The bureaucratic white motorcar idled like cold prey amid a jungle of cargo containers on the shipping pier. Mythili warmed herself thinking of the extra money she was making moonlighting as her boss’ chauffeur.
The brick came in through the back window. Mythili buckled forward, slamming her head against the car horn. She slid down and peered over the steering wheel. A single lamppost cast a pitiful orange halo around the motorcar. Beyond that, frigid darkness. Ice-cold wind pricked the back of her neck. Shivering, she turned around. The driver-side rear window was broken in and the brick lay on the seat circled by slivered glass.
Oh Gods, oh Trade Winds–Mythili spilled out of the motorcar, heartbeat palpitating and vision blurred. This was her first time driving Taranya and Jhaved. They had trusted her–
Mythili opened the back and delicately scooped up the glass shards, throwing them onto the wet ground. She picked up the brick to toss it and stopped. Tied by twine to the brick was a note, saying:
Mythili Farasheikir, you are a customs inspector in the Imperial Clearing House of the Port of Guindypasur.
Her finger hovered over her name and job title scratched in a wild handwriting.
In effect, you are an agent of a genocidal empire and your hands soak in the blood of Demisov children. I offer you the opportunity to redeem your soul or the Lords under the Sea will judge your eternity harshly.
Mythili drew a sharp breath. Today’s Guindy pinned to the wall of the office reported on an incident from the island of Demisovia last week.
WARRANGROVE RIOTS: One-hundred-twenty young Demisovian rebels agitating in a stickball field were stopped by the Guindypasuri Island Authority...
The last of the note said:
Your boss Taranya is on the Queen’s Glyphseeker. Go, watch. Question everything.
The name Queen’s Glyphseeker came across her desk every month. It was a trade ship traveling between Demisovia and Guindypasur, mainly carrying small durable goods, often chartered by Their Majesty’s Imperial Mail Service for military correspondence.
Past the last container on the pier, Mythili saw shadows move on the deck of the ironclad caravel.
She recognized Taranya and Jhaved, lit by a single gaslamp. Taranya gestured at the captain as if commanding him. The crew of Demisovians moved about the deck gathering piles of paper. Taranya inspected them, withdrew a lighter from her purse, and burned the pages in her hand one by one. Jhaved shouted instructions at the crew, who dumped heavy leather-bound journals into the ocean tied to bricks.
The air above the deck sparkled like a swarm of fireflies as pages kindled and blew away with the wind. Mythili followed one scrap of paper that flew over the edge and landed on the pier.
She scrunched up her nose, deliberating.
Scattered lamp light left heavy shadows of unlit space, so Mythili chanced it and ran to retrieve the paper, hoping it would have some answers.
Bending down, blindly feeling for the scrap, she knocked over a pile of tools which clanged against the gravel like strident temple bells in the hallowed silence of the night.
“Who’s there?” Footsteps pounded on the iron gangway, rushing down towards her.
She scrambled backwards, slipping, falling on the slick road. She sprinted as soon as she found her footing, not stopping until she was back to the car.
Held tight in her shivering hand was a corner of a soggy page titled: Military Dispatches from the Island Authority for the month of–
She threw it behind a container, along with that sea-damned letter. There was no way she would let Jhaved–the interior ministry officer attached to Taranya–catch her with them. She needed this job to pay Zhyvili’s university fees this year.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. She was almost arrested–or worse–and for what? Spying on her boss?
Jhaved ran up to her, now sitting with the door open in the car’s driver seat. In the dim light of the lamppost, he inspected the damage. Mythili hugged herself, controlling her shaking. Jhaved picked up the brick, still lying on the seat, and threw it away.
“Are you okay?” He brushed her hair back, studying her, as if checking for cuts. “Just some port boys having a chuckle. I’ll deal with them.”
She nodded, overwhelmed, afraid of what she might say if she didn’t keep her trap shut.
Mythili wondered what exactly her twin jobs of customs inspector and after-hours chauffeuring entailed. And then the note, Demisovia and the islander children–
Against her better judgment, Mythili found herself questioning everything.
“Did you hear Thiruvan on the parliament floor accuse our army of shooting up islanders for fun? That treasonous shit. Guy should be forced to resign. Or shot.”
Someone from another department chimed in while brewing coffee. “Yeah, the war’s over, man, let it rest, y’know? Opposition never talks about islanders slaughtering our troops during the Yellow March.”
Mythili sat numb, quiet in the break room, chilled by last night’s attack. Despite it, guilt flared at her ignorance. Mythili never had the chance to go to university–the two sisters needed money, so she drove a motorcar taxi instead. Students there had access to Opposition’s small press journals. Zhyvili should be better informed than her.
“But fellows,” Durga interjected. He was a customs inspector who sat across from Mythili, and was quite vocal about his views, being the only one who sided with the Opposition. “That was during the peak of the war when both sides were at each other’s throats. This business with the riot was after peace was declared.”
Mythili hid herself behind today’s broadsheet, The Guindy. An editorial by a local Demisovian leader praised Guindypasur for their brave and selfless service on the island, promoting peace and unity where before there was only backward squabbling among the islanders. Two columns over, the broadsheet had the latest tally from the Warrangrove Riot at hundred-thirty-three.
Raja tapped on Mythili’s paper, still talking while chewing a mouthful of rice. “This says it. Early strike snuffed out a rebellion. Saved a lot more islander lives this way. In the long run.”
Durga had an earnestness that made it hard to not agree with him. When he debated, he gestured with sharp, directed movements, his ponytail bobbing as he shook his head, disagreeing, always disagreeing with everyone else. “How do we even know that? We don’t even know if we have the full story about what happened that day. No pictures from the riot. Isn’t that troubling?”
“What’s troubling is Opposition–and you–using a few dead islanders to do what you always do, talk shit about the Party.”
Taranya walked in to get tea, lingering to hear their final arguments. Mythili’s boss smiled when Raja beat Durga down and forced him to shut up about his anti-national views.
On her sister’s birthday, Mythili was up early to make Zhyvili’s favorite cocoa-cardamom flatbread, Ma’s recipe. As she poured the water in the well of her flour, she followed her regular routine, turning the radio on to a jazz station with her elbow, letting the gentle swing beat wake her up.
When the flatbread was nearly grilled, she woke Zhyvili the way she usually did, by tinkling on their mother’s piano to the radio’s song. She heard a stirring from her sister’s room, so she resumed whisking the chocolate spread with the crushed cardamom pods, a precise task needing her full concentration.
It was not until the man’s voice came from the radio that Mythili realized the music had faded to a dull hum.
She jumped back, nearly flipping the griddle pan over.
I do not have much time, so I’ll be brief. A customs request from a Demisovian exporter will come across your desk. It will be one of those which you always reject. You will find a way to approve it. Next month, when the Glyphseeker brings the cargo, you will receive it. Your answers will be therein. But be warned, they will make you sick.
Static, and then a deep bassoon returned, followed by a shuffle beat in three-four.
Zhyvili stepped out of her room, wiping dream-sand out of an eye with the back of her hand. “What was that?”
Mythili spun and exclaimed, “What’re you talking about? Happy birthday, dumpling!”
She hugged her sister and hoped her thudding heart was not too obvious.
Hiding behind a container and watching was one thing, but actively committing treason against the Empire, aiding rebels, falsifying documentation…there were limits to what Mythili would do to prove she was a compassionate person. For all she knew, this could be a test from the interior ministry to ferret out rebel sympathizers. The thought frightened her to quicken her pace. She was the only caretaker her sister had. Activism was for the young and unattached.
On her desk were the usual stacks of customs applications to be cross-checked and notarized. In the room, there were three other junior inspectors like her doing the same thing, handling the transport permits for all the ports of the globe that traded with Guindypasur. Mythili was on her third cup of tea, anything to either stop her shaking or give it a more banal reason.
Mythili spent the day poring over every customs manifest in excruciating detail, especially the ones embarking on the Glyphseeker. Her gaze darted around, checking if anyone was watching over her shoulder. She plunged herself into meticulous, restless work.
The military requests had several line items that read “Letters–GOSA PENDING”. She had never read into the line items for military requests (those were always approved without question) but now Mythili questioned everything. As a result, she found herself one of the last two still working late into the evening when she reached the request that she was sure belonged to the rebel spy.
It was a classic small-time merchant’s application that screamed “smuggler” to her, which always received rejections. “’Notebouks’ made from recycled kelp-mache, island specialty” was an obvious (to customs magistrates, at least) code for illicit hallucinogenic seaweed. Tear a piece off and eat it like a wafer, meet your past lives in technicolor.
Only this time, it was the only obvious smuggler, the radio man’s ‘Demisovian exporter’. She would not only have to approve it, but also forge transit papers for it to have any hope of reaching the port.
So lost in her fog was she that she didn’t realize Durgadhir making a face at her. “I think you’ve had enough for the day, Mythili.”
“Don’t you have a wife to go back to?”
Durgadhir forced a chuckle. “Yeah, but I need to show Taranya that I can do the work of two people, so she doesn’t feel encouraged to replace me with another nationalist jingo.”
He bit his lip at that, and Mythili realized he was scared of being so candid with her. She smiled, hoping the reassurance–I’m on your side, too!–was conveyed.
He did not speak again. As he was readying to leave, Mythili asked what ‘GOSA’ meant.
He tilted his head at her, squinting in silent judgment. “You don’t read the news much, do you? It’s the Guindypasur Official Secrets Act. Opposition’s been busting the ministry’s ass about it for months.”
Durgadhir leaned against the door frame, looked at his watch and sighed. “Accusing citizens of being spies. Good night, Mythili.”
Taranya’s office light was still on. Mythili should hand this in to her right there and then, this time doing the patriotic thing. She was no spy. If questioned, she could say she was gathering solid evidence to present to Jhaved. Her hands became clammy, gripping the treasonous application. She was no spy.
Footsteps echoed in the corridor as Jhaved walked past her open door and knocked on Taranya’s.
Taranya’s light blinked off. She gathered her coat and stood ready at the door with Jhaved. He nodded at Mythili.
Taranya smiled at her. “Keep up the good work, Mythili. Ready to go?”
It was as if hands clasped her throat, choking down a betrayal one way or another. “Yes, miss. Almost.”
The thought of forging transit papers and facing trial for treason was too much to bear. She rejected the application. She didn’t want the Demisovians to get in trouble, so she didn’t rat them out. She sympathized. She hoped it sent the right message to the rebel spy. There were official channels of complaint and the proper way of protesting against the government. The Demisovians would have to find another way.
Before she filed the application, she memorized the cargo invoice number. Just in case she decided to do the right thing later and tell Jhaved about the rebel spies.
It would take her long enough to parse the dense legal language if she could just keep her thoughts from wandering to Durgadhir and his outspoken views. How alone he must have felt in the office, with everyone siding against him in every debate. Mythili resolved to do better and take his side a bit more, so that her stature as a dependable loyal inspector gave his radical views a bit more heft. She too felt discomfited that the Massacre was committed by their side after peace had been declared. That their troops were still on the island. But the Party was not evil! They had passed the Survivors of Martyred Veterans Act that allowed Mythili to get this job.
The law’s text was uncontroversial to her eyes. Spies had been intercepting their military dispatches with growing frequency and it had become imperative to destroy some sensitive records before they fell into enemy hands. It seemed the prudent thing to do.
Taranya and Jhaved had been following the law after all; just doing their job. It had been a quiet week since Mythili had rejected the rebel application, and nothing bad had happened. Her way was the right way.
She walked home, drowsy from the afternoon’s read and looking forward to a well-deserved nap. Finding her front door ajar was a normal occurrence for her (Zhyvili could be so forgetful sometimes) but ever since the brick flew through the window, Mythili had been on edge from the littlest of triggers. She hesitated for a moment, wondering whether to enter or call for help, but the immediate fear for her sister’s safety made her push the door fully open.
Durgadhir lay slumped over her dining table, clutching his abdomen.
There was blood. A lot of blood. On her floor, on Durgadhir’s hands: his shirt was a dark crimson.
Before she could splutter a ‘what happened’, he eyed her feverishly.
“You… you have to listen to me.”
“Who did this to you, Durga?” she exclaimed while frantically searching for her mother’s gauze and supplies, oh where had she–
“Don’t…don’t treat me. Just…listen.”
He’s delirious from the lack of blood. She started cutting the gauze, hands shaking.
“If you treat me, they’ll know it was you. Everyone,” he wheezed and coughed blood. “–knows your Ma was a nurse.”
“Taranya…listen. That night you worked late. After you left…I…I approved it. From your desk.”
The scissors slipped from her grasp and the blades cut into her fingers. She turned to face him, hands bloody.
“I killed him, Mythili…I think. I shot him.” His eyes fluttered as if he were dreaming.
“Who?” She did hear the words coming out of his mouth, after all. She definitely couldn’t believe them.
“Jhaved.” His eyes closed; blood dribbled down his chin. “She’ll need you. Tomorrow’s the night, Mythili, and she’ll need you. I shot him, I…” Durga doubled over, slipping off the chair.
He howled as he landed and raised his hand to her. “Call the police. Say I threatened you. Be…trustworthy.”
He collapsed. His body slid forward, limp.
Mythili’s knuckles whitened on the wheel and she bit through the pain of her cut. The police had cleared everything in her kitchen and medics bandaged her hands, sympathetically whispering in her ear: it will be alright. In the morning, she did not feel alright.
“Something wrong, Mythili?” Taranya looked concerned in the rearview mirror.
Mythili was unsure how she functioned at all that day. Durga’s last words, his last expression–painful, hopeful, pleading–was what her nightmare-ridden brain threw up on repeat. The Guindy’s fearmongering front-page splash with Durgadhir’s full-color photo was titled: CUSTOMS INSPECTOR IMPLICATED IN MURDER AND ESPIONAGE.
“N-no, Miss. Just cold, and I’m not familiar with the heating system of this new motorcar–“
“Hah. You’re right there. It is quite chilly.” Taranya slid leather gloves over her slender fingers. “The wind is even more dreadful this season.”
“Mm.” Mythili’s voice was so hollow she could barely hear herself.
“Sorry for bringing you along, dear. I know how hard it must be for you after what that monster did.”
Mythili gathered herself together. “I considered him a friend.”
“And look where that got you.”
The motorcar passed a large neon-lit billboard proclaiming FARGAN FOR COUNCILLOR, VOTE ROSE. The upcoming national election, a candidate from the Opposition. These neon signs were a new sight and Mythili did not care for them. They were bright, but queerly cold. They wouldn’t help get them any more votes than normal, she reckoned. No one liked anything new in Guindypasur. A shame, since she had decided to vote Rose for the first time.
Taranya had stormed into the office that morning looking like she hadn’t slept either. Makeup streaking on her powdered face, a haunting silence shrouding her. In the dark, alone with Mythili, she was chatty, as if talking through her grief. “Mythili, I wanted to say that you’ve been through hell in service to this department without once complaining. The Party thanks you for it.”
“Thank you, miss. I learned about putting my head down and serving from my parents.”
Taranya gave a sympathetic purr and Mythili could finally hold the wheel less tightly. “Wars are so tragic, my dear. My husband was there too. That’s–that’s what we’re trying to prevent, Mythili. The work we do may not be a soldier’s toil, but the peace is kept every day with the good work we do.”
Mythili parked right on the pier. The motorcar was her white cage, folding soot-dark fog around itself. When they got out, Taranya offered her shawl to Mythili. She took it. Ahead of them, the great cargo ship The Queen’s Glyphseeker loomed black like a cave waiting to devour them.
“Would you like me to wait by the car, miss?” She chose to relinquish her choice in the matter by placing it in Taranya’s hands. An easy abdication of her responsibilities.
Taranya was already walking up the gangway when she turned and beckoned Mythili to her. “No, come. There’s a lot of work to do.”
The ship’s deck was a motley assortment of crates and chests that looked to have been assembled by the crew of disgruntled Demisovians milling about, as if accustomed to receiving orders from her boss.
The Demisovian with the Captain’s hat nodded at Taranya, a half-smile, half-sneer at his lips. “This is all of the paper being carried on this ship. You need your tea again? Reckon be a long night.”
“I’ll take some of your warm mud water, thanks.” She turned to Mythili and pointed at a massive, gilded chest. “Those are the personal dispatches of officers on the island. Skim through them and sequester the ones that have sensitive information.”
“How do I know what’s sensitive?”
“If you don’t already know the details, it’s sensitive.”
That will be a large pile, then.
She began skimming the first letter, but then she read so intently she memorized the whole letter, one from a Major-General Pandai to her mother:
If my writing is illegible; my descriptions desolate and disoriented; and my letter otherwise a failure; you must blame the Riot and its effects…a plot to assassinate my officers was recently uncovered before it could be carried out…the worst of it, Mother, is we would’ve deserved it…I carry a pistol with me at all times, afraid of when I’ll have to use it, and against whom…
The next few letters were harder to read, her vision blurring wet. They all described trauma in vivid colors of a colonial front, of a war that was ostensibly over and won, yet blood still spilled. She tried to remember the names of these officers as best she could.
Marched eleven kos along the river Tur to reach the shrine, passed women in Duimas of marigold and peach…soon the river ran crimson…
The worst of it: Durga was right, the riot had been far bloodier than reported and its aftershocks far more lingering than revealed to the public.
Everyone is getting dispirited; no news of relief; my regiment feels we are forgotten; the war is won? I laugh with bitterness. They do not surrender. Father, why must we do them more harm? We kill thousands and yet more appear.
Mythili looked up from her task and asked Taranya, “What shall I do with the letters with the sensitive information?”
Taranya burned the letter in her hand and flicked the lighter to Mythili. “If it’s a line, blot it out with a brush of ink. If it’s more, burn it. The soldiers should’ve learned by now why their letters get lost at sea and fail to reach their family.”
Mythili nodded feebly. “I’ll come back to deal with the sequestered lot, then. Going to continue on to the next cargo.”
“What next cargo?” It was as if the ship froze upon arctic waters.
Her refusal to stake a moral position had led her here. The officer’s letters, Durga’s sacrifice, the Opposition’s speeches in Parliament…in that moment she realized she would not be alone. Activism did not require being unattached; it gathered support.
Mythili inhaled and said, “There’s a suspicious lot in the manifest that screams smuggler to me.”
Taranya lowered the journal she was reading and pierced Mythili with a crystallizing gaze. “What lot?”
Her chest shuddered but her voice held firm. “Kelp-mache notebooks. You know.”
Taranya’s lips snarled in disgust. “Of course, Durgadhir. The traitor was also a weedhead. Contemptible. Go dump that dreadful seaweed back into the sea, dear.”
Mythili nodded and went to find the rebel shipment, dread rising with every step.
“You’re doing splendidly,” Taranya called behind her.
Inside the container number she had memorized from the application, she found the kelp notebooks, as expected. She pulled them out of the box one by one, thinking the top layer would hide something underneath, but it was kelp notebooks all the way down.
Risking everything, she leafed through them all one by one. One notebook in the middle was heavier than the rest, held together by twine. She remembered the brick, its message. Her first call to revolt.
“What are you doing, Mythili?”
She dropped the notebook back into the box, snapped to, and wheeled around. “Just checking through the notebooks to confirm if they were indeed of the illicit variety–“
Taranya sighed and took her glasses off to wipe them with her scarf. “I really didn’t want to do this, dear, but I’m afraid I’ll have to search you on your way off this boat. To see if you didn’t pocket any of the drugs.”
She nodded to a sailor and flicked her fingers towards the sea. The man brushed past Mythili, stuffed the strewn notebooks into the box and hurled it off the side of the ship.
Calm descended over Mythili. On their drive home from the docks, Mythili told Taranya about her parents, about swimming off the carnival pier during the moon festival, an indulgence her parents allowed. In the days before war.
Taranya stared out of the window, the passing neon lights illuminating her face in greens and whites. “He wanted to marry me, the fool. He really liked my boys.”
“Jhaved?” Mythili ventured.
“Mmhmm.” Silence gripped them like a chill.
Mythili filled the pause quickly, before she said anything stupid again. “How old are the boys now?”
Taranya sighed. “Both off to university this year, dear. Isn’t Zhyvili off as well?”
“Yes, she is.” Mythili made her daily promise: yes, she is.
“And what does she want to study?”
“Chemical Engineering, miss.”
Mythili checked the rearview for her reaction. Taranya smiled at the city outside. “Ah, good, good. The Empire needs engineers.”
Mythili turned onto the street with Taranya’s rowhouse. “I think she wants to work for an oleum company, miss.”
Taranya gathered her belongings. “Everything’s in service to the Empire, Mythili. Everything you and I do, what they do in the markets, on the battlefield. Everything builds or chips away at the Empire.”
Taranya squeezed Mythili’s shoulder before she left. “Good night, dear.”
After dropping Taranya, Mythili took the motorcar home and took it right out again, back to the docks. This time, with her swimsuit on beneath her winter coat.
Frigid water pierced her skin like a thousand knives. She hadn’t swum the coastal waters in four years, and in that time the shipping frequency had gone up so much there was nary a coral in sight anymore, but plenty of garbage and a pungent oleum slick on the surface. She swam one-handed, the other clenching a sealskin bag.
She waded around the ship beside the Glyphseeker and peered up, searching for any life on board.
Finding none, she dove down, down to where the heavy box of notebooks sank to and saw the glimmering brass cladding of the wooden box. She very well couldn’t lift it out, so she opened it and stuffed as many notebooks into her satchel as she could before they got too wet.
Once ashore, she checked if the heavier notebook was in her haul or not. It was.
Photographs. It was stuffed with color photographs.
She threw the rest back into the sea in her satchel, laden with bricks. She drove home shivering, cold, and damp. It was only after she was warmed by her fire, with a cup of ginger tea steaming in her palms, that she attempted to study the photographs. Her scream woke Zhyvili.
Two despondent Demisovian men in Imperial police uniforms stood at the head of a column of dead bodies in the middle of a street. On the obverse: Parov Death March, halted at Stanisyova Square, the caption explained.
A line of marksmen took aim at a row of men and women against a wall, all with a single hand raised, as if pointing at things on the wall. Protesters pointing at the bullet marks.
The one image that haunted her every night for the next year, was the one that was undoubtedly the aftermath of the Warrangrove “Riot”. She did not even need to read the caption.
The stickball stadium in an afternoon glow, but only if you knew the shape of what the oval pitch should look like, because the grass, the chalk lines, the hardened clay pitch–all of it–was covered in a sea of bullet-ridden bodies. Slender islander bodies. Young, Zhyvili’s age or younger, dead all the same. It was a massacre.
All the photographs were in vivid color, just like the smiling Demisovian models in her glossy’s centerfold. There were a hundred such photographs tucked inside the notebook’s binding. Not one had a smile.
First, she would make sure Zhyvili went off to University, emancipated, out of the capital, boarded comfortably in the dormitory. Away from any possible hurt. The election was in seven months, Zhyvili was off to college in four.
Mythili went to work every day, putting on masks, being what she was expected to be: unquestioning, unremarkable, loyal. It helped that Taranya left to join the newly formed GOSA Review Office. There were no more nighttime dock inspections by customs magistrates, thanks to the Environmental Review Commission. To save the corals.
When she was sure Zhyvili was safe, and the treason of Durgadhir had slipped public consciousness, and she was sure she was not under surveillance, Mythili delivered a packet to the office of an Opposition leader who was running for reelection in a tightly contested ward of Guindypasur. Two months until the election.
For the next week, she read all the newspapers and small-press journals she could find. The politician had not come forward with the pictures she had delivered to him.
He would be too scared to act alone, she reasoned, so she delivered a similar packet to another leader, and another, and another. She delivered twelve packets. Strength lay in knowing you weren’t alone.
The Rhino Gazette, A DISGRACE TO THE GUINDYPASURI NAME: Ten Rose leaders come forward with photographic evidence showing an orgy of Imperial malice during the Warrangrove Riot.
She left one at an Opposition weekly, the Palmetto Mode:
MASSACRE: The victims were children, not adults as claimed previously.
She even left three at The Guindy offices, addressed to journalists she’d come to enjoy reading, even though she knew the ministry wouldn’t let them publish it. But they’d know what they were forced to lie about, and that would splinter them from the inside, shaking something loose. One month to election day.
The Guindy: The photographs must be explained: Who is the enemy here?
She left one packet, the one with the haunting image of the Parov Death March, at the embassy of the Republic of Shantaghat, Guindypasur’s main imperial rival to the east and chief trade partner. Parliament might ignore the will of the people, but international money had a way of demanding attention.
Dispatch from the Shantaghat Ambassador: We condemn the use of excessive police force in violation of Statute 14.11 of the Yazide Convention which Guindypasur, incidentally, had co-authored...
She wrote letters to the mothers, wives, and husbands who were waiting for news from their family on the island, whose letters were intercepted and burned, transcribing what she could from memory. Perhaps they would talk about the letters to their families, to their worshipmates, to their coworkers. Perhaps they would question everything. Two weeks to election day.
Letter to the Editor, Metropolitan, from General Pandai’s mother: The Party can eat bugs. I will vote Rose and have my daughter back.
She began to see more roses pinned to lapels than she had ever seen. Mythili was promoted to Lead Magistrate, Taranya’s job. She bought a bouquet of roses to work the next day.
Livewire: Anti-Occupation protests continue into a third day. Rose candidates surge in early polling.
The straw polls showed the Opposition winning twice as many seats as they ever had, though still shy of how many they needed to take control of the government. One week to election day.
Shining City Daily: The biggest question remains: who sent the photographs? The investigation intensifies.
She knew her time was running short, too many clues she’d left scattered. She had gotten bold. She would be caught. Any hope for clemency lay in victory for the Rose. Any hope for victory lay in her hands. Zhyvili was safe. She would be an engineer someday.
Four days before the election, Mythili reopened the sewing box and retrieved the last picture she had of the hundred. It was of an islander boy, severely malnourished. His head almost as large as the rest of his body, his ribs almost tearing open his papery skin.
She kept the photograph in front of her as she began to write a letter to the leader of the Rose Party:
I am Mythili Farashekhir, a Customs Magistrate in the Imperial Clearing House of the Port of Guindypasur.
Mythili dipped her fountain pen in ink.
In effect, I am an agent of a genocidal empire and my hands soak in the blood of Demisov children. I offer myself to the Lords under the Sea to judge my eternity…
About the Author
Sid is a biotech engineer, musician and writer. He has composed music for short films and as soundtracks for his stories. He writes about the history of science and politics, and is interested in exploring the effects of climate change, colonialism, and technology on society through speculative fiction. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Uncanny Magazine, Podcastle, and Cast of Wonders, and twice been longlisted for the British Science Fiction Awards. He can be found online at sidjain.info and on twitter @Sid__J.