“Mister Butler, are you all right?”
I sighed and waved the lab tech off, climbing out of the toy box. The machine had cut down the amount of time required for my treatments dramatically, but it was still tedious. I gestured for my cane, and someone placed it in my hand without delay. I stood slowly, finding my balance, and enjoying the feel of the smooth wood under my palm.
I always enjoyed getting my cane back after my treatments. It represented stability to me, although that didn’t really make much sense. I knew most men in my position hated the tools that reminded them of their illnesses.
But I liked my cane, and that was that.
I walked back to my car slower than necessary, enjoying the simple feeling of walking for as long as I could. I think, for all my contributions, I deserved two minutes of selfishness. But all too soon, I reached the vehicle, and slipped inside. The car sped off quickly, my destination already established. My driver was a professional, and knew better than to interrupt me when I was thinking.
“What’s on the agenda today, Mary?” I asked the empty air. She responded quickly. Normally my secretary would handle this, but he was busy at the moment. Besides, this briefing was most relevant to her work than his.
“Besides the fact that we have a bunch of vampires yelling at us about that apartment building that burned down during the fight with the bats?”
I sighed. “Yes, besides that. Though I was meaning to ask…how many is that? Buildings that Miss Akiyama has destroyed, I mean.”
“That makes sixteen. Though, in fairness, only two of those were really her fault.”
“Yes, well…that’s something for another time. What else?”
“Grain is trying to hook up to our ‘net.”
Brian Grain was a New York senator, and one of the largest threats to Domina City, largely because he kept to his issues like a dog with a bone. He also had a large amount of popular support, not least because he was actually a good man. That was part of the problem, really. You can’t bribe good men.
“Tell Jamie to divert their attention to that alleged child porn case in California.”
“Good call. Send them on a wild goose chase.”
One of our first lines of defense against outside interference was the simple fact that no one outside the city could view our internet. Everything was outgoing only. This did have some side effects; people inside the city had a much slower connection to the outside, for one, since they had to go through the corporate channels, but it was well worth the cost.
If Grain managed to secure funding to build their own link to the city, there wasn’t much we could do to stop him. And once outsiders could view the Domina internet, all my carefully-maintained propaganda would go to waste. No one would believe my lies any more, not with our extremely active bloggers and vloggers and so on contradicting me. The military wouldn’t believe that the illegal use of the toy maker was minor, and limited to cosmos only, not worth sending in armies to arrest people en masse. The president wouldn’t believe that the screamers were a hoax, not worth paying any attention to.
This misdirection would help, and a few careful bribes to less honest men would also make our lives easier.
Sooner or later though, that wouldn’t be enough. The day was fast approaching. I could hide it, but not for long.
The gangs were gone. Mostly, anyway. The Rahabs were proving difficult to flush out, and the cultures were still annoyingly violent at times, but overall the city was infinitely safer to live in than it was fifteen years ago. Most of my propaganda exported to the outside world was focused on maintaining the illusion that it wasn’t.
But unless I turned Domina into a police state, the outside world would find out. People could visit, and see that the city was safe. Residents sent e-mails to their friends and families outside the city, talking about how much better it was to live here now. People even left the city for greener pastures every once in a while, as people are wont to do.
Sooner or later, governments would feel safe enough to send spies that we wouldn’t be able to bribe or kill.
And very soon after that, armies.
Could we survive that? Perhaps. Domina was hardly defenseless. Besides, we didn’t have to win, we just had to weather the first couple waves, long enough to erode popular support for a war. It would require more bribes, more blackmail, and even a few assassinations. I would have to play almost completely under the table, simply to keep the city alive.
Because it was necessary.
Behind the Scenes (scene 44)
Just to be clear, Butler is a little bit more worried than he needs to be here. There are more immigrants and visitors to the city than there are emigrants, and the first thing they tell their friends and family back home is “Don’t come, it’s too dangerous.”
It is still infinitely safer than it was fifteen years ago. Kinda like how diving into a bonfire is safer than diving into the sun.
Extra update Wednesday because it’s my birthday (and this one is so short).