Excerpt from The Silence and the Gods: Star Chamber

Published March 27th, 2019 by Devteam

an excerpt from the as yet unpublished TSATG 

(set-up: America is coming to visit its long-lost cousins in what was once California. Things have changed in their absence. The new country, The Demarchy has become highly segregated between the enlightened and the unenlightened, the former getting their knickers in a twist over the new arrivals)

Star Chamber

Demarch’s Residence, San Francisco, Great Western Demarchy

1:53 PM, June 6, 2030

Jorge the Wine Steward 

Another meeting of the Seventy! thought Jorge the Wine Steward. It was all so trying for the Demarch. And there had been no proper time to prepare for this one. Just a single message and the Demarch’s residency had erupted in near-chaos. Even when they were scheduled, His Enlightened would fret and worry about it for days before considering what and how he should handle that pack of wolves—then he would worry and fret for days thereafter as to whether he should have said something else. Of course, he would not confide his worries to a mere toulos like himself, Jorge the Wine Steward, but after fourteen-years of service, he could tell.

When he had first entered into the Enlightened One’s service, Jorge had worried whether his training and knowledge of the vast holdings of the Demarch’s wine cellar would be up to the task. He had spent a seven-year apprenticeship within the residence to learn his craft, not once coming within sight of the man who controlled the nation. Now, with the cellars nearly empty, he saw and talked to Bernhard the First on a daily basis. His encyclopedic knowledge of vines, vintners and vintages was no longer of much concern to the Demarch except on state dinners, of which there were mercifully few. Those sent the Enlightened One to his sick bed for a week, at the very least. Now Jorge’s duties concerned the rigorous medical regime which kept the Demarch functioning.

All knew that the selection of the Demarch was of signal importance for the nation, even the touloi. Only the most intelligent, robust, virile, and healthy were even considered. Workers followed the initial public selection of the electoral college avidly. Despite the nominal secrecy which was supposed to surround the six additional election and de-selection steps, they were the object of numerous wagers in the Hunch and Perdita, nevertheless. The whole procedure was meant to assist the new Demarch in maintaining his Enlightenment while carrying the burden of becoming the absolute ruler of the state. The Seventy, and a few trusted satori-zhin such as himself, knew also that the process of raising an enlightened member of the Seventy to become the unchallenged, absolute ruler of the nation, killed the man.

It had something to do with changing the brain to eliminate cravings, to sharpen the decision-making process by removing the confusion of longings, desires, and appetites. It was inevitably fatal. And he, Jorge the Wine Steward, had been tasked to follow the Steward while he was awake and remind him to take the pills, and give the injections and inhalations. He had just finished the last injection, a small dose of Dronabinol, into the slightly jaundiced thin left thigh of the Enlightened One and returned the stiff court trousers to their proper position.

“You may stand, Enlightened. I have finished,” he said, his head bowed.

“Very well.” A bony hand was placed on his head, ruffling his regulation haircut, a tonsure leaving bald the fore part of the scalp. With Jorge as a support the Demarch rose and, strangely strong now, walked the few steps needed, followed by the grubby little man, His Voice, who intoned once he was seated, “Move to dispense reading of the Article of Enactment, the oath of office, the patriotic oath, the summons, and the minutes of the last meeting.”

Simon of the First

Market Street, San Francisco, Great Western Demarchy

1:33 PM, June 6, 2030

Simon, leader of the First, of Montfort, scion of trader-lords, builder of storied wealth, and a reluctant leader of his faction, scowled. His bodyguard solidified about him, weapons at the ready as they approached one of the Star Chamber’s entrances, hidden in plain view, next to a Singaporese architectural firm’s entrance, a florid representation of a sunrise. The unmarked door next to it on Market street was but one of about four score entrances he could have chosen. His own toulos agent, anonymous but certified-trustworthy, had staked out the selected entrance twelve hours ago to ensure that no other faction was tampering with it.

“It is clear, Simon of the First,” came a whispered feminine voice into his earphone and he strode forth and opened the door, dropped the concealing gray cloak he had worn while travelling to reveal the rich purple and orange colors of his faction on the stiff robe. His retinue did not follow him. He found himself alone in a sterile unbranched passage, navigating it with confidence. Once he had opened the outer security door, the locked security door at the farther end would only open to his retina scan. Within minutes, he emerged onto the circumspect bustle of the fourth promenade, across from the Speaker’s Seat, and started to move to his usual place, thought better of it and started moving to the other end of the gallery.

The Seventy met, when they did meet, in the round high-ceilinged room in the middle of Market Street, with eighty-some entrances, each different, each defensible and each with another armored exit available nearby. The Demarchian revolution had been enlightened and stabilizing, and in consequence, tolerated no unsupported thesis about the nobility of Mankind, god-given rights of free speech, or such-like. The Enlightened ruled for their own and the country’s benefit. However, the disaffection of the Seventy for each other, in ever-changing constellations, clichés, and cabals had prompted alterations—such as the construction of the Star Chamber, itself.

Few of the people who walked the streets above knew it even existed—fewer still after the Earthquake of 2098. With the downtown so disrupted, prudence and wisdom had recommended the reconstruction underground, as easier to conceal. The chamber itself was circular and narrow, almost the proportions of a soup can; by design the one hundred and forty seats, easily moved and more numerous than the Seventy needed, were arrayed in random patterns—all the better to thwart assassinations. Even so, the cut-glass faux windows, the art nouveau murals in vibrant colors and the gilt accents belied its grim architecture. The Star Chamber was without corners, or null places where an assassin might linger. Indeed, by chamber rules, all assassinations were to be attempted face à face. None but one of the Seventy were allowed within the precinct. While no electronic apparatus nor gun was allowed, it was not a weapon-free zone.

The Seventy had been summoned by the Demarch, the supreme executive and undisputed highest power in the country, and among the most pathetic. Elections were coming, yet things had still to be done. Simon shuttered involuntarily. The expression flitted across his features, carefully adjusted by breeding, enlightenment, training and periodic injections. Stanislaw of the Genovese Family, looked up and Simon had the presence of mind to merely shrug. The Tenth, containing the Genovese, were a tool of the Fourth and not to be trusted. Stanislaw looked away, his crisp primrose and lavender robes [WB1]rustling as he turned to greet Marcus of the eleventh by the Sobieski.

Simon continued along the promenade, finding a seat with several unoccupied seats surrounding it. Once seated, the First’s clients from among the Seventy would make themselves available to him by sitting close by, as much for his protection as their own.

The bell tolled fourteen times and there was a general movement to seats.

An amplified message blared overhead, “We have work to do, Citizens. Please do not take up the committee’s time with ex parte communicaŕe. We have work to do.”

A clang, like that of ringing the soup can itself, boomed through the room, eliminating all furtive conversation below a bellow. The glances toward the speaker’s podium as members moved off to find a suitably isolated seat ranged from amusement, to pity, to anger. Elections were coming.

Simon looked up to see the Demarch emerge from the blank facing wall onto a balcony which had not been there when he entered, followed by a shorter man.

Once the Demarch was seated on his virtual dais, the smaller and less richly dressed man intoned, “Move to dispense reading of the Article of Enactment, the oath of office, the patriotic oath, the summons, and the minutes of the last meeting.”

“Second,” came a shout from below the Simon’s level.  The small man, the Honorable David of the Rubensteins, of the Seventeenth and minion for a season, in the service to the Demarch, droned “Moved, seconded. All in favor. So passed.” The room had been silent.

“New Business: the Demarch will address you. All rise!”

None but the Demarch rose. The Sublime Demarch was of medium height and a scant build, bespectacled and thin through the shoulders with a pale face, wearing the scarlet and green robes[WB2] of state, carried a small, black, carved lacquerware baton. He wore a turban of verdant silk as a crown, making the man’s complexion even more ghastly in comparison. The Sublime Demarch was many years into his office. He did not speak; David of the Rubenstein’s spoke for the Demarch.

“Honored of the Seventy, I salute you. None but those with fortitude, wisdom and foresight could have guided the nation into such a grand vison of Peace and Tranquility!” said the small man in a now booming voice.

“Hear hear”

“Sure, dat.”

 “Fur sure, Dude!”

“Say dat again!”

“Into our happy realm a new thing has come[WB3], unbidden and unforeseen. Emissaries from a country long thought wasted and bereft of value have arrived at our doorstep. The Great Western Demarchy wrested itself away from the suffocating and archaic societies to our east seventy-nine years ago: the America of famine, strife, and satori-zhin.[1] We barely escaped the contagion. Yesterday in the early morning, this idyll came to an end with the forceful closing of our Great Eastern Gate by official representatives of America.”

The Seventy were now on their feet, shouting and scribbling on notepads, a few already with their heads together.

The small speaker continued, “They say—they say—they are here for peaceful and commercial reasons, bearing letters of salutation from the American chief executive who is, I must add, commander-in-chief of their armed forces. These people contend that the Restructured America, prostrate just a decade ago, are now the masters of the continent, defeating their old enemy, the Democratic Unity, by force of arms. I fear they come to complete the reconquest of the old republic, adding the Demarchy by bluff, bullying and intrigue.

“Always in the service of the nation, the matter has been the subject of study and calculation by the Demarch’s office for some years now. In his ultimate and sovereign wisdom, the Sublime Demarch has formulated the policies which, according to the laws governing our republic, the traditions of our nation, and the supremacy of the Demarch’s power to render your lives, fortunes, and posterity extinct, are hereby enunciated:

“Principle One: no confrontation for their transgressions, past or present, is to be mentioned by anyone. The sooner they leave the better. No permanent embassy will be allowed within the Demarchy.

“Principle Two: all of the Seventy are to extend to the American delegation the utmost civility and courtesy. They should be entertained by conventional means. I repeat: conventional. 

“Principal Three: all security questions are to be referred to the Demarch’s office. A tour of our defenses has been arranged for a few members of the delegation. Again, The sooner they are satisfied, the sooner they leave.

“Principle [WB4]Four: commercial Affairs are to be handled by Felix of the Third of the Kawasaki and his Committee of Seven for the Improvement of Commerce. No others are to intimate by word or deed that they are personally involved with commerce.

“Principle [WB5]Five: for the duration, Durangos and Columbians are not to be mentioned. If asked they are to be referenced as merely our neighbors to the south and north respectively. Our occasional visitors from those nations have been excluded briefly to encourage this impression.

“Principle Six: tours of the satori-zhin [WB6]sections of the city are under no circumstances to be allowed.

“Principle Seven: Opinions regarding the economic health and wealth of this nation are not to be shared with the foreigners.

“Finally—A warning. The arrival of the delegation was not without incident. A single man from the American delegation approached the Reno Gate unannounced and was taken into custody as per protocol. Two satori-zhin employees, unbeknownst to our border official, once away from the gate, striooed the American naked in the freezing weather of the Sierras. Even unarmed, naked and stupid with the cold, he over-powered these two, armed men, killing one with the man's own knife. He was well on his way to murdering the other citizen but was only prevented from doing so by his own people. These people are not to be underestimated. This individual, a Reuben Alexander, has chosen to carry about with him a projectile weapon at all times. In this he is to be humored, as long as he demonstrates it is unloaded.”

The little man paused, shook himself slightly, and changed his voice to that of the hectoring whine he had used previously.

 “In closing, let me say to you Members of the Seventy and rulers of the Demarchy: we will prosper by this incursion if we cooperate with the counsel of the Demarch. He has spoken. These proceedings are ended.”

Simon watched across the space of a mere ten meters the image of the Demarch turn and disappear into a blank wall, the Demarch’s Rostrum flickering out and the wall becoming a smooth surface. He smiled. Nicely done. With the Demarch no longer present, the real work of the Seventy could begin. Shortly he was surrounded by his open allies, all dressed in the factions colors. The secret ones would be contacted in time, while the outright traitors to other factions, later yet. Assassins were expensive.

Even before they all arrived, Bertha of the Duffys, a svelte blonde with the general attitude of a wet bantam rooster, hissed, “The Crane is trying to cut us out of any deal he cooks up. We will be lucky to get a whiff if Kawasaki and the Seven have their way!”

There was general nodding of heads and mutters among the six other members of the First: Klaus of the Draegers, a saturnine presence who seldom spoke but railed at Simon when in his cups, Derwitt of the Rodhams, a large fair man who fancied himself a deep thinker of military affairs, Evan, a  young scion of the Placentias who had yet to prove himself after the assassination of his father last month, Philippa of the Jeffersons, a solid and reliable ally both in and out of power, and Andre of the Smiths, a brilliant assassin. Time to take charge.

Without looking at Bertha, Simon said, “Let me remind you, our beloved Demarch has a perfectly good name, Bernhard of the Botsharows. Epithets tend to underestimate his power and cleverness in one’s considerations. Hassen of the Alkaljani did just that, to his eternal sorrow. Do not fall into the trap.”

Before apologies issued forth, Simon raised his hand, quelling all comment.

Andre of the Smith’s retreated to the back of the box, agitated, and removed a small box from his sleeve before tilting his head slightly and noisily snuffling it.

“Fellow enlightened ones,” continued Simon, trying to ignore this breach in probity, “we are assembled here, in a relatively safe and silent place to avoid the demons among us. Please,” and here he paused until all eyes, not just Andre’s, were upon him, “let us not bring our demons with us into this chamber. I am aware that the current understanding is that Blize is not addicting, that it provides no observable increase in VAT-activity or surrounding areas of any level of dopamine. For reasons of my own, I do not think its use is wise and its use while we are corporately trying to solve issues of state, might possibly be considered and insult to each and all. Do I make myself clear?

“I apologize Simon of the First. I meant no disrespect—”

“I have no memory of any incident for which you need to apologize, Andre of the First,” said Simon, as he continued, shooing the comment away with a long lanquid hand.

“Something is afoot [WB7]of which I cannot share with you at the moment. You are all to follow the Demarch’s instructions to the letter. Do you understand?”

“But—” interrupted Evan, before rapidly subsiding and saying, “Of course, Simon, Leader of the First.”

Simon continued after a bland glance, slightly prolonged, in the direction of the Placentia scion, “Bernhard has specified restrictions on entertainment, defense, commerce, and exposing the visitors to the touloi sections of the city. He has not made restrictions on the arts or sports,” Simon said, waving his hand limply.

“His prohibition certainly does not limit the First from assisting his efforts to entertain and enlighten, after a fashion, our backwoods guests. I feel confident that any exposure of the Americans to the Demarchy should have a representative from the First. I will insist Upon it,” he said with a confidence that made the members smile, their smiles long, sly, and predatory,

“I perceive, Our Beloved Demarch desires to prohibit the new comers from gaining a clear idea of our unstable military situation, our dependence on touloi labor, and our mercantile arrangements with the rest of the Pacific nations. This is either to keep them ignorant or to substitute his own narrative. Why he should be shy about our commerce is curious. American can hardly be a competitor. Other than the Panama Canal, they own nothing of importance. Only if Bernhard allows us to use it again might that fact become important. Commerce to the East is effectively our monopoly, already. What is he afraid of? Bertha, I will let you try to cut through that particular Gordian knot.”

A nod from the blonde woman was acknowledged by a hand gesture and she was gone to find one of the armored exits from the star chamber to rendezvous with her retinue of Duffy bodyguards.

“As art ‘holds a mirror up to nature,’ I think we can show our circumstances to these Americans without violating the Demarch’s prescription. Phillipa, if you two would take on that burden?”

More nods and a hand gesture and Simon continued his discourse to the diminishing company, “Exposure to our enlightened management of the underclasses for their own benefit and productivity can hardly demean us in the estimation of these newcomers. Andre and Klaus, might I suggest you befriend members of the delegation. Show them how the touloi fare within the Demarchy, if you would be so kind. Suggest that as a work force, they have no rival. It might make their dreary little mercantile minds start to whirr.” The two left with their heads together.

When Simon was alone with Evan of the Placentias, he paused.

“Simon, Leader of the First, I stand willing to turn the power of the Placentias to any task of your choosing. I hope you know this, Leader!”

“I presume nothing less, Evan. You will admit, your status is ambivalent?”

“I was elected unanimously by the chiefs of the kindred, Leader. I graduated first in my class from Stanford. I am an Eagle …” he said before a gesture cut his resume short.

“Your real life begins now, Evan. Nothing you have done before helps you and it may hinder you. We two, you and I, will collaborate on trying to discover the real interests of the Americans. Only fools would take a trip of this magnitude to see what is over the next hill. Their motives, whatever the Demarch may think, are suspect. That the national character allows an official member of the delegation to commit murder on our very borders, is certainly telling. Get to know this barbarian Alexander, as well. Be careful. I would not wish to answer to the might of the Placentias for the loss of so promising a leader as yourself,” he smiled. “Our tools, as I said, are the arts and sports. I believe a sporting event may provoke useful responses. Moreover, can you arrange to tour some of our rather nice museums, through one of the smaller faction members\, as well? I am afraid If I suggest it that it will tip our hand prematurely?”

“Yes, Leader. It would be my honor to do so,” he said, smiling, his checks blushing.

In a moment more, Evan too, was gone.

Simon, Leader of the First, of the Montforts, scion of the foremost family of the Seventy, builder of storied wealth, and a reluctant leader of a faction, scowled. His resources were so thin, at the moment. A draft of the families touloi had left his factory understaffed. His allies were mostly untested, like Evan. His understanding of the opposition was only partial, the last crop of his spies having been ‘disappeared’ just a month ago. Terrible time for these outlanders to appear!

He rose and made his way to an exit, which opened at his touch. The passage way was well-lit and featureless, all the better to detect tampering. His bodyguard would be alerted by his entry into the exit passage and be waiting for him when he arrived at the outer door. He needed to hurry, as the subtle but persistent alarm had notified him even as the Demarch was speaking. He needed some privacy.

The Demarch, the Crane, had been a childhood friend, their fathers allies in the difficulties of the last touloi uprising forty-five years ago, before Flense/Pslant had been perfected. They had been teenagers then, thrown together of necessity. The three of them, he, Bernie, and Joshua, living like rats in the Citadel as the touloi rioted. Their fathers, as leaders of the Legion of Alcantára, had restored order. It had been brutal, bloody—and necessary. Their present situation spoke for the wisdom of those actions. Both Bernie and Joshua had been friends of the heart, closer than brothers. Joshua Naughton had gone into the military, a dead-end career if ever there were one.

But, Bernie Botscharow had frequently been an ally until he was chosen as Demarch, chance selecting him from among the Seventy. He had gone to his fate with his usual nonchalance, a wave, and a lop-sided smile. After the surgery, removing forever his ability to find pleasure or to crave it, he became the Crane, severe, solemn, and the undisputed power of the nation. Simon shuddered. Bernie was close to the end of his term. He was losing weight and his skin had an unlovely sallow color. A new Demarch would be elected soon. The Fates might choose him, Simon, to be the next Demarch: all powerful and universally pitied.

He reached the outer door and opened it. Simon, Leader of the First, of Montfort, scion of trader-lords, builder of storied wealth, and a reluctant leader of a faction, scowled. His bodyguards were nowhere to seen. The small revolver was instantly in his hand as he pulled back into the shadow of the entrance. Assassination was not his only concern, unfortunately. Delay could kill as well. The little monitor which measured his numbers was alarming subtly but persistently now, the message flashing alarms along his belly. He was sweating. He needed his drug. Personal emergencies like this were becoming more common for him and it was disturbing his satori, his sense of centered peace resulting from his enlightened state. He must speak with Katsumata-hakase[2] soon.  

Just as he was securing the door, which would trap him for a time within the armored passage, as he heard the voice whispered from beside the entrance.

“Come quickly, Simon. The guard is detained by an action.”

He recognized the voice of the faction’s anonymous watcher who had guarded the entryway to the chamber from vandalism just that morning.

“Quick, come within,” said Simon, gripping the pistol tightly.

“You are in need of more than shelter, Simon, of Montfort.”

“How do you know?”

“I have been told. Shahrazad.”

Gretchen,” Simon noted the password and gave the counter-sign for the day.

“It is this way, Leader.”

Simon came quickly through the portal, sideways, his gun-hand close to his body and foremost. He met the gaze of a young toulos, her garb stained with dust and stiff with blood.

“The blood? Are you injured?”

“Most is not mine.”

“Can you function?”

“In all ways needed for your safety, Leader. It is this way.”

The anonymous worker threw a dark waterproof around Simon, covering his rich clothes and making him less conspicuous in the streets with the cold rain now falling. Simon remembered little of the hurried walk. The worker opened a door next to a Baluchi restaurant, led him up a dark stairway and across a makeshift bridge into a darker part of a building across an alleyway. In the dark and his increasing distress, all Simon could do was follow the sounds of the toulos’s light steps. The steps turned and stopped. Simon raised the pistol beneath the rain cloak, waiting. A light came on, dazzling him, making him blindly point the pistol, the trigger slick under his finger.

“I assure you, Leader, that I am no danger. You are in need of what help I can provide. Please lower your weapon.”

Simon’s sight returned slowly as he replaced the pistol into an inner slit pocket of his gown. The room was small and smelled of cooking, unwashed laundry and an inapparent cat. The toulos removed her blood-stained cloak. A cut along her left forearm still gaped and oozed blood, occasion drops falling into the floor covered in a worn rug. A book shelf, made of a board suspended by wire from the ceiling, hung over the bed. The titles ranged from the cheap touloi pulps to a heavy dark book labeled “Summa Theol...” on what was left of the binding.

“Sit, Leader. Do you have your medications? If not, I have been given some for an emergency.”

Simon sat on the narrow, rumpled bed; the linens needed to be laundered. “Who has sent you? Who knows of my disease?”

“I was told, should you ask me, to respond that those who admire your leadership and wish it to continue have made it their business to look after your welfare.”

“So not the family or the faction?”

“I do not know.”

“How do I know this is not an assassination?”

“Feel free to leave at any time. You have a weapon; I have none. I have the means, and willingness to help you. Your death without my help would not even be an assassination.”

“What have you got for me?”

The toulos moved swiftly, going to a concealed place under the floor and the cheap rug, to bring out a metal case which she unlocked with her thumbprint. She turned and knelt before Simon, her wound still dripping occasionally as she held the box toward him, open it to show him the contents.

“See to your own wound, worker,” Simon said, and she left him to examine the contents: all in tamper-proof containers, all with Katsumata’s imprint. He quickly looked at the monitor at his waist, silencing the alarms, and felt better just for escaping the buzzing shocks the little tyrant had been giving him since The Crane started to give his speech. He groaned softly and could see from the corner of his eye how the toulos froze and looked at him. He waved her concern away without looking and bent to examine the medication.

The monitor was 338/2.31/0. Not as bad as the last time. The reservoir was full. Strange. He should not have had this high a glucose level. The monitor should be reading his blood sugar level, as it had done since he was a child, and be giving him small doses of potent insulin all throughout the day. He was not yet ketotic, which was good. The monitor might be defective. He gave himself a moderate dose of the long acting insulin as well a small dose of a rapid acting one. Having years of experience with his diabetic ‘hobby,’ he had skills for this emergency[WB8], as well.

As he was putting the paraphernalia back into the worker’s metal case, secreting the used syringes and their trace amounts of his own blood into one of his hidden pockets, Simon asked, “I will need to return to my compound shortly. Are you badly wounded?”

“The wound is nothing.”

“And how may I call you?”

“’Worker’ is adequate.”

“Not if I want to commend your work to others.”

“Then you may identify me as Mary Mallon.”

“How may I summon my guard? What is the address?”

Mary Mallon made a thin smile. “The Hunch does not go in for addresses much, what with one thing and another. I think I may have smuggled you in unnoticed, between shifts. I have another way out. A platoon of your guard would not go unnoticed, however. I would not survive the week if they were to come here.”

“I see,” Simon said. “You gamble a lot for the glory of the First. Mary Mallon.”

“Gambles depend on the odds and the size of the wager. The First pays well. I am skilled,” she said before giving a small laugh, the first spontaneous gesture he had seen from her.

“Your wound?”

Molly held up a bandaged arm, wrapped in discolored strips of cloth, the blood having soaked through in one small place already. “It no longer bleeds. I will get a healer from among my own. They are skilled in knife wounds—and discretion. Can you move now?”

“I can.”

With no more ceremony, Molly Mallon rose and exited, waiting for Simon to leave before reentering and filling a small bowl on the floor with what he presumed was cat food. Again, exiting and locking the door with a thumbprint lock, the toulos led Simon down the same dark passageway they had come in by but turned right on reaching the corridor. Several more turnings and a brief flight of steps led them to a small tourist shop dealing in old Russian military insignia, currently an enthusiasm among the younger of the Enlightened. There she stopped. There was a commotion at the front of the store and Molly shouted “Here!” before going behind a rack of soviet-style tunics as Simon’s guard approached on the other side.

Huffing and puffing, red-in-the-face, and with their dart pistols at the ready, Alexi, his guard captain and half the squad surrounded him. The captain said, “Leader, we just got the message. The detail was ambushed as they moved to cover your exit, Leader.”

“Did you see the toulos? She was right here. Find her!”

No one did. They found a narrow stair to the basement which communicated with a Tashkurgian electronics store, open to the street.

Simon of Montfort arrived at his pavilion before the sun was up. His retinue was horrified and titillated. The diabetes monitor was indeed found to be defective but not sabotaged. The drug it contained was unaltered. Simon was pleased. The whole thing had felt like a set-up, a staged event to ensure his confidence in the toulos, Mary Mallon. The name Marry Mallon was unknown to his security people.

Mary Mallon turned left after exiting the empty shop, just as more of the First’s guards entered, moved down Tahama Street and across the alley belonging to Madame Chan’s brothel before returning to her room. She was exhausted; twelve hours of careful surveillance of the entry door, three hours wait for the man to reappear, a vicious knife battle and several hours more shepherding him back to his own people, had exhausted her. She needed her Flense.   Her handler would be contacting her within the day to congratulate her on safeguarding the Leader even as his real guard had been diverted and pinned down by a band of assassins.

Never let a crisis go to waste—especially ones you pay forShe did not know who paid for this crisis. Not really. Her usual handler for the First, Sion, had acted surprised when she reported the diversion, so a rogue sub-faction was probably unlikely. The Second Faction, only slightly less influential, was the favored culprit. That might even be true, but she doubted it. They were too much in thrall to the Crane, and the Crane wanted peace, not just peace among the factions and peace between the Demarchy, the Columbians and the Durangos, but peace. He wanted cooperation, amity, and good thoughts. The Crane was getting old.

[1] Demarchian for non-enlightenment

[2] Hakase-a Japanese honorific used with doctors and academics

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