Manuel, as the only Intermediary with security experience, gained over thirty years of military service, took the lead and agreed to be the primary interface with the government of Guinea, the centre of our triangle, in that regard should we someday be able to get into contact with them. “Looking at each of the requirement sets, I find that they are remarkably similar, with only small differences from one side to the next. It will be harder to balance things three ways—who will conduct first sweeps, and so on—but it will be an interesting challenge.”
Talya seemed happy to give up that portion of the organization, more interested in protocol and precedence. “We will have to find some way for the three Ambassadors to enter the room at the same time. I do not think any of them will give up priority of place.”
I nodded. “A switch or signal that opens three doors simultaneously shouldn’t be too much to ask. Something that won’t open until all three have indicated readiness. Or maybe something that opens at the appointed time so no one can stall everyone else.”
“Wonderful idea!” Talya actually clapped her hands.
“I also don’t think there’s any reason for Guinea to foot the bill. The more developed nations might spare a little bit of money and technology to make this happen to everyone’s satisfaction. It won’t cost that much.” I bit my tongue and grimaced. “Actually, it probably will, but if all of the rich countries throw in a little, it’s not going to break anyone’s budget, especially considering the potential pay off.” Talya and Manuel both nodded. Properly presented, I doubted any government would bat an eyelash, unless to score political points. I took a deep breath. “And on the subject of technology and compensation, I have an idea I’d like to discuss. On the face of things, it might seem a little dishonest, but I hope you’ll agree with my reasoning.”
Talya’s frown was hard for me to read. “You give an ominous sound to this idea.”
Manuel shook his head. “Forgive me, for I do not know you well, but that doesn’t sound like you.”
“I must agree.” Leaning forward, Talya’s image got sharper. “What is it?”
The left side of my mouth crooked up, not in a smile because I really wasn’t sure how they’d receive the idea. Sharon’s reasoning was sound, but I needed to try it out loud on someone else. “The Shalash have straight out told me they want anything they trade for our assistance to benefit as many people as possible. I have the impression that they won’t allow any of it to go to any one agency or government. They’ll make certain everyone gets it. The whole world, if they can. I’m working under the belief that both the Hoon and the Asoolianne feel the same way.” I made eye contact with both of my counterparts and drew in a deep breath as they nodded. “I think we should ask each of our hosts for different things in trade.”
Silence greeted my suggestion.
“My friend.” Manuel shook his head and the translator gave his words a little more volume then his whisper. “Dishonest it may be, but it is brilliant. And so obvious in hindsight I wish I’d thought of it myself. I do not know how much this Peace Conference is truly worth to them.”
I smiled, a little relieved. “Most people would say that no price is too high to end a war.”
“Most rational people,” Talya agreed, her eyes shining. “But you don’t have to look far into our history to see people are not always rational.
Leaning back in his chair, Manuel blew out a long breath. “Very true. Still, the things that they would give are probably not so huge to them, yet could make a huge difference to us, to our world, and especially to our poor. The Hoon like us, I think, and Ambassador Gargltch has said he believes we have potential, but would prefer not to overly interfere in our natural path.”
Talya’s chin bobbed up and down. “The Asoolianne say similar things. Mr. Cotta, I believe you have discovered an important idea. It does not make sense to ask each of our host species for the same items. If the three of us work together, we can be of far greater benefit to our world.”
Our world. Our people. We used the words so easily; they just fell from our tongues as if we’d always spoken that way. Had the aliens just gotten really lucky in their choices of Intermediaries? Or had that been part of the logic of the strategy, randomly selecting the first person their scanners came across to get average people? People who would actually talk to each other.
“I have to confess it wasn’t my idea. My wife suggested it to me last night.” That statement led me into a long explanation of how Sharon and the kids had come with me onto the Shalash warship, and while I talked I had the uncomfortable feeling that this was going far too smoothly.
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