Ryard’s company crossed the mechanized gangplank that extended from the seawall, past the jibless flotilla of black monohulls whose sharp prows loomed over the harbor like daggers of volcanic glass, to the hydraulic lime shore thick with regimented soldiers of the deep colonies. A storm gathered in the smoldering distance. A tight black spiral, unnaturally uniform, preceded cold rain and a rustling gale. Upon alighting the seashorn pier, Ryard’s group was spied by the nearest of the troops and after a short exchange were brought to a wide automated packing plant between the docks and shipping yard. The building was a high spire composed of polymer composites with a hard white resin surface that bore scorch marks courtesy of the easterner’s revolt and was surrounded by a circular expanse of anti-icing silicone stretching from the base of the building to the cargo loading yard fifty feet hence. Large metal intermodal containers stood outside. Kryos’ men sifted through the contents of each metallic cube before resealing and moving them onto the backs of heavy transport mag-rays that thrummed into the distance.
Ryard’s troupe was led through the ground floor lobby to the central chamber which was filled with rows of cans and other parcel sized oddments fitted to movable alcoves pressed together in a scale-like pattern. Each scale, a basket set into a conveyor which could be moved seamlessly up or down any floor. Long reticulated mechanical arms like queer bony growths ran the length of the room and cast elongated shadows across the dusty, spacious interior. Though unpowered, the dactyl devices creaked due a weak but steady airflow.
Sonderon and Raimer took in the contours of the peaked chamber as Straker, who refused to allow aid, leaned against the doorway in a bid to relieve her wounded leg and regain a medication faded balance.
Ryard walked to a neatly arranged stack of glass jars secured with thin metal seals and removed one of the containers. Fermented fish. He tilted the vessel in the hazy light. The seal held but the lid bulged upwards and the contents were thick and stringy.
The lights flickered. From above, the calm voice of Eidos Kryos echoed. “Do you know why the lid protrudes?”
The travelers cast their eyes to the undulating shaft which ascended from the ground floor to the seventh story. A dark commanding figure stood above on the third story at a gap in the railing, backlit by steady white light. On the factory rigging about the spectre crawled countless machines, some drifting idly in the air, others investigating the wiring and ventilation systems with a ginger curiosity that belied their fearsome frames. SIKARDs.
Ryard returned his attention to the can. “Interior chemical reactions. Gas production. Bacteria?”
“Very good, Ryard. Clostridium botulinum. An anaerobe partial to marine sediment and the viscera of fish. The bacteria produces a potent neurotoxin. A few micrograms of the substance is sufficient to precipitate severe illness in our species. Without respiratory support and antitoxin, death is swift. Oxygen is fatal to the microbes, as it is to the quality of the food in which it grows. Once infested, one must discard the vessel, or boil its contents.”
Two soldiers, armed and armored, entered from a side door, dragging between them the scarlet clad form of a Bright Horizon operative. He was a thin man, with bags under narrow almond eyes. The eastener’s hands were bound in scandium and a tracing collar had been affixed around his long throat. Frantic, he searched his surroundings, discerning, with mounting dread, the faces of Ryard’s party. Behind the trio walked former Oversecretary Ermin Gild, whose Consortium garb had been exchanged for the albescent armor of the deep colonies, his attention focused on unwrapping a chocolate truffle in his hand.
“Good to see you well, Director, Mr. Sonderon,” said Gild as he took in the faces of the visitors, stopping at Vancing, Raimer and Sirin. “Others.” Sonderon gave a curt dip of his head. Ryard tilted his head up in recognition. Raimer crossed his arms and issued a grunt of displeasure.
The silvery machines loosed themselves from the wire coated wall and floated in declining formation to fashion a makeshift stair. Kryos strode down from the third story upon the backs of his aerial attendants, his hands held before him, nearly to his chest, left against the right, fingers moving with enigmatic rhythm, his eyes locked upon the prisoner who had been moved to the center of the packed storage chamber. The easterner ceased struggling against the two guardsmen that held him and shock came into his expression as his eyes took in the man descending from the overhead hollow.
“This one’s name is Fang, yes?” Kryos inquired, the rightward guard nodded.
“This is a violation of the Markov agreement. I have rights.” When this elicited no response he raised his voice. “God given rights.”
Gild rolled his eyes, popped a truffle into his mouth and delicately folded the wrapper into the form of a little man. Kryos stopped nine feet before the easterner. The lilting cyclic movements of his hands ceased and a hardness came into his expression.
“Such fanciful notions did nothing to gird the dock workers your people slaughtered, or my director, whom you shot.” Kryos dismissed the guards and walked clockwise about the detainee, every footstep ringing throughout the cavernous recess. “The future is an island in an ocean of blood. Bone white with harmonic ideals. You shall find no harborage in empty shells. Tell me why your kin seized the harbor and ivory shores you may yet see.”
Fang straightened defiantly. “I’ve nothing to say to you.”
“Silence affords no seclusion from the thrumming of a guilty heart. Fifteen others of your kind await in the adjoining room.” Kryos paused, now but five feet from Fang. “Of that number, a woman, Aadila Shen, was greatly disturbed by your departure. So great was her distress that tears filled her eyes. Shall I question her next?”
The defiance that had previously characterized Fang’s visage evaporated to regret and apprehension.
“No. That won’t be necessary.” Fang looked about, expectant of intercession, but the eyes of the onlookers were cold. “We received an order. Secure the seawall. Obstruct the deep colonists. Obstruct you. But we couldn’t breach it. So we tried to hold the docks until we figured a way to do so.”
“Who gave this order?”
“They contacted you directly?”
“No. Affin com-lines are unsecure, as you probably know. We received word from one of Zhu’s associates. Here, in the city.”
“A man named Illander Rehdon. He’s-“
“I know who he is. Did your people contact the Bureau thereafter?”
“No. That would have risked discovery of our plan.”
“Riskier still to trust a man like Rehdon. The plan was his, not yours.”
The prisoner assumed a baffled expression.
“What do you mean?”
“Rehdon lied. The Bureau would not intercede here, now, when I and the new Consortium yet stand, they would wait until one of us fell. To do otherwise would be foolhardy.”
“More than that. The Bureau tried to contact me for several hours prior to my arrival. Message after message. Urging peace. They suppose that Sodabrucke will be easier to negotiate with. Clearly, Rehdon’s desires differ. You were a tool to realize them. A traitor, betrayed.” Kryos folded his hands behind his back and took two steps away from the man, staring up at the immobile conveyor system. “How many families will not have food on their plates because of you and your kin?” The drones began to hum and circle tighter around the prisoner. Fang shrieked, “Keep those things away from me!” Yet closer still they came. The captive turned to the onlookers. “Help me!”
Kryos observed Fang’s vain flailing with faint disgust. “Your guilt is obscene. Your body ought be likewise.” The humming grew louder and one of the drones raked the prisoner’s face with a metal limb. Fang screamed as another of the intelligent machines severed his left leg just above the knee. He fell, clutching a bloody stump. Mouth wide. Eyes owlish in disbelief. A hideous wail repeated from his maw and painted the production plant in raw notes of anguish.
Kryos spoke to his men without turning to them or the wounded man. “See that he lives and replace the limb with a new unit. A brand of his betrayal.” The soldiers dragged the barely conscious man through the portal to the adjacent room as Kryos advanced toward his visitors. “Director. This is a pleasing sight.” Kryos raised his black gloved hand and gently caressed the pale contours of the woman’s face. Straker smiled and bowed her head. For a moment, silence, then Kryos spoke, amusement clear in his curt, measured tones. “Tatter told me you came with ill intent, Mr. Vancing. She was concerned.”
“She told you of my conversation with Rehdon?”
“I see.” Ryard cast his eyes to the floor and sighed. “I’m sorry about it, I had to put on a good performance. If I could convince her, I knew I could convince him.”
“You have done well. Our wolf thinks a jackal shall claim the lion. But when he comes for the carrion, he shall find us both waiting.”