"Come on I'll introduce you," Stan said as he pulled me by the arm-almost causing me spill the drink in my hand- to a cluster of people around the ambassador.
"-It doesn't look like you cho-lau have made much progress halting the Lythospheran trade from my stand, " A Rogue was speaking loudly to Shem in a harsh voice as we approached. Everyone froze in awkward silence as the ambassador regarded his challenge with an impassive expression.
"Ambassador Shem, you old dog, how the hell are you?" Stan broke the tension with his own inappropriate remark. One simply doesn't address a Pohl like that- Jesus, what was he thinking? I thought in embarrassment. Shem was undisturbed by the intrusion as a faint smile of amusement spread across his large oval face.
" Stan Mussel, I am quite well and how are you?" he said formally in the best imitation of a human voice that rivaled Morgan Freeman.
" Fine and airtight, by the way I'd like you meet the best interior designer to ever work in my shop," Stan said putting a friendly hand on my shoulder to keep me from bolting at the sudden attention.
"It's an honor to meet you Agai," I said, using the honorific Pohlian title and gave him a small formal bow of respect to a superior. His smile broadened and politely returned the bow.
"Madame, haroda has been misusing your talents, you should be giving him lessons in manners," he said as a gentle rib to Stan and a sly reproach to the arrogant Rogue. Haroda roughly translates as lowly servant like a cabin boy and is pretty rude.
"Oh it's too late for that," I said with comic exasperation.
Both gave a hearty laugh between good friends. Several people present, including Governor Pegoda and Jova Ambassador Shavkova decided it was funny too and joined in. The Rogue regarded the Fem Jova with barely veiled contempt then squared in his shoulders before angrily stalking off in a snit.
Shem and company provided delightful conversation on the latest gossip and interstellar cuisine. My neck ached from looking up at all the tallness so I climbed onto a nearby chair with Shem provided a helping hand, which everyone found amusing, especially Shakova who regarded me with interest. She stopped me with a light touch on my shoulder before I wandered off to fetch another drink.
" A moment of your time Madame McLaughlin," she said.
The formal address startled me until I recalled their custom of referring to females by their last -- or house name -- while males are addressed by their first. I quickly dug up everything I could remember about the Jova, so I wouldn't make an ass of myself or my species.
Terrans first cozied up to the Jova when they were in charge of the Alliance Guardianship Commission. When the Pohl's took over, the triad rotated leadership to prevent any one group usurping power, it was a big adjustment to deal with a new ally. Just as well, the Jova rejected the silly designation of LeGuin/Neruda we had given them and they were not Jovians. They did things their own way to the consternation of everyone.
"What's on your mind Madame Shakova?" I asked politely in AIL.
"You are not like other Orbis," she began, groping for the right words as the Jova don't speak English and AIL can be a struggle for them.
"You do not take to politics," she said, with the disdain for our geopolitical style.
That's because I don't give a shit, I was tempted to reply.
"It's not my area of knowledge or interest," I answered politely.
Shakova nodded in a mechanical way. She was a tall with dark eyes and long silky black hair that fell over the shoulders of a bright red dress. That observation reminded me of an important cultural custom.
"Madame, that robe is stunning, the intricate brocade contrasts your light complexion perfectly," I said without a hint of fawning. It was impressive.
She gave me an approving smile. A rare reaction from a Jova, as they take themselves very seriously.
"You do not attire fancy like other Kuma," she said, using the word for human female. She was not insulting my simple black slacks and peach colored silk shirt under a dark green dress coat, she meant it.
The Jova love of fashion was about an appreciation of beauty not vanity, so they regarded the competitive fashion Terrans engaged in to impress them as tasteless.
Jovas look human enough but up close I could see subtle differences. There was a glossy quality to the skin and her gaze tended to be unfocused, which was fine with me as direct eye contact made me uncomfortable.
" You would make a good liaison between us," she continued. It's coincidental that the Jova affected Slavic names to match their pseudo Russian accent with it's soft rounded vowels.
" Um, thank you, that is very kind, " I replied, thinking it was mere ego stroking when I realized she was serious. "Say what was that Lythospheran business the Rogue mentioned earlier?" I quickly changed the subject away from her ludicrous offer.
"A trade causing trouble and that Rogue with no manners," she said, disgusted at his behavior.
No kidding, cho-lau is the worst thing to call anyone. Before I could question her further, Stan came by and announced he was leaving as the crowd thinned out. I bade the Ambassador a hasty goodbye and scrambled after him but he walked at a brisk pace I couldn't keep up with. Never mind, I had to go back to fetch my forgotten coat hanging over a chair.
That's when I spotted Shem and Imbler standing in a side hall, their heads nearly touching the way Pohl's do when engaged in private discussion. As they parted, Shem gave a slight bow to Imbler. That's interesting, I thought as I watched the diplomat walk away.
When I got home, I made a bee line to the Alliance library on my computer and found this:
Lythosperan, An amphetamine developed by Meji Pharmaceutical Int. to facilitate the metabolism of workers in deep mine operations. It quickly gained use among the Rogues, where the drug increases stamina and vision acuity. Its use by other races causes numerous severe physical side effects including blindness, cardiac arrest and paralysis. In a study conducted by Dr. Laura Robinson at Leary Institute, the drug can be fatal for Terrans who consume more than 20 mgs. resulting in death from asphyxiation as the tongue and lips swell, blocking the airway.
'Coral kiss' they call it because of the color of the lips and tongue. I remember overhearing Terrans talk about someone going "over 21" when I arrived, meaning 21 milligrams or more of this shit.
What a charming drug to avoid, I thought, utterly appalled. That a Terran corporation developed it was just as appalling. I sighed in disappointment. A quick search showed that the company went bankrupt several years ago. So who was behind the drug trade now, I wondered.