"...and do you have anything to say about the recent death of President al-Azrif?"
"I am greatly saddened that anyone should meet an untimely end," said Daniel Folgt, CEO of the world's most luxurious car manufacturer. "His death was a blow to the free world, and I hope that it will not become a rallying point for any further terrorism."
"President al-Azrif was blown up while travelling in a motorcade in his car."
"I believe that there is forensic evidence that suggests his car was struck by a missile of some kind."
"So you do not believe that anyone attached explosives to the car itself?"
"I would have to wait for the forensic evidence to return, but our cars are tested against bombs, landmines, and other explosive devices, so even if that turns out to be a contributing factor, I am certain that the car itself did not fail structurally."
LeMontaigne pressed a key on his keyboard and looked across the table. The interviewing journalist on the screen was now sitting opposite him, a faint grin on her face.
"I'm not sure what you're trying to get at, Zamabe," he said. "He defends his car quite well under the circumstances."
"There was no missile," said Zamabe.
"Well, the forensic evidence suggests–"
"No, there was no missile. We have video footage from five different locations, five different news companies. There's no missile visible on any of them, and they don't move invisibly, for all they move fast. There's no missile there because no missile struck that car."
LeMontaigne shrugged. "So you think his car failed a bomb test and he's trying to cover it up?"
"There was no bomb. At least, there wasn't what you'd conventionally call a bomb."
LeMontainge leaned forward, his face creasing with interest. "What are you trying to say, Zamabe?"
"I have a contact who used to work in the Folgt factory. Not many people leave that factory, and he's only out because he was found to have TB."
LeMontaigne nodded; the government's campaign against TB was still incidental news, if only for the zeal with which it was being promoted. If they were as against malaria as TB then the country might finally start being somewhere tourists would want to come. "So?" he said.
"He told me that there's some very odd design patterns in that factory, designs that aren't recorded on the patents and that are so closely guarded there are armed men who surround the design office at all times."
"Armed guards? In a car factory?"
"Around the design office. I might understand it elsewhere, but not the designs."
"They're keeping them secret so that no-one can find a weakness."
"Buy one of their cars and you can take it apart and document it for yourself." Zamabe's eyes sparked when she felt she was being insulted. "No, there's something in there that you wouldn't expect. Something that has to be kept secret."
"And your contact knows?"
"No. But he knows about the intaglio."
"Some kind of Japanese secret society?"
"No. Hah. LeMontaigne, don't you ever get out to art galleries?"
"Only when Duzuke is ill and no-one will fill in for him."
They both chuckled for a moment.
"Intaglio is a kind of engraving, a mixture of light and shadow. In this case, conducting and non-conducting materials. Present on every part of the car that gets assembled."
"Some kind of copyright? A watermark for metal, perhaps?"
"I suppose, but it's a bit pointless. No, he – we – think that it's a hidden circuit board."
"Oh?" LeMontaigne looked surprised. "To do what?"
"To blow the car up."
There was a long silence. Zamabe stared at LeMontaigne, who stared at the table, his fingers tapping out a light beat, a traditional rhythm.
"Why?" he said finally.
"I don't know, but I think it's a safeguard for the West. Anyone who thinks they're anyone buys a Folgt car. Suppose there were a secret code that could remotely detonate that car. Then if the guy you've spent five years secretly selling missiles to and encouraging into an oppressive regime turns out to be madder than a hatter and starts attacking you, you can get rid of him where he feels safest, and tell the world it was a terrorist attack, or a strategic strike, or hint that your black ops had a hand in it."
"My contact says that all the parts would only be linked when the car's in top security, full lockdown mode. Exactly how it'll be when the owner starts getting paranoid and worried about their health. So it's not foolproof, but it should be easy to scare him into going into that state."
"This is insane," breathed LeMontaigne.
"Is it?" Zamabe tilted her head as she looked at him. "We have the footage. There was nothing near that car when it exploded. The only odd thing is bird song just before it happens."
"Why is bird song so strange?"
"We don't have any swans in this country."