Had to go into work today even though it is not my scheduled weekend. So this fits my mood right now.
I won’t get a day off until Wednesday. I’ll aim for finishing Part Three then.
Rodriguez mopped again at his balding head with his handkerchief. It was now rather damp. The office window was open to Albuquerque’s late winter temperature but he was still sweating. Sweating because of his two visitors.
He looked across his cluttered desk at them. They’d been expected; that somehow had made it worse. The weedy, little man on his left had a dark, furtive face. ‘Kharachan,’ he thought he heard his name was. The odd field green collarless shirt he wore under his thin black leather coat was, Rodriguez knew, a part of their uniform…
“Well, Captain Rodriguez?” His eyes snapped back to the woman. “Do you think we can avoid any… unpleasantries?”
It was a thin smile on what would have otherwise been a very attractive face: what little Hispanic roots they shared were long subsumed in her Tagalog skin and slightly almond eyes. Pulled back into a tight bun at the base of her neck, he could not tell if her hair was light brown or dirty blonde. Her light brown eyes should have been warmer, but after she had come into his office five minutes ago, announcing the annexation of all of former New Mexico east of the Rio Grande, to the new Republic of Texas, all he saw there was death.
It had taken her less than three minutes to read the notice: “…for the suppression of brigandage, stabilization of our frontier against a foreign power, to secure those people and facilities vital to our Republic…” They were all meaningless words; power was what mattered. That was in her very last sentence.
“To that end, eastern former New Mexico will be divided into three administrative districts, each under the control of a sub-Director of the Extraordinary Commission for the Protection of the Republic.” She had passed him a copy of the paper, then sat and crossed her legs. Waiting.
ExComm, he thought, sweating. We’re all going to die. He had to try to salvage something, at least for his family…! He wiped at his forehead…
“…unpleasantries?” The younger woman had asked.
“Of course not, Ms. Fernandez! I can…!”
“Miss is fine.” She recrossed her legs. “We do not use PC euphemisms.”
He did not need to be told just who “we” might be.
“Of course, Miss Fernandez.” He took a shuddering breath. “However, legally, the New Mexico Assembly-”
Kharachan gave an almost feminine titter. “Was closed down by us yesterday. The State of New Mexico has ceased to exist. Do you understand?”
Rodriguez had been a cop for a long, long time. This was the first time he’d been on the receiving end of ‘bad-cop, secret police.’
“But, just like that…?”
“Please, Captain Rodriguez!” She kept using his title, so he wasn’t dead yet. “The Mexican Army began overrunning the western half of your State four days ago! They did not just do this for the scenery! Sandia Labs and its people are ours, now, as well as Los Alamos.”
“That’s on the other side-”
“Treaty negotiations.” She reopened her file folder. “If you are finished complaining, we’ve some work to get done. I’m to be on my way to Austin by nightfall.” She twirled a pen in her right hand as only an Oriental could.
He leaned back. His chair creaked as if dying. “Please.”
She paused. She slowly placed the folder onto her side of his desk. Looking at the ground, she went on.
“You are the police captain of a major city.” She began. “You therefore will know that we, ExComm, left thousands of starved civilians in southern Kansas after… we… raped the place?”
Rodriguez tried to swallow around the sudden lump in his throat.
“And, you know that there is a… forest, so to speak, of new trees… trees with people hanging from them along our Southeast and Southern borders? Criminals all, mind you. All properly sentenced.”
Funny she left the word “convicted” out…
“There are so few here in our new, Western Hegemony. What a shame it would be,” she looked up to his eyes, “if we were make another desolation, and call it peace.”
He could no longer move his hand with his handkerchief.
“Yes,” he said quietly. “It would be a shame.”
No one moved for almost a minute.
“Mister, no, Captain Rodriguez? This killing must stop. Here, now.” She said blankly.
Over his body? The body of his family?! What did she mean?!
“I am seeking to put an end to this killing.” Her eyes grew even colder. “We cannot do it in Austin, but we can start doing it here, in the Provinces.”
What she was saying was high treason and could tell Kharachan was aghast. After her Confession, she no longer cared about her life. Sylvia leaned back, seemingly taking a breath to refresh herself.
“Tell me, Captain? Would you rather your children be free, or crucified?”
He narrowed his eyes. What test was this?
“I think I’d rather they be good Residents of the Republic’s Protectorate.”
This time the smile reached her eyes.
“Dear God! I am so tired of people being in fear of me! I’m saying this only once more: do you and yours want to live free, or die?”
“Live free,” Rodriguez said.
“Wrong answer,” Kharachan lisped. He pulled his semi-automatic in a fluid motion and shot the police captain in the head, then turned the pistol toward Sylvia Fernandez; Deputy Director, Third Chief Directorate, Extraordinary Commission for the Protection of the Republic of Texas.
She could just barely get her mouth to work.
“You are an awful person but I did think you were still human,” she said calmly. “I valued your service to me.”
He narrowed his rat-like eyes even further.
“To you?” His pale thin white tongue ran for a moment over his lips. “I serve only my master, Director Barrett.”
The noises from the police station’s main office stilled just after the shot. Kharachan inclined his head in that direction, his eyes on hers.
“There are six of our – well, my – people out there. There are over two dozen local cops. If those locals smell dissent in our ranks, they’ll kill us all, and the counter-revolution we all fear will begin right here.” He narrowed his eyes even further. “I understand you hate ExComm, but do you love peace more?”
Sylvia was still for a moment. She reached into her bag, sighed, and slowly withdrew her revolver. She reversed it and handed it over to Kharachan.
“What now?” she asked.
“In the immediate? You follow my lead and play your part.” He slid her pistol into his jacket pocket. “After that? The Conveyor.”
She nodded. She’d be arrested, charged, tortured, killed. Within a week. The Director was insistent about staying on schedule. She used to admire that about him. Kharachan stood. Leaning over the desk, he pulled the blood-spattered badge off of the dead man. He lowered his pistol to his side and looked at the door.
“Let’s go, Miss Fernandez.”
Out in the main room, all eyes were fixed on them as they emerged. Her reinforced team, no, what had been her team was carefully spread out to cover the room and each other, per procedure. Kharachan spoke a moment before she did.
“The Captain made an error in judgment,” he called to the assembled. “Is Lieutenant Richard Davies here?”
A man perhaps half of Rodriguez’s age stepped forward. They want someone younger that they can control, she thought.
Kharachan tossed him the bloody badge. “Congratulations, Captain. You now report to me. Follow my instructions and maintain order and we’ll get along just fine!” Davies stared at the blood on his hands.
“Yes… sir.” A short nod from Kharachan, after which he tapped Sylvia’s shoulder. They both moved toward the door. Strangely, as she passed each desk, each phone rang once. After they were out the remaining ExComm officers departed; those furthest from the exit first, covered by the others. The last two left slowly, facing the police.
Gathered together outside the police station, Kharachan spoke quietly.
“Change of plans. Miss Fernandez and I are recalled to Austin. Smith? Take command and keep an eye on things here in the city. Make sure to also keep in touch with the teams at Kirkland and Sandia Labs. Clear?” Kharachan asked.
Smith looked toward Sylvia. She nodded very slightly. “Clear,” he replied. She watched as they climbed into the nondescript white van and drove off to the north. Still holding his semi-automatic with his right, he rummaged in his jacket pocket with his left. He produced a pill bottle. Yes, they think of everything, she thought.
“There’s no way I can cover you and drive at the same time, and having you tied up in the trunk would be rather unseemly.” He smiled his nasty smile. “So, if you’d please…?”
He tossed her the bottle. There was a single capsule in it; enough of a narcotic to keep her out for the drive home. If she was going to act, it had to be now.
“Just out of morbid curiosity,” she began while carefully reaching into her jacket pocket for her cell phone, “how long have you suspected me?”
“Since I met you; you are a weak woman. But the proof was this.” He produced a crumpled cigarette pack from his outer jacket pocket.
American Spirit, she saw.
“Did you – ?!” she began to yell.
“The stupid holy man wouldn’t tell me. At first. You think a southeast Asian would hold up to torture better than that…”
Another death. Because of me. Her hatred died as fast as it flamed up. Caring even less for her life, she pulled her phone out, swiped her ‘unlock’ pattern and tapped the unnamed icon with the shape of three mechanical gears. Her phone chimed once as he took it from her.
“What was that?!” he exclaimed. “What did you do?”
She opened the pill bottle and tossed the capsule into her mouth.
“Good luck interrogating someone unconscious.” She swallowed. “And Kharachan? See you in Hell.”
She felt herself falling as her consciousness quickly faded. It’s up to you now, Thaad…
Cold. She blinked her eyes a few times. She was lying on a wooden bench. She sat up and looked around: masonry walls, no windows, one stout wooden door; presumably locked. On the floor a few feet away was a small gas lantern; lit, but turned very low. Glancing down at herself, she noted she was now wearing the gray smock reserved for prisoners of ExComm. Thinking for a moment, she didn’t feel as if she’d been beaten or violated. Why are things different?
She stood a bit unsteadily then picked up the lantern. Turning it higher she noted a bulb hanging about two feet over her head. Saving power or did the grid fail again? Moving to the door, there was not even a handle on this side.
Just as she returned to the bench and sat down there was a rattle from the door. It swung outwards. Three men were there: a jailer, a guard, and one she could not make out in the dark. The jailer lifted a paper and read from it.
“Sylvia Fernandez, you are a traitor to the Republic. You are sentenced to death. Said sentence to be carried out immediately,” he lowered the paper and spoke over his shoulder. “Chief says you’ve got ten minutes, holy man.”
The third man stepped forwards into the cell. A priest. They closed and locked the door behind him. She frowned at him.
“If this is an effort to get me to reveal my contacts, it’s a pretty stupid one,” she said. The man shook his head.
“I am here to hear your Last Confession.” He gestured about. “As you say, I’m sure they are listing to us, so I encourage you to be as circumspect as possible. However, prior to that, I have two messages for you, my child.”
She nodded. I guess Thaad wasn’t able to help…
“The first is from someone who called themselves ‘Thaad.’” She started badly at that. “He said, ‘I am sorry, Sylvia; this was the best I could do.’”
She closed her eyes. So. It’s all over.
“And the second?” She asked.
“Is from Clive Barrett,” the priest said. Her eyes snapped open as she drew her lips back in a snarl. “He said two things, ‘Your win’ and ‘Roberta is safe.’”
She almost cried at the second. But what in hell did he mean by the first. To look at where I am, this is not ‘a win!’
He glanced at his wristwatch. “We’ve very little time, my child…”
Still in shock from the two messages, she shook her head violently before kneeling on the stone floor. She crossed herself.
“Forgive me, Father,” she began, “I have sinned…”
He had just finished the words of absolution when the door creaked open.
“Out of there, holy man,” the jailer called, lifting his lantern. The priest helped Sylvia to her feet, nodded to her, left.
“Let’s go, traitor.”
“What, no interrogation, no torture?” It was stupid of her, but now she no longer cared. The jailer frowned at her.
“Even for a traitor, I guess rank has its privileges.” He waved for her to come out.
As they walked through the darkened corridors she asked, “Grid fail again?”
“Shit, who knows?” The jailer replied. “Just after you got here, every TV and computer everywhere showed an image of three rotating gears before power went out everywhere.” He laughed nastily. “Word is the higher-ups are scared shitless. Turn left here.”
What did you do, Thaad? She wondered.
She walked into what was a small room covered in ugly green ceramic tiles. There was a large drain in the center of the floor. Easier to clean, she thought. Not knowing why, her thought went suddenly to that young woman she once met on the front steps of ExComm’s headquarters… whom she later found out to be the Director’s younger daughter.
The jailer watched her body slump to the floor.