Wil and Matilda lead an expedition to Iyundo, a remote and nearly forgotten planet far from known space. To their surprise, the Galactic Marine ship, Hannibal, also arrives with Aisulov, head of the Galactic Committee on board. Knowing that they have to follow John Riley, to stop his diabolical scheming, they realize they will need the help of the Marines. This necessitates talking to Chairman Asilov, who isn't known for his affability. In fact, the Vandaran tends to play political games in order to gain advantage over his opponents. He hasn't counted on Wil.
Aisulov liked long, uncomfortable silences. He wanted to see how people handled them. Some grew very agitated. He noted his observations without betraying any emotion in his face.
Slatterly looked annoyed. The woman was harder to read, but she was mildly uncomfortable in his presence. VanLipsig was an enigma—his face and eyes showing nothing except what he wanted Aisulov to see.
Slatterly was an open book, with all his emotion in his face and mannerisms. It was obvious to Aisulov, however, that the Guild captain didn't care what was thought of him. He got the impression that the man could be quite unreadable if he wanted to be.
The woman must be regarded very beautiful among her own kind. Aisulov saw characteristics that he knew most humans considered desirable. His eyes lingered appreciatively on her breasts, allowing a slight leer. It was a terrible breach of protocol, but he wanted to gauge her husband's reaction.
Matilda's gaze dropped to Aisulov's lap, lingered there a moment, and traveled back to his face. A slight raising of the right eyebrow communicated volumes. Captain VanLipsig intended for him to know that she was completely unimpressed with his attributes.
Oh, she's good, that one. She plays the game like a man.
Wil said nothing, sizing up Aisulov with a blank expression. He saw a politician who liked to play mind games. It amused him, but he didn't show it. Aisulov must think they were all below him intellectually. It was a characteristic of the Vandaran people to underestimate the intellect of their human contacts. Wil had used that to his advantage in negotiations many times. Aisulov might have heard stories about him, but he hadn't heard everything or he wouldn't now be playing games.
Silent Time was an age old technique for someone who wanted to establish himself as the one in charge and give him the upper hand in negotiations. Wil could play the game as well as Aisulov, so he waited, sitting unruffled in his seat, gazing at the old moose as intensely as he himself was perused.
Marc looked like a thunder cloud. Wil knew he was annoyed with Aisulov's game, but he also knew Marc to be playing a game of his own. They'd done this often enough from the age of ten or so. It was their form of "good cop and bad cop." Marc played the overly excitable, hot tempered, agitated fellow who's impatient and ready to explode.
Wil sat quietly, sizing up the situation, coming in for the kill when the other party was occupied with Marc. It had done them in good stead many times and it was interesting to see that they still fell into the old pattern. It felt right, like a comfortable chair and well worn boots.
One last lingering look at the woman, and Aisulov swiveled his chair abruptly, facing VanLipsig. He'd tried everything he could think of to make the fellow drop his guard or show a chink in his armor. So far, nothing. Aisulov could be subtle, but he was beginning to think the man was too stupid for sophisticated techniques. He changed tactics.
"Tell me, Colonel, how is it that a man of your skills and reputation has allowed a toadying sycophant like Riley to slip through his fingers three times now? I should have thought a man like you would've captured him or at the very least killed him by now. Yet, here we sit." His broad gesture encompassed the entire universe.
Wil allowed himself a tight smile that didn't reach his eyes. He knew Aisulov was trying to embarrass him, which he found most amusing. He might have told the old man to save his breath, but it would be a waste of his own.
Aisulov liked long pauses, so did Wil. He waited a full minute before replying. His face betrayed nothing, he spoke in an even, modulated voice, his gestures and words chosen with care. He shifted in his chair, leaning back and sliding down slightly. His lackadaisical attitude was intended to mildly offend Aisulov and he could see a flicker of annoyance in the old Vandaran's face.
"It's true, Riley got away from me three times. However, I put it to you, Your Honor, how many other men would've gotten this far in the pursuit?"
Aisulov was decidedly uncomfortable. He didn't answer for a little while. When it was obvious that Wil expected a reply, he muttered. "None, Colonel, as we both know."
Wil nodded, spreading his hands in a gesture of openness and honesty.
"I further put it to you, Your Honor, what other man could possibly track him better than I? While it is true he got away again, this time incorporating an ages old device, unused for millennia, I believe I know his destination. In fact, my wife had the forethought to download information from the console before it was consumed by flames. At no small risk to herself, I might add."
Wil paused again, waiting for Aisulov to make all the appropriate noises of gratitude. To have to thank a woman was decidedly beneath his position, but humans considered their females equals. He had played the game so far, he must continue to do so. He thanked her as briefly as was polite.
Matilda inclined her head respectfully, but didn't give him the added honor of cocking her head to the right as she should have to one whom she considered an equal.
Aisulov was incensed, but decided she simply wasn't familiar with the customs of his people. He overlooked the slight, but at the same time, it rankled.
Matilda smiled to herself. Having dealt once or twice with Vandarans, she was perfectly aware she'd insulted him. Let the old boy cook in his own juice. Stare at her breasts and leer, would he? She could play the game almost as well as Marc could. She hadn't come this far in her career by the age of 28, not to have learned a thing or two. Wil glanced at her and she caught a millisecond of a twinkle in his eye.
© 2017 Dellani Oakes