Continuing the trend set by Feather, Jez and Becca. Warnings for gratuitous TS Eliot geekery.
The Colonel was shamelessly stolen from Salla's interview; Karla was obliquely referenced with her mun's consent; Vanessa was stolen for nefarious purposes but, uh, Kelsey loves me. And has my permission to abduct Kenneth and dress him up in adorable little outfits, or something.
“Do you have a comment on today’s meetings?”
The Colonel turned around and almost tripped on a tall, coltish redhead. “Did you want something, miss?”
She took a deep breath. “I said, do you have a comment on today’s meetings?” A pen appeared in her hand, and she tapped it against a pair of startlingly bright red lips.
“I...no. I don’t. Who are you? How did you get in?”
She stuck out the pen-free hand and he shook automatically. “Vanessa Reid, from the Thunder. No comment? Oh well. Anyway, I have a message for you. A letter from the editor.” She smiled, enjoying her own joke.
“The editor of what?” He frowned. “A newspaper? Where are you based? The Tribune offices aren’t still open, are they?”
“Oh, no.” She bounced on the balls of her toes. “We salvaged our equipment from them, but there wasn’t a lot left operational. I think the printers work out of someone’s garage, but the Thunder staff work out of the Wasteland, mostly.”
Of course they did. “I know the place. You said you have a message for me?”
“Kenneth says,” another breath, and the cheer faded somewhat from the girl’s face. She was older than he’d first thought, the Colonel realised. Certainly in her early twenties. “He says that the people of Chicago politely request the return of their radio station, sir. He wrote it down,” she added helpfully, leaping forward and pressing a piece of folded paper into his hand as though she hadn’t just delivered an underhanded insult.
“Thank you. You’re dismissed,” he snapped, on autopilot, but to his great relief the girl didn’t stick around to complain about being treated like a soldier; instead she grinned, snapped off something that looked kind of like a salute, and was gone.
The piece of paper contained a few lines of writing and also a thin clipping from something that was definitely a newspaper; though it was just the header, and not much more. It read:
Datta, dayadhvam, damyata
The note was no more illuminating – it simply repeated the request for the return of the radio, in tight black cursive, and was signed Kenneth Day.
The Colonel sighed and pulled his radio off his belt. He was getting a little tired of the city throwing curve balls at him, and even more tired of sending men down to this particular club to pick people up for interviews.
Kenneth Day was a tallish, focused-looking man with neatly-cut fingernails, very dark eyes in a very pale face, and cleaner clothes than anyone else the Colonel had seen, including the Council members. The Colonel took one look at him and was no longer surprised that the phrase 'politely request' hadn’t just been something thrown in diplomatically by a nervous underling, but had been his actual words. He did look the type to write notes. And keep records of everything, possibly in triplicate.
“Colonel.” He looked at the hand that the Colonel had outstretched and winced. “I...won’t. If you don’t mind. OCD.” His smile was embarrassed, respectful, completely lacking in the defiance that the Colonel had come to expect from the Wasteland folk. He also didn’t seem to be flashing any fangs.
“Sit down, Mr Day,” the Colonel said, lowering his hand and relaxing somewhat. “I’ll just begin with the formalities. You are an unmutated human, is that correct?”
Kenneth nodded. He wiped off the seat with a few practiced swipes of a handkerchief, and as he sat down he pulled a battered pack of playing cards, held together with a rubber band, out of his bag. “Yes. You don’t mind if I...? It helps me think.”
“Go ahead,” he said. The man couldn’t exactly stir up much trouble with a pack of cards. “You’re the editor of the city’s newspaper, I gather.”
“Yes.” Kenneth laughed. “And...well. Someone invented a title for me a couple of years ago, when we got the radio station going, but it was mostly a joke, and I can never remember it. Something something Press and Media Coordinator. I’m the fourth estate, sir.” Still polite, still respectful, but he lifted his head in an assured way that aimed that dark, intense gaze straight at the Colonel’s eyes. “I’m the voice. The words.”
The Colonel nodded, filing that away in his mind. “And you’re an American citizen?”
Kenneth’s hands were flying, shuffling and splitting and riffling the cards as efficiently as any casino worker’s, but they paused for a moment at that question. “No,” he admitted. “My passport was British, and my residence visa was Canadian. That isn’t going to be a problem, is it?”
The Colonel opened his clipboard, frowning. He hadn’t anticipated any issues of this kind, so hadn’t put together any information on the man. “Well, I’m afraid it will. The days of bureaucratic chaos are over, and we can’t exactly –”
The man didn’t appear to be listening; he was staring at the wall, lips moving, brow furrowed. Still shuffling.
“- seven. Oh, I’m sorry.” Kenneth’s eyes snapped back to the Colonel’s face, and he gathered his cards into a pile. “Do you know much T.S. Eliot, sir?”
“This is going to be about the Wasteland, isn’t it?” He frowned. “Mr Day, citizenship is not –”
“We’re quite keen on that poem, yes,” and now that the Colonel was listening for it, he could hear the buried English notes shining through in the man’s voice. “In fact, our paper references the fifth verse. Datta, dayadhvam, damyata.”
“Mr Day –”
“It means give, sympathise, control. We give information to the people of the city, we sympathise with their concerns, and we control the validity of facts.” He looked quite pleased with that piece of intellectual nonsense, like he’d delivered a blow.
“What are you saying?” He leaned back, unimpressed; it had the tones of importance but it was just rhetoric, just slippery words, and he’d met enough members of the press in his time.
“I am saying...the people of Chicago have learned to ask what the thunder said, sir.”
The Colonel paused to take that in. “Are you threatening me?”
“Of course not.” Kenneth looked shocked. “No! Threatening you would be, for example, telling you that Claire Pullman owes me a couple of small favours.” He sighed. “Look, I was a trader a while back, before the economy got standardised, and if I wanted an American passport I could probably get my hands on one.” He picked up the elastic band again. “I simply chose to be truthful about my nationality with you, sir, as a courtesy. Because I believe in the truth.”
This man had the most bizarre body language the Colonel had ever seen; he looked like he was liable to jump up and flee at any minute, like he’d freak out if you pulled a gun on him. But here he was, wrapping elastic around his cards, tapping his foot in eerily perfect time with the second hand of the Colonel’s watch, and claiming connections with both the most powerful vampire in the city and some kind of black market.
“I recognise,” the Colonel said eventually, “the freedom of the press. I have no intention of shutting down your newspaper or anything of that nature. But we need that radio station, Mr Day. It’s vital for troop communication.”
“Twenty-four seven? Really?” Kenneth leaned forward, earnest. “I know it’s small, I know it can’t broadcast more than one frequency at a time, but can’t we have our frequency back occasionally? Just for a couple of hours a day? I have news bulletins to get out, and a DJ who is convinced that Bob Dylan fades further from humanity’s memory with every day that you refuse to let her play his songs. You’d be free to interrupt us at any time,” he added quickly, “if there were an emergency.”
“I could look into it,” he said, grudgingly; the man was hardly being unreasonable. “But the decision rests with the Major General, and what he decides is in the best interests of the city.”
And there was, finally, a flicker of something familiar on the man’s face: the fierce, stubborn expression that seemed to mark the Chicagoeans as firmly as an accent whenever you suggested that the city was not, in whatever way, their city. But it looked odd on Kenneth’s face, and passed so quickly that it could have been a trick of the light.
“I completely understand. Thank you, Colonel.” Kenneth stood up, and then paused. “Another thing. Vanessa,” he said. “My reporter. Will you let her in and give her a statement, every couple of days?”
Kenneth nodded. “If you want to get the people of Chicago to listen to you, sir – not just the Council, but the people – then the best thing you could do would be to talk to them. You won’t be misquoted. Vanessa’s good.” He gave a wide, friendly smile. “Well, consider it. Thanks again for seeing me. And...your watch, sir.”
“My watch?” He gave Kenneth a flat look.
“It’s running two minutes fast.” Kenneth Day lifted his own (bare) wrists in a conciliatory gesture and backed out of the room. “Keep an ear out for the Thunder, Colonel. We might even be able to tell you a few things you didn’t know.”