The Great Road smelled like incense, and enormous clouds of it blew in the wind. We walked on thrown kau grain. The crowd showered us with half-frozen flower petals. None of them quite struck Fadehin Akaiañi or me.
Being struck with the flower petals is considered lucky.
The Great Road bisects a street that is Karudesa Street on the left and Nikara Street on the right. Karudesa Street leads to Senatorial Square, and Nikara Street leads to the embassies. It is one of the most well-watched places in the entire world because Tveshė is a world power, and everyone wants to see what happens here. The upper-level homes all have webcams facing out onto the streets, which make a kaleidoscope of images and videos of everything that happens — and these feed into the police (which feed into the thing that I have since learned — through screaming and shouting until someone told me — is the ghost network underlaying everything).
Anyone who read Akah Seholis’ And the Fountains Still Run Red, a bestseller last year, would understand what Daybreak wanted. At least, anyone who remembered the importance of this intersection.
The bowls started singing half a block away from Karudesa and Nikara. We all joined in on the Hymn to Creation, which I did not know — and I have reproduced it here:
Our universe began in timeless sleep.
One rested, and one was awakened,
one sunburst germinated, and a kaleidoscope
blossomed into a lattice of light.
Some say that the gods invented dancing.
I know this to be true, because they spun.
They come from this one, and they revolve,
whirling dancers with no centers,
whirling dancers with every center.
Here, everything exists and does not.
Here, the first is the last, the last, first.
If Adviser Tenes had been in contact with Karatau, then Liga would know where I was. If Adviser Tenes had not been, then Liga would not know.
This is the dance of Enahari,
Divine Afterthought, the dancer lagging
behind the others, who knew only
expanses of dreams and nothingness:
Here, le invented the first dreams.
Ler belly grew fat with Enashakaru,
Lord of Dreams and the curling Lattice.
Enahari created vast reaches of the High Wilds:
gaseous spacescapes, nebulae and compact clusters,
galaxies and networks of infinity strung like
jewels and webs all together, to free light
from its prison within lim, to stretch this
canvas’ limits as far as le could.
Darkness abated from ler dream-strength.
The light grew pregnant within ler belly.
Sweat beaded on my brow beneath the clay, capillaries breaking from the stress, but life — and the hymn — continued. We moved farther along the street, and the signs for Karudesa loomed over us. I saw the imperial guard’s snipers on the rooftops. They would surely not fail.
When Enashakaru came tumbling down,
sticky and fat from the great dream,
the first generation of stars exploded.
Out of these gases, Enahari ordered our
nebulae, our stars, our galaxies, our matter.
The Seven Gardens formed from this heaviness.
I blinked. The explosions ripped through the crowd on either side. I could not look in any specific direction because they came from everywhere, but I saw hands unconnected from bodies, heads filled with small shrapnel — eating utensils, I think — and the moaning and screaming started.
Some of the women behind me fell to the ground. Another explosion came from behind us, and the guards started firing. In the chaos, we were separated — we lost most of the processional party, and I found myself pulled forward through the streets with a small number of the people near the Fadehin and ler armed guards. Some people made a path for us down Karudesa Street — or “made” might be the wrong word. They reeled. So many were injured. People were running everywhere. A guard pushed a path through. We ran in the fallow space between the corpses and the injured. We could not run to either side or behind us because the explosion had made a mess on either side.
I nearly stumbled, and in that moment, I realized that the guard would trample over me if I stopped. They would let me die just to have a chance at saving lim — which is the right thing, but in those moments — when something happens you know will happen — despite everything — no.
Karudesa is the place where a dissident would have murdered a world leader: In 1541, a philosopher and statesman by that family name raised an army of dissatisfied citizens to protest a court order barring paternal families from disputing maternal families’ rights to children born of women who are already married, but who do not have the child with their husband, in violation of tradition. Fadehin Nikarañi lashed out brutally against these rebels. The Fadehin committed suicide when le learned that ler son, the statesman’s courting-friend, had died. Ler daughter, Fadehin Sehutañi, set up a memorial near the Senate and named the street after Karudesa to appease the dead. Fadehin Sehutañi.
Akah Seholis’ And the Fountains Still Run Red is a fictional retelling of that. Sehutañi had it on ler bookshelf.
I couldn’t think, or I would freeze. I forced myself to sprint forward. Both of my ears rang, and every sound was muffled. I could barely hear screaming. I felt like someone was following us, but none of the guards shot anyone.
From above, a sniper shot someone in the crowd, and a second shot another — both doing their jobs expertly because the snipers were on our side — but the assassins were not close by.
We were alone among the panicking crowd.
We found, or the guards made, a break in the chaos. It was just stampedes of people in every direction. It was hard — is hard — to say anything without repeating myself.
Beside me, one of the other young women fell, and I held lim up. We stumbled forward. Le fell again. I realized then that le had shrapnel in ler leg. I pushed lim against one of the buildings and continued on without looking back.
Hopefully, le avoided the stampede of people behind us.
I wondered if I had shrapnel in me. I felt fine. It was possible that I was not.
The backup plan in times of emergencies to go to the Senate rooftop. There’s a protocol I was briefed on. We needed to reach the Senate roof. I heard the emergency plane overhead as it started landing. The sky was safe, the reason behind this. It’s still three years after opening the spaceports. Nobody has ships. Daybreak would never have the money to invest in anti-aircraft guns. You can’t 3D print that.
One of the guards held the Fadehin up. The Fadehin had no headdress, and blood ran down one side of ler face. We took the stairs up to the Senate’s doors. None of the guards wanted to risk being caught in the elevator bay, so we would have to climb up seven floors at the central staircase. It was designed for that — the building.
In And the Fountains Still Run Red, one of the generals makes a last stand in the Senate before the rebels push the army back and slaughter everyone else inside. I remembered this just as we started down the corridor to the central stairs. I grabbed a guard’s arm and screamed, “We shouldn’t go this way!” and le threw me back. I stumbled.
I could not let the Fadehin leave my sight. If I lost them, or if I let myself feel whatever injury I possessed, something might happen. If they wouldn’t listen, I could at least do something.
The guard who pushed me collapsed suddenly. I saw shrapnel in ler thigh. Blood pooled into the mortar between the stones where le lay. I moved into the space that le had vacated near the Fadehin and yelled again, “Fadehin Nikarañi’s general died here! Karudesa and Nikara!”
The Fadehin tugged on a guard’s arm and stopped trying to move forward, completely frozen by all I had said. I mean, le knew now what I knew now.
We were by the elevators, not yet at the main staircase. Daybreak would have held the staircase. We both knew that now. Le turned ler face towards me.
Fadehin Akaiañi must have read it. The gaze we shared said, And how could we both be so stupid, both of us young, memory-gifted, and politically-minded?
“We shouldn’t have come in here,” le whispered. “Did anyone go ahead to secure this building?”
A guard said, “No one is here. The buildings are closed for the festival. No one could enter unless they had a shipment. Please, Fadehin! The stairs!”
The elevator behind the guard opened. I screamed.
The man opened fire immediately, and the guards turned around to fire back. One fell almost instantly. I pulled the Fadehin away, and we hid behind one of the columns. It provided some cover. I put ler arm over mine, and we started running. The guards outnumbered the man. They were well-trained and effective. They shot lim.
“If we can get to the roof, maybe we will live,” I whispered. “They have lim.”
We started running. Le fell, I held lim up, and I lifted ler skirt to see the shrapnel wedged just below ler right knee. I pulled ler arm over my shoulders and braced lim against me.
It was long enough that I was no longer looking at the hallway. Neither of us saw the second man in the hallway before it was too late. I froze. Behind us, the firefight continued. People shouted. Bodies hit the floor.
Fadehin Akaiañi, in those final moments, shrugged limself away from me. Le stood while the blood trickled onto the floor beneath lim and leveled ler gaze at this man. Le put ler hands on ler hips and cocked ler chin up, sizing lim up. I prepared to jump ler attacker. I prepared to die.
The Fadehin held ler arm out to block me. Le said, “Karudesa and Nikara.”
The man said, “Yes.”
Le fired. The gun exploded.
Fadehin Akaiañi received two wounds from the shrapnel: One in the abdomen, the other in the chest. Le didn’t die from either of them. I wonder if le was awake, bleeding out. What killed lim was the time delay before the medics came.
The shrapnel from the gun hit me in the left shoulder, right ribcage, and below my right knee. It missed my veins. It should have missed lers. I went unconscious almost instantaneously from the shock.
The Daybreak Movement’s original plan did not contain the bombs. They decided to lay them only after my Sehutañi realized that I had compromised their plan. They killed 87 people with five bombs and six people, including the Fadehin, in the Senate.
I think that this assassin, Jikuvė, knew that the gun would explode. I think that it was done deliberately.
93 people died.
93 people died, and I am alive.