Serenades, chapter 10

Deviation Actions

Literature Text

ten: stormed them with lily petals and soap bubbles

“I would like to know the location of a certain prisoner,” Marciana asked the man at the desk.
“Ava...” She struggled to remember her surname. “Something long.”
“I will check,” he said placidly.
Ten minutes later, he returned.
“Only one person with that name. Samassaravong, I’m assuming.”
“Yeah, I think that’s right. Ok, how about Nicasius Patrescu?”
“There’s something, but I’m not authorized to check that one. I’d assume he’s somewhere in the lower wards.”
“He’s important?” Marciana shrugged.
A guard opened Ava’s cell door. “They say you can go free.” He was in combat clothing, black with armor and a helmet with a plastic screen over the eyes. She was screaming wordlessly.
“Just go away... Huh? I’m free? Am I free?” Ava was in the corner, with a thin sheet around her; she had blocked off the door with the cot. Dried blood and dark bruises covered her nude body, and she stared blankly at Marciana.
She was dressed in a knee-length sleeveless periwinkle blue sweater with a fake fur-lined hood, over jeans, boots, and a close-fitting black shirt. Her hair had bleached streaks in it and a white hat on top. She had a necklace of translucent plastic strawberries. From outside, water dripped into shallow pools.
“So, you’re here? I won’t suffer anymore.” She walked to the door, a jerky motion.
“The resistance unified. Our resistance, I mean. Movement for Justice and Equality along with most of the Dem-Socs. Some factions were unwilling to ally with us. Most of the Selinian military left, along with Lepidus. I’m hearing rumors that one of the Twelve is at the gates of the city. I don’t know which one. I think it’s Taraka, or the one who took control of the Kosalan armies. Right now, they want to lull the domestic enemies and repel the foreign ones for now. So, they’ve ordered that many prisoners go free to satisfy the rebels. Still, I sense a massacre coming, it will happen when the rebels are complacent. We leave right now. We’re going to Mediolanum, they declared independence there, declared Lepidus illegitimate. Where is Nicasius?”
“I don’t know,” Ava said, quietly. “Probably in the lower cells. Ask someone. I’m so scared.”
“What happened?” She put her arms around Ava to comfort her, cradling her and gently rocking her back and forth. “You’re so thin. I can feel your bones. I’m so glad to see you safe and capable of thinking and saying things that aren’t National Party slogans.”
“Uh.... I... I... they... I tried to fight back but two more came and I couldn’t...”
“I guess. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s just fine. I do want to ask something important. How long has it been since it happened?”
“Today, yesterday, I don’t know. I tried to sleep afterwards, I was so tired. I don’t know if it’s in me. Why me? You’re so much prettier than I am.”
“Ok, good. We’ll find Nicasius and I’ll get you back to my hotel room. I have some pills that would help. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”
“It’s fine. I can’t burden myself with a baby. And don’t tell Nica about it, please.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.You really need some clean clothes. And shoes. You could get frostbite. And we’ll have dinner before we leave. We’re about two weeks into Great Snow. You’ve been here for only a month,” looking at the notches at a wall she made with a broken tile. “I know it seemed longer.” Another man walked by, seemingly oblivious.
“They gave me salt water to drink. They got everything they could from me, but it wasn’t much, and I’m sorry, I really am sorry, and they were fucking going to fucking kill me.”
“Hey. I’m looking for a prisoner. Dark blond hair, tall. Important to the rebellion for some reason. His name is Nicasius. Patrescu, if you need his surname as well.”
“He would be in the lower cells. High-security area.”
“Let me there. Keep in mind that there are ten thousand rebels outside of this complex. I just have to give one word to them, and they’ll storm the place. Doesn’t matter that you’re more trained. Remember what happened with the PLA.”
“Ten-thousand?” Ava asked.
“We’ll talk later.” Marciana was terse.
“I’m just a bureaucrat. I don’t have that level clearance either.”
“You’re more pleasant than the security goons,” Ava said to him, melodically, dreamily. “What’s your name, good sir?”

The door woke me up.
“You’re alive! They stopped giving me food, they only gave me salt water, they interrogated me.” Ava was so excited she knocked me over. She had her arms around me, she was trembling uncontrollably and sobbing.
“I knew you had a thing for her,” Marciana said, smiling. “She loves you, doesn’t she? I’m happy for you, uh, I guess.”
“What’s going on?” I was as groggy as Ava looked. “Where am I? You’re the first person I’ve seen since the trial.”
“I was wondering that myself.”
“The oubliette of the Spire of Justice,” Marciana said. “You’re still in Tarentum. I’d never be able to find you if they sent you to Phaselis.”
“That’s what I thought,” Ava mused.
“You feel so thin,” I said to her.
“Marciana said so too.”
“Look, they’ve ordered that you be set free. CEO Lepidus left the city, along with half the Guard. The resistance has most of the city. The military is going to regroup and fill in any gaps with troops from the Archipelago.”
“Can’t they deal with us now?”
“Not with one of the Twelve threatening us. They were already hit hard at Selinus. One of the mages defected to our side, saying that executing people for disagreeing with the government was different than fighting an opposing army.”
“Anyway, there’s still a Selinian presence here, which isn’t enough to retake this city yet, and they’ve been ordered to shoot you on sight. The brass support the new government but the common soldiers are mostly draftees, and the magisters wield a lot of power. Some of them under Mardonius Avramescu have been disobeying. They’ve brought in askaris; that’s why you’ve been seeing Equatorial Union warmechs. The Arachosians are a rabble. The Selinian officers are blaming some philosophy or something only they talk about but I suspect the Arachosians’ bad aim is deliberate. Shedai deserted early on, but I’m sure some of them are still loyal. Brameshwar’s group is much more loyal and much more dangerous.”
“I know what’s going on with Walafar. This whole fucking war is to get support for certain corrupt leaders on both sides. I helped expose Walafar’s presence, and they had the weapons on them. Well, they have a temporary truce now. Both of them want to crush this rebellion. I can’t explain why they’re allied for now.”
“So Taraka or whomever is here for...”
“I don’t know. They might want to capture Walafar so he can stand trial, or it’s about the askaris.”
“You never found Walafar, did you?” Marciana asked.
“No, we didn’t,” I said. “Ava was able to access some correspondences between the two of them, but now that I think about it, they were too easy to access.”
“And didn’t you say you were Kishi, and how your family and childhood friends suffered under Walafar’s misrule? And, of course, you hear that Walafar is hiding out below the city brokering deals with certain Selinian officials, and you just want to get revenge. Lepidus gets some of the gendarmerie and some askaris to put on golem armor and fight you guys, and then they know about the illegal weaponry you’ve been using. I’m not blaming you, but people know about you. I’m not blaming any of our dear friends for it; I may not hold Cecilia in the highest regards, but I can’t imagine her doing anything like that. You’re Kishi, Walafar is rightfully despised there, and that’s no secret. That’s all there is to it.”
“Maybe you’re right. I thought I was defying his rule and building a better Selinia and avenging all the Kishi who suffered from Walafar’s rule and the chaosbomb, but in reality, I was just a pawn. And someone else would have gotten tied up in my place. Parmenius, I suppose, or Juliana, or Triduna, or that woman on the train.”
“It’s a bad way to draw insurgents out of the woodwork. Even people otherwise loyal to Selinia would revolt if they found out that our leaders were secretly working with our enemies.”
“They took us here to punish us, not to get anything out of us,” Ava said. “They knew they couldn’t get anything out of us, because of the size of the MJE cells. They captured us, and all of our cell is dead except for Paschasia, who was also captured, and I could tell them the truth without worrying about having them force it out of us. Guess I was wrong about the last part. They didn’t believe me. They don’t care. Nobody’s tongue would loosen that easily. They just think the perfect solution to all of us revolutionaries is to firebomb parts of the city suspected of being too close to them. And torture. Oh, oh... I don’t want to relive that. I didn’t tell them about Paschasia. Just you. Even after what they did, no, I... They still won’t hurt our movement. It was horrible, but that would be everyone’s fate. They knew about you already. They probably know about Paschasia.”
“So, what, then?”
“They abandoned us here because of the insurrection and outside attacks,” a new person, a young man with dark skin and dark hair, filthy clothes. “No one could be spared. What they originally wanted from us insurgents and other people, was for them to rejoin the cell after fabricating an escape story, spy on, and betray them. Sometimes it worked. The greater idea behind it is to foster an atmosphere of distrust amongst cells. Trust holds us together.”
“Who are you, I wonder. I’ve never met you before.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Nanarasti.”
“So tell me, what are you in for?”
“Same thing as you. What else?”
“I’m going to check the records for Paschasia.” Marciana said.
“What about Juliana? I think it was Ancellotti.”
There was a guardroom of several hand-sized screens arranged arranged on three racks around a swivel chair. On the back of the chair was a complicated looking apparatus.
“So, what do you want me to do?” I sat down in the swivel chair, smiling. Ava finally let go of me.
“Open the doors, I guess.”
I turned the machine on and fit a screen over my head. There was a map and grid etched in the clear glass in glowing yellow-green, with lights in green and red. Words appeared next to some buttons on the arm of the chair.
“High Selinian.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Marciana told me. “Get up.”
“No, I think I understand. Red means locked, green means open. I think. Go check the door we came through.”
“It won’t open.”
“So, I was right. Two other buttons.” I got up and Marciana took my place.
“I think one of them’s the alarm, and I can’t tell what, if anything, the other one does. Just to be safe, don’t press either of them.”

The next room looked like there was a recent firefight. The walls were cracked and the floors were stained with blood. Stairs led up to an aboveground section, less ravaged and better lit, but no less decayed, and very empty and monotonous. Only a few pieces of trash, along with nearly empty desks, cabinets, and shelves remained. Ava was distressed.
“Where’s my pendant? They took them from me. They’re the only thing I have left from my family. Bastards like them stole everything.”
“This is it? I found it in the confiscatory and it reminded me of the one you had.”
“Yes. Thank you. I’m sorry I sounded so materialistic. It’s the memories that matter. Memories are all I have.”
“Funny that they took the dragon and left the amber bead with you.”
“I told you, they don’t believe it’s real.”
“As for the rest of our stuff?”
“I have your bags and boots and other miscellany I found in the confiscatory. Your handheld was there too, I don’t know if you still want it.”
“I think I’ll get a new one. I’ll call LxNet and ask them to check thier end for bugs too.”
“I checked your apartment when I got here, and all I could find were some soap, bath oils, candles, and a few other personal effects. I had to leave all the food behind, and I can’t tell what half of it was when you made it, but there are some things at my hotel. I don’t know if you want them.”
“It’s ok, we brought everything here. Can I have my boots? My feet are numb from the cold.”
I found a few other items of interest, including a printed memo and a list of prisoners.
“The insurrection in Tarentum is potentially a problem. Move all records on the Adonai Project to Phaselis, signed Caesidius Petrovicescu.” What the hell?
“As for that list you found, was Juliana there?”
“No. She must have gotten away safely.”
From here, there was a view outside, through curving glass windows between carved granite. The corridor was on all four sides of the tower, except for the opening to the west. The door leading out was shut and locked.
“I stole a card in case of something like this,” she said. “Bah. They know he’s dead.”

We went back to the center of the building, took the elevator up to the top. Marciana used the card to open the door. The apex of the tower was a glass dome with more carved granite pillars outside supporting the roof. The floor was blue marble veined with white, covered with rugs and potted plants, with a fountain in the center, and globes filled with water and goldfish suspended from the ceiling. A curving staircase led to the carpeted second level. A man in a crisp, black uniform sat in a leather chair, slumped on the carved oak table in a pool of his own blood and saliva. There was no sign of any violence. From here through the window, we saw a huge crowd assembled outside the arch leading in to this complex.
“He killed himself?” Ava said, surprised.
“I don’t know. It looks like something big is going to happen, no matter what.”
“Is he even dead?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Ava said. She pulled his limp head back and snapped his neck. She made a noise of disgust, and searched through his pockets.
“Damn! He broke his card.”
“Let’s see, what kind of privileges do I have?” Marciana stuck the card she found earlier in a slot on the terminal.
“Security will arrive any second,” Ava said.
“And neither of you are in any condition to fight.” She touched the screen where it said ‘deactivate security drones.’ It flashed red, with the message ‘does not have privileges.’
“Emergency override password?”
“It could be anything. xkxvm. Or even xkxvm2”
“It’s probably 12345 or password. Nobody would guess those; they’re too obvious.”
She tried ‘open all doors’ instead.
“It works!” A laugh of relief.
“Can you talk to the human security?”
“Yes. Hello? Can you hear me? I, uh, I set off the alarms, it was accidental, um. I don’t think they believe us. I’m panicking and I don’t talk very well when I’m panicking, especially not to the people I’m panicking about.”
“Ah, fuck.”
“Well, we just leave.”

“Damn! They shut off the elevator. Well, there has to be a flight of stairs somewhere.”

The stairs spiraled downward around the elevator shaft, lit by fluorescent lights set in the black marble wall.

“Here, put this on. It’s cold out.” Marciana gave Ava a wool scarf, black cardigan, and floppy white hat.
There was a short passage with reinforced glass leading out of the building.
Icy blood mixed with cold water dripped on me. I looked up and saw a decaying corpse chained to the wall.
I walked down the steps, and out the gate leading to the snowy governmental complex yards, light flurries, snow falling on the ground and mixing with the slush, dirt, and filth. Behind us was an imposing spire of basalt and granite, smooth, blank-walled facades and tiny slit-windows, the rooftop dome topped with a thin spire. It stood out amongst the shorter revivalist buildings that made up the rest of the complex.
There was a crowd assembled in front of the complex, some waving banners with statements or logos of resistance groups, others singing revolutionary songs. Soap bubbles floated skyward, and fluttered down.
“This is how you did it?” she asked Marciana. “Stormed them with soap bubbles and lily petals?”
“Those and other things.”
Ava went ahead of us. In response, they cheered and threw bundles of white roses. Ava caught one. Someone shouted something barely coherent amongst the rest of the crowd into a megaphone. Something like “We will never be silenced!”
“I apologize. I can not stay for you. My life is at risk, and I do not ask you to be a human shield for me. Forgive me,” she shouted, above the roar of the crowd.
The crowd parted for us, and a few of them threw more flowers as we passed. Marciana stuck an amaryllis in her hair, and opened her lips in a smile.
We left the crowd and main streets, to protect them from heavier weaponry. The walls of crumbling buildings had antiwar and anti-government slogans in red paint. Solidarity Forever and Together We Stand, Divided We Fall were most prevalent on our side, paintings of gray and black raised fists; the one across from us had ‘to exist is to resist’ and ‘free Tarentum.’ Revolutionary fervor was strong here.
“What of Taraka?” I asked Marciana.
“No idea. A few people are already hailing him as a liberator. I don’t know his stance or reasons for siding with Ahriman over the Council. I have no idea how long it will be when the stargazers we throw at him become fire lilies, and then mud or rocks or petrol bombs. Same thing in Vaishali, I guess. They bide their time, waiting for a liberator from us, and the liberator turns out to be just as bad,” Marciana said.
“We’ll find out if there are any trains heading to Mediolanum. It will be safer there, at least. We have control there,” Marciana continued talking.
Paschasia continued. “Lepidus wants every threat to him eliminated. That’s mainly our groups and the opposition parties in Mediolanum, Nicopolis, and Lauriacum.”

We ran into those SWP thugs in a dingy and vandalized alleyway, lit by a humming fluorescent lamp above a backdoor.
“Oh, it’s you. Slanty-eyed halfbreed cunt.” The leader of the group, a burly, choleric man with a recently shaven head, picked up some filthy snow and threw it at Ava’s face, barely missing. “You scared me,” he said, laughing mockingly. “Next time, you get a beer bottle to the face, slant.”
“Leave her alone.”
“And who’s this? A traitor. I was expecting a one fifty kilogram cow. Well, you know what was meant for treacherous scum like you.” he said, bashing Marciana with a broken-off piece of railing. “We brand people like you, shave your head, sterilize you, and publicly flog you. Nobody will want you, and you’ll die in the mud with that slut. This planet belongs to us defenders of Selinian civilization, and you’ll be nothing more than tales of demonic mud people to scare kids.”
“What the fuck?” I asked.
“Stop it!” Ava screamed. “I’ll fucking kill you! I’ll kill you all!”
“Ava, don’t! Please, stop. You’re in no condition to fight,” she pleaded with her, ignoring the blows. Her words didn’t reach Ava. One of the thugs pushed Ava back. Marciana used the opportunity to strike at the man beating her.
“You diseased mud-loving cunt!” he shouted, he looked angry enough to rip out Marciana’s heart and eat it in front of her.
“You didn’t have to...” Marciana stuttered.
“I distracted them,” she beamed.
“Shouldn’t we do something?”
“And risk another farcical trial? As much as I want to do something about them, I don’t think we can. At least they know what the fucking score is. They won’t fuck with us ever again, I can assure you.”

Ava found an unguarded MilPol skimmercycle.
“You’re not taking that thing in to the subway, are you? Do you even know how to use these things?”
“No, but I think I can manage. There’s just two pedals, thrust and brake, and they’re labeled in Vulgata. Isn’t that nice of them?”
“You’re crazy, Ava,” her voice melodic.
“Yeah, I know,” she smiled. “But it’s crazier to stay above ground. I don’t want to be there when the Aeronautica gets here, and I bet there are military police and Knights of the Cross on the trains. So we’re going through the tunnels. Now hold on. Oh, and use the pike if you have any trouble with our SWP compadres.” She pushed down on the thrust pedal with her foot, and dived into the subway trench. I held my arms around her waist.
“Are we in the right trench?”
“I fucking hope so.”
“They left behind the carbine too. And someone left a light pistol in your apartment.”
“Even better. We’ll save this one for something nasty,” she said, motioning with her free hand towards it.

“What is it? Another skimmercycle?”
“No. Train.”
We turned around, hit the brakes, and jumped out of the way of the train. The skimmercycle was torn apart with a million sparks and the loud shriek of metal tearing.
“Are you ok, darling?”
“Couldn’t be better. I feel I could take on the Aeronautica myself.”

We lost ourselves in a crowd at the station near our apartment, and hurried up the stairs.
“Ava?” someone asked her as we ascended the stairway leading out. There was an unflattering portrait of Lepidus on the Peacock Throne on the wall, the statement ‘a modern Maxentius de Benoist.”
“Yes, that’s my name. Ambassador of friendship and heroine of the Viridian Revolution at your service.”
“Traitorous bitch,” he spat. He was a graying man with an unkempt face. “We should have put you against the wall and shot you. Celestine may have trusted you, but I sure as hell don’t.”
“Thanks. I love you too.”
“That’s my Ava,” I said to her.
“I’m not going to be loyal to a conducator who sacked the entire police department because his Knights of the Cross supporters didn’t like how they handled the pogrom eight years ago. I’m not like that. If the PLA went in and massacred everyone left in Kish, I’d tell the Council to shove it.”
“Well, do us all a favor and suicide bomb them.”
“Can’t, it’s against my religion,” she shrugged. “Yeah, there’s that whole virgins thing, but lucky for me, they’re all virgins because they’re all like you.”
“Do you know who replaced Kansate? After the assassination?” I asked, doing my best to ignore the man harassing Ava, lest I risk a visit from the authorities for taking out my anger on him.
“I’m not sure. I hope they hold an election soon. I know that Mui Nyee replaced Toyika. She seems like a good choice.”
“You know, stop pretending you’re always the victim,” someone said. “You’re not always innocent.”
“Shut up and take it. It’s not because you’re, uh, whatever the hell you are, it’s because you do those things. Classic victim mentality, rebelling against the same government that gives you constant handouts.” Ava merely bleated in response, mocking him.
“Do you know him?” Marciana asked Ava.
“I’ve never seen him before. One of those Siguranta apologists who can’t see the world beyond ‘why should law abiding citizens be concerned about a surveillance society?’ and is utterly content to let National lead him around like a fucking sheep.”
“Don’t know me? Your Viridian Revolutionaries attacked me.”
“They weren’t mine, you italicized creep. If you haven’t heard, I’ve been in the Spire of Justice for a month.”
“You probably deserved it anyway. That’s what you’d say if it was us. Even if she only committed the crime of looking or acting or dressing differently from everyone else.” Not wanting to waste my time, I continued up the stairs. It was disconcertingly quiet out here.

Juliana left a note behind, saying she went to Nicopolis, and apologized for not eating with us at the restaurant.
“She’s safe. That’s really good to know.”

“Hi. Do you remember me?” a young man in military police uniform asked Ava. Ava only stared back at him. “At the center power regulators. I was the one who refused to fire on you.”
“Oh. Hi.” She laughed, tears in her eyes.
“I’m Joannicus. I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced yet.”
“I’m Ava. And I’m forever grateful to you.” She removed one of her necklaces, a simple chain of interlocking rings, put it around his neck, and clasped it. “This is for saving me. This is so we’ll always remember each other. So, are you leaving the city too?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“You should come with us to Mediolanum.”
“But first, we’re all really hungry and need food badly. Come on.”

We took a crowded train that was Mediolanum-bound. It was late in the afternoon, and the skies were already dark from clouds. Due to the snow, the trains would be running ten minutes late, said the announcement, thanking us for our patience.
“Well, the seats are nice,” Ava said. There was a Network terminal built into the back of each seat. Marciana turned it on. “By the way, Cecilia said something about moving back to Lauriacum. Did you see her when you were there?”
“I did not. To be honest, I didn’t look for her, and part of me thought she’d be with you two. Just spent a bit of time with my family because I’m so afraid that each opportunity is the last and then I came here. I’m sorry.”
“Too bad. I really liked her. She just seemed so self-confidently happy and optimistic. Not the kind of optimist that says everything is fine because her colon doesn’t have parasites, but the kind of person who’s thinks that no matter how bad things get, everything’s going to work out.”
“I didn’t really like Cecilia. I mean, I’m sorry about what happened, and she was young, and didn’t deserve such a tragic fate. I like to think that I did my best to get along with her.”
“Why? It’s not like she asked you to discuss the relative merits of putting a fishbowl over your head and traveling to the moon in a gondola pulled by geese versus being taken there in your sleep by spirits.”
“I’d say spirits took her brain to the moon. Geese can’t fly to the moon even if they did have fishbowls on their heads. There’s nothing to push against, unless they’re rocket-propelled robot geese. I’d have suggested a cannon, although the acceleration would kill the traveler.”
“She was six. And the people who came up with that method probably thought the universe was filled with air of a more or less consistent thickness. So, what’s wrong with Cecilia?”
“She seemed like a complete scatterbrain, she’s too in love with her own cleverness.”
“I never saw that in her. She’s quirky, but she’s authentic. Maybe you didn’t know her enough.”
“There’s other things too, though. You make one little mistake and suddenly everything you do comes off as somehow wrong, you know?”
“I’m sure she doesn’t feel that way.”
“Did you talk about me?”
“Yes. Should I not have?”
“What did she say?”
“She doesn’t understand why you have such a dislike of her, and that she likes to think that she tried to get along with you.”
“I’m sorry. Anyway, when I was five, I wanted to climb the tree outside my window and pluck the moon from the sky and give it to a loved one, whomever that was. I’m sure I’d get married, that’s what normal people do, right? I flit in and out of love, but I guess there’d just be another moon for the taking. So I think we all believe silly things as kids.”
Lepidus was talking on the Network, Selinia’s tricolor in the background, his head obscuring the Imperator’s seal. I didn’t notice the sun wheel thing on the red band of the flag.
“Turn it off, I hate this guy and want to kick him in the crotch. Trust me, I’ve talked to him twice, and he’s an arrogant fuck and warmonger more suited for the role of petty arcology commandant who convinces everyone inside that they are besieged by dark-skinned forces from the slums outside than to the most powerful man on the fucking planet. Funny, few have heard of him when he was Archon and even fewer knew who he was before that. I heard he was director of the Siguranta at one point. Isn’t that just lovely?”
“You mean they don’t really eat babies in the Aredvi?” Marciana feigned shock.
“Nope, and we have nothing against music either. That was bad spelling in action. Anyway, someone needs to tell this guy to shut the fuck up and go back to Sirmium.”
“He’s talking about Lanxang. I think it’s important,” Marciana said. “I don’t like him either. This populism of his disgusts me. And he picked the rest of the Executive Council. It’s all people on top of huge businesses and members of ducal families, of course.”
“I’ve heard enough. He reminds me of Walafar, complete with many an attempt to kill him now that he’s in power. I don’t support that. Guess who gets to suffer from the pogroms, even if they were successful.”
“You know the latest assassination attempt was faked, don’t you?”
“Who would you have voted for in the General Election last winter?” I asked.
“Then? Eleuchadius like everyone else in Labour. Now, probably someone in the Justice and Equality Movement or the Dem-Soc. They’d never win, though, and we’d have some National guy in power and only ourselves to blame. It’s a hard thing to decide. I’m a Democratic Socialist, but I always vote Labour to keep National out even when I know they’re just going to end up keeling over to the Nationals. Dad always talked about how people from the East are going to Lauriacum and Nicopolis, bringing their values with them, their Saints’ Legion, their Knights of the Cross, their Freedom Party, and I’d probably be able to vote for the Dem-Soc candidate for Archon and provincial legislators if they weren’t flooding Nicopolis. And he said that Mediolanum and Vendelicorum wouldn’t be able to balance everything out alone. You know, that one guy, Crescentian. I admire him for standing up to Lepidus’ ambitions, and his foreign policy isn’t too bad, but his domestic policy leaves a lot to be desired, and, well, he’s only there due to a conveniently timed sexual scandal. Anyone could get in with that, and anyone could get in after him. Seraphina, well, she’s all right. I’ll have to accept this.”
“Yeah, he’s right about Ain Sifna,” I said. “As for me, I just stayed home. It’s futile to change anything in half of Selinia. Lanxang wanted to try Reveruanus for war crimes before he was in the Senate and the Axiopolitans still voted him in.” Ava clenched her fists.
“How utterly defeatist, Nica. I definitely support the separatists in the Southwest and Mediolanum. We’ll have more progress if we weren’t dragged backwards by the rest of Selinia’s adherence to tradition and their xenophobia,” Ava stated, a trickle of blood on her palms.
“My parents were against Ain Sifna breaking off.”
“Why?” Ava asked.
“Because it would just give more political sway to the East, and it’s even worse when I’m doubting whether National will ever be removed from power, if we’ll ever get a CEO from Labour again. You know, like in Champassak. They could have just as easily let the western half break away and do its own thing, while making Lanna or Vyadhapura the new capital or becoming part of Lanxang like the state where Champassak originated, but it would let Grand National do whatever they pleased in Kantipur, without Lanna and Vyadhapura holding a leash. And being in Sarnath myself, I could understand why. You know why Lepidus wants us to be a special administrative region? We lose our seats in the Senate and more power to the Nationals.”
“Oh, I see why now. Attempting to castrate the powers sounds good on paper, at least. Kantipurans, well, they’ve survived the power-hungry Tchineza autarchs, they can pull through this.”
“Yes, a castrated Champassak would be nice, but you can’t have it by splitting it into two. Oh, well. Lepidus declared himself a god-imperator, and it doesn’t really matter now.”
“Did you see the newsfeed of the Motion of No Confidence while in Hindana?”
“Yes. That was messed up. You know, I was really worried about you two. So, everyone else is dead? How tragic. I really wish I could have been there to help. I’m sorry.”
“What were you doing?” I asked.
“I was doing what Selinia wouldn’t do. Doing my part to liberate one more city. It was a turning point in the war. After we secured Hindana, we launched an assault on Loyalist forces in all the major cities, even broadcasting a message from their Ministry of Public Enlightenment, even if they did manage to defeat us eventually. We’ve pushed the Shurasenan forces back to Simudra, Gangga Negari’s the new capital of Shurasena. They’re moving the federal capital to Pataliputra, I think. That’s more a symbolic we’re the sons of the soil and not those Avantil and Aredvians.”
“Taraka wants to end the war, but he doesn’t have support amongst the rest of the Twelve he needs. If Kaitabha was alive, there’d be peace by now.”
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
“Weren’t you afraid that the Siguranta would find you?” I asked.
“As far as everyone knows, I was rescued from a prison camp near Hindana.”
“Can I ask you something else about your parents?”
“Um, uh, fine.”
“Did they know about effluvium-related research on humans?”
“My dad did, but, uh, he resigned as chairman even though it would be hard to find a new job because he didn’t like what was going on. And he was really upset that nobody in the department resigned with him. And he sabotaged a few of their projects.”

“We regret to inform you that there are delays due to snow. We will be returning to Tarentum shortly. You will be given a free hotel room for the night.”
“What? We’re going back? Damn!”
“Somehow, I don’t think this is the reason. Look out the window.” Soldiers with mirrors on long poles were searching under the train for something.
“I wonder if they’ve caught someone.”
Joannicus pointed his gun at us.
“You! Against the wall right now.” Ava smacked him in the face, hard, tried to fight back.
“Calm down, Ava,” Marciana said. “Everything’s going to be just fine if you stop struggling.”
“You think that what you’ve done...”
“Stop this nonsense right now, Ava.”
“Damn you!”
“It’s better him than anyone else. I just thought you needed to be surprised to be convincing.”
“You think of everything,” Ava said. “Hey, sorry.”
“I’m sorry too, Joannicus. I didn’t know she bites,” Marciana said. Ava responded by pulling back the neckline of Marciana’s shirt and dropping a clump of snow down there.
“It’s fine.” He was laughing at Ava, at Marciana’s undignified breaths.

Marciana changed clothes in a water closet stall, emerged in a dark blue skirt, halfway buttoned black cardigan, ruffled floral shirt, gray coat, white hat, gray stockings, pink shoes.
“So, are we your prisoners?”
“Officially, yes. Otherwise, you’re free to wander, though I would advise against it.”
Of jedi mind tricks and stunts with hovering motorcycle things. Listen to some Bark Psychosis, perhaps. But first, try the last part of Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams during the scene where the actual soap bubbles and flower petals are.

Storming with lily petals and soap bubbles was inspired by a conversation with a friend about storming someone's house that was inspired by a line in Trial of Flowers about mounting camelopards and throwing lily petals.

Not the Spire mentioned in an earlier chapter.

xkxvm is from a conversation about AIM screen names back when mine was from an obscure mythology.

The White Rose was a resistance movement in Nazi Germany. Fire lilies signify death to the recipient. I'm not too sure why. Pomegranate flowers are orange as well. Anyone?

I made the remark about asking someone to discuss the relative merits of each method of lunar travel when someone called a movie made after 1984 archaic to Liz and Kupomog. Granted, hunewearls are preliterate and both Cecilia and Marciana consider themselves intellectuals.

Scatterbrain, a Radiohead song.

Adam Yoshida makes me feel that way. About kicking people in the crotch, anyway. It was something Lepidus said. The goons in the alley said things from some blog called Cordelia For Lear.

Secession, I think I'm talking about someone's suggestion for Hawaii or maybe Ca-lee-faux-nee-ya to secede. More political clout to the South and west? No thank you.
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