Suka called ler older cousin, Liga, whom le said was a hacker. I don’t remember ler face from Suka’s home, but le must be in our generation. I must have met lim. Le is familiar, and they look like each other. Maybe le was always out — but le looks our age.
Le may have avoided us, of course. Suka says that Liga fell out with their family, and le isn’t married out. Le lives — likely in disgrace — with non-family in a crumbling apartment complex near the edge of the intact pre-Taritit apartment buildings in Menarka proper. Le hasn’t spoken with ler relatives since turning nineteen, but Suka won’t answer any of my questions about it. Le gets that look in ler face that means it must be private family matters.
It frustrates me that Suka is withholding information! O Salus, how can you have a friend who won’t trust you? Perhaps le would have told me if this were truly said in private and not via vid. I truly deserve better from someone who is recognized by the Gods as a friend. I told lim something that I shouldn’t have.
Maybe Liga hacked into their family’s kitchen and ruined an important meal during the prep.
I should not say such cruel things about Suka. Le did tell me other things: Liga swims in the Canyons during monsoon season, which most Narahji recognize as dangerous and inadvisable. Le climbs, something that I did in school, but apparently much better than I could ever manage. I never made a national team, and Liga did. I suppose that I could look lim up if I wanted to.*
I cried four times during the two-hour private chat before Suka managed to grab Liga.
During our three-way video chat, I cleaned my room and inventoried my remaining gyenya. Menarki slang flew from our lips like spit. Thankfully, Kati learned Atarahi more in-depth than Narahji and probably had no idea what we said. Le started playing music in the kitchen area.
When I replay the video, I see Liga raise both eyebrows when I ask, “Could you retrieve the video feed from the Skyrail at the Blossom Street stop at 14h.76 yesterday?”
My face is pleading. There is a pause. The healing scabs on my forehead make me look pathetic, but Liga never comments on them. Ler gray eyes impassively probe the monitors beside lim. Suka may have warned lim about my desire to see the feeds. Hacking them took lim less time than it takes me to fold a load of clean laundry.
Le relayed the file to my tablet. It had no sound, so Suka talked about ler family’s preparations for the Water Festival and ler coming proposals to Amklia. Le wants to marry lim when the second flower bloom comes, but I wish le wouldn’t so I don’t have to take time off during the peak political season. Liga told lim that le will have a conflict, and Suka didn’t protest.
Liga said, “Wait, Salus, are you crying?” Le used my informal name without even thinking. I didn’t correct lim.
I zoomed in on the video. As I thought of what to say, I saw the five people walk into the Skyrail car. They all sat calmly in their seats, leaning in only when they wanted to speak without yelling. They looked like an ordinary group. Liga clicked ler tongue against the roof of ler mouth.
“This is precious,” le said. “I think that you have two of the sorriest assholes in Tveshi politics here. Do you know about the Daybreak Movement?”
“This is Daybreak?” I stared at the woman. “Yes, from history classes. Not much. It’s Shiji?”
I knew a bit more than that — they were involved in something in the 1840s, right near the end of the Early Reconstruction Period history that I had at eleven or twelve. We didn’t spend much time on them. I did my project on the early Progressive Movement leaders in Narahja and how they distanced themselves from the Narahji Separatism Movement plots following the International Congress’s move to Itaka. It wasn’t the first thing out of my mouth, which I regret — I didn’t say anything articulate at all.
This is why: Few people have the specific carriage that Sehutañi possesses. I would recognize lim anywhere, even if all Shiji look similar. Few people make my cheeks hot when I see them, and after the sex, I confess that my feelings have only become more confused. I said, “I know the woman with the hennaed arms.” My voice cracked.
Liga said, “Who is le?”
I told lim.
Liga just interrupted me via vid. Le pushed a software patch through to my paper. Le can see everything that I have written easily and wants to test it out by having me write out the things that we agreed to on vid. This means interrupting that narrative, and truth be told, I need to stop writing for the day because I have work tomorrow.
Liga has it on authority — whose?** — that no intelligence is following Sehutañi. The chatter about the two people le recognized? Minimal.
Le believes that reporting this to the police would be inefficient and that they would just ask me for proof. On vid, Liga told me that Code 1830-229-17 impacts more than ethnic violence. While I watched my smart paper, le drew a river on its pages and said a few lines of a poem I don’t know. Le annotated it in messy, expressive Narahji handwriting to describe how police receive intelligence from their sources, including the surveillance cameras, digital skimmers, and a sketch of something I have never seen before.
It was an eight-spoked wheel with a dark, yonic scribble at its center. Around the wheel, le set down another circle: Five spaced around the right, five spaced around the left, such — how do I explain this? That is the wrong way! … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
The image disappeared from the page even as I tried committing it to memory. “That is a heresy,” Liga said with a laugh.
I tried scribbling it down out of ler view on another smart sheet, but le deleted it, too. Le continued: The police arrest those guilty of wrongdoing using what they learn from the small tributaries feeding into their rivers.
Code 1830-229-17 officially means that only things caught through one of those sources matter. Since cameras observed it, I could prosecute the person who committed violence against me. (But I won’t, as it would risk revealing that I was on that train.) Code 1830-229-17 means that what I heard in the Skyrail car is ephemeral and unproven, like claiming that a neighbor committed treason during the Taritit. That was its original purpose, to protect people. Collaborators’ children were assassinated in the streets for their parents’ supposed crimes, and at least a third of the people hunted down by their neighbors for treason were innocent.
The original purpose of the law makes sense. Under Code 1830-229-17, I could be prosecuted for approaching police without tangible evidence.
This is not the early days of the Occupation. I told Liga, and le drew that shape in the notebook again. It bubbled from the pages like water from a once-dormant spring and disappeared just as quickly. I met ler eyes by looking at the camera, not at lim on the monitor. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
It must not matter immediately. I need to trust Liga, if only because le is Suka’s cousin, and Suka would never lead me to ruin.
Until I have proof of wrongdoing, I will need to sift through everything to find as many facts as I can about the person who will receive two bullets. It could be anyone — male, female, jomela, ozkyev — because I had a horrible day, and the speaker only used pronouns instead of clear words. Liga keeps pressing me about this, and my brain feels like it will shatter in half. I have no information.
I have never thought about what happens when the police know nothing. Something — somewhere — has gone wrong, and I hope that I can do my part before the worst happens. For the police, the limits of legality mean that they will take audio or visual evidence. If I steal anything — papers, for instance — or obtain information through hacking, I could be prosecuted by their families.
Depending on what we find, if the stakes are high enough, I might need to break the law. If that happens, Liga and I will use illegal means to counteract the threat. I don’t know if I can commit to that.
Liga and I will talk soon.
* Please don’t look me up, Salus. 😰 You can tell by this message that I have access to everything. Thank you.↩
** I am involved in a network of people who receives intelligence from the public video feeds and police channels. None of it is legal, admittedly, but I have some diplomatic protections.↩