Andrew keyed the ramp command for the shuttle and quickly straightened his dress uniform. The flight into the Fenera system had been remarkably straightforward. This bothered him slightly, since long experience had taught him that it wasn't a mission until there was a glitch. However, the blank geniality on his face as the ramp opened masked this slight concern perfectly.
Standing in an open square formation at the edge of the shuttlepad, he saw a group of four security types flanking the Feneran representative. As he stepped onto the shuttlepad, the reception committee moved forward as prearranged. With a subtle hand sign behind his back, he indicated that anyone coming out of the shuttle with him should come along.
Tettly looked over to Kathleen and nodded, motioning for her to fall in behind him. This whole mission was making his eyeballs itch for some reason, and he couldn't put his finger on it. Maybe that was just nerves... he'd never been outside of the Federation before... especially not like this.
Kathleen nodded at Tettly and followed him closely, her cowl down but cloak still wrapped tightly around her. They didn't expect any trouble...but then again they hadn't expected the Federation to dissolve either, so why take any chances.
The groups met at the halfway point between the ramp egress and the facility entrance. Andrew opened his palms and turned them to face forward, arms relaxed at his sides, and bowed from the waist to the representative. "On behalf of my colleagues and myself, I thank you for the honor of inviting us to Fenera. May our past experiences influence our harmonious present and produce a mutually strengthening future for us all." He straightened up, his right hand gracefully sliding the credential PADD out of his pocket as he did so.
Unlike what was expected, only a small number of Fenerans had assembled to greet the group. In fact, only 4 total had shown at the landing site, along with the security personnel.
The eldest of them, a woman who appeared to be in her mid to late 30's by Human standards, gave a deep bow, before accepting the offered PADD. "As always, it is a time honored pleasure to accept visitors from the United Federation of Planets." The woman said. She thumbed the PADD, then handed it back. "I am Mariette, Feneran ambassador to the Federation, and your gracious host for the duration of your stay."
The others in the Feneran representation could have easily been confused for teenagers, but the lack of significance placed on age in Feneran culture was well known to those who had studied it in the past. It was common to see both young and aged working together in the political theatre, and to his credit, the Federation diplomat showed no signs that he was taken aback by the apparent age of his Feneran counterparts. The same could not be said about all, but the eyebrows raised were done so more out of curiosity than judgment.
Andrew smiled, looking at the assembled Fenerans. The diplomatic team who had briefed him for the mission had made it very clear to him that merit and aptitude were recognized regardless of age here. Just because some of the Fenerans looked younger than his ensigns meant absolutely nothing with regards to their duties and competency. Truth be told, it was a refreshing perspective - but it was something the negotiation team would need to remember.
He also picked up on Mariette's level of formality and changed up his introductions on the fly. Ranks were in the credentials, and truth be told, ranks weren't going to mean anything beyond the chain of command for the Federation personnel on planet anyhow. "I'm Andrew Matheson, chief diplomatic officer of Starbase 80. This is Kathleen O'Shea, commanding officer of the starbase, and Tettly Biggs, starbase chief of security." He indicated the appropriate personnel as he said the names.
Mariette looked between the three of them, somewhat confused. "I am surprised to see members of Starfleet here." She explained. "According to a woman who visited here a few days ago, Starfleet was disbanded in favor of something they call the Federation Protectorate. Are you here representing them?"
Andrew took this confirmation that gossip was indeed the only known substance capable of traveling beyond warp 10 in stride. "No, Ma'am. The Federation Protectorate, put as bluntly as possible, is a new peacekeeping force intended to supplant Starfleet. We emphatically do not agree with the Protectorate's views as regards this region of space."
Then something clicked. "If you feel you can't answer my next question without disclosing a confidence, I understand. We had a visit from a woman a few days ago representing the Protectorate, by the name of Diane McCarthy. Would this be the same person who paid you a visit?" If it was McCarthy, the contents of one of his PADDs would be doubly damning.
"I am Malana Delorn. The representative of the Federation Protectorate was indeed Diane McCarthy." One of the others spoke up. This one was a young girl, who appeared to be no more than maybe 13, or 14 by Human standards. "I met with her myself, upon her arrival. She seemed... anxious as we spoke, but her information was clear that Starfleet had been disbanded, and is no longer recognized as part of the United Federation of Planets."
"Miss McCarthy is partially correct, though I will admit there are semantics involved. The Federation Council, from my understanding, is in the process of transferring Starfleet responsibilities to the Protectorate. I wasn't aware the process had been completed this quickly, given how widespread Starfleet's responsibilities and materials were spread." He took a deep breath. "We're here on behalf of the large group of Starfleet personnel in this sector who believe the Federation Council is making a mistake and are willing to stand for the principles the Council had, until recently, publicly avowed."
He thumbed over to a transcript on his PADD. "I'm honestly surprised Miss McCarthy stopped here. We had a brief and fairly heated conversation a few days ago about the Protectorate's views about the future of this region of space. The high points were that the Federation should retract the borders and make a strong defense zone with select core worlds. The only specific area she mentioned an interest in out here was the Briar Patch, actually."
He looked back over the group of people assembled there. "I'm not saying Starfleet has a perfect record with regards to its exploration, but we at least view all regions of space as worth exploring and all its peoples worthy of getting to know. Which brings me back around to the reason we're all standing here today."
Malana looked over at Mariette in a questioning manner, but Mariette only nodded back to her. "Miss McCarthy did tell us something else..." The young girl said finally, as she looked back at Andrew with a sigh. "The United Federation of Planets has decided to abandon us. We actually believed that you were coming here to finalize those plans... Should we assume that this is not the case?"
Andrew looked between the two of them and then back at Kathleen and Tettly before speaking. This was going to be one of those knife's edge conversations, no doubt about it. He took a moment to mentally damn McCarthy to a particularly hot ring of hell before continuing. "As far as I'm concerned, I don't particularly see a reason for those plans to be finalized in a way where you would be abandoned. Kathleen is the commodore in charge of the Starfleet resources in this sector, and those resources are going to remain true to the higher principles of the Federation - whether or not certain elements of the Federation decide to remain true to those principles with regards to us." He had a momentary flash of inspiration. "It seems the Federation doesn't think either of us are worth keeping around at the moment. I happen to disagree with them as far as Fenera is concerned. If you happen to disagree with them as far as we are concerned, that's one more thing we have in common - and one more reason we should keep talking."
"Then perhaps we should retire to the dining facility to discuss things in a more comfortable setting." Mariette replied, gesturing to her four security guards to stand down. With the rather rattled, and somewhat hostile way that the meeting with McCarthy had gone, she hadn't been willing to take chances. She had dealt with Kathleen before, and knew that if one of her officers said this, then it was truth. "I apologize for the strange welcome, but I'm sure you can understand the need for caution. "
Andrew nodded, the lines of his face softening as he smiled. "I do understand. These are certainly interesting times. And I certainly wouldn't say no to a more comfortable setting." He stepped sideways to permit Kathleen and Tettly to precede him into the dining facility if they so wished.
One of the other Fenerans who had yet to speak had a decidedly distrustful look on his face. He had been standing in the back of the Feneran contingent and had yet to say a word. However, he was first to volunteer to hold the door open for the assembled group, if for no other reason than to eyeball each member from the Federation as they walked by him.
Andrew passively noted the person holding the door. The look on his face wasn't particularly encouraging, but he wasn't picking up any overt hostility from the man. He mentally shrugged and kept walking; if he was going to try anything physical, he trusted Tettly to have a read on the situation - and if he was going to try anything mental, Kathleen would probably hand him his ass before Andrew could blink.
As they made their way into the facility, it was clear to see that their arrival had been expected. A rather large table sat in the center of the dining area, complete with food, and drinks. To those who knew the Fenarans well, this was their normal way to greet visitors, and discuss matters of importance.
"As always, I'll have to ask that any scanning devices be deactivated for the duration of your time here." Mariette said then gestured to the table. "Please make yourselves at home. I get the feeling we have much to discuss."
Andrew nodded and settled in at the table. The scanning requisite had been part of his brief and he had made sure none of his equipment had that functionality. He wasn't going to speak for any of Tettly's security tools or Kathleen's... well, whatever commodores had access to - but he'd warned them that this stipulation was coming. "Indeed we do. I hope the proposed agenda we sent ahead reached you. Despite the most fervent wishes of Miss McCarthy, I believe everything on there is still relevant to our current situation. Is there any particular place you'd like to start?"
"Forgive me Mariette. Perhaps I speak out of turn, but I must speak my mind before we begin lest I recuse myself due to my own suspicion," the young Feneran who had held the door open had picked that moment to break his silence. Out of respect, he waited for a deferential nod before continuing.
"Thank you Mariette," he bowed slightly before turning to address the visitors. "I am Alathan. I speak for those constituents that I represent at this council. They do not understand the galactic stage and the nuance of dealing with a powerful organization such as the Federation. All they can see is the same uniform as the ones belonging to those who say they would abandon us. The way we see it, we have no choice but to trust you, and that is why I carry the weight of distrust upon my features. What chance do we have without aid against those who would seek to destroy us? Perhaps our doom does not come at the hand of our enemies but comes instead at the hands of those who claim to be our friends."
Alathan paused for a moment to collect the rest of his thoughts.
"What guarantee do we have that your side of the argument is correct? Perhaps the Protectorate is correct in their assessment. After all, the frontier has always been about survival of the fittest. Perhaps a Feneras incapable of supporting itself does not deserve to continue existing at the teat of the Federation. Yes, I was there when we decided to help you in the fight against the Kzin, but I am uncertain of the condition of the Federation that sits at this table today. A house divided against itself cannot stand, is that not a saying the humans have? These are the concerns of the citizens I represent. I hope you can address them, because personally, I want nothing more than for this, how would you call it, alliance of sorts to continue."
Kathleen looked at Andrew hesitantly, but he did not make any move to stop her from speaking. "I cannot give you any true guarantee at this time save this...my word. You came to our aid when we needed you the most. We come to honor that debt as well. I no longer represent the Federation...only myself and those who follow me. And as such, I am not bound by the trade rules previously in effect by the Federation." She hoped they would take the hint inferred in her final sentence.
Andrew took the point and ran with it. "With regards to the house divided - Kathleen, I, and the rest of her people are not divided. We stand firmly together on this and would like to continue standing with you as you did for us. The Protectorate is, I very strongly suspect, a small collection of very frightened people who have taken this opportunity to let their fear run unleashed. Sooner or later, I devoutly hope that the Federation will come to its senses and reverse this course of action - but we're still here regardless. Don't let their decision to divide influence our offer to stand with you - particularly when their decision means a parting of the ways that we do not support."
"Preying on the fear of others is the way of cowards. Thank you for your thoughtful responses, you have addressed my concerns for now. Mariette, apologies for my interjection, please continue." Looking noticeably more at ease, Alathan took his seat at the table and waited for the conversation to carry on.
Mariette smiled at Alathan, then turned to Kathleen, and Andrew. "Regardless of the circumstances, you have always shown nothing but kindness to us." She said in her Serene manner. "With the circumstances now changed, I would like to continue to accept your aid as friends... Though this Protectorate seems intent on abandoning us, they are not the ones that we've normally dealt with... Though we are curious as to why they've chosen this path."
Andrew smiled at Alathan and then at Mariette. "From my previous conversation with Miss McCarthy, I got the impression that the recent conflicts with the Dominion, the Borg, and the Kzin have made people nervous about dealing with whatever next big threat may be discovered in our galactic explorations. As I mentioned outside, she seemed to espouse the position of retracting to a smaller, more defensible core and only bothering to deal with regions which could give them resources that they considered useful."
"That seems a long way off from the tone the Federation likes to portray," Alathan spoke again, his tone decidedly more friendly than it had been originally. "The fact is, there is always going to be a next threat. It has been that way for as long as I can remember in Feneran history. I'm sure many of your cultures are the same. Perhaps the only way to avoid conflict is to adopt an isolationist policy, but the time for that has passed, wouldn't you agree? Simply put, we hope to lay down the foundation for a mutually beneficial agreement for both parties. In our discussions prior to this, Renaras has come up frequently. Is there any news on that front?"
Andrew nodded. "Renaras is likely to become even more needed than ever in light of the rise of the Protectorate. The families of our personnel are probably going to want to come to be together until the political climate is more established, and with our previous resources being allocated to the Protectorate going forward, having multiple ways to sustain ourselves will be critical. Our survey team has inspected the planet and has determined that, with Feneran consent, Renaras would be an excellent location to meet all of those objectives." He indicated Kathleen and Tettly. "My colleagues have more information on the proposed developments we would like to engage in on the planet as well as the proposed means of securing them to keep us all safe."
"And we can promise you that." Kathleen continued the thought Andrew had started. "Security. It's going to be a different ballgame out here once all of the shadier types realize that it's essentially an open quadrant for now, with nobody to really stand in their way of operating how and where they choose. Nobody, that is...except for us. But we can only spread ourselves so far, which means we must concentrate on those regions that we have interests in."
"Such as our home." Mariette replied without missing a beat. "We are a planet of peaceful people, and with the threats from those who would want to take this peace away from us, we have no choice but to agree to your help, even if we didn't want it." She said, her words hinting of their desire to continue their long standing relationship.
Andrew nodded. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry this conversation is happening in the shadow of those threats. The situation boils down to two fundamental points, as I see it. First, your people and our people have demonstrated that we like each other and would prefer to continue working with each other. Second, the Protectorate has indicated they don't much care for - or about - either of us and would prefer that we do not work together. But they don't seem to care about what happens out here in their idealized view of the sector. I would submit that since we're the ones who have to continue living out here , we should do that on our terms and not theirs."
"And we have the ability to do so on our terms, at least for now. But it will take cooperation and coordination. Your planetary defenses are quite substandard at the moment. We can change that. Transportation, supply and logistics, and infrastructure we can help with as well." Kathleen looked at each of the assembled Fenerans. "The old Prime Directive that we were bound by no longer exists. We can help you in many way that were previously off the table."
Andrew nodded. "All that's left is to figure out where we need to begin. Fortunately, the table is well stocked so we can focus on the matters at hand."
Finally Mariette smiled. "As always, you have our trust, and respect." She told them as they sat down to the table. The various waiters began to pour drinks as each of them grabbed what food they desired. "I'm interested to hear what you have in mind."
Kathleen gave Andrew a knowing smile...they had passed the critical part of their task. Now all that was left were the hundreds of details. "Well, for starters we need to look at your defenses here..."
Commodore Kathleen O'Shea
Captain Jey Cleh
Chief Intelligence Officer
Written by Masters
Commander Andrew Matheson
Chief Diplomatic Officer