Authors: E. J. Swift
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fiction
The younger Rechnov’s name was Linus, Vikram remembered. He looked more like the infamous sister than the father.
Feodor pressed on. “Do you honestly believe that any kind of integration could be accomplished without mutual tragedy?”
“If it were dealt with sensitively, I see no reason why tragedy should be the result.”
Restlessness pervaded the chambers now. Vikram sensed the debate slipping away into personal territory. Evidently he was not the only one, because the woman who had first spoken stood again.
“It is pointless spending hours going over these issues today when clearly the matter requires further research. I suggest we move onto other items on the agenda?”
A cheer echoed her. Vikram dragged his attention away from the two Rechnovs.
“What do you mean, other research? How much research does it take to see that people are dying of cold?”
“Mr Bai, you have been warned once.”
Half the Council were on their feet, raising their voices over one another as they argued.
“Actually, we’re neglecting an opportunity here. What we really need is a larger budget for the western defence perimeter. Personally, I’d recommend a twelve point five increase.”
“Twelve point five? Eleven should do it.”
“Eleven, twelve. We can discuss figures later. What we’ve got to do is streamline entry procedures. With that kind of budget we can develop waiting zones, double the checkpoints.”
“Exactly. We could even filter some of the allocation into the western task force. Surely Mr Bai will be happy with that.”
“There might be provision for a few places in schools, if it were passed by the parental boards…”
“That’s already covered by the Colnat Foundation—”
“No, no, no. The perimeter’s the important thing, I tell you.”
The speaker leaned over his podium to speak to Vikram. “Thank you, Mr Bai. Your presentation was most enlightening.”
“But we haven’t even started! You didn’t decide anything—”
The tug upon his arm was light but firm.
“No!” Vikram’s voice came out as a shout. The female Councillor was still on her feet. She turned to him, her face smooth and flat and devoid of emotion. Something about her complete inflexibility dissolved his reserve. “I’ve changed my mind,” he said. “I want to talk about Eirik 9968.”
“Oh yes? Do enlighten us.”
Vikram did not heed her sarcasm. He was only aware of Feodor’s heavy, brooding gaze. But he looked at the woman.
“I want to know why you killed him.”
She gave a little shrug. “I haven’t killed anyone, my poor friend.”
“Then who did?”
“I think you’ll find it was a matter of City justice.” Her lips parted in a flat half smile. “Why? Colleague of yours?”
“I didn’t know him.”
“So you say.”
“I said I didn’t know him.”
Very deliberately, she crossed her arms.
“I don’t believe you came here about the west at all. I think you came about the execution. What are you after—revenge?” She glanced over her shoulder. “I take it he was searched before you let him in here?”
Vikram gripped the podium.
“I came because there was no reason for that execution to happen and there’s no reason it ever should again—if you fucking do something to help us.”
“How dare you speak to me in that manner!” But Vikram could see that she was delighted at his outburst and it made him angrier.
“Hildur, enough.” Feodor Rechnov cut through the woman’s protests. Slowly, his gaze lifted to Vikram. “I believe this debate is at an end.”
Vikram didn’t care any more. He felt reckless and giddy.
“It was you, wasn’t it? You killed him. You gave the order.”
“I sanctioned a Council decision. You may go and tell that, if you wish, to your friends in the west. And when you do, remind them that the mode of execution is in good repair and that if anyone wishes to follow Eirik 9968, they know where their path will end.”
“He was innocent. He did nothing but fight for the rights of people he owed no allegiance to.”
“Then he and I have something in common. How ironic.”
“You have nothing in common with Eirik. You murdered an innocent man.”
“He was an inciter, a terrorist and a common killer. And if you don’t want to be taken as one too, Mr Bai, I suggest you reacquaint yourself with silence and leave this session. Speaker, I urge this house to order.”
The tug on Vikram’s arm grew persistent. He kept his eyes locked on Feodor; all of his burning rage channelled into one single focus.
“I hope your sleep is haunted by ghosts,” he said.
“I hope they come to you in your sleep and tell you how they died.”
Feodor remained unmoved. Vikram’s minder had an inexorable grip on his hand. Now there were other hands, on his arm, on his shoulders, pulling him away from the podium. In seconds, the faces of the Council were obscured from his view. The clamour inside the Chambers was muffled as the great wooden doors swung closed. Doors like that would never be made again. Vikram stared at this sign of wealth in mute fury, first at Feodor Rechnov, and then, increasingly, at himself.
He had been in front of the Council—and he had lost them. How had he lost them? How had he lost control?
“They never do, I’m afraid.”
His minder was still with him. A woman in a narrow suit. She smiled sympathetically. She had no reason to be sympathetic. It felt like pity.
“Decide anything. They don’t decide anything. Try again next month. Persistence can get results.”
“Do you have any idea how long I’ve been writing letters for? How long I’ve been petitioning, just to speak? Twelve months. That’s an entire year.
How long d’you think it’ll take to get another hearing?”
She shrugged. “That’s the way it goes. I might say you were foolish to lose your temper.”
“You might say a lot of things,” he snapped.
He realized she was waiting for him to leave, no doubt under instructions to ensure he did not cause a scene. He tried once more.
“I can come back later. Talk to them again. You could help.”
“I don’t think so. Not today.”
She did not reply. The doormen were exchanging glances. He strode angrily away, only to hear the woman running after him. “Don’t forget your coat,” she said. “It’s cold out.”
It was a kind gesture but it annoyed Vikram all the more to have to turn around and go back to the cloakroom. The attendant returned his unsightly coat. He yanked it on and heard the lining rip.
Helpless anger rumbled in the pit of his stomach. It was a warning. He knew what that rage could do and there was a reason he had worked so hard to still it. Images he had thought long banished rose up one by one. Mikkeli with a gun. Mikkeli floating. Her body shedding water when he pulled it onto the decking.
Where had those events lead? To a green cell and a flooded tank. Mikkeli was dead. Eirik was dead. And Vikram had sabotaged his one chance in front of the Council. He had failed all of them.
A security guard was walking towards him. Anger wouldn’t help now. He needed strategy. He needed time.
He turned back to the cloakroom. “I have to go to the bathroom.”
The attendant eyed him warily. Vikram clutched his stomach.
“I think I might be sick…”
With a look of distaste, the attendant jabbed a finger. “It’s that way.”
He walked meekly past the guards to the end of the hallway and out through the secondary doors. He was back in the main corridor. There were no windows, just soft lighting and soft carpeting, his worn down boots noiseless upon it.
He went left towards the lifts. No one was about. Fifty metres along was a statue of an early Teller, and just behind it, a small cubic space with glass cabinets housing Neon Age relics on either side. It was said that back then, people had lived to one hundred and fifty years, and they looked the same as they did at fifteen, their skin fresh and beautiful, their organs plucked from their bodies and replaced with newly grown ones. In this way they had achieved immortality, until the Blackout.
He slipped around the statue. The alcove overlooked the interior of the scraper. He could see the shadow of the lifts moving up and down inside the aquarium, people trapped in a watery world. It was a bizarrely pretty parody of imprisonment.
He turned away and studied the cabinets instead.
Engraved and personalised hologrammic device
, he read.
Twenty-second century, Alaskan
He thought of Mikkeli’s precious map, pictured Alaska on it. The map had been their great secret. At night they had spent hours poring over the outlines of land, guessing where their ancestors had come from, until Naala found the map and said it was illegal and burned it in front of them. There were no maps in the cabinet.
The Eye Tower’s security was surprisingly lax. He had been searched at the border and on the way into the tower and the Chambers, but for all the Councillors knew he could be part of a larger conspiracy. He could be here to scope out the building. He might have a partner armed with explosives. Evidently they felt confident that he posed no kind of threat.
They were right. He didn’t. Not today.
Strategy was patience. Vikram settled on the floor, leaning gently against the cabinet. He would wait.
The City clock chimed three times on the hour; a deep, austere vibration. Vikram started. He’d let his mind wander. He heard what he was listening for: the sound of the great doors being levered open and well-shoed feet hurrying out of the Chambers.
The Councillors spilled into the corridor. Vikram watched them sweep by, oblivious to his presence in the alcove. Feodor passed, deep in conversation, and Vikram lowered his eyes in case a sense of mutual animosity should draw the other man’s gaze. He could not see the younger Rechnov. In the rush Vikram was afraid he had missed him, but then he spotted the sleek, charcoal-suited figure, a heavy coat slung over his arm, the auburn tint in his hazel hair.
Linus was one of the last out and he was alone. Two pieces of luck, which was more than Vikram deserved.
Linus turned right. Vikram waited for the last stragglers to amble pass and hurried after him.
The young man walked briskly, Vikram following a short distance behind. The corridor curved gradually and Vikram lost sense of how far round they had come. Linus went through a set of doors. The skyscraper was even larger than Vikram had supposed. Within its outer ring was a maze of tiny corridors. These too were carpeted, with wall-hung lamps and decorations which Vikram had no time to look at; portraits and long lists of names.
A little way ahead, Linus stopped. He put on his coat and did up each of the buttons and a feather collar. Then he disappeared through a door.
Vikram followed, opened the door and stepped silently out onto a balcony.
He was at least a hundred floors above surface. The skyline was spectacular: a medley of pyramid tops, flat, pointed and asymmetric, swathed in nylon mist. The wind met him ferociously. Another day, he would have admired the view, but today he had no time for it.
Linus was leaning against the wall, his feet casually crossed. A coil of smoke rose from the glowing cigarette reversed in one gloved hand. The upturned collar cut sharp angles across his jaw. Vikram guessed that the coat was lined with feathers too.
He shut the door gently behind him.
“Mind if I join you?”
Linus looked around. Surprise flickered for a moment in his eyes. Then it vanished, to be replaced by a cool, relaxed assessment.
“Not at all,” he said. He had a face that contained both strength and delicacy; the Rechnovs were undeniably a good-looking family.
Vikram took out his own cigarettes. His hands, lacking mittens, had become paws. The cellulose packaging of his cigarettes almost defeated him. His fingertips skidded on the top of the first tube, fighting to extract one from many.
He saw the cigarette fall before he felt it depart his fingers. It wasn’t as if he could afford to throw them away. He brought the packet to his lips and teased out another with his tongue. The smell of oranges lingered on his fingers.
Linus passed him a lighter. Vikram cupped the flame and passed it back. They stood in silence.
“You must have been waiting some time,” said Linus at last.
The Councillor gave him a quizzical look.
“Since I began writing letters. But that’s not what you meant.”
“You’re wondering why I followed you.”
“I could take an educated guess.”
Vikram gestured. “Please do.”
Linus exhaled a thin stream of smoke. In his smart coat, he was well protected against the cold, and he appeared in no rush.
“I’m sorry that your case was not considered. It would appear that the hearing today was something of a formality.”
“You’re on the Council.”
“Yes. Well, in an advisory capacity—that’s all it’s really here for now.”
“Maybe with more preparation—more evidence…”
“Actually, it’s nothing to do with preparation. You could do as much work, amass as many studies as you like. The outcome would be the same. It always has been, ever since the earliest attempts of the WRM—the Western Repatriation Movement, back in seventy-four.”
I know who they were
, thought Vikram, but he refrained from interrupting.
“Not that the NWO has helped your cause, sadly.” The Councillor paused, apparently musing over the issue. “I’m Linus, by the way. And I know who you are. Obviously.”
“Linus, nice to meet you,” Vikram muttered. Introductions weren’t really his thing; perhaps it was there that he had stumbled. Choosing the wrong name, or something. They pressed wrists anyway, his own skin fish-bone dry with the cold, the material of Linus’s glove smooth and unidentifiable. “I have to ask—why do you say that? About the Council? When you’re on it, I mean.”
“Oh, there’s many reasons. What you’re proposing—radical social reform—it doesn’t really sit with the Council any more. They tried it already.”
“They used to be more philanthropic.”