Kirk smoothed out some wrinkles in his dress uniform as he stood in front of the transporter pad. His hands were a little sweaty. Nobody had heard from the Romulans in nearly two centuries, let alone received one on their ship. That changed last week when the Romulan Empire awoke from its slumber to lay claim to a few smaller Federation planets on the outskirts of the Neutral Zone. Why they had done this was anybody's guess, since the Federation had emerged as the strongest power in the Alpha and Beta quadrants after the Dominion War. Their ongoing alliance with the Klingons made them an excellent buffer against any enemy. Now Kirk had to receive the first Romulan Ambassador to cross the border after nearly two hundred years of radio silence, and get him safely to Earth. This wasn't a diplomacy job for a captain, they'd said: Starfleet wanted to pull out all the bells and whistles. Nobody was up for another war with the Romulans.
“I have a lock, captain.”
“Beam him up.”
The Ambassador appeared on the transporter pad, obscured by the guards that flanked him. Looking sternly past Kirk, their faces like rock carvings, the two front men broke rank and stomped their boots in tandem.
“Ambassador Spock of Romulus.”
The ambassador stepped out of the alcove of guards that protected him and held one long and slender hand up in a gesture Kirk recognized from history lessons about Vulcan. Surprised, he attempted to mirror the greeting, but his fingers wouldn't comply.
“The Ta'al is often difficult for untrained species,” the ambassador spoke while giving Kirk a curt nod. “The attempt is recognized.”
Kirk nodded back and looked the man over. He appeared elegant, draped in robes that would make any other man look shapeless, but that accentuated the ambassador's tall and lanky figure. His sharp nose and dark eyes were complimented by sweeping, slanted eyebrows. A crop of neatly trimmed, thick black hair framed the face, emphasizing its features. The man was anything if not imposing, and stood in stark contrast to the crass soldiers that accompanied him. A flick of the wrist sent the ambassador's guards off, but they remained close by. Jim looked at his own security officers and nodded. They too took their distance. Jim extended a hand towards the man, which was met by a disdainful stare.
“We were provided with one another's name and rank, captain Kirk. There is no need for such pleasantries. Lead.” He motioned towards the door. Kirk chose to bite his tongue regarding the ambassador's pompous entry and formal introduction and obeyed the terse command for the sake of peace. If he would smack the man in the face he'd be starting the war he'd been sent to prevent, he thought, amused. Spock caught up with Kirk taking long, purposeful strides that would normally look clumsy on someone of his stature, but they fit him and his regality. Kirk adopted his most captainly gait so the ambassador had no chance to think less of him, his ship, or the Federation.
“Will you join me for dinner in my quarters, ambassador?”
“That will not be necessary. I trust the ship's quarters are equipped with replicators and that there is a dining facility on board. We will meet at the briefing you are to give me on my meeting at Starfleet headquarters.”
“I wanted to brief you over dinner.”
The ambassador raised a brow.
“It shows you're a welcome guest,” Kirk said.
“Ah. I will join you in that case. It is not common to mix business and courtesy on Romulus, and as such I did not see your invitation for what it was.”
“Meet me tonight at eight.”
Apparently apologies were also not a Romulan habit, Kirk thought. It was going to be a difficult four days.
Spock eyed the human as he walked down the hall in what seemed to be a very defensive manner. He concluded that his own direct approach to social situations must have been interpreted as offensive. While he had not intended to offend but was merely being practical, it had apparently granted him the upper hand in the situation as the other man tried to childishly display his dominance. He stored the information away as knowledge on human interaction, bound to be useful in the future. Today, however, it was not his intention to irk this man. He vowed to be more careful lest it cost him the negotiations. As menacing as his people acted, they could not presently afford a war, and the ambassador would have to push the right buttons with the Federation to ensure that there would not be one. He settled in the quarters appointed to him to mull over his course of action in both the next few days as well as the negotiations.
That evening, the ambassador arrived at the captain's quarters right as the latter did. Kirk opened the door and waited. When the ambassador wouldn't move, he motioned for the man to go inside.
“You first, Mr. ambassador. It would be rude to break protocol,” Kirk said with a smile. While a briefing was official business, he was receiving the ambassador informally. He thought maybe a joke would break the tension, but was mortified when he found no trace of humor in the other man's face.
Spock raised an eyebrow. This was not diplomatic courtesy on Romulus, where an ambassador never went into the room first, as proof of good intentions. That went doubly for official business. Actually, it stemmed from an old use where the dignitary in question wanted to avoid getting attacked from behind, but that aspect of the gesture had long since stopped being important. Now it was simply a cultural habit. It was unfortunate there had not been more information on Federation customs, especially Terran ones, available to him so misunderstandings like this one could have been avoided. He now realized that the man's meager presentation when introducing himself was perhaps simply the way of his people. Maybe the man had taken offense to his own formal introduction. He went ahead of Kirk, pausing at a chair for a moment, wondering what protocol would state in this situation. However, pondering it would be useless as clearly either man was not familiar with the other's etiquette. He sat down and gestured to the other chair.
“Please. It is not my intention to offend,” he said. “I realize how different our customs must be. Let us assume neither of us is out to dismay the other.”
Now it was Kirk's turn to quirk his brows, and he smiled broadly. “Indeed, ambassador. It's never safe to assume.” He saw the ambassador raise a brow in turn. “Except for when it comes to not dismaying the other, of course,” he added. At that, he could swear he saw a glint of laughter in the unmoving eyes. It was probably an assumption, he thought to himself.
The ambassador proved an excellent table guest, even if he was a little stiff. Kirk had read that Romulans were people of great passions, and could go off at the tip of a hat. He mused that Spock must be the exception to the rule, or maybe Vulcan influence on Romulan culture had been greater than Starfleet was aware of. That wouldn't be surprising, considering all the information they had came from intercepted transmissions and travelers with no loyalty to either Romulus or the Federation. Not wanting to annoy his to-the-point guest, Kirk kept the briefing short and factual. He informed Spock what the agenda for the talks was, and told him about the things expected from him as ambassador. This sparked another debate on the differences between the two men's cultures.
“So on Romulus the way I'm holding my glass now would be offensive in the presence of a ambassador?” Kirk sounded incredulous.
“Correct. You are a captain, and although the setting is informal, our reason for speaking is not. There is no protocol for this on Earth?”
“Not at all, ambassador. We have a rating system. I get four stars so I can hold my glass however I want and people still have to like me.” Kirk smiled and pointed at his rank pips. Spock thought there might be some humorous meaning to the statement judging from the human's amused face, but it was unimportant. He understood the cultural difference, and also started to realize more and more that humans were not so explicit in their displays of power and wealth. They chose to allow a great deal of egalitarianism in their conduct towards superiors, yet to those with a keen eye differences could be spotted. The slight change of voice when Kirk addressed the yeoman who was to arrange their food. The nearly imperceptible terseness around the mouth of the woman in question. Yet the captain also asked her about her spouse. It was fascinating. Spock mused that perhaps he was more entrapped by cultural mores than he had thought, and less flexible and insightful as a result. Romulans kept to themselves, after all.
“Is something bothering you, ambassador?”
Had his face given something away? This man was more intelligent than he had given him credit for. Spock felt he had a lot to learn about humans if he wanted a positive outcome in this undertaking.
“No, captain. If that is all, I believe I will retreat to my quarters now.” He inclined his head slightly.
“By all means.” Kirk smiled but was somewhat disappointed that apparently he hadn't succeeded in chipping off more of the man's icy exterior.
“Although it would interest me to speak with you again while on this journey and discuss our respective backgrounds some more.”
“You're welcome any time, ambassador.”
“That would not be prudent, captain. I understand humans need quite some rest to retain functionality.”