Follow the Smoke
"I guess," said Sandoval, looking up from his desk, "I haven't settled on 'Chief' yet. But I prefer to be differentiated from-"
"Sir," interrupted the Bobbie again, "It's Sorditudo, sir."
Sandoval furrowed his brow and grunted, "What about it, Officer?"
"There's been a riot, sir," said the officer, "And a strike. Coalson is requesting relief."
"I knew it," mumbled Manfred under his breath, "How far down the line has it gone?"
"We won't know for certain," said the Bobbie.
"Manfred, what is the meaning of this?"
"We have to go, sir," said Manfred, "I can explain on the way, if you'd like. Or you can just send me, and I'll do what I can."
"Do you think it's serious?" said Sandoval, "Can Coalson not-"
"Sir, I don't think you've witnessed a miner riot, sir," said Manfred.
"It's no minor right, sir," smiled the Bobbie.
"Out," came the order from Sandoval and Manfred in unison.
"Alright, than let's go," said Sandoval, "We have a lull. You can explain why its so important on the way."
In only a matter of an hour or so they were away on board the Inquisition. The train was pulling out of Astam and at full speed towards Sorditudo.
"You see, sir," said Manfred, "I was afraid of this. Many people, including many of the men on tour, just believe Sorditudo to be a sleepy little mining town and the police department just holds up there next to a telegraph machine and sends Bobbies out into the desert on their own. However, we overlook some of the most dangerous stretches of land in Antiford."
"The Prodigious Canyon," said Manfred, "Specifically, the mining towns along the edge. You see the Sheriff and I used to patrols all east and west of the line ourselves. Keeping law and order by our mere presence around the mining sites, the boom towns, and the border entrances and exits."
"I fail to see the seriousness of this in the grand scheme, Manfred," sighed Sandoval, "Law and order is important but the Department Chief of the Sorditudo Police Department must look after all of the center of Antiford. Hundreds of towns of various sizes. Countless miles of rails."
"Sir, but also the countless bodies who make up some of the biggest trades in Antiford," said Manfred, "The hardest, most dangerous-"
"Get to the point, Manfred," said Sandoval, "You'll not convince me without a solid backbone to this argument."
"Sir... if and when something goes wrong," said Manfred, "If those very workers strike, or riot, than this is the only place in Antiford where those rioters will be highly trained in the devastating tools of their trade including massive machines, high powered equipment, and explosives."
"I see the threat coming into focus," said Sandoval.
"Combine with that the fear that most of these volatile workplaces are on the border with the Prush," said Manfred, "The Military fears foreign agents, Prush and others, as well as pirates could use the bad conditions to stage riots to weaken our hold on the region. Or worse, sir; Revolutionaries."
"Communists," spat Sandoval, "Revolutionaries, Monarchists, filth. Of course. I always imagined such a threat marching east from the desert out west."
"Out... west sir?"
"But it's equally likely it could brew, here, with the common folk."
"It's not just that, sir," said Manfred, "There's another side of the coin. A side where there's profit in the dirt, and plenty of unskilled labor to exploit. Mine safety and good labor practices are also important to enforce, to keep the likely chance of a riot at an all-time low. Our mere presence to keep the peace, break up fights, catch criminals, and just observe is a powerful tool in these areas."
"If it's so powerful, than why are we rushing to deal with one riot in Sorditudo?"
"Because you took over, sir," said Manfred, "And ever since you've syphoned all the resources to Astam Junction and have been all over the Istoki. We only left a handful of Bobbies back in Sorditudo to deal with the mining towns, sir."
Sandoval hung his head in his hands, "You are saying this is my fault, Manfred?"
"Well, not directly," said Manfred, "But I assure you your actions on the matter did not help."
"Well, let me think it over," said Sandoval, "In the meantime... let us go and remind those dirt-slingers what the law of Antiford means."
Torches and Pick Axes
The crowd had begun to converge on the bank. Constable Mueller was blowing on her whistle so it would ring out. She hoped the small amount of warning would mean the others were ready.
Sure enough, she had just reached the front porch area and climbed up when Constables Warren and Phennik made came through the door, rifles in hand.
"Do they expect us to shoot into the crowd?" said Phennik.
"They expect us to enforce the law," barked Mueller, turning and drawing her own pistol, "With force if necessary."
The rioters eyed the bank, and maybe slowed their pace by a step or two. They began to fan out, starting to surround the bank.
"You can't keep us away, Tin Men!" shouted a protestor, "We're tired of excuses. We're here for our money. It is our money!"
"Return to your homes!" shouted Mueller, a bit out of breath, "You've dug yourself enough of a grave with what you've done to the work site!"
"To Gorn with your work site!" shouted the protestor.
"It's our money!" shouted another.
The cry began to turn into a chant of "Let us see 'em. Gimme Ciams!"
The officers braced as they watched people duck down and scoop up dirt and rocks.
"This is not the way!" shouted Mueller.
"Don't make us shoot you!" cried Warren.
His voice was shaking. He was a new guy, brand new. The only help they had gotten in weeks. Mueller feared he'd fire into the crowd. She tried to step closer to him.
"Step aside, Constable," said the protestor again, stepping forward.
He began to separate from the mob. He raised his hands.
"Come on, now. It ain't have to be this way."
"Get, back!," said Mueller, "Not one more step. Bank's closed!"
"You know we respect the law around here," said the protestor, "But it's all broken, Mueller. You know it, I know it. We can't keep letting Mr. Badger take us for suckers!"
Cries of "Yeah!" began to come up from the crowd.
"Please," said Mueller, "Step. Back. Now."
"If a thief steals money from a man, that's law breakin'" shouted the protestor, "But if a fat business man steals money from a hundred men and women, than that's just business? That's just how it works?"
"Last warning," ordered Mueller.
Her voice was about to break. Was it an order, or a plead of mercy. She looked from the protestor, and the crowd that had begun to take slow, carefully measured steps towards them. She raised her revolver up a little higher, peering down the sights and lining it up to the loan protestor who was closest.
A steam whistle blew out, and filled the air with its piercing loudness. Along with it, a chorus of steam whistles also sounded out. It was so close. Hands shot to ears. The crowd took a step back. Even Mueller jumped. In fear, she turned to Warren to ensure he, too, didn't jump.
The recruit was shaking, but he had lowered his rifle in surprise of the loud whistle.
Suddenly a flood of whistles joined in. With an excited leap, Mueller realized their were Bobbie whistles.
Down from a side road, Bobbies poured out and were running down the dirt road. They wore the black uniform and custodial helmets of Bobbies of the east, with black respirators and rifles.
Help had come. Leading the charge, Deputy Arnett sprinted with all his might, holding his bowler hat onto his head. The crowd recoiled, but did not disperse.
Not until they caught sight of what was marching down the road behind them.
It was a monstrosity. it shook the land with every one of its many steps. A sight not seen in Sorditudo, that was for sure. Even Mueller marveled at its colossal size.
It was a walking train.
An armored train of black, with six legs stomping down the street. Behind the massive engine were actual rail cars, each with their own set of four steam legs. It weaved, expertly, down the road like some sort of horrible, metal insect. It's multiple steam whistles blasted a horrible note, sending a chill down Mueller's spine.
And the crowd scattered.
Unsure of what was happening, they turned and ran. Many dropping their weapons, tools, and crudely made signs. Mueller relaxed, feeling better as the reinforcements of Bobbies plowed into the crowd and began beating back protestors with the butts of their rifles.
Manfred approached Mueller, tipping his bowler.
"Deputy," Mueller replied, "Aren't you a sight for sore eyes."
"Sorry we're late," said Manfred, turning his attention to the massive landship slowing its steps and settling in front of the bank, "Some people have a lot to learn. We came as soon as we heard."
"I really wish it wasn't that close," said Mueller, who pointed to the landship, "He here?"
"Yes he is," said Manfred, "Now come on. He won't like us standing around talking. Get in there and make some arrests. Let's move!"
Manfred turned back into the fray, helping a Bobbie with two much bigger miners who were giving him trouble. Mueller shook her head, but she holstered her revolver and stepped off to make herself useful.
Promotions and Dodges
"Put 'em over there," said Sandoval, pointing at the prison train car attached to the inquisition, "If we have to, we'll put on another car or two. Lock them in with chains!"
The Bobbie moved with his two prisoners to wait in line with the other prisoners waiting to be put onboard. Sandoval sighed, annoyed with the situation.
The Sorditudo jailhouse was full, and they had to ship the additional prisoners up to Astam Junction, whose facilities were quite large. Even arresting some of the protestors overnight would be a massive strain on the system. The coordination to ensure the most dangerous of the protestors were sent to a prison for their time was threatening to collapse. Sandoval feared he would have to consider letting people go.
Manfred, of course, hated the idea. This was an unheard of number of arrests. It could take days to sort through who had been charged with what. Sandoval, however, was angry and wanted to make an example of this place.
Sandoval turned to address Manfred and Officer Mueller.
"Any word yet back from the prison?" said Sandoval, "I don't care if they are only there overnight, it's the principal of the thing."
"We know they have a judge on a train heading to Astam to handle the overflow of cases," said Mueller, "And I believe the Honorable Judge Radigan on his way by airship to hopefully sort out the mostly innocents from the more violent protestors."
"What a mess," spat Sandoval, "And what if the rest of these towns?"
"Well, we've lost contact with one, sir," said Mueller, "And there's increased crime like theft, public intoxication, and brawls across the canyon."
"Oh, how did this happen?" asked Sandoval, not expecting an answer, "Who left you in charge?"
"I did," said Manfred, "Mueller is one of our best, Adrian. A crack shot, a commanding speaking voice, a cool head under pressure, a crack shot when needed."
"If she's one of our best what is she doing here?" asked Sandoval.
"As you ordered more and more were leaving for Astam, I realized I couldn't afford to not have her here, sir," said Manfred, "We left this area truly understaffed."
"Yes, my oversight..." mumbled Sandoval, who turned to Mueller, "What's your rank?"
"Just a sergeant," said Mueller, "But it's never really come up the last few years."
"You've been managing this all on your own?" said Sandoval, "Ludicrous. Stand straighter, Officer Mueller, we need to get you higher up the chain. You're too good to be taking orders, I need you giving them."
"That would make things easier," said Mueller, "If I'm promoted, can I speak my mind?"
"I... I would value it, Lieutenant," said Sandoval.
"You did a foolish thing, and you aren't built to be the Department Chief of Sorditudo," said Mueller, "Sir, you're doing good work and you are bringing a great deal of attention to the police departments for the young-ins through the paper. However you have grossly forgotten the peacekeeping duties of said police force."
Sandoval grumbled, his eyes narrowing to a glare.
"We're spread too thin as it was," said Mueller, "You come in with resources and a bunch of recruits, but instead of bolstering our numbers you took who you liked, armed them, and left on a crusade. I am afraid us officers left behind are juggling more than we can manage."
"This... is true." said Sandoval, "We need to double our hiring efforts."
"I don't want to admit it, but we're spread too thin," said Sandoval, "I can't be shackled to Sorditudo, not when there are countless murderers still on the loose. However to neglect our duties would be a crime in and of itself."
"Ah," said Manfred.
"Look, I need some paperwork drawn up. I need Captain Mueller here-"
"Captain?" Mueller's eyes bulged.
"To help keep an eye on things. Let's Get this one dealt with so we can go put the fear of the law into these towns," said Sandoval, "With Miss Mueller having more power and command at her disposal, I see it she'll be able to deputize some more of the morally lawful of the local population to help keep the peace when we leave to return our mission."
"That isn't going to be easy, Adrian," said Manfred, "The Antiford Police Departments have had trouble with recruiting for some time. And if you want morally rightous recruits on top of that..."
"I... I am begining to feel that standards and reality are incongruent," said Sandoval, "But for every weak link we allow into the chain of justice the weaker it'll become. And even a single rotten apple will ruin the barrel. I am afraid I came out here to fight corruption, not enable it."
"Perhaps I should stay," said Manfred, "For a short while. I could oversee the deputization of some men."
"Perhaps," said Sandoval, "For now, let's get these rioters to justice. Let's bring these mining towns under control. Let's get Captain Mueller a uniform and new badge to reflect her rank."
Sandoval turned and walked down the station. His eyes painting over the arrested people and the train cars being filled. Manfred sighed, turning to Mueller.
"I don't think I can be a Captain," said Mueller, "I expected to have a few more years beat into my boots and maybe some time working up the chain. I-"
"You'll be fine," said Manfred, "You're a solid pick. Should have made Lieutenant a while ago. You've done more the last few months than most Captains. You'll do fine."
"What about everything else?" said Mueller, "I'm worried."
"I'm worried too."
"Carl wouldn't have let it get this bad just for some newspaper headlines..."
Manfred sighed, loudly, and took a look around to ensure Sandoval hadn't heard that comment, "Yeah, well... I guess there's good and bad with every change."
To avoid getting into it, Manfred walked away, and headed towards the offices to start making Captain Mueller official.