Hi there friends… It’s been awhile again, but for good reason. I’ve actually been steadily and actively writing, although I haven’t updated the word count in the margin in awhile. I’ve been working on a short tentatively titled The Book about a girl named One. This tale addresses issues of censorship. It is very strongly influenced by 1984 by Orwell and Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury. I love both of these books.
In any case, I wrote Alif Negotiates quite awhile back as I was doing a little character exploration. Alif is a character that will show up later in the Hinterland Chronicles series. I have plans for him to be the eventual partner to Bilqis’s daughter. Of note, his character started here in Honor&Truth, my incomplete online serial novel. I stopped writing H&T because it had so many plot holes. I went back, rethought things, re-outlined, and it turned into The Hinterland Chronicles. I still go back from time to time and read it and despite how raw and unedited it is, I still like it a lot. Enjoy the excerpt and let me know what you think.
“It’s bright out there,” said Mali. The vendor waved Alif further into the tent so that he could stand beneath the canopy and out of the sun. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen you this early in the day. Something up?”
Alif wore an old straw hat with a wide brim that wobbled with each step he took. Had anyone other than Alif been wearing the hat, Mali would have laughed.
“Gotta make a run later this evening and I wanted to catch you before you left.”
Mali made his runs through the mid-Atlantic province on a strict schedule. Each week he’d set up camp at a different settlement to sell and trade goods. His specialty was electronics. He’d been doing business with Alif for nearly two years and he’d come to know the taciturn male quite well. Alif always visited his tent on Fridays, Mali’s last day encamped, and always after sunset as Alif’s translucent skin was too sensitive for daylight rays.
“I have a transceiver set I believe you’ll be interested in.” The vendor reached beneath the table where he displayed his wares and pulled out a ragged cardboard box. “They look like brand new, don’t they?”
“Nice. They don’t make these anymore,” said Alif accepting the transceivers, weighing them in his hands. “What’s wrong with them?”
Mali enjoyed haggling with Alif. He was almost as shrewd as him. There wasn’t an electronic gadget that Alif couldn’t dismantle and reassemble into something better than it had been when brand new. In the past Mali had tried to convince Alif to leave Settlement #53 and travel with him and be his repairman. He even offered thirty percent of the profits. With Alif’s skill, Mali would be able to sell more goods and expand to include repair work. And Alif’s cool demeanor would cause would-be bandits to think twice before targeting him.
Alif refused each time sighting obligations to his settlement, but Mali couldn’t see what kept Alif so attached to the settlement where he lived practically as an outcast. They called him Inuwa, ghost, behind his back and the more superstitious among them whispered that God had cursed Alif’s black mother with him, an albino, for refusing to identify his father when she grew large with her pregnancy.
“So you read minds now, is that it?” asked Mali chuckling.
“No man can read minds or divine by touch. That’s all superstitious nonsense. But we all have a sense of things, if we would just trust that sense.”
Alif handled the transceivers, turning them over in his hands and manipulating the buttons. “You have batteries?”
Mali reached into his pocket and handed Alif two batteries he’d recharged that morning for just such a purpose. Alif slipped the batteries into place and adjusted the dials, pushed the buttons, and speaking into one held the other up to his ear to hear his voice echo back.
Alif removed the dark shades he’d been wearing to protect his eyes from the sun and turned his attention back to Mali. His eyes were red rimmed with irises the color of water. “I don’t see anything wrong with them. Like you said, they’re like new. But of course,” he said probing Mali with those eyes, “there is something wrong with them. Come clean, friend, if you want me to give you the money.”
Mali laughed again, but this time to disguise the chill that traveled down his spine when Alif pressed him with those colorless eyes. Did he not know the effect he had on people?
“You’re right. There is something wrong.” Mali reached into the box and removed a monitor about half the size of the transceivers, and like the transceivers it was silver with yellow trim. “There is a tracking device hidden in them.” He pressed a button on the side of the tiny monitor and two green dots appeared and an irritating beeping sound emitted from the speaker. He quickly turned the monitor off.
Alif handed the transceivers back to Mali and stepped back. “You should know better.”
Of course Mali did. Tracking technology had never done their people any good. The city dwellers used it against his people time and again to find them, jail them, cheat them out of what was theirs, the little ragged bit of it that there was. Those in the cities reveled in taking from his people and as such anyone among the Proselytes caught with anything resembling tracking tech was considered a traitor and a danger. At worst, such a person might end up dead. At best, such a person would be exiled from his settlement, which was worse than death.
“The thing is, brother,” said Mali leaning in close so that no one could hear them, “I couldn’t pass up such a beautiful set of transceivers. When I saw them, I thought of you. If anyone can deactivate the tracking tech, you can.” Mali slipped the monitor into his pocket when a man approached his tent to inspect his goods. He greeted the man with a smile and a nod, but he was too preoccupied with an old alarm clock radio to pay him any notice. “Look at them,” he said dropping his voice further, “they’re too beautiful to pass up. And you could put them to good use, or resell them yourself and for a pretty sum, I might add.”
Alif’s eyes narrowed as he considered Mali’s words. “So, you couldn’t sell these to anyone else, could you?”
Mali chuckled. The boy was quick as a spark before the fire. As cold and controlled as Alif appeared, Mali had no doubts that there was a fire brewing beneath the surface. He also knew that he never wanted to bear witness to it.
“Okay, I’ll take them,” he said, “but at a reduced price. And I won’t negotiate.”
“I’m the one who is supposed to refuse negotiation. Remember? I’m the one with the prime goods here.”
“I’ll be doing you a favor. If you get caught with these, you’ll be wishing you never saw them.”
“Twenty.” Alif held up his hand before Mali could protest. “And my promise not to tell anyone that you had tracking tech.”
Mali looked long and deep into those red rimmed eyes and knew that he wouldn’t be able to change to his mind. Besides, he hadn’t expected to get even the twenty credits for the stolen property. “Alright, brother. Twenty it is. Shall we shake on it?”