The Project, III

[Click here for Part II. Click here to start at the beginning.]

Evan sat staring at a unlit lamp. He supposed it was a reading lamp, but the complex had more than adequate lighting. The low hum of fluorescent lights were a ceaseless reminder of their presence. As he focused he thought he heard the faint sounds of crickets, or the stirring of grass. Evan had not taken well to the past month. He had spent 10 years on Akara without so much as considering what he would do if he succeeded. What was Evan to do now? Evan had gone straight from the Institute into his research. He had been hustled along into a dark corner of the country. He had hoped to contribute, but somehow Akara had brought with it a sense of finality. His research, beyond curiosity, had been to improve the state of things, how does one improve a finished project? He supposed he could have work on a second version, but he had built Akara so that no one could interfere with it. Akara had no interface. There were no keyboards, databases, not even an email address. One could for example communicate with the Office of the Secretary of Duma or any of the other various Offices of the Duma. Yet your response would likely as in the past be ignored. If Akara felt any request so much as warranted a reply, he was designed to reply in character. While there was only one Akara, it had a module for every office and function that the Duma had formally occupied so as to smoothly and effortlessly manage the transition. Akara spoke with many voices but thought with one mind. Evan did not feel like communicating with one of Akara’s many personas, he wanted to meet the real thing. A simulacrum of some bureaucrat would not do.

Akara’s, the true Akara’s, only outlet to the world was the printer room. As he saw a messenger walk past, he began to follow them. Despite his own cloistered design, he presently felt a need to be as close to Akara as possible. Evan’s thoughts went to his creation as the quiet hum of tubes and the even fainter crickets emanated from the geometric lines of the drop ceiling.

Whatever ferocity had gone into the rampant destruction happening only a moment ago dissipated as cowed office workers flattened to the ground. Men and women adjusted themselves into awkward poses among the scattered carcasses of computers, files and desks. If Sam had been curious before, now he could only be alert. The bureau had anticipated their arrival. If Akara’s orders to surround the place were any indication, there might be more trouble ahead. “Everybody leave in an orderly fashion.” Sam had decided that it would be better to lose a few employees to the wild than for any more records to be destroyed. His team watched with wary gazes as the disheveled and sweaty bureaucrats staggered out of the building. Finally alone, the team stuck close to the wall. They moved towards the stairs, hoping to make it to the main office. Passing the rustling of paper, they stepped into the immaculate stairway protected only by a lonely door and its lack of document storage.

As their steps echoed on the unyielding grey concrete Otto spoke up: “Sam what’s going on here?”

Sam wondered himself. “I’m guessing that the Bureau has something to hide from the new regime.”

Ascending the last steps they packed themselves next to the 2nd floor door. The PEF burst through the door to the cracks of pistols. Somewhere in the maze of desks and cheap panels someone had decided that this data was worth dying for. Besides the brand new bullet holes, this floor had been left untouched. Sam would have thought it almost charming, if he wasn’t wondering why there were armed men, besides themselves of course, in the bureau. Otto peeked around a file cabinet only to be met with four reports. The bullets thankfully cleanly perforated the drywall. Another PEF fired over a divider, spraying the ends of the makeshift hallway. Sam used the opening to rush across the gap, firing a few shots for good measure. On his way he caught a glimpse of a man dressed in the loose unkempt garb of a scavenger. From behind him Sam heard a rapid burst of fire, as a PEF fired on a scavenger trying to flank them. A two shots pierced the cheap barrier Sam was leaning against. Sam turned and emptied his clip back through the felt-lined divider. As more bullets poured through going the wrong direction, Sam decided that it was better advance than wait for a stray bullet to find them. Sam reloaded and the team pushed up the makeshift hallway. At the end Otto could finally get a view of the cubicles. On his left he saw the body of the scavenger, evidently the one that had been firing down the hall. Around the corner to his right, he saw a shabby man huddled under a desk and another leaning on a printer. Otto marked their relative locations on the walls of the hall and the squad fired a few volleys. Verifying their demise, Otto gave the signal and they searched the rest of the floor. Yet it seemed that those four scavengers were the only others in room. All that was left to explore was the lone office at the end of the room. It was somehow untouched by the fracas. The heavy wooden door seemed the only solid thing they had encountered in the room. As Otto opened the door Sam and the team rushed in.

There Sam stood staring into the smug face of the Head of the Office of Population Studies. Given the cramped office, Sam guessed that either this had been a disciplinary appointment or the man had some kinship to a marmot. The dim light exaggerated the way the shelves pressed in around the man burrowed under a sea of loose paper. “There’s nothing here for you to find. You can crawl back to the Duma and tell them that.”

As Otto focused on digging through the file drawers, Sam questioned the man. “So you are admitting to destroying state records?”

The man laughed, “Look I am not a brave man. I’m not a rebel or one to stick to principles. I would not act without proper authority. It is you who should be worried.”

Sam was stunned. Even Otto poked his head out from a file cabinet, a folder still in hand. Sam knew better, but under what strange notions was this man operating? A call came in over the radio. “This is coming from headquarters, ‘Great job! take Magne with you and head back here.'”

Sam looked at the man his face periodically illuminated with greenish hues from the flickering monitor in front of him. He was about to ask but he looked at the name placard on the desk. This was indeed Magne. “Apparently you are coming with us Magne.” Magne stood calmly and circled his desk. Otto and the other PEF surrounded him as Sam followed behind. Magne looked over his shoulder as he walked, almost tripping over one of the dead scavengers. He recovered his balance, his face showing a flash of disgust before he looked ahead.

When they entered the cold air of the lot Magne spoke again. “Where are my employees? Did you kill them as well?”

Sam didn’t feel like assuaging his fears. “I’m not their keeper.” Otto shoved him into the car not bothering to bend his head. Magne rearranged himself and stared out at the crowd of people gathered in the street. A lone PEF guard stood to hold the crowd back, but they knew better than to test him.

A message came in over the radio. “Sam you are to pass a message along to Magne.” Sam joined Magne in the back seat. Otto cheerily took to the drivers seat next to a forlorn PEF soldier.

The convoy pulled out of the lot. Sam listened carefully and repeated as an operator relayed the message. “Magne this message is coming from the Office of the Secretary of Commerce. We have received your shipment of the files as requested. We thank you for your cooperation.” Magne went pale.

Sam looked him over. Speaking this time with his own words. “What was that about?”

Mange whispered “A month ago, we received a request from the Department of Commerce for the files on the major populated areas. It was a routine request, they usually use them in their models. This time was a little different, though they requested our entire backlog going back to the Founding.”

Magne rode in silence as Sam and Otto reminisced over the many days spent in that lonely isolated airport.

[Click here for Part IV.]

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