Summary: Maya learns that injustice isn’t confined to the surface dwellers.
Along with the diplomatic work of finalizing dozens of treaties, preparations for the wedding continued over the next weeks. The fact that Maya had long had serious doubts about the idea of marriage meant that she had never really delved into what planning a wedding entailed- especially one of this great size. (Even as a child, she was not the type to fantasize about her perfect wedding day the way some other little girls did. In fact, she found the way some of those girls went on about pink and purple, doves and rainbows pretty annoying.) And, certainly Selen did much work in arraigning the wedding, but he was more in demand for the political meetings than Maya was- everyone wanted to meet the Lizard King. So, overseeing the wedding plans- making certain that her mother and grandmother, along with the many underlings of Selen’s who were assigned to help, didn’t go too far over the top was Maya’s job. Strangely, it was not without benefits. . .
Until the beginning of the second week in December, the only person from the Interior Tribes that Maya had met was Selen. She had, of course, see pictures, both photographic and artwork (she was trying to learn as much about the Interior cultures as she could as quickly as she could- hence artwork), but images, even video footage didn’t really tell the way that being in the same room with ten or twelve really tall people with greenish-brown skin did. After the first day of listening to them tell her about the myriad wedding traditions that the differing Interior Tribes had in their sibilant accented English, she went home to her grandparents house with nary a clue as to which traditions were required and which could be left out.
By the third day, she was ready to call the whole thing off- see if Selen would run away to Vegas with her (or the Interior equivalent, which seemed to be hiding together in an out of the way cave for three days, which seemed to be the longest the Interiors seemed to think that any couple could resist consummating a relationship if they were left alone- hence three days later, you were married or you were breaking some sort of chastity taboo). Selen was touring in Russia and the Baltics, signing preliminary treaties that would go into effect when he signed the one that was, officially speaking, with the United Nations on Christmas Day. His absence was likely part of Maya’s frustration because he was the only Interior to whom she could pose questions without worrying that she might phrase her inquiry too bluntly and offend. Even those who were assigned to work closely with her seemed to hold themselves very formally with her and Maya suspected that they were not all completely convinced that the wedding should happen.
Luckily, just after noon on the tenth of December, Maya spied an Interior who appeared to be quite different than those around her and Maya’s curiosity got the better of her.
“And, what is your name?” she asked the short female. Her skin was lighter and more uniform in tone than any of the others Maya had seen either in person or in representation. Had Maya not seen pictures of what Interior youngsters looked like- nearly the same as the adults, save for being smaller- she would have assumed that this unusual looking female was a child or perhaps an adolescent.
The woman (girl?) looked up at Maya, her eyes wide- an expression that Maya had learned carried the same meaning of surprise among both Interiors and Exteriors. When she raised her head, May could see that she had the smallest hint of a nose, a trait which Maya had never seen on an Interior. She woman didn’t speak, but just shook her head and went back to her work, which was that of cleaning up after the meal that she and the dozen or so Interiors who were helping with the wedding had just eaten.
Onlen, Selen’s Minister of Culture, who was sitting beside Maya leaned over and spoke quietly in her ear, “She won’t talk to you. She’d not allowed. Ballotek are all shunned.”
“Shunned?” Maya repeated, startled. “Why, what did she do?”
“She was born out of betrayal.” Onlen explained as he looked through the fabric samples they had been considering all morning, flipping them idly through his fingers.
“She was born- that’s all she did wrong?” Maya shouldn’t have been so surprised by the concept- she’d seen Untouchables in India and how they were still treated, as well as having heard the horror stories of unwanted baby girls in China being left to die of exposure. Still, that Selen allowed a class of similarly treated people among the Interiors shocked her.
“The sin was that of her mother, but she is the one it shows on, so she is the one who suffers the punishment.” He pursed his lips and squinted for a moment before going on. “Your people have done similar things-”
“Yes. Yes, we have. And we are wrong for doing it,” Maya admitted defensively.
“There are those inside the Earth who agree with that idea,” he answered noncommittally as he set the fabrics aside and pulled out the newest version of the guest list, studying it far more intently than was required.
“But if she is someone your people are ashamed of, why is she here?” Maya muttered to herself.
Onlen didn’t raise his head, but leaned sideways to put them in whispering range. “It was a specific requirement made by the Sovereign that several Ballotek be allowed to be part of the support staff.”
Maya considered this a moment before whispering back, “But why? What is he hoping to accomplish-” she cut herself off as some of the other Interiors returned to the conference room they had all been working in.
Onlen stood and cleared his throat, “Miss Maya Rutledge is feeling unwell,” he told the room. “You will all continue working and I will escort her to the Sovereign’s guest rooms.” Then he offered Maya his hand and when she took it, he hurried them out of the conference room and through the corridors of the same secret military base in which Maya had first learned of the existence of a whole society inside the Earth.
Neither of them spoke until they were inside the quarters set aside for Selen’s use when he was in the Washington area (he was in Tokyo today) and the door was firmly shut. “Okay, so what was all that about?” she demanded. Onlen had never been anything but highly courteous and solicitous before. Maya was beginning to suspect that he’d been playing at meekness and flying under the radar for some reason.
“Highness,” he called her by the title that she would be due after the wedding, even though Maya had asked that it be used only on formal occasions (actually, she had asked for a different and less pretentious title, but Selen had refused). “I am sorry to rush you away from our work, but I- forgive me.” He paused and paced the small sitting room that they were in.
Maya cottoned on. “We couldn’t talk frankly there.” She looked around. “Can we here? Or are these rooms monitored?”
“Not by my people. Although, yours…” he trailed off not wanting to say it aloud.
Maya nodded. “I wish I could say that the subject shouldn’t matter to my people, but, honestly, I have not gotten any kind of bead on where anyone stands on any of this politically. I don’t really even know how many of us know anything about the treaty or the existence of the Interior Tribes.”
“No, I doubt that your government would care about such an internal matter. Unless you think, that it might.”
“They might, but- well, I’m already being watched all the time, I just don’t know where and when they can actually hear me. Still, they knew what kind of a woman I was when they asked me to get involved and they asked me anyway. They need me too much for me doing a little poking around to be that much of a problem. Go ahead, tell me why Selen wants- Balloteks was it- on the surface.”
“I think perhaps it is to show them to you,” he stated simply. Then he walked to the small kitchenette that was in the corner of the room and retrieved bottled waters for each of them.
Maya sat on one of the overstuffed chairs. “To show me? Because he knew that I’d care- that I’d want to do something to change their lot? That is what I’ve spent my life doing, you know, Minister- fighting injustice and oppression.” Maya’s mind began racing- revved up from the prospect of having something familiar to do a good fight to fight. She would have to wait until after the wedding, of course, but she could see using her new position among the Interior Tribes to chip away at the social order-
“Highness?” Onlen’s voice cut into Maya’s thoughts. “I believe that his agenda was more personal than that.”
“More personal? I don’t-”
“Could you not tell what her mother’s sin was from the look of her?” he asked gently.
“The look of- Oh! She’s half human!” Maya exclaimed.
“I believe that the Sovereign wanted you to understand the implications of your marriage- how difficult a situation it is that you are marrying into- what any children born of your union could face. He is taking a great risk in making this treaty with your people. I’m not certain that you and your people have any idea what he is asking of you.”
The optimist inside Maya, the fighter had to answer, “Maybe not, but that isn’t as important as what we could accomplish- making peace between our peoples, sharing the knowledge and resources of the Earth. It’s worth it.”
“Can you arrange a meeting for me with the Ballotek girl?” she interrupted.
“She will not talk to you.”
“Can you arrange the meeting?”
“Yes, of course, but-”
“I know you think I’m out of my depth, but I can’t go into this marriage treaty expecting not to be able to change things, or there is no point in doing it at all. Just set up the meeting, please,” Maya said, determined.
“As you wish, Highness,” the Minister replied.