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Purify - Chapter 13 Time Information Officer Rio

Stakus and Uli didn’t have to wait long for TIO Rio to make his move. They were already watching him very closely since he tried so abysmally to put them off his scent regarding the possible explanations of the signal echoes and Captain Danno’s cryptic message.

Though he didn’t use a Time Command phone to do it, they knew that he had just taken a call inviting him to a fancy restaurant in Central New London, a restaurant that no regular Time Information Officer could afford, namely the Rhodes 48. In antediluvian times this was called Rhodes 24 but it relocated to the forty eighth floor of what used to be called the Nat West tower when the Thames Basin flooded and they were forced to move everything ‘upstairs’. Named after the recently retired chef, Gary Rhodes, the restaurant was well beyond the budget of the humble TIO Rio, which all added weight to the theory that he was in the pay of the Time Rebels.

Commander Stakus had unrivalled access to surveillance technology including a free pass to access all the public space monitoring cameras in New London. By prior arrangement he had managed to bug all of the tables in the restaurant and so it was from his office that he tracked TIO Rio from Time Control to the restaurant and thence to his table where his rebel buddies were waiting.

As soon as he sat down, the checks on his companions were initiated. Facial recognition software had them as Xen Xi Ling from Taiwan and his girlfriend was a Miss Wendy Prentice from Luton. Though Stakus had never thought about it before, it transpired that TIO Rio also had a first name. This turned out to be Leonard. Stakus had had to look it up as Xen and Wen greeted him as Len.

Luckily the bugs in the restaurant were the highest quality and Stakus and Uli could hear every word. It was apparent that TIO Rio wanted to end his relationship with the Time Rebels but they, for obvious reasons, were reluctant to relinquish their greatest asset.

“They clearly know their stuff,” Commander Stackus said to Uli, “they are using all the textbook coercion tactics in strict order.”

“There’s a text book for this stuff?” asked Uli.

“Oh yes!” said Stakus, “I’ll let you have a copy if you like – I particularly like the annexes about the successes and failures of the different techniques when used against terrorists in the earlier part of this century.”

“Gripping reading, I’m sure. What are we going to do about Rio and his pals?”

“Now we have identified the other two, we can keep them under surveillance too and see if we cannot get a clue as to the location of the missing String Slider, Eric Laithwaite.”

“That will be useful,” said Uli, “What are they saying now?”

“Ordering the main courses I think, No, I tell a lie, they are ordering the wine. Excellent taste these rebels have. I wonder how they managed to develop such expensive palates.”

Just then an icon on his display indicated that the identification and data trawl software had found the complete biographical history of Wen and Xen.

“Aha!” exclaimed Commander Stakus, “this explains a great deal. Uli which part of the world has, as far as we know, never suffered a case of the sickness?” he asked rhetorically. “That’s right, Taiwan.” Xen is not just from Taiwan, he practically owns it.”

“What about Wendy?” asked Uli, “She’s obviously not short of a bob or two.”

“Uli, why must you speak in these clichés all of the time? ‘bob or two’ indeed.” Protested Commander Stakus, “Yes, her mother owns the major part of Sino-Doom.”

“Sino-Doom? Is that the same Chinese company that makes our nuclear weapons?” asked Uli.

“You know it is,” chided Stakus, “Why would these two want to stop the work of Time Control? I mean, the obvious explanation would be to make Taiwan a popular place – more popular than it is already with its one hundred percent sickness free record. If the cure for the sickness ever dried up that would happen for sure but there must be other ways to achieve that aim. And Miss Prentice there could increase her standing if it was decided to let off a few more of her little fireworks but that would be unbelievably immoral and totally against what the Time Rebels are supposed to be about.”

“We have long suspected that the Time Rebels had strong financial backing but who would have thought that such big business was behind them?” asked Uli taking his turn to be rhetorical, “When would be a good time to ‘lift them’?”

“When we discover the whereabouts of the Eric Laithwaite and get it back,” answered Stakus.

“And what about Rio?” asked Uli.

“We’ll put him on non-critical light duties, keep him away from any of the top secret stuff from now on in,” replied Stakus.

Over in Rhodes Forty Eight, the discussion was taking a nasty turn. Having failed to persuade Rio to stay the course with friendly means such as doubling the already generous bribes that he was getting, Xen and Wen had started to turn the screws on Len. They reminded him that he had already taken their bribes and that the authorities in Time Command wouldn’t take the defection of one of their most trusted TIOs lightly. When even that didn’t work they raised the subject of his family and their ‘extended holiday’ in Taiwan and how their visas might unexpectedly ‘run-out’ if he didn’t comply. Eventually, between dessert and coffee, they persuaded him to stay under cover for them but he was not to try any heroics for the meanwhile. Just to keep his head down for now.

Uli had seen enough and left Commander Stakus to monitor the surveillance right to the bitter mint ending. Afterwards, Stakus sat alone in his office staring out over New London and beyond. It was a dark autumn night and, from his office, he could just make out the skyline and the shape of the city tower blocks. He missed the old days when light from the buildings and the street lamps spilled out into the skies over London to give the sky and eerie orangey-pink glow. The era of light pollution legislation had stopped all that and, though it would be nice to see the stars and Milky Way over London again, it turned out to be pointless in the smoky fug that now enveloped the city. He thought about all the people in his town that would, tomorrow, discover that they had the sickness or had a relative newly diagnosed. For those that could not afford the time shielding it would be a death sentence since the rate of collection of the radioactive debris from the misfortunate planets was not keeping pace with the rate of infection.

His thoughts turned to his wife. Like a sleeping beauty held frozen in time he was reminded of the word oft repeated at Remembrance Day services “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not wither them nor shall the years condemn”. How true that was and how, in a way, it meant that his wife might as well be as dead as those who died and grow never old. How he longed for there to be a simpler cure. One that did not have to be collected from the burning embers of another world’s death. How he wanted his wife to be closer to the top of the queue for the cure. But Time Control’s rules were rigorous and no favouritism was allowed. However, unless they increased the rate of detection of planecides his wife would not be cured in his lifetime. It was with these heavy thoughts that he left the confines of Time Control to stop by the hospital again to see his wife before going home.

The next day he re-deployed TIO Rio to insignificant duties. A move for which Rio was grateful since it removed the temptation to have anything of value to report to his blackmailers in the Time Rebels camp.

Then the message came from the Slide Zone that the Tony Robinson had returned but was its Purify mission a success?