“It’s not going to change, is it?” Rip looked around at the others, then back at the gibbet in the middle of the town square.
“Our leaders like us to know exactly where we stand.” Norvasl, half a generation older than the rest of them, shifted uncomfortably. “They always have. Let’s go get ourselves a drink.” He tore his eyes away from the body dangling on the chain. “There’s nothing anyone can do for Raynor now.”
Later, much later, and when they’d moved on to Quan’s solitary quarters on the edge of town so they were no longer in public, Anders said sadly, “Raynor didn’t even do anything wrong, he never did. If any of us had turned out to be an informer, I would have thought it would be him.”
“That’s how they pick their holiday warning victims,” replied Norvasl. “They make sure it’s someone who’s never been fined or charged or warned. That’s part of the point – it’s always someone who should be safe. If you’re going to water the ground with terror, then you want to make sure it’s well and truly soaked.”
“We shouldn’t have to live like this,” Rip said then elaborated, “with informers in every family and workplace, executions for no reason but to keep everyone too scared to get out of line and the disappearances.”
Quan nodded. “Those are getting worse. An entire half block in Pandas and a farmstead near Kollin, all deserted I hear. What do the white coats do with them?”
“No-one knows, they say, not even the guards at the white coats’ citadel,” Anders sat back. “They’re never seen again and the rest of us are left to make up stories to explain it all.”
“How would we want things to be different?” It was Rip who asked the question. “What could we do to make those things different?”