“Gargltch is unhappy, but he will return tomorrow.” Manuel didn’t look all that happy himself. The creases across his forehead seemed a lot deeper than they had that morning at the conference and he looked more his age than I’d ever seen.
Talya nodded. “Riptalektik’fa was difficult to convince.” It amazed me every time how easily the syllables of the Asoolianne ambassador’s name rolled off her tongue, but then I couldn’t even catch full sound of the ambassador’s name when he said it. “He believes himself to be the wronged party in this incident, but I think I have convinced him he is taking the moral high ground by returning to the negotiating table.”
“Peace is difficult to throw away so long as it is truly desired.” Manuel sighed and slumped back in his chair, slouching so far the pickups made him look fuzzy.
“Mahyul would only agree to a short session tomorrow, what would have been the afternoon session today, at most.” Some scrap of a thought in the back of my mind tried desperately to work its way forward but slipped away as soon as I tried to latch onto it. “I’m missing something. The ambassadors all seemed pretty upset when they left the chamber. I know that, theoretically, we’re the only ones recording the proceedings, but those recordings are available to the media almost as soon as things are over for the day.”
“Without translation.” With a stifled yawn, Talya leaned forward, putting her elbows on the table.
“So? I’m pretty sure all three species don’t need us to provide translations and you know they monitor our media in fair detail.” I shook my head. “The Shalash are pretty tight with their thoughts and feelings, but I didn’t have even the tiniest impression anyone on board thought anything had gone wrong. Did either of you?”
Manuel shook his head, the motion looking jerky, but he didn’t move closer. “Not at all, now that you bring it up.”
Eyebrows raised, Talya tried to grimace at the same time. “A brief stall in negotiations. I’m sure no one was really surprised. They may even have expected it. It will not surprise me again.”
“Treaties on Earth have been thrown away for less. The aliens are more like us than I would have thought when they first landed. All of them. But they’re not human. They don’t always react like we would.”
“Of course not, Ian.” Manuel laughed and straightened in his seat. “This isn’t Star Trek, after all. They are aliens. But you’re correct. They are more like us than not.”
Talya frowned and I wondered if she’d gotten the Star Trek reference. Maybe she just ignored it. “And yet very much unlike us. There are times when I find the Asoolianne almost incomprehensible, even after being in their company nearly exclusively for so long, for things and reasons that have nothing at all to do with their appearance. They do not look at the world the same way we do. Whatever else they may be, they are not humans in costumes and makeup.” Star Trek was pretty close to universal, I guessed.
“No, they’re not, but not one Shalash other than the Ambassador acted any differently than on any other day. It makes me wonder if they’re following a script, just not the one we negotiated.” That felt right as soon as I’d said it out loud. Had I hit on something? Manuel’s eyebrows shot up, but Talya shook her head.
“I do not know the Shalash as you do, but I think you may be reading too much into this. There are children on board and children are less good at keeping things hidden than adults. I’m sure that’s as true of the Shalash as it is of humans. The Asoolianne children aboard are no less exuberant and bouncy than yesterday. Could they have kept to such a script without slipping?” She shook her head again. “I am inclined to believe that such a first day was anticipated and we would have been far too lucky to avoid it in any case. And you have said many times the adults are very reserved, that their emotional reactions are limited at best.”
“I’m not saying anything different now.” I felt the frown on my face and tried to smooth it out. The three of us fighting would accomplish nothing and I might really being reading too much into the situation, whatever my feelings. “They are very reserved. Their reactions are visually limited most of the time. They do react, but the emotional suppression is a learned behaviour. The children are more like human kids than I would have thought possible. My son has spends time with Mahyul’s every day. They’re nearly inseparable.” I sighed. “Maybe you’re right and I’m trying to justify, but the Shalash are acting more or less normally as far as I can tell. No one is tense or worried or surprised. There’s no impression of crushed hopes or dreams, or even mild concern. It’s like this is what they expected.”
“Perhaps Talya is correct. Perhaps it is what they expected. The Hoon don’t seem concerned, either.” Manuel shrugged again, his palms turning up. “They are loud and emotional, but that’s hardly unusual, and they made no effort to leave, after all. None of them did. These can hardly be the first attempted talks if the war has gone on for so long. Maybe this is how things usually go.”
Maybe they didn’t have much hope left. “Which means there’s worse yet to come.” I let it go, at least out loud. Neither of my counterparts seemed worried, so I’d be the odd man out in silence. “Okay, then. What do we do when it happens again?”
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