Playback Before the Gendarmes Arrive

This rough sketch continues the story started in The “Great Engine of Atosa” and picks up after “Before the Gendarmes Arrive.” Atosa, being one of the things on Hlau’s list 800 years later, is the site of a gigantic engine mainframe complex, built during a period that is comparable to Earth’s 19th century.

Jing and Zo led the errant priest to the data terminal where they had witnessed the hack in progress. The data spool was still in place and hadn’t been re-wound yet. Even with the all the analytical engine mainframes down, electricity still fed into the complex from the windmills and the nearby river, stopped-up by a hydro-electric dam. The terminal couldn’t connect with the engines in its current state, but it could display the data that was recorded onto the spool. Zo pulled down one lever to re-wind the roll of punch paper and pushed it to stop, and then hit a button to play the data.

Ikaya grabbed the cable that connected the monitor to the the keyboard, the telegraph key, and the engine when the day’s data come on. He had Zo fast-forward the roll to the point when the mysterious access happened. He had clearly sensed something before, even if he didn’t say it. When the source with no origin appeared on the screen, it confirmed that there was something more to this than a masked identity. He knew something.

“You’re terrified,” Jing oberved. “That much is clear. Can you tell us what you know?”

“I was about to tell you when you cut me off. Clearly, your hunch was correct. This is the work of psychic. And yes… I know who this is.” Ikaya took a deep breath before continuing. “As I said, we’ve been following this case for some time. There had been a string of engine hacks in some of the major cities – Shusa, Hladdat, Hitonnen, and even Tiago. Your former employer in Tiago was of the companies affected. There have even been people from His Holiness’s office who have been following this rogue for quite some time. And some of them are now dead or have been injured.”

“Couldn’t the gendarmes or some other kind of police apprehend them?”

“We’ve shared as much of our information as we can with the Agency and local police departments. Unfortunately, ordinary people are no match for a Level 7 telepath.”

Ikaya took a few seconds. “Level 7 is the strongest level of psychic power that’s been observed in human beings. Most priests tend to be anywhere from Level 3 to 6. There is unlimited potential in what a Level 7 can do, and those powers must be used responsibly.”

“And what do you know about responsiblity?” Jing asked. It was more a dagger than a question.

“When are you going to let it go? It was seventeen years ago. Mura and I just happened and it works. And how can you kick me when I’m here to help?”

“Just like an Itanese to take whatever he wants,” Zo interjected. “And the priests are no better. I really don’t get you people.”

“Just like a Tanesh to be crass and disrespectful.” Shortly after Ikaya made this remark, Jing grabbed him and pulled him away from the cable. Jing told him, “You can go. I am going to call Shusa and ask for another expert.”

“Someone’s on the way. Probably on a train or dirigible. But they sent me to make the initial assessment.”

“Stick around, go, I don’t care. But I’m calling Shusa. No, I’m not.” Jing paused and told Zo to hook in the telegrapher key’s cable to the outgoing pocket for Shusa. “Please tap out to the Office of His Holiness that I find this agent Ikaya to be unsatisfactory, both in the present and in the past for behavior unbecoming for a priest.”

“You wouldn’t dare! Do you really think they’ll defrock me over something you said?”

“The many faces of the gods! We have a problem here, one that affects many jobs and your precious big city ordinators. As you said, this culprit has cost the lives of some of your colleagues, and all you can think about is saving your own skin. Zo, please tap in what he just said and that nice comment about you. Also, mention that our dear friend Ikaya has harmed me in the past.”

“I’m already on it,” Zo said, tapping out the longs and shorts. The engines were down, but the telegraph system still worked. Jing pointed to her proudly, “That’s someone who knows how to do their job!”

The beeping of the longs and shorts continued for a few minutes more, and then the message was transmitted. The gendarmes were coming soon and Jing still needed to look at the entry and exit logs for the data library. As for Ikaya, Jing hoped that he’d be professional enough to share what he knew with the Agency police and his fellow priests what he knew about the psychic hacker. As for what lie in store for Ikaya’s priesthood, Jing did not know if it would be the cruel face of Compassion or the kind face of Destruction.

to be continued…

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