The Universe As Vast As Our Longings
By Benjanun Sriduangkaew
When you tell this story afterward, it’s important that there is a neat structure. The names must not be too foreign—for your audience, that’s hard to remember and difficult to pronounce. It would be better still to assign names from your audience’s country. Monosyllables are the best. It speaks to the everyday, makes the characters everyman. This way they are relatable.
The language you deploy slips between the audience’s ribs like a knife or pierces between the eyes like a bullet, and this is as much a part of you as my blood is a part of me.
The structure must proceed like so: exposition, rising action, climax. Conflict is a must, the more obviously external the better. The rest can be a little loose, but everyone likes the closure of a denouement.
They ship me out on a vessel called Queen’s Glory. I’m ten and I’ve lost everything.
But I am not thinking in those terms; I am not thinking at all. The mind that seeks survival must by force render grief in monochrome. The ones you lose become papery faces and tattered names, and in time even those fade. When you look at your past, it is as though you’re peering into cracked quartz. What you were before is separate from you, an earlier instance.
This is what they tell me: I’d be taken care of, given house and schooling, given a pair of parents. Perhaps the commanding officer believes it mercy and gently treating us salves her conscience, if she can be said to possess one. Perhaps it is merely policy—what good is a conquered nation without survivors? Some must live to commemorate defeat, and some must grow up to thank the defeat. That is a specific act of conquest, to make future generations glad for the scorching of our country, to make us believe that it is a boon to be uplifted from our own histories. Before long, we aspire to emulate those who turned our families into a casualty statistic. We become not people at all, but fogged mirrors.
Of all the species that comprise the conqueror genus, I’ve found the parent the most curious. The ones they screened for me are infertile and have been unsuccessful at applying for a birth license. I am little, look younger than I am, and something in this woman and this man turns like a key. Getting me is better than nothing at all, for these creatures who long for a small malleable thing to grow into a whole new person.
I am already my own person, but I learn to hide the fact. The conditions to survival demand that you act as though what you’ve left behind is an empty landscape, that you have sprung from airy wishes and clean, luminous dreams untouched by blood.
They bring me to a pastel house where beautiful moths glaze the lanterns and glassy eigenvectors cut through the air in tight schools. I am used to gardens and lakes, grass to roll on and pavilions under which to play pretend. I would be a demon-slaying hero, a cousin would be a goddess who’d reward me with a kiss or elevation to immortal sagehood. But there is no garden here, only tall pines and thorn-hedges and statues. Nevertheless the Parents point out my room and say, This is home, this is where you’ll be happy, this is where we will be a family.
If you ask me what the Parents look like, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. We belong to separate genera, the Parents and I. You would not expect a tiger to distinguish between two humans with any finesse.
I’m raised on my own, at first. During this isolation period I brace myself and practice expressions for the introduction to the rest of their kin, but it never comes. The tyrant race keeps small households, each parent-child unit complete on its own. I never meet the parents of the parents. In this I have no complaint. What I meet, instead, is the creature I have been chosen to replace.
The android child looks very little like me and very little like the parents, who—but you already know what the conquerors look like. There is no need to waste words on the shape and hue of their phenotype.
(As for what I look like, I have given plenty of hints. One does not gaze into a mirror and describe. Mirrors are for narrating someone else.)
The android has a name, but it is short and inelegant, so I take to calling them Samiya after a favorite character from an epic. The name sticks. It helps that this is not a name from my own past, Samiya as foreign to me as it is to them, and does not serve as memento of the fact that I had a self before Parents.
“I was going to be sent back to the factory,” Samiya tells me over our first dinner together, just the two of us. “Or sold to the master’s and mistress’ neighbor, where I’d be reset and re-imprinted.”
“What do you want?”
“I want what I’m told to want,” they say placidly and eat the tasteless food. (Every dish is tasteless. The tiger’s diet is vastly different from the pig’s. One cannot be expected to enjoy the other’s cuisine.)
It is an early lesson: that the parents might discard at any moment even the faultless child. That their caprices cannot be predicted, only worked around, as with their soldier counterparts. One could never be sure what would provoke them to shoot or to merely beat, what would get one sent to the labor camps or the crematorium, which children would be selected for my fine and fortunate fate. Much as they will insist all children were spared, the truth—even in my milky recollection—is otherwise, though the years will try to revise this.
Samiya is entrusted with instructing me in etiquette, how to speak and how to walk, how to sit and how to eat. Which knife to use for the appetizer, which for the main course, which for the bread and butter; how to hold a cup, how to hold a glass, how to pretend this is the life to which I was born. Once I overhear the parents discuss an operation in which I would be altered to resemble them, skull sculpted to change the structure of nose, eye sockets, cheekbones. The color of my irises, the shade of my hair. It would be for my own good, they say. But in the end it would cost too much, and the state stipend for raising me doesn’t extend that far.
In the privacy of our shared bedroom, I sit with Samiya before a mirror and ask, “Do you want me to look more like you?” Their gleaming blue-black braids, their brilliant golden eyes, their smooth dusk-skin.
“No one looks like me,” Samiya said slowly. “Not on this world, not on many others. The mistress saw a child like this in the footage of some distant planet and had me tailored to suit. She has a taste for the exotic—hence you, hence myself. Only she bores easily.”
I think of breaking open the thin sheath of my skin, to see if hurt has altered the color of my blood, but that would trouble Samiya. I hold my palm against theirs. In that at least we are peers, the width of hand, the length of fingers. “Would it be better for me if I looked more like the parents?”
They lace their fingers into mine. “Not at all. It’d destroy you. I may no longer be their desired child, but I understand human psychology a great deal; that’s my entire purpose. I’ll do my best to keep you well, under the circumstances.”
You might think all that would go over the head of a ten-year-old, but you’d be surprised at what children can grasp on instinct.
Puberty came early for me, and so by thirteen Samiya and I were shopping for their second body, a modular chassis that would grow with me rib by rib, a set of limbs that would lengthen as mine did. The female parent has reignited her interest in the exotic, and the contrast between Samiya and me pleases her: both of us so foreign and strange, as marvelous a decoration to her house as rare orchids. We occupy ourselves with the trivial. Should Samiya grow into their nose or should they get a narrower one? Should they lose the baby fat now or more gradually over the next few years? We consult each other; though Samiya has been re-imprinted on me, they have their own preferences.
The male parent had also decided it was time for me to attend school.
They chose one with a student body comprised of those like me, children of the annexed, a few recently, most several generations past. A different story would go like so: the school was where I found lifelong friends and belonging, perhaps I struck up an adolescent romance with a comely boy, one I later married. We would go on to adopt a child from my world, or a child that looks like Samiya, who would become the android aunt. Thus Parents would be vindicated in having created this cycle of compassion, of moving on and forgiving.
To tell that story would require a fundamental, willful misunderstanding of the human animal.
Like any herd animal, we have an intrinsic need for hierarchy. My place at school is complicated by the fact that the Parents are well-off, one of them a consul and the other an art curator. Yet inescapably I am least among least: the fact stamped on the structure of my skull, the hue of my skin. My face carries the stigma of fresh defeat and here I am to share their air, their water, their learning. I am contagion, a reminder of subjugation.
Another student, a girl adopted through the same process as mine, has her arm broken within the first week. An accident. Samiya never leaves my side, and I avoid that girl even after she somehow gets her leg broken too. (Her Parents are less prestigious, and she doesn’t have an android companion licensed to defend their imprint. Samiya may be a commercial rather than military model, but still much faster than humans. Stronger.)
I do not make friends. I have no interest in boys. Among the tyrant race, there is only one permissible line of attraction.
By the next year, that girl has stopped coming to school. I make a point of never learning her name.
“You can be anything,” my academic advisor says on the eve of my graduation. “Your scores are excellent.”
By anything she means that I, at nineteen, can enlist in the army or take a civil examination. Legal limitations necessitate that my education terminates here.
The advisor is of conqueror blood, like most of the staff. They try to perform kindness to us, some paternalistic, some earnest. I don’t ingratiate well–the aegis of parental prestige and Samiya shields me from having to–but the kind of students who broke a newcomer’s limbs work hard to be teachers’ favorites. Many of them will receive better references than I do, and some will go on to marry into wealth, into a semblance of citizenship.
I compare the advisor’s office to the office in which I was interviewed, less than a decade past. I don’t remember the questions or the soldier’s face, but I remember the uniform. The uniform makes an impression the way an artillery strike does on a city. The setting is different—the interview room was gray and white while this office is radiant and refined, the skylight airy, the lavenders growing out of the advisor’s skin lovely and fragrant. The school crest presides. Mostly: I was alone back before the soldier, and here I have Samiya.
“I’d like to pursue theater,” I say. There is a tatter of recollection, frayed, of seeing an opera. The stage was all around us while we curled in seats drifting like clouds. The white faces, the resplendent costumes, actors flying not on wings but on wheels of fire. The cymbals and the drums.
“Is that so? I understand you have a generous allowance, but you must think of the future.”
Her tone has gained a certain strident edge. It occurs to me that she is not as rich as the Parents, from whom I can inherit nothing–property cannot own property. She must think I’m somehow robbing her of the luxurious life owed her, spoiled and opulent, while she impotently toils. What a marvelous apparatus is the tyrant psyche. Whatever indignities have been inflicted on you by their breed, always they will find the angle perpendicular and turn the world such that it is they who gasp under the heaviest load, writhe under the harshest lash. “I think of the future,” I say, meeting Samiya’s glance sidelong, “all the time. But my gracious parents will live to see many decades yet, I hope.”
The advisor reluctantly gives me a list of theaters, some with informal academies attached to them. So informal that they don’t violate the law that prohibits a non-citizen from higher education, though the advisor does warn that she doesn’t recommend the option—no pedigree to any of them, no real future. I say I will take that into account.
On their part the parents are ecstatic with my choice, the curator for following his footsteps into the arts, the consul for further garnishing her household. I gravely let them know that I brim with gratitude for their support. From the age of ten I have been a most accomplished actor.
The Lapidary theater is on the other side of the planet, two continents away, the first time I’ll be this far from the household–still not that far; most children go aboard to other worlds, but there are restrictions on the distance I can travel. Not off-planet, unless accompanied by my guardians. Not this year, and not after I’ve reached my majority. Age doesn’t count for much when you’re less than half a person. Property can be centuries old and it would still only be an object, owned and catalogued.
Samiya helps me pick out my wardrobe: we both agree it is critical to make a good first impression. We view the season’s fashion from that part of the world, though ultimately every designer answers to the tastes of the capital. For everyday wear we choose long, narrow skirts; faceted waistcoats; close-cut shirts in moth and hummingbird fabric. Sharp collars or wide necklines, nothing in the between. Matte belts and earcuffs. I glance at a particular sheath dress and see in it a flattened shadow of the costumes in that play I watched, so long ago–the shape of it, the way it clings. But I don’t order the dress or anything that even slightly resembles it, even though I suspect it would flatter me.
“You have to remember,” Samiya says as they help me into a suit jacket, “that you are a striking individual, with exquisite manners and a face most will not forget.”
I shift in the vantablack fabric. Once put on it seems entire sections of my torso and arms are gone, swallowed up in the dark. I put a ribbon around my throat, the same material and color, so it seems as though I’ve been garroted and my head hovers above my neck, functioning on miracle and ignorant bliss. “You are the only one who says that, Samiya. A consensus of one is a sadly narrow survey.” Much as the parents dote on me, they will never say I’m much to look at, the lie too blatant to speak.
“What I say is as close to objectivity as can be had. Humans inhibit their own honesty and warp their own sense of aesthetics. But you will see.”
“What will you wear?” I turn. Finger an earcuff. Should I get rings of this same color too, so my fingers will look detached. All of me like that, in pieces, held together by nothing in particular. More than a fashion statement, a statement of existence and condition.
“I’ll wear the same things I always do. It’s unnecessary for me to dress well, and in any case I shouldn’t distract from your entry into adult society. You’re the primary exhibit, indeed the only one.”
Their practical optimism. Though to their credit, they are rarely wrong.
The Lapidary nests in the side of a cobalt cliff, overlooking a sea the color of tourmalines. Now red, now green. When I arrive it is late, the sky above the theater full of cyan butterflies, and I enter as part of the audience. The play is unfamiliar to me, and I’ve studied much of the tyrant’s canon, the classical and the formalist, the implosive and the explosive.
It is an experimental story, where a murder has perhaps happened, perhaps not; the survivors–if that is what they are–sit in the heart of a textile maze. They talk about everything except the murder-that-may-be. No cymbals or drums; the music is adagio, heavy on violins and heartbreak. The acts are staccato and stop at arbitrary points, with scrambled chronology. Throughout, two of the surviving women exchange lingering glances, touch each other’s hands. Sometimes they disappear and return together. We are meant to suspect them of the murder, but the play leaves that question unresolved. For me the way these two women smile secretly ignites quite a different curiosity, one that has nothing to do with homicidal mystery or theatrical analysis.
I settle in a residence hall. It’s not until the third day that I’m cleared to enter the Lapidary’s backstage and meet their primary playwright, Mayaret Narangkul.
To my surprise she is barely my senior, twenty-one and citizen enough to attend the nearby university–not a prestigious or even a middling one, but still a university. She studies drama formally, and she wears her hair in nova strands, half keratin and half velvet-synth, all bright magenta. A tiny crested ibis lives in a hoop that depends from her left ear.
“Welcome,” she says to me, “though I’m surprised someone from the capital would pick this place.”
I don’t admit that I have few other choices. Instead I regard her with solemn politeness and say, “I hope to learn a lot from you.”
“What kind of roles do you imagine yourself in?”
I have not considered this throughout my self-taught lessons in controlling my voice, my expression, my body language. The idea of being an actor was so abstract that I never pinned down the specifics, and despite my diligent study of the canon, I couldn’t see myself in any of those characters. “That’s a judgment I leave to you or to a director.”
Mayaret claps her hands. “That’s good. I hate prima donnas who get the idea they’re born to play the leads and want to do that right away, now, write a role just for me. We do private plays just among the troupe, a little different from what we put on in public. You’ll audition for some minor parts, and we’ll see where we go from there. You don’t mind doing backstage labor, do you?”
I tell her that I don’t mind. She has me spend three weeks setting up backdrops, lighting, virtualities. Nothing back-breaking, and nothing that makes me think of her as malicious, only exacting. By week four, she lets me audition for a small role in the very play I first saw.
Onstage I watch the two women lean toward one another, talk in hushed voices not meant for the audience, their faces terribly close. In this version they touch one another more, a finger brushing a lock of hair, a thumb on chin just barely grazing the lips. It is subdued, implied, and yet at the same time explicit.
Mayaret watches me watching the leads. She tells me that I have a lot to learn, but I have the composure–“For a character full of poise and tragedy,” she says. “There’s such a thing as playing to your strength, though when you’re so new you should consider developing a range. What do you think?”
“I suspect I wouldn’t be much good at playing happy roles.” I’m still in costume, with snakes running down my skin. “But I’d be willing to try.”
She looks at me and laughs. “Yes, let’s try a lot of things.”
Most of the troupe are in transit, on the way to greater houses, a more lucrative career. Mayaret insists that the success of a performance is not measured in the size of the audience, the price of a ticket. This is not a view most agree with.
When I introduce her to Samiya, Mayaret extends to them the rare courtesy of including them in conversations. This surprises me, and surprises Samiya more.
It is several months before Mayaret lets me take part in a public performance. My public debut is a secondary role, an aloof magistrate coveted by two young men. I would like to say the play is a wild success, but it fetches no greater ticket sales than any other, though the parents do come to watch and the curator promises to spread the word to his artist peers. Mayaret invites me out to celebrate my inauguration, making no mention of the donation, does not express either awe or contempt for the parents’ positions.
Instead, in the small second-floor room of a small restaurant, she says, “You don’t have stage fright at all. That’s amazing. Have you been kissed yet?”
I sip my water. Set it down. “Nobody’s interested me.”
Mayaret smiles and takes my glass. She presses her mouth to the rim, her gaze fastened to mine the entire time. “There we go.”
It is only glass, it is only water. The imprint of her lips. When I drink again I am warm, nearly feverish, as though I’m drinking wine or a slow, living flame.
In another story, Mayaret and I would be earmarked for tragedy. One of us would leave the other for the security of legal matrimony. Perhaps one of us would be cornered in a dark alley and broken by a man. The lesson is this: to be as we are requires punishment and correction.
But I’m the one telling this, and in the matter of Mayaret as in all else, it is to my truth that I cleave.
A year passes, then two. I play more roles, a detective, a soldier, an adventurer. The Lapidary runs performances of canonical titles semi-regularly, but most of it is the work of independent playwrights like Mayaret, some even more obscure than she. She has a free run of the house and selects them to her taste: the difficult and the subversive, not always accessible even to me. But the curator parent keeps his promise and the consul sends us state guests for whom we put on patriotic plays. The founding of the tyrant nation, the triumph of its heroes down the ages, the victory of its righteous principles.
“It compromises my artistic integrity,” Mayaret admits to me in private, “but they do pay so well.” And those guests do keep the Lapidary far more comfortable than its revenue would otherwise.
She graduates at twenty-four. On that day she wears her hair in labradorite spumes. I attend the ceremony, then the more quiet celebration, just the troupe and her university friends. Mayaret’s parents don’t come; she barely admits to having family, and I never pry, just as she never pries as to my life before this one.
When the troupe and friends have gone home and we are alone in the backstage, she invites me to her room for a coffee. “From the Ixora Concord,” she says as she feeds the blend into the machine. She doesn’t ask how I want the coffee—she’s seen me drink many times, and adds an exact measurement of honey, the slightest spoonful of milk.
I inhale. “It smells gorgeous. This must be exclusive.” The Concord is independent, distant, and secretive. An armada nation that, so far, has evaded conquest.
“A gift from my aunt. She’s a mercenary, if you can believe such a profession exists. Used to be a citizen but–” Mayaret glances behind her, then turns the window to full opacity. “She renounced her citizenship a few years ago and left. She used to tell me that in the Ixora Concord you can be anything and do as you please, in every way. We’ve lost touch, though.”
“Leaving must have been difficult.” I curl my hand around my cup. “For her. For you.”
“It is what it is.”
I breathe in the coffee steam, the marvelous richness of it. The first taste is as good as it the aroma promises. Exactly as sweet as it needs to be, and no more. I eye her cup and reach for it–she drinks hers black. I put my mouth to the rim and take a single, bitter sip. My mouth leaves an imprint of pigment, cliff cobalt.
Mayaret takes the cup back from me and, deliberately, slowly, kisses that imprint. “You took your time,” she says against the ceramic, her own mouth newly and faintly blue.
“I wasn’t sure.” Another swallow of coffee, for good measure. The cup half-gone, my stomach very warm, all of me is. “Now I am.”
It is a new but also an incredibly natural act, this matter of disrobing and learning each other’s contours, this seeking of each other’s heat. We both taste of coffee on the mouth, but there’s also the salt of the skin, and the smell that is just Mayaret. I bury my hands in the luminescent froth of her hair; I kiss between her breasts and rub my cheek against the softness of her belly. She laughs, guides with delighted patience. Her touch on me is delicate lightning and I marvel afterward that it leaves no mark, only a brilliant current that stays in my blood long after.
The bed is narrow, but lying on our sides we fit onto it, fit into each other. We turn off the lights, fill the ceiling with a projected moon hanging as close as a fruit. She tells me about the snow-women of Ixora folklore, those gorgeous creatures of ice and immaculate winter. “That’s what you look like to me,” she says in my ear, “so beautiful you stop the blood. Make the heart stutter.”
I don’t spend the night. No doubt some of Mayaret’s closest friends know. But we live under the laws we do, and the arithmetic of survival demands.
At my apartment, Samiya is laying out fresh laundry in a crisp crackle of hummingbird and moth. They look up, ask if I had a good time.
“I had a brilliant time,” I say.
Even later I don’t tell Samiya what Mayaret and I have, but they would guess. And though Samiya’s animus was made by tyrant engineers, they inherit very little from their makers. All that is good in the conquerors can be found alone in Samiya.
When we have outings together, Mayaret would invite Samiya along. They demur at first; Mayaret insists. We go out for cocktails, tea, obscure confectionery of glutinous rice and gingko nuts—the things that jolt me, sometimes, into recalling my childhood. In this way, even though Mayaret does not mean to and cannot possibly know, she helps me rebuild. The faces of my mothers, the faces of my sisters, the red craggy mountains in which I was born. The wind on my face, the scent of new bamboo.
For several years more, this is how we go on; we could have kept going for a decade, three, the rest of our lives. A thousand rehearsals, a hundred opening nights. The moments with each other that cannot be measured by number or equation.
In my fifth year at the Lapidary, the consul goes abroad. A mission of importance, classified; it is not for me to know the details. What I do learn is the result. On the journey out, she is assassinated by insurgents. Insurgents from a planet annexed fifteen years ago.
To attack the tyrant body and injure the least of its appendages is to court annihilation, but the conquerors have left many of us with nothing to lose. No home, no nation, barely any memory.
I do not hear of whether the terrorists are hunted down. I do know that when I return to the parents’ pastel home to meet the curator, I’m gripped with a terrible sympathy: this insidious emotion that I did not expect, but fear of mortality is the most deeply welded thing there is, the most intrinsic comprehension. The funeral is a grand affair, albeit with an empty casket. I’m not allowed to attend; I watch the broadcast.
One late evening, on the way to my apartment, Samiya and I find our path blocked by two strange men. They are not police or army, but they are armed, slightly intoxicated. They want to know where I’m from and where I am going.
Samiya steps before me. “I’m a defensive unit, citizens, and I am licensed to act in protection of my owner.”
One of the men says, “She can’t own anything.” But they give.
In our room, Samiya sits me down and makes me something warm. I’m calm. There is a still center inside me, a pool of faultless surface tension. This was coming. What I am is forged by crisis and brutish adaptation, and what I have with Mayaret and the Lapidary was always going to be transient. “I wonder what happened to her, the girl who got her arm and leg broken.”
“You should worry about yourself first. I’m calling Mademoiselle Mayaret.”
Mayaret appears in mere minutes, much faster than it should be for her to cross from her side of the city to ours without violating traffic rules. Immediately she presents me with a gun and asks Samiya, “How armed are you?”
They blink slowly. “I’m allowed to disable. Nothing more. It would be simpler if—”
“If I could marry her, yes.” Mayaret laughs, sharp and raw and angry. “I’ve got a few lawyer friends. At least one must know if I could adopt another adult, or something, anything.”
“You don’t have to,” I start.
“I want to. I insist. Meantime you’re going to move to the Lapidary. We have actual security there.”
It is true. More than one actor has their share of unwelcome admirers, and the theater is fortified with that in mind. I relocate. Business slows: we make the mistake of having me star in a performance, and though the owners—Mayaret’s rarely seen superiors—issue an apology and a very public ban of me from the stage, the Lapidary has next to no audience for the rest of the season. Even Mayaret’s friends, the subversive thinkers and the radical artists, disappear for the most part. Still she tells me that we can weather this, that we will find a way.
Her lawyer friends give her nothing to work with. I draw from my savings—which are really under the curator parent’s name—and purchase modules for Samiya, ones that enhance and add to certain specifications. It doesn’t turn them into a combat unit, but though I give Mayaret back the gun, I understand my reality.
When we are accosted again, Samiya disables a person for the first time. They are efficient about the fact, none of a soldier’s excess. There is little blood when it is done with an eye for resolution rather than for inflicting pain, for causing a slow death and for making the beaten creature plead.
The curator grants me legal protection when the matter is taken to court, but he will not always be there. Grief has turned him to stone, and I haven’t been an object of easy affection for a long time. A household ornament who no longer adorns is soon forgotten.
This story could have gone many different ways, all of them with death written into the fabric.
It is strange which faces you remember, which you don’t. I would not be able to point out my schoolmates from a crowd, the soldier who led the invasion that took my world, the workers who oversaw my adoption. But when the message appears in my interface, I recognize her immediately, the girl with the broken arm and leg. Grown of course, my age. Her nose is slightly crooked, and her left eye is missing. She says my name, and: “It is my duty to offer all of us what’s been offered to me.”
The offer is a set of coordinates that, mapped to any conventional locator, points to nothing. Just stellar debris that used to be a moon, far beyond the bounds of any nation, certainly far from the tyrant country. Find a way to reach this point, and there I will be given the option to seek asylum with the Ixora Concord, or join those from the annexed star.
I could reach back to her, this girl whom I did nothing to help all those years ago, and ask why. Is it the simple sharing of history, an obligation to a countrywoman, or something else. I do nothing at first–part inertia, part paranoia—until one of the Lapidary’s actors disappears. (Another one to whom I make no overture of friendship, precisely because we share so much. Because we look like we could be distant family. Because we remember.) Mayaret worries herself sick over this absence, but the actor doesn’t show up on broadcast as missing or a captured dissident. What turns up on broadcasts is non-citizens being rounded up for crimes of sedition, for terrorist sympathy. To have a face like mine is sufficient evidence.
Incessantly I map those coordinates, not on my interface but on paper that I’d incinerate afterward. The message has since dissolved itself.
I fly to meet the curator in the house he once shared with the consul. There are no longer aquatic eigenvectors fleeting through the rooms, no longer moth-glaze on the lamps. The place has become curiously muted and leeched, colors subtracted one by one toward a monochrome. I make my greetings, pay my respects to an image of the consul.
“Father, I’d like a favor,” I say to the curator while making dinner. “Would it be possible for me to travel for a while? I can’t without a guardian and I know you don’t want to leave.”
“It’d be safer for you to be away for sometime,” he agrees, desultory, apathetic obligation. I don’t fault him. “I’ll assign a virtual proxy. Where do you have in mind? Your mother had a summer home on—” His voice cracks. It is, I recall, where they first met.
“That would be perfect, thank you, Father.” It is not the time to think, You are not my father and she was not my mother. I bow my head, I kiss him on the brow. My last duty.
Samiya packs for me, reminding me of this or that essential, a favorite article of clothing. But in thirty years of existence I’ve accumulated little that I’d want to hold onto. What I bring instead is hard currency, a luggage full of things desired anywhere: rations, ammunition, first-aid supplies. The curator has hired a private ship for us, compact and fitted for fugue-paths, and Samiya would pilot. Departing tyrant territories will take circumnavigation, slipping from transfer point to transfer point, in and out of fugue. But I know my destination.
“You will have to tell the mademoiselle,” they say.
“It’d be selfish to ask her to leave everything she has.” The Lapidary. Her plays.
“It would be selfish,” says Samiya, “to fear her saying no so much that you would not even ask.”
They are right, of course, as they ever are.
This brings us to a point where, I believe, I can decide my own story. My ending. Our ending.
I know you want to stay. I know you have your stages, your scripts. And you might say that you do the most good here, telling stories that bring those like me to you, like the first that led me into your arms: the secret smiles, the shared glances. You know that I love your stories—they are a part of you more than my blood is a part of me. It is much to ask you to uproot all you have.
I’m thinking of what you told me of the Ixora Concord and of your aunt.
We can leave for a place where the width of the universe is as large as our longings, where we can be all that we can without limit or condition. We may have been marked for tragedy, but we do not have to abide by its rule. We will find other stages, or we will make them, and we can speak our truth before an audience that does not require that we hide what we mean, what we want, the future we see. The present we have.
Come with me.