The End of Loftus Dodd
Lying in the alley, his blood pooling around him, Loftus Dodd tried to work out how it’d all gone wrong.
Not a few weeks ago, Dodd, leader of the XCVth Section of Consecrated Plumbarii, had seemed unbreakable. He’d led his malodorous cohort of waterworks technicians for thirty-three years, managing the labyrinths of pipes, sewers and channels that gurgled and sputtered throughout the Roaches, deep within the Golden Spire. The XCVth weren’t famous or celebrated, Throne forbid, but those who did know them understood that without their dangerous and nauseating work, life in the Roaches would be impossible. Effluent that would not flush; no water to drink.
The way Dodd put it, the XCVth served the Roaches’ arteries. Ho, they might not look after the heart, but what good was a heart without tubes to pump into? Dodd would chuckle, and then he would cough, mark of his decades of work in the noxious cavities above and below the Roaches’ teeming alleys. But even while he wheezed, his flinty eyes would gaze levelly at his subject. He was important. The Roaches’ six million souls depended on him. And he was reasonable, a man who made sure everyone got a fair shake of the dice, and fair roll or foul, he’d always been able to find fixes when everyone else saw failure. So, what was good for the XCVth could only be good for the Roaches.
Now, though, here he was. His own arteries pumping out into a street he knew like the backs of his calloused hands.
Could House Rho have made the hit? Surely not. In less shrewd hands, the arrival of those ganger heavies in the Roaches would’ve been a bloodbath, but Dodd wouldn’t allow that. He knew how to pick a winner, and Rho were clearly winners, so he backed them all the way, saw they claimed what their might deserved. Rho came in strong and with the XCVth’s help they became even stronger – and everyone profited. Business boomed. The losers didn’t go away empty-handed, neither. Dodd knew how to keep the Roaches flowing.
Dodd’s cough turned to a gurgle as blood bubbled over his lips and sluggishly bloomed further across his overalls. So how did it go wrong? Oh yes.
Hollan Krauss. Weird face. Weird voice. Weird eyes. And yet people found him charming. Magnetic. They took notice of him, listened. When Krauss first strode up to him in the meeting hall with hand outstretched, Dodd found himself reaching for it. He shuddered in the remembering. It wasn’t like Dodd at all. He was the one who’d decide on shaking. What’s more, Dodd had met innumerable power players before, and he always knew exactly why they needed him and the XCVth. But Krauss, he walked right up, sticking out his hand with that weird piercing stare, and Dodd didn’t have a clue about what he wanted.
Dodd was not used to being on the back foot from the off, and it got no better when Krauss said, “You look like a man who knows every manhole in this town.” Dodd felt a flush of pride. He did know every manhole! Every access tunnel, every pipe and every cistern. Lots of people feared him, but not many appreciated that about him. “I bet you could show me a few secrets,” Krauss had continued, and was all Dodd could do to hold himself back from gushing out the place of every duct and hollow near the hall.
“Hollan Krauss,” the man finally introduced himself, eyes blazing. “We’re going to be friends.” Then, just like that, he walked away, melting into the crowded hall.
Dodd didn’t know what to make of it. Only weeks later did he realise what lay beneath Krauss’ apparent admiration. Something voracious and consuming. Something that would – lying in the alley, Dodd lost himself in another bubbling convulsion of coughing – something that would end up eating away at everything he’d ever built.
Unable to move, Dodd gazed at the arches above. In hard times, he’d previously felt comforted by the knowledge that waste continued to faithfully trickle along the pipes concealed within, but not now. Krauss. A flare of rage chased away shadows that were gathering in his peripheral vision.
The second time he met Krauss, it was by proper appointment and in Dodd’s cramped office. Fortified behind his oversize desk, Dodd thought he’d easily gain the upper hand, keeping the man standing until Krauss understood who he was dealing with. But Krauss had none of it. Barely issuing a nicety, he flashed Dodd with those eyes and directly asked about the hidden culverts that ran through the Roaches. Again, Dodd couldn’t help himself. Krauss seemed so eager, so hungry to learn about the hidden architectures held so dear and he began pulling out sheafs of stained schematics from the innards of his desk and the teetering shelves around it.
Bastard. He had no idea then what Krauss had steadily extracted from him during that visit and all the ones to come. He just wanted to satisfy the man. What was wrong with that? Dodd had always been a mediator, an enabler, and this man, Krauss, seemed to have such big plans for the Roaches. Dodd liked big plans. Who didn’t like big plans? He’d learn what they were, and when it was time to tell House Rho, they’d see sense. Why wouldn’t they? He’d make sure they got along, Krauss’ people, Rho, and the XCVth, and they’d all mutually benefit, just as it’d always worked.
Feeling fainter, Dodd thought of the day, long after the final time he saw Krauss, when a work crew burst into his office, carrying a mate who’d been rent from shoulder to groin in what looked like a single slash. There’s something up there Dodd! the crew told him. With a sinking feeling in the pit of his belly, Dodd sent in crews to find out more, and those who returned told him that were people living in the forgotten network of sumps and conduits that only the XCVth knew. And not normal people, neither. Abhumans, one team called them. Mutants, said another. Some crews reported strange headaches and noses that wouldn’t stop bleeding as they ventured into pipeways that even the XCVth rarely visited. Some came back without crewmates, describing lightning knife attacks by figures with forms that didn’t quite make sense: eyes that gleamed in the dark; razor teeth; too many arms.
Too many arms. Dodd wasn’t sure what to make of that last observation. Point was, it was getting harder and harder to do business, and besides, this was the XCVth’s territory, held for centuries, the seat of its power. It would not do. No, it would not do at all. And it had to be something to do with the damned Krauss. He’d shown him that territory, and now it was being stolen from him.
In rising panic, Dodd sent out meeting invitations to Krauss, but there was no reply. And so, at last, Dodd called in House Rho. Yesterday. Dodd groaned involuntarily. Just yesterday.
It wasn’t a mistake that it’d taken him so long. After all, it wasn’t wise to show weakness, to let slip that he’d lost control of his own dominion, especially when he was so deeply implicated in it all. But as these problems began to block the smooth running of the XCVth’s blessed duties, it’d only be a matter of time before Rho worked it out for themselves, and then things really would get serious.
But Dodd did regret sending Ivaan Prost with the message.
Dodd’s vision was blurring. He couldn’t feel his fingers. Or his arms. Or much of anything, aside from a growing wretchedness which was now smothering his anger. Krauss. Took it all. Even Prost, his dear number two.
Hearing nothing from neither Prost nor Rho, Dodd had set out himself for Prost’s tiny hab to investigate. Did he trust Prost? More than anyone. Did he trust Prost? Not at all. He couldn’t trust anyone any more. And that’s when they jumped him. A flash, a flurry, a weird pressure and then sudden warmth across his chest, collapsing legs, and away. So fast. It all happened so fast. How had he not seen it coming? How did it all go wrong?