Chapter Sixty-Five

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Scott looked longingly at his tread mill. Normally when he felt like this, he would thrash himself senseless for a couple of hours to the point of exhaustion- the post-work out adrenaline lifting his mood and easing the tension. But with his ribs still hurting and a severe lack of sleep, he couldn't muster the necessary enthusiasm, so instead he headed to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. The dark, bitter liquid scalded his tongue, but he took a second swig anyway. The caffeine sort only to heighten his irritability, yet the process of making it gave him something to do at least.

Having quickly showered and dressed, he stopped in the doorway and looked back at his apartment, knowing that when... if, he returned, his world and the world around him could be a very different place. As he drove out of the underground car park, the street above was decorated with a layer of frost, glistening under the street lamps. Two hours before sunrise and only four hours since he'd arrived home, he headed back to work under a foreboding inky-black sky.

Scott pulled up in front of the first of many barriers which blocked off the main road to all but pedestrians. He exited the car and approached a checkpoint, side stepping a man-hole cover than had been temporarily sealed tight. He presented his ID card to one of the armed soldiers stood waiting in a small hut. The sub-zero temperature stung Scott's face and neck and he pulled up the collar of his coat. With a nod, the soldier handed back his card and Scott was waved through into the large town square from which Briggs would address the population later in the day.

Once a formal garden, the square was surrounded on all sides by governmental agency buildings. In the centre remained a statue of a woman, carved from stone, passing scraps of bread to three waifs, a symbol from a past that was no more. Concrete now lay where grass once was, and the square now played host to less recreational activities, not least as the place of public execution for those deemed enemies of the state. Given how often these executions by firing squad occurred, the state did indeed have many such enemies.

The podium from which Briggs would deliver his message, stood upon a raised platform, which in turn, was deliberately positioned next to the area where the executions took place. Scott climbed the five steps of the platform and surveyed the square. Capable of holding seven thousand people, Briggs' new security measures meant there would be significantly less attending later that day and of those, all had been pre-invited and most had been pre-vetted. Scott remembered back to the last speech Briggs gave from that very podium in front of such a large crowd. His stark message announcing the abolition of food and fuel vouchers for the poor, was delivered to a wildly enthusiastic audience of those unaffected by such measures. Briggs' final words returned to him now.

"That endearing statue," he'd said pointing to the centre of the square, "is all that remains of a time when we were weak and where pity almost annihilated us. Make no mistake, that statue is strong, made from the finest of marble, but I am made of granite, and I am stronger. My will is stronger."

The crowd had cheered wildly at that. Even the large navy and burgundy flag of the republic, seemed to flap excitedly in support of Briggs' oration. Scott looked up at the same striped flag, this time hanging listlessly in the frigid air. Scott hoped this was a good omen.

"Agent Scott."

Scott turned to see Lieutenant Colonel. Richards approaching the platform.

"Good morning, Sir," Scott replied. "Thanks for meeting me so early. I trust you received our amended security plans in good time?"

The officer sneered in response. "In good time would have been several days ago. Your last minute revisions have caused me a considerable headache. I must say I find you're troop request unusually heavy-handed. Is there a credible threat I've not been made aware of?" Richards was an army-lifer and held very high office under Briggs, under whom he'd once served. He also found it extremely difficult to hide his contempt for Scott, unable to understand why Briggs would leave the organisation of such an event to the Agency and not the Army.

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