Friday, April 20, 2012

Disaster Preparation

by Travis Perry

Mayor Edard Jonzn genuinely loved Adagio. Which didn’t mean he was above laying aside a bit of money for himself from time to time.

The monthly disaster-relief committee meeting was to take place in only two hours and the watergate engines that sealed off the port were down, damaged and left closed after the tsunami from the last fiveday. This was bad, because the Zirconia representative normally rode in on his personal submarine only an hour before the meeting. And Mayor Jonzn desperately wanted him to make it for this particular disaster committee reunion.

Just over a Founding ago the fresh-faced “Lieutenant” in his quasi-military uniform, a legacy from the days Zirconia was military-run, had entered his office after a committee meeting, asking if he had any bugizzard cigars. The very question marked him as an outsider—very few people on Adagio had ever even heard of tobacco, let alone smoked it. For an Adagio native, a “bugizzard cigar” was simply a “cigar.”

He’d invited the clean-shaven kid over to his hand-crafted steel desk with a warm smile, looked him over, and handed him a cigar. The lieutenant had lit it with practiced ease and taken an appreciative puff. This made the young man seem different, as if he were the kind of person who kept up an appearance of propriety in public, but who secretly would have made an excellent customer back in the days Jonzn was Adagio’s number one bar-and-brothel owner. The “Lieutenant”—really a sort of deputy mayor—had laughed nervously after that and then made an unusual statement:

“I have something heavy in my pocket. I don’t want to bring it back to Zirconia with me.” He pulled out of the front right pocket of his pressed aqua blue trousers a small handful of coins. Gold coins. Lieutanant Macbane’s face flushed red. Obviously this had been his first bribe.

“For…for you, sir,” he stammered as he placed them on the mayor’s desk, seeming uncertain of what to do next.

Mayor Jonzn, on the other hand, had not been a virgin in the arena of “under the table” payments. “Of course, son,” he’d said. “You can rest ‘em right there. I’ll give ‘em a good ‘ome, room and board, so to speak.” He grinned and the Lieutenant giggled nervously.

When nothing else came, he’d prompted, “Was there anything you might want in exchange for me giving said wayward coinage comfortable lodging for the night?”

The young man had seemed to come to himself after that, drawing his stance up taller. “Just remember that Zirconia is your true friend. Adagio’s interests are our interests. We expect…uh, I mean, hope for…your support should we ever find ourselves in disagreement with… other interests.” By that he’d clearly meant the “governor” from Avenir.

The mayor needed no convincing for that. He hated that butt-licking skyscrubber anyway. So it had been a win-win situation. Free money for doing what he would have done in any case.

But now, with the watergates down, he’d miss this month’s payment. With his daughter hounding him about buying her a new nanoweave dress imported from Avenir for her birthday, he needed every glimmer of extra coin he could get his hands on.

He stood in his office, built of ashbrick and painted white with sea-conch paste. He disliked the smell, but he’d long ago covered it with the odor of burning cigars. The black phone receiver in his hand had been hand-carved from a bug’s leg. Sweating nervously and smoking, he shouted into it. “I don’t care what you do, I want a gate open. You have one half-hour!”

“Sir, I’ve got a broken servo on the west gate and on the east, the main rail is bent. I could rig the backup motor on the east side to pull open the west, but there’d be no way to close it again in an emergency— ”

He cut off his chief engineer, “Sounds good, make it happen. Now!”

“But, sir— ”

“You’re a clever man, you’ll have this solved by the end of the day.”

“Maybe…but what if there’s a tsunami between now and then?”

“Shut your face-hole and do as you’re told,” snapped the mayor. He sucked hard on his cigar, his right hand trembling.

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