“I’m impressed.” Regine snorted dryly. “She’s managed to reinvent bureaucracy.”
“Just a few more forms, ma’am, sir.” The guard – human, Regine was nearly certain – smiled a tight, efficient bureaucrat’s smile and brought forth another ream of paper. Where had Cynara even found a papermill? “Now, are you bringing any animals into the city?”
“This is a short visit to see an old student. We’re not immigrating.” Next to her, Feu Drake said nothing, only smirked inscrutably as he’d been doing for hours. “No, there are no animals with us. Tempero Intinn Rodger–”
She had quite a bit of practice sliding Workings such as this into conversation, but utterly none at doing so when a klaxon started blaring. She faltered, frowning; the door to the tiny waiting room thumped open.
This guard was openly displaying her Change: sharp, short horns and very large wings. She was also wearing Captain’s stripes and a frown. She hit a button, and the klaxon silenced.
“Ma’am, you may not have been aware — being a visitor to our city — but use of mind control in Cloverleaf is strongly discouraged, and use of such powers on an officer of the law is illegal and punishable by exile. This will be your only warning.”
She left while Regine was still formulating a response. The guard still remaining smiled very tightly at her, squared his papers, and started again. “Are you bringing any plants into the city?”
Three excruciating pages of inane questions later, the guard stood up. “All right.” He opened the door for them. “Head down Main Street here until you reach the large tower at the center of the city. A guide will meet you there.”
“Finally.” Regine stood and brushed off her skirt. Next to her, Feu Drake had risen, still wearing the same implacable expression.
“By ‘tower,’” he asked dryly, “I assume you mean that giant edifice stabbing into the sky?”
“Yep, that’s the one. Ah, sir, one question first. I’ve got – well, I’ve only got one but I’m holding onto it, would you mine signing it for me?”
“Signing… what?” Drake raised his eyebrows. Regine tried not to chafe at the wait. It would not hurt them to wait a few more moments.
“Oh, the five-hundred Clover bill. It’s a really good likeness, sir, I recognized you right away.” The guard carefully pulled a small, flat box from his sleeve, and from it he rifled through a couple bills until he came on the five-hundred clover.
It was made, Regine noted, much like an old Canadian bill, before the Collapse. And it was definitely a very nicely-etched likeness of Feu Drake, complete with trademark sneer. It was in mint condition, crisp and new.
“Some are harder to track down than others. You, I never figured we’d see you here, it’s been so long.”
“I see. Well, certainly I can autograph it. If you have a pen?”
“Right here.” The guard produced a very nice fountain pen.
While Feu Drake was signing, Regine cleared her throat. “What is the buying power of this bill?”
“Buying — oh, like, what’ll it get you? Um. I dunno, it’s the only one I’ve ever gotten and I saved up for it for a while for the collection. But, oh! That’s starting guards’ salary for a week.”
“Interesting. Thank you. Feu Drake…”
“Very interesting. And a nice likeness. I remember when that picture was taken.” He straightened up. “Ah. Yes, let’s continue.”
“Just down Main Street,” the guard pointed. “Like you said, you can’t miss it.”
The tower rose up over the rest of the city, a twisting edifice. Regine wondered how it had been built; with pre-collapse tools and equipment it might have been easy, but there had been nothing like this here before the catastrophe. From the guard station, it was very clearly visible, and, as the guard had said, the main street pointed, straight and wide, directly towards it.
The sidewalks were nearly as wide as the street; considering there was much more foot traffic than wagon or car, this made sense; considering both sidewalks were also full of small tents of street vendors, tables for cafes, musicians with hats out, and children playing, Regine wondered if maybe the sidewalks should not have been wider still.
“It’s quite active here,” she commented. “And the buildings look quite intact.” They were walking past an inn, according to the sign, and coming up on a small cafe, its tables full of people taking in the late-spring sunshine.
“Well, it is a city, with walls and safety, electricity and plumbing.” Feu Drake pointed at the streetlights which, in the bright sun of midday weren’t on. “Those are still rare, so I imagine even if the immigration requirements are as onerous as our visiting paperwork was–”
“I can’t imagine it would be less onerous!”
“You, sa’Lady of the Lake, have often suffered from quite a lack of imagination.” He delivered it so calmly that it took Regine a moment to realize she’d been insulted. “They recognized me on sight; they knew your name. And there, settled in for lunch and already on dessert,” he gestured at the cafe, “is a family that was three behind us in line entering the city. ‘Do you have any plants,’ indeed.”
“You are saying we were deliberately stalled?”
“I am saying that they reached for the form Ess-Tee-four-one-one and decided instead on Ess-Aitch-One-Seven, which was twice as thick as their first choice and four times as thick as the form they had picked for the couple in front of us. Yes, sa’Lady of the Lake–” It was not Regine’s imagination, she was sure, that Feu Drake was smirking, “–they wished to make us irritable and impatient. And you, uncharacteristically I might add, took the bait.”
Regine twisted her lips. “She was trying to make me angry.”
“I don’t think it was aimed specifically at you, but, yes, I believe she was attempting to irk us. Are you going to walk into this situation angry, sa’Lady of the Lake?”
She looked at the man thoughtfully. “I have a name as well as a Name.” Unlike him, who chose only to be the Fire-Drake. She could have researched him deeply enough to find his given name. She had respected his wishes and not done so.
“I believe this situation calls for formality. You are irked, and when you are irked, you often resort to full formality. And, in this case, that would not be a bad choice. They were your students, but this is their home.”
There was a warning there, one even Regine could hear. But, as she chose not to be lectured like a student herself, she ignored it, instead returning to looking around the street and the city.
“You said you imagined that, even with the oddities of paperwork, there would…”
She had interrupted him. He was correct; it was the time for formality, if she had been shaken enough to be rude.
He was not the sort of man to bring it up directly. “Yes. It seems like the sort of place that one might want to immigrate. True, there are still a few enclaves, and those have more obvious higher technology–” He held up a finger, and Regine tolerated this, because she had interrupted him. “–I say more obvious, because although there are no signs of pre-collapse or higher levels of such things visible, we do not know what lies beneath the city or behind walls. Even so, if Addergoole and the Village or an Enclave were not an option, this would be a very lovely place to live, indeed. And the walls seem to provide a bit of safety.”
Regine mulled over that. “It’s quite real-seeming. Genuine and proper looking, like a city ought to appear.”
“My dear Regine.” And now, the Fire-Drake smiled. It was not, Regine mused, a particularly pleasant expression. “You allow great feats from those students with whom you get along. I would suggest you believe the same from those that disagree with you.”
Regine frowned. “You’re certainly not suggesting that I’m underestimating these children because they were difficult students.”
“I’m suggesting exactly that. Rather than arguing with me, why don’t you look around the city? We’ve got, it seems, perhaps a quarter-mile before we reach the Tower.”
“You want me to sight-see.” She pursed her lips tightly.
“You came here to look at what Cya and Boom had wrought. I’m suggesting you look.”
He was much less obnoxious within the confines of Addergoole. But she had brought him along to advise her, and, thus, Regine took Drake’s advice and looked around.
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