From the author: Part 2 of Rhys Llewellyn's very first adventure as the advance negotiator for the interplanetary corporation, Tanaka Corp. The first of a series of stories involving this character, "Shaman" is the dream-fueled collision between research in the fields of corporate culture and archaeology.
Danetta Price's shuttle arrived about two hours before sunset, setting down gracefully next to the other Tanaka vessel. The first thing she noticed about the small camp set up by the negotiating team was the colorful banner that flapped in the breeze, suspended on the crosspiece of a tall metal pole. It was emblazoned with the same stylized rendering of the Tanaka logo that adorned the two TAS shuttle craft. She admired it briefly, then went to the neighboring shuttle to find Rhys. She didn't find him, but she did find Yoshi Umeki and Rick Halfax going over the Environmental Impact reports in the passenger lounge.
"Ms. Price!" Rick saw her first and rose quickly to greet her. Yoshi followed suit shyly.
"Hello, Roderick, Yoshi." Danetta shook their hands firmly. "Where's the Professor?"
Rick nodded toward the airlock. "He went over to the village to visit with his buddy, Pa-Lili, and make some last minute arrangements for the feast tonight."
"His buddy, Pa-Lili?" echoed Danetta.
"The Pa-Kai tribal Shaman and head negotiator," explained Yoshi.
"Ah, yes. Of course." Danetta nodded, her eyes falling on a bright pile of fabric draped over one of the loungers. "What are those?"
"Ah, well..." Rick eyed the robes dubiously. "I think we'd better let Dr. Llewellyn explain---
"Well, speak of the devil--" said Danetta, staring over Rick's shoulder. Then she broke into peals of laughter.
Rhys watched her paroxysms silently from under his crown of orange fingers, his splendid green cape clashing eloquently with purple unitard and multi-hued tartan plaid. "Hello, to you to," he said cheerfully. "You're just in time for a briefing before the cielidh."
"The party tonight. Ah, well, banquet, I suppose you'd call it, except it's a good deal more than that. There'll be food and song and storytelling—the Pa-Kai are quite good at all that. As good as the old Celts, come to it. But, excuse me for a minute, I have to go clean up. I got a little something on my cape."
"That looks like blood," said Yoshi. "You didn't hurt yourself, did you, sir? I have some quapai ointment." She pointed at her medicine pouch, slung over the arm of a side chair.
"Oh, it's not mine. It's poor old Vladimir's."
Three pairs of eyes assumed saucer-like proportions.
"Oh, sir, you didn't!" breathed Yoshi awfully.
"Good Lord, Rhys," said Danetta. "I know the man is your arch rival, but--"
"I didn't lay a hand on him, I promise. There was some hullabaloo going on in the village commons—a lot of party preparations and what not. Vlad just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got rapped by a piece of flying timber. They were trying to hoist this little tower affair for the fireworks tonight and he just got in the way." He grimaced and flapped the bloodied bit of cape. "I guess I was sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time, too."
"Was he badly hurt?" asked Danetta.
"Well, it got him in the mouth. May have chipped a tooth. Pa-Lili insisted on taking care of it, so he's in good hands…whether he knows it or not." He studied the stain for a moment, then grinned. "And there he stood, thirsting for my blood. Van Helsing lives." He disappeared in the direction of the cabins, humming a tune.
Danetta Price stared after him, a bemused expression on her face. "Is it my imagination, or has his brogue gotten thicker since you left?"
"It sort of thins and thickens," said Yoshi. "The better he feels, the thicker it gets."
"You can say that again," muttered Rick.
"So, it seemed to me that the best way of besting Zarber was to negotiate with the Pa-Kai on their own terms. If they believe a Chieftain and a Shaman must both be present to negotiate a deal, then we provide a Shaman and a Chieftain as they know them. And we bring them a real Chieftain, not a mock up."
Danetta nodded. "Which is what Zarber is giving them, I take it. I happen to know that William Benz is on his way to Earth even as we speak. He's going to be taking a nice little transit nap for the next couple of weeks."
"He's hand-picked one of his tall, dignified, male acolytes to play the part," said Rhys. "The young gentleman has been spreading his dignified presence around the Pa-Kai villages for the past three days, schmoozing with the other Chieftains. Meanwhile, in the absence of our own Chieftain, we have been keeping company with the Shaman and her associates."
"Who dress like this?" Danetta lifted the freshly laundered hem of Rhys’s cape.
"Dare I hope that Chieftains do not also dress like this?" Her hazel eyes were imploring.
"Oh, the Chieftains are a much drabber lot," Rhys assured her. "They seldom wear more than two shades from opposite color groups at the same time and their crest adornments are much more—ah..."
"Understated?" suggested Rick.
"Well, they're not fluorescent and they generally hang down the back as opposed to sticking out in all directions."
Danetta raised her eyes to Rhys’s head. "I'm delighted to hear that."
They arrived at the evening's banquet just at sunset, when the torches and fires in the tribal commons were beginning to compete with the Pa-Loana sun for brilliance. Except for her very un-Pa-Kai features, Danetta Price looked the epitome of Pa-Kai Chieftain-hood. The robes she wore over a bright burgundy unisuit were Pa-Kai originals, procured from a village merchant who catered to the fashion whims of Chief and Shaman alike. It was, he assured them, the latest in royal garb, and drew their attention to the way the head gear draped a vivid azure tail over the shoulder of the deep amber robe.
"I'm a regular work of art," murmured Danetta as she and Rhys marched side-by-side into the Pa-Kai village. Behind them, arrayed in shamanistic splendor, walked Rick and Yoshi, while bringing up the rear was a borrowed steward from one of the shuttles, carrying the Tanaka banner on its tall pole.
"Wait till you see the other Chieftains," said Rhys. "Believe me, you'll fit right in."
She did that, creating quite a stir among the Pa-Kai as they gathered to greet her and admire her finery. Rhys, meanwhile, kept his eyes open for the Bristol-Benz party. He couldn't have missed them if he'd kept them closed. As the horns blew, announcing the arrival of the Pa-Kai Eldest, the Bristol-Benz "Chieftain" arrived at the entrance to the tribal commons, carried on a pallet by four crewmen, each hefting a lit torch. The Eldest's pallet reached the same spot at the same moment. For a second, the two passengers stared at each other, then Zarber's ringer made a cool, sweeping gesture for the Eldest to precede him.
Rhys watched Pa-Lili closely, catching the telltale shake of her head and the sour face she made. He smiled and relaxed. Trust Zarber to overplay a scene.
When Danetta had mounted her own tastefully decorated pallet and everyone was seated about the huge central bonfire, two things stood out in plain relief—one was the elevated pallet of the Pa-Kai Eldest and the other was the equally elevated pallet of the Bristol-Benz impostor. For a second time, the two Chieftains looked at each other—one cool, the other at least seeming to be.
Rhys glanced over at Zarber, who, in an obvious effort to play Rhys at what he believed was his own game, had affected a bright red sash and matching beret for the occasion. Zarber gazed back, an impossibly smug, albeit dignified, expression on his bruised and lacerated face. He smiled, displaying a black hole where once an incisor had been.
The Pa-Kai Eldest spoke. "Tell me, O Chieftain Benz," he said, "When did you develop this infirmity?"
The other "Chief" blinked and glanced down at his "Shaman." Zarber shook his head, still watching the Pa-Kai for some clue.
"Pardon, O Eldest One," said the impostor coolly. "Your meaning flies by me."
"You are carried here on a tray. I ask what infirmity you have sustained since earlier today which causes this?"
Rhys had to admire the way Zarber slipped smoothly into the awkward silence. "My Chieftain was so distressed upon hearing of my own accident earlier that he attempted to hurry to my aid. He slipped on the entry ramp of our ship and fell, spraining his foot." He finished the narration with a face that said, "How noble is my Chieftain. How humble am I."
Rhys wanted to guffaw. The only thing that kept him from doing so was his native sense of courtesy….and the fact that Zarber's quick thinking had retrieved Bristol-Benz from what should have been an embarrassing situation. Hell, he'd done better than retrieve it. "Chieftain Benz" now looked like a sensitive, noble being and one hell of a nice guy—in Pa-Kai terms, a hero. Zarber's dignified bearing had finally made a favorable impression—it made him seem humble in a twisted sort of way.
Rhys glanced around at the solicitous expressions on the mobile Pa-Kai faces. Their sympathy was neither disguised nor feigned. The Eldest leaned toward the injured stalwart and engaged him in private conversation, the gist of which was lost on Rhys, who could only hear the fluting trills at the ends of certain phrases. Zarber was nearly grinning.
Rhys gritted his teeth. Maybe that old adage was true; maybe nice guys really did finish last. Maybe he should learn to play people like Zarber by their own rules.
He barely noticed the food being served, but sat pondering his next move until he felt someone nudge his ribs. It was Danetta Price.
"Hello there," she said, peering at him inquiringly. "Where have you been?"
He smiled ruefully. "Just wool-gathering."
"An old rural expression. Star-gazing."
"Ah. So, Prof, tell me what's my next move? How do I pry the Eldest away from 'Chief Benz?'"
"I'm not sure. I…Danetta, will you tell me something?"
"If I can. What?"
"Zarber made a comment the other day about you preferring a Professor of Anthropology over a Doctor of Biz-Psych. Any idea what he meant?"
She nodded. "Sure. It's no particular secret. Zarber was one of the applicants for your job. We hired you—he went on to B-B."
Rhys was stunned. "You hired me?"
Danetta eyed him humorously. "I do imprint your pay account, don't I?"
"But, why me instead of Zarber? He already had a reputation as a crack negotiator."
"Yes, he did. On Earth and in the colonies and among the few cultures we've connected with that were, shall we say, of the same mind about business. But he had no experience with non-urban cultures. Not even the ones on Earth. This man thinks a peace pipe is an odd bit of scrap metal. If someone handed him one, he'd probably put the wrong end in his mouth. He knows Human psychology and only the narrow band-width that applies to business, at that. And in my experience, it's not the urban society that has the most valuable resources to offer. I can handle the deals with urban cultures myself—in fact, I like doing it. What I needed was someone who could deal with divergent cultures in their own language and in their own element. You can do that. It seems to come naturally to you." She waved the blue tail that hung over her left shoulder. "Do you think Zarber would have thought of adapting to Pa-Kai culture like this without your lead?"
Rhys shook his head.
Danetta smiled. "I know you have trouble understanding Twenty-third century Urban Man, but you're bloody good divining what makes someone like your friend Pa-Lili tick. Am I right?"
"I hope so," said Rhys. He sounded dubious, but realized he felt much better about the whole situation. "Then you don't mind this rigmarole?" He gestured at their combined adornment.
"Mind? This is a vacation, Rhys. Besides, how often does a woman in my position get to dress up like this?… Now, how do I get the Eldest's attention?"
Rhys eyed the Pa-Kai leader. "Wait for a break in conversation, then compliment him on the feast and the colors of his dress. End your leading sentence with praises like: Most Elegant One, Most Vibrant One. Refer to the color of his dress a lot. How varied the hues, how vivid. Then, apologize for being here four days late and explain that you had Clan business that had to be taken care of. They set great store by conscientious leadership. You have an advantage in that you're female. The Pa-Kai believe females make the best leaders because they have a natural tendency toward nurture and cooperation."
"Really?" Danetta glanced up at the B-B surrogate CEO. "Then why would Zarber choose a male Chief? He has quite a few female staff members."
"But they're all in subordinate roles. Besides, he probably accepted the obvious evidence that the Eldest was a male. I have it on good authority that that's a fairly rare occurrence. The last Eldest was female. About sixty percent of the other Chieftains are female and so are a majority of the Shaman."
Danetta nodded. "How important is the Shaman?"
"A lot more important that Zarber seems to think…I hope."
"Could he be right? Is approaching the Eldest 'man to man,' as it were, a good tactic?"
"He could be right. My intuition says not, but--" He shrugged. "Even if this Eldest feels personally more comfortable negotiating with another male, he'll be more respectful of a female. Maybe even a little in awe of her."
"Ah. Six of one, half-dozen of the other. I could be an advantage or a break-even…or a disadvantage."
"I doubt that. For one thing you're older than Zarber's assistant."
Danetta grimaced. "You had to remind me."
"No, no. I mean, that's a real advantage. An older Chief is a more experienced Chief—a more colorful Chief. That's why the oldest Clan Chieftain is automatically made the Tribal leader."
"Can they tell an older Human from a younger one?"
"I don't know."
Danetta turned back to observe the subjects under discussion. "Okay. Let's see how I do with the great Chief," she said, and waited for a break in the conversation between Chieftain and charlatan.
She did fine, all things considered, but the Eldest seemed more threatened by the Tanaka CEO than he did awed by her. Since the Chieftain in line to take his position if his health failed was a middle-aged matron of the Lupao Clan, that was understandable. He was obviously more comfortable with the youth and inexperience of Zarber's Chieflet. Rhys suspected it was because he could treat him with fatherly condescension.
It didn't help that Shaman Zarber dropped not-so-subtle hints throughout the feast that Rhys had somehow been responsible for his mishap earlier in the day. He implied that the rivalry between them was more than just simple competition over a contract (Rhys now knew the truth of that). His insinuations brought to Rhys’s mind a vivid picture of two ancient tribal Magi, slinging curses and lightning bolts at each other through all eternity. It was like something out of one of those holographic role-playing games that seemed to be the constant rage among teenagers.
The Eldest seemed impressed with Zarber's macabre little remarks, but Pa-Lili was openly disdainful. "This Shaman Tsar-Bar is a rude fellow," she said, echoing Yoshi's sentiments. "Such slithering accusations are beneath a Shaman's breath. What sort of training did he receive? What feathers has he earned?"
"Well, actually," said Rhys, "he has, er, earned feathers in, ah, Business Thinking and the Speaking of Diplomacy."
"Business?" tooted Pa-Lili. "What does a Shaman have to do with business? A Shaman is a caretaker, a preserver. It is a shame my Eldest is so taken with their freshly hatched Chieftain. But the Old One loves those he can impress. Your Chief Tanaka is too impressive to be impressed… Perhaps you should lay a curse on this Shaman, since he seems to believe you already have." She gave Rhys a hard look.
He shook his head, making his crest of orange fingers bounce and wave. "I couldn't do that."
"You have the means," she pressed, her gaze becoming conspiratorial.
He wondered if he was being tested. "Perhaps I do, but it would be…a great sin."
Pa-Lili nodded. "True, it is not good to wish others ill. But it is an equally great sin to lie." She looked pointedly at Zarber. "You had nothing to do with his toothlessness."
No, Rhys thought, I didn't. But if an accident pulled one fang, I sure wish I could pull the other.
In his dreams, Rhys Llewellyn was Myrddin. Powerful he was, and ancient and hoary, with green-ice eyes and a great ground-sweeping beard. He was pitted against a sinister black-clad figure that was part Mordred, part Dracula, and preponderantly Vladimir Zarber.
They hurled spells at each other. Zarber's magics were flashes of ruddy fire that fell to the ground, sizzling, to become horrid black lumps of living ooze. They moved, rippled like dying slugs, and then began to crawl inexorably toward their target. Rhys parried them with blazing balls of white light and desperately prayed he could win the battle without drawing on the bottomless pit of black magic the Adversary was sucking up.
Somewhere in the morass of pulsing, claustrophobic dark and blood-flame, he seized upon the idea that he was fighting not one, but two Adversaries: Zarber/Mordred and the darker side of Rhys/Myrddin. He indulged in that briefly; the ancient allegory of light on dark, the rationale of deeply buried evils and cinder-core morals, then he put an abrupt stop to it.
No, he thought. Stop that. That's not me. I'm not tempted to use Black Magic, I only think I should be. I've no intention of changing my nature. None!
And, like a petulant playwright, Rhys Llewellyn appeared from behind the dream proscenium and rewrote the scene. The "Tempting of Myrddin" was replaced with a straightforward duel to-the-death.
He awoke in a barrage of blood red magic, and lay sweating and wondering if he knew enough White Magic to save Arthur Pendragon's kingdom…or was that Danetta Price's company?
Oh, hell! he thought, his head throbbing with suddenly acknowledged pain. Go soak your ego. It's not even the company; it's just a damn contract! An important contract, though, he had to admit. If it wasn't important, Danetta Price would still be on Jamal.
Plagued by dour images of nice guys finishing dead last, Rhys pondered his alternatives and wondered why, in Human history, it seemed that ethical businessmen had to struggle against being sucked into the undertow generated by their less scrupulous (and often more successful) competitors. Why did it rarely (except perhaps in the presence of a Divine Revelator), work the other way around? Why couldn't the good apples cause the bad ones to bob to the top of the barrel?
His mind foundered on the mixture of metaphors, making his headache seem suddenly much worse. He got up and groped for the medicine dispenser at the back of the bunk-side unit. His hands collided with the little pile of fetishes, talismans, and herbal concoctions Pa-Lili had given him during his last visit. He growled irritably and gathered them up, intending to put them away in his sporran.
"Light," he said, and the cabin's VA dimmer obeyed immediately.
He was tucking the little pouches and vials away into the various pockets when he remembered that one of them was supposed to be a headache remedy. He peered into the bag.
"Okay, Alice. Is it the mushroom, the cookie, or the small bottle?"
It was a small purple bottle. He studied it momentarily, recalled the three word incantation that was supposed to accompany the administration of the cure, and put three droplets onto his tongue. He grimaced. If it didn't work any better than it tasted, he was in for a bad night.
He called out the light and rolled back onto his bunk, quite literally falling asleep before his head hit the pillow. His remaining dreams were decidedly more positive.
"You're awfully perky this morning." Danetta Price studied Rhys’s glowing face curiously. "Nice dreams?"
"After I took one of Pa-Lili's herbal cures. Before that, I was having nightmares."
Danetta raised ash blonde brows. "What about?"
Rhys nearly blushed, recalling his grandiose self-image. "I guess it boils down to a fear that I was going to have to become a Zarber clone in order to compete with him."
Danetta nearly choked on her coffee. "God forbid!" She glanced at him sharply. "Do you think that's necessary?"
"No, I don't."
"Good," she said, but continued to look at him, eyes looking for some discrepancy between word and manner. "Are you sure?"
He smiled at her. "Absolutely. Why should I change to accommodate him?"
She shook her head. "You have a funny look on your face."
Rhys laughed. "You knew I had a funny-looking face when you hired me."
"That's not what I meant," she started to say, but was interrupted by the arrival of Rhys’s apprentices, already decked out in their Pa-Kai finery.
Rhys steered the conversation to the negotiations. "The key to success here is flexibility," he said. "We need to be ready to react both to the Pa-Kai and Zarber, but not appear to be reacting to Zarber at all. The last thing we need is for this to degenerate into one-upmanship between Tanaka and Bristol-Benz. Zarber is used to dealing with people who are as wily as he is. The Pa-Kai are..."
"Simple?" suggested Rick, munching a fruit bar.
"No, not simple." Rhys suspected he was wearing what Hi-Pok had called his "Teacher Face." "You can't assume simplicity, Roddy. I don't even think you can make a good case for naiveté. They're…honest. Honesty is highly regarded among the Pa-Kai. So, we have to be honest. To a fault." He pressed the plastic table top with his fist.
"Zarber isn't going to be honest," observed Rick.
"Zarber also thinks the Pa-Kai are simple, and he'll probably offer them trinkets and beads."
"Excuse me?" said Yoshi.
"When white settlers first met the Native Americans, they assumed them to be simple savages. When the Indian held out his hand in friendship, the white man put a trinket into it. That's pretty much been the dominant society's track record in its inter-cultural relations ever since. When asked for friendship, we offer useless things." Rhys shook his head. "Sorry, I'm lecturing again. Old habits die hard. Anyway, who knows? Maybe the Pa-Kai will bring out the best in old Vladimir."
"Huh!" snorted Rick.
"What are we going to offer them that won't seem like trinkets?" asked Danetta.
"Returns on their investment. We sell them slatex products for the stuff from which slatex is made."
"Ah," said Rick. "Simple and elegant. And we already know that certain colorful slatex products are very much in demand in this part of Pa-Loana." He tweaked his own verdant green waterproof cockscomb.
"And if Zarber offers them more?" asked Danetta.
"We offer to show them how to manufacture their own slatex products."
"That would eventually make them independent of our production facilities."
Rhys nodded. "It might eventually even put them in competition with our production facilities…or in cooperation, which is more likely, given the Pa-Kai nature."
"You're putting a lot of trust in Pa-Kai nature," observed Danetta. "Do you think that's wise?"
"If I didn't--"
She nodded. "You wouldn't be doing it… You seem very certain of yourself."
"Of myself...? I guess I am." Rhys shrugged and sipped his coffee, wondering how long that certainty would last.
The Tanaka banner waved gently in the breeze that lapped at the Council Tent and spiraled around its braces. Danetta Price looked as elegant as any Human could in Pa-Kai clothing. Her Shaman and his apprentices looked smart and Shamanly and her pallet was decorated with embellishments of Tanaka manufacture: Slatex gloves for work in water, weather and zero atmosphere, a boot or two for equally extreme environs. It was a tasteful display of a tiny part of Tanaka's product line and it was obviously of interest to the Pa-Kai. So were Pa-Lili's new cape and unisuit, also latex derived. Rhys thought it quite auspicious that she'd worn them today.
Just as he was beginning to relax, a trumpet sounded (at least he thought it was a trumpet) and through the wide entry came the Bristol-Benz train. And it was a train.
The B-B "Chieftain" entered first, flanked by a smug Vladimir Zarber. The Chief was not riding his pallet, but limping courageously along with a tragic expression on his face. He was dressed every bit as elegantly as any other Chieftain in the tent, while Zarber was made up in Shamanly splendor, his black unisuit over-laid with a stole of bright fuchsia. Behind him, came the standard-bearer, waving aloft the Bristol-Benz logo—two stylized inter-locked B's in bright red, rampant on a purple field.
Behind the standard-bearer marched every assistant Zarber possessed and, very probably, every member of his shuttle's flight crew. Four of them carried their Chieftain's pallet. which was gaudily attired in every ambient color known to man.
Rhys grimaced. Zarber was as good as his word; he was obviously prepared to play what he perceived was the Tanaka game, and to play it well—right down to making a stunning entrance. He settled into his pillows and smiled at Rhys toothily.
"Shuttle medical unit not working," asked Rhys sotto voce, "or are you promoting missing incisors as a new fashion trend?"
Zarber’s sleek, black brows winged upward with bat-like grace. "Why Llewellyn, that was a slight worthy of me. The med-unit is working fine, thank you, I simply couldn't find the tooth. I don't suppose you saw where it went?"
"Do you think I'd tell you?"
Zarber gave him a scathing glance that said, "O thou idiot." What he actually said was, "Yes, I do. But it's all right. I still have enough teeth left to chew you to bits."
Rhys faced front hastily, ostensibly to give his attention to Pa-Lili's opening chant, but his innards felt like a chilled pudding. He cursed the fact that Vladimir Zarber could make him react that way and tried to relax his grip on the spirit bag that hung from his necklace.
"Uh…sir?" Yoshi Umeki was leaning toward him from her position on his right hand. "Sir, you…you have a spot, sir," she whispered. "On your suit, sir."
He glanced down at the stain that spread across the front of his unisuit. "Oh, uh, I guess I was clumsier than I thought at breakfast." He let go of the spirit bag. It hit his chest with a moist thump, then dangled in the perfect position to hide the stain. "There, that ought to cover it." He gave Yoshi a reassuring smile, then turned to throw one over his shoulder at Danetta Price.
Pa-Lili finished her chanting. "The Great Being is now attending our discourses," she informed the assemblage. "We may begin."
The Eldest spoke. "Now that we are gathered like to like, the speaking after foon may proceed. Tell us what good is foon, that you wish to have it." He gestured at Pa-Lili who spun twice, then hunkered down to point at Zarber.
"You," she fluted. "Speak of foon."
Just once, thought Rhys, gritting his teeth. Just once let going first not be the advantage he always makes it. Just once, let him be hoist on his own petard.
Zarber rose and made a sweeping bow—his concession to a Shamanly caper. "Foon," he said lugubriously, "is a small thing (very small, said his fingers) from which we make a stretchy fabric which some people (he made the "I speak of silly things" face and a muted gesture) like to wear. We sell them these shiny, stretchy things (of no import) and so we seek foon, which is so plentiful (and disagreeable) here."
Rhys’s lip curled. Belittling the importance of the resource. Next came the beads and trinkets.
"So, you say this foon is of little worth to you?" asked Pa-Lili.
"It is of some worth to those who wear it."
Pa-Lili stroked her new unisuit and made a thoughtful face. "Not worth a whole lot, huh?"
She actually said "huh" in such a Human tone that Rhys laughed out loud. He turned it quickly into a cough, but caught the gleam of humor in Pa-Lili's bright eyes.
Zarber, meanwhile, disguised his own smirk behind a head wag that said, "Oh, a little—a little."
"Then why did you come all the way to Pa-Loana to speak of this (worth very little) subject? Star travel is very costly and so must be the time of your Chieftain." Here, she jutted her long jaw toward the surrogate CEO. "The time of our Chieftains is very precious."
Zarber stiffened visibly. He made a minute gesture of apology. "I did not mean to belittle the importance of foon. I only meant that it is not, ah..."
"Is foon important to you, Shaman Reeslooelen?" Pa-Lili asked abruptly.
"Very important, Resplendent Pa-Lili. As you know, our clothing is largely made from it. Also medicinal supplies, survival equipment, and enjoyment things…equipment for games of sport. Wherever Humans go and the environment is harsh, things made from foon are necessary to our survival. There are so many, many things we Humans use that have (wonderful) foon in them." Rhys glanced sideways at Zarber. Liar, he thought.
"How say the Chiefs?" asked the Eldest in his dry-reed voice. His jaw designated the Bristol-Benz Chief as the first speaker.
The young man blinked dark, almond-shaped eyes and cleared his throat. He looked uncertain. He wasn't. "We find foon exactly important enough to come all the way to Pa-Loana to the Pa-Kai Council. We find it important enough to offer great wealth to you and your people." The words were issued with calm, quiet, and dignified authority, leaving no question in Rhys’s mind why he was Zarber's pick for the role of Chief.
"Great Wealth?" cooed the Eldest.
"Oh, wondrous wealth. Brilliantly colored wealth. Wealth such as you have never seen on Pa-Loana--" He cut off and glanced at Zarber, who was making a little cutting gesture at his own throat.
The Benz Chieftain cleared his throat again. "You will be pleased, I guarantee it."
"And you, Chief Tanaka?" The Eldest's chin pointed at Danetta.
"Yes. Foon is very important to us. Our Clan manufactures products made with the essence of foon for billions of our fellow Humans and for men from other worlds, as well."
"Worlds like Pa-Loana?"
Danetta smiled. "Some like, some unlike. But I must say, I've never met a people quite as colorful as yours."
The Eldest's crest rose proudly. "And do you also offer us Great Wealth, as does Chieftain Benz?"
"We are prepared to offer whatever we agree between us is a fair exchange of goods and services." She paused, then said, "I'm almost certain that what we regard as great wealth would seem trivial or foolish to such wise beings as the Pa-Kai."
Rhys heard Zarber chortle under his breath. No matter, the Eldest was pleased by the comment, as the slight bobbing of his crest clearly indicated. Zarber could chuckle all he wanted.
Bring on the baubles, thought Rhys. Bring out your dark magics and your thunderings and your spirit bag of gizmos. I'm ready for you, Mordred…I hope.
The negotiations began in earnest then, with Bristol-Benz being accorded the first volley. At the arch nod of his pseudo-Chief, Zarber laid out a veritable hors d'oeuvres tray of exotic foods and goods from all over the known Galaxy. The Pa-Kai tootled questions about this and that and nodded and made various faces of surprise and excitement and curiosity.
It was then Tanaka's turn. Danetta made a sweeping gesture to Rhys, but her eyes were on the Eldest and a wide, gracious smile played across her lips. Rhys then made his offer: such products of foon as the Pa-Kai desired would be available to the Pa-Kai merchants in perpetuity. As long as there was foon, they could have the product of foon.
Zarber stared at Rhys, dumfounded. Then he smiled (nearly grinned). "Is that all?" he asked regally.
"That is our opening offer," said Rhys. "You may make a counter-offer if you wish."
"I doubt that will be necessary." Zarber turned to Pa-Lili. "Do you wish to hear a counter-offer?"
"Do you wish to have the foon?"
Zarber turned a lovely shade of crimson. "I meant only, is there a need? We are offering so much more--"
"Yes, so it would seem. Let us hear your counter-offer."
Zarber nodded as if he had just seen a pattern emerging from a broken piece of ancient pottery. "Of course," he said, and proceeded to replace the hors d'oeuvres tray with a smorgasbord of exotic items, entertainments, and technologies. Enough junk to put the Pa-Kai through what would make the sufferings of Earth's aboriginal peoples at the hands of their more "civilized" brethren look like a kiddie story.
Rhys gritted his teeth and felt grey and husk-like as he watched the Pa-Kai react to the descriptions of this entertainment or that technology like children hearing their first news of a carnival. With their simple way of life, it must all sound like the play of gods, he thought. Ground cars and trundle-buggies, synthovens the size of a melon that brought forth an amazing variety of hot, ready-to-eat food, discams the size of a cup with which you could take three dimensional images of your loved ones (why bother going to the Clan artists for portraits?).
Yessir, thought Rhys, there's enough in that offer to devastate the environment, destabilize the economy and completely undermine the balance of power among the Pa-Kai forever and ever, amen. Not to mention what it would mean to the other peoples of Pa-Loana to have such suddenly wealthy neighbors.
It took everything he had to generate the enthusiasm he had once felt for his own counter-counter. He smiled, he made his gestures big and broad and encompassing, he even twirled and capered as he offered the Pa-Kai one technology: the simplest, most basic method of refining foon and using it to produce the products of their choice for themselves and for barter to other peoples.
"You could then," he explained to the assembled Pa-Kai, "even sell the refined foon—the slatex—to the Tanaka Clan, as well as the raw stuff. You might be able, someday, to barter the finished goods for sale on other worlds. You might even, someday, be able to receive the goods those worlds had to offer."
The Pa-Kai nodded and hooted and cooed, but they showed none of the child-like excitement they had evinced over Zarber's offer. While the Tribal Council considered the offers in the privacy of their voluminous tent, Rhys stood outside in Pa-Loana's fresh, fragrance and felt something roughly the size and shape of the proverbial millstone settle in the pit of his stomach. He looked up at the pale, violet-blue sky overhead (and through it and past it) and thought, Was it too much to ask that today White Magic might win one? Was it too much to hope that the spirits of the Pa-Kai would be stronger than the technologies of the Human?
He heard an abrasive sound behind him and cringed.
"Foon-derived products in perpetuity?" chuckled Zarber. "Really, Llewellyn. What do you take these people for? They may be simple-minded, but they're not fools. I'm offering them tomorrow and you're bargaining with nuts and berries."
"But whose tomorrow are you offering them, Zarber—theirs or ours?"
"Ah, that must be the philosopher in you speaking…or perhaps the theologian—more concerned with musty ideologies than solid realities." He glanced across Rhys to Danetta. "An academic to the core, isn't he, Ms. Price? But then, you knew that when you hired him." His eyes moved back to Rhys, faintly pitying. "I'm winning this one on points, Professor. If you start packing now, you can leave in time to avoid the humiliation." He turned and strode away, his purple cape billowing behind him in the breeze.
Rhys felt Danetta's hand on his shoulder. "Don't let him get to you," she told him. "In a situation like this I'd take your philosophy over his any day of the millennium."
"But he's right, you know. He has won on points. The Pa-Kai were in conniptions over his offer. I just can't, in good faith, make them that kind of a bid. It would be like giving them Pandora's box…without the user's manual."
"I understand. Notice that I'm not pressuring you to sell them the moon…or its man-made equivalent. This is a big deal, Rhys. A very big deal. I don't like the idea that we may have to depend on Bristol-Benz for our supply of foon—super-latex, or whatever. But, well…you're the Professor." She tucked a lock of just-going-gray and gold hair back up under her head-dress and crooked a finger at Rhys’s apprentices. "Come, children. Let's get back to work. I see by Pa-Lili's urgent gestures that they're ready to start."
The trouble with the Pa-Kai, Rhys decided, worrying his spirit bag and gazing moodily into space, was that they were so expressive. As a negotiator, he was used to sitting opposite poker faces of every description, but the Pa-Kai, with their encyclopedia of facial expressions and gestures, were quite disturbing. They were obviously a joy to Zarber, who could read his success on their faces, but for Rhys it was hard to maintain his own facade of self-confidence.
An ancestor of his might have conversed with Zarber at knife point and forced him to own his lies. But then, an ancestor of Zarber’s would have simply turned into a bat and taken Rhys’s ancestor out for lunch. Ah, but if Myrddin had been one of Rhys Llewellyn's forebears…
Rhys snapped to attention as the Eldest and his train entered the tent. He studied them for some encouraging sign, but saw none. Pa-Lili didn't even glance his way.
When all were seated, the Pa-Kai Shaman stood before her Chief, facing the Humans across the Council Circle. "We have pondered and come to a (pleasing to us) decision."
"And quickly, too, I must say," murmured Zarber, just loud enough for Rhys to hear.
"We thank the Shaman Zarber very much for his Great Wealth offer, and accept..." The violet eyes moved to Rhys’s face. "...the offer of the Tanaka Eldest and her vivid Shaman."
"What?" Zarber was, to all appearances, thrown beyond stunned into shock.
Rhys was thrown for a loop, as well. Grinning from ear to ear, he capered and twirled in quite sincere abandon, then returned to his seat, beaming at Danetta, who gave him a "thumbs up."
"You have made us most radiant," he said. "Your wondrous colors overwhelm us."
Pa-Lili gestured that this was understandable, then turned to a now coolly fuming Vladimir Zarber. "Thank you for coming," she said in musically accented Standard. "It has been interesting."
"I don't understand!" The words burst from Zarber's mouth as if he couldn't control them. He shifted quickly back to Pa-Kai. "Our offer was vastly superior to theirs."
"We did not see this," returned Pa-Lili in Pa-Kai. "It was your eye problem."
"My--? No, friend, it is your eye problem. The making stuff things and foods and playthings we offered are worth much more than what this -- -this Shaman has offered."
"To you, perhaps. Not to the Pa-Kai." Pa-Lili stared down her long nose at him. "Please, you may go. We have things (many) to discuss with the Tanaka Eldest and Shaman Reeslooelen."
Zarber blinked and gaped as if Pa-Lili's words were incomprehensible to him. Behind and around him, his "Chieftain" and the rest of his team echoed the expression.
Rhys was struck with a sudden childhood memory of viewing a school of groupers through the glass window of the sea-quarium in the Earth habitat on Jamal. He burst out laughing.
Zarber ceased making fish faces and herded his entourage out of the tent.
What followed was half celebration, half negotiation. The Pa-Kai would receive catalogues of latex-derived products and the knowledge and training to help them produce products of their own and, as an added bonus, Pa-Lili requested that books on Human Shamanistic practices and magics be translated into Pa-Kai. Danetta deferred to Rhys on that point, and he cheerfully agreed to make sure the translations were done.
The negoti-bration went on into the early evening, ending only when someone noted that it was dinner time. The assemblage quickly dispersed to prepare for the evening meal.
Rhys expected that Zarber would have flown off without so much as a snarl or hiss. He was surprised to find that gentleman waiting for him as he strolled the short path to the Tanaka shuttles.
"Well, Vladimir! Is this where you thump me over the head in revenge for some imagined wrong, or where you tell me you've learned your lesson and are going to turn over a new rock?"
"Cute, Llewellyn. Very cute. But actually, you're half right. I came to congratulate you on a well-played match and to say, I suppose, that you would seem to be right—honesty is sometimes the best policy."
Rhys was sincerely astonished. "I'm—I'm astounded, Vladimir. Thank you."
"Hmmm." Zarber grimaced slightly. "I hate to admit it, but I learned something from you this week."
"I learned that you can't judge a culture by its trappings. These Pa-Kai were…not what I expected them to be."
"Simple, but greedy and easily bowled over by Human technology?"
"Something like that. I have to admit, your line of expertise can be quite useful…given the right set of circumstances, of course."
"Of course… Does this mean you're planning to study Cultural Anthropology?"
"Good God, no!" If Zarber's nose had wrinkled any more, Rhys was sure it would have shattered. "It means I'm going to confine myself to dealing with Benz's more…sophisticated prospects."
"Oh. Keeping out of my way, then?"
"Don't flatter yourself too much, Llewellyn. This is just not my métier—dressing up like a Circus clown's nightmare, cavorting about and flapping my arms like some idiot fowl. I felt like an utter fool."
Rhys laughed. He laughed so hard he couldn't muster breath to tell Zarber it was his wild description of his very decorous behavior and not his humiliation that was so amusing. He grabbed Zarber's hand and pumped it, finally choking out, "Believe me, Vladimir, it looked like you never broke out of a Waltz."
Several days later, as the remaining Tanaka shuttle prepared to take flight on a return voyage, Rhys made a point of giving his private farewells to Pa-Lili.
"I have to ask you," Rhys said tentatively, "why you chose our offer over Bristol-Benz's. What they were bargaining with really was worth more."
"Not to us, Reeslooelen. This is not (your) Homeworld, nor is it Planet of Human Origin, nor is it any other planet of your acquaintance. You know this. And as your Chieftain rightly expected, we were not impressed with Clan Benz's many making-stuff things or their playthings or their food stuff. Their food stuff would make Pa-Kai stomachs hurt, while your growing-things package will give us foods from Pa-Loana soil. And as for his 'tek-now-low-gis,'" she stumbled distastefully over the word, "we will not want them until we can understand them. What we wanted, you offered—the knowledge that something we thought useless is not, that it can become the most colorful of things. We will learn how to make our own colorful and useful things. This way, it will be our tek-now-low-gi."
She made the "I am fat and content" face and gesture, folding her long hands over her stomach. She squinted her eyes at him. "We were also not impressed with Tsar-Bar's manner. His gestures—so small, so uncertain. It isn't nice to judge someone by their gestures, but..." She shrugged eloquently. "I'm only Pa-Kai, after all. He lies, you know," she added in a confidential undertone. "He is not a Shaman. He is a sham. And so is his puppy Chieftain. The Eldest met with them privately to admonish them not to wear adult colors until they are full-grown. Such childishness!" She made a dismissive gesture.
"You knew he was lying," Rhys marveled. "How?"
"The spirits told me. They made him give himself away with glances and disrespectful talk to his so-called Chieftain during the Trade Speaking. I distinctly saw him tell his Chieftain to shut up!" She made the throat-cutting gesture, then shrugged in that uniquely Pa-Kai way that made Rhys wonder what their bones were made of.
"The spirits told you," he repeated.
Pa-Lili waggled her head. "There is one other reason," she admitted. "We liked you better." She put her face close to his and lowered her voice. "Do you know what Tsar-Bar reminded us of? There is a small animal in the northern forests that likes to suck Pa-Kai blood. That is what he reminded us of." She shivered and made several gestures of distaste.
Rhys laughed and walked with her to the Tanaka shuttle's passenger ramp.
"It has been good to know you, Reeslooelen," she told him, her violet eyes misting. "You will come back?"
Rhys looked around and saw a fair land inhabited by fair people. A veritable Paradise. "You couldn't keep me away. I have a vacation coming up. I think I'd like to spend it here."
Pa-Lili nodded. "I would be pleased. And you will bring me books of Human Magic?"
Rhys smiled. "I'll translate them myself. But I don't expect you'll learn anything from them you don't already know."
"Oh," said Pa-Lili, making a wise face, "one learns new tricks from unexpected teachers."
"One does, indeed."
"You know," she said, eyeing him judiciously, "you are a very good Shaman. Your routines are a little dull, but your Magic is very sound, very colorful. When you come back, I will teach you how to present your case more eloquently. Your gestures are pretty good, but your capers and twirls could use some work."
Rhys bowed, nearly sweeping the ground with his head-dress. "I would be honored to receive your (excellent) instruction." He straightened, then, and gave Pa-Lili's bony frame a solid hug. She responded so enthusiastically, she left him winded.
Later, in his cabin, as the shuttle sped toward Jamal, he chuckled over Pa-Lili's parting shot. He'd definitely have to work on those capers. He tried one, nearly upended in the diminished gravity and laughed, feeling quite as light within as without.
He took off his cape and head-dress and folded them away in a below-bunk receptacle, then stood, feeling the spirit bag thump lightly against his breast bone. He grinned, hefting its insubstantial weight in one hand. Pa-Lili was right, you did learn new tricks from unexpected teachers.
He pulled the little pocket of fabric open and emptied its contents into the palm of his hand. A shred of bright but brown-stained material and a tooth gleamed under the cabin's sham-sun lighting. Both went into a tiny, wooden fetish box which, in turn, Rhys tucked into an inside pocket of his sporran.
The spirit bag stayed where it was, on its long, vivid necklace. In Human company he might tuck it away beneath the fabric of modern life, but he would keep it next to his heart. He was a good Shaman.
He relaxed on the bunk and wondered how Vladimir Zarber was weathering his homeward flight. Maybe, he thought, maybe someday I'll tell him what happened to his tooth...
This story originally appeared in Analog.
The stories in this collection were first published in Analog between 1990 and 2011. They feature the adventures of eccentric kilt-wearing anthropologist / archaeologist / xenologist Rhys Llewellyn and his able assistants, Yoshi Umeki and Roderick Halfax. Given my fascination with archaeology, first contact...and all things Gaelic or Scottish, I suppose these stories were inevitable. Without further ado, let me introduce you to Rhys Llewellyn—
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