Story:Civic Duties - Part 2

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Civic Duties - Part 2
Written by TriangleDelta

"It had to be fucking January, didn't it?"

Cali snorted next to Desi. The two of them were far enough beneath the ice and the water for it to be a bit warmer now. Desi was still shivering some as the pair cut through the water, heading down towards Black Bay's aquatic area.

"These things don't tend to happen at convenient times," her mother was saying, shaking her head.

"I guess that's kind of the point, right?"

Cali inclined her head at that. Desi was going to push on, but stopped as something caught her attention. She cast her gaze down, and watched as one of the lights that lined the way flickered. It was a regular thing - every few seconds it gave a flicker, the light dimming down and plunging the water into murky blackness. Desi glanced over her shoulder, and only then noticed that a number of the lights they'd already passed were fully burnt out. The parallel lines of light that led the way up towards the surface were broken up here and there with areas of darkness.

Desi turned her attention back forward, but called over to her mom. "I only ever visit during the summer. How long have the winter lights been burnt out?"

"Some of them recently. They get around to repairing the lights after a while, but a few of them have been burnt out for longer."

"Longer?"

"A couple years."

Desi rolled her eyes, and muttered, "And you're wondering why people are starting to get pissed?"

"Starting?" Cali laughed at that. "Desi, I've lived in this city for a lot longer than you have. Let's not pretend you know more about the surface and the water being pissed at each other."

"Yeah well, I'm still the one you called to-" Desi cut herself off before she went any further. She glanced over at her mother, sailing through the water beside her, and then let out a sigh. "Sure. Let's talk about it over dinner."

It didn't take them too much longer to reach her parents' house. Desi's dad was waiting for them with dinner already made. Desi had kind of expected the 'business' side of the discussion to start up right away. As it was, though, they had a pretty pleasant meal. Her parents asked her a few questions about the season, and how Noah was doing at school. The two of them traded normally talk about the city and their mutual acquaintances, and Desi could only stare at them. It was like nothing was going on.

At long last, Desi cleared her throat, sending small streams of bubbles from her gills. The other two looked at her, and she raised an eyeridge. "I appreciate that you're both happy to see me. I'm happy to see you, too. But uh… it's not like I've got a lot of time in town." She let that hang in the air. She wasn't on break - she just had a couple extra days between her last and her next game. She had to fly back to Bangor the next evening to not miss too much training.

"Right." Cali let out a long breath. "Well. You've seen the news."

"Obviously."

"Well things are complicated. Tense. Obviously." She inclined her head. "It's like the entire city's holding its breath, waiting to see who snaps first. But after the strike over the port heaters started, and then all of the other protesters came in to join up and help them settle in, it…" She paused again, searching for words.

Desi's father broke in. "Everybody down here was excited. People wanted to see how far they would go, what they would do. It was all that anybody could talk about. And up top, it was just an uproar. Everybody angry, talking about how it wasn't the right way to do it, talking about how it would have consequences that the protestors didn't understand…"

"I'm pretty sure they understood the consequences," Desi broke in, her voice dry. "That was kind of the point."

"Try telling that to an angry surfacer."

Desi inclined her head at that. Her mom continued.

"Anyways. Since Laskin called in the police last night, everything's been… tense. It's like all the energy didn't die down, it's just sitting around waiting."

"So why did one of Braydon Hakala's campaign assistants call me up to ask me to come down?"

Cali rolled her eyes. "Don't be dramatic. I'm still your mom."

"Well yeah, you are. But you're also working with him, and given the whole situation," Desi made a vague gesture around her, "I can't help but think there's a political side to this."

Cali watched her for a long few seconds. Then she sighed, and muttered, "Because I can't do anything about all the tension. Neither can Braydon - not really. One of the only people that can is—"

"Simon," Desi finished for her. "And you think I can do something about him." When Cali gave a hesitant nod, Desi sighed. "You might be overestimating things there."

"Don't you two keep in touch?"

"We do. But he's different. Our talks lately are always, uh… hard."

"Hard how?"

Desdemona didn't answer that question. After a very long few seconds, her dad cleared his throat, and the two women looked over at him.

"So. How are Noah's courses going?"

The rest of the meal progressed, and the conversation stuck to safer subjects. Once they were finished, Desi's dad set about cleaning up, and Desi and her mom swam up to the dry room. While Desi was drying herself off, Cali put a record on. Desi was surprised when the sound of Simon's voice crackled through. She glanced over, and Cali hefted up the record sleeve for the first album from his band, Dredless.

"He's good, you know?"

Desdemona sighed. She walked over and slumped into a couch that they kept up in the dry room. "He is. I'm glad at least one of the two of us wound up using all those music lessons."

Cali snorted. "Do you still practice?"

"Sometimes. More now that Noah's not around as much."

"Right."

The two of them were quiet for a short while, listening to the music. As the first song thundered to an angry close, Desi spoke up.

"Mom?"

"Yeah?"

"Why Braydon?"

"It's not a personal thing, Desi."

"I know, I know. But like, why him? What is it about him?"

Cali considered that. She was speaking slowly when she responded. "Braydon's young. He's not as smart as he thinks he is, and he has a lot to learn. But the past two years, when he was acting as Laskin's assistant… he got things done. He somehow managed to get that old windbag to do things. Not a lot. Nowhere near enough. But things were at least happening. And unlike the other few people that are running, it seems like he cares."

Desi snorted. Cali shot her a look, but Desi raised a hand to fend her off. "He managed to convince me to apply for an international basketball competition when I was 16. I'm well aware of how caring and convincing he can be."

"Well there you go."

"But like… you know he can't win, right?"

"Desi."

"No, nothing against him. But you have to realize that—"

"He listens to aquatics. That's more than I can say for Laskin, or any other candidate we've had for decades."

"That doesn't mean that he can win."

"He can. Even if he doesn't this time, there's always the next election."

Cali's voice was firm. Desi knew better than to push it any further. Instead she lay back on the couch, thinking.

It was Cali's turn to speak. Her tone had softened.

"So what do you think. About Simon."

Desi sighed. She put her hands over her face, and put pressure on her temples. "Don't get angry when I ask this. I just need you to say it. You're not going to ask me to put my name behind Braydon or anything, or wade into the middle of all this in public, right?"

"No. I won't ever do that. I promise."

Desi nodded. She spoke through her hands. "Yeah. I'll talk to him."


She left the house later that night. It was normally dark this deep underwater, but at this time of night it was pitch black. The only light came from the various buildings of Black Bay, shining their lights out to attract attention. Desi cut her way through the water, her tail and legs pushing her forward.

It was never exactly quiet or still underwater. That was one of the things she'd had to adapt to after moving onto the surface full time. She was used to there always being a very conscious, tactile push and pull from the water around her, along with the deep echoing of sounds far away. Even the wind up on the surface wasn't the same - it felt thin and insubstantial. The howling when it got strong was sharp and wavering, unlike the sonorous and resounding noises that carried through the water.

It struck Desi that it had been a while since she'd gone swimming through such a big space, though, especially when there wasn't any other activity going on. All she could hear were distant echoes. She pulled away from the main residential area, and she was briefly concerned that she would be left in total darkness. It wasn't long before she saw pale, diluted lights up ahead, alternating between red and blue. She picked up the distinctly mechanical noise of motors running on the surface of the water.

She paused and looked in that direction. It was over towards the harbour in the industrial area of Black Bay. After the protests had blocked the path of the icebreaker, the harbour authority was no doubt working to clear any new ice that had formed on that crucial path they kept open throughout the winter. Those lights would be the police boats circling the area, making sure no protesters tried to take back control of the harbour.

Desi kept staring off in that direction. Sure, the police were there to prevent protesters from heading to that area. She was pretty sure that none of them would take the time to differentiate between any other fish in the water. It wasn't like they could afford any more interruptions to the ice clearing, after all.

She sighed, then turned away from the flashing lights and the engine noises. Instead she set off at a quick pace. She knew exactly where she was going from here.

Desi had of course seen the news footage of the protests. It hadn't exactly been everywhere - Black Bay wasn't a huge town, and most people thought of it as just a labour dispute in some bay in the middle of nowhere, north west Ontario. She, of course, knew enough to understand that it was more than that. Most aquatics, or even surfacers that worked on the water, would know it too.

Right front and centre during the protests was another yellow perch. Desi had recognized him immediately - Simon was hard to miss. None of the surface news sites she'd looked at had been able to identify him, but a couple music blogs she'd checked had mentioned his appearance, and most of the aquatic news sources were identifying him by name.

If he was part of it, and he was putting himself out there like that, she knew exactly where he and the rest of the protesters would go to regroup.

It didn't take her long to reach the Grey Straight. She paused at the edges of the ruined city, gazing into the rows of destroyed and decaying aquatic homes. In the darkness, she could barely make out their contours - mostly regular shapes, but here and there broken up with jagged and obvious signs of damage. The more damages homes almost looked like mouths with demented teeth.

She briefly recalled when she, Simon, and Emmet had come here on Halloween when they were kids. They'd all dared each other to see who could go furthest into the abandoned town. Desi had vivid memories of turning tail and launching herself back out, grasping desperately at water to pull herself out of the looming, silent structures.

Simon, of course, had won the bet that night.

Desi swam up a bit - not too far, just high enough that she would be up free of the ruined houses. She started forward, then, skirting over the top of the remains of Grey Straight. She continued forward at a steady pace, trying to avoid looking down.

It didn't take long for her to start to hear sounds up ahead. The distant rumble of voices, carried but muffled by the water, drifted up and back to her. As she moved further, the sounds got clearer. She let the noise lead her along through the water, still skirting the upper edges of the destroyed city, until it suddenly opened up in front of and beneath her.

Desi stopped and looked down at the huge gouge that was cut into the city, the empty space a void of deeper black in the darkness. She sighed, and then followed the path down. Soon enough, the enormous figure of a wrecked freighter loomed above her. There was light coming out of its torn hull, and the voices were clearer now. She didn't have to see through the dark to know the name that was painted on the side: Dredless.

Desdemona took a deep breath, then pulled up the hood of her clothes before sweeping in. The hole led her directly into the cargo hold. It was an enormous, cavernous space, and the light flickering along the walls revealed equal parts rusty steel and graffiti. There were dozens of fish there - probably over a hundred, if Desdemona had to guess. Their voices echoed off the walls as they spoke. Some of them were debating each other heatedly. Others were just casually talking.

There were all sorts of people gathered. A decent number looked like the workers from the harbour, still wearing their work clothes. They looked exhausted, and most seemed wary of their surroundings and company. Mixed in among them were a few people that looked like regular residents of Black Bay, mostly on the younger side. But in addition to them, there were plenty of people that looked like they'd dressed specifically for the protests. There were people with heavy black clothing, including hoods and what looked like facemasks that they'd pulled down around their necks. In other cases, they were wearing clothes that had slogans written across them in bright, caustic colours. In some cases the slogans were innocuous quotes from old songs. She noticed more than a few that were familiar to her as drowner chants, along with the symbols to back them up. One of them in particular, a lithe eel in all black and with a neon red drowner patch sewn next to an anarchy pin on his jacket, was moving from group to group, speaking loudly. Desi couldn't make out her voice, but she kept making exaggerated gestures that communicated violence. Most of the groups the eel approached looked uncomfortable, but every now and again somebody actually engaged her and started speaking.

Desi picked out more than a couple punks. Some of them just looked like kids who couldn't decide if they were excited or scared to be there. Others were the types that she was used to seeing at shows - people that had been going to shows all their lives, that were used to marching and protesting, and that knew how to take or throw a punch. They were the type of people that Desdemona had always been afraid of when she first started going to shows as a kid. They were also the people she'd learned that she could rely on without question after she came out and people started giving her a hard time.

Most of the people looked like Black Bay residents, all recognizable by their relatively tame scale colours. Here and there throughout the crowd, though, Desdemona recognized fish that definitely weren't from the city, or even Lake Superior in general. There were a few brighter fish here and there, or ones that she knew would probably be from further south. All of these had the look of experienced protesters. Clearly it hadn't taken long for other people to recognize some of the signs in the harbour workers' protest and make their way to Black Bay. Desdemona wasn't the only one that had travelled to the city in response.

Flitting throughout all of these groups there were people handing out food. They'd set up lights with generators near the walls to illuminate the area, and there were people preparing skewers of food. Volunteers were ferrying them out to the various groups, and always pausing to talk. Most of them had tablets that they were taking down notes on. Some of these people were also making their way over to the corridors that led into the rest of the belly of the ship, and passing in or out.

It was while Desi was watching one of these corridors that a familiar figure emerged. Simon slipped around one of the other volunteers, and gave them a pat on the back before swimming down. He moved with purpose down to the people that were preparing with food. He was dressed casually. During the protests he'd had a fabric mask like many of the others, but he'd worn it stubbornly around his neck for the whole time, making sure to show his face to the cameras. He'd removed it fully now, and was just wearing a casual set of warm weather swimclothes. Others turned and nodded to him as he passed, and the volunteers preparing food paused to listen to him when he spoke.

Nobody turned to look at her when she entered the hull. In fact, while she was hanging there and taking it in, another fish slipped by her to get in and joined up with one of the clumps of people. Apparently they weren't concerned about anybody coming in to join them.

Once Simon pulled away from the food station, Desdemona swam forward. She wove around a couple of groups, giving noncommittal nods to people while keeping her hood low. Simon didn't notice her until she was swimming right up to him. He glanced over, and started off casual.

"Hi, welcome. Did you…" He trailed off as he looked her up and down more carefully. Desdemona drew up next to him, then tilted her head back so he could more clearly see into her hood. He blinked.

"Hey," she said. She let her voice drop a bit, giving it some huskiness. "I didn't know you were all about managing food lines."

He kept staring at her for a moment, then spoke slowly. "I managed Dredless's first couple tours, before we could hire a tour manager. What the hell are you doing here?" He paused, and then a note of hope crept into his voice. "You wouldn't happen to be…?"

"My mom," she responded, her voice flat. His face fell. "Well, not just her. She did call me because she was worried, but I am too." She cast a quick glance around, and then hissed at him in a whisper. "Simon, what the hell is this?"

"This is organizing." He nodded around the group. "This is what sitting down to do the hard work looks like."

"Organizing? With fucking drowners?"

"They—" He stopped himself. He'd been starting to raise his voice. He glanced around again, then muttered, "If you want to stay anonymous, we should find somewhere private to have this conversation."

"You know nobody here's going to recognize me." She paused, then inclined her head. "Or maybe some of them will. Depending on who it is, maybe they'll see if they can drown the surface fish."

He shot her a look, then sighed. He grabbed her hand, then turned and started swimming. She followed along with him. They ducked into one of the corridors that led to the rest of the ship. Desi had never been into this area of the wreck before. She'd barely ever forced herself to get into the hull. They wound through a couple tight corridors, moving to the side to let another fish pass at one point, before Simon ducked into a small room. There were a few bunkbeds built into the floor, their bedding long since gone. There was a portable light in the room, clearly brought in by the organizers. Once they were inside, he rounded on her, and sighed.

"So I guess you aren't showing up to fulfill my hopes that you would join in or lend support?"

Desdemona let out a long breath and shook her head. "To tell the truth, I wasn't sure when I was flying up here. My mom wants me to come talk to you because she thinks I'll be able to calm you down or make you see reason or something. I was coming because I wanted to see what all this actually was. But like… fuck, dude. Drowners? Really?"

"There are going to be drowners at any event like this."

"But this isn't the event. This is the afterparty. Hell, normally you throw people like that out before we even get to this point."

He considered her for a long few seconds, then inclined his head. "'Afterparty' is probably the wrong word. Opposite end of the spectrum."

It took Desdemona a bit to figure out what he meant by that. Then she raised an eyeridge. "So it's a starting point."

"Yeah."

"For what?"

He sighed, and then reached over to tap on the metal of one of the bunkbeds. He kept tapping on it, like a nervous tick. "The harbour workers were so close, Desi. Nothing about it was planned - it was just a sudden thing they decided to do one day because they were frustrated. And they almost did it. Another day of holding off work on the harbour, and it would have completely frozen over. Once it's frozen, there isn't an icebreaker in the world that would be able to reopen it, and then there goes Black Bay's head start on the shipping season. All it took was them deciding to do it, and then a few people showing up to help support them with food and extra bodies, and we almost shut Black Bay down."

She kept eying him, considering. Throughout his speech, he'd gone back and forth between focusing on his tapping on the bunk bed, and turning his attention back to her. He was intense. It was almost like he was trying to convince her. And, well…

"I know." His eyes flicked over to her again. She shrugged. "That's part of why I decided to come. If they hadn't called in, like, the entire police force to deal with you, you guys probably would have pulled it off, too. You hit a nerve. It was… I dunno. It's fucking cool, Simon."

"Right?" He stopped tapping and faced her fully. "Which is why we have to organize and plan for the next one. If we were able to do this with no prep, just think of what we'll be able to do when we're planning everything out. Think of what we could do!"

"But, I mean… how?" To his blank look, she sighed. "This was the shot. This was the best shot. Keeping the harbour open in winter is the biggest thing we do for them. This was our bargaining chip. But that kind of got fucked as soon as the cops showed up. It's not like they're going to give us another chance to disrupt it."

"So we go for something else."

"But what?"

"That's what the planning's for."

"The planning that you have drowners at."

"Desi—"

"No. I've seen the changing room by the shore. 'Dry scales burn sails.' I've seen what some of the people out there are wearing. I saw what some of their signs said on TV. Dude, like… drowners. Like actual extreme, 'kill people to make change,' drowners, Simon. You're organizing with them?"

There was a brief moment where Simon looked like he was at a loss. Then he narrowed his gaze, and he muttered, "That's how these things happen, Desi. We've drawn attention. People have to know that there's going to be a next step. There are a lot of our people that are frustrated with surfacers."

"Our people?"

"Fucking fish, Desi. Aquatics. Those are our people. But yeah, lots of people are frustrated. But we're the ones that have done something about it. Us, in middle of nowhere Black Bay. Whatever happens next is going to be big, and people will come here for it, so we need to organize."

"With drowners."

"People like that are going to show up for something like this anyways. That's just a thing with big protests. Better that we have them in the room with us so we have some sort of idea of what they're going to do."

"You know what they're going to do, Simon. Don't encourage i-"

"They're going to do it anyways!"

He'd yelled that part. Desdemona blinked, and he blinked too, surprised by his own anger. He took a moment to gather himself, then lowered his voice again.

"That's the part you don't get. They'll do it anyways."

"You don't know that."

"We're past that point, Desi."

"We're never past that—"

"You haven't been here." That drew her up short. He was glaring at her, hard. It wasn't unbridled rage this time. He was fully in control of himself as he kept speaking. "You've barely been here for… what, five or six years?"

"Neither have you."

"I've been back. At least twice per year. Things didn't just freeze in place when you went off to Ottawa for school. Things kept going. Things got worse. People got angrier. Lines got crossed."

"So you think it's justified or something if drowners come and—"

"I think that I can't stop it any more than anybody else can."

Desdemona kept staring at him. At length, she muttered, her voice quiet, "You wanted me to support this? To publicly back it?"

He didn't break eye contact with her. His voice was also quiet when he responded. "I wanted you to at least know how bad all of this has gotten. Then you could decide where you want to fall on it. But you have to fall on some side of it. Like… things aren't getting better until they get worse. But you just kept refusing to ever come down."

Desdemona opened her mouth to respond, but was drawn up short when she heard yelling drifting down the corridor towards them from the cargo hold. She glanced at Simon, and he looked every bit as confused as her. They both turned and swam out, following the winding path back towards the hull.

The placid calm of the hull had been broken up. A few people had backed away from the torn open entrance to the cargo hold, and the majority of other people were gathered at or a bit back from the hole. Desi could clearly hear the voice of the eel from earlier above the other voices.

From where she and Simon were, Desi couldn't see what the commotion was. She was briefly afraid that the police had come to break up the meeting, and that there would be violence, or she would be seen…

But no. That would be stupid. She doubted any cop would be dumb enough to come down to The Dredless right after a days long protest. She was following Simon as he rushed towards the entrance, and she swam upwards a bit with him as they tried to get a view. She froze as she caught sight.

Just outside the hole there was an otter. He was illuminated by the lights in the hold, and he was wearing a wetsuit - one of the heavily insulated ones that Desi had seen arctic divers or winter surfers wear. The otter wasn't wearing the heavy, tight hood that normally came with these, though. Because of this, she could clearly make out Braydon's face.

Desdemona had just long enough to recognize the otter's face before, next to her, Simon swore. She blinked, and glanced over at him. He was staring straight ahead at the otter.

"He shouldn't be here."

"He probably just wants to talk."

"What were we just talking about?" He shot her a look, and she finally recognized the fear on Simon's face. "He shouldn't be here, Desi."

"You don't think…" her voice trailed off as she kept meeting his gaze. She flicked her attention back over to the crowd of angry fish gathering by the entrance and yelling. Her breath caught in her throat for a moment, then she spoke. "Can you get your people to stay back while I grab him?"

"They're not my peo-"

"Can you do it."

"Yes."

Without another word, Desi kicked forward, and her tail gave a mighty lash. She was slicing forward through the water. She wove around a couple people further back from the crowd, and then tilted so that she was leading with her shoulder when she reached the denser packs. She called out a hollow, "Excuse me!" once or twice as she pushed through the crowd. They generally just parted for her.

When she reached the front of the pack, she saw the eel from earlier clear out in front of the others, yelling directly into Braydon's face. The eel glanced back at her as she heard Desi's voice, and her eyes widened in surprise. The eel actually moved to block her, and Desi tensed her muscles as she swam right at the other fish. Her shoulder collided with the eel, and Desi was briefly surprised by how muscular she seemed despite her lithe appearance. Still, the perch had very little trouble shoving the eel out of the way with her shoulder.

Then Braydon was right in front of her. She lunged forward and grabbed his hand, then started swimming wordlessly, towing him behind her. She felt him drag for a few moments, fighting against her pull. At length she turned her face back and glared right into his face.

It took him a moment to recognize her. Then he blinked. She pulled again, insistently, and tried to harden her gaze. He finally turned and followed her, letting her pull him.

Behind her, she could hear Simon raising his voice to speak above those shouting in the crowd. She picked out the first few words, but soon after that they faded into the background as Desi pulled Braydon along.

For the first little bit she was just pulling him, heading generally up and out. Only once the noise from the hull had fully faded did she realize that she needed a plan. They weren't overly deep underwater, but they were far from any place that the water's surface would be clear of ice.

Braydon must have noticed her looking around, because he gave a small tug on her hand. She glanced back, and he lifted a small tube with a mask attached to it. It took her a moment of staring to recognize it as a small portable oxygen tank. He gave a small shrug, and she sighed, then turned and started swimming.

They swam on in silence for the next few minutes. Every now and again she heard the hiss and the stream of bubbles behind her as Braydon took a breath from his oxygen tube. She didn't take the turn she would have needed to in order to head back towards the aquatic section of Black Bay. Instead she directed them more or less straight back towards the marina. The water got cooler as they gradually rose, and Desi was shivering by the time they saw the lights of the path to the marina up ahead.

They swam up, and into the heated water near the shore. Desi kept herself low, swimming almost until her belly was scraping the rocky floor before she let herself break the surface. As soon as she did, she let out a sharp curse as the cool wind hit her like a punch in the chest. She staggered up to her feet, shivering.

"Desi, what—?" Braydon was already free of the water, and was stepping up next to her.

"Car."

He nodded, and then led the way up from the water. It probably only took them a minute to get up to the otter's vehicle, but all of Desi's extremities were numb by the time they reached it. Braydon unlocked the truck, and it took a great deal of control for Desi to not wrench the door open. She hopped in and then stuck her hands firmly into her armpits, balling up a bit.

Braydon had already started the truck, and he turned the heat and the air all the way up. Desi bit back a curse as the air came out cool across her wet scales, but soon enough it warmed up.

The two of them sat in the safety of the truck, both of them shivering and panting as their bodies heated up. Desi felt and heard him shifting beside her, and knowing he was about to start speaking, she forced herself to go first.

"What the hell were you doing?"

"Me?" Braydon blinked. "What are you talking about?"

"You just swam into the middle of- fuck, Braydon, do you even know what that place was?"

"Of course I do." She shot an incredulous glare over at him, and he rolled his eyes. "How else do you think I found it? How do you think I knew that was where the protestors would probably go? Just because I wasn't born in the water doesn't mean I know nothing about history."

"Okay." She reached up to knead at her forehead, and then spoke very slowly, trying to hold in her anger. "But do you know what that place has been used for since?"

"Yes. And don't think I missed all the graffiti on the walls in there."

"So why were you there? Fuck, man, you could have…" Instead of finishing the sentence, she made a vague, aggressive gesture at him. He raised an eyebrow.

"You think they would have just randomly attacked somebody? They're not monsters, Desi."

"You, a person that worked with the mayor, showed up at a place that may as well be a fucking sacred shrine or something to how shitty surfacers can be, while it was full of a bunch of people who are angry about how shitty surfacers can be at the best of times, right after the mayor ordered police to break up a protest about how shitty surfacers can be, in the middle of the night, in the middle of fucking nowhere. That's not 'randomly.'"

Braydon did pause at that. He continued forward, though, inclining his head as he spoke. "You don't actually think something would have happened."

"I don't know if something would have happened."

The otter kept watching her. At length he turned his attention back forward, looking out through the frosted over windshield. He drummed his fingers along the steering wheel, then spoke. "Somebody needs to talk to them."

"Not you."

"They need somebody to listen."

Desi didn't respond this time. Her shivering had finally stopped. She sat back in the car, still dripping some. She felt ridiculous like this, camped out in a truck at two in the morning, wearing her swim clothes and sitting next to her ex. She almost missed her boring and empty apartment in Bangor.

She cast a look over at the otter. Now that they were out of the water and Desi had finished venting her frustration, she was able to get a better look at him. It looked like he'd gotten a bit taller, but it was hard to tell while he was sitting down. There was a brooding look on his face, but other than that there was something about him that felt more… she had trouble finding the word. His hair, though wet, was tidier and in a neater haircut than when she used to know him. He was still pretty fit, but there was definitely a bit more weight to him as well. It was odd - not much had changed, but it still felt significant.

"So," Braydon finally said. He looked over at her, and she set her gaze. "What brings the basketball star home?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "I'm not allowed to pop home for a visit?"

"I've always gotten the vibe that you only come visit when Cali can leverage a critical mass of guilt."

She grimaced. "It's fucking weird hearing you say her name."

"Your mom's?"

"Yeah. Most of the time I can just forget that the two of you are working together."

He shrugged. "So I assume she asked you to come?"

"Yeah."

He kept drumming his fingers along the steering wheel, considering. The expression on his face kept shifting, cycling through indecision after indecision.

At length, Desi spoke up, cutting off his thoughts. "If you're working up the courage to ask for an endorsement from an athlete or something—"

He snorted, and glanced at her from the corner of his eye. She grinned back at him. "No. I hadn't considered asking my ex to endorse my campaign."

"Good."

They were quiet for a few more moments. When Braydon spoke again, his voice was hesitant, "I, uh. I heard you found a new, uh…"

"Braydon."

"No. I'm glad. I hope—"

"Braydon. I just pulled you out of… all that." She made a gesture towards the water. "We aren't having this conversation right now."

"Right. Right." He cleared his throat. "Are you going back to your parents' place?"

"Fuck no. I'm not running back into the water tonight. Could you just drop me at a hotel or something?"

He nodded. He put the truck into drive, and pulled out of the empty parking lot. Desi made herself busy texting her parents to let them know she was alright, and wouldn't be back that night. Soon enough, they pulled up in front of a hotel, and Desi put her hand on the doorhandle to leave. She paused, though, and looked back at him.

"You know you can't win, right?"

He rolled his eyes again. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"No, I mean…" she trailed off, thinking. Then she spoke again. "You can't win this election. Laskin's been around forever. You're some 23 year old kid. I respect what you're doing, but you're not going to win this." She nodded meaningfully. "That's why nobody underwater's going to listen to you. Why would they waste energy trying to support you if there's no chance you're going to win this?"

He kept eying her, considering this. His answer was slow. "I'm not asking you for an endorsement. I'm not. But you're right. Without some sort of massive, outsized force backing me up, I can't possibly win this. The only two things like that I can think of are either you on the surface or Simon underwater."

They were quiet for a bit. At length, Desi gave a small nod, then opened the door. Freezing air billowed into the car. She hopped out, and rushed up the couple steps to the door of the hotel. She was only half paying attention to the attendant who stared at her as she paid, and on her way up to her room.

Her flight out back to Bangor was the next afternoon. She couldn't wait to get out of the city.


Featured Characters

Desdemona Iverson


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