ONE Paperwork. Pow. Duty.
When I got to the Commanding General’s Office at seven thirty-five, my desk was already piled high with papers. Either Buck had been working late or Lieutenant Sabre had been in early. Both, probably. I made coffee, and, as the other clerks trickled in, began to sort. At eight thirty, Poppy rushed in, hung Pow’s cradleboard on the coat rack, and rushed out, saying he’d be back by lunchtime. I’d just finished stamping the incoming mail and begun to log it in the Correspondence Received Register when Pow woke up and began to howl. Even Private Hargrave’s bunny imitation, normally a baby side-splitter, failed to distract him; you can’t tell a five-month-old baby to wait for his chow. So I hefted the cradleboard over my shoulder and went in search of Buck.
I found her down at the cavalry stables, worrying over Sadie, who still hadn’t foaled. While Buck sat on a hay bale and fed Pow, continuing her conversation with Dr. Mars, I ran over to the post bakery and got two dozen donuts and three cups of coffee. I returned to the stables and found that Buck and Pow had already gone.
So back to the office I went, balancing the coffee and donuts carefully so I wouldn’t get anything messy on my uniform. The rain, which had been pouring down for the past week, was finally letting up a bit, but everything was soggy. The parade ground was too wet for drills and the roads were ankle-deep in mud. At Building 56, a sign had been hung by the main door reminding everyone to scrape their boots before coming inside, but the front porch and hallway were streaked with mud. A sorry-looking private with a wet mop was trying to keep the mess down, without much success.
Buck took a coffee and donut and put a finger to her lips: Pow was asleep again, so I was dismissed back to my correspondence. I finished logging and had begun on my endorsements when Buck realized she was late for a meeting with the Warlord and had left the Command Baton at the O Club.
I rushed to the Club, found the Baton in one of the lavs, and raced back to the CGO. There I discovered that Sergeant Carheña had gone to the quartermaster storehouse to get more paper and pen nibs, leaving Private Hargrave in charge, and Private Hargrave, who is what’s commonly known in the Army as a coffee cooler, had disappeared into the sinks with the Califa Police Gazette
. Flynn and Pow were alone in the office—Buck had left without the Baton—and while Pow was still sleeping peacefully in his pen, Flynn had eaten an entire box of donuts, fourteen in all.
So, back to Dr. Mars, with a puking dog slung over one shoulder and a sleeping baby slung over the other. Dr. Mars dosed Flynn with calomel and pronounced he’d live. Back again to the CGO, Flynn sluggish but no longer foaming, Pow awake and chirping happily. I stuffed Pow into his pen with a toy to chew on, and had no sooner sat down at my desk when Lieutenant Sabre popped out of his office and asked why I was taking so long with the mail.
I bit back a snappy reply. They are not big on snappy replies in the Army. While Lieutenant Sabre lectured me on time management, I glanced at the wall clock. Surely it was almost lunchtime.
It was only nine-thirty.
With the Infanta Sylvanna’s arrival only three weeks away, the CGO was frenzied. The Infanta was traveling from the Huitzil Empire via a small flotilla of ships, which had to be protected from pirates, sea monsters, icebergs, typhoons, kelp forests, and goddess knows what else. Once she arrived in the City, she had to be protected from terrorists, overzealous admirers, assassins, and goddess knows who else. All this protection took a lot of organizing, which took a lot of paperwork, which took a lot of staff officers, which is why I’d been detached from the Barracks and sent to be Buck’s slave.
From the fire into the flood, as Nini Mo says.
The duties of an ADC are tedious enough to make you weep. It’s all meetings and reviews and inspections and briefings and endless errands. Buck may be my mother (sort of), but she treats me like any other member of her staff, for the most part, which means she works me like a servitor.
The one exception to the most part is Pow, or, to give him his full name, Powhatan Reverdy Florian Poligniac Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca, a name that weighs more than he does (currently, fifteen pounds five ounces). If I had been an ordinary aide, Buck would never dare stick me with baby-watching. After all, Lieutenant Sabre isn’t expected to change Pow’s diapie or burp him or give him tummy time. When I pointed this out to Buck once, she gave me a sorrowful look and said that Pow was my
brother, not Lieutenant Sabre’s, and that Lieutenant Sabre actually had, on occasion, changed Pow’s diapie and burped him without complaint, and how sad it was that I balked at helping her when she asked so little of me, really (ayah, right).
Buck is a genius when it comes to putting the screw in. That’s what makes her a great general; people are compelled to follow her orders not just because she’ll court-martial them if they don’t, but because they will feel so terrible if they disobey her. I felt like the world’s worst person for complaining even while I knew that she was gaming me, because Pow is only my half-brother. But Buck doesn’t know I know that. She doesn’t know I have discovered she’s been lying to me all my life.
Lieutenant Sabre finished his lecture and returned to his office, taking the mail with him, and I went back to work. The morning crept by like mud until just before lunch, when Buck, long since returned from her meeting, came out of her office with Pow in his cradleboard slung over her shoulder and went off to an inspection, Lieutenant Sabre in tow.
As soon as they were out the door, everyone but me gave up any pretense of work and started to chatter about costumes and pirates and candy. The enlisteds didn’t dare shirk off around Lieutenant Sabre—as the old Army saying goes, he’s so straight, he pisses at attention—but I was only a second lieutenant (provisional), so they weren’t particularly worried about me. All they cared about was that tonight was Pirates’ Parade, the holiday that commemorates the time long ago when pirates tried to plunder the City but were kicked back by resourceful citizens. Once a year, kids celebrate this event by dressing up as pirates and going door-to-door, demanding candy tribute. Later, pirate effigies are burned in the old City Center zocolo. Since no one remembers the exact day the pirates came, the holiday now falls on the night of the year when the Current is at its highest. Hence, it’s also magickal amateur night, which I intended to take full advantage of.
I ignored the chattering and continued to work. I couldn’t leave until all my copying was done, and I intended to leave exactly on time, if not a minute or two early. Normally I hate copying, but today I welcomed it. The concentration kept me from feeling jittery about what I had planned for later that night.
"Hey, Lieutenant," Private Hargrave said.
"I’m working." I did not look up from my ledger.
"Are you going to see Califa’s Lip Rouge tonight? They got a new lead singer, you know."
A sharp, sour feeling jabbed me in the liver. Califa’s Lip Rouge did indeed have a new lead singer, and just the thought of him made me feel a weird combination of jealous and mean.
"No, I’m not going," I answered.
"I thought Udo Landaðon was your friend," Sergeant Carheñ...