Wrist is still hurting and likely will for at least another week. Lovely. At least I can type with the brace off.
Here we get a glimpse into the imperium’s ethnic policies after Colour makes the mistake of thinking the world before the Change still exists. Diversity is no one’s strength. And then Aurie says yet another startling thing.
Rather than land ahead, Aurelia just saw fog as they slowed again. She asked her friend if weather such as this was typical.
“Depends on the season, but yeah,” Colour replied. “Cold air from the mainland hits the Gulf Stream? Fog. Warm air over the cooler ocean waters? Fog. We get much the same at home.”
“How gloomy,” Aurelia muttered. Lenore settled next to a pond surrounded by trees no more than ten feet tall. She muttered some more but not where the human could hear her.
“Right. The crew has their orders so I’m getting changed and will meet you in the cargo deck in two minutes,” she announced.
“At least let me use one of your toilets first, friend!” Colour demanded. “Not sure how the facilities are where we’re headed.”
“The crossroads called Hazel Hill is about four miles on,” the princess said as she trudged through scrub grass in the moorlands, “and Canso about one and half further on. Not sure how many people still live here. I did learn that it was one of the first fishing villages on this continent.”
“Western fishing villages, you mean,” Colour added. “I’m sure the natives…”
“Were stone-age barbarians and thus of no interest to anyone.”
“Aren’t you just the civilizational chauvinist!” she accused.
“Very,” Aurelia nodded. “Keep moving.”
“I suppose,” Colour continued once she caught up, “that given all that demi-human talk, and a surname like Hartmann, you’ve got some pungent views on race, too?”
“Very,” the demi-human said again.
“So, only White people in that imperium of yours?” she snarked.
“The Empress is half Chinese. Oh? Didn’t know that Miss Jansen?”
Colour looked away.
“So that means her brother, my father, is, too. And my mother is a made thing: a child of a Machine who later wrecked a fusion reactor to take a mortal body to be with him.” Now Aurelia paused. “She is made of diamond dust and star fire. Having said all that to ask this: so what am I? White?”
“No,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
The princess stood on the toes of her boots to again brush her lips to her friend’s cheek.
“Does the imperium treat races in aggregate? Of course; that’s good policy,” Hartmann went on, wrecking the moment. “But I choose my friends one by one. Look right. There are the remains of a road. Let’s take that.”
An hour on, the crossroads of Hazel Hill was a deserted village of perhaps two dozen former houses. A farmer on a horse-drawn wagon was headed in the opposite direction to them and so surprised to see strangers, he pulled up to a stop.
“Haiya!” Aurelia called with a wave. “We’re just some backpackers from Maine out for a walk! How much further to Conso?”
“It’s Canso,” the graying but obviously stout man corrected her deliberate slip, “and it’s about a mile on.”
She could see his eyes search over them, taking in their rucksacks but also their battlerifles. There had been no time to replace them with bolt actions.
“Super!” she cried with far too much enthusiasm. “Is there a place for some grub you’d recommend?”
“Val’s.” He seemed a little startled to have answered so quickly. “On Union Street, down on the water.”
“Thanks, Mister!” General Princess Aurelia Hartmann of the imperial family skipped closer to his cart and put her right hand up. “I’m Aurie Hardt! We appreciate it!”
“Certainly… Miss Hardt,” he said slowly, shaking her hand once before the reins to move off.
“That was interesting,” Colour said very drolly once he was out of earshot.
“It’s something I learned from the Empress,” Aurelia admitted. “Manipulation of sonics in your voice to tinker with human reactions. Androids are much better at it; we demis just sort of play around.”
“You can manipulate us with your voice?” she asked, shocked.
“A little. And no: I’ve never done it to you.” The flash of a smile. “Well, yet. Come on! Let’s see if Val’s has dinner!”