Nuban stared at the ground as he and Mara were marched to a sleek black craft and filed in. He stared straight ahead as the engines kicked in and they lifted off the ground and moved slowly back to the centre of the city. Some people moving around in the Dark looked at the vehicle, it standing out from the standard of this part of the outer city.
The three agents, they were government agents he was sure of it, he didn’t know much about the authorities, but people like himself who lived at the extreme end of the law’s influence only ever saw government officials when things went wrong, as such growing up, he and his friends knew only too well when they came knocking.
There were two men and one woman, they all had their hair cut short and stern looks, the same that all in authority or who are used to wearing a uniform have.
Mara was also silent, she was fuming. Mav, her old acquaintance who had obviously been reasonably close at one point but had since drifted apart, had set them up, that was the only explanation. Nuban’s interpretation was that Mav, the head of a small farming co-op had been offered the role of a now massively expanded co-op and the government contract to adapt crops for the coming Dry change. In exchange he would put in a dangerously low bid which would win, but would be so poorly funded there would be no chance of feeding the full population into the future. Prices would rise, the poor would starve. That combined with the revelation that Nuban’s desired contract to renovate the reservoirs under the city had gone to offworlders with the same idea, they put in a low bid, there was no chance they could deliver the work necessary, again the poor would lack water first. Why would the government sabotage itself so?
Mav had seem shocked at the realisation that shortages would be caused, that chaos would ensue, a smart man would know it, only willful ignorance to avoid guilt over ones gains could cause such blindness.
Before long they had returned to the centre and were now parking in a part of the large Spire that Nuban had not seen before, this would be for officials only.
He and Mara were ordered out of the car and were funnelled deeper into the bowels of the large building. Pushed into a rectangular room big enough to seat a dozen people, yet contained only one table and had only one mirror to break up the monotonous gray walls, Nuban paused. His father looked up from a pit of dejection, his eyes mirroring his, widening in recognition. Nuban was then pushed inside.
The three agents, or officers, moved around the room and forced the three to sit at the table next to Nuban’s father before scattering to different corners of the room to keep an eye on their quarry.
‘Are you alright father?’
‘Yes son, they’ve been a bit rough but I’m ok. What is this all about? I received your message, but it explained little.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise what was going on, I didn’t want to get you involved.’
‘Shut it,’ the female agent said. After a few moments the door swung open and another woman walked in. She had dark red hair, tied back in a professional manner, her suit was of a dark blue that matched the plas-metal coating of the Spire itself, it was seen as a colour of the establishment.
‘Well,’ she said, sitting down at the table, placing a portable screen in front of her. She swiped at it, read something only she could see and then looked at them one at a time. ‘You two gentlemen have a good record, it’s a shame to see you caught up in all of this, but I’m sure we can work something out. As for you young lady, you have a bit of record here.’
‘A record?’ Mara seemed surprised.
‘Yes, causing dissent at a farming co-operative, threatening colleagues, and other acts of sabotage.’ Nuban looked at Mara, surprised such accusations could be levelled at someone so gentle in nature. Although he had learned this night that there was a toughness beneath the surface.
‘That’s not true.’
‘It says here you stole some goods when you resigned after an altercation with the leader of your co-operative.’
‘No, I took my inventions, my plans, my things with me.’
‘Ah, but it’s a co-operative, anything you put into it, belongs to the collective, therefore it is not yours to take.’
‘Hang on, that was fortnights ago, why wasn’t I told of these charges before?’
‘Well, there are no formal charges, this is just for our records.’
‘Ah,’ Mara said with a slight smirk, ‘so you’ve been keeping tabs on me but have nothing to actually charge me with. Just what part of the government are you with? You are supposed to identify yourself.’
‘Hmm, you are a sharp one,’ the woman drew a tight smile before looking at the screen in front of her. ‘Except you’re wrong about something, I don’t need to identify myself.’
‘So, you’re off the books, an unofficial official, you’ve heard of them haven’t you Nuban, kind of like a secret police.’ Nuban nodded, trying to follow the conversation that was steadily leaving him behind.
‘So you know that this conversation could be very important to your futures. Please tell me what you and the man known as Mav were talking about.’
‘Just ask him, I’m surprised he hasn’t printed a full transcript for you.’
‘You seem to have the wrong end of the stick my dear, the woman smiled more deeply now. ‘He doesn’t work for us.’
‘Oh? You didn’t offer him a nice position with a new contract to supply the city? I find that hard to believe.’
‘Oh we offered him a deal, and he took it, but rest assured he has no clue beyond his own business what’s going on. As for your veiled implication that he lead us to you, you’ve got it wrong, we’ve been following you since you left your meeting earlier today. You lead us to him and your meeting, now he also is in custody. As far as I see it, you are all enemies of the state, making enquiries into business that is entirely not your own, and you were conspiring or exchanging information with Mav, which makes him a co-conspirator.’
‘That’s impossible,’ Mara protested, her confidence gone in a swirl of confusion, ‘his bid destroyed my attempt to get the food supply contract.’
‘You think it’s all about you dear?’ The woman was snickering now, ‘you were just a dot, one of many on our ledger that needed to be removed, like these two here. Yes you two were most qualified for the contract, but you didn’t get it, now go back to your homes and forget about big life in the city.’ There was a long pause. ‘Yes, you can go, check out, get out of the city and don’t come back, this is your one chance.’
‘You’re letting us go?’ Nuban’s father asked, quite confused by the entire exchange but listening and processing carefully.
‘Yes, it seems clear that you were following this young woman around, quite unawares of her troublesome behaviour, you’re disgruntled at missing out, I can understand, but there is nothing here but a stupid girl’s poor attempts at sabotage.’
‘But what about the contracts?’ Nuban asked, ‘if you’re not giving it to us, you’re giving it to people who will fail, if there’s not enough water, prices will rise, only the rich will survive, there wont be enough to grow food. Why would the government willfully let this fall apart?’
‘Nuban!’ His father grabbed his arm.
‘Hmm,’ the woman said looking down at her screen and typed away at the projected keyboard, adding some notes. ‘Interesting to hear you say that. Leave us,’ she said suddenly to the agents who all looked at each other, uncertain. ‘Now!’ They marched out, closing the door. The woman smiled again, within a few moments the door opened and two men came in, they wore similar uniforms to the others, but looked far more serious, were physically fitter and carried a blade as well as a single-handed firearm by their sides. They looked at the woman and nodded, she nodded in reply.
Nuban was trying to understand, he realised he had said too much, they could no longer plead ignorance to the problem, had he doomed them all? No, not Mara, she was already gone, they were only going to let him and his father leave, banished into exile, never to return, not much of a future anyway he reflected.
‘Same for them?’ One of the men said nodding at the three captives.
‘Yes, but not here.’
‘The usual place?’
The woman nodded.
They just killed those three guards! Now they’re going to kill us! Nuban’s mind flashed in panic, his two comrades tensed, they knew it to. What he said had doomed not only them but the three guards, why? Why weren’t they supposed to know?
‘Why?’ Mara asked, her voice strained reflecting Nuban’s fears.
‘It’s simple dear, the dozens of contracts are handled by so many people, so many apply, those who fail will complain of course, this is easily dismissed in the city networks and media, but it’s difficult to put the picture together to see that all the contracts have been sabotaged, it seems you have stumbled across that truth.’
‘So you’re worried that we’ll tell the city about this? That everyone will know the contracts are wrong, that supplies and infrastructure will fail? They’ll know soon enough once things fall apart.’
‘True, but by then it will be too late for the people to do anything but revolt, then it will be to our advantage.’
‘How is it the government’s advantage?’
‘It’s not, I never said I was with the government,’ the woman smirked in a sinister fashion. ‘Well technically I am connected with the secret police as you deduced, as were those three officers, but my employer works quite beyond the realms of the traditional institutions.’
‘And those officers don’t, they aren’t in on your conspiracy,’ Nuban’s father said slowly shaking his head.
‘That’s right, I normally only take my trusted agents with me, but timing is not always in my favour, at any rate, my loyal men here will clean up the mess.’
‘So you wish the downfall of the government, you will bring them down by sabotaging their supplies, the people will revolt thus doing your dirty work for you, then you will take over.’
‘Exactly, as you can see it’s only a short leap of logic once you make the connection between all of the contracts.’ She then nodded at the two men who drew their firearms and marched the three out of the room down the dark deserted hallways and into ever swirling plas-metal stair cases into what Nuban could only describe as the maintenance areas of the building.
Reaching a dead end they were faced with the grisly scene of the third and final body of the guards being fed into a large metal opening to what appeared to be a furnace. Flames roared as it engulfed another lifeless form. So this was to be their fate, killed and removed, all evidence gone. There was one more guard who was finishing the dirty work, two behind them, Nuban began to think, what could he do? What could he do to save them? His body tensed, his years of physical labour, his basic training in self defence growing up, could this save them? He tensed his muscles, prepared himself to strike, the one in front stood near the furnace entrance, but the two behind would shoot him in an instant-
Bang! A loud crack, his thoughts were cut off, his father fell.
‘No!’ He screamed, his father’s body hit the metal grating, a hole burned right through his forehead. A click, the two firearms behind them were directed at Nuban and Mara, it was their turn, this was the end.
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Great Change’ 2017