It took skill to drug Sehutañi’s drink without any experience. I took advantage of the neural array to make myself ruthless. I wanted to be glittering and carnivorous. The ịbarbok illusion cascading around me turned my heart into iron.
I ate too much because I could not stop being hungry. Nothing but glistening raw seafood tasted good. The experience disoriented me, but without it, I could not have done this. The holograms and light playing across the ceiling distracted and dazzled me. I only pretended to drink, and still the illusions came around and into me.
Sehutañi wore the form of an atseba, the transparent ocean creature that just floats, recommended for winding down after a stressful day. It is like a billowing sheet of paper, and iridescence flashes across its skin. The organs are transparent. At one end, these atseba take in the microscopic creatures of the ocean. At the other, carnivorous fish feed on the small swimmers eating their waste. It’s a truly bizarre thing. I remember seeing them in Menarka when a very high tide swelled in one night, and they crashed against the cliffs beneath us spectators.
Ler body moved up and down, and ler skin felt cold, like death in the arctic ocean. Our server queried us about drinks. Le prepared the berry-dark wine with an expert hand, and as le worked, the show burst into being. Colored lights danced all around us. Phantoms swirled up from the ground at our feet and coalesced into a dream-like story of someone traveling across the solar system.
I leaned in to kiss Sehutañi as the craft flew past our Giant in an out-of-control spin, caught in that world’s alien gravity. My hand tilted over ler drink when ler eyes closed, the vial masked by the illusion over me. The only risk was that one of the servers would notice and come to assist lim, but part of Kelta’s job was to ensure that everything went as planned.
My heart thudded in my throat. The Dream Gardens have made lesser people murderous. Adrenaline rushed through me, filtered by the neural interface. I had impulses to use limbs I did not have to attack and consume everything around me. What has Atara done in the decades since the Occupation? How could they know what an ịbarbok would feel unless they had caught one?
I panicked, and the vial slipped. I plunged more into the fluke than we had agreed on. As I capped it, le reached for ler drink. It was too late.
My panic blackened the edges of my vision, and my heart pumped irregularly in my chest. I needed to get out of there, but I had to breathe through this as much as possible. Someone else would die if I did nothing. This is what I had decided on — what I had coerced the Kohjenya into doing.
Le whispered, “This drink is way too salty.”
“Is it? Let me try it.” I took it from lim and lifted it to my mouth. It touched my lips, but I drank none of it. “You are pretending to be a sea-creature now. Everything will probably taste like saltwater. It’s fine.” Thank Gods that le chose this costume. Thank Tsemanok. Thank Yilrega. Thank Gyisfen. Thank the Divine Twins.
“It wasn’t like this before.”
“When did you last take a sip?”
“I don’t know.”
“What if it takes time to have an effect?” I asked.
“Maybe,” le said.
Le continued drinking. I modulated my breathing so it wouldn’t be obvious how relieved this made me. Soon, Aneti tilted ler head down towards the table and said, “I’m not feeling well. It’s the salt. I think I’m going to be sick.” Le pressed ler hands against ler forehead, and the billowing illusion came with them.
I grabbed Aneti around the waist and lifted lim up. “I can take you home.”
As we stood, ler hand brushed against my thigh. The euphoric feelings should have offset the nausea, although I’m not very familiar with what the drug even does, especially not at this dose. With Aneti like this, I decided to only give lim a peck. It was wrong to kiss lim or think about having sex. Karatau was right. Besides, le might have vomited into my mouth.
We took off the arrays and checked out of the Dream Garden. I had pre-purchased ler ticket, so we didn’t need to pay, but ler condition worsened as we left and took the Skyrail to ler home. Had I not memorized ler address, le would have had us turn down the wrong street. Le was suggestible, hardly able to stand, and completely dependent on me for everything.
Le opened the door to ler house, and I told one of ler cousins that I was taking lim up to ler room — that Aneti was drunk — and surprisingly, the cousin helped me.
When we opened the door, we brought lim over to the bed. Le was practically in a stupor, and we positioned lim just like one does when one has had too much to drink. The cousin went for water, and le left me alone with a partially-ajar door.
A stone caught in my throat, and my hands shook. To this hour, I do not know if Sehutañi remembered what happened. Everything I have seen about this drug says that le did not. I started combing the room for documents, carefully replacing everything I moved. When I heard footsteps in the hallway, I went back to the side of the bed. The cousin came into the room. We gave Aneti water. Le had trouble swallowing. I couldn’t administer anything else with lim like this.
“Le hasn’t been this much of a mess since ler sister died,” the cousin said. “Who are you?”
Le looked between the two of us and nodded. “You called lim ‘Aneti’ below. I wasn’t certain. You did seem a bit young for this to be romantic.”
“Do you need someone to sit up with lim for a little while? I can stay for as long as you need. It’s not really any trouble. I’m in an apartment, and my cousin knows that I will be out for part of the night,” I said. “My name is Jogta.”
“Puatahau,” le said. “We have family who can watch lim.”
“I don’t doubt that. What I mean to say is that I want you to feel at ease while you find someone who can do so. I can stay for at least half of an hour.”
Le clicked ler tongue and studied me. Ler gaze moved from me to Aneti and back again. “I suppose that is possible. It won’t take half of an hour to find someone else.”
“Thank you for letting me be of service to your family.”
“Cut the crap. You’re a demi-traitor. You wouldn’t do this out of compassion. It’s an opportunity to get ahead at the office, isn’t it?” Le spat on the ground. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes with someone to relieve you.”
When le left, le kept the door slightly ajar. I stayed by Sehutañi’s side, motionless, for a count of five hundred — I think. My thoughts wandered a bit.
I thought that someone would come and find me searching through drawers for keys and papers, but Puatahau must have been otherwise occupied, and no one came. Every time Sehutañi shifted on the bed, I thought that le would come to ler senses and find me pawing through the drawers and bookshelves in the claustrophobic room. There were not too many places to hide something, but the obvious places — tucked into treatises, in the well-worn pages of the bestseller And the Fountains Still Run Red, underneath the mattress, in the drawers beneath clothing racks — had nothing from the Daybreak Movement. Five minutes passed, and then ten. Every time the house settled, I thought that Puatahau had come back.
I found the folder between the bed frame and the wall, a piece of string attached to it so Sehutañi could guide it out when necessary. Dust bunnies came out with it, but the files themselves looked clean. Some had dates that marked them as current. None of the dated files were earlier than 1 Poråkol.
I went to my bag and scanned them quickly without reading them — all 41 documents — and just as I replaced the folder, I heard footsteps in the corridor. I rushed up and made it look like I was repositioning Aneti. Puatahau and another man came into the room.
Puatahau said, “You should go now. You’ve made the journey worth your while.”
The other man said, “Please say nothing to any of the other coworkers. It’s bad enough that le did this in public.”
I nodded. While Puatahau watched, I picked up my bag. Le escorted me out of the home. While I walked, my thoughts raced. Aneti had done this before. Sehutañi. Sehutañi. I stopped on the sidewalk and focused on the cool breeze, the nighttime nature-songs, and the faint sounds from the houses. My head wanted to take me back to that moment in the Necropolis. After doing this, I reasoned, what right did I have to vividly inhabit those private spaces of grief?
Instead, I pulled myself back into reality. Sehutañi had kept those pages in a specific order. I don’t know that I preserved it with the shuffling at the end. I think I left the most recent ones on top. Besides, le wouldn’t need the older ones — especially not the train timetables with the circles.
Kelta emerged from a side street a block beyond the Kuresa home, and we moved down the sidewalk in silence for some time. I mentally went through the words that had popped out at me from the documents. I don’t know Shiji. Some of the cognates, I thought, could be false.
Kelta said, “I think it was wise to avoid saying that you were a girlfriend. It will make your family less involved.”
“I am in love with lim.”
“I saw it when you panicked in the Dream Garden,” Kelta said. “You recovered from that weakness immediately before I intervened, and everything you did is exactly what I would have done. Good job, I guess.”
I chuckled. “Does that make me an assassin like you?”
“It means that you are not stupid or naïve.” Kelta crossed ler arms over ler chest and continued, “I had a boyfriend when I was your age who did not suit me. Le is one of the reasons I left my family and went into mercenary practice. You have the luxury of having a family who does not know about Sehutañi. They wouldn’t even take a match between you two seriously if you asked for it, would they?”
“My matriarch would not. The family has been positioning someone else for me,” I responded. “I don’t like lim as much as I like Sehutañi, but Sehutañi will likely be killed.”
“What do the documents say?”
“We can go over them once we return to my apartment,” I said.
We walked to the Skyrail and took it to the Metasai Residential Zone. In Metasai, we passed slumbering family homes and apartment complexes until we reached the dark apartment. Kelta hummed Narahji nursery songs the entire time, and I tried to ignore lim as much as possible.
In the apartment, we took off our shoes. Kelta, as an assassin, only bowed at my shrine. I gave the offerings on ler behalf. I texted Karatau. The cut in my palm ached. I still cannot believe that I have ler number programmed into my comm unit and that my matriarch told me to do this. I cannot believe that we have this permanent thread between us.
Liga called me and put a request in for Karatau. The wall screen showed both of them. I searched Liga’s body language for awkwardness. Le tried to stay professional, but I could sense it. Liga stuttered a bit, and le doesn’t stutter. Karatau stopped the conversation to apologize. I don’t know of any upper-level official who would do that to a subordinate.
We looked at the scanned pages together. I loaded them onto my smart paper and spread them across the floor. Karatau did the same on ler table, but Liga used monitors. Kelta looked down at some of my blurrier scans and clicked ler tongue. A woman sat down beside Liga. That one translated while Liga annotated. The video lagged behind my smart paper.
When I saw the name, my vision blurred. I felt sick. I had nothing to save myself from panic now. Kelta looked up when I collapsed back onto my palms. I whispered the target’s name as if Enahari could hear me and put a stop to this. The room folded inward.
The police should have information about things at this scale. If not, why do we have them? Why would the Karatha not just murder this lim outright?
Kelta set down a piece of smart paper, scooted across the bed towards me, and pulled me close. “Breathe,” le said.
The others said things. I don’t have the heart to go back to those conversations now — I skip this every time I can — but I need to say something. I was such an immature ass.
It is one thing to stop an assassination of someone in a regional office, as the Kohjenya have done frequently, as I assumed this was.
It’s another thing to realize quite suddenly that the structures of support that exist in society like ours, or that the people whom one has put on a pedestal, are just as vulnerable as others.
An earthquake does not care if it rumbles beneath the house of a great family or a humble one.
The Karatha should stop attacks at this level. Forget the police. The Karatha must have information. This is beyond politics. They should pass it on! Deo said chatter. What if the Karatha have fanned this fire instead of stopping it? What if …
The problem — as pointed out by Karatau — is that no one among the police would ever believe us even if I give them the information with full knowledge that I am turning myself in for violating those obscure legal codes. They have received no legitimate evidence, and the thought of someone doing this is absolute madness. The Karatha must even be the reason those codes exist.
Daybreak cannot be laughing. Sehutañi cannot be laughing.
This did more to cure my love for Sehutañi than anything else could have. Sehutañi. No.
Fadehin Akaiañi’s name is on that page. Fadehin Akaiañi! Daybreak cannot murder a ruler, a world leader. Daybreak cannot do it during a religious celebration in front of a myriad of people, and it cannot, cannot, cannot have chosen 28 Poråkol.