The Reclaimed Zone is repulsive, and Liga took me there today because I wanted to see Sehutañi. The Reclaimed Zone can never forget what happened to it. Almost nothing will grow above the floodplain because the dirt is absolutely barren. Even the river tried to cover it up by winding over most of it after Old Tveshė fell thousands of years ago.
No one settled it until the Taritit decided to build infrastructure there. Only aliens would have funded the colossal penitentiary and the factories staffed entirely by people, not sharp-fingered robots like we had known before and since. Its human touches — the mechanical trees that whir open every morning to shade the sidewalks — popped up after the Occupation ended.
The penitentiary faces a temple of the dead, built over the culling chambers organized by the Taritit for their sacrificial plan. People still leave things there in memory of those who have died. It is the grandest temple of death in the world, put here by the Sabaji, Hicịptụ, and Ịgzarhjenya in one of our few displays of unity. All of our gods of death stand side by side to receive goodwill.
In the penitentiary, Sehutañi sat in ler own cell. Le risked more well-adjusted inmates ripping lim apart before the official state execution could happen. When I arrived, the woman in the cell across from lim was screaming obscenities in ler direction. That one stopped when I arrived. I am still not used to the silence that falls when I enter a room.
Most criminals have comforts, but most criminals can be rehabilitated because they were not in their right minds when they committed crimes. Sehutañi will be killed, so le must remain uncomfortable. Le has only a small floor pallet with no blankets. When I visited, an untouched bowl of protein porridge rested on the tile floor several feet from a squatting toilet.
Liga helped me approach the shock-proof glass. I leaned on lim slightly as I tapped with my fingers.
Sehutañi looked up at me.
I was not ready to see those eyes. They jarred the carefully-planned things I wanted and needed to say. Instead, I traced the curve of ler back and the tension in ler muscles as le stood. According to the digital reader in front of the cell, ler heart rate increased. The hormone-based emotional index turned white and violet, indicators for anger and lust.
“Could you open the communication channel?” I asked.
“Yes,” Liga said.
After le pressed the button, I said, “Mesahelepui, Sehutañi.”
“You came,” le said. Le walked towards the glass and stood close enough to feel the crackling electricity just inside of it. “So, are you a heroine, Akah Nitañi?”
For a moment, I pictured myself as Kakedi in the Canyons after the Chrysalis Interlude. Kakedi had a flying machine to build in the forest treetops. Currently, I have nothing. “Our Fadehin Akaiañi died.”
Sehutañi laughed. “Isn’t it wonderful how mortal our leaders are?” Le jutted ler chin towards Liga. “Even that can die. The one beside you is not a true tesekhaira. And since when did you use the word Fadehin? You are Narahji. You do not respect the Fadehin. You call lim your Deimo.”
I clenched my fist against the glass and wondered if I should ask Liga to end the call. Our eyes met, and I briefly remembered how to react in the face of Sehutañi’s anger. I said, “I will be an adviser soon. Still, what I call lim has no bearing on whether I consider the Kaureitha family fit to rule. It has no impact on where the true seat of the monarch should be, in Menarka.”
Saying more would have required me to think about other compromises that I have made and the things that I must do. Now that the trial has finished, I cannot afford displays of ambiguity. Traditional paper and hidden journals must be my only confessors.
“I don’t regret ler death,” Sehutañi said. “Do you regret killing me, Salus?”
“Do not call me Salus.”
“The Regent slipped you in that position to gain control over the Ịgzarhjenya. You are a despicable, stupid thing. You will fall in love with someone. You will seduce someone. You will then cut lim apart.” Le licked ler lips. “Tell me, Salus Niksubvya, if I can call you that, was this worth it? Is this how antisocial you are, that you would have sex with someone — that you would say that you love someone — and then you would betray lim to die?”
“Akah Gysabala did the same.”
“I don’t know who in the name of Enahari that is.”
I felt heat between my legs and despised myself for it. I tried remembering that this is the woman in the elevator who removed my gyena without asking. This is that despicable opportunist who wormed into a political movement’s headquarters. This is that woman. This is the one who had sex with me when I was too drunk and drugged to know what I wanted. This is that woman! This is the one who has become my gateway to misery instead of my antidote to sorrow. This is that woman, and I hate lim.
I could have explained who Akah Gysabala was, but I understand the playwright’s pain now, and I don’t want to see Sehutañi spit in the face of the heroic dead. It is one thing to out a nameless conspirator, and it is quite something else to betray someone whom one has loved, who has touched someone in the most intimate places, and who could have been a good companion, a good spouse.
Akah Gysabala, I will make an offering at your grave site. I will shed tears for you, and I will shed tears for myself.
Liga closed the communication channel. I turned away from Sehutañi.
Part of me wanted closure today. I don’t know what I was thinking. Sehutañi will die because le deserves to die. How could le ever give me closure? All I can do is try not to think about the times we had sex, the love that I felt and that I feel, the love that coexists with all of this hatred, disdain — disgust! All I can do is try to think of Kitesrati instead.
All I could do in the end in that hallway filled with all of those cells with the silent people watching — the once-screaming people watching — Sehutañi watching — was, in turn, to watch. To watch Sehutañi’s heart beat.
Liga and I stayed there for a quarter of an hour.