The First Feast, Part 24

Day 7. 42 pages, 17,780 words.

The human leaders moved confidently past their retinue of soldiers and greeted the Fleet party on the matting before the roof-access doors.

There was, Char was mildly amused and quietly relieved to note, no hesitation or question as to who should speak first. “On behalf of Jalah, the Pinian Brotherhood, the people of Earth and the Unified Nations and Sundered Commonwealth of America, I bid you welcome in peace and friendship,” Divine President Dolan Cavanaugh said in his local dialect, extending his right hand.

This was familiar ground from the transmissions the Fleet had studied, and Char stuck out her own lower left arm and shook Cavanaugh’s hand firmly. She was painfully aware of the frailty of the bones and tendons she was cradling between her fingers – as thickset and sturdy as the humans were, they were horribly soft and delicate – and was careful to return only as much pressure as Cavanaugh himself exerted. The Divine President, for his part, began with a gentle squeeze but then firmed his grasp as he realised she wasn’t about to break. Char reflected that, tall and willowy and with only three slender fingers and a thumb on each of their four hands, the Molranoids must have looked pretty fragile to the humans as well.

“Gadrion Aran Char, head of the Molran Fleet Council of Captains,” she introduced herself in the same language, having taught herself the basics over the past couple of months. “We come in peace and are honoured to receive your hospitality.”

There was a round of introductions then, each of the human dignitaries shaking hands with the Fleet representatives. They were high-ranking members of Cavanaugh’s political unit for the most part, although there was also one similarly silver-furred man who was introduced as the CorpHead of SynEsDyne, a series of esoteric syllables that Char recognised from her studies – SynEsDyne was a corporation controlling a large part of Earth’s power generation and distribution system, as well as a lot of its material resources, and ‘CorpHead’ was evidently its owner.

CorpHead Mercibald Fagin was not a politician, although the distinction was a fine one and he clearly had great influence. More, possibly, than Divine President Cavanaugh himself. Char was unsettled by the man, although she couldn’t have put her finger on precisely why. She wasn’t by any means adept at reading human expressions, but she got the distinct and enduring impression that Fagin, unlike any of his associates, was wryly underwhelmed by the aliens. He certainly exhibited less anxiety than the rest – to their credit, however, Divine President Cavanaugh and his underlings were admirably collected as well – on greeting the newcomers.

Char reminded herself that these humans were among the most powerful on Earth, and were probably quite accustomed to feeling invincible and all-knowing. Such self-assurance helped make the proceedings run a little more smoothly, but she never quite shook that feeling of discomfort.

Cavanaugh, meanwhile, solemnly shook hands with Gydanna’s huge gauntlet, and even smiled and allowed N’naba’s giela to shake him by a stubby finger, casting Char and the other Molranoids a little merry glance while doing so, as though sharing a joke. He was probably assuming the little robot was a pet or some cultural peculiarity of the aki’Drednanth, although the Fleet comms people had explained in vague terms who each of the visiting parties were. The human was clearly not referring to this data in favour of a more spontaneous and personable approach, and Char couldn’t argue with that. Divine President Cavanaugh was a public figure and well-used to putting on a show, and even this private event was no exception. He was also an experienced diplomat and statesman, which gave him a gift for setting strangers at ease.

“Come on inside,” he said with a wave of his arm once everybody was introduced. “You’re being polite, but I’m willing to bet your spaceships don’t come with smog.”

They followed the retinue into the International Ethics and Diplomatic High Commission building, Gydanna very nearly scraping either side of the doorway in the process.

Char, no stranger to diplomacy herself, had a positive feeling about the proceedings so far.

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