The beleaguered chief of internal security went back to his own set of offices a bit frustrated with himself and with life. It was a difficult thing to be responsible for the safety and well-being of a royal family who was, it was becoming clear, far more clever than he was, and far more able to connect the dots together than he was. And if he did not feel as if the royals were rebuking him for his struggles in dealing with the conspiracy they were facing, he could not help but feel as if he and his office should have done a better job at the sort of investigations that might have nipped this in the bud before it ever became a threat. Leafing through the paper as he walked, it was obvious that someone who could write a paper like this would be willing to engage in leftist activist politics, and such a horror was beyond the pale of acceptability in this or any other reasonable regime. And for such a thing to be supported and endorsed and cultivated by the ministry of culture was all the more horrifying. Yet this would give him a lead, and at least now he had a target for his considerable irritation and resentment.
When he reached his offices he asked immediately for an all-hands meeting to discuss what was going on. Knowing their boss to be a bit of a hothead, it did not take very long for all of the staff to assemble in the conference room, where it quickly became aware that their boss had not had a very good day so far, because he told them.
“This morning I was summoned to a meeting at the palace, where the emperor made it clear that there was a conspiracy against him that had been plotted, of which we were not aware. Then, just now,” he said, brandishing the offending thesis of the erstwhile imperial tutor, “the crown prince and his son came to me with a paper that I had not seen or read before which demonstrated that the ministry of culture has been trying to stir up discontent and cultivate the corrupt and wicked ways of old earth right under our noses.” His own nose might have been accused, with some fairness, of breathing fire.
This particular demonstration of official wrath had the desired effect, and the conference was momentarily silent as most of the people there had a distinct desire but little knowledge in how to calm the wrath of their boss, who everyone knew took imperial security as seriously as possible.
“It is thought that the Ministry of Culture has a base close to here where they are engaging in their planning. Where could such a thing be?” the chief continued.
At this point, a middle-aged cop piped up, “They do it in Cherry Hill, sir.”
“How do you know?”
“That happens to be my beat. I didn’t know we were trying to investigate the ministry of culture, or I would have told you this before, but the ministry of culture has done a lot of building work that I have noted in my reports, and I have been concerned about what they have been doing for a while,” the cop continued.
“What’s your name?” the chief asked.
“Officer Guiseppe Zambrano, sir,” was the reply.
The chief tried to think of where this officer sat in the hierarchy of the imperial department of internal security, and didn’t know off-hand, so he thought it would be wise to ask. “What is your chain of command?”
“I am the security officer responsible for Cherry Hill, where I live with my family,” the officer continued. “I report to the bureau of capital security.”
That was the answer he was looking for. The chief turned his attention to the bureau chief of capital security, who was now sweating a bit involuntarily, and before it was necessary for the chief to ask the obvious questions, the the man stated. “Yes, sir, we have received reports about a lot of activity from the ministry of culture in Cherry Hill over the past few years, but I did not think that encouraging ministerial rivalry would be in our best interests, so I did not bring these reports to your attention. I am deeply sorry.”
“You had better be sorry,” the chief stormed. “It is my job to determine, based on the reports I receive, what is and what is not relevant and worth following up on. It is your job to give me the reports I need to not embarrass myself in front of the imperial family when they know more about security threats in the capital than I do.”
The assembled staff, aside from the low level officers who looked distinctly relieved at this, looked ashen. The chief took some deep breaths, calmed down a bit, and then said, “Officer Zambrano, since this deals with your beat and you obviously know more about what is going on than anyone else here, would you be interested in telling us what you know so that we may be able to figure out a way to deal with the threat coming from that area?”
“Certainly, sir,” the officer said, a bit surprised but confident in his knowledge of his home area. He stood up and walked to the front of the conference room, where the chief graciously stood beside the podium to let him speak to the assembled and surprised members of the headquarters staff.
“Cherry Hill is a relatively new suburb of the capital,” the officer began, bringing up a map of the capital district for the staff to see. “As you can see from this map, Cherry Hill sits on the main transportation route between the pearl district of wealthy ports along the coast and the capital. It is the only area within the capital district that is not made up of either Korinthidon reserves, Amish farming villages, or the homes of loyal hill tribes. Originally, Cherry Hill was set up as a suburb of both the capital and of the cities of the pearl district where reasonably priced homes attracted a solid group of sturdy residents.” This, of course, included the officer himself. “Starting about five years, ago, though, the ministry of culture decided to take a special interest in the city. First, they moved their headquarters offices there from the capital itself, and set up an area known as the Cherry Hill Autonomous Zone that was free of direct civic and district oversight that included the headquarters and homes of the ministry staff as well as a new imperial high school and various other cultural buildings like museums and concert halls and the like.” It was at this point where the officer showed the boundaries of the CHAZ and its limited connections with the rest of Cherry Hill. The gears of the mind of the chief and of his subordinates started working.
“Do you have access to this area normally?” asked the chief.
“Not at all,” was the reply.
“How do you know about it, then?” was the obvious follow-up.
“It so happens that my daughter, Lisbeth, who is much more clever than her old man, is a scholarship student at the imperial high school and has given me the information she has acquired through her own travel in that area, as she has access to these areas as a result of her studies that the ordinary citizens of the town do not have, as they are routinely denied entrance into the autonomous zone,” the officer continued.
“Is not your daughter considered a security risk for them?”
“It is thought that the young are particularly susceptible to Marxist appeals, and so since my daughter does not publicize that she is loyal the empire, she is allowed free reign to investigate the area and this information she has passed along to me, so that I can pass it along to you.”
“That’s very clever of her,” the chief commented approvingly.
“That it is,” the officer continued, with appropriate pride in his intelligent daughter. “As you can see, there are only two access points into the Cherry Hill Autonomous Zone. The rest of the area of blocked off with high walls. The main entrance point is heavily gated with a lot of security, and there is an additional area near the headquarters of the ministry of culture that is an obvious back entrance for those with sufficient clearance that is a less frequently used access point, presumably for those whose entrance and departure needs to be more private.”
“It is your understanding, therefore, that in order to control this area, it would be necessary to gain control of only two chokepoints, at which point the entire ministry of culture for the capital region would be trapped within its enclave?” stated the bureau chief.
“That’s correct, boss,” was the reply.
“I think it is obvious what we need to do,” the chief said. “I would like you all to return to work, except for those who are on the leadership team.” Most of the staff assembled got up from their seats to return to their offices. “And Officer Zambrano,” the chief continued. “I would like you to stay as well.”
“Yes, sir” was the loyal reply. The conference room soon cleared of all but half a dozen or so people.
“Would you be interested in being in charge of our Antima team for the reduction of the Cherry Hill Autonomous Zone?” was the question from the chief.
“Very good,” the chief continued. “It will not be a big problem to control access into and out of this area. Who would you recommend as being able to help us do this immediately?”
The officer gave the names of a couple of the local officers in Cherry Hill’s police department who had the necessary skill to be able to conduct a subtle operation of casing the area and bringing it under observation in a way that would not be intrusive while the necessary assets were brought to bear for a mission.
“Is there any other angle we are neglecting so far?” the chief asked.
“Well,” the officer continued. “I noticed our department is rather short on Korinthidons.”
“What do you mean, Zambrano?”
“Well, so far all of our discussions here and all of our operations involve people,” the officer began. “But if you look at the capital district and at the palace as a whole, there are a lot of dinosaurs who are around whose job it is to help out with imperial security as well, and it seems we aren’t utilizing those assets very well.”
The chief pondered this to himself. Personally, the thought of those lizards and their beady eyes gave him the willies, but as the chief of internal security it was his duty, he supposed, to rise above mere prejudice and revulsion to think of what was best for the safety of the empire as a whole. “Do we have any dinosaurs on our team?”
There was an awkward silence. “Do we know anyone who is bonded to these beings and who thus can interact easier with them?”
There was more awkward silence. The chief remembered that the imperial family had a close relationship with these beings, and he kicked himself for not thinking that this close relationship might have given them an advantage and another source of security insights that he and his team obviously did not possess.
“Officer Zambrano,” the chief continued. I would like you to go home tonight and start conducting a search of the local Korinthidon population around Cherry Hill and see if we can get any other insight from there.”
“Sounds good, sir.” the officer replied.
“In the meantime, this meeting is dismissed. We will meet again tomorrow morning, and I want to hear some plans as to how we are going to conduct the Cherry Hill operation in a way that is not going to end up being reported as an atrocity.” With that, the meeting was dismissed. Everyone got ready to go, and the chief told the bureau of capital security and officer Zambrano to stay once again.
“What are your daughter’s plans after she finishes high school?” was the question from the chief.
“My daughter hopes to go to the imperial university, but I’m not sure I would be able to afford it, and my daughter has been working hard to compete for the academic scholarships there.”
“Do you know what she wants to study?”
“I do not, but I can ask her,” was the answer.
“I will have to discuss things with the emperor,” the chief said, “but I believe that her service to the empire in helping us gather information deserves a service scholarship, and I believe the empire will agree.”
“You really think that’s possible?”
“Absolutely, officer. She has done fine detective work. And so have you for that matter. Thanks to you I’m not going to be embarrassed when I discuss things with the emperor shortly. Otherwise we would have had to gather information in a hurry and it could have gotten complicated.”
“Do you want me to do anything?” the bureau chief said.
“Can you get me as much signals intelligence of the CHAZ area and get some probes and satellites to keep the area under watch?”
“Will do, sir.”
“That will be all,” the chief said, and the meeting was finally adjourned, as the chief prepared to do some thinking and talk to the emperor.