Rhys Llewellyn was both ecstatic and agitated when the surveys returned the information that the largest temperate land mass on the planet Pa-Loana was rich in something the natives called “foon.”
He was ecstatic because a rich source of foon, known on Earth and its colonies as “superlatex,” was sure to revolutionize the manufacture of all manner of clothing, sports gear, space suits, medical supplies—in short, anything that required a durable, flexible, low-care material.
He was also ecstatic because foon was so plentiful on Pa-Loana; a form of algae, it literally covered the face of the Pa-Loanian waters.
Then, too, the natives inhabiting the largest temperate land mass of Pa-Loana (the Pa-Kai, by name) were friendly folk amenable to selling rights to exploit what, to them, was a nuisance that had to be strained out of their drinking water. This was cause for further ecstasy.
Rhys Llewellyn was agitated because he knew that the Resource Survey Team had returned the same reports to Bristol-Benz and that right now, somewhere in their sumptuous corporate offices, their head Contract Negotiator was studying those reports and feeling both ecstatic and agitated.
From this point on, it would be a space race to determine who got their negotiating team into the tent of the Pa-Kai Tribal Council first. Rhys Llewellyn was determined that it would be Tanaka Enterprises. To that end, he and his two assistants arrived at the Tanaka Corporate Travel Park an hour and a half after the reports landed in his terminal.
They spent the bulk of the five day TAS transit taking SubLearn courses in Pa-Kai language and etiquette, going over the Environmental Impact surveys and discussing strategies to use in case Bristol-Benz appeared on the scene before they had a firm deal. This last measure turned out to be unfortunately necessary. Rhys and company arrived at the Pa-Kai Council Tent just in time to join the Council of Chieftains and Elders in greeting the Bristol-Benz negotiators.
The exchange between the Tanaka and Bristol representatives was barely cordial, a thing which the Pa-Kai Eldest noted immediately.
“You are enemies?” he asked Rhys in flute-like tones. His crest of sagittal hair shifted forward in a gesture Rhys knew indicated intense curiosity.
“No,” Rhys assured him carefully, making the “Please do not think that!” face. “We are…” There was no word for competitors in Pa-Kai. “We are grazers of the same field.”
The Eldest nodded sagaciously and herded the two parties of “grazers” into the huge tent. Inside, the negotiators were accorded side-by-side sets of cushions arranged as part of a gigantic circle. The remainder of the circle was occupied by the Chieftains of the Pa-Kai Clans, while directly across from the Human delegation was the raised pallet of the Eldest Chieftain. Just before him on the ground, within a circle of stones, sat a character out of a childhood nightmare.
Dressed in feathered and furred garb that made the garish robes of the Chieftains look drab, the kneeling form sported a rainbow of cloth strips tied to its crest hair and an equally colorful pattern of ornate lines and symbols painted on its camelid face.
“Is that the court jester?” whispered Assistant Negotiator Roderick Halfax in Standard.
Rhys shook his head. “Shaman,” he said.
“He’s certainly …. uh … bright.”
“She,” said Rhys. “And she holds a very important place in the Pa-Kai tribal hierarchy. Of all the Clan Shaman, she’s considered to be the greatest. All others are her apprentices.” He indicated the area behind the circle of Chieftains where the Shaman and Elders from each of the nineteen Pa-Kai Clans sat to observe the proceedings.
When all had been seated, the Eldest took his place on the raised pallet. At his bidding, a fruit beverage was served, along with small edibles called tso-tso that one dipped in a creamy fruit pulp called gua. Following his lead, Rhys Llewellyn’s two assistants dipped, ate, and drank the servings given to them on small woven platters, then nodded, smiled, and smacked their lips. The Pa-Kai did likewise and added to the proceedings murmurs of pleasure and musical chatter. Very quickly the entire assemblage was dipping, eating, smacking, and chattering.
The only exception to this was the Bristol-Benz delegation, which ate and drank in relative silence, watching the rest of the crowd expressionlessly. After about twenty minutes of socializing, the head B-B negotiator set his speaking frond in the stand before his cushions and pointed his chin at the Eldest.
All chatter ceased abruptly. In her stone circle, the Pa-Kai Shaman executed three pirouettes and dropped to her knees staring up at the Eldest. She made a gesture at the B-B team with the tips of her three fingers, then sat cross-legged on the ground.
According to Rhys’s understanding of Pa-Kai Tribal etiquette, the Bristol-Benz negotiator had just committed an act bordering on the impudent. He watched with interest, waiting to see the rewards of that impatience.
The Eldest pointed at the B-B representative and said, “Speak, please.”
On his right, Rhys’s second assistant, Yoshi Umeki, glanced at him with obvious concern. He shook his head very slightly and tapped his ear. She turned her attention to the Bristol negotiator as he rose and began to speak, hands folded across his flat stomach in a demure gesture reminiscent of a Nineteenth Century priest.
“We have come to bargain, O Beauteous One,” he said in deep, awesome tones. “You have a thing which is, to you, an itch, but which is, to us, a scratch.”
Rhys nodded, impressed. He’d been pitted against Vladimir Zarber before and had to admire the man’s aura of dignity. It had, he was forced to admit, lost him a few contracts. In fact, in a scored contest, he would have to allow that Zarber was ahead by a score of 6-2. It didn’t help that he had that wonderful basso profundo vocal quality or those elegant, understated gestures or that rolling (and authentic) Oxford accent. Compared to that, Rhys Llewellyn’s tenor with its airy brogue (also authentic), sounded downright wimpy. This, Rhys decided, could be a long, painful process.
It was the Pa-Kai Shaman who returned Zarber’s opening. “We hear you, O Deep Voice,” she replied, her voice a flute to his bassoon. “We have foon. It is said you… need foon?” This last was said with what passed in Pa-Kai as a stifled snicker. The Shaman followed this by shaking a stick topped with a cluster of bells and uttering several shrill notes before hunkering down to hear Zarber’s reply.
“This is the truth,” said the negotiator solemnly. “We need foon.”
A ripple of musical Pa-Kai laughter washed about the tent.
“Pardon our grins,” said the Shaman, “but we find it difficult to eat the need of foon.”
Zarber blinked and seemed momentarily nonplused. Rhys Llewellyn wondered if the Bristol-Benz reps had taken the time to study the Advanced Pa-Kai Dialect module of the Linguistic SubLearn package. Zarber’s next comment indicated they had not.
“We don’t intend to eat the foon,” he said.
The Pa-Kai went into toots and twitters of mirth and the Shaman, her shoulders shaking with her own effort not to laugh, said, “We know you do not eat foon, O Humorous One. But what do you do with it?”
“We use foon to make another thing called super-latex or slatex. From this, we make many other things.”
The Shaman seemed to find this as amusing as the idea of eating foon. “You use foon to make a thing to make another thing? Why not just make the thing?”
“We… used up… the foon on our home world,” returned Zarber, lugubriously, making a face that said, “I am to be pitied.” “Then we learned how to save it. We are letting our foon grow again, but we need so much super-latex, we must ask (pleadingly, his face said) for your excellent foon.”
The Shaman had apparently never thought of foon as being excellent and stifled another display of mirth. “And you,” she pointed her chin at Rhys. “You need foon, too?”
“Yes,” he said. “We are here to bargain for what you call foon.”
“And you used up all your foon, also?” The Shaman’s snout wrinkled with her effort not to laugh.
“We are children of the same home world,” explained Rhys. “We represent two different… clans. His clan wants the foon,” —he pointed with all four fingers at Zarber— “and our clan also wants it.”
The Shaman’s semi-circular eyebrows rose sharply, causing her forehead to wrinkle. “Clans? You are Shaman, then, are you? Which of these are your chiefs? Pardon our eyes, but your clothing is so young and dirty we cannot tell you apart.”
Zarber gave his clothing a secret glance, then said importantly, “Our Chief remains on our homeworld. He is handling other important business. We have come to speak for him.”
There was a collective gasp from the assembled Pa-Kai. All eyes turned to the Eldest. He rose and all the Chieftains rose with him. Without a word, they filed silently out of the tent. Zarber gaped.
Rhys Llewellyn shook his head. While the lingual lessons had been relatively thorough, the etiquette sections had obviously left some serious gaps. He’d have to remedy that when this was over, but right now he prayed that notes on business etiquette were not all he came out of this with.
The Shaman had risen and jutted her chin at them. “Chiefs must be present,” she said.
“But our Chief is on another world,” objected Zarber with injured dignity. “He has many things to do.”
The Shaman was obviously offended. “And our Chieftains sit on their hands? You cannot make decisions for your Chief.”
“But I assure you, I can. I have his full authority.”
“You are Shaman, not Chief,” persisted the Shaman. “Shaman guides Chief, not takes the place of Chief.”
“Pardon my muddiness,” crooned Zarber, “but I am not a Shaman. I am a speaker for the Chief.”
“Not Shaman?” The camel-like face displayed the “This is offensive/distressing/horrifying/unparalleled news” expression. She turned her dark violet-blue eyes to Rhys. “Are you not a Shaman, too?”
Rhys glanced from the Shaman to Zarber. “I am a Shaman,” he said succinctly.
The Pa-Kai reacted by carefully opening her circle of stones and mincing across the tent to meet Rhys face to face. She jutted her chin at him and pointed at his chest. “You bring your Chief and we talk. You,” she added, with a clipped gesture at the Bristol-Benz group, “bring a Shaman and a Chief, then we talk.”
That said, she flourished her bell-stick, whirled in a rainbow of fabric and trotted from the tent. The Elders and other Shaman immediately dispersed.
“Whoof!” Rick Halfax shook his head. “That was a quark!”
“No, I should have anticipated it.” Rhys picked up his brief-comp. “Let’s go retrench.”
“So, Llewellyn,” said Zarber’s bottomless voice from behind him, “what do you suppose you gained by pretending to be the Tanaka Shaman?”
“What makes you think I’d tell you?”
The older man smiled, looking like a cross between a freshly fed Count Dracula and a cheerful mortician. “Just checking. Tell me, you aren’t really going to ask Danetta Price to come out here and pow-wow with the natives, are you?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“You could use your imagination… that is, assuming you’ve got one.”
“Use my imagination. You mean lie?”
Zarber shrugged. “You’re already doing that, aren’t you… Shaman?” He gathered his team and left.
“Are we going to ask Ms. Price to come to Pa-Loana?” asked Yoshi.
“If we want that foon, I think we have to.”