“Admit it, Jani. You’d never seen anything like it in your life. All those old skyscrapers! All that history!” Evan bustled her out onto the glass-walled balcony that adjoined his office and pointed out his view, which included both the Chicago skyline and the nearby lake. “I hope you got a chance to see the memorial to the Greatest War on the way in.”
Jani took in the curious array of oddly shaped buildings, all obscured by wind-whipped snow. “You mean ‘The War of Family Aggression,’ don’t you?”
“There were no Families back then, Jani,” Evan said patiently.
“No. They came later.”
“I seem to recall us having this discussion before.” Evan sighed. “Politics aside, it’s worth a visit. It’s a liquiprism obelisk that changes color on the hour. Really quite striking.”
“Evan, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s not sight-seeing weather.” Jani looked out at the lake, which had taken on a churning, milky grey life of its own. “If this balcony wasn’t enclosed and well heated, we’d be icicles within seconds.”
“Yes, but it’s home.”
“Not for me.” She turned her back on his fallen face. “Sorry—didn’t mean to rain on your birthday.” She hesitated at the office entry. Why do I feel like I just kicked a puppy? “I’m sure it must be very nice. In the spring.”
“Oh, it is.” Evan hurried to her side. “The parks. The arboretums. You’d love it here in the spring.” He escorted her back into his retreat’s soothing blue-and-green depths. “I gathered your ride here from O’Hare was more exciting than you may have liked.”
“That’s an understatement.” Jani sank into a chair across from Evan’s desk. “Nothing like a collision with split batteries to disrupt the flow of traffic on a twelve-lane skimway. Then the HazMat unit came. Then this storm. At least it held off until after I landed.” She shuddered. “I think my driver has a death wish. I’d yank her license.”
Evan perched on the edge of his desk. “Quite an indictment, coming from you. I blamed my first grey hairs on our sojourns through Rauta Shèràa.” That little bon mot launched, he eased behind his desk and kicked back. “Chicago is the Commonwealth capital, Jani. Over seventeen million people live within the metroplex limits. I can’t tell you the exact square kilometers offhand, but the number borders on the ridiculous.” His look turned concerned. “I hadn’t considered culture shock. Are you?”
“Shocked by the wonder of it all? I’ll live.” Jani massaged the hard knot in the back of her neck where augie had planted his foot. She had coped with the throbbing red lights on the emergency vehicles well enough, but the sirens had gotten to her. She held out her hands. The right one had finally stopped shaking. The left one had never started. Half-sane, at least, but which half?
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