The car from the Ministry of Education came by about 1000 to pick them up. Greeting them was the Minister of Education, Patricia Langley-Cox, who in the usual style greeted George and Darlene and attempted to ignore Terry.
“This is Terry Marlowe, Drahla’s Royal Counsellor, who is travelling with us,” Darlene said, cutting into the Minister’s remarks.
“I know who she is,” Langley-Cox said, curtly.
“We are cousins,” Terry noted. “Her mother and mine are sisters.”
“I was not aware until just now that you were with His and Her Highness,” Langley-Cox said.
“That seems to be the way it is with this bureaucracy,” George noted. “Everyone seems to play their cards real close to the chest.” The Minister transferred her glare from Terry to George, but had no comeback.
They got in the car and started back into town. They went down Gerland Street but, instead of turning back onto Central Avenue, they went on westward to the other side of town. This brought them through a poorer section of Verecunda; the neighbourhood looked like a war zone, another eye-opener for everyone. Langley-Cox attempted to deflect their attention from the vista that passed by with a long speech about the role of the Ministry of Education, how the Verecundan system of education attempted to be inclusive of everyone and to encourage cooperation amongst the students rather than competition, and how the system also encouraged students to be tolerant of others that are different. As she went on with this, the car reached the West Bay Drive and turned right and proceeded northward along the bay. The trio turned their attention away from the speech—which continued unabated—and took a look at the bay that stretched out to their left. Across the bay—but difficult to see because of the distance—was Collina. There were very few boats out on the water, even though it was a nice day for boating and being out in general.
A little less than a kilometre from the city limit, they turned back right and into town. This put them into the northwest part of the city, which was a largely working class area of town, traditionally in the shadow of the airport. A few blocks down the road a school came up; the main entrance was on the corner. As they pulled up, Langley-Cox announced, “This is the Artemis Grove Elementary School. It is a Beacon School; it is a model where we feature new educational techniques. These are an integral part of our economic development programs; we can implement these in your country.”
When the car stopped, they got out. While walking up to the school, Terry whispered to Darlene, “This used to be the Dillman-Arnold district, like your Chancellor’s family.” They were greeted by the principal, a woman who exuded an air of authority as she greeted the trio. They were greeted by some of the students, who presented flower bouquets to all of the guests.
The principal conducted a tour of the school. The school had been there for a long time, but contrary to just about everything else in Verecunda, it showed signs of recent remodelling. Unfortunately they were unable to see the teachers in action, as the entire student body was being mobilised for a program to honour the guests. One thing that struck Terry was the fact that all of the students were in uniforms; in Terry’s day, the schools that had uniforms had been forced to get rid of them because they were “repressive.”
After the tour the three, along with Langley-Cox, were taken to the cafeteria, which doubled as the auditorium. This was located next to the main entrance. It had a large series of windows that afforded a vista of the street they had come in on plus the street it intersected. As they entered the cafeteria, the students all clapped in unison; George noted that it was the best reception they had gotten since they arrived. They were escorted to the front and seated just in front of the stage. With that both Langley-Cox and the principal got up on stage to make speeches of greeting and to go over the program of the school. After that the student choir got up and sang some songs, accompanied by an old upright piano with reasonable tuning.
As they finished singing “Imagine,” they heard the noise of a screaming crowd coming through the window. Everyone turned to see what was causing the commotion. What they saw was a group of about one hundred protesters coming up from the south, carrying placards and chanting anti-Drahlan and anti-Serelian slogans. When the principal turned to see the demonstration, her face was transformed into a look of horror. She turned back to the crowd, pointed left and said, “Evacuate—everyone, out the back!”
The teachers organised each of their classes, fire drill style, and marched them out of the backside of the cafeteria and the school. The principal assigned each member of the party to a different teacher and a different group of children. The situation was so chaotic and her authority so succinct that both royalty and ministers followed her orders without question. The urgency of the moment was impressed on child and adult alike by the protesters. As they approached the school itself, they started to hurl items like rocks, beer and wine bottles, rotten fruits and vegetables, vials of blood and other objects against the cafeteria window. Some of them added momentum by using slingshots. The cafeteria was turning from a nice assembly and eating area to a pile of broken glass and garbage. Their bullhorns continued to blare out their protests and they blew their whistles as they waved their signs and shook their fists.
The buses were waiting outside; children and adults alike loaded into them swiftly and in order. They managed to get almost all of the school into the buses before the protesters came around to the backside of the school; everyone was ordered to get on the floor and stay there. There were barely enough buses to hold the entire school, so they were pretty crowded.
The protesters continued their screaming and throwing as they began to surround the buses; however, they had more sense than to really attack buses full of children, especially with the cameras running. So they contented themselves with chanting and banging their hands, signs and anything else they had against the sides of the buses, throwing more objects through the bus windows and breaking more glass. Their slow advance had frustrated their hopes of taking a prisoner or two amongst the guests, but it made the work of the Verecundan City Police more difficult; they were able to arrest a few stragglers in the rear and on the periphery, but the protesters were able to fight them off for a little while around the buses.
The children were totally terrified by this eruption of rage; many of them were crying, some were too scared to speak. The women especially were trying to comfort them and settle them down. On her bus Terry was hugging an especially distraught girl, trying to settle her down. One of the boys nearby noticed the small crucifix Terry always wore around her neck and asked, “What’s that?”
“That’s a cross,” Terry answered, trying not to be too technical.
“A cross? Only mean people wear those!” the boy exclaimed.
“She’s not mean!” the little girl Terry was holding on to shot back. She pointed to the crowd outside and said, “They’re mean!” It seemed like an eternity to those trapped in the buses, but after ten minutes the Inland Police, in their black gendarme type uniforms, billy clubs and loud whistles, showed up, and the crowd dispersed very rapidly. The buses, already lined up, pulled out in convoy and, upon the orders of the principal and backed up by the Minister of Education, went to the Government Plaza, complete with Inland Police escort.
They took some side streets eastward until they reached Central Avenue. By then word had gotten out of what went on at the school and people stopped what they were doing to view the battered convoy. The buses looked like they had all been in a pile-up; a couple of them were having difficulty running. The passengers were able to get off of the floor and sit up if there wasn’t too much trash in the seats. They waved at the crowds as they went past part of the university and turned right into the Government Plaza.
Verecunda had its start around the port area, but had long ago left this to build the centre of government further uptown, across Central Avenue from the university. The Government Plaza was a long open mall surrounded by almost Stalinesque buildings, which included the Presidential Palace, Congress, Supreme Court and most of the ministries. The buses went through the front gates of the plaza and pulled up in front of the Ministry of Education. The passengers, adults and children alike, got out of the buses, glad to be alive.
Langley-Cox wasn’t speaking with anyone at this point. The teachers were taking roll to make sure they had all of the children accounted for. The trio gathered together to try to sort out what happened, but Darlene stopped to speak with the principal.
“Thank you so much for getting us out of there—you really did a great job,” Darlene said.
“There were rumours that this might happen—I couldn’t take any chances,” the principal replied, and walked away to tend to her other duties. In the meanwhile they saw Seamus Gallen almost running across the plaza from the Foreign Ministry with his assistant.
“What happened to you?” he asked, stunned at the sight before him. George gave a quick synopsis of the morning’s excitement. “We’ll have to rearrange our schedules a bit, but please come to the Presidential Palace.”
As they walked across the plaza, Darlene asked George and Terry, “Don’t these people ever apologise for anything?”
“Evidently, being Verecundan means never having to say you’re sorry,” George quipped. They reached the Palace and went up the stairs and into the main atrium, where they were seated while the Verecundans figured out what to do next. The three figured this wouldn’t take too long, but after about forty-five minutes of cooling their heels in the main atrium, they realised that decision-making was harder for the Verecundans than they ever dreamed. So they began to look about the reception hall itself.
Verecunda’s Presidential Palace was not the closed residence of its monarch but more the combination of business office and apartment for its President. The atrium—which did entertain tours—was usually graced with an exhibit, and this time was no exception. The exhibit was in connection with the recently completed human rights conference in Verecunda, which had been sponsored both by the government and the Committee for Personal Liberty. They viewed photos and text of the conference itself, but also a part of the exhibit itself dealt with “human rights violations” and “atrocities” on the rest of the Island, and that of course included Serelia and Drahla. The three found it difficult to keep their composure going through all of this, but they did a good enough job that it took the guards in the hall thirty minutes to figure out who the real victims of the propaganda were, at which point they diverted the guests to some refreshments.
It was not until about 1330 that they were informed that President Connolly was ready to see them in a conference room, which was accessed from the atrium down a hallway. They entered; Connolly went around the table to shake hands and greet the guests, and even greeted Terry, which represented a change in policy. Connolly had about four of her advisers and secretaries in the office with her, and they stayed for the meeting after the doors were closed.
“I am supposed to say ‘Welcome to Verecunda’ at this point, but sadly it hasn’t been very welcoming up to now,” Connolly observed.
“It has been a unique experience for all of us, hasn’t it?” asked George, looking around.
“I know that you, Ms. Marlowe, are somewhat familiar with our country, and realise that things have changed here,” Connolly said to Terry, grasping for something to change the subject.
“Plus de change, plus la même chose,” Terry observed dryly.
“I think that ‘somewhat familiar’ is an understatement,” Darlene noted. “My own family is one of honour in our country—one which your government is well familiar with—and I am amazed at how much of this country was built by her ancestors and relatives and how many of her kin are still in high positions, including Ms. Langley-Cox and of course her brother, who is a frequent visitor to our court. I hadn’t really thought this through when I met her, and I think that you should accord her more honour than you have, instead of trying to ignore her the way your subordinates have been doing since our arrival.” The directness of this remark took even George by surprise.
“You must remember, Your Highness,” Connolly replied, “that Verecunda is built on equality and fairness, not on privilege and wealth, as is the case in many other lands.”
“I think we need to focus on our real mission here,” Terry said, “which is for us to ascertain the real nature of the overtures that your government had made to virtually all of the nations on the Island—including Serelia—regarding economic and other forms of cooperation, and to enable us to evaluate the merits of these proposals as they impact the futures of our countries and the future of the Island itself.”
“Our dealings with other nations are not a suitable subject of discussion here,” Connolly replied. “In the case of Drahla, to be frank we are not prepared to extend diplomatic recognition to whatever government has set itself up there because we do not believe that the means employed in that part of the Island are legitimate in the modern world.”
“We granted them their independence,” George flatly noted. “It is official now. We informed your officials in both Serelia and Alemara of this. Now I’m informing you personally. I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do.”
“Every government on the Island, except for you and Claudia, has expressed intent to extend to us formal diplomatic recognition when we have the infrastructure in place to conduct diplomacy in a fitting manner. That has mainly been an economic problem, one that is improving continuously,” Terry said.
“The decisions that other nations make are not ours,” Connolly noted tartly. “It has always been our objective to follow those priorities which we feel that nations should have rather than the ones that many do.”
“Then perhaps you would care to set forth what you would like to see this Island become,” Terry came back. The room fell silent at this challenge. Connolly looked around at her advisors with an almost stunned look. They nodded their heads at the question, yet Connolly still said nothing. Finally her foreign affairs advisor spoke.
“The Island has never known real political unity since its settlement by Europeans,” he began. “The closest thing we had to it—Beran—was infelicitous, to say the least, and mercifully collapsed over seventy years ago, leaving most of the Island divided into nations that are, in our opinion, unsuitable for the modern world. The emergence of a régime in Drahla has only made matters worse, which is one reason why we will not recognise it. The result of this disunity is the constant warfare and impoverishment of the masses that we see everywhere.
“Our objective—our desire, really—as just one nation on this Island is to promote peace and mutual understanding amongst all the peoples on the Island, and also to foster a sustainable environment for those who cannot speak for themselves.”
“And how do you intend to further your objectives?” George asked.
“I believe that our Special Envoy for Island Relations, Mr. Richard Marlowe, has discussed this with King Adam,” the advisor said. George was caught off balance by this.
“In other words, we should ask my brother what you are trying to do,” Terry said.
“I think that your years away from Verecunda have made you too focused on people and not enough on issues,” Connolly observed.
“The way things have gone, everything is personal,” Terry said. “As one of your icons said, ‘People and people alone are the motive force for human history.’”
“I think we will find this type of attack unproductive,” the foreign affairs advisor said. The conversation went on in this way for some time but George tired of the diatribe, and so the meeting ended about 1430. Another one of Connolly’s advisors invited them to a cultural event in the evening. Terry begged off of it, which brought relief to the advisor. They were taken in a car back to the hotel, the car discharged them and they stood together at the curb for a bit before going in.
“I’ve never been so insulted in my life,” Darlene started. “I tried to pay them a compliment and they turned on me.”
“They definitely have their ideas about things,” George observed.
“I’m sorry I’m such an issue here,” Terry told the other two.
“The real problem,” George said, “is that we still really don’t know what they’re up to—I wish my father weren’t so cagey. I’ll arrange to meet with our embassy staff in the morning—maybe they know something that will help us.” With that they went into the hotel to get some food and rest.
Terry was mildly surprised when Cat came up on foot to the front door of the hotel about 1830. “I live in a condo about four blocks from here,” she explained.
“Where are we going?” Terry asked.
“There’s a nice little place about three blocks west of here—the tourists don’t go there and they’re usually not too busy during the week.” They walked to this small restaurant, which was in fact in the ground floor of an office building. The streets were glistening from the rain shower that took place in the late afternoon; the puddles reflected the otherwise dreary look of the street in a nice way. “Most of the people in this building work for the Ministry of Agriculture,” Cat said, “and they disappear after five.”
Although their relationship went back a long way, Terry and Cat were a study in contrasts. About the only things they had in common were that they were both slender and dressed in black. Terry, a full 182 centimetres tall, took long strides in her flat sandals while Cat, about twenty centimetres shorter, worked to keep up in her stiletto heels. With her dark hair and eyes, Terry’s sparse make-up was hardly noticeable, while Cat’s worked to accent her eyes—one grey and one green—and complexion that needed coaxing to get a decent tan. That coaxing, along with her lifestyle, left her with more wrinkles than her friend. Finally the black dresses didn’t have much in common either: Terry’s was to her ankles with matching long sleeves, while Cat’s cocktail dress underscored her disciplined diet.
They arrived at the restaurant and were seated at a table not too far from the bar. Cat lit up a cigarette—it had been a long time since Terry had been around people that smoked in close quarters, and Cat could see her nose twitch and hear her cough.
“Cigarette too much for you? I’m trying to kick the habit, but it’s hard. This is one of the few places that will still let you smoke anywhere.”
“I skipped cigarettes,” Terry said, “and went straight to marijuana and then hard drugs.”
“You had a hard time of it here, didn’t you? I remember that,” Cat said.
“You helped set me up as a call girl,” Terry reminded her. “That’s how I financed my habits.”
“So I did,” Cat remembered. “So tell me about what you’ve been doing all these years.” While Cat ordered hard drinks and watched Terry sip on soft ones, Terry told her. She tried to avoid subjects that were controversial in Verecunda, but this was difficult given the life she had lived. Cat was especially moved about the stories of Max and David. Cat then told Terry about her own career, how she started out with a private bank and then worked for the Central Bank when all of the private banks were nationalised.
“You ever marry?” Terry asked.
“Twice,” Cat said. “The first was to Billy Andrews—you remember him, don’t you?”
“All too well.”
“That lasted about two years, and then he found himself someone else and now lives on the mainland. The second was to a guy who worked in the Foreign ministry—I only discovered after we married that he too had someone else all along, in his case in Vidamera. After the divorce he got posted to Alemara as ambassador, but he was assassinated about six months later.”
“I remember that now—it was just before our war started,” Terry noted. “His girlfriend was the daughter of a count, and they didn’t like it when they found out she was a Verecundan’s mistress, so they kidnapped him, took him to Vidamera, tortured him to death, and then deposited his body on the doorstep of your embassy. Vidameran nobles play for keeps.”
“Serves him right, if you ask me,” Cat said. “They never could get anywhere in bringing anyone to trial, but I didn’t care.”
“No—I think one of those abortions got me, but they won’t admit it, and you can’t do much about that around here.”
“So tell me—what does a financial analyst do for the Central Bank?” asked Terry.
“We see if borrowers of large loans can pay them back. Most of the borrowers we’re looking at are government agencies—there’s not a lot of large private work around here any more—and the occasional foreign country.”
“Well, like, we’ve done a couple of agricultural loans with the Vidamerans—along the border—and I think we just finalised the one we were working on for the Claudians.”
“Your brother was working on that—they concluded that yesterday. He and the negotiating team—which includes my boss—are supposed to be back in town tomorrow. Maybe you’ll get to see him.”
“Maybe. But what are the Claudians planning to do with borrowed money?”
“It’s not as much as what they’re planning to do with it as what we’re planning to do for them with it.”
“I don’t get it.”
“When President Connolly took office, she actually pardoned and fished Steven Draper out of jail—you remember him when he was what we called then Secretary of the Treasury—to be Minister of Finance. She made a lot of people mad at her for doing that, but your brother and a lot of other important people stuck with her, so it was done. He came up with the idea of these broad-based economic development loans, and your brother has been trying to sell the ideas to some of the other nations on the Island. The Claudians were the first to actually agree to one.”
“So how does it work?”
“Some of the money goes to infrastructure development—roads, government buildings and the like. Our Ministry of Education takes over any existing schools and builds an educational system, since no one else on the Island has anything approaching a comprehensive public school system. Our Ministry of the Environment comes in to make sure that a system of environmental laws and regulations is set up. We agree to set up a banking system, since that’s something else most of the rest of the Island lacks. Other ministries—such as Culture, Internal Affairs and Agriculture—also come in. Finally, if there are any national social institutions, such as a state church or other religion, we require that they agree to the Six Statements, although in the Claudians’ case this is phased in over a five year period.”
“Can the Claudians really afford it? They are the poorest nation on the Island, they’re even worse off than we are.”
“If they stick with the program, they can,” Cat confidently replied. Besides, since the royal family owns almost all of the land, the loan is well collateralised. The Serelians would have even been better candidates for this kind of program, but your brother’s charms weren’t enough for the Prince’s father.”
“Didn’t you almost make a loan to them for a sewage system for the town of Serelia?”
Cat rolled her eyes. “That, Terry, was a fiasco. Has Prince George told you about it?”
“A few things.”
“The Ministry of the Environment went up and did a study and came up with a complete treatment system, which they needed since they had none. We analysed the system and, based on the economic statistics of the country, concluded that their economy would never support the system the Environment people wanted to put in. This problem was compounded by the Serelians’ refusal to properly collateralise the loan. By that time the Environment people were turning this into a cause célèbre; they even had demonstrations in front of their embassy over it. In the meanwhile the Serelians had gotten an alternative proposal from an Alemaran concern that wasn’t as good as ours, but it was an improvement. The Serelians were nice enough to allow us to modify our proposal, but the Environment people wouldn’t budge. So we called a meeting here to try to sort things out.
“I was there, with my boss and the President of the Central Bank. So were people from the Ministry of Finance, as of course were the Environment people. Your brother was trying to help work out a compromise. The Environment people wouldn’t budge; they accused us of being a bunch of mercenary hacks. This lead to a shouting match—it was awful, people were crying, not even your brother couldn’t get a word in half the time. So nothing was accomplished. The Environment people did convince your brother to go to Serelia with them and try to talk them out of the Alemaran proposal, which he succeeded in doing. Your brother is still trying to work out a compromise on this, but now the Environment people have nearly convinced the Attorney General to issue warrants for the arrests of nearly the entire Serelian government.”
“Why? How?” Terry asked.
“Under the law, if the Ministry of the Environment issues a remedy and the person or organisation involved does not act on it, they are subject to severe civil and criminal penalties. They’ve never tried to enforce this outside of the country but they’re wanting to now.”
The subject drifted off to other things, mostly more personal.
Cat looked at Terry and said, “You haven’t changed a bit. How do you do it? Yoga? Meditation? Chanting? Herbs?”
“Well, I do take herbs,” Terry admitted.
“Wait a minute—I heard that there’s a really great herbalist that lives in Drahla. Is that true?”
“It is—she lives in Barlin, and goes to church with me.”
“Church? Terry, what kind of church do you go to?” Terry realised that her secret was out now, so she started to talk about her life as a minister, which led to a description of life in a Pentecostal church, including speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit as she was with her send off, the word of knowledge, healing and other miracles, all of this in a Christian church.
“They don’t have churches like that around here,” Cathy observed.
“They don’t have much of any kind of churches around here,” Terry added.
“They say they’re intolerant, and a danger to society.” The conversation drifted off again to other subjects.
“Cat, it’s been twenty years since I’ve been here,” Terry said. “This place has really gone downhill—it’s so run down.”
Cat had a pained look on her face. “Terry, this place isn’t what it used to be. I’ve watched the whole thing from the inside of a bank. We’ve moved the decimal point twice on our currency. At least ten percent of the population has emigrated since we grew up here—like you. Some moved to the mainland, many to Alemara. Most of those were the people who made this place work—business people, some professionals. A lot of the people we grew up with—including my brother Jack—are gone. Every three months the Inland Police comes to the bank and grills me on whether he’s back in town—they have a long list of ‘economic crimes’ that he’s supposed to have committed. It’s easier to be euthanized than to get your house painted. Our last President was murdered, and the new administration is trying to do something, but they can’t—or won’t—do anything about all of these regulations we have. You can’t even wash your car—let alone own one—without a permit, and that usually takes a year in both cases, there’s a separate permit for both.
“They’ve nationalised virtually every business of any size here—including the banks, obviously. The only plus to that is that government agencies can get away with a lot of things a private corporation can’t…Terry, this place is broke.”
“Then how can you lend money to others?”
“Only if they’re poorer than we are.”