Two To Make Peace
by Kathryn A
Miles sat up straighter in the chair and checked the settings again. The earbud in his ear had warmed to body-temperature, but it was still a hard lump. Part of him was gibbering Aliens! You're going to be talking to aliens! while another part of him was just getting impatient, waiting for the Doctor to return.
"Sorry," the Doctor said as he came in, "just needed to look something up. Are we ready?"
"Are you ready?" Miles asked, as Elena handed the Doctor the microphone he'd use to send to Miles' earbud. No point in having an expert if you don't use him -- and no point in letting the Other Guy know that you're being fed your lines. Though Miles was inclined to ad-lib anyway.
"Testing, testing, one, two, three," the Doctor said into Miles' ear, "with a banjo on my knee."
"Fine, we're ready," Miles said. The Doctor and Elena stood out of sight of the pickup, but near enough. Miles pressed the button.
"Calling the leader of the Galyari, this is Admiral Naismith of the Free Dendarii Mercenaries." The French was rusty on his tongue. He repeated the hail, and waited.
"No response," said Elena.
"Give them time," the Doctor said.
Miles repeated the hail.
The screen suddenly filled with a green-brown scaly head, with eyes like wrinkled cones that swivelled independently in all directions. The lipless mouth opened, and the alien spoke. "This is Negotiator Palin of the Clutch. At last, someone who can speak a trade tongue!"
"Good. A Negotiator. That means they're willing to negotiate."
"Why have you been attacking shipping in this sector?"
"We were defending ourselves. They attacked without provocation."
"Of which there are conveniently no survivors to tell their side of the story?" Miles said dryly.
"Not so!" Palin said. "We crippled only, where we could. Some ships would not surrender and kept firing. We had to destroy them or die. As it is, we lost three ships and two are crippled."
"What did I tell you? Shoot first and ask questions afterwards."
Miles ignored the comment. "Am I to understand that these... attacks are the result of simple misunderstanding?"
"Our flight was caught in some sort of disturbance, and when it was over, we were here, a place not on our charts."
"I was right, it was a Rift."
"We almost despaired," Palin continued, "but we encountered a ship -- signs of civilisation. We hailed it, and it opened fire on us."
"And that happened more than once," Miles stated. "The Dendarii were called in to investigate the disappearances."
"And who are the Dendarii? Police?" Palin asked.
"Our investigations are of a more private nature," Miles said.
"Mercenaries." Palin's voice was thoughtful.
"The best," Miles said. "We don't shoot first and ask questions afterwards. But we do know how to shoot."
Palin tilted her head in acknowledgement.
Miles nodded. "Now, it seems to me, Negotiator Palin, that you have a problem. You're far from home, you have no support, and you're outnumbered. There are a number of local governments in this area of space who will be talking piracy and kidnapping --" he held up one hand to forestall her protest, "whether or not it was self-defence. If you choose to do so, you can fight -- and you will die." Miles wondered if she realised how much he was bluffing. Sure, the Dendarii outnumbered the Galyari ships, but it had occurred to him that he had no idea what their weapons were capable of. Alien weapons against which they might have no defence; no, this wasn't a numbers game.
"We had no choice."
"You have a choice now," Miles said.
"What choices are you offering?" Palin asked.
"I can take them home," the Doctor said in his ear. "Just them, not their ships. The ships wouldn't fit."
I'm not sure they would trust the Doctor, not if he was right about his reputation, Miles thought. But he spoke anyway. "Transportation back to the Clutch, for your people, but not their ships."
"And what would happen to our ships? You would steal our homes from us!"
"Not at all," Miles said, though the thought of salvage had occurred to him. "It's just that your ships wouldn't fit through the doors of the transport that is being offered. I believe you're familiar with the ship in question -- rectangular shaped, and a particular shade of blue..."
"The Doctor," Palin hissed. "You are working with him."
"He is advising me," Miles said. "I am passing on his offer in good faith. You cannot deny that his ship is capable of taking you home."
"We must decline the offer," Palin said. "Our ships are our lives, our homes. Take us back that way, and we would have nothing."
"I've already mentioned the 'death' option, which I'm certain neither of us want," Miles said.
"We desire trade, not conflict," Palin said.
"And yet conflict is what you have given us," Miles said. "After this little... misunderstanding... I think certain guarantees would be required before any talk of trade. Certain governments are rather upset," he said. Though I bet the Houses of Jackson's Whole would be cutting each others' throats to talk trade with aliens, no matter what they'd done. Trading with them or dissecting them. No, we definitely don't want that. "The Houses of Jackson's Whole, for example, would probably like nothing more than to have your people on slabs -- or worse. House Ryoval is always looking for... exotic genetic material."
Miles wondered if the expression on Palin's face was horror, anger or just dyspepsia. It was rather hard to tell, though the way her eyes were swivelling she certainly seemed agitated.
"Why would they do such a thing?" Palin said, and then softer, so that Miles could barely hear it, "I do not understand humans."
"They're scum," Miles said. So much for the stick, how about the carrot? "If you're interested in trade, the best group to ally yourselves with in this sector of space is Komarr. Their trade fleets are famous throughout the nexus. And even better, from your point of view, is that there weren't any Komarran ships amongst those who attacked you." For once, Illyan had been proactive in sending Miles to investigate; Barrayar didn't want to wait until after they'd lost a Komarran trade fleet to look into the disappearances. Or maybe Illyan just didn't want Miles to get bored. He briefly wondered if Illyan would be pleased or horrified at what Miles was trying to achieve right now. Probably both.
"So you think the Komarrans would be open to negotiations?" Palin asked.
"Well, Komarr is a protectorate of Barrayar, so it's the Barrayarans you would have to negotiate with."
"Are you sure that's wise? Get the Barrayarans and the Galyari together and light the blue touch paper and stand well clear." the Doctor said in his ear. "On the other hand, they could get on like a house on fire, what with the bloodthirsty warrior thing."
Miles wished he could kick the Doctor or step on his foot; as it was, he couldn't even roll his eyes. "The Barrayarans," Miles continued, "have a warrior tradition not unlike your own, I'm told. And a colony world, Sergeyar, in need of colonists."
"I forgot to point out that the Clutch is not a planet, but a fleet. Great big floating conglomerate of many species. They aren't used to planets."
"A planet?" Palin said. "Does it have... birds?" she continued wistfully.
"Alas, no," Miles said. "The species that fills that niche on Sergeyar are lighter-than-air creatures somewhat resembling balloons. Though I believe the Barrayarans have introduced a few bird species of their own."
"The Galyari have had no homeworld since the Doctor drove us from Galyar," Palin said.
"It wasn't their homeworld, it was a colony," the Doctor protested. "They call all their colonies Galyar. Propaganda."
"The humans would allow us to share their world?" Palin continued.
"You would have to ask them," Miles said. "Barrayarans do tend to be a bit xenophobic, I admit. But like all pioneering efforts, Sergeyar tends to attract the more open-minded. And you already have experience in getting on with humans."
"Why would they listen to us?"
"They wouldn't," Miles said, "but they would listen to me. I happen to have an in with the Viceroy of Sergeyar; I'm certain I could get you an audience."
"And what would you get in return, mercenary?" Palin asked.
"I do get paid for peaceful solutions, you know," Miles said. "I prefer them. They're much less wearing on personnel and equipment. Win-win all around."
Palin nodded. "Trade is more profitable than conflict," she said. "But an audience does not mean they would agree."
"No," Miles conceded, "but at least when you were talking, nobody would be firing at you."
Palin inclined her head in agreement. "It is a fair offer," she said. "Now, I think we need to work out the details."
"Agreed," Miles said. Oh yes, the details are very important, Miles thought. All the difference between the edge of the knife and the flat.
Miles caught the Doctor just as he was putting his key into the door of the TARDIS. The final negotiations had taken a while, but now the fleet was ready to jump to Sergeyar, weapons on standby and suitable safeguards in place.
"Leaving already?" Miles said.
"Ah," the Doctor said, "I'm just getting --"
"Into your ship and preparing to leave," Miles said with a smile.
The Doctor turned and faced Miles, grinning back. "You are brilliant, you know," he said. "I'm very glad to have met you, Admiral Miles Naismith Vorkosigan."
"I'm a clone --" Miles began his usual cover story.
"Baba Yaga," the Doctor interrupted, "is not a folk-tale usually told on Beta Colony."
"And of course Viceroy Aral Vorkosigan would be likely to listen to his son," the Doctor continued.
"Don't worry, I won't tell anybody," the Doctor said. He stared at Miles intently. "But don't take it too much to heart when the game ends, which it will. There's more to your life than Admiral Naismith, and while he's a great man, I think Miles Vorkosigan is a greater one." He held out his hand, and Miles shook it.
"Thank you," Miles said.
"Maybe I'll see you around sometime," the Doctor said, opening the door of his impossible ship. He grinned. "I'll buy you a drink."
"I'll hold you to that, Doctor," Miles said.
The Doctor stepped back inside, and closed the door. For the first time, Miles got to see what the TARDIS looked like when it took off. The noise was almost the same, but the breeze was not. And in all that noise and wind, the blue box just... faded away.
But the memories, no, they wouldn't fade at all.
Thanks to Jonathan Burns and Judith Proctor for plot-help. Thanks to Nicola Mody for a lightening-quick beta.
The Galyari come from the Big Finish audio series, the adventures "The Sandman" and "Dreamtime".
The "Gallifreyan Numbers" come from a font of Gallifreyan numbers based on the images from the console screen on New Who. I don't know if the designations are correct, though.