Two To Make Peace
by Kathryn A
"Miles! Admiral! What are you doing here?" Bel Thorne's voice was a relief to hear.
"Betan stealth drone," Miles said. "Experimental. This is Doctor Smith, it belongs to him."
"Hello," the Doctor said cheerfully. "Call me the Doctor."
"You're not Betan," Thorne said.
"Immigrant," the Doctor lied promptly. "Love the lifestyle. Though the earrings take a bit of getting used to."
"You're not wearing any."
"Neither are you, Gentle Herm," the Doctor pointed out.
"Doctor, this is Bel Thorne, Captain of the Ariel," Miles said. "Captain, briefing in my office in fifteen minutes. Senior officers. I've encountered the pirates and... it's a more complicated situation than we'd anticipated."
"Sir." Miles was amazed how much dryness the herm could put into one syllable.
Changed into his Dendarii grey-and-whites, Miles faced the people sitting around the table. The Doctor was in on the briefing; as an information source he was invaluable; as an unknown quantity, it was better to have him under his eye.
Miles cleared his throat. Better just come out and say it. "The pirates are aliens. Lizard-people."
"Well, technically not lizards," the Doctor interrupted. "They're actually descended from chameleon-like reptiles; don't have the camouflage any more, still have the eyesight. Though the Galyari consider themselves to be descended from avians rather than reptilians, I'm fairly certain that that's a myth."
"You're not serious," Thorne said.
"Well --" the Doctor began, but was interrupted in turn.
"There aren't any aliens," Elena said.
"Well, they did find ruins on Mars," Eli Quinn said.
"Ruins, not spacefaring civilisations," Thorne said.
"What, you don't believe in aliens?" the Doctor exclaimed. "Are you thick, or just wilfully ignorant?"
"Doctor, don't insult the children," Miles said. He turned to the others. "Yes, I said aliens, and I meant aliens."
"What are their numbers?" Eli asked. "Can the fleet fight them off or will we have to get help?"
"Why is it always shoot first and ask questions afterwards with you people?" the Doctor snarled. "No wonder humans have such a bad reputation."
"Well it's not as if they speak our language," Thorne said. "They're alien."
"Language?" the Doctor said. "Language shouldn't be a problem, the Galyari are traders, they speak many languages..." he trailed off, deep in thought. "Unless they don't," he continued. He turned to Miles. "Admiral, did you manage to see what they were doing with the prisoners, close enough to hear what they were saying?"
Miles thought back. "They seemed to be questioning them, but it wasn't in any language that I knew. And none of the passengers did either."
"Was it language, or languages?"
"Didn't you notice yourself?"
"I'm fluent in everything, so no, I didn't notice," the Doctor said. "Think! It's important."
Miles was multi-lingual himself; while Barrayar did have one major language, there were enough language minorities that it behooved anyone with savvy to at least be able to understand them -- as he'd proved on Kyril island and other times since. And even if you didn't understand a language, different languages had different feels, some guttural, some liquid, some sing-song. "Languages," Miles stated. "Some of them sounded almost familiar."
"Yes!" the Doctor said. "That's it! They're trying to make themselves understood. It must have been a time-rift as well as a space-rift; while the Galyari know many languages, languages suffer from drift, change over time. If they'd fallen back or forward a couple of centuries, they wouldn't necessarily have any languages in common."
"How is that going to help us?" Elena asked. "We still won't be able to talk to them -- unless you can?"
"Yes, I can," the Doctor said, "but that's not going to be a long-term solution."
Because he's not planning on sticking around, Miles surmised.
"What languages would they know which wouldn't have drifted as much?" the Doctor wondered aloud. "Hindi? No, probably not, and obviously not English. Hebrew -- anyone here know Hebrew?" Headshakes all around. "Japanese? No, I've got it -- French! The French are obsessed with the purity of their language. Who here can speak French?"
"Me," said Miles, at the same time as Elena said "I can." The French-speaking minority on Barrayar was a voluble and very conservative one.
The Doctor beamed at them. "Good! There's your answer! Speak first--"
"And shoot afterwards," Miles said. "Only if we need to."