The Dust Gate
by Marissa Lingen
Of all the outcomes Yumiko had feared when the army drafted Ladonna and took her away, she had never imagined that Ladonna would return to her dead. She had always expected they would bury her sister where she fell, if she fell. At first Yumiko thought it was the army themselves returning her, by the straight grey backs of the uniforms accompanying the pallet, guiding its mechanisms. She thought it was the army, and she was glad, for the moment, of their caution in sending such a small group.
But no, the way the intruders moved, the way they stayed to the shadowed edges of the cool green woods, watching: they were afraid of being seen. The grey uniforms were deliberately grimed and torn, beyond what travel through the woods would have done—an inexperienced attempt to hide their source when no other clothes could be found. One of the two men looked familiar, but she’d never seen the woman before. Still, she knew the look of what they were, if not who. They were deserters.
Ladonna lay in a coffin atop the pallet, its clear top showing her folded hands, her immaculate uniform in such contrast with those of her living companions. Yumiko steeled herself and looked at her sister’s closed eyes and slack features. She did not look asleep, not restful, only dead.
“All right,” she said, when she had taken in the blow of seeing Ladonna’s face. “All right, tell me.”
“It was an ambush,” said the one who looked familiar. “We were encamped, and—and then the enemy were there, and—we couldn’t save her. She didn’t do anything wrong.”
Yumiko smiled grimly. “She didn’t do anything more wrong than the rest of you, you mean.”
The woman opened her mouth to protest, saw the look on Yumiko’s face, and shut it again.
“You,” said Yumiko to the familiar one. “You’re from Dahira Falcata. I’ve seen you at festivals.” Falcata was not so far from her own village of Dahira Jitkae. The two had probably been one village when the original settlers put down. There were still frequent intermarriages, and shared festivals in the dry season when it was safe to travel. In the old days before the war, each village would have held thousands—it was obvious from the crumbling manufacture-made buildings around the edges. Now each villager knew every name of the few hundred in their own village, every face in the next. Yumiko waited.
He ducked his head. “I’m Shen Dunkirk, Shen Alder’s son.”
“Yes. And you brought my sister back to me, so that I would thank you and hide you.”
This time the woman did not close her mouth before spitting out what she meant. “Why would we need hiding?” She was very young. Her glossy black hair had no silver threads, and only two campaign token braids. She was probably, Yumiko thought, only a little older than Ladonna.
“Because you are plainly deserters. And Private Shen here—”
“Corporal,” he muttered.
“And Mister Shen here,” Yumiko continued, “did not realize that I would help him anyway, because we are family. You are my sister-in-law’s cousin’s godson. That is kin.”
“You have been away in the army too long, Shen Dunkirk,” said Yumiko.
She would need to know the others’ names, whether they had any useful skills, what they were like except for silent in the one case and bold in the other. And very, very young. She would need to know whether any of them could undo the pallet’s hold on the coffin, so they could use its scarce mechanisms to haul and carry around the village when its main task was done. It would save them the backbreaking labor that had become more and more common as each mech wore down.
In the meantime, here was her lost sister, back again but not in any useful way. She leaned over Ladonna’s body, tracing the outline of her cheek over the stasis that the pallet held. She saw the fatal wound gaping cleanly, unreasonably cleanly, in the middle of Ladonna’s chest. Then the folded hands.
She turned sharply to Dunkirk. “Did you get your dander up in the field?”
“Did we what?”
“Did you—” Yumiko waved her hands. “I don’t know what the current slang is for it. The palms of her hands. They’re stained. Did they give you a thing to use, a powder, in battle, that—”
“Yes,” said the other man, the one who had previously been silent. “Yes, we did that. They gave us that, and we did. All of us.” He turned his hands over for her to see, and the healthy golden color of the backs gave way to the stained red-brown of the palms.
“You can’t bury her here,” said Yumiko. “The dander lions, or whatever you’re calling yourselves now, you eat the land after death. You’re worse for it than a fresh cesium source. We need this land. We can’t bury her here.”
They ducked their heads, looking up from their campaign locks hopeful, like children who had been chastened and still wanted cakes. She realized that she had shifted from “you” to “we.” She sighed.
“All right, come along into the house with her,” she said. “And tell me your names as you come.”
“I’m Uoc,” said the woman, “and this is Plankton.”
“All right, all right, come along.” Yumiko did her best to sound grumpy, because as soon as she got her sister into the house, she would have to realize that this was real, that Ladonna was really dead, that Ladonna was really not coming back, and then she would not be able to bear it. Across the cool, dusty threshold, the stranger soldiers did not swarm her, and so did not know how close they had come to screaming horror.
Yumiko’s grandmother Steve was in the house, making porridge, or at least sitting in the same room as the stove while the porridge cooked. She was not stirring. It would be lumpy. Yumiko averted screaming horror again, but it was a near thing, because the world already contained too much, and lumpy porridge was an unwelcome addition.
“She’s home,” said Yumiko, as flatly as she could manage. “Timon’s wife’s cousin’s godson brought her home. We need to shelter him and his friends until we can figure out what to do with everyone. We need a place to put—a place to put—”
After that Yumiko did not entirely understand what had happened, because she stopped talking and went very quietly up to one of the two big family sleeping rooms, and she shut the door behind her and then there was screaming all the same, weeping and screaming and noises that should not come out of a person. And when she came down, Grandmother had served out the porridge, leaving enough for Yumiko and also for the cousins who were out in the fields and the woods, and she and the deserters were eating their porridge with no cooked eggs on the top and very few pickled sprouts.
Grandmother looked at her calmly. “Is it my turn yet?”
“No,” said Yumiko. “No, not yet.” Because she could not bear it if she had to keep herself together, if the screaming was not an option. She could not let Grandmother take her turn, and yet she saw that she must. “All right,” she said. “Let me eat.”
“Of course,” said Grandmother. “You eat, and I will tell you what to do.”
“I appreciate that.”
The deserters were all staring at the floor in great embarrassment at the family’s grief. Even with Dunkirk being kin, even with him being from this part of the world, Yumiko saw that he had forgotten what it would be like for them, to get the news of Ladonna’s death at the same time as her actual dead body in a stasis field. He had forgotten, and now he was reminded, and now he was having to think of his own family and how they would feel, too.
Glancing at the pallet, Yumiko saw that they had covered it with one of Grandmother’s best blankets. This was good. This was just as Ladonna would have liked. It gave Yumiko the strength to force down some porridge, and once she had swallowed some, the rest followed easily.
“We’ll take her up to the mountains,” said Grandmother. “We can bury her safely in one of the caves, and the army won’t find her and she won’t rot any ground that minds rotting. And this lot can find some tribe of bandits or other to take up with. His sister will know.” She nodded at Dunkirk, not respectfully. “His sister’s taken up with those hill people. Yam eaters.”
“Grandmother, that’s not nice,” Yumiko admonished, but it was true, the hill people did eat a lot of yams. “Also, you’re not strong enough for a trip up the mountains. Also, who will take care of the fields?”
Grandmother Steve waved her hand imperiously. “That’s why you have cousins. I’m as hale as I ever was, just give me a day to ease into it. Anyway, those hill people respect the old.”
The deserters all ducked their heads, hearing what she did not say: not like down here on the flatlands. Yumiko went on doggedly. “And if you can’t manage?”
“Then I’ll flare for your cousin Doris to fetch me back,” said Grandmother. “I can sit on a stump and wait as well as anyone.”
Yumiko had to admit the justice of this, though she wished for a moment alone with Grandmother to discuss the rest of their activities, away from the prying eyes of the outsiders; she wished for a word about what it might mean, what they could make it mean, what it could not mean at all. So the next day she didn’t say a word when Grandmother shouldered her pack and marched along with herself and the deserters behind the pallet, off to put Ladonna to rest somewhere in the hills, somewhere in the barrens where no one would lose their crop.
Not very far from home, Uoc found a blueberry bush with tiny blueberries, half the size of the tip of her little finger. They ate them all, and Yumiko made mental note of where they were, to cultivate and harvest. Privately she suspected that one of the cousins had been keeping it as a secret blueberry source in the woods. No one was starving in their village, not like the word they got from the front lines. But treats were few; it would be easy to keep a handful of blueberries to yourself, knowing that there would not be enough regardless.
Not kind. But easy.
After the blueberries, it was an unrelieved long climb into the hills. Finally after a few hours Yumiko turned to Dunkirk.
“So what did you do? Before the army, I mean. Around here.”
He shrugged. “I was a kid when I left. Like your sister. I did whatever wanted doing. I wanted to learn to fix mechs, to reclaim some of the junk from the field edges. But you see where that went.”
“It was like that in the army, too,” Uoc put in. “There were specialist corps, don’t get me wrong, but the three of us and your sister? We were no specialists. We fought, and we dug things, and we hauled things from places the army didn’t want them to places the army did. Like this, but with ammo instead of—instead of our friend.”
“She wouldn’t have gotten training,” said Grandmother hesitantly. “For anything that would have helped the village. She wasn’t…they didn’t think she was that kind.”
“I don’t know if they have that kind any more,” said Plankton gently. His voice had the broad vowels of the south, though his plain object name recalled the sea people of the coast. Yumiko supposed that names spread with the war like anything else. Perhaps this coastal boy would someday have a child named after her sister. While she was trying to think how she felt about that, he had gone on: “But she learned to scrounge and trade for supplies. That might have been useful. And she was a patrol leader. I hear a lot of patrol leaders go back and become mayors and headmen and things in their villages.”
“Where do you hear that?” asked Yumiko.
“Um. The army,” said Plankton. And no one said another word about it.
When they paused for the night, Plankton got out a book. It was nothing to do with the coast at all, but Yumiko knew many southerners had taken it up, and still had the printing facilities to make more. Grandmother gave him the stinkeye. “A Santhreist.”
“Yes,” said Plankton, not lifting his eyes up to Grandmother or to the hills or anywhere else.
But Grandmother wasn’t talking to him. “You brought a Santhreist back to your village with our dead. A Santhreist.”
“A comrade in arms,” said Dunkirk. “Ladonna’s comrade in arms.”
Grandmother spat. Uoc tensed. Yumiko waited.
“Were you a prisoner of war?” she asked Plankton.
This time he looked up. “No. Mother was.”
“And they fed it to her then? And she passed it to you?”
“What did your father think?”
Plankton shrugged. “You ever find him, you ask.”
“Your mother’s family, then.”
“They thought that they were glad she’d come home alive,” he said, deliberately looking from Grandmother to the pallet and back again.
Yumiko hoped the conversation was cooling, so she spoke briskly. “If you need to do devotions, can you do them when we’ve finished with the campsite? And away a bit?”
“That’s fair,” Plankton agreed.
Grandmother grabbed Yumiko by the sleeve as she passed by into the woods to gather kindling. “I don’t like it.”
“That’s clear enough,” said Yumiko.
“It’s an enemy religion.”
“Grandmother, you sound like the army. Come on now. Who are our enemies really?”
Grandmother twisted her wrinkled face up into a hideous mien, but Yumiko was used to her and in any case did not scare easily. “Can’t we have more than one enemy?” said Grandmother. “The army and the Santhreist bastards? I’d find it so easy to hate the ones who killed our Ladonna.”
“Hate all you like,” said Yumiko. “Hate only costs you, doesn’t cost me. But Plankton brought us Ladonna. He didn’t kill her. And you don’t seriously think he’s an enemy spy. He’d have led those kids to the other side with promises of good treatment, if he was that.”
Grandmother’s face twisted again, this time into her jolliest wrinkly grin. “That’s a good joke, Yumi. Nobody believes in good treatment from anyone.”
“Yes.” That was, Yumiko thought, precisely the problem. The war had gone on so long that everyone knew what everyone else was capable of—their own side, the enemies, everyone. And no one was counted as a true noncombatant any more. “So just deal with Plankton like any other deserter, Grandmother. Can’t you, please? The other side was willing to shoot at him all the same, and our side willing to treat him like—like they treated Ladonna.”
“He’s not like Ladonna.”
“He is,” Yumiko insisted. “This is the last piece, Grandmother. The Santhreists on our own side. We could infiltrate the way they hoped to do. It’ll be different if it’s not the enemy but civilians.”
“I’ll think on it,” Grandmother grumbled, but Yumiko knew Grandmother would see the logic. She said no more of it, even when supper was finished and Plankton went back to his devotions. They didn’t last long, and when he came back to the campfire, he turned courteously to Grandmother to ask her about her own stories. Yumiko could not help but like him. She couldn’t help but like any of them, brash Uoc and familiar Dunkirk just the same. She couldn’t imagine them off with the army, following army discipline, taking the drugs they were issued, bombing and shooting and being bombed and shot at.
She couldn’t imagine them with new warm clothes that had not been handed down through a dozen cousins, or the right medication for their genescan, either, and she knew the army still had both when the countryside went without.
She couldn’t imagine her sister among them, complaining, joking. Shooting things. Taking army drugs. Tuning up the mechs. So perhaps it was all part of what she could not imagine.
When Yumiko was sitting her watch for the night and Uoc woke her with muffled whimpers, she could believe it a bit more. She sat and stroked the other girl’s hair, so gently as to avoid waking her, until Uoc went back to sleep. But Yumiko was awake until morning, thinking of the war, thinking of her sister.
They were into the high hills by then, so there was no easy start to the next morning. It was afternoon when they came upon a deep ditch. Yumiko frowned and hoped the float-pallet would hold, but man-made features made her suspicious up in the high hills. She stopped the pallet and took a closer look at it.
The ditch had a wall of planks across it, beaten into grey-brown by the wind. In the middle was a large rectangle with a screw in the middle of it. Yumiko hopped down into the ditch to take a look.
“Even in this season, I wouldn’t,” said Grandmother.
Yumiko raised an eyebrow at her in query.
“It’s a sluice gate. When the creeks fill, when the snows come and then melt, there’s a river here, and someone wanted to be able to control the flow of water through it. If they have a sluice gate here….”
“Too far up,” said Plankton.
They both looked at him and waited, having learned to wait in the last few days.
“Anyone who wanted to start serious water flowing would be too far up to get it past their gate and our gate in enough quantity to interfere with us. Just cross.”
Yumiko nodded, guiding the pallet down the ditch and across. The others followed. The air tasted of dust and dried plants, not herbs or anything that would be good when it was dry, just dead leaves that didn’t have the moisture to molder.
When they were all down the ditch, a voice called, “Hello down there!”
They all looked up, like baby birds when an eagle swoops over the nest. The voice sounded like a young woman, and the figure they saw was dressed much as Yumiko and Grandmother, but with a green sash slashing across her chest. She also wore a loose green mask over the top half of her face, with holes cut for her eyes.
“Hello, Anise,” said Dunkirk.
“You are sure it’s Shen Anise?” Grandmother whispered.
“She’s my sister,” said Dunkirk. “I know her. She will know me.”
“Show me your palms, shade of Shen Dunkirk,” said the woman’s voice.
Dunkirk stepped forward, his red-brown palms upturned. “You know what you will see.”
“They took my brother.” Anise spat. “I don’t know what they gave back.”
Uoc spoke up. “They gave back nothing. They never do. Your brother took himself back. Wrestled himself back, against the worst they could do. Brought a fallen comrade back, and two not fallen.”
“Comrades,” said Anise, tasting the word. “I have comrades too.” She whistled, and both sides of the ditch bristled with people. Not a one was dressed like another, and every color of skin, texture of hair, and shape of nose in the entire region was represented. In fact Yumiko had not seen such diversity of feature outside—she hated to admit it even to herself—the army.
“Will you come quietly?” Anise continued.
“Gladly,” said Yumiko, “if you take us in peace. Where are we going?”
Anise peered at her. “You have no uniform, you and the old woman. Are you hostages to these soldiers?”
Yumiko climbed up out of the ditch, holding her breath until the float-pallet made it across without tipping Ladonna’s body into the dust. “Not a bit of it,” she said. “Could you think that of your own brother, that he would hold hostage an old lady and a corpse? No. Your brother and his comrades brought me the body of my sister to bury, but she was given—” She hesitated, not sure what she should say about the state of Ladonna’s body. “She was contaminated,” said Yumiko at last. “We bring her where her body can lay in rock, not in soil.”
“We’ll see about that,” said Anise.
Yumiko inclined her head politely.
“Shen Lazare’s granddaughter,” said Grandmother Steve loudly from the ditch. “I would ask who raised you, but I know who raised you, and how, so I am left asking: how is it that a girl of your kin leaves an old lady to scramble around ditches without a single hand up? Not that your brother apparently absorbed Lazare’s lessons of courtesy any better.”
Yumiko hid a smile to see how both siblings, still bristling at each other, leapt to help her grandmother from the ditch, both apologizing for their tardy reactions. She glanced around and found that the hill people were also hiding smiles behind their hands, pleased to see their leader treated like an ordinary person for once, or even an unruly child.
The partisans seemed more concerned with the uniformed soldiers than with Yumiko and Grandmother. Their guards on the march were almost more escorts to Grandmother, who played up her elderly status by tottering along much less steadily than she had managed for the previous day and a half. When they got to camp, high up a hill against a rock face, the three deserters were cut off from them and the pallet, and Yumiko and Grandmother were given only a single guard while Anise and her brother continued to wrangle about his status and deeds. Grandmother nudged Yumiko and pointed out a cave opening in the rocky cliff face.
“This rocky country is so hard on my old bones,” said Grandmother to the guard. “Would you have a rag or some kind of towel I could sit on? I’m afraid I am not the juicy morsel I once was, in these lean times.”
“Of course, ma’am!” said the guard, trotting away in search of something useful.
Grandmother and Yumiko guided the pallet casually around the perimeter of the camp until they were at the opening in the rock face. “Take her in,” whispered Grandmother, and Yumiko nodded. While Anise and her brother argued, Yumiko guided the float-pallet into the cave opening and down. Grandmother followed. They heard excited voices behind them, so they hurried as carefully as you could hurry taking a dead body on a float-pallet into a cave. Yumiko wished the pallet had been equipped with a lighting system.
“Further,” hissed Grandmother Steve. An eerie green glow emerged from behind. Yumiko looked around, fearfully, but it was Grandmother, brandishing one of the glowsticks the village had been given for helping army planes to land after their generators went out.
Yumiko winced. “You’re going to catch it when Doris finds you’ve taken that.”
Grandmother snorted. “The day your cousin Doris can give me what for and get away with it, I will bring myself down here with Ladonna, because I will be dead and ready to bury. Go on.”
Yumiko was afraid that the passage would narrow too much for the float-pallet, but with the glowstick light she could see it stretching before her, steeply downwards but broad. The rock was scuffed and marked with tool-marks; they were unsurprisingly not the first ones down there, not by a large tally. “Did they mine this, do you think?” Yumiko asked.
“I don’t only think, I know,” said Grandmother. “Your auntie Fidget worked the mine when I was small. You never knew Fidget at her best. She was a hellion, that girl. By the time you were born, she was all worn out, the hard work and the mods that probably didn’t ever work right….”
Yumiko stopped listening. She let Grandmother’s voice be a soothing counterpoint to her own steps, a reminder that the old lady had not fallen or slipped on the smooth grey rock path. There were forks in the path, but she had no idea how to judge which would be the best, so she always took the one that was broadest, and after that the one that seemed to go deepest. She was grateful for the innate direction sense that her great-grandparents had had engineered into themselves when modifications were cheap and readily available; she could feel all the turnings she’d taken behind her and would have no trouble tracing them back out again.
Grandmother’s voice developed a hollow echo, and the greenish glow of the stick she clutched was soon the only light they had. Yumiko stopped the pallet. “How long do those things last?”
Grandmother shrugged, the shadows bouncing against the tunnel walls. “An hour. We’d better make it as quick as possible.”
“Just a little further, then,” said Yumiko. “We don’t want anyone finding her if they’re just in the caves casually—children, say, or people sheltering from storms. But we don’t want to have to do this in the dark, either.”
“I can manage a bit further,” said Grandmother.
But the choice was made for them: the tunnel opened up into cavernous room. When Grandmother lifted the glowstick—just barely starting to fade—Yumiko could see that it already contained a stack of coffins, one on a broken-down float-pallet.
“We’re not the first,” she breathed.
Grandmother’s face was closed, and she said nothing. Yumiko tried to get Ladonna’s coffin off the pallet herself, but while it was not too heavy for her, the bulk was awkward. Grandmother stepped forward and helped, showing the strength that had gotten her through so many years of other people’s wars.
Yumiko glanced into one of the other coffins that was not too obscured by dust. She saw a skull instead of a face, painted red and orange with residues. “The, uh.” She swallowed hard. “The stasis fields don’t hold forever.”
“No, the floater’s powering them, and we’ll want to take that back. Too useful to leave.” Grandmother peered at her. “Oh, child. You had a dream of your sister lying under the mountain like a perfect fallen princess, didn’t you?”
Yumiko nodded, knowing that the caves would amplify any wobble in her voice.
“That dream was for today, Yumi. Not for always. We’re doing what we can for Ladonna today. Our kin worked this land. What you work is yours, one way or another. You know that, don’t you?”
Yumiko nodded again.
“So she’ll join the ancestors, along with these other poor souls, and she won’t poison our ground with the things they gave her. And we’ll go back to undermining the army the best we can. Isn’t that what Ladonna would have wanted?”
Yumiko’s voice found its strength for that. “Yes. Yes, it’s just what Ladonna would have told us to do.”
“Not that you ever let your sister tell you what to do,” said Grandmother. “Nor can I blame you; I never did either. Well, is she settled enough for you?”
Yumiko traced her fingers over the clear coffin top above Ladonna’s face. She thought she could imagine the layers of dust forming, the lines of her fingers being obliterated by the years. “Good bye, little one,” she whispered.
“Good bye, granddaughter,” said Grandmother. “Rest easy for once, hey?”
The glowstick did give out, as Yumiko had feared, before they reached the mouth of the cave, but not so deep that there weren’t glimmers of light from the surface. When they came out, Uoc was waiting for them, her arms folded. She looked deeply annoyed. Anise and her comrades waited a few paces off. Plankton and Dunkirk were nowhere to be seen.
“We were going to take her to a proper burial,” Uoc said. “All of us. That’s why we brought her. I know you thought it was just to win a place with you, but—”
“We had to take our moment,” said Yumiko. “We had no idea what Anise would let us do or not let us do, and we couldn’t risk it with Ladonna’s body. You know that. They were holding you. They weren’t holding us.”
“I don’t like it,” said Uoc, but she softened. “Did you find her a good place?”
“A very good place,” Yumiko assured her. “She won’t be alone.”
“Which I could have told you,” Anise drawled, sauntering up, “if you’d waited to ask.”
Yumiko gave her her best steely look. “We couldn’t wait. There was the possibility of you saying no. And we couldn’t hear no.”
“I have a use for people who aren’t willing to hear no on certain important issues,” said Anise, looking her over.
Yumiko jutted her chin and stood her ground.
“You brought deserters this far,” said Anise. “You can’t be a good little loyal unionist.”
“I never claimed to be a good little anything,” said Yumiko.
“Well, then. Why not join us? Or at least join forces with us? You can be our eyes and ears in the valley.”
“I have a better idea,” said Yumiko. She glanced at Grandmother, who nodded. “You join us. We’ll pass information on when we get it, and you’ll help find work for our people when things get…inconvenient for them.”
“Why does that mean that I join you?” said Anise.
“Because we’re not going anywhere, and we’re not changing the village system,” said Yumiko. “We don’t take orders from you, we form agreements with each other. Even my cousin Doris, who—” She grimaced. “Who will not be pleased that we’ve taken army property for this business.”
“And if you’ve wondered why exactly certain things have gone astray,” Grandmother put in, “why it’s been easier to intercept flyers, why communications have been garbled, well, you’re looking at it.”
“Am I,” said Anise.
Grandmother folded her arms and looked at her. “Come let me whisper in your ear what the rice suppliers told me the passwords were for the training camp below the pass, and you can find out yourself what you gain working for us.”
Anise complied, and a slow grin spread across her face. “Well, leave the float-pallet with me, then,” said Anise. “Couldn’t have Doris getting angry.”
Yumiko studied her, then looked around at the other partisans. They looked ragged but not hungry. Determined but not fanatical, although Yumiko knew you couldn’t tell that from looks. It might work.
It might also get her whole village killed, but they’d started down that path years ago, when the army had taken her sister. Going along with the army had already lost them Ladonna, and the dozens of other cousins over the years that she tried not to think about.
“Where’s your brother Dunkirk?” said Yumiko.
This time Uoc grinned. “She sent him to dig yams until he’s got a better attitude.”
“No, she just said go and he went.”
Yumiko grinned too. “Well, then. I don’t want anybody digging at gunpoint. But this army—”
Anise interrupted her. “This army is dying from the bottom up. It’s crumbling. None of us want it crumbling down on us.”
“No. So we’ll trigger the landslide and stand aside and watch.”
Anise nodded curtly. “I like you. You and your landslides.”
“That’s convenient,” said Yumiko. “We’ll see whether I like you, too.”