A Spy’s Dilemma

Detective Mallory,” Sergeant Bowler says by way of greeting as he slaps a thick folder onto my desk.

I sigh and massage my temples. “Another one, Marcus?” I ask without looking at him.

That folder has been on everyone’s desk at least once over the past decade, and we’re still no closer to catching the Sleeping Giant, let alone immobilizing them.

“I dare say it’s too late for them to back down now, Sienna,” he grimaces.

I know he’s right. The Sleeping Giant began making demands of the Requius monarchy about twenty years ago, long before I was promoted to detective and years before I was even old enough to join the force. I was a young girl when the protests started. They were peaceful, at first, people merely seeking equality for the working class. Over time, the Sleeping Giant began implementing more drastic measures and using increasingly inflammatory tactics. When I was enrolled in the Requius Police Academy, a noblewoman was executed in the street as a demonstration. Now it is common knowledge that the Sleeping Giant wants to destroy the monarchy and build a democracy in its place.

The problem is, there always seems to be someone in power, leaving some at the top and others at the bottom. It doesn’t matter who, the dichotomy remains and the imbalance is the same. And everyone wants to believe they are on the right side of history and the law.

“I know,” I finally agree, flipping open the worn, dog-eared cover of the folder. “What do we have this time?”

“An electrician,” Bowler says while I look over the photo on the top of the pile of papers, their color a subtle gradient from yellowed ivory to white. It is a visible testament to how long this case has been open. “Yeah, that’s him. Edwin Klassen. He hasn’t showed up for his apprenticeship in weeks. His boss is worried something happened to him. He has no family to speak of, and his friends and peers either know nothing or are keeping their mouths shut, but I am betting on the former. Their stories are too varied and confused to support the theory that they’re hiding something. He seems to be working alone.”

I hold up my hand so he pauses his narrative. “Seems like a standard missing persons case, Marcus. Why do you think this has anything to do with the Sleeping Giant?”

“I’m getting to that,” Sergeant Bowler chuckles before sobering. “Technically we don’t, but Chief Hargrave received reports of unauthorized work performed at several electrical substations throughout Requius which match the skill level of an apprentice with about Klassen’s level of experience, and we put it together in our meeting this morning. We believe the Sleeping Giant is preparing to attack our electrical grid to debilitate the authorities and further enrage and thus gain the support of the lower classes. We can’t be sure exactly when they will pull the trigger or what they are planning during the outage.”

“Presumably murder or something equally nefarious,” I offer with a shrug. “Given the escalation of their actions over the last few years, it wouldn’t surprise me if they went for the head and attacked the royal family in the palace itself.”

“Precisely,” Bowler says. “We’ve already increased security there, and we will ensure security is in place during the attack as well.”

“How…” I stop myself. “You want me to investigate or even infiltrate the Sleeping Giant to find out exactly when the outage will occur, don’t you?” I ask, standing from my chair and smoothing my hair to be sure all the strands are pulled neatly into my bun where they belong. “How in the world do you expect me to pull that off?”

“Klassen is a weak link. We surmise he’s a relatively green recruit due to his age alone. If he altered the equipment at the substations listed, then he’s sure to strike again to finish the job. You will be there to offer your help and gain his trust, and he won’t be able to refuse you.”

“Why not?” I ask.

“Detective Mallory, you have the face of an angel. Quit acting surprised, don’t pull back your hair so tight, and use it to the RPD’s advantage.”

“Yessir,” I reply, my frown belying my reflexive agreement at the tone of his command.

“What is it?”

“How do we know where Klassen will strike next?”

“There are only three unaltered substations left in the main hub of the city. The substations throughout the other quadrants all rely to some degree on these central stations, so our theory is that he will try to sabotage these to weaken the rest before the ultimate strike.”

“Nothing much we can do then besides pick one and wait to see if our suspect shows up, is there?”

“I don’t see we have any choice.”

It has been three weeks now since I became Myra Ingram, the newest member of the patrol unit at Substation 3. Patrol units are responsible for inspecting their assigned station not only for suspicious activity but primarily issues with the power generation process. It has been some time since Requius began using aether to generate electricity, but the process is still volatile. Since joining the team, I’ve helped put out four fires, brought a teammate in for the treatment of chemical burns, and watched the systems overload twice in terrifying arcs of electricity. I am lucky my unit and I were positioned such that none of us died and only a few suffered mild electrocution. Needless to say, I have greater appreciation for the resource I took for granted not a month ago, and I understand the pushback these power plants and substations received from the working class not long after construction.

Klassen has not made an appearance, but I keep on my guard. There is a good chance he will never show, however, I need to be diligent. Missing this chance could cost numerous lives.

I’ve only had contact with the Requius Police Department once during this time. Sergeant Bowler passed a lead to me, which ended up going nowhere, and we never spoke. He simply slipped it into the pocket of my coat on a piece of paper in passing.

During my fifth week on the job, I patrol the substation with Alice Stanton, our faces protected with rags tied just beneath our eyes and goggles which should have been updated years ago.

“I’m craving dumplings again,” Alice says as we walk. “I know we just ate them yesterday, but would you be up for getting some again?”

My smile is hidden behind the covering on my face, but my eyes crinkle, visible through the lenses of my goggles. “Fine by me,” I agree. “Food’s food, and we gotta eat.”

Alice squeals her excitement right before I grab the back of her coveralls and pull her backwards one step. In front of us, noxious steam gushes out of a pipe not a moment later.

“Thanks,” she says. “I should be the one saving you, but even as the newbie, you’re the one who’s always looking out for me.”

“Don’t dwell on it, sis,” I say with a shrug as we continue walking. “We’re all just doing the best we can to make it in the world.”

I’m already sad for the day I’ll need to leave Substation 3 and move on to another post or a new case. When I’m gone, who will look after Alice? I hope they find a replacement who’s sharp as a tack and can help keep everyone in the unit safe. I’d hate to lose anyone I’ve met. They’re all such lovely people, like Alice, with hopes and dreams and lives worth living, just struggling to get by.

Two weeks ago, Sergeant Bowler got word to me that Substation 5 was sabotaged in a manner similar to the others in the reports and instructed me to hold my cover and be on alert for Klassen to make an appearance. When I arrived here nine months ago, I never thought such news would cause me to breathe a sigh of relief.

Today, I patrol the corridors alone while Alice recovers from acid burns. My hands still sting a little from pulling her to safety, but I hardly notice the pain. I’m just happy I was able to get her out in time.

I hum almost silently to myself to accompany the sound of my thumping boots and the scratch of the rough fabric of my coveralls rubbing together between my legs. Time passes so much more slowly without Alice to talk to, and my shifts feel like they last forever. It also feels so much more stifling with the rag over my nose and mouth, the goggles pressing uncomfortably into the sharp bones of my eye sockets, but I don’t dare remove either now.

I scan the corridor, counting rivets on the walls to keep myself focused, and sidestep a steaming puddle. Up ahead, a door is partially ajar. It leads to the switchgear room, if memory serves, and I slow my steps to quiet my passage. If Klassen is in the room, I don’t want to scare him. Chasing him will make it more difficult for him to trust me.

Peeking into the room, I do not have a view of anyone inside, but I hear someone working on the equipment. It sounds like just one individual, the noises coming from within too separate to come from more than one person. There is no scheduled maintenance, and there have been no reported failures, so I think I’ve finally found our man. I push open the door and the occupant whirls.

“Good afternoon, sir,” I say, immediately taking stock of Edwin Klassen standing before me. His posture is tense and he looks as if he’d make a dash for the exit if I weren’t conveniently blocking it. “It’s dangerous to be in here without an escort, and I wanted to make sure you’re okay. Just last week my partner was excused from duty on account of a work-related injury, acid burns all up and down her arms, the poor thing,” I offer. I don’t have to fake my concern, and I hope the personal touch is enough to win him over.

Klassen visibly relaxes. “I’m fine, as you can see,” he says with what might pass for a laugh. “They brought me in to make what they said was a quick fix, and it’s turned into a real stumper.”

“Sorry to hear it,” I reply. “I’m happy to stay here with you and keep watch while you work if you want. Us working folk need to stick together, after all.” I extend my hand, “Myra.”

He’s hesitant at first, but eventually takes it. “Edwin. Nice to know you.”

“Here,” I say, offering him a clean rag from my pocket. “Best cover your face. Working in these conditions is less than friendly.”

“Thanks.”

“It’s nothing,” I insist.

Over the next couple weeks, Edwin visits the switchgear room several times. Each time, he finds me first as I instructed, and I escort him, following the proper protocol. We sit and chat while he works, never for more than about an hour or so. Now I know how he does it, making small changes little by little over time so it is very difficult to notice and nearly impossible to pin on anyone in particular. I still have not reported him to Sergeant Bowler or the RPD. I need more time to gather information.

After a month has passed, Alice is back on patrol with me, her arms healed although riddled with pink scars beneath the sleeves of her coveralls.

“Who’s this?” Edwin asks me on his next visit, obviously on edge.

“You’re too uptight,” I laugh and nudge him with my elbow. “This is my partner, Alice. She’s simpatico. Right, sis?”

Alice nods enthusiastically, giving Edwin a shy smile, smitten at first sight. I do have to admit they would make a fine pair.

Another month is gone, and Alice traipses into the switchgear room, Edwin in tow. I wait for them, knowing they enjoy a little time alone. It’s all I can give them in order to keep up pretenses.

“Let’s play ‘would you rather’ and Edwin, you start. You always think of the best ones,” Alice says, peppy as ever despite the stench in the air today.

If I had to wager a guess, I think this is what hell must smell like, burning chemicals and overheated metal mixed with the scent of burned flesh. The smell still lingers from a particularly bad fire yesterday. We lost two in our unit, and four were badly burned.

“Sis?” Alice asks.

“Oh um, I’d rather walk backwards for an entire week than try to walk on my hands for even five minutes,” I answer, glad I managed to remember Edwin’s options despite my musing.

“Same! Good choice,” Alice agrees.

When Edwin packs up his tools to leave, Alice asks, “When will you be back?”

Edwin sighs and adjusts the rag over his face. “I don’t think I’ll be coming back here,” he says. “I’ve done what needs doing, and I have other work to tend to.”

I tense and force my shoulders to relax, maintaining casual posture. This means Edwin will move on to the last substation. Once Substation 4 is compromised, the Sleeping Giant will progress with their plan.

Alice hugs him tight, and I can see her fighting tears. “I’ll miss you, Eddy.”

“I’ll miss you too,” he says.

I give him a hug next, leaning in to whisper in his ear. “Work fast, Eddy, and get the job done.”

When I pull back, I meet his eyes and grip his shoulders. He nods, and I hope he catches my meaning.

“The last one always goes the fastest,” he says, and I’m certain he does.

It has been months since I’ve visited the precinct, but Sergeant Bowler summoned me back at the behest of Chief Hargrave, so I sneak away. It has been about a week since Edwin finished his alterations to the systems at Substation 3.

“It’s been months, and you’re telling me there have been no leads?” Hargrave booms.

“That is correct, sir,” I reply, tracing the acid burns on my hands with the roughened pad of my index finger. “We know they work slowly, so this is no surprise, sir.”

The chief sighs. “You’re right, Detective. As you were. You may return to your post. Report any suspicious activity immediately, even if you are unable to locate Klassen.”

“Yessir,” I affirm. “The rot in Requius will not be allowed to continue. It is only a matter of time before it is burned from this city.”

“I hope you’re right, Detective,” says Chief Hargrave.

“With Detective Mallory on the case, I’m sure it is,” assures Sergeant Bowler.

I hide my smile, for the sergeant has no idea how right he is.

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