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Forgoing

The last thing she did before they took away the use of her hands was to sign her name.

Jazelant had learned hand-Screeding in primeschool but her skills had grown rusty. Here, her implants being incompatible with local datarets, she'd had to resort to the antique method several times.

Seylag merely glanced into a holocube, lifted veir head sharply, the Tericent version of a nod. Brisk, impersonal techs ushered them to chairs for the procedures. Bodies briefly blocked her view. When she saw Seylag again, they were already fitting the apparatus over veir face. Jazelant wished she'd snatched one last chance to look into veir eyes.

Jaz settled back in the chair, trying to relax. A doctor, or nurse, or tech—she'd never quite worked out who was what—was already fitting bands around her wrists, dark red, a millimetre thick, snug but not constricting. A soft sense of warmth, gentle pins and needles. "Takes some minutes," ve said. "Obligingly remain motionless."

She thought about time. A few minutes, an hour, ten years, five weeks.

For ten years I believed Virtense was dead. Five weeks ago I still believed it. Five weeks—most of it lost to longhaul's induced coma—to assimilate the revelation that she was in fact alive. Finally, this morning, barely an hour to grasp that she might be alive but she was so changed. She'd grown, of course; she was seventeen, not seven. That much Jazelant had tried to anticipate. But she'd changed in so many other ways too; her skintone, her name, even her gender. Not 'her', or 'she'; ve.

An hour ago I had no idea about any of this.

Her wrists were hot, tingling.

*  *  *

The morning rendezvous had been a café on a street shaded by rainbow canopies, filtering the savage sun. Here the fabric was blue, accentuating the skintone of the natives. A few looked truly black, but most were somewhere between inky blue and cool charcoal grey.

A young server, obsidian face saltired with delicate chains, suggested 'roak-tea'. Jaz shrugged, nodded. The drink looked innocent, but had a fiery aftertaste, like tea with a shot of vodka. Maybe a little alcohol would ease the nerves.

Nerves? an inner voice scoffed. She's your daughter.

A daughter you haven't seen for ten years, said a sceptical antiphon. A daughter you believed dead.

Ten years. The Noöcracy hadn't been mere enemies; they'd been the murderers of her only child. She'd lived as if she had nothing left to lose, survived by blind fortune. The news of Virtense's survival had been scarcely less shocking than the report of her death.

A decorated veteran, Jaz had been guaranteed a place on the first Reclaim mission to Tericent. Here she was just an ageing brown woman, service-bald growing out in uneven frizz. Brown skin was uncommon, she'd observed, but not so rare that she felt conspicuous; other Noöcracy worlds boasted a full range of skintones. Only Tericent natives and longterm residents, with that ebonising gene-tweak, bared skin to direct sun—and even then, not much.

Jaz resisted the urge to quiz her timeread. Virtense wasn't late. Not yet. She looked out, saw a line of children, each holding the long braid of the one in front, though the front of each head was hairless.

Would she even recognise Virtense? The picture in her head was a child of seven, face framed in exuberant ringlets. No one here had hair like that; hardly anyone had a full head of hair at all. She sighed. There'd be no answer till her daughter arrived.

Across the street; another café, tables mostly empty. Tericent evidently hadn't prospered from the war. Empty tables, a general shabbiness, tech she mostly found antiquated.

She watched idly as four young people seated themselves. Then shock speared her, and it became hard not to stare: two had no arms. Not even stumps, unless hidden within the baggy clothes that everyone wore.

Well, there had been a war. Traumas happened; she'd had lesser injuries herself. Still, it was a puzzle. Decor might be threadbare, but Noöcracy medtech was rated equivalent to the Entente's, even a little more advanced. Reconstructive therapy surely wasn't beyond them. Perhaps there was a backlog. Perhaps it had been mentioned in the briefings during transfer, but she—like most—had still been dazed from coma-hangover.

Jaz watched: able-bodied helping the others, one holding a glass to a friend's lips; another spooning a portion from what looked like a sundae. Care, tenderness. Her eyes prickled unaccountably.

"Forgoing," said a voice, close. Jaz looked round, saw a tall young Tericent. Most are young, she realised. Indigo skin, no eyebrows, hair a silver crest.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I gauge you don't familiarise this praxis?"

"I don't 'familiarise'," Jaz admitted.

"Recognition of ignorance is great step to knowledge. Second Precept." Ve gestured. "Two Forgo use of arms; duration unknown to me."

"You mean it's voluntary?"

"Self-willed? Just so."

"Why would they do that?"

"Praxis of Forgoing engenders… empathy, trust. Generosity of spirit, kindness, as in Seventeenth Precept. Does this illuminate?"

"I think so."

"Also…" The young person leaned closer. "Ripe for mirth." All four youngsters were now convulsed with silent laughter. Perhaps a cheek smeared with red, vivid against smoky skin, explained it. "Best intentions, but execution imperfect. Further valued lesson."

"Thank you for explaining. I'm sorry, I'd love to talk more, but I'm waiting for my daughter."

"Your name is Jazelant?"

"Yes, how…?"

"You await me."

Jaz dropped her drink. The glass rang on the tabletop, spraying amber liquid.

The youngster swung into action, one-piece garment flaring wide. "This is somewhat like Forgoing, I gauge," ve said, mopping the tabletop. Sleeves pushed back, forearms etched with fine lines, matt against satin. On each cheek, a stylised Swirl Nebula.

"You mean I Forgo sense, act like a fool," said Jaz. "And you clean up?"

"I unsaid fool." Veir lips pressed together almost primly. Just like Claife's, Jaz thought, and burst into tears.

Some unfathomable time later, the situation resolved. Virtense—it can't be, it must be—was sitting beside her, mopping the last spots from Jaz's bonnet. "I'm so sorry," said Jaz.

"Apology unneedful, I gauge."

"I'm—" Jaz dragged in a breath. "Is it really you? Virtense?"

That up-raked nod. "Such was name, they say."

"Was?"

"I am Seylag."

What's in a name? Jaz thought, and answered herself: sometimes everything. "But it's really you?"

A quirky smile, sparking another pang of familiarity. "Paradoxical question. How could I say, I am not me?"

More tears threatened. "That's just the sort of thing Claife would say."

"Claife?"

"Your father." The girl's expression stayed blank—but 'girl' wasn't a word in Noödialect, she remembered. What sort of language has no word for girl? Or father? "Your parent. Your other parent."

"Ah." Ve nodded again. "Genitor… and we say cub, not 'daughter'."

"Vir—sorry, Seylag… Do you… do you remember me at all?"

*  *  *

It is praxis inculcated young, to retrieve memories, examine, resettle.

But early memories are hard. Often younglings uncomprend what eventuates around. For me, these memories also crowd with unknown words, twisted meanings. Yet, to grasp, are all I have.

I delve. And…

"You sent me away."

"Vir—Seylag! No!" Fervent demurral.

"But what I recall… is not you, is other…" Word is opaque, but I venture: "Other ladies?"

"Oh god… the kresh."

"I unknow kresh."

"It was where we… where we left you, to keep you safe."

"Safe," I repeat, all dubiety.

"We had no choice, V—Seylag. We loved you, you must know that, but we were on active service.

Conscripted. No choice."

"So… but not altogether safe, I gauge."

Ve discerns my meaning; or half-discerns, perhaps. Voice rises. "We didn't attack civilian targets."

"We unkept civilians—schools, homes, kreshes—adjacent military targets. I uncomprend such strategy." 

"If we're going to trade atrocity st—" Ve stops. "This isn't helping. Vir—sorry, Seylag. Do you remember anything else from before you were taken?"

"Taken?"

"What do you call it?"

"Evacuated? Liberated?"

"Liberated? It was the Noöcracy who—" Again ve halts, breathes deep; semblance of calming praxis. "Did you have any choice about being brought here?"

"Did I have choice being there?"

"It was your home."

"Yet never chosen."

"You were barely seven…"

"I knew this for misconcept." I stand, turn away.

Intent is firm, to walk away, unlook back. But I hear chair scrape, then voice. "Seylag, please!"

I illknow why I stop. Perhaps only because ve says correct name: first time. I turn back, regard this person allegedly my genitor—my mother, in veir dialect. Uncustomed skinhue, caramel perhaps. Eyes darker, flecked green. I am taller, I discern.

"I'm sorry," ve says. "I shouldn't have gotten angry… But I've been angry for ten years. Missed so much when you were small, even before… and then we believed you were dead. For ten years we believed the Noöcracy killed you."

"You comprend now?" I say, careful, mild. "Noöcracy—if you must so say—"

"—What would you say?" ve asks. Irruption is discourtesy; but Fourth Precept: Only good is knowledge and only evil is ignorance. I believe—I elect to believe—ve desires diminution of ignorance.

"Koinataphilon. Means 'Friends share all things'. Koinata took vast trouble, risks, to evacuate civilians—especially younglings. You grasp?"

"I'm trying… but ten years… Seylag, will you sit again? Please?"

Trying to understand is like straining through muddy water. Have patience to wait! Be still and allow mud to settle. Fourteenth.

We reseat, order fresh drinks. Things said while waiting are immemorable. Did I travel far today, matters of such slightness.

Drinks arrive and ve, this stranger who expects to know me, swigs as if thirsty. Veir first tasse was spilled, I recall.

"Seylag," she says then, "What do I have to do to earn your trust?"

Veir hand reaches forward, hesitates, settles on tabletop close to mine. Ve wishes to touch, but also fears, I intuit. I gaze at hands: many thoughts eventuate. Something stirs… Memory? Imagining? A hand, overlying mine—if it be mine: memoried hand is small—and also brown. Lighter, but brown.

Perhaps it is vrai

*  *  *

The girl looked at her. No, she remembered again, not 'girl'. Words from the briefing: treat everyone as neutral. If someone tells you veir gender, take it as a compliment.

Seylag looked at her, steady gaze, eyes umber, as (of course!) Virtense's had been. A slight lift of her—veir—shoulders; was it a shrug? Perhaps it was just a stray breeze lifting the light fabric of veir shapeless garment.

The silence stretched. Ball's in your court, she told herself. "I'm sorry I got angry," she said again.

"I also ired. Anger is rarely wise: Thirty-ninth Precept."

"Let's forget it, shall we? But… I've been thinking about why I got so angry. And… Not to excuse myself. I've realised something…

"I said I've been angry for ten years. Because I believed Virtense was dead. That Noöcracy—Koinata—killed her, my daughter, you… And then I found out that she wasn't—you weren't—dead after all. And that was harder than it should be. I thought I should be overflowing with joy, and I wasn't… but for ten years that anger, that rage, was part of me. It was me. And then…"

Jaz drew a shaky breath. "Please, don't speak just yet. I know, right now, what I want to say… It may be the only time." Seylag nodded in that odd Tericent way.

"I was sitting here, and you spoke to me—kindness, I thought, the kindness of strangers… And I said, 'I'm waiting for my daughter,' and you said, 'you await for me,' and I… but you weren't Virtense. Wrong age, wrong size, wrong colour. Stupid, I know. Maybe I didn't take it all in, the briefing, but common sense should have told me… Subconsciously I'd been expecting the little girl I remembered, just slightly bigger, and you…

"So… Virtense was dead for ten years, and then she wasn't. And then you… you weren't what I was prepared for. And that threw me back… almost like she'd died all over again." She sat back, gestured with both hands: finished.

"I think I comprend… partwise. Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge. Third Precept."

Jaz laughed, or made some facsimile of a laugh. "I'm definitely perplexed."

Seylag smiled. That lopsided smile, so like Claife, pierced Jaz's heart. "Then knowledge may unfold."

"I hope so… so what do we do now?"

Seylag, who was and wasn't Virtense, looked pensive. Patience, Jaz told herself. Then, "You spoke of trust."

"Yes."

"I have question. Will you answer with truth?"

"Best I can," she said. To promise more would, itself, be less than truthful.

"Presence of those seeking truth is preferred to presence of those assured they have found it. Twenty-sixth Precept."

"I should learn more about these Precepts… maybe not right now. What's your question?"

"Question is simple: what do you want?"

Again, Jaz uttered something approximating a laugh. "You think that's simple?"

Seylag spread both hands wide, loose sleeves falling back: a shrug. Again Jaz noticed the faint patterns etched or blazoned on the skin of veir forearms. No change in colour, but the surface caught the light differently.

She sipped her drink, focusing on its oddly acrid scent, sweet-sour flavour. Of course it was nothing like Minelma's hazy lambic beer, but it sparked a similar feeling: do I like this or not? Which, in Minelma's, kept her coming back for more, trying to reach a conclusion.

She ran a hand over her scalp, softrasp of new growth still a small shock. "I had masses of hair before… when you were small. Out to here. It all came off when I was drafted, of course…" A sudden sharp memory. "First time you saw me bald, you howled. We'd tried to prepare you, but maybe you were too young… how old were you? Four, I suppose."

"Datum years?"

"Datum, standard… synonymous, aren't they? You're seventeen now, right?" Seylag nodded. "I felt so bad, went to pick you up and you recoiled. Like I was a stranger. Do you remember at all? You'd think maybe you would, or was it too traumatic? And am I still a stranger?" She blinked away hovering tears. Seylag said nothing, just watched, intent. "Well, I guess you're thinking I'm not answering your question… but maybe in my own way I am. What do I want? I don't know, maybe for you to remember something. Remember me, that would be nice."

"I strive… But I think there is more."

"More… oh, yes, there's more. More to want… more that I could want. Like getting those ten years back." Again she heard herself, the laugh that wasn't really a laugh. "Well, that's not possible, full sure. But I want…" She drew a shaky breath. She was sure this wasn't what Seylag wanted to hear., but she'd promised truth. "I want you back."

Seylag tensed. For a dark moment Jaz feared ve would spring to her feet again, start to stride away. But the girl, or whatever she was meant to call vem, lapsed into stillness. "Is truth, I think. As I… Yes, I must give truth too. As I feared."

"Feared?"

"Your mission is called Reclaim, vrai?"

"Yes, but—"

"—And you said I, we, all of us, were taken. You ired when I said 'liberated'."

"I wasn't prepared for you seeing it that way. But I'm trying to learn. Only… V—Seylag, please, try to understand how it feels to me. I'm still your mother. I lost ten years of your life. I thought I'd lost you altogether. To get you back, and then… I'm not sure I can bear to lose you all over again." Again a shaky breath; again, the feeling that tears were very close. "You want the truth, right? To know what I want? Bottom line, Seylag, I want to take you home."

Seylag's fingers tightened on the tea-tasse. Knuckles paled smokily. "But this is home."

*  *  *

Then, ve weeps.

This pains me, and I realise; I care of veir feelings. Perhaps simply compassion, one human for another; perhaps more. Anycase, I wish to amend. New idea arises. "You spoke of trust. And I undoubt you recall description of Forgoing; empathy, trust. Generosity of spirit, kindness."

Ve, Jazelant, stares at me. "You think… You think we should…?"

"I unknow how else to advance."

Ve considers; moments feel like minutes. Breathes heavy. "Very well, then."

A short walk, under shifting colours. Scant time to acquaint vem with many variants of Forgoing. "I gauge we require complementarity. And you unfamiliarise praxis… For novices, one hands, one eyes, is typical. For you, suggest Forgoing hands, to continue to see."

Receptionist is new, spindly person, graphite skin. Ve flickers surprise that Jazelant lacks Agent. After discussion Jazelant confirms assent by signature. Stylus scratching on ancient tablo.

So, parallel chairs. Clinicians brisk, efficient. Apparatus blanks my vision. I feel ache-press, heat, itchy prickle. I hear Jazelant, sharp intake of breath. 

"Best remain still," veir tech says.

"I can still feel the armrest," says Jazelant.

"Inhibitor blocks motor nerves, not sensory. Elsewise, compromises safety."

"Like… I could rest my hand on a hot surface and not realise?"

"And other scenarios, equally unwishful. Now, attempt to move hand. Right side first."

"Oh lord," says Jazelant. I recall/imagine veir experience, lifting arm, hand merely flopping from wrist. They verify both sides. "As required?" asks the tech.

"I guess so."

I rise from my chair, turn to direction I think ve must be.

"I'm here," ve says.

Veir words guide: my hand grasps veir arm. Together we egress.

"Well," ve says. "What now?"

"Is anything you wish to do?"

"I came to find you. That's all."

"And you have time?"

"All the time in the world. In all the worlds…" Voice falters.

*  *  *

Seylag thought a moment, then said, "This way." 

It was hard to know who was guiding whom. Seylag clearly knew exactly where they were. Jaz supposed ve had location data through veir implant. What ve could not see were temporary obstructions. People, mostly, seemed to recognise Seylag's sightlessness and move aside. It was inanimate objects, like a popup fruit-stall, that required her to give Seylag some guidance, combining words with a push or pull against the grip on her arm. 

"Easing into praxis," said Seylag after a few minutes. It seemed to be a compliment. "Now we progress."

Rounding a corner, Jaz found herself facing a line of bikes. Uprights, recumbents, familiar enough, but also several that were like two recumbent bikes bolted together. 

"You cannot be serious," she said.

"Not? Why?"

"How the f—hell do we steer? I can't grip anything and you can't see."

"I grip, you guide. Same praxis as walking."

Seylag might be temporarily blind, but she could still manage a good approximation of a challenging stare, its message clear: I dare you.

Jaz could not refuse, though doubts redoubled as she guided Seylag into the left-hand seat. But before she had settled into her own perch, Seylag had feet strapped into the pedals, seat position adjusted, hands on the guidebar.

The ride might have been ten minutes, but it felt like an hour. Seylag, with a grin that might have been concentration or exhilaration, pushed fiercely on the pedals; Jaz had little option but to match veir cadence. The speed seemed outrageous, more terrifying than a ship flinging itself out of T-space.

In fact there were only three junctions to manage, and Seylag let them slow to walking pace for each. It was guiding the bike into a narrow parking slot at the end of the journey that proved most complicated. Jaz even wondered if she could somehow control the vehicle by resting her wrists on the guidebar. But surely that wasn't the point of Forgoing. Cooperation, and grasping the other's needs, was.

"Thirsty?" asked Seylag when they were standing together again. "Also hungry?"

"Yes and yes," said Jaz, realising how true it was.

"Then we cross street."

The server in the café was pale by local standards, the colour of slate. But what Jaz saw first was the garnet disc suspended from veir septum, down to veir chin, obscuring veir mouth entirely, and linked by fine chains to each earlobe. The disc danced lightly at every movement. Veir welcome-smile was all in the eyes, and ve didn't speak. Jaz quietly described veir appearance as they approached.

"Greeting, Avessis," said Seylag.

*  *  *

I extend hand, feel Avessis' grasp. "How long?" I ask.

Pause; ve must be gesting, or writing. Then Jaz says, "Three… I'm sorry…"

I think. "Not three days… Three sun-cycles?"

Jaz relays another nod. "That's the cycle of the secondary, isn't it? So ve's Forgoing speech for… over two months…?"

"I unknow 'months'."

"A long time, anyway; I'm impressed. Now… I guess I should read you the menu?"

"I familiarise, but thank you."

"I don't… what should we order?"

"You like spice?"

"Within reason."

I order mild aroskaldo; soon, Avessis places bowls. I outline usual praxis. "Is agreeable?"

"Agreeable." I gauge veir jaw with left hand as right dips spoon. "Ready?" Ve nods, I feel. "Open." I approach spoon to face, ve dips head to meet.

"Mm," ve says. "Quite spicy."

"Overly?"

"No, I like it. And I guess something like this, spoon-food, is easiest."

"Unso facile with noodles."

Veir answer dies in spluttered laughter, then we are both laughing, leaning close.

We proceed. I feed vem; with care and cooperation little is spilt, but some. Ve sees, guides me to use napkin. Feeding self, kinaesthesia suffices. Still, ve watches, offers guiding words. Empathy, consideration.

Fed, we settle back. Avessis brings more drinks. "You come here often?" Jaz asks me.

"This is my purlieu."

*  *  *

A sudden commotion outside, sound filtering through the open door. Seylag cocked veir head to listen. Conjoined, they threaded their way between tables to the exit.

The stir focused on two figures. The larger she recognised, a fellow-passenger from the ship, though they'd barely spoken and she couldn't recall the woman's name. With her was a young Tericent, younger than Seylag, perhaps thirteen. Ebon skin, hair like many she'd seen, bald in front, long braid behind. But that hair was rusty red; allowing for some sun-bleaching, potentially the same shade as the woman. Mother and cub.

"What transpires?" her own offspring asked. Almost before she'd finished explaining, Seylag was striding forward, as if sight had suddenly returned; Jaz sprang after her. In a second she was surrounded, figures jostle-close, angry voices. With useless hands she felt defenceless; panic welled like cold magma.

"Stop," Seylag was saying. "Desist this." Faces turned to vem, charcoal and dark slate and indigo, a dozen at least. "Hearken. No one takes anyone." Veir head turned in her direction. Gently and—she hoped—unobtrusively, Jaz pressed her arm against Seylag's; the best she could do. "My genitor. Yes, ve came in hopes I would go with vem, but ve understands now."

Even without sight, veir glance was eloquent: you do understand, don't you? Jaz started to nod, realised the futility, pressed arms again.

"One day, perhaps, I travel there. To see world of my genition, of my first years. Perhaps it will rouse memories. Ignorance is the night of the mind…" Another of those Precepts, Jaz supposed. "But going, staying, at own choice." Again that glance, as if ve could see her. "Ve knows. Tericent is my home, this is who I am."

Some were nodding; some moved away. A couple remained. One, with indigo skin and snow-white hair in bantu-knots, placed veirself directly in front of Jazelant.

*  *  *

I sense someone close, looming. Then: "How many did you kill?"

"I beg your pardon?" Jaz, uncertain.

"Vrai, is not? You were combatant? How many did you kill?"

Impolitesse ires me. I start to speak, but Jaz calms. "It's okay, Seylag. It's a fair question." Ve sighs. "I just don't have a simple answer… I could say I never killed anyone. Never aimed a weapon, never palmed a firing tab. But I was on ships that did. Ships that killed hundreds, probably. But if a ship with fifty crew destroys another ship with fifty crew… how many is each crew-member responsible for? And does it make a difference that the fifty who died were trying just as hard to kill the fifty who lived?" Deep breath. "I survived, but I lost an aunt, two cousins, more friends and comrades than I can count. Should I be blaming you for them?" I feel silence around, surmise others all listening. "That gets us nowhere. Let's just say that what killed them—all of them, your loved ones and mine—wasn't you, wasn't me, wasn't any of us poor bloody grunts; it was the war. Just the fucking war.

"I lost too many people, too much of my life, too much of my daugh—my cub's life. I refuse to lose another fucking second to the war. So, fuck it, let's try peace. We're all fucking novices at it, greenhorns, but we have to start somewhere, so why not here?

"If peace means anything, I should be able to walk into a tavern on Tericent and have a quiet drink. And you should be able to walk into a bar on my world and have a quiet drink, too. I'll stand up for that… If you ever find yourself on Fealerion, come to Istvilea, to Minelma's Bar, and I… I'll be there, I'll make sure, and I'll buy you a drink. Five drinks. Ten drinks."

Ve stops. Beneath abrupt silence I hear, or feel, background: dozen people breathing, feet shifting, clothes rustling. Sightless, person always hears more. Then movement: I surmise ired person walks away.

A new voice, older. "Ve speaks for self, I for my self. I was at Suvereng. I, also, unknow how many I killed. I know, as you, how many I lost. And I say, as you, fuck the war. I may never visit Fealerion. But here are you, and here am I, and I would honour to buy you drink."

"Thank you. I accept, with thanks, but the honour is mine. And…" Jazelant laughs now, but shakily. "Forgetting again. I was going to say I'd shake your hand, if you do that here, but…" Veir arm leaves mine. I surmise ve raising arm, hand drooping limp.

Other smiles, clear in voice. "Unconcern."

And I have new thought: mother. And new feeling: pride.

*  *  *

"I can't thank you enough," said Femke Lelant. They'd learned her name as they returned to the café. Avessis, unasked, fetched fresh hot drinks for Seylag and Jaz, took orders for the other two. The veteran of Suvereng paid for all.

"Don't thank me," said Jaz. "It was all Seylag. Thank vem."

"I do," said Lelant. "I thank you both. But what you said about the war was powerful too."

Her cub, Pravo, was watching Seylag. It had briefly looked as if Lelant was about to share veir birth-name, but thought better of it, leaving Jaz with no clue to veir birth-gender. Why would I need to know? she pondered.

"You arrived here when?" asked Pravo now.

"You ask me?" said Seylag. Pravo nodded, realised veir error, said a hasty yes.

"Ten datum-years."

"Same—but you were older. You remember before?"

"Fragments only, and scant of context; hard to fathom."

"Ten years for me also," said Pravo. "But infant then; I recall nothing. In my mind I begin here."

Jaz watched Femke's face, saw the distress. She felt lucky by comparison.

*  *  *

From the café a short walk led to a funicular that grumbled up to a sea-view mirador. Jaz swept her gaze along the horizon, Seylag tracking her slow pirouette. The vastness of the ocean, pewter in the afternoon light, wavecrests scattering fleeting glints. She was glad the wind was blowing from sea to land, not pushing towards the brink.

Then Seylag said, "Just moments more." Jaz almost asked what she meant, but there was sudden warmth in her wrists. The bands loosened; her fingers tingled savagely.

Seylag was blinking furiously. The wind moulded veir garment to veir form on one side, snapped and fluttered on the other. Jaz's skirt was a banner tugging at her legs. At first neither spoke.

"Curious," said Seylag, no longer blinking, veir eyes dark again, alive.

"Curious?"

"All time I am unseeing, I mind's-eye you—and always I see you same colour as me." She was watching Jaz's face intently. "Do you disturb?"

Jaz laughed. "No, my darling, I don't disturb, not a bit." She reached, grasped Seylag's hands. How lovely to be able to do that. "I can't think of a nicer thing you could have said."

"Vraily?"

"Vraily, vraily. Trueas." She squeezed. "I came here looking for Virtense. I lost her ten years ago, and then I thought I'd found her again. But I thought, first time I heard you might still be alive, This is too good to be true. And perhaps it isn't true: I didn't find Virtense." She swallowed. No more tears. "I found Seylag. And That's... That's almost too good to be true, too. But only almost."

Seylag didn't speak. Perhaps ve couldn't.

"Well," said Jaz, "Where next?"

Hand in hand, mother and cub began to walk back to the funicular.

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