The Diplomat Teaches Leaving
by Kat Beyer
I was exiled, for I would not kill the Diplomat. He had arrived at our village on foot, with robe and begging bowl and a faded badge from the government of the planet Gaia. I had tried to kill him, and had learned that I would rather admire him instead. "Gaia rat," they called him, and me, "helper of the Gaia rat." But when I told them of his mysterious powers, how he had disarmed me by--talk? My own tears?--and how he had outlived our strongest poison, none of them were brave enough to kill him themselves.
"Go," they said to me, my father, my mother, everyone I loved; "where?" I asked, and they said, "We do not care, for you are like the corpse of a stranger now," and for a moment I felt my flesh crawl with chill, as if each cell in me were really falling still.
I said, "Then I will go with the Diplomat, and be twice dead to you." Just as I turned away I caught a small movement of my father's hand and knew then that they did care, that their whole hearts ached with love and anger.
I went to the orchard. I saw from the Diplomat's face that he did not need to be told what had happened, but I told him anyway, while we walked. When I was finished we had reached the edge of home. I did not want to look back, but he said, "Will you be my student?"
"Yes," I said.
"Then look back," he said, and added simply, "You must carry this place with you."
I looked. I saw the cluster of bumps that were my people's houses, sitting together like loaves at a feast; the glint of the solar stills and the oil press beside them; the hatcheries and the sheep-yard (not all things from Gaia were bad, were they?--I asked my people in my mind); the low stream running through the valley bottom, the orchards, the quiet flags on the hill--hanging flat today, though no doubt tomorrow they would carry a message to the other villages: "A son is dead."
The Diplomat brushed my wrist with his rough thumb. We turned and walked down the hill.