1.8 The Thing That Can Explode (I)

The dream happened again, but this time in a different order: Weeping Woman, this time with a metallic hand rising out of the surface of the pool; Water; Vine God, this time as bright as the sun; Fire. And she was burning alive. It was not quite like burning your finger on a candle flame or hot surface. It was a fire that seemed to burn from within. When it became unbearable, she woke with a start. Sighing, she looked up at the ceiling, wondering when her life would start making any sense. She tried to replay the events of the previous day in her head, and it did not help at all. All the strange, interminable Ylfae talk about dreams seemed even stranger now than it had the day before.

She remembered a suvo (she had not realized until then how much she had missed her routine of a suvo a day):

Words have both surface and deep currents;
The wise will look for all the meaning.

She remembered the name of one of the files she had looked at: "Countervailing Oneiric Indications". She should talk to Kubiri more about the Ylfae and dreams. She had no knowledge of Ylfae customs or expectations, but she could not imagine that anyone would argue for hours about a subject unless they thought it was somehow relevant. Surface, dreams; deep currents -- what?

After she showered and was walking down to the kitchen, she tried to remember a song from the Venahana, any song, just to have a day that at least started off as a day in Katja's life should start.

The stars are bright out, the blossoms glow,
here below the flowers scent the breeze;
I am far from home, but hopes still bloom,
perfuming my thought.

The stars are bright out, the night is sweet,
upon the apple tree apples grow.
I am far from home, but truth may shine,
brightening my thought.

She took a deep breath. She could face the day, insane Ylfae, sarcastic predators, and a job she had never asked for and whose purpose she did not comprehend. But she still wished she had a pot of tea. Hot water would be possible. She wondered if there was anything tea-like still in the ship stores; they had only brought the things that would be most obviously useful.

Thinking thoughts like these she came to her office, where she had a nice surprise. On her desk was a flower, yellow with black flowing lines. It was made of paper, what seemed to be an old report on valves written in Ylfae, cunningly folded to look like a rose. She looked at it closely in something like awe; she had never seen anything like it. She wondered how it was done, but did not dare unfold it for fear she would be unable to fold it back again.

The dream of the morning was mostly cleared away, still there in memory, but no longer a source of unease.

She went to find Kubiri, and found him in command control. Several of the monitors were scrolling information at prodigious speed; Kubiri was watching them intently as his agile hands flew over the controls on the console. When Katja came and sat beside him, the monitors and hands alike slowed, then stopped, and he turned toward her.

"How was your sleep-phase?" he asked cheerfully.

"Not all that pleasant; I would rather not talk about it. Were you the one who put the folded flower on my desk?"

"Yes," he said. "I came across a great stack of sheets, both paper and plastic. None of it was important: old information, frivolous reports. So I put a sheet or two to new use."

"It was lovely."

He put up his hands in a gesture she did not recognize. "I have always been good at geometry, ever since my aunt first showed me how to fold paper in order to do proofs."

"Do you spend all your nights just speeding through computer records?" she asked, gesturing at the console. "Setting aside, of course, bouts of paper-folding."

"It is inefficient to spend all one's time on only one project," he replied, pushing his lips out humorously. "I have my docket of Private Consultations, ideas I am working out for various Logic Societies of which I am a member, simulations I construct and run, puzzles I investigate. For instance, the Winbaric delegation spent part of the night walking the halls. They seem familiar with the layout of the station, and were able to override certain doors that had been sealed shut."

"That's a little disturbing." Katja considered this a moment. "Is there any way you can bring up the functions from my desk here?"

"I can connect you with your desk directly." He did so, and Katja entered her passcode for the desk. As she searched for what she wanted, she asked, "Tell me, Kubiri, did anything from yesterday's negotiations make any sense to you? What was all the talk about dreams?"

"It need not have anything to do with dreams themselves; it is just that much of the Ylfae vocabulary for discussing symbolisms is based on various dream-practices that the Ylfae use to heighten their already considerable ideasthetic tendencies. That is, they do not just have ideas, they have certain sensory experiences in response to them: recognizing a mathematical pattern may be associated with a sound, the meaning of a word may be associated with a color, the idea of a virtue may be associated with a visible pattern of lines, and so on. At the same time, and partly because of this biological fact that all Ylfae share to some extent, getting symbolisms right is very important for Ylfae social interaction. In this case, the Taladac were expressing good faith as mediators by putting forward the symbolism they associate with their understanding of the situation, and the Winbaric began negotiation by trying to argue they should revise their symbolism. It is the Ylfae way of establishing common first principles; the Winbaric were attempting to argue that the Taladac should not see their position as one of neutrality or their goal in terms of deciding in favor of one party over the other, but should instead regard themselves as protecting a natural presumption in favor of local authorities, like the Winbaric themselves."

"So there was nothing unusual about it?"

Kubiri considered this carefully and began to hum his melodic one-note hum. Then he said, "It is very difficult for a non-Ylfae to follow all the nuances of Ylfae symbolic negotiation. But based on prior experience, I think the Winbaric were making arguments that would generally be regarded as weak or strained, and this seems confirmed by the responses of the Taladac, who seem to have been somewhat surprised that the Winbaric were making the arguments that they were."

"I get the feeling that none of the delegates are genuinely interested in negotiation."

"You are not alone, but it raises some puzzling questions. The Winbaric have no way of re-establishing control of the station except through negotiation. If they are not interested in negotiating, and yet are not conceding, then there is the problem of what their true goals are."

Katja finally found what she wanted. "These are the motion sensor logs for the station. In a full station they would not be very helpful for tracking anyone, because they are indiscriminate, but since we have almost no one on the station, we should be able to use it to discover exactly where they were and what they were doing. I noticed the motion sensors almost immediately, and knew there was some kind of archive for them; I just had to dig a bit to find how to access it." She studied the monitor a moment. "I should be able to find this. Would it be fine if I look into this before the negotiations?"

"It is your station," said Kubiri. "You may do whatever you wish, as long as you maintain the Rights of Hospitality under the Alliance Charter. I am here to assist you in whatever you think may need doing. If I may suggest, though, while you start your investigation, I could make an appointment with the Taladac delegation for lunch. While I cannot guarantee that it will be a pleasant meal, it might be helpful for getting an Ylfae view on whether the Winbaric are acting strangely and what their behavior might mean."

"Yes," said Katja reluctantly. "I suppose you are right. Do you think they will actually agree to lunch?"

"If they hesitate," Kubiri said drily, "I am sure they will have good reason, one that I will tell them I will gladly pass  their reasons on to the Samar High Council."

"I see," said Katja with a smile. "They will no doubt take the hint."

Kubiri put his hands up in something like a shrug. "Most of diplomacy splits into two parts," he said. "The first is making people see that doing the right thing is easier and more pleasant than they think, and the second is making them see that doing the wrong thing is harder and less pleasant than it might seem. There are ways and ways of doing each."