The most immediate consequence of the shuttle’s explosion was that Belgrano was instantly sworn in as the new acting Ambassador to Jin’Drezia. One of his first official responsibilities was to accept a transmission from Supreme President Zhou, which had already been scheduled because Zhou wanted to complain furiously about the treaty terms. Belgrano summoned me into what was now his office for that conversation.
I stood just out of view of the camera to the right and waited for Belgrano to accept President Zhou’s call. Belgrano paused for several moments. He just started at the indicator light on Hunley’s desk. Whether he was taking in the responsibilities of being ambassador or plotting out what lies he would tell Supreme President Zhou, he was taking his time. At last, he quickly pressed the button and sat back in his chair as President Zhou appeared on screen.
Zhou looked more disheveled than normal. His thick black hair, normally a bit messy to begin with, sprayed in every direction. His ample jowls also sagged more than normal and he had deep dark circles under his eyes.
“Supreme President! It’s such an honor to…” Belgrano began with a happy chirping cadence, but the president instantly cut him off.
“Mr. Belgrano, I just heard that Ambassador Hunley is dead. Is that really true?” Zhou blurted out, his words flying so fast that I could barely understand them.
“Regrettably, yes. Her shuttle appears to have been bombed by some manner of terrorist group. Also aboard were…”
“Was it Habib, too?!”
Belgrano sighed and nodded his head.
“Secretary Bin Tawal was also aboard, as were two embassy staff members. Security Chief Konstantin Popov and Chef Domenico Vittorio. We all mourn for these losses,” Belgrano said with painfully obvious insincerity.
Luckily, Zhou was oblivious enough to not notice.
“This is a disaster,” the President mumbled.
“One of the worst the Diplomatic Corps has ever…”
“Not the shuttle! Not Ambassador Hunley! This treaty! It’s a disgraceful document and I’ll do everything I can to make sure it isn’t ratified,” Zhou spluttered out.
Belgrano forced a friendly smile and then leaned forward to get closer to the camera.
“With respect, Mr. Supreme President, the Jin’Drezia Treaty Act passed by Earthican Parliament a year ago, and signed by you, said that ratification would only take the signatures of any number of duly designated Earthican representatives. Whatever you think of the treaty, both Ambassador Hunley and Secretary Bin Tawal, well, signed it,” Belgrano said with a note of condescension and a slight giggle. “That would make it ratified.”
Zhou’s face turned a very deep red.
“Habib wasn’t supposed to sign anything that looked like this! Where is h… Right, the shuttle implosion… This is outrageous, Mr. Belgrano! Did you have anything to do with this?!” Zhou screamed, pointing his finger at the camera.
“Mr. Supreme President, what did I have anything to do with?” Belgrano asked, feigning stupidity.
“This treaty! Its terms! Did you have a hand in writing them?”
Belgrano laughed and shrugged.
“It would have been most improper for me to have any role in the treaty negotiations at all, really. As section chief and deputy ambassador, my role was confined to administration of the embassy,” he said. Knowing what I did, his response threaded a particularly hilarious needle of being “true.” Almost nothing he took upon himself was proper in the most normal sense of the word.
Zhou became completely flustered and stuck his hands in his hair.
“Talking points… I need some good talking points on this. I…”
“I wish you luck on that, Mr. Supreme President,” Belgrano chirped and reached to end the transmission. “Splorxx be with you.”
With that, the communication ended and Belgrano breathed a big sigh of relief. I did, too.
After that, there was one more matter to attend to. Belgrano determined that he would need to create a new position for me almost immediately to avoid having a long period where embassy staff wondered what I was there for. Just as we began to discuss it, a transmission came in from the Dowager Broodmother’s office. Belgrano skimmed it over.
“Condolences for Ambassador Hunley… and Secretary Bin Tawal… and,” he mumbled, but then stopped when he got to the relevant portion. “Ambassador Hunley had been most complimentary of Ms. Fiona Reinhardt’s role in a special project for the embassy… Her Moistness, Dowager Broodmother Byt’hula also has had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Reinhardt and… recommends her for the post of permanent Liaison to the Imperial Court!”
I actually blushed a little. Probably a lot. Belgrano glared up from the message, his eyes wide and wild.
“What happened back there after the signing?” he asked. “I can make some guesses.”
“Those are secrets between me and the Dowager Broodmother,” I said, smiling.
“Well-played Ms. Reinhardt. I already completed your performance evaluation for your ‘special project.’ Here it is.”
He projected the report on the biggest screen. My jaw came unhinged from my outrage.
“Above-satisfactory?! After all of that? I can’t…” I blurted.
“Ms. Reinhardt, that will be sufficient to give you the position the Broodmother wants you to have. Besides, there were aspects that could’ve used improvement,” he said with all sincerity. That was the most galling part to me. I almost wanted to tell him that his entire scheme had been unnecessary and that the Dowager Broodmother had said so, but that was better kept to myself.
I accepted the conclusions of his performance evaluation, even if I wondered when he had time to write it up, and took the position. With the treaty in place, it was the most exciting position in the entire Diplomatic Corps.
As it turned out, my first task would be sitting at the head table at the concluding ceremony for the second holy day of Er’gul. It was technically the more important of the twin holidays of Er’gum and Er’gul, but we of course had been busy with other matters. One of my regrets is that I missed the first rituals and festivals for Er’gul. I suppose there will always be next year. At least, I hope there will be next year.
The festivities were held in the Imperial Palace’s Great Hall, which was a far more modern version of the Old Cyg’rol Chamber. The seats were adjustable and levitating lilypads, which allowed one to sit at whatever their appropriate height was relative to the table. Holographic displays were on virtually every surface of the walls, flickering between all manner of different artistic expressions ranging from Jin’Drezia’s ancient past to far more current ones that used styles I’d never seen before in, well, anything. I’m not sure humans even have the appropriate language to describe them.
At the head table, Dowager Broodmother Byt’hula sat with Grez’a at her right this time and Tog’un at her left. Ambassador Hunley was the only one who would have been given the public honor of sitting next to the Broodmother. Grez’a, for his part, was as gloomy as any poor creature I’d ever seen. He stared down at the table despondently while the Broodmother and Tog’un laughed and smiled amidst the throngs of laughing and smiling Drezians.
Byt’hula, however, wasn’t completely detached from her son’s depression. She had one of her guards direct me to sit in the open seat next to Grez’a. He barely took any notice of me at first. The Broodmother, however, decided to try to make some effort to warm relations.
“Reinhardt. Ms. Reinhardt!” she called out, leaning over around Grez’a. “You were telling me about that thing Hunley brought back just before she died. What was that, again? A helmet or some such thing?”
“Oh yes!” I replied enthusiastically. I have no idea how she thought to mention that, or how she even knew about it, but she had her ways. “She was telling me about the Emperor’s gift to her, the helmet of Captain General Mulgodar. She was going on and on about how brave he was to kill the Glygrat leader himself and win the battle. Your Highness, I’ve never heard anyone be so complimentary. She really thought you are a special leader.”
Grez’a’s lips formed a grudging smile and he looked at me with some measure of familiarity. I can only imagine it was because there must have been something about my cadence or tone because my personal encounter suit looked nothing like Hunley’s.
“Thank you, Ms. Reinhardt,” he managed.
“I don’t know if it helps or hurts to know this, but you were the last subject I heard her talk about before the tragedy. She got on the shuttle right after I spoke to her,” I continued.
Grez’a’s smile widened and his eyes welled with tears.
“I… I don’t know what to say. I’m happy you could tell me this,” he said weakly. “Have we met? I feel like we’ve talked before.”
“I doubt it,” I laughed. “I just have one of those faces,” I joked, pointing to the lifeless helmet of my encounter suit.
That caused him to guffaw, which the Broodmother took as an opportunity to make a toast.
“This Erg’ul, we have much to be thankful for, but also those to mourn. To Minister Anu’ra and the Earthican Ambassador Hunley,” she declared, raising an undulating glass of Kargrez. We all grabbed our own, even though I dreaded it given that it had started all of my trouble. There was no getting around it for this ceremony, however. “May their efforts bring us all to moist harmony!”
To a chorus of Drezian chirps and croaks we swigged down the Kargrez, Belgrano and I having to pour it into the encounter suits’ drinking spouts. Just as we finished, the ceiling opened up to let in a heavy mist, moistening the entire hall. Even for me the droplets just clanged on my encounter suit, I finally realized what moist harmony truly was and why Veronica Hunley wanted it for all of us.