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Xenolith, Page 41

A. Sparrow

  Chapter 33: Custody

  Ara spotted the police cruiser too late to warn Canu. She hoped it would roll on by, but this officer seemed to be scanning the onlookers for particular kinds of faces. Ara saw many traits in Canu that might arouse a police officer’s suspicions, his bronze skin principal among them. His unruly hair, filthy shirt and perpetually crazed expression did not help.

  During Ara’s time in Ur, she had come to find that Urep’o policemen had an uncanny sense for the extraordinary. Even though the regular folks might pay little attention to her, the enforcers in town homed in on her as if she was a flashing beacon of foreignness. Because she dressed just like the natives she attributed this phenomenon to body language: the way she walked and gestured. It was certainly not her scrawny figure that attracted their eye.

  Canu looked bewildered when the man began to question him. She rushed over to the cruiser’s open window. “He doesn’t speak English, officer.”

  The man looked her over carefully, his eyes lingering on her shirt. “Pats fan, eh?”

  “Excuse me?” Ara had no idea what he had just said. Was it a local dialect?

  “You’re not from around here, are you?”

  “Not really,” she said, relieved to have understood.

  “Where’re you from, miss?” he said, his eyes breaking contact with her as he looked down to depress buttons on a panel.

  “Vermont,” she said, naming the site of her acculturation. She had spent eight months solo in Ur, until winter had driven her back to Sesei and into the maw of war.

  He looked up. “Oh, yeah? Where, exactly?”

  “Northeast Kingdom. St. Johnsbury.”

  A loud, distorted voice filled the cab. The officer picked up a device and spoke into it. Ara understood little, riddled as it was with codes and jargon. His eyes trained steadily on them steadily as he spoke. Canu’s eyes shifted nervously. He seemed ready to bolt. Ara put her hand on his back to reassure him.

  The officer leaned out the window again. “I’d like you and your friend to come to the station for an interview. What do you say?”

  Her face flushed. She had experienced police interrogations before, never under circumstances so chaotic. She ran through the options in her head. To run would only amplify their suspicion and trigger an all-out pursuit. Cooperation, while risky, might at least immunize them from further scrutiny.

  “How about it? Just a few questions to help us work things out,” said the officer. “Stuff like what you saw here. Where you were when all this happened. Who you are, and all that.”

  “What exactly happened here, anyway?” said Ara. “I don’t even know.”

  The officer smirked. “Well, that’s why we’re asking questions. We want to know, too.”

  “Just me?” she said.

  “No, I’d like your friend to come along, too.”

  “I did tell you, he doesn’t speak English.”

  “Yeah, you mentioned that. What language does he speak?”

  “Tagalog,” she said, providing the identity that through trial and error seemed to produce the least friction during her acculturation.

  The officer looked off into space.

  “It’s Filipino. He’s from the Philippines.”

  She wasn’t sure why Filipino worked better than Mexican or Egyptian, but it did. When she had stumbled upon this property, she had gone to a library and studied enough Philippine geography and history to satisfy a less informed person. The ruse had failed only once, in New Hampshire, when she encountered a policeman who had been stationed in Subic Bay when he was in the military.

  “Well, maybe you can translate for him,” said the officer.

  Ara knew that the officer was only making it seem as if they had a choice. Any resistance would simply ramp up the pressure until other policemen had arrived to help subdue them.

  “Just a second, officer.” She turned to Canu and whispered in Sesep’o. “He wants to talk to us.”

  “About what?” said Canu.

  “About the terrorists, I suppose. Your people didn’t kill anyone, did they?”

  “Of course not,” Canu said, dismissively.

  “Then we’ll be fine. None of this involves us.”

  She looked up at the policeman. “Okay, he’s fine with it. We’re ready.”

  He exited his door and came around the front of the car. She studied him carefully as he approached. He seemed relaxed. He did not touch his weapon or reach for handcuffs

  “Can both of you please put your palms on the car and stand with your legs apart?” said the officer. “Just precautionary.”

  Ara complied. “Do as I do, Canu.”

  The officer patted down their legs and torso. She knew better than to carry metal weapons around the Urep’o, who were sensitive about such things, though she wasn’t completely unarmed. An innocuous looking, but razor sharp flake of obsidian rode atop the detritus in the bottom of her rugged canvas purse.

  The purse, a souvenir of her acculturation training, still contained items that helped her through previous encounters. Philosophers could be quite adept at forgery and theft. She retained an expired Vermont driver’s license and a picture ID from a community college in Montpelier.

  “Okay, both of you can slide in back,” said the policeman. “At this point your participation in this interview is strictly voluntary. I should warn you, though, that at the station you’ll be asked about offenses that carry a power of arrest. Someone will state your rights beforehand, but if there’s anything that worries you, now’s the time to tell me.”

  Ara smiled up at him. “We’re fine, officer. Happy to help,” said Ara.

  The policeman slammed their door and slid into the front seat. Lights flashed on his roof as he pulled out slowly, creeping forward through the crowd of rubberneckers. Idle ambulances and police cruisers from neighboring towns crowded the lane leading into the factory.

  Canu eyes widened suddenly. He swung around and pounded on the window.

  “Canu, no! Don’t do that.”

  “I see Vul!” said Canu.

  “Everything okay back there?”

  “Everything’s fine, officer, sorry. He’s just waving to a friend.”

  The officer seemed to equivocate. He slowed the vehicle almost to a stop, before regaining speed and rolling past the barricade.

  “I saw my comrades in the crowd,” whispered Canu. “Vul, and I think Pari as well.”

  “How many of you are there?” said Ara.

  Canu stared through the back window as the roadblock receded and the cruiser crossed the river over a crumbling, concrete bridge.