The Grey Man woke at 6:00 AM.
He didn’t use an alarm clock. His cool grey eyes snapped open and his augmented awareness absorbed his surroundings. He woke every day at six unless he was required to do some work outside his normal job.
The bitter smell of his morning coffee assaulted his senses and he rose quickly from his bed, making it with machine-like precision. His automated coffee maker had already produced his morning coffee and he took it black. It was something domestic, not too exotic, and well within his expense account but not found on common shelves. This was the only indulgence that he enjoyed. The cigars he sold in his shop were for other people, he only used them when needed.
Six minutes after six, he was in his private gymnasium putting his body through its morning paces. His morning workout would be limited in duration, he would do his real workout later in the day assuming there was no work necessary for him to perform. There was no sound except for him moving across the mat, as he heated up, his breathing increased but only slightly. It wasn’t until he was moving in a perfect kata, faster and faster, that he began to sweat.
Switching his regimen, his workout included weights, isometric exercise, striking exercises with his wooden man and bo, jo and escrima sticks. At the peak weights, there were momentary twinges in his muscles and joints. Twinges that were becoming all to familiar and a sign he needed a Second. He worked out fiercely for exactly sixty-six minutes.
He had a gun range, but it was for others who might stay with him during their training. He rarely had a need to practice his shooting. It was always perfect.
Dripping sweat, he returned to his walk-in closet and passed his functional and grey outfits into his spacious bathroom. He took a shower and it lasted exactly six minutes; never longer, never shorter. Discipline was life.
Finished showering, he dried himself with a grey towel and noted the dark circles forming under his eyes. His skin had a sallow tone, but he was healthy despite his appearance. His eyes, once dark, had slowly lightened over the years of his employment and taken on the telltale grey color common to all Grey Men. Not that anyone would notice, because most of the time he wore a pair of shades, quite fashionable, that concealed this particular fact.
Once he was dry, he applied the Olio. Staring at himself in the full length mirror, he began applying the Olio, across his entire body. He felt it enter his pores and take over his thinking making his thoughts cooler, smoother, less cluttered. His senses, already acute, became tuned to another wavelength and he could see the Netherspace as just another subset of his visual prowess. Comprised of contradiction and made from various ingredients it had no smell.
While wearing it, he would be between all contradictions, neither here nor there, between pain and pleasure, neither left nor right, not good or evil. This was his real power, to be between all things choosing only what he wanted to be true. Or what his Masters wanted to be true.
The Olio was their creation and its powers and abilities were through their beneficence. He owed his existence to them and fulfilled his obligation with aplomb, no matter the task. By the time the salve had been completely applied, he was mentally tuned to another world just outside of our line of sight. The ritual of application centered his thinking and he began to consider his assignment as he began to dress.
He picked out a grey suit (indeed, he only owned grey suits) but he had a wide array of them. Today he chose something nearly black, for the work of the day would be something somber and he felt he should look the part. The smoky color of his suit was complemented by a white shirt and grey tie. Fitting his tie clip he slipped into a black pair of his working shoes. Rubber-soled, fantastically comfortable and custom fitted. The last years had taught him to value comfort even while his discipline claimed he should eschew it. Discipline allowed him to ignore pain but experience said life was not and should not always be about pain.
It was this thinking that was causing him difficulty in his work. He was feeling an increasing need to understand his role in the greater scheme of things. As a Grey Man, he was supposed to be a cog in the Great Machine, a part of the hidden world subduing the Netherverse and its insidious capricious nature. But he had begun to question the Great Machine, its motivations, its goals and how he could be party to it.
He could feel the Olio, smoothing his dissent, keeping him focused, calming his fears; returning him to the Center.
He put on his jacket and placed a cigar in his pocket in case he needed to use one before he got to the office. He put on his shades and his uniform was complete. He picked up his empty briefcase knowing he would need it before the day was over. He stopped briefly to pick up his phone and ear bud from the charging pad, placing one in his pocket and the other in his ear.
As soon as he placed the bud in his ear, he heard the comforting buzz of the Network. Information regarding aspects of Big City and the state of the Netherverse at the edges of the city. Traffic reports, encroachment rates, nonconformity waves, dark dwellers and all of the hazards of Big City he was trained to handle and many he had in his thirty years as a Grey Man, yet to face. Settling down and allowing the information of the Network to flow over his inner ear, he walked downstairs and the doorman seeing him directed a valet to bring his car around.
The valet was new. A young man from the outer districts. Chaos flowed all around him, waves of color bled into the Netherverse. The Grey Man could see his fear, flowing in palpable waves.
The boy hopped out of the convertible and walked toward the grey suited individual. He held out the keys and prepared to give them over. The Grey Man could see the question forming in the boy’s presence.
The boy was taken aback, but only for a second, mentally committed he surged forward. “Is it true you are a Grey Man?”
“It is not a secret.”
“Why do you live here in the Western Quarter? Shouldn’t you be in the Central City?”
“We go where we’re needed, young man. But that isn’t the question you want answered, now is it?”
It wasn’t. The boy looked into the sunglasses of the Grey Man, trying to find a hint of humanity. “It’s said the Grey Men protect us from unseen threats. Is this true?”
Ah. The real question approaches. “What do you think?”
“I’ve seen things at night. Things no one wants to explain to me.” The boy looked hesitantly at his valet captain who was subtly shaking his head in the negative.
“There are things in the night, but know we are always there to keep order in Big City. Do you know where you have seen these things?” The voice of the Grey Man was subtle and hypnotic, modulated to enhance memory in the boy but to also enhance his truthful response.
“Yes, I can show you. We can go right now.”
There was a pulse in the Network. Something large, something dangerous. Reports flowed in, each giving information about the threat. Subterranean, train station, casualties. A request. “Senior Agent requested on scene, please respond.”
“This is Agent Six. I am within the Western Quarter. I will be on site in six minutes.”
“This is Control. Acknowledged, Six. Backup is en-route.”
“I’m sorry, young man, I will have to take a raincheck. There is something to which I must attend first. We will speak of this later.” The Grey Man placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder and willed Order into him. All of the traces of the kami on him, in him, surrounding him were instantly dispelled. The boy’s trembling emotional state was instantly calmed and he appeared to be calm and relaxed.
With the tiniest of effort, the Grey Man would be able to find this boy again and monitor him. There was sufficient kami influence to warrant the effort. They boy may live near a rupture. To find and close a major rupture would be an excellent way to close a career.
The Grey Man noted, not for the first time, how his efforts had not managed to make the City feel any safer to him. Not at all. He lit his cigar as he drove away. He would need its smoke soon enough. He might as well enjoy it for a bit before then.
Small Fish, Big City © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved