14 Mar 2017

gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
More novel stuff inspired by the book Dreadnought, by Robert K. Massie. Thanks again to Bruce Norbeck for suggesting it to me. This isn't going to be a major character, but a man moving things behind the scenes.

The Coalition's Foreign Ministry was housed in a chaotic series of buildings known to everyone as the Labyrinth. Office towers, meeting halls, and support structures were placed seemingly at random, leading to much confusion in visitors. A common joke was that the impenetrable layout was a commentary on the often muddled foreign policy issued from its depths.

But to those who worked there, there was one room known to all, even above the office of the Foreign Minister himself. That was H-72, the office of the First Foreign Secretary of the Political Division. For decades the office had been held by Mathura Chheda, a gray man who arrived every day promptly, unlocked his office himself, and sat down to work. He refused all the perks of his office. There was no receptionist, not fawning aides. Chheda worked solidly, reading and commenting on the reports from embassies and agents that came into his office, writing memorandums and policy notes, and sending them out by email or through the messengers that were his only visitors most days.

Chheda was the Grey Eminence of the Foreign Ministry. Even his fellow First Secretaries sought out his approval before submitting plans. Many directors of foreign intelligence complained -- quietly -- that Chheda had better sources both at home and abroad than they did. His reach was so universal that inside the Ministry "72" became the whispered warning that the walls had ears.

From his quiet little office on the 7th floor of Building H, just two floors below the Minister's suite, Chheda had watched a parade of Chancellors, Ministers, Ambassadors, and functionaries come and go. Every day at the noon meal, a tray would be delivered promptly and left on the office's side table. An hour later, the tray would be left outside the door of his office to be collected, usually with a brief note commenting on the quality of the food. Those notes could destroy careers.

The lights in H-72 burned long after most of the other members of the foreign service had left for their homes. Chheda spent long hours making sure that he and he alone held the strings in the Ministry. He had refused promotion many times, he knew exactly where his power lay. Ministers soon learned that to cross the man in H-72 was not worth the trouble, and removing him would be suicide for the Ministry.

His work finally done, Chheda would secure his office, and walk a short distance to (restaurant name) where a private dining room was reserved for him. Every so often, a favored coworker or diplomat would be invited to join Chheda in his evening meal. There they learned that the Grey Eminence had one passion beyond his work, fine foods. It was not uncommon for his suppers to encompass seven courses, and several bottles of wine. But he never showed any signs of being drunk.

Even at these meals, or on the rare occasions he attended a social function (he avoided most of the capital's social calendar by claiming a lack of proper clothing) Chheda was still the spider at the center of his web. People said that he always seemed to be calculating, evaluating everyone in sight and noting the patterns of movement in whatever room he was in. Attempts to engage the First Secretary in conversation usually failed, unless he needed something from the other party.

His meal done the grey little man in his nondescript suit would leave the restaurant by a private exit and make the short walk to his quarters. He refused the open use of Ministry bodyguards, although he knew a handful always lurked nearby when he was in public. Entering his modest, three room suite. Chheda followed the same routine: he would lay out clothing for the next day, shower, read for a short time, and then to bed.

They called him many things at the Foreign Ministry: The Grey Eminence, the man in 72, the shadow minister. But there was one title rarely used. Mathura Chheda may have been the image of a career bureaucrat, but inside he harbored a deep sense of vengeance. Chheda never forgot a wrong, and never forgave. He would destroy careers and lives over the slightest insult. He was rumored to have had failing agents killed out of hand to preserve his place in the bureaucracy. New arrivals at the Foreign Ministry were warned to watch their step and what they said, for this Labyrinth was stalked by a Minotaur.


gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)

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