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Generated: Apr 13, 2019 2:13 PM
Post last updated: May 08, 2017 12:56 AM
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native Fëanorian Amentans
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His hair is green. 

 

His mother was green, and in lots of places he would follow her, but Anitam is not one of those places; castes are patrilineal. He is a blue with hair inconveniently reminiscent of his dead mother, that's all. He will grow up and be a politician or a diplomat or an ambassador, like his father, like his father's second wife. His mother did embroidery, stunningly beautiful tapestries and fabric concepts and artwork that hangs in the state buildings and museums. But he's not green, and he can't follow her.

He runs away from home, of course. He would probably have done that anyway; looking back on it it feels a bit overdetermined. The hair would have been enough. Entis, his father's second wife, would have been enough. His siblings - two of them, blue in hair and ambitions and manner and talents - would have been enough. His hair is green. He runs away from home and shows up at a university in Anitam's third-largest city and sits in on classes, front row, asking questions and taking notes and turning in effortlessly brilliant problem sets.

In the third week he tells a professor, biting his lip, that he's not technically enrolled - family couldn't come up with tuition this year, and said maybe next, but he didn't want to wait - and the professor ruffles his hair (green!) and says that it's a delight to grade his work, he can keep sitting in and if he does well he'll talk with the administration at semester's end.

He excels in all five classes he sat in on. They find a scholarship. He vaguely mentions his mother's family.

He graduates with honors and co-authorship of four papers and offers from eight higher degree programs. He accepts one and publishes machine learning papers at a pace that has his advisors gently asking if he's going to burn out and he's green green green and he lives off microwave dinners and praise and envy and he marries the co-author of one of his papers about fluid dynamics and eventually someone pieces together his parentage and asks -

"Are you," he says, "suggesting that someone wrote my papers for me?"

            " - I - what - no - I was at your thesis defense, no one else could possibly have -"

"Right. So then are you suggesting that the person who achieved those things wasn't even green?"

           "There's no need to be confrontational. I was just - it's matrilineal lots of other places."

"Yes, it is."

And he's green green green. 

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His hair is green. 

It shouldn't be; this is obvious to him from a very young age. If he had a personality more suited to resentment he might resent his father for the impetuous gamble that now throws his own birthright into question. He has a personality not at all suited to resentment; he adores everyone, and he charms everyone, and he sees right through everyone, and he can tell that his father could not have breathed another day as a blue.

He can tell also that it pains his father when he charms his grandfather and then through his grandfather his uncle and when he wiggles his way into living with them, but he needs the connections. If only his hair had come out his grandfather's blue then he could live with green parents. But it's green and so for every other cue he needs people to see blue. 

He starts dyeing it. Not blue, that'd be provocative and worse than that embarrassingly childish, the conduct of someone too immature to merit his standing in its own right. Details matter and he knows how these details matter. He dyes it teal. He does it in stages, each transition so gradual that no one notices until they're looking at old family pictures. He photoshops all the old family pictures. His grandfather says affectionately that, uh, he is after all blue by law, isn't he, it wouldn't do for Afen's children to waver back and forth but as long as they pick one and live up to it -

He picks blue, blue, blue. Anitam has a ruling council of five governors and Aitim and his boyfriend and a classmate he's closely cultivating will be a voting majority someday and he changes the shade of teal just a bit, nothing that you couldn't attribute in old photographs to lighting - there's nothing objectionable about dyeing your hair if it's wrong but it's better for it to feel destined - Kan's hair is a deep blue of its own accord, and he wears it long, shimmery and distinctive. Nothing about Aitim's presentation is effortless like that but it looks more effortless than a genuine lack of effort could ever accomplish. 

 

His mother raises an eyebrow worriedly when she sees him and he beams at her and he's blue, blue, blue.

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He's green. It's as natural as breathing. He's green and his MyStream channel has millions of viewers by the time he's two and a half and he fears briefly that puberty will wreck his voice and it does no such thing and his top single sells half a billion copies. His younger brother's four and his parents are unhappy with their empty nest, but even three child credits stretch the budget of tenured professors who also find their salary being drawn on by the lab they run, whenever new equipment's needed. 

 

He gifts them half his proceeds. It's an outlandish amount of money. "Have more children," he says, and they look at each other and giggle, because of course he was thoughtful enough to release the songs towards the end of winter, and give the present at the beginning of springtime.

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He's miserable. 

It's fine for Aitim to notice he was born into the wrong caste and maneuver his way to where he belongs, because firstly Aitim knew how to do that kind of thing and secondly he wanted something he sort of had a claim to. Telkam wants to be grey, when he's little, and when he's older he wants to release a bioengineered plague and wipe out ninety-nine percent of everyone and then build a casteless utopia in the ashes. 

This seems like an unhealthy thing to want so he doesn't mention it. 

He's an actor. He does his own stunts. The movies can be post-apocalyptic, that's trendy right now anyway, it doesn't imply endorsement. 

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This one has an order of postapocalyptic martial artists. Since he won't take a stunt double this guy, hair a steely fuzz over his skull, is supposed to give him lessons. (Also they will be having three fight scenes together.)

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That sounds fantastic. 

 

"Wish I was grey," he says after a sparring session. "My brother when he's not conserving his political capital for fights over train stations likes to say that maybe there could be purchasable credits and a process to change, for people who're just obviously misplaced. But it'll never catch on."

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"You're getting paid four times what I am. For making facial expressions. Not that I wouldn't pay money to stare at your face, because damn, but still."

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You have all the guns, he nearly says. You could just get fed up and change it. 

He does not say that. 

"So probably if there were a way to buy yourself out there'd be lots of purples and oranges and greys vying to be green and not much the other way round, yeah. I'd still go for it."

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"You'd be good at it. I can still kick your ass though." Smirk.

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"I noticed. 's just the extra practice."

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"Surrrre it is. You could beat my cousin, she just plays ball, barely knows the forms..."

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Snort. "I don't want to beat your cousin. I want to win fights that aren't scripted, but - picking an easy opponent's still scripting -"

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"I think greens're allowed to have hobbies, you don't all have to be singleminded nerds. I do a mixed caste class when I'm not doing choreographed shit like this."

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"I might show up. Did archery once. It was very very satisfying. Parents stopped paying for it because I was failing all my classes."

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"Green school sounds like the most stultifying thing of all time. Paint all morning and do math all afternoon and never get enough sun to not look like a sheet of paper."

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"You got it. - well, lotsa literature too. If we don't have an opinion about all of the major authors of the last five centuries how will we make faces at the camera."

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His martial arts tutor laughs. "Are you drawing on the, the fucking, what's the word, are you drawing on the canon in the part where you tell me you're gonna kill me in revenge for your mother?"

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"There are all these great works in which people say that! If I hadn't written six-paragraph essays on them all how could my revenge be a meaningful reinterpretation and commentary and - I know objectively boring classes aren't the end of the world it's that - I hate things and people that pretend to matter when they don't."

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"Well, this is the kinda movie where people show up and they say 'yeah forget about the facial expressions did you see that sick backflip', so if you did terribly in school it's okay, nobody cares, just do the sick backflip and stop dragging your heels when you're gonna hit me with a stick."

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"Gotcha."

 

They spar. He gets better about not dragging his heels. "Plans tonight?"

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"Hot springs. Why, you wanna come ogle me?"

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"I might."

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"You wanna meet me there or keep your wig on, take my bus?"

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" - that. I don't think people'd recognize me."

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"Do you even have prior credits in anything that got more play than Moon Invaders III, nah, you're fine. Slip it off in the locker room."

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"MechaBlasters but I was a robot the whole time. Makel's the one people recognize on the street. I'll do that.'

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"The singer? Yeah, he couldn't get away with it."

When Telkam is bewigged they can catch a grey bus. It's not strictly caste-exclusive - there's two purples and a yellow along for the ride - but it's a line that goes through grey neighborhoods and to grey workplaces.

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He'd at a minimum attract attention, and now he doesn't. It's very satisfying. 

 

He stares longingly out the window at the neighborhoods even though they're objectively less nice.

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Well, not strictly; they have bigger yards and bigger parks, sacrificing some house space for room for the kids and even the adults to run around.

"I live two blocks down from that stop but the springs are another three past it," says Ialtem, pointing.

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"The yards are nice." Sigh. 

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"My grandmother lives with my parents, did the whole time I was growing up, and turned half of ours into a garden, I had to play in the neighbor kids' yards lest I squash her vegetables."

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"You poor thing."

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"Eh, at least nobody made me do math after I could count and figure out money."

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" I think actual greens actually enjoy it. But then somehow there's me."

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"You're a fake?" snorts Ialtem, elbowing him.

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"I did ask my mother once if there was any chance - she made such a face at me -"

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He laughs. "I've got a purple great-grandma but I can't say I've ever felt a calling to be a barista."

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"My dad's actually blue. Ran away from home as a teenager, showed up at a university across the country with honestly a really thin lie, invented - well, bunch of stuff, half of cryptography's his work - and then when they figured it out he was just like 'I dare you to make a thing of it'. His mother's green, though, so it's not like it came out of nowhere."

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"You don't think you'd rather be blue? Could make the case."

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"One of my brothers did. I'd be even worse at blue than green - green there're a couple ways you can flex it, blue there's really not - and I can't stand any of them anyway - Aitim's okay but all his friends -"

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"I dunno that I've ever met a blue, up close, are they awful -"

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"Not really, I'm not being very fair. But they're - the only people they actually have to convince is other blues, you know, talking to everyone else is just performance. Very likable performance, in some cases, but -"

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"Just, I'm So-and-so Neli and I have so much respect for the greys of Aleta City, who I am told can throw things and hit stuff, vote for me?"

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"Aitim would make a pont of looking up in advance who'd been having a very good throwing-things and hitting-stuff season and drop a reference." Sigh. "I might just have problems with authority."

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"Don't make it sound like it's your problem," snorts Ialtem. "This's our stop."

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"Authority might just be unworthy of my good regard." Off they get. 

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The hot springs are pleasant to soak in, stark naked, after a long day of hitting each other with sticks. The water is clear enough to be unobstructive to ogling.

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He might do some ogling. People who can beat him up are a thing.

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He is ogled right back.

"So do greens fuck on first dates or would that be declassé."

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"Are you under the impression I would care. - it's allowed, really, but if it weren't that'd be more reason. You said your place is four blocks?"

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"It was the last pickup line left in the store last I went shopping, sue me. Four bus stops, it's a nice run."

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"Bet I can keep up."

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"Try it."

And Ialtem takes off.

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He can maybe not quite keep up. It's not fair. He resolves to practice. 

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Ialtem catches him by the wrist at the door and pins him to the wall of the apartment building and kisses him and then smirks and shows him in. He is on the sixth floor and spends the entire elevator ride doing suggestive things with his eyebrows.

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Telkam might be in love.

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Ialtem lives in a studio apartment with a balcony and a not-really-a-bed flat on the floor in the corner and no visible books and a set of weights on the wall and a small sleeping dog. Telkam is unerringly directed at the not-really-a-bed.

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He might get briefly distracted by the dog. Not for very long though.

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The dog is very asleep. If Telkam is the snuggling type and sticks around, the dog may plod over to them and snuggle too.

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- can he read his maybe-boyfriend on sticking around, he doesn't want to push it.

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Ialtem doesn't seem inclined to kick him out, nor prevent the dog from plopping its chin on Telkam's leg, making it officially against international law to move at all.

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Then he'll stay. Quite happily.

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He wakes up with Ialtem's arm flung over his head and the dog having drooled an entire puddle onto his leg and birds singing outside the balcony.

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And he wishes very dearly he were grey. 

 

Well. If no one makes a thing out of it, he can just kind of stay as long as Ialtem's interested, can't he.

 

And he can be so interesting!

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Ialtem is not hard to interest! He makes eggs and bacon for breakfast and wants to have sex again and generally does not at all kick Telkam out. They do have to show up at work and hit each other with sticks, which is of course enormous fun.

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His favorite part.

 

Two weeks in he asks the question he didn't ask the day they met. "Greys have all the guns. Why doesn't somebody just - get tired of getting a tenth of the pay and taking orders from people who can barely manage bland congratulations on your presumed talent at hitting stuff and throwing things -"

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"...'cause if somebody started shooting up random folks they'd get arrested? The cops are more 'law and order' than, I don't know, 'caste solidarity'. Fuck, why don't the purples starve us or the yellows let everybody's electricity fall apart?"

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"Cause people'd shoot them. I don't - things are pretty much okay, for most people, but they could get so so bad and everyone'd still be all neatly divided so as to be made to play along."

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"There'd still be cops even if we did some fantasy integration thing, they'd just be weirdly colorful."

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"Yeah. That's not really what I want. - what I want is 'no government' and that probably just doesn't actually work."

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"Dunno if it's been tried."

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"I could maybe even spin trying as a green sort of thing to do." He makes a face. "Won't, but could. Wonder if I could dye my hair white and join the army and call it a postmodern method acting thing."

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"No idea. There's... war correspondents? If we were at war right now."

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"'Aitim, I need a war, you don't mind starting one for me, do you?'"

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Snort.

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Kiss. "If you wanted to meet a blue for some unfathomable reason I could introduce you sometime. You could offer to spar and he could practice not making faces."

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"Would he compliment me on my skill at throwing things and hitting stuff?"

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"So deftly you felt like he meant every word!"

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"That's an accomplishment, all I usually hear when blues're talking on TV is 'I am full of shit, I am full of shit'."

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"I know, right? If we did the fantasy integration thing I bet cops'd still practically all be grey but I bet blues would never win elections."

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"Who d'you think would?"

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" - uh. Hadn't thought about it much. Maybe purples would win the purple vote all the time and that'd usually be enough to carry it."

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"Guess so."

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"Wouldn't really be better but I'd find it really funny."

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"They'd fuck up differently, s'pose."

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"If you put it to a vote purples might go for replacing reds with robots, too. 'specially all the ones who don't live in cities and wouldn't have to deal with riots."

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"That'd be nice. My building had some plumbing redone, the other week, it was crawling with 'em."

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"I don't think I've ever seen one."

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"The ones who work nice places are probably better at keeping out of sight."

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"Or the utilities people schedule the maintenance better, yeah."

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"Or maybe the buildings have secret passages for 'em or something."

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"If there are no one would've told me about them because as a kid I'd totally have put on several plastic bags as armor and gone exploring."

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"Ick," laughs Ialtem.

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"But secret escape routes from my house!"

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"Did it need escaping?"

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"Not badly enough to justify that, really, but." Sigh. 

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Pat pat.

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Mmmhmm. 


He comes to the martial arts lessons.

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"Rehearsals are canceled today," says the director, who's looking queasy. "Don't you watch the news -"

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"I do not."

 

He checks the news.

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Apparently Voa, which exports most staple crops and a lot of meat and veggies too, has been letting reds handle practically all their food. This explains the large advertisements that aren't usually there advertising LOCAL SALAD FIXINGS and DOMESTICALLY SOURCED BREAD and GUARANTEED ALL-BARAVIC BEEF.

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- well. Huh. 

 

He calls Aitim. "Are those signs even regulated."

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" - not specifically but we've put out a notice that fraud statutes apply. The food's safe, for what that's worth -"

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"The hell is Voa thinking."

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"That since the food's safe there's no harm done. Based off reading their internet, I'm not senior enough to be involved in all the yelling."

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"Heh."

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"It's really not funny."

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"No, it's actually kind of hilarious."

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"We might go to war, Telkam. Tapa almost certainly will."

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"That's maybe taking it a bit far. If the food's safe it's just an elaborate 'fuck you' to everyone, right -"

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"Wars have started over smaller elaborate fuck-yous and just because the food's safe doesn't mean anyone'll eat it, it's still disgusting -"

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"It's hilarious."

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"I'm busy, Telkam." He hangs up.

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He spends an obscene amount of money on local everything and heads to Ialtem's.

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Ialtem is washing eggs. "I figure since I don't eat the shells - I've got canned stuff from before they were doing it, if you don't want to risk the eggs."

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"Nah, that's fine. Bought groceries that promised really loud they were local. Spent my entire paycheck on it but whatever."

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"It should settle down, at least they didn't do this in winter. Grandma's going to bring over stuff from her garden later. Debating whether to let the dog have the stuff I'd have to throw out. He won't know the difference."

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"And it's safe, just gross. You might want to, everything's going to be insanely expensive until they get it straightened out."

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Nod. "Uncle in the standing military says they're probably going to start recruiting for short contracts."

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"Aitim says Tapa's going to war and we might too, yeah."

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"Might join up."

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"I'm not really sure what a war helps with, but if we have one I will be a war correspondent. Or something."

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"I wonder how hard it'd be for you to just sneak into the army outright."

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" - oooh. - I guess I could bleach my hair and go try to sign up and see if they stop me. Still don't see what a war helps with."

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"There'll be a spiel in the recruitment material."

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"Sure but, like, the blues decide if we're going to war and then they have someone write up why, there'd be a spiel whether it was a good idea or a dumb one. I guess if it gets Voa to stop it."

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"That'll be the general idea."

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"Do you have bleach?"

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"No, but my neighbor's naturally purple, she'll have some -"

He acquires bleach.

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He dyes his hair. Watches the news.

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Tapa's annexing a farm province of Voa. Anitam will be supporting Tapa on this. They are not currently implementing rationing - they grow enough food domestically, and it's summer, they can do quick crops of some things. They will no longer be recognizing Voa's maritime authority over certain fisheries and will be fishing them.

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That's fairly contained and civilized and moderate and reasonable. 

 

He is still vaguely sympathetic to whoever in Voa decided to turn the whole game on its head like that. But if you know you're a flip-the-board kind of person you shouldn't be blue.

Not that most people get the choice.

 

He goes in to sign up.

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They want his given name but don't ask for his job name; everybody who signs on is a litem. Soldier. There's a physical. There's a skills test - can he drive, can he shoot, can he run a mile, can he carry so much weight. Medical exam. They don't actually ask if he's grey. The orange medics and the yellow desk jobs and the reds have separate recruitment pipelines, so what else would he be?

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What else indeed. He can pass the physical. He has not used a gun before. 

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They'll teach him the basics but he'll probably wind up doing transpo or something in that case.

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Yeah that's fine seeing as he actually thinks the Voans are funny and doesn't especially feel like shooting at them. It's not like their greys had anything to do with their food export policy, anyway.

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He gets a uniform and a sidearm and three weeks of basic training and a truck. Ialtem's there too, although he knows how to shoot so he gets a bigger gun.

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He feels so much happier. It's weird how much of a difference it makes just fitting into your own skin. 

 

He doesn't speak Voan but there's decent machine translation. He tries to look up why they did this in the first place.

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The Voans seem pretty furious about it themselves; apparently it was a single blue actor coordinating a bunch of purples, one Allocator Savo. He has not made statements beyond that the food is safe; he is on tape eating something handed to him right then and there by a red, although he didn't touch the man himself.

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- and no one can, like, countermand him? 

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They can, they have, he just did a lot of damage before that and now nobody trusts their export procedures.

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It seems kind of dumb to go to war if they've already cut it out. But maybe he's just overthinking things because he got a green education instead of a grey one.

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Nobody in his squad is thinking that hard about it.

They join up with the Tapai forces. Tapap is loosely related to Anitami and he can try to pick it up if he wants to hang around the Tapai soldiers.

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- hey, gives him something to tell his dad about on the phone that isn't 'we're pointlessly shooting people but I'm still really happy because I was that miserable trying to be an intellectual'. 

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Well, Telkam isn't shooting people, he's hauling supplies in his truck.

The Tapai soldiers are pretty friendly and willing to teach him the language.

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- he doesn't want to be, like, his unit's unofficial translator. It feels too green. But he picks it up, describes it to his father over the phone and takes down his father's questions and tries to unobtrusively get answers.

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Plenty of greys pick up allied countries' languages well enough for field use and they have yellows back home for anything sensitive, he is in no danger of being slotted into a green occupation.

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This does not stop him from worrying! 

 

...sometimes he thinks he should run farther away. Knowing more languages would help with that.

 

By the time they've annexed the province he's reasonably proficient with Tapap. And his father's fluent.

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Halfway through the summer they've secured Imde province (well, Tapa has, Anitam helped) and they can scale down the operation to a border-securing one. His unit and their allied Tapai unit lose their red attachés in a confused ambush and they connect up with another Tapai squad that has one. She loads the bodies into her red-splashed truck.

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If he were a red he'd be on Voa's side, really. Guess maybe they have to draft them or something. 

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That night he can hear faint shouting from the area of camp where she's pitched her tent.

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That's more interesting than the news, which is in any event loading really slowly on his pocket everything.  

 

He heads over.

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"I DON'T CARE, MOM, I DO NOT CARE YOU FIND THE MONEY SOMEWHERE - RENT OUT MY ROOM - ASK GRANDPA - FIND IT -"

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He should maybe not spy on random red family conversations.

 

The news won't load at all. He keeps listening.

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"THEN STEAL IT. TAKE SOMEBODY'S PURSE AT WORK - TAKE HER DAD'S PURSE -"

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Giggle.

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...she peeks out of her tent.

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There's a grey in Anitam uniform standing there. "Everyone can hear you, honey."

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"I'm sorry sir."

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"- can you not. I was way more into the purse-stealing thing. But maybe quieter purse-stealing planning."

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"I um."

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"I'm not gonna report you. Though you'd probably get caught anyway and I feel like people would be super upset if reds stole their purse."

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"Probably."

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"So what gives?"

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"I'll be quieter sir."

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"Don't call me sir." He tugs at his white hair, maybe a little self-consciously. 

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"I'll be quieter."

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"...okay."

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"If I were a red I think I'd kinda be on Voa's side, do they make you sign up?"

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"No. Needed the money."

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"The pay's kind of lousy, is it better for reds-  it wouldn't be better for reds."

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"It's not."

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"Would you tell me the purse-stealing plan for 20 tap? I'm curious. Haven't met a red before."

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"Um. ...Okay."

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"I've been offered money for stuff before and somehow it only exists if I get my hands on the money first."

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" - yeah, okay." He pulls out his wallet, finds a twenty, starts to hand it to her, hesitates -

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"You can put it down."

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...he does that.

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She snatches it up and tucks it in her pocket.

"We're leasing a child credit for my baby and my dad's company just lost its biggest contract and I think we're going to miss a payment and they're talking about the war being over soon now we've got Imde and I might get sent home and then it's not even, we can keep the credit but maybe go hungry, there's just no way. But my mom does demos for oranges. She could steal somebody's purse."

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" - why would you lease a credit for a baby -"

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"Because I wasn't expecting to need one and had to get it aftermarket!"

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" - well, get 'em to give the kid to someone you know and then you can do visits under the table, unless your neighbors are real assholes they won't report that."

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"The credits don't work like that."

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"'s how they work at home though I've never known anyone to lease one."

Permalink Eye

"Well, in Tapa when I leased it I had to give her name and address and if I lose title to the credit they hunt her down even if I hide her five doors down."

Permalink Eye

" - right but then don't they, like, give her to whoever's on top of the adoption list. Which can be the neighbor if you - call in favors, which okay you probably can't do -"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, no, if she doesn't have a credit she's not allowed to exist - I don't know anybody who even might take over payments for me if they got to adopt her -"

Permalink Eye

" - so they, what, kill her?"

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"What the fuck."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"How much is it."

Permalink Eye

"Three thou for what's left. Installments're five hundred."

Permalink Eye

"I don't have - I took a hell of a pay cut joining the army - Makel would but I don't know how I'd explain it - I could just say 'there's a girl' and let him draw erroneous conclusions maybe -"

Permalink Eye

"Makel?"

Permalink Eye

"My brother would have the money and has wasted more of it on stupider things."

Permalink Eye

"That would be very nice of you."

Permalink Eye

"I'll message him." 

 

Internet's still slow. He shakes the pocket everything.

Permalink Eye

"I've got service but he won't know the address."

Permalink Eye

"Say 'hi Senel this is Telkam, borrowing someone's device, I need three thousand tap for reasons I'll totally call and explain once I have service' - Senel's his social secretary -"

Permalink Eye

"Do they know Tapap -"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, bits and pieces, I've been teaching them, but I can spell out the Anitami for you -" sigh. "Or you could give me the phone and I can go wash later, this is a bit absurd."

Permalink Eye

 

"I could put it on speakerphone. I don't want to get in trouble -"

Permalink Eye

"Sure, let's try that."

Permalink Eye

She dials whatever he tells her to dial and puts it on speakerphone.

Permalink Eye

"Hello!" says a cheery female voice in Anitami.

         "Hi, Senal. I need some money quickly, can you put me through -"

"Need money for what?"

         "Child credit. It's a long story."

" - it's not even the right season -"

         "Not mine. I met a girl and they're behind on payments and in Tapa apparently they shoot the kid for that and I wanna pay it off because what the fuck."

"- in other words you met a girl and she had a sob story about how she needs - how much - from the foreigner who doesn't know anything about how Tapai law works -"

        "Three thousand tap."

"Uh huh. Who even leases a child credit."

       "She said she didn't plan the kid - maybe she has a birth control allergy or something -"

"Uh huhhh."

       "Just put me through, please."

"He's not to be interrupted."

       "Can he call me back when he's done."

"You quit your job to go play commoner that's your lookout, but if you're going to do it and beg off everyone else so you can keep living like a green -"

      "I want to speak to my brother."

"I'll tell him you called." Click.

 

He scowls at her phone.

 

"I have another idea."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not allergic - or stupid - he just didn't warn me - I can show you pictures of her if you don't believe me -"

Permalink Eye

"She's just a moron. Most people are. If they weren't I'd feel slightly bad about suggesting this."

Permalink Eye

"Suggesting what?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm green. I dyed it and signed up for the army because I hated my life. My dad switched castes as a kid and he didn't even dye his hair. No one notices, no one checks, everyone just assumes - bleach your hair, take the baby - the bleach'll fuck up her skin, if it's not coming in like bright red you might just say it's orange or something - crash at my place and I'll lean on my brother for papers -"

Permalink Eye

"- hers actually is orange -"

Permalink Eye

"There you go, even better. It's a stupid fucking system and the best way to rip it up is for people to just switch whenever the fuck it doesn't suit them."

Permalink Eye

"- even if you are really really sure you want to put us up timing will be dicey -"

Permalink Eye

"I don't give a fuck - I mean, I'll crash somewhere else, but I usually do that anyway - can you keep her in the truck with you so when there's an opening -"

Permalink Eye

"She's quiet but I don't know if she's that quiet..."

Permalink Eye

"I could, like, see if I can get Makel to show up for morale or something and then we could get a ride back with him."

Permalink Eye

"Okay like do you mean the singer -"

Permalink Eye

"Uh, yeah -"

Permalink Eye

"Um. Wow."

Permalink Eye

Snort. "I don't want to call again but I can confess to my unit commander and ask."

Permalink Eye

"...okay."

Permalink Eye

The next time his unit commander seems to be in a good mood he asks.

Permalink Eye

"Entertainment visits go through the desks, but I don't mind as long as he does the one about the bird."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

He asks the desk.

Permalink Eye

Deskjob army yellow says that he will be happy to schedule something if Makel is available for the standard field entertainment fee.

Permalink Eye

When informed of the standard field entertainment fee he declines to do it for that but he'll do it for free.

Permalink Eye

Okay, that works too. He's all scheduled! Off he goes!

Telkam is a transpo guy and can even volunteer to pick him up.

Permalink Eye

Telkam got Peka's email and emails her to tell her. 

 

He goes to pick his brother up.

Permalink Eye

"Hello. Having fun?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't get to shoot people nearly as often as I'd like."

Permalink Eye

"Not funny."

Permalink Eye

"Not joking." Pause. "Not very joking, anyway. Did Senel say I called?"

Permalink Eye

"Said you wanted three thousand tap for a girl."

Permalink Eye

"Well, now instead she's coming home with us."

Permalink Eye

Sigh. "Are you happy?"

Permalink Eye

"Do I look happy?"

Permalink Eye

"The reason everyone's indulging all this is because they want you to be happy."

Permalink Eye

"What would you do if you were grey? - what would you do if you were red?"

Permalink Eye

"If I were grey I'd be good at grey things, Telkam, that's how it works. There aren't greys who sing like me - they could release records still, no one'd stop them -"

Permalink Eye

"Mmhmm. Girl's named Peka. She's pretty."

Permalink Eye

"I assumed as much."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not actually seeing her I just don't think they should shoot her baby and we don't all have three thousand tap to throw around."

Permalink Eye

"Where's she going to live?"

Permalink Eye

"My place. I can reliably find some grey who'll have me over and I hate our part of the city."

Permalink Eye

Sigh. 

Permalink Eye

"You're supposed to sing the one about the bird."

Permalink Eye

"Do you have any idea what it would look like, for you to be happy -"

Permalink Eye

"Dad invents FTL and I don't have to do any schoolwork to get xenobotany certified somehow and I go far far away and wander and send back pictures that everyone agrees are of Substantial Intellectual Merit and no one fucking shoots fucking babies and anyone anywhere who wants to leave can -"

Permalink Eye

 

 

"I will tell Dad to get on it."

 

 

 

And he does a performance. 

Permalink Eye

Peka has snuck Katin away with her the last time she had to ferry a body into the city. Katin is hidden her truck; she's big enough now to mostly handle her own bottle and that keeps her quiet. Peka has bleached her hair. She wraps it in a towel so she can come out and listen.

Permalink Eye

People call him the best singer in the world. This is probably warranted. 

Permalink Eye

Peka hugs herself.

Permalink Eye

And he finds her. "You're riding back with us, I can't get a day off but I can drop you off and give you a key."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"You'll be okay."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

Makel does autographs. Makel does a couple more songs. Makel gives vague but quotable answers about what he's working on next. Makel commends the commitment of the troops to ensuring a safe food supply for everybody. 

And he gets in the truck. "You must be Peka." His Tapap is definitely comprehensible.

Permalink Eye

"Yes -" She cuts herself off before she says 'sir'. Her hair is white and the baby's is orange, why would she say sir.

Permalink Eye

"Are you planning to enlist in Anitam, too, or do something else?"

Permalink Eye

"...I. I don't know yet. This is sort of sudden."

Permalink Eye

"My brother has kind of questionable judgment sometimes."

Permalink Eye

"I can hear you."

Permalink Eye

"I know. - he did tell you he dyed his hair because he wanted to join the army - and I don't think he even agreed with the war -"

Permalink Eye

"Not especially."

Permalink Eye

"He mentioned, yeah." She snuggles her baby. "I just needed the money."

Permalink Eye

"Credits don't work like that here- if you have a kid without one they'll stop you from doing that again and put the baby up for adoption, but lots of people want to adopt a baby."

Permalink Eye

"I don't super want her to be kidnapped and me to be sterilized but it'd be better than them just killing her."

Permalink Eye

"It's not like lax enforcement's a kindness either." Sigh. "I have a little brother who's been scheming to make all the credits cheaper but I think it'll only really catch on with green and blue, if it catches on at all."

Permalink Eye

"Why's that?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean, it amounts to 'we should all collude to not bid much at auction' and that works better with smaller populations where reputation matters a lot."

Permalink Eye

"The last time he explained it to me it was way more complicated than that."

Permalink Eye

"How to collude effectively is complicated but the idea's simple."

Permalink Eye

"Huh." Katin stirs in her arms and Peka adjusts her and starts singing softly.

Permalink Eye

He seems happy to listen.

Permalink Eye

She goes through a lullaby and then turns out to have a harmony part that corresponds to one of his songs.

Permalink Eye

Oooooh. He'll sing along.

Permalink Eye

...she has a bunch of those actually.

Permalink Eye

Awwww he's flattered. And they can do all of them.

 

And halfway through he'll take a bump by the truck as an excuse to slide closer.

Permalink Eye

She manages not to flinch away, but she does tense up.

Permalink Eye

Which he clearly takes as a signal to back off, and doesn't try it again. 

 

Telkam drops them off at a train station.

Permalink Eye

"How do I find your place -"

Permalink Eye

"That one." He points at an apartment complex across the way. "303, it's on the key."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you - so much -"

Permalink Eye

"It'd be kind of dumb to say 'I get it' because, not really, but -"

Permalink Eye

She kisses her baby. "If there's ever anything I could do -"

Permalink Eye

"Just settle in and be whatever you want and I'll feel good about it."

Permalink Eye

She nods. "Thanks."

Permalink Eye

"Uh huh."

 

 

He drives off.

Permalink Eye

 

She looks vaguely intimidated by the apartment building but heads in.

Permalink Eye

It's swanky. Clearly aimed mostly at students, several of whom are clustered in the common areas muttering over whiteboards or reading or marking papers. They glance at her but not with particular interest.

Permalink Eye

Wow.

She goes up to 303.

 


She unpacks, into a conservative little corner of the apartment. She feeds Katin again. She investigates the state of her formula and food supply.

Permalink Eye

He is maybe not fantastic at keeping his apartment stocked. There's an unopened shipping box with forty packets of instant oatmeal atop it in the corner of the pantry. There are cans of pineapple. There's expired milk in the fridge. 

Permalink Eye

She dumps the milk. She attempts to get on the internet and see if there's any food out of Voa available on clearance.

Permalink Eye

Yep! 

Permalink Eye

Then she will tie Katin to her back and go out and see if they'll take tap for it.

Permalink Eye

Nope but once the partial language barrier is managed with the help of a storekeeper's pocket everything they can point her at a bank that will.

Permalink Eye

She changes the currency. She goes back and stocks up on couscous and nuts and dried fruit and do they happen to have formula?

Permalink Eye

They do have formula but while she's picking some out a middle-aged woman comes up to her and says that she insists on buying the baby clean formula - "you mustn't risk her health, the poor thing -"

Permalink Eye

"- it's not dangerous and she's too little to know it's disgusting - I really don't have the money -"

Permalink Eye

"I'll pay for it, don't you worry about it."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you that's very generous."

Permalink Eye

And she gets them lots and lots of locally certified formula and smiles at Katin and chatters about when hers were that age and pays for it.

Permalink Eye

And that means that Peka's money will stretch farther for everything else, so she manages very sincere thanks.

Permalink Eye

Lady pats her on the shoulder and wishes her well and bustles off. 

Permalink Eye

 

She gets eggs too since she has extra. And once she has all her things she goes back.

She feeds Katin again and when the baby is asleep she emails the written harmonies she wrote for Makel's songs to him.

Permalink Eye

He writes back. Thank you! The one for Slipsong's really lovely, I'd be interested in getting it recorded some time if you'd like. Settling in okay? Telkam asked our brother Aitim to check in with you but he's been really busy and said he might not make it until the end of the week.

Permalink Eye

Recording it would be really fun! This place is nicer than the one I had back in Tapa and I'm finding my way around all right, I got my money changed and got some food, I don't know if Telkam will mind my eating his but even if he won't he only had oatmeal and pineapple. It'd be nice to know when to expect Aitim more precisely if he's coming?

Permalink Eye

I'll tell him to call ahead. Are you all right on money? It doesn't seem fair to expect you to get a job right away in a foreign country with a baby and no one to watch her.

Permalink Eye

I am not super sure what I am going to do about that.

Permalink Eye

I don't really know if there are grey jobs that let you work remotely. Ask Aitim, he'll think of something. I'll arrange a babysitter when I set up a time with the recording studio.

Permalink Eye

She's a pretty easy baby but at minimum I'd need check on her every now and then and within a season that won't work anymore.

Permalink Eye

Who watched her while you were in the army?

Permalink Eye

My parents.

Permalink Eye

Aitim'll probably have some ideas for you.

Permalink Eye

You're all being so nice to me.

Permalink Eye

Telkam means very well and doesn't always have great followthrough so we fill in for him. And Aitim's nice professionally. Don't worry about it. 

Permalink Eye

Thank you.

I'm glad you like my harmonies. I have all your songs up to when I started having to save all the money I could.

Permalink Eye

He sends her the rest of his songs. You're really talented. 

Permalink Eye

(She quietly discards the pirated versions.) Thanks!

Permalink Eye

End of the week she gets an email from Aitim, he'd like to drop by this afternoon, is that all right?

Permalink Eye

...yes that's fine.

Permalink Eye

He knocks a few hours later.

Permalink Eye

She opens the door and how many castes does this family have but "Hello."

Permalink Eye

"Hi!" His Tapap is a little better than Makel's. "I just wanted to make sure you weren't quietly starving because Telkam didn't say you could touch the stove, or anything."

Permalink Eye

"Ah. Um. I am not starving."

Permalink Eye

"Oh good. May I come in?"

Permalink Eye

She nods and steps aside.

Permalink Eye

He looks around, pulls out a chair, sits down, pulls a couple of baby toys out of his bag. They're solid wood, sturdy and elegant. "Someone tried telling me that orange babies are supposed to have dolls but in Tapa she wouldn't even be orange, right, you can probably arrange it either way. These are the ones my little brothers liked best."

Permalink Eye

"...in Tapa she would not have been orange," confirms Peka. "Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Here it's patrilineal but if she's showing a distinctly grey personality in a couple seasons we can take advantage of the ambiguity and get her sent to a school that's a better fit. Do you have everything you need here?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm trying to figure out what to do for money in the medium if not long term - if I can't leave her with my parents I can't go reenlist, even if they wouldn't notice I, um, deserted."

Permalink Eye

"They might notice that." Sigh. "What were you doing before you joined the army -"

Permalink Eye

"I was in training to work with my mom but I wasn't really cut out for it."

Permalink Eye

"That makes it trickier, you won't really have different job opportunities here - well, we have more open-water sports, and sex work's grey here, I don't think it is in Tapa."

Permalink Eye

 

"It's orange there. Hadn't thought of that."

Permalink Eye

"Be careful, okay? We can help if you're having a hard time making ends meet." He frowns at the dusty stove again. "Telkam's very stubborn. There's no chance he'll change his mind about helping you be here, and he definitely won't mind if you email him with questions. I don't want you to feel like you're on thin ice here."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. I actually just didn't buy anything that would need stovetop cooking but I appreciate that."

Permalink Eye

"Of course. Anything you've been confused about -"

Permalink Eye

"Buses."

Permalink Eye

He can explain those!!

Permalink Eye

He's so helpful!

Permalink Eye

And efficient. "Anything else?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't suppose you know how sex workers get started around here."

Permalink Eye

"Can't say I do. Makel probably does - he pays them to go away, if you know the expression -"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know this expression."

Permalink Eye

"Uh, if you're an internationally famous pop star, why pay for sex - the thing you're actually paying for being a mutual understanding that there are no further expectations."

Permalink Eye

"Ah."

Permalink Eye

"You know how to reach him?"

Permalink Eye

"He wants to record a version of Slipsong with the harmony I wrote."

Permalink Eye

"Ooooh! I will look forward to hearing it." And he goes.

Permalink Eye

And she investigates what the Internet has to say on selling sex for fun and profit.

Permalink Eye

There are client review sites she can join (for money) and lots of advice (for free) and places where you can place personal ads (for free).

Permalink Eye

...it's summertime, what's the worst that can happen, she'll skip client review for now. Reads the advice, places an ad.

Permalink Eye

Gets varyingly boorish responses and a lot of requests for nude pictures and a concerned man who finds the sex industry objectionable and wants to save her.

Permalink Eye

Does the last guy want to pay her not to do it? Do the people who want nudes want to pay her to do it? Do the boors respond well to flirty suggestions that they pay her?

Permalink Eye

Last guy does not want to pay her. Few of the other people are interested in paying her.

Permalink Eye

Few isn't none, right?

Permalink Eye

Nope! After the ad's been up for a couple days few is actually kind of a full schedule unless she wants to bang several people a day.

Permalink Eye

She's not opposed! She has made a sort of playpen area for Katin in the corner out of a sofa and an armchair and as long as people come to her so she's not leaving the baby alone and are not obviously terrible she can totally work for several hours a day. Moneyyyyy.

Permalink Eye

Some people are terrible. Most people are not terrible. Makel emails her to ask how she's doing and let her know the recording studio time.

Permalink Eye

She is doing well! She has figured out a job! (She can afford the review site now.) She will arrange to have that time open.

Permalink Eye

He sends a car for her and a babysitter for Katin.

Permalink Eye

Hello babysitter this is Katin she has the following characteristics!

Permalink Eye

Babysitter (orange) is charmed and will take very good care of her.

Permalink Eye

Good. Into the car goes Peka.

Permalink Eye

Makel's studio is a bit extravagant and he waves at her cheerfully. "Hey! I'm glad you're settling in!"

Permalink Eye

"Me too! Wow, this place is nice."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you! I'm more responsible now but when I first had a hit I got all the nice things. It's pretty thoroughly booked but if you're sufficiently flexible and willing to come in for a last-minute cancellation you could come play around sometime."

Permalink Eye

"I could maybe do that."

Permalink Eye

"I will tell Senel to add you to the list of people we squeeze into sudden vacancies. What job did you end up taking?"

Permalink Eye

"Sex work's grey here, that was interesting to learn."

Permalink Eye

"It's grey most places I've been. Or a plurality, anyway. Liberal places grey or orange."

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, dual-caste careers. Anyway, so that's a thing, I have a Silver Night account now. 'Perfect Fifth'."

Permalink Eye

"And you're happy?"

Permalink Eye

"It's way better than the army!"

Permalink Eye

"I can imagine!!! Have you been in a recording studio before -"

Permalink Eye

"Nope!"

Permalink Eye

"Then I will explain what everything does and then we can actually sing!"

 

And he does that.

Permalink Eye

This is the best thing.

Permalink Eye

He quite clearly really loves it too!!! And appreciates that she's enjoying herself. And likes singing. Boy does he like singing.

Permalink Eye

She likes singing toooooooo~

Permalink Eye

Awwwwwww. 

 

They play the recording back and he's quite pleased with it. 

Permalink Eye

Bounce bounce.

Permalink Eye

Awww. "Thank you! I will have to have a lawyer look into cross-caste music revenue sharing laws but once he's come up with something I'll send you your share."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks!"

Permalink Eye

"It's good to see you. I'm glad you're doing well here."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."

Permalink Eye

The car takes her home. The babysitter is trying to teach Katin how to turn lightswitches on and off.

Permalink Eye

Awww. "Hi! How's she doing, when'd she last eat -"

Permalink Eye

"She's such a sweetheart! You should get her into an orange daycare or playgroup, for the interaction with other kids, she'll need that - ate about an hour ago -"

Permalink Eye

"If you can recommend one I'll look into it."

Permalink Eye

She writes down three and kisses Katin on the forehead and wishes Peka well and leaves.

Permalink Eye

Peka checks out the suggestions.

Permalink Eye

They cost money and are in the orange neighborhoods but look like lots of fun, from the online pictures.

Permalink Eye

Maybe when she has more of a nest egg.

Permalink Eye

She has clients. Some even have good reviews.

Permalink Eye

She dutifully reviews her clients and offers favorites discounts for repeat business and is generally content with her line of work.

Permalink Eye

And eventually he sells the duet and it does quite well and the revenue-sharing agreement for artistic work with grey collaborators is stolen from dance where that's more commonly a concern and she gets a tidy lump of money and a note with tax advice and he writes that he'd like to do it again sometime.

Permalink Eye

She would also like that!

Permalink Eye

Oh good! 

Before I reserve the studio again why don't we just go somewhere with nice acoustics - the university music hall's lovely - and play around until we find something worth recording?

Permalink Eye

Okay!

Permalink Eye

So he sends a car and sitter again! And is delighted to see her, again!

Permalink Eye

She bounces. She brought sheet music - Tapai songs, things she wrote, songs from elsewhere altogether, riffs on existing melody.

Permalink Eye

Ooooooh. He is so excited and might if no one points out the time keep her there all night songwriting and composing and singing.

Permalink Eye

"- how long did you hire the sitter for -"

Permalink Eye

"Until you got back, why, is it - oh, it's late -" he smiles sheepishly. 

Permalink Eye

"A little."

Permalink Eye

"Again soon, then - should I pay you for your time, I know you're losing income -"

Permalink Eye

"I wouldn't turn you down but this is like, totally a valid use of my flex time - and if we get more recordings out of it my cut's substantial - I don't think Telkam's in a hurry to kick me out of his apartment so I'm not scrambling to make rent -"

Permalink Eye

"He seems very pleased with himself. I'm - glad he's happy. Let me know if you are short, though, all right?"

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I think I'll be able to put her in a playgroup come fall, the sitter thought I should."

Permalink Eye

"If she's going to be orange yeah, probably. Aitim said he wrote the papers ambiguously so you could lean one way or the other once she's older."

Permalink Eye

"It's funny how that's a thing here."

Permalink Eye

"It's not really supposed to be but my grandfather's on the council and if he says his grandchildren can pick a track then the blues will at least mutter quietly, and my father's a genius and if he says he's green enough then the greens sure won't be very loud about insisting he isn't. Telkam is going to get himself in trouble one day. I'm glad, at least. I'd be so bored blue."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe it'll get more popular."

Permalink Eye

"My little brother - different little brother - my parents were pining over their empty nest so I paid for a bunch of credits for them, there're seven of us - anyway, he's really emphatic that if you had an avenue to change for people who're a bad fit - disabled greys, dyslexic greens like Telkam, maybe there's a purple who's a mathematical genius somewhere out there -  you'd be the richest country in the world pretty fast. Maybe he'll convince people. I think Aitim's mostly persuaded but - he's very conservative."

Permalink Eye

"Well. You can't overdo it or you end up like Voa."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I think the lesson would-be progressives everywhere derived from that mess is to be very very slow about things. I think that Voa blue was trying to make people like reds better and instead -" sigh. "But we don't have all the time in the world either - there's a place down south that's trying to do without reds, did you hear about that -"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"If that goes smoothly then other places'll look at trying and then we'll have the riot to end all because what do they have to lose - glad I'm not blue -"

Permalink Eye

"Must be very hard on the blues."

Permalink Eye

"One assumes they're suited. - you should come for a family dinner sometime, my parents have asked after you and they're reliably interesting and the twins are Katin's age."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I'd like that."

Permalink Eye

And he emails her with another singing time and an evening for a family dinner.

Permalink Eye

She arranges to be free then and shows up.

Permalink Eye

"Peka!!"

Permalink Eye

"Peka!"

Permalink Eye

"He doesn't usually show for family dinners, you're very special," he informs Peka. 

Permalink Eye

"Nice to meet you, dear," he says in perfect Tapap.

Permalink Eye

"Hello! It's nice to meet you too."

Permalink Eye

He hesitates for half a second and then hugs her. "I'm glad you're settling in okay."

Permalink Eye

Hug. She doesn't prolong it. "It's really nice here."

Permalink Eye

"We do okay."

 

The younger kids are chattery but harder to parse for someone still not totally fluent in Anitami; Kantil, who must be three, is easier to understand and as promised seems to talk about nothing but inefficiencies of the caste system, though he's happy to tie it in with whatever everyone else is discussing. Aitim is apparently in the middle of securing funding for overdue repair of the Great Dam (Kantil pipes up that it sure would help with securing funding if tax revenue was up eighty percent, wouldn't it).

Telkam is making another movie, this one about invading aliens. ("Don't you think," says Kantil, and Telkam sticks out his tongue at him.)

Permalink Eye

"Well, I'm curious, how would abolishing the caste system affect an alien invasion."

Permalink Eye

"We could fight the aliens better because military weapons development is seriously impeded by what I call the color filter - whenever an idea requires development input from people of two different castes it's far less likely to happen. Military development requires input from four or five - you've got sophisticated computer systems, you've got the engineers - and it's utterly stupid to separate theoretical engineers and practical engineers, most good inventions come from seeing the need for them in the field - and you need grey input into what you actually need and you need people to fund it and you often need manufacture to very precise standards and it's useful to have engineers on the manufacturing floor and it's useful to have software developers who know the conditions they're designing for and the users who'll need their interface and I bet a society at our technological level without castes would kick our asses in a fight -"

("Language, dear," says his mother -)

Permalink Eye

Peka giggles.

Permalink Eye

"The aliens would probably still win, FTL implies technological capabilities well beyond ours. We'd handle even the most efficient society in the world if they hadn't invented gunpowder, and the differential could easily be that big."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, well, you know what else the caste systems slows is technological development wholesale -"

Permalink Eye

Headtilt.

Permalink Eye

Kantil beams at Peka. "Because of compounding returns to - I don't know if they teach this in grey school - which is another source of inefficiency, their concept of 'what you need to know to be in this line of work' is really limiting and gets you an uninformed electorate which then gets used to justify the continued marginalization of the uneducated parts of the electorate - anyway, GDP growth is measured as a percentage of current GDP, it grows exponentially, and that means that the difference between a 2% and a 3% annual growth rate - which is significantly less than the productivity losses to having a caste system - I can draw a graph -"

Permalink Eye

"I do not actually know that I'd understand a graph, unfortunately."

Permalink Eye

"Which is an injustice you were done by our educational system. Or by Tapa's, I guess, in your case. Uh, I can do a computer model that's really visually straightforward but it'll take me longer -"

Permalink Eye

He elbows Aitim. "Aren't you supposed to be defending the status quo, brother mine -"

Permalink Eye

"They have yet to give me my magic button of convince-the-whole-populace-to-go-along-with-what-the-economists-think-is-a-good-idea. I think the standard rebuttal is that specialization would be a good idea even if you presumed everyone to be equally capable, and you could perhaps accomplish it with an exhausting regime of constant testing between the ages of 2 and 4 but then you'd get, well, miserable children for one thing and probably a stronger sense of being a failure than exists under the present system - a grey who goes to school for two years and becomes a security guard doesn't feel like a failure for not being a professor of astrophysics because they weren't supposed to be -"

Permalink Eye

"Bullshit," he pipes up without looking up from his oversized pocket everything. "Everyone sure knows exactly how the system would fail for no one ever having tried it."

"Language, dear," says his mother.

Permalink Eye

"And if you got red jobs if you did poorly enough in school that'd be a nightmare -"

Permalink Eye

"As opposed to now when the lottery that makes some people red is before birth, that's so much better."

Permalink Eye

"I mean that you could never again touch your family - being red might not be horrible if everyone you knew and cared about was red too but if it ripped you away from them -"

Permalink Eye

 

"I thought the idea was generational uncleanliness, if you just suddenly started being a plumber you'd have to take long showers I guess but then you could go home -"

Permalink Eye

"Like they're doing in Olvala."

"I think they hold it's safe to do those things occasionally but not regularly," says Nertel. 

Permalink Eye

Aitim makes a face. "Yeah, that's correct. They have people rotating."

Permalink Eye

Peka bounces imaginary fussiness out of her baby.

Permalink Eye

"Are we planning to -"

Permalink Eye

"I need more time. I need it to be inconclusive or at least not widely popular elsewhere for - twenty years - maybe thirty -"

Permalink Eye

"Is that 'so the people who would get in your way die' or are there intermediate steps you expect to take that long -"

Permalink Eye

"Some of both."

Permalink Eye

"Uh - planning to what -"

Permalink Eye

"Switch to the purples-rotating model of handling red work."

Permalink Eye

"But you're trying to stop it?"

Permalink Eye

"Trying to stall for twenty years until I have more options available. Eventually the present arrangement will cease to be sustainable - the places that are doing rotations will have no incentive not to do robots, and once the robots exist and it's just a matter of placing a manufacture order all the riots in the world won't stop them. What I want is enough credibility with the public on appropriate caution and concern with pollution - and enough to bribe purples with - that when it's time to transition we can say we've found a months-long grueling chemotherapy-ish way of getting reds clean and we're paying for it and then they'll just be citizens and can purple their hair and go on with their lives. But if you mess that up you get Voa."

Permalink Eye

Nod.

Permalink Eye

"Or Dad could get a spaceship."

Permalink Eye

"It's not one of those problems where if you just do enough theoretical physics the answer will eventually pop out at you and I'm not even a theoretical physicist."

Permalink Eye

"Pity the moons are all spoken for."

Permalink Eye

"A red moon would've been a really good idea I don't know why no one thought of it. They could do perfectly well for themselves and no one would have to worry."

"Have you considered cutting the red child credits," Nertel says, "so maybe in the long run there aren't reds but it doesn't come to murder -"

Permalink Eye

"I don't even know if they'd prefer that and it's not as if I can reasonably go ask. But it's been debated, yeah."

Permalink Eye

"In Tapa there are social workers who go ask reds things."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, we have those too, I just don't think the answers reflect anything other than some combination of what the social workers wanted to hear and what the reds thought it safe to tell them."

Permalink Eye

"Oh."

Permalink Eye

"It's really inconvenient. More for them than for us, of course - but I don't know how to fix it, I'd just scare people if I tried going to visit personally -"

Permalink Eye

"You get so bad at problem-solving sometimes, Aitim."

Permalink Eye

"Oh?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh huh. You announce there's going to be a red advisor on technological research and long term planning, full-time position, decent salary, elected by a red vote, and then they pick someone, and then you sit them down and say the thing you just said about inevitable robots and you don't act like you're gonna casually murder them if they disagree with you and -"

Permalink Eye

"And that would be quite an accomplishment and the only thing I ever accomplished, politically speaking, because no one wants to interact with or entrust projects to someone who's doing radical destabilizing things on their own initiative and everyone would rather not think about reds."

Permalink Eye

"This is why everyone fucking hates you."

 

       "Telkam," says his mother.

Permalink Eye

"I mean, most people'd be fine with murdering all the reds, this specifically isn't why, but the general 'yes that would be a good thing to do and we are a self-reinforcing institution to make it impossible to do good things' is in fact pretty contemptible -"

Permalink Eye

"Most experiments are bad experiments, usually junior people exercising unilateral power in pursuit of personal idealism gets you Voa -"

Permalink Eye

"You're smarter than them."

Permalink Eye

"I hope so."

Permalink Eye

"You could give the reds an anonymous internet form."

Permalink Eye

" - probably worth setting up. Not that I necessarily expect anything to come of it but it's a very cheap test - I'll send an email -" 

He does that, and then the conversation veers to some new economics paper and does not return to the subject. 

Permalink Eye

Eventually he has a visual model of a slime mold with a 2% annual growth rate and a slime mold with a 3% annual growth rate and a slime mold with a linear growth rate and he triumphantly shows it to Peka and fast-forwards it through a thousand years. "This is our economy, and this is our economy without a caste system, and that one on the end is just so you get what I mean when I say it's specifically the compounding returns that matter, increasing wealth by a constant amount pretty much doesn't at all -"

Permalink Eye

"Wow."

Permalink Eye

"If there were one country that had a plague or something and ended up all purple then the caste system would have ended everywhere centuries ago because anyone keeping it was just losing to their neighbors."

Permalink Eye

"I read a book where that happened once but the purple country just did subsistence farming."

Permalink Eye

"Most people can't really imagine a society radically different from ours."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe you should write a book."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe if I convinced my teachers I was writing a book they'd let me out of literature class for a while so the opportunity costs wouldn't be very high." He bites his lip thoughtfully.

Permalink Eye

The twins, Katin's age, who have been solemn and observant the whole meal, suddenly decide to start wailing. Their parents take them off to bed. Everyone else reluctantly disperses.

Permalink Eye

Peka gets up and puts her baby on her shoulder and thanks Makel for the invitation.

Permalink Eye

"My pleasure. I set a date for singing in that email too, right -"

Permalink Eye

"You did! I'll be there."

Permalink Eye

He looks like he is conflicted about hugging her for different reasons than Telkam's.

Permalink Eye

"Something on your mind?"

Permalink Eye

"When we met I think I startled you -"

Permalink Eye

"- I was under a lot of stress, and, uh, had been taking a while - off - since Katin's dad - but I'm all better now."

Permalink Eye

Hug. 

Permalink Eye

Hug!

Permalink Eye

He maybe holds her and gazes longingly for a little while before he lets go. "See you soon."

Permalink Eye

"See you!"

Permalink Eye

Telkam stops by his apartment before her next singing appointment. 

Permalink Eye

"- hi."

Permalink Eye

"Hey. Bad time?"

Permalink Eye

"Are you going to tell me not to encourage him -"

Permalink Eye

"I - no - I mean, of course he'd be upset if he found out, if that matters to you, but all of them deserve it for being stupid hidebound reactionaries with their heads up their asses."

Permalink Eye

"It does bother me but I want to just - pretend - like I really was - and if I really was I'd -"

Permalink Eye

"And it's all a social construct anyway, if everyone thinks it's true it literally is - no, uh, the thing I came by to say was - it hadn't actually occurred to me until dinner that I could hurt you both very badly and I hate that and wanted to make sure it's super clear that I wouldn't, even if you, I don't know, win Makel over and then cheat on him with his biggest rival - I am not saying I'll like you no matter what just that I swear to you that I will never ever bring it up because - because people just shouldn't have power over each other."

Permalink Eye

"- thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Should've sooner, really. Sorry. I won't slip up, either. - Aitim's unnaturally observant and it wouldn't be wildly out of character for him to figure it out but if he hasn't come by to hint smilingly that you should maybe not go for Makel then you're definitely good there too."

Permalink Eye

"Even if he figures it out later?"

Permalink Eye

"If he vaguely suspects he won't do anything because he values being liked and keeping the peace too much. If he knew - checked with Tapa or something - 

- I'm not really sure. I'm sorry. We've never really - we don't really have much in common - he wouldn't kill you or let anyone else but he might, like, suggest you go to the nearest red district with appropriate papers and avoid attracting his notice ever again."

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

"It's not fair."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"Sorry."

Permalink Eye

"It's not your fault, you helped me."

Permalink Eye

"It was kind of a shitty ad-hoc kind of helping but yeah." Sigh. "You'll probably be fine. Take care."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

He goes.

Permalink Eye

When the babysitter arrives she hands over Katin and goes to sing.

Permalink Eye

He's so pleased to see her!!

Permalink Eye

Oh good!

Permalink Eye

They can sing!! And songwrite!

Permalink Eye

It is so good!!!

Permalink Eye

He's utterly delighted. Shows her a couple of his pieces in progress.

Permalink Eye

Oooooh secret future songs, very choice.

Permalink Eye

Hug. More singing!

Permalink Eye

"This is like ten thousand times better than my best case scenario when I ran away."

Permalink Eye

"What were you expecting exactly?"

Permalink Eye

"I didn't have any very specific vision but I definitely wasn't thinking 'also I will get to have one on one jam sessions with Makel Alasi and see songs before they are even done'."

Permalink Eye

"This should possibly not be advertised as a conventional result of running away! But you're a really good singer - if you were green you'd be famous -"

Permalink Eye

"Well. Born with white hair." She even was.

Permalink Eye

"Kantil should learn to change the subject sometimes but he's not wrong."

Permalink Eye

"You think so?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean, I'm not an economist and I do remember being three-and-a-half and convinced you know everything and everyone older than you is a moron. But that there are some people who should swap - yeah, that's obvious, you and Telkam would both be happier switched and if we were a conventional green family Aitim'd be miserable and the country poorer -"

Permalink Eye

"I do like my job okay. I just like this better."

Permalink Eye

"Well. You can have both." He smiles at her.

Permalink Eye

"At least until proceeds from out of caste income exceed twenty percent of my net revenue over a period of more than half a season!" she chirps.

Permalink Eye

"I tried to think of ways it could count as caste income but they're all really, really a stretch."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, singing is technically a thing done principally with the body? Songwriting not so much."

Permalink Eye

"And I can pay you for your time only if we're having sex - I should see how that's worded, actually -"

Permalink Eye

"Ha!"

Permalink Eye

Giggle.

 

Singing!

Permalink Eye

Singing!!!

Permalink Eye

When it's getting late his secretary calls to remind him not to keep her out all night. "Thank you, Senel."

Permalink Eye

"Aww. I should get home to Katin, yeah. Next time."

Permalink Eye

Hug. "G'night. Next time."

Permalink Eye

"G'night!"

She goes home to Katin.

Permalink Eye

Katin has been lovingly rocked to sleep. The babysitter noticed she didn't have any dolls and brought her dolls.

Permalink Eye

"Aww, thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Of course!" And she goes.

Permalink Eye

Katin loves her dolls. Katin can say "mama" and "no" and "milk" and "why?" Katin has peachy orange hair fluffed out over her ears.

Permalink Eye

Peka gets a notice from the building manager that other tenants have noticed she's running a grey business out of this green apartment and maybe she should find a grey one.

Permalink Eye

She will start looking into that it's just her friend was letting her crash here while she found her feet sorry. (Sigh.) She starts looking into that.

Permalink Eye

The grey part of town's affordable. Mostly not apartments but there are some. Housing units usually mention in the listing if they're sex worker friendly.

Permalink Eye

She will find an affordable apartment that is sex worker friendly and tell Telkam that the building manager was nudging her so she has been nudged and will be out of his place soon.

Permalink Eye

" - oh, right, I guess they'd have a thing about that. You need help moving?"

Permalink Eye

"I have accumulated a surprising amount of stuff! That would be nice."

Permalink Eye

He helps move stuff.

Permalink Eye

Katin hinders moving stuff! And in this way she gets moved in. The new place is even closer to the playgroup she has decided Katin should go to once she's a couple seasons old.

Permalink Eye

And her neighbors are grey, and reasonably friendly, and coo over Katin and marvel at Peka affording a child credit single at a young age.

Permalink Eye

"My parents helped. It was unexpected."

Permalink Eye

Sympathetic nods. ...recommendations for self-defense classes. Particularly if she's doing sex work in her own home with the baby around, gosh. 

Permalink Eye

"It really wouldn't have helped, but I'll think about it."

Permalink Eye

And he sends her dividends, up to her 20% cap, and invites her over for late night songwriting again.

Permalink Eye

"It's really good that the cap doesn't apply to you hiring me a babysitter." She has written things on her own since last they met! Her job has such nicely flexible hours.

Permalink Eye

"I think I can get you all the nonmonetary perks I want. Could maybe start paying for your apartment, I'll ask the lawyers." He likes her songs.

Permalink Eye

"Should I get a nicer apartment?"

Permalink Eye

"Possibly should not invite an audit. I should forward you the emails I've been exchanging with my lawyer about this, it's maddening."

Permalink Eye

She giggles. "Is it going to be hard to follow?"

Permalink Eye

"I told them the day we started working together that there's a defect in my everything such that long words and long sentences get cut off halfway through. They didn't believe me but I showed them. So all their communication has been nice and concise ever since."

Permalink Eye

She cackles.

Permalink Eye

"Friend in school custom-designed the defect for me."

Permalink Eye

"I bet you know people from school who can do all kindsa things..."

Permalink Eye

"It's useful! You should let me know if you need anything."

Permalink Eye

"Hmmmm, coulda sworn I had a burning need for an astrophysicist but I can't remember why."

Permalink Eye

"When next I see one I will get their number." He might be sort of staring distractedly at her.

Permalink Eye

"Maybe I will remember the nature of my need for astrophysics by then." Headtilt.

Permalink Eye

He shakes himself out of it after a bit. Singing!

Permalink Eye

Singing!

Permalink Eye

He again requires reminders when it's time to stop.

Permalink Eye

Peka set an alarm on her pocket everything this time. "Katin can now make a very pouty face and say 'Mama' so very reproachfully if I'm not there at bedtime."

Permalink Eye

"Awwww. Then I suppose I mustn't ask you to stay the night, disappointed small children are heartwrenching."

Permalink Eye

"Were you gonna?"

Permalink Eye

"Gave it some thought."

Permalink Eye

"She would probably like the idea of a sleepover if I had time to explain it to her. She's been playing chase with the neighbor girl."

Permalink Eye

"Next time, then?"

Permalink Eye

"Mm-hm." Bounce. "I'd say 'on the house' but if you're looking for ways to cheat my dividend cap..."

Permalink Eye

"Among the things my lawyer wrote in that series of emails was 'this is the only time I've ever said this but this'd be much easier if you'd bang her'".

Permalink Eye

She laughs.

Permalink Eye

"I, uh, worked pretty hard on having a strictly professional personal life. But I wasn't really planning to do that forever."

Permalink Eye

"Why'd you do it that way -?"

Permalink Eye

"- followed, growing up, a lot of careers in which the actual musical and technical achievements were overshadowed and then swallowed up by personal drama - I think I am sort of susceptible to that, as a person, and I didn't want it. And even when there wasn't that, there was just a lot of - people getting their hopes up - people thinking they know it's casual and then being devastated that it's casual - I pay to establish a professional relationship and then I can worry less that I am wantonly breaking hearts or fathering children. It mightn't have been the best solution but when the ones other people offered were 'stay in all spring, not worth the risk' or 'go out in disguise' or 'make a point of not remembering their name up front so they don't get ideas' - "

Permalink Eye

"Well. If you ever decide to be rid of me I can do the professional thing."

Permalink Eye

"That's the - I did not want to tell my social secretary to send references and negotiate adjustments to the hourly rate for house calls. I could've done that. I - I'm not trying to squirrel out of paying you but I'm very deliberately doing this instead."

Permalink Eye

"I know. But I mean, if we date, and then we break up, I can like, not drag down scandal upon your head."

Permalink Eye

"I appreciate it. Likewise."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. - I um. I like doing recordings and I like having my voice available but I don't want - pictures, publicity, interviews - it'd be, um. Weird."

Permalink Eye

"You might get used to it."

Permalink Eye

"I might but I want to sit on the idea a few years first..."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. No problem."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"Course."

Permalink Eye

"I think that the Tapai army thinks I probably disappeared into Voa but if somebody noticed -"

Permalink Eye

"It'd be a mess, right. I don't mind being careful."

Permalink Eye

"You're so nice. I never met any celebrities before but people on the Internet say a lot of them turn out not to be nice."

Permalink Eye

Hug. "In defense of celebrities it's - hard, to be a healthy amount of nice? Telkam wants three thousand tap for your baby and I have that and of course I don't think infanticide is a good way of doing population enforcement but, you know, if I cover that and it makes the news then some idiot has a baby thinking I'll pay for it and - lots of people end up being jerks out of learned helplessness, I think. And some of them were jerks to start, but - for the most part green college students are an idealistic lot. And then we grow up."

Permalink Eye

Nod. "Well, now I've stiffed the credit reseller and I leaned on Telkam's apartment for a while but otherwise I seem to have my finances figured out."

Permalink Eye

"And now I know you and if you need help I'll help you and that seems vanishingly unlikely to inspire anyone to have children ill-advisedly. - could set up a fund for people who didn't choose it but I can't imagine how you'd filter without being, well, horrible -"

Permalink Eye

"...yeah I can't really prove that except by, like, 'why would I do this on purpose' - and I could've had an abortion but I wanted her -"

Permalink Eye

"I don't doubt you in the slightest but if there were a charity I'd expect people might lie." Hug. "You've done right by her."

Permalink Eye

"I think so. She's happy here."

Permalink Eye

"Do your parents know you're here?"

Permalink Eye

"They know we're safe. I didn't say where."

Permalink Eye

"Guess that's safer."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah."

Permalink Eye

"If it did come up somehow I bet Aitim'd fix it but it's definitely nicer for it to not. ...I was supposed to be letting you get home."

Permalink Eye

"...oh right."

Permalink Eye

"Good night."

Permalink Eye

"Good night."

And she is home in time to put Katin to bed.

Permalink Eye

There's a story on the news about Olvala's experiment. "The REDLESS CITY", reads the caption.

Permalink Eye

 

This is no longer her and Katin's problem because they are grey and orange.

Permalink Eye

They are grey and orange and safe.

 

 

Aitim puts up an anonymous feedback form for Anitam's citizens, by caste. There's a red one.

Permalink Eye

...are the results publicly readable?

Permalink Eye

They are not. She could ask him about it.

Permalink Eye

 

Wouldn't do to look too invested.

She is here illegally and cannot provide evidence of citizenship so she doesn't put things in forms.

Permalink Eye

Makel invites her over again.

Permalink Eye

She successfully gets Katin very excited about a sleepover with the little girl next door. She kisses her goodbye and turns up at Makel's.

Permalink Eye

He's delighted to see her.

Permalink Eye

"Hi! How are you?"

Permalink Eye

"Good! You?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm good. I bet I could be better."

Permalink Eye

"Is that so. Could I help with that."

Permalink Eye

"I think you could!"

Permalink Eye

He kisses her.

Permalink Eye

She is so much better now, she was right. Mmmmkisses.

Permalink Eye

"You have such a beautiful smile." Yes kisses.

Permalink Eye

Mmmmmmm. "Thank you."

Permalink Eye

"It's wrong to be glad we went to war, right?" Kiss kiss.

Permalink Eye

"I'm sure there are lots of people who are not glad but it worked out pretty good for me!"

Permalink Eye

He is so pleased to be kissing her.

Permalink Eye

It's so good! She is a very snuggly kisser.

Permalink Eye

Snuggling is nice. 

Permalink Eye

Snuggling is hot.

Permalink Eye

Oh gosh. In that case he can be so so snuggly.

Permalink Eye

Then she can be so so turned on and rather obvious about it!

Permalink Eye

He wasn't in a particular hurry - they have all night - but in that case maybe they should make their way upstairs. The snuggliest approach might be for him to carry her.

Permalink Eye

Eeeeeee.

Permalink Eye

"You are adorable."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

Permalink Eye

And now she can be naked and adorable.

Permalink Eye

She caaaaaan!

Permalink Eye

They have a very enjoyable evening. He snuggles her to sleep.

Permalink Eye

Awwwww.

Permalink Eye

She's so soft and warm and he likes her.

Permalink Eye

When she wakes up in the morning she presses herself against him and kisses him again. "Morning!"

Permalink Eye

"Mmmmmm." Kiss.

Permalink Eye

Snuggles~~~

Permalink Eye

Snuggles! Sex again?

Permalink Eye

Why yes she thought he'd never ask.

Permalink Eye

" - probably can't arrange Katin sleepovers all the time," he says, "but I'd like - regularly -"

Permalink Eye

"If she could come here I could just stash her in another room. She's a sound sleeper. Although getting less calm about not interrupting me while I'm working."

Permalink Eye

"She can come here, yeah." Kiss. "Daycares are too expensive?"

Permalink Eye

"I could afford it now - probably should - just sort of hard to let go of her -"

Permalink Eye

Snuggle. "I can imagine."

Permalink Eye

"She's old enough to get something out of playing with kids her age though. I should do that."

Permalink Eye

"Might make work less stressful, too - I suppose if you get someone who's trouble police response times are probably really good -"

Permalink Eye

"Probably. It's been nothing I can't handle so far."

Permalink Eye

Shiver. Squeeze.

Permalink Eye

"I'm resilient!" But snuggle.

Permalink Eye

That just makes him wonder what baby's father did to have her flinching a season later. 

Snuggle. Kiss. 

And eventually, regretfully, "I should get to work."

Permalink Eye

Kiss. "Have fun. See you later."

Permalink Eye

"Definitely."

Permalink Eye

And she goes home and hears all about Katin's sleepover and that evening sets up daycare.

Permalink Eye

And he'd like to see her again. My would he like to see her again.

Permalink Eye

She sets her own hours and that can be arranged!

Permalink Eye

Oh good. Means she can get her share of the record money, too, if indirectly.

Permalink Eye

It's a nice perk.

Permalink Eye

He is very attached. She's so pretty and happy and responsive and adoring.

Permalink Eye

So those things! All of them!

Permalink Eye

It gets to be late summer. He has her over at least once a week; Katin can sleep in the next room. Someone tries to take a picture occasionally and he gets in the way of the shot. This doesn't invite much attention; everyone knows that Makel hires greys and declines to comment on personal matters. 

Permalink Eye

Katin likes him and wants him and Mama to sing to her!

Permalink Eye

It is not very hard to coax Makel into singing. While Katin's here she should play with the twins, too, they're her age (and all three of them now old enough to be a disruptive force at the family dinners to which Peka is now regularly invited).

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Katin wishes to propose to the twins a concept: YELLING CONTEST.

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- in one of the soundproofed music practice rooms, please.

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That is acceptable.

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Oh good.

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"Did you get anything out of the anonymous message boxes -"

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"Yes, actually. They hate the social workers - that one's hard to fix - they're upset about police overreaction to people being out-of-bounds or accidentally touching something - there's no good way to report abuse. I think I might have an angle on fixing that last one."

Permalink Eye

"What do the police do if they touch something?"

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"If it's an accident what they're supposed to do is write them a ticket and call a cleaning crew. But there aren't rules against hitting reds if they're making trouble or being disrespectful or did it on purpose or were negligent."

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"Or if the police feel like saying afterwards that one of those things was true."

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And they've got long sticks with detachable ends so they don't have to touch anything that has directly touched a red -

And if they just decide to beat the shit out of one for fun who's going to stop them -

And if the red protests the ticket that's disrespectful -

Peka doesn't say that. "What's your idea for reporting abuse?"

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"Kefin, why don't you go play."

       "With the babies?"

"You're not going to hear anything exciting by staying because I won't say it in your presence. It's just a question of whether you'll obstruct the discussion happening at all."

        Kefin chews this over for a second, nods, goes upstairs. "I'm not going to play," he calls over his shoulder. "I'm going to study."

Aitim beams at him. He slams the door. 

 

Aitim sighs. "People fuck reds. Not most people, but there are an awful lot of people and some of them'll be into any particular disgusting thing you think of. And you'd think obviously there's a public health interest in discouraging that. But no one wants lots of high-profile cases of pursuing reds, it'll undermine public confidence in the standards of segregation and feed eagerness to somehow phase reds out. It's - minimizing pollution and minimizing the public perception of pollution don't always go hand-in-hand and policy has historically prioritized the latter, because it's the one that affects wellbeing. So what we really need is a separate court that looks at red complaints, investigates, calls the perpetrators in and offers them the chance to plead to tax fraud or something instead. Cut down on the problems without starting a national hysteria over them."

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"Or you could just let everyone work themselves up into a tizzy over how all their stupid rules are bullshit -"

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"And go lynch their neighbor who's a red liaison and hurl gasoline and matches into the red district, yes, you're right, I should let everyone do that."

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"- why will the reds think it's safe to do that -"

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"That part's harder. It's my idea, I get to appoint the people, I can make sure it actually is in fact safe to report to, but getting it trusted not so much. Maybe getting them social workers they didn't hate would help but I don't have any idea what kind of social worker they wouldn't hate."

Permalink Eye

"Gee, I have a guess, one who didn't hate them."

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"If a passionately angry orange walks into my office and goes 'I'm furious about the treatment of reds and I'm seeking a protest permit!' I will give them a job."

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Katin is busy having a yelling contest so Peka does not snuggle her.

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"I'll go talk to them."

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"I appreciate the thought but I don't know if it would help. Kan's sister has expressed willingness to go, too, but if you walk into their district you'll just terrify them -"

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"Maybe they should wear a sign."

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"Saying, what, 'I won't panic if you get near me and call the police and my family won't panic when they find out and call the police and I won't have the district quarantined and gassed if I get a head cold in three days'? I don't think trusting the intentions of the person they're talking to is even enough -"

Permalink Eye

"This sure does sound like a problem you wouldn't have if you stopped randomly murdering 'em."

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"Well, they could tell the reds in advance they're coming on the internet."

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"That I could probably arrange. Someone want to fetch Kefin and tell him we've moved on to happier topics -"

         "I'm sure he's been listening in," says his mother, but she goes up to fetch him, and they talk music and movies for the rest of the evening. (Kantil thinks the abolition of the caste system would improve both.)

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"F'rinstance I can sing but I can't make more than twenty percent of my money off it."

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"Which is ridiculous! If singing is where the market values your talents most you should sing full time!"

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"And yet!"

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And the next day he talks to Kan's sister -

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Who is happy to be officially and socially the project lead on efforts to get the reds better social workers, so it doesn't taint the political careers of people who for some unfathomable reason want to have them.

 

She gets emails from the orange liaisons and emails the reds saying that they got complaints about the social workers and want to improve, they're soliciting suggestions, and they're also creating a special court to prosecute abuses against reds and are seeking input on how to encourage reds to report abuse to that court.

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Well, so far the anonymous report form seems to work in the sense that no one has been beaten up for complaining, so maybe they could anonymously explain that everyone knows exactly who killed some dead people, and then see if the court can handle the people who killed those dead people, and the people are already dead so they can't suffer any consequences if she's full of shit.

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- yeah, okay, that seems reasonable.

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Then she can have anonymous reports in carefully writing-style-less language about who killed this red and that one...

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It would be really nice if any of these might have evidence aside from anonymous reds on feedback forms for them. Do they -

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One of them might have security camera footage, at least of immediately before.

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She'll write requesting it.

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Sure she will.

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She is not optimistic about Aitim's eventual plan to get them all on board with a transition away from reds.

 

She writes requesting the security footage.

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The security company sends it on over.

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And is there anything to work with?

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The red goes around a corner. A grey goes in a minute later. The grey comes out.

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She pulls up the anonymous report.

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That one grey stalked that one red and the red didn't come home that night and was found dead the next morning and his cousin had to pick up the body.

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"You wanna make a thing of it?"

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" - honestly? No, I don't. Reminding everyone reds exist never does them any favors and it'll make headlines and he'll say 'he lunged at me' and it'd be transparently political if we convict for that. The appeal of going after the rape cases is the perpetrators have incentive to cooperate with prosecution."

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"On the other hand you need their cooperation you are eventually going to have to do something to get it, and they presumably know what the backlash'll be and still want the case prosecuted."

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Sigh. "Maybe it wouldn't be a big media circus if we didn't charge murder. Or if we got a really good interview - maybe we do the interview, see from there if there's enough to go on."

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The grey is surprised to be summoned for an interview.

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Interviewer's sorry to waste their time. "We're trying to fix reporting procedures for health hazards, and there was this dead red who no one called in for fifteen hours. If you help me figure out what happened - some kid could've run across it -"

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"Ah, shit - yeah my pocket everything was dead and I just forgot the next day."

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"Can I get a timeline - approximately when did you run across the red -"

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"I don't remember, this was like a season ago."

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"Afternoon? Middle of the night?"

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"It was past dark."

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"Red was alive at that time?"

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"Yeah."

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"Were there other people around?"

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"No."

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"So you beat it up - didn't like reds, or had it done something in particular -"

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"I wanted to know what it was doing out at night, cornered it, it told me to back off and then it reached for me."

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"Were you on duty at the time, or acting independently?"

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"I was on my way home from work."

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"You said it reached for you, was there contact with any of the surrounding area or with any objects -"

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"It was like a trash bin alley, I don't remember for sure if it touched anything but nobody expects a trash bin alley to be clean."

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Nod. "Was it dead when you left -"

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"Didn't think so."

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"Said your battery was dead, were there other factors contributing to not calling it in - for example, were you worried about awkward questions -"

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"It was like a season ago, I don't remember."

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Sympathetic nodding. "Well, thanks for your time - we've got video from the back-facing security cameras of a store near there, anything you might be misremembering - so I don't have to say the report has discrepancies with the evidence -"

Permalink Eye

"I might be misremembering stuff, it was so long ago, come on."

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"Yeah, I know, that's why I'm trying to help you out - like, maybe he didn't reach for you but it looked like he was about to -"

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"Could've been, it was dark, I don't remember for sure."

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"That's it, thanks."

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"Ugh."

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"Did the red have a reason to be out after hours?"

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"Looks like work just ran late. I don't believe for a second he reached for him."

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"No one believes that."

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"So, say it's manslaughter and arrest him and have all the greys up in arms at you but maybe less inclined to do the same next time they're in a beat-someone-to-death sort of mood -"

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"We could announce the new court system and new expectations and so on without having all the greys up in arms - we can't enforce the law with a police force that isn't on the same page as we are -"

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"Aitim -"

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"I want to pick this fight with the best test case I can and this isn't the best test case. Find me one where - the victim was a thirty-six-year-old lady or a two-year-old who wandered out of their house or there's video footage or the murderer's unsympathetic -"

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"By 'find me one where the victim is a two-year-old do you mean 'wait until someone murders a two-year-old' -"

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"If we get this wrong they all die."

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"And the - set of social expectations - that makes that true is the one you're scared of touching."

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Sigh. "Fine."

 

 

And then a long moment later, "the scheduling person you want to talk to is Ikil Nesat, get it to come up on Litif's docket, talk with her before it comes up and promise very earnestly that you don't want to make waves but you're anticipating lots of riots over the next few years and a steady hand guiding red relations now will save us chaos down the road and you know that being the red relations person means not being much of anything else but it suits you and you do think you'll look like a visionary in ten years if not five."

Permalink Eye

"Say that again."

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He does.

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A week later Peka's grey neighbors are absolutely furious.

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Um. Rar. Grrr.

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It's pretty limited to the greys; Makel hasn't even heard about it. "You seem stressed," he declares while giving her a massage.

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"Mmmmwon't be if you do that enough. Neighborhood's pissed off about a cop getting a slap on the wrist. Is all."

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Massage. "Did he deserve it?"

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"Maybe, I wouldn't really know - oh right there -"

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Kiss. "You should give yourself a vacation more - I have a tour in Errium coming up -"

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"- Katin would miss her friends and I am still super illegal -"

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"I will make Aitim sort that out."

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"...it seems like a bad idea to draw attention to the case at all I've been pretty well disappeared so far -"

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" - okay, if you'd rather..."

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"She's past the age where they'll infanticide her over a missing credit now but desertion's still real bad."

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"I think we execute people for desertion in wartime." Hug. "Okay. I'll be back in a few months."

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Snuggle. "I'll miss you."

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She writes the reds with updates on the court system changes. Mentions that they're prepared to file murder charges for a particularly clear-cut case - "but of course I hope there isn't another one at all -"

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Yeah, people get so upset when there are bodies around. Should they wear cameras when they leave the ghetto.

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- can they afford cameras?

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Some of them can. Previously owned pocket everythings.

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Then yeah she recommends wearing cameras and will push through a legal advisory that if you kill someone wearing a body camera and destroy the record of the encounter it'll be prosecuted as murder by default. 

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But technical difficulties happen, protest the cops.

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They can also carry cameras, two technical failures at once are far less likely. And recording reliability has improved dramatically over the last few years, the law reflects a time period when technical difficulties were far more common and it was harder to distinguish them from malicious action. 

Permalink Eye

The cops do not want to have to wear cameras all the time just to do their jobs without being randomly accused of things!

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Well, they can also not wear cameras and not beat people to death, or not wear cameras and beat people to death and trust that the courts can distinguish a technical malfunction and a deliberate deletion of data. They just can't not wear cameras, beat people to death, and delete the record of the encounter.

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So unfair.

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"You get used to it. I think people are - hypersensitive to cues the political landscape might tilt against them because they never quite feel secure."

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"And here I was thinking maybe greys are just selected for being violent assholes."

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"I mean, also that."

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"Kinda wanna raise money for reds who don't have cameras."

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"Don't you go near the budget with that. As a private charity thing, sure."

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"Sure. Cameras are pretty cheap, and we could get a bulk discount, private charity can maybe cover it."

She goes through all the blues. She goes through all the greens. Peka's around when she shows up to try convincing Makel.

" - so the idea is that it cuts crime, protects the innocent, makes people feel safer, makes the city safer, but it can't get funded as a public initiative because greys would feel like we were - paying them to keep us safe and then paying to make their jobs harder, that's not a good look. But privately -"

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"These are for reds?"

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"These are for populations in high crime areas. You can earmark your money for not-reds if you'd like."

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"I usually have Senel handle charitable requests."

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Peka pulls a twenty out of her purse.

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"Thank you!"

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"You're welcome."

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"Senel is kind of a dick to people with charitable requests, you do know that."

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"She gives away forty percent of my money, she just doesn't like emotional appeals. Go to her with, like, the death rate and the expected reduction in the death rate and the per-dollar and a list of harder-to-measure benefits with at least some effort put into measuring them - or say that it's a trial and if she wants she could fund the data collection that'll let you determine if it is a good use of money in the future -"

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"That's, uh, orthogonal to the being a dick but okay."

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"I like her fine. Maybe she takes issue with blues in particular, Aitim rubs her wrong too."

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"Well. Thanks for the advice. And thank you for the money, Peka - so much -"

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"You're welcome."

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She leaves. Makel clucks disapprovingly at the tension in Peka's neck and insists on taking off her shirt to fix it.