Serenades, chapter 6

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Literature Text

six: fuck off and piss on the third rail

At our station, a quartet of musicians played, two with guitars, one with a set of tuned drums, played with the hands, one with recorder and flute occasionally adding handclaps. We had time, so we listened.

A propaganda poster put out by A Secured Future was defaced with broken rings and curls in black ink, Northern Archipelagian writing, something neither Ava nor I could read. Ava couldn’t sit down, even with an empty seat, for fear of starting a fight, and I wanted to talk to her.
“I’m not worried about starting a fight. Just the backlash and the lack of support I’ll get when I get arrested for it. So, wanna see some real culture?” Ava asked me, smiling. Her soft black velvet shirt and the silver glitter in her hair sparkled in the fluorescence. Her hair was held back with a clip, and there were flames of neon red, electric violet, and chartreuse at the end of the tail. She wore black and pink leggings, work boots, and a thigh-length denim skirt with pink lace trim as well. “I’m a lower-class girl. Not that I really had a choice in the matter. Oh well. I still think we’re more cultured than the patricians. Private beaches? What the hell is that? Here? May be a shithole, but at least I feel somewhat welcome. We get out here.”
“You look fine.”
She smiled, leaned against me. I brushed her hair out of my face. “I’m worried they’ll start enforcing the sumptuary laws. People who notice my necklace assume it can’t possibly be real amber, but I don’t want to risk it. The dragon pendant is too unwieldly to hide, but I don’t even want to pocket it for fear of losing it.”
The subway station at the foreigners’ district was dank and decrepit, the few lights that did work hummed and flickered incessantly. A passage down to Blue was blocked off with cinder block and concrete, the station below abandoned to the spiders and generations of vagrants in the undercity. Ochre tiles smashed on the brick floor long ago, showing grimy concrete. The perception that the Northern Archipelagians are vicious criminals is fostered and perpetuated here. The people have nowhere to turn but to crime. The SWP runs protection agencies and provokes the Archipelagians. One of them, part of Dark Moon’s Ghost, a street gang of recent Martabanese expatriates, came at me with a rusty chain. His clothes were tattered, and his face was covered in red and black paint, maculate with dabs of phosphorescent green.
“If I had money, would I be here?” I asked him, backing off.
“You tell us you want peace? You’ve done nothing but make war with us for the last three hundred years. How is this generation any fucking different?”
“Let me handle this,” Ava told me. “You know something, good sir? You may not realize this, but you’re nothing more than a tool of the establishment. It’s like they don’t even need thier propaganda to make us look bad. Thank you for all you’ve done for the Oriental diaspora.”
An ethnic Selinian came up to us, dressed in a white button-down shirt, black pants, and maroon beret.
“I noticed that an Archipelagian savage attacked you.”
“Yes. I don’t know what you’re trying to say...” I said.
“A multiethnic state can not work. Look at the brutal war going on.”
“It’s not about that. You have all ethnicities and religions alongside each other,” Ava said. “It’s more a collection of semiautonomous states anyway, split into Selinian and Champassakan zones of influence after the war, and the whole thing broke down. What an insanely difficult concept to grasp. Here’s some advice, don’t come to a battle of wits unarmed.”
“The Archipelagian slit-eyes are vicious and stupid,” he continued, ignoring Ava.
“That’s because we squander resources trying to figure out why they’re inferior instead of trying to integrate them with society,” Ava shouted.
“Why should they expect special treatment?”
“I agree with you on that. Why the fuck should they expect special treatment, when we have someone here who needs a special padded room and a special jacket and special happy pills? It’s absolutely riveting, old chum. Keep up that kind of lucidity and maybe you can have a lollipop.”
“That’s my girl,” I said.
“This thing is your lover?” the man said, surprised. “Shouldn’t you find someone who racially looks like you?”
“Shouldn’t you go fuck yourself?” I asked.
“Do you think in buzzwords or just speak in them?” Ava snapped.
“She’s as much a person as everyone else here is,” I said, making an effort to be diplomatic instead of punching him in the face.
“We were meant to be the masters of this world. A lovestruck traitor like yourself can’t be expected to understand that.”
“Don’t talk to me, you SWP fuckwit. I’ve been to every city along the southern mainland’s coast, and I’ve never heard of incidents like this happening. Normally, I’d be polite and shatter your misconception of me by telling you to go away and peddle your crap on a stick to someone more self-loathing, and remember not to bring a sharpened stick to an intellectual gunfight next time, but right now, I’m not really in the mood. Fuck off and piss on the third rail.” Ava snapped, pushing aside the peeling door and storming out into the streets of the foreigners’ district, a place drenched in cold green light above a sea of colorful neon Yunanese logographs and Chenlan scripts, colorful, cheap plaster mockups of pavilion and pagoda-tower roofs on crumbling buildings, imported statues of qi lin and rui shi, vendors’ stalls emptied for the harsh winter fast-approaching and now occupied by homeless, and dimly-lit alleyways. It had just rained, and the street was a neon-lit mirror. The setting sun illuminated the clouds beyond the buildings in gold.
Both the brave and the foolhardy recent immigrants lured here by the promise of something better or by the desire to bring about massive social upheaval, Ava’s father came to mind, and the disillusioned descendants of collaborators in a war nobody was alive to remember lived here.
“Hmph. Ten thousand years without their supposed masters, and we have Lanxang, Pachoras, and Langkasuka to show for it. They’re just jealous that my Vulgata is better than theirs. It’s my first language, I mean, I was raised bilingual, and it’s hilarious sometimes, I’ll lapse into Aredvian when I’m talking to someone, and we’ll both laugh when I finally realize I’m completely incomprehensible. I sometimes write things backwards.”
“Hi,” came someone from behind us. It was Juliana, in a burgundy wool coat and pink scarf, a thick ribbon tied in her hair, with bows and miniature roses, blue glowing ear clips. “I saw you guys, but you ran off.”
“What is he doing here?”
“That man in the subway. People from the SWP don’t just hang around here for the culture, you know.”
“I couldn’t tell you. It certainly wasn’t for the wall tiles in the subway.”
“I see.”
“I can tell you why they’re so popular. It’s something that you don’t have to earn. It gives people who are stupid, vicious, and utterly worthless something to invoke when they want to claim they’re better than someone in Yunan or Lanxang or something. Probably an awakened ‘I’m not a bigot, I’m a realist’ type who had some epiphany and now hates all minorities because of it.”
“I hate them too,” I said. “I’ve lost a few friends to it.”
“Isn’t it heartbreaking?” Juliana asked me.
“Yeah. They weren’t close or anything, but, still, I’m pissed off about it. So, what do you want to do with your studies, aside from giving bigots a sound verbal thrashing?”
“I don’t know, I kind of want to teach now that the Oriental Education Act was purged. Hopefully Lepidus doesn’t bring it back, or I’ll end up licking envelopes for the rest of my life. Can you believe someone told me to just drop out because I was taking up space for someone with ‘real ambition?’”

“Ava? Is that you? I didn’t think you were ever coming back. I’ve always thought there’s no escape from the undercity. Even if you could make it out, see, they’d just close doors on your face. But maybe you’d be the one who makes it to the top. You’ve really grown since the last time I saw you. I’m sorry about the way some of us act sometimes. Are these your friends?”
“Yeah, I’m taking them out. To see real culture. Get real food. Shit like that.”
“Oh, I know a good Archipelagian Han place.”
“I’m taking them to Sapphire Fantasy, thank you.”
“I’d come with you. But,” he switched to Lanxangese. “after that SWP guy came, I’m not sure. I need to keep an eye on him. I know he’s planning some kind of attack. I’ll deal with them.”
“By whatever means necessary. Please leave now. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want you around us if you actually plan on taking action. It’s for our good. Don’t give them a reason to apply collective punishment. Juliana,” switching to Vulgata, “Please be careful here.”
“The Kempeitai and Tokko always apply collective punishment,” he said, interrupting Ava.
“They know me. I come here a lot. Don’t worry about me,” she said, unfurling a pink umbrella.
“It’s not the Archipelagians you need to worry about.” She paused. “They think you’re a traitor.”
“That’s what the Yunanese and the Han call the MilPol. Tokko’s Siguranta. I’m not quite sure what either of them mean.”
“I’d rather the MilPol than the Siguranta. MilPol has protocols to abide by, Siguranta can just do whatever they want, thank you very much, Dn. Lepidus, sir.”
“Yeah, if you’re on the Siguranta’s shit list, they’ll use any excuse they can to off you. Then they’ll use collective punishment to make everyone else nice and resentful, so they’re diligent with reporting suspected transgressors to the nearest Rebel Control office.”

“What’s Archipelagian cuisine like?” Juliana asked.
“Depends. Ranges from ‘A dog wouldn’t eat this if he was starving’ to ‘I think they only eat this stuff because there’s a ten thousand year outmoded belief that it gives them sexual prowess’ to ‘it’s ok, I guess’ to ‘that was utterly fucking heavenly and I want to know how to make it,’ and the latter two are the only ones they’d probably serve, none of that doing shit that shouldn’t be done to eggs. You can kind of say the further east in the Archipelago you get, the worse the food gets. I couldn’t tell you, Timur has an aversion to making anything I can eat. Or even want to. Selatanese has this weird gluey farinaceous glue stuff and really awesome fish with tumeric. Oh, and a bunch of things I can’t eat.”

Ava brought us to Sapphire Fantasy. A sign on the door read “All are welcome,” with another contradictory sign below it saying “SWP and Saints’ Legion get the fuck out!”
It opened with a creak and I pushed aside a hanging curtain of luminous red, blue, and green beads. It was warm inside, and the place was a single room, painted with blue-green water and gray dolphins in some parts, and detailed human figures in other parts. Lamps with pale green light, like the fungus in the Aredvi Basin through glass, hung above the tables. The place was packed with people from the Northern Archipelago, refugees from the Equatorial Union, and the occasional Nobatian or Lanxangese and Champassakan.
“Ah, Tarentum, 8.514 million according to the last census five years ago.” she said, opening up her handheld. “It’s probably halved by now, but we’ll just have to wait five more years. Four and a half percent people from the Northern Archipelago, and keep in mind that it was conquered by Selinia anyway. Everywhere except for Tenasserim, a once backwater city on the largest island. Two percent people from Nobatia, Gera, and Shewa. Oh yeah, don’t trust anyone who can recite the exact numbers from memory. Many of them were here before Selinia even came, back when this place was taken. Six percent from the Southern Archipelago and mainland in that region, a good amount arriving when the possibility of war was a serious threat, the rest of them Selinian collaborators. One person here from off-world. Not one percent. One. Her name’s Akasaka and she runs the place. She’s from Sapphire. I think I’ve met 3 people from offworld through my entire life. One of them was from nearby, the other two are from Sapphire. You can’t get away from any ethnic groups here. The National Party hates that.”
“Akasaka. Sounds Archipelagian,” Juliana said, taking off her coat, a gray sweater with pastel horizontal stripes, cleaning off her glasses with the inside of her sleeve. The music was vocal in one of the Sapphire languages and Selinian.

An Adalese man by the name of Makena, dressed in black clothes and colorful scarves, played the guitar and sang in his own language to a background of hollow percussion. I couldn’t understand it, but I liked it.
It was quite warm in here. Ava started with a bowl of soup with rice noodles, lemongrass, lime, wood ears, mushrooms, and a boiled egg cut in half.
“Only the lower class could produce someone like you, Ava,” I said.
“And I can slurp it this time, instead of having to do all that shit with moving the spoon away and spilling it in my mouth,” she announced, beaming with pride. “It’s Chenlan, by the way. It’s not as spicy as Champassakan or Lanxangese, it’s very sweet.”

“I met Kettiya here. He brought me in, gave me a meal and some new clothes that weren’t covered in blood.”

The music was bells, chimes, marimbas, electronic noises and breathy, monosyllabic words, the language of the Northern Archipelago I presumed. Many of their people came here, lured by the promise of a better life. They lived here, in crowded conditions, under a constant threat of attacks by nationalists, and, with the monorails now rusting in the sands and the tracks broken, unable to make the treacherous journey through Nevdasht, the Ewemretqa Mountains, and the Waste to return home.
“So, uh, about the Selinian Worker’s Party,” Juliana said.
“When I last lived here, they were a joke. A bunch of drunken louts with knives and petrol bombs.” Ava interrupted. “Why did you ask? You heard me yelling at one of them? You better not be one of them. Gah, what did I get myself in to this time?”
“You guys need to stop being so insecure. I’m not one of them. I considered joining them once, but in my defense, I thought they were a socialist party, and not some goons who attempt to pretty up their brand of ultranationalism with a veneer of social justice. I just wanted to make conversation. Just listen to me, ok. Someone who studied history would do well not to overlook a bunch of thugs. They’ve been getting away with a lot. What we did, and, uh, yes, I already know who you are and what you’ve done, you’re famous, Ava, well, it’s on the newsfeed. Well, what we did was labeled a terrorist act, even when we tried to minimize unnecessary deaths, and, well, when a supposedly legitimate and, in their own eyes at least, respectable party which has been making some disquieting gains lately has their militant wing carry out a nailbomb attack in Chenlatown, well, I’ve only been able to find it on the local Chenlatown newsfeed and on the Socialist’s newsfeed. Not one peep out of anyone major, not even Labour.”
“All Labour does is make the occasional meaningless gesture and utterly fucking halfwitted attempt at pandering that does nothing but enrage the SWP and company. I’m so glad you’re not with those bastards.”
“Uh, and then there’s the Fundies. I, I, I feel like my mouth is filled with peanut butter. You know, Ava, I really like you. And I don’t just mean I admire you for all that you’ve done. You’re witty, charming, pleasant. Are you upset? I don’t want you to hate me.”
“Why would I hate you for it? I’m flattered, in fact.”
“Sorry, sorry, kneejerk reaction.”
“You’re fine. As long as you’re supporting the right causes, that is. I’m not like those fucks in the SWP or the Fundies who think that you’re coming to eat babies. But you have a lot of courage for saying that. I admire you for that. And I’m sorry for accusing you of being a SWP goon.”
“Word got out the last time I said something like that to someone. The day after I told her I was in love with her, some upper class twit who thought he owned the world and was related to her or something walked up to me ‘You’ll be up against the wall when the time comes, dyke whore,’ and spat in my face. I told him that if he ever came near me again, I would cut off his sack. I hated it there. Uniform or no uniform, you would still be mixed and I’d still be hated for being attracted to other women, and they would still be stuck-up twits. We were expected to pretend we were all equal. Didn’t help, but I can’t expect anything else from people who thought they could define their own laws and ethics and do whatever they damn well please. Whatever, it’s legal pretty much everywhere except for a few backwards provinces and Pannonia, and if I found someone, I could get married if I wanted to. I can pick out some chromosomes from a catalogue or lover, tailor them into sperm, inject them, and induce parthenogenesis. There aren’t any laws about that here either...”
“Holy shit. People are so unnecessarily intolerant. I know why you were so hesitant. I got called slant-eyes when I lived here. So I guess I have a lot in common with you. By the way, are you asking for me to donate some cells that could be tailored into sperm? If that’s what you want, I’d be fine with it.”
“Not at all. I don’t really want kids right now. Just getting some feelings off my ass. So, yeah, that guy was in the Youth Brigade of the Knights of the Cross. He never even looked at me again. Guess I got my point across,” she laughed.
“Those youth organizations are fucking freaky.”
“Yes. I was about to call you lucky, because I thought you were raised in Lanxang, where everyone seems so much more individualistic and they don’t try to shut you out of proper society if you try to express yourself. I’ve been there, and I can’t say just how nice it is to be treated like a human it is. I’m sure you understand,” she said, fingering a chartreuse lock of Ava’s hair.
“Being mixed bothers people even when I don’t have the dye. What did she think?”
“She said she was fine but not interested in me romantically or anything, but I don’t know. People say a lot of things, and I never really bothered to find out who was around when I asked her. I should just forget about it. To find out that nobody is infallible, that would be devastating.”
“I see. So, here’s a question. I know that a few people from the Aredvi and Eridan who associate with failed warlords come here aren’t exactly tolerant of your choice, or whatever I-don’t-fucking-care what causes it, of sexuality either.”
“Yes? Where are you going with this?”
“Has anyone tried to use you?”
“Not really. There was this one time where someone tried to get me to join the Heritage Front or A Secured Future or whatever, because there were a few fundamentalist former militiamen who fought against both the Twelve and the PLA coming here.”
“Someone said that to my close friend too.”
“What happened?”
“She refused and threw a tirade. She’s bisexual. And, well, I posed nude for her, and I think she had a thing for me. Anyway, here’s a question for you. Why did you think I was from Lanxang?”
“No reason.”
“I wish. How I wish. I’ve never even been to Lanxang. I always identified more with my Selinian and Aredvian parts, while Lanxang seemed so far away and unreachable and magical like the Magellanic Clouds or the way my friend, may she find peace and happiness wherever she is, saw the moon when she was six. I’d love to go. I’ve heard that in Aysouane, there are towers on a lake connected by bridges that are arranged like the summer constellations. In Paranasy, there are no streets, only canals and bridges and an aerocab network, in Muang Yong, the city map is arranged like a carpet. Isanapura is built on a lake filled with bioluminescent organisms.”
“Anyway, did it feel awkward? Sorry to pry.”
“Nah, it felt natural, sort of like taking a bath.”

“This is a pretty song.” Juliana was talking about a song in jangly guitar and bamboo pipes, with synthesized air and haunting, ethereal vocals in that Sapphire language by a young woman in a gauzy white crinoline skirt, black and white stockings, a black shirt, a string of pearls around her neck, a coral rose in her night-black hair. “I’ll admit, I was glad to see Lepidus move upwards to the Senate; it means culture’s coming back to the city. I’m not so optimistic about him electing himself CEO. I hope things work out anyway.”
“I’ve never been to Sapphire, but I’ve been told it’s beautiful.”
“Who has? I’d miss everyone too much to go on a journey offworld. If I could come back from a journey to Andromeda, I’d find a charred world adrift around a dead sun.”
“Besides, Sapphire’s under occupation.”
Ava ran off to talk to the vocalist.
“I guess someone had to do it,” she said.
“I’m just glad it wasn’t me.”
“Play anything?” Juliana asked Ava when she got back.
“I’m trying to learn the sitar. I’m decent with the guitar. Ain Sifna was the first time in a while.”
“Hey! She wants to play something,” Juliana yelled. Ava stuttered nothings. “I’m sure you’ll do fine,” she reassured her.
“Hey, Makena? Yeah, can I borrow that? Ummh. I’m Ava. I’m really nervous about this. This is my first time playing in public and all. I’ve played for friends back home, but I don’t know when I’m going back. I’m stuck here, but all of you make it worth it.” She played a wistful melody, melancholic sweet lyrics about summer days to match, staring at her shoes.

She finished a song. “Honestly, you people are great. Thank you for supporting me.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead with a brush of her hand.

“You did fine,” I told her. Phirany went back on stage, introduced herself for the patrons who just walked in.
“You really think so? I slipped up a few times.”
“You have a pretty voice. Even when you’re just speaking.”
“I’ve heard her practice before. She was singing in this ethereal voice.”
“I remember my first time playing in public. It was hard for me too. I play clarinet and flute and stuff like that.”
“I want to go to Ankobar or Srethapura to study music and immerse myself in something completely different.”
“Do you want to come over? It’s a shithole, really, but I’ll make some tea. We have a natatorium, well, it’s actually a cave-in filled with water.”
“Nah.” An Eastern man played the sheng to Phirany’s singing, backed with tabla and guitar. “But before you go, can I ask you something?”
“When you did that, you know, did your group have to do any swimming? I did.”
“Do you speak any other languages?”
“Very basic Ouaddaian because I like the sound, but I don’t get much opportunity to speak it. I see what you’re getting at. Sneaky, Ava.”
“And this is why use of the local languages is strongly discouraged in most of the colonies. It’s not just symbolic destruction of local cultures.”
“But that’s part of it, right?”

It was dark and the rain changed to snow when we got out, the first snowfall of the year, something I missed when fighting Selinia’s war last year. Ava bolted for the subway station, having left her winter coat at home. I walked through and leisurely admired the snowfall, found Ava leaning against a pillar, breathless, her fingers covering her smile. She held on to me and didn’t let go and didn’t stop her giggling until we got home.
I don't remember what I was listening to when I wrote this.

Someone on Michael Moorcock's website brought up an incident where two members of the BNP were caught planning a chemical attack that didn't make it in the news even though we'd never hear the end of it if Muslims were caught planning the same.

Lesbians for Sarah Palin? Anyone? I don't think they exist. And if they do, they're not going to find me.

"Mouth is filled with peanut butter" FUTURAMA!

Siguranta is the Romanian secret police from the fascist period.

Recommended Listening: Epic45 - Daylight Ghosts (end)
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