If I Forget You, Israel, Let Me Forget My Left Hand
“And the last survivor of the old Juniper, he lifted up his hands, he lifted up his hands, he lifted up his hands to God. He said, “Take me as you will, take me as I am, take me where I stand, oh Lord, oh Lord. Take me where I stand, oh Lord.” But the last survivor of that good old Juniper, he had a far longer way to go.”
-from “The Last Days of the Good Ship Juniper”, traditional spacer song
Yan didn't really process her journey out. She fled Stonecourt and her feet took her home at a pace that she hadn't remembered she was capable of. The world passed by her without her comprehending it. Perhaps that was because her eyes were blurred with tears, her head throbbed like an old wound, and she wanted to claw all of her skin off.
Sylva was lounging on the couch in Yan's apartment, reading something on a tablet. She looked up when Yan burst into the room, and stood when she saw the wild look on Yan's face.
“Yan? Are you okay?” Sylva came towards her, but Yan made a beeline for the bathroom and shut the door, closing it in Sylva’s face. She plugged the bathtub and turned on the tap, making the water as cold as she could get it.
Sylva pounded on the bathroom door, but Yan didn't open it. She couldn't face Sylva right now. She didn't have the words to say what had happened, or why. All Yan knew was that she needed to do something, anything, to get out of her body. Her despair was physical. Even when she had been in prison, she didn't think she had ever felt like this. It was as though there was something just under the layer of her skin that needed to be let out, and the only way it could get out was by smashing her body as hard as she could into a rock. Getting run over by a car. She wanted to pound her face into the dirt because she couldn't bear it anymore.
She couldn't do that, though, so instead she peeled off all her clothes and lay face down in the ice water bath, water continuing to pour out of the faucet onto her. The cold was a shock to her skin, but even that wasn't enough. She pressed her face to the bottom of the tub and screamed as loud and as long as she could. The air came out in choking bubbles up around her face, and the water filled her mouth. She wanted to drown, but her instincts brought her back up for air, gasping. With the water out of her ears, she could hear Sylva again, still pounding on the door.
“Yan!” Sylva was yelling.
Yan felt Sylva's power reach out into the door to open it, but Yan held it shut with her own power. Sylva would hate her for this later. Yan didn't care.
“Yan, I'm calling Iri.”
Yan didn't respond to that, but she dipped back under the water and screamed again. Her fingers were growing numb from the cold, and her whole body ached, but she needed to do something. She needed--
She came back up for air.
Sylva was still yelling, but this time into the phone. Yan could hear the half of a conversation clearly.
“Iri, God dammit, pick up the phone!”
“Yes, this is an emergency!”
“Something happened when Yan was with the Emperor, and now she's back here and she's screaming and locked herself in the bathroom and won't talk to me and--”
“How quickly will you be here?”
“Why the fuck would I know where Kino is?”
And at the sound of Kino's name, Yan ducked back under the water and screamed again.
The only thing that the rational part of Yan's mind was capable of was remembering to turn off the water before the tub overflowed. All the rest of her thoughts were consumed by the irrational.
She felt like this was somehow her fault. She thought, and knew it was crazy, no matter how real it felt, that if she had somehow died in prison, then none of this would be happening. Everything would be fine without her. She felt responsible for it all.
She had never, ever felt this bad before. Not when her mother died, not aboard the Sky Boat, not when she was torn away from the Mother, and not even when the Green King was torturing her in prison. At least in all those times, in all those places, she felt like there was some way to keep moving forward. She had been a child when her mother died, and kids didn't have perspective. On the Sky Boat, she knew exactly what she had done, and why, and though it had felt like the world was collapsing around her, she at least understood it. And when she was with the Green King, she had the goal of escape to work towards, and she could take herself out of her own head, and that was just physical pain. This was different.
Yan sat and sobbed in the bath. Sylva stopped banging on the door, apparently having decided that if Yan was sobbing so loudly, she at least wasn't dead. When Iri arrived, which didn’t take very long, Yan didn't have the mental energy left to stop her from forcing the lock on the bathroom door and throwing it open, revealing Yan in all of her disarray.
Iri and Sylva had both seen her naked before, so it wasn't exactly that that jolted some sense back into Yan's brain and made her realize what a pathetic mess she was making. It was really just the rush of cold air coming in, and the light, and the way they looked at her with such concern in their eyes.
Iri came over, rolled up the sleeve of her shirt, and reached into the bathtub to drain it. Yan shivered as the water ran down into the drain. Sylva found a clean towel and handed it to her. Iri helped her to her feet. Yan hiccoughed. Sylva left and returned a moment later with Yan's pajamas.
The whole scene moved in slow motion as Yan shivered and toweled herself off mechanically. She pulled on her pajamas, and Iri led her by the elbow out of the bathroom and sat her down on the couch. Sylva curled up next to her, wrapping her warm arms around Yan. Iri sat down on the edge of the couch.
“Can you tell us what happened, Yan?” she asked.
Yan opened her mouth, found that she couldn't quite get words out, and gingerly shook her head. Iri's eyes widened in surprise, but she quickly replaced her expression with a calm, neutral one. Iri was always the professional.
“Are you in danger or in pain?” Iri asked.
Yan shook her head again. She wasn't currently in danger, and she wasn't physically in pain, aside from the dull ache in her neck, but that wasn't what Iri was asking about.
Iri bit her lip for a second. “Are you so upset that you're going to hurt yourself?”
The thought had crossed Yan's mind, though she was surprised, in the dim way that anything was registering in her mind, that Iri was asking at all. She shrugged halfheartedly. Sylva squeezed her tighter. Iri gave her a considering look, narrowing her eyes ever so slightly.
“I'll be right back,” Iri said. She stood up and stepped out into the hallway. She had her phone in her hand.
Sylva leaned her head on Yan's shoulder. “It'll be okay, whatever it is,” she said.
“No,” Yan said. It was definitely not okay.
Iri came back in a moment later. “Who were you on the phone with?” Sylva asked.
“Halen, but he didn't pick up. I'm going to call Sandreas.”
“Don't,” Yan said. “Please.”
Iri considered her words, then put her phone in her pocket, acquiescing. “Are you saying that because you don't want to bother him, or are you saying that for some other reason?”
“Another reason,” Yan said. “Don't call Halen again, either.”
“Did they do something to you?”
Yan shook her head.
“Did the Emperor do something to you?”
Yan shook her head again, though that was less true.
Iri looked confused. Her phone vibrated in her pocket, and she pulled it out. She showed the text to Yan. It was from Halen.
> dealing with an emergency rn. will call u back asap. call me again if it's life/death and I will answer
“Is this what you're upset about?”
“Will you be upset if I investigate to find out what the emergency is, if you can't tell me?”
Yan shook her head.
“Can you let me into your back room? I can access Stonecourt security from there.”
Yan reached out with her power, pressed it into the door of the hidden room in her closet, and it swung open with an audible thump. Yan extracted herself from Sylva's grip, with some effort, and stood. Both Iri and Sylva looked alarmed and stood up as Yan headed back to the bathroom, but she didn't close the door, she just picked up her cassock off the floor, and searched through the pockets until she found the data stick that Kino had pressed into her hand that morning.
Yan then went into her windowless secret room, followed in by both Iri and Sylva. It was a little cramped with all three of them there. Sylva went out and dragged back in two kitchen chairs for her and Iri to sit on, as Yan took the office chair in front of the big computers.
She plugged in the datastick. Was it bad operational security to be putting this on Imperial computers, now that she knew what Kino had done? Yes, but Kino had already done all of the damage that she was going to do, so Yan didn't think that it really mattered.
The data stick was not very full. There was one plain text file, and one encrypted folder. The text file was titled “Yan” and the folder was labeled “Bina”, which Yan assumed was Kino's sister's name. She clicked on the text file.
I don't know if you're even going to read this letter. I understand that you probably hate me, now that you know what I did. I assume you know, anyway. Sid mentioned that the Emperor can see through you like glass.
The truth has come to light, and I have gone down into that great darkness.
It's easier for me to write all of this than it would be for me to say it to you, but it's still so hard. I haven't slept all night. I look out the window, and I pray, and I hope that whatever's coming next will be easy, or at least quick.
The big moon is so beautiful.
You probably don't want to hear me explain why I did what I did, but I have to tell you anyway. In the end, I think the only thing, the simplest thing, that I can say is that it's wrong what the Empire does. It's wrong for us to go out and wipe out entire planets. I had to do anything that I could to stop it, and I couldn't wait until I got the chance to become Second, or First, because if I wasn't doing something, everyone who died in that time, their blood would be on my hands. I couldn't be complicit in it.
I never meant to hurt you. You've never been my enemy, and I'm so glad you're alive. I wish I could have been your friend. I wish you could have been mine.
It's a good thing that I'm going to die. Getting the wrong person led the Fleet right to that planet. They could have stayed hidden for the rest of time, if it wasn't for me. So in the end, they're all on my hands, too.
Perhaps I should be spending this time killing myself, so that I won't have to go through what's coming, and the secret can die with me. I think I'm a coward, though, and the sun's coming up. If I ran away, you'd find me, just like you found Sid, though it might take longer. It all seems inevitable.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t tell you any of this earlier.
I couldn't talk to you about the Fleet and what they were doing, and how I wanted to stop them, because I knew you were so hurt, and you weren't thinking about it. I understand. I read what Iri wrote, about the people you knew on that planet, and I didn't want to make you think about what was happening to them. I doubt that even if both you and I had talked to Captain Wen we could have stopped it. And I didn't want to force you to make a choice right then, because it was all my fault anyway.
I said you were standing on a cliff. Now here we are at the precipice. I didn't want to bring us both down together.
When I apologized to you on the Impulse, this was what I was really apologizing for. I'm sorry, Yan. I'm sorry for what I put you through. You don't have to accept my apology. Whatever you do, I forgive you for in advance.
Do what you need to. Live your life and please be happy.
Please tell Sid that I'm sorry as well, and that I trust him to make good choices.
Please don't let anyone kill my sister. She had nothing to do with this.
I know you aren't on speaking terms with God at the moment, but if you ever change your mind about that, maybe say a prayer for me.
Goodbye, Yan. Until we meet again, in some other place.
With your permission, I would like to call myself
Yan put her head down in her arms on the desk and cried. She hadn't realized that there were tears left in her body, but there were. Someone rubbed her back, and someone took the computer mouse out of her hand.
Above her head, Iri whispered something to Sylva, just low enough that Yan couldn't make out the words.
“Come on, Yan, let's go back out into the living room, let me get you something to drink...” Sylva said, voice a little too sweet, and she began to push Yan's office chair out. Yan lifted her head and put her feet on the ground to stop herself from moving.
“Stop,” she said. “What are you doing?” She looked between Sylva and Iri's faces, and there was resolve on one, and guilt on the other.
“I'm going to look at the Stonecourt security footage, to see what's going on,” Iri said, voice flat and neutral. “I think it would be best if you did not see it.”
Yan's mind flashed back to that awful moment, where she had turned her head away and closed her eyes, as her hands were on Kino's throat.
“No, I need to see,” Yan said. “I need to know.”
Sylva and Iri looked at each other, something passing between them.
“Yan, you don't want to see it,” Iri said again.
“I have to,” Yan whispered. Just as Kino had said, she had been purposely not been thinking about things that would upset her, but she felt like the blinds had been pulled off of her eyes, the whole world was revealed, and she had to see at least this through. She owed it to... someone. Herself, maybe.
She stared at Iri. “I have to see.”
Iri considered it for a long second, then her shoulders slumped a little; she looked at Sylva and relented. She knew exactly how to access the Stonecourt security system from here, and she knew exactly where to look. It took her less than three minutes to pull up a video feed, though Yan was confused, because it was a video of a dark room. Nothing was happening, and they couldn't see anything.
“Is this the right thing?” Yan asked. “It doesn't--”
The lights in the room came on, and the door opened. The camera had a bird's eye view of the room, from the corner near the door, and it had a very wide angle lens, so they could see almost everything, except what was directly below their vantage point.
“I guess we're just in time,” Iri said, voice dull. “I wonder why it took so long. I thought we would be in the middle of it already.”
Yan took in the view of the room, white walls, tile floor. There was a drain in the center of the floor, and a large industrial sink along one wall. A long metal table, like one in a morgue, sat in the center of the room. Just on the bottom edge of the camera's view, there were closed cabinets, or what Yan assumed were closed cabinets, since she couldn't actually see their front faces.
Imperial security forces dragged Kino into the room. She was definitely alive, from the way that her eyes darted around, but from the way that she was being handled, she looked so floppy that it was clear that she couldn't move. Muscle relaxant, maybe.
If they had had to drug her in order to get her from the Emperor's chamber to here, that might explain the length of time that it had taken.
The security forces deposited her on the table, and cuffed her to it, probably out of an abundance of caution. Kino stared up at the ceiling, unmoving. The places on her neck where Yan's hands had squeezed were clearly visible, with red finger marks over top of the collar of her cassock. Blood trickled out of the corner of her mouth.
The security force members left the room, leaving Kino alone. Her breathing was barely visible on the camera, the slow rise and fall of her chest. Her face was calm, but that might have just been the muscle relaxant that had definitely been pumped into her. Yan wondered what other drugs she had been given.
It was just Kino alone in the room for a long time. Yan couldn't stop staring at her. Certainly, Kino didn't know she was watching, but Yan had to wonder what Kino was thinking. It was an odd, calm, stillness over the whole scene. Yan was quiet, and so were Iri and Sylva, peering into the monitor.
Then the door opened again, and Halen came in.
Yan always managed to forget how big he was, because he faded into the background when he was out in public. Here, though, he filled up so much of the room. He was wearing his usual black shirt and pants, and he rolled up his sleeves and went over to the industrial sink to wash his hands. He didn't look at Kino at first, though her eyes followed him as he walked around the room.
“Hello, Kino,” Halen said finally, walking over to stand in front of her. He pushed a few loose strands of hair off her forehead, and wiped the blood off of her cheek with his thumb.
“You know what's about to happen to you, right?” Halen asked, almost casually. “You don't have to answer.”
He turned away and walked to the side of the room where the camera was. He opened one of the cabinets, and rifled around in there for a second. When he moved back into the camera's line of sight, he was stretching a pair of latex gloves over his hands. They barely fit.
“It's unfortunate that it's come to this. You know, I liked you, Kino. Even though I couldn't read you. Aymon and I...” He trailed off. “When we were on Tyx III, and we thought you might be dead. I realize now, of course, that you were tricking us, but I still remember what that was like.”
“And I remember that first time I took you into the simulation room. God, I thought I had almost killed a kid. I thought you would never forgive me for that. But you were fine.”
He had his back turned to her, and he was messing with something on a table.
“Should I lay you on the floor and put your head on my lap again? Just like old times?” Halen's voice was cold.
“It's ironic. You're going to make this easy for me. Usually when I have to deal with this unpleasant business, I can feel everything. I have to, to know when people are lying to me. But I don't need information from you, and I've never felt a thing from you either, so it all works out.”
He turned back towards Kino, so that his face was away from the camera.
Yan, watching, was coiled tighter than a spring. Her hand shook, and she reached out towards whoever was next to her. It was Iri who took her hand and squeezed it.
“If it was just that you were plotting to kill Aymon, I probably would have just killed you,” Halen said. “But I love Yan like she was my own daughter, and you are responsible for making her suffer. I don't have the time to prolong this exercise for a month, so we will have to make do with the time we have.” He walked back around towards Kino's left side.
“I feel bad for you that Yan is such a kind woman,” Halen said. He had a knife in his hand, suddenly. “It would have been much easier for you if she had killed you. She probably thought that she was sparing your life.”
Yan couldn't breathe.
Halen picked up Kino's left hand, the handcuffs falling away from it as he used the power to unlock them. He turned her hand over and over in his, examining it from every angle. Then he pressed her hand onto the surface of the table, palm up.
“I'm sorry, Kino,” Halen said.
Yan couldn't quite see what he did with the knife, but the sound Kino made was inhuman.
Time seemed to freeze as Yan watched Halen begin to torture Kino.
Yan knew what it was like to be in Kino's place, and she also suddenly, like a flash of light, knew what Etta was feeling when she stood in front of the Green King and protected Yan.
In her mind, she was standing on a rocky hillside, watching herself hold a gun to her own head. In her mind, she was laying on a cold metal table, with Halen holding a knife over her.
Even if Kino had hurt her, Kino didn't deserve this. No one did.
Something changed in Yan's mind. Resolution snapped into place. Just like she had aboard the Sky Boat, just like when she was in prison, Yan knew what she had to do, and she was going to go through with it.
Iri, face pale, killed the sound on the computer so that they wouldn't have to hear Kino's gurgling screams.
“Iri, Sylva,” Yan said, voice freakishly calm. “How much do you trust me?”
Iri and Sylva glanced at each other. “I trust you,” Sylva said.
“How much are you willing to do for me?” Yan asked.
“We followed you across the galaxy,” Sylva said.
Three times, she had to ask three times. “How much are you willing to give up for me?”
“Everything,” Sylva said. She grabbed Yan's hand. “Anything you need.”
Yan looked at Iri, who looked between the grisly scene on the monitor and Yan, then nodded.
“Then you have to do exactly what I say.”