Just Trust Me

My sandsong-D buzzed. For a moment it stayed blocked from my conscious along with the million of other distractions; then I realized what it actually meant. I glanced at the message. Six-nineteen. Finally––a legitimate break! I grabbed my knife and strapped it to my arm, letting the sandsong-D on my wrist continue to buzz insistently. Only when I began swimming out of the library did I answer it.

“Nessa responding. What’s the direction?”

“ARS central confirm. Transmitting direction now. Group of three expected. Itamar bringing supplies.”

“Copy.” I pressed the button on my sandsong-D so it displayed a holomap and changed my direction towards the palace’s west door. “ETA––five minutes.”

“ARS central out.”

I rounded a corner so quickly that I saw Sagi the moment before I ran headlong into him. He caught me by the shoulders and gave me a stern look. Ever since his hair started graying, my oldest brother looked a lot like Father did. His frown also reminded me of when Father caught Avicherfa and me up to mischief.

“Well, well, now. Where are you going in such a rush, Nes?”

I moved backwards a bit farther and shoved off his hands. “I have a code. I need to go.”

“Do you seriously think anyone needs your help, let alone ARS?” He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. He smirked at me, as if smirking more firmly grounded in the point that most of my family disapproved of my job with the ARS. But after seeing the same expression repeatedly for seven years, it hardly bothered me anymore. “Shouldn’t you be studying? You know––big birthday coming up.”

I pressed my lips together for a moment. “I only have two books left to write reports on. Everything else is finished. I’m capable enough to have that done long before my Senate Seating next month. Unlike other individuals.” I hadn’t been around then, but everyone knew that Sagi’s Senate Seating had been delayed over a month so he could finish school.

“Not if you keep letting the ARS distract you. But, you know, since history shows the youngest gets only a handful of votes, maybe you should save everyone the bother and just abdicate now. Gives you a chance to pursue that hobby of yours with the Adamah Rescue Squad.”

“I will not give up my position, Sagi, just so you can get an extra handful of votes to shove in everyone’s face. Now, if you don’t mind, I recall you saying last night that you thought the Yoni should be completely crushed and soon. To do that you need soldiers. I am going to get you those soldiers. If you have a problem with that, take it up with Captain Itamar, but I don’t recall any general ever saying that they wished they had less soldiers in the war.” I tried to slip past him. He let me––this time. That didn’t always happen. “And, Sagi, my name is Nessa!”

Sagi scowled after me. I darted away. He used to chase me but now he knew it was useless. He, with his flowing garments suitable a prince and older, overweight body, was no match for my tight clothing and young, fit body. Before he could say anything else, I made it out the side door.

Once outside, I quickened my pace. I only called in delay notices once I truly question my ETA. The minute with Sagi would not delay me that long. The gentle currents around Keren City tugged against my long green hair and slowed me. I cursed myself for forgetting to pull it up while on call. A rookie’s mistake and I was not a rookie. I had to do better than that if I wanted a chance to be promoted to shift supervisor in two years.

Just outside of Keren City, I met Eyal. He gave me a slight nod but we kept swimming towards the drop location. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Itamar ahead a trail of foam created by a scooter but still far enough away that we would beat him. Above me, the package slowly dropped through the ocean. I angled up and grabbed. The child’s head flopped lazily onto my shoulder and his naked feet slipped against my tail. He only wore a simple garment common among pleasure boaters. My arms tightened around the small body.

“I got him!”

I turned and swam with one arm outstretched towards Itamar. The captain ripped open the mask pack and placed it against the child’s face. As soon as the machine suctioned out the water, surface air started to flow. Eyal took the sling and spread it out so I could lay the child onto it. Once I freed my arms, I began to check his vitals and neuro status.

“His responses are level three. Intact neuro. He’s good to go.” I turned to Eyal. “That makes––what?––fifty-three to twenty-seven?”

Eyal frowned at me. “Seriously, Nessa. You would think you’re half fish or something with how fast you swim. At least tell me your brother didn’t delay you this time.”

I shrugged.

He groaned. “Now I know you well enough to know that means yes. Next time we should make sure we’re assigned when he’s not around, so it’s at least fair.”

“So I can beat you better?” I grinned. “You’d have more luck trying to move closer to the edge of the city. That little house in the middle is what’s slowing you down.”

Itamar cleared his throat. “Princess, my only question about this speed of yours is what makes you think that I want to vote for you when the time comes? I wouldn’t want to lose your skills here.”

“Don’t worry about that, Captain. The only way I’d win is if I have enough friends in the city, and I don’t think I do. Not enough to combat my twenty years against Sagi’s fifty. I’ll hope––after all, Queen Meira did rule––but I doubt it.”

“Queen Meira only ruled because her brother died without children,” Eyal said. “And good thing he did too or the Yonis would have won the war and then where would we be?”

“True,” I said. “Captain, I know I asked for less time month but I was wondering if any headway has been made in finding those responsible for kidnapping the Adamahs.” Sagi brought that problem up again last night at the dinner table, using it as grounds for going to war after almost a hundred years of an aloof peace. I wouldn’t mention that though. Some things one didn’t repeat from a family dinner, no matter how much one disagreed.

Itamar shook his head. “No luck. Hopefully soon, especially since the king gave me more authority in dealing with the investigation.”

By king he meant Sagi, since my father was barely capable of making a ruling now, let alone a reasonable ruling, but no one except our family knew that. Recently he began having problems remembering us when we came. Knowing Sagi, he would probably use the fact that he had been guiding Father’s decisions for the last six months to his advantage during the election. Illegal, yes, but I wouldn’t push for the elections until I could actually run. Four legitimate siblings over the age of thirty meant they would not postpone it until the youngest reached twenty-one.

“Guess the Yonis just didn’t want this one.” Eyal motioned to the Adamah child laying in the scooter. “Too young for them probably.”

I gave Eyal a hard look. “It’s not a matter of age, Eyal. We are saving lives here. It’s not like we only save adults because they’re the only ones who can fight. If you keep up that attitude, I’ll have to beat you in a race for real. How would you like everyone to know you were beat by a princess?”

Eyal started to hit me, paused, and then gave me a scowl that meant we’d meet each other later. I grinned. Even if Itamar was a close friend to us, we tried to behave responsibly while around the boss.

Itamar motioned to Eyal. “I will let you go back to your studies, Princess, since you are only on call. Eyal and I will take him to be processed.”

I watched as Itamar and Eyal swam away, the scooter between them and carrying the child. Itamar was just a few years younger than Sagi and, though his hair had begun to lighten from a navy blue, he still swam strong and his tail still glowed as a youth’s. So much unlike Sagi in both personality and appearance. True, he kept his distance most of the time, but he could be very gentle and compassionate when needed. If I needed logic and reason, I went to him, because I knew he’d give me a thought out, balanced answer. Besides my tutor, he was the only adult not my peer that I trusted. In contrast, Eyal began shortly before I did, was only a year older than me, and we teased each other constantly.

I turned back towards Keren City and paused. A sensation of being watched, like the moment before an Adamahs almost killed my father seven years ago, washed over me. I turned and searched through the blue-green expanse. For a moment, I felt certain I saw the flip of a gray tail in the water. I tightened my grip on my stungun and took a slow, slow breath. Nothing happened. The water stayed as calm as normal. Nothing disturbed in the area.

With a shrug, I turned back towards Keren City. Between ARS, school, my birthday and subsequent Senate Seating in one month, life kept me busy enough without me hallucinating people watching me.

Hallucination or not, I couldn’t help but fear for the child we just rescued. The kind of gut-wrenching, dread-of-doom fear that couldn’t be relieved until I checked him. Few people knew how to care proper for Adamahs without gills that if any attempt was made to kidnap him now, he most likely would die.

When I rounded the outside corner, I never expected to see my sister pressed against a cell wall, peeking in through the small window at the child. I blinked, in hopes of clearing my eyes, but the image stayed.

What are you doing?”

Avicherfa spun around, her dark brown hair pulled tight against her head and her clothing the same tight, formfitting style commonly found among workmen and the ARS. She lifted her chin rebelliously and stared at me.

“Avi! Answer me!” She knew the rules. ARS equaled with military bases, so much so that even those of the royal family not in active military service could not venture into the restricted area. Too many siblings, bitter from the election results, had spied on their country with the promises of gaining the throne in the end.

“Nothing. Just looking.”

“For what? There’s nothing here to just look at.”

“Heard you had another drop today.” She shrugged and began swimming lazily backwards.

“Avi, you can’t do this. I––It’s––” I glanced around. Avi was my sister, barely eleven months older than myself. With Dekel being the next closest in age, and still fifteen years older than her, it had been natural we spent all of our childhood together. The last thing I wanted to see was her in trouble. “Itamar will not tolerate trespassing right now. He got permission from Sagi to increase retaliations against those who are kidnapping the Adamahs. Even innocent people will be suspected so I don’t think it’s wise to hide behind the fact that you’re Mother’s daughter and hope you can get away with wandering here. You won’t. Not right now.”

“I’ll remember that.” She met my eyes, her hard brown ones not the least apologetic.

“Do you want to go to prison?”

“Everywhere’s a prison for me, Nessa. Perhaps you should remember that next time you do a run.” With that, Avicherfa spun around and darted away.

I blinked after her, totally confused by what she meant. “Avi––wait!” She didn’t stop; I swam after her.

Although half Adamah, Avicherfa swam faster than I ever thought possible for her. I had a difficult time keeping up with her until we reached the city. Once we reached the city, she slowed down, but I had to as well. At least the yellow suit of the ARS caused people to move for me. She slipped down a dirty canal and for a moment I almost lost her among the hundreds of brown heads.

The Adamah section.

I had been here once as a little girl. Avi and I went actually on a dare. It hadn’t changed much since. I struggled to breath the waste-filled water. Even if the standard canal filterers came here, it would do very little to ease the stench and congestion. Old, cracked cement buildings lined the narrow dirty channels, some of missing chunks of wall and just as many abandoned. Small children, dressed in clothing older than they and much too large for their small bodies, peered from the windows as I swam past, my green hair screaming Maayan louder than anything else. A few older children tried to beckon their siblings to come inside. The silence, though, made the place seem like death. Nothing came from this people. This place gave me nightmares when I first came. Even now, I was thankful when the dilapidated buildings and brown heads fell behind me.

Avicherfa continued to the center of downtown, still a poor area, but not nearly as eerie as the Adamah section. In the middle of the old square stood a statue of Queen Meira relaxing in a chair; leafy banners of kelp twisted around the old stone. The statue, once a monument of note, had been commissioned by her son soon after the queen died, since he rightly understood the full challenge of replacing his mother. Avicherfa paused before it, and then darted down the street to a small sweet shop called “Queen of Light.” I paused a moment. The cracked cement walls looked dubious, but I already came this far. Might as well finish. With a gulp, I went inside.

Avi reclined at a corner table and looked up when I approached.

“I see you managed to keep up after all.”

“So you intended for me to follow you?”

She nodded. “Perhaps.”

I sat across from her. “I just don’t know what me doing a run has to do with you. What is it?” I glanced around warily. The cracks crisscrossed the ceiling in an entanglement of lines, so it looked like the building might collapse at any moment. The rusted water filtration unit in the corner looked more like a home for small fish than any real circulation. The dim lighting hardly helped the atmosphere. It reminded me of a place people went to trade drugs or commit other nefarious crimes. Certainly not the place two princesses should ever meet.

Avi leaned against the wall. “You found a child today.”

“Yes. So?”

“What will happen to him?”

I frowned slightly. “The same thing that always happens.”

“Tell me.”

I rolled my eyes. “Avi, I don’t have time for this. I have a meeting with Senator Ariel’s daughter in an hour.” A lie, yes, but I knew enough people would disapprove of a middle class girl interviewing me for school report that I wanted few people to know about it until after the fact. It’d make it easier for her. “So what do you want?”

“I’ll get to it. Just tell me what will happen to him.”

I rolled my eyes, just so she would fully understand how trivial this was. “The transitional virus will be injected. Change his DNA to allow him to function underwater. Takes about about two months for full effect. At that time, surgical repair in order give him a tail and then have him live on base until he is old enough for a job. Normal things, Avicherfa. You know all this.”

“What about after he gets a job?”

“Why would I know?”

“You have no idea what happens to them after they get a job?”

“Avi, I have so much to do right now, why would I even care?”

“I suppose.” She watched me for a long moment and then exhaled, little bubbles surrounding her face for a moment. “Why did you join ARS?”

“What is this, Avi? You were there. You heard my constant arguments with Father and Sagi two years ago. So why all the questions?”

“I want to hear it now. Do you trust me, Nessa?”

I blinked at her. “I don’t know. I did once. We were comrades, partners in crime, two little fishes. But ever since I joined ARS, you’ve been distant and avoiding everyone, including me. So yes, I sometime wonder if I know you anymore.”

“Nessa.” Avi smiled faintly and put a hand on my arm. “I’m still the same sister. The one that explored the secret passages of the palace with you. The one that giggled at the cute guys at parties. The one that traded math homework for art. The one that snuck to the Adamah section for a little extra spending money. I’m still here. It’s just––I’ve gotten less interest in life at the palace. It’s so… pointless. There’s just nothing there for me.” She grinned, that glowing, full-face smile I knew, the one that I could recognize from when we were two.

“I’ve noticed.” I could feel myself caving in on her emotional plea in spite of my logic. We had some really good times together. Was my time so constrained now that I couldn’t take ten minutes out for my sister when she asked for it?

“So what is it? Why did you join ARS?”

I leaned back against the other wall and looked at the door. An Adamah child ran out with a ball, probably for a game of paddles. Even Adamahs knew about that game. “I told Father it was because it gave me a chance to make a difference in people’s lives. I could save Adamahs and give them another chance at life instead of them dying when they fall off a boat or the ocean pulls them under. And I still believe that, Avi. Life is precious and out of all the people in the city, I get to be one of the few who can save Adamahs.

“But… much of me wanted to have the challenge that came with being part of ARS. There is so much skill required in order to do this and––I liked that part of it too. I liked the challenge and the chance to be someone who makes a difference. The likelihood of me making a difference in the Senate is doubtful.”

“If you really want to save lives, Nessa, then why do you work with a group that forces those it rescues into a life of military conscription?”

I stiffened and frowned at her. “That’s not what it is.”

Avicherfa’s eyes suddenly seemed to burst into life of their own and almost sparkle in the dim light. “How isn’t it? Unlike you, I’ve looked into what happens to them after you hand them over to the base. They stay there until they are either too old to do anything or they become too injured. Then they are either released or just left untreated until they die. It really doesn’t matter to the military what happens to them, so long as they have enough new ones.”

“That’s ridiculous! You make it sound like it is a situation of slavery. This isn’t slavery. If anything, it’s them paying us back for saving them. It’s not like any of those advances come cheaply. Besides, they’re too dimwitted for anything other than that. Maybe the second-gens can do more and think more for themselves, but no one keeps track of second-gens to care. They can do whatever they please.”

“Are they really allowed to do whatever they wish?”

I frowned at her a moment. I knew of a few things that Avi couldn’t do––true. Such as marry. And she had no chance to go to any university. But besides that…. “Pretty much. But you have to keep in mind that they are generally not as smart as Maayans. It’s only fair that the Adamahs, who have less intelligence, do the more mundane jobs and free Maayans to pursue better jobs. That’s just how it’s been.”

“But who decides they are––as you put it––’not as smart’?”

“Everyone knows it.”

“But how?”

I glanced across the shop. I hadn’t noticed the child creep back in, but his mother held him in the corner, gently rocking him. The ball had vanished and in its place, tears and a black eye. At another table, an Adamah worker wiped it down silently. None of them spoke; they couldn’t. Maayans communicated through thoughts instead of pitches of sound like dolphins and Adamahs. True, Adamahs and Maayans could have children together––Avicherfa was proof of that––but only half the time could they speak. Although the proper name for such a child was Maayadamah, nearly everyone opted to use Adamah, since only a voice could prove half Maayan heritage. Oftentimes I had heard Avicherfa called an Adamah, even though everyone knew her mother was Maayan.

I looked back at Avi. “One: they don’t speak. Two: it takes them forever to learn anything. Three: have you really ever watched one of them move in the water? It’s hilarious! It’s like watching a buffoon move around, all floppy and uncoordinated, with more hands than tail. Forget speed. They can barely move half the time. Very much like Chanah, that mentally handicapped girl from last election, did.”

“But, Nessa, you know the language of the Adamahs just as well as the Adamahs know Maayan. Nor could you ever communicate as they do, even if you knew it. And you want them––who barely know about us––to be able to immediately adapt to our society and learn out language?”

“I’m not saying they don’t adapt. Everyone does at some point. But the time that they require is much longer than is reasonable.”

“How long would it take you if the Adamahs suddenly plucked you out of the ocean and had you be one of them?”

“Don’t mention that, Avi. You know the stories. It’s––”

“Forget the stories. Yes––maybe at some point in time they did capture us in their nets and try to make us their wives or sell us as slaves. But those stories are so old they should be considered fairy tales. Nothing like that has happened for seven hundred years at least. So think about right now: if they caught you right now and wanted you to be Adamah, how well would you do?”

“Well… I suppose I wouldn’t be that badly off. Yes, I’d need to learn the language, but my tail is strong enough that I imagine I’d adapt pretty quickly.”

“Except they move more in a back and forth scissors motion and vertical, like so.” She demonstrated by moving her fingers so they walked across the table. “We move more like a swiggly S motion and horizontally.” Her hand wove across the table as demonstration again. “Different muscles. You wouldn’t be as strong. You might not even have the muscles that you need right now.”

I frowned at her. “But––” She was right. In the little bit I had seen of Adamahs, they did move completely different when out of water. We strove to reduce resistance. The Adamahs didn’t need to decrease resistance since they moved through air. “Fine. Maybe––just maybe––judging them on movement can be ignored. But what about speaking? It takes them too long to understand us.”

“It’s a different form of communication. They are used to hearing vibrations; we mostly speak through minds. They first need to adjust to hearing what is basically thoughts before they can understand what we say. That has to take time.”

I chewed my lip for a long minute. “Even if we were to say they aren’t stupid, we can’t just let them all go free. They are giant toll on our resources every year already. Didn’t you hear Sagi last night? Whether or not I’m in favor of war, those numbers he cited were outrageous.”

Avi nodded slightly. “Every year, the government has pensions sent out to the poorer neighborhoods for improvement projects; did you know that?”

“Yes. Of course I did. So?”

“And you remember that they are sent out on a rotating schedule, right?”

I nodded. “Rotates about every three years or so.”

“Adamah neighborhoods are closer to a six to nine year rotation. What little money they do receive hardly helps restore any decay that has occurred over the last nine years. The police hardly monitor the area, leading to rampant crimes committed by both Adamahs and Maayans, mainly Maayans. If any Maayan neighborhood had to put up with half of what the Adamahs think is normal, there would be a revolt.”

“Well, if they think it is normal, it’s their fault. They should be better advocates. And it proves that, once again, they are dimwitted.” I leaned back. So many people took part in lawsuits nowadays that everyone knew who to contact if they thought they were treated unjustly. Not to mention all the ads that proclaimed that information.

“No one even wants to give them a voice. Even the elected senators, who have Adamahs within their precinct, don’t listen to them. And as for this proving they are stupid, if you hit your child every day after dinner, from the time they are a baby until they are a teen, won’t they think it’s normal as well?”

“Except that those who do try to get close to a senator are Yoni spies.”

“They all are spies?” Avi looked at me with probing eyes.

“Well, basically all, yes. We all know that the Yoni have hired many Adamahs to spy on us. We have caught them a few times too many to doubt it to be true. Therefore, we can’t trust any of them. And since the Yoni have been known to promise certain benefits in helping, it’s a logical conclusion they will be spies. Especially if they are as poorly off as you seem to think.”

“You aren’t listening to yourself, Nessa! If they can’t talk, then how can they even know about the Yonis? And how would the Yonis get this information from them? Besides that, the only legal transportation between here and the Yoni is military; all public and private alternatives were made illegal twenty years ago. An Adamah on a scooter would draw suspicious glances, if they could make it that far with it. If they’ve heard of the Yonis, they only know what we think, which will give them just as much fear and hatred for them as we do, because they only know us.”

Avi looked at me, her eyes still auburn with passion. “I know; it’s what you’ve been taught. Just like I’ve been taught that I have my place of nonexistence. That I shouldn’t have even been born. That I don’t belong among our people. That Father would have been wise to have tossed me in an orphanage before anyone found out about Mother’s infidelity instead of keeping me to remind everyone how tricky the Adamahs are. But for once––think! Are we right in doing what we do to them?”

I frowned at her. “Maybe not in some areas. But it’s the way it is. What can we do besides this?”

“We set them free.”

Her words hit me like ice cold water. “Avicherfa, tell me you aren’t breaking them free.”

She looked at me passively.

I swore. “Avi! Do you even realize the amount of trouble you have brought upon yourself?”

“It’s not just me doing it. There’s a lot of us. We work together. Do what we can. Give them a voice.”

“They don’t need a voice.”

“They do need a voice! Because no one will speak for them unless we do!”

“Who cares about them? We’re talking about our livelihood. Our country’s safety is being threatened every day by the Yoni and all you can think about is the Adamahs!”

Avi stared at me for a few seconds too long. My skin began to crawl “I am, for all practicality, one of them, Nessa. I am one of those that you hate. I am one of those that you want to see––”

“That’s silly, Avi. You are my sister and I love you. But I can’t––I can’t let this happen. I can’t be a part of any of this. We can’t do anything. Sagi would never approve. He wants to go to war when he gets elected, not improve Adamah conditions. And if, by some miraculous chance, the votes change and Sagi isn’t elected, we probably still will go to war with the Yoni soon enough, just because of the continual threats. Now is not the time to be discussing the possibility of changing the ARS so that we bring the Adamahs to the surface instead of enlisting them. We don’t have the manpower for a war and that. We won’t even be able to go to war and do that. You are being ridiculous.”

“For a moment, Nessa, forget the long term. I want you to think short term. Just today. Have you ever freed an Adamah?

“Of course not! That’s breaking––a hundred laws. Not to mention my oath.”

“Would you––just once? Just for me?”

I blinked at her. She must be insane to think that I would go for this.

“That boy you rescued early. Really rescue him. Let him go home––before it’s too late. You said yourself that he’ll have to wait a couple years before he’s able to do any real work. It’s not like you’ll be taking a lot from the ARS. In the long run, it’s cheaper. So please?”

I looked away. The child in the corner contented himself to stacking shells on top of one another, but his eyes were still red. The Maayan owner had ordered the mother back to work already. The shells seemed to form a castle. A castle that he would never see the inside of because he was Adamah. I forgot about that one. Adamahs couldn’t go into the palace. As soon as Sagi was elected, he would probably banish Avicherfa from the palace as well. She didn’t deserve that. None of them deserved that kind of banishment. How could they voice concerns if they couldn’t even go into the center of politics?

“I should turn you in, Avi.”

“I know.”

I rubbed my forehead. “Very well. Just the child. Just this once. But I don’t think it’s going to change anything.”

“Maybe not. But maybe.”

Avicherfa had the escape arranged so perfectly, from how to get the air canister to the time of day we had to ascend to the surface, that she didn’t really need me. She just told me to meet her after sunset at the Queen of Light. I did, and from there we continued to the holding cells. Avicherfa told me right up front that she intended to use a completely different plan than what she normally did. About the surveillance cameras, she just told me not to worry.

At her direction, I encouraged Eyal to take a break. He didn’t normally work nights but traded a shift with someone else so he could get his girlfriend’s birthday off. As such, he enthusiastically welcomed the relief from mere guard duty that he left a year and a half ago. Once he left, Avicherfa slipped inside, and in less than five minutes, returned with the child, drugged so he slept in her arms and a mask pressed firmly to his face.

I never really saw the boy until that moment. His young face spoke of a life hardly begun, perhaps no older than seven by Maayan standards. His dark hair mixed with Avicherfa’s so well that it startled me. After twenty years with Avi, I failed to see her as anything but my sister. Yes, no one saw brown hair among Maayans; my own came from my father, green with blue highlights. But hers matched the Adamah child so well that as soon as I saw her with the boy, I understood better than ever before why everyone said my mother had an affair.

“Go on. I’ll catch you as soon as Eyal is back,” I said.

She nodded and swam towards the back of the holding cells.

I caught up with her half way to the surface. She let the boy sleep curled in her lap. Lazily she watched the bubbles rise to the surface.

“I said you can go on. I’m here already.”

She shook her head. “They can’t come up as quickly as we can. So we take our time and let the bubbles win.” She grinned when I looked at her like I would a crazy person. “Trust me. I’ve been doing this a lot longer than you know. And this is how the divers do it.”

“How much longer?”

She frowned. “Well, started watching the Adamahs when I was sixteen, when you suddenly started having a lot more school and I had more free time. But actually freeing them… I’ve been going out of town for almost two years. Mainly Brendal and Chrinia. Less security. Easier to practice. Two months now in Keren City.”

I frowned. “You don’t have any ethical problem with what you’re doing?”

“There is a time to crush the weak and a time to help the weak, no matter the cost. But always try the latter first, and only resort to the crushing when all else fails.” Avicherfa looked at me like I should know where that came from. I shook her head. “Queen Meira would have helped the Yoni if they didn’t jump to conclusions and believe the rumors.”

“Nonsense. Queen Meira knew that drastic times called for drastic measures and acted accordingly.”

“And who told you that?”

“Osher’s History of Maayan.”

“Osher is biased. Heavily biased. And he hated queens.”

“Well then, where else might have you heard all that about Queen Meira?”

“Herself.”

I frowned.

Avicherfa paused. “I found her diaries, Nessa. In the north storage room.”

I paused.

“There is nothing more incredible than reading the diaries of a woman who lived almost five hundred years ago. And one….” She let it fall with a mischievous grin.

“Why haven’t you turned them in to the official records?”

“Because they would change them. I guarantee you. I need to make certain that I have the originals copied first, so that I can at least laugh when people cite her incorrectly.”

“What would cause them to cite her incorrectly?”

Avicherfa paused and, at that moment, we broke the surface. The crisp night air nipped at my lungs as I took a deep breath. I leaned back to float on the top of the water. Above me, the rainbow of stars stretched from one end of the sky to the other. On the edge of the horizon, the orange lights of the Adamahs’ docks gleamed, almost brighter than a lighthouse. About three kilometers north, I could just barely make out the green Adamah statue with the fire that faced the city.

Avicherfa removed the mask and the boy breathed deeply, but continued sleeping. She let him rest on her chest and began to swim backwards towards the docks.

“Avicherfa, don’t you think that maybe––maybe it’s unsafe? Going that close to land?”

Avicherfa shook her head. “Not really. They might keep it lit brightly, but never bother to keep an eye on things.”

We swam the rest of the way in silence, the slow pace set by Avi; I assumed she did it because of the child. As we neared the shore, she put the mask on him again.

“Why are you doing that?”

Avicherfa paused and looked at me a moment. “Just––in case.”

“Avi!”

“It’s safe. Most of the time.”

“How safe?”

“There was only once.”

“What happened?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You are about to put me in danger of being seen and you’re saying it doesn’t matter?”

“Just trust me.”

“If Father finds out––”

“If Father finds out what? You’ll get a little slap on the wrist. Maybe have ARS put you on a month or so of probation. If Father finds out that I’m doing this––that I have been doing this––I go to prison for life. And not just because I do what is right for them, but because Father refuses to consent to a paternity test. Could do one to make sure Mother didn’t cheat with you but can’t do one for me. So don’t lecture me on safety.”

“Well, Father, probably didn’t agree because it’s obviously…. There’s no way that you could… have dark hair and not be part Adamah.”

“I wouldn’t say no way, Nessa. There… there is never an impossibility I’m learning. Maybe you should keep that in mind when you get your seat.” She turned back towards the dock. “Now quiet. They can detect us sometimes. I haven’t figured out how yet so just quiet.”

Avicherfa swam closer to the dock, all the while staying in the darker areas. I followed closely behind, my eyes searching the dock before us. I saw no Adamahs, but that meant nothing. Adamahs liked to sneak up on Maayans before they kidnapped us. So I knew from the stories.

Avicherfa paused at the dock, listening, then handed me the mask. She reached up and pulled herself onto dock.

“Avi!”

“Shhh!” She laid the boy on the dock and, as soon as he was safe, slipped back into the water with barely a splash

“Ahoy there!”

Avicherfa started and looked towards the dock. A tall, rather burly Adamah in a navy blue uniform ran down the dock. His heavy boots made the dock groan and shake. Panic built up in me. I could not be captured. I grabbed Avicherfa’s arm. She shoved me off and dove.

I followed. She darted straight in the direction of Keren City. But instead of going the whole way, she surfaced about a kilometer out.

“Avicherfa! Are you crazy? They’re going to see us!”

She looked at me. “No, they won’t. Their vision is much worse than ours. And you have to see this.”

“No! This is ridiculous. There is no way that Adamah did not see us and––”

Avicherfa grabbed my shoulders and wrenched me towards the dock.

The man knelt next to the boy and spoke into the small box. He didn’t even look out to sea. He didn’t care about anything except the child.

“This––this is why I do it, Nessa. This is what you need to see to understand. Then––you’ll understand why you need to free them.”

I watched as another Adamah came to the dock with a blanket and a box. They wrapped the child in the blanket and began examining him in very much the same way we did during a rescue. A few minutes later, three transports arrived, two of them with bright lights. Out of one of them a male and female Adamah ran, the only ones not in uniform. Large tears rolled down the female’s face as she scooped up the child. Instead of objecting, the two in the navy blue just kept watching him. Then two others came with a rolling bed. They laid the child onto the bed and the female clung to the child’s hand as they walked back to the large transport.

Two minutes later––silence.

I continued staring at the dock. The orange lights still speckled the water, but suddenly everything looked abandoned. I kept seeing the female’s face, the picture of joy, fear, sadness and hope all at once. She got back her boy––her child. She would never know how close she came to losing him.

“That’s why I do it, Nessa. That’s why I continue in this so called madness. Because we don’t need them––but those parents––they do. They have stronger bonds than any animal here does. Bonds like us.”

I looked at her. “And what am I to do now? If we do nothing, they die. Are you saying that is better?”

“When did I ever say that? No, Nessa. We should keep them alive, since we have the ability to do that, but we shouldn’t use them like we do either. They need to go home. To that home.”

“I can’t change that, Avi. What about all the Adamahs we still have? What about you? If we stop rescuing them, we will still have the others. People will see them as even more a burden on society. They won’t tolerate it.”

Avi took my hand. “Nessa, we need you. We need someone with your position and determination––someone who looks as Maayan as we are––to help us. Someone who can get elected. Who would have the motivation to change what needs to be changed. Someone who isn’t Sagi. And we’ll help you win. With our help, you can be queen.”

I frowned at her. “I don’t follow.”

Avicherfa chewed on her lip for a long moment. “There are… many Maayans who are… falsely accused of being Adamahs simply based on appearance.”

“Avicherfa, you––you can’t tell me that you aren’t Maayadamah. It’s––impossible.”

“Queen Meira had brown hair.”

I paused and blinked at her. “She––was considered one of the most beautiful women of her time.”

“Yes, because of her brown hair.”

I looked at my sister.

“I firmly believe that I have just as much right to a senate seat as you do. I firmly believe that I am every bit legitimate as you are. And I’m not the only one who faces this situation. But no one believes us. Which is why we need you. With you, we can make the changes that we need to make”

“I don’t believe you, Avicherfa! How am I suppose to believe you when scientists have looked at this for years? If it was possible for Maayans to have brown hair, they would have realized it by now.”

“But Nessa––”

I yanked back my hand. “No. I’m done. It’s one thing to try to show me how to make a life more valuable. It’s quite another thing to tell me that our society is falling apart because the Adamahs aren’t really all Adamahs. I will not listen to such––such lunacy!” I turned and dove back towards the city.

For a long minute, I just let myself seethe. I should have realized that she was merely playing me. Whatever she was involved in, whatever she planned, it could not involve me. Sagi might be right; most youngest children didn’t get a lot of votes. But I had something he, nor any of my other siblings, didn’t. I had friends in the city. Many friends. Sagi had very few outside of political circles. So long as I didn’t do anything stupid, I could possible at least make Sagi fight for the throne. I needed to fight for it because the last thing this country needed was someone like Sagi on the throne. Avi was right about that. But not because of his opinions on Adamahs. His anger against the Yoni crippled him more than anything.

As my anger cooled, I knew I had to tell Itamar, before things got too out of hand and before too many people started believing her. My sister or not, she had to be stop. Another thing this country did not need was to be ripped apart at the seams by this aimless belief in unfair treatment against Adamahs. Or brown haired Maayans.

I tried to look up Itamar’s address on my sandsong-D, only to find it unlisted. I swore and headed towards the holding cells. Eyal wouldn’t be close enough to answer the non-emergency call, and no one else would be in the office, but I knew his address would be on file there. It would be no challenge to look it up and from there go to his house. This was something I needed to tell him in person, so no one else knew.

As I approached the holding cells, I could feel tension in the water through the increased motion. As I swam around a rock, I saw Itamar with two other men I barely recognized at the gate, neither of them Eyal. Itamar caught sight of me before I could analyze the situation further and motioned me over.

“Nessa. Good. Just one of the people I wanted to see. Come.”

I came. I had no choice. He had that hard look that I knew never to ignore. A broken arm last year taught me that much. “What is it?”

He moved away from the other two Maayan guards and leaned close to me. “We are missing one of them Adamahs.”

I paused. I didn’t expect Itamar to find out so quickly. Or to care much about a child. He hadn’t before. “Which one?”

“The child you rescued earlier. He is gone. Vanished sometime early this evening.”

“I see. Why did you want to see me though?”

“Because you’re one of the best runners I have and probably the only one I can know I can trust at the moment. You also understand, better than most people, why we need them and our true standing with the Yoni. As such, I’m promoting you to runner first class, effective as soon as you can manage it. I need someone who can keep a close eye on things when I’m not around.”

“What about Eyal? He deserves it just as much as I do.”

“Eyal was part of the kidnapping. He’s been arrested and will be tried as soon as a court date is set”

My chest tightened. Guards had never been accused before for the disappearances. “E––yal?”

“I know. I didn’t see it either. But if he wishes to work with the Yoni, then he will be tried as a traitor. I have had too much tolerance for these Adamah lovers. That ends tonight.”

A cold gut feeling settled in my stomach. “Maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe he is innocent.”

“He’s not. Just trust me on this one, Nessa. I know what I’m doing and I know that if we do nothing, we will have another uprising like the Yoni uprising, if not worse.”

“I––never thought of it.” It was all I could think of saying. Eyal––my dearest friend Eyal––was not guilty. I was. And here Eyal could be executed because I had released a seven-year-old child from holding cells. What else could I say? “Thank you for your trust in me. I––I will not disappoint you.”

“I don’t think you will.” He turned abruptly, signaling the end of our conversation.

I left as quickly as I could. I didn’t dare stay but I didn’t know where to go either. The palace had Sagi and Avicherfa. The base Itamar and Eyal’s ghost. So I swam aimlessly, trying to think. Trying to clear my mind of the day. Yet all I kept seeing was the mother’s glowing face as she hugged her child, the boy’s silent tears as he built a palace, Avi’s bright eyes as she disputed the lies, Eyal’s cocky grin as he waved farewell.

I found myself in front of the statue of Queen Meira. From the moment I was a little girl, I longed to be like Queen Meira. To be as confidant as she. As true to her principles. As compassionate to the people. That was all I wanted.

She inherited a mess. Her brother became addicted to hallucinogenic drugs and, since it was before the time of elections, no one questioned his ascension to the throne. However, wild parties led to increased spending and increased spending led to higher taxes which in turn led to poorer people, all while he continued partying and avoiding court. The peasants began grumbling against the throne, and against the king, long before he killed himself from an overdose. Then one little lie, about how newly-crowned Queen Meira intended to crush the peasants, resulted in an uprising against the throne only two weeks after she assumed it.

Instead of crushing them completely, like all the previous rulers had done, she agreed with them. They were right in saying that the king had treated them harshly, that their complaints were valid, and promised immediate reform. Then, without any proof of their cooperation, she promptly carried it out. After that, if anyone wanted to––and enough did, but not nearly as many as originally revolted––she allowed them to go to one of the territories with guaranteed sovereignty in three years. Today we knew those people as Yonis.

One of my teachers had me write a paper on the greatest ruler in Maayan history. I picked Queen Meira; he expected me to comment on her wisdom, or her charm, or maybe even her military understanding. However, after reading everything that we had of hers and about her, I came to the conclusion that she was great because she listened to both sides. She might have allowed for the creation of an enemy of ours today, but at least she had listened! She listened to all the otherwise silent voices.

As I stared at the kelp waving in the water, I knew first what I had to do. I had to get Eyal freed. No––he would not be able to return to the ARS. But at least I could get him pardoned. Itamar would not allow him to ever be proved innocent but Father would pardon him for me. It wasn’t right to let him be charged with this crime––especially not when I did it. That was the easy thing to do.

The other thing I dreaded. It could very well mean the end of all my future plans. It could keep me from ruling. But it was the right thing to do. It was what Queen Meira would do.

I placed the call to Avi without second guessing myself. She answered on the first buzz.

“Avi, it’s Nessa.” I took a slow breath. Before me, Queen Meira’s statue stared towards the top of the water, like she could see hope nearing. For a moment, I almost felt as if I could see her brown hair waving in the water. I swallowed. “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll at least discuss it with you. No promises––but I’ll discuss it with whoever you want me to.”

I could almost tell she smiled at the other end. Suddenly I felt like she intended for me to find her today. “I knew you would.

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