Serenades, chapter 5

Deviation Actions

Literature Text

five: trust me on this, my intentions are honorable

The elevator was finally working again. I noticed the weapon while she was poking through her purse.
"It doesn't work anymore, I used the power supply to destroy a skimmer. It's from offworld. Nostrianus was eager to tell me that. He just refuses to tell me where he found the thing. Anyway, nobody's going to get anything from offworld, and nobody's going to be reproducing these weapons any time soon."
"Did something happen?"
"I heard there was a blight on one of their agricultural planets, and there's not enough food anymore. News doesn't travel so quickly. We're paranoid about invasion, not without reason. We aren't going to be on the periphery of habited space forever, you know. An offworlder woman I knew said we were mounting a manned expedition to the Magellanic Clouds. It won't be long now before they need more neodymium for their railguns and lasers, some cerium and niobium for fuck knows what, and they gobble us up and seize what little resources we have. I've learned things from history. We're greedy as fuck and we're going to take desolate moonlets too cold to inhabit and too devoid of anything useful to mine, just so we can have territory. It won't be easy for them, with three and a half billion Muslims with a reputation for putting up fierce resistance. You know it, I know it, and even the fools in National and the United Democratic Front know it. They can't take the planet without making it uninhabitable."
"Do you know anyone from off-world?"
"Yes. The star's so distant we don't even have a name for it. I can't remember what her name for it was. She was tall, thin, and very pale. Huge, gray eyes."
"What's it like there?" I pushed open the door to our room.
"Someone millenia dead had the idea that if the markets were unrestricted, the great people would rise to the top and create a perfect world. These greats live in their own private city-states with their own armies and legions of servants that would make even a princeps red with envy. After twenty, thirty, fifty generations, the social classes are fixed but for the rare ardent who makes it despite everything. She was one of the poor, she lived in eternal night under these palaces the size of a city, where you have to join a crime syndicate or hope a hand from above plucks you out to send you off to some distant rock during a power struggle. She got her wish. When they sent her here to scout, she left everything behind and went native.
"She thinks the famines were due to neglect. The people on top were too busy protecting their fortune from invisible enemies. So, yeah, it's a failed social experiment."
"It's like here." We sat down on the bed.
"It's like one of the great powers. We're a microcosm of that, our social castes, our nobility as a consequence of too much hoarded wealth and power. Of course, we're descended from them. We try to get away and just recreate that system for a different group of people. Funny how that works."
"What about the other one?"
"It's a collectivist bureaucratic nightmare, ranges from state religions that enforce the status quo to downright antitheistic, but mostly in between. Your position in society is determined by birth, and by birth alone. The wrong race, the wrong family line, even the wrong mutations can get you sent to work enclaves. Even one of the blond-haired, blue-eyed designer children having green eyes from a mutation can get them barred from executive or legislative positions. My ancestors looked to the stars because they'd never have what they want on Terra, and then they invaded Emerald and Sapphire and took everything from them. I'm sorry, I feel like I'm delivering a lecture. I took a class on this stuff last summer and it's really stuck in my mind. Tell me, did you defeat Walafar?"
"I didn't even see him. I was the only survivor. And everyone I fought was Selinian."
"So much bloodshed." She shook her head. "Of course they were collaborating. People like him, they're responsible for all the bloodshed in the world. Why do you think they want perpetual war? Because people put up with more shit when they're afraid. They can brand people enemies of the state and send them off to fight and die against other enemies of the state."
"The aristoi control everything even if they're not even one percent of the people, and the government won't do shit about it because there's so many aristoi in the government."
"Fuck it, they are the government. You know as well as I do that the aristocracy and the state are intertwined, with the occasional corporate head who hasn't attached himself to the nouveau nobility, and the aristoi are almost as afraid of them as they are of us common people. And that's the only reason while National hasn't dissolved back into Greater Selinia, the National Corporatist League, National Renaissance, and Crusade of Selinianism."
She turned off the light.
"Good night. We're invited to dinner and negotiations at the Majestic Hotel tomorrow night, by the way."

We went down to the subway station near our apartment and sat against the brick wall, listening to someone play a heavily reverberated guitar, backed with a synthesized beat and tabla.
"Uh, hi."
"You're really good." She started to sing along to his melody, "this is a song, I'm not trying very hard, I can't make up lyrics on the spot," And suddenly, "Chandra?" She ran to the stairs, pulling me with her. "Chandra!"
"You ran into me. Are you blind? Don't do that again, waif," a woman who looked like she was barely out of secondary education, with black hair cropped short and gelled into spikes and angry eyes decorated in green to blue to orange to pink, dressed in a lurid and shiny ruby crimson outfit with a zipper on the back and matching vinyl crop jacket with a pink fur collar, half-shrugged off. She was tall, and her iridescent pink spike-heeled boots made her look even taller, as tall as Ava.
"I'm sorry," Ava looked flustered.
"You got dirt on my shoes. You have any idea how much this cost me?"
"I said I was sorry. Do you want me to lick it off for you?"
"Are you always this insolent? Hey, blondie, hold on to your girlfriend's leash, ok?"
"Insolent? I'll show you insolent. You're just some vapid and spoiled bitch who has to act tough to look good in front of your equally vapid and spoiled friends, aren't you? You have no idea what it's like to really be poor."
"I don't get what her problem is either," another woman, dewy-eyed innocence contrasted with darkly sensual elegance left over from the latest cheesy espionage thriller. Short night-black hair, dressed in glittery black vinyl pants, a diaphanous black crinoline slip with strategically placed lace down to her hips and a cropped vinyl bolero, held together with straps and silver chains and fingerless gloves, with a metal choker and a heart-shaped ruby pendant, a garishly blue fake fur coat with thick white trim on the front and the hood, pink lips, dark eyes rimmed with blue and pink and violet, turquoise-painted fingernails, gold and iridescent glass earrings, said to Ava. Ava stared at her. "I mean, I know her, sort of. And I like the way you dress."
"There is something different about you. A gentleness, a kindness," Ava responded, smiling. "You don't have her savage streak. Chandra? No, you're too old. And you pull off, uh, that look quite nicely too. Whatever you're trying to pull off," she laughed.
"I don't know what you mean," she said, melodic, shrugging, waving her furled plastic umbrella back and forth. "Who's Chandra?"
"I thought I told you to stay out of it, Sylvia."
"What the fuck's your problem?" Ava said.
"I'm sorry," Sylvia said.
"It's not your fault. Anyway, I just thought you were my sister. We haven't seen each other in years."
"Yeah, we do look like sisters. Were you two born in the colonies? I was born here, but my mother was from Halingyi."
"Yeah. Well, I'd like to chat, but I have somewhere important to be."
"It can't be that important, if you're dressed like that."
"Maybe we'll meet again," Sylvia said, waving. "And don't listen to her, the shirt's adorable. And I love the ladybeetle hairclips." Buried under layers of black wool and plaid flannel, Ava's gray shirt had a vaguely murine creature with huge ears and sea-blue eyes holding a bouquet of red lilies and violets.
"I feel bad for leaving Sylvia alone with that psychopath," Ava said. "If only I had a bottle of that foamy stuff. I apologize to people a lot, even when they don't deserve it and it's not like I did anything wrong, right?"
"How could I say no when you make that face?"

Ava swiped her card. A red light flashed, accompanied by a harsh buzzing sound.
"Let me in."
"Are you illiterate or something?" the guard said to Ava. "Selinians only."
"Guess what, fuckbucket. I have papers from CEO Lepidus, signed by the pompous old bastard himself, and I'm not about to take a taxi to a place I don't know very well, driven by someone who may very well want to scam the foreign girl, am I? Now let me through." She waved the papers in his face for emphasis.
The guard reluctantly unlocked the gate for her. We went up to the spaciously empty station.
"Can you just jump over the gate if you had to?"
"I learned it's possible, if awkward, when I was wearing a dress. I also learned that security won't hesitate to shoot at an unarmed fifteen year old."

"Even the seats are better. I forgot just how restricted our movement is. I love this fucking city. Say, you were in Nicopolis and Lauriacum. Was it like this there?"
"Caralis, too, but that's more divided on a class line than ethnic ones. I don't know. I was only in Nicopolis for a few days, and I'm not a minority here, and I had no idea I'd meet you, let alone be this close to you. So, I didn't really think about it."
"I see. Not very socially conscious before we met?"
"Marciana and my now ex-girlfriend did their best to instill some in me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not apathetic, there were just too many National voters where I'm from, and I didn't believe I could change things, no matter what I did."
"Get up, girl."
"Huh? You damn plainclothes have nothing better to do than harass minorities, huh? I have permission to be here. Well, I'm a citizen, and I know my fucking rights. Show me your badge, right now."
"I want to sit down, girl." The man was impatient.
"There's an empty seat next to me, fucknut. I wouldn't want you to have an aneurysm."
"Get out of the seat or I'll have security do it for you, brat."
"Be patient, shitcamel. I repeat, I love this fucking city."

The subway station here was carved granite pillars and faded murals and carvings in oxidized bronze, with floors of white and sea-green tiles. Few people used it, those who haven't retreated to safer cities to the south and west opting for private transportation instead. A spiraling corridor led upwards. We emerged in the shadow of glass and gilt towers connected by walkways with wrought iron railing or covered bridges. We were in the Palatine district of Tarentum, the richest, most affluent, and most exclusive section of the city, and aside from a part of Taurunum, all of Selinia and the world. If anything happened here, I thought, this district would be the last to find out about it, and the last affected, shutting itself off from the world.
It was raining that night, a slow, steady drizzle, cold enough to be unpleasant, not cold enough to freeze.

It wasn't far to the hotel. We gave the attendant, a man in black and white who was bewildered to see us here, our coats and went inside. Ava ran ahead to the nearest water closet, while I sat in one of the couches, looked around the antechamber; reflective black marble tiles and pillars, white walls lit from below by lights behind wood panels, a sculpture of rotating glass squares, low mahogany tables with vases of heliconia and a selection of fruit-flavored hard candies.
A woman my age in a black silk dress, floor-length, with lace trim, sat down next to me. Her dark hair falling on her shoulders was curled, and her face was made pale like moonlight. She wore a necklace of pastel pearls and a gold chain, along with softly glowing blue clips attached to her ears, and her fingernails were painted black. "Hi. I'm Juliana. Another member of the MJE, I assume? I hope so. I'm not in the mood to hang around tools of Lepidus's oppression tonight."
"Yeah, we're with the MJE. My girlfriend's just getting ready. She'll be out soon. My name's Nicasius but she always calls me Nica." I popped a strawberry candy into my mouth.
"You know, the raspberry kind don't taste like raspberries, or any existing fruits. They taste like blue."
"And the pink ones taste like pink."
"Pink tastes the way I'd imagine that petrified whipped cream stuff inside a pomegranate to taste. I don't like the purple ones much. They're too sickly sweet. It's like hyper-refined grape essence."
"Yeah. Here's a black one."
"Licorice, or maybe fennel. I can't tell."

Ava came out, dressed in black pants and a silk shirt, beige and printed with pink and white roses, embroidered with purple and white violets on the collar and opening on the top half, red and brown and faint green embroidery on the lower half, tied together with strings, baring her navel.
"Ava, this is Juliana," I said. Juliana waved cheerfully.
"Hi," she said, half-smiling, sitting down with us. "Sorry about that, it's too cold and wet for this."
"It's not much." She poked Ava above her navel, traced her sternum with her finger. "Do you think they'll take you seriously?"
"We've fallen on hard times. But hey, at least they're nice pants and this is a nice shirt, and I don't have any blue or red stuff in my hair. It's too cold for dresses. And I don't like heels because they make me feel awkward; I'm already taller than most guys. That's what counts, right? It's not like they'll take us seriously anyway. Look at this. Isn't it obvious why they brought us here? They just want to say," she spoke in a mockingly posh accent " 'Look at me, I'm so much better than you. Look, I have art brought here from Isanapura, Tenasserim and Lanxang, even though I hate the people there because they look and act and speak differently from us, with their squinty eyes and weird tonal languages.' " Juliana and I laughed, and she giggled too. "I'm completely serious."
"You look fine. Just try not to be too opinionated, Ava," I said, getting up and gawking at the main hall, twenty stories tall, with marble floors and red carpeting and stairs spiraling up, railings of glass and gilt and wrought iron, an elevator shaft at each corner. Tropical fish with wavering chatoyant tails and fins swam in the channels and coins glittered at the bottom of lapis lazuli-tiled fountains.
"I will."
"Is she always like this?" Juliana asked me.
"She sounds like a wonderful person."
"She really is. Ever since we met, I've admired her. It's just that she could get herself in a lot of trouble."
"Ok, this is what we do. We listen to Lepidus' proposal, we discuss it, we pick someone more diplomatic to negotiate with him."

We took an elevator to the second floor, a glass gyroelongated bipyramid, brass edges lined with tiny light bulbs. Juliana gave Ava one of the pink-flavored candies.
"So, what does this taste like to you?"
"Centuries of failure to come up with an accurate strawberry flavor. But it's a nice sort of failure."
The reception room was spacious, with large glass windows that gave us a view of the city lights reflecting on the water, and arranged tables draped in sea-dark burgundy damask cloth and covered in blue and white porcelain plates and bowls, crystal twist stem glasses, and silver forks and spoons, a vase of blue and pink flowers. A central table had vegetables with dipping sauce, crackers with spreads of cream, herbs, and cheeses, tarts with salmon and cream topped with roe and chervil, toast with slices of rare meat and dabs of sour cream topped with chives, shrimp in boiled eggs, fattened goose liver covered in mustard seeds and green onion, lambs' tongue, pickled vegetables, stuffed mushrooms, cold cuts, quiches, and other fare, all surrounding a decoratively carved cantaloupe. I took a bit of everything for us, mostly vegetables and cold cuts. Above us was a semicircular balcony with a wrought iron and oakwood railing, propped up by pink and blue marble columns and gilded bronze.The ceiling, even higher, was painted with a cloudscape, surrounded by infantile angel statues of white stone. Chandeliers covered in glittering crystal hung from the ceiling.
A waiter in black finery brought over a porcelain salver painted with blue flowers and vines, holding various bite-sized canapés with glossy caviar and spotted quail eggs, salmon rillettes on wedges of toast. Another one brought a pitcher with mountains and a river with some kind of ancient boat painted on it filled with a thick soup the color of a Mangal sky. Another poured blood-red wine and sparkling champagne. I took a flute glass with a shrimp, a lime wedge, cocktail sauce. Ava had zucchini, mushrooms and beef on a skewer.
"Hypocrites," she muttered. The soup tasted of shrimp and lobster. "For that matter, why would they play stuff with Ouaddaian influence?"
"Do you know about Selinian etiquette, Ava?"
"I've lived here long enough to know that your rules for consuming soup are absurd. I can never manage to do it right, and I don't care, because I'm surrounded by Archipelagians, who consider slurping and even belching to be good table manners, and lower-class people like myself. And Nica, don't you think you sounded a bit patronizing?"
"Sorry. I agree, it's absurd."
The main course was mostly exotic fare: urchin in a creamy sauce and consommé with their roe and caviar atop, aspic with slices of green olive and pimento with a boiled egg, sweetbreads, a young goat served rare, steak topped with a raw egg and capers, poached salmon with wedges of lemon and slices of cucumber, snipes and larks stuffed with candied almonds. Ava found a more mundane dish, pasta with vinaigrette, with shrimp, scallops, and mussels, topped with parsley flakes.
"What is aspic?" Ava asked me.
"Jellied meat, I think."
"Urgh." She took a piece of salmon and popped it in her mouth, and the color disappeared from her face. Juliana giggled, held her hand to her face. "Something's wrong with this. It's supposed to be grilled. I put lime, honey, and ginger on the salmon once and it was delicious. I'll make it for us again."

"You mean, each fork has its own use?" Ava said to Juliana, toying with a shrimp.
"Yes. One's for pasta, one's for the shrimp and mussels and stuff."
"Wine from the year 153." The attendant spoke in an aristocratic-sounding voice.
"No thanks." She looked at me. "I'd feel so weird drinking this stuff. People pay hundreds of aureates for this. And the stuff is too damn bitter and sour anyway. I accidentally drank some of it once, and it tasted like that powdered grape crap mixed with vinegar and battery acid. I don't know if it's supposed to be like that or I just ended up around people with really shitty taste in alcoholic drinks. And then there's that other incident."
"And I screwed up once while drunk, so I won't touch the stuff. Is it that old, or are they just showing off again?" I asked. "Can it be that old?"
"You haven't touched anything. Do you like the food? I'm enjoying it, myself." Juliana asked Ava. "I didn't pick up any of the weird stuff. Just some salmon, and I plucked some almonds out of the larks."
"I don't feel so great, actually." she said, spinning the pasta on a fork. "I'm nervous. I feel like something with sharp teeth and lots of legs is crawling around in my stomach."

"Um, I need to check something on the Network."
We went to a smaller hall, which meant it was only eight times the volume of our apartment, white marble, wrought iron plant-holders on the floor, with palms in them, and wood floors. In the center was a small fountain. In the corners were network terminals. She seated herself at one of them, and typed something on the keypad.
"What the fuck is this? 'Ava Samassaravong. Born in Kish to Emilia Maciera, a Selinain living in Bhirrana and working as a propagandist for the People's Liberation Army. and a half-Lanxangese Bhirannan machinist named Payloth Samassaravong in 366.' Excuse me? My mother wasn't a propagandist for the PLA. The PLA didn't even exist in Arachosia then. And my father was a machinist. Both of them were looking for employment in Selinia. 'Moved to Tarentum in the winter of 376, joining a Chenlan gang under the wing of one Sen Kettiya of Chenla. Moved to Saguntum in 382. Member of the Movement for Justice and Equality since 384. Joined the Fortele Terestre and deserted after a strike on an terrorists' base of operations, seemingly sympathetic to the insurgents...'" She made an eloquent 'fuh' sound. "Whereabouts unknown at this time. "
The picture was thankfully terrible, motion blurry and her face half-hidden by the hood of her black and white jacket. The lighting was terrible too.
"Insurgents? Terrorists? Is this a government site?"
"No, it's the fucking Heritage Front putting up whatever they can in hopes that other jackbooted thugs will do the dirty work for them. How did they get that stuff? I always used my mother's name, Maciera. I'd hate to think of the kind of information they'd have access to if they were in power. Not that they need it. They can and they will make shit up, and I've seen friends' lives utterly fucking ruined by Heritage Front smear campaigns."
"Don't worry about that stuff. Pretty much everyone can find out what you look like, what books you read in the past year, what music you enjoy, what stupid things you said about this and that, and even what time you used the water closet." Juliana said, trying to reassure Ava. "Enemies of our people?"
"Clairmonte?" I blurted out suddenly, the name standing out when Ava scrolled through a list of socialists, communists, autonomists, anarchists, religious and ethnic minorities, trade unionists, educators, and journalists.
"Someone you know?" Juliana asked.
"No, her first name is unfamiliar. Maybe a relative of hers."
"Just a member of a comital family that was on the wrong end of a power struggle a century ago, stripped of their titles, and kicked out of the House of Magnates," Juliana said.
"You say it like it happened a lot. All the people with seats in the House of Magnates were powerful before they came here. It's not like they promoted a wealthy apocomital family," Ava said.
"Yeah, I know. Is Cecilia la Perouse there?" I asked.
"Cec never really did anything offensive enough to be noticed. Just dressing in Champassakan and Yunanese styles and listening to their music isn't going to get you on the list. It might attract attention from lone Knights or Sons of Heaven, but that's it. She's really not significant enough for these fucks to go through the effort. What luck, Bratianu isn't on there. Neither is Van Delinde. They don't have much clout in Ain Sifna, thankfully. Ver's boyfriend is on there, and, oh, surprise, surprise, they're trying to utterly ruin his life too." She slowed down, scrolled back up.
"Oh, nothing. She just looked like my mother." A young and serene blonde by the name of Demetria, by the innocent smile on her face, never dreamt of being on this list. Her crime was adopting a Gedrosian girl, perhaps to atone for Amphion, butcher of Gedrosia.
"Is Kettiya on there?"
"Kettiya was always a pleasant person at heart. We first met when he told me not to cry, that it would worry the spirits of the dead. I don't know if he really believed it, or if he just wanted to comfort me. He always thought of me as a younger sister. Anyway, 'Kettiya: Born in 361, Killed by heroic'" her face looked like she wanted to vomit "'Knights of the Cross during the Chenlatown Uprising in 379,' and nothing else. He actually gave a shit about the people here. Thirith took over and fucked everything up, turned our group into another Yellow Skull. Revolutionaries are like that. They become everything that they have fought so hard against, or they die. A monster once said they end up as monsters or ghosts. The ghosts are the ones who change the world.
"She told me I was worthless, that she'd never accept me as one of them, so I shoved her to the ground and strangled her, almost killed her. You know, I actually feel sorry for her. Old enough to remember the turbulence, young enough to be indoctrinated into it.
"Oh, you wanted to know about the Heritage Front. Here you go. All of the aristocratic pig shit you can handle. Patricians are the only ones allowed to run a business or serve in government, everyone else works for them. To me, that sounds like what we have now Ditch the Executive Council and replace it with a beefed-up Autocrator who basically controls the media and press and can do whatever the fuck he wants.  Here's something completely new. Officers in the armed forces are patricians. Acritas and Apocomes for the lower tiers, Princeps or Duces as strategoi and generals. The Siguranta's powers will be expanded and the Ministry for Proliferation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice will be reestablished. Try not to look so surprised. Eugenics, of course. Maybe I'll be worked to death, maybe I'll be locked up and left to starve,."
"Hereditary monarch or appointed by the previous one? I don't see anything about bringing back the House of Magnates."
"No fucking clue."
"Both have their disadvantages. Appointed monarchs give us the same power struggles we had before the Civil War, the hereditary one leads to corruption. Aristocrats answer to the monarch to take power, the monarch gets power hungry and fearful, the lower-classes flock to the monarch, the monarch becomes little more than a senile and decrepit old marionette who surrounds himself with sycophants and bootlickers, the ducal and princepial families and the bureaucracy he feared so much tugging at his strings, and Selinia is shattered into a thousand fragments each ruled by one of the noble families or insurgent groups," Juliana said.
"Ok, here are some laws proposed by more reasonable people. Not reasonable, just more so, like comparing the livability of the moon and equatorial Sukra. Separate ethnic states for mixed and foreigner residents, with no political power. You know, sort of like the Colonial Legislature for the non-Selinians. Do they not realize that shoving the foreigners into ghettoes would give them more votes than casting them all out? Independence would be even easier."
"Because they're afraid the new states would outcompete them."
"Selinia's 25% minority. Weird, I didn't expect it to be that high. Nevermind that they're including the autonomous regions to make it seem like there's a huge demographic crisis looming on the horizon, never mind that if you include the autonomous regions, the percentage of Selinians has been going up for the last two hundred years, aside from a decade after the civil war. National pulls this stuff all the time. They want to make it look like privileged ethnically Selinian or maybe Pannonian and Palmyrene heterosexual males are losing power to non-Selinians, underprivileged and people they don't like."
"What's the percentage without Nevdasht and Bharuka?"
"Something like eight percent, which is a little more than fifty million, mostly Nevdashti, Bharukans, and an assortment of stateless Caucasians who were around before Selinia existed. And they're all concentrated into a few areas. Some demographic crisis. Oh, we must have more babies or else half-Selinians will have actual political power. We must bring back weighted voting, after all, if you own land, you're giving more to Selinia. I'll see if I can find a graph."
"What happened here?" Equatorials and Archipelagians dropped about the time the war started in the Equatorial Union, Orientals increased, and southern deserts remained more or less the same.
"Before their war, Selinia had a reputation for being that place where the Equatorial Union sent their undesirables. Then when the war started, a lot of them saw reason to go back and fight."
"Did you ever see that film about the blue people and the green people that National's been putting in the schools?" Juliana asked me. "Half an hour of concentrated National bile."
"I think so, but I don't remember it." I responded. "Maybe I just slept that day."
"I only vaguely remember the plot. There were some blue people and then some green people came and overwhelmed them with sheer numbers. When they showed it to us, we just sat in the back of the room and made snarky comments. It almost made fun of itself."
"I don't believe so," Ava said. "I had much of my secondary education in Ain Sifna and the rest of it was in an underground school and mostly in Lanxangese, if that means anything."
"The green people aren't Selinians, are they?" I asked.
"National wouldn't sponsor anything that makes them look dumb. On purpose, anyway." Juliana said.

"Ok, I need to check something. Fucking hell, I'm on this site too? Half-breed cunt, eh? I get that one a lot. Someone said if he ever sees me, they're going to get some string and blindfold me. I bet he think he's being clever. Oh, yeah, and my gash has teeth. I'm perfectly fine with that rumor, to be honest."
"Sounds like the SWP."
"Yeah, they're like, hur hur it's funny when people die from intensely painful transformations. Lanxang is too powerful. Let's kill them slit-eyes too. The mainstream isn't much better. The Heritage Front and the Nationals and even Labour deny the attacks and claim its an accident. They even sent hellfires and helicopters and avions to bomb the place and hide what they did. My half-cousin returned to Kish the day of the bombing, fearing for our lives. He heard something happened, and then had to leave when the forests were hellfired."

We took the elevator to the third floor, which led across a bridge, to a long hallway with walls covered with tapestries, and leather couches along the walls.
"This is where we meet them." The door was marked 'The Forest Room' in immaculate black script on gold and chrysoprace.
"Holy shit," Ava said, awestruck and temporarily unaware of what I told her. She was definitely right about us being brought here so they can show off their wealth and power. "How many people did you guys overwork to get this?" The room wasn't very large; it made up for that with tiles of jadeite and green marble on the floor, brown stone pillars that were fashioned after tree trunks, and carved nephrite and malachite leaves, emerald buds. The ceiling was a dome of lapis lazuli and turquoise and blue chalcedony sky, with moonstone clouds dotted with pearls. At the center was a gold sun, illuminated by bulbs. Gold birds with intricate clockwork within working the wings and head, covered in emeralds, rubies, sapphires, topazes, and amethysts perched on branches. At the center of the room, Archipelagian men and women were seated around an ornate blackwood table.
All of us were given laminated cards with names and positions of everyone at the table. Most of them sat on the Council or served in the PLA, there were only a few other people in Selinian groups, all of them men, none of them familiar.
"Welcome, honored guests," Lepidus shouted dramatically. He was dressed in a cream colored military-style jacket with gold buttons and epaullets and a black leather belt with a gold buckle. "The Movement for Justice and Equality. I must admit, I had no idea you'd be this" he paused, pacing about the room with his hands behind his back, "young." I thought he was looking directly at Ava. "And other metic's rights groups. People seated on the Council at Langkasuka. I am Lepidus, CEO of the Selinian Republic, and I have summoned you to this fair city to make a few proposals. The Archipelago shall remain independent, provided they accept the government on the mainland. We have no intent on declaring war, and I only ask that they have the same intentions."
"Does your government contain members of the Ministry of Twelve Wise Ones?" Latavya, a councillor from Langkasuka asked.
"Indeed it does."
"Well, he almost got my hopes up," Ava whispered to me, rolling her eyes.
"The Council will stop all aggression against the pro-Selinian government on the mainland if you allow Avanti to remain independent and with the Council." Tengku, from Sedu, said. "The people of Avanti desire their own elected leaders, not these marionettes."
"That is understandable. The Archipelago has suffered for years under Champassak's yoke. I am sure you have already made up your minds about me. Tell me, does Hindana send a delegate to the Council at this time?"
"No." Toyika, from Chaiya, replied. "Only the Archipelago and Avanti do."
"If I may ask," Teuku, from Siak, spoke, "Are any people sitting on the Ministry of Twelve Wise Ones currently present in this city?"
"Not at this time."
"About Dakyanus?" Ava asked.
"That was a tragedy that could have been avoided. Be sure that this can never be atoned for. I don't expect you to believe me, but trust me on this, my intentions are honorable. As a token of my good intentions, I will broker an independence treaty between Kelantan and Simudra. Selinia will not relinquish its holdings of Besakih, Pailah, Taro, and Kamarupa," he was reading names from a list, "but it will not expand into existing Archepelagian states."
"We did not destroy the Archipelagian Coprosperity Sphere so you could create a new one" Ishtani said. "The people of your holdings will not accept this."
"You expect us to go along with your plan now?" Kin Ngoh, from Tegalalang, said. "Many of us still remember the days when we were independent."
"They are but minor cities," Lepidus said. "And the Timurese do not share your revolutionary desires."
Ava stood up. "You want to return to the self-consuming glory of Terra, and if the people of this world starve to death or die in your senseless wars to help you achieve that goal, you'd be perfectly fine with that." The room went silent.
"Sit down," Lepidus demanded.
"You can't keep oppressing us like this. There are too many of us to exterminate," Panglima, from Pasai, said.
"I'm fucking sick of this," she yelled, crushing the stem of her wine glass with her hand. "You sip ancient wine and eat foods that people suffered to retrieve for you. People died in Gera and Ouaddai to get you these gems. Barbarians, you call us, while you proclaim yourselves civilized as everything falls around you."

"You're cut," Juliana said, holding Ava's bloody hand in front of her. "It's pretty deep."
"I know."
"We'll go to the kitchen. They'll have supplies there," she said.

"Do you want to get something?" Juliana asked us once we were outside, our our way to the station. It was still raining. She had put on a frock coat of a dark blue and slightly translucent vinyl, with a gold buckle on the belt and wrists, a plaid scarf, a floppy black hat. "Nothing fancy, just a sandwich or pizza or something."
"I'm full already," I responded.
"Nah. I just want to get home and go to sleep."
"I'm full too. It was more about Ava anyway. She barely touched the food. You're unhappy about this, aren't you?"
"Damn straight."

"Well, this is my stop," she said. "If you want to chat," she gave Ava an apartment number.

"Oh, I forgot to ask. Who said that thing about monsters and ghosts? I was thinking Khaosai or Skvireckas, because you're taking that Pannonian history course."
"Nope, it was tens of thousands of years ago."
"How is the class, by the way?"
"It may cover maybe a century, but it's confusing because there are so few primary sources and they're all contradictory. You know the thing with the language? I can't tell if it's in place specifically to seperate the children who don't remember the revolution or were born after it from the adults who fought as socialists or republicans, or it was just a side effect of the self-declared holy men's need for total social upheaval. Even Danielius doesn't know and he's from Arrabona. Danielius, like the prophet."

"Have you ever taken early history?"
"Like first wave? Yeah. It's amazing how much knowledge is suppressed because the people in control don't like it. I know they always had access to bits of technology and knowledge the colonists left with them, but it's amazing the way they were reduced to early stone age and despite interference, managed to make it back to the information age in less than a millenium. A few things were suppressed, mainly flight and rocketry and explosives, by people whose ideal was pale skin and light hair, completely altered. I'm sure there are cases of them realize they're never going home, and even if they did, they'll never be accepted."

She wrapped herself up in blankets when we got back. I ran my hands through her hair. She made purring noises in response. I gave one last check of the newsfeed; Lepidus was at a press conference, he dismissed the recent troubles as the actions of disgruntled Muslims and foreigners.
Still wondering if I should downplay the whole "we aren't on Earth" dialogue. Someone? Anyone? I deliberately went in and corrupted familiar place names and made one of them into an archipelago.

Spraying someone in the face with foamy stuff happened in Kontroll and I so want to do that to someone.

Blue things taste like blue, except for pepsi blue, which tastes kind of mediciney. Pink things taste like pink.

Redwatch exists in real life too. I hate them. They hate me. I hate them.

That's the kind of shit white supremacists, oh, excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, white nationalists like to talk about too. They also like to make up false accusations about people who disagree with them in an effort to ruin their lives.

This story is very personal in nature; I find it easier to write in a fictionalized setting.

Said monster is Deng Xiaoping.
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