Before the Gendarmes Arrive

This rough sketch takes place a close to 800 years before Hlau’s investigation of a string of hacks on some computer mainframes. Atosa, being one of the things on his list, is the site of a gigantic engine mainfame complex, built during a period that is comparable to Earth’s 19th century. Jing, the protagonist of this sketch, is witness to some of the early events of the Great Engine Heist. There is a discrepancy in the calendar system and the dates used here and some of Hlau’s stories. I’ll definitely correct it in future drafts. This part picks up from The Great Engine of Atosa, III.

Ikaya, the holy man, nervously looked at Jing and his young apprentice. It had been years since Jing last saw him, when he and his fiancee Mura had seen him to discuss officiating the wedding that never happened. Then the last time he heard the priest’s name was when Mura broke off the engagement, saying that she just could not stop the forces of nature. But she had to tell Jing this while he was working, coding away on an important file. His sojourn in Tiago, which he thought would become something permanent, had ended with a phone call. And this man ,who had stolen what could have been his life, arrived shortly after another one. One did not need to be a telepath to grasp that Jing was seething with anger.

“I’m really sorry,” Ikaya said. “I really am.”

“I don’t care about about your sorry apology. I don’t care about you,” Jing said. “If you can’t help us, then think yourself back to where you came from. The gendarmes are coming and perhaps they’ll do some good.”

“You know they have no idea how to investigate this.”

“Yes, but I can call His Holiness’s office. Perhaps they can send someone else. I’m sure someone can jaunt them in if they can’t do it themselves.”

“I’m here and I can help,” Ikaya pleaded. “When I heard that this had happened in Atosa, I volunteered right away.”

“Clearly you’ve never been interested. Why now?” At times, Jing preferred to be around the machines than he did around people. They were complicated and could make life difficult, but they worked if you understood them. People were complicated and often made life difficult, but one could never understand them. Especially when someone had taken vows for the enlightenment of humanity. That said, Jing was no misanthrope. He had trained and mentored many people over the years, watched them grow personally and professionally, and saw them move on to take on more responsibility. He hoped that he would be able to see Zo through all these things. This man in front of him, though, was irresponsible, even now.

In waiting for an answer, Jing had hoped the priest wouldn’t confirm his feeling. He didn’t like the man, but he hated even more that he disliked the priest, that it had caused him to look at all of them with suspicion many years ago. Others, especially some of the local priests, had helped him regain his trust for the House of Wisdom.

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry. My wife too told me to convey her regret when I told her I was coming this way. I knew I could help in this situation, but…”

“Oh, the many of faces of the gods, man! You’re just as self absorbed now as you were back then.” Jing sighed. “There are lots of livelihoods at stake here and all you can think about is how sorry you are.”

“Look, the House of Wisdom has been following this for quite some time. We’ve been tracking this case from Shusa to Hitonnen and then to the northern West Coast. We had some idea that Atosa would get hit sooner of later.”

“And somehow, you’ve never found it fit to give us the memo.” Jing wanted to say much more, especially to tell Ikaya what he could do with himself. The Itanese language was colorful in that way, after all. But there was a young woman present who called him her “work dad” and that made him hold back.

“Some security men from His Holiness’s office have died in the process.”

“Can you help us or not?” Jing cut in. “Save your talk for the gendarmes. We need to check the library.”

“You can show me the way,” Ikaya said, deferring to Jing. “But let’s take a look at the terminal first.”

to be continued…

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