58.1 \ 240

Draig waited alone in this room that was passable by very relaxed motel-going standards. He had gotten two extra chairs, one for each incoming visitor. The afternoon light cast a modest glow around the edges of the closed exterior curtain. He felt restive, antsy beneath calmly-held posture. With all that had happened, the investigator had not yet had occasion to report in person, now uncharacteristically with someone who he termed his associate. It could be something, or something else. A lot was happening at this moment in time, and it was almost a getaway to do this shadowy errand himself. Still, this was his sole responsibility.

This motel looked halfway to a halfway house, with not very many guests judging by the vehicles. As clandestine as anyplace. Dalib’s arched eyebrow was eloquent as he glanced over at his partner. Derringer evinced a steely smirk before tucking it back under a serious clarity. Even when he thought his job was done, he made a practice of no assumptions – except that the security here was probably better than it appeared.

The pair approached the place casually, in their office workday attire. Derringer led them to the correctly numbered room with a closed curtain. He examined the edge of the doorway before he did the traditional thing and knocked. The door opened inward with the obscured opener behind it. They went ahead and walked in, eyes adjusting to the dimmer indoor lighting.

Shutting the door softly, General Claymore glanced between the two men. All stood looking at each other for a quiet moment.

Three chairs in the room. With a wordless outstretched hand, the General offered them the separated pair. Derringer took a few relaxed steps over to them, where he paused standing. He offered Draig the third chair with the same gesture. Might need it, huh? The still-unintroduced bowler hat partner stared mildly, continuously at the General. Poised by their chairs, all three of them nodded to each other before sitting.

57.3 \ 239

They found a bench at the edge of a small neighborhood park, where they wouldn’t look suspicious. Derringer used his cheap disposable communicator, the same one that had been riding in his pocket while on a planet still uncharted. There was a mysterious and short conversation, where he specified that he had a new investigative partner who was intrinsic to his operation, and he obtained a meeting point.

“Well, we’re not going in there,” said Derringer, indicating the towering eight-sided skystabber looming over the scenery, “so it’s good that we didn’t try. The location’s nearby, though. Just a tram hop and skip away. In a dramatically-contrasting neighborhood, if you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean, and I’m guessing which one. I have actually visited every neighborhood in this city.” Chip Soleil’s voice was mild and even.

“Good, so you’re not afraid to go.”

“No.”

57.2 \ 239

“Does it have to do with the giant obelisk that’s remained within a ten-block radius of our route for the past hour?”

“I’m looking for a way to stay disguised and gain the presence of the highest-ranked military officer under the monarch. For reasons befitting his station, I assure you. I know it may not serve you to enter into the realm of authority.”

Derringer dropped his voice a few decibels. “You’re speaking of General Alisandre.” He lifted Chip’s fingertips as though he were the courtly lady he actually was. “If you will allow me.” With this gentle guidance, he proceeded them past their talking spot, and they walked quietly until the next block. “I would be most pleased to assist you in gaining that audience.” Partial suspicions confirmed, Chip Soleil made a small smile of acquiescence.

57.1 \ 239

“I’ve been holding it as a good idea not to know too much,” said the private investigator to his disguised royal charge, “but where are you taking us?”

A man of similar age and reasonably comfortable stature looked over at Derringer from between a bowler hat and mustache. He had an appropriate-sounding voice, but it was really Princess Soleil, Magus Ascendant, under her chosen illusion as a respected and regular mid-clearance official in an office suit. “You may not like it,” she warned him.

They were on a serpentine walk from block to block between capital districts, with Soleil leading. She had a purpose – getting the lay and timing of the area before staging some form of infiltration, while collating all her relevant knowledge into the correct moment of approach. In other words, she was figuring it out as she went along, but as if she knew what she was doing. Derringer understood this, he knows about this. He was beginning to get a sense of where they were and might be going, along with the satisfying feeling that what he wanted was similar to what everyone wanted.

Soleil-as-Dalib-or-call-him-Chip made a conversational stop outside a residential front garden gate. “Okay. I’m nervous. I want to tell you what I’m trying to accomplish, because now I believe you should be informed.”