The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.
The Siberian looked over the men in front of him. You couldn’t deny their muscle but that wasn’t why he was hiring them. They had a reputation for being smart. Not his kind of smart, there wasn’t a whole lot that approached his kind of smart, but smarter than your average bear. And they knew the City, they worked the City and they didn’t get caught, which was impressive when you knew the City had the biggest urban law enforcement budget in the world, the best tech and the sharpest officers.
These men played at being hoods and gangsters, but with a knowing humour. They were strangely anachronistic in the modern world and he suspected they liked it that way.
The Siberian was a tactician of the highest order. But the problem with brilliantly cunning plans was that you had to count on less brilliant people to execute them. Which was what had gone wrong, which was why he needed these men to help him fix it.
“Gentlemen. Mister Rollins.”
He let that one sit for a second.
Munch growled, his real name was not public knowledge, it afforded his dear mother some protection. But there were no lengths of retribution the Siberian would not go to and he felt that an important fact to establish early on, to curtail anything which might lead to the necessity of such retribution.
“I’ve lost a package, I’m reliably informed it’s somewhere in the City.”
“No offense, Gov, but we’re not the postal service.”
“Ain’t lost and found either,” Fingers added.
“Ah, let me elaborate. This package is about one and a half metres tall, red hair, green eyes, the most delightful freckles. Not quite, ha ha, herself.”
The Siberian produced a photo.
“I need the package alive, but beyond that, well, you’re not the postal service, so I expect you can manage it at least reasonably undamaged.”
There weren’t many people who could draw Leon from his woodland retreat, but one of them was missing, and another had requested a face-to-face, so a compromise was reached and here he was, a wooded park, on the outskirts of the City, uncomfortable territory for both of them. He rubbed his temples. Cities were too sterile, it took too much to disturb them, made it harder to tell when someone was coming.
His team had arrived early and settled. This tiny pocket of nature had resumed its natural rhythms and the dissonant clamour of the City was muted. He listened. He could hear the bustle of rats in the undergrowth, the patter of squirrels over branches, the rustle of the wind through drying leaves. Autumn was fast approaching.
He turned his hands in front of his face, fascinated by the dusty hue that had crept into his dark skin the past few years, like old chocolate half-remembered and rediscovered; which was not far from how he felt, now. He flexed his fingers, grimly amused at the insidious twinges of pain. For him, Autumn was already here.
The bird chatter changed, panic, a blackbird’s warning cry. Leon heard tread, a twig snapping. He didn’t need the whisper of his perimeter guard to know they had company. The guard attached video, but he didn’t open it.
“Still jumpy, Lion?”
A thin figure, impeccably dressed, entered the clearing and stood beside the chair opposite Leon’s. He wore a grey, tailored suit, so well cut most people wouldn’t have realised there was a small pistol holstered beneath; his head was shaved close to the skull but you could see his hair had gone silver; he was wearing wire-rimmed glasses and he supported himself on a thin cane. In the old days Leon would never have heard him coming.
“You get rusty, Tin Man?”
The cane was new. It might have been a concession to age or, knowing him, it might equally have been for show, camouflage. The glasses were old, and they were camouflage too, or maybe he needed them now. Leon thought it more likely he wore contacts and kept the glasses as a prop.
Leon rose and they shook hands, then settled into the chairs and considered each other.
The Tin Man’s voice was thin but not frail, never frail. “Dorothy is here, in the City.”
“That can’t be the good news it seems. Or you wouldn’t have called me.”
“We don’t know where in the City. And you have the resources here, the man power, the connections you have always hidden behind.”
Leon didn't rise to the bait. He was alive, and older than most people in this business, because he didn’t put himself at risk.
“OK. You know I’ll help. So why meet in person, why risk both our exposure?”
“The game is changing, Lion. You’re too removed these days to feel it. Maybe I needed some reassurance that you haven’t changed, too much can be hidden behind electronics.”
There was one whole truth in what the Tin Man had said though: Leon was too removed from the board. The game had definitely changed.
> goto 3
+ + +
I would normally use stars to separate story from my ramblings, but I'm already using stars so...
I'm going to recommend a couple more non-space-based SF serials.
The Vagrant by Pete Newman (part 1 here)
Kind of Lone Wolf and Cub meets Lords of Light, post-some-apocalypse. Shaping up to be something quite astounding.
Dusk by me and three other writers. (part 1 here)
Chaotic, post-apocalyptic collaborative writing. A broken reflection of a fallen civilisation; the twilight years of mankind.