The specialist

205U51LP “This city,” the general says, “Has been around since the 80s.” He lifts and drops his heavy boots on the desk; lets them land carelessly with a THUNK on a pile of manila folders stamped CLASSIFIED.
      “Back then, there were no walls. Some young towns learn early; they get invaders ransacking the place, and up the walls go. Men and women working day and night to get the job done. Usually the whole damn colony will be in on it. They don’t elect a few. They know it’s in their best interest to finish quickly. Get the walls up before the next come along. It’s industrious of them, I’ll give them that, but it depresses the ass off of me.”
      The general shifts his feet, scattering papers. “Not this one. First came the words. Awful storms of words. Tornadoes.” He pinches the bridge of his nose with his fingers, pained. “We lost a lot of people. We were not prepared. The boss lady, she ordered no barricading work done. Just repair jobs. Not quick repair jobs, mind you. She insisted we restore. Improve. Inspire. Each time something was destroyed, something else more elaborate was built in its place. She was determined, you see. She wanted the place to be a reflection of the people living here. A reflection of their hard work. Of their character. Things were gilded. Marble sculpted. Fountains erected. And the longhorse topiaries…” He sighs heavily.
      “The only ones who didn’t lend a hand at rebuilding were the corps. The plates, we called them. They are the team guarding the chamber. They were there to keep out the raiders. We lost a lot of the plates over the years.”
      “We had plenty. Raiders, that is. The first one threw us for a loop. We were used to the tornadoes toppling over towers; tearing roofs off of buildings. Sharp words would get jammed into tree trunks. We had learned how to handle the storms. The first raider came and we had no idea what we were up against. It was a bloodbath. He managed to make it all the way to the chamber in the heart of the city. Managed to do quite a bit of damage in there. Valves were destroyed. It still works, but not the same as before, after all was said and done. We did our best to fix it, but those machines never work the same again, not really.”
      He reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out a tall bottle of dark liquid, offers it to his guest, who politely declines. The general shrugs, wrenches off the top. Swigs.
      “Once we were on the map people started noticing. We do our best to manage. We tend to our own. We have scholars. Artsits. And the poets.” He rolls his eyes. “The place is lousy with poets. People still come. She lets them in, on occasion. Each time, art was stolen. A poet would go missing. A valve would deflate. Each time, the walls would start to go up outside the city before her order. Her advisor advised she let the work be finished, but she didn’t listen. She had the walls disassembled. She’s not foolish, mind you. She’s seen the other cities. Their walls are tall and strong and sturdy, sure. But there is nothing there to protect. The streets are empty. Nobody visits anymore, and if they do, all they will hear is the echo of their own footsteps in a chamber where the machine long since stopped working. She insists that with walls up, one cannot see the sculptures as they approach the city; can’t hear the fountains through all that mortar and brick.”
      The general’s heavy boots THUNK back onto the floor. He leans forward, both elbows propped on the desk. “That’s why we decided to call in a specialist, you see. We needed a professional in that chamber to guard the machine. I think she’ll love you.” He grins. “Welcome to the team, lad.”

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