|Absolutely Not Kindred Spirits
Author: Aayla Security PM
Pre-ME 1 one-shot. Sparatus and Udina brought their daily sparring to the dinner table, where every move could lead to ruination or triumph, and every triumph could be, when interpreted correctly, a downfall. Sparatus/Udina slash.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Drama - Councilor Sparatus - Words: 8,190 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 7 - Published: 08-19-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8444335
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Absolutely Not Kindred Spirits
Note: Inspired by a kink meme inspired by a Bioware writer, who probably did NOT envision this really happening. Written for the best persons in the world, who both firmly kept me in line and showered me with warm encouragement!
Studying a human face was certainly a complex and exceptionally disgusting endeavor. With asari, he could imagine them made of rubber. With salarians, he could stare at his reflection in their huge eyes to distract himself from the rest. He tolerated volus and quarians better because they had the dignity to be ashamed of themselves enough to cover it up. But humans, in true exhibitionist fashion, were all liquidly and barely-concealed meat shifting beneath a token skin that was only a few millimeters-thick and partly translucent, with large chunks of their extensions of brains and blood (amount apparently subject to level of blood pressure, ugh) protruding directly out of their eye sockets, exposed. It was the most revolting creature imaginable, with physiology comparable to a worm's, except worms weren't roughly turianoid-shaped, which just makes them even more disgusting.
Yet, if he squinted, Donnel Udina could look very small and insignificant from the platform. It was almost cute how furious he was, his magnetic field pulsating aggressively like an angry parafly.
"You cannot ignore our demands forever, Councilors," Udina cried, "The huge discrepancy between the humanity's contribution and its station is unacceptable. Rectification must proceed!"
"With all due respect, Ambassador," Sparatus said smoothly, "We did grant you a private office with a lake view."
"What the Turian Councilor meant," Tevos swiftly moved in to soften the insult, contradicting the intention of an insult, "is that such processes cannot be rushed. Humanity is granted an embassy only sixteen years ago. Until the hitherto productive cooperation continues, and your people continue to demonstrate willingness to compromise small interests for the good of the Galactic Community, in the interest of the welfare of the Citadel space and yours we are unable to admit a human amongst the Spectres."
"Yet isn't our willingness to putting the best that humanity can offer under the authority of the Council sufficient demonstration? What exactly is the harm of giving my people a chance to demonstrate our loyalty? For the last five consecutive Emergency Calls of Arms, are we not the first of the non-Council races to respond?" Udina was flushed with passion, "The Systems Alliance's economy is already 4% of Galactic Gross Product, 10% of which is in the custody of Council species, but have we not authorized the use of Citadel Credit in multiple regions in our systems and purchased your longer-term government bonds in your currencies, for no reason other than our faith in the Council's faith and creditability despite yet another looming galactic downturn? We are one of the largest importers of eezo and exporters of twenty kinds of raw commodities and redistributables and, according to the latest Quadrant published by the Asari High Command's Interstellar Economy Office, a 10% gross production shock in the Alliance would impact the prices of eezo and oil by 8% and 5%, respectively, on a 6-month delay, but have we not complied and respected the spirit of the trade terms?"
"Not that there are other rationales present," Sparatus muttered, hating every word that the human had said with his grotesque parody of vocal cords.
Unfortunately, the salarian and the asari were seriously considering the human's words. Indeed, they had considered his proposition for quite some time.
Even as they stood on the same platform, Sparatus knew the two were against him. It was the oldest political game, played many a time in history. First on the rachni, then on the krogan, and now, the turians.
"A passionate and demonstrable stance, Ambassador," Valern said calmly, "The conviction of your beliefs is most admirable and exemplary. However, your conviction alone is not enough. There are untested specifics of your species that we do not know enough to evaluate, constraining the applicability of the prediction of this decision's outcome. The candidate and the dossier you put forth are impressive, reasonable, safe, but there is no clear indication that the context of his decoration is the same as what is demanded of the Spectres."
"Surely Shepard's records are considered heroic in every sense of the word?" Udina said angrily, "The delicacy and complexity of N7 missions are not altogether unlike the Spectres' in nature, and the soldier's demonstrated ability and thought on every occasion. Additionally," he paused to emphasize, "Nihlus can vouch for the man, and he is one of your best performing agents."
"And yet, it is the Council that makes the final call," Sparatus said harshly.
"The Turian Councilor is correct," Valern said, his sly salarian smile difficult to see but certain, "However, rest assured that Nihlus' opinion is important to us. As the Asari Councilor indicated, the Council is not prepared to make this decision at this time. There are other factors present to influence the impact of this act."
"This political act!" Udina growled, "But there are things greater than politics. This is greater than us, the interests of a single race, of mere individuals. Is the Council not ready to admit that humanity can share that responsibility, to prove the ideal behind the formation of the Citadel government?" his voice softened, as if humbled by his own bullshit, "We respect the Council and your wisdom, and continue to pledge our loyalty, but it is an instance where humanity does not directly benefit other than to prove its capability and loyalty. If not now, when? Humanity desires to see its pledge acknowledged!"
Sparatus clenched his jaw and set his mandibles, somewhat glad that the humans could not read turian expressions from this distance. The insidious insinuation behind the amateurish prattle was annoying to the last degree.
"How admirable, yet it is not only the justification that matters. The logistics of a decision of this magnitude will take time and resources," he paused then pressed on, knowing perfectly well that his words were what the two other Councilors would have said anyway, "The Council cannot render a definitive judgment at this point, but the case remains open."
Tevos smiled kindly at Udina's blood-ridden face. "We look forward to returning the faith that your people have so kindly placed in the Council. Trust that it will not go unrewarded. This meeting of the Council is adjourned."
Udina gave a curt nod. "Thank you for your time, Councilors, and for the trust you have shown in us." He almost bowed, then stormed out in a huff.
"Well, that wasn't so bad," Valern said, still smiling, his malice now directed at Sparatus, "Do you not agree?"
Honestly, no, he didn't. By all accounts it went extremely badly, but Sparatus knew better than to rise to the bait. When had the Hierarchy, in the last ten years, ever, ever let extenuating circumstances affect their judgment of an individual's performance?
He changed the subject, "Anyone else up for lunch in Mass Delights?"
Ignoring the irritating clatter of silverware Sparatus closed his eyes. He was seated in one of the best restaurants on the Citadel, overlooking the Wards and their awe-inspiring pollution-producing traffic. His supposedly well-connected secretary had recommended the place. He was unsure whether it'd been worth the price. He had never been able to tell one restaurant with edible food from another – never applied himself to the study, and never saw the reason to, unlike some of the more "refined" people. When he was still a lowly lieutenant from Light Infantry then the Patrician of an underappreciated subcommittee of Foreign Strategy, he had led his men to battle, always at the front of all military operations, never backing down from a fight. An exemplar of turian values. A fighter. A soldier. An instrument of the awesome, massive Hierarchy's will.
And now, greater challenges lay ahead. The asari and the salarian had watched him closely all day, and he did not hold back his displeasure. Many damage control measures had been considered and discarded, and he could not think of one smart thing to say at the dreaded vid conference with his supervisors, unlike the tongue-waggers from the Analytics who seemed to have a technical explanation for every dereliction of duty.
He opened his eyes and looked at the clock on the wall: only ten minutes to go. He stood up, just as the human enter, "Udina."
The human was probably even more disgusting to look at in close-quarters. Thank the Spirits for horrible lighting of pointlessly expensive restaurants.
He sensed the calm standing waves in the man's field and said sarcastically, "Productive day?"
"Couldn't have turned out better," Udina's blunt teeth were reflective in the candle light, annoying Sparatus for a split second before remembering that humans had no mandibles to control. It did not matter; Udina probably did intend to infuriate him anyway. The man knew his turian manners.
Sparatus' reasons for another of those "dinners" were simple and obvious: First, it was intellectually satisfying (or as satisfying as Sparatus' practical nature allowed himself to feel) to review immediate feedback. Second, Udina's company was (almost) tolerable with the lights (almost) out. Third, it was necessary and unavoidable, and only he could do.
Publicly, Udina was a typical human: utterly shameless with a superiority complex. He unhesitatingly defended the human Alliance, unapologetic for its actions, always loudly demanding special treatment from the Council (not that the asari and the salarians made it especially difficult).
Just for that, he kind of respected Udina. Oh yes, the human was crazy, but he was powerful. Or let Sparatus be honest: He was powerful because he was crazy. Craziness got people's attention. Craziness also got them to obey him just so he could shut up about it. Craziness got him going, to ignore others and to yell and fight and persist no matter how illogical and just damn immoral and unpopular his actions were, because he was crazy and wouldn't sleep any less soundly because of it. Sometimes this didn't work in politics, but the humans apparently thought it did now. It also helped that he wasn't a complete moron.
Incidentally, he also pretended that he had no thoughts of his own.
There was no separating work and personal life for any politician, but at least the context of work had changed. Udina was more relaxed and therefore blunter, expediting the proceedings. They both knew what they must do here.
Sparatus took the initiative, "That was a pretty good performance, for a human."
It was true. Harm to Palaven's interests aside, it was a permissible strategy and execution. Sparatus let that qualified appreciation show in his projection, "They believed you. You affirmed their strategy. They are just waiting for the right moment to induct a human Spectre. So on and so forth. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Although," he smiled, "in the grand scheme of things, it will not matter."
The human grinned, ostensibly pleased at his clever feat, "Just you wait, turian. Soon enough humanity will gain a seat on the Council. The political resources and the expansion rights of a Council race will be ours to use. The course of future will be changed forever! Today's Special."
He said to the waiter, and Sparatus did the same. Udina kept his eyes fixed on Sparatus as he did so.
"Should I assume you won money at the Flux?"
He was referring to his change of mood in the positive direction. Sparatus chuckled: Donnel was again first littering offensive notions then extracting information with insults. It was a treacherous dance, one they now both knew by heart. Every step could lead to ruination or triumph, and every triumph could be, when interpreted correctly, a downfall. Yet it was comfortingly familiar, a ritual so delicate and organic in execution that it could only be conducted by a living, breathing person, no matter what the "bright young things" at the Engineering Corps might say.
He laced his own words with contempt, a trained move bequeathed by thousands of years of Advocate traditions, "Alas, a Councilor's schedule doesn't permit that kind of luxury. I feel better, if you must know, because we turians have the mental capacity to change perspectives, which I did."
Donnel roared with laughter, "One of the most important turians in the galaxy admitting defeat to a mere human? What an intriguing novelty!"
There it was; the first chink in Udina's armor. The laughter was loud and obnoxious – too obnoxious. His mind was controlled so that it was not nervous, but his body clearly was. As if to stress his point, Donnel went on to gloat his apparent victory, describing in diplomatic terms why the salarians and the asari wanted humanity onboard, never saying what motivated the interaction: his months-long lobbying on the two species concerned with the firm and steady expansion of turian influence. The worst (or best, depending on your reference frame) part was that the two races implicitly endorsed this view.
But that was probably exactly why Udina was so worried. Even though the asari and the salarians were far smarter, far more aware of their political and economic environments than the humans and the turians (although the latter remained largely theoretical), the cold aura of appraisal emanating from the two Councilors and their staff was not that for a lesser partner, but for a mere tool to further their agenda, likely to the tool's detriment. Was that a correct summary of how Udina felt?
"I assume humanity has more than money and army to persuade them?" said Sparatus, "When we said you are not ready, we meant just that: You. Aren't. Ready. You don't have the mindset, the socioeconomic structure, the commitment to be a Council race. If a human Spectre is inducted and you humans do join the Council, do you imagine the salarians and the asari would let it happen in exchange for precisely nothing?"
There. He'd dropped the verbal equivalent of an atomic bomb.
Which Udina defused swiftly without hesitation, "Now don't you worry, Sparatus. Like your beloved Hierarchy, the Systems Alliance knows exactly what it's getting itself into."
Could be true, could be false, could be both. Could be true in one second or this entire decade, then false before you know it. At present though, it meant, nothing more and nothing less: "It's none of your fucking business."
But of course Sparatus shouldn't leave the sensitive matter be. "Hardly, I say. We have reliable numbers that imply your unsustainably impressive economic fundamentals are consequent of gambling with stakes far, far beyond your means. Thus, either you humans are so blinded by short-term interests that you don't see where you are going, or your politicians are so selfish that they don't care."
This was his opinion, or, more accurately, the Hierarchy's opinion. To a human, public good, for all intents and purposes, did not exist. They depended on the selfishness of their individuals for the prosperity of their species – such a ridiculous and self-defeating idea, but for the individuals operating with it, very politically expedient. The Overseer of Civic Planning once neatly summed up all human processes, whether political, economic and social, in two words: Insatiable Greed.
He leaned forward towards the human, "Even you must admit: greed is not always good."
Udina burst into laughter, even though he was far from merry, "Yes, humans are a greedy mess driven by selfish instincts and excel at hypocrisy. And turians are a paranoid, war-mongering people who enjoy driving others into poverty."
There was a note of wistful admiration, and Sparatus had to pause at that. Donnel had uttered a perception that Sparatus in actuality secretly was proud of. It implied many laudable attributes of the turian people.
He went along with it, and managed to insult the humans at the same time, "Ah, only because others love spending money that they don't own. You see: We turians have been through shit. We remember it, and we do not like it."
Udina was quick to respond, "Each Hierarchy turian, you mean. In theory."
And just like that, Sparatus was back in the hot seat, defending his race's unification until he let slip critical information. That must be quickly remedied. He adopted an easy-to-maintain expression of a half-smile, in order to shield whatever inconvenient remarks that Udina next threw at him concerning his change of mood.
"Interesting observation," he drawled, "Said by a species that has trouble coordinating even its own infrastructure projects."
There was the barest hint of a pause before Udina waved a dismissive hand, "Humanity stands together in the face of otherworldly threats, even though we know no man is an island." And the Hierarchy cannot survive with all its partners bankrupt.
Sparatus narrowed his eyes. Suddenly Udina's previous words took on a significance that he had not caught. He was questioning – no, criticizing the fundamental strategy of the Hierarchy. Although he raised a somewhat valid point, one that Sparatus had occasionally pondered at himself, it was because he did not understand it. The Hierarchy was vast, and he must trust whatever means they saw fit. It was not his place to question, even though it was increasingly difficult to understand the process.
He said derisively, "I'm afraid you humans have again mistaken biased perception for fact."
Udina snorted and let the silence speak for him, as their food had come.
Sparatus carefully took a spoonful of the soup. It was pretentiously named "Iceberg Fichyssoise" and tasted nothing like its Cipritine counterpart, probably because its chef wasn't a REAL, Palaven turian. He fondly regarded the city that housed most of his government: rarely could architecture accurately capture so many aspects of the civilization that built it. Every plantation was installed and every lamp was carved into the walls with meticulous calculation of necessity and reserve. Every metal block was harvested from living creatures and wrenched from the rival factions' grasp. It was the ultimate tribute to the survivors, the descendents of the victors.
It was where the Thirty Magistrates had plotted the Great Reform and ended the Unification War, when it had seemed certain Palaven was left to wither and die from the dearth of colony resources. It was also where water, money and supplies now easily flowed into. The bright young things at the non-combat corps were constantly dreaming up new clever ways to link everything to everything else. New technologies were frequently engineered and old, trusty ones discarded. Increasingly obtusely complex decision algorithms were constantly tested, "improved" and sometimes, for reasons beyond his ability to comprehend, implemented, with measurable and immeasurable impact, inexorably making the distinctions and concepts that their ancestors had established and relied on obsolete. The Hierarchy rested on the Three Pillars: Innovation, Transformation and Institution, and Cipritine had probably never championed those values better. The machines never slept.
He had been assured that the city was armed to the teeth and impregnable. It'd better be, or else they would be in serious deep shit if anything catastrophic happened to it.
He stated abruptly, more to anchor himself than anything else, "Each turian wakes up in the morning ready to bite the ass off a thresher maw, knowing that in order to live tomorrow, he or she must make the sacrifice today."
"Reasonable," said Udina, neutrally, "Even if things are to change."
"Change is not always a bad thing," he countered immediately, "But terrible indeed if one is ill-prepared."
Udina's face was both intense and inscrutable when he said, "Or poorly understood."
Sparatus' jaw went slack with shock before he quickly composed himself, but not before hearing the words unsaid. Out of habit he uttered a silent prayer to Cipritine before realizing that it was an exercise in futility. Perplexed and just…slightly, panicked, he wondered how the hell the human had discerned his mind. He thought he had kept his private opinion rather well-hidden. Then he remembered that it could not be done without the listener being intimately familiar with the position, or even being in the very same position himself.
He thought about the irregularities in Udina's conduct: the pauses before a sentence, fleeting flickers of his magnetic pulse – and now, the admission of his knowledge. He knew Udina, being a man of action, was angry and frustrated. At the Council and its inefficiency. At his supposed benefactors' highly qualified support and understated ulterior motives. And, now that he thought about it, quite possibly at his superiors' own lack of reserve and exit strategies in accepting help from the non-humans.
Human politics were a mess, but amazingly consistent in the wishy-washy spirit. Every though Udina both feared and despised the Council, he had to bend himself to their will out of obligations to the Alliance.
Sparatus remembered his first day of this assignment. Tevos, who had been a Councilor for so long that she had forgotten how to be anything else, flat out told him that she sorely missed his "irreplaceable" predecessor, that alien-fawning, shockingly incompetent wimp who couldn't even prevent the worm-like sand crawler, oh, he meant, human "Donnel Udina" (whose political prowess had clearly been exaggerated to excuse her ineptitude) from getting his own office. Avon, then Salarian Councilor, also known as Tevos' split personality, of course readily agreed. He had been somewhat relieved when at least one of the two bitches finally retired, but then it turned out Valern lived in a realm of fantasy politics – Thessia-themed. Anyone could spot the pair's perpetual state of spiritual fucking from parsecs away, so standing beside them within striking distance was actually physically painful.
Sparatus refocused on the human. "Yes?"
"What is it?" Udina's face was still inscrutable. He was still appraising Sparatus' reaction, and wanted to jolt him with a blunt question.
Sparatus sighed, then opened up his omni-tool and removed the voice recorder chip.
He could feel that Donnel was astonished and conflicted, even though his facial muscles did not shift. "They needn't all go on record," he said simply.
Udina frowned. He understood the gesture, but doubted the intention. To be fair, Sparatus would too, given the circumstances.
So he said, deliberately projecting his voice farther, "You don't really believe in joint governance, do you?"
Reflexively Udina grinned, "After the Council pulled another bureaucratic stunt on us?"
The tone was wry, but the bitterness was real enough. It occurred to Sparatus that Donnel would have done well in the human equivalent of Emperor Vindicatus Maximus Vicilli the XXXVI's court, provided that he didn't get himself executed on the first day.
"If it comforts you, neither do I," Sparatus said, and leaned back to watch.
"Astounding," Udina muttered, his "lips" barely moved, "I suppose it's true that institutions breed individuals best equipped to exploit them."
Sparatus laughed, "Sounds like something Valern would say with a straight face."
If Udina was confused by this conversational response, it didn't show.
Sparatus continued, "It's just another dimension of this political game, isn't it? In print it's 'joint governance', but print matters very little to practice. Definitions don't matter. Terms don't matter. Past histories don't matter. All that matters is the future – what one will do, and what one can do. We are a forward-looking bunch."
Udina was turning this over in his head, thinking. As expected, the human had a weakness for eloquently-expressed like-mindedness. At last he snorted, "Has there been any doubt? Well, perhaps with one more small detail: the goal is always to do whatever it takes to advance your species."
Sparatus let his mandibles curl into a sneer, "Given their…unreserved…enthusiasm, are you sure that's what your leaders have in mind?"
Udina tensed and said brusquely, "And turians in glass tanks shouldn't fire rockets."
Sparatus almost flinched, "That's completely different. We are completely different."
"Yet you are accusing me of a thing very close to your own act. Do you claim full and complete faith in the Hierarchy, when you no longer recognize it?" again Udina paused to emphasize, but with much more pronounced effect, "When it's changing faster than you can stomach?"
"At least I'm caught in the current of change!" he shouted, then flexed his vocal cords, ensuring every syllable pronounced and provocative, "Instead of being left behind."
Udina's blood successfully drained away from his face in his anger. "Really? Even though your orders come from the minds you cannot and will not understand?"
"And suppose that outrageous hypothesis is true, do your decision-makers understand you?"
At that, a strange, unsettling smile crept across Udina's features, "They don't need to."
His field quivering with uncertainty, Sparatus barked out of twitching mandibles, "What do you mean?" Had he read the conversation completely wrong? Then he recalled a straight answer was impossible. Udina was less guarded now, but that didn't mean he wouldn't lie to accomplish his objectives. Why else was he frustrated? Why else would he agree to this dance?
Crossing his arms, Sparatus calmly called the human's bluff, "We are the same, Udina, if everything unsaid on this table is true."
A silence fell. Then Udina spoke, contemplative, uncharacteristically hesitant, "And if that's true, how does that change anything?"
Sparatus pointedly glanced at the chip on the table. Udina rolled his eyeballs, feigning offense, "Why? Do you consider others as incapable as you of representing yourself instead of your government?"
"You can never be sure," Sparatus said good-naturedly, somewhat grateful for the preamble and mostly unimpressed: easy for Udina to say and, arguably, do.
He tried to articulate his thoughts, his discomfort most likely tangible. When he began, it was as alien and difficult as trying to master another language. "Do you know the turian term for life, Udina?"
"Water," Udina answered, obviously already knew the narrative, but still more interested than Sparatus' own younger brothers, if only because it was a lead-up to something important, "Because you needed it to live, but it was precious and costly to obtain. Incidentally," Donnel cocked his head, "that's also why you avoid debt like the plague."
Sparatus acknowledged Udina's words by way of rigid nodding. Airing his heartfelt beliefs made him feel naked. "When the salarians and the asari discovered us, we did what seemed always wise: strive for leverage and control, exactly how we prevailed on Palaven. Everything the salarians and the asari did, we tried to do it more and do it better. Now the Hierarchy produces the lowest debt-to-growth ratio compared to any government, and is the only government in the galaxy capable of whipping and driving the prices within a hundredth of a second. Allegedly, it was thanks to the Hierarchy's Analytics Corps."
He hissed, through thinly veiled disdain, "The magistrates affectionately nicknamed it 'Hantheon Leviathan': the Omnipotent Being that Sees All."
Udina's mouth twitched, "Ominous."
"Well, it learned the mechanics of its trade from the volus – volus! – because the asari and the salarians suggested it. We delighted in the power and security it brought us, but we did not appreciate the price."
"Pardon me for saying so, but it did sound too good to be true." Donnel said, nonchalant. It irked Sparatus.
He said tersely, "It was too good to be true because there is only one way to achieve what we achieved: create a web of connections and automatically execute decisions based on monitored movements," he kept the terms metaphorical because he didn't thoroughly understand the technicalities himself and highly doubted Udina's own financial proficiency, "My government is becoming opaque, Donnel – not by design, but by the mechanics of our operation. The instruments that gave us so much control are now too complex for any single turian to sufficiently understand. Do you know now there's a good chance that two Hierarchy turians cannot understand each other, even if they work in the same building?"
"Not all that surprising," Udina said shrugging, but apparently couldn't help being sympathetic. After all, a tragedy is a tragedy, "Your people have to keep their programs up with the pace at which the markets are evolving."
"But what do you suppose will happen when the kind of person that honors his duty the most is the kind that recklessly piles one instrument on top of another, with risk-management adequate in simulations but monstrous in consequence?" Sparatus' voice projection thinned in his agitation, "Our own people tied our fates to the other Council races! In trying to gain understanding and control over the galactic economic system, we allowed it to control us. We are not safe, because when Galactic Economy fails, we fail. We are not rich, because the cost of maintaining transparency and efficiency will inevitably become insupportable. And finally, we are not in control, because we don't even know when we commit an action, whether it is because it's really the optimal strategy, or the consequence of a manufactured dilemma. Do you understand? The Hierarchy cannot see this, and even if it does, it cannot do anything about it, because it has changed and become Galactic Economics. It is greatly distressing, for if there is a galaxy-wide catastrophe, then the Hierarchy will be the one most vulnerable!"
But by now the shrewd human already knew Sparatus' proposal, a calculated response ready even before he finished.
"The Systems Alliance's economy is only a fifth of yours," Donnel pointed out shamelessly, "It cannot absorb shocks like your government. What you are suggesting may be of mutual benefit, but I can't justify the risks!"
Sparatus laughed softly, "And therefore, I'm not the only person here incapable of speaking for myself, after all?"
For a few moments the human's face was blank, during which Sparatus' glee at catching the crafty human off-guard was increasingly eaten away by apprehension. When the human had come to a decision, Sparatus' mandibles were so constricted that they almost folded into his mouth.
"You're right, Sparatus," the human said, half sympathetic and half maliciously amused – both fabricated emotions, "This dinner is on a person-to-person basis. In that spirit, may I summarize your proposal, so as we talk in terms of unembellished and brutally honest facts, like any straightforward people?"
Sparatus' field flared. "Do your worst." The human was trying his best to make this unduly difficult.
"Sparatus, the turian, and not the Councilor who represents the turians, believes that his race are victims of their own campaign for permanent leverage. The size and breadth of their economy have compelled the Hierarchy to make decisions consequent of the initiatives of external parties. They could have isolated the factors, but the complexity of their operations, caused by their uniquely 'total' way of conducting business, has prevented any meaningful and cost-effective measures."
Udina paused, silently questioning Sparatus whether he was correct. Sparatus nodded despite his annoyance.
"Now those newcomer humans present your way out. Humans are driven to grow and expand, both in terms of market and production, at a rate faster than the developed races, at least for the next five years."
"And the prospect is enough that the salarians and the asari both seek to control this race's future," Sparatus added.
A cloud of serious anxiety passed over Udina's features before it cleared. "It will inject new capital, market, and labor into the galaxy's economy. It will upset the balance, or rather, stalemate, that you three have found yourselves in," Sparatus knew Udina wouldn't be able to resist, "You want that imbalance tipped in the Hierarchy's favor, where they are forced to relinquish the constituents of the control that make them hostage at acceptable loss. In short," the human's face suddenly wrinkled with suppressed fury. He leaned forward, Sol creatures' signal for aggression, "You want us to be your shield and distraction while you retreat behind your safe walls of options and insurance – Dutch-Book style."
"Turians have a much better term for your 'Dutch-Book.' It's arbitrage," Sparatus lectured on Udina's anthropocentrism to buy himself time to think. "To be a shield you must be able to take damage, and to be a distraction you must be able to sustain or escape the damage. Neither is true for you humans. To approach your expansion and exploration in a lasting fashion, the control that the Hierarchy must forgo is essential to you. The Hierarchy is strongly averse to giving it up to the salarians and the asari, but it will give it to the Alliance if it's in a manner that the Hierarchy can understand and accept."
Udina let out a frustrated noise. "What are you playing at, Sparatus? You know damn well the Hierarchy trusts nothing that isn't a turian unless they can effectively control it!"
He then said more quietly, "Just like the Alliance 'trusts' everything that the 'advanced' species 'instructs'."
Sparatus said grimly, "It would've been easier if group opinion mattered less, wouldn't it?"
"Yes," Udina said without hesitation, "It would."
He glared at Sparatus, who wisely held his tongue and stilled his mandibles. The human was seriously considering whether to speak his mind. Sparatus must look trustworthy enough.
And he did. "You turians are as addicted to stability as we are to growth," the human finally bit out, "But I wouldn't presume to understand how your universe works. What to us are fundamental rights to you is intolerable selfishness. Individuality in action is valued in my world but despised in yours. What we consider nature you believe to be artifice. Therefore, what to you is simply a means to control may be unworkable for us," again, there was the wistful tone, and now Sparatus knew it for what it was, "Technical infeasibilities aside, how can you expect the techniques to transfer when the ways we do businesses are so different? I don't mean just the ethics rhetoric; those are mere smoke and mirrors and those of us – who work real politics – know it. The Hierarchy's level of coordination in operations is impossible to expect of the Alliance at this point. We don't have the experience."
Sparatus' breath caught. This was it. This was his purpose. This was exactly why they had agreed to this dinner.
"Then let us teach you," he said sincerely, "Understand that turians have been in this game far longer than you humans have. We know why and how the asari and the salarians want you. We know their kind of deception and manipulation. We know because we were you, once, the new race pit against the race that had fallen out of favor. Therefore, we know, with certainty, that we need each other to change the course that the salarians and the asari have set. You need us as much as we need you. We can teach you how to integrate yourselves into the galactic community. We can show you how our socioeconomic structure fends off and isolates the risks. Won't you push for a more predictable, consistent and less volatile future for your people?"
For the longest time, there was nothing readable in Donnel Udina's eyes. Then he spoke, and Sparatus was suddenly aware that his mind was long made up, "No, Sparatus. I can't," he sighed, expression and voice resolutely flat but his distress in the field so strong it affected Sparatus, "I'm sorry."
Vakarius Marcian commanded one of those nether entities that lived between the State and the War. Sparatus himself had immense respect for the man, mainly because he answered directly to Vakarius, since he was the Patrician of the Foreign Strategy Committee, one of the most powerful and influential committees in the Hierarchy. For nearly twenty years he had firmly held this much-coveted position, steadfastly advancing the interest of the turian species while deftly balancing the internal interests of the colonies in a coherent manner. He held the highest distinction of "General", saw more clearly than most other persons, and was often right.
The moral being, he didn't look happy. Philosophical. Thoughtful. Wielding the power to fire Sparatus right there and then, but not happy. His lack of happiness was somewhat troubling. Best to remain silent to judge his reaction. It was times like these that he really wanted the Engineers to work magnetoception into vid-coms.
"Silence is a stance as well, Councilor," Vakarius said, slightly amused.
"Of course, sir," Sparatus said, chagrined, "I'm pleased to report that our strategy will likely proceed, despite some acute developments. My failure to foresee the…inevitability of the humanity's ascension was deeply regrettable, but it apparently did not hinder the Hierarchy's plans."
His boss stared at him for moment then burst into laughter.
"You are speaking to me, Sparatus, not them. We are practical now. Spare me the niceties, or we'll never get anything done."
A great weight had been lifted from Sparatus' shoulders. Usually the permission to speak freely implied Vakarius' mood was amendable.
He said, more confidently, "Then as you already know, Consul, the salarian and the asari were impressed with the human's presentation, and agreed to advance the Alliance's Spectre application to the next stage. My displeasure was a positive signal to them. However, in the subsequent meeting with the human, I was able to further establish an understanding."
"In which he was led to believe that you shared his dislike of your respective governments," Vakarius chuckled, "I will say this: Removing the recording chip was rather inspired. I wonder how long it will take for him to figure out your hearing device made sure his every word was being listened to and analyzed by all fifty members of your staff and retained for permanent record at the Censorship Corps?"
Sparatus said tonelessly, "It wouldn't have mattered."
"Probably not," his boss conceded, his mandibles closed in thought, his mind already moving onto better things. Sparatus decided to breach the topic that had most rattled him.
"Consul, in order to establish that level of trust, I had expressed my private opinion on the Hierarchy to the human."
Marcian's shrewd eyes were trained on Sparatus. "The Hierarchy won't hold it against you, since it doesn't interfere with your performance of your duty."
Sparatus relaxed somewhat. "I appreciate that interpretation." Feeling courageous, he went on to ask the experienced official, "What do you make of the fact that he refused my offer?"
Vakarius smiled, "And I ask: why demand something the Hierarchy already has?"
For a practical man, Sparatus decided, not for the first time, Vakarius had one lousy trait: the penchant for long, overdramatic speeches.
He settled on looking mildly surprised to play along. "But surely Udina's consent will be useful in execution?"
Vakarius' skins twisted into a self-satisfied smile. "Udina will do whatever his superiors say, and his superiors will do whatever we say. They don't know it yet, or at least don't feel it, but when the time comes, they will do it. They will do it because it is either in the private interests of the persons in charge to do so, where no harm and only benefit comes to them, or they have no choice but to do it."
His smile grew broader. "It will work, Sparatus, whatever your personal misgivings. We've already grown and stabilized because of them. To be more specific and list a few instances: We've built their technology-heavy projects so that they have to rely on us for maintenance and upgrade. We've supplied advanced equipments for their new factories so that their raw materials must come from us. We've assisted their civic planning and encouraged them to employ and borrow from our own corporations.
"We are already everywhere. We've gained control of their industry through links in chains, their finance through volume, their technology through intellectual property laws. We've made them buy from our corporations and borrow from our banks. They've had to employ our Currency, our Capital, our Engineers, our Censors, our Logistics, our Army. Our grip of their development is deepening, they are growing more dependent on us, yet their individuals keep coming back for more, because they are more loyal to their jobs – that is, us – than the collective fate of their race. This so-called 'capitalism' is very congenial to us. Your concerns with the two races were misplaced; a Council seat will only serve to strengthen this prospect, for the more powerful and productive the humans are, the more useful they are to the Hierarchy, let alone the responsibilities they will owe to the other races, namely, us turians and our spheres of influence."
"But their joining the Council will be on the asari and the salarians' terms," Sparatus cut into the familiar speech, having decided Vakarius had had his fun, "If the humans reinforce their scientific and economic alliance with the salarians with this platform, per the asari's suggestion, won't they jeopardize the Hierarchy's position?"
"Ha! Then this is the beauty of the Hierarchy's battle plan: for every step they think, we think two steps ahead. The Spirits have given us a blessing in disguise, Sparatus. Its name is Saren Arterius."
Just mentioning the cybernetic freak of nature brought a bad taste to Sparatus' mouth. He asked, barely suppressing his revulsion with the self-proclaimed champion of turian values who thought the best way to express turian values was giving up his legion paint for horrifyingly disfiguring skin and eye implants, "That insane worshipper of himself is surprisingly difficult to put away discreetly."
"Then perhaps he isn't meant to," Vakarius said, "Perhaps we need something bigger, more dramatic than you and the Rite noiselessly undermining his foundation. You are certain his presence in the Spectres is no longer justified?"
Sparatus said vehemently, "I cannot be more certain. He's served no purpose other than disrupting the Hierarchy's plans and recently has done not a thing that incurs more benefit than cost. Furthermore, why does a Spectre need such a…conspicuous vessel, anyway? And where did all the funding go? Besides the routines, what the hell is he doing? We can no longer comprehend his reasons. And Nihlus, a close friend of his, has begun to form his own separate clique. He drew a firm line between himself and Saren when he endorsed the humans' Spectre application. Thus, even he anticipates Saren's downfall."
Vakarius chortled excitedly, "Then he's exactly what we need. A lone, radical turian brought down by the upstart humans with a spectacular thud. Slight embarrassment to us, overwhelming triumph for the humans. Do you know why this can be valuable, Councilor? Because Tevos and Valern will be compelled to grant humanity a Council seat in the midst of an unprecedented backwardation of longer-term commodities and the historical minimum of Ten-Year Phetls. With some timely adjustments this will be the optimal time for the humans to join the Council."
He touched the edge of his mandibles, suddenly thoughtful, "Do you remember the one sentence that Overseer Tridenda kept repeating at the last Budget Assembly?"
Suppressing a condescending snort, Sparatus made sure to say in such a way that very clearly showed what he would've said hadn't he been so charitable, "'Anti-liquidity crisis is coming'?"
Vakarius chuckled humorlessly, "More like 'The unforeseen corrective normalization of QEVI induced a sudden appetite for future real, tradable, mobile assets and aversion to long-term liquidity normally irreconcilable with the near-term fundamentals, which implied an expectation of systemic risks,' or some such. Supposing for a moment that he's right (as those in the higher-ups seem to believe), then it's crucial that we have the humans bound by the requirements of a Council race. It must be before they could regain economic autonomy from the Hierarchy or the salarians and the asari root out turian influence, but more importantly, it must be before the Hierarchy over exposes itself to the risk of the complete collapse of the entire galactic monetary system, so that the humans will be forced by their own markets to adopt our infrastructure and take the losses on our behalf, at which point they will be even more pliable to our suggestion. You must make this happen, but you mustn't appear to stand to gain from their ascension."
"It won't be a problem, sir," Sparatus smiled, still unperturbed by the gloom scenario that he wouldn't bother to pretend to understand, "I've good reason to believe the High Command and the Union are still under the impression that the Hierarchy prefers the humans primitive and underdeveloped. I made sure the media overstated the importance of the Normandy's construction, so that they shall think it the extent of turian-human explicit collaboration. Moderate resistance will be show enough."
Vakarius nodded his approval, "And I and the Rite will arrange the humans' obtaining the means and evidence they need to disgrace Saren. Sooner or later he's bound to slip up, given the increased frequency of his activities.
"This is an extraordinary moment in turian politics, Sparatus. We will be witnesses of how the turians finally capture their rightful place. The humans will help us. They will have no alternative. It is human nature to be used, no more than it is turian nature to use. Let them – the humans, the salarians and the asari – have their hollow victory. It will be too late when the humans realize a Council seat is far more chains than means. And it will be too late when the two species realize they have just planted a bomb in their own systems."
Then his demeanor immediately changed from a grand strategist's to that of a professional. "Now, if there's nothing else, we should both get to work. Keep undermining Saren; it's still best that you diminish his power as much as possible before the grand finale. Ask your staff to iron out any logistics and churn out the new plan's simulation for approval before the end of this week. Marcian out."
Sparatus saluted, silently letting out a sigh of relief. He went back to his desk; it was already late into the artificial night cycle, but he worked another hour and wrote up a mission summary for tomorrow's staff meeting. When he finished, he stared at the draft, cursor hovering over the "send" button.
He was so tired that even his energy drinks couldn't excite him, but he still felt driven and compelled by the Hierarchy's magnificent scheme to think and act. As always, talking to the vastly more intelligent Patrician made him feel insignificant (albeit necessary) and devoted. Sparatus knew what himself was: the point man and the sword of the Hierarchy's riskiest and most important military operation. The Citadel was his battlefield, and a soldier does not question commands given; he follows them to the best of his ability.
He reflected on Udina, the man whom he'd dined with tonight. He wondered where the recording and his team's analysis on Donnel were now, and what data were being extracted and conclusions drawn by the unseen parties at the Censorship Corps. He had been too trusting with Sparatus and unknowingly gave the Hierarchy priceless insight into the inner-workings and weaknesses of his race and his government, believing that in politics agents of their governments could be anything else.
But then again, Donnel would see himself only as he wanted to: the shunned prophet swimming in a sea of fools. A displaced captain to his troop, so to speak. He would always prefer the judgment of a truly outstanding individual to bureaucratic consensus, and the swift, decisive action of a single person to the circumspective and careful execution by groups. He and Donnel were nothing alike. It was said experience beyond genetics could only change a man so much.
Sparatus felt his chest tighten. He had no regrets of what he was about to do to Donnel's race. It was as necessary and natural as the laws that governed this universe, where one thing and one thing only mattered. His people were counting on him to honor his duty, proudly and relentlessly, to do whatever it took to advance his species.
But he wished Donnel were a turian.