Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Turn the World Around, Part 14

Chapter 13, cont

Manuel leaned forward, folding his hands in his lap.  “So, what do we do, then?  I don’t really have any experience at this sort of thing.”

“Nor do I.”  Talya’s mouth pressed into an unhappy line.  “I am unsure why the Asoolianne selected me.”

“I’ve given that a lot of thought and even asked Ambassador Mahyul point blank.  No satisfactory answers on that count from the Shalash, but I think it’s because I was there and said yes.”

Manuel shook his head.  “Who could say no to such a thing?”

“It was not a difficult decision.”  Talya’s shy smile dropped a decade or more from her appearance, but the smile didn’t last long and I thought I saw a quick shadow in its place for a moment.  “I do wonder what things will be like for me when the Asoolianne have left.”

“Are they going to leave?”  The translation software didn’t do justice to the worry in Manuel’s quiet Spanish.  “Permanently?  I have the feeling, or perhaps it is only a fool’s wish, that this is for more than just a Peace Treaty.  If things are successful, our world might become a meeting ground for the three species on future occasions, perhaps even with permanent embassies.  They could teach us much just by being here.”

“Our governments would wish for them to teach us much right now, before any negotiations are even begun.”

I had to smile.  “Is your ‘shopping list’ as long as mine, Talya?”

One shoulder moved up just a little and I took the gesture as a shrug.  “It is many pages, and represents the desires of many governments.  I wonder how they will share with each other.”

Manuel laughed.  “I do not believe that they will be allowed to not share.”

“And I don’t think our guests will give us anything that could be immediately turned into a weapon.  They may be at war with each other, but they’re a lot more advanced than we are technologically.  I have my doubts that they’re stupid or easily fooled.”  Not that there wouldn’t be humans who wanted to try.  “And the Shalash at least seem a lot like us, in spite of appearances.  They’re very reserved, but seem emotionally compatible, more or less, on the face of things.”

“The Hoon have quick intense emotions but it seems hard for them to maintain any of them for very long.  Anger fades as quickly as laughter.  The only sustained reaction I have witnessed was during the conversation with the Shalash Ambassador.  I found it very chilling.”

“The Asoolianne are a bit odd.  They seem to find almost everything amusing.  Except the Shalash and probably the Hoon.”

Translator pauses made it a slow conversation, but we made it strange on our own.  We represented three different continents, three different societies, and three very different backgrounds, but we somehow didn’t manage to bring any suspicions or rivalries, or even very much cultural baggage to the table.  Tables.  No one else in the world could relate, no one else shared the same position: Intermediary between an alien species and the human race, or whatever portion of it could pull itself to the table’s periphery in each place.  Who else could we talk to?  Who else had a real chance of understanding?  I had Sharon now, sort of.  I told her everything when there was anything to tell, but I was still the one who actually had to be the Intermediary, to talk to the government representatives and to the Shalash.  Talya and Manuel shared that, so we had to talk to each other and, more importantly, listen.

We took half an hour to get comfortable with each other and the technology, slowly working our way back to why we sat at the same metaphorical table.  When we got there, we all knew we needed to start figuring out what had to be done, what was involved in putting a peace conference together.  Thinking about our collective backgrounds, it didn’t matter that we were working on behalf of three alien species.  It wouldn’t have been any easier trying to figure things out for three disparate human groups.

“How long they will wait for us to begin?”  Manuel leaned forward, lips scrunched up on one side.  “We should take some initiative, I think.  Perhaps we should each go back to our hosts to get a list of security and comfort requirements for an initial meeting between them.”

“Is that enough?” Talya drummed the fingers of her left hand on the table.  Through the table.  Watching her fingers, I guessed that the table on the Asoolianne ship had to be about an inch shorter than this one.  “I do not think that the Asoolianne will go to the Hoon or the Shalash.  A list of suggested locations is perhaps in order.”

“None will go to the others, I wager.”  Manuel frowned.  “The word ‘neutral’ has been used much in my hearing.  The places they have chosen to land take some of that neutrality away, at least locally.”

I nodded.  “Balance seems to be very important.”  A thought popped into my head that seemed a little too obvious once I’d had it, but I couldn’t let it go without voicing it.  “I wonder… if we look at the three ships as the points of a triangle, where would the centre be?”

“Somewhere in Western Africa!”  The translator didn’t do justice to Talya’s excitement, but the emotion came through in the volume-reduced Russian preceding it.  “It is perfect!  Africa is always forgotten by everyone.”

It was perfect, but I needed an atlas.  “I’m going to get the Shalash computer to draw that triangle, and maybe do it myself, too.  If both of you would do the same, I’d feel better with three rulers giving the same answer.  Then we can start figuring out how to actually talk to the appropriate government agencies.”  We had something.  Not much, but it felt really good to have somewhere to start, not that I had a clue just how big a project this was going to be.

Manuel suggested we meet again at the same time tomorrow to share measurements and discuss results and next steps.

“Could we do it several hours earlier?” Talya yawned around a smile and I realized just how many yawns I’d seen in the last hour.  “It is rather late here and I would like to be fully awake for our meetings.”  Time zones.  Eastern for me.  I didn’t know if Manuel was in Pacific or Mountain or whatever they called them in Argentina.  How many hours ahead was Xining?  It couldn’t be that far, could it?

“Three hours enough?”  Would that make Manuel get up early?  But he didn’t object.  Time zones.  Something else to worry about.

She nodded.  “That will be fine.”

We all said goodbye and the holograms disappeared.  I sat in the too tight chair and let the magnitude of the job sink in:  a peace conference in Africa to stop a war between three interstellar alien species.  It was nice to have help, but how the hell were the three of us going to pull it off?

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