Playing With Matches
This part originally appeared in the October 2014 issue.
184th of 2029 (010-93): The Manish Estates
Madam Manish was waiting. Blandii had laid out the table for lunch with his usual exactitude; she did not know what she would do without him. The door opened, she received her customary kiss on the check. “My dear, it is so good to see you.”
“And you, Mother, it has been too long.” Her daughter surveyed the table and grinned, “I swear, Blandii must use a set square to lay out the dishes.”
“He is simply thorough, my dear. I must say I’m a little surprised to see you; I would have expected you to see the children first. You know they miss their bawa8 and your stories. They think your new life must be most exciting.”
A chuckle, “And their bawa greatly misses them. I’m planning on calling in on the school later today, I have a few new tall tales for them. But I wanted to see you first, Mother.”
Madam Manish tsked, “You must mind your conjunctions my dear; there is no excuse for sloppy language.”
This elicited a laugh, “Oh, Mother, you must forgive me; I’ve never understood your insistence on such precision.”
“I just do not approve of the tendency of the young to introduce modern Vilani mannerisms into our language, simply no need for it.” Madam Manish was more aware than most of the import of maintaining the slender line that separated the Mmarislusant from the Vilani. “However, I must ask what is so important you would put aside time with the children.”
Her daughter could see no point in beating around the bush. “Lord Sakuya Trace.”
Madam Manish looked grave. “I suspected you might take an interest in his fate.”
“Yes, Mother, I do. So, what’s to become of him?”
Madam Manish sighed; she knew this would not go down well. “There is already an order transferring him to Sesh Liryn.”
She could see the concern on her daughter’s face “So soon?”
She paused a moment, dreading what she had to say next. “There is worse. Oskar Sherin9 has secured the release of Padter Kolnel-Lekhtenant and had her placed in charge of it.”
Madam Manish saw her daughter’s look turn to one of sheer horror. She spoke so very softly, “Mother, he will not survive.”
She spoke comfortingly, “I know, but the order was signed by Oskar Sherin himself.”
Her daughter spoke heavily, “I suppose that limits your influence somewhat; I believe he still hasn’t forgiven you for calling his wife10 an ignorant, intolerant shrew.”
She sniggered slightly, “No, nor his grandson an ill-mannered spoilt brat.”
“Is there anything you can do, Mother?” There was pleading in her voice.
Madam Manish drew a long deep breath. “Perhaps; Lord Protector McCloud still favours me. For you I will try; I do understand your… distress.”
Her daughter took her hand. “I have forgiven you, Mother, you must know that.”
“Yes, my dear, but I have not forgiven myself.”
Her daughter kissed her check once more. “What’s done is done, Mother,” she sighed, remembering. “However, Siishubuu is also likely to call on you regarding the matter. I would prefer if you didn’t mention my interest.”
She smiled slightly, “Of course, my dear.”
Her daughter chuckled, “I do believe he has pre-empted you this time, though.”
“Oh? How so?”
“He has already asked Sharik Gubashiidi to the Lord Protector’s birthday ball11.”
Madam Manish most uncharacteristically dropped her knife laughing. “Your brother is full of surprises. And, my dear, are you attending?”
“I wasn’t planning to, Mother, and no, I do not wish you to arrange an escort for me.” Her heart was still somewhat tender from her mother’s last ‘arrangement’.
“A pity, it could have helped with Lord Trace.”
“Corwin12 and Peter McCloud are without anyone to escort. Lord McCloud had asked me if I could arrange something.”
“Really?” She grinned evilly, “Mmmm… I might just have a solution for that. Though it may annoy the Sherin’s a little.”
Her mother returned her grin, “And that is a bad thing, my dear?”
As predicted, Siish called on his mother later that day. He kissed his mother lightly and sat. Blandii had already brought tea. Madam Manish smirked ever so slightly, “So Siishubuu, your employment with Kirsov Geenal-Majkor, it went well?”
He was uncomfortable enough without her playing with him so obviously, “Mother, you have retired?”
His mother was caught off guard a moment. “Siishubuu?”
“I believed you were still a member of the Security Committee. As such, there would be very few reports you would not be privy to if you so chose.”
Madam Manish couldn’t help but smile just a little, so much of his father in him. “Indeed Siishubuu, and yes, I have reviewed your report to the Geenal-Majkor, most unfortunate. However, at least nobody was killed. All in all, an acceptable result in the circumstances.”
There was the slightest trace of anger in Siish’s reply, “Two people were killed, Mother, one far too young to be in this business. And two of my ami seriously injured. All in all, a fairly bad result, I’d say.”
His mother studied him carefully at length. “Yet you will do it again.”
His anger slipped away and his head fell forward. “Probably, yes.” It struck him as odd that he was so sure that they all would.
Madam Manish spoke gently, “I can guarantee your father would have been proud of you, though.” She poured him a tea. “But, regardless, I believe you are on holiday; will you be staying with us?”
“Most likely, Mother.”
“I’ve already had your room made up.”
“Thank you, Mother.” He considered, he’d avoided asking too long, “I have a favour to ask, Mother.” Might as well come straight out with it.
She suppressed the urge to smile and tried, with limited success, to sound innocent, “Yes Siishubuu?”
He took a deep breath. “The young man we brought back.”
“Trace Marquis’ son?”
“Yes; he was taken by intelligence after we returned. I am… concerned about what may happen to him.”
“He will be interrogated and hopefully ultimately paroled in some fashion, I imagine, once we can be sure he won’t draw undue attention to himself.”
His mother was not making this easy; he drew breath again, time to be blunt, “Mother, I am asking if you can expedite the process. He is… fragile, I doubt he would fare well in Intelligence’s hands.”
Madam Manish sipped her tea slowly and delicately, making a point of deliberating. “I may,” she emphasised the word, “be able to do something. However, the case is under the auspices of Oskar Sherin, so my influence is limited. But I will see what can be done.” She sipped her tea again.
“Thank you, Mother.” He waited for the toll.
“Now Siishubuu, the Lord Protector’s birthday ball is almost upon us, have you asked to escort anyone yet?”
And there it was. “I have already invited Sharik Gubashiidi, Mother.”
She feigned surprise, “Really! I am most relieved; it would have been such a scandal if my son were to attended unaccompanied. And she is quite the dancer I am told.”
186th of 2029 (012-98): An apartment in Antiavash
I’d arrived at Isabella’s the night before. I didn’t want to spend too long with my family; it had been… difficult. They tried, but it just wasn’t the same any more. My mother Renal was still mourning father Wilhem. Mother Seshka and father Erras told me of all the news. My sister Liakti had matched to Shen Raaryn and there was a baby expected soon. Kamees had joined the Navy and was away at the academy, while Jkaee had just graduated from the Tandaryn Lajkca y Daramm13 with honours in composition and performance. He’d make a fine musician; the whole family was proud of him. I just didn’t fit in with them any more.
Isabella’s place was not what I’d expected. I’d thought it would be one of those small two bedroom things, compact for someone living alone. It was huge, four bedrooms, separate kitchen, dining and living. Apparently a gift from the Manish’s when she decided to stay, something to get her started in the Protectorate. I had to chuckle; Isabella looked lost in the place as she gave me the grand tour. Her taste in décor was conservative, subdued without much movement. Oddly, it was quite restful. I noticed very few ‘personal’ touches, just a few pictures of Isabella with the Manish’s. Most noticeable was a big family portrait of the whole Manish family, Siish and his brother and sister with their spouses, Madam Manish, the grandchildren, and Isabella. There were five grandchildren, so it had to be fairly recent. She also seemed to have a thing for sesherin, the apartment was full of sculptures and paintings of them. I slept well; I’ll say something for luxury apartments, the beds are really comfortable.
Isabella woke me early, “Hey, sleeping beauty, breakfast’s up and you got mail.”
I didn’t want to get up. Four years cooped up in an Imperial prison and best part of four months on a starship. I eventually emerged, clean and bright, there was a bathroom just for me off the bedroom. This place was pure bliss. I wandered out into the kitchen, Isabella was eating. “Over in the pan; I’m no Ariaryn, but not that bad.”
I grinned as I served myself eggs and sausages “Isabella, I love this place; I think I’ll marry you.”
She sniggered at that, “Well, probably more reliable than my last proposal. But first you have to call me Issee.”
“Just an old nickname; I worked in a small hospital during the war, mostly with children, they had trouble saying ‘Isabella’.”
The thought of Isabella working with children and being called Issee seemed to somehow suit her. “You said I had mail? How can I have mail?”
“Ah, the universe works in mysterious ways.” She handed over two gilt-edged envelopes.
“This one is from Peter McCloud; isn’t that Lord Protector McCloud’s son’s spouse?”
“Yep,” She was smiling knowingly.
“What’s he writing to me for?”
“Well, if you open it, you’ll find out.” Her smug look was infuriating.
I opened the letter. “My dear Afira Renal Wilhem Corig Corig Seshyishinti, may I have the great honour of escorting you to the Lord Protector’s birthday ball? I look forward to your reply presently. Peter Arthur Anna Blumme McCloud Mrigadeer. But isn’t he…”
“Gay as the oceans are deep? Yep, but he is a wonderful dancer and quite charming. I got one from Corwin. Apparently neither had partners for the ball and somebody suggested us.”
“The Lord Protector’s ball, I thought you weren’t going?” Isabella had the benefit of being favoured by Madam Manish. It meant she got invitations to things like that.
Her eyes were twinkling, “Well the entire Sherin clan will be there and in the circumstances, I changed my mind. Being seen with the Lord Protector’s son…” she just smiled.
A sudden thought, “What about Jane?” I couldn’t go with her.
Isabella just grinned, “I’m sure something can be worked out.”
I picked up the second, no name on this one. “So who’s this one from?”
I opened the letter, my jaw dropped. “It’s from Sharik Gubashiidi. An invitation to lunch. Why in the name of every single god and spirit does she want to meet me?”
Isabella slapped me playfully, “You know, sometimes you are just so incredibly dense, Afira.”
The invitation was for one in the afternoon, at Iesejk’s in Waicir14, one of the finest restaurants on Daramm. I caught the scheduled shuttle and arrived around ten minutes early. I’d managed to convince Isabella to come with me; I just didn’t want to meet her alone. She was already there and stood as I entered; she was pretty, very pretty. I still didn’t quite understand what was going on. “Ah Corig Wa, I’ve been so looking forwards to meeting you.” She looked a little surprised at Isabella’s presence. “And Isabella, how are you? I’ve not seen you for an age.” She smiled and embraced first me then Isabella.
“Please, call me Afira.”
Her smile was a little odd, “And you simply must call me Sharik.” We all sat. “And Isabella, you are looking so well, Kamsi15 was asking after you the other day, hoping she might catch you before she set off on her latest expedition.” She seemed nice, but I still felt uncomfortable; I wasn't used to mixing with her level of society.
Isabella flicked out her napkin, “So, Sharik, to what do we owe the pleasure?” I guess four years with the Manish’s had taught her how to blend in.
“Well, the ball is fast approaching and I thought perhaps we could fit in a little shopping later.”
I was a little puzzled, “Shopping?”
“Yes my dear, we’ll need new gowns, you know.” She talked as if I were a child.
“I was just planning on dress uniform.”
“Oh how… Imperial16. But you’d look stunning in something by Eervir17.”
The waiter approached, “Hello, my name is Enli. I will be your server today; would you care for anything to drink?”
Sharik looked up, “May I?”
I wasn’t quite sure what to do. “Please.” Isabella just nodded.
“We’ll have bottle of Imadi, I think, a twelve if you have one.”
“I think so, Wa.” He left.
I’d grown up in a simple working family and was so out my depth here. Isabella seemed to be coping so I just followed her lead. We ate and we shopped, we drank wine as we tried on outfit after outfit. Eervir himself saw to us. I had to laugh, he was the first person I’d met who was honest. He said whatever I chose would have to altered, to hide the scars. He didn’t treat me like I was fragile and would break, just was honest. I let Isabella and Sharik help me pick a dress, it was something that Jane would have approved of. The ball was in a few days and the outfit was made to measure and expensive, but I had four years back pay and, well, we were rich now. I smiled; I liked Sharik, she’d do.
188th of 2029 (014-98): Waicir, Rurur Garintylil
She was utterly insane. “Isabella, you can’t, not dressed like that.”
She was adamant. “I can and I will and people will just have to damn well deal with it.”
“Isabella, please see reason; it’s a memorial, a lot of people died.”
“Yes, I know, I was there, remember. And I will wear this, damn what anyone thinks.”
There was no reasoning with her, she just stood there, arms folded; I wasn’t going to change her mind “At least wear something to cover it up while we’re travelling, please. You can take it off at the ceremony.”
She sighed, “Okay.” She went to her wardrobe and got a long winter coat, “only till we get there.”
We caught the shuttle to Waicir, we sat. I could see people looking at Isabella in her heavy coat. “Well it would be worse if you weren’t wearing it.”
She wasn’t in a good mood. “Maybe, but I’d feel better and it’s bloody hot in this thing.”
I tried to be understanding. “I know; we’ll be there soon, though.” We sat quietly awhile longer. I tried to make conversation. “So, what do you think of when you remember the battle?”
She looked at the floor and sounded far away. “The number three.” We rode the rest of the way in silence.
The others were already there, all dressed in uniform like me. Jane looked at Isabella. “Why are you wearing that coat? It’s the middle of summer.”
She looked at me. “Afira thought what I’m wearing was… inappropriate.”
“And what are you wearing, sweetie?”
She took off her coat and stood there, dress uniform of an Imperial Navy lieutenant, medal on her right breast. Everyone just stared; Ariaryn was the first to say anything. “Well, it’ll get a reaction.”
Siish turned to her. “You sure, Isabella? It might not be too popular.”
She was annoyed. “Yes, I’m sure, and I don’t care about the reaction.”
We stood waiting for our passes; the bashet looked at Isabella and paused. Siish spoke, “Is there a problem, Bayanshet?”
He looked at Isabella and then at Siish. “No, Vebmral, no problem.”
“Good, now, our passes, if you please.” The passes were issued. We sat. The stadium filled, people stared and gawked at Isabella, they muttered and moved on. Nobody would sit near us. I was supposed to sit with the others of the Thirty-Seven, but I sat next to Isabella. It was the least I could do.
I saw Madam Manish enter. She had the whole family with her, Gam and Mazun, Eneri and Kamsi, all the grandchildren.
She came over. “Isabella, you’re looking well, my dear.” She turned to Siish. “Well, Siishubuu, move along, I’m not as young as I was; I’d like to sit.” She sat beside Isabella. I watched as the stadium continued to fill. Many glowered at us, but some made a point of coming over. Sharik Gubashiidi, though her parents sat with the Sherins. She sat by Siish, took his hand and smiled at me. Seven other councillors18, Eelamm Marsheel19 himself, Corwin and Peter McCloud. I looked at those around us and those not; points were being made. Hawks and doves, as the Verasti Dtareen would say. But those by us were smaller than those who chose to sit elsewhere. Eelamm Marsheel shook Isabella’s hand before he sat. I could see cameras flashing at us. There was quite a stir; I could see Sherin Femral giving an interview flanked by his father. I chuckled quietly, the news channels would be busy tonight, no doubt.
A reporter came up and asked Madam Manish for a comment. She simply replied “I’m sitting with my family.” Eelemm Marsheel told her, “The dead don’t really have sides.” She asked me, I just said “My friend.” Very busy tonight.
We sat through speeches, a parade, fireworks. It was long and mostly boring; I was glad when it finished. Madam Manish spoke to me briefly after, “Corig Wa, so good to finally meet you. Siishubuu has been most remiss.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. “My Lady Councillor Manish, I’m honoured.”
“I hear you lunched with Gubashiidi Wa the other day; I do hope the two of you can be friends.”
I thought, what an odd comment. “I’m sure we will be, My Lady.”
She smiled, “Good, good, I think it is so important the two of you get on.” She noticed my confusion, tsked and shook her head slightly. Very odd.
191st of 2029 (017-98): The Manish Estates
Siish came down for breakfast; there was a lot to do today. Clothes to prepare, a bouquet to pick up. The ball was the social event of the year; it was important to get it right. He kissed his mother, sat, and looked at the spread somewhat disappointedly. “I see Eneri is cooking.”
“Yes, Siishubuu?” She understood his meaning.
He looked at the table again. “It's very… healthy.”
“If you mean your usual fats, grease, and sugars are missing, yes. Eneri is only thinking of our health Siishubuu, he is after all, a Shugilii20. And given your uniform appeared to be a rather… snugger than last year, it would do you no harm to forgo indulging your, what is the term? Candy dentine.”
“Sweet tooth, Mother, and I like indulging my candy dentine.”
“I am sure you will have ample chance for that tonight, Siishubuu.”
Madam Manish served herself some of Eneri's healthy breakfast. “Siishubuu, have you talked with Corig Wa?”
He was a little puzzled and a touch uncomfortable. “Afira, Mother, about what?”
“Yes, Siishubuu, Afira, about your feelings.”
Siish suddenly moved from a touch to extremely uncomfortable. “Mother?”
She sighed, sometimes her son was infuriating. “Have you informed her you love her?”
His discomfort increased by at least an order of magnitude “Mother, I, um, I’m fond of…”
“Siishubuu, you are in love with her. You know it, I know it, Gubashiidi Wa knows it, all your friends know it, I would not be surprised if half the Protectorate knew it. The only person who seems to be unaware of it is the lady herself. Though one has to wonder how she’s missed it. You need to do something about it.”
He drew a deep breath. “Mother, it would be pointless.”
“Pointless? How so?”
He fixed his gaze on the table “You don’t approve of her.”
“On the contrary, Siishubuu, I barely know her, but by all accounts she’s a fine woman and an excellent officer.”
His eyes remained firmly on the table. “But you’d never allow a match.”
She sighed slightly, “Perhaps, but there are other options. A discreet arrangement is always possible. They are far more common than you might imagine.”
He became slightly angry. “I don’t want ‘an arrangement’, Mother, I want a match.”
“Siishubuu, any match must be able to give you children. And no matter how good a woman your Afira is, she can not do that.”
Siish's anger grew. “And love, Mother, what of love?”
She laughed, “Siishubuu, you are such a hopeless romantic. You will one day inherit my place on the Council21 and your spouse will become Madam Manish. Your match is not a question of love, it’s a matter of politics. And anyway, love is no guarantee of a stable match; respect and honesty are far more important.”
It was Siish’s turn to laugh. “How can you be honest and respectful if you have ‘an arrangement’, Mother?”
“If, Siishubuu, your spouse is party to that arrangement from the start.”
Notes 1 through 7 appeared with Part 1.
8. Bawa, a compound of ba (smaller) and wa (woman), usually translated as Miss. The male equivalent is Balul. Originally honorifics referring to an unmatched adults, such usage had been obsolete since pre-contact times. The words are only retained now as terms of endearment.
9. Lord Councillor Oskar Sherin, father of Fleet Admiral Kamees Sherin. A powerful member of the Lord Protector’s Council and political opponent of Lady Councillor Manish.
10. Madam Caroline Sherin, matriarch of the Sherin clan.
11. The premier social event in the Protectorate. An event normally restricted to the highest levels of society. The ball is a deliberately anachronistic event, patterned after the great balls of pre-spaceflight Terra.
12. Second son of Lord Protector Samuel McCloud, an arbiter on the bench of the Daramm High Court. Normally he and his spouse Peter would attend social functions as a couple, but the anachronistic nature of the birthday ball dictates a mixed gender couple.
13. Senior University of Daramm, the most prestigious tertiary institution on Daramm.
14. One of only a handful of traditional cities on Daramm and seat of the Protectorate Council. Home to over two million people at the time.
15. Kamsikinash Manish, a noted archaeologist and spouse of Lady Councillor Manish’s son Eneri.
16. Protectorate culture was usually regarded as markedly less martial than Imperial. The Luriani themselves never developed a ruling military elite and overt expressions of military traditions were far less prevalent, primarily inherited from the Verasti Dtareen. Thus, dress uniforms were usually reserved for military functions with even serving personnel wearing civilian clothes for other formal occasions.
17. Eervir Ajdkar, one of the leading Luriani fashion designers of the period.
18. The full Lord Protector’s Council consisted of the Lord Protector and twenty councillors. It had long been the seat of real power within the Protectorate.
19. Marshall Despi Eelamm, commander of the Verasal (short form of verastifersaal), the Protectorate Army. Normally a cadre organisation, heavily weighted towards support and technical services. During times of need it could be rapidly expanded from a trained militia known as the Iadtlu.
20. Food preparation specialist in Vilani and Mmarislusant culture. The biochemical nature of life on the Vilani homeworld of Vland is totally incompatible with humans. Therefore the role of the Shugilii arose to prepare food suitable to be eaten. They fill the role of a priestly caste in other cultures. They also serve as dieticians and encourage healthy eating habits. Curiously, Daramm is one of the few worlds were the Shugilii’s traditional role of food preparation is still important. There is an extremely high level of heavier elements in Daramm’s food chain making it slightly toxic to most humans. While the Luriani are adapted to deal with this, most other branches require their food to be treated beforehand. In addition to being a Shugilii, Eneri Manish was also a trained doctor and head of surgery at Antiavash central hospital.
21. Members of the Lord Protector’s Council were theoretically non-hereditary life appointees. However, the seven great houses (McCloud, Sherin, Chaudhary, Minomoru, Khaadii, Zagiirmiskur and Maval) had had permanent representation since the First Protectorate. The exact protocol for inheritance depended on the family. In the four Verasti Dtareen families (McCloud, Sherin, Chaudhary and Minomoru) the eldest child took the Council seat, the two Mmarislusant clans (Khaadii and Zagiirmiskur) followed the Vilani practice of third child inheritance, while the Luriani Maval family worked by consensus.