White garbed clerks moved in busy cliques beneath the high, vaulted ceiling of the control room of KSRU Central wherein Acelin Syzr loomed over his sparsely furnished alabaster desk, watching the wall-screen with attentive concern from beneath the cover of his sleek, monochrome mask. The flickering mesh of the central screen, which hung before a branching stairwell, displayed, in a locked-down wideshot, a spacious, judiciously decorated news set, in which a large middle-aged man with a scarred face sat facing an aging make-up caked anchor-woman. Tyser Lanning chuckled and swiveled on his padded chair toward his taunt and well-armored superior who stood the center of the floor.
“Broad looks like she fell headfirst into a crayon blender. We can put networks in the sky, cities under the sea, ports in orbit, but convincing cosmetics eludes us.”
Lanning screwed up his face and fell silent, adjusted his long orange overcoat and returned to his affinity tablet array; scuffed fingers busily tapping ergonomic keys; cushioned, close-fitting headset humming; eyes taking in the detailed feeds of various Consortium-approved, Kryos-manufactured aerial drones, judiciously scanning the sprawling cityscape for social perturbation.
“This is Tiffany Bardis for New Vision, here with Central Sector’s Danzig Kleiner, the lone survivor of a vicious, seemingly random attack which occurred two days ago on the streets of the entertainment district, where the leader of the KSRU, a one Acelin Syzr, confronted Mr. Kleiner and two of his friends, Darius Culp and Victor Mehan, both southers and first generation district residents; the event, unfortunately, culminated in the deaths of both Mr. Mehan and Mr. Culp. Mr. Syzr, for reasons which remain unclear, was not detained by the Security Commission and remains at large, prompting protests from local residents outraged at the cruel injustice of the act and what they view as the burgeoning tyranny of Kryos Industries, whose KSRU mercenaries now operate, in some capacity, in every sector of the city. The KSRU has since released a curt statement, in which they declared that the event was prompted by self-defense and suggests a extensive investigation by the Security Commission. Curiously, the Security Commission has not released a statement. We reached out to both Kryos Industries and the Security Commission; unfortunately, neither have responded to our queries.” The woman turned to the greasy, hastily done-up man sitting roughly five feet from her with a mirthless smile, “Mr. Kleiner, thank you so much for being with us today, I know how stressful this must be for you, given all you’ve been through recently.”
The man rocked slightly and nervously rubbed his knees, as if scrapping mud, “Thanks for having me, Tiffany.”
“How are you holding up?”
Syzr’s hands went tight about the corner of his sparsely furnished alabaster desk.
“Its been rough. But I’m doing alright.”
“Given the dearth of footage from the incident, can you start from the beginning and tell us exactly what happened?”
“Sure. Well, I and my friends were just minding our business, took an alleyway shortcut to a club we liked to hang out at, when… this guy just springs out of nowhere and starts attacking us. Like he had it out for us.”
“The short video clip which was leaked shows your friends assaulting Mr. Syzr; can you explain what happened prior to the beginning of the available recording of the event?”
“Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s deceptive, they were fighting back. See, he came in swinging and they pushed him back and I was just stunned, stunned, didn’t know what to do, then they tried to tackle him and that’s when the recording begins. At the time, I didn’t know he was paramilitary, thought he was just some guy.”
Syzr loosed the table and straightened. “This cretin can barely string a sentence together. Its doubtful he came up with this narrative on his own.”
“Think someone has been feeding him lines?” Lanning inquired, removing his headset and rubbing his chin contemplatively, popping a printed biscuit from a culinary crafter on his work-desk.
Syzr nodded near imperceptibly, “Someone coached him.”
“… Mr. Danzig, some have floated the idea that he targeted your friends because of their origins. That he had some pathological grievance against southers. What do you think of that?”
“Could be, Tiffany, could be. There’s a lot of crazy people out there…”
Syzr turned to Lanning, “The bastard’s smiling. Has Fawnell agreed to speak to the press?”
Lanning shook his head and leaned back in his chair, “She refuses to talk to anyone, even the Security Commission. Probably afraid of blow back from the mob, now that Mehan and Culp have been turned into martyrs. I’ve not tried to contact her personally, but Vogel did, told me she shut him down immediately. I put out a missive to see if any of our staffers might know her. All replies negative, so far.”
“I’m surprised Vogel’s still willing to share information with us.”
“So was I. I don’t think the Commissioner is aware of his indiscretion.”
“Still no news on the rest of the drone recording?”
Syzr uttered a curse under his breath, the utterance rendered opaque by the mechanical distortion of his full-helm’s respirator. From the far end of the hall, the sound of two pairs of footsteps reverberated. Syzr turned and beheld Jean Raimer, a dark-haired man of middling height and powerful frame, armed and armored in gleaming sy-chitin, his helm tucked under his left arm, his right, curling to a salute which was swiftly returned. Behind him stood a middle aged man with well-combed hair and a high-collared monochrome coat, a Vilar Corp logo upon the right shoulder.
“What is it, Captain?”
“Apologies for the interruption, Colonel. Ryard Vancing is here to see you.”
Vancing stepped forward, his visage uncharacteristically grim and reserved, his eyes fixed upon the colonel.
“Come concerning our request?”
“Yes. Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“I can multitask.”
The enormous screen cut suddenly away from Kleiner’s interview to a scene of roiling violence backlit by ravenous flames licking up the berth of a tumble-down tenement. A young reporter faced a Vis Corp coverage drone which hovered some six feet above the woman, the machine’s multi-camera array focusing in on the most active zones of conflict. “Chancellor Richter just now called for calm after yet another outbreak of violence in Central.” The woman turned to a middle aged souther whose swarthy face was twisted into a permanent snarl. “Sir, excuse me, can you tell us why you’re out here? What are you hoping to accomplish?” The souther paused and drew up to the woman, seemingly annoyed, followed by a group of compatriots. “They’re out here killing us.” “Who, sir?” “KSRU. Security Commission. Big business. Whole damned government. We’re out here to show them we won’t take it any more. If they’re gonna keep killing us, we’re gonna start killing them.” “They kill us, we kill them,” the crowd began to chant with increasing fervor. The reporter’s face contorted with apprehension. “She’s from the government, she’s from the government!” Someone off-camera shouted. The next instant someone struck the woman in the back of the head; her body ragdolled, prompting her crew to leap vainly to her defense. The crowd swiftly turned upon the journalists with cries of fury, whereafter fists and blood were thrown in a sudden flux of savagery. Screams of deep animal pain blanketed the scene, drowning out the crackling raze and homemade explosives sounding in the distance. As the grotesque cacophony reached its invariable apogee, the feed cut, transitioning back to the Vis Corp interview set where Tiffany Bardis shook her golden head, mouth twitching like a skewered grub. “Gods below…” for a long moment the woman simply starred uncomprehendingly, as if in a trance, “T-that’s the latest from our on-the-ground coverage of the protests currently sweeping Central Sector…”
Syzr muted the monitor and turned to the entrant.
“What have you decided?”
Ryard’s expression waxed solemn.
“This madness must not become our normality.”
“‘This,’ or ‘their.'”
“Who’re you referring to?”
Syzr gestured to a close-up of Danzig Kleiner on the monitor, “Whoever proffered him to the media and coached him. Whoever was behind the seizure of the assurance drone which recorded my encounter with Kleiner’s gang. I suspect the same shadow moves behind both curtains.”
“Interesting. Why do you think he was coached?”
“I heard him speak before we fought. He’s affecting a new speech pattern, new mannerisms. And despite his obvious incompetence, he’s yet to stumble in responding to a question.”
“That’s reasonable,” Ryard asserted with sudden animation. “But right now we should worry about forming a counter-narrative. We don’t have the drone recording of what really happened but as I overheard, the woman who you rescued hasn’t spoken up.”
“Fawnell won’t talk to us,” Lanning replied with exasperation, “She might, just maybe, talk to the colonel, if he came in person; however, if the mob spots him on the street, they’ll be blood.”
Ryard returned his attention to the colonel and smiled confidently, “Send me.”