The Neen are an underwater people created as part of an ongoing, collaborative worldbuilding project. Their stories pepper the blog and until I organize them properly, you can use the Neen tag to find more. The following concludes a mystery surrounding some lost treasure; part one is here.
29CE: Police, Military and Justice Department Headquarters, Niïlna
** ** **
Unlike the interrogation rooms Tätuë had heard about in foreign nations, the small room beyond the glass was pleasant enough: aerated but shallowly submerged, barred windows on two sides offered limited underwater views of the yard inside Baädaka’s judiciary complex, and the lighting was mostly natural. In fact, the view outside was practically the antithesis of that within: the tired and utterly battered Löolë of Niïlna, formerly-elected chieftain, victim of Delver malice and Tätuë’s lifelong best friend. He sat, uncuffed but clearly uncomfortable, across from Tenek, the Amphin consulting-juror-turned-inquisitor.
::I hope you understand this is largely a formality?:: Tenek said, arranging his notebook and recorder, and Löolë nodded. It had only been a week since his rescue, and he still looked hellish: his crudely-cropped hair was in disarray, there were black rings around his eyes and he was covered in bruises, scrapes and burns. Though he’d been sent countless gifts from friends and strangers alike, he had yet to take up any replacement jewelry, and his mechanical forearm had been destroyed during his rescue and the subsequent raid on the Delver headquarters. ::I should apologise, again, for interrupting your rest, but we’re trying to get everyone’s statements as soon as possible, and I was told you preferred to give yours here..?::
::This gets me away, however briefly, from everyone’s worry,:: Löolë murmured, though he glanced towards the glass, and Tätuë got the distinct impression that his presence was very much known.
::I want you to know we’ll be recording our conversation,:: Tenek said, motioning to a small device sitting between them on the table. When Löolë nodded, he clicked the machine on and said, ::Straight to the point, then: Löolë of Niïlna, you’re under investigation today for the murder of Kutule of Motë, your former assistant and, to my understanding, former lover. In a previous interview you did not deny that act. Is that still the case?::
A pause. Löolë glanced towards the mirror again, furrowed his brow and scrunched his palm against the long hem of his borrowed hospital tunic.
::I killed Kutule.::
::You know that admission to a crime must lead to your official removal as a chieftain in Niïlna?:: Tenek said, ::Among other sentencing?::
::Have you anything to say in your defense, or evidence to present that may influence your sentence?::
::Of course,:: Löolë said, and his hand was so tight around his hem that Tätuë thought he might break something. ::Of course – I’d just been abducted and tortured – I was–::
He cut himself off, and unclenched his fist only to wipe his face. He turned away from the glass. Tätuë held his breath; Tenek, too, was quiet.
::I was in pain. I was… terrified,:: Löolë said, barely loud enough to hear. ::She… …Kutule… …had already deceived me. Had brought me there. Had planned to do so, for years. … … … …she’d watched.::
::Would you say you felt vengeful? Angry?:: Tenek said, and Löolë paused. He wiped his palm on his shirt again; didn’t bother with his tears.
::If I hadn’t been at least a little angry, I would have quietly died there instead.::
::How do you feel now?::
::Sick. Confused. Guilty,:: Löolë choked, and after another pause, ::Stupid, for trusting her… …among many other related and unrelated things.::
Tenek turned off the recorder, and Löolë lifted his head.
::I’m sorry to question your story so baldly,:: said the Amphin, ::As you know, we have to be careful to be impartial, especially given that this department is still coming into its own. You’re the first chieftain we’ve had to interrogate, and you’re practically famed for your ability to lie. You’re also our first murder charge, and this case isn’t exactly low-profile.::
::I know,:: Löolë breathed, and more tears rolled down his face. ::…what’s going to happen to me..?::
::Given the circumstances and your remorse… probably a heavy fine and some mandatory service. Unless someone comes forward with an opposing story… but I think it’s fairly clear you’re telling the truth,:: Tenek said. ::You… have been photographed?::
::Yes,:: Löolë uttered, flushing purple. ::At the hospital.::
::…your tail as well?::
::Yes,:: Löolë insisted, touching his forearm to his face. Podi, thitherto watching in silence, knocked on the glass, and Tenek straightened.
::Sorry,:: he said again, ::I just want to make sure nothing goes sideways for you. Unless you have anything to add, this concludes our interview. I think your friend is–::
Without waiting for any signal, Tätuë found his way to the door, opened it and stepped inside. He flew across the tiny room and wrapped Löolë in the strongest-yet-gentlest hug he could manage. Tenek quietly packed up his things and left, and it wasn’t until after he was gone that Löolë moved or spoke.
::Thank-you for coming,:: he said, touching Tätuë’s arm. ::I’ve been wanting to talk to you without nurses lingering about.::
::Of course! Of course – I’m here for you any time,:: Tätuë said. For some reason, Löolë laughed, so his friend drew away. ::Are you alright..? What’s funny?::
::Nothing,:: Löolë said, ::It’s just that what I want has nothing to do with any of this – it’s something I’d like you to build.::
::Oh – I’m already working on your new arm,:: Tätuë said, ::In fact I’m planning some improvements over the last one, so you’ll be–::
::Not my arm,:: Löolë said, ::Something else. So that this doesn’t happen again.::
** ** **
Neen News Now! @ N3
::Good evening, listeners! Bini here, with the tonight’s episode of Neen News Now! I know most of you are probably sick of hearing my voice, but you’ll be happy to know that we have a very special guest on the show tonight… and even happier to hear that it’s your regular host, mostly recovered! Welcome back, Gadad!::
::Thank-you, Bini, and thank-you, listeners! It’s an absolute pleasure to be back in the booth, and all the cards and gifts you sent me at the hospital truly had a hand in helping my recovery. Tonight, I have a gift for you: while I was asked countless times at the hospital for my story – for a first-hand account of what happened the night the Delvers took over the station – I’ve saved the most exclusive, juiciest bits for you, my adoring fans. Let’s get right into it, shall we?::
** ** **
::Sir, that was Lanadna; she said Löolë’s given up his cache locations. I just checked and they match what we’ve received so far over the phone. Lanadna and Tëni will mobilise some other crews to investigate the rest.::
Head pounding from the attack, Gadad sat on the floor against the wall, momentarily forgotten by the Delvers who had invaded and destroyed the sanctity of his station and studio. Through the sound booth glass, he crossed eyes with Bini, who was working the phone lines under the supervision of two more gun-toting Delvers. She gave him the faintest of smiles – happy to see him conscious – encouraging him to stay that way.
::Perfect. Is the Liar still alive?::
Po was tall, well-groomed and white-fleshed – an albino – lounging naked in Gadad’s studio chair like a usurper on the throne, fiddling boredly with his pistol. Arrogant ass. His subordinate bobbed her head.
::For now. He’ll be kept that way until the cache locations are confirmed.::
::Good,:: Po said, then, ::What is that incessant clicking?::
::It’s a telegraph machine, sir.::
::Well make that drab little bitch turn it off.::
Something burned in Gadad’s chest; he grunted and dragged himself off the floor just as the nameless Delver left to accost Bini. Gadad felt something cool on the side of his neck, and discovered it to be his own blood. Po looked at him with bored indifference.
::I’d stay on the floor if I were you. Wouldn’t want you getting in any more trouble.::
::Get them away from my wife,:: Gadad growled, watching through the glass as Bini shook her head and shrugged, handling the Delvers as coolly as she handled the station’s hate-callers.
::Your wife? How quaint. What other filthy landwalkers’ traditions have you come into?::
::That telegraph machine’s been broken for years,:: Gadad said, starting forward, but he froze when Po turned a pistol on him. ::It’s an antique. It only rattles because of stray current in the station. There isn’t even any paper. Now. Get your people away from my wife.::
::If it doesn’t work, why do you keep it?::
::…it was a gift,:: Gadad admitted, which made Po roll his eyes.
::Very well,:: he said, and gestured to his crew. He then motioned with the gun at Gadad. ::So. One of those garish things must be your wedding ring?::
::…yes,:: Gadad said. Po smiled.
::Give it to me.::
::Give it to me. I want to watch your face as you take it off and put it in my hand, knowing you’ll never get it back.::
He might as well have threatened to blow up the station with everyone inside. Still, their lives were worth at least slightly more than the ring. Pained, Gadad worked the piece from his finger, but then a loud CRASH sounded from elsewhere in the building, and everyone jumped. The lights flickered and half of them went out; the telegraph machine went haywire – tap-tap-tap, clunk-tap, tap-tap – and even Po got up from his seat.
::What was that?::
::Probably the police,:: Gadad said. Po waved to his posse.
::Bring the producer in here,:: he said, and when one of the Delvers took hold of Bini’s arm, Gadad dared another step forward. Po cocked his pistol.
::Wait right there,:: he said, and Gadad stilled again. He watched as Bini was chaperoned into the room, slowed by the weight and size of her enlarged belly. Po donned a slow grin. ::Aaah… no wonder you’re so easily riled up. Don’t worry. Do as I say and you’ll get your chance at those eggs.::
Another crash sounded – closer this time – followed by gunfire. Po motioned with his pistol again.
::Go down the hall and stand at the door,:: he said, and Gadad balked.
::What for? It sounds like they’ve got those RAGE powersuits, and–::
::You’re good enough at killing time on the air,:: Po interrupted, ::So talk at them. Delay them. I don’t care how. They’re not going to shoot you – their beloved TelEmoter host – and you’re not going to let them in while I’ve got a gun to your wife’s head.::
He grabbed Bini to demonstrate, and it took all of Gadad’s will not to launch himself into a fight. He looked at the gun, at Po, and finally at Bini. He reached out to grip her hand.
::Stay safe my love,:: he whispered. Bini was too frightened – or perhaps too distracted? – to speak, so she merely nodded.
::Get out,:: Po urged. ::Leave the door open – I want to hear what you’re saying.::
Gadad turned, kicked the little stopper under the door and wandered into the flickering hall beyond. Through the glass of the doors along the way he spotted several terrified coworkers – producers hiding under their desks and news specialists who returned his look of terror as he passed, but no one made a sound. Even the Delvers were quiet, and only the telegraph machine dared to chatter on. When Gadad reached the end of the hall, he could feel the rumble of feet – living and mechanical – through the floor. He took a deep breath, pulled it open and threw his hands over his head.
::Don’t shoot – I’m unar–::
Gadad felt the bullet before he heard the shot – a fiery explosion of pain in his shoulder as though his entire arm had been blown off – and he staggered forward from the force of the blow. He heard someone shout – Bini? Po? – and a glossy RAGE stepped smoothly towards him. He collapsed in a hail of gunfire.
::Sands! Gadad! Stay down!::
He didn’t exactly need telling. The RAGE stepped over him and more shots zipped down the hall. The Delvers’ bullets pinged off the RAGE in every direction, and it was all Gadad could do to curl up and hope with all his might that he wouldn’t be hit. Behind the RAGE, several Neen in tactical gear were waiting to enter the corridor, as well as a sniper setting up a tripod in the machine’s wake. Gadad’s heart lurched, and an officer rushed to crouch at his side.
::You’ll be alright, just don’t move. I’ll stay with you.::
::Bini’s in there,:: Gadad gasped. ::Please – don’t shoot – they’ve got her–::
::We know,:: the officer interrupt. ::Bini will be fine.::
::Just stay down.::
The Delvers stopped firing, and everything was quiet except for the inane tapping of the telegraph machine.
tap-tap-tap, clunk-tap, tap-tap…
::We have a hostage,:: Po drawled from the studio. ::I suggest you have your people stand down, or this lovely lady and I will be ghosts together. My people may be out of bullets, but I’m not.::
tap-clunk-clunk-tap, tap, tap-clunk-tap!
Something tapped and clunked in Gadad’s head, too – something from his early days in communication tech – and the code unraveled. S-N-I-P-E-R. The RAGE stepped to one side, and in the studio, Po let out a string of swears.
::Shoot!:: Bini screamed, and the sniper did; the hall filled with the rifle report, and then with the Delvers’ and the military’s shouting. One officer stayed with Gadad – mostly to hold him down.
::You have to stay–ng–put!:: he insisted, but Gadad was hardly thinking of himself.
::I need to see Bini!!::
::She’s better than fine she’s the most amazing woman in the whole of–::
** ** **
::And I was fine.::
::Of course I knew that; I was only delirious from blood loss.::
::Ah, of course.::
::Right. Now: I’m sure our listeners already know that you recorded the call between the Delvers’ headquarters and the station, and that after the raid you were able to direct the police not only to Löolë’s caches – I’d say he owes you – but also to the headquarters, where they discovered RAGE pilot Pak Fyodor, Ambassador Jong Karina’s personal guard and part of the rescue team that recovered Niïlna’s incredibly wealthy, now-celebrity former-chieftain. Fyodor is slated to lead an expedition into the Dark Place, where it’s believed the Delvers have been dumping treasure for centuries. I’d love to see that. We’ll have a chance to quiz him on that in a moment, but first, I have one last question: how is it that the police were able to connect to the telegraph machine..?::
::The station’s been connected to their emergency frequencies since you started getting death threats.::
::I’ve gotten death threats?::
::…I had no idea I was so popular.::
::How’s your arm doing? Really?::
::I’m well enough to work buttons, so if you don’t mind, Bini, I’ll take my chair back.::
** ** **
40CE: An Announcement
CALLING ALL NEEN & BAÄDAKAN CITIZENS
The combined governments of Baädaka have proposed the implementation of an identification and credit system throughout all of Baädaka, with the intent to devalue Found and Foreign Treasure as well as to increase safety and security for all citizens and visitors. All citizens1 would possess an electronic CredID Key which would contain identifying information as well as financial information, or ‘credits’. This Key would be used to make purchases and to receive funds, and it would serve as identification in the event of travel abroad. Benefits of the system would include:
- Increased security at borders and in workplaces dealing with sensitive content; ease of travel requiring documentation
- Improved safety for citizens carrying or transferring large sums
- Expected decrease in crime related to the theft, pawning and other misuse of Found and Foreign Treasure
- Improved trade between Baädaka and foreign nations with existing financial/monetary systems
While it is strongly believed that the CredID system would greatly benefit Baädaka’s citizens, it is understood to be a massive systemic change and would take some time to test and implement. To help your chieftains best serve you, please come at your convenience to one or more information sessions, held Neeptides, all year. Voting will take place in summer of CE41. Make your voices heard!
(1) Elvers are eligible at any time for credit, but for ID only once they develop permanent markings and coloration
** ** **
60CE: Party at the First Bank of Baädaka
How one establishes, exactly, when a system has been ‘fully implemented’, Löolë doesn’t know, but the date was determined by Tätuë’s team of engineers, and after two decades of programming, appraising, testing and public adoption, the CredID system is now widespread enough throughout Baädaka to call ‘complete’.
Funded largely by the sale of indescribably ancient, nigh-priceless treasure hauled from the Dark Place by Pak Fyodor’s team of explorers, banks and other CredID service locations have been erected all over the country. The First Bank, a fabulous edifice which exists half above and half below the water’s surface, is lavishly decorated for the occasion, and is otherwise filled with live music, fine food and acrobats hanging from long, silken sashes. While similar parties are going on elsewhere in Baädaka, the First Bank’s festivities are reserved mostly for the elite – chieftains and government employees, ambassadors, foreign dignitaries, celebrities and other VIPs.