Alison, in the library, listens to the Magister’s ideas about how they should mediate between the Schuaschen and the Agricole and lets out a sonorous snort. “Pfffft! So you’ve just decided that we’ll draw up a contract for them and make them sign it under pain of death?”
He rolls his eyes, though not particularly annoyed, and counts off his points on his fingers. “First of all, I did not put it that crudely. Second, I said nothing about pain or death, only the implied threat thereof. Third, I made no unilateral decision, only a proposal. Because this is a telepathy-free zone, I am speaking aloud so that you might understand my thoughts. I assume that you have objections to my idea?”
“Then speak them.”
“Only if you say the magic word.”
“Is there but one? Abracadabra? Presto?”
“The magic word is please, robot of mine.”
His eyebrows fly up in curves. “Very clever! You tell me that please is a spell, and then you know, because of my interest in the occult, I shall be more apt to remember it and use it.”
She’s about to say that the magic word is just an Earth joke that people use on bratty little kids, but, if he thinks she thought it up herself, more power to her. “Yes, I’m just that brilliant.”
“Anyway, please tell me your reservations.”
Alison counts back on her fingers at him. “Well, there’s at least three off the top of my head: the colonialism problem, the compulsion problem, and the Goddammit, why won’t you fit? problem.”
“Explain, please. The last one especially intrigues me.”
“Okay then -- colonialism. Even though both the Schuaschen and the Agricole both asked for our help, you have to admit that this is kind of a colonialist assignment -- you know, solving the problems of the natives for them because they can’t do it themselves. I say to myself, But I’m helping the Schuaschen, and this is for liberty and justice and equality. But you can be colonialist even for a good cause, I guess. If we do things for them, if we give them a contract that we write, then we do the exact opposite of helping. We treat them as if they aren’t capable enough to determine their own lives. We disrespect them; we cause them pain; we don’t treat them like the people they are. So that’s one reason why we can’t make a list of what with think their demands should be and then give it to the Schuaschen and the Agricole for signature.
“And then, of course, there’s the compulsion problem. You know exactly what I’m talking about because it’s just another way at looking at the difference types of obedience: that enjoined from the outside and that voluntarily issued from the inside. If we tell the Schuaschen and the Agricole what to do and then make them do it, we’ve got obedience under duress. They do what we want as long as we force them to do so and quit as soon as we let up force. And that’s mind-fucking, which is a hard limit. The only way this peace will go anywhere is if the parties think it up themselves and agree to it of their own volition. Then they’ll want to keep the peace because they created it and made it theirs.
“Finally, there’s the Goddammit, why won’t you fit? problem. Has it ever happened to you where you’re working on a doll, trying to put it back together, and two pieces sort of fit, but not really? And you get increasingly annoyed at the pieces not doing what you want, so then you cram them together and use glue, string, wire, cable ties, chewing gum -- whatever you’ve got -- to make them stick.” Alison strikes her fist into her curved palm, as if mashing down shot into a cannon’s mouth. “Then everything looks great for a while, until you realize that you’ve crushed things beyond repair. I mean, I’ve never done anything like that personally. This case is purely hypothetical, you understand.”
“Of course. You would never stoop to such measures, and nor would I.” The Magister shakes his head and looks positively shocked at the possibility. “Yet, were it to happen, one would undoubtedly realize that one’s use of excessive force took much more work from which to mend than if one had mastered one’s more violent impulses and instead done things right the first time.”
“Or, you know, if you want to use a sentence with less than a hundred words, Unnecessary force fucks shit up.”
He laughs. “So you would have us remove ourselves as much as possible from the situation so that the Schuaschen and the Agricole may settle their differences by the use of their own power.”
“Yeah, and I know that’s going to be hard for you, not telling everyone what to do. But you know what -- if I can seethe in silence and write down my feelings, you can too. I’ll just make sure to give you a stack of notebooks that you can fill with Obey me!”
“You are much too kind.” He gives her a shallow bow. “I think, then, that we shall best serve the Schuaschen cause by providing a neutral and safe place in which they may negotiate with the Agricole. For example, we would do well to prohibit weapons on the premises.”
“--And shutting down any Agricole who go on tangents about the Schuaschen not being people -- because that subject’s not up for debate. Only the terms of the peace are.”
Alison proposes the use of parliamentary procedure to structure the meeting, though she only knows the basics. He readily agrees, assumes the duties of chair [but of course], then asks her what role she will assume. If she likes, he will schedule the hearings around her need for rest, during which the diplomatic teams will recess. She points out that she is usually only good for six hours of intense stuff before needing a full day of rest; the treaty would take weeks to complete if the timing takes her into consideration.
“What role will you have then?” he asks, coming forward to her chair and bending to her in concern. “You will not miss the culmination of our work entirely!”
“I’ll do like opening and closing remarks, and I’ll co-chair as much as I can. You told me to figure out my limits, and that’s what I can handle right now -- me and my fucking broken brain.”
“No!” He sounds personally affronted. “You may have your limits, but never think that they make you broken. Compared to the Doctor, I myself am disabled, as I cannot leave the TARDIS, both because I am prohibited and because I use some of her fuel for life support. I am limited, but never broken.”
“Are you implying that I’m disabled? My brain’s just...like...sick. It’s not permanently fucked up!” Alison bangs her fist on her chair arm.
“I pass no judgment on your ability or lack thereof. I am only stating that all of us have limits, but that does not make us broken, defective, or otherwise wrong.”
“Okay, that’s nice, but I can’t deal with that right now. We’re preventing civil war here, hopefully in a way that doesn’t make us colonialist oppressors. So let’s focus.”
“I am focusing. Are you? You say that we must be mediators with as little interest as possible. Beyond that, however, I expect that we shall have to make at least the pretense of enforcement powers. The Schuaschen may have the truth of being right, but that gives them no advantage without the ability to reinforce that claim. They have no great financial, legal, social, or general societal supremacy, and that lack of power renders them vulnerable to the Agricole.”
“Yeah, like we can be right all we want about people deserving respect, kindness, and quality, and white people still won’t apologize for kidnapping, killing, and selling brown people and treating us like shit even now. They’re never suddenly going to give us all the respect that we don’t have. Being right only works if you can back it up with new laws or a war or rewards or some kind of enforcement, like you were saying. Can the Time Lord Council that we’re supposedly representing do anything like that?”
“Hah!” He switches his head back and forth. “I have little regard for the Council. I work on their behalf now solely because it pleases you. They pretend to be omnipotent rulers of the space/time continuum, and yet they regularly fail to deal with the most notorious and powerful renegades.”
“Like you, I suppose,” Alison says behind her hand.
“And who else?”
“I would consider the Doctor, the Rani, and the Stylist almost my equals, as well as several others with more...scruples.” He ejects the word like an insult.
“Wait… There’s an evil Stylist? What do they do -- give people split ends?”
He ignores her. “While the Council has nowhere near the authority that they would like, we Time Lords are the most powerful people in the universe. Furthermore, the Council does interfere enough in other people’s business enough to sustain the reputation as a formidable institution. Thus, in answer to your question, the Council is generally seen as universal judge, jury, and jailer all in one.”
“Okay then...so… The Schuaschen and the Agricole do their thing, and we stay out of it, except to make sure that they follow parliamentary procedure. We pretend to be absolutely neutral, even though we know who’s side we’re on. As a last resort, if the Agricole are being really shitty, we can drop some hints that the Council is going to kick their arses if they don’t behave. So, my dear robot, the other day you told me about learning the hierarchy and then deciding to work inside of it or outside. Do you think you can work inside of it for once and follow the rules, even if it makes you want to stab things?”
“Of course. I can, and I shall.”
“Where do you get this superpower of being impervious to doubt?”
Alison shakes her head. “No! That’s impossible -- you know I’m scared shitless.”
“That is true, and yet you do not completely fear me. You know me, and yet you still think me capable of things that my history, disposition, habits, and nature would suggest are impossible. I know that you and I feel little kindness for the Doctor right now, and yet you remind me of them. Both you and they share the same inexplicable, infuriating, and irresistible ability to see the good in everyone. And, for some equally inexplicable, infuriating, and irresistible reason, I want to become the person that you trust that I am. And, because I do not accept failure, I must do as you ask. That is how I know that I shall succeed.”