It was not long afterward that the Ylfae ship arrived and Katja and Kubiri went out to meet the new arrivals. While she had seen Ylfae in pictures, Katja had never met one in real life, and was excited to be able to do so. They were not quite what she expected.
There were two of them, and they looked almost exactly alike. They were tall; a good head taller than Katja herself, and two heads taller than the Samar. They had straight black hair and strangely large eyes set in long, narrow faces. Their eye-colors were not Sylven colors; they were deeply mauve, and they were just a little farther apart than Sylven eyes would be. Their noses were very much like Sylven noses, although slightly upturned. Their ears were also very like Sylven ears, although set back slightly. Most strangely, however, their skin was very pale, almost white, like cloth that has been bleached; the pictures had not prepared Katja for the oddity of seeing it in person. They wore clothes that looked like some kind of fur-lined suede, covered all over with the cryptic symbols the Ylfae seemed to put everywhere. They each wore a golden symbol, like a horizontal two-headed Y, >-<, bound to their foreheads with a leather thong. Each had an ornate staff of what looked like polished white wood, although perhaps it was some synthetic imitation.
They came striding with a slow, silent, long-legged lope.
"Welcome to Lin Ohuen," Katja said in her most cheerful voice.
The Ylfae ignored her, and both looked down at Kubiri.
"Are you the Tanaver representative?" one of them said. His Simplified Samar was slow and deliberate.
"I am not," said Kubiri. "At the request of the Tanaver, I have been chosen by the Samar High Council to be Consultant to Katja Ilkaiomenen, who is the Adminstrator of this station." He indicated her. It was done quite smoothly; the answer to the question became an introduction that returned attention to Katja.
The Ylfae glanced at her and returned their attention to the Samar, so simultaneously that it was somewhat unsettling. "What are the Tanaver about in this dispute?"
"You will have plenty of time to ask the Tanaver representative to the negotiation; I am merely Consultant to the station Administrator."
"What is your name?" said the other Ylfae. His Simplified Samar was also slow and deliberate.
Kubiri's pleasant tone did not quite change, but there was something more steely about it, hard to place and perhaps not even part of the voice -- the set of the eyes, perhaps. "My name is of no significance in this matter. If you need to address me, you may do so as 'Consultant'. If you have any inquiries of significance, you may address them to the station Administrator, who is, as I said, Katja Ilkaiomenen." He indicated her as he had before, but turned more fully toward her so that he was no longer facing the Ylfae.
The two Ylfae ignored this and began talking with each other in a dialect of Ylfae. It was clear that they did not expect Katja, and perhaps not Kubiri, to understand it, so Katja carefully set her face so as not to give away the fact that she followed most of it quite well and could make reasonable guesses as to the rest.
"If the Samar are directly involved, and they are sending more than one...," began the first.
"...then there is something here beyond what there appears to be," finished the other.
"An insignificant system; all our records...."
"...yes, but there must be something."
The first Ylfae turned back to Kubiri. "When will the Tanaver representative arrive?"
Kubiri studiously ignored the question and looked up at Katja. Katja took the cue.
"The Tanaver representative will be arriving later today," she said, keeping her cheerful voice. She wondered suddenly, though, whether cheerfulness sounded the same to the Ylfae. She toned it down slightly. "I am afraid that the station is in considerable disarray. It has been abandoned for some time and we have only just arrived to get it ready for this disucssion of differences."
The Ylfae simultaneously looked from Kubiri to Katja. "We received the communication," said the second, in the slow, deliberate Simplified Samar. "We will stay on our own ship."
"I am afraid we were not sent your names," she said.
The Ylfae both looked at her a long while and then said, "We will return to our ship and wait until the arrival of the otehr representatives." Their Simplified Samar, which was technically acceptable but overpronounced and not even as fluid as Katja's, much less Kubiri's, was beginning to irritate Katja, and she wondered how long she would be able to endure it during negotiations. They turned away without ceremony and went back the way they came.
Katja waited until they were both gone, then she looked down at Kubiri, who seemed to be studying her closely. "Given your background, I imagine you can understand Ylfae."
Kubiri's lips pushed forward in that broad, four-cornered Samar grin. "I am completely fluent in fifteen distinct dialects of it, and when it has been put to the test with people who could not see me, my grasp of the language has passed for that of a native Ylfae among the Ylfae themselves," said Kubiri, as they both turned and walked down the hallway.
"I think it is in our interest not to make that known."
"I agree. In the artisanship of negotiation, all information is an instrument, and should be used only when sincerity and honesty and the goals of the negotiation require. The Universes and their galaxies are vast, but there is a bare possibility that if they learn my short-name they may be able to discover the fact prematurely by tracing down records of prior Consultations; it is not something about which we need fret much, but I do recommend that we exercise a certain amount of care on the point."
"Certainly," said Katja. After a moment, thinking of the troubles the Syylven were having with the Ylfae trade negotiations, she said, "Are all Ylfae like that?"
"The Ylfae brain is structured in such a way that they both experience intensive ideasthesia and undergo a low-level version of what you might think of as dreaming on a constant basis. It is part of what gives them a reputation for being an erratic and arrogant species -- not completely deserved, although not completely undeserved, either. They are -- what is the Sylven expression? -- 'lost in their own world', at least until they are roused by fear or anger. Nonetheless, these do not seem to be professional negotiators."
"Is that significant?"
"It may not be. As I mentioned before, everything is done by family among the Ylfae; the local Taladac clans would have chosen a family to handle the negotiations, and then the family itself would have chosen the negotiators. Then again, it may be useful later if negotiations do not go well; it would be embarrassing for the Ylfae to handle a negotiation involving the Tanaver badly, but massively more so if it were clearly their own fault."
"Be that as it may," said Katja, "we still are in our original position, without any significant information."
"I could send a request to the Samar High Council, who could put pressure on the Ylfae government to send us an entire docket. But it would take time we likely would not have. There may be a shorter way, although its probability of success is very small. You did notice the symbols on their clothes?"
"Yes; very much like the symbols on the computer combination, or in some of the files."
"They are dream-symbols, and are usually indicators of past experiences. I took the liberty of recording them, and can check them against a symbol database. It might give us something of use."
Katja smiled. "That is quite ingenious."
"It will likely give us nothing, but, if so, we won't be worse off than we are now, will we?"
A few hours later they were standing in another hallway waiting for the Tanaver representative. Katja was standing more rigidly than she usually did, and felt somewhat embarrassed for doing so. But Kubiri had recommended in the strongest terms that she steel herself to meet the Chaka envoy, because everyone needed to steel themselves to meet any Chaka at all; and she found that when she tried to steel herself mentally, her body slowly started steeling itself, too.
When she saw the Chaka, however, all this was forgotten completely, because she saw immediately why everyone needed to steel themselves in order to meet a Chaka. The Chaka looked somewhat reptilian, but its movements were swift and alert, as if it were about to spring. It was as large as Katja, and as tall, standing as it did on two feet; these feet were attached to powerful haunches and seemed excellently shaped for running. It had six-fingered hands with sharp retractable claws. It had a long narrow muzzle and a mouth full of sharp teeth. Its eyes were yellow with slits, set somewhat to the side, so that the creatures head tilted slightly in order to look something straight on. It was black and wore some kind of black suit, tightly fitting, with what were obviously weapons of some kind slung and holstered around its body. And all around it there was something like an atmosphere of dread and fear, as thick and palpable forceful as strong smoke.
He came right up to Katja and looked her in the eye, head tilted aside. They were mesmerizing eyes. They were a ruthless predator's eyes, but they were the eyes of an amused ruthless predator. Chills went up and down Katja's spine. But she was not going to embarrass herself or Kubiri. She was not. She was not.
She took a deep breath and said, in as level a voice as she could manage,"Welcome to Lin Ohuen. I am Katja Ilkaiomenen, the Sylven Administrator. What is your name?"
The Chaka tilted his head the other way, his eye still fixed on her. Then he opened his mouth, sharp white teeth clearly displayed. The sound that came out was something between a gurgle and hiss and a cough.
Katja had no idea whether this was his name or not. But it would not do to back down. "I am afraid I cannot pronounce that. I will therefore call you Herri." The Sylven word herri meant 'dragon'.
He looked at her a full minute longer, a new look added onto the amused ruthlessness. Was it her imagination or did the amusement become tinged with sarcasm? Then his head swung around to look at Kubiri. There was a moment when they both looked at each other eye to eye -- how was Kubiri able to look so relaxed and calm and cheerful?
Then Kubiri grinned the four-cournered Samar grin and said, "I agree."
The Chaka head swung back to Katja. Then she felt a very strange thing in her head. It was like someone speaking suddenly in your ear when you are alone. In fact, it was exactly this. We spend our lives alone in our heads, and yet suddenly here was a voice there, too. It was cool and ruthless and more than slightly sarcastic.
I require no special attentions, and I will find my own way to my rooms. He moved past them both; it was startling how swiftly he moved. And when Katja looked back down the hallway he was no longer in sight.
"What did he say to you?" She asked Kubiri.
"It was quite a compliment. He said that you were the kind of prey who would be more challenging than she seemed at first."
The Winbaric representatives did not arrive as scheduled.