by Count Zero
It was always supposed to be just another Monday morning at work for Godfrey Tyler. Being London's Chief Of Security, just another work day could at any time play out in a variety of unexpected ways. But he had no idea it would be his last.
He began the day the same way as usual, by staring out of the windows of his office, sipping on a cup of coffee. Not real coffee, of course, just some surrogate. But it had been so long since he last drank the real thing that he had utterly forgotten how it tasted, so it didn't make any difference to him. He still remembered the smell of it, though, forever linked to the family breakfasts of his childhood, of which only fragmented memories remained – the kitchen flooded with warm orange sunlight, his mother smiling at him, his father sitting at the kitchen table in his police uniform, a cup of coffee in front of him.
The contrast to the present couldn't be greater. Blurred by the torrents of rain running down the windows the grey sky hung relentlessly over the devastated city. Save for a few scattered buildings - some originally unaffected, others since provisionally refurbished – his office on the top floor offered a view over fields of ruins and rubble all the way to St. James Park with its dead trees. Just the other night he had seen how Vulcans helped rebuilding San Francisco on TV. Wouldn't it be neat if they showed up here for a change?
But he knew they never would. Too much hassle.
In the street below a few lone people hurried from the underground station to their various destinations, frantically trying to avoid exposure to the rain.
Each man for himself. That's the state of the world out there.
With a sigh he trotted back to his desk and sat down. For a moment he stared at the wall of monitors installed at the instigation of his unfortunate predecessor before he switched it on, hoping for better news. Muting all other channels he watched the weather report on BBC. A young man of West Indian descent gestured wildly in front of an elaborate computer animated map of Great Britain.
“As you can see, the weather won't change significantly in the Greater London area in the next few days...”
the man said cheerfully, but Tyler could see the desperation in his eyes.
“The weather will also be a topic in Roger Blake's interview with the Secretary of Health, so stay tuned.”
Despite the flurry of activity around him, Roger Blake stood calmly at the centre of the studio in London, the epitome of composure. His dark eyes were focused on a crumpled piece of paper he had scribbled on the questions and important facts for the interview. Only losers use prompt cards.
Back in the days when he was majoring in journalism, which felt like an eternity ago, this had been his dream. Sometimes dreams come true in a very twisted way. He wasn't here because he was the best – although he believed he was – he was here because they all had been abandoned. He was living in the future, in one of those dystopian science fiction films or shows, where society has collapsed. Only, it hasn't. Not completely, and enough of it was intact so that he could forget, at least for a little while. Sitting down on a red sofa that further accentuated his sickly complexion he saw the pudgy Secretary of Health appear on a monitor across from him, connected to the studio via a grainy live feed from Cardiff, and he knew again where he was.
“Good morning, Mr Chalmers.”
“As you're undoubtedly aware of, in large parts of the country it has been raining heavily for the last two weeks. Many people are worried about the rain, believing it to be a risk to their health. What would you say to them?”
“I'd say that it's perfectly safe to go out in the rain.”
“How do you know?”
“There have been analyses...”
“Yet, the police themselves wouldn't even venture out in the rain.”
“Well, not here...”
That earned him an angry stare by Chalmers, who interrupted him, saying, “I don't think your anecdotal evidence..”
“It's not anecdotal. It's a fact...”
“Whatever it is, I assure you that exposure to the rain doesn't pose any health risk.”
“However, there are several cases of people getting sick blamed on the rain in Hull.”
The minister glared furiously at Blake. This interview wasn't going the way he had anticipitated, at all. He wasn't used to being questioned like this.
Blake just coughed quietly as he occasionally did ever since he inhaled poison gas when he walked away from the Battle for Hull, a low-yield atomic warhead detonating in the city behind him. One of the few survivors, the coughing was a reminder that he wasn't afraid of anything.
Chalmers answered angrily, “The people in Hull aren't getting sick from the rain but from the water. The groundwater is contaminated and I urge everyone there not to use it. There are regular supplies of fresh water.”
“That's certainly sound advice. Thank you for your time.”
Chalmers said nothing.
After they had gone off-air, Blake leaned back and smiled. Should the government ever return here, he would probably be arrested. A minister pissed off, doubts about the government's trustworthiness sown into the hearts of the people, his own future possibly ruined, and all that before lunch. This is the life.
A few kilometres to the east, Tyler stared at the wall of monitors, still slightly stunned, wondering what was worse – that there were still people living in Hull or that the uselessness of his troops in case of rain had been officially exposed.
His contemplation was rudely interrupted by his aide rushing into his office without knocking. The dark-skinned Lieutenant carried a folder under his arm and dropped it on Tyler's desk in a dramatic, yet calculated fashion.
“The week's statistics are in.” he announced.
Tyler looked at him expectantly but his subordinate said nothing more for several moments. Under his glare the Lieutenenat started to fidget uncomfortably. Seeing that nothing was forthcoming, he grabbed the papers with a soft grunt. A quick peak inside the fake leather folder told him it was a disaster. Within the last week, the second one of incessant rain, crime had again doubled. They had also lost two cars and four officers had been injured. With a sigh he leaned back and thoughtfully regarded his aide still standing tensely in front of his desk.
“Ever get the feeling we're fighting a losing battle, Jamal?”
Puzzled, the officer hesitated to answer, eyeing his young superior - only slightly older than him – suspiciously.
“We're the only thing standing between the people and the chaos,” he went on, “Yet, we're even too afraid to go out in the rain. I once swore an oath to protect the public. How am I supposed to fulfill it under these circumstances?”
“Well, no one would risk exposure to the rain for longer periods.” Jamal replied, not really understanding what Tyler was saying.
“Ordinary people. But criminals and terrorists don't care.”
Jamal looked sheepish, not knowing what to answer.
“Please do sit down.” Tyler said gently and Jamal complied reluctantly.
He continued, “Every morning when I wake up I hope for a sunny day because with each rainy day we become more and more of a joke. Each day we're not out there is a victory for anarchy. And for the Black Lions.”
His thoughts drifted off again, this time to dwell on this group of anarchists and their leader, Djemilsoor Mellaart, who had become a sort of personal nemesis. How I wish I could get my hands on them.
Jamal cleared his throat to get his superior's attention. “Well, about that, sir... I included this morning's Guardian
's front page.”
Sure enough, there it was, the last document in the folder. In bold black letters the headline read “Who rules London?” with a still from Mellaart's speech over the Emergency Broadcast System he had high-jacked three weeks ago.
Hardly keeping the overwhelming urge to smash something in check Tyler shut the folder. He was about to say something reassuring to his aide when a movement on one of the monitors behind the lieutenant caught his eye. It was the feed of the surveillance camera overlooking the area in front of the building. A figure wearing a black hoody was spraying something on a building across the street.
“Now look at that!” Tyler yelled and sprung up from his chair, gesturing agitatedly in the direction of the monitor.
Without a worry in the world the man took a graffiti template out of his backpack. The camera's picture quality was excellent, so they could clearly see that it was a template for a lion.
Without saying a word, Tyler stormed out of his office, down the corridor to the elevator, Jamal hardly keeping up with him, offering only a confused look and a helpless shrug in response to the questioning glances of the people they passed on their way down to the lobby.
No one there noticed their arrival because everyone was curiously observing the incident across the street through the lobby's glass front.
“What is this?” he growled furiously. “You're just watching?”
Before anyone could recover quickly enough to say anything, Tyler was through the door and out on the street. Only now, the cool scent of rain in his nose, did he become aware of what he was doing. Alone in the street, in uniform, unarmed and not wearing any body armour – it was suicide. But he didn't stop, his mind bent on getting that terrorist and beating the outrageous audacity out of him.
Moments before he could grab him, the hooded man suddenly spotted him and tried to run. Tyler laughed. Too little too late
. He lunged at the man from behind and caused him to stumble to the ground.
“You fucking bastard. You think you can do what you want.” he yelled and kicked him hard in his side. Once. Twice. Once more. And again. All this time, the rain kept pouring down on him but he didn't care. He didn't even notice.
“You people thought you were intangible. Well, guess what, you're not.”
He grabbed the man fiercely, hauled him off the ground, pinned him to the wall - and looked into the tender face of a boy staring back at him with a shocked expression.
“You're just a child.” he said, stunned, after releasing him from his grip.
“I'm not.” the boy replied in a high voice, a brown lock falling in his face.
So this is your enemy? A bunch of teenagers. What kind of world is this? And what kind of person would send out children into the rain to do his dirty work?
The boy still looked at him expectantly. In a tone supposed to sound confident, he said, “I guess that means I'm arrested, huh?”
“No, you're not.” Tyler replied softly. “Just go.”
The boy did as he was told and vanished quickly behind the next corner. As Tyler slowly made his way back to the office building, he noticed that his hands were shaking – and that he was soaking wet.
In the lobby, everyone stared at him. Jamal stood in his path and looked at him quizzically.
“What the hell just happened?”
Tyler answered almost inaudibly, a sad and weary look in his eyes, “I'm through with this.”
Jamal watched his superior disappear into the lift. Still puzzled, he muttered, “What's that supposed to mean?”
“It means you just got promoted.” a grey-haired officer standing nearby replied.