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Not Just Any Sacred Orgy
JAK JINNAKA SAT IN the Dean of Students's office, in the waiting area. It was one of the lightest offices in the whole Public Service Academy, way up in the administrative levels, so the gravity was only about five percent, and the ceiling was high, so to burn energy and avoid boredom, he was pushing off from the central bench with his hands, drifting toward the ceiling in the lotus position, then drifting back to the cushions below.
He held his breathing even and focused on the lecture replaying in his earphones. "The practice of diplomacy is always extremely delicate, but it is most delicate in dealing with allies," Teacher Postick was saying, "for with enemies, it's mostly a matter of occasional bribes and threats and some ordinary cooperative matters like prisoner exchanges, declaring open stations, and moving fighting away from civilian areas. With allies, not only must one bribe and threaten constantly, but one must also appear not to be threatening at all, and to be giving bribes out of warm affection."
Jak's buttocks touched the bench. He pushed up again and drifted toward the ceiling. This far up in the Hive—most of the way to the surface, more than a thousand kilometers above the central black hole—gravity was so low that each bounce and drift took a full minute, and he was going almost all the way to the ceiling each time. He was listening to the review lecture from "Fundamentals of Diplomacy" for the fourth time in two days; he had an exam in an hour and a half.
Jak had mumbled, so the recording hadn't picked up the question from the room, but Postick always repeated a question. "The question was, 'Will there be questions about ethnography?'" Postick said. "Jak, you win the Stupid-Question Sweepstakes for today." That was about as nice as Teacher Postick ever got; usually he was far more sarcastic. "Every negotiation problem is riddled with ethnographic considerations. Diplomacy without ethnography would be algebra without numbers or literature without sex and violence. Now, of the many hundreds of possible ethnographic issues—for all of which you might be held responsible—I would pay special attention to the following—"
Jak fast-forwarded. He specked if he had to listen to it even one more time, he'd die. Ethnography was the subject he liked least. He left the recording on pause and pushed off the cushion extra hard. Floating gradually upward, he applied the Disciplines, slowing his heart rate and breathing.
He was confident as ever that he would be able to talk the Dean of Students into forgetting this latest uproar. Jak's best tove, Dujuv, was in there right now and had been in there for an exceptionally long time. Dujuv was goalie on the PSA's slamball team, so Dujuv usually got more slack than Jak did, but punishment never took Duj off the slamball team or Jak off the Maniples team.
It was odd that this was taking so long.
Jak dove deeper into his meditative state, becoming very calm and clear, as if he were actually running the katas of the Disciplines, and considered Principle 128: "Since your emotional state rarely affects anything, always have whatever one you like, and never worry about what it is." He added to that Principle 171: "Courage is fear without consequences."
All his life people had told him how much peace and confidence they derived from following the Wager, that the seven-hundred-year-old wisdom of Paj Nakasen helped them endure adversity and triumph over it. Jak dakked it was soothing to re-recite old phrases he knew by heart, but specked that he would have gotten the same confident, calm feeling by concentrating his mind on any phrase he'd learned in childhood, such as "with a quack quack here and a quack quack there." Nonetheless, he did feel calmer.
His head thumped on the ceiling. He let go of the lotus position, flailed, and tumbled slowly back down to the bench, kicking and waving. The lecture got turned back on somehow, so as he descended, Postick talked about all the different tribes and cities of Mars and how many different kinds of negotiating problems could arise out of their local customs and beliefs. Jak, to his surprise, didn't die.
When the seat cushion came within reach, Jak pulled himself around to plant his feet, and switched off the lecture. He was really hoping that no one had seen that, especially not the Dean of Students.
Jak started to play through the recording one more time, realized he could recite most of it, and, with a sigh, touched the reward spot on his purse, the blue fingerless glove, worn on the left hand, that contained a microsupercomputer. Most people would rather be without their clothing than their purse, but Jak had never really learned to like them. Still, his purse had been coaching him well. It was hardly the device's responsibility that Jak wasn't learning quickly, and Jak wanted it to continue coaching well in the future, so he touched the reward spot twice more. He felt, more than heard, the purse's little cheeble of pleasure.
"All right, check content of what I say next against that review lecture I've been replaying. Ready?"
"Negotiations are always difficult and negotiations with allies are more difficult than negotiations with enemies. Masen?"
"Correct but general."
"Negotiations with allies are more difficult because—um, you have to act like you like them, and—"
The door from Dean Caccitepe's office dilated and Dujuv airswam into the waiting room. He was a panth, a breed that the genies had made into extraordinary natural athletes, with ultrafast metabolisms, very high muscle mass ratios, sharper than normal vision and hearing, perfect balance and kinesthetic sense, and extraordinary reaction times. This had necessitated some compromises; panths were notoriously not bright, test pilots rather than engineers, line sergeants and not staff officers.
Also, though they could sit silently for hours and rest as relaxed as a cat, usually they bounced with sheer exuberance of life. Dujuv was airswimming in a straight, businesslike line—no rolls, kips, or tumbles. Not good.
Jak and Dujuv's private code was signed with the left hand. As he airswam, Jak's toktru tove reached slowly out with his left, giving Jak a clear view: thumb straight—good news. Three fingers curled under—extremely mitigated. Not suspended or expelled, but the emotional weather on the other side of that door, today, wasn't toktru happy.
Dujuv airswam out. Jak waited to be called. Duj got away with everything short of murder partly because administrators, teachers, and pokheets viewed Jak as the leadership of every operation, and partly because Duj was the star goalie of PSA's slamball team. Jak was pretty good at Maniples (third singles for the PSA's club, and only in his sophomore year), which helped him, but not like slamball helped Dujuv. Whatever Dujuv's grim portion had been, Jak was about to get it with seconds and some to take home.
"Jak Jinnaka," a voice said. "The Dean will see you now."
Jak airswam into the Dean's inner office. Dean Caccitepe was an ange, a breed with very long faces, and long slender limbs. Even for an ange he was tall, but since he was older— probably about 225 years old, to judge by the coarse brown facial hair and weary expression—and didn't seem to get much exercise, his body was a pudgy sphere at the center of all that leg and arm, like a spider from a children's cartoon. He gestured Jak to the guest perch in front of the desk, then airswam into his own chair, facing Jak.
He folded those long, long arms on the desk in front of himself and leaned far forward, looking deep into Jak's eyes with utter sorrow. "First of all, let us be clear. You are a Hive citizen admitted as a special favor to a foreign government, and we expect you to behave like and as a Hive citizen. Don't hope for clemency just because Psim Cofinalez likes you."
Jak nodded. "I'm aware, sir." Jak and Dujuv had not actually had the test scores to get into the PSA, but two years ago, just after graduating from gen school, they had gotten mixed up in a complicated business that had involved, among other things, a kidnapped princess, a duke in disguise, control of most energy sources in the solar system, and blackmailing one of the most dangerous people alive. In a series of improbable accidents, Jak and Dujuv had come through it all as good friends of Psim Cofinalez, who had shortly after become Ducent, and then Duke, of Uranium.
As a reward, or to get them out of the way (most likely both), Psim had enrolled them at the PSA as foreign students—and made it clear that staying in was up to them.
Worse yet, Psim had explained this to the PSA's administration, so his name could not even be used in a successful bluff.
"Now," the Dean went on, "we prefer that none of our students have wars named after themselves, at least not until after they graduate."
"A war? Over some amateur pornography?"
The Dean had stopped smiling. "Is that how you intend to describe yourself and Dujuv Gonzawara's having penetrated security for the Venerean delegation, placed hidden cameras, and recorded a Venerean sacred orgy—and not just any sacred orgy, but specifically the Joy Day orgy?"
Jak refrained from shrugging and tried to look innocent.
"The innocent look is not going to work, Jak Jinnaka. Joy Day is the most sacred of all the Venerean orgies. It was a major concession for the Venerean delegation even to meet with us when it meant being away from home over the Joy Day holiday." The Dean stared down his long nose at Jak, as if considering pecking out his eyes, and said nothing further.
At last Jak ventured, "I suppose most of them would want to be at home with their families."
The Dean's eyes became hard and cold as metallic hydrogen. "Why do you think that a crude ethnic sex joke will help?"
Jak wondered what he had said. Apparently something else that would offend Venereans.
"Pro forma," the Dean said, "since anyone who chose to be so offensive can hardly have done so out of ignorance, but pro forma, because we are supposed to assume that ignorance may be the problem, let me tell you what you should have known, and known thoroughly, since you were ten. Venereans do not practice incest. Incest is defined as 'prohibited intercourse with a family member,' and since what Venereans do on Joy Day is required, and in any case they do not recognize consanguinity as a basis of familial affiliation, no such thing happens at the Joy Day orgies, and, to repeat the point, Venereans do not practice incest.
"I refuse to believe that you did not at least learn that in the required Solar System Ethnography unit on 'fighting words and how to avoid them.' You should have had that three times in gen school—it is on the list of basic things to be remembered, always, in dealing with people around the solar system. And apparently pretty nearly everything about Venus must have failed to register—" as Jak had feared he would, Caccitepe looked down, and then looked up again; the smile was not back, but there was a trace of a smirk that was no more reassuring. "Aha. But I see I failed to dak just who and what Jak Jinnaka is. You've failed Solar System Ethnography twice. A required course that everyone knows is easy."
"Actually, sir," Jak said, trying for a diversion, "what Dujuv and I were thinking was kind of like this. I mean, we dak, we toktru dak, that Venus is an important ally and all that. And especially since there have been some problems, the last few years, and some tensions, I guess you could call them, well, we were hoping that this might improve relations."
"Am I going to hear the same silly explanation that Dujuv gave me?"
Jak put on his very best expression of wounded innocence. It had no perceptible effect on the Dean.
Jak went ahead, anyway. "Sir, maybe Dujuv isn't very good at explaining things, and maybe he got a little mixed up trying, but I'm just as sure that he was trying to tell you the truth. Will you let me?"
Caccitepe's eyebrows tried to scale his high forehead. Still, he gestured for Jak to go on.
"Well," Jak said, "just think of it this way. Almost all of the population of Venus is resourcers, and everyone knows that they're a pretty strange lot. I mean, how could they not be? They live their whole lives in the giant crawlers, no sky, no stars, always high grav, and instead of pure clean vacuum they live at the bottom of a boiling chemical hell, in a tin box full of noise from gigantic treads, huge engines, heat pumps that keep them from baking, and the hell-wind against the hull. They're all half-deaf and full-crazy.
"But the djeste of their freedom makes them the symbol of liberty to young people all over the solar system. I mean you just can't get any more open and democratic than the way they live, toktru they have their feets, it just singing-on resonates for everyone young, not only here, but in the Aerie, and in all the minor stations too." (If only the Dean's facial expression would change—Jak was without a clue about how this was going over.) "Well, sir, young people do feel like the high price the Venereans charge for resources is unconscionable, and it chokes back growth, which hits the youngest generation hardest. Among people up to age seventy or so, Venus looks greedy at our expense, and it's toktru resented. But at the same time, they're a symbol of freedom. So if people had a chance to see all these old, dignified diplomats doing all that wild stuff—well, of course nobody's going to get all excited or anything, but it's sure going to remind them why Venus is the lightest planet—"
"It has the second highest gravity of anywhere inhabited," the Dean said. "Is this the quality of your research?"
"I mean light the way kids use the word, sir. Fun. Fashionable. Exciting. New. Something you want to be associated with. Like rich people with style. Not like some pathetic loser gweetz with a job and bills and no future. Like that."
The Dean smiled as if he were about to torment a small animal. "Oh, yes, oh, yes, I should dearly love to try to sell that story upstairs, if I had to, which (glory to Nakasen) I won't." He brought his feet up onto his perch, still chuckling, bracing his hands on his knees. "And you did manage to keep your preposterous tale straight, much better than Dujuv. Did you consider how the Venereans might feel about it?"
"Well, sir, my concern was the Hive. That's where our loyalty is supposed to be, after all. So I probably wasn't thinking about the Venereans at all."
"Do you see a pattern here? Because I do. And not a good one. You seem to think that the Hive is all that matters, and that all your superiors will, or should, feel that way as well. In fact you seem to think that consideration for the different feelings and ideas of the citizens of other nations is somehow a weakness or a failing in someone working for the Hive."
Bewildered, Jak dakked what he was being accused of, but not why it would be an accusation. What was good for the Hive, so far as Jak could see, was good, regardless of what it might mean for the perverts of Venus, the miserly miners of Mercury, or the surreal tribals of Mars.
"Jak," Dean Caccitepe said, "you know that I'm not going to try to appeal to your moral sense. I'm not that big a fool. But if you think ignorance is a mark of patriotism, we have a problem. And I think that's how you actually feel. Why else would you avoid and/or flunk, constantly, a not-at-all difficult required class? Certainly it's consistent with your cover-up story. I know perfectly well that you and Dujuv were merely trying to finance an end-of-year slec party. But even if I didn't, I'd have known that your entire story was nonsense. Now, can you tell me why?"
Jak shrugged, looked down, and mumbled, "Because you're smarter than me."
"No, Jak. I am smarter than you—many people are—but that is not the reason your lie failed. Almost anyone could have seen through it. Now, why? This is important, Jak. If, in just a few years, we are going to have you out there lying on behalf of the Hive, with the security of a billion people dependent upon your lie's being believed, then you had better be able to tell a good one (and more importantly avoid telling a bad one). Now—again— why was it that anyone could have seen through that lie?" The question was clearly serious. "I'm still waiting for an answer," Caccitepe said.
"I don't know. I don't have any idea," Jak said, possibly for the first time in his life.
"What is Principle 204?"
"Just recite it."
Jak drew a breath, blanked his mind, and let the familiar words tumble out. "'Principle 204: Always make your lie the lie that your listeners want to tell themselves.' All right, sir, I sort of see that it has to do with the case, but I don't see what it has to do with the case."
Excerpted from A Princess of the Aerie by John Barnes. Copyright © 2003 John Barnes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 9, 2008
Fifteen hundred years into the future, mankind has not only reached the stars, humanity has tamed them. Mercury is mined for the precious metals needed by the rest of the galaxy and most people live past three centuries. Marik Space station is the hive and the Aerie house billion of people living on many artificial worlds. Politics remain much the same in the thirty-sixth century as it does in the present day and there is a great need for the PSA located in the Hive to train intelligent agents. Jak Jininaka and his friend Dujou are agents-in-training who need to practice their skills in order to complete the Junior Task. The opportunity arrives when Princess Shyf of Greenworld sends him a message saying she needs his help. Jak and Dujou race to the rescue only to find the message was a hoax. When an operative sends a message to Greenworld saying trouble is brewing, Jak and Dujou are sent to investigate. They find out that Jak¿s greatest enemy is trying to establish himself as ruler of that planet. The two PSA trainees devise a plan that will foil his scheme and hope they live to see it succeed because after all they want to pass their Junior Task. Set in a far distant future where anything is possible, Jak sets out on a quest to help a friend and finds himself placed in the princess¿s harem considered raunchy, but the scenes are played for laughs. In fact, John Barnes does a brilliant job satirizing space operas in general as a final send off salute to Star Wars and the numerous clones. Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.