Snow fell from the sky like leaves from the trees; heavy wet flakes that seemed too large, and that splatted onto people, melting in seconds. The pavement had disappeared in minutes, and the roads were starting to slush up as well, slowing the traffic down and forcing the cars and buses to keep their windscreen wipers on. Shops and businesses were still lit up and open, though a few offices had started letting their staff go home early.
Jamie paused for a moment, his long grey woollen coat pulled around him, and its felt collar stood up. The snow still crept down his neck now and then, but mostly he was warm and dry. He looked up into the blank greyness of the sky, watching the flakes – silhouetted black against the clouds – spin and fall to the earth. He stepped aside to avoid one that seemed intent on his face, and heard a squeal. He looked round, and then down; a woman had fallen over and was kicking her high heels at his ankles, her face twisted into a bitter snarl. His hand, inside the pocket of his coat, squeezed around the grip of his gun, and he started to draw it. Then he thought better of it, and instead opened up the coat to allow him access to his belt. He pulled the taser from there and aimed it at her.
Her eyes widened as she realised what he was doing, and her mouth, spoiled by purplish lipstick and wine-stained teeth, formed an O-shape, probably the last syllable of a drawn-out No. She lifted a black-gloved hand and he noticed the fur edging on its wrist. Then he pulled the trigger and two tiny silver darts sprang from the gun and punched into the skin of her neck, just below and off to one side of her chin. For a moment she looked stunned, as though she couldn’t believe that he’d actually pulled the trigger, and then the darts delivered their charge; short-lasting but intense. She spasmed and her head jerked to one side. She skidded across the snow-covered pavement like a fish flapping around freshly out of water, and she knocked into several other pedestrians. Two of them caught their balance, and looked round, but a third, and then a fourth, toppled as well and fell on top of her.
Jamie put the taser back and buttoned his coat back up, and then tied the belt tightly around his waist. She would no doubt tell everyone about what had happened, and she’d have the little darts as evidence, but they’d do her no good. When the police checked the serial numbers on the darts the case would be stalled and stopped until she stopped protesting. Or, if she was stupid enough to protest more anyway, she would get a visit from the re-education department. The gulags had plenty of room for more dissidents.
He walked on down the Boulevard des Champignons. The buildings around him were facades over steel and glass. The original stonework, three hundred years old in some places, had been carefully suspended in place and down adorned thoroughly modern and strong cores, so that it might feel like he was walking through a street from three centuries ago, but in fact the cutting edge of technology was employed behind the blank windows and locked doors. Even the street name had been deliberately kept so as not to give any clue as to what was going on here.
He stopped at number 168 and rapped on the door. A small panel slid back, slightly lower than eye height, and he stooped to peer in. Someone stood next to him might have spotted the blue light that caressed his eyes, but they’d have needed good vision and to know that they were supposed to be watching for it. There was a moment’s pause and then the door clicked, and he pushed it open.
Beyond the door was a small steel hallway with two turnstiles; one for people entering and one for people departing. The temperature inside was noticeably warm and Jamie immediately undid his belt and unbuttoned his coat. He walked through the turnstile, his fingerprints and pulse being read by the gate as he pushed through it, and on the far side approached a glass automatic door. He had to wait there for a few moments longer while the computer analysed his gait towards it, and then it slid open.
“Good morning,” said a metallic voice. “You are authorised for the third, fourth and seventh floors.” He didn’t bother looking round; the speakers were concealed, and he was reasonably certain that the ones used for the voice were randomised every time anyway.
“I tased someone,” he said.
There was another pause while the computer located a human operative and put them on the line.
“Agent?” This voice was male and didn’t sound happy. ‘You tased someone? Again?” Ah, so they’d already accessed his file.
“Yes,” he said. He considered explaining, and then decided that he wouldn’t unless asked.
“Noted.” There was a sigh to conclude the word. “Please remember that your weapon-carrying certification can be reviewed at any time, not just at the designated quarter-year sessions.”
“Thank-you,” said Jamie, comfortably aware that they would never take his weapons-clearance away from him.
“Report to the eighth floor,” said the voice. “I have a message that the Tailor would like to talk to you.”
Jamie halted then, and only resumed walking a second later. The Tailor wanted to see him? Now that was something different.