I caught myself thinking about Arpad’s history today. This is a writing exercise, not a novel, dammit!
Without formal diplomatic recognition there were no direct flights from the Empire to Texas. Toronto, Canada, was a common enough destination for their planes but there was nothing from there south; in the case of bad weather or mechanical failure, who wanted to set down in barbarian badlands? So, his flight was to Mexico City.
A night flight, Arpad slept most of the way. Besides his travel papers and those few photos, most of his briefing was on flash drives. He’d watched the interviews with that android, Ai, and her little speech with the Texas Republic’s President when she’d introduced her family.
And how do machines have a family? He wondered, barely shaking his head as they made their approach for landing.
He didn’t have to leave the airport as his next connexion was a regular charter between Mexico City and the Houston airport. That city, especially the heart of it, was a burnt ruin, but the Checkists had kept the airport and roads to it clear.
Arpad looked up and squinted through the smoke of his Bulgarian cigarette, recalling when he’d first heard of ‘Texas’ a few years ago: the news team from Brazil were in Matamoros looking north at the Rio Grande. From where the little river emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, a line of crosses, one every one hundred feet, stretched inland as far as the eye could see. People hung from those crosses. The Mayor of Matamoros kept crossing himself as he babbled his story to the media.
It would take an exceptionally awful man, followed by just as awful men, to do something such as that. He rummaged a bit until he found her photo again. Black hair just past her shoulders, glasses, that smile. Looking at someone just off the photographer’s right.
Clive Barrett’s adopted daughter. Intel reports indicated they’d nothing to do with one another once she’d come from Japan to Texas. Lived and worked in a Catholic orphanage, later also working as a nurse at a local hospital in…
He had to look again at the phonetic pronunciation of the town.
Waxahachie, he mouthed. Stupid name.
He lifted his head, hearing the announcement of boarding of his next flight.
Clearing Customs & Immigration at Houston Intercontinental, he walked slowly out into the concourse. Mid October, but still very warm. Did they not have working HVAC units anymore…?
“Mein Herr!” The Viennese accent quickly brought him back. A shorter and older man, grey hair and mustache matching his charcoal grey suit, clicked his heels and bowed slightly.
“I am attaché Rauch. From our Mission in the capitol of Austin. I am at your service to convey you where you desire.”
An attaché as a driver?
“<Thank you, Mister Rauch. I’d – >”
Rauch urgently moved his right hand and stepped closer.
“Please stay in English!” He whispered. “Xenophobia is still rampant here!”
Pretending to adjust the bag over his shoulder and run his hand through his hair, Arpad took in his immediate surrounds. Sure enough: anyone that had heard his German was looking at the both of them.
“No worries, Rauch, you old hound! Tell me about your grandkids while we walk!” He said, deliberately too loud. Yes, that seemed to distract them.
Rauch was not an idiot and kept up his end of the lies until they were outside and alone.
“Our car is just over here,” Rauch said.
“Must we go to Austin?”
“No, sir. Just as I said: the Foreign Office was explicit. Wherever you want to go.”
Rauch paused at a two-door silver sedan and unlocked the doors.
“How long to Washhahassie?”
“Waxahachie?” A diplomat only smiled when he wanted to. “Best speed, two and a half hours. Worst case…”
“We’re shot by bandits.” He waved for Arpad to get in. “This is the Wild West, after all.”