The Great Comet
High Commissioner Selene McCall polished off her Red Torian, shifted the jutting shoulder pads of her burnt orange blouse and slid off the bar stool. Plopping down a sizable tip to the pleasant Bolian barkeep, McCall turned toward the exit.
Selene knew that she should’ve called her superiors as soon as Sterqil waddled away. She was damn certain that he had already woken up his betters on Romulus. But she hadn’t made it this far in her career by being rash or acting on emotion, despite her fire breathing reputation.
The commissioner had needed time to think, to figure out how best to spin her faux pas so that it not only didn’t cost her job, but also could arm the President with a credible explanation for her comments.
She knew that her delay would draw criticism, some harsh, but she was going to get pilloried anyway. At least now she felt better about going into the arena.
Head held high, she made sure a confident expression was on her face as she entered the corridor. She knew Romulan eyes were everywhere, and they doubtlessly were watching her body language, her facial tics to see if there were any more vulnerabilities they could make hay of.
Selene didn’t plan to give the pointy-eared bastards the satisfaction. So wrapped up in her own confidence, she bumped into a passing Benzite. “Excuse you,” she snapped, grimacing at the harsh tone. The last thing she needed was to look unkind to some random Benzite, when she was already on shaky ground.
The younger woman quickly glanced around, before apologizing. They both recognized each other at roughly the same time. “Commissioner Morah,” McCall said contritely, coating her voice with an apologetic tone, “My apologies,” she added with a quick nod.
“No,” Morah’s smile was nervous but forgiving. “I can understand why you might be a bit…short-tempered,” the Benzite said after pausing to search for an appropriate term. It wasn’t one Selene would use, but she decided not to press the issue. “Things didn’t go well in council chambers today.”
That’s an understatement, McCall thought, but sagely kept that to herself. “Yes, it wasn’t the outcome I had hoped for, but I can safely say that the Federation stands ready to assist the people of Benzar at this crucial time.”
Morah’s smiled widened, “Thank you,” she said, grasping Selene’s forearm and squeezing it tightly. “Some of us have not forgotten the benefits of Federation membership, and those that have might be surprised once the final vote tallies have been counted.”
Selene smiled, heartened by the woman’s reply, even though she was still smoldering over Morah’s silence during the chamber debate. However, she had been in galactic politics long enough to know that sometimes discretion truly was the better part of valor. “I will keep that in mind,” McCall replied, pumping the woman’s forearm in a similar manner.
Morah broke the hold, glancing quickly around again her before she gave McCall one last short, anxious smile, “Have a safe journey back to Earth, I know that it is beautiful there this time of year.”
Actually it’s pleasant every time of year now thanks to the weather control system, Selene thought, but she kept that idea to herself too. “I hope to see you again Commissioner Morah,” she said instead. “Perhaps as Benzar’s next Federation representative,” Selene couldn’t help but add, hoping that that possible carrot might compel her to be more vocal in defense of the Federation.
“You are quite relentless,” Morah replied, slowly shaking her hairless head in what Selene hoped was admiration.
“I didn’t get to where I am without being so,” McCall answered without artifice. Her Benzite counterpart nodded with understanding.
“I shall keep that in mind if we ever meet again,” she said, bowing once more before she backed away and merged into the sea of bodies ambling about, looking for some distraction. Selene pondered the woman and her odd behavior. Clearly she had been distracted, and obviously in a hurry, the commissioner surmised. Yet she had stopped to engage her in a bit of polite conversation, but just enough to mollify Selene in case she took offense to a quick hello and goodbye. She didn’t know where Morah was heading at just this instance, but if the woman played her cards right, she could very well be an ambassador or serve on the Federation Council.
Speculating on the other woman’s rise inevitably brought Selene back to her own precarious future. She eyed the inviting entrance to The Great Comet. Another drink was a tantalizing option….
But she got over it.
McCall hunched her shoulders, accepting that her ‘fun’ had just ended, and it was time to face the music.
Palais de la Concorde
“So, what are we to make of all this?” President Martin Santiago stifled a yawn. Though it was the middle of the day, the man had just returned this morning from a week-long campaign swing of the Rigel System. Before he had swept all of the Rigel planets, and now he was running neck-and-neck with retired Admiral Satie.
Just his showing up there had been perceived as a growing sign of his weakness, of “Santiago fatigue” as some smarmy Federation News Service pundit had termed it. It had caught on and bedeviled Martin more than he cared to admit.
He just wished sometimes that he could thunder at all of the critics and naysayers, to remind them that if not for him a shapeshifter or Gul Broca might be lording over the Palais.
Of course he couldn’t say that, it would be seen as unseemly, as politicizing a great tragedy, Martin knew. But he still couldn’t deny his temptation to set the complete record straight. And of course he could barely cool his thrusters before another contretemps demanded his immediate attention.
“We are waiting to hear from High Commissioner McCall,” Fleet Admiral Bullock said, a deep scowl on his square-jawed face. “It is highly unusual that she hasn’t contacted us yet.”
“Is it possible that something has happened to her?” Defense Secretary Gravisca grumbled. The Tellarite seemed almost eager for an affirmative response, too eager. Martin rubbed his tired, red eyes. He was through with war and he wished that everyone else felt the same. He didn’t upbraid the woman though. Without her, he knew that the war would likely have been lost. Gravisca had been one of the most influential voices pushing him to build up Federation forces in the event that a peaceful solution could not be found with the Dominion.
Now that the war was over, Santiago wondered if Gravisca was amendable to peacetime. Despite her loyal service, she was on his list to be replaced once he had secured a second term.
“Well, we do know that the Romulans have captured and brainwashed Starfleet officers before,” Security Advisor Hetal’laal’ak said, as dour as ever. “It is not outside the realm of possibility.”
“But it doesn’t make much sense,” countered Chief Fondok, the Starfleet Intelligence honcho. The wiry Saurian often seemed to delight in pushing his Ariolo counterpart’s multiple buttons. “The Romulans have no need to go to such drastic measures, at this point, especially over something so trivial. Why would they roil galactic opinion against them? And let’s be honest here, galactic opinion, even among many of our citizenry are on their side in this matter.” The Security Advisor merely looked down on the smaller man, with a baleful yellow gaze.
“Which doesn’t make much sense to me at all,” Deputy President Urrexta chimed in. The Coridanite woman was unmasked within the private office, her complexion a fulsome gray. “I don’t see how our own citizens could agree with the Benzite’s seceding from the Federation,” she shook her head in bewilderment.
“Right now, I think people are tired, they’re scared, and resources are scarce,” Santiago said, “They are more concerned about their own planets, their own homes and families,” he added, his heart pinching at the memories of so many scarred people and planets he had seen on his campaign tour.
“Which is why that nutjob Satie is even still in this race,” Urrexta sniffed. “She’s playing to people’s fears, not their hopes.”
“And it is working,” Santiago said glumly. He had long ago decided to hold nothing back from his team, especially in the Monet Room, which had served as the war room where they had successfully conducted the conflict against the Dominion. In this space, Martin chose not to sugarcoat or spin anything. “I want this problem gone,” he stated, his weariness almost overtaking him. “So what McCall blew off some steam? I don’t get why the Continuing Committee called our ambassador to their chamber to demand an explanation.”
“Praetor Hiren is maneuvering,” Fondok surmised, “solidifying his hold over the empire at our expense. It could be nothing more than saber rattling.”
“Or it could be a lot more,” Hetal’laal’ak gravely intoned. Gravisca nodded in agreement. “Do any us really think that Hiren is going to let Benzar go? There’s too much at stake for him to do so. Losing Benzar could be fatal to him, literally. Even if the Benzites vote to remain in the Federation, the praetor will likely ignore it, and seize the planet and system by force.”
“Yes,” Gravisca couldn’t help butting in, “And all this false outrage about McCall’s comments will likely be his excuse to claim that it was us who subverted the will of the people, not the other way around.”
Martin sat back in his chair, mulling all of the comments. He sighed, “Damn it Gravisca,” shaking his head sadly, “I think you are on to something.” The president made a mental note to remove Gravisca from his chopping block.
“Before we crystallize the Secretary’s summations, I think we should wait to hear what Commissioner McCall says,” Admiral Bullock suggested. “I want to hear her take on things.”
“So do I,” Santiago said, his frustration mounting, “And she better have a damn good excuse why we heard all of this from T’Selda and not her.”