Today, Aneti and I took a walk beneath the hanging plants at one edge of Senatorial Square. We kissed. I tried to think about Kitesrati. Aneti rested ler hand in the small of my back and murmured something that I failed to catch. Le pushed me away. I chipped caked henna from ler arms and licked my lips. The hanging vines tickled our cheeks as a breeze wove through them.
Wind damage from the storm means that cleanup crews are working throughout town. Even so, I wanted to pull Aneti into the vine-copse and have sex. This would have meant political disaster in public. I need to make something of myself. A good daughter thinks about the future — not the pit of anxiety in my stomach tenses into lust, unweighted and undirected —— just in need of some release. Sex won’t satisfy it for long. I mean, that’s how couples fight. I need to fix the anxiety itself.
My thoughts have raced since cutting off Liga. I have a weight balanced above my head. Aneti, I know, will die. The relationship will end. Kitesrati, if my family and lers still allow it, will marry me. These events might as well have been woven in the Tapestry’s diamond threads.
Possibly — if things go according to plan — Daybreak will want to assassinate me. I wonder if Aneti will be alive when that happens. When I left Aneti at ler office door, I lingered to watch lim bend over the papers and materials for ler upcoming deadlines. Le pinches ler upper and lower lips together when le concentrates. Like Suka, le is strong. Like Suka, strong does not mean unbreakable.
Aneti may trust me. I need to force lim open and reveal things that le wants to keep secret. The pain le feels for ler dead sister, the mystery of ler target’s identity, and everything else about lim intertwine to make Sehutañi Aneti. We have lost so much.
I want to lock my lips around lers and pull out the poison anger and loss from lim. I want to distill the venom into the memories and decisions that brought lim here, to this moment, to this commitment that has put us at odds with each other. I can write most of what I want to write here. There’s other stuff I don’t think that I can even dare say here. It all goes back to that thing that Liga drew on smart paper. It feels like so long ago. It all goes back to that symbol that fades even as it is lain down, that hides — I do not think that Aneti is evil. I think that people can do evil things when in grief. My destructive impulses turned inwards, and lers turn outward. What would I have done if Kelis’ family refused to honor ler ashes at all?
It would have made me angry. So, so angry. I would have violated my own ancestors’ sacred place to keep them. I would have placed them in the shrine where no one could see them. Not much separates us. Would I have joined the Narahji Separatists? Probably not. My family does not play short-count games.
While Kati showered, I did research on ler tablet. My shopping list contains moderately expensive ingredients. It could take time to save up for them if I make the draught myself, and I will have excess. It would be so easy to find the Galasuhi underground and purchase something there, but in the underground, I won’t know anything about quality or strength — and you’re also funneling money to people who use it for despicable purposes. I cannot kill Aneti with an overdose. If le dies, it will be by an executioner’s hand.
Hopefully, Karatau Meiyenesi will approve all of this. That may be another avenue for procuring what I need. I did book tickets for a holographic garden show on 26 Poråkol. I wrote to Liga about it.
Aneti has cleared ler calendar, and I made it perfectly obvious how dissatisfied I am that le continues to have last-minute meetings. Le might love me enough to push back against the other members of the Daybreak cell for the sake of our relationship. I am counting on it.
The show will be good, and I have three days to prepare. Le will drink too much, and I will bring lim back to ler family home in too much of a stupor for anyone to question what I am doing.
After I prepared, I downloaded new encryption software, changed the password for my comm band, and installed a few security updates. This could keep Liga out. It probably won’t, but le knows that le is not welcome.
Via Suka, I let lim know that le shouldn’t bother calling me. Of course, Suka saw through it. Le called me on vid and said, “It’s really hard to be torn in two directions with you both texting me.”
“What is happening with Liga?”
Suka sighed and played with the ends of ler knotted gyena. Le unhooked ler comm band from ler wrist and scrolled through it, glancing up at me periodically. “I told lim that you could be trusted weeks ago. You’d never break a friendship bond with anyone. Besides, it won’t impact my fiancé’s family as long as we’re careful.”
I’m recounting this conversation because it’s important, not for now, but for posterity. I want whoever reads this to understand what happened at least enough to — there are many layers of why. This is not the deepest. Whatever happens, I need to know that at least one source remains intact. We are all biased.
To Suka, I said, “Liga invoked you as a reason to proceed cautiously. Le doesn’t understand the stakes. I need to be done with this seduction—”
“This is about Kelis.” Suka nodded. “What happened last time you talked? Le told me something. Probably not what you would tell me.”
“We argued. One of ler associates came up behind lim and cut the feed. Deisurås, another one of them, has been trying to catch me alone at breakfast. I think that Liga must have misstepped.” I winced.
Suka clicked ler tongue. “Le never mentioned that someone cut the feed. When we spoke on vid, le did sound a bit embarrassed, I’ll admit.”
“I hope that le is embarrassed.”
“Liga doesn’t understand what happened with Kelis. I don’t think that le has ever experienced bereavement. Le will when I die. What did the Kohjenakri say when le cut the video feed?” Suka reattached ler comm band.
“Let me check my smart paper.” I loaded it up. Liga hasn’t left any messages there. “Le told me that Liga had other business. They spent the entire conversation wordlessly speaking to each other, and I felt left out of that conversation.”
Suka nodded vigorously. “Ah, le has arguments with the Kohjenya all of the time. When we met for the first time since I was young, there were three of them with lim. It was a truly bizarre thing, right? Liga had asked to meet me in a city about an hour away from home on the train, and even though it was a public place, the trains don’t run regularly enough for me to hop on one and go home without loitering in town. I nearly walked out twice. They get into a feedback bubble.”
“What do you mean?”
“Imagine hearing thoughts and sensing emotions every day, all day, among those closest to you. The only thing that the Karatha, nuamua, and Kohjenya have in common is that they are all empathically out of shape — at least the ones I have met. They don’t read people outside of their collectives very well,” le said. “The Menarka Progressive Movement Office directs all of them to me because I am good at developing rapport, and little do they know that I’m used to dealing with my father.”
“Karatau Meiyenesi and Deisurås are fine.”
“They probably socialize a lot with outsiders. A nuamė I spoke to last week said that le hadn’t been out in about ten years.” Le laughed. “Just imagine it. Ten years!”
“Oh my gods.”
“Exactly. I can talk to Liga.” Suka leaned forward. “Just let me know when.”
“Thank you, Suka.” I smiled. “This means a lot to me.”
For whatever reason, I started crying. I was doing so well. The tears must have been welling in my heart. I mean — I transcribed all of that above by hand.
I wiped them away from my face and said, “I don’t even know why I’m crying.”
Suka waited for me to stop. When I finished, le said, “You will be a great force, Salus, that will live on long after the two of us have been reduced to ash. Remember why you are doing this. Don’t allow my father or the Kohjenya to disturb your equilibrium.”
Those words meant the world to me. Suka takes my side in everything. Ler capacity to relate to me is why we chose to ritualize our friendship at fifteen, and we had intended to do so since childhood. Our friendship never changed when I courted Kelis or when Suka rejected every man, ozkyev, yadzakma, or woman ler family attempted to pair with lim until Amklia. Le and I can pick up just as we left off even when we haven’t spoken in weeks.
My hands are covered with ink now, and once all of this is over with Aneti, I will need purification.