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CHAPTER ONE: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

When the blood-stained books finally landed on the crowded city streets, he was already dead – another nameless victim in the Federal Bureau of Language’s war on words. Manuel Luhon, who walked this way to work each day, had been only a few feet ahead of the young man when he heard the blasts from the guns. Having spent most his life in the ghettos of Brooklyn, the sounds of gun shots were all too familiar and he didn't even turn around. An instant later it had rained books, one landing directly in front of him. Without thinking, without fearing, without breaking stride, his right hand seemed to act on its own accord, swooping up the bound pages and stuffing them in his waistband. He quickened his pace, hearing the agents behind him.

“Field agents, gather the evidence,” the officer commanded.

There was a team of three agents, all of whom had shot the man simultaneously in the back.

With his peripheral vision, Manuel saw the uniforms scouring the sidewalks for the books, and he heard the thumps of their steel-toed boots. He moved forward as casually as he could. This was not difficult because the blasts had alarmed the pedestrians on either side of the street and there were now many people running. Manuel began to jog, not completely aware of what he possessed.

What am I doing? Whose side am I on? Manuel had been a staunch supporter of the Bureau’s cause and had recently been studying to join its ranks. Now, he felt torn and unsure, but all the more sure that there was some substance to the rumors which painted the agency as a callous and racist group who would stop at nothing to see their goals of a one language world – English only. And with their goals would come, intentional or not, the end of other cultures.

There still remained in Manuel’s mind the curiosity of understanding why someone would be willing to risk their life for mere words on a page, words they were unlikely even to understand. He wondered in which language this book he carried was written. Familiar with many of the FBL’s technologies, Manuel was apprehensive that he had seen picking up the book.

Walking past the subway stop to work, biting his fingernails and fearing someone would see the contraband, the book, Manuel decided to call in to work. A part of him just wanted to throw out the book, but the desire to better understand how others had communicated and what they valued, was overpowering.

He pressed a few buttons on his telephone watch. The person on the other end spoke. “Megamarket, Gredy speaking.” Gredy looked at the caller ID. “Manuel, you better not be calling in to work.”

“I’m really sorry, but I’ve been throwing up. And I have a fever and I don’t have any energy. I’m sure you could find someone.”

“Maybe, but it’s your responsibility to find someone to cover your shift. Where are you? It sounds like you’re on the streets. I can hear horns and voices.”

“I was on my way to work when I became sick.”

“Likely story. I trust you have the list of employees’ phone numbers?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. My phone is breaking up,” Manuel said, smirking and turning off his phone, all too aware there was no time to waste and that he must get off the streets. He about faced and headed to his family’s structures, conscious of each footstep, fearful the book might fall out or down his pant leg. Without incident he made it the four blocks and to his street. He followed the buildings until they stretched to his building. The buildings, shared side walls, but the fronts were clearly identifiable. Manuel waddled up the steps and to his door. Standing in the corridor, the book began to slip but he limped his way into the elevator. A cockroach scurried by and Manuel barely noticed it. In a hurry, he allowed this one to live and pressed negative five on the elevator and began the decent to his apartment. It stopped along the way and his sister, Katelynn, met him on the elevator.

“What are you doing home?” she asked, looking him up and down, aware he was not acting like his normal self.

“I have a stomach ache,” he said, holding his stomach and the book in place.”

“You sure you’re alright? Your face is sweating.”

The door opened and he stepped out. “I just need to get some sleep,” he said, the door closing and the elevator finishing its accent. He fumbled with his keys, but managed at length to open his door and enter into his apartment.

His bookshelves were packed with literature and textbooks – Shakespeare, Poe, the Bible, and psychology and history books among others. Open and on the computer desk was his copy of the history of the Universal Language Laws. He set it aside, locked his door and revealed the book he had obtained.