After the Magister casts a spell of silence on the annoying Ter Praedius, the talks continue at a much more tolerable pace. Alison takes a rest at first, since even being a spectator at such an intense arse-kicking has fatigued her. But the Magister assures her, both in the next day’s recess and at the end of the session, that the culprit is actually shutting up and letting the Schuaschen delegates talk. In fact, the Agricole have agreed to release all those Schuaschen currently imprisoned in pots and gardens -- after, of course, they assure themselves that the Schuaschen facilities for the infirm and crippled [the insulting Agricole phrase] meet their standards. Of course, right after this agreement, Commander Effischischa said, We cultivate ourselves to our own standards, Trix Curriendi, not yours. Thus Alison and the Magister agree that, while the Schuaschen will definitely be freed, those bullshit inspections are going nowhere.
Once restored, Alison returns to the audience chamber, wondering if the talk could resolve within a week, the Magister’s original allotment of time. Not a chance. She sits down and immediately discovers that the Schuaschen and the Agricole have ground to a standstill on the agenda’s most controversial items: first, full moral, legal, and social equality between the two peoples and, second, territory on Crescior designated specifically for a Schuaschen homeland. To be precise, it’s Trix Curriendi who’s bogging down on the implications of moral equality. The assumption of such between the two peoples, she argues, posits that the Schuaschen are as good as the Agricole when everyone knows that they aren’t.
Alison makes a critical synthesis of Trix Curriendi’s argument on her notepad: Blah blah blah, bullshit, blah blah blah, temper tantrum of denial when called out, blah blah, the oppressor’s delicate feelings are hurt, blah blah, and they’ll keep on going off on tangents forever. If you think this is bad, bring up the Schuaschen territory question. I guarantee they’ll dig in and whinge harder. We’ll be here for six fucking years. The Magister reads her analysis, gives one of his subtle, definite nods, then, at the next natural break in Trix Curriendi’s rant half an hour later, calls a recess.
Sequestering themselves in a smaller conference room, Alison and the Magister strategize. He asks her what she suggests, since she clearly has more experience with this type of bullshit [although he doesn’t use that word]. Alison doesn’t immediately have an answer. She has spent every moment of her waking life parsing bullshit power plays because that’s what she needs to do to get by. She can call out ploys and tactics on the computer screen and the telly. She can dissect them with her doll club friends when they’re done lamenting that fashion dolls of color come in only two shades: light tan and slightly darker light tan. She’s forever identifying the injustices of the world, but mentally or at least privately, since she’s used to being ignored. Even though she and the Magister are in on this together, she still stops short when someone other than a woman of color takes her insights seriously.
“Does it not stand to reason, though,” says the Magister, “that, if there are those who have mastered what you call bullshit, there may also be a mistress of its dismantling and destruction?”
“Isn’t that giving me way too much power, though?” says Alison. “I’m just -- “
“Pray do not belittle yourself. I know that you have not always had the power in your life that you have either wanted or needed, especially in recent days. Now, though, and here, you are my good Domina, and you are free to use the formidable power that you have indeed developed. Will you not do so?”
“Okay,” Alison says decisively, punching her fist into her palm. “Fuck yeah I will!”
Alison opines that, as much as she and the Magister are trying to limit their intervention, this is another case where mediation requires action. They obviously can’t intimidate the senior Agricole ambassador into ending the bigotry and behaving reasonably. But they can put some hard limits on the discussion topics: no philosophical debates, no semantic discussions, no debates on the nature of the Schuaschen and/or Agricole. The only permissible topics are concrete ones related to the immediate feasibility of the agenda items.
On the subject of the last two and most controversial agenda items, Alison next proposes a change to their treatment. Instead of mediating final discussions on Schuaschen-Agricole equality and a Schuaschen homeland in the next few days, she and the Magister should change tactics. Rather they should help the delegates schedule separate rounds of talks, one for each subject, in the near future. Any progress that the delegates have made so far in discussing equality may be incorporated into a provisional agenda. And, of course, they could always drop some serious hints that the Council expects the delegates to adhere to the timetable or else there will be consequences, the dire nature of which is best left to supposition. The Magister likes this idea, so, thus equipped, they return to mediation.
Three days later, at the conclusion of the first ever Schuaschen-Agricole peace talks, Alison is on the verge of yet again abandoning carefully drafted remarks. She’s trying for an improvisational valedictory, though she frankly does not know how much of an impression she has been making with her calculated candor. Indeed, she thinks that any success arising from these talks must be credited to the Magister, who, as a meticulous follower of rules, has been chairing pretty damn well for an evil robot. [Okay, maybe her dirt digging on Ter Praedius, her occasional sarcastic notes about Trix Curriendi’s derailments, and her advice on reformatting the last two agenda topics helped a little bit too.] But she has her assignments, and she’s going to make the most of them.
She takes stock of her audience. Once she and the Magister revised the agenda, advising the delegates to use the remaining days to set out a timeline for talks on the last two topics, they did so briskly. Well, Commander Effschischa, Loriischi, and Trix Curriendi did. Ter Praedius provided two pieces of irrelevant input before the Magister stared him into silence every successive time he tried to open his mouth. THANK YOU, Alison wrote to the Magister on her note pad.
Alison herself feels a lethargy of relief at the culmination of the talks, and her weariness seems reflected on the faces of most in attendance. Though the commander’s attitude remains sharp and alert, Loriischi’s smile is looking a little forced. Trix Curriendi just appears serious, with dark stains of sleeplessness under her eyes. Almina, having run out of nervous twitches and things to goggle at, sits quietly in her chair, done at least with the Agricole’s record of things, while the indefatigable Uscheschua still writes away. Alison is pleased to note that the culprit [that is, Ter Praedius] sits notably lower in his chair than at the beginning. She hopes that he has an attack of shame and slithers under the table to hide. Only the Magister, arms stretched out in front of him, hands interlaced on the table, retains the air of superiority and equanimity with which he began.
“So now,” says Alison, her eyes alighting for a moment on each person as she scans the room, “that we’ve reached the conclusion of the work we gathered here for, I want to thank you, on behalf of the High Council of Time Lords of Gallifrey, for inviting us. You took a chance, both on agreeing to compromise with each other and also on permitting us to help in the brokerage of your peace.
“I have absolutely no illusions that your discussions here have truly changed your distrust and dislike for each other into respect, but you can’t eradicate prejudice in less than a week. Besides, as much as it would be great for all people of Crescior to live in peace and equality, that wasn’t really the point of these talks. You came together to agree on concrete, practical actions -- or at least a schedule for their development -- to improve your day-to-day relations. And you did just that. So thank you.
“Right...so I said when we started that, even though the Schuaschen and the Agricole couldn’t agree on fundamental bases of philosophy, at least you were united in your love of the land. So these talks were a challenge to prove how much you truly care for the island that you hold in common. And you’ve set aside your differences enough to agree that your land must be healed and that, what’s more, you must be the ones to heal it. Again -- thank you.
“Now you start the long labor of repairing what has broken between your two peoples,” Alison says, beginning to wrap up. “Now you start restoring your land, your home, your lives, your future. This isn’t the end at all; this isn’t even the end of the beginning. It’s like...the beginning of the beginning, the planting of a seed that, if you tend it carefully and in collaboration, will bear the fruit that all of you and the land of Crescior need.”
She sits down, and the tired delegates perk up, realizing that they have been formally dismissed. They gather their supplies, all except for Uscheschua, who’s still writing down absolutely everything, and go through an elaborate leave-taking. Everyone thanks everyone individually, as in some sort of Moebius strip receiving line, clasping hands, looking into each other’s eyes, and bullshitting about what a pleasure it was to work with each other in the accomplishment of such noble deeds.
“Alison,” says Loriischi, “again please know how grateful I am that your High Council agreed to provide us the shelter of your branches so that we could safely deal with our Agricole colleagues. Your gracious extension of your most esteemed canopy over our activities here gives me confidence deep in my heartwood that, as you said, our efforts will plant in most fertile soil, seed, bud, flourish, and become a forest of good for us and for our future. From the way that you spoke about us and our land, I know that you at least comprehend how important, indeed, how vital, this shared ground is, not only to us Schuaschen, but also to the Agricole, and I am greatly pleased that the Council sent representatives whose taproots sink deep into the right soil. I hope that all your future endeavors flower and bear fruit like this one, but I do not need to hope, for I know that, with your eloquence and understanding, they will.”
“Um…” says Alison. “I… Thanks, Loriischi.”
“Time Lord Cheney,” says Commander Effschischa, “you and the Time Lord Master truly are useful allies. I believe we have done some good here.”
Alison returns the nod, saying only, “Indeed.”
“Time Lord Cheney,” says Trix Curriendi [with a sniff of course], “on behalf of the city of Flumenarx, I extend my thanks to you and the Lord Master of Time. Your mediation allayed my concerns by demonstrating that both parties to these talks are capable of intelligent discussion and reasonable compromise.” She goes off into a combination of platitudes and backhanded compliments about how the Schuaschen exceeded her expectations by showing themselves capable of rational thought. Alison grits her teeth, nods, smiles, and thinks that the senior Agricole ambassador must be one of the most miserable people on the planet, especially if she thinks everyone else is out to attack her with their ignorance. Finally Trix Curriendi finishes up: “I am also pleased the my apprehension over off-planet mediators proved groundless as well. You seem to have an understanding of our unique culture and values. My thanks again.”
“You’re welcome,” says Alison. “I’ve learned so much from working with you.” It’s true, and it’s also all that she can manage to politely say to this woman who she intensely dislikes.
And here’s the culprit, trying his hardest not to look like the Magister just handed his arse to him. He launches into a speech more long-winded and much less sincere than Loriischi’s, and Alison takes the opportunity to let precisely none of it into her ears. Eventually he shuts up; she says thank you, and -- finally! -- he fucks off for good.
“Time Lord -- Trix -- Al -- “ Almina, who Alison told to call her by her first time, stumbles on titles and eventually settles upon, “Trix Cheney, you’re very gracious and polite, and I’m really glad that I got to work with you and actually meet you and -- ahem. Thank you. I hope, um…” She glances over at the Agricole ambassadors, who now confer with the Magister. “I hope that the information I gave you was helpful,” she finally says in a low voice.
“Definitely!” says Alison. “What you told me was instrumental in figuring out how to, um, adjust the proceedings to make them go more efficiently. That was extremely helpful, so thank you.”
“Time Tree Cheney!” Suddenly Uscheschua has Alison in her arms.
“Please,” says Alison, looking up into her friend’s shining brown face, “you can call me Alison.”
“Oh! Good! I kept saying Ellischuan in my head,” says Uscheschua, again turning Alison’s name into a lovely susurrus as of breezy leaves, “but I didn’t want to let it out of my mouth because I didn’t know if using it would make you think that I thought you were just a sprout or something.” She smiles and moves closer to Alison, her branches creating a green bower of secrecy about them both. “Ellischuan, will you call me Uscheschua?”
“Yes, yes, yes!” Alison wants to kiss her, but thinks that might breach some sort of protocol. “I’ve been doing that in my head anyway. Uscheschua…” she says, hugging her so tightly that she can lean her head upon Uscheschua’s breast.
“Ellischuan…” says Uscheschua. “Please, before you leave,” she whispers in English, “will you come to see me?”
“I...I...can’t -- I mean, for my own safety, the Council prefers that I stay on the ship,” Alison says, “but I would be greatly honored if it would be possible for you to come here again so that we could see each other.” She and Uscheschua hold each other tightly, just as closely as Alison has always wished to be held, and then the delegates are gone, leaving Alison alone with the Magister.