As he surveyed the crowd for the tenth time, trying to put a bit more distance between himself and Miss Reach, his ears finally caught whiff of a promising conversation.
“--oh, the Hammer?” an elderly man’s voice was saying. “You mean that old lummox has finally returned?”
“Oh yes,” said the voice of an elderly woman. “Hadn’t you heard?”
“What prompted--? Oh, the war! Of course! Wow. So does that mean he’s back for good, now that it’s done?”
“Who knows? I can’t imagine the Peacemaker’s people will be too pleased about it, though.”
“Mm. They have gotten comfortable here, haven’t they? They’ll probably worry that he’s come to stir up trouble.”
“You know, I hope he has. It’s been so dreadfully dull around here, and I can think of a few folks who deserve a right good thrashing.”
“Oh, you terrible woman! Not that I disagree, though!”
They shared a laugh, which devolved into hacking coughs on both sides.
As he listened to them slowly recovering, he couldn’t help glancing in their direction. Unless his eyes deceived him, that old man used to be Steccat’s Chief Treasurer, while the old woman had been the Chief of Defense. He might not have recognized them if he hadn’t done his homework on all of the attendees tonight.
As soon as their phlegm-filled intermission ended, the old woman spoke up again. “Honestly, young people today have gotten too full of themselves. And why? Because of a few movies?”
“We’ve become a nation of entertainers, it seems.”
“Don’t I know it! All the glitz and glamour has gone to their heads--and this, in spite of the fact that they’re clearly this country’s softest generation since the Hammer left.”
“Mm. Steccati aristocracy--it’s become synonymous with ‘high art.’ Whatever that means.”