Kryos: Chapter 36

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Tears fell in tandem with the casket. The vessel bore no body. None remained from the blast. In place of Julian Salis, one of the man’s cherished, antiquated hats, a tan and crumpled thing, had been lovingly placed by the departed’s wife, whose aged, yet regal face bent from the burial with a sorrow too great for words. A primly garbed psychologist stood by the edge of the pit and spoke of Salis’ deeds in a cursory manner, suggestive of genuine respect but little intimacy. All the while, Ryard Vancing stared blankly at the gathering tomb and the lobster-back case within, shimmering with the pale light of an aircraft-veiled sun. He felt perplexed by interior vacuity and waited for a percolation of emotion. Only a tight-coiling anger rose within him. He pondered whether it was the absence of a corpse that afforded hollowness, something tangible and dreadful to rouse and anchor memories, or his own dearth of feeling. As dirt closed about the dark, gleaming cask, he felt a soft, cold hand twine about his own. He looked left and beheld a slender woman with dark hair and heterochromatic eyes, garbed in a coat of KSRU fashion, akin, by his lights, to Vera’s own habiliment.

“Tatter,” he uttered with tender surprise.

It had been nearly a year since he had seen her, though it felt longer.

The woman gazed silently at the doleful burial for several seconds before speaking.

“Salis once told me, he hoped, after he was gone, they would not raise a statue in his likeness, for fear its proportions should be made absurd. He said, ‘I am a frail and ugly man, and I ought be presented as such. I could not abide the dishonesty of a handsome presentation.'”

Ryard watched a thin smile play up the side of the woman’s unnaturally pale face.

“He gave much thought to posterity.” Ryard frowned and turned full to face the woman. “What are you doing here? Its not safe.”

“Nor is it in the colonies.”

“Why?”

She put her hands in her pockets and spoke softly. “Another attempt was made on my father’s life.”

“What? When?”

“Don’t fret. The assassin found no purchase against Father’s designs. But there is something else.”

As the psychologist finished his eulogy and made way for Salis’ wife to speak, Ryard took the woman by the arm and moved to the back of the grief-stricken congregation. He didn’t think Salis would hold it against him. He hoped his wife wouldn’t either.

“What’s happened?”

“I believe I saw the man who planted the bomb.”

“At the aerospace complex?”

“Yes.”

“Why were you there?”

“I was keeping apprised of the government’s actions for Father.”

“And this man, who is he?”

“Danzig Kleiner.”

Vancing waxed grim. A chill wind swept through the funerary wood, rattling the branches like desiccated bone. A charming voice followed.

“So very sorry for your loss.”

Tatter and Ryard turned to the crowd, at the back of which stood a man with a chartreuse coat and gleaming blond hair. He alone amongst the multitude faced from the casket and the flower-strewn furrow into which it had been placed. The chartreuse-coated man smiled enigmatically as the wind tousled a few errant auric strands about his soft, boyish features.

It was Illander Rehdon.

A woman began to weep loudly as the eulogy continued. All attendants save the trio were fixed upon the rite. Ryard focused on the man, his posture raptorial.

“I hoped to see you here, Illander.” His voice assumed a hard edge. “You’ve much to explain.”

Rehdon pursed his lips and cocked his head. “Why Ryard, whatever are you talking about?”

Vancing scoffed, made for his wrist-wound affin module but paused as he saw a missed message on the screen. “Need to speak to you, urgently.” Signed: Holleran Meris. He wondered what trouble the old goat had gotten himself into, then tapped and tilted the screen toward the entrant. A portion of the security recording taken before Casja Fawnell’s death ran without sound. Fawnell and a hooded man walked toward an automat. Ground slick. Sky gray. After the clip finished playing Rehdon tossed a casual query.

“I presume this is prelude to an accusation.”

“In addition to the fact that you had a personal connection to Fawnell and were the last known person to see her alive, the figure walking next to her on the recording is your height and build.”

“My proportions are not uncommon.”

“You’ll note that the man in the recording is wearing gloves.”

“And?”

“It was neither cold nor raining. So why wear gloves?” Before Rehdon could answer Ryard pointed. “Your hand is still bandaged.”

For a long moment both men exchanged unwavering stares. Discomfort wormed in Rehdon’s bosom; in Ryard’s there was only wrath.

“I know it was you.”

“And what was my motive?”

“She was getting close to Sodabrucke and Sodabrucke was getting close to the Chancellorship. Getting rid of Fawnell left an opening in a congealing cabinet.”

“Very thoughtful, CAV-keep.” Rehdon turned to Tatter, his charming smile quick reforming. “Would you excuse us?”

Tatter took a step back from the man and half-hide behind Ryard’s body.

“Unlike you, I don’t keep secrets from those whose confidence I’ve won.”

“How noble.”

“My patience is wearing thin. You can explain yourself here, or in a cell.”

Rehdon cast his keen gaze about at the congregation. “Not really the place for such a discussion, however much it is the time.” Ryard gestured impatiently to the nearby forest. Rehdon smiled broadly and motioned for Tatter to lead their egress. “Ladies first.”

At a brisk clip, the trio traversed the patchy, clay-thick soil to a tangled grove in the heart of the cemetery, assuredly out of earshot. Rehdon crossed his arms and leaned against a tree and inhaled deeply before speaking.

“I am a Federation agent.”

“What?” Ryard’s features contorted with amazement.

“Allow me to finish. It will not make sense unless I explain it all at once.”

Without a word, Ryard gestured for the man to continue his narrative.

“Five years ago I was approached by some men from the Security Commission’s Interior and Foreign Office. They told me they had discovered an East Federation spy ring. Wanted me to infiltrate. Find out what the foreigners were up to. What those fine aecerites didn’t know was that I had already been approached by men from the east, for much the same purpose, only, of course, the federants wanted me to help grow their Aecer-based operation, and keep it from being sussed out.”

“Why’d they come to you?”

“Through my philanthropic ventures, I had, at that time, accumulated a considerable network of acquaintances, including members of state, domestically, and in the east.”

“What’s this treason have to do with Fawnell?”

“Patience, patience, my dear man, I’m coming to that. And it wasn’t treason. Not really. You see, the federants had come to trust me, so when they asked me to spy for them, how could I refuse? I’d no interest in being a tangle snipped from their skein. You will I trust, understand the tremendous pressures laid against me in the decision. So I pretended I was for their cause. Quite convincingly, if I do say so myself. But I tell you sir, I am aecerite through and through. And so began compiling evidence against them. Now we come to your query, to Fawnell. It is as you said, I was there, but I took no move against her. I was there to protect her. Like me, she was going to testify. Had gotten close to Sodabrucke, as you probably know, who even then was likely to be the next Chancellor. If Fawnell had lived, it would have caused all kinds of problems for the Federation, for in short order, she would soon be able to move against them with the backing of the city government. I suspect they poisoned her by way of the automated food dispensary. All I know was that she got up suddenly and ran into the street. And then… But you are right to be angry with me. I failed in my duty. I-” The man shook his head and looked wistfully off into the distance. “I could not protect her.”

For a moment the trio sunk to silence as Ryard mulled Rehdon’s words.

“What of the bombing?”

“You think I had something to do with that as well.”

“The complex itself was seized at your behest.”

“At my suggestion. I am not in so lofty a position I can give such orders. Besides, the whole point of the venture was to promote an economic merger of East and Aecer aerospace. The majority of the Board was behind it. Why would I go after all the Board members save for the one who presented the only stolid opposition to the plan?”

Ryard didn’t answer. He bent his head, hands in his jacket pockets, eyes studying the ground. Mind whirling through a diagram of recent events.

“Like so many intelligent men before you, you seek phantoms when wind and shadow suffice.”

“And what shaded gale have I overlooked?”

“See for yourself.”

Ryard followed his companion’s hand up to the sky where drifted a colossal com-link aerostat and on the machine’s exterior a projection of Eidos Kryos from chest to head.

The great visage spoke and the world fell silent.

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