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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 23: Treaty

 

Plenary Session –

A long, slow tolling echoed through the station, signifying that the next session was starting shortly, so Mumu and Pinpin cut the Earthers’ tour short and started escorting their charges back.

Mumu said that the afternoon session was being moved from the Shihayn, the Main Assembly Hall of Colossus, to Aonta, the Main Debate Hall, but only Mia was required, so he was to escort Mia plus a small handful of her “Marines” to Aonta, while Pinpin was to escort the others back to their assigned quarters.

Before they split up, a large version of what an Earther would say looked like a clunky CC, was offered to Mia. The device was meant for Mia to keep in touch with her people. For Nick, he thought of the device as a glorified World War II-era walkie-talkie. Nick asked if it was allowable for them to use their own devices (skipping, of course, the fact that Mia had a Phase-Wave earpiece already in her ear).

Mumu squeaked in what was unmistakably laughter, and gestured at Mia’s earpiece. He said that they could continue using the device that they had been using – that was allowed, of course. He was just required to make the offer. Mia and Nick looked at each other, chagrined.

-----

Aonta was about the same as Shihayn except that the Main Debate Hall was arranged in a circular manner, allowing the representatives to have discussions and debates. In fact, most sessions were held in the Debate Hall.

Mumu gestured to the hall’s main door, handed Mia a microphone similar to what she'd used earlier but wireless this time, and left her. He said that she needed to cross the threshold by herself. She looked at him a little quizzically as he started walking away.

“It’s a tradition,” he said, bowed and left.

She took a breath and walked through the doorway. “This could be it,” she thought while Nick and the other Earthers, including Ren, Admiral Daxx and the other people in her party, were escorted back to their assigned quarters. “If this goes as planned, maybe I can give all this up and pass it back on to Admiral Silverman,” she joked to herself.

As the main resource person for the discussion, Mia was asked to come in early but alone. So, except for four of her “Marines,” Mia entered the still-empty Debate Hall. She walked over and stood on a large, circular dais in the middle of the hall. A large dais slowly spun around. The speed of the turning stage was slow enough that she hardly felt it nor feel dizzy or disoriented in the least. As for her “Marines,” they didn’t stand with her on the slowly-revolving stage but on the floor immediately surrounding it – one tall Marine from the Second Combined Marine/Infantry Squad, one of Daxx’s personal guards, one of the Elyran fighter pilots, and one of the Arachnian scientists made up her little squad of four. They stood and faced outward and put their hands on their sidearms whether they be pistols or swords, and practiced “looking fierce.”

She switched the video pickup on and allowed everyone back in their quarters to see.

Nick had set up a small macro projector to project Mia’s images into the middle of the room. The images floating in the air were coming from the tiny video cameras in Mia’s and her four Marines’ lapel pins. There were even cameras mounted in the back of her collar, and the collars of Mia’s Earther and Elyran Marines so that Nick could get a choice of shots.

Nick had all eight cameras on-line and transmitting video. He apologized that they were only two-dimensional video feeds instead of 3-D. Ren, Daxx, Ben and the other Federation people looked at each other, shrugged and just accepted the amazing view of a moving image projected into empty space – yet another piece of magic from the Earthers’ seemingly-bottomless bag of tricks.

“Nick, can you hear me,” Mia said in Elyran, relying on the translators to translate for those who couldn’t speak it.

“Five-by-five, Admiral,” Nick said.

“Image okay?”

“Perfect.”

“How about Lady Tasha and the First Ambassador?”

“We hear you fine, Mia,” Tasha responded.

“Likewise, Admiral,” the First Ambassador responded.

“This is Bilar,” the Dixx Ambassador responded as well, although a little hesitantly. “We hear you as well. I hope I’m working this device properly. Is Admiral Daxx there?”

“I’m here, my friend,” Daxx said. “I’m here. Do not worry, you will get used to this. Trust me – we are old hands at this.”

Everyone, except Bilar and her people in the Dixx embassy, broke into laughter.

“I apologize for my friends, dear Bilar,” the First Ambassador said. “But we have been meeting for months in this manner. I guess my friends are a bit tired of this. But I think one last time is all right.”

“That’s fine, Ambassador,” Bilar said. “We understand.”

“Secretary-General Romarkin, Admiral Silverman,” Mia called. “Are you on-line?”

“Yes, we are, Lady Amelia,” Romarkin responded. “We are all here.”

“She called me ‘Lady Amelia’ again,” Mia thought, both irritated and amused. “She just had to get that in the record, the rotten little fink.”

“Mia,” Jennifer Priestly came on. “Jerry, Phil, Marc and I, as well as the entire CETI team are on-line as well.”

“Before you ask, Bilar,” Daxx interjected, “I will introduce everyone else later, and, yes, you did hear Her Excellency, Secretary-General Alexandra Romarkin, the leader of all Earth. Yes, our new friends have the ability of instantaneous communication over the void.”

“By the gods,” Bilar murmured in Dixx.

“I know, my friend,” Daxx responded, also in Dixx. “But hold that for later. Let us focus on the here-and-now. We have a job to do.”

“Thank you, Admiral,” Mia said, also in Dixx, and then shifted back to Elyran. “This is about to start. If anyone has anything to say, now’s the time.”

“Actually, Mia,” Jennifer said, “I have a confession. We transmitted your speech earlier over the system network, and because of the great interest everyone has shown, there was a great clamor for us to broadcast this session as well. Live this time.”

Mia paused. “Jennifer. That’s a mistake. What if the session goes badly?”

“I know, I know, but the oppositionists have made a big deal about the nature of our dealings with the Federation. They’ve been insisting on more transparency instead of closed-door meetings. They’ve also been threatening to file a motion to repeal the communications secrecy act despite concerns about security, and open up all the Phase-Wave bandwidths. They’re a minority, I know but they’re a very vocal minority. We have no choice, Mia.”

Mia sighed. She wasn’t one to rail against the things that she couldn’t change, so, in typical Mia fashion, she decided to push on.

“All right,” Mia said. “When will this general broadcast start?”

“As soon as you signal us.”

“Okay. Stand by.”

Mia stood and waited. Belatedly, she noticed that her sword was accidentally turned off, so she switched it back on to standby mode. No need to plug it into its power cable – no EM suppression field to drain the battery.

In a while, the delegates had started to come into the hall. “All right, Jennifer,” she whispered. “Better start now.”

Aonta looked like a big tiered bowl, with the delegates occupying the tiers. Mia looked at each of the delegates as they came in. All of the delegates looked down at her, and she couldn’t blame them for being curious. She bowed to those that were very curious, not knowing that they would bow in return.

After everyone had settled down, the Lord Chamberlain walked in. The nearest two of Mia’s “Marines” – the Dixx and the Arachnian – drew their sidearms and interposed themselves between Mia and the Chamberlain.

The Dravidian stopped short and bowed low. Mia’s protectors re-holstered/re-sheathed their sidearms and went back to their places.

There was not threat, of course. It was all part of the rituals associated with the politics of the Federation.

When Mia’s guards re-holstered their weapons, the Lord Chamberlain continued forward and stood at the foot of the stage. At that point, it stopped spinning. Silence descended, and the Chamberlain waited.

“My Lady,” Ben whispered to Mia via her earpiece, “you are expected to bow.”

Mia turned to the Chamberlain and bowed deep in the Elyran fashion. This time, it was her turn to wait.

The Lord Chamberlain also bowed. As he did, the dais started to turn again.

And as it did, something that sounded like the beginning of a rainstorm echoed in the hall. Mia looked up, and saw that everyone was applauding.

She didn’t know what the implication of that was. So, she just bowed, allowing the stage to turn her around to face everyone.

Mia had to reciprocate. “In behalf of my people,” Mia said, “I thank you.”

-----

After the very specific rituals to welcome their visitor had been dispensed with, the discussion of the speech that Mia had given began in earnest.

Certain particulars were discussed. First off was the declaration of war by the four races. One of the more junior races pinged his bell, and asked Mia to elaborate on the basis of their declaration. Mia was expecting this and again reiterated the rationale for the declaration.

Someone from a species that Mia didn’t recognize pinged and asked if they had the authority to do so, and Mia explained that the three leaders of their expedition – Admiral Daxx, Princess Tasha Liaran-Kerr and the First Ambassador of the Arachnian Republic, when acting together, were empowered by their leaders to do so. As for Earth, Mia went on record that their United Nations had voted on the matter.

Another one, the representative from Eros, pinged and then asked the question about what the repercussions of the declaration were to the rest of the Federation. The First Ambassador pinged to take up that question and explained that the Dixx, Elyrans and Arachnians were expecting their fellow Federation members to just honor the covenants of the Federation. He explained that he was referring to the Federation treaties for mutual protection – that the homeworlds and colony worlds of member races would be protected against invasion or attack from external entities.

The Erocii pinged again to express the opinion that such a situation seemed unfair. Why should other races not involved in their conflict help them?

The rest of the delegates were shocked to hear that. Murmuring among the others started to build.

He pinged again. He went on to say that if they did assist, then any future possibilities of commerce with the Tirosians and Detterex would be lost.

That triggered an explosion from the rest of the assembly, many of the delegates openly protesting. A few supported the Erocii’s view, so the argument grew. Per council rules, the tumult went unabated for about seventeen minutes. After which, sound suppression beams kicked on and everyone had to discontinue their discussion.

After a few minutes, the beams switched off. Usually, that was enough to end debates before they became full-blown arguments, and in this case, they did nip any brewing arguments in the bud.

Lady Tasha pinged and took up the discussion, and said that the same covenants were applicable to all Federation members. If the others found themselves in the same situation, all members must answer the call. Tasha said that they would be first to provide assistance, if ever the situation was reversed.

This discussion went back and forth for a long time, with the discussion becoming more and more loud and confrontational until the representative from Star 453-A, who was also the sole member of the Council of Custodians among all the representatives, asked a question.

“I would like to pose a question, if I may?” he said mildly, and everyone paused to listen.

“I would like to pose the question to our guest, Lady Amelia. It seems to me that someone who is from a world not allied to the Federation might have a fresh perspective on the subject. Lady Amelia?”

Mia bowed. “My Lord,” she said.

“Do you believe it is an equitable situation, that Federation members should endeavor to protect the Elyran, Arachnian and Dixx worlds from attack even though they have not declared war on their enemies?”

Mia bowed again. “It seems to me, My Lord, that such considerations are immaterial. For us Earthers, we judge ourselves by how well we abide by the covenants we undertake, and how well we honor our commitments. If the people of the Earth become members of the great Federation, we will honor our commitments as members regardless of our opinions. If we were not prepared to do so, we should not have sued for membership.”

The robotic alien nodded.

“There you are, gentlebeings. The representative of the great warrior race of Earth has expressed an opinion that I am in agreement with. Thank you, My Lady Amelia, for your wise insight. You remind us all, and have gently tweaked our collective noses about what it means to be a member of our Federation. My compliments to you.”

Mia bowed low.

“With all due respect, sir,” the Erocii said, “but our honored Lady Amelia is biased. Her race has an interest in the outcome of this discussion.”

A Daemon pinged next. She combed her very luxurious mane away from her face in order to speak into her microphone. The hair and the general features of her face reminded Mia of a male African lion. “That is a fact that is not in question, My Lord,” she said, “but another thing that cannot be questioned is that, regardless, her point of view is correct, whatever one’s sentiments of on the matter may be. I also commend the Admiral of Earth.”

She stood and bowed to Mia. Mia bowed in return.

“I therefore call for a vote,” the Daemon ambassador continued. “I move for a resolution, that the Galactic Federation acknowledge the declaration of war by the Dixx, Elyran and Arachnian nations, and declares that they have complied with the provisions of the Articles of War of the Federation, and that the Federation further resolves to honor its commitments to our fellow Federation citizens from Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia, as outlined in the Federation charter.”

This was greeted with applause from most of the representatives.

“My fellow Daemons and I express our sorrow at the loss of your comrades,” she said to Mia. “May the Ancient Ones find justice for them.”

This was again greeted with applause.

“My Lady,” Mia said, “in behalf of my people and my new friends, I thank you.” She bowed low and remained so.

This forced the entire assembly to respond in kind, and they all rose to their feet and bowed.

-----

Per the rules, as the delegate who made the motion, the Daemon ambassador, conducted the vote and the resolution was voted unanimously. Clearly, some were ambivalent, but since they would be the odd man out if they didn’t vote for the resolution, they voted along with everyone, even the Erocii and the Dravidians.

Also as the delegate who made the motion, it was the Daemon Ambassador’s responsibility to draft the resolution, and she said that it would be circulated among the delegates by the next day.

She then declared that this matter was resolved, and the discussion continued with other matters.

The next few questions were a discussion of the treaties that the Earth had entered into with the Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians.

Mia outlined the main provisions of their treaties, which essentially allowed their citizens safe passage on all their worlds, and to allow them to engage in trade and commerce.

“Does that include all products, services and technologies of all four races?” one of them asked.

“Anything that any of the races are willing to trade, which are not directly inimical to the well-being of other races.”

“Are there any provisions to safeguard this?”

“Yes, indeed, Your Excellency. All four of the races have wholly adopted the Protocols for Commerce and Trade of the Federation, which allows for equitable, free, safe and secure trading.”

“Will you be establishing a common currency or mode of exchange?”

“We will essentially be conducting a barter-trade method of commerce. Given the current problems the Federation is currently facing with inter-economy trading, we believe a barter-and-trade method will insulate us from these concerns.”

That made everyone pause for a while, and then they sort of shelved the topic - it had shifted to a topic that was very delicate at the moment.

Someone else pinged, and asked about the embassies that had been established on Earth. Mia told them about the kinds of activities the embassies had been conducting, and that the Earth had high hopes the relationship between the four races will grow. At the urging of some of the delegates, Mia took some time to discuss the Isles of Scilly, what facilities had been provided, and the fact that it was her duchy.

Someone commented that he was excited to see the islands himself. Mia said that he would be most welcome. She asked permission to show some pictures, and brought out a tiny macro projector shaped like an old-fashioned fountain pen. She projected thirty-foot floating images in the open space above her and the representatives were torn between being amazed at the wonderous technology that Mia so casually wielded, or be excited at the images of the the islands that, if they were lucky, would be the home of their new embassies soon.

Someone then pinged to ask about their treaties regarding security and mutual defense.

Mia said that they had adopted most of the provisions of the Articles of War that the Federation observed.

“You say most provisions. Which provisions did you not adapt?”

“The provisions that extend the same benefits to the other members of the Federation, and the provisions regarding the ‘limited protection’ clauses and conditions.”

Everyone paused at that.

Someone else pinged. “Lady Amelia,” the new speaker began, “your agreements with the Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians seem to be faultless, and well thought out. But are you Earthers even capable of providing the level of mutual protection that is demanded by the Articles of War? I apologize for the question, but it is something that I am sure the other delegates would want to know about.”

Mia bowed. “No apologies necessary, Your Excellency. To answer your question, all of our populated planets and colonies have between Class Four and Class Seven planetary defense facilities. Not counting other ships, we currently have a fleet of more than one hundred and forty-three capital ships equivalent to Talon-class cruisers. We will be dedicating twenty percent of this fleet to mutual defense, with the rest held in reserve.”

This was greeted with silence. Class Six was currently what Colossus’ own defenses were rated at. In fact, there were only two planets whose defenses were rated as Class Seven – the Dravidian home planet and Star 453-A. Who could believe the Earther’s assertions?

“We, of course, know that the Council of Custodians will need to confirm this. We are prepared for their inspection.”

That sort of ended that train of discussion.

The next one to ping was the Kembel representative. It raised the discussion of the Earthers’ application for membership. It started quizzing her whether she knew the requirements for membership.

Mia replied yes, and quoted the beginning preamble of the charter of the Chamber of Migration and Peerage. She then outlined the basic steps for processing a membership application, and acknowledged that it was indeed a lengthy process. However, she explained that a probationary member status might be awarded by the Council of Custodians, pending the results of the application.

She was then asked if she knew how the Council went about declaring a probationary membership.

Mia then explained the rationale for probationary membership – that a temporary membership might be granted if the prospective member would be able to provide resources, technology or other considerations that might be of great value to the Federation. Mia then expressed the idea that this was not necessarily an inequitable kind of situation since the prospective member would enjoy all the privileges of a full-fledged member except that they couldn’t be on any board, council, committee or other governing body of the Federation, and cannot have representation. (The humor was not lost to the delegates.)

The alien then asked if Earthers were ready for this.

Mia explained that they were ready for the representatives of the Council and the Chamber to come and do their examination.

The Dravidian, Cor, then pinged. “I have to ask, what do Earthers have to offer the great Federation?”

There was a collective gasp. The other delegates couldn’t help but react.

“I am sure the Custodians will be able to tell the Ambassador after they have completed their examination,” Mia replied

The Dravidian would not let it go. “Will this include the Earthers’ instantaneous communication technology? Or information on the Curtain of Light?”

“That is not for me to say.”

“I would put this on the record, that the Dravidian Republics would not be in favor of probationary status for your Earth if these were not made available to us.”

“As I have said, Your Excellency, that is not up to me. It is up to the Council of Custodians to negotiate with Earth and determine what the Council will be willing to offer. It is improper for me to make any premature announcements.”

The Dravidian was surprised to be receiving backtalk from this Earther.

“Are you saying you have not been empowered to commit your Earth to an agreement? If not, then why are we wasting our time on you?”

This caused more consternation among the delegates.

Mia, clearly feeling antagonized, kept quiet, and waited for the hubbub to die down. When there was silence, she answered the Dravidian.

“Your Excellency, to answer your questions – yes, I have been empowered to negotiate with the Federation, and am empowered to commit the Earth to any treaties, covenants or agreements. And I believe you are not wasting your time.”

The Dravidian was more than surprised. This Earther was not being intimidated!

After a moment, he responded. “My question, Admiral, was why are we wasting our time?”

Mia bowed. “My apologies, Your Excellency. I did understand your question. However, I do not agree with the premise of your question. Therefore I cannot answer that question.”

“Premise? What do you mean? Perhaps your command of Elyran is not as well as you think.”

Mia bowed again. “I am sorry Your Excellency is having trouble understanding me. If I may use an example, it is as though I asked Your Excellency, ‘why, sir, have you not stopped stealing from your neighbors?’”

The Dravidian stood in anger. “This is an outrage! How dare you say such a thing? We have never stolen anything, nor will we ever steal anything from anyone!”

Mia bowed very low. “I am sorry that my words have given hurt. I only said them as an example. I, too, do not believe that the honorable Dravidians have stolen from their neighbors. But as you so violently disagreed with the premise of my question, so do I vehemently disagree with your question’s premise. We are not wasting this honorable body’s time.”

The Dravidian stood, with mouth agape. And the rest of the assembly clapped and cheered the Earther. Rarely had anyone stood up against a Dravidian in public and taken them down at their own game.

Mia then bowed very low, and waited for the Dravidian to respond. After a long moment, knowing he had no choice, the Dravidian responded and bowed as well, although his bow was quite shallow.

The Assembly’s applause echoed in the hall as they roared their approval and congratulations.

The representative from Star 453-A, who was also a member of the Council of Custodians, pinged for attention.

“Well said, Lady Amelia. My congratulations. You do your fellow Earthers proud.”

He stood and addressed the rest of the assembly. “My Lords and Ladies, never in the recent history of the Federation has someone such as the Lady Amelia come and shown us the true blessing and power that is the basis of our united races. Based on the performance of our Admiral from Earth, by the power vested in me as a member of the Council of Custodians, I am hereby granting the status of probationary membership to the Earther System.”

This was greeted with high acclamation. Cor knew that it was in the Ambassador’s power to do this so he decided not to raise any objections at this time. He subtly signaled the Erocii Ambassador to not react as well.

“My Lords and Ladies, I hereby present you Lady Amelia, representing the newest member of the Galactic Federation of Free Races, Earth!”

The din that echoed through the hall did not die away for a long time.

 

Spreading the Word –

The mission that they had set out with was largely accomplished, even though the Federation had not supported their declaration of war with a matching declaration of their own. But Mia and all the others knew that particular one was a long shot. Back onboard the Fifth Fleet ships and in the Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian embassy offices, they were all flipping for joy, figuratively-speaking at least. And as soon as the relays hit the Dixx and Elyran ships still on the way, the celebrations onboard were even more boisterous.

Back on Earth and in all her colonies, the celebrations were less boisterous but were almost as joyous. Video on their arrival rites and reception, Mia’s speech, and the following plenary session, were transmitted in full, but the plenary session was artfully switched from camera to camera to maximize the dramatic impact. They had not had the same opportunity to do so with the footage of their arrival nor with Mia’s speech since they only got footage from Colossus’ Protocol Office that time.

The noisy minority that had been challenging the Secretary-General had finally been silenced, not because of the facts of the situation but mostly because of Mia herself. Her popularity among the population had been going from strength to strength, and it seemed insurmountable now, especially with this latest new victory of hers, even with the looming prospect of war.

It was largely the rabble-rousers’ fault since they insisted the coverage of the Fifth Fleet’s arrival be transmitted back through the general Phase-Wave frequencies. With the reception of Mia’s speech, both by the aliens and the people back home, it seemed Mia could do no wrong. And since Romarkin and Silverman were openly affiliated to Mia, it would be political suicide to go against them.

The race’s leadership had been coalescing for quite some time already. Even the rivalry between the old eastern and western alliances had all but disappeared. But Mia’s speech was the final catalyst that forged a true unified voice from the various political parties and leaderships of the different Earth groups, nations and colonies. Never mind that it was actually mostly just for political expedience. What the people would remember was that the voice of all Earth was now unified for real.

Some would later say that the effect of Mia’s speech was analogous to that of the invention of star travel to the Tirosians, or the coming of the Messiah to the Elyrans, that it provided the last step to finally unify them and achieve racial unity. Most political analysts and historians would argue that they actually didn’t any kind of “final push.” They firmly believed that, like Dixx and so many other races, it was an eventuality that would have happened in its own time, that any system-wide event would have triggered it. If at all, Mia was just at the right place at the right time.

From then on, with the absence of any significant opposition, most of the programs of the government had an easy time being executed, and though debate between the Earth nations and colonies continued to be as contentious as before, and bills and resolutions were still difficult to pass (even more so now, since now there were new concerns and topics of contention), the length of time to debate, discuss and vote were not unduly extended (filibustering and delay tactics were rarely done now), and once voting was concluded, the population got behind whatever it was and the Earthers pushed on.

-----

With regards Mia’s speech and the just-concluded plenary session, there were many points of clarification that needed to be made, so Mia, Nick and Sahsha onboard Colossus granted Phase-Wave interviews with the major Earth networks, with some of the interviews being fielded by Ren and Daxx, in their capacities as Fifth Fleet commanders, of course. It went a long way to clarify things for the Earth population.

A few of the questions raised had to do with how the Federation home planets would be informed of the events that had happened, and what would happen next. Daxx said that it would conceivably take several months, in the case of some worlds, maybe even years, before they got the news since information was sent via courier ships.

After that, each individual race’s leadership would have to inform Colossus and their Federation ambassadors, via courier ship again, and from there, the Federation, as a body, could decide on the next steps. And this would probably take longer than just informing the homeworlds.

Ren said that, unfortunately, the Federation was not familiar with Phase-Wave technology. Earth could assist by transmitting the messages using their magical Phase-Wave, or EarthForce can ferry Federation people to their homeworlds using their faster ships, but, as probationary members, Earthers would not be allowed to offer, or even suggest to offer, assistance.

That brought up some interesting questions about Federation procedures and protocol. As the group’s de-facto expert on Federation history and politics, Ren fielded that. He began by saying that he was very impressed with the Earthers’ general level of knowledge of Federation rules, procedures and traditions, and they only needed some polish and some more information about the arcane details that non-members would not know about in order to learn the nuances of what it is to become a Federation member. He was confident, however, that they would pick them up very quickly. For now, he answered the curious questions of the Earthers.

When they were through with all the interviews, and had already moved back onboard Shepherd, Daxx, ever the strategist, had a brainstorm.

Since there was no information discussed that was confidential or strategic in nature, it was Daxx’s suggestion to have these interviews “leaked.” That way, the rest of Colossus would pick up on how up-to-date the Earthers were, that they weren’t dealing with provincials or rubes, and were as sophisticated as any Federation citizen. And this would again bring home the fact that Earthers had instantaneous communications, and that it was called “Phase-Wave.”

That, and the fact that the Earthers were open to assist getting word back to the homeworlds.

-----

In order to engineer the “leak,” the Earthers asked for assistance from the Protocol Office to send three data cubes back to the Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian missions.

A message gig pulled up to the Shepherd Moon, and two Telcontari, their old friends Mumu and Pinpin again, were conducted to the ship’s bridge.

Knowing that everything that they would see and hear would probably be recorded, O’Connell ordered general quarters, and asked the Second Combined Marine/Infantry Squad into armor, and to escort the Telcontari to the bridge. She had also ordered all Elyran and Dix “Marines” into armor as well, and to stand post with the Second Squad at each of the major bulkhead airlocks leading from the landing deck to the bridge.

She had also ordered runners to ferry supplies and materials from the quartermaster’s to the various section chiefs. The section chiefs were puzzled why they were getting office supplies they didn’t ask for so they sent them back.

To the two diminutive Telcontari, it felt like they had stepped onboard what was an extremely busy ship, with the Elyrans and Dixx fully integrated into their crew complement.

When they stepped onboard the bridge, there were several Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians mixing freely with the Earthers, and the bridge was full of coordinated chaos – control panels and screens displaying incomprehensible symbols and glyphs. In the style of Dravidian, Dixx, Elyran, Tirosian and Detterex ships, a large view screen dominated their bridge. On it was displayed an image of Colossus, with half of it looking like a wire-frame schematic. They noticed it wasn’t a static projection but a live display given there were small figures walking around the transparent half.

The Telcontari had to blink several times because of the unaccustomed number of flashing lights and bright computer screens. There was also a continuous susurration of sound made up of Earther speak and a little bit of Elyran. Sitting in the middle, in what looked like the main command position was the Lady Amelia, clearly the center of all this activity.

The two made a beeline for her, and bowed low – the proper Telcontari thing to do: introduce themselves to the leader before doing anything else.

Instead of bowing as well, Lady Amelia stood and held her hand out.

Having been briefed beforehand, the two knew to respond by extending their hands as well. They smiled and squeaked in the simple pleasure of being acknowledged by the Earther queen, and actually experiencing a “handshake” from her.

Mia, playing the role to the hilt, excused herself, said that she was busy, and directed them to her second-in-command. She signaled to O’Connell, who stepped up and saluted. Officiously, Mia instructed her to assist their visitors, and then turned back to her “work.”

It was all very impressive and intimidating.

O’Connell then shook hands with them as well and introduced herself. She handed them three identical data cubes saying they were to be delivered to the Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian missions. She then said that Admiral Daxx, Prince Ren and some of the Arachnians also had some correspondence to be delivered.

The two bowed to acknowledge the instructions, whereupon an Arachnian sporting his Earth uniform of a bright-blue vest and a brassard stepped up.

The Arachnian bowed and said that he had some correspondence that needed to be delivered to the First Ambassador.

The two bowed and accepted yet another data cube, but this one had a diplomatic seal tied around it. Pinpin gestured to the brassard and curiously asked what it was.

The Arachnian explained that it had his EarthForce rank and name printed in English so that people could easily identify who and what he was. He explained that he was a Captain in the Fifth Fleet, and was one of the officers assigned to communication and astrogation.

The two murmured their awe at that, and asked how he ended up as an Earther officer.

He explained that he was now off-duty as his shift had just ended. He was glad to tell them and offered to bring them to the offices of Admiral Ren and Admiral Daxx so that they could give them their own packages for delivery to Colossus.

The two accepted with gratitude. They bowed to O’Connell, who responded with a bow of her own, and they bowed to Lady Amelia, who responded by “waving goodbye” – yet another new thing they had learned. They hugged each other and giggled.

Once the Arachnian and the two Telcontari had walked out of the bridge, everyone stopped talking.

“Thank God,” O’Connell said, and everyone burst out into laughter.

“Okay, everyone,” she said, smiling. “Hope we were able to put on a good show. Relax and terminate all diagnostics and diagnostic sweeps. Shut down all non-essential programs and displays.” Everyone applauded and laughed.

Many of the bright displays were shut down, and the unnecessary lighting was dimmed back down to normal.

Before the little gig from Colossus landed, O’Connell had ordered all bridge diagnostic routines to be executed, which changed the normally staid bridge into a place full of niose, bright displays and blinking lights.

To assist in the charade, Mia had also ordered her navigation chief to conduct a briefing on astrogation processes for their Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian officers. Hopefully, this would give the impression that Shepherd’s crew was surfeit with Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians.

“Beth,” Mia said to O’Connell, “here’s your chair.” She got up from the command chair and started walking to the bridge’s main door. “Keep the Marines at the airlocks and keep the, ummm, delivery of supplies going. If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my office.” She waved to everyone and walked off the bridge.

“Aye, Skipper.” Grinning, O’Connell turned to her intercom and sent out her instructions to keep the farce going.

-----

After being escorted to Admiral Daxx’s and “Admiral” Ren’s “offices” onboard Shepherd, the Telcontari received the small, sealed personal letters that they gave. They received the packages, bowed and went back to the landing deck with the Arachnian and their security people, which they found were called “Marines.”

They bowed to the Arachnian, got into their little gig and waited while it was winched out into open space. From there, they made their way straight back to Colossus.

The Lord Chamberlain of Colossus called them even though they were still far from the station. He asked them what they received and Mumu explained that they received four data cubes and two sealed diplomatic pouches.

“Are all of them sealed?”

“No, My Lord,” Pinpin said. “Only the packages from the Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians had seals. Three of the data cubes are not.”

“In that case, per the rules, those data cubes are not confidential. Copy their contents immediately.”

The two looked at each other.

“But, My Lord,” Pinpin said, “I’m sure the Earthers meant for their recipients to be the only one to…”

“Young one, does it not say in our protocols that for the confidentiality of such messages, they must be clearly marked as such, or sealed, otherwise copies can be distributed to any official representative to the Federation who asks for a copy?”

“Yes, My Lord, but the Earthers might not be aware of the protocols…”

“Their ignorance is not my concern. As officers of the Protocol Office, it should not be your concern as well. Perform your duty. Do as I say.”

The two looked at each other. Strictly speaking, the Lord Chamberlain was correct. They did as they were told, and made a duplicate for him.

“Our Lord Chamberlain is correct,” Pinpin said to Mumu as their little gig’s computer started the copying. “But if the Dravidians get the information in these cubes, the other missions may be put at a disadvantage because they are not able to share in the information…”

Mumu nodded in agreement. “… and that is against the protocols as well…” He looked thoughtful. “Don’t tell me,” Mumu giggled. “I think I know what you’re about to suggest.”

Pinpin shrugged. “We are just fulfilling our role as protocol officers, after all. Even Our Lord Chamberlain will not fault us for doing our duty, and helping him to not break the rules.” He pointed to their gig’s comm panel.

“We have very little time before we dock. I suggest you start contacting the various delegations. I will slow the progress of our gig, and will take care of the duplication.”

Mumu nodded and started making calls.

-----

Several hours later, the Shepherd Moon’s comm officer called O’Connell to say that he had the Kembel ambassador on the line, and it was asking to speak with her.

“Here we go,” O’Connell muttered, sent a message to Nick, and he took the call.

Several hours later, O’Connell and Nick had fielded several dozen similar calls, all asking about Phase-Wave, and if they could help them send messages. She explained that they could indeed help transmit messages to their homeworlds in real-time, but only messages up to two minutes long, and she explained why. That made them rethink their plans. As expected, they would call later and say that they intended to send a message that would include a compressed-data encrypted message.

O’Connell would then respond that they were familiar with most of the data-encryption algorithms used by the Federation, and would require a few minutes to compress a three-hour message, which, by their calculation, was the longest compressed message that would fit in a two minute transmission, or, alternately, about 500 megabytes in data. (Federation and Tirosian computer systems work with twelve-bit bytes as opposed to the Earther eight-bits, so 500 megabytes translate to around 350 million Elyran bytes. And in Elyran Base-8, that would be around 2.465 billion.)

After a short moment, the person on the line would agree with that computation (obviously having taken time to do some computing as well to confirm her numbers), and would sign off to call again later.

Obviously, they’d prefer to do the encrypting on their own, but encrypting a three-hour message would usually take them about two weeks. So when they called back, they’d say they had their recorded message ready for encryption. Typically, it would be made up of a recording of Mia’s speech, a full recording of the plenary session, the joint declaration of the Federation as drafted by the Daemons plus recordings of Daxx’s transmissions and a long voice report from the ambassador to their homeworld.

O’Connell would explain that it would cost 11,610 Elyran Crowns (in Base-8) or their equivalent in any other Federation-recognized currency, to transmit the message, and the encryption would cost 1,760. (Later on, O’Connell would ask why the oddly-specific amounts, and Nick would explain that 1,760 in Base-10 would be 1,000, and 11,610 would be 5,000. It was a subtle way of communicating to them that Earthers preferred to deal in their own numbers and measurements.)

Being charged would surprise them but since the fees were very reasonable, they’d pay up. A long queue of shuttles, sloops and gigs would start pulling up by the Shepherd Moon. O’Connell had to deploy a picket line of Mud Turtles to maintain a perimeter, and Mia had to borrow Cobras from the other ships to help.

The little ships were winched onboard five at a time, and the operation to get them onboard and exchange packages took about twenty minutes. More than eighty boats would take a long time so they processed their visitors according to their consumables. The following day, Shepherd Moon started their transmissions.

 

Shepherd Moon Transmission 1423/231/1231-22, to Elyra Prime:

“T’Chahn, honored peers and fellow citizens, I am Princess Tasha the Forty-Third, by Grace of the Messiah, of the Great Plains of the Kingdoms of Elyra and Her Dominions beyond the Rim, and leader of your forces to the Earth System. I bring tidings from Colossus, but I require you to commence recording my transmission in twelve seconds. Stand by… stand by… Compressed message commences now!”

-----

Throughout the galactic arm, consternation spread throughout the Federation colonies and homeworlds, but they had responsibilities, which took precedence over everything.

Per Federation treaty rules, the homeworlds needed to prepare for deployment of ships for the defense of the Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian homeworlds. Each needed to commit to send at least one capital ship to one of the three home worlds, as per the Daemon-drafted resolution. As to which of the three planets to send each, the resolution was clear. Over fourteen ships (or twelve in Base-10) were on their way to each of the Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian homeworlds and some of their major colonies.

The homeworlds then sent high-speed courier ships to their colonies to spread the word.

As for the Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians, the message was slightly different. After they received their transmissions, high-speed couriers were sent to their colony worlds, as pre-arranged, to trigger their plans for defense and invasion, but with updates care of Tasha, Bilar and the First Ambassador.

With the news of Federation ships being sent to their homeworlds, the decision was to beef up the protection for the colonies. Ships from the homeworlds were immediately dispatched.

An offensive against the Tiros and Detterex themselves was still being planned, but at this point that was still in the air.

They knew that the Earthers were committing their entire Fifth Fleet of seven capital ships, including the Shepherd Moon. Daxx, as the strategist for the “Earth Alliance,” had decided to split the Earther ships and to deploy four of them to beef up the picket line around Arachnia. Arachnians had the smallest and weakest navy among the Federation, weaker even than the Telcontari, and they needed the assist. The other three would be deployed to Elyra since, given the bad blood between the Detterex and the Elyrans, it was expected that Elyra would bear the brunt of the attacks.

Furthermore, it was strategic: Star Harbor was in orbit around the planet, and the Elyran fleet, the largest single naval fleet in the Federation, used it as their home port. Knocking it out would seriously compromise the Federation war machine.

The hard fact to accept, however, was that, despite the new status of Earth, no ships would be sent to Earth. Until all the member races had sent acknowledgment of Earth’s status from their home planets, and they had a chance to reallocate their resources in consideration of this, Earth could not expect any assistance. Fleet Admiral Silverman therefore adjusted his plans accordingly. If Silverman was being truthful, however, this didn’t make much of a difference to him. The ships that had arrived from Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia didn’t impress him much, and he preferred to have Earth FTLs. As it stands, at the moment, he now had seventeen Type-Twos and two Type-Ones available, all of them manned by experienced crews. He was expecting five more to be returning from a short shakedown cruise shortly, and there was another five scheduled to be completed soon.

Earth’s FTL Fleet was now made up of seventeen Type-Twos, thirteen Type-Ones, and the refitted DSC Shepherd Moon. This was supplemented by a dozen of the older pre-FTL ships now assigned to the Second Fleet, and, in a pinch, he could recommission the now-beached pre-FTLs parked down in New Copernicus. If he didn’t need to spread his resources too much, he knew he could put up a credible defense of the homeworld.

Now, it was a waiting game, waiting for all the ships to be in place, which would roughly be in an Earth month or so.

Meanwhile, the Elyran and Dixx ships with their Fourth Fleet escorts were nearing Colossus, but were still several weeks away. Nevertheless, they were appraised of all the latest developments and knew that they were destined for their homeworlds. It was decided that the Fifth Fleet would wait for their arrival before departing.

In that short, intervening time, Mumu and Pinpin assisted the Earthers to get the necessary licenses, patents, registration and other paperwork to get their delegation’s office up and running. They also purchased all the necessary references, manuals and documents they needed to get themselves familiarized with the rules, regulations and processes of Colossus in order to master the necessary red tape. They also talked with the Office of Habitation and Lodging and rented a very small suite of offices located at the very end of the deck where all the administrative offices were. Because Earth’s status was still probationary, the Earthers were not allowed to put up an actual “mission” on the deck that everyone called “Embassy Row.” Instead, they were only allowed to have an “office.”

They were given what everyone thought of as the worst available space in Colossus, but at least it had the virtue of being very cheap, and the lease was valid for roughly twenty years.

The distinction between “office,” “embassy” and “mission” was totally lost to O’Connell, but she just accepted it and facilitated the setup of their new office. She had all the life systems specialists and quartermasters’ officers of all the crews of the Fifth Fleet to collaborate, and to start re-outfitting their new “digs,” as Nick called them.

Their offices were near the “south pole” of the station, where the cargo airlocks were, and were actually under one of the “gravity booms” of the station, which made the space the least ideal anywhere on Colossus (gravity booms were like towers attached to the hull. Their position and height helped to balance the spin of the station). The people who showed them the space apologized for its tininess (it was roughly 1,600 livable square feet, whereas the standard embassy office was at least 10,000.). Nick asked why they couldn’t get one of the larger available offices that they were told about, but the little Telcontari couldn’t answer.

Chief Haskell asked what they could do to physically spruce up their place, but the office people said that they could do virtually anything so long as they didn't affect the environmental systems of the station or the spin-induced gravity. He asked about the boom, and it was explained that the boom wasn’t necessary anymore since the thrusters of the station had moved it to its present relative position around the Zeos System’s primary centuries ago. If the Earthers wanted to remove it, that would be fine.

They had also been referred to several subcontractor companies that specialized in retrofitting living and office spaces on Colossus (it was a necessary service given the many different environmental requirements of the delegates), but they decided not to ask for their help – between the engineering crews of their seven ships and their stores of spares and supplies, they said they could manage on their own.

The Telcontari clerk from the Office of Habitation and Lodging shrugged, and said that it was their option.

The Earthers applied for the necessary construction permits and, under Haskell’s direction, large prefabricated living units were towed to where their new office was. The boom was taken off and towed away, and in its place, the living units were grafted on where it used to be. Twenty prefabricated living units were stacked on top of each other, and from the outside, the living units looked almost like the boom they replaced, and it did not change the gravitational geometry of Colossus at all.

The effect of their construction was that, when entering the new offices of the Earthers, one would enter what amounted to a reception area. From there, they would enter an elevator which could bring them “down” to any of the twelve “floors” that contained offices, meeting and conference areas, libraries and other rooms. The bottom four floors were dormitory and guest areas, and environmental and “equipment” areas. That gave the Earthers the equivalent of about 100,000 square feet of usable office space, with each floor having a head clearance of twelve feet per “floor.” Theirs was now officially the largest living space in the station.

And though it wasn’t an embassy, it was to be treated as a sovereign territory of Earth, with all the implications that had.

It was good that they had charged for the transmissions, otherwise they wouldn’t have had the cash to pay for all the paperwork. They had collected close to 500,000 Crowns, and had only used up around 15,000 for red tape. They had also pre-paid their twenty-year lease, which cost them 240,000 Crowns, which left them about half of their original collection. They had asked Mumu and Pinpin some assistance to open an account with the Paymasters’ Office onboard Colossus with their remaining cash, the closest that the Federation government had to a bank on the station. True, the interest rate was very low, but they were okay with that – they weren’t really looking to make money, after all. Otherwise, they’d either have to keep the cash themselves, or deposit it with one of the Dravidian or Erocii banks. And they didn’t trust the Dravidians and Erocii much at the moment.

-----

As soon as their offices were ready, they started receiving a long line of visitors that came calling to say hello and to consult. Mia drafted the seven captains of her ships to take care of the visitors, and the Captains foisted off the job to their staff.

After some effusive hellos and t’chahns and a little chitchat, the visitors would usually extend their welcome and to extend offers to “assist” the Earth delegation in any way they could. It wasn’t too different from how politicians behaved back on Earth, and the Earthers were able to properly deal with them. However, it was clear that they had a hidden agenda.

No one could blame the aliens, of course. The idea of instantaneous communications was a powerful lure, especially with such a widely spread community. The benefits of such technology couldn’t be overstated. But what had become obvious to everyone was that the Earthers were not ready to share it. Many understood the reason. After all, in a situation where they needed every advantage they could get, many agreed that keeping the Phase-Wave technology under their belt was only a proper strategy.

Of course, it was an article of faith among the delegates that the Earthers’ advantage was a temporary one. Eventually, the technology would be discovered, given that the Federation knew about its existence now. After all, every other technology had been. So, many didn’t push as much as they wished they could. However, when the Dravidians came over, it was different.

First off, they came in full force. Twelve Dravidians crowded into the office, obviously thinking to intimidate the Earthers.

Councilor Cor, The Dravidians’ ambassador, bellowed and demanded to see the Earth ambassador. Prince Ren, who was there at the time, commented that Earthers did not have an ambassador yet as their membership was still probationary.

That took away some of the wind from Cor’s sails, but he persisted. He questioned the presence of Ren in the Earthers’ office, as well as several other Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians, and Ren explained that he was part of EarthForce, as was Admiral Daxx and several others from their expedition to Earth. He also asked the ambassador what specific rule said that they were not allowed to be there.

Cor ignored that and demanded to see Mia. Ren shrugged, went to an intercom and spoke to someone. He then pressed a button and an elevator door opened. He gestured Cor into the elevator, and all twelve of the Dravidians crowded inside. The door closed and the elevator started moving down.

From the large Crystalline window, they could see the elevator passing six levels. Cor didn’t know that their office even had levels, let alone this many. At the seventh one, the elevator opened and they found themselves in a large conference room where Mia was conversing with Admiral Daxx and the First Ambassador.

Mia looked up. “Ahhh, Councilor Cor, a pleasant day to you. Welcome.”

“Lady Amelia, I will speak with you alone. Send these two away.”

Mia raised an eyebrow at the Dravidian’s rudeness. She shrugged apologetically at her friends, and the two walked to the elevator.

Without being asked, Cor sat across from Mia and made himself comfortable. Mia, being a good host, poured a large goblet of krahnng and set it in front of him.

As Mia took her seat, Cor’s companions stood behind him with weapons at the ready.

Mia raised a suspicious eye at that. She picked up her CC and spoke into it. In moments, two squads of Marines in full armor came in. One squad deployed themselves around the room, and the other stood behind the Dravidians with weapons drawn. The ominous clicks indicated that their weapons were just armed.

“If you wish to speak with me,” Mia said, “I would appreciate it if your friends left us. There are refreshments available at the second level. Perhaps my Marines can escort them there?”

Cor looked at Mia’s Marines, and after a few moments, he nodded to his people. The Marines accompanied the Dravidians to the elevator. They had to go up in two groups, but eventually they were alone.

As soon as they were alone, Cor pulled out his sidearm. As he did, half a dozen laser lights focused on Cor’s weapon, lighting it up with several red laser dots.

Cor, seeing this, gently put the weapon on the table. A Marine came out and took it away.

“Your weapon will be returned to you before you leave,” Mia said, putting away her CC. As to who she was talking with, she didn’t say. She turned to the Dravidian. “Perhaps we can talk like civilized beings now? What has brought you here?”

“The Dravidians will purchase from you your Phase-Wave technology.”

“I see. I’m afraid that you have wasted your time, Councilor. Earth Government is not prepared to share our technology at this time.”

“No! I demand you give us your technology. Name your price.”

“I am deeply sorry, but my hands are tied. I cannot.”

“Then we will trade. We have unique technologies of our own, as well as resources and information you will undoubtedly want. What we want in return is your Phase-Wave.”

“There is nothing you can offer, Councilor.”

“The covenants of the Federation demand that you treat all races equally! It is not to be permitted!”

“What do you mean?”

“It is unfair that your so-called Earth Alliance enjoy the benefits of your Phase-Wave while the rest of the Federation have to do without!”

“I believe you are mistaken.”

“Your ignorance of the protocols is to be expected. Young ones without a mentor will always have difficulty navigating the morass of council relations and procedures. You Earthers would do well to establish a relationship with a senior race such as us.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Mia chuckled. “We have reviewed all the available material the Office of Protocol have provided us, and we have adhered to all of the Federation’s rules. I am not aware of any rule that requires us to share our technology. Also, we have indeed affiliated ourselves with several senior races. I am sure you have met our Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian friends. They have been of great help to us so far.”

The Dravidian looked at Mia in offended surprise and couldn’t speak.

“Furthermore,” she said, “regardless, as probationary members, we are exempted from many rules and conventions, and that includes conventions on trade and commerce. Surely a member of a senior race would be aware of that.”

“Such impertinence cannot be tolerated! Watch your words, youngling. I will have the Lord Chamberlain chastise you. Know your betters.”

“There is no need to tell the Chamberlain. I am having our conversation recorded. My adjutant is now parsing out a letter of protest to the Lord Chamberlain, protesting the high-handed manner by which the Dravidian ambassador has treated me and my fellow Earthers, and will request a redress.”

“But… you cannot! It is not allowed…”

“Per the two hundred seventh protocol of the Office of Propriety and Etiquette, I mean three hundred seventeen in Elyran Base-8, we are allowed to record conversations provided that we are one of the parties in that conversation. I am sure you are aware of that as well.” (Since Mia wasn’t using a translator, she needed to transpose her numbers.)

After an initial expression of surprise, Cor calmed down. After all, the Lord Chamberlain was a fellow Dravidian. It couldn’t go that far. But Mia’s next words started to worry him.

“Also, per protocol,” Mia continued, “I am also going to send a copy of our protest to the Council of Custodians. Per the Council’s standing rules, we are, in fact, required to do so with things such as this.”

Cor look chagrined. Actually, he didn’t know that. There had been no probationary members the whole time he was the Dravidian ambassador. He needed to study up on the rules.

Since he didn’t know, he decided not to react to that.

Mia continued. “Although Earth’s treaty with Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia fully gives us the right to share our technology with them without sharing it with all Federation members, for the record, we have not shared the secret of Phase-Wave with them. Therefore, regardless, you have no basis for your complaint.”

Cor looked at her with increasing desperation.

“I must say, Councilor,” Mia went on, “we have been told that Dravidians are one of the most courteous among the races in the Federation, that their considerateness and politeness is known throughout the planets, and their behavior is beyond reproach. I can only hope that your behavior is an anomaly.”

Cor sighed. Because Earthers were still unknown to them, his colleagues had said to not use the usual blustery, arrogant tactic that Dravidians normally use to intimidate neophytes. But he had not paid attention. Now they would have to pay for his mistake.

“I apologize if I gave offense,” Cor said contritely, turning on the legendary Dravidian charm, but it was too late. The artifice of it was all too obvious given his previous behavior. “I had not meant to overstep my bounds. I hope you accept my apology.”

Cor waited for Mia to react. If it could be on record that Mia accepted his apology… But she wasn’t talking.

After a while, Cor continued. “I have also come to extend the welcome of the Dravidian people, and an offer to be of assistance to our new brothers, as they integrate into the great Federation family…”

Even with his friendly smile, his words fell flat, and Mia did not deign to respond in kind. Instead, she was cold and distant.

“As the temporary representative of my government,” Mia said, “I formally express thanks for the councilor’s offer, and acknowledge the councilor’s welcome.”

Mia’s cold and distant words were too obvious for him to miss. He decided to switch tactics, and resort to some pleasant chitchat.

“Your embassy office is quite pleasant. It is lucky that you had brought the necessary materials for the construction. We are all amazed at the quickness of the construction.”

Mia just looked at him coldly. “Yes,” she said.

“They are quite luxurious, actually. The idea to construct structures stacked one on top of the other to increase living space vertically – the idea is creative. I am wondering why you had thought to revamp your new offices so heavily.”

Mia shrugged. “We had no choice. The space we were allocated was very small.”

“I am sure the Office of Habitation and Lodging could have found alternate spaces. I, in fact, know of some spaces available near the Dravidian offices. You should have told us – we could have assisted you. Or we could have asked our people to help you in your construction. Several Dravidian companies that specialize in customizing living structures are based here on Colossus.”

Mia just looked at him. “I am sure we would not have been able to afford your fees.”

Cor gulped. “I am sure we would not need to charge you. Some kind of arrangement could have been made to waive the customary fees.”

“I would not want to owe any Dravidian any favors. Most in the Federation know the reputation of Dravidians when it comes to debts.”

Cor looked shocked at the implied insult. Eventually, he got the message and took his leave, this time more politely than when he came in. Mia used her CC and several armed and armored Marines came out to frog march him to the elevator. Before he stepped in, though, one of the Marines handed him a listening device that he had “accidentally” dropped.

After the elevator closed, Mia sighed. “This is hard,” she thought, and could hardly wait for the real diplomats from Earth to arrive and take over.

Within the day, the letter she had threatened Cor with was sent to the Lord Chamberlain and the Council of Custodians. Mia sent it via official messenger from the Protocol Office. Again, she had “neglected” to put a seal on the message, so the contents of the letter had “inadvertently” leaked.

With incontrovertible video proof, the Chamberlain had no choice but to publicly chastise Councilor Cor during the following session, and required him to pay reparations. Many thought it was a little improper for him to chastise Cor personally instead of chastising the entire Dravidian Mission, and that the payment of reparations was a dodge. After all, what was money to the Dravidians. But then 200,000 Crowns (or 65,536 in Base-10) was a serious amount of money. The Chamberlain said that was due to the gravity of the Councilor’s infraction. Cor was required to publicly apologize to Mia as well.

From then on, those that believed the Earthers were nothing but clueless provincials changed their minds, and paradoxically, the queue of visitors to the Earther offices had become longer.

There was one beneficial thing that Cor’s mistake had started: in emulation of the Earther admiral, being surrounded by military escorts and security staff, as well as the carrying of arms, fell out of fashion.

Invitations to visit were left at the Earthers’ offices, and Mia and Nick took some of them up on it, especially the ones that were considered underdogs in the assembly. They had a good time getting to know these friendly and well-meaning sophonts, especially since everyone was bending over backwards to show their friendliness and affability. They wouldn’t want to do what Cor did.

Mia had also accepted a few invitations from the more known and powerful races, such as those from Star 453-A, the Daemons and others. Of course, they had standing invitations from Ren, Bilar and the First Ambassador, but Mia and Nick were often at their embassy offices anyway, as often as they were over at the Earth offices. This only helped cement the idea of the “Earth Alliance” that many now wanted to be part of.

One thing that Mia and Nick did during their visits was to return devices that were “accidentally” left in their offices. They handed them over themselves so that it wasn’t publicly embarrassing. As for transmitting devices, they were disabled right after they were brought into the reception area, and any sensors that tried to see inside of the offices just bounced off. It just frustrated everyone. As for the Earthers, if the delegates found out how easy it was for the Earthers to eavesdrop into their own offices, it would cause utter consternation.

As for those that didn’t extend invitations, Nick had Mumu and Pinpin pick up and deliver little sealed parcels to them containing the devices that they had “accidentally” left. A friendly little paper note was included explaining that the devices were accidentally left in the office, and were just being returned to them.

Truly, everyone was now aware of the new beings in their midst. Very few would underestimate them anymore.

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.

Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.

Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.

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