Bren’s brother Toby and his companion Barb — or first mate, or common-law wife, or…I’m still not quite sure — were making one of their uncommon visits to Najida. Bren suspected that it was not entirely because either of them missed him and wanted to catch up. No, Bren thought that it was far more likely that they were here to gather intelligence — the news of the happenings in the Marid were making waves, even as far afield as the human settlement on Mospheira, and he knew they wanted to know about it. In addition to sometimes serving as a spy for Shawn Tyers, the President of Mospheira, Toby had also periodically run some trade and exchange of his own across the Strait. This was a cross-species activity that had lately become more tolerated so in short, the changes in the Marid represented a business opportunity, potentially opening up a whole new stretch of the coastline where they hadn’t been before — for the less clandestine side of their operations, at least — and Toby and Barb were here to figure out how to make it work for them.
Bren and his brother sat in the dining room of his house, the Township and shoreline of Najida visible from the windows, with Toby’s big sailboat Better Days securely at anchor beside his own Jaishan. They each had a glass of juice-and-vodka and each other’s company — though an infelicity of two, the staff had come to understand that humans had a different, entirely alien concept of twos, dualities, polarity…they intellectually understood, though of course could not feel, that humans felt comfortable in twos. Najida’s staff would have felt better, perhaps, if Barb had been there, but she was down in the Township proper, shopping — please God may she not cause another scandal in the dressmaker’s shop!
At that thought, Bren scolded himself. It had been two years and more since that had happened, and Barb knew better now. Please God may be she remember! And he sighed at himself anew.
“I thought the aishidi’tat already had an Artisans’ Guild,” Toby was asking him.
“They do, but this is different. The Guild in the north and west is really more like a federation of smaller guilds. Machigi’s made one that is centralized, and more directly supported by the state.”
“The state,” said Toby. “I thought that the Marid was part of the aishidi’tat.”
“It is,” Bren said. “Machigi has five votes in the tashrid. But he’s trying to become a power like Ilisidi is — a lord of his region from the perspective of the aishidi’tat, but an aiji — the aiji — within it.”
“Huh. How does a guild of artists help this? I mean, I could see if it were the Assassins, but surely there’s more power to be had in practical trade goods than artistic stuff. Copper, iron, fish, large-scale industry, those sorts of commodities.”
“You’re not wrong,” Bren said. “What this is is an extremely clever foot in the door.” He leaned forward. “Look. Historically speaking, the Marid has been a mess. It’s traditional, which is a way to say it’s backwards. Of all the Guilds on the mainland, they really only had the Assassins and Transportation. For everything else, they’ve been stuck in a decentralized Age of Steam.”
“With wooden, sail-powered ships.”
“With wooden, sail-powered ships,” Bren agreed. “Though they have spent the last year or so building all-metal ships from Archive designs. But still, you understand that the Marid needs the other Guilds. It desperately needs communication, education, medicine, computerized industry — all the things that the Guilds in the north have embraced. The Marid needs all of this, but it’s all still foreign to the ways that the people of the Marid know. Having them come in is going to be a tremendous amount of change, and we all know what happens when change happens too fast. So Machigi is using this new Artisans’ Guild as a way to exert control over the other Guilds,” he said. “Once the Artisans’ Guild is strongly established, it’ll serve as a template for how he wants the other Guilds that want entry to the Marid to operate, and he’ll be able to do it in a way that interfaces better with the Marid.”
“How much are the other Guilds going to respect this?” Toby said.
“Normally, they’d probably ignore it, for the reasons you mention,” Bren said. “Artistic pieces are the provenance of wealthy collectors, for all that they might bring pride to a region, so they’re not usually the thing that will move economies. And that’s what would get the Guilds’ attention. But the restoration of the Sungeni Blue glaze has changed everything. It’s captured people’s imagination, and there’s a power in that — Machigi knows he can use it, if he acts swiftly.”
“Swiftly? Isn’t that going to be change happening too fast?”
“Well, no, because what he’s done is simply moved around pieces that were already in place in the Marid, in a Maridi way. For example, there are very few schools as you or I know them in the Marid. If people are noble or rich, they have tutors. If they’re not, the either learn their parents’ trade, or they’re apprenticed to a master. The region has always had a very strong element of masters in their trades, crafts, and arts. So when he established the terijad — the Hall of Masters — he was simply making use of a system that was already in place, that everyone in the Marid understood, and that had worked very well for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was not so much of a change, it was a shift.”
“Whereas a body of elected commoners would have been a change,” Toby said.
“Exactly. It’s brilliant. And to bring the Artisans back into this, it goes even deeper. The populace of the Marid is largely illiterate, even the Masters — they learn by doing, see? And in establishing the terijad, Machigi is trying to do something that’s impossible without written records. Governance needs record-keeping, but it’ll be generations before the Scholars are well-established enough to achieve wide-spread literacy.”
“So he would have to import clerks — more outsiders, right?” Toby asked.
“That would be the obvious solution, and his lords wouldn’t stand for it. But most of the Masters do have at least one assistant who can read and keep books, though — because they have businesses to run. So Machigi is using the Artisans’ Guild to create an interim system of documentation, using these Marid-born assistants in rotating periods of service. One day, those assistants will be the masters themselves, and by then they will all have had extensive experience in government because they’ve been assisting the terijad.”
“It sounds like the people who sit in this new chamber will have a great deal of experience and expertise, being masters of their trades,” Toby said. “How does the hasdrawad compare?”
“Well, I suspect it’ll be fairly similar,” said Bren. “It’s how it generally works out, because atevi value competence, and they recognize that competence comes with experience, so the people of the aishidi’tat tend to elect those sorts of people as representatives. But I have to admit that it’s not all that uncommon for hot-heads to get elected. The atevi may value competence, but they also favor machimi.”
Toby snorted. “Sometimes it seems that Mospheira runs entirely on drama.”
“It’s one of the things our species has in common, I think: we’re both wired for story, and the more outrageous, the better. So it’s good to have people in charge who understand the importance of slowing things down.”
“Telling stories slower,” Toby agreed. “Yes, Shawn’s done a great job at that, but he’s going to need to retire soon, and when he does, things will get…interesting.”
“Things are plenty interesting now,” said Bren. “For example, I wonder if Tabini will tolerate Machigi operating so independently.”
“Is that a bad thing? Doesn’t that make three major powers on the continent, if you count Ilisidi in the East?” Toby furrowed his brows. “Wait, that would make four, counting Mospheira, wouldn’t it? That’s an unfortunate number.”
“Very unfortunate,” said Bren. “But we could always count the station. True, it’s more of a joint effort between atevi and humans, but —” and here he chuckled “—you can always make the numbers mean anything if you have the right story.”
“What does Ilisidi think of all of it?”
“She loves it,” Bren said. “Well, you know that’s the wrong word. Let’s just say that she appreciates what Machigi has done, because it’s exactly the same kind of thing she would have done. He found a way to bring advancement while holding strongly onto the Marid’s traditions — he looked into what seemed was a fatal weakness of the Marid and found instead an overwhelming strength. Like what she did, when she reached out to associate with him in the first place — she looked into the Marid, with its long tradition of eating its own, and found him. Do you know, she’s written to Machigi about the Marid Artisans’ Guild setting up an office in the East and modeling a similar system there for her own master artisans? And she’s proposing an exchange program by which artisans from the East and the South serve a year’s residency in each other’s regions.”
“She wants that glaze.”
“She absolutely wants that glaze.”
“What can you tell me about the Reunioner integration?” Bren asked. “I haven’t heard anything, which I’d love to take as good news, but…”
“Well, on the face of things, it seems to be going great. The University instituted a degree program specializing in the history of Phoenix spacefaring, including a whole section on the history of Reunion Station and its evacuation to Earth. Did you know that we have a Festival of Little Treasures now?”
“Little Treasures?” Bren was mystified.
Toby laughed at his expression. “The Reunioners always had shortages of things, remember? So they had a yearly event where they’d put something small and useful that they had into a box and hide it somewhere on the station. Then they’d send a riddle about its location to another household, and you’d have to figure it out and go find it. They had a whole system to make sure that every household would be randomly assigned a single other household, and the rules were, you couldn’t pick up a box you might just accidentally find — you had to find your box according to the clues.”
Now Bren was fascinated. “Didn’t people just use it as a way to get rid of junk? Or steal boxes? Or to signal status?”
“No, there was a kind of code of honor. People who tried to give away trash, or flaunt their wealth — such as it was — or steal other people’s boxes would get named and shamed. I mean, it was such a small community, everyone would find out eventually, right? The challenge was that it couldn’t be an expensive thing — it had to be little and useful. Something that would really help someone else survive. And it was a way to maintain trust.”
“Because you had to trust that you were going to get something as good as you gave away,” Bren said.
“Yes. Mospheira loves it, and the Reunioners love it because, by comparison to the station, Mospheira is so unbelievably huge, there are all kinds of places to hide these things. It gives people an excuse to get out and explore places where they’ve never been. I really think it’s going to stick — I wouldn’t surprise me if it turned into a year-round thing instead of a single festival — though I think that Mospheirians will skew it away from useful towards clever and funny, because really, by comparison to the Reunioners, have we really ever wanted for anything?”
“No, we haven’t, not for the last hundred years or so at least. That’s what we’re trying to give the Reunioners — that kind of life.”
“It’s all for the good,” Toby nodded with a smile. “So, to tie this back to your question about assimilation, brother, I’d say it’s not so much assimilation as it is a — a blending, which I think that’s going to make a real difference in the long run.”
“I wouldn’t put it against the Human Heritage people to stuff those boxes with propaganda,” Bren said.
“Well, I think that the documentary on the accord with the kyo has tamped down on enthusiasm for that point of view,” Toby replied.
The documentary, for which Bren had been exhaustively interviewed, had been a sensation both on Mospheira and the mainland. He had taken particular care to emphasize the difference between the ordinary residents of Reunion and the attitudes and decisions of a particular kind of mindset possessed of people like Lewis Braddock, the Reunion stationmaster. It had been that xenophobic mindset that had led to the alien kyo’s attack on the station. Because Braddock reflected the mindset of the kyo’s enemies — the humans attacking them from the other side of kyo space, Bren thought, that thing he must never admit to anyone beyond Shawn, the President of Mospheira, and Tabini, not even to his brother, for fear of the reaction it would engender in those humans on the planet — the ones who still, in their heart of hearts, harbored the fear of other that made them turn towards such xenophobic philosophies. We cannot allow this kind of thinking to grow here, no matter how often it tries to take root — not here, on a planet we must share with its indigenous people, or in a wider space we must share with an entirely different species. Toby’s warning about Shawn had put a sliver of ice in his heart. What will happen when people like me and Tabini and Ilisidi and Shawn are gone?
But worrying about the future was not useful, not when there was so much to worry about now.
“Still,” Toby continued. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The fact that the Human Heritage types and the Cult of Braddock have been quiet makes me a little nervous, actually.”
Bren took a sip of his drink. “I tend to agree. I have a suspicion that they’re quiet on Mospheira because they’re busy elsewhere. The situation in Ashidama Bay is heating up and I can’t help but wonder if they’re getting outside help. There was that attempt on Machigi and Ilisidi — it was a suspiciously advanced attempt, as far as technology goes. Here's another classified bit of information, brother: the attackers used remote-controlled technology." He nodded as Toby's eyes went wide. "Machigi has asked me to try to track down where that came from. So far I’ve come up with nothing, but it’s got me thinking — could there have been some human influence, trying to destabilize the agreement between the South and the East?”
“Could be,” Tony said. “God knows that if that happened, it would get Tabini’s full attention. Then other places would be in shadow by comparison, which would benefit the unsavory types. Give them room to maneuver. Like Hurshina Shipping — they’ve always struck me as being fairly shady. I think they’d be the type to fully embrace remote-control technology — for smuggling, if nothing else. And they’re practically your neighbors, so that gives me and Barb a family reason to go poking around.” Toby took a sip from his own glass. “We’ll look into it.”
“Be careful, Toby,” Bren said. “I know I always say it, but this is especially dicey. Whoever it was who made the attempt on Machigi also made the attempt on Ilisidi, so you know that both she and Tabini are going to react very strongly. It wouldn’t be the first time that bad actors have used that to try to frame a person or power they’d like to be removed, and personally, I think Tabini’s reaction the last time that happened, with the Dojisigi, was one of the things that set up this situation. Just…be careful with whatever you find out.”
“Aren’t I always?” Toby replied, as he always replied. Then, as he typically did when they started to talk about “his spy stuff”, as Bren thought of it, Toby changed the subject. “So tell me about this new consort of the Marid,” he said. “I don’t have enough Ragi to really follow the news, but I understand it’s controversial.”
“She’s Edi,” said Bren.
“Oh,” Toby said, profoundly shocked. “I can see where that would be an issue.” Toby had sailed in and around Najida Bay long enough to get to know many of the Edi living in and around the coastline, and well knew their opinion of the South. “How did that happen?”
“By accident, as I understand it. After the assassination attempt, Machigi’s yacht went down and he was lost at sea.”
“Was he?” Toby asked, fascinated. “That did not make the news.”
“I’m not surprised — that’s exactly the kind of that would also be classified: too operational.” Bren trusted his brother to keep quiet about the information he gave him. That he needs to know, for his and Barb's safety. “At any rate, it turns out that Rao — her name is Rao, by the way — was out to sea and fished him out of the water.”
“How very romantic,” said Toby. “He wanted a coast but got a wife instead.”
And she got the entire Marid, Bren thought, with a little smile.
“Is it romantic, for atevi?” Toby wanted to know.
“It was dramatic,” Bren said. “Which serves very well for romance. Apparently they liked — excuse me, wrong word, they favored one another well enough.” And he grumbled to himself, remembering how much disruption that favor had personally caused him. That was a story — a damned complaint! — for another time, so he simply said, “he proposed to her and she accepted. It was not well received on either side. The rediscovery of the Sungeni Blue — she facilitated it, and that’s what she had to do to win the Marid’s favor.”
Toby blinked. “By restoring a glaze?”
“It’s much more than that to the people of the Marid, Toby,” said Bren. “Imagine for a minute that some person were trying to make a permanent alliance with our President, someone from the opposition, even, and no one would accept her until she proved herself. And that she did so by restoring an emotionally crucial chunk of the data archives we lost in the War of the Landing, like the video diaries of the first settlers. That’s what Rao did.”
Toby let out a low whistle. “Wow, that’s huge. Does it mean that the Edi and the Taisigi are allies now?”
“Well…no. The Edi claim that Machigi kidnapped her.”
“Is that what happened?”
“No,” Bren said. “And it tells me they don’t know her at all, if that’s what they truly think. No, Rao made the choice to go with him herself — I was there. It happened here, during a conference that Ilisidi wanted me to broker between Machigi and the Grandmothers of the Edi and the Gan. Rao was here because she was in the succession of lordship of the Edi — she was the Granddaughter, second in line.”
“Oh my god.”
“Yes. It did not go well.”
Toby pursed his lips. “The Grandmother of the Edi is furious, eh?”.
“‘Furious’ does not really capture it, brother,” Bren said. “She exiled Rao at the time, and has since then ordered a complete embargo of all things Marid.”
“Surely that can’t last, not with all of the opportunities that are opening up down there,” Toby said.
“Maybe not. But I can’t see her backing down in this.”
“Even now that her granddaughter is going to be having a baby?” Toby said. The news of that had hit the newswires promptly.
“Well, there is hope in that, if she ever accepts that this was Rao’s decision, and doesn’t accuse Machigi of rape.” He could not stop himself from making a face. “I truly hope that doesn’t happen.” Because she might just end up in Machigi’s garden if she does. He sighed and made a concerted effort to turn back towards optimism. “Maybe the baby will make a difference, though, especially if — when, god willing — she understands her granddaughter wants this child. Babies do have an amazing effect on atevi — it’s another way they’re similar to humans, though of course for different instinctive reasons.”
“Will it have an effect on Machigi, is what I want to know,” said Toby.
“The baby? Maybe,” Bren said. “But I think that his wife will have more of one by far. Ilisidi thought she would be a good influence on him,” he noted. Toby, like he himself, had a good opinion of the dowager’s instincts on such matters. “Rao’s a bit wild, herself, being Edi, but the Edi are a very centered people, for all that they may still be, ah, rough around the edges. Which oddly makes her a good match for him. But she is, at the same time, a grounded person. She’s a good sailor, I’m told, and it’s apparent that she’s able to navigate political currents as well. Ilisidi thought that she would even out some of Machigi’s wilder impulses.”
“She’ll be his sea anchor,” Toby observed.
Bren grinned. “Exactly so.” He swirled his glass and the ice in his vodka and shebai made pleasant little clinking noises. “I wonder whether being a father will settle him further. Or,” and here he frowned. “Make him more ruthless, once he has a family to protect.”
“Maybe you should worry more about her,” Toby said. “What will she become, once she’s a mother? Granted I have far less experience than you, brother, but the Edi have always struck me as fierce.”
“Hm, good point,” Bren replied. “I wonder how much of her Grandmother is in her. Both she and Machigi have adopted a rather Edi approach to her pregnancy,” he added.
“Oh, how so?” Toby tilted his head.
“Well, by making a public announcement right away, for a start. Traditional mainland atevi would have waited a lot longer, but the Edi are far more outgoing — not just when it comes to celebrating pregnancy, you understand, but in everything. One of the reasons they’ve had such a challenge making their way in terms of the mainland culture is that they’re ever so much more expressive than is generally accepted in the mainstream. In fact, the Marid is a lot like that also. I think…” and here he stopped himself from falling into a lecture about the history of the Southern Island and its impact on the Marid and Edi and Gan cultures. He could tell from the twinkle in Toby’s eyes that his brother had recognized it, too, and chuckled. “Anyway, the northern and central attitudes towards these matters is much more reserved. It’s a private matter, you see, and I can’t help but suspect there’s a lot of superstition about it also.”
“They don’t want to jinx it,” Toby said.
“Exactly. You will recall that Damiri participated in limited state dinners and other events while she was pregnant with Cajeiri and later with Seimiro, but that was fairly unusual. It had to do with the fact that she is Tabini's consort, but more because of the political issues with her family that were happening — she had to be seen.
“But there’s a lot I don’t know. When it comes to topics related to procreation — it’s something that atevi generally aren’t going to discuss with humans — even me.” Bren held up his hands to forestall an improper observation from his brother about Jago. “I know! I know! But you have to understand, it’s a very touchy subject, and what little I do know is very personal thank you very much, so I won’t discuss with you.” Because I am sleeping with an Assassin and would like to continue breathing, brother.
“So you think that Machigi has taken up his wife’s Edi approach,” Toby said.
“Not exactly. It think it’s more than that. So many people made it plain how much they disapproved of this union. Few expected it to be successful. Most predicted ruin, both privately and openly. So I suspect that this is less about her being Edi as it is Machigi taking a certain glee in throwing their success in their detractors’ faces. And, considering the source, I’m sure there is not a little personal satisfaction, at her, ah, condition,” he added, taking a sip from his glass.
“He’s proud of himself for knocking her up so fast,” Toby translated.
The vodka absolutely made its exit through Bren’s nose and — god! — it burned. Staff surged forward with surgical precision to wipe down the chair, replace the glass, offer him a handkerchief. He accepted gracefully and dabbed at his face in a vain attempt to cover his loss of composure. “Well…yes. Consider the source.”
Barb returned from shopping — and no report of any incident in the township reached him, thank God. Toby went back to their suite to meet her and perhaps survey the damage to their accounts, which of course was his account, but for the moment, the result was that Bren was alone.
He settled down at his desk, his glass of vodka and shebai refreshed by the ever-vigilant staff, and in very short order he discovered that he was in fact not alone, and that his senior security team had a question. About language, comma, Mosphei’, colon, vocabulary.
It was extremely useful to him that his aishid could follow conversations in Mosphei’ that they happened to overhear. He rated their skill in Mosphei’ as “enough to be dangerous” and he knew that they were always seeking to expand the boundaries of their knowledge. So he had rather expected this.
He carefully set down his glass, not wanting a repeat of the earlier incident. “To be ‘knocked up’, intransitive, is to be pregnant,” Bren explained carefully, trying to be both technically accurate and also delicate about it. “There is, as you heard, an, ah, transitive form.” God. “But the phrase itself in either aspect is not entirely proper. It is, ah —”
“Blunt,” said Banichi. “Somewhat irreverent.”
“It is an energetic metaphor,” Jago suggested.
“Yes.” Bren felt his face go hot. ‘Energetic metaphor’. God. The two of them were getting far, far too conversant in Mosphei’ these days.