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Authors: E. M. Foner

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Guest Night on Union Station

BOOK: Guest Night on Union Station
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Guest Night on Union Station

 

Book Eight of EarthCent Ambassador

 

Copyright 2015 by E. M. Foner

One

 

“In conclusion, it is the view of Union Station Embassy that our back-to-back hosting of the Third Annual Conference of Sovereign Human Communities and the upcoming Stryx open house is well within our capabilities, and I consider it an honor to be chosen as hostess for the latter event.”

Kelly cut short the final sentence of her weekly report to avoid running out of breath, and then she mentally tallied up the number of words in her conclusion. The ambassador had been informed by the president himself that students in the EarthCent diplomacy school had invented a drinking game based on word count of the final sentence in her weekly reports. Now she felt guilty if the report fell short of fifty words.

It seemed to Kelly that she had lost lung capacity since turning fifty, though Joe assured her it was just her imagination. To get back into shape, she’d begun leaving early for work every day and exiting the lift tube in the Little Apple, a brisk fifteen-minute walk from the embassy. That the exercise course took her by Hole Universe, home of the triple-chocolate donut, may have been related to the counterintuitive weight gain she was experiencing, but the ambassador wasn’t one to rush to judgment.

“An honor to be chosen?” Libby’s voice interrupted Kelly’s thoughts. “As the ambassador of the latest species to join the tunnel network and maintain an embassy on this station, hosting the open house is a duty spelled out in the End User License Agreement for your diplomatic implant.”

“You should change your name to Eula, you love bringing it up so much,” Kelly retorted. “Anyhow, there’s no rule that says a duty can’t be an honor as well. Which species hosted the last open house on Union Station?”

“The Chert. Unfortunately, they were still in hiding at the time and their ambassador refused to turn off his invisibility projector. In the end, none of the invited guests signed up for the tunnel network, though to be fair, most of our open houses fail to close the deal.”

“You mean the aliens who show up are just window shopping?”

“The tunnel network is a bit of a hard sell for species who are accustomed to living independently, but that’s why we’re so hopeful about this coming event. These guests will all be from the Cayl Empire, which is peacefully winding down operations after seven million years. The member species are already habituated to living with a higher authority.”

“Who winds down an empire?” Kelly demanded. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. Do you mean to say that the Cayl went bankrupt and they’ve gone into receivership? How can anybody collect a debt from a military power?”

“The Cayl finances are in no worse shape than usual, but it appears that the emperor has simply lost interest in being in charge,” Libby explained. “There aren’t many commercial ties between the tunnel network species and the Cayl Empire because the distances involved make shipping without tunnel connections too expensive, but we’ve always kept communications open at the highest level. The Cayl are the archetypal warrior/scientist species. They were never interested in accumulating wealth and considered trade to be beneath their dignity, which is one of the secrets to what makes their empire work.”

“Ignoring business is healthy for an imperial government? But that’s the exact opposite of the Stryx approach.”

“If you’re going to dominate other species militarily, as the Cayl do, it’s important to give something back. The Cayl’s distaste for all things related to commerce made them the poor men of their own empire. Some of the subjugated species have piled up fortunes by overcharging their conquerors for goods and services. The Cayl distain anything to do with money, and it’s truism in the empire that a Cayl warrior would never buy a drink in a bar if he could pay more at the bar next door.”

“So why didn’t all of those defeated aliens get together and use the money to build fleets or hire mercenaries to win back their independence?”

“And kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? It didn’t take long for any of the species the Cayl fought to realize it was more profitable to surrender and become part of the empire. Once the word got out, most of them only put up a token show of fighting to satisfy honor on both sides.”

“Well, if that’s the case, I guess it makes sense that those species would be shopping for a new protector. But what made the Cayl finally quit the game?”

“Brawn-drain,” Libby replied. “Although military training is part of their culture, most of the Cayl would rather spend their time doing scientific research than babysitting an empire, which is entirely understandable. The Cayl have built a unique society in many ways, but they’ve grown tired of always being the adult in the room.”

“So that’s it? They packed their bags and walked away from their own empire?”

“The member species needed time to decide on an alternative, so they took up a collection to hire the Cayl war fleets and garrisons to extend their stay. It’s actually the best bit of business to come the Cayl’s way in eons, but the emperor insisted on setting a departure date that’s fast approaching. It also means that we should have some motivated buyers on our hands.”

“So you’re setting up a temporary tunnel and inviting representatives from all of those species to visit Union Station in order to wow them with what they’ll get if they join up,” Kelly summarized.

“Yes, though in practice, there’s no one-size-fits-all sales pitch,” Libby explained. “For example, the Verlocks signed up so they could scale back their military spending, while the Vergallians were more interested in freeing up resources to extend their reach outside of the tunnel network. In truth, accepting the Vergallians was a bit of an experiment that we’re still assessing.”

“How about the Hortens?”

“The Hortens joined for the Stryxnet, which is to say, they had run out of bandwidth for some of the massive multi-user games they play. The Drazens joined because they were allies with the Hortens back then and they were impressed by the food courts on our stations. Both the Grenouthians and the Dollnicks joined for expanded market opportunities, and Chert, as you know, are refugees.”

“Can you give some examples I’d recognize of the species that turned you down?”

“Although we enforce very few laws related to commercial transactions, the Sharf didn’t like the fact that we regulate the new and used spaceship dealerships on the stations. Before Gryph and the others introduced that law, the station bots spent half of their time out on search-and-rescue missions for careless shoppers who blew all of their money on a lemon and couldn’t afford to pay for a tow to save their lives. We even offered the Sharf an exemption if they would just pay for search-and-rescue on their own ship sales, but their dealership lobby was too powerful.”

“How about the Farlings?”

“I don’t think they believe we have anything to offer them, and they subscribe to the thesis that we favor humanoid species, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. They also nurse a grudge against the first generation Stryx for bringing an end to the Farling military expansion phase a long time ago, even before we exiled the Brupt for attacking our member species.”

Kelly continued to run through the other aliens she dealt with on a day-to-day basis, excusing her curiosity as being educational for her upcoming role as the open house hostess. “What did you offer the Frunge and the Gem?”

“The Frunge were won over by our willingness to reengineer space for them on the stations. It’s not obvious when you visit, but between the height of some of their ancestral trees and the depth of the root structures, we had to take out a floor and give them a double deck. And the Gem joined because we were willing to accept them at a time when all of the other species shunned them for being clones.”

“So if five species from the Cayl Empire end up sending representatives, it could take ten different reasons to bring them all on board,” Kelly mused. “Still, if they’re willing to come all the way here, they must be pretty interested.”

“We aren’t their only option, and it’s not every day that an intact empire comes on the galactic market. They’ll want to shop us against the alternatives, and there will certainly be a faction that will promote forming a confederation, rather than finding a new protector.”

“What alternatives? One of the off-tunnel species like the Sharf or the Farlings?”

“The galaxy is much larger than the systems on our tunnel network and their immediate neighbors,” Libby reminded her human friend. “There are dozens of empires of roughly the same scale as the Cayl. None of them would need to maintain such large military fleets if not for aggression from the others.”

“I thought most of the galaxy was overrun by Floppsies,” Kelly retorted. “You said they sharpen their teeth chewing on planets and go sunbathing in photospheres of stars.”

“I never said either of those things,” Libby admonished the ambassador. “I’m beginning to think you get your scientific facts from your son, who has a very active imagination for a nine-year old. As it happens, the Floppsies do fill a sort of a protective role for the species in the sections of the galaxy they control. They simply don’t allow outsiders into their space.”

“Why are you so sure the Cayl Empire species would be better off with the tunnel network rather than opening up their wallets and taking care of their own affairs?”

“Because none of them are the Cayl. Rather than my going into detail and ruining your first impression, why don’t you wait until you get a chance to talk with them next month? Besides, there’s a young man entering the office and Donna has already gone home.”

“Who is he?” Kelly asked, as she pushed her chair back and rose to her feet.

“Press.”

The ambassador fantasized for a moment about locking her office door and playing possum until the reporter gave up and left. When Chastity had launched her galactic news service for humans three years earlier, the ambassador had been the very first subscriber. It wasn’t until the freshly-minted reporters began showing up at the embassy every day that she realized how the news is made. Reluctantly, she waved her door open and called, “Come in.”

“Bob Steelforth, Galactic Free Press. Thank you for seeing me, Mrs. Ambassador.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have much time to give you, Bob. It’s my turn to cook Friday dinner.”

“That’s alright,” the young reporter told her generously. “I just have a few questions about the sovereign communities conference.”

“Before you ask, you should know that Daniel Cohan, our junior consul, is handling the pre-conference negotiations.”

“Great. How do you spell that name?”

“He spells it C-O-H-A-N,” Kelly replied.

“Let’s see,” Bob mumbled, tapping away on his tab. “Who? – Daniel Cohan. What? – Third Annual Conference of Sovereign Human Communities. When? – 8:30 AM Local Human Time, Cycle 3.25. Where? – Empire Convention Center, Union Station. Why?” He paused here and looked expectantly at Kelly.

“Why what?”

“Huh? I already have ‘what’. ‘Why’ is the next screen on my reporter tab. See?”

Kelly took the proffered tab and read the screen heading out loud. “How to write effective news stories.”

“My editor says I have to use this until it becomes second nature,” the young reporter admitted.

Kelly sighed. She’d suspected for some time that the Union Station editor of the Galactic Free Press had been taking advantage of her good nature to break in cub reporters, but this was getting ridiculous.

“Is this your first assignment, Bob?”

“For the Galactic Free Press it is. They hired me because I had four years of experience on the Humans desk for the Grenouthians, but this is completely different. The bunnies didn’t think anything we did was important enough for interviews or analysis. They just wanted a lot of immersive video of disasters and crimes of passion. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Good for you,” Kelly said, warming to the young reporter. “Half of my job is trying to convince aliens that we’re not the species the Grenouthians make us out to be. So, do you want to know why Daniel is in charge of the conference, or why the conference is taking place?”

“Uh, why the conference is taking place,” Bob replied. After a moment’s hesitation, he added, “The editor told me that I should get a quote if possible. On the record.”

“This will be the third conference of sovereign human communities hosted on Union Station,” Kelly said, starting at the beginning for the young man. “The original participants came from recently established colonies on relatively local terraformed worlds belonging to the Dollnicks and the Drazens, and there was a delegation from a human academy on a Verlock world as well. The second year, Junior Consul Cohan reached out to human communities on open worlds throughout the tunnel network. Nearly two hundred local governments participated, though many of those represented different communities from the same worlds.”

“Why the conference? What are they trying to accomplish?”

“The main attraction at present is establishing commercial ties with one another and looking for ways to reduce overhead costs through sharing resources. For example, CoSHC already leases a Stryxnet connection for member use, which is cheaper than renting bandwidth from the species whose planets they’re living on.”

“CoSHC is the Conference of Sovereign Human Communities?”

“Exactly,” Kelly said. “We use a lot of acronyms in diplomacy.”

BOOK: Guest Night on Union Station
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