tania glared defiantly at the bland countenance of the duc d'otrante. "what are you getting at ?" she demanded. "what do you want from me? to spy on charlotte?"
"oh, we are quite capable of spying on charlotte ourselves," the duc replied. "what we have a problem with is gaining her confidence. she is not - a very trusting person. as you may have noticed."
"charlotte is a very dedicated person," tania retorted. "that is what i have noticed about her."
"all we ask," continued the duc, "is that you retain her confidence. she seems to like you - insofar as she likes anybody - according to our more or less trustworthy reports."
"more or less trustworthy?"
"that is all any report can be," put in olivia.
"go back,"said the duc, "tell your story of being kidnapped by darwinists - olivia will provide you with the details of your story - and stay in charlotte's confidence."
"go slowly," added olivia. "almost avoid her at first, as if you are ashamed of having allowing yourself to be abducted."
"you have it all figured out, don't you? what about disciplinary action against me - you said yourself there would be some."
"probably.' the duc shrugged. "we are counting on it being a formality. because charlotte likes you."
"what about larry?"
"forget about him."
"he's dust," said olivia.
"this is so ridiculous," tania told them. "what makes you think i won't just tell charlotte everything? oh, by the way, that is exactly what i am going to do."
"we can't stop you." the duc spread his hands. "nothing can stop you from telling her everything."
"nothing except your own common sense," said olivia.
the duc clasped his hands and leaned forward on his desk. "do you think for one minute that charlotte will trust you after this? let me assure that she will not. she may believe you ninety-nine percent. she may believe you ninety-nine point nine percent."
"but ninety-nine point nine is no good," said olivia.
the duc went on. "charlotte won't take a chance, however slight or however much she likes you, that you are not playing a double game with us. you really have no choice but to go along with us."
"what will she do, send me to the chain gangs with larry?"
"if she doesn't , she'll send you so far down you'll wish you were on jupiter," said olivia. "you'll be hosing down vans in a garage."
"she could have you recycled," added the duc.
tania hesitated. "she would never do that. and all of this, all of this scheming on your part, for what? because you think she is a darwinist? this is all just so ridiculous."
"oh," said the duc, " i don't think she believes in charles or erasmus like some lost soul in the slag heaps. but it's part of the game. it's all in the game."
tania was silent.
olivia laughed. "you are supposed to ask, what game?"
"all right, what game?"
"what do you think?" charlotte asked jeanne, as the van headed for the outskirts of the outskirts. "maybe she isn't her own master conspirator after all. maybe she is part of the game."
"anything is possible, i suppose," jeanne answered. they both kept focused on sally.
"the more i consider it, the more i like it," said charlotte. "i think she is in the game."
sally remained silent.
"you are supposed to ask, what game?" jeanne told her exasperatedly.
"all right," said sally, "what game?"
"the game between the mountain and the plain," said the duc. "between the hotheads and hardliners who denounce compromise and demand action, and the cautious ones who preach moderation and slow progress. and the game would seem to be endless. the hotheads are always the stars, but the milksops always win in the end. after all," he appealed to tania, "no matter how uncompromising you are, you can't eliminate everybody. you can't arrest everybody, you can't send everybody to jupiter."
"why not?", tania answered, "if they deserve it."
"because, at the very least, there has to be somebody to arrest the malefactors, guard them, keep the wheels of society going."
"that's what the robots are for."
"wow," said olivia. "she is a true mountaineer."
"despite appearances," said the duc, seemingly mildly annoyed at tania's intransigence, " that stage has not been reached. so the mountain and the plain are still with us."
"it's too deep for me," said tania. "all i wanted to do was catch bad guys."
"an admirable sentiment," said the duc. "not to be argued with."
"but you haven't answered my question," tania told him. "why you think charlotte is a darwinist. or pretending to be one. or whatever."
the duc leaned back. "the mountain has been in the ascendancy for a long time now. too long. charlotte has been prowling the mountain like a tigress while my poor self been left on the plain, rolling around with the dust devils. but it is past time for a change and charlotte knows this. she must - must - be putting her toes in the water to get back down on the plain."
tania raised her eyebrows but did not reply.
"what better way than to reach out to one of the tolerated religions? if not to the darwinists, then maybe to the pope - "
"that she would never do." tania laughed. "never."
"i agree. and we find no sign that she has reached out to the better funded cults, like the church of bruce lee or the church of bill miller. so it must be the darwinists. and of course, we have our sources."
"it sounds pretty far fetched to me," said tania. "it sounds like you don't have enough to do all day, if you just sit around thinking this stuff up."
"be that as it may, it is the hand we have dealt you, and you have no choice but to play it.
"so what exactly am i supposed to do? if i agree."
"just watch. watch for any signs she is in contact with any religions, or just softening her attitude toward them." the duc smiled. "we don't ask for much."
"and like i said," added olivia. "go slow."
"we don't ask that you contact us. olivia will contact you."
"so the duc d'otrante has finally decided that the plain will never succeed, will never return. he must either outflank me or discredit me, or somehow portray me as coming down to the plain." charlotte smiled. " that is where the game stands now," she concluded.
"any comment?" jeanne asked sally.
"did you find charlotte's explanation illuminating?"
"i'm tired,"sally answered.
they lapsed into silence. after a while they stopped. charlotte looked at jeanne and robespierre. a panel behind the driver slid back and the robot who had been sitting in the passenger set came back to them.
"there is an important message."
charlotte nodded to jeanne. "go see what it is." to the robot she said, "can't we keep moving?"
"we were told to stop."
"i see. then i will take the message myself."