776 - You are no longer free
“What do you mean he’s fikken dead!?” Funny how when you hear something like that, the first thoughts that come to mind are the pressing immediacies that are in truth minute in the face of what has happened. Like: Who the fik is going to do the man-on-the-street about Artira’s new policy of sometimes Yeoli judges get to try Arkans for third after fikken noon? I guess, when it comes down to it, I’m… an editor. “Are you sure he’s not just sick or passed-out drunk? Did you send for a healer?”
“N-n-no, boss…” About then, Alabrakas hands Bretz a flask and he downs a big gulp. “He’s definitely dead… I didn’t call the Sereniteers either, I wanted to come back here to ask what to do first… but we should. I tapped and there was no answer, I called him, no answer, I tried the door and it wasn’t locked so I went in. He was…” He takes another big swig, half-gasping. “Throat slit… ear to ear. He’s already cold.”
I can’t say anything. My heart freezing solid has strangled my voice, not to mention everything in my veins turning to ice, so I have become an editor-shaped sitting block. I can’t move. Everyone else is the same.
It’s Alabrakas who breaks out of it first, by downing the rest of the flask he got out for Bretzas. “Ffffffffffiiiiiiiiikkkkkkkk,” he breathes.
I’m supposed to be the authority here. The boss. I should be saying something, to take charge, to reassure them, to deal with what must be dealt with. I can’t move. I’m suddenly hit with Foranas memories, his life flashing through my mind as if I’m him about to die. That beautiful man-on-the-street about Shefenkas’s suicidal remorse. Ducking behind the cabinet near my office where he’s lurking to overhear, as Shefenkas storms right by his nose. “Mikas… has anal beads?” “Ow, you grizzled fikker, I’m going to charge you with assault!” “See, boss… nine and nine is eighteen, and five is twenty-three, and seven is thirty, so zero then carry the three…” Funny, how you never know until it can do nothing but hurt you, how much you fikken love someone.
Then I feel a pushing at my anus. My bowels want me to shit myself. This safety and freedom we’ve had for the last two years is just a thin veneer, isn’t it? A skin-deep layer of scum over the churning lava-pit of don’t-offend-Imperium terror we’ve all learned to live with all our lives up to two years ago.
I am back in Kurkas’s day. We all are.
No. No. No, I tell myself. He’s still dead. It’s still a Yeoli on the throne. Shefenkas’s sister. I’ve got to talk to her, I’m thinking… if this even has anything to do with us. Foranas might just have severely pissed off a neighbour, or been mistaken for someone else, or just had the bad luck to have his house visited by a robber who was also knife-happy. Murders happen in Arko every day.
My body chugs into motion again, like the Great Press starting up. I take a swig from my own flask, gain more courage from that. “We need to call the Sereniteers,” I say. I send one of the shippercrats. Bretz should go with him because they’ll ask who found the body, but he’s still too fikked up even to stand. That may soon be true in a different way, I see, as people keep giving him drinks. I tell them to quit. The body... my Foranas... the body...
I open my mouth to send someone else to the Marble Palace to beg audience, then think I should go myself to illustrate the importance, then stop and do nothing. Maybe I am just panicking, I tell myself. It might be nothing to do with the Pages. Maybe he was cuckolding someone. Maybe he had a whole other life none of us knew about, and stiffed someone on some deal. Maybe it was actually suicide.
But I am not sure whether I am telling myself this out of real sense, or Imperator-fear. Shefenkas would have had people digging half-way to Hayel itself to find out the truth. But Artira’s door has never been so open to us… not literally, or in mind. She doesn’t understand us as he did. What if she just says it’s obvious I’m panicking? I can just imagine that tight-mouthed, curl-framed face looking emotionless at me, and the words in that precise Enchian diction, by which she can somehow sound snottier than the most sky-nosed Aitza: “Arkans murder each other a lot, Intharas; why is this one special?”
I feel the knife-stab I’ve felt over and over and over in the past half-year, so that I’ve got scars on top of scars on top of scars, except way deeper this time. My stupid fikken people, why did you have to fodai him out?
I’ll wait, I decide, until I learn what the Sereniteers can learn… if they let me? Next of kin, that’s who they’ll say whatever they’re going to say to, I need to get to the next of kin to find out… his parents. I get another kind of knife-stab thinking of his mother, with her pleasant round face from where he obviously got his eyes and nose, who always comes to our Jitzmitthra party. My stupid fikken people, he’d still be alive—quit panicking you don’t know that—Artira—later—Sereniteers—you’ve got a Pages to get out tomorrow— I can’t even fikken think.
Foranas… might have been one of our great ones. He had the makings of it. The courage, the driving curiosity, the nose for a story, the clean writing. I make myself not think that so I’ll quit getting that fikken knife-stab that makes my eyes want to spurt tears.
My newsroom is soon crawling with Sereniteers. A dapper man with an expression a bit like a Mahid asks me into a truly private office. I am trying to figure out how to word “Was he murdered?” without actually saying “Was he murdered?”—maybe by elimination? “Was it an accident? Was it suicide?”—when he says, “Ser Terren, did Ser Delinias have enemies that you know of? Any recent arguments with anyone?” The shelter of the possibility that he was not murdered, that I was clinging to, gossamer and rickety as it was, is torn away from me, leaving me naked.
The Sereniteer’s next words I remember are, “Ser Terren, let me ask you all I must before I answer any questions of yours… I need your answers unbiased, and I know you know what I mean.” I just mumble out more truth as required, with precious little information since I have none, as time vaguely passes. I hear Foranas’s voice out in the newsroom, his chuckling laugh. You know how that happens after someone dies? You keep hearing his voice where it habitually was, until you get used to the idea he’s gone? “Ow, you grizzled fikker, I’m going to charge you with assault…”
I remember Darmas drawing the line on his throat to show where Farnias’s wound was… Mighty Exacting God, did he somehow know or predict or…? When the Mahiddish Sereniteer is done with me, I go out and glance at Darmas, wondering if he remembers, and if he does, what he feels. His flat-eyed, seen-everything face is Mahiddish, too.
Our questions don’t earn many answers, once they’re done questioning us. Just, he was murdered. “We can’t know why, yet,” they tell us over and over.
I should go to the Marble Palace. I said I was just waiting until I knew it was murder. My legs don’t pick me up, though. My butt stays in my chair. The Sereniteers go, quickly in order as they do, like well-organized assassins. Their next stop, Foranas’s parents? I imagine that nice man and that sunny-faced woman, happily doing whatever they are doing today, having no idea of the fire-brand that’s about to be thrust into their hearts. Maybe I should just let my anus shit and my eyes cry?
I’m not a solas. I am a fessas. I am a coward.
Something is nagging at the back of my brain, like a street-urchin tugging on an Aitzas’s long cloak. Deadlines, the usual… ahh fik… It’s somehow gotten to be two and half after noon and I have a Foranas-story-shaped hole in the edition. I want to curl up under my desk, but Arko allows us no excuses. Like the circus or the Mezem, the show must go on.
What to do comes to me clearly. I scribble it out myself. Pages reporter murdered. The Yeoli-judges one will have to be in the next issue. The Sereniteers didn’t say anything they said was off the record. Their quotes come easily to me. I do the background and tribute on Foranas all off the top of my head. My heart sits numb while my mind and hand scrawls this out at a long distance from myself, gives it to Darmas for a run-through then to the boy to take downstairs to the type-pigs, at a twentieth shy of third after.
But the street-urchin-dragging-cloak-tugging-brain-nagging doesn’t go away. What have I forgotten? We’re all morons with shock, so I call inventory around the room. It’s all in or coming soon enough. What, what, what? My eyes droop, my body wants to drop to sleep. I make my mind look at that feeling, because something’s telling me it’s important. What? What do you want, twinging street-urchin?
He looks up at me with his big piteous starving bloodshot blue globes of eyes and says, “Shemeias. Nervous.”
Ahhhhhhh fik. I snap my head up and my eyes to Shem’s desk.
He’s gone. What the… where… I go to his desk. There’s a folded note on top of his mess of papers, saying on the outside, “Intharas.” I rip it open.
Sorry, boss. I’m gone. I slipped out in all the fuss, figuring better to do that then say something in case I or whoever heard got truth-drugged. It’s been good working for you. Thanks for honouring me as the first Yeoli hired. I’m sorry I have to do this. I’ll just say one thing, which I hope explains enough. You are no longer free. Shemeias Shaeasilas.