Chapter 18 (cont)
I took another deep breath and tried not to bit my lip. “I’ve actually had three meetings with Ambassador Mahyul regarding the list. Recognizing my inexperience in the field of interspecies negotiations, she takes great pains to explain the Shalash point of view behind everything.” I shook my head at Cunningham’s opening mouth. “Before you suggest it, sir, I don’t feel like I’m being taken advantage of and I have no reason to suspect her of being untruthful in any way.” I did have the feeling Mahyul didn’t provide the whole truth on certain subjects, but what could I do about that except keep asking questions? I opened the small pouch on my Shalash-provided belt—I refused to wear the platinum and silver jumpsuits, but the belt didn’t stand out too much, and was pretty handy—and took out a plastic case with a mini-disc inside. “If one of you has a laptop with you, I have the assurances of the chief computer technician aboard the Shalan Triumphant that this will be compatible with any mainstream portable computer.”
St. Hivon snatched up the case before any of the other ambassadors could even raise a hand. He pulled his laptop from a bag under the table and the machine came out of standby mode in a few seconds. The disc dropped into theDVDdrive and they all waited for the autoplay to kick in. No fancy multimedia presentation, no exciting graphics or sound, what came up would be disappointing to any child and most adults. A four-panel split of the shopping list appeared and I looked at two tiny reflections of it in Henderson-Jones’ glasses.
Each panel would expanded at a click to show details on the fragmented list my discussions with Mahyul had divided into four categories: things they would not trade, things they felt we would develop on our own within the next couple of decades, things still up for negotiation, and things representing their opening position. The fourth panel contained only two items: a carbon trap that didn’t involve long term storage of CO2 but rather its dissolution into oxygen and graphite, and a genetic analysis of HIV. I listened and watched as they clicked each of the four panels in turn.
St. Hivon’s eyebrows went up. “That’s it?”
“So it would seem.” Chong frowned, but kept further thoughts to herself.
“It’s outrageous!” Cunningham spluttered, the first time I’ve ever seen someone do that outside of a movie, and did so for several seconds before finding his voice again. “Completely unacceptable! How can they possibly think that we’d agree to so little? Why the social upheaval alone—”
Verngiol interrupted. “Would be more than balanced by the lives saved if an HIV cure resulted from the genetic analysis they provide, assuming the virus can actually be isolated.” He shrugged, his head tilting to the left at the same time. “And the Carbon Dioxide trap, if viable, would do a great deal to slow the progress of the climate change your government has recently begun to believe in.”
Henderson-Jones stroked his blond goatee with a thumb and finger. “It is only an opening position.”
And then I interrupted the American ambassador before he could start on an actual tirade. God, how did politicians get anything done? I expected better logic and behavior from my kids and nearly always got it. “Exactly. It’s an opening position. And really, is it any more absurd than the list of things you asked for? The Shalash aren’t here to cure all the problems we’ve created for ourselves over the course of modern history, and they’re certainly not here to pass along all of the accumulated knowledge and technology they’ve gained since being at our level just because we smile and say please.”
I found a sudden ally in Ambassador Chong, but wondered if it was only because I’d stood up to the American ambassador. “The Shalash, Hoon, and Asoolianne are each here to seek a path to peace with two other species they’ve been at war with for an unknown time period. If we benefit from their presence at all, it will only be because they want us to.”
St. Hivon smiled. “I’d suggest we’ve benefited just from their arrival. We have a definitive answer to one of the great questions of history. No one will ever ask again if humanity is alone. We’re not and now we know it. That gives us a reason to move ourselves forward and out into the stars. If they’re willing to give us more, then we should take whatever they offer without whining that it isn’t enough. We’re not spoiled children and we shouldn’t act like it.”
Hearing my own argument used by someone who’d originally rejected it brought me up short for a moment. I had to rethink my relationship with St. Hivon. “Thank you for the support.” I reached into the small pouch and pulled out another disc, holding it up but not passing it to anyone yet. Smiling at Ambassador Cunningham, I wiggled the disk between two fingers. “Now, if you really want something to scream about, the host nation for the peace talks has been selected and it’s not represented by anyone sitting at this table. It’s inAfrica.”
His reaction didn’t disappoint. “Africa? What the hell is inAfrica?” Cunningham half stood with the words, then sunk back into his chair when he caught himself.
I tried to keep smiling, but was sure they could all hear the pounding of my heart from the other side of the table. And I had to resist the urge to wipe my forehead. No wonder I never won at poker. I hoped Manuel and Talya were having an easier time. “The geographic centre of the triangle made by the three landing sites. Balance seems extremely important to all three species and none of the them is likely to give pride of place to either of the other two. Guineais equally inconvenient for all three parties.”
“Coincidentally, it’s equally inconvenient for anyone who might have to provide resources toward the construction and maintenance of the facilities needed for such a conference.” I had a hard time reading Verngiol’s smile. “I’m certain that the beings of any of our guest vessels would not wish one of the poorer nations of Earth to cover all expenses, even if it were capable of doing so.”
Cunningham growled, actually growled. “How would that make the rest of us look? Of course we’re going to pay for it, whether we like it or not. The question is, how much are we going to pay for construction and how much will go for bribes?”
“I am not fully briefed on the current political and economic situation ofGuinea,” Ambassador Chong said.
“I doubt any of us are, but I would say that will have to change.” Henderson-Jones scratched at his chin. “I believeGuineacan be best classed as poor but stable.”
Leaning back in his creaking chair, Cunningham sighed. “ForAfrica.” Not bitter, the words were almost toneless and I wondered what he really thought ofAfricain general. What did most of the developed world think, really?
Henderson-Jones nodded. “Perhaps, but I am certain any infusion of cash and work would be welcome to the country. It is a chance to include an African nation in a major positive event, a rare occurrence outside the General Assembly. While convenience is not high on my list of chosen words, I cannot see this as a bad thing overall.”
Verngiol nodded. “I find I agree. Add to this that one of the first things offered in exchange could lead to the relief of the suffering of millions on that continent… if given to the media properly, this can be a significant positive move for everyone concerned.” The French ambassador focused his gaze on me. “I assume you have at least the beginnings of requirements for the needed facilities.”
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