Chapter 20 (conclusion)
“Why did they adjourn early? Honestly, this peace conference is a huge event. It may be the biggest thing that’s ever happened on Earth, but remember that these three species are trying to stop an interstellar war, and one that’s been going on for decades. There’s a lot of bad feeling on all sides and it’s going to take time for them to get comfortable with each other. As I said, the Ambassadors agreed to take things slow. The closest human comparison I can make is World War II. How long did treaty talks between the Allies go on once the fighting stopped? They’ve been at war for a long time and we can’t expect them to solve things in one sitting.”
I paused to take a deep breath, leaning back from the microphones. That had been easier than I thought. I didn’t have to bend the truth much. But the shouted questions started again before I exhaled and it took both hands over my head for a dozen or more long seconds before they settled again.
“Why did they all look so angry at the end of the session? I’m not sure they did. What might look like anger to human eyes, I’d be more likely to describe as frustration. None of the three have the same body language we do. There’ve been a lot of actions on all sides that are hard to let go of for the victims. Right now, at the very beginning of talks, a lot of these things are in the front of the Ambassadors’ minds. It’s going to take time and patience before they start moving to the back. That’s not going to be easy for any of them and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
I didn’t lean back from the microphones this time, didn’t give them time to start shouting again. “Will talks resume tomorrow? The ambassadors just need a little cooling off time, a short break. Do you think they’ve come all this way, enlisted our aid, put so much effort into having the talks, just to let things break down in one morning?” I shook my head, and plastered the biggest smile I could on my face. “Thank you again for coming, but if you’ll excuse me, I have a shuttle to catch.” Stepping back from the podium, I walked to the door ignoring the roar of voices, stopping to wave before I opened it.
On the other side, I sagged against the door as St. Hivon step forward and slapped my shoulder. “There are a lot of people inOttawawho need to watch their backs if you decide to go into politics after this is over. That was really well played, Ian. Like you’ve been doing it for years. There’s nothing you said that’s even slightly untrue. Not spin, exactly, but close enough to reality that it will play very well.”
It hadn’t been that good. It hadn’t been good at all. And I had lied, once. The Ambassadors hadn’t agreed to take anything slow, or even to come back to the table. And as I walked off the stage, I’d been sure everyone could see that in my face. “I’m glad you enjoyed it, Antoine, but I feel like I need that bucket, now.”
He pointed to the floor beside me where a bright red plastic bucket waited, just in case. I didn’t reach for it quite yet, but would have if he’d reminded me how often I’d be standing at the podium for the next little while. I looked back up and he shrugged. “Thought you were joking, but I didn’t really want to take the chance. The real question is: are they coming back to the table tomorrow?”
I let out a long sigh. “I hope so. The three of us will be up pretty late tonight talking strategy and we’ll pull every trick we can come up with to get the Ambassadors back in the room. They’re not making any motions to leave without us, so there’s still hope. If not tomorrow, then the next day. I’ll keep after Ambassador Mahyul until she kicks me off the ship.”
The question in his eyes, the one he didn’t want to ask out loud, was why did I care so much? A good question, and one I’d asked myself plenty of times. The benefits to Earth only partly hinged on a successful conclusion to the peace conference. If the aliens did pack up and leave tonight, we’d still get a handful of things that would have immediate and long term benefits across the globe. In their eyes, we’d invested time and resources and so should be compensated. Sure, we’d get more if the aliens held it together long enough to sign a treaty, but we weren’t off to a promising start and Earth didn’t really have anything invested in the war ending. We were a long way from interstellar travel ourselves.
Sharon told me a lot of polls said a significant fraction of humanity didn’t care how things worked out but just as many were prepared to take sides. Silly, but it was human nature to pick a winner or a favourite based on appearance, proximity, or some instinct that only made sense if you left it alone. My thought was we’d have four winners, us included, or one, and the one might be up for debate. If the conference failed, would any of our visitors try to convince us to take sides? Would we wait for them to ask? I didn’t want to think about either question. And even if they didn’t, we’d be out there someday and they’d remember our choices.
Antoine smiled and told me I was persistent. “You’ve come a long way from that day on the pier, Ian. You were wasted in a cubicle.”
I laughed and it was an honest one this time. “Maybe, but I enjoyed what I did and I was good at it. Some days I even miss it. And look what it took to bring me out of the cubicle. If I hadn’t taken that walk at lunch, I never would have known any better.”
“Sometimes, it’s all about timing.”
I had a difficult time arguing with that. My stomach clenched and I eyed the bucket again, wondering if I should take it with me.
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