Chapter Eight Transcript

Intro chime plays...

 

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Intro music...

Alicia (Narrating)

This is Alicia August, and you're listening to Seeds.

Intro music...

Alicia (Narrating)

At Frinka’s funeral, as the flames glowed low, Frinka’s body, now completely made of ash, started to cave in on itself. First, the bridge of his nose. Then, the rest of his face. His chest. Torso. Feet. 

Eventually, there was nothing left, except a few stray pieces that floated out, away from the pyre. 

Now, it was the High Priest’s turn to speak the Word of Return. But he was busy speaking to Mazin, the Militia Captain. Mazin glanced in my direction, searching my expression with his cold, grey eyes. 

I noticed, one of the Multipliers -- the one who’d looked like he was about to cry -- walked through the crowd, out to the fringes of the perimeter. I couldn’t see him properly, but his back was turned to the nearest Silitran citizen, and it looked like he was speaking to one of the mourning Multipliers at the edge of the crowd. 

When Murphy had finished whispering about me to the New High Priest, Aarnol called Mazin, the Militia Captain, over to him. They’d been speaking, in hushed tones, for about twenty minutes, when finally, it was the High Priest’s turn to speak. 

He nudged Mazin in my direction, then stood in front of the pyre, to speak his final words. 

As Mazin approached, Bertrand Namane stormed over to the straying Multiplier and grabbed him by the ear. He slapped him across the face several times, leaving red marks across his cheeks. I felt really bad for him. But, I felt worse about the fact that, really, I was just thankful not to be him. 

(A funeral pyre burns in the background)

Captain Mazin 

Alicia, you need to go home. 

Alicia 

Have I done something wrong? 

Captain Mazin 

Yes. 

Alicia 

What? 

Captain Mazin 

This isn’t the place for this. 

Alicia 

Actually, I think Frinka’s funeral is the perfect place for this. 

Captain Mazin 

Go home, or I will take you home… 

Alicia 

If you do that, I’ll just have to make a scene -- which might ruin the morbidities. 

Captain Mazin 

You think anyone here will care? Look around. None of these people like you. 

Alicia 

Two and a half thousand listeners would probably disagree. 

Alicia (Narrating)

Okay, so I’ve got to admit, on the surface, Mazin was right. Everyone at the funeral watched our little argument escalate, and it was hard not to think that most of them despised me. I was acting extremely irrational and impolite. Two of the deadliest sins in a world without sin. 

If it’s true -- if you hate me so much -- why do you listen? 

I’m betting you’re just scared. Scared to say you listen. Scared to ask a question. Scared to have an opinion. They don’t hate me. You don’t hate me. The Order hates me. At least, they do now. 

Aarnol watched our argument. He hadn’t started speaking yet. Jerry nudged him in the back and Aarnol broke his gaze. 

This was really what I’d come for. 

High Priest Aarnol (Transliterated)

Ethe ostmo naliorasha den, oto a naliorasha failai. Raifai liwih kaytay ouyou kaba oto ethe undagrau. 

Alicia (Narrating)

Aarnol left me, trapped in my home by four armed guards.

 

High Priest Aarnol (Transliterated)

Raifai liwih kaytay...

 

He said I’d destroyed my own house. Implied I was crazy.

High Priest Aarnol (Transliterated)

... ouyou kaba oto ethe undagrau.

 

I almost believed him. 

Except, it didn’t make any sense. He never called me crazy when I was investigating the insignificant squabbles of ignorant farmers. He only became aggressive when I started to investigate him. 

High Priest Aarnol (Transliterated)

Samuel Frinka, ouyou liwih mubeceh nuwuh, unswuh rawmaw, thiwi churna. Churna liwih kaymay ouyou loho. 

Alicia (Narrating)

But, for the moment, let’s assume I am insane. He also said that Silitra doesn’t have the facilities to look after people like me. So, what? We don’t have the facilities to look after someone like me, but we do have the guards and weaponry to guard someone like me? 

In Silitra, there are only ten members of the Militia to just over a thousand residents. That’s one Militia to every hundred residents, and at least triple that amount of Multipliers. So, how can they spare almost half their force, just to contain one stupid little leech? 

Either, Aarnol is incompetent, or he thinks my investigation is a real threat to him. 

Right then, and now, I was certain that Frinka’s death was neither an accident or a suicide. And, that Ianderu McConnell’s story had more to it than we were being led to believe. 

I thought back to the trial. Back to that awful image of Ianderu McConnell screaming at us through his soundproof box. Why would they lock him up, unless he could have said something they didn’t want us to hear? 

I’ve been to just about every single trial that Silitra has ever had. They have never locked the defendant in a soundproof box before. 

That’s why I had to get out. They were trying to do the same to me. I needed to get out of my house. Go to Frinka’s house, and try to figure out how he really died. There’s no way he burned his own house down, possibly destroying our only source of clean water in the process. 

I’m sure, by now, you’ve already heard the Death Priest’s pitchcast, about how I escaped from the militia. 

It’s been a few weeks since this happened, and I’m now far enough away that I can finally tell my side of what happened. The truth. 

First, for those of you who might not have heard it, here’s Death Priest Jerry’s version: 

Creepy church-bell jingle.

High Priest Aarnol

Time for a public service announcement from the priests of the Aphist Order.

Death Priest Jerry 

Dear citizens of Silitra. A terrible set of events has recently occurred in our normally peaceful settlement. These events, and those involved, threaten to upend our peaceful ways of life. I ask that you listen to this rationale of the events, so you may prepare yourselves with the information necessary for your protection. 

Many of you listen to a pitchfork broadcast, made by Alicia August -- a known liar and dissenter. 

Over the past two months, Miss August has been conducting a so-called "investigation" surrounding the death of our beloved High Priest Maté Akomo. Some of you will be aware of this. Others will not. 

She has produced little in the way of evidence, or fact, but has nonetheless reached for irrational, unsubstantiated conclusions, which have supposedly incriminated several of Silitra’s most upstanding members of society, including Samuel Frinka, High Priest Aarnol, the Namane brewery and myself, among others. 

We did all we could to protect poor Alicia from herself. Several of our militia volunteered to watch over her - to protect her. 

When we apprehended her she was running naked through the trees. She fell and broke her ribs. Unfortunately, she has proven to be a danger, not only to herself, but to us all. 

In a fugue state of rage -- similar to that state which caused Ianderu McConnell to murder my uncle -- Alicia August threw several buckets of acid at two members of our militia, both of whom have now died of those injuries. Our hearts go out to their families. She proceeded to attack her remaining two protectors with their own rifles -- maiming one. 

She then fled the scene of the crime, into the forest. 

She was then spotted at Samuel Frinka’s home and water treatment facility by one of our brave militia who said she admitted to burning down Samuel Frinka’s home, which we had previously considered a suicide. 

We suspected that Alicia August would flee into the Unknown Lands -- and there to die or live as her wits would allow her. That was an assumption we should never have made. 

As you all know, she attended Samuel Frinka’s funeral. In fact, we believe she had a hand in the horrific events of that day. We intended to arrest her, after the crowd had dispersed -- out of danger, as it were. 

As you know, that did not happen, which is why I am the one who must deliver this message to you. 

If you have any clue as to Alicia August’s current whereabouts, we ask that you please tell us as soon as you can. Do not approach her. Do not speak to her. She is extremely dangerous and cognitively incapable of reason. Thank you for your cooperation.

 

Stay safe. Stay alert. 

High Priest Aarnol

This has been a public service announcement from the priests of the Aphist Order. Thank you.

Creepy church-bell jingle. 

Alicia (Narrating)

Okay, citizens of Silitra. Let’s unpack that a little, shall we? Allegedly, I had possession of high quantities of acid in my home. Why? Why the hell would I keep buckets of acid in my house? For what? Just in case I foresaw the militia putting me under house arrest? That’s laughable. 

Even if I wanted to keep buckets of acid in my house, where would I get it? Acid’s pretty hard to make, and I certainly don’t know how to do it. That seems like something only those with expert scientific knowledge would be able to know how to do.

Second of all, why compare me to Ianderu? Ianderu went missing for five years, then randomly reappeared, as if by magic, and savagely murdered High Priest Maté. No matter what way you want to phrase it, I was under arrest, without charges. Even if I had attacked those men, I would have been within my rights. But I didn’t. 

Don’t you see? They’re trying to vilify me! They don’t want you to know what I know. 

High Priest Aarnol said I was paranoid. You heard him. He said that recording everything was something a crazy person would do. Well, guess what Aarnol. If you can hear me, I’m going to tell them all what really happened that day. And, I’ve got evidence to back it all up. 

What have you got? 
 

Alicia 

Excuse me, who’s in charge here?

 

(A door creaks open, as the sounds of rustling trees and birds fade in.) 

Alicia (Narrating)

I walked out of my front door to speak to the guards: 

Guard 

Me. What? 

Alicia 

I’d like to go for a walk. 

(Guard laughs) 

Guard 

Good one. 

Alicia (Narrating)

Okay, so I admit, that was lame. So was what I did next-- 

(Sounds of guards shouting and running after her as she flees.) 

Alicia (Narrating)

I pushed the guard over and ran towards the forest as fast as I could. Unfortunately, it wasn’t fast enough. Just as I got to the edge of the clearing, one of the guards jumped on me, and pushed me to the ground. 

When they got me back inside, they tied my hands and sat me on the couch. One of them -- the one I’d pushed over -- sat and watched me. 

I figured I’d make a little light conversation. 

Alicia

Were you there, the night the High Priest was murdered? 

Alicia (Narrating)

And, you know, dig. 

Guard 

Quiet. 

Alicia 

So, you were there. 

Guard 

No. I wasn’t. 

Alicia 

Oh, so where were you? 

Guard 

Nowhere. 

Alicia 

(patronising) 

Back at the barracks? 

(Silence) 

Guard 

Shut. Your. Mouth. 

Alicia 

I’d be pretty sad too. 

Guard 

I’m not sad. Sad about what? 

Alicia 

You know… 

Guard 

No. I don’t. 

Alicia 

Come on. You know… 

Guard 

Know what? 

Alicia 

Well, nine of you guys showed up, right? 

Alicia (Narrating)

I didn’t know how many militia showed up that night, but hey - maybe? Plus, if this guy had been sent to watch me, I guessed he was the runt of the litter. 

Alicia 

So, you’re the only one they don’t trust. They all have a story and… you don’t. 

Guard 

You don’t know nothing. 

Alicia 

I’m pretty sure I know more than you. I guess Mazin trusts me more than he trusts you. 

Guard 

I wasn’t on my own, so shut up. 

Alicia 

Oh, I’m sorry. Did you have a babysitter? 

Guard 

I guarded the barracks. 

(Alicia laughs mockingly) 

Alicia 

Guarded the barracks… right. From the creepy-crawlies? 

Guard 

From people like you. 

Alicia 

Okay. So, you must’ve done a crappy job. 

Guard 

What?!

 

Alicia 

Well, Mazin had you guard it alone that night. So, you must have fucked it up, because he’s sent five of you here just to guard a single woman. I guess you’re just a crappy soldier. 

Guard 

Shut up. We was training the recruits. 

Alicia (Narrating)

Ten Militia -- two of them, graduated recruits. About fifty more new recruits, too. This guy was no trainer, so he must have been assisting the Sergeant. That means eight showed up to Maté’s house on the night of the murder: Mazin and the seven regulars. 

Alicia 

You mean sleeping. 

Guard 

Shut up! We was trainin’. We train from 5am to midnight. Non-stop. We’re the fuckin’ elite. So shut your mouth, or I’ll show you what elite really means. 

Alicia 

That’s okay. I’m a crappy journalist. 

Guard 

Shut. Up. 

Alicia (Narrating)

I thought, maybe, if the Sergeant had a different story to Captain Mazin -- even if only slightly -- then I could start to pull on some new threads. If the Aphists were lying -- which they definitely were, come on -- he would have rehearsed the same story as Mazin. But, that fake story would only represent the happenings of the murder. If I questioned him, he might slip up on something seemingly insignificant. 

 

First, I needed to get out of my house -- and I definitely didn’t have the equipment, the skills or the sadistic inclination to hurt this poor guy with a bucket full of homemade acid. If you believe that story, you might as well just stop listening now, because you’re already lost to their lies. 

(SQUEAK - THUMP - SMASH - SCURRYING) 

Guard 

What the fuck was that? 

Alicia 

That… was whitey. 

Alicia (Narrating)

Of course I didn’t name the rats. I hated the rats. But, the look on his face when I told him about my pet-wild-mutant-rat was precious. 

Guard 

You’re full of shit. 

Alicia 

Maybe. But, I don’t see how that’s relevant. 

Guard 

You haven’t got a pet rat. That’s mental. 

Alicia 

Take a look. He’s probably in the pantry. 

 

Alicia (Narrating)

He grabbed his rifle and walked into the kitchen. From where I was, I couldn’t see him, but:

 

(Guard yells out) 

(GUNSHOT! GUNSHOT!) 

(Feet run into the house) 

Militia #1

What’s going on? 

Guard 

Sir, she’s got a pet rat. 

Militia #1

Don’t be mental. 

(Crash!) 

Militia #1

Fuck! 

(GUNSHOT!) 

Militia #1

That’s mental! 

Alicia (Narrating)

It didn’t take long for them to decide to leave me on my own again -- still tied up of course. None of them wanted to catch whatever shit that scabby rat was carrying. Every year, we get an outbreak of something new from wild animals. Sometimes it’s bad, sometimes less so. The worst was cholera. We definitely got it from the rats. 

It killed off about thirty percent of Silitra’s population. 

I didn’t like having them, but I guess, with rats, you’ve kind of just got to accept that once you’ve got them, you’ve got them. But, how were they getting in? 

When the militia had all left, and gone back their positions, guarding the doors, Whitey scampered into my living room. He gnawed and licked one of my overturned buckets of Namane. 

Alicia 

Bah! Bah! 

Alicia (Narrating)

He turned and looked at me, unimpressed by my pathetic attempt to seem threatening. He approached my feet and went to nibble on my toe, so I kicked him -- again. He darted away. 

I chased him, my arms still tied, to see where he ran to. 

I followed him all the way to the toilet room, where I had previously suspected they were hiding. But, he was gone. He definitely ran into that bathroom, so I guessed there must have been a hole somewhere. 

Then, when I took a closer look, I saw it: At the base of the toilet, a tiny crack between the toilet and the floor -- no more than a few millimetres wide. But, there was a little blood, congealing around a scab which must have scraped off, along with a few long white hairs. 

I went to my kitchen and got a knife, then went back to the bathroom and cut the rope they’d used to tie my hands together. Then, quiet as a mouse, stuck the knife into the crack and prised up the board. 

I figured, I’d seen rats out in the forest, and then I’d seen the same rats in my house -- but never on my property. What if there was, like, an old, secret sewer system or something beneath my house? Maybe that’s how they were travelling. Maybe, I could escape that way. 

Anyway, when I prised out the wood-- 

(Alicia prises up floorboards.)

(The sounds of a thousand rats from beneath the floorboards.)

-- it was obvious that I didn’t have much longer until the rats took over my house anyway. They’d eaten most of it away. Sorry Mom. 

I pulled up a few more floorboards. Whitey, and three more rats jumped out of the hole and ran into the rest of the house. The more boards I pulled up, the louder the sound of the rats became. I didn’t want to get in there… But, if I didn’t get out then, I may never have gotten the chance again. The Order had decided that I was worth imprisoning. 

As I've said, I’ve been to every trial in Silitra’s history. I’ve never once seen someone accused by the Order not end up in prison. Even their families agree to their imprisonment. Because our system is just so fair and orderly. No. They’re all just too fucking polite to complain. And, too scared they’ll follow them into prison, if they do. 

I went to the pantry, to get some bait. About thirty rats crawled around, and I had to step in between them to get what little food I had. 

I laid that food in the middle of my living room, and made a trail all the way to the toilet room, then sprinkled some crumbs into the hole. 

(Rising sound of hundreds of rats flooding into the room.) 

They smelled it. Came rushing out of the hole -- at first, bunches of ten or so -- then twenties, thirties. Within minutes, all the floors of my house breathed in unison with the pulsating wave of a thousand mutant rats, fighting for food, pissing for territory, and, when they couldn’t reach the bait, they ate each others’ scabs. 

I put on as much clothing as I could, but it was just the usual. A couple of jumpers. A pair of boots. Gloves. I didn’t really own much else. 

Then, I lowered myself down, into the foundations of my house: 

(Rats, louder) 

The stench of piss was even worse down there. It was almost pitch black, but as my eyes acclimated to the darkness, I could see how wrong my assumption had been. There was a tunnel - but it wasn’t a sewer. I felt around the edges of the opening - marked with grooves, where the rats had burrowed with their massive teeth. 

Guard 

Oh shit! 

Alicia (Narrating)

I didn’t want to do it, but figured I had no choice. If they found me now, in among all these diseased creatures, they’d put me in prison, instead. That wouldn’t save me from the rats -- it would save them, though. 

I climbed into the tight hole. It was big enough for me to kneel and crawl -- but how long that would last, I didn’t know. I think part of me still hoped it would lead to some old sewer, where I could run to the outskirts of the city. 

I scraped my way through the hole for a few minutes, trying to imagine the barrage of fur brushing off my face and body was just a bunch of cute puppies saying hello. That was, until one of them bit me. 

I tried to kneel up, but I hadn’t realised the tunnel had gotten smaller. Too small to kneel up. Almost too small to even move my shoulders. 

Another rat bit at my face. I tried not to think of all the diseases I might get. Of course, that just made me think of all the diseases I might get. Cholera. Typhus. Hantavirus. The plague. The pox. 

I pushed myself backwards, to a slightly wider part of the tunnel, took off my top jumper and wrapped it around my face. I didn’t know how much good that would do, but it made me feel better, nonetheless. 

I crawled further down the tunnel. I wasn’t sure, but it felt like I was turning a corner. I could feel the rats, pushing down on my flesh, to make gaps in the airtight plug my waist and shoulders made with the wall. 

(Alicia vomits) 

I couldn’t help it. The smell. The fear. 

(She vomits again) 

The rats converged around my face, tearing at my jumper -- hungry. 

(The rats tear at the jumper, eat the vomit.) 

I wanted to go back. This was stupid. So stupid. I couldn’t go back. If they thought I was infected, they’d quarantine me. At that point, they could cleanse me, if they had the inclination. 

Through the crush of rats, biting my face, licking my vomit, tearing my jumper, I saw a light, just ahead. The hole was tight. 

 

Too tight. 

Was I stuck? 

I was stuck. 

More rats latched onto my face, slipping into the holes in my jumper, trying to eat my vomit.

 

(Alicia yells as she pushes herself through the hole.) 

(Her recorder breaks.) 

(Punctuated by the sounds of her cries and the rats muffled, mangled, and altogether creepy.) 

I pushed through -- squeezed toward the light. 

I got my feet beneath me. Pushed up, into the vertical channel of the tunnel. 

This hole was even smaller. The rats nibbled at my boots, as I slipped my hands up above my head and wedged my shoulders into that crack. 

I wriggled, leaning from side-to-side, just to slip one shoulder slightly higher than the other. The rocks tore into my arms. 

I was close enough to touch the small opening. I brushed at it with my fingernails. 

A rat squeezed between my belly and the wall, scratched its way up my chest and started biting at my mouth again. I could feel the rest of them, crawling up my legs, trying to get through. 

I pushed the loose dirt away from the hole and wriggled my arms out, up to my chest, then pushed the rest of my body out of the hole. I pulled the rat off my face, but it rushed back at me. I stamped at it, crushing its whole body under my boot. 

I could hear the rest of the rats crawling through the tunnel. I grabbed a large rock and rolled it over the hole. It probably wouldn’t keep them inside, but it would at least give me a second to collect myself. 

I stared down at the twisted body of the rat I’d just killed. It twitched. I hit it with a rock.

(Alicia beats something with a rock.)

I’m sorry. I looked down at my recorder. Broken. It could still play, but the microphone was garbage. 

I wasn’t going to share my experience with the rats until the Priests shared their version. I’m not proud of killing that rat. I felt terrible. But I never harmed those Militia Men. If you go to my house right now, you’ll see. You'll see I’m not lying. Those rats have probably taken the whole place over. 

If you get the chance, you should burn it to the ground. 

That’s why I had cuts all over my face at the funeral. 

You were all there. You saw them. 

Jerry never mentioned the rats in his little pitchcast, did he? 

No. 

He doesn’t want you to get scared. The Order have tried to kill every rat, mouse, bird, and general pest in Silitra. At least, they thought they did. All they really did was drive them underground, where we couldn’t get to them. 

At the funeral, I could see Mazin desperately wanted to arrest me. But, he couldn’t. Not in front of all of you. Not before the New High Priest officially made me a criminal. I think he planned to wait until the High Priest had finished his speech -- until all of you had left. Then, silently, he would get rid of me. Pity for him -- and Aarnol -- they never got the chance. 

High Priest Aarnol 

Thiwi zeethee erzembe, ewe aysay raou stala bysyguhduh. 

Alicia (Narrating)

As High Priest Aarnol threw the first of three plastic roses onto the pyre, Captain Mazin took a plastic tie from his pouch. 

 

Alicia 

Make a scene if you want. 

Alicia (Narrating) 

I walked away from him. Into the crowd. People turned to look. Aarnol didn’t stop speaking. He just flicked his finger to the two militia standing next to him. They looked uncertain, but he just nodded his head towards me. 

High Priest Aarnol 

Thiwih zeethee dsurwur, ewe kaymay elvesour leefee terbeteh. 

Alicia (Narrating)

I backed into the crowd. Mazin and the two militia guards followed, slowly, trying not to cause a scene at this grave event. 

High Priest Aarnol 

Thiwih sithi sha, ouyou veelee suh erverefo.

 

Alicia (Narrating)

Someone grabbed me, but I batted them away and kept moving further into the crowd.

Mazin was angry that he’d lost me before… 

When I finally made it to Maté’s house, after my escape, after the forest, a couple of days before the funeral, I searched that place top to bottom. You could see why it was the High Priest’s official residence. It was the only house I’d ever seen that wasn’t at least partly made of corrugated metal, or scraps, scavenged by Multipliers in the Outlands. 

The whole thing was brick, concrete, marble and oak. It was beautiful. Well, until the Militia destroyed it, of course. They’d even gone so far as to punch head-sized holes into the hollow dry-walls, which used to connect this house to other houses on it’s long-since overgrown street. 

At first, I tried to evade the moving cameras, but then I figured, they’d look there soon enough, either way, so I’d be better off thinking logically about where the High Priest might have hidden something. 

I ran through everything I knew about High Priest Maté: 

- What he might have. 

- Why he might hide it. 

- Where he might hide it. 

High Priest Aarnol: 

- What he might want. 

- And why he might want it. 

And how that all might relate to Ianderu McConnell, the murder and what I’d found out so far. 

First, High Priest Maté was top of the order. So, honestly he could have had anything. He knew about everything Aarnol knew, and probably more. So, there were too many things to consider there. 

However, as for why he might hide it -- whatever it was -- Aarnol knew it existed. Otherwise, why would he look for it? If he was looking for it, then he didn’t know where it was. Obviously. Which means, it’s something which was either entirely private to Maté, or it was something which Maté wanted to hide from Aarnol, specifically. 

Aarnol was currently looking for it in Samuel Frinka’s house, too. And, he passively thought that I might have it, which is why the Militia Captain searched me at Frinka’s house. That means, Aarnol didn’t believe it was entirely private to Maté. Therefore, it was mainly hidden just so Aarnol wouldn’t find it. 

So, whatever it was; it was something which Maté didn’t want Aarnol to find, but which Samuel Frinka, or even I, therefore -- possibly anyone except Aarnol -- may have been entrusted with. 

I skipped the where for the time being and moved onto Aarnol. What might he want? Well, what’s his modus operandi? 

So far, he has done everything he can to stop me from asking questions. He’s even tried to imprison me, with no charges whatsoever -- allegedly for my own safety. He’s trying to control me. 

Then, Samuel Frinka. The Order hated Samuel Frinka. But, Maté coudn’t have hated him that much. They lived within a hundred yards of each other. And, assuming Aarnol knows more about Maté and Frinka than I do -- a fair assumption -- then he clearly knows that they were close enough that Maté might have given Frinka something to hide. 

I would just have to assume, for the moment, that whatever it was they were looking for, Maté had kept hold of. I saw him in that video. Ianderu surprised him. He didn’t know he was going to die that night. 

The moving picture recorders. Another of Aarnol’s delights. For security. Again, security. Control. Aarnol wants control. So, whatever Maté hid, must be something that could give Aarnol more control. 

The why is pretty self-evident. It’s difficult to become High Priest. Only a certain kind of person can get there. Aarnol is undoubtedly that kind of person. 

Back to the where. 

If I were Maté, I thought, where would I hide something, from Aarnol, specifically, which might give him more control. 

If I’d known why Ianderu killed Maté, that might have been the biggest clue of all. I didn’t -- and still don’t -- know… yet. 

They’d searched two houses, so far - that I knew of. That meant it was small enough to be hidden in a house, assuming Aarnol knew what it was. 

I looked around at the state of the house. Overturned sofa. Cracked marble countertop, where they’d clearly smashed it with hammers. Holes in the walls. 

The holes in the walls. The holes in the walls. They were small. No more than the circumference of a single head. It would have been dark in those holes, so there would be no point in sticking your head in there. So, they must have punctured the walls, to stick their arms in. Therefore, whatever it was, was small enough to fit in your hand. 

Where was the one place that Aarnol wouldn’t look? I didn’t know Aarnol well enough to know where he would never look. But, Maté would have. He trained Aarnol. He would know everything about him. 

When I was at Frinka’s place, Aarnol led the search, so I assumed that must have been true for Maté’s house, too. 

I figured, the most efficient plan would be to look around the house, for everywhere that Aarnol had searched. It looked like everywhere, but I thought it might tell me a little more about him. 

Kitchen: 

- Smashed the marble counter-top. 

- Tore apart the walls. 

- Ripped apart the cupboards. 

- Pulled up the floorboards. 

- Opened up the fabric of the sofa and chairs. In fact, all the furniture was ruined. Even the ceiling had been ripped apart. 

 

Living Room 

- Fireplace -- bricks and all. 

- Furniture again. 

- Plush, red carpet: destroyed. 

- Windows broken, taken out of their frames. 

- Ceiling again. 

 

Dining room 

- Walls, ceiling, furniture, windows, floorboards, inside the doors. 

 

Stairs 

- They tore up the carpet. 

- Broke the walls open. 

- Checked every step. 

- Broke the rail in several places. 

 

Bedroom 

- Same again, plus they broke open the electric heater. I can’t believe the High Priest gets a fucking heater. 

 

Study 

- I had high hopes for the study, but it looked like that was where Aarnol most expected to find it. I hadn’t realised from outside, but this whole corner of the house had been destroyed in the search. Now, it’s basically just an upstairs garden. 

- When I searched the desk, which was lying on its side, I found a stash of stuff in one of the drawers. One thing looked kind of like a recorder, but it wasn’t like any I’d ever seen. It was black, with four huge buttons protruding from the side: three black, one red.

 

When I pressed one of them, the front of it opened, revealing a little, removable, see-through plastic thing, with a thin brown ribbon wrapped around two spindles. I shut the compartment and pressed the red button. It whirred into action. I pressed stop, then the back button. 

I fiddled around like this for a while, until I got the hang of it. The recording sounded like this: 

 

Alicia 

Hello. Hello? Testing. This is Alicia August. I’m searching Maté’s house for something. Wait, is this the thing? 

 

Alicia (Narrating)

When I played it back, and realised how bad the quality was, I figured there was no way this could be the thing they were after. Besides, they’d clearly looked in that desk. Either way, I figured it was better than the one the rats destroyed, so it would tide me over until I could get home and grab my own stash of recorders. 

I’d checked almost everywhere. Including a few rooms I haven’t mentioned. All of them in various states of disrepair. That’s when I caught my reflection in a shard of glass. It was pretty shocking, and, although I was still angry, I could see why Mazin, the Militia Captain had been so concerned about my face. 

The rats had bitten it to pieces. Through the adrenaline of my search and escape, I hadn’t noticed how bad it was. I knew it was bleeding, but my whole face was painted red, all the way down my neck. It was pretty frightening, even for me. On top of that, my face, neck, hands and legs were covered in open sores where the rats had torn at my skin, plus a few gashes from the rocks in their tunnel. 

I knew I’d never get out of town looking like that. someone would spot the red lady a mile away and call for help, regardless of whether or not they were actively looking for me. I didn’t want to leave a trace in Maté’s house, but then, I had no choice. 

The whole place was a mess and I’d probably leave the smell of rat piss behind no matter what, so I ran into the bathroom. I knew the Militia Captain would check Maté’s house soon, so I needed to hurry. 

Thankfully, they’d left Maté’s wash cloths behind. Mostly clean. Small mercies. 

As I sat on the toilet, wiping my wounds with those cloths, I looked around the bathroom. Also destroyed. 

- Ceiling, bath, walls, tiles, everything ripped apart. 

I was running out of time. 

I leaned back on the toilet, to wash those hard to reach areas. That just hit home how much better the priests had it than the rest of us -- the High Priest, especially. 

I couldn’t piss without my toilet jiggling around -- if I even still had a toilet. Maté’s toilet was rock solid - white porcelain - extremely clean. Considering how much the Order despises impoliteness, it didn’t surprise me that It looked like it had never been used. 

In fact, it looked like no-one had ever touched it. 

Then I realised, all those places that Aarnol searched. What did they all have in common? They were clean. Structural. Clever. He would never search a toilet, because it would never occur to him that a fellow member of the order might put something so important -- so significant -- inside a toilet. 

(BANG of a door) 

(Bangs and furniture moving downstairs) 

Militia Captain 

Alicia?! Alicia! 

Alicia (Narrating)

When I heard the Militia Captain calling out for me, the sound of his voice made me think maybe he really was here to help. I gave myself over to him and--

(Alicia chuckles.)

Yeah, right. 

No. I knew he would check upstairs sooner or later. I got down on my knees and stuck my hand into the toilet. I’d touched worse things that day than the diluted shit of five high priests. I got my hand as far up as the trap. Nothing. 

The Militia Captain was coming up the stairs. 

I couldn’t go back. You see that, don’t you? I ran out of the bathroom and into the walless study. I climbed out over the lowest section of the remaining wall and lowered myself down, then let go and crumpled onto the ground. 

Militia Captain 

Alicia! I know you’re here! 

Alicia (Narrating)

Around me, on the perimeter of Maté’s clearing, the Militia searched for me in the forest. Unlike the industrial mess of Frinka’s clearing, Maté’s almost sparkled, it was so clean. Just grass. Flat, trimmed grass, a few holes where the Militia must have dug and the brown patch where I lay. Nothing else to hide behind. 

If anyone cared to look my way, they’d see me -- immediately. I lay down on the ground, hoping that might give me a few minutes more time. 

There was no way out. Any way I went, they would catch me and I’d be done. Would they put me in prison? Or would they kill me? 

This whole thing had been for nothing. I thought I should have just gotten out when I had the chance. Whatever that thing was, I was never going to find it. Maté had managed to hide it from Aarnol and the entire Militia. It was stupid of me to think I could do any better. But then, humility never was my most abundant feature. 

(Distant sound of flushing) 

Mazin, obviously disgusted by the present I’d left him. 

(Bubbling and clanging next to us.) 

I rolled away from Maté’s bubbling cess tank, and the brown sludge that flowed out the top of it. 

I looked back around the forest and up at the house. Still trapped. They knew I was here. They were going to close it down. Any second, Mazin would enter that study, look down, and stare right at me. 

I got ready to run. I mean, I’d never make it, but figured it was worth a try. I planted my hand on the ground, started to get up, but then my hand slipped in the slurry from Maté’s tank. 

Right then, I was kind of thankful to the rats. Without them, I never would have had the guts to take a dip in a tank full of shit. 

I left Maté’s recorder on the ground and covered it in some grass -- I wasn’t about to lose my only method of collecting evidence. I gently pushed the lid over, and slipped inside. It was cold. And thick. I submersed myself up to just under my nose, so I could still attempt to breath. To be honest, I held my breath anyway. If you ever wondered about it, shit doesn’t get better with age. And that container was filled with the excrement of five separate High Priests. 

I slipped the lid back on, almost the whole way, just enough off that I could see Maté’s house. 

Mazin entered the study. Looked around the grounds. Then he called out to the other Militiamen, searching the woods. They started walking back towards Maté’s house. 

Good, I thought. They were going to give up the search, or at least search elsewhere. That would give me time to get away and regroup. 

I took another deep breath and held it, trying to forget the stench as it burned into my nostrils. 

I heard the squelch of boots getting closer. Closer. 

Suddenly, the lid of the cess tank slammed shut, and pushed my whole head into the sludge. I fought every urge I had to breathe, or to push my way back up. 

I pushed my hands against the wall of the tank, as if that was going to fill my lungs with air. 

That’s when I felt it. A small cube, big enough to fit in my hand, stuck to the side of the tank. It felt like it was covered in some kind of film. 

I ripped it from the wall. 

My mouth opened and sludge dripped in, but I just managed to shut my throat with my tongue. My body wanted to breathe, but I fought against the palpitations of my spasming chest. 

Then, I had no choice. 

I pushed the lid open and pulled myself out onto the grass. 

(Alicia coughs up the sludge that got in) 

Alicia (Narrating)

When I finished coughing, I looked up at Maté’s house. They’d seen me, alright. But they just stood there, staring at me in disbelief. I flipped them an O, grabbed Maté’s recorder and took off into the forest, just as they started jumping off the study, to chase me. 

I was in agony, but with no time to feel the pain. 

I ran as fast as I could, without stopping. In the forest, I changed directions a few times, then went east, I think. 

Out of the woods, then, through a crater and over an ancient, dilapidated bridge - I had to jump over a gap in the middle to stop from falling about fifty feet into the dirt below. 

I kept running, and running. I don’t know how far. It had to be at least a few kilometres. I knew I’d lost them in the forest already, but I didn’t want to look behind to find out for sure. I ran up that steep dirt hill that’s propped up by the spire iron. 

I thought, maybe, if I could see where they were, I could figure out the best way to run.

(Sound of crumbling dirt) 

I fell. 

Advertisement for Namane Beer

(A wind chime jingles in the background.)

Grimaldo breathes in deeply, smelling the air. 

Grimaldo Power

Mmmm-mmh. I just love the smell of fresh cut grass and barley. Walking through those broken stalks, and sipping on the pure, unadulterated beverage they created. There’s no such thing as a higher power, but if there was, I bet he’d be drinkin' Namane Beer. In fact, he might just quit his job after the very first sip. 

Namane beer: If there were a God, we’d be purer.

Alicia August (Narrating)

When I woke up. My arm was bandaged. Broken. 

I was so concerned with escaping from Captain Mazin, I fell through a hole in the hill, and into one of the middle floors of the spire iron. From where I was lying, I could see one of those old people-boxes that used to take them up and down. The label above it said: “74”. 

Next to me sat an elderly woman. She couldn’t have been any less than fifty-years-old. Her name was Hunda. She’d found me, the day before I woke up. She’d cleaned me up, dressed the wounds all over my face and body and splinted my arm. These are the kinds of things Multipliers learn to do by themselves. 

I’d never spoken to a Multiplier. Not directly, anyway. Hunda was different. There was something about her. Something I recognised, but I couldn’t tell what it was. By the time she gave me some soup and fresh water, I didn’t care anymore, either. 

I did ask her if she wouldn’t mind me recording our conversations -- when would I ever get a chance to record a Multiplier in private, ever again? She didn’t have a problem with it. She held what looked like a small recorder to her throat whenever she spoke. And her voice came from the box, instead of her mouth.

(The recording is warped and squeaky in places.)

Alicia 

Why did you help me? 

Hunda 

Seemed like the right thing to do. 

Alicia 

Thank you. That’s… I just- I wouldn’t have expected that from a… 

(Hunda laughs) 

Hunda 

From a Liar? We’re not so bad. 

Alicia 

You said you found me yesterday… Have you been here all that time? 

Hunda 

I left to get some food and supplies for you. 

Alicia 

But, won’t your owners-- sorry, I mean--

Hunda 

I don’t have any owners. 

Alicia 

So… you’re not a Multiplier, then? 

Hunda 

I was… once - just like you. 

Alicia (Narrating)

I wasn’t about to correct her. Hunda passed me a cup of beer. 

Hunda 

Might help the pain. 

Alicia (Narrating) 

It didn’t taste like Namane. Actually, it tasted better. If anything, it made Namane beer taste like Maté’s cesspit sludge. In any other situation, I might have enquired. I might have connected that beer to the money and the commercial someone dropped off at my house, but, I had so many other things on my mind: 

Alicia 

Did you escape? From wherever you were before? 

Hunda 

Yes. 

Alicia 

I think I should tell you. I--

Hunda 

I know who you are. And, don’t worry, you can use this on your pitchcast. 

Alicia (Narrating) 

She winked at me, like we were both in on some kind of dirty joke. 

Hunda 

I know you’d just use it anyway and cut out the part where I said no. 

Alicia 

That’s not true. 

Hunda 

Yes it is. But, that’s okay. I want to be on your show. My kids would love it. 

Alicia 

You’ve got kids? Did you all escape? 

Hunda 

They never worked. Well, they work hard, just not for the Namane thieves. 

Alicia 

So, I guess you know… what I’m working on already? 

Hunda 

I’d say you’re working on getting yourself killed. 

Alicia 

I’ve heard that before. 

Hunda 

Make sure this isn’t the last time you hear it. 

Alicia (Narrating) 

We talked, and I told her everything. I didn’t want to, but she was so good at listening, I couldn’t help but speak to her. It was like she knew my deepest secrets already, and all I had to do was speak them. Every time I told her something which I had thought was a deep dark revelation, she just nodded along, as if she already knew. 

When I got to the talking squirrels, she laughed. Understandable. But then she said something really weird: 

Hunda 

It likes to do that. Makes it all seem so miraculous. 

Alicia 

What do you mean by “It”? 

Alicia (Narrating) 

She just shook her head and gestured for me to continue. I told her about Frinka, she nodded and:

 

Hunda 

Don’t go to that funeral. 

Alicia 

What? Why? 

Hunda 

Don’t go. That’s all. 

Alicia 

I have to go. Didn’t you hear a word I just said? 

Man’s voice 

(from behind a corner -- transliterated) 

Kiukapa uraukubala-ala? Ugósha-sha yo. Ugó kiulàkasha. Igosha-sha.

 

Alicia (Narrating) 

A thin, wiry teenager jogged around the corner. He saw me and stopped. I don’t think he expected me to be awake.

 

Man’s voice 

(closer now) 

Ugósha-sha yo. Ugó kiulàkasha. Igosha-sha.

 

Alicia (Narrating) 

Hunda turned towards him and shook her head - “don’t” she seemed to say. I didn’t know it at the time, but that wiry teenager was the same Multiplier who would almost cry at Frinka’s funeral the next day. 

 

Alicia 

You speak the Aphist Tongue? 

(Hunda laughs) 

Hunda 

The Aphist Tongue. The secret language of the priests. 

(Hunda laughs again) 

Hunda 

No. We don’t speak that pig-language. 

Alicia 

I have something. I don’t have it with me. It’s a--

Hunda 

I know what you have. 

Alicia 

Right, yeah. You listen to the pitchcast… 

Hunda 

Well, there’s that. And, the fact that I translated it for Ianderu McConnell.

Alicia (Narrating) 

She smiled at me. She had something I wanted and she knew it. Somehow, I had a feeling that I had something she wanted, too - but I couldn’t tell what it was. 

Hunda 

Go home and get your things. Meet me here at four o’ clock tomorrow, and I will take you somewhere safe. 

Alicia 

(hesitant) 

Okay. 

Hunda 

And don’t go to that funeral. 

Alicia 

Okay, I won’t. 

Alicia (Narrating) 

Of course, I went to the funeral. She was just a crazy old Liar anyway, right? Probably senile, or drunk from all that premium beer. I mean, it was damn good. Was it her that left the money and the commercial in my house? No. Too old. Could’ve been the teenager, though. Plus, when she said we, I got the sense that there were more than just a couple of them, wherever the safe place was. 

Before the funeral, I snuck back to my house. No militia. They were either scared to leave their troops with the rats, or didn’t care if I returned. The rats didn’t seem so hungry this time round, and they moved out of my way while I gathered up some equipment and supplies.

High Priest Aarnol 

Thiwi zeethee onstimoeemee, ewe owalla elvesour nuwuh nalioirasha entomo. Samuel Frinka, ouyou liwih eebee dissimih. 

 

Alicia (Narrating) 

As the New High Priest finished speaking, he threw his final plastic rose onto Frinka’s pyre. Mazin encroached, with his two inferiors. The umbrage in his eyes, at having lost me before, was palpable. The crowd, annoyed at the impoliteness, started to grab hold of me. 

Then, Hunda’s Multiplier -- the one who had been serving drinks -- had thrown something at Aarnol. The other two threw glasses of what I guessed was beer at him, covering him from head to toe. No-one in the crowd guessed what was happening at first, but Aarnol did. He tried to run, but the other two Multipliers grabbed him and held him still. 

Mazin forgot all about me and ran at the Multipliers, rifle raised. 

Aarnol pushed back against them, clearly petrified of whatever it was they’d thrown at him -- but then, Aarnol changed the direction of his efforts and pulled them both into Frinka’s pyre. All three of them caught the flames. 

The two Multipliers screamed in agony and backed away from the fire-- Hunda’s Multiplier gave me one final, punitive glance, then disappeared into the crowd. 

Through the screams of the flaming Multipliers, Aarnol’s screams pierced through, his whole body completely aflame, but he ran over the fire, stamping out the last remnants of Frinka’s bodily structure, and into the crowd of people who jumped out of the way - including the Militia Captain. 

(BOOM!!) 

(Screams rip through the crowd as they scatter. Another explosion. Screams. Another. Screams.)

The two Multipliers died instantly. Several of our citizens were caught in the blast, too. Despite the madness, the perimeter of Multipliers didn’t move. They stayed there, with their heads down, as if still passively mourning at some guy’s funeral. 

Aarnol collapsed into the river. The flames quenched in the irradiated water. Several of the militia dragged him out. 

At the time, I didn’t know if he had lived or died. I’m guessing now that he lived, but I can’t know for sure. 

When I escaped, I ran to the place that Hunda had told me to meet her. I waited until around six, but she never showed up. I figured the teenager had told her that I’d gone to the funeral and she’d decided I wasn’t worth the trouble. 

It was getting dark, and I needed somewhere safer to hide. Couples sometimes go for hikes up to the spire iron. I did a piece about it a few years ago: anonymous interviews with couples about all the seedy, impolite things they got up to on the various levels of that structure. I didn’t think anyone would be hiking around Silitra anytime soon, but still, I couldn’t take the risk. 

I assumed -- correctly -- that the Order would try to place the blame of the funeral incident on me. No-one could be allowed to believe that the passive, semi-sentient Multipliers had the ability to murder, much less rebel against peace and prosperity. 

I found somewhere safe-ish. I’m not telling you where it is. Not yet, anyway.

Not until I find Hunda and her teenager, and whoever else she’s hiding out with. Not until I find out why and where Ianderu McConnell got that recording. Until I find out why High Priest Aarnol either didn’t know what it said, or lied about it. 

In the meantime, other questions had sprung up. 

What was the cube I found at Maté’s house, and why was it so important? 

And, most important to me… What did High Priest Aarnol know that he wanted to keep from me so badly that he was willing to destroy my life to hide it. 

See you soon, Aarnol.