Good mediators aren’t afraid to choose sides, but Hue Plimpton had not been a good mediator for some time. He used to be; used to be better than good. He had learned from the best, the Honorable Judge Emmanuel Wilcox III (ret.). And he would regularly be retained by prestigious lawyers to resolve high-stakes disputes. But over time his interest and commitment waned, like air leaving a sealed balloon, imperceptible until one day it’s a flabby, wrinkled blob.
Nowadays Hue resolved cases that were less than high-stakes, and mostly went through the motions as an overpaid messenger, carrying each side's position from one room to the other until an impasse was reached or the parties settled out of weariness. His track record was less than stellar, but he didn’t care enough to care.
Today was like that. Hue tucked his rumpled shirt into his waistband and walked into the main conference room with a cup of lukewarm tea in one hand and a binder of papers under his arm. He saw the parties to today’s mediation. On one side of the table was a pretty woman with shiny blond hair and what looked like a brand new white dress, and next to her was a handsome older man with a full head of gray hair and an impeccable light gray suit. On the other side of the table was a young roguish looking man in a black suit with a red button-up shirt and a black tie. It matched his streaked back dark hair, thick eyebrows and deep brown eyes. Next to him was a very serious looking woman in a scarlet suit coat and skirt. She too was dark featured and beautiful.
“Please don’t get up,” Hue Plimpton said as he took a seat at the head of the table. “Good morning to you all. I’m Hue Pimpton, your assigned mediator for today’s session. I’ve read your submissions,” he said, even though he hadn’t; he always asked the parties to start by giving him a summary of the dispute so he could proceed as an informed mediator without anyone being the wiser. “But I’d still like to begin with giving each side a chance to explain your position in person, along with a summary of how close you’ve come to resolving this on your own, and then we can move into our breakout sessions. But before that, let’s go around the table for introductions, starting with the plaintiff.” He didn’t know who to look at because he didn’t know who the plaintiff was, so he pulled some random papers out of his binder until someone spoke.
It was the blond lady.
“Good morning Mr. Plimpton, and thank you for your time with us today. I truly hope it proves to be fruitful, we’ve been at this for some time with a number of mediators and have had no progress thus far. My name is Jophiel, Archangel of wisdom, understanding and judgment, and this is my friend and counselor Camael, Archangel of strength, courage and war.”
“Pleased to meet you as well,” the man in the gray suit said with a nod.
Hue stared in silence, and after a few seconds, the man in the black suit spoke. “Good morning as well and thank you for your time. Let me also wish you the best of luck because if this goes like the other mediations, we’ll all need it.” The man flashed a grifter’s smile. “My name is Behemoth, primeval beast and demon of chaos, and this is my friend and counselor, Miss Samantha Aymes.”
“Good morning,” said the brown-haired woman. “Samantha Aymes from Wayland, Griblocki and Horner.” He’d heard of that firm. She passed Hue Plimpton a business card.
The four parties looked at Hue waiting for him to say something, but he just sat there gaping back at them. Then he forced a smile to dispel the confusion on his face. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m not getting it.”
More stares, then the blond woman spoke. “Getting it?” she asked.
“I mean,” Hue said with a whispering chuckle, “I’m not getting the joke. With your names. You’ll have to clue me in.”
The four parties looked at each other with shared looks of disappointment.
The man in the gray suit said “didn’t you say you read our position statements?”
Beads of sweat began to roll down Hue’s neck. “Yes,” Hue said unconvincingly, “but I must have missed something or perhaps I got your matter confused with another one.”
The man in the black suit gave a hearty laugh. “Yes,” he said, “I’m sure that must be it.” Then to the blond woman, “Don’t you love it?”
The blond woman ignored the man’s comment and turned to Hue. “Mr. Plimpton, did you read our statements?” she asked in an un-accusing tone.
“Aren’t you supposed to know everything?” the man in black said to her.
“Don’t start that,” said the man in the gray suit. “That behavior is exactly why we never get anywhere.”
The woman in the red suit interjected. “Mr. Plimpton, it seems we need to bring you up to speed. You’ve been retained to help mediate the fate of mankind between the forces of Heaven and Hell. This dispute has been going on for some time so we aren’t expecting miracles….”
“Oh that’s funny,” said the man in the gray suit. The man in black gave another hearty laugh.
“But,” the woman in red continued, “any progress you can facilitate is appreciated.”
This was obviously some type of joke, Hue thought. But he was perplexed why a member of the bar and a rather well-known law firm would engage in something so unprofessional.
“Well,” Hue said, “I’m afraid I still am not getting the humor here. Obviously this whole act is over my head. But as this clearly isn’t a serious mediation, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to….” He stopped talking then because the man in black raised his hand and Hue’s tea mug began to levitate.
Hue gasped. His face turned red and his chair almost fell over. “Sir,” said the man in black without a trace of patience, “this is not a joke. And even though we literally have all the time in the world, we figuratively don’t have all the time in the world. So, can you help us, or am I going to have to devour you?”
“What?” Hue panted.
“Can you help us or am I going to have to devour you like the other mediators?” the man said, enunciating each word like he was speaking to a simpleton.
“What?” Hue repeated, his heart thumping.
“Well, that answers that,” the man in black said. Then his mouth split open from ear to ear to reveal a maw of fangs, his tongue extending down to his chest. He began to walk toward Hue.
Hue screamed and flailed out of his chair, the back of his suit now drenched with sweat. He ran to the door, but it wouldn’t open. He screamed for help as the thing in the black suit walked toward him. Hue didn’t notice it, but everyone else began shuffling papers back into folders and briefcases.
The monster spoke even though its mouth barely moved, “nobody can hear you, Hue.”
Hue continued to scream but nobody came. The creature was feet from him. Hue looked at the blond woman, “aren’t you going to do something?!”
“It’s complicated,” she said with an apologetic smile.
He could feel heat coming out of the beast’s mouth and it was almost upon him. “Wait,” Hue screamed, “I can help you. I can help you!”
The man in the black suit stopped. “That’s more like it,” he said. His mouth closed and face reformed. “Then let’s get to it. How should we proceed?”
“I…I um…” Hue stuttered as his mind raced. He needed to get out of here, then he could figure out what to do next. “I need to review my notes and then we can talk. I just need to get some things from my office.”
“Of course, of course,” Behemoth said. “Well, best get them. We’ll be here.”
Hue tried the door, and it opened. He raced across the hall into his office and shut the door, locking it. Then he ran to his desk, picked up the phone and dialed 9-1-1. All he heard was the blond woman’s voice. “Mr. Plimpton, if you don’t start the session soon I’m afraid my opposition is really going to lose patience this time. Please know I have your best interest at heart when I say you need to calm down and get started.”
Hue slammed the phone down. His hands aimlessly rummaged across the top of his desk as panic overwhelmed him. But somewhere deep down, something was unlocked. The surge of adrenaline awoke a long-lost part of himself. The survivor. The fighter. The advocate. And that part of him knew he didn’t have time to fall apart here. Impossible as it was, this was happening, and he was going to die if he didn’t start playing along. He had no idea what was going on, but apparently the four in the other room wanted a mediator. And that was something he could do.
He ran to his bookshelf and pulled out a dusty binder with crumpled discolored pages. Flipping through it, he found notes he had taken years ago when learning from Judge Wilcox. The commandments of mediation. Reading them over gave him a sense of confidence, and he began to remember how good he used to be when he cared enough to follow these tenants with earnestness. He tore a sheet out of the binder and walked back into the room. The parties looked at him in anticipation. “Let’s get started,” he said.
Rule 1: Sometimes people just want to be heard. Let them tell their story and listen with empathy.
The breakout sessions were…enlightening. It appeared that in addition to Heaven and Hell being real, they had been engaged in a centuries long struggle over how they were allowed to interact with mankind. Once-respected lines had been crossed so often that conflict had reached a fever pitch, and a holy war loomed. Both sides wished to avoid heavy losses, so an effort was made to reach an agreement. The effort was so unsuccessful, that as a last resort the sides had begun to enlist humans to help.
Hue listened intently as he learned this background. “Most humans think we’re always trying to get you to destroy yourselves, but that’s not true. Really, we just want you to be yourselves. It’s the other side that’s always judging you. Always wanting you to judge yourselves. They still think guilt, shame and fear are the best tools to govern mankind. But we say fuck guilt, fuck shame, fuck fear. Embrace and love your true nature, and stop apologizing for your DNA. But every time we try to help you humans be human, we get accused of ‘corrupting’ you. Like throwing a steak to a hungry lion is ‘corrupting’ it. You think the lion feels that way? It’s a tidal wave of condescension from up above. That's why we broke away in the first place.” Behemoth went on for some time, and Hue sensed credibility and trust developing between the two.
So it was with Jophiel. “Humans have almost unlimited potential for greatness,” she explained. “But such heights are not attained easily. And that’s not your fault. Anything worthwhile isn’t easy. All Hell cares about is hedonism - sacrificing long-term happiness for instant gratification. An alcoholic might enjoy getting drunk for the time being, but at the cost of everything he could achieve if he could commit to productive sobriety. We simply want to help mankind be everything they can be, and sometimes that takes stern guidance, but it’s for a noble cause.”
After each side was satisfied that they’d had their say, Hue shifted to the bargaining phase, where it was time to put specific demands on the table and begin moving the chess pieces around.
Rule 3: Look for the easy compromises. The horse might demand all the hay, but the wolf won’t give a damn.
“No,” Behemoth said. “There’s never been such technologies and global energy production. I can’t think of a worse time to agree not to influence the course of the planet’s climate.”
“But that’s exactly the point,” Hue said. “Look at what we’re doing all by ourselves. I mean, we’re burning so much fossil fuels, and the climate is changing so rapidly, what more do you even need to do? I can tell you this is a very big sticking point for the other side, but frankly I think it’s like asking you to not sink the Titanic after it has already hit the iceberg.”
Behemoth smiled, “remind me to tell you a story about that.”
“My point is, you can make this concession without really conceding anything. And then, you can demand a concession from them on something where humanity isn’t already doing all the work for you.”
Behemoth looked at Miss Ayers, and she said “let me talk it over with my client.” That was almost always a good sign.
Rule 7: When the time comes, be firm. The parties want you to say what you think.
Hue sat across the table from Jophial and Camael. “Look, you’ve got the better argument on this position. I really wouldn’t concede anything else. He talks a big talk but I don’t think they want the planet outright destroyed, so standing firm on nuclear proliferation will pay off. They won’t blow up this whole deal just for that - no pun intended.” Camael smirked. “I think it’s a bluff. If we can reach agreements on the other issues, I think you’ll win this one without having to move further. So my advice is to stay firm and I’ll work on them.”
“Let me talk with my client,” Camael said. Hue left the room with a smirk of his own.
Rule 9: In the end, if everyone goes home somewhat disappointed, you’ve done your job. Nobody gets everything they want in a true compromise.
The parties reconvened in the conference room as Hue read a long term sheet.
“Heaven is permitted to influence the sciences, particularly advancements in the fields of medicine and agriculture. Hell is permitted to influence the arts, particularly video games and school curriculums. Heaven is allowed to influence the governments of burgeoning democracies, while Hell is allowed to influence the governments of longstanding democracies, while Hell can influence the leaders of authoritarian nations while Heaven can influence it's citizens. Heaven is permitted to influence the course of military wars and weaponry, Hell is permitted to influence cyberwarfare and related tactics. Both parties agree social media is a safe zone of zero influence, as neither thinks any is needed.”
The list went on, and on, and on. The end result sounded much like the world Hue already knew, and thus it seemed nobody was really walking away with a stunning victory. The parties expressed similar reservations and lingering discontent with their bargain, but both signed the finalized term sheets in signatures of pure light or pure fire. They thanked Mr. Plimpton with sincerity. Jophiel and Camael vanished in a glowing aura, Behemoth sank into his own shadow, and Miss. Ayers walked out the door.
Hue went back to his office, his tie loosened and sleeves rolled up, and sat down at his desk. Then he picked up his phone and rang his daughter who lived in California and whom he hadn’t spoken to in over four months. He didn’t know what he would tell her if she asked him about his day.