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by William F. Wu
Artwork by Linda Cappel
Leung Soey, a man stiff-jointed, overweight, and white-haired at the age of seventy-three, stood beneath the roof tiles on the stone pavilion in the Garden of Peace. All the brown and gray stone had been mined from an asteroid and cut into shapes with smooth, polished surfaces. The pavilion, on a small hill, marked the highest spot in the park.
Beyond the billowing green trees in the distance, he could see the inward surface of the space colony curving upward. If he kept his gaze low, he could forget that he lived inside a giant cylinder called Zhang-E, slowing turning in space as it orbited Sol in the Asteroid Belt. He had escaped the rigors of the Chicago Chinatown as a young man, but as he got older and more weary, he sometimes wondered what Earth felt like now.
“Ah Soey, do you see any sign of her?” Kwan Douhak, the stocky man in his middle fifties who had hired Leung Soey for this meeting, addressed him casually from a stone stool next to a matching stone table. He wore an expensive, gray western suit and a black tie with gold pinstripes. His hair, black and straight, had been cut short and carefully combed.
“No, not yet.” Ah Soey spoke Cantonese, as Kwan Douhak had. Cantonese had become the common language here in Zhang-E, linking the population originally descended from China. The early colonists had come from China, Taiwan, Singapore, the United States, and many other nations, speaking not only Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, but also rural village dialects and the languages of other home countries. Everyone agreed that English had to be taught in order for the Zhangese to communicate widely with other colonies. When Ah Soey had first arrived, one faction here had demanded that Mandarin, the official language of China, be the official language in Zhang-E, but the majority of colonists had a Cantonese background and had outvoted them.
“When did she say she would come?” Kwan Douhak insisted. His hands anxiously stroked the rolled scrolls he had laid on the table in front of him.
“She did not say she would come at all.” Ah Soey had an urge to pace restlessly, but his feet hurt too much. Absently, he rested one hand on the tea cozy he had set on the edge of the table. It stood near the framed gift he himself had brought. “She’s a recluse, a very private eccentric. I did not speak to her directly. Her assistant said maybe she would come.”
Kwan Douhak scowled but said nothing.
Ah Soey envied and disdained his arrogant, wealthy employer, but he was too poor to turn down the man’s money. Reluctantly, he acknowledged to himself that the stranger from Earth had determination; he had spent more than Ah Soey’s lifetime income searching for an older sister who had left her family in Singapore as a young woman to live in space.
“When she gets here, I will pay you off,” said Kwan Douhak. “I want to talk to my sister alone.”