Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In the Dark, Part Four: Containment

I walked into the deli, and ordered a sandwich. Then I went into the back, to use the phone there. The owner knew me, so I didn't need to show my credentials.

A functionary answered after the first ring. "Office of the City Tyrant. What do you need?"

"I need a dozen of the Tyrant's Finest down at Oxy and Ring in ten, and an appointment with the Tyrant in twenty," I told the functionary.

After a pause, he replied, "...who are you?"

I told him. Then I hung up and ate my sandwich.

Let me tell you a little about the sandwiches this deli served. They're always on sourdough. Two thick slices of bread, with culinary joy inside. Lettuce, bacon, onions, cheese, poppyseed, pickles, bananas, eggplant or eggs, whatever you could ask for, they had it. I generally asked the owner to design my sandwiches himself. They were always fresh, different, and delicious.

After I ate, I left the shop and saw a platoon of carabinieri outside, hanging off the sides of an armored truck. Their leader saluted me. "Good sandwich?" he asked.

"Very," I answered sincerely, returning his salute. "The problem's over that way." I pointed toward the nearby airlock. "Just follow the bloodstains."

He acknowledged the order and signaled his driver, who accelerated smoothly, so as not to dislodge the men on the sides. I smiled. That should deal with the explosives, for the moment. No surprise my employer had sent four times as many men as I'd requested; the Tyrant believed fervently in overkill, and had the resources to indulge that belief.

I looked at my watch. I was running late; eight minutes to my appointment. That wouldn't do.

Nine minutes later, I arrived at the Tyrant's Palace. Another minute took me to the Tyrant's desk. She raised an eyebrow at me.

"Sorry," I told her. "Transit was running slow today."

"You could at least bow," she suggested, ignoring me. "A genuflection would be even better."

I waved my hand, dismissing her suggestions. "I'm running late already, and this one's a big one."

"All right," she said, leaning forward over his gigantic desk. "Give it to me."

I took a deep breath. "There is a conspiracy to destroy the city, possibly aided by foreign spies and certainly funded by our own Councilmen, that came within inches of succeeding today, foiled only by information from one of my most unreliable sources and a great deal of luck."

The Tyrant considered this. "Does this happen often?" she asked.

I thought about it. "Never."

"So what do you want me to do about it?" the Tyrant asked, furrowing her fingers.

"I want teams searching the rest of the Rim, looking for more explosives."

The Tyrant nodded. "That can be done."

"I want an investigation into the thugs I killed, the ones who were guarding the bomb. I need to know if they were common street trash, or if they have some other association."

"That sounds more like something suited to your resources than mine," the Tyrant remarked.

"It'll take brute work, slaving through the records to find men of their descriptions - the only name I have is Alex Brandon. Frankly, I haven't the time, and you do have the men."

The Tyrant nodded. "Anything else?"

This was the boldest of my proposals. "I want unrestricted access to the Councilmen for the duration of the emergency, for purposes of investigation. Them and the foreign ambassadors."

"The foreign ambassadors should be easy enough to gain access to," the Tyrant mused. "Consider it done. But for the existence of the Tyranny, the one right the Councilmen have rallied behind is their immunity from City investigation. If I violate that and grant your request, there will be trouble."

"They brought this upon themselves," I told her. "Every one of the thugs had a purse full of Council coin - from just one Councilman, Adrianus. And where was the local Councilman's men while the thugs were lugging those explosives? Something stinks, and the Council is up to it in their necks."

Slowly, the Tyrant nodded. "Very well," she agreed, "You will have your access. But if this intrusion is unjustified, the Council will scream for blood - yours."

For a moment, I reconsidered. But: "Every bone in my body tells me it's them. If I can't investigate them, this is over before it starts - and whoever's behind the bomb will be free to strike again."

"Will that be all, then?" the Tyrant asked. "If so, I have calls to make, men to set in motion."

"Yes," I agreed. "I'll talk to Councilman Adrianus. Make sure he knows I'm coming, please."

"Will you be returning home first?" the Tyrant asked.

I looked at my streetwear, and at my boots, spattered with blood. "I suppose I might," I conceded.

The double glass doors of the Tyrant's office closed behind me.