777 - A dream that you cry when you wake up from
My mind works through the old calculation it learned how to so long ago, syrupy-slow with reluctance, creaky with lack of practice. Foranas is dead. Shemeias was nervous before and when he learned Foranas was dead he fikked off, scared of truth-drug. An Arkan editor knows the next step in his sleep. Did they work on something together?
I remember the headline. What Inatallas Shaekrisas said to Shefenkas. Much-ballyhooed assault was provoked by a vicious insult. I wrote it.
All right, I think to myself. I am no longer free; but I have to learn a whole new style of unfreedom. An Arkan Imperator sends around a friendly Mahid to have a word and maybe break a finger or two, and of course there is the obligatory introductory stun-darting that every High Editor must undergo just to learn in his bones how helpless he is in a trap-boothed room, ‘Oops, lever-happy, so sorry!’ But now we live in a Yeoli world, and their style obviously is to secretly off people… well, to secretly off Arkans. And just have a word with fellow Yeolis, because, just as that guard captain said, Yeolis don’t kill Yeolis, no wife-beatings or duels, yada yada, so nobly civilized they are.
Shefenkas would have made this same calculation, but probably three times as fast with his young and nimble and not-palsied-by-grief mind, and had Inatallas hauled right in. But his sister is in thick with the hawks; Inatallas, though he prefers to be quiet about it, we know is one of her chief advisors. I am thinking, my mouth going dry again, thank you, my Devious Cloak-and-Dagger God, for laying the inhibition on me that kept me from running to her.
The Sereniteers are going to see it too, and leave it alone for the same reason; Rafas Izas was never a fool. They’ll do what they always did in Kurkas’s time, pronounce it an accident or suicide—accident, I pray, spare his family that shame—and leave it at that. Foranas’s soul will never receive justice.
I look around the newsroom. I see the eyes flash from my face to the note in my hands back to my face, and I know they want to know and don’t want to know what it says, both at the same time.
I get a candle, put the corner of the note into the flame, let it burn until it’s too close to my fingers, then drop it in an ashtray, where it burns to nothing.
“The Pages is hiring,” I say. “Needed, two experienced reporters, one of them preferably Yeoli, so if anyone knows anyone, let me know after today’s deadline. Back to work.” Heads go down, backs hunch, and there is silence but for the scratching of pens.
Oh, except for Asaia, of course. “Inth, I must be missing something, is this an Arkan thing?” she says. I should take her into that private office, explain it all, since she’s living in this now, too. And risk her blabbing something to someone else that doesn’t fit with the official story—no I shouldn’t. She actually isn’t living in it, totally. She’s Yeoli. “It’s an Arkan thing,” I say. “You don’t have to worry about it.”
I went to Hot Metal and got really drunk that night. An experienced Arkan editor knows how to get roaring pissed but still never say a word of what he shouldn’t. It’s in your bones, eventually. I staggered back to the newsroom afterwards. It was shortly before dawn, and since all our stories were thrumming through the stone walls now, as the Press multiplied them by thousands, no one was there except me and Shefenkas.
I have a picture of him, one of those copies of Ekabas’s official Imperial portrait (since Haiksilias was too busy painting The Sack) that you could get at any art market, and still can, actually, though they don’t sell as well any more. It wasn’t proper to have it up in my stall while he actually was Imperator, but I put it up immediately after he was dethroned. I don’t give a shit what people say.
I take his face in my hands. It’s a good copy, looking smooth and real in the sconce-light. The furious life that shines in those black eyes haunts me with all its associations. But he is distant, like a legend of a better time, like a dream that you cry when you wake up from, flung out of its beauty into the ugliness of the real world. I touch the paint, wondering, were you really real? Those two years, did they really happen?
“Thank you,” I find myself saying to him, as I walk with him in my hands. “Thank you for the taste you gave us, for the hint, for the tease. It was such a beautiful fantasy to live in, for a time. I was, we were all, so happy. Thank you for being so much our friend while you were here. It was so sweet, so blessed, like an early taste of Selestialis for those of us, if there are any, good enough to be destined to go there.
“Thank you for the flash, the twinkle, the eye-blink, though it will soon be buried like a speck of ash on a sandy shore, ground to nothing in the great course of Arkan history, and forgotten equally quickly,” I declaim, as I go, the roar of the Great Press growing louder. “Thank you for that barest brushing of your loving finger on our collective foreskin, making us feel a spike of passion such as we never felt, but will subside quickly like all ephemeral things as you withdraw that hand and make us watch your back fading into the distance.
“Thank you for letting us write as we dreamed, my Imperator,” I soliloquize, bellowing over the thunder of the rollers, as I thread my way down the catwalk over them. “For that brief fine moment of living as our true selves. I know you meant it to be something more substantial, to be raised with solid columns and beams so as to last forever, like the Great Temple. But you did it the way you do everything, Fourth Shefenkas: too fikken fast. That was fine for a war, the faster they are the better, but to make the entire Empire of Arko into something greater than it has been permitted to imagine itself to be was going to take longer than two years. The soul of an Empire cannot be convinced so fast. For the message to finish going home, we needed more time. For much more time, we needed you.
“Thank you for giving us that taste of a spark of Selestialis, so we suffer all the more bitterly for knowing what we are without. Thank you for the torture of living our dreams only to be thrust out of them. Thank you for the fire-brand of hope, the ten-beaded whip of beauty, the testicle-pliers of truth, the Mahid’s Obedience of freedom.
“Thank you for bringing this perfect gift to us then taking it away along with your person,” I shout, ripping the painting off the back of its frame. “Thank you for spitting the face of what we needed when we needed it most. Thank you for tricking us into giving you the old Intharas-Terren-style ‘You’re fired!’ but then enacting it. Thank you for killing yourself, Fourth Shefenkas Shaearanoias, Imperator, when the world needs you to exist by that name, in that form. Thank you for fikken off and leaving us burnt and bleeding again, as you did the night of the Sack, and now being nothing but this.” I fling his face spinning down into the ink rollers, where it is instantly swallowed and crushed and turned completely black much faster than with fire.