The Ambassador

Ambassador Micha Lawrence was looking forward to retirement. But the High Council has called her for a difficult new assignment. She will need all her skills, her team, and help from some old friends to succeed.  (Andy Taylor and the Little Rascals meet Jacqueline Chan in space. Good friends, good food, good times (and some bad guys) in our Local Neighborhood.)

THE AMBASSADOR combines space opera with tightly-grounded science fiction, internal martial arts, agriculture, trade, and food in a low-concept, multi-generation coming of age story for adults and young adults. THE AMBASSADOR is complete at 64,365 words. (Hopepunk, Adventure, Journey, Coming of Age, Secrets, Special Skills and Objects, Friendships, Found Family)

The Ambassador: Characters
The Ambassador: Characters

Ambassador Micha Lawrence is getting older and she knows it. She’s a teacher and a shrewd negotiator, an adept martial artist, linguist, and a keeper of the ancient arts. She keeps a few secrets, too. She’s thinking about retiring. She’d like to find someone to teach, really teach, everything she knows. She’d like to have more of a legacy than just another recorded archive.

Micha enjoys her role and her position as a First Contact Ambassador. She’s doing what she always dreamed of doing. It took her years of hard work and some luck. She’s gotten used to skipping across star systems, arranging dinners with new friends on distant worlds, and handling all the negotiations behind the scenes. She is very good at finding creative solutions to difficult problems. She’s been successful. She is well-liked and respected.

The High Council has given her a new assignment. She’s going to the Hyades Cluster with her team, a new ship, and a new captain to find out what the Olmeri are up to and negotiate a treaty with the Kora. She gets more than she hoped for in the treaty. Everyone celebrates.

As they are leaving, they encounter the Olmeri. To protect the Kora, the Ambassador introduces herself to the Olmeri, making herself a target for their ire. They don’t like being outwitted and outmaneuvered. They really don’t like her.

All is quiet for a time. The Olmeri return and are coming towards the Local Neighborhood. The Alliance must find a way to stop them. The Ambassador comes up with a plan to lure the Olmeri towards the Perseus Transit and gather intelligence to try to stop their destructive harvesting.

This mission is going to be one of the most difficult things she’s ever tried to do. It will take all her skills and more. She going to need help from some old friends and some new ones.

Dedicated to my mom, the lady who raised me
and to all the little girls like me
whose dreams are never big enough for their imaginations
5/24/2021 Terri Morgan

Prolog

Before you and after you
We will remain

We have looked to the stars for 10,000 years. From the time before the early orbiters to the first colonies on Mars and the breakthroughs that let us travel to the nearby stars, we wanted to go. We wanted to go out, to find what we could, to discover what we didn’t know. So we did.

We moved out among the stars in our Local Neighborhood.

Micha Lawrence was born into a royal family long after the time royalty mattered to anyone. She knew early on that she wanted to become an ambassador.

After several rejections, she was finally accepted by the Masters at Ras’alhague for training to become an Ambassador for the Central Alliance. She spent 3 years on Ras 2 to complete her training, becoming an Adept in the Lost Arts of the Ancients and a Keeper of Earth.

The graduates were all formidable fighters and shrewd negotiators. They earned a reputation for being fair, honest, exacting, and not those to cross.

She spent time as a negotiator and as an assistant ambassador developing her diplomatic and negotiation skills. She received several awards and medals for her work in brokering agreements. After several successful trade missions that could have turned out quite differently, she was offered and accepted a First Contact Charter.

A First Contact Charter gave the Ambassador holding it the full backing of the Central Alliance High Council to make whatever decisions were required, without consultations. It took a high level of achievement, recommendations from several colleagues, and a formal recommendation from one of the Masters at Ras’alhague to even be considered for a First Contact Charter.

She gained quite a reputation for the dinners she hosted and arranged, with attendees talking about the food for weeks afterward. She often managed to get agreements signed quickly and to sort out disputes favorably to everyone. A few times, the planetary councils had been hostile. She’d managed to outwit them, mostly. She’d had to fight her way out a few times, too.

The Central Alliance High Council has called her for a difficult new assignment.

Chapter 1: Departure Day

The wind will tell it’s story.
Whether you are listening or not.
Where do you want to go, it whispers.
Who are you? it asks.

Initializing High Council Chambers on Dagon

Getting Ready  Ambassador’s Apartment on Dagon

Setting Up  Space Station Promenade, Small Conference Room

Welcome Space Station Departure Hall, Walkways

New Settings  Ambassador’s  Quarters on the Magellan, Hallways

Start Here Diplomatic Briefing Room on the Magellan

Initializing                                                                                        High Council Chambers on Dagon

The Nine Members of the High Council were seated  on a raised platform that formed a semi-circle around a large wood-tiled floor space. Carved wood panels inlaid with mother of pearl fronted the council seats, providing an imposing view and a barrier. Council President Aliel Smbarak had the center chair. A clerk and two assistants sat at tables just below the council members’ seats.

The floor to ceiling doors opened slowly outward.

“Ambassador Micha Lawrence” the clerk called out.

A single figure in gold and rust colored robes entered the chamber. She moved with an air of confidence and humility. She wasn’t tall but she wasn’t short either. She wore a simple woven belt and a sash over her shoulder with quite several medals. She walked to the center of the room, crossed her arms fists closed to her chest, opened her arms to extend both hands palms up, turned them over and bowed as she brought her hands down to her sides.

“My greetings, Madame President. My greetings to the entire Central Alliance High Council.” she said, looking around the room. “How may I be of service?”

“We have a problem.” Minister Daru said.

The Ambassador turned to look at him with a questioning gaze and a smile, waiting for him to go on. “Ok. Sure. That’s why you called me here. Might you be just a little more specific.” she wanted to say. But she didn’t.

“We’re getting more reports about the Olmeri.” President Smbarak said. “There are reports from several of our trading partners of problems with shipments grains and other staples. It’s concerning.”

“What sort of problems, Madame President?”

“Disruptions in deliveries, spoiled containers, booked shipments not delivered.”

“What do our traders say?”

“They don’t.” Minister Rang said, piqued. “They don’t tell us anything. All they say is they went to pick up the shipment and it wasn’t there. They couldn’t get the permit to load it. They were delayed and the shipment was sold to someone else. It’s always some excuse.”

“Is that what’s happening, though, Minister? Have they tried? Why did they fail?”

“That is the question we want you to answer, Ambassador.” President Smbarak said, turning her head slightly to one side and smiling.

The Ambassador looked up and turned her head to one side as well and looked at her askance, as if to ask without saying, ‘oh really?’ she thought. “I see,” she said aloud.

“We have had reports of Olmeri scout ships from traders near Ka’len in the Hyades Cluster.”

“And that is where you are going.” Minister Pargals said emphatically. He liked giving orders.

“Madame President?” the Ambassador looked down and then up as she asked. “You want me to go where and do what? Are you nuts?” she thought.

“We’d like you to go to the Ka’len system to meet with the Kora. You need to get there before the Olmeri and divert them if you can. We have assigned the Magellan to be your transport and your overwatch. You have our full support to negotiate a treaty with the Kora and do what you must to deal with the Olmeri.”

“I appreciate your confidence in me,” the Ambassador said nodding to the room as she turned to leave. “Whoo boy, this is a doozy,” she thought.

“Ambassador.” President Smbarak called out, stopping her. “Don’t mention your mission to anyone until you are well underway. Not even to Captain Logan.”

“He needs to know.”

“Yes, but not until you are out of our Local Neighborhood. Your team cannot know either.”

“They are used to that.” she said dryly with a wry smile at the thought.

“Whatever you need, Ambassador.” President Smbarak said, looking around the room at the other council members as if to tell them they should all agree. They all nodded.

“I’ll get the preparations underway.”

“Quietly, Ambassador. Quietly.” President Smbarak urged her. “Quietly.”

The Ambassador nodded, bowed to the High Council, turned and walked out of the chamber.

Getting Ready                                                                               Ambassador’s  Apartment on Dagon

There’s a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall
And the bells in the steeple too,
And up in the nursery an absurd little bird
Is popping out to say “cuckoo”

“Micha, are you awake?” President Smbarak asked through the comm link.

“Yes, President Smbarak,” she replied, sitting up quickly and reaching to switch on the video.

“What’s that in the background? Children singing?” she asked smiling at the oddly pleasant sound.

“I’m watching an old Earth film about a wealthy family with quite a few children. The children were singing a song just now. It’s lovely, Aliel, just lovely. You’d like it.”

“I’m sure it is quite lovely. Whether I would like it …. How many glasses of wine have you had?” she asked, looking at the wine glass on a side table.

“Just two.” Micha replied raising her hand with the last three fingers up. “I don’t have anything else to do. All of my … Everything is ready.”

Aliel paused. “Everything is ready? Is there anything about that everything I should know?”

“No. Thanks for asking though.  Everything is good. We’re all good.”

“Really? All good? Micha, what did you…” she started to ask, a little exasperated. “No. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. I know you too well.” she chided, laughing and shaking her head.

“Yes, you do. But that’s not why you called.”

“I wish it was. I’ve just gotten some new reports of Olmeri activity along the edge of the Orion Arm from traders returning through the Aldebaran system. They are moving towards the Hyades Cluster. I’m concerned. We haven’t had reports like this before.”

“Like what?”

“Several reliable trading partners for grains and other staples have stopped trading with our buyers.”

“We knew that was happening.” the Ambassador interjected. “It’s part of why I’m leaving in the morning. You wanted me to find out what’s going on and try to set up a remote station near Ka’len. What’s different now?”

“The traders inquired. The Olmeri replied that it was their choice to trade with others or not.”

“Oh crap.”

“Well, yes, that’s one way to put it.”

“They aren’t just scouting anymore.”

“No. And they are moving more quickly. We had reports from our trading partners in that sector about their scouting just last year.”

“Did they give you any better idea of what the Olmeri are looking for?”

“No. We only know that they seem to be, how to say, moisson les planètes?” (harvesting planets)

“Récolter pour quoi?” (harvesting for what?)

“Je ne sais pas.” (I don’t know.)

“Well, then. It seems there’s more riding on this mission than we thought. How is it you always seem to find the very best assignments for me?” she said emphasizing ‘the very best.’

“You’re welcome.” Aliel said smiling with just a hint of sarcasm. She went on more seriously. “You are the best we have Micha. If anyone can figure out something, it’s you. I don’t like sending you. We don’t have allies out there. You’ll be mostly on your own. We don’t have any good options. We need to find out what is going on and find a way to stop it.” she paused. “You’re scheduled to depart first thing in the morning. Try to get some rest now. ”

“Like I’m going to sleep well after this conversation.”

“Get another glass of wine and go back to watching your film.”

“I can do that!”

“Just make sure your alarm is set.”

“Yes, Mom.”

They both laughed.

“Safe journey, Micha. I look forward to seeing you back here on Dagon in a few weeks.”

“Thank you, Aliel. Goodnight.” she said closing the comm link.

She got up, poured another glass of wine, sat back down, and fell asleep just as the lead male character in the film was singing a song about a medicinal flower that only grows in the mountains, edelweiss.

She woke up and turned over. Oh phoo! What time is it? Almost 3:30. Whew. She laid back down.

She wasn’t late. She liked being on-time. She didn’t like a last minute rush. The alarm was set for 4:00. She curled up and pulled a blanket around her. … “Just another minute.” she thought as she drifted off.

The alarm started. It was softer at the beginning. She switched it to snooze. It went off again.

She switched it off and sat up. She rubbed the back of her neck and the sides of her head. “Red wine” she muttered, looking at the empty glass. “Hmmm. Red wine.” she muttered again, shaking her head gently.

She’d long ago figured out that whatever needed to be done had to be finished a few days early. She’d be paying attention to everyone else over the coming weeks. The last 24 hours, she tried to keep for herself.

She stood up and put a wrap over her shoulders. It was a chilly.

The smell of fresh-brewed coffee drifted into the room. For a moment, it reminded her of so many other times she’d gotten up early to leave. Leaving and coming back. Today seemed ordinary for a departure day  – get up early, try to find a little more time to breathe before starting out. She smiled.

The wood floor was cool. She didn’t wear shoes in the house, not normally. The small lights along the edge of floor came on as she walked through to the kitchen. She didn’t want to put the main lights on. Not yet. It was nice. The room seemed somehow more quiet with only the small lights.

The coffee was still brewing. Brewed coffee was one of the little things she had tried to keep. So many other things she’d had to give up over the years. This one, this small thing, she wanted to keep. Medium dark roast, aromatic blend. She took deep breath, reached for her cup, and poured just a bit. It wasn’t quite ready. She liked just a little of that sharp bitter taste that only very strong coffee had. She smiled at the cup as she walked through the kitchen to the back patio.

She opened the door to the patio, walked out, and quickly turned around. The stones had gotten cold overnight. “Slippers. It’s good to have slippers.” she muttered to herself as she scurried back to her room to get her slippers and a sweater.

She stopped to pour a full cup and then went back out onto the patio. The air was crisp and smelled clean. There was a low wall at the edge of her patio. Beyond that was one of the back gardens. The outer wall was just visible through the bushes and trees.

Several dark birds fluttered in and out the top branches. “It’s too early for birds. They shouldn’t be…” She paused and smiled “Not birds. Bats.” she said nodding her head. “Bats.”

She looked back toward the door and down into her cup. It was almost empty. “Ah well. Time to get going.” she said, looking out at the garden one more time. It was quiet. She took a deep breath.

She looked up at the stars and thought about her time on Ras 2. The stars weren’t so different. She paced a little, looked up again and shook her head sadly. “What do they want? What do the Olmeri really want?” she asked aloud. It made no sense. They could trade for whatever they needed. Ecosystems don’t need to be ruined. Mining can be managed. They don’t want to talk. Everything is always their terms, what they want. And now this?

“Probably should get moving, she thought. I’m not going to figure out a solution in the next few minutes.”

She went back inside, refilled her cup, and leaned back against the counter. “What do they want? What do the Olmeri want?” she muttered aloud. She turned to go back out the door.

Just then, a chime sounded and the comm terminal lit up. She reached over switched it to audio only.

“Good Morning, Ambassador” N’amani’s clear, resonant voice came through the speaker.

“Good Morning, N’amani” she replied, smiling to herself. “You’re up early.”

“It’s almost 5:30 am Ambassador.”

“So it is.” she replied. “Thank you for the reminder. It is very much appreciated. Seems I wasn’t paying attention to the time. I have my coffee in hand. I’ll be ready in 30 minutes.” She really was happy with his reminder. She had not been paying attention to the time.

“Ambassador, I also wanted to let you know about those additional supplies… “

“Yes, go on.” she said quietly, expecting him to tell her there were a few things he couldn’t get.

“I have everything you requested.” N’amani said.

“You what?” she was giddy. “You have everything? How did you manage.. No don’t tell me. You have everything?”

“Yes. Ambassador. The last few boxes of dried foods and herbs are being loaded on your shuttle. You have a little more luggage than usual. And, em,” he cleared his throat. “A few cartons were included in the stores we already transported to the Magellan.”

“Already on the Magellan? How did you manage that?” she laughed. “Oh really? You are a magician! What did you do? How did you….”

“Nothing too much. Some of the regular stores the Magellan requested were increased by just a little. A few last minute boxes went in two of the containers. They will notice the wine bottles in the rice bins eventually.” he said, starting to laugh. “I’m afraid we will have to find a way to manually repack those.”

She laughed out loud. “I’m sure we’ll find a way to manage.” She was still laughing. “I’ll help. The Doctor and Beth will too. And Kell … oh, he’s going to enjoy this!” She said, laughing. “You are amazing, N’amani. Thank you.”

“You are welcome, Ambassador.” N’amani replied, his voice happy with the recognition. It had taken quite a bit of bargaining to get everything she wanted.

“I need a few more minutes. I’ll be ready shortly. Thank you! Thank you!” she said, closing the link.

She was more than pleased with N’amani and all the little things he did to keep everything going smoothly and in order. She’d requested he be permanently assigned to her detail after what was supposed to be a routine trip to the Vega system a few months back.

The Council was tired of her summaries. They wanted details about what was going on and they were upset that she had misplaced the requisitions and returns paperwork for several missions. It wasn’t that she was trying to hide anything. She simply did not like doing the paperwork. So, it didn’t get done. They assigned N’amani to act as her Chief of Staff until she could find someone permanent. The Council wasn’t giving her an option. She was going to have a Chief of Staff.

N’amani turned out to be so much more than she could have asked for. He seemed to naturally take over managing things. He knew what needed to be done and he got it done. He was quite remarkable. And practical. He was always on time and he kept track of everything with such ease.

Their trip to the Vega system turned out not to be such a routine trip. They’d been told that a senior trade emissary for Vega 3 had asked for a quiet meeting at a local resort. They would have a private lunch to discuss markets and tariffs without distractions.

The Alliance wanted to get the issues sorted out and a treaty signed. The Vega system had been a very good trading partner for many years, until recently.

It turned out to be an effort to kidnap her as a way to disrupt trade and discourage talks with the Alliance.

They went to the resort and were directed to a large, private meeting room. They opened the door and went inside. The room was empty. There were tables off to one side, but no trade emissary or a trade party waiting for them. They looked closer. The tables seemed disused, in storage.

They turned to leave. One of the side walls opened and three not so friendly ‘delegates’ entered the room. Four more came in through the door.

N’amani maneuvered just behind her to lure the three into her grappling range and then stepped toward the door. She disabled all three with a joint lock, a well-placed kick, and a twist He took out the other four. Nice turns he had, she thought remembering how he changed directions to defeat all four. Nice turns, she nodded and smiled a bit more. He was good. She was glad he would be with her on this one.

She finished her coffee, showered, and got dressed in ordinary clothes.

She had long ago learned to dress in layers. She could make a few small changes and blend in with the locals just about anywhere. That had kept her out of trouble more than once. Some sort of tunic, blouse, and pants were common on so many worlds. She slipped on a pair of comfortable flat shoes. She tied her favorite red and gold belt around the outside of her tunic and fastened her Ambassador’s pin to her collar. She was quite proud of the pin. She’d earned it.

The pin had a simple, round design. The base was flat gold with a ring of gold braid inside the rim. In the center, on a dark gold highlighted background, was a light blue image of the first star map humans designed, not as a way to imagine themselves as the center among the stars; rather as a way to imagine themselves among the stars. On the map, there were eight small jewels representing the eight original members of the Central Alliance. It was elegant, not gaudy.

She looked around the room one more time. There wasn’t anything else to do. It was time to go. She took a long jacket off a hook by the door and put it on.

She pressed the call link on the comm terminal. “N’amani”

“Yes, Ambassador.”

“I’m ready. Please let the Magellan know we are on our way.”

“Yes, Ambassador. The other members of our delegation will meet us at the departure gate. We are scheduled to depart at 10:00am local time. I received word that the Captain would like to see you after you arrive on the station.”

“I understand. I will see you there.”

It was going to be a long day, she thought as she picked up her personal bag and walked through the door. It was going to be a very long day. She turned around one more time, then closed the door.

She smiled as she stepped outside.

There were advantages to having quarters in a diplomatic compound, she thought, smiling just a little more. The sun was just coming up. There was a slight breeze. The transport terminal was only a few minutes walk through the main garden.[5] It was quite nice. Wide paths wound around the flower beds. The beds were surrounded by low walls topped with flat stones for sitting and protecting the plants.

Along the back walls, the trees and shrubs made it seem like they were in a small village somewhere. Not exactly like in the movie, she thought. But somewhere quiet and peaceful. She looked up. “Clear skies this morning. Just a few clouds.” She looked along the tops of the trees. They seemed to flutter without the wind. “Bats.” she muttered, shaking her head.

She walked into the transport terminal and stepped onto the platform. “Planetary departures” she said. It seemed she’d only finished saying her destination and she was there. Another of the perks. No waiting.

The departure hall wasn’t busy just yet. It was still early. She took a deep breath, as if to drink in that quiet, and walked toward the gate.

“May I see your documents, Ambassador?” the guard asked, noticing her pin.

She presented her health certifications and personal identification.

“Thank you, Ambassador. Your delegation has already been cleared. Good Luck.”

“Thank you.”

She turned to look back one more time, as if to record an image of the departure hall in her mind. She hoped that things would go well and she’d be coming home in a few weeks. But there was no way to know until she got there.

She smiled, turned around, and stepped onto the station departure platform. It’s going to be another adventure, she thought. It’s always an adventure.

Setting Up                                                              Space Station Promenade, Small Conference Room

She stepped off the platform on the station. She could see through the windows that it was a little busy today. Steady streams of people were moving from platforms to boarding gates. There were several ships docked. Crews were loading supplies. She smiled.

She went to the Diplomatic entry channel and handed her identification to the guard.

“Welcome to Dagon 7, Ambassador Lawrence. How long will you be staying with us?”

“I’m in transit, thank you. I’m boarding the Magellan and departing the station as soon as my delegation and our supplies are assembled.”

“Good luck, Ambassador,” the guard said, handing her credentials back to her.

“Thank you” she said, walking through. She put her credentials back in her pocket as she walked through the corridor towards the waiting areas and gates.

She looked up through the windows to see the Magellan tethered to one of the docking pylons. She smiled. The clean, classic lines of the ship were part of her beauty. The ship was designed for speed and agility with considerable visible and not so visible firepower. The Magellan was a warship. She was one of only five Lewis-class interstellar ships with both light drive and star drive capabilities. It was fine to spend a few weeks on a ship at light speed, but there were times when being able to skip across parsecs in short order was very, very useful.

The Ambassador had been on the Magellan for several missions. She’d worked with the ship’s AI, Maja and learned quite a bit about what the ship could do. It was one of the best ships in the fleet. She was very happy it was now going to be her permanent transport.

She spotted several people in the uniforms of the Magellan near one of the windows. Two had their backs toward her.

“Good Morning, I’m Ambassador Lawrence. I was told that Captain Sorrensen wanted to see me. I don’t have a ship’s comm link yet. Could one of you let her know I’m here?” she asked.

The group had been talking among themselves. The two with their backs to her turned around.

“Good Morning, Ambassador,” they all said.

A tall young woman with pixie cut brown hair was standing just behind the others looking down at a hand-held tablet. She looked up and smiled.

“It’s good to see you again, Ambassador.” Commander Brandon said stepping forward. “Captain Sorrensen was promoted and reassigned. Captain Alexander Logan has been given command of the Magellan. He’s waiting for you on the Observation Deck. Up those stairs, second floor, turn right. First door on the right.”

“Thank you very much, Commander. Good to see you too.” She said and turned toward the stairs. She knew better than to let show how surprised she was. This was a doozy. She took a deep breath.

She reached up, took her pin off, and put it in her pocket as she went up the stairs.

Not having to deal with Sorrensen could be a good thing. She’d not gotten on well with Captain Sorrensen. Seemed they were always at odds about some little thing or another. Whenever she was on the ship, she tried to keep out of Sorrenson’s way as much as possible. But there were times when she needed someone who was capable of extracting her. Sorrensen could do that with grace and finesse. Personal relationships, not so much. She’d heard a few things about Captain Logan, mostly that he was generally well-regarded and capable. This would be their first meeting and their first mission. Not her preference. Not for this one. She took another deep breath as she reached the top of the stairs.

A rather tall, well-built young man stood near the railing overlooking the departure floor. He seemed quite relaxed and at ease with himself. She recognized his uniform.

He looked up as she came out of the stairwell.

“I’m sorry, this area is restricted. Can I help you find your transport?” he asked gently.

She wasn’t tall, but she wasn’t short either. Her clothes were average, too; something any traveler might wear. Her hair was dark blonde with a bit of white at the temples. She had it tied and draped over one shoulder. A shoulder bag on the other. He blinked a couple of times. She seemed identical to one of his training instructors at the academy. She had the same clear blue eyes. Open and bright, as if she were open to letting in the universe. Piercing, as if she could see straight through him.

“Thank you.” she replied smiling. “Yes, you could help with that.”

She centered herself and began to regulate her breathing. She was going to ask him some questions that he would answer truthfully. He wouldn’t need to say anything. She focused on radiating calm and trust. Adepts seldom used this method of questioning. It was a bit intrusive. As her breath deepened, she was able to see clearly what was in the heart of whoever stood nearby. She needed to know who he was. There wasn’t time for small talk. She was being asked to trust him with this mission and the lives of her team. She needed to know.

“Perhaps if you tell me where you are going?” he asked.

“Yes, perhaps I could tell you where I am going.” she replied smiling a wry smile, deepening and slowing her breathing. She shifted towards him just a little.

He shifted back a bit. He began to feel warmer, as if the temperature had just gone up 10 degrees. He felt a little uncomfortable, too. It was as if every part of him was under examination. Then it was over. He was not quite sure what he had just experienced. He wasn’t anxious about it. He had a deep and pervasive sense of peacefulness and tranquility. He took a breath. Odd. He thought.

“So where are you going?” he asked directly. He was beginning to get a little frustrated with her. He was unnerved by what had just happened to him, whatever it was.

Her smile got a little bigger. “I am going there.” She said, pointing out the windows.

“Yes, of course you are.” he said, smiling a little. Ok. She’s not quite all there, he thought to himself. “And how are you going to get there?” he asked with as much sympathy as he could muster. Her family must be worried about her. ‘How can I get her to tell me something useful?’ he thought.

“I have a ship.” she replied. “A very nice ship, too.”

“Does your ship have a name?” he asked.

She wanted to laugh. She really did. It was hard to keep this going. He’d already told her everything she needed to know. Maybe she should, nah, one more. She thought, trying to suppress a smile.

“Of course my ship has a name. And a Captain too.” She replied, feigning a bit of annoyance.

“Could you tell me what the name of your ship is?” he asked, trying to be patient with her.

She looked down. As she did, she reached into her pocket, took out her pin, and put it back on. Then, she looked up.

“I could. And so could you.” she replied, breaking into a big smile. “Pleased to meet you, Captain Logan. I am Ambassador Micha Lawrence.” She smiled, crossed her arms in front of her chest, extended her hands outward with the palms up, thumbs closed. Then she closed both inwardly, turning the palms down,  and bowed slightly.

It was a greeting that had been handed down through the generations. It was used by all those who had been trained on Ras 2. It’s original meaning was complicated, but it had come to mean “peace” in the sense warm wishes extended through a greeting. It was an old-fashioned, elegant gesture.

He smiled recognizing the greeting. He realized she’d just tested him. Apparently, he passed the test.

“Good Morning, Ambassador. I’m also very pleased to meet you. Although I wasn’t expecting … ” he shook his head and smiled.

They both laughed.

She was quite pleased. He was quick, he had a good heart and he could be stubborn.

They walked into a small conference room along the inside of the observation deck. She closed the door.

“It seems congratulations are in order. The Magellan is a good ship. You have an excellent crew.”

“Thank you. Frankly though, I wasn’t expecting this assignment. But I have to say, I couldn’t be happier. Indeed, the Magellan is an excellent ship with a fine crew. I’ve been handling transport and security for several of the Alliance trade representatives in the Altair and Vega sectors. Their work was mostly focused on maintaining existing relationships. There were only a few times when we, em, unfortunately had to leave on less than friendly terms. I understand you have a First-Contact Charter.”

“Yes, I do” she said looking at him with a bit of concern. “What have you been told?”

“Only that I’m supposed to be here, meet you, take you and your delegation somewhere, and bring you home.”

“Excellent!” she replied, with a big Cheshire cat grin. That he was ready to go and didn’t know where he was going or exactly what he was going to be doing reflected well on his character. He had courage.

“I hope we don’t need the options for a less than friendly departures this time.” She said, turning her head sideways with the implication that they could be needed. She took a seat at a small table on one side of the room.

He sat down across from her.

“We are going to the Hyades Cluster to meet with the High Council of Ka’len to try to establish regular relationships, communications, trade, all that. If I’m successful with the first meetings, we will return in a few months to set up the future framework. The Ka’len Council has been mostly receptive to our overtures, but we don’t have anything formal yet.”

“Okayyyy… So that first-contact charter really does mean first-contact, doesn’t it.” He said, sitting back and grinning with just a bit of apprehension and awe.

“Indeed.” she said, laughing. It was going to take time for him to understand. It wasn’t a 10 minute explanation. “We should have a full briefing once we are underway.”

He nodded.

“Captain Logan,” Commander Brandon’s voice interrupted them.

“Yes Commander,” he replied through his comm link.

“We have all the Ambassador’s supplies loaded. Her detail is waiting for you in the final departure lounge. We are ready to depart.” Commander Brandon explained.

“Thank you, Commander. We are on our way.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Shall we go, Ambassador?” he said. gesturing towards the door. “Are the other members of your detail as interesting as you are?” Captain Logan asked, grinning as they walked out.

“I’d say more so, Captain.” she smiled, wryly. “Shall we go meet them?”

He stepped back to let her go out first and followed her out into the hallway and down the stairs. He was even more curious now. It wasn’t often that the emissaries he’d transported had a full delegation. More than that, this was the first Ambassador he’d transported. She was turning out to be quite a character.

Welcome                                                                               Space Station Departure Hall, Walkways

She caught a brief view of the promenade as they walked along the hallway on their way to the departure gate. It hadn’t changed much. The shops were busy. The horticulture team had done a great job with the facade when it was first installed. It was designed to replicate terraces on a mountain-side, with stairs and small alcoves. They’d planted vines that trailed down from the top to cover the rock walls and trees with intricate lighting to mimic day and night. There were sprinklers that could make it seem as if it were raining and others that sprayed a fine mist. Even from here, she could smell the freshness of just watered plants. Every so often, they’d do something special. Today, they’d put new spring flowers in among the permanent installations. Peonies and crocus, daffodils and daylilies, with rows of so many colored tulips along the edges. Quite nicely done. It almost seemed planetary. She took a deep breath.

The departure lounge was large, with high windows, well lit and comfortable. As they walked in, she caught another view of the Magellan tethered just outside. She couldn’t help feeling a little homesick. What a fine ship, she thought.

Captain Logan looked around the room for a group that might be her delegation. There was a small group standing just off to one side of the gate. They looked a little like not so well to do tourists. Not all that well dressed. Each one had just two ordinary personal bags. That couldn’t be… he thought.

The Ambassador had spotted them. She started towards them. He followed.

N’amani had taken a position facing departure hall so he could watch for her. He saw her and nodded. He straightened a little as she and the Captain came towards them. The others turned around and looked toward the two approaching figures.

“Good Morning” she said, as she reached the group, making it clear that she was speaking to everyone. “I’m very happy to see you are all here, with your luggage.” she said, wryly with a grin. They knew that’s what she expected. She had standing instructions to either put things in cargo or pack the shuttle but not to bring more than two personal bags. Besides being easier to manage, it helped keep them focused and agile. They weren’t trying to keep track of extra luggage and boxes.

They all smiled.

“Yes, indeed, we’re ready to go. Where are we going again?” the Doctor asked. He knew she wasn’t going to discuss anything here. It was just his way of letting her know that he didn’t know something and thought he should.

“We are going for a ride on the Magellan, Doctor.” she said with just a hint of impatience, smiling and pointing at the ship.

“Please allow me to introduce Captain Alexander Logan. He’s the new commander of the Magellan. Captain Sorrensen was promoted and has been reassigned.”

They all tried to hide their surprise. It was quite a shock.

“Thank you, Ambassador. I’m pleased to have the chance to meet all of you. And I look forward to having you and your delegation on board. ” the Captain said. He was already a bit in awe of her.

“Captain, may I present my delegation: N’amani is my Chief of Staff, personal bodyguard, and general right hand. He’s quite good with planning and preparations of all sorts.”

N’amani stepped forward and bowed slightly. He was squarely built and just a little taller than the Captain with the characteristic blueish tint to his skin and hair of the Elyronym.

“Doctor Marcus Gray. Marc is our team doctor, chef, and all around good humor guy. He keeps us healthy and spreads a bit of laughter.”

“I’m quite good with medical things, too.” the Doctor quipped, grinning playfully.

Captain Logan looked at him and smiled. He was slender with a boyish face and a curious sense of enjoyment. The only way to explain it was that he was simply happy.

“Elizabeth Michaels is our archivist, historian and cultures expert. Beth is extremely good with all our recording systems.”

Beth had stayed back until N’amani coaxed her forward. She was the youngest of the group. She smiled at the Captain, nodded, and took a step back. She was quite shy, unless she was behind a camera.

“Kell is my pilot.”

Kell stepped forward a little.

Captain Logan acknowledged each person as she introduced them. He’d met the Elyronym several times. They were exceptional administrators and formidable fighters. He wasn’t at all surprised that she would have one of their people among her delegation.

As Kell stepped forward, Captain Logan nodded as he had with the others. Kell wasn’t tall but he wasn’t short either. Just a little taller than the Ambassador. He was slender with dark hair and a tunic that was very similar to what the Ambassador was wearing. Then, he noticed Kell’s hands. His fingers were extended. It wasn’t something immediately noticeable, but he actually had quite open hands with long fingers. He looked up Kell and at the Ambassador and back at Kell, his face curious, puzzled and in awe all at the same time.

Kell smiled and nodded, confirming what the Captain suspected. He rather enjoyed these kinds of introductions. She’d done it again. He chuckled to himself.

“You have an Aldaran pilot?” he asked, looking at the Ambassador and trying really hard not to trip over his words.

He was incredulous. First of all, Aldarans hardly ever, really never, would pilot for anyone. They didn’t want to be bothered with mundane flights and they didn’t at all like being told what to do. They were good; really good and rightfully proud of it. They mostly weren’t braggarts, but they knew they were exceptional. It was just a fact. Nobody, but nobody in the known universe could match the Aldarans for their navigation and piloting skills.

“Yes. Kell has been kind enough to ferry me around to a few worlds.” she replied, smiling. “He’s got quite a perspective on the sectors in this part of the galaxy. And, he’s quite good at finding the best places for yangroutang.” Yangroutang was a meat soup she’d learned to like on Ras 2. It wasn’t really a choice back then. She could eat it or have nothing. She learned to like it.

Kell smiled a bit sheepishly. He liked yangroutang. On more than one occasion, he’d managed to adjust their course so they passed near a planet or a station he knew where they could get it. Even N’amani had acquired a taste for it.

“We have much to discuss, Captain.” the Ambassador said. “Much to discuss. Shall we go?”

Captain Logan nodded and walked over to the gate.

“Logan, Alexander. Mark Time. Access: Theta 12 18 Gamma 3 Alpha Mu 7 9.” he said as he placed his palm on the console and waited for the full body scan.

Maja, the ship’s AI, appeared in the center of the entryway. The ship’s designers had given the AI projection the outward appearance of a human female in her early thirties with brown hair and brown eyes. She wore a ship’s uniform. She could block or grant access to the ship.

“Voice, palm, DNA, medical records, access code all valid. Welcome aboard, Captain.” said Maja stepping aside. “You have command.”

It wasn’t just a formality for her to say that. She was actually giving him full control of the ship, it’s systems, and all her programs.

“Thank you Maja.” He paused and took a breath. “I have command.” his voice seeming to get a little deeper with the responsibility he just assumed.

The Ambassador turned her head slightly to one side, listening. She heard the change and the weight in his voice. She smiled to herself. “Oh, I like him.” she thought. “I like him.”

“I’m sure I have much to learn about the Magellan.” the Captain said.

“Indeed.” Maja replied smiling at him. She had been programmed with several types of humor, irony among them. She looked at the Ambassador.

“Welcome back, Ambassador.” Maja said.

“Thank you, Maja. I’m happy to be back. It’s good see you again.”

“It’s good to see you, too.” Maja replied.

Maja was not an ordinary AI. Her programming included ethics, rewards, and all sorts of things that supported the Ambassador’s mission.

Developing a bond with an AI was something the Ambassador had to work at. Gradually, she began to understand Maja’s foundation programming. Maja was designed to serve the ship. Every choice she made, every decision to act or not act, was based on the good of the ship, it’s crew, and anyone or anything else on board. Her deference to the Captain was part of her programming, too. She could not disobey a direct order from him.

Once the Ambassador understood how Maja’s foundation programming worked, she asked to have Maja modified to add several branches for diplomacy. These included assessing patterns of behavior, physical responses, engagement, and cultivating the confidence and trust that were essential for their missions. It took a little training to set up the learning cycles. After that, progress was rapid. Maja adapted quickly.

The High Council had been very happy with the mods. They had added the new branches to the AI’s on a few select ships with great success. And, they gave the Ambassador another medal for her initiative to develop them.

Maja moved a little closer to the Ambassador. “Does he know?” she whispered.

“Not everything.” the Ambassador replied. “He will want to see the logs.”

“Maybe not all at once. It will be difficult for him. He has just come aboard.”

“I agree. Not all at once. Give him time to adjust. But he shouldn’t be blocked, either. Maybe you could be just a little slow at finding a few things. Offer him something similar instead.”

“To distract him. I understand.”

“For now. Only for now. After we get underway, we will tell him. He must know everything.”

“Yes Ambassador.” Maja said, recognizing the command to her core foundation programming.

They had been standing off to one side. The others had walked past them, through the entryway and down a short corridor to a large docking transit platform that could handle transport for several people and their goods all at once.

“Are you coming with?” the Doctor called to them over his shoulder as he started down the corridor.

“Of course. ” the Ambassador said. “Thank you Maja.” she whispered.

They turned and walked to the platform together.

“Guest Quarters, Section 3, Deck 8, Please Maja.” the Captain said.

Maja smiled at his effort to be polite. He was new and a little stiff. Did he really expect she didn’t know where to take them?

“Yes, Captain.” she replied.

Chapter 2: A Dinner Party, Part 1: Preparations

Each portion in good measure
Each time unto it’s own
There is more here than is apparent
Look beyond what you know

Coffee with Breakfast Ambassador’s Quarters on the Magellan

Dinner Preparations Diplomatic Briefing Room on the Magellan

Before You Go Diplomatic Briefing Room on the Magellan

Keep Your Eyes Open Flight Deck on the Magellan

Follow the Bouncing Ball Kell’s Ship; In the Asteroid Belt

Coda Flight Deck on the Magellan

All Packed and Ready to Go Ambassador’s Quarters on the Magellan

Bon Voyage Flight Deck on the Magellan

Coffee with Breakfast                                                           Ambassador’s Quarters on the Magellan

She woke up to the smell of fresh coffee and a flute with piano concerto that reminded her of a warm summer’s day. It was the little things. Always the little things, she thought. No matter where she was or what she needed to do, she liked having a few of the little things. They kept her grounded.

She got up, changed into her travel clothes, and poured a cup.

She walked over to the window and looked out. A few small cases and one long one were pushed off to the end of the seat, still unpacked. She blew across the top of the cup, took a deep breath, and went over to her desk. “Ships quarters are definitely smaller.” she joked to herself. “Two steps and I’m here.” She sat down and picked up a tablet. She wanted to review the treaty documents one more time.

They’d all been working long days. She had told everyone to take the morning off. They were approaching the Hyades Cluster. They would arrive at the Ka’len system tomorrow.

Now, they needed to rest.

Her plan was to first convince the Ka’len Council to sign the treaty. She was prepared to offer them a few of the Alliance’s newest automated harvesters along with some training on how to operate them. Whatever else would have to come after. She needed a way to gain their confidence and their trust. The problem was, they didn’t have much information. That made it difficult for her to figure out what they might want the most and whether or not she could arrange it.

The door chime sounded.

“Come in.”

“Good morning” the Doctor said, coming into the room and sniffing the air. “What is that? Fresh coffee?” he said, clearly hoping for some.

“Yes, Marc. It’s not quite ready yet. Just another minute or so.”

“Thanks. Are you still unpacking?” he asked, looking at the cases.

“There were a few things it seemed I needed to bring.”

“So I see. Is that long case what I think it is?”

He didn’t wait for the answer. He opened it. On top of a set of folded red and gold robes was a long sword in a deep red sheath with carvings on it. The hilt was mithril with three-color gold inlay. It began to glimmer and reflect rainbows as soon as he opened the case.

“You brought Aladrel? The ancient sword of truth and light? Since when do you bring your sword on a diplomatic mission? Are you expecting something?”

“I don’t know.”

“So why?…”

“Because I don’t know.”

“Now you sound like Master Tai.”

“Why thank you,” she replied, smiling and bowing. “Coffee is ready.” She said, handing him a cup.

“There is no substitute for brewed coffee.” he said smiling. “This is wonderful. I am so very happy you asked N’amani to go shopping. I’d still like to know how you managed it.”

“We’re here partly on an agricultural trade mission are we not? she asked, grinning that Cheshire cat grin she had.

“Yes,” the Doctor replied, laughing. “Yes we are.” He put his cup down on the table.

“Coffee is an agricultural product is it not?” she said smiling. “N’amani is really good at anticipating and being able to acquire what we might need.” she explained, nodding appreciatively with a big smile. “Would you like more?” the Ambassador asked, extending her hand towards the coffee pot and trying very hard not to laugh out loud.

“Yes, please” the Doctor replied, putting his cup down so she could fill it. “To N’amani” he said, raising the cup and trying not to laugh too much.

“Was coffee the only reason you stopped by?”

“No. But since I’m here. It smells so nice….” he trailed off.

“You’re welcome to be here just for coffee, Marc.” She said, chiding him a little. “You know that, right?”

“Thanks for reminding me.” He smiled warmly at her. “But actually, coffee wasn’t the reason I stopped by. We’ve finished all the preparations. N’amani has been incredibly thorough and quite the task master. Beth seemed to think that the Kora would be very interested in learning how foods affect the body, using foods for their healing properties, and how they could use some of their native plants, trees, and shrubs. So I started looking at what they have and what they might need.”

He paused and took a deep breath.

“I think I may have found that elusive butterfly you have been looking for – a way to convince them to trust us, to show them that we are willing to help them and do not want to take over or plunder their worlds.”

She looked at him for a minute. “Be careful with expressing that idea.” She said frowning a bit and sitting forward. She put her cup down, straightened and looked directly at him. “Go on,”

“When Beth and I were going through the Kora’s main food sources, crops, and historical food supplies, I noticed several plants are very similar to healing plants we have. They can all be quite potent. They could address several of the Kora’s most common ailments, including what looks to be a prevalent problem with a disease similar to what we know as malaria. If I’m right, they have a species of tree that can cure it. There is a preparation method and a course of treatment, naturally. It isn’t too complicated and doesn’t require much more than what’s needed to manually prepare a meal.”

The Ambassador’s eyes got bigger as the Doctor continued his explanations. She started smiling. “You what?” she asked. This could be enough all by itself to get them to sign the treaty.

She went over to him, bro’slapped him lightly on the shoulder, hugged him, and kissed his cheek.

“Marc, you just made my day. My year maybe. That is Perfect. Absolutely PERFECT! We host a dinner for the Ka’len Council. You work with their doctors and chefs to prepare the herbs and include them in the dinner. We record you with their chefs, technology transfer, all that – excellent PR, by the way – and they keep a copy for their archives. We take clips from that training and put it together with the finished meal. And, if I’m lucky, we sign the treaty just before we sit down for dinner. Where’s Beth?”

“Beth, could you please come to my quarters. I’ve got something you need to hear.” she said into a comm link.

“I’ll need five minutes, Ambassador.” Beth replied.

“Thank you.” the Ambassador replied and closed the link.

She turned back towards the Doctor, emptied the last of the coffee into their cups, and smiled. “I’m going to put on another pot of coffee.”

“That would be super wonderful fantastic.”

“Did you sleep?” the Ambassador asked as she started making another pot of coffee.

The Doctor shook his head.

“No. I didn’t make the connections with the plants and ailments until, about 4 am this morning, ship’s time. Then, I double-triple checked what we have. It really could change …”

“It could change everything! You know that as well as I do.”

The door chime sounded. A small panel next to the door lit up..

“Come in” the Ambassador called out.

“You wanted to see me Ambassador?” Beth asked, stepping into the room. “Good morning, Doctor.” she said puzzled. “Did you get any rest?”

“Good morning, Beth. Thank you, no.” the Doctor replied laughing. “Sorry to start so early today. But… “

The Ambassador interrupted him. “Would you like some coffee, Beth?” she asked, extending a full cup to Beth.

“Yes, thank you, Ambassador. We were reviewing the files until late, or early depending on how you view it.”

They all laughed.

“The Doctor tells me he found something that could be the perfect solution for how we approach the Kora and what we can offer them.”

“We’re going to cook dinner for them.” the Doctor offered, with just a hint of playfulness. “Really, we are going to cook dinner for them.”

Beth looked puzzled. “We’re whut?” she asked, shaking her head, confused.

“We’re going to cook dinner for them.” the Doctor said again. “Remember how excited I was after you showed me the archives of what we know about their foods and possible medicinal plants?”

Beth nodded.

“I wanted to double-check before I said anything. We don’t yet have samples or a cross-reference. But based on what we know, those plants all have medical properties. The Kora seem to not know this. There aren’t any references in what we have about their medical treatments. When properly prepared, these plants can alleviate or cure several of their most common ailments.”

Beth looked a bit amazed. “Some plants will cure …?” she asked, not quite she’d heard correctly.

“Sleepiness.” the Doctor replied, grinning at her and pointing at her cup.

She smiled and nodded.

“How late was it when you stopped?” the Ambassador asked.

“Maybe around 2.” Beth replied. “That was when I started making too many mistakes to be useful. So I went to rest and clean up.”

“I stayed.” the Doctor said grinning as if he’d just won an award.

“Would you like a cup of fresh coffee, Beth?” she asked smiling at her.

“Why, em, er…” Beth was still hesitant and a bit shy around the Ambassador.

“Yes, she would and so would I, thank you.” the Doctor chimed in.

They all laughed. More from being tired than anything else.

“I’m still not sure how some plants are going to change everything.” Beth said shaking her head. She was a bit groggy from being up most of the night. She was also confused. It seemed like such a small thing. The plants were common. Whatever they were thinking, it would be amazing to be able to offer ‘better health’ to the Kora. She got up and walked over to look out the window.

The top of the long bag was open and there was a light that seemed to be coming from the inside of the bag. Without thinking about it, she reached out both hands, and picked up the sword with the case. She held the blade end in one hand and the hilt with the other.

“Ambassador,” she said quietly turning around. “This is the most beautiful workmanship. Where does this sword come from?”

The Ambassador and the Doctor both looked up, eyes wide with surprise.

“Beth, you should put that down.” the Doctor told her. He wasn’t asking.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” Beth stammered, turning to put it down.

“Wait,” the Ambassador stopped her. “Beth, how does the sword feel?” she asked gently.

“Why it feels light, as if there’s almost nothing in my hands but I know it’s there. And it feels cool and warm at the same time. It seems to fit into my hand. It’s very comfortable.” She smiled.

The Ambassador and the Doctor looked at each other. The Ambassador shook her head ever so slightly, no.

“Very good analysis, Beth. If you would, put it back now. I’m very happy you asked about it. Don’t let the Doctor being tired and grumpy put you off. That sword is from Ras 2. It is one I used to carry more often. But I’ve not brought it with me in several years.”

Beth set the sword back on top of the robes. “The carvings on the case and the hilt are quite amazing.” Beth said. “In my studies of Ras 2, I don’t remember seeing those patterns.”

The Ambassador smiled. “I’d not expect you would. It’s a rare pattern from an old culture.” She paused.

“Maja, please set up an introductory archive with the background we have on these carvings for Beth and let me review it before you give her access. I may want to add a few things.”

“Of course, Ambassador.” Maja replied. (disembodied voice)

“Thank you, Ambassador.”

“You are supposed to be an expert on different cultures and artifacts, right? How else can you learn?”

The Ambassador walked over to a small table to get another cup of coffee.

“Back to the plants and how they could change things. I’ll explain more in the briefing. I wanted you to know about this in advance. If what we think might be possible happens, we give the Kora life-saving medications and they give us a treaty.”

“You think that could happen?” Beth asked, clearly not convinced.

“We need to be certain. But yes, we are very confident about the life-saving medications. I have no clue if the Kora will sign a treaty.” she grinned sideways.

“So, we need full documenation of whatever the Doctor does and we need to make sure that we have appropriate footage for the archives.”

Beth nodded. “I’m glad you told me. I should bring a special set of lenses. And… a few other things.” she said smiling.

“We also need to be ready for what we hope could be – cross your fingers – the best of all possible outcomes: a treaty signing right before dinner. This really changes things in our favor. You two have done an excellent job on this. Amazing work!”

She brought the coffee pot poured fresh cups for all.

“This is so nice” Beth said, the cup almost to her nose.

“Fresh brewed” the Doctor said smiling. His nose was almost in his cup too.

“N’amani,” the Ambassador said, activating a comm link.

“Yes, Ambassador.”

“Would you arrange a briefing for everyone, including the Captain and his team, please? In one hour. I have just been speaking with the Doctor. We may have the perfect solution for the Ka’len part of our mission.”

“Of course Ambassador. What sort of solution?” N’amani asked. He knew the Doctor was a little eccentric. He wasn’t sure how to interpret this.

“We’re going to cook dinner for them.” she replied, laughing. “Seriously. I’ll explain in detail at the briefing. What we have discovered could be perfect!”

“Ok, sure. Cook dinner?” his voice trailed off. “A briefing in one hour. Yes, Ambassador.” he said with an assurance he did not feel. He had no idea what she meant. But sure. If that was the plan.

“Thank you, N’amani.”

She turned to face the Doctor and Beth.

“If this works, we could have a treaty and be headed home early.” She sighed. “If only things might go as well with getting the Olmeri to leave,” she said. “That will depend on Kell and Maja.”

“More coffee before we go?” the Ambassador asked.

“Just a bit, thanks” the Doctor replied. “I’d like to clean up and eat before the briefing.”

The Ambassador laughed. “You should have done that before you told me.” She shook her head.

“I could smell the coffee.”

“I see.”

“Ambassador, I’m still not…” Beth started.

“We have a briefing to get ready for. You’re tired and would much rather sleep. I know this feeling quite well. You won’t get used to it but you will become friends with it.”

Beth giggled.

“You can take a nap after we finish the briefing.”

Beth looked puzzled. “Take a nap?”

“That’s what I used to promise myself whenever I had to stay awake. After I finish ‘this thing’ then I’ll take a nap.”

“How did that help?”

“It didn’t. But it gave me something to look forward to. Go get some nuts to snack on so you don’t fall asleep in your chair and we’ll meet you in the briefing room.”

Beth grinned as she went out and the door closed behind her.

“Something you weren’t expecting?” the Doctor asked looking sharply at the Ambassador. “She shouldn’t have been able to do that.”

“But she did. And it was effortless for her.”

“The hilt should have burned. The blade should have cut her hand, even through the sheath. It should have been too heavy for her to move, let alone pick up.”

“But it didn’t and it wasn’t.” the Ambassador said quietly.

“She doesn’t know, does she?” he stopped with the realization.

“No. Not yet.”

“And how long have you known?”

“I suspected. But only just now.”

“Are you going to tell her?”

“You know better.”

“Then what?”

“We will help her find out for herself.”

“Now you really sound like Master Tai.”

“Let’s go get something to eat before the briefing.” the Ambassador said, laughing and taking his arm.

Chapter 3: A Dinner Party, Part 2: Guests

You have what you need
Light comes from shadow
The way is true

Surprise, We’re Here Landing on Ka’len

Meeting New Friends Outside the City on Ka’len

City Streets Inside the City, Steps Outside the Council Chamber

Something for the Boy Steps Outside the Council Chamber

What’s for Dinner? Kitchen off the Council Chambers, Two Room

A Little Nap Ambassador’s Shuttle

Shall we go in? Council Chambers

Truffles and Champagne Ambassador’s Shuttle

Company Has Arrived Ambassador’s Shuttle; Outside the Magellan

An Invitation to Dinner Flight Deck, Bridge on the Magellan

Company Has Arrived                                                      Ambassador’s Shuttle; Outside the Magellan

“Ambassador,” Kell said, his voice ominous. “We have company.”

She went over to his chair. She could barely make out a ship coming towards them from just outside the system. She looked at his navigation screen. It was definitely coming towards them.

“Have they seen us?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” Kell replied.

“Where’s the Magellan?” she asked.

“There” Kell replied, pointing at a different screen with a longer range. “They are holding in place at the rendezvous coordinates.”

There was no way they could get to the Magellan without first encountering the oncoming ship. She had a bad feeling about it. She’d learned long ago to trust her feelings on such things.

“Can you get us into the asteroid belt?” she asked, knowing he could and knowing full well what she was asking.

He looked at her, with a “do you know what you are suggesting and are you nuts?” expression.

“Yes. I can get us into the belt. But you know what that means.” he said with a warning in his voice.

She nodded. There wasn’t any other option. The Magellan was too far away.

“Everyone,” she said with a tone they had not heard her use. She was not asking. “Put away everything, tie down what might come loose, and strap yourselves in tightly. We need to avoid a meeting so we’re going to take a detour. The ride is going to get a little bumpy.”

She was trying to be lighthearted about it but she was quite serious. They all saw it and did what she asked.

She turned to Kell.

“nitāpwēyimiyimitin. kakaskitin. ahkamēmoh” (I trust in you. You will succeed. You will not fail.) she said, in Baruk (Cree).

“Do whatever you must, Kell.” she said. “Prepare yourselves.” she admonished the others.

Kell maneuvered behind the planet and used it to increase the speed of the shuttle in the shortest path possible towards the asteroid belt. He hoped the approaching ship would see them as a wayward asteroid and not bother with them. He’d just looped around the planet and had covered about half the distance to the belt when he noticed the other ship increasing their speed to overtake them.

It was too far away to overtake them before they entered the belt. Kell aligned the ship and slid into a stream.

The ship came up along side where they entered the belt, slowed and began to follow them from outside the belt. They were all but invisible among the asteroids.

Kell made the twists and turns seem effortless. But it was more than a bumpy ride. The turns and twists tossed them back and forth, side to side in their seats. Sometimes, there were up and down turns too. Vertical was not something any of them often felt on a starship. The stabilizers took care of that. But Kell was pushing the shuttle well beyond it’s original design specs. He found a sub-stream and turned. It took them to the inside edge of the belt. The ship that had been following them was on the other side. They couldn’t be seen. They were much closer to the Magellan.

“Captain Logan, are you there?” the Ambassador asked into the comm link. She was still a bit dazed. Kell had been with her for twelve years and she’d flown some wild rides with him. This was going to be one for the storybooks.

“We’re here, Ambassador. We will be ready to receive your shuttle shortly.”

“Ah, Captain,” she started. “Now would be good. We are closer than you think. So, if you could move things along a bit more quickly? We have some new friends in a ship on the other side of the belt looking for us and we’d rather not meet them on this shuttle.” she told him, quickly giving him the situation.

“I understand, Ambassador.” he replied, signaling to his officers to scramble. “We have just received new coordinates from Kell. We will be ready on this side in …. just under 30 seconds.”

As the Captain was talking, Kell spotted the other ship dropping under the asteroid belt.

With the belt no longer blocking their view, the Ambassador’s shuttle and the Magellan were clearly in view. The other ship began to accelerate rapidly and aggressively.

“Ambassador, they could block us.” Kell told her.

“Captain, can you paint them, nudge one of those asteroids closer, and open it up without them realizing it was you?” the Ambassador asked.

The Captain stopped, turned his head to one side quizzically, looked at his screens, and replied, “Yes, Ambassador. Yes we can. We can absolutely do that. Lt. Katy, please acquire the targets and fire.

“Targets acquired. Target 1 painted. Target 2 destroyed, Captain.” Lt. Katy reported.

The other ship began gradually slowing down and kept slowing until it was barely moving at all. They had just hit it with a magnetic pulse and opened up one of the barnacle-laden asteroids. The ship’s hull was attracting the chunks of asteroid along with the cobalt they’d sprinkled in the belt. The barnacles followed and they were hungry.

“Ambassador,” Kell said, with some concern. “We have another problem.” There was a larger ship coming towards them.

“Let’s get back to the Magellan.” she said with a note of determination and anxiety in her voice. She hadn’t recognized the first ship. It was a design she’d not seen. She recognized the second. It was the Olmeri.

Kell accelerated towards the Magellan, slid into the docking bay and parked the shuttle.

An Invitation to Dinner                                                                Flight Deck, Bridge on the Magellan

As they waited for the outer door to close, the Ambassador started giving directions as she moved to the back to put on her formal robes.

“Doctor, you will come with me. You need to get dressed.” she said, tossing his bag to him.

“Beth, set up three stations. Just show the treaty signing. You know what we need.”

“N’amani, take care of background. Use the oldest approach footage you have.”

“Kell, tactical flight auxiliary.”

She was hoping that with their previous planning and little luck, nothing would happen. The Olmeri were a surly lot that wanted to argue about every little tiny thing. She wanted to bypass that and get straight to the part about them leaving.

As soon as the doors opened, they moved quickly to the transport platforms.

“Captain, the Ambassador said, as she and the Doctor arrived on the bridge. “I’ve asked Kell to go to auxiliary flight control. I hope we don’t need him. Beth, are you and N’amani ready?”

The comm links on the wall behind her lit up.

“Yes Ambassador.” N’amani replied. “Yes Ambassador,” Beth replied.

“Captain Logan, would you please hail our friends, with video. I’d like to speak with them.”

She moved to the center of the viewing space and took a fighting stance, her feet well placed and apart. The Doctor came up beside her.

Captain Logan looked at her. “You want to speak with them? They just tried to hijack your shuttle. They’ve not been friendly. Why are you…” he stopped.

She had turned to face him. She looked directly at him and said nothing.

He wasn’t sure what happened, but he knew, with complete confidence, that he was going to do exactly what she asked.

“Yes, Ambassador.”

She turned back to face the screen, signaling Beth and N’amani. The Doctor stepped in, just behind her shoulder and locked his foot inside hers – joining Earth and Water. He was going to support her weight and add his skills to hers so she could focus on misdirecting the Olmeri. What they were doing was barely visible. They didn’t want it to be. Their long robes and pants hid most of it.

The comm link opened. She could see the bridge of the Olmeri ship.

“I offer you greetings on behalf of the Central Alliance. I am Ambassador Micha Lawrence, Third Daughter of El’Aran of Vega and First Disciple of Master Tai Aragon of Ras’alhague. I am a Keeper of Earth. I bid you welcome.” she crossed her arms, extended both hands, palms up, closed to the center and bowed. She seemed to get taller as she extended her hands.

The Olmeri Captain and his officers were clearly surprised to see her. They were familiar with the Masters of Ras’alhague. They had met only a few of the Keepers and would prefer to not meet any of them ever again. Every time they met one of these Keepers, they had to retreat. They didn’t like it. They recognized her colors: Earth. The Doctor wore the colors of Water. They liked it less that she and the Doctor were both wearing the robes of Adepts.

“Greetings Ambassador.” said the Captain of the Olmeri ship. “We had no idea you were aboard. From the erratic way that shuttle was flying, it seemed to us it was lost and did not have an adequate pilot. There aren’t any stations nearby. We were only trying render assistance.”

He was deliberately being insulting by not giving his name and his ship’s name. It was standard protocol to identify yourself and your ship.

She knew what he was saying was bull. Their scans would have picked up the signal from her personal seal on the shuttle. And the insult to her pilot, well, that would have to be overlooked to protect the Kora. As for rendering assistance, that was one she hadn’t heard before. Did he really expect her to buy that?

“Thank you for that, Captain. But we didn’t receive your identifier. Luckily for us, our ship was able to come to meet us.”

As he started talking, Beth put a clip of the treaty signing on Ka’len on a screen he could clearly see. On another, N’amani had put up some archive footage of a trade mission they completed two years earlier to the Elnath[1] system. It showed them entering the system.

Beth began editing to bring the footage together on a third screen.

The Ambassador noticed the Captain had changed his focus to something behind her. She turned slightly to where she could see Beth working with the clips. She signaled to Beth to turn it off and turned back to the video link. This has all been pre-arranged, for the Olmeri’s benefit. She wanted them to see the signing. And, she wanted them to believe it was in a different star system.

“Hardly, Captain,” she replied looking slightly disappointed as if that clip was something she didn’t want him to see. “We are returning from some trade meetings. I’m sure you know how those go. Lots of recordings and dinners. We took an unplanned detour. Then we had some trouble with our navigation systems and ended up off course. Did you have trouble with your navigation too?” she asked.

“No. We have no problems with our navigation.” he replied, as if they never had any issues.

“That’s good to know, Captain.” She paused. “Since you are here, perhaps you would like to join us for dinner? I’m sure we could find lots of things to talk about.” she said smiling at him broadly.

“Thank you for the invitation, Ambassador. Another time.” he replied tersely.

“Very well. Another time, Captain.” she said, signaling to Captain Logan to close the comm link.

She took a deep breath and straightened a bit. She and the Doctor had been standing very close together the entire time. He slowly took a step back.

The Doctor had been supporting part of her weight. Not that anyone would notice. It was becoming harder and harder for her to recover after she did something like this and his help was most welcome. While she was talking, she had planted several ideas the Olmeri Captain would believe were his own. It took quite a bit of effort. Having the Doctor’s support, literally, made it easier. It was one of the Lost Arts, being able to transfer one’s thoughts to another.

She turned to look at Captain Logan.

“Please take us home, would you Captain?” she asked, with a tired and grateful smile.

He smiled a big smile at her and nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.”

As the Ambassador and the Doctor turned to leave, she paused at a comm link.

“Kell, N’amani, Beth, all of you, good job. Very good job. We’re going home.”

Captain Logan watched them leave.

He shook his head. He was still trying to take in what just happened. The Olmeri were ready for a fight, they wanted a fight. He could see that. He was ready. If that’s what they wanted, he would be happy to oblige. And she did what? She stood there and invited them to dinner. And they left? How did she manage that? He saw it. He was sitting right there. He didn’t believe it. It seemed he was going to have to get used to being surprised. This wasn’t going to be just another diplomatic ferry assignment. He smiled and sat up just a little straighter in his chair.

“Set course for Fomalhaut. ” the Captain ordered. “Let’s go home.” The crew began going about their duties as the ship turned and accelerated.

There would be debriefings and reports and all the things that had to be done later.

For now, they could all enjoy today. Today was a good day.