Iyad Zhu spotted Astrid Sodabrucke across the tightly-packed, bergschund-shaped stadium. Her ferruginous hair and polychromatic gown unmistakable. He thought she looked like a giant peacock. Beautiful and ridiculous. Sodabrucke walked daintily from the skene pavilion to the well-polished podium beneath the percolations of energetic pop music which blared from the omnidirectional speaker-system, her sychitin headset elegantly hidden in long, shimmering locks, secured with amethyst bands. Behind her, a massive screen projected her svelte figure, overlaid at the periphery, the slogan’s for which she had recieved such popular acclaim. As she reached the center of the dais, the din of the crowd, and the music contesting it, gave way, by degrees, to anticipatory murmuration and the hum of the speaker-system. At that moment, Zhu noticed a man with steely gray hair and a slow, shuffling gait ascending the stair between the filled out seating blocks to the narrow diazoma where he stood. Undersecretary Radigan. Zhu gazed at his confederate in perplexity. He was told that Radigan would not be attending, that he was preoccupied in council. Something was amiss. He gripped the walkway railing, perturbed, considering an array of possibilities. The voices of a couple in the gradin before him wafting up against the muted breeze. Male and female, twined in excitement.
“Do you think she’ll mention it?” The man inquired.
“I hope so. She’s been one of the few politicians consistently critical of the KSRU. Sabrina called me before her shift and told me she’d seen one of them accosting some kids in the market. In that dreadful white armor. Its like we’re living under a military dictatorship.”
The man grimaced and shook his head. “Bad news.”
“Butchers. The lot of them.” A fat man nearby grunted over his shoulder.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” the thin man said hesitantly. “Crime has gone down since they started patrolling the streets.”
“Shhh. She’s going to speak.” The woman chided, flapping her hands at the vocal interlopers.
Zhu refocused his attention below, to the orchestra in the center of the arena. Sodabrucke, poise open and conciliatory, took in the variegated faces of her supporters arrayed across the vaulting incline of the theatron, most silent and primed with anticipation. The orator clasped her hands before her heart, and tilted her head up as she spoke, as if bearing her soul in prayer.
“Fair denizens of Aecer, I thank you for being with me today, from the bottom of my heart. I wish this lovely stadium could fit all of you. I’m overwhelmed by the energetic reception you have shown me. Both on and off Affinity. That openness of spirit will be needed in the days to come. For it is sorely lacking in our leadership. And, being wanting in our leadership, is discouraged in the people. Our recent troubles have demonstrated as much. Have demonstrated how untenable the Consortium’s program is, though it pains me to say it. They simply do not listen. Their divisive rhetoric and selfish policies have led to great unhappiness. And that unhappiness has given rise to a resurgent chauvinism, to Kreizer Sonderon and his Intra Bloc party, who maintain, in their platform, a policy of complete cleavage with The Federation, of expulsion of vast swathes of the non-acerite population and a valorization of militarism.”
“Militarism? What about Kryos?” The fat man below Zhu shouted at the top of his lungs, his voice thick with outrage. “Yes. What about the KSRU?” Another onlooker yelled. A brief flux of aggravation rippled across Sodabrucke’s face, subsiding the next instant for an expression of moderated sorrow and understanding.
“Then there is the KSRU. Let us call them what they are. Mercenaries. Soldiers for hire. Oh, they may have the backing of the Mayoral Convention, but no one elected Acelin Syzr Chief of the Security Commission. Let us not forget that he is a man who, recently, in a detestable act of vigilantism, murdered two young southers. A crime which has, as yet, gone unanswered. It breaks my heart. As I know it must break the hearts of the souther community. Each victim had a mother and father, had friends who loved them. And our Chief of Security, Galton Raka, indeed the entire Security Commission, have said nothing more than that they’re, ‘Looking into it.’ Does the matter lie in such murky waters? Amidst the screams of our most vulnerable citizens, amidst the cries of Syzr’s victims, their silence is deafening. Like the roaring of a sea-shell. I promise you, my dear friends, that should you have faith enough to elect me, I will not allow anyone to take justice into their own hands, I will not allow the Consortium to continue to ignore your cries. I promise, I will do what our leaders should have done long ago: I will listen. I will listen, everyday, with a brimming heart and an open mind, that Aecer may be renewed.”
Vitalik Radigan sided up to Zhu as the crowd cheered and cleared his throat, speaking low, tone serious.
“Enjoying the speech?”
“She’s a talented speaker, but its rather saccharin. Crowd seems to like it though, that’s all that matters. I wonder who wrote it.”
“You don’t think she did?”
“‘Does the matter lie in such murky waters?’ That doesn’t sound like something she would say.”
Below, the woman spread her arms, as if lifting the weight of the world, “I ask you: Are we to make a sport of petty antagonism?”
“I see what you mean.” The old man looked left then right and leaned closer to Zhu. “We need to talk.”
“That’s what we are doing.”
“It is important I am seen here.”
“It is more important that we talk.”
Zhu’s face writhed with vexation, his hands moving nervously over the slender alabaster railing which separated the diazoma from the descending kerkis.
The two men descended the leftern walkway as Sodabrucke’s words continued to fill the air. “Instead of greed, we must choose generosity. Not merely of commodities, but of spirit.” As the men passed through the stadium exit Zhu noticed a hooded man leaning against the wall to the left of the passage, hands in his pockets. Radigan led Zhu past the hooded onlooker, beyond the arena to the western entrance walkway and paused, expression grim.
“I just got a call from Beringer. Someone tried to assassinate Eidos Kryos at Consortium Hall.”
Zhu was silent a moment. His expression frozen in shock. After he recovered, he gestured in demand, as if to tear an explanation from the man’s soma by force alone. “What happened?”
“Kryos was in a meeting with Oversecretary Gild when a woman entered the chamber and fired four rounds from a modified cutter. Traceless. The perpetrator’s identity is unknown. Wasn’t a member of the staff. Kryos was unharmed. Gild was injured.”
“And the assassin? Captured or-?”
“How does the matter stand internally?”
“Its being hushed up, for now, only Gild’s department, The Board and the Security Commission and, presumably, Kryos inner circle, are in the know. Beringer says Gild’s men are conducting an internal investigation.”
“Why did Beringer leak this information?”
“He trusts me.”
“Well that’s foolish. If this woman was able to enter, it meant she had a keycard and biometric data from a undersecretary. Do you know whose card she had?”
Fear contorted Zhu’s visage.
“It couldn’t have been mine.” Radigan removed his keycard from his inner jacket pocket, held it up before his confederate a moment and returned it to its previous resting place.
“Well, its good Gild’s covering it up. Do you know if they plan on going public?”
Radigan shook his gray mane slowly.
“They won’t say anything until they have suspects and make a few arrests.”
“This is most peculiar.”
“Hands in the air.” A stern voice echoed from behind the conversants.
Slowly, Zhu put his hands up as Sodabrucke’s oratory continued to reverberate faintly throughout the passage. “We must choose unity over division. Which means we must choose carefully what unifies us. Not strength. Not hate. But love.”
Radigan’s expression waxed swiftly to terror when he beheld the speaker standing behind them. Zhu swiveled his head over his shoulder, eyes flying wide, mouth parting.
A tall, broad shouldered man stood the wide stadium exit, flagged on either side by well-armed officers garbed in the vestments of the Reiks Consortium Security Commission, a cutter in every hand. The man that had previously spoken lowered his weapon, holstered it and strode forth.
“Vitalik Radigan, Iyad Zhu, you’re under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder.”
“On whose authority?” Zhu demanded hotly.
The officer kicked Zhu’s legs out, dropping the federant envoy face-first to the ground and bound his hands behind his back.