It was early morning in New Larvazi. Rizu Sharulunu Kamur walked down the dirt streets from her family's small home to the Royal Martian Hotel.

A gust of wind blew red dust into her mouth; she coughed and adjusted her mask. The northern part of Talaza might be warmer than the south, but the dust seemed to be just as bad, and the scenery was dismal. The houses, built of soil bricks, were squat, shapeless masses sitting side by side on each side of the street. There were almost no plants, except for a thorn tree or a prickly bush here and there. Despite the town being called "New Larvazi," it bore no resemblance to the old Talazan capital. Or at least the Zaldistal, theMartian Quarter, didn't.

The Zaldingi, the British Quarter, was another story. The streets were paved with granite here, and the houses were larger and made of stone. The streets were lined with lime trees imported from Tishighal, and there were gardens in front of the larger houses, with grasses and flowers also imported from Tishighal. Perfectly drinkable water was being wasted on the invaders' frivolous gardens. A hot ripple of anger passed through Rizu's heart. They will pay.

She stood on the pavement across from the hotel, waiting for the electric ground cars to pass. At least the Tishighali couldn't bring their primitive, petrol-powered cars to Stal. Rizu was sure wouldn't be able to breathe at all, if the thin air were polluted with petrol fumes.

A blast of warm air emanated from the hotel as Rizu pulled the door open. She pulled off her mask and cloak, basking in the heat, staring around her at the luxurious surroundings. The floor was shining marble, a crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and a gilded, winding staircase led to the upper floors. Rizu clenched her fists. The invaders from Tishighal were living in luxury while the planet and its natives were dying. Not for much longer. They will pay.

"You're late!" a voice barked. Rizu looked to her right and saw Vikhali, her supervisor, striding towards her.

"I'm sorry, Vikhali," Rizu said, fiddling with her shoulder bag.

"Don't be sorry; just start cleaning," Vikhali snapped.

Rizu walked to the lifts on the other side of the lobby and pressed the button. The door opened, revealing Shunil, her friend.

"Where were you?" Shunil asked, as Rizu stepped into the lift. "I was thinking you weren't going to show up."

"I slept late," said Rizu. "Having a hard day so far?"

Shunil shrugged. "Could be better, could be worse. I had to clean up vomit in one room—the man staying there is a drunk—and I had to listen to a boy who wants to 'meet the natives,' as he put it." Shunil scowled. "Another Tishighali coming to our planet to gawk. Khamri preserve us, but I hate tourists."

"So do I," said Rizu, as she and Shunil stepped off the lift onto the fifth floor. "So do we all."

They cleaned the rooms on the fifth floor in silence. Luckily for them, the rooms weren't particularly dirty. Rizu would have plenty of time to go to the eighth floor and clean Sir William Crofton's room.

When they were finished, Shunil asked, "Ready to go upstairs?"

"Yes," said Rizu. She rummaged around in her bag. "Oh, choke it all; I must have dropped my money pouch in one of the rooms."

"You'd better get it quick, before someone steals it." Shunil pressed the lift button. "See you upstairs." The lift doors opened, and she stepped inside. Rizu waited for a few minutes after the door closed, then rifled in her bag again. The money pouch was still there, and so was the bomb.

She took a lift up to the eighth floor. Here was where Sir William Crofton, the new governor of Old Larvazi, was staying, and here she would place the bomb. Having taken note of Sir William's routine, Rizu knew he would come back to his room in an hour. Quickly, she cleaned the room and made the beds. Then she took the bomb out of her bag and primed it to go off in an hour. She tucked it into a drawer, beneath a pile of clothes. Her task accomplished, Rizu joined Shunil on the sixth floor.

"Did you find it?" Shunil asked.

"Find what? Oh, right, my money pouch," said Rizu. "Yes." She scratched her head and checked the time on her communicator. Fifty-five minutes until the bomb would go off.

In the next fifty minutes, she and Shunil finished cleaning the sixth and seventh floors. Then Rizu talked Shunil into leaving the hotel and getting a blackroot tea from the tea shop across the street. She felt a pang for any other Stali who might die in the explosion, but she could at least save her friend. She looked at her communicator as she and Shunil stepped onto the pavement outside: five minutes.

A ground car pulled up to the curb, and out stepped an old man in a black great-coat and a top hat. Rizu sucked in her breath as she glimpsed his face. Yes, it was Sir William Crofton, the Butcher of Inugran, the man who, twenty years ago, had given the order to fire into the crowd of civilians protesting the building of the Great Eastern Dam. Rizu, only eighteen, had not been alive when the protest took place, but her parents had told her stories about it. She glared at the man's back as he went into the hotel. He would get what he deserved, soon. She checked her communicator: four minutes.

The tea shop was empty, and Rizu and Shunil sat down and ordered their drinks. Three minutes. They waited for a while in silence; Rizu was too excited to make small talk. Two minutes.

"Is something wrong?" Shunil asked. "You seem troubled."

"No, I'm not troubled," Rizu said truthfully. One minute. She got up from the table and stepped out of the shop.

"Wait—where are you going?" Shunil asked, but Rizu ignored her. She waited on the pavement, staring at the hotel. Her heart beat rapidly, and she moistened her dry lips. Twenty seconds…fifteen…ten…five…

BOOM. A fiery explosion at the top of the hotel sprayed debris into the air and rocked the ground. Shunil and the other people screamed. As crowds of people, both Stali and Tishighali, stood staring, or rushed towards the hotel, Rizu's heart swelled with fierce satisfaction. Captain Akim would be pleased, as would the nemambu of Ragasin. Her first mission for The Hand of Varad, and she had completed it. More importantly, a blow had been struck against Tishighal. The people who died in Inugran had been avenged.