As the train put more distance between it and the metropolis, the imposing facades of the factories softened, giving way to rolling hills and expertly constructed lakes. Resort towns hugged the shores, terraced up and along the slopes to capture the choicest vistas. Wide, white sails interrupted the still waters, chaperoned from marina to marina on the carefully moderated breeze. The countryside was a pleasure-center for city-dwellers, but it was also home to the beleaguered of the Republic, eager to leave behind the city for a life grounded in more historical roots. Here and there, you caught a glimpse of an organic farm: orchards or vineyards of dairies or pastureland. Water was a problem for high-volume, low-yield enterprises like these, and they could hardly expect special consideration from the Company when it came to pricing. Still, when they managed a crop, the same hands that withheld the water were more than happy to champion their fare.
Jan had grown up on fine, organic dinner parties and non-synthetic fabrics, his parents eager to be seen supporting independent Republican farmers. Collier shook his head. He doubted the farmers whose loans for irrigation systems had been denied would have read it that way.
Sighing, Jan pulled the wireless from his pocket for distraction. Still nothing in the usual news outlets on the Amsterdam bombings. He checked his messages. Nothing new—just what he had sent Jøberg earlier. Jan would have been lying to say Chancellor Cooper’s invitation didn’t make him nervous. The Collier family was friendly enough with him—Jan even genuinely liked the man. Most days, he seemed like the only senate member who cared more about the health of the Republic than saving face for the Company. But his relationship with the Chancellor was hardly the kind that merited a hand-written summons.
As he looked out the window, the sensation of smoke and fire continued to dance along the horizon. He wished it would go away, though he knew that it wouldn’t. Memories of the explosion had followed along the edges of his consciousness for almost a year now—every damn day since he’d blown the pipeline in Macedonia. No one had been killed, but the physical destruction had been sobering. A hundred meter section of the water line disappeared into thin air, leaving mangled pipe for several hundred more to either side of it. The flame had been so hot, even a half a mile away Jan had felt it oppressively against his skin. Four guardsmen had been hospitalized for proximity burns—and that was with the regulation sunshield. But almost worst of all had been the smell: the faint, oily aroma of hydrocarbon and the stench of charred plateen, like burnt hair or melting plastic. It had gotten into his clothes and all over his skin. He’d scrubbed furiously for days, but it lingered in his nostrils. Every time he’d walked out in public, he’d been certain the smell of it would give him away. Now he knew it was only the sunshield. Still, the fear of prison accompanied Jan wherever he went. Now that his destination was the home of the highest authority of the law he had risen against, the fear was justifiably intensifying.
All the same, the more Jan defied the law, the more rationally he found he responded to the fear. Why send such an odd, private communication, he reasoned, if the goal was to arrest him? Why tip him off, give him the chance to run? The National Police knew where he lived, why not storm the house and take him there? No, he told himself, if anything, this was a test. Even if they knew—which they probably didn’t—they didn’t have anything to prove their suspicions. Maybe they wanted to see if he would run, and to where. If they were hoping he’d incriminate himself, then heading straight to Edena to answer the summons was the best thing he could do.
Collier stuffed the wireless back into his pocket. There’d be no response from Jøberg. Probably he was laughing at Jan for having sent it at all.
2:15 pm • 7 November 2013 • 2 notes
Ferdinand sat near the back of the nave in Saint Peter’s. He hadn’t been inside since the wedding. It was odd to see it so empty, and yet, it felt just the same. If he closed his eyes, he could almost feel the ghost of Helena, waiting for him at the altar. In his pocket, the wireless vibrated dully.
He glanced down. Collier.
“Is it safe?” the message read.
Ferdinand surveyed the cathedral out of the corner of his eye. There was no one to be seen. Just the same, it would be better if they met in seclusion. There was a spot by the entrance to the chapel, blocked from view by the pillars that lined the sanctuary.
“The chapel,” he wrote back.
The Vice Chairman rose from his seat on the pew and moved slowly toward the chapel. From the entrance, he could se a long row of candles lit inside, flickering against the cathedral draft. Or perhaps it was the breath of god.
He heard a noise behind him. Turning over his shoulder, he found Jan Collier, his face haggard and his lips pursed, leaning against a column.
“I trust you had a safe journey?” the Vice Chairman whispered under his breath. Collier strode up to the chapel altar and picked up a candle, slipping a coin into the collection box.
“Our journey is far from over,” he answered. His voice was tired. “But you’re right about the trust.”
“I’ve gotten you this far, haven’t I?” Ferdinand asked, lighting a candle of his own. They set them together on the second rail.
“Past performance and all that—“ Collier murmured. The candlelight softened his face. “And anyway,” the financier’s son added, “You had to draw us out.”
“I could have had the Guard take you on the train,” Ferdinand said, “If that was what I wanted.”
“Not very personal, though,” Collier said, taking a cigarette and lighting it nervously, “An anonymous tip-off for a train arrest. Not likely to impress His Excellency the Chairman.”
“Do you find me so desperate for my father’s approval?” Ferdinand asked. He folded his hands in feigned prayer.
“I know you’d prefer not to rot away in Greifswald.”
The Vice Chairman was quiet a moment.
“When I leave,” he said at last, “It will be on my own terms. I’ve lost my patience for a future built of Greifswalds.”
“If you’re determined not to trust me,” Ferdinand said, “At least trust your friends. The Chancellor will vouch for me. Even Mademoiselle Cole.”
Collier seemed agitated. He adjusted his hands in his pockets and blew smoke pensively from the corner of his mouth.
“Alright,” he said at last. “We’ll go forward with the meeting. But not because I trust you.”
Ferdinand glanced up from his hands. “The sentiment is mutual,” he said, lowering his eyes once more. “Where and when will we meet?”
“—Here and now is preferable,” came a voice from behind them.
The Vice Chairman spun on his heels. His gaze was met by a tall, thin man, his face marked by a scar along the right cheekbone. He wore a shabby brown suit, frayed at the cuffs and elbows—the kind Ferdinand associated with the Professors who frequented the bookstores in Kambrücke. But the smile was not the same.
“You look like him,” Ferdinand said, his voice low, studying the man. “I might even believe you were him.”
Rainer Jøberg smiled.
“If you know a way to change that,” he said, “I’d love for you to let me know.”
Collier shifted at the rail. Ferdinand spoke again.
“It’s not safe to talk here,” the Vice Chairman said.
Jøberg smiled and rested his hands in his pockets.
“You mean it’s not safe for you to talk here,” he said with amusement. “It’s not safe for me anywhere.”
The Vice Chairman turned to Collier with a defeated smile.
“You’re better at this than I took you for,” he said.
Collier looked smug. He straightened his tie. The air of nerves vanished completely, leaving only the man Ferdinand suddenly realized had been hiding below the surface all along.
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” Jan said, playing with his cigarette. “But I still don’t trust you.”
“What is it you want from me?” Ferdinand asked, turning from Collier to Jøberg.
“Only for you to keep your promise,” Jøberg said. “—And to get to know Your Excellency a little better.”
The Vice Chairman appreciated the elegance of their plan. To reject the meeting was to abandon all the hard work he’d put in to get here, but to accept it was to risk public exposure. A water-tight insurance policy.
He turned and knelt at the rail, having made up his mind but unwilling to grant the pair of them immediate gratification. Collier stepped aside so that Jøberg could take his place by the altar.
The fugitive knelt beside the Vice Chairman, their elbows touching. Ferdinand did not look up, but he could see Jøberg smile out of the corner of his eye.
“I’ve never understood the point of building grand cathedrals,” Collier said behind them, “If inside you’re meant to be bent in supplication.”
“I think you’ve fundamentally misunderstood the ancient religions,” he said softly.
Jøberg chuckled quietly.
“To cower in fear before the majesty of His mystery,” the fugitive remarked. “That reminds me of a story.”
“And what story is that?” Ferdinand asked. Still he did not look up.
“A man stands over a sink,” Jøberg explained, “Ready to clean his face. His day has been long and he is tired. Very much ready to wash his cares away.”
Ferdinand listened, letting his chin drop closer to his chest.
“Just as he is about to turn on the tap,” Jøberg continued, “He sees, at the bottom of the basin, a tiny spider.”
He paused. A high, holy silence rang in their ears.
“The man’s heart drops a little to think of the spider,” Joberg said at last, “So small and perfect, shaped so well for the business of spinning webs, but so poorly equipped for climbing porcelain basins. How strange it is, the man muses, to know that—at any moment—he will take action and sweep the spider away into oblivion. The choice, he knows, is his: to turn on the water or to refrain. He can see his paths clearly. And yet the spider, who stands to lose the most, is entirely unaware.”
Ferdinand smiled. In it was a mixture of admiration and dismay.
“I wonder what our tired man will do?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.
“He might pause to ponder the powerlessness of the spider,” Jøberg said. “—For a moment. But only a moment. He is hot and dirty and tired and the spider is an obstacle between him and his desires. The tap goes on and the spider is dragged down the drain. The man does his best to make the end swift, out of kindness. But he cleans his face and dims the light and by the time he lays down to sleep, the episode is all but forgotten.”
Ferdinand lifted his gaze, at last, to the man beside him.
“I wouldn’t have expected a man of your background to believe in god,” he said.
“What need do I have of God,” he said earnestly, “When I have history?”
1:18 pm • 7 November 2013 • 2 notes
There was a peculiar magic to the places between places, as if negative space in itself were an incantation. The geometry of the countryside between metropolises had a geometric grammar all its own and wove, therefore, a different magic from the city skyscrapers altogether.
Jan watched as the train sped past the suburban landscape. On the outskirts of Paris, the first transition was from the hodgepodge architecture of the city center to the monolithic factory buildings that supplied it with its power, water, and food. These plateen structures were nondescript, stretching block upon block and rising tens of stories from the ground. Company machines pulsed behind their opalescent sheen, pumping and processing and refining raw material like a worms inside a chrysalis. The water in the desalination factories was divided according to its destination: water for drinking, water for agriculture, water for industry, water for climate. Jan considered all the trouble that water caused.
As the metropolises grew, the pressure on the water supply increased commensurately. New settlements were erected on the frontier expressly to collect more water for the cities. The more outposts cropped up in the Wild, the more intense the push-back from the people who lived there. Collier looked into his lap. Somewhere, vividly preserved by his chronic abuse of sunshield, lurked a memory soaked in bitter chemical fire, the acerbic flash of energy and aroma of soot, the ringing in his ears and the white-indigo flames that lapped across his vision, curling into every corner of his brain. There had been the sound of the universe, pulled apart at its seams—and then, silence.
As the train put more distance between it and the metropolis, the imposing facades of the factories softened, giving way to rolling hills and expertly constructed lakes. Resort towns hugged the shores, terraced up and along the slopes to capture the choicest vistas. Wide, white sails interrupted the still waters, chaperoned from marina to marina on the carefully moderated breeze. The countryside was a pleasure-center for city-dwellers, but it was also home to the beleaguered of the Republic, eager to leave behind the city for a life grounded in more historical roots. Here and there, you caught a glimpse of an organic farm: orchards or vineyards of dairies or pastureland. Water was a problem for high-volume, low-yield enterprises like these, and they could hardly expect special consideration from the Company when it came to pricing. Still, when they managed a crop, the same hands that withheld the water were more than happy to reap the results of such a delicate fare.
10:18 am • 5 November 2013 • 2 notes