RICE Paper #JZ-01224: Glisten
"Belters" are an independent bunch, and the fact that they may control the government of an entire system does not change this fundamental psychological attitude. Glisten is a fine example of this. Nominally, the government is run by a civil service bureaucracy, but in practice, a citizen of Glisten will avoid, ignore, or evade the bureaucracy whenever he can get away with it. Bribery, called by various names, is not only not unusual, but in many areas it is an expected part of doing business. I saw virtually no sign of bureaucracy during my visit, and would have chosen to call this government a "tempered functional anarchy" rather than a civil service bureaucracy.
The anarchy begins at the starports, where the order of unloading and CHI (Customs/Health/Immigration) processing is theoretically governed by a list based on your class of ship and time of arrival at the port. In reality, the list is reprinted within an hour of any ship's arrival, based on how much "pull" a ship's captain (or shipowner's agent) has exerted on Arrival Control. It's not hard to find out the realities versus the theoretical restrictions; a few minutes after passing a cursory CHI inspection, I chatted with a group of stevedors and Customs agents and found out that certain ships and shipping lines were given preferential treatment because they gave "preferential considerations" far above those offered by their competitors. I was fortunate enough to come in on one of these lines, but I was asked not to say which one, as it could cause repercussions. Once in Glisten (the idiom is "in Glisten" rather than "on Glisten" because virtually no construction is done on the exterior of the asteroids), however, the preferences are virtually public knowledge. The same attitude extends to transportation. Glisten has an unusual approach to transportation - private vehicles are for all intents and purposes non-existent, but the government operates no transportation facilities (other than maintaining the starports). Instead, the government licenses private companies to operate "public" transportation. Once the license is issued (with the process simplified by liberal amounts of "consultation"), the licensee pretty much determines what rates will be charged and what routes will be operated. I was greeted by a virtual free-for-all at the transportation center; each company hires people to "steer" passengers their way, and attempts to peel a customer from a competitor's "redcap" are not unusual - and apparently, neither are the resulting fistfights. Glisten does maintain a police force, but their function seems to be limited to making sure that innocent bystanders don't get injured in these situations. The customer is not considered an innocent bystander, and neither is any bystander that voluntarily enters the fray.
There are at least six companies that provide (read: sell) tourist information; no two of them agree on anything but the names of the streets in the city, and the locations of government offices and major tourist attractions. Each company has a preferred set of restaurants, hotels, and various other service providers, and while there is some overlap, no two lists are identical. All of the restaurants and service providers that I tried were quite acceptable, and provided good value. The hotel I stayed at was a pleasant place to stay at a good price, and a quick visit to the others to look around seemed to indicate comparable accommodations. You will most likely do well at any one of the choices; I'd recommend that you look at three or four before deciding, and choose the one whose ambiance most suits you.
There are a number of tourist attractions that should be placed on your "must-see" list:
- The Court Arena. This is where court cases are tried, and the local system of justice is quite interesting (and worth a separate RICE paper). All I will say about it here is that there is de facto no distinction between civil and criminal justice as there is on most other worlds, and that watching a trial is an experience in itself.
- The Swim Center. One of the public sport and exercise facilities, this one is dedicated to aquatic pursuits. The center of the (small) asteroid that this is located in is hollow, and very large. The entire asteroid is kept in zero-g, and the water is not contained in any way - you leave the locker room and enter the "pool", and you see a huge sphere of water hanging in front of you. Caution is recommended whe swimming; there is no natural tendency to "rise" to the surface, as there is no internal gravitational gradient. Note to those from cultures with various body taboos - swimsuits of any sort are strictly optional.
- The Flight Center. Similar to the Swim Center, except that a small gravitational gradient is maintained, to provide a sense of up and down, and there is no water. Participants do wear "wings" and "tailfeathers", and lessons are available at low cost. As exercise, it is at least as good as swimming, and many find it more exhilirating. Those who suffer from disorientation in zero-g should come here, rather than the swim center. Except for the wings and tailfeathers, costume is optional, although a very popular mode of dress is a tight body stocking, to reduce air resistance. Wings and tailfeathers are usually decorated in varied patterns and colors, and the body stocking, when worn, can be equally colorful, in either complementary or clashing colors and patterns. One deluxe rig that I saw was generic spacesuit grey, wings and body stocking both, until the wearer became airborne. He then switched on a holographic generator, and actually appeared as a large bird, whose species I didn't recognize (he said later that it was a "roc", from Terran mythology dating back to "a couple of thousand years before space flight").
- The Museum of the Ancients. Glisten itself was not an Ancient site that we know of, but they have nevertheless amassed a very complete collection of reproductions of Ancient artifacts, and a great deal of supplementary information. The exhibits are quite fascinating, and quite educational.
The people of Glisten are in general a friendly bunch; the tourist who gets lost will quickly be offered assistance, and the tourist who asks for a recommendation for a restaurant or a hotel will get many. Food in Glisten runs to intense flavors, with extremely spicy food being quite common. On a visit to one of the outlying asteroids, I was a guest of one of the local residents, and invited to a dinner party that she was giving. I found out the hard way that such dinner parties are attempts by one person to outdo the neighbors in creating dishes so spicy as to cause actual pain, and that it is a point of honor to consume such dishes without showing outward sign of discomfort. Much as I like spicy food, I cannot recommend this pastime to anyone - not even Glistenites (suffice it to say that I did not finish that dinner with my gastronomic honor intact). Asteroid construction being what it is, there is not a lot of ability to have one's residence express one's personality from outside, so most people don't try. Instead, they express their individuality in their styles of dress - ranging from nothing but cosmetics all the way up to multiple layers of clothing in colors and patterns and styles carefully chosen to draw attention, sometimes in combinations that even a Vargr might find in questionable taste.
Doing business in Glisten is theoretically governed by a thick book of regulations that every business is required to have accessible to the customers. In reality, most of the regulations are ignored or circumvented, and caveat emptor is an important part of business dealings. Almost anything is claimed to be available for sale, and most of it actually is available.
The arrival of (and nominal conquest by, and subsequent putative expulsion of) the Aslan New Lords has not reined in the natural tendencies of Glistenites. Indeed, some Aslan customs have been adopted and adapted to Glistenite culture. Duels of honor, formerly treated as a private matter between the two parties, have become much more public and ritualized, and many Aslan that I spoke to asserted that the Glistenites are the only "fiyfiyalr" that truly understand the ritual of the duel. A few even claimed that Glistenites have raised the art to levels beyond those achieved by all but a very few legendary Aslan duellists. Another Aslan custom, that of "Assassination" has also been adopted, and integrated with the duelling custom. When Aslan embark on an assassination, the objective is the death of the target. Glistenites have instead made it a campaign to embarrass the target, to provoke a duel, thus providing more entertainment for a longer period of time. Aslan reaction to this adaptaion of their customs has been mixed, and their social scientists (and human social scientists as well) are watching this development carefully.
Aslan and Human mix freely in Glisten, and it is not unusual to see the younger Aslan adopting Human customs or modes of dress, though in a distinctly Aslan manner. Aslan business concerns compete on an equal footing with human concerns, making Glisten a shining example of just how well the two species can get along, if both sides make an effort. The local humans pay lip service to the Aslan males' claims of land ownership, and the Aslan females provide the males with the _real_ products of land ownership, economic power that provides prestige. By doing so in cooperation with the human society there, rather than attempting to build economic power based strictly on Aslan models, they achieve results far beyond the expectations of the leaders of the ihatei expeditions. It can be expected that these revelations will cause as much change to the Aslan ihatei colonies as they will to the human societies that they have conquered.