Back aboard Noveau Limoges, I arrived in the middle of some excitement. All of that fiery passion, it seemed, was now directed into anger at something. Shouts, some in a unison chant for independence, some simply enraged babble, but most venting rage at one thing or another.
The way back to the shuttle quickly became blocked by people whose faces were so wrinkled with hostility they could hardly be recognized as people at all. They were yelling this or that, one through a full set of teeth, another . . . not so much . . . another losing half of his upon being hit by a flying cooking pot. Tools, trinkets, chairs, tables and washbasins filled the air, flying one direction or another, often colliding with each other before hitting someone.
I considered the sage advice of the cook, stayed out of the thick of it and made my way carefully toward my room as I heard it.
BOOM . . . pop . . . pop . . . bang-bang BOOM . . . pop-pop-pop BOOM . . . poppity-pop BOOM k'pow poppity k'pow BOOM . . .
I thought it was all over. If my briefing had been right, I would soon awake in another tank of that ooze . . . a different man . . . I just wasn't ready or willing to go through that.
POW POW POW
(right next to me! I saw the flash of the muzzle and felt the percussion. My ears were ringing.)
The urge was strong to defend myself with my rifle, though I figured I might be safer if I got closer to the security office. No, that seemed to be the center of all of this angst (and the source of the weapons fire). I feared war might break out any moment, if it hadn't already, and I was right in the middle of it with nowhere to go.
Bang-bang pop bang pow bang k'pow BOOM poppitypoppity bang-bang . . .
Heart pounding, mind racing, I fled toward the ruins, but as I dashed headlong down any uncrowded alley I could find, scrambling over piles of debris, then clambering through the wreckage of the old, abandoned buildings, the gunfire faded and I heard the shouting die down (that or my ears were failing).
I hid in the deserted wasteland, anticipating the arrival of some or all of that insane, angry mob and hoping to somehow escape its irrational wrath.
No, a group of scholars calmly came through, sifting through the rubble, although they did have their usual exchange of unkind words with the people they called pothunters, who had come to find something to sell rather than relics to treasure. In the distance, that old lady was playing her violin, and I could hear an accordian. Flutes and pipes started in, and soon came the same cacaphonous din of music that I was used to hearing here.
Dumbfounded, I walked slowly back down the streets, all of which had been swept clean and restored to the de-facto bazaar it had been on every other day, with people haggling over beautiful artworks, calling them worthless, punching each other over the insult, exchanging money and tearfully hugging each other as buyer and seller departed to continue the day of shopping.
Still unsure, I wandered around to the cafe.
"Cafe chile mocha, ser? . . . I made an extra. This one's on the house."
For some reason, she laughed as I looked upward, then she stepped from around the counter, laughing sweetly, bright eyes sparkling, put one arm around me, handed me the cup of steaming, aromatic liquid joy, kissed me on either cheek and whirled about, her long, golden brown curls flying as she twirled and laughed, back behind the counter, to charmingly serve a paying customer.
Staring without focus, I slid down into the chair behind me and set the cup on the table, almost realizing that it had been empty, and not just that but the only empty place at the cafe. An obnoxiously happy old man carried on bringing sweet, serene, intoxicating melody out of his accordian as the blissful chatter of a jam-packed cafe drowned out almost everything else.