Turn the World Around, Part 16

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Chapter 16

Ambassador Mahyul, having finally made the time for a meeting lasting longer than five minutes, asked me to read through the details of the shopping list rather than read it herself.  She’d refused to let me give it to her ahead of time, explaining that there should be no pre-existing bias.  I wasn’t sure how my reading it aloud would eliminate the bias.  What bit of Shalash psychology made that make sense?  What context did I need to understand?  A subtle reminder that I was way out of my depth, but at this point I just had to push through.

As I read, I edited a few things out and threw a couple in.  What good was it being the Intermediary if I didn’t have any influence on the dialogue?  If the Shalash only wanted an errand boy to run messages back and forth, they shouldn’t have expressed things so I felt I was expected to use my brain.

When I finished, Mahyul remained silent for a moment.  One side of her mouth twitched as if she bit her lip from the inside.  “This is a rather long list.”

I almost laughed and did have to smile.  “That’s more or less what I said when I first saw it.  They don’t expect the entire list in return for whatever cooperation they end up giving.  It’s only an initial position, a traditional method of bargaining: ask for far more than you could possibly get.  They expect you to be equally absurd but in a minimal fashion.  Negotiations proceed until a middle position is achieved that is satisfying to both parties.”  I’d practiced that for about fifteen minutes until it sounded natural.

“I am familiar with the concept of bargaining, Intermediary, but with a list of this magnitude, I am uncertain of where a mutually beneficial midpoint might be.  Half of what you have just read is still quite a long list.”

Nodding, I closed the folder and set it on the table in front of me, well out of Mahyul’s reach.  I didn’t want to her to see what I’d left out.  “I think the expectation is for you to laugh and send me back with nothing, or nearly nothing.  That’s the first round.”

She kept her face neutral, easy for any adult Shalash, it seemed to me.  “How does your government expect delivery of the technologies we finally agree on?”

“Something else to be negotiated.  I’ve explained to my government liaison that secrecy is unlikely.”  Actually, during the afternoon check in with St. Hivon, I think my exact words were something along the lines of broadcasting to the world.  He hadn’t been surprised.  Or impressed.

She nodded, slow and deliberate.  “That is good.  Our desire is for all of the beings of your planet to benefit from what we agree to in payment for your hospitality and assistance.  The compensations we agree on would need to fall into that line.”  Mahyul paused and I had a sinking feeling I knew what she’d say next, at least in an approximate way.  All nations were not created equal and how do we plan to deal with that?  “Your world has a number of climate and environmental issues, does it not?”

There was no way to keep the surprise from my face, but I think I recovered quickly.  “It does.  We haven’t always… developed in a way that cares for the environment.”

“But you are learning.”  She smiled, just a little.  “You should not be surprised at my opinion.  We have access to your media, and so your history.  Slowly, you come to respect each other and the world around you.  This is a hard lesson.  The list of environmental technologies was strategically placed at the beginning of your recitation and they showed specific thought to specific problems, many of which are in our past, but I think it likely that most of those items will result from your own technological development in the next twenty or so orbits.  You are learning and very quickly.  While we have no interest in interfering with your development, there is one thing that might be a possible negotiation point, and that is methods of wild carbon capture.  I believe you may take that back as a serious possibility.”

I flip open the folder and draw a circle around that point, wondering if Mahyul realizes just how big a thing that might be.  Similar problems in their own past, but she probably only had a historical perspective on climate change.  “There are also a couple of serious medical issues.”

“I recall.”  She leaned back slightly.  “While we would love to see a reduction of suffering, we are not able to cure your diseases for you.  The group of diseases you call Cancer is something within our experience.  Some research directions might be suggested.  The disease you referred to as HIV/AIDS is something different.  An immune system deficiency, I believe you said.”

AIDS.  Not quite the specter it was twenty years ago, but it was still a death sentence.  People lived longer with it every year, except in large parts of the developing world, of course, especially Africa, where it remained the grim reaper in viral form.  A plague, a pandemic, a killer.  A lot of people tried not to think about it.  Most of the time, I was one of those people.  “We’re not asking you to cure it for us, but your technology is so advanced compared to ours.  The most basic analysis you can do on the virus might save our scientists years and avoid numerous dead ends in research.  You could save millions with only a little effort.”

“I cannot say yes, at this time.  I will not say no.”

That statement gave me the first real flavour of the negotiations.  The Ambassador would use me as a sounding board for what might be offered.  I would be the arbiter of what those offers might be.  Things I wanted for the world could form the basis of Earth’s compensation package, if I spoke well enough for them.

I would be the Intermediary.  And that scared the hell out of me.

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Turn the World Around, Part 15

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Chapter 14

“Wake up, Ian.”  Lying in the larger than king-size bed with three sleeping children sprawled around me, I had a hard time prying my eyes open even with Sharon shaking my shoulder.

She had the wall on, volume turned far down to avoid waking me or the kids.  Probably the news.  My wife had a fondness for early morning news that had stopped bothering me a long time ago.  Now she hardly ever had the news off and I got everything she thought I might need to know in short, simple sentences I’d understand.

I could hear the low grumble of the anchor’s voice but wasn’t alert enough to pull words out of the stream.  Never a morning person, the soft comfort of the Shalash bed made it even harder for me to get up.

“Dammit, Ian, open your eyes!”

I tried, really, and almost got one open twice before I settled for just working ears.  “Too early.  I’m still asleep.  What’s the matter?”  I picked the word explosion out of the newscast.

“Someone attacked the Asoolianne!”

“The Asoolianne?  What?  Talya?”  Eyes watering with the effort, I pushed up on one elbow to see the screen and tried to focus on the video.  The barely audible commentary was easy to ignore as another recap began.

Each alien ship had dozens, or more likely hundreds, of news and amateur cameras focused on it every second of the day.  They never shut off except to swap batteries.  If something moved nearby, the world knew instantly.

In the early morning, just after dawn in Xining, a bunch of those cameras caught the bright explosion near the front—back? —of the shimmering Asoolianne vessel.  Fire and smoke, but no sound.  A few seconds later, a second flash, more brilliant than the first and lasting longer, made me blink several times.  When it faded, the dissipating smoke showed an alien ship remarkably free of damage.  At least it didn’t look any different than it had before the explosions.  Did we even have anything that could scratch it?  What level of arrogance or stupidity did it take to attack a warship that could travel between the stars?

The screen split, image of the Asoolianne ship shrinking to occupy the upper right corner of the screen, less than a quarter of the view.  In the remainder, we watched a group of nine four-armed Asoolianne in pale blue combat armour marching eight men in black fatigues to the edge of the security cordon.  The apparent leader of the Asoolianne unit spoke briefly and the network provided a subtitle translation.  “Do as you will with these.  See that this does not happen again.”  When the Chinese army had control of the men, the Asoolianne soldiers disappeared, proving that transporters weren’t a purely Shalash device.

The prisoner turnover shrunk to the same size as the Asoolianne ship and slid across the screen to sit underneath it.  Both sequences began to loop, but that was the extent of the actual footage.  The explosion played through several times then held on a still image of the undamaged Asoolianne ship until the prisoner sequence began again.  In the remainder of the screen, a respectedCBCnews personality interviewed whoever he’d found to answer questions at six o’clock in the morning.  There would probably be a lineup of politicians, military leaders, political scientists, and other experts over the next few hours, none of whom would have any real idea what to make of the situation.  The Chinese media, far more important to the world at large than it had been a few weeks ago, apparently had nothing to add, or nothing the CBC hadn’t already played.  Only the video itself really mattered to me at the moment.

We watched for a few loops before Sharon turned the sound off.  I spoke before I could yawn, before she could be worried out loud.  “It can’t happen here.”  Squeezing my eyes shut for a couple of seconds, I cricked my neck to each side then let the yawn out.  My cheek brushed against a small blonde head and I looked at the clock in one corner of the screen.  6:07 and three children still slept in the bed.  In our bed.  We probably had fifteen or twenty minutes if we could stay quiet.

“How do you know?”  The strain in her voice pulled me a little closer to being awake, and I slid myself up high enough that I could wrap an arm around her.

“Because this isn’t China.”  A simple answer.  A simplistic answer.  Also the right answer, I hoped.  It couldn’t happen here.  If the Shalash suffered an attack, it wouldn’t be by a small group of people with a small bomb, but with all the military might that could be thrown against them by the aggressor.

I thought about China, and Xining’s location in more or less the middle of the country.  I remembered Tibet and didn’t come up with any of the countries touching its borders other than Mongolia and Russia.  Jealousy and fear could prompt an attack, I supposed, but China was a superpower more or less.  Who had the ability or willpower?

I thought about Canada, with one real neighbor: the United States.  Neither country would allow anything or anyone through the security cordon.  The Canadian military could be counted as effective, but it’s a big country with a small population for its side.  How much of our military had concentrated around Kingston?  How much of the city had been evacuated?  To satisfy my wife at the moment, not enough and not much, in that order, but the States, I knew, had plenty of assets just out of my sight.  I wasn’t worried, much.

I doubted anything short of a nuclear weapon could do any real damage to the Shalash ship, but there were plenty of people around, and not just soldiers.  Doubts sprang into my mind, paranoia and human nature asserting itself.

Nothing would happen here.  It couldn’t.

Chapter 15

Captain Razush gave me a very human shrug.  “I find I can bear any hardships the Asoolianne encounter remarkably well.  Equally the Hoon.  It can only be laxity on their part.  Such an attack could not happen here even if the attackers managed to slip through the perimeter set up by your human forces, which I find unlikely.  Our sensors have pinpointed every projectile or explosive device in the city.  Their technology is at a similar level to ours.”

“What about improvised devices?”

The Captain looked at me, as expressionless as always.  “Such devices would require a detonator which is also an explosive device.  It would not get close enough to the Shalan Triumphant to be allowed to detonate.  If, for some reason, we let such a thing happen, I do not believe any of your portable explosive devices would be adequate to do more than scratch our hull.  There is no need for concern.”

And that was that, apparently.  The confidence was reassuring, but I had to wonder just a little.  Had it been laxity on the part of the Asoolianne?  Maybe, like the Shalash, they didn’t believe we had the capability to damage them at all. If that was the case, would they bother keeping such a close watch?  The Shalash did, or Razush said they did.

Or maybe I wasn’t thinking about this the right way.  Maybe the bomb had been allowed to reach the Asoolianne ship.  They knew we were harmless, but we didn’t.  Ignoring the bomb and then delivering the bombers a few minutes later would make a pretty effective demonstration of strength.  That actually made a lot of sense in a twisted way.  Some people might take that message away from the morning events in Xining.  A couple of days ago I wouldn’t have been one of them.

But whatever the Asoolianne reality happened to be, I was reassured by Captain Razush’s confidence.  A little.  Enough to reassure Sharon, Maybe.

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Turn the World Around, Part 14

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Chapter 13, cont

Manuel leaned forward, folding his hands in his lap.  “So, what do we do, then?  I don’t really have any experience at this sort of thing.”

“Nor do I.”  Talya’s mouth pressed into an unhappy line.  “I am unsure why the Asoolianne selected me.”

“I’ve given that a lot of thought and even asked Ambassador Mahyul point blank.  No satisfactory answers on that count from the Shalash, but I think it’s because I was there and said yes.”

Manuel shook his head.  “Who could say no to such a thing?”

“It was not a difficult decision.”  Talya’s shy smile dropped a decade or more from her appearance, but the smile didn’t last long and I thought I saw a quick shadow in its place for a moment.  “I do wonder what things will be like for me when the Asoolianne have left.”

“Are they going to leave?”  The translation software didn’t do justice to the worry in Manuel’s quiet Spanish.  “Permanently?  I have the feeling, or perhaps it is only a fool’s wish, that this is for more than just a Peace Treaty.  If things are successful, our world might become a meeting ground for the three species on future occasions, perhaps even with permanent embassies.  They could teach us much just by being here.”

“Our governments would wish for them to teach us much right now, before any negotiations are even begun.”

I had to smile.  “Is your ‘shopping list’ as long as mine, Talya?”

One shoulder moved up just a little and I took the gesture as a shrug.  “It is many pages, and represents the desires of many governments.  I wonder how they will share with each other.”

Manuel laughed.  “I do not believe that they will be allowed to not share.”

“And I don’t think our guests will give us anything that could be immediately turned into a weapon.  They may be at war with each other, but they’re a lot more advanced than we are technologically.  I have my doubts that they’re stupid or easily fooled.”  Not that there wouldn’t be humans who wanted to try.  “And the Shalash at least seem a lot like us, in spite of appearances.  They’re very reserved, but seem emotionally compatible, more or less, on the face of things.”

“The Hoon have quick intense emotions but it seems hard for them to maintain any of them for very long.  Anger fades as quickly as laughter.  The only sustained reaction I have witnessed was during the conversation with the Shalash Ambassador.  I found it very chilling.”

“The Asoolianne are a bit odd.  They seem to find almost everything amusing.  Except the Shalash and probably the Hoon.”

Translator pauses made it a slow conversation, but we made it strange on our own.  We represented three different continents, three different societies, and three very different backgrounds, but we somehow didn’t manage to bring any suspicions or rivalries, or even very much cultural baggage to the table.  Tables.  No one else in the world could relate, no one else shared the same position: Intermediary between an alien species and the human race, or whatever portion of it could pull itself to the table’s periphery in each place.  Who else could we talk to?  Who else had a real chance of understanding?  I had Sharon now, sort of.  I told her everything when there was anything to tell, but I was still the one who actually had to be the Intermediary, to talk to the government representatives and to the Shalash.  Talya and Manuel shared that, so we had to talk to each other and, more importantly, listen.

We took half an hour to get comfortable with each other and the technology, slowly working our way back to why we sat at the same metaphorical table.  When we got there, we all knew we needed to start figuring out what had to be done, what was involved in putting a peace conference together.  Thinking about our collective backgrounds, it didn’t matter that we were working on behalf of three alien species.  It wouldn’t have been any easier trying to figure things out for three disparate human groups.

“How long they will wait for us to begin?”  Manuel leaned forward, lips scrunched up on one side.  “We should take some initiative, I think.  Perhaps we should each go back to our hosts to get a list of security and comfort requirements for an initial meeting between them.”

“Is that enough?” Talya drummed the fingers of her left hand on the table.  Through the table.  Watching her fingers, I guessed that the table on the Asoolianne ship had to be about an inch shorter than this one.  “I do not think that the Asoolianne will go to the Hoon or the Shalash.  A list of suggested locations is perhaps in order.”

“None will go to the others, I wager.”  Manuel frowned.  “The word ‘neutral’ has been used much in my hearing.  The places they have chosen to land take some of that neutrality away, at least locally.”

I nodded.  “Balance seems to be very important.”  A thought popped into my head that seemed a little too obvious once I’d had it, but I couldn’t let it go without voicing it.  “I wonder… if we look at the three ships as the points of a triangle, where would the centre be?”

“Somewhere in Western Africa!”  The translator didn’t do justice to Talya’s excitement, but the emotion came through in the volume-reduced Russian preceding it.  “It is perfect!  Africa is always forgotten by everyone.”

It was perfect, but I needed an atlas.  “I’m going to get the Shalash computer to draw that triangle, and maybe do it myself, too.  If both of you would do the same, I’d feel better with three rulers giving the same answer.  Then we can start figuring out how to actually talk to the appropriate government agencies.”  We had something.  Not much, but it felt really good to have somewhere to start, not that I had a clue just how big a project this was going to be.

Manuel suggested we meet again at the same time tomorrow to share measurements and discuss results and next steps.

“Could we do it several hours earlier?” Talya yawned around a smile and I realized just how many yawns I’d seen in the last hour.  “It is rather late here and I would like to be fully awake for our meetings.”  Time zones.  Eastern for me.  I didn’t know if Manuel was in Pacific or Mountain or whatever they called them in Argentina.  How many hours ahead was Xining?  It couldn’t be that far, could it?

“Three hours enough?”  Would that make Manuel get up early?  But he didn’t object.  Time zones.  Something else to worry about.

She nodded.  “That will be fine.”

We all said goodbye and the holograms disappeared.  I sat in the too tight chair and let the magnitude of the job sink in:  a peace conference in Africa to stop a war between three interstellar alien species.  It was nice to have help, but how the hell were the three of us going to pull it off?

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Turn the World Around, Part 13

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Chapter 13

Four hours, twenty-three minutes, and seventeen seconds after Ambassador Mahyul broke contact with the Hoon ambassador, the Asoolianne Intermediary initiated contact.

My Shalash escort showed me to a small conference room very much like the one I’d first met the Ambassador in.  It seemed ideal for a three-sided conversation, except there was only one chair at the small triangular table.  A lumpy, knobby cube in corner of the room was supposed to take care of all my communications needs.  I’d been assured the device would provide not just a running translation with the other two Intermediaries, but also project holographic images of them and record the entire conversation to a private data storage location for later analysis if I felt the need.  Someone would have to show me how that part worked, though.  The Asoolianne and Hoon were to provide their Intermediaries with similar equipment, so it could be almost like having a conversation with people in the same room as long as no one tried to shake hands.

My escort–I thought her name was Sanzik but she’d only said it once, and quietly–brought me to the little room five minutes or so before the appointed time, remaining nearby in case I needed assistance, but had instructions to wait outside until I came out.  When the meeting ended, she’d help me find my way back to my quarters or to Ambassador Mahyul, whichever seemed appropriate.  I figured the second option more likely.

The woman’s sudden appearance caught me by surprise.  Her projection included the chair she sat in, and I felt a spark of jealousy that hers seemed more or less the right size for her body.  Trying to ignore that unfairness, I held onto the thought of how remarkably complete the projection was.  She didn’t seem quite solid, but about mid way between Star Wars and Star Trek holographic technology.  No flickering, but still a little on the transparent side.  In the right venue, she would have made a good ghost.

Straight blonde hair pulled into a tight pony tail made her features seem a little sharper than they probably were.  The frown creasing her forehead did nothing to soften her expression or mitigate her surprise.  I guessed her to be at least a few years older than me and wondered what she her life had been like before the galactic spanning alien conflict came to Earth.

“Holy father!”  A little more reserved than what went through my mind.  “I did not think it would work.”  Like anything live I’d ever listened to in translation, the English lagged a little behind her actual voice, but Shalash computer technology went far beyond standard human translations, I guess.  It devoted some processing capacity to lowering the volume of her actual words, but then used a lot more to give the unaccented English translation a voice very close in pitch and tone to the one she actually spoke with, so far as my ears could tell.  Emotions probably wouldn’t come through completely, but it was the next best thing to learning a new language on the spot.

“I’m a little surprised myself.”  A man appeared on the empty side of the table, seated in a chair twice as wide as he needed it to be, and my mouth snapped shut before I could say anything else.  White-haired with a light beard, he had very pale skin with just a tiny hint of brown underlying it.  I put him in his sixties at least, but his bright eyes held the barely contained joy of a six-year-old on Christmas morning.  I wonder if my eyes looked like that because my own awe hadn’t nearly worn off yet.  Every few minutes, wherever I was, the kid living in my brain reminded me I was on an alien space ship.

We looked back and forth at each other for a long moment and I guessed they’d gotten just as much coaching and information from their hosts as I had from mine.  ‘Go organize a peace conference.’  This would either be very interesting or filled with long, awkward silences.  I’d actually rehearsed what I wanted to say, at least to start with, and hoped we’d find things to talk about after that.  I smiled and tried to make eye contact with both of them at the same time.  “Okay, I’ll go first.  My name is Ian Cotta and I’m the Intermediary for the Shalash.  I’m a data analyst living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  I’m forty years old, married and have three children.  I have no idea where to start and the Shalash, while friendly enough, have told me very little about anything.”

The man spoke first.  “My name is Manuel Hachez and my hosts are the Hoon.  I am a retired soldier of the Argentine Army, living in Rawson, Chibut Province.  My four children have so far provided me with nine grandchildren.  While the Hoon have been very friendly, they have told me little other than that I am to work with the two of you in organizing negotiations to help them end a long-running war with the Asoolianne and the Shalash.”

The woman nodded and picked up as soon as Manuel finished.  “I am Talya Vorishkova and I am an unmarried teacher of the Russian language and literature at Qinghai University in Xining, Qinghai Province.  In China.  Obviously, I am here on behalf of the Asoolianne, strange and interesting beings who seem happy to answer any questions asked, but I have already found those answers do not always satisfy.”  I let Talya’s first sentence roll around in my head.  The Asoolianne landed in what I guessed to be a decent sized city in China since it had a university, and the chosen Intermediary was not Chinese.  I couldn’t begin to guess at the political ramifications.

We stared at each other for a few more seconds.  Introductions were nice enough, but, assuming we were all telling the truth, none of us were trained diplomats or had any idea how to proceed.  Ordinary citizens didn’t usually have experience organizing peace conferences or any conferences beyond maybe small ones for our offices.  I’d done that once in my career, but it was really more of a catered off site meeting.  Not exactly what was needed here.

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Turn the World Around, Part 12

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Chapter 11

So that’s what a Hoon looks like.

With three examples to look at, including my own, I was starting to wonder if humanoid might be the standard model for intelligence in the universe.  Might be better not to speculate, but it seemed limiting in a TV show kind of way.

One Hoon faced the screen while two more stood in the background poking at flashing lights with sausage-fingers.  The projection took up most of one wall on the Shalash bridge, but with everything on it scaled to the Hoon, I couldn’t really tell how big they were.  Each seemed to be about as broad across the shoulders as she/he/it stood tall, built along rhinoceros lines but without the long faces and lacking horns.  Large bone ridges hung over deep set eyes and their heads reminded me of cinder blocks rounded at the corners, or maybe squarish pumpkins.  Tiny ears sat too far forward and, as far as I could tell, they were completely hairless.  Visible flesh, shades of grey marked by spots and swirls in various browns, had a texture like goose pimples and I wondered if it might be natural armor.  They wore clothes straining at the seams, probably designed by the same person who did the uniforms for the first Star Trek movie back in the 70s, and in the same colour palette.

But I couldn’t tell how big they actually were.  If I arbitrarily assigned my son’s height to the one facing me, I’d guess it to be three or four hundred pounds of possibly armor-plated humanoid.  What kind of environment had the Hoon evolved in?  And why would any species in its right mind want to go to war with them?  But then, maybe he only came up to my ankle.

It had been a lot easier to wrap my head around the Shalash, mentally summarizing their appearance with the phrase ‘space elves’.  Pumpkin-headed disco rhinos didn’t quite have the same easy visualization.

The Hoon facing us, apparently Mahyul’s equivalent equal in ambassadorial authority and negotiating power, spat and growled for a long time in what I assumed to be its native language.  Unlike the Shalash on the bridge around me, I didn’t have an implant programmed in Hoon so it might have been a dog fighting with itself for the sense the speech made to me.  It didn’t exactly hurt my ears, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to attend a lecture.

Ambassador Mahyul stood a few feet back from the centre of the screen.  I couldn’t read the tone of her voice or the expression on her face and had a variety of disgusted thoughts with myself over why I should be able to do either effectively.  Hatred or distrust or greeting a long lost cousin, I’d have a hard time trying to read a trained human diplomat.  Well, probably an impossible time, but I managed okay with normal people.  Mahyul’s words I had to take at face value.

“I did not signal to waste your time, Ambassador.  The humans are a fractured people of many nation states.  The government hosting your vessel is not ready to communicate with the government hosting mine.  Without the ability of the Intermediaries to communicate, we accomplish nothing here.  How long will the truce hold without true negotiation?  I ask only that you provide access to a specific wavelength and frequency for your Intermediary.  We will provide the same and I will also make the request of the Asoolianne.  Are you so fond of war, Ambassador?  Shall we not allow the little we were able to agree to?”

The Hoon ambassador leaned toward whatever passed for a camera, blinking rapidly and not speaking for a few seconds.  I started to hear my own heart pounding before its mouth moved.  Grunt, growl, hiss, spit.  It—he? —now sounded like one half of a cat fight involving very large cats.  Why had I thought of a dog before?

“Thank you, Ambassador.  Would you like to join me in contacting the Asoolianne?  It might go easier if we call together.”

Growl, spit, gnashing of teeth.

Mahyul bowed just enough for me to see it as agreement.  “You are likely correct.  We would not want a joint contact to be interpreted as a threatening gesture.  Shall we select a time for our Intermediaries to establish initial communications?”

Hack, cough, growl.

“Thank you, Ambassador.  That will do nicely.”

The wall went blank and I heard words muttered somewhere behind me, words sounding a lot like, “Bloodthirsty savages.”

Chapter 12

The conversation with the Asoolianne—six-limbed creatures who nonetheless looked fairly humanoid if you ignored the antenna, excess eyes, and fluorescent pink skin—ran along the same lines and no smoother.  When it ended, Ambassador Mahyul had established that the first conversation between the Intermediaries would be initiated at the Hoon selected time by the Asoolianne communications conglomerate because the Shalash made the original request.  And the Intermediaries would have to arrange things themselves after that, communicating the details to their hosts.

Balance was essential and not exactly easy with three corners to worry about.  The Intermediaries would have our work cut out for us just talking on a regular basis.

It didn’t occur to me until much later that I shouldn’t have understood even the Shalash half of either conversation.  For me to hear English, Mahyul had to speak it.  At the same time, her implant had to take whatever the other language was and render it into Shalash for her.  Could they translate two different languages at once?  That wouldn’t surprise me, but didn’t fit with Commander Rizuk’s explanation of how the implant worked.  The other aliens could have been translating from English to their native languages.  Had their own Intermediaries been present off screen?  No, that wouldn’t matter.  They’d landed in places where the primary languages weren’t English, or even related.

It also seemed unnecessarily complicated, but maybe I was over-thinking things and the alien computer systems had no problems dealing with multiple languages from multiple species.  That seemed dangerous to me, having tried to read instructions for assembling a barbecue.  Would they trust several different computers built by several different species with so much detail when trying to solve an interstellar war?

It seemed very, very dangerous, and more than a little scary.

Thinking about talking to my counterparts that way scared me a little.  Yes, if we had to use human channels, we’d probably need six translators and have spies from multiple governments analyzing every word.  We’d never get anything done.  It all came down to trust again.  If a small computer implant managed for the Shalash, the ridiculously advanced computers all three species must be using would handle English, Spanish, and Kazhak, I hoped.  We’d be able to talk, at least.

Communication, well, that was something else again.

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Turn the World Around, Part 11

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Chapter 10

St. Hivon set the suitcase down next to the table.  Assuming his promises were good, crammed inside I’d find half dozen of each of my daughters’ favourite story or early chapter books, several middle-grade fantasy novels for my read-a-holic son, and a game console with ten games suitable for children ten and under.  If I knew where and how to look, I’d probably also find a handful of listening devices the Shalash would detect and deactivate before the case reached our cabin.  He set a paper folder across the table, sealed on all sides, with the words ‘Shopping List’ stamped on it in a large, blocky font like a ‘Top Secret’ file from an old movie.  “It’s extremely vague.”  He slid the folder toward me, spinning it around at the same time in case I couldn’t read the letters.  “And disgustingly eclectic.  Put together by a committee of scientists, engineers, and politicians.  Things we need, things we want, things we dream of.  Big guns, fairy dust, and things to save the world.  Makes for entertaining reading.”

I touched the file once he removed his hand.  It felt like normal paper, but I thought about commercial spying technology available at any hobby electronics store and wondered how much better actual spy agencies could do, even underfunded Canadian agencies, assuming they hadn’t borrowed tech from someone not-so-underfunded.  Some kind of bug in the folder, probably more than one.  “Anything exciting?”

“Lots.  It’s also a very big list.  Have the Shalash given any indication of what they might offer?”

I wondered if public servants developed a tolerance for arbitrary events working under multiple governments.  Unlike during our first meeting, St. Hivon didn’t bat an eye at my speaking for the Shalash, not that I’d done much of that so far.  He may even have had an easier time reconciling to it than I did, and I wondered what helped him make the adjustment.  Maybe the Asoolianne and the Hoon had also made their Intermediaries known.  Would there be some kind of media announcement?  “Not really.  They have said no military technologies but also noted several specific environmental problems to me.  Certain things have come up in conversation several times with the ambassador, but all they’ve really said is that we have some serious environmental issues.”

He nodded.  “I guess those are pretty obvious to everyone.  The first three pages of the list are brief descriptions of environmental technologies our team came up with, mostly theoretical.  Then come materials and computer sciences, space applications, genetic engineering and nanotech problems.  You won’t find any offensive weapons on the list, and not much directly defensive, but there are some things that could certainly have military applications down the road.  Most things can if you try hard enough.”

Hard to disagree with.  “My counterparts?”

He grimaced.  “Not much news there.  Argentina hasn’t yet admitted to their aliens having an Intermediary, but it’s only been a few hours since their landing, really, so they may not be playing hard to get.  The Chinese government, on the other hand, isn’t quite ready to cooperate.  Media reports a human being has been given leave to speak with the aliens, but that’s about it.  I think they want to see what they can get from the West, or anyone else, in exchange for allowing the meeting.  If the Argentines have figured out what’s going on, they’ll be in a similar camp.”

“That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”  But it didn’t really surprise me much, either.  Why should a government voluntarily cooperate until if figured out where its interests lay?  Then they wouldn’t be able to fight about anything with other governments.

He shrugged and sort of scrunched one side of his face up.  “There’s not much we can do about it except keep talking.  They’ll come around eventually, I think, and we’re really just getting started.  They’ll have to agree or nothing will happen and we’re not likely to collect whatever the peace broker’s fee winds up being in that case.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”  But I wondered if the Shalash could speed things up a bit.

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Turn the World Around, Part 10

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Chapter 9 (cont)

Children on a battleship?  Granted, a battleship with a park on a peace mission, but however much the Shalash might hope to end the war, they couldn’t predict how things would work out.  How incredibly irresponsible.  Words finally started up my tongue and I snapped my teeth around them.  Think out of the cubicle.  Try to see it a little differently.  Maybe kids on board could be taken as an assurance of intention.  ‘Look, see, we brought children.  We’re not going to start a fight with our kids here.’  Had the Asoolianne and the Hoon brought their children, too?

“They are.” Staring at the kids, I didn’t see if Mahyul reacted at all.  “Triumphant has sixty-seven children aboard of varying ages.  Most serve as apprentices to parents or other relatives, but with the ship at rest, apprentice duties are lighter so the children have much free time each day, though some of this is devoted to studies.”

I watched the first rudimentary attempts at communication, hand gestures and smiles.  The smaller of the two Shalash children jumped into the tree, catching the lowest branch easily.  “They don’t have implants.”

When I turned back, Mahyul didn’t but kept watching the children interact.  It seemed strange that an ambassador would have interest in kids playing.  “An implant is not recommended until the brain chemistry has settled into adult norm.  It is better for a developing brain to learn things for itself, particularly socialization.  An implant is likely to interfere with such learning.  Yet it would seem beneficial for communication at this moment.”

“Language is no barrier to children who want to play.”

The Ambassador pulled her eyes back to me.  “An interesting insight, Intermediary.  How do you come by it?”

“It’s hardly original, Ambassador.  Something I’ve observed before.”  I moved just enough to see what the kids were doing and still watch Mahyul.  All five children hung or sat in different branches, chattering and pointing at one another and things around them.  Starting to build a common vocabulary.  “We go camping every summer.”  Not exactly my favourite activity, but the beach was nice.  “The campground we usually go to is also a popular destination for tourists from Québec—the province in my country next to this one—where the primary language is French rather than English.  Kids who want to play together find ways to communicate.  They pick up a few words of each other’s language and add gestures to help get their point across.  I’d bet the same thing is already happening here.”  Five little monkeys swinging in a tree.  Actually, my biggest wasn’t so little anymore and the older Shalash child might as well be adult size from where I stood.  “How old are those two?”

“The orbit of our home world is a little longer than yours, but not so much to change reckoning significantly.  Their ages are six and nine, approximately the same as your oldest two offspring.”

Ignore the white hair and whiter skin.  Ignore the toothpick limbs and ridiculously long fingers.  Ignore all the physical differences and the supposed language barrier, because my children did.  The adults watched as the children played in the tree for a while then all hopped down into an impromptu game of tag.  Breathless laughter, some bizarrely high-pitched, and soon they collapsed into the blue grass.

Sharon broke our silence.  “They’re aboard as apprentices?

“They are.”  Did I read surprise in Mahyul’s voice?  And was that suspicion in Sharon’s?  “It is a traditional practice, less common than it once was, but still of cultural significance in many of the provinces of Shalar and its colonies.  Apprentice children are not expected to assume the careers of their parents as they were in ancient days, though a surprising proportion of apprentice children do follow similar paths.  The practice of apprenticeship is regarded more as a matter of personal choice in education.  The children learn both academics and practical skills and develop earlier the ability to socialize with people of a wider range of ages than those in traditional education.”

I tried to see how it would work translated to a human society.  “A little like homeschooling but not at home.”

Sharon nodded.  “Apprenticeship is still practiced in many cultures on earth.  In our society, it’s mainly done in technical trades after normal education.”  I tried not to smile.  Something I didn’t think of, but clearly demonstrated why I needed her help.  Her brother did apprenticeships as both an electrician and a plumber.  I would have remembered that an hour or so later, long after it mattered.  “The apprentices are paid, of course.”

“Of course.”  I had no trouble hearing the shock in Mahyul’s helium voice.  The reaction disappeared, suppressed as she pulled it back to a gentle, almost flat tone, and I wondered about the implant’s translation mechanism for a moment.  “Wages are paid commensurate with experience.  The amount of time spent on job related tasks versus formal education depends on the age of the child, ranging from two fifths of a shift for the youngest apprentices to four fifths for those nearing adulthood.  A beginning apprentice receives a certain basic wage, increased for each year of experience.  Beyond an allowance pre-determined by the child’s parents, the pay is mainly kept in reserve and awarded as a lump sum when she or he achieves the age of majority.”

Sharon wasn’t quite satisfied.  “There are places on Earth where children are exploited for labour, forced to work long hours for little or no compensation.  The work is often dirty and unhealthy, sometimes dangerous.  Greed motivates unscrupulous people and some nations allow such exploitation and shelter these people.”  Apprenticeship to child labour while I was still thinking about how neat the blue plants were.  Wow.

Mahyul locked eyes with my wife.  “Such occurrences are not unknown on primitive planets and have occurred in our own history.  Those times are long in our past and you will not find such conditions on this ship or anywhere among our people.  I hope you will believe my words.”  Her voice remained nearly flat as Mahyul stared at my wife with pale, intense eyes.

Sharon held the gaze for a long moment, then nodded and I let out a breath.  My wife always had something to surprise me.  I couldn’t remember ever discussing child labour with her before.  I was certainly against it, beyond a few chores I often let slide towards an allowance, but it had never come up before.  Sharon had strong feelings on the subject and probably a very well informed opinion.

Satisfied or not, the ambassador nodded in return.  “Aboard the ship, children have considerable freedom but their locations are monitored by the central computer at all times.”

I smiled and went for the joke.  “Nice for parents who want to know where their off-shift apprentices are.”  Microchips in the clothing maybe?  On second thought, I doubted it.  Shalash scanning or tracking technology probably didn’t need microchips or their alien equivalent.  They’d plucked me off the jetty without anything fancy attached to me, but then human physiology was probably very different.

Mahyul missed my attempt at humour, anyway, I think.  “Certainly.  Even still, children under seven must be accompanied by an older sibling or responsible adult at all times.  Your female offspring would not be permitted to wander alone.”

I laughed.  “Don’t say anything to Martin please, Ambassador.” Sharon jabbed me in the ribs with an elbow without taking her eyes from the kids.  Picturing my son off on a solo adventure through the Shalash warship gave me a feeling somewhere between paralyzing fear and wishing I could go with him.  I watched  the mixed group of kids running across the grass and smiled again.  Hard to explain, but I always found it warming to watch them make new friends so easily.  “But there aren’t any parents with those kids.  It might occur to him independently.”

“In fact, their mother is here.”  We turned from our parental moment back to the Ambassador.  “Siizuk and Malor are my offspring.”  And that threw an entirely new alien light on the subject, one that hurt my brain instead of my eyes.

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Turn the World Around, Part 9

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Chapter 9

Do you know who I am?

Do I know who you are?

See we one another clearly?

Do we know who we are?


They had blue soda bottle-shaped leaves and orange bark, but they were definitely trees.  The bushes beneath them had soft finger-length needles and the scattered flowers strewn between might have come from any tropical rainforest.  Around everything else and under our feet, blue grass grew.

The Shalash kept an acre of garden in the middle of their battleship.

At least a dozen metres over my head, bright spots on the ceiling radiated what I guessed to be the natural sunlight found on the Shalash homeworld, assuming that was where the plants all came from.  Not really an outdoor person, I’d never been that keen on bright light and this variety made me squint a little.

The girls ran ahead, determined to smell the flowers.  Martin stayed beside me, scuffing at the grass with one foot.  Faced with a garden, even an alien one, he’d rather have stayed in our cabin to watch TV.  I understood the impulse, but had reminded him of his age and blocked as much of the wall screen as I could until he clicked the off button on the remote.

“It’s beautiful.” Sharon’s breathy whisper surprised me even if I agreed.  Her hand, clutching mine until we reached the doorway to the park, relaxed.

When I asked for a family tour, I never expected to end up in a park and said as much to Commander Rizuk.  The muscles around his left eye made the skin crinkle.  In a human, I don’t think I would have noticed such a tiny change in expression.  For Rizuk, I just wished I knew what it meant.  “It is one of five.  In addition to the practical consideration of atmospheric cleansing, at which plants are extremely proficient, it provides a quiet, natural space for all crew members to enjoy.  Green spaces speak deeply to many Shalash.  Even a small controlled environment such as this grants much relief from stress when we are far from home.”

“Nature is important to our people, too, Commander.”Sharongaped at the tiny patch of alien nature, eyes tumbling from plant to plant even as she kept the girls in view.  “I think we’re only starting to realize how much.  Thank you for showing us this.”

Rizuk dipped his head.  “It is my duty and pleasure.”

A high voice interrupted.  “I am gratified you find the space pleasing.”  We turned to find Ambassador Mahyul walking across the grass toward us from a different entrance.  “Please allow your offspring as much freedom in this place as makes you comfortable.  You have my promise that they will find nothing harmful.”

I watched Emily trying to boost Sarah to the lowest branch of a knobby, climbable tree.  “Except maybe gravity.”

The Ambassador’s jaw muscles twitched when her eyes flicked to the girls.  “Perhaps.”  Her strange, pale eyes came back to mine, and I tried to read something, anything in them.  “I join you as my schedule allowed, Intermediary.  Commander Rizuk suggested you are unhappy in some fashion.”

“I didn’t know he’d said anything, Ambassador, but thank you for coming.”  I squeezed Sharon’s hand.  Please trust me.  “I’m still trying to absorb everything, but managing. My wife—my mate—is having difficulty adjusting.” Sharon squeezed back, hard.  That would normally indicate a later discussion I hoped to avoid.

“That is unfortunate.  Is there something we may do to remedy the feeling?”

I glanced down at my son.  He didn’t look like he was paying attention—he never did—but not much made it past his ears.  “Martin, can you see if the girls need help?”

His head tilted a little.  Only a nine-year-old could glower like that, and the thought in his head was plain in the expression.  ‘Take me away from the TV and then ask me to help my sisters with some baby activity?  You’ve got to be kidding me.’

Pretending I didn’t see the disgust, I put a hand on his shoulder and smiled at him.  “Please?  I’d really appreciate it.  That tree might be a little difficult for them.”

“All right.”  A big sigh pushed the words out of his mouth and he slouched toward the tree.  He gave each of the girls a boost, Sarah higher and Emily onto the lowest branch, then hauled himself up after them. I caught the smile before he stood up and I lost his face behind the leaves.  Commander Rizuk moved a little closer to the tree, obviously concerned about the length of the limbs on my monkeys, or lack of length in his mind.

I looked back at the ambassador to find her staring down at me like she hadn’t looked away.  “He’s coming into an age where if it isn’t based around television or video games, he thinks he shouldn’t enjoy it.”  I shrugged.  “It’ll pass in a few years, I hope.”

She nodded.  “There are times when the young require guidance but are unwilling to ask for themselves.”

That was a different way to look at it.  “Right, well, when I asked you to bring my family, I only thought about their safety and security, not about what they’d do when they got here.  My children are having fun, for now, but I think the size of the television you’ve provided has something to do with that, and they’re usually thrilled to be somewhere that isn’t home. Sharonneeds more than television, though. “

Mahyul tilted her head to the left.  “I think I do not understand.”

“Before you landed, I went to work and did things with my family.  Most of my friends are connected to work.  If I change jobs, most of them are replaceable.”  With a deep breath, I took the plunge.  “Sharonis really the primary caregiver for our children, has a part time job and does volunteer work.”  The bones in my hand started to grind together.  “She’s far more social than I am, not to mention much, much smarter, and I brought her here to be isolated, an alien among strangers.  I get to go places and talk to people.  Apparently, I’m going important things.”  My mouth twitched on one side.  “And I’ve more or less locked her in a cabin with three kids and a television.  Not exactly fair.”

“Perhaps I do understand, Intermediary.   I will return to my question:  is there something we may do to remedy the feeling?”

I took a deep breath.  “I’m not sure I know how to answer that, Ambassador.  I don’t want to be separated from my family, but it’s selfish of me to keep them here with nothing to do and no social network around them.  I did have one thought though.  Is the position of Intermediary necessarily for only one person?” Sharonsucked in a breath and I thought she might break my fingers.


Shaking my head, I squeezed back and looked her in the eyes.  “Cliché alert.  Marriage is a partnership, even when it’s inconvenient on the surface.  I’m the geek half of this marriage.”  I swept an arm around behind me, trying to take in everything.  “This I kinda get, but I don’t do politics and I don’t do the news and I don’t always get the real world.  You do and I think I’m going to need to know what’s going on in the real world a little more.  A lot more.  I don’t think I can figure out both halves of the equation by myself.”  And I know it’s not enough, but it’s something, it’s the best I’ve got, and I need you, Sharon.

She bit her bottom lip and I wanted to kiss her to steal that doubt away.  “Ian—”

“I don’t want you to be my shadow.  I’ve never wanted that.”  I’m happier as yours, but how do I say that?

“I know.”  One side of her mouth curled up and I wondered what promises she was going to extract from me later.  “It’s a start.”

I turned back to Mahyul.  “Ambassador, I would welcome Sharon’s viewpoint in the task you’ve asked of me.”

She remained silent, head still tilted, through the brief exchange and for a long moment after.  “By definition, there is only one Intermediary.  However, I see no reason why that One may not have an… associate or partner.  It is fitting that your mate should have that capacity.  Perhaps some space could be reserved as a working environment for both of you.”

For just a heartbeat, I’d been afraid she’d suggest a staff.  I didn’t want to say just how good I wasn’t at managing people.  Talking to people if I had to, but I sure didn’t want manager as part of the job requirements.  “And maybe a babysitter.  I don’t think that’s exactly what Commander Rizuk signed up for.”

“If I understand the term as additional child supervision, I am certain that can be arranged.”  Mahyul’s eyes drifted over my shoulder and both sides of her mouth moved up a little.

Shalash reactions weren’t quite as obvious as human ones, and they weren’t all the same, but I’d learned we shared smiles and frowns, and I thought I might be starting to notice other things, too.  I needed to be careful not to attach meaning to every tiny gesture or to humanize them too much, but I read something like pleasure in Mahyul’s tiny smile.

I half-turned to see two small Shalash, one nearly my height and the other a little shorter than Martin, approach the kids’ tree from across the garden.  Both had paler skin and hair than any I’d seen so far and wore clothing in browns and blues, a big departure from the metallic colours that had started to seem almost normal.  Civilian dress as opposed to uniforms?  Off duty clothing?

“Are those children?”  Sharon’s words stabbed me somewhere deep in the brain and I felt my mouth drop open.

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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Turn the World Around, Part 8

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Chapter 8


The door to the family cabin slid open.  With tall ceilings, a wide open expanse of carpeted floor and a collection of too-skinny, too-tall furniture, some soft and some hard, to me it didn’t look like a cabin you’d find on a warship.  The same unfortunate shade of pink coated the walls and ceiling, but the furniture came in earth tones, mainly browns.  One wall converted to a large TV, probably the same way as the one in the meeting room had, by alien magic.  I wondered if every wall had the capability.  What a spectacular playoff season that would make.

Some true genius among the Shalash had thoughtfully linked a satellite TV feed to the wall and provided a remote control with more buttons than even I needed.  They’d obviously studied our culture in advance.

A splash of random colours across a large swath of carpet showed where my children had unpacked, if I could use the word.  Sharon only gave them about ten minutes to gather what they wanted to bring along, but looking at the floor, I figured the three small backpacks had vomited half the contents of their bedrooms.

“Daddy!”  Three pairs of arms, two small and one not as small as they used to be, almost pulled me over.

“Whoa, guys!  Let’s eat the pizza out of the box instead of off the floor.”  I leaned in to kiss Sharon.  She accepted the kiss, but I could see tight lines around her eyes and her jawed clenched twice as I pulled back.  “Cheese for the kids.  Red peppers, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, and Italian sausage for us.”  I looked over my shoulder.  “You’re more than welcome to join us, Commander.”  Rizuk stood to one side of the door, quiet but maybe holding back a smile at my offspring’s energetic greeting.  Could he even eat pizza?

“Enjoy your meal, Intermediary.  I will wait outside so as not to interrupt bonding time with your family.”

It took only a couple of minutes to have the kids sprawled out on the floor with a warm, gooey slice of pizza in each pair of hands.  The familiar hand washing ritual didn’t take much effort, but still held little discoveries here and there.  Shalash bathrooms were surprisingly similar to human ones, or at least this one seemed to be, just with everything built skinnier.  I’d wondered at the lack of toilet paper until Sarah showed me the nearly hidden stash.  It took me a little while to agree to call the not-exactly-paper triangles toilet paper, giving in as much because the kids had already decided to call them that as because of function.

The three of them somehow managed to agree on an episode of some toy-promoting cartoon none of them had seen before, at a volume just a little too loud for comfort, and Sharon pulled me back to the other end of the room while I tried to stuff half a slice of pizza into my mouth in one bite.

“I can’t do this.  The kids are treating it like a vacation, but I can’t do this.”

Of course the kids were treating it like a vacation.  A luxury hotel with a gigantic television, no school, and an actual alien to talk to.  Plus I’d just delivered their favourite food for dinner.  If the Shalash had a few amusement park rides stashed somewhere, they’d never want to go home.

Chewing twice, I swallowed the wad of pizza and set the plate down on a thin table.  I pulled Sharon into a hug, not worrying about the grease on my fingers.  Telling her to hang in there wouldn’t do any good since it was probably something close to the opposite of what she needed to hear.  “What do you need me to do?”  Maybe she’d actually tell me.

Or maybe not.  Sharon laid her head on my shoulder and relaxed against me.  Her arms slipped around my chest and tightened.  “I don’t know.  What am I supposed to do while you’re saving the universe?”

I hadn’t thought of that when the Shalash landed, or when I said yes, or when I called Sharon and dragged her and the kids aboard the shuttle.  I didn’t think much beyond the moment.  I wondered if I ever did.

Sharon and the kids were always on my mind at least a little, but I’d let the Shalash shove them more or less to the back.  Aliens picked me out of everyone on Earth to represent them.  Who wouldn’t be excited?  Talk about not thinking clearly.  If anyone ever had a reason to forget everything, it was me.  But that was over.  “Maybe I’ve got an idea.  Have a little pizza while I find out.”  I let go of Sharon and moved to the door.  At a touch, it slid open and Rizuk appeared.

“May I be of assistance, Intermediary.”

My neck craned, I looked him in the eyes and smiled.  Whether it crossed species’ boundaries or not didn’t matter at the moment.  “Absolutely, Commander.  I need a favour.”

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Note: “Turn the World Around” is released on lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed in its current form, but not changed or sold.

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State of the Writing Universe Report

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So other than posting the weekly episode of “Turn the World Around”, and noting that I’m not spending an awful lot of time writing lately, I haven’t really mentioned much about my own writing or publishing for a while.  This post will correct that a little bit.

First, Alienology: Tales From the Void has just released from the Library of Horror.  I have a story in this volume (as do a bunch of other great writers), entitled “Common Ground”.  This anthology is a collection of SF-Horror stories that I’m both surprised and thrilled to be included in, and I can’t wait to put my hands on my copy and dive into the darkness.  Here’s the cover, and it links to a larger size picture if you’re curious.  Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca.

Tales from the Void Cover

The 20 minutes each day I’m allowing myself right now (typically on one break at work) for my own writing is typically netting me about 500 words, which I’m thrilled with.  Half that level will be acceptable, but my fingers seem to have minds of their own at the keyboard for that 20 minutes and things are working pretty well.  It might also be helping that the novel project I’m working on (the three inter-linked novellas), was more or less completely plotted in advance, something I’ve only done once before (for NaNoWriMo.  Yes, I’m making adjustments and adding or subtracting things as makes sense to the story.  It’s tentatively titled Shattered Dice, by the way, and is a military SF first contact story (sort of).  If I manage to maintain the current pace, the first draft could be finished as early as the end of July, which would be cool.  I know the novel I want to write after that, too, a semi-post-apocalyptic alien invasion YA story, with the unlikely title of Tashiik Dreams.

I’ve also just had an acceptance at Golden Visions Magazine, which will be very kindly publishing “Dragonomics” in their Winter print issue this year.  A couple of other announcements in this vein may be forthcoming as well, keeping my fingers crossed, but if I want too many more, I’m going to have to find time to get the submissions rolling again as I haven’t sent out too many stories this year so far.  “Dragonomics” makes 20 acceptances, though, and that makes me pretty happy.

End status update.

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