Samsāra in a Teacup21 min read
The Festival of Kinship sweeps through the city of New Luru. Celebrations span a week every year because freedom is beautiful. Men kiss other men openly in the streets, women dance in brightly coloured silks surrounded by all their partners. It matters not if the lovers in the riot of colour are cishet or queer, wear hijabs or crucifixes, are Adivasi or brahmin. Some sway their way from ritzy buildings, others twirl forth from humble homes.
This is the age of Kinship, a new era that has ousted fascism in India. Behold the light in the surma-streaked eyes of a man who tilts the chin of a woman wearing a large red bindi upward to kiss her.
A woman in a dhoti stands hand in hand with a woman in a corset and leather boots. Witness the throng of young men in sarees, intricately draped after every cultural tradition, spin and dip their partners—some lifelong, some for the moment alone.
All are welcome here. All humans are equal. To love is to be.
All this could be destroyed if Nayana Chacko doesn’t do her job.
When she left the spindly, foreboding structure of the Lattice in the smog that morning, Nayana intended to belong to the revellers at the Festival. Instead, the throbbing hum of millions of stored Samsārans, their data flowing through the fractal geometry of the Lattice’s many facades, receded to be replaced by a Threat Level: Fascist investigation.
Nayana hunches low in the backseat of her self-driving vehicle, reviewing the classified file of an incident that’s going viral. She ignores the stream of continuous chatter from Martin, her car’s pre-installed Samsāran. A glance at his history reveals that he died in a flaming car wreck while participating in a manual-driving version of Le Mans. It doesn’t recommend him to be reincarnated in a vehicle of any sort, but that’s part of Samsāra Inc’s. vision—every human screwup deserves a chance to fix their wrongs.
A holo-signboard flashes outside a small mycelia-block building trailing bougainvillea creepers down its walls. It plays an ad for a recently deceased godman and convicted felon. His Samsāran avatar is at a 50% discount, available for download into smart-brooms, smart-mops, and smart-scrubbers. A clever intern has penned the copy: ‘Shri Shri Baba A—Cleans Up His Act!’
What the dead truly desire is to be heard again.
The afterlife is made possible by a billion-dollar bottom line. Take human desperation for immortality, pair it with the idea of eternal loved ones—even if they’re reborn in a vacuum cleaner—and Samsāra Inc. is the result. A digital footprint is all you need.
The pioneers of molecular gastronomy train promising bartenders to whip up new age cocktails at New Luru’s most exclusive clubs. Daredevil astronaut aunties commandeer spaceships to the fringes of the galaxy. Ancient uncles hold forth on home remedies for heartache and the common cold alike while nattering away about cricketers long dead.
Not all Samsārans are so well-meaning. Sometimes, what the dead truly desire is to stir trouble. Again.
The signboard changes, proclaiming the name of the establishment.
NEW LURU NEW DELUXE FAMILY RESTAURANT, PARTY HALL & LOUNGE
Veg, Non Veg, Drinks ‘n’ Snacks.
On her SmartSlab, the latest space exploration mission is being dwarfed by the news from this innocuous restaurant. A new solar system, thought capable of supporting life, has been discovered. An unmanned craft to Agni, its star, is soon to be deployed.
As Nayana reads the incident report, she wonders if deep space deserves the onslaught of the human race.
Nayana scans the edifice through her smart glasses. Sixty-three years ago, it passed as the World Famous Iyengar Bakery, back when caste was still societally endorsed. A red flag.
She leaves her vehicle. She knocks on the restaurant door. It swings open. She casts her ID off her SmartSlab as she walks in.
“Samsāran Crimes Division, Special Investigator Nayana Chacko. Where’s the proprietor?”
Nayana has gate-crashed a wedding gone woefully wrong.
An unhappy couple in heavy silks is surrounded by their unhappy families. The only source of happiness in the room comes from news drones flitting through the misery, excitable mechanical vultures live streaming sordid interviews. A drone trills in excitement and divebombs Nayana.
“Are you here for the wedding reception? Isn’t the happy couple gorgeous in their matching silk sarees? It’s a shame their day has been ruined. I’d love to get a quote!” it squeaks.
“Could all unauthorised drones and press please fuck off? This is a crime scene.”
The whirring of mechanical wings comes to a standstill. The only member of the waitstaff pulls open the door and the drones scram in an excitable buzz.
A face looms, raving in not-unwarranted anger. “Your tech has ruined our happy occasion! And during the Festival, too. This restaurant’s business is done, so is your company’s—”
Nayana sympathizes and points out that she doesn’t work for Samsāra Inc. She sidesteps the angry gentleman and deploys hover probes from her cuff buttons.
“Please air all grievances and make witness statements to the probes,” she announces placidly.
The server attempts to become one with the glass door while sidling his way out of it, but she stops him in his tracks. “Where’s Keshava Krishnan?” she asks.
The server raises a trembling finger and points to a door set into the far wall, festooned with garlands in various stages of decay. It includes a garishly coloured paper bunting that reads “Happy Married Life!!”
“I didn’t do anything wrong!” the server says. “I only served the bondas cold. Please don’t arrest me.”
“Your statement before you leave,” Nayana orders before the door swings shut behind her.
Dollops of batter spatter across every conceivable surface, dripping off the countertops in great gloopy dribbles. Hot oil sputters, sending dense, hazy fumes curling into the air. A three-tier wedding cake mimics a swamp, swallowing its bride and bride cake toppers into a morass of melting bright green icing. All the kitchen appliances are yelling at each other. At her intrusion, they instantly shut up.
A voice like dripping honey says, “Has anyone said you look just like SuperFemme from the new StarVengers movie?”
The proprietor of the NEW LURU NEW DELUXE FAMILY RESTAURANT, PARTY HALL & LOUNGE oozes the attitude that suggests he knows exactly how to charm women, the hallmark of a perennial all-talk-no-walk schmooze at networking events. Keshava Krishnan’s digital footprint includes the video “Five Compliments That Will Automatically Help You Win Friends and Influence People, Especially Women With Authority.”
It is dislike at first sight.
“I’m here about the hate crime. Where’s the Samsāran offender?” Nayana asks.
“What hate crime?” Krishnan feigns innocence. He’s clearly got something to hide.
A squat copper tea boiler undoes his best efforts. Who’s the whore? What’s she doing out so late without a man? And why is her hair so short? MUST BE A STREETWALKER.
It does not ease the tension. Careers in the sexual arts have been legal for decades and degrading sex workers is a punishable offence.
The tea boiler proceeds to rant about a woman’s place in society, circa forty-five years in the past. Keshava Krishnan attempts to talk over it loudly as if human voices and Samsāran comms use the same sensory channels.
Nayana’s transceivers are buzzing with the digital signatures from the other Samsārans in the kitchen as they whisper their opinions. Nayana’s job gives her the license to override pairing privacy and listen in on any Samsārans broadcasting across both public and private channels. She scans the Samsārans in the room and finds that none are registered to Samsāra Inc.
Illegals. She decides to sit on this information.
“—might I offer you a cup of tea, officer madam?” Keshava Krishan asks, radiating sleaze. He strolls over to the outsized copper kettle and pushes a few buttons on an improvised digital dashboard that’s been bolted to its metal frame. Naked wires spark as it comes to life.
“Milk and sugar normal?” he asks politely.
“As you prefer,” Nayana says coldly. She isn’t going to touch it anyway. The investigation could be compromised if Krishnan’s slipped nanobots into the beverage, a common practice with data parasites everywhere. And Krishnan is definitely a parasite.
I refuse to serve tea to this sulé, the boiler spits. A bitter aroma fills the air. Tea slops into a porcelain teacup patterned with pop art auto rickshaws and roses. It’s placed on the counter.
“Please sit, officer madam.” Keshava Krishnan pulls up a chair.
Nayana ignores the seat, blanches at the fuming teacup, and begins.
“Everything you say is being recorded. I hope you’ll cooperate.”
“I’ll do anything to help.”
Nayana doubts it but presses on. “Where’d you source this Samsāran, Keshava Krishnan?”
“Please call me KK.” He flashes what’s meant to be a charming smile.
Nayana repeats her question with an equally false grin.
Krishnan dips his head in a practiced gesture of supplication, the kind that implies he’s likely to slip money under the table to make his problems go away.
“Officer madam,” he says sadly. “This is my story. I’m the humble third-generation owner of this restaurant. In my grandfather’s time, this was an eggless bakery. My father turned it into a Udupi restaurant. My uncles stole the business, starting a pure-veg Chinese restaurant. Then COVID happened—the market for Chinese food, very bad—and they shut down. My mother died before she could teach me how to make idli batter. I was all alone.”
He claps his hand to his forehead to punctuate the story of his suffering.
“I reopened the restaurant after struggling through engineering college. B.E. Computer Science, First Class, got a placement job. But this restaurant was always my dream,” he carries on. “I even added a party hall. Top-notch DJs in the lounge, streaming from my PartyLive! subscription. I never thought I’d recover a single rupee. Twenty years I’ve run this place! And then, one morning, the tea boiler is broadcasting. I could never afford a Samsāran, and suddenly, I have one that’s going viral! It’s an act of the gods—all the gods, Hindu, Muslim, Jesus, Buddha.”
“An act of god?” Nayana repeats in disbelief.
“Of course, he doesn’t believe in all the other gods,” Krishnan drops his voice, glancing at the tea boiler. “But how does it matter? Donations are pouring in after this morning. People will come to the restaurant to see him.”
“An act of god? Are you sure?” she repeats.
“How else could I have had such good fortune?” He grins, spreading his arms out wide.
“Do you know where your donations are coming from?”
“Well-wishers,” he shrugs.
“Let me tell you,” Nayana says, scrolling on her SmartSlab. “The Badami Bhakts. Saffron Justice. Love Police. Culture Clan. All right-wing organisations from the Fascist Years that the Kinship has been monitoring for suspicious activity.”
“I don’t have any affiliation to them. Besides, the old-fashioned things he says are going viral. It’s all good publicity, isn’t it?”
Nayana is sick to her stomach when he winks conspiratorially, now the suave businessman trying to gain an ally.
“Old-fashioned things? Let me tell you what your unregistered Samsāran has said to bring you publicity.” Nayana reads from her SmartSlab. “I quote: Who’s letting these sluts get married? How will these women have babies if they can’t fuck each other? He carries on. This is a hate crime. Do you know what the punishment for hate speech is? We’re not in the 2020s anymore. Endorsing this can put you away for twenty years, even more, if it incites violence.”
The tea boiler sniggers, a spurt of black goop spitting out of it.
“They’re not my arguments. I don’t believe any of these statements.”
“So you’ll willingly concede ownership of the Samsāran?” she asks. “After all, you haven’t invested any time or resources in acquiring it, and it’s clearly been illegally installed in that machine. By someone who isn’t you.”
She ignores the look of horror spreading across his face. “I’ll have the Crimes Division come by tomorrow to seize the asset.”
“Madam officer. Officer madam. Please. Please do not take him away.”
Keshava Krishnan is on his knees before her, wringing his hands, head bowed.
“This tea boiler has been in my family for seven generations. My ancestors were tea makers to the diwan of Mysore, himself. This boiler was a royal gift! I have other gifts that I could exchange with you …”
“Oh, you can keep the boiler,” Nayana cuts him off. “I’ll just have the Samsāran uninstalled.”
Keshava Krishnan’s head snaps up. His eyes are barely masked cesspools of anger. His face wrenches into a sneer. “Fascist! Who are you to violate my tea boiler’s freedom of speech?”
“Your lack of cooperation has been duly noted,” Nayana says coolly.
“Get out of my restaurant!”
Nayana complies. Keshava Krishnan is definitely a man with many things to hide.
Nayana Chacko isn’t afraid of escalation. The hateful teapot is a matter of national interest, but she can see this being tied up in paperwork for months. Meanwhile, the malevolent tea boiler will spout its bigotry, every idiot influencer trying to capitalise off its diatribes like they’ve been doing in the last twenty-four hours. This cannot be permitted to continue. The xenophobic, misogynist, casteist, classist bullshit of fifty years ago is finally irrelevant. It only took pogroms, the pandemic, the cold war with China, and social and economic devastation for the country to collectively oust the reigning dictatorship in the Kinship Revolution.
The upside of freedom is that hate crimes are at an all-time low. The downside is what she’s looking at on her social media feed.
“This is a government that swears by transparency, by the right to freedom of speech. It’s why we voted them into power after the Fascist Years. It’s the cornerstone of the Kinship Revolution,” Keshava Krishnan shouts into a camera. “Then why is the government harassing me to give up my divine gift? This tea boiler has unpopular opinions, yes. But it’s bringing me profits like never before. Is shutting down unpopular opinions not fascism? Is denying a humble restaurant owner the right to earn a living not totalitarian?”
It is day two of the Festival of Kinship. The tea boiler’s string of hate crimes is unspooling the fabric of an equal rights society. The Festival is muted by the threat of the resurrection of the far right. Outside the restaurant, a food influencer is recording a video with a crew of humans and drones. Starstruck teenagers try to squeeze into the frame to grab fifteen nano-moments of fame. A stony-faced man prods his children forward to cut ahead in the queue, which is less a line straight, curved or crooked, more a battering ram with human faces.
Nayana eyes footage from inside the restaurant, beamed live from her fly-on-the-wall probes. Occupying center stage in the main dining hall is the copper tea boiler. At dawn, a clan of pot-bellied men with shaved heads and flowing robes adorned it with garlands, anointed it with kumkumam, gave offerings of milk, and announced the Second Coming. The boiler has spent the better part of the day insulting everyone in the restaurant.
Samsāra Inc. has an arduous reconstruction and approval process before a Samsāran can be made available for reincarnation, whether to exist in private or public life. Many of the criminal dead are reprogrammed to feel remorse for their acts and are user-tested in countless simulations before being given their shot at atonement. And then there’s the banned list, those who are anathema to the inclusivity of the Kinship. It’s evident that Keshava Krishnan has bypassed it all.
A scuffle breaks out in the street. Shouts of dismay pour out when a harried voice announces that the restaurant is closed. Nayana waits for the crowd to disperse. She steps through the doors of the restaurant and heads straight for the kitchen.
I told you that boy was a loafer. But you insisted on putting him in charge of our plan. And here he is, letting the cat out of the bag for cheap popularity, the stovetop pipes up in a shrill voice.
Don’t you dare blame my son, the toaster snaps. His only crime is serving terrible food.
Let’s not pretend there aren’t some of us in this room who don’t endorse that right-wing lunatic, the industrial oven drones. I’m talking to you, Sunita.
The commercial fryer sputters angrily. There was a time when the political philosophy of this restaurant was respectable. We didn’t fry chicken cutlets in the same oil as onion bajjis. In fact, we didn’t fry chicken or onions at all. Look at the cost of being liberal!
The toaster smokes resentfully. I admit that’s Keshava’s fault …
Keshava is going to get his just desserts, the oven rumbles. He should pay for the illegal resurrection of that right-wing piece of shit.
That’s my brother. The one I like, the fryer bubbles. At least he didn’t spend five years in Europe and return like he’s above us all. Unlike you, Anil.
In case you haven’t noticed, Sunita, the oven thunders, we’ve all been dead for thirty years and the world has moved on. We don’t matter, and most importantly, your opinions don’t matter. I blame Keshava for bringing me back to listen to your drivel again.
Curled up behind the counter is the sleazeball himself, his hands over his head.
“Well, Krishnan. Ready to cede your precious tea boiler to the authorities? This is only going to get worse for you.”
Krishnan looks up at her resentfully.
“What’s on today’s list of hate crimes?” Nayana brings up her SmartSlab, blanches. “Why are you serving these—I’m skipping the swear words—Muslims? Why is this couple holding hands and making romance in public? Who are these chi—? Nope, not using the word. Didn’t we get rid of them all after corona? It’s nauseating.”
The tea boiler spurts steam smugly.
Krishnan rises, crossing his hands over his chest. “I don’t endorse his words.”
“What about your little social media stunt?”
“I’m defending myself against harassment.”
“You’re signing up for a prison sentence,” Nayana says. “Your entire family of kitchen appliances just confessed that you’re planning something. Plus, they’re all illegals—none of them is registered to Samsāra Inc. We’ll get to that bit later. Who’s the tea boiler and why did you reincarnate him?”
Keshava Krishnan’s arsenal of sleaze takes over. He smiles.
“Tea, officer madam?” he asks slyly.
Nayana can practically see the cogs in his crookedly assembled brain-twisting as he buys time. The tea boiler misbehaves, spitting out vile black liquid followed by curdled milk in a steaming mess. It’s revolting, and the vapours are even more so when Krishnan bangs a teacup down upon the counter, nudging it towards her. Nayana ignores it.
“Krishnan. Who is this Samsāran and where’d you get him?” Nayana repeats. “Don’t make me take away your other illegals as punishment.”
“I told you to call me KK,” Krishnan smiles superciliously. “Also, look outside.”
Flashing holo-placards read:
FREE SPEECH IS A REBIRTH RIGHT
SAMSĀRANS ARE PEOPLE TOO
The shaved heads and saffron robes of the Badami Bhakts have assembled, with at least three food-influencers from InstaChef and news drones flashing the logos of at least a dozen different streams.
“My supporters have arrived. Try coercing me, and we’ll cry fascism.”
“I thought as much.” He grins. “You know your way out?”
Nayana turns and leaves, but not before knocking the teacup off the counter.
“That’s nine-hundred rupees!”
“File a complaint with the Samsāran Crimes Division.”
Live footage from the front of the restaurant shows a diya light vigil being held in protest. Samsāran rights activists shout protest slogans protecting a Samsāran’s right to reincarnation.
Nayana has made multiple proposals to her superiors. The first involves arresting Keshava Krishnan for hate crimes against humanity. The second involves assassinating Keshava Krishnan and having all the illegal Samsārans in his possession turned over to the government where they can be dealt with.
The former elicits concerns that Krishnan could become a hero for the far-right, who have remained mostly quiet in the fifty years since the rise of the Kinship. The latter is considered unfavourably; it could turn Krishnan and the tea boiler into martyrs. Regardless, both suggestions are firmly on the table while Nayana is given twenty-four hours to come up with a more elegant solution. Brute force is an ugly tactic for a government built to oppose it, even when it’s used against a person who could incite violence and oppression.
A hive of Samsāran activity surrounds Nayana at her workspace. A team of spectral super-sleuths reborn, former protestors and activists, politicians and journalists who opposed the regime in the Fascist Years, analyses data from the tea boiler, cross-referencing it with every oppressive persona they can remember, trawling classified databases of hate speeches and tweets from a past they thought would never threaten the future again, running simulations using AI algorithms and arguing over hypotheses.
Nayana’s SmartSlab beeps.
Potential match, says Arifa Saeed, a journalist shot for her criticism of a bill to match job opportunities to religion and caste during the post-pandemic job crisis.
Who is this bastard? Nayana asks.
We believe—eleven to one—that the Samsāran in question is the illegal construct of former incumbent prime minister, Govindkrishna.
Nayana gasps. Not the Sambar Stalin!
That’s the one. No wonder the Badami Bhakts have begun to assemble.
The Badami Bhakts, named for the local mango variety they take the colour of their robes from, are an underground right-wing group that the Kinship has been monitoring for decades. Govindkrishna infamously led the last stand of the fascists thirty years ago, but the Kinship finally managed to swing enough votes away from him. Law enforcement put him behind bars for good.
Keshava Krishnan’s stunts are odious, Arifa hisses. Using freedom of speech as an argument to support a hateful Samsāran who denied human rights to anyone who disagreed with him while he was alive.
Arifa should know. Govindkrishna was charged with her murder.
Here’s the analysis, she says impassively.
Nayana scans the document. The pieces fall together. She drafts a new solution. She sends it to the higher-ups. She receives a response in a matter of seconds.
Nayana’s spook utility vehicle is assaulted by rotten egg projectiles the minute it draws up outside the NEW LURU NEW DELUXE FAMILY RESTAURANT, PARTY HALL & LOUNGE.
She steps out of the vehicle and an army of specialized drones immediately surrounds her, pivoting in midair to precisely plotted positions, forming a phalanx in a three-foot radius around her person. The feeds from their cameras help her navigate through the onslaught of cow dung, chappals, and decaying vegetables being thrown her way.
The protest is being watched by policemen, but they won’t take action unless it threatens innocent bystanders, and Nayana is in too deep. This is the age of the Kinship and that means giving people the democratic right to disagree, even if the majority doesn’t approve.
She shoves through the doors and stomps into the kitchen. Keshava Krishnan is midway through lighting incense at a newly constructed altar to the tea boiler.
“Get out of my restaurant! I’ll call the cops!” he shrieks.
Nayana hits broadcast and her fly-on-the-wall probes beam live video footage onto the internet. She also broadcasts all Samsāran comms on the bottom right side of the video as an active chat window.
“Krishnan. I’m here to talk to your father.”
“What … what do you mean, my f-f-father?” Krishnan knocks over a silver chombu of holy water as he backs away, placing himself between her and the copper boiler.
“Govindkrishna. The Sambar Stalin. Last of the fascists. Murdered a bunch of journalists and activists, oppressed inter-caste and inter-religious marriages, tried to organise detention centres for everyone who wasn’t cishet. Or were you too young to remember his crimes?” Nayana says.
The whore is back? the tea boiler broadcasts. Son, why don’t you marry so you don’t pay for such services?
“It’s over, Krishnan. Your illegal construct of Govindkrishna doesn’t conform to Samsāra Inc.’s reincarnation guidelines. It’s propagating anti-Kinship hate speech. You’re enabling it, you rebuilt it illegally. A little family reunion of malevolent kitchen appliances is your big plan to take over the world, is it?” Nayana strides forward.
Don’t lump me in with the stovetop and the toaster, the oven groans. I didn’t even want to be here.
“ATTACK!” Krishnan cries, ducking for cover behind the tea boiler.
The fryer spews a jet of hot oil. Nayana rolls out of the way, catching some of it against her drone phalanx. The pots on the stovetop bubble over, spurting sambar and bits of boiling vegetables. The copper tea boiler wheezes out acrid fumes of tea and it dribbles all over the floor.
“This is pathetic,” Nayana says after the lesser part of ten seconds runs out and the appliances are done with their last stand. “Really, KK. You’ve mangled even your attempted resurrection of the extreme right. You took the most toxic man in recent history and stuck him in a tea boiler in your shitty little restaurant. Pathetic. I should thank you on behalf of the Kinship; you’ve done half our work already.”
The ploy works in a matter of seconds.
What do you mean? the tea boiler cries.
It’s only a matter of time before this place is shut down for hate crimes. Oh, you’ll live on because exterminating Samsārans is against Kinship policy. But you’ll be locked in a dark room with the rest of your awful family. Your son will be imprisoned for life, Nayana says.
A tea boiler in this stuffy kitchen, for a man like a god! the boiler bubbles in rage.
Dark room. Very dark, Nayana corrects him.
Keshava … the tea boiler hisses steam.
Keshava Krishnan pales. I had to scrape you together from redacted documents, news articles online. Even your tweets and video interviews were classified. High-security data-cops on my tail the whole time. It took all my skill as an engineer, first class. All my savings. I couldn’t afford more …
You couldn’t afford anything but the family tea boiler? Bitter tea leaves spew from its spout. You disrespect me. I was once the most powerful man in the country. Is this your idea of a joke?
My words deserve to be heard by all the universe! the tea boiler says. Our plan was to take back the country! Not make fucking tea and entertain whores like this one—
Nayana seizes her cue. I can arrange for you to be moved to a much bigger repository.
‘What’re you doing?’ Krishnan wheels around.
Is it something in the public eye? The tea boiler asks slyly.
Yes. Nayana says.
“Stop talking!” Krishnan shouts.
I want something that represents my might. The tea boiler huffs, steam rising past its lid. Something big and shiny.
Oh, it’s big and shiny, all right, Nayana says.
“It’s a trap!” Krishnan yells, then remembers that the boiler can’t hear his words. It’s a trap! he broadcasts. She’s trying to take you away.
For a streetwalker, she speaks more sense than you do. What sort of son are you, holding me back from stardom?
I promise the stars, Nayana says.
Done. Take me away. My family, too, the boiler says with authority.
I’m in, the fryer, the stovetop, and the toaster chime together.
Nayana presses a button. The explosives she’s placed around the restaurant, in case this plan went south, are disarmed. Krishnan wilts and offers himself up for arrest.
We’re going to be masters of the universe, the boiler declaims.
Oh, yes, Nayana says. Picture the light of the sun …
It is the last day of the Festival of Kinship. Today is a day of remembrance, a celebration of all those who gave themselves wholly to the cause of equal rights and justice for all.
Observe the lamps being lit, the sweet offerings being made to Samsārans in every home. See the traffic light streaming flowers—its Samsāran was once a well-loved aunt. Witness the crowds gather around the Monument of Kinship; look closely and you’ll spot Nayana Chacko among the sea of faces, placing a wreath of white jasmine upon the edifice. Having honoured the memory of her grandmother, who was killed by fascists while peacefully protesting digital censorship, Nayana turns to the big-screen display to watch the launch of the rocket Kindred. This will be the first unmanned spaceship to the new solar system called Hearthstone, spinning around the gravity of the blazing star Agni.
The Kindred’s engines fire up. Incandescent, it thunders into the atmosphere. Its flight path is relayed by onboard cameras that capture its rush, night claiming it as it breaks with Earth’s gravity, escaping into the void of space.
The Kindred carries unmanned probes designed for different planetary conditions. It has a crew of astronaut and diplomat Samsārans. It also conveys a lead-lined box of Samsārans destined to unite with the stars.
One of them is currently broadcasting a speech. It is heard by none but the other Samsārans in the box. This captive audience weeps tears of pride as he calls for the far-right to unite, preaches widespread genocide and the reinstitution of the caste system. He declares war on China and Pakistan. Long after the world switches off their streams, the Kindred rides solar flares, using the sun’s gravity to propel itself from the solar system. A lead box falls away from its carriage. The once-dictator-then-tea-boiler-now-rocket-man waits for applause. The roar of a thousand sunbeams crashes into him.