IN THE STORMY RED SKY – snippet 45:
Adele preferred imagery to looking at things directly, but the best view she’d been able to find of the Hydriote Traders’ Guild was a slant shot which the Milton’s sensors had captured as they landed in Port Hegemony. The buildings across the relatively narrow street were of three and four stories, so even with computerized manipulation there was more conjecture than reality in the scene.
Tovera drove the amphibious truck with fussy precision. She was probably a better choice than Hogg, who’d learned his enthusiastic driving style on a rural estate, but she’d scraped a number of bollards at intersections and knocked over a barrow of citrus fruit by cornering short on the twisting streets of the old city.
Daniel bent close to be heard over the truck’s air-cooled diesel. “I’d have tossed the barrow boy a florin,” he said, “but I don’t have pockets in my Whites, and Hogg isn’t here with my purse. Still, I think we’ve arrived.”
“Yes,” said Adele, staring at the facade of the Guild offices with considerable irritation. Three layers of large, gray-brown ashlars formed the foundation; the slant image hadn’t gone that deep and therefore the building she’d studied was radically different from the one in front of her. She’d failed to get an accurate picture of the structure.
The ornate door with a fanlight above it was correct, though: her software had extrapolated the pilaster bases from the scrolled pediment. She smiled wryly, realizing that she was playing a game with herself and making up the scoring rules to suit her ego.
“Adele?” said Daniel, who was perhaps the only person alive who could read her facial expressions.
“I was noticing evidence that I’m human,” she said. She paused, then added, “I suppose it’s unfortunate that I see humanity primarily in my failings.”
Daniel smiled, but she wasn’t sure what that really meant.
Tovera pulled up on the shallow plaza in front of the Guild offices, ignoring the middle-aged woman wearing a severely cut dark blue tunic and trousers. She leaped back but rapped the vehicle’s left front fender loudly with her cudgel.
Daniel swung open the rear door on his side and banged the folding steps down. “I think you’d better slide across the seat, your Excellency,” he said to the Senator, who was in back with him. There was room for three on the bench, but Adele had chosen to ride with the driver. “I’m afraid that the RCN’s version of ground transport is even farther from luxury than the aircar we took to the palace this morning.”
The parking warden–or whatever she was–stood on the truck’s running board to shout at Tovera. Gripping the door with the hand that held her cudgel, she reached inside to fumble for the lock.
“Leave,” said Tovera calmly. “Or I’ll injure you.”
Nothing could have been more clear than the request, but Adele knew from experience that people heard tones, not the actual words. Tovera could’ve been mumbling about the weather for all the effect it would have on the angry warden.
“Give her a coin,” Adele snapped, because Tovera knew perfectly well that the woman wasn’t listening. “Give her a florin. And don’t shoot her!”
Very few people–probably nobody in hearing except for Adele herself–would consider Tovera to be correct if she shot someone because they were being noisily discourteous. Adele assumed the majority was right, though she didn’t pretend she really felt that way.
“Benazir!” called the man who’d come out the door of the Guild offices. “Leave the car alone. These are the visitors who’ve come to have lunch with me. It’s all right for them to park in front of the building.”
The warden glowered but dropped down from the vehicle. Adele waited to make sure the silly person had really obeyed. Early in their relationship Adele had directed her servant not to kill anyone without orders. Tovera had accepted the spirit of the command, though both of them realized that situations could arise unexpectedly.
Here there’d have been no need to kill the warden. If she’d pursued her threats, however, Tovera might easily have shot her through both wrists; and that wouldn’t have eased negotiations with her employers.
“Captain, ladies,” said the man who’d come out of the building. He wore a red sash and covered his head with a golden bandanna. He gestured. “I am Matthew Gambardella, whom you talked to, Lady Mundy. There’s a restaurant just across the square, the Four Pipers, and we will eat there.”
“I don’t need a meal,” Senator Forbes said, a frown in her voice. “I’m not in a mood at all for eating, to be frank. Let’s go inside and talk business, if you will.”
“But I will not,” said Gambardella. He was a short, plump man. He had waxed moustaches and was probably bald beneath the bandanna. “Come along. We will have Karst specialties, and perhaps we will find congenial souls with who to chat on various subjects over our meals.”
“Ah,” said Forbes. “Yes, when on Pleasaunce, do as Pleasaunce does.”
She started across the cobblestoned square between Gambardella and Daniel. Adele hesitated a moment, then understood; she followed a few paces behind the others.
Gambardella had to do business in the Hegemony. He was therefore making sure that this meeting with the Cinnabar representatives was unofficial… but of course he wasn’t saying that, which would negate the whole purpose of the deceit. Deceit was often necessary to smooth human interactions, whether or not the Adele Mundys of the world liked the fact.
Captain Gambardella’s presence cleared a path across the crowded square, but Adele was far enough behind her companions that the hole closed behind them. That was no real difficulty; she slid past bigger, hurrying locals, adjusting her stride and course but mostly keeping her hard eyes open and letting others avoid her.
Adele felt a smile at past memories, though the expression didn’t reach her lips. She’d walked alone through city streets for many years before she met Daniel Leary. Most people wouldn’t guess what her left hand held in her pocket, but her clear stare discouraged others from treating her with the contempt that a lightly built woman might otherwise have received.
The restaurant had the ground-level corner of a modern building. Its facade of green-painted wood transoms framed large windows which were plastered with advertising bills. Instead of leading Daniel and the senator inside, Captain Gambardella gestured them through a wicket in the waist-high palings enclosing an open-air dining area. Three huge pillars marked the corners of the plaza, separating it from the modern square. They were the same kind of stones as the foundation of the Guild offices.
Adele reached for the data unit in her thigh pocket, but she didn’t take it out yet; better to wait until she was seated. Gambardella nodded to a waiter, who lifted the wicket to admit her.
The round tables were large enough for six; one had eight locals squeezed around it, drinking clear liquor in four-ounce stemware and arguing loudly about politics. Two men–a sharp thirty-year-old with a goatee and one who looked like a skeletal mummy–rose from the table Gambardella indicated. They too wore the sashes of Hydriote captains.
“We’ll have fricasseed macaca, Miguel,” Gambardella said to a hovering waiter. “And raki all round.”
To Senator Forbes he added as the waiter shuffled away, “The specialty of the house and a local delicacy. You’ll like them, I’m sure.”