Bad Things Happen
This part originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue.
197th of 2025 (023-94): Dinner with Ora
A big day; Ora had asked me to dinner with her family. I was fussing and getting ready. Kamsi was watching amused, waiting to take me. “It’s just a family dinner, honey.”
She didn’t see how important it was. “Kamsi, my friends here amount to you, Eneri, the twins, and Nashu. Maybe Blandii and some of the servants, at a stretch. This is important to me.”
She sniggered, “‘Staff’, honey, not ‘servants’. But not Blandii—I don’t think he has friends; that would be unseemly.” She looked at the outfit I’d picked. “No, not trousers, honey, a dress.”
“Show off your figure. It’s not work, it’s social17.” She picked something. “Here, try this.”
I was a little shocked. “Kamsi! She’ll think I’m trying to seduce her husband!”
“And that would be a bad thing?” She picked something less revealing.
I giggled, “I thought you lot were monogamous?”
She gave a wry grin, “Oh we are, mostly18.” She gave me three candles.
“What are these for?”
“They’ve got two daughters and a son off in the war, you light them when you get there. It says you’re wishing them home safely.”
I shook my head. “You know, for such a supposedly passionate culture, you lot really are obsessed with etiquette and being polite.”
She grinned again, “It’s how we stop from butchering each other with kitchen knives, honey19.”
232nd of 2025 (058-94): The Manish Estates, Askisfant
I was at breakfast. Kamsi and Eneri had taken the twins for a weekend with Kamsi’s parents, but they’d be back later today. I’d talked a lot with Kamsi about what they’d done to me and I cried, I cried so much. And eventually Eneri too. It helped, it helped a lot, sharing, not having to carry it alone any more. Eneri had told me to write it all down, to put what had happened into words. That helped too, I felt better. Not whole, yet, but better. There were still things I wasn’t ready to face. I was sharing breakfast with Nashu; she’d noticed. “You are looking so much better, my dear, but you still need to eat a little more.”
I smiled; she always worried about my weight, but I was almost back to where I’d been before. I’d learnt to trust food again. “I don’t know, Nashu, I like this size.”
“I’m having a small affair tonight; perhaps tonight you may want to dance; I know you’re such a wonderful dancer.”
It took a while to realise I’d never danced here. “Nashu, how do you ‘know’ that?”
She looked at me; I saw the realisation of what she’d said spread over her face. She stood and came and sat beside me and took my hand. “Isabella, there are very few things I can not see if I wish. Do you not think I would want to know of a guest in my house?”
Again it took a while for me to realise, “When I was… did they see everything?”
Her eyes were downcast. “You were always watched, Isabella; they saw and recorded everything.”
“Even…” the words stuck in my throat. “Even when I was…” I remembered but I couldn’t force the words out .“Everything?.”
“Yes, my dear, even that. I am so, so very sorry.” Her voice was so full of guilt.
“It’s alright, Nashu, it’s not your fault, you’ve been nothing but kind to me.”
She sighed and spoke so heavily, as if a weight was crushing her. “My dear, but it is ‘my fault.’ We do not take the existence of that place lightly. There are… protocols for it.”
I didn’t understand; I didn’t want to. “How can it be your fault?”
She sighed so heavily again, “Nobody goes there without…” She hesitated, “…a signed order from a member of the Security Committee. Normally Oskar Sherin deals with it.” Again she hesitated, as if wanting to get a huge weight off her soul. “But that day, the day your order came, he was not available.”
I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t want to believe it. I needed to hear her say it. I spoke quietly, calmly, “Who signed my order?”
She was unable to meet my gaze. “My dear, it is a war, bad…”
I didn’t want excuses, I wanted to hear her say it. “Who signed the order, Nashu?”
Almost silent, “I did.”
My rage, my anger, my hate exploded inside me. “How could you, how could you send anyone to that place!”
Still unable to look in my eyes. “Isabella, you must understand, sometimes we do things we…”
More excuses. “They raped me, Nashu!”
She looked up. “No one….”
“They prised the most private details of every man I’d ever been with from me, they watched as I…” I couldn’t bring myself to say it. “…they tortured me and they raped me!” The hatred in me was unbearable. I slapped her across the face. All the anger and pain was in that blow. I ran.
I found my bike. I think a part of me knew what would happen but I don’t think it cared. Another part did and probably saved my life. I sat astride the bike and opened the throttle as far as it would go. I climbed gaining altitude, I didn’t watch, I just wanted to get away. I felt the first jolt, the part that wanted me to live let go of the throttle but it was too late. They said it didn’t hurt, they lied. I felt an instant of searing pain down my spine, my bladder and bowel emptying; they’d not mentioned that either. Then nothing below my neck. I heard the turbine scream as the bike threw itself into full reverse, dumping speed, the click as the safety harness locked me into position, the automatic compensators whine as they struggled to regain control. The bike was tumbling through the air. It struck the ground hard, nose first. It flipped twice then landed and skidded across the ground. It was perhaps good the trace had fired. I felt no pain as my body was torn and maimed. The bike finally came to rest against a soft bank. I breathed and looked at my limbs splayed at odd angles. My eyes filled with tears as I lost consciousness.
Nashu Manish stood and saw as Isabella’s bike roared off into the air. She summoned Blandii and told him to fetch the speeder and a med-kit. She picked up a communicator and the tracking unit. She watched the blip that was Isabella as it reached first three then four kilometres. She was entering the speeder as the alarm sounded when she reached five and came to a halt. She entered the emergency number and ordered an ambulance dispatched to the coordinates. She told Blandii to drive as if his life depended on it. She was gratefully to Blandii for many things, his dedication, his discretion, his precision. But today she was grateful for his eight years in the Verasosal.
234th of 2025 (060-94): Intensive care ward, Antiavash Central Hospital
Nashu sat by her bedside, she stroked her head, a stubble had already regrown. Eneri came beside her. “You need to get some sleep, Mother; there’s really nothing you can do.”
“How long, Eneri?”
“We’ll be bringing her out of the slow coma20 tomorrow. I’ll let you know so you can be here.”
She thought of her decisions and the consequences. “No, I think it best if she wakes to someone other than me.”
235th of 2025 (061-94): Intensive care ward, Antiavash Central Hospital
I woke to find myself in a hospital bed, tubes and wires trailing from my body. Even through the haze of the painkillers everything ached. I looked over to see Kamsi and Eneri. She smiled, “Well, honey, that was a damn fool thing to do.” I said nothing. “I'm just grateful you had the sense to be wearing this.” She showed me the battered shell of my helmet. I thought of the part of me that had wanted to live.
“Where am I?”
“Antiavash, lucky to be alive.” Eneri came over to start checking me. He prodded and poked, took readings and fussed.
“How bad, Eneri?”
He sat on the edge of the bed and took my right hand. “Bad. I had to put a plate in your skull to fix a fracture, you had a lot of internal injuries, but…” I went to put my other hand on his; nothing happened. “…your right leg and left arm, we couldn’t save them.” I looked over at the stump; tears came to my eyes. He smiled. “It’s okay, we can do wonderful things with prosthetics.”
242nd of 2025 (068-94): A recovery ward, Antiavash Central hospital
Tomorrow they’d fit me with my new limbs, they told me I’d hardly notice the difference. The nurses smiled and were cheerful. Kamsi came in every day; she brought the twins, sometimes. My bed was surrounded with colourful drawings from the children at school; Ora had brought them in for me. Kamsi had brought fresh flowers today. “The children all miss you. They want their Issee bawa back.”
I smiled a little, “I miss them too.”
“They’ve had enough tragedy in their lives, They found out Despi Lasani’s brother was killed yesterday; that makes twelve in the last year.” She looked away for a moment. “Mother wanted to know if she could see you.”
“No.” I told her this before.
“You’ll be home again a few days honey, she’s worried about you.”
“No! This isn't my home, my ‘home’ is parsecs away.” I spat the words at her, I could see she was hurt.
“Isabella, what happened?”
I looked straight in her eyes. “She’s the one, Kamsi. She sent me to that place.”
248th of 2025 (074-94): The Manish Estates, Askisfant
The air/raft touched down. They were waiting for me, Madam Manish, the twins, Blandii and the rest of the staff. Kamsi and Eneri had picked me up. I had my new limbs now, synthetic flesh, electronic nerves, carbon fibre bones. But it was going to take a while to learn to use them. I half limped, half hobbled out of the air/raft. Madam Manish came to help, I glowered, she stopped and Blandii came forward. I thanked him, for helping me now and saving me then as he left me in my room. He smiled, the first time I’d ever seen his dour look crack, but said nothing. Madam Manish came up later, with food. She knocked and waited; I sat on the bed, considering. “May I come in?”
I thought, why not? “Yes.”
She placed a tray of food on the small table. “I thought you might wish to eat in your room tonight; it is good to have you home.”
“This isn’t my home, this is my prison and you’re my jailer.” Her eyes were full of hurt. I thought good, let her hurt. I wished the whole universe’s hurt on her.
She sighed, “May I sit, my dear?”
“No, and don’t call me ‘my dear’. I’m not your dear; I’m… this… all this is just you trying to ease your guilt.”
She stood, full of hurt; all I thought was good. She sighed again, “You have to understand…”
My anger came again. “No! No, I don’t! All I have to do is wait ’til you let me go home again! I understand all I need to understand, My Lady Councillor Manish!” I used the words like a knife, I so wanted to hurt her.
She stood awhile, just looking, wanting. Finally she spoke, “You’re wrong, Isabella. Yes, I would wish my guilt eased, but you are so much more than that.” She left as I fumed.
They left me alone for two days. I lay on my bed, thinking and aching mostly. Eventually, Kamsi came to see me. “You need to get out of your room, Isabella.”
“Well, for starters, you need to learn to use that new leg of yours, but we miss you.” I was about to speak when she added, “Eneri, the twins, the school, me, Bob, we all miss you.”
She pointed at the growing bump in her stomach “Bob.”
The hurt was still in me. “And My Lady Manish?”
“Yes, she misses you, too, but I guess that doesn’t matter to you.”
“No, not really.” But the others, they did matter.
“And anyway, you need to go back to the hospital in three days. Have things adjusted again.” She sat on the bed next to me. “I don’t pretend to understand what you suffered, but sitting here festering is not going to make it any less. Come for a walk with me, please. Stretch that leg of yours.”
I lay there awhile, considering. Finally I swung my legs off the bed and stood. I took a deep breath, she was right “For you, Kamsi, yes.”
280th of 2025 (116-94): The garden, Manish Estates
I was getting used to my leg now; I still needed a cane to walk but the limp was much less noticeable. I was back at school. The children had made a huge banner for me, ‘Shudtfi Issee Bawa’21, I could even figure out what it said. They all wanted to see my new arm and leg. Today we sang for one of Rosa Wolke’s mothers, another dead to the war. I saw her sitting outside crying after; it tore my heart out; a child’s tears are the same on both sides of the border. I looked at the wall, there were fourteen little paper sesherin there now22, all for a town of just five thousand people. I went out to her and put my arms around her. I couldn't help myself, I stared crying, as much for myself as her. She snuggled, held my new hand, smiled and said “Efepkammosaryn Edtyassos Issee Bawa.” I didn’t understand, it didn't make any sense.
Siish was back again, on leave; I’d not been there when he arrived. He was softly crying in the garden, I saw a paper sesherin in his hands, a small silver box beside him. I wasn’t sure if I should intrude, but he heard me, turned and looked at my cane. “Isabella, they told me you had an accident.”
“Yes, forgot the five K limit, not so good on a grav-bike.”
He chuckled, “Damn silly thing to do.”
“Pretty much. Got this wonderful plastic arm and leg now. Oh, and a tin head.” I sat beside him. “So how long you here for?”
“Just a few days, got an errand to run.” He looked at the box and looked so sad.
I looked at the paper sesherin. “Can I ask who?”
“A friend, somebody special.”
I sat next to him. “Siishubuu…”
“Siish, please; only my mother and Gam call me Siishubuu.”
“Siish, can I ask you something? Efepkammosaryn Edtyassos, what does it mean?”
He turned to face me. “Means a lot of things; where did you hear it?”
I explained, “One of the children at school said it to me. She’d lost one of her mothers and I started crying while I was trying to comfort her.”
“It’s what you say to somebody who’s lost something tragically. You take their left hand and tell them, efepkammosaryn Edtyassos. It’s hard to explain. Literally translated, it’s something like ‘never again Edtyassos’, but that’s not what it means. More like ‘not meaningless’, but even that’s not right. Like I said, it’s what you say and it means a lot of things.”
That really didn’t help. “But you can’t do that. Efep-, you just can’t do that.”
He seemed puzzled. “Do what?”
“Put the future into the past. It’s like saying ‘I had will do it yesterday’. It just doesn’t make sense.”
He shrugged. “It’s just how you say it. Try to think of it as the past making the future.”
I paused and thought. I looked at the sesherin again, I took his hand. “Efepkammosaryn Edtyassos, Siish.” I saw tears forming in his eyes again, he just held my hand. “How did they die?”
He laughed, “She flew her raider into a cruiser.” He shook his head as the tears came. “Damn fool thing to do, efepkammosaryn Edtyassos.”
I looked at him, I could see his heart breaking “Did you love her?” He nodded, I stood and faced him. “Dance with me please.” He looked at me and my cane, “Hey, I thought it was rude to refuse? Come on, I don’t bite.”
He burst out laughing. “Actually, as I recall, you do.” He stood and we danced.
347th of 2025 (173-94): The Manish Estates, Askisfant
The problem with babies is they don’t keep timetables. They do what they want when they want and to hell with the rest of the universe. Iikush Manish was like that, she decided she was going to arrive and she arrived. I was eating with family again now. Enli had asked me why I didn’t, what he’d done wrong. I couldn’t tell him the reason, so now I ate with them again. That’s when Iikush decided it was time to make her arrival. Kamsi gave a small gasp and looked surprised. “It’s time!” an announcement to nobody in particular. There was yelling, screaming, groaning, more than a few choice curses directed at Eneri, but eventually eight hours later the four point five two kilo bundle that was Iikush Manish demanded the universe’s attention. Kamsi let me hold her after Eneri; I held the fragile precious new life in my arms and cried—how could you not? I cradled her gently, not wanting to give her up. My Lady Manish stood beside me. She smiled at the new life. I put my pain aside, just for now, and passed her to Nashu. She took her delicately “She’s beautiful” I touched Iikush’s face. “Yes, she is.”
94th of 2026 (285-94): Askisfant school
My Luriani was pretty good now, but I still went to the school. I liked spending time with the children; it was my escape. This was my cave now. I had ten kilometres now, that covered most of the estate and the town. There was a reliever there when I arrived; I sat down to read to the children. I read to them now, not them to me. I smiled at that. I knew I was still a prisoner, but it wasn’t too bad as prisons go, I suppose. I noticed the wall, twenty-seven sesherin, there’d only been twenty-four yesterday. Three in one day; my smile disappeared. I glanced around, nobody missing, only… I walked to the wall.
I ran, as best I could. I guess I must’ve looked a bit ridiculous, loping along, but I didn’t care. I knocked, she was sitting quietly, the rest of her family with her. I took her hand “Efepkammosaryn Edtyassos Ora.”
95th of 2026 (286-94): A letter from home, The Manish Estates
Kamsi brought me the letter. I was puzzled; mail from home wasn’t due for another four days. They sent me a message every week. I put the chip in the reader. I saw my father’s face, heard the words. I just collapsed, my brother another sesherin on the wall.
Notes numbered 1 through 16 accompanied earlier parts of this story.
17. While not obsessively vain as such, appearance and fashion are nevertheless important in Luriani culture. No Luriani would dream of attending a social event in clothes that did not show their body to its best advantage.
18. Relationships within the Luriani society are usually characterised as monogamous. However a certain latitude had always been tolerated, especially in racial Luriani and Verasti Dtareen matches. Even amongst the supposedly strictly monogamous Mmarislusant, prolonged contact had lead to them adopting a similar custom. While always present in Luriani society, the exact nature of these extra-marital liaisons has varied throughout their long history. At this stage in Luriani history they were dependent on the parties acting discreetly and generally of a short term.
19. The complex and seemingly all pervasive nature of Luriani etiquette is one of the mechanisms they have evolved to moderate their emotionally volatile natures. Contact with the Luriani had lead to both the Verasti Dtareen and Mmarislusant adopting the same code of conduct. Indeed, the adherence to this code of etiquette (along with their flexible attitude to monogamy) is one of the subtle factors that distinguish the Mmarislusant from the Vilani.
20. Medical slow drug. A treatment that increases the body's natural healing rate by a factor of thirty.
21. “Welcome back Miss Issy.”
22. The sesherin are thought to be one of the first animals the Luriani domesticated and the relationship between the two is extremely close (the Luriani regard deliberately killing a sesherin a crime akin to murder). They have many roles in Luriani mythology, including guiding the dead to the afterlife.