We come from the mountain
Living on the mountain
Go back to the mountain
Turn the world around
I’d already forgotten the government representative’s name. His two assistants, or subordinates, or whatever, hadn’t done anything to identify themselves. What’s-his-name rubbed one temple with his thumb and sighed. “So let me see if I understand this. Aliens have landed, the most important event on this planet since the invention of fire, to negotiate a peace treaty with other aliens, some of whom aren’t here yet. Correct?”
“Sounds good so far.” I swallowed when he arched an eyebrow, and shrunk a bit in my chair, my human-scale chair. Less than two days on the Shalash ship and I missed furniture that fit me to the point where I didn’t care if the folding chair had been stolen from some public school’s gym.
Muscles in his jaw clenched for a moment; maybe he bit his cheek. “Thank you. The aliens have landed and they’ve chosen you to represent them. They’ll only talk to you, and you have to talk to the rest of the world for them. Governments, press, your supposed counterparts with other aliens. Only you.”
“Right again.” I had low opinion of public servants sometimes, of some public servants anyway. Most of them are people just like the rest of us, but some of them seem to feel they run the world, or at least their little piece of it, and everyone else is an idiot. This one, whoever he was and however he’d gotten the job of talking to me, was bugging me. Maybe I was pushing his buttons, answering rhetorical questions when he was just thinking out loud, but maybe he shouldn’t be thinking out loud and instead start thinking about that spaceship out in the bay.
He sucked in a deep breath through his nose, letting it out slowly. “They won’t talk to us at all, only to you. I think you can see how this seems a little suspect.”
I could see his point, but couldn’t he see the two Shalash standing behind me? Shaking my head, I shrugged at him. “I went for a walk at lunch instead of eating at my desk and wound up on an alien space ship. You can believe whatever you want, but I think my escort should lend a little credibility to what I’ve told you. Maybe how we got here helps, too.” We’d beamed in about ten metres from where I sat in the picnic shelter. Smiling, I folded my hands in my lap and tried not to sigh out loud. People in suits usually made me uncomfortable, since they tended to be people with too much authority over my time. I felt like I needed to be on my best behavior, but he was making it difficult.
So was my escort, really, the escort I hadn’t wanted. Captain Razush insisted, claiming the need to protect the Intermediary, to protect me. I was fairly sure they could have beamed me back at the first hint of any problem, but now I understood that my guards served a bigger purpose: making it impossible for the people on the other side of the table to ignore me. Razush and Mahyul probably had that figured out long before they’d decided to allow me out to see the government.
“Look… Mr. Cotta, wasn’t it?” I nodded. “The whole world is screaming for access to the aliens, waiting for them to say something. We’ve got pressure from the Americans and Europeans to let them in, and we’re holding back thousands of reporters, demonstrators, and UFO nuts at gunpoint. What do I tell the Prime Minister? ‘Sorry, they won’t talk to us, but there’s good news. They’ve picked a local data analyst as their emissary’. You can guess how that conversation might go.”
He blinked. “What?”
“Intermediary.” I cleared my throat so the rest of my response wouldn’t squeak so much. “I’m just a go between. They’re using me to help create a fiction of Earth as a neutral planet. If they deal directly with governments, those governments and others will start to take sides, for and against whichever group of aliens they like or don’t, and maybe try to influence the outcome of the talks.”
A not so distant whup-whup told me at least one helicopter patrolled along with the planes I’d seen when we first materialized. How much of the city had been evacuated? I supposed it depended on how much of the Canadian military they’d scrambled to get move to Kingston in two days. Planes and helicopters passed overhead frequently, and I’d also seen a couple of Coast Guard ships on the lake, presenting obvious authority but well away from the Shalash, plus a tank not quite hidden behind a closed restaurant. I didn’t know we still had tanks.
And I didn’t have to look hard to find soldiers on foot, either. Five of them stood on the other side of the tent, opposite my own escort. Two idiot voices in the back of my head started to argue about who would win a shoot out. I really needed to not think about things like that.
“Well then, Mr. Intermediary, what exactly do the aliens want? And just as important, what are they offering in return?” St. Hivon, the name jumped back into my head, pulled my attention to what I was supposed to be doing but didn’t get me any closer to exactly what that was. I wondered if I could work out some kind of spreadsheet.
Talk. Negotiate. I hated haggling, preferring to leave price tags to my wife, and neither Captain Razush nor Ambassador Mahyul had said a word about what the Shalash might offer Earth in return for hosting whatever peace conference eventually happened. What would Earth ask for? What would I ask for? I sighed. “Honestly, I don’t know. They haven’t seen fit to discuss it with me, but I doubt they’re planning to take orders or provide answers to all our problems. I do have the impression that any kind of weapons technology is off limits. The Shalash aren’t interested in starting any new wars when they’re here to end an old one.”
“It’s what they call themselves.”
“Shalash.” St. Hivon tested the name, giving it a hint of French accent. At least he’d have something to take away from this first meeting. Would I?
“They’ve already given us one big gift: the knowledge that we’re not alone.” I tried to smile.
Leaning back in his chair, St. Hivon grunted. “Only substantial in a culturally disruptive way. Chaos isn’t something I can offer up as payment and someone will suggest there should be extra compensation for that, I’m sure.” He shook his head. “It’s got to be something concrete, but how do we know what to ask for when we don’t know what they need?” Narrow eyes made me feel like he might be sorting through his thoughts to find some kind of leverage. Something stirred in my stomach and whatever premonition prompted me to bring my family aboard the Shalash ship suddenly felt really right.
“Come back with some suggestions and I’ll take it to the Ambassador.” I shrugged, turning my palms up over the table. “What the Shalash agree to isn’t up to me. I doubt we’ll get anything until after the negotiations are over, anyway. I think I’m really just the messenger at this point.”
St. Hivon nodded. “Fair enough.” The dark feeling retreated, not quite disappearing. Maybe I’d overreacted a bit. He’d be under an awful lot of stress to produce something, too. A lot more than I was yet.
The high-pitched voice cut through my thoughts. I turned to look at my escort, trying to figure out which of the two had spoken. One visor shimmered and disappeared to make it easy for me. “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“I am informed the Hoon have arrived.”
“Um, thank you.” Now if I could figure out how that helped me.
Turning back, I caught the slack-jawed expressions on the faces of two soldiers and one of St. Hivon’s assistants. A fair enough reaction at the first sight of an alien, I supposed, especially one who didn’t look quite alien enough.
A mission to accomplish, St. Hivon stayed focused on me, probably the only one on his side of the table not staring at the sharp, pointed face of Lieutenant Yinzik.
“The third species involved in the war.” I felt my face scrunch up a bit. “It’s a three-way conflict that’s lasted for several decades. The aliens who landed in China call themselves the Asoolianne. They’ve already picked an Intermediary and the Hoon will do the same when they land. One of my responsibilities, by the way, is to ensure the three Intermediaries get to meet so we can start to plot out a first meeting for the alien Ambassadors.”
“That’s well beyond my authority.” Deep crevices formed between St. Hivon’s eyebrows and I wondered if he’d started to contemplate the universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
“Do you have any suggestions? If we don’t meet then they won’t and there’s no reason for them to be here. They’ll go back to shooting at each other.” I shivered at the thought of a real space battle. Would it happen here, right above our heads? “And we’ll get nothing beyond the cultural chaos their arrival gave us.”
He said nothing for what seemed like a long time. Looking up at Lieutenant Yinzik, the woman leaned in and whispered something I couldn’t hear. The other man just sat, staring with his mouth hanging open just a little. St. Hivon nodded, meeting my eyes again. “I assume your schedule is fairly clear?”
I had to laugh. “It’s not like I’m going back to my cubicle any time soon.”
“Fine then.” He looked at his watch. “It’s almost one. We’ll come back at six. I’m betting there’s already a shopping list in the works. It won’t be ready yet, but maybe I can get a draft copy and some information on opening communications with China and wherever the third ship is landing.”
I smiled at him, trying to look happy around the sudden fountain of nervousness. Maybe I could call this progress. I bit my lip. “Um, speaking of shopping lists, I wonder if you could do me a little favour.”
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