Mr. McWilliams, I Understand

Mr. McWilliams, I Understand

A Story by Ace St. Jean
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EXCERPT FROM PUPPETS AND THE PUPPET MASTER

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MR. MCWILLIAMS,

I UNDERSTAND

 

Ace St. Jean


Except for a stranger standing before him, Fisher was alone. The stranger was wearing what Fisher thought to be a military uniform; it was blue--that was the only indication, for Fisher couldn’t see the front of the man, who came into the elevator while walking backwards.  The man had been focused on what Fisher thought to be a book. Therefore, he was either reading, or writing, but Fisher couldn't tell. He only knew that the man found it important.

Fisher was wearing his usual: a three-piece pinstriped suit and a tie. He had a pocket watch and a wrist watch. One was set to the time local to the city, while the other was set to the time local of Nero--the location of his company’s second office. Fisher was looking up at the dial displaying level at which the elevator was currently on"it was less than halfway to the top floor. He took a breath and felt the cold that he had been struggling with for a few days now. He sneezed on the back of the man who stood before him. And then, in a matter of seconds, he pulled out his handkerchief and sneezed a few more times in that, but the man had already turned around to face him.

“Cover your damn face when you sneeze, please. Be a gentlemen.” He said with a snappy tone and a ring of arrogance. “It’s honestly the least you could do--especially in Cold Season.”

Fisher looked at the man and replied: “Sir, I am sorry. I have hundreds of things on my mind…and I’m not always there to get the phone.”

“Why are you talking about a phone"you just sneezed on my damn back.” He said.

“It was an figure of speech, sir. I was comparing not using my handkerchief to not answering a phone when it rings. I’m also sorry.”

“Well, next time sneeze into anything but the man in front of you. Like I said before: it’s cold season.”

Fisher looked around the elevator. He looked down at the black tile floor. He looked up again. He couldn’t avoid the man’s presence. He looked back at the man, for it only seemed natural. The man looked back. And he spoke: “I haven’t seen you at the Ministry of War before. What are you doing here?” The man was turned completely around. His dark blue Imperial uniform was showing. He had a small badge reading ‘McConnell’. He had emblems indicating his rank. Fisher didn’t know what they meant, but he did know the man was high profile. He was also smiling.

“I’m John Fisher. I work for Imperial Mechanical and Clockwork Weapons, LLC. It’s a small company, but it’s contracted"”

“By the Ministry of War for the research and development of complex mechanical and clockwork machines for the army. I understand. I read it’s file. In fact, Mr. Fisher, I read a lot of files. I’m Michael McConnell - Secretary Commander of the Imperial Western Command. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Fisher.”

Fisher held out his hand, but the man didn’t hold out his.

“I’m not going to shake your hand, Mr. Fisher. You sneezed on my back. So you’re clearly sick. I don’t want to get sick, even though being alone with you may have already caused that.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Secretary Commander. Again, I’m sorry for the sneeze. I was unfocused and I was anxious…I’m sorry.”

“Mr. Fisher, I’m the Secretary Commander of the Imperial Western Command--you think I care if someone sneezes on me I don’t care.”

“Sir, but you just said-”

“I say things I don’t mean, Mr. Fisher. It’s a method I used back in Ardannya, especially when sending messages over unsecured phone and telegraph lines. I was in combat a few times fighting those pirate scumbags. I’ve been shot at and I’ve been hit by shrapnel. And because of that if someone sneezes on me I don’t give a damn. I also have a sense of humor, Mr. Fisher. And it’s pretty good as well. I almost became I playwright. I would be writing comedies now, but I decided to stay with the Empire--it was a simple decision, Mr. Fisher. It felt right.” McConnell was smiling and waiting for Fisher to say something in response--only Fisher did not respond. Instead, he looked down at his watch, before looking back up at the dial displaying the floor, before looking back down at his watch, while McConnell was still waiting for a response.

“Mr. Fisher, what are you doing at the Ministry of War?”

Fisher looked up from his watch. “I received a letter in my personal mail box. It was from the Office of the Minister for War. It was summoning me to the Ministry at noon the next day, which is today.”

“The Minister for War summoned me as well, Mr. Fisher. He likely wants me to take Michael Sexton’s position as Chief Commander of the Armed Forces. It’s been vacant for almost a year now.”

“That should be a huge promotion, sir.” Said Fisher, while still looking at his watch.

“Yes, it will be, Mr. Fisher. I’ll be leaving my small Western Command office in exchange for working with the Minister directly. I’ll have to live in this city and work with these military bureaucrats, but it shouldn’t be that bad.”

Fisher nodded his head. He looked up from his watch and saw McConnell. “Sir, why do you think the elevator hasn’t stopped on any floors along the way? You probably know this Ministry better than I do.”

“I’ve only been here a few times, Mr. Fisher. And in my times here I have taken the elevator. This is an off-day for them. Only the essential Ministry employees are working, and the Minister is in for whatever reason, probably to meet with us I presume. The elevator isn’t stopping because no one has requested for it to stop.”

The elevator stopped. The doors opened and a group of men came in. They were in suits, indicating they were civilian workers. They were talking amongst themselves, but they fell to silence as the elevator doors closed.

“Well, Mr. Fisher, perhaps this isn’t an off-day. It might just be a normal day with the normal amount of people. But with an abnormal amount of elevator traffic.”

Fisher and McConnell were squeezed to the back. They looked at each other. McConnell smiled and his white teeth surprised Fisher.

“Sir, do you have a wife?” Asked Fisher. “I’m sure a man like you must have one. Mine died years ago, when my daughter was born.”

“I have a wife, Mr. Fisher. I don’t talk about her much, so I won’t go into detail. She’s a reserved woman and she’s raising our six children. Their names are Michael Jr., Nathaniel, Joseph, Martha, Jane, and Catherine. The youngest, Catherine is about six years old. The oldest, Michael Jr., is sixteen years old. He will be going into Imperial Army pretty soon. He turns seventeen about ten days from now. Mr. Fisher, do you have any children besides you daughter?”

“I do not, sir. I only have Matilda and she’s twenty-four. My wife died after she was born.”

“You already mentioned your wife once, Mr. Fisher. But you shouldn’t worry. That’s a sign you still love her.”

McConnell walked out of the elevator. The group of men had gotten out several floors earlier while Fisher and McConnell were talking.

“Mr. Fisher, this is our floor.” Said McConnell while motioning for him to follow.

“Yes, thank you, sir. Where’s the Minister’s office?”

“Just follow me, Mr. Fisher.” McConnell was smiling again. He was walking at a slow pace down a long hallway. He reached the end. There was an open door that lead into a room furnished with mahogany and had shelved books all around it. A woman sat at a desk in its center. She pointed towards a paper that lay on the desk. There was a pen beside it, as well as an ink well. “Write your name and time of arrival, please, gentlemen.”

McConnell took the pen and scribbled his name. It was messy and it was plotted beside the even messier time. Fisher took the pen and printed his name. It was clear and it was plotted beside the even more careful time of arrival.

“You two gentlemen can take a seat. In fact, you should take a seat. It’s more comfortable that way. You never know how long the Minister will take, gentlemen. It may be six minutes. It may be six hours, or perhaps six days…you never know with that man.”

“Yes, I understand, especially since I’ve been here before to meet with him. I’m also pretty sure Mr. Fisher understands.”

The woman nodded and motioned to a pair of leather seats on one side of the room. McConnell took one. Fisher took the other one. McConnell turned to Fisher and spoke: “And now, Mr. Fisher, we wait for the Minister.”

“Yes, I understand, sir. We wait for the Minister. It shouldn’t take long. I’m sure he understands that we are both men who are busy and can’t be waiting around for hours on end.”

McConnell took a breath. He put up his hand to prevent the woman from seeing his lips move. He leaned close to Fisher. “Mr. Fisher, the Minister is notorious for taking ages to prepare single documents and carry out orders in the Minister"probably since he’s old than you and I…combined. The man has held this office since he got out of his compulsory military service. And that was years ago, Mr. Fisher.”

“I understand, McConnell. I understand. I just want to make things seem like they’re going faster and a slow crawl like you would make them out to be.”

Fisher finished speaking. He was settling into his seat when the Minister came out possibly several hours before when he was expected. Fisher looked over at McConnell, who immediately stood. Fisher and the woman at the desk followed. The Minister looked at McConnell, before he looked at Fisher. He then pointed at Fisher. “I presume, you’re John Fisher - Chief Engineering Officer of Imperial Clockwork and Mechanical Weapons, LLC.”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

The Minister walked over and held his hand out. Fisher looked at it for a moment before realizing the Minister wanted a handshake.

“I’m Andrew McWilliams Minister for War of the Occeannyan Empire.” He said while taking Fisher’s hand and shaking it. “Pardon, the sweat on my hands, I’m very nervous today. I understand you got a summons from my office. It stated that I wanted to speak with you.”

“That is correct, sir.” Said Fisher. “Also, I have a cold so you might want to wash your hand, sir.”

“Interesting.” Said the Minister. “I see a lot of men with colds and I shake even more hands. I’m sure I’ll be fine. Come into my office, Mr. Fisher. I have a proposal for you.”

Fisher looked back at McConnell who was now reading from a book. Fisher turned back and saw the tall old Minister for War staring down at him. The Minister motioned for him to enter the office. Fisher walked in and was hit with a blast of heat. He had felt it briefly trickling into the reception area, but he didn’t feel it like it really was. He looked around and saw the walls that were with covered charts and maps, as well as large color photographs of military units. He felt his leg hit something--it was a chair.

“Mr. Fisher, please sit down.” The Minister for War was sitting in his seat and was looking up at Fisher, who sat down and tried to take a breath, although he was like the pipes in some Imperial City Districts--he was clogged. He couldn't take the breath through his nose, so he grabbed a tissue from the Minister's desk. The Minister didn't say or do anything--he just began speaking.

“Mr. Fisher, welcome to the Ministry of War. I assume you haven’t been here before. Therefore, I hope you were able to locate my office.” The Minister was staring at Fisher. He was studying him. He kept looking down at a paper he had on his desk. It had blocks of text. “Don’t mind this,” the Minister held the paper up. “This is how I remember things. I forgot many things, Mr. Fisher, but I remember your name and what you do.”

“That’s very good, sir.” Said Fisher. “I met a friend today.”

“Really, Mr. Fisher? And who would that friend be?”

“I believe his name is McConnell, Michael McConnell.”

“Oh really, Mr. Fisher. He’s a good man. The Imperial Western Command adores him. He spends time with civilian leaders and military officers quite often. He loves people. And, don’t tell him, Mr. Fisher, but he’s receiving a promotion.” The Minister for War leaned across his desk and Fisher leaned towards him. “He’s going to be the Chief Commander of the Occeannyan Armed Forces. It’s unfortunate, however, his predecessor was not honorably removed from office. He’s spending the rest of his life in military prison out in the Second District.” The Minister looked down at his paper. He thought for a few moments, but Fisher interrupted him.

“What for?” Asked Fisher.

“Commander Sexton was found guilty of abusing over one hundred women--some I believe were merely girls that he brought into his ring of abuse. It’s unfortunate, Mr. Fisher. He couldn’t win his legal battle, and the Ministry of Law refused to help. The Minister should have pardoned him, but the Minister is Cornelius Rockford, as you pretty much know, and Mr. Rockford refuses to be involved in military affairs. Like I said before, Mr. Fisher: Commander Sexton was a good commander. He held the post for over fifteen years and he managed the armed forces like it was a company, with efficiency and a brand of conservation that made us our strongest ever.”

“I remember reading about Sexton’s trial in the paper, sir. I believe Minister for Law Rockford did the right thing not pardoning him.”

The Minister looked at Fisher for a few seconds. He was tight. His breathing had gotten slower. “We are all entitled to our opinions, Mr. Fisher, but Commander Sexton was a good commander. And I sure hope McConnell does a good job.”

“Sir, why was I summoned here? Was I summoned here to simply meet McConnell, who I assume I’ll be have to meet with at some point, given the contracts between my company and your ministry.” Fisher said while feeling his body tighten.

“You were summoned here for much more than just making friends, Mr. Fisher. It’s much more important than that.” The Minister stood from his seat. He walked around his desk and put a hand on Fisher’s shoulder. “I want you to build me a wall.”

“A wall, sir? I specialize in clockwork weapons not walls.”

“Let me finish speaking, Mr. Fisher.” The Minister leaned down to Fisher’s ear. “You don’t have to design the wall. I only want you to manage the building process. It’s not that difficult. It’s under water though, which is why I wanted someone skillful in management.”

“Where is this wall?” Asked Fisher, before sneezing.

“It’s along the Primus-Occeannyan Fault Line. It runs through the Primus Ocean, of course. It’s active and has formed many undersea volcanoes and has been responsible for producing a few tsunamis in the past. And this wall isn’t what you’re likely thinking of.” The Minister leaned in even closer and whispered: “it’s a line of bombs placed evenly along the fault line. In the event of major activity, the bombs will explode and counter the tsunami produced by the activity. The tsunami will instead be redirected to hit the Western Empire.”

The Minister walked back behind his desk. He looked down at his paper before speaking once more: “It will take a little over two years to build. I have the funding from Parliament. You’re be working out of the Department of Military Research. I’m sure you’re familiar with them.”

“Sir, will I be managing this project from my office here?”

“No, Mr. Fisher. I have an airship ready to depart this week. It’s at the Alpha-Prime Airbase. I have arranged transport to the base. You will board the ship and you will be at the site a few days after that.”

“But I’ll be there for two years.” Said Fisher. “I have a daughter in the 7th District. I see her every month. I will be devastated-”

“Your new pay will be ten times higher than what it is now. That’s approximately five thousand Units. When the wall is complete you can spend the rest of your life with her. You won’t have to work again, as you will receive a pension as additional compensation.”

Fisher sneezed once again. He reached for a tissue, but the Minister handed him a handkerchief. “Mr. Fisher, you must accept the offer now, or I’ll find someone else. I’m sure many young engineers will accept the project for nothing. In fact, out of your trouble I’ll delay the ship for another week and give you five units of my own personal money, so you can visit with your daughter Matilda in the 7th District.”

Fisher took what he could of a breath. He was sweating. He turned looked around the room and took a breath, only to sneeze and begin coughing. “Sir, I’ll accept. But how do you know my daughter’s name?”

“Matilda’s name was in your file, Mr. Fisher. Thank you for accepting. The Minister smiled. He bent down under his desk and pulled out a silver briefcase and a pair of handcuffs. “You will be handcuffed to the blueprints and the important documents. This is for security, especially with the conspiracy people and The Examiner saying the Western Empire has infiltrated our government.

Fisher stared at the case for a few seconds. He took another difficult breath and held out his hand, so the Minister could cuff him to the case.

“Mr. Fisher, thank you for accepting.” Said the Minister.

Once cuffed, Fisher's wrist began to feel the weight that would remain on it. Fisher took a third difficult breath as pain began to set in. He kept his hand out waiting for the Minister to shake it and end the meeting, but the Minister did not. He put two hands behind his back and smiled. “I don’t want to shake your hand, Mr. Fisher. You have a cold.”

Fisher nodded his head. The Minister got the door and led him out. McConnell saw the case. He nodded to Fisher and looked up the Minister, who simply nodded his head in reply, before tapping on Fisher’s shoulder. “Mr. Fisher, I want that wall complete in two years. If you go over budget, it’ll be coming out of your paycheck.”

Fisher was now sweating. He was being weighed down by a case and his muscles were being stretched down by the weight. He looked at the Minister. “Mr. McWilliams, I understand.”

© 2017 Ace St. Jean


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Added on November 28, 2017
Last Updated on December 16, 2017
Tags: Control, Power, Handcuffed to a briefcase

Author

Ace St. Jean
Ace St. Jean

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Science fiction with bits of drama and horror. That's what I enjoy writing. It may not be all that I post, but it's what i enjoyed writing. more..

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A Story by Ace St. Jean