Commander Peter Ross nervously swiped over the messages on his datapad. What was he even doing here? He was a soldier his entire life, a battle-hardened veteran. And, for some reason, Guardian Harlowe thought it was the best qualification for being an important diplomat in this place filled with… you couldn’t even call some of them human anymore, could you? But orders were orders, and while (at least officially) he could have refused, he knew it would be devastating to his career. So, he became a diplomat. And spent every day being drowned by his new responsibilities, making decisions that felt way above his pay grade, worrying he’s made the wrong ones.
It wasn’t all bad, most of the meetings weren’t super important like Peter’s first one where they debated the alliance treaty with the Kudrioni. He still felt bad about remembering how uneasy Emily Kaldaz seemed after recognizing him. It was absolutely understandable, given how their first encounter went by, with all the guns and strike teams and everything. Peter tried to stay out of her way for the next few weeks, not wanting to make her feel even more awkward, but it was remarkably difficult since there were close diplomatic relationships between their nations now and the representatives often met to debate various topics. She was always so glum and frowned at him.
Granted, she seemed to be that way around everyone, but Peter took it personally, believing it was his fault she was this unhappy and wanted to at least apologize to her for how his team invaded the ship she was on, putting them all in danger. He knew that as a Kudrioni, Emily had probably gone through military training as well, she was certainly no damsel in distress, but she was still a woman, and Peter was trying to be a gentleman. Not that he had had any success with it in the past, he seemed to scare every female away, but Emily was an important figure for their allies, so he ought to at least try to set things straight with her.
That’s why he sent her a message, inviting her to a quick meeting over a small misunderstanding in one of the treaties that were signed some time ago. Honestly, the whole thing was absolutely unimportant and could have been solved over messages but it made a good pretense to meet up with Emily. As he was getting ready to go, something licked his hand.
Peter looked down with a sigh. Bony Stark was officially Harlowe’s responsibility, but the Guardian was in some important negotiations that would probably take all day. Which meant Peter would have to bring the dog along to his meeting with Emily. Hopefully, she wasn’t allergic. At least Harlowe did a very good job training Bony and a tiny robot, a generous gift from the New Haven Directorate, followed the furry beast everywhere, cleaning after it because Peter was certainly not going to pick up dog shit.
It had been a few days after Emily’s discussion with Moimir. Those days, Emily had been buried under mountains of work. She didn’t mind it much, though. The work kept her busy, her mind free from troublesome thoughts and questions she didn’t want to think about. Of course, it did also confront her with the failures of Kudrion as a nation, but she had learned to bottle up those thoughts as well. She was just about to write another report to send back home when she got a very interesting notification on her tablet computer.
That was when she received the message from Commander Ross, to her surprise. It was an invitation to a meeting about some minor details in a recent treaty. A meeting in the Ishtari part of the station, of all places. Emily thought it was an odd choice of location for a diplomatic meeting, to say the least. However, it also intrigued her, as she had never been to the Ishtari gardens before and had heard it was quite beautiful. Emily considered it for a moment. Given the odd choice of location and the fact that the topic of the meeting was rather trivial, she suspected that Peter had other reasons for the meeting.
She had, of course, met him multiple times after their second encounter at the alliance negotiations. To her it seemed like Peter had started working as a diplomat full-time. Emily noticed that he didn’t really seem to feel at home working as a diplomat, but admittedly neither did she. He even seemed to be avoiding her after the signing of the alliance treaty, which she was actually quite grateful for. At least someone was scared off by her cold demeanor. Though she would never admit it, the invitation made her feel a little anxious. The circumstances under which they met were not ideal, and had left their mark, although she couldn’t really put the blame on the Commander.
In the end, Emily did decide to accept Commander Ross’ invitation. After all, as the sole Kudrioni diplomat on the station she had little choice in the matter, as any meeting with their allies could be of incredible importance. And so, keeping a quick pace, she set off towards the Ishtari gardens, through the long hallway of the Kingdom’s embassy and through some neutral spaces that belonged to no one nation. When she arrived, she saw that the rumors about the garden’s beauty hadn’t been lying. She also saw that she was alone, and had to wait a bit for Peter to arrive. Seems like she was there first.
The dog wiggled his tail excitedly when he and Peter reached the Ishtari gardens. The Undefeated were practical people, they didn’t waste time and energy on pretty things that served no real purpose. But even with that in mind Peter had to admit the place was beautiful and admire the craftsmanship and effort the strange women put into building it.
He was right on time for the meeting. Should he have come earlier? The thought did cross his mind, but he didn’t want to look too eager. Coming late would probably seem disrespectful and that was definitely not the impression he wanted to make. He was overthinking it, that’s what he usually did when he was nervous about something. Emily was already there, standing under a blossoming cherry tree, and, for once, she didn’t seem to be frowning as she admired the gardens.
Peter watched her for a moment and fortunately Bony’s quiet whining snapped him out of it before she could notice him staring at her. The dog was giving Peter his best puppy eyes. Damn animal. “Free.” Just one word and Bony darted away, chasing some poor colorful insects that were flying over the grass. Peter activated a small drone, a neat invention of a scientist who used to work on the Meeting Place long before he arrived. The drone headed after the dog, hitting the ground a few meters away from the animal, turning into a ball right before impact. Once Bony jumped after it, the thing flew up again and hovered above his head, teasing him for a moment before jolting towards a group of trees. The dog followed it, barking excitedly. A silly thing but at least Peter didn’t have to keep throwing balls for hours.
“Miss Kaldaz,” he bowed his head in her direction upon finally approaching her. “I’m glad you accepted my invitation.”
As Emily waited for Commander Ross to arrive, she took the time to carefully examine the garden. While she had seen many things, especially since becoming her nation’s chief and only diplomat , she had never seen anything quite like it back on her home planet. Ever curious, many questions popped up in her mind. What were these pink trees? Were they native to fallen planet Earth, or were they created by the Ishtari? If so, why and how? She thought of many other such questions, so many in fact that she nearly forgot why she had come there in the first place.
She was snapped out of her thoughts as she spotted movement in the corner of her eye. It was a dog, chasing a strange contraption that seemed to bounce on the ground every now and then. When she turned around, she saw where the dog came from, as it would seem that Peter had arrived at their meeting. She folded her arms and looked at him disapprovingly as he approached. A diplomatic meeting was no place for a dog. Where did he even get a dog? Had the apes given the Undefeated a dog as well?
“Hello, Commander Ross,” she replied in a flat tone after Peter had spoken, “you can just call me Ambassador Kaldaz. I must say, this is quite a strange place for a meeting. You wanted to talk about one of our nations’ recent treaties, correct?” It was probably best to get down to business immediately.
Just as Peter expected, the moment Emily saw him, her relaxed expression swiftly turned into a frown. If he hadn't seen her act that way around everyone else as well, he'd think she hated him personally. But she just seemed perpetually angry and annoyed in general. Peter suspected there was more beneath it, something she was hiding, and she was just doing it to chase people away. Mainly because Emily didn't seem that way when he first met her. No, she was nervous and scared back then but despite that strange situation and the mortal danger they faced, she seemed way more composed being held at gunpoint by a bunch of strangers invading her ship than here in the relative safety of the station.
He wanted to smack himself for forgetting her title. Seriously, how stupid he was? He never had any problems addressing the officers by proper ranks but here at the Meeting Place every nation seemed to have a unique way of calling their representatives and Peter just wasn't able to remember them all. But he should have at least memorized hers when he invited her for a meeting. Some diplomat he was.
"My apologies, Ambassador Kaldaz, I meant no offense." He could add some excuses but she wouldn't appreciate them anyway. "It might be a strange place but I certainly needed a change of scenery and a bit of fresh air, so to speak, after sitting at the desk in my office for weeks. I imagined being the sole representative of your nation here, you'd appreciate taking a break as well.
And yes, there was an error on page four of the most recent treaty. We've already proposed a fixed version but I'm afraid it will have to be signed by the people in question again." It was some sort of a joint research proposal. The project was already ongoing and the paperwork wasn't that important at this point. Emily must have known that better than Peter which meant she was going to get even angrier upon realizing he invited her for no good reason.
As Commander Ross spoke, Emily began to feel a little sorry for him. Despite how it might seem from the outside, she was indeed capable of caring for others, although often in her own way. It was now clear to Emily, whether from how Peter forgot her title, or the fact that they were having a meeting in a garden, that international diplomacy really wasn’t his strong suit, which was something she could sympathize with. The fact that he had apparently thought about her well-being when he invited her made her think that maybe he wasn’t so bad.
She quickly pushed that feeling of pity away when Peter revealed that, in fact, the whole meeting was entirely unnecessary. She had already suspected this, of course, but Emily had been willing to hear him out. Now, she could feel the feelings of anger and frustration well up in her, but she kept them under control, hoping that he wouldn’t notice. She couldn’t risk insulting a representative from one of their closest allies, after all.
Emily stared at him in silence for some time, hoping he’d somehow realize that he’d been wasting her time. She didn’t count on it, though. “Well, Commander Ross,” her tone of voice somehow colder than it was before, “you should not plan entire meetings for small things like this. That would save us all a lot of time. Was there anything else you wanted to discuss?” Given that she was already there, she might as well try to make the most of her situation.
Peter expected her to scold him and still he winced upon hearing her tone. But she was right. "I'm well aware of that, Ambassador. I actually had another reason to invite you here but I didn't think you'd come if I shared it up front." No, Peter was quite sure she'd just wave him off or ignored him completely. Which she might still do. "Listen, I'm a straightforward man and I'm not very good with these diplomatic word dances everyone around here seems to love. So, I'll just say it as it is."
He paused to gather his thoughts and take a deep breath. "I noticed that you seem very uncomfortable whenever I'm around. I assume it's because of what happened when we first met, the whole 'incident', and I'd like to apologize for the role I played in it. And…" Peter sighed, looking down for a moment before raising his eyes back to her face again, "if my presence here is really making you feel uneasy, I can ask to be reassigned somewhere else. Gods know I'm not a very good diplomat anyway, so it might be for the best for everyone," he chuckled quietly.
Of course there had been another reason. There always was. Peter was right about one thing, though, and that was that Emily wouldn’t have showed up if he had mentioned it beforehand. At least he was honest. Emily considered just leaving, given that the meeting was essentially over, or at least that’s how she saw it, but she didn’t want the King to somehow find out and fire her for leaving early.
Filled with a cold anger, Emily wanted to call Peter an idiot. Tell him that he was right, that he should be reassigned somewhere else, preferably far away from her. Tell him that he’s terrible at his job, and that it was indeed better for everyone if he wasn’t there. But for some reason, she couldn’t do it. Maybe she was afraid of angering an allied representative and screwing up her job. Or maybe, it was the fact that, unlike many others, Peter actually seemed to care, at least enough to apologize for something that wasn’t technically even his fault.
Instead she rolled her eyes and simply said “I do not need your apology, Commander Ross. My thoughts on the ‘incident’ as you refer to it, as well as how I feel about your presence are none of your concern. Guardian Harlowe requested your presence at this station for some reason, however, and I recommend you listen to him.” That was about as subtle as she could be to tell him to stay, although she wasn’t quite sure why she said it.
Damn, this woman was infuriating. Peter had to stop himself from answering something snappy, since that would certainly not help improve the situation. Before he could think of something polite and diplomatic enough to say, a quiet whining sounded from behind him. He turned to see Bony Stark standing there with the toy drone in his mouth. Seriously, the stupid animal almost had an apologetic expression.
"Oh, no, what did you do? Drop!" The dog put the toy on the ground and obediently sat and waited for his human to fix it. Not that Peter knew how. He carefully scooped the mechanism off the ground, grimacing as he noticed it was covered in drool. It was broken, obviously, but Peter was no mechanic, there was no way he could repair it. "Bony, you just played yourself." Peter shook his head and sighed. "You know the lady who made this died six months ago and there's nobody around who knows how to fix things. Bad dog!" Crap, Harlowe was going to be pissed.
Thankful that Peter seemingly had nothing more to say, Emily turned aside from Commander Ross, ignoring him for the moment, not really sure what to do now. Instead, she once more looked at the strange pink trees in the distance, still a little angry that she’d come to the meeting for nothing. That was, until she heard whining, and Peter speaking again, although not to her.
The dog was back, and had managed to catch the thing it was running after, apparently breaking it. Emily considered it for a moment. Before becoming an ambassador, she had worked with small machines like this before, and she could probably fix it. Not out of the kindness of her heart, of course, but because she might as well make herself useful while she was there. Better than wasting time after being invited to a meeting that turned out to be pointless. “I could take a look at it, if you have some tools for me,” she offered the Commander.
Peter almost jumped up upon hearing Emily speak, he had assumed she got angry enough to just storm off without saying another word. Especially since now instead of something at least resembling diplomacy he was scolding a dog. Her offer was even more surprising. Didn’t she just complain that this whole ‘meeting’ was a waste of time? Peter assumed she would yell at him for a while or maybe give him a really cold glare before walking away and most likely filing a complaint about him with Guardian Harlowe. An offer to help a broken dog toy was… well, maybe if she suddenly kissed him, he’d be surprised more, but not by much.
“I…” He hesitated. What was he supposed to say? Did she really mean it or was she just mocking him? Why would she want to do that? She seemed to hate him. And it certainly wasn’t because she found Bony cute and adorable, Peter noticed how she frowned at the dog earlier. “We have a lab full of tools, we don’t even know what most of them do. There used to be a scientist here, a very smart and talented girl, that sadly died in a ship explosion before your people arrived here. And we haven’t found a suitable replacement yet. So it all just sits there, collecting dust. But I would never dare to ask you to do something like that. I’ve wasted enough of your time. Bony here will just have to play with a normal ball like a normal dog.”
Emily did not understand what Peter’s deal was. On her home planet, it was normal to offer one’s help for small things like this. It could mean the difference between life and death. Obviously, this was not such a serious situation, but Emily was deeply rooted in the friendlier aspects of Kudrioni culture, even if she disagreed with some of its more violent parts. Besides, it had been a very long time since she had been in a lab or worked with her hands, and she did not want to pass up the opportunity to do something she actually found interesting.
“Commander Ross,” she said authoritatively, “I had planned several hours for this ‘meeting’ in my schedule. We have been here for less than an hour. I am not offering this out of kindness, but because then I can do something with my time that is actually productive. Now, show me the way to this lab.”
Fixing a broken dog toy certainly didn’t seem like a ‘productive’ way of spending time for such a busy person as Emily. Surely she could fill her time with something more important. What could she be possibly after? Peter never really understood women but this one was like a whole nother level of illogical weirdness. Or maybe, a strange idea popped into his mind as he looked at her strained face, she was really tired of all the work and tinkering with a dog toy while pretending to be strengthening relationships between their nations seemed like a good way to relax for her? Peter remembered she was wearing a lab coat the first time they met, she must have been some sort of a scientist. Maybe this way she could take a break without actually admitting she needed one?
Or maybe it was just Peter’s wild imagination. After all, this woman could technically be considered an alien. He tried to keep his expression serious as he reached that conclusion, fighting to hold back a chuckle. “As you wish, Ambassador.”
Since the Kudrioni were now their allies, nobody really paid attention to Emily as Peter led her through the Undefeated section of the Meeting Place. The lab was a large room filled with various equipment, Peter wouldn’t dare to guess what most of it was for. He did say it sat there for six months collecting dust but it was merely a figure of speech, there wasn’t much dust to go around on a space station, the ever-present air filters took care of that.
Peter never really felt the need to explore this room, it always gave him an eerie, uneasy feeling. The girl who used to work here clearly expected to be back in a couple of days and a lot of her work still laid about, unfinished. Never to be completed. There were some notebooks with (at least to Peter) unintelligible scribbles, notes, and equations.
He put the broken mechanism down on an empty table in the middle of the room. “There should probably be everything necessary to fix it but I honestly have no idea where. Feel free to take a look around, I’ll be right back.” He didn’t want to make her nervous by staring at her and he also needed to take care of the dog who was patiently waiting at the door. Peter led him to Harlowe’s room and checked the animal had clean water and enough food in the bowls. Bony immediately jumped on Guardian’s bed, completely ignoring the soft mattress in the corner of the room where he was supposed to sleep. Knowing Harlowe allowed him to do that, Peter just rolled his eyes and left the room. Just a few minutes later he had been standing in front of the lab door again, curious about what Emily had been doing.
Emily silently followed Peter through the Undefeated part of the station, grateful that nobody seemed to care that she was there. She was starting to become a little unsure over whether this was a good idea. The Commander was right when he said that he had wasted enough of her time. Besides that, she felt like it was a little selfish of her to do something that she found interesting rather than doing her job, especially given how much work she still had to do today. No. She had told Peter that she was going to fix the drone, and by the gods she was going to do so.
As soon as Peter was gone, she let out a deep sigh, and let down her guard momentarily. Finally, she was alone for a bit. She didn’t really hate Peter, but the fact that he didn’t seem to take his job seriously, what with the whole fake meeting and all, greatly annoyed her. Knowing that the Commander could be back any minute, Emily collected herself so he wouldn’t see her in that state. She had a job to do, after all.
First order of business was to inspect the lab. If she didn’t know what tools she had to work with, she couldn’t fix anything, so she walked around looking at all the different tools and equipment. It all seemed to be fairly standard, though there was a great variety in the different scientific fields they belonged to. Commander Ross had mentioned that there was another scientist who had worked here, who had tragically died, and Emily found what must have been her research notes. She left them alone out of respect. She was cold, but not heartless.
Fortunately for her, the repairs didn’t take very long. Ignoring the dog’s saliva that was still on the toy, Emily looked at it closely, ran some diagnostics, and finally fixed the problem, in the span of a little over ten minutes. Emily almost began enjoying herself in the process, too. She saw that Peter was looking at her work through the lab door’s window, but she pretended not to notice. When the repairs were done, she headed back to the hallway and unceremoniously dropped the drone in Peter’s hands. “There, it is fixed now. Now that that is done, I suggest we put an end to this ‘meeting’, unless you have something else you wanted to discuss.”
Well, be damned, Peter was actually right about something. For the first time he saw Emily relaxed, smiling almost. She was enjoying this, even though she would never admit it, especially not to him. Maybe not even to herself. “Thank you, Ambassador, I really appreciate your help. I apologize for wasting your time, I’ll do my best to make sure it won’t happen again. And…” He hesitated, not sure whether he should continue. But she already didn’t like him and probably considered him incompetent and stupid. How much worse could it get? “There is nobody around here who would use this room, this all,” he waved his hand, pointing to the no doubt expensive equipment around them, “is just sitting here, useless. I’m not sure what kind of a lab you have available at the Kudrioni embassy but umm,... if you ever needed to use any of this, feel free to just drop by. I’ll add your identification to the security clearance list for this room.” Peter took a mental note to pack up Julianna’s notes and unfinished inventions first, just in case any of it was some super secret science project not even their allies should know about.
A little stunned, Emily didn’t really know what to say. It was kind of Peter to offer her to use the lab, despite how hostile she had been. A little too kind, in fact, and she looked at him with suspicion, trying to discern his intentions. Why would Commander Ross do this? She had tried her best to push him away, but it didn’t seem to work. Did he somehow know that she had missed her life before being sent to the Meeting Place? Emily quickly composed herself, unable to understand what just happened. The slightest hint of a smile appeared on her face before it quickly returned to Emily’s usual expression, afraid that the Commander might see. “I will see whether I will use the lab. Farewell, Commander Ross.” With those words, Emily simply left, because she didn’t want him to see her smirk.