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The space surrounding the Gateway in the Kamenyan system was occupied by a cloud of dormant torpedoes, waiting to be activated by the Navy’s high command. Beyond this improvised minefield, a cordon of starships and patrol crafts constantly combed the area while small civilian crafts owned by news companies lurked just outside of the exclusion zone, their high-power cameras pointed at the Gate in the hope of catching a glimpse of anything that might be coming through.

When the foreign ship emerged, broadcasting its message into the void, it was swiftly relayed to Kamenymir where the media immediately interrupted their regular schedules to display the pixelated images of the Chosen ship, as they called themselves, along with the message. While news corporations made record viewer numbers, the Directorate sent a dry, professional reply. “Unknown ship, you are in Kamenyan space. Please maintain your current position, advancing further will be considered trespassing. A representative will come aboard soon.”

The Chosen’s crew stopped immediately as they passed through the Gateway. The ship’s sensors picked up unidentified starships and a planet that was very much inhabited. As soon as the message came through from the Kamenyans, William gave his own orders to his crew. No insignias, no threatening postures, the representative will be guided into a blank meeting room and no guard will be in said room.

In comparison to the crews of the other members of the Fist, William’s crew was the most different of them all. Theirs armor was black, heads covered by helmets with only the flag of the Chosen drawn on their shoulders. While the other members of the Fist would crew their ships with Templars and Clerics from their own branches, most of William’s crew was hand-picked by William himself from members of the Church from all branches of it making it a jack-of-all-trades type.

“Greetings Kamenyan people once more, please feel free to board us. We aren’t looking for trouble. If you wish to fight, we can schedule one later on but for now, let’s talk.” sent William to the closest Kamenyan ships, his tone friendly.

After a few minutes, a reply came through. “We are sending a shuttle with an envoy on board, it should reach your ship in 60 minutes.” Indeed, Anton Kroll just arrived on the orbital port above Novyras and embarked on a small skiff, determined to meet the intruders in person despite the misgivings of his advisors. Eventually, he exited the airlock and set foot on the Chosen ship. He wore his usual black suit with a red tie and white shirt, echoing the colors of the KDD on the pin he had on his jacket, bearing the triangular emblem. Kroll was short for a Kamenyan, standing at only 191 cm. He had grey hair and typical purple eyes along with the distinctive strong musculature innate to all Kamenyans. His posture and attitude were neutral and calculated, an image that he carefully maintained as befitting of his position.

Templars stood at full attention as Kroll got out of the airlock, with a quick salute at the short man in front of them they quickly guided him to the designated meeting room. It was a white room with nothing distinctive on the walls, a table and two chairs in the middle.

William was dressed in a full black suit covering every part of his body besides his face and hands, his back was turned towards the entrance and was pacing around the room running scenarios and lines to say when Kroll was led into the room.

He turned quickly towards him, his back straight letting his imposing physique and height that was around 2.4m show.

“Welcome to my ship. I am William James Grant, High Hierarch of the Chosen. “ said Willam, voice calm with a smile on his face as he extended a hand towards Kroll.

“Anton Kroll,” the Kamenyan replied as he took the extended hand with a firm shake. “Director-General of the Kamenyan Defense Directorate. We have been expecting a visit from other colonies for some time, please forgive the lack of welcoming decorum. We’re simply being careful.” As he spoke, he noted the height of the Hierarch, who stood taller than even the tallest people on Kamenymir. A kind of genetic manipulation, or physical enhancement perhaps? He tried to not pay it much mind, as disconcerting as it was.

“Director-General. An honor to meet you. If I am not mistaken, your title denotes a high position in your nation’s hierarchy. I’m glad we can meet on the same…level from that point of view.

I fully understand the lack of decorum, we too in the Chosen have mobilized our fleet and placed defenses in front of our Gateway. You never know who’s out there and what their intentions are. But, where are my manners? Please take a seat, someone will bring us refreshments that you shouldn’t die from.” as he said the last bit, William realized what he said and how it could be interpreted.

"Apologies, what I mean by that is that RADX-001, our home planet, is extremely hostile to humans. Toxic atmosphere, poisonous water and all sorts of unpleasant ways to die. My people will bring over some refreshments that were prepared specifically for humans.”

Soon after William finished talking, a priest came into the room, dressed in a long black robe. With a short nod to William and Kroll, the priest put on the table a tray with different types of meats and vegetables and two cups of liquid that resembled coffee.

Kroll nodded, taking one of the cups in hand. “I have the honor of representing the leadership of the Directorate. My duty is to oversee all Directorate decisions and arbitrate between the Departments that compose our government.” He took a sip of the steaming black liquid. The taste wasn’t offensive, at least.

“You said that you had these refreshments prepared for humans. As if you are not.” His bright purple eyes carefully studied William. “Is that the case?”

Multiple departments of the government would mean a democracy and by the number of ships and weapons they had in space, a well-protected democracy. William nodded silently to himself.

“I hope the drink is good. We don’t have coffee plants on our planet and we made those artificially to resemble it as much as possible. Now–” William took a deep breath and continued “--that’s debatable. The Chosen were human after Earthfall but our leader, the great geneticist Doctor Ashevelen changed our DNA to allow us to survive on our new planet. You could say we’re enhanced humans but the term that we use is Chosen. So, we are and we aren’t humans at the same time. For example…” he let the sentence drop as he lifted his right hand in the air. His fingers started to change, uniting themselves into a sharp tip akin to a knife then changed back to their normal form.

“Humans cannot do that, if I’m not mistaken but some of us do." William’s move was as calculated as it could be. It would either prompt Kroll to show his own enhancements, whatever kind they were or gross him out. At the same time, it showed that the Chosen weren't someone to be trifled with.

The Director-General stared at William’s hand, shock visible on his face for a few seconds of disbelief. “That is…” Eerie? Monstrous? Horrifying? “...remarkable.” Kroll did his best to regain his composure, setting the cup of coffee down on the table. Just how far did the other colonies fall from the proverbial tree?

Anton Kroll chastised and forced himself to calm down. Enough gawking. “Remarkable indeed. This Doctor Ashevelen must have been truly exceptional in her field…” Wait. What did this ‘Chosen’ say earlier? “You mentioned that this Doctor is your leader. After three hundred years?”

William studied Kroll’s face for a reaction to his parlor trick. “Pardon my transformation if it startled you. Most of the Chosen cannot do this, my body was enhanced when I joined the military to better suit my role at the time. We’ve cured most diseases known to humans and there aren’t many injuries we can’t heal.” William’s voice was friendly with a genuine smile on his face, even his eyes shined with it.

He nodded a few times at Kroll’s compliment to Ashevelen’s skill. It was true, herself and one or two more could count themselves in the same area as Einstein, Edison, Tesla and Hawkins for their skills. Even before Earthfall, Ashevelen received praise after praise and the only person that could match her in her field was her sister.

“Indeed. She’s still alive and well. While we haven’t found a way to fully stop the aging process, we did manage to slow it down considerably. For example, I am 112 years old myself but I don’t look a day older than 30. In about 100 years my body will start to degrade to the point where I could be called old from a medical point of view.

On that point, we are more than happy to share with your nation as a sign of goodwill something beneficial.”

As soon as William stopped talking, another priest came into the room holding a tray with three vials and put it on the table. Each of the vials was filled with a pleasantly looking blue liquid and if one would open and smell the liquid they’d find that it smelled like blueberries.

“This–” started William as he took one of the vials in his hand “--is medicine. It will cure mostly any disease as long as it ain’t fatal or genetic in nature. You can either drink it or administer it via an IV which will act faster. Got to be used fully otherwise it will not work.” as he finished the sentence, William put the vial back on the tray and pushed it towards Kroll.

“Feel free to take them, get them to your labs or try it on a volunteer. Up to you.”

A sign of goodwill, then? It seemed that the Chosen wished to appear friendly, at the very least. But this scarcely answered the Kamenyan’s questions. He leaned back on his chair, an indefinable expression on his face as he glanced down at the vials, then back at the man twice his age who looked half. Was that even the truth? The way he reshaped his fingers was real, anyway.

“Thank you for the gift.” A few seconds passed. “High Hierarch, you evidently hold a position of power with your people. I ask you frankly: what are your intentions? Your goal here certainly goes beyond giving us three bottles of medicine. Forgive me if I sound rude, but I must know what it is the ‘Chosen’ want with us.”

"You are most welcome. Just one more thing to add about it before I answer that. Don't try to tamper with it. The formula is in a delicate balance, any type of tampering will make it unstable. That and we've got our own ways to secure our technology from potential thieves. " As William said unstable, he mimicked with his hands an explosion, his face still having his very friendly smile.

"Don't worry about sounding rude. Pretty sure you weren't expecting your day to go about like this. The vials are a sign of goodwill from my nation to yours and nothing more. We don't wish for anything in exchange.

My coming here has four purposes–" he lifted a finger up as he enumerated them"--one: to determine if others survived Earthfall. Two: if others survived, if they pose a threat for the Chosen. Three: if they pose a threat, should they be pacified before they can attack us…and four: if they are peaceful, can we establish trade with them?

The Chosen care deeply about knowledge, as you might’ve noticed. Technological advances that the Chosen have made can be shared in exchange for different ones from other nations in the hopes that at the end of the deal, both parties leave smarter than they were before. "

Kroll’s eyes narrowed. “We are a peaceful people, but we are not harmless. I hope, for the sake of your people and mine, that the answer to your third purpose is negative. As for trade, we are willing to exchange goods and services. Technology, however, requires more thought and consideration.” He joined his hands on the table.

“After we learn more about each other and come to understand one another’s culture and motives better, technology exchanges may be on the table. But for now… Let’s say I do not trust you yet. And by extension, neither does the Kamenyan people. Meaning no offense.”

William clapped his hands and stood up, soon after a priest entered the room with a bottle of alcohol, putting in on the table two glasses were produced and filled with the alcohol that looked very much as old Earth wine.

"This, Director, is the finest alcohol that I've got on the ship. Please, have just a sip. " William then followed through and took a few sips of his own.

"I didn't mean to alarm or threaten you. If you would've been a threat, I would've simply poisoned the air in this room or any other number of ways to kill you and then I would've made my escape by the time your people would've figured out what happened. So, don't worry. You haven't attacked us and we aren't looking to fight with anyone that doesn't initiate it.

I understand the caution though. If your people allow it, when I get back home, we shall send our traders to negotiate deals. I'm sure your planet has a big number of plants, fauna, minerals and so on that we don't have. "

William paced around the room for a few seconds and nodded then turned around to Kroll.

"There is one more thing you should be aware of. The Chosen are…pelicular in our ways. Our leader, Doctor Ashevelen, is viewed by most as Goddess and revered as one. It's a view, herself and a few others, myself included…do not share. It was a necessary decision that was taken in the early days after Earthfall. A decision which if revoked now would cause the death of untold millions. Mostly all civilians.

We don't expect you to refer to herself as a Goddess but some of our people might be a bit more zealous. I only ask your people not to dissuade ours from their beliefs. A plan is in place for the dissolution of the Church of the Chosen and the return of true democracy. Bloodshed is something that Doctor Ashevelen wishes to avoid at any cost. "

William took a deep breath, studying Kroll’s reaction and then added "Will that be a problem? I fully understand that it isn't something…easy to accept."

This time, Anton Kroll could not hide a disgusted scowl as he processed the information. By what right does one masquerade as a god to rule over their peers? This revelation was anathema to the very being of the KDD and all human dignity! That this so-called Doctor had the gall to act in such a revolting way was too much for Kroll to maintain his neutral expression.

Predatelskiy…” he uttered with a clenched jaw, practically growling with anger. “This… is unacceptable. We Directors live and die by the will of the Kamenyan people, as the Constitution commands thanks to the selflessness of the Founders. To think that this Ashevelen dares to trick her own people in such a shameful way, and what’s more, to remain in her position for three hundred years!” Kroll was raising his voice as he spoke, almost shouting and getting up from his chair with fury. “On Kamenymir, she would be condemned to death for such a crime, and rightfully so.”

He exhaled a few times, readjusting his red tie. He calmed down somewhat, but his face bore a hardness that it did not before. “You may send your traders, ‘Chosen’. But as long as Ashevelen remains in any position of power or influence over your people, that will be the extent of our relationship.”

William noticed Kroll’s anger and for a brief moment his eyes turned fully black and under his smile, razor-sharp teeth could be seen. With a strong, sharp voice, he uttered the words "Calm. Down. Doctor Ashevelen doesn't deceive her people because she wants that. The people chose it themselves and continued to choose her for the past 270 years. She never publicly admitted to being a Goddess. Not has she ever abused her power. She only played the cards that were given and led our nation to prosperity. I have no knowledge of your nation's struggles but understand this. Our planet was hell for humanity. She did what she had to and now…no one starves, no one dies of curable diseases. No one lives on the streets. We don't have the word poor in our language. There isn't such a thing as death to the elements lest someone decides to die on their own terms. Education for all. Houses. You name it and the Chosen have it." William took a deep breath and his eyes turned normal again, his sharp teeth as well.

"You are free to believe whatever you wish but do not disrespect the Doctor for she saw the death of thousands and she made it stop. For all she knew, humanity would've been extinct if she didn't sacrifice as much as she did and if you don't believe me, you're welcome to visit our planet. See for yourself the monuments of the dead. See for yourself the pain and suffering that the Chosen went through until she stepped up.

Our chosen leaders from before? They made harems for themselves. They had slaves . The Doctor ended them not because it brought her pleasure but because there was no other choice. It was either that or extinction. So, I ask again. Don't. Ever. Disrespect. Her. For she isn't a leader because she sought power but because there was no other choice. If she could leave the Chosen and live peacefully, she would but she's forced to stay. You shouldn't judge us by our leader but by our experiences." His voice calmed down and the smile from before came again.

"Do you understand now?"

“Oh, I do.” Kroll straightened up, looking the man half a meter taller than him in the eyes. “And I need you to understand that I have no patience for an impostor’s excuses while she keeps her people in a gilded cage. No amount of wealth or comfort is a substitute for freedom. This conversation is over.” The Director-General of the KDD stepped back. “Now, you can kill me for my blasphemy, perhaps bite my throat off with those teeth of yours, and in doing so sign your own death warrant. I am a soldier, another will take my place. That is how we endure on the World of Stone.” He turned around and added, “You should do well to understand that as well,” before walking away, leaving the medicine vials and a half-full cup of lukewarm coffee on the table.


The sun was setting on Novyras, capital city of Kamenymir. The Kamenyan flag floated in the warm breeze in front of a tall building of steel and tinted glass: the headquarters of the KDD. In the Directorate’s meeting room, an extraordinary session was taking place, for a matter that could not wait until the morrow. On a wide display screen was plainly visible the space anomaly that warranted all the effervescence: the Gate.

Director-General Anton Kroll rubbed the bridge of his nose, eyebrows furrowed as he mulled over the news. “Still nothing in the press?”

“Nothing so far, sir,” an assistant answered, “but there are reports that several civilian ships could get well within scoping distance before the Navy put the area in lockdown. We can expect the news to reach the public within the hour, maximum.”

“Great.” Kroll sighed. “What about the Gate? Are we sure that it is what it looks like?”

Director Ava Dotsenko of the Department of Sciences pushed her glasses up her nose and looked at her notes. “Preliminary scans are consistent with data from the Nadezhda. The colony ship’s black box records also match probing data.” She looked up. “It is the Gate. And it’s active.”

Murmurs filled the meeting room. This was a historic event of an unprecedented magnitude in the history of the nation. Finally, the Director of the Department of Industry spoke up, looking around the assembly. “Then, we should assume that it is possible to send ships through. Or for someone else to send theirs. What then?”

A brief moment of silence followed.

“The active military is to switch to Alert Condition 3. Dotsenko, study of the Gate is your priority.” Kroll joined his hands on the table. “And if we are to meet foreigners… We will need a new Department.”

******************************************************************************************************************
Two weeks later

Admiral Damian Szpara glanced at the watch on his wrist. “All ships in the fleet, this is admiral Szpara. Five minutes until mission launch, prepare for the jump.” Each of the ships in the fleet acknowledged the order. Aside from the New Sun, a Zheoda-class battlecarrier and flagship of the detachment, the fleet was composed of one Almaz-class cruiser, eight Kobalt-class frigates and six Onyx-class heavy frigates. The KDDN was not looking for a fight, but it made ready for one.

Despite his displayed calm, Szpara was anything but. The probe that had been sent through the Gate made it to Sol and back in one piece, but the admiral had mixed feelings about the data it brought back regarding unknown ships in the system. There were a lot of them, and without the more powerful sensor arrays of a large ship, the probe could not reliably identify their tonnage or if they were civilian or military.

As the crew strapped themselves on their seats, Ambassador Vona Toman did the same. Grateful that he could be on the bridge of the New Sun instead of having to wait in his cabin, he could barely contain his excitement. Meeting other colonies, after three centuries of isolation? He wouldn’t trade his place for anything in the universe. Of course, the former history professor was well aware of his responsibilities as a member of the KDD's brand new Department of Diplomacy, but those could wait until he was actually required to do his job. Gripping his polished steel cane, the Ambassador braced himself as the fleet fired its engines and plunged into the swirling abyss of the Gate.

******************************************************************************************************************

Thousands of crew members and marines breathed sighs of relief when the fleet emerged out into the Sol system. On the bridge of the New Sun, as the cheers and celebration of the officers died down, the communications officer reported to the admiral.

“Sir, all ships are present and report no issues.” That was, at least, a good start. “We’re picking up unknown comms. Foreign languages, but… I’m pretty sure they’re all human.”

“Alright. All ships, this is the admiral. Assume defensive formation number two. Keep all weapons powered down, shields up. We’re moving towards the unknown ships to meet with them. Do not engage unless fired upon, but be ready for any surprises. Slava Kamenye!

The Kamenyan ships began to move into the system, broadcasting a message in several Old Earth languages.

“To all entities, forces, and vessels in this system. We are representatives of the Kamenyan Defense Directorate, investigating the Sol system after the awakening of our Gate. We are peaceful and wish to establish contact with the rest of humanity. Be advised, these ships are armed and we will use force in the eventuality of any aggressive action towards our detachment.”


The advertisement ended with a stunning view of an ocean coast, bathed in sunlight and with white foam forming on the waves around jet black reefs. “So if you’re looking for a fresh start, to be part of a new colony’s founding or just an incredible view, don’t wait any longer! Black Teeth City is waiting for YOU!”

After a short pause, the broadcast showed a blazing blue star with the words ‘Blue Star News Network’ in front of it in shining 3D letters. At the bottom of the screen, a white on red text stated: ‘Special edition: fleet departure for Earth scheduled for tomorrow’. The upbeat music continued in the background as a clean-shaven man in a suit with short blonde hair and a red-haired woman wearing an elegant dress appeared on screen.

“Good evening,” the woman intoned with a bright smile, “I’m Nadzieja Finkel.”

The man beside her nodded, smiling as well. “And I’m Mathias Stachurski. Welcome to this special news edition, here on Blue Star News Network. We’ve had a big announcement today, is that right?”

“That’s the understatement of the year, Mathias!” Nadzieja brought a strand of her hair back behind her ear. “The KDD has officially confirmed earlier today that Task Force Vigrid is scheduled to go through the Gate tomorrow, at thirteen hours. Let’s backtrack on this month of effervescence since the Gate reactivated. A lot happened, didn’t it?”

“Indeed Nadzieja, most of us never imagined that such an event would happen during our lifetime, but the KDD reacted as quickly as usual and announced the creation of a brand new Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs.” The screen split to show a picture of a blonde woman in a Navy black and gold uniform to the right of the two journalists. “The appointed Director is a thirty-nine-year-old colonel by the name of Valka Kirillovna and, this is a piece of exclusive information that we have received just minutes ago, we have the name of our ambassador to anybody who might be out there.”

A second picture appeared under that of the new Director, a man with orange and purple odd-eyes, short black hair, and a similarly black goatee save for a white strip on the left side. “Vona Toman.” Nadzieja joined her hands on the table before her. “Quite the handsome man, if I dare to say. Let’s hope that whoever is out there will be charmed by this brilliant history professor. He will be under a lot of pressure, that’s for certain.”

Mathias nodded. “That’s right. I expect his boss to be breathing down his neck regularly. After all, it’s her career and her life that are on the line!”

-The next day-

Vona was trying his best to stay out of the way of the Navy personnel on the bridge of the New Sun, an Almaz-class cruiser and flagship of Task Force Vigrid. Everyone there always seemed to have something to do, while the Ambassador felt decidedly out of his element. But he would be damned if he spent any more time than he strictly had to in his cabin; he would be part of History now, instead of merely studying it. He nervously tapped his fingers on his cane’s pommel that he leaned on with his left hand. Even after all this time, he still had a slight limp.

It was funny, he thought, even as the ship’s commander was giving out orders for the fleet to make ready to move through the Gate he was still a little bummed that he couldn’t take Fuzz along. Of course, a military spaceship was no place for a shimmerbee, and Vona’s sister assured him that she would take care of her in his absence. But still…

Commander Masur’s stern voice sounded through the ship’s speakers in every section and in the rest of the fleet’s vessels. “To all ships, we have the green light. Move out.”

----------

Seven crafts emerged into the Sol system. The cruiser made the smaller frigates, two Kobalt and four Onyx, look tiny by comparison. To the human eye, there was nothing but the cold void around, but the fleet was already busy making sense of the myriad of information it was receiving.

Masur stood at the center of the bridge, hands on the table that served as a holographic map projector. “What do we have, Gerson?”

An officer turned around on her swivel seat. “There are signs of activity, sir. A lot. I’m getting communications as well as energy signatures concentrated around Earth. It’s hard to tell exactly what they are from this distance, but it’s busy.”

“Earth is our heading. Ahead slow, start broadcasting the Old English message. Shields active, keep all weapons powered down.” Another officer echoed the commander’s order, communicating the exact coordinates to the engine sections with his station’s phone while another did the same with the shields controls and a third contacted the weapon batteries.

As the fleet assumed a defensive formation and burned towards humanity’s cradle, Vona could barely contain his trepidation.

“To all entities, forces, and vessels in this system. We are representatives of the Kamenyan Defense Directorate, investigating the Sol system after the awakening of our Gateway. We are peaceful and wish to establish contact with the rest of humanity. Be advised, these ships are armed and we will use force in the eventuality of any aggressive action towards our detachment.”



“Hey, uh, George, I think you might want to see this.”

“What is it now?”

“Just come up here real quick. This seems kind of important.”

“Fine, Marcel, but this is the last time, do you hear me? Remember that time you said there was a space whale?”

George started climbing up the ladder to the ship’s tiny cockpit. The two men had been running a “package delivery service” in the fringes of the Kudrion system, and it had been rather successful, except for that one time where they nearly got stopped and searched at Baldr station. George pushed Marcel out of the way to get a better view. It was then that he saw the seven ships, one big one and six small ones. Uh oh.

“You’re right. This does seem kind of important. Think it’s some sort of police?”

“Nah, did you hear the transmission they sent out?”

“No, you idiot, I was downstairs. Summarize it for me.”

“Well,” Marcel excitedly said, “they said that they were representatives from a new nation whose gateway was only recently activated! Can you imagine that? If we notify the Ambassador we could be famous! Maybe we can even ask for some money?”

“Notify the authorities? Are you stupid? What do you think they’ll do when they find our cargo? Let me handle this.” George was already coming up with a scheme. Maybe they could profit from this after all.

George tried to send a message to the largest of the seven ships: “Hello, this is the KSS Stormfalcon. Uhh…” George paused for a moment. He had to make sure the lie was at least a little convincing. “We are diplomats from the Kingdom of Kudrion, on our way to the Meeting Place, the big station you see near Earth. However, maybe we could meet on your ship? It is a great honor to meet a nation new to the galactic scene.”

----------

Meanwhile, on the Meeting Place, Emily, the actual Kudrioni Ambassador, had just finished her last important job for the day, and was now relaxing. She had sat back, put her feet on the table (damn, she was gonna need to clean the dirt from her boots later), and was now scrolling through some of the news while enjoying some coffee.

Then she heard the message. And she spat out her coffee.

“Damnit,” she grumbled, “more work.”

----------

“Well what are the chances…” Commander Masur mumbled to himself. Next to him, Vona was practically jumping with joy.

“Hear that? Another colony! And there’s a whole bunch more by the sound of it.” He had a grin from ear to ear, like a kid with a new toy on Founding holidays, while most of the crew on the bridge exchanged smiles. Most Kamenyans hoped that other colonies had survived, but receiving confirmation was something else.

“It comes from a small ship, commander. About the size of a shuttle,” Lieutenant Gerson said.

“Open communications.” The commander did not seem to share his crew’s enthusiasm. “Stormfalcon, this is commander Masur aboard the ship New Sun. You have permission to board, you will receive a fighter escort to guide your ship.” Eyes still on the map, he had his eyes fixated on the small blue dot representing the unknown ship. “Zalewski, get me flight control.” Two seconds passed. “Have two birds take off with orders to scan the unknown vessel for weapons and energy signatures. If they’re clear, escort them to the cargo bay for landing. If not, they are to send a report to the bridge directly.”

“Commander, I don’t mean to overstep but… is this all really necessary?” Vona had enough awareness to speak softly, so as to not appear to be undermining Masur’s authority. “It almost sounds like we’re taking them captive.”

“I understand that you are on a diplomatic mission, Ambassador, but I will not expose my ship to unnecessary risks.” There was no arguing with the commander. “I’ll give you a squad of marines as escort from the cargo bay to your cabin.”

Minutes later, a pair of squat-looking crafts formed up to each side of the small ship. While their sensors scanned it, one of the pilots radioed its crew. “Stormfalcon, we are your escort to the New Sun. Please follow our lead.”

George rubbed his hands together. “See, Marcel? That’s how it’s done.”

Marcel had already started flying the ship towards the fleet when the two craft appeared. “Shit! They’ve sent out two fighters! What do we do? I’d rather not be imprisoned for smuggling on an unknown ship”

“Shut up for once and give me the radio.” George said as he roughly grabbed the speaker from Marcel’s hands. “Thank you, New Sun, we appreciate the escort.”

As the fighters scanned the two ships, they would see that the Stormfalcon only had a small turret on board, but it was currently powered off. The only energy signature that could be detected was the ship’s reactor.

Marcel steered towards the New Sun, following the two escort craft. “So, what do we do when we are inside? Do we pretend we’re gods or something?”

“You should stop watching those ancient movies, they’re not doing you any good. We’ll just pretend we’re diplomats, and try to get something from them.”

“So what does being a diplomat entail, exactly?”

“You know what? I don’t know. But we’ll figure it out.”

----------

Vona Toman adjusted his suit and scrubbed the pin bearing the KDD’s symbol on his jacket’s left lapel, even though it was spotless already. The indicator light above the door to the cargo bay switched from red to yellow, then to green, indicating that the bay was pressurized and safe to enter. He took a deep breath and pulled the lever next to the door, which slid open.

The Kudrioni ship was there, held in place by the ship’s artificial gravity that was much higher than what would be normal for humans. Vona started walking towards it, his cane making a distinct metallic sound every time it struck the metal floor. Behind him came eight of the ship’s marines, each of them standing more than a foot taller than the Ambassador in their power armor, even though he was the Kamenyan average of 6’ 7”.

The boarding ramp of the Kudrioni ship opened with a hissing noise and a puff of steam, and two men, clad in an assortment of clothes and pelts, came out of the Stormfalcon. Marcel and George had realized that they didn’t have any official-looking uniforms, so they had quickly gathered a random mix of clothes to make them look a little more like diplomats, hoping that the Kamenyans would think that was just their culture.

George comically stumbled as he walked out of the ship, unused to the gravity that was much higher than their own homeworld, but was caught by Marcel. They walked all the way down the ramp, stopping in front of the Ambassador. Both of them were about as tall as the other man, owing to Kudrion’s own genetic modifications. “Hello,” George said, “We are George and Marcel. We are diplomats from the Kingdom of Kudrion. Once again it is an honor to meet you.”

“Greetings. My name is Vona Toman, Ambassador of the Kamenyan Defense Directorate.” Vona smiled amicably, trying his best to seem friendly despite the squad of heavily armored marines standing behind him. Strange clothes, he thought. But these men claimed to be representatives of a kingdom, of all things. Cultural differences are to be expected in these situations. “Please, follow me. My cabin is not exactly fit for diplomatic receptions, but it’s still better than a cargo bay.”

After a minute of walking, the would-be diplomats and their escort stepped into an elevator that started moving upwards after one of the soldiers pushed a button. “So, this… Meeting Place. Is it an embassy of some sort? We noticed a lot of activity around Earth’s orbit.”

George immediately started following Vona. Marcel, meanwhile, looked around nervously, wary of some sort of trap, before catching up with the two others. Neither of the two Kudrioni was really comfortable with the marines, but it was too late to turn back now. “Yes,” George said, “it is a great station, built by the many different nations that came through the Gateway. I’ve got no idea why, though. It was there when our nation arrived, at least that’s what everyone says.”

“I’m sorry, I’m just taken aback a little by your height. On the meeting place, many are shorter than we are, so it’s a little surprising to see people who are as tall. Also, why do I feel so heavy?” George rubbed his back after asking that last question, clearly in pain.

“Ah, apologies. Gravity on our homeworld is… quite a bit higher than what most humans would be used to. It is indirectly the reason why we Kamenyans are tall. My height is about average, you see.” It didn’t make much sense that higher gravity would make people taller, but the elevator stopping gave Vona an excuse to change the subject. He wasn’t eager to start disclosing too much information right off the bat. “Here we are.” The door to his cabin opened and he walked inside. The soldiers in dark power armor took up stations in the corridor and next to the elevator, and Vona gestured for the two smugglers-turned-diplomats towards a metal desk with two simple but comfortable seats, a swivel chair on the other side of it. The room was not very large without being cramped, just able to accommodate a bookshelf and a few other pieces of furniture. “Please, have a seat. Would you care for a drink? Tea, perhaps? Or, if you would prefer something stronger, I have a bottle of redfruit schnapps for occasions such as this.”

Both men sat down at the table. “I would like some of the schnapps, please,” George responded. “And my friend here does too,” he said, gesturing to Marcel who nodded eagerly. The two smugglers hadn’t had any alcohol for some time, given that it wasn’t safe to drink while operating a spaceship full of very valuable, illegal cargo.

Vona opened a small cabinet and grabbed a bottle containing a clear liquid with a slight reddish hue and three small glasses, pouring one for each of his guests and one for himself before sitting down. “To our meeting, then.” He took a sip, letting the fruity flavor and slight sweetness fade before speaking up again, examining George and Marcel with his orange and purple odd-eyes. “So then, I hope that our arrival did not interrupt some mission of yours. We will do our best to not delay you, we will get to the Meeting Place soon enough.”

George took a sip of the drink. In his opinion, it wasn’t quite on par with the alcohol served in taverns on his home planet, but it would do for the occasion. Only then did he notice Vona’s eyes. They were orange and purple. He found it quite strange, he had seen many eye colors aboard the station, but never something like this. “Ah, yes, we were indeed on a mission. We uhh.” George paused for a moment, trying to think of an acceptable lie. “We are on a mission to bring gifts to the Empire of Newhesh. They are currently on our ship. That’s why we brought a cargo shuttle, see.” Wait, did Vona say the ship was heading to the Meeting Place? That can’t be good… “Actually, if we may, we would like to offer these gifts to you instead.”

That gave Vona pause as he raised an eyebrow. He started to think that these diplomats behaved rather strangely, despite reminding himself that cultural differences may be significant. “To us? I am sorry, but… I believe that you should offer these gifts to whoever they were intended for. I have no wish to interfere with your duties, nor does the Directorate expect to receive gifts.” He leaned back into his chair. “Besides, I can’t think of something we could give in exchange. Since this is a military vessel, we do not have much in the way of trading goods with us.”

Judging from Vona’s reaction, that was apparently the wrong thing to say. Guess they weren’t getting rid of the evidence today. “Of course! I just thought it would be nice to give something to a newly arriving nation,” George said, putting on a bright smile. “ The Empire can wait a little bit more, after all. We would be glad to accompany you to the Meeting Place, though. We could even give you a tour!” George nervously took sips from his glass of schnapps, waiting for the ship to arrive at the station…

While the Kamenyan Ambassador and his two guests made small talk, the New Sun eventually closed the distance with the station, its escort remaining at a respectable range as a show of good will. Actually docking with the Meeting Place took a while, since the dimensions of the airlocks were quite different. Eventually, the cruiser deployed an emergency flexible tube to connect to the gigantic space station, through which Vona and the two smugglers, accompanied by two of the ship’s marines, walked all the way to the Meeting Place. Despite the doubts he had in the back of his mind concerning the so-called Kudrioni diplomats, he couldn’t help being ecstatic at the thought of setting foot in an interstellar embassy.

As Vona stepped into the airlock, the first thing he noticed was how… light he was. Of course, he remembered, the gravity is lower here. That glass of schnapps suddenly seemed like it wasn’t the best idea after all, but just as the Ambassador swallowed in an effort to keep his breakfast down, the airlock opened.

The two ‘diplomats’ followed Vona through the ship’s tube, a little concerned about the sturdiness of the whole thing. If there was somehow a leak, they’d all die. Both men were happy being back at the station, though. Maybe they could try going to a bar somewhere to drink their sorrows away. However, their smiles and optimism faded as soon as the airlock opened and they saw what was on the other side.

Emily Kaldaz, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Kudrion, as well as the highest Kudrioni authority on the Meeting Place, was not amused. Though her blank expression didn’t show it, she was absolutely livid. After the New Sun’s message had been broadcasted throughout the station, she had quickly made preparations for its arrival. Kudrion had no first-contact protocol and she had been forced to improvise, however. It had been when she was choosing guards to accompany her that she heard that there were already diplomats from her nation on the ship. That was preposterous, of course, as Emily knew that King Dishuz had sent only her to act as a diplomat, and she came to the conclusion that they must be impostors.

Surrounded by four soldiers of the Royal Guard, who were clad in their resplendent silvery-white power armor, and holding their rifles, Emily waited for the ship to arrive. As she looked at the opening airlock, arms crossed, the slightest hint of a frown appeared on her face. Her suspicions had been proven correct.

Vona stepped out of the airlock, giving the woman a polite nod. “Greetings. My name is Vona Toman, Ambassador on behalf of Kamenymir. You must be Emily Kaldaz.” He received this information over the phone in his cabin when the commander of the New Sun informed him that a delegation would meet him on the Meeting Place. Vona deliberately withheld this information from George and Marcel, looking to confirm or dispel his doubts for good.

“I am indeed Ambassador Kaldaz. Welcome to the Meeting Place, Ambassador Vona.” The first thing she noticed was that Vona was actually a good bit taller than her, something that she wasn’t used to when meeting with foreigners. The second thing, of course, were the two disheveled men accompanying him. These must be the ‘diplomats’ that she’d heard about. Still, it was better to be safe than sorry. “Who are these two men?”

The Kamenyan raised an eyebrow. “I thought you might know.” He gestured towards the two men. “George, and Marcel. I learned from them that they were on a diplomatic mission to the Empire of Newhesh.” Vona’s tone made it clear now that he had his doubts. Behind them, the two marines moved their thumbs over the safety lever of their rifles.

Well, that confirmed it. “It is with great displeasure that I inform you that this ‘Empire of Newhesh’ does not exist. I believe that you are in the presence of two wanted Kudrioni criminals, smugglers perhaps, Ambassador Vona. I would appreciate it if you would hand them over so that they may be tried according to our laws,” Emily said, her restrained anger apparent to those who paid close attention.

Behind Vona, both ‘diplomats’ became increasingly more panicked as they heard the actual ambassador speak. “She’s lying! We’re the real diplomats and she’s the fake!” Marcel shouted, speaking for the first time since he had come aboard the New Sun. He was then promptly rewarded for this act with a slap to the back of his head from Marcel.

Vona sighed. Well, this was embarrassing. “Sergeant, if you would be so kind.” The two marines each clasped a hand on the smugglers’ shoulders, the strength of their fingers’ grip quite painful as they effortlessly pushed George and Marcel in front of them. “My apologies, Ambassador. I hoped that our first meeting would be more, ah… Prestigious.”

The two smugglers, rubbing their shoulders from the pain, resigned themselves to their fate. There was no running now. George and Marcel walked forward, towards their countrymen, and were eventually intercepted by the Royal Guard, who gripped them equally as painfully as the marines had.

“Now that is dealt with, I suggest we meet some other time, under better circumstances. I would be interested in learning about your country,” the Kudrioni ambassador said, her tone not much friendlier than the one she had before.

“Likewise. I would be glad to meet again… at a time of your choosing.” Vona looked around, tapping his fingers on his cane’s pommel. “Until then, we will work to establish a proper embassy.” And I will work to visit every inch of this place, he thought. How was that for a first day on the job?

About an hour later, a short message was broadcasted on the Meeting place.

“To the attention of all nations represented on this station, we are the Kamenyan Defense Directorate, sole governing body of Kamenymir. We are a peaceful people and look forward to working hand in hand with fellow children of Earth for our mutual benefit. If you wish to contact us, Ambassador Vona Toman is available for any diplomatic purposes.”

Collab with @jorvhik


Snow covered the streets and roofs of Paris. Outside, the City of Light was coming to life as the sun shone its first rays, barely warming up the cold air of January 1847. Charles Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, was having buttered bread, grilled bacon, and Algerian mandarin oranges with a cup of coffee for breakfast in his palace of the Tuileries.

“What news today, Alexandre?” The Emperor had his own daily routine, having his aide bring the latest relevant pieces of information to him in the morning.

“Good news from Africa, Sire. The empire of Morocco has capitulated to your demands and has agreed to stop supporting the rebels. Reports indicate that Abdelkader is fleeing east.”

Emir Abdelkader. What else?”

“A letter from Austria. For your eyes only.” The aide produced a sealed letter and handed it over to Napoléon.

He read it twice, then set it down on the table. “Brotherly heritage of the Caroligians… Old habits die hard,” he muttered.

“Sire?”

“Von Metternich wishes that Austria be friends with France, it seems. Or so he says.” The Emperor took a sip of coffee. “He speaks of friendship and prosperity, but there is hostility as well. The Austrians want us to believe that they blame our past enemies for the rivalries between us. Poor Austria was manipulated by the Russians, Prussians… British, most likely.”

“Do you believe them?”

“No. They want us to hate them slightly less than we hate all of our old enemies, this is the only truth I can see in this paper. That’s what matters.” A short pause followed. “Von Metternich also sent me a personal invitation to their… Conference on Track Gauges and Freight standards, as he puts it. And a visit of their country.”

“Would the Parliament approve?”

“The Parliament doesn’t need to know the exact contents of the letter. It will just be a tour of the conference. Everyone knows that I wish to develop railways further. And since Von Metternich offered to return my cousin’s remains to France, I cannot refuse. Nor can I send anyone else.”


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