As always, thanks for reading and commenting CeJay. I thought it was a good thing to have that conversation between Vibeke and Oallea to lay out some of the differing ideas that the Remans might have, even the ones rebelling against the Star Empire. I also thought it was a nice opportunity to throw in Shizon and have his plan be something that was one of the major lines of thought that was being debated about the Reman rebels.
Palais de la Concorde
The large desktop screen was split. One half showed the devastation of the listing space borne cosmopolis and the other the pinched face of the Romulan praetor. President Martin Santiago wore a similarly dour expression.
“Praetor Hiren, I wish to express my deepest sympathies for the tragedy that has befallen your people on Merria,” he solemnly began. Out of visual range, a tense Chief of Staff Logan gripped a padd with both hands. The president didn’t want his counterpart to know that anyone else was in the room. But Martin wanted to make sure that Logan heard everything first hand, in order to better fashion a response.
The gray, austere Romulan glared at him. “It appears that the bombings were caused by Benzite partisans, those who have taken up arms against the lawful government of Benzar. Partisans who support our vacating the Benzite system; a position your administration supports.”
Martin avoided flicking his gaze to his subordinate. Had Starfleet Intelligence’s plan gone awry like he had feared? Had their culpability been discovered? Was Hiren holding cards he wasn’t showing yet, seeking to get Santiago to expose his role in the unfolding tragedy?
All these thoughts rushed through his head. This attack could be related to Logan’s labyrinthine schemes or it could have been the result of uncontrollable factors. The president, hoping the latter was the case, decided to play it cool.
“While I have made no secret of my desire that Romulan forces leave the Benzite system, I have also advocated that it is up to the Benzite people-and them alone-to make that determination,” Santiago said, “I don’t condone violence and I abhor terrorism.”
“Then you will have no problem in issuing a joint condemnation of this terroristic action?” Hiren asked, raising one eyebrow, in predatory anticipation. Movement from Logan did catch Martin’s eye this time. His gaze shifted enough to see Logan batting down the idea with a vociferous head nod.
“Of course I will,” the president said, ignoring his chief-of-staff. He could feel the heat blowing from the man’s ears, but Martin ignored that too. Santiago knew why Logan was so against the move. Both he and Hiren doubtless thought it would cause divisions between the Federation and the partisans. Both men thought that the president had been backed into a corner.
Hiren nodded with approval. “And with the present threat to Romulan civilians and military personnel on Benzar, you can surely understand the need to increase our military presence there, to safeguard our own interest as well as to protect the Benzite populace.”
Logan was purple with rage. But Santiago didn’t allow his unease to show. “I don’t think that would be advisable, unless the Chief Magistrate makes a formal request.”
“I see,” Hiren replied, glancing off screen. Martin’s stomach tightened. The praetor is up to something, he realized.
“Incoming transmission sir,” a disembodied voice rumbled from hidden overhead speakers.
“Go on,” Santiago said, maintaining eye contact with Hiren the whole time. The scenes of devastation disappeared, replaced by the personage of Chief Magistrate Merva. The president dipped his head respectfully.
The Benzite woman did likewise. “How are you doing Merva?” Santiago asked. “How are things on Merria?”
“The situation remains dire,” she intoned, “and that is why I am informing you that I am requesting the assistance graciously offered by Praetor Hiren.”
“Merva…Chief Magistrate,” Santiago switched to a more formal stance. “I cannot allow a Romulan military buildup in Federation space.”
“The Praetor has assured me that warbirds will only accompany relief vessels,” Merva replied.
“That is correct,” Hiren chimed in. Martin frowned. The severe man was practically beaming, “As well as a small additional force to bolster Benzite efforts to bring the perpetrators of this dastardly crime to justice.”
“As a member state, we can provide all of the assistance you require,” Santiago offered.
“I don’t doubt that Martin,” Merva’s countenance softened a little. “But I don’t think it would be advisable to have a heavy Federation presence within Benzite space right now. Feelings are very raw, passions are running high, and rumors are rampant.”
“What are you saying Merva?” The president pressed. “I know that the Benzite people can’t believe that the Federation would have anything to with this.”
“Right now, there are many who don’t know what to believe,” Merva said bluntly.
“And what do you think?” Santiago asked, just as pointedly.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” the chief magistrate skillfully dodged. “My primary concern is insuring that we save as many lives as possible right now and prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
“You really think ceding your planet to the Romulans is going to do that?” Santiago couldn’t help himself. The woman’s delusion had ripped off his scabbed over frustrations.
“The Romulans are merely helping us,” Merva shot back. “A lot of Romulan citizens perished in this attack.”
“One that could be considered an act of war,” Hiren ominously intoned. Martin wouldn’t give the man the satisfaction of seeing that threat faze him.
“A lot of Federation citizens, Benzite and non-Benzite also perished,” the president said.
“And I will allow one Starfleet vessel to travel to Benzar to retrieve any Federation citizen who wishes to leave,” the chief magistrate offered.
“Just one?” Santiago pushed. “You’re practically inviting the entire Romulan Imperial Fleet to your doorstep but we can only send one ship to addressed the needs of all of our citizens?!”
“It is our calculation that the number of non-Benzite citizens who would likely depart, including High Commissioner McCall, can fit comfortably aboard one of the fleet’s larger vessels.” The chief magistrate reasoned.
“There are far more Romulan civilians and military personnel than that on Benzar,” Hiren added.
“The praetor is correct,” Merva nodded.
“I will accede to your wishes, even though I don’t agree,” Santiago said. “I will order Starfleet Command to send one ship to Benzar to retrieve our citizens and render any aid you require. The ship will also ferry our replacement for Commissioner McCall because we are firmly committed to the negotiation process.”
“I assure you that we will not need any additional assistance,” Merva replied. "Though we will graciously accept your new envoy."
“Well just in case you change your mind,” the president rejoined.
“It is unlikely,” Hiren spoke up. Merva’s barbells twitched at the intrusion, but the woman said nothing.
“Perhaps,” Santiago said, “Though by my estimation we already have one starship in Benzar space. Please accept my offer to enlist it to help pursue the culprits.”
“Our forces can provide enough aid,” the praetor replied.
“Your forces are not yet in place,” Martin’s tone was steely. “And time is of the essence.”
“President Santiago is correct,” Merva said. Martin was pleased to see a momentary glower from his Romulan counterpart. Now Hiren said nothing.
“Your assistance is most welcome,” the Benzite leader added. Martin nodded gravely but inside was mollified. The Romulan had overplayed his hand, speaking for Merva, and the woman had bucked back, asserting her independence, as Santiago reasoned that she might. His joy at trumping Hiren was dampened by the scenes of destruction and carnage playing on a repeating loop in his mind.
“Further I will redirect several starships to the rim of Benzite space, where they will set up patrols to make sure that none of these terrorists seek to escape justice by hiding in another area of Federation space,” Santiago added.
“That is acceptable, as long as those ships’ commanders understand that they are not to enter Benzite space without my authorization,” Merva said. Santiago nodded. Hiren glowered again.
“Of course,” the president remarked, and dipped his head again in respect. “Merva, and truly you have my deepest condolences.”
“Thank you Martin,” the woman likewise nodded. “Now I must continue attending to the needs of my people.”
After the screen had shifted back to the split screen, with Hiren and scenes from Merria, the Romulan praetor glared at him. Martin held the man’s gaze. Both took the others’ measure, both gained new insights, and a dawning respect.
“Mister President,” Hiren said eventually.
“Praetor,” Santiago replied evenly.
“Until next time,” The Romulan’s mouth curved upwards slightly.
“Yes,” was all Santiago could think to say. His counterpart vanished, his face replaced by the fascistic symbol of the Star Empire, a raptor clutching Romulus and Remus within its talons.
Logan leapt out of his seat. “How could you go along with that?”
Martin turned to him coolly, “I just stanched the goddamned bleeding.” The words stopped the apoplectic subordinate. “Now sit back down and tell me you are going to take care of the rest!”