It didn’t take long for Belgrano to storm into Ambassador Hunley’s quarters and demand a full accounting of what Habib had said to me. I also realized that I’d never briefed Belgrano on my prior conversation with Habib because so many other issues had come up in the intervening period of time that neglected to ever raise the issue.
Sparing all of the details of my conversation with Belgrano, since they were exceedingly redundant, we then began to formulate a strategy for Habib’s arrival. In the first place, we would sequester him in some room to wait for me to speak with him. We came up with some justification regarding my being bogged down with discussions with Emperor Grez’a. In truth, what I was actually doing was studying Belgrano’s treaty summary that he had transmitted to Habib when Earth Government, specifically Supreme President Zhou, had asked for our latest iteration.
There were, in total, 718 sections, each of which averaged four subsections and some of those had still more subordinate clauses to deal with particular issues that had been hashed out some time before. I knew about the more significant requests the Drezians had made. Surrendering most of Russia to essentially be a giant grub farm for the Drezians, giving up our first born males as incubators, various concessions regarding the location of Drezian bases and metaweapons, finally officially adopting Splorxx as Earth’s deity, and so on. Oh, and of course the Amphibian Reclamation Project that had been such a point of insistence from Minister Anu’ra. I wondered now that he was dead if they might drop that point.
The numerous minor requests governed all manner of trade issues, culture interchange, broadcast rights for Drezian state media, and even compensating tax payments for humans working on Jin’Drezia and Drezians performing work on Earth. It was all very thorough. Belgrano confessed that some of the more obscure points may have been left out, however. Those were part of Ambassador Hunley’s master copy and she had made many of her comments in a distorted form of Drezian. Neither of us could read it. I doubt even a Drezian could. All of those comments likely meant something only to her.
An urgent call coming through on my encounter suit’s wrist communicator interrupted our studies.
“This is Hun…” I began, but realized I was speaking in my natural pitch instead of the lower octave. Belgrano’s eyes popped out and he glared at me. I decided to cough and then repeat myself. “This is Hunley.”
“Ambassador, Secretary Bin Tawal’s ship is arriving in the main hangar bay,” one of the security officers announced. It sounded like an older man, but then again we had a lot of older men on the embassy’s payroll.
“Good. I’m busy with some communications with the Drezian government right now. You can send him to his room and I’ll send someone to fetch him once I’m done with my calls,” I said.
“Secretary Bin Tawal has been insistent that he speak with you immediately,” the guard replied.
“I’m sure, but it won’t be more than a half hour,” I said.
There was no response for a moment. Belgrano tapped his foot impatiently and began making a note of which guard it was. I wondered if he had the same fate in store that his one-time superior had suffered.
“I will pass that along to the Secretary,” the guard said at last.
Belgrano groaned once the call was over.
“This complicates matters a lot. Not because of concealing you or anything like that. Secretary Bin Tawal is as idiotic as any other political appointee. The actual substantive changes he probably wants could completely upend everything we’ve been trying to do here,” Belgrano fumed.
“Do we have any idea what they are?” I asked.
“No, but I can make some assumptions. Recall that there’s an Earth General Election next year. Supreme President Zhou appears to have injected himself into this. He wants a third term and, to do that, he can’t afford to alienate an entire country like Russia. It’s one thing to lose the vote in a country by a small margin. It’s entirely another to lose 100% of the vote,” Belgrano explained.
I’ll confess, I’d never even considered the domestic political consequences of these treaty negotiations. My mind had been so busy with other things, impersonating the most esteemed ambassador in Earth’s Diplomatic Corps, for example.
“That makes sense.”
“Indeed. That’s why I said it,” Belgrano sighed. “The problem, however, is that treaty term is completely non-negotiable. It so happens that the amount of space they need versus the number of people being displaced made Russia the single most palatable location. The land mass of North America is similar in size, but considerably more populated. And it’s a lot easier if we concentrate the pain rather than spread it all over the world. Yes, we could surrender that many million square kilometers in bits and pieces, but then we’d alienate billions of people instead of only 150 million.”
“So what do we do about Habib?”
Belgrano frowned and tapped a finger against his nose several times. He hadn’t considered that question yet. By this point, I noticed that he always became a little flushed when there was an issue he hadn’t worked out just yet.
“There’s a forbidden Drezian practice that…”
“Oh Splorxx,” I interjected, worried about where he was going. He coughed to scold me for doing so.
“A forbidden Drezian practice,” he began again, “that involves what we would commonly call ‘mind control’. No legitimate Drezians practice it anymore, at least no on Jin’Drezia itself, because the penalty is so severe.”
“Death?” I asked.
“Of a slow and painful variety. Imagine being slowly melted over the course of a week.”
My jaw dropped in horror while Belgrano simply moved along.
“I’ll have to send a message to the Sticky Tongue Matriarch. She has some Drezians under her employ who can perform the procedure," he said.
My mind was still hazy from the after effects of the Lug’relb poisoning, but I recalled that he had insisted he had no direct dealings with the Sticky Tongue, certainly not with the Matriarch.
“Wait a minute. You told me that you’d never spoken with her before!” I protested.
“Indeed, I said such words to you.”
“Then you lied to me!”
“What lies I’ve told you in the past aren’t important right now. It was true enough for what you needed to know at the time. It was only a momentary divergence from commonly accepted reality. Nothing I told you caused you any harm, did it?”
Even at this point, I’m not sure that was true, but I decided to believe it at that time because, well, I didn’t have any other choice. Believing that something he was telling me could actually be to my detriment would be more than I could possibly bear.
“But, what would we mind control him to accept? Do we have anything in mind?” I asked.
“The only treaty we want is the one that the Drezians will accept,” Belgrano declared pompously, grabbing at his own uniform like a triumphant figure in a painting. “Earth needs this protection and anything that stands in its way is a threat. It hurts for us to acknowledge just how weak Earth's bargaining posture is now, but no amount of wishful thinking or whining will change that."
As he said those last words, his eyes fell squarely on me. He certainly didn’t need to follow through on what that meant. That was obvious enough. After some further babbling, he left to arrange his contacts with the Sticky Tongue Matriarch while I was left to speak with Habib wherever we had stuck him. I wasn’t actually comfortable meeting with him at Ambassador Hunley’s office. With everything we had done there, I couldn’t be sure enough that the room didn’t have some indication of those incriminating actions.
Habib’s room was located only a few doors down from mine in the atrium, but walking there meant I would have to deal with another round of applause and maybe even some questions from embassy staff. It was actually only at that point I realized that Belgrano had never informed me what Ambassador Hunley’s friendships were within the embassy. I considered, for a moment, the possibility of just calling for another security drill, but I didn’t know how many of those Belgrano had done while I was unconscious. If my prior experience was illustrative, the answer was enough to cause suspicion.
Instead, I decided to enthusiastically wave at everyone I saw as I walked across the atrium to Habib’s quarters. I’m sure more than a few of them never really interacted with Ambassador Hunley and that being acknowledged by her in even the slightest was some life changing honor.
I opened the door to Habib’s temporary quarters and found him laying down on a couch smoking an elongated spiraled Quarmarqian Ijilithian pipe. One only used that for some of the strongest Quarmarqian drugs in existence. Seeing the Secretary of Interstellar Affairs partaking in it shocked me, but I couldn’t show it. Besides, with the room’s overall decorations, its violet and gold furniture and strange flowing holographic murals, Habib consuming strong drugs seemed completely appropriate.
He didn’t stand or even really flinch when he saw me. Part of that may have been whatever drugs he was consuming. Part of it was also that he had known Ambassador Hunley for the better part of a decade. I tried not to think of how many encounters the two of them had that I was entirely unfamiliar with.
“My dear Hunley,” he said smoothly, purple smoke trickling out through his nostrils. “Would you care for a puff?”
“I’d be happy to,” I said. “But with this damn disease…”
“Ah, of course. InshaSplorxx, that will clear up for you soon,” he replied.
“That’s my hope.”
He reached in front of him and withdrew a small secured tablet that had the Secretary’s seal on it. This meant that it would be the official record for the Earthican government. One a single one of those tablets existed and it was there with Habib.
“These are President Zhou’s alterations. He has entrusted me with making sure that we get each of them,” he said, his cadence slowing as the Quarmarqian narcotics made their way through his system. “Please, my dear friend, have a look.”
Anxiously, I reached out my hand to grasp the tablet, but he pulled it away at the last minute and gave me an accusatory glance. I froze.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Hunley. My dear Hunley. You must promise that you won’t share any of this with anyone until we meet with the Broodmother. Promise? Do you Promise, Hunley?” Habib’s voice alternated between stern and almost breaking out in laughter. I wanted to laugh at him, too, but at that point I also didn’t want to risk anything that would make him even more erratic than the Quarmarqian drugs were making him.
“My deepest promise, with Splorxx’s eternal eyes upon me,” I said.
He was satisfied enough to give it to me. Habib slipped into a brief nap as I scanned over the president’s suggested changes. As Belgrano suspected, the Russian provision had been stricken almost in its entirety. Instead he suggested surrendering the Lunar Colonies and perhaps part of Mars, now that it had been sufficiently terraformed. He also made some astonishing demands, including that the Drezians would commit to buying up to 50 million bushels of wheat from Earthican farmers each and every year. This was a positively insane demand. Drezians couldn’t even biologically digest wheat.
It didn’t end there, however. It got much much worse. He made reciprocal demands that Jin’Drezia would have to host a number of military bases to accommodate at least two Earthican space fleets. President Zhou’s notes indicated that this was important so that, once Earth had built up its military, we could project power throughout that entire quadrant. Considering how far we were from such a thing, it was a ridiculous demand. What Belgrano told me before was clear. Zhou was trying to extract anything that he could use to try to win Earth’s next election. I couldn’t believe how short-sighted that objective was. If Earth didn’t ratify this treaty, it wasn’t remotely guaranteed that we would make it to the next election. Earth’s offer to the Drezians had to be good enough that they would fight a war to defend us if we were attacked. Trying to have a “balanced” treaty completely ignored that fact. Even I could see that. Of course, Earthican voters are stupid enough that they elected President Nassim for four terms solely because of how magnificent his mustache was.
In any case, these demands by Supreme President Zhou would undoubtedly scuttle the entire treaty. I wondered if there was a reason for this, maybe that he had negotiated a treaty of defense with another powerful alien race. In his altered state, perhaps Habib would be so kind as to divulge that information.
“Habib, I was wondering, are we in negotiations with any other power right now?” I mumbled out.
Groaning, Habib shook his head as his eyes glazed over.
“No. No. Why do you ask?”
“We can talk about that later,” I said, handing the tablet back to him. “I should probably leave you for the mo…”
“My dear Hunley, you’ve seen me in far worse conditions that this…” he humbled as his head fell backwards. “You never seemed to mind.”
I can only imagine what he referred to.
“Why did you ask about other negotiations?” he continued to mumble, his head still arched back as though his neck had snapped in that direction.
“Just because some of these treaty terms would…” I wanted to continue, but I thought better of it. “We can talk about it later. Oh, Splorxx! Look at the time!”
He lazily lifted his head up and stared at me, forming a small toothy smirk on his face.
“You’re hiding something,” he giggled and pointed his finger at me. “You don’t hide things from me. You share everything! I’ve heard and seen it all.”
“Oh, stop it! You’re being a filthy Vog’waz!” I shot back, hoping to beat back both his lecherous entreaties and his prodding. Just then, I got a message from Belgrano that appeared on my HUD. I hadn’t thought I’d be pleased to see any message involving the Sticky Tongue again, but if they could do what he had claimed earlier, then I was more than happy to travel to the Endless Bog. “But I think you should meet with an important adviser to the Broodmother. I have a meeting with her in about an hour.”
“The Broodmother or the adviser?”
“I’ll try to clean up, then. InshaSplorxx, I won’t make an ass out of myself,” Habib grumbled.
I didn’t really care whether he made an ass out of himself or not. I didn’t actually need Habib to do anything but come along to the Endless Bog. All that I needed was Belgrano to make good on those promised forbidden arts.