Secretary Park’s call intruded on prawns in coconut sauce. She told me to come to a construction site on Old Jade Turtle Island. I didn’t know where Old Jade Turtle Island was, but I knew I didn’t need to go. Secretary Park, the architect, and the engineers could prepare their recommendations and beam them over in the ordinary course of harmonious bureaucratic practices.
I could then point at one and it would be over.
“How hard is it to put bricks back into a wall?” I asked.
“The flying disk will pick you up in ten minutes,” said Secretary Park.
She disconnected before I could sigh melodramatically.
Secretary Park comes from the north. Her people (still called “barbarians” by the Jin), are stocky, plain, and plainly spoken. My ethnic group, the Wa People, occupy a belt of archipelagos wrapped around the waist of Lirsautton V (Tei-Su in the Jin tongue, and Dai-Yu in our tropical dialect). Leveraging our maritime advantage, Wa People (called “soggy pirates” by Mei People; and “Mei Collaborators” by Jin People), have dominated the resort and transport sectors on Dai-Yu forever.
My clan’s province is a collection of “ten thousand islands” scattered between Jin Continent, Mei Continent, and Lai (no relation) Continent. Thousands of years earlier than forever ago, Lai Continent became half submerged when Geomancer Sect bombarded the planet with ice taken from the rings of Twin Heavens in order to raise sea levels to an auspicious height.
Geomancer Sect did quite a number on Lirsautton V.
Jin-Mei, The Little Seeds Who Have Fallen, descend from the rangers, wardens, botanists, zoologists, veterinarians, geologists, and more brought in by precursor magnate Ma Xi Pong to conserve his nature refuge planet. We have not done badly, but there really shouldn’t be huge stone walls on any Old Jade Turtle Islands.
Bathing regularly in sunlight and warm water, Wa People have developed luxuriously dark complexions - and a deep disdain for confining architecture. Back when Jin and Mei Peoples made stone walls, we wove strips of bamboo into “bird nests.” Even now, our architecture resembles nests, though our contemporary materials are the most advanced polymer steels known.
The flying disk circled a cabochon blob of granite covered by lush tropical rainforests. Ten thousand granite blobs just like it made up the vast Hei Shi’an Batholith. A professional tour guide, my pilot explained that one Jin emperor sailed an armada to Old Jade Turtle Island and built a wall around it. From there, he planned to conquer nearby islands and build walls around them.
It is recorded “the Jin conquered Tei-Su with walls.”
Their masonry was exquisite. So was their siege equipment. That is why we are the Jin-Mei and not the Mei-Jin. But the earth shakes a lot in Hei Shi’an Province. Nests woven from bamboo or polymer steel ribbons wobble but don’t fall down. Impregnable Jin walls fall down. We, the Wa People, waited. The walls fell.
“Jin Emperor’s garrison was ransomed for beef,” said my pilot.
She was very pleased with our victory over the pompous Jin. We landed.
“It is the last original Jin tower in Hei Shi’an Province,” said Secretary Park.
The chief archaeologist nodded somberly.
“And it’s a mess,” said the engineer.
“Foreign guests keep climbing it,” said the island manager. “Someone will get killed.”
I walked toward the masterpiece of pre-industrial warfare, but the Jing Ko foreman pulled me back. Blocks could fall at any moment. Was it really that bad, I asked? “Yes,” answered Secretary Park, the architect, the engineer, the foreman, and a dozen workers all at once.
“I see,” I said.
I did see. Yes, the problem had become clear.
Even if a grand boulevard became blocked, ministers could not take a back alley to reach the palace. We, the Little Seeds Who Have Fallen, call one another barbarians, pirates, and pompous assholes. That notwithstanding, all the tribes of Dai-Yu revere bits of history like Amarrians revere pieces of dead saints.
This old tower and its masonry, made more magnificent by ruin and abuse, recorded Wa triumphing over Jin. The Saan-Go, those genetically engineered professionals, could not include an option to tear the sacred relic down. Not even Secretary Park, squat, plain, and plainly spoken, could override her programming to suggest the idea, not even in jest. Everyone was relying on me to Refuse The Dedicated Minister’s Brief, thereby sacrificing myself to a month in The Palace of Cold Rice.
I sighed melodramatically.
“No,” said the foreman.
“The rock is too brittle,” said the foreman.
The engineers shook their heads. The stone was shot.
“But the island is still here,” I said.
“The island is falling apart, too,” said the consulting geologist. “But this rock was quarried, hauled, and hammered into place. Rain has enjoyed centuries of access to its cracks.”
I pressed my eyes shut and bounced on the balls of my feet for several seconds.
There would be no record of this conversation in the Dedicated Minister Briefs. When queried by my mother (and they all would be), the genetically engineered professionals would insist, credibly, that it was my idea. The target best able to survive an attack should take it. Fair enough. But I would have to give my mother something. Puffing out my chest and preening, I waved one hand lazily in the direction of the tower. I sought to combine a nobleman from masked operas with a Gallente art curator preparing to lecture on a piece.
Everyone, even Secretary Park, took a step back.
“Do we have a sculptor?” I asked.
The architect stepped forward. He saluted by holding his arms out in front of his chest and placing the fingers of one hand neatly behind the fingers of the other. He first apologized for his inadequacy, as ritual demanded, and then recounted his extensive training in traditional Jin-Mei sculpture, Mannar abstract expressionism, all the Caille schools - and finished with a list of prestigious awards earned.
My nods conveyed I expected nothing less.
“Wrap the tower in bamboo,” I said grandly, “and polymer ribbons. There are extras from the space elevator. Secretary Park can arrange deliveries.”
Secretary Park saluted in the traditional fashion and affirmed that it was so.
“Take out the rocks,” I said. “But leave a couple there… and there… and over there. Pick the ones that are prettiest. Put in a bronze tablet that explains our victory. Geomancer?”
The Geomancer stepped forward and saluted.
“Give the removed rocks a burial in the cove with suitable honors.”
All assembled professionals and workers saluted as if controlled by one mind.
“Most Favored Grandson is wise,” they said in unison.
Truthfully, that line never gets old.
This time, I even felt wise.
The architect won two more prestigious awards for transforming an ancient stone tower into an ethereal reminder of power’s fleeting nature. A landscape designer added spooky lights to illuminate the granite boulders enigmatically entombed in cut corals on the cove’s white sand floor. The Scope ran a feature on how prehistoric rituals ground us in something more than our contemporary lives. Bungalow bookings on Old Jade Turtle Island tripled.
My mother sent me to The Palace Of Cold Rice for only two weeks.