No one realized the extent of Dihya’s madness until she was caught sabotaging the water supply. Even then the madness was difficult to see as she sat in Ayan’s office with her hands tied and her headscarf still askew from the struggle. She did not wrap her arms around herself and rock back and forth. She did not talk or weep incessantly, or fidget. Indeed, Ayan observed, to judge by her calm demeanor and the odd little smile on her face, Dihya might have been saner than any woman in the colony. This irritated Ayan to no end.
“You never attend the evening storytellings,” Dihya said. She had kept her silence up to that point. “Why not? Don’t you like tales?”
“Only true ones,” Ayan replied. “For example, the tale of why you broke into the purification facility.”
“To save us.”
“I cannot see how it saves anyone to be robbed of our only source of clean water.”
Dihya shrugged. “What good is water, to us?”
“Water makes no difference. Illiyin is covered in life. Everything grows on this planet except us.”
Ayan leaned her elbows on the arms of her chair and steepled her fingers. “And that very fertility is why we purify the water, Dihya, and take other precautions. But then, you would know better than I how dangerous this world can be.”
Dihya flinched, her smile fading at last, and some of Ayan’s irritation turned to shame. She had meant only that Dihya was the colony’s sole xenobiologist, but her words inadvertently recalled Dihya’s son Aytarel, who had been the first of the children to die on Illiyin. Ayan had seen Aytarel when they’d found him, after he’d slipped out of the house to play in a disused area of the colony compound. Animals had been at the corpse, but the greater desecration lay in the contaminated puddle-water he’d drunk, and the microscopic worms in it. They had not stayed microscopic.
Dihya’s eyes turned inward. Seeing Aytarel, perhaps. “Death holds no fear for the faithful,” she murmured. But abruptly her expression hardened. “At least, not when the dead are respected.”
Ayan shifted in her seat. “Cremation was the only way to contain the organisms, Dihya. They had already destroyed the body.”
“You destroyed the body.” Dihya’s lip curled. “But I expected nothing better from a woman like you. You pray, you recite the hadith when it suits you, but you have no true faith. You ignore tradition–”
“Tradition?” Ayan uttered a single bitter chuckle. “Tradition is the cause of our troubles, as far as I’m concerned.” Then she shook her head, rejecting that notion. It was not tradition itself that she blamed, but the decision to appease a few zealots in tradition’s name.
“Were you so eager to expose yourself to strange men?” Dihya raked her a contemptuous glare, her eyes settling last on Ayan’s unveiled head. “I see. No faith and no modesty.”
“It was coldsleep, Dihya. Even the most proper woman would find it difficult to feel immodest in a coma.” And only the most self-righteous woman, she almost added, would continue to veil when there was no one left to veil for. But to say such a thing would touch on a point of pain that no woman in the colony acknowledged if she could help it.
Abruptly she realized she had allowed Dihya to distract her. “Enough. Why did you do this?”