(Abt. 8 min read)
The girl with the long straight hair as silver as the moon looked at the interview room’s clock for the hundredth time and buried her head in the depths of her hoodie: the hands had barely moved.
Aaliyah’s tongue still felt swollen and raw from the spike stitched through it despite the hours she’d been under lock and key. But that was nothing to the beating she’d received. Only the lies she’d spun had stopped the boots from landing, and even the slightest movement made her groan now. The Mākatu filling the slim metal pin was so good at deception the words had spilled forth like a song, and her tongue had grown tired not just swollen after all the work she’d made it do.
‘How long are they going to keep me in here?’ asked Aaliyah hoping the fetish would give her a clue. But there was no answering tremor from the metal staple in her mouth, not this time.
Aaliyah must have dozed off because when she could open her eyes she could see straight again and the pain had sunk to a dull ache as her bruises ripened. As she hobbled from wall to wall she remembered something her mother used to say.
‘Ugly on the inside, ugly on the outside,’ muttered Aaliyah thinking about her captors.
The men had had faces like office clerks: pale from lack of light, and the going over they’d given her had been professional like they’d done it a thousand times. It hadn’t exactly done wonders for the secret in her mouth either. She’d been spitting blood even before they caught her. Aaliyah wondered how many more coppers the station held, and shuddered. They’d dealt with her brother’s first and the screams and shouts had been enough to make her hoarse from shouting for it to stop.
The episode when they’d come from her had been just as nasty, but it did have its plus side. If the law was prepared to ignore the rules Aaliyah and her siblings must have found what they were looking for.
‘Please Max, just keep your gob shut like we told you.’
She raised her eyes to heaven and muttered a quick prayer.
Carey knew to say nothing but Max was only fifteen and this was her brothers first brush with the law. She shuddered; the thwap of steel hitting flesh wasn’t something she’d forget in a hurry.
‘Didn’t have much time for politeness once the surveillance cameras weren’t there, did you? Not like when you found us.’
She felt the thing in her mouth tremble and remembered the operation that had put it there. The thrill of something foreign sliding into her had been a bit like that time she’d kissed Paul from down the block. Aaliyah shivered, enjoying the warm wet taste of the metal in her mouth. With a bit of luck, it would keep her from telling the cops what they’d found in the building. That was better left hovering behind her eyes where it was safe.
She decided to try cheering herself up but her voice bounced around the empty cell sounding hollow and without conviction despite the words she said.
‘It’ll be alright we’ll get out of here.’
She tried again.
‘They’ve got nothing on us.’
Aaliyah jumped as the door opened and her tongue sprung from the old woman’s gift like a guilty finger caught where it shouldn’t be.
‘Webb, that’s your last name isn’t it?’ said the smaller of the two cops with a smile and Aaliyah had to force herself not to turn away. It was like looking at radiation grin. All that was missing was the crackle of a geiger counter.
‘That’s the name my mother gave me,’ she said to hide her nerves.
‘Why didn’t you tell us the truth earlier?’ the copper continued. His colleague was staying quiet waiting to play bad cop for his pal.
‘I was scared.’
‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve nothing to worry about have you?.’
‘I’ve never been in trouble before.’
The Mākatu trembled with the deceit.
‘You’re not in trouble. We just want to help,’ said the copper and the spike through her tongue spread ice through her like a balm.
It looked like the Mākatu could recognise lies as well as tell them.
‘I don’t like getting into trouble. It’s not what nice girls do,’ said Aaliyah quickly.
That at least was partially true, but what made her blood flow quicker than a spring tide was getting out of it. She thought back – the old Maori who’d performed the operation had had a kind face even when she’d stabbed the fetish through her tongue and Aaliyah had to admit she’d asked her to do it. She’d known she’d need help if things went wrong. If Aaliyah concentrated she could still hear the soft hum of the migrant’s voice as she’d sung while she worked.
‘Nobody deserves to be punished for something they haven’t done,’ said the other copper looming in the corner. His head nearly touched the ceiling and there was a furrow on his brow that almost made Aaliyah laugh. He was talking as if he’d read the words somewhere and not understood what they meant.
But she could see by their faces they weren’t listening to her anymore; not really her. There was another voice whispering in their ears, and the Mākatu was alive in her mouth like it had stolen their lies to use as her own.
‘Punished… ? No, that’s not what we’re going to do,’ said the first with a confused air and his companion was no better. Whatever the Mākatu was doing it was clear it was easily a match for the feebleminded.
‘Not anymore,’ said the bigger man.
The vacant look hadn’t gone from them yet, and Aaliyah was fighting hard to keep her grin to herself as the Mākatu bounced and quivered with the fun of it. She’s just a little girl, and so stupid too to have got herself into so much trouble. She made sure she showed it.
‘Please,’ said Aaliyah and let a tear fall from her eye as she recited a quick prayer in her head. If the fetish had a breaking point she didn’t want to find it.
‘You’ve just made a mistake.’ It was the copper with the radioactive grin again, ‘a silly mistake, kids are always doing that.’
His colleague shook his head, ‘You shouldn’t get your friends in trouble because of us. We wouldn’t want that.’
‘Don’t tell us if you took anything if you don’t want to,’ said the first. ‘We don’t care; it’s not really important. After all there’s more where it all came from, isn’t there?’
Aaliyah thought back to the ranks of glass vials reaching back into the warehouses dimly lit depths, and what floated inside them. If there was more what would that mean for the world’s sick? More importantly what would that mean for the companies that made money off them?
The more talkative of of the two looked like he wanted to punch himself. Anger and disbelief chase themselves across his face in equal measure before his jaw cracked shut.
Aaliyah stepped back.
‘We’re all friends here, aren’t we?’ said the copper with a resigned air as he surrendered to the Mākatu’s charms. It was his bad luck he couldn’t control himself thought Aaliyah with a viscous edge of pleasure.
But she still wanted to check.
‘You’re not going to hurt me again?’
The smaller copper’s smile became even more forced, like he’d tear his tongue out if he could.
‘Of course not; we’re friends.’
‘Yes, we are,’ answered Aaliyah and the Mākatu kicked hard. ‘But I think I need to leave now. You’ll let me do that?’
She concentrated on breathing, slow, and deep, letting the interrogation room’s stale air fill her lungs. She had to stay calm. It would be alright, the Mākatu had her back.
‘Please…. will you tell us how you found out about it?’ said her new friend. ‘I’m so sorry to have to ask.’
His partner shrugged, ‘Orders; you understand don’t you? It’s just what we do. Not who we really are.’
Aaliyah nodded, she knew when to be generous. She watched the larger of the pair’s eyes narrow as the Mākatu crackled like fire. She better give them something.
‘We were looking for my Mum’s cat.’
‘In the middle of the night? In the grounds of a covert government facility?’
‘He’s been gone for days, probably starving by now. You could try and find him?’ said Aaliyah with one raised eyebrow. ‘It’s very important.’
She let the Mākatu put the force it needed into the words, pleased as the results unfolded before her eyes.
‘We’re pushed for time.’ The smaller copper looked like he was ready to explode. His smile has grown so big it nearly filled the room, and Aaliyah noticed with barely a flicker that he hasn’t been looking after his teeth. Bits of lunch peppered the air as he nearly choked. When he spoke again she can see the desperation in his eyes. She almost felt sorry for him… almost. ‘But of course we will. Like I said: we’re friends. But you know it’s dangerous in there don’t you? The earthquake… .’
He was probably right, but falling masonry and treacherous stairs aren’t what came to mind. The hole punched through the warehouse’s back filled her mind’s eye. Cold and vast, like a black hole descended to earth. Tremors: they played havoc with the best security.
Aaliyah wondered whether to try another tear or two, and decided against it. She’s had enough of unnecessary dramatics. She’d put her trust in the old dear who lived down the corridor from her and her gift. After all, she had some pride, although the lies were flowing so fast by then she wasn’t sure she could stop them if she tried.
‘We’re really sorry,’ said Aaliyah. ‘I was supposed to keep an eye on him. I’m going to be in so much trouble.’
She kept what the old Maori woman had told her to herself. From start to finish the cops had had the air of being in someone’s pocket. They’d even taken her in through the stations back door where the camera’s were father apart.
‘Why’re you so interested anyway? The place is run by the army,’ said Aaliayh for once deciding to risk saying what was really on her mind.
For a moment she thought she’d gone too far as something they were fighting hard not to show burrowed beneath their faces.
‘Just don’t play there,’ said the first.
‘Never,’ his colleague shook his head. ‘You might get hurt.’
‘That’s right,’ continued the other officer. ‘It’s dangerous. We’ll find your missing cat for you. These things are better left to professionals.’
‘That warehouse should be demolished if you ask me. It’s a health hazard. What if it spreads,’ muttered the big cop. ‘Should have told the boss.’
The Maori had been right then: they weren’t letting their superiors in on the news,’ thought Aaliyah to herself. ‘Probably didn’t want to cause a riot. Half the world’s sick would turn up on the earthquake’s doorstep if they realised what had opened in the aftermath. The facility in the warehouse cellar would only be the start if she was any judge.
‘Just don’t play there.’
The small copper looked like he was coming back to himself, and Aaliyah supressed a shudder. She might have found the limit of what the Mākatu could do.
‘Don’t keep anything you found there either. It could be dangerous.’
‘We won’t, I swear.’ There was no time to waste. ‘Can’t you let us go now? My Mum will be worried, and we weren’t doing anything wrong, were we? The pair looked at each other then back at her. ‘We won’t go back,’ said Aaliyah with all thoughts of smiling long gone. ‘You can trust us.’
She winced internally. The statement was pushing it to say the least.
‘We’re going to let you go. Of course we’re going to let you go.’
The copper with the radioactive grin reached over and squeezed her shoulder, soft, and urgent, like he wanted something more than just to look in her eyes.
‘You can come back any time. We’ll wait.’
It was over surprisingly fast. It turned out their captors had more pressing matters than their three new friends after all. As the the cell emptied of her interrogators Aaliyah relished the confused frown on their faces. She doubted they’d even remember the names of the three kids they’d picked up before the hours out. There’s no charges brought, or official record either. Instead Aaliayah and her brothers carried their bruises back onto the street with their lesson duly learned.
‘Alright Aaliyah? What did they say?
That was Carey, with one hand raised to stop the sun burning his eyes now his cap was gone.
‘The usual crap; they’ll have forgotten us already. The Mākatu will make sure of that. But, we’re on to something that’s for sure,’ said Aaliyah letting the light wash over her as the sun came out from behind the clouds. She took stock of her brothers: one limping, and the other nursing his arm.
‘We got off lightly,’ she said to Carey.
‘Yeah, maybe. You still got it?’
‘Never even searched me,’ said Aaliyah pulling the specimen pot from her bra. Inside the chunk of meat slapped and wriggled against the glass as alive now as it had been when they’d taken it from its prison.
‘How does it do that?’ said Max with his nose scrunched up as he peered at the the intruder from another world. ”Shouldn’t it be dead?’
‘Better not be. That’s all we got. But that’s not all our problems is it?’
Carey’s eyes darted sideways and for a moment Aaliyah wanted to ask him what’s up? What was the problem? But Max’s too quick. He gets there first.
‘The Mākatu didn’t make you rat on us did it Aaliyah? Tell them how Mum got ill?’
‘No, don’t be silly. It’s special, and it’s on our side.’
Aaliyah stroked Max’s battered cheek. He was too young for this. But there was no one else; no one else she trusted anyway. There hadn’t been much time to be picky, not with Mum screaming with pain.
‘They bought it, though,’ said Carey. The relief finally showed in his eyes, ‘and now we know the Maori’s telling the truth. At least some of it.’
‘About what’s in there?’ said Aaliyah. ‘Maybe, all we found was that hole. We didn’t go through. But, if they’d known we’d found that much there’s no way they’d have let us go. They were unsure. I don’t think the Mākatu would have been strong enough otherwise.’
Her jaw was feeling heavy now. The words that had moved it so recently a distant memory. Only the expressions on the copper’s faces have stuck in her mind. She wondered how much more there was beyond what they’d said. She’d go back for sure, with or without her brothers. The Maori had said what Mum needed to keep the illness at bay forever was hidden in the world that had brushed against there’s and Aaliyah was a determined girl. But she was tired. The metal dragged in her mouth, sour like lead now the life was gone. What little they’d retrieved would have to do for now.
‘At least we found something,’ it was Max again sounding unnaturally chirpy for someone who’d gone through last night. ‘We can save a bit if Mum gets worse. Maybe sell a bit. Get her treatment from a real Doctor.’
Aaliyah’s head swivelled to one side, ‘You don’t say? That Maori’s good enough. She’s clever. But I doubt we’ve got enough. What do you think we should do Carey?’
‘I think we better find what she told us about before they block the place up,’ said her eldest brother and they set off across the roads shabby tarmac. ‘It’s the only way we’ll help Mum properly.’
They better hope the thing doesn’t shut thought Aaliyah. Although she kept her thoughts to herself. She never noticed the expression on Carey’s face as he watched her back and probed his teeth with his tongue.
Advisory: If you ever are arrested by the police you’re much better off not telling them anything at all until you’ve got yourself a duty solicitor. Particularly if it’s something important they’ve got you in for.
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