2018-10-31 10:00 fiction cyclopaedia

Cyclopaedia Chapter Twenty-Six: The Knife

"This has become more complicated than we expected," a voice behind him said.

Konrad was standing exactly where he knew it would happen. He'd run through the scenario a thousand times in his head, he'd be standing out back, in the alley, at the bins, with a bag of trash in his hands. It would be dusk. The daylight was gone but last light would let the boundaries of the alley become indistinct, perfect for the Garde. Not that Konrad's eyes were any good anymore. But this is how the Garde were—sneaking, obfuscated, elements of the background, until it was too late.

Konrad turned. So far it was just the way he'd imagined it would be.

"Isn't it always complicated," Konrad replied.

He could see the Garde clearly, there was no trickery this time. That took him by surprise. He gasped slightly, he tried to catch his breath. And he knew this man. It was the Garde he'd helped convict all those years ago. How was it possible?

"You have no idea how many miserable years I spent in that prison," the man said, the Garde. Konrad said nothing. "But a drop in the bucket. The years I mean. For me those moments were important lessons. They made me stronger. You have to understand how strong we are now." The Garde stepped up close to him, Konrad was too slow to avoid his grip.

"Your Inspectors have really fucked things for us, you know that?" What was it Konrad smelled on his breath? Something bitter. He was close. And he had a knife. Konrad didn't even see him pull it out. In this scenario Konrad imagined he would be stabbed in the back, a fairly quick end by a competent assassin. But the knife was at his throat. The knife was colder than he thought it could be. Still, he was ready, the details were inconsequential.

"Your Inspectors have ruined a tremendous amount of work. You have no idea what the possibilities could have been, all gone, in an instant, all gone."

The knife pressed closer, but it was so sharp he didn't know whether it cut into him or not. Was it already slicing into him? The slight pressure. There was nothing he could say, he could only stare at the texture of the man's skin, the islands of hairs, the folds, the fields of red, it was the whole of his final world, this landscape. This too, he hadn't expected.

"But we need you to know this—and we know you'll tell your Inspectors—the agreement, the truce, is over. We'll be hands on now. Not hiding. Much more the way I used to be. You remember. This is the correct response to this new age."

The knife descended. Konrad's throat was not cut, he was alive. This too was unexpected.

"Tell them," the Garde said, "that there's a price to be paid." The Garde backed away.

Why am I not dead? Konrad thought.

"You'll live as long as you're useful," the Garde said, "there's a lot to do."