Come The Revolution – Snippet 28

“Power: we’ll need every kilowatt of electricity we can get once they think to pull the plug on us, especially to run autodocs and fabricators, and to charge gauss weapons. We need to pull every LENR generator and solar skin from every vehicle and building roof we can find, get them centralized and redeployed. Wouldn’t hurt to identify any electricians and mechanics as well and use them to keep things running.

“Ammunition: no matter what sort of stocks you have, it won’t be enough if this turns really hot. We need raw carbon and powdered metallics, and a bunch of fabricators with flechette software loaded. I heard a rumor you might be able to help with the software. I’m not sure what heavier weapons you’ve got, but –”

“Stop,” Stal interrupted, raising his hands to silence me. “Take job.”

“You need to clear it with the others or something?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Will go along. Not need gun for job so Katranjiev will like. Do not start now, though, Already dark and most people off streets pretty soon. Get rest. Who knows when next chance?”

“Okay. So tell me, what’s the deal with this citizen’s Troika? Is it anything but a funny name?”

“No, but maybe we make it so, da? Katranjiev is head of Merchants’ and Citizens’ Association, I think was formed to protect them from criminals, like me. They misunderstand my motives.”

“You just want to shear them, not skin them,” I volunteered.

“Precisely! So Katranjiev brings in this awful woman Zdravkova and her revolutionary ideas. Very dangerous. But she has well-armed fighters with hard eyes, and many people listen to her, so to persuade masses has turnip and club.”

“What makes you think anyone’s going to pay attention to you guys?” I said. “The people I’ve seen around here so far don’t look like they’re used to taking orders, and that’s on a good day. Hard times coming.”

“Food,” he answered and took another puff on the cigar. “Once Park Authority Police withdraw yesterday, Zdravkovas post guards on food warehouses before smart guys can grab and start black market. Puts out word, bring food in, will guard it.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I bet they’re lining up to do that.”

Stal shrugged. “This morning Chinese gang — LÄ›ng Nánhái — from ghetto south of here raid two houses where people have food, kill families. Now many people bring food to warehouse. Troika controls food, Troika controls Sookagrad.”

I’d read about LÄ›ng Nánhái but never run into them personally. They were supposed to be one of the nastier Human gangs in the Sakkatto slums, but you never knew. Anybody posting a feed story wasn’t going to get much play by claiming it was “just an average gang,” so you had to make some allowance for journalistic hyperbole. Their name meant Cold Boys. Going for the food made sense.

“Grab them by their stomachs and their hearts and minds will follow,” I said. “Sounds like Katranjiev and Zdravkova have the bases covered. Since neither one of them cares much for the criminal element, why’d they let you have the third seat? Oh, yeah–fabrication.”

Stal studied his cigar and smiled.

“Bogo Katranjiev troubled man,” Stal said, his voice thoughtful.

“The only one who voted to kill me–not my favorite guy down here.”

“What to say?” Stal answered. He settled back again and took a long draw on the cigar. “Katranjiev was married, had little girl. Little girl killed by stray shot when two tough guys had argument. Marriage ended, lost business. So now hate crooks like me — or former ones in your case. Understand?”

Yeah, I understood. There’s a cold space in me, though. Well, most people would say there were lots of cold spaces in me, but one particular one was for hard luck stories people use to justify acting like assholes. I mean, I get it that everyone acts the way they do for a reason — cause and effect, right? Every asshole I ever knew, once you got to know them, turned out they had a pretty good reason for acting that way. But everyone I ever knew who treated people decently and generously had just as good a reason for taking their pain and disappointment out on the rest of the world, lots of time a better one. They just didn’t.

For my money, the important thing which separated folks wasn’t how good an excuse they had for acting like a tortured asshole, it was just whether or not they did.

Of course, in Katranjiev’s case there was the added complication of him having voted to execute me. My objectivity was probably compromised.

Stal shifted in his chair and frowned in thought, his eyes still on me.

“So tell just me, why you help Leatherhead kids two years ago?”

I shook my head. “Part of it was because they were orphans and alone and on the run, and I knew exactly how that felt. But the other thing was I was tired. Tired of the violence, you know?”

He looked at me, his face carefully blank. If he knew what I meant, he couldn’t afford to admit it, not in his position. Some of his people followed him out of loyalty, and some out of enlightened self-interest, but there were some who did so only under the threat of deadly violence, and he could no more admit a reluctance to kill, and survive that admission, than I could have two years ago on Peezgtaan.

He turned to the smart wall to his right, my left, which gave a panoramic view of the northern approach to the district. The setting sun painted the western faces of the buildings orange and red. Smoke columns rose into the sky from a couple fires a kilometer or so away, but it had been worse yesterday. A remote recon hover plat in military colors made slow orbits around the upper stories of e-Kruaan-Arc, waiting, waiting.

“Heard about what did on Akampta shuttle two years ago,” he said. “Killed Kolya Markov and eight others, hard-core gunmen.”

“Actually I only killed Markov and seven others. My wife Marrissa killed the eighth one.”

“Wife? Saw picture of her: very elegant, high-class. Does not look type goes around shoot people.” He took another draw on the cigar she’d given me and blew a long column of smoke up toward the ceiling.

“Well, you never know, do you?” I said. “She drilled him right through the liver. Took him a while to die.”

Stal frowned. “Hard way to go.”

“Yeah, sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night just thinking about it. Funny thing is, it never bothered Marrissa one bit.” That wasn’t really true but he didn’t need to know all our personal demons.

He looked at me and the look became something close to a glare. Finally he shook his head.

“Okay. Wife one tough bitch. Sasha one tough bastard. Everybody tough, okay? Jesus! Is always same conversation.

“Is funny, you kill all those guys, and ever since I hear that, I want ask, how? But you not know how, are you? I mean, you just do, one by one, until are all dead, da?”

“Something like that.”

“‘Something like.'” he said and then frowned. “Now I actually need someone can kill like that, you say, ‘Am tired of violence.'”

“Something like that. Besides, I wasn’t exactly unstoppable. You might recall Markov killed me the same time I killed him.”

He smiled. “Not my problem. Do job, then die on own time. But tired or not tired, arm in sling. So no good with gun . . . you say. But if mob get past perimeter, then maybe see what Sasha really made of, da?”

“You’re the boss,” I said.

His grin widened. “Famous Sasha Naradnyo calls Nicolai Stal boss? Could get used to that.”

“Don’t,” I said, and his smile became cold.

“Okay, tough guy. And don’t make mistake of thinking Sasha and Nicolai same underneath it all. Nicolai Stal not tired. I love this.”