The Banshee, Chapter 25

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“I need someone to do this job,” Erik had said, “at least until we figure out who's the new leader.”

“I still think it should be you, by default. I don't know why there has be a vote or anything,” Jo had muttered.

“If the Council doesn't choose, you know there'll be resentment, or worse,” Erik had cautioned.

“I know, I know,” there had been no objection Jo could offer. She had still hated the idea, but she couldn't fault Erik for his logic. “There has to be someone else to do this, right? Like Bonnie! Bonnie'd be great at this!”

“Oh, no question,” Erik had agreed, “but who'd replace her? That's a level of chaos I don't want to see.”

“Dawn?” Jo had offered.

“Yes,” Erik had agreed grudgingly, “though the way she and Francis bicker, that's going to make things harder to do. They make you and Carl look friendly.”

“But…,” Jo had tried to think of all the people she knew handling administrative work. There weren't many, and the others weren't very good at it. “Why me? I'm supposed to be fixing things. The girders, remember?”

“You're the only one I trust,” Erik had said.

And with that one statement, Jo had come to understand Erik's true challenge. It was made even clearer when she'd entered the Council room.

“What is she doing here?” Carl demanded. Jo smiled to herself. She had fully expected him to be the first to object. It also gave her a certain amount of pleasure to be a thorn in his side.

“I've been handling Professor Batesworth's work for the last couple of days, which means my work wasn't being done,” explained Erik. “And since you so boldly stepped up to deal with roof repair,” Erik cast his version of a disapproving stare, “that left Jo a bit empty-handed. I had her handle my tasks until we can get people permanently reassigned.”

“That doesn't give her the right to be here!” Carl protested. “She's been demoted!”

“Jo's here because she has the maintenance status,” Erik said calmly, sitting in his traditional seat. Jo took her old seat. Only Batesworth's seat remained empty. “Or would you prefer us not have a proper scrum?” Carl offered no reply.

“Good,” Erik nodded. “Now, then. Our population is down,” he looked to Batesworth's chair, “by one. There have been no new births, no additional deaths. Radio signals are static. Jo?”

Jo clasped her hands on her lap, they slid across each other with sweat. “The electrical situation appears to be stable, Dawn's fixes seem to have done the trick. It appears that…,” she caught a look from Erik that suggested ‘don't talk about that wire', “It appears that the station has slid another two millimetres. We need to get those shackles in place very soon, or we'll miss the window. We've got the new moulds into the workshop this morning. Any news when I can get those, Francis?”

Carl and Francis exchanged a quick glance. “Yeah,” said Francis. “We'll pour them today. Phil's made the copes and drags for your brackets. The steel's heating, but it'll take a few hours to actually melt. With luck, they'll be ready tomorrow. They won't be ground or polished—”

Jo waved off any further comment. “Neither were the last ones. So long as they fit, I don't care if they're covered in burrs and bark at the moon.” Smiley laughed.

“Other maintenance issues?” Erik prompted, adding another look that said ‘you know'. Jo's eyes widened for a second before her memory was jarred. “The work rotations are stable. Kelly's seeing fewer tunnelling-related injuries, she says ‘thanks', by the way. Food production is at its normal level, as well.”

“Thanks, Jo,” said Erik. “Smi—“

“The growers are a bit concerned about their new space in the tunnels. They're wondering if they can get a tour?” Jo looked at Carl. Out of the corner of her eye, she say the glare from Erik that was clearly ‘we didn't talk about that!'.

“We're still wiring in there,” said Carl, not missing a beat. “It's a bit dark right now, so they'll have some trouble seeing. Rich had us focus on getting the residential areas ready first.”

Jo nodded, but said nothing else.

“Speaking of which,” said Erik, still glaring at Jo, “what's the schedule for moving people in? We've already had some, but we've got a more to go.” He turned to Carl.

Carl and Smiley exchanged a non-verbal moment. “There's a hundred already moved at the east end of Level 1,” said Smiley. “About a third of Level 1 rooms are ready. They're a bit dark, though, so it'll be hard for them at first.”

“We can move the lights from the ARCH when we move the people,” added Carl.

“And the toilets?” asked Erik.

“We'll have one, for now,” said Carl. “We still need a tailings dump. We haven't finished the dump slots on the upper levels yet.”

One toilet for how many people?” Jo asked incredulously. Another glance from Erik.

“About four hundred,” said Smiley.

“We'll need to keep using ARCH's toilets for a while,” added Carl.

“It's not ideal,” Erik agreed, “but it's fine for the short term. If we get the structure stabilized, we should be able to get at least another couple of months before the ARCH's in serious danger?” Erik looked to Jo, without communicating anything else.

“Assuming the girders hold, I think about a month. After that, I'm worried that something's going to give,” Jo acknowledged.

“Alright,” Erik puffed, and placed his hands on the table. “Francis, any updates from you?”

Francis shook his head. “Just Jo's shackles.”

“Alright, then,” said Erik. “We have a few shoes to fill. The first is Jo's position on Council.”

“Why can't Jo stay?” asked Smiley. “She's good at what she does.”

Jo turned sharply to her tablemate, unable to hide her joy. “Thank you, Smiley,” she beamed. Smiley tipped a non-existent hat at Jo.

“She's been stripped of her status,” Carl nearly barked. His frown could have toasted bread.

“The tribunal decided that Jo was to be suspended from administrative duties,” Erik corrected, “which means she can be reinstated. Given the current circumstances I'm going to suggest that it's an option we should consider. That said, we should also consider other appropriate candidates.”

“Bob,” Carl said quickly. Jo restrained her objection.

“Francis?” asked Erik. Carl's eyes trained on his neighbor.

“Bob…,” Francis nodded slightly, “Bob's got a decent skill. I think he'd be okay.”

“Bob's a gofer!” spat Smiley, casting a brutal stare back at Carl. “He has only one opinion, and it ain't his own.”

“So Bob's out,” said Erik.

“Hey! That's two against one!” Carl protested. Erik looked back plainly, but said nothing. “Fine.”

“Anyone else?” asked Erik. “I would suggest Bonnie, but she said she didn't want it.”

“What about Phil?” asked Carl. There was an uncomfortable exchange of glances, and no-one said anything else.

“Dawn?” suggested Jo.

Erik looked thoughtful. “Yeah, she'd be a good—“

“NO WAY!” shouted Francis. “You bring her in, and you can forget about getting things from my shop!”

“Excuse me, Frank,” Erik annunciated clearly for effect. “That workshop and its contents are to support the ARCH. It is not your personal domain.”

“You bring my wife in here, and you'll need an army to break down those doors,” Francis grumbled.

“I'll back Francis on that,” said Carl.

Erik sighed. “Alright, alright. You geniuses have anyone else?”

Uncomfortable silence filled the room, and eyes moved from person to person like gnats. Lips were chewed, fingers were tapped.

“Okay, in light of no other proposals, we need to consider Smiley's suggestion. I move to restore Jo to her administrative roles,” said Erik and immediately held up his hand to silence Carl's imminent outburst. “She's got the experience and she's doing the job right now. So unless you've got someone else we can all agree on, I think this is the most logical course of action.” He lowered his hand. “Now, objections?”

Silence, again. Unlike before, it was a testy silence, the air filled with a electric gloom. Carl sulked in his chair, trying to think of a retort. Francis eyed Carl nervously. Smiley just smiled.

“In the absence of objections, Jo is restored. I'll inform Agatha, as I'm sure she won't like it,” said Erik. Carl pouted fiercely. “Now for the big one,” Erik motioned to Batesworth's empty seat. “We need a new Council Chair.”

“Carl!” said Francis quickly.

“Erik!” said Jo just as quickly.

Smiley just smiled.

“Look, Erik's had the most experience with dealing with the administration. He's been working next to Batesworth for years. He already knows the job. This is a no-brainer!” Jo argued.

“Erik doesn't break up fights very well,” said Carl. “He prefers everyone just shut up while he enforces his will.”

“That doesn't sound familiar at all,” said Jo flippantly.

“What did you say?” Carl demanded.

“You create conflict, Carl!” Jo shot back. “Or are you oblivious to that? At least Erik aims for cooler heads before assessing the problem objectively.”

“You're his puppet,” Carl sneered.

“I trust his advice and his decisions. He earned my trust a long time ago. Which is a far cry from anything I have for you,” Jo said quietly.

“Can I suggest something?” Smiley asked. Carl stopped in his pre-blowout windup and looked at Smiley curiously.

“Carl's a good tunnel manager. He's dealt with our problems and now we're able to take people in. But we can't take everyone. We got a lot left still to do. If you took the top job, Carl, who would take yours? Who would deal with the projects?”

“He's right, Carl,” said Francis, turning to Carl. “Think of the future. We'll be better off.” Francis added a look that no-one would mistake as ‘you know'.

Carl fought with himself. It almost looked like he would tear himself in two. Finally, he clasped his hands calmly and placed them on the table. “Fine,” he said. “I… I concede the Chair to Erik.”

Jo clapped softly, and was joined by Smiley. Francis clapped a few times awkwardly. Carl merely nodded.

Erik stood. “Thank you.” He moved apprehensively one seat over, and sat gingerly. “I will not take this appointment lightly.” He straightened, and for a moment sat as rigidly as Batesworth ever had. “That now means we need to backfill another spot: my old one.”

“Jo,” Carl blurted. “Without question. She knows it better than anyone, so you said yourself.”

“Jo,” agreed Francis.

Smiley nodded absently, but also said: “Jo.”

Erik looked at Jo. “Well, that's a fair bit of support,” he said. “What do you think?”

“Well, I'd kind of like to finish the work I was doing,” said Jo. She looked nervously at Carl and Francis.

“Let's start a transition, then,” said Erik. “Finish up the girder work, get someone else down there to work with you and Donner, and then you'll move to my old desk.”

“Okay,” said Jo quietly.

“And Jo's replacement?” asked Carl.

“Well, I'd suggest Dawn, but I since Francis is against it…,” Jo looked at Francis, whose angry nods confirmed his stance, “maybe we can look at…,” Jo cringed at the thought, “Phil?”

“He's not quite as bright as you,” admitted Erik, “but he seems to have a good understanding of things. He's also good with working with his hands. But that requires him to leave Francis' team.” Erik looked to Francis.

Francis sighed. The thought weighed on him, as did Carl's demanding countenance. Finally, he nodded. “Yeah, okay. On one condition: I can take Donner. That kid seems pretty smart. Even Dawn talks about him.”

Jo's face fell. “But he's really good with fixing things! If we lose him from maintenance—“

“We're starting to move into the tunnels,” said Carl. “And if your repairs hold, we won't need the maintenance as desperately. We need people to make shielding and wires and tools so we can finish getting people in the tunnels. If Donner's as good as you say he is, that'll just make things move faster.”

It was Jo's turn to be weighed down with thoughts. It felt like a pebble in her sock, dancing around her toes as she walked. She shook the pebble loose. “Okay,” she admitted. “But only after the girders are in place.”

“Agreed,” said Erik. “The girders take precedence. Once those are in place, we can shuffle everyone around. Jo, you and I will split the senior coordinator duties until then.” Jo nodded. “Alright, that's the agenda. Anything else we need to discuss?” Everyone shook their heads. “Let's get to it.” Everyone stood and headed for the door. “Jo, let's quickly look over the assignments? You've got a while until you can use the shackles, anyway.”

Erik waited until everyone was gone. “Thank you for not going off on Carl today.”

“It wasn't easy,” said Jo. She studied his face. “You planned that, didn't you?”

“Planned what?” Erik asked innocently.

“Getting me back on Council,” she said with a smile. “And getting me into your seat.”

“I need someone I can trust, Jo,” he said. “And frankly, having you around will make this a lot more bearable.” He blushed slightly, looked at the floor and jiggled his hand. “And, yes, I planned that. Getting your vote on Council was important. I knew Carl would put up a fight for the Chair.”

“But he didn't, really,” said Jo. “That kind of scares me.”

“Me, too,” said Erik quietly. “He's eyed Chair for a long time. He had the opportunity and the table was loaded in his favour. How did Smiley talk him down so easily?”

“They must have talked about something before. Smiley put the gears to him.”

Erik humphed. “Smiley. He's not the type to do that.”

“Something's going on in those tunnels, Erik. More than just digging.”

“Like what?” asked Erik. “Unless they're cloning people and making their own army, I don't know what they could be doing that would be that suspicious.”

“Yeah, I don't know, either,” Jo said.

Erik studied Jo. “What aren't you telling me?”

Jo remained quiet a few moments. “You don't want to know. Not yet. There's that term, for when someone can actually say they don't know?”

“Plausible deniability.”

“That. You don't want to know. Not yet.”

“Do you know?” asked Erik.

“I … maybe. I'm not sure. I've … I have my … thoughts.”

“You're being strangely unaccusatory,” Erik commented. “Why? What's going on.”

“You're now the one in charge, cariño. Someone has to keep an eye on your safety.”

“You think I'm in danger?”

“We all are.”