Hello again and welcome to another installment of Winston Agonistes. I’ve decided to make this one of my last samples since, after this, things are going to get particularly suspenseful and revelatory. I want to save some surprises for the reader, after all! And rest assured, my people are also coming along with their stories.
In fact, Goran Zidar and Melanie Edmonds are now finished their respective stories, Terraformers and Swan Song. And Khaalidah is nearing completion of her story, Progenitor. And once Winston is complete, which won’t take much longer now, that will make 1/3 of our anthology actively accounted for.
This next segment takes place, once more, in the settlement of Shangdu, which is inspired by the original in Northern China. What’s more, Winston will get to show off his impressive linguistic skills, being a synthetic and all.
A short podcar ride later and they were deposited directly in front of the palace complex, along a main thoroughfare that was connected to a series of side roads. Directly in front of the palace, Palace Security forces had erected barricades on either side of the street, holding back crowds of people who had turned out to witness the arrival of the capitol’s delegation.
In accordance with the diagrams Winston had studied, he noted that the palatial building itself was significantly smaller than the grounds that housed it. Being only a fraction of the overall estate, placed directly in the middle and slightly to the rear, it was the perfect representation of the original Shangdu’s original layout.
As the proceeded from the platform to the palace steps, Winston took in the layout of this section of the city. Winston knew from studying the settlement’s various maps that the roads in this area formed a perfect gridwork that corresponded to the palace’s dimensions. Within the many squares and rectangular spaces that lay between them, other important structures were situated as well.
To their left, the Collections building stood, the nexus of all information and materials that the colony had stored over the years. Every major settlement had one, for they served as a backup should the Nexus ever suffer a fatal error and shut down. Immediately next to it was the Hall of the Ancestors, an informal museum which was dedicated to preserving artifacts and displays from pre-colonial history. No comprehensive displays were publicly available, but he knew from recorded accounts that the collection went far beyond the East Asian sphere. Prior to their arrival, Shangdu’s patricians had amassed a great collection of terrestrial memorabilia.
Without looking, he knew that the Embassies lay to their right. Here too were informal structures which were serving an increasingly formal function. Though they did not constitute nation-states per se, the different settlements had been falling into the patterns of such behavior since their arrival. As he had observed to Mutlu before, old habits died hard.
The thought of this made his look the Councilor and await his pleasure. By now, he had had a chance to contemplate his request, made via Bhutto, and would be sure to indicate whether or not he would accompany their main party into the palace. They made it to the steps at last, amidst some minor fanfare from the crowds. Despite their reputation for austerity, the residents seemed relatively excited to be witnessing the arrival of people from another settlement.
Mayor Wu turned before they began to mount the steps. Behind him, a young woman appeared to be coming towards them with two palace guards. An intercept perhaps? Someone to relay an important message before he became inaccessible? Winston was unsure, but he noticed that her arrival coincided with Wu turning around to address them once more.
“I am honored to welcome you to our humble grounds. In accordance with your wishes, we have prepared an escorted tour for those who will not be in attendance.”
Winston became aware of the meaning of this as soon as the young woman reached the bottom step and approached him. The guards came to his side and seemed to be flanking him and the junior Councilors Beridze, Parsons and Rodrigo. All those who had been told they would not permitted to pass inside, which now included him, apparently.
He looked over to Bhutto, who now stood in a separate group next to Mutlu and flanked by the senior members of their delegation. The words “I’m sorry” formed on her lips. Winston smiled.
“I’m sure my staff would be most honored to witness your city firsthand,” Mutlu replied diplomatically. He barely cast a look in their direction as he and the other proceeded up the steps, leaving Winston and his new cadre alone.
The young woman was quick to assume the role of diplomat.
“Hello, sirs, and madam. On behalf of Shangdu’s Office of Cultural Affairs, I am honored to welcome you to our fine city. We have a sumptuous tour prepared for you and would be happy to answer any questions you have.”
Winston considered switching to Wú Yǔ, which her accent suggested was her native language. Cultural protocols did not specify if this would be taken as a slight or a courtesy. He decided not to deign until he asked. And the others did not appear to be offering any exchange, so he did.
“You’re is quite exquisite, ma’am,” he said with a slight bow. “Would you be offended if I chose to address you using your mother tongue?”
She seemed surprised by this. But a look of recognition took over her face when she surely recalled that she was dealing with a synthetic.
“Not at all,” she said, formally but flatly.
“Ah then, then permit me to say… nǐ de chéngshì shì zhuàngguān. Wǒ qídàizhuó wǒmen de fǎngwèn.”
A formal acknowledgment of their visit and the city’s beauty. The young lady smiled. She did not redden or laugh, which was a credit to her composure. If he could, he would take it as a compliment that they had chosen a person of experience to escort them.
“Ránhòu ràng wǒmen kāishǐ,” she said, which Winston understood to mean that they would now begin the tour.