Angel in the Maze
Author: 3jane

Chapter 11
Nagy's party machine

Nagy’s party machine

This is it. Calvinus is really going downhill. He can barely sit up now, and the times at which he makes any kind of sense are few and far between. His intellect still frightens Nagy when he’s sane, but most of the time he’s a vegetable, a second child, shrieking nonsense in the dark of his bedroom where the curtains stay closed in broad daylight and it stinks of stale cigarettes and horrible medical chemicals and uneaten food, a sad, mad place. He looks like a skull, his skin is grey and kind of blotchy where the mercury has stuck inside little veins and blocked them. His eyes are humongous, discoloured, rheumy. He smells terrible – like he died already and no one’s noticed yet. Nagy’s made up some vague story about trying to find out who the poisoner is, but Calvinus was lying staring at the wall when he told him and Nagy’s sure it didn’t even register. Not much does these days. Nagy left him quietly, when it happened, and slipped out back to HQ. Even with his new-found hate of the Architects and their burgeoning regime, Nagy actually prefers being at HQ than in Calvinus’s house; at least the people there are alive and healthy, if not exactly sane. The place is literally overflowing; even though Cephall and the Reconstruct project have moved out to their original site, the old community centre, both buildings are bursting at the seams with new recruits, old recruits, bright young zealots fresh out of tech college, full-timers, part-timers, clever workers, thick workers who they’ve got doing all the grunt jobs, foreign workers; they’ve got a Legrady electrical engineer called Karel, who joined them out of the blue and rarely ever speaks, but when he does it’s pearls of wisdom, especially to the trainee engineers. Ramir’s talking about putting him on the staff cause he’s so good at what he does. Nagy doesn’t see him a lot, but he seemed nice, if awkward, when they met. One evening Nagy gets back from his babysitting duties to meet Dane barrelling down the corridor; the boy crashes into him and they both go sprawling.

‘Whoah, Dane, watch where you’re going! What’s the hurry?’ Nagy reprimands, rubbing the back of his head where it hit the floor. Dane gets up, blushing.

‘We gotta message from Unit Vagus he says he ain’t coming back but he done everything he was sposed to and he’s not gonna tell no one about what he done – ’

‘Ok. I’ll see what’s going on. Next time, take a deep breath and calm down before you start talking, alright? It’s not a race.’

‘Right!’

Dane has already hurtled off round the corner. Nagy shakes his head.

Vagus says he won’t tell anyone. Yeah, Vagus says. Great words to base your political future on, Nagy.

He knows it means they’re going to get away with it, he’s got a feeling. He doesn’t really care any more; he knows that the only thing that will happen is more of the same, but harder and more tedious with the added stress of trying to win the election.

Ramir’s going to rule you; why not let him do all the work for your campaign? He obviously wants it done his way.

There’s no point trying to wrest the control from control-freaks. If they want all the extra work, well, let them have it and good luck to them because they go insane in the end. Nagy wishes he hadn’t thought that when he sees poor wasted Calvinus in his mind’s eye. He was the original control freak in politics, the workaholic, sleepless and iron.

You know what he used to say; if you want something done properly, fire the idiot who’s on the job and do it yourself.

Nagy, be the idiot, admit you’re an idiot and Ramir will do everything.

 

It’s quite strange, really, knowing that they’re so dependent on Vagus’s scribbled little missive being the truth. He could tell anyone and they’d be arrested before you could say ‘Wasn’t me’, but they’ve heard nothing yet. Orders are, get on with your usual work, ignore what’s going on now and concentrate on what’s going to happen once we’re in power. Nagy wonders at the wisdom of that, that a political party can shut itself off from the world at a time of crisis and not look a bit suspicious. Calvinus thinks so; he probes Nagy whenever he’s sane about the Science institute and its resident conspiracy-theory, Dr Larken. Nagy, terrified at those bloodshot, sickly eyes boring their way into his, rambles quasi-vaguely about Larken but he’s careful not to give too much away. He doesn’t know what his pretence is like. Poor, probably.

Letting the Regime down again. You’re not good enough for the Creator.

That’s what they’ll say to me before they Reconstruct me for my sins and failings.

What kind of time is Nagy living in, that he can be frightened of his own thoughts? Of the people he works with, of eyes watching him for signs of weakness all the time. This sense that he’s constantly on trial is really getting to him; that’s what he hates most about the Architects. The pressure to outdo each other, where the losers get a ‘talk’ with Ramir where they come out having aged about fifty years; everyone competes increasingly hard, just to avoid the weekly bottom spot. It’s usually some hapless recruit who ends up there, but occasionally one of the staff get in trouble. You never know who it’s going to be and your last fervent prayers of the week are ‘Please, Creator, say it’s not me who’s underperformed this week’. Nagy’s semi-immune because his work is so different to what the others do; Ramir is reliant on him to explain the situation, and while Nagy’s present lot is not exactly wonderful, the liberty he gets as opposed to, say, Einor Lanegan, stuck slaving away on Reconstruct research week after week, is enough to stop him really flipping out, for the moment at least.

One morning he’s in Calvinus’s room with him as usual, and Calvinus suddenly calls out in a feeble, cracked voice, from his bundle in the corner of the bed. So weak, his request cuts through the dark heat and claustrophobia of his sickroom-deathbed-sanctum.

‘Nagy, I’m going. Come here.’

Nagy freezes. The world flips into focus sharper than it’s ever been before, one of those moments where the whole of history comes crashing out of the sky and hits you in the face for daring to change it. It’s a weird feeling, being such a significant part of a city’s immortality, even if it’s just for a short while. Being able to say ‘I was there, I saw it.’

This is it. He’s dying.

WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO I’M NOT READY FOR THIS

He goes over to the bed. Calvinus is barely visible, cocooned in the filthy sheets, the top of his grey forehead and his sick eyes above the hem of a blanket. A claw-hand emerges and it’s clutching a bit of paper with wild scribbles all over it.

‘Yes, sir? Is there something I can do?’

His voice catches in his throat. He’s developed a strange affection for Calvinus, and this undignified end, a last choking, barely audible gasp from the iron tongue of disparaging wit, makes him desperately sad.

‘Get someone. Anyone who can write. A witness.’

Nagy suddenly realises what the paper is; it’s Calvinus’s last will and testament. He doesn’t want to see what’s in there. If he’s made Seneschal then Ramir will be unstoppable, and his vision will steamroller over the city as they know it, Calvinus’s city, and it will never be the same again.

Let us fail. Let him name someone else as Seneschal.

I’ve seen the future and I don’t like it. Let it not happen that way.

‘Right you are; don’t go anywhere yet,’ he gabbles and sprints out the door. Some gormless clerk is passing; Nagy grabs him before he can protest and hustles him inside. He sees the man’s wide, white moon-face screw up at the smell of dying Calvinus.

‘Quick, Nagy,’ croaks Calvinus, shoving the will into Nagy’s hand with a burst of surprising strength-of-the-desperate. ‘I don’t have long.’

‘What do I do?’

‘Make him sign it then sign it yourself,’ he whispers. Nagy’s so nervous he can barely think straight, but he shakes the clerk’s shoulder and thrusts the paper at him, grabs a pen from Calvinus’s desk and forces it into the clerk’s damp inky hand.

‘Sign the bottom line where it says Witness, quickly.’

‘Why?’

Nagy nearly kills the man. He grabs him by the front of his shirt and shouts,

‘What do you mean, why? You’re a clerk, aren’t you? You know much more about this kind of thing than I do! Sign the damn thing or he’ll die without a legal testament – for fuck’s sake, just sign it! Now!’

He lets go and the clerk scurries to do it. There, one swift, neat signature on the line that says Witness. Easy as that, but there have been so many dead Seneschals who never had such luck. Their wills were illegal, and what came after was not politics so much as small-scale warfare, a vicious, backstabbing power struggle. They’ve avoided that, and Nagy did it the fair way: he got it signed, he signed it himself, even though he didn’t know what it said. It’s law, he doesn’t know it and it’s going to affect him. If he’s named as Seneschal he can’t refuse.

‘Now stay here and shut up,’ Nagy snaps at the clerk. He turns back to Calvinus who has sunk with a sort of final relief on his face.

‘Nagy,’ he says faintly. Nagy bends down next to him.

‘Yes, sir?’

‘You know what I have given you, don’t you?’

Nagy bites his lip. He wants to scream, No, why have you done this to me? I can’t have what you’re giving, it’s all going to go wrong. You’ve come all this way and still fallen in the trap we set for you. The only one you never saw coming, the only one there was.

Oh for God’s sake, Nagy, be a man about it. Take what you’re given and make it yours.

‘Yes, sir. Thank you,’ he says stiffly.

‘Look after it, won’t you? Don’t let Larken get you too.’

The man’s breath squeaks and rattles in his hollow body. The poison’s eaten him from the inside, it ate his mind and ravaged his anatomy. He shuts his eyes and something goes from the room. It takes Nagy a minute, then it registers. They’ve killed him. Nagy has actually been part of the scheme to kill a man outright to achieve an end.

‘Is he dead?’ asks the clerk.

‘Go away. Get out of here and tell the world.’

I hope no one ever finds out about what we did to you. What God did to you.

‘I’m sorry,’ he says quietly to the man-thing on the bed. If he thinks hard he can imagine the curt reply, oh, never mind that now, just shut up and sort it out.

 

‘Well, Architects, this is indeed the day we make history. Unit Murat is the new Seneschal of Northbridge,’ Ramir announces at the whole-Order meeting that night. The crowd are quiet at first, faces turn and enquire of each other, then it hits them all at once, all the work they’ve done, all the posters they’ve stuck and the slogans they’ve said and the relentless campaigning always afraid of Security, always looking over their shoulder for the rival party or the heavy hand of the law: no more of that. They’ve won, they’ve got absolute control of the city. They’ve broken through the centuries of corruption. They’re Nagy’s party machine, and Ramir’s, and the Creator’s.

Nagy, sitting there on the stage, feels a surge of pride, despite the events of earlier, as after a shocked silence, the hall finally erupts with applause and shouting. And heavier than the pride is the responsibility that settled around his shoulders when he read Calvinus’s testament, which is still unbearably bulky and new and he doubts he’ll ever get used to the feeling. But the ordinary Architects don’t know that; they don’t know that he’s not as avid as they are to follow every word Ramir has fed them in his power-sweet rhetoric. The hall’s absolutely rammed with the grassroots. The meeting is in the warehouse today, in a huge open space on the ground floor which is usually full of engineering things, big half-finished structures with cables and wires and bits of metal trailing. Karel works here with the tech students, it’s become his territory and theirs. They’re at the back now, sitting and standing all over the entrails of their latest project.

‘Under the new Architect Regime this day will be declared Official Holiday of the Creator; the day in which we began the construction of the new life, under His divine leadership. This is the ultimate proof that sheer industry and determination yields the best results, units. Look on what you have achieved here as the role-model for every goal in your life as an Architect, and you cannot but follow the Well-Paved Way with truly iron-shod feet. You will be perfect, my Units, flawless, efficient, unstoppable. And you will love your beautiful new city with the joy only visual, aesthetic precision brings. Unit Ackermann!’

Karel the Legrady waves from the back of the hall where he’s perched on his machine with the students. He’s a tall spare man, sort of stringy. He looks like he was born to wear overalls and engineer’s boots; they’re a second skin on him. He’s got curious hair: almost blood-red, thick and straight and jaw-length with streaks of grey, and a neat pointed beard of the same colour. Prominent cheekbones, stern blue eyes in a pale skin.

‘Yes, Leader?’ he calls.

‘Would you and Unit Lanegan please present your Blueprint for a city-wide electricity grid? Units, this is the first thing we will do as the ruling party of Northbridge – is it not, Seneschal Murat?’

‘Indeed, Leader, that is the blueprint. Among many others, of course.’

Karel has made his way to the stage now and he and Einor are unrolling an enormous blueprint on a reel. Karel goes up the gantry at the side of the stage and hangs the top of the blueprint to the ceiling. It’s fantastically complicated, beautifully drawn and completely incomprehensible to most people in the audience; there’s an excited gasp all the same when they read it, City-State Electricity Network.

‘Take us through the proposal, Units.’

Ramir stares at Einor, who blushes and looks at Karel. Karel smiles.

‘Right, I start at the beginning: the title. Sorry my General is so poor, I only came from Legrad two month ago – but I try very hard for you. Okay, State Electricity Network is meaning basically, every place in Northbridge to have electricity provided by plants that the government own and state workers run.’

He reaches a lean hand up and indicates the main drawing, and everyone can see how much he really knows as he begins to talk about it. How much he loves what he’s doing, what he’s capable of. His voice is full of energy; it’s not the nasal drone of Einor or the twang of Tyndell or the dry, snappy cadence of Nagy. Although his speech is clumsy and his accent prominent, the Order listen to him like one great big pair of ears on stalks. He’s one of those presenters who understands what he’s talking about so well that he, the man, fades into the background and the ideas shine through him like he’s made of glass. Fantastic ideas, futuristic, high and fast and rocket-science. Difficult, of course; many faces are confused, even Einor’s when it comes to a certain bit. This is the future Ramir has promised them, and eyes turn to Ramir as if to say, My god, he really meant it, he’s giving us what he said he would.

‘There, you see?’ Karel finishes, pulling the bottom of the blueprint. It rolls up with a neat snap like a blind. ‘It is possible and we can do it if we work very hard. Having so much to do now means we get it right for the future and we can enjoy what we have done, no worries for how it will not work. Thank you for your attention.’

Loud, enthusiastic applause, particularly from the back of the hall where Karel’s techie students are glowing with the force of the ideas. They can’t wait to get out there and start building. Ramir shrugs expansively.

‘Well, what can I say? The future really is in our hands, Units. Which leads me very neatly on to my next address: the structure of this Regime. Nagy and I have had long discussions about this and we have decided that it is best for him to tell you, as the political controller of this side of things.’

Mihan, watching Ramir, notices a faint flicker of anger in Ramir as he says this; the man’s eyes dart to Nagy, who looks that kind of charmingly embarrassed when you know he’s not really and he’s loving the attention. Nagy stands up.

‘Well, my display is less impressive than Unit Ackermann’s, but I have done my best.’

He goes to the big drawing board on a stand at the side, and pins up a long sheet of paper with columns and things on it.

‘There is no point in us all doing little tasks here and there; that only leads to a sort of dogsbody-ism which is hardly becoming for the Architects of the future. Instead, the Leader and I have come to the decision, now we are in power, to centralise the Architect Regime here, in this building which has become our spiritual home. As you know, there are at present rough divisions of labour in this Regime, with Karel and Einor in charge of engineering, Mihan in charge of propaganda, Cephall with the medics and so on, with the Leader the keystone of all these arches, naturally.’

Nagy’s neat analogy draws smiles from the crowd but Ramir does not smile. It seems that this proposal is more Nagy’s idea than Ramir’s, or perhaps Ramir wishes it was his. Nagy continues.

‘This regime is going to be huge, because it’s not a government, it’s a society. Just as in today’s society, everyone has a job – well, the majority of people have jobs, and they’re a fixed affair. We have come to the conclusion that a programme where everyone has a set role and knows what they’re doing, is more efficient than simply doing whatever task there is, in a completely unsystematic way. This is far too big an institute to be as haphazard as that, so what the Leader and I propose is this.’

He goes over to his paper and points at the row of columns at the top.

‘The set-up we’ve got is to be formalised: departments here at HQ who will be part of a city-wide board. Labour management, that’s going to be Unit Lanegan’s department. Mechanics and engineering, that’s yours, Unit Ackermann: heavy workload but I’m sure you’ll cope. Coordination and resources management will be Unit Tyndell. Administration and clerical, Unit Antira. Recruitment and martial operations will be Unit Cave. Unit Igrain, Propaganda, obviously. Lastly, Biomedical and Chemical Research will be run by Unit Cephall. I will be directing the political and legislative side of things for the time being, but my role as city governor will gradually become obsolete. The Leader will be the true controller of the Regime, and in time people will be able to live solely by his teachings; there will be no need and no room for a political figure such as Seneschal. And that really will be the future.’

Nagy bows to Ramir elegantly and a thin smile flicks across Ramir’s face.

‘Here is where you come in, Architects, Units, dear components,’ Ramir says. ‘You are the little wheels in the master machine without which the department leaders, the big wheels, cannot run. Those of you who work full-time here and are affiliated to a department will stay with that department, and the most productive of you will be selected for city-wide positions of responsibility. Anyone who wants to work in a new state factory – and we will need thousands of you if Unit Ackermann’s blueprint is to be carried out – please sign the list on the door. Those of you who work in so-called ‘lay’ factories and would prefer to stay there, I hope you are doing your bit to spread the teachings and processes that are correct and Architect. That is to be your job, and you are part of Labour Management. Creator bless you all, my Units, in your new and useful roles. Next week, the beauty and the mystery of the Reconstruct project will be revealed to you by the Medics.’

The usual eruption of applause. The air crackles with purpose, there’s a buzz the like of which has not been there since the very first meeting, when Ramir wooed them with words and blinded them with science. The maelstrom spins faster and faster; the future’s coming, flying headlong and the desperate, burning desire of so many in that Regime is to race towards it at equal speed with arms flung wide and eyes open, streaming with wind-tears, embracing as much of its vast splendour as they can reach. So many promises made that night to the Creator are promises to follow the Way to the letter, if only more of this striking vision is revealed to them, if only it works and Northbridge can really become the futuristic paradise they have been shown tantalising glimpses of. It is only Nagy who is afraid of the future as he tries to juggle committees and policy and Ramir and Security and assassins and civil servants, all the nitty-gritty of a job that is full-time as only politics can be. God, the responsibility, it’s killing him. He feels terrible that he’s allowed this to happen, to get in the mess he’s in. It’s depressing how little he knows about how to run an entire city, and orders from Ramir start flooding in, new strategies to apply, little changes to the law, things he personally rejects but has to accept all the same. Nagy thinks the same thought over and over again.

What the hell am I doing?

 

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