will be completed in a series of installments)
'If that dog pees on my shoe one more
time, I swear I'm going to shoot him!'
Preston gingerly carried the offending
item of footwear into the kitchen area, past the suitably mortified
canine that obviously recognised it had finally gone that little bit
too far. The huge brown eyes followed their master and the gentlest of
whimpers escaped its throat. Claws skittered as the dog sought to find
a purchase on the smooth, featureless flooring. It nudged
apologetically against Preston's legs, leaving a trail of fine hairs on
the man's sharply pressed trousers. Preston looked down and scowled at
the brown and white bundle, now sniffing studiously around his bare
'Beethoven! Come here, you bad dog!'
Lisa stifled a giggle and sought to look
stern as 28lbs of unruly fur and muscle hurled itself away from Preston
and towards the outstretched arms of its beloved mistress.
Muffled by the sound of the tap running and vigorous scrubbing, Preston
muttered that he should never have brought the puppy home. Puppy! The
thing was taking on elephantine proportions.
have listened to Kyra…'
you say, Dad?' Lisa was scratching vigorously behind the dog's ears,
causing it to emit yelps of pure puppy pleasure.
'I said, I
should have listened to Kyra. She warned me that the size of a puppy's
feet gives a good indication of the final size of the adult dog.'
turned off the tap and snatched up a cloth. He marched over to his
daughter, who was now sprawled on the floor, wrestling with the
least you can do is dry my shoe…'
up cautiously and reached for the shoe and the cloth. For a brief
moment her lower lip trembled, until she caught the slight upturn of
her father's mouth and the barely suppressed amusement dancing in his
eyes. She smiled. Unable to maintain his aura of disapproval in the
face of such radiance, Preston placed his hand gently on Lisa's
'Just try to
teach him some good manners, OK?'
'And keep him away from my
'Will I ever get the hang of this…parenting thing?'
frowned and rubbed a finger thoughtfully against his lips. It was
essentially a rhetorical question but Kyra Flynn rolled amused eyes at
him and waved the question away.
at me,' she smiled. 'Never going to be one of my life experiences!'
shouldn't underestimate yourself, you know. Seems you have Robbie and
Lisa pretty well pegged.'
so? I'm more inclined to believe it's the other way round!'
regarded her with one of his more enigmatic smiles before returning to
the closely typed sheets in his lap. Kyra stared out of the car window,
aware that her body language was probably bordering on the defensive,
hoping that John was sufficiently engrossed not to notice.
sighed and laid down the papers.
probably be a difficult meeting this morning. There's bound to be major
opposition to the increase in armed patrols in Sector 15. I shall need
your support. No matter how much I try, they still see me as a Cleric
of the Tetragrammaton.'
followed the droplets of steel-grey rain as they crawled miserably down
the window. She inhaled slowly, held the breath for a moment, then
released it equally as slowly. She swivelled her body to face John,
forcing her expression to neutral.
'Why try to
be anything different? If it wasn't for the Free Cleric, the
'opposition' would be non-existent!'
nodded. His intuitive nature had indeed picked up on Kyra's
well-concealed discomfort and he was pleased that she had simply put
away whatever was troubling her to concentrate on the day's business.
He admired her professionalism and her ability to cut through to what
was important. The past few months had not been easy for either of them
and in many ways, personally and professionally, they were still in a
state of transition.
remainder of the short journey to the Free Librian HQ, temporarily
housed in the former Equilibrium Centre in Sector 8, Preston and Kyra
reviewed the morning's agenda. Occasionally, sirens from the
accompanying cortege disturbed their concentration. It was a necessary
yet uncomfortable reminder of the still perilous times in which they
who had no idea of the momentous changes brought about by the Amber
Revolution, the sight of a white car gliding through the grey Librian
streets, flanked by motorcycles and Sweeper patrols, would seem nothing
out of the ordinary…merely Clerics going about the relentless business
of the all-powerful Tetragrammaton. As it was, the escort was now there
purely for their continued protection against as yet unidentified, but
not unexpected hostility from those who rejected outright the tenets of
Free Libria and who sought to re-establish the old regime in all its
attempts and indiscriminate bombings cratered the fragile path along
which Free Libria now stumbled. Indeed, her journey towards lasting
peace was fraught with all manner of dangers. It was a measure of the
desperation of her plight that those Clerics and Enforcement troops
loyal to Preston were now needed as much for her preservation in the
newly formed Free Librian Security, as the Third Councillary had
employed them in its crusade to annihilate her.
comments, coupled with a variety of expressions ranging from the merely
curious to the downright suspicious, greeted the Cleric and his
Administrator as they entered the still makeshift Council Chamber and
took their seats to the left of the Senior Council Members. Several of
them smiled and Preston nodded pleasantly in return. Others were not so
forthcoming, deliberately choosing to focus on the printed sheets in
front of them. Kyra shook her head and muttered something inaudible,
before noisily shuffling her papers and stacking them neatly on the
drab green table.
last of the Councillors had filed in, a tall grey-haired woman, who had
afforded Preston the warmest smile, rose gracefully, then brought an
ancient gavel down onto a well-worn sound block, bringing the meeting
to order. A few coughs. Some impatient whispers. Silence.
Council Members, Free Clerics and Associates. Once again there are a
great many items on the Agenda for this week and we shall try to
address all of them in order. However, due to recent developments, it
will necessary to make a few changes. Please be patient.'
Council Member Tatiana Volkov was highly respected amongst the
fledgling Council of Free Libria. She had been the calm voice of reason
during the almost unbearable years before the fall of the Third
Councillary and was an indispensable Advisor to the First Council
Member. The fact she was also his Aunt was often forgotten.
Preston listened to her outline amendments to the proceedings, his mind
effortlessly recalled his first view of her as, eyes closed, she
climbed serenely up the subway stairs, several steps ahead of him. It
was the morning he had deliberately let the ampoules of Prozium slip
from his fingers, to be crushed underfoot, releasing forever his
allegiance to the liquid amber.
Unconsciously, he touched the palm of
his right hand, the same hand which had been drawn to experience the
smooth coldness of the guide-rail and which instead had been shocked by
the residual warmth from the hand of another.
Somewhat abruptly, the Cleric was
dragged from his reverie by a different voice, powerful in its
conviction, yet burdened with the true knowledge of the human cost of
Libria's rebirth. He felt the concerned pressure of Kyra's hand on his
arm as Jurgen addressed the Council.
'I know that many of you are worried by
the recent upturn in violence in your Sectors and concerned at the
increased deployment of Enforcement officers. We lived for so long with
the dream of a free Libria, that the reality of plunging our citizens
into chaos in the name of liberty was virtually ignored in our struggle
against Father and the Tetragrammaton. I remember saying…' Jurgen's
eyes slid briefly to the Cleric, who was watching him intently. 'I
said…that if we could disrupt the supply of Prozium for just one day,
our cause would be won by Human Nature itself.
Well, we all know now how fickle that
Nature is…how the success of winning the cause can be measured by the
amount of food on the table, whether or not the electricity or water
supply is constant…even by how regularly the trains are running.
Yes, people are feeling again,
experiencing the highs and lows of human emotion. But they still need
order, continuity. And at present, that order and continuity cannot be
maintained without the visible presence of the Free Cleric and the
controlled utilisation of the Police. Those of us instrumental in the
destruction of the Old Order have to accept that we must use its
crumbling and scarred foundations to build the New.
And we also have to accept that there
are still many who, for their own warped purposes, seek to undermine
those foundations, to strike at the very heart of our new society and
render it impotent. We cannot show weakness. We must use whatever means
available to protect and nourish this new society. We have already
sacrificed so much. We must not fail Free Libria now!'
The ripple of applause grew into waves
of enthusiastic clapping. Many members jumped to their feet in loud
vocal support. Preston leaned forward, noting the knot of black-coated
Clerics on the far right-hand side of the assembly. They neither stood,
nor applauded, but all appeared outwardly respectful and every one of
them was looking in his direction. He acknowledged them with a barely
perceptible nod. They rose as one like some huge black carrion bird and
exited silently through a nearby door. Even Preston had to admit their
very presence had hung like a dark cloud of remembered menace over the
proceedings. Their scheduled meeting with him, later that day, was
likely to be somewhat frosty. The Cleric were almost universally hated,
tolerated only because of Preston's position in the new Council and the
undeniable fact that they were a dreadful necessity.
Once the Council members had settled
themselves again, each Sector representative gave his or her report and
highlighted any major issues. Mostly, the reports were identical:
problems with supplies and lines of communication with the Industrial
Sectors; sporadic violence, theft and defacement of public property.
Absenteeism from the workplace was causing particular headaches.
Equilibrium Centres were inundated with
people needing help with Prozium-related complications. There were
insufficient counsellors to cope with traumatised citizens desperate to
find their emotional balance. Others still clung to Prozium, unwilling
to cease their interval until stocks were depleted totally.
Preston maintained an aura of concerned
interest, but inwardly he was fighting a losing battle against boredom.
He visualised the stack of paperwork and e-messages awaiting him at
Enforcement headquarters and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He
realised that he loathed inactivity. Beside him, Kyra Flynn stifled a
yawn. With her hand still covering her mouth, she whispered in the
'How much longer is this going to go on?
We have so much to do!'
'I don't know,' Preston whispered back.
'But Council Member Fraser looks set for the long haul. Don't forget
that so far Sector 15 has the highest incidence of possibly organised
crime, hence the increased Enforcement presence. And Fraser has
jurisdiction over two of the Industrial Sectors…'
'I understand that. In fact that's what
concerns me. So wouldn't it just be better if we…'
Preston had raised his hand slightly.
Kyra closed her mouth.
'Listen,' he said quietly. 'This
Council Member George Fraser ran the
fingers of his left hand through salt and pepper hair, took a moment to
sip some water from the plain glass in his right, then continued the
sentence which had piqued the Cleric's interest.
'…so the equipment from Factory 4 never
made it to the dismantling site on Tuesday. Both low-loaders simply
vanished. Of course, we didn't know until this morning, when I got a
call from the Officer-in-Charge. Baffling is what it is.'
Preston rose and placed both hands on
the table. 'Forgive the interruption, Council member Fraser, but why
has it taken 48hrs to discover that this equipment is missing?'
Fraser threw up his hands in
exasperation. 'I don't want to appear rude Cleric Preston, but have you
any idea just how much stuff has to be taken apart?
The scale is just enormous… it all has to go somewhere and at the
moment, that somewhere is the recycling plant in IS2. Basically, this
shipment wasn't missed until it was missed…'
Preston acknowledged the information by
raising both his hands off the table and looking directly at Fraser. He
knew his next question was going to irritate the Council Member even
'Do you have any reason to suspect the
OIC or any of his staff?'
Fraser closed his eyes briefly, then
opened them again to look pointedly at the Cleric.
'Why should I?' he said coldly. 'The
Officers who escorted the shipment from the Factory were from Free
Suddenly, it seemed that everyone was
talking at once. Preston sat down heavily. This was all he needed.
Tatiana Volkov leaned forward and looked directly at him. She
recognised the necessity of maintaining a high level of trust and knew
this had to be cleared up immediately. She didn't miss anything and was
privy to many secrets still too damaging to Free Libria's delicate
stability to be allowed into the public domain.
After the Revolution, the Palace of
Justice had been sealed off until Free Libria reached her own
equilibrium. Many things which had not been burned, shredded or
otherwise spirited away, were still concealed in its cold cavernous
'Perhaps, Cleric Preston, you would look
into the matter personally? And report to me or the First Council
'I will indeed, Senior Council Member
Volkov. In fact, if you would excuse us, Administrator Flynn and I will
arrange to visit the Factory at once and carry out a further
Preston and Kyra had to edge past a
number of Senior Council Members to reach the door. As they passed
Tatiana, she winked at them, knowing full well why Preston had been so
eager to leave and take up her suggestion. Then her bright grey eyes
clouded suddenly and she gripped his sleeve.
'Be careful, John,' she cautioned
softly. 'There are many forces at work in the City. I am fearful for
Free Libria…and for you.'
The Cleric briefly covered her hand in
'I was once reminded that I've trained
all my life for just these kind of situations,' he responded gently,
anxious to allay those fears. 'In some ways, my job hasn't really
changed, just my reasons for doing it.'
He moved off to speak to Jurgen and
Tatiana grasped the opportunity to have a word with Kyra, who felt a
hot twinge of embarrassment, because she knew what the older woman was
going to say. She had become a close friend during the frightful weeks
after the Revolution, before a semblance of calm had descended. Kyra
valued her counsel, but sometimes Tatiana saw too much.
'How are things?' Tatiana folded her
arms in a matronly fashion and waited for the reply.
'Fine? Hmmm. It can't be easy for you, I
know, but he's a good man, Kyra, a decent man and…I've seen the way he
looks at you sometimes. He's proud of you…of what you've accomplished.
It will be all right.'
'How can things ever be truly right when
I'm the reason he doesn't have a wife and his children don't have a
mother? Tell me that!'
The older woman's expression hardened
and she clasped Kyra's hands.
'If you don't deal with this now, it
will poison any chance of happiness you may have. Personally, I doubt
he ever gives it a thought. Have you even discussed it?'
Kyra shook her head, dumbly.
'So you just ignore it…hope it will go
away. Like Mary O'Brien?'
Kyra felt her face colouring. She
blinked hard and pulled her hands away.
'My problems are pretty insignificant
compared to those of Free Libria. You know this, Tatiana. I did not
spend 26 years in the soulless halls of the
Tetragrammaton for nothing. I have to make the experience gained there
count for something here.'
'I couldn't agree more. But you can't
let your actions in the past affect your present…or your future.
Because that's what we all have now, Kyra. A future. Talk to him. He'll
understand how you feel. And he does care for you. You wouldn't be
together if he didn't.'
Kyra turned to look at the Cleric, still
deep in conversation with Jurgen. Tatiana had to strain to catch what
Kyra murmured and it saddened her.
'I may be in his bed, but I'm not in his heart.'