The Waterfall Commune

This is a short story — 6,200 words — about a group of young adults in their 20s who decide to go against tradition and get a house together. It is set in Tveshė, the place where Tveshi is the national language — the story takes place in West Shija, so Shiji (Mafediji) is spoken.

This story is a bit too long to be publishable. It does, however, showcase a few interesting things: (a), the use of conlangs in fiction and (b) far-future polytheistic worldbuilding. I have created an annotation layer to provide some conlang notes, so click here to see them.

We didn’t do a commune, a so mesahi, for political or individualist reasons. Tveshė just had no word for the concept back then. To us, it was a means to an end, where that end was leaving Karoumoyu, a North Coast city of three million.

Those of us who dreamed of moving away called it tịnnuå kossori, the City of Steady Habits. The rare times I went to the Karoumoyu Central Station, I watched other young people hover their enormous luggage bags and kiss close family goodbye, bound for Galasu — most, unlike us, upper class. The women and jomela had tight, double-bound hair and so much embroidery on their clothes that I wondered how they managed on the trains. Most of the men wore military uniforms.

My oath-friend Haruñi also wanted to leave, and le had the means: Le would have a law degree soon with prospects beyond Karoumoyu. Le’d been nursing ler younger son for a few years, which meant ler two-child obligation to the family was nearly over. As soon as the at-homes could manage the kids — and as soon as le had that degree — le’d be gone.

I relished the afternoons we spent together. My twins played with the other five-year-olds in ler household while we lounged on chaises and cushions in the wide, open reading room. Haruñi studied long hours. As an oath-friend, ler happiness was my responsibility. I nudged lim away from the overwhelming workload to toggle through VR sims of Galasu buildings. We had to tilt the viewers to evade the late afternoon sunlight, which made dust-creases in the air as it streamed in through the slat blinds. It washed out the colors, and we needed color. Our avatars roamed through opulent satellite houses with nearly as many reception rooms as bedrooms or posh apartment spaces that featured taps of scented oils in each floor’s communal bathroom, different blends for hair and skin. One of the houses had tile floors made of lapis lazuli and a house robot whose sole purpose was to recite poetry.

The day Haruñi asked me to leave Karoumoyu with lim, a sacrifice in the Temple of Likhera next door kept most of ler relatives out of the reading room. Incense perfumed the air for blocks, but the acoustics seemed to funnel all of the chants and fast-paced hymns directly into the room. Only a half dozen attempted to focus, Haruñi and me included. They all sat mostly towards the back, but Haruñi wanted to recline near the windows. The chanting made a thin, transparent veil between us and everyone else. Theoretically, we could say anything.

It took a while. Haruñi skimmed through legal codes on ler tablet and made notes, periodically glancing up at me. I gritted my teeth and tried to focus on forum chatter about a Maðzi serialized drama I was obsessed with at the time, Nut-Tree House — the village murder mystery starring Asr Cåm Emtaxes.

Haruñi cleared ler throat. I glanced up. When our eyes met, my heart pounded. I thought it would be the moment le said, I’ve found a job. I’m leaving once I file my coursework and defend. My wife Sahiti had spent hours talking me up about this anxiety. Both of Sahiti’s oath-friends had left a year earlier, and one had nearly fallen out of contact. I never wanted that to happen to me.

Haruñi shifted ler son and cleared ler throat again. Le tilted the tablet towards me. It was a legal document. “That’s strange.”

I propped myself up on my elbows, sending an ache through my shoulders. Ler cousins and older relatives across the room hardly looked up. 

“Le looks done,” I said.

“Yeah.” Haruñi separated the son from ler nipple and set lim down in the nest of blankets between us. “So, I’m looking at the housing regulation code. I’d always thought that you needed to all be from the same matriarchal family to apply for satellite homes. Apparently, that’s not true anymore.”

“Uh-huh.” I looked back down at the forum post and skimmed through five love poems. The episode criticism was so buried.

Haruñi pushed the legal code to my tablet. I looked up at lim and accepted the request. Haruñi’s eyes had become saucers — off-the-wall idea eyes. 

“Since when?”

“That ProMo legislation in the late 1890s.” 


Haruñi’s hunches about loopholes always sounded like the kinds of things that should be obvious, yet weren’t. That’s how le’d ended up taking an extra funded year of classes, which bolstered ler educational portfolio for job-hunting after graduation. 

One of my chief duties as ler oath-friend was to stop these insidious ideas before they became dangerous. 

“This code seems to indicate that if we had at least seven people all committed to living together in Galasu, we could apply for a standalone residence in competition with satelliters.” Le highlighted a paragraph of text on our screens and stared pointedly at me. Le whispered, “Tia, you could convince Sahiti. We’d have three.”

My heart thudded. I needed to stop this conversation. I didn’t. “What about our kids?” I wanted to say, Thank you.

“Mine will be weaned. Yours are up to you. Our obligations are done, right?”

If my mother had heard that I wanted to actually leave Karoumoyu, le would have rent ler hair and screamed. No one in our families had worked elsewhere for generations. This was the early 1900s, and Shiji — even families like ours that had given their members Tveshi names instead of Shiji ones out of aspiration and desperation — didn’t move without family. I couldn’t see my Takhịdeso matriarch reacting well. The ProMos had secured individuals the rights to apply to and accept jobs without matriarchal approval in 1891 SC, but these rights meant — and mean — nothing without the housing application signatures. 

Haruñi must have seen those fears in my face. “What are you thinking?”

“I have no marketable skills.”

My gut instinct sided with Haruñi even as my mind fought lim. One of my twins, Reyanatau, would have ler jomela gender paperwork processed any day now. We’d already scheduled the ritual and party. Raising a jomela-child in Karoumoyu meant perhaps having another ritual officiant or mid-level government official. If le relocated with me to an East Shiji city — or even to Galasu itself — le’d have access to schools where le’d learn the Galasuhi accent and way of speaking, not our regional Shiji one that lengthened and twisted our vowels and consonants. Le’d be well-positioned to bring the family prestige. My son Goitvei wasn’t as smart. Le’d be fine in Karoumoyu.

It wasn’t right for me to think strategically like a matriarch — I was only an at-home — and if anyone had heard these ideas, le’d have thought me haughty.

“The Coalition still uses human caterers. You could apply.” Haruñi highlighted more text in the legal code and made annotations.

“How would it look for young Coalitionist hjathomahi to defy our families like this? It’s against traditionalism. We might as well turncoat our families for the ProMos,” I murmured. “Someone must have tried this before.”

Haruñi said, “No one. We’d be the first. Although — you’re right about that.”

The singing from the temple grew louder. The smell of roasting meat wafted in through the windows. It almost made me want to be there. Sahiti worshipped Likhera extensively. Le couldn’t bring me meat from the sacrifice, and chasing after a deity for roasted meat was obscene. 

When I shut off my screen, Haruñi’s legal code and highlighting disappeared. I rested my head against the back of my hands and breathed deeply. 

“Hey,” Haruñi murmured. Le rubbed between my shoulders. “It’s okay, Tia.”

We curled up with ler toddler and relaxed. The three of us lay there half-asleep until my children rushed back inside from one of the courtyards and prodded me to go home. Their lips were dark indigo-purple from all of the fruit that they’d eaten. Reyanatau kissed my forehead and poked my chin. Goitvei held back, arm around the waist of another boy a few months younger than lim. Goitvei was very affectionate with other boys and very sensitive. It wouldn’t make sense to extract lim from ler friends. I beckoned lim closer. Goitvei kissed my hands instead of my forehead, as Karoumoyuhi sons do.

I was still anxious. I was certain that someone had overheard and would tell my mother. Perhaps, though, no one thought that we were serious.

Sahiti and I had no unusual conversations that night or the following morning. I went to bed about an hour earlier than lim and awoke two hours before dawn to prepare the family breakfast with our other at-homes. Sahiti slept in until the sound of the city foot and transit traffic outside started in earnest. Le came downstairs, kissed me, and went off to shower and give the morning offerings to Likhera in the temple. 

Sahiti usually didn’t come back until halfway through the morning meal, and le spent four to five hours each day teaching older children how to interpret Likhera’s myths. On this day, le rushed because the showers had high levels of competition. The ancestor rites on 42 Thaukol were nothing like the major memorial services on 43 Poråkol, but we still had a delegation to our family’s necropolis site consisting of about twenty or thirty of the family. All of them needed to ritually purify themselves. 

We at-home cooks had to make breakfast quickly and provide more mourning diet food than usual. I chopped vegetables alongside our robot while ruminating over the conversation with Haruñi. I’d have to bring it up to Sahiti delicately, but Sahiti wanted to go through priestess training somewhere.

This wouldn’t guarantee us moving to Galasu. There were many schools for priestesses, and le could always go on ler own. Haruñi’s plan would be involved. We’d have to apply for jobs, interview, receive offers — and even then, our matriarchs could push back. They might cut our allowances out of spite.

Haruñi would have a law degree. We could easily appeal in court. This firmed my resolve that we couldn’t leave Reyanatau at home. If my relationship with the family soured, le would not have the same opportunities as other clan youth just by association.

After we served breakfast, I skimmed a letter from Haruñi with links to satellite applications and job boards. I didn’t read it fully until a few hours later.

Sahiti came into our room just as I finished. Le wore a yellow temple stola and a headdress, which I have always found stunning on lim. Hesitatingly, I recounted my conversation with Haruñi. Le frowned, but didn’t interrupt. A pit slowly contracted in my stomach.

“Tia, you can’t just leave one of the twins here. What would Goitvei think if we took Reyanatau and left lim?” Sahiti folded the yellow stola and tucked it over the hanging rods.

“I thought you were going to say it’s an unachievable idea.”

Sahiti chuckled. “It is, but I know your friend. And you really want me to apply for seminary in Galasu?”

“How long would it take you to receive an answer?”

“That program is very competitive.” Sahiti turned towards me, breasts bare. “Are you looking to work in a restaurant?”

I shook my head. “I really don’t know.”

“Other cities have better provisions for at-homes who travel with spouses. What does Haruñi think you’ll even do?” Sahiti put on a house-weight summer shirt and switched into wide-legged pants.

I shrugged. “You’ve visited Galasu.”

“Yeah, ten years ago on a school trip.”

“It can’t have changed that much. Could you see us living there? We’re not talking about moving to another planet.”

Sahiti climbed onto the bed and sat down beside me. Le rested ler head against my shoulder and skimmed Haruñi’s letter, fingers brushing lazily against the touchscreen. “I’d prefer Auomo, actually.”

“Why Auomo?”

“It has better legal provisions for apartment tenants and satelliters.” Sahiti kissed my cheek. “Auomo would be better for the twins. They’d learn Khessi that close to the border. The temple consortium school is great, and people go there from all over.”

I turned my head to the side and kissed Sahiti’s crown. Ler skin and hair smelled like temple incense, and it warmed the back of my throat and cheeks as I breathed in. Le kneaded my forearm until I set the tablet down.

“My muscles are so tight,” I said.

“Surely we can get another robot.”

“The older at-homes think learning this is good for us,” I said. “What do you think about leaving, though? Galasu? Is Auomo important?”

Sahiti clicked ler tongue. “Galasu wouldn’t be a good place for us. It’s so insular with all of those upper-class political families. Auomo at least gives us some margin.”

Haruñi wanted Galasu. None of us knew Khessi well enough to navigate a border town because we knew Shiji at the breast and Tveshi by policy. We might even need Atarahi. Most in Karoumoyu took Mamltab or Iturji as a stretch language. Few took Sāqab languages like Atarahi because they were an exercise in embarrassment. One had to constantly inflect pronoun gender as if people needed a persistent reminder of the obvious. Iturji did pronoun gender a bit more politely, only employing it for clarification.

I’d sidestepped Atarahi entirely after the warnings from my jomela sibling who tried it. Instead, I learned Mamltab because Maðzi dramas made me happy, and I wanted to understand them and read the meaty stuff on the fan fora. Most of the Shiji and Tveshi posts were just about hot actors, not the dramas themselves.

“You could come with me as an at-home if we went to Auomo.” Sahiti kissed me again, this time on the lips. I kissed ler neck and rested my head against ler chest. Ler voice resonated in my skull when le said, “It’s close to the spaceport.”

We kissed again. During sex, I was still anxious, but I hid it well. The follow-up conversation with Haruñi — whenever we had it — wouldn’t go well if their desires were at odds with each other. To pull off a unified exit from Karoumoyu, we’d need a compromise that could satisfy both.

Haruñi knew Konnajo from cohort studies. Konnajo knew my wife because both had spent so much time at the Temple of Likhera — Sahiti volunteering, Konnajo as one among five tonal percussionists who performed during the chanted prayers. We were set to meet lim in a kuaićo between our neighborhoods, at the top of a hill that looked over the kilometers of flat intertidal zone to the north. It was high tide, so the ship canal was packed with freighters, fishing vessels, and small leisure craft that upper-class Karoumoyuhi took out to skim along the coasts.

Small shrines dotted our way up, most left to the God of the sea after tsunamis and drownings, but we only presented offerings at one three-quarters of the way up when we needed to catch our breath. The vending machine incense hardly started when I lit it.

I waited at a bench at the sacred precinct’s edge while Haruñi offered nut milk. When le approached me, I squeezed ler hand and said, “Let’s wait here for a few minutes.”

“We’ll be late.”

“No, it’s not so far.” I paused. “You should know that Sahiti is four-fifths yes, one-fifth no. We had a talk–”

“Why one-fifth no?”

“Well, didn’t you ask your husband? Why isn’t le involved in this?”

Haruñi shook ler head and rolled ler eyes. “We married for children, not because we love each other. Our obligations to each other are essentially over. Le’s on board with me leaving. I’ve mentioned it to lim for the past three years. One-fifth no, Tia?”

“Auomo. Le wants to live in Auomo. Why did you tell your husband that you were serious about leaving and not me?” I scowled through the hard sunlight. A shrine like this was the wrong place for a fight. “Let’s keep walking.”

Haruñi let air out, lips curled up to roughen the long khhhhhhhhh as much as possible. “Why fucking Auomo?” 

“We will bring my jomela-child and my son. Sahiti thinks that exposure to Khessi will be good for our family. Social climbing.” I stood and gestured towards the worn stone gate. “We can talk at the kuaićo.”

“No, there are Narahji nationalist bombings in Auomo.” Haruñi jutted ler chin towards the God’s icon in ler nook. 

The icon’s four interlocking circles made eye shapes where they connected. It made the hair on the back of my neck prickle. “They’re in Galasu, too. What’s the difference?”

“Auomo’s population is lower.” Haruñi shook ler head and looked up the road. “When does transit come by here? Can’t we just take a pod?”

“I don’t–”

Le khhhhhhhhhhed again, stood, and walked out of the gate. I had to struggle to keep up as we took the wide sidewalk up. Le passed by the pod request box without even hesitating. “I’d need Khessi to get a lawyer’s apprenticeship or job in Auomo. Auomo is not–”

“Is this about getting out of Karoumoyu or just going to Galasu specifically? What’s in that city?” I picked an insect off of my arm and tried to regulate my breathing. “Your law grades are good, right? Good enough to sway someone on the fence about you.”

Haruñi sighed and stopped walking. “Go back and press the requester.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Do it, Tia.”

I walked back down about five meters and pushed the button. Ten minutes, the prompter said, plus or minus five. I motioned for Haruñi to come towards me.

Le waited up there, arms folded across ler hepteri vest, with sweat darkening ler underdress at the armpits. Only when the pod came to service us did le walk quickly down the hill towards me.

Haruñi whispered, “You have no say in this. Konnajo will think Auomo is a stupid idea, too.”

“Fine, then,” I said. The door opened in front of us. We got in across from a trio of young men in military uniforms. They smiled at us, and I shook my head. “Le could want something other than Galasu, too. We’ll be living together for a long time if this works, so don’t be bitter.”

Haruñi pursed ler lips together and turned ler head away from me. I input where we wanted to get off, about a five-minute drive away. The pod AI told us to make room for a final passenger.

My best friend held ler anger in ler shoulders. We called it youth-seething anger in our families because it usually manifests in new adults. Some people could be brought down from it through touch and compassion, but not Haruñi. It was best to just let it simmer and dissipate on its own.

When we walked into the kuaićo, Konnajo had already taken over a large table near the back. We’d only met a few times, but I liked what I’d seen. Reyanatau had few jomela role models in our family. Konnajo had high marks in the Karoumoyu Conservatory. Outside of politics, encouraging Reyanatau into a culturally influential career with public appointment opportunities would make the family very happy. I could use it to argue for this move with my matriarch. Konnajo’s husband, Morau, had just graduated with a degree in condensed matter physics. We still had no idea if Goitvei would be smart enough for that kind of educational investment, but it would at least provide lim with options beyond the military.

Konnajo put away ler notebooks, tablet, and input pens as soon as we sat down. The robotic server arrived at our table before we reshuffled ourselves. Upper-class kuaićo had more socially aware AI, but we only had enough lehi for this place.

After we ordered and paid, Konnajo leaned forward and propped ler chin on ler hands. Le jutted ler chin at Haruñi and asked, “You’re the one who found the loophole?”

Haruñi half-smiled. “Yeah.”

“Brilliant.” Konnajo rearranged ler half-eaten plates of food. One looked like root vegetables wrapped and steamed in leaves, a Galasuhi specialty, but the other was traditional North Shore fare, raw fish and sour fruit in a curing sauce. “Our family won’t have problems. We will, however — Haruñi, do you know how creative appointment works? The government ones?”

Haruñi shook ler head. I shrugged.

“We submit applications to the national government with some cities shortlisted, up to five. The competition is fiercest in Galasu. That’s where you can get work in the private government parties on the side. Auomo is second because the internationals and interplanetaries will take the high-speed rail from Itaka, Khessa, for weekenders.” Konnajo ate some of the root vegetable wrap, right hand held up to keep us from interrupting. “I’ve heard you want Galasu. Your friend — Tiarahañi, right? — and ler wife want Auomo. Sahiti told me. Is this about testing the law, or do you actually want to move out?”

“Sahiti and I want what is best for our children,” I said quickly.

Haruñi let out a long khhhhhhhhhh. “We’ll see. Maybe we don’t have the same goals.”

“You didn’t have anyone else respond to the forum post.” Konnajo snickered. “This is just like that school project with the word count thing. Remember that?”

“Our teacher couldn’t mark me down.” Haruñi grimaced.

“Look. I really like this idea. My applications are due next decad, and I defend next month. When I hear back in two months, we can look at the cities that offer me a position and make a decision together. That is my best offer.” Konnajo leaned back and pursed ler lips together, eyes shining.

The robot server came with our meals. Haruñi looked down at the cold noodles it put in front of lim, face scrunched up. I knew that I’d end up eating that and not lim. The fish-filled pastries at this kuaićo were much better than the ones I made. One of my at-home uncles yelled at me about how bad I was at making the dough the right way whenever I tried.

We both studied Haruñi, even though I think we both knew better. I should have told lim about Sahiti before Sahiti had reached Konnajo. We were interwoven with one another like a bad knot in a jewelry box.

“I guess,” Haruñi murmured.

Konnajo shook ler head and started eating the fish dish. I flaked apart my pastry. Not even Haruñi’s mood could spoil how good it tasted. “That sounds fine to me,” I said in between mouthfuls.

Haruñi slammed ler open palm down on the table and squeezed ler eyes shut. Konnajo stopped chewing. I ate more pastry.

“What if we end up somewhere just like Karoumoyu?” Haruñi’s voice rose. “The point is getting out of here and going somewhere we can live and see great things and not have to worry about living in a fucking hotåkhi place where nothing ever happens and we’re all just seeing the same people every Gods-damned day and the train lines only move away!”

People at the other tables stared. Haruñi’s shoulders shook, and ler arms trembled. I made eye contact with the owner and flailed my hands to my face to make an apologetic gesture. The owner canted ler head towards the door and mouthed in Tveshi, Nuakesh meshom

We couldn’t let this end in a scene. I shoveled my other pastry into my mouth while Haruñi breathed heavily beside me, fists rocking against the table so hard that ler knuckles made a painful noise. I stood and put my arms on Haruñi’s shoulders. Konnajo scrambled to get ler things together.

“We need to leave,” I said. “You’ve bothered the owner.”

“I don’t want to fucking leave.” Le shrugged forward and batted my arms away.

“You’re going to get us media attention,” Konnajo whispered. “This place sometimes gets journalists. They cover the student protests and love leads.”

Haruñi didn’t respond. Konnajo and I locked eyes. I couldn’t leave Haruñi here because we had a friendship ritual knitting our fates together. If I left lim, I would be a tradition-breaker. “I know what to do. Le’s just frustrated and probably hasn’t slept enough.”

Konnajo clicked ler tongue. “I know lim, too. Le and I were in cohort. This is probably a forum thing.”

What is happening on the fora, I thought. What are you doing, Haruñi? I reached a hesitating hand towards lers.

Konnajo moved to sit directly across from Haruñi. Le put ler arms on the table, palms turned up, and said, “Karoumoyu is Tveshė’s thirtieth largest city, fifteenth largest in Shija Province. Auomo, Galasu, Kiatasu, Karoumo, Aravakha, Kiaėtha, Inasahirami–”

“You don’t need to list them out like that,” Haruñi murmured. “It’s insulting.”

“We won’t end up in a small city. You’re crying over something that hasn’t happened yet,” Konnajo said.

I grabbed Haruñi’s wrist before le slapped Konnajo. Haruñi elbowed me in the ribs and started crying. I made eye contact with the owner and whispered, Mė koushena, because this was a Galasuhi Tveshi kuaićo in a Shiji-language city. We had already caused a scene, and I didn’t want us to look like provincials.

“The kuaićo wants us to leave. Don’t get us banned.”

Haruñi nodded and breathed in deeply. It was just like lim to turn the future into a catastrophe. Le shook as le stood, which meant that le was on the verge of hysterical screaming. Neither Konnajo nor I touched lim as we all left. I barely made eye contact with lim on the pod ride back to our neighborhood. Le needed time to work these thoughts out.

Konnajo smoothed things over — how, I don’t know. We all developed our city list with lim, and le sent in the application. The five of us had a lot of time to socialize during the months-long wait. Sometimes, we played board games and cards at Konnajo and Morau’s home. I started going to the Temple of Likhera with Haruñi. We hjathomahi went to the gymnasium near my family’s home and met Sahiti and Morau back at the house for electrolyte drinks and entertainment.

I’d gotten the four of them into Nut-Tree House and Why We Ride, which released episodes every fourth day of the decad. We piled onto the couches at my house and watched them back-to-back.

The application results eventually came. Konnajo’s composer package meant that we’d move to Inasahirami. Haruñi was neither happy nor unhappy — le’d settle for it — but the remainder of us truly loved what we knew of Inasahirami. We still needed the final signatures from our matriarchs to approve the move. We’d planned to tell them all at the same time, but hadn’t set a date.

It did not go as expected. One day, about a week after the results, one of Matriarch Daukhiañi’s underlings called us up to ler office while we were all there. I could count the number of times le’d summoned me on one hand. My family had about three hundred people in the house, and I’d hardly ever needed meetings.

We were in deep hotåkhi fucking shit, in other words. All of us knew it. We didn’t realize just how deep until we saw three older women — not one — in Matriarch Daukhiañi’s reception room.

Matriarch Jiahiñi, Konnajo’s great-grandmother, was something of a celebrity. Le’d been one of the few middle-class women to serve in the Senate back in the 1860s when such things were still possible. Matriarch Naćiñi, Haruñi’s great-great aunt, had sworn an oath of friendship to Daukhiañi when the two were teens.

Konnajo immediately fell to ler knees when we entered the room and pressed ler head against the floor. I felt like throwing up when Daukhiañi turned to me, lips curled and eyes blazing.

“What the fuck do you all think you’re doing?” Jiahiñi screamed.

Konnajo’s hands shook as le pulled them out in front of lim, palms up. Morau quickly fell to ler knees, pressed ler hands to the floor, and arched ler spine with ler chin tucked.

“What do you think? Huh?” Jiahiñi looked like le might kick Konnajo, but didn’t.

Daukhiañi pursed ler lips together. Ler skin crinkled and flowed like paper over ler bones as le gesticulated widely towards the two on the ground. “What has gotten into you? Who is responsible for this? You hjathomahi?”

Sahiti took a step back, and Morau breathed a sigh of relief. Hjathomahi meant that the blame rested on Haruñi, Konnajo, and me — the ones who stayed in their families after marriage. We had a duty that the others didn’t.

Haruñi met ler matriarch’s eyes and said, “Tågo Naćiñi, vas kouria lijunui vė tålịni?” Using Tveshi made it sound more formal and serious.

Naćiñi turned around and flicked on one of the monitors. One of the top news items in the Karoumoyu newspapers was us. As le scrolled through it, I sank to my knees. It detailed everything from our school and job applications to the Inasahirami satellite house paperwork, all based on Haruñi’s careless posts on the fora. Konnajo couldn’t see it pressed down against the floor. I didn’t want to see it, either. I sank to my knees and planted my forehead against the ground.

“Your so mesahi is in the paper,” Jiahiñi whispered. 

The correct term would have been so mesaheli or so rohi. Contracting it like that made it into helloing house, so frivolous and ridiculous that I couldn’t bear to repeat it for months after the article came out.

“What?” Haruñi’s brow furrowed. “When?”

“An hour ago. It’s everywhere on the news. A journalist asked if I’d signed for you.” Naćiñi clicked ler tongue. “Do you have no sense of responsibility? Are you trying to break our family walls with this ridiculous, shameful thing?”

Haruñi stomped on the ground twice. “If you try to stop us, the ProMos will turn this into a national political issue, won’t they? Have you had a call from the Coalition–”

“One of our senators. Le asked, ‘What has happened, Esteemed Jiahiñi, that you allow a young descendant to tremble the walls of your house?’” Jiahiñi clicked ler tongue. “Why couldn’t you have done this the normal way, Konnajo? You have an aunt in South Iturja. You could have picked the appointment there.

Esteemed Jiahiñi, think about the press coverage.” Haruñi cleared ler throat and stamped ler feet again. “You will sign our things due to the press coverage, Esteemed Matriarchs. Nobody cares if we have a retinue of relatives. Are our jobs bad?”

“The Coalitionist position is that we should say no,” Daukhiañi said.

“I’ll call the ProMos and tell them that. You know that we have the legal right to take this to external review. I had a year of family law.” Haruñi chuckled madly. “A extra fucking year of family law.”

Oh shit, I thought. Hotåkhi fucking shit. Haruñi had been plotting this for years. 

Sahiti cleared ler throat. “May I have permission to speak, Matriarch Daukhiañi?”

“Go ahead.”

“Inasahirami has excellent schools where Goitvei and Reyanatau will learn Shēdakla and Amurşin. It’s a big city. The commune isn’t permanent — and so many houses are still empty, yes? So much population was lost in the Occupation.” Le sighed. “Tiarahañi and I can try for a daughter through me. Our family is in no other cities yet. This so rohi is not permanent, and our children will have so many opportunities, Esteemed One.”

My shoulders relaxed. Haruñi was headstrong and a bit crazy. Le hung out on unsavory fora online. Sahiti did not. Le bore limself like a future priestess of Likhera. Thank Gods, I thought.

“Go on,” Daukhiañi said.

Sahiti cleared ler throat. I willed Haruñi to remain silent. Le might have been my best friend, but even I knew that my wife was a better woman to handle this. Konnajo and I could never have gotten the commune started without someone who held firm like Haruñi. We could never have received signatures without Sahiti.

The Taritit hadn’t bombed Inasahirami as heavily as other cities. Some of its buildings contained stones dating back to the 600s, the same century my family cleaved from another maternal line to find its fortunes in Karoumoyu. The most noteworthy thing about my first view of the skyline was the lack of construction cranes.

We expected press and protesters, so we cleaned ourselves up in the transit bathroom before the reporters gave online viewers a three-hundred-sixty-degree view of us as we went to our new property. Goitvei counted five drones at one point before le started throwing rocks at them. I made lim stop. The local ProMo coordinator tried ingratiating limself to us while we troubleshooted a luggage hover that refused to turn on.

Haruñi and Sahiti got rid of the ProMo. I was too soft. Sahiti went after me in Maðzi about how I couldn’t just take ProMo literature and the man’s comm band number in front of the remaining four drones or the Coalitionist field propagandists. In my defense, the ProMo told me le’d help me with anything.

The small, four-bedroom home the city assigned to us in the Turusa Yåhi Neighborhood stood three blocks from the sacred waterfall from which the neighborhood takes its name. It lay along the road where pilgrims go to Yisaja Grove to re-oath friendships. The koidė shrine marking out the neighborhood’s northern boundary lay eight blocks beyond us, past several large matriarchal homes, the rail station, and a hotel.

An inspector had apparently certified the home for habitation. No one had used it in nearly a century. Thick, quivering blood-vines grew over the entire front yard, which splattered on our embroidered pants as we crushed them beneath our feet. The keys barely turned in the lock.

We searched through vermin and insect droppings for a place to set down our belongings, hyperaware of the media crew outside trying to get a view of the interior through the filthy windows. Oh — and the building had no working refrigeration drawers. The solar panel room’s wiring had been restored following inspection, but some of it hadn’t been connected properly. We had no power. Haruñi whispered to me that the city must have given us a place like this on purpose. 

My children remained at the door with Sahiti and Morau while Haruñi, Konnajo, and I went through the rooms with chimes and ashes from our household shrines to invite our family Gods into the space. We installed libation and burnt offering bowls in a nook shrine after we cleaned out the shrine rubble from whichever family had once lived and died here.

Someone had raided the mattresses, but we found some furniture that hadn’t warped or been eaten by mold and fauna — hardwood dining couches and a table, desks and bookshelves, and two of the nine bed frames. We found a statue to Enahahi in the tiny inner courtyard. We cleaned out the God’s tiny shrine and offered more incense. A few moldy tapestries upstairs bore ler myths.

We stripped down to our undergarments to clean so we wouldn’t need to replace our nice clothes. Morau and Sahiti took the children to the park while the rest of us scrubbed and hauled trash out.

On that first night, we pushed the dining couches together and slept smushed together. Haruñi cried quietly, and Sahiti tossed and turned while the vermin scampered upstairs. The children slept well. Morau had nightmares about the dead crawling back through the blood-vines to haunt our house. The next morning, Sahiti went into town to buy a pack of kikheda while I called pest control. We put in a work order for large item trash removal and contacted a priestess to purify the house of restless ghosts.

And I called the ProMo.

When le answered the phone, le asked if we were okay. I hesitated for a long time, just breathing.

I wanted things in the house to work. 

Calling the ProMo for help was worth every concession because they helped us make the Turusa Yåhi House livable. We negotiated assistance down to a news piece and community volunteering for a ProMo youth mixer. The Coalition never gave us anything.

It was worth going ProMo because they gave us everything. Three days later, I stood in the kitchen chopping vegetables while the children ran chasing kikheda up and down the stairs in a clean place with real furniture. My new jar of sasahi paste opened with a pop. The refrigeration drawers purred. Sahiti prayed at the household shrine, perfuming the house with incense.

When the heat sizzled the water out of my fresh-cleaned pan and I added the first cooking oil and meat, I knew that I was home.