Deep State Excerpt

This is an excerpt from Deep State, copyright (c) 2011 by Walter Jon Williams.  All rights reserved by the author.  It may not be duplicated or distributed without permission of the author.

Our Story Thus Far: Dagmar’s put her foot in it again.  While bossing an Alternate Reality Game in Turkey, she’s ticked off the nation’s military junta.  Worried that her players’ safety might be jeopardized, she and her crew are off scouting the location for the new live event.

At the bottom of the hill they encountered the outer wall of the shambling Topkapi Palace, with two arched, open gates.  Soldiers in white helmets stood by the entrance.

Feeling a shiver of apprehension, Dagmar walked through the gate.

Topkapi was built in a series of irregular, walled courtyards, one set inside the next like nesting dolls.  In the center was the harem, where the sultan would have lived with his concubines, children, and mother.

During the course of scouting locations for the live events, Dagmar had learned from Mehmet that the sultan’s harem had been a far cry from the sybaritic paradise imagined the by the western– male– imagination.  The harem had actually been run by the sultan’s mother, who made all the important decisions, including which of the concubines slept with the sultan, and when, and how often.  The sultan wouldn’t have got to arrange his household to suit himself until his mother died, if then.

But Dagmar wasn’t going farther into the palace, let alone to the harem.  Instead she turned left, passed a group of pushcart vendors selling roast chestnuts and simit– a kind of cross between a bagel and pretzel–   and walked into Gülhane Park, which was actually between the outer two walls of the palace.   The ground sloped down toward the Golden Horn, the path bordered by flower beds and a double row of giant plane trees.   The rest of the palace loomed above them on the right, invisible behind the wall that crowned the hill.

A ship’s horn sounded up from the harbor below.  Soft morning light filtered down through the leaves of the trees.   Somewhere a child laughed.

“It’s a pity we’re not here in spring,” Ismet said. “During the Tulip Festival, there are tulips in all these flower beds.  Some of them very exotic.”

“I always thought tulips were a Dutch thing,” Judy said.

“The Dutch got their tulips from Turkey,” Ismet said. “That’s why there was such speculation in tulips at first– they were Eastern and exotic.”

“Speculation?” Judy asked.

“Let’s talk about Tulip Mania later,” Dagmar said.  She slowed, then stepped of the path to stand before a statue of Atatürk.  Uptilted eyebrows gave the Republic’s founder an elfin caste.   She returned his skeptical gaze, then looked at the park around her for the first time since her original scouting trip nine weeks before.   Lincoln voiced her thoughts aloud before she could speak.

“This place is unusable,” Lincoln said.  “I know why we picked it for the live event– it has limited access, so the players won’t get lost, and yet it’s open, and we can hide a lot of things in here for the players to find.  But as far as keeping our people secure, it’s hopeless.”  He waved a hand up to the palace.  “People on that wall will see everything we do.  And we can be completely bottled by closing the two entrances.”

Judy looked around with apprehension on her face, as if she were already seeing the tanks closing in.

“Where else can we go?” Dagmar asked.

There was silence for a moment.  Then Ismet cleared his throat.

“Does it have to be Istanbul?” he said. “Can we move the players out of the city?”

“The players are already in Beyoglu,” Judy said. “Can we do the event there?”

“Taksim Square?” Dagmar said hopefully.  It was the only Beyoglu landmark she could remember.

“No,” Ismet said.  “Beyoglu is full of foreign embassies.  The security’s too high.”

“My wife and I live on the Asia side, in Üsküdar” Mehmet said.  “We could drive the buses across the bridge, and stage the event there.  There are plenty of parks.”

Ismet frowned.  “And also the military barracks at Selimiye.”

Mehmet’s expression fell.  The group stood for a moment, their general gloom a contrast to the cheerful green of the park, the packs of children with their ice cream, the teens with their MP3 players, the gulls calling overhead.

Ismet looked up and shaded his eyes with his hand.  “Look there,” he said, and pointed.

Dagmar followed his gaze and saw a small aircraft silhouetted against the sky, orbiting  a few hundred meters above the palace.

“Surveillance drone,” Lincoln said.

High-tech military surveillance drones–  the kind that could fly thousands of miles, loiter for hours over the target, and drop bombs or missiles– these were expensive and cost millions of dollars each.  But low-tech drones, essentially large model aircraft with Japanese lenses, digital video, and uplink capability, could be built in someone’s garage, for a few thousand dollars.

They were all over the place in California now, where Dagmar lived– floating above the freeways to clock speeders, racing to crime sites to track felons, shadowing celebrities on behalf of paparazzi, and ogling sunbathers at the Playboy Mansion.  The drones were cheap enough so that the Highway Patrol could afford them, as could local television stations, celebrity magazines, private detectives, and hobbyists who collected candid videos the way other people collected stamps.

“Do you think it’s tracking us?” Judy asked.

“Probably not,” said Lincoln.  “I doubt we’re worth following.  It’s probably looking for suspicious people around the historic sites.”

Anger simmered in Dagmar as she scowled up at the drone.  If the military government was using these cheap flying remotes, they could shift their focus of attention from one place to another very fast.  One place, she thought, might be as dangerous as the next.
She let her gaze fall from the bright sky, and blinked the dazzle from her gaze as she looked at the silver-green bark of the nearest plane tree.   The sound of a ship’s horn floated again on the air.

“There,” she said, pointing north, toward the Golden Horn.

“Yes?” Lincoln said.  He peered at the tree-shrouded horizon and narrowed his eyes as he tried to see what she was pointing at.

“We have the event on the water,” she said.  “Rent some excursion boats, take a cruise.  They won’t be able to harass us unless they scramble the navy and board us.”

Lincoln turned to Mehmet.

“Can we rent boats for seven hundred people on twenty-four hours’ notice?” he asked.

Mehmet gave a slow, thoughtful nod.

“There are a lot of excursion boats in Istanbul, and a good many are tied up three-deep waiting for customers.  But it would depend on what you’re willing to pay.”

Lincoln raised a hand in a gesture of pure noblesse, like a grand cardinal-archbishop giving a blessing.

“Whatever it takes,” he said.

Mehmet smiled.  So did Dagmar.  She knew that she could trust in the Turkish willingness to inconvenience themselves in the name of profit.

“What shall I tell them?” Mehmet asked. “Bosporus cruise?”

Dagmar nodded.  “Why not?”

Mehmet reached for his hand-held and began to page through his rather substantial list of contacts.

Dagmar turned to Lincoln.  “Thank you,” she said.

“Thank you,” said Lincoln.  “I’d much prefer my brilliant PR coup not end in broken heads.”

Dagmar turned to Judy.  “I’m afraid this means we’ve got to come up with a whole new crossword puzzle by tomorrow morning.”

Judy was looking inward with her usual fierce concentration.   “I know,” she said.

“Can you do it?”

“I’ll have to, won’t I?”  Judy looked across the park at the Golden Horn.  “What’s on the Bosporus, anyway?  What is there to put in the puzzle?”

“Dolmabahçe Palace,” Ismet said. “The Bosporus Bridge.  Selimiye Barracks.  And . . . ” His voice trailed away.  “I’m not sure.  I’ve never actually been up the Bosporus.”

“How,” Dagmar asked, “did the Bosporus Bridge avoid being named after Atatürk, like every other major structure in this country?”

He smiled.  “There already was an Atatürk bridge, over the Golden Horn.”

“I am enlightened,” Dagmar said.

The party began heading upslope, back to their hotel.

“Fortress of Europe,” Tuna said, adding to the list of Bosporus sites.  “Fortress of Asia.  That big mosque in Ortaköy, I don’t remember the name of it.”

“Our hotel will have a brochure for cruises,” Dagmar said.  “It should list the sights.”

Dagmar’s hand-held began to play “‘Round Midnight.'” She reached for it.

“This is Dagmar,” she said.

“This is Richard.  I had my phone off.  What’s the problem?”

Dagmar was nettled that he had made himself unavailable during work hours.

“Why was your phone turned off?”

“I was with Ismet’s Uncle Ertaç, haggling over carpets.  I didn’t want to be interrupted.”

Dagmar shook her head and sighed.

“What did you buy?”

“Six carpets.  One runner for the hallway.  Two kilims that I just couldn’t resist.”

She saw Ismet looking at her, and lowered the phone to speak to him.

“Uncle Ertaç just scored big,” she said.

Ismet laughed.  Dagmar returned to her phone.

“Richard,” she said.  “Have you ever been in a foreign country before?”

He was surprised by the question.

“I’ve been to Cabo San Lucas,” he said.

“When you went to Cabo,” said Dagmar, “did you buy everything that was put in front of you?”

“I was in college,” Richard said. “I bought all the beer and tequila in front of me, and maybe even some of the food.”

There was a buzzing overhead.  Dagmar looked up to see the drone swoop low, and then head out of the park toward the southwest.”I’m kind of worried that I’ve led you into some kind of horrible temptation,” Dagmar said. “Are you sure you can afford all these things you’re buying?”

“I did have to call the credit card company and argue them into raising my limit,” Richard said. “But the carpets are actually investments.  Now there’s more opportunity for women in this country, they’re not going to spend their time sitting at home weaving.  The carpets are going to become more rare, and that means more expensive.  In time, I’ll be able to sell the carpets for a profit.”

He spoke rapidly, trotting out these ideas with what sounded like considerable pride in their form and originality.

Uncle Erhaç, Dagmar realized, might just be the greatest carpet salesman in the world.

“It might take you twenty years to realize your profit,” Dagmar said.

“It’s a more solid investment than the dollar,” Richard said. “Remember what happened to the currency a few years back?”

Dagmar remembered all too well.  It occurred to her that she was perhaps the last person on earth to advise anyone on investment strategy.

“Well,” she said, “go with God.”  And then she remembered why she’d called Richard in the first place.  She explained about Feroz and the missing bus.

“We need to replace everything on the bus, and get the receiver and uplink somewhere above the Bosporus where everyone on the boats can broadcast to it.”

“Well.”  Richard was suddenly thoughtful.  “I think it’s do-able.  What kind of expense account do I have?”

“You have whatever’s necessary,” Dagmar said.

Richard’s tone brightened instantly.  “Excellent!  Are you at the hotel now?”

“We’re on our way there.”

“Avoid the hippodrome, then.  There’s some kind of political demonstration going on.”

Dagmar glanced up as she remembered the aerial drone speeding off.  Anxiety roiled in her stomach.

“We’ll do that,” she said.

The soldiers at the palace gate seemed more alert.   Their officer was talking urgently on a cell phone.

Dagmar warned everyone about the demonstration on the hippodrome.  She and her party panted up the steep road, past the great shambling mass of Hagia Sofia, and into the area between the old church and the Blue Mosque.   A scrum of tourist buses stood like a wall across their path.  Diesel exhaust brushed her face with its warm breath as she wove between the buses.  Her head swam as it filled with fumes.  As she stepped from the road to the park on the far side, a solemn Japanese man aboard one of the buses raised a camera and snapped her picture.

Ahead were paths, flowers, palm trees, hedges, a broad circular fountain, and the Blue Mosque.  The surveillance drone turned gentle ovals overhead.   Dagmar dodged a carpet-seller before he could even begin his sales pitch– her reflexes were improving with experience– and then her nerves jolted`to the sound of gunfire.

Shotguns! she recognized, and hunched involuntarily as if expecting a round of buckshot between the shoulder blades.  She wasn’t hit, and then looked wildly for the source of the firing.

White smoke poppies blossomed across the park, followed by the hollow roar of a crowd, a roar mixed with screams and shrieks.  Dagmar knew the sound too well, and realized the shotguns hadn’t been targeting people, but had lofted pepper gas into a crowd that, on the far side of the park bushes, she hadn’t realized were so close . . .

“Run!” Tuna bellowed.  Perhaps it was the wrong thought.

Adrenaline boomed in Dagmar’s veins.  She couldn’t think of any place to run to except for the hotel, diagonally across the park, and she started a dash in that direction, knowing even as she ran that her path would take her unnervingly close to the spreading white smoke.

Behind, she heard Tuna’s cry of disgust, or despair, but her feet were already moving.

Dagmar was nearing the fountain when a wave of people came stumbling out of the smoke, weeping.   The demonstrators had dressed well that morning: the men were in coats and ties, the women in neat suits or headscarves.  They were less neat now: crying, sobbing, cursing, faces stained with slobber or with blood . . .  Some dragged signs and bedraggled Turkish flags.   A few threw themselves bodily into the fountain in order to rinse pepper gas from their eyes.

The refugees lurched across Dagmar’s path, stumbling over hedges or sprawling across the neat white shin-high cast-iron rails intended to keep people off the lawn.  Dagmar dodged, jumped over one of the white rails, ran madly across a brilliant green lawn.  The air was full of shrieks.

An adolescent girl tripped and flopped directly across her path, eyes wide, Adidas-clad feet kicking in the air . . .   Dagmar bent to help her rise, then gasped as a dark figure loomed between her and the sun– a man in a helmet and a blue uniform, dilated mad eyes staring at her through the plastic goggles of a respirator, weapon raised to strike . . .

This way.”  A hand seized Dagmar’s sleeve and snatched her away from the descending club. Dagmar felt the breeze of its passage on her face.  The policeman raised the club to strike again, and then Tuna lunged into the scene: the big man clotheslined the cop neatly across the throat just under the respirator’s seal, and the man flew right into the air, feet rising clean over his head, before he dropped to the grass with a satisfying thud.

In what seemed about two seconds, Tuna ripped the gas mask off, grabbed the cop’s club, and smashed him in the face with it a half-dozen times.  At which point Ismet took Tuna’s shoulder as well, firm grip on the sturdy tweed jacket, and repeated his instructions.

This way.”

One hand on Dagmar’s shoulder, the other on Tuna’s, Ismet efficiently guided them through the park, past the berserk masked cops, the shrieking demonstrators, the bewildered, terrified tourists clumping together for safety . . .  The girl in the Adidas had disappeared.  Ismet led Dagmar and Tuna to the steep stair that led down to the Cavalry Bazaar.  Dagmar and her escort funneled down the stair along with a couple dozen other refugees, then jogged as quickly as they could through the narrow lane between toney shops selling textiles and ceramics, old cavalry mews converted to a high-class shopping mall.

“Where are Lincoln and Judy?” Dagmar gasped, looking over her shoulder.

“We were following you,” Tuna said.

“Are they all right?” Dagmar asked, completely conscious of the useless of the question.  Either they were okay or they weren’t.

Tuna looked at the bloody club in his hand, and then hurled it aside with an expression of disgust.  The sudden bright clacking sound of the club hitting the pavement made bystanders jump.

Ismet guided them out of the bazaar and to their hotel.  In the street they encountered Lincoln, Judy, and Mehmet, who had taken a more rational route around the trouble.  They looked at Dagmar with relief.

“You ran right into it!” Judy said to Dagmar.

“Yes,” Dagmar said. “I did.”

Whatever it was, Dagmar thought, she was always running toward it, or knee-deep in it, or falling face-first into it, or failing to claw her way free of it.

“It’s how I roll,” she said.

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