"It all seems very odd to me," said the human. His name was David St. Charles, and he was a junior consular official at the Earth embassy to Vulcan. He was short and plump and blond, and Silit found him intensely irritating, though he naturally suppressed any visible signs of the emotion.
"The situation is, I grant you, an unusual one," Silit said. He looked around him, at the tastefully furnished reception room, at the various guests of the Hegemony of Bresar - and the members of the Hegemony itself. The tall Romulan, Valikra, was the centre of a tight little group of people; Silit could not see her Vulcan counterpart Stiak. He tried to sidle unobtrusively around a smoothly curving piece of abstract sculpture, but the human followed him.
"I mean," St. Charles continued, "these people are, well, what are they doing, exactly? Trying to set up an alternative government? I mean, why does your government even stand for it? Why doesn't your Council do something, eh?"
"Possibly because freedom of association is guaranteed in our planetary constitution," said Silit.
"Freedom of association is one thing," said St. Charles, "but sedition, now, that is quite another."
"But no sedition is contemplated," said Silit. He felt obscurely annoyed at having to defend the Hegemony people to this human nincompoop. "The Hegemon of Vulcan is merely the leader of a social group. If there is any intention on the part of this group to change the government or the policies of Vulcan, that change will no doubt be effected by appropriate constitutional methods."
"The Hegemon of Romulus is effecting change with massive war fleets!"
"In the troubled situation in the Romulan state, that, I suppose, is an appropriate constitutional method. Here, such methods are not required. You have, have you not, political parties and associations on Earth?"
"We have, we have." The human smiled. "Though they don't quite give themselves such airs as the Hegemon does."
"The title is grandiose," said Silit, "but Stiak himself has no affectations. To some extent, this reinforces his position in Vulcan public opinion. It is clear that he does not act from motives of personal ambition."
"Ah, well," said St. Charles, "you'd know more about Vulcan motivations than I do, of course."
"Inevitably so." The human was very dull, Silit thought.
"Still - what do the actual office-holders think of these titles Stiak is passing around like party favours?"
"In many cases," said a new voice, "the actual office-holders and the titular ones under the Hegemony are the same people."
Silit turned. Stiak's partner T'Nir had come up unnoticed beside them. She looked composed and elegant in a simple blue robe, and her voice was mild and reasonable in tone.
"Ah," said St. Charles, "the - the Hegemon-ess? Hegemona? What is the appropriate title, anyway?"
"I am T'Nir. The Hegemony of Bresar recognizes the disadvantages of nepotism. I hold no rank within the Hegemony, since any such appointment would be open to misinterpretation." She smiled gravely. "Still, I am sure you understand that I support my husband as best I can."
"That is logical," said Silit.
"Ah, right," said St. Charles. "The political good wife, yes, I understand. Well, I wish you luck with that - it's a tough row to hoe, that one! But you were saying, about the office-holders -?"
"We hope to persuade as many members of the Council and the general administration as possible to join our organization," said T'Nir. "In the event that a political reunification becomes practical, that will greatly simplify the transition of government."
"I see, I see," said St. Charles. "You want the key people to join your - your Freemasonry. Makes sense."
"I am not familiar with the term," said Silit.
"Oh, an Earth thing. A social grouping. Nothing political, of course, just an organization... of people who know each other, and rely on each other."
"It sounds admirable," said T'Nir.
"Mmm," said St. Charles. "Can be... or not. Depends, really...."
Silit and T'Nir waited a moment for him to explain further, but he said no more.
"In any case," said T'Nir, "I wished to speak with you, Commissioner Silit, on precisely this matter."
Silit raised one eyebrow. "You wish me to become a member of the Hegemony? I am not a person of influence."
"Your position as Commissioner for the Vulcan Defence Force is not without importance," said T'Nir. The human said nothing, but his gaze darted rapidly from Silit's face to T'Nir's and back again.
"The VDF is simply an appendage of the Space Service. It exists only in the remote eventuality that Starfleet should be unable or unwilling to extend military protection to Vulcan. As Commissioner, my role is simply to maintain it in adequate condition to be called upon."
"Indeed," said T'Nir. "It is a measure of the divergences in our cultures... your equivalent, on the Romulan side, would be at least an Admiral of the Fleet, commanding great respect and influence."
"Such matters are of no concern to a logical mind," said Silit.
"Of course not," said T'Nir. "This is an important reason why you should be a member of the Hegemony. You could communicate Vulcan logic, Vulcan values, to your Romulan counterpart. There would, no doubt, be practical advantages as well - the VDF's preparedness and efficiency could be increased by a study of Romulan military methods."
"I concede that the Romulans have more current practical experience in that area," said Silit. "We recruit, of course, a cadre of retired Starfleet officers -"
T'Nir touched his arm. "I will not ask for any commitments at this stage," she said, "but I would like to introduce you to your Romulan counterpart, Admiral D'Kalius. I am sure you will have much to discuss with one another, regarding your mutual profession at least...."
Politics. That's one thing that definitely won't change much in four centuries. But it would be difficult to obscure one's motives from telepaths such as Betazoids, Deltoids, telepathic Vulcans, telepathic Letheans, etc.
Durella VI is an airless cinder orbiting a sullen M-type dwarf star that wouldn't even merit a name if it wasn't for the Reman mining settlements in the system. The Falcon comes out of warp a half million kilometres from the planet, and I start to get that nasty, antsy, unsettled feeling as I study the tactical display.
"That's a Vulcan ship," I say.
"Confirmed," says Saval from the science station. "VSS Naraull, listed on a mission to perform mineralogical surveys for the Ministry of Science."
"And what's wrong with being a mineralogist? It's a perfectly respectable profession." Blank looks all around the bridge - well, all right, that reference is a bit obscure even by my standards. "All right. Face-ache. Any word from the Remans?"
"Communications with the mining settlement are still down," the comms ensign reports.
"Their last distress call mentioned Romulan warbirds. That's not a warbird." */*confirmed---configuration mismatch*/* yes, thanks, Two of Twelve, it's good to know I can rely on you for the bleedin' obvious.
"Initiating tachyon scan for cloaked ships," says Saval.
"No need," says Tallasa. "Tactical scan has them... on the surface. Three T'Varos landed by the main mining settlement."
"Yeah, well," I say, "do the tachyon scan anyway, on account of Roms is sneaky. Something about this," I add pensively, "does not add up right." */*reassessing standard tactical patterns in light of species 3783 political realignments---main tactical data library offline---reconnect---priority---reconnect---reconnect*/*
I ignore Two of Twelve's whining. "Go to red alert."
"Sir?" Tallasa looks surprised.
"You heard me. Flashy lights, air horns, all the works. Something is not right here, and I don't want to get caught with my pants down."
The alert sirens make a heck of a noise, but they don't drown out the comms ensign saying, "Signal from the Vulcan ship, sir."
"Righty-ho. On screen."
The Vulcan commander is stout and middle-aged and very ordinary looking, except he looks... I'm not sure... shifty, somehow. Vulcans aren't good at shifty. "I am Commander Tunat of the VSS Naraull," he says. "How may we be of assistance?"
"Veronika Grau, USS Falcon, call me Ronnie, everyone does. You're supposed to be doing a mineralogical survey, right? Have you spotted those funny-shaped rocks on that planet, the ones that look like Romulan warbirds?"
If he looks any shiftier, he's going to shift right off the edge of the screen. "We are responding to a request for assistance from the Hegemony of Bresar," he says. "They are engaged in the resolution of a dispute with the Reman miners in this system, and have asked for the Naraull's support."
"Resolution of a dispute, huh? Should have asked me, I'm good at resolving disputes - aren't I, team?" Marked lack of vocal support from my bridge crew. Never mind. "Sometimes I resolve 'em so hard, people forget what they were disputing about in the first place. The Reman miners got off a general distress call before those warbirds landed, though, so I guess it's not going to slip their minds easily. All right. I'm going to be all nice and friendly and Starfleet, and help resolve this particular dispute. Helm, how long to transporter range?"
"Ten minutes, sir," says Jhemyl. "But there's a problem. There's an inhibiting field blocking comms and transport -"
"The Hegemony commanders were particularly insistent," Tunat says, "that their dealings with the Remans should not be interrupted. The Naraull's facilities -"
"Well," I say, "Starfleet is here now, so you can just divert the Naraull's facilities back to looking at rocks, Commander. Thank you for your assistance, and have a nice day."
"That does not accord with my instructions," says Tunat. He doesn't look shifty any more. He looks like a man who's just come to a decision... and I have a sinking feeling that tells me it's a bad one.
"Drop that damping field, Commander," I say.
"This is not a Starfleet vessel. You have no authority to issue orders to me."
Oh, dear. Little Ronnie is going to have to think hard about this one, and diplomacy is kind of not little Ronnie's favourite thing. "I'm obliged to respond to a distress call from our Republic allies," I say, "and you don't have authority to stop me, so back off, Commander Tunat."
"I also have obligations. The dispute with the Remans must be resolved in a manner satisfactory to my allies. This matter is not Starfleet's concern."
"Damping field still in effect," says Jhemyl.
"Then we'll do it the hard way," I say. "Prep every shuttle we've got, put all our assault squads into them. Load them for bear, also for wolves, lions, sharks and dinosaurs. When someone makes a move, of which we don't approve, who is it that always intervenes? Oh, and make sure they have plenty of those new Romulan turrets, you know, the ones that send jets of plasma at people I don't like. Tactical. Ships on the ground, presumed hostile. Target them." Tunat is staring at me from the screen.
"The Hegemony ships are our allies," he says faintly.
"Nuh-uh. They might be your allies, they're not the Federation's. The Federation's alliance is with the Romulan Republic, and I am going to honour that."
"I will not permit the transit of your shuttles -"
"Fire on my shuttles and I'll blow you out of space." Diplomacy. Not my strongest suit. "You want to know what I think, Commander Tunat? I think there isn't any dispute with the Remans. I think your Hegemony allies are pulling a little pirate raid, and they have dragged you along for the ride, because they think you can serve as a shield. They are down there looting those people right now, and they've left you up here as an orbiting fig leaf, trying to pretend it's all legitimate, hoping you can bluff Starfleet, hoping that a Starfleet officer won't fire on a Vulcan ship. Well, all I can say to that, Commander Tunat, is try me."
"Science officer!" Tunat shouts. "You are a Vulcan, you can see reason! What is your name?"
"I am Commander Saval," Saval says.
"Commander. Your captain is clearly unbalanced. Exercise appropriate measures, take command, remove her!"
Saval stands. His face is expressionless - well, of course it is, he's a Vulcan. "Vice Admiral Grau's eccentricities are a matter of record," he says. "Nevertheless, she has not been disqualified on that account from command responsibility. And, shorn of the various emotionalisms of which all humans tend to be guilty, I believe her assessment of this situation to be broadly accurate. Furthermore, sir, your attempt to suborn mutiny on this vessel puts you quite clearly in the wrong. I strongly recommend that you stand down."
"Well, thank you, Mr. Saval," I say, softly.
Tunat's face isn't expressionless. Maybe he's not a very good Vulcan. "I - I protest this. I will make representations in appropriate quarters."
"Represent away," I say, "once you've dropped that damping field. And we will send the assault shuttles anyway. Just to make assurance doubly sure."
"We will remember this," says Tunat. "Depend on it, Vice Admiral - your name will be remembered." He shoots a glare at Saval. "And yours."
The slight figure in the brown robes seemed somehow out of place in the anteroom. The room itself was decorated in muted blues and greys, the most colourful thing in it being the giant Federation symbol painted on one wall. Along opposite walls, two groups of bodyguards eyed each other with professional displeasure.
The brown-robed man rose as the door hissed open, and bowed with great formality to the dapper figure who entered.
"Proconsul D'Tan." President Okeg's lambent golden eyes surveyed the Romulan. "It is good to see you. Your visit is unexpected, but still welcome."
"I thought it best," the Romulan leader said, "to seek a personal meeting. It is best to obviate as many possibilities as we can for miscommunication and misunderstanding."
"Of course." The Federation President eyed his visitor closely. "Shall we step into my private office?" Both Romulan and Federation security guards visibly bristled, but said nothing.
D'Tan bowed again. "I am honoured, Mr. President."
The private office was a medium-sized room, decorated in muted tones, the big desk half-covered in PADDs and printouts. Aennik Okeg waited for his guest to settle himself in a chair, before he asked, "So, Proconsul. How may I assist you?"
D'Tan hesitated for a moment before he said, "The Romulan Republic does not desire conflict with the Federation."
"The Federation does not desire conflict with the Romulan Republic." Okeg's near-lipless mouth still managed to smile. "So far, then, we are in harmony."
"I am concerned, though, that it may not last. The Hegemony of Bresar -"
"Ah." Okeg nodded, resignedly. "I thought it would be that."
"Valikra's strategy seems to include involving Vulcans in her conflicts with our people. There have been certain incidents - as I am sure you are aware."
"The most recent being in the Durella system. I have heard reports - representations have been made to censure a Starfleet officer, one Vice Admiral Grau."
D'Tan sniffed. "Please inform me if she is to be censured, because in that event, the Republic might be obliged to give her a medal. Mr. President, so far, most of your Starfleet officers - like this Grau - have acted admirably -"
"There have been many raids by the Hegemony against Republic targets. In some cases, Federation forces have been unable to assist - and there have been one or two instances where Starfleet has shown reluctance to engage forces that included Federation citizens in their ranks. It is understandable, Mr. President, but that does not make it right."
"I see," said Okeg, slowly.
"We cannot protest directly to the Hegemony - that organization is intransigent, it refuses to recognize the Republic -"
"You do not, I note, deny them recognition," Okeg observed.
D'Tan made an impatient gesture. "The Hegemony exists. We may dispute its legitimacy, but to deny the fact of its being is... futile." He took a deep breath. "Its stated goal is the reunification of the Vulcan and Romulan peoples. Mr. President, that is my ultimate ambition, too, it has been for all of my adult life. And please do not misunderstand... if that goal could be achieved at the cost of my own, personal, political career - I would make that sacrifice gladly. But Valikra's methods...."
"The Hegemony - the Romulan side of it - is principally engaged in war with the Tal Shiar and its allied Imperial remnants. My information is that Hegemony attacks in Republic space have been mainly directed at Reman targets."
"Yes. It seems a conscious attempt to isolate the Remans - to drive a wedge between them and us." D'Tan shook his head. "The Remans have been an oppressed people for centuries. As a matter of - of morality - we owe them justice. And, as a matter of practical politics - the Reman liberation underground is a powerful force in itself, and we of the Republic must ensure that it remains peaceful."
"Yes," Okeg said with another slight smile. "One of my human aides has a coarse but vivid metaphor involving an Earth draft animal called a camel. I can well understand that you want Obisek inside the tent."
D'Tan thought for a moment, then laughed briefly. "As you say - coarse, but vivid." His voice became serious again. "If Reman interests continue to be attacked, I cannot guarantee that they will not fight back. If Valikra continues to involve Vulcans in Hegemony military activity... then I cannot guarantee that we will not come to that thing neither of us desires: conflict between Republic and Federation forces."
"The obvious thing, then, is to ensure that Vulcans do not become involved," said Okeg. "Obvious, but not necessarily easy to achieve."
"I can make no representations to the Hegemony while it refuses to acknowledge the Republic's existence. But Vulcan can hardly refuse to acknowledge the Federation."
"True... but my hands are tied by the Federation charter. We cannot interfere in the internal political affairs of Vulcan. We cannot prevent individual Vulcans from joining what is, in effect, a new Vulcan political party. Nor can the Vulcan authorities do that, within the terms of their own constitutional system. We can give assurances that any Vulcans operating within the Hegemony military do so without the support of the Federation. I can, and will, clarify this to Starfleet, should the need arise."
"I think that need has already arisen. I would ask, Mr. President, if it is possible to do more. By persuasion and diplomacy, not by force of law."
"I fear," said Okeg, "that we might need a very capacious tent to fit both Obisek and Valikra inside it. But we will do what we can.... The Vulcan side of the Hegemony, led by Stiak, should be more amenable to reason." His golden eyes narrowed. "Though I am concerned, myself, with the Vulcan side of things."
"I have had reports from Starfleet Intelligence and a number of other sources. The Hegemony of Bresar is extending its influence on Vulcan and its colony worlds. There is nothing, we think, subversive or seditious - everything is open and above board. But they are increasingly persuading key officials, some highly placed in the Vulcan government, to become members of their group."
D'Tan frowned. "That is... somewhat disquieting."
"It depends, I suppose, on how one perceives their motivation. As I understand it, this membership of the Hegemony is supposed to be purely symbolic, at least until such a time as the Hegemony comes within sight of its overall goal. Neither I nor the Vulcan Council can forbid people to join a social group or a political party. Not without direct evidence, at least, of treason or sedition - and there is none such."
"But, in the situation you describe," said D'Tan, "there may be many who have... divided loyalties."
"That is my concern. Especially as the Hegemony apparently regards itself as a single political unit - with no internal boundaries between its Vulcan and Romulan halves."
"Perhaps we can suggest to this Stiak that Vulcans should not cross to the Romulan side and expect the same legal protections they have as Vulcans."
"Stiak might be persuaded... I am less sure of Valikra. I am also concerned over movements in the other direction - effectively, several Vulcan colonies have opened their borders to the Romulans, and there is a considerable influx."
D'Tan frowned. "I cannot regard that as an unmitigated disaster, Mr. President. The parlous state of many of my people's refugees is well known - the Republic does what it can, of course, but it is never enough."
"It may be laudable on humanitarian grounds," said Okeg, "but it carries with it security implications - some high-ranking Tal Shiar officers have defected to Valikra, and the Tal Shiar will not forgive such disloyalty. We must be on our guard, therefore, against assassins, spies and other infiltrators - and the lowering of the borders makes this difficult."
"I understand." D'Tan sighed. "I have yearned for reunification... but I did not imagine it might come about like this."
"It still remains, I regret to say, a remote prospect," said Okeg. "The more remote, if a wedge is driven between your people and the Hegemony.... Well. I will do what I can, through diplomatic channels. Perhaps Valikra will prove persuadable. Efforts are being made in that direction."