Time is staggered and disjointed. The way I write dramas is the way most of us live our lives. I think that is why they have succeeded so much: I am splicing moments together to form a story. Alone, the pieces of our lives don’t make a plot with a beginning, middle, and end. Together, they do.
— Akah Gysabala, Memoirs
We waited outside for a quarter of an hour before Adviser Tenes answered the door. Le had wet hair, which le slicked back when le saw us. Le met Kelta’s eyes and grinned.
Kelta looked at lim and said, “You know how many hits there are against you? Six. Fucking idiots.” I stopped pacing and watched them size each other up.
Adviser Tenes said, “You again. Ah, and — you!” Le rolled up the sleeves of ler stately robes, which accentuated ler bony features and stocky frame. “I hịma Mosehịnta glabdeml i hịn. Is that still current?”
Kelta stifled a laugh. Le moved ler hand to one of the guns beneath ler tunic. I kept my composure better than le did, so I said, “We say tsumnarav or tsum now.”
“Do you need something?” Adviser Tenes glanced down at my balled fist. Ler gaze moved to my other fist, the cut of my clothes, and finally to my face.
The adviser closed the distance between us and reached for my hand, the one with the cut. Le untwisted my fingers and laid them out straight. Sehịnta performed this same action when taming the demon Orobi in the ancient stories. Tenes looked at the cut on my hand and traced ler fingers across it. Ler fingertips felt like ice, and they sent stabbing pains up my arm. I threw up a little in my mouth. Before Tenes could speak, Kelta unholstered ler gun and pointed it out at the street. Le cocked ler head towards the door.
We shuffled into Adviser Tenes’ home, and Kelta remained in the doorframe. Le fired the gun out into the street, and both of us heard a scream. I flinched and grabbed the adviser’s hand tightly, never mind the pain. Kelta fired again, and the screaming stopped.
“Has Karatau Vepessa-Mainė Meiyenesi contacted you?” I asked.
The adviser pursed ler lips together, ler eyes still on Kelta. “Not about anything like this,” le said. “That’s from lim?”
Kelta left the door frame, ler gun still in front of lim, and moved towards the sidewalk.
I stepped away from the door and took cover. “Last night, I illegally acquired documents. The Daybreak Movement will make an assassination attempt against Fadehin Akaiañi tomorrow.”
“And you haven’t gone to the police?”
Adviser Tenes growled. I furrowed my brow. I have never seen any man do that in public, but maybe it’s something they do among themselves. “That still exists? I thought I told the Fadehin to propose a resolution to the Senate at least ten years ago.”
Kelta moved back into the home. “It was nothing, just a large bird. We could carve it for meat, but it would be city meat. Not very good.” Le shut the door and locked it. I write locked it, but the adviser’s door had eighteen bolts — and I hadn’t noticed this before, but the windows had bolts of their own, and all of the interior doors. “I was certain that someone had come after us. We should barricade the door just in case. Adviser-Akah, do you have secure comm here? Or is it the standard?”
“It’s secure. No one can eavesdrop.”
Kelta clicked ler tongue against the roof of ler mouth. “That depends on who no one is, but all right.”
“No, it’s secure. I am very talented with communication systems. You will need to remind me of your name. I haven’t seen you in months and didn’t think that I would encounter you again.” Adviser Tenes glanced down at the gun. “Also, put that away. You won’t fire it in the house unless it is absolutely necessary. Avoid shooting the records if that happens. Some of them are rare, 11th-18th century.”
I asked, “Are you singing in any of them?”
“Only five.” Adviser Tenes glanced between us. “Well?”
“Akah Kelta, no family affiliation.” Kelta cleared ler throat. “Akah Mainė hired me to protect Akah Nitañi.”
Adviser Tenes motioned for us to move deeper into the home. I followed lim first. Kelta surveyed the windows and doors and smiled, and le eventually fell in line behind me.
“Karatau left a message,” Adviser Tenes said. “It might have been about a contact among the royal guards or canceling the religious ritual tomorrow — something like that. Not about an assassination. Whatever le said, Fadehin Akaiañi is very pious. Le would never cancel religious rites, even if they’re more for people than for gods.”
“What do you know?” I asked.
“Karatau never tells me what Equilibrium is working on in any detail. There are weeks, sometimes years, when le doesn’t contact me at all and is not in Galasu. I think that they have a base of operations in Vepessa, but le also spends time in Essoda, Itaka, and Tok on Ameisa. The Thousand Islands on Atara. Asāhobom, too, which is the town by the interplanetary medical school. Dukká and Atamnonqaqan on Madhz. Khataq on Mntaka. Såsuå and Shedi on Laseå. Do you know what it is like to know more about your best friend via intelligence briefings than from lim directly?”
The adviser bought us into a large downstairs office. It was a room with beautiful floors and brightly-colored, modern wall murals. There were so many carved and painted flowers that it was hard for my eyes to rest on anything in particular. Only after staring at them for a few seconds did I realize that they all came from carnivorous plants. Le possessed several wall monitors and a low table stacked with husk-like traditional paper. Le closed the window immediately, and some of the paper scattered across the floor. I picked it up.
Kelta sat down on one of the low chairs, and I picked a cushion. We crossed our legs. Kelta set the gun down on the table, and I brought out the drive with my copies of the documents.
“We came to ask you about the royal guard, too. It is good to know that Karatau already has,” I said. “I said that I illegally acquired documents. A woman I have been dating, Sehutañi, had a folder in ler room. I saw it when le was asleep because I was searching ler room. Le belongs to the Daybreak Movement. Do you know why this intelligence would never have reached the royal guard or the Fadehin directly?”
“I could think of twelve reasons,” Adviser Tenes said. Le took the disk from me and walked to a cabinet that concealed computing equipment. “The Fadehin and ler mother made laws that other tesekhaira did not like, specifically the Karatha.”
“Do you like those laws?” Kelta asked.
I rose to my feet and walked to one of the room’s bookshelves. I pulled out a scroll at random. It was a copy of a Galasuhi play from the eleventh century, sans music. The score was in a book on the shelf below it. I don’t want to think that Adviser Tenes knew about the assassination attempt. If the tesekhaira hate something and one is a tesekhaira, all of them must hate it or the generalization no longer makes sense. Karatau is a tesekhaira — and le showed no signs of backing down once le learned the identity of the target. If anything, we are all scrambling to prepare ourselves for tomorrow.
Adviser Tenes said, “Not all tesekhaira dislike them. Only the older ones do.”
I looked up from the scroll at Kelta. Le frowned and said, “There is a chance that the Daybreak Movement has realized that their plot has been compromised. I don’t know who was following us. It wasn’t the bird. There were no robotic attachments. It could be someone from among Daybreak. Hostile tesekhaira could also have agents. What is your position?”
Adviser Tenes inserted the data drive and powered on the displays. “Karatha, perhaps. Not Arieḥ or the nuamua. Arieḥ decided to be neutral about the legislation. It only impacts the Karatha, the nuamua, Karatau and Equilibrium, me, and perhaps Amkzị. None of the other tesekhaira live in Tveshė frequently enough to care. Outside of the collectives and their associated tesekhaira, there are at most only a few of us on all of the gardens combined.”
“Amkzị?” Kelta frowned. “The one in that story about the far north of Akēfa?”
“No one knows where le lives, hence perhaps. Anyway, that’s off-topic.” Le covered ler face with ler hands, sighed, and let ler hands come to rest back down at ler sides. “The contact between you and Equilibrium is how close, Kelta?”
“I’m just a contractor, but I do regular work for them. Akah Nitañi is close,” Kelta said.
“I know that le is close. Le isn’t using formal words for Karatau.” Adviser Tenes studied me. “Karatau charmed you into liking lim, didn’t le? And you are now hopelessly in platonic love even though you’ve only seen each other several times.”
Tenes’ eyes searched mine, surprisingly unguarded. I had no doubt that Tenes would work with us. Platonic love can take a person beyond what le would do on ler own. I’ve spent so much time focused on Sehutañi that I didn’t notice.
After I realized Karatau had no malice, and after that long conversation, le completely disarmed me. I never wrote down what happened, not in its exact sense, but another woman would have pushed more even after being told by a matriarch to do what I was told to do. But that look in Tenes’ eyes! Is this what such a thing turns into after millennia? I am allied to lim, but not in love yet. Or am I? Thank gods I am no tesekhaira.
I said, “Le could be so dangerous if le weren’t so nice.”
“All tesekhaira are dangerous,” Tenes said.
Kelta said, “I’m not in love with Karatau Meiyenesi, but let’s talk about the assassination, not your infatuations. Karatau Meiyenesi and Equilibrium Nexus cannot move quickly enough to stop this even if the former is a disarming and charming jomela. Like, one can’t just put Karatau Meiyenesi in the middle of Daybreak’s nest and infect everyone with true friendship love rays.”
I nearly laughed, but Tenes flinched. While I shouldn’t have breached etiquette, I spoke first. “Daybreak has spent so much time preparing for this opportunity. I don’t know what they will do if they think that it is threatened. Even if it they know about our counterterrorism work, they have a good chance at success. Is it the Karatha? I mean, the reason the law is still on the books — the 1830-229-17 one — is it to stifle the flow of information?”
Tenes projected the data disk and started flipping through the documents. I watched ler face for any sign of surprise. Ler brow furrowed, and le gritted ler teeth. Le turned away from the screens and started pacing the length of the room. Kelta and I exchanged glances, and I didn’t know what to say. Tenes clicked ler tongue, sighed, and clicked ler tongue again. Le came to rest with ler fingertips on the bookshelf.
I met ler eyes. A strange, chilly stillness cut through the air, rather like the sensation when I touched Karatau’s palm — or when Tenes touched mine. I thought, Who are these immortals, and why has my grandmother decided to give me to one of them? It was a horrible thought, a disloyal thought. Matriarch Mohata holds the bow of our family, and we are ler arrows. If le wants this alliance, I want it. If this alliance means that I must interact with Adviser Tenes, so be it.
“You mean to tell me that you have been gathering information on an assassination plot that you cannot even mention to the police. You mean to say that you never confided in anyone from the Progressive Movement or even thought to ask your contacts within Equilibrium — our Karatau limself — about involving me?” Ler voice rose, and by the end, le was shouting. “Why didn’t le tell me this?!”
Tenes punched the bookshelf. It cracked, and ler fist came away bloody. The edges of the adviser’s body looked like they were flickering, and a paper-thin atmosphere of ice and condensation collected against ler skin. I set the scroll down on the bookshelf and tried not to panic. Kelta had ler eyes on the adviser’s hair, where the fog was more pronounced, and ler hair seemed to defy gravity, moving around ler head in a halo. Kelta couldn’t see Tenes’ eyes. Tenes was crying, and the tears were freezing on ler cheeks.
One of us needed to speak. It was my responsibility, not lers. I said, “I am nineteen. I have never done anything like this before. Will you judge me for my youth? What is next? Will you call me three-quarters foreign?”
“Fadehin Akaiañi, 28 Poråkol, during the procession.” Le frowned and turned away from me. “This could be anywhere during the procession, at any intersection.”
The fog dissipated. My heart pounded in my chest. I felt dizzy, so I went to sit down. Adviser Tenes leaned against the bookshelf and looked down at both of us.
Kelta cleared ler throat. “Is there any chance that Fadehin Akaiañi will not be at the festival? Could le take ill? That would give the palace guard time to make arrests.”
“As I said, this is a complex situation involving hotåkhi religious conservatives, and Fadehin Akaiañi is also religious and conservative. They’re still very angry about the reforms five years ago when le ascended to office. Le delegated most religious duties to ler jomela sibling Lakhiodị. Akaiañi is still early on in ler reign, reliant on political alliances forged by ler mother, and le knows this. When I go to lim with this information and brief the palace guards, the festival will still happen. You need to understand that! This is the price of opening the spaceports and relaxing the immigration laws. For everything that the Progressive Movement wins, the Coalitionists will take something else back. I can talk to Lakhiodị separately.” Le breathed in through ler teeth.
Kelta said, “What do you think will happen?”
Adviser Tenes breathed in and out three times. “When we increase surveillance, we will have random bag searches. All weapons are chipped, so we can put up temporary scanning poles. They will pick up any gun carriers.”
“What about homemade weapons?” Kelta asked.
I would never have thought to ask that question, and before 27 Poråkol, I didn’t know that one could even make a gun at home. Materials printing only happens in factories.
Adviser Tenes said, “Most people don’t have the resources or training to do that. The ones who do have degrees. We can pull names of people with engineering degrees and correlate them against lists if Karatau provides the latter. Anyone else would make something so dangerous that it could fall apart on firing.”
“‘Two for lim, one for me,’” I whispered. Neither of them caught it. I have turned those words over and over in my head ever since. Two for lim, one for me. Two for lim, one for me. Two for lim, one for me. Does someone who plans to die really care about the kind of weapon? Le might not even decide on a gun. Le could use a grenade.
Kelta clicked ler tongue against the roof of ler mouth and shook ler head. “That is an understatement. When I was stationed with a woman in Itaka last year, someone tried firing at us with a homemade gun, and it exploded.”
“What about something smuggled from the High Wilds?” I asked.
Adviser Tenes chuckled. “Theoretically, it has been easier for the past three years. I tried to purchase a restricted weapon that way, and it would have cost me 8,000 lh. The ship was intercepted. Don’t give me that look. No one who had a role in the Occupation can own any weapon legally. The International Congress has information in a registry.”
The audio is silent for fifteen seconds. I like to think that Kelta and I exchanged glances. I had nearly forgotten that Adviser Tenes had had a role in the Occupation. It’s unsettling to think about it.
“So, you expect that le will have a festival,” I said. “Le will process.” I thought, Sehutañi might be there. If I see lim — if they have surveillance facial recognition of all of the members of Daybreak — they can do something. This can be stopped.
Something about Sehutañi and the procession started a dissonant sensation in my head. I felt like I had missed something very important: Something historical, like Akah Gysabala, but different. I have a grounding in history. I know where I come from. I should have remembered.
“I expect that.” Adviser Tenes frowned.
“I want to be at the festival to protect the Fadehin,” I said.
Adviser Tenes said, “Absolutely not.”
I let air out from between my lips. “You will allow me to stand in the procession with the Fadehin because I have gleaned information. If Daybreak finds out that their plot has been compromised, they might suspect me based on everything I have done to Sehutañi. I will be safer among the Fadehin’s staff. They have cornered me, and I won’t wait idly in your home to be murdered. I know you have locked doors, but it’s not enough. I won’t wait in the palace. What if Daybreak is among the staff? Akah Kelta is a good bodyguard, but not as good as the imperial guard.”
The adviser sighed. We bantered back and forth for a quarter of an hour. Nothing is important to put down here, but the conversation was ugly. It was about what one would expect during a woman’s argument with a man who works in domestic politics and still doesn’t seem to know ler place.
The philosophers say that epiphany happens when one realizes one’s purpose and identity. The Tveshi added a layer over that to make akaćeheñi, an epiphany that happens when who and purpose fuse together into perfection, symbolized with a double helix. Only in akaćeheñi can one even hope to sit at the gods’ table and consume their immortal food. Perhaps akaćeheñi is the secret of the tesekhaira, or perhaps those who attain it dissipate in the wind.
In the Canyons, we use the Tveshi word to describe the moment of reckoning in a tragedy, not epiphany or enlightenment. We do it because the Shiji and the Galasuhi Tveshi have abused us so harshly across the centuries and millennia, so much so that I feel the pressure cooker will burst at any moment to seethe and burn against everything in its vicinity. In the dramas, akaćeheñi is when the protagonists come to know everything, yet realize that they must still face destruction. This word means coming to know one’s place.
I have read back through my earlier entries, working them into my head until they make grooves. This story is a series of fragments, centered on the things I thought I knew. These things do not add up. This entire story has actors, still hidden from me, who have orchestrated this entire thing.
You may suspect by now that I have been back-dating. It is very detailed because I have added embellishments based on the sounds I can hear from the bug that I wore. I think that I can remember perfectly when I close my eyes, but what is memory? This was over a week ago. If I can listen enough, and if I can write truthfully enough — if I can have enough courage with these words that my descendants will definitely read and judge and judge correctly — I can enrich a story that has already entered the propaganda cycle, where the monarchy and Progressive Movement have torn it to shreds and refashioned it into what they need to progress their agendas while removing the pieces of it that were human. This is a story that those shadows have already marked me for experiencing. This is that symbol that Liga dissipated all those weeks ago on my smart paper. This is them.
I only need to write down the critical part of the argument. You, my descendants, only need to know this.
Adviser Tenes said yes after that quarter-hour. Then, le said something else. “The one you resemble was named Thani Karoumo-Nitasė Kaleso.” I knew that, but I allowed lim to continue. “You two have very similar faces, but the resemblance is deeper than that. You have the same look in your eyes when discussing your dreams and expectations. You subsist on dreams.”
Kelta rolled ler eyes and went to the window. Le did not stand directly in front of it, but to the side, and ler critical gaze landed on something specific. Le glanced back at the gun on the table.
“Akah Gysabala wore the white ash on ler face when le was very young. I will do the same with your blessing,” I said.
Adviser Tenes took a fast breath in. “You know about Akah Gysabala, too?”
“Thani never stopped talking about lim. Le believed in making a difference.”
“Akah Gysabala betrayed ler husband to the authorities,” I said calmly. “This is why I will go and paint my face white with ash.”
Adviser Tenes clicked ler tongue ad infinitum. When le finished, le said, “Thani contracted the muakanua at twenty-four. It’s something that I have seen happen before to politically ambitious people. Le slashed ler arms thirty-seven times before le did it the correct way. Le also stabbed limself in the throat three times. It was an absolutely hideous forensic scene. Le lived away from family just like you, in an apartment building.”
“I am not your Thani.”
“I hate seeing the next generation die before they have the opportunity to make a difference. Akah Nitañi, this country is sick, the world is sick, the Gardens are sick, and you have a future. You will not make a difference in this moment, but in the future, if only you back down.”
I lowered my voice and said, “I vow to the gods that I will be in that procession, and you will allow this to pass. I vow this to Hatkranar, Nardresan, and Sahamatsra. I vow this to Gyisfen. I vow it, and it will be observed.” I used the gods’ formal names.
Adviser Tenes sighed, but le allowed the oath to pass without comment. Kelta and I went into another room while le made a call to Karatau. We could hear them screaming at each other through the closed door — well, not both of them. Tenes was the one screaming. Karatau’s voice was as charming and cool as ever, but neither of us knows the language. I heard my name, the Fadehin’s name, and Kelta’s name repeatedly. There was a lot of sighing. At one point, Tenes broke something against a wall. That was during one of the intense shouting episodes.
Tenes came out of the room disheveled, looking like something had chased lim. Le said, “Other tesekhaira want the Fadehin dead. We do not have a high chance of success. After I do my part in the ritual tomorrow, I will leave and do something that will draw them away. That way, at least you’ll be dealing with only mortal assassins. Don’t ask me anything else about it. It’s enough that you’re as involved as you are.”
“I could help you,” Kelta said.
“No. You need to stay with Salus to protect lim,” le said. “Nitañi.”
I don’t think that Kelta was happy with that because le spoke only in monosyllables that entire afternoon. Then again, everyone was tense. The three of us traveled to the palace that evening in a private car. My belly felt heavy, as if I had eaten a stone. Even though Tenes had told me not to ask lim anything, I could not help but brainstorm questions.