It was a dark, moonless night over Gearford. You might be forgiven for thinking nothing was happening on the city’s darkened streets, but on the contrary, these were occasions when the city’s more sinister elements stirred from their slumber.
Sergeant Dumond looked out of the window of his guardhouse and as expected, saw nothing. It was a busy evening, with large paddocks carriages delivering heavily guarded shipments to “the Pen” and transporting their deliveries into the garage. These shipments were not unusual. It was just another day at the Pen. For the casual passersby, the Pen, with its nine foot walls and guardhouse, was a government facility dedicated to vehicle maintenance. If a visitor peered through the open gate they would see a large partially disassembled landship resting in the center of the yard.
Dumond had no idea what happened inside the large garage. He knew better than to ask questions, or express curiosity. He knew the Pen was a black site where the Technocracy did top secret work, but knew little else. Were there other black sites around Gearford or perhaps in Argenstrath? It wouldn’t surprise him, but Dumond learned to keep such speculation to himself. He heard from other soldiers in detail that there was a large underground complex under the garage. Like soldiers everywhere, they complained. They complained to each other about their duties, about the “eggheads” who ordered them around and about the dark, seemingly maze- like corridors that required their diligence. However, those weren’t part of Dumond’s job. His duties pertained to outer perimeter security and so here he was sipping his tea, looking beyond the walls into the impenetrable darkness.
Inwardly, he cursed his superiors for sending the other guards from his shift to a “so-called” special assignment, leaving him alone in the gatehouse. Normally, it wouldn’t be a problem, but it had already been an hour, and he desperately needed to take a piss. Too much tea.
Maybe it was because it was a dark night. Maybe it was the curses he muttered under his breath, or perhaps it was his desperate need to relieve himself, but Sergeant Dumond never saw the dart that killed him. His hand reached up to his neck, but it was already too late. His eyes grew heavy. Dumond’s first thought was “poison. . .” and his last thought was “there’s going to be hell to pay”.
When Deputy Minister Sims called her into his office, Constable Julia Vane braced herself. It was only three days until “Gearford Day” and what was now known simply as, “the parade”. When the Technocrats overthrew the monarchy, one of the first things they did was change the name of the capital to Gearford. In subsequent years, the Technocracy marked this occasion by celebrating Gearford Day. However, this year was going to be special. Prime Minister Marigold had suggested in no uncertain terms, this was to be a most auspicious Gearford Day.
In short, he wanted a parade.
If this was just another parade— featuring landships, a marching band and the usual collection of jugglers, entertainers and floats— then Julia would be unconcerned, but this parade featured the Prime Minister himself atop an armored paddocks carriage, as well as many in the government. Marigold insisted it was necessary for the common people to see their leaders, and that this should be a time to celebrate the very best of the Technocracy. The theme of this Gearford Day was “Achievements in Science” and the focus would be on the ways Technocratic rule had improved the lives of Antiford’s ordinary citizens.
The reality was that this was going to be a security nightmare. As a constable assigned to the Ministry of Peace, Vane had been appointed as liaison to the local police stationed around the western neighborhoods, including Mayberry. With an event as large as this, it was imperative that all of the law enforcement agencies coordinate their efforts, to ensure no unexpected surprises.
“Bloody waste of time,” muttered Julia.
Walking into the lobby outside of Sims’ office. Julia double checked her appearance in the mirrored glass.
Young for her position, Julia had advanced quickly through the ranks. With shoulder-length, light brown hair, pulled back into a short ponytail, her bright green eyes were her most distinguishing feature, since she wore very little makeup. A colleague once referred to her as “nondescript” and “rather plain”, which she found reassuring. The only thing that would have identified her as a Constable was the badge she kept on the inner lining of her brown great coat along with a .38 caliber pistol that she kept in a shoulder holster.
She checked in with Sims’ personal assistant, left her sidearm, and was led into a large office. She shielded her eyes, because of the bright morning light coming in through the large window. A well dressed man sat across from Sims.
“Constable Vane, always a pleasure,” he said.
She recognized that voice, even if she didn’t immediately see the face.
It was Dorian Malumitis, the Minister of Peace and one of the most influential men in the government. Other Ministers may have had more responsibility and power over the national purse strings, but it was widely understood that Malumitis had the ear of the Prime Minister and often pulled the strings of power, especially in military matters.
While Julia Vane considered herself to be a loyal Technocrat and was a member of the Brass Bees, the current ruling faction, she also considered herself to be mostly apolitical. Nevertheless, when she saw Malumitis’ sly smile, she couldn’t help but stand a bit straighter while she gave a brief bow. Although she was usually unflappable, Malumitis’ presence was unnerving.
“Thank you for coming at such short notice Constable Vane,” nodded Deputy Minister Sims.
Julia stood at attention. “It’s nothing sir, how may I be of service.”
“Oh at ease, Vane. Sit down. Sit down,” commanded Malumitis with a dismissive wave.
Sitting in the nearest chair, Julia looked attentively at her superiors. Although Malumitis and Vane were both members of the same faction, Julia knew her place in the hierarchy. Even though the Ministry of Peace was technically part of the bureaucracy under Malumitis, someone like him didn’t come to meet with the lower ranks unless it was for a damn important reason.
“If I may, Constable, how are the preparations for the parade coming along?” asked Malumitis.
“Fine, sir. Everyone knows their job here. Obviously, a lot of ground to cover, and as you might expect, the locals occasionally need to be reminded about their responsibilities. But overall, everything’s well in hand,” replied Julia.
“Very good. Efficient as always, that is why—” said Sims.
“Yes, that is why,” interrupted Malumitis, “We have a job for you. A job requiring your… um, special talents.”
Julia raised an eyebrow. Within the past five years, she had moved quickly through the ranks of the Ministry of Peace, in part because she had demonstrated a talent for quickly handling politically sensitive matters with discretion. Among those in the Ministry, Julia was known as “fixer”, especially in local matters, since she was well connected in the local city government and had fostered a number of contacts.
“Although I have expressed my concerns regarding your youth, Sims here insists that you are the person for the job. We have reason to believe the Prime Minister’s life will be in danger during the upcoming parade and we need your… skills. It should go without saying that time is of the essence.”
“What’s the threat?” asked Julia.
The fact that the Prime Minister had a lot of enemies was common knowledge. In fact, the minister now had a service detail dedicated to protecting him against threats. The creation of this specialized service detail was a recent development after the untimely death of Charles Button, Marigold’s predecessor.
Malumitis looked at Sims, and waved his hand to proceed..
“Explosives have gone missing,” said Sims. “These are not just any garden variety explosives, though. These came out of our developmental labs. They’re top secret and carry a big punch. We call them CAD bombs. We’ll give you a short brief on their… ‘special’ capabilities, but in short a single CAD bomb can flatten several city blocks
Julia shuddered at the thought of such a bomb being used during the parade. It could kill hundreds if not thousands.
“Has there been any thought of canceling the parade, sir?”
“Now, why would we do such a foolish thing?” asked Malumitis contemptuously. “If we cancel the parade, the would-be perpetrators will know we are onto them. It’ll also demonstrate weakness at a time when we must show a firm hand. The common people might think we have lost control. I shouldn’t have to tell you Constable… this would be unacceptable, totally unacceptable.”
“Of course, sir,” replied Julia quickly, “Do we have any idea who might have stolen this bomb, or who might have it now?”
“Of course we do. Suffice it to say that if this were a simple matter of protecting the Prime Minister, your skills and discretion would not be necessary.” said Malumitis.
“In short, we believe this may have been an inside job. It’s all too damned neat,” said Sims, “Moreover, it’s possible the Prime Minister’s protection detail may have been compromised. So that’s why we need the help of an outsider such as yourself.”
“It also shouldn’t be surprising to you Constable, “ said Malumitis with a lofty wave, “That we have many enemies and some of those enemies are themselves technocrats.”
Julia was well aware.
Despite the ascendancy of the Brass Bees, the government was really a coalition of many Technocrat factions. For the most part, disagreements were confined to the Great Hall and the back chambers of government.
“Up to now, the Beavers, Black Beetles and such have never resorted to violence.” remarked Julia.
“You don’t need to know the reasons, Constable,” said Malumitis, “And you are to keep this in confidence, but we believe that some of the other factions have decided to move beyond mere rhetoric, back chamber dealings and petty obstructionism. We believe that they are now involving criminal elements within Mayberry for nefarious tasks, and they mean to use violence to obtain their ends.”
Julia gasped. This was nothing less than treason.
“While you are being tasked with getting to the root and stem of this threat,” reiterated Sims, “You are to consider all of this to be top secret. The possibility there is a traitor in the Prime Minister’s security detail must remain secret. The same applies to the existence of the CAD bomb and the involvement of other factions. We have no wish to create a public stir, shake the public’s confidence or cause either a national incident or a panic in the commodities market.”
“Also, should you come into possession of any evidence that we are dealing with an internal threat or that any of the other Technocratic factions are in fact involved, you are to come directly to me. I will personally do what needs to be done with the traitors,” said Malumitis grimly.
“Everything about your assignment must be kept in strictest confidence. You will have access to any resources you require, both within the Ministry of Peace and within the city security forces. Mowat from the PMs security detail has already been advised that he is to fully cooperate with you.”
Julia inwardly groaned. Captain Jonathan Mowat was a piece of work but was as competent as he was difficult. He would not take well to receiving oversight from a junior officer like Julia.
“Would it be alright if Constable Owens be assigned to me?”
‘Owens? The lad who was just promoted to Constable? The boy looks about sixteen years old, “ said Sims.
She nodded. “Yes, sir. He’s green, but I trust him and he has excellent instincts.”
“Take him, take him, and take the dossier as well. This is unfortunately all the information we can share. Use it well.”
Julia took the dossier from him and stepped back. Malumitis turned to Sims and started talking about some mundane matter. Julia realized this was a dismissal.
“I’ll get to work then, sirs,” said Julia.
“Don’t let us down,” said Malumitis with an idle wave.
Sims gave her a nod. “Come directly to me if you need anything further.”
She walked out of the room, paused, and took a deep breath. What had she gotten herself into?
Returning to her office, Julia sent for Owens. Together, they quickly reviewed the briefings provided by Sims and Malumitis. If she was hoping for clues that would guide her investigation, she was sorely disappointed. Much of the information about the CAD bomb and its theft was in the form of a very brief redacted summary.
“I don’t understand it, Constable,” remarked Owens.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if there really is a credible threat against the Prime Minister, you’d think they would give us the means to work the case.”
“They’re not making it easy for us Owens, are they?”
“Well let’s review this report summary. What do we know?”
Owens grimaced as he opened the manila folder. Although Julia called it a report summary, she realized that to call it “a summary”, may have been overly generous.
“Alright. At an unknown developmental lab at an unknown location, seven men, including three guards were shot and incapacitated. The guards were shot with poison darts and were killed almost instantly. The lab workers including the lab director appeared to have been shot with a kind of electrical gun and two later died from their injuries. When the workers were found, one CAD bomb was missing from the inventory.”
“And what exactly is a CAD Bomb?”
“Again, the summary is vague. It was recently developed and was undergoing trials. According to the report, the bomb is roughly the size of a steam trunk. It does appear to be highly volatile and very destructive and can level an area of approximately eight to ten city blocks.”
Pouring over the report, the two Constables tried to find anything to help their investigation.
“Who is this?” asked Owens.
He pointed to a name at the bottom of the report. Presumably this was the person who had completed the report after the theft of the bomb.
She looked it over. “B. Bonn… Bonn. Dr. Bonn?”
“Do you know him?”
“Not sure. I do know someone with that same name… Bonn.
She wondered whether it could possibly be the same person. Julia remembered the banquet celebrating Technocratic Science from almost a year ago. Her wife Annie was being honored for spearheading the development of a new kind of wheat that could be grown with a fraction of the water. The person awarding her with the Technocratic Science Medal was none other than Dr. Balthazer Bonn, Professor and Charles Button Chair of Science and Technology at the Royal Antiford Academy. Could it be the same person? Then she recalled something else about Bonn and his background.
Julia rose from her seat as she handed the file to Owens.
“Um, ma’am, are we leaving?”
“Yes, Owens. I’ll be making a trip to the library. As for you, I’ll need you to meet with some of our friends in the Mayberry District.”
Walking into Gearford Library of Science and Technology, Julia walked up to the young lady at the front desk.
“I’m looking for Theodore Beem.”
The young lady paused and with a smile pointed to the reference desk on the far end of the stacks. In his natural element, Beem was much as she remembered him, except that he was not wearing a hat, nor were his hands covered in grease. Julia walked up to the reference desk and stood there for a moment. Finally, she coughed which broke Beem out of his internal reverie, and caused him to look up.
“Aw yes. Apologies, how can I help you… you… Oh! Constable Vane, what brings you to the Gearford Library of Science and Technology? Need a book?” asked Theodore with a cheeky smile.
“Well Mr. Beem, not quite. Please, bring me anything related to this author,” said Julia.
She handed over a slip of paper, which Beem examined for a moment.
“Not a problem, if you could wait here. Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes,” he looked at the paper, then Theodore’s eyes rose, “Ahh, Balthazar Bonn. I never thought of you as a fan of the sciences.”
“I’m not, Beem,” said Julia pointing to the stacks. “Please, just retrieve the publications.”
“Um, yes, of course,” said Theodore awkwardly.
Beem disappeared into the stacks. Julia saw that Beem’s desk was an organized mess, with stacks of paper and books lining the front edge. A scale model of the airship Manticore stood on the edge. There was also a harmonica and a spyglass in the midst of the mess. Suddenly, Julia felt something slip by her legs. Startled, she jumped back.
A small, long hair calico cat chirped and looked up.
“Well, hello there,” smiled Julia. The cat gave a deep throated purr as she walked between Julia’s legs. “Aren’t you a friendly one.”
She knelt down, petted the cat and scratched under its neck. Several minutes passed, and then finally, Theodore Beem returned.
“I see you’ve met Captain Fox. It looks like she approves of you, or perhaps she thinks you might have some cat treats,” said Theodore walking back from the stacks.
“Yes, indeed. A lovely cat. And no, I don’t have any cat treats. Sorry,” said Julia looking at the cat.
Captain Fox looked up for a moment, her eyes narrowed and she sat staring at Julia, perhaps not convinced that a treat would not be forthcoming.
“I found what you were looking for, Constable,” said Theodore, handing over several books and a stack of three or four journals. Carefully looking them over, she placed the journals in her satchel and left the books on the desk. “Y'know, Constable, As I was saying before, it’s not every day, someone such as yourself takes an interest in science journals at the library here. Kind of unusual in fact.”
“Oh and I expect you have an eye for the unusual?”
“Well, as a matter of fact…”
“Beem?” she asked.
“Um yes, Constable?”
“Just a friendly word of advice. I’d suggest that you be, shall we say, less observant of ministry business, if you take my meaning.”
“Um, yes ma’am,” said Theodore with a slight wheeze.
“Much obliged Beem,” Julia turned to leave, but then turned back to look at Theodore. “Oh by the way, how are you enjoying that airship of yours?”
“Um, my airship? It’s amazing, truly amazing! Nothing like the skies of Gearford at night.”
“Ah the skies of Gearford at night. Interesting that you mention that.”
She tilted her head forward. “Yes, Beem. We’ve had a number of noise complaints about you and your airship.”
“Noise complaints?” croaked Theodore.
“Yes, noise complaints. And don’t tell me you have a permit.”
“Yes, I mean, no ma’am. Apologies. I mean, I’ll make sure not to—”
“No need to apologize, Beem. And in fact, I might be able to overlook the noise complaints and even put in a good word for you with the local law enforcement”
“Um… You would?” he asked cautiously.
“Of course, I would. I mean, we practically know each other,” she said.
“Yes, Beem. You are a most helpful fellow, and I’d expect you wouldn’t be above doing a small occasional favor for me.”
“Well I am thankful, Constable. What exactly do you have in mind,” asked Theodore. Although Theodore was not beyond doing the odd favor, he was naturally distrustful of the technocrat constable.
“Well, it would be helpful to me if, on your evening jaunts, you could look out for anything suspicious, or for anything unusual. Be my eyes as it were.”
“I’m not sure I understand?”
“Let me spell it out for you, Beem,” said Julia seriously, “I am specifically concerned with a large very public event that will be happening in two days.”
“Quite right. You see, we understand one another. I need you to go out with your airship and report to me…”
“About anything usual?” said Theodore with an upraised brow. There were so many unasked questions. Clearly the Constable was worried about something happening during the parade and just as clearly she wasn’t interested in explaining it.
“Very good, Beem. Should you see or hear anything, send a message to the Ministry of Peace.”
Walking away, Julia paused one more time and turned to the slightly discombobulated librarian. “And Beem.”
Julia waved as she left the library. Exhaling, Theodore leaned against his desk and idly ran his hand across Captain Fox. The cat meowed in response.
“I don’t care if you liked her,” muttered Theodore to his cat, “I have a feeling that our good Constable Vane is trying to draw us into something unpleasant. That might be bad for our health.”
Walking away from the library, Julia knew it was risky using a wild-card like Beem as an informant, nevertheless, she needed to use every possible resource at her disposal. Even right now, Owens was talking to some of her less savory informants in the Mayberry District, including some of the more prominent crime bosses. Normally, she would be speaking to them herself, but she couldn’t be everywhere.
Arriving at her next destination, Julia looked up at the copper gates ahead. It had been a long time since Julia had visited the Royal Antiford Academy.
It wasn’t difficult to find the office of Professor Balthazar Bonn. He was one of the more notable professors at the Academy and held the Charles Button Chair of Science. Julia entered the large academic building and approached the desk
"How can I help you?" asked a young statuesque blonde woman with horn-rimmed glasses in a striking red dress.
Julia held up her badge."Constable Julia Vane to see Professor Balthazar Bonn."
The assistant looked over the top of her glasses at Julia and offered a condescending smile.
"I'm afraid Professor Bonn is busy and cannot be disturbed without an appointment."
"I understand, and if this were any other occasion, I might make an appointment, but this is a matter of national security."
The young woman stared at Julia for a moment and then smiled. "I see Constable. Of course, a moment please while I inform the professor."
As she waited for the young woman to return, Julia took the opportunity to look around the waiting room. Alongside the room’s walls were a line of pedestals. Atop each pedestal was an old piece of technology. There was a compressor from an old airship engine, one of the first electric guns, a figurehead from an early airship, a piece of fractured blackened metal that apparently had been part of some failed experiment.
"Are you a collector, Constable?" asked a middle aged man, immaculately dressed with short blond hair and a neatly trimmed goatee. Julia noticed that everything about this man seemed neat and in order, except that his tan face was oddly mottled.
"Not all, but these pieces are remarkable," replied Julia.
"Well perhaps I will need to invite you to my home to see the rest of my collection," he held out his hand. " Balthazar Bonn. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Constable Vane is it."
"Yes Professor Bonn. I’m not sure if you recall that we once met."
"My apologies, Professor. I usually never forget a face."
"Well, when we last met, less than a year ago, I was wearing an evening gown."
"Ah yes,” said Bonn with an upraised finger, “You’re the wife of Annaleigh Vane. I should have recalled the last name. The awards banquet. Your wife received an award for her development of a new dwarf wheat. I must say, she is indeed brilliant. An up and coming star in our science community. You should be proud."
"Thank you Professor Bonn, I am proud. You made quite an impression. Annie talked about you for almost a week after the banquet… You can imagine my surprise when I saw your name on the report after the CAD bomb was stolen. I’m the lead investigator on the matter. May I ask if that’s where you received your wounds?"
"Ah, the tell-tale signs of electrical burns. You are an observant one," Bonn rubbed the marks on his face. “Yes, a miserable affair. All those good men died, you know. They were dedicated men, with families no less. In any case, I keep trying to remember what happened. I’m told that getting shot with an electric gun can affect one’s memory. Then again, I may have received a concussion when my head hit the ground. It’s all damn frustrating.”
"Yes, about that, I thought that was an interesting aspect of the report. None of the surviving workers or yourself saw the trespassers… or even have any recollection of what happened.”
“Pardon me, Constable, perhaps I’m still suffering the ill effects of my injury, but I’m not sure if I understand the question.”
“I just find it an enormous coincidence that nobody saw anything,” she said.
“Well, Constable, though I am a man of science and am loath to credit coincidences, sometimes that is the way of things.”
“And Professor, I suppose the notion that this might have been an inside job is…”
“Preposterous!” It was the first hint of any emotion from Bonn. “I suppose you are just doing your job, Constable. Of course, you wouldn’t know, but earlier this week I had the sad and regrettable task of sharing what happened with the families of the dead guards. So, you might excuse my anger at the very suggestion that one of my colleagues, or even one of the guards, was to blame for this tragedy.”
“My apologies, Professor. I understand this has been a difficult week for you, and let me assure you that I’m only doing my job. Just a few more questions, and then I’ll leave you to your work."
"That would be most appreciated. The robbery has unfortunately set me back on a number of tasks."
"Ah, your work, Professor. That’s primarily what I hoped to ask you about. Your expertise lies in the development of the Asymr project and the Asymr engine."
"Well, without confirming the specifics, many had a hand in that project. I was just a small cog, as it were,” said Bonn.
"But you were appointed to the Charles Button Chair of Science and Technology after the completion of the project?” said Vane.
"True, but between you and me, I expect those in our leadership just appreciated the fact that I set a very fine table and had an excellent wine cellar," said Bonn with a chuckle. "They are an incorrigible lot."
"Yes, I am sure that's it. I also couldn’t help but notice that you wrote a small opinion piece in the Royal Academy journal that mentioned and I quote, ‘the almost unbelievable applications and even weapons made possible by our development of Asymr technology. Weapons that might win the peace for the next generation’."
"I'm sorry, was that a question?"
"No, just an observation, but it would seem to me that a small, relatively compact explosive capable of destroying several city blocks might be one of those almost unbelievable applications. So, I wonder whether the A in CAD bomb could just possibly be Asymr. Is this an Asymr bomb that just went missing?"
Bonn looked at Julia in silence, then he laughed heartily, as if all were a tremendous joke.
“I’m not sure if I see the humor, sir.” said Julia gravely.
"Oh, very good Constable. Indeed, well played. Of course, as you might expect, I can neither confirm nor deny your very creative suppositions. You are too good, you really are. On that note, I think we'll have to conclude our meeting."
"Er, Of course," said Julia standing up. She went toward the door, and stopped herself. She turned back around to face Bonn, who was leading her towards the door. "Professor, if I may. I understand that the bomb would result in a large explosion, several hundred yards in diameter. In fact the damage was described as measured in ‘city blocks’. A curious choice of words I thought, unless the bomb was developed to be used specifically in cities. A disturbing premise, but that is neither here, nor there.
“What I need to know is how the bomb is triggered. Does it need to be dropped from height? Does it require a fuse? Does it use a timer? This information could be critical in preventing a disaster."
Bonn looked at Julia for a moment and then nodded as if prepared to concede a point. "Let it not be said that Balthazar Bonn didn't do everything possible to prevent a tragedy. The bomb may be triggered remotely through a controller that uses signals that travel through the air. We call them low-energy frequencies. The technology is still relatively new, but we think we’ve overcome the early problems. When the bomb was taken, the remote transmitter was also stolen. You may have noticed that this was not in my report.”
“So you’re telling me that a person setting off this bomb can be anywhere?” she asked.
For a couple of seconds, Professor Bonn stared at Julia.
“Not anywhere, dear Constable. They would need to be no more than a mile away. They would also need a high-energy power source to transmit a signal to the bomb and an antenna, probably the larger the better. I wish I could share more about this technology, but I’m afraid that it’s all top secret, as they say. My apologies. You know, the ‘s’ in Technocracy stands for Secrecy.”
“But there is no ‘s’ in Technocracy,” replied Julia.
“There is, if we say there is Constable. There is if we say there is… You of all people should know that,” his smile had grown sinister at this, but Bonn abruptly switched tone, “but alas, this also goes to show you that we technocrats are also very bad at telling jokes.”
Bonn chuckled at his joke. Julia looked keenly at Bonn. Was he trying to be funny? He certainly didn’t seem overly worried about his stolen bomb. There was something about the talk of low-frequency radio waves that jogged her memory.
For a moment, she thought of pressing the issue with Bonn, to get more information on the bomb trigger, or maybe she should ask some additional questions about the bomb.
"Well, thank you Professor. I will leave you to your research. You’ve been more than helpful," said Julia.
For her part, Julia couldn’t tell whether he was actually being helpful or maybe obstructing her investigation. Maybe a little of both.
“I try, Constable. Indeed, I try. Good luck. I do hope you solve this mystery and return the CAD to us.”
After Julia left, the blonde secretary returned to Professor Bonn, who was working on a mathematical equation on a large chalkboard.
“She’s gone, Professor. My pardons, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Was it. . .wise to share confidential information so freely with the Constable.”
“Oh Cummings, be careful with what you overhear, excellent hearing can be bad for one’s career and health,” replied Bonn with a chuckle. “In any case, we couldn’t very well keep our dear Constable in the dark. She has a job to do and we should do everything in our power to lend a hand, as it were.”
After Julia had left his office, she did her best to hold back her frustration. Bonn was the worst kind of infuriating egg head. Full of confidence and a narcissist to boot, he was apparently more concerned with maintaining a veneer of security, while relying on bureaucratic protocol, than addressing the serious consequences of this recent threat. Still, she managed to learn some important information about the CAD bomb and even how it might be triggered.
When Julia arrived at the offices of the Special Services, the home of the Prime Minister’s Security Detail. She could not credit the possibility that they might have a mole in the PM’s detail and yet she couldn’t ignore it either. It just didn’t make sense. She had already reviewed their files. Members of the detail were chosen with the greatest care, most were members of the Brass Bees, and each man and woman was thoroughly vetted. Moreover, if a member of the detail wanted Marigold dead, it would be an easy enough task since they accompanied the Prime Minister everywhere.
When she entered the office, Julia heard a number of voices talking loudly. But when she entered the room, the ten men and women all fell quiet. Besides a very noticeable silence, the looks on the agents barely concealed their hostility. Clearly, they were expecting her arrival.
Julia nodded her greeting and then saw the person she was seeking.
“Mowatt,” said Julia to the tall man with salt and pepper hair. Like all of the other members, Mowatt was dressed in black, but with a set of captain’s bars. Mowatt was a humorless man, who had very little imagination, but was also unfailingly loyal.
“Vane,” replied Mowatt pointing to the room behind them, “Let’s talk in my office.”
Julia followed Mowatt into his office and took a seat by the door.
“Damn you Vane,” muttered Mowatt, “I understand you have a job to do, but I won’t pretend I’m happy about it. No, sir. My agents are some of the Technocracy’s finest and they’ve just been told that they’re being investigated by an outsider. This at a time when I need every man and woman focused on the task at hand. I’d just as soon cut off my right arm, than question the loyalty of the agents in that room.”
Julia stared at Mowatt for a moment. Clearly this was something the senior agent had to share.
“I understand Mowatt,” replied Julia, “It would be a poor commander indeed who didn’t defend his men and women. I won’t lie to you, even if some might prefer that I do. The possibility that your detail has been infiltrated is something I’ve been asked to consider, and that is why I’ve already taken the liberty of reviewing everyone’s file…”
“But!” said Julia holding up her hand to stop an enraged Mowatt. “But, having done my initial review, I think it’s probably unlikely that any of your men and women are traitors. Still, Mowatt, know this. . . My investigation has only just started and it already seems clear to me that we are dealing with the work of a very dangerous and competent insider who wishes to harm our government. This should concern you as much as it concerns me.”
“So, are you saying that you haven’t ruled out one of my agents might be cooperating with this insider?”
“I don’t know Mowatt, I really don’t…” said Julia with a wave of the hand, “but I certainly can’t entirely dismiss the possibility. I’d be a poor investigator if I did. Also, it goes without saying that your men and women know the closest-kept secrets related to the security of our Prime Minister. For the moment, I need to think like a would-be assassin. If I were a would-be assassin, I’d want to know what your agents know.”
As their meeting continued, Mowatt didn’t become any more agreeable, but he could at least appreciate the fact that Julia had a very difficult job. One of the first things they examined was the possibility that a former member of the detail might have turned rogue. They looked at the list of those who had left Mowatt’s command for one of a half dozen reasons. These were men and women who had washed out and who might have been privy to the inner workings of the PMs Security Detail.
Together, Mowatt and Vane also looked at the threat map, which reviewed the credible threats to Marigold. Looking at it, she saw a number of names. It was a veritable rogues gallery and included everyone from low level threats like Lieutenant Joel Arnett, up to more notorious personalities like Leo Swift. Some of the names clearly were threats, while others were simply placed on the map because they were deemed to be dangerous and at large. Arnett surely had the means and the skills, but he was no assassin. Swift was undoubtedly a cold blooded killer, but attacking the prime minister in broad daylight with thousands of people watching was hardly his style. Moreover, he had not been seen for a long time, at least if the information in the dossier were to be believed. He could literally be anywhere.
Looking at the parade map, Constable Vane realized the scope of the problem. The parade would wind its way through each of the five districts, starting and ending in the Horn District, crossing from one end of Mayberry to the other and skirting the edge of the Vibranni ghetto. For the day of the parade, Gearford would be a veritable armed camp, with soldiers manning the route and snipers atop all of the tall buildings on the route.
As for Mayberry, while there was some concern about criminal elements within the district and their capability for mischief, the Technocratic government made it clear in no uncertain terms that any breach of the peace on Gearford Day would be met with overwhelming force. For the most part, the Technocracy had always given a degree of free reign to the gangs within the Mayberry District. Better to regulate the criminal elements on your doorstep, than to force them underground where they might cause even more potential problems. Nevertheless, on this occasion, notice was given, and the government expected the gangs and criminal elements would do their part to maintain the peace, or suffer the consequences.
It was a late night for Julia. After leaving Mowat and reviewing parade security, her mind was racing. “Stay focused,” she muttered to herself.
Arriving at her darkened home, it appeared as if everyone had gone to bed. Not surprising, given the late hour. Once she took off her badge and slipped into her night shirt, she was no longer Constable Vane, she was now just Julia, wife of Annie and mother of Christine.
She stepped into her daughter’s room. Christine was clutching her stuffed Chthulu and facing the wrong end of the bed. Mythical creatures were a special love of her daughter; the more horrifying and filled with plush the better. Julia adjusted the covers and kissed Christine on the forehead. The little girl rustled and muttered, but soon settled back down.
Julia entered the bedroom to see that Annie was asleep. Quietly, she slipped under the covers.
“You’re home so late,” said Annie with her eyes still closed. “Working on security for the parade?”
“Um yea. Sorry. Probably won’t be seeing much of you these next few days,”replied Julia quietly. There was so much she wanted to say, but instead Julia thought it best to keep her worries to herself.
“I stayed up late for you. I have news.”
Julia lifted herself up on her elbow and turned to her wife in the dark.
“What is it? I could use some good news.”
Annie smiled. “Well, guess who’s going to be on the Science and Technology float at the parade?”
Julia was speechless for a moment. “Um, you?”
“Well, don’t be too excited for me, love,” said Annie disappointingly. “I know it’s last minute, and maybe I was their second choice, but this is still a big deal for me. It means the deputy minister thinks my work is important. At least important enough to be recognized. Sure, I know that getting excited about riding on a float is maybe a little childish, but…”
“No, No, I’m excited for you darling,” said Julia. She was hugging Annie and doing her best to recover from the shock. “It’s just you took me by surprise. That’s all. This is great news and sounds like it will be a smashing good time!”
“And that’s not all,” said Annie.
“There’s more?” asked Julia.
“Yes, Christine, will be joining me. And yes I know it’s a bit irregular, having a child on a float with me, but Montrose, chair of my department gave his approval.”
‘Wow… She’ll be so happy,” said Julia with forced sincerity. “Does she know yet?”
“Actually, I was going to tell her tomorrow after we had a chance to talk about it. Do you think it’ll be alright?”
Although Julia knew that she had to answer Annie’s question, she found herself stunned into silence. Was there a way she could say, “No”? Was there a way she could warn Annie? What could she do?
“Julia? I asked you a question.”
“Oh, sorry… Yes, of course Christine can ride in the parade. I’ll be on security detail all day anyway. So, yes, you can be the fun parent this time.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” whispered Annie, “I think you’re pretty fun.”
With a laugh, Annie kissed her lover and snuggled against Julia’s shoulder. Staring at the ceiling, Julia took a deep breath. When Annie hared her “big news”, it was all that Julia could do not to throw up. Then she shared about Christine joining her on the float, and Julia felt like she might faint. Knowing her wife and daughter were going to be at the parade— on a float no less— made the stakes impossibly high. This was no longer just a job.
“So, what exactly are we doing here?” asked Magpie drolly.
She sat on the bowsprit of the Excelsior with Captain Fox, the cat, sitting lazily at her feet. A girl of about sixteen, Magpie had grown up on the streets of Mayberry as a member of the Gang of Misbegottens, a collection of female thieves and cutpurses. When she had first met Theodore at the tender age of nine, Magpie was a doe-eyed girl in golden curls who also happened to be one of the finest grifters and thieves in Gearford.
Several years ago, when Theodore started building his airship, he had presented the Gang with a job proposal which had forever changed the trajectory of their lives. Suffice it to say, employment in the service of a librarian building an airship was significantly less dangerous than the lives they could have expected to live on the streets. Nonetheless seven years is a long time. Most of the girls in the gang had moved on to other things. Theodore, helped in the process, and found reputable work for many of the girls in his employ, but Magpie was incorrigible. She had little interest in working at a bookstore, or being employed as an apprentice tinker or mechanic, so like a few of the others she continued her life of crime and occasionally performed the odd job for Theodore. On occasions like this, it also helped that Magpie loved flying on the Excelsior. There was nothing like the night skies of Gearford.
“Hush,” whispered Theodore at the helm of the Excelsior, “I have a hunch we might see something interesting, but if you keep chattering— well, like a magpie— we might miss it.”
“Interesting? If you want ‘interesting’, I know this gal Flora who has tattoos over her entire body, and when I say entire, I mean…”
“That’s quite enough Magpie,” coughed Theodore uncomfortably. “I need you to focus. I need you for your particular gifts. Specifically, I need your stealth and eyes.”
“Well, y'know, if you didn’t read so much, maybe you’d see better. I hear reading too much is bad for the eyes. Y'know, that’s why i don’t read books”
“Thank you for the commentary on my eyesight, but if you please. I need you to look down at the city and see if you can spot anything unusual.”
Muttering to herself, Magpie moved to starboard and stretched her head over the side of the Excelsior.
This caught the attention of Captain Fox who alertly sat up and looked over the edge. While Magpie looked over the edge of the airship, she absentmindedly scratched the cat’s neck. Placing her hands on the harpoon gun on the aft side, Magpie looked through the spyglass that was attached to it and took aim.
“Magpie, I truly wish you wouldn’t. That’s not a toy.”
“You know, I never quite understood why you put a harpoon on your ship. Were you planning on hunting a Kraken or something?”
“I’ve told you already, it’s to help anchor Excelsior. I shoot at it at the ground with a rope attached, and there you go. We’re anchored.”
“Ah, so you say. My bet is that you’re planning on hunting a Kraken. Just tell me when you do, okay?”
Theodore shook his head and continued to make large concentric circles around the city, all the while avoiding other airships.
Captain Fox suddenly locked her gaze at something below. She leaned over as if to pounce.
“What? Do you see something girl?” whispered Magpie. She peered into the darkness. “Hey, isn’t that Balfour the Baker’s house? What? I think he might be getting off with someone on the roof. Hey wait a minute, I think that’s another man he’s with and not his wife if you get my meaning. Shit me an airship….”
“Enough Magpie, That’s not what I was talking about. We’re not here for that…”
“Fine, Fine… You’re no damned fun,” grumbled Magpie. “Nice catch, Captain. I would have never thought old Balfour’d be shagging someone on the side.”
Magpie quietly handed a treat to the cat.
Theodore shook his head and wondered whether he was just wasting his time. What if he actually did see something in the city below? With a big event like the parade coming up, it wasn’t surprising that Vane was concerned about security, but this seemed like something more. Although Theodore wasn’t necessarily inclined to help Vane, he was also naturally curious, and so here he was flying the night skies of Gearford looking for anything unusual.
Magpie returned her attention to the city below, but saw nothing, which wasn’t at all surprising since it was 2 a.m. and even places like Mayberry or the Vibranni ghetto shut down.
Then Captain Fox sat up and chirped, again looking keenly over the starboard side. Seeing that something caught the attention of Captain Fox’s finely-honed eyes, Magpie leaned in next to the cat and tried to see what was there.
“Hey, what’s going on at the yards?” whispered Magpie.
She pointed off to the side. Locking the ship’s wheel in place, Theodore joined Magpie to see what was going on below.
The Western Yards were a junkyard located on Geartop hill, a piece of unincorporated land that overlooked the western outskirts of Gearford. One of the interesting features of the Yards and something of a landmark was “the Gear”. The operator of the Yards, one Redbeard McLeod, had fashioned this enormous metal gear out of hardened steel. “The Gear” was steam-operated and was part of a larger contraption that crushed and compressed large metal objects, some over twenty feet long, into five-foot compressed cubes. The giant gear loomed on top of Geartop Hill and could be seen from most of Mayberry.
He could barely see them in the darkness, but several men were scurrying along the wall of the Yards.
“This might be interesting,” whispered Magpie.
Although Redbeard McLeod might have many interesting things in his junkyard, it was generally understood that he was not a man to be trifled with. He was brutal, well-armed and not alone. He employed armed guards and kept a couple of large mastiffs.
The six figures made it through a hole in the wall and were walking towards McLeod’s office. Thankfully the yards were lit by a couple of lanterns. Theodore saw that the unwelcome visitors were noticed by the dogs who barked their alarm and ran toward the men. Then they saw a couple of flashes and it was suddenly quiet again. The dogs were down…
“Electrical guns,” whispered Theodore.
“Bastards,” answered Magpie. She hated electrical guns. Once a few years earlier, she’d been shocked by one and it wasn’t a fond memory.
Since they were looking down from a couple of hundred feet up, they could not see what was precisely happening in the Western Yards, but they could see enough to know that these four men were skilled, silent, and apparently deadly as McLeod’s guards were quickly dispatched. Finally, they saw the four men surrounding McLeod’s office. The men dimmed the lights around the office. This apparently caught McLeod’s attention.
“What the hell…” yelled McLeod.
He opened the door and saw the prone bodies of his men. This was the last Theodore and Magpie heard from the junkyard owner as his body quietly fell to the ground.
“Those are professionals. From that range and the fact that they made no noise, I’d guess a crossbow,” whispered Magpie appreciatively.
Magpie was no killer, but she appreciated the stealth and efficiency of the assassins below. “So Teddy, was this what you had in mind when you said we were looking for something unusual.”
Theodore hushed Magpie, looked below and saw the assassins dispose of the bodies. He then turned the Excelsior away from the yards and contemplated what he had seen.
McLeod was something of an institution and had fostered a reputation of being neutral and therefore “untouchable”. He had done jobs for both criminal bosses as well as Technocrats. It seemed almost unfathomable that someone would kill him now. Still, Theodore considered the possibilities, along with the professional nature of the murders. He wondered whether these assassins were in the employ of the technocrats. Given the circumstances, and not knowing who was involved in McLeod’s murder, for the moment it seemed prudent to keep quiet about what they had seen.
Later that morning, Theodore was awoken by a loud rap on his door. Looking through a window, he saw that it was an excited Magpie.
“How can you be asleep? things are happening!” yelled Magpie as soon as Theodore opened the door.
“Yes, Magpie. Things are happening . It’s very early in the morning and I was sleeping, and you’re talking very loudly.”
“Sleeping in your clothes again, I see,” said Magpie archly.
Theodore smoothed out the wrinkles in his clothes. “The news, Magpie, the news?”
“Ah, yes. Excitement is afoot in the Barrett district. Something big. The bobbies are shitting themselves, and they’ve called in the army,” answered Magpie.
“What do you mean?” replied Theodore.
Rather than answering, Magpie set her attention on the long-haired cat purring and rubbing against her leg. “Hello, Captain.”
“Magpie, I asked you a question.”
“Oh sorry,” she said while idly petting Captain Fox, “The Technocrats have closed a whole city block around a big warehouse in Barrett. They’ve brought in some armored carriages and a landship. Figured that this might be related to what we just saw at Geartop.”
Theodore didn’t feel like these events were related, but then again, it seemed like more than a coincidence and he had learned to trust in Magpie’s finely honed criminal instincts. He took a few minutes to freshen up, then ran out the door with Magpie and Captain Fox.
When they arrived in Barrett, they saw that it was indeed “something big”. The Technocrats had cleared a whole city block. Bobbies held back the crowds and curiosity seekers. Theodore pulled out his spyglass and tried to get a better look.
One of the first things he saw was Constable Vane, a very angry and upset Constable Vane, who was arguing effusively with a mustachioed, grey-haired man in a black uniform with captain’s bars who, unless he was mistaken, was a highly-placed member of Marigold’s security detail.
Constable Julia Vane was furious. Without consulting her, Mowatt had followed a lead on a person of interest who was a former member of his detail. Fortunately, Julia had learned about the special op just in time. Mowatt explained that the suspect Arthur Banning had been discharged from duty about six months ago. He was a marksman and an expert with heavy explosives. Banning was discharged by Marigold himself after being found drunk on duty.
“Mowatt, why didn’t you tell me about Banning. You should have brought me in earlier! Did it occur to you that I could have helped bring him in?”
“With all due respect, Vane, this is a job for the detail. Banning is one of ours. Moreover, I waited to let you know, until I knew that we had him.”
“Well, what’s the plan, then? We need him alive. He might not be working alone.”
“We’ve already determined the warehouse is unoccupied.” said Mowatt pointing to the large warehouse across the street. “Banning was seen entering the building with a prostitute late last night. Early this morning, she left the building. We’ve questioned her and confirmed Banning is in a room on the top story of the warehouse and is well armed. We’ve cleared out the neighboring buildings and have the approaches and windows covered by snipers. He isn’t getting out.”
“So how are you going to flush him out?”
“I’d burn him out, but it’s much too dangerous. We light that building on fire, half of Barrett could go up as well.”
While Julia was talking to Mowatt, there was a crash of glass on the upper floor of the warehouse, and a small object landed in the street next to a neighboring paddock's carriage. The bomb blew up the carriage with a deafening blast.
“Oh shit,” muttered Mowatt, “He’s onto us.”
“Do you think?” said Julia, shaking her head.
Mowatt and Julia ducked behind an armored paddocks carriage along with a couple of bobbies across the street from the warehouse.
“Hey Mowatt, is that you!” yelled a voice from inside the top room of the warehouse, “Sorry, about the carriage. You can fucking bill me. And by the way, I’ve booby trapped the entrances, and I have enough explosives here to take down half the block.”
“Oh, you did now Banning?” yelled Mowatt, “Now, why can’t we talk like a couple of old mates? Just come down, and we can have a chat over a pint.”
“Sure, brother. I’ll come out as soon as you send off your armored cars and your goons.”
“Aww, you know I couldn’t do that. How else would I show you that I really care?”
As Mowatt talked, he motioned to the air above the warehouse. Vane looked up and saw a Sparrow class airship hovering above.
“That’s how we are going to flush the bastard out,” said Mowatt to Julia. He turned to the bobbie next to him, “Give them the signal.”
They stood up and waved a white handkerchief.
“What ? Are you surrendering?” yelled Banning.
Julia would never forget what happened next. A couple of men wearing all black rappelled down a rope hung off the Sparrow class ship and crashed through the window where Banning was holed up.
A couple of shots rang out, and then, silence.
“We got him,” yelled one of the men from inside the building. “Still alive, too. Just winged him. We’ll take him out the front.”
Before Mowatt or Julia could warn the men about the boobytraps in the building, several explosions tore through the building. The entire warehouse came down in a deafening explosion and a cloud of smoke.
The Sparrow class airship that had been hovering over the building pitched backward and crashed into a neighboring storefront. It was a stunning display of destruction. It was utter chaos, explosions and bobbies running in every direction. Mowatt and Julia huddled behind the armored carriage as they and everyone else were enveloped in smoke and dust.
“Holy shit,” muttered Magpie, as she watched the chaos from afar.
Theodore and Magpie were part of the crowd at the police line just over a block from the explosion. A cloud of smoke rolled over them, so they all closed their eyes and ducked their heads down.
“What just happened?” wondered a stunned Theodore.
Looking towards the demolished warehouse, he saw a number of injured and stunned bobbies stumbling through the street. There were a few fires here and there, but amazingly, the explosion did not start a larger conflagration among the derelict nearby buildings. Instead, the concussion of the blast shattered a number of windows and collapsed some of the more rickety nearby buildings.
Theodore wasn’t sure what he had just seen. Clearly, the Technocrats were taken by surprise. The stunned faces of the bobbies who ran in every direction said as much. All of this made Theodore wonder what he had seen earlier at the Western Yards. Were all of these events related?
Hours after the explosion, bobbies and members of the military were still cleaning up around the warehouse in the Barrett District. Fortunately, before the explosion, they had already cleared the area, or many more would have lost their lives. Nevertheless, an even dozen men and women, including the members of the airship crew, were dead or injured.
A dirtied and bloodied Constable Vane sat in the empty office of her superior, Deputy Minister Sims. After the disaster in the Barrett District, she had been called in to report.
He walked past Julia and sat down.
“Well Constable, I confess that I would have hoped for a little less destruction, but I’ve spoken with Malumitis, and we both agree that you made the best of a bad situation. Congratulations on a job well done. You’ve done it.”
“Deputy Minister… what?”
“Vane, as I understand it, you’ve taken out a rogue, former member of the PM’s detail. From the explosion, it looks like you’ve also resolved the matter of the missing bomb. Banning certainly fits our profile. An insider, an expert in explosive devices who had knowledge of our developmental labs who held a grudge against the Prime Minister. Job well done, Constable.”
“Excuse me, Deputy Minister. I’m not so sure we’ve resolved the matter. Even if Banning was our suspect, it’s highly unlikely he could have been working alone. Also, my understanding is that the missing bomb should have been far more destructive. I think we still have a serious threat out there. In fact, I think it might be prudent to postpone the parade.”
“I understand, Constable, that you are a consummate professional and a perfectionist. Believe me when I say that your superiors have taken note of you. As we’ve told you before, canceling the parade is out of the question and with the recent explosion, we believe the parade is even more important as a show of confidence in the Technocracy. So, thank you Constable for your recommendations, but we believe the situation has been resolved. I’ve personally provided my assurances to Minister Malumitis, and he is satisfied. This should be enough for you.”
“Deputy Minister, would it be possible for me to speak with Malumitis?”
“No Vane. Not possible. Minister Malumitis is very busy, as you might expect.”
Julia was a bit stunned. All of this seemed irregular. Whatever Sims seemed to think, she believed there was still a real threat out there.
“Sir, since Owens and I have been assigned to work security for the parade, do I have your permission to continue the assignment?”
Sims peered at Julia over his bifocals and sighed. “Very well Constable, go ahead and continue your assignment. For now, I’d encourage you to go home and get cleaned up. You’re a bloody mess.”
When Julia left the meeting with Sims, she should have been happy, but she had this terrible feeling that something was dreadfully wrong. It still seemed too damn neat: from finding the perfect suspect in Banning, to having both their suspect and all of the evidence dramatically blown up.
She looked out at the streets. They were already closed and flags flew all along the parade route. In less than a day, these streets would be packed with thousands of citizens, including vendors, the technocratic leadership, and families of every economic class.
Julia took a breath and wondered whether she should simply do what she was told. If something happened, she could do what people in her place had done since time immemorial: “I did my job. I was just following orders.”
This might have been satisfactory for some, but if an explosion killed hundreds— if not thousands— on Gearford Day, she would never be able to live with herself. She also thought about Annaleigh, her beloved Annaleigh. That very morning Annaleigh had told Julia about the big surprise, that she would be participating on the day of the parade. Annie was so happy and in that moment so much like the young girl with whom Julia had first fallen in love. Julia couldn’t give up her investigation. Not now. And if it turned out she was wrong, well then she was simply going to have to live with the prospects of being on desk duty for the rest of her career..
Julia’s mind raced, but then she recalled something about the CAD Bomb that did not sit right. It would be risky, but she desperately needed help, and there were very few people she could unequivocally trust.
A few hours later, Constable Jula Vane walked down the street of the northern Barrett district. She walked up to the unmarked door, and nodded her head to the plainclothes policeman that stood guard outside.
“Is he inside?” she asked.
“Yeah, he’s none too happy ma’am, but we were able to bring him here with none the wiser.”
Vane opened the door and turned down the hallway. She acknowledged the two policemen at the door, who closed the door behind them. Sitting at the far end of a small library sat a bearded man with glasses and a mechanical right arm. His left hand firmly gripped a cup of tea, which if he held any tighter would likely break in half.
“Lucas M. Buford, I presume. My apologies, sir. I hope my men didn’t overly alarm you?”
“What in gods name, Constable! I— I— I’m furious! Is this how Gearford P.D. treat an upstanding citizen.. of Astam Junction, too! Why was I hauled off for forty minutes and thrown in a locked room? I’m going to bring this up with the Prime Minister himself! Well? ”
Julia raised her hand in an attempt to hold the questions of her reluctant guest.
Buford wasn’t just anyone. He was one of Antiford’s most famous inventors and one of its most successful and wealthiest entrepreneurs. His company Buford Automaton had brought forward a veritable revolution in automaton production. Bringing one of the wealthiest and most influential men of Gearford here against his will was a risky move indeed.
“My apologies, Mr. Buford. Let me assure you, that this is not what it seems. You are not being arrested and this is not an interrogation. I have brought you here as a guest. Please forgive my methods, but I needed to speak with you in private and could not follow normal channels. The situation was urgent and I needed to avoid prying eyes.”
Julia’s remarks seemed to calm Buford, who had gone from glaring to analyzing with some apprehension.
She paced the room. “There’s a matter of national security that I must discuss with you. It’s my hope that you will provide us with assistance that could possibly save countless lives.”
“If I am not under arrest, then I’m free to leave if I please?” asked Buford.
He stood up as if to leave the room.
“Certainly. Neither myself or my men will stop if you choose to walk out that door. Just know that you could have prevented many needless deaths.”
Buford stopped and stared at Julia. She felt as if he was taking her measure.
He nodded. “That’s all I needed to know. I’m a busy man, but you’ve got my attention, Constable, for the time being. .”
“Thank you, Mr. Buford,” said Julia, exhaling the words. “This all started when some explosives were stolen from our weapons stores.”
Although Julia shared about the stolen explosives, she pointedly did not disclose that the explosives were anything more than normal high explosives. She didn’t mention they were Asymr weapons, or that Professor Bonn was involved in their development.
“The explosions in Barrett? Were they related?”
“Yes and no,” replied Julia, “It was believed that the perpetrator who died in that explosion was involved in the theft of the missing explosives. However, we don’t believe he was working alone and I don’t believe the explosives stolen were the ones found.”
“And? What’s this got to do with me? Were there automatons used to carry them off? I still won’t build your department policing-machines if you’re all banging on that drum again. I’m not seeing what was so important as to kidnap me.”
What kind, indeed, thought Julia. “Give me five more minutes and you will have your explanation. It’s a story you might find… illuminating.”
“Very well,” sighed Buford.
“So, let us cut to the chase shall we? I have reasons to believe that stolen transmitter technology from Buford Automaton will be used to trigger an explosive device at tomorrow’s parade. Explosives were not the only thing stolen from our weapons stores. A new kind of electric device was stolen that would allow someone to remotely trigger an explosion using low- frequency radio waves. This is ground-breaking new technology. But In fact, I noticed that it had a startling similarity to some other ground- breaking research. To the best of my knowledge, the only company that has done any work with low- frequency radio waves as a way of controlling mechanical devices is Buford Automaton. It was even in the news. I recall the headline, ‘“Buford does it again, bringing technology forward a decade’.”
Suddenly, Buford burst out in a loud uproarious laughter. Julia was a bit stunned at the response. Of all the responses from Buford, uproarious laughter wasn’t high on her list. The plainclothes guards opened the door and looked inside at Buford and the Constable to make sure that everything was alright. Waving off the guards, Julia turned to Buford for an explanation.
“I’m sorry, but don’t you see the irony? Technocrats come to me for help, after someone steals technology from them, that they stole from me. I’m sorry Constable, this is priceless. I’d almost say that this almost. . .almost squares the ledger, for you all stealing from me in the first place.”
“Be that as it may,” said Julia, “ I’d remind you that we have reason to believe that your technology will be used to detonate a large bomb at tomorrow’s parade.”
“So why are you asking me for help, instead of your own technocratic scientists?” asked Buford. Before Julia could answer, Buford started laughing again as he realized the answer to his own question, “They are not cooperating with you. They aren’t cooperating with your investigation?! So damned typical. Ha!”
“I am so pleased that you’re finding humor in this situation.” muttered Julia.
“Oh, please don’t misunderstand me, Constable.” said Buford, “This is anything but funny, and yet it is. It truly is. So what do you know about the transmitter other than it’s a trigger?”
“Very little I’m afraid. As you reasoned, the egg-heads are being tight-lipped about it. They’d rather see an explosive detonate in the middle of Gearford Day, then prevent countless deaths.”
“You’ve got to know something about it. I would love nothing more than to help you prevent a tragedy, but that’s just too little to go on for me to have any insight on.”
“As I mentioned, I know very little. I was told the transmitter would need to be no more than a mile away from the explosive, and it requires a high-energy source. And, an antenna.”
“Okay, yes. That sounds a lot like the research we conducted back at the labs. The transmitter is going to be a large metal structure, anything shaped like an antenna. It’ll probably be noticeable to anyone around it, but it doesn’t have to be obvious what it’s for.. Now, what you don’t know are all of the caveats with the technology. It requires an impractical amount of power both for the transmitter and only slightly less so for the receiver. Also, signal degradation and interference is a problem. We had to go out into the flats outside town to test it.”
“What do you mean?” asked Julia.
“Well, you tell me Constable. How are most of the buildings constructed in Gearford?”
“Stone and fabricated metal.”
“Right, and in fact, the nicer the district, the more likely it is. Horn and Rowe are almost constructed exclusively using heavy stone. And the new technocratic buildings can be these tall brutal affairs. Just try to get a signal into that mess of stone, nevermind the metal roofing used for many structures throughout town. It’s impossible to operate a decent transmitter in those parts of town.”
“So, given those difficulties, are you saying that line-of-sight would be important for this transmitter?”
“Absolutely, the higher the vantage point the better. But… and you’ve got me thinking, now. Where are wood framed buildings common in Gearford?”
“I don’t think you can discount the possibility that another part of Gearford is involved, but if I was forced to set up anything with low-energy frequencies in Gearford, I’d have to choose Mayberry.”
The meeting with Buford continued for a few more minutes. Buford turned out to be surprisingly helpful. Once he started to trust her, it was hard to get him to slow down.
For her part, Vane tried to obtain as much information on the technology, but she felt very much like the student in school, who had not studied for the entire term and now found themselves needing to take a final. Finally she stood up and walked Buford to the door.
“I will need to ask you to keep what we’ve discussed confidential. Under no circumstances are you to share the information here with anyone. Leave Gearford if you must, but secrecy is vital.”
“Are you certain that you can’t cancel this damned parade?” asked Buford.
“If only,” remarked Julia.
“Don’t the people have a right to know?” queried Buford with a raised eyebrow.
She suspected he already knew the answer. “I suppose the people have a right to know many things, Buford. I suppose the people might also be keenly interested in some of your own less-than-savory activities. I expect that the people would also be disturbed to learn how your technology was used to aid violent terrorists.”
Buford stared at Julia in frustration and disappointment.
“My apologies, Buford,” continued Julia, “ I have always found this aspect of law enforcement to be distasteful, but then again, I need your silence and if you haven’t guessed, I will do anything to earn it. I also have a job to do. “
Buford was set back to his mood at the start of their talk, staring at her defensively. He shook his head and walked out the door, passing the officers nearby.
“Should we follow him?” asked the officer.
“Let him go.,” answered Julia, “We have more important matters to attend to.”
Day 3: Gearford Day
During the past two days, Owens had run errands from one end of Gearford to the other. He had met with several crime bosses, expressing in no uncertain terms that any violence traced back to them, would be met with the full weight of Technocracy. Owens, for his part, was relieved this assignment was nearly completed. The explosion in the south side of Barrett was tragic and a shock, but it seemed like the threat to Marigold was largely resolved. Still, he had been on the streets at 2 a.m., because Constable Vane believed that there might still be an outstanding threat. Although Owens hoped she was wrong, he had learned to trust in Vane’s instincts, so here he was walking to a warehouse in Barrett to make a final inspection of the parade floats.
“Evening, Constable, You’ll be working a late night?” asked the security guard standing at the door of the warehouse.
“Aye,” replied Owens, “We’ll all be able to rest when this parade is done.”
“I hear you, sir. My wife is as angry as a hornet’s nest these days. It’ll be good when things get back to normal.”
“Has anyone been in or out tonight?”
“Naw, just a few of the artisans and mechanics working on the floats.”
“Very good then. I’ll need to finish my inspection of the floats before dawn, or else.”
Constable Vane had ordered Owens to conduct a second and final inspection of the parade floats. Owens wasn’t a mechanic or an engineer, but he had a common-sense eye for when things didn’t seem right.
Owens entered the warehouse and took a long look. There were ten floats in this large, oversized warehouse, and he would need to inspect each one before sunrise. It was going to be a long night.
He gave each float an outer visual inspection and then slid himself under each of the floats to ensure that there was nothing concealed underneath. He walked around a float featuring a giant automaton head and had to confess that he was just a little impressed by these floats. Whatever he may have thought about the time and trouble that this parade had personally brought him, it was still impressive.
Looking up at the head of the automaton head, Owens saw how steam would pour out of the mouth and how the eyes would glow red. This parade was going to be unforgettable.
Owens heard a metal tool fall to the ground. The loud clatter seemed to be amplified by the emptiness of the warehouse. Curious, Owens walked down the line of the floats until he saw two men pulling back the stage of a float. The float featured a large harvester.
“Watch what you’re doing. There will be hell to pay if we screw this up,” said a man standing on the corner of the float.
“If you think you can do any better, you come in here!” yelled a man from under the floor.
Owens spied on the two men, wondering what last minute work they were doing. He strained ahead trying to hear what they were saying. In fact, he was so preoccupied, he never heard the person behind him pull out a knife and he barely felt the sharp pain of the blade.
It was late and Magpie walked through the Vibranni ghetto. Eyeing the candies on the street vendor cart, she handed over a simo and chose a few caramels. Although Magpie wasn’t above stealing the occasional candy, she generally made it a practice to never steal from the Vibranni. Although she had very few hard and fast rules, Magpie often stated, “I only steal from them that either deserves it or who can bear the loss.”
Cutting through the ghetto was the fastest way to get to Geartop Hill. Of course, Theodore would have never approved of her going sneaking around Geartop Hill, especially after Red Beard McLeod and his men were killed there the night before, but Magpie couldn’t resist the temptation. She loved a good mystery, and this one was as good as they came. Who were those men? Why did they kill McLeod? Theodore seemed to think that it was somehow related to the upcoming Gearford Day Parade. Nevertheless, even if the Western Yards may have offered a stellar vantage point of the parade route, Magpie didn’t think this was a right, proper reason to kill McLeod.
She approached the back fence of the Western Yards and squeezed through a narrow gap in the wall. Normally, she would’ve had to worry about the dogs, but those had been dispatched with McLeod the night before.
Magpie carefully walked through the piles of metal scrap, to make her way towards McLeod’s shack and the enormous metal gear that sat in the center of the Yards. When she got closer, Magpie found a crawlway between several pieces of scrap metal and approached the gear.
A floodlight’s beam had been focused on the base of the gear, which allowed Magpie to see well enough what was happening. The gear was covered with interlaced wire that almost looked like an enormous metal spider web. Although Magpie was usually unflappable, she was stunned. It was unexpected, puzzling and absolutely compelling. At the base of the gear was a large device with vacuum tubes and coils, with wires stretching both across the card and from its base to the control panel.
There was a man leaning with his hand on the gear. “Are you sure this is going to work?”
The woman next to him had her head deep in the device. “Let’s say, Maybin, that I don’t tell you how to murder people, and you don’t tell me how to blow shit up.”
“It’s not a dumb question. This whole damn plan is riding on this. For my part, I’d much rather we just off’d Marigold the old-fashioned way. Less things can go wrong.”
“Yeah, but the boss isn’t you,” said a third man approaching them. “ Thanks to the gods, and when this works, half of Mayberry will be gone and we’ll all be rich. So just shut up, okay? And go walk the perimeter.”
Maybin muttered to himself as he turned away and walked down another row of junk, towards the exterior wall.
“Thanks, Collins,” said the woman to the other.
“The power source is all ready, Moser, whenever you’re ready to test this,” said Collins. “As much as Maybin is a pain in the ass, I can’t say that he’s all wrong. All this tech makes me nervous.”
“I hear you, but I’ve got this. I worked through everything. We have the radio transmitter all set up. With the power source and this antenna,” she patted her hand against the gear, “I think we’ll be fine. We’ll be able to transmit to the device and we’ll have the best seats in the house for what happens next.
“Bye-Bye, Mayberry.” said Collins.
“And just like that all of my favorite bars and brothels will be gone,” sighed Moser.
“I expect you’ll get over it.”
“Just don’t understand why it’s necessary,” muttered Moser, “ I mean, Maybin’s an idiot, but he’s kinda right. If the boss wants Marigold dead, there are better ways of doing it without so much collateral damage.”
“You’re my friend Moser, so I’m going to tell you this one last time.” replied Collins with a sigh and shaking his head. The tone of his voice indicated this wasn’t the first time they had this discussion, “When we’re all done here, all of the scum in Mayberry— the crime bosses, the Vibranni and every other low life— will be gone. Antiford will have new leadership, stronger leadership, and Gearford will have a new start.”
“As I said Moser, you’re one of my oldest friends, I’m telling you to do your job and shut up. For your own health and all our sakes, no more damn questions. Just keep your mind on the pay at the end of the job.”
“Believe me, that’s all I think about these days,” said Moser with a shrug, “Collins, do you think the PM’s men or the coppers are onto us?”
“Not a chance,” said Collins confidently. “ If they were, we’d already be dead or in a dungeon somewhere. Naw, they’re absolutely clueless. Even the constable they put on the job has no idea.”
“If you say so. Personally, would feel better, if we off’d her.”
“Now you’re talking like Maybin. Killing her is totally unnecessary and would just as likely raise more alarms. Anyway our people on the inside say that she’s in the dark. Rather than worry about Vane, focus on your job. After the transmitter is ready, I’ll need you to wire the demolition for the site. I don’t want to stay in this shithole any longer than we need to. Mayberry will blow at 10 a.m. and we’re going to be out of here by ten after 10 a.m.. Set your watch by it.”
When she heard them casually discussing Mayberry’s destruction, Magpie’s eyes grew large. This was a lot worse than they could have ever imagined. Magpie’s first instinct was to get out of the Yards as fast as possible, but this wasn’t going to be easy, not with Collins, Maybin, Moser and the others moving around the Yards. Moser was still busy with the transmitter and eventually started working on the demolition charges.
Almost an hour passed until Magpie saw her opportunity to slip out. She slid backwards out of her crawlway and stealthily avoided the guards on her way of the Yards.
Once out of the Yards, Magpie started for Theodore’s home. Although Theodore often gave the appearance of being the clueless librarian, Magpie discovered much of it was an act. As a thief and grifter, she’d made a career separating wealthy people from their money. Magpie knew when the game was being played. The one difference between Theodore and herself, was that the librarian didn’t appear to be in it for the money. Instead, it was about building his airship, or protecting his friends, or securing the best fish for his cat. If anyone would know what to do, it would be Theodore. He might be a little upset about Magpie sneaking into the Yards on her own, but he’d get over it soon enough, especially after she had shared her information.
“Well that took you long enough. Did you find out anything?” asked a voice from a dark alley.
Before Magpie could see the person in the darkness, Captain Fox walked out and started rubbing against her leg.
“The fact that you’re getting sloppy and never noticed me tailing you, tells me that you’re losing your edge, Magpie. Maybe not a bad thing, though, if we’re ever going to reform you.”
“Not a chance, Teddy,” replied Magpie, “And you probably would never have found me, were it not for the Captain. She has a much better nose for this work than you.”
Theodore handed a treat to his cat. “S’pose I should be angry at you for being stupid enough to sneak into the Yards.”
“Naw,” shrugged Magpie, “I’d only be stupid if I got caught. Do you want to hear what I found out, or not?”
“Okay, not here. Let’s talk somewhere else.”
Fifteen minutes later, Theodore and Magpie arrived at Theodore’s house. It was the most recognizable house on the block, in part because an airship docked on what used to be the third floor balcony.
Over the next few hours, Theodore debriefed Magpie, poring over her memory of the transmitter as well as the conversation between Collins and Vance. All the while, Magpie helped herself to Theodore’s larder. She may have heard the worst news of her young life, but she was also still a growing young girl who was perennially hungry.
“I’ve got to say Teddy, these Machen Bachen cookies never get old. I love how you caramelize the bacon. Do you have any milk left?”
Theodore didn’t even hear Magpie because he was too busy pacing back and forth. He absent-mindedly pointed Magpie to the milk into the cooler. All the while, Theodore’s constant companion, Captain Fox, paced behind him and meowed loudly, apparently upset that she was being ignored. Looking through the window, Magpie saw that the first hint of sunrise.
“So what are we gonna do?” asked Magpie with a mouthful of cookie, while pulling away her cup of milk from the thirsty Captain Fox.
Finally, Theodore looked up and sat down with a note of finality. He had reached a decision about what needed to be done. “You’re going to tell the gang to get out of Mayberry. They should spread the word and get people out of the district.”
“Yeah, good luck with that. People here aren’t going anywhere. Why would they listen to us, anyway? We’re just a bunch of kids. They’re too excited about this damn parade. You couldn’t pry people out of here with a crowbar.”
“I don’t care,” pleaded Theodore, “I need you to try. Get people out of town. Do whatever it takes.”
“And then what do you want me to do? Are we going to take back the Yards? Maybe use the airship?”
“We are not doing anything. After you get the others started on trying to evacuate the city, I need you to find Constable Julia Vane. You need to tell her everything you’ve told me. Don’t share your information with anyone except for Vane. At this point we can’t trust anyone but Vane.
“How do you expect me to find one plain-clothes police woman in the middle of that mob out there” asked Magpie indignantly pointing her finger out the door to the streets of Gearford.
“Magpie,” replied Theodore, “You’ve made a career of avoiding every Constable and Bobby in Gearford. I just need you to apply your skills in reverse, if that makes any sense.”
“But you need me.”
“Yes, I need you to do exactly what I’m asking you to do.”
Magpie couldn’t help but be annoyed at Theodore’s protectiveness. She had been thieving and grifting on the streets of Gearford, almost since she could walk. She wasn’t stupid. Clearly, Theodore wanted her as far away from the Geartop Hill as possible.
“And what will you be doing?”
“I’ll be in my airship keeping an eye on the yards. I’ll be waiting for you and Vane,” said Theodore looking meaningfully at Magpie.
Magpie had a million questions. She wanted to know the plan to take down the Yards. A frontal assault would be suicidal. They needed stealth. Was there something else she could be doing? Despite all of her questions, she knew better than to ask Theodore.. The librarian was almost pathologically secretive and unwilling to share information unless it was absolutely necessary.
“Y'know Theodore, someday you’re going to be all secretive, and it will bite you in the ass.”
“Let’s hope that this won’t be the day.”
Walking hand-in-hand on the morning of the parade, Julia accompanied Annie and their daughter Christine to their float. It was two hours before the parade, and she probably should be elsewhere, but for the moment she needed to be with Annie and Christine.
They engaged in idle banter, and Julia did her best to appear at ease. Christine had her small hands wrapped around a pastry, and her little Chthulu was crammed into her backpack. She walked between her two moms. As much as Julia hated the idea of Christine being at the parade with Annie, at least they would be together and only a short jog from Julia’s security detail. They would be less than a hundred yards from Marigold. A few hundred troops would be around them at all times. This was probably the most secure place in Gearford.
At least, this is what Julia told herself.
She couldn’t help it, but her thoughts kept turning to that damned CAD bomb.
Christine pointed upward at the parade floats with a mouth full of pastry. She was in awe. As much as Julia hoped Christine would come down with some convenient last minute fever, there was no way her daughter would miss this opportunity.
Julia’s stomach clenched and she forced a smile. Looking ahead at the line of floats, Julia saw that each of the dozen or so floats had a mechanical device atop it. There were airships, ferris wheels and flying automatons. Looking atop the Ministry of Agriculture float, she saw a large grain harvester with a small airship with wide metal wings floating above it.
“Not really subtle, is it?” whispered Julia to Annie.
“Oh don’t be such a cynic. It’ll be grand. And just wait until you see the big surprise.”
“Are you going to jump out of a cake?”
“Ha ha. Just for that I won’t tell you,” said Annie with a sly smile.
“Oh, now you must tell me,” said Julia.
"I shouldn’t. If I do, it’ll spoil things,”
“What is it?” asked Julia bemusedly.
Annie looked at Julia for a moment and then laughed. "Oh, I can never keep secrets from you."
"Just the price of marrying a Constable. It’s my superior interrogating skills," replied Julia.
“No that’s not it,” said Annie. She gave her wife a kiss on the cheek, “Just don’t blame me for ruining the surprise. These mechanical devices atop the float, they aren’t just props, these actually move, and I get to press the button activating the device on my float. The airship will be let loose, will fly high above my float and I hear there will be fireworks.
Christine whipped around from the top of the float. “Fireworks!?”
“Yes, darling, and please don’t jump off that platform,” she pointed back at Julia in mock terror, “The police are watching!”
“When does all of this happen?” asked Julia.
“When we cross into Mayberry around 10 a.m.. It will be absolutely grand. I can’t wait to see the crowd’s reaction.”
Although it was difficult, Julia did her best to put on a cheerful face for Annie and Christine. After all, Julia conceded that it was at least possible she was wrong. Maybe Banning was a lone terrorist, or maybe he was the person in charge.
“See you in a few hours, love,” said Julia. She gave Annie a final, lingering kiss. Unsurprisingly, Christine proclaimed her disgust and eternal embarrassment at her parents' public display of affection. Just so her daughter would know that she wasn’t being excluded from all of the family love, Julia blew Christina a kiss. There was a final squeeze of Annie’s hand and she walked away. It was time to do her job. Never before had being a Constable seemed so important. This was not simply helping another technocrat in a sex scandal, or catching counterfeiters. This job was personal.
Using the information obtained from Mr. Buford, police details secured every structure in Gearford that could possibly be used to transmit a signal to the CAD bomb. Every clock tower and water tower had been searched. Police snipers had set up stations in most of these same structures.
For her part, Julia was going to have a mobile headquarters on a huge landship, approximately fifty yards behind Marigold’s carriage. This was also relatively close to Annie, who would be in the float less than a hundred yards ahead of Marigold, and just ahead of a military marching band. In fact, the marching band would also all be members of the military, and on this occasion, carried sidearms. Every possible precaution was being taken.
After leaving Annie, Julia used the time to walk the parade route alongside the floats. She looked at the floats and wondered about Owens. The young Constable had been assigned a number of tasks, including an inspection of all the floats. Typically, he would report back to Julia, but it had been nearly ten hours since his last communiqué.
Magpie closed her eyes while she lay on the small bench in the jail cell. As it turned out, Vane hadn’t been that hard to find. She’d been riding a medium sized landship and was using it as her base of operations. Perfectly reasonable, since this gave her an excellent vantage point to monitor the security of the parade. It also was within a hundred yards from Marigold.
Unfortunately, at almost the same moment Magpie saw Vane next to her landship, she’d felt a large hand grip her shoulder. Despite all of her struggling, protests and swearing, she had soon found her way into one of Mayberry’s north end jails, courtesy of bobbie Bill Conroy
Magpie had tried convincing Conroy to bring her to Vane, or at least releasing her into the city. Eventually, she begged to be released, and when that didn’t work, she insulted and swore at the determined bobbie.
“Get your oversized paws off me, you stinking copper!”
“Aww Magpie, with that face of an angel, you think you have people fooled, but not Sgt. Bill Conroy. I’m onto your thieving ways. I was just waiting for you to show up today for some mischief. Well, not on my watch, young miss. You’ll stay here until the day is done.”
“Ayyyyyyyyyy,” screamed Magpie in frustration, kicking the Bobbie in the groin. Conroy grimaced, but hadn’t let go of his prize, and threw Magpie into the cell.
“Shouldn’t you be on the streets Conroy? Protecting the prime minister or worrying about serious crime?”
“Well, You’d like the world to think that you’re not a serious criminal, Magpie, but I know for a fact that you’re a suspect in a score or more crimes. And those are only the ones I know about. I let you out, and by days end, I’ll have another dozen folk coming to me because they’re missing their wallets or jewelry.”
Magpie swore and slammed her open hand against her cell bars. Time passed, and Magpie grew increasingly agitated by her confinement.
The lockup where they were accommodated featured three cells of tempered hardened steel, each with its own lock. At the end of the cell-block was a steel door with a small window, which allowed them to hear the bobbies in the neighboring office.
It wasn’t long before the jail began to fill with some others whom the bobbies had deemed a risk. Although she could not see them from her vantage point, a whole troupe of traveling circus performers had been arrested for creating a disturbance and were shoved into the neighboring cell. Several prostitutes were shoved in her cell. While Gearford generally took a relaxed view on sex work, these ladies had apparently propositioned the wrong people. A striking redhead walked into her cell wearing an all-too-revealing, dark crimson dress, gave a cheeky wink at Magpie and sat on the long bench.
“Aren’t you the cutest little darlin ever,” said the redhead. “What could you have done to get thrown in the lock-up? My name, by the way, is Chloe Charmaine. My friends call me CC. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
For her part, Magpie was too occupied to make small talk. She paced around the cell like a caged lion, waiting for an opportunity—any opportunity— to escape.
Then, she heard Conroy yell to his bobbies. “C’mon lads. We’ve just gotten a call. They need all hands on the parade route. Lock the door to the cellblock, and let’s go.”
About damn time. Finally a break, thought Magpie.
She listened carefully, and then when it became clear that the officers had left, she reached down her bodice and pulled out a set of lockpicks.
“Aren’t you the talented one,” said Chloe, impressed.
Magpie shrugged. “I always have a few tools set aside just in case.”
“Oh, no judgment here, darling. We’re all gifted in our own way. You can’t imagine what I keep hidden,” said Chloe with a smile.
Magpie shook her head at the thought and tried to focus. She heard the neighboring clock tower toll 9:30 a.m. She was going to be cutting it tight.
With the expertise that comes from a lifetime of crime, she turned the lockpicks, and a loud click indicated she was successful. Chloe was delighted at her cellmate’s resourcefulness.
Magpie then looked at the large metal door at the end of the row and saw another, more elaborate lock. Unfortunately, her lock picks would be too small for the large lock on this door. She needed something larger and stronger to turn this lock mechanism.
“Would this help?” said Chloe. She smiled and handed her a metal ribl that she had apparently pulled from her corset. “We girls gotta stick together. As I said, you’re not the only one with… resources.”
“Um, thanks,” replied Magpie.
She took the long piece of metal and bent it into an appropriate shape. Magpie closed her eyes and slipped it into the lock. If she wasn’t careful, it could break in the lock and then nobody would be getting out of here. Finally, a loud click announced her success, resulting in a quiet cheer from her new red-headed friend, who clapped her hands with glee. Magpie slowly pushed the door, but it didn’t move.
“Ah shit, what now?” muttered Magpie.
When she looked through the window, in the cell block door, she saw the problem. A large piece of wood barred the door shut. She closed her eyes and leaned against the door. This wasn’t looking good. She was running out of time.
“Um, young girl?” said one of the circus performers, a clown who was locked up in a neighboring cell.
She shook her head in irritation and turned to the clown. This day just kept getting worse. Now, she was getting advice from clowns.
“We can be of service to you, no?” said the clown.
Their fellow clowns nodded their heads in agreement.
“Unless you’ve got some special clown shoes that can kick down a door, I really don’t think you can help.”
“Well, well we can’t, but our friend can,” he said. The clowns moved aside and a large hulking man behind them stood up. He wasn’t just any large man, it was maybe the largest man Magpie had ever seen. His arms were the size of Magpie’s waist. He had a handlebar mustache and wore sequined tights which seemed to ripple every time he moved.
“This is our friend, Yanniq, He is our circus’ strongman.”
“Of course you are,” whispered Magpie, looking up at the enormous giant of a man. Quickly picking the lock of the cell with the circus performers, she looked at Yanniq and pointed to the door.
“Can you, y'know, push it down?”
Yanniq looked at Magpie, gave a smile and nodded his head.
“Does he talk?” whispered Magpie to one of the clowns.
“Not really,” said the clown, “But, if it makes you feel better, I do think he likes you?”
Yanniq walked past Magpie to the door. All the while, Chloe, and her friends looked appreciatively at the strongman. He leaned on the door, closed his eyes and pushed. He pushed hard. Yanniq’s face reddened and his body visibly strained against the door.
Magpie looked on, worried that the strong man had met his match. If this didn’t work, then she was done. There were no more cards to play. The clowns, oddly enough, seemed unconcerned and were chatting affably with Chloe and her friends.
Yanniq pushed with all of his strength, there was a startling, loud crack, and the door splintered in two. They looked into the empty police station office. They were free.
There was no time to waste. Turning to her new friends, Magpie gave a short bow.
Thank you for the help, friends,” said Magpie with a nod. “Now, I need to go save my city,” Magpie paused and then smiled, “Sorry that was kind of ridiculous, but I always wanted to say that.”
Before she could leave, Yanniq placed his huge hands around those of Magpie. He gave her a meaningful look and smiled.
“Yanniq says ‘good luck’ and thank you,” said the clown. “From the rest of us, know that you are always welcome in the First Travelling Circus of Prush.”
Chloe waved. “Good luck, darling.”
Not pausing for any more goodbyes, Magpie dashed out of the police station and sought to find her bearings.
She needed to find Constable Julia Vane immediately, if not sooner…
It was 9:45 a.m. and Theodore Beem was flying well above Gearford, a few blocks from Geartop Hill. The streets of Gearford were flush with people, but as he looked towards the parade route, he saw no alarms and no indication that Vane was on her way.
Even if she was on her way, Theodore questioned whether she could navigate through the packed streets. There were families and children with balloons. Thousands of people were lining up along the parade route. If there were an explosion now, thousands would die. Captain Fox looked up expectantly at Theodore. He walked the small deck of the Excelsior while his mind raced through every option.
In the near distance, Theodore saw a couple of medium-sized, Falcon-class airships. He also saw the Phoenix, an Osprey-class vessel and one of the largest military airships, gently turn perpendicular to him. Each of the airships were decked out for Gearford Day with immense flags across their bows.
As much as he loved the Excelsior, what he wouldn’t give to command a ship like the Phoenix for only a minute. If he had only one of its cannons, he could take out the antenna atop Geartop Hill himself. Theodore wondered whether he might signal them, but that seemed pointless. By the time he could pull alongside the Phoenix and explain what was happening, it would be too late.
There had to be something he could do.
Constable Julia Vane sat atop the landship Charles Button, named for the former Technocratic Council leader and famed inventor. The L.S. Button was part of a new class of landship that featured a 50mm front mounted cannon, which was impressive given the size of the landship. Julia probably had the best view of the parade processional. She could see Marigold, a scant fifty yards ahead, having a very good time waving to the crowds. The parade procession was passing through Mayberry.
Thus far, the parade had gone like clockwork. Everything had gone perfectly. There were the usual collection of miscreants, cutpurses and drunkards, but those were to be expected.
The only actual scare had taken place ten minutes earlier: a bedraggled man had rushed Marigold’s carriage. He didn’t look armed, but before she could apprehend him, the Special Services detail had shot him with an electrical gun. The crowd watched in stunned silence as the body of the man was dragged away. When Julia had searched the man’s body, instead of a bomb or a gun, she’d discovered an envelope. The man apparently had a family member in a high-security government prison, and he had hoped to give Marigold a letter to win their release. Vane had looked at the unconscious man and hoped he would live, but his fate would now be in the hands of the doctors.
As the procession moved through Mayberry, Vane was on a heightened alert. From her conversation with Buford, they’d determined that the optimal place to trigger the CAD bomb would be in Mayberry.
She looked into the distance, to see Annie and Christine atop the Ministry of Agriculture float. Vane could tell that Christine was exhausted, but she soldiered on, waving to the crowd with a bright smile.
Suddenly, a young, teenage girl rushed from the crowd toward her landship. The girl had blonde curly hair, pulled back into a ponytail. She was dressed darkly: wore a black bodice over a dark grey blouse with black pants. Before she could get more than ten feet, Sergeant Bill Conroy had tackled her. The girl, for her part, raved like a banshee.
Vane’s first thought was that something was wrong with the girl.
“Constable Vane! Theodore Beem sent me!” yelled the girl, desperately.
“No you don’t, Magpie!” growled Conroy. “The only place you’re going is back into the lockup.”
“Sergeant! Bring the girl to me!” yelled Julia with authority.
“Ma’am, this one isn’t worth your time. She’s nothing but trouble.”
“I’ll show you fucking trouble!” yelled Magpie.
“Sergeant!” yelled Julia with more authority. “Bring the girl here now. That is an order.”
“Yes, ma’am. But, just saying, I’ve known this one since she was up to my knee and she’s been stealing ever since. Pick-pocket your badge right out of your coat, she would.”
Conroy brought Magpie to the Constable, then stood at the ready, in case she tried anything funny. Vane slid down the front of the landship to stand in front of Magpie. Looking ahead at the procession, she saw that it had stopped while the marching band played some popular melodies.
“Lassie, you’re a friend of Theodore Beem, the librarian?”
“Are there any other ones!?” spat out Magpie. “Yes, the bloody fucking librarian.”
“Be quiet, you. Show the Constable respect, or I’ll give you what for,” growled Conroy.
“Easy, Sergeant,” said Julia. “Yes, young lady. There is only one Theodore Beem. What is your message?”
“You have the right of that, ma’am. The message: There’s a bomb!” exclaimed Magpie.
“What!?” said Julia. She then gripped Magpie’s shoulders, “Do you know the location of the bomb? Where is it!?”
“Hell if I know! I can tell you that the transmitter that will trigger the bomb is on Geartop Hill. It goes off at 10:00 am. We don’t have much time.”
Vane looked at her watch. It was 9:52 am. They only had eight minutes. She looked ahead and could not see Geartop Hill, because of the buildings that ran parallel to the street. There was no way she could take the landship to Geartop Hill, since the sidewalks and cross streets were thick with people.
“Sergeant Bowers,” yelled Julia to another Bobbie at her side, “Tell me that we secured Geartop Hill when we secured all the high points in the city.”
“Sorry, ma’am. Geartop Hill isn’t part of the city. It rests on unincorporated land outside of the city limits.”
“Well, just don’t stand there, man. Get your men on steambikes and secure Geartop Hill, right now!”
Bowers nodded and waved down four other bobbies on their steambikes. It wasn’t long before they were on their way, but Julia wasn’t optimistic. The crowds were too thick, especially if they were to try and travel to Geartop Hill using any of the cross streets.
When Julia heard Magpie’s account of the terrorists atop Geartop Hill, everything began to make sense. Even now, Marigold’s carriage was heading through Mayberry as part of the parade procession. As soon as Marigold approached the site of the bomb, which was likely somewhere in one of these wooden buildings, the transmitter atop Geartop Hill would activate the CAD device, blowing up Marigold and much of the surrounding neighborhoods. It would likely kill Vane, Annie, their daughter and thousands of others.
“Damn, Magpie, where is Beem? Why are you telling me this news?”
“He’s up in his airship, keeping an eye on things,” said Magpie who pointed upwards in the general direction of Geartop Hill, “Oh, shit me an airship. Is that him!?”
Vane looked to the sky and saw the Excelsior, diving as if it were on a bombing run. The ship was headed for a collision course with the Phoenix, an Osprey-class airship, one of the newest and most heavily armed airships in the fleet. The Phoenix clearly saw the much smaller ship and was doing its level best to avoid a collision.
Magpie pointed more directly at the ship now, “Oh shit, that’s him! That’s the Excelsior diving at the Osprey. What is that idiot trying to do!?”
With Captain Fox perched on his shoulder, Theodore stood at the helm and pushed the accelerator to all ahead full. The Excelsior went into a steep dive, headed straight for the bridge of the Phoenix.
“Hang on, Captain, this is going to get bumpy,” said Theodore.
At first, their bridge crew seemed blithely unaware of the Excelsior, and this wasn’t at all surprising, since the parade was proceeding toward them. Many of the crewmembers were looking over the rail, trying to see the floats and Prime Minister Marigold. It was only when Excelsior was within fifty yards, that two of the airmen on watch screamed, “Airship twelve o’clock. Collision course!”
A foghorn accompanied their warning.
“What is that damned ship doing!?” yelled the Captain.
After all, what kind of lunatic tries to ram an Osprey class airship, with what looked to be a pleasure craft, no less?
Theodore was close enough to see the whites of the Captain's eyes as he realized that Excelsior meant to crash into the bridge.
“Engines all ahead, full. Hard to port!” ordered the startled Captain.
The Phoenix, which had been moving casually through the air, now picked up speed and began to turn. The stern of the Phoenix rose with the sudden acceleration. Many of the crewmembers who had been leaning over the rail, struggled to stay onboard. Unfortunately, the Captain of the Phoenix had given the order too late. Excelsior's dive had been too steep. There was nothing the Phoenix bridge crew could do to stop the collision. The captain threw himself on the deck of his ship, but the collision never came.
At the last possible second, Theodore pulled out of the dive. The bottom of Excelsior snapped the flag near their bridge right off.
For his part, the Captain of the Phoenix couldn’t be sure, but it appeared that the small ship was being flown by a man with his cat. It didn’t take the Captain long to recover from his panic. He called the crew of the Phoenix to stations, and the ship soon became a hive of activity. One crewman frantically rang a bell to signal the alarm to the rest of the crew.
For a brief moment, the two ships found themselves flying in opposite directions, but then Theodore slowed and turned sharply about to starboard. Then, he began to accelerate again as he tried to gain altitude.
‘Well, Captain, I think they see us!” yelled an exhilarated Theodore.
Although he got their momentary attention, Theodore knew he needed to continue bringing pressure to bear. He needed the Phoenix to give chase, otherwise all might be lost.
Although the Phoenix was clearly a class of the navy and could probably level a fortress by herself, she was a large vessel and moved like one. The Excelsior on the other hand was fast and nimble and could turn like a Titanian folk dancer.
The captain of the Phoenix bellowed through a megaphone. “Small vessel, you shall cease and desist! Stop your engines and prepare to be boarded immediately.”
‘What do you say, Captain. Shall we stop our engines?” asked Theodore with a smile and a wink to his cat.
Captain Fox, unflappable as always, gave a meow and started grooming herself.
All the while this had been happening, the thousands below began having an inkling of the drama above them. Almost uniformly, faces rose to look upward and fingers were raised at the small airship who seemed to have a death wish.
“He’s trying to get the attention of the Phoenix,” said Julia.
“He’s going to get himself killed!” yelled Magpie.
Julia looked ahead of them and could see that the parade procession was now on Broad street. She could see ahead to Marigold and still further to the Ministry of Agriculture’s float.
The Prime Minister, for his part, appeared unconcerned about the drama in the skies above. For him, it was nothing, if not a grand show for his entertainment.
Vane looked at her watch and saw that it was now 9:55 am. In only a few minutes, the bomb would be activated.
Startled, Julia’s attention was brought back to the skies when the crowd gave a collective scream.
Since the Excelsior was such a small craft and unarmed, Theodore had very few tools at his disposal. Nevertheless, it was vital that Phoenix gave chase. He needed to provoke them. Earlier in the week, he had worked on the Excelsior’s trim using bright red paint. Seeing the can of paint still in his cockpit, Theodore grabbed it and, in the next run at the Phoenix, pitched it at the deck of the much larger ship. The paint bucket exploded onto the deck of the Phoenix, splattering the crew and the once immaculate ship with paint.
When Theodore made his pass, he had been almost close enough to jump aboard the much-larger ship. The crewmembers of the Phoenix yelled and shook their fists at him. Looking at them, Theodore realized that, for all intents and purposes, the Excelsior was nothing more than a gnat or mosquito to the captain and crew of the Phoenix.
Nevertheless, when the paint hit the deck of the Phoenix and splashed the deck crew, the screams of anger told Theodore that he had the attention of the large warcraft. He had stirred the hornet’s nest.
He quickly moved his attention to the helm and accelerated his craft toward Geartop Hill. He worked hard to move Excelsior in an erratic zig zag pattern, partly to allow Phoenix to catch up and partly to avoid any shots fired at him.
As the minutes kicked toward 10:00 am, Constable Julia Vane felt helpless. The librarian was attempting to gain the attention of the Phoenix and draw it to Geartop Hill, but it seemed likely that the only thing he would succeed in was getting himself killed.
She realized that it was time for Annie’s big surprise. The floats in the parade would be activating mechanical devices to amaze the crowd. All of this would happen at 10:00 am. This was the same time as when the CAD bomb was supposed to be activated. Could it be? It seemed too much of a coincidence. Looking ahead, she saw the Ministry of Agriculture float.
Although she was unable to see Annie from this vantage point, she could see that Annie had activated the mechanisms on her float and had released the small airship from its moorings. The airship attached to a harvester had begun to float upward. The metal wings on the airship extended, almost like… an antenna!
“Damn,” muttered Julia.
She pulled over the bobbie nearest her by the scruff of his neck, yelled in his ear and pointed at Marigold’s carriage. Then, without delay, Julia leaped aboard the L.S. Charles Button and dove into the hatch.
Magpie had been looking up to the skies and was simultaneously terrified that her friends might get blown out of the sky and a little disappointed she wasn’t there with Theodore and Captain Fox for the ride. Nevertheless, when she saw Constable Vane jump atop the landship, she immediately followed inside.
Conroy, who had been standing nearby just in case Magpie tried something, was surprisingly unprepared when he saw the young girl disappear into the Landship.
Meanwhile, in the air above Mayberry, Theodore’s erratic diving had been taking him closer and closer to Geartop Hill and the Phoenix began to quickly make up the distance between the two airships.
“Just enough to make you think you’re going to catch me,” he said to himself while looking back at the larger ship.
There wasn’t much time, so now was when Theodore knew he needed to escalate things. He looked right behind him at the anchor harpoon on the Excelsior. He fixed the helm into place and with one hand took aim and fired.
The harpoon was well struck and hit the bridge, striking duck flush and causing the crew to scamper to either side.
“Fire the chasers!” yelled the captain.
Clearly they were done playing. Now the game was truly afoot. Theodore turned back to the controls and brought Excelsior into a steep drive toward Geartop Hill.
The airmen brought the Excelsior into their crosshairs.
On Geartop Hill, Collins looked down through a spyglass upon Gearford’s Mayberry District below. The boss had given him express instructions that he was to trigger the bomb on the hour and as soon as he saw the antenna go up. Everything was ready. The transmitter had been powered up, and Moser sat at her station waiting to flip the switch.
Almost ten minutes before zero hour, something unexpected had happened. They watched a small airship making feints and attacks against an Osprey-class airship in the nearby skies. At first, Collins had been unconcerned, but as the clock ticked down, those two airships began coming closer and closer to Geartop Hill.
“Why are those two ships closing in?” muttered Maybin, “Should we do anything?”
“Hell no. The last thing we want is to attract attention,” cautioned Collins.
“They are heading directly towards us!” yelled Moser.
“Ah shit!” yelled Collins.
Collins' crew quickly scattered when they saw the small airship diving down onto their position. Any thought of firing at it had been dismissed outright, because the Osprey-class airship was closing in with its guns trained toward them.
As crazy as it sounded, although Theodore was in the crosshairs of the Phoenix gunners, he needed to give them a clear shot. So, he held steady and flew the Excelsior directly toward the large gear at the crest of Geartop Hill. Theodore came close enough to see the transmitter mounted atop the hill and the wires crisscrossing the enormous gear.
The terrorists manning the transmitter scrambled as his ship approached.
A half-second before he’d heard the command to fire from the Phoenix, Theodore pulled up on the Excelsior and swerved. Normally on a sharp bank like this, he would slow down, but on this occasion, he needed all of the speed he could muster. He turned the Excelsior sharply to starboard and the cannons from the Phoenix peppered the ground below with shot, panicking the mercenaries below.
Although he had successfully brought the Phoenix’s fire down upon Geartop Hill, Theodore felt his heart sink. He had hoped their guns would have triggered the demolition charges that Magpie told him had been set on Hill, but the only thing he accomplished was momentarily scattering the mercenaries.
As Excelsior flew away from Geartop Hill, the Phoenix followed her lead, once it had first slowed its speed to avoid crashing into the Hill.
Suddenly, Theodore heard a small explosion down below, near the parade route, along with, strangely, both screams and cheers from the crowd.
Vane was looking at her watch: it was 10 a.m., exactly.
“Lance Corporal!” yelled Julia to one of the soldiers attached to her detail, “Prepare to fire the cannon on my command.”
“Fire the damned cannon on my command!” yelled Julia impatiently.
Realizing this was not a drill and most certainly not a joke, the soldiers in her detail prepped and loaded the cannon. Julia looked through the periscope and saw her mark. She directed the lance corporal to adjust the firing angle.
She covered her ears. “Fire!”
By then, the small airship that Annie had launched from her Ministry of Agriculture float had been flying well above the neighboring buildings and its wings were fully extended. The fifty millimeter shell from the landship’s cannon whistled directly over Marigold’s carriage and ripped through the float’s miniature airship, and instantly pulverized it in a gaseous explosion.
Some of the crowd clearly thought this part of the show and cheered wildly, while those much closer to the impact screamed in terror, since debris from the prop ejected into the crowd.
Vane sent a bobbie to warn Marigold, and the members of Special Services wasted no time and quickly covered him with their bodies to protect him.
Marigold, for his part, had been shaken, but recovered enough so that when the crowd started clapping, he joined in the applause.
On top of Geartop Hill, just after the cannons from the Phoenix had caused them to scatter, Collins heard the explosion. He looked down from Geartop Hill to Mayberry and expected to see the small airship with its antenna rise above Broad Street.
“Moser, tell me we can still detonate the bomb,” asked Collins.
“Not bloody likely. That little airship was the antenna, without it there’s no way for us to get a signal to that bomb.”
“Hey Collins, we’ve spotted bobbies on steambikes coming up Geartop. It’s slow going because of the crowds, but they’ll be here soon.”
“Damn,” muttered Collins with a shake of the head. He hated failure and knew the boss would hate failure even more than him. ‘Alright, let’s blow it. We can’t have them find all of this. Set the timer, and we’ll meet at the rendezvous.”
Everything happened suddenly for Theodore. After the small explosion in the parade procession, the Phoenix was distracted from their pursuit of Excelsior. They shifted their attention back to the parade route, presumably to ensure the safety of Marigold.
For a brief moment, Theodore debated on whether he should bring the Excelsior back to attack Geartop Hill again, but before he could decide on the merits of what appeared to be a very bad idea leading to certain death, another even louder explosion erupted on Geartop Hill.
WIth hundreds of people pointing at his airship and some of that with guns, Theodore decided that he needed to get out of the air before he was shot out of the air. He started to set down inside the Yard. As he landed, he could see the smoke dissipate from around Geartop Hill. The debris field was huge and the large Gear which had been a local landmark since his youth was now gone.
After touching down and deboarding, Theodore stood next to his airship. He mournfully looked at the many bullet holes that covered Excelsior, when suddenly he was tackled to the ground by several overly-enthusiastic bobbies, who pummeled him with their fists, then secured him in handcuffs and leg irons.
That was unexpected, thought Theodore, who’d never considered the possibility that a beating would be his reward for saving the town, but at least I’m still alive.
Watching Theodore get dragged away, Captain Fox meowed her irritation. It was a most busy morning and she desperately needed a snack.
Several hours later, Theodore was still none the wiser, and now he was in jail, enjoying the hospitality of Gearford’s finest.
Thankfully, at the very least, Captain Fox had found her way to the jail and was perched in the window of his cell. Although Theodore expected that the Captain was meowing because she was hungry, for some reason he kept imagining his cat was expressing her opinion that he had horribly botched the whole affair. The Captain for all her wonderful qualities, could be a judgmental cat.
“Mr. Beem,” exclaimed a familiar voice, “We really must stop meeting like this.”
Theodore sat up in his jail cell, looked towards the door, and saw none other than Constable Julia Vane, with Magpie alongside.
Magpie laughed as she entered. ‘Y'know, I think this is something of a first: me getting you out of jail,”
“You look somewhat worse for wear,” said Julia. She smiled thinly at him..
“Yeah, well, special thanks to your police colleagues for making me feel so welcome,” said Theodore while he rubbed his eye and the side of his face — which was five shades of black and blue.
“My apologies, Mr. Beem,” Julia opened the door of his cell. “I would have come to release you much earlier, but there was business that required attending.”
Julia motioned for Theodore to follow. Once he did, she led Magpie and him to a small interview room where coffee was brought to them.
“Can I assume, since you’re offering me coffee, that I’m not going to prison?”
“Well, Beem…” started Julia.
“We’re heroes!” interrupted Magpie, “We saved the Prime Minister.”
“Suffice it to say, Beem, a tragedy was avoided.”
“So, what happened? Since I was somewhat occupied, I didn’t see what happened.”
“You should have seen it!” exclaimed Magpie, “The Constable figured out the bomb had been planted in one of the floats. Just as you were dive-bombing Geartop Hill, the Constable fired a cannon and blew up the antenna! And that’s not even the best part…” Magpie looked back at the Constable with a smile.
Julia shook her head and waved her on. “Go ahead.”
“The cannon fired right over ol’ Marigold’s head! I think he shit himself. I mean, he literally shit himself.”
Julia rolled her eyes and sighed. “All to say, Beem, that without your warning, we could have never stopped this attempt on the Prime Minister’s life. Moreover, your aerial maneuvers, while perhaps unorthodox and ill-advised, likely bought us an extra minute or two, thus allowing us to destroy their antenna before they could activate the bomb.”
“So, I’m free to go?” asked Theodore.
“Well, the Captain of the Phoenix, the Airship you attacked, would still like you brought up on charges. But given the circumstances, I think that would be unwise. You see…”-- her tone changed to a practiced, hyper-formal one — “In tomorrow’s newspaper, you’re going to read how the parade was a great success. You will also read how there was great excitement when the Landship Charles Button gave a shooting display in the middle of the parade, and that elements of the armed forces engaged in precision air maneuvers for the benefit of the crowd below. Coincidentally, there was an industrial accident at nearby Geartop Hill, which caused a large explosion, but fortunately there were no injuries. And a good time was had by all. This is the account you will read in the newspapers. Mr. Beem… Does this correspond with your recollection as well?”
Julia looked expectantly at Theodore.
Theodore looked at Magpie, who gave him a shrug and a smile, and then back at Constable Vane who was still waiting for his answer. “Yes, that does sound like exactly what happened.”
“Thank you Mr, Beem, I’m pleased we could reach this understanding. To further help your memory, we’ve taken custody of your airship, but only momentarily,” said Vane raising her hand, “ It will be diverted to our naval yards where all damage sustained earlier today will be repaired. It will be returned to you in a week’s time. Furthermore, you will notice that certain small upgrades will be made to Excelsior.”
Constable Vane opened and held the door for them, and so Theodore stood up. Joined by Magpie, he walked out the door.
“And, Theodore,” said Julia with a conspiratorial whisper, “More personally, you have my deepest appreciation. Thank you.”
For the briefest of moments, Theodore thought that he and the Constable were having a moment, that is until she coughed and motioned for him to go.
Walking into the yard outside the police station, Theodore looked at Magpie, who seemed almost contemplative. Captain Fox met them outside and raised her paw.
Magpie leaned down and gave the Captain a treat. “Y'know, Teddy, even though we're heroes, I feel pretty much the same.”
“What did you expect?” asked Theodore.
“Oh, I don’t know. Just never was a hero before. Thought there would be something more… I don’t know— maybe it’s silly. Ah well, I’ll see you and the captain around.”
“What do you mean? Where are you going?”
Magpie climbed onto a steambike.
“Nice ride, isn’t it? The Constable gave me the bike. Y'know, to help my memory.”
Theodore shook his head, watched Magpie start her steambike, and race down the street.
“Let’s get some dinner, Captain,” said Theodore.
Captain Fox purred in agreement.
After Theodore and Magpie had left, Constable Julia Vane completed a few final reports and began the long walk home.
Although with pure dumb luck they’d prevented the assassination of the Prime Minister, it had still been a terrible day. After they had thwarted the assassination, a bobbie reported that they had found the body of young Constable Owens. It appeared Owens was murdered during his inspection of the floats in the early hours of the morning. Julia was grief stricken by the loss, since despite his Constable’s badge, he seemed no more than a boy. It was now Vane’s unpleasant duty to share the news with Owens’ parents.
Given the facts surrounding Owens’ death, Julia felt almost guilty, because of the almost joyous exhilaration she felt from saving both her wife Annie and daughter Christine. Shooting at the antenna atop Annie’s float was perhaps the hardest thing she had ever done. It was a huge risk and then there had been the possibility that Annie or Christine might be harmed by shrapnel. Still, at the time there appeared to be no other options. Julia had gambled in a high stakes game and won. She did have some explaining to do after the whole business with the cannon and Annie’s float. Nevertheless, as Annie had noted in their earlier conversation, fireworks had in fact been on the schedule.
It was the reality of her job that her success would always be cloaked in anonymity. She may have prevented the death of the Prime Minister and retrieved the CAD Bomb from terrorists, but these truths would never be known beyond a handful of people. The Gearford Day Parade had been a success. That’s what the newspapers would say tomorrow morning, and that’s what most citizens of Gearford would ever know.
Julia still worried. The terrorists involved in the assassination attempt had all escaped. They also never discovered who the mastermind was who stole the CAD Bomb. After the explosion on Geartop, Magpie had shared the terrorists’ full plan with Julia: that the goal of the mercenaries was not just the murder of the Prime Minister, but the leveling of Mayberry District. It was a darkly ambitious plan, and the perpetrators were all still at large. And she couldn’t dismiss the possibility that high-ranking members of the government were involved.”
It was already late at night when Julia finally reached her home. She saw a small wisp of smoke emerge from the chimney. The bright lights of her home shone through the edges of the closed curtains. No doubt, Annie was allowing Christine to stay up until Julia came home. From her front door, she heard the laughter of her wife and daughter and for the first time in three days, all was well in the Vane household.
Two men sat in a dark library. There had just been an uncomfortably long silence between them.
“Minister Sims, you failed me. What do you have to say for yourself”
“Um… I’m sorry. It was unforeseen,” babbled Sims. “We couldn’t predict the interference from that damned librarian, nor that Vane would be so persistent.”
“Well, maybe you should have predicted it. But no matter. It was just as much my failure for underestimating your ‘fixer’. Sometimes, when you play the game, you lose. Just remember Sims. I hate losing.”
“Yes sir,” replied Sims, “I will not fail you again.”
“No, I don’t expect you will Sims,” said the man. They paused a moment, looking pensive, “Cummings, please send a message to Constable Julia Vane. Offer her my compliments on a job well done… and my thanks. Also, offer my regards to her wife Annie.”
“Yes, Professor Bonn, straight away,” answered Cummings, his secretary, who had been standing in the darkness.
“Next time, she will not be so fortunate,” whispered Balthazar Bonn with a tight smile.