Serenades, chapter 12

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Literature Text

twelve: i can’t trust any of you to run a fucking democracy

It was a short walk through biting cold from Grand Palace Station to the Archon’s Mansion, a large building of white stone facades and statues and pine green and gold tiled roofs, with a large and intricate dome, a verdigris-encrusted quadriga, a winged man in the chariot wielding the labarum above the main entrance. Marciana had her hair tied in two braids, tied with white ribbons, and wore a white knee-length dress with embroidery in crimson, black cotton frock coat, red and white scarf, stockings, knee-high boots. I wore a black velvet jacket, a white shirt with a paisley ascot, black pants.

There was a ballroom in the Mansion, a spacious room with a few tables moved in covered in damask cloth and decorative gourds and bouquets, high ceilings painted in a gorgeous starscape with a stylized moon and the patterns of the summer sky.
“And you are?” said a dark-haired woman my age in a glittering violet dress, matching velvet boots, sitting at one of the tables.
“I’m Dipavali. I came here because of the war.”
“I did too. Though my father meant well, I feel we would have been happier in Lanxang instead. You’re from Shurasena, mayhaps? I’m from Arachosia. Kish, to be specific, but my parents moved there from Bhiranna because they couldn’t legally marry. He took shitty plantation work just so he could be with her. Isn’t that just sweet? Am I talking too much?”
“The Archipelago. Specifically, from Surakarta, in the Barat region. But sometimes people try to talk to me in Avantil or Archipelagian, like I’m one of them.”
“Why are you getting so pissed? People have mistaken me for everything from Bharukan Han to offworlder. And we became close friends soon after that.” She paused. “I was wearing my hair in looped pigtails. I don’t get why you’re getting so pissed off. If this is about the population exchanges, yes, I agree that it was a tragedy, but it happened a century before my grandparents were born. Don’t blame me for it, please.”
“The Avantil are such savages. They’ll riot in protest for every wrong done to them. I would hope that Gajanan has the presence of mind enough to choose Shurasena’s survival and lays waste to Avanti.”
“That’s very presumptious of you, thinking I share your opinions on Avanti. How long have you been here? I’ve been in Selinia since I was ten, fighting their wars for some two thirds of a year, resisting them ever since.”
“So, what are you?”
“A melange of cultures. A separatist and isolationist, or Green in other words, if that’s what you’re asking. I don’t know the current derogatory term for us, yet. And I really resent having a bunch of Knights here. And not just that, I’m downright frightened. It’s like nobody remembers what happened in Pannonia. So, what are you, Ilaga? Did you fall in the sea while drunk and wake up in Surakarta?”
“No, I mean, what are you. Aredvian or Selinian?”
“Aredvian, I guess. I mean, I was born there.”
“Where do you stand in this conflict?”
“Uh, Council? The Twelve are just too authoritarian, but at least they don’t scapegoat us Sufists for everything like Gajanan and his Hindutva paramilitaries, and they don’t get pissy when you speak your own language, and they actually stand for some of the things the Equatorial Union stands for.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“I want independence for Mediolanum and Ain Sifna. Tarentum and Vendelicorum too, that would be nice.”
“No, I mean east versus west.”
“What conflict? With due respect, you’ve got the wrong century, dominsoara.”
“Do you identify with Selinian society?”
“Fuck, no. Do you expect me to or something, after all that Selinian society has done for me? Culture’s different, but as I said, I’m a melange. Unlike a lot of people, I have the sense to separate culture from politics. And I have the sense to ally myself around beliefs instead of nation or ethnicity.”
“It gave you a home! We’re guests of Selinia.”
“It gave my father a cremation. I wouldn’t give a shit if he died in Vengi where it’s was a custom to burn the dead, because it would be out of respect, but this was an insult. Tell me why I should support Selinia now that Lepidus has control. Yes, I live here, but if you expect me to take it up the ass, you’re mistaken. So, what are you a member of?”
“National. I’m not with the separatists. I’m here to forward a proposal to split the metropolis between Selinia and an independent Carantania with the river as a border.”
“What the fuck, Dipavali? What the fuck?”
“Yes, I think they could stand to be a bit more moderate. I don’t agree with everything they do, their intolerance towards legitimate war refugees, their refusal to give Privileged Workers voting rights. The rest of the people who come here don’t belong. I mean, they have their homelands, they didn’t do anything for us there, they aren’t going to do anything here.”
“Nobody comes here except for the war refugees and the occasional Easterner. And all those people that came here to be a part of the reforms these decades, and when the Autocracy fell. And the some forty million who were living in territory absorbed into Selinia proper. And they can’t just go back to Lanxang because the Waste and mountains are such a difficult journey.”
“Still, it’s too much,” the man said.
“Oh, that’s why he didn’t want to go to Lanxang. People of you taking over Chenla or Champassak. Let me guess, you’re a collaborator when the old regime fled Chenla when Maha’s revolutionaries were winning and came here to capitalize on your bitterness writing articles in Homeland attacking any fellow minorities who dared see things from any point of view but yours?”
“You don’t belong here. We’ve established that many times. Quit your whining.”
“You know,” she said in an acerbically sing-song voice, “they’re not being friendly when they call us skinnies.”
“And you’re not being friendly when you compare me to Chenla scum, child of dust.” His voice remained as composed it ever was.
“Your position in the middle tier of Selinian ethnic hierarchy is getting to your head, isn’t it?” Her voice grew louder. “As the closest thing to a representative from Lanxang, I say ‘fuck off, garbage-eating lizard!’ You understand, don’t you? There are reasons none of us sane Oriental types like me are going to help you become influential enough to start another fucking cold war. So, are you from Lanxang?”
“Good, I hate to think that you would have an Samassaravong in your family. Or anyone else Lanxangese, for that matter. I’d hope that we’re too good for your kind.”
“You’re testing my patience, child of dust.”
“Chenla?” She laughed and he glared. “Ok, fine, you’re from Champassak?”
“Yes,” he said impatiently.
“I see. Well, there’s a reason I wish you’d die from overwork on some desolate mining world under the steel grip of the Great Powers instead of just a quick one, preferably at the hands of the Sons of Heaven. Child of dust, huh? Why is it that every one of you who seek approvals from the National Party has a worldview that makes even Imperator Maxentius seem sane? The fact that you’re a fucking sellout is the least about you that offends me.”
“Because I respect the Selinians and Pannonians. Because I made something of myself through hard work instead of playing jihadist. We can both agree that your mother selling out her people was not a good thing for either of us. Did you even know your father? I bet that it fell apart because she had sex with him and alienated herself from family and friends just to prove a point.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about, do you? You just assume my father went to Lanxang to chase after young girls, when in fact he was the half-Lanxangese one; both of them lived in Bhirrana. Even the SWP figured that one out on their own, even if it is just a coincidence that happened to fit their idea of what they hate the most. You want to know what I think? It really burns my ass when you’re so nasty about two perfectly lovely people and maybe you should cram a cactus down your throat so you’ll shut up.”
“If you ask me, people should stick to their own kind. It stirs up trouble in the community and causes identity issues. They may have called it freedom, but it was mere irresponsibility. People are too entitled nowadays. You don’t have the absolute right to live anywhere, and you don’t have the right to use the government to bypass standard rules of social acceptance.”
“What issues? I am Ava, and not a mere device. It’s not my flaw to be mixed, it’s your flaw for being repulsed. It’s your flaw for only being able to repeat slogans. It’s your flaw to only be able to parrot what the SWP says. Are you repulsed by my relationship now?”
“You’ll grow out of that starry-eyed idealist phase. Do you honestly believe you’ll never find anyone else if you weren’t allowed to be with her? Nobody benefits from interethnic relations, and the children have a terrible burden. Do you think that anyone should be allowed to do whatever depraved acts they want because they have free will?”
“Maybe you’ll find someone else, but I never will,” she muttered to me, so only I could hear it. And louder “What do you care? I thought I was tainted in your eyes.” She put her face on the table, muttered “fuck off.”
“You can’t just expect everyone to be happy with what you’re doing. Maybe you’ll learn how the world works sometime. Don’t give me that crap about not being willing to change.”
“Just go away,” she didn’t even lift her head up.
“Ava! Um, are you ok?”
“I am now, Ver, now that you’re here.”
“What’s her problem?” Dipavali asked Veridiana.
“She can’t be arsed with hearing you two fruitcakes acting in a particularly shitty way, I guess,” Veridiana commented. She was in an indigo dress and leggings with a flared white lace collar and shoulders, yellow poppy designs at the skirt, gold shoes and gloves, lacquered wood bracelets, gold crescent clips in her hair and an ostrich feather. “Next think you know, she’ll be extolling the virtues of Pannonia.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Ava laughed. “I really resent being told that I should die lonely and unloved because so-called polite society doesn’t approve of me.”
“Not a mere device? Cecilia said that.”
“My mother read a book to me with that. It’s downright ancient. I do think I’m the only Ava Samassaravong in the world, it’s a rare combination of proto-Aredvian and Lanxangese and I’m pretty sure the family got it by poking through a Pali dictionary and sticking vong at the end of a word. Mandated surnames, see, and unique surnames at that. Now, right now, I’d like you to bring me a bird made from rarefied starlight and a slice of moon, and turn the ocean to pomegranate wine.” Dipavali stormed off.
“And I would like a sine of alpha greater than one,” Marciana added.
“Well, unless you’re wondering why she’d think you two would be better off doing an actual service to a Great Power. Personally, I’d love for you to just rot.”
“And I mean the one that invaded Emerald and Sapphire and fucking fetishizes the idea of race and ethnicity, not one of the noble-run ones. I can’t imagine the aristocrats being that much better, but I can’t get a fucking account of it at all. As for the racial dystopia, well, as much as Selinia likes to downplay the atrocities of its own, I don’t believe that it’s downplaying this one. Lanxangese and Yunanese have similar claims about them.”
“Reminds me of an art exhibition we were in back in Ain Sifna. It’s too bad you missed it.”
“Why, was someone whining about being oppressed by the evil Avantil mud people whilst suggesting that the Shurasenans round them all up and bomb Kelantan to dust? I really don’t see why someone would willingly fight for the right to be on the bottom rung of society when they can just be like us and rebel against the existing social order, but can you really blame her? Gajanan has them all shitting themselves over an Aredvian caliphate and their Avantil fifth column.”
“No. I was talking about the food. They had marinated kalamata and green olives there, too. And I learned that hummus gets funky if you leave it out in the sun but onion dip remains edible.”
“Some of the Nationals are fine with diversity, as long as nobody tries to topple the existing power structure. You’re welcome to tag along with us as long as you think and vote exactly the same way as everyone else in the party. Different values lead to moral decline, whatever the fuck that is.”
“They don’t understand that the people they want to emulate consider them subhuman, that they’re just as bad as the Chenlans and the Avantil. He doesn’t realize he won’t make it anywhere, not for a while, anyway. I mean, I can sort of understand. I’m a member of a lowborn group that didn’t have much in the way of rights until the first civil war, and there are still problems, and yet some of us enthusiastically run off and join the fucking SWP. I just don’t understand. Do they enjoy prostrating themselves or something? Are they under the impression that the word ‘workers’ in their name makes them socialist? But, yeah, I was thinking of the food, not the Champassakan jerkwad.”
“Phayao, maybe.”
“Been there?”
“I have. It was arse. It has all the Selinian-wannabes that act shitty and are too loony for even Grand National that didn’t flee here when the Social Democratic Party won in an election, and they treat you like a diseased whore if you disagree with their identity politics or even if you’re south of them. Total contrast of Lanna and Vyadhapura. I loved Lanna. Nice, thriving art and music scene there. Almost as big as Lanxang, Ankobar, and Srethapura.”
“I knew people from the west of Champassak,” Marciana said. “And I think I’m worse off for it. How do they treat you like a diseased whore, anyway? Do they ignore you or ignore the disease? What about Lanxang?”
“Do you mean the city? Closest I’ve ever been was Muangsua. It was a long time ago.”
“I’ve never been. I’ve been to Yunan, Kantipur, Licchavi. But I knew someone from Ban Talad Kao and regret meeting him ever since.”

“Have something to nosh on,” She handed me a cracker covered in a spread of cream cheese and poppy seed, with a marinated picholene olive slice on top. “There are vegetables, spiced cheeses, pesto and cream cheese, roast peppers, and this sun-dried tomato stuff.”
“Well, we have to accept the Knights’ help for now. After all, they’re the ones with all the military or paramilitary training. They’re not with us because they agree with us. They’re with us because they have big guns and connections and aren’t afraid to use them.”
“That’s what worries me,” Ava interrupted. Veridiana continued talking.
“We don’t have to pretend to like it, but we do have to accept them for now. You know what they say, the enemy of my enemy is a friend, well, for now, anyway.”
“I don’t want to accept them!”
“She’s right,” Marciana said. “You, me, him, and Joannicus are the only ones in our faction with any sort of military training. As much as we all hate having the sheetheads and their patron Cleisourarch, we’re stuck with them.”
“Well, get the help of Lanxang and Yunan! They have higher technology than even the Cleisourarchs. And the Reds.”
“The Reds have no military training. They’re just overly zealous Greens who are deluded in to thinking they could get half of Selinia to revolt with us. Face it, most people with any sort of military training or weapons are against us, and at least the Blues and Grays don’t want reintegration.”
“There are Pannonian Revolutionary Front members. I’m sure they know how guerilla and urban warfare works and they know how to identify a potential Saugumas agent. Better than the Knights. Only thing they know how to do is push around helpless people and steal revolutions. Remember Pannonia.”
“And piss me off whenever they open their mouths. I can’t decide whether they are being patronizing dillweeds by dumbing everything down or they’re just stupid, but I hate it.”

“We can’t have security unless everyone is secure in knowing that there will be food on the table the next day, that they will have somewhere warm to sleep in these cold winters, that they will not be gunned down or blown up by ethnic nationalists. I guess what we need is a mind change, cast away the untruth that everyone is bigoted to some degree, the untruth that we as Selinians are completely distinct from everyone else on the planet, the untruth that Selinia is defined by its xenophobia, we need to reject the old ways that the Heritage Front clings to, because that has done nothing but tie us down. We need eternal peace, and not just the absence of war. We need freedom, not just the freedom to speak our minds, but freedom from repression when we do speak our minds. If we don’t, we will willingly give up our freedom of speech to be safe. So, I guess I’m supposed to answer some questions now. Fine. Ask away.”

“I see nothing but hate being spewed from you. I hope you’re fucking proud of yourselves. You’re scared, I can tell. That’s good. It means we’re winning. Well, you know what? I can’t trust any of you to run a fucking democracy like you’re always talking about when you’re debating whether a woman like Veridiana, let alone someone on the bottom rung of society like me, should be given rights or just considered chattel. So, as much as I’d love,” she gave a sarcastic laugh as she said it, “to stay and chat with you about stupid shit, I have breakfast with a close friend’s fiance’s family and then a performance tomorrow. Oh, and yeah, I said fuck. That’s just what I do. Get used to it. What are you going to do about it, you prissy aristocratists? Decry me as not being pro-family enough? To all of you, a good  night, and fuck off.”

“Do you think my halfwitted preamble and later tirade will hurt me? I’m shitty at speeches and most of my teenage reading material I liberated from Heritage Front book burning rallies.”
“You’re a very brash young woman with your heart in the right place, you have a lot of good points, as always and you’re genuinely nice instead of trying to bullshit everyone with faux decorum. Anyone who’s met you would expect that. If these fiascos have taught me anything, it’s that people will let anything be an excuse to voice their prejudices,” Veridiana told us, in between bites of a roll of rye bread filled with peppercorns. “So, pastries at the Halfmoon?”
“Sure. You’re dressed for it.”
“Yeah, it’s a what people in the past thought people would wear now style.”
“I kind of want to go back and get my guitar. Nica, you’re coming with me, aren’t you?” I nodded in response.
“Get it, then. I’ll be waiting for you, of course. There. I don’t give a shit about what Volusian and Thespesius have to say. By the way, speaking of performances, this musical is coming out where a bunch of Selinian troops sing about wondering why in the six cold hells they’re in the Aredvi fighting.”
“Sounds intriguing,” I said. “Can I ask you something?”
“Was the Archon noble before the Civil War?”
“Nope, always from the common people by decree. There was an I don’t remember what he was called elected by and from the nobility, but he lived in the Grand Palace.”
“Have you been here before?”
“A few times. That was true everywhere. And Veridiana’s right about the place being livelier in the summer when there’s no war going on.”
“You know what,” Veridiana said, “Let’s sit in the front for a few minutes, wait for Volusian to start speaking, and then get up and leave when he can see us do it.”

“I hope nobody took Dipavali’s proposal seriously. A second hostile power at our doorstep? If they want to be with Selinia so badly, they can just leave for Phaselis.”
“Have you talked to Theusetas Marineanu yet?”
“No,” I said.
“He’s one of the major figures in the separatist movement. I don’t always agree with him, but I see eye to eye on the need for a buffer between us and Selinia. If Tarentum and Vendelicorum are willing to join us, wonderful, but I don’t want to resort to violence to acquire those buffers. Occupying a hostile territory is more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Do you think they’d be willing?”
“Vendelicorum, definitely. Tarentum, maybe. It’s just like here, from what I’ve heard, except the people we’re fighting against come into the city more often. And we don’t have any powerful figures on our side there.”

“The snow’s disorienting. Almost like falling. But, you’re right, Ava, it is beautiful. I think I like winter here more than winter in Nicopolis. It’s too monotonous there. It’s too cold here, but there’s no snow there. And it’s miserably wet.”
All the pretty speeches aren't there yet.

My friend Rich proposed Vietnam: The Musical and that's what it was about. Sadly, his dream has not come in to fruition, but there's a North Korea: The Musical that satirizes the Kim regime and was de facto banned in South Korea.

Birds made of rarefied starlight are from the painting The Creation of the Birds by Remedios Varo. Bringing a slice of moon and turning the ocean to wine is from, of course, The Thirteen Clocks. Bringing a sine of alpha greater than one is from a poem that I can't remember right now and can't be arsed to look up.

Ilagas are a Christian militia in the Philippines. They may not be as bad as Babu Bajrangi and his goons, but they still suck fox testicles.
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