Today’s challenge from Chuck is to start with a stranger at the door and write 1000 words. I fancied a little more Viridian System backstory – you may find referring to my world-building post on Ulric useful, but it’s not important. I’ve decided it has to be…
The Inspector Calls
“Bang. Bang. Bang.”
The ponderous noise of a heavy implement on the huge wooden doors echoed through the vaulted corridors. The small hall had been converted from what the original settlers had constructed, stone by stone, from an original chapel building they’d brought from Earth. Originally used in religious ceremonies, for the inhabitants of Parsimony (now a suburb of the principal metropolis on the planet Ulric) it was a refuge for single mothers.
A tall fair-haired teenager stopped his rush to the door and turned.
The tall, stout frame of the Superior bustled down the corridor. “Go inside, Alwyn, stay with your mother.” She gestured at the boy, a shooing motion, well practised on their chickens. Alwyn Johansson took his thumb out of his mouth and scuttled along the side of the corridor, avoiding the Superior’s skirts in favour of scraping along the rough-hewn stone, until he reached his mother. She shut the door after him, and leant against it, listening.
“Who…?” Alwyn stopped as his mother put her finger to her lips.
“Listen!” she whispered.
“Who’s there?” the Superior called, having reached the doorway.
“Open in the name of the president!” It was a deep voice, with a strange roll to the start of ‘president’. Not a local.
“And who are you?” The Superior had met this approach before.
“We are licensed to search.”
“Please present your license in the parcel shelf on your right hand side, and turn the handle.”
There was a pause; the Superior could make out muttering and cursing. Whoever had been sent this time had been poorly briefed. After more grumbling from the visitors, the parcel shelf rotated and a bell tinkled. It had once been a place where mothers could place illegitimate babies for the convent to raise, but only the chapel had been exported, the rest of the convent was long gone. The Superior maintained convent-like ways for the inhabitants of the refuge, though it had only been established in the last twenty years, after the Imperium had ‘acquired’ Ulric. Plenty of men had welcomed them. Most of the women had not, and the parliament of the day had been decimated by the new order.
“This is a travel licence, not a licence to search!” The Superior would not let in strangers without good reason.
There was further muttering outside. The Superior guessed they had been wrong-footed, and hadn’t brought their licence with them, if indeed they had one. Would they try brute force? It would have to be a heavy brute to break through these doors. They had more secrets than their sturdy oak appearance suggested.
“We are authorised by the Inspector to search. We have a licence.”
“Please produce the licence.” The Superior smiled as she noted the switch to use ‘Inspector’, rather than ‘president’. The inspector was the Imperium’s local representative, but it was unlikely that the president had any interest in events on Ulric. Especially not in refugees from broken homes, broken mostly by the Imperium.
“The licence is in the bureau. It is valid. You must open up now!”
“When you produce the licence I will invite you in.”
“I warn you, open these doors!”
“Only when you produce—”
The Superior’s words were interrupted by banging on the doors once more. She withdrew, stopping at the room where Alwyn and his mother listened, and tapped twice. Alwyn’s mother opened the door a crack, and the Superior slid through.
“What think you?” she asked.
“They are after me, of course.”
“What have you Seen?”
“Alwyn will go to Farsight. It is unclear where he will study until then. Eventually I will be banished to a rock far away from here, but this does not seem the time. That is uncertain, though. Time is always confusing.”
The Superior paused, assessing the tone of the banging, which continued rhythmically. “They brought a battering ram with them. How long till they realise what they really need? I wonder how the new Inspector has found you.”
“He has not found me, yet. He is testing. It was an obvious refuge. I apologise for bringing trouble to you.”
“Everyone brings trouble here, it is why you seek refuge. Alwyn — you know the soap store behind the drying room?”
“Hide there. Collect a bottle of water. You may be there for some time — days even. There is a bucket for your bodily needs. Either Karen or I will bring you food, once a day, no more. And stay quiet unless you hear the password Praecox. Okay?”
Alwyn nodded once, more, hugged his mother, and scuttled out of the room. The Superior watched him go, only turning back when he had reached the door to the laundry.
“He is much improved. He needs to learn to use his strength properly now; I will make sure he learns new skills so he loses this attitude of servility. His nose will never be straighter, though.”
“You healed him well. You know I realise my huge debt to you.”
“There is no debt. Ah!” The Superior paused as she registered the silent doors. “What now, I wonder?”
The bell at the parcel shelf rang again.
“Johan has joined them.”
The Superior shook her head. “I am always amazed at your prescience, although I don’t know why after all this time. I suppose I’d better let them in.”
She walked back to the parcel shelf and picked up the document that lay there. The Seer followed.
“Yes, they want you. It’s all in order.”
“I shall present myself so they needn’t search.”
The banging started again.
“Stop!” The Superior called. “Why don’t you just ask nicely? The Seer is here waiting for you.”
She commenced the unlocking of the doors. Alwyn’s mother stood straight and calm a little way back, facing the centre of the doorway.
“Very well. Who are you, anyway?”
“Captain Argubex Faramenioc, at your service, Ma’am.” The huge lizard looked down on her, his orange eyes twinkling in the glow of Ulric’s companion planet. “The Inspector has deigned to see at us work. Fortunately he carried the licence with him.”
“Inspector Svensson.” The Superior waved at the inside of the building as Captain Faramenioc moved aside to allow Johan Svensson to enter the building.
The tall fair-headed former resident of Ulric stared at his ex-wife.
“I’ll read you the charges later,” he said. “Guards!”
© J M Pett 2016