This is the story I talked about in this post. Of course, after waxing all ecstatic about my breakthrough, it was only when I’d finished and posted it did I realize that this is pretty much a variation on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Oh well. Talent borrows, genius steals. I even stole that quote.
Drayton Fisk rubbed his temples. The ache that had set in when he’d first started reading the ceremonial protocols on the shuttle to Bendari Prime was now a permanent resident. It roared to life every time he tried to wrap his head around the byzantine sequence of gestures and phrases the Bendari embassy had transmitted.
“The angle of your arm needs to be adjusted down .047 degrees during the fifth stanza,” Fisk’s augment said in its pleasant, flat voice.
“And how the hell am I supposed to do that?”
The augment’s face remained passive. “My apologies. This one sometimes neglects to process that you do not possess the same visual acuity.” It paused a moment. “Are you familiar with the concept of a clock?”
“I doubt the Coalition would have made me an ambassador if I wasn’t.”
“This one was referring to the primitive numbered iteration that indicates time by the movement of hands guided by –”
“Yes, Ponder, I know what a clock is.”
“It will be necessary to hold your arm as if indicating the ten o’clock hour.”
“Is that going to be precise enough for the Bendari?”
Another pause. “It will have to suffice.”
It will have to suffice. That had become the refrain of the trip. Every intonation of the traditional Bendari verse, every pose while speaking it, every gesture made, had been met by Ponder’s insufferably placid, “It will have to suffice.”
“Ponder,” Fisk said with a sigh, “if I don’t get all of this exactly right, we can’t negotiate with the Bendari. Which means we can’t get permission to travel through Bendari space. And without that, we’ll never reach the Outer Colonies in time to stop the Vordaxil from wiping them out. ‘It will have to suffice’ just isn’t going to … suffice.” He rubbed his eyes. “Are there any recorded instances of previous negotiations between the Bendari and any of our allies?”
“This one knows of only two. The ambassador from the Temerast completed only 47.43287% of the ceremony before losing his temper and refusing to finish. The Empire of Imalda received the list of protocols and promptly declined any further contact.”
Ponder tilted its head. “Shall this one plot a return course to Earth then?”
Fisk reached for the datapad. “If only, Ponder. Let’s start from the beginning.”
“This one will comply. The proper stance for the Litany of Greeting…”
“As the … sarabon … takes wing when … when the winds of Tul’Mad’Orsa … first stir in the days of Dulsedi.”
Fisk felt his outstretched arms trembling as sweat stood out on his brow. He’d been in this position for half an hour, performing the Act of Proposal, a gesture of supplication following the Litany of Greeting, the Rite of Welcoming, the Naming of Ancestors, the Declaration of Deeds, and the Chant of Purpose. He tried to reassure himself that he’d placed his arm at ten o’clock as Ponder had instructed.
He held his right leg exactly — hopefully — one foot off the ground. His spread arms represented openness, Ponder had said, while his raised foot indicated the first step in a journey of cooperation. Though at this moment, his stance indicated nothing so much as his intense desire to sit down.
“So too do we, the Terran Coalition, let our humble … our humble offer float gently to Bendari ears.” A throng of blue-skinned faces stared at him expectantly with pale, lidless eyes. Fisk wished they could blink just so he’d feel their gaze leave him even for a moment.
“May it … may it …”
Dammit. His knee locked as he tried to remember the rest of the words. Something about waters…
His straight leg wobbled, and he was certain his raised leg had briefly dipped to an unacceptable height. He desperately wanted to tilt his arms to keep his balance, but he’d already veered far enough from the script. At least the words had finally come to him.
“May it ride gently on your minds as the harvest ships upon the waters of the Rissillion …”
His leg suddenly gave up all pretense of rigidity, forcing his arms down to compensate. His raised leg shot forward as his other leg bent at the knee. He windmilled his arms wildly, but gravity took control, and with an unceremonious grunt, he fell to the ground, flat on his back and staring up at a fresco depicting the unification of the nine Bendari tribes some hundred thousand years ago. Their eyes were just as unyielding.
“And so end my words to you this day,” he finished weakly.
Fisk sat glumly in the rooms the Bendari had provided for him, scanning the text of the ceremony. Each word he’d missed felt like a slap. He’d been on his way to disaster long before he fell. The only reason he tortured himself by re-living it was that it delayed having to send word of his failure back to Earth.
The door chimed softly and in stepped the Bendari Prokulliate, resplendent in flowing purple robes. Fisk suppressed a grimace. “Prokulliate,” he said, standing and offering a polite bow. “I wasn’t expecting to see you before my departure.”
“Departure? Wherever are you going, Fisk-Drayton?”
“I have to return to Earth.”
“But there is much to discuss. Terms of your passage, exchange of Prokulliates…”
Fisk shook his head. “I beg your pardon, Prokulliate, but I ruined your ceremony. Permission was not properly asked for.”
The Prokulliate laid a long-fingered hand on Fisk’s shoulder. “The test was not in getting it right, Fisk-Drayton. The test was in the willingness to see it through to the end. And in that, you have a succeeded. We may begin negotiations.”
Fisk fought hard to stifle an elated laugh. “On behalf of the Terran Coalition, I accept!”
“Excellent! Of course, there is a small ceremony to mark the beginning of our talks.”
Fisk couldn’t stop his chuckle now. “It would be my pleasure.”