Chapter Thirteen: Alison and the Robot Hear the Schuaschen
The Magister determines the course of the diplomatic proceedings. He proposes separate hearings with the Schuaschen and the Agricole to learn of their demands, followed by a meeting with both parties to establish the terms of the peace. To do so, he must tell both Schuaschen and Agricole of this process. Alison agrees to inform the Agricole of their impending formal meeting with the Schuaschen, but not her own original encounter with Uscheschua. Neither the Magister nor the Domina see any reason to let the Council know that they have taken over the Doctor’s assignment and turned it in a much different direction.
Next the Magister communicates with the Schuelle. He details the steps of the hearing process and also transmits Alison’s wishes that Uscheschua maintain her assumed post. Much to Alison’s pleasure, Uscheschua does, though now apparently under strict supervision by Ollischill and Effschischa. All three of them are arriving later in the day to officially renegotiate, review, and ratify the lellayschiiya created by Alison and Uscheschua which will serve as a statement of their demands.
Alison reads up on their impending visitors, something she really should have done before landing on Terripluvium. Schuaschen were created a century ago as ostensible paragons of feminine beauty to decorate the gardens of the richest Flumenarxi. Using some of the local deciduous flora as a base, biogeneticists created sentient, intelligent trees with the general forms of human beings. The Agricole named the beings Topiarians.
Alison turns the page, but a headache strikes. The Magister finds her slumped in the chair, not crying through sheer willpower. She explains that her brain just gives up on focusing sometimes. Maybe the TARDIS would speak some books out loud for her? “I shall do that myself,” says the Magister, “if you would permit me.” Alison, who had thought not to bother him with a and rather trivial request, now wonders what he wouldn’t do for her.
He begins to read in a rolling, declamatory style, at once controlled and showy -- in other words, entirely characteristic. Now calling themselves the Schuaschen, Uscheschua’s people grow from seeds, spending the first year of their lives in the ground. After that, they may either be fully sessile, that is, rooted, or partially sessile and partially mobile. Though most of the first Schuaschen were sessile, those today spend half their day in root, drinking and resting. For the other half of their time, they may, if they have the ability, retract their roots into their hollow trunks and walk bipedally. The extent of their lifespans is unknown.
Over the years, the Flumenarxi have experimented with the Schuaschen genome, creating a variety of different breeds or cultivars. “Thus,” says the Magister, setting aside the book, “you should know when you meet the three Schuaschen delegates that they look quite different from one another.” Uscheschua’s cultivar, Lilleschall, was bred for ostensible attractiveness and open-air growth -- hence her exaggeratedly curvy shape and her wide, radiant halo of branches. Loriischi Ollischill, the second in charge of the Schuelle, is of a cultivar designed for the Flumenarxis’ personal sexual exploitation, to use the Magister’s phrase, so both her internal and external anatomy resemble that of the Agricole. By contrast, the Schuelle’s war leader, Seffiya Effschischa, belongs to a cultivar developed for compactness and a trunk that may be trained around garden items.
Alison takes refuge in sarcasm just because it’s easier than standing there in horror. “Great -- so we’re dealing with people who are totally cool with raping, mutilating, and making furniture out of other people. For fuck’s sake -- “
Alison never does get to ask whether her species has any redeeming qualities at all, as the Magister suddenly stands. “The TARDIS has just informed me that the Schuaschen delegation has arrived. Are you well enough to meet with them?”
Alison stands by his side. “I am.”
“Then shall we?” The Magister offers his arm; she takes it.
The Magister opens the TARDIS’ front door, and the spaceship sends out a shallow ramp so that the three Schuaschen ambassadors may enter. In comes Uscheschua, eyes even larger and brighter than usual, a writing tablet clutched to her chest. Without the time to sweep Alison into a greeting, Uscheschua merely gives her a smile, then holds the door for the other two.
Commander Seffiya Effschischa arrives second. Literally on a different scale than Uscheschua and Secondary Grower Loriischi Ollischill, she is maybe two-thirds of a meter high. Comparatively delicate in build, she possesses smooth reddish bark and a crown of pointy, dark green leaves. Because her trunk twists to the side in a curve nearly parallel to the ground, the commander uses a modified wheelchair; she anchors herself in a basin of soil, which sits on a wheeled platform. With a sharp-featured face and narrow brown eyes, she puts Alison in mind of a falcon, scanning for prey from the heights.
Pushing the commander’s chair, Secondary Grower Loriischi Ollischill enters last. Literally willowy in form and shape, she is lithe and curvy, with vertically grooved and greenish-yellow bark. Her narrow branches hang in waves down to her waist. Robust and broad of frame, she has a square face and arched brows as active as the Magister’s.
“I am Loriischi of the Ollischill cultivar, Secondary Grower of the Forest in the Main Shoot of the Schuelle of the Schuaschen. I bid you welcome to Terripluvium and Crescior, loftiest among Time Lords,” says Grower Ollischill. “Please accept my thanks for agreeing to discuss with us further the lellayschiiya that has already been established between your forest and ours. It is my most fervent wish that our collaboration might cross-pollinate successfully, bloom abundantly, and ripen quickly into a bountiful harvest of peace for us and our land. Furthermore, though we have a serious duty here, we are all colleagues here, are we not? I do hope that you would call me Loriischi, for we wish to establish a friendship with you that would extend its roots to all Schuaschen and Time Lords.”
By contrast, Seffiya Effschischa has no first name, for she introduces herself as Commander Effschischa in a pointedly formal contrast to Loriischi, who then tells everyone Uscheschua’s name. They’re not even going to let Uscheschua say who she is herself? What kind of bullshit is this?
Alison, going next, calls herself a Time Tree and ignores the Magister’s disapproval. The Magister introduces himself and receives a lifted eyebrow from Commander Effschischa, who is clearly unconvinced that the Master is an acceptable name. Well, that’s two of us, Alison thinks.
Recognizing that the table might not comfortably accommodate Commander Effschischa’s wheelchair, the Magister asks what alternative she might like -- the floor, perhaps? She roughly agrees, so Alison, the Magister, and Loriischi sit cross-legged on the floor. Loriischi carefully moves the commander’s basin from her rolling platform and sets it delicately beside her so that all ambassadors are on the same level.
Then follows a detailed review of the lellayschiiya. Loriischi recites Alison and Uscheschua’s preliminary terms: cessation of attacks on Schuaschen by Flumenarxi and Graniculi, peace between all Agricole and all Schuaschen, release of all Schuaschen who being potted and gardened, and full social, legal, and moral equality between Agricole and Schuaschen. These stipulations she acknowledges as quite well-rooted. Uscheschua looks up from her minutes with a huge grin, but still the two other Schuaschen delegates act like she’s not even there. Commander Effschischa says nothing.
The Magister and Loriischi, as spokespeople, match each other in grandiloquent politeness as they work on the finer points of the contract. While they edit the lellayschiiya, its substance remains intact. The only significant addition is a demand for territory to be set aside for a Schuaschen homeland of their own. Meanwhile, Uscheschua seems to be capturing everything verbatim. The commander remains quiet, offering curt approvals only when Loriischi directly asks for them.
When the Magister and Loriischi have satisfied themselves with the review, the Magister turns to the commander. “Commander Effschischa, you have remained reticent throughout this discussion. But, as an accomplished leader whose tactics have kept the Schuelle free from the Agricole for nearly a decade, you bring unparalleled knowledge and insights to this hearing. We would welcome your counsel, should you choose to share it.”
The commander stares at him with her keen raptor eyes. “Time Master,” she says finally, “I am a soldier without pretty courtesies. I know much more about fighting than I do about negotiating. I am not here to discuss the niceties of this word or that. I want to know if you will do everything within your power to safeguard the lives and futures of all the trees I protect.”
“I believe what Commander Effschischa is trying to say,” Loriischi speaks up, “is that it is absolutely imperative that this lellayschiiya secure not only our social, legal, and moral equality with our neighbors, but our physical and material freedom as well.”
“You don’t trust us, do you, Commander Effschischa?” The Magister employs the same matter-of-fact, almost casual tone in which he first observed that Alison was terrified of him.
“I do not,” the commander replies. “I have studied you Time Lords, and everything tells me that you are like the Agricole, arrogant, violent, and possessive. You send your High Council envoys all over the universe to meddle in everyone else’s affairs. You hunt time; you control it; you alter it; you say that you rule it. You are not Time Lords; you are Time Gardeners. What proof do I have that you are safe? What proof do I have that you would not garden us as the Agricole do now? Why should I trust you?”
“Because the Agricole are wrong!” Alison bursts out. “They’re like the Doctor Frankensteins of Terripluvium. Ask Ambassador Lilleschall! If you’d give her a chance to talk, she’ll tell you exactly why she trusted me. We based our lellayschiiya on the principles of freedom, personhood, independence, and safety because that’s what all people deserve. We don’t care what the Agricole think because your rights are worth more than their arrogant possessiveness. I mean,” she says, evening out her voice, “we’d like to use our powers for good, if that’s okay with you.”
The commander turns to Alison. “So you think that our common enemy makes us allies. And you think that your abuse of Time Lord authority is excusable if you interfere on behalf of Schuaschen freedom.”
The Magister places his right hand on his sternum and leans forward a bit. “Yes. My colleague and I shall devote our stratagems, our interventions, and all our power to the fulfillment of the lellayschiiya that we have established.” Alison wonders if his honesty about his dishonesty renders him more trustworthy to the Schuaschen or less.
“Um…” says Loriischi, out of whose depth this conversation has spiraled so fast that she is not sure what word to insert edgewise.
“Well then,” says Commander Effschischa. “I’m a practical person, and I will take whatever help I can, even if it is from Time Lords, to guard my people and keep them safe. I believe we might have an understanding after all.”
Suddenly something speeds through the air. The Magister sits up and catches it, his eyes never leaving the commander’s. “What’s this?” he asks in all mildness, his right hand held near his cheek as if to launch a dart. Only when she squints does Alison see the fine needle-like shaft of a metal arrow between the tips of his fingers.
Some sort of tube -- a blow gun? -- has materialized in the commander’s hand. “I intended that for the golden book just behind your right ear, but I think I’ve made my point. Break the lellayschiiya, and I will kill you.”
“Commander!” the Magister cries. The word flies out as a dart of its own. “I offer you frankness and good faith, and you respond with a show of force, threatening me and thus my Domina. Take care, then, with your next move, for it is to her whom I answer above all others.”
“Indeed it was a show of force,” says the commander, her voice completely even, “not an actual use. But now I see, Time Master and Time Tree Cheney, that you pose no threat to me.” She puts her gun back into the secret place where she got it from. “So I will be no threat to you. I agree to your terms.”
“A wise decision.” The Magister lowers his arm.
Alison stares. The Magister has promised her all sorts of things recently, but only now does she have an idea of how he would defend her limits when someone else tried to push them. She knew that he was powerful, but she never counted on such a combination of speed, defense, and incontrovertible authority. And this person has voluntarily given himself to her service. Well, that’s...intense. Alison swears to use these powers only for good.