Come The Revolution – Snippet 09
We passed through a security station manned by Munies and into the chambers of the Good-Soul Counseling House. Counseling on Varoki worlds was generally what we called lawyering, although the services offered were a bit broader and usually included legislative lobbying, mediation, financial planning, and astrology.
Varoki astrology was different from the terrestrial version, but most civilizations that start out as agricultural societies — like us and the Varoki — end up pretty interested in the seasons, moon phases, calendars, all that stuff. Early religions get built around the movement of the stars, and when more sophisticated religions displace them, the older ones turn into superstition. Superstition waxes and wanes in popularity, as near as I can tell depending upon how shitty life is. For the last dozen years it had been pretty bad for a lot of folks, and it seemed to be getting worse. The Varoki were on top of the heap and hadn’t felt the hard times right away, but they were beginning to. Trade, commerce, all that stuff just wasn’t ticking along quite as well as it used to, and it seemed like every economist had a different theory as to why it was happening and what to do about it. Some of them had two theories. I suppose that explained why astrology was a growth industry again, along with charismatic motivationalists like Gaant. It explained it psychologically, anyway. It didn’t make it any less stupid.
The meeting room’s south wall was floor-to-ceiling composite windows overlooking the Wanu River, about twenty meters down. The water was nearly a kilometer wide here. The south wall of the arcology was almost right on the river, with just a walking path between the building foundations and the bank. A mix of commercial barge traffic and small, fast-looking private boats drew long, fading white lines of wake on the dark river surface.
A smart surface covered the office wall opposite the river windows, with open floor space in front for holographic displays, either for presentations or remote conferencing. The smart surface was a neutral warm gray today, though. This meeting was strictly skin-time.
<Marr, you hear me?> I sub-vocalized on my embedded commlink.
Yes. Are you there?
<Yeah. Nice view of the river. Not as high up as our place, though. Gaant’s full of surprises today.>
We weren’t expecting Gaant. Does that mean trouble? She asked.
Silence for a long moment.
Be careful, she transmitted.
Careful? I figured I’d already blown that by not getting back into the autopod.
The polished stone surface of a long table down the center of the room reflected the afternoon sun just starting to emerge from rainclouds and overcast. Twelve chairs lined each side. The side nearest the dormant smart wall already held eleven expensively-dressed Varoki males, most of whom I recognized by sight even though I’d only met two of them. Three wore the ceremonial gray robes of an uBakai wattaak, while most of the rest wore colorful and expensive business suits, most of them made of shimmering metallic fabric. Our folks were, by contrast, dressed conservatively, almost austerely, in solid-color suits, gray for Gaisaana-la and The’On wearing the dark green of the field service uniform of the Executive Council’s Corps of Counselors.
I saw Vandray e-Bomaan, the second governor of AZ Simki-Traak, whom I’d stood five feet from at several corporate functions without him ever giving an indication he recognized my existence. I was surprised to see someone that high up in the official hierarchy. Bringing him in meant they were either confident or desperate, and I had no idea which.
A second long table backed it up with administrative staffers, also mostly male, lining it. On our side The’On and Gaisaana-la sat across from the opposition, the other ten chairs empty. Ah-Quan and I stood behind them, our backs to the giant windows. Ah-Quan and I were also the only non-Varoki in the place. The set-up, with all those bodies packing their side of the room, was clearly meant to intimidate us, show us how much combined power and expertise we were up against.
Gaant sat down in the remaining open chair on the opposition side of the table and a Varoki seated at the head of the table spoke.
“Ah, I am Councilor Rimcant, vice-governor of the Good-Soul Counseling House, and I have been, ah, asked by the Group of Interest to preside over this meeting. I thank all of you for agreeing to attend. I now advise everyone to power down your embedded commlinks. This is a, ah, private negotiating session and the house communication jammers will activate in thirty seconds.” He sat back and waited.
<Jammers coming up,> I commed to Marrissa. <Have to power down.>
I love you, she answered.
And then I was alone with the faint background hum of the comm jammers. Jamming meant that no one would be able to communicate, of course, and also would be unable to access their float memory. Everyone had hand readers or viewers with onboard memory, loaded with whatever data they needed for the meeting. But the purpose wasn’t to limit access to information, it was to keep it private and unrecorded.
“Mister Naradnyo, would you and your, ah, associate care to sit?” Counselor Rimcaant asked. “There are many empty chairs on your side of the table.”
“I did not come here to sit across from a criminal,” e-Bomaan, the AZ Simki-Traak second governor, said, his ears folding back against his head. The Varoki to his left, lead counsel for the firm representing the other heirs of the e-Traak family, nodded in agreement.
“Mister Naradnyo is not a criminal,” Gaisanaa-la said with steel in her voice, but e-Bomaan did not even glance at her.
“That’s all right,” I said. “I’d prefer to stand.”
“What did you come here for?” The’On asked.
Governor e-Bomaan leaned back in his chair and made a vague hand gesture. “We came to negotiate a compromise.” I noticed he didn’t look around for approval to speak, so The’On had pegged the head guy right out of the gate, and by making it a conversation between the two of them, he’d turned this whole room-full of other folks meant to intimidate us into a bunch of spectators. He was good at this.
“Compromise?” The’On said. “Compromise of what? Of Tweezaa e-Traak-Lotonna’s legal rights?”
“You mean you are not willing to negotiate?” e-Bomaan shot back.
“Please,” Mr. Rimcaant said from the head of the table, making calming gestures with his hands. “Let us, ah, proceed in a polite and orderly manner. I am sure all of us here want the same thing.”
I looked at him and about half the heads in the room turned as well, all thinking: Want the same thing? Was he crazy? He must have noticed the reaction.
“All of you want an end to the violence, do you not?” he said. “Whatever your goals, they were not advanced by the, ah, disturbances yesterday. Sakkatto City is not only the capital city of Bakaa, but also the economic hub of our homeworld, and the Varoki homeworld is the, ah, epicenter, yes the epicenter of all major economic activity in explored space. The Cottohazz holds its breath, waiting to see what will happen here next.”
Well, that was a bit dramatic, I thought. Given the speed of travel and communication, even the closest other planets of the Cottohazz wouldn’t hear about this dust-up for a week, and it might be a month or more before the news spread all the way to backwaters like Earth. Then maybe people would hold their breath, but whatever was going to happen would probably be over by then. Nobody contradicted Rimcaant though, and after a pause he went on.
“Interstellar commerce has been weakening for over five years. Capital formation has withered for three years. The continuing, ah, difficulties on K’Tok have contributed to Cottohazz-wide uncertainties. To that end, I am sure I speak for everyone here in thanking the Honorable e-Lotnaa for his fine work on K’Tok for the Cottohazz executive council.”