Star Trek Hunter
Episode 13: The 15,000 Cities of Cun Ling
Scene 3: Ba Sing Se
Ba Sing Se
Justice Minerva Irons, as the reigning matriarch of the Irons family, received what amounted to a royal welcome at the train station at the great gates of Ba Sing Se. The trains ran on electricity, but two lifelike statues of earth benders were stationed on the rear step of the last car of each passenger train, in deference to the mythology around the great Earth Kingdom city.
In every city on Cun Ling there was a statue to Lin Ling Liu. The statue of her in Numinor tried to make her appear a heroic figure. It failed. Dumpy, frumpy and slightly misshapen, the founder of Cun Ling simply could not be made to appear heroic despite her legendary charisma and charm. But the statue at the gates of the Imperial Palace in the center of Ba Sing Se captured Ling perfectly – not a hero, but a dreamer – an open book in her lap and her eyes unfocused, looking up beyond the stars. Ling had convinced millions of people to help build her dream by convincing them that they would be building their own. And they had – each city reflecting the fantasies of its founders.
Ba Sing Se had been Ling’s dream and the Irons family had played a central role in bringing that particular fantasy to life. Lin Ling Liu’s remains were buried underneath her statue in front of the Imperial Palace. Four Dai Li agents guarded this statue at all times – the only variation from the mythic uniforms of the Dai Li were the phasers at their belts. Not that they were likely to be needed. Dai Li were required to become proficient in several forms of martial arts in addition to mastering Hung Gar and they trained daily.
Minerva Irons had been born in the Imperial Palace and many of her cousins and more distant relatives as well as a few of her grandchildren, great grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, and a few great-great-great grandbabies lived in and around the palace, in the center of a massive city that only in the past 30 years had begun to fill up to half of its enormous population potential. Much of the city was still sparsely populated behind and close to the great wall, but in several areas the city had a bustle that was beginning to make it feel like its namesake.
An Irons family banquet, much larger than the one on Ocean a year previously, was underway inside the Imperial Palace. Ba Sing Se produced an enormous variety of food and culinary arts had become one of the city’s many home-based industries.
“These are all Irons?” asked Tali Shae, astonished at a family gathering that included well over 3,000 people.
“Most of them,” Minerva replied. “There are family friends and related families. Quite a few Lins - descendants of Lin Ling Liu and her family. Young, Chin, Li, Wu and Smart,” she added, looking around. Not all of the families in the room were Chinese. And several of the Irons in the room were not human at all.
“It is such a pleasure to have our esteemed magistrate and matriarch at home at last!” slurred a more that slightly inebriated woman near the other end of the table that Minerva Irons and Tali Shae were seated at. The awkward volume and squeaky pitch of her voice drew attention and caused much of the nearby conversation to pause or to be replaced with whispers.
Minerva Irons smiled and raised her glass, which contained some local iridescently green wine. “I am so pleased to see my birth home prospering. When I was a little girl this great city and even this beautiful palace were vacant, too quiet, newly built and awaiting people. More ghostly than abandoned ruins. This palace was a spooky place at night. Now, with so many people here, it has become a much more joyful place. We even have an economy now. It is wonderful to come home and find things so much better than when I was last here.”
“But Minerva,” the drunken woman stated, somewhat more coherently, “the question has come up, and not to rush things, but to make use of your wisdom while you are here, how shall we choose the nest… the next matriarch?”
Irons responded by laughing. It took her a few minutes to catch herself and she was more than a little light headed. She realized that she was the only one laughing. Everyone else was either looking expectantly at her or angrily at her interlocutor. The great ballroom grew silent.
Minerva Irons stood up.
“My dear, lively, ostentatious, occasionally and unjustly maligned Ju Di,” Minerva Irons said, occasionally laughing as she spoke. “You do not select a matriarch. A matriarch will emerge. I was not chosen,” Irons continued. “There is no crown, no stamp, no scepter, no ointment. My grandmother did not inherit the matriarchy and I did not inherit it from her."
Irons paused and looked around the hall at her many relatives. She took a breath and put her hand on Tali's shoulder. Her balance was still off a bit after her long ordeal in a cold Andorian courtroom... And this was not her first glass of the rather potent, glowing green wine. She took another breath. "Long ago, an Englishman named Jeremy Irons had to appear in court in Hong Kong. He fell in love with his lawyer and she, Biyu Irons, became the first Irons matriarch. Her wisdom led to our prosperity."
Irons lifted her glass. “And here we are, one great family scattered across a dozen worlds.” She drained her glass. “And this is delicious wine - made right here in Ba Sing Se. Honestly, I have no idea why I would ever drink anything else." Irons looked at her glass, grimaced as the room around it seemed to swim a little. Almost as an afterthought she said, "Beats all hell out of saurian brandy.”
More than a few of the people around her drained their glasses - but hesitantly - in confusion - as though they were not quite certain they had heard a toast, a speech or an admonishment. Conversations were slow to start up again after Irons slowly and carefully sat back down. It took several minutes before the great hall returned to its earlier lively buzz.
Ju Di Irons, after another glass, made her way unsteadily to the other end of the table. Minerva turned in her chair to face her cousin and the two old women briefly clasped hands. “I have, once again, drunk too deepy… too deeply and too fast,” Ju Di said. “I’m sorry to have made such a fuss.”
Minerva laughed again, a merry, if somewhat inebriated laugh. “I have had a drop or two myself... Ah, Ju Di, if only the universe were as guileless as you, there would be no more war. You asked a silly question, but you were wise to ask it. It is good to see you again.”
Ju Di straightened up and teetered just a bit. Minerva turned toward a young man at her table. “Iroh, lend your great aunt your strong young shoulder and make sure she finds her room.”
Iroh Irons got up and assisted Ju Di Irons in a slow and careful retreat from the great hall.