Authority Weighs In: sixth Tourmaline (conclusion)
They were waved past a second gate, one at the top of an incline Jovie bumped the truck along, cheerful and reckless as any Utdrife mercenary prowling the coast. The camp was row on row of Quonset hut barracks, an airfield, hangars and maintenance buildings, small houses exactly like those of Sedtok, a central complex: gym, cafeteria, theater, offices and meeting rooms. 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 know 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 at him. “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, Wrik positioned them, then 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…be only returning it.
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 it, in their days roaming Orange together. But his stiffening and looking irritably away, encouraged Herward. This unsociable blank was pride of its kind. Anton hadn’t lapsed, for hard use, into a fugue; he was strong enough to snub the one he blamed for his enslavement.
What had amused Herward was certainty Wrik insulted the Ftheorde without understanding Hidtha protocols well enough to enjoy this. He doubted Wrik knew it, that the Ftheorde outranked him here, and deserved the table’s head.
One other—aside from the private, who stood guard inside the door—was in the room. He would not take the seat Wrik pointed to, jabbed at for a second time, his thought illustrated on the table with an arc of coffee droplets.
“Sir, are we waiting for Byrnes?”
“Byrnes has a report to write, doesn’t she?”
(copyright 2017 Stephanie Foster)