March challenge - stories up to 2,000 words on the theme of "Misunderstanding"
“Time to arrival, Mr. Data?” Captain Jean-Luc Picard asked.
“Four minutes, twenty-three seconds.” Commander Data said, noting internally that it had only been five minutes since the last time Picard had asked.
Picard had reason to be impatient. He was trying to avoid the collapse of a diplomatic initiative that had made significant progress over the past few years. That was why the Enterprise
-E was barreling at Maximum Warp toward Tamarian space.
Ever since Enterprise
-D’s first encounter with “The Children of Tamar”, the Federation had made opening relations with the Tamarians a priority. The method they’d chosen for doing this was novel, in more ways than one. In essence, they would trade stories. Federation ships would periodically return to Tamarian space and wait to be contacted, then transmit text and holonovel versions of narratives from member worlds’ histories, mythologies and heroic fiction, then wait for their contacts to respond in kind. The ad hoc
cultural exchange would provide both sides with a wealth of source material to work from while helping the Federation’s representatives to learn to communicate the way the Tamarians did. It wasn’t the most elegant plan, but it had worked. Picard had made the initial offering and gotten a response almost immediately, and in the years since he and other Starfleet captains involved in the exchange had become almost fluent in Tamarian communication. Both sides were really talking now, about their civilizations, about becoming allies and about the wider universe.
Yet all of that progress was in jeopardy, and Picard was at a loss to understand why. The Starfleet officer currently managing the exchange program, Captain John Morgan, was relatively new to the job, but he’d been trained well. Picard wouldn’t have thought it likely that Morgan would commit any kind of diplomatic error, much less one that would require sending the Priority One distress signal that Enterprise
had been sent to investigate.
Picard brooded over the problem in silence for the last few minutes of the warp transit. Commander Worf’s report brought him out of his reverie. “Swiftsure
coming into visual range.”
“Slow to Impulse.” Picard said. “On screen.”
As the ship slowed the image on the main viewer changed from the Warp-distorted starfield to a magnified image of the Federation Starship Swiftsure
, Captain Morgan’s command. The small Nova
-class vessel was currently surrounded by ten much-larger Tamarian cruisers.
“Damn.” Picard muttered, then said clearly: “Hail the lead Tamarian ship.”
Worf carried out the order. “They are responding.” He said.
Picard stood, adjusted his tunic and looked squarely at the main viewer. “On screen.”
The image changed again to a view of the Tamarian captain standing on his bridge.
Without missing a beat, Picard said clearly: “Lanir on the hillside at Kanam!” Let me resolve our differences.
The Tamarian glared back and sneered: “Judas earns his silver!”
That was ominous. “A newborn who listens.” Picard said. “Pharon and his scales.” I don’t understand. I came to find answers.
“Caesar crosses the Rubicon!” The Tamarian said. You are here to conquer!
“The journeyman, with arms out-stretched! Sunset at Maryl. Lanir on the hillside at Kanam.” I come in peace! Give me time to resolve our differences.
The Tamarian pointed at Picard. “The Rigan Fleet, with sails unfurled!” He raged. Leave now while you can!
“Borath at the Passage?” And if I refuse?
“The French at Agincourt.” The Tamarian hissed.
There was a tense silence, which Picard broke by repeating his request in a more pleading tone. “Sunset at Maryl. Lanir on the hillside at Kanam.”
There was another pause as the Tamarian captain glared at Picard, then his features softened as he relented. “Sunset at Maryl.” He growled, then closed the connection.
Picard glared back at the screen for a moment after the image reverted to the Swiftsure and the alien ships, then he turned and walked toward the turbo-lift. Data spoke as he went. “Captain, given the length of the day on the world ‘Maryl’ references I estimate that we only have...”
Picard cut him off. “I’m aware of how much time we have, Mr. Data. We won’t need all of it. If we haven’t figured out how to resolve this problem within fifteen minutes of the deadline we will simply withdraw to neutral space and hope to start over another day. Contact the Swiftsure
and inform Captain Morgan that I’m beaming over. Number One, you have the conn.” With that he stepped into the lift.
“I don’t know
what happened, Picard!” Morgan told Picard in Swiftsure
’s Ready Room. “I thought everything was going well! I even told Captain Akon that I looked forward to the day our peoples would truly be united, then suddenly he calls in all these reinforcements and he’s calling me things like Judas, Benedict Arnold and all sorts of other famous traitors from Federation history!”
“Something you said must have given the him the impression that we would betray them.” Picard said.
“Well, obviously, but I’ll be hanged if I know what I said!”
“Calm down. What exactly did you say before Akon grew angry? What phrase did you use?”
“I tried to use a symbol of unity to express my wish for continued good relations, so I said ‘Ganek on the plains of Vikrid’.”
Picard looked as if he’d been struck. “Say that again.”
“What? ‘Ganek on the plains of Vikrid’?”
Picard lowered his head and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Of all the stupid mistakes...” He muttered, then said to Morgan: “You should have said ‘Ganak
on the plains of Vikrid.'”
Morgan looked confused. “So all of this is because I mispronounced Ganak?”
“Have you actually read the story of the Battle of Vikrid?”
“Are you kidding? There are over five thousand stories in the context database! I haven’t read a tenth of them yet. I’ve been more concerned with making sure I had the proper phraseology down pat for this round of talks.”
Picard sighed. “The Battle of Vikrid was a seminal moment in Tamarian history. It was the first time the chief tribes gathered together to fight an invading horde. The leader of one of the tribes was a young warrior named Ganak. He formed the alliance, led the tribes against the invaders and laid the groundwork for unifying all the Children of Tamar.”
“Okay, but I still don’t see...”
was the brother of Ganak. He was leading the invaders against his people and their allies for his own personal gain. His actions were the reason why Ganak took up the mantle of leadership. Their relationship had kept him from realizing Ganek’s ambitions almost until it was too late.”
“Oh. So when I said ‘Ganek on the plains of Vikrid’...”
“You essentially bragged that you were using this entire diplomatic effort as a ruse to put them at the mercy of their enemies and bring about their destruction, solely to satisfy whatever ambitions you might have.”
The two captains stared at each other for several moments, then Morgan bowed his head. “I guess ‘Oops’ doesn’t quite say it.” He said.
Picard smiled. “No, and I can’t honestly say there’s no harm done, but perhaps we can alleviate some of the damage. Here’s what we’ll say...”
Later, on Swiftsure
’s bridge, Picard and Morgan were standing in front of the viewscreen, facing the image of Captain Akon. Picard put his hand on Morgan’s shoulder and said: “The Man who listens.” He has learned what he needs to know.
“Lothog before the Goddess!” Morgan said with a bow. I humbly beg your forgiveness.
Akon regarded them for a moment. “The journeyman, with arms outstretched?” He said.
“The journeyman, with arms outstretched.” Picard said, then turned to Morgan. “Herakles atones for his misdeeds.” Morgan will do anything he must to earn your forgiveness and trust.
“Garoth and Marka by the fire?” Akon said. Will we continue to talk openly and honestly?
“Garoth and Marka by the fire.” Morgan said.
There was another pause while Akon thought, then he turned to someone on his bridge and said: “Akton’s ships, with sails unfurled.”
“Captain Morgan, the Tamarians are pulling out.” Swiftsure
’s tactical officer said.
“All of them?” Morgan said.
“Except Captain Akon’s ship, and it’s standing down from alert.”
Morgan turned his attention back to the screen. “Lanir leaves the hillside.” Akon said. Our differences are resolved.
Picard and Morgan smiled at him. “Lanir leaves the hillside.” Picard said. Akon nodded in affirmation then closed the channel.
Morgan and Picard turned to each other and shook hands. “Thank you, Captain.” Morgan said. “That was not one of my finer moments.”
“I was glad to help.” Picard said. “Just try to keep in mind that when dealing with the Tamarians...”
“It’s about what you say and
how you say it.” Morgan finished.
Picard nodded, then stepped back a bit and tapped his comm-badge. “Picard to Enterprise: One to beam up.”
Minutes later, the Enterprise
-E pulled away from the Swiftsure
and its counterpart and departed the system.