I almost didn’t see him—the Tur man huddled against the wall of my apartment building. What if I hadn’t seen him? It was dark. I could have walked by and gone inside and never known anything about him. If I had, I wouldn’t be on this bus, driving through the middle of nowhere. I wouldn’t have Sveeta’s face stuck in my mind forever. I did see him though, and he looked like he might be hurt, so I stopped.
He was slumped forward, his head on his knees, his dreadlocks hiding his face. A ragged backpack lay beside him. I assumed he was a gang member, because only the traditional Tur and the Nationalist gangs wear their hair like that anymore. I know a lot about the Tur, because I took every class Dr. Neyrev offered while I was at University. Now I’m a guard at Riverside Prison, so you might not think all those language and culture classes would come in handy, but they do.
Still, I’m Sevian. So I didn’t want to meet a Tur man in the dark on an empty street, especially if he belonged to a gang. The gangs are everywhere these days.
Anyway, I stopped and asked him in Tur, “Are you ok, can I help you?”
He looked up at me, eyes unfocused. “I’m fine.”
He wasn’t fine. His face was bruised and he’d done a very poor job of cleaning up a nosebleed. I knelt down beside him.
“You’re hurt. I want to help you.”
“I’m ok.” He staggered to his feet, took a couple of shuffling steps away and stopped, swaying. I jumped to my feet and caught him, helping him balance. He smelled. Cow dung and woodsmoke and sweat and cheap cologne. I did think of helping him sit back down and then leaving him. I also thought of calling the police to come deal with him, but for some reason, I didn’t. I pulled his arm across my shoulders and helped him through the door and up the stairs to my apartment.
“Do you think you have any broken bones?”
He didn’t move, just sat there studying my face. “How did you learn to speak Tur so well?”
When he smiled at me I noticed that he was missing his incisors. Some of the traditional Tur families still pull these teeth on their oldest sons. It’s an tradition, or superstition, having to do with the belief that the boys were able to transform themselves into wolves if their teeth weren’t removed.
“I’ve studied your language for a long time. Come on, let me see how badly you’re hurt.”
I did take a first aid class once because it was mandatory at my school. I should have paid better attention. He slipped off his jacket and and grinned again when he noticed me looking at long knife in a leather sheath that hung around his neck.
“You should go to the emergency clinic. I’ll call a taxi to take you there.”
“No I’m fine. Just some bruises.”
“You might have a concussion, or—”
“I told you I’m fine. I didn’t come all this way to go to the doctor.”
“Ok, then.” I wasn’t going to try to force him to go anywhere, especially since he had a six inch blade to stick in my throat if he didn’t like the turn events were taking.
“What happened to you?” I asked, wishing my shift had lasted an hour or two longer, so he would have had time to take his battered self somewhere else.
“Three guys jumped me a few blocks down from your house. I thought they wanted my wallet so I let them have it. I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
“It looks like you’re the one who got hurt.”
“Well, when I realized they weren’t going to stop hitting me after they got my money I knifed one of them. Then they left me alone.”
“And—the man you stabbed?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think he was badly hurt. He ran off with the other two.”
“I’m Radoslav, by the way. What is your name?”
“Daksha, you should call the police and explain what happened.”
“I can’t, I don’t have time.”
“What do you mean? They’ll come looking for you. It would be better if you contacted them first, just to explain what happened.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’ll probably get arrested. They’ll want to have an inquest or something and by then it will be too late—the President will be dead.”
Daksha told me his story through big mouthfuls of bread and cheese. “A few days ago I had a dream. I dreamed I was standing in a huge crowd on the grounds of the Presidential Palace. It was just exactly this time of year, still chilly in the morning and the trees were just showing buds. As the dream went along I somehow realized that I was dreaming about this Saturday—the day after tomorrow.The crowd was gathered to hear the president’s annual Address to the People.
I was near the front so I had a perfect view. They had set up a podium on the open porch at the top of the steps, and hung huge long flags from all the balconies across the front of the palace. First a priest said a prayer to bless the occasion, and then one of the senior provincial governors introduced the president. Everybody cheered, the president smiled and waved to the crowd, and then his body jerked and collapsed onto the platform. I was close enough to see that he’d been shot in the head.
When I woke up, I remembered that the annual Address to the People was scheduled for this Saturday. God sent me that dream so I could warn him in time and save his life. It wasn’t just a dream—I was seeing something real that hasn’t happened yet.”
I watched his eager face. His eyes put his entire inner world on display—the confusion, the excitement, the fear. I wondered if mine was equally visible.
“Do you have any more bread?” he asked.
“Here you go.”
“Anyway, there’s only one bus a week from Duna—that’s the town nearest to where I live—to the capital, and it leaves at six in the morning, and it’s a three hour hike from my home to Duna, so I just grabbed some money and my backpack and left right then. My father was awake because he’d been up all night with a sick cow. I told him where I was going.”
“You came all this way just because you had a dream?”
“Yes, because I had that dream, I can save President Morsav from being killed. I don’t know why, out of all the people in the world, God picked me to have it, but He did, so there must be a way that I can do it.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Well, I thought I’d call the chief of the president’s security guards, or maybe I could talk to him in person. If I told him about what’s going to happen, he could explain to the president and they could cancel the speech, or change the date.”
“You won’t be able to get the chief of presidential security on the phone.”
“I could try.”
“Trust me. That’s not going to happen in a million years. Even if you did why would he believe you? You didn’t actually overhear something, or see something. You had a dream. And you’re Tur. The assassin, if there actually is one, probably is too. I don’t think you understand the way things are between the Sevians and the Tur here in the city. Those men probably attacked you because you are Tur.”
“So I guess I don’t have a plan after all.” He laughed. He seemed to enjoy laughing at himself.
“Do you have somewhere to go tonight? You can sleep here if you don’t.” I offered. “Maybe things will look different tomorrow.”
It was only after Daksha had curled up with a spare blanket on the couch and I had gone to bed too that I remembered that he had just stabbed someone in a fight and didn’t seem overly concerned about it, that he still had the knife and that my bedroom door didn’t lock. But that’s not what kept me awake.Those things didn’t seem important, because when Daksha described his dream I had pictured it as vividly as he did—the crowds, the flags, the podium, the silent bullet that shattered President Morsav’s skull. Because I’d had the same dream myself.
I doubt either of us slept much that night, but Daksha did look a lot better when I came down the next morning. He eased himself up into a sitting position, wincing. “Give me a hand up,” he exclaimed as I entered. “I need to get moving.”
“I still think you should call the police. You can explain everything—and you can tell them about your dream. They’ll have a better chance of contacting the president’s personal security forces than you would.”
“Yes, but what if they laugh in my face and decide to lock me up for a few days and Saturday passes?”
That was exactly what would happen. “You will have done your best.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I had the same dream.” I blurted it out. His belief in it made me feel ashamed of ignoring it, but I decided that if I didn’t tell him I would feel more ashamed still.
Daksha’s eyes went wide. “Then that’s why I was beaten up last night! God arranged it so I would meet you. I would get dizzy and sit down and you would come along and find me. We would probably have never met otherwise. He’s brought us together. We’re meant to come up with a plan to save the president together. If you come with me to the police station, they will listen to you.”
“I doubt it.” I honestly did doubt it, but at the same time my stomach turned sick with fear that what he was saying might be true.
“Yes, they will listen to you. You’re Sevian, not Tur.” He made a bitter face. “Don’t you think it’s worth trying?”
“Worth trying? You mean, worth risking getting put in prison, or killed? I have--”
At that moment a car horn blared outside. Daksha started.
“That’s just Anna, my sister. She’s here to pick me up for work.”
Anna marched in. “I thought you said you weren’t going to keep me waiting anymore after yesterday,” she said. Then she saw Daksha and she swallowed what else she was going to say.
“This is Daksha. He spent the night here,” I said, and I explained everything, the mugging, his dream. As I finished, Anna plucked at my sleeve.
“Excuse us, I’d like to talk to Rado privately for a minute.” She smiled at Daksha, but only with her lips. She snatched my hand and pulled me into the kitchen. “Why in the world did you let him spend the night with you?”
“It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“Rado! You don’t know anything about him—except that he is heading for trouble. Besides, it was his dream, not yours. If God wanted you to try to save the President, He would have given you the dream.”
“Do you really think so? Anna—”
“What?” Her lips tightened, her eyes widened, as if she’d already heard what I was planning to say. Maybe I’m not as good at hiding things as I’d like to think.
Until Daksha showed up, my dream had been just an uneasy memory. I desperately wanted to keep it that way. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I decided to accept it as Daksha had.
I opened my mouth to say “Anna, I had the same dream,” but I couldn’t. Not while looking at her anxious eyes.
“Daksha will leave as soon as I ask him to. I promise.”
“Well, make it fast,” said Anna.
I walked back into the main room. Daksha started talking before I could figure out how to politely tell him to go. “The way I see it, these are my options.” He held up three fingers. “One, I get in contact with the president’s personal security force and tell them about my dream and the plot. Not likely. Two, I somehow find out who is planning the assassination and manage to foil their plot in time. Impossible. Three...” he paused.
“I don’t think you can do anything about it. If God wants the president to be saved, He’ll find some other way.” I was still pretty sure I believed that, and I hoped Daksha would too.
“Three, I save him with a fake assassination plot. I’ve figured it all out. We will fill this backpack with bricks and then we can--”