Chapter 1: An Errand of Diplomacy
Not for the first time that morning, Captain Jonathan T. Esteban tugged on the cuffs of his dress uniform, making sure that the material ended at 1.5 cm above the wrist, as was required by regulations regarding uniform dress. He used one pinky finger as a measuring guide, frowning at the imprecision of his improvised measuring method. He sighed softly, regretting that he hadn’t checked the distance in his quarters using a ruler beforehand.
Standing next to him in the transporter room was Esteban’s communications officer, Lieutenant Mario Marcelino, also in dress uniform. Marcelino cleared his throat quietly. “Captain, permission to speak freely?”
“What’s on your mind, Lieutenant?”
“I don’t think that the Ambassador’s going to perform a dress inspection after we beam him aboard.”
Esteban looked critically over at his olive complexioned officer. “You’ve never worked with Vulcans before, have you, Lieutenant?”
Marcelino shook his head. “No, sir.”
“It shows,” Esteban said patiently. “I have, however. You will never encounter a more logical race of beings, nor a species whose members adhere so strictly to the laws and traditions which govern its society. My taking the time to make sure that my uniform falls completely within regulation is not an affectation of worry, nor vanity, Lieutenant. Ambassador Sarek is the most important person that I have ever been ordered to take on as a passenger since I took command of this ship, and I intend for her reputation to be as sterling after the end of this mission as it is at this precise moment. Is that clear?”
“Aye aye, sir,” Marcelino acknowledged.
“Captain,” said the transporter chief from behind her console, “Ambassador Sarek and party signal from Vulcan that they are ready for transport.”
“Very well.” Esteban glanced over his shoulder, giving a nod to the chief petty officer. “Please bring our guests aboard, Chief.”
As the swirls of light from the transporter beam dissipated in the bay, Esteban snapped his heals together to stand rigidly at attention. “Ambassador Sarek, welcome aboard the Grissom.”
The heavy brown robes of Sarek’s formal ambassadorial regalia swished softly as the edges swept along the floor. Sarek stepped down from the transporter bay and lifted his right hand into the v-shape of the Vulcan hand salute, the ta’al. “We come to serve.”
Esteban lifted his own right hand, mirroring the ambassador’s actions. “Vu dvin dor etwel,” he replied, in near flawless Vulcan. [“Your service honors us.”]
Sarek inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment. He broke the shape of ta’al, and formed his fingers so that his right index and middle fingers met while his thumb held down his ring and pinkie fingers. “May I present she who is my wife, Amanda.”
Amanda, wearing far less formal traveling robes, stepped down from the transporter bay. Her fingers met those of her husband, answering the silent gesture that served as a public display of affection amongst Vulcans. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain Esteban.”
“Ma’am.” Esteban smiled genially at the elegant looking woman before somberly addressing Sarek once more. “My communications officer, Lt. Marcelino, will show you to your accommodations. I’ve done my best to remove as many of my personal items as possible from the cabin. I know Vulcans prefer a spartan environment.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Sarek acknowledged.
Amanda glanced quickly over at Sarek before looking back towards Esteban. “Your personal items?” she asked with hesitation.
“Yes, ma’am. You and the ambassador will be staying in my quarters. They’re the only ones large enough on the ship to accommodate you. We don’t normally have too many VIPs aboard the Grissom. She’s a science vessel,” Esteban explained in an apologetic manner.
“I see. I’m sorry that we have to inconvenience you like this.” Amanda smiled graciously at the handsome brown-haired captain, who appeared to be about ten years Jim’s junior. She wondered to herself whether her husband had anticipated Esteban’s kind demonstration of hospitality. She certainly had not. From the sound of his voice and the impassivity of his face, it appeared to her that he had expected it as a matter of course due to his position as Vulcan’s ambassador to the Federation. “I’m sure we’ll be very comfortable.”
Esteban turned his attention once again towards Sarek. “Our journey from Vulcan to Nimbus III should take us approximately two days, Ambassador. Our ship’s mess hall tends to be busy during duty hours. I’d like to invite you and your wife to join me for meals in the captain’s dining room. Dinner is served at 1930 hours.”
“Your offer is most considerate, Captain. We shall be in attendance.”
Esteban nodded. “Until 1930 hours then, Ambassador.” He pivoted on the ball of one heel, departing the transporter room.
Marcelino gestured towards the double doors leading out into the corridor. “If you will just follow me, Ambassador.”
Sarek walked alongside Marcelino out of the transporter room, with Amanda following a step behind. “Lt. Marcelino, was it?” Amanda asked politely. She wanted to make sure that she had remembered the name correctly.
“I am expecting a message from my son, Captain Spock. He and I communicate frequently through written form, and his latest letter has not come through the ordinary Starfleet channels yet. Could you inform me the moment of its arrival, no matter the hour?”
“Of course, ma’am: I will be certain to do so.”
Amanda smiled again. “Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“I hope that you find the pre tarmeeli to your liking, Ambassador.” Esteban passed the serving platter of steaming vegetable curry to Sarek. “Chef doesn’t have much occasion to prepare Vulcan dishes in the galley. I had to give him a few pointers.”
Sarek accepted the dish, and spooned a small amount onto his plate. “I am sure that the meal will be adequate, Captain.”
Amanda took a noticeably larger helping than her husband after Sarek handed her the platter. “It looks delicious. Thank your chef for his consideration. We weren’t expecting non-replicated meals during our trip.” She blew on the food on her fork before taking her first bite. “And it tastes as delicious as it looks. Where did you learn about the preparation of Vulcan cuisine?”
“On Vulcan, actually. When I was a lieutenant, I was stationed there for six months as an adjunct science officer to the Vulcan Science Academy.” Esteban poured glasses of water for both Sarek and Amanda before beginning his own meal. “I tried to put my time to good use while I was there – picking up the language, immersing myself in the culture, and so forth.”
“Then you must be familiar with the atmospheric condenser designs that my husband plans to present to the Romulan and Klingon ambassadors on Nimbus III, since the technology was developed at the Science Academy,” Amanda said, sounding pleased. Now she understood why Starfleet had detailed the Grissom for their transportation to and from the “Planet of Galactic Peace.”
Esteban nodded. “I am. Though I must admit I’m a little curious why it’s only now that the Federation decided to make this proposal to the other governments. The technology for these condensers has existed for nearly a decade now. If the Romulan and Klingon empires agree to install the technology, the condensers have the potential to turn Nimbus III from a barren desert into a virtual Eden in the space of just a few years. Why wait until now? Why not ten years ago? What’s changed?”
“It has to do with the current political climate,” Sarek answered plainly. “You are aware that the Federation is in the midst of negotiating a peace treaty with the Klingon Empire, correct?”
“President Roth believes, once the new treaty is in place, that the renewed spirit of cooperation between the Federation and the Klingons will make this project feasible, whereas it was not previously the case.”
Esteban lifted his glass towards Sarek. “Well, I wish you the best of luck then, Ambassador. Even with the potential goodwill that the treaty might make, getting the Klingons and the Romulans to agree to work together with us on anything on a planetary scale is going to take some doing.”
Sarek gave Esteban a blank look. “Luck has nothing to do with the situation, Captain. It is merely a matter of logic. It is in the best interests of all three governments to implement this project, as they share the burden of governing and developing Nimbus III equally between them.”
After taking the evening meal with Esteban, Sarek retired to the privacy of the small study in what was normally Esteban’s quarters. He folded his hands together in his lap as his sat in silent contemplation, mentally reviewing the facts of his upcoming mission.
Esteban was correct in one thing: it was going to be a challenge to gain the cooperation of the Klingons and the Romulans, even for something as logical as the atmospheric condenser project. Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty that followed the Federation-Klingon War of 2267, the three governments had been tasked with developing the planet together, as Nimbus III was almost equidistant to the territories all three of the political rivals within the Neutral Zone. Little had been accomplished since the establishment of the governing council eighteen years ago. Now, for the first time, it appeared that it might be possible to improve the floundering living conditions of the planet’s unfortunate residents.
Sarek heard the soft clearing of a throat, which broke his train of thought. “Yes, my wife?”
Amanda moved from the doorway of the study towards where Sarek was currently located, kneeling on the floor. She extended a data PADD towards him. “Spock’s letter just came in. I thought you might like to read it.”
“The majority of its content is no doubt intended for you. You are the one to whom our son addresses his communications.” Sarek made no motion to take the PADD from Amanda.
A scowl fixed itself along Amanda’s mouth. “Don’t you care to know how your son is doing?”
“As I recall, Spock is currently on Earth, working at Starfleet Academy with a new class of cadets. He has had a wide range of experiences since joining the service. I am sure that he is an efficient instructor.”
Amanda laid down the PADD on the nearby desk. “There’s a lot more in his letter than just a description of his duties, you know,” she said with a small amount of disgust. Despite all of the years she had been married to Sarek, the general indifference that Sarek seemed to hold in regards to his son’s career and personal life continued to baffle her. “There’s a lot you could learn about your son’s happiness through his letters.”
One of Sarek’s eyebrows lifted. “I doubt that Spock would write of “his happiness,” my wife. He is Vulcan: a fact which you continually seem to forget. However, since the subject of his mental well-being is of importance to you, you may summarize for me the contents of his latest communication.”
“He’s still working with that young half-Vulcan, half-Romulan lieutenant, Saavik. He seems to be pleased with how her command training is progressing. He anticipates that she will pass the final phase of her training on the Enterprise with flying colors.”
“I see,” Sarek answered stoically. This was hardly news worth reporting. Sarek knew Spock to be a good judge of officer potential, as he had served with distinction in Starfleet since his graduation in 2249 – a service of some thirty-six years now. And naturally, as a Vulcan, his son’s mentee could be expected to excel at her duties. “Is that all?”
Amanda crossed her arms over her chest. “He also wanted us to know that he’s going to be on the Enterprise for the next three weeks, so his duties might prevent him from responding immediately to my return letter.”
Sarek nodded his head with what might have passed as a moment of approval. “Naturally his duties should take precedence over personal matters. He has many responsibilities as an instructor.”
“He also writes about Jim,” Amanda continued, sounding annoyed. “Jim’s birthday is tomorrow, if you’d forgotten, and Spock’s still worried about him. He’s been having difficulty raising Jim’s spirits. It sounds like they’ve reached a new low, and Spock isn’t sure about what should be done.”
“Spock has been bonded with Jim for precisely 15.096 years by Terran reckoning, Amanda. I am sure that he will be able to stabilize his sa-telsu’s volatile state of being,” Sarek replied with a measure of quiet distaste. “I cannot fathom why he chooses to write about such personal matters as they exist between himself and his spouse. It is of no concern to us.”
“No concern to…?” Amanda finally exploded. “He’s asking for a little moral support from us, Sarek! That’s why he’s writing about this. Spock says that nothing he has tried in the past few months has been effective at improving Jim’s mood. All he wants here is a little guidance.”
“You are the expert on human emotions, my wife, not I.” Sarek cupped his right hand in his left behind his back. “You are the logical choice to give Spock guidance in these matters. I will leave it in your capable hands to lend our son the moral support that you claim he needs.”
Amanda shook her head from side to side, quietly stewing in her own anger. She snatched up the data PADD from the desk. “I honestly don’t know why I bother some days…”
St. John Talbot, the Federation’s representative on Nimbus III, opened up the window in his office far enough to let in some fresh air, but not far enough to allow the unceasing and unforgiving winds to blow too much sand inside. He lit up a cigarette and then turned to face Sarek, taking a moment to make an appraisal of the Vulcan. Sarek had come to the capital of Nimbus III, Paradise City, fully decked out in the robes of a Vulcan ambassador. When he had gotten his first sight of Sarek, it had been hard for him not to snort with derision. Talbot didn’t figure that Sarek was going to get anywhere on this errand of diplomacy – he seemed far too stuffy and formal for the practical denizens of this place.
“Well, Ambassador,” Talbot said while taking a draw on his cigarette, “I’m sorry that you’ve come all this way for nothing.”
Sarek quirked up an eyebrow at Talbot’s air of defeatism. “You believe that these talks have already failed? That would seem to be a premature assessment of the situation, given that I have not yet even met with the Romulan and Klingon representatives.”
Talbot dug around in one of the drawers of his desk, pulling out a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey and two glasses. He glanced at his clock. It was nearly 10 AM – a more than acceptable time to start imbibing on this miserable planet. “Drink?”
“I do not require refreshment at this time,” Sarek said delicately.
“Suit yourself.” Talbot poured himself a generous glassful of the lime green liquid. He pulled the cigarette from his mouth, but only so that he could swallow the whiskey in his glass in a single gulp. “And to answer your question, yes, I think these talks have already failed. The Romulans recalled Nanclus back to Romulus almost a month ago, and they haven’t bothered to replace him yet. Can’t say as I blame them – Nimbus III is the ass-end of the galaxy, Ambassador.”
“I was unaware of this development, Mr. Talbot. The news of Ambassador Nanclus’s departure was not included in my diplomatic briefings with President Roth.”
Talbot poured himself another glass of whiskey, which was polished off as quickly as the first. “Yeah, it wouldn’t have been, would it? The boys in the Foreign Affairs office back on Earth don’t ever read the reports I send them. Nobody…not the Federation, not the Romulans, and certainly not the Klingons…has any interest in developing this place. It’s a hunk of dry rock not worth the trouble. There’s no mineral wealth here. The soil, such as it is, is barely capable of supporting sustained agriculture, it’s so sandy.”
Sarek regarded the poorly groomed Talbot with general disapproval. It was no wonder that nothing had been accomplished on Nimbus III, if Talbot was the sort of man whom the Federation thought should properly represent their interests. “Regardless of your personal opinions, President Roth has asked me to present the atmospheric condensers project to the representatives of our neighboring powers, and I intend to do so.”
Talbot shrugged indifferently. “It’s your time to waste, not mine.” He poured himself yet another glass of whiskey, but did not drink this one immediately. Instead he went back to smoking his cigarette. “If you want, I can forward the technical specifications to Nanclus along with your proposal. I wouldn’t count on him reading it, though.”
“That would be appreciated.” Sarek shifted the weight on the balls and toes of his feet. It was hot enough on Nimbus III that even he, a Vulcan, was uncomfortable. “May I at least presume that General Korrd remains available for these negotiations? Or is he likewise indisposed?”
Sarek’s questions rated an amused snort from Talbot. “Oh yeah, the General’s still here. But seeing as how it’s past ten in the morning, you probably won’t get anywhere with him.” Talbot puffed out a ring of smoke. “Not that trying before ten in the morning will get you anywhere with him either, mind you.”
The gaze of Sarek’s eyes narrowed. “I am not certain that I understand, Mr. Talbot.”
“Let’s just say that Korrd is ill-disposed towards any matters of diplomacy.” Talbot let out a hard, sarcastic laugh. “Unless of course those matters of diplomacy involve a shipment of Klingon bloodwine or Romulan ale.”
“In that case, is there another person in the Klingon diplomatic office that I should be speaking with instead?”
“Can’t think of anyone off the top of my head. I’ve never even met Korrd’s attaché, and I’ve been here for three years now.” Talbot swirled the whiskey around in his glass.
“There must be somebody, Mr. Talbot. I find it difficult to believe that Chancellor Lorak would staff the Klingon offices on Nimbus III so inadequately, particularly in light of the negotiations which are occurring between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.”
It was all Talbot could do to keep from rolling his eyes at Sarek’s apparent naïveté. “You’re here. You’ve seen this place. You’d better start believing it.” Talbot set the remains of his cigarette in an ash-tray that was already filled with cigarette butts. He polished off the whiskey in his glass, and then sighed, running his fingers through his greasy mouse-blond hair. “Maybe you could talk to Councilor Gorkon about your condensers. I seem to recall Korrd telling me that Gorkon’s on some kind of inspection tour right now.”
Sarek searched through his mind, but he could not recall ever hearing the name before. “I am not familiar with Councilor Gorkon.”
“He’s one of Lorak’s advisors on the High Council. Supposedly he’s got the ear of the Chancellor.” Talbot shrugged. “Don’t know if the rumor is true or not. I hear a lot of stuff around here, and nine times out of ten it’s complete horse shit.”
“Can you arrange for me to meet with the Councilor?” Sarek asked the question with hesitation. At this point he wouldn’t trust Talbot to be able to tie his own shoelaces with any amount of competence.
“I’ll call Korrd at his office and see if we can’t work something out. Tomorrow morning work for you?”
Sarek nodded his head once. “Tomorrow morning is acceptable.”
Talbot reached for another cigarette from the pack that was lying on his desk. “I’ll let you know when I’ve got a time for you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Talbot,” Sarek said as passively as it was possible to be, given the circumstances in which he found himself. “Your cooperation is appreciated.”