“Blessed be our Republic, my son.”
Suzaku politely stepped aside to let the elderly lady pass. Her eyes twinkling, she smiled at him not unkindly as she hobbled by. Her cane rhythmically thudding its way down the hall, she slowly made her way down the corridor before turning the corner. Breathing a sigh of relief, the young man resumed his hurried pace before reaching a worn wooden door. A dull 76 served as the only ornament, and its loose screw rattled as he lightly kicked the door to unstick it from its frame. Squeezing inside, he shut the door behind himself quickly before reaching up and pulling on the metal cord hanging just inches from his head to better illuminate the parcel he had never ordered.
Not that you ordered parcels anymore. Though you could always put in a request at the Bureau of Requisitions, you never really had much use for personally ordering packages. The Bureau did all of that for you; they knew what you needed, how much of it you needed, when, why, and where you would need it. But as far as he was concerned, he hadn’t needed anything; he had all that was necessary for a comfortable, albeit sparse living. Perhaps they had sent something that was supposed to go to the neighbor; though the Bureau rarely made mistakes, it happened at times. There was nothing to it; the department after all was made of humans, all of whom were prone to making mistakes. Suzaku understood; they all did, and that was why the Bureau existed.
But no, there was no reason the package had come from Requisitions. There was no sign of the golden stamp, of the eagle carrying away Ganymede as was the seal of the Republic and which always appeared on anything, person or object, that had been sanctioned by the Bureau.
The missing stamp made his heart stop. No seal meant no approval, and no approval could only mean a disciplinary sentence. Suzaku had been on the disciplinary committee at one point; he had been assigned to Committee #72608, and though he had mostly served on the detainment unit, he had enough vague understanding of the kinds of things the enforcement unit did to feel his stomach drop.
He should turn it into the Bureau of Investigations. The BI always knew what to do with these kinds of things. He had no use for the kind of complications and accusations attached to the delivery. And yet, even as he thought this, his hand pulled on the thin string and unstuck the tape keeping the brown packaging form-fitting. Inside, he found a small, single card. Delicately picking it up, he brushed a finger over the imprint of the veiled woman. A laurel wreath sat upon her head, and before her closed eyes, she held a mirror, whose handle had two snakes curled around. Beneath the embossed image were the simple words:
WHERE IS THE HELLHOUND?
He turned it over, looking for some sort of explanation or punchline. Hellhound? What hellhound? And by the way, who had this even come from? The seal on the card wasn’t any of the Republic’s. The most similar he could think of was the seal of the High Court of Justitia, but that blindfolded lady held a sword and scales, not a mirror and serpent. Could this be a test, he wondered, for the Mantis Program? He had heard of how clandestine and crooked some of the exams could be, which was only fitting for the most elite of units. To be a member of the Mantis Program was to be a god among men. You could move mountains so long as you were in the Program, and there was nothing more that Suzaku wanted than to mold the earth according to his will.
Moving to the locked second drawer of his desk, he carefully took out the worn black book he’d exchanged three power cells for. Where the Spear – as the mysterious man was known – had gotten ahold of such a forbidden text he had no idea, but wherever and however he had rescued the book, Suzaku was grateful. Hamlet had been an entertaining read and far easily surpassed literary classics like Plato’s The Autocracy.
Slipping the card into the pages of the fourth act, Suzaku carefully placed the book back into its drawer before turning the key until he heard a small click. Satisfied, he contemplated what to do with the package before letting it fall into the trash bin. What could he possibly do with it? And what could anyone else?
Yawning, he stretched before heading to the bathroom. He had an early day tomorrow; might as well go to bed, now that he had nothing else to do.
So he shuffled off to shower, all the while unsuspecting the hell that would ensue all because of the veiled lady and her mirror.