Video cameras. Microphones. Flashes.
Safe behind one way glass and hopefully protected from any eavesdropping devices, I looked out over an ocean of reporters, questions to come from all over the world. Anyone who could afford, or almost afford, to send a representative had someone there, and usually more than one. If I hadn’t known the guest complexes were beyond capacity with government representatives, I’d’ve thought they were filled with reporters. I didn’t know whereGuineafound space for the press. National leaders across the globe waited on standby so they could jet in if it looked like something big might be in the offing.
I tried not to ask for a count of bodies in the press gallery, finding the sight intimidating enough. Talking in front of a group of people was far from my favourite thing—just ask the people who’d come to my wedding—but over the past few months, I’d learned to do press conferences, or at least stand close enough to the microphones that they picked up my mumbled speech. Maybe I’d even gotten a little better, but this was the biggest stage I’d ever stand on and maybe the biggest audience anyone had ever had.
St. Hivon cleared his throat, pulling my attention from the crowd. “What are you going to tell them?”
I shook my head and tried to laugh, but the two-syllable chuckle sounded bitter to me. “I have no idea, Antoine.”
Away from the recorders, when we’d finally found our voices, Manuel, Talya and I expressed a lot of colourful feelings. It took a couple of minutes to wind down before we started trying to decide what to tell the world. We hadn’t come to a real decision beyond saying negotiations had begun. We weren’t obligated to give details, and certainly didn’t want to. Two things fell in our favour. First, that the three internal reporters hadn’t been granted translators. All three races felt those reporters existed in the Chamber purely for documentation purposes. Giving them translators would interfere with the Intermediaries’ duties. We could tell the press anything that fit the footage, keeping it as vague and calm as we could.
Second, that the aliens were alien. We’d played the ‘different body language’ card many times and it might keep helping us today. Take away the words, and I knew Mahyul was pissed, but I hadn’t had enough time with either other species to have any idea what they might be feeling without vocal cues.
Of course, the reporters in the room were witness to our reactions, but there was nothing we could do about that. At least we’d managed to hold onto our tongues until they’d left to file their own initial reports. In the end, the three Intermediaries agreed to do everything we could to get the Ambassadors back into the Chamber, not that any of us had a clear idea of anything we could do. Before the Chamber fiasco, we’d agreed to rotate the press conferences, and I’d drawn the short straw for the first day of talks. Lucky me.
With a deep breath and a wordless prayer, I opened the door and stepped through onto the stage to stand under and just in front of the huge United Nations banner. Stretching a good dozen metres, it lent credence to the illusion of global inclusion, that the nations of the world were all represented here instead of the handful of powers that had actually contributed the resources. Representation aside, the final list of negotiated benefits would be shared across the world, so the UN banner seemed appropriate.
By now they should all have seen the footage. I’d watched it twice, wincing at the trip to my chair both times, covering the awkward opening before skimming through the hour of calm talk to focus on those last three minutes when everything fell apart. Raised voices coupled with changes in manner and expression could easily lead human eyes to infer anger in spite of the alien bodies, but I hoped I could present the same view as mild frustration at worst.
The murmuring crowd fell silent by the time I got to the small podium with the ridiculously large cluster of microphones. I leaned in, picking the one in the centre and hoping to avoid feedback. “Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all for coming.” Yes, thanks for coming to sit in a huge, overcrowded, under-air-conditioned room to hear me lie to you. “The opening of negotiations between the Shalash, the Asoolianne, and the Hoon went more or less as expected. The ambassadors sat down together for the first time for what had to be a difficult, stressful hour for each of them, and agreed not to rush the pace of the peace talks.” Because the talks weren’t over if I had anything to say about it. “Contrary to what some of you may have been inferred from the video, there’s no danger of anyone packing up and leaving. You may have noticed that none of the shuttles have yet left the compound, and they won’t until the Intermediaries are aboard. This is just the first day. There are many more ahead and a lot of talking to do.”
People started shouting questions. It was a jumble of words and accents, and probably languages, with nothing intelligible reaching the stage. I picked the three questions I wanted to hear, whether anyone had shouted them or not, and held up a hand for quiet.
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