Stations Of The Tide - Michael Swanwick
1.The Leviathan in Flight
The bureaucrat fell from the sky.
For an instant Miranda lay blue and white beneath him, the icecaps fat and ready to melt, and then he was down. He took a highspeed across the stony plains of the Piedmont to the heliostat terminus at Port Richmond, and caught the first flight out. The airship Leviathan lofted him across the fall line and over the forests and coral hills of the Tidewater. Specialized ecologies were astir there, preparing for the transforming magic of the jubilee tides. In ramshackle villages and hidden plantations people made their varied provisions for the evacuation.
The Leviathan's lounge was deserted. Hands clasped behind him, the bureaucrat stared moodily out the stern windows. The Piedmont was dim and blue, a storm front on the horizon. He imagined the falls, where fish-hawks hovered on rising thermals and the river Noon cascaded down and lost its name. Below, the Tidewater swarmed with life, like blue-green mold growing magnified in a petri dish. The thought of all the mud and poverty
down there depressed him. He yearned for the cool, sterile environments of deep space.
Bright species of color floated on the brown water, coffles of houseboats being towed upriver as the haut-bourgeois prudently made for the Port Richmond incline while the rates were still low. He touched a window control and the jungle leaped up at him, misty trees resolving into individual leaves. The heliostat's shadow rippled along the north bank of the river, skimming lightly over mud flats, swaying phragmites, and gnarled water oaks. Startled, a clutch of acorn-mimetic octopi dropped from a low branch, brown circles of water fleeing as they jetted into the silt.
"Smell that air," Korda's surrogate said.
The bureaucrat sniffed. He smelled the faint odor of soil from the baskets of hanging vines, and a sweet whiff of droppings from the wicker birdcages. "Could use a cleansing, I suppose."
"You have no romance in your soul."The surrogate leaned against the windowsill, straight-armed, looking like a sentimental skeleton.
The flickering image of Korda's face reflected palely in the glass. "I'd give anything to be down here in your place."
"Why don't you, then?" the bureaucrat asked sourly. "You have seniority."
"Don't be flippant. This is not just another smuggling case. The whole concept of technology control is at stake here. If we let just one self-replicating technology through—well, you know how fragile a planet is. If the Division has any justification for its existence at all, it's in exactly this sort of action. So I would appreciate it if just this once you would make the effort to curb your negativism."
"I have to say what I think. That's what I'm being paid for, after all."
"A very common delusion." Korda moved away from the window, bent to pick up an empty candy dish, and glanced at its underside. There was a fussy nervousness to his motions strange to one who had actually met him. Korda in person was
heavy and lethargic. Surrogation seemed to bring out a submerged persona, an overfastidious little man normally kept drowned in flesh.
"Native pottery always has an unglazed area on the bottom, have you noticed?"
"That's where it stands in the kiln." Korda looked blank. "This is a planet, it has a constant gravity. You can't fire things in zero gravity here."
With a baffled shake of his head Korda put down the dish. "Was there anything else you wanted to cover?" he asked.
"I put in a Request For—"
"—Authority. Yes, yes, I have it on my desk. I'm afraid it's right out of the question. Technology Transfer is in a very delicate position with the planetary authorities. Now don't look at me like that. I routed it through offworld ministry to the Stone House, and they said no.
They're touchy about intrusions on their autonomy down here. They sent the Request straight back. With restrictions—you are specifically admonished not to carry weapons, perform arrests, or in any way represent yourself as having authority to coerce cooperation on your suspect's part." He reached up and tilted a basket of vines, so he could fossick about among them. When he let it go, it swung irritably back and forth.
"How am I going to do my job? I'm supposed to—what?— just walk up to Gregorian and say, Excuse me, I have no authority even to speak to you, but I have reason to suspect that you've taken something that doesn't belong to you, and wonder if you'd mind terribly returning it?"
There were several writing desks built into the paneling under the windows. Korda swung one