Murder in New Eden
by Charles C. Cole
Chapter 2: A Cure for Space Sickness
Schiavelli opens a heavy hatch door, similar to one found in a submarine. He climbs down a metal ladder.
“You’ll have to excuse the dirt, Your Honor; even Lois doesn’t know about this room. If she did, she’d probably be mortified.”
The bare, motion-activated lights flicker on overhead. The room, not much bigger than a 2-car garage, is filled with the soft persistent throb of large electronic equipment.
“What is this place, and how come I don’t have one? A private wine cellar? A command bunker?”
The room, metal floor and exposed steel girders along the walls, houses six working cryogenic pods, all in a row, with imposing life-sustaining pipes attached to each.
“Are these what I think they are?”
The chief intimates, “You know the saying: old soldiers never die.”
“Leo, you’ve been keeping secrets from me. Deviousness does not become you.”
“Before you lie contemporaries of my great-grandfather, heroes from the last global war. At the time, highly decorated killing machines.”
“They might have been prime candidates for New Eden’s first coup d’état.”
“Relax, mayor. I don’t want your job. I don’t need to see inside the city’s bowels. These gentlemen are on your side, or can be. Superpatriots to a man. Willing to give their lives for a just cause.”
“They should be laid out in some public memorial where the masses can pay their respects.”
Schiavelli tries using simple terms to get the point across. “That might be awkward. You see, they’re not lying in state; they’re very much alive.”
“Alive? Like you and me alive?”
“Unless I’m completely confused, that’s what the fancy monitors say.”
“As in... alive?” The mayor knocks gently on the glass covering.
Schiavelli shrugs. “So it would seem.”
“Real soldiers? Impressive. Sounds old-fashioned, doesn’t it, from another time?”
“Just a few. A handful. A rare, limited edition, if you will.”
“And, let me guess, you want to let them out to fight again? Is that why we’re here? To get acquainted?”
“They’re just lying around with nothing to do. Kind of a waste, don’t you think?”
“Isn’t this a little like using a laser canon to swat a fly?”
“It takes a killer to stop a killer.” He leans back against the ladder and hooks his thumbs around a rung. The impression is: We’re not leaving here without a decision.
“How do you know they’ll obey orders? What if they decide they’re in charge?”
“Willie, if my great-grandfather trusted them, I trust them. It’s as simple as that.”
“How long have you known about them?” asks Brandt, still dwelling on the unpleasantness of the surprise.
Schiavelli is dismissive. “A while. They’re mothballed remnants from a bygone age. I could never think of a reason to wake them up, until now.”
Brandt rubs his hands together to get rid of the dust. “Do an old friend a favor, hold off a bit longer, until they’re the only option on the table. Because, you know, once we thaw them out, there’ll be no turning back.”
“You want me to wait?” asks Schiavelli. “That’s your official position?”
Brandt finds his “professional” tone. “We’ve had two incidents, Leo, and the first one doesn’t count because, apparently, he didn’t take anyone with him.”
“That we know of.”
“If you pull them out now, people are going to wonder what other secrets we have below decks. I’m not ready to have my authority second-guessed.”
The chief pushes harder. “And the next time someone implodes in a crowd of unarmed civilians?”
“Last time I looked, we’ve got cameras everywhere. Except in here. Turn more of them on. Now is not the time for privacy. Use them. Let’s keep a vigilant eye on our citizenry, for their own safety’s sake.”
Schiavelli tries a line someone once used on him when he was much younger, by his predecessor. “A camera will never stop an act of violence. You understand that?”
“Unless you have someone watching them round the clock, in real time.”
“Impossible. Even Nakamura needs to sleep sometime.”
“I’ll bet Toby would get a kick out of it.”
Sarcastically, Schiavelli concurs. “I bet he would.”
“Easy, Chief. In his own way, he helps run this city.”
“If it happens again, what we saw today, my team will be there to pick up the pieces, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to restore order. They’re simply not trained to handle this level of violence.”
“So train them behind closed doors until they get up to speed; I don’t want the wrong people watching, thinking we’re overreacting. I suppose we have to raise the bar. The community needs to see, if there’s any further outbursts, that we can take care of ourselves and take care of them.”
“Should we open the armory?” Schiavelli asks, with a solemnity usually reserved for shotgun weddings. “Is it finally time to ‘augment’ the force?”
The mayor reluctantly works out a least-worst concession. “Maybe it is. Maybe. But I don’t have to like it. Start with small arms for an elite hand-picked few, something they can conceal under a loose coat in public.”
“Like Bernie did?”
“That’s not funny, and you know it. Where did he acquire that damn thing, anyway?”
“The New Eden Historical Museum warehouse, where he worked.”
“I’m genuinely sad we lost a few good people today and disappointed that an otherwise lovely concert was cut short by an ugly outburst. But, more than anything, I’m furious someone I probably considered a friend is forcing us down a dangerous road I’d never have chosen in a thousand years. We’ve suddenly gone from small-town busybodies to some big-city conspiracy.”
“If the locals start to feel a little paranoid, like someone’s watching their every private moment, they’ll probably have justification.”
Brandt dismisses the sarcasm with a wave of his hand. “It can’t be helped. For what it’s worth, I think you’ve got the idea. I think there’s more death in the forecast, to be privately candid. But I’m not willing to cause a panic, not yet. I’d rather sacrifice a few more civilians under the umbrella of plausible deniability and keep the long-established peace than announce our complete lack of preparation for whatever lies ahead.”
“You know the difference between a mayor who’s been elected for a life term and a military dictator, Willie?”
“I know I’m probably not going to like the answer.”
“One wears a uniform.”
“That’s an odious comparison.”
They return to the land of the living quietly, each planning his next move. Schiavelli steps back into his office. Brandt closes the heavy door behind them and pushes the wall back in place until it clicks. Schiavelli tosses Brandt a towel from his small office wet bar. The mayor doesn’t hesitate to wipe off the film of history.
“That was quite an excursion,” says Brandt “I’m astonished. I’m not easily astonished. You’ve got me ruminating.”
“Good, I think.”
“You can’t survive as mayor without being a little accommodating. What if we only thaw one soldier for now? The leader of the bunch. You can tell by rank, right? We use him to get us ready for a stronger defense, as well as exposing us to the guerilla tactics of urban warfare.”
“Just one man?” asks the chief.
“Not a man. An experienced soldier. That’s a pretty big difference.”
“It’s a start. I don’t think he can topple your government on his own.”
“He’d better not try,” says Brandt.
“How do we explain a stranger among us? He’s bound to stick out.”
“A transfer from another space station? An Earth evacuee who just happened to hear our radio signals and tracked us down? I’m open to ideas.”
“Communication is Toby’s forte,” says Schiavelli. “Mine is crowd control.”
“Leave it to the professionals then. I’ll tell them some version of the truth: in responding to the burst of unexpected violence, we accidentally discovered an overlooked storage compartment of anti-terrorist technology, complete with an honest-to-God one of a kind last-century supersoldier, put on ice by our forefathers’ forefathers for just this kind of emergency scenario. And aren’t we the lucky ones?”
“One of a kind?” asks Schiavelli, thinking of the rest of the team.
“For now. But if he wakes up power-hungry and decides he’s entitled to the whole man-killing team, how do we respond to that? How do we stay the decision-makers and the leaders in charge?”
“Inform him of your position. He’ll abide, I promise; it’s in his DNA to respect the chain of command.”
“Just one, then,” Brandt concedes. “And he’s your responsibility. Any hint that he’s more than we can control, you put him down like the feral animal he is. Do I make myself clear?”
“Thy will be done, oh master,” says Schiavelli with a formal bow of his head.
“I like the sound of that. No wonder I made you chief of police.”
Copyright © 2018 by Charles C. Cole