Still slightly aching but not as bad as he was feeling two days ago, Burton stood in his dress uniform sipping on what the Kriosian called their own version of champagne. It was very, very sweet and not as bubbly to what he had tasted on Earth before. Standing to the side of the grand ballroom in the Great Sovereign Palace, Burton was watching as the Kriosian royal family and its political leaders interacted with one another with a few of Challenger’s crew and some of the captains from the task group he had brought with him. The state dinner that First Monarch Kaitaama had put on for them, on the eve of their talks around the alliance, was elegant and extremely luxurious. For a people that were currently at war, though the Klingons had not attacked since the Haydorian summit (it was what Captain Trommler was now referring to) with General Merik, Burton found it odd they were able to find time to throw together such an event.
Several toasts had taken place after the dinner had been completed and now the guests were just mingling with one another while an orchestra played some interesting pieces that sounded like something from the collections of the likes of Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, Bizet and Tchaikovsky. He was certain he heard something that had the remnants of the Nutcracker mixed with The Four Seasons. A few of them were dancing around on the floor, in a very elegant way. Kriosian dancing didn’t seem to be different to that of what took place on Earth. Watching the whole scene before him, Burton felt like he was reminded of the old classic films that his parents would watch together set in the late 1920s. The many times he had walked in on them having an evening together in the lounge and were watching one of those films where a large ensemble of characters would engage in a huge ballroom dancing scene set in one of the old large abbey homes. His mother was obsessed with a series of films based on a family who lived in a massive country estate. Though she told him to appreciate the past, he had never understood the enjoyment his mother got into watching such things.
Distracted by the scene before him, Burton was approached by two members of his crew that he hadn’t seen for the past forty-eight hours. “Gentlemen,” He said, greeting both Stewart and Jenkins (both of whom were in their dress uniforms as well), “how are you both?”
Stewart spoke up for them both. “Well thank you sir, and you?”
“In a lot better state compared to when we last saw one another.” He answered. “Are you enjoying your new assignment?”
“We are sir, but we’re ready to come home.” Jenkins answered. “Mission accomplished, I believe?”
Getting the hint from the young MACO, Burton nodded and suggested they leave the huge hall and make their way outside onto the semi-circle balcony. A few tables were dotted around on it and there were curved staircases that led down onto the massive gardens that surrounded the palace. Fire pits were dotted around the centre of the balcony while obelisks on the edge had small flames shooting up from them. A few guests were outside but the three men were able to find a private spot, far from anyone’s reach to hear them while also speaking in a subtle way to avoid raising any suspicions. Burton appeared just to be conversing with two of his officers.
“So were Alex and Cooper’s suspicions right?” Burton asked as he looked out at the garden with both men either side of him. He took a sip of the champagne he had in his hands. “Are they preparing for something more?”
“We believe so.” Jenkins said, also sipping on a flute. “Niall’s modified medical scanner was able to find a few reports in their computer records that indicated that there’s more to what we’ve been told.”
“Interesting.” Burton said in a low voice and looked at the nurse to his right. “Anything we should be concerned about?”
“From what I can gather, our involvement was a last ditch attempt to avoid Krios from being invaded.” Stewart explained. “The Kriosian Sovereign Guard won’t be able to fully defend themselves from a fall on invasion from the Klingons.”
“That’s understatement there Niall.” Burton quipped. “Anything else that may justify the sudden movement of their population beside concern from a Klingon attack?”
“They’re purely putting their people into the best places to protect them. It would seem that over a month ago the government passed a lottery system that saw them pick those from their population who will be sent to underground and undersea protection to preserve the Kriosian way of life.” Stewart answered.
“The Kriosians are preparing a resistance movement, if the Klingons take the planet.” Jenkins added.
“Again, no surprise there.” Burton said as he turned around to now face the palace. “Keep going.” He insisted.
“Some government officials have been moved off world to other planets the Kriosians have colonised that are further afield and would require the Klingons to commit a heavy amount of supply and resources to to take. The Kriosians don’t think this will happen, they’re keeping their location classified.” Stewart stated. “We backed this data up with the increase of civilian traffic going off-world. A large bulk of freighters, transports and cargo vessels have been converted to assist in taking almost a quarter of a million people off Krios. They’ve already completed at least ten round trips to these off-world sites. More are planned for tomorrow, but there’s no way they can move everyone off world or underground. People will die if the Klingons attack.”
“That doesn’t include a set of files we found that shows they’ve been teaching the general population how to defend themselves and the military is starting to hand out weapons to the public. Alongside that factories and key power stations around the planet are being outfitted with weapon placements too. They’re really going to make the Klingons pay for every kilometre they try to take of the planet.” Jenkins said. “A number of Kriosian ships have also been mining the outer asteroid fields. They should have completed this work by the end of tonight.”
“Are they certain the Klingons will invade?” Burton checked.
Stewart nodded several times. “They believe the Klingons will.”
“Let’s just hope that General Merik was able to convince the High Council otherwise.” Burton remarked as he took another sip. “Anything else we need to be in the loop about?”
Jenkins and Stewart looked at one another before Jenkins spoke. “We think their intentions about making this alliance work are sincere, sir.”
“Oh, I’m sure they are.” Burton said nodding in agreement once. “I’ve been ordered to use the same terms and references we established when the coalition was established, which gives me a bit more room in delaying things so we can see what happens with the Klingons first.”
“Isn’t that a bit deceiving on our part sir?” Jenkins asked, sounding troubled at his captain possibly taking such action.
“Liam it’s called politics.” Burton answered flatly. “If the Klingons show they’ve lost their interest in Krios and have no qualms in us bringing them in as allies, then I am sure the Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites will be all up for it too. That will be a huge selling point when this gets out back home and with our allies.”
“You don’t seem very optimistic about that, sir.” Stewart said with a slight sigh in his voice.
Grimacing, Burton showed the lieutenant he was almost right. “Bringing Krios into the Coalition or even as just allies of Earth would help significantly with the war effort, especially with what they’re planning to offer with technology but if we cannot guarantee that we don’t end up opening a second front with the Klingons then we may as well as kiss goodbye to all of the hard work and sacrifice we’ve put into play this last year. This is an extremely tight rope we are walking on and we cannot afford to fall from it. Either we do this carefully and right or we just need to walk away. That all said, there’s a lot on the line here that will help us against the Romulans and I feel I cannot abandon that, not yet and not without knowing everything.”
“I’ll repeat Liam’s words again sir, I think the Kriosians have every intent on being faithful if they become our partners.” Stewart said confidently.
“You sound very sure of yourself Niall.” Burton remarked, curious as to why both men were sharing such things with him.
Sighing on his glass of Kriosian champagne, Stewart looked to Jenkins who just gave him an encouraging look to do or say whatever he needed to share with Burton. “Sir,” Stewart began, “please don’t be mad with me but Prince Kalluum made me his brother-of-arms.”
“A ‘what-of-what’ now?” Burton asked, blinking several times at hearing this for the first time.
“Sir, it’s an old ceremony between comrades to show significant trust and bond between those who fight together. The prince believed it was right for everything I’ve done to honour me with it.” Stewart stated. “As Liam was brought in with the First Monarch, he wanted to bring me in through a similar fashion.”
“Oh, well if that’s all!” Burton said sarcastically and was becoming a bit furious about this revelation. “And why am I only hearing about this now?”
Keeping his cool, Stewart revealed why. “Because sir, I believe the prince did something with his empathic abilities on General Merik.”
“What?!” Burton said instantly, almost raising his voice at that before hushing it to avoid attention. “What do you mean?”
“After he had taken the general off from you during your ‘summit’, I was certain I saw him undertake a similar transfer that the first monarch took on Liam when she connected him with her unborn child. A sort of brief glow was transferred from his hand to the general.” Stewart said, “I am certain it was what caused the general to become tired and give in, so I agreed to the process and without him realising I had my medical scanner on. It was the same glow and from my own scans I had a higher level of serotonin and an increase in my dopamine levels. It was brief but it was there.”
At that point the three men were approached by Harris, the captain’s yeoman, who also wore a similar dress uniform like Burton and Stewart. “Sir,” he said interrupting them, “Her Majesty, the First Monarch has requested that you dance with her.”
Burton nodded to Harris and told him he would be there shortly. “We’ll discuss this later but I want you both to head back to Challenger and for Doctor Payne to run tests on you, Niall.”
“Sir, if I leave Krios then I may become unwell from not being close to Kaitaama.” Jenkins reminded him.
“Fine,” Burton said through gritted teeth and pointed at Stewart, “you’re going now!” He commanded as he made his way back inside.
Stewart and Jenkins looked at each, both feeling awful about what they had just told their captain. Like two pupils being told off by their headmaster, neither of them knew what to do at first as the captain stormed away from them.
Stewart turned to Jenkins, “I’ll call the ship and let you know how I get on.”
Jenkins just nodded and leant in to kiss his husband goodbye. He took his champagne from him and watched as Stewart headed down one of the large flight of stairs to make the call.
First Monarch Kaitaama was waiting for the captain as he re-entered the large ballroom. Smiling gracefully in his direction, the monarch was wearing a long sleeveless slim gold dress that reached the floor. Over the top of it she wore a short white jacket that had a silver train running from the back of it. Her hair was styled into a bun on top with a tiara on top while she wore several necklaces, each one filled with precious gems and stones from Krios. “Fleet Captain Burton, care to dance?”
“On Earth there’s an old custom that it’s the man’s responsibility to ask a lady to dance.” Burton said, putting on his best charm and diplomatic face. He had calmed himself down before approaching her. He needed to remain calm after the chat he had just had.
“It’s interesting you say that, we believe in similar customs, but as you say they are old.” Kaitaama said as she gave her hand to Burton, who in turn took it. They started to dance slowly and carefully around the room. Many others stopped to stare and as the music’s tempo changed to be more upbeat, they began to move faster.
“I know this may sound extremely forward of me, especially as we’ve barely had the time to get to know one another, but I do want to say how much I appreciate your efforts for my people.” Kaitaama said as Burton dipped her backwards slightly before spinning her out and then back into him. “I am in your debt.”
“I won’t lie to you, Your Majesty, but if we can prevent the Klingons from invading your world and turn their attention against the Romulans, then I’m all for it.” Burton admitted. “So if anything I’ve done recently that appears to favour your people has been done in the interest of my people and our allies in the coalition too.”
“If you’ve been able to convince the Klingons to reconsider their war-plans so they take on the Romulans, who from all accounts have manipulated not just them but my people as well, then I am all for it.” Kaitaama stated. “That said, if anything I have learnt from Corporal Jenkins and Lieutenant Stewart is that your people have an extremely kind heart. Though initially when I met Commander Tucker of Enterprise, I found him to be irritable and frustrating as hell, his charm did go a long way. You should be proud that they have shown Kalluum and I the best of your people. They have been excellent representatives.”
“Thank you.” Burton said cordially. Hearing that made him annoyed with himself for having a go at them moments ago. He was proud of them both, even when he put them in a tight position to spy on their new potential ally. “I will ensure they are recognised for their efforts.”
“Indeed, before we move into the talks tomorrow, I want to recognise not only your efforts but theirs as well by making you all honoured members of the Kriosian Sovereign Guard and recipients of the Noble Order of the Sovereign Shield.” Kaitaama stated.
“That is very kind of you,” Burton said just as the music slowed down again, “but we didn’t come here to receive awards. We came to help.”
“And we had a deal.” Kaitaama reminded him. “You help us, we’ll help you. That’s why by tomorrow, I will be asking several of our top scientists, researchers and engineers to prepare to visit Earth, with your permission, to begin working with your people on sharing our knowledge.” As she spun under his hand again and returned back to Burton, she carried on. “Alongside that in the last few days, my people have reviewed the Romulan telepresence technology you shared with us. Though this is not to usurp your own engineers with what counter-measures they’ve come up with but we’ve come across a similar system before and we’ve been able to tweak our own technology. I’d be happy to have them share the prototype with your chief engineer along with all of the technical plans.”
“Your generosity knows no limit.” Burton commented. “And I will use whatever influence I can pull to encourage other coalition members to visit Krios once we have a workable agreement.”
“That I appreciate a lot.” Kaitaama said as she gently pushed the captain backwards a few steps and then pulled him back closer to her. “Opening trade routes with not just Earth but Vulcan, Andoria and Tellarite will only help my people further.”
“As it will for Earth and its allies.” Burton countered back with, just as the music started to fade and come to an end. He looked at her. “Your Majesty, you do know you’ll be moving your people from one war to another the moment you sign this alliance with us? Are you not rushing into things here? Would a trade agreement not be the best way to start?” He knew by asking such things it may cause a diplomatic slip up, but if he could delay just a bit more to ensure that the Klingons didn’t take things the wrong way and to ensure the cease fire with them actually did take place then he was all for it right now. He was truly in a juggling act right now.
“Let’s be honest with each other here,” Kaitaama said as their dancing slowed down with the music, “you’re concerned that by bringing Earth and Krios together that the Klingons will invade whatever happens and you’ll be bringing Earth into another conflict that you cannot afford to commit to or have a hope of winning with us. I have faith in your diplomatic efforts with the Klingons that they will turn on the Romulans.”
“It’s a lot to commit to when there’s so much up in the air.” Burton explained, still being honest with her.
“It is, but you also know that we are preparing for the worst as well.” Kaitaama said as she looked at Burton with a glint in her eyes. “Do you really think we didn’t detect that both Lieutenant Stewart and Corporal Jenkins had not been spying on us recently along with the scans your ships have been trying to hide from us from doing. Our technology is just that little bit more advanced than yours that we picked it up. Honesty is important to me, life has taught me that I need to be forceful with it to get things done.”
Not crumbling at the fact they had been caught out, Burton remained strong as they continued to dance. “No offence was meant by it, I just needed to know what you were up to. As you said, we’ve only known each other for a short amount of time. I suppose I jumped too quick to prove what the Romulans have been up to. It’s just I’ve seen them do this before and I didn’t like the devastation I saw, if I can prevent it from happening then I will. However I get why you are doing what you are doing.” He bit his bottom lip, recalling the events between the Kriosians and Deltans earlier in the year were still fresh in his memory.
“We are preparing for the worst, as Kalluum told you from the start and what I’ve been saying ever since.” Kaitaama said. “An alliance with Earth was my last ditch effort to protect my people, but I won’t allow my people to lose their identities to the Klingons. We know we can’t beat them, however I refuse to let them take what is ours without a god damn good fight. Do not get me wrong, your evidence of the Romulans manipulating us and them relieved my concerns that we could never walk back from this with the Klingons, nevertheless they are a race of warriors and have a strong sense of honour. My people do as well, but we are a little bit more enlightened and tend to avoid violence first. I feel that’s a characteristic our people share. Commander Tucker taught that to me and you’ve proven it. I won’t lie to you either, we’ve scanned your vessels as well. So let’s say we are even when it comes to the spying part on each other. Can we move forward together? As partners?”
Burton chuckled as he considered her words careful. He just nodded. “Your Majesty, nothing would make me prouder if I could sit over the negotiating table with you and see how we can find a solution that would benefit both our people by coming together.”
“Thank you.” Kaitaama said as the music concluded and she spun outwards from him. The room erupted into applause. Burton bowed and Kaitaama did a brief curtsy.
From the other side of the room, Trommler and Avery were standing with their colleagues as they watched their captain enjoy his dance with the First Monarch. When they ended they, along with the rest of the senior staff, started to applaud the performance which in turn caused the Kriosians to join in with the clapping.
“I think we’ve just shared a custom with the Kriosians.” Commander Rodham mentioned to the team around him. “Now our brave leader hasn’t stepped on the feet of the First Monarch, I suppose we best put our best foot forward as well. For the honour of Starfleet!”
“And the MACOs.” Trommler added.
Nodding in agreement with the MACO commander, Rodham then looked over to Masuko and smiled. “Sakura, would you do me the honours and let me prove just how good of a dancer I am, something I am sure my former husband used to brag about?!” He asked cheekily as he extended his hand towards her.
Giggling, the chief engineer nodded and took Rodham by the hand and joined him as he guided her onto the dance floor. “I’m sure Michael would have told me off if I didn’t accept.”
Taking his cue from the first officer, Walker turned to Ben-Ami. “My lady,” He said in a mocking bow, “would you honour me by having this dance?”
“As long as you realise I have two left feet and don’t spin me too much, then sure!” Ben-Ami answered as she placed her champagne flute down on a nearby table and took hold of the chief science officer’s hands and moved across the floor with him.
Crewman Harris turned to Lieutenant Cortez and showed both his hands. “Ma’am, can I offer you a dance?”
“Who can say no to a young charming prince like yourself Jamie?” Cortez said with a similar smirk as she took his hands and followed her comrades out.
Trommler and Avery were left, both smiling at their colleagues. Turning to her, Trommler offered his hand to hers and she instantly took it. Pulling her in close, he placed his free hand on her back and began to move them across the floor. “You look beautiful tonight.” He mumbled into her ear.
“Thank you.” She answered back softly. “You don’t look too bad yourself.”
Trommler smirked as they both placed their cheeks against one another and carried on with the dancing.
For a moment they forget there was a war going on outside.
Challenger NX-03, in orbit of Krios
Stretching her arms outwards, Lieutenant Commander Sandoval stifled a yawn as she reached for her a coffee mug as she sat comfortably in the captain’s chair. One leg sat on the other while she sipped on her coffee and read a tablet that she had been handed. It had the updated roster for the next day, with the captain and a few others off the ship with the negotiations taking place others would fill in for them.
She was about to approve it when an alarm went off at the tactical station. Gazing over to Ensign Reddick, who had taken over from Cortez who was down on the planet at the state dinner, she asked him what it was.
“Long range sensors have picked up movement from the Klingons ma’am.” He said after a second of double checking the readings. “I’m detecting an armada of Klingon warships on a direct course for here.” He looked at her as he spoke the last word.
“Go to tactical alert.” She ordered and looked over to the communication station. “Seb, send a message to the rest of the task group to go to a similar posture as us then see if you can raise the captain.”
Dalton, who was the ship’s third science officer had agreed to fill in for Ensign Avery and the rest of the protocol team who were on the surface. Partly familiar with the communications console, the ensign worked the controls as he was ordered.
“Martha, see if those probes and relays we dropped off after leaving Haydorian are still active and if they can get a better picture of the incoming Klingon fleet.” Sandoval ordered the second science officer. “I want to know the size and type of ships they are committing to this action.”
Habiba replied with an ‘aye’; as she turned in the chair to look into the ship’s scope to see if she could get a better connection. Commander Rodham had ordered the deployment of a few relays and probes on their way back to Krios to help them create an early warning system.
Now looking down at the helm, Sandoval carried on with giving out orders. “Angela, take us into a lower orbit of Krios, just in case we need to drop any of our shuttlepods down or have to beam our people back up. I don’t want distance creating a problem for us.”
The second helm officer carried out her commands and moved the Challenger.
Dalton then spoke up. “Sir, I’ve got the captain. He doesn’t seem happy.”
“Who would?” Sandoval uttered sarcastically before nodding for Dalton to put the captain up on the main bridge speakers. She was definitely crashing his party.