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A Dinner Party


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The politics of the United Federation of the East had been stable in the past few years. Since Jia's control was firmly established in the Beijing Riots, and his multiple victories, his role as paramount leader was rarely disputed. His iron grip on the People's Liberation Army was hardly in doubt, and his willingness to wield it like a sledgehammer against domestic opposition severely limited the amount of capable peoples who wanted to present themselves as an alternative. Yet that did not lessen the political atom bomb that went off when the word that Jia would marry an austrian princess spread through country's power circles. Executor Ding had been the first European to be granted Chinese citizenship and was the highest ranking European official in Chinese history, in many ways his presence (and success) had smoothed a path Theresia to be accepted, especially among the top tier of generals. The public in large part liked her as well. Nevertheless there were some murmuring of discontents. This was particularly true of the tier below the Imperial Council. While Jia's executive team was fully supportive (even the prematurely greying Wei), the operational team below them still were uncertain of the Austrians, some even slightly hostile.

Thusly, at Wei's urging Jia had agreed to host a dinner and Zhongnanhai to smooth things over. He invited not only the would-be imperatrix, but also the rest of the Austrian Royal Family and their government. The Imperial Council Vice consisting of Imperator Kou, Executor Ding, and Grand Vizier Wei would be in attendance, as would Jia's chief of staff Qing who was in all but name a member of the Council managing much of the Imperator's schedule and sitting in on meetings. From elsewhere in the Federation government would be state owned enterprise the CEOs of Triyunican Engineering Kang Shao and Chonqging Heavy Industries CEO Lao Yi. The enigmatic intelligence chief of Special Projects Ming was to attend as well. Finally the first ministers of each of the Federation non-Chinese member states (Grand Vizier Wei had the dual hat of being first minister of the PRC): from Indochina First Minister Nguyen van Huong, from Thailand First Minister Chakri na Kuai, from the Ryukyu Islands First Minister Amuro Sagara, and from Singapore Lee Kuan.

The dinner was to take place in one of the smaller banquet halls of Zhongnanhai, prepared by some of the most renowned chefs in Beijing with a sampling of dishes from across China. Jia though was still in the Imperial Apartments, fidgeting to straighten his golden imperator rank tags on his dark green military uniform. He had a mix of happiness and a bit of nervousness at how the night would unfold. He was getting married soon, but that also meant he'd have to spend time with some of the UFEs more annoying political figures AND finally meet some of his more notorious future in laws. He looked at his secure blackberry reading a message by Wei. Leaving the dressing room he entered into the living room of the Imperial Apartments, finding Theresia, "I've just been told by Wei, that the guests are starting to arrive." he said.

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Theresia had only stuck her head out of the door in response to Jia's knock, smiling politely and saying that she and her entourage would be done in the banquet hall shortly. Then closing the door behind her, the Would-Be-Imperatrix turned to her two sisters sitting in long white dresses, each with a red and white sash denoting their loyalty and service to Austria as members of Monarchy. In other parts of the palace, Maximilian von Hess, Frederich Kant, and Bridgette Saenger the newly elected Chancellor, were also getting ready for their introduction to the Chinese court and the newest addition to the Greater Hapsburg Family. Theresia was really making history, no one in Austria or across the world, for that matter, would have guessed that the Celestial Kingdom and one of the most venerable European families would be calling each other kin.

Maria and Angelika both rose at the same time and smiled, both had hair pinned back in tight buns, but only Angelika's pink streak ran across her bangs in a statement of constant rebellion and individuality.

"I had hoped that you would do something about that, Angelika, before the dinner. The Grand Vizer already believes every Austria is trouble. Well," she paused, "Everyone except for Maria."

"It'll be okay, from what I've heard, His Highness doesn't expect much out of me. I'm that trouble-maker in North America to the Chinese, I have to keep up that image."

Maria scowled, "You do it too well, but don't draw attention to yourself, this is Theresia's night." At the statement, both elder sisters' faces brightened as they both took one of Theresia's shoulders and nodded their heads. "She's going to be married to one of the most powerful men in the world and Austria can relax knowing that we have allies all across the world in very powerful places. Something that will only help in changing atmosphere in Europe and in the rest of the world."

"There you go," Angelika moved towards the door. "Going on about politics. Maria, I should remind you, this is Theresia's night, there's no need to draw attention to yourself."

"All right!" The youngest Hapsburg slammed her heel against the wooden floor. "That's enough out of both of you. Behavior. Now come, they're expecting us."

The eldest Hapsburg sisters looked at each other blankly then shrugged and walked with Theresia out into the hallways of Zhongnanhai. Along the way the three royals bumped into the General-in-Chief, the Foreign Minister, and the Austrian Chancellor and proceeded down to the banquet hall where Jia awaited with the Chinese Brass. At the door, before entering, the Austrian Entourage, appearing strikingly like they would have in the late 1800s, drew a deep breath and watched as the doors to the hall opened before them. Von Hess' mustache seemed to fit the picture perfectly, he looked like a doppelganger of Johann Strauss and all that was a remnant of the ancient order of generals. Saenger and Kant didn't do much better, the latter appearing in a long black suit with a red and white sash draped over his chest, while the Chancellor wore a gray business suit and skirt with her light brown hair tied back in a loose bun.

Theresia smiled at Jia and then bowed to the rest of the room. "Your Excellencies, it is an honor for all of you to host such a party for myself and my family and political equals. I would like to present for introductions, my two sisters, Maria, Empress of the Austrian Dominion and Angelika, Princess of Austria. Along with them, may I introduce General Maximilian von Hess, Commander of Her Majesty's Army, Frederich Kant, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Bridgette Saenger, Chancellor of Her Majesty's Dominion." As Theresia spoke, each Austrian bowed their heads happily and then stood nervous waiting for the next move. All at once the darkest histories of Asia and Europe would be tested and what came out on the other end could either be one of the strongest alliances the world would ever see or utter destruction.

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On his way to the dinner, Jia had been intercepted by Qi, who seemed rather annoyed. "Sir, I know that Wei believes this is a way to smooth things over, but I've dealt with some of these people. We of the older generation are not as good at reserving our emotions as you and Wei are." he said.

"You mean your old and you don't give a $%&@ anymore?" Jia asked.

"Yes sir." Qi said smiling.

"So you are telling me to expect a scene? I was kind of betting that it'd be from Princess Angelika, not from one of our own people." Jia replied.

"Well, I do not expect any of them to raise their voice, but I would watch Kang, we both know how he feels. I suspect he sees this as an issue to play on." Qi said.

Jia sighed, "Of course he does." "He still is influential in some circles...."

Qi pre-emptively reminded the Imperator guessing at his instincts for the attack. "

Right. Well $%&@ it." Jia said entering the banquet hall only a few minutes before the Austrian Delegation was to arrive making his way to the table reserved for the Imperial Ruling Council as well as the Hapsburg Family.

Jia returned Theresia's smile before nodding to each of the guests as they were introduced in order. Many of the Chinese guests, while slightly surprised about Angelika's pink hair were simply fascinated by the general's facial hair many muttering comments about it in obscure dialects of their native language. Unfortunately tact about such things were not one of the strong suits of the Chinese culture. However, when Jia spoke the room fell silent. "Welcome to the United Federation of the East, I am deeply honored that you are joining us for the auspicious occasion. Your Imperial Highness it is always a pleasure to see you." Jia said. "I look forward to getting to know the rest of you."

"Now allow me to present, the Ruling Imperial Council of the United Federation of the East, Vice Imperator Kou." Jia said. The towering man rose nodding before taking his seat. "I believe some of you have already met Executor Ding chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army." the lone european in the UFE party rose nodding as well. "And of course Grand Vizier Wei Hai, the head of my government." Jia finished. Wei rose and nodded.

"Also joining us are the First Ministers of the other member states of the United Federation of the East, from the Republic of Indochina First Minister Nguyen von Huong, from the Dominion of Thailand First Minister Prince Chakri na Kuai, from the People's Republic of the Ryukyu Islands First Minister Amuro Sagara, and from the Republic of Singapore First Minister Lee Kuan." the men rose and nodded their heads. "Lastly, from our intelligence services, Director Ming of Special Projects and from our two largest corporations Triyunican Engineering CEO Kang Shao and Chongqing Heavy Industries CEO Lao Yi." Lao Yi and Ming both stood with Kang reluctant to rise. His eyes met Jia in a brief staring match before shifting his eyes to see Qi behind Jia, with a more annoyed look. Checking his emotions he stood a minute late behind the others. The Imperator's face which had briefly turned to a cold but masked anger, became pleasant again. "Well with the formalities done, lets eat."

The tables were organized in a U shape, with a center table, and two pointing outwards. Jia and Theresia were at the head of the center table, with the Vice Imperator and the Austria Empress seated next most prominently, with the diplomatic order of precedence being observed going outward, the state owned enterprise CEOs being relegated towards the back. Something that Jia took a small amount of pleasure in, giving the subtle finger to those furthest from his power orbit within the UFE. The first dishes served were various dim sum from the southern province of Guangdong, with many sweet dumplings and steam rolls prepared with the freshest ingredients and less heavily spiced than the rest of the food that would be served in the evening. Alongside it would be paired with alsace gewurtz white wine for its light body but still much more fruit to compliment the dishes.

"Well so far so good." Jia said to Theresia. Before addressing the other two Hapsburgs, "How was your flight here?" he asked.

Meanwhile at another part of the table, Lao just came out and asked it, "So General Von Hess, how did you grow that thing?" he said bluntly.

Edited by Triyun
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"One can only hope things stay civil for as long as possible." Theresia joked as she forked a piece of food into her mouth and turned to her two sisters as Jia asked them about their flight.

"Well," Maria began, "It was rather uneventful. Angelika and I didn't have all that long of a flight, coming out from Seattle. We have been handling the hopeful end of North American problems for Austria and in turn have expanded the infantile Austrian Commonwealth. To be honest, Your Highness," The Empress said drinking back a gulp of wine. "Austria has you to thank for our recent successes in the world. I doubt that the North American problem could have been solved as easy as it was without Chinese help. There are already many people in government that see China as Austria's strongest ally in the world. Isn't that right Bridgette?"

The Austrian Chancellor looked up and adjusted her glasses. "Her Majesty is right, with the rising tensions in Europe, China's relative peace and quiet is something that everyone in the Empire hopes to achieve in the coming weeks. We aren't like our Germanic brothers and sisters. There is a saying that the rest of Europe should make war, but Austria, be free and marry. It would appear that we are holding good to that tradition." Saenger raised her glass. "Do take care off the Princess though, Your Highness," she said to Jia. "She's Austria's baby."

Theresia rolled her eyes. "Frau Saenger, please."

"I only jest, Your Highness, after all, it would be clear Princess Angelika holds that title."

Angelika laughed and threw her head back jovially. "I think there's a different title and reputation that I've been building up for myself. I have North America to thank for that."

Meanwhile on the other side of the table, General von Hess nearly dropped his spoon in laughter at Lao's question. "Well it took a great deal of barbering and some styling, but Emperor Franz Josef sported a mustache back in the early Twentieth Century and Johann Strauss before him along with others. I think its rather stylish though my wife doesn't think so. Its the one thing she wishes she could change about our marriage. You like it Herr Lao?"

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"Theresia has shown herself to be quite the survivor, but you have my word I shall protect her." Jia said smiling over at her. Jia wasn't eager to talk about what he privately suspected could be a tragedy in Europe that would rank alongside the block death and the two early 20th century world wars, especially on this of all days.

Wei of course was not burdened with any such emotional to talk shop, "Yes.... the spitting match between the British and UK especially is getting out of hand. I understand and sympathize with the English anger after the attack on London, but what is going on now is just chumming the waters." Wei said swirling his glass of wine. "... and now we hear reports of unrest in Russia. If we're lucky those who desire nuclear fall out in Europe will get themselves removed by revolution before anything can be done."

Jia nodded chiming in, "Yeah... still. Please know that the UFE is always open to assist you, if you need a place to evacuate to or store precious things, we have an extensive shelter network for if they unthinkable occurs. If Austria is ever in need, rest assured we'll answer. Nuclear weapons are one of the most regrettable inventions man has ever come up with. Innocence should not have to pay the price for them."

Ding let out a laughing snort, without even thinking about it at Angelika's comment. Having been the UFE's negotiator during the confrontation between the UFE and the UKIM, Ding had written a scathing report on the King of the UK, and had included the difference in capability between him and his then fiance Angelika. Which lead to an incredibly disapproving stare by the ever diplomatic Wei. Ding cleared his throat taking a sip of his wine. "I err apologize." he said. "I was sorry to hear about the unfortunate passing of your fiance your grace."

Lao continued to looked at the beard still fascinated by it. "It is quite impressive, I know few Chinese who could grow something like that. You should go to Tiananmen Square before you return to Austria. There will be many Chinese who want to take a picture with you!" Lao said.

Kang sat in annoyance fiddling with his dumpling, occasionally smiling pleasantly as he listened to the conversations. This was idiocy, China should want everything west of the Himilayas nuked to hell, then walk in and dominate Eurasia, not make nice and make small talk over beards.

Edited by Triyun
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Sighing at Ding's comment, Angelika smiled over at him, cordially though with a bit of regret in her features. "I should be more effected by it than I am, to tell you the truth Herr Ding. Those negotiations occurred when he was already going mad, after that, it was a steady downhill slope to his death. I wasn't as torn up as I should have been, even now, sometimes I think of Idaho-Montana as little more than a quick chapter in my life. In truth, I feel in love with the people of the Pacific Northwest more than Franklyn himself. When I was sent by my sister to North America to secure alliances, Idaho-Montana was in terrible shape. I like to think, in a way, that I'm responsible for a bit of the reform that happened towards the end of the country's life. Unfortunately, Franklyn, like his predecessors, turned out to be an aggressor and when things didn't go his way, everything fell apart. Though I do appreciate the patience that was shown to both he and I at those meetings."

Von Hess, however, sat eating the conversation as much as the food in front of him and much to the annoyance of Chancellor Saenger who, like Kang, though definitely not as harsh thought the conversation could be better geared then the General-in-Chief's facial hair. The General disagreed, "Well I wouldn't want to disappoint the audience Herr Lao. Actually, I think it would be rather fun, kind of like a living statue. You know this kind of style is fading out of Austria and I can barely understand why."

"I can think of a few reasons," Saenger said dryly.

"Oh come now Bridgette, maybe you and I can go together, show off my mustache and you can wear one of those beer wench costumes. We'll bring Austria to China!"

Bridgette's face turned bright red as she imagined herself in a tavern girl's clothes. "General...please, you're embarrassing me."

"What do you think Herr Lao? You think it would be a good idea? Mustaches and feminine beauty, everything Austrian rolled into one." His voice boomed as the Chancellor slid down in her chair trying to keep the conversation from falling onto her any more than it already had.

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Kou listened to the conversation between Angelika and Ding, waiting for it to end before cutting in . "Well from what we have heard the new regime has done quite well. Your dispatching of the rebellion was quite impressive. We were happy to hear of the Count's demise." he said.

Out of the corner of Jia's eye he spotted the next dish coming in. "Ah excellent the next course!" he interrupted clasping his hands enthusiastically.

Spotting the same thing, Ding leaned over and whispered to Jia, "Sir did you tell them to prepare the fish in a western manner..." he asked somewhat concerned.

"What?" Jia inquired turning to him and confused by the question.

That was the answer Ding was afraid of. "Your Imperial Highness, your Graces... in China fish is served in a somewhat different manner." Ding began with some trepidation.

Ding eyed the servers cutting up three large fish and placing them onto plates. A large deep fried fish head was placed in front of each of the Hapsburg sisters, with the rest of the guests served the traditional fillets. "Being served the head is considered an honor, reserved for the host's most important guests. They say it is the best part." emphasizing the words they and say.

Lao's now ruby red face erupted in laughter at the generals comments. "Yes! It would be quite a site to see in Tiananmen." he agreed enthusiastically.

Wang continued to be annoyed by the behavior of both the general and his fellow CEO. [i]Damn drunk idiot is making a fool of himself. The Austrians will think we're all weak easily amused children.[/i] Wang thought to himself as he listened to Lao. "Not everyone in this country is as easily amused as you." he snapped. His eyes shifted to the Chancellor, he had a dossier prepared on each of the Austrian guests and had reviewed them thoroughly. The Chancellor was easily embarrassed it seemed, a good target. A smile formed on his face as he asked, "So what part of Germany were you from Chancellor Saenger?"

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Angelika stared down at the fish head and blinked for a moment, she could have sworn that the fish blinked back. "Maria...I think I'm going to be sick."

The Empress glared angrily at the golden and pink haired princess. "Remember when you were young and you didn't like asparagus, this is like that. If you don't eat that head, I'm going to shove it down your throat." She tired to say as quietly and as elegantly as possible without coming off as livid. Even so, when Maria turned back to the fish head, she was as grossed out as Angelika was and watching Theresia head the meal happily while talking to Jia as if nothing was wrong with the world made Maria even more angry. "Angelika." She glared back. "Eat the fish."

Stabbing the head with a fork the meat made a spongy sound and a crush. "I think I just broke the skull."

"It can't it was cooked. Now eat the damned head."

Angelika lifted the head up and stared into the eyes of the fish. "I'm sorry, normally I don't stare at you when I eat you...no...don't give me that look. I don't have a choice here. Sorry." She said quietly, hoping not to attract attention as she pushed the fork into her mouth and bit down. Her mouth crunched this way and that as the meat dispersed and she swallowed.

"Now was that so bad?" Maria smiled, but Angelika only glared back and drifted her eyes down to Maria's own fish head. The Empress sighed and smashed her own fork into the fish, but needing to seem brave, especially to prove something to her sister she eat the fish proudly and smiled across the whole table as she swallowed. "You see nothing wrong at al-"

"Hmmm? What was that, Maria darling?" The middle Hapsburg smiled icily.

"I think I felt an eye in my throat."

Needless to say, Angelika nearly fell over her chair laughing so hard, but did her best to contain herself to the other quieter members of the dinner. "Imperator, you will have bring more fish heads to Vienna." She said grabbing Maria's shoulder. "The Empress here is in love."

Meanwhile as Saenger was trying to distract herself from Von Hess' mustache another man sitting next to Lao spoke up. Straightening herself in her chair, Bridgette fixed her glasses and smiled politely at Wang. "Well in all truth I wouldn't really consider myself German at all. I was born in Austria at Salzburg. Though I can understand the confusion, they're our northern cousins after all, the names and such sound alike, but its a matter of language."

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The Chinese watched somewhat amazed at Maria. After no one said anything, but just continued their stares of shock, Ding once again felt it incumbent upon himself as the resident European sinologist to explain, "Umm.... you're only supposed to eat the cheek meat." he cautiously explained in german. "yeah.... should have been clearer with that." he muttered under his breath, wondering if it in fact would be wise to get a body guard to stand between him and Maria for the rest of the evening.

Playing his role of foreign minister instinctively, Wei stepped in to save both parties' face, "Hahaha." Wei chuckled with a grin on his face. "Well if the Empress of Austria is willing to eat fish eye balls to not insult her hosts, I suppose we could say that is quite a tangible sign of a true intention of friendship." he said.

Throughout the mostly small talk, the first ministers had remained quiet. While they were titular governors of the member states of the United Federation of the East, in many aspects they were much less influential than the military theater commanders who had a much greater rapport with Jia, himself coming up through the military rather than the civilian bureaucracy. Instead they spent much of their time reporting to the Grand Vizier. Rarely though were they invited to comment on matters of foreign policy. Nevertheless having been invited by the August Imperator, and they had all agreed privately that they should broach the subject of Ehestadt. As it like most of North East Asia was still occupied by the People's Liberation Army rather than a member state within the Federation, none of them had much information on the plans. However, all were interested to know what the plans were within the Federation as well as the Austrian Empire, and more importantly the broader implications for the Federation presence in North East Asia. When they had approached the subject with Wei, he had told them that Jia had largely let Theresia lead the project. The First Ministers rarely had time with the August Imperator in this manner, and fewer still with the Princess, thus now was as good a time as any to raise the subject. They had drawn straws, all nervous to raise a subject in such an atmosphere, First Minister Amuro of the Ryukyus had gotten the short one.

First Minister Amuro turned his attention to Princess Theresia, "Princess Theresia, the First Ministers and I as a group have been talking. And forgive us Imperator if we speak out of turn." his eyes briefly darted to Jia as he spoke with timidity. "We wonder how your new city of Ehestadt will fit within the larger context of Asia and governance. We were wondering specifically in regards to not just to the participation of the August Imperator, but in regards to the rest of the Federation's member states as well. Do you plan on petitioning it for membership within the Federation as well as the Austrian Empire, or sending a representative to meet with the rest of us? Also we've heard plans of Chinese being included in the construction and settlement, do you envision a role for any of the other member nations within the Federation?"

Across the table, Wang nodded. He was somewhat dispirited at the failure of his first attempt to create a rift, nevertheless he attempted to poke a needle in further, "Ah I was confused by the fact that Germany seems to have ruled your nation as part of Germany until very recently." he continued, "If I recall my European history correctly, the last times the Hapsburgs ruled Austria, they got overthrown by a bunch of communists who claimed allegiance to Germany did they not?"

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Maria and Angelika both smiled at each other and nodded to Wei happily. "Well it wasn't all that bad, a bit slimy at parts, but you know. I think I could get used to it eventually. Isn't that what traveling the world is all about? Meeting new people and making friends over curious food?" The Empress said cheerfully.

"And embarrassing yourself in front of all of China." Angelika said raising her glass and drinking back the wine in the hopes of washing her own fish eye down her throat.

When Minister Amuro turned to speak, Theresia listened intensively. This was good, she thought, that they were speaking to her now and not treating her as a simple ambassador or emissary of good graces. In a few months she would be Imperatrix of the United Federation and would hopefully be as active in Chinese politics as her husband. To have the well wishes of the various governors of the territories was a step in the right direction for her reputation. "What my plans have been, Mr. Amuro, is to create a free state of sorts on the coast of the Pacific, one that will serve a greater cultural function in bringing the various cultures of Asia and across the world together in one spot. In all truth I haven't considered the idea of governance yet as to who will be responsible, however, if I had to guess it would be mutual governance between Austria and China. In that regard I would hope that the Mayor of Ehestadt or the city's Council would some how have a representative in both the Chinese government and the Austrian government. The goal of course being ethnic unity so the more representation, the better, and of course that would include Chinese. As to other roles for members of the Federation, I'm always open for discussion. So if you have any concerns, please let me know."

Meanwhile amidst the other conversations, Saenger had returned to resting her elbows on the table, gauged fully on Wang. "It is something that will always lay deep in the hearts of Austrians. We are not German and in all truth I enjoy the fact that we separate ourselves from the massive Athenian and German Empires that are sprawling across Europe. The Communists are a period of history I think every Austrian tries to forget, they brought the country low, very low. The fact that Her Majesty and our government has been able to eke out an existence following such a terrible display of diplomacy and military influence, we have a long way to go." She said sipping from a wine glass. "Those Communists over threw the first Hapsburg Emperor, Alexander the First, I had the misfortune of living under the Communists and then the Goths for too long. My hopes are that Austria will never be subject to Berlin again." She narrowed her green eyes through her glasses.

Edited by Sarah Tintagyl
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Amuro was somewhat relieved, and felt a bit silly when he heard the Princess's response. Neither did the Princess seem to think herself above him nor did the hand of the Imperator come down to swat him away as he feared it might. Smiling he continued on, "Thank you your grace. It is good to know you are open to our suggestions. My concerns are that my nation spent many years under Japan, we were Japanofied and our own unique cultural heritage was ignored. Our friends in the Federation have been different but it is important to my people that during our time in the Federation we not become assimilated by the Chinese as we did by the Japanese. We are a much smaller country but we still wish to obtain our own identity. If Ehestadt is to be a city of both East and West, we would like some time in the future to meet with you and discuss how our nations can be represented there too... admittedly not to a large extent though, most of our peoples prefer the warmer climates. Nevertheless we have spent much of our histories overshadowed by the regional great powers: Japan and China, the want to shine as well is surely something Austria can understand?"

Feeling emboldened by the success of Amuro, First Minister Nyugen spoke up as well, "The people of Indochina too will be happy to hear you are open to suggestions and questions. I have another, Indochina unlike the rest of the UFE has a sizable catholic population from our time as a French colony. There were periods of intense tension between them and the Buddhist populations especially. This was particularly intense in the period immediately following decolonization. Many of my countrymen felt, and a few older people today still feel that the Catholics were traitors and foreign collaborators. Its my understanding that your family is quite close to the Papacy. In your role as Imperatrix, do you see yourself in any role in healing these rifts without reviving feelings of foreign meddling?"

As Nguyen finished speaking the main course was served. The rich smell of properly prepared peking duck permeated the dining hall. Servers cut up the duck serving it in piles of both the tender dark meat and the crisp rich golden brown skin. Several stacks of freshly steamed white wheat flour pancakes in bamboo steamer stacks were placed down alongside platters of julienned green onions and cucumbers. Lastly several dishes of sweet bean sauce were placed down. An Australian shiraz what poured with an intense fruit body to stand up to the sweetness of the dish.

As he was served, Kang's eyes focused on the food, rather than maintain eye contact with the Chancellor. Kang was rather annoyed, keeping track of the conversation across the table all the while listening to the chancellor keep her cool. This evening was definitely not going how he planned.

Lao cut in his speech ever slightly slurred from his weak tolerance, "We are comrades in arms!" he boldly declared raising his right index finger in the air, "We too have suffered at the hands of the Dragon Empire and their successor Cholans, the ruling class who attempted to continue rule us even after the Dragon Empire! We must stand strong to preserve what is our Great Traditions!"

[i]He just compared the Austrian struggle to ours?![/i] Kang thought incredulously. [i]Our ancestors lead the world in learning while theirs were in the stone age![/i] Kang's eyes glanced the room for the looks in others faces. Ding and Wei were as expected a lost cause, as was the slightly inebriated Lao. Kou and Qi faces were blank, but he had little doubt of their ultimate loyalty. Ming... Ming would end up on what side was best for Ming. Of the first ministers Nguyen and Amuro were obviously both starstruck and eager to get along with the new Imperatrix and her two sisters. He would not even bother with Lee, Lee was a man of Singapore. Singapore existed because of trade, and really alongside Hong Kong and Macau were the only places in UFE that benefited greatly from the Century of Humiliation. His eyes then settled on the Thai First Minister, who kept a stoic unmoved face. He too seemed resentful. He knew Chakri was from the old Thai royal family. Thailand had a long tradition of remaining independent from the foreigners, and had a separate culture outside the sino orbit. The man had to harbor ambitions of his own. Perhaps he could find an ally yet out of this dinner part. Kang leaned back in his chair raised his wine glass swirling it slightly after it was poured before taking a sip contemplatively.

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"I think it is Austria who wants to shine as brightly as China. Herr Amuro, we are all people just trying to get by in this world as best as we possibly can and something that I always feel is the most important is letting those peoples who have not got their chance in the spotlight to illuminate themselves beautifully. I can assure you that Ehestadt is a city open to all of you, just as it will be open to all Austrians, Europeans, and so on." Said Theresia to the Governor.

However it was when Nguyen spoke up that Maria nearly jumped over the table in joy. "Excellency, if I may speak for my sister here." She said composing herself and dabbing her mouth with a napkin. "Unlike the past Papacies that Christianity has had to deal with, Pope Pius XV is much more in tune with the idea of a spiritual and moral kingdom and philosophy, rather than one that seeks to gain political clout. We haven't had to deal with any anti-popes as of yet, though I'm sure the Church will encounter its own problems in the future. That said, if there is tension between the Buddhists in your region of the Federation and the Catholics, I would be happy to see if His Holiness can make a visit to Indochina and perhaps speak to both sides. Personally, I think the Buddhist faith is fascinating and we probably have a lot to learn from each other."

Listening to Lao's speech, Von Hess smiled and reached his hand across the table to grasp the CEO's own. "And Austria will help you maintain that Herr Lao all the while China keeps Austria's integrity sound and safe. The way too friends should."

"Well then," Theresia stood up from her chair and picked up the wine glass in her hands. "To Austria and China, may they be forever wedded in love and prosperity."

The other Austrians stood in turn and Angelika smiled at Jia and Theresia and raised her glass higher for her own toast. "And may the countries enjoy the fruits of their leaders. Theresia and Jia, Your Majesties, through your example Europe and Asia will know peace. Perhaps the rest of the world will know in the time to come."

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"Thank you Princess Theresia." First Minister Amuro said taking his seat. "I look forward to meeting with you when you are Imperatrix over this."

As Nyugen finished the question, Jia was quite surprised to see Maria co-opt the stage from Theresia... well not overly surprised. He remembered back to the Hong Kong meeting where she had spoken about the want to restore Catholicism to what she viewed as a rightful place. While Jia at Theresia's urging had relaxed religious controls within the Federation, he was still wary of the Church's influence. He respected such Jesuits as Matteo Ricci who had been among the greatest western scholars of Chinese and made invaluable contributions to inter civilizational dialogues, he also knew of the history of others who had use Christianity as a tool to pry open the East. He would take a wait and see approach. Vietnam after all was not China, and could be permitted some additional liberty.

"...Thank you uh... Empress Maria. Perhaps you can send someone to my office to discuss it in the future." Nguyen said confused slightly by what had just happened. "Your grace." he said nodding to Theresia and then sitting down.

After Angelika made her toast, Kou stood up to make one on behalf of the UFE delegations. "Thank you Princess Angelika." he said raising his glass. "For a long time the civilized world has been divided into the East and West. Kipling says, 'East is East and West is West and never the two shall meet.' Today hopefully we have done much to put our differences behind us and move more towards a united human civilization. I wish both Imperator Jia and Princess Theresia all the best, as well as the Austrian people on behalf of the United Federation of the East."

Jia shook Kou's hand before standing to make the final toast of the dinner for the event, "Thank you. I am humbled by this outpouring of support. I have few things left to say other than that I echo Theresia's words." he said. "To the Austrian Delegation who I am meeting now for the first time, I thnk you for coming and look forward to our friendship in the future. To those from the Federation, I thank you for showing your support, I know this decision of mine was something which was not expected by many of our, and I am truly honored that you support me in this." he said before taking a seat.

As the party began to wind down, the various members of the delegations went their own ways. Kang did not leave Zhongnanhai as quickly as was expected, instead he waited for Chakri's limousine. As the Thai First Minister entered into it, Kang followed him in. He instructed the driver to take them to his villa outside Beijing.

Chakri looked confused, "What is the meaning of this." he said.

Kang smirked, "It seems we have business matters of mutual interest to discuss..."

"Are you mad, here?!" Chakri objected, anger rising to his face. "The Imperial Guards have both of us under surveillance I will bet."

Kang laughed, "I think not, you see... something will happen within the next few hours that will have them quite distracted. And this driver you see... is my friend not Jia's. So relax." he said his voice switching to a commanding boom.

Chakri looked at him, "Very well... what do you have in mind."

A wide smile formed across Kang's face. It would now begin.

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