, the young man struggled back upright. “I won’t tell you anything.”
by JY Yang
from The Black Tides of Heaven (2017)
published by tor.com