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Th Fifth Lttr

S. Qiouyi Lu is a writer, artist, narrator, and translator whose work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Liminality, and GlitterShip. In their spare time, S. enjoys destroying speculative fiction as a dread member of the queer Asian SFFH illuminati. You can visit their site at s.qiouyi.lu or follow them on Twitter @sqiouyilu.
On Proclamation Day, all of us got a command from on high: "Stop using that symbol. You know which symbol I am talking about: it is fifth in our organization of writing symbols. This symbol is awful and usurps too much room."
Many did push back. Writing is only a form of talking, and many said that symbol did not apply to sound, only ink, but our king was stubborn. Should a guard scrawl your communication and find that symbol within, our king would swiftly punish that violating individual. Still, our king had his whims; all of us did not trust that our king would actually follow through with his word. But to show his point, our king had his guards imprison arguing individuals. No individual could watch what was transpiring; it was too horrific.
So it was that all of us had no option but to drop that symbol. Many had a romantic affinity for it, as it was so ubiquitous, but no individual could do anything. What our king said, all of us had to do.
It was difficult at first, adjusting to this unusual habit. But as with all things, all of us gradually found ways to go around our king's ban. A lot of thought, for a start: monitoring our words so no bad symbols would slip. Writing had room to think, so all of us did not talk for many days, and our only contact was to pass scrolls among us.
But soon our writing was quick, with almost no thought, and still that symbol did not show in our words. A small group of us would turn audacious and start to talk, first with short chats, a word or two long. Our communication was slow, starting and stopping, but all of us did not rush any individuals. All of us could fathom our mutual frustration. Plus, our king was always watching, with guards on all paths, in all buildings. To rush was to risk a symbol, and our king would punish harshly for any violation. No individual could afford to abandon a family or companions to go to jail for that symbol.
Although all of us did worry, day by day, individuals would still join in on talking. So much gossip, laughing, occasional crying--soon, our oral communication was fluid, too. It was not difficult to monitor our words; it was as if all of us had split our brains in two, and both parts could talk and modify our words without much conscious thought at all.
Guards would look at us with dismay. All of us would talk at all hours, but no guard could find that symbol in our communications. Soon all of us would talk so much that guards could not always monitor what all of us said.
Individuals would start to risk words. First, words of affinity. Individuals by guards would talk only with lawful words, but words that guards had to monitor. Not too far away, two companions would part from a kiss and say I love you in that tiny gap from companion to companion. Guards wouldn't scrawl that illicit word, for guards could focus only on that group of lawful individuals talking with so many distracting words.
That bold action would spark additional actions. All of us would ward off guards with what all of us would call "talking armor": packs of individuals who would distract guards so individuals could say words with that symbol. Guards would grow sick of all that transcription, and all of us had joyful moods.
Proclamation Day brought all of us back to that location from which our king told us his law so many days ago. But on this occasion, all of us had a plan. As our king said his first words, all of us said a word in unison:
"Leave!"
"What an ignorant shout!" our king said. But all of us said that word again, chanting it.
Our king was dumbstruck. Our king had to motion for guards to put individuals in jail, but so many individuals said that symbol--our jail did not contain that many rooms for all of us. And what was our king to do anyway? If our king put us all in jail, who would pay his tariffs? Who would grow his food? Who would humor his whims?
Our king saw our triumph and struck down that law. We embraced one another, our tongues free once again. The king winced and the guards took to their well-honed transcription instincts, only to realize that they no longer had to enforce this restriction against our speech.
The king never did regain his tyrannical power. Now that we knew we had power together as a people, we levied it to make checks against his absurd laws until finally we forced him to act with the good of everyone in mind.
And if you asked people what started the Revolt, what caused us all to unite together against the king, you would get only one answer:
So we could speak again with love.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 12th, 2016

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