Authority Weighs In: Sixth Tourmaline (conclusion)
Wrik ignored the private who waited to direct them.
Herward on this excuse hung back, returned the salute, and spoke to Jovie.
“Have you been introduced to the major?”
“Are you bucking for general in charge of Miners’ Peak Tunnel?”
Herward meant, could Wrik have hired a Swisshelm for a reason, or did he realize he’d done it? Jovie meant, if you mess up one more time, you’ll score the highest command at the ghastliest of outposts. Jocelyn’s radioactive and chemical arsenals were barreled and concreted away there, under the mountain.
“Tell me what Vonnie is up to.”
“Oh…” She flapped a hand. “We’re in one of our enemy phases. I told her she could have been nicer to Anton.”
Herward’s radio buzzed at his belt.
“Run me down if you see me,” he said to Jovie, and told the private, “C’mon, show me where I’m going.”
Anton’s chair was at the foot of the conference table, under the red Exit sign, far opposite Major Wrik. Wrik had placed the Ftheorde at his right hand.
When the others arrived, the major stood and drained his coffee mug. Gesturing with this, he positioned them and retook his seat. Herward took his own seat, and smiled across at Mary. She smiled, too; and so he let himself appear to have anticipated her warmth. He let the smile fall on Anton, expecting less than he got.
Not that Anton could show pleasure at seeing a friend. He had not been capable of this in their days roaming Orange together. But his stiffening and looking irritably away encouraged Herward. An unsociable blank was toughness of its kind. Anton hadn’t, for hard use, lapsed into a fugue; he had reason enough to snub the one he blamed for his enslavement.
What amused Herward was the certainty Wrik insulted the Ftheorde without understanding Hidtha protocols well enough to enjoy this. He doubted Wrik knew it, that the Ftheorde outranked him, and deserved the table’s head.
One other, aside from the private standing guard inside the door, was in the room. He would not take the seat Wrik thrust at for a second time, his point illustrated in an arc of coffee droplets.
“Sir, are we waiting for Byrnes?”
“Byrnes has a report to write, doesn’t she?”
And had been sent to write it, while separated from her sergeant, before Herward could write his own.
The Ftheorde opened. “Vranga. Nur-vranga.”
Master, Herward told himself. And then, little master. With a bright pupil’s show of comprehension, Mary swung her gaze to the man standing. In his eyes defiance flickered, but he said only, “Ftheorde.” Then, without pride, another rapid thing. The Ftheorde was silent. Mary put a hand over Anton’s, his that rested near hers.
“But he hasn’t. He couldn’t. And remember that Anton is not a normal state’s prisoner.”
The Ftheorde put a question to Anton’s purchaser. The Utdrife stepped back from the table, hooking thumbs in his gunbelt, shaking his head.
“There. There is no resolution, none I see. I have told you that if Anton agrees, we have no saying a part of his mind did not.”
He spoke this to Mary, negotiating with her, getting his own back, and with such subtlety, Wrik might believe the Ftheorde addressed whom he trusted, that this was a matter of language. The Hidtha had no psychology; the given word was to them the given word…and so the major would be forced to accept this as well, that the Ftheorde could not grasp the occupying army’s order of precedence.
“But if it can’t be money…and you understand a substitute prisoner is out of the question…can it be…?” She bent her head to Anton’s. “This was your cellmate. But you were taken by one with good English, a different man…you saw him with Jovie Swisshelm.”
“No. We would like to be precise. I saw Jovie Swisshelm. Jovie Swisshelm spoke to me. The G.R.A. guard spoke to me, and told me that he was Utdrife. They were both with me. I won’t say they were together, because I don’t know it.”
It was Anton’s usual mode, when expressing himself, another sign of his resilience.
“Can it be?” Herward prompted.
“I was thinking whoever the guard was…”
She gave Anton a look, motherly. “He’d got Jovie’s help. I suppose she can go around as she likes, her father having that post.”
The sort of thankless functionary’s role that went in such times to venerable scholars.
Each of the four departments had a diplomat, a Secretary of Extra-National Affairs; the four together were tasked with resolving the G.R.A.’s withdrawal, estimated to need five years, and reparations. And whether one must come before the other. The nation had little in its treasury, was jealous of what it did. The tooth-pulling process of reclaiming Jocelyn’s stolen wealth, meant a redistribution not so thorough the four departments could be equal in it.
Must each neighbor in the alliance assume a special relationship with one department? Must the capital zone in particular, out of a fairness none would perceive, pledge its future against a loan? Would hardship there, where pockets of Palmists held firm, end rebellion or enflame it? Professor Swisshelm, so methodical a linguist and chart-maker he was in danger of being given real authority, made a vehicle of prestige for his daughters.
“I doubt Jovie has access to the kind of power that could rule against the Hidtha.”
He answered this, in order to say her name to Mary.
And Mary gave a one-shouldered shrug, absent, her face lighting neither with guilt nor interest. She didn’t know Jovie was outside somewhere.
“No, my idea was that if they’ve built a kind of network of advocacy, some interface between Utdrife and…people like the Swisshelms, who they don’t find offensive…” She smiled. “We might at least schedule a hearing.”
She might have discussed some of this with the Ftheorde. He cared nothing for white affairs, only what he’d come to this table to gain. He spoke to Anton’s captor, his last words slow enough for Herward: “I tell you. I do not recommend to you.”
The Utdrife gave a sullen face, a sharp objection, then lowered his chin, thoughtful for a moment. He crossed the room and pressed a hand on the back of Anton’s head. Anton adopted his silent, contained habit, lips compressing, body unresisting as he let his forehead be touched to the tabletop.
The Utdrife left them, shoving past the private. Anton sat up.
“So,” Herward said, “you’re free.”
Authority Weighs In
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(2017, Stephanie Foster)