I have more to report about Aneti, and I apologize for missing your call.
Today, Aneti came into work and rushed past the front desk. Le took the stairs up to the rooftop garden, and I watched from the security cameras with Larañi. In a secluded part of the garden, le wedged a small pocket mirror into a space between two vases. Larañi clicked ler tongue and shook ler head.
I took the elevator up and found Aneti there. Le had scattered men’s makeup every which way around the mirror, and ler hands trembled as le tried to apply the makeup well enough to hide the massive bruise beneath one of ler eyes. I felt bad for lim. Sabaji men’s makeup comes in flashy colors for streaking across the nose and cheeks, not in natural colors. It’s not like theater makeup. Le must have stolen this from a relative, and what kind of family doesn’t have at least one thespian in their midst?
I walked up behind lim and cleared my throat. “Aneti, do you need help? You look like an eight-year-old boy playing dress-up.”
Le flinched and looked back at me. “You.”
“Who did you expect?” I knelt down beside lim and put my hands over the makeup cases. Then, I held my hand out for the applicator pads. “You need to match the paste to your skin tone. Did you steal these from a brother or a cousin?”
“My cousin-in-law,” le said. “Le cannot know that they are missing.”
“You have broken some of ler powder.” I went into a leaning position and moved one of the concealer pads towards lim. “You keep flinching.”
“Maybe if I had pretty hair and a gyena like you, I could just wear it low, and no one would see it. If I were in a family as distinguished as yours, I could wear a headdress of coins over my face so that only my eyes and mouth peeked out.” Ler voice cracked.
“No, Aneti,” I said. “I know that’s the fashion now, but the gold glints in the sun, and I hate it. My family doesn’t have a monopoly on silliness.”
Le laughed. “They don’t?”
“I went to my family’s satellite home for breakfast. My cousin Gyetsuk invites a nuamė. Do you know what it’s like to know that your family has gone insane?” I paused. Knowing what I know now from Karatau Meiyenesi, it was technically a lie. I felt like at any moment, Karatau Meiyenesi or ler Kohjenyakri would come to know this and chide me for it. “My mother wears this kind of concealer sometimes. It is good as an undercoating before the ash powder. Le never let me wear it. What happened?”
Ler breath came hard through ler teeth, and le stared at me without blinking. My fingers swept liquid concealer across ler nose, and le reached for the towel to wipe it off. “Could we talk about something else?”
Ler fingers tensed at this moment as if le held a gun, not a small towel. My heart hammered in my chest.
“I need to keep things private,” le said.
“Not when they hurt you.”
Ler eyes welled with tears, and when le closed them, the tears mingled with ler concealer. Le shook ler head emphatically and pushed me away. I stumbled back and caught myself on one hand.
This bruise cannot have come from ler family. Something inside Daybreak must be moving along, and Aneti may have made a mistake. They may have punished lim. Le has cracked under pressure from the workload. Was le punished for talking back at such a critical time?
Please talk to me, Liga, face-to-face. Do not silently write in the margins.
I could stop working.
Aneti said, “I have a higher purpose.”
“Higher purposes are bullshit when they hurt you like this,” I told lim. “You could go to the police.”
Color came back into ler cheeks, and le slackened ler hand. Le said, “I don’t know. Do you care about me that much?”
Part of me hoped that le would look at my face and see that I had lied to lim this entire time. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … What if ler family disallows ler ashes from the ancestral shrine?
I won’t say more about that to you because it makes my heart cold. I hope that what we are doing to Sehutañi matters. That is not to say that assassination should happen or that some lives are worth more than others — just that this woman is coming undone, I am falling apart, and I want the caliber of the official to be worth this significant price. I need you to talk to me.*
As I told Aneti this morning, Gyetsuk brought ler nuamė-not-nuamė friend Deisurås to breakfast. They sat together and made excellent jokes. Karatau Meiyenesi’s smiles may have charmed me, but being out on the town with one of them — these Kohjenyakri, these individuals in Equilibrium, or whatever they are — their red eyes make them look like nuamua. Most of my cousins stared at lim and whispered to one another. My aunt should have done something to keep the peace in the room, and we had people under fifteen present. Deisurås should not have come at all.
They called each other “friends,” and they used the Narahji term that means they probably underwent a friendship ritual. I wonder if Deisurås instigated it or if Gyetsuk did. I wonder if Deisurås contracted the muakanua recently. They both look about the same age, so it is possible. But where would Gyetsuk have met someone from Nasja by chance?
Again, this was once illegal. I have checked the digital reference library.** Sehịnta had only one exception in ler queendom. One nuamė had the freedom to move and live within it. I can see why, given ler personality and bearing. It makes me less nervous to know that Karatau Meiyenesi did not incur ler wrath. I read through several dozen documents tagged with ler name from the 0-400 SC period, and I think I need to work harder to overcome my aversions.
Deisurås left at the same time as me. We avoided eye contact while we put on our shoes and prepared ourselves for the streets in the mirror. I stared at ler gyena-free head, and le caught my gaze. Le said, “As if you don’t have connections with us yourself. I know that look.”
“It wasn’t that look,” I said.
Le clicked ler tongue as I left. Today, in addition to my worries about Aneti, I thought about what le said, and I don’t know what it means. Karatau Meiyenesi and I have only met once. Okiyot and I have only met once. Who would I associate with regularly from among them? Unless le or they wear contacts. Unless le isn’t someone verified to have been around since our childhood. My mind is racing.
It happened again, incidentally, while I was looking up information — to my wall screen, not the terminal at work. Everything in our apartment turned glitchy, and Kati called a maintenance technician while I sat frozen in my room, staring at the green lines splaying across my wall screen. It strobed three times and went dead.
The technician came and says that the unit overloaded from a data transfer. Le put in a work order, and someone will replace it.
I don’t know whether to be happy or anxious about this. What if this is not just a dead wall screen and someone deliberately wants me to have new equipment?
* Salus. This is not the only murder plot, and the others are now more time-sensitive. I know that you have put yourself in a precarious position and that sex could mean emotional entanglements. What we are doing does matter because the targets that Daybreak and other organizations have selected over the past 15 years continue to be more and more prestigious politicians. I can send you data files separately, but they will be deleted after 20 hours because the analysis is confidential. Please keep the communication channel open between us. I will tell you when I am free to talk.↩ Liga, that’s not good enough.
** NEVER LOOK THINGS UP RELATED TO THIS INVESTIGATION AGAIN, SALUS. GO THROUGH YOUR LIBRARIAN CONTACT. I CANNOT BE RESPONSIBLE IF THIS HAPPENS AGAIN.↩