OATH OF CHALLENGE: CONQUERING KATE BY MARLY CHANCE
The following excerpt is from a book rated E by Ellora's Cave and is intended for adults only. A book rated E may contain graphic sexual situations and language and may contain material considered to be offensive by some. If you do not wish to view this excerpt, please click on the back arrow button of your browser or click the home button. Thank you!
The Shimerian population had been in trouble for many generations. There was a great disproportion of males and not enough female mates. Of the children born, a large percent were male. It was a downward spiral that spelled eventual extinction for an entire planet. Shimerian scientists worked feverishly to solve the mystery of the population problem, but were unsuccessful. As a temporary solution they proposed importing females from other planets or having males go off-planet for mates.
After listening to the scientists’ grim reports, Shimerian government officials began to look for possible solutions. They studied other planets and concluded that Earth, with its many similarities, was a logical first choice.
Humans and Shimerians were similar biologically. The two planets were environmentally similar, although there were significant differences in atmosphere. However, these differences presented a major difficulty. Shimerians could not adapt well enough to the differences to live on Earth for longer than three weeks at a time. After three weeks they grew progressively sicker until death occurred.
Humans, on the other hand, were more adaptable. They were able to adjust to Shimerian atmosphere quickly and could live on the planet with no problem. Even more importantly, Shimerians and humans were biologically compatible enough to make interplanetary reproduction possible. A solution was in sight.
After lengthy negotiations, the Earth government agreed to help. The ShimEarth Friendship Treaty was signed. The Treaty was supposed to be the beginning of a new era in interplanetary cooperation for the greater good.
Earth agreed to provide potential mates for Shimerians. In return, Shimerian resources and technology were fully available to Earth. Already, in only the first eighty years since the signing, amazing cures for some of the worst Earth diseases had resulted from the cooperative knowledge provided by Shimerian scientists to Earth scientists.
However, the sharing of technology and culture was approached slowly and carefully. No one wanted conflict resulting from too rapid an integration. Each planet had its own secrets, but positive advances took place on both sides. Each government had its own reasons for ensuring success.
However, in the beginning, suspicion ran high. The Treaty was complicated to negotiate and even more difficult to implement. The Earth government, making clear it was not prostituting its women, agreed to provide a register of potential mates and carefully agreed upon Courtship Laws.
Since the Shimerian males’ version of courtship leaned toward kidnapping and seduction, the Earth government had been very specific that the program would be voluntary and follow prescribed rules. Earth females chosen from the register or “called to Oath,” were given three courtship or engagement options, two of which included a “knowing period.”
If, after the knowing period and under certain conditions, the Earth female did not want to continue the union, she could file legal paperwork that the union was incompatible and should be dissolved. The third option was added in the event that a female had changed her mind. Basically, Earth officials tried to build in an escape clause. In the end, Shimeria was able to turn the clause to its advantage.
The register was considered by Earth to be similar to signing a contract with the armed services. Females signed and swore an oath to abide by the Oath contract. The penalties for breaking Oath were quite severe--imprisonment and heavy monetary fines. However, the social stigma of breaking Oath was considered much worse.
When the treaty had been signed some eighty years ago, there was hesitation by Earth females and only a few actually became Shimerian mates. However, as the positive breakthroughs in technology and medicine began to be widely felt, the Shimerian government pushed hard for a public relations program in higher learning centers to promote registering.
These “culture classes” explained the process in glowing terms and encouraged young women to register. The classes had a very idealistic slant with just enough excitement to entice. “Help your fellow human beings and Shimerians, too,” they persuaded, “while having an adventure.”
More Earth females registered and were mated. Then, rumors began to surface about Shimerian men and their sexual abilities. Women spoke with sighs of their physical attributes, but a lot of information remained unknown. There was just enough mystery to intrigue and entice even the most hardheaded of women. More and more Earth females registered.
After a while, the overwhelming response meant that for every twenty thousand Earth women registered, only one would actually be called to Oath. Most would go on to fall in love with a man on Earth. When she married or at age thirty, her name would be removed from the register with thanks from her government for her willingness to serve.
Shimeria conducted its own educational campaign. Shimerian males were given “Earth culture classes” in school to understand the customs and the languages. In addition, more emphasis was placed on the importance of honing telepathic skills.
Shimerian males realized early that finding a mate was a difficult task. It involved years of telepathically probing and searching for their destined mate. When the male located his mate mentally, the odds were very good that she would be on the Earth register. If she was not on the register, there were other alternatives.
After all the years of practicing and searching, it was quite a moment for a Shimerian male to locate his mate. Some males went through their lifetime trying and not succeeding. No one could understand why some males located their mates at a particular time. It was a great mystery and a great source of frustration. Some called it luck. Some said chance. Some said destiny. And some said skill.
Some, like Tair da’Kamon considered it all of those things. Knowing Tair’s skills, not many would dare to disagree. In the last few weeks, Tair’s brother, Liken had called his mate to Oath. Rumor held that Tair had located his pactmate years ago, but had waited. Whisperers said he had been waiting for his brother to call his mate, so that Tair could be the couple’s link. To be eligible to offer protection as a link, the male had to be unpledged at that time. Tair was very protective of his brother. Most felt the rumor could be entirely true.
Now that Liken was pledging with his mate and Tair was her link, many wondered if Tair would call his pactmate to Oath. Speculation was rife regarding his possible mate. He was a Guardian of exceptional skill, respected for his cunning and determination. What kind of Earth female would be a match for such a warrior?
Tair heard the new rumors and arched an eyebrow in sardonic amusement. As usual, he kept his own counsel. He never confirmed or denied anything. Gossipmongers were left to wonder. However, later in private, Tair did not bother hiding his lusty smile of anticipation. Indeed, he had found his mate. Her name was Kate...
Men, Kate concluded, are pretty much like an expensive pair of stockings -- sexy when you first try them on, but apt to run like hell at the first snag. Leaning back in her chair, she sighed and waved a mental goodbye to Todd.
He had been an amusing lover and a nice diversion from the drudgery of her heavy work schedule. It was a shame that he had to disappear and take her good sex life with him. Truthfully, she rather thought she’d miss the sex more than Todd.
Suddenly, a deep masculine voice broke her train of thought. “I’ve heard that sigh before. It can only mean trouble.”
Kate smiled with surprised pleasure. “I’m not the troublemaker in this family, remember? Gage, what are you doing here?”
Gage strolled into her office and sat down with unconscious masculine grace. Kate assessed her brother silently. He was six foot, three with blond hair and blue eyes. Muscular and athletic, he had an easy charm to match.
Under the movie star good looks, though, he looked tired. She could see traces of strain in his face, and there was a lurking sadness in those crystal blue eyes. Frowning with concern, she continued, “And why do you look so sad?”
Gage rolled his eyes, though affectionately. “Men do not get sad, Kate. Women get sad. Men get pissed off. And I’m not either of those things. I’m fine. You’re the one sighing. What’s the sigh all about?”
Kate stared hard at him a moment, but knew he wouldn’t be budged. He wasn’t going to tell her until he was ready. She didn’t like seeing that look on his face at all. She could guess why it was there, and the mere thought sent a touch of panic through her veins.
Her brother would not die. She would fight fate, or God, or whomever she had to fight, but she was not losing Gage. Pasting a determined smile on her face, she said lightly, “I could be sighing at the thought of the chocolate ice cream I had at lunch.”
Gage threw back his head and laughed. Shaking his head at her, he said, “First of all, you don’t like ice cream. A horrible sin, but it’s true. Secondly, knowing you, you probably worked right through lunch. Unless you lunched with, uhhh what’s the name this time? Was it Brad or Brent?”
Kate gave him a cold glare designed to freeze the blood in his veins. “It was neither. Do try to keep up. His name was Todd. And he’s outlived his usefulness as of this morning.”
Gage’s expression sobered a little, but the amusement was still in his voice. “Poor bastard. What did you do? Tell him he was fired without further notice? Oh, I know, you’re both lawyers. You sent him papers addressed to ‘Dumpee.’”
Kate forced a rather brittle laugh and nearly winced. “Actually, I believe I received the papers this time. But, no doubt he’d have received some from me soon enough.”
Gage sat up and searched her face with suddenly gentle eyes. “Kate, are you okay? Did you really care about this one?”
Kate sighed and felt a pang of sadness that had nothing to do with Todd. “No, actually, I didn’t. I mean, I cared about him as a person, but you know me–I don’t develop lasting relationships.”
Gage shook his head. “That’s not true and you know it. Look at you and Sharon. You’ve been friends for forever. “
Kate went cold with icy dread at the mention of Sharon. Taking a deep breath, she said with resignation, “Sharon. That’s right. You don’t know about Sharon.”
Kate met his eyes squarely. “Sharon was called to Oath. She’s due back from Shimeria today. I have the incompatibility papers already drawn up for her signature. ”
Gage eyes widened in shock. “Called to Oath? Sharon?” He looked dazed at the thought. “Sharon is so…”
He fell silent, obviously trying to think of a term. “And Shimerians are so…”
Kate smiled grimly. “Yes, exactly. If they’ve harmed her in any way, I’ ll go there myself and see justice done. I swear I will.”
Thoughts of her sheltered librarian best friend in the arms of a dominant, sexually aggressive alien had given Kate quite a few sleepless nights in the last three weeks. Thank God Sharon was coming home today. She would see her and make sure everything was okay. Feeling a familiar sense of frustration at her inability to do anything now, she focused on explaining the specifics to Gage.
“His name is Liken da’Kamon. He invoked the Oath three weeks ago and Sharon chose Seduction.” Her mind filled with images of herself and Sharon at eighteen, so young and idealistic, signing the register. Wincing at the thought of how she’d urged Sharon to sign, she felt a fresh wave of guilt and helplessness.
Gage knew he looked outwardly composed. He’d had a lifetime of hiding his emotions, even from his sister. But inside he was truly shocked and worried at the news. Straightening his shoulders, he asked precisely, “What do you mean she chose Seduction?”
Kate heard the dangerous edge to his voice and said quietly, “Earth females get three options as to the Oath the Shimerian male will make: Seduction, Challenge, or Capture.”
Gage tried to remember what he could about Shimeria. It wasn’t much. He had met some Shimerian males in his travels, but he’d never been off-planet to visit the place. The males whom he’d met were big and lusty types, powerfully built and aggressively male. He couldn’t imagine Sharon with that kind of man.
He felt a growing anger at the thought of what might have happened to Sharon. Focusing on getting as much information as possible, he said shortly, “Explain the options to me. What exactly happens?”
Kate watched the growing anger in her brother and felt a little relieved. They would help Sharon together. Taking another deep, calming breath, she said, “I’ve been going over the paperwork carefully. If the female chooses Seduction, she goes to Shimeria with him for three weeks referred to as a “knowing period.” He gets certain intimacies at certain times progressively.”
She realized she was tapping her fingers impatiently on the desk out of sheer nerves and stopped immediately. “Total intimacy occurs within three days. Basically, he takes an oath to seduce her into staying with him. After three weeks, if he’s successful, they have a pledge ceremony and go back to Shimeria to live. If he’s unsuccessful in convincing her to stay at the end of the knowing period, she can file incompatible papers and dissolve the pact.”
Gage tensed even more and said shortly, “Couldn’t she have picked one of the other options?”
Kate sighed. “Believe me, for Sharon that would have been worse. The Oath of Challenge is similar to the Seduction Oath. The female agrees to cooperate sexually with any intimacy for two weeks--except intercourse. Obviously, he can’t abuse her or force her into repulsive acts. He’s challenging her to explore her sexuality without giving in to total intimacy.”
The words came out huskier than she intended. Clearing her throat, she continued, “If she has intercourse with him, she is ineligible to file for noncomp. She has to pledge with him and stay.”
Kate felt a little warm at the discussion of the Challenge Oath. Despite her worry for Sharon, she couldn’t help feeling intrigued at the thought. What would it be like to explore your desires in that way?
An image of a Liken’s broad-shouldered brother flashed through her mind. There was something about him. He kept popping into her thoughts. She had even awakened from a few rather interesting dreams. She might see him today when she went to the Pactbuilding to see Sharon and file the papers. Immediately, she banished the thought.
With each sentence, Gage could feel his blood pressure rising. “And Capture?”
Shrugging helplessly, Kate explained, “In my opinion, it’s the most dangerous of the three. The female runs and tries to evade the male for a month. She has two advantages: she gets a 24-hour head-start and Shimerians can only stay on Earth for three weeks without getting ill. The illness progresses rapidly and is fatal if they don’t return to their own world. They can’t adjust to our atmosphere.”
She wearily rubbed the back of her neck where it had begun to ache. “I wish we couldn’t adjust to their atmosphere, but we can.”
Gage felt guilt all the way down to his toes. He had been unavailable and out of touch when his family needed him. He felt the guilt turn to anger at his own selfishness. He should have been there for them.
He said, “I’m sorry, Kate. The two of you should have been able to come to me. I would have helped hide her. He wouldn’t have found her. And if he had, he wouldn’t have taken her away.”
Kate smiled and shook her head. “Gage, as much as I appreciate the protectiveness, we could have handled it ourselves. Besides, she couldn’t break Oath. Signing the register is legally binding. She would have faced imprisonment here. She could have run under the Capture option, but…”
She leaned back in her chair and said grimly, “We couldn’t risk the consequences if she was caught. If the male captures her, she has to obey him sexually for however much of the month is left. He can do what he likes to her, as long as he doesn’t hurt her emotionally or physically.”
Seeing the hardness in her brother’s eyes, she forced a more neutral tone. “A high stakes gamble with possibly intense sexual consequences. For Sharon, it was out of the question. Oh, and with Capture, noncomp papers are out, too. You’re stuck.”
Gage leaned back in his chair and wiped his hand over his face in an absent-minded gesture of frustration. Obviously, Sharon had made the only choice that she could make, given the options. Suddenly, he remembered something else about Shimerians. He hated to even mention the topic to Kate. She would get upset, but he had to know. “They’re psychic, aren’t they? Or some form of it?”
Kate knew her face had gone pale at the mention of the word, but she said evenly, “Yes, I think they have some unusual mental abilities. I couldn’t find any concrete evidence in my research, but there are too many rumors from too many places.” She looked away.
Gage felt the weight of silence hang between them for a long moment. Kate was avoiding looking at him. He decided to confront the issue directly. “Kate, we both know psychic powers are possible. I’m clairvoyant and there’s no getting around it. I’ve proven it enough times in our lives. Just because you don’t like what I see, doesn’t mean it’s not real.”
Panic and anger raged inside her, so Kate purposefully turned cool. “It’s not that I don’t believe in your powers. You know I do. I just don’t believe in destiny. You may have seen your…” her voice caught, but she quickly got it under control, “…death, but I refuse to accept it. You’re healthy and sitting right here in front of me. Nothing’s going to happen.”
Gage’s heart twisted at the look on his sister’s face. She knew deep down that he was right, but she couldn’t accept it. Unfortunately, she was going to have to accept it soon. He could sense time running out.
There was a new feeling of urgency lately. The vision was occurring with an alarming frequency now. He had hoped he was overstressed and that a vacation would lessen the feeling and the dreams. Instead, as he’d relaxed, they’d only grown stronger. He could feel his life slipping away, hour by hour. His heart sped up in his chest. Not much longer. There was no doubt.
Watching Kate’s pain-filled face, he groped helplessly with a way to comfort her. Pasting on a smile he said lightly, “Come on, Kit-Kate, you know I’ve lived a life full enough for ten men.”
He watched with rising panic as her eyes grew over-bright at the childhood nickname. Kate never cried. This conversation was getting bad in a hurry. Deliberately goading her he said, “Hey, I’ve single- handedly worked my way through the female population of this city and two foreign cities as well. I don’t plan to die until I have at least two more cities under my belt.”
Kate knew what he was doing. He was bringing up his playboy image to distract her. Rather than being distracted, she spoke with firm resolve. “I don’t care what visions you’ve had. You’re not dying young and that’s final.” Attempting to lighten the moment, she continued primly, “And psychic visions are no excuse for being oversexed.”
Gage couldn’t help admiring his sister’s determination and control. Kate was one hell of a fighter. He grinned. “Who needs an excuse for being oversexed when it’s so much fun?”
Suddenly, there was a loud commotion in the hallway. Gage stood and flashed a warning look at Kate. “Stay here. Something’s happening.”
Kate ignored her brother and stood as well. Suddenly, the flustered voice of her assistant was heard saying clearly, “But sirs, you can’t interrupt her. Ms. Carson is busy. If you’ll just allow me to…”
Two hulking Pactreps entered her office, with her worried assistant right behind them murmuring objections and apologies. Seeing Gage tense, she moved quickly to bring things under control. She nodded to her assistant. “Darren, it’s okay. I’m willing to see these two gentlemen.” She placed a sarcastic emphasis on the last word.
Gage arched an eyebrow at her in question. She shook her head slightly and dropped casually into her chair. She watched as Gage moved over to the left, and leaned against the wall. He crossed his arms over his chest. He looked at the Pactreps like a sleepy tiger deciding lazily when to pounce on his meal.
Her assistant backed out of the office with an apologetic look. The Pactreps came to a halt in front of her desk. They were wearing identical black pants and white shirts. They were easily six feet, six inches tall and heavily muscled. They looked more like bodyguards than government paper servers.
Gage watched the change come over his sister. When she leaned back in her chair, eyes glinting like ice, smiling wickedly, he almost felt sorry for the Pactreps. When Kate had that look, there was always hell to pay.
She crossed one leg over the other and said gaily, “Hello, boys. It’s been weeks since I saw you last, hasn’t it?”
Gage could see the huge men flinch a little and had to stifle an urge to laugh. This was going to be good. When neither man responded, Gage realized it was going to be really good.
They seemed to be gathering their courage. Considering his sister was five feet six inches tall and less than half of either of their body weights, the sight of the two hesitant reps was hilarious.
Finally, they had shown up to take her to Sharon, Kate thought gleefully. Her dealings with the Pact Officials this week had been unproductive. Basically, they had succeeded in convincing her that she would be contacted when Sharon was due to arrive. Any other information she requested was met with bureaucratic jargon and evasion.
Now, she had the same two Pacteps assigned to escort her as last time. When the reps remained silent, she gave them a mocking look. They remembered her well. Good. She arched one smooth eyebrow and said overly pleasantly, “Oh, dear. I’m speaking too fast for you again, aren’t I?”
Speaking slowly and carefully, as if to a small child, she said, “Now, what were your names? Oh yes, Everest and Rushmore. Couldn’t get me to come to you, so you had to come to me?”
One of the men spoke. “I’m Pactrepresentative Dik si’Dalon and this is Jr. Pactrep Joseph Swann.”
Kate nearly broke into laughter at the incongruity of the last name Swann. The rep was a huge hulking creature, and graceful he was not. Of course, he didn’t look like anybody’s junior anything either. Struggling to keep a straight face, she said, “Let’s not make molehills out of mountains, shall we?”
When their faces remained blank, she sighed. Suddenly changing tactics, she demanded in a hard voice, “What do you want? And you’ d better not be telling me Sharon is being kept past today. I’ve read the paperwork and my client will not be forcibly detained.”
The two men glanced at each other and then Swann spoke in a cautious voice. “Sharon Glaston is returning today. We have the witness order to summon you there. The pledging ceremony is to be held at three o’clock.”
Kate sat up, uncrossed her legs, and placed her hands on her desk. In her coldest voice, she challenged, “The hell it will. I notice you’re just now notifying me and it’s already two-fifteen. Left it a little late there, didn’t you Junior?”
He winced, but held his ground. “We are here to notify you of the pledge ceremony and your required presence. In addition, we have more papers to serve.”
Taking a step toward Gage, Swann approached him and said, “We have been searching for you. You are her brother, correct?”
Gage watched the man through narrowed eyes. Something was going on here, and he had a sudden feeling it involved Kate and not Sharon. Straightening from the wall, he said coolly, “Yes, I’m Gage Carson. Why?”
The man handed Gage a piece of paper gingerly, as if he was feeding a wild animal. When Gage took the paper, Swann stepped back cautiously. Gage began reading.
Kate watched her brother’s brow wrinkle in confusion. As his head came up in surprise, he shot her a stunned look she couldn’t interpret. “What is it?” she asked in alarm.
Pactrep si’Dalon stepped in front of her. Suddenly realizing the two men were between her and her brother, she stepped forward until she was within a foot of si’Dalon and glared up at him.
The representative held up another sheet of paper and began to read. “Katherine Harmony Carson,” his voice nearly choked on her middle name, but he continued reading in a low steady voice. “You are hereby summoned to Oath by the world government of Shimeria and the...”
“What?!” Kate knew her voice was shrill, but she was shocked to the core. “Did you just say I’ve been summoned to Oath?!”
The representative continued reading as if his very mission in life was to finish the summons. “…and the United Government of…” Gage and Kate began talking at the same time.
“No way in hell,” Gage said in a dangerously furious voice. “She’s not going. You guys have picked the wrong two women. I’m telling you now--it’s not happening.”
Kate continued exclaiming, “There is no way that could be right. Do you know what the odds of Sharon and my both being summoned are? Only one in twenty thousand on the register is summoned. The odds of two best friends being called are astronomical. Somebody has screwed up here big time.”
Suddenly she heard a familiar name in the midst of the rep’s droning. “Wait a second. Did you say the name Tair da’Kamon? As in--a relative of Liken da’Kamon?”
Her mind filled again with the image of the Shimerian male, Liken’s brother whom she had met briefly at Sharon’s pact ceremony. She knew down to her bones he was the one. His drop-dead good looks were exceeded only by his arrogance.
Remembering his smugly grinning face, she had the sudden impulse to hit something, hard. He had known while they were talking that he would summon her to Oath. That knowing light in his eyes and smug attitude made sense now. She felt fury flood her at the mere thought.
The Pactrep’s voice stopped finally as he reached the end of the summons. Looking up, he said in a gloating voice, “It is done. You must accompany us to the Pactbuilding for the ceremony.” His entire body went tense as if he expected her to spring at him.
Kate’s eyelids came down to hide her eyes and her face lost all expression. With a narrow look, she said calmly, “I’ll meet you boys there.”
Gage made a sudden motion forward, but her pointed look stopped him in his tracks. Studying his sister, he knew she had developed a plan. Deciding to trust her for the moment, he said casually, “I’ll transport you.”
Both Pactreps shook their heads. Swann said, “You both must accompany us now. It is in the papers.”
Kate reached out and took the paper from si’Dalon. Reading it over carefully, she found the clause. He was right. Thinking hard for a minute, she said flatly, “I’ll accompany you. We’ll notify my partners of what’s happening and drop by my house first.”
Suddenly, she realized that Sharon would be getting back shortly. Her temper spiked as she realized the timing. She clamped down swiftly on her anger yet again and said coolly, “Or not. I guess you guys have timed it so that I have to leave with you to meet Sharon. Very clever, boys. I never would have suspected an active brain cell between the two of you. Well done.”
Swann ignored the insult. “All notifications will be made and procedures followed. The Pactmakers will take care of any necessary details while you are on Shimeria. Everything from plant and pet care to bills to family and work explanations will be handled diligently. You have nothing to fear.”
It was the wrong word choice. Kate’s back stiffened and she said coldly, “Oh, I’m not afraid. I’m looking forward to having a discussion with Tair. Let’s go.”
She picked up a stack of papers off her desk and removed her purse from a drawer. She put the papers in her purse with calm efficiency. Slinging it over her shoulder and flashing the two Pactreps a look of disdain, she walked out of the room without a backward glance.
Gage watched his sister walk around the Pactrep and out the door with regal grace and felt like cheering. He knew she had to be panicked at the thought of being summoned, but it didn’t show. She had decided to focus her energies on Tair. He knew that sharp brain of hers was busy plotting and planning. Well, he had a few plots of his own. First things first, however.
As Pactrep si’Dilon left in Kate’s wake, Gage turned to find Swann regarding him warily. Gage said, “Enjoy your moment of triumph. Kate will be stirring up hell soon enough.” Leaning forward until he was within inches of touching the representative, he said, “Of course, you’re probably not afraid. Kate has some scruples. She won’t blame you for this mess. She knows you’re just doing your job.”
Gage smiled and grabbed Swann’s shirt. He stared hard into the other man’s eyes, watching Swann’s face grow pale in response. He kept his voice low and even as he continued, “I, on the other hand, don’t give a damn about scruples.”
He released the man’s shirt and leaned back. He said matter-of-factly, “Fuck scruples. Whoever hurts them will pay no matter how small their part in this scheme. If Sharon or Kate suffers, there’s no planet in existence where you’ll ever be safe.” He stepped around the Pactrep and strolled out of the office.
Swann stood there a moment in the silence of the room. The icy threat he had seen in those eyes had been chilling. He knew Gage’s background. He felt like he had escaped death by an inch. With absolute certainty he knew Gage’s words were true. He sighed.
Some men, he reflected, were like cobras. If you tangled with them, one of you most likely ended up dead. There were days when his job really sucked. With weary steps, he moved to follow the others. Government servants never got any respect.