Hendrik woke with a familiar dizziness and vertigo. Ripping off the Luxury-MENI brand sleeping patch, he raised himself out of the bed; breaking through the fog of sleepiness was done with one brutal motion.
It was a small bed made to be hard enough to not invite sleep, but still keeping his back healthy. He looked at the clock on his nightstand, 06:26, “fuck” he was late.
Making up for the chemically induced 6 minutes of oversleep, he wolfed down his bland nutrient-cereal and elected to wear the same suit as yesterday. It wasn’t too dirty
Four minutes later he was out of his chambers and had begun walking towards the office. The soft thumping of Nora’s boots confirmed that she was following. She had arrived in front of his door 30 minutes before he woke.
As he entered the office, he looked at his plans for the upcoming negotiations. These plans were all written and carefully encoded, using an unimaginably complex system passed down to Hendrik from his mentor. As of his mentor’s death several years ago, he was the only one who could read these papers.
A small voice in the back of his head taunted him with the doubt that the affini would simply disregard his Invitation. He silenced the doubt with an iron hand, His plan would either work or it wouldn't; doubt and hesitation would only serve to slow him down. After all, he had collected enough information in the last 3 years for even him to be confident in moving forward with his plan
His first source of information was a certain Young that had been a part of the “negotiations” between the Terran accord and the affini compact. Young was not employed by him but was paid handsomely for information before the negotiations went sideways.
The negotiations had been a farce from both sides. The Terran accord had no intention of surrendering to the affini demands while the affini had no intention of waiting. When the invasions started, the numerous informants he had sprinkled across the accord fed him information that would now prove truly invaluable.
The first and most important fact was that the affini, true to their propaganda, truly cared about lives. Not only that but they would go to truly extraordinary measures to prevent death.
The second was that the affini still lacked an understating of Terran culture and human behavior. This left them quite naïve but far from stupid. Their ignorance would have to be exploited, but cautiously.
The third piece of information on the affini was the fact that the affini were not infinite in numbers, not yet, at least; however, more and more affini ships spread in previous accord space. So far, however, the republic was far away from any ships or fleets.
Lastly was the massive gap in production, warfare, technology, and to be honest all other sectors. If his new ‘republic’ were to have a chance to survive they needed that technology.
Sitting down at his desk, he began going over the plans; the reception, arguments, deceit, and perhaps even the threats would all need to be perfect if he was to triumph in this round of The Game.
Mertha was positively bristling with excitement. The chance to visit an untouched human world and learn their customs and ways of life was interesting enough, but she could at the same time help adorable sophonts there! It was an opportunity that could not be missed.
She tried to calm down “So…what do you think?” The captain was still looking over the transcript, only slightly distracted by the floret in their lap that they were gently petting.
The captain looked over a few documents “Well, based on our current strategy it will take a few months until we can help this world. Many of the newly surrendered worlds require our attention and workforce first, and this ‘Chentian Republic’ is far away. On the other vine, I don’t think negotiating will be helpful. Terrans are almost all incapable of taking care of themselves properly, I doubt we can make them act much better before we can domesticate that sector of space fully. We also have reports that the planet houses a lot of Terran ferals…” Mertha met their eyes for a moment
“…and I can see that you still want to go.” The older affini let out a sigh, making their leaves shudder a bit from the wind.
Mertha just had to press a bit more, “Well, I think that we should still give it a shot; it would be an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about their culture while still unaffected by our intrusion. From the transmissions that Trexal has intercepted it does not seem like the ferals and the main government on the planet are working together more than needed, they seem to distrust each other quite heavily in fact. Perhaps this president could help us subdue the ferals before they get anyone else hurt?”
The captain seemed unresponsive, so she quickly continued, “Elrax and Serla also want to come, they think that it would be quite fun.” She could feel that her excitement was taking slightly over but at least the captain reacted somewhat.
Just a little more, “If we decline, it might make domestication of the world more difficult in the future; after all, the main planet itself has over 12 billion people. If we can do this smoothly, we might just help a whole lot of sophonts.” The captain seemed to relent, probably helped by their floret having woken up, needy for attention.
They nodded “Alright, you can travel there, send them a reply to this ‘president’ and take an advanced transport shuttle. The armada council will monitor your progress. Don’t get your hopes up though; if this goes wrong, we will have the sector domesticated before you can say horse.” Mertha decided to not correct the faulty Terran phrase.
“Perhaps you can find yourself a floret. That would at least stop you from causing such a ruckus in the future” the captain snorted, almost talking more to their floret than to her.
She ignored the captain “I will go and tell Elrax and Serla now. I promise you will not be disappointed.” She sincerely hoped she would not disappoint.
As she left, she had to keep herself from unwinding her form as she increased her pace. Not only could she learn so much about humans, but the opportunity to help so many sophonts was an exhilarating prospect.
Hendrik was nervous, his hands lightly shivering. Why had they not answered yet? Could it be that they would ignore him? He had a contingency plan, but it was not pretty and far from likely to succeed.
He noticed that his emotions were devolving into fear. Perhaps the refugees had decrypted the message? Where they coming for him? Was this the end? No. Out of instinct he pulled open one of the compartments of the desk. Taking up one of the many identical syringes he quickly plunged it in his arm and noticed the emotions beginning to fade.
It would not be pretty in the evening; however, the vomit and sickness would be acceptable as long as he could continue working without distraction in the meanwhile. A second later a sound notified him that his computer had received a highly encrypted message.
<Mertha Verina, second bloom: “Hello dear president. We have received the invitation and gratefully accept; we will send a delegation of three individuals immediately. We are on our way in an affini transport shuttle and will arrive at coordinates 1976.5671.5489.1256 in 20 or so human hours. I look forward to meeting you. See you soon! 💖>
Hendrik let out a silent breath of relief. The negotiations would take place. Still, 20 hours was not a lot of time to prepare. He shouted loudly enough for Nora to hear, “Nora I have a task for you.”
Nora entered the room “Yes, president?” Her voice betrayed her nervousness.
This should put her at ease, Hendrik thought. “The affini have answered and will be arriving soon. I need you to deliver this information privately to the defensive fleet grand admiral. Make sure to emphasize that the affini are to be hidden from the population.” He typed an order for the admiral and gave the data brick to Nora; a virtual message might be quicker, but secrecy was paramount.
He also needed protection “Inform the garrison I need two bodyguards to guard my door while you make these arrangements; I am counting on you.” While it was hollow, positive reinforcement did wonders on maintaining loyalty.
Nora gave an affirmative and confident nod before making her way out of his office. He looked down at the affini’s message again. It was not far from what he had expected, but the latent condescension was still annoying; he would have to steel his nerves and crush them in the negotiations as a reprimand.
The rest of the day was simply preparing their chambers, the security, and the first set of negotiations. The people in power were also informed; not many needed to know but trying to shield the information from everyone was hopeless.
In the end, the corps were tempted by the prospect of new trade, the bureaucracy was kept in line, and the families were quiet as usual. The Terran refugees were kept out of the loop. Only a few moderate admirals that simply wished for human self-determination were informed; the rest would be distracted by generous repairs and inspections. Everything was falling into place.
Serla Adri, 5th bloom was packing her necessary possessions for the expedition. Then came the much more substantial work of preparing her little flowers different pet sitters and daycare visits for when she was gone. The visit to this sector would probably not take too long, but every moment separated from her darling floret was one too many.
When Mertha had burst into her room 2 hours ago and begged Serla to travel with her on a “diplomatic” mission to some human world, she had not been impressed. Despite this, Mertha had managed to convince her that she would be of tremendous help in negotiations due to her expertise in xeno-veterinary psychology.
The prospect was interesting the more she thought about it. Usually, she would just help sophonts adjust to affini society or their life as florets, having the opportunity to analyze sophonts in this environment was something new.
Perhaps she could learn something new that might give her greater insight in how to handle the next puzzle that she would have to solve. Having Mertha pester her all day was also not something she could live with, that directionless xeno-sociologist would never accept not going now that she had gotten the idea.
The eccentric Elrax was supposedly also coming along, something about studying adorable Terran technology was his motivation. He would likely not be much help for negotiations, though, as he rarely spoke.
After setting Darla off at the first pet-sitter, with a bit of a tearful goodbye, she left for the hangar of Agraria.
She wondered who this President was, certainly a daring individual based on the message. Few humans would ever send negotiation proposals to the affini in such a blatant and almost arrogant manner. she could hardly wait to study this brave little sophont. How did they think? What were their motivations? how would they look with a dose of class-A in their system?
An interesting puzzle to be sure. Either way they would probably be a wonderful floret.
As the soft aftershock of the jump wore off Mertha immediately wondered if she had made a mistake.
“Dirt.” Around them at every angle she saw gray Terran warships; they could probably not harm them but if they were to attack things could get uncomfortable.
The ship's computer pinged with a request for transmission.
It was encoded in the same form as the invitation; once calibrated, the com system began transmitting a voice with substantial levels of static.
The static spoke, “Hello, this Admiral Stuklov of the second Centhia defense fleet. We will be escorting you to the gove-I mean presidential residences. We will keep tight formation around your vessel to make sure that you don’t scare anyone on the surface. Please affirm.” People would be scared of them; unfortunate, but sadly, a far too common reaction among humans.
Mertha spoke “of course, little one, we will follow you closely”. A soft groan could be heard trough the static before the small fleet around them began to move.
Elrax steered the ship in tandem with the humans. It almost reminded Mertha of fish that she had seen on their short stop on terra. They had been in a large tank as Terra’s Ocean was far to polluted to house them, something the affini would be sure to change as soon as possible.
As the school of ships moved through the void and then atmosphere, they finally got a good view of the planet’s surface. Unlike terra with its segregated slums around the spaceports near the far too hot equator and the luxurious cities in the hospitable regions, this planet had not felt the force of climate change. Or perhaps had not felt it yet would be more correct. Based on the massive centers of industry that churned out smog it would not be too long.
The other parts of the planets seemed remarkably dense with only a few spots of ocean not being covered in dense urban dwellings. As they got closer to the destination it became clear that the differences created by capitalism, such a stupid and destructive system, were still very present.
The area they moved over was incredibly dense and filled with smog from the factories not too far away. The area up ahead had large parks, fine buildings and clear air. Even if the affini could come to some agreement with the humans this would have to go.
They landed between 4 large buildings on a concrete platform. As soon as they were hidden by the buildings the human fleet departed into orbit once more.
Mertha readied herself “now everyone, remember to look kind and non-threatening. Let’s go!” She pressed the button and the door of the ship opened.
Henrik readied himself. This was it! The door of the large ship opened, and a ramp rolled out to the ground. Out of it strode 3 individuals.
The first of the affini was also the tallest one, though not by a lot. Still the affini were tall enough as it was. This specimen was more than 3 meters tall. The form was a mimicry of a human. Vines created a large and regal dress decorated with flowers in white and yellow. Its face was made of a soft bark that seemed to bend and shift. its arms were also made up of the vines, the illusion of sleeves was created by more flower growths.
The second one was a bit more intimidating, though why he could not exactly place. Unlike the first one its face was made entirely from tiny vines. Its outfit was also far more colorful and puffier, with several different flowers forming the dress.
The last one hardly mimicked a human form at all. It looked more like a tall bush made up of gray leaves, its arms were hidden and the thing that worked as a face was only a few holes for eyes and a mouth made up of green needles. It was a bit creepy.
He could feel the emotions of his guards, including Nora. They were nervus. No matter, while the affini were capable warriors, 3 could not stand against the planet garrison and the fleet ready overhead in case of kidnapping.
If the negotiation were to be successful then no hesitation could be shown.He walked forward and met the affini trio in the middle of the platform.
Hendrik was a bit taller than the average human male, the affini simply towered over him. Both fear and other feelings were suppressed, and he extended his hand.
“Welcome to Centhia, I’m the president of the Centhian republic. I look forward to our talks''