When the President admits you exist, you have problems. Emmett Giron know his superiors understood this. You cannot be the secret rulers of the world and have your name splashed on billboards.
“Hey, it worked for the Rockfellers,” is all he was told. Which was true, of course. If you had enough money, no one would believe the lies you told. If you had enough influence, though, no one would know you existed at all. This was the real power of the world, the power to decide what stories were printed, which lies were told, which things were buried.
Emmett knew the truth would out, eventually. Lies fall away, like the myth of the Christ, like the earth as centre of the universe, and the truth remains: But how the truth is told was as important as the fact of it; and facts, as had been drilled into him, were nothing more than opinions dusted off for company.
He knew all this. He understood all this. And yet he was not sure why the President remained alive, nor why people knew about them, even made jokes: the truth was not something to joke of, but something to revere - and fear. “Each time they laugh, they disbelieve a little more,” Azik had said curtly, when asked. Emmett had questioned no further; there were limits to how far he could push before the Order would push back, and Azik’s terrible weapon left no trace at all, but Emmett wouldn’t be there anymore.
He looked up from his cold coffee. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Your mission, should you choose to actually listen to me,” Smith said sharply, “is to deal with the Mac problem. Three people in two weeks going into a convenience store and setting their head on fire is bad for business.”
“Keeping order.” She handed him a thin white folder. (They had files on everyone, after all.) “This is what we have on the cashier. Ask questions, find out answers. Low key. And, Emmett, no killing anyone this time.”
He smirked. “Even if they deserve it?”
“You were sent to my office to increase your detectual skills, not your body count.”
“Detectual?” he said mildly.
She smiled at him. “I can sent Azik with you, if you wish. The Satellite is, of course, ready.”
Emmet turned and walked out, leaving his coffee behind.
It didn’t take long to find things out. The file had includes Dario’s username for several web sites, and mentioning that alone got his instant attention.
“Look, you won’t tell my boss, will you?”
“That you like to dress up as a wolf? Of course not. Do you ask for the full moon off?”
Dario’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know who you are, but if BeastBoy23 --”
“You don’t need to. You just need to answer the question. Three people. None seriously hurt. The police report claims they don’t come here often, but they all live within two blocks of your apartment.”
“Look, man, I - I need a raise. Danger pay, you know. I paid them some money, it looks really flashy, and we get paid a bit more for having to put up with things like this. That’s all. It’s a scam.”
“I see.” Emmett kept the camera to static, thinking for a few moments. “Do you know what I think of people who have sex with animals?”
“You can lower your voice. It is quite simple: I think the programming to stop you from being a molester didn’t take. And it’s only one short step, from animals to children.”
Dario had time to call him several angry words, because Emmett had to take a few moments to make sure his gun was loaded. He didn’t give a warning, did not bother to explain. One shot, in the face. Another to the chest. And a third lower, because this had been a waste of an evening.
As it turned out, the programming that led to fetishes with animal costumes had to do with an attempt to repress potential Greenpeace activists than any form of actual sexual deviancy. Smith had told him that not everything was programming, but of course she’d believe that: she was programmed to, and management besides.
There were, Dario felt, as he showed up for his first shift at the Mac’s store in punishment, very good reasons why management made no innovations. Sometimes, if all you saw was the forest, you missed the trees entirely.
The first person to set their hair on fire he threw out the back door and into a dumpster.
After the fourth, a transient who set his entire body on fire, he wondered who Dario had been working for and why the file had been so very thin after all. He began bringing his gun, wondering if Smith meant to have him taken out of the game crudely. Management at the store was replaced, which did not surprise him.
He wasn’t even surprised that the new manager had the face of a dead man, or that no one commented. He just waited until his shift was over, went into the office, and finishes the job. The crazies had been burning themselves for a good reason; there are some things only fire could purify, and the answer to his questions had been far too pat for the real world, where there were no easy answers, and always things that could not be solved with guns alone.
It would seem, he thought, changing clothing as he walked, ignoring the sound of the dog’s sirens in the air, come calling to the fire and never learning anything, that Smith had been correct. Next time, he decided, he would bring Azik along and let the other man’s weapon solve what violence could not.
He looked ahead to next weeks performance review for the quarter and smiled.