Summary:Zahara has a chat with Bertrand regarding job satisfaction and the state of the Sunlands.



< A Plague of Skeletons | Sol Invictus Logs | An Explosion of Bones >

zahara During one of the smaller Festivals of Fire, Zahara strolls through the edges of the main marketplace in one of her disguises, the only obvious sign of her true self the long blue hair in its intricate braids that fall down her shoulders. Her eyes rake over the crowds, noting the refugees amongst the citizenry and she frowns. "At least today they will eat well, she comments to her companion."

Bertrand tugs at the brocade headscarf and colorful garments he is currently "disguised" in awkwardly, like a child unused to their first Mela's Day suit. "Today," he says.

zahara flips an artfully dented and scuffed coin to a street vendor and plucks a sweet from his table. After a moment she passes it to Bertrand and then gets a second one for herself. "Do you have a reliable count including the most current wave?"

Bertrand smiles with a certain underlying pride, though the weight that his position has placed upon his shoulders shows through more than Zahara would ever have guessed. "Our intelligence services have provided quite excellent reports, of course," he says.

Bertrand He provides a breakdown by region, one reflecting a clear and undeniable reality: the flow of refugees is getting bigger with each passing week, and they are already beginning to make up a significant percentage of some of the less populous parts of the Sunlands.

zahara frowns, chewing thoughtfully. "Hmm. Have we found useful things for them to do yet, or are they a burden to the country?"

Bertrand "There's certainly a challenge," he says, taking a bite of his sweet. "The Sunlands is rich with natural resources and we do not want for tasks that need doing. But the cultural barriers are proving more challenging than expected. Many of our regions have grown comfortable with the arrangement in which their own... unique habits are tolerated within their own geographic sphere,

Bertrand and that is finding itself threatened by the growing refugee populations."

zahara "Hmm. That IS a problem. Do you have any ideas how to solve it?"

Bertrand "Some thoughts," he says, "but none ideal." As they pass another cart, he selects a small, intricate wooden puzzle box and leaves a gold coin on the counter with his other hand, not slowing down at all.

zahara smiles a little at that. "Some sort of cultural exchange program perhaps... or perhaps Luc... well. He'll be back."

zahara looks down at her outfit, fastidiously brushing away some crumbs.

Bertrand "The biggest concern, I think" -- he begins fidgeting with his puzzle box as they walk -- "is land. The Sunlands has been able to afford to be generous -- every nation we have annexed has retained its land and, in a broad sense at least, control thereof.

Bertrand For those with mystical or superstitious beliefs regarding the proper stewardship of the land -- the Chayans or the Wind-Striders, say -- this has helped them to maintain allegiance to us even as they continue their traditional way of life. But refugees are unlikely to easily acclimate to these demands."

zahara nods thoughtfully. "If we make adherence to native customs a requirement to settle, there will be no unity."

Bertrand nods. "And if we carve out regional homelands for immigrants, we risk tension and even armed conflict."

zahara "Is there land surrounding us that we can annex still?"

Bertrand shakes his head. "Imrama's diplomatic efforts have captured the low-hanging fruit to the north, but that leaves us sharing our borders primarily with actively hostile forces or huge, territorial barbarian regions."

zahara "And no Marku to beat them into submission, heh." She sighs. "Maybe a floating island or something."

Bertrand nods. "Or we could fill in the ocean."

zahara "hmm, now that's an interesting idea..."

Bertrand "Other than that...." He trails off. "This is a challenge."

zahara sighs. "And more war on the horizon."

Bertrand nods. "A lot more."

zahara "Well, we should have no problems finding new soldiers, I suppose." She takes a seat on a shady bench recently vacated by a couple that has decided that some bushes look more interesting.

Bertrand seats himself and redoubles his efforts with the puzzle box. "Military recruitment, thankfully, is high. Most citizens are extremely satisfied with their lives here, even with refugee-related problems. And we pay very well."

zahara "You can always count on vengeance," she notes, glancing over at his puzzle. "You know, I've always wanted to build an underwater city."

Bertrand "Why haven't you," he says, twisting one S-shaped piece around on its axis and then slipping it through a hole that looked like it ought to be too small, then refastening it on the opposite side of the box.

zahara shakes her head and looks off across the marketplace, watching the swarm of humanity. "There is never enough time to do the things we want to do, rather than the things we need to do. Do you not find it the same?"

Bertrand looks down at the puzzle box that he is continuing to take apart and reassemble, then up at Zahara with a slightly quizzical eyebrow. (It would seem to an outside observer as if Bertrand is growing into his job, if he's willing to give even this level of non-deference to Zahara.)

zahara waits patiently for his answer, a slight smile of amusement at his familiarity.

Bertrand "No," he finally says, simply, and then with a slight flourish clicks the last piece into place: the simple octagonal box he began with has now taken the shape of an elaborate, sixteen-petalled flower.

zahara "Ah, it's always flowers, isn't it?" She traces the edge of a petal. She bites her lip, slightly uncomfortable. "How... are you, Bertrand? You have performed your duties admirably, of course. But..." She pulls her finger away. "It can all get to be too much for one person sometimes."

Bertrand gently presses the button now exposed at the flower's heart and its component pieces whip through the air, rapidly shifting in place until a moment later it stands, whole and unopened, an octagonal box again. "I need more staff," he says. "But I... I'm pretty good."

zahara "Luckily..." she smiles wryly. "There is a rather large pool of potential applicants." She looks at him searchingly for a moment, sensing that there is more, then leans back.

Bertrand shakes his head, as if to clear it up. "Tough job, I guess," he says. "Worthwhile, but tough."

zahara "You never cease to surprise me," she muses.

Bertrand laughs, a little nervously. He stands back up, and offers the puzzle box to Zahara.

zahara takes it, and turns it over in her hands. "Feel free to recruit as many staff as you deem necessary, and vet them for loyalty. And, Bertie." She looks up at him. "Take a vacation. I can handle the day-to-day for a while."

Bertrand laughs again. "Okay," he says after a long pause. "I will."

zahara "Right then." She stands, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "I'm glad we had this little chat."

Bertrand nods, removes his ridiculous headpiece with one hand, and walks off into the city.

< A Plague of Skeletons | Sol Invictus Logs | An Explosion of Bones >

Page last modified on November 29, 2009, at 02:20 AM