“Everything is arranged,” the Magister says, striding into Alison’s favorite atrium with his usual long steps. “The Schuaschen and the Agricole ambassadors arrive first thing tomorrow morning, and they all have the proposed agenda to which we will adhere.”
“--Which is basically the lellayschiiya that Uscheschua and I agreed to,” Alison says, nodding, “just with the discussion of a Schuaschen homeland.”
“But of course.” He bows. “Furthermore, I have three days set aside for talks, with the option of extending discussion to a full week. This is a conflict that has gone on for a long while before our arrival, and it will continue well after our departure. We could spend weeks, even months, here, mediating a thorough and fair resolution thereunto. But I am mindful of your efforts to avoid colonialist savior status, as well as your own finite resources. Thus I think it best to aid in the establishment of a solid foundation, upon which the Schuaschen and Agricole may build their own agreement.”
“Oh. Right. The evils of colonialism.” Alison grimaces. “I suppose we can’t avoid all of them since we’re acting on behalf of something kind of like the East India Company in space. But at least we can try to mitigate the bad and do as much good as possible. --By the way, thanks for taking care of all that. I just wanted to make sure that I got enough rest before tomorrow and that my opening remarks were in decent shape.” She waves at him the paper that she has been reviewing on and off all morning, in between dozes.
“I should hope they are; we have certainly edited them enough.” The Magister seeks to sit next to her, but circles of sleeping cat occupy all nearby chair cushions. He opts to prop himself against one of the ends of the arms of an overstuffed chair.
Alison nods. “Oh yeah. By now they’re a…” Pause for emphasis. “-- Master piece.” He rolls his eyes at her. “You can laugh at puns -- I promise. It won’t break your face.”
“Pfffft.” But he’s smiling. “I also came here to give you intelligence of an addition to the delegates. You already know the Schuaschen delegates: Commander Effschischa and Secondary Grower Ollischill, capably assisted by your Miss Lilleschall. On the Agricole side is Trix Curriendi, with the support of Trixicula Sideris. However, for parity with the Schuaschen, Trix Curriendi has added another ambassador to her party.”
The new ambassador, slightly older than Alison at perhaps thirty Earth years of age, is Praedius Hadrianus. He has risen quickly to the post of assistant ambassador in just three years. He has a reputation among the Flumenarxi government as a skilled diplomat. At the very least, in the Magister’s estimation, he must be ambitious, socially gifted, and probably firmly convinced of his own self-importance. Ter, the Magister tells her, is the Agricolinguan masculine honorific, so the ambassador goes by Ter Praedius during these talks .
Shifting in her seat, Alison rolls her eyes slightly. Ter Praedius sounds like a younger, more naive version of the Magister. Then they’ll either be best friends or worst enemies -- probably the later, since the Magister is of the opinion that the only one with a completely reasonable sense of self-importance is him. She’ll have to watch the two closely.
“Do you think this will even work?” she says. “We’re just two people -- “
“But not merely any two, my dear. Being who we are, we cannot fail. You worry then?”
“Actually, um, I’m kind of calm. Maybe it’s just because all I’ve been doing for the past few days is napping, petting cats, and, oh yeah, working a bit on my opening remarks. For once in the past four or however many months, I actually feel rested and...prepared. Obviously I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m mostly sort of okay with that. So, for once in my life, I’m meeting some aliens with an idea of what to expect. And I’m not being mind-fucked!”
“No,” he says, then adds, “I am quite proud of you for -- “ He opens his mouth to enumerate her accomplishments in typical grandiose fashion. Then he concludes only, “--What you have made of yourself.” A warm smile, bringing a glimmering amber to his eyes and an endless series of crescents to the lines upon his face, says the rest.
“Yeah,” says Alison with an answering beam, “likewise. You’re good.” It’s not just an ethical assessment, but an acknowledgment of his skill in using his power. “And I think we’re pretty good together too.”
They grin at each other in slightly silly silence for a while until Alison speaks up: “So...is anything up with you or the Doctor or whatever they’re plotting?”
“Ah yes!” He starts from his seat, taking her hands, pulling her toward the door. “Come with me, and I shall tell you.”
Alison laughs. “Where are we going?”
“Scintilla, of course.” And he takes her into his ship, who has healed all her blown circuits and now greets both of them with firework-enhanced wall torches. They compliment her use of pastel spark bouquets. She accepts their thanks with such enthusiasm that Alison expects her to start bouncing gleefully.
Alison and the Magister head to his wizard’s hideaway. And, since the torches now function throughout Scintilla, Alison doesn’t run into anything in the process. As soon as they take seats, Alison asks, “What are you so thrilled about? Good news?”
He turns to her, practically radiating light. “I know now how to leave.”
“Here? I mean, the Doctor’s TARDIS? But I always thought it was like a combination of life support and, um, house arrest. Like if you stepped outside, you’d either run out of power and die, or the Doctor would find out and turn you off forever.”
“As I thought too. And yet,” he says, raising both index fingers, “our earlier discussion of unspoken expectations caused me to examine more closely the exact conditions under which I am confined.”
“And a loophole -- you found a loophole, right?” Alison leans toward him.
“Well, you are right -- because of my dependency on the TARDIS as a power source, I cannot go outside of a certain range from her. But, as for the prohibition on leaving -- “
“A loophole! Was it fake all along?”
“Tace, please! Let me finish! I have examined everything that the Doctor used in my construction, as well as the entirety of my own hardware and software. There is no express prohibition on my exit.”
“Wait. What? Whoa! You’ve been free all this time?” Alison drops her jaw.
“I have, the minor problem of portable power excepted, of course. I have never left, though, because, just as I assumed so many things about my compelled state, so I also assumed that I had to stay.”
Alison shakes her head, looking down. “So then...it wasn’t real; none of it was real. It was all literally just in your head. You could always leave, but you’d just mind-fucked your own self so that you couldn’t. Like me, I suppose -- trapped in here despite myself by the mind-fucking powers of my own bullshit brain.”
“No, no, tace, mea carissima, atque audite.” His voice goes low now. “You say that it was in my head as if my fear did not truly exist or, if it did, that it was negligible and easily overcome. But you and I -- we both have intimate experience with fear. We know its power, its almost irresistible authority. Your fears are real, and you must treat them as such. You cannot deny them, for they will only strengthen. You must meet them directly and learn to know them. That is the only means by which you may control them. Do not blame yourself for being afraid. Only accept that you are and determine then how you will act,” he says with a decisive nod.
“Well, thank you for that nice motivational lecture, mi Magistre. But who are you trying to convince: me or you?” Alison’s smile is so sour that it’s pretty much a frown.
“Both, obviously. And yet I feel an inevitability upon me. I am so sick of my current state that I cannot change it. No matter my fear, I must act. I may be terrified, but I will go -- because I must.”
“You mean like now?” She nearly starts up.
“No, we are not finished here yet. But when you have gone and I have seen you off safely, then nothing will hold me here. I am already planning a means to transfer my power dependency from the Doctor’s TARDIS to Scintilla. Once that is accomplished, I shall depart.”
“When I’m gone?” This time she does start up. “Are you kicking me out?”
“No, my dear, I am not.” The smile he gives her is distant. “I only meant that I know you will not stay forever.”
“I guess not. I’ve got to...um...go out...back into the world sometime.” Even as she admits that she must, she feels the inevitability settle down around her, just as the Magister said. This is untenable -- the two of them trapped by their own fear on a ship with someone that can’t trust. Just as the Magister will escape when he is ready, so too will she. Neither of them can support much longer confinement by fear. As afraid as she is of mind-fucking outside, she fears that her mind will be further fucked up by fear if she stays. The thought of going makes her fairly tingle with terror, but the thought of staying gives her a lethargy as of death.
“And you will do so when you are ready.”
“Yeah.” Alison meets his eyes. “And I’m gonna be ready soon. It matters not how strait the gate…” she mutters with a sigh.
“I beg your pardon?”
“There was this poem that my dad taught me was I was really young. It was the first that I ever memorized, and it always stuck with me. You could say that it was just some of the stuffy old stiff upper lip bullshit or maybe even the mantra of someone who’d been hearing all her life that she had to be a Strong Black Woman, but...still… It’s like my spell for strength, my ward against danger, especially the last stanza:
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll;
I am the, um, mistress of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.”