Come The Revolution – Snippet 29

Chapter Eighteen

What was I good for?

That was a really good question. What I’d told Stal about my background was all true: I was a pretty good administrator, and a good judge of people’s abilities, but that wasn’t the secret of my success. I had risen as high as I had in the criminal underworld because I could kill without hesitation and without any genuine remorse. That is a much rarer ability, even in violent criminal gangs and the military, than most people imagine. Train soldiers to shoot and stick bayonets in dummies all you want. When it actually comes down to aiming at a living being and pulling the trigger, you would be astonished how many hesitate, or shake uncontrollably, or don’t fire, or deliberately miss.

But I never hesitated and I hardly ever missed, and that was my edge. After a while I understood what that meant, that there was something wrong inside me, or something missing, but that realization did not change anything. I wanted to escape that life, wanted to become something different. It wasn’t lost on me that my escape from violence involved the single most murderously violent episode of my life.

So I died and I was reborn. Not hard to attach some sort of spiritual significance to that, huh? But now what? What was I good for now? The idea of picking up a gun and discovering that I could still kill without hesitation, that that was still what I was good for, would mean it had all been for nothing, wouldn’t it? And that thought haunted my dreams like a dark reaper, waiting, waiting.

I was twenty-two and zero.

So far.

Not that I had a wealth of time for introspection. I figured we had maybe a day or two to get ready and at least a week’s worth of work to do. Everyone in Sookagrad wanted to do something, but nobody knew where to start, and sure as hell didn’t want to take orders, so you mostly ended up with a lot of people standing around talking and waving their arms.

I had an advantage: for that first morning, Nicolai Stal loaned me his personal shtarker gonef, a big bruiser of a guy named Petar Ivanov. Ivanov made it easier to get people’s attention. At a shade over two meters tall, and well over one hundred kilos of bone and grotesque, bulging muscle, he walked around in no shirt and very baggy pants tucked into low boots. With his oily black hair and swarthy complexion, he looked like something that had materialized out of an old lamp.

I got up before dawn and had an idea. I scrounged a dozen spray bottles of bright yellow-orange glow paint and then, as the district came to life at sunrise, Ivanov started showing me around, searching for people who looked like they knew what they were doing.

At the first food warehouse I visited I found a middle-aged woman of Chinese ancestry, Dolores Wu, arguing with the guards, trying to persuade them to help her move a hydroponics setup to the warehouse. She was painfully slender and took odd little steps from side to side as she listened to the guards, her hands gesturing as if to reinforce or sometimes contradict what she heard. But when she spoke she froze in place, arms slightly out to the side, only moving her head from one side to the other between sentences. I found her physical mannerisms oddly bird-like, but her arguments to the guards were pragmatic, coherent, and forcefully delivered. After a five-minute job interview I sprayed the front and back of her shirt with the big letters “LOG” for Logistics, and did the same for the two armed guards. Ivanov stood with his arms folded staring at them the whole time, so they didn’t argue about being drafted.

The spray paint was their uniform and authority: she was acting head of rationing for Sookagrad Logistics, and the guards were her muscle. I told her to round up a work gang and move the hydroponics unit wherever she thought best, and then start looking for more. If she could find a reliable assistant, get him or her to work on an inventory. The guards at the other warehouse were under her as well. One of the two guards at this building said he knew them and he’d explain. I gave her one of the spray bottles to make it official. The sooner people started seeing a bunch of folks with those markings, the sooner they’d accept their official status.

There were probably better-qualified people, technically speaking, than the ones I drafted that morning, but I didn’t have a lot of time. Mostly I concentrated on grabbing people with loud voices and aggressive attitudes. That’s how you fill a power vacuum: noise and motion.

Within two hours I had a good start on a senior team, all of them recruiting work gangs to get the most pressing, immediate needs addressed. Ivanov didn’t say much, but when he did it was worth listening to. He would also take over fabrication himself, once we finished our morning round of drafting people into the organization. Despite his looks, he was actually a software guy and he knew his way around the hardware as well. He didn’t fit my mold of loud and aggressive, but he knew where every fabricator in the district was, who knew how to run them, what software was available, and where the raw materials were stored. I told him to work on finding a loud-mouthed assistant.

I hadn’t listed billeting on my original to-do list, but Billy Conklin, a local building contractor, convinced me we needed someone to honcho space management. He wore cowboy boots under his work pants and a cowboy hat so stained, worn, and crumpled it was hard to tell what it was right away, and he sported an accent to match. I got the feeling he had a lot of experience convincing people they really needed things they’d never thought of before, which was just the sort of skill set I needed, right? He was smooth alright, with his feigned bumpkin act, but I suspected I might have to keep an eye on him. I have an instinct for guys who are so sure they’re smarter than everyone else in the galaxy, they always have a couple extra things going on the side.

He was right about space management, though; we had too much critical material looking for a place to live, and would probably have a lot of people fighting for that space as well pretty soon. A couple of the outlying residential buildings would have to be evacuated to make the perimeter more defensible. Where would we put those people? Billy got a spray-painted jacket for his trouble and a new job. He already knew carpenters, welders, plumbers, finishers he’d hired or worked with. I gave him two spray bottles and told him to draft anyone he needed.

I found our head medic on my own. Dr. Tanvi Mahajan was the director of the community clinic and pitched in with the doctoring as well. Her appearance stuck me immediately: well-dressed, trim figure, hair neatly pulled back, and face bearing the prominent scars of childhood acne. If anyone had access to cosmetic surgery, especially something as simple as this, it would be a doctor, but she’d never fixed it. I got the feeling she was pretty comfortable with who she was. She was also the only person I met that morning who didn’t seem flustered or a bit overwhelmed. She took five minutes and told me exactly what shape the clinic was in, what she expected would be the things they’d have a hard time dealing with, and what she needed to take care of it all. She got to keep her job with some new challenges. She’d need a lot more space for trauma patients, preferably adjacent to the current clinic. Talk to Billy Conklin about that. She’d also need to secure whatever medical supplies she could, and get Petar Ivanov working on fabricating more.

Moshe Greenwald was my last acquisition that morning. Moshe was short, thick, and balding, at least ten years older than me, and his coveralls stretched taut across his broad belly. A hand-rolled lit cigarette dangled from his lips. The sleeves of his coveralls were rolled up and I spotted a tattoo on his right forearm: a big gold and red spaceship. Not a real spacecraft, mind you, but what people through they would look like a hundred or so years ago — a sleek torpedo-shaped hull sporting big swept-back fins and a fiery exhaust. I figured either he had a strange sense of humor or he was drunk when he got that ink.

I found him unbolting the LENR generator from an abandoned Munie van. LENR stood for Low Energy Nuclear Reaction, what they used to call cold fusion. An LENR generator didn’t kick out a lot of power, but it was steady and low-maintenance.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked him.

He looked up and squinted at me over the forward chassis of the van. “I’m paintin’ my nails. What does it look like I’m doing?”

“We’re going to need that generator you’re stealing.”

He carefully took his cigarette out and balanced it on the hood of the van, straightened up, hefted the power wrench, and looked at Ivanov. After a couple seconds he put the wrench back down and picked up the cigarette.