Ambassador Kwan shook his head. “How is it that the best legal mind you have on this station is also a complete asshole?”
The station commander sighed. “We’ve been over this. His personal issues aside–”
“And I’ve been over this with you, Commander Reardon. There is no such thing as ‘personal issues aside’ for a meeting with the Norrians. It’s vital that we succeed in brokering a trade deal with them. You’ve heard about the riots in the Marian Worlds; the Norrian energy reserves could go a long way to making lives better out in that sector. But a single mistake is all it will take to end the negotiation, ruin the mission.”
“A single mistake in interpretation of the relevant laws would do the same, would it not, Ambassador?”
The older man looked away momentarily then turned back to Reardon. “You’re quite certain that no one else will represent our interests as well as Hodge?”
“I am, sir.”
The ambassador stood. His assistant, who had watched the confrontation silently, also rose. “Very well. Let me meet this man.”
They all went up to the deck where Hodge’s office was located. They heard him from twenty paces down the corridor.
“Did you even think about this before you started typing? Or did you just jot down the first drivel that ran through your head?”
Whoever was on the receiving end of this tirade apparently attempted to rally a defense, because a moment later Hodge could be heard yelling, “Don’t make it worse with ridiculous excuses. Go back and get it right, or go back to Earth and get a job more in line with your skills.”
A young woman bustled out of his office, her face bright pink. She looked at the ground as she walked hastily past the oncoming entourage.
Commander Reardon led them into Hodge’s office. Hodge pulled his feet down from their perch on his desk and shot to his feet.
“Good afternoon, Commander,” he said with a crisp nod.
“Evan Hodge, meet Ambassador Kwan. He’s in charge of the Norrian summit.”
The two shook hands and spoke politely for several minutes. Kwan noticed how quickly Hodge had been able to go from full meltdown to proper protocol. A pity that this wouldn’t be likely to help with the Norrian meeting. Being able to observe protocol just showed that Hodge was capable of controlling his behavior; how he treated his coworker showed what lurked inside the man’s mind. And that is what the Norrians would see, down to the last hateful thought.
Later that evening, with the Norrians less than a day from arriving, Kwan and his assistant gathered to review their options.
“The woman we, um, saw in the hallway is the only other interplanetary legal specialist on the station,” explained Kwan’s assistant. She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. “I reviewed her personnel file with the Commander’s permission. It seems that Mr. Hodge’s assessment of her skills is not out of line. No matter how much his behavior was.”
The ambassador rubbed his eyes. They were running out time and he was running out of options. No, he’d already run out of options. There was only one thing left to do that would have any chance of salvaging the meeting.
Kwan bade his assistant good evening and went to see the Reardon.
“You’re within your rights to do what I’ve proposed as commander of this station,” he explained when the other man balked at his proposal.
“Damned if that doesn’t sound like the sort of argument Hodge would give me if he was the one proposing that I screw around with someone else’s mind.”
“It doesn’t make it any less true.”
Reardon drummed his fingers on his desk. “That technology is intended to be used for serious cases, schizophrenics and the like.”
“Commander, given the stakes we’re dealing with right now, this is a serious case.”
Reardon pressed a button on his communications panel. “This is Reardon, get Hodge and take him to Medical ASAP.” He let go of the button and looked back at the ambassador. “I sure hope you can live with this decision after the fact.”
Kwan didn’t answer, but knew he’d made the only reasonable decision. Hodge was useless to the negotiations as he was, but with his brain chemistry altered and his mental state modulated to one which was more positive he could be very valuable.
Kwan was comfortable with the choice he’d made. He had to be, or else it would have been a useless choice, a black stain the Norrians could have seen in his mind.
The commander and Hodge were at Kwan’s door early in the morning.
“Here’s your man, ambassador.” Reardon gave a terse nod before walking away.
“Are you feeling well, Mr. Hodge?”
“Yes, thank you,” he replied. Polite, but then he’d managed a facade of politeness with the ambassador once already. It told Kwan nothing. All he and his assistant could do now was work out the approach for the negotiations with the attorney and hope that all went well when the Norrians arrived.
A chime from his room’s comm panel told Kwan that it was time for them to proceed to the meeting. The conference was held in a large room with a glass wall separating the humans and the Norrians, atmospheres acceptable to each within their partition.
After a brief greeting ritual, the Norrian ambassador asked permission from Kwan to form the mental bond which would create the true space in which the meeting would be held. Kwan assented, and the interior of the room was replaced with a large grassy field where he perceived all of the others to be as well. It was a place he found soothing and he wondered where the other humans, not to mention the Norrians, perceived themselves to be.
They negotiated for several hours. Multiple times Hodge cordially pointed out some relevant aspect of law which had to be considered for their agreement to pass judicial muster.
“It appears that we have been able to find terms which will benefit us both,” the Norrian ambassador said at the end of the meeting. In this mental space, the open field, he could seem to be standing directly beside Kwan. Kwan reached out a hand toward her, feeling a profound sense of relief as he did so.
But that relief trickled away the longer the she did not reach out in return.
“It is,” the Norrian said, “quite a pity, then, that we will have to refuse to do business with your people.” She indicated Hodge, who seemed unaware of the dialogue between Kwan and the alien ambassador. “There is an imbalance in that one’s mind, one not typical of your species. It has been altered, and that is a grave violation of the natural order of things.”
The illusory space fell away. Once again the humans and Norrians faced each other through thick glass. The Norrian ambassador inclined his head politely toward Kwan and then he and his party departed their section of the room and headed back to their ship.
Reardon was waiting outside the door when Kwan and the other humans passed through their own door.
“They’re leaving?” Reardon asked.
The commander leaned in. “Did Hodge mess it up?”
Kwan shook his head. “No. It appears I did.”
Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio where he helps keep IT systems running for a large corporation during the day and puts his characters through the wringer by night. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has had stories appear in venues such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Intergalactic Medicine Show. His website is http://michaelhaynes.info/.
Image by Iain Merchant