Heart is of the river
Body is the mountain
Spirit is the sunlight
Turn the world around
We are of the spirit
Truly of the spirit
Only can the spirit
Turn the world around
Paper had significance for everyone. That was something we all had in common.
Electronic copies of the Treaty, and all its codexes, would go forth and multiply. Aside from spreading across Earth, it would become the mostly widely read document in history on all the worlds settled by the Shalash, the Asoolianne, and the Hoon. At least, all three ambassadors were quick to say so whenever someone talked about the document in their hearing.
But an electronic copy was still only a copy. Months of talks culminated in four originals of the basic Treaty, printed on the highest grade archival paper human technology could produce, all to be signed by each Ambassador and witnessed by the Intermediaries. One would go with each Ambassador to his or her respective home world and government. The fourth would remain on Earth, sealed in a case resting on a four-sided pedestal in the room directly above the negotiating chamber, a permanent monument to what had been accomplished inGuinea.
The Signing took place early in the morning before the brilliant West African sun poked more than its upper third above the horizon. Dozens of world leaders and scores of representatives were in attendance, along with hundreds of delegates, envoys, and diplomats representing more governments than I’d thought existed, plus the United Nations. They overfilled stands built on three sides of the platform expressly for the Signing. On the fourth side, a sea of reports crouched, sat, or stood to film the proceedings. The quiet hum of so many cameras, a strange electronic symphony, brushed against my ears like waves from the distant coast. So many faces blurred together in that crowd, more than we could have crammed into a dozen of the visitors’ complex press galleries.
I watched the Ambassadors sign each copy, starting with their own to give pride of place to those copies returning home with each of them, shifting positions after each signature. As always, balance remained important in the extreme. The Ambassadors’ signatures appeared as the points of a large triangle. A second, smaller triangle below the first would hold the Intermediaries’ signatures, using the same positioning as the Ambassadors we’d served for. On Earth’s multi-lingual copy of the Treaty—English, Mandarin, and Spanish—the alien signatures held equal rank, appearing on the same line, and the Intermediaries would each place theirs below the appropriate ambassador. We waited our turn then signed in the same way they had, all at the same time.
A murmur rippled through the press as we stepped back. In a mixed crowd or any other profession, the murmur would have become a cheer. After a few seconds, applause began to spread through the stands as the leaders and representatives stood to recognize the achievement. It didn’t matter that it was far away, farther than anything anyone in the crowd had imagined outside of a story not much more than a year ago, peace had been won. Three governments needed to ratify that peace, but the ambassadors assured everyone it would happen. All three species were tired of war. They needed it to stop if only because they’d finally learned to talk to each other.
It gave me a burning hope for my own species and I wanted to think a lot of other people shared it. I really wanted everyone to share it. Sharon, still drinking in the news channels, not that that would ever change, told me most conflicts across the world had slowed or paused in the last week. Maybe the enemies in some of them would find a way to stop and talk to each other too. Maybe we could learn from someone else’s problems.
If we did or if we didn’t, life would never completely return to normal after the ships left, not even for a while. We knew now we weren’t alone and if there were three other sentient species out there, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to find out there were more. Earth had a lot to think about.
And our position as a ‘neutral’ planet might have continued benefits. Small embassies had been suggested with small staffs. We already had this convenient complex. Gargltch had suggested it might be possible to talk about more than just peace. Riptalektik’fa wondered if they could find a way to someday discuss trade. Mahyul mused out loud that she could see herself just talking to the other two. The Intermediaries agreed to make themselves available should any such conversations warrant their inclusion or if any of the ambassadors wished them present.
The universe, or at least our little corner of it, seemed to be overflowing with hope.
Sharon and I could theoretically return to our jobs, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I’d told Antoine I’d been happy in a cubicle doing work I enjoyed, but too much had changed in the last year for me to expect my old work life to be satisfying. Neither Talya nor Manuel had mentioned their plans to me yet, if they had any. Could she go back to being a teacher? Could he return to his quiet retirement? Our futures might be very, very different. Mine would have to be if for no other reason than the kids had made new friends. So had I, and not just among the Shalash. The Intermediaries wouldn’t easily fall out of touch. The world probably wouldn’t let us. St. Hivon had already hinted that there might be work for us. So had Ambassador Cunningham. Our interesting times probably weren’t over yet, and that didn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would.
As we stepped back from the table, I threw an arm around each of my counterparts. I supposed it made a good photo op, but I just wanted to express some affection for the two people who’d become my closest friends. “It’s been a strange ride.”
Manuel looked up at me with a lopsided grin. “My friend, you speak as if it’s over.”
Talya smiled too, letting her reserve slip just a little. We’d all gotten used to the cameras, I guessed. “I am certain we have much yet to do.”
I almost laughed. “You’re probably right. And a lot to learn.”
“About the world and each other.” Manuel looked out over the crowd of reporters, maybe wondering at the torrent of questions held at bay only by distance. “And perhaps about our friends from the stars.” Or maybe wondering about something else entirely.
“Do we know who we are?” Talya elbowed me in the ribs and I had to laugh.
“Maybe not, but we’ve got lots of time to start finding out.” The script started to reassert itself as a few shuffling footsteps moved up behind us. We broke apart and took our places beside the Ambassadors. Let the new ride begin. The applause grew louder, almost loud enough to drown out Mahyul’s voice in my ear.
“I will say it many times, Intermediary, but thank you.”
My face heated up and I tried to speak without moving my lips much. “I’m just happy things are starting to work out, Ambassador. I expect you’ve still got a long road.”
“A very long road, but at least now we are moving in the correct direction.” She hesitated a moment before leaning down to whisper in my ear. “It slipped my mind earlier, but I have received confirmation.”
I bit the inside of my cheek and fought the childish impulse to kick her ankle. With clear emotions, I didn’t think anything ever slipped the Ambassador’s mind. “Thank you, Ambassador. That brings me a great deal of joy.”
The reception started in half an hour and I had no idea what I’d say to Harry Belafonte.
Oh-ho! So is life!
Abateewah-ha! So is life!
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