Meinaii by Alon Levy

Daniel and I stop briefly in front of the building and look up briefly; we don’t see our suspect. We go in, climb the steps, position ourselves on both sides of his front door. I check the blueprint yet again to confirm that my memory of his apartment layout is correct, and it is. Daniel looks at me and shakes his head; I roll my eyes at him. I count down with my fingers: three, two, one, kick in the door with guns pointed inside and yell “Police! Stand down, now!”

The suspect is not in the main room, but we hear him scramble in his study, run there, and point weapons next to him. Daniel says, “Don’t move,” and proceeds to cuff him. He starts leading him out, while I locate the piece of paper he was trying to feed to a shredder in the five seconds between when we entered the apartment and when we entered the study. I take a few photos and confiscate the papers he was studying and his computer, and follow my partner out; the entire process takes thirty seconds.

He is silent as we lead him out from the building to the police station. It’s strictly speaking illegal, and he knows this. Chinese anti-shame laws forbid parading anyone who’s not convicted in restraints or any other way indicating guilt. It may be a five-minute walk, but we should be either putting a black bag on his head or taking him to the station in a car. But out here those laws are not enforced as long as nobody is looking and he knows this, and this time of night, the street is deserted.

At the station, Daniel walks to the front desk, smirks at the woman taking registries, and enters the suspect’s name and arrest data into the computer. He looks around, sees there are about ten people looking at us, and declares, “At eleven fifty-one p.m., apprehended and brought Anna Deshmukh to the precinct of East Mei-Nai-Yi.” God, he’s so ostentatious. I can’t help it: I walk to him and say, loudly, “Listen, Daniel, you’re half-white, half-Arab. You speak about five words of Chinese, like everyone else in this city. So how about you pronounce the name of the city like everyone else does, which is Meinaii?” Meinaii: two syllables, the first reduced like in huh, the second stressed and rhyming with eye.

After about half an hour of red tape, they let me enter the room where Deshmukh is being held and interrogate him. No, not interrogate—pretend to interrogate, for the neo-Luddites say nothing more than their name and ID number, and even those not always. “Anna,” I begin, “we have documents saying you’re plotting multiple attacks on city infrastructure.” Silence. “We have enough to convict—we had enough to convict and execute even before we arrested you, and now we have these.” I spill the papers I took in front of him. His facial expression remains frozen. “You know what? I’m not going to bother playing good cop. I’m not going to bother playing anything. Tell us who you’re corresponding with, and that by itself will be enough to knock your sentence down to a long jail time. You never know—if you give us enough to crack what you’re doing, you could even walk. Think about it.”

He’s not going to think about it. I gather the papers and leave the room, and in retrospect think that I should be grateful he didn’t try to jump me and destroy them somehow. My first thought is that it’s a huge conspiracy involving the neo-Luddites and the best we have is scant information from other police departments, plus confiscated papers from an operative who was so unimportant he was staying in Meinaii. Then my second thought is that since both terrorism and the neo-Luddites are of national importance, we’re going to have officials come in from the Capital expecting us to have proper paperwork in a language few of us at this department understand.

At one, my shift ends, and I go back home. It takes half an hour to walk, and by now even the major streets have very little activity on them. I know and feel safe on the streets, but it’s still better to look ahead and around rather than read the papers from Deshmukh’s apartment. Something could always happen. Going uphill on Zhaga Avenue, the streetscape becomes more suburban, and somewhat more barren.

Central Meinaii, built largely as a replica of the Capital, has streets sized for military parades and more driving than most people in the city can afford; the only people who live there are the homeless. The neighborhoods farther out, built by immigrants the government invited in once it realized too few Chinese people were willing to live in Tibet, are desirable, which means expensive. This leaves Zhaga as the best location in my district where I can still afford to pay rent and save money. It’s traditionally a Turkish area, but after a few generations of ethnic mixing, there are enough other Indians that I don’t look out of place.

My apartment is not large. It’s about a hundred square meters, the same as any middle-class apartment in the inner parts of the city. It has a living room and three bedrooms, of which one doubles as my husband’s study. My husband is already sleeping in the regular bedroom and has been sick and antsy about being woken up for the last week, so I collapse into the guestroom bed, and almost forget to set up my dream recorder. Almost.

I vaguely remember talking to Deshmukh when I wake up. I unstrap the dream recorder helmet, groggily stumble to our bedroom, see that my husband is still asleep, and then go back to the guestroom and check my dreams. I did much more than just talk to Deshmukh; I got him to talk back.

“What do you want?” He said.

“I want you to tell me what you’re doing.”

He smirked, and somehow got out of his restraints. “You know what we’re doing.”

“How the hell?” I asked. He shrugged and somehow got back in restraints. “It’s Meinaii. We don’t have anything you care about. We have a hospital and a university and that’s it. You should be in the Capital, in Shanghai, in the Star Circlet.”

“If we were in the Star Circlet, would you know about it?”

“No,” I said. I’m pretty sure I thought more. What I’m thinking right now is that if they were in any Chinese city outside Tibet, still nobody would bother to inform us.

“Think what you do have that’s important,” he said. I’ve had suspects talk to me like this, but never neo-Luddites—they are smart enough to know it’d tell me everything I need to know, while also making them feel complacent and smug.

I remember what I said next—I remember I was thinking about the road tunnel to Zhaga, which is dark and scary and has always stricken me as a terrorist target. And I remember why it was wrong: it’s very uninteresting infrastructure, by any national or global standards. I watch myself say, “The levees along the river.”

Deshmukh smiled and said, “Yes, Detective Reddy.” In dreams, everyone knows my name. “Do you think anything will stay in your city once we’re done with it? The river? The freight tracks?”

The remainder of my dreams are not interesting right now, so I switch off the recorder. I ask myself whether my hunch is right, or whether I’m confusing the neo-Luddites with eco-terrorists who think Meinaii is too close to the wilderness. But… no. Eco-terrorists wouldn’t care about Meinaii, either—too remote, too unimportant an ecosystem. They have enough to worry about in the Star Circlet, which is nominally tropical rainforest and realistically urban sprawl. Or am I rationalizing?

I don’t think I am. This is when I pick up the phone and call Daniel, who should still be at the precinct. “Daniel?”

“Laxmi, you woke me up.” I’m pretty sure he’s lying.

“I’m coming in in an hour. I know where you’re going to hit us.”

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