Operation Meander

Who was it that said the source of all our misfortunes wells up when our resolve flags and we set foot outside our apartments? Was it old René Descartes? Well now I’m saying it. My advice is if you need something, always order online. Heed my words if you want, your choice, but that way at least the delivery guy will take the heat that would otherwise have come down on you. Honest admission: I can’t even remember what Descartes is famous for. But here we are these centuries later with me just having had my 15 seconds in the limelight, all because I failed to hark to his wisdom and stay home with my apartment door locked, bolted and chained. My 15 seconds weren’t much in the way of an ego-booster either. The reason they wanted to interview me was that I’d been shot in the rear end. The reporter said as much too, oozing manufactured pity not so much at me as right into the cortex her television audience.

As far as I’m concerned the ultimate cause of what happened was me being enough of a naïf to want to venture to the bookstore to transact in person for a book on fractal biologies. Big mistake, since if anything the world has become a much dicier place for those foolish enough sally forth from the comfort of their apartments since the old philosopher did posterity the favor of warning of the dangers lurking without.

There’s not all that much to tell the curious I’m afraid. It happened as I was crossing Monetary Plaza. Minding my own business, I’d say. Just walking along and reading a public service announcement from President Eyesphore on my phone when there was this sudden commotion. That’s the only proper way to describe it. I don’t know how many people there were on the Plaza, who they were, or what their involvement was. I haven’t been able to talk to anyone in the hospital, you see. Mum’s the word in my ward. There may have been a few hundred people. It’s a big Plaza. Point being, all of a sudden it was like somebody flipped a switch, and your standard everyday cityscape was thrown into commotion and disarray. Like flinging something into a loitering flock of pigeons. First you felt it. Then you looked up from your phone. Then you felt it some more and froze to see some others looking up from their phones in similarly frozen postures. Some of them started running, then some of the runners hit the ground. There was a popping sound, but there was a considerable lag before it sunk in that I was hearing actual gunfire. I was furiously trying to load a news feed onto my phone to see if anyone knew what was happening from the moment I began to suspect foul play. It’s just that, wouldn’t you know it, there was no signal.

When I looked up I saw a guy sag to the ground in front of me, clutching at his knee. A fraction of a second later I heard the report. That’s when I knew. I’m no runner by any means you care to employ, but I was legging it back the way I’d come at a pretty good clip when I took one in the right buttock. At first I didn’t feel anything. Just kind of reared up midstride, bounced once off my good foot, then pitched over onto a flagstone. The gunpowder tattoo continued while I was down. Most people seemed to be getting away. Others fell where they stood, or at speed. There didn’t look to be a profile as to who was going down. All kinds of people got hit, mostly in the calves, knees and thighs. I couldn’t make any sense of it, and of course my phone was no use. Meanwhile my ass was starting to hurt.

The bullets seemed to be coming somewhere from over by Tax Tower Pavilion, but I couldn’t see any shooters. I mean I saw some polices wheeling about and firing their service pistols from over in that direction, but I couldn’t see who they were trying to take out. Anyway, events just kind of got the better of me, and when I came to I was in the hospital. Polices were there first thing. They told me I had been very brave and that there was nothing more to fear. I couldn’t believe it when they told me what happened. Of course by now it’s an established fact written across every national headline, so who am I to argue? Apparently there was a plot to take down the Tax Tower and the extreme aggressors demanded that the polices shoot X number of civilians in the legs or they were going to blow the tower sky-high toute de suite. And here I was thinking that we didn’t negotiate with extreme aggressors. Now obviously you or I, knowing what they knew, might have done the same when push came to shove. It just kind of sucks being one of the guys who had to take a bullet for the greater good. They say without us the polices might not have had enough time to foil the plot and round up the ringleaders, which would have made the Tax Tower and all the people in it a vapor, a memory. And then where would we be?

They say we should be proud of serving our city and our Mayor as soldiers in the war on extreme aggressors. But tell that to the guys who won’t be able to walk on their own legs again. Or to the woman who pitched over face first and oozed her brains onto the flagstone. Or to that poor taxi driver killed on duty. Personally I just feel like a guy who took a bullet in the behind because he was too stupid to stay at home. Always use the Internet if you need something, is what I say. There’s only one problem with that. They won’t let us online for as long as we’re in the hospital. Something about making sure the extreme aggressors don’t run a trace and try to eliminate the witnesses. So here I am, unable to walk, banned from going online, and still no book on fractal biologies. But the Tax Tower still stands, a beacon of comfort in troubled times, so we’ve got that going for us.

~

Mr. Mayor, my Commander:

I’m pleased to report that in all operational respects Operation Meander has hitherto come off without a hitch. First off, you are the hero of the day, the city’s intrepid knight in a flak jacket. So congratulations on that. I thought you should have all the details though, in case there’s anything you want to tweak, or if, God forbid, anything should get out of hand. If – as they say where I come from – the situation should spill its banks. With this being a secure channel, I hope you will not mind if I take the liberty of making my report and assessment in all candor.

First of all, the Plaza Fusillade went 100% according to script. The active shooters from the Tactical Capitulation Brigades responded to the threat and to the virtual aggressors’ scripted demand in precise conformity with their conditioning and with the reality prompt. Of course, you saw their handiwork with your own eyes on-screen and later in hospital. What you were not in a position to see, and what it is my distinct pleasure to report to you, is that neither the debriefing of the Plaza commander nor the aggregate biometrics of the TCB revealed so much as a moment’s hesitation. They went from standby to active shooting literally in less time than it would take to think to ask why. Nor did any of their rounds hit higher than mid-thigh, so kudos are in order for marksmanship as well. There was an unfortunate ricochet that killed a taxi driver on Valiance Parkway, plus of course that woman who fell awkwardly, but since everyone knows perfectly well that the ultimate blame lies with the extreme aggressors, their inadvertent liquidation hardly redounds to the detriment of the operation.

Now, it is possible to have opinions about the necessity of retiring the TCB brigadiers, and I sympathize. I do. It’s only human. But you know as well as I that the ultimate imperative is to have an operation that is at once clean and complete. I know you understand the first part of that equation, but I feel the necessity to expand somewhat on the letter. To be clear: your own prudent instructions left me no quarter in that regard. The brigadiers were easily despatched by the matchless commandos from the Internal Threats Staff, so no loose ends there. It was all done in the trucks on the way back to HQ, quickly and from behind, a minimum of fuss. Of course, the ITS is not such a faithful tool that it can be exercised without building up a supporting narrative. Dossiers were duly compiled using inventive intercepts and CGI surveillance to cast suspicion on the TCB rogue squad in the weeks leading up to the operation. All carefully pipelined and firewalled to reach the ears and motivate the minds of the concerned parties alone. ITS acceptance of the preferred narrative would appear to be complete. To wit, that they are the ultimate guardians of the integrity of the force, the deep blue line behind the thin one which, were it to be breached (the strong one), would admit a deluge of chaos from which there can be no recovery. It may be necessary to supply them with sacrificial rogue elements in the way of reinforcing the narrative at some point in the future, but this is not as yet exigent. Rest assured that our monitoring remains intimate. We trust but verify.

Now I know what you’re thinking: why so many moving parts? Or, given that we had a credible threat about the Tower believed by both the public and the TCB, why was the element of internal subversion needful to boot? And how will we account for the disappearance of the TCB unit to the rest of the force? Moreover, how can our adoption of the tactical capitulation narrative avoid undermining the confidence of the ITS? These are all good questions, and I’m happy you’re asking them. Allow me to begin by outlining a general principle. That is, none of the limbs within the force must be capable of discerning the deliberations of the head. It is only proper that there should be dissonance where the rubber meets the road. That, in fact, may well be the ultimate upshot of the Operation Meander, as far as its purpose goes. We already knew that the public would accept eating bullets in the name of safety, just as we knew or assessed with reasonable confidence that the brigade would fire those bullets when actuated by an order that meshed with their training and perceived role in the narrative. What we were less sure of was the ability of our command structure to withstand contradiction.

But this is precisely what is so interesting, and what appears to be the very stuff of our success. What I would submit to you is this: the contradiction between the TCB’s disappearance and their public role as heroes need not concern us at all as far as force discipline is concerned. The contradiction, so far as the limbs and their constituent tissues are able to pursue it, sends a powerful cautionary message: you do not know what is going on; you have no prospect of knowing; you exist and carry out functions within your tendered narrative even as others do so within theirs. That is your portion, beyond which there is somebody or something in perfect control of everything. I challenge you to hear so much as a whisper of dissension. Listen all day long, Mr. Mayor, and you will hear nothing. The very weakness of the narrative is proof positive of our awful strength!

As for the remote possibility that any IQ 100 enforcement cast freethinker will begin to connect the dots, I contend that his head will be nothing more than a softball lined up for us to blast out of the park. We go from strength to strength. Specifically, I believe that any trouble from the rest of the force is to be dismissed out of hand. As for the ITS, they will play their assigned role to the nines. In public they will posture as the very leg-shooting marksmen it fell to them to retire. Intra-force, their pleasurable motivation is to keep everything secret and special, a mindset aped from the best. Circles within circles. And if they outgrow their narrative, so what? They will then have outlived their usefulness and can be broken in half with the ease of another inventive intercept. And they know that, Mr. Mayor. They are motivated to play. Everyone is – us, the force, the public. Everyone is dying for the next thing to happen, for the next movement in the symphony – of whose harmonies we are the virtuosic conductors. Truly, like no mayor before you, you hold the keys to the city. I would hazard that you are the envy even of President Eyesphore.

Now, to allay any residual concerns, please join me for a little thought experiment. Not even an experiment, actually. More on the order of a proof. These contradictions resolve themselves with a single word from the conductor. There is concern that the TCB has vanished, you say? No matter. They were transferred to a forward intelligence unit in a downcoast tributary city for their own protection. Heroes though they were, everyone says so, there are some malcontents within the force who do not share their calculus of utility, and who would blame them for firing on taxpayer legs in the name of saving the city. They are safe; we are safe.

Of course, the truth remains that without vigilance we are nothing. There are elements that need to be carefully watched, however minor and pathetic. For instance, there is a patient in the hospital we have interviewed a number of times who seems somewhat, well, off. It’s not that he’s some kind of fighter who rejects the tendered narrative. Far from it. Believe me, if that were the case he would already have succumbed to septicemia like the other one. It’s more an indifference, a weariness, as if he were saying I don’t care about this whole incident. I just want to go home, so spin it however you like. Without actually saying so, of course. Which you have to admit is somewhat baffling, given that Operation Meander’s legs, as the recipient vessels of the city’s compassion and fellow feeling, have been given what you think would be an enviable role to run with.

But the whole thing appears to have left patient MP78G cold. It’s not like he has any undesirable affiliations, nothing like that. He’s just been, well, affectless. I’ve added him to my monitoring shortlist and will be taking a personal interest in his perspective until further notice. I’m on the fence between seeing his case as a threat or as an opportunity. Of course, we have any number of assets strung out through space and time to deal with any emergent threat at the very locus of its materialization, but there is a part of me that quietly protests that any action at present would be imprudent and overhasty. Especially given that he might afford us such a valuable object for study. A new kind of study. It’s as if – how to put this – as if the whole affair had failed to impress him one way or the other. These are not the symptoms of shock, nor is there any trace or history of narcotic use. There’s just something there we hadn’t reckoned with. A cognitive pathway that would have to be investigated, understood, modeled, mimicked, and filed as another arrow in our quiver. Of course, I will defer to your judgment concerning his case. I would simply commend to your discretion the following: If there are mental types out there in whom we are unable to elicit a response, I would think they warrant our attention. As for the notion that there could be psyches congenitally immune to being impelled to join in the symphony, it is too absurd to contemplate.

I remain, as ever, at your service.

Frank Ruprecht

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Operation Meander

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