Elora's voice quivered on the last word of the stanza, and as the notes of the shamisen sounded Miya took her first steps along the hanamichi, the raised walk leading through the audience. She hid her eyes with her fan, but between its wooden struts she saw people's hips, crushed against one another on the benches. It was beautiful weather for outdoor theater, a warm morning.
Here is Humanity, Elora sang.
Here is the flower of Terra.
See how delicate her footsteps;
she has learned to walk softly on the earth.
Miya stepped with deliberate grace to the middle of the hanamichi, where she froze, lifting her arms with their heavy tapestried sleeves and revealing her pale and painted face. The audience gasped.
"See us," Miya said in the sing-song taught her by her father. "We come in peace."
"Do you have any ideas what we should say to these people?" her manager said, dropping a sheaf of paper on her desk. "We're at crunch time here. The friendlies are landing in less than a week and the governor'll be looking over our submissions soon."
"They didn't like any of our last suggestions?" Miya asked.
"Greeting them in different languages of Earth is out. The governor's office doesn't want to overdo it."
"But these people like cultural diversity," Miya said. "They said so in their transmissions. In Spanish. It was all over CNN."
"If they like diversity so much, why are they landing in the middle of podunk nowhere?" he asked, exasperated. "They could have picked Washington. Or someplace in Europe."