Diplomatic Noises

Suji Yashida stood beside Erik in the docking bay nervously adjusting her formal dress uniform. As a pilot of a diplomatic courier, she was often required to attend formal gatherings and so she had the uniform for it.

"Might I say that you look very nice in your dress-up clothes, Suji. What are all those baubles hanging from your chest? And surely you must be uncomfortable with all that heavy braid on your shoulders and arms?"

She was still angry at having been stuffed into the airlock when Erik had held his inquisition on the flight deck.

"Not now. At least show some dignity. This is a big thing for Farseeker. The Xingxian Union is huge and some feel technologically superior to the Confederation. Now hush. They are about to disembark."

Suji had tried to persuade Erik to wear something 'more dignified and he'd only smiled and replied, "Clothing does not make a king, Suji, and besides, you certainly look dignified enough for the both of us."

The Xingxian shuttle design interested Erik. It had a broad nose like the broad point of a hunting arrow which tapered back to a set of fins much like the fletching on an arrow. 'I wonder if these beings were originally hunters?'

He chuckled at the thought of what the Xingxians might make of Erik's forebears based upon the huge sphere that was Farseeker. Suji elbowed him and once again said 'hush'.

Shanala Khartan walked carefully down the gangway. 'It wouldn't make much of a first impression if the former senator from Xingxia fell flat on her face,' she thought to herself.

She had taken great care in selecting her formal greeting gown, fussing at her maid about how it pinched here and billowed there. She'd spent an hour trying to get her hair to behave and finally waved off her maid saying, "If they've never met a Xingxian before, how my hair seems to have a mind of its own won't matter, will it?"

The diplomat bowed slightly then smiled, revealing perfect white teeth over full red lips. "On behalf of the people of the Xingxian Union, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I am Shanala Khartan, former Senator to the Forum and now, I hope, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Valhalla." She addressed Suji Yashida since only a commander would wear such a uniform to an important meeting.

Suji made the Imperial salute, one fist over her heart and replied, "On behalf of Erik, King of Valhalla and commander of this vessel, welcome aboard the Royal Valhallan Battleship Farseeker."

Shanala looked slightly annoyed that this 'king' didn't think it important enough to greet her properly but she shrugged it off and said, "Perhaps I might meet His Majesty at some time in the future?"

Erik chuckled and held out his left hand in greeting. "I'm Erik and I care not much for formal titles, Ambassador. Welcome aboard the Farseeker. Our Astrologer deemed it only proper that she wear her 'dress uniform' to meet you. I thought it best to humor her."

She watched as the 'Astrologer' barely stopped her elbow from striking the man whose smile so totally disarmed her. 'Oh, this is going to be such fun. I only hope my companions will be as at ease with me as these two are.'

He turned and smiled warmly at a small Marine in full armor. "Natalya, I think the formalities are over and I know how uncomfortable you Marines are in armor. Be at ease and, as I once heard, 'take the load off'.

Shanala saw the 'Astrologer' roll her eyes and shrug her shoulders, a gesture she knew could be interpreted in many ways. In this case she correctly surmised that it was one of 'what am I going to do with him?'

"Perhaps I might invite the rest of my party to join us. To be honest, we had no idea of the reception we'd receive and I thought it best if I met you all alone, so as not to appear threatening." She smiled again, only at Erik, and Natalya Cho fumed, 'The Hell you're not a threat!"

The 'party' consisted of an Admiral, several of his toadies, a scientist, various technicians and one special individual, a small woman with the same flowing hair as the Ambassador.

She was an empath. It was her function to gauge moods, discern falsehoods, and steer conversations away from areas that might cause conflict. She was very good at her job and had been with the Ambassador since her talents were discovered.

As they walked with the Valhallans to a 'meeting hall', she coached her Ambassador on moods and possible deceptive attitudes.

"Shanala, these people are exactly as they appear to be - open and inviting - but the former Imps are very guarded and the one with all the medals and braid - she harbors some resentment towards the King. There is another, also a female and a Marine, who I cannot get a 'reading' on except that she is full of conflicting emotions towards the King as well. Be careful of conversation with those two in particular."

Shanala turned slightly and whispered, "And the King? What of him, Khryssa?"

"Honest, straight-forward, a wicked sense of humor, and he feels emotions very deeply. He mourns for lost ones. Also, he is in physical pain. It radiates from him in waves. Surely, you have noticed how he favors his shortened limb?"

She hadn't. She was too busy creating a good 'first impression' to pay much attention to the man who disarmed her so adroitly with his open smile and easy manner.

After a long walk and then a time spent on an automated lift they entered what could only be described as -

"By the Goddess, you people have recreated your world here! Ambassador, we have nothing like this. It's incredible. Why the impact on morale alone must be incalculable." The Admiral was astounded and turned in a slow circle, his skin a deep blue. "Holographics, Lord King? How wonderful it must be to just walk in such a place. After being on a cramped cruiser, such a place would be worth the power cost of generation."

"Admiral, this was a pasture for our livestock. I had drovers clear them away and opened it up to our people as a park area. You'll have to be careful of where you tread. It seemed foolish to remove what will soon become nutrients to the soil. Right now the sun is at high noon but come sunset, if the climate program warrants it, it will rain just as it did on

Valhalla. All it lacks is the tang of the great Inland Sea to be a perfect day on Valhalla."

Just then, Allana ran past, pulling on a kite string and laughing gayly as it swooped and darted about far above the grass. Max and her mother trotted along behind her, and Max waved to Erik. "I could have used another week in regen, Erik. This young one is hard for an old man to keep up with. With your permission, I'll join you for food and cider after she wears out."

Shanala turned, astonished. "You have children? Are you not born of the maturation process?" She could not take her eyes off the blonde child. She had never seen a human child before and was entranced.

"No, Ambassador. Valhallans left Earth before the end of Natural Birth. We learn through education and experiences. Apparently, we are something of a novelty to our Imperial friends. Until recently, they kept their method of birthing a secret - "

"Until you threated to space us all to gain knowledge of the regen tank and its location. I still feel the chill of the airlock in my bones." Shanala raised an eyebrow at Yashida's words, more at the tone than the content.

"I'm sure you are exaggerating. Your king hardly seems the type to carry out such a threat." She turned to Erik. "Would you have actually spaced your companions to learn the location?"

"Every damned last one of them to save a man's life. They would have gone to their deaths without revealing the truth, afraid that growing in a maturation tank was some dirty secret." He pointed to the distant figure of Max. "That man's life was saved by the regen tank. He was a senior scientist on a survey vessel we rescued. Look at him now, healthy and I would think, happy. All the Imps will have unlimited access to their regen tank. I will not lose a single one of them to the Empire's planned obsolescence."

"Salt?" asked Kryssa innocently. She had first become aware of the tall human when Mistress Shanala had discovered that these humans actually were Natural Born. His aura changed from a placid blue to a swirling mix of reds and yellows. He had taken an aggressive stance in defense of his king for some reason. For that reason alone, she had managed to seat herself between this 'Goudy' and her mistress.

"Aye, lass, good old sea salt mixed in with the waters of a marsh. Our king noticed how the Trill were giving it a wide birth..."

One part of her listened raptly as he explained about the next few engagements with these 'Trill' while on another level, she cataloged the various emotions displayed both hidden and visible. The man was an open book to one as talented an empath as Kryssa.

"But it was Ambassador's suicide that most made him wonder about the Imperials. That and her willingness to kill one of her own Marines."

"And yet your king was willing to kill all the Imperials to determine the secrets they held back and the location of the regen tank. That hardly seems like a man who trusts and protects those he rules. And he still has not grown a new hand using the regen tank. He is truly a mystery to us. You talk a great deal about trust. How can we open our arms to one who would slaughter his own for - "

His aura abruptly turned a pulsating red and he growled, "How dare you soft, pampered diplomats criticize Erik. We are all that remain of a prosperous and happy world until the Trill came. The Imperials wanted to avoid an 'unpleasant incident' with the Trill worlds. They ordered M'bala to sabotage our engines and leave us to die with the Brools where we sought refuge. Don't talk to me about 'open arms' when your Confederation hands hold daggers with which to stab us in the back!"

He pushed himself away from the table and stalked off to find more pleasant company and a few mugs of cider or even that disgusting wodka.

Neither had noticed that their voices had risen and all at the table had stopped to listen, some interested, some dismayed but one in particular angry.

"I believe we could all use a period of relaxation and discussion among our selves." Erik rose and followed Goudy. He had heard the harsh words and felt the same rush of anger. There would be no alliance. They would fight the Trill alone.

Suji Yashida watched as the skin colors of the Xingxian delegates turned from placid blue to an angry red. She knew she had to do something to salvage the situation. She cleared her throat and spoke quietly. But the more she said, the more she believed it was a lost cause.

"Did you know that these Barbs rescued survivors of the Harvester ship that destroyed their world. Did you know that they took food from their own mouths and gave it to those same prisoners? Did you know that the Potemkin launched empty shuttle craft to lure the Farseeker in for the kill? Did you know that he offered all the Imperials here on this generation ship the opportunity to return to the Empire? No. I thought not."

"Salt. It's what you came for, isn't it? The weapon that destroys the Trll grinders on the ground and the Trill Harvesters in space is simple sodium chloride mixed with ordinary water. There. Now you will no longer have to concern yourselves with us. We are Valhallans. Vikings. We will destroy the Trill and any of you who get in our way."

She stood, as did all the other Valhallans. "As Erik would say if he were not trying to stop Goudy from committing mayhem, 'Safe journey'.

They all followed their king down the companionway. There would be no alliance. They would go it alone.

"Kryssa, your report, please." She valued the opinion of the Union's Intelligence Service more highly than those of the Union's military so she deferred to her.

"As usual, the official 'leaks' from the Empire were half truths and down right lies. The more I baited the man Goudy, the more his emotions revealed how dedicated and protective he is of his king. As for the 'king', he tolerates his role because he has no choice. Do not underestimate Erik. I think, Ambassador, you should somehow meet with him on that park. It is where he is both secure and vulnerable. Besides, I have what we came for - salt mixed with water to form brine crystals. That Imp pilot simply confirmed what that oaf Goudy told me before I goaded him into his outburst."

"And in your opinion, Kryssa, is an alliance with these 'Barbs' feasible? Given what information this Goudy and Pilot Officer Yashida revealed, do we even need these people to accomplish our goal? And, Kryssa, I have no intention of assassinating Erik. What you see as vulnerability is what makes him so complex and unpredictable. The Trill won't know what hit them."

The Admiral spoke quietly. "We should ally with these Valhallans. They are tenacious and extremely adaptable. The fact that this ship exists, that it has been used so effectively against the Cytollans...and the best of the Empire..."

"And yet, Admiral, this king would have slaughtered all the remaining Imperials to get the information he wanted. He is ruthless and cares only for Valhallans, those native to the planet. He would spend Union forces like loose change before risking his precious Farseeker," Kryssa disagreed with him.

"No, Ambassador. I feel we should take the gift given to us and depart after making the usual diplomatic noises about further discussions. We shouldn't stain our honor by associating with these barbarian Valhallans." Kryssa spoke with conviction.

"I have decided. There will be no 'diplomatic noises', Kryssa. Didn't you hear his voice when he spoke of the Empire's 'planned obsolescence' of his 'Imps'? And Admiral? How difficult would it be to outfit this lumbering moon with faster-than-light drives? And I, for one, am interested in just how they have managed to resurrect and employ an 800 sol old generation ship so effectively. Aren't you?"

Shanala continued, making her point subtly but without doubt. "No. Once tempers have cooled, we will again attempt to reach an agreement."

After a moment, "And has any one tried this incredible apple brandy? It rivals that served at the Imperial table" as she lifted the mug of cider in a toast of sorts.

Everyone followed her example save one. Kryssa quietly left the meeting, unnoticed by design.