Divestment

This short story originally appeared in Jump Point 10.06.

“Everything is auspicious!” Essosouli Njo proclaimed in Banu. The gathered Merchantman crew turned their attention toward the elderly Banu standing behind a table with an ornate lockbox in the center. As the crowd eagerly pressed in closer, Jaclyn, the only Human in attendance, remained against the back wall. With Njo’s typical speaking volume being just shy of yelling, she could hear fine from back there and was too nervous to even glance at the lockbox knowing that her fate waited inside.

“Joy is abundant within me today because all of you are here to celebrate my divestment. With Cassa’s blessing, I have reached 275,000,000 beats,” Essosouli Njo continued to rapturous applause. Though Jaclyn spoke decent Banu, her mind still translated everything into UEE standard, which often left her a moment behind other Souli members. “I’ve gained much during that time and have squandered more than I care to admit. Still, I’m proud that this Souli is one of rewarding work, delectable meals, exciting journeys, and so, so much more. If you are here with me today, know that I have valued you. All of you have enriched my life, and I hope you can say the same about me.”

Jaclyn sure could. She looked up and briefly locked eyes with Essosouli Njo. They had first met at a refugee camp in Charon. Njo had contracted with a UEE non-profit to manufacture and distribute its foodstuff as free rations to those displaced by the civil war. Jaclyn, her parents, and younger siblings had fled to the camp when their hometown had become a battleground. With nothing to do and sick of feeling helpless, Jaclyn offered to lend a hand distributing the provisions. Njo accepted not because they needed the help, but because they wanted to help her.

Despite being a welcome distraction, Jaclyn couldn’t stop worrying about what the future held for her family. Essosouli Njo consoled Jaclyn, listened to her concerns, and offered to pay her to taste-test new flavor combinations for Human foodstuff. When Jaclyn joked that their Souli could use a full-time Human food tester, Njo offered her a contract on the spot. As much as Jacyln wished she could accept, she wasn’t willing to leave her family unless the salary was enough to get them out of the camp. After thinking for a moment, Njo mentioned there was another way she could fill that role and help her family. Following lengthy discussions with Essosouli Njo and her family, Jaclyn signed a contract making herself indentured. She would work for their Souli for a specific number of beats and, in exchange, her family would be paid enough credits up front to flee Charon.

On the fateful day Jaclyn left her family and Charon III for the first time in her life, Essosouli Njo invited her to ride in their beloved Defender to Kins. Only later did she learn that, outside of Njo and their personal pilot, very few Souli members had ever been allowed aboard. Still, short excursions together in the Defender became their tradition. Jaclyn would talk honestly about the Souli’s current Human food options and Essosouli Njo taught her the secret to negotiating a fair but profitable contract.

One day Jaclyn asked Essosouli Njo about a clock in their office that counted up. That’s when she learned about divestment, a ceremony celebrating a Banu reaching 275,000,000 beats or just shy of 44 standard Earth years, with a beat being equal to five seconds. Divesting Banu retire to enjoy their final beats as they see fit. At the efanga fo ktambo, divestment ceremony, they gift most of their possessions to family and friends, with Essosouli’s traditionally bestowing the bulk of their belongings to the Banu who they want to take over the Souli. While Souli members can decide whether they want to stay, those indentured to the Souli do not. Their fate rests with the new Essosouli, who could keep their contract or sell it.

Essosouli Njo picked up the lockbox and briefly considered it, then began gracefully rotating it while subtly tapping sections in a specific sequence. “Within this lies my life’s work. This Souli is what made my beats meaningful. Building it brought me great pride but, most importantly, it brought me a community to share its success with.” The lockbox opened revealing a chip containing the Souli’s most important recipes. Essosouli Njo took it in their hands. “That’s why even though I must go, I hope this Souli reforms in a similar way. Because while we’ve made delectable food here, we’ve done more than that. We’ve created a community that deeply cares for each other and those pulled into our orbit. I know this Souli can continue to spread more good through the universe. That’s why I hope Malga will accept the command of this Merchantman and all responsibilities therein.”

The room erupted in celebration. Jaclyn braced herself against the wall from the sound and fought off a dizzy spell as all the blood fell to her feet. When she joined the Souli, most members welcomed her warmly but some clearly resented her unique relationship with Essosouli Njo, including Malga. Now her future lay in their hands, as the Souli would clearly reform around them. Malga was well-liked and the logical choice, but Jaclyn has also once overheard them remind a friend that a contract for a Human indentured would sell lightning fast. Jaclyn slunk toward an exit as Njo proceeded with gifting more of their possessions.

“And how could I ever forget Jaclyn,” Essosouli Njo bellowed from behind the table, stopping her dead in her tracks. “Your honesty and insight have brought us all so much. Teaching you was a great joy, but learning from you was even better. Because of those cherished beats, I give to you my Defender.”

For a second, Jaclyn thought the room might’ve depressurized because it fell deadly quiet. Never before had she experienced such silence while surrounded by Banu. Essosouli Njo smiled warmly at her and continued, “Though I want nothing more than for this Souli to stay together, I know some will be called to leave by Taernin. Jaclyn, I can’t say if Taernin calls you, but you deserve the right to find out for yourself. That’s why I am also paying the balance of your indentured contract and giving you just enough wealth to start a journey. The rest I expect you to earn on your own.”

The crowd cheered and surrounded Jaclyn to congratulate her good fortune. Completely overwhelmed, there were no words to capture how she felt. Much like Essosouli Njo, Jaclyn’s life had just changed. Her future once again was unknown, and it both terrified and excited her.

 

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