None of the modern machines, none of the modern paraphernalia… have any power except over the people who choose to use them. –G. K. Chesterton
NO ONE understood what The Convergence—when man and machine became one—would mean until it had already happened, and few were prepared. The change was monumental; it touched every living thing. But contrary to popular expectation, it did not transform human nature. It amplified it.
Looking back, historians disagreed whether technology caused such change or was simply a response to something else. Some said the emergence of cloud computing accessed by mobile devices had set it in motion. Others pointed to the rise of online vigilantism, or “hacktivism”. Some said it was due to the inability of governments to protect their citizenry from terrorism, while others said it was the breakdown of privacy as all information became digital.
Yet no matter why or when it began, all agreed on the moment The Convergence swept abruptly across the world. It came with the introduction of Draw Power, a means whereby technology could pull the energy it needed from any source of electron transference: the sun, wind, heat, motion, or even the human body.
One of the first applications of Draw Power had been contact lens imaging, bringing computer screens directly to the eyes. Suddenly, a person’s view of the world never ceased being touched by The Cloud. Ocular implants quickly supplanted temperamental contact lenses, while cochlear inserts began to provide sound instead of headsets and earbuds. It was only a matter time before mobile devices themselves went into the body, and within a few short years mankind had become Augmented, a mix of the biological and the technological, seamlessly and forever integrated.
The Haves and Have-Nots had never been so different. The worldview of the technological savvy became one where the virtual and the physical were one, where time-honored institutions such as education, commerce, and government held little value or power, and the idea that one person—with the right information and skill—could institute enormous change for good or for ill. It was the birth of a new form of anarchy and the rebirth of a gentleman’s sense of honor, both largely unseen for over a century.
Yet the most spectacular was still to come…
ONE – THE TWO MUSICIANS OF SAFFRON PARK
THIS is the place, he thought, stepping off the mag-lev. After a warning announcement, the doors closed behind him and the silver train raced away. After a few moments he stood alone on the platform except for some pigeons, cocking their purple heads in search of a handout.
How am I going to do this? It was a question with no answer, and he knew it. Still, he waited on the lonely platform for a few moments hoping some inspiration would strike him.
It did not.
He always knew he would have to improvise. And so he began to walk, following the virtual path his system laid out for him like a yellow-brick road.
The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. He noticed it was built of a bright brick throughout and its skyline was different than the other suburbs around London. As he flicked his left fingers, a virtual map appeared in his line of sight, and he realized the town’s layout was also a bit wild. Another flick of his fingers brought a quiet voice to his ear, dictating a popular commentary from a ‘pedia.
Saffron Park, it told him, had been the realized dream of a speculative builder, who, having thought of himself an artist, sometimes called its diverse architecture Elizabethan and sometimes Queen Anne, apparently under the impression the two monarchs of old were identical.
When first built two centuries ago, the quaint town had been considered a fashionable village. It had been described with some justice as an artistic colony, though it never actually produced any art of consequence. But although its pretensions to be a cultural center were a little vague, its pretensions to be a pleasant place were quite indisputable throughout the years, even when the town for a short, dark time had been cynically called Poverty Park. Since then its original look had been energetically restored by its current affluent residents, who just as energetically attempted to recreate its original atmosphere without giving up the modern conveniences.
With a wave of his hand he shut off the voice and dimmed his overlay so he could really see the place without all the icons and virtual advertisements cluttering his vision. As he walked from the train station, truly looking for the first time at the quaint red houses, he could only think how very oddly shaped the people must be who could fit in to them. Nor as he met the people along the way was he disappointed in this respect. The place was not only pleasant, but perfect, if once he could regard it not as a deception but rather as a dream. And this bothered him in these days where Augmented eyes could paint any picture a person wanted. But on reflection, even if the people here were not “artists”, the whole was truly artistic.
The tattooed young man with the long, auburn hair and the surly face he was searching for—that young man was not really a musician but surely he was a song. And as he passed the old gentleman dressed in skin tight attire—he was not really an aged hipster dreaming of the nerdy-cool; but at least he was the cause of dreams in others. And now as he eyed the bookish gentleman across the street gesturing wildly his silent commands to his invisible virtual system like a conductor of an orchestra—that man had no real right to the airs of mastery he assumed. He had not created anything new in science; but what biological creature could he have discovered more unique than himself?
Thus, and thus only, he decided in disregard of the commentaries, the whole place had properly to be regarded; it had to be considered not so much as a workshop for artists, but as a frail but finished work of art. The young man who had stepped into its streets felt as if he had stepped into a surrealistic Rockwell painting from America—albeit lined with the gleaming smartpaint of the latest must-have vehicles.
More especially this attractive unreality fell upon it as the sun began to set. The extravagant roofs were black against the afterglow and the whole insane village seemed as separate as a drifting cloud. This was even more strongly true of the many garden parties he passed, illuminated not by bright lights, but by big Chinese lanterns glowing in the dwarfish trees like some fierce and monstrous fruit.
He turned up the street he wanted, the one where the auburn-haired musician was considered the hero. Tonight was not by any means the only evening of which he was the hero. On many nights, he supposed from what he had researched in The Cloud, those passing by his little back garden might hear his high, fast voice nearly preaching in the manner of some accomplished musicians, making his positions on most any political or social cause well-known to anyone and particularly to attractive women.
The attitude of women in such cases was indeed one of the paradoxes of the place. Most of the women here were the kind who might take any male politeness as either flirting or a sort of insult to their sensibilities. Yet these women would always pay musicians such as his target the extravagant compliment no ordinary woman would ever normally pay him, that of listening while he is talking.
And Lucian G (short for Gregory), the red-haired pseudo-musician of some local reknown, was really in some sense a man worth listening to, even if one only laughed at the end of it. He pushed the old angle of the lawlessness of art and the art of lawlessness with a certain brash freshness which gave at least a momentary pleasure.
He was helped in some degree by the arresting oddity of his appearance, which he worked, as the phrase goes, for all it was worth. His dark red hair curved into the slow curls of a virgin in a pre-Raphaelite painting. From within this almost saintly oval, however, his face projected suddenly broad and brutal. His chin by either nature or habit carried forward as if in perpetual grimace. Oddly shaped sideburns, tattooed lines, and the latest rave of glowing lights implanted under the skin ornamented his sullen cheeks. This combination at once tickled and terrified the nerves of a neurotic population. He seemed like a walking blasphemy, a blend of the angel and the ape.
As the stranger looked up at the house of the musician, his eyes were drawn up to the sky. The strange sunset looked like the end of the world, drawing him from his inward virtuality for a fresh, rare breath of reality. All the skies seemed covered with a quite vivid and palpable plumage; you could only say the sky was full of feathers, and of feathers that almost brushed the face.
Across the great part of the dome they were gray, with the strangest tints of violet and mauve and an unnatural pink or pale green; but towards the west the whole grew past description, transparent and passionate. The last red-hot plumes of it covered up the sun like something too good to be seen. The whole was so close about the earth, as to express nothing but a violent secrecy. The highest reaches of the heavens seemed to be a secret. It expressed that splendid smallness which is the soul of local patriotism. The very sky seemed small.
* * *
Of those attending Lucian G’s garden party, there are some who may remember the evening if only by that oppressive sky. There are others who may remember it because it marked the first appearance in the place of the stranger, the second musician of Saffron Park. For a long time the red-haired revolutionary had reigned without a rival, but on this night his solitude suddenly ended spectacularly.
Fresh from the train station the new musician, who introduced himself by the name of Gabriel Syme, seemed to be a very mild-looking folk singer of a mortal, with a hint of a goatee and faint, blond hair. But an impression quickly grew that he was less docile than he looked. After accessing the party’s virtual overlay, he made known his presence by differing with Lucian G upon the whole nature of music.
The stranger said that he was a musical theorist, an artist of form, rule, and order; and that of all things he was a lyricist of respectability. Plus, as they all learned through discreetly querrying his name in their systems, he apparently had the body of work and high rankings to prove it. So all the Saffron Parkers, who had been listening to Lucian G’s usual diatribe, looked at this Gabriel Syme as if he had that moment fallen out of that impossible sky. In fact, Lucian G, the anarchist performer, connected the two events.
“It may well be,” he said eloquently, lyrically, “it may well be on such a night of clouds and cruel colors that there is brought forth upon the earth such a… musical prodigy. You say you are an artist of form, rule, and order; I say you are no artist at all for all of your bragging. I only wonder where the fireworks are.” And as if to supply them, the skin-glo implants in Lucian G’s cheeks and neck pin-prickled with a rainbow of pulsating color, fading with his words.
* * *
Syme, the stranger with the meek blue eyes, endured these theatrics with a certain passive solemnity. He was improvising and had yet to determine his angle. But then he noticed Lucian G’s sister, Rosie. She had her brother’s braids of red hair, but a kinder, un-Augmented face underneath them. She laughed. It seemed like a mixture of admiration and disapproval that she must give often to the family artiste. He wondered…
Lucian G resumed in what sounded like a less insulting tone. “A true artist is an anarchist,” he said, his skin-glos flushing in a kaleidoscope of yellows. “You can swap the words anywhere. An anarchist is an artist. The man who shreds a mainframe is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to anything else. He sees how much more valuable is one blazing failure of a critical system, one peal of perfect thunder, than the exploded bits of a few dead people.
“An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. A real artist delights in disorder. If it were not so, the most poetic thing in the world would be the train.” He motioned toward another gleaming mag-lev transport in the distance, silently bulleting on toward its next stop, and his eyes followed it hungrily like a lion would a gazelle.
“But isn’t it?” Syme said rather than asked.
“That’s ridiculous!” said Lucian G, who it appeared could seem very rational when anyone else seemed otherwise. “Why do all the office drones and day laborers on those trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I will tell you. It is because they know that the train is working perfectly. It’s because they know that whatever place they’re heading for on the Tube is the place they will reach. It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. But, oh, their wild excitement! Oh, would their eyes shine like stars and they be like wondrous children again, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!”
“It is you who are the fraud of an artist,” replied Syme. He tossed out a clip of Lucian he had found in The Cloud of one of his less inspired performances, which the others eagerly watched in their overlays with muffled chuckles. “If what you say of office workers is true, they can only be as dull as your lyrics. The rare, skilled thing is to hit the mark, but more common it is to miss it. It seems epic when a man with one blind shot strikes a distant bird. But isn’t it also just as epic when a subway train goes right to the station where it’s heading?
“Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this: that he does say Victoria, and, lo, it is Victoria. No, take your anthems of empty lyrics; let me read a train schedule with tears of pride. Take your emo bands who sing of the downfall of man, but I say give me those who commemorates his victories!”
“Please don’t let my gate hit you on the way out,” said Lucian G sarcastically, his implants morphing from a steadily deepening red to a cool blue. Syme noticed the party’s overlay fade to nothingness. He was alone with only the data streams his own oculars provided.
“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, disregarding the insult, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past besieging armies, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You sneer that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of having barely escaped. And when I hear the train announce the word ‘Victoria’, it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed ‘Victoria’; it is the victory of mankind.”
Lucian G wagged his heavy, red head with a slow and sad smile. His cheeks hinted at a mild purple; whether by design or a true reflection of emotion, Syme had no idea. And then the party overlay returned. Syme was linked back in, either through Lucian G or from some other anonymous benefactor.
“And even then,” Lucian G said patronizingly, “we—the true artists—always ask the question: ‘And what is Victoria now that you have got there?’ You think Victoria is like heaven come to earth. But if heaven is there at all it may only be a little like Victoria. Yes, the true artist will be discontented even in the streets of heaven. The true artist is always in revolt.”
“There again,” Syme bit back, “what is there artistic about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is artistic to be sea-sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the very best thing on certain desperate occasions, but I’m at a loss if I can see why they are artistic. Revolt in the abstract is… revolting. It’s just puking up your breakfast.”
Rosie winced for a flash, but Syme was too hot to heed her.
“It is things going right,” he pointed. “That is artistic! Our bodies digesting our food instead of rejecting it, for instance; going sacredly and silently right. That is the foundation of all artistry. Yes, the most artistic thing, more artistic than the flowers, more poetic than the stars, the most artistic thing in the world is not being sick.”
Lucian G sneered, rolling his eyes. “The examples you choose—”
“I’m sorry,” snapped Syme. “I thought we had abolished all conventions.”
For the first time a red patch appeared on Lucian G’s forehead and it wasn’t a skin-glo. “You don’t expect me to revolutionize society on this lawn?”
Syme looked straight into his eyes and smiled sweetly. “No, I don’t. But I suppose that if you were serious about your anarchy that is exactly what you would do.”
Lucian G’s big bull eyes blinked suddenly like those of an angry lion, and one could almost imagine that a fiery red mane arose around his face. His next words hissed like venting steam. “So you don’t you think I am serious about anarchy?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Don’t play the fool, Syme. Am I not serious about anarchy?” He knotted his fists and images of terrorism and revolution filled the air around them, burning through the placid party images as if they were targets.
“Please,” Syme said drolly and strolled away to the far side of the yard (and the party overlay), amid the murmur and chuckles of the others who had been listening.
With surprise, but with a curious pleasure, he found Rosie coming to his side. “Gabriel? Do the people who talk like you and my brother often mean what they say? Do you mean what you say now?”
Syme smiled. “Do you?”
“I’m serious. What do you mean?” Her eyes were grave with worry.
“My dear Miss Gregory,” he said gently, “there are many kinds of sincerity and insincerity. When you say ‘thank you’ for the salt, do you mean what you say? No. When you say ‘the world is round’, do you mean what you say? No. It is true, but you don’t mean it. Now, sometimes a man like your brother really finds a thing he does mean. It may be only a half-truth, quarter-truth, tenth-truth; but then he says more than he means from sheer force of meaning it.”
She looked at him from under level brows; her face serious and open, and there had fallen upon it the shadow of that unreasoning responsibility which is at the bottom of even the most carefree woman, the maternal watch which is as old as the world.
“Is he really an anarchist, then?” she whispered.
He smiled compassionately. “Only in that sense I speak of. Or if you prefer it, in that nonsense.”
She drew her broad brows together and said abruptly, “He wouldn’t really be a system shredder or that sort of thing?”
Syme broke into a great laugh that seemed too large for his lean figure. “Good Lord, no! That has to be done anonymously.”
And at that, the corners of her own mouth broke into a smile at the simultaneous pleasure of Lucian G’s absurdity and of his safety.
Syme strolled with her to a seat in the corner of the garden, a secluded nook in both reality and within the festive, ever evolving design of the virtual overlay, and continued to pour out his opinions. For he was a sincere man, and in spite of his superficial airs and graces, at root a humble one. And it is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man watches himself too closely.
He defended respectability with ferocity and exaggeration. He grew passionate in his praise of order and decency. All the time there was a smell of lilac all round him. Once he heard very faintly in some distant street some music, and it seemed to him that his heroic words were moving to a tiny tune from under or beyond the world.
He stared and talked at the girl’s red hair and amused face for what seemed to be a few minutes; and then, as their data streams merged into synchronicity, overpowering the party’s overlay, he suddenly felt he’d lost himself. He rose to his feet, excusing himself graciously with the intention to mix with others and get back on mission. To his astonishment, he discovered the whole garden empty. Everyone had gone long ago. He went himself with a rather hurried apology. Yet despite losing Lucian, he left with a sense of champagne in his head, which he could not afterwards explain.
In the wild events which were to follow, this girl had no part at all; he never saw her again until all his tale was over. And yet, in some indescribable way, she kept recurring like a motive in music through all his mad adventures afterwards, and the glory of her strange hair ran like a red thread through those dark and ill-drawn tapestries of the night. For what followed was so improbable, that it might well have been a dream.
* * *
When Syme went out into the starlit street, he found it for the moment empty. Then he realized somehow the silence was a living silence rather than a dead one. Icons filled his vision as he mentally directed The Cloud to serve him.
Right outside the gate stood a streetlight, whose gleam gilded the leaves of the tree that bent out over the fence behind him. About a foot from the lamp-post stood a figure almost as rigid and motionless as the post itself. The long frock coat was black; the face, in an abrupt shadow, was almost as dark. A moment before his system began to boost the light, the fringe of fiery hair against the light and also something aggressive in the attitude proclaimed that it was Lucian. Syme’s joy of again finding his mark began to falter, for what reason he was uncertain. Lucian G had something of the look of a masked bravo waiting sword in hand for his foe, and, indeed, he held a cane or a rod of some sort.
“I’ve been waiting for you. Might I have a moment’s conversation?” Lucian G’s face flushed a warm green.
“Certainly. About what?” asked Syme in a sort of weak wonder as his system probed Lucian G’s. There was no data returned from his query.
With a flash of yellow cheeks, Lucian swung a metal pipe, striking the lamppost and then a nearby tree. “About this …and this!”
Syme stepped back, just out of reach, wondering where this might be heading.
“…about order and anarchy! There is your precious order, that lean, steel lamp, ugly and barren. And there is anarchy, rich and living, reproducing itself, splendid in green and gold, naturally fractal and beautiful.”
Syme kept his voice even. “All the same, just at present you only see the tree by the light of the lamp. I wonder when you would ever see the lamp by the light of the tree.” A moment of silence followed and then he said quietly, “Have you been standing out here in the dark only to resume our little debate?”
“No,” growled Lucian G. “I did not stand here to resume our argument, but to end it forever.”
The silence fell again, and Syme, though he understood nothing, tensed instinctively, watching for any clue as to what might come next. Probability codes rained down across his vision, while with subtle finger motions he directed an app to plot out probable directions the pipe might come at him—and where to retreat—if the man before him chose to use it as a weapon.
Lucian G continued in a smooth voice and with a rather bewildering smile. For once, his skin-glo implants revealed nothing. No color; no translucent light. “Mr. Syme,” he said, “this evening you succeeded in doing something rather remarkable. You did something to me that no one has ever succeeded in doing before.”
“Now I remember.” Lucian gazed off absently. “One other succeeded in doing it, the captain of a ferry (if I remember correctly) at Southend.” He looked back with narrowed eyes. “You have irritated me.”
“I am very sorry,” Syme replied. With a fleeting glance he eyed the iron bar in Lucian G’s hand, trying to be inconspicuous about it.
“I am afraid my fury and your insult are too shocking to be wiped out even with an apology,” said Lucian G very calmly. “No duel could wipe it out. If I shredded your system until you dropped dead I could not wipe it out. There is only one way by which that insult can be erased, and that way I choose. I am going, at the possible sacrifice of my life and honor, to prove to you that you were wrong in what you said.”
“In what I said?”
“You said I was not serious about being an anarchist.”
“There are degrees of seriousness,” replied Syme. “I have never doubted that you were perfectly sincere in this sense, that you thought what you said well worth saying, that you thought a paradox might wake men up to a neglected truth.”
Lucian G stared at him steadily and painfully, purple-red rising along his neck and jaw line. “And in no other sense,” he asked with a deadly calm, “you think me serious? You think me a moron who blurts out occasional truths. You do not think that in a deeper, a more leathal sense, I am serious?”
It was oddly the most relaxed Lucian G had been. Syme saw his opportunity. He snatched the pipe from his hand, and then with a downward swing struck the pavement. A chunk exploded in a scatter of stones.
“Serious! Good Lord! Is this street serious? Are these damned Chinese lanterns serious? Is this whole town and everything in it serious? One comes here and talks nonsense and perhaps some sense as well, but I should think very little of a man who didn’t keep something in the background of his life that was more serious, much more serious than all this talking—something more serious, whether it was religion or only drink.”
“Very well.” The artificial light of Lucian G’s face darkened. “You shall see something more serious than either drink or religion.”
Syme tossed the pipe safely away and stood waiting, willing himself back to his usual air of calm until Lucian G again opened his lips.
“You spoke just now of having a religion and I see in your profile you are both spiritual and of a high honor rating—you’ve reached gentleman, I see. Is it really true that you have an honorable religion?”
“I do,” said Syme having a sense of an honor agreement about to be struck, “I wholeheartedly believe in God.”
As Syme spoke, he queried all he knew of Lucian G, his public profile filling his vision. Of almost 1.4 million interactions, he had an almost perfect honor rating. He was a gentleman among gentlemen. Yet with all his revolutionary bravado and talk of system shredding, could he be skilled enough to forge such a ranking? He finger-flicked an app in motion, spot checking the rankings.
Lucian continued: “Then may I ask you to swear by whatever gods or saints your religion involves that you will not reveal to anyone what I am now going to tell you, and especially not to the police? Will you swear that! If you will place everything as collateral, if you will consent to burden your soul with a vow that you should never make and a knowledge you should never dream about, I will promise you in return…”
“You will promise me in return?” prompted Syme, as the other paused.
“I will promise you a very entertaining evening.”
Just then Lucian G’s contract appeared in Syme’s inbox. As expected, Syme would have to pledge his lifetime accumulation of social points. If he defaulted, he would be ruined, socially bankrupt, a pariah. No one would ever deal with him seriously again, or at least not for a very, very long time. But all of that only mattered if he survived. As he read on, he was shocked by the inclusion of a life pledge. In an Augmented society, where imbedded electronics drew their power from one’s body, those same electronics could draw out too much power. To violate Lucian’s contract would likely lead to death. Yet this was the moment he had been working toward.
“Your offer,” Syme said, “is far too idiotic to be declined. You say that an artist is always an anarchist. I disagree; but I hope at least that he is always a sport. Permit me, here and now, to swear as a Christian, to promise as a good comrade and a fellow-artist, and to pledge my social rating and life, that I will not report anything of this, whatever it is, to the police.” With a wave of his fingers in the air he signed a document only he could see and then returned the validated contract. His system was bound. There was no turning back.
“And now, in Heaven’s name, what is it?”
“I think,” said Lucian G with a mildness that seemed at odds with the gravity of the previous moment, “that we will call a cab.”
With a mental order to The Cloud, an electric self-driver came down the road, hissing enough simulated engine noise to make itself known as it came. The two got into it in silence. Lucian G flicked over the address and the driverless cab whisked itself away toward an obscure pub on the Chiswick bank of the river.
As the last hints of that fantastic sunset disappeared, the two fantastics left their fantastic town.
TWO – THE SECRET OF GABRIEL SYME
THE cab pulled to the curb outside a particularly dreary and seedy-looking bar, into which Lucian G rapidly steered his companion. They seated themselves in a close and dim sort of dining area at a stained wooden table in a relatively secluded booth. The place was a throwback to another age. So stark it was in décor and technology, it felt like a cave. Indeed, the room was so small and dark, that very little could be seen of the server who took her time in making her way to them, beyond a vague and dark impression of something bulky and frizzy.
The air was filled only with music and stale smoke; most signals appeared to be dampened. Not only did the walls keep The Cloud from reaching inside, but Syme felt his own system bogged down, repressed by the static of targeted overload. His system automatically disengaged, pausing in its unending search for more data. Syme glanced at Lucian G. If his system was dampened, then he did not show it; his skin-glo implants blazed with a merry yellow. What did that mean?
“Will you have a little supper?” asked Lucian G politely. “The pate de foie gras is not good here, but I can recommend the game.”
Syme received the remark with a smirk, imagining it to be a joke. Accepting the vein of humor, he said, with a well-bred indifference, “Oh, bring me some Lobster Thermidor.”
To his indescribable astonishment, the woman only said “Certainly, sir!” and went away apparently to get it.
“What will you drink?” resumed Lucian G, with the same careless yet apologetic air. “I shall only have a crème de menthe myself; I have already dined. But the champagne can really be trusted. Do let me start you with a half-bottle of Pommery at least?”
“Thank you!” said the motionless Syme. “You are very good.”
His further attempts at conversation, somewhat disorganized in themselves, were cut short finally as by a thunderbolt with the actual appearance of the lobster. Syme tasted it, and found it particularly good. Then he suddenly began to eat with great rapidity and appetite.
“Excuse me if I appear to making a pig of myself!” he said to Lucian G, smiling. He licked some of the cheese sauce from his lips. “I don’t often have the luck to have a dream like this. It is new to me for a nightmare to lead to a lobster. It is usually the other way around.”
“You are not asleep, I assure you,” said Lucian G. “You are, on the contrary, as close to the most actual and rousing moment of your dreary existence.”
Syme looked at him skeptically.
“Ah, here comes your champagne! I admit that there may be a slight inconsistency, let us say, between the inner arrangements of this excellent building and its simple and unpretentious exterior. But that is all our modesty. We are the most modest people who ever lived on earth.”
Syme emptyed his champagne glass. ”And who are… we?”
“It is quite simple. We are the serious anarchists, in whom you do not believe.”
“Oh, well, you do yourselves proud in drinks.”
“Yes, we are serious about everything,” answered Lucian G. Then after a pause he added, “If, in a few moments, this table begins to move, don’t put it down to your inroads into the champagne. I don’t wish you to do yourself an injustice.”
“Well, if I am not drunk, I am crazed,” replied Syme with perfect calm, some of his lobster perched upon his fork; “but I trust I can hold myself together in either condition.”
It is not a little to his credit that he took his last bite with so much composure, for almost before he had finished his sentence, the booth in which they sat rotated into the wall like one of those hidden room bookcases in a clichéish mystery. Undoubtedly, thought Syme with a bit of wonder, an empty replica of their booth was now in that dark dining room with the other patrons none the wiser.
As his eyes began to grow accustomed to the darkness only lit by the candle on their table, the booth began to move downward like an elevator, though bumpy.
“Forgive the motion,” said Lucian G; “No mag-lev here. Everything is powered by weights and pulleys or by gravity. And all is controlled by hand.”
“Quite so,” said Syme placidly, “…powered by weights. How simple that is! I suppose no scans would ever detect such a thing, seeing as how the police would be looking for some sort of technology.”
As their booth bumped and clanked with the sound of wheels aligning on a track, the smoke of the candle, which had been wavering around their heads in snaky twists, went straight up as if from a chimney, and the two in their booth, shot downward as if the earth had swallowed them. They went rattling down a kind of roaring shaft as if the weights of the elevator had cut loose, but then came with a soft but abrupt bump to the bottom. When Lucian G threw open a pair of doors and let in a red subterranean light, Syme was still sitting with one leg thrown over the other, and had not turned a yellow hair. It had taken a lot of effort, but as he saw Lucian look him up and down, he knew it had been worth it.
Lucian G led him down a low, vaulted passage completely devoid of any electronic uplink or even a hint of a signal. At the end was the red light, an enormous crimson gas burning lantern, nearly as big as a fireplace, fixed over a small but heavy iron door. In the door there was a sort of hatchway or grating, and on this Lucian G struck five times. A heavy voice with a foreign accent asked him who he was. To this he gave the unexpected reply, “The Prime Minister.” The heavy hinges began to move.
Inside the doorway the passage gleamed as if it were lined with a network of steel, presumably like some enormous Faraday cage to keep electromagnetic scans at bay. On a second glance, Syme saw that the glittering pattern was really made up of ranks and ranks of machine guns, missile launchers, and pistols, closely packed or interlocked. And a 3D printer looked to be busily at work making more. Syme’s ocular implants recognized the shapes and gave him an estimate each weapons’ capabilities on his overlay. The sheer number could arm a force easily able to overrun London—for awhile at least.
“I must ask you to forgive me all these formalities,” said Lucian G referring to the password; “we have to be very strict here.”
“Oh, don’t apologize,” said Syme. “I know anachists’ passion for law and order,” and he followed him into the passage lined with weapons, a shining avenue of death.
They passed through several such corridors, and came out at last into a curious steel chamber with curved walls, almost spherical in shape, but presenting, with its tiers of benches, something of the appearance of an old fashioned scientific lecture-theatre. There was still no uplink to the Cloud, but at least the dampening had ended. Syme’s system roared back to life as he looked around.
There were no guns or grenade launchers in this compartment, but round the walls of it were hung more dubious and dreadful shapes, things that looked like the gun sights of the weapons lining the corridors. They were computer screens, each monitoring an important government building or a large public venue. Data codes streamed over each image, showing the stage of computer infiltration. Some were completely compromised. With a flick of his fingers, Syme ordered his system to record everything.
Lucian G sprawled out on the bench under the largest screen, looking quite proud. “And now, my dear Mr. Syme, now we are quite cozy, so let’s talk openly. Now, no human words can give you any notion of why I brought you here. It was one of those inexplicable acts of emotion, like jumping off a cliff or falling in love. Suffice it to say that you were an inexpressibly irritating fellow, and, to do you justice, you are still. I would default on twenty oaths of secrecy for the pleasure of taking you down a peg.” He paused, looking Syme up and down as if he were a beggar on the street. “Well, you said that you were quite certain I was not a serious anarchist. Does this place strike you as being serious?”
“It does seem to have a purpose under all its cheeriness, but may I ask you two questions? You need not fear to give me information, because, as you remember, you very wisely extorted from me a promise not to tell the police, a pledge I shall certainly keep for fear of not just my reputation but my life. So it is in mere curiosity that I make my queries. First of all, what is it really all about? What is it you object to? You want to abolish Government?”
“To abolish God!” Lucian G’s eyes snapped open, blazing and fanatical. “We do not only want to upset a few tyrants and petty regulations; that sort of anarchism does exist, but that is merely nonconformity. We dig deeper and we destroy you more completely. We wish to deny all those arbitrary distinctions of vice and virtue, honor and treachery, upon which mere rebels base themselves. The silly sentimentalists of the French Revolution talked of the Rights of Man! We hate Rights as we hate Wrongs. We have abolished Right and Wrong.”
“I hope you will abolish Right and Left too. They are much more troublesome to me.”
“You spoke of a second question,” snapped Lucian G, humorlessly.
“With pleasure. In all your present acts and surroundin gs there is an attempt at secrecy. I have an aunt who lived over a shop, but this is the first time I have found people living from preference under a public-house. You have a steel reinforced door. You cannot pass it without submitting to the humiliation of calling yourself the Prime Minister. You surround yourself with weapons and screens which make the place, if I may say so, more impressive than homelike. May I ask why, after taking all this trouble to barricade yourselves in the bowels of the earth, you then parade your whole secret by talking about anarchism to every silly woman in Saffron Park?”
Lucian G smiled.
“The answer is simple,” he said. “I told you I was a serious anarchist, and you did not believe me. Nor do they believe me. Unless I took them into this infernal room they would not believe me.”
Syme looked at him with great interest. Lucian G went on.
“The history of the thing might amuse you. When I first became one of the New Anarchists I tried all kinds of respectable disguises. I masqueraded as a religious leader. I read up all about them on our anarchist sites. I certainly understood from them that most bishops or whatnot are strange and terrible old men keeping a cruel secret from mankind. I must have been misinformed, as on my first appearing in public as a preacher, I cried out in a voice of thunder, ‘Down! Down with presumptuous human reason!’ Either from my forged profile or my words, they found out I was not religious at all. I was nabbed at once. Then I made up as a millionaire; but I defended capitalism with so much intelligence that a fool could see that I was quite poor.”
With each example Lucian G released the unsuccessful, forged profile. Syme could easily grasp why he failed. Though he could look the part and could act the role, he could not truly inhabit it. One cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion.
“Then I tried being a soldier. Now I am a pacifist myself, but I have, I hope, enough intellectual breadth to understand the position of those who, like Nietzsche, admire violence–the proud, mad war of Nature and all that, you know. I threw myself into the role. Metaphorically speaking, I drew my sword and waved it constantly. I cried out for war for any reason, like a drunk calling for wine. I often said, ‘Let the weak perish; it is the Law.’ Well, well, it seems those in the military don’t do this. I was nabbed again. At last I went in despair to the President of the Central Anarchist Council, who is the greatest man in Europe.”
“What is his name?”
“You would not know it. That is his greatness. Caesar and Napoleon put all their genius into being heard of, and they were heard of. He puts all his genius into not being heard of, and he is not heard of. But you cannot be for five minutes in the room with him without feeling that Caesar and Napoleon would have been children in his hands.” Lucian G was silent and even pale for a moment, and then resumed.
“But whenever he gives advice it is always witty and genius, and yet as practical as the Bank of England. I said to him, ‘What disguise will hide me from the world? What can I find more respectable than ministers and soldiers?’
“He looked at me with his large, indecipherable face. ‘You want a safe disguise, do you? You want a dress which will guarantee you harmless; a costume no one would ever question?’ I nodded. He suddenly lifted his lion’s voice. ‘Why, then, dress up as an anarchist, you fool!’ he roared so that the room shook. ‘Nobody will ever expect you to do anything dangerous then.’ And he turned his broad back on me without another word.
“I took his advice, and have never regretted it. I preached blood and murder to those women day and night, and–by God!–they would let me wheel their babies around in their carriages.”
Syme sat watching him with growing respect. “You took me in; it is really a smart disguise.” He paused. “What do you call this tremendous President of yours?”
“We generally call him Sunday,” Lucian G replied simply. “You see, there are seven members of the Central Anarchist Council, or what we call the Council of Days, and they are named after days of the week. He is called Sunday, by some of his admirers Bloody Sunday. It is curious you should mention the matter, because the very night you have dropped in is the night on which our London branch, which assembles in this room, has to elect its own deputy to fill a vacancy in the Council. The woman who has for some time past played, with general applause, the difficult part of Thursday, has died quite suddenly. Consequently, we have called a meeting this very evening to elect a successor.”
He got to his feet and strolled across the room with a sort of smiling embarrassment.
“I feel somehow as if you were my mother, Syme,” he continued casually. “I feel that I can confide anything to you, as you have pledged more than anyone I know not to tell anyone. In fact, I will confide to you something that I would not say in so many words to the anarchists who will be coming to the room in about ten minutes. We shall, of course, go through a form of election; but I don’t mind telling you that it is practically certain what the result will be.” He looked down for a modest moment. “It is almost a settled thing that I am to be Thursday.”
“My dear fellow.” said Syme heartily, “I congratulate you. A great career!”
Lucian G smiled in deprecation, and walked across the room, talking rapidly. ”As a matter of fact, everything is ready for me on this table,” he said, “and the ceremony will probably be the shortest possible.”
Syme also strolled across to the table, and found lying on it a military grade pistol and a formidable flask of brandy. Over the chair, beside the table, was thrown a heavy-looking cloak.
“I have only to get the formality of the election finished and have the encrypted title added to my secret profile,” continued Lucian G with animation, “then I snatch up this cloak and stuff these other things into my pocket, step out of a door in this cavern, which opens on the river, where there is a boat already waiting for me, and then–then–oh, the wild joy of being Thursday!” And he clasped his hands.
Syme, who had sat down once more with his usual relaxed manner, got to his feet with an unusual air of hesitation. “Why is it,” he asked vaguely, “that I think you are quite a decent fellow? Why do I positively like you, Lucian G?” He paused a moment, and then added with a sort of fresh curiosity, “Is it because you are such an ass?”
There was a thoughtful silence again, and then he cried out “Well, damn it all! This is the funniest situation I have ever been in in my life, and I am going to act accordingly. Lucian G, I gave you a promise before I came into this place. That promise I would keep under red-hot pincers. Would you give me, for my own safety, a little promise of the same kind?”
“A promise?” asked Lucian G, his voice one of obvious surprise.
“Yes,” said Syme very seriously, “a promise. I swore before God that I would not tell your secret to the police, and pledged my life and honor. Will you swear by whatever beastly thing you believe in, that you will not tell my secret to the anarchists? Will you pledge the same?”
“Secret? You have a secret?”
“Yes,” said Syme, “I have a secret.” Then after a pause he sent to Lucian a contract nearly identical to the one he had signed earlier. “Will you swear?”
Lucian G glared at him gravely for a few moments, and then said abruptly, “You must have bewitched me, but I feel a furious curiosity about you. Yes, I will swear not to tell the anarchists anything you tell me. But look sharp, for they will be here in a couple of minutes.” With a finger sign and swipe through the air, the approved contract was in Syme’s possession. He locked in the agreement as binding and the access codes to Lucian’s implants released. Caretaker programming took over immediately with malicious code inserting at vulnerable spots like bullets in the chamber of a gun.
The threat of certain death bound them together.
Syme thrust his long, white hands into his long, gray trouser pockets. Almost as he did so there came five knocks on the outer grating, proclaiming the arrival of the first of the conspirators.
“Well,” said Syme slowly, “I don’t know how to tell you the truth more shortly than by saying that your practice of dressing up as an aimless musician is not confined to you or any other of your President’s lackeys. We have known the dodge for some time at the Secret Intelligence Service.”
Lucian G tried to spring up straight but swayed. ”What did you say?” He muttered the last with a dry voice.
“Yes,” said Syme simply, “I am an undercover agent for the agency more commonly called MI6. But I think I hear your friends coming.”
From the doorway there came a murmur of “The Prime Minister.” It was repeated twice and thrice, and then thirty times, and the crowd of prime ministers (a solemn thought) could be heard trampling down the corridor.
THREE – THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
BEFORE one of the fresh faces could appear at the doorway, Lucian G’s stunned surprise had fallen from him, and his implants glowed with fiery hatred. He was beside the table with a bound with a noise in his throat like a wild beast. He caught up the pistol and took aim at Syme. Syme forced himself not flinch, but instead put up a pale and polite hand.
“Don’t be such a silly man,” he said, with all the dignity of a priest. “Don’t you see this is not necessary? Don’t you see that we’re both in the same boat? Yes, and jolly seasick.”
Lucian G could not speak, but he apparently could not fire either, and he looked his question.
“Don’t you see we’ve checkmated each other?” explained Syme. “I can’t tell the police you are an anarchist. You can’t tell the anarchists I’m a policeman. I can only watch you, knowing what you are; you can only watch me, knowing what I am. In short, it’s a lonely, intellectual duel: my head against yours. I’m a policeman deprived of the help of the police. You, my poor fellow, are an anarchist deprived of the help of that law and organization which is so essential to anarchy. The one solitary difference is in your favor. You are not surrounded by inquisitive policemen; I am surrounded by inquisitive anarchists. I cannot betray you, but I might betray myself. Come, come! Wait and see me betray myself. I shall do it so nicely.”
Lucian G put the pistol slowly down, still staring at Syme as if he were a sea monster. The red of his skin-glos faded to purple and then went dark.
“I don’t believe in immortality,” he said at last, “but if, after all this, you were to break your word, God should make a hell only for you to howl in forever.”
“I shall not break my word,” said Syme sternly, “nor will you break yours. Here are your friends.”
The mass of the anarchists entered the room heavily, with a slouching and somewhat weary gait; but one little woman detached herself and bustled forward.
“Comrade Gregory,” she said, “I suppose this man is a delegate?”
Lucian G, seemingly taken by surprise, looked down and muttered the name of Syme, his implants remaining dark. But Syme replied almost pertly.
“I am glad to see that your gate is well enough guarded to make it hard for anyone to be here who was not a delegate.”
The brow of the little woman was, however, still contracted with something like suspicion. “What branch do you represent?” she asked sharply.
“I should hardly call it a branch,” said Syme, laughing; “I should call it at the very least a root.”
“What do you mean?”
“The fact is,” said Syme serenely, “I have been specially sent here to see that you show a due observance of Sunday.”
The little woman flinched, and a flicker of fear went over all the faces of the group. Evidently the awful President, whose name was Sunday, did sometimes send down such irregular ambassadors to such branch meetings.
“Well, comrade,” said the woman after a pause, “I suppose we’d better give you a seat in the meeting?”
“If you ask my advice as a friend,” said Syme with severe benevolence, “I think you’d better.”
* * *
When Lucian G heard the dangerous dialogue end with a sudden safety for his rival, he rose abruptly and paced the floor in painful thought. With a flick of his fingers he pulled up a calculation of the odds. He was, indeed, in an agony of diplomacy. It was clear that Syme’s inspired impudence was likely to bring him out of all merely accidental dilemmas. Little was to be hoped from them.
He ran a different set of probabilities, which scrolled across his field of vision. He could not himself betray Syme, partly from their honor contract, but partly also because if he betrayed him and for some reason failed to destroy him, the Syme who escaped would be a Syme freed from all obligation of secrecy. He would be free to simply call the nearest police station for back-up. After considering it further, Lucian G reasoned it was only one night’s discussion, and only one agent who would know of it. His best course would be to let out as little as possible of their plans that night and then chance on letting Syme go.
He strode across to the group of anarchists, which was already distributing itself along the benches. ”I think it is time we began,” he said. “The boat is waiting on the river already. I move that Comrade Buttons takes the chair.” This being approved by a show of hands, the little woman slipped into the presidential seat.
As Lucian G took his place, the regular overlay of the meeting filled his eyes, melding the virtual with reality. He winced as Buttons allowed Syme to access the overlay, giving him view to all sorts of incriminating information. He quietly began to move the most damaging away in the guise of perusing.
“Comrades,” Buttons began, as sharp as a pistol-shot, “our meeting tonight is important, though it need not be long. This branch has always had the honor of electing Thursdays to the Council of Days. We have elected many splendid Thursdays, including the heroic worker who occupied the post until last week. We all lament her loss.
“As you know, her services to the cause were considerable. She organized the glorious shredding of Brighton which, under happier circumstances, ought to have killed everybody on the pier. But it is not to acclaim her virtues that we are met, but for a harder task. It is difficult to properly praise her qualities, but it is more difficult to replace them.
“Upon you, comrades, the solemn responsibility falls this evening to choose out of the company present the one who shall be Thursday. If any comrade suggests a name I will put it to vote. If no comrade suggests a name, I can only tell myself that that dear revolutionary, who is gone from us, has carried into the unknowable abysses the last secret of her virtue and her innocence.”
There was a stir of almost inaudible applause, such as is sometimes heard in a church. Then a large old man, with a long and ancient white beard, perhaps the only real working-man present, rose lumberingly and said, “I move that Comrade Lucian Gregory be elected Thursday,” and sat lumberingly down again.
“Does anyone second?” asked the chairwoman.
A little man in a black dinner jacket seconded.
“Before I put the matter to the vote,” said the chairwoman, “I will call on Comrade Gregory to make a statement.”
Lucian G rose amid a great rumble of applause. His face was deadly pale, so that by contrast his curious red hair looked almost scarlet. But he was smiling and looking altogether at ease. He had made up his mind, and he saw his best policy quite plain in front of him like a white road. His best chance was to make a softened and ambiguous speech, such as would leave on the agent’s mind the impression that the anarchist brotherhood was a very mild affair after all, that it would be ‘all talk’ as he had foolishly purposed to convince Syme otherwise.
He believed in his own lyrical power, his capacity for suggesting fine shades and picking perfect words. He thought that with care he could succeed, in spite of all the people around him, in conveying an impression of the institution, subtly and delicately false. Syme had once thought that anarchists, under all their bravado, were only playing the fool. Could he not now, in the hour of peril, make Syme think so again?
“Comrades,” began Lucian G, in a low but penetrating voice, “it is not necessary for me to tell you what is my policy, for it is your policy also. Our belief has been slandered, it has been disfigured, it has been utterly confused and concealed, but it has never been altered. Those who talk about anarchism and its dangers go everywhere and anywhere to get their information, except to us, except to the fountain head. They learn about anarchists from the movies; they learn about anarchists from the news sites; they learn about anarchists from the posts of rabble-rousers. But they never learn about anarchists from anarchists.
“We have no chance of denying the mountainous slanders which are heaped upon our heads from one end of the world to another. The man who has always heard that we are walking plagues has never heard our reply. I know that he will not hear it tonight, though my passion were to rend the roof. For it is deep, deep under the earth that the persecuted are permitted to assemble, as the ancient Christians assembled in the Catacombs.
“But if, by some incredible accident, there were here tonight a man who all his life had thus immensely misunderstood us, I would put this question to him: ‘When those Christians met in those Catacombs, what sort of moral reputation had they in the streets above? What tales were told of their atrocities by one educated Roman to another? ‘Suppose’ – I would say to him – ‘suppose that we are only repeating that still mysterious paradox of history. Suppose we seem as shocking as the Christians because we are really as harmless as the Christians? Suppose we seem as mad as the Christians because we are really as meek?’”
The applause that had greeted the opening sentences had been gradually growing fainter, and at the last word it stopped suddenly. In the abrupt silence, the man with the black jacket said, in a high, squeaky voice, “I’m not meek!”
“Comrade Witherspoon tells us,” resumed Lucian G, “that he is not meek. Ah, how little he knows himself! His words are, indeed, extravagant; his appearance is ferocious. But only the eye of a friendship as deep as mine can perceive the deep foundation of solid humility which lies at the base of him, too deep even for he to see. I repeat, we are the true early Christians, only that we come too late. We are simple, as they revere simple–look at Comrade Witherspoon. We are modest, as they were modest–look at me. We are merciful–”
“No, no!” called out Mr. Witherspoon with the black jacket.
“I say we are merciful,” repeated Lucian G furiously, “as the early Christians were merciful. Yet this did not prevent their being accused of eating human flesh. We do not eat human flesh–”
“Shame!” cried Witherspoon. “Why not?”
“Comrade Witherspoon,” said Lucian G, with a feverish levity, “is anxious to know why nobody eats him.” Laughter answered, thankfully. “In our society, at any rate, which loves him sincerely, which is founded upon love–”
“No, no!” said Witherspoon, “down with love.”
“Which is founded upon love,” repeated Lucian G, grinding his teeth, “there will be no difficulty about the aims which we shall pursue as a body, or which I should pursue were I chosen as the representative of that body. Superbly careless of the slanders that represent us as assassins and enemies of human society, we shall pursue with moral courage and quiet intellectual pressure, the permanent ideals of brotherhood and simplicity.”
Lucian G resumed his seat and wiped his forehead. The silence was sudden and awkward, but the chairwoman rose like an automaton and said in a colorless voice, “Does anyone… um… oppose the election of Comrade Lucian Gregory?”
The assembly seemed vague and subconsciously disappointed, and Comrade Witherspoon moved restlessly on his seat muttering. By the sheer rush of routine, however, the motion would have been put and carried. But as the chairwoman was opening her mouth to put it, Syme sprang to his feet and said in a small and quiet voice, “Yes, Madam Chairman, I oppose.”
The most effective fact in oratory is an unexpected change in the voice. Mr. Gabriel Syme evidently understood oratory. Having said these first formal words in a moderated tone and with a brief simplicity, he made his next word ring and volley in the vault as if one of the guns had gone off.
“Comrades!” he cried, in a voice that made everyone jump out of his or her boots, “have we come here for this? Do we live underground like rats in order to listen to talk like this? This is talk we might listen to while eating buns at a Sunday School picnic. Do we line these walls with weapons and bar that door with death lest anyone should come and hear Comrade Gregory saying to us, ‘Be good, and you will be happy,’ ‘Honesty is the best policy,’ and ‘Virtue is its own reward’? There was not a word in Comrade Gregory’s address to which a priest could not have listened with pleasure.”
Someone in the group muttered, “Hear, hear.”
Syme continued: “But I am not a priest, and I did not listen to it with pleasure!”
The group cheered.
“The man who is fit to make a good priest is not fit to make a resolute, forcible, and efficient Thursday.”
This time almost everyone shouted, “Hear, hear!”
“Comrade Gregory has told us, in only too apologetic a tone, that we are not the enemies of society. But I say that we are the enemies of society, and so much the worse for society. We are the enemies of society, for society is the enemy of humanity, its oldest and its most pitiless enemy. Comrade Gregory has told us (apologetically again) that we are not murderers. There I agree. We are not murderers, we are executioners!”
Cheers resounded, peppered with applause and stamping feet.
Ever since Syme had risen, Lucian G had sat staring at him, his face idiotic with astonishment. Now as the cheers died his face flashed red with ignited skin-glos and his lips of clay parted. He said, with an automatic and lifeless distinctness, “You damn hypocrite!”
Syme looked straight into those frightful eyes with his own pale blue ones, and said with dignity “Comrade Gregory accuses me of hypocrisy. He knows as well as I do that I am keeping all my agreements and doing nothing but my duty. I do not mince words. I do not pretend to.
“I say that Comrade Gregory is unfit to be Thursday despite all his amiable qualities. He is unfit to be Thursday because of his amiable qualities. We do not want the Supreme Council of Anarchy infected with a sentimental mercy. This is no time for ceremonial politeness, neither is it a time for ceremonial modesty. I set myself against Comrade Gregory as I would set myself against all the Governments of Europe, because the anarchist who has given himself to anarchy has forgotten modesty as much as he has forgotten pride.”
Again, cheers echoed in the chamber.
“I am not a man at all. I am a cause. I set myself against Comrade Gregory as impersonally and as calmly as I should choose one pistol rather than another out of that rack upon the wall; and I say that rather than have Gregory and his milk-and-water methods on the Supreme Council, I would offer myself for election–”
His sentence was drowned in a deafening cataract of applause. The faces, that had grown fiercer and fiercer with approval as his tirade grew more and more uncompromising, were now distorted with grins of anticipation or split with delighted cries. At the moment when he announced himself as ready to stand for the post of Thursday, a roar of excitement and assent broke forth, and became uncontrollable, and at the same moment Lucian G sprang to his feet, with foam upon his mouth, and shouted against the shouting.
“Stop, you blasted madmen!” he cried at the top of a voice that tore his throat. “Stop, you–” But louder than Lucian G’s shouting and louder than the roar of the room came the voice of Syme, still speaking in a peal of pitiless thunder, answered point for point with loud and prolonged cheering.
“I do not go to the Council to rebut that slander that calls us murderers; I go to earn it! To the priest who says these men are the enemies of religion, to the judge who says these men are the enemies of law, to the fat parliamentarian who says these men are the enemies of order and public decency, to all these I will reply, ‘You are false kings, but you are true prophets. I am come to destroy you, and to fulfill your prophecies.’”
The heavy clamor gradually died away, but before it had ceased Witherspoon had jumped to his feet, his hair all on end, and had said, “I move, as an amendment, that Comrade Syme be appointed to the post.”
“Stop all this, I tell you!” cried Lucian G, with frantic face and hands. “Stop it, it is all–”
The voice of the chairwoman clove his speech with a cold accent. ”Does anyone second this amendment?”
A tall, tired man, with melancholy eyes was observed on the back bench to be slowly rising to his feet. Lucian G had been screaming for some time; now there was a change in his accent, more shocking than any scream. “I end all this!” he said, in a voice as heavy as stone. ”This man cannot be elected. He is a–”
“Yes,” said Syme, quite motionless, “what is he?” His voice was as deadly as the contract binding him and Lucian G to silence.
Lucian G’s mouth worked twice without sound; then slowly the blood began to crawl back into his now deathly pale face. “He is a man quite… inexperienced in our work,” he said, and sat down abruptly.
Before he had done so, the long, lean man on the back row was again upon his feet, and was repeating in a high American monotone, “I beg to second the election of Comrade Syme.”
“The amendment will, as usual, be put first,” said Ms. Buttons, the chairwoman, with mechanical rapidity. ”The question is that Comrade Syme—”
Lucian G had again sprung to his feet, panting and passionate. “Comrades,” he cried out, “I am not a madman.”
“Oh?” said Mr. Witherspoon.
“I am not a madman,” reiterated Lucian G, with a frightful sincerity which for a moment staggered the room, “but I give you a counsel which you can call mad if you like. No, I will not call it a counsel, for I can give you no reason for it. I will call it a command. Call it a mad command, but act upon it. Strike, but hear me! Kill me, but obey me! Do not elect this man.”
Truth is so terrible, even in fetters, that for a moment Syme’s slender and insane victory swayed like a reed. But you could not have guessed it from Syme’s bleak blue eyes. In response he merely began: “Comrade Gregory commands—”
Then the spell was snapped.
One anarchist called out to Lucian G, “Who are you? You are not Sunday.”
Another added in a heavier voice, “And you are not Thursday.”
“Comrades,” cried Lucian G, in a voice like that of a martyr who in an ecstasy of pain has passed beyond pain, “it is nothing to me whether you detest me as a tyrant or detest me as a slave. If you will not take my command, accept my degradation. I kneel to you. I throw myself at your feet. I implore you. Do not elect this man.”
“Comrade Gregory,” said the chairwoman after a painful pause, “this is really not quite dignified.”
For the first time in the proceedings there was for a few seconds a real silence. Then Lucian G fell back in his seat, a pale wreck of a man. Codes streamed across his eyes: negative interaction ratings. His impeccable streak of honor was beginning to dip with each registered dislike.
And then the chairwoman repeated, like a piece of clockwork suddenly started again, “The question is that Comrade Syme be elected to the post of Thursday on the General Council.”
The roar rose like the sea, the hands rose like a forest, and three minutes afterwards Mr. Gabriel Syme, of the Secret Intelligence Service, was elected to the post of Thursday on the General Council of the Anarchists of Europe.
* * *
Everyone in the room seemed to feel the boat waiting on the river, the pistol waiting on the table. The instant the election was ended and irrevocable, and Syme had received the codes in his profile proving his election (complete with all the historical records of the post), they all sprang to their feet, and the fiery groups moved and mixed in the room. Lucian G worked his way to Syme, and when face to face with him could only regard him with a stare of stunned hatred. They were silent for many moments.
“You are a devil!” said Lucian G at last.
“And you are a gentleman,” said Syme with gravity.
“You entrapped me,” began Lucian G, shaking from head to foot, “entrapped me into–”
“Talk sense,” said Syme shortly. “Into what sort of devils’ parliament have you entrapped me, if it comes to that? You made me swear before I made you. Perhaps we are both doing what we think right. But what we think right is so damned different that there can be nothing between us in the way of concession. There is nothing possible between us but honor and death,” and he pulled the great cloak about his shoulders and picked up the flask from the table.
“The boat is quite ready,” said Ms. Buttons, bustling up. “Be good enough to step this way.”
With a gesture revealing the store manager, she led Syme down a short, iron-bound passage. Still agonizing, Lucian G followed feverishly at their heels. At the end of the passage was a door, which Buttons opened sharply, showing a sudden blue and silver picture of the moonlit river, looking like a scene in a theatre. Close to the opening lay a dark, dwarfish motorboat, like a baby dragon with pale gold eyes.
Almost in the act of stepping on board, Gabriel Syme turned to the gaping Lucian G.
“You have kept your word,” he said gently, his face in shadow. “You are a man of honor, and I thank you.” He paused to send him a favorable ranking, hoping it would not be taken as insult or gloating. “You have kept it even down to a small particular. There was one special thing you promised me at the beginning of the affair, and which you have certainly given me by the end of it.”
“What do you mean?” cried the chaotic Lucian G. “What did I promise you?”
“A very entertaining evening,” said Syme, and he made a military salute as the boat slid away.
Want to read more? Head to Amazon.com where you can purchase the paperback for $9.99 or the Kindle version for $2.99 (Free Kindle apps are available for all sorts of tablets and computer systems).