Chapter 1: The Movement
Taviri was smiling at Laia, trying to cheer her up, and at that moment she hated him for it. "Like an otter, like a petted house otter!" she cried, rubbing her hands over her head against the growth of hair on her shaved scalp, the strands of hair still too short to curl or even stand up. "The worst kind of domestication, why do we do this to each other, why?"
"'Archism is written on the body, and on the soul, it is only its faint shadow that is written in the law,'" Taviri quoted. "Or so I read in a book once."
"A book you wrote," Laia snapped at him, but she had centered herself enough to enjoy being angry, and they both knew it. "Don't quote your damn books at me, I've heard all your opinions, and edited them besides."
"Not at all girl," he replied, suddenly serious. "Why would I quote my books at you, when I could quote yours?"
Laia was silent with surprise. Taviri walked to the corner of their room in Ettad's house. He had arranged his few precious books by colour, which coded subject in the A-Io academic libraries. He selected one bound in green and handed it to her. It was worn already, done in cheap binding and cheap paper that showed the mark of every hand that touched it. The cover was marked in cheap ink printing, not the shining holographic printing of the mainstream presses. It was marked on the cover with a large Cirle of Life symbol, and underneath in small print "Society Without Government" and "Laia Asieo Odo".
"Don't go walking off with that," Taviri said to her, only half-joking. "Who knows what would happen if it was found on you? I think it might be evidence of a revolutionary mind again." 'Revolutionary mind' was the charge under which Laia had been correctively jailed, this last year and more.
"They'd be stupid then," Laia told him. "They ought to lock it away for preservation. When we're safely dead, and the revolution with us, it will probably be worth a fortune to the collectors, in their fine libraries of revolutionary books, and their fine counter-revolutionary minds. Like you, Taviri, what are all of these?" She pointed at his meagre collection of books, sounding as if she had discovered him with the stacks of the University of A-Io shelved in their room reserved for his personal use.
"Books," he replied. "All of twenty or so. Truly a priest's ransom indeed."
"How many copies of this?" she asked, waving his copy of Society Without Government.
He raised his eyebrows and looked at the one copy she was holding. "How many copies in total?" she asked impatiently.
"Some two or three hundred," Taviri said. "More perhaps now, other presses will be printing it. Of course, we don't ask."
She huffed impatiently. "There are more than two hundred readers," she said. "Which means you shouldn't be keeping this. I can tell you what is in it, every day."
"Perhaps my wife's words were comforting, when I missed her," he said, as if to himself.
"Sentimental," was Laia's firm response.
Taviri smiled as she turned away and tucked his precious copy of Society Without Government into her coat. He had typeset it from her manuscript, spearheaded its editing and publication, and he had read every word of it perhaps fifty times before and since the printing. And now Laia would give it away within the day, and most of his other books within the week and return with others, and she would try and often fail to remember to leave them with him long enough for him to read them too. If he had a library, it meant that Laia was in jail. If he had nothing, they were free together.
The Movement publisher Kieda Ettad measured the revolutionaries in jail terms. "They're taking you seriously, at long last, girl. A respectable stay."
He was older, he had taught at the university before he and his students had left, Taviri Asieo among them, to join the Movement. He and Laia sometimes brought out the worst in each other, a father-knows-best paternalism in him and a corresponding rebellion for the sake of rebellion in her. But she had been in jail for a year, and even when allowed, all the letters in the world between her and her allies meant that she was a year out of date in what mattered: who was angry, and who was doing something about it. And Ettad was the person who could fix that.
"Tell me what I need to know," she asked.
"The north will rise with us at last, we think," he told her. "The influence of the reformers within the unions is waning, especially the women's unions. The cleaners and miners have dropped their Leadership Committee elections now in favour of computer-assigned random appointments, rotating over six months. Which means that they are less likely to concentrate knowledge and therefore power in a small group of leaders."
Laia tried not to show exasperation at being told about something she'd invented. Random committee membership was one of the models for anarchist organising suggested in the pamphlets that had eventually become Society Without Government, and to top it all off, it was a model that Ettad was yet to adopt for the presses. But trying to force him to acknowledge the point would leave the presses unchanged, and her annoyed and none the wiser about the north. That fight would have to wait.
While she reached this conclusion, he was listing names associated with the revolutionaries in the north. "And Boro also," he finished.
"Who?" Laia asked. "Oh I remember, the scientist."
Ettad nodded approvingly. He had a weakness for the academic hierachy, still. Ketel Evad Boro, who had required a regional level exemption renewed yearly to allow a woman to study and work at a university, had done critical work as a water conservationist, one of the central concerns of A-Io's rigorous conservation and renewal program, and had had a prestigous academic appointment before her retirement. Laia knew this, but was more familiar with some of Boro's intemperate speeches to the Regional Assembly in support of her exemption; her sayings had been widely borrowed by the campaign for the women's vote.
"She was a long time in the system," Laia said doubtfully. She had known too many older converts to anarchism, holding tight to the authority of age, and for that matter the shadows of qualifications and appointments.
"Someone will think that about you one day, girl, you wait and see," Ettad told her, laughing. "How are your feet?" Laia's feet had been injured in some fashion in jail in a manner she refused to speak of, and at which they could all guess. "I'm looking forward to you travelling to Bershort someday or other. I knew Boro a little, some twenty years ago, and suffice to say I want the joint works of Odo and Boro, because they will amass me the piles of imaginary tokens with which this publisher consoles himself for giving away books for free."
"I'm fit for travel," Laia reported. "But I'm wondering if I need a new publisher, one who doesn't still dream in takings."
He chuckled at her. "When you find someone else who can make out Asieo's scribbles in the margins, and doesn't ask tokens for it, you publish with him. In the meantime, the post is cut again, for the election, but soon enough we'll have a better idea of whether we can work with Boro."
Chapter 2: After the Election
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.
Chapter 3: Bershort
Being unbundled from a closed container after an uncertain number of hours of travel along unknown roads always puts one at a disadvantage when it comes to responding to the unexpected.
The expected for Laia would have been finding herself in a shipping bay, at a dock, or in an underground station, to be passed swiftly and silently into new hands, the tactics of revolution sometimes looking and feeling not a lot different from the ways of secret police. Laia had steeled herself for this as the vehicle halted and she felt and heard the hydralics lift her container to the ground. There was the sound of the lid being lifted, and she found herself looking up at the sky from her crouch-height box. The dark outline of head and shoulders appeared against the sky. "Happy stay," a man's voice wished her, and his retreating footsteps and the sound of the van starting suggested he had been the driver, taking an unusual risk in letting her even chance seeing his face.
She sat there for several minutes waiting, hearing only the sounds of a nearby house or homestead, and of livestock. She eventually peered up and climbed out, indeed finding herself near the trucking entrance of a the farmyard of a semi-rural homestead. She could see several other similar buildings nearby, limiting the possible size of this farm to one that meet feed ten or fifteen people. Several workers were visible. Some looked at her and signalled greetings without evicing any particular surprise or concern, and one came down to the crate, helped her climb out and then greeted her as "sister" and welcomed her to Bershort Shared House, suggesting that she go to the building.
It was Ketel Evad Boro herself, the founder of the Bershort Shared House, who greeted Laia at the entrance. She was indeed an older woman, Laia would have guessed white-haired except that Boro was as closely shaved and shiny as any vain young urban woman could ever hope to be. Laia shook her still new head of curls reflexively, more feeling that they were still there than intending to consciously signal anything to Boro, but her host looked as if she'd taken an insult from it. After mutual introductions, they walked silently to the offices at the front of the building.
"The lodging book lists three beds," Boro reported, gazing at her to the point of rudeness. "One private, two in the women's dormitory."
"I will sleep in the dormitory," Laia replied, returning her gaze. "Was that a test? I despise them. State openly what you think of me, and I will do the same."
"I haven't decided what I think of you," Boro replied readily. "I will certainly tell you when I do."
"Likewise," Laia assured her.
The next hour wasn't promising. Boro gave Laia what seemed to be the standard tour of the Shared House, which appeared to omit nothing about their arrangements, down to a recent story about how, since all household chores were voluntary, some of the animals they raised for food had become undernourished, and how the House had responded to this challenge, and how that related to the similar failing to respond to a bedding infestation crisis the year before. Laia spent her life among activists whose conversation continually returned to their immense personal contributions to the revolution, but even so, making fighting about chores the centrepiece was exceptional among effective activists. She reminded herself several times not to forget how very effective Boro was reputed to be.
She and Boro parted for the afternoon meal, still on wary terms. Laia reporting directly for kitchen duty afterwards. She and her brothers and sisters might not have consensus meetings about chicken-rearing philosophy, but she consoled herself that they did understand that no one did the work unless everyone did. The kitchen staff that night accepted her help without comment or surprise.
However, Laia's frustration grew over the next few days. She had expected, if welcomed at all, to be spirited between safe-houses, if nothing else to reduce the culpability of any individual person in harbouring her. But instead she was openly a resident of what was clearly a hub for regional organising, meeting visitors daily who were introduced to her by name. And conversations about strike organising were alternated with conversations about what how anarchist education models could create non-coercive consensus-based conservation policy, whether or not the library's records were kept to everyone's satisfaction, and endless discussions about the chickens. And everything was treated as equally important. The only person in the House who understood the Bershort transport system was unavailable to her and the other strike planners for hours during the finer details of the library debate.
When the strike planning meeting broke up that afternoon, Laia went to the shared work board and assigned herself the job of stripping and re-making the bedding in the western wing. This included Boro's room — private, and in a hall which would give it a lovely view of the farms, Laia noted — and Boro was working at her desk. The Shared House had a lower respect for privacy than Laia was accustomed to, and she evidently surprised Boro by asking to enter.
"It's not my room, sister," Boro told her. "It is the room I work in."
Laia completely agreed, but observed "I ask whether it is a good time to interrupt the work, rather than enter the room!"
Once she had stripped the sheets and was surveying the room, which she would never have considered either not doing, or doing discreetly, she again considered that she might be unreasonably judging Boro: the room was well lit with the view but small, and it didn't seem that Boro hoarded books even as much as Taviri did. Only three volumes lay open in her working area, and another two were neatly stacked in the carton that the library worker would collect in their daily rounds.
"What is the work?" Laia asked. She had been in the Shared House a week, long enough to re-train herself not to simply grab people's papers and start to read as she would Taviri's or her friends'.
"A short treatise on the philosophy of the Shared House," Boro replied. "It's only a sketch, I have a long work in progress, but I am becoming convinced of the effectiveness of your pamphlets. I am in the habit of books, myself, but if we produced the same, then you might have read them before you arrived here, and things would go easier with you and your brothers and sisters."
"Things go easily enough," Laia said. The work she had come to do was getting done, after all.
"They do not," Boro told her, preemptorially. "They do not because this happens over and over. Our brothers and sisters in the revolution come, and they share in the washing and the feeding, but they don't talk about it, and they don't understand us talking about it, because they don't think it is worth talking about. Or is that not so?"
"We don't talk about it to the same degree, no," Laia replied.
"Not to nearly the same degree, yes?" Boro asked. "Which, sister, is a critical failing. Really fucking stupid." She lifted her chin and waited.
This was Laia's mode of argument: she dropped the bundle of bedding and sat herself down on it and replied easily "Enlighten me."
"This is what the revolution looks like," Boro replied. "Not sleeping in attics of safe-houses. That's before the revolution. Living the revolution will be houses and farms and research labs and childrearing."
"This isn't a new argument to me, sister," Laia said.
Boro made an exasperated gesture. "Of course not, but you haven't taken it to the fucking conclusion, because you're still living in safe-houses and attices and travelling in crates, aren't you? It's a practical matter: we don't want to bring the revolution and have no idea how to live once we are living it. Yes, I know, still not a new argument. This is the new argument: we bring the revolution only by living as if it has already happened. And if you're about to tell me that's not a new argument either, don't bother, I was an academic, I know there's always someone who wrote it down. No one is living like this. No one is living like the revolution has already come. No one else is letting the archists next door look over the fence. You're going to tell me someone is, right? Still with the originality."
Laia thought about it. "It happens," she said. "But it's a pacificist thing. We fight. They demonstrate."
"Well, pacifists we sure as shit are not," Boro said. "Don't think I don't know how short our Shared House's life will be as a result. But while it's here, a few more people have thought about how to borrow books and feed chickens when the revolution comes. And that, sister, is my revolution."
Chapter 4: Coda
The Second Three Day Strike in Bershort began with the cleaners again. It briefly appeared that it would become a general strike, but swift and well-informed enforcement targetted at the leaders of the strike contained the unrest and restored order.
Laia Asieo Odo and Ketel Evad Boro were among those arrested in the last stand in the old square. Boro pleaded guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence to the offence of revolutional mind, and was jailed for five years, dying of jail fever within two. A customary reverence for the misled soul was held by her former colleagues, with personal readings only from her academic work. Collections of her revolutionary writings remain incomplete, as much is believed to have been destroyed with the Bershort Shared House.
Odo refused to enter a plea or mount a defence. Kieda Ettad issued a statement from underground Movement publishing presses praising her silence as the only correct response to the rotten stench of archism that pervaded the legal system from top to bottom. Taviri Odo Asieo gave a widely circulated speech on Odo's ethics of possession, referring to it as "Odonian", a term adopted by many followers for the Movement as a whole within the year. Odo's later writings commented on neither action, although her Prison Letters carry an emphasis on the dangers of leader-worship among revolutionaries that is lacking in earlier writings.
In the end it was not Taviri who gave his beloved to the revolution, but Laia who gave hers. Laia was awaiting trial in the north at the time of the Capitol Uprising and it was weeks more before she heard of the four thousand bodies in the quicklime, Taviri and Ettad among them.
The sun rose in the morning, and she found out about even that on their schedule. Grey light and yellow for hours, then the patch of sun on the wall, then gone. She had lost track of the days, dammit, she'd lost track of the days. But did that matter? They sent someone important to tell her he'd died, she guessed. She guessed this smirking man in an ill-fitting prison guard uniform was someone important to them, and she guessed he was happy that Taviri was dead. She guessed he hadn't killed him though, or he would have said, because he would have been happy about that and he didn't seem the type to not share his happiness around.
He made her sick, sick as she sat there and pretended she didn't hear what he said, sick as the real guard spat at her —
stupid long-hair slut — sick because no one was happy and no one was human, not her and not them. Sister, they called her, laughing, and it was a mockery. And all she could think of was cancer, the sick cell with the bloated nucleus, taking and taking until the body was killed, and dying with it. Within a week, scribbling in a tiny hand on the paper allotted to her, she had finished the introduction to The Analogy, with its elaborate and provocative images of archism as a systemic disease.
She understood better why Ettad had wanted something else for her: if she had known what it was to lose them, indeed she might have chosen Taviri or Boro or him or their many friends lost in the uprisings that decade over The Analogy and perhaps all that it brought about too. But there was no such choice on offer to her and there never had been, not in her revolution and not in anyone else's. No one had chosen to leave her to her work, so she chose to keep doing it.
Nine years later Laia Asieo Odo walked free from jail with her head held high, The Analogy already in wide circulation. Shortly thereafter she edited the lengthy volume The Revolutionary Household, primarily composed of writing from the scattered surviving Bershort revolutionaries describing the Shared House model, and extensions and analogies from it to urban and regional collective organising. The Shared House model was later referred to as the Odonian House model in central A-Io due to its association with her and the Movement. In this and other cases, the extent to which Odo sought, or did not sufficiently rupidiate, credit for work that originated with other individuals and collectives, remains in dispute.