Blessed are the Peacemakers
by Johne Cook
Tenerife faced the door
and mentally girded his loins. He was experienced fighting aliens — politicians were a different threat entirely. Senator Vernon Malon was as understated as he was powerful, but behind his calculated austerity lurked a ruthless career politician, or at least that was the rumor.
Tenerife took a deep breath and knocked.
The Senator looked up as Tenerife stuck his head in the office. “Ah, Captain! Come in, come in. I’ve heard so much about you!”
“No longer Captain, I’m afraid. Since leaving the Space Marines, I’ve started over at the bottom, an Undersecretary in the Terran Corp of Diplomacy.”
“You are too modest!” The Senator brought a holofile to life in the air above his desk. He made a nice show of discovery, tracing text with his index finger. “You survived a Klakx raid your first day. Decorated in the field. A legendary space marine from a legendary campaign.”
“I trust all of that is now safely behind me, Senator.”
“Oh, I certainly hope not.” The Senator looked slyly through the holographic display. “As it happens, my nephew returned from the front himself some time ago. At the risk of charges of nepotism, he is a seasoned diplomat and will be your new superior. You may even know him already.”
Tenerife smiled to himself. The Space Marines were close-knit, but the chances of him knowing one random marine were low.
There was a rap on the door. Venti Phlagg stepped into the office. He wore a deadly smirk and the uniform of a full Secretary in the TCD.
Tenerife’s humor soured immediately. Phlagg was the last person in the galaxy Tenerife ever wanted to see again. And he was Tenerife’s new boss. ‘Superior’, he thought. Not in this life.
“We’ve met,” said the Secretary with the barest civility. “The ‘Captain’ here was the man who usurped my command during that first attack by the Klakx and subsequently engineered my court-martial on trumped-up charges.”
Oho. “Venti Phlagg. This is a surprise.” To me, he thought, and looked at the Senator in a new light.
Phlagg walked over to Tenerife and stood so close that the stink of espresso and privilege on his breath was nearly overpowering. “That’s Secretary Phlagg, Mr. Undersecretary. And it won’t stop there. Soon enough, you’ll be calling me Ambassador, and I’ll be calling you unemployed.”
Tenerife looked over at the Senator who was watching the exchange with calculating eyes. “I asked both of you here for a reason — both of you have experience with the Klakx. Our treaty with the Klakx expires soon. We must renew the treaty or risk sliding back into all-out war.”
Phlagg nodded. “Conflict would disrupt trade, colonial expansion, and galactic peace for decades to come.”
“I understand war,” said Tenerife, dryly.
The Senator ignored them. “You two will represent Terran diplomatic interests as you meet with the Klakx contingent and broker a renewed trade agreement. On the positive side, they’re excellent trading partners once they sign on the line. On the negative, they’re as likely to kill you as look at you, and that’s not hyperbole. Bottom line, your job is to ensure diplomatic success at all costs.” The Senator attempted a brittle smile. “It would be a pleasant bonus if you both also manage to survive the negotiations." The Senator slid open a drawer and reached inside. “To that end, you may want to arm yourselves with a tiny insurance policy, just in case.” He slid a pearl-handled hand weapon across the desk toward Phlagg, who was caught unprepared.
The spinning weapon slid past his nephew and right off the edge of the desk. Tenerife nimbly plucked the pistol out of the air and gave it a quick heft. It had a distinctive shape. He looked closer at its design and was taken aback. “Is this the new SleepShok™ Solo?”
The Senator’s eyes glittered. “First run off the production line. It’s a special weapon for…special applications.”
Tenerife nodded. If he was right, the Senator was playing this very close to the metaphorical vest. “Handling any weapon in anger is against my religion,” Tenerife said carefully. Reaching a decision, he flipped the gun around and held it out. “Mr. Secretary, I believe this is meant for you."
As Phlagg grabbed at the weapon, Tenerife watched the Senator closely and was rewarded with a very fleeting grin.
The Senator smoothly changed the topic. “You are a Theist?”
Tenerife squared his shoulders. “The ancient king Solomon was known for his wisdom. He wrote in the second chapter of Proverbs about how being attuned to wisdom leads to acquiring the Knowledge of God.”
Phlagg sneered. “Proverbs.”
The Senator’s eyes never left Tenerife. “And do you have this ‘knowledge of God?’”
Tenerife met the Senator’s stare. “I’m working on it.”
Being a decommissioned space marine had its perks, so Tenerife piloted the shuttle himself. While they were able to save a seat on the ship, it meant Tenerife was alone for a week in a confined space with his arch-enemy. In theory, the two diplomats spent their days researching the Klakx, but from the sound of it, Phlagg instead chose to catch up with an entire season of a show to see who got voted off the Moon. For his part, in the front of the shuttle, Tenerife didn’t care what the Secretary did with his time in the back of the shuttle as long as they didn’t have to share the same room.
Loud music from the rear of the ship suggested an extended challenge sequence that afforded Tenerife time to bounce some ideas around. Tenerife removed a small obsidian triangle from a real wood case that said “Eyeo™ PDA” on the side and set it on the console in front of him.
“Eyeo, would a good man warn the Secretary about what’s coming?”
From the triangle, Eyeo said, “What’s coming?”
Tenerife explained the situation.
Eyeo pinged for a bit, a subtle audio placeholder, and then said, “Define ‘good.’”
Tenerife thought that was an astute question coming from a PDA, and considered that question for the duration of the trip.
A week later, the two diplomats disembarked from their shuttle at Infinity Harbor, the station in neutral space.
They checked into the TCD apartments and freshened up, changing into the forest green uniforms of Terran diplomats.
Walking down the corridor to the meeting room, Phlagg said, “I want you to stand a pace behind me and to the right. I will speak and you will observe.”
With an effort, Tenerife swallowed his pride and prayed for strength to keep a bridle on his tongue. “As you say, Secretary.”
From the viewport, they watched the Klakx ship approach and prepare to dock. Hands clasped behind him, Phlagg said, “Do you know how warlike these Klakx are? We knew of their presence in space long before they detected us, but while they were trading for the first time with the Plai, they detected us observing them from afar, and recklessly attacked all of our border planets without reason or provocation.”
Tenerife eyed the approaching ship, all rakish angles and sharp edges. “There is another way to interpret that,” he said. “One might remember that we weren’t on the best of terms with the Plai at that time, and interpret the Klakx response as a kind of fierce, immediate loyalty.”
Phlagg shook his head strongly. “The Klakx live to kill. We indulge them at our peril.”
Tenerife had other ideas about the real source of their ‘peril,’ but kept them to himself.
The ship docked with a shudder that was more felt than heard. It felt like a dark omen, a notion Tenerife tried to dismiss as superstitious dread.
The Terran diplomats each inserted translators into their left ears. They received the Klakx delegation in a room with a circular table.
The Klakx entered the room with a swish of heavy cloth robes and the clack of their claws on the smooth floors. They were tall and angular and gray. Their glittering orange eyes and smooth skeletal heads made them look like the stuff of nightmares. They were also natural-born killers, with six thin claws on each hand, capable of ripping out soft Terran throats with the merest flick of a digit, something Tenerife had personally seen up-close-and-personal ten years earlier in his first meeting with them.
Memories of that first, ferocious combat came flooding back, and he struggled again to remember his new faith. To let go of old hatred. It was a constant battle between impulse and will.
He reminded himself that the Klakx were also naturally impervious to conditions that were toxic to Terrans, making them perfect supply partners for various exotic chemicals much desired by Terran manufacturing. It was always a battle to look at ‘different’ and not see ‘dangerous.’
The Klakx leader seated himself and leaned forward while his delegation took up positions standing behind him. Secretary Phlagg took a seat while Tenerife stood behind him as instructed, hands folded behind his back. Phlagg said, “Ambassador T’chak, it is good to meet you in person to discuss reinstatement of the trading treaty which has substantially benefited…”
The Klakx interrupted, its speech a combination of hissing and clicking. The translated voice was dry, mechanical, and male. “Where is Senator Malon? Our agreement is with him.”
Secretary Phlagg said, “The Senator sends his regards but demands that you work now with me.” Phlagg pounded the table to punctuate the last word.
Uh oh, thought Tenerife.
T’chak exploded out of his chair, reaching inside his cloak. Secretary Phlagg drew the pistol. Tenerife lunged forward and plucked the weapon out of Phlagg’s hand. As one, each of the Klakx drew hidden short swords, the discordant sound of metal-on-sheath amplified in the enclosed room. “Wait!” Tenerife roared, and held up the pistol in his right hand.
Phlagg growled and turned to face Tenerife. Twelve blades followed his movement.
“There we go,” said Tenerife. He aimed and fired point blank at the Secretary’s chest. The astonished Terran sat down, hard, and his head tilted back in the chair, suddenly and completely out cold.
The blades all turned to face Tenerife.
Tenerife tossed the weapon across the table to the Klakx to the right of the ambassador. “This one was wrong,” said Tenerife. “Senator Malon instructed me in this action. Now, about that treaty…”
Tenerife was sitting in T’chak’s chair when Phlagg awoke. He had a bag on the table in front of him.
Phlagg’s eyes flitted open and scanned Tenerife, and then he lurched upright in his seat, blinking furiously. “You! What did you do?”
Tenerife said, "That’s hardly the approach to take with the man who saved your career, your life, and inked an indispensable treaty with a difficult trading partner.”
“What? Where did they go?”
“Home,” said Tenerife. “After getting what they came after, they returned home. Without bloodshed, I might add, although it was a near thing.”
Phlagg held his head in both hands. “Did it again,” said Phlagg half to himself. His voice rose and he pointed his finger. “You did it again! How could you?”
Tenerife remained resolute. “Venti, we’ve been down this road before, and the Senator knew it. He used our history to accomplish a diplomatic goal. The Senator knows the Klakx better than you do, and made sure he would get the treaty that he needed. He let you believe I was the sacrificial lamb, but it was really you.”
Phlagg’s mouth gaped. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t draw you up on charges!”
Tenerife’s leaned forward. “One? Mr. Secretary, I’ll give you many!” He started ticking them off on his fingers. “The gun the Senator gave you only carries one kind of round, SleepShok™ charges; the gun only carries one charge at a time; the Senator only included the one charge already in the chamber; he never meant for us to fire upon the Klakx; he knew I would not willingly carry the weapon; he knew you would draw it at the wrong moment, and for the wrong reason; he knew I wouldn’t allow that to occur; he also knew that the Klakx value bold loyalty even more than brash bravery. You exhibited the second—I exhibited the first.” Tenerife took a breath. “And then there’s the treaty.”
"By immobilizing you, an obvious antagonist who was my ostensible ally, I immediately earned their fierce loyalty, similar to what happened between them and the Plai. Invoking their former contact Senator Malon, I signed the treaty myself, guaranteeing another ten years of peaceful trade. That’s why you won’t draw up charges. Mr. Secretary, I accomplished the Senator’s primary goal for sending us out here — I ensured diplomatic success at all costs.” Tenerife leaned back and waited.
Phlagg ground his teeth. "They don’t have to know everything. I’ll have you demoted to janitor for this!"
Tenerife laughed. "You could, but I’d have to tell the truth about how you drew a weapon on an alien ambassador and threatened war. Falsehood is also against my religion."
Phlagg sighed and collapsed back into his chair.
Tenerife leaned forward. “Look, it’s not so bad. Between us, we’ve staved off interstellar war and inked a new treaty to take back to the Senator. You’ll look like a hero back home. You may even be promoted to Klakxish Ambassador!
Tenerife said, “Frankly, I don’t want your job! I’ve been in the limelight — you can have it. If we’re going to continue to work together, what do you say we bury the hatchet, okay?”
Phlagg thought it over as he rubbed where the charge hit him. Finally, he muttered, "You have strange methods for a Theist."
Tenerife smiled. "The scriptures of my faith contain another ancient aphorism. 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.'” Tenerife rose and reached into the bag in front of him and held something out to Phlagg. “Icepack, ‘Ambassador?’"
Johne Cook is a technical writer by day and creative writer / editor at night. Married 24 years to Linda, they share two kids, two dogs, and partial ownership of a cat, Razor. They live in the rolling hills of southcentral Wisconsin, and are ardent fans of the Green Bay Packers. His interests include prog rock, film noir, space opera, and racquetball. His friends call him Captain ADD. And also his enemies. Squirrel!
Johne is older than he looks but acts younger than he is. He is a sanctified black sheep who tends to hang out on the fringe of things. This may explain his membership in The Lost Genre Guild.
A veteran of various volunteer publications, he has been a proofreader for Deep Magic magazine, an associate editor for Bill Snodgrass' The Sword Review , and managing editor of Dragons, Knights, and Angels. Together with L. S. King and Paul Christian Glenn, Johne founded Ray Gun Revival magazine (RGR), devoted to space opera and golden age sci-fi. They refer to themselves collectively as the Overlords, and are often vaporizing someone's puny planet for various arbitrary infractions. In July, 2009, RGR celebrated the start of their fourth year of publication.
At RGR, he is author of two-thirds of a 36-chapter serial novel entitled "The Adventures of the Sky Pirate," which reflects his love for pulp fiction and Joss Whedon's "Firefly" series.
His online moniker is Phy, short for Phydeaux, which he borrowed from Larry Norman's bulldog (and bootleg vinyl label). In other news, he is old enough to remember vinyl records, who Larry Norman was, and that he had a bulldog.