Stations Of The Tide - Michael Swanwick Page 0,1

out and made a careful inventory of its contents: paper, charcoal pens, blotters. "I don't see why you're being so difficult about this," he said at last. Don't pout, I know you can do it. You're competent enough when you put your mind to it. Oh, and I almost forgot, the Stone House has agreed to assign you a liaison.

Someone named Chu, out of internal security."

"Will he have authority to arrest Gregorian?"

"In theory, I'm sure he will. But you know planetary government—in practice I suspect he'll be more interested in keeping an eye on you."

"Terrific." Ahead, a pod of sounding clouds swept toward them, driven off of Ocean by winds born half a world away. The Leviathan lifted its snout a point, then plunged ahead. The light faded to gray, and rain drenched the heliostat. "We don't even know where to find the man."

Korda folded the desk back into the wall. "I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding someone who knows where he is."

The bureaucrat glared out into the storm. Raindrops drummed against the fabric of the gas bag, pounded the windows, and were driven down. Winds bunched the rain in great waves, alternating thick washes of water with spates of relative calm. The land dissolved, leaving the airship suspended in chaos. The din of rain and straining engines made it difficult to talk. It felt like the end of the world. "You realize that in a few months, all this will be under water? If we haven't settled Gregorian's case by then, it'll never be done."

"You'll be done long before then. I'm sure you'll be back at the Puzzle Palace in plenty of time to keep your sub from taking over your post." Korda's face smiled, to indicate that he was joking.

"You didn't tell me you'd given someone my duties. Just who do you have subbing for me anyway?"

"Philippe was gracious enough to agree to hold down the fort for the duration."

"Philippe!" There was a cold prickling at the back of his neck, as if sharks were circling overhead. "You gave my post to Philippe?"

"I thought you liked Philippe."

"I like him fine," the bureaucrat said. "But is he right for the job?"

"Don't take it so personally. There's work to be done, and Philippe is very good at this sort of thing. Should the Division grind to a halt just because you're away? Frankly that's not an attitude I want to encourage." The surrogate reopened the writing desk, removed a television set, and switched it on. The sound boomed, and he turned it down to the mumbling edge of inaudibility. He flipped through the channels, piling image upon image, dissatisfied with them all.

The Leviathan broke free of the clouds. Sunlight flooded the lounge, and the bureaucrat blinked, dazzled. The airship's shadow on the bright land below was wrapped in a diffuse rainbow. The ship lifted joyously, searching for the top of the sky.

"Are you looking for something on that thing, or just fidgeting with it because you know it's annoying?"

Korda looked hurt. He straightened, turning his back on the set. "I thought I might find one of Gregorian's commercials. It would give you some idea what you're up against. Never mind. I really do have to be getting back to work. Be a good lad, and see if you can't handle this thing in an exemplary fashion, hmm? I'm relying on you."

They shook hands, and Korda's face vanished from the surrogate. On automatic, the device returned itself to storage.

"Philippe!" the bureaucrat said. "Those bastards!" He felt sickly aware that he was losing ground rapidly. He had to wrap this thing up, and get back to the Puzzle Palace as quickly as possible. Philippe was the acquisitive type. He leaned forward and snapped off the television.

When the screen went dead, everything was subtly changed, as if a cloud had passed from the sun, or a window opened into a stuffy room.

He sat for a time, thinking. The lounge was all air and light, with sprays of orchids arranged in sconces between the windows and rainbirds singing in the wicker cages hung between the pots of vines. It was appointed for the tourist trade, but, ironically, planetary authority had closed down the resorts in the Tidewater to discourage those selfsame tourists, experience having shown offworlders to be less tractable to evacuation officers than were natives. Yet for all their obvious luxury, the fixtures had been designed with economy of weight foremost and built of the lightest materials available, cost be damned.