Heat Wave: Blown Fuses

Circuit

Rodriguez raised his eyebrows. “I have to admit, if you’re the independent justice seeking type you really aren’t doing a good job of representing yourself. You come off as very… hard edged.”

I laughed. “I thought you knew. We live in a world where one man’s justice is another man’s robbery. Justice is dead and we’re sitting on it’s gravestone. You’ll find that the world doesn’t know or care about justice.”

“You may find that kind of attitude fails to pay out.” He leaned back in his chair as far as he could while still keeping his hands on the desk. “Justice isn’t such a small thing as to fit in a person’s pocket, to be taken out whenever you need to check if something is right or wrong. It’s not a personal thing. It exists everywhere and is always the same. Justice measures us, not the other way around.”

“You know, I could almost like you under other circumstances.” I fished around in a belt pocket and pulled out a zip-tie, which I tossed on the desk. Then I stretched out a leg and tapped my foot against the exposed metal leg at one corner of the desk. “Why don’t you do us both a favor and make yourself good and secure.”

“Fine.” Rodriguez took the tie without protest and proceeded to firmly secure his wrist to the desk leg. While he worked on that I slipped around to the other side of the desk and checked the drawers. They were locked, as I suspected they might be, Barry apparently not wanting anyone to filch his office supplies while he was out. As I said, lazy not stupid. Bad as I felt about tying the pastor up, I didn’t want him letting himself out with a pair of scissors or something. The same line of thought led me to the wall to unplug Barry’s desk phone.

I straightened up and turned back to the desk to discover Rodriguez had pulled a small Bible out of his pocket and set it on the desk and was in the process of choosing a pen from the cup on the desk. He saw me staring at him, admittedly a little shocked at his incredible aplomb, and asked, “I don’t suppose you have any paper I could borrow? I haven’t worked much on this week’s sermon yet, and since I seem to have some time on my hands…”

“There really is more to you than meets the eye,” I said, shaking my head. “How did you even get in when the building was locked?”

“I borrowed a key from the groundskeeper. Someone from the church staff does this every year, so he’s used to the routine. Although this is something of a break from the normal.” Rodriguez shrugged. “I could say there’s more to you than meets the eye as well, but I suppose that goes without saying when a person is in disguise.”

That earned him a chuckle and I ducked into the first cubicle down the line and fished around for something to write on. As I did so, Rodriguez’ voice came drifting over the flimsy walls. “I have to wonder, if you’re not an arsonist and you’re not a vigilante of some sort, what are you?”

“Just a man here to advance his own goals.” I found a spiral bound notebook in the bottom drawer of the desk, which apparently belonged to someone less cautious than Barry was. I took it with me back out to the secretary’s desk. “I’m here to deal with a hindrance and once I’m done I’ll be gone. The fact that the hindrance happens to be a wanted arsonist is pure happenstance.”

“You sound suspiciously like a man trying to convince himself,” Rodriguez said, giving me an assessing gaze. “Are you here because of some kind of attachment to the building? Maybe a teacher you had growing up? Does one of your children attend here? In that case-”

“You are astoundingly naïve,” I said, slapping the notebook down on the desk and suppressing a wince as my shoulder twinged in protest. I leaned forward a bit and let Rodriguez get a good look at my eyes. What he saw there made him deflate a bit. “Try to understand that I see nothing here worth saving.

“Have you looked around this place lately, my friend?” I swept my arm through the air to indicate the entirety of the school. “It’s one of two things. A relic, a hopelessly outdated idea based on theories of education that haven’t held up, or it’s a blatant power grab by people who don’t loose a single moment’s sleep what their manipulations cost the next generation. To some people it’s one thing, to some the other, but neither one is good.”

I leaned down over the preacher and his books. “The only thing they teach here is complacency. Day after day the necessity of some system, any system is pounded into them and the teachers are there every step of the way to punish them if they’re the least bit different from their horrid little ideas of young people should be.” I jabbed a finger at his chest. “You’ve seen it, I’m sure. A quiet person is branded antisocial or depressed, an active person becomes ADHD, the best and brightest are pushed and pushed by their coaches or advanced coursework until they break, and on and on until the whole population is drugged into an exhausted stupor and fed whatever agenda their indoctrinater wants pushed. And when they leave they’re so dependent on the people telling them what to do they’re fit for nothing but corporate machines. Or worse, to be druggists and indoctrination agents themselves. This isn’t a place for youth. It’s a place for convicts.”

From Rodriguez’ uncomfortable expression, especially when I mentioned pushy coaches, I could tell that he knew what I was talking about. For a fleeting moment I wondered if he would agree to some sort of an arrangement that would let me stay in the building until the Enchanter was dealt with. Then he said, “That does happen, and much more than I like to admit. But that’s not the only system at work in these walls. Many people need these places, and we offer them a hope that reaches beyond the school walls.”

I sprang up from the desk in frustration. “Unbelievable. You’re supposed to be a righteous man, but you don’t even understand the first thing about righteousness, do you? You’re just as cowed by the glory of the establishment as everyone else.” I paced a few steps away then spun and jabbed my finger at the preacher in accusation. “Whatever happened to ‘teach your children my commands’? What about ‘make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to work with your hands’?”

“You know the Bible,” he said, apparently a bit surprised by that. “But-”

“Of course I do,” I said, cutting him off with my gun hand. “And I know that it says ‘thou shalt not covet’. Not one of the rules they like to preach about, is it? Because that’s all they teach here. Be jealous. Want what everyone else has, but don’t worry, that’s the sacred virtue of fairness. And then they’re upset when people like me, who have had to work their entire lives to make a meaningful impact, don’t hand over what we’ve made meekly and quietly.”

The big man spread his hands in an infuriating ‘so what’ gesture. “Perhaps God has something even greater in mind for the meek.”

“Yes,” I said, dripping scorn. “Inherit the earth. We’ll see about that. Meanwhile, their priests stand behind their desks and preach the gospel of justice for the envious to thousands of children a year. This building cranks out more and more drones that will answer to the beck and call of their overlords so that their own jealousy can be assuaged. And you have the temerity to worship here. If you really followed this,” I banged one hand onto his Bible, “you’d be doing more than taking what scraps you can get after the future generation has been put through the meat grinder.”

“I know that not everything the schools do in the name of education is right, but no one can expect that.” Rodriguez offered a helpless shrug. “Do you really expect them to get it right for everyone?”

“I don’t. But a system is only useful when it benefits a majority, a large majority, of the people who go through it.” Once again I waved my hand to indicate the school, not as a building but as a calloused edifice to confinement and boredom. “This is fit for nothing more than ruination.”

“You can’t judge the whole world by just what you’ve experienced-”

“I know that!” I whirled and smashed my left hand into the flimsy cubicle wall behind me, ignoring the spike of pain that shot through my not quite healed fingers. The wall teetered for a moment but didn’t quite topple over. “I’ve done the research, I know what I’ve seen and I’ve watched the same thing happen too many times. Don’t preach to me, holy man. I’ve heard the gosple already, but there was nothing good about what was preached to me.” I turned back and glared at him over my mask. “I’ve seen it. And I’m going to end it – starting with the Enchanter. And I won’t stop until what we do for ourselves is a virtue again, and not a sign of disease.”

If there was one thing that has to be said, it’s that Rodriguez didn’t even blink. I was armed, masked and admittedly had wandered more than a little into monologuing territory while he was unarmed and tied to a desk. His refusal to so much as flinch was both impressive and annoying. Worse than his calm was the tinge of sadness underlying it. “You can’t fix it by playing the strongman. Say you do muscle your Enchanter out of the picture. Maybe you even make things a little better for a little while.” His free hand drifted over to rest on the Bible. “But unless you have something better to teach them, something to give them hope, you’ll just be another strong man in a long line.”

“As I said. We’ll see about that. I might have a surprise for you, down the line.” There might have been more to say after that, but before I could work it a tone in my ear warned me I had another incoming call. “Quite for a moment. Go ahead, Grappler.”

“Someone new on the south side of the building, Circuit. The Project looks like it’s starting to move in.”

“Understood. Start up the van and hold on standby until I-”

“Son of a-” Grappler’s voice faded into the background for a second and I heard a confused gabble of voices and a string of curses. “He’s climbing up the wall. I thought he was a heat sink, not a wall walker.”

“He’s cutting handholds into the wall,” I said, fishing around in my belt and pulling the connection for the elevator hookup free. “Not changing friction like you would. Get in position for retrieval on my signal. I’ll be on the roof.”

“Warming up the engine now.”

I hung up and headed back towards the door I’d originally entered through. The only elevator that went all the way up to the roof was that way. “Sorry to interrupt,” Rodriguez said as I got to the door. “But if there’s a chance of the building burning down do you think you could find it in your heart to let me loose?” He wiggled his zip-tied wrist for emphasis.

“There will be no burning today,” I said. “But there might be some shooting and definitely a lot of armed men running around. If you really want out, I’m sure you could drag that desk into a cubicle that has a pair of scissors handy. But if you want my advice, you’ll just shove it in front of the door and wait things out. You’ll be fine.”

I stepped out of the office, closed the door so Rodriguez couldn’t see where I was going and bolted down the hall. Although it didn’t register at the time, there was the the sound of something heavy bumping in the wall behind me as I sprinted away. But that would come later. For the moment, I had bigger problems to deal with.

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