It works better than she expects, honestly. She's not sure they would have become friends naturally- it's probably telling that they weren't, before- but they've got enough shared history under their belt by this point that it hardly matters. Everyone has the occasional conflict, but they're rare and they're mostly good about telling the group beforehand. (Okay, so everyone except Alli is great about it, and Alli has a memory like a sieve.) But Alli had last minute detention last week, so she's feeling guilty enough to arrive early. Almost early. A few minutes early, anyway.
She's amused but not particularly surprised to see Emma and Jenny already there when she arrives. Emma's usually early, since she lives in Avalon and all, but she and Jenny look like they've been there for a while; they've got half empty cups in front of them and Jenny's most of the way through a cookie. Alli grins and joins them. "Even when I'm early, I'm late. Frimeuses, vous deux. May here yet?"
"It's going to be hard to convince people," Emma predicts. "Most critters I know like the secrecy."
"What is it they like about it?"
"Um, I haven't, uh, asked people in detail or anything, but- most critters don't have a very high opinion of humans I don't think? Or at least not the monsters." She sounds a little bitter at that. "They don't want to share their space, or their magic, or the knowledge of our existence. They're, uh, I guess smug?"
"Hm. We could explain about magic without mentioning critters, but then it looks less like a potentially productive trade relationship and more like 'look, a minority'."
"I don't get it. Wouldn't it go the other way?"
"What do you mean?"
"If you explain magic but not critters, isn't that the trade part without the minority part, not the other way around?"
"It's trade from, like, me and Isabella personally. Not from this entire other culture. And then when the culture inevitably eventually fails to hide it doesn't have anything useful to offer."
"Okayyy, wow. First, I'm awesome all by myself, thanks. Second, Emma, stop making that face, you are also awesome. Third, the hell, May, the sole purpose of critter society is not the magic shop."
"Okay, maybe I'm too groggy to make myself clearly understood."
"...yeah, okay, fair." Alli shuffles awkwardly. "This should probably wait till you're feeling better. Want more coffee? Food? Go home and go to bed and we can talk later? I dunno."
"I'll just go home."
"Do you need a ride or anything?"
The three of them stay at the coffee shop a bit longer after May leaves, mostly because when Jenny comes back from her phone call she's broken down in tears and Emma and Alli try to comfort her. Or rather, Emma tries to comfort her; Alli gets uncomfortable, makes a couple of poorly timed wisecracks to try and ease the tension, and then shuts up in the face of Emma's glare and settles for awkward shoulder pats.
The next day at school, she tracks down May during their morning break. "Hey, feeling better?"
"I slept okay last night."
Well, that's- maybe a third of an answer. "That's good. You up to talk about your grand trade plans at some point? Or not yet?"
"I have the gist of what set you off but don't know how not to repeat the offense if I explain."
"Well, do you actually think the only good thing about critters is magic? Or was it just an explanation problem? Cause if it's the second thing... whatever? So it takes longer to explain clearly, shit happens."
"I don't think the only good thing about critters is magic and I don't know how you got that from what I said."
"You said critter culture has 'nothing useful to offer except magic'. Less of a leap than a really small step?"
"So imagine you're some big human country with a seat on the U.N. security council and everything and you discover that all along there have been critters living in secret enclaves many of them not paying taxes somewhat out of step with your nationalist whatever."
"Not all that different from the next cult, 'cept not as big on the seventy child brides thing," Alli says. "And we have plenty of uses for the government. The cute fluffy lot can go be fantastic PR for some hotshot in a suit. Government, business, charity, whatever. I spend a lot of time hoping I don't get drafted; can you imagine more of me in the army? 'Sides, we have art, and culture, and history, and all that kind of crap. Even if governments don't care about that stuff hopefully some of their residents would."
"Sure. But I wasn't thinking on the individual level and I don't trust the PR thing to be consistent globally. I was thinking on the population, mostly economic level. Art and culture and history have never mattered when there was a population to exploit. Magic is intensely useful and must be learned from critters and the critter-aware, it can't just be stolen or conscripted or ignored. I think that if critters present themselves as 'here we are, we want to do the world stage thing, now, trade you magic powers, by the way we don't recommend trying to kill us because we have powers you don't fully understand', the outlook is a lot better than if magic's already spread around and critters are going 'we're a fluffy minority, you will not be outcompeted by your neighbors if you decide to drive us out or kill us or ignore us, want some art'."