A Compact Model
This part originally appeared in the February/March 2015 issue.
205th of 2029 (031-98): The Protectorate Council Building, Waicir
Special Agent Fakri Vu had been a little concerned when two plain clothes Verasras1 officers turned up at his hotel room; he had been assured his identity documents were perfect forgeries. And perhaps more than a little perplexed when they drove him to the Council Building. He was surprised as he was escorted to the anteroom to a rather large and plush office. Surprise had turned to shock when he read the name on the door; why on earth would she want to see him? Lady Councillor Manish looked up as he entered. “Ah, Vu Special Agent, so pleased you could come.” She made a show of disabling the security recording devices in the office. “You are aware, I assume, that falsifying entry documents is a serious offence?” Her smile told him this was not why she wanted to see him.
He grinned slightly. “A slight lapse in memory?”
“Yes; Harris, Vu; so easy to confuse the two. I’ve taken the liberty of preparing correct documentation. I just need the purpose of your visit?”
He considered for a moment. “Sightseeing.”
She peered down her elegant nose “Sightseeing?”
“Sightseeing, My Lady.”
She returned his grin. “Oh, no need for such formality;” a tiny pause, “‘Madam’ will do. Sightseeing it is, then. In which case, you simply must dine with me this evening. It would be an honour.”
He was rather baffled by this “Madam?”
He could see she was enjoying his momentary confusion “You know, there are those on the Council who think we should give you a commendation, or at least a vote of thanks.” She turned her monitor to face him. It was displaying a security video of an encounter with a marine force commander from several years ago.
“I thought all copies of that had been destroyed?”
“We are not without resources, Vu Agent.”
“I must say, my Luriani colleagues did admire your flair for the dramatic.” The recording reached the one point of the encounter which disappointed him. “Though I would have slipped a plate or something into the end plate of the book myself, far more impressive.”
He chuckled, “It would have spoiled the flow.”
“Probably correct; the quality of book bindings these days leaves much to be desired.” She switched the recording off. “I have, of course, arranged the proper accreditation with the Verasras, in case you should feel the need.”
He nodded politely, “I doubt I will.”
Her voice took a serious note. “Please have a care, Special Agent, our gratitude is not unlimited. I would not wish anything ill to befall you.”
He understood her meaning. “I will, Madam.”
She returned to her previous convivial tone “Well, in that case, I will have someone take you to acquire the… correct attire for this evening. I think my daughter may be free this afternoon; I’m sure you would enjoy her company.”
Agent Vu found he did indeed enjoy the company of Madam Manish’s daughter; she was quite charming, though she did seem somewhat irritated, as if she had somewhere else to be. “So, My Lady, you are stuck being my minder?”
She laughed, “I'm not ‘My Lady’, Vu Lul. In the Protectorate people do not take titles simply because of their parents. I’m ‘Dokhtor’ or ‘Manish Wa’. And I’m not your minder, he’s over inspecting the tie rack.”
Agent Vu had spotted the one by the ties and the one selecting a shirt. He’d assumed there was at least one more. “But you would rather be somewhere else?”
She batted her eyelids. “Yes and no, Vu Lul. I do have an… important task, but this is also important.”
He was again a little confused, but knew asking would be pointless. “So, doctor, academic or medical?”
“Medical. Though you are not a fool, Agent Vu; I am sure you know exactly who and what I am.” Her pleasant manner did not falter for an instant.
He did know who and what she was, he had studied her file extensively. It mentioned her intelligence, but not her charm and grace. He had expected someone rather more down to earth. “Yes, though I am a little surprised your mother would have you escort me.”
She giggled, “Why, are you planning on dragging me off to the Imperium to answer for my ‘crimes’, Vu Lul?”
Agent Vu had to admit the way she kept calling him ‘Vu Lul’ was rather entrancing; she was flirting with him, had been the entire time she had been with him. And despite knowing how dangerous that could be, he found himself being drawn in. “Of course not, Manish Wa, though there are many in the Imperium who would like nothing better.”
She giggled again. “I’m sure there are. So, dinner: I am rather looking forwards to it.”
Again slightly confused. “You will be dining as well? I thought three at dinner was regarded as unlucky in the Protectorate?”
She smiled ever so sweetly. “Oh, Vu Lul, we are not quite the slaves to superstition the Imperium believes, and anyway it will not be three; I will be accompanied.”
He was curious. “And who will be the lucky escort, Manish Wa?”
A slightly mischievous grin spread over her face “Now, Vu Lul, that would rather spoil the surprise.”
Madam Manish looked peeved “I am so sorry, Vu Agent; it is not like her to be late.”
Vu had studied Luriani etiquette and knew the correct response. “It’s quite alright; I’m sorry too. I’m sure time with your daughter is worth the wait.” He was rather looking forward to it actually.
Madam Manish looked up. “Ah, at last.”
Agent Vu looked over towards the door and dropped his glass in surprise. It wasn’t Manish Wa that stunned him, though she did look quite stunning; it was her escort, Sakuya Trace. He seemed terrified, slumped over, eyes darting this way and that. Vu noted he had a wild desperate look in those eyes, something had happened to him. Manish Wa approached the table elegantly, smiling broadly. “Why, Vu Lul, I didn’t realise I had that effect on you. May I introduce my escort Anthony James Ella Wagner Wagner Scientist.” The message was brutally blunt; young Lord Trace was under their protection. He wondered briefly if this display was for his or Sakuya’s benefit; probably both.
He recovered his composure. “I am so very sorry, Manish Wa, I mistook your escort for a wanted criminal. He has a very similar face.” He was equally blunt, it was a message he intended to ignore.
207th of 2029 (033-98): Gubashiidi Estate
Tonight was the night, Siish and Sharik’s engagement party. I was dreading it. I’d not been able to get much time with him; there were things he had to arrange and Sharik tended to monopolise his time. Siish and I had managed one dinner date. It had been awkward; we were in-between friends and lovers, neither knowing quite how to proceed. One hesitant kiss, that was as intimate as we’d got. Sharik, on the other hand, would be sharing his room tonight. I knew it would be like this, but it still hurt. I guess some kinds of sharing take getting used to. I was in the library, just sitting, I didn’t hear her come in. “Hey you, you look as nervous as a kadt about to face the review board. You need to get dressed, honey.”
“I know; just sitting, Jane.”
“Isabella’s here finally, brought young Sakuya with her, or should I say, ‘Anthony’. He looks even more nervous than you do.”
I considered telling Jane what I knew about Sakuya, but decided against it. “Okay, well, let’s get this over with.”
“Over with? It’s a party, honey; fun, remember?”
I think I was coping surprisingly well. I don’t know why this was so hard; I’d known exactly what the score was. I’d not had this trouble in the four days since I made my decision. I’d sat with Siish, I’d talked with Siish, I’d danced with Siish, I’d even managed to sneak away for a somewhat less hesitant kiss with Siish. He’d been attentive and caring, as a lover should. But I was nearly in tears. I’d watched them leave, upstairs, one room, one bed. I wasn’t even sure if I loved him yet and I all wanted to do was cry. Isabella came and sat beside me. It was the first time she’d left Sakuya’s side all evening. “You’re not okay, are you?”
“No; I want to cry.”
She put her arm around me. “It will get easier, with time; your time with him will come.”
“Yeah, second table, second dance, second kiss, second. A nuntarri2 comes second.”
I could see her suppressing a chuckle. “Nuntarri? As in the holodramas?”
I smiled; it must sound kind of funny. “Yep, that’s what I am now, a nuntarri.”
She grinned and raised her eyebrows. “Well, it’s an honourable role, apparently. Though imagining you in those dresses and plastered with that much make-up is kind of hilarious. And you’d better start brushing up on your cut-throat politics, too.”
I laughed a little; it was funny. “Firstly, everyone dressed like that then…”
“Yeah, but not all the time.”
“I’m sure they didn’t always wear that. Secondly, I’m certain they weren’t all ruthlessly doing the dirty on their lover’s political rivals; and thirdly, Siish doesn’t have any political rivals.” I was smiling; I felt a little better.
She chuckled. “Afira, how long have you been his nuntarri?” I could see her smiling as she said the word.
“Four days, not very long is it? And this is a very public declaration that they’re going to be matched, and the first time they’ve been together, something you and Siish haven’t managed yet. Give yourself a break, Afira. It’s kind of understandable you’d be upset.”
My mood lifted further. “Well, if you put it that way.”
She embraced me again. “I do put it like that. Your time will come.”
“Yeah, but she’ll always be his match, always first.”
She laughed. “Oh, yes, she gets to sit on the boards of leramiyasin3 charities, organise fund raisers for the disadvantaged, join the Tapestry Circle4, attend kamminlu5 recitals, do all the things the respectable match of a future Councillor has to do. Can you really see yourself doing that?”
I laughed. Kamminlu, I shuddered at the thought; and the Circle, just so not me. “And I get to fly off with him in a starship.”
“Yes. How long is a round trip in jump again?”
Perhaps not entirely better, but definitely okay, now. I smiled, “At least two weeks.”
“Usually a month or more. What you need is something to take your mind off this.” She thought a moment. “Sakuya’s over with Jane; he hasn’t danced all night. So get up off your butt, go over there, and have some fun. It’s a party, remember?”
208th of 2029 (034-98): Gubashiidi Estate
Despite eventually having fun last night, I was back in my funk. Jane came down to breakfast alone. “Why the long face, deary? It was a good party.”
Isabella answered for me. “She’s have a little trouble adjusting to her new place as our dear kaptan’s nuntarri.”
“Nuntarri? As in the holodramas?”
I looked up at her as she filled her plate. “Yes, Jane, nuntarri.”
I could see her sniggering. “What, with the hair and dresses and everything?”
This was getting a little irritating. “No, like me as I always was.”
She could see my irritation. “You’ve got to admit, deary, nuntarri, you, kind of funny.”
I didn’t. “So, where’s Ariaryn?”
“Keeping Sakuya company while he showers. The boy’s a nervous wreck; what the hell’s up with him?”
I could hear traces of anger in Isabella’s answer. “The intelligence services. That, Jane, is what’s up with him.”
She looked baffled and was about to reply when Ariaryn came in with Sakuya in tow. Jane was right; he did look like a wreck, but better than when he came back. Ariaryn was smiling; he smiled a lot lately. “So, what’s up?”
Jane kissed him. “Dear Afira has become a nuntarri and the rest of us are waiting for our beloved kaptan and his fiancée.”
“Nuntarri? As in the hol…”
I cut him off; this was really getting annoying. “Yes, Ariaryn, nuntarri, as in the holodramas. And no, no hair, dresses, make-up, politics or anything!”
Now Sakuya started. “What’s a nuntarri?”
Isabella answered. “It’s sort of a second partner, a cross between a lover and a spouse.”
Sakuya sounded confused. “Second wife? Why would somebody want a second wife? Why would anybody allow a second wife? And I thought, well, Afira and Jane…?”
Jane again, laughing. “No; we’re just best friends; it’s Afira and…”
I was getting close to losing it. “Can everyone just shut up about my love life and eat breakfast?”
The all looked at me and shut up. Apologies were exchanged and breakfast became rather quiet. Well, at least until Sharik came down.
Sharik was smiling, she came and kissed me lightly on the check. Jane went to make a comment; I glowered at her. Sharik sat across from me. “Thank you, Afira; it was lovely party and I appreciated your discretion.”
I knew she was trying to be gracious and meant it, but I was in a bad mood now. I nodded and mumbled, “You’re welcome.”
Sharik looked at Jane, Jane mouthed ‘Luriani thing’6 and Sharik nodded. That did not help. Sharik took a roll and started to butter it. “You know, Afira, there is a kamminlu recital Siishubuu and I have been invited to attend tomorrow afternoon. I was considering; if you have nothing you’d rather be doing, you may wish to attend in my place?”
I could think of many things I’d rather be doing. Cleaning out septic tanks sprang to mind. “Sharik, much as I’d love to, wouldn’t that be rather indiscreet, especially so soon after you and Siish have become officially engaged?”
She sighed heavily. “Yes, of course, you are right, much too soon. Perhaps next time.” I smiled, Isabella had been right, there were advantages to being the nuntarri.
Sakuya piped up, “What’s kamminlu?”
I looked over at him. “Imagine six hours of incomprehensible poetry set to atonal music, with the performers all thrashing about like a demented kwusimm7. That’s kamminlu.”
Sharik added glumly, “You forgot the costumes.” Obviously, Sharik’s view of kamminlu was similar to mine.
“I’ll go for you if you like. I’d like to see it.”
I could see she was giving it some serious consideration. “No; thank you, but no. It’s important for Siishubuu and I to be seen at these things.”
“Can I go with you anyway?” I stared at him, the boy was mad.
Isabella answered. “The trace, Sakuya, you’re still at two kilometres, remember?”
He looked disappointed, then smiled again, “But you could come and bring the mobile unit.” There was such a tone of hope in his voice.
Sharik smiled wickedly. “Yes, Isabella, you could escort him. Would do Sakuya good to get out and experience our culture.”
Isabella shot Sharik a very dirty look and sighed, “Yes, I suppose I could, if it’s okay with Sharik.” There was the slightest note of pleading in her voice.
She just kept grinning. “Of course; both Siishubuu and I would be delighted.” Sharik ate delicately awhile, then continued, “You know, Afira, I don’t know how you put up with those starship staterooms, so small. And the beds, even the doubles are tiny.”
I was a little confused and irritated; she had seemed very gracious before. “You learn to adapt, Shairk.”
A very odd grin spread over her face. “You know, I have to attend a court session in Intdil today, long boring depositions and the like.”
Still confused. “The exciting life of an advocate, I suppose.”
She nodded. “Yes, I suppose. And, well, Intdil is rather some distance away, and I considered I might spend the night. I was wondering if you may wish to… take advantage of my absence? For the entire night.”
I was rather stunned; she was being gracious after all. All I could manage was, “Yes.”
She smiled, “I had Siishubuu make reservations yesterday.”
It was mid morning now and I was standing in the Gubashiidi’s shooting range. I smiled, this was one way of working off my irritation from breakfast. Isabella had finally taken me up on my offer to help her improve her skill with a pistol. I was waiting for her, squeezing off a few rounds on my own first. I’d borrowed a p6 from Gubashiidi Geenant for Isabella to use and was refreshing myself with it. My grouping was off, I guess being annoyed was not helping my aim. I heard her approach. “Hey, I borrowed this for you.”
I carefully put the gun down and turned. She was carrying one of those metal attaché cases “It’s okay, I’ve brought my own.”
She opened the case. “Isabella, where the hell did you get that and what in Sesh’s name are you expecting!” there was a c58 in the case.
She smiled “That’s for later; I thought I’d start with this.”
She pulled a small pistol from the case, a p59. “Okay where did you get either of those? They’re both illegal.”
“It’s okay, I’ve got permits for them.”
She was talking like these were the most normal things in the world. This wasn’t the Isabella I knew “You don’t like guns; what’s going on, Isabella?”
She started to load the pistol. “Sakuya.”
“What about him? Here, let me.” She was struggling to load the magazine.
She handed me the gun; it felt so light and the polymer frame, odd. “The Imperium will be sending people after him.”
“So you thought you’d learn to shoot just in case?”
“Pretty much. I’ve been practising on my own a bit and Ariaryn said he’ll help, too.”
“You’re mad, Isabella; an Imperial agent would eat you for breakfast.” She grinned at that. I finished loading. I ran over the safety basics with her; I assumed the Imperials had taught her that in the Navy, but with Isabella it paid to check. “Okay, let’s see how good you are to start with.” I handed her the pistol. She stepped up to the line, took aim and fired six times. I was glad I was standing behind her. She managed to hit a target, just not the one she was aiming at. I dreaded thinking of the havoc she’d wreak with a c5.
- The Protectorate’s central law enforcement service, short form of verastifemraalweeras.
- The role and nature of the nuntarri was greatly distorted by later popular culture. At this time they were presented as something akin to an ancient Terran courtesan and predominantly female, neither of which were correct. The nuntarri was a product of the unusually high level of social stratification present in Luriani society during the First Protectorate and roughly evenly divided between men and women. Normally the Luriani have a relatively flat social hierarchy with easy social mobility. Immediately preceding and during the First Protectorate exposure to Terran culture lead to increasing social stratification. The nuntarri usually came from the middle classes and their partners the upper. Previously these couples would have become matched, but the reduced social mobility of the time prevented it. Thus the position of nuntarri evolved to accommodate these romantic relationships. Most had lives outside their role as nuntarri, occasionally even with a match and family of their own. As social mobility increased with the end of the First Protectorate (though never to its previous level), the position of nuntarri fell out into disuse.
- Literally, ‘children from another family’. While not fully interfertile with other branches of humaniti, Luriani can occasionally produce offspring with other humans. Such children are infertile and almost always born with serious physical and mental handicaps. These children are known as Leramiyasin and cared for by charitable institutions.
- The Lord Protector’s Council Spouses’ Tapestry Circle, usually just called the Tapestry Circle or simply the Circle. Supposedly just a social group for the partners of members of the Lord Protector’s Council, the Circle was actually one of the most politically influential bodies in the Protectorate. Its approval or disapproval could make or break a career in the Protectorate government or bureaucracy. While usually known for Machiavellian politicking, it also produced some of the finest examples of artistic needlework of the period.
- A type of performance art from ancient Vland. It mixes poetry, music, theatre and dance. It has been lost to mainstream Vilani culture and is now preserved only by the Mmarislusant. It is noted for the length of recitals and most Protectorate citizens (even amongst the Mmarislusant) consider it extremely tedious. Despite this, the Protectorate government goes to some considerable lengths to ensure its preservation as an art form.
- Verasti Dtareen and Mmarislusant frequently excuse their racial Luriani friends’ changeable moods simply as ‘a Luriani thing’. Many racial Luriani find this rather annoying.
- A bottom dwelling aquatic creature native to Daramm. It uses ten long tentacles to snare prey and drag it down to its mouth.
- The standard issue Protectorate zero-G weapon. Basically, a submachine gun firing 15mm HEAP shells.
- A small concealable side arm used by intelligence and law enforcement services. Constructed of advanced materials and undetectable by most sensors.