The 743 election of the General Assembly of the nation of A-Io was the first since the passage of the property reforms of 472 in which married women could vote. By convention, ballots were held up to the sunlight for blessing before being submitted for counting, and many of the women who had been part of the Women's Strike of 729, who had lain down in the streets in such numbers that commerce could not be conducted in the capital for two days, held their blue women's ballots high for the cameras. Laia Asieo Odo, who ten years before had been the regional head of the Women's Autonomy Division but was now estranged from its leadership committee, was filmed spitting on her ballot paper and tearing it in two.
Despite the forecasts of many reformers, and the election of seven women to the Assembly, the participation of women voters in the election did not break the stranglehold of the Solar Division on the nation's governance. The Division yet again secured the top posts in both science and religious matters, the fifth consecutive election in which they increased their hold over of the twin pillars of A-Io society.
Over the following year, fractures in the north of the nation — the base of manufacturing and the centre of some remaining minority religious observances after centuries of repression — continued to grow in the wake of the election, culminating in the Three Day Strike in Bershort. Following the crackdown, travel remained impossible for a half-year and correspondence of anything but the most innocuous nature for considerably longer.
The Movement anarchists whose network centered around Kieda Ettad and his printing presses received varying information from contacts in the north, some almost certainly intended to deceive the police, and many so deliberately obscured that their meaning was lost, but overall it was understood that the Three Day Strike could happen again, and that essential government service staff might this time be able to effect the functioning of government long enough to enable a temporary revolution. Permanent, if it could be spread.
Laia, understanding this, made preparations to travel. The normal three day distance by train would be seven at least through trusted lorry drivers and sympathisers' private cars now that enforcement was so heavy. She ruthlessly sorted through the very few objects she and Taviri had with them, ascertaining which could be be best used by others and so distributing them. As usual in the process items that others would have thought of as Taviri's, or their hosts', to give away were regarded as equally ripe for redistribution. She committed several recent short pamphlets to memory which she could voiceprint on her arrival, concentrating on strategies for building free solidarity amongst uncertain populations.
She and Taviri were now staying several blocks from the latest home of the presses. This was risky because her movements could and would be noted, endangering not one but two safe-houses, but her working relationship with Ettad had deteriorated over the year. The power structure of the Movement, as Laia raged to Taviri, meant that she had to be pushed out, not he. And in order to access his network and remain in touch with Bershort however tenuously, she had to make what she called her pilgrimages, still.
Some days before her departure she made what she sincerely hoped would be the last such. She had brought proofs of new pamphlets for Ettad but left copies with Taviri also. Awful to suspect that Ettad might sit on them rather than share them. She still thought that he would choose to publish, but wished that the concern didn't exist at all.
But instead of a conversation about editing and publishing, or one about strategies, Ettad had an entirely different and unwelcome topic for her: he wanted her not to travel to Bershort!
"You aren't the sole messenger of the revolution," Ettad told her. "Asieo isn't telling you this, so I am. You aren't the revolution's high priestess. It didn't stop dead in its tracks this last year."
"And who goes to Bershort, if I don't?" Laia replied. "Who goes, Ettad? Are you going? Is Asieo going? No? Who goes?"
"Maybe no one goes," Ettad said. "Maybe you are not in jail because of a tiny rally. Maybe they aren't in jail either, Boro and her people. You're not going."
"I do not take orders," Laia said, suddenly deadly serious and cold. "I don't even take them from the revolution, let alone from you. I choose, brother." Over the last year, something of a fashion for familial terms had grown in the Movement, and it stung to use them for Ettad. But it had never been about liking everyone, thankfully.
"Indeed you do not," he agreed. "You choose. And surprise! Again you choose the stage and the glory. The high priestess of anarchy."
Laia thought this was despicable. "It's a tiny rally, or glory," she snapped. "Make up your mind. And you can take your high priestess thing and stuff it. The revolution doesn't spring fully formed out of anyone's head. We bring the revolution to each other, always, and if we don't, then I do. If they do not like what I bring in Bershort, then they choose. But they only have the choice to accept or refuse our experiences and our tactics if we go, and one person wants to go and that person is me. As it so often is."
"Until you die for it," he told her.
"As a high priestess ought," she taunted him. "Besides, who expects to live in the revolution now? You? I've long since expected to die without seeing it."
He flicked his eyes to each side, the A-Ion gesture of exasperation. "Melodrama! Matyrdom!"
"What is this about?" she said, frustrated. "If you think my revolution has become personal grandstanding, condemn it, and condemn me. Convince people. I'll hand out the pamphlets myself, I'll take one to Boro and hand it to her with your compliments. You know I will."
"It's not just you you sacrifice, girl— sister," he told her. "But Asieo too. Your marriage, your happiness."
"What is this?" cried Laia. "I grandstand and I'm a bad wife, too! Tell me brother, which is the bigger sin?"
"If it comes to it," Ettad said. "That you're a bad wife. Or partner or whatever this new word is. You do better alive than dead, you two, for each other and for us all. And you do better together than apart. But only he seems to know it."
"And he asked you of all people to explain this to me?" Laia said. She believed in Taviri and yet dreaded the answer.
"He asked me to do precisely nothing," Ettad said. "You think you love the revolution, that's nothing. Asieo gives you the revolution and he gives the revolution you. All you give is yourself. That's nothing, nothing to what he gives. Do not go to Bershort."
Laia swore at him as she pushed away her chair and stormed out of the room and consoled herself with a fearsome letter to the western central cell on avoiding the corrosive need to place the responsibility for upholding the pair bond on wives.
"I'm told it's inevitable," he replied absently without looking up from the proofs he was working on.
"Not eventually," she said. "Next week. Or next year. Blood on the flag stones. Disappeared in the night. What if I die?"
He gazed at her, waiting.
"Ettad," she explained. "For some reason our marriage is more important than the revolution, now."
"It's not," Taviri said. "Except in so far as it is the revolution."
"Which it isn't, you'll note," she told him.
Taviri put down his work and moved around behind her, scraping her curls back from her face and releasing them to spring up. "Your blood on the flag stones is one of my worst nightmares, love," he said. "Perhaps that's actually Ettad's concern too."
Laia made a gesture of agreement but told him: "It's not mine."
"What is your worst nightmare, then?" he asked her.
"That their jails will keep working," she replied. "That we'll never be free."
"A good revolutionary answer," Taviri told her with light mockery. "The Leadership Committee would approve. You could be General Secretary within the month."
"I'll begin my campaign then," she replied in the same style. "I look forward to the rewards of being co-opted by the system."
Taviri laughed, but he knew both that her answer as to her nightmare had been perfectly accurate, and they both knew that she would go to Bershort. But then, he had never doubted either. A common image in A-Ion poetry was the mythical lovers Urras and Anares circling their common centre, but in his view, he and Laia were more analogous to one of the inner planets and a small moon; he the moon, she the planet, and the revolution always the centre of their solar system.
She sat down at their desk, shoved his proofs aside, and within moments was lost in her writing. He smiled, and went to their hosts' kitchen to make her dinner.