After that the days settled into a routine and the details blurred together. Clancy remembered the general gist of events and some vignettes. They spent another day going to and from the landing site in the capital, then they started dropping down into different sites all over the main continent.
There was a swamp overpass, blocked at either end by vehicle accidents, on a main road from the capital to a regional centre where Mauth’s contingent of rescuers had established an evacuation field. While the marines were still considering how to get the trapped vehicle passengers off the bridges, across the water and quagmire, and past the presumedly hungry local predators, a small cargo lifter had suddenly risen above the vehicles and headed straight for the awaiting shuttles. As it got closer it became clear that it was being accompanied by a hover chair of the type that provided mobility for those who couldn’t walk. When the lifter and the chair were close enough to see the individuals on the lifter, Clancy realised that the hover chair operator was slumped against the chair’s side cushions in a way that suggested that they couldn’t hold themselves erect and that was the function of the side cushions. The lifter reached the dry ground and an artificially produced voice from somewhere in the hover chair said in loud, masculine tones speaking oddly accented Interstitial, “Right, everyone off so I can go back for the next lot. That barely reg-meeting piece of extruded slag doesn’t carry enough charge for us to waste it.” The voice seemed larger than the frail operator of the hover chair.
“Excuse me, sir.” The senior Marine present had stepped forward and was speaking respectfully to the chair operator in Interstitial. “Now that you’re here, would you like one of my people to take over the operation of the lifter? So that you don’t have to go back over there?”
There were a few moments of silence, and Clancy found the frail man’s face difficult to read, then the artificial voice said, “Thank you, but your person’s weight would burn through the charge in that thing faster than we’re losing it already. If you’ve got more lifters with you, send those over, by all means. The thing with this one is that not only does it need a charging bay almost all the time, but the controls are a load of crud. It’s only doing what it’s doing now because I’ve managed to slave it to my chair’s controls. The one thing it does have going for it is a good operating system, but it’s not easy to get to.”
The Marines did have more lifters, one per shuttle, and they deployed them to both the bridges. The man in the hover chair kept working with his lifter until the charge on it died, and by that time Te Kura was back for her second load of evacuees from that site, the bridges were empty, and the lifters were bringing in passengers whose vehicles were trapped in the gridlock on the capital’s side of the overpasses. Other people were walking or driving around the swamp to get to the transports, so the Marines were doing traffic control. The man in the hover chair was one of Te Kura’s second load of evacuees from that location and she heard him introduce himself to some of the others but couldn’t remember his name afterwards – there were so many, many names. What she did remember later was that he was asked about his accent and said, “With this thing,” presumably his voice synthesizer, “I can sound like anyone from anywhere, even places that never existed, and I like to play with it.” Somehow, in that sentence, he managed to use the intonations and timing of the artificially produced words to convey a wicked sense of humour.
There was their last trip to Te Rangakata Manuwao Tawara before she left, fully loaded with evacuees for Mauth and then the Confederation. Clancy had come out onto the flight deck to say good bye to the support crew who’d been looking after Te Kura and found Kechuchi-san striding across the hangar towards their ship. Clancy waved at him delightedly and then ducked back inside Te Kura to use the intercom to tell Pae’kura that his friend was there. By the time they were both outside again, Kechuchi-san was on their doorstep accompanied by two young Okinyan military personnel who were still, of course, older than Clancy. The young man, who Clancy was sure was a junior officer from her language studies and some exposure to Okinyan media exports, looked somewhat disgruntled but also as if he was trying to put a good face on it. The young woman, who was wearing overalls under a uniform jacket that was cut like Kechuchi-san’s longer upper body cross-wrapped garment, seemed almost bubbly and exuded happy excitement.
“Ho, Kōkēi-san,” the older Okinyan sounded pleasantly jovial. “I thought I should come and pay my respects when I saw your ship come in and unload. These two young people,” he gestured at his companions while he spoke in Interstitial, “were assigned to assist me when I pointed out to some old acquaintances that adhering to the paths of virtue meant that we should aid the population of Laochan while it would do some good. In return for the moral advice they made me an advisor to the expedition commander. This,” he indicated the young man, “is Lieutenant Sagura, of the Okinyan Third Military Fleet, and this,” he indicated the young woman, “is Engineering Technician Second Class Mitosi. Mitosi-kan sings lullabies to Meepisukaryaa-Maru’s engineering sections.”
Lieutenant Sagura braced and saluted as he was introduced, while Engineering Technician Mitosi bowed politely in the Okinyan fashion. Sagura glared daggers at her and Clancy assumed that the young woman had somehow breached their military protocol. However, Kechuchi-san seemed unperturbed, so when Pae’kura returned the courtesies by introducing her to his two new acquaintances she bowed back to the depth that the Okinyan language teacher at school had said was correct for a first acquaintance. For good measure she added the polite Okinyan murmur words for greeting equals for the first time.
Lieutenant Sagura looked surprised, but Engineering Technician Mitosi burst out happily in Okinyan, “Oh, you speak our language!”
“Only a little, from school,” admitted Clancy humbly in the same language. “I can pass the class tests but I’m not really good at it; I have to read the subtitles to follow Okinyan entertainments properly.”
“But are the subtitles in Okinyan?” asked Kechuchi-san kindly.
“Only sometimes,” admitted Clancy.
“Someday, Ka’hurangi,” Pae’kura said drily, “someone will get you to admit that you are good with languages.” He turned to his friend and asked, “Kechuchi-san, do you and your companions have time to come in for some tea? We have some time before we’re scheduled to leave.”