Jourdaine, Haversham & antibelts
Halifax Station, Ginya, The Unity
20.01.06.EST_18_July_AU 78 (2129AD)
Not a sign of the two. It was like they had flicked into smoke. Jourdaine had left in apparent disgust after the second or third false alarm. The other units left. By the time Haversham rounded up his own unit, they was alone. Duty held him there to clean up the mess. A few more joy-riding crèchies were all he had to show for it. The last passenger going south, an S21 with a travel voucher and a bad attitude harrumphed past still muttering imprecations just a few minutes ago. He had rousted the men before 0400. Even the Sapped had their limits.
Lance Haversham sighed. Heading up Jourdaine’s flying squad had lost its glamour for him.
What went wrong? The analysts that this would work. They told him it was merely a matter of selecting the best trap. Jourdaine had done that and netted nothing. And the belts were so incredibly straight-forward, simple to understand, immensely prosaic. No great number of exits, no large milling crowds to become lost within. Haversham had grown up with the belts, always present and operating, the back-ground hum of his life. They took you from point A to point B and you got onto another belt to bring you back.
What could be simpler … and, he realized slowly over a few seconds, even if less than half-visible.
The belts were a loop; they had to return to the spot from which they started. The belts must have return limbs, hidden from view but accessible, perhaps.
Haversham, taking the chance that Jourdaine’s pique at his intrusion would not destroy his career, contacted his commander’s O‑A. The link flared into incandescent red on connecting, before it cooled to a livid pink as he explained.
Jourdaine kills the solons (500)
DUFS HQ, Nyork, The Unity
06.22.59.EST_19_July_AU 78 (2129AD)
I was time to act. Jourdaine had known it would come to this since AnnArundel. He had probably always known it. He must paralyze the belts to force the belts to bargain. The solons prevented that. QED. The solons must go.
His own retirement was but twenty-five months away and it was pressing on him. If he delayed too long, he would be under too much scrutiny, especially with his expected victory in Jorga. Becoming a solon, anonymous once elected, was the glittering prize for a citizen with an exemplary and loyal career. It was also the illusory bribe to keep quiet a less than stellar citizen hopeful until it was too late.
The average citizen hoped to get to retirement without being blamed for something disastrous. It was only the senior staff of the ruling DUFS who knew for sure that the “retirees,” instead of enjoing themselves in their own Sisi enclaves, were recycled as brain-ablated foor soldiers, the CRNA’s. For the senior staff, then, there had to be another bribe: the possibility of old age as a solon. No one knew who was elected or indeed how many there were. All worked tirelessly in the hope of being elected solon.
Jourdaine knew the solons critical weakness. Anonymity allowed you to make the tough decisions but it also isolated you from righteous outrage. Who would care if an anonymous despot lived or died? Who would even know?
The belts must to be brought under Unity control. The solons prevented that. Therefore, the solons had become surplus to requirements.
Rumor had it that the solons all lived on an unmappable artificial island that orbited slowly up and down the coast, just out of sight of land. Others had it that the solons moved within the society, rejuvenated perpetually, and would rule the Unity forever.
Jourdaine knew better. His presence had ferreted the truth out years ago. Each solon had made a fortress in plain view, like any other senior staff. They thought themselves clever. They had all developed massive and multilayered defenses, able to hold off an army for a lifetime. It was the blindness of their own security preparations that made Jourdaine plan this. Really, they had only themselves to blame, he thought.
Jourdaine walked to his office door and secured it, even wedging a chair under the control panel. He did not want to be disturbed. He went back to his desk and relaxed. He would need all his efforts to control his Presence.
He took a deep breathe and exhaled slowly, dropping down and away from the reality of the usual to emerge into the reality of the CORE. He smiled. The solons thought they were so clever, abandoning their careers, their friends and even their names to seize the burden of rule over the nation. They thought themselves immune, unassailable and remote. Their O-A’s were endowed with capabilities that dwarfed most citizens, including the capacity for summary execution for a minion who really irked them. Usually they were content to let the DUFS rule and only to show their displeasure by a last minute veto or an even more dramatic execution of a too-ambitious DUFS commander. He wished to avoid that.
Solon Eight Summons (300)
GraniteVale, White River Valley, VerMon, The Unity
07.02.06.EST_19_July_AU 78 (2129AD)
Beatrix Norstrom, Solon Eight, awoke. The room, sensing her arousal, started to sweep open the dense curtains to reveal a broad expanse of the Green Mountains. Light mist drifted up from the warming valley, dewing the trees near her mansion, GraniteVale. A console near her head slid back to reveal a mug of coffee, one of her few extravaganses. She took it up to sip after getting up herself. The room warmed to her specifications.
It was good to be a solon, she thought.
At fifty-two she was still active and vital. Except for the fathering reading glasses and the loss of a breast due to cancer, she felt fit, alert and active. If she were a regular citizen she would have been dead a decade ago. Now, as chairman of the Council of Solons, she was, in everything but name, the empress of a nation of over a hundred million people. Not one of that multitude knew her name. She smiled.
It was good to be a solon.
Good and bad.
Today would test her mettle. No doubt, some would call her paranoid or even delusional. She had to be her most politic, subtle, and clever. Dealing with her fellow solons was like herding cats: difficult, unrewarding and underappreciated.
After a Spartan breakfast, Betrix reviewed her data, dressed in her most somber suit but kept her bedroom slippers on and walked to the audience chamber. No mere human assisted her. It was part of the price for being a solon. Other than the regiment of CRNA’s keyed to her own command module, no other people even knew the location of Solon Eight. GraniteVale was modest compared to some of the mansions in the vicinity. Most people thought it deserted. In a pinch, she could hold off all the forces of the DUFS from this single location.
After walking down the long hall, she entered the council chamber, resplendent in its magnificent motif of the French Second Empire. It circular with twelve seats placed in a single arch around the perimeter. Betrix took her usual position at the top of the arch and activated her O-A interface. The hour struck and she sent the summons.
Almost immediately the room was populated by the images of eight other solons. The O-A projections were almost believable, as usual, the men and women appearing to sit in their assigned chairs, sipping their own coffee.
Solons was usually moderately punctual. These were serious people and jealous of their own time and of others. Today the arrivals were instantaneous. Solons were serious about their survival, as well, it seemed. Betrix smiled.
“Thank you for your prompt arrival, fellow solons. I will not bore you with protocol. We all know why we are here. Within the last month, three of our number have died.”
“Of course, but George was old. I know for a fact he was almost sixty five, said Solon Thirty-Three, nodding to the empty space beside him.
“Yes, some will see this as merely inevitable coincidence. Let me assure you that it is not. I took the liberty of having autopsies done on each: George Sautris, Martin Vanderwoud, and Xant’ermia Warren. They each were found after their O-A went dead. The usual procedures were taken and their locations were determined and entered by my staff.”
Several of the council jumped to their feet. Sybarite Soames was the first to speak. “Do you mean you could find each of us? This is coutrageous. How dare you presume to find the location of a solon!”
“The location of a dead solon, Solon Twenty. It is one of the distasteful tasks I assumed on taking over at the center chair. I could only do this when an O-A refuses to respond, which only occurs with death or removal.”
The solons, mollified, returned to their chairs.
“The autopsies revealed nothing except small subendocardial myocardial infarcts. Presumably they died of a heart arrhythmia.”
“So they died of heart attacks? Well, that’s a relief,” said Sybarite, as if to make up for her earlier outburst.
“Yes, one might say that but there was no vessel disease. They have all gotten the VRR treatments. The lesions look as if they died from an overdose of adrendaline or some drug like that.”
“So now you’re telling us they were scared to death? Somehow I don’t think George is likely to have died of fright,” laughed Morris Alliende, Solon Seventeen.
“We have not been able to determine what the sequence was prior to death but we have to seriously consider that the solons are being targeted by person or persons among the senior staff.”
Everyone of the solons looked at her then with the same look of apprehension. They all started to talk simultaneously. The babbling accelerated. She could make out only short phrases. Then, the faces before her changed subtly. The voices rose in timbre. A few began to clutch their chests. Solon Eleven’s image flickered and went out.
By the time Betrix fled the room, turning off her O-A as she did, only one image was still there to object. Sybarite’s voice pursued her down the hallway.
“Where are you going, Bea? Did you get us together to kill us all? Bea? Father you, Bea!”
Retreat to Safe Room (800)
Betrix fled. For all the opululence of the council chamber, the corridor connecting it to the rest of GranitVale was unadorned, windowless and stark. Feeling every irregularity in the roughly finished concrete, she now wished she had worn good shoes..
She knew where she needed to go. She had worked out the scenario after first being elected solon. The trick was to eliminate all contact with the Unity. If it could not touch you, it could not kill you. Her O-A had been the first thing to be removed, replaced with an appliance she only used when necessary.
Betrix came to the large blast door and keyed her personal code into the panel. She could hear the motors whine, swinging the massive doors open. She leaned over and tried to catch her breath, noticing only then that one of her pink fluffy slippers had fallen off in her flight.
With its own solar farm on the roof, even the power for GranitVale’s defenses were separate from the Unity. Unless the sun entered into the conspiracy, she would have power for life.
Betrix squeezed through the widening crack and closed the doors once on the other side. For safety sake, she changed the override code and ran on, her legs burning with the effort. Scrupulous in her exercise regimen, she worked out everyday in the small weight room beside her bedroom. She usually did not run. It made her cough.
Finally, she came to the stairs. Those on the right would pass another blast door to the safety of her private suite. The more utilitarian ones on the left went to the barracks. She turned left and started to ascend.
She had handpicked the officers for her regiment. They, like she, had disappeared from the table of organization, only to appear at GranitVale with their troopers, staff and protégés. They had their O-As removed just like she had. They were loyal to only her. She had enough men, equipment and materiel to visit vengeance upon any who thought to oppose her. Her first act would be to use her solon override code to raid the armory at Nashwa, commandeer the regiment there and then go on to AlbanE. She should be in Nyork with a good battalion, and a bad attitude by this time tomorrow.
She laughed and then started to cough, eventually sitting on the steps to catch her breath. Nothing but an attack through her fellow solons O-As could have killed them off. She had only escaped by anticipating that ploy. Once she got to her troops, whoever had started this would find out who was the smarter. Probably that weasel Jourdaine. He would rue the day he thought to match wits with Betrix Norstrom!
She rose and, pulling herself up the last flight of stairs, keying her code into the access port at the head of the stairs, she stumbled through the opened door.
The place stank, as usual. CRNAs always stank, no matter how often you bathed them or how you fed them. A detail of the faceless wonders stood near the door and saluted her as she entered.
“Go get your commander. Tell him the solon is here,” she wheezed to the one with corporal strips.
Betrix sat down on the bench near the door, closed her eyes, and tried to catch her breath without setting off paroxysms of coughing. That much running would make her cough for days. Jourdaine would pay for that. She heard the CRNAs bustling around her as terse and incomprehensible commands floated by.
Betrix awoke with a start, realizing she had been snoring, her mouth feeling dry and fetid. She wondered how long she had dozed. Her breathing now was slow and she had no urge to cough. Sitting up straight, she saw that the ranks of CRNAs had swelled while she slept.They still stood around at attention. Still no lieutenant.
Betrix Norstrom stood and stepped forward, stepping into something squishy and cold. Looking down, she saw the squishy thing was brown and oddly shaped. Only when she turned it over with her toes did she discover the ragged bloody wound along one side. It was a human ear.
She looked up in horror. In the last few seconds, the entire cadre of CRNAs had removed their helmets, revealing the grey faces of slack-jawed old men. They stepped forward with a dull thump. The helmets dropped with another thud. She saw how bright were their eyes. Blood smeared their chins.
The teeth. Their teeth. Oh, their teeth!