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The dingy door tucked back in the filthy alley looked as if it would lead to a basement utility room servicing the ancient slum-like pile of flats it was wedged beneath. This can't be right. Loki Monolem triple-checked the coordinates from the Haven Imperial communiqué she'd received. She again made sure she was in the right city – yes, Frankfurt, Germany. She took a deep breath, and opened the door.
The place could charitably be called a dive. I was tiny and gritty and loud and very crowded. The door had been surprisingly heavy, but clearly that was for security and for sound insulation. A thick cloud of Rigellian smoke billowed out, and she was assaulted by loud, repetitive bass-heavy music.
There was a bouncer just inside, a very big Ter-African who gave her a very toothy grin. "Got any weapons on ya?" he asked in Anglo.
Loki smiled back, and spread her arms. "Where would I hide them?" She did a quick spin. She was wearing stiletto-heeled knee-length boots and a skin-tight leather jumpsuit, jet black, with a wide, black belt. The jumpsuit was sleeveless, covering her from the neck down, except that she'd left the zipper undone almost to her navel. The leather was stretched so tightly, the jumpsuit could almost have been made of latex paint. Any weapons she carried underneath would have to be subcutaneous.
The bouncer's grin widened. "Oh, mama, gimme a reason to pat you down."
Loki touched his lips with her forefinger. "Another time, baby." She turned and pushed her way into the crowd.
Well, she thought, that was a little weird. Every seedy bar in the Galaxy needed a good bouncer. Even so - she'd only been on Terra a little over a month, but she'd never yet been challenged about weapons as a cover charge. In fact, she'd never been so challenged on any of the half-dozen Federation homeworlds she'd visited before. It served to increase her sense of wrongness. She shrugged to herself and decided to write it off as part of this particular dive's attempt at ambiance. Interesting marketing ploy – if you can't help looking grungy and disreputable, why not play it up?
The crowded room was wedge-shaped, the narrow point at the door she'd just entered. Not good in case of panic, Loki mused. Much of the floor that wasn't occupied by people was cluttered with tables and rickety chairs. Way in back, to the left, was what she supposed was intended to be a dance floor – at any rate, there were several dozen people packed in there, writhing their bodies together in approximate rhythm to the loud music. They were clearly attempting either to dance or to have a vertical orgy. In the third corner of the wedge, off to the right, was a bar, also crowded. Loki headed that way.
She needed a drink. This was all too disconcerting. The message she'd gotten, locked with an Imperial passcode, was simply to meet someone at these coordinates. A message with an Imperial passcode must imply it was sent by, or with the knowledge of, someone in the Haven royal family – or at least, a relative of the CEO. That meant, however mysterious and obscure the message was, it would be bad business practice to ignore it. So here she was, in a very dingy, loud, smelly bistro filled with the most varied sorts of Terrans she could imagine – with no real idea of why.
The people around her were, naturally enough, almost all Terrans, though an inexperienced person from most other worlds might not know it. Struggling through the mass of bodies, Loki was struck by the variety of facial types, hair and eye color, skin color, sizes, and physical shapes. Not to mention odors. Most starfaring races were much more homogenized, after many millennia of intrabreeding on their homeworlds. Nearly all Havens, for example, had dark hair, dark eyes, and moderately dusky skin. Terra is so young! Loki reminded herself.
Styles of clothing in the bistro were just as varied, everything from flimsy strips of gauze to formal evening wear. Much of it was brightly colored. Loki's personal tastes ran to a lot of black (unless she could find something darker), and either revealing or form-fitting (or both), and that was pretty common on Haven. Once more, Loki was struck by the diversity of these people, with the riot of differing clothing styles and personal adornment.
Loki finally made it to the bar, and caught the attention of the bartender by dropping some credit chits on the counter. He was an attractive young man, with green eyes and fiery red hair. She had no idea which region of Terra the man was from. "Wot kin Oy getchee?" he asked, shouting over the music, and Loki wasn't certain at first that she'd understood him.
"Something that's not beer," she shouted back. She'd tasted German beers before, when Uncle Omm had brought home a few cases from a grateful trader. Once had been quite enough.
The bartender laughed, pulled a bottle of amber-colored alcohol from the rack behind him, and filled a shotglass. Loki took an experimental sip. It had a smoky flavor, definitely not like the bitter dark beers she'd tasted. She could feel it burning nicely as she swallowed. She smiled.
"Ye dew it loyk theeis," the bartender said, and motioned with an empty shotglass, pretending to toss it all down at once.
Loki raised an eyebrow, cocked her head, and smiled. She copied his motions, and swallowed the whole glassful in a gulp. She gasped, and slammed her hand down to the counter. Yes, it burned very nicely.
The bartender laughed again, refilled her shotglass, and walked away, taking her credit chits with him.
Loki decided, contrary to the bartender's advice, to drink this second one in small sips. She turned around, and leaned back against the bar, waiting.
The problem was that she didn't have the slightest idea whom she was waiting for.
She was beginning to feel a little lightheaded, from the sensory overload of sounds and sights and smells, and from the whisky, and from the secondhand Rigellian smoke. She almost didn't hear the quiet voice beside her that said, "Miss Monolem."
The voice was coming from roughly the vicinity of her shoulder. She turned, and looked into a pair of eyes.
Once before, at one of the audiences for the Haven Emperor, Loki had seen the eyes of a Ter-Asian - but not this close up. Uncle Omm had once mentioned to her that many Havens seem to be fascinated by the shape of Asian eyes, though he claimed it never really moved him personally.
Loki was speechless.
The eyes that looked at her were Asian, but something else, too. They were too big, too dark, a little too almond-shaped, to be purely Human. Those lovely epicanthic folds above those strong, high cheekbones protected an enormous pair of very dark eyes, eyes with irises so black they looked as if they had no irises at all, merely huge pupils. The eyes were tapered slightly downward from outside, pointing toward a small, perfectly-formed nose which rested above dark red lips. All were encased within a face of dusky amber almost the color of the whisky, and framed by a shock of hair as black as the irises in those eyes.
The eyes were almost big enough to belong to an Antari, but they were the wrong color, and so was the hair, and the person they did belong to was far too short. Besides, there were no Asian Antaris.
"Miss Monolem," the small woman repeated, and Loki tossed down the rest of the drink and finally found her voice.
"Yes, I am," she said. My, you're at your clever best, aren't you? she chided herself.
The woman motioned toward an empty table, and started walking that way. Loki followed through the noise and the smoke. The woman was quite petite, but with very feminine curves. She was dressed in a comfortable-looking dark pantsuit. She moved with grace and confidence, and the press of people seemed to open almost magically in front of them.
They sat close together on the same side of the table so they could comfortably hear each other without shouting. "Who are you?" Loki asked.
The woman smiled. "I'm Qaili," she answered.
"Kay-lee," Loki tried, knowing her accent was wrong.
The other woman laughed. "That's close enough."
Loki nodded. "But that's just your name. Who are you?"
"I'm – actually a distant relative of yours. Through marriage."
"Do you know my uncle?"
"No, I never had the pleasure." Qaili's voice had a slight sing-song quality, and Loki got the feeling Anglo was not her native tongue.
It was Loki's turn to laugh. "I'm not sure many people would call meeting Uncle Omm a 'pleasure'. He enjoys making sure you always remember exactly who is the CEO of the Haven Trading Empire."
Qaili gave a gentle smile. "I'm sure he does, at least as much as you enjoy reminding people that he's your uncle. But aren't you more curious about what we're doing here?"
Loki harumphed. "Well, yes, as a matter of fact." She realized suddenly she was still clutching the shotglass, and she set it nervously on the table. "I figured you'd bring that up when you were ready to tell me."
Qaili's smile didn't waver. "Yes, typical Haven reserve. Don't want to seem too anxious."
There was silence for a beat, and the loud music and riot of colors and scent of Rigellian threatened to overwhelm her again. Loki finally shook her head. "Well, give!"
The smile on Qaili's mouth suddenly left, and she grew deadly serious. "You don't know what it is here. Terra is a place where you can lose yourself. Look around you, Loki. How long would it take before you forgot who and what you are?"
Loki started for a moment at the switch from 'Miss Monolem' to the use of her given name. She shook her head, confused.
"I know why you're here, I know what your uncle expects of you, and I know other things as well." She let that dangle for an instant before hurrying on. "But you will fail in all of that if you forget who you are. This isn't like home. There isn't anyone here to protect you. Not even the name of Omm Monolem will get you far. I'm here to help you – Loki." She paused before saying the name, and she lowered her voice, and she pronounced it in the way no non-Haven was ever supposed to hear.
Loki sat back in her chair, glancing around to make certain no one else had heard it, as if anyone would have had a clue as to the significance of it. "Who are you?" she asked again, and her voice was barely above a whisper. "You're not Havani – "
Qaili shook her head, but then scowled. "Partly, I am. I have some Havani blood."
"And you're not Antari, but you're not completely Terran. Did the Emperor send you? No, I'm not really that important. Uncle Omm?"
"Don't sell yourself short, but no." She paused. She leaned very close to Loki's ear. "I was sent by --" and she paused, then spoke a single word in the native language of Haven. "Resha."
Loki had heard non-Havens talking to her uncle, or to imperial officials, and they had sometimes, almost sneeringly, referred to the "Haven Board of Directors", or the "Imperial Stockholders", completely missing the point. Of course, Haven officials had no hesitation in allowing offworlders to remain confused – if they didn't understand profit well enough to want to know who actually owned it and where it really came from, it was hardly a Haven's task to teach them.
But this woman, this strange women with the strange eyes, she not only did not make that mistake, and not only knew the proper word – the proper Havani word! - but she said that word with reverence and respect.
Loki backed her head away, and turned to look again into Those Eyes. She shivered, and felt her body growing warm and flush.
Excerpt from Marketing: A Summary of Haven Psychology by Dr. Jade Han, PhD., Starfleet Chief Xenopsychologist -
Most people in the Federation are unaware that the Haven Trading Empire has its own native language. There is the very common assumption, quite unconscious, that Haven has merely adopted Anglo, it being the standard language of commerce within the Federation and its territories and exploratory zones. Perhaps oddly, few have stopped to wonder what it was Havens spoke before encountering the Federation.
But in point of fact, Havens do have their own language, and they call it Havani. This is also the word by which they refer to themselves – the people of Haven are the Havani. This is not an uncommon feature of cultures; the German people speak the German language, Vulcans speak Vulcan, and so on. One difference, though, is that the Havens take this literally. They are their language, and their language is them – they and their words are one, both Havani. This explains why they do not break their word, once given – to do so is to destroy oneself.
It also explains why they allow so few off-worlders to learn much of their native tongue, for, despite their friendliness and expansive ebullience, they are a fiercely private and possessive people. What's theirs is theirs, and one of the primary things which is very privately, intimately, and uniquely theirs is their language, for it is a doorway to their deepest treasures.
Havani is a conceptual language. Each word has a variety of rich and complex meanings. In everyday speech among Havens, all (or most) of these meanings are intended at once, making even the most casual of conversations really a very intricate affair. That's why, to Terrans, the people of Haven seem always to be engaged in no more than light banter; the depths of what's really going on are usually, to a Terran's ear, deeply hidden. But this won't do in a business or legal setting, for there, the specific intended meaning must be made clear, so there can be no confusion later about what one's word should be taken to mean.
This is one of the reasons Haven contracts are so detailed; they need to carefully spell out which particular shade of meaning was intended for nearly every word used. (And, of course, the definitions themselves usually contain additional words which must also be defined.) This is why many Havens now often prefer to write contracts in Anglo; according to Haven thought, the words of Terran languages are "smaller" (a Haven would say, "cheaper") and so need less infra-contractual clarification.
But since Havani words are "big" (or: "rich", "expensive"), they are difficult to translate into the most common Federation languages. Any attempt to make a simple one-word for one-word mapping is going to leave out most of the intended richness. Take, for example, one of the most important and "expensive" words in the Havani tongue, a word which is central to Havani thought and culture, a word which defines the goals, hopes, and purposes of Havani life. That word, usually misunderstood through being oversimplified, is always translated into Anglo as "profit". The word, in Havani, is resh.
Other Federation peoples almost always think of "profit" in financial terms; and, when speaking in a non-Havani language, the Havens follow suit, because that provides a convenient system of metaphors. But it might actually be better to think of resh as dreams, or goals, or whatever-it-is that matters to you most. If you seek knowledge, your profit might be in obtaining college degrees. If you crave popularity, your profit might lie in acquiring friends. If you're a spiritual person, your profit becomes contact with your gods. Resh is always measured in concrete credits, but that, too, is no more than useful metaphor. In actual coin, how much is a friend, or a religious experience, worth to you? For which would you pay more? The answers to such questions will reveal how much you truly value these things, as compared to, say, a home or a night on the town.
As in nearly any culture, the true and ultimate sources of all profit, the divine arbiters of who profits and who doesn't, are, of course, the gods – or at least demi-gods, shadowy and capricious spirits of divine power. Non-Havens generally are unaware of the very existence of Haven religious thought, just as they are unaware of the Havani language. Havani religion is expressed in the same financial metaphors as everything else, and to a non-Haven, it sounds like just more of their concern with money. But in the end, all profit originates somewhere, and that ultimate source must be divine.
These ultimate divine arbiters of Haven profit are seldom discussed, even among Havens. They remain shadowy and unknown, like the Terran idea of The Fates, and are usually referred to only by the fact that profit which is not possessed by any individual is, nevertheless, still controlled, influenced, and doled out by some intelligence. There is order to the Cosmos, even when that order is not obvious. This complex idea is expressed in Havani language by putting the word for "profit" into what's called possessed case, and then not specifying who the possessor is.
In the Havani language, there is an important suffix which is the opposite of the Anglo possessive. In Anglo, the possessive suffix (-'s) indicates the owner of a thing – the place I sleep, for example, is "Dr. Han's bed". In Havani, the possessed suffix (-a) is added to the thing owned rather than to the owner. To mangle our languages together, expressing "Dr. Han's bed" with Havani syntax would yield "beda Dr. Han". (This suffix is always stressed – it would be pronounced bed-AH, not BED-ah.)
Thus, the Havani word for the shadowy possessors, owners, and arbiters of divine profit, semi-mythical beings who may or may not actually exist – perhaps spirits, perhaps gods, perhaps, like the Bavarian Illuminati, just a rumor on the wind – they who control the destinies, lives, and fates of individuals, peoples, and worlds – they are called, resha.
"I was sent by --" Qaili whispered into Loki's ear, and she paused. "Resha."
Loki backed her head away, and looked once again into Qaili's eyes. The throbbing of the music hit her again, the smoke and the odors assaulted her senses, the colors invaded her sight, the whiskey she'd downed made her head spin. She stood. "We have to go somewhere else to talk," she stammered.
Qaili put her hand on Loki's, and held it down to the table. "No, we have to talk here," she said. She almost pulled Loki back with her eyes. "There isn't much more to say tonight anyway."
Loki sank back into her seat, silently.
"This is the career path you've chosen," Qaili said. "This is where you're invested. Look around you! Get used to it, and invest fully – or cut you losses and get out."
The confusion was overwhelming her. ”What, this bar?"
Qaili laughed. "This bar is this world, Loki. If you can't take this, you're lost."
And then, quite suddenly, Loki remember where she'd seen Those Eyes.
Once, when she was very young, even before she could talk, her tutors, Sela and Seal had taken here somewhere. She didn't know where, but there were candles, and there were strange scents, and there was noise, and there were people. And there was someone, maybe more than one someone, who had eyes like space, eyes one could fall into, eyes that seemed to be the size of Loki's whole head.
"You've been here over a month already," Qaili was saying, "and you still haven't worked up the courage to visit a single one of your uncle's contacts. What are you waiting for?"
How did she know that? Loki thought desperately. "I've been getting myself settled - "
"Nonsense. You're scared. You've trained all your life for this, and still you're scared. But now you have to decide. Do it, or don't."
"Who are you?" Loki pleaded.
"You know who I am," Qaili said, "but maybe you don't know you know. But I'll tell you what I am. You're under cover, Loki, industrial espionage for the Monolems and for the Empire, and you will be your whole life. You need someone to help you, to give you data, to give you funds, to give you advice. I'm your handler."
Loki looked at her sideways. "You're more than a handler, aren't you?"
"Really? What do you think I am?"
"One who possesses profit."
Qaili smiled. "Am I? I thought you weren't valuable enough for the Emperor to send someone to talk with you. Are you enough value for one of the resha to handle you personally?"
Loki couldn't think of how to answer. There was no answer. No, there was one answer. "Yes, if I am profit."
And then Qaili's laugh momentarily overwhelmed the noise and the colors and the smoke and the odors. She tossed some credit chits on the table. "Get a couple more shots, girl."
Loki gathered up the chits and scampered to the bar. When she came back, Qaili was gone.
Loki stayed in that filthy dive for a good, long time. She finally left, near dawn, and made her way back to the Frankfurt transporter station, and beamed back to Rio, getting back to her flat around sunset, local time. She did then what she should have done to begin with – she checked the source codes on the communiqué she'd received, tracing it back to its origin point, to verify exactly who had sent it.
There was no record of a transmit, anywhere in the Haven Imperial computers. As far as she could tell, no one at all had sent the message.
Or else, someone had erased all record of it.
Loki sat back in her chair at her little desk in her flat. She ran a hand through her unkempt hair. She took a deep breath. She asked the computer to locate the home of Ruis Calvario, one of the prime business contacts for the Monolem family on Terra.
Time to start doing what she'd come here to do.
Background music is Run Rabbit Junk from "Stand Alone Complex OST" by Yoko Kanno
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