"I confess, said Katja, "that this is not what I had expected." She and Kubiri were sitting in her office the next day.
"In what way?"
"I suppose I thought there would be more talking. Instead, the Ylfae have locked themselves away on their ship, the Winbaric have not even arrived, and, as for Herri, I am not even where he is."
"He is prowling the station; every so often the motion detectors register him. From what I understand, Chaktai like to have a thorough acquaintance with their surroundings."
Katja sighed. She wanted it all to be done, and it seemed intent on not being so. She was tired and a little irritable. She had again had the dream. She had begun with the weeping woman beside the pool. A light breeze was whispering all around, snatches of words, like a conversation just at the edge of hearing. The world tipped, and she was underwater and drowning, looking up through the water at the moon. Before she could wake, however, the moon burst into a blaze of light, becoming a golden and radiant sun. The sun made the water vanish away like mist, and she was standing in a vineyard and facing the Vine God. Right roads may lead through the gates of death, he said. She opened her mouth to reply, but could get out no words. As she struggled to do so, she had awakened. Ever since a hollow feeling, something like an indefinite sorrow, had been gathering her chest.
Her brooding meditation was cut into by Kubiri. "If the Winbaric do not show, this simply makes your work easier."
"Then I suspect they will show," Katja said drily. She looked at him a moment. "This must be quite dull and tedious for you, endless waiting and occasionally leaping in to help me with my bumbling."
"You must not think that," he replied reproachfully. "This is a Tanaver Consultation, the highest level of Consultation possible; they are never uninteresting. As for the waiting, during your sleeping period I have a long list of Private Consultations to work through."
"If you would like to do so now, you should certainly not let me keep you from it."
"That would be most inappropriate," Kubiri replied. "A Tanaver Consultation takes absolute priority over any other Consultation, whether private or from the Samar High Council. While you are awake, I am, and must be, at your complete disposal until the terms and conditions of the Consultation are fulfilled; I cannot rule out the possibility that something of importance might come up at any moment. Even when you are asleep, I do not devote my full attention to any Private Consultation.
"The waiting is not a problem, either. I simply practice contemplative sitting."
"And what is contemplative sitting?"
The Samar leaned back thoughtfully in his chair and began to hum, one clean, steady note. Then he said, "The pursuit of beauty requires, perhaps more than anything else, the cultivation of sincerity. We must sincerely shine in our true nature, which is the inner harmony that unfolds as our life. Through sincerity we become still, yet also active; unmoved, yet moving all; one, yet many. If we achieve this, then, regardless of our situation, whether we are acting or resting, whether we are speaking or doing or restraining ourselves from speaking and doing, we may be seized by beauty and remain in it. But achieving sincerity requires practice; it requires finding ways to make manifest the integral harmonies of things. This can be done with things around us, and this we call 'examination of pattern'. It can also be done by exploring the possibilities of one's own mind, and this finding of pattern within oneself we call 'contemplative sitting'. There are others: 'studious reflection', 'honoring moral disposition', 'concern perspective', 'unwoven awareness', 'expanding regard'. Many others. Through such practices one develops and refines the five excellences of rectitude, balance, prudence, constancy, and integrity, and by these excellences we become beautiful and fit for beauty."
He regarded her for a moment, running a finger along the brim of his fedora, then continued, "Regardless, it is a very dangerous thing to begin to think that the most important things in life are done in grand gestures. We can only ascend to beauty as we should if we can do so in the mundane matters of life. There is harmony to be discovered and sung in whatever we do, whether it is solving a problem, or making a meal, or simply sitting and waiting." His lips pushed forward and his eyes twinkled. "Or talking with a friend. And, in a sense, pursuit of beauty is our only task. Regardless of what others wish, regardless of what the Ylfae and Winbaric do, regardless even of what the Tanaver wish, whatever may be set before us, our task and role is to find and extend beauty within and without. Nothing more."
"That is lovely."
He spread his hands. "It is the way of my people. Your people as well have means and methods in the pursuit of beauty; all civilized people do, for civilization is nothing other than the common pursuit of beauty."
Katja was about to ask him for more details, but she was interrupted by a chime on her desk. She called up a screen and frowned. "The Winbaric have arrived."
"May I?" asked Kubari, standing and coming around to the other side of the desk. Katja moved back and gestured at him to proceed. He called up several screens, examined them briefly, then executed several commands.
"I have sent them docking instructions," he said.
They walked down to the docks. It was a much easier walk than it had been that first time. The most important conveyors were now working so that when you stepped on them they hummed to life and carried you gently down the hall at a gliding pace. Less burdened by the stress of new surroundings, less bitten by the anger of having been hurled across the galaxy to a deserted place in the middle of nowhere, she found the hallways to be attractive. There was an excessive tendency to unnecessary ornament; no one minds unnecessary ornament in small doses, but many places in the hallways, particularly around doorways or in corners, the ornament sprang up profusely, like an overgrown garden, like a pastry covered too liberally with white and pastel icing. The ornamentation in corners seemed to hide planters and fountains, now empty and dry, and she wondered if it would seem more ornate or less if these had been filled and flowing. It is the barrenness of a wilderness that makes its rocks seem bizarrely shaped and its occasional tree seem scraggly; and perhaps it was the barrenness of the station that made its ornaments seem overdone. Lin Ohuen was perhaps not so much a city in heaven as an artificial garden, wholly self-contained, that had been long abandoned, and simply needed someone with a green thumb to come along. Water here, plants there, and you would hardly know that you were in space.
There were three Winbaric, and each one looked almost exactly like the other two. Like the Taladac they were tall and very pale (more pale, if possible, than the Taladac), with the large eyes and narrow faces. Instead of black hair, however, their hair was yellowish white, a soft gold-alloy color, that made them look even stranger to Katja's Sylven eyes; all Sylven had dark hair, and she had not known that hair could come in this strange pale color. Their eyes were not mauve, as the other Ylfae's eyes had been, but were an equally strange color, icy blue. They wore brown woven cloth, painted with Ylfae symbosl, but had furs hanging over their belts. Bound to the forehead of each was a silver ornament, somewhat like a 5 on its side. They each held a metal baton or rod covered with ornate tracery.
"Welcome to Lin Ohuen," said Katja cheerfully.
The three Winbaric looked at her a moment, then simultaneously their gaze slid over and down to the short Samar by the side."Are you the Tanaver representative?" one of them said in highly accented, and rather belligerent, Simplified Samar.
Kubiri glanced up at Katja, and a hint of amusement passed between them, but he gave the answer he had given before. "I am not. The Samar High Council has chosen me, at the request of the Tanaver, to be Consultant to Katja Ilkaiomenen, who is the Adminstrator of this station." And he gestured at Katja.
"Why have the Tanaver interfered with Winbaric government?" one of the other Ylfae demanded.
"I am not privy to Tanaver intentions, nor am I their representative in this negotiation," Kubiri replied coolly. "I am merely a Consultant at present to the Administrator of the station." And he gestured at Katja again.
"And why does a Sylven Administrator of a Winbaric station need to be assisted by a Samar?" said the third with narrowed eyes. "What have the Samar to do with this?"
"The Samar High Council was requested by the Tanaver to provide a Consultant; that is all."
The first Winbaric snorted."Do you think we are fools? The Samar do not mind the affairs of individuals on the edge of space but manipulate societies and civilizations that spread over galaxies and supergalactic clusters. In everything they do they find a way to aggrandize themselves, meddling with all things to their own ulterior ends. Do you expect us to believe that, all of a sudden and for no reason, they, rulers of the Universes, have begun sending themselves around the Alliance as errand-boys and secretaries?"
"We are merely a small Protectorate in Universe Two. We rule no one but ourselves, do nothing but give advice and assistance, and perform the small tasks set before us. In this case, I am simply, at the request of the Tanaver, assisting Administrator Katja with the transition." And he indicated her again.
Katja jumped in. "The other representatives have already arrived. We can begin negotiations immediately, if you like, as soon as we gather all the other negotiators in the conference room."
Simultaneously, all three Winbaric representatives looked at her, and then simultaneously they all looked back down at Kubiri. "We still have matters that must be cared for on our ship before we are able to attend this meeting," one of them said, clearly and deliberately speaking to Kubiri rather than to Katja. "We will be along shortly."
Kubiri did not respond and looked at Katja.
"That will be acceptable," said Katja coldly.
The three Winbaric returned to their ship. Katja stood still until they were gone, then looked down with exasperation at Kubiri. "These Ylfae are trying my patience." Any trace of the earlier hollow feeling had been washed away by a cold anger.
"The Ylfae try everybody's patience," said Kubiri. "But Ylfae are usually distracted and mercurial, not actively belligerent. These three come with an agenda. But Ylfae are the best interpreters of Ylfae. Difficult as it is to get the Ylfae involved in a coherent conversation, I recommend that, at some point after negotiations begun, you get the opinion of the other Ylfae delegation about the behevior of this one. It may provide useful information."
They turned and walked back. "How are we going to find Herri for negotiations?"
"I doubt he will be difficult to find. The Chaktai have ways of knowing things."