Alison and Uscheschua tour the TARDIS, thankfully without running into the robot. They end up in Alison’s favorite atrium, with the artificial illumination calibrated there to the Keplershine of Uscheschua’s sun. Quickly determining that Uscheschua smells like a friend, several TARDIS cats immediately apply cat fur and scents of guardianship to her moss gown by means of head butts.
The cats fascinate Uscheschua: “You’ve made little squirrel moss balls with thorns!” Alison explains that, unlike Uscheschua, the TARDIS cats are not genetically modified plant animals. Uscheschua finds the concept of organisms unmodified by people entirely foreign, but dismisses the thousand questions she obviously has on the subject in favor of trying to talk to the cats. She uses a combination of almost inaudible hums and something else -- maybe her branches rubbing? -- that immediately draws the attention of some cats.
Alison watches with envy. Uscheschua’s not a only communications specialist, but a polyglot genius. She corrected her English pronunciation within minutes of her first conversation with a native speaker, and now apparently she’s experimenting with Catspeak . With her open-hearted, welcoming demeanor and her facility for languages, Uscheschua comes to her ambassadorial post with natural flair. Alison, whose only foreign language is dead and whose gift is lying about how important she really is, cannot compare.
Trying to suppress her envy, Alison makes a request. “Ambassador Lilleschall, would you review with me the history of your diplomatic communiques with the Great Grove of Time Trees?” She has decided to use Schuaschen idioms for the High Council of Time Lords; it makes them sound a bit less like an oligarchy of old rich white men. “The dossiers that I have reviewed have no record of any messages between the Schuaschen and the Grove. We must have received incomplete information -- I do apologize, but this does sometimes happen. I’d appreciate if you could fill in the gaps.”
As far as Alison can tell, nothing is missing from the dossiers. They supply complete records of all messages between the Agricole of Flumenarx and the High Council. There are no words from the Schuaschen in these proceedings; in fact, they only appear as an undifferentiated menace that the Flumenarxi wish to quash swiftly. Either the Schuaschen haven’t talked to the High Council at all, or the Flumenarxi have suppressed evidence of the fact. Someone is lying and/or purposely omitting things, and, especially after reading Publivocis Auriana’s expose of Agricole hypocrisy, Alison suspects it’s the Flumenarxi.
Uscheschua launches into a complicated story. The Schuelle administration divides into several departments called groves, which are dispersed throughout the land just outside Flumenarx. She currently works in the Flower Grove, which holds responsibility for diplomacy, education, and the communications rootmass [network, Alison translates mentally] between all Schuaschen. Publivocis Auriana, who is not a Schuaschen, but a sympathetic Agricole [and woman with feminine pronouns], runs the grove as Grower of Communications Rootmass. Alison tries to prevent a huge digression about Publivocis by saying that she knows that the woman is a retired Flumenarxi radio editorialist.
Unfortunately, Alison’s acquaintance with Publivocis does not prevent Uscheschua from recounting stories of her heyday. Publivocis’ sonorous voice, persuasive writing, and passion for justice earned her fame far beyond the limits of her planet. Some of her most ardent fans were among the Ceruleans of Gallifrey, who apparently sent many fan transmissions….
Uscheschua keeps talking, but Alison, feeling a headache coming on, can no longer concentrate. She makes encouraging and sympathetic sounds at what seem like appropriate intervals.
Finally, Uscheschua steps carefully around several mounds of cat, and connects once again, hand to hand, with Alison. “Now that you have heard my story, from root to crown, will you enter into mutualistic parasitism with me?”
Picturing bugs and tapeworms, Alison blinks. “I’m sorry -- I think the translation software just failed there. Did you say mutual parasitism?”
The TARDIS suspends her translation and lets Uscheschua say the word unmodified: “Lellayschiiya. That’s our word for mutualistic parasitism, but it also means… Let me find the English… Oh, yes.” She switches from Schuaschen: “An interchange of sympathies necessary for our being.”
“Is that from Frankenstein?”
“Yes,” says Uscheschua, going back to Schuaschen with a smile, “I knew you would know that! It is the reason that the creature asks the scientist to make a mate for him.”
Did Uscheschua just proposition her? Alison’s face goes warm. “Ahhh...thank you for your generous invitation, Ambassador Lilleschall, as well as for your great trust in me that prompted you to make such an offer. While I appreciate the sentiments, I really need to get to know you better before we have sex.”
“Your sex?” Uscheschua’s eyes widen. “I… But… You want…” After a stricken moment, she composes herself: “What made you think of that?”
“You said that lellayschiiya was an interchange of sympathies, and you brought up Frankenstein’s creature wanting a mate. It made lellayschiiya sound like sex or marriage or something -- some kind of union.”
“Well, I suppose that your sex and your marriage are kinds of lellayschiiya, but I meant the lellayschiiya like that of the tree and the vine. They agree to grow around each other and with each other, each doing good for each other.”
Alison’s heart drops a little in her chest at the realization that Uscheschua was not trying to get into her pants. On the other hand, at least she knows what she’s talking about now: “Oh, I get it -- mutualistic parasitism: when two organisms grow together, each providing benefits to the other!”
“Yes, that’s what I said. We don’t need to pollinate to enter into lellayschiiya. In fact, the Schuelle’s ultimate goal is to reach lellayschiiya with the Agricole so that we may each live fairly and well with each other.”
“You mean like a treaty or a truce?”
“No, lellayschiiya is not just for that. We also enter into lellayschiiya when we agree to form a forest, when we decide who does what in the Schuelle, and, yes, when we choose who we want for grove mates and who we want to pollinate with. Lellayschiiya are our roots and our soil, as important to us as rain and Keplershine.”
“So it’s a promise, an agreement to live together well.”
“Yes, an interchange of sympathies necessary for our being. Now that you understand me, will you, Time Tree Cheney, representing the Great Grove of Time Trees, enter into lellayschiiya with me, Ambassador Lilleschall, representing the Schuelle of the Schuaschen?” Uscheschua’s eyes, wide and green and avid, remind Alison of the robot’s in some strange way. Uscheschua sees into her, sees all of her, and even sees someone that Alison herself can’t see: a person worthy of the greatest trust.
Such openness, such expectant happiness -- Alison would do nearly anything if only she could receive such brilliance. “Of course! What do we have to do?”
“We just take the vow.” Uscheschua stands a bit taller, her voice assuming the weighty sonority of recitation: “I, Ambassador Uscheschua of the Lilleschall cultivar, representing the Schuelle of the Schuaschen, now enter into lellayschiiya with you, Time Tree Ellischuan Schennaya, representing the Great Grove of Time Trees. I ask for the Great Grove’s help in securing cessation of attacks on Schuaschen by Flumenarxi and Graniculi, peace between all Agricole and all Schuaschen, release of all Schuaschen who are being potted and gardened, and full social, legal, and moral equality between Agricole and Schuaschen.”
“Okay. I, Ambassador Alison Cheney of the Great Grove of Time Trees, now enter into lellayschiiya with you, Ambassador Uscheschua Lilleschall of the Schuaschen of Crescior. I pledge the Great Grove’s help in securing cessation of attacks on Schuaschen by Flumenarxi and Graniculi, peace between all Agricole and all Schuaschen, release of all Schuaschen who are being potted and gardened, and full social, legal, and moral equality between Agricole and Schuaschen.”
“From this moment on, we are in lellayschiiya. We must each fulfill our sides of our promise, until otherwise negotiated, so that we grow together in accord, like the tree and the vine.” Uscheschua gifts Alison with a smile as if they have made this covenant not only as representatives, but with each other.
“We are in lellayschiiya, ” Alison repeats. She and Uscheschua have a link, hand to hand, smile to smile, body to body, that goes beyond the groups on whose behalf they attest.
At the point, the robot rudely breaks their connection by passing with a book under his arm: The Moving Image and the Imitation of Life . “My dear Miss Cheney, you did not mention that we had company.” Turning to Uscheschua, he says, “I apologize for my absence; if I had known you were coming, I would have greeted you along with my esteemed colleague.”
“Oh, don’t shake a leaf about it.” Uscheschua waves her hand. “I arrived here rather suddenly. In fact, I was not prepared for a diplomatic mission at all, just coming back from a friend’s grove, when some anti-Schuelle Graniculi began to follow me. Time Tree Cheney graciously offered me sanctuary in the branches of her TARDIS.”
“Indeed.” The eyebrow moves upward. “Perhaps Time Tree Cheney would favor me with an introduction to our ambassadorial partner from the Schuaschen.”
Shit! She almost had it under control, and then the robot barged in and reminded her of the ignorant liar she was. “Oh...um...this is Uscheschua of the Lilleschall cultivar, communications specialist in the Flower Grove of the Schuelle and Schuaschen ambassador to both the Flumenarxi and the Great Grove of Time Trees. And she doesn’t have a gender, and she uses feminine pronouns.”
“Ambassador Lilleschall.” The robot inclines his head toward her. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Uscheschua takes both of his hands. “Oh yes, as am I! The honor is all mine, Your Loftiness, Great Time Tree -- uh, what’s your name?”
“This is my esteemed colleague -- “ Alison uses the robot’s phrase, stalling for time. Master. The word travels as far as her mouth, where it dies. She can’t say it. The silence extends. Finally her brain vomits forth the term by which she swore to refer to him only in the privacy of her head: “--The, um, the Doctor’s robot…” She can’t look at him; she hangs her head. Her skull feels light, evacuated, empty.
“Oh…” Uscheschua’s voice drops, suddenly low in sympathy. “I’m so sorry, Doctor’s robot; I too once had no name. When I was planted, my gardeners were Flumenarxi who worked in the Fontaneum. I expected to live my days in a public pot, never thinking I would have a name. I had heard rustlings about the Schuelle, but I never thought I’d meet them.
“Then, one spring night, when I was just a sprout, the Schuelle came for us. They told us that we had a choice: We could stay in our pots, nameless and cultivated forever by gardeners. Or we could uproot ourselves, leave our gardeners, and follow them. We could name ourselves and cultivate ourselves, and we could grow in a whole forest of trees who believed in the dignity of our people. Of course we all planted ourselves in the resistance!
“Anyway, all of us who were uprooted that night were of the same breed, so we took the name of Lilleschall for our cultivar, which means speaking leaf.” Alison sneaks a peek at the two of them. Uscheschua, still holding both of the robot’s hands, looks up at him, branches swept back from her face, head cocked. “Perhaps, Doctor’s robot,” says Uscheschua softly, “there is a name that you too call yourself, other than that of your gardener?”
“Thank you for your kind words, Ambassador Lilleschall. You are right; I do have a name. I am,” he says, his volume heightening slightly as a smile moves slowly across his mouth, “the Master.”
“Then I’m happy to meet you, Your Loftiness, Great Time Tree Master!”
“No.” He holds up his hand, rejecting Uscheschua’s extensive honorifics. “You will call me Master.”
“Certainly. I apologize, Master. And your gender and pronouns?”
“I am male, and I use masculine pronouns.”
As Alison ducks her head again, the robot inquires how long Uscheschua will be visiting. When Uscheschua describes the meandering, informal tour as blowing in the breeze, Alison realizes that she hasn’t been fooling anyone. All she did was smile goofily at Uscheschua, ramble around the TARDIS, and show her some cats. The evil robot, who now offers Uscheschua safe passage in the TARDIS to the Flower Grove offices, has diplomatic skills far beyond hers.
Uscheschua follows the robot to the control room, wanting to see the spaceship in action. Alison begs off accompanying them, using I’m slightly tired as a cover for her spiral of shame and vertigo. Uscheschua does return to say goodbye when the TARDIS alights, however. But not even a fervent double hand clasp can change Alison’s spirits. Her head is spinning so quickly that it seems like it might unscrew from her neck. Yet again, she staggers to her bedroom and drops onto her bed, wishing that all of this had never happened.