Thanks CeJay and Gibraltar,
One thing that concerned me when I sat back after finishing the first version was the lack of scenes on Benzar or Benzites. So I wanted to correct that in the revised version. I've been thinking of adding quite a few new scenes or taking a different tact to scenes or characters I had written previously. Though some stuff I will keep from the previous story.
Federation High Commissioner Selene McCall absently twirled the straw in her lukewarm Altair water as she stared out of the large window at the graceful, gray world of Benzar below.
Unbidden, she ran a hand through her blond hair, now streaked with a similar gray. “Commissioner, your glum expression is unbecoming,” chimed Senator Sterqil, her unwelcome dinner guest.
The thickset, sallowed-hued and silvered Romulan was hunched over a dinner of jumbo mollusks that was touched off by a wine glass filled with deep blue ale. “Surely you must have anticipated the outcome of the meeting.” The woman looked down at her own half-eaten Caesar salad, her appetite completely evaporated.
Reining in her anger, Selene gathered herself, pausing to glance around at the eatery’s patrons while collecting her thoughts. The café was filled with low-key, intent Benzites, their chitinous skin an attractive admixture of blue hues. The Romulans were more lively, something she wasn’t expecting. Soldiers chatted amiably with civilians, with laughter and occasional song breaking out.
She had first surmised that they would be as cautious and watchful as she imagined they were on their homeworld, always on guard against the ever present Tal Shiar. But here, away from Romulus, the spear carriers of the Star Empire seemed most relaxed. Some even dined with Benzites, and the commissioner had little doubt that those Romulans hadn’t availed themselves without invitation.
The scene gave her another perspective on why Romulus was so determined to hang on to Benzar, beyond the normal, and somewhat tired, desires to dominate other races and amass galactic power.
Perhaps another reason lay in the bustling space port that Merria was. Beyond the native Benzites and their Romulan ‘liberators’, the café was also crammed with all manner of sapient life, owing to Merria’s importance as a hub of interstellar commerce.
The station was nearly as big as either Herti or Dwora, Benzar’s two moons. It was so roomy in fact that most of the Romulan military that ‘protected’ Benzar stayed on the station, which misled the Benzites on the planet’s surface to think that their presence would remain that way if they voted for secession.
McCall had attempted to tell them otherwise, but her entreaties had largely fallen on deaf ears. Some of the leaders were sympathetic, and at least entertained her offer for election monitors, but that idea had been rejected as well.
“Yes, I had hoped for a different outcome,” she hated to admit, but doused her annoyance as best she could. McCall didn’t want to give the man the satisfaction. Sterqil, his dark eyes alight, nodded animatedly for her to continue. As he nodded, the golden sash he wore over his stately purple robes, that was filled with a multitude of medals, clinked. Once she knew that Sterqil, on a less than coincidental visit from Romulus, would be attending, Selene had studied the man’s record thoroughly.
Before being elected to the Senate, he had had a long, storied military career. And he was reported to still compete in the occasional martial arts event. Underneath his folds of fat rested a still lethal prowess.
“Though the Federation expected, and supports, the will of the people of Benzar to choose their own destinies, to seek their own futures, we had hoped that the Benzite leaders would have been amenable to our offers of assistance,” McCall concluded.
It was another painful admission, but Selene saw no reason not to confess it. If anything, Sterqil was keen to have gauged how she felt, and further, his obvious enjoyment at her distress and the Federation’s embarrassment, might throw him off, make him underestimate her and the Federation’s resolve, and that was exactly what she wanted.
The senator pursed his full lips, in mock reproach, “Are you still implying that Romulans will interfere with the plebiscite?”
“I never said anything of the sort,” she hotly retorted.
“But with your spiel about sending Federation election monitors to insure the integrity of the vote,” Sterqil’s tone went from jocular to frosty, “What else am I, the Benzites, or Ki Baratan supposed to surmise but an accusation that we will subvert the vote?”
“That is not what I said,” McCall forced herself to stay in her seat. It was how she felt, but she would never voice such a view, especially to the likes of Sterqil. “This is a momentous event in the history of Benzar, and with the planet still recovering from the Dominion occupation…”
“Which our forces ended,” Sterqil quickly pointed out. “There were many stories of how joyous Benzites lined the …”
“The planetary geostructures regulating Benzite life,” Selene carried on, happy to have interrupted the man as he had just done to her, “are overtaxed as it is. The potential of for a mechanical or computing error is much greater under such circumstances. I am sure you are well aware of the technical voting mishaps on your own planet,” she said.
“There is no such thing,” Sterqil declared, “our system is inviolate. The Senate is the direct instrument of the people, and we wish to extend that blessing of democracy to the Benzites and all who call on our aid.”
“Including the Remans?” McCall couldn’t help herself. She smiled tightly as Sterqil grumbled and pulled back from their parrying. He began to fiddle with one of the cooled mollusks, biding his time. “Or what about the other subject planets advocating for greater rights or outright independence?” She piled on, “Your Tal Shiar has done a bad job stamping out dissent as of late.”
“That is an internal matter,” he said, his voice frigid. He leaned forward, his gaze now accusatory. “Could the Federation’s altruism be merely a cover for their monitors to alter the vote to a result of their liking?”
This time Selene didn’t rise to the bait. The senator continued, “We know what Paris thinks of us, that we are going to annex the Benzar system and use as a beachhead to either destabilize or attack other Federation planets.”
The commissioner didn’t deny it. There was no need, since some Federation Council members were on record voicing such concerns. “Is that why Ki Baratan is so interested in securing Benzar’s departure from the Federation?”
Sterqil shook his head, his jowls quivering. “We merely wish to render aid to the Benzite people.”
“I can’t help but find it interesting that such altruistic, as you might say, desires don’t extend to planets and species already within your sphere of influence,” McCall said, trying to get another rise out of him.
Sterqil sat back, his smile returning, “Benzar is now in our sphere of influence and the fact that you can’t do anything about it, but watch them choose someone other than you and your vaunted, perfect Federation is infuriating you.”
“We’ll see about that,” McCall shot back, regretting the words as soon as they spilled from her lips.
Sterqil sat up, his dark face beaming. He had gotten what he came for. “So you are intimating that the Federation will use force to keep Benzar within its clutches?”
Selene tried to scoff away the charge, “I’ve ‘intimated’ nothing of the sort.”
He looked at her askance, studying her like a lab rat. “I would reason otherwise, and I think that my colleagues in the Senate, and the Praetor would feel the same.” He pushed back from the table and stood up. “I’m suddenly feeling tired…” he exaggeratedly yawned and stretched. “I bid you good night,” he bowed.
Selene jumped out of her chair, rattling her plate, nearly knocking over her glass, and drawing the attention of several patrons. She held up a placating hand, “Senator, please stay, have another drink…”
“No,” he said, not able to keep from gloating, “I’ve had enough.” Selene wanted to tackle the man, but she didn’t want to cause any more trouble than she already had.
She watched him trudge quickly out of the café, imagining her career going along with him.