In this scene, Strefer has run to the Triumvirate compound because of a buzz of rumors that something big has gone down there – very big. Sentinels are standing guard outside the Grand Council building as a crowd swells. She needs to get inside and find out what’s going on, but they’re not supposed to let anyone in.
Strefer stepped up and looked the Sentinel in the eyes.
“Who are you?” he asked, his voice a mixture of vigilance and weariness. He was tall and forceful, with fine light-green skin, most likely a Guilder. That was a stroke of luck, Strefer thought. His pikti was slung loosely across his back. The way he carried himself suggested he had been here a while.
Strefer opened the hand in which she had clutched her identifications and handed them to him. “My name is Strefer Quants. I’m with the Daily Register.”
He took the cards, gave them a quick glance, and handed them back to her. “Why should I care? You don’t think I’m going to let you in just because you work for some newspaper, do you?”
“Why not?” Strefer asked, slipping the cards back into her pouch. “Is there something in there you don’t want people to know about?”
The Sentinel shot back at her with a wry smile. “I am afraid I cannot comment,” he said, with affected formality.
“Do you see a notebook in my hand?” Strefer said, keeping the game going. It was one she would surely win. “I’m not asking you for any comment. I’m just asking if there is something going on up there that you’re trying to keep from the public.” She gestured towards the doors at the top of the marble steps.
“Perhaps I wasn’t clear, missus,” he said, the smile replaced by a glower as he stared down at her. “I have nothing to say about whether anything is happening inside here. Much less to the likes of you, notebook in hand or not.”
“Fair enough,” Strefer said in concession. She decided to try another approach. “But you’ll let me by so I can make my appointment, at least.”
“Appointment?” he asked, confusion sliding across his face like the shadow of clouds moving across the sky. “Appointment with who? And don’t say one of the Grand Council members. They would be in session now. And, at any rate, they don’t greet visitors.”
Score one for her, Strefer thought. She knew from talking with Tevis that interviews with members of the Grand Council were possible. Cutting them off completely meant something important had happened inside. “Of course it’s not with one of the Council members, who do I look like? No, it’s with,” she paused for a moment, grasping for a name. “Keretki,” she finally said, forced to pull a name out of thin air.
“Keretki,” Strefer said, knowing this was her hook. “You know, the policy coordinator for the Arborians? I have an appointment to meet with him to discuss some trade matters he has been dealing with during the session. I’m sure you’ve seen him around here.” She threw the last line in to dig a little at her adversary.
“No, missus, I don’t know him,” the Sentinel said. “But this isn’t my regular patrol.” Another useful bit of information. “Regardless, I can’t let you into the building right now.”
Strefer turned from amused to angry in a flash. “Now look here. My boss spent weeks setting up this interview, all right? The publisher back in Sermont even had to get involved. This interview will be the centerpiece of our coverage of the Council session for the next week or so. It’s very important. Not just to me, either, but Keretki, too. You know the Arborians, always sniping at each other over the smallest things. He has them all together on the same page for once and wants the public to know about it. Do you really want to be responsible for pissing off all those people?”
The Sentinel stood in silence, reaching for an answer that was not coming.
“It’ll be worth your trouble, I promise,” Strefer said. “Have you ever heard of Olrey, the publisher of the Daily Register? He has a reputation for airing his feuds in the press. He could make things very difficult for the Sentinels, the Grand Council, the…”
Exasperated, the Sentinel put up his hands. “All right, all right, fine. You win.”
“Thank you,” Strefer said, suddenly buoyant. “You’re a very reasonable man.”
But before Strefer could make it up the stairs, he put his hand on her chest to stop her. “Hold on a second. You get to go in, but there are two conditions. First, none of this conversation we’ve had here is going to show up in your paper, all right? I don’t…”
“Agreed,” she said, cutting him off. “Say no more. What’s the other one?”
“Second, the Grand Council chamber is off limits. Got it?”
“Absolutely,” she said. “Kerekti’s office is on the other side of the building, I think. I won’t be anywhere near the Grand Council chamber.”
With that, the Sentinel stood aside and let Strefer proceed up the stairs. There were another pair of Sentinels stationed by the front door, but they did nothing to halt her progress. Once inside, she made sure that neither of them were watching her, then she went to look for the Grand Council chamber.