"Will we be able to feed the Ylfae and Winbaric representatives?"
Katja and Kubiri were both sitting in the central command center, checking various systems.
"I have already taken the liberty of informing them that they would have to provide for themselves on that point," Kubiri said. "In reality I don't think we have to worry much about issues of hospitality; we probably should provide for the Tanaver representative, if we can. But, difficult as it may be to believe, our inability to do much on this subject is to your advantage, since all the relevant problems are obviously prior to your own involvement. It places the clear burden of negotiation on the Tanaver and the Winbaric, thus minimizing your own risk. It will require a more patient and subtle game if we are to get the full benefit out of the situation, but with a bit of care, we should be able to handle the situation."
"The Taladac are looking for a compromise. They will prefer a solution in which they can avoid increasing tensions with the Winbaric and yet also not cross the Tanaver. The Syylven would like to force Taladac cooperation in renegotiating current trade treaties. And the Winbaric would like to have the system back. So here's a possibility: promise the Taladac that the Syylven will concede the claim if the Taladac in return make certain trade concessions."
"An admirable solution, but one that founders on the key point: the Tanaver have granted the Syylven the system and put you in charge of the station. It is extraordinarily unlikely that they did so simply in order to facilitate a trade negotiation. Nor would they have formally requested the Samar High Council to select a Consultant to help you maintain the Sylven claim and your position as Administrator unless they intended precisely this."
Katja considered this. "Then the real question is what the Tanaver want from all of this."
"If that is the real question," said Kubiri, "it is one to which we may never know the answer. What the Tanaver want depends on what the Tanaver know, and who knows what the Tanaver know? I think the real question is a different one: What do the Winbaric want? They are obviously not active in this system and they obviously abandoned the station some time ago. They surely know that the Taladac are unlikely to side with them against the Tanaver. Are they really just trying to hold on to this system by any means necessary? And if so, why? If not, what is their alternative reason?
"Certain possibilities present themselves. First, they could be doing this simply because it will put the local Taladac clans in a difficult position. Second, there could be something valuable about this system, something not immediately obvious. Third, they could be using this to open trade re-negotiations themselves. And there are sure to be others. Each suggests a different course of action: the first to wait for the Taladac clans to resolve the situation on their won; the third to wait for the Winbaric to make their first negotiation moves; and the second to discover anything of value about the situation."
"Since the first and third simply require waiting, and we can try to determine what is valuable in this system without interfering with either, we should proceed for now on the practical assumption that there is something valuable about this system that they want to keep, even though they do not currently want to bother with the system or station itself at this point. If it turns out to be wrong, we will have wasted relatively little, and if it is right, it may make a difference in the negotiations."
"That is a reasonable way to proceed," said Kubiri.
"But honestly," Katja went on, starting to pace, "I am not even sure what I am supposed to be negotiating. And I am not a negotiator, anyway. I've never done this before."
"If I may make a suggestion, your best move in the negotiation is not to think of yourself as negotiating anything. Think of yourself as simply hosting the negotiation. Your essential role is not to negotiate issues about the station, but simply to keep the negotiation going until it reaches satisfactory resolution."
"Which would be?"
"In this case, official Ylfae recognition of this system as now falling under Sylven jurisdiction, preferably with rather than without Winbaric concession, and the preservation of your status as Administrator. Those are, in any case, the two ends for which I was chosen to consult. You will have to involve yourself in the negotiation, but it is the Tanaver representative who will do most of the actual negotiation."
There was silence a moment as Katja continued to pace. Then she said, "How will I keep the negotiation going if it starts to break down?"
"It is easier than you would think. Try to get further information; recapitulate and then test your summaries by asking for clarification; express your feelings on the various aspects of the negotiation, as long as they would not clearly be seen as weaknesses. Avoid being aggressive until key concessions are made, and then be very selective about being so; that is generally important with all ylfoids. The major difficulty of interacting with Ylfae is that they are passionately devoted to symbolisms, so if there appears to be any purely symbolic behavior going on, do not be afraid to ask for information about it. But, truly, you will have less difficulty than you seem to think; the Ylfae at the table will likely be more afraid of the end of negotiations than anything else, and the Tanaver representative will not cease negotiating until the matter is resolved."
"I just wish I had more preparation. If the thing can explode, it probably will."
Kubiri's lips quirked a bit, and he opened his mouth to say something, but a chime interrupted him. He looked at the communication that came up on the screen, then pursed his lips in perplexity.
"It seems I was wrong," he said. "The Tanaver representative is not Samar at all. What do you know of the Chaktai?"
"They are one of the Core Protectorates. Beyond that, nothing."
"There is relatively little that is known about them, although the Samar have long had dealings with them. They are not samaroid. Their society is matriarchal in the strict sense: their general parliament is only open to mothers, and their primary ruling body is the Council of Threefold Mothers, consisting of all Chaktai who have had at least three children. Their physiology makes giving birth a dangerous endeavor; that links motherhood and merit on one side and motherhood and death on the other, and almost everything we know about Chaktai culture is due to one of those links."
"One of these mothers is coming as the Tanaver representative."
Kubiri shook his head. "A Chaka mother would never be involved in a minor thing like a negotiation; we will meet one of the males. He will be arriving somewhat later than both Ylfae groups."
At that point he closed his eyes, his head tilted slightly, and began to hum. It was a single note, pure and beautiful, an went on for far longer than Katja herself could have held a note. Then he opened his eyes and looked at Katja. "The puzzle gets more puzzling. The Chaktai are not negotiators, and picking a Chaka as a negotiator in a samaroid negotiation, out of all the individuals in all the universes, is...." He seemed at a loss for words. "It is puzzling," he finally ended lamely.
"Will it affect the negotiations?"
"There is nothing in the negotiations it will not effect. The Chaktai way of doing things is distinctively unpredictable. We will have to improvise as events come up."
It was Katja's turn to shake her head. "If the thing can explode, it will."
He put out his hands in a wry gesture. "Truly," he said.