Description: The diplomatic mission to the Verindi. Kegan does not like Adrian's success.
Note: And one FYI, I have changed the rank of Chell to Captain rather than Sub-Commander. Being the First Officer of an Admiral of the Fleet, it made more sense for him to have a higher rank. I have changed this throughout the story.
A clear field. No furniture or people for that matter. No Verindi in sight. Only a flat, barren expanse of cracked rocks baking under the blazing double sun. Heat rose up in rippling waves.
The Trykor's diplomatic party coughed as they inhaled the dusty air.
"Where are they?" asked Chell as he choked out a question and covered his mouth and nose.
Laughlin, a tanned man with ears that stuck out asked, "Are we sure these are the right coordinates?" He looked around dubiously. Being the Chief Negotiator onboard, he was familiar with all kinds of diplomatic scenarios. Not having the other party show up being one, and gross incompetence hampering his work, being another.
Chell answered, "These were the ones we were provided with." He had double-checked before they came down.
"We'll wait," said the Admiral, shielding his eyes to look off in the distance.
Unlike the others who searched with their eyes, Kali opened up her psi perceptions. A torrent of impressions flooded her mind. They were being watched. There was a strong sense of curiosity. * They are here, * she projected to the Admiral.
He glanced over at her, not making it too obvious, a question in his eyes asking, where?
* Look up. *
Verel, keeping his eyes shielded, lifted his head up to the burnt-orange sky. A pyramid-shaped ship dropped out of the glare of the sun, its sides glinting. "There they are."
The others looked up, squinting. "A bit obvious isn’t it?" asked the other senior officer, Ouyang.
The ship descended, pushing air downwards as it slowed and landed not far from them. Large doors swung outwards and a ridged ramp slid down, hitting the chalky rock surface with a thump, throwing up a cloud of dust.
Five figures, all the same height and wearing dark green and brown uniforms with black double straps criss-crossed over the chests, came down the ramp towards them.
The officers arranged themselves behind Admiral on either side and waited.
The Verindi moved with stately, graceful precision, as if they were gliding. The two parties stood facing each other for a long few seconds, waiting and assessing. The middle Verindi, an older man with sharply intelligent grey eyes that looked as if they could pierce the soul, stood forward and bowed. "You are Admiral Verel?" The voice was melodic, careful.
The Admiral nodded in acknowledgement. "You are First Ambassador Kell-al?"
Kali felt a slight ripple of anticipation and something else. Her eyes half-closed as she concentrated harder. It was an undercurrent…an expectation of disappointment. Not surprising considering the lack of progress in previous negotiations. The anticipation was a welcome sign. It meant there was hope at least.
The Ambassador nodded once. "These are your officers?"
"This is my First Officer, Captain Chell. Third Officer, Commander Ouyang and Chief Negotiator, Sub-Commander Laughlin."
"Do you consider them impressive?" The melodic voice was smooth on the ears, which made his challenging question puzzling.
Verel hesitated. "They are my officers."
"Indeed," Ambassador Kell-al said grimly.
There was a pause, which stretched into an awkward silence.
They had reached a junction…and picked the wrong turn. But what was wrong? Kali was here to help the Admiral but she didn't understand what was going on any more than the others did.
The Admiral cleared his throat and gestured politely to the people behind the Ambassador. "And these are?"
The Ambassador looked at him gravely and nodded once before making introductions. Kali sensed a lightening of mood as this happened.
Taking this to be an encouraging sign, Verel said, "I would like to extend…"
* Admiral, let the Ambassador take the lead. We need to study how he approaches a conversation. *
Verel thought quickly and smoothly made the transition without a break. "…the good wishes of the Confederation Empire to your people. I understand negotiations have not gone well in the past and I must admit that I am no diplomat. Is there something I can do to facilitate these negotiations?"
"You wish an alliance with us?"
"I believe it would be in our best interests. As you know…"
* Admiral, let the Ambassador take the lead. There was a positive shift when you asked his input. Now it is moving the other way. *
"…the aliens are a threat. Have your people been attacked?"
That wasn't quite what Kali meant but the Ambassador seemed to appreciate the question.
He rubbed his hands together. "We have had numerous incursions along our border. I imagine you have had the same experience?"
"Yes. That is why we are proposing an alliance."
There was another long silence. Verel wondered if the Ambassador was considering the proposal but there was no change in expression on the Verindi faces.
Kali could sense the Verindi were waiting for something. Her mind quickly went back over the conversation and the impressions she received from them. A slight pattern suggested itself. Barely one. It could just be the normal flow of conversation, but there was one way to find out.
* Admiral, repeat your last sentence but formed as a question. *
She could see the Admiral turn his head slightly towards her before he said, "Would your people consider an alliance to be beneficial in meeting this common threat?"
The Ambassador smiled. "Would you do the honour of walking with me?"
* Admiral, continue framing questions rather than making statements. He appears to react positively to that. *
Verel nodded. "I would be honoured Ambassador." He extended his hand. "If you would lead the way?"
The two men moved away, their heads bent towards each other in conversation.
Kali touched her ear and the small receiver unit she inserted before they left the ship.
She heard the Ambassador ask, “You are a decorated Admiral among your people?”
“Trinkets. They mean little on the field.” The Admiral walked with his hands clasped behind his back. Sweat was beading on his brow and he wiped the back of his hand over his forehead. This was hot enough work already without two suns beating down on them. He glanced at the man beside him. The Ambassador moved with fluid steps, sliding his feet along the ground. “Empire diplomats have approached your people for an alliance before?”
This was acknowledged with a single nod. “Many times. You wish to know why they’ve never succeeded?”
“Was it the approach?”
Kali suppressed a smile at the Admiral’s directness. She was sure career diplomats would have all sorts of criticisms about this conversation, but the Ambassador was responding quite positively now, something no diplomat had ever achieved. It was a simple thing, but not one noticed by those who considered themselves in the stronger position. In the meantime, with Kali’s suggestions, Captain Chell and the two Commanders struck up conversations with the remaining Verindi party.
She heard the Ambassador’s response.
“It was the lack of reciprocal conversation. Have you been involved in diplomatic missions before?” The man didn’t seem to sweat or be bothered by the heat. His face was animated and his gestures expressive, a marked contrast to his earlier reticence.
“Involved yes. Directly, no. I have experienced negotiators for this type of task. Would you prefer speaking to one of them?”
“You are doing quite well.” He rubbed his hands together. “Would you like to ask me a question?”
* Admiral, he is ready. *
“What do you think of the proposal of an alliance?”
“As you said, we have a common enemy. An alliance would benefit both our Empires. I will accept tentatively and you can send your negotiators to work out the finer details?” He held out his hand and the Admiral grasped it firmly. “It’s a deal.”
At the end of the day, after the triumphant test of the Neutron Wave accelerator unit, people began filing out, happy smiles still on their faces. Adrian entered test notes on the computer, preparing for the next phase.
“Don’t think this changes anything, Stannis,” snarled the other person who had not been overjoyed at the success of Phase One. “You’re still considered a traitor and you will get what’s coming to you.”
Adrian allowed the words to wash over him without commenting or acknowledging Kegan’s taunts. The Phase One tests were better than expected with the use of the ship’s impulse engines.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you, Stannis.” Kegan placed his hands on his hips.
A flash of irritation crossed Adrian’s face but there was no expression when he looked up at Kegan. The detestable man was on one of his daily tirades against him. The constant threats, expressions of dominance and attempts to humiliate him were tiresome. He stared at Kegan, beginning a count of the minutes before it would be over.
“Adrian only listens to people he considers worth listening to. Isn’t that right?”
Adrian’s back stiffened as Boudreaux came up behind him. She was very close.
Kegan growled, “Stay out of this Boudreaux.”
“And miss the entertainment?” She came closer, just brushing her knee to his back, and smiled as she felt him fight the impulse to flinch. The hard tension in his body was like a wall to keep her out. It was such a wonderful game to make that wall relax enough to let her in and delectable to feel the conflict as he fought the inevitable.
Adrian’s jaw clenched, feeling like a trapped animal between two predators. He was very aware of the danger if Boudreaux and Kegan worked together against him. With Kali away on the planet below, he had no help.
He had to maintain control, not let these two get to him.
Where was his iron discipline? It seemed to evaporate every time Boudreaux came near. He hated his own weakness and wished he had never become involved with this woman. She was enticing, extremely intelligent, witty and beautiful, in an icy statue way. It had blinded him to the other qualities until it was too late.
"The others think you're some kind of genius," sneered Kegan. "Not many of them know what you did. How many careers you ruined."
"That took genius too," said Boudreaux. "You fooled all of us. I didn't think you had it in you." The accusation was a shard of ice plunged into Adrian's body. His eyes tightened in a grimace and he was breathing faster. "I…" He didn't know why but he had an overwhelming need to say something. "…warned you to walk away from the Project."
Kegan's eyes contained fire as he shouted, "You planned it from the very beginning!" He grabbed Adrian by the collar and pulled him up, putting his face close. "I think..." His voice was a menacing growl. "You are political." He shoved him hard and Adrian stumbled back and would have fallen if Boudreaux hadn't put her arms around him. She said in cold warning, "Leave him alone, Kegan."
The Tech Commander stared at the two of them. Boudreaux still had her arms around Adrian and he wasn't resisting, or his attention was so preoccupied in glaring at Kegan that he didn't notice.
"I think…" There was a cruel smile on his face. "I will tell the Admiral you are political. Security Section will be very interested. Yes…I think I'll have a talk with Security." With a laugh, he left the room.
Adrian's chest was tight. The Admiral might be able to protect him, but Security was another matter. He looked down, startled that Boudreaux was still holding him. "You can let go."
Boudreaux loosened her hold a little and keeping one arm lightly around him, stroked her hand down his body. Adrian breathed sharply through clenched teeth as the touch reached the inner curve of his hip. His head was light and old desires were coming back full force. "Stop," he gasped.
"Make me," she whispered into his ear, her breath tickling him and sending shivers down his body. It was too much like old times, he had to break away. Adrian pushed out against the arm imprisoning him but her caressing hand slid further down causing him to arch his back instinctively. When they were like this, she was the fire to his ice, melting his reserve, tearing down his barriers.
"I...can't…' He tried to resist, tightening his muscles against the onslaught of sensations, but it only made it worse.
Sensing victory, she purred, "You always say that but we both know it doesn't make any difference. On some level, you want this." Suddenly she let him go and stepped back. Adrian blinked as if she had just slapped him. He sat down heavily on the chair, his fists held tight, his body slanted forward, his eyes reflecting the remnants of desire and anger, at himself and her. His voice was taut, full of pain. "Get out."
Boudreaux smirked. "I can do that to you anytime and there's nothing you can do to fight it." She leaned forward and her voice lowered. "What do you think your little Ensign is going to think…about our little interlude? Has she asked about me yet?"
"I will go. But I am never far, not for you. You will never be able to escape me." She laughed too before she exited the room, leaving Adrian alone and tormented by his own weaknesses.
Andrew Tennyson had contacted the Psychostrategist's Guild, asking for their top operator. He scrolled through the file.
Charles Sester. Senior Psychostrategist. This man had a reputation. Like him, Sester got things done. A bit of a wildcard. Unconventional and ruthless, but it was offset by his brilliance. Just the right man for someone like Adrian Stannis. Someone to shake his confidence, to keep him off-balance and to twist him on a mental level.
He sent his approval of the operator and left instructions to his assistant to facilitate the man's commission and his arrival on the Trykor.