Vanessa Verdugo looked striking in the fading daylight, approaching night – but then that year’s definition of beauty was, after all, Vanessa Verdugo: Her hats and veils were in every shop on Gold Road, her dresses were worn to every fete and soirée, the color of her lips, the shade of her blush, washed across thousands of ruffled bedspreads, delicate curtains, plush carpets, swollen pillows, overstuffed chairs, sprawling lounges, and politely sensual settees. Standing on that closely sheered lawn she didn’t appear to have boulevard stockings, avenue heels, promenade gloves, an estate skirt, a mansion blouse, sitting room jewelry or a galleria hat – but a single step beyond Robur Oberon’s estate, to the brass flowers and iron vines that entwined the balustrades of PSV’s streets and lanes and her beauty and style would flow mix and flow, wine in water, with her fashionableness to cover the city.
Sipping a flute of shimmering crystal – the unspoken cost of which would have kept a lesser republic financially solvent for a decade, and thus, for the not mentioning, made it’s prescience so much more powerful – she simply looked striking, not at all the beautiful threat of a woman who had entranced the entire city, and also unspoken, unannounced, and thus immensely more powerful than any priceless champagne flute.
“Great pleasure,” Robur Oberon said, lifting a tankard of frothy brew towards their guest. “Great, great pleasure, to have your company, sir."
Wing’s dark eyes slowly lifted from his glass, where he seemed fascinated by the hesitant streamers of minuscule bubbles in the vintage to stare intently in the direction of Robur Oberon. “I was asked.”
“Well, of course, sir. Absolutely, sir. Could I not have? How could I have turned my back on the plight of a stranger to these shores? I could not have rested if I did not do my duty as a Steward of this City, a Lord of this House and have not at least offered you a hand of friendship?”
“We’re always willing to make new friends,” Vanessa Verdugo said, lifting her own glass slightly in a soft toast.
Wing looked to her, angry puzzlement across his brow. “You and he make people?”
Robur Oberon laughed, holding himself in a tight knot of aborted muscles, the reflex to thump the stranger across the back. “The lovely Vanessa make many things, but we’ve yet to perfect that skill.”
“Fortunate,” Wing said, relief evident. Taking a sip of the vintage, his face lightning-quick changed to shock and disgust. With a smoothly practiced gesture he blew the liquid into his tightened fist, then loudly clapped both hands together.
Vanessa Verdugo noticed, turned slightly away – then raised an immaculately sculpted eyebrow when no champagne flew. She looked inquisitively at Robur Oberon to see if he’d noticed.
He hadn’t: “In fact, we were just discussing how important it is to develop new … relationships shall we say, when one is in unfamiliar lands. Helps the shock, you see, of the strange, the shock of the new, to have a personal landscape of familiarity. This world you’ve found yourself in must be disturbing in its peculiarities, but knowing that certain people - such as the lovely Miss Verdugo and myself – are as stable within it as the earth beneath your feet might give you a comfortable feeling of stability. Not that I would be so bold or arrogant as to imply that we –“ he indicated with a raise of his tankard Vanessa Verdugo “ - are the only ones qualified for such comfort. To be honest, however, Miss Verdugo and I do reach rather extensively through the Territories, so we, or by proxy our influence, would always be near.”
Wing held his flattened palm up to the setting run, examining the tight skin with wide-eyed concentration.
“I do not know how such things are done in … where is it again, friend, that you hail from? I know you’ve spoken of it, but – well - sometimes it does take a few repetitions to get things to stick in an aging mind,” Oberon said, tapping his huge cranium, accompanied by a deep laugh.
Without looking away from his dry hand, Wing said, “Russia. From there I Navigate.” Sadness on his face with the saying of the noun and the verb: a longed for home, and a talent that had betrayed, stranded him.
“Oh, yes, that’s it. ‘Russia’ such an exotic sounding land. Some day when the no-doubt pain of your departure isn’t quite so fresh you will have to tell us of that land: the foods they partake, the strength and duration of the seasons, the music your people enjoy, the mechanisms they may perhaps create. Ah, yes, another reason to join another friend to one’s life: the gaining of knowledge of other places, other lives, other devices and processes. An alliance, if you will: the partnership of two into a stronger one. Would that appeal to you? You with the need for friend in this new world, Miss Verdugo and I with the need to sate our curiosity about your far-flung land? Does that sound appealing to you in any way?”
Wing lowered his hand, blinked once, twice at Oberon – impending tears making his dark eyes shine. His mouth opened, preparation for speech, revealing brass teeth polished to a glowing shine.
But before their guest could expel a sound into the growing darkness of the night, a trio appeared at the far side of the house, rounding the columns. Their soft blue glow, their rolling, liquid gait, their simple shapes – everyone in PSV knew Robur Oberon’s Cell Men, his congealed servants and handymen: low aptitude, chemically dependent, smelling of kerosene and fusil oil, never far from their Master.
They exploded. One, two three – all gone in a wash of shockwave, a balls of fire rolling up into the dark sky. A column, a purple rose bush, a section of hedge crackled and smoked.
Robur Oberon stood and stared, too shock to speak or move. His tankard, held in a suddenly weakened wrist, poured onto the immaculate lawn, foaming at his feet. Vanessa Verdugo slowly lowered her hands, instinctively thrown in front of her legendary face.
“Not good. Making people bad - opposite of good,” Wing said, his dark eyes lit by twirling lights of gold and silver. Turning to that year’s beauty, and the most powerful man in the Territories, he repeated himself, in case they hadn’t heard: “Not good. Making people bad - opposite of good” then, without looking back, he walked through the still lingering flames and away into the soft darkness of that summer night.
“Guess we’ll have to make new friends,” Vanessa Verdugo said, slowly turning her legendary smile at the wide-eyes of Robur Oberon.
(with thanks to s.a.)