1.3 Conversation over Lunch (I)

The Ylfae ship was not much different in layout from an apartment; there was living space, with benches and a sort of couch, and small private rooms to the side, although they were too small for beds, and a place with a long low table and mats on the side, which she guessed was for eating. There was nothing quite like a chair, leading Katja to wonder if the Ylfae even had chairs. They had to strap down, for safety reasons, when detaching from Highpoint Station, and to do that they had to sit on narrow benches attached to the wall. They were very uncomfortable.

After the ship was detached and on its way a robotic steward began setting the table with dishes, chopsticks, and sharp skewers. Everything had a lid, and was designed so that the lid automatically closed if you did not physically keep it open. The ship had a simulacrum of gravity deriving from spinning wheels fore and aft, and on the failure of one, the other should compensate for it. The failure of both was surely a very unlikely event. But weightless food is an unmanageable mess.

As they sat at the table and waited for the meal, Katja asked Kubiri if he knew anything about the station to which she had been assigned.

He considered a moment. "What do you know about the Ylfae?"

"Not much. I can read and write the language. I would recognize one, because I have seen pictures. I know that the Sylvenian systems are a Ward of the Ylfae under the Alliance Charter." She remembered what she had read in the elevator, and the Commissioner's comment. "The Sylvenian Commissioners are currently in some sort of trade negotiation with the Ylfae, and it is not going well. Beyond that, not much."

"The Ylfae, like the Syylven, are a single-species society. They are tribal and clannish. The primary unit of most of their social, economic, and political structures is the family. If you want to hire someone to perform a task, it is considered extremely offensive to try to hire an individual by himself; you hire an entire family to do the work, and then the family distributes the tasks as they see fit. They elect their governments, but they do so by electing families rather than individuals. They venerate their ancestors.

"Every family is part of a clan, every clan part of a tribe. There are seven tribes, each with hundreds of thousands of clans. According to Ylfae legend, they are not native to the Seven Universes. They were once a powerful star system in another universe, passionately devoted to scientific research, and utterly unscrupulous; they used other civilizations as experimental subjects and made many enemies. However, during an important solar energy experiment, their power came to an abrupt end when their sun went nova for unknown reasons. It would take considerable technological sophistication to induce a stellar nova, but the Ylfae insist that it was sabotage. All the Ylfae in their home system were killed, and an alliance of opposing systems attacked the rest. This went on until at last only one starship was left, with five hundred individuals aboard. These were found and given a new homeworld by the Tanaver, on condition that they would also receive the gift of intense empathy. All seven tribes, they say, descend from those five hundred individuals."

"Is that true?"

Kubiri put both his hands in the air and waved his palms. "It is the story that the Ylfae themselves tell, anyway. When the Samar first came across the Ylfae, they had already spread across the greater part of a galactic supercluster. Their actual origins are lost in the mists of time. The Tanaver would know, but would likely never tell even us. For a civilization, especially such an ambitious civilization as the Ylfae, to assign itself such an unflattering origin would require a special cause, however, so there may well be a kernel of truth in it.

"Every Ylfae tribe is quite different, however. All species exhibit variation, but some species more than others. The Syylven, for instance, are a relatively uniform. The Ylfae are quite diverse, and while Ylfae from different tribes can have non-sterile offspring, the chances of it are massively less than between Ylfae of the same tribe. So perhaps we should say they are a single-species society slowly becoming a society of seven species. The overwhelming majority of Ylfae in this galaxy are Taladac, and when your Commissioners talk about trade treaties with the Ylfae, they are really talking about trade contracts with local Taladac clans. The Ylfae as a whole have a largely symbolic and ceremonial government that is run by the Remoal tribe, but the rest of their government simply consists of negotiations among clans, which are done by families elected by each clan for that purpose. For practical purposes the Syylven are Wards of these Taladac clans, who are supposed to protect you from the predation of pirates, assist you in negotiation with other societies, and prepare you for the day when you, too, become a full Protectorate of the Tanaver. However, not all the Ylfae in this galaxy are Taladac. There are some scattered Tura clans, as well. Why they are both found in this one galaxy is something of a mystery, there are plenty of galaxies in the universes, and the Tura and Taladac tribes have a long history of poor relations. One of the Tura clans is the Winbaric, who control a few systems and were at some point given jurisdiction, directly by the Tanaver, of a particular system on the condition that they build and maintain a space station there, which for Portal-directory purposes was given the label Station 3311534. I have looked it up. There is almost no information available about it. The Winbaric seem to have done very little with it, or, at least, very little that has left any easily accessible record. I expect the Winbaric to protest the Tanaver directive. This will put the local Taladac clans in a very uncomfortable position; by Ylfae governing conventions, they are the governing authority for all Ylfae in the area, they will be required to oversee the resolution of the dispute. Relations with the local Tura clans are quite strained, and they certainly do not want to strain them more. On the other hand, as they have guardianship responsibilities for the Syylven, they are required by the Charter to guarantee a solution that benefits the Syylven, or they will be in danger of being investigated by the Samar for Charter violations. And the Ylfae in general dream of being a Core Protectorate one day; while they technically have the right to overrule the Tanaver directive, the local clans will be very hesitant to contradict the Tanaver, for fear of being condemned for it by other clans."

At this point the steward brought in the first course (fruits and salad, mostly), and they started eating. After ruminating for a moment, Katja said, "This sounds like it is a very complex and delicate situation. I am not qualified to handle anything like this. I just collate data, write up reports, and translate them. Why did the Tanaver insist that I become the Station Administrator?"

Kubiri put down his chopsticks and waved his palms again. "Who knows what the Tanaver are ever thinking? I could speculate, but it would be guessing in the dark. It is not even clear why they removed jurisdiction from the Winbaric in the first place. The terms of the original assignment to the Winbaric were quite vague: they should build a space station in the system and maintain it. Since the Winbaric did build it, I assume that the Tanaver would maintain that, whatever the Winbaric did, it did not count as maintaining the station. The Tanaver have certain special privileges, but the Alliance Charter clearly lists what the Tanaver can and cannot do. In all matters not immediately pertaining to the establishment of Oracles and Portals, original assignment of systems, Protectorate status, certain kinds of unresolvable dispute among the Core Protectorates, or protection of the Universes, the Tanaver must work indirectly through the Core Protectorates or by voluntary cooperation. Ordinary reassignment of systems among samaroid species like the Ylfae and the Syylven is entirely the province of the Samar, and even we are required to have proper negotiations. So the only legal ground available is for them to say that the jurisdiction was granted on a condition that the Winbaric violated. None of this explains why it was then turned over to the Syylven or why you were chosen in particular." He picked up his chopsticks and helped himself to some salad.

"Have the Tanaver ever violated the Charter, and if they did what would happen?"

"To my knowledge, no, although there have been occasional disputes. The Charter is quite clear that the authority for resolving any disputes between the Tanaver and other parties belongs to the relevant Protectorate government, or, if the other party is a Protectorate, to the Core Protectorates, who form the court of final appeal on all matters relating to the Charter."

There was a pause in the conversation as more food came out, this time soup.