Chocolaterie (Day 1129)
«Tarcuna, what are the manners that go with a party at someone’s apartment?»
«The ordinary sort of party, or the sort I might have gotten hired for?»
It is hard to glare at someone over The Horizonal Quill. «Tarcuna, be helpful. This is a small social party for RARU recruiting. Do you really think there will be whores there? Much less that I’d be treated as one?»
« I hope you’re not treated as one, you’d be utterly incompetent at it and you wouldn’t get paid. As for the other guests, I don’t know. You introduced yourself as a jobless and not very rich young woman without obvious family or other means of support. You could be looking for a position, as far as they know. »
«Do you think that’s what they’re after?»
«No. But if you were one of my college friends going into that sort of situation, I’d definitely have you think about it. I got wormed doing something not too much different.»
«Tarcuna, you are my most annoying minion. Are there any particular manners that I should pay attention to?»
«I’m also your least annoying minion. Bring some cookies or something like that, but not the best cookies because it’s not polite to bring better than the hostess. Start off by admiring the apartment and its furnishings. I’ve never actually been to a seditious chocolaterie, but I suspect you should let the hostess bring up treasonous matters first.»
So I took my exceedingly dangerous cat to the convenience store across the street. It’s a quarter of the ground floor of 1778 Morganthaler Street West. It is also a dense little maze of packages of foodstuffs, housewares, tools, magazines, beers, contraceptives, spare clothing, and all the sorts of things that sophisticated yet disorganized and poor hovens might want to buy at any hour of the night. I bought a box of Sendile’s Pentagonal Biscuits, chocolate flavor, which Tarcuna said wouldn’t be any sort of a culinary challenge, but at least would be edible. Nrararn persuaded me that he would not wear a leash in any case.
Chocolate and Conspiracy
Versley’s apartment is older than mine. The building is in rather worse shape; concrete was flaking off the front of it, and the staircase was so structurally unsound that I had to remind myself I weighed far less than a ton in this shape or I wouldn’t have dared step on it. Her front door is thin metal over thin wood, painted grey, and rather scratched and battered.
Inside the apartment, though, is a whole universe of pretty. The walls were covered with thin quilts for tapestries, cloth prints of flowers cut into squares and triangles and sewn together. Every window had plants in front of it in big ceramic window boxes: some blooming, some resting, and some, in the kitchen, being culinary herbs, I think. That was all easy to admire, so I did. The furniture was old and a bit threadbare but well-padded. The tablecloth was white edged with a curl of blue, but I couldn’t see much of it, because the table was covered with a mighty array of tarts, cookies, silver pots of burbling water kept boiling over alcohol flames, ceramic pots of hot chocolate not being boiled, cups, saucers, cheeses, and, a few minutes later, one dismal looking box of Sendile’s Pentagonal Biscuits hiding in the corner and hoping to be overlooked.
“Ah, you brought your cat. What’s her name?” said Versley.
“You can call him Narr, but I don’t think he’ll answer to that,” I said, which was the best I could do and not give up on always telling the truth.
Versley presented a hand to Nrararn to sniff, which he did, and then petted his head. “Blique is somewhere around, probably hiding under a bed. She doesn’t answer to her name either. Blique! Come here this instant and meet a new friend!” She poured a bit of chocolate in two saucers and set them on the floor. “Oh! Where are my manners, tending to the cats before I tend to the people? Joffee, this is Dulac, and the gentleman on the couch is Quarri.” So I was polite and rather shy at Dulac (tall, blueish, striped, well-dressed, very nervous) and Quarri (tall, purple and somewhat unfortunately spotted, working-class clothing like mine, and supremely confident in himself.)
“Well, first of all, what is your interest in RARU?” asked Versley, as she grated nutmeg over her own saucer of chocolate, and poured it elegantly back into the cup.
“I was in the army. 518th Maintenance Crew. Right there at Quenjo Wastes, in Depot 18. Saw my friends and commanding officers burnt up. Saw planes get blasted. Got chased around by a skeleton ‘til my buddy crushed it with a D-wrench. Unit got disbanded a couple months later. Came back home. Things are pretty hopeless,” Quarri said. He was indifferently truthful. “I was in Methu in the army. Methu’s not a going concern now. So I wanted to see what RARU is up to.”
“I was in Dorday when Spotty was,” I said. “I saw her explode planes and kill people. I also saw the five dragons strolling around the city pretending they belonged there, keeping all the tourists away.”
Dulac shrugged. “I have never seen a dragon in person. They have not come to Tublier, or anywhere close, after all. But my cousin Elrique in Churry City was taken away into a punishment camp last month. He wrote me a long letter. He is innocent. He is not even accused of any sort of crime. He does not even know what he did. He protested at Churry City, as did thousands of others; he fled when Leredh and the Black Curse came to kill. He supposes that he was taken as an example. They say he is possessed by a horrible monster, but he is my cousin. I would know if he was possessed.” Fairly truthful, until the last sentence.
“Had he changed his behavior or habits a lot lately?” I asked.
“Certainly. In the punishment camp, he can no longer see his wife or daughter, for one thing,” said Dulac dully.
Versley sipped her chocolate. “People get taken to the punishment camps for any reason, or no reason at all. I do not know if you have heard this, Joffee. Every two or three days, Ythac’s gendarmes will issue a list of sixty names, or thirty. Those people will be hunted down and taken to the camps. There is no real rhyme or reason for it. Often they are notable protestors. Just as often, they are nobody in particular. RARU has helped save fifty or sixty from the camps and spirit them out of the country, but that is all. Hundreds have gone in. Some have died, but none has come out.”
I nodded quietly. “I think they are quarentined for cyoziworms. I have seen the exhibits Prof. Wulpmegarn produced, showing a normal person and an infested one. I saw the movies of Dr. Grauzeng’s surgery, with the live worm struggling in Bthera’s breast, and dying.”
«You might want to stop arguing about now,» Nrararn scribbled to me. «Everyone is glaring at you.»