by New York Times Bestselling Author
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
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by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
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.”
“Are you sure this is necessary, Rhys?” Framed in the com-unit’s visual display, Danetta Price looked a little skeptical and a lot harried. “I’m in the middle of a buyout of Goodyear and the ‘B-B shooters’ are giving us a hell of a time.”
“Tell me about it,” said Rhys. “I’ve got Vladimir Zarber at this end.”
“Oh?” Danetta was suddenly very interested. “That explains why he’s not here. It also means they think this foon thing is as important as we do…” She chewed her lower lip, frowning. “By the way, you have my sympathy… about Zarber. But do you really—”
“Yes, I do think it’s necessary. The tribal etiquette demands that both Chiefs and Shaman be involved in any negotiations that affect the tribal Clans. I’ve already established myself as the Tanaka Clan Shaman. Now, we just need a Clan Chieftain.”
“Lord, this is right up your ethnic alley, isn’t it? Do they wear plaid kilts?”
“No, more like paisleys and feathers. Can you come, or shall I pack up and hie home?”
Danetta Price heaved a gigantic sigh. “What’s Bristol-Benz doing?”
“I think Vladimir is considering bringing in a ringer. He’s got a backlog of assistants to draw from. The only problems is, they’re all fairly young. He had his senior assistant and secretary with him today and he’s already established that neither of them is the Chieftain.”
“Do you think the Pa-Kai can tell a young Human from a mature one?”
“I don’t know, but I have a suspicion this Shaman of theirs could. They’re humanoid themselves—or pretty much so. I can tell their young ones from the senior citizens. Although, I have to admit, that’s partly a function of dress…”
“Get that introspective look off your face and advise me, Rhys. What do you think?”
“I think if we don’t want to have to purchase all our slatex from Bristol-Benz, you’d better take the next TAS shuttle to Pa-Loana. I’m not going to snoot these people with a bogus Chieftain.”
Danetta sighed again. “Damn your ethical hide, Rhys. All right, you’re the Professor. Is it nice there? How’s the weather?”
“It’s beautiful. Lush, green, violet skies, mild temperatures.”
She smiled. “Sounds like Newscot—except for the violet skies. You ought to be right at home.”
He returned the smile. “Well, there aren’t any stone circles, but I like it. When you get here, I’ll show you the sights.”
He broke the link and sat for a moment, staring at the blank screen of the com-unit. Then he went to find the shuttle’s Captain.
“I don’t understand,” said Yoshi, frowning at the colorful piles of cloth. “Why are you making a costume?”
Rhys selected a vibrantly green rain tarp and flung it over his shoulders. It clashed agreeably with the red of his tartan. “I’m a Shaman, aren’t I? I want to look like one.”
“Count Vladimir is going to laugh his fangs out,” warned Rick.
“Let him. If his fangs fall out, so much the better for us. Now, I want you two to do a little reconnaissance work. Go hobnob with some apprentice Shaman. Check out what they wear and how they act. Then, we’ll design some costumes for you, too.”
“Are you serious, Professor?” asked Rick, scrunching up his forehead.
“Look, Roddy, we’ve already made a not-so-wonderful first impression by appearing in ‘young, dirty’ clothes. We need to improve on that, don’t you think?”
Yoshi frowned. “What does that mean— ‘young, dirty’ clothes? Why did the Shaman say that?”
“Take a look around the villages. See if you can figure it out for yourselves. Now, get on it.”
Rhys arranged the bright orange fingers he’d cut from a pair of Tanaka OmniClime all-weather gloves into a cockscomb atop his very red hair. He waggled his head to make sure they’d stay put, then left the shuttle.
He managed to locate the Eldest’s Shaman without too much trouble and approached her, making the “Your humble equal approaches you” face and matching gestures. He sidled the last three steps to stand before her, underlining his appreciation of her station.
“You have put off your young, dirty clothes,” observed the Shaman.
“That was my costume of travel,” explained Rhys lightly. “We came to you straight from our ship and had no time to put on our proper clothing.”
The Shaman nodded, looking Rhys over carefully. “You are much prettier,” she said, then made the “Listen, I am saying something important” face. “A Shaman must never forget its dignity,” she told him. “Better you should dress well and be late than appear in the Council Tent in a child’s clothing.”
Rhys nodded and looked woebegone, letting his shoulders droop. “This is so,” he sighed.
The Shaman put her long narrow hand on his shoulder and canted her head to one side. “You are very young,” she told him, “but I feel you have the colors of a good Shaman. You can learn much by watching your elders.”
“It will be a privilege to learn (most humbly) from you, O Colorful One.”
The Shaman smiled toothily. “Your praise is singing. Now, say why you have come.”
“I wished you to know, O Bright and Shining One, that my Chieftain will arrive in four of your days and will be honored to sit in the Council Tent of the Pa-Kai.”
The Shaman made a “Have I heard you correctly?” face and said, “Why does it take so much longer for your Chief to arrive? You and not-Shaman Rumble Mouth are from the same world, yet he sends an Elder to tell me his Chief will arrive tomorrow morning.”
Rhys wished he could just bring himself to tell the Shaman that was because the Bristol-Benz “Chief” was a fake, but his personal code of ethics forbade that bit of back-biting. Besides, as far as he knew the Pa-Kai didn’t have a word for fake. He suspected they would after associating with Humans for any length of time.
He didn’t have any way to explain Time Altered Space travel to the Pa-Kai either, so he settled for trying to bill Danetta Price as a conscientious sort of Chief, in Pa-Kai terms.
“Your wise eyes will easily see why that is,” he said. “My Chieftain is a female and she feels she must see to the needs of her Clan families before she can be free to do business.”
The Shaman nodded approvingly. “An honorable Chieftain. I will advise the Eldest that we should wait for her arrival before speaking again of foon. It would be only courteous to do so.”
“Thank you, Most Splendid Shaman!” exclaimed Rhys, bowing deeply, then capering two steps to one side. “I am fulfilled.”
“Welcomes, young Shaman. Now, it would please me if you would adore to see my laboratory/workshop/office/place of colorings.”
Rhys boggled at the rich palette of nuances the last word provided. He understood clearly, however, that he was being singled out for the Shaman’s special attention. He accepted her invitation eagerly.
“Your place of colorings will be my School Tent, my Great Tent, my Paradise,” he said, and realized that a deep part of him meant it in more than the polite sense.
Vladimir Zarber was furious when he heard that negotiations would be held up until the arrival of the Tanaka CEO. He didn’t look furious or sound furious—at least not in front of the Pa-Kai. In front of the Pa-Kai he nodded and cooed and said merely that the Chief of Bristol-Benz would be disappointed. In front of Rhys and his team, Zarber was considerably more disgruntled.
“What did you do?” he asked Rhys suspiciously. “How did you get them to postpone the talks? I had that Shaman convinced our Chief was honoring them by showing up so fast. She was suitably impressed.”
Rhys scratched his jaw and gazed cross-clearing at the Pa-Kai’s tent village, glowing in the twilight. “I only told her our Chief had some things to take care of on Jamal first.”
Zarber’s eyes narrowed. “That should have put her off. You didn’t tell her…”
Rhys could tell he was searching for the appropriate euphemism. “What, that there was no way in God’s great Cosmos you could get your CEO here by tomorrow morning? No, Vlad. I didn’t make a peep. Your… fairy tales are your concern. I’d only expose one of them if I thought it might endanger somebody.”
“You make me sound like a crass materialist.”
Rhys shook his head. “You’re a businessman, Vladimir. Neither pure nor simple. But I do admire your style.”
The older man raised silken brows in an arc of surprise. “Why, thank you, Llewellyn. Dare I hope that praise is sincere?”
“I’m always sincere.”
“Yes, you are,” agreed Zarber cheerfully. “And that, young man, is bound to be your undoing in this business. You have neither the ability nor the inclination to prevaricate.”
Rhys shrugged. “I’ve always subscribed to the belief that, more often than not, honesty really is the best policy.”
“That is a subscription best canceled,” retorted Zarber, visibly pleased with the glib pun. “Most developed cultures expect cleverness in business dealings, whereas our primitive hosts here would be offended by what you call sincerity.”
“I’m not sure I agree with your definition of cleverness, Vlad. But I think our ‘primitive hosts’ may be quite offended to discover that your ‘Chief’ is one of your assistants, and that the real CEO of Bristol-Benz couldn’t be bothered to attend the negotiations.”
Zarber’s expression darkened. “Is that a threat?”
“No. I’ve already told you I have no intention of pulling your covers off.”
“Then the point is moot, isn’t it? Since there’s no one else around to pull my covers.”
“I suppose so… Look, it’s getting dark and we’ve got a state dinner to attend.” Rhys glanced toward the tent village again.
“Oh, yes, of course. And I suppose you’re looking forward to it.”
“Yes, I am. Now, if you’ll excuse me…?” Rhys gave his competitor a slight nod and headed back to the shuttle.
He really was looking forward to the banquet, he realized as he donned his flamboyant Shaman’s garb. His afternoon in the company of the Pa-Kai Eldest’s Shaman, Pa-Lili, had been interesting and productive. Pa-Lili had given him a tour of her workshop, performed several characteristically Pa-Kai magics for his edification, and taken him on her “rounds,” explaining certain spells, tonics, and cures as she executed them.
In turn, he had demonstrated the workings of both his communicator/recorder and his brief-comp, and shown her what Humans made with foon. He’d used his own purple dress unisuit by way of example, as well as the waterproof fabric of his “cape” and the fluorescent splendor of his head ornaments. Pa-Lili had been very impressed, although a bit disappointed to hear that his dress kilt was fabricated from the wool of a creature that thrived only on Earth and one or two of its colonies.
She’d made such delightful noises over his entire outfit that he had promised to make a gift of some similar garments. His preparation for the evening’s festivities had included the careful folding and wrapping of those gifts, which now reposed on his bunk-side unit next to the little pile of Shamanistic fetishes and charms Pa-Lili had insisted he have to fill his sporran (which she had taken to be an empty medicine pouch). He smiled at them, feeling a genuine fondness for the Pa-Kai Shaman, and put on the lulac stone necklace with its small pendant spirit bag. It clashed wonderfully with the rest of his outfit and he knew Pa-Lili would approve.
So, he thought, might his ancient Celtic ancestors.
His assistants, on the other hand, did not approve.
“Do we really have to wear these crazy get-ups?” whined Rick. “I look like a neo-deco Franciscan monk.”
“No, you look like a Pa-Kai apprentice Shaman,” said Rhys. “Franciscan monks didn’t wear that particular shade of chartreuse.”
“Aren’t we taking this ‘when in Rome’ stuff a little too far?”
“Not if it makes the Pa-Kai more comfortable with us.”
“But why are we pretending to be Shaman?” asked Yoshi, peering at him from beneath the nest of colorful cloth strips that festooned her hair. “I thought you said we should always be honest in our dealings with indigenous cultures.”
“Who said anything about pretending? All three of us are the product of cultures in which Shaman played an important early role. We’re just reaching back to our own roots.” Rhys studied the two dubious faces for a moment, then sighed. “Look, I realize this is a bit different from our usual negotiating style. Normally, we’d just throw on the dress clothing, behave in what is generally accepted to be a civilized manner, and offer the sought-after goods and technologies. And I realize you two are out of your element here. But consider this: We know that as far as the Pa-Kai are concerned, there are two parties necessary for official, binding negotiations—the Chieftain of the Clan or Tribe and the ranking Shaman. If our CEO is the equivalent of their Eldest…”
Yoshi nodded. “Then you’re the logical equivalent of their Shaman and the Shaman must have apprentices and we have to look and act the part.”
“Exactly. And when it comes to looking and acting the part, there is a… slightly different measure of decorum among the Pa-Kai than we’re used to. The clothing we consider businesslike, they consider unworthy.”
Yoshi continued to nod, her dark eyes lighting. “Yes. Our clothes seemed dirty to them—drab like the clothing worn by their children—little color.”
Rick blinked at her. “Is that what that was all about?”
“Didn’t you notice? The young Pa-Kai wear drabber colors than their elders. I would say you earn your colors on this part of Pa-Loana. It’s a sign of status. The more colors, the greater the status.”
Rhys was pleased. The girl had the makings of a good cultural anthropologist. He wondered what either of them was doing in a negotiating team for a major corporation.
Rick nodded. “All right. So, we looked young and dirty. And since we want to impress them as mature and capable…” He shook his colorful habit.
“You’ve got it. But don’t forget the behavior part of the equation. A Shaman is obviously expected to use the full range of body language to communicate. Our mannerisms probably seem … weak or even secretive to them.”
Rick’s eyes glinted with a sudden spark of realization. “Then, Count Vladimir, with his dress blues and dignity fetish…”
“May find that what were once assets are now liabilities,” finished Rhys. “At least, that’s what I’m hoping.” He crooked his finger at them. “Let’s go.”
“But,” said Yoshi, falling into step beside him, “what if Zarber catches on?”
“I’m hoping he won’t. After all, he accused me of the same thing you did—pretense.”
Yoshi blushed. “Sorry, sir.”
“No apologies necessary. Now, think Shamanistic thoughts and smile.”
by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
$4.99 (Novel) ISBN 978-1-61138-174-0