You decided to tell me everything. Thank you, even if this conversation went poorly. We seem to have butted heads. However, you must apologize.
I don’t blame you, necessarily. You wanted to protect Suka. You thought you needed to protect lim from me, and that is the part that I hate.
When you called me, the space behind you had been repurposed into soft seating around a low table. From the camera angle and lighting, I could barely make out the print maps under examination. Do you not sleep any longer? Was this not a bedroom? Should I read into these constant changes at all?
A person sat at the table with the maps, and le didn’t lift ler head. Ler hand and wrist flicked out over the maps on the table as le made annotations.
“Is this the same person who had been sleeping on the bed during prior conversations?” I asked.
“We don’t have enough space in Menarka,” you said, “and I am not the only one who needs to use this residence for work. Le hasn’t been sleeping here, but in one of the hotels several blocks away.”
I cleared my throat and asked, “Did you read my entry yesterday?”
You closed your eyes, and the person looked up from the table, ler eyes practically boring a hole into the middle of your back. Le looked beyond you — at the camera — and the gaze made my stomach drop. You said, “I have something that I need to tell you.”
“I have already decided that you are in the Kohjenya. You couldn’t be one of the Karatha or nuamua based on your associations. Have you been in the nuamua or just the Kohjenya?”
The audio registers someone chuckling, and it sounds like your voice. I don’t remember that happening in the video. It must have been the person behind you or someone watching off-screen. “Correct, only the Kohjenya, or Equilibrium Nexus to the Tveshi, abbreviated Equilibrium. There is a complicated relationship between us and the nuamua that only Karatau Meiyenesi understands.”
“Are you serious?”
“I’m a programmer and don’t spend much of my time thinking about it.”
“Do you have red eyes?”
“I do wear contacts,” you said.
I said, “If you are in a collective and have the marker of being one of the nuamua, no wonder you are afraid of being mistaken for one. Anyone would do it. I did it.” The comment wasn’t meant to antagonize you, but it had that effect. I could have brought up the illegality of colored contacts, but didn’t.
As I write this, I think that this must be the place in the conversation where the two of us went wrong.
“Even though it doesn’t work like that. You have no idea what it has been like to read the things that you have written.” You gaped your mouth open and shut, sighed, and glanced at something off-camera.
The person behind you looked down at the maps and started moving tiny slips around on them. You clicked your fingertips against the spacebar on your keyboard. Your facial expressions changed as if talking to someone, and so did those of that person behind you. I started unpacking my laundry from the case beside the bed.
You clapped your hands, and I looked back towards the monitor. “I can do things that are not precisely legal precisely because I belong to the Kohjenya,” you said. “You have limitations because you are a citizen who falls under the aegis of the State. Collectives and tesekhaira last longer than governments. We lose our citizenship.”
“Akah Kara believes that I might have the muakanua.”
“You don’t. Nothing in your journals indicates that you would,” you said.
I turned back to my undergarments and started packing them in a drawer beside my hanging rods. “How would you know?”
“You have met nuamua and Kohjenya before. I don’t know if you have met one of the Karatha. Still, it would never progress this slowly. The process takes between 30-120 days, half of which involves debilitating pain. None of the classes of drugs available on the market today makes the pain manageable when it is at its apex.” You cleared your throat. “I don’t want to think about that. We need to talk about Sehutañi. Will you be all right? Do you know enough about my connections? This cannot be broadcast, Nitañi.”
You have begun addressing me formally again. I noticed that earlier, but with all of the bullshit from you recently, I consider it an appropriate change. It will not change the outcome of this conversation.
“Why would I tell anyone? Who would care?”
“Not even your family. Deisurås told you too much about me in an effort to explain. I don’t trust anyone outside of the Kohjenya with that information until my daughter marries and has ler first child. Le and I have spent the past four years ensuring that all of the records name a dead man who isn’t me as ler father. My maternal family won’t threaten this, but members of the community who know the details of why I left the family will. I have just as much reason to want this to happen legally as you do. If I testify in court, I will need to explain my connection to you. Suka’s fiancé comes from a conservative Narahji family. Suka is my daughter, and having a father who contracted the muakanua will make that fiancé’s maternal family suspicious of ler genetics — despite the fact that this has no genetic basis. I hate that it is me who needs to be involved in this, but those are my orders.”
You said daughter, and it is still so unnerving to see your face — young like mine, young like Suka’s — because it will always stay the same as long as I am alive, right? I dropped the pair of underwear that I was folding. “So you have wanted me to say that I trust you when you don’t trust me?”
“It’s not like that.”
“Does Suka call you a cousin in public or just to me?”
“In public, if necessary, but never around ler fiancé. I am never mentioned.” Liga frowned. “Nitañi.”
“How could you think that I would betray a friendship ritual? Do you think that my misgivings about the muakanua and the nuamua and — and the Kohjenya — do you think that they matter as much as le does?” My voice rose to a shout.
You frowned and whispered, “Nitañi, can we please discuss Sehutañi?”
“Fine.” I threw the box of clean laundry on the ground and sat down on the bed. “What is your next brilliant avenue? You mentioned audio bugs. Have they worked?”
You shook your head and said, “No.”
“Did you ever believe that they would?” I pulled out my comm band and texted Suka while I waited for you to respond. There, I said, Suka, if we could stop an assassination attempt, but your father would need to come clean about ler identity and thus endanger your marriage, would you consent to it?
Liga, you do not know the first thing about friendship. Friendship turns water into blood and strangers into siblings.
“I need you to redouble your efforts at seducing Sehutañi so you can have an invite to ler matriarchal home. We have conferred here, and the majority of us — myself excluded — believe that there could be documents in ler room at home that will serve as evidence. I hacked into the Kuresa family’s home communication network via a transfer that one of ler aunts approved. Sehutañi printed several documents that le later scrubbed on the network. I haven’t forensically recovered their contents, but my associates are right — something must exist in print. I’m thinking of an anonymous data dump.” You glanced at your computer and said, “Nitañi, that text—”
You clicked your tongue and closed your eyes. “Le has already made errors, and if those documents did exist, le would have purged them.”
I shook my head and said, “I don’t believe that. Le purchases traditional paper. Le might think that it’s safe.”
“Le is new to the Daybreak Movement, but one of your entries indicated that Daybreak’s leaders may have punished lim,” you said. “It’s also not legal for us to steal them, technically. That — that is — it would mean —”
“Why would they trust lim with something so important if le is new?”
“There may be other connections or reasons why Sehutañi decided to involve limself in something like this. I can’t talk about any of that because I don’t want to harm your ability to conduct this part of the mission,” you said.
I stopped putting away my clothing and looked into your eyes. “You want me to redouble my efforts through seduction, and you won’t even tell me the full story of what needs to happen and why.”
“And what if I refuse to do it that way?” My comm band buzzed, and I read it: A life is more important than my future marriage. Tell Liga that I don’t need this kind of protection.
“If you back out now, someone will die. This is our best lead.” Your voice had a desperate edge, and your gaze remained on your computer. You must have read both of these messages, and you hadn’t deleted the one I sent in time. (You could have done so. You and I both know that.)
To Suka, I wrote, Are you completely certain?
Le wrote, I have always been the stronger of us. You are the cliff-rocks, and I am the roots holding you up. I am not a controversial person. I have always been a good daughter of Bisum. Amklia has performed ler military service with distinction and is a desirable son. The Progressive Movement would call us a perfect legal case. Amklia and I will fight.
When you turned to face me, you had wide eyes and raised eyebrows.
I said, “Yesterday, Aneti showed me ler sister’s ashes, and I made a promise. I think that they have found a path forward. Le would never have asked me to make that promise if le were not intending to die soon. We need to stop this before the worst happens. Suka and I both come from great families. If anyone can weather a political or legal storm, we can. This is not so great in comparison to what my grandmother faced when le fought on the front lines against the Taritit.”
I wrote, You are the roots, and I am the cliff-rocks.
“What are you suggesting?”
“I could drug lim. We hooked up the first time because we had both had too many drugs.” I bit my lower lip and said, “You know how I feel about Aneti. I love lim, and I will betray lim. It is best for all of us that I do this quickly.”
You shook your head and said, “Don’t do that!” very abruptly — and behind you at the table, the person looked up. While I couldn’t hear what le said, I hope that le agreed with me.
I steepled my hands and moved them close to my lips. “I won’t seduce Aneti because my heart and my mind cannot take it. Do you want my assistance or not?”
“Do you really want to be known as the woman who drugged ler girlfriend to obtain intelligence information?” I could only listen to your words once when I played and replayed the recordings because this does make me sick inside. Seeing the judgment in your face makes it worse even if I see no other option at this point. “We have laws against this. The family could come after you. If I testify in court, regardless of what my daughter thinks, this will be a black mark that will follow lim. Le will not be a ‘perfect legal case’ if ler father is so immoral as to condone date-rape.”
I let breath out through my teeth. “See? Now that you have come clean, we can have a good conversation. The Kuresa family will suffer so much heartbreak from ler duplicity, but it is not my fault. If anyone ruins their reputation, it will be Aneti. Everyone will know that one daughter in their ascendant generation has secret ties to Daybreak. It will not be anything about Suka or about me.”
You clicked your tongue and shook your head. “You do not know the name Kuresa, do you?”
Behind you, the nameless person opened ler mouth, but did not speak. Le made eye contact with the camera. Did you prevent lim from saying something? If others agree with me and not with you, how would I know directly? Are you all hiding this from me?
I said, “If we stop an assassination, it will be worth it.”
“Nitañi. Akah.” You frowned. “Don’t.”
“You are not the arbiter of what I will and will not do. Your daughter is not fragile. I am fragile, but the Niksubvya family will stand behind me. The Progressive Movement will reward me for rooting out a traitor. Why would I do what you want when you don’t trust me? You have decided that I would loathe you for being in the Kohjenya. You have decided that anything I do will hurt your daughter in ways that le cannot overcome. You have made a moral judgment against protecting an unknown assassination target whom you readily agree may be a higher-up. What has society come to that a man who has no friendship to me, who has no ties to me beyond Sukalvar tal Bisum, can be the arbiter of my behavior?”
In the silence that followed what I said was a silent scream. I couldn’t bear it — way too loud — unacceptable — but in that silence, where all of my — all of my frustrations and pain about this fucking hotåkhi situation — that silence slammed into you like a sea wall, and the wall could not contain it. It was a tsunami sucking against the North Shore’s great tidal estuaries. It was the High Wilds: A place that enables life, but that is so cold and empty that it can suck the breath from one’s body even as it freezes one to death.
You gritted your teeth together and breathed out. Behind you, the person rose from the table and came to meet you. Le had red eyes and a long, black braid that roped completely down ler back, a taut face exaggerated by ler lips pursing together in anger, and Madhzi features.
Le wrapped ler arm around your waist and said, “Liga needs to take care of something else now.” Ler voice was lower than I expected.
You cast a sideways glance at lim so chilling that my belly tensed. Silence, and then you said, “Nitañi, don’t do this.”
The stranger-to-me said, “Akah Nitañi, Liga is very tired and overworked. Please forgive lim for not listening to you the way le should have. Farewell, Akah.”
Le reached forward and cut the channel. I stared at the dark screen and waited for the default image gallery to come on. The stranger told me that you didn’t listen to me, and if le can be inside of your head, is this the agreement that I need?
Don’t write your counterargument. I won’t believe you. Someone could die, you insist on following the law, and I am just done with this. If you cannot trust me — I have ammunition. Why have I written these entries on smart paper for you? So you could know my intimate thoughts.
I think it is time to stop this intimacy. It’s time to take more control over what I think and everything I haven’t written down, that which remains unsaid. You will address me as Nitañi. You will not have the privilege of reading this any longer.