He spent his first few weeks as an Ambassador attending many meetings and parties. Ambassador X’s kind of meteoric rise could cause jealousy but he didn’t feel it. Everyone seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what he did on Pantoon.
“You’ve set the table for peace! An actual peace between the three parties,” said one aged Ambassador who must have traveled enough to know whether what he was saying was true or not. “I don’t mean some glorified truce like we have scattered all through the time line. I mean locking down threads and reducing war to a minimum. A star-burning peace I say!” He slapped Ambassador X on the back and took a drink, his eyes glittering with the brandy.
His initial missions were mostly local and somewhat ceremonial. He went to Layglifer, the nearest planet to Alenda, to confirm the yearly alliance and friendship of the two planets. He sat at a table for a short period of time with an Ambassador from Layglifer, signed an actual piece of paper with an actual pen, and then went to an amazing dinner.
He flew the Chief Guardian of Alenda to Pantoon. The Chief Guardian was a ceremonial post. He would meet with the High Sensaurian and the Progon Central Commune Unit. In other words, the highest-ranking but lowest power-wielding officers in each civilization were getting together.
Ambassador X also did some low level trade negotiations between various small civilizations here and there. He even settled a transit path dispute with the Fringe Cascade, using his experience as a Pilot.
Nothing he did was historic. Nothing he did made a real difference. After a while the novelty of ceremony wore off. He kept his complaints to himself and tried his best to enjoy the high life he now lived. He felt guilty for not being more excited. Many people would eagerly trade places with him. No one on Alenda was actually impoverished but others in the universe were. Still, he wasn’t ungrateful, just bored. That wasn’t his fault was it?
Assignments like this went on for years until one day Ambassador Uy called him in for what he assumed was a normal check-in. Ambassador Uy had aged. His face looked lined and his hair was grey. At least this time he was. Like all Alendans people didn’t always meet each other in chronological order, but Ambassador Uy tried to. He was old fashioned that way.
“Ambassador X,” he smiled and stood in greeting. His smile as always was genuine and warm. “Sit down. This isn’t the last time we’ll meet for you, but it is for me. I’m sorry not to make a synchronous end to our relationship but I think you’ll understand. Well,” he chuckled, “I know you will. I just came from your last meeting with me. Risking a paradox there I suppose,” he chuckled again. “Ambassador X, I’m putting you up to the Secretary to replace me. I know you’ve been underused and I apologize for that. It’s the nature of our business sometimes. It may have felt boring but it was a great service to me. It could have been seen as an insult to send a staff Ambassador for some of the ceremonial duties you’ve taken on. Your celebrity helped there. Some of the smaller logistical matters you’ve handled so well would have been blown out of proportion if I’d taken them. Your newness helped there. But you’ve served without complaint and for that I thank you.”
Ambassador X nodded.
“There is one more assignment I must ask you to take before I can step down, because it would not be appropriate for you to do it after you took my place.”
“Of course, Ambassador. What is it?”
“I need you to attend a meeting with the Alendan Core.”
Ambassador X’s pulse rose. The Alendan Core was the oldest continuous linear society on Alenda. It pre-dated the ability to travel through time. Time-traveling Alendans had confirmed its existence back into pre-industrial times, though it had been called different names in its history. Its members foreswore time travel in order to maintain a unique linear perspective on society, which they offered for the benefit of whomever might want it.
Their activities were shrouded in mystery.
“I would be honored,” Said Ambassador X.
“We’ll see about that,” answered Ambassador Uy.
It was a childhood dream of every adventurous-minded Alendan, to be approached by the Core. He couldn’t understand Ambassador Uy’s response but he wasn’t given more time to think about it.
“Every quarter the Diplomatic Division sends a representative to meet and speak with the Core. Since the Core doesn’t travel through time, they request we not provide any information except strictly what they request. They don’t expect us to keep track of where in time they are in relationship to where we’ve been, so they tailor their questions very narrowly. Sometimes they don’t even ask anything but merely meet to assure us they still exist. Sometimes they don’t even do that.”
“Who will I meet with?” asked Ambassador X.
“I don’t know. We never know,” he grunted. “We keep the agreement. We take notes. We report back. The report gets logged by the Ambassadorial Division of Chronography and we move on. I don’t even know why we do it really. They never give us any information. But still they provide a valuable service in other ways, historical mostly, so it’s best to keep them happy, I suppose.”
“When and where?” Ambassador X asked. Ambassador Uy’s attitude was dampening his spirits just a little.
“A couple years ago,” Ambasador Uy looked down. “Before your encounter on Pantoon. We uh, actually forgot to meet with them to be honest. We always try to schedule the appointments before they happen but they understand when we don’t. I know sending you could be considered a bit of a spoiler but they don’t mind that sort of thing for some reason. Just don’t tell them anything that happened. Study up a bit on events surrounding that spacetime. Verity has the location.”
Ambassador X nodded.
When he returned, Verity had already prepared for the jump. He was meeting with the Alendan Core in a restaurant, a comfortable place that served mainstream food. It seemed like an odd place to meet with a secret society. Ambassador X was to sit in a reserved booth near a window and wait to be contacted.
He wondered if this restaurant was a ruse to stop them from being followed. Maybe the Alendan Core would blindfold him and take them to their secret headquarters. Maybe Ambassador X had read too many adventure novels as a boy. The location of the Alendan Core headquarters wasn’t a secret. Unless that location was a ruse! He really needed to stop.
The Verity put down in the nearest landing lot, a long walk from the restaurant. Ambassador X enjoyed the novelty of stretching his legs in this suburban segment of the Alendan capital. He saw people out everywhere and wondered what they did. Shouldn’t they all be at work? But he supposed they were. And shouldn’t those kids be in school? Well maybe not. He had no idea what hours or schedules kids kept. Maybe this was a holiday break. Or maybe this was school. Maybe kids were assigned to go play with each other on the street for an hour a day and report back with their findings. He so rarely moved in these kinds of circles anymore he had no clue what normal life was like.
He found the restaurant. It took up a large area on the corner of two streets. Huge glass windows gave the diners inside commanding views of a park across the street, an office building, and several other businesses Why anyone would need a commanding view of any of this Ambassador X was unsure. But the park was nice, especially in the warm afternoon sun.
The building was one story and had a ledge made of rough material that extended from the roof giving the windows shade but not blocking the view. He entered through a door set where the two walls of glass met at the end of a small walkway. Inside, a podium surrounded by green plants, sat unattended. Past it was a counter where single patrons could sit. To his left and right were booths and a few tables.
He watched the cooks making food behind the counter as he waited for someone to help him. The air smelled of light grease but not thick or unappealing.
“Welcome stranger,” a voice said and Ambassador X looked back to the podium to find a prim young man in a standard blue service gown.
“Well, thank you.”
“It’s a sunny day isn’t it?” asked the man.
“It’s beautiful. Your restaurant has a lovely view of the park.”
“Yes, it certainly does,” the man said airily. “Are you from here?”
“Nearby yes. Though not this immediate suburb.”
“Oh are you in the central capital?”
“Amazing what’s been happening there. I have a friend who works in Administration. Administrator Tezel. You wouldn’t know her would you?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well she was telling me all about the latest incursion by Progons. It’s starting to concern me.”
They chatted for a bit about current events. The young man was curious about life in the capital. Ambassador X liked the boy. He never caught his name though.
“Just one?” the man finally asked.
“Yes for now, but I reserved a booth. Ambassador X.”
The young man didn’t flinch at the title, which was surprising. Half the people he met were impressed by the Ambassador title alone. The other half recognized his actual name.
“Of course, I have it here,” the young man said looking at a screen, showing no indication he recognized or didn’t recognize Ambassador X. “Right this way.”
He led them to a lovely rich red leather clad booth looking out over the park. All the booths in the restaurant had rich red leather clad seats. They were all immaculately cared for. Ambassador X almost didn’t want to sit on them they were so lovely. But he did.
“Our menu is right there,” the young man said indicating the booth’s screen. “Just touch what you want or press the serve call button if you have questions. Enjoy your meal.” The young man smiled and left. Ambassador X chuckled.
“Android,” a voice said. Ambassador X turned and saw a large man in a dirty white shirt leaning over the seat from the next booth. “All the waiters here are androids. I heard ya laughing. They are kinda funny. Say everything you’re supposed to say, way up on current events, but never crack a joke. Never talk about human things, if you know what I mean. No personality. That’s why I prefer the Mandalor’s Stump. Real people. But man that place is expensive. I can’t be a regular there no way. My name is Driver Yenz.” The man stuck his hand out in greeting.
“Ambassador X,” he replied touching the man’s hand in return. He wondered if this was the representative from the Core in disguise.
“Ambassador!” the man raised his voice along with his eyebrow. “Well I knew you was important from the clothes but wow. Wait. Ambassador X? No PILOT X! Man, you are a hero! I can’t believe I’m sitting next to Pilot starkilling X! Thank you,” the man’s face got serious. “Thank you for what you’ve done. I hope people thank you enough. You saved us from what was looking to be all out war.”
This wasn’t the Core rep. In linear time, the events at Pantoon hadn’t quite happened yet. Although they were so well known throughout this zone, it was a wonder he hadn’t stumbled upon his future at some point. Alendan society was very careful about that sort of thing. In fact Driver Yenz was committing a bit of a faux pas by talking about it so loudly. Most people were sensitive about spoiling the future for anyone, especially the person who’s future it was. It’s why all news reports were expertly filtered through personal travel sequences.
“I should keep my voice down I guess,” the man said. “My wife’s always criticizing me for that. ‘Life Spoiler’ Yenz she says sometimes,” he reddened.
“Not at all,” Ambassador X reassured. “I imagine very few people haven’t heard. You’d have to be a member of the Core not to,” he threw this out just in case.
“The what?” the man smiled but looked lost.
“The Alendan Core. You know the people that live life linearly, never time traveling.”
“Oh!” the man laughed heartily. “THOSE people. Yeah. I don’t think they eat here. Make great furniture though. Did you ever buy any of their chairs? All wood. Excellent chairs. My Aunt has one. Beautiful.”
Well that settled it. The man wasn’t his appointment. Still the Driver was pleasant to talk to. Ambassador X found himself describing the current events that the android had been talking about. Driver Yenz found this terribly amusing.
“Imagine an android really caring about bath salt imports. Hilarious. Next thing he’ll be describing his vacation on the Pineapple planet.”
“There are no pineapples there!” they both said in unison and began laughing.
Ambassador X was unexpectedly enjoying himself but thought he ought to make sure he wasn’t distracted. He didn’t want to accidentally miss his Alendan Core contact.
“Listen Driver Yenz it was very nice to meet you. You tell your wife I think she’s being a little harsh on you.”
“Diplomat to the end,” Driver Yenz laughed. “Well yeah I gotta go hit the road myself. Lots of shipping coming, thanks to you. A pleasure to meet you Ambassador X.” Driver Yenz gave a little bow and got up to leave.
Ambassador X sat with his coffee for a long time and then eventually gave up and ordered some hot food. The restaurant made a decent plate of steaming High Plains Pan. When he finished that he delayed for a while and then ordered a slice of Carol Root pie. Delicious.
Still nobody came.
He finally decided they weren’t coming. He left.
Outside it was dark. He’d stayed longer than required, hoping he was wrong. He checked several times to make sure he had the right place but he did. And he knew it. It wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t made an error. This was just one of the years they didn’t arrive. He felt embarrassingly disappointed. He was an Ambassador for goodness sake. Angry, yes, but not embarrassed. He wasn’t a child.
He stood on the walkway hoping his disappointment would waft away in the chill night air.
“Ambassador X?” He jumped as a young woman approached and put her hand out in greeting. Was this the Core? Had he almost given up too soon?
“Yes,” he said. “And who might you be?”
“Reporter Jhilz of the Alendan Information Service. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here. I was just heading in to get some pie. They have excellent pie here. Well. Wow. I just had to introduce myself and say hello. Are you leaving?”
“Well yes,” he said disappointed. “I’m afraid I am. I can give you my communication details--”
“No, that’s OK. Look, I’m working on a feature story. It’s not directly about you but if you could answer just a few questions it would make the piece sing. It will only take a few moments.”
He looked at her, wondering. But then he decided, no. She was only a reporter. “OK,” he said. “Just a few.”
“Great!” she said taking out a recording device.