abruptly ended pensions for injured steelworkers and their families. Motherâs widowâs pension had long since run out, so the decision didnât affect us, but we were as outraged as everyone else. Hundreds of workers marched on the Assembly Hall and stormed the building. In response, the First Councilorâs elite corps slaughtered dozens of steelworkers, some of them fathers and uncles and cousins of Horiel students. I sometimes wonder if Father would have marched that day if heâd been alive.
âAnd what about what happened last night in Gishal after the District Hall firings?â Devorah continues. âThree people were injured in the confrontation with the Corps.â
âHow did you hear?â Miriam says, shaken.
âMy uncle told me,â says Devorah. âHe was a Gishal employee.â She turns back to Shaul. âListen to me. You canât count on the intuition. Donât go back to that pharmacy.â
He smirks. âI didnât know you cared so much, Devorah.â
If it werenât for Zeina stepping between them, I think Devorah would punch him. Instead, she stalks off. Zeina follows, looking reproachfully over her shoulder.
âWell done, Shaul,â says Reuven.
I risk a sideways glance at Shaul. Once he was content to make mischief in the classroom and play handball in the street after school. Now heâs beginning to move in dissident circles. Maybe this is what it means to grow up, but it frightens me.
T he weekend arrives, the first since the halan firings at the District Halls. On Seventhday, when I pick my way through the Ikhad, my only reward is Tsipporah speaking darkly of plague. Under the thatched roof, a number of stalls stand empty, not only because people have fallen ill, Tsipporah says, but because vendors and craftsmen from the outlying hamlets are avoiding the city and its contagion. I donât stay at the market very long.
On my way out of the square, I notice a peculiar current in the streets. It seems to be carrying both kasiri and halani in the direction of the Assembly Hall, where the seven councilors meet and the city government offices are located. I follow the herd, catching snippets of my fellow citizensâ conversations.
ââdonât know why we bother, nothing the First Councilor can say isââ
ââproper medical report, or some concrete numbers aboutââ
ââpray thereâs good news.â
My heart beats faster. The First Councilor hardly ever makes public appearances. This is a rare opportunity to hear words directly from Yiftach Davidâs mouth, and I might learn something I could bring back to Leah.
The crowd bears me into a plaza teeming with people. The Assembly Hall looms on our left. Unlike most of Asharaâs venerable edifices, itâs made of brick, not stone. After the original Assembly Hall burned down seventy years ago, it was rebuilt in a newer style.
Today, a wooden platform has been set up in front of the hall. Around it is a cordoned-off section, complete with folding chairs, which the arriving kasiri are filling. Police officers are stationed along the rope barriers to keep the mob of halani from pressing in too closely.
A diminutive man with gray hair approaches the lectern at the front of the platform. Having seen him once on a school trip, I know this is Yiftach David, First Councilor of the Assembly.
David begins to speak, but we canât hear his voice. On the platform, another kasir joins him. He removes his gloves and curls his hands at chest level. A spray of tiny white-hot lights, bright as a welderâs sparks, bursts from his fingers, and abruptly Davidâs amplified voice booms through the square.
ââconfirm to you that one hundred and thirty-four Ashari have died of a new and as yet unidentified illness within the past month.â
The First Councilor pauses to let the death toll sink in.