It is morning. The sun is shining on my forehead, and, if anyone asks, I would rather stay in bed. But, no one will, and things do not work that way around here:
“Huhhhh, one more day on Herta!”
Herta, our dear and beloved world — a population of around seven billion... should I call them people or creatures? I do not know anymore. After so many centuries, we are still divided. But, at least in this entire conundrum of nations we have two dominant ones. At least there is some order. Sram and Sunev.
Since history can remember, Sram people were always proud, lead by discipline and a strict hierarchy. Typically conservative, there was not too much room for change in what they believed. In their land, women outside of their homes did not have many rights and were mostly regarded as objects for satisfying the needs of their masters.
The other one... Sunev, they understood the land and excelled in the art of agriculture, healing, and science. Since anyone can remember, they have been quite open-minded and showed an appreciation for all living things. They have not had a ruler, but they had a great society, which is quite confusing for outsiders. They thought of everyone as equals — not by potential, but by their rights.
Out of all days, why today? Anyway, today is the day. Yes, I am going there, and it is real. I am going to their capital to face their council and to explain. I am still adjusting to my new role: an ambassador. Peacemaker. Huh, what do I even fucking know about peace... and... going to Sram… that one will be interesting, I must admit.
Seven hours locked in the fricking underground tea pot — OK, it is a bit more comfortable than that, and holovision can make the trips less boring. Anyway, I needed to prepare my speech and prepare for all those possible questions, and answers about rumours, and answers about rumours of the rumours. Aaargh...
Yes, yes, they told me. “Just be natural.” What does that even mean? Am I nervous? I? Nervous? Again, it is Sram we are talking about. Surely, it won’t be easy, especially when they find out that Sunev sent a woman.
Haha. That will surely piss off a couple people, but who cares?! Sram is constantly angry anyway. Switch screen to mirror, let’s take a look. At least my uniform is nice, my nails nicely polished, my makeup is in order, all body parts... checked. I cannot believe this; at this moment, the only thing I can think of is my look. Bah, who cares. Damn, I look sexy. Wink.
They decided to have a conference in the main court hall. It is a room shaped like a slice of pie. Entrances in the room are located at all three corners, but each corner symbolises something different. The pointy end at the bottom is the place for elders — old warriors. In front of them, there is another table, reserved for those who are questioned. At this instance, that is the place I will take, with my consultants and two of their ambassadors on each side. My back will be turned to the council, and I will face the public, so, whatever is asked, I will answer to the public. Well above my head and just behind me, there are screens hanging from the ceiling, allowing the elders to see our faces, even though we cannot see theirs.
This has something to do with Sram philosophy and how justice does not have a face, but we can hear its voice. In front of us, there are four columns of seats, and exactly 29 rows of seats, symbolising the 29 levels of their discipline and the 29 days of each of our months. I will enter the hall from the left upper corner, as that was for those who need to be questioned, and the public will be there before I arrive. The public will come from the right, as that entrance is reserved for those to whom I owe my answers.
My head will be covered while I walk between the rows, so they will see me only when I sit down and remove the hood from my face; that is the tradition.
At the other end of the room, on the oval wall in the centre, there is an oddly-shaped clock, the size of a full-grown goat. Aside from the strange narrative of the battles it was depicting and the strange optical illusion it was producing, there was one more thing about this clock: it had two pendulums, and they were not synchronised. It seemed that their rhythm of swinging was completely random and without order. For the Sram, that swinging was a symbol of how unpredictable our lives can be. At the end of each pendulum, there were two small rings, each the size of a small coin, the symbol of “passage.”
I walked through middle of the courtroom, sensing an angry mob of men from both sides, but the only thing I could see were the feet of my guide. My guide lead me to my seat, and I sat down, waiting for further instructions. Here, at this place, everything was about ceremony — every word or step was important. Everything I do can be misinterpreted and can lead to war, where many will lose their lives over nothing. So, I am here waiting and thinking about what would be the best course of action, how to explain the “small” incident that happened 18 moons ago (exactly 2 annum on our world), that was threatening to spoil almost 14 annum of peace since the last senseless war...
Before, we had many wars, and military casualties were always total. Most of the battles were initiated by the Sram nation, and, despite many intelligence reports, they never understood why they were losing wars. Also, they never understood why no one survived those battles from either side; no matter which side was superior, no one ever survived the battles. That is a story for some other time. Over time, we learned to communicate and, more importantly, trade with each other. Sometimes, I think trade is our real language, and our merchants the real ambassadors, exchanging cultures and news.
To keep the trade flowing and to minimize future casualties, both nations agreed to use people like me: ambassadors — people skilled in the art of negotiation.
After a short introduction about who we are and why we are here, the elders commanded me to uncover my face. I tossed my hood gently behind my back, uncovering my long black hair.
Immediate murmurs and disapproval came from the audience. I could hear them whispering, and the voices became louder.
“It is a woman. Women are not allowed here. This is an insult. It is a disgrace!”
When the chief elder shouted, “Silence!” with his deep, almost inhumane voice, everything stood still.
“The ambassador from Sunev has been sent here to answer your questions, and you will threat her with respect. The ambassador is not from our country, and, therefore, she is not bound to our ways. While the ambassador is here, you will threat her with respect.” He said it with such authority, cutting through the public, and no one dared to say another word. I got the feeling that, if anyone tried, he would lose his head on the spot.
“Ambassador,” he was talking to me, “you know why you were summoned here, so you have the first word.”
I began. “As we all know, exactly 2 annum ago, one of your warriors committed a crime against one of our citizens while visiting our capital, so we were obligated by our law to punish him according our law. But, you should be rest assured — he is fine, and he will be released soon.”
“What was the crime that requires keeping him for so long; he was one of our best men.” Someone was shouting on the left.
I tried to reply. “He raped one of our citiz...”
“Was it a man or woman?” Someone interrupted me, crying from the mob.
“Ambassador, answer the question,” the chief elder said.
“It was a woman, and...” – they interrupted me again. At this point, I am starting to be a bit annoyed, but I have to keep calm. The old I must not prevail.
"What do you mean, ‘woman.’ Women can't complain. Women must obey men. How is that even a crime? Was she wed? If she was wed, what was she doing outside of the house alone?" They were shouting questions at me. Too many questions. Which one should I answer first?
“In our society, women are regarded equ...”
Another man screamed, “And, for that, they kept him tied like, like... some mummy…for more than an annum!?”
I expected it would be like this, but these people were challenging my patience. My brain switched to battle mode, measuring each person. I will cut through that one first, then the fat one on the left, and then, by the time they realise what is going on, there will be at least 16 dead, and I will be on my way out… yeah… But, I cannot do that. If I do that, I will end up dead, and even worse I will create a war, and many others will die.
I shook my head, clearing my thoughts, through fog I barely heard the chief elder’s voice repeating “Ambassador, ambassador,” trying to wake me up from my daydream. “Proceed!”
“Yes, it is true that he was in ’bondage,’ but that was for his own sake...” — interrupted... again.
“What about the rumours?”
I replied, “What about them?”
An elderly warrior from the left side said, “Darmoc, if you have anything to say, say it.”
Darmoc, a high-ranking officer, slowly stood up, and calmly — but with anger in his voice — replied, “They call us savages, but what they have done to our best warrior, what they have done with my best friend Tispar.... We heard rumours that they cut off his manhood, and then they fed it to him next morning. And, for what? That wench was with him the entire night! I just left them there, and the next day, I found that he was arrested while he was still drunk... and... finding out that they forced him to eat his own dick.... For thunder’s sake, how civilised is that?”
“I must say that those rumours were a bit exaggerated. How to say this....” I was struggling to find the proper words. “They have not cut his manhood off; they just changed his perspective.”
“What do you bloody mean, ‘they changed his perspective’?” the officer next to Darmoc exclaimed.
“Well… how to explain this… they just gave him the opportunity to experience life from... another perspective.”
“What does that mean? Explain yourself, ambassador!” — asked the chief elder.
Every single person was staring at me, waiting for the answer.
“You see... our two cultures are different. Most of the time, we do not understand one another. So, instead giving your man the usual reprimands for a crime that has not happened in Sunev for more than a century, our officials decided to give your warrior an experience — an experience of how it feels to be in the body of his victim. So...” — there was a short pause and all those eyes were trying to devour me — “they switched their brains.”
This was the point where no one was breathing for a good 5 seconds of dead silence, with many jaws open.
Then, complete havoc broke loose. Everyone stood up, shouting, waving hands, raging, and, honestly, the only thing I could imagine was seeing a huge pack of very angry dogs barking like mad.
I could see it right there. That was the discrepancy between our two people that always prevented us from joining and becoming one: old ways, violent nature, strong, stubborn, closed-minded. If they just knew that Sunev had the ability to wipe them all out, but it was against their nature... On the other hand, if Sram had that ability, they would not wait for a single minute.
“Silence! Silence!” The elders were shouting in vain. It took about a minute of constant repeating to calm the mass down. “Silence!”
“Ambassador, what happened next?” the elderly warrior asked.
“Well, both subjects needed a bit of time to adjust. It was easier for the victim than for your warrior, I must say. So, he was kept for some time in a full-cover-suit, as he needed time to adjust to his new body. He was well protected, so he could not do anything to harm himself or anyone else. Slowly, with time, he adjusted both physically and psychologically. And, with every day he, now she, was realising the difference between our two worlds. He was taught about our culture and our ways. And, Sunev released him eventually, but he wanted to stay.”
“Of course he wanted to stay! You turned a man into a bloody woman; it is worse than cutting his dick off!” someone shouted.
“I assure you, that was not the reason he stayed. I can...” — now all elders interrupted me.
“Ambassador, does Sunev take us for fools? Can you give us any proof for this preposterous claim?”
“Yes I can, but I will need one of your items,” I said.
“What do you need, ambassador?”
I stood up and turned around, and the guards immediately became quite nervous. I said, “Darmoc my darling, please, can you give me your piercer?” A piercer is an ancient Sram throwing weapon. It looks like a strangely-balanced letter opener, capable of making triangular wounds. The sides were extremely sharp, and you could cut your fingers easily, if you’ve never had it in your hands before. Darmoc was standing there, looking at the other elders for approval. I could see his eyes as one of elders nodded; he pulled the piercer from his chest belt and flipped it into the air like a coin. The piercer made a few twists and flips and landed just next to me, sticking into the table.
Gently, I pulled the piercer from the table and prepared to make a throw. According to their legend, if you can throw a piercer through both the rings when the pendulums pass each other, or as they call it “make pass” you will be regarded as a great warrior. Over the years, not many people have managed to pull this trick off — to be precise, no one in the last 27 annum. You see, what I have learned in Sunev is patience. The rings were quite distant; while the movement of the pendulums looks random, a pattern was undeniably there, of course if you can ignore those optical illusions. I just need to concentrate on the moment when both handles started going down. From that point on, everything is math, calculating time and place, and calculating the exact time to throw the piercer. Deep breath, and swoosh... After a second of silence that felt like an entire year, the piercer jammed the clock, going through both rings, stopping the pendulums.
Many mouths were wide open, jaws stretching to the floor. “But, but, how... that needs years of training...”
“My dear warriors,“ I began almost ceremoniously, “you must realise one thing: women are equally as capable as men. If they put their minds and wills into something, they will equally accomplish any task as any man could. And you should learn to respect that. Women are equal and should be respected as such,” I proudly exclaimed — at least that was the lesson they sent me to transfer to this stubborn, thick-headed oxen.
“Ambassador,” the elderly chief began, “although this is proof or your amazing skill, this is not proof of your story.” He said it like he was not very impressed with what he saw.
“On the contrary, Esiw, son of Renetsil...” I could recognise that voice from hundreds of meters when I was a child. He would visit my father’s home often, and I knew him well, without seeing his face.
“It is a proof...“ I paused for a brief moment to take a deep breath.
“... because I know how you think... I know as once, I was a man too... once I was one of you...”
Excerpt from novel “The Eternal Battle of Two” by Gris Anik.
Story inspired by the sentence, “One of the rapists later told police: ‘She can't complain. Women must obey men.’” from the article "Five migrants among seven young men who ‘laughed, danced and sang in Arabic as they gang raped unconscious girl of 17’"