Unjust Deserts, part 17
Part 17, ill will ambassador
Arranging for any kind of in-person diplomacy felt much like being left out naked in the desert sun, to slowly roast and sweat until you turned into a salty piece of beef jerky.
It was a feeling Lady Rosa Fingers never could shake, even as she watched four knights work together to pitch the conference’s Royal Blue and White tent across three hex boundaries for this three-corners meeting. Though she’d have enjoyed the distraction of some physical activity, Royal traditions meant she could only ‘supervise’ as they carefully snapped together tent's aluminum frame and put the blue and white canvass roof over it, and prepared for the task of setting up the tent in the adjoining hexes.
No, her own heavy lifting was logistical and social. Natural turn order made diplomacy an exercise in trust for all sides involved, since meeting even in a neutral location meant risking the other side using overwhelming force to ambush, croak or capture the diplomat, thus failing the trust exercise.
Even when both belligerents were Royal sides, “misunderstandings” would happen with altogether alarming frequency.
Really, lady Fingers had no problem understanding why most sides popped Diplomatic Courtiers for the risky task. But ‘safe’ was risky in a different way. A courtier diplomat lacked the gravitas and authority gained by sending a Chief Warlord, Caster or heir, making for a weaker negotiating position. Which in turn made any diplomacy (already shaky) unlikely to prosper. Add in the natural breakneck speed of violence and war in the Capital Wasteland, lack of diplomatic and social graces in newly minted sides, and Diplomacy was a rare bird indeed.
Now that the tent was fully unfurled, she walked under the portion remaining in her hex to enjoy the shade it afforded. Before long a pair of knights came lugging in a round conference table, and another carrying pairs of blue and white balsa wood chairs. Pudding’s furniture makers had long ago learned the art of creating lightweight tents and furniture that could be easily set up across hexes to avoid pointlessly using up the diplomat’s and entourage’s move.
Fortunately, being at the top of the Capital Wasteland’s turn roster aided Pudding’s efforts towards diplomacy, along with their far reach thanks to their high mobility air units. In fact, they were usually the only air power in the constantly changing composition of the Capital Wasteland, and quite a feared and respected one at that. Their fleet of Keepcalms and Carryons ruled the skies, and their Heavy Flyers, the Desert Beagles, could make any Battlespace they entered become quite quiet, quite quickly.
Rather than turn their attention to conquest, their relative ease with diplomacy made her mother Queen Vienna Fingers feel Puddings had a special duty to at least attempt to reduce the level of conflict around them. So, at the behest of her mother, Lady Fingers would play peacemaker between Berliner and the upstart new side of Madsense.
And what a pair they made. Regent Overlord Katz Blintz of Berliner was a sneak and a right curmudgeon, but he could always be counted on to know when to turn tail and sue for peace. Madsense was a mystery though, a new player that seemed to be growing explosively. Their Overlord’s letters were littered with erratic phrases (and the new missives from his daughter Spamela an utter chore), but their Chief Warlord had agreed to the effort after some contract based assurances.
“My dear Rosa.” Her mother had said one afternoon over a cup of Earl Grey. “It is no coincidence that diplomacy and tea go so well together; and that is because they are both quite likely to include a few lumps. Sugar?”
She smiled at the memory, quite enjoying butting heads with her mother over afternoon tea.
There were other, far more venal and less idealistic reasons Puddings often played peacemaker and diplomat. It made them privy to the interests, strengths and strategies of new and existing sides without having to ally or antagonize them. In fact, the goodwill it earned them tended to save them from having to fight in quite a few scuffles.
Slowly, two sets of Carryons flanked by Keepcalms appeared on the horizon, each coming from different hexes.
Lady Rosa Fingers made sure all the preparations were in place, and gave one of the three attending servant maidens, Tai Wan, the order to start preparing the tea.
Hopefully, she and their guests wouldn’t take too many lumps.
Lady Fingers bowed to the exact correct degree for a Royal addressing a foreign Noble non-ally. “Earl Stu Del, always a pleasure.”
Earl Stu Del clicked his heels together and made a reciprocal bow from his place across the hex boundary. “Ze pleasure is all mine, Lady Fingers. How is your mother?”
“Quite well, thank you for asking. And the Overlord and Prince?”
“Zey are both full of ze vim and ze vigor, as zhey say.”
“Wonderful, please, have a seat. I believe that the Madsense contingent is approaching.”
The earl smiled and nodded, with a calculated sideways look at the approaching delegation and smirk. The noble body language equivalent for ‘Get ready to be unpleasantly surprised.’
She nodded noncommittally and kept her thoughts to herself, then walked over to the other hex’s border and waited.
When it wasn’t a screaming match, Diplomacy was something of a chore with small talk and protocol. But Lady Fingers comforted herself in that, at least, Berliner and her commanders were cultured enough to make it polite and rote, even if they always did enjoy the doublespeak a little too much. As Madsense’s Chief Warlord approached though, she could tell that Earl Del might not have been exaggerating. This would be… interesting.
Firstly, their Chief Warlord had shown up in full armor. Considering both were off turn and negotiating from the safety of different hexes, it was overkill and a sign of little faith in the mediator and host. Especially considering Puddings was contract bound to defend all involved to the best of her ability while negotiations lasted. Still, for a non-royal side new to the Wasteland, the caution wasn’t completely outré.
Secondly, his plus one was a Barbarian.
The diplomatic attaché, or plus one, usually supplemented the lead negotiator (or did most of the dirty work and heavy lifting in some cases). Some Royal sides considered negotiations with ignoble sides preposterous to begin with, so for the attaché to be a Barbarian was a slap in the face to custom, and dangerously hinted that the side lacked any units with diplomatic acumen, ignored convention, or worst of all, actively flouted them. Really, what kind of side sent a unit whose idea of diplomacy came at the end of his axe? And why did that pickaxe seem… ?
With Roe Bott in front of her she mentally smoothed her composure. Outwardly, she held her hands primly by her sides and smiled pleasantly.
“Lady Rosa Fingers, I presume.” Their Chief Warlord nodded his bald, pale head cordially enough.
“Indeed I am, Lord Bott. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.” She bowed her head to the exact correct degree for a royal addressing an ignoble Chief Warlord non-ally, which (regrettably) barely qualified as half a nod.
Eyes alert but expression blank, Roe went on. “Likewise. Our own efforts at diplomacy have run into various complications, so please, convey our thanks to your ruler the Queen of Puddings for the invitation.”
Lady Fingers dared to allow herself a smidgen of hope. Though monotone, the warlord at least knew how to exchange pleasantries. She lifted her right hand and gestured to the part of the conference table within his hex. “It is our pleasure to host such events in the interest of better understanding. Please, you and your-- companion should have a seat, we are about to serve tea.”
Once there, Lord Bott sat at his chair, scanned for the presence of Earl Del and stared fixedly at him to the point of rudeness. Beside and a little behind him, the Barbarian bodyguard ignored the chair and stood, arms folded across his chest, stance wide, and helmet visor glowing a deep red.
The maiden Mei Xico set the saucers and plates of scones, while her partner the maiden Chai Na poured one of their finest teas, a fragrant Jasmine into the cups. Once done, Mei used the Lazy Susan built into the negotiating table to deliver it along with cream and sugar to Lady Fingers, Earl Del, lord Bott, the Earl’s attaché, and finally the barbarian, as was customary given the exceedingly complex tea serving protocol (it factored in royalty, noble rank, age of the side, it’s strength, and on and on).
To her right, Earl Del took his cup and engaged in the customary ritual pleasantries. Though she suspected he’d stepped on his own attaché’s foot to remind him to do the same.
To her left, lord Bott looked at the cup, lifted it off the Lazy Susan and left it at arm's length to his left without even bothering to smell or taste it. The barbarian leaned forward to examine it; the light from his visor switching to green, then blue, and finally back to red. He half lifted his helmet to smell it, revealing his lower face and nose and-- oh, Titans, Lady Fingers had to catch herself from staring at the ruddy man’s scarred face, a patchwork of pale pink scars. The Barbarian sniffed it, took a sip (which he swished inside his mouth noisily), then nodded and handed it to Lord Bott, who finally deigned to take a sip.
He then looked her in the eyes dispassionately and monotoned. “The green tea is agreeable.”
Lady Fingers was too well trained, too aristocratically popped to do something so crass as grit her teeth and glare. Though she really, really wanted to. Instead, she smiled calmly, put a lump of sugar in her tea, and reminded herself the point was peace, or at the very least, actionable intelligence beyond their horrid table manners.
A moment later Earl Stu shared a half-lidded look with her, as if to underscore what caliber of people they were dealing with. She tipped her head and blinked once, the Royal body-language equivalent of ‘Oh just suck it up buttercup, at least I am.’
Presently, she nodded a fraction and thanked Lord Bott. “How wonderful you enjoy it. Peaceable encounters are far too few in the Capital Wasteland, it is my sincere hope we can enjoy many similar gatherings in the future.” She knew it was vapid, but it was the kind of vapid diplomacy ran on.
Earl Del smiled. “Indeed, Lady Fingers. Zese meetings are so much more pleasant zan fighting battles over misunderstandings.”
Bott raised an eyebrow. “To which misunderstanding do you refer, Earl Del?”
“Why, ze recent ones between our armies. Really, our scouts were completely unaware zat zey were in your territory.”
Roe nodded. “I quite agree, they had no way of knowing it was ours at the time considering we had just conquered Copenhagendaas. The scouts we found on the turn after, and the expeditionary force on the following turn though, I do not believe were in our lands mistakenly.”
“You dare accuse us off spying!?”
“Gentlemen.” Chimed in Lady Fingers, hoping she would go to bed tonight without ringing ears. “The events leading up to your present situation are regrettable. However, the past should not be a barrier to finding solutions for the future.”
“Indeed.” Concurred Bott, turning again to Earl Del. “Which is why my side has offered yours the chance to become a vassal colony rather than be conquered and destroyed.”
Stu shot her a look again, and this time she lifted her own cup of tea for a quick sip and a slow blink. The Royal body-language equivalent for “Fine, I see your point.”
Finally, she tried to bring some sense into the conversation. “Chief Bott, I realize your side is new to the Wasteland, is it not? The level 5 city side of Berliner has been a fixture in its landscape for some twenty thousand turns now, I believe? While your side has certainly shown itself to be quite successful, wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest for both of your sides to focus their energies into more fruitful pursuits? Like the great service you've done us all by restoring the natural flow to the Swiss Mississippi.”
It took care to be diplomatic. Finesse was necessary to craft the kind of respectfully doublespeak laden language that hinted at all the reasons someone shouldn’t do something because it was monumentally stupid, while not outright saying so or even suggesting they were stupid for thinking it to begin with. Even humility and compassion played a factor, to soothe bruised egos and in allowing the other side an honorable out to their own mistakes.
She hoped Bott would pick up on the implicit message that, when pushed against a wall, Berliner always managed to somehow outlast its attackers thanks to its vast defensive strength and survive another turn. Really, it was one of only three level five cities in the wasteland and yet significantly more defensible than Pudding’s own Flandon and Tapiopeka. All thanks to the legacy of its founding Dirtamancer king, who turned it into a truly impregnable fortress.
“Indeed!” Seconded Del, seeming quite pleased. “Zere are so many more… viable targets… for us to focus on. Why, I am sure we might even be able to collaborate with you to… divide ze rewards of such efforts. With of course, some concessions for any wounds to your honor from ze misunderstanding.”
Oh Titans, could the man not even go five minutes without plotting a new round of backstabbing?
There was a moment of quiet as Lord Bott analyzed their statements, before finally breaking the silence. “Lady Fingers, Earl Del. I believe I understand now where our failure to communicate has stemmed from. I can assure you our goal is not petty revenge. Far from it. It is to unite the Capital Wasteland. Restore its resources. Maximize it’s potential. Maximize all our potential, in fact, by uniting it under the sensible, dispassionate leadership of Madsense. To that end, all sides will either be annexed or destroyed.”
Lady Fingers sat frozen for a moment, not sure if it was because of the frank and idiotic levels of honesty regarding their frankly idiotic plans, or the sheer size of Bott’s ballooning ambitious lurid lunatic statements.
She had so many questions she wanted to ask, but sadly and predictably though, Roe had set Stu off. “What?! You zink Berliner will simply surrender to such-- filthy rabble as you?! You truly are mad and with no sense!” And in a move that would surely get him uninvited from any social tea party Pudding’s cared to host, Earl Del splashed his steaming hot tea across the hex boundary at Bott’s face.
It never hit.
The Barbarian had --far more quickly than Lady Fingers ever thought would be possible in any type of armor-- elbowed in front of Bott and screened for him, taking the liquid across his shoulders and back.
Steam wafted up from his black armor, gleaming as the liquid streamed down its surface. The visor seemed to flare an angry red, and the growl coming out of his helmet would have sounded quite at home coming from a T-Wex.
Bott put a calming hand on the Barbarian’s arm, and almost reluctantly, he stepped back to his spot behind Bott.
If Bott had been insulted by the display, he didn’t show it, or any other emotion, through his poker face. “What you think is irrelevant. We are Madsense. You will open your gates and surrender your units. We will add your unique unit composition and battle tactics to our own. Your side will adapt to service us.”
Bott looked from Earl Del to her and back, unblinking. “Resistance is futile."
‘Wow, what a mess’ Thought the Berliner Attaché, as the proceedings devolved into a shouting match-- well, half of one. The Admen Chief Warlord seemed completely blasé as Chief Del accused him of everything under the sun.
Meanwhile, he waited, watching.
Eventually Lady Fingers called a recess, and Chief Del went to go complain about it via Hat to the Big Cheese, Overl-- Regent, he corrected himself. Apparently it mattered to these snobs. He stayed put, watching as Lady Fingers lead the Admen Chief a little ways away to no doubt try and talk some sense into him. Away from his retinue.
He breathed out and stood. This was his chance.
He walked up to the hex boundary and stared fixedly at the barbarian mercenary. He’d gotten better equipped, higher level-- and uglier in the intervening turns, no question. The armor was new, but he definitely recognized the pickaxe-- though the magical fire and ice effect it had was also new.
He screwed his courage to the sticking place as he spoke (and oh, was he going to stick it to him), voice wound tight like a rope. “I know who you are.”
Packer turned his helmet minutely in his direction, before turning back to keep watch over the Admen chief.
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” He yelled, insulted at being ignored, and Packer trying to make him think he didn’t matter.
That got Packer’s attention. His full, terrifying attention.
With a burst of dust, Packer shifted his stance into a ready weapon draw, hulking down and somehow growing some six inches taller. He growled, like the gravelly crash of a collapsing tower, and his helmet flashed a deep red.
The attaché remembered how his Regent Kaz Blintz had summoned his stackies and him to the capital. Interrogated them, dressed them down, then “rewarded” him by promoting him to warlord; telling him they’d ‘bought the farm’ with their incompetence... and him responsibility for everyone in it. The Regent “generously” only disbanded half of his stackies then and there, with the threat of disbanding the other half if he failed to croak Packer.
So he. Didn’t. Budge.
He balled his fists and managed to glare back. “You don’t fool me with all those fancy tricks and gear. I know who you are, Beck Packer. Or should I say Blech Packer? Just a cowardly barbarian who steals from units that can’t defend themselves; a craven knight to a sleazy side full of madmen and admen, and I’m going to croak you for what you did to us!”
He was shaking with rage, but the Barbarian held his ground, slowly straightening his stance until he towered over him. And he laughed, even putting a gauntleted hand to his shaking head! The laughter leaving his helmet came out as the rasp of a rusty sword being slammed over and raked across an iron grate.
This guy was pushing his buttons, so he yelled over the laughter. “Laugh while you can, but when we fight next, I want you to remember my name and face, so you can tell the Titans the unit who sent your miserable keister their way!”
“That’s right.” He went on. “When the Titans ask who sent you, tell them it was Guy Mudd!”
At length, Packer finished laughing and looked Guy straight on, speaking for the first time with a voice like falling gravel. “Thank you. I will ‘own’ that title.”
Guy blinked, a bit put off, but unwilling to betray his confusion.
“You and your side will learn to fear… the Bleck Knight.”
Wasteland survival guide
Rule #1: don’t panic! Panic makes you do stupid crack.
Rule #2: It’s dangerous to go alone; tame a friend.
Rule #3: Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.
Rule #4: The desert is weird; roll with it.
Rule #5: That’s the way the Kooky crumbles.
Rule #6: Foolamancy isn’t just a special, but a state of mind.
@Yaascn: I like switching narrators every so often, plus, not everyone's going to see our protagonists the same way.
Free Radical: It's almost ironical, isn't it? XD
Hmmm. In this context, Gorbachev was probably the founding Dirtamancer king, or one of his heirs who coincidentally also popped a Dirtamancer.
I'll be lucky if I ever write something as terrifying as the Borg speech. Fingers crossed. As to Picard... well, I already used his proxy in Hungry Jungle as Captain Theron Lee Fourlights. But Riker's not a substitute. Rather, think how much more dangerous the Borg would have, if at the cost of some of Picard's playbook... they added Riker's tricks?
There seeems to be a mistake in the title, everything except for the title (including the address) suggests it should be Part 17, not 18.
Also, love the Borg influence, though I am surprised they weren't given a turnamancer aswell, would give them increased unit assimilation and technological adaptability. Unless it would've overpowered them, or made the cast too muddled.
@Leon DK: Thanks, I must have missed it.
And yeah, three casters would have been too much in terms of advantages for a fresh made 1 city side. It was less about cast size than balancing the side's starting 'power level.' I figured Ditto and Change would make a good approximation of Borg adaptability and endless horde.
So I started reading this series around #9, and very much enjoyed binge reading 1-9, since then the most annoying part of this has been having to wait between submissions.
Just wanted to leave a comment saying that I've very much enjoyed this and some of your past submissions, I leave tips when I have the shmuckers, but thought letting you know that this is very much enjoyed and looked forward to would be a good tip until the regualr strip starts posting and I have schmuckers again!
Yay, I'm helping slightly again! I think after a third time I get royalties!
All joking aside, this was another stellar chapter which reminds me of what the wise sage Call of Duty Modern Warf...I mean Will Rogers said, "Diplomats are just as necessary for starting a war as soldiers are for finishing it." I can't help but think that the Borg with medieval weapons remind me a lot of Ceasar's Legion as well. I wonder what will happen to Beck and Kevin should they ever try to leave Madsense...
Either you don't know what nonplussed means, or the Berliner attache' is seriously misinterpreting what's going on and you haven't given me enough cues to guess one way or another. Roe is emotionless and does not get surprised and confused and not sure about what to do, and he wouldn't care at all what Del thought of him.
@BCA1: Thank you, tipping is nice but comments mean (and say!) a lot too. =) You jumped in at part 9? That must have been interesting. I'd never really put thought to the idea someone might jump in midway, it makes me think to try and make the next parts... not stand alone, but independently interesting.
@Heffenfeffer: It was a very nice joke. Guy's probably going to wish he hadn't bough the farm though. ; ) Regarding royalties, in the words of Lilith, "just get it in writing this time". ;P But seriously, thanks for the feedback, and I'll keep using the jokes when they can feasibly fit.
@Nakedkali: Thanks, and it's the former. I guess I always took the context for nonplussed as it meaning blasé or indifferent. That said, Roe does have opinions, and can get somewhat confused by emotions. Feeling/showing any of it is another matter.
Regarding the ballis-tea-c missile, I read on the WoT page on the wiki that some matter can pass through hexes, like the paper notes Ansom got in book 1 explaining Parson's dwagon siege attack. I figured water in rivers (and tea) wouldn't be much different so long as it wasn't magical.