The ante chamber of the Vratprodbuhutta Achaert is a place of anticipation, of hopes and fears. In one corner a wiry man with a blistered cheek watches the other occupants with guarded intensity, perhaps to distract himself from the anticipation of his own audience at the ‘justice hall’ of one of Poitot’s founding families. There a greybeard in trader’s robes bristling with indignation at anyone looking his way. Here a youngster in flight gear, eyes downcast in private dread. The doors to the audience chamber slide open, releasing the previous petitioner to be led away weeping, as the summons ring out, “Menkalinan!”
Beyond the doors, a dais with a single chair confronts petitioners, its occupant, swathed in Indradhanush silks all colours of the sunset and with bleached hair arranged in a constellation of ornate pins. She smiles indulgently at the wiry visitor, a predatory gleam lurking in her pale eyes. “Adam… How good of you to make time away from scrambling the greasy pole.” Her laugh a silver requiem for disagreement.
“I am honoured by the summons, Khararjya…”
The tiny dysprosium bell hanging from one hair pin tinkles, as if echoing its wearer’s amusement. “Fear not, this interview will be much more pleasant that the wretch before you… You have done well in Harroule. It is time to discuss what next.”
The petitioner touches an index finger to his left ear deliberately, a gesture of compliant attention that somehow rattles the smile fixed on him. “…Sometimes I think you are blessed, Adam, to have no sense of… our past lives.”
“Often I feel a cripple, among the Reborn.”
She shakes her head, the bell chiming bittersweet as she sighs. "…Bad news first. You’re going to lose Isana. Having established our connection with the Archon and delivered that new hospital, she is wasted at the Kohipur sideshow. Find someone else. I heard your brother is a half descent researcher.”
She points at him, an unsubtle Intaki expression forbidden in polite society, but often used as a way of saying ‘shut your mouth’ by superiors and disappointed parents alike, “Maybe a project will help straighten him out. Besides, if something goes wrong there, we can pin it on him.”
The wiry man’s gaze challenges the pale eyes on the dais for three ear-thumping heartbeats before dropping in submission. “Good… Now, some good news. You’ve been cleared to swim in deeper waters: bearer depository account charges for Lai Dai scrip issued by The Bank; and criminal service contracts for ship crew auctioned by us."
"…And don’t get greedy with the scrip trading. We make a little margin while reminding Lai Dai that we could crash their currency but we don’t want to encourage them do anything drastic, hmm?”
“Understood Khararjya. …Aren’t the crew contracts a bit like… slavery?”
“Don’t be such a Federal! They get paid, a bit, and are free to go when their term is served.”
She wrinkles her nose, sighs slowly through it, and concedes the point with the tiniest nod of acknowledgment. “Fine, survival rates aren’t great but naval deserters have no business hiding from justice out here, and between the refugees and our own miscreants, you know we don’t have the resources to lock them up. So…”
“So… Anything else?”
The bell tinkles in amusement again as the robed figure on the dias leans forward. “So? You are so like your grandfather! Of course there’s something else."
Menkalinan smiles, politely, but with a flicker of satisfaction at this shared understanding.
"Rumour has it those Ishukone people down in JQV5-9 are in the market for someone to help them with the locals. I want you to take the job. Relations between the Megas are in zero-G right now with all these new trade partnerships, so we need to be sure to stay close to Ishukone. Go and make yourself useful, keep your ears open, you know what I mean.”
Menkalinan makes the biggest, deepest, most flagrantly respectful bow he can, to the sound of tinkling bells and charmed laughter.