The Suppression Office
The sun was just creeping over the horizon as Charley Shallow and Captain Farefax were taken aboard London. Farefax was taken immediately to the hospital, but Charley was escorted by the second Captain, who he now knew to be called Captain Holt, directly to the Barbican.
"The Barbican?" Charley had asked when Captain Holt had told him of his destination. "Why the Barbican?" Charley knew that the Barbican was the palace of the old Kings of London, the mutant Scriven, who were a nomad tribe who claimed London two hundred years ago. Recognised by their skin, which was known to be speckled with dark splotches, an anti-foreigner group known as the Skinners eventually overthrew the Scriven Overlords a couple of years before Charley's birth. Since Quercus' takeover, the formerly Scriven palace had been relocated to the base tier of the new city, to be Quercus' new residence. So why on Earth was Charley going to the Barbican?
"We are going to the Barbican, Dr Shallow," explained Captain Holt as the two men walked through base tier.
"Because Dr Crumb, who I believe will be keen to know the fate of his daughter, is currently meeting with the Lord Mayor."
The Barbican was once a traction castle; the heart-fort of the nomad empire of the Scriven. After the Scriven settled down in London, the Barbican lost its wheels and settled down on Ludgate Hill, in the more affluent areas of old, static London.
And now, in the early hours of the day after London first moved, the Barbican looks almost... deserted. Where is everyone, thought Charley. No meeting with Quercus is being held here, for sure.
At the grand entrance, Holt was stopped by two guards, holding longswords.
"What's your business here, officer?" one of the men asked.
"We wish to speak to the Chief Engineer," answered Captain Holt calmly. "We believe that he was holding an audience with the Lord Mayor this morning."
The guard nodded, but didn't let Charley and Captain Holt in.
"The Lord Mayor is speaking with the Chief Engineer today," the guard replied. "But not at the Barbican. Dr Crumb will be in the Engine District."
Charley sighed. He disliked the Engine District; it was too hot, too dirty, and most definitely too loud. But it was the responsibility of the Engineers to run London's engines, so many of his working hours would be spent on the lowest tier. But today the engines would be off; London would still be gathering scrap metal from the remains of the Arkhangelsk monowheels, landships and traction forts. So for once, the conditions in the Engine District would be bearable.
The journey to the Engine District was short; London was only just over a mile long, and barely four hundred yards separated the Barbican and the large, circular chamber that was the Engine District's control room, situated at the exact centre of the city.
Inside, most control panels and levers were deserted; their crews of mechanics on leave, knowing that the city will not move for hours, maybe even days. At the exact centre of the room was Quercus' ornate padded chair, from which he dictated the activity of London's Godshawk engines.
Nearby to the chair was the Lord Mayor himself; Nikola Quercus. A surprisingly small and simply dressed man in his thirties, Quercus wore a plain tunic; definitely not in keeping with the traditions of the Movement. But times change, and a new age needs new rules and new traditions.
If any man was to be of the new age, it was to be Dr Gideon Crumb, Chief Engineer, head of his Guild. He is the voice of reason for the city, the mastermind behind Quercus' plans. Without Crumb, Quercus would never have managed to defeat the Arkhangelsk in the battle of Three Dry Ships. Crumb is responsible for getting London moving. Yet again, Crumb doesn't stand out as important; he looks like any other Engineer. He must be pushing past forty years of age, but he's almost indistinguishable from Charley at a distance. The same white canvas lab coat, the same shaven head (Engineers believe that hair is an unnecessary reminder of humanity's animal past), the same emotionless expression.
Around Quercus and Crumb were a few other senior Engineers that Charley recognised. Doctors Mainbrace, Collins and McNee amongst others. All of these men seemed to be engaged in conversation concerning navigation; during the journey north last night from the tent town that had surrounded new London during construction to Three Dry Ships, the city had been slightly veering left, so that the navigators had to alter their course every few minutes.
Now that the engines will be off whilst the city feeds on salvaged metal, the Engineers can tackle the problem. They appeared to have identified the source of the issue by the time that Charley arrived (a set of tracks on the left side), and were busy discussing how to best solve the problem.
With the arrival of the two newcomers, Quercus raised a hand to silence the conversation of the Engineers, and all attention was focused on Charley.
"What is it, Dr Shallow?" asked Quercus. "News about the escape?"
"Yes, sir," replied Charley, humbled for once. As much as Charley loved to flaunt any power he received, he knew that now would not be a wise moment to appear arrogant. "We send out search parties ahead, sir. I found them, too, sir, and I tried to, er..." Charley paused, trying to think of a suitable word. "I tried to coerce them into coming back to London. But they were having none of it, sir, and Miss Crumb, she took the gun from me and she, er, she turned it against me, sir. I tried to stop them, but with my injuries, I couldn't stop them getting away, sir."
Quercus and the Engineers stared at Charley long after his tale was complete, as if waiting for more. When nothing else was said, Quercus addressed Charley directly.
"You have done well, Dr Shallow, and you shall be rewarded for your services to the new city."
Charley welled up with pride, expecting further praise for his deeds (he had spilt blood for the new city, after all), but Quercus then turned to his right to speak to the Chief Engineer.
"What do you believe we should do, Dr Crumb?" asked Quercus. "This is your daughter we are talking about, after all."
"Let her go," replied Dr Crumb emotionlessly. He had been shaken last night when he found that Fever had been brought aboard London; just as shocked as he had been when he heard Rufus Raven's false reports of her death. After two months in the north amongst the wilderness, his daughter had come back weak, full of emotion and deeply irrational. It had pained Dr Crumb to see Fever, a shell of the hopeful Engineer that she had once proved to be. Of course, a month or two aboard London would put her straight, but for those months, she would be a burden; a burden that London could not afford to have. If she could not benefit the city in some way, there was no place for her aboard it. As Dr Crumb had told Fever himself, less than an hour before her escape with Cluny Morvish, all individuals are expendable; they do not matter. All that matters is the greater good, and that London will prosper.
"Miss Crumb was most irrational after her time with the nomads," continued Dr Crumb. "London has no use of her. Maybe if she returns to us one day with a clear mind filled with reason, then London will have use of her. But in her present state, the nomad empires will have more use of her than us."
Charley, who had been listening to Dr Crumb's every word, felt his heart do a backflip. Dr Crumb was actually choosing him over his own daughter! This was more than Charley could possibly have wished for!
Pleased that his important role as assistant to the Chief Engineer was safe, Charley felt so sure of himself that he spoke up against his seniors as Crumb ended his speech.
"But what of Cluny Morvish?" he asked before realising his mistake of speaking without the Mayor's permission. But nobody chastised him, so Charley continued. "Surely her execution would be the most effective way of dealing with her and put a complete end to the Arkhangelsk uprising?"
"No, Charley," said Dr Crumb, which made Charley wince. He hated how, even though Charley was now a Guildsman, Dr Crumb insisted upon continuing to call him Charley, as he had done when Charley was just an apprentice, running errands for him at his old home on Bishopsgate. "There is no need to kill off the prophet girl. Who would listen to her now, after her so-called crusade failed against the might of the new city?"
"Also," continued Quercus, raising a hand to silence both Dr Crumb and Charley. "The nomad empires have now seen the power of London with their own eyes. They don't need a prophetess to guide them anymore."
"And the remains of the Arkhangelsk won't be stupid enough to listen to her, anyway."
"And don't you think, Dr Shallow, that enough life has been lost in the last two days already?" continued Quercus.
Charley, who still had a headache from the bullet wound and was severely sleep-deprived, wasn't really in the mood for deep, philosophical debates with the Lord Mayor in the early hours of the morning, but he made the effort to listen to Quercus' every word.
"It may not be much, but we should spare the Morvish girl as a message to the Arkhangelsk. To show that for all of its power, London is merciful."
"So, we're not going to hunt them down?" said Charley, disappointed. He had been hoping that after how he had been praised for his first search for the escapees, there would be a follow-up mission, giving him a chance to earn even more glory for himself.
"No, Charley," said Dr Crumb. "There won't be. The rational mind will see that there is no need. It is more beneficial if we leave them alone."
Dr Crumb paused for a moment, sensing Charley's disappointment, before continuing.
"Of course, I can understand why you would want more search parties to be sent out, Charley. A chance for excitement and adventure, a hunt for glory."
Charley looked at Dr Crumb, slightly shocked. Was his true motive that apparent? Maybe he had been a little too eager expressing his views. But Dr Crumb had never shown any sign of noticing Charley's hidden motives before... Maybe this was because he was so wrapped up in his work. Whatever the reason, Dr Crumb's words had shocked him.
However, Charley was put at ease again as the Chief Engineer continued to talk to him.
"In my youth, I had clamoured for such adventure, in a time before my mind was truly rational. I can understand why, at such a tender age, you would crave such adventure. But I believe that, with the help of the Lord Mayor, the Guild of Engineers has just the place for you."
Charley's face visibly brightened as he heard Dr Crumb tell him of a new job; a new responsibility. One suited to him. With the promise of glory. A chance for Charley to gain more of a reputation, to climb another rung up the ladder towards his ultimate dream; Charles Shallow, Lord Mayor of London.
Quercus also seemed intrigued by Dr Crumb's words.
"What do you need my help with, Dr Crumb?" he asked curiously.
"Lord Mayor, with your permission, I wish to reopen the Suppression Office." answered Dr Crumb.
"What's the Suppression Office?" asked Charley, but neither Crumb nor Quercus heard him.
Quercus looked at Dr Crumb thoughtfully, as though sizing up Crumb's motives. Eventually he gave up, as though his train of thought had hit a brick wall.
"What would the purpose of the Suppression Office be?" asked Quercus. "All perceivable opposition to traction cities have been destroyed."
"Quite," said Dr Crumb. "But, if I was to list opposition to London, I would place 'Other Traction Cities' high on my list. This is the dawn of a new era. The era of traction. We cannot prevent the construction of other traction cities; now that their power has been demonstrated, no doubt many other cities will be trying to follow our example. Too many for us to stop them completely."
Quercus nodded. If the latest rumours from Paris and Bremen are true, he thought, they already have.
"Too many have heard of the power of the traction city for London to be the only example. In a hundred years, I can imagine thousands of traction cities travelling right across Europa. In a world like that, only the fastest and strongest cities will survive. It will be the survival of the fittest."
"And so the purpose of the Suppression Office is...?"
Dr Crumb sighed.
"I know that we shut down the Office after it's primary objective, to prevent technology dangerous to the new city from being created, was completed," explained the Chief Engineer. "But now that we know that other traction cities are likely to become the greatest enemy of the new London, we must assure that London reaches the top of the food chain, so to speak. The Suppression Office will be used to hinder the progress of other traction cities, giving London time to make certain that it is the greatest traction city of them all."
"So the Office will need to dispatch agents to Paris, Bremen, Roma and Hamsterdam?" asked Quercus.
"Yes," replied Dr Crumb. "To all the major European city states. But also amongst the nomad empires. The logical next step for the nomads after their traction forts is a complete moving city; a jump that the Movement have just completed."
Quercus smiled, glad to hear praise for his realised dream of a moving city.
"I am assuming that you see Dr Shallow as an ideal operative, Dr Crumb?"
"Indeed I am," Dr Crumb replied. "You know as well as I do that many of the new generation of Engineers would willingly risk death for a little adventure, all in the name of furthering London's progress."
"I see," replied Quercus. "The issue, then, is not one of gathering personnel, but one of security."
To this, Dr Crumb nodded before answering.
"Indeed, but that is a matter that we should discuss alone at another time, away from the presence of my fellow Engineers."
Dr Crumb turned to his associates.
"Do I have your word, gentlemen, that you will not speak of this conversation to anyone?"
Various murmurings that sounded like "yes, sir" and eager nodding was the response from the other senior Engineers.
Quercus then turned to Charley.
"And you, Dr Shallow? You won't share your knowledge with anyone, will you?"
"Oh, no, sir!" said Charley, possibly a little too eagerly. "My lips are sealed."
"Very well, then," said Quercus, with a tone that clearly meant that he thought the conversation to be over. "Captain Holt, kindly escort Dr Shallow here to the hospital. He is in need of medical attention. He has wounds to heal, and a mission to prepare for..."