The Watcher's Dilemma
Aaron strode tensely down the road. It was the first day at his new job; everyone got nervous, right? Looking at his twin sister, also a desert Kacheek, Isabella, it was hard to believe that she was jittery. She strode confidently down the hard-packed dust road, staring out to the town, a slight smile on her face. Oh well, she had always been the braver of the two.
As he walked down the streets of his small hometown, he realized how much the town had changed since he had left. When he had left to go to school in Sakhmet, Luhorza had been full of trash, and the buildings had been falling apart. When one became too ruined to use, the inhabitants would simply move to one of the more famous cities in the Lost Desert. Luhorza was one of those towns that no one had bothered to discover after the Lost Desert was miraculously found. And without tourists to impress, there was no reason for Mayor Yenna to fix the town up.
But sometime after Aaron and Isabella left, Mayor Yenna left office suddenly, with a suspicious statement saying “she no longer wanted the job”. Everyone in Luhorza, including the twins’ parents who sent them regular letters, believed there had been a silent coup d'état. Yenna had been the most power hungry blue Eyrie anyone had ever met.
At the time, the citizens had been worried about the new mayor, Mayor Rienkin, as well as his band of government employees. But now, as Aaron was back in Luhorza, he could see that Mayor Rienkin was doing a good job. Where there used to be trash heaps, Mayor Rienkin had put parks. Where there had been empty plates and unemployment, Mayor Rienkin put food and jobs. And when houses fell down, that orange Mynci had not only fixed them, but put murals on them too.
Aaron and Isabella’s parents had mentioned in their letters that they were working in a government project to build stone murals for the city. But Aaron had never realized that they were this widespread.
The day, like all Lost Desert days, was cloudless, and the sun beat down on Aaron’s head making his fur uncomfortably warm. The breeze pushed sand in circles at his feet. The city was noisy with bartering in the stalls and chatter on the street. But Aaron sensed a tension in the chatter, people appeared slightly worried as they wandered the streets. Deciding that it was probably all in his head, he focused on the most interesting new feature of the city: the murals.
They were each made of sand-colored stone, and all four sides of every building in sight were covered with them. And they were awe inspiring. The stone murals were lifelike in their depictions and they glittered with rhinestones found in the vast deserts. One of the stone murals was a good samaritan picking up litter from the ground. Another showed Mayor Rienkin giving food out to the people of Luhorza. The next depicted a team of government workers building a lovely new house while the home owner, a desert Aisha, stood by watching. Aaron reached out his paw to touch the gold headdress of the stone Aisha, realizing as he did that it was, real gold. Where had the government gotten this money?
“Don’t touch it!” Isabella grabbed Aaron’s hand and pulled it away sharply.
He winced and pulled his arm away from her. “Why not?” Then he noticed that everyone in the street was staring at them. It wasn’t uncommon for Isabella and Aaron to get stares, the two desert Kacheeks looked amazingly alike, but it was clear that they were staring for a different reason now. Aaron moved away from the mural.
“I didn’t see anyone else touching the walls. And with beauty like that, they should be. So it must not be allowed.” Isabella’s reasoning was flawless. “Now c’mon, we’re going to be late.”
“Isabella, can you tell me again what they told you about this job?” Aaron adjusted his bracelets nervously.
“You’re such a worry-wart,” she said with a laugh. “We went to school for years in Sakhmet so that we could get a job just like this one. We’re part of the government. You can start changing the world like you’ve always wanted to.” She took out her golden headband and then replaced it so her jet-black hair was held securely in its place. “Just because I don’t know much about a job doesn’t mean it’s not great.” She was still smiling; she thought her brother was a little too uptight about the whole bettering Luhorza and making the world a more moral place. They were about to get the job of a lifetime.
As children, their parents had worked in the mines finding gold and diamonds, so this desk job was a huge pride to everyone involved. At least, they thought it was a desk job.
“Aaron, this is it,” announced Isabella. They were standing in front of a small, one story building made of the same sand-colored rock all the others were made of. It had a mural on all four sides, like every other building. The stone mural depicted a large crowd attending a speech by Mayor Rienkin.
Aaron felt his twin grab his paw and squeeze it. The identical Kacheeks walked towards the front door.
“Finally!” boomed out a voice just as Isabella started moving the door. “I’ve been waiting for you forever.” Isabella opened the door the rest of the way to a Desert Draik waving his hands, still talking to them. “There are things to be done!” Seeing the pair he said, “Wow, Isabella, you didn’t tell me you were going to clone yourself.”
Isabella laughed, tossing her head back. “I told you in the interview my brother was coming. Anyways, Gerard, this is Aaron, my twin. Aaron, this is Gerard, our new boss. And although I am sorry you had to wait, we’re two minutes early.” She gestured to the clock on the wall with a smile.
Aaron wondered how she was so carefree. Gerard scared him; he was a portly Draik and the large white hat intimidated the Kacheek.
The twins glanced around the room, now that the introductions were complete. The air was stale and did not move. Yet the room still smelled new. There were no windows. The ceiling was flat and the whole building was one large, square room. In the center was a single table with two identical books on it, but no chairs.
Gerard closed the door and half flew, half walked to the table. He put a hand to his large tummy, and then glanced at his watch. “Well, I have somewhere to go,” his stomach rumbled, “so I’ll make this quick. You are to witness crimes and report the people who performed them. These books are your guides to your job. In the front are forms to fill out when you witness a crime. The miscreant will be punished by the police as soon as possible. Just make sure to note the name tags that each citizen is wearing; they’ll help you fill out the forms. And this last piece is very important: Write down every crime.” He stared into their eyes and they nodded.
“Well,” said Gerard, “time for me to go. Bye, Isabella and bye... Isabella’s twin.”
“It’s Aaron,” mumbled Aaron as Gerard left the building.
“Well,” said Isabella brightly, “This sounds easy. And look! Peepholes!” She ran over to the wall and placed her face against it. Jogging after her, Aaron realized that there were, in fact, peep holes for the two of them to watch the people in the bazaar outside.
“I wonder if our eyes replace the stone eyes of the murals outside,” mused Aaron.
“Oh, good thinking, Aaron!” said Isabella. They took their faces away from the peepholes and walked back to the table and started reading some of the laws it was their job to enforce.
Placing chewing gum on a road requires a 1,000 Neopoint fine. Refusal to wear government-issued nametags results in a 15,000 Neopoint fine. Vocal displeasure with the government requires 100,000 Neopoint fine.
The list of laws went on for pages. “Some of these laws are crazy,” said Aaron. “I mean, why would I fine someone for buying rare fruits?”
“According to this, only the elite receive rare fruit.” Isabella continued to read. “Hey look, there’s a law against touching the murals. I told you that you shouldn’t touch them. And there’s a law against mentioning other governments such as Queen Fyora or King Hagan.”
“No idea. But with all these laws, we’ll be sure to catch a bunch of people. We’re getting paid on commission, you know.”
“What’s ‘commission’?” asked Aaron.
“Basically, the more work you do, the more you get paid. One crime reported, 100 Neopoints. Two crimes, 200 Neopoints.”
Aaron nodded slowly and kept reading.
“This is so cool,” said Isabella. “We’re like spies.”
“That excites you? We’re invading these people’s lives even more then they’ve already been invaded. They already have to wear name tags and only say good things about the government!”
“We’re the secret police! Doesn’t that sound cool?”
“No.” Aaron didn’t understand what she was missing. “Doesn’t it seem a little scary? Would you want people watching you?”
“I wouldn’t mind. I follow the laws.”
“You’re so aloof!”
“You should at least try to do your job on the first day instead of standing here shouting insults,” Isabella retorted. She picked up her book and walked over to the wall and looked out. Aaron knew he was going to bring this up later, so he followed her.
Outside, the errand-running was ramping up, and people crowded around stalls, talking loudly. Aaron noticed again that people seemed cautious of what they said. They glanced over their shoulder more often than people should.
Then, no less than a minute after starting to watch, the twins noticed a Lenny buy a zeenana from a bread stall; no one seemed to notice. A moment later, a few yards away a tiny Kyrii took a wallet from an unobservant Usul.
Isabella and Aaron pulled away from the wall. “Did you see that?!” they said in unison.
“I can’t believe we caught a crime so fast,” said Aaron with a smile.
“Ah, I’m glad you’re on board now,” said Isabella, “So I’ll write down the illegal fruit trade, you can write down the pickpocket.”
There was a silence and Isabella started to open up her book and start marking down the fruit traders. Aaron continued to stare at her.
Isabella looked up, confused by Aaron’s comment. But when he didn’t say more she started writing again. He grabbed the book from her.
“Hey! What’s your problem?”
“Let’s just write down the pickpocket and let the fruit people alone, ok?” he said.
“How about,” Isabella snapped, “we do our job and write down both. Or maybe I’ll just write down both of them and you won’t get a commission.”
Aaron hated it when the nasty side of his sister came out. “It’s not right!”
“What part of this do you have a problem with? Upholding the law? Getting paid? Maybe eventually getting promoted?”
“Why should the elite be the only ones with fruit? I think we should do what is right.” Aaron stared straight into Isabella’s eyes and she met with equal ferocity.
“I think so too. But what is right is changing the law, not ignoring it.”
“Isabella, if we don’t write this down, who will know?”
“OK, but what will happen tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, the next day? What happens when they do it again and get caught by someone else?”
“This woman gets the fruit she wants,” said Aaron.
Isabella rolled her eyes. “Someone else gets paid.”
“It’s not about the money!” yelled Aaron. “It’s about making our town a nice place to live!”
“A nice place to live?!” Isabella sounded nearly hysterical. “A nice place to live wouldn’t have name tags for the sole purpose of secretly catching your crimes! A nice place to live wouldn’t spy on you from the walls! One piece of fruit isn’t going to change Luhorza into something awesome!”
Aaron stared at the wall.
“Haven’t you ever heard of paying your dues?” asked Isabella.
“Yeah, it’s called years of school,” said Aaron.
“I know you want to change the world today,” said Isabella softly, “but you don’t have the power to. At least for now. So just write it down so we can eat dinner tonight.”
“I want to make it better,” whispered Aaron.
Aaron picked up the pen beside him and started filling out the form. Isabella followed suit in silence.