In Search of Refuge


After months of hardship, Abbas’ fortunes were finally looking up. The Modular Aquatic Population Limit Extension (MAPLE) that had recently arrived on Furnifold soil - or sea, rather - was by far the most amazing construct that Abbas had ever seen. Even foreign picturesque scenes he had seen in brochures paled in comparison. And he got to live on this awe-inspiring wonder of ingenuity.

Abbas was one of perhaps 2,000 Furnifold laborers hired to serve essential duties on the MAPLE once it got up and running. For the past two weeks, the Furnifolds had been set up in living quarters, given essential instructions on how to navigate the MAPLE complex, including where and where not they were allowed to go, and were trained on tasks essential to keep the ‘umusangwa,’ the name the Furnifolds on board call the incoming residents of the complex, satisfied. Abbas’ role was a night-shift maintenance and custodial assistant. He was called in to fix potential problems, be it spills, leakages, plugs, broken down fixtures, whatever the Syllvan overseers wanted. Abbas had a real hatred of authority figures, but, unlike the corrupt police in Boonefield, these Syllvan overseers carried loaded weapons and regarded the Furnifolds with indifference, only noticing them when it was necessary or convenient. And that was fine by Abbas. Instead of having to make himself ignored, he already was.

This was not all that was new to Abbas. Unlike in Banokubana, where everyone was envious and mistrusting of one another, there was a real comrarderie among the Furnifolds. At first, Abbas thought it would just be like Banokubana, where he would have very few people to talk to, but here, everyone was sociable; cracking jokes, making fun of the Free Syllvin guards, wondering about who the ‘umusangwa’ (a name that roughly translates to ‘guest,’ in Codexian) they would be serving would be. It helped that they were mainly Sahibu, the ethnic group native to the southern part of Furnifold. The Furnifold Patriotic Front, the Sahibu group Abbas had spent time with after he ran away from home, had a presence on the MAPLE, but it wasn’t a strong presence. Whenever its members tried to talk to the Furnifolds, the others would ignore them or forcefully change the subject. There was just too much optimism on the MAPLE to listen to the FPF talk of injustice and political upheaval.

The workers of the MAPLE were anxiously waiting for what they called ‘Arrival,’ the day the umusangwa entered the complex. They were unsure as to who the umusangwa would be. “Perhaps they are rich Kuthernburgs, or from some other nations, who want to see Furnifold, but from a distance,” was one dominant thought. Abbas harbored a fantasy of meeting a rich umusangwa who would fall in love with him and marry him, and he could have a happily ever after. In fact, most of the Furnifolds had romanticized the impending umusangwa, hoping that these umusangwa would become their benefactors and improve their lots in life. Not all the prevailing thoughts were as optimistic though. Others countered by saying that wouldn’t make sense, given the large military presence from Free Syllvin, including warships guarding the complex, and that the likely umusangwa were high-ranking secret military officials and their families, there to conduct secret government tests and drills that others were not to know about. That would make sense, as the Syllvan overseers made it absolutely clear that, when not on duty, the Furnifolds were to stay confined to a select few platforms, and that other platforms were off limits even when on duty. Abbas had explored the platforms dedicated to farming, living spaces, and shops and restaurants, where the Furnifolds were confined to, and discovered ways to get to the other platforms without being seen or stopped by the Syllvan guards. Being a maintenance and custodial worker was helpful, as no one accosted him while he was carrying around a large garbage bin and other supplies.

Regardless of who the umusangwa would be, Abbas was sure to spend time exploring the MAPLE to see how they lived, and what they were doing. There was nothing malicious in his desire, for even though the FPF had planted radical thoughts into his head, he was genuinely curious to see a life that wasn’t full of survivalist worries. Plus, one of the platforms that was off-limits off duty had a fantastic view of the skyline of the complex, as well as a clear shot to the port city of Hafre, a few thousand feet to the northeast of the complex. This would be an amazing place to take someone, Abbas thought one day, while also grimacing in pain due to the heartache of his abandoned love, Kulana. This is a new me, I ran away to get away from it all, my family, Kulana, the Kamugara, all of that is behind me now.

Finally, the day had come. The Arrival. They had been told by the Syllvan overseers that the umusangwa would be arriving by large cargo ships over the course of a week, and that there would be close to thirty-thousand of them. “No fancy cruise ships for the umusangwa, see? They are not rich!” Joked some of the more cynical Furnifolds. Abbas would not be deterred by that thought. “Maybe they are coming on cargo ships because they need to bring along their supplies, and cruise ships wouldn’t do it,” countered Abbas in frustrations. He was up on a balcony overlooking one of the entrances from the pier of the MAPLE to the main platform. The overseers told the Furnifolds to dress up and make sure they looked nice before the guests arrived, and to stand waiting to take whatever supplies they were handed to their stations. So, Abbas was dressed up in his native Sahibu garb, a long tan shirt that was loosely fit, and cargo pants. He wore a kufiya to offer some protection from the sun, and to keep his lengthening hair out of his face. If these umusangwa are rich foreigners, they would be delighted with the native look of the Sahibu, he thought, wondering if he was an attraction for the umusangwa to ogle at as much as he was a custodian. He forgot about these thoughts as the first ship came into the port.

He watched the ship get tied-up by the deckhands, and saw figures begin to leave the ship. The deckhands were at first enthusiastic to see who was exiting the ship, but, as they caught a look of those exiting, their body language seemed to lose the excitement. Abbas was confused, he was too far away to see who the umusangwa were; the only thing he noticed was that they all seemed to be wearing strange pointed headgear. Unable to see from his perch on the balcony, he got off and headed downstairs to the ground level, where he could get up close to these umusangwa. There was a crowd of the Furnifold workers, welcoming the umusangwa and awaiting their instructions, and everyone was excitedly chatting, unaware of the reaction of the deckhands to the umusangwa farther down on the platform. The umusangwa were headed their way, and the hushed chatting turned into a roar as people became more and more excited. But, just like the deckhands, their roar dimmed back to quiet murmuring as they got a look at the umusangwa, until it became deadly silent. Abbas knew they were walking by him, but he could not see past the larger bodies in front of him. He jumped up, tried to squeeze through the crowd, to know avail. He found a small opening, and tried to nudge his way through, but tripped and fell onto the street. He heard a gasp from the crowd, and he felt a hand grab his to help him up. The hand felt furry, like the person was wearing a mitten. Abbas looked at the hand, but couldn’t see any mitten, and let go of it, murmuring, “thanks.”

He looked up, and saw who helped him up. An umusangwa. An umusangwa with fur covering its face, large ears pointed straight up on the side of its head, a snout, and a tail swishing behind it. But, it was also human-like, with a human physique, thumbs, and wearing clothes. Abbas was startled, and realized why the others were startled too. This umusangwa was not the only one like this, and he was surrounded by concerned umusangwa that looked the same. The one who had offered its hand looked at him unusually, apprehensive as to what Abbas was going to do next. Abbas got up quickly, startling the umusangwa, who he surmised was female, at least, looked like a female. He stared back at them, got his wits about him, and mumbled an apology, saying the line he rehearsed in Codexian, “Welcome, guests, to the MAPLE,” and quickly turned back, fleeing into the crowd of similarly shocked Furnifolds.

Not only did Abbas surmise that these umusangwa were Vulpine, the sentient fox species of the northeast Yasteria, but these were not likely rich umusangwa. They were wearing essentially rags for clothes, and the possessions they carried were very scant. Abbas remembered the newcomers in Banokubana, refugees from another nation, but those refugees were humans. These umusangwa were dressed as if they were refugees, but were they? Abbas knew that the Furnifolds would have a lot to talk about when they were off duty tonight. But right now, Abbas could only feel envy and jealousy, holdover thoughts from his time in Banokubana and following the FPF. “We have to serve these things? What nonsense, why do they get access to this beautiful complex, but we must wait on them? I do not want to clean up after them.” Abbas said to the first Furnifoldian he saw. Suddenly a loud voice erupted behind him. A Syllvan soldier, hands on his automatic weapon, gestured at him and said, “You there, what are you doing? You should be helping these residents, or umusangwa, whatever you people call them. Get busy.” Abbas nodded quickly, shut up, and walked to his station, passing by other Furnifolds and seeing their faces with marked confusion, anger, frustration, or depression. They carried the crates of food, tools and construction materials, and cases of other items, and the MAPLE complex was full of activity, for the umusangwa had arrived. [edit_reason]corrected demonym[/edit_reason]

While the various cargo craft and ferries began to organize into a queue to drop their passengers off, Major Olanda Espite stood some hundred meters from the main dock, arms crossed. Along with her stood her command staff; Captains Diggory Veno and Timos DeQuill, Commanders Titus Holt and Gennifer Wentz, First Lieutenants Kerr, Manwell, DeBurian, and Ceze. The only thing to tell them apart was the color of the HEX patch on their chestplates. Despite the full-faced helmet that she, along with all other Syllvan soldiers on the MAPLE wore, Olanda kept her face impassive. It was likely more than the men and woman surrounding her could say.

Captain Diggory volunteered to oversee the welcome and offloading, but the Major had refused the man outright. Just because his family was Auroran gave him some sort of expertise with dealing with non-humans? He might be a competent enough administrator and a hell of an infantryman, but Diggory sorely lacked tact. Captain Timos, on the other hand, had simply ordered another squad off of each of the warships for extra security. No fuss, and certainly no noise in the Major’s office. That had helped replace those she had remanded from duty for the time being, pending ‘species issues’ briefings.

The vulpines started offloading from the docking ships, and their welcoming committees began their work. Several hundred Furnifoldian workers, their smattering of coverall covers contrasting with the line of white-suited Syllvan ‘security officers,’ truncheons and rifles in easy-to-reach positions. The atmosphere was brittle, carefully choreographed. The wide eyes and shuffled stares of the waves of near-animal refugees didn’t help. Olanda could hardly blame the tension in the air on any of her men, at least none of those here. Their orders from On High were to ensure the safe function and operational security of the first MAPLE complex that could house over ten-thousand people. Prevent espionage, keep people out of restricted areas, remove any violent individuals, the works. But oh, how that compounded with the people they were sharing the place with.

For almost three-thousand Syllvan servicemen-and-women, their lives had been uprooted and their professions changed at the drop of a hat, all for political capital and international image. Railroaded - she was quite fond of that phrase - into guarding some top-secret floating resort on the other side of the ocean, an assignment that had them brushing shoulders with Furnifoldians - Furnifolds, whatever they called themselves - and vulpines. The human aspect wasn’t that bad. The people were odd, their language odder, but that can just be put down to culture. There wasn’t much inherently wrong with them other than their habit of sticking their noses where they didn’t belong.
The vulpines, however. That was something that Olanda and more than a fifth of her assigned contingent had an issue with. Never mind the fancy quarters on the security platforms, never mind the good food, long rest shifts, and admittedly staggering pay raises. Never mind they were still technically Syllvan soldiers. They had been shipped out of Port Doinus, conscripted into the Peacekeeping Forces of Urth in all but name, and set to guard twenty-five thousand near-animal refugees from, essentially, themselves. Her contacts Upstairs thought it hardly worth mentioning they would be babysitting these creatures until the MAPLE was already anchored off the coast of this backwater. It almost amounted to using Syllvan taxpayer money to protect Daccic interests. Never mind that felines and vulpines were different species. For those from the western Territories, Olanda included, if it had fur and could think, it wasn’t human, and that was all that mattered. She hadn’t even bothered to find out where these near-animals were being shipped in from, despite the fact she was the highest authority on board this infernal floating hotel.

Olanda started, noticing her hand was picking at the cape again. A quietly clenched fist put a stop to that. She still had rows with Requisitions after two weeks and had threatened to take the issue to the Department of Military Logistics, but hadn’t had any luck. These uniforms were ridiculous even without the strange crimson shoulder-capes. While she couldn’t deny the advantage of having almost full-body coverage from ballistics armor, what sort of situation was Upstairs expecting with starving near-animals that all two-thousand Syllvan soldiers got that sort of kit? The white-and-red of the Peacekeeping forces felt especially wrong. Here were two battalions of marines and a full division of naval engineers dressed like candy canes. And the helmets? Integrated communications, thermal vision, environmentally sealed. Faceless, voiceless and nameless whenever you went on duty. It was as if they had all been railroaded to run a concentration camp, not a refugee processing center. It had hardly helped endear them to the Furnifoldian staff, and there was no telling how the situation would play out now that these disgusting ‘residents’ were in the picture. But it would never be said Olanda was not a professional. She despised her orders, she despised this assignment, and she despised she had her happiness sacrificed to appease some foreign politician she’d never head of. But she would do her job, damn it, and she would do a damned fine job of it, personal prejudices asides. With a wave of her hand, the smattering of identical-appearing soldiers and staff in her vicinity began to organize what could only be described as the most stressful day of the ‘First Maple Leaf Division:’ move-in day.

Over the past six months, the one thing Sisilia accepted as fact was that life never goes the way a person expects. Instead of getting married with her fiancé and settling down in one of those beach houses, her and her family were forced to flee the place they once called home in southern Eridani Theta as Fortunan troops began pouring in. She then thought she could find a new life in the newly born Ambravia, but the tiny nation was already breaking apart at the seams as tensions rose between competing factions. Even her own fiancé got caught up in the fiasco, and before she knew it he had already left to join the Ambravian Freedom Fighters. With no one left in her life to care for besides her aging father, their only home being a crowded refugee camp, and the fear that she would again be stuck in the middle of another conflict, Sisilia knew it was time to leave the island of Eridani Theta.

Having no money to begin with, her first idea was to join the thousands of other Ambravians who planned to cross the ocean to find refuge on the mainland. The downside was that no one was willing to ferry them across except for shady captains who seemed to only care for the money. After days of searching to no avail when she began to lose hope in ever leaving Eridani Theta, she stumbled on news that the PKFU was offering to help resettle thousands of refugees in some faraway nation. At that moment she knew this offer was just what she was looking for. Once finished with registering her and her father for refugee status, the next couple days consisted of Sisilia anxiously waiting all the while neatly packing her small number of belongings and gaining more information on this PKFU resettlement. From what she could understand, the Ambravian refugees were to be taken to the small nation of Furnifold, all the way on the other side of Yasteria. Although Sisilia couldn’t gain any exact details, she did hear a lot of chatter of a special location for the first batch of refugees to be taken over. With the amount of excitement that surrounded this “special location,” she sometimes couldn’t help but begin daydreaming of what it was. Was it a specially made city lit like a Christmas tree just for them? Was it a secluded mountain village with tall trees and hundreds of streams? Was it a going to be like a beach resort?

One day during one of her trances, she was caught off guard when a PKFU volunteer arrived bearing good news; Sisilia and her father were accepted to be part of the first batch of refugees heading to Furnifold. It was not just any normal location, they were to be resettled on a complex known as the MAPLE. Between excited heavy breaths as the volunteer went on explaining, Sisilia was able to understand that the MAPLE was some kind of floating city with its first purpose being to giving Ambravian refugees, people like her, a new home. “Well, what do you think?” the volunteer asked with a smile. Without warning, Sisilia hugged and began thanking the startled volunteer. At that moment, Sisilia was the happiest she had ever been in what felt like a long time.

The next couple of weeks were both extremely busy and difficult, especially after many failed attempts in convincing her father to come with her, but he insisted on staying. “I’ve waited my entire life for us Ambravians to break free,” he told Sisilia the day she tried convincing him to leave with her. “Now as my hair is greying and my bones are weakening, that dream has finally come true. I will not leave homeland. I did not leave then, I am not leave now, and I will never leave in the coming future.” Looking down at his daughter who knelt next to her as she began to cry, the old vulpine placed his hand on her head. “Oh my little daisy, don’t let me hold you down from this opportunity. Go, go make something of yourself, restart your life away from this dump. Do it for me and your mother.” And so she did. A few days later after finishing packing and saying a final goodbye to everyone she knew, she boarded one of the few cargo ships heading for Furnifold.

The long journey from Ambravia to Furnifold had its lows, but for most of the time it went smoothly. A few of the vulpines, especially those who lived their entire lives inland, got seasick from the unending rocking of the ship. Although Sisilia did not have any actual medical background, she did her best to make herself useful by helping her fellow refugees find some comfort and get over their illnesses. When she wasn’t doing that, she took her free time exploring every nook 'n cranny of the ship or conversing with the other vulpines. They discussed how life was like under Eldur Mironov, how their lives were quickly turned upside down in just a few years, and what their hopes and dreams were for the future. It comforted Sisilia knowing that she wasn’t the only one who faced similar hardships, and as the days passed, she formed a familial bond with her fellow refugees.

Slowly but surely with a few stops along the way, the small group of cargo ships finally reached their destination. Crowding near the bow of the ship, the nervous yet excited vulpines watched in awe as they neared what appeared to be an island. As they drew near, they began making out shapes of a port, buildings, vegetation, all on top of the largest manmade structure they have ever seen. They had finally arrived at the MAPLE. In front of them, the first couple of cargo ships had already docked and began to offload. The eager vulpines had to wait a little longer before their ship docked, but they entertained themselves by watching the mix of refugees, soldiers, and workers scammer around. Once docked, the group of refugees made their way off the ship and onto what they were going to call home for the time being. As Sisilia stepped onto the deck of the MAPLE, she paused for a second and inhaled as she was filled with a sense of security. No more fear of Fortunan tyrants, no more fear of war, no more fear of discrimination.