Come The Revolution – Snippet 15
E-Tomai rose from behind his desk when I entered. His face was slightly flushed and his ears lay flat against the sides of his head, so when he said he was happy to see me again, I didn’t believe him. He offered his hand in a Human handshake, though, and I took it.
“I hope you will not mind if my superior joins us,” e-Tomai said once we were seated. “He is visiting and is naturally interested in today’s unfortunate events.”
I didn’t mind, and I realized that was probably why e-Tomai was uneasy. Something to remember when trying to read people: it’s not always about you. The door behind me opened and e-Tomai sprang to his feet. I’m not sure I normally would have risen myself but those massive vault doors made me at least open to the idea of respect for authority.
The older Varoki standing in the doorway wore a plain black and red uniform, the front adorned only by the silver starburst CSJ badge and two dull metal chest gorgets trimmed in red gold, the rank insignia of a field marshal lieutenant. I felt a little of the blood drain from my own face. E-Tomai had called him his superior. He wasn’t kidding. There was only one field marshal lieutenant in the Provost Corps: its commandant.
The officer’s face gave nothing away, ears relaxed, skin all but colorless. His head and hands had lost much of their iridescence with age, or perhaps exposure to sun and the elements. He had not acquired the thick midriff common to almost all older Varoki, but he also did not have a lot of muscle mass on his upper body. He had the lean build of an ascetic, not an athlete.
“You are Mister Naradnyo,” he said. “I am Field Marshal Lieutenant e-Loyolaan. Please proceed, Captain.” He crossed the room and took a chair where e-Tomai and I could both see him. If he really wanted to spook one of us he would have sat where that person couldn’t see him, so that was something.
“Mister Naradnyo,” Captain e-Tomai began, “as you know, we have a very serious situation developing as a result of the Prahaa-Riz disturbance. It has been only about four hours and we are still trying to assess the cause and extent of the riot. Any light you could shed on the incident would be most appreciated.”
“Whatever vid you’ve seen on the float, I didn’t have anything to do with starting that,” I said.
Captain e-Tomai exchanged a glance with his boss, e-Loyolaan, before answering. “We have already reached the same tentative conclusion. We have also studied the audio and video feed from your commlink and that of two other witnesses, so we have a fair idea of the sequence of physical events. We are more interested in your impressions.”
Impressions? I thought about that for a couple seconds.
“What, you mean like my gut feeling? Some staffer panicked. Gaant caught everyone by surprise, first with the jammers going down and then when the crowd started in. The staffer over-reacted, and then everything came apart. I don’t think Gaant intended it to play out that way.”
“You say it caught everyone by surprise,” he said. “Does that include you?”
I noticed e-Loyolaan studying me pretty hard, probably wishing I had big ears to help him tell if I was nervous.
“Good question,” I answered. “It sort of did, but in retrospect it shouldn’t have.”
And then I told them about the whole scene out in the atrium, the creepy mob of Gaant’s followers, and what he’d said to pull me into the meeting, that the guys on the other side of the table would be surprised at what happened. At the time I’d thought his little speech about what a bunch of no-good greedy bastards they were was the surprise he had in mind, but he’d meant the whole business of taking control of the meeting, making it public.
“And you believe that is all Mister Gaant intended?” he asked. “To simply make the meeting public?”
I shrugged. “You want impressions and I’ll give them to you, but remember, I hardly knew the guy. I only met him a half-dozen times before today. If I had to guess, I’d say yeah, he just meant to embarrass all those guys, shame them, and maybe stir the public up against them. I think he has this big bunch of followers and he figured to make it even bigger, make some sort of play for political leadership. But what his long-term plans were is anybody’s guess. Now that he’s dead I guess we’ll never know for sure.”
“Oh, Mister Gaant is not dead,” Field Marshal Lieutenant e-Loyolaan said, his first comment in the interview.
“Not dead? I saw him . . .” I stopped. What had I seen? He fell, he hit his head, the crowd moved his body back out of the way, and they said he was dead.
“So, just unconscious?” I asked.
E-Loyolaan nodded to e-Tomai and the captain continued. “We located him in the South Tower trauma/med facility. The last report was that he was stable but comatose and under guard by the municipal police, charged with incitement to riot. Communication with Prahaa-Riz has been temporarily interrupted.”
“Yeah, the three officers I talked to in Katammu-Arc said their tacticals were going to clear South Tower. If so, they shut down the comms themselves–standard procedure. But you guys know that, right?”
They exchanged a look and then e-Tomai nodded.
I wasn’t sure if Gaant being alive was a good thing or a bad thing. Alive and in police custody he was a living symbol for his followers, and a target for action. Dead he was a martyr, and you can’t negotiate with a dead man. I looked at e-Loyolaan, who was studying me again. He cocked his head slightly to the side.
“I do not know either, Mister Naradnyo,” he said.
“Whether we are better off with him alive or dead.”
So this guy was a mind reader too? Or was I just getting that obvious?
“We received word that the Honorable e-Lotonaa, your wife, and the e-Traak heiress have crossed the uKootrin frontier,” e-Loyolaan said. “Do we have you to thank for that?”
Here it comes, I thought.
“Just doing my job,” I answered, and to my surprise he nodded.
“Yes, your duty. I understand. And it was the only sensible course of action. I want to thank you for saving e-Lotonaa’s life at Prahaa-Riz and in the water afterwards. You call him The’On, I am told, short for The Honorable. I do not imagine he enjoys that, and yet he seems to tolerate it from you.”
“I didn’t know you two were friends,” I said.
“Not friends. We are opponents on many matters of policy. But whatever our differences, e-Lotonaa wishes the best for the Cottohazz, as do I, and I respect him for that. I respect and value him, regardless of our disagreements.”
He said nothing after that, just looked at me. The silence stretched out, but I did not get the sense he was trying to stare me down. He was probably thinking, but I honestly couldn’t say for sure. Most people look away from you while they’re thinking, so they won’t make you uncomfortable, but he was not most people.
“What was it like to be dead?” he finally asked.
Not the question I was expecting.
“I liked it,” I said. “You will too.”
He leaned back slightly, almost imperceptibly, in his chair and an expression flickered across his face just for an instant, a hint of fear, and then it was gone.
“Were you disappointed to come back?” he asked.
“Little bit. But I had somebody worth coming back to. It makes a difference.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Many say your soul must have left you while you were dead, and that only your body was reanimated. Are you now a soulless creature, Sasha Naradnyo?”
“No more so than ever.”
He actually smiled at that and seemed to relax a little.
“Will we soon be seeing mass resurrections of long-dead Humans?”