The headquarters of the Unconscious Ministry was located in an old farm silo and was a grey tower of a building. A staircase wound its way round the outside, with warning signs at various points on the wall, and gates that had men stationed at them to ensure that no-one using the staircase wasn’t supposed to be there. There was a door at the bottom, originally intended for grain-trucks to drive through, and a smaller door inset that had been installed for people. The top of the silo was hidden by advertising hoardings that proclaimed the message of the Ministry to anyone who cared to look up, and listed dates of significant gatherings nearby.
The land around the silo was also owned by the Ministry, after a slightly protracted legal battle with the original owner. She had insisted that she’d only ever leased the land to the Ministry, and that the documents they’d produced showing that it was actually a long-term purchase order with a good-behavious clause (that they’d scrupulously adhered to) were forgeries. The Ministry had been patient and restrained throughout the whole trial, unlike the land’s owner who had had hysterics, made wild accusations, and at one point thrown herself across the courtroom at a lawyer and attempted to bite him several times. Ultimately though it was the independent expert’s opinion that the documents were genuine, and the judge’s opinion that the contract was fair and well-written that carried the case, and the ministry gained a further two-hundred and forty acres. This was now fenced around, with discrete electric fencing at the boundaries, then more substantial wooden fencing further in. The headquarters possessed a three-quarter circle of brick walls that enclosed a set of lovely gardens and were claimed to be essential for the micro-climate, but the real guards were hardly ever seen and drifted around on the land as they saw fit.
The car halted at the boundary gate, where two young men who were neatly dressed in white shirts and dark suits smiled winningly and came out to greet the car holding booklets of Ministry material. The bony woman waited while the driver lowered the electric window on her side, and then smiled at the young men almost as nicely as they were smiling at her.
“Abigail Malonde,” she said. “Here to see the Ambassador to the Faith. I believe I’m expected?”
One of the young men bobbed his head and disappeared back into the little steel security hut at the side of the gate. The other smiled a little wider.
“Marcus will get the guest list and check you off,” he said. “In the meantime, could I perhaps interest you in a little reading material? Or for your friend, perhaps?” He angled his head, trying to see inside the car and get a good look at Marguerite. “The drive to the headquarters is still another fifteen minutes.”
“Thank-you, but I already have reading material,” said Abigail. She gestured, and the young man tried to see inside the car again. This time he caught sight of the jackalope and took a step backwards.
“Ah,” he said, his eyes growing wide. “Of course, that’s not a problem.”
Marcus reappeared, holding a red clipboard with a couple of white A4 pages clipped to it, and a pen on a string dangling down.
“Abigail Maldone?” he asked, presenting the clipboard to the car window.
“Malonde,” said Abigail. She sounded pleasant but firm. She took the clipboard and glanced at it. Then she reached into her inside pocket and produced a steel pen that she uncapped with her teeth, and used to sign in a small box on the form. She slipped the pen back into its cap so she could speak clearly again.
“There, I think that’s all in order. Tell me, is the Ambassador available early?”
The two young men looked at each other, both clearly confused. Finally Marcus looked back. “We’ve had no word of the Ambassador’s movements,” he said, and there was an element of care in his words that seemed unnecessary.
Abigail smiled. “Of course, it was just an idle question.”
She sat back and the window slid up again, and the gate started its slow slide across its track to let the car pass. Abigail looked over at Marguerite.
“Well,” she said. “Much as it pains me to do this, I think you need to use that little talent of yours. Tell me where the Ambassador is.”