We come from the water
Living in the water
Go back to the water
Turn the world around
“Let me get this straight.” Sharon’s voice, flattened a little by the cell phone, held that tight edge she used when holding her temper or trying not to panic. “The aliens have landed, which I actually believe because it’s on everything but a couple of the kids’ channels, and they want your help to negotiate a peace treaty with other aliens. Tell me why again.”
“Earth is a pre-interstellar culture with no previous extra-terrestrial contact, so there’s no way we can have any interest picking the winner. We’re neutral ground.”
“I can poke lots of holes in that. Why you?”
Looks from the captain and ambassador didn’t help me. I couldn’t read the expression on either face, or their body language. How much human communication was non-verbal? Both expressions looked blank to my human eyes. Maybe mine did to them, too. That would be good right now. “I think, well, because I was there.”
She stayed quiet a lot longer than any normal conversational pause, long enough that I started to worry. “Sharon?”
“Um, I don’t suppose the aliens have access to cable or satellite TV? There’s another ship landing.”
I pulled the phone a few inches away from my mouth. “Can you tap into satellite communications? She says there’s another ship.”
Captain Razush nodded once, his sharp chin splitting the air. “We are aware. It is the Asoolianne.” But he whispered to his wrist and one wall of the small room turned into a TV, view screen, whatever, and it thrilled my Canadian soul that they picked Newsworld. No sound so no reporters’ voice, but, “Live from somewhere unpronounceable in China,” stood out in the standard CBC font above the headline ticker.
The Shalash ship had descended like a giant bird of prey. The new vessel flowed from sky to ground like a blob of honey sliding down the outside of the jar, except it was dull orange. I had a hard time focusing on any part of the ship, even after it settled into the grassy field, and a harder time trying to define its shape. Long and thin, lumpy and bubbly, it had bulges in the centre and at one end. This was an interstellar warship?
“Earth to Ian.”
“Huh? What? Sharon?” Had she said something before?
“What are you doing?”
“Umm. Watching the other ship land.” Razush and Mahyul ignored the Asoolianne ship–they’d seen plenty of them before, I guessed–and stared at me instead. Not exactly the most comfortable gaze I’d ever been under. “Sharon, are you okay with this? I’m pretty sure I can still say no but thanks for the opportunity. They can put me back somewhere quiet and out of the way.”
She didn’t say anything for what felt like a long time. “Ian this is the biggest thing that could ever happen to anyone. You’d never forgive me if I asked you to back out now.”
“Of course I would. It would just take a week or two.”
She laughed. It didn’t quite take the edge from her voice, but I was glad to hear it. The two Shalash kept staring at me. The weight of the combined stare finally tripped a switch inside my brain and I jumped into high gear. “Get the kids from school.”
“Throw some clothes in a suitcase and pick up the kids.”
“Go somewhere. Not to your parents.”
“Ian! Slow down.”
“Sorry.” I sighed, licked my lips. “Part of the job the Shalash have asked me to do is talk to the earth government representatives. The media will figure things out pretty quick. When that happens, you’re going to be very popular.”
“It’s what they call themselves.” A dozen media scenarios played themselves out in my head, none of them pretty. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” She had to jump ahead of the situation. I needed to find some way to let her.
“Reporters.” How many meanings did she put in that one word? I tried not to add any of my own. God, should I warn my parents, too? And Sharon’s? Why stop there? I should probably call everyone I’ve ever known.
“Big show under the big top.”
In my mind, I saw the look on her face as that sunk in, felt her come to a decision across the distance separating us. “I’m packing. Can I call you back?”
I tried to make eye contact with both aliens at the same time. “Can my mate contact me again?”
“Mate?” Sharon stifled a giggle, almost breaking the tension in the signal.
I lowered my voice. “Their word.”
Razush nodded. The gesture surprised me even as I realized he’d done it before. Was it something we shared or a conscious effort on his part? “We will allow your communication device to function until it becomes an inconvenience.”
I focused back on Sharon. “Translation: until the media works things out.” And maybe I had a better idea to fool them. “You can call for now, but I’ll probably call you first. Pack fast.”
“Already have the suitcases out. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” Usually an automatic response, but not so automatic today. I didn’t want to think about what I’d just done to her stress level, and how much higher it would get before long. And what about my stress level?
I snapped the phone closed and stuck it back in my pocket, trying to ignore the Asoolianne ship as I sat back down. It took a moment to pull in breath for the words I needed. “Ambassador, Captain, I consent to the offer of the position of Intermediary for the Shalash completely and for as long as you need me.” My mouth was suddenly dry and swallowing didn’t help. I needed to start the negotiations early. “But I need one small thing first.”
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