Here, where flowers grew, she found her sanctuary. Far from the sounds of soldiers drilling, far from the noise and scuffle of the clerks, the poses and pretensions of the supplicants, the murmurs of advisors, the lies and the evasions of the practiced diplomats, she found her peace. Here, where flowers grew, where the only buzzing came from bees in search of nectar.
Aria leaned out to press her nose against the ancient window, and gazed upon the dreaming city. Did others gaze? She didn't know. Only the blaze of glow-tubes in their bright but silent ranks and files ensured the growth of all that she held dear. The building was sealed, and rain ran off the self-cleaning glass in perfect sheets that left no streak or smear, spread out in two dimensions by the old titanium dioxide coating.
Something flickered in the corner of her eye.
She turned and frowned. One of the tubes was failing as she watched, the brightness dimming, faltering over a bed of daffodils. It happened, from time to time. But she wasn't frowning over the dimming glow-tube. The flowers would survive, even here, locked away from the sun, as she was. It was what the faltering implied that made her frown.
That…and the fact that she would have to go tell the Governor.
She sighed, rubbed the dirt of gardening from her pale hands, and turned to set her feet upon the inevitable journey. Soft slippers made hardly a sound as she strode past rows of flowers and herbs. In her mind, she imagined they turned to watch her go, wishing her well, but of course that was mere fancy. She was not ignorant, merely lonely.
Gliding past the long-dead elevators, she entered and descended the corner staircase, passing the floors of vegetables and beans, until she reached the levels of the upper offices.
Henry and Edward straightened as they saw her approach, their bored slouches readjusting to more proper postures. Mentally, she shook her head. Did they really think she cared about standing to attention? This far above street level? But for all they knew she might be in a bad mood. Well, she was getting there.
“The Governor's in a meeting,” said Henry.
So? “She'll want to hear this.”
He knew better than to argue, but he couldn't avoid a grimace as he opened the door for her. The Governor did not like interruptions. They all knew that. But they also knew that Aria was a special case.
The Governor of Rado did not look pleased with the progress of the meeting. Eyes like black diamonds glittered angrily above her hawkish nose as she regarded the Lone Star envoy. “Is that the best you have to offer?” she growled from behind the marble desk.
The man fidgeting in front of her swallowed. “Your eminence,” he protested, “I am only a messenger. I am not empowered to negotiate new treaties. The Okla protrusion was fairly won in battles long ago. As you know, they agreed – “
“But I did not agree. Does Peter really think he can take us this time? Has he learned nothing from the last war?”
The envoy gulped again. Watching him, Aria was nearly moved to pity. Nearly. He was clearly new to this. Was sending such a green diplomat to them some kind of message? Surely they had better trained diplomats. But then, maybe the ruler of Texas really did think he was ready enough for war to make only token gestures.
“I am not privy to the thoughts of the Honcho,” he said. “But I have fulfilled my instructions. Do you have a reply for me to carry back to him?”
“I'll think on it,” the Governor said. “Now get out of my sight.”
As he oozed from the chamber, her eyes swung around to Aria. “Didn't they tell you I was busy? You know I don't like to be interrupted in meetings of State business.”
“He's run off again,” Aria told her, without preamble.
Kristana sighed. “I know. Six hours ago.” She looked down at the map on her desk for a moment, then up again. “But how do you know?”
She exhaled. “The same way I always know. One of the glow-tubes started to die.” She frowned in puzzlement. “Why does he do it? Isn't he happy here? Doesn't he know the work he does for you is important?”
Her mother regarded her. “More important than keeping your flowers happy. But yes, he knows. Even so, he'll still always leave from time to time. I thought you knew that.”
Her face clouded. “I know that he does. I just don't know why.”
The Governor of Rado leaned back in her chair. “It's the old dream again,” she said. “You know, of setting up a school to pass on his knowledge.”
“But you've told him you'd help with that, many times!” Aria discovered her hands were clenching into fists, and forced herself to relax them. Why was the old man so difficult?
“I know.” Kristana took a sip from her goblet. “When things settle down. But he gets impatient. He's not getting any younger. I think sometimes he wonders if I keep telling him that just to string him along.” She gazed at nothing for a moment. “He knows he's valuable to us … but maybe, occasionally, he regrets joining us.” She bit her lip. “Maybe he doesn't need us as much as we need him.”
She didn't like the way this conversation was going. “So, are we going to war with Texas again?” she asked, to change the subject.
“I wouldn't doubt it for a second,” her mother replied. “There is a certain inevitability to it. He knows it, and I know it.”
Now she didn't know if her mother was talking about Xander again, or the Honcho of Texas. “But why? It never solves anything. Why do people have to keep dying?”
Kristana shrugged. “It's like earthquakes and volcanoes, I suppose. Pressure keeps building up, and has to be relieved from time to time. Armies have to be exercised like muscles or they grow weak, inviting invasion. There's always Deseret to the west, Mexico to the south, and plenty of others looking to expand. Some have more pasture land than us, but then again, we have more soldiers than them. You know.”
Yes, she knew. Her tutors made sure of it, always grooming her for the succession, an event she hoped would never come. “I wish we could just conquer them all and make just one country!” she said. “Then we could stop fighting them all the time.”
“Now you sound like your father,” said the Governor.
“The General? I wish I'd known him.”
Kristana had been about to say something but appeared to catch herself just in time. “Ah, yes. The General. He certainly didn't mind fighting.”
Aria's mind turned back to old Xander again. She couldn't help herself. “What about Xander? Did you send someone out after him?”
Her mother shrugged. “As always. No doubt he'll be back soon, whether he finds what he's looking for, or not. They'll find him. They always do.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish