Chapter no 14

This is how You Lose the Time War

Even very long engagements come to an end.
It happens like this: Blue, belly on the ground, ankles in the air, elbows and forearms printed with twigs and stems, tangles grasses.

The game board that is a sphere and a braid and a forest of pleached trees encompasses her and the grasses. Garden asserts, over and again, that their rival Shift relies too much on tricking time, evading it, skimming across it like stones, dipping in distasteful toes, thinking to divert its currents by rippling its surface. You must dwell, says Garden, within time to shift it in lasting ways; play a slow game, but win.

Blue’s focus stills everything around her. She Aoods herself with green, follows networks of roots through earth and air and water while building her braid.

Then she stops. Her hand trembles.

I imagine you veaching ouev my shouldev to covvect my hand on a uictim’s thvoat, to guide the bvaiding of a stvand.

She’d never noticed her hands before—her own hand as a strand.

It changes everything. The grasses knot perfectly. The world tips sideways as she runs, as multidimensional millennia resolve into a perfect Go board with an impossible last liberty just waiting for Garden to rise up through and claim, choking the Agency like a banyan strangles its host.

The deep work swells within her as she coheres with Garden, as she feels Garden jubilate like a river in spring, as Garden Aoods her with love and approval enough to sate a century of orphans.

It’s almost enough. It’s unlike anything Garden has ever given her since that 1rst severing. But within the swirling glow of cool, soothing colours she keeps a tiny vein of herself apart: sees a hand on a hand on a throat and thinks, I can’t mait fov Aed to see.


Dear Blue,

I wish I could see your triumph. Knowing something of your mission, of the nature of your embedment, having committed the beat of your footsteps to my heart, I sense the change you will wreak upon us. The season turns. You will be free—from your recovery and from your task. I’ll be sent, no doubt, to undo the damage you’ve caused. And we’ll run again, the two of us, upthread and down, 1re1ghter and 1re starter, two predators only sated by each other’s words.

Do you laugh, sea foam? Do you smile, ice, and observe your triumph with an angel’s remove? Sapphire-Aamed phoenix, risen, do you command me once again to look upon your works and despair?

I distract myself. I talk of tactics and of methods. I say how I know how I know. I make metaphors to approach the enormous fact of you on slant.

I send you this letter on a falling star. Reentry will score and test it but will not melt it away. I write in 1re across the sky, a plummet to match your rise.

Your praise cuts me, because though I speak so easily of certain things, though I rush through ground that to you seems mined, it’s only earth to me. But your last letter . . . I am so good at missing things. At making myself not see. I stand at a cliP’s edge, and—hell.

I love you, Blue.

Have I always? Haven’t I?

When did it happen? Or has it always happened? Like your victory, love spreads back through time. It claims our earliest association, our battles and losses. Assassinations become assignations. There was, I am sure, a time I did not know you. Or did I dream that me, as I’ve so often dreamed of you? Have we always ful1lled one another in the chase? I remember hunting you through Samarkand, thrilling to think I might touch the loosening strands of your hair.

I want to be a body for you.

I want to chase you, 1nd you, I want to be eluded and teased and adored; I want to be defeated and victorious—I want you to cut me, sharpen me. I want to drink tea beside you in ten years or a thousand. Flowers grow far away on a planet they’ll call Cephalus, and these Aowers bloom once a century, when the living star and its black-hole binary enter conjunction. I want to 1x you a bouquet of them, gathered across eight hundred thousand years, so you can draw our whole engagement in a single breath, all the ages we’ve shaped together. I veer rhapsodic; my prose purples. And yet I don’t think you’ll laugh, or if you do, the laughter would delight me. Maybe I’ve over-read the simple word with which you close your letter. (But I can never over-read you, and the word you chose is not simple.) Maybe I overstep your bounds. And, to be honest, love confuses me. I’ve never felt it before this—I’ve had joy in sex; I’ve had fast friendships. Neither feels right for this, and this feels bigger than both. So let me say what I

mean, as well as I can.

I sought loneliness when I was young. You’ve seen me there: on my promontory, patient and unaware.

But when I think of you, I want to be alone together. I want to strive against and for. I want to live in contact. I want to be a context for you, and you for me.

I love you, and I love you, and I want to 1nd out what that means together.

Love, Red

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