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replaced with crystal bowls filled with a brown pudding like substance topped
with white fluff.
The taste was distantly familiar...chocolate. He'd had it once before, years
ago when he andRaoul had done student drops onFioren. A real luxury,
chocolate, at fifty Imperial credits a gram. His estimation of the cost of the
dinner rose further. Whatever it cost, he was enjoying it. The chocolate
dessert was followed with two small snifters ofTaxan brandy.  Never have I
been so royally treated.
 I hope not. I hope not.
Over the low hedge, he caught sight of sparkles in the air. Sylvia glanced in
the same direction, then back at him.
 Marchellecan overdo it. Replica fireflies. Real ones can't be brought into
the tunnels.
He sat there in quiet, the subdued hum of conversation from other tables
barely audible, wondering why Sylvia had gone to such lengths. Wondering if
she had set him up for a rude surprise.
 Time to depart, she announced.  Time to get you back to your Legation and
me back to mycubbyhole before I turn into a scull again.Ci'ella complex, you
Not understanding a word, he nodded, his fingers dropping to his belt and
still finding no energy fields, no snoops, no other devices in the vicinity.
Nathaniel left the grassy lawn, the hedges, and the tables with a feeling of
regret, not sure why.
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 Always hate to leave, Sylvia murmured,  but there's a purpose for every
Pleasure or not, dinner or not, Nathaniel forced himself into combat alert,
mentally ticking through the checklist. If ever there were a time to be alert,
now was that time, when he didn't feel the slightest bit like it.
He stayed next to Sylvia, through the curves and lift shafts back to the
tunnel train, alert for any deviation from the route by which they had come.
The train was almost empty, and that worried Nathaniel. Sylvia wore an amused
smile but said nothing.  Few use the train, he commented halfway back toward
the Diplomatic Tower, feeling the silence weigh on him.
 Right now. Too late for most and too early for the realcarousers. Aren't
many of them any longer.
With hisnewfound understanding of the Imperial population control techniques,
he understood why.
He lapsed back into silence. Never had he mastered the art of small talk
while keeping thoroughly alert. That was for espionage types, not Ecolitans.
A few souls were in the concourse of the Diplomatic Tower when the two of
them swung off the train, but, again, he could find no trace of either tails
or energy concentrations.
Finally, they reached the portal to the Legation, which was opened by the
duty officer as they approached.
 Here's where we part company, dear Envoy. She took his hands in hers. He
stiffened, unsure of what to do.  You're expecting the worst, have been all
afternoon. You're too ethical. Even when you play dirty, you play fair.
Turning to face him full on, Sylvia stood on her tiptoes, brushed her lips
across his forehead and stepped back, still holding his hands.  Good night.
She was gone, gliding toward the drop shaft before he could open his mouth.
When he did, he left it open because there was nothing to say.
What could he say? Obviously, he was more transparent than he thought.
He closed his mouth and turned toward the still-openportal.
Heather stood inside behind the console.  Still here.Heather?
 All day.Lord Whaler. I trust you hadan enjoyable outing.
 Enjoyable but puzzling. Most puzzling. He shook his head as he started
toward his private quarters, still alert, still checking. Neither his office
nor his quarters had been touched, further snooped, or otherwise tampered with
so far as he could tell.
He was still shaking his head when he finally climbed into bed. Another
social encounter with the women of the Empire was unlikely, for a while at
least. Another might well undo him totally.
The faintest hint of orange blossoms drifted into the room as he closed his
eyes, but when he looked, the space was empty. He turned over and willed
himself to sleep.
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Even after a full day more of studying the history and development of New
Augusta from the viewpoint of the Imperial historians, followed by another
night's sleep,Nathaniel felt he had only a slightly more than superficial
grasp of the motivations of the people with whom he was dealing. He understood
better some of the phobias of the Imperial citizenry, such as the dislike of
the color black, which, interestingly enough, had been the color adopted by
the Directorate afterAlregord.
Perhaps Accord had been wrong to let the Institute choose the combination of
military expert/scholar. Were his well-intentioned machinations leading the
way to disaster?
Despite his elementary precautions, Sylvia could have set him up for
assassination or an incident which could have totally embarrassed him or
reduced his credibility. Instead, she had treated him to a charming afternoon
and evening, while making clear she knew exactly what he was up to. But she
hadn't explained her reasons. Maybe they were supposed to be obvious, but to
him they certainly weren't. He shrugged as he donned his blacks. The week
ahead was going to be interesting enough without adding worry on top of worry.
Should he get into his office early? Too early, and Mydra would be
suspicious. Too late, and she'd glare.
He laughed at himself for the thoughts. Like the generally unseen Imperial
men, he was reacting to the pleasure and displeasure of the Imperial women.
The hell with it! Forest Lord take the foremost. He liked being at work
early, and he was going to enjoy it.
He took a cup of liftea in his tiny kitchen and eased through the apartment
quarters into his office. The shadows of the westernmost towers reached the [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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