Chapter 18 (conclusion)
I set the second disk down and slid it across the table. No one jumped to grab it this time, but St. Hivon, computer already open, popped the drive open to be ready to swap disks. “Not as comprehensive as they’ll need to be, but the Shalash, Asoolianne, and Hoon are more than willing to leave the details of design and construction to us. The disk just has the basic requirements. General sizes and dimension of things appropriate for each species, including climate control, furniture, and sanitary facilities. Some of it conflicts and they’re leaving it to us to work out the kinks. The key thing is that absolutely everything has to be done in threes without any kind of preference shown.”
“So there needs to be three landing pads all an equal distance away from the main building.” Cunningham put his elbows back on the table and leaned forward, supporting his chin with both thumbs. “Measured as precisely as possible.”
“And all at the same height relative to the room negotiations will take place in. Yes.” I held up a hand to stop three different deep breaths. “It has to be thought out to that level of detail. If we put one on a hill top and the other two on flat ground, the hilltop site will be seen by all three as both an advantage and favouritism. Wouldn’t be a good idea. The aliens’ illusion of our neutrality has to be maintained if they’re to work out any kind of treaty and we’re to see any return on the investment.”
“Three landing pads.” Chong tapped fingers on the table. “Three separate residential complexes. Three entrances to the main building.”
Verngiol nodded. “Three doors into the main conference chamber. Three seats at the table.”
“Three of everything.” Henderson-Jones looked away from the laptop screen. “I think I begin to understand. This could be a very interesting set of negotiations.”
“Very.” I sighed, not quite prepared for what I had to tell them next. “Because I think you’ll find a couple of things in the requirements that no one will like.”
Cunningham frowned and I hoped it wasn’t a resurgence of the first personality I’d seen. I’d just started to not hate him. “Such as?”
“A serious limitation on human presence, including an almost complete lack of media coverage.” He opened his mouth for what I thought would be a bellow, but then shut it again, hard enough I heard his teeth clack together. No outburst, no explosion, nothing more than a nod. I tried to look sympathetic. “Sorry. They don’t want a media gallery or balconies for observers while their negotiations are going on. In Ambassador Mahyul’s words, they’re here to make peace, not to entertain us. There will be one media representative chosen by each nation hosting a landing site and they’ll be present in a strictly observational capacity. The slightest interruption from one of them will be cause for the expulsion of all of three.”
“That’s a little harsh.” St. Hivon didn’t put much emotion into the words, but I could almost hear the wheels turning in his mind. Canada, as the host nation to the Shalash, would get to pick a media representative. First choice of who recorded the alien peace talks. How much exposure and influence would that give theCBC? How much pressure would there be to send someone from a major network, CNN or the evenBBC?
“What about government representatives at the complex?” Cunningham, deprived of media coverage, might still place himself in a position to receive the earliest information.
Why was I so ready to think the worst about him? I thought about the first impression I must have given St. Hivon. What decisions had been made about me based on it? And yet it was a question that Mahyul anticipated. “Any guest complex will be tolerated only outside the grounds of the official conference facilities. We’re welcome to build one, or several, but it’s not to interfere in any way with the Peace Conference.”
“And the three Intermediaries?” Verngiol touched himself between the eyes then blinked, maybe pushing up glasses he no longer wore. “Will you be attending the conference?”
“Absolutely.” I gave them all a lopsided grin. “We haven’t been given a choice. It was included in what we agreed to when we said yes to the job. The three of us have to interpret things for the media and for governments. We’ll have full access to everything and our own set of recording devices, but we only get to talk when we’re told it’s okay. I get the impression that there will be days we’ll be told to keep our mouths shut or the deal’s off.”
Chong steepled her fingers and pressed until they stood apart. “Do they have a time frame we need to be aware of?”
I took a deep breath. “They want to start talks 256 days from now. We need to have everything completed by then.”
Cunningham frowned. “That’s an odd number.”
Verngiol made the connection first. “Four to the fourth power days. Why not three to the third? Wouldn’t that balance better?”
“It would.” I sighed, blowing what I thought had to be a great gust of air across the table. “And it would have been impossible. Twenty seven days?” I tried to chuckle, but it came out more like a breathy grunt. “Each species independently offered eight-one days, three to the fourth, as a compromise, but I argued eighty-one would still be too much of a hardship.”
“You were right.” Cunningham leaned back. “With unlimited money, I don’t think I could get it done in my backyard in eighty-one. Half way across the world in a country that probably doesn’t have an awful lot of heavy industry in only eight months? That’s going to be a test of commitment.” I had to agree because I still wasn’t sure it was possible.
He shook his head. “How did you get them to more than triple their compromise?”
“I argued that while there may be three species involved in negotiations, it’s going to take four species to make them work.” And between the three of us, the Intermediaries had made the argument stick, not that it had been at all easy.
Cunningham’s eyebrows went up. “That was well-played.” And with that, my opinion of the man went up several notches in my eyes. It’s amazing what a little well-placed ego-stroking can do sometimes. Something I needed to learn.
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