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art by Melissa Mead

Marrakech Express

Milena Benini has published three novels and numerous short stories in Croatian, some of which have been translated to several languages. She is also the winner of four SFERA awards, Croatian national speculative fiction awards, as well as a number of other local awards. She contributed to two collections on writing science fiction and fantasy, The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy and The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction, both edited by Darin Park. She blogs in Croatian at the collective speculative-fiction oriented blog NoSF, in several languages at milerama.nosf.net, and in English only on tumblr at milenab.tumblr.com. She can also be found on Twitter @Milerama.

***Editor's Note: Adult language and situations.***
Marrakech Express hurdles its great bulk through stringspace. There is no speed in stringspace, but hopping as it does from one planet to the next and trading for a day or two at each, Marrakech Express could be called slow.
It has never been near Marrakech.
Day 47
"I am going to run the Sun this year," said Karima over her breakfast coffee. David choked on his and splurted it all over his white shirt. I tried to be invisible. It wasn't difficult.
"Whaddaya mean, run the sun?" asked David, even though he knew perfectly well what Karima meant. He always did that when Karima put him in a tight spot: pretended to be stupid.
David isn't stupid, but can pass as such, what with his Romantic-Experience-looks and his slow, accented speech. He can actually read and write in three Union and two Zarķan languages, but speaks all of them slowly, as if he needs to think of words. He likes people to underestimate him. I've always known that, but could never figure out why. Now I know: it's easier. In his own, strange way, David is lazy.
The things you learn about your parents when you're dead.
"You know perfectly well what I mean, David." Karima had that colonial way about her when she wanted to, all superiority and infinite natural resources. "I am a Ghan, and I intend to run the Sun."
David patted inefficiently at the stains on the front of his shirt. "You can't. That's suicide." He gave up on the stains and simply unbuttoned the shirt. "Everybody knows it's suicide."
"People try it every year." Karima lit a cigarette. I told you we're colonial."
"And they die trying, too. Why would you want to die?" He leaned back in his seat, showing off his well-tanned torso. Karima puffed at her cigarette, offering nothing but a catlike look. This can't be solved through sex, the look said.
Men have this way of trying to solve things through sex. Considering how seldom it actually works, it's amazing that they keep trying. But they do. Probably because trying to have sex is something they'd do anyway.
"I don't want to die," said Karima at last. "But I have to do it. For Mari."
With a sigh, David took the tobacco-pouch and started rolling himself a cigarette. "Karima," he said. "Mon amour."
David's first language is French. Occasionally he uses it to make himself heard over the chatter on the plantations, and he used it with me when he was very happy or very angry. To Karima, he normally only speaks French in the bedroom. (No, I didn't find out about it after I died; it's one of those things kids find out about their parents anyway.) I didn't think he meant it that way now, though.
He waited until he had rolled the cigarette, straightened it out to his satisfaction, lit it. Karima waited, too. They didn't look at each other.
David took a puff. "It's nobody's fault," he said.
"It's not about faults, David. She needs help."
"Karima, she's dead." He scratched his nose. "She needed help when she was alive. She needed both of us, and we failed her. She killed herself. But we have to keep on living. There's nothing else to do."
Karima put out her cigarette and got up. "You just don't understand, do you?"
He didn't, but he wasn't going to admit it. David is proud of how much he adapted to life on Zarķa. After all, he married a local woman.
Except the local woman was a Ghan, and she was right. I needed help. I couldn't make the transition alone.
I hadn't really intended to kill myself. It was just going to be a nice bit of drama, taking a lot of Union-imported sleeping pills and letting my parents find me on the brink of death. That would show them how miserable I was. How much I wanted to go to the desert over the summer, not work on the stupid plantation.
Except I hadn't counted on the higher sensitivity of my Ghan half where sleeping functions are concerned. There was a notice to that effect on the pill bottle, but really, who ever reads those? So I died, and now I was stuck in the world beyond dreams, and too afraid to move on alone. And I couldn't even tell my mother that, because I didn't know how (stupid! stupid!), but she must have felt it anyway. Karima is naturally good at dreams.
Most Ghan are expert dreamsellers. I was going to be one, when I grew up. I was going to be rich and famous, too, because that's the one thing the Union doesn't have, and Zarķa does. They still haven't figured out how to sell dreams in our sense.
That's why they like Zarķa so much. They haven't woken up to dreams yet.
Harry the Slut pushed the plastic door of the cargo bay closed. He punched in the locking code and looked at his customer with a smile.
"Don't worry, Mr. Chankari," he said, "she'll be safe for the trip."
The man nodded, but Harry could see he wouldn't be calm until they came to their destination. Well, considering the cargo, if anyone should be worried, it should really be Harry. Their package was registered to his name.
He'd chosen Marrakech Express because it was the biggest, slowest sonovaship on the route. There would be so many shipping chips floating in and out of the ship's database, Harry's tiny organic waste export should pass unnoticed.
And of course, there was Bea. Who, despite her claims to the contrary, generally tended to look the other way where Harry was concerned. Harry'd been trying to get her to bed since they'd first met--she a novice captain, he a novice smuggler, neither very good, many trips ago. Ever since, Harry stubbornly went after Bea, she stubbornly resisted, and they'd both become pretty good at their respective careers in the process, though neither had become very successful.
But that might change now, at least for Harry. If Chankari's mad plan worked, this could be the next Big Thing. Bigger even than dreams.
Harry the Slut never used to dream of fame, or even fortune. But now, he closed his eyes and, just for a second, allowed himself the vision of a rich Harry, no longer the Slut, Bea at his arm.
That dreaming planet was getting to him even before he set foot on it. He shook his head and patted Christian Chankari's shoulder.
"Let's go get a drink," he said. "There's nothing else to do on this damned ship, anyway."
Day 48
The breakfast scene was inordinately quiet this time. Karima smoked and drank her coffee in silence. David seemed grateful for it, but he was wrong, of course.
Karima finished her coffee and put out her cigarette.
"Goodbye, David," she said.
David looked up from his infoscreen. "Where are you off to? We were going to do the end-of-quarter accounts today, remember? I've already talked to--"
"I am going home." She got up. "You're free to come with me, if you want."
He let go of the infoscreen. "Oh, shit," he said. Then a silence. He moved his cup an infinitesimal distance, put it back. Took a deep breath. "I'll drive you to the station," he said at last. "Then I have to go to the accountant." He got up as well. "Then I'll see."
Karima nodded. "Thank you."
That's marital shorthand for you. They could drive me crazy talking like that. I could sense there were bigger things behind stuff they'd say, but couldn't figure out what they were. Not even now, when I'm drifting in and out of dream-substance. I could guess, of course. But I wanted to know. I wanted to understand that grownup-speech. I wanted to use it myself. I wanted to drive my own kids crazy. I wanted to live.
Boy, I screwed that up big time, didn't I?
Beatrice Anderssen-Long was a tall woman with a mop of bristly red hair. She could pick up Harry the Slut with one hand. She did.
"You must be insane! Completely, totally, utterly and completely insane!"
"You've already said 'completely,'" said Harry.
Bea let Harry go and covered her face with her hands. They were wide, long-fingered, slightly reddish, with large knuckles and chewed nails. Harry liked her hands anyway. There was very little about Bea he didn't like.
"Bea?" he said, when she kept quiet.
"Shut up, Harry," she muttered through her fingers. "I'm trying to decide whether to kick you out to space or merely kick you." But Harry could hear the twitch of laughter in her voice. It would be all right. It usually was.
He pulled his shirt back into place--it had slipped almost over his head when Bea picked him up--and dusted his trousers. Bea bit her thumbnail and leaned against the opposite wall of the corridor.
"What are we going to do, Harry?" she asked.
Harry spread his hands. "Is the question rhetorical, or are you really asking my opinion?"
She switched to another finger. "I'm just wondering how you imagined you could smuggle a dead body onto a non-Union planet." The third finger. "I mean, if it were a Union planet, perhaps, we're a Union ship, that just may pass. But a non-member... they're bound to look into the cargo. Not just into the papers; into the cargo itself." Fourth. "And when they see a dead woman, what will they say?"
Christian Chankari cleared his throat. "Madam," he started. "If I may."
Bea looked at him as if she'd forgotten he was there. She even took her fingers out of her mouth. "Yes?"
"It's all my fault. Harry merely agreed to help me."
Bea chuckled. "Harry helps people on a regular basis, mister. A real philanthropist, is our Harry. But this time he's gone too far." She turned to Harry and took up biting her nails again. "How did that occur to you in the first place, Harry? Why would you want to carry a dead body to a foreign planet? For all that's holy, couldn't you find a stiff on Zarķa as well?"
Harry cleared his throat. "It's not just any stiff, Bea."
"It's my wife," said Christian.
"Ouch," said Bea. She'd bitten off a bit of skin.
Day 49
"I'll dance your story." Uncle Narain shrugged. "And I'll dance the goodbye dance for you, too."
Karima smiled and patted his hand. "You may have to dance the victory dance, too."
"There's nothing I'd like more," he said. But I could tell he didn't believe in it any more than Karima did.
My uncle was not happy with Karima's decision, but it didn't occur to him to oppose it. He understood. He didn't just accept Ghan beliefs the way David did, like he would have accepted Buddhism or Mohammedanism or any other -ism his wife happened to support. Uncle Narain knew. He was a dancer. He carried the tribe's story-burden, danced the history of the tribe. He had to know stuff. For example, he knew that no one in his story-burden had ever survived running the sun.
He also knew that the dream-substance of planets was too strong for the dead. Nobody could withstand it for more than fifty, fifty-five days. You had to move on, or lose yourself in the vast consciousness that was Zarķa. Not even the Ghan knew what happened when you moved on. They just knew what happened when you didn't. You became one with the planet, and inevitably went mad in the process. And then you went on forever, or at least for as long as the planet did, in that diluted, mad state
I could already feel the tendrils of Zarķa's dream-substance caressing the edges of my self.
That was why my mother wanted to run the sun for me. If she could reach me, she could help me move on. I should have had the courage to do it myself, but, hey, if I weren't a coward, I wouldn't be dead in the first place. If I had had the courage to face my parents instead of staging a drama.
No use crying over broken eggs, as my grandma would have said. They say that Earth mythologies have dead relatives wait for you when you die, to ease the transition. That's a neat arrangement, if it's true. Pity it doesn't work that way on Zarķa. If my grandma were there to meet me, I wouldn't have the courage to not move on.
Perhaps she will indeed be there, but I won't know that until I make the fatal step. And the possibility that there's simply nothing there is too scary to contemplate.
It is, needless to say, foremost on my mind.
Harry the Slut put another drink in Bea's hand. They were sitting in the Marrakech, the ship's concession bar. Christian Chankari didn't drink and didn't approve of drinking, so he left them at the entrance. Without him and with the help of a few Jack Daniels, Harry was hoping he could persuade Bea not to report. He was also hoping he could get her to bed, but he was always hoping for that. It was almost a hobby.
"Don't think that you'll get me drunk, Harry," Bea said.
"I wouldn't try that on you, Bea," he said. "You've got the mass on me."
"Most women wouldn't think that was a compliment."
"Most women are not like you." And that was the truth.
"OK," said Bea, accepting the drink. "Let's try again. Whatever gave that crazy customer of yours the idea that Zarķans could revive his wife?"
"Their dreams."
"I thought dreams were just for communication and stuff."
"They are. But they are also a source of energy for Zarķans, and, apparently, they have a system of keeping dead people alive through dreaming." Harry took a drink. Bea smelled of engine oil and cheap soap. He could get drunk on that smell. Better to get drunk on Jack Daniels.
"Why did no one else come up with that idea, then?"
"I don't know. Maybe because no one else was that desperate to bring someone back to life. Probably simply because Zarķan dreams are not well-researched. After all, we only found them a few years ago."
Bea giggled. "I bet they didn't even know they needed finding."
"Oh, damnit, Bea, you know what I mean."
She smiled at him over the rim of her glass. "I always know what you mean, Harry."
There. He'll have to jerk off later. She always did that to him. Deliberately, he suspected.
Day 50
David didn't come after Karima, but he called her, directly. Karima could dreamsell quite well when she had to. David couldn't, of course, not being from Zarķa, but he used a public dreamer--as anonymous as you could get. They dreamtalked for about an hour and a half. Karima was perfectly composed when they'd finished. Then she cried for another half hour.
Uncle Narain sat before her tent so no one else would see her cry.
I could, of course, but there was nothing I could do. It was an effort even to care.
Dunes call me from the depth of the desert. Their sandy fingers insinuate their way under the edges of my consciousness. I can feel them trying to lift it, to get under my defenses.
Soon, it will be an effort to be scared, too. But not yet.
The Marrakech Express shuttle thundered over the desert runway, then shuddered to a stop. Bea turned to Harry and Christian and took a deep breath.
"OK," she said. "I have no idea what's inside that case. You"--she looked at Harry--"had better make sure they don't open it. And if I ever see your face on my ship again, I'll space you. I mean it, Harry."
Harry swallowed. But it was too late, anyway.
"Don't worry, Bea," he muttered.
The customs officer only glanced at the papers, and touched a few cases randomly with the tip of his boot. "Organic waste?" he said when he came to Harry's case. "Why are we importing that?" he muttered, more to himself. Harry shrugged, as if to say I don't know, I'm just the shipper.
"Unionimp Ltd.," read the customs officer off the import invoice. "Never heard of them."
"New blokes," said Harry. "Ne'er dealt with'em before, meself." He was hoping his fake Newcorn accent would be enough to discourage conversation. Just in case, he took out his Unionshop vouchers and slipped a goodly portion into the officer's pocket.
"Whatever. Enjoy your stay."
And that was it. Christian Chankari, his dead wife, and Harry the Slut had made it successfully to Zarķa.
Now for the hard part.
Day 51
Uncle Narain called Karima out from the tent.
"Come see this," he said. "You won't believe it."
Karima looked up. She was very quiet since her dreamtalk with David. I could guess what it must have been about. If I still felt any guilt, I'd feel guilty about breaking up my parents' marriage.
I tried to work up some sort of guilt, but failed. It was already hard just to keep up interest in the humans. The dunes kept calling me, as did the sun.
My mother would run the sun tomorrow.
One way or another, it would all be over tomorrow.
Harry the Slut was sitting in the jeep, watching Christian Chankari wave his hands. The negotiations didn't seem to be going well. He swallowed a sigh. This trip had already cost him too much. If it turned out now that raising the dead was some sort of luxury reserved only for purebred tribe-members or something, it would all have been for nothing. Besides, he'd taken enough money off Chankari already to feel a sort of a responsibility.
Harry was called "the Slut" and not "the Bitch" for good reason.
He got out of the jeep and walked to the group of people gathered around Chankari and his dead wife.
"What's the problem?"
Christian Chankari just shook his head. The speaker of the group, an old woman who spoke perfect Anglam and chain-smoked the local cigarillos, responded with an almost identical gesture.
"It's in vain, that's the problem. You've come all this way in vain. There's no way we can bring her back."
Harry looked at the enhanced coffin. He'd done his best to preserve Mrs. Chankari's body, stealing a Freezomatic® tank together with the user instructions booklet. They'd transferred the body directly from the hospital mortuary. (That had been Chankari's own doing. He was a doctor, he'd pulled all the necessary strings.)
"Why? Is it a problem that she's not Zarķan-born?" He was already calculating. He didn't have any other useful cargo, but they could sell the tank for whatever locals used as currency and try to bribe them, or else try to get a deal with a promissory note. There would be no Marrakech Express for him any more, but there were other ships.
The old woman shook her head, then let out a strange, clicking sound. "No. But what your friend calls raising the dead is more like deadening the dead."
"I beg your pardon?"
The old woman sighed. "If you had done your research properly, you'd know. It's all on the stringnet, too. You think just because we're not Union-members yet, we don't know anything?" She exchanged half-amused looks with a tall, gangly man who stood behind her. He had his arm around the shoulders of a very pretty young woman, but now let her go and nodded.
"Come on," he said. "I'll show you." He called both Chankari and Harry to follow him with a motion of his hand. "By the way, I'm Narain, the tribe dancer. You'd call me the historian."
He led them to a tent slightly larger than most others. Inside, there were feather-decorated drums and gourds, tea paraphernalia, several masks, a colorful leather dress spread out on one wall, and a low table with an infoscreen and a satellite antenna.
"Normally," the man said, "I would dance the explanation for you, but I assume you'll find it easier to understand like this." He lit up the screen and, with a few quick motions of his hand, found the Kwikipaedia entry he'd been looking for. "Here. Look at this."
Christian Chankari sat before the screen. Harry remained standing, and read over his shoulder.
Zarķan dead-dreaming, the entry said, a form of human data-storage system. Part of Zarķan dream-usage, dead-dreaming is used as a particularly cruel and irreversible punishment. Convicts are killed, but before their dream-substance dissipates, they are re-woken into a form of false sleep. In that state, their minds are used to store immense amounts of data, while the individuals themselves remain indefinitely in their neither-dead-nor-living state.
There was more, but Harry didn't bother to read it. He should have known it was too good to be true. There would be no hordes of Union people flocking to Zarķa to revive their dead through Harry's Undead Travels. There would be no Union import rights.
There would be no Bea, and it had all been in vain.
Harry the Slut was just about to start swearing his head off, when Christian Chankari spoke.
"I know," he said.
The Ghan--Narain--raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "You know? And still you brought us your wife?"
"She... she would be alive, right?"
Narain shrugged. "Yes, but--"
"That's more than she has now."
"Sometimes more is less. Did you hate her so much?"
Christian Chankari shook his head. "I loved her more than I can tell you."
"In that case," said the old woman from the entrance to the tent, "the biggest kindness you could do to her would be to let her go."
"Not condemn her to a prolonged non-life," added Narain.
"You don't understand," said Christian Chankari. "I loved her so much... and there was nothing I could do to save her. Not even to help her, not towards the end."
The old woman and the tribe-dancer exchanged looks again. In the end, the old woman shrugged.
"Tomorrow is sunrace day. After the race, we will take you to the city, to see the dead-dreamers firsthand. If you still want us to do it once you've seen them, fine. After all, it's your wife." She looked at Harry the Slut. "And it can't have been easy to get her here. I know how much it costs to get even Union sweets past our customs." She smiled. "Worth their own weight in finest cigarillos, your chocolates are. That's a lot of cigarillos, you know. I wonder how much the dead are worth?"
Harry the Slut smiled. "Too much, ma'am."
Day 52
The day of the sunrace was sunny. Surprise, surprise. All the days in the desert are sunny. The desert spreads to all sides of the world. I can smell the sea, far away behind the mountains in the east. The sky reaches for my non-existent hair and touches it. Karima, please, win that race for me.
Or die trying, which is what you intend to do, really. So you could find me in this neverland between life and death and take me onwards.
If I had eyes, I could cry.
As it is, I can only wait for the rain.
It's a long wait in the desert.
Harry the Slut took his place on the large sunrunning dreamcar and yawned. As far as he could make out, the rules were very simple. The runners started out at dawn, with the rising of the sun. They tried to outrun the sun, so as to run in the shade. And they ran until sundown. The one who got farthest and didn't give up was the winner.
In practice, mostly, the one who survived. If anyone.
The winner was supposed to get in touch with the planet's dream-substance. Harry didn't understand what that meant, but he didn't particularly care, either. As far as he was concerned, the rest of this trip was just a mildly interesting tourist hop. He didn't want to leave Christian Chankari all alone, although he didn't know exactly why. Maybe just to avoid going back to the spaceport and finding out that Bea had really meant what she said about never letting him on her ship again.
There were three runners getting ready for this year's race. One of them was the pretty young woman he'd seen with Narain. The other two were kids. Harry assessed them as adolescents trying to impress potential girlfriends. But the woman looked as if she meant it. Whatever it was.
Christian Chankari sat next to Harry on one side, and Narain on the other. He had danced before dawn, in graceless, bird-like movements, accompanying himself with nasal singing. Harry was told the dance was supposed to bring strength to the sunrunners. To Harry, it sounded more like something that would give them a motive to get away.
Then the first rays of sun appeared over the horizon, and the race begun.
Karima runs in slow, measured movements. She just needs to keep herself in partial shade as long as possible. She may even win. She isn't stupid. She's figured this out well. She must have. She's all I have for hope.
The sea smells stronger in my non-existent nostrils. I shouldn't feel it. The ends of me are already too far away for comfort.
What will be the end of me.
The dreamcar followed the race in amazing silence, floating above the sands on an air-cushion. Harry found the whole procedure excruciatingly boring after the first half-hour, so he amused himself with trying to figure out the technique they used to create the air-cushion. There were a lot of deserts on Union planets.
The hope of a deal kept him going until Narain told him the air-cushions were Union imports.
There seemed to be a Jeep following the dreamcar from a distance. It was even less interesting than the race itself.
Harry had breakfast. Then he took a nap.
My mother still runs.
My mother-mother, not my planet-mother.
For some reason, it seems like a Good Thing.
My mother.
When Harry woke up, one of the kids fell. The dreamcar slowed down.
"Help?" asked Narain, leaning over the rail of the dreamcar.
The youth just nodded, too dehydrated to speak.
"No shame in quitting," said Narain. Two men climbed down from the car and helped the youth up. "You did well."
There was water and shade on the dreamcar. Watching the youth being brought up, Harry leaned out from the shade and almost yelped with heat that struck him. He looked at the other two runners. They were still going.
My mother runs.
What is mother?
What is run?
What is...?
The other youth stumbled over something in the sand. He tried getting up, stumbled again. The dreamcar slowed down again.
"Help?" asked Narain. Harry concluded it was some sort of ritual.
The youth in the sand shook his head, getting up on his hands and knees. He couldn't speak. His lips were cracked, and there was blood oozing from half a dozen scratches on his arms and legs. He got up and made a few halting, tottering steps.
Christian Chankari got up from his place in the shade.
"Shouldn't you help him?"
Narain shook his head. "He has to accept help. That means giving up on the race, you know."
Narain looked at him. "Those are our ways. We don't interfere with yours." The look on his face clearly added "no matter how strange or disgusting we may find them." But, unlike Harry, Christian Chankari wasn't good at reading faces. Or else he just didn't care to be.
"Look, I can't just stand by and a watch a young man die. You have to help him."
"Ask him."
Christian Chankari leaned over the rail and shouted: "Help?"
The young man shook his head, but the effort broke his concentration and made him stumble again.
"Help?" asked Chankari and Narain in unison.
This time, the youth nodded.
Harry let out a long breath. He hadn't realized he'd been holding it.
Sand flies around feet.
Sky lies around all.
Zarķa... is.
Everybody was at the rail now, watching the last runner's progress. Her shadow was lengthening. Harry wondered how long it had been. Even sitting in the shade and riding on the air-cushion, he was sore and kept sipping at his allotment of drink. Just watching her run made him thirsty.
Then she stumbled, and it was almost a relief, the other shoe dropping.
The dreamcar slowed down.
"Help?" Narain's voice was strangely tense.
The woman shook her head first, then got up. She stood still for a few moments, gathering her breath, or maybe her wits. There was sand sticking to her face. She didn't bother wiping it off.
"She won't make it much longer," said Chankari. "You mustn't let her continue."
"It's her choice," said Narain.
She started running again. It was slow, painful progress, but it was progress, with no help. It still counted.
"This is murder," said Chankari, and there was something in his voice that Harry had never heard before. As if the man was coming to life again.
"Suicide, at best," said Narain. There must have been sand in his eyes, because he rubbed them vigorously.
When she fell for the third time, Christian Chankari jumped.
"That's enough!" he yelled. "You can't..."
"I can only respect her wishes, and so can you!" yelled Narain. "Help?!"
There was a cut on the woman's forehead. She rolled to her side, feebly trying to chase away the flies that smelled blood. Her face was hidden by her black hair, but the movement of the head was still quite visible.
She was shaking it.
"That's just not--"
"Listen!" The old woman stepped between Narain and Chankari with an air of urgency. "If you interfere with our race one more time, we will never wake your wife!"
The woman in the sand was crawling forward. Her right leg left a bleeding trace in the sand. She slipped and fell face forward.
Christian Chankari looked at her for a moment. Then he looked at the old woman and the tribe-dancer. His Adam's apple moved. Then he jumped over the railing.
Something seemed to break free in the air around them. Harry couldn't tell what it was, but Narain started a slow, nasal chant. He was smiling.
The voice wasn't familiar, but it helped me focus. It was human, not planet-sized, manageable. The bits that were me gathered around like a sandstorm coalescing.
"Hello?" I said, wondering at the sound of my own voice.
Like in a dream, a woman appeared right before me. I knew that she wasn't a living woman, because living people don't just appear out of nowhere.
"So, you're dead, too, huh?" I said, feeling stupid but unable to come up with anything better.
"I seem to be." She looked around. "Where are we?"
"On Zarķa. You know where that is?"
The woman smiled. "I'm dead, dear, not stupid. By the way, my name is Anna Chankari. What's yours?"
"Mari," I said. "Well, Marianne, really, but Mari is the Ghan form."
"Marianne? That's not a Zarķan name."
"A long story."
Anna Chankari looked behind her shoulder. "I have a feeling that we're supposed to go in that direction," she said, "but I suspect the way is long enough for you to tell me." She took my hand and patted it softly. She reminded me a little of uncle Narain.
I looked at the desert once more. There were people taking my mother up into the dreamcar. Even from here, I could see uncle Narain was crying, but Karima was holding his hand and she wasn't with me, so she must have been alive.
I could also see a jeep racing towards the dreamcar, and I knew it was David.
I took Anna Chankari's hand, and, together, we moved on.
Marrakech Express hurdles its great bulk through stringspace. Bea is sitting in the Marrakech, drinking Jack Daniels.
"Some day," she says, "I really am going to space you, Harry."
"I know," says Harry. He clicks his glass against hers. Maybe this time, she will get drunk enough to go to bed with him.
Or maybe next time.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, September 27th, 2013

Author Comments

"I am going to run the sun this year." This sentence appeared in my head one day, with absolutely nothing to connect to. It remained like that, un-attached, for a very long time--almost a year, I think. I knew that it was the first sentence (it turned out not to be, of course) but had no idea what of. Only very gradually, Karima consented to appear, and explain what sunrunning was.

However, I was still stuck because I knew the story was not complete. It wasn't until the appearance of Harry the Slut, again, months after I had figured out the Zarian part of the story, that the whole finally clicked. I still don't know why it took me so long to put this story together (I don't usually have that kind of a problem), but it remains one of my personal favorites, particularly because the characters came to life slowly, each of them with a life so complete it was more difficult to decide which bits to omit than which ones to put into the story. Perhaps this is why I like "Marrakech Express." Or maybe it's just because it's slow, and has never been near Marrakech.

- Milena Benini
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