CHILD OF FIRE AND BLOOD
“How far to the exposition site?” Endo Tamm asked.
“Thirteen blocks,” Aveline responded. “Morning traffic is very dense in this part of the city.”
“Thank you, Aveline,” Taril Bont said, taking the drink she handed to him. “You should try some, Tamm. It’s quite good and mostly fruit juice.”
“My water will be sufficient,” Endo Tamm told him, his attention trained on the bustling city beyond the limousine window. “My discipline demands that I maintain focus. You spend a lot of time here in Azirta?”
“When my role demands it,” Bont said. “I’ve yet to grow as accustomed to the bitter air as most of the people who dwell here, but there are many times when it can’t be avoided. This persona demands unusual maintenance.”
“So I’ve seen,” Tamm said. “While not unprecedented, celebrity is an uncommon demand to be put on a kalen-ter. You’ve done well to not allow it to consume you and your…team. That includes you, Aveline.”
“It is our duty to serve,” Aveline said, “even here. Ozone is merely an additional burden of the assignment.”
“Just be prepared to adapt further,” Tamm said. “Our master has warned me that the emperor’s plans may yet call for many changes to this land and its decadent people.”
“Does that mean we should prepare for more nuclear detonations?” Bont asked.
“There’ll be no one left to rule if he continues on that path,” Aveline said. “Not to overstep my bounds, but that’s insanity.”
“Nothing so extreme,” Tamm said. “Recall the Orfoli, their mighty nation overwhelmed by the Berel.”
“The Berel?” Bont asked. “I thought the Orfoli were killed off by plague.”
“It was so long ago,” Aveline said, “I thought it was an ancient mystery.”
“The Berel were a conquered people whom the Orfoli found to be useful servants,” Tamm said. “The Berel were efficient to the point of allowing their masters to become so reliant on them that they couldn’t do anything for themselves. Uselessness and complacency defeated the Orfoli, weapons wielded by the very people the Orfoli thought themselves powerful and clever in taking into their homes. Peaceful though they were, the Berel hated the Orfoli. No matter how much they served the Orfoli, they never stopped hating them. They knew they were killing them the best way they could.”
“You think the Etinen will destroy Zadiasam in this manner?” Aveline asked.
“Their science has a far more firm stranglehold on these people,” Bont said. “I don’t think they realize just how dangerous a servant it is.”
“They do love their electricity, don’t they?” Tamm asked. “Flying cars, slidewalks, mechanized pet care…in fact, since I arrived, I’ve heard that they were even developing robotic animals to replace their pets. It seems that they’re determined to have every possible aspect of their lives made more convenient by their technology. We’ll soon find this land peopled by chair-bound husks of atrophied meat kept alive by machines that have replaced every last vital organ.”
“Yes, slaves of their own inventiveness,” Bont agreed. “Is there a specific manner in which we should pressure them next?”
“I would say penetrating the government’s computer security,” Tamm said, “but that seems to be beyond our capacity somehow.”
“My apologies,” Aveline said. “The failure is mine. I didn’t anticipate the complexity of their electronic shield. I’ll need to devise a much more thorough spell to get past its frequencies.”
“If you can manage it. Meanwhile, the exposition will allow us to deal them enough of a blow prior to feeling the full impact of war,” Tamm said, “that they’ll easily succumb to our coming economic plans. In fact, their people should be clamoring for the Parliament to take what we have for them.”
“I suppose part of me might find it sad that Alban must suffer as it does,” Bont said, “were we unaware of the larger destiny it serves.”
“Alban’s people have been shaped,” Tamm said, “as will any others that need to be to suit the plans of our masters. How much farther to the expo site?”
“Eleven blocks,” Aveline said.
Tamm sighed and said, “If only to clear this traffic, I will be happy to watch this city burn.”
“Well, we don’t want to go too fast,” Bont told him, “or we’ll have front-row seats. We’ll get there soon enough.”