Ermin Gild stepped up to the doorway of the second floor of Consortium Hall, his left hand pressed to the scanner on the wall. The lock flashed from red to orange, whereafter he slid his card into the divet beside the handle. The lock changed from orange to blue and buzzed. The door swung open. He strolled through and headed up to the elevator and from there emerged upon the top floor and stood before a set of double doors and repeated the security protocol. The doors hummed and opened, thereafter he entered a spacious chamber in which a woman stood with her back to him. Gild closed the doors behind him and waited silently.
“Do you think I’ve governed well?” Agna Richter queried, well-lotioned hands tightly clasped before her waist, fingers writhing with agitation as she gazed out the spotless window of the cluttered highrise office, beyond which shimmering Kryos Industries aircrafts drifted along the thermals above the sleek and jagged towers of Central, their comparatively thin forms casting colossal transient shadows; aphotic blades, slow-cleaving the towering brightness.
Ermin Gild paused midway to removing an errant eyelash from his left suit sleeve, right brow arching at the Chancellor’s query; pale mouth crinkling with displeasure and mild apprehension.
“I trust you’re not blaming yourself for the recent perturbations.”
“Spare me the HR obfuscations. I’m not one of your clients.”
“You didn’t answer.”
“Yes, of course.”
He removed the detritus from his sleeve and straightened his collar, brows crinkling.
“I used to think so,” the woman replied with restrained exasperation, turning slowly from the window, gray-auburn hair glimmering with pane-transmuted luminance, “Now, I’m not so sure. The city has changed. Its nearly unrecognizable from when I first took office.”
“Change is the only constant.”
“You say these things often. Things that belong on postcards. It is the rate which concerns me.”
“A rate we’ve helped bolster. You were the one who signed the Markov Plan.”
“Something to be proud of. Or so I was told at the time.”
Gild gestured to one of the massive aeroplatforms drifting slowly beyond the window, “I remember the old com towers back before Kryos took over the sky. That was, what, twenty five years ago?”
“My mother believed the towers were giving her cancer, now she thinks the sky-cells are spying on her.”
The Chancellor laughed dryly.
“On balance, negative emotions prevail. We’d not have survived long as a species were we capable only of merriment and serendipity.”
“I suppose. But. Its not just the buildings. Or the sky-cells. Its the people. I don’t recognize them anymore. My neighbors are foreigners. Their customs are alien. There was a time when I could simply look at a passerby and know their origin. The city. Or elsewhere. I could discern their district by their accent. Their dress. Their gestures. To do as much now I have to query an affinity module. To know one’s origin is to know one’s mind. I find myself wondering: Are they no longer of Aecer, or is it I that have been passed by? Am I out of step? Isolated? Antiquated? I don’t think I am. I suppose that’s how it always goes. The advance of age brings with it golden idylls. But to believe in their verity is foolish. The past is afforded its inordinate luster by the vitality of youthful ignorance,” She wearily removed the brow-bound affin transmitter previously used to give her hastily cobbled speech to the public, and handed it to her confederate. Gild took the device wordlessly, his eyes fixed upon the woman in keen scrutiny; the lines of her face in stark relief by the scant-filtered light. She appeared to have aged ten years in the space of five. Gild returned the transmitter to the desk inlay where the Chancellor was want to keep it and put his hands in his pocket.
“People think times change rapidly once they pass middle age because they’ve half a lifetime of knowledge to refer to. That’s why most people tend to become increasingly recalcitrant in their attitudes the older they get. Having more, they realize more fully why they have it, and all that went into its production, and so understand how easily it could be taken away,” Gild responded matter-of-factly, eyeing up the food crafter on his superior’s desk, “Consequently, solutions become scarcer, as a fixation upon preservation – the fear of change – divert creative energies from reformation.”
The Chancellor smiled sadly.
“That’s a very polite way of calling me a fossil.”
Gild withdrew a piece of candy from the crafter and popped it in his mouth, closing his eyes momentarily as he savored the algorithmically calibrated chemicals.
“Not a fossil. A holy relic.”
“I didn’t say you could have those.”
Gild stopped mid-mastication, “What do you want me to do, put it back?”
He pushed the chocolate morsel to one side of his mouth, tapping his foot.
“With all due respect, Chancellor, you need to focus.”
“I do. That answers my question.”
Gild was silent a moment and finished off the candy with a muffled crunch before speaking in measured, forceful tones.
“Did you see the Kleiner interview?”
“Yes. I’d meant to ask for your advice.”
“Well, you must act. The sooner the better.”
The woman ran her hands across her forearms. Mouth creasing.
“What would you recommend?”
“Not another speech. At least not on the topic. Have something arranged to take the public’s mind off of the incident and off of you,” he moved the wrapper theatrically across the table, away from the crafter, “Placate the populace. Draw the energy out of the rabble. Shift everything to externalities. Talk about the Federation. Talk about the global economy. Foreign relations. Sporting events. Keep the messaging positive, but not too positive, otherwise it’ll read as fraudulent. Anything you like that is distant from the volatile matters of the moment. Just don’t talk about Kryos, or you’ll be dragged into talking about Syzr and the Security Commission and why they haven’t moved on him, and what you’re doing about it and how that ties into the unrest. Et cetera. Doesn’t matter how you answer. You’re the figurehead, you get scapegoated. Or rather, we.”
She nodded solemnly and twined her fingers together.
“What do you think of the Colonel?”
“I don’t know much about the man. His record prior to The Rollout is light on details. I hear he’s quite fanatical. One of those until death types. A well-trained hound.”
“A well-trained hound is unlikely to bite without the consent of its master.”
“In light of this, Vis Corp’s narrative strikes me as improbable.”
“Of course it is. But its plausible, given ignorance of the subject. And plausibly presented. Far as the public is concerned, that’s all that matters.”
“When is it we stopped being ‘the public?'”
“The day you were sworn into office.”
“If we want to move Syzr we have to talk to Kryos.”
“I can speak to him.”
“Five years ago you tried to have him removed from the board.”
“Yes. I’m not entirely sure that was wise.”
“He’ll not have forgotten.”
“Of course not. He never forgets anything. But he’s not the type of man to hold a grudge. At least, I don’t think he is. Even after all these years I haven’t completely figured him out. If you want to send someone else, I’ve no objection.”
“Do you still want it?”
“Don’t be coy. His seat. On the board.”
“I don’t know.”
He looked out the window to where smoke roiled like a great phantasmal centipede, thinking on his superior’s words and wondering as to its origin, “So many things I thought were wings five years ago now seem as shackles.”