Three Days in Gearford

a story
2022-08-12 20:09:51,
2022-08-13 17:34:12
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Day 1

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.


“Understood, sir.”


“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?”


“No ma’am.”


“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.” 


“Constable?”


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.


“We do?”


“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.”


“The parade?“


“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.”


“Yes, Constable?”


“Happy flying.”


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.