Art Pact 61


"What's your objection?" she asked, sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms. I stared out of the boardroom windows over the city, letting my gaze roam out to the orange-lit suburbs in the far distance.

"Well," I said, when I judged enough time had gone by to give her the impression of thoughtfulness. "I don't think we'll be able to get it past the regulators, for one thing."

"Trivial," she said. That was true enough, I knew that she had friends (was that the right word?) in the regulator's office. She could have the details of the plan buried so deep in the reports that only the most stout-hearted official would be willing to wade through and find them. "What else?"

"There's the question of the availability of resources. If you can't get the - uh, the fresh material into the city quick enough to keep up with demand, the whole scheme falls over." I pointed to her diagram on the projector screen. "The problem is that it relies on constantly feeding the front end of the.. uh, the production cycle. If there's a low.. flow? Let's say flow. If there's a low flow in the input, the ripples go all the way through the cycle. There could be some sort of feedback loop, the foul-up at the end of the process would begin to devour - I mean, would interfere with the initial processing."

The strain of constantly coming up with euphemisms for the plan's constituent parts was beginning to tell on me, and I could see that Archangel could see it. She nodded indulgently, as if my points had been made with the logic and stark language that I would have preferred to use, but she tapped on the massive pile of papers on the table in front of her.

"I don't think that... recruitment will be a problem."

"Really?" I asked. "Because-"

"Not a problem. Really, Jones, let that fear go completely out of your mind. There is absolutely no chance that anything will go wrong with supply, and even if it did, the scenario you're describing is unthinkable."

I froze, my hand halfway through sliding a paper out of the slim folder on the chair next to mine. Archangel was staring straight at me, her head haloed by the setting sun. The disc of fire hung behind her, red and swollen, and seemed to flare up so that I couldn't keep meeting her gaze.

"Unthinkable," I repeated.

"Correct."

"Then in that case, I think I have no more objections. Thank you for your time, I have my actionables."

"Good meeting." she said.

I collected Sanders, who was stood by the door where I'd left her, and shut the door behind us. The corridor outside the boardroom was empty except for a guard.

"What was that?" Sanders asked.

"That was the shit hitting the fan," I explained, ushering her towards the lift. I knew that there were microphones in the elevator boxes, so I put my finger on my lips to shush her for the duration of the ride, then back on the fourth floor hustled her into my office and poured a glass of whisky for us both.

"Thanks, but I don't-"

"You do now. Listen, this is something that you have to learn, and quickly. Unthinkable is important. It's not what Joe Public uses it to mean, and it's not the bullshit phrase they use on the lower levels. It's a codeword."

"What does  it mean?"

"It means that it's not unthinkable at all, it's guaranteed."

"Guaranteed?" She frowned, and her lips moved quickly - a nervous habit of hers when she was going over memories in her head. Her frown deepened. "So the whole idea.. but that would mean..."

"Exactly. The whole thing's meant to fail. If the process starts to go critical it won't be a remote problem that they could have avoided by spending more money on safety, it's the whole point of the scheme."

"But that would be a disaster. Literally, a disaster. Wherever they were planning to site the... uh, the factory... would be in grave danger."

I held up the paper that I'd been removing from my file when Archangel had cut me off. The thing that had really told me that my number was up. The planned location of the processing facility.

"That's - here? In the city? They're going to put it in the docks?"

"That's where the raw materials come in-," I began, but I couldn't keep up the euphemisms any more. "The bodies," I corrected myself.

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