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The Ambassador:
Chapter 1: Departure Day

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


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. We made friends and discovered new worlds. We learned. We built better ships. We rediscovered ancient technologies. We kept going.

The Central Alliance was founded on Dagon in the Fomalhaut system as a forum to give the Local Neighborhood a way to handle trade issues and to protect each other. As time went by, the Alliance became a federation of systems with a governing High Council. They recognized the need to keep in contact and and protect each other. They also needed to reach out to potential new allies and trading partners. They knew the risks of making first contact. They needed special teams and a training program.

So the Central Alliance High Council asked the Masters of Ras’alhague to create a training program. The Masters were widely known and highly respected as Keepers of the Five Elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth and as Adepts in the Ancient Arts of healing and fighting.

The Council of Nine agreed to create a program that would both reveal the character of the person and prepare those who could complete it to become one of these specially trained First Contact Ambassadors. It took a generation to develop the program and a few more to refine it. As time went by, the training became quite famous for its rigor and for the respect its graduates earned. Being able to complete the application requesting admission to the program required extensive preparation. Applicants were required to have studied multiple languages, historical perspectives, and all the core philosophies and ideas of at least one civilization, throughout its development. The physical requirements were more demanding. It was expected that these ambassadors be able to evade capture, fight, and improvise as needed. The training to become Keepers of the Elements as well as Adepts in the Ancient Arts would serve them well.

The Masters were selective about who they accepted for the program. It wasn’t always the best of the best. It wasn’t always by referral either. They looked for the ones who had overcome some difficulty, the ones who knew what hardship was, the ones who had the potential to achieve more and the character, determination, and will to make it happen. Those were the ones they wanted. The program was designed to be hard. If a candidate was not ready for hardship, they could not succeed.

The training was holistic and demanding. Agriculture, food, water, what is needed to grow food, how living things prosper and how they die were all essential parts of the training. How to develop character, courage, and build relationships with others was required learning. The trainees learned what it takes to grow food from seeds, what the land and the plants need to survive, how to make medicines from foods and herbs, how to cultivate a garden. They learned how to find and cultivate themselves, too. Character development was at the core of the training. As they prepared for graduation, some chose to make healing their focus and went on to further studies in medicine. Most of the graduates became trade negotiators and ambassadors.

The graduates were all formidable fighters and clever negotiators. They earned a reputation for being polite, fair, honest, shrewd, and not those to cross. Everyone who completed the program was well-received and well-liked. Being able to walk into a room or situation and have most everyone feel comfortable was something they all learned to do. It was a required skill.

Those who wanted to become ambassadors started out as part of a trade negotiation team to learn the issues for different worlds and what was in the existing treaties. They needed time to build trusted relationships with allies. Among those who became ambassadors, only a few held a First Contact Charter. A First Contact Charter gave the Ambassador the full backing of the Central Alliance High Council to make whatever decisions were required without consultations. They were careful in their selections with requirements for recommendations from colleagues and one of the Masters at Ras’alhague. After all, the person could be making decisions for the entire Alliance.



Ambassador Micha Lawrence had been born into a royal family long after the time royalty mattered to anyone. Her family had titles but not much else. She had wanted to be an Ambassador for the Central Alliance since she could remember. In all the videos and stories it seemed so glamorous and exiting to go to new places and meet new friends. But her parents died when she was a baby and her grandparents didn’t have enough money to send her to the special schools. They weren’t supportive, either. They didn’t think she should aim so high. They wanted her to get a clerk’s job or help her grandfather with the printing shop. So she studied at night, after work, during any free time she had. It wasn’t easy helping her grandmother with chores and working with her grandfather at his printing shop. As she had gotten older, her grandfather had let her help make the old-fashioned, elaborate binding books for the Alliance Treaties. She’d ask about the treaties and how the Ambassadors could get them to agree. Her grandfather would scold her. “Leave the questions of how to negotiate trade to others. Don’t be so adventurous,” he’d say.

She tried several times. Finally, she was accepted by the Masters at Ras’alhague. Life on Ras 2 was primitive. There were few conveniences. That was part of the training. She was selected to join the House of Tu led by Master Tai Aragon, a Keeper of Earth and Adept of the 9th Level. She became lifetime friends with Sentar, Maru, Galen, and B’ani. She earned the honored place of First Disciple. It meant she would inherit the House of Tu when Master Tai passed away.

She spent time as a negotiator and as an assistant trade ambassador developing her diplomatic and negotiation skills. She received considerable recognition and a few medals for her work in brokering agreements and settling disputes. After she completed several missions that could have turned out quite differently were it not for her skills, she was offered and accepted a First Contact Charter.

She had 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 had to fight her way out a few times, too.

She paced the clean marble floor outside the High Council Chambers. A tall set of ornate doors took up most of the inner wall. Well-spaced woven silk carpets muffled her footsteps. She wasn’t tall but she wasn’t short either. She was pretty but not overtly so. Her long, dark-blonde hair was braided over her left shoulder. She was dressed in the formal gold and rust color robes of a Keeper of Earth with a simple dark red woven belt wrapped around her waist. Her Ambassador’s sash with several medals hung across her right shoulder. Her First Contact pin was set on her collar. It’s eight jewels glistened in the clear light from the atrium windows above.

The Ambassador's First Pontact Pin

The pin had a simple, elegant design. The base was flat gold with a ring of gold braid inside the rim. Frank Drake’s iconic pulsar map for the Pioneer Plaque was engraved in the center. Eight small jewels were arranged in three dimensions to match the relative positions of the eight original members of the Central Alliance: Sol, Eridani, Procyon, Vega, Altair, Fomalhaut, Ras’alhague, and Aldebaran.

The inner doors began to open slowly outward.

“Ambassador Micha Lawrence,” the clerk called out.

The Ambassador took a breath and straightened, confident and humble at the same time. Her robes swayed gently as she walked into the chamber. She moved gracefully with a traveler’s determined gait. Worn, well-polished boots covered the space between her robes and the floor. 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 slightly as she brought her hands down to her sides. It was an old-fashioned elegant gesture the Keepers all used. The original meaning was complicated. The common meaning was simply ‘I offer you peace.’

She looked up at the Council members.

The twelve members of the Central Alliance High Council sat on a raised platform in a semi-circle around a large, open floor. Carved oak columns supported a curved ceiling. Ebony panels inlaid with mother of pearl fronted the council seats providing an imposing view and a barrier.

Each of the High Council members wore a formal black robe with different colored scarves draped over their shoulders and bands on their sleeves to identify their roles on the Council and their home planets.

Council President Aliel Smbarak sat in the center chair. Her shoulder-length black hair framed her face. Her antique gold earrings almost matched her eyes. She wore three scarves: dark red, yellow gold, and spring green. The green represented Dagon, her home world; the red and gold her roles in Medicine and Agriculture. Her sleeves were trimmed in gold braid to show her role as Council President.

A clerk and two assistants sat at tables just below the council members’ seats. They were recording the proceedings.

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

“We have a problem,” Minister Daru said. He wasn’t much for pleasantries.

The Ambassador turned to look at him with a questioning gaze and a smile, waiting for him to go on. She wanted to challenge him. ‘Ok. Sure. That’s why you called me here. Might you be just a little more specific?’ she thought. But she didn’t say it. It wouldn’t help.

President Smbarak frowned at him and turned to look at the Ambassador. “We’re getting more reports about the Olmeri. Several of our trading partners are reporting problems with their shipments of grains and other staples.”

“What sort of problems, Madame President?” the Ambassador asked.

President Smbarak looked down and shook her head. “Disruptions in deliveries, spoiled containers, booked shipments not delivered. There are too many things that have ‘not gone smoothly.’ And now, we’re getting reports of Olmeri raiders scouting other sectors.” She took a breath and sighed.

The Ambassador frowned. “What do our traders say?”

“They don’t,” Minister Rang said sharply. “They don’t tell us anything. Nothing. They won’t give us any details. 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.”

The Ambassador listened carefully. He was just repeating the problem. He wasn’t adding anything new. “Is that what’s happening, though, Minister? What have they tried? Why did they fail?”

President Smbarak turned her head slightly and looked at the Ambassador. “That is the question we want you to answer, Ambassador.”

The Ambassador looked at her with concern and raised her eyebrows. “I see.”

President Smbarak shook her head and looked down at a small screen. “The latest reports we have are from traders near Ka’len in the Hyades Cluster.”

Minister Pargals couldn’t resist. “And that is where you are going,” he said wagging his finger at the Ambassador.

The Ambassador turned, shifted backward, and looked straight at President Smbarak, shaking her head ever so slightly. “Madame President? The Hyades Cluster is well outside the Local Neighborhood. It will take weeks just to get there.“ She raised her eyebrows, blinked a few times and smiled. ‘Please, oh please tell me that’s not where you are sending me,’ she thought.

Minister Daru shifted forward in his chair. “Well, yes. That’s why we want you to go there. We didn’t give you a First Contact Charter so you could take nice vacations. We’d rather not wait for the Olmeri to come closer.”

The Ambassador straightened and tried not to frown. ‘You want me to go where and do what?’ she thought.

President Smbarak smiled, nodded and shrugged her shoulders. “We need you get to Ka’len and get a treaty with them before the Olmeri arrive. Do whatever you can to stop the Olmeri.”

“I appreciate your confidence in me,” the Ambassador said with more than a little skepticism.

President Smbarak looked directly at her. She wasn’t smiling any more. “We have assigned the Magellan to be your transport and your over watch. Make your preparations quietly, Ambassador. Don’t mention your mission to anyone until you are well underway. Not until you are out of the Local Neighborhood. Even your team cannot know.”

“They are used to that.”

“Whatever you need, Ambassador.” President Smbarak looked 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,” the Ambassador said.

“Quietly, Ambassador. Quietly,” President Smbarak said.

The Ambassador nodded to her again, pasted a neutral smile on her face, bowed to the High Council members, and turned to leave. ‘Whoo boy, this is a doozy. But sure. I’ll go out there and see what I can do. Thanks ever so,’ she thought as she walked out of the chamber.

Confirm Settings

The Ambassador’s  Apartment on Dagon

The Ambassador was sitting in bed with a glass of wine watching an old Earth film, The Sound of Music.

The comm link chimed.

“Micha, are you awake?” President Smbarak asked.

The Ambassador sat up, put the wine glass down on the bedside table, and switched on the video. “Yes, Aliel.”

Aliel’s face appeared on the screen. “What’s that in the background? Children singing?”

Micha smiled. “I’m watching an old Earth film called The Sound of Music. It’s about a wealthy family with quite a few children. The children were singing a song about something called a cuckoo. It’s lovely, Aliel, just lovely. You’d like it. You would.”

Aliel smiled. “I saw that film once. I did like first part with the children singing. But the next part I don’t like very much.” She looked at the almost empty wine glass. “How many glasses of wine have you had?”

Micha raised her hand with the last three fingers up. “Just two. I don’t really have anything else to do. We’re all packed and well, everything is ready. We’re all good.”

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

Micha blinked a few times and smiled. “No. Thanks for asking though. Everything is good. We’re all good.”

Aliel lowered her eyes and shook her head then looked up. “Really? All good? Micha, what did you? No, no, no, don’t tell me.” She raised her hand palm out, shook her head, and laughed. “I don’t want to know. I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. I know you too well.”

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

Aliel shook her head. “I wish it was. Traders returning through the Aldebaran system have sent new reports of Olmeri activity along the edge of the Orion Arm. We haven’t had reports like this before.”

Micha leaned forward. “Like what?”

Aliel sat back in her chair. “Several of our more reliable trading partners for grains and other staples have stopped trading with our buyers. The buyers are not able to pick up their shipments.”

Micha nodded. “We knew that was happening. It’s part of why I’m leaving in the morning. What’s different now?”

Aliel looked down and shook her head. “The traders inquired. The Olmeri replied that it was their choice to trade with others or not.”

Micha sat back. “Oh crap.”

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

Micha frowned. “They aren’t just scouting anymore.”

Aliel shook her head. “No. And they are moving more quickly. We had reports from our trading partners in that sector about the Olmeri scouting sorties just last year.”

Micha sat back a little more and turned to one side shaking her head. “Did they give you any better idea of what the Olmeri are looking for? What do they want?”

Aliel shook her head. “No. We only know that they seem to be, how to say, moisson les planètes, harvesting planets.”

Micha squinted and frowned. “Récolter pour quoi? Harvesting for what?”

Aliel shrugged. “Je ne sais pas. I don’t know. Once they arrive, we lose trade. Then communications.”

Micha shook her head and laughed. “Quelle pagaille! What a mess! And you are sending me to go meet them? Thanks ever so. How is it you always seem to find the very best assignments for me?”

“You are so very welcome,” Aliel said with a grin. Then, she became serious. “Micha, if anyone can figure out something, it’s you. With everything you know about agribusiness and your training, you are the best chance we have at finding a solution. I don’t like sending you out there. Other than some traders, we don’t have allies in that sector. You’ll be mostly on your own. We don’t have any good options. We need to find out what is going on and we must find a way to stop the Olmeri before they get any closer,” she said. She took a deep breath and smiled. “You’re scheduled to depart first thing in the morning. Try to get some rest now.”

Micha frowned and looked at her sideways. “Like I’m going to sleep well after this conversation.”

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

Micha grinned. “I can do that!”

Aliel shook her head and chuckled. “Make sure your alarm is set.”

Micha sat up proudly. “Already done!”

Aliel nodded. “Micha, I know it won’t be easy. Keep your eyes open. Whatever you need…,”

“Just ask. Thanks!” Micha said, finishing the sentence.

They both laughed. Aliel might scold her or question her, but if she needed something, all she needed to do was ask. Aliel always found a way.

Micha lowered her eyes then looked up at the screen. “Seriously though, Aliel. Thanks. I appreciate you looking out for me. You always make sure I have what I need.”

Aliel smiled and nodded. “Safe journey, Micha. I look forward to seeing you back here in a few weeks.”

Micha nodded. “Thank you, Aliel.” She closed the comm link, got up and poured another glass of wine. She went back to the bed, took a few sips, curled up with a pillow, and fell asleep just as the lead male character in the film was singing a song about a flower that only grows in the mountains and blossoms in the snow, Edelweiss.

Getting Ready

The Ambassador’s Apartment on Dagon

The Ambassador was curled up on her bed sleeping. The room was quiet and dark. An alarm chime started, softer at the beginning. She had a standard garden apartment with a large living room, comfortable kitchen, a bedroom suite, a spare room she used as an office, and a patio. The patio was her favorite place to sit and think.

She switched the alarm 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 shook her head gently, swung her legs over the edge of the bed, started to get up, and sat back down. She sat there rubbing her knees for just a minute. ‘Getting up earlier than usual isn’t as easy as it used to be,’ she thought. ‘Maybe I should leave this work to someone younger. Stay home. Putter in the garden. Teach. There are some candidates who showed promise this year. Maybe I should go visit Ras 2 after I get back?’ She stood up and put a wrap over her shoulders.

The warm aroma of fresh-brewed coffee drifted into the room. She sniffed the air. ‘It was supposed to start at 4:00?’ she thought. She looked at the clock. It was just after. She let her nose lead her out of the room. She waved her hand across a small panel as she entered the kitchen. Four muted lights came on under the cabinets. The coffee was still brewing.

She picked up a cup and poured just a bit. She liked a little of the sharp bitter taste that only very strong coffee had. 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. She held the cup close with two hands for just a second. She smiled at the warmth and bittersweet aroma.

She walked through the kitchen and opened the door to go out onto the patio. The before-morning air was cool and crisp. She turned around and went back to her room. She slid her feet into a pair of slippers and picked up a sweater, putting it on as she went back to the kitchen.

She stopped to fill her cup with the now-finished coffee and went out onto the patio. It was quiet in the stillness before dawn. Even the birds weren’t up yet. She looked up at the stars and thought back to when she’d first started her training on Ras 2. ‘The stars aren’t so different there. Not that different at all. Maybe after this mission I will go visit again.’ She looked up and smiled sadly. “I know you’re out there,” she whispered.

She took a sip from her cup and looked out at the back garden. She started pacing along the low stone wall surrounding her patio. There were more shadows than light. It was a quarter moon night. A few crickets chirped in a bamboo stand. An owl called from one of the tall trees. Several dark birds fluttered in and out among the top branches. ‘It’s too early for birds,’ she thought shaking her head. She stopped pacing and watched the movement. ‘Not birds. Bats.’ She looked down into her almost empty cup then out at the garden one more time. She paced a little more and shook her head sadly. “What do they want? What do the Olmeri really want? What they are doing makes no sense. Why destroy whole planets?”

She sighed and went inside.


The Ambassador’s Apartment on Dagon

The Ambassador turned on more lights as she went into the kitchen. She refilled her cup, leaned back against the counter and took a sip.

A chime sounded and a comm terminal lit up. She left it on audio only.

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

The Ambassador smiled at the sound of his voice. “Good Morning, N’amani. You’re up early.”

“It’s almost 5:30 Ambassador.”

“So it is. Seems I wasn’t paying attention to the time. Thank you for the reminder. With all you have to do to get us ready to leave, I appreciate you made time to call me. I have my coffee in hand. I’ll be ready in 30 minutes.”

“You are very welcome, Ambassador. Also, those additional supplies you requested,“ he hesitated.

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

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

The Ambassador switched on the video. “You what? You have everything? How did you manage? No, don’t tell me. You have everything? Everything? Really?”

N’amani nodded. “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.”

The Ambassador laughed out loud. “Already on the Magellan? On already board? Heeee Ha He ho ho!!!” she said. “Oh really? You’re a magician! What did you do? How did you?”

N’amani smiled proudly. “Nothing too much. Some bargaining here and there. 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. I’m afraid we will have to find a way to manually repack those.” He was trying not to laugh. It wasn’t working. He put his hand over his mouth and chuckled just a little.

The Ambassador doubled over with laughter almost spilling her coffee. “I’m sure we’ll find a way to manage. I’ll help. The Doctor and Beth will too. And Kell, oh, he’s going to enjoy this! You are amazing, N’amani. Thank you!”

“You are welcome Ambassador,” N’amani replied with a bigger smile.

“Thank you again, N’amani. I’ll see you shortly,” the Ambassador said happily. She closed the comm link, picked up her coffee, and walked back to her room to shower and get dressed. She’d already set out her travel clothes. ‘N’amani is so much more than I could have asked for. Somehow, he just knows what to do and how to get it done. I wish the Council had assigned him sooner,’ she thought, remembering how she’d learned he was being assigned to her delegation and their first mission together.

Progress Report (Recall)

President Smbarak’s Office On Dagon

President Smbarak was seated behind a large, ornate desk in an oval office. Ivory slats filtered the light from the tall windows behind her. Bookshelves lined the walls. A ficus tree took up one corner. Several plants were set around the room. A plush green carpet with an oval flower medallion had been placed on the hardwood floor in front of her desk. The Ambassador was standing on the carpet.

President Smbarak frowned and shook her head. “You knew we weren’t happy with your ‘went there did stuff’ summaries.” She held up a small screen then put it face down on her desk.

“Well, yes,” the Ambassador replied.

“So, why didn’t you write your reports?“ President Smbarak tilted her head to one side and frowned at the question.

The Ambassador smiled just a little. “I don’t like writing reports.”

President Smbarak laughed then frowned. “But you are required to write them. It’s not optional.”

The Ambassador turned her head to one side and pouted. “Doesn’t make me like doing it.“

President Smbarak chuckled. “I take your point. But we can’t let it continue. We’re assigning you an acting Chief of Staff until you find someone.”

The Ambassador frowned. “I’ve been looking.“

President Smbarak raised her eyebrows. “For almost a year?”

The Ambassador looked off to one side. “Well,… “

President Smbarak shook her head. “And your last requisitions report?“

The Ambassador smiled and shrugged. “What’s another case of wine or a few bottles of good sunflower oil among friends?”

President Smbarak frowned. “It was more than a few.” She turned her head to one side and frowned.

The Ambassador smiled proudly. “It was for a good cause.”

President Smbarak looked at her and shook her head. She picked up another small screen and held it up. “N’amani Anrmlar will be joining your team.”

The screen showed a formal image of a tall, well-built, dark brown male with a slight blue tint to his hair and skin, a square face, and kind, thoughtful eyes. He was wearing an impeccably tailored black dashiki with an intricate gold inlay at the collar. He had a subtle smile that hinted he knew what was going on.

The Ambassador was curious and a bit taken aback. He looked like he really could get things done. She liked that very much. “You’re assigning a Elronym Administrator as my Chief of Staff? You must really want those reports!”

President Smbarak smiled broadly. “Why, yes. Yes we do.”

They both laughed.

The Elronym were well-known for their administrative, logistics, and organizing skills. They were exceptional at keeping track of things. Their Administrators were some of the most sought after in the Alliance. Having an Elronym Administrator meant all the reports, requisitions, and supplies would be accounted for, reported, and managed. It also meant they’d get their supplies. Besides accounting for things, the Elronym were experts at acquiring whatever was needed.

President Smbarak lowered the screen. “We’ve already talked with N’amani.”

“Oh,” the Ambassador said shaking her head.

President Smbarak nodded and smiled. “Once he gets your backlog cleared and your budgets up to date, you can find someone else if you want.”

The Ambassador raised her eyebrows. “I haven’t met him yet.”

President Smbarak smiled. “Tomorrow. You’re scheduled to meet him here to start his orientation.”

The Ambassador shook her head. “That seems quick. Monday next week wouldn’t be late.”

President Smbarak sighed, “Minister Pargals has been screaming about these reports for weeks. The only way to shut him up was to tell him we would ask N’amani if he would take this assignment. Luckily, N’amani agreed. So you got him. Now, please give me something to placate Minister Pargals. Quickly?”

The Ambassador nodded sympathetically. “We’ll get started in the morning. I didn’t realize. Thanks for taking care of it. I’ll help N’amani as much as I can. We’ll get it sorted out. Don’t worry.”

President Smbarak looked up and smiled gratefully. “Thank you.”

The Ambassador dropped her chin, turned her head, and looked up just a little, “Can I go now?”

President Smbarak giggled and nodded.

The Ambassador grinned and turned to leave.

N’amani had turned out to be so much more than she could have asked for. He naturally took over managing things. He could walk into any room with ease and be at the center of at least a few conversations. He seemed to instinctively know what needed to be done and did it. He was extremely practical, always on time and he kept track of everything with ease. Better yet, he could fight.

Continue (Recall)

A Resort Meeting Room On Sirius 7

The Ambassador and N’amani had gone to Sirius 7 the week after he was assigned. She had been told a senior trade emissary wanted a quiet meeting to discuss some local tariffs related to a new treaty. Nothing unusual about that. The Alliance wanted to get the issues sorted out.

The Ambassador and N’amani walked through a set of glass doors that opened to a five-story atrium. Small balconies jutted out from each floor. Long philodendrons hung over the railings.

“This is nice,” the Ambassador said looking up through the skylights.

“They built a glass mountain and brought the plants inside,” N’amani said appreciatively.

They walked across a rustic tile floor to the front desk. The clerk pointed to an open door at the end of a carpeted hallway behind them. They walked down the hallway to the room.

“This doesn’t seem right,” N’amani said. “There should at least be a seating area and a couple of side tables. This room looks like it hasn’t been used in quite some time.”

“This shelf is a bit dusty,” the Ambassador said tracing a line on top of a cabinet. “What’s over there?” She pointed to a partly-open panel in one of the walls.

N’amani walked over and opened it. He leaned forward to look inside. “Storage.”

The Ambassador shook her head. “This room is not set up for a meeting.”

N’amani started towards the door. “It’s not set up for anything. I’ll go back to the desk and check. Maybe we got the wrong room.”

“I don’t think so. This is where he wanted us to go,” the Ambassador said nodding her head. She frowned and looked around the room.

“Why?” N’amani asked.

Just then, another of the side panels in the wall opened. Three fairly large and not-so-friendly-looking males came through the opening and formed a line.

The Ambassador smiled at them and her eyes grew cold. “Why indeed? It seems the greeting committee has arrived.”

“Ambassador,” N’amani said with a warning in his voice.

The Ambassador glanced over her shoulder to see four more scruffy males coming in through the door. “Oh great. We have an escort, too. N’amani, I was told you had some training?”

“Yes I do, Ambassador.”

“Do you know how to use it?”

“Yes, Ambassador.” He smiled just a little as he set his shoulders. He stepped quickly into the space behind the Ambassador facing the four coming in through the door.

“Good,” she said over her shoulder. “Now would be the time.”

The three thugs that had come through the panel started towards the Ambassador.

The Ambassador waited for them to get closer. The one in the center tried to grab her. She trapped his wrist and twisted into him, breaking his elbow and dropping him to the ground. As she moved behind, she kicked the second one in the groin with a back heel kick and broke his knee as she brought her foot down. When the third one tried to grab her, she trapped his arm and spun into him, dislocating his shoulder and breaking two of his ribs.

The four that had come in through the door separated to form a box around N’amani.

N’amani smiled. ‘I couldn’t have set this up better if I tried,’ he thought. He settled into his legs and dropped his shoulders as he picked his targets. He moved before they could react. He turned to his left, stepping into the first thug with a double strike to his ribs and chin that sent him flying into the wall. He spun around to the opposite corner and took out the next one, and quickly spun toward the adjacent corner to strike the third thug. One more turn took out the last one.

The Ambassador smiled as he stopped after the last turn. “Fair Lady Works the Shuttles.”

N’amani nodded. “I like the turns.”

“It shows.” The Ambassador grinned her Cheshire cat smile.

N’amani looked down a little with humble pride, then he looked up and smiled.

“Seems we may have been in the right place after all,” the Ambassador said.

N’amani shook his head and frowned. “Right place for what?”

The Ambassador shrugged and smiled. “Someone wanted a meeting with us, didn’t they?”

N’amani nodded. “We should go.”

The Ambassador pointed around the room at their attackers on the floor. “They will probably need medical attention.”

“Let’s call from the ship. We should go,” N’amani said pointing to the door.

The Ambassador nodded.

They left quickly.

Finishing Setup

The Ambassador’s Apartment On Dagon

The Ambassador had showered and dressed. The towels had been hung on the shower door and the sink was clean. She finished tying her hair and stepped back to look in the mirror. She smiled as she fastened her First Contact pin to her collar. She was quite proud of the pin. She’d earned it.

She wore a simple cream color blouse, darker beige tunic, grey pants, and comfortable old shoes. Her favorite red belt was tied around her waist. Some sort of tunic, blouse, and pants were common for travelers on so many worlds she’d adopted the style. She had long ago learned that if she didn’t want to be seen, she should dress simply, in neutral colors. It gave her the ability to blend in with the locals just about anywhere and that had gotten her out of trouble more than once.

She looked around one more time and turned out the lights as she left. She took a long black cloak off a hook by the door and put it on. “N’amani,” she asked through the comm link.

“Yes, Ambassador,” N’amani replied.

“Please let the Magellan know we are on our way.”

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

“Thank you. I will see you shortly.” She closed the link, picked up her personal bag, slung it over her shoulder, and walked out into the clear morning light.

Begin Transit

Diplomatic Compound Garden On Dagon

The sun was just coming up. A slight breeze brought the crisp fragrance of fresh baked bread and hot cooking oil. The Ambassador lived in a large building complex that was part of the Central Alliance governing compound. It had a mix of comfortable apartments, shops and offices, walled gardens with large shade trees and embedded security. A wide sidewalk circled the flower beds in front of her building. Just beyond the flower beds, the sidewalk split into three directions. One direction led to the center of the compound and the High Council Chambers. Another direction led to more residences. The third direction led to the North Gate.

The Ambassador took the path to the North Gate. She liked walking through the gardens.

The gardens were a combination of rocks and flower beds with small pools scattered throughout. Today, the larger roses had been trimmed back and were just starting to get new leaves. The groundskeepers had put fresh dirt around some new peonies. A few miniature roses in the next bed were just starting to open. Trees and shrubs along the back walls of the compound made it seem as if they were in a small village somewhere, not the center of Dagon’s Capital City.

She frowned a little as she walked through the North gate. ‘This mission is going to be difficult anyway,’ she thought. ‘If only I could figure out how to keep Captain Sorrensen occupied with something so she’s not always nagging and complaining, looking for something to criticize. It’s really going to be hard to keep out of her way on this one. We’re going to need her skills. She’s so good at extractions.’ She shook her head and sighed. ‘I don’t really want to start out having to argue with her. What does she want to see me about? It can’t be good.’ She shook her head again.


Transport Stations and Terminals

Several public transport stations were located just outside the North Gate. The stations were small, open-air buildings with entrances and exits on all four sides. The Ambassador walked into the station. An array of different-sized platforms took up the center of the floor. It was early and not crowded. Two other travelers were leaving. Three had just arrived.

The Ambassador stepped onto one of the platforms. “Planetary departures,” she said. She instantly arrived on a similar platform, this time inside a two-story departure hall. It had wide windows along one wall and shops along another. A few of the shops were open. Travelers went in and out. A young man was sweeping the floor. An older woman was opening one of the shop doors.

The Ambassador stepped off the platform, took her credentials out of her pocket, and walked across a wide floor to the Diplomatic Departures Channel.

The guard looked up from his desk and saw the First Contact pin on her collar. He sat up a little straighter. “May I see your documents, Ambassador?”

The Ambassador presented her personal identification and health certifications.

“Thank you, Ambassador Lawrence. Your delegation has already been cleared. Good Luck.” He handed her documents back to her.

“Thank you,” the Ambassador replied, bowing a little as she took the documents from him.

She turned around to look back one more time, as if to record an image of the departure hall in her mind. She hoped 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 shook her head, took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and walked down a short hallway to the transport platform. ‘It’s going to be another adventure,’ she thought smiling. ‘It’s always an adventure.’


Space Station Arrivals

The Ambassador stepped off the platform on the space station. The transport area on the space station was secure and well lit. It was surrounded by thick glass walls. Only cleared arrivals were allowed.

The Ambassador went to the Diplomatic Arrivals lane and handed her identification to the guard.

“Welcome to Dagon 7, Ambassador Lawrence. Will you be staying with us?” the guard asked.

“No. I’m in transit, thank you,” the Ambassador replied. “I was told my delegation had already been cleared. We’re boarding the Magellan and will be departing the station as soon as our supplies are loaded.”

“Yes, Ambassador. Your delegation has arrived on the station. Good luck Ambassador,” he said as he handed her credentials back to her.

“Thank you,” the Ambassador said taking them and putting them back in her pocket.

She stepped into the entry scanner and waited for the full-body scan. It only took a second.

She left the arrivals area and walked down a long, carpeted, glass-walled corridor to the departure hall. The space station was much busier than the ground station. Passengers and crews were preparing to leave and others were just arriving. Several ships were docked.

She looked up through the three-story windows. The Magellan was tethered to a docking pylon just outside. Her clean, classic lines were part of her beauty. The Magellan was designed for speed and agility with considerable visible and not so visible firepower. She was a warship; 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 a few parsecs in short order was very, very useful. The Ambassador had been on the Magellan for several missions. The Magellan was one of the best ships in the fleet. She was very happy it was going to be her transport. She smiled a little more remembering that N’amani had managed to get everything she asked for.

A small group in the uniforms of the Magellan were standing off to one side below the windows.

She walked over to them. “Good Morning, I’m Ambassador Lawrence. I was told that Captain Sorrensen wanted to see me. Could one of you let her know I’m here?”

Everyone in the group turned to face her. “Good Morning Ambassador,” they said in unison.

A tall, slightly heavy young woman with pixie cut brown hair was standing just behind the others looking at a small screen. She stepped forward and smiled warmly. “It’s good to see you again, Ambassador.”

“It’s good to see you too, Commander Brandon.”

Commander Brandon shifted her weight to one side, swallowed, and took a deep breath. “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.” She pointed towards an alcove with a stairway on the other side of the departure hall.

The Ambassador tried not to let her surprise show. This was unexpected. “Thank you, Commander.” She took a deep breath. ‘Not having to deal with Sorrensen could be a good thing,’ she thought. She’d heard good things about Logan. He was well-regarded and capable. But this would be their first meeting and their first mission. ‘Not my preference. Not for this one,’ she thought, realizing she would need to use the Ancient Arts to find out who he was. She didn’t like doing it, but she was being asked to trust him with this mission and the lives of her team. She needed to know more than small talk would reveal.

She went up a short flight of stairs to a landing. She took off her First Contact pin and put it in her pocket. Then, she continued up the second flight.


Space Station Arrivals Mezzanine

Captain Logan was leaning on the railing above the main floor, watching the station arrivals platform. He was tall, well-built with sandy hair and a square jaw. He looked up with surprise as the Ambassador came out of the stairwell.

“I’m sorry, this area is restricted. Can I help you find your transport?” the Captain asked as politely as he could. She was wearing common travel clothes, neat but not fancy. She wasn’t tall, but she wasn’t short either. She had dark blonde hair, braided and draped over one shoulder with a bag on the other.

“Thank you,” the Ambassador replied smiling. “Yes, you could help me with that.”

The Captain blinked a couple of times. She reminded him of 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. “Perhaps if you tell me where you are going?”

Imperceptibly, the Ambassador centered her weight and began to slow her breathing. “Yes, I could tell you where I am going,” she said nodding to him. She focused on radiating calm and trust. Of all the Ancient Arts, this was one of the most intrusive. She began to open her mind, reaching straight into his heart. She could see what he held dear and who he was. He could not hide. He didn’t need to say anything. She simply knew. She was pleased. He had courage. He was quick. And he could be stubborn.

The Captain shifted back a bit. He looked around, puzzled. He squirmed and tugged at the collar of his shirt to open it. He closed his shoulders a little to the front as if trying to stop a punch to his chest. He began to feel warmer, as if the temperature had just gone up 10 degrees. He felt like every part of him was being examined. Then it was over. He was not quite sure what just happened. Oddly, he wasn’t anxious about it. He had a pervasive sense of peacefulness and tranquility. He took a slow, deep breath and turned his attention back to the woman.

“So where are you going?” the Captain asked directly. He was beginning to get frustrated with her. He’d like to meet the ambassador he was supposed to transport and get underway. He was tired of playing guessing games with a lost old lady.

The Ambassador’s smile got bigger. “I am going there.” She pointed at the starts through the windows.

“Yes, of course you are. And how are you going to get there?” the Captain 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. He was expecting an ambassador. He didn’t want to be minding some old woman.

“I have a ship. A very nice ship,” the Ambassador replied.

“Does your ship have a name?” the Captain asked.

The Ambassador supressed a smile. ‘It’s hard to keep this going,’ she thought. ‘He’s already told me everything I need to know. Maybe I should, nah, one more.’ She frowned. “Of course my ship has a name. And a Captain, too!” she said impatiently.

“Could you tell me what the name of your ship is?” the Captain asked. Every time he asked her something, she gave him a clear answer. But it wasn’t the answer he was looking for or expecting.

The Ambassador glanced down to the departure floor and looked around to distract him.

The Captain followed her gaze. ‘Maybe there’s someone?’ he thought.

While he was looking away, the Ambassador reached into her pocket, took out her pin, and put it back on. She turned to face him, her pin now clearly visible on her collar. “I could tell you the name of my ship. And so could you,” she said with a big smile. She crossed her arms in front of her chest, extended her hands outward with the palms up, and brought them down to her sides. “I am Ambassador Micha Lawrence. I’m pleased to meet you, Captain.”

Captain Logan smiled. He recognized the greeting and grimaced a little, realizing she’d just tested him. “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.

“So, it seems I, um, passed your test?”

“Yes, Captain,” the Ambassador replied smiling. She gestured toward a small conference room.

The room was disused but clean. The Ambassador took a seat at a small table on one side of the room. The Captain closed the door and sat down across from her.

The Ambassador smiled. “It seems congratulations are in order. The Magellan is a good ship. You have an excellent crew. Commander Brandon is one of the best resource officers in the fleet.”

The Captain nodded. “Thank you. Frankly, 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. But there were 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,” the Ambassador said frowning. “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,” the Captain replied.

“Excellent!” the Ambassador replied, with a big Cheshire cat grin. “But you don’t seem too happy.”

The Captain frowned a little and nodded. “Frankly, I’m not particularly happy about not knowing where we are going or what we are going to do. But I’m going to do whatever you need me to do and I’m going to make sure we all come home.”

The Ambassador smiled. 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. “I hope we don’t need the options for leaving on less than friendly terms this time.” She turned her head sideways, frowning and nodding with the implication that they could be needed. “We are going to the Hyades Cluster to meet with the High Council of Ka’len to establish a regular relationship, 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,” the Captain said. “So your first-contact charter really does mean first-contact, doesn’t it. The Hyades cluster is almost 60 light years on the other side of Aldebaran. We don’t have many partners in that sector.” He sat back grinning with excitement and just a bit of apprehension.

“Indeed, Captain,” the Ambassador said. 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.”

The Captain nodded.

“Captain Logan,” Commander Brandon’s voice came through his comm link.

“Yes Commander,” the Captain acknowledged.

“We have all the Ambassador’s supplies loaded. Her detail is waiting at the departure gate. We are ready to depart as soon as you come on board.”

“Thank you, Commander. We are on our way,” the Captain said as he stood up.

“Yes, sir,” Commander Brandon replied.

“Shall we go, Ambassador?” the Captain said gesturing towards the door. “Are the other members of your detail as interesting as you are?”

“I’d say more so, Captain,” the Ambassador replied with a wry grin and a twinkle in her eyes. “Shall we go meet them?”

The Captain stepped back to let her go out first. He was even more curious now. It wasn’t often that the emissaries he’d transported had a full delegation. This was the first Ambassador he’d transported and she was turning out to be quite a character.


Space Station Departures

The Captain and the Ambassador walked along the Mezzanine towards the departure area at the end of the promenade. Travelers, some in various uniforms, were going in and out of the shops below. The central part of the inside wall was designed to replicate terraces on a mountain side, with stairs and small alcoves for sitting. Vines trailed along rock walls. Trees of various sizes mimicked a small forest. Intricate lighting created the feeling of a cool morning. The sprinklers sprayed a fine mist over rows of spring flowers.

The Ambassador turned her head up slightly and smiled. “It smells nice, here. Almost like my garden. And the spring flowers. Peonies and crocus, daffodils and daylilies, and so many different colored tulips. It almost planetary.”

“It’s some of the best eco-replication I’ve seen. It looks natural, like the plants just happened to be growing there,” the Captain said with appreciation.

The Ambassador looked up at the Magellan through the high windows as they walked into the departure hall. The lights of the station reflected along her sides against the black of space. “The Magellan is a fine ship, Captain. A fine ship,” she said quietly.

The Captain followed her gaze and smiled. “Yes, the Magellan is a very fine ship.” He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. He looked at the gate and scanned the departure hall for a group that might be her delegation. He spotted a group of four scruffy people standing below the main window. They looked more like not so well to do tourists with old beat-up luggage. ‘What are they doing here? That can’t be?’ he thought.

The Ambassador had spotted them and was half-way across the floor.

The Captain hurried to catch up with her.

N’amani was standing with his back to the windows facing into the departure hall. He saw her coming, lowered his chin slightly to acknowledge he saw her, and straightened a little.

The others turned around.

“Good Morning,” the Ambassador said grinning. “I’m very happy to see you all here with your luggage.”

They all grimaced a little and then smiled as if she’d just given them cookie.

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 agile. They weren’t bringing anything they didn’t need.

“Yes, indeed, we’re ready to go. Where are we going again?” the Doctor asked.

The Ambassador smiled and pointed at the ship. “We are going for a ride on the Magellan, Doctor,” she said impatiently. She wagged her finger at him. “You know better! However, I do have something we should talk about. Please allow me to introduce Captain Alexander Logan. He’s the new commander of the Magellan. Captain Sorrensen was promoted and has been reassigned,” she said smiling.

Everyone got a little stiff trying to hide their surprise.

“Thank you, Ambassador,” the Captain said stepping up next to her. “I’m pleased to meet all of you. I look forward to having you on board.” He was already a bit in awe of her, a bit nervous about his new command, and not at all sure what he should say.

The Ambassador tried not to laugh. “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, organizing, and preparations of all sorts.” She extended her hand toward N’amani.

N’amani stepped forward and nodded. He was squarely built and just a little taller than the Captain. He was wearing a comfortable dark red shirt and black pants. “Pleased to meet you, Captain Logan.” He took a step back.

Captain Logan nodded to him. He wasn’t really surprised that she had an Elronym Administrator in her delegation. He’d met the Elronym several times. They were exceptional administrators and could be formidable fighters.

The Ambassador gestured to the Doctor to step forward. “Doctor Marcus Gray. Marc is our team doctor, chef, and all around good humor guy. He keeps us happy and well-fed.”

“I’m quite good with medical things, too,” the Doctor said, grinning playfully and waving. He was slender with a boyish face and a curious sense of enjoyment.

Captain Logan couldn’t help but laugh. The only way to describe the Doctor was that he was simply happy.

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

Beth was standing just behind N’amani. She was the youngest of the group. Her fiery red curls and pixie face made her look even younger. She stepped to one side, nodded to the Captain, and quickly stepped back behind N’amani. She was quite shy unless she was behind a camera.

The Captain smiled and nodded to her.

“Kell is my pilot,” the Ambassador said, a note of pride audible in her voice.

Kell stepped forward and nodded to the Captain. He was wearing a dark grey traveler’s shirt, tunic, and pants similar to what the others were wearing. He was a little taller than the Ambassador, slender with dark hair.

The Captain nodded to him politely as he would to any other pilot. Then, he started sizing him up. ‘He seems a little young to be her pilot,’ he thought. His eyes stopped at Kell’s hands. Kell had quite open hands with rather long fingers. He looked up at Kell and over to the Ambassador and back at Kell, curious, puzzled and in awe all at once.

Kell smiled an impish grin and nodded to the Captain. ‘She’s done it again,’ he thought. “I do so like these kinds of introductions.’ He winked at the Ambassador.

The Captain turned to the Ambassador and tried really hard not to trip over his words. “You, you, you have an Aldaran pilot?” he asked, his jaw not quite able to close.

First of all, the 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 pilots, really, really good and rightfully proud of their skills. 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,” the Ambassador replied. “He’s got quite a perspective on this part of the galaxy. He’s very 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.

Access Granted

Space Station / Magellan Gateway

Captain Logan walked over to a large open doorway. It had thick metal doors set into the walls. A palm scanner was set into a metal side panel. Just beyond, a transport platform was visible at the end of a short passageway.

The Captain stepped up to the door and put his hand on the palm scanner. “Prepare command transfer. Mark Time. Logan, Alexander. Theta twelve eighteen Gamma three Alpha Mu seven nine.”

A purple light came on and began passing over his body.

Maja, the Magellan’s AI, appeared in the center of the entryway. She could block or grant access to the ship. She wore a ship’s uniform. She looked like a human female in her early thirties with upswept brown hair, light brown skin, clear brown eyes, and perfectly-crafted bright gold earrings. She was not an ordinary AI. She 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. She could not disobey a direct order from the ship’s Captain.

Maja looked squarely at the Captain. “Voice, palm, DNA, medical records, access code. Match confirmed. Transferring all systems to your authorization, Captain Logan. Welcome aboard, Captain. You have command,” she said and stepped to one side. It wasn’t just a formality for her to say this. She was actually giving him full control of the ship, it’s systems, and all her programs.

The Captain paused and took a breath. “I have command.” His voice seemed 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 in his voice. She smiled. ‘Oh, I like him,’ she thought. ‘I like him.’

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

“Indeed Captain,” Maja replied smiling. She had been programmed with several types of humor, irony among them. She turned to the Ambassador. “Welcome back, Ambassador.”

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

Developing a bond with an AI had not been easy. Gradually, as she worked at it, the Ambassador began to understand the practical implications of Maja’s core programming. Then, she asked to have Maja modified with new branches for diplomacy. These included assessing patterns of behavior, physical responses, engagement, and cultivating confidence and trust. In addition, subroutines for ethics, rewards, and all sorts of things that supported the Ambassador’s missions were added. It took a little training. Maja adapted quickly and progress was rapid. The High Council had been very happy with the modifications. 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.

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

“No,” the Ambassador replied. “He will want to see the ship’s logs.”

Maja shook her head. “It may be difficult for him to understand. He has just come aboard.”

“I agree. Not all at once. Give him a day or two to adjust. Maybe you could be just a little slow at finding things. Offer him something similar while you are looking for what he wanted?”

“To distract him. I understand.”

“For now. Only for now. Once we are underway, I will tell him. He must know everything.”

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

The others had walked past them to the transport platform.

The Doctor waved to them. “Are you coming with?”

“Of course Doctor,” the Ambassador said smiling at him. “Thank you Maja,” she whispered, taking Maja’s arm.

They walked to the platform together.

The Captain stood up straight. “Guest Quarters, Section 3, Deck 8, Please Maja.”

Maja smiled. “Does he really think I don’t know where the guest quarters are?” she whispered to the Ambassador.

“Humor him,” the Ambassador giggled.

“Yes Captain,” Maja said as she engaged the transport.

New Settings

The Ambassador’s Quarters on the Magellan

The Guest Section was designed for those times when dignitaries or special guests from a planet might be invited on board. It was secured with restricted access and isolated from the rest of the ship by a system of locks. A network of hallways connected the guest living areas with several meeting rooms. Each meeting room offered a different perspective on the stars or planets outside. The Ambassador and her delegation had quarters in this section of the ship. It was convenient for her to be near any guests. It was also less of a distraction for the crew.

The Ambassador, N’amani, Kell, Beth, and the Doctor stepped off the transport platform into an open foyer with tall windows along both sides of a broad hallway. The Captain remained on the platform.

“Ambassador, I’ll take my leave for now,” the Captain said. “There are still a few things I need to do to get us underway.”

“Thank you, Captain. When you can, I’d like to have that briefing to go over the details of our mission.”

“I will let you know, Ambassador,” the Captain said nodding. “Bridge,” he said activating the transport platform.

The Doctor, Beth, Kell, and N’amani started towards their rooms.

“N’amani, may I have a minute?” the Ambassador asked motioning to him. She opened the door to her quarters. Her room was standard – a large open living space with a built-in seat along the outer wall, a panel separating the sleeping area from the main room, and an open doorway leading to a sink, toilet, and shower.

N’amani took a small cube out of his pocket. He put it in the center of his palm and walked around the room. The cube glowed green. “All clear, Ambassador.”

“Thank you, N’amani,” the Ambassador said shaking her head. “All this secrecy, even here. It makes no sense.”

“What makes no sense?”

“All the extra precautions we are taking.”

“Well, so far, I haven’t found any false walls. I will continue looking, of course,” N’amani replied, referring to their first mission together.

They both laughed.

N’amani set the cube on his palm again and did several spins before deftly sliding it back into his pocket. “Seriously though, you know you have friends on the Council. You know you have enemies, too. There are those on the Council who would like to see you fail. They may appear to support you and they will rally around if you succeed. But if you fail, they will be happy to make you a scapegoat.”

“I know. I know. I suspect that’s part of why Sorrensen was promoted. Not that she didn’t deserve it. She did. She’s one of the best captains I’ve ever worked with. She has great instincts and an impeccable sense of timing.”

“Being careful isn’t a bad thing, Ambassador. I have no wish to be pulling you out of any more piles of rubble. That last attempt on your life was much too close.”

The Ambassador smiled. “You made the headlines. Unknown Hero Saves Survivors. Nice image of you bringing that old man out on your back. It really was impressive. N’amani, I’m very glad you didn’t stop to talk with their press. It could have been a problem.”

N’amani smiled. “Their press were happy to talk to the old man’s family. He was apparently one of the local favorites. Always a kind word for everyone. There’s more to it, Ambassador.”

“More than you being a hero?” the Ambassador asked, a mix of pride and kindness in her voice.

“Yes,” N’amani said quietly

The Ambassador turned her head to one side and raised her eyebrows. N’amani knew what he could do and he wasn’t afraid of it – he embraced it. She liked that part. She liked his modesty even better. He didn’t try to make anything about him – it was always about the other person, the one he was doing something for. “What happened?”

N’amani took a breath. “That old man was really in bad shape when I got to him. I was with the search teams in the second building when I thought I heard a something. I followed the sound. I was clearing the debris to make a way through when I saw the old man huddled in a doorway, the walls collapsed all around him. He was half-buried under the rubble, shaking, afraid. Nothing I said reached him. I kept asking him to come with me. I told him I wanted to help him. But he was too scared. He couldn’t hear me. Finally I told him I was his transport. I was there to take him to see his children and had to get on board right now. When I knelt down to help him get up, he grabbed my shoulders, climbed on my back and put his arms around my neck like a small child hugging his father. He started shaking and sobbing. He kept hugging me and wouldn’t let go. He couldn’t talk. Even after I brought him out to his family, he didn’t want to let go of me. He finally took hold of his oldest grandson and let me go.”

“I didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were being treated for your own injuries,” N’amani replied with a shrugg. “It didn’t seem important.”

“Sometimes the smallest actions can make the biggest difference. That old man is never going to forget you. I’m more than pleased you found him.”

N’amani nodded and smiled. “I’m glad I was there to do it.”

The Ambassador smiled at him. She began pacing the floor. “What do you know about Logan?”

“He’s seen as a rising star in the Alliance. He was given the Star Cross last year for extracting a trade negotiator from a difficult situation near Epsilon Indi. The team had been told there was an agrarian planet that was interested in trade. What they weren’t told was that there were two governments vying for control of the food supply. When the trade negotiator arrived, he and his delegation were taken hostage in an attempt to force the other side to give them a high-producing hybrid grain they had developed. Captain Logan managed to create a diversion by tricking their weather systems into registering an unusually cold air mass that would freeze their unharvested crops. Then, he offered to send equipment and a team to complete the harvest before the cold arrived. Once the harvesting team arrived, they insisted the trade negotiator and his team were the foremost experts and needed to handle the controls. Once they were all on the shuttle, the cold air mass disappeared… and so did the shuttle.”

“I heard about the rescue, but not how he did it. Clever.” She stopped pacing and turned to face N’amani. “Can we count on Logan?”

“Ambassador?” N’amani asked with surprise. “That’s not a question you usually ask.”

“I need your candid assessment,” the Ambassador said a bit more sharply than she wanted.

N’amani heard the tone in her voice. “I think he will do whatever he believes is the right thing to do. He will protect the ship, the crew, and you, Ambassador.”

“Thank you,” the Ambassador said quietly. She turned away to look out the window.

“We’re going to find out what that means, aren’t we?” N’amani asked with concern.

“Yes, we are,” the Ambassador replied.

The comm link next to the door chimed and lit up.

“Ambassador, we have left the station,” Maja said.”The Captain asks if you would join him with your team in the diplomatic briefing room in 30 minutes.”

“Thank you, Maja. We will be right there,” the Ambassador replied.

N’amani started toward the door. “I’ll go get the others.”

“N’amani?” the Ambassador asked.

N’amani turned back. “Yes Ambassador?”

The Ambassador shook her head. “Never mind. I’ll see you in the briefing room. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you shortly,” N’amani said as he walked out.

The Ambassador sat down near the windows. She watched the ship moving away from the station. In just a few seconds, she couldn’t see the station any more. She turned and looked forward. The Hyades Cluster was just barely visible far in the distance. It would take them just over two weeks to get there. They could go faster, but there were preparations to be made along the way. ‘It should be enough,’ she thought. ‘It has to be.’


The Diplomatic Briefing Room on the Magellan

The Ambassador was the first to arrive for the briefing. The lights in the Diplomatic Briefing Room came on automatically when she entered. It was the largest of the briefing rooms in the Guest section. It had comfy chairs and large windows to watch the stars plus security to protect whatever was said.

“Where should I sit today?” the Ambassador asked aloud. She liked being the first one in the room when she had to give a presentation. It gave her a chance to see the room before anything started. It wasn’t as trivial as it might seem. Her position in the room gave her an advantage. It was like that with negotiations, too.

“Wherever you like,” the Doctor said, coming up behind her. “Daydreaming or planning?”

“Both,” the Ambassador said turning around. “It’s good to see you, Marc. How was your vacation?”

“It was GREAT! I spent most of the time floating in the Tree Gardens on Qili 7 in the Altair system. Have you been there? They have the most amazing fruit. They call it por’a. It’s like a sweet cucumber with a hint of apple. It’s wonderful. Here’s some for you.” He handed her a small basket.

“Oh, thank you!” She brought the basket up to her nose. “Oh, this smells nice. So sweet. It sounds like you found a place to go back to.”

“Absolutely. They have several things I didn’t get to try,” the Doctor said feigning disappointment.

“I’m sure you made an effort,” the Ambassador replied.

“Yes, I did. I made a double effort. I went to the buffet every day. Just like clockwork,” the Doctor said.

“How many plates?” the Ambassador asked.

“Just three,” the Doctor replied holding a fist with his little finger up to show the number six.

The Ambassador chuckled.

They both liked to eat. The idea of going somewhere and not making a serious effort to try the local foods would never occur to either of them.

The Ambassador moved to the head of the table and put the basket down. She went over to look out the windows.

The Doctor walked over to stand beside her.

Just then Beth and N’amani came in followed by Kell, the Captain, Commander Brandon, and a pleasant-looking, medium-built young woman with wavy, shoulder-length blonde hair and bright blue eyes. .

The Captain walked to the head of the table. He saw the fruit basket in front of what would normally be his chair and shook his head. ‘That is not there for me,’ he thought. He moved to the first side chair. “Ambassador, I’m sure we’re all eager to hear about our mission. I understand you know Commander Brandon.” He nodded to the Commander.

“Yes, Captain. The Commander and I have had the pleasure of working together a few times,” the Ambassador replied, smiling and nodding.

“Lt. Meredith Katy is our new flight officer,” the Captain said, gesturing to the young officer. “She just completed her training with expert qualifications on three of our fighters. This is her first assignment on a starship.”

“Welcome, Lt. Katy,” the Ambassador said. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Thank you, Ambassador. It’s my honor to meet you,” Lt. Katy replied.

“Shall we get started, Captain?” the Ambassador asked.

“The floor is yours Ambassador,” the Captain said, taking a seat and motioning for the others to sit.

“Thank you Captain,” the Ambassador replied. She looked around the room. “I appreciate that you have not been briefed until now. I had instructions to keep this quiet. We are going to the Hyades Cluster to meet with the High Council of Ka’len. The Central Alliance wants to establish a treaty.” She activated a screen showing a star chart of their route to the Hyades Cluster. Then, she activated a 3D model to show a system with four planets, two suns, and a heavy asteroid belt just outside the system.

“But why are we going?” the Doctor asked.

“We’d like at treaty, Doctor. Two of the planets and this entire nearby asteroid belt are rich in magnesium and other rare earth minerals,” the Ambassador replied. She added an overlay to the display that showed what they projected the deposits to be.

“Jackpot! ” the Captain said.

“Rich seems to be not quite the right word,” Commander Brandon said smiling.

“Indeed,” the Ambassador said nodding. “The people of Ka’len, the Kora, have been mostly receptive to our overtures. So far, we’ve only contacted them through remote traders. This is a First Contact mission.”

The Captain sat up just a little straighter in his chair.

The Ambassador pointed at the model and went on, “We know these four planets formed a federation about 300 of our years ago. It appears they have developed slowly. Our traders have talked with the leaders on these two planets. We believe all four planets are receptive to joining the Alliance. They have also told us quietly that the Ka’len Council could be receptive to our plans.”

“Our plans???” the Doctor asked.

“I’m getting there,” the Ambassador replied. “This asteroid belt,” she continued.

The Doctor wasn’t having it. “But why are we going? It’s a long way to go for a mining agreement. Even if we are a First Contact team, why do we have to go all the way out there? Can’t somebody else go have a look-see? Why are we getting stuck with it?”

The Ambassador looked at him and then around the room. She took a breath. “Alliance merchant ships passing through the sector have reported seeing Olmeri scout ships here.” She pointed to an area just beyond the asteroid belt. “They are still far enough away to not be an immediate threat to Ka’len. But they are headed towards the system.“

The Doctor frowned and shook his head. “This is not good. Once the Olmeri arrive, they begin taking over any habitable planets. They drain the planet’s resources to build their megacities and power their ships. They don’t leave anything for the original inhabitants.”

“This is really not good,” Beth said. “Our early reports are that the Kora are mostly agrarian. They don’t seem to have much industry. They seem to have very limited construction abilities. Their planets are heavily forested. They don’t have any large cities.”

The Captain looked down and shook his head. “They can’t defend themselves.”

“It gets worse,” the Ambassador said. “We’ve just gotten new reports that show the Olmeri are accelerating their timetables. We used to see a few years between the time we got reports of their scout ships showing up somewhere and when that sector would begin withdrawing from trade treaties. Now, it’s less than a year.”

“Less than a year?” Lt. Katy asked.

Commander Brandon looked at Lt. Katy sharply and furrowed her brow. ‘Be quiet before I come over there,’ she thought.

The Ambassador continued, “From what we know, it appears the Olmeri are assaying the asteroid belt. We think they want what we want, the minerals. But they don’t know what’s there. And we want to keep it that way. So, to your question, Doctor. Why are we going? If the Olmeri keep traveling along the belt, it will bring them directly into the Ka’len system.”

The Captain frowned. “If the Olmeri are able to establish themselves in the Hyades Cluster, they will become an even bigger problem for the Central Alliance.”

The Ambassador nodded to him.

“They’re already a problem for the Kora,” the Doctor said.

“Exactly, Doctor,” the Ambassador said. “So, we’re going to do two things. First, we want a treaty that will allow us to set up a monitoring station near Ka’len to give us an early warning about any Olmeri incursions.”

“Just land and ask them to sign?” Lt. Katy blurted out. She was an exceptional pilot and very good with flight operations. She wasn’t deliberately trying to be disrespectful. She was used to saying what she thought during flight briefings.

“Not quite, Lieutenant,” N’amani said firmly frowning at her “This is not a training flight briefing.”

Lt. Katy bit her lip and looked down.

The Ambassador looked at N’amani and nodded her acknowledgement. She went on, “Second, we want the Olmeri to believe that the asteroid belt is not worth their time; that even if they find a few minerals, there’s not enough of anything useful to bother about. We want them to go away thinking that whatever they have found isn’t worth the trouble.”

“How can you get them to do that?” Lt. Katy asked with more than a little disbelief.

The Ambassador frowned at the interruption. “Lt. Katy,” she said firmly and looked around the room. It was clear that question was on everyone’s mind. She smiled. “That is a good question. We’re going to seed the belt with other minerals to confuse their sensors.”

“You want to win without fighting as the old Earth philosopher Sun Zi would say,” Kell said.

The Ambassador looked at Kell and nodded. “If we can do it. It’s going to take quite a bit of preparation and a barrelful of luck.”

Everyone looked around the table and nodded.

“Being able to do either one of these seems like a pretty big challenge, Ambassador,” the Captain said, a little worried. “What are we actually going to do?”

“If you’re asking for an operational plan, I don’t have one yet, Captain,” the Ambassador replied. She smiled, raised both hands, shrugged, and shook her head.

The Captain frowned. His brow furrowed. He looked down and shook his head.

“We have two weeks,” the Ambassador said looking around the room. “I know it’s not much and it’s never enough. But it’s what we have. If we don’t go now, the Olmeri will have enough time to finish their scans. We need them to believe they found nothing and go away. And we need to do whatever we can to stop them from taking over the Ka’len system.”

The Captain looked up and shook his head.

“You look concerned, Captain,” the Ambassador said.

The Captain looked straight at her and then around the room. “I am concerned. We are going to a remote area where we have few allies. The Olmeri have been spotted nearby. We have two weeks to prepare. You have some goals but you don’t have a plan. So yes, you could say I am a little concerned.”

N’amani turned to him and smiled. “Captain, you’ve not been on a mission with us before. Two weeks is something of a luxury.”

Her team and Commander Brandon all chuckled. It was true.

“Okay. So I’m the new guy,” the Captain said. “I’m still concerned. I was expecting a briefing to cover transport times, official dinners, and how you wanted me to manage any meetings on the Magellan. That’s mostly what I had been doing. I’m actually happy about going to the Hyades Cluster. I’ve not been there. Going somewhere we are likely to meet the Olmeri is, well… em… different.”

The Ambassador and her team all laughed out loud.

“Yes. Yes, I’m sure this is very different,” the Ambassador said with a more stern and unforgiving tone than she wanted. She went on, “Captain Logan, I am sorry that you have been thrown into this. I’m also a bit unsettled having a new Captain to work with. We are going to have lots of opportunities to get to know each other really, really well over the next two weeks. You will come to understand what my team and I do. But I have to tell you honestly, for this mission, we can’t succeed without you, your crew, and the Magellan.”

The Captain looked at her, questioning her without saying anything. Then, he sat up a little taller and his expression changed to one of pride. The Magellan was his ship now. “Ambassador, I didn’t take this commission without understanding what it meant. We will do whatever it takes to help you succeed. But I have to be honest, the High Council didn’t tell me any of this. Not even a hint.” He shook his head.

“They couldn’t tell you, Captain,” the Ambassador said. “I told you where we were going because I decided you needed to know at least that much. My team did not know where we are going or what we’re going to try to do until just now.”

Beth and Kell looked at each other, nodded and shrugged.

The Doctor grinned and nodded.

“We’ve been on several very quiet missions like this,” N’amani said.

“My entire plan depends on making the Olmeri believe what we want them to believe,” the Ambassador said. “We cannot give them any opportunity to find out otherwise. They may come back and try again. That’s also why we want a treaty with the Kora. We don’t want to walk in the door sounding the alarm bells. But we have to do something. What that something is remains a question.” She looked around the room slowly. She knew this mission was going to be a challenge. She needed to get them ready. Sugar-coating it wouldn’t help. “Do we know what the Kora want? What do we know about their civilization and history, Beth?”

Part of Beth’s job was to make herself an expert, to learn everything she could about the civilization they were going to visit. She also needed to be able to offer advice and put things in context. That meant reading lots of reports and reviewing any language banks that might be similar to what they could expect.

Beth looked up. “All the reports I’ve seen are that the Kora don’t have much industry,” she said. “They seem to have very limited construction abilities. Their planets are heavily forested. They don’t have any large cities. They have a fusion process quite similar to ours that they use for most of their energy needs. Their ships aren’t fast enough to go much beyond their local system. Their culture is focused on providing for their people. Our best guess is that the planets have more than enough magnesium and rare minerals. They don’t need them, don’t want them, and can’t eat them, so whatever’s in the asteroid belt isn’t something they think of as desirable.”

Everyone chuckled a little at that last bit.

Beth continued, “The Kora appear to be interested in seeds and other agricultural help that we might be able to offer. That’s been the conversation the traders we have contacted them through have had. The Kora are hesitant to trade, it seems, because they haven’t had that much contact with anyone outside their systems. Reports indicated they would be very concerned about any sort of outposts nearby. They would likely be alarmed by the Olmeri.”

“Thank you, Beth,” the Ambassador said nodding to her. “Very good insights. Do your people know anything about the Kora, Kell?”

“My people have met the Kora and have traded with them on occasion,” Kell replied. “They didn’t have much of anything we wanted and we didn’t have anything they wanted, so we have mostly left each other alone. They are generally not aggressive, although we have heard reports of some difficulties on their third planet recently. Some sort of civil unrest apparently to try to force a change in their ruling council. I think their Council would like to have allies with big guns and long-range weapons.”

The Captain and Command Brandon chuckled and nodded to reach other.

Lt. Katy smiled.

“I’m sure they would,” the Captain said.

“So Captain, are you ready to get started with the details? We have a lot of material to cover and quite a few scenarios to review,” the Ambassador asked smiling her Cheshire cat grin.

“I need a little time to digest all this. Could we start first thing in the morning?” the Captain asked.

N’amani smiled.

“Certainly, Captain,” the Ambassador replied. “It is a lot to take in. N’amani, would you give us a quick summary?”

N’amani nodded to her and stood up. “Beth will continue her research of what we know of the Ka’len culture and languages. The Doctor will be reviewing plants, foods, and medical topics. Kell is going to  make some modifications to his cruiser. The Ambassador will brief you, Captain, on what she needs. I will be working with Commander Brandon and Lt. Katy on possible scenarios. I will also work with Maja to prepare a study plan for you.”

The Ambassador smiled and nodded to him. “Perfect, N’amani. Thank you.”

The Captain smiled and nodded his approval. ”A study plan for me? I need a study plan?”

“Yes Captain,” N’amani replied. “Time is short.”

The Captain frowned and tried not to look puzzled. “Ok, sure. Thank you,” he said smiling.

“Doctor, are you cooking for us today? Or do we have to forage on our own?” the Ambassador asked.

“I was hoping you’d ask,” the Doctor replied with big grin. “May we avail ourselves of the Magellan’s gardens and stores, Captain.”

“Certainly. Commander Brandon, would you help the Doctor get whatever he needs?” the Captain asked.

Commander Brandon nodded. “Lt. Katy, you should come with us,” she said firmly as she started toward the door.

Lt. Katy followed her out.

“You are welcome to join us Captain,” the Doctor said. “It should only take me about an hour to prepare something.”

“Thank you, I’m going to pass this time. Seems I’m going to have some studying to do,” the Captain replied.

“Ok, more for me!” the Doctor said. He took Beth’s arm and they walked out the door.

“Ambassador, I will take my leave for now,” the Captain said.

The Ambassador smiled. “Try to get some rest. It really is a lot to take in.”

The Captain nodded. “Thank you. See you in the morning,” he said as he walked out of the room.

“Now then,” the Ambassador said turning to N’amani and Kell. “Let’s take a closer look at where we’re going.” She touched a control panel that opened a much more detailed 3D map of the Ka’len system. They sat down and began studying the map.

Over the next two weeks, they studied maps, looked at the history of the Ka’len system, practiced hand-to-hand combat drills, and ran scenarios. Preparations she hoped wouldn’t be needed.

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