Febuary 14th, 2401
“Chief Diplomatic Officer’s log, stardate seven-eight-one-two-two point six-one. Though I was sceptical at first, I have to admit Fleet Captain McCallister’s eagerness to explore the Kotaba Expanse has gone well for the squadron. Most recently, our diplomatic overtures with the Benthans have culminated in us hosting a diplomatic entourage of theirs and an exchange of engineering ideas. Though it has been an enjoyable experience, I cannot wait to take a break and undertake some routine exploration of the vastness of the Delta Quadrant.”
The USS Odyssey and USS Themis hung in orbit above the M-class planet home to one of the largest worlds the Benthan people had colonised years ago. Bentheria II appeared like many other habitable worlds; it was protected by numerous space stations and was guarded by four natural satellites. Furthermore, a ring of dust particles and rocks perfectly encircled it. Ships of all sizes that mostly shared the Benthan design all darted between one another as they went about their own business. Whisps of white clouds covered parts of the planet’s lush green lands and almost turquoise oceans. It appeared peaceful. It appeared welcoming. If this world was in the Alpha Quadrant, it would be mistaken to be a typical Federation world from the diversity of races that lived there. It embraced visitors. It hosted a range of cultures.
On board the Odyssey, a reception was in full swing in the Auditorium. On the main stage, the home band played a range of light jazz music that created a fun but sophisticated atmosphere in the room. Standing on the top level, viewing the entire event, Lieutenant Commander Flemen ensured that everything went off without a hitch.
“Here you go, Craigen,” Lieutenant Commander Tomaz offered his friend a drink.
The Lumerian man smiled in appreciation at the refreshment as he took it. “Thanks, Tomaz.” He sipped on the drink, a gin and tonic with a twist of lime. “Everything seems to be going well.”
“Why wouldn’t it?” Tomaz asked. The Barzan strategic operations officer pulled a face showing his confusion at his friend’s statement. “You’ve done this type of reception a million times before. Why fret?”
“It’s forty-seven times, actually,” Flemen said as he sipped his drink. “And I’m fretting because this is our last event with the Bethans before we head out tomorrow morning; I want us to leave a good impression.”
“Understandable,” Tomaz agreed as he took a sip from his drink; it was precisely the same as Flemen’s. “However, haven’t we concluded on a high note? We’ve exchanged scientific ideas and shared cultural differences. The captain has agreed to sign a provisional commerce deal with them, including a minor mutual defence agreement. Starfleet will be well-chuffed with the work we’ve done here. The work you’ve done here.” He emphasised the last sentence to convince Flemen that his efforts were outstanding.
Recognising that his friend was right, Flemen nodded. “Yeah, I know we’ve done well here, and the Benthans have agreed that while we’re in the area, we will help any of their ships and vice-versa, but this is our first significant engagement with a nation-state in this region. So much is riding on it.”
Tomaz shook his head. “Craigen, you worry too much. You and I have read the same reports about the Benthans and the species that await us. This is a good deal for the Benthans and us. As I said, Starfleet will be chuffed.”
Finally relenting, Flemen acknowledged that he was worrying about nothing just in time as Commander Duncan and Master Chief Court approached them. Everyone at the reception was wearing their dress uniforms. One last attempt at putting Starfleet’s best foot forward.
“Craigen, well done again for another successful diplomatic exchange.” Duncan congratulated his former department deputy. Although it was approaching two years since Duncan had been made first officer, which resulted in Flemen being promoted to the chief diplomatic officer (and most recently Staff Judge Advocate), Duncan had always looked out for Flemen after he stepped into his former role. Additionally, with Flemen and Tomaz undertaking the command training program under the teaching of Duncan and Commander Banfield, the first officer had invested time in both younger officers.
Appreciating the support from his former mentor and friend, Flemen smiled. “Thank you, sir, but it was a team effort.”
Court chuckled at that point. “It certainly was when we had to ask their help rescuing this one from the Kobali.” The senior enlisted man pointed to his husband with his right thumb.
“I wasn’t the only one in need of rescuing,” Duncan pointed out in between the snickering from the others before he took a sip. “Talking of which, my fellow escapee comes to rescue us.” The first officer gestured towards Commander Banfield approaching the group with her husband, Commander Westerham, linked arm-in-arm with her.
“Why do I feel that our recent exploits with that Kobali trader are still being discussed?” Banfield enquired as she stopped on the edge of the group. A smirk appeared across her expression.
“Corella,” Westerham said, turning to his wife, “we’ve all agreed that trader was no ordinary trader.”
Banfield rolled her eyes. The half-Klingon half-Human science officer took a sip from her bloodwine martini. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it, it wasn’t our fault that we encountered an abandoned Hirogen communication relay that wasn’t quite empty.”
“Which had an automated system that knocked you, Max and the rest of the away team unconscious, which made the Kobali trader think you were all dead and ripe for harvesting to join their race as new family members.” Court reminded them all. Without a doubt, Court (as much as Westerham) enjoyed repeating the tale as much as possible in the last couple of weeks.
“And like a dashing knight, you came and rescued me, my brave husband,” Duncan said with a smirk at his spouse. “I will never forget that image of you looking all butch wearing that armour and gear as the hazard team broke us out of that prison-come-morgue.”
The group laughed a bit more at the absurdity of that mission which led them to this moment. But, unfortunately, the Benthan Guard had arrived just in time as a pack of Hirogen ships had also turned up to check in on the intruders. Fortunately, the combined forces of the squadron and the Benthan ships were enough to ensure they escaped without much damage.
“It’s not really the romantic gesture I was hoping to pull,” Court admitted. “But I suppose it will do.”
“Talking of romantic gestures,” Banfield started, “I’m no fan of the tradition of Valentines, but I noticed we’re a bit short of hand tonight on our side.”
Flemen looked back down at where the Benthans were mingling with some of the crew. Fleet Captain McCallister was sitting at a table with the Benthan ambassador, supported by Captain Cambil. While Doctor Slyvexs was standing with her husband exchanging pleasantries with other delegates. However, he soon realised that Banfield was right. They were missing a few more. “Yeah, where is everyone else?” He remarked.
“Lukiz has that big holographic date with Commander Thaustin,” Tomaz answered. “Their one-month anniversary since they officially declared they were together. They’re certainly taking long-distance relationships to a whole new level.”
“What do you mean?” Flemen asked.
Tomaz chuckled. “Somehow, Lukiz has tied the long-range holographic communication devices into one of the holodecks on both the Odyssey and the Triton so they can ‘see’ one another. I’m not sure how Lukiz has got past the interference of the Triton being in the underspace corridors as they map it, but whatever works for them, I say!”
Flemen nodded in agreement.
“Where’s Marova?” Banfield enquired.
“She’s got the bridge for tonight,” Duncan answered. “She volunteered quite eagerly. I suspect she’s had enough of attending so many diplomatic events.”
“And don’t forget Tierra is on the Themis meeting with her Benthan Guard counterparts about integrating coaxial warp drive components into our systems,” Court added. “She and Tremt have made good friends with some of their top scientists and engineers.”
“And in return, what have we given them for that?” Westerham wondered.
“Enhancements for their sensor technology,” Banfield replied. “They struggle to detect cloaked ships, so we’ve shown them some pointers with tachyon detection grids and anti-proton scanners. In addition, I’ve been showing them how they can increase the range of subspace distortion detectors.”
“Integrating their systems into our warp drives would help us travel longer distances quicker when we don’t have access to much of the Turei underspace corridors,” Flemen stated. “Whether it works is another thing I’m happy to leave down to the engineers.”
“I’m sure Tierra will come back with a big smile to get her hands stuck deep into the work,” Tomaz responded. He looked down at the crowd below them. “We should seriously disperse and mingle more with our guests.”
Flemen agreed with his friend’s suggestion. “Absolutely.”
It was a grand occasion, one that had happened on many occurrences before that now Fleet Captain McCallister was starting to feel he had worn his dress uniform more than his actual everyday duty uniform. Nevertheless, he couldn’t be prouder of the work he and his crew did this far in the Delta Quadrant. Sitting around a small circular-shaped table, he was pleased he could share this moment with his deputy squadron commander. Since returning to the ‘fold’, he had come to rely on Cambil just as if she was his former first officer. The two of them were great partners. The Bajoran woman shared with their guest how the Prophets played a role in her faith. McCallister could see that the Benthan man was highly interested in what she was saying by how much he was focused on her.
Ambassador Shrewmar was a relatively tall and broad-shouldered man. The Benthan people were humanoid with the distinctive features of ridges along their temples and a nasal cavity that extended to their mid-forehead. Shrewmar’s dusty grey hair was slicked back, and the extra lines and wrinkles under his eyes, showing his age, made him appear very statesmen-like. However, he was also a very jolly man who had been eager to engage with them since they were escorted by the Benthan Guard to this system. Shrewmar’s approach was very uncharacteristic compared to others in his species, who appeared to be more serious. Those who served in the Benthan Guard took the responsibility of enforcing the local laws and maintaining peace within their space earnestly.
The ambassador was gracious and cordial, keen to solidify the friendship they had worked so hard on in the last few days. Exchanging pleasantries and learning about the mixed Federation cultures and customs, Shrewmar was particularly fascinated by the music and the food. He even tried some of the delicacies on offer.
“That is absolutely fascinating, captain. Thank you so much, and I must admit that hasperat has certainly become a favourite dish of mine,” Shrewmar shared as he picked up the wrap and took a bit out of it. He quickly finished it and showed his enjoyment with a wide grin. He turned to McCallister. “These last two weeks have been enlightening for us, Fleet Captain McCallister; I hope my people and I have been welcoming hosts.”
McCallister nodded profusely. “Oh, absolutely, Mister Ambassador. We have enjoyed our time at your colony and sharing so much. If we could stay longer, we would.”
“But we must get back on with our journey exploring the rest of this region,” Cambil added.
Shrewmar accepted that their time together was coming to an end. “Your journey across the Delta Quadrant will keep you busy, and as long as you travel in Benthan space, you travel among friends.”
Both captains looked at each other after hearing that and smiled.
“We appreciate that friendship, ambassador,” McCallister remarked. “I look forward to signing our agreement.”
“It will go a long way, captain,” Shrewmar stated. “I hope by you setting the tone with us, we may persuade your Turei friends to trade with us.”
“I will certainly do what I can to encourage them to consider it,” McCallister said.
“Peace among the nation-states and the people of the Delta Quadrant is a worthy goal,” Cambil commented.
Shrewmar nodded in agreement. “Oh, I wholeheartedly believe that’s an achievable goal, captain. But, of course, that’s not to say many of our civilisations are at war with one another. However, with the Borg Collective not being such a massive threat to us, finding commonality with others is certainly a tantalising prospect. I am sure your example of rescuing those Borg drones will go a long way. I’d be surprised if at least one species hasn’t lost someone to the collective.”
McCallister felt comfortable with the ambassador and was receptive to his words. “The Collective’s impact on this quadrant is vast; nevertheless, we shouldn’t rely on that as the only common ground to find among others. Regardless, we are excited at the prospects ahead of us.”
“Well, I certainly hope we can keep this dialogue going, and I wish you all the best with your future endeavours,” Shrewmar stated. “Though, all I would say is that the space ahead of you crawls with Hirogen hunting parties. Sadly, we’ve never been able to deal with them, but I would certainly recommend you reach out to trading partners with the Kobali.”
“As long as my crew doesn’t appear dead to them, I am sure we could find another friend in them!” McCallister said with a smirk which enlisted some chuckles from the other two.
Feeling that their time together was coming to a natural end, Shrewmar stood up. “Well, captain, I would like to return home and ensure the final preparations for tomorrow’s signing are up to my standard. Furthermore, the Benthan Guard are preparing something special for your departure, which I would like to review.”
Cambil and McCallister stood up at the same time as the ambassador. His aides and escorts approached them. McCallister extended his hand towards the ambassador, who had learnt about this gesture only a few days and was very happy to shake his hand and Cambil’s.
“Well, we were happy to have you here one more time,” McCallister said. He glanced at Lieutenant Keli, loitering nearby, and told her to walk the ambassador and his entourage back to the transporter room.
“Thank you for your hospitality, and enjoy the rest of your evening,” Shrewmar said with a slight bow.
The two Starfleet captains watched side-by-side as he left the Auditorium and breathed relief when the doors closed.
Cambil turned to McCallister. “James, promise me we won’t be doing any diplomatic exchanges soon. I don’t think my face could deal with having to smile so much.” The Bajoran woman rubbed her cheeks.
McCallister chuckled and nodded in agreement. “I like the ambassador and the Benthans, but this has undoubtedly been tiresome.”
“Did everything go without a hitch?” Flemen asked as he approached the two captains with Duncan by his side.
The fleet captain nodded to his chief diplomatic officer. “Once again, Craigen, you’ve pulled off another diplomatic miracle!”
“The signing ceremony is still taking place tomorrow?” Duncan checked.
“Yes, and the Benthan Guard is pulling out all the stops as we depart the system. A lot of pomp and circumstance,” Cambil added. “Seriously, Craigen, well done.”
Flemen smiled with a sense of pride in his work. “Thank you, ma’am and sir, for the opportunity. However, if you want to find a nice plain nebula or empty star system to explore, I would appreciate a short reprieve.”
The two captains laughed at the similarities they had only just shared with each only moments before Flemen had expressed the same thing.
“No promises, but we’ll see what we can do,” Cambil replied.
The intercom then went off. “Bridge to Fleet Captain McCallister,” spoke Lieutenant Marova.
Tapping his combadge, McCallister answered. “Go ahead, lieutenant.”
“Sorry for the interruption, sir, but the Bellerophon has just arrived ahead of schedule, and your brother is requesting he sees you, Captain Cambil and Commander Duncan at once.”
Surprised and curious as to why his brother and his ship were here, McCallister told his chief helm officer to have his brother meet them in his ready room. Then, after closing the channel, he ordered Flemen to take over the wrapping up of their party while he and the others left to deal with the sudden arrival of his brother.
“I thought the plan was to meet with Horatio after we left the system?” Cambil said as they entered the nearest turbolift.
“Deck one,” McCallister ordered as the doors closed behind him, Cambil and Duncan. “It was; they were meant to be mapping the nearby underspace corridors with Triton. I was hoping their work with our Turei guides would be enough to encourage them to meet with the Benthans.”
“One last ditch attempt to bring them to the table?” Duncan summarised.
McCallister nodded as the lift came to life, and he lent against its wall before crossing his arms. “Something like that, yeah. I know the Turei are a bit sceptical about being this far away from their territory. ”
Moments later, they were waiting for Horatio to arrive in the captain’s ready room. Eventually, the door chime went off, and the Bellerophon’s captain entered.
“Sorry for all of the drama of gatecrashing your party,” Horatio said as he walked quickly over to where the others were assembled.
“Everything okay, Horatio?” James asked.
Horatio raised his left hand, which held a PADD. “While working with the Turei, we tested our hyper-subspace communication device. We had sent a phased tachyon beam, containing a triaxilating signal off a nearby quantum singularity to connect with the rest of the deep space Federation communication relay network when we got this.” He passed the device to his brother.
James spent a few moments reading it. He sighed. “They want us to return home. We’d to leave for the Alpha Quadrant at once.”