The commander’s deference to the Magister marks an effective ending to the proceedings. Everyone acknowledges that they will next meet, along with the Agricole, to finalize the peace, and Loriischi finally looks at Uscheschua and signals for her to put away her tablet. The Magister, the commander, and Loriischi talk in a trio, still sitting on the floor. At the same time, Alison and Uscheschua move to each other as fast as they can, while still maintaining the fiction that they are decorous ambassadors.
“I’m so glad to see you again!” says Uscheschua, taking Alison’s hands and pulling her in as the session closes. “I wish that I could practice my English with you and meet the little moss balls again, but I really have to finish my records of this meeting. I’m sorry that we haven’t had the time to talk.”
“Yeah...and I’m sorry you didn’t have the time to talk,” Alison mutters, a grumble still in her voice. “I can’t believe they shut you up, and you just sat in a corner, taking minutes!”
Uscheschua drops Alison’s hands. “Time Tree Cheney!” she exclaims with a rather formal half-bow. “I’m very sorry for offending you, but I don’t understand why you’re erupting at me. What have I done to incur your magma?”
Shit! Yet another fuck-up! “Oh! Usch -- Ambassador Lilleschall, I’m not angry at you.” Alison dares to reach out, for once, and seize Uscheschua’s hands. “I’m not angry at you,” she repeats, softening her voice.
Alison’s hands have an immediate effect on Uscheschua. She straightens a bit and turns toward Alison like a flower toward the sun. “So...what are you magmic about?”
“I was just frustrated because I thought that you were a great ambassador when we met, but Commander Effschischa and Grower Ollischill didn’t even let you do any, uh, ambassadoring this time. I mean, you’re so smart -- dendritic -- and so passionate! I wish you could have shown them.”
“But I did show them.” Uscheschua cocks her head, and all her slim branches of hair swoop over one shoulder like so many dreadlocks. “That’s why I’m on the team -- because I have an interest and an aptitude.”
“What good is the aptitude if they won’t let you talk?” Alison shakes her head
“I’m not being prevented from anything, though. I chose the role I have. I mean, I didn’t choose to work with them. Grower Publivocis told me that they wanted to work with me and -- wow! That’s the bloomingest, juiciest fruit I’ve ever had the opportunity to harvest -- even more than working for Grower Publivocis.
“Both of them have much more experience than I do talking to other trees, so at first they couldn’t decide how I could help. I was the one who thought that I would be a good records keeper, since I’m really not cultivated for the public, formal envoy work like they are. You’ve seen that for yourself, Time Tree Cheney -- I’m too blooming melodramatic, and I’d just say something wrong. But, this way, I’m out in the shoots and buds of history, seeing it, living it, growing in it, recording it!” Lifting her branches, she sighs so happily that her eyes close. “I’m drinking in so much knowledge, learning so much, and -- “ So great is her bliss that she runs out of words for it.
Uscheschua’s expression reminds Alison of the Magister when he offered her his service, as well as the transcendent joy she feels upon walking into a library. Uscheschua is exactly where she wants to be. “I didn’t realize that you doing exactly what you wanted -- that’s really amazingly juicy. And you made your own job description? Congratulations!” Maybe someday she’ll be as brilliant as the wonderful, beautiful Uscheschua.
“Yes, it’s even part of my lellayschiiya as a servant of the Schuelle. Oh, Grower Ollischill is ready to leave,” she says, craning her neck around Alison to see Loriischi waiting behind the commander’s wheelchair. “I’m sorry, but I really have to go. Thank you for your congratulations. I will see you again when you plant our peace -- goodbye. May your blossoms ever bear fruit and your roots always go deep.” Uscheschua clasps Alison’s forearms and then departs.
“Your lovely Miss Lilleschall has a new employment contract?” The Magister appears at her elbow, waving as the Schuaschen delegation leaves. He closes the control room door behind them.
“She does!” Alison bounces on her toes a bit and takes a twirl around the central control tower, leaning on the railing. “Now, instead of being a fake ambassador, she’s the official records keeper for the Schuaschen envoys. I was all annoyed that Loriischi and the commander had banished Uscheschua to the corner for punishment. But it turns out that is the position she asked for. So, if you’re going to ask me what I learned today, one thing is that I really need to stop jumping to conclusions.”
“You look like you’re about to do so now,” he observes, marking her posture with an eyebrow maneuver. Alison ignores him and adds a little bit of a dance step as he goes on: “You have a strong intuition for justice, to be sure. However, though consensual and compelled obedience may look the same from a distance, they do differ. I understand your impulse to showcase the acuity and zeal of Miss Lilleschall. And yet, as you saw, your attempt to include her constituted a disruptive breach of protocol -- “
Alison quits jigging. “I realized that in the middle of my rant. I’m sorry.”
“Sometimes one may find it efficacious to, as you tried, work outside of or even against a chain of command in pursuit of one’s goals.” He’s pacing again [naturally] in circles around the central console. “But sometimes moving within the established order is best. However, do not worry yourself too much about today’s misstep, for the ability to make such decisions only comes through time and experience.” He stops abruptly and turns precisely toward her, which he likes to do for significant sentences. “No matter your plans, however, you would do well to learn the true hierarchy, instead of assuming familiarity therewith.”
“Um...yeah. Duly noted.”
“Do you have more that you wish to tell me? And, just so you know, I have no secret list of expected lessons against which I am checking those you have told me so far.”
“Tace. I just wanted to say -- that kind of reassurance is good, so thank you. --But actually, I did have something else to add. I saw two styles of negotiation today. One was between you and Loriischi: the polite, calm, reasonable style, with everyone treating each other like colleagues -- or at least pretending to. And there was the more hostile one between you and the commander. You were honest about your positions, but you were also trying to dominate each other.” Alison pauses, staring down at the gleaming ebony wood of the railing, then ventures, “You really meant that, then, about answering to me over the Doctor?”
“I answer of my own volition to someone who respects me,” he says, as if it should be obvious to her.
“Okay then…” Alison decides to move off that topic. “--So...diplomatic styles… Politeness is always a good start, but you also have to accurately estimate the goals and mood of whoever you’re talking to. Then you adjust your approach based on your observations. If someone raises the stakes, you have to know how high you’re willing to go. And,” she can’t help but add, “if you’re determined to come out on top, it helps to have a bottomless well of arrogance.”
“I possess nothing but a justified confidence in my own abilities.” He acknowledges her mockery with a slight smile, but clearly thinks that his egotism is anything but extraordinary.
“Right -- keep telling yourself that. --And that’s about all, I think.”
“So -- an educational hearing then. I trust you have discovered the benefits of observation and the perils of speaking out of turn. You protest that you have, and yet you continue to disobey me when I tell you to be still.” He cocks his head at her and lowers his eyebrows thoughtfully.
“Um, yeah. Like I said, I have problems with that.”
“Then my duty is to help you overcome those.” He says it with some delight, spreading out his hands, as if it’s that simple.
“Wow, for an evil alien super-powered robot, you’re not much cop at punishment.”
“I am exhausted with punishment; it only breaks people.” He waves away her attempt at a joke. “--But to your point -- I know that you hate being told what to do. Is that why you disobey me?”
“Well, obviously, I don’t like being ordered around, but that’s not really it. I mean -- I want to be your good Domina, but apparently I literally cannot keep my mouth shut.”
“Hmmm… Then you disobey me because you feel that you will be driven to distraction if you remain silent. Am I right?” Pacing, pacing -- does he ever stop pacing?
Alison reflects. She does have a habit of becoming so indignant that she feels like she just has to let it out. “Yeah, you are, actually.”
Stop -- turn -- pivot -- it’s like some exact, geometrical, one-person dance. “So then I must find you some way to displace your thoughts so that you would not speak and yet you would be calm.”
She gets an idea. “Well, I could always do what I did when I got bored in history class ‘cause I’d already read the books. I’ll write down what I’d rather be saying, since I’m sure they can’t read English anyway.”
“And if that will not suffice, signal me.” He puts one finger on top of the other perpendicularly, making a T. “Call it a silent tace, at which I will adjourn so that you might regain your composure.”
“It’s a plan.”
“And a necessary one at that.” He stops [finally], stares at the vaulted ceiling, and sighs. “Quite soon we will hear the Flumenarxi envoys and their request that we help them make of the Schuaschen the docile subjects that they never were.”
“Fuck.” Alison sticks out her tongue.
“I am fully aware that they are wrong and that you find their beliefs abhorrent,” he says, fixing his eyes on her now. “And yet -- your success on this mission depends on your ability to act on your impulses toward justice and compassion without displaying bias or causing offense. Thus you must maintain a politic politeness, even toward your enemies, in the hope that your respect toward them will render them amenable to a treaty of equality.”
“That’s easy for you to say -- you’re like the expert of bullshit! How am I supposed to be civil to people who want to turn Uscheschua into a fucking table?”
“You may learn such skills in time, but you do not have them now. Therefore I will have you silent in the hearing with the Flumenarxi, unless there is an emergency.”
“Silent?” Alison’s voice hits the squawking register.
He winces momentarily at her high pitch, but says without variation in his own tone, “Entirely.”
Alison grinds her teeth and lets out a semi-incoherent growl. “Urrrgh. This is going to be hard.”
“I never claimed that it would be easy. But I know you to be clever and, when properly motivated, very obedient. So...listen. Observe. Write all that you want in your notebook. Let me know if you need an adjournment. Will you do as I say?”
Keep your temper to keep the peace, Alison tells herself. She reminds herself that people are depending on her -- more people than have ever depended on her before -- to help them. Uscheschua’s life, the commander’s life, Loriischi’s life, and the lives of all the other trees of the Schuaschen are worth more than her momentary outrage. With that in mind, she can match the levelness of his gaze. “Yes. Audio ut discam.” I hearken so that I may learn.
“Very good. I would much rather have a hiatus than an outburst. Of course, I hope that the hearing goes smoothly enough without occasion for either, but I doubt that it will.”