“Expectations are like children,” my grandmother insists whenever opportunities arise. “Only have them when there is no other choice.” Navigating the metallic labyrinth of Vherokior Tribe Bureau, Elduff IV, I expected to celebrate the start of a new journey with sixteen extended families. It went that way on two previous visits. This time, Secretary Park and I followed ominous security personnel to an ominous conference room with ominous mirrored windows. I admired my reflections; representatives of the central government asked questions. Mostly, they asked the same question: why was I ferrying Vherokior artists out of Republic space?
“Is it part of some ritual to destroy a planet?” they asked wryly.
“The opposite!” I protested.
“Creating a planet?”
“Young artists are leaving Lirsautton for the stars,” I wailed. “They are cheerful and bright and, under the watchful eyes of exacting parents, have developed impeccable synchronization skills. These young performers now utterly dominate the Federation’s music and fantasy holoreel scenes. Although we are proud of our little seeds, their industriousness has left our home deprived of light.”
I thought it sounded suitably diplomatic.
“Oh, that is tragic,” said one of the central government representatives unsympathetically. “But a foreign planet’s loss of synchronized pop stars is not a Matari problem.”
“The province administered by my grandmother is a tropical archipelago….”
“I’m sure that’s nice.”
“As a tropical archipelago,” I continued, “it enjoys an abundance of colorful, sandy beaches.”
“We are not interested in travel brochures.”
“If you quit interrupting me, I will get to what you purport to be interested in.”
That was less diplomatic. Saiteeva Uri, an old Vherokior woman, chuckled.
“Remember that this is not your fire pit,” she told my interrogator.
An invisible force eased him back in his seat and he shrank a little.
“Fine,” he said. “Let’s get to what we are interested in.”
“My grandmother, who is wise, realized Vherokior artistic traditions translate well to our sandy beaches. Having made a connection with that community during the opening of a space elevator, she now sponsors the emigration of sand painters while we construct a twin elevator off the coast of our main island.”
A severe woman leaned forward - severely.
I lack an ability to differentiate between ethnic Matari beyond Vherokior and Brutor. Mingling often leaves me confused even in those cases. The severe woman was not any kind of Matari I knew. Maybe she was Krusual. What do the Krusual look like? I am told they disguise themselves out of habit. The woman who may have been Krusual sarcastically summarized my explanation as an attempt to inflict on the Republic the same harm we sought to ameliorate on Lirsautton V.
Secretary Park twitched.
Meticulous in her penmanship, gifted with tremendous bureaucratic acuity, by rights my secretary should have served beside more consequential descendants of the Dragon than Most Decorative Grandson. Her clan rose to prominence during the Sing Dynasty a very long time ago. Secretary Park likes to claim my ancestors were naked pirates at a time when hers negotiated treaties between rival emperors, but that is historically inaccurate.
My ancestors controlled many large (and an uncountable number of small) islands between three continents (or two continents and a giant island; or, two continents and a partially submerged sub-continent), and had traded piracy for merchant hospitality services while Clan Park was still running around a frozen tundra in blue wolf pelts. As it happens, it is possible to get more from merchants who want to give you their stuff than when you try to take it from them. At some point in the past, all Sang Do dynasties transitioned from brigandry to purveying comfort.
In our present moment, however, my most fastidious secretary is prone to intemperate outbursts. She becomes particularly irate whenever parties to a collection of documents fail to live by the understandings memorialized. There was some discussion of trading her for an entire household of up-and-comers. When not gesticulating wildly or showing off martial arts holds, however, Secretary Park’s bureaucratic work product is exceptional. More consequential descendants of the Dragon therefore decided to insulate the divine talent from vagaries of political negotiation by placing her in my pool.
The arrangement worked well for years.
So well, the danger had been forgotten. Only now, my secretary and I found ourselves before floor to ceiling mirrors and in the middle of an international dispute. Truthfully, we both looked fantastic. Bureaucrats at all levels had discussed the emigration strategy in question for days going on weeks going on months. They recognized the relocation of a few dozen sand painters would not drain the Republic of artistic lifeblood. Furthermore, in free societies, artists enjoy the freedom to travel. As a condition of resettlement, we paid return fares in advance in case anyone got homesick. All this was memorialized in documents with impeccable penmanship. I could not afford to allow Secretary Park a moment of self expression.
“We draw from the stars to a single world,” I said expansively. “It is the inverse of the harm.”
“For now,” nodded the severe woman of ambiguous ethnicity.
I needed to bring my ally into the discussion.
“As ancient Vherokior caravans tied disparate tribes of a shared world together,” I expounded, “today, we invite them to tie together tribes across the emptiness of space. Our youth admire the fluidity of their culture and have adapted it into their ‘bip bop’ genre. It expresses freedoms they long for in our rigid - albeit harmonious - society. Once our artists see pioneers from their most admired culture settling on our ancestral home, the seeds of their own desire to return will take root. In this way, the problem we face diminishes. As it fades, so does the pressure to look for extraterritorial solutions.”
Secretary Park’s irritation shifted to my babbling. Mission accomplished.
“Your questions have been answered,” Saiteeva announced.
“Our questions have not…,” the severe woman began to object.
“It is settled,” said Saiteeva, standing. “We leave you to write your report.”
We left them to write their report.
Saiteeva’s hands waved expressively as we walked the metallic labyrinth.
“The Tribe is sovereign,” she said. “That kind has no power here.”
“That kind wanted a bribe,” groused Secretary Park. “Eight years in offworld labor!”
Saiteeva laughed, and we joined the party.
Few Jin-Mei dishes qualify as remotely spicy. Rather than spices, our culinary tradition focuses on bewildering variety. Also, presentation; yes, presentation first. Variety ups the number of dishes; the more dishes, the more opportunities for grandchildren to present dinnerware. The act of eating must never distract from appreciating the presentation, the room, conversations, or acrobatic dinner theater performances. If a guest reached for a soothing beverage in response to burning flecks of pepper, they might miss an insightful comment or a remarkable gymnastic twirl. At its most utilitarian, of course, Jin Mei cuisine packages food that can be inhaled quickly into cute boxes. Soft noodles in warm sauces place no unreasonable demands on digestive processes.
Vherokior cooking follows a different philosophy.
Up before the sun on a dusty trail halfway to some other place, caravan merchants of antiquity needed a kick in the face to get going. Their food was “awakening.” This being my third new journey celebration, I constrained myself to fluffy breads paired with diced avocados. Secretary Park, never willing to concede any point, once again suffered for her pride.
“You look like General Hu,” I said.
Inebriation impaired her martial reflexes enough for me to lean back from the swing. General Hu’s execution inspired a lobster dish served at state (small “s”) functions. After being separated from its ungainly body, the lobster’s tail is split, skewered, and waved back and forth above a flame until the shell matches the color of Secretary Park’s charcoal suit; the tail itself becomes brilliant pink.
After festivities concluded, we loaded everyone aboard the cruiser. One boy asked if it was a Navy Vexor. I explained it was an ordinary Vexor. A girl said ordinary Vexors had a “retro vibe.” Were the drones at least high tech mark seven hunter assassins? I am not sure mark seven hunter assassin drones exist, but I conceded these drones were, like the Vexor, ordinary.
“Lame. Can we watch them blow something up?”
Children are like expectations, I reminded myself; only have them when there is no other choice.