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  1. On Tuesday, Tashi goes to her first wedding. Oh, she's been to partnership ceremonies, of course; hell, she was in one one time, when her friends Jari and Hana and Tamm from school declared their partnership. But that was nothing like this, of course.
  2. Tashi's looking forward to it. Weddings, births, and funerals, she thinks. They're ethnography-bait for a reason, these public rituals that mark someone walking through a door in their life, which closes behind them afterward. Irreversible moments, that you can never go back from even if the partnership is later dissolved, you will leave a part of yourself behind with it when you go.
  3. So yeah, she's pretty excited to see what a skinti wedding is like. The part of her whose mind is still outside the Dome imagines, half-hoping, that it will be incredibly bizarre, and that it will provide her some great footage.
  4. She imagines it's too much to hope for, that it might shed any light on her personal dilemma around the idea of Reintegration. But she will see.
  5. -----
  6. Ately gives her a dress to wear, that looks no different from the dress Ately wears every day. It's sort of a pale beige color, woven of coarse fabric, and it's baggy and shapeless enough that Tashi can fit into it even though she must have at least 40 pounds on Ately.
  7. The young woman looks apologetic when she hands it to Tashi. "I only have one dress gown," she says, ducking her head. "I'm sorry. People will understand, though. This is almost white, and they know that you came to us with nothing. They will make allowances for that."
  8. Indeed, Tashi thinks. Nothing but my rig and the clothing on my back. She puts the dress on, wondering why it being almost-white matters. Once dressed, she feels like she is wearing a sack, or like she's gone Covered.
  9. It'll take some getting used to, that's for sure.
  10. After a moment of thought, she takes it off and puts on her undershift and leggings beneath. The dress is long enough to conceal them neatly, and she just feels better with familiar fabrics next to her skin. (Also, it allows her to keep the various pockets and carrying pouches that she finds useful.)
  11. When she descends into the kitchen, Lyddie is braiding Ately's hair, piling it high in intricate blond twists atop her head. Tashi watches and after a moment she flips her rig on, focusing in on the intricate, practiced movements of Lyddie's hands. When she does so, she notices that what Lyddie is using for hair-ties are actually repurposed fasteners from the capsule pouches that certain light-sensitive medications come in.
  12. Another example of Domer ingenuity, she thinks. The style rather suits Ately.
  13. Her dress gown, on the other hand, appears to be exactly like one of the regular dresses, except that it obviously used to be pure white. Now, after however many years of being passed down, it's a sort of yellowish cream, like some kind of fancy cheese. The yellow undertones really don't suit Ately's face; they make her look sallow, hollow-cheeked and almost ill.
  14. At least, Tashi assumes that it's due to the fabric.
  15. The dress gown does have a very nice red sash, which drapes around Ately's waist and falls almost to the floor. Ately is holding it gathered in her hands while Lyddie does her hair, and Tashi can see her worrying at the edge with her fingers, clearly a sign of nerves.
  16. Tashi isn't quite sure of what Ately's role in the actual wedding is, but she supposes she'll find out soon. They're busy with their preparations, and there isn't time to ask.
  17. -----
  18. The wedding itself turns out to be held outside, in another wide open square that is very similar, though not identical, to the place where Tashi landed and was found. There is a crowd of people gathered already when Tashi arrives, following closely behind her hosts. She notices straight off that there's a pronounced color scheme among the attendees, with all of the men in attendance dressed in shades of green, varying from a faded, once-bright emerald, to a faded, once-deep forest green.
  19. The women's clothing is a little more diverse, but all of them are dressed in either white or red or black, and most of them have a sash of a contrasting color. After a minute, Tashi notices that younger-looking women tend to be wearing white and red, and older-looking women tend to be wearing red and black. It seems this might be another age or marital status connotation.
  20. She wonders why the men, in this case, don't display the same divisions in their clothing.
  21. There's no signal or summons for the beginning of the wedding, and even after reviewing her footage Tashi will never be able to figure out how they know to form an aisle, to gather themselves up in such a way that suddenly there is a focal point, where there was none before. All across the square they gather, in a long line that leads into a small, strange, stand-alone building with no windows, and a door covered with a red curtain. Tashi is pulled along with Lyddie to a place near the front of the line, close to the building. Ately ends up on the other side of the line, facing them and clutching the cloth-covered etching in one hand.
  22. Then suddenly, what Tashi had taken for a random clump of people is revealed to be a choir, as all of them open their mouths and begin to sing. The song is in that same strange language, which Tashi cannot for the life of her place, or even pick out a few familiar phonemes. (She's no linguist, though, so that doesn't really say that much. Hopefully some actual scholars will get to reveal this footage at some point.) It's completely a cappella, with no instrumental accompaniment at all; the arrangement seems decently simple, with four parts that weave in and out of one another, following a melody laid down by the lowest voices.
  23. It's obviously in the same tradition as the Penance Chant that Tashi saw at the failed birthing, but this one seems to have a happier, more hopeful tone. Some things are universal about partnership occasions, Tashi thinks. They're always a cause for celebration, and she's happy to see that that is also the case here.
  24. Not everything can be about death, after all.
  25. The choir sings its piece and then winds down, and as if on a cue, every face turns to the little stone archway at the far entrance to the square. Tashi gets her first look at the bride, Silene, who turns out to look very much like her engraving indeed.
  26. She is wearing a white dress that is actually fairly white, and made of the same silk material as the Councilmen's robes were. Instead of a red sash like most of the other young women, she has on a green one, and a green cloth is wound through the curls of her red hair.
  27. She's really quite unexpectedly lovely, despite her somewhat pinched expression.
  28. Standing beside her are a woman dressed all in red, one of a few who is wearing the solid color, and a man dressed all in green, carrying some kind of stick or staff. They stand at either side of Silene, and each one holds one of her hands. The woman's hair is just as red and curly as Silene's, and the man has her same slighty-crooked nose; they're obviously her parents.
  29. When the party sees that they have everyone's attention, the man raises his hands in the air like in a victory celebration, pulling Silene's arm up with him. When he does this, Tashi can see that her wrist is bound to his with a piece of green cloth, and the same to her mother on the other side.
  30. Interesting. Some obvious symbolism going on there, though Tashi's not completely sure she understands it yet.
  31. They begin to walk forward through the long aisle of people, all three of them together. As they pass, some of the audience members hold out little cloth-wrapped bundles, presumably gifts like Ately's, which are accepted by the mother and father.
  32. It's strange; Silene seems very passive, not really looking at the people who stop them to offer gifts and congratulations and well-wishes. Perhaps it's just because of the symbolic wrist-ties, which prevent her from taking gifts or touching people's hands, and make her pay careful attention to her parents so that she can move in step with both of them.
  33. Or perhaps that's just the tradition for the bride, in this part of the ceremony.
  34. As they make their way down the line toward Tashi, she stops watching long enough to glance across the line at Ately. When she does, she finds that tears are openly streaming down the young woman's face, and her head is bowed. It's strange; there doesn't seem to be even a trace of happiness in her expression. Like she's not glad for her friend's new partnership, at all.
  35. The wedding party approaches, and Tashi refocuses all of her senses on them, as she's long practiced. Directing her rig, which samples everything but really follows her attention, to get the best possible footage. Because of this, she's watching at just the right moment to see Silene's face, when she glances up and makes eye contact with Ately, and her expression just absolutely *crumbles*. It's like the sight of her friend brings down some interior wall that was allowing the young bride to cling to her composure; for a brief second, brief enough that no one would catch it if they weren't already looking, Silene's face twists into an almost inhuman rictus, a mask of pure grief. Tears spring to her eyes; Tashi is just close enough to see them.
  36. Maybe she's just overwhelmed, Tashi tells herself. After all, Tamm and Hana both cried at their partnership ceremony. (Jari, of course, has never let either of them forget it.)
  37. But Tashi is close enough, also, that when her parents take another step forward and Lyddie goes in to offer her greeting, Tashi for a split second meets Silene's eyes. What she sees there shocks her, and chills her to the bone.
  38. There's no happiness at all, no life, no celebration.
  39. It's despair. That's all that Tashi sees in Silene's eyes – pure despair, and a sadness too big and deep for one so young, and just a little flash of something that Tashi doesn't want to think is fear.
  40. Ately steps forward as they pull up beside her. She hands the cloth-covered package to Silene's mother, but her eyes never leave Silene's. Ately says nothing the whole time, just looks at Silene and cries in silence, tears streaming down her face.
  41. After that one glance, when Silene's expression crumbled, she hasn't looked at Ately a single time.
  42. Something is very wrong here. Tashi can feel it pulling at her, some sort of hidden understanding that she feels lurking right above her, just waiting to fall. Her 'caster instinct smells a secret, some kind of undercurrent here that all of the skintis are resolutely ignoring. She can't quite grasp it yet, though.
  43. Why would Silene be mourning, on her wedding day?
  44. Unless... But no. Tashi struggles to push down the thing that she is thinking. It cannot be so, not in the year 2612. Not even among the skintis.
  45. The group of three steps forward until they are almost to the building, and then a youngish man who looks to be in his mid-20s steps forward. Unlike all of the other men in attendance, he wears a red sort of scarf-thing wrapped around his shoulders, making his costume something like a mirror-image of Silene's. In his hand, he carries a wicked-looking curved dagger, which he raises over his head when they approach.
  46. The three of them draw to a halt: Silene, her father and mother, and into a long moment of expectant silence, the choir begins to sing again, a slow-moving tune with long, drawn-out notes that build and build, until Tashi finds herself holding her breath and waiting for their voices to break. Silene's father and mother hold up their arms high in the air, the ones that are bound to Silene's at the wrist; she continues to look down and keep her head bowed, the whole time.
  47. The choir holds a long, low note and lets it fade; the air in the square trembles with tension. Then, all at once as if somehow coordinated, the choir and everyone around Tashi lets out a great shout, and at the exact same time the man the bridegroom, Tashi heard them call him brings the knife down in a great sweep, slicing through the green cloth that is stretched taut between Silene's wrist and her mother's, and then swiftly once again on the other side. They both lower their arms but Silene keeps hers raised high, and she manages to go from looking at the ground to looking up at the sky, without ever pausing in between.
  48. The man  Ahriman was his name, Tashi remembers, Ahriman Vancoeur unwraps the red scarf from around his head and neck and, reaching up, he hands one end of it to Silene. She holds it aloft as he wraps and winds the length of it around her wrist and his own, binding them loosely together.
  49. Tying wrists together with a cord or piece of fabric was a partnership tradition in many ancient cultures, Tashi recalls. The symbolism of this part is fairly obvious: cutting the ties of family, in a culture where young people seem to live with their mothers and fathers, and creating a new tie between these two people. The start of a new household, and all that that entails.
  50. It makes sense, to a degree.
  51. That doesn't explain why Silene's hands are visibly shaking, though, as Ahriman wraps the scarf around them.
  52. Tashi struggles harder against her own suspicions. She can't help it, though – when Ahriman pulls Silene around, with a firm hand on her shoulder, to stand by side with him facing the crowd and raise their arms together, she looks at Silene's face again, and she can't help it.
  53. She sees a flash of fear, a genuine bone-deep sort of terror; and then that disappears, shoved down to be covered by a sort of detached blankness. It's a look she's seen before, on the faces of soldiers on leave from the Kuiper Front, and on the rescued slave children that the soldiers brought back with them.
  54. It's a look she's only ever seen on people who have come face-to-face with incredible violence, and who know that they can only expect more of the same. In that moment, Tashi can no longer deny the truth; she knows, she *knows*, that Silene doesn't want to be here.
  55. That she's not entering this partnership of her own free will.
  56. The crowd around her sends up a cheer all of a sudden, as the new partnership stands together for the first time. But... it's not really a partnership then, is it? Tashi can't call it that, not really. It might be a marriage, whatever that means; it might be a new household, but if Silene is genuinely unwilling, then it deserves to be called nothing other than a travesty.
  57. Ahriman turns on his heel and strides the three steps to the little building, pushing the red curtain aside with a sweep of his arms and ushering Silene through the doorway in front of him. She doesn't look back. He follows her and the curtain swings shut behind him, and the audience all cheers again.
  58. The sound rings in Tashi's ears; she suddenly feels nauseous, like she needs to get away. Like she wants to run away from this square, where whatever horrible thing that she doesn't understand is happening, will happen, has happened a hundred times before, while a crowd of skintis cheers it on.
  59. Because that's the thing; looking around her, it's like the scales fall from Tashi's eyes and she can see the violence. It's in the fact that, if what she thinks just happened happened, if she's going to believe her own eyes, if she's going to believe Ately's tears, if she's going to believe that blank look in Silene's eyes, then that means that none of the families around her are okay. None of these little clusters of people, standing instinctively grouped in twos and threes, are untouched by that violence.
  60. And Tashi understands.
  61. She understands that when a partnership  when a household, when a *family* is founded on a core of violation that must be so deep, so personal, so embedded within the body, it can't help but shape and color every single interaction that comes after.
  62. And it *is* violence, to be forced into a partnership against one's will, to be forced... She has to stop thinking that thought, or she won't be able to continue.
  63. It's violence, even if no one has ever raised a hand against Silene, against Ately, against Lyddie and Ames and Ahriman. It's violence and coercion, even if it's formless and embedded, systematic. Even if it comes from everywhere and therefore nowhere; even if there is no one Tashi can point out, or punch, and say "you did this".
  64. Maybe that's the worst kind of violence, actually, Tashi thinks. Because when it's like that, the violence becomes part of the very air, as natural as breathing. And when it's part of the very air, you end up taking it into your body, whether you want to or not.
  65. As natural as breathing, or as cheering at a wedding.
  66. See, the thing is, Tashi hasn't really thought that much about violence before. It's just not a big feature of her world. Oh, sure, violence *happens*, of course, but it's always an Event when it does, something that is happening somewhere else. And Tashi goes there, to the Kuiper Asteroid Mines, or to the chemical wastelands of the Eastern Republic, or to the outlaw tribes of the Estados del Sol, to witness and observe and 'cast, carrying hundreds of thousands of riders on her back. But then she goes home when it's over, once she feels like she's seen enough to understand the conflict and explain it to her viewers.
  67. To understand the violence.
  68. Ha.
  69. But she hasn't, not really. Tashi understands now that she has never really understood violence. She always thought that violence meant young men covered by the leftover scale-white flesh of acid burns, and tiny perfume capsules filled with flesh-rotting bacteria sprays, and skies filled with so many drones that the sound of them alone is enough to burst civilian eardrums. She always thought that violence was armor-piercing bullets and Sincopio explosions, their afterimages flaring up green-white through Tashi's eyelid. Or just a fist pounding into a face, over and over again, covered in blood and still not stopping. When you take it down to the very lowest level.
  70. And all of these things, all of these things that Tashi has called violence, they always happen... elsewhere. In places that Tashi doesn't live, and doesn't really know anyone who does.
  71. But now, in this one wide-open moment of enlightenment, she sees that all of those things are only the smallest part of violence. She sees that the greater part of it is silent and subtle; it's coercion and behavioral constraint. It's a homeopathic threat that becomes more powerful, more inescapable, the more that it's diluted.
  72. It's the "or else" part of every threat, with the exact consequences always left unspecified.
  73. But terrible. How could they not be terrible, in a place like this, where there's absolutely no possible way to get away? Where life is small, and hard, and insular, and where this causes people to cling ever more to their traditions. Except for those unlucky few, who have something outside of their conscious control that forces them to tear past the facade of those traditions.
  74. So the violence is everywhere; it makes its way in and it becomes a part of *you*, a part of your soul, and you learn to accept it. As natural as breathing. And once that happens, you've become a tool, another source of subtle threats, upholding the system. Enforcing the system's rule.
  75. Violence making itself amplified over time, self-reproducing. Women carrying it out against their daughters, fathers against sons, world without end and without escape, amen.
  76. The weight of it hits her like cold water, makes her take a step back and gasp. Fortunately the crowd has started breaking up and milling, and there are people banging on things that by definition then are drums, and this seems to be the end of the formal ceremony. So it doesn't matter anymore if Tashi is breathing fast and sharp, and looking around her for some kind of escape.
  77. Because Tashi is afraid. She's toured Disaster Zones, 'casted from the front lines of the 2012 Carainan Islands police actions; she likes to think that she's pretty tough. That she's seen the world, and knows something of suffering. But suddenly, for the first time since entering the Dome, Tashi is well and truly terrified, down to her core.
  78. These people around her they aren't *people*, she thinks wildly. They've gone too far, they're too steeped in it to get clean. They call us Outsiders, but they're the ones who are inhuman. It's evil, pure evil, and all of them are complicit. Every single one, amplifying violence. Carrying out the system.
  79. And Tashi would do anything, *anything*, to prevent even the slightest germ of an idea from this system from taking root in her own world. She wants to curl up around her world, the real world, the world that is sane, and bare her teeth like an animal to protect that world from this one.
  80. The depth of her feelings, the fear, the animosity, the sudden protectiveness, actually shock her. They're so intense, she is left ringing.
  81. There's no way, she thinks. There's no way. Let them rot here. There's no way I'm letting this get out into my world. And she knows; she knows it so well that she subvocalizes it into her throat mic.
  82. "I just became convinced that Reintegration would be the absolute worst possible course to pursue. If Ately's generation is the last one, let it be so. Let all of this die with them," she says, before she has time to second-guess and doubt herself. "There's just no way."
  83. She looks around herself, needing to be away from this crowd of people. She has to get alone, just for a minute, to calm herself down and process everything. It's only because she's already looking at the mouth of the little side alley that she notices Ately sliding into it.
  84. Tashi decides to follow. She trusts Ately, as much as she trusts anyone in this godforsaken wasteland; maybe Ately can tell her more about what just went on. (Always, the 'caster part is working, checking for angles, watching for good shots. Always, even when the rest of her is almost gone.)
  85. Lyddie has her back turned, chattering with two other black-robed grandmistresses. Tashi steps away from her and heads toward the alley, trying to act like she knows what she is doing and is confident that it is perfectly legitimate.
  86. That kind of attitude will get you far, in life.
  87. -----