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The Negotiator
A Story by Joseph Bellofatto and James LaFond  

“Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached its top. Then you will see how low it was.”

-Dag Hammarskjold, 1926

Dillon closed the powdery blue book, which he consulted before every negotiation, ever since he had found it at the bottom of an old 8-track tape collection at an Ashland, Virginia flea market. His fellows back at CATO had always teased him that he was the fellow most likely to be tapped as the next envoy to Nepal. Climbing was a thing lingering restlessly within his bones, a thing he could not easily unravel from the hold it had on his soul.

The four Agency men in the black SUV stood off, two with binoculars, one with some device unknown to him and another boring a hole through his back.

He did not like those men.

Their loathing for him was palpable.

Would he ever come back?

How had he been selected?

His handlers would not say.

Why had this place been selected?

Likewise, a mute glare had greeted this most reasonable query. The answer was contained in the cold, inhuman stare of the man in the black suit, the man who loomed more frightening than the rest in his mind for the chilling fact, that he alone, among his back-channel kind, wore no sunglasses—for no opaque, glassy reflection could possibly be as soulless as those cold gray eyes, which had bored into him from infinity as he had left work in Washington D.C., only yesterday.

He possessed his laptop, his anachronistic marble pad and pencils, his sharpener and that little soul-soothing book, the consultation of which brought a knowing scowl to the visage of the sun-glassed “brain” holding the unknown device, which blinked alternately red and green in his cadaverous hand.

“How can any policy that we who care arrive at ever result in a better world when the implementation is left to such as these?”

The earplug buzzed sharply as he recalled that they would have never trusted him to begin recording, that his every utterance, his every breath was now Copyright, 2020, Deep State Inc.

“Kate [which they had named him for some unfathomable reason, as soon as he had been stuffed into a car in front of the Institute] “Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and”…Agent, Larson, would you care to finish—Oh, you think Kate deserves a second chance. Continue, Kate, up, up and away, that pinstripe suit of yours isn’t going to keep you warm all day.”

Back within his mind he retreated, to that many-terraced place, alive with the shimmering nuances of a lifetime consciously interacting with a world forever wonderful if one took care to consider it for what it was and not what one was told it was to be.

His ascent in suit and Rockport loafers—at least they were Rockports—was an unlikely thing. In his mind, at a mere 9,642 feet high, this wasn’t much of a mountain…

On the other hand, he was already scrambling over slick rocks, in snowy conditions. Pulling the knit cap, which he had so rightfully thought to pick up at the airport, over his ears and down the back of his neck, and gathering his Jos. E. Banks overcoat about his neck, he recalled the sun-glassed “brain” saying something about Medicine Wheel Mountain being unscalable after the end of August, a dead-handed reminder to Dillon Innes that he was not only a last minute selection, but a disposable one.

On he climbed, glad beyond all belief that he was an experienced climber, though this was essentially hiking as far as he was concerned, particularly since he lacked gloves and the rocky crease in the mountain was already glazed with snow and pitted with ice. To handle these rocks in his bare hands might result in frostbite.

At last, at noon, of Monday, September 21, 21 days before Columbus Day, Dillon Innes reached the summit that was actually a near horizon, the edge of a rugged and desolate table of land which had long been sacred to various Amerindian Tribes. This information he had searched himself, while he still had service back in Cody.


He stood atop Medicine Mountain, in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. Dillon stood in shredded slacks, on two sprained ankles, wet with sweat underneath his attire so alien to this land. Before him radiated the limestone boulder wheel itself, measuring nearly 80 feet in diameter and consisting of 28 alignments of white rock radiating from a central cairn associated with six smaller stone enclosures found around the wheel’s perimeter. His brief and inadequate research had informed him that he stood between something that had been begun as a center of shamanistic ritual as the very gates of Rome finally fell from their hinges, some 1500 years ago.

Around the rim of the wheel was a simple wire fence where visitors had left prayers in what seemed the Buddhist style, flapping in the alpine wind.

At the center of the circle sat a figure, tall and—robed? It seemed a Caucasian man in cream-colored robes seated on the cairn with a purple cloak cast about his shoulders—a broad man, even from this distance.

The man did not regard him, did not seem to notice he was there, but rather sat facing along a single spoke of the stone-cobbled wheel, facing along that particular spoke.

Dillon walked to the point at the end of the Southwestern spoke, which he knew aligned with one of the four stars with which the wheel was aligned, along with the rising and setting of the summer sun.

He deduced—but ultimately, instinctively—approached the man along the spoke of which he was aligned. As soon as he took his first step upon the spoke the man stirred, his eyes opened and he stood, expectantly, in his oddly ancient attire, heavy sandals stretched over some kind of sock or buckskin legging, a beard of white sweeping along his cloak in the steady breeze pushing coldly down from the north.

Dillon soon stood before the man, who was surprisingly large for this kind of work. The man spoke English in an awkward way, too languid for so much overemphasis on the consonants, “You are, young man?”

“Dillon Innes, CATO Institute, on behalf of the United States of America.”

Dillon uncoupled his right hand from the death grip it had on his laptop case and extended it. The older man took it, squeezed gently and answered, “Ignatius, Avatar to Blue, representing Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius and Fomalhaut, interlopation as per Sirius, on behalf of the Four Sentientalities—it is misunderstood…”

The man seemed to yawn, oddly, for too long, without emitting a sound and continued, “I am afraid, that our desire was to communicate—negotiate—with a representative of your United Nations, not this one nation.”

“I was informed, with all due respect, and I might add, in great haste, that this was strictly a national security negotiation with an extraterrestrial intelligence for the establishment of provisions for secure and exclusive interaction.”

The man’s face—a man of late middle years—of a sudden seemed old and weary, an abrupt translocation of expression and change in physiognomy which Dillon had never before witnessed.

Ignatius extended one thick, aged hand as a tear creased his cheek and took gentle hold of Dillon’s shoulder. He then used his left hand to gingerly remove the earpiece. Closing his hand about the small device which was his lifeline, the man then clenched his jaw and looked at his closed hand with an intensity that caused his visage and even his musculature to alter to that of a 30-year-old man in his athletic prime.

A blue light flashed within that strong, clenched hand, like a microscopic detonation of some sort.

The hand then opened and aged back to middle years, even as the face of Ignatius aged like a god who had finally discovered he were a man as he laid sad eyes on Dillon and he spoke wearily, his hand open and empty, “It was painless, I assure you. You were to be erased if the terms the Four Sentientalities advanced through me were, what they must ever be. I am sorry, Dillon.”

The man then grew ancient and wrinkled, gained a wry smile and said, “I recall, in so far as it is permitted for me to recollect meeting another of your kind here. He was named—the Noisy Snake, or some such indication of his cunning was he known by. He was looking for himself and found me instead—though I believe it helped. For him, evil ones did not wait at the mountain root with erasing desire broadcasting—broadcasting—perhaps not the best term…”

Ignatius had taken on a pathetic posture, rubbing his forehead, trying to recall once easily retrieved thoughts, his knees seeming to give under the weight of years.

Dillon rushed to place his laptop case on the cairn for a softer seat and aided the aging man—was he really a man—it does not matter…

“Ignatius, is there something I can do to help. You seem pained and confused—can you hear me!”

The climb had turned into a terrible nightmare, with this ever-aging man crumbling in his hands, shrinking into a mummified state, his eyes blinded with cataracts, his teeth gone.

“Ignatius, please, come back to me!”

A smile cased the shrunken, pale face. The purple veins that strained to break through the gossamer skin seemed to retreat, teeth began to appear in the un-creasing mouth as Ignatius looked back up at him with eyes now cleared of cataracts.

“Ignatius, what can I do for you?”

The man, now appearing to be in late middle age, smiled and blinked, “For Ignatius, there is only service. For We, there is your one commodity.”

“What commodity? What could we, squabbling on this planet as we waste its resources, have to offer the starfaring ra—ah, species?”

Ignatius now took up the aspect of a young doctoral candidate—could have been Dillon if not for the thick brown beard and big round eyes. The transformed man said in a more resonant version of his odd voice, “The Four Sentientalities have studied your kind extensively and have wearied of this, Our communication with those who were anti-communicators, but who brought you to Us. You have only one transferable commodity. Sentience does not often grow into such a skill for…narration, for communications…for the gift of story.

Ignatius' face creased almost liquidly, “Dillon, We would like your stories and We would like your story-telling kind to tell Our stories.”

Ignatius now appeared in youthful, even slender form, his bones now seeming too big for his flesh, with the look of a young athlete ready to fill-out into maturity. His voice rang in a bit of an adolescent crackle, “Dillon, do you tell stories?”

“Well,” he blushed, “I used to write stories when I was your age”—that feels off—but life intrudes, responsibility calls. I now analytically consider, ponder the often sad story of my kind, breaking it apart in hopes that it might one day make good sense.”

Ignatius grew younger yet, slimmed down and shortened, the beard not even a whisper and squeaked, from under falling curls of summery hair, “Oh, I want to hear a story, Dillon—please tell me a story.”

Dillon sat down on his laptop in a daze as the little boy jumped playfully on his lap, his heavy adult garb covering him like a tent and piped up, “What’s the story, Dillon?”

Obviously suffering from delusions as he slipped into a hypothermic coma, Dillon played along and said, “My favorite story was my first and second, told me by my Mawmaw. The story was my first—two stories in one, about three pigs, who first go to market and then decide to build themselves each a house.”

The boy beamed a loving smile up into his face and asked softly, “What is a pig, Dillon?”

And the harsh, cold wind that blew down from the north, suddenly felt to the man sitting bathed in curious light on the ancient limestone, like a balmy day in France, during the Medieval Warm period, as three bipedal pigs capered down a daisy-grown road…

Organa: The Malfunction of Tray Sorenson

Add Comment
Tony CoxDecember 26, 2017 9:56 PM UTC

I like the idea of Ignatius showing up there at Medicine Wheel Mountain. What a cool story.
responds:December 27, 2017 1:49 PM UTC

Glad you liked it, Tony. Joseph's synopsis was really specific and made the execution quite easy.