Chapter 12—The Tour
The city of Faith formed the western point of the Triangle Cities at the crux of the Asa and Aquacinco Rivers. It sat high on the chalky bluffs overlooking Prescott to the northeast in Mandalay and Three Rivers to the east in Banff. To travelers crossing the Aquacinco from modest Three Rivers, New Kenya’s capital rose like an extension of the rock face in ochre, white and mustard.
The organic symmetry of the buildings cut a jagged skyline into the pale April sky. As Mara admired the city from her car, windows in the high buildings shimmered like quartz in the morning sun. Below, the gray rivers boiled together, banks swollen with run-off from the Sierra Mountains in the north. The car bounced onto the bridge arching high over the tumbling water.
“Oof,” she muttered as the car tossed her. She grabbed at the bag in her lap, Faith’s beauty forgotten.
“You’re getting better at that,” she heard Collier say. “Almost two days now without a miss.”
“Mr. Prime Minister,” Dr. Jone’s voice beside her scolded.
“That’s all right, Deborah.” Mara tied up the bag and handed it to her. “After what happened in Binh Hoa, he has every right to tease.”
“Poor Honore,” Cabot chuckled, watching Jones rub an anti-emetic cream into the Queen’s wrist. “She thought you were bowing in a traditional Dinh Line greeting when we met her at the Governor’s House. It’s a good thing she had an extra pair of shoes in her office.”
Mara leaned her head back and groaned. “And then that horrible speech.”
“The speech was fine,” Collier said, “but no-one heard it. The audience was too fascinated by your colorless face and constant swaying. I heard later that the news vid crews placed bets on when you’d faint.”
“Southern Times. You stayed on your feet much longer than expected.”
“Yesterday went much better,” Marissa volunteered. “In Victoria, you got all the way off the stage before you…” She circled her hands in front of her. “…you know.”
“Vomited,” Deborah said dryly. “Really, Marissa, you must learn to name things for what they are.”
The aide pinched her lips tight, but when the Prime Minister nudged her and rolled his eyes, they softened a bit.
“Never mind, Majesty,” Deborah was saying, placing jars and instruments back into her bag. “Mothers all over Callinda understand exactly what you are going through. I think you present a sympathetic and valiant figure.”
“Who knows?” Collier added. “Maybe your delicate condition will even soften Mbana.”
“Hmph,” Deborah muttered. “The governor of New Kenya has no softness.”
Mara sighed. “At least we know where we stand with her. She supports her brother’s position in Notre Dam—no Southern influence in Northern affairs and no relationship with Earth. I appreciate Mbana’s honesty, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to this visit.”
A hard rap sounded on the wall behind Cabot’s head, then the partition slid aside. Ra looked back at them.
“The Governor’s House reports demonstrators at the entrance and court yard. They request we use the back entrance.”
“What?” Collier turned around. “They don’t have crowd control in place?”
“Apparently not, sir,” Ra grumbled.
Cabot turned back to Mara, his bushy eyebrows high. “That’s deliberate,” he said.
“As is making us drive up between the garbage cans and delivery trucks,” Mara added.
“Call the governor’s people back,” Cabot said, turning back to Ra. “Tell them we will be using the front entrance. Also tell them Francisco and Naveen will be coming ahead of us to assist.”
Ra’s granite face softened around the eyes—his version of a grin. “Yes, sir.” He turned and talked softly into his earpiece.
“Crystalline,” the Prime Minister called to Mara’s veteran driver, “take River Road north around the city.”
“Yes, sir.” She deftly eased the limousine off the highway as the car with the rest of the aides and security sped on. “The Falls should be beautiful this time of year.”
“It appears we’ll have time to enjoy them,” he said wryly.
Mara sighed and looked out the window. “No, I’m not looking forward to this visit at all.”
Barricades and Home Guard pressed the demonstrators beyond the portico of the Governor’s House and outside the ochre gravel of the circle drive, but the crowd spilled into neighboring courtyards and into the street. The Queen’s retinue sat calmly as Crystalline sailed the car through the sea of people, however their eyes darted over the chaotic scene. Angry faces tried to peer into the darkened windows, yelling “Archer’s pawn!” and “Traitor!” Signs bobbed overhead demanding, “Free the North,” “Save Callinda,” and “Keep the Lines Sacred.”
“It’s escalated here,” Collier said as they passed into the barricaded yard. “They’re starting to attack you personally.”
“We knew that would happen,” Mara said. She smiled at her old friend as the car stopped. “We’re ready.”
As Ra opened the door, the blast of shouting and chants deafened them. Mara arranged her features into a calm, alert expression even though her heart pounded in her throat. She welcomed protests and public debate as part of the political process. Her father taught her early on how to present an opinion skillfully and to find holes in her opponent’s argument. It was a game she and Collier practiced as teenagers, and one she still enjoyed. But no heated debate, no careful study of the current social and political climate prepared her for this gauntlet.
Sorrow rushed through her as she followed Ra up the white stone steps. So much fear behind all the anger. How could the people lose themselves so?
The Prime Minster trotted up the stairs beside her, his face stern, his eyes skimming the crowd on his side. Mara focused on Ra’s back, his charcoal suit coat folding and unfolding as he moved.
What will comfort them? Even if Earth remains benign, even if the relatives of The Fifteen bring joy to the Lines, even if we cut every subsidy and pull every advisor from the North? Can those outward changes touch this fear?
In her periphery, Mara saw Home Guards like black fence posts between the yellow sawhorses, facing down the angry press of people. She felt Naveen beside her and knew Francisco followed close behind. So much protection, but nothing could protect her from the pain in her heart. It was her job to keep her people safe, to help them feel safe. She had failed as their Queen.
As they reached the wide double doors of the entrance, a rock shot between her head and Naveen’s. It struck Ra high on the shoulder. In a blur, the three security guards spun and shoved the Queen’s party through the doors. Inside, Mara could hear Ra barking orders.
Before them the modest entrance opened into a hall of polished stone tile and arching columns. Tamarla hurried past them to peer out the door’s side window. Briank stood rigid and red-faced. In the center of the hall waited Mbana Mbutu, Governor of New Kenya, her long black hair falling in ropes past her shoulders, her suit of brilliant blue electrifying her athletic frame. She gazed at them with hooded eyes.
“You should have used the back entrance.”
The tea service was exquisite. Thin, handle-less cups, round as plums and fired in purple glazes, shimmered in the light of the sitting room. The orb-shaped pot with symmetrical arcs of handle and spout seemed a living thing in Governor Mbutu’s hands.
“Your condition is unfortunate,” she was saying, “and I must admit my disappointment. But on consideration, I can’t fault you for being a woman subject to the same desires as the rest of us.”
She handed Mara a cup, amazingly cool in spite of the hot tea.
“However,” Mbana continued to pour, “you must realize this assignation has destroyed your credibility.”
“In regards to what exactly?” Collier waved away the proffered cup. He draped one arm over the back of his settee.
Mbutu looked up with faint surprise. “Why, in regards to everything, Prime Minister. The Queen’s every statement, every decision, every action now carries the influence of Earth.” She set down the pot and sipped from her cup. “Much as the policies and laws of the North are influenced by the South.”
Mara savored the pungent sweetness of the tea. “How would you council me, Mbana,” she asked quietly, “if you were my advisor?”
The Governor pursed her lips. She studied the Queen a long moment before sitting back in the couch they shared.
“I would advise you to cancel the rest of this tour. It can only embarrass and endanger you, as we have already seen.” Her gaze remained steady and unblinking. “I would advise you to remove yourself from public and political scrutiny. Allow leaders untainted by the Earth visitors to manage things.”
Mara licked the tea from her lips. “Abdicate?”
“No, Majesty,” Mbana replied thoughtfully. “I don’t believe that’s necessary. The Prime Minister has suffered a drop in popularity due to his association with you, but I believe he can still lead the country effectively.”
“I appreciate your confidence,” he said without a touch of sarcasm. “What about the diplomatic ship coming from Earth?”
Mbana blinked slowly. “I watched Kentu Mbutu’s letter from Earth to the Mbutu Line many times. I studied the pictures and documents he sent of Kobi and Estelle. His claim to be Kobi’s brother seems real.”
She shrugged. “How can we ever be certain? Ambassador Running Bear speaks of reunion and Callinda’s sovereignty, but again, how can we be certain of Earth’s intent? Frankly, Prime Minister, I believe you and the Queen put Callinda at risk by welcoming the representatives from Earth. Once they’re here, it will be much more difficult to discern Earth’s influence in our affairs. They have such powerful advocates here already.”
She paused, blinked. “Send the ship back before it reaches Callinda. If we must open relations with Earth, let it be at a distance.”
Mara set her cup down carefully. The tap of porcelain against glass sang briefly.
“As always, I appreciate your candor.” She offered a wan smile. “But I must bring our discussion to a close. I find I’m quite tired. Is there some place I could rest for awhile?”
“Of course.” The Governor turned to a side table and spoke crisply into a phone there. “I’ll have a meal prepared for when you wake,” she added. “It will be a long drive back to Mandalay.”
Mara glanced at Collier’s wickedly twinkling eyes as they all stood. “Oh, you misunderstand me, Mbana,” she said. “I just need to rest a bit before the Prime Minister and I speak at the Coliseum this afternoon.”
Mbutu inhaled sharply, the first time her guard had slipped during the long morning. “I think that would be a mistake, Majesty.”
“I know you do. But the real mistake would be separating myself from my people. That, Governor, I will never do. Ah, here’s your assistant.”
She swept past Mbana, Cabot at her side, and followed a wide-eyed woman into the main hallway. As they climbed the staircase, Ra joined them.
“The demonstrators have been dispersed without any further incident,” he said.
“Good,” Cabot said quietly. “And security at the Coliseum?”
“As we thought, equally superficial.” The big man’s dark jaw bunched. “I am seeing to it.”
“Thank you, Ra,” Mara said.
The Security First bowed and hurried back down the stairs. Mara raised an eyebrow at Cabot, who raised one back. When they reached the Queen’s guest room, the assistant curtsied and left them at the door.
Cabot watched her. “I understand Mbana’s brother was just here for a visit.”
“Emmond,” Mara nodded, watching the assistant’s head disappear down the stairs. “No wonder she’s pushing Northern independence. How is the governor of Notre Dam, by the way?”
“I intend to find out.” He paused. “You don’t really need to rest, do you?”
“No, I’m fine.” She patted his arm. “There’s more going on here than just a political difference of opinion. I wanted to give you time to talk to Horatio’s agents before the speech.”
“Yes. Their intelligence has been too broad. We definitely need more details.”
Mara opened the door and led him into the small suite. Cabot held a finger to his lips as he shut the door behind him. He touched his ear, then pointed around the room. Mara nodded.
“Prime Minister, would you ask Dr. Jones to join me?” She let a whine creep into her voice.
“Of course, Your Highness.” Cabot bowed low, grinning. “Anything else, Ma’am?”
Mara stifled a smile. “No, that will be all.”
“Then, rest well, Majesty,” he said and added in a whisper, “but lightly.”
“So, the speech went well?” Benjamin Gibson leaned against the railing of his veranda, swirling the ice in his drink. The governor of Azland thought best with something in his hand.
“Tense at first,” Mara said, stretching her bare feet on the chaise lounge, “but Colli loosened them up, got them laughing and applauding before I took the podium.”
In shirtsleeves and loosened tie, Cabot bowed from his post at the bar. “I live to serve as the Queen’s opening act.”
Gibson smiled. “The commentaries and news stories were mixed, which is a triumph all its own.”
“Mbana’s followers are loud and well-funded,” Cabot said, “but they aren’t the only voice of New Kenya.”
“Just the most maddening.” Gibson swirled his ice. “I don’t understand it. I never have. What is the North’s issue with our support? Surely they see how their economy would collapse without the subsidies. Do they want their system to fail?”
“It used to be only rhetoric,” Cabot said. “Kerner would puff up and bluster whenever some development failed or when immigration south increased. He reminds me of my little brother who always blamed me for being older.”
“Bluster is one thing. Changing policy is another.” Gibson crossed to the bar and took the shaker from Cabot. “And now they’ve mixed this business about Earth into their rantings.”
“Kerner’s not part of that,” Mara said.
“Is it Emmond, then?” Gibson asked. “Is he behind it?”
“Covenant suspects,” Cabot said. “Nothing more, yet.”
“There’s something more under this muddled mess,” Gibson grumbled, “something we’re not seeing.”
Cabot held out his glass for a refill. “Anything from Dharma or Lillette?”
“They’re watching the new party that registered in Versailles. Dharma told me the charter is conveniently vague. And here’s something curious. Lillette said mining operations in the Crown Mountains shut down over a month ago, but Emmond kept news about it quiet. The papers say it’s some sort of accident, but Lillette thinks the machinery is being retooled.”
Mara lifted her heavy hair off her neck. She was too hot and too tired to follow the conversation any further. The sultry air in Trinity always made her sluggish, but she seemed even less able to tolerate it on this trip. What a luxury to let it all slip away—the masks, the regal bearing, the pinpoint focus. She could settle on the chaise like a steamed dumpling with no thoughts in her head. Nothing was expected of her here except to relax in the company of her friends and let the thick breeze drifting in from the Evangeline coast fill her afternoon. She sipped her iced tea, then closed her eyes, the voices of the two men she trusted most in the world fading to a distant buzz of bees.
A tentative voice pulled her from a honeyed fog. She looked up to find Benjamin’s oldest daughter standing by her lounger, a battered guitar in her arms.
“Oh, you found it,” she smiled sleepily, reaching for the old instrument. “Thank you, Hope.”
The girl laughed lightly. “I had to dig in my closet awhile.”
“You don’t play anymore?” Mara strummed and started tuning. She pulled her legs up so Hope could sit.
“I spend more time with the piano. It’s easier for me to compose there.”
Mara remembered Hope as a gangly pre-teen. What a beautiful young woman she’d become—a perfect blend of her father’s sculpted features and her mother’s kind eyes.
She could have been mine.
The old regret flitted through her mind out of habit. But this time, on its tail came a joyous reminder. I’ll hold my own baby soon.
“How are your studies at the conservatory?”
“Oh, I love them, Majesty.” The girl’s face glowed.
“And, of course, her instructors love her.” Grace Gibson walked onto the veranda with a huge tray of finger sandwiches and fresh fruit.
“Oh, Mom,” Hope moaned, though she hurried to take the tray.
“Selected for the First Quartet this year.” Grace replaced her daughter on the lounger. “Received ‘Excellents’ in both composing and performance.”
“Mother, stop!” But, Hope laughed in spite of herself.
“She tries to be humble,” Benjamin said, joining his daughter, “but she’s got too much of me in her to make it stick.”
“My Jed’s got the same problem,” Collier said. “He tries so hard to be a serious officer of the court, but he’s caught my appreciation for the ridiculous. And you know how ridiculous the law can be.”
“Oh, dear,” Grace laughed. “Tell me he didn’t inherit Willa’s temper, too.”
“No, Ellen got that.” Cabot shook his head ruefully. “I hear the other interns in her class dive for cover on a regular basis.”
Mara continued to strum, her fingers picking out a simple tune. “All the little ones have grown into their own, yet they take parts of us with them. What parts of me will my baby take? What parts of Jonathan?” She looked up at them. “I can’t wait to see.”
The men sobered. They stole quick glances at each other before studying their drinks. But, Grace laid her hand on Mara’s knee and whispered, “Neither can I.”
“Majesty, what is that you’re playing?” Hope moved around the tray table, listening.
“Just a song I’m working on.”
She pulled a chair close, her dark, bobbed hair swinging. “I remember you used to sing to us when we were little. I always loved that.”
“So did I.”
“Will you sing your song?”
Mara changed keys and continued to play. “It’s a love song.”
Hope leaned closer. “For Captain Archer?”
Mara smiled. “Yes.” She pressed her palm against guitar strings, then began a simple progression.
As simple as breathing
I picture your face
All tangled in daydreams
And shielded with grace
I feel you beside me again.
Where ever you may be
Lift up your head for me
There’s somewhere in my heart
Only for you
If I must do without
I’ll let the sparks fly out
Across the wilderness
From me to you.
As Mara picked through the bridge, Hope started to hum, trying out harmonies. She was grateful. The girl’s voice helped hold her to the lounger, helped bring her back to the warmth of the day and the scent of melon. The pull coming from beyond Callinda’s stars was so strong.
As certain as sunrise
Your image unwinds
You’re clearer than crystal
You fill up my mind
Now I have you
By my side.
Where ever you may be
Lift up your head for me
There’s somewhere in my heart
Only for you
Though galaxies divide
And lonely thoughts collide
Our heaven will allow
No distance now.
I can always close my eyes
Take your absence by surprise
Hold my breath and make believe.
“Majesty, be careful.”
Javier Juarez caught the Queen’s elbow as she stumbled over debris. Short and powerfully built, Azteca’s governor could have carried her though their inspection of hurricane-ruined Aqualegia. But as was his nature, he offered only a gentle hand.
Mara looked out over a skyline of rubble and sagging half-buildings. The areas cleared of mud and garbage shone like jewels in a tangled setting. An oily stench lifted off the rot and waste. Black flies buzzed everywhere. On the western horizon, the Gerilynn Ocean, once again benign, glittered in the sun.
I’m losing my edge, she thought, sidestepping hummocks of sodden detritus.
Ahead of them, relief workers clustered around the Prime Minister. Mara could hear their impassioned reports and pleas for more supplies, more volunteers, more funds.
She couldn’t place the exact time when he had taken over. Perhaps it was in Twanni when Governor Jones floated through their talks without ever stating an opinion. Or in New Madrid when Governor Mendoza said all the proper words, but looked at her belly in bald disgust.
I let him take the lead, she thought angrily, because I got tired. What would my Father say about that?
She drew herself up and slipped a hand into the crook of Governor Juarez’s arm. “There’s so much still to be done, Javier,” she said. “Atman will send more volunteers by the end of the week. And we’ve confirmed with Tao about shipping down more heavy equipment and a team of engineers.”
Juarez’s brow puckered. “Don’t they need that equipment in Notre Dam? I understand the Crown Mountain mines still haven’t reopened.”
“For whatever reason, the equipment is yours to use.”
Juarez shook his head. “Disasters everywhere. Now I hear New Dublin’s entire wheat crop has some kind of fungus.”
“Yes. I understand the fields had to be burned and the land must lie fallow for two years.”
“The All keep us. The loss of their wheat will affect the whole world, but what will it do to the North’s economy? Surely now our partnership with them will be seen for what it is.”
“It’s a delicate situation. President Kelly needs our help and support, but he must be careful how he asks for it. And we must be careful how we provide it.”
“Politics,” Juarez sighed. “Sometimes I wish I still captained a fishing boat.”
Some days I’d join you, Mara thought.
They reached a cleared area around a low, temporary structure. Workers bustled in and out the swinging door. Others sat wearily at collapsible picnic tables. The roar of bulldozers and heavy trucks drowned out all other sound. Cabot huddled with the relief leaders—head bent, arms crossed—while they shouted over the noise. Beside him, Briank seemed to be reading lips and scribbling furiously in his notebook. Naveen stood nearby.
Suddenly, Tamarla burst through the door, pausing only long enough to spot the Queen. Ra and Francisco appeared immediately.
“Majesty!” she shouted, the sound completely lost in the grinding drone of the big engines. Tamarla pointed back the way she had come.
The swinging door pushed open again and a slim figure emerged. Old muddy clothes, old muddy cap, but Mara recognized the shy smile. Dashing past the Prime Minister’s knot of workers, she grabbed up the dirty volunteer.
“Adrianna!” she cried, squeezing her tight.
The young woman stiffened. “Majesty, your clothes. I’ll ruin them.”
“Where have you been?” Mara shouted over the noise. She held the girl by the shoulders, resisting the urge to shake her. “I’ve been so worried!”
Adrianna glanced uneasily at the others gathering around them. Briank shouted happily as Marissa clutched her former boss. Tamarla and Francisco grinned. Even Ra scowled less.
Governor Juarez bent his head to the Queen. “Please, Majesty, let’s go inside.”
He ushered them into the squat building, past a tangle of tables, maps, leaders shouting assignments, and workers grabbing up tools or a quick sandwich. At the back, he found an empty lunch table with a scattering of benches. The sheltered corner muffled some of the equipment noise.
“I’m sorry,” Adrianna said to the Governor. “I didn’t mean for Tamarla to see me. I had to stop her before more people heard.”
Juarez nodded, jaw tight. “Go quickly to the Resettlement Center on the east side of town. Make sure everyone there sees you. I’ll take care of this.”
As Adrianna turned to go, Mara snatched at her. “Wait! What’s going on?”
The girl kissed the Queen’s cheek. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, then hurried out a back door.
Mara looked from her gaping aides, to Ra glowering beside her, to the Governor. Before he could speak, the Prime Minister pushed through the congestion at the front of the building with a pretty teenager. She wore dungarees and a dirty T-shirt, her long blond hair tied up in a ponytail.
“This is Camilla,” Cabot said. “Her whole school is here today helping with the clean-up.”
The girl curtsied nervously.
Cabot looked hard at Tamarla. “I want you to go outside and interview her.” His gaze shifted to Briank. “This is an important story for the newspapers.” And, then to Marissa. “I want pictures of her talking to you to be part of the story. And I want a picture of her with the Queen later.” He turned to Ra. “Francisco and Naveen are still outside. Make sure they understand how important it is that Camilla met the Queen and her party today.”
Ra’s eyes narrowed. He studied the fidgeting teenager, then Cabot. “Come with me, Miss,” he said finally.
The girl curtsied again to the Queen, then hurried to catch up with the big man. “Are you really the Queen’s bodyguard?” she blurted.
Tamarla, Briank and Marissa trailed after them, tossing furtive glances at each other and the Prime Minister. Once they wound through the crowd and out the door, Mara let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. She sat down at the table and waited.
“I’m sorry, Your Highness,” Juarez said quietly. “Your former aide is a volunteer for us, but in a much different capacity.”
“She reports to Lillette now,” Cabot said, sitting next to her.
“The Underground?” Mara hissed. “You made my girl into a spy?”
“She helps us keep track of the goings on in Notre Dam,” Juarez told her. “No one knows her there, and she can still use her contacts in Kelly’s administration. She’s been very useful.”
“But, she can’t be associated with us,” Cabot added. “She’d lose all credibility in the Northern circles she’s infiltrated.”
“It would be dangerous for her to be seen with you,” Juarez clarified.
“Dangerous?” Mara gulped back the lump in her throat. “Have we come to that?”
“Not yet,” Juarez assured her, “but such a time may not be far away.”
Cabot added, “We were going to slip Adrianna into the Governor’s residence tonight to see you, but…”
“You’ve known about this from the start?” An unexpected wave of betrayal washed over her. Mara blinked at Collier through restrained tears.
He held her gaze. “I’m the one who recruited her.”
Mara slapped a hand over her mouth before the sob burst through. She pushed Cabot away from her as much out of embarrassment as anger. He stayed firmly rooted to his bench.
“You had enough to worry about,” he told her.
“What else?” She wept as quietly as she could. “What else are you keeping from me?”
Cabot tucked a handkerchief into her hand. “That would be telling,” he said, and smiled at her wet, indignant glare.
“Ma’am,” Juarez said, “the less you know about the operatives, especially any you have a personal relationship with, the better. It’s safer for you, and for them.”
“Of course. Yes. You’re right.” She wiped her eyes quickly. “Is she safe now? Will everyone think that little girl outside is the one I ran to hug?”
“I think so,” Juarez said. “What reason would they have to think otherwise?”
“Good.” She nodded, feeling her control slip and slide. “Javier, would you be terribly offended if we left for New Minsk today instead of speaking at the capital?”
“Disappointed, Majesty, but never offended.”
“Then, let’s get New Minsk over with,” she said, turning to Cabot. “I want to go home.”
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Click here to read Chapter 13.