Author : Thomas Keene
“So,” the diplomat said, “is our offer acceptable to the people of Earth?”
I held my face in my hands and said nothing. The young lieutenant on my right, sat back down with another cup of coffee. The soldier standing on my left shifted his stance uneasily.
“This is a lot to… Can I ask you a few questions again?”
The diplomat twitched a tail, but said nothing.
“You’ve been surveying Earth for decades? That’s how you speak English?”
“And right now some alien space-pirates, or the equivalent, are hurtling towards Earth faster than light, and they’re due in a couple of hours?”
“We estimate they will take action in one hundred and fifty-five minutes. If they commence with hostilities, you can expect enslavement and…”
“Right, right. And you’re offering to help… With only half a dozen of you and one small ship… You’ll help by broadcasting a distress call to the Galactic Something-Or-Other, and the space pirates will run away before a peacekeeping force shows up to arrest them for exploitation.”
“Yes. Our asking price is five percent of your country’s yearly gross product for the next century, with the stipulation that no more than twenty-five percent of any good be demanded. You understand the time-sensitive nature of this predicament. We would have contacted a more appropriate leader from your country’s executive branch, but our atmospheric engines are very slow.”
A soldier passed me a memo. I crumpled it up before my eyes had finished it. Still no word from command. Phones, radio, Internet, all dead or jammed everywhere. Space pirates go for communications first, apparently.
“If it will persuade you of our goodwill, we will let you know that we are risking our own lives. The liquid assets and sophonts on our ship exceed the value of your solar system and civilization by two orders of magnitude. We are a tempting target for criminals, and we must either hide or run regardless of your decision.” The diplomat blinked for the second… No, the third time since we’d started the discussion.
“Right… And as a local authority, by your laws, I’m a representative of my country. And if I agree, it’s like everyone in the government approved it unanimously.”
“Correct.” The diplomat blinked again.
I leaned forward. “So what happens if I say, ‘yes,’ and you help, but then Congress doesn’t ratify it?” The lieutenant next to me half stood up as if she was going to protest, but then thought better of it and went to get another coffee.
“Well… For breach of commercial agreement, standard precedent is to exact one hundredfold as the injured party sees fit.”
I nodded. I hate politics. I hate meetings. I hate being up at three in the morning.
“I’m sorry, but I’m unable to decide due to my low rank. Please help us, we will be very appreciative and try to recompense you with trade agreements or mining rights or something, but I can’t promise anything. I’m sure you understand.”
The diplomat nodded, lowered itself to the ground, and gracefully padded out of the conference room. My eyes hurt just walking it walk on five legs.
The lieutenant turned to me. “Do you think they’re lying, sir? Trying to set us up?”
“Lying or not, they’re only offering to send a message to some authorities, but not actually promising to help out in any way. No way I’m paying that much for a collect call!”