Pushing her hands down her uniform to straighten out any creases, Commander Levesque looked one more time at her appearance in her wall mounted mirror. She was happy with what she saw and walked over to where her desk sat and picked up her heavy-duty uniform jacket that she would wear as part of the landing party to Andoria. As she began to zip it up her door chime went off. “Come in.” She called out as she flicked her hair out from under the collar.
The door made its usual swoosh noise and Captain Burton walked in, wearing a similar jacket and looking as handsome as ever. “Ready?” He asked.
“Yeah,” Levesque replied as she took one more look at herself in the mirror before turning to face Burton. “Are you sure we’re not meant to be in dress uniforms for this? I mean we are meeting the Andorian head of government.”
“On the insistence of Ambassador Agos, he told me that this meeting is informal, and we will be meeting with the Chancellor in her residence. Apparently where we are landing is pretty cold too.” Burton explained as he led her out of her quarters.
“I hope it’s not that cold.” She returned as she followed him out and was automatically surprised to see Private Liam Jenkins standing outside for them. “Private?” She asked, wondering why he was here.
“This is half of our bodyguard protection detail.” Burton clarified.
“Ma’am.” Jenkins nodded with pride and followed the two senior officers as they began walking down E deck towards the launch bay.
“So, who’s the other half of our protection detail?” Levesque asked as they turned left down the corridor.
“T’Plau.” Burton replied. “Major Yu and her felt that we could be targets for some of the anti-Coalition groups that have formed on Andoria.”
Levesque shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t understand some people. Why can’t everyone just agree to get on?” She rhetorically asked.
“That’s why we need to work hard on ensuring we do our best with this and show we can trust them.” Burton reminded her as they headed right along a curved corridor.
Levesque looked behind her at the young MACO behind them. “Liam please tell me you’re armed in some way.”
“Afraid not commander.” Jenkins replied. “Major Yu ordered me to surrender all my weapons.”
“Just you and your buff-ness to defend us?” She quipped back along with a cheeky wink and grin.
At this Jenkins just went red in the face. “If you say so ma’am.”
Levesque extended her right hand out to grab the MACO’s left hand and squeezed it for assurance. “Sorry Liam, I’m only kidding about.” She let go of his hand, realising she was probably making some inappropriate gesture there. She forgot sometimes she was the First Officer and that she had to set a standard. Beside her she saw Burton smirking and trying his best to keep his strong command posture.
Jenkins only smiled back at the commander. “No offence was taken ma’am.” He said courteously.
She smiled again at him for his politeness in her silly behaviour. “So, to save me I’ve got you, T’Plau and I suppose the captain as well?”
Burton looked down at her when she said that. “Hey, you make it sound like me being your last option isn’t a good thing! Remember I was a former armoury officer myself.”
“I know, I know!” Levesque kidded back with. “But let’s be honest you’ll most likely be my last saviour as you’ll probably get shot at first! You are the captain!”
“Again, hey!” Burton said, showing mocked offence to her words. The two senior officers both laughed at their little exchange of banter.
“Actually ma’am.” Jenkins interjected, “My orders are to protect the captain first.”
At that mention Levesque gave out a hurt sigh. “Mister Jenkins you wound me, I thought I was your favourite!”
The MACO returned with a slight chuckle. “My apologies ma’am, but Major Yu made it clear to me I was not allowed to let the captain do anything that will get himself hurt.”
“Now you sound like my babysitter!” Burton responded back as they came to the end of the corridor and headed down straight towards the launch bay.
“I’m still hurt that I’m not a priority!” Levesque added with a slight huff.
Burton looked down at her. “I’m sure T’Plau will watch your back Commander Levesque.”
“She better!” Levesque countered with. “Or you’re going to be stuck having Commander Stanton as your first officer.”
“Let’s not make frightening statements like that Nicole.” Burton quickly said back. “I have to leave him in command in our absence, that’s scary enough.”
“Ha!” Levesque said. “Just make sure Michael doesn’t hear you say that about him!”
Burton sniggered. “All kidding aside, I do trust him and he would be an amazing first officer!” He looked over his shoulder at Jenkins. “By the way Mister Jenkins, everything you hear from us is completely classified and not to be shared with anyone else without my authorisation!”
“Understood sir.” Jenkins said while smiling, understanding that the three most senior officers on Challenger enjoyed joking with each other when they could. It was something he summarised that they kept hidden from the rest of the crew.
The trio soon entered the launch bay where Commander Stanton stood with his arms crossed against his chest and Sub Commander T’Plau was inspecting Shuttlepod One with Ensign Conrad.
Burton and Levesque approached the chief engineer. “The ship is yours Commander Stanton.”
“Understood sir, anything you want done while you’re away? Carpets cleaned? Gravity plating re-tuned?” Stanton asked with his normal boyish grin.
Burton smiled and squeezed Stanton’s arm gently in a friendly gesture. “Just don’t scratch the paint work while we’re gone and keep your feet off my desk!”
Stanton gave him a mock salute. “Aye sir, I promise to get myself extremely comfortable in your chair.”
Burton and Levesque both laughed at this as they began to make their way towards the stairs that led down to their shuttlepod. “Just don’t adjust the height Michael; he doesn’t like it when I do it.” Levesque called back.
As they made their way towards the pod, Sub Commander T’Plau and Ensign Conrad climbed out of the craft.
“Are we ready?” Burton questioned.
“We are.” T’Plau answered. “The plasma cannon is offline as ordered sir.”
Burton didn’t like the idea of going down without a form of fighting back in case they got shot at, but he had to show Earth’s trust for the Andorian Imperial Guard to protect them from Challenger to the surface.
“Pre-flight checks are complete too sir.” Ensign Conrad said as he zipped up his jacket.
“Excellent.” Burton said, satisfied that they were ready. He looked at the landing party he would be leading. “Remember this is a diplomatic informal meeting. So, let’s be on our best behaviour and remember don’t touch anything that looks valuable!”
Apart from T’Plau the rest all laughed at the last part of what he said. “Let’s go.” He commanded as he gestured for them all to get into the shuttlepod. Burton followed Jenkins in last and before he got in, he looked up at Stanton for one last time.
“Good luck!” Stanton said with an assuring smile before leaving the launch bay to allow the smaller craft to depart.
“Thanks!” Burton called back as he grabbed the hatch and closed it down behind him.
The cold chilly wind hit the faces of the landing party the exact moment they opened the side hatch of Shuttlepod One. They had flown through the Andorian atmosphere without incident, under the watchful eye of a heavy escort of Andorian fighter jets and had landed their small craft on the lawn of the chancellor’s official residence on the outskirts of the Andorian capital city of Laikan. Burton heard all of them mumble something about the cold hitting them straight away; as such he was happy that he had zipped up his jacket as well as worn a pair of Starfleet standard issue gloves and scarf. Under all of that he had also put on a layer of thermal undergarments. He had read the reports of how cold Andoria could get, currently Laikan was just entering the spring season as such the temperatures ranged from anything from four degrees Celsius dropping all the way down into minus figures. Currently it was two degrees Celsius from what the shuttlepod thermometer sensors were telling them. It did not also help that the city sat along the seashore and the currents coming off from the vast arctic oceans that belonged to the Andorian homeworld most likely enhanced the wind.
“Everyone ready?” Burton had asked after pushing the hatch open first. His team just nodded to him and Private Jenkins and Sub Commander T’Plau went out first. He, Conrad and Levesque followed suit and he closed the hatch behind him before using a small controller in his pocket to lock the shuttlepod down and place its proximity alarm on. He didn’t want any entering the ship, even if the Andorians were allies. If anyone tried to do anything with the craft they would be notified straight away by an alarm on the small controller, a signal would also be sent to Stanton on Challenger. The group walked about six metres before four soldiers, all who wore the uniform of the Andorian Imperial Guard, approached them.
“I’m Lieutenant Carenth, Chancellor Margerit’s deputy chief director of her protection service detail.” The tall woman from the group stated with a warm expression. “Welcome to Andoria Captain Burton.” She said looking straight at the Starfleet captain.
“Thank you, lieutenant.” Burton said. “These are my officers, Commander Levesque, Sub Commander T’Plau, Ensign Conrad and Private Jenkins.”
“A pleasure.” She nodded to them all. “Please, if you follow me, I will take you into the residence where the Chancellor is waiting for you in her office.”
Shadowing their welcoming party, the group soon entered the residence that sat on the edge of a huge cliff and was shaped in a very modern style. Burton felt it looked like some of the huge mansions that he had seen in Malibu, California in the United States. It appeared to be at least three, possibly four levels high, with each level being circular in shape. Its pale blue colour reflected against the sunlight that was trying to appear through the grey clouds that currently blanketed the skyline. More Andorian guards were positioned around the perimeter of its grounds as well as around the mansion itself. The captain had reckoned the security here was just as tight as it was back on Earth for President Littlejohn and Prime Minister Samuels’ official residences and offices.
Eventually their escorts led them into what must have been the main entrance where two large glass doors that parted sideways letting them enter into the foyer area where a beam scanned each of them and a computer voice identified them.
“You’re all clear and safe to proceed.” Lieutenant Carenth announced as the computer beeped in satisfaction.
“That’s good to hear.” Levesque replied sarcastically with.
Jenkins chuckled slightly and stopped himself when he tried to avoid insulting their Andorian guests.
Carenth appeared to ignore the comment and soon led them into a large hall after they walked through another set of glass doors. “This is the main welcome wing of the residence.” She said, attempting to give them a slight tour.
Burton looked round at everything and was impressed to see Andorian politicians were like their Human counterparts, they were just as infatuated with displaying paintings of past noted leaders alongside other famous pieces of artwork, sculptures and priceless artefacts from across their civilisation. Carenth then led them up a set of stairs that had been sat in the middle of the welcome wing. The stairs went up two floors before they reached what was their destination.
“And up ahead are the main offices and where the administration runs the empire.” Carenth mentioned, almost gloating at how amazing this tour was going.
To Burton it was nothing special, apart from the glimpse into Andorian architecture and historical artwork, he had been in a number of government buildings before and they all boasted the same things. Showing off how patriotic and proud government officials were for their nation as well as it being a symbol of power and grandeur.
She took them to the end of the corridor and by this time they saw an entire glass wall encircling a huge office. Two very muscular Andorians guarded the main doors, which were also made of misty stained glass. They nodded towards her and one of them opened the door allowing her to take their guests in.
Sat behind a desk (which was also made of misty stained glass) in a grey leather chair was Chancellor Margerit. She was signing some forms on a data tablet and looked up when she heard her door open. She handed the tablet to the younger man who was standing next to her. Immediately when saw the Challenger landing party she smiled and rose from her chair. “Captain Burton.” She said, greeting them as she moved around her desk to meet him halfway.
Burton returned the smile and extended his hand to shake hers. Straight away she realised the human custom and adopted it automatically by taking his hand and shaking it before releasing it. “Welcome to Andoria, thank you so much for coming.” She said.
“Thank you for your gracious invitation for us to join you.” Burton returned, still being polite and diplomatic. He turned to face his officers that were standing just slightly behind him. “I believe you remember my first officer Commander Nicole Levesque.”
“Commander.” Margerit said as she shook her hand.
“My chief armoury officer and third officer, Sub Commander T’Plau.” Burton said as Margerit moved through the group.
Margerit raised her hand and greeted T’Plau with the standard Vulcan V-hand salute. “Greetings Sub Commander.”
T’Plau returned the gesture and bowed her head as a mark of respect for the Andorian leader acknowledging her with her own greeting. “It is an honour to meet you Madam Chancellor.” She added.
Burton smiled at how pleasant T’Plau had been before looking at the blond hair man in his group. “This is my chief helm officer, Ensign John Conrad.”
“Ma’am.” Conrad said, bowing his head slightly towards the Andorian leader.
“And this is Private Liam Jenkins, a member of my MACO detachment.” Burton finally said.
Margerit shook the young man’s hand and smiled at him. “And let me guess Private Jenkins, you are here to look out for the captain?”
“Yes ma’am.” He said and then realised he may have insulted her. “That’s not because we don’t believe Andorian security is good enough ma’am, it’s just that the protocol now states that a captain can’t leave the ship without at least one member of the ship’s MACO detachment.”
Burton hid his smirk at Jenkins’ bluff, he was impressed at how quickly he recovered that one.
“I totally understand your predicament Private Jenkins and I assure you I don’t hold any grudge towards your assignment and reasons for it. We have similar protocols here on Andoria for high ranking government and military officials.” She turned to look at Captain Burton. “And Captain Burton is certainly becoming a high-profile man these days. We can’t lose him.”
At this point the captain attempted to stop himself from blushing, he did half a job of it. “Private Jenkins is an outstanding member of my crew.” He added.
“From what I saw last time, the entire crew of the Challenger are outstanding, captain.” Margerit stated. “Please all sit down.” She said gesturing towards the leather sofa and armchairs that sat in the middle of the room.
Once they had all sat down Margerit, who had taken the armchair which was just in front of her desk and next to the sofa that Burton had sat on with Levesque, looked at the captain. “Captain, I’m so pleased that Prime Minister Samuels was able to agree to my request to have you come here.”
Smiling at that, Burton looked at his officers before looking back at her. “As I said earlier, we’re very honoured for the invitation to be here and we’re looking forward to the opening ceremony of the new Earth embassy.”
“Excellent and Ambassador Agos is an absolute credit to your government, in particular to Foreign Secretary Campbell.” Margerit said. “For someone at such a young age he has achieved so much, I look forward to working with him to develop our strong friendship between our two nations.” She paused. “That all aside, I didn’t just ask you here to be my special guests for the opening ceremony, but I wanted to speak to one commanding officer to another.”
“I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at Madam Chancellor?” Burton said, confused as to where she was going with. He knew she had military background and still held her retired rank of general in an honouree position (however that was defunct as she was the official appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Andorian military) but what did she mean by that?
“I know you’re relatively young for your position, like Ambassador Agos, however us soldiers see things differently compared to politicians. I know that since being a member of the Parliament of Andor and being an ambassador, well things aren’t as you humans say: black and white as they used to appear when I was in the Guard.” She explained then proceeded to stand up to walk over to the large glass wall that looked out at the huge ocean that sat beyond it. “The winds of change are on the horizon captain, we found ourselves on the periphery of entering something much bigger than either of our nations has dealt with before, possibly something even bigger than our Coalition ever thought possible.”
Burton sat up straight on the sofa he was sitting on. “Are you talking about us taking our place on the galactic stage ma’am?”
She turned to look over her shoulder and nodded. “I am and with it come consequences. Your own world was attacked two years ago, the Klingons don’t like the idea of our alliance arising on their doorstep, the Orion Syndicate and every other criminal organisation out there sees us as a threat to their livelihoods,” She paused before turning around to completely face them. “Then there’s the Romulans.”
“The Romulans.” Burton nodded in agreement. He knew exactly where she was going with this. “If you should be truly concerned about any threat to our alliance it isn’t the Klingons or the Orions ma’am, it’s the Romulans. They didn’t like us teaming up last year against their drones and they didn’t appreciate our recent skirmish with them in the Archer system.”
“Let’s not forget that many believe they were behind the attack on Coridan last month.” Levesque piped in with, “And didn’t Starfleet Intelligence even believe the Romulans were behind orchestrating the Orion attack against our convoy that was heading to Denobula?”
Burton nodded and then T’Plau spoke up. “The Vulcan Security Directorate came to similar results from their own investigations involving the attacks against the diplomatic convoys.”
“My own Security Advisors believe that as well and my heart and mind are telling me that they were behind the Coridan massacre too.” Margerit said. “So, Captain Burton, what do you think we should do about it?”
Burton felt like he was placed on the spot right there and then. “Well, umm…” He stumbled, concerned he may be influencing the head of government of an ally that could possibly go back to his superiors and tell them what he said, he would most likely get into trouble for it. “I think we need to take the danger they possess as serious. Strengthening the Coalition would not only benefit our own worlds but could be a deterrent for them from doing anything else against us.”
“That’s very diplomatic of you captain.” Margerit said with a friendly smile. “Do you believe we should strike back against them now? Remove the threat they possess against our Coalition security?”
“What you’re suggesting ma’am is something the Coalition was not founded on or what it was meant for.” Burton answered back. “Yes, together as military allies we are stronger to deal with threats, but the Coalition was truly formed on the notion that peaceful living together outweighs military might. Along with peace coexistence, the ideology of promoting fair commerce between our nations with the exchange of scientific knowledge and cultural beliefs being vital too.”
Margerit nodded. “I see spending time with Secretary Campbell has given you a delightful and wise insight to the political stage Captain Burton.”
“It’s not Secretary Campbell’s insights on the matter that I share with you ma’am.” Burton returned as he stood up where he had been sitting. “It’s what I firmly believe in. I joined Starfleet not for the military conquest but to peacefully explore this amazing galaxy we live in.”
“I respect your beliefs captain, and I apologise if I have upset you.” She said, “But as a man who has served as a tactical officer for his entire career I was hoping for a friend’s view on this matter. Having someone’s thoughts, who is from outside of the Empire, would be of great assistance to me.”
Burton took a moment and looked at her. “I’m honoured you seek my counsel on this issue Madam Chancellor. Have you not spoken to Ambassador Agos about this? Or Secretary Campbell? Prime Minister Samuels or even President Littlejohn?”
She chuckled at this and slowly made her way back to the chair behind her desk, appearing all-regal like a monarchy taking their place on a throne. “As I said earlier captain, I wanted a non-politician’s view on it.”
“Well,” Burton said as he considered his response to this. “If you would allow me, I would like to take some time to reflect on the matter before I give you my complete response.”
She nodded after a while and kept her smile. “I will give you your time to think about it, captain, and I appreciate your honesty on this. I know I am putting you in a difficult situation and you are trying to avoid any diplomatic blunders.”
Burton nodded in appreciation.
“I won’t keep you any further captain; I look forward to seeing you all tomorrow evening at the ceremony.” Margerit said as she rose to see her guests out of her office.
“Thank you for your hospitality.” Burton said for the group as they were led out of the room, once again by Lieutenant Carenth and back to their shuttlepod. Burton wasn’t sure how that ended, either Margerit got what she wanted, or it ended us bitterly cold as the weather was outside in the Andorian capital city.