Mr. Lever’s first foray into Hegeltown did not take him far from the inn. He crossed the adjoining dirt alley, opened a creaky pine gate, and climbed seven steps to a landing where he rapped his knuckles three times on the screen door. There was no immediate answer so he waited patiently. He knocked again, then looked upwards to scan the featureless gray sky above. Flecks of snow fell, salting the sleeves and shoulders of his oxblood overcoat. He brushed them away but this triggered a bout of coughing that subsided only after he managed to push his handkerchief to his mouth. There was blood in it again, as there was most times. He sighed, put the kerchief away and knocked again… and waited.
He noticed a raven had landed on the edge of an adjacent compost bin. The corvid clicked and growled, then dropped into the bin. Curious, Lever shuffled towards the container, thinking he might want to have a look inside.
“What do you want?” growled an old woman from somewhere inside the house.
Startled, the raven burst out of the box nearly knocking Lever’s derby off. Lever slid back to the door and knocked again.
“Come back later. I’m busy,” growled the old woman from inside.
Lever knocked again and waited. It had been his experience that overcoming the mental resistance of undermen is easily accomplished with mere persistence. Poor eugenics left serfs with a compromised capacity for sustained resolve. He only needed to continue knocking long enough, not louder or faster or more frequently, just long enough.
He patiently knocked again and, sure enough, he finally heard footsteps inside the hovel as they stomped their way up to the door. Lever looked downwards so as to obscure his face under the brim of his hat from the woman inside as she scanned him through the peephole. It was also well known to high-ranking Overman that mystery plants an irresistible compulsion in the feeble minds of undermen.
“Who are you? I’m busy!” The old woman snorted from just behind the door.
Lever stood firm, silent, face obscured from her peep hole vantage.
“Go away,” she barked. “I don’t like the looks of you.”
Lever remained. He listened as she walked away from the door but this was a predictable, superfluous response. He continued standing in silence. The raven returned, landing on the gate. It emitted a primordial squawk from its beak, then leapt over Lever and dropped into the compost bin. Lever patiently knocked again, suppressing the urge to cough. The raven burst out from the box with some gristly treasure clamped in its beak.
Lever stood silent and still. He knew that the old woman’s weak mind was now totally consumed with the singular frustration of her visitor’s refusal to leave. She was certainly losing or had already lost her ability to reason as emotion had overcome what fragments of cognition were left. Her impulsive curiosity about the mysterious visitor on her landing had taken over. She was like a mouse, sniffing her way towards a trap, helpless to resist what was certain doom. She was being reeled in towards the coil, on the verge of dislodging the hammer. Closer… Closer…
The door locks clicked and the door opened, partially. The old woman peaked out, protected by her frivolous chain lock. Lever, even in his increasingly weakened state, could easily kick the door in but that was so vulgar… far too vulgar for a Sunstein Agent, anyway. Such an act would fill the woman with panic and terror. She would become useless to him until she could be calmed by a psychotropic injection. Lever didn’t like messing with needles. His bag of tools was for show, only. To him, using serum was cheating. He wanted to crack her open by his words and force of will alone. That gave him much more satisfaction. Besides, like the vampires of lore, Sunstein Agents prefer to enter by invitation.
Lever remained motionless on the landing for a moment, face still obscured by his derby, waiting for the right instant to burn a permanent scar into her mind
“Who are you?” She snarled again from the narrow opening, bridged by the swaying brass chain of the flimsy lock.
Lever remained frozen, flecks of sleet-like snow accumulating on the brim of his hat while another raven landed on the edge of the nearby bin. Lever could feel her eyes glancing nervously at the black corvid, hoping the bird would not betray her. She looked back at Mr. Lever which he sensed as well. The moment was right. Lever slowly removed his hat exposing his hairless head. He raised up his pale face in a manner that evoked a moonrise on a cloudless, frozen night.
The woman knew instantly, judging by his eyebrowlessness and piercing eyes that he was a very high-ranking Overman. This realization gave her a fluttering heart palpitation. She forgot to breathe. Without thinking, she reflexively opened the door, breaking the weak chain lock with a minimal jerk.
“Good afternoon, Madam,” he greeted. “My name is Mr. Lever. I apologize for this unannounced visit but I’ve been commissioned to conduct an investigation in your fine hamlet, here. I was wondering if you would be so kind as to answer a few questions.”
“Yeah… sure,” she responded, star struck. She invited Lever in forgetting to conceal the blood splatter on her apron.
“It is my understanding that you are the town informant?”
“Yes, yes, that’s correct. I’m a junior warden. Seven terms, now.”
“Excellent.” Lever scanned the contents of her front room. “This is quite a collection of taxidermy you have in here. Oh, forgive me, it appears that you are busy,” Lever calmly remarked as he directed his eyes to the fresh blood on her apron.
Terror poured into her mind. Although not a felony, hunting and butchering humates without a license could bring down all manner of codex enforcement creating almost as much hassle as one received for poaching rodents. She sensed herself in a situation about to spiral out of control. She tried in futility to hide the gore on her apron with her hands, as if that would somehow make what had already been seen unseen.
Lever knew that this new stressing parameter could be used to his advantage as it had driven the old woman nearly to the brink of mental implosion. Now, he would offer her a valve by which she could release her stress in a constructive manner. He would keep her on the pressurized brink of terror until he was convinced that she had released it all to him.
“Are you familiar with the national heroes who’ve recently come to your fine hamlet?” He asked, while staring into her house and scribbling notes into his pad in shorthand with his thumbnail.
“You mean the spacemen?” She asked, while removing her apron and wadding it up into a ball which she concealed behind her back.
“Yes indeed, the spacemen, the men who went to Mars. You know them?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, may I confide in you, Madam? You see, neither has backed up their consciousness for quite some time and the authorities are growing increasingly concerned over their well-being. Have you seen them?”
“Yes. Absolutely,” she offered, with a vigorous nod. “Well… I saw them when they came to town. Then one disappeared. Some people said he put on his space suit and walked into the wilderness. They say the humates got to him. Nobody ever found nothin though. No bones. Nothin. When the cannibals get ‘em, they always leave a femur or something but not this time. There wasn’t nothin.”
“Speaking of Mr. Staley’s disappearance… this was what… three months ago?”
“Yes sir. I think that sounds right. Rumor has it he was on drugs, too.”
The idea that a national hero would be on drugs was a sociological perception deemed ‘disharmonic’. Lever needed to manage that as it wasn’t good to have national heroes perceived as junkies. “Did you actually see him on drugs… personally?” He queried.
“Well, no. I can’t say that I did.”
“Then I wouldn’t put any credence in rumors such as that,” Lever advised. “But this all sounds like a spectacular tragedy; a national hero devoured by cannibals? It seems so… so unbelievable. Don’t you think?”
The woman appeared unsure of what Lever was getting at. She looked at him curiously, while blood seeped through her wadded up apron and between her fingers. In the doorway, she noticed another raven had flown down behind the Sunstein Agent and into the compost bin. She made her best effort not to track it with her eyes.
Lever continued to explain. “It would seem odd that the senior warden or manager of this village and the agents assigned to the care of two, irreplaceable, national assets would be so incompetent as to allow one of them to be murdered and eaten by cannibals. It sounds so implausible, don’t you think?” Lever watched her eyes roll up and to the right as she contemplated Lever’s reasoning.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “That’s just what I heard.”
Lever chiseled away at her undermind, filling her with doubt and obfuscating her perception of reality by presenting multiple new realities that she could not resist getting tangled up in. “Surely you do not believe that a spaceman— as you call him— a man expertly trained in the high sciences and chosen for his superior intellect would succumb to some primal whim and carelessly put himself into peril resulting in his demise?. You certainly don’t believe that an Overman would be capable of such stupidity, do you? I mean… it’s ridiculous, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know. I…”
Lever interrupted, “What do you know of the other spaceman?”
“He was here.”
“Here? Here as in your home?”
“Yes. He came over once from the inn one night. He showed an interest in my art. He was quiet, though.”
“But he’s not at the inn anymore, is he?”
“Well, all I’ve heard are rumors. I guess I don’t really know what’s happened to him.”
“I thought you were an informant? What rumors have your heard?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this was useful information. I heard he’s shacking up with some female. That they’re living together in the perverted, animal sense, if you know what I mean.”
“That’s outrageous,” Lever chuckled. “Don’t tell me that you believe that as well?”
“No, no, no, of course not. No way. No. I wouldn’t believe such a conspiracy. That’s just what I heard. Hateful, ungreen talk. That’s all it was.”
“You’ll have to forgive me,” Lever continued. “We both know these rumors are the machinations of sick, unpatriotic minds, but I must follow up on all leads. Would you mind telling me where unlicensed fornicators might rendezvous?”
“Did you hear any rumor of where they are shacking up?”
“I heard that they’re shacking up in an abandoned house on the north end of Mirror Lake. That’s what I heard, anyways.”
“Well, I think we both know that no Gaiastan hero would engage in such a debauchery, but I do appreciate you telling me of all these rumors. We will probably need to send in a social cohesion expert to straighten this village out. Please continue in your service to Gaiastan and put a stop to lies and rumors whenever you hear such nonsense.”
“I will, sir,” she answered, relieved the interrogation was apparently coming to an end.
“And please do not withhold any more information.”
“Oh no, I certainly won’t. I’m very sorry.”
“Thank you very much for your time,” Lever continued, as he restored his derby. “Good day.”
The woman watched the raven emerge from the bin, this time with a decomposing finger in its beak. To her terrified dismay, it did not immediately fly off.
“Yeah, just go check out the lake to be sure,” she added, buying time for the bird leave before Lever turned and noticed it. “…Yeah, and see if you can track down that crazy Joe Hannan, too.” She added loudly, hoping to scare the bird.
“Joe Hannan?” Lever asked. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
Finally, to her relief, the raven flew off.
“Okay, goodbye,” She said.
“’Joe Hannan, Madam?”
“Joe Hannan. He’s just the devil. Good bye.”
“The devil?” Lever asked, perplexed.
She stared back, dead pan.
“Very well. Good day, Madam.”
But before turning to leave, Lever cast one last glance down to the floor to the puddle of blood at the junior warden’s heals. With this intentional, exaggerated glance and a raised shaved eyebrow, he reinforced paranoia into her mind that would put her into an eager-to-please mindset. If she knew or learned of anything else, she would surely give it up to him.
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