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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