Apr. 24th, 2010 03:50 pm
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[personal profile] happybat

When the ships came, they burned the old parts of the city. I remember the lights we used to have, the warmth of the old neon, the seashell fragments of the concrete that gave it that blue colour. You can't get it now. We used up all that sand a long time ago. They tried with dyes but it's not the same.

And now, who can afford dyes?

The mask chafes my face as I trudge down the road, one of a dozen faceless antworkers, heading mindlessly for our nest. No leaf for me to brandish in triumph - our agriculture failed after the Ships. We import now. It's one of the things, one of the costs, that makes it so hard to save up for the synthetic environment that will let us get the crops started again. One of those things. 

Challa takes my arm before I notice him, and I turn, startled, to see him grin through the faceplate. He points to a doorway and I nod, let him lead me inside, have my mask off almost before the door shuts. It's left a ridge, a red itchy ridge, round my face, made my scar hurt, made me sweat. He's not much better, beads of perspiration coursing tearlike down his marred cheek.

How appropriate - at his trial, he wept. I watched it, half a dozen times on the Library. How do you know when tears are real?

It's not much this place, two tables and a bar. There's something a bit Irkis about the slope of the roof, the way the bar sits at an angle, but you'd never know otherwise. I sit, he fetches the drinks, one of the young guys at the bar sneers a bit, because we are being so old fashioned. Why should he fetch the drink? Why should we keep the manners that were part of what got us all here? I rub my scar again, picking at it, trying not to claw. It's been two years. It really is mostly healed.

I cried too.

The young man turns away, but not before I see he has it too. Childhood sympathiser. Probably belonged to the Young Earth League, something like that. There were half a dozen of them, all punishable. Challa comes back with two cold cups and I take my gloves off hurriedly, wondering what happened to my manners, but then there's hardly been long enough, in five years, to establish a Suit etiquette. I cup my hands round the cold cup and look at him. He smiles, and then ducks his head for a sip.

"How've you been?" My voice is rough with disuse - he affects not to notice. 

"Well, Su, well. I just finished three weeks on the Memorial. I met some amazing people there. One man had a scar down to his collar, he'd been working there a month. Turns out he'd worked on the virus." He sips again, sighing with pleasure at the cold. I shiver a tiny bit in sympathy. My body feels with his.

"He must have been lucky to escape with both eyes"

Challa nods enthusiastically "Apparently he even met Yar Tengu. I couldn't believe it - I was on site with a man who actually met Yar Tengu, Satan himself." He takes another big slug of his drink, then puts his cooled hand casually on mine. I look up, startled, into his face. He smiles. "Thought about it yet?"

He smiles. His lips stretch over his white teeth. His scar - three inches - twists his cheek. His top lip is barely, barely split and healed very elegantly. You can't really feel it when you kiss. 

I draw my hand away. The hand he touched goes to my face. "I forgot, an appointment, I'd better go."

"Stay, finish your drink"

"I'd better go" I make to rise, hear a laugh from our audience by the bar. Challa looks wounded, and I wonder if it is the fact of my going, or that they will see him left alone. I hesitate, lapse back in my seat. I never did have the courage to say no. "What did he think of him?"

"Who?" His brown eyes are puzzled, hurt, genuine. Surely.

"Yar Tengu. Your new friend, with the foot long scar. What did he think of him?"

Challa sighs "He said he wasn't like in the documentaries. He said he had a nice sense of humour. He said that he never forgot a birthday." He sees my flinch and he says "What did you want, Su? To hear he ate babies for breakfast and bathed in the blood of scientists?"

"I don't know." I shiver again, but there is no sympathy any more. 

"You know what you want. It's been years. Too long, since we... " he smiles a fat smile, a smile fed on memories of all our long loving time together, before the Ships or the scars or the sales. "Don't you remember?" His voice is full of summers under different skies.

But I do remember, I do, and I have to go. I blunder out into the heat, door open almost before I have my mask on. No one like Challa, to bring it all out like that. He killed ten thousand, by the reckoning. Two years in prison, a three inch facial scar. A habit of repentance. I watched his trial, on the Library. He wept, as they made the ceremonial cut through his anaesthetised flesh. He felt no pain, pain was not the point, it is the marking of what we had done. I wept too. None of us were innocent. 

Out on the street I blunder past masked faces, forging towards home, and it all seems to fit. It was deemed that through my sale of artifacts confiscated from the homes of the indigenous Irkis peoples, I accumulated a personal responsibility for two thousand deaths. I think about that sometimes, try to count up two thousand amongst my friends and family. They say we must have known. 

I watched my trial, beside his. I remember my tears, two thousand at my hands, two thousand more killed than if I had said no, I will sell no jewellery or sculpture or fine blue glass. I counted under my breath - if you look it up you'll see my lips move - two thousand. I cried, he cried. They say we must have known. But how can I know, amongst Memorials and scars? How do I know real tears? 

Challa blunders behind me. His mask is askew and as I see him he drops to one knee, gasping for breath. What an actor - by the time I get him inside the door he is gasping for real, declaring that every painful breath is worth it, to show that he cannot let me go. I push aside his mask, pull his gloves off, get him to a chair and feel his hands desperate against my waist, clutching me like hope. "Su," he says, and his voice is full of something I wish I could believe, and his face is still his face under the cut that justice put there. And I feel my body, my criminal body yearn to him and I know how this will end, with lips and hair and the cool heat of sweat and flesh, and lips on lips, fierce and tender.

But when I kiss him, I wish I could feel the scar.
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