Mertha thanked the stars that she had studied how humans acted in such situations. It was an adorable system of secret rules and manners that tried to filter out who belonged where.
Of course, it was more than a little oppressive and stopped the adorable sophonts from truly expressing themselves.
Making an active effort to not get lost in thoughts as a refuge from her nerves, she grabbed the human’s hand. Her hand was more than twice as big, and the human’s hand was fully engulfed in hers.
Except for a little flinching the human seemed to react quite ‘normally’. his face was too solid to make something out, thank the Everbloom that Serla was with her.
The human spoke, the words almost a bit robotic “I hope that the trip was not too much of a problem. You must excuse our fleet, but the planet is still not ready to accept affini presence.”
That Mertha had understood so far “Will you give us a guide of the area, dear president?” as far as she had learned it was normal for human hosts to show off their habitation to their guests, a truly adorable tradition. She needed to show that she respected their customs if they were ever going to convince them to let the affini help.
The human looked irritated, its eyes focused “Firstly, you can drop the dear. secondly, I don’t want you to attract too much attention before the negotiations have started. Third I have a bit more work to do. We will start the negotiations over dinner today, I can answer any question you have then.” The first part of the human’s message was cold as ice. Dirt, she had just arrived and already the president was insulted.
She needed to restrain herself “ah...I understand, well then we look forward to dinner!” she made a slight nod with her head. Satisfied, the president turned around and followed one of the armored guards towards one of the surrounding budlings' large metal doors.
Another of the human guards walked up “If…. If you come with us we can show you to your quarters” the little soldier was clearly nervous.
She tried to sound reassuring “Just lead the way and know that we have no intentions of hurting you, little one” her attempt at assurance did not seem to be too effective as the human was still a bit jittery.
soon, she and the delegation were being escorted by 8 guards towards another of the exits.
As they stood in a large elevator being brought up into the large structure Serla spoke in affini. <I do not believe that they are frightened by us>. Serla did know better than she.
Mertha responded < it's not unusual for humans to be afraid of us, or perhaps it's the shuttle? Many humans are also frightened by our technology>. That made sense.
<I have a feeling that it is neither, but I think we will learn more soon> Serla responded while she seemed to be covertly inspecting the guards that were with them
<More importantly, look at how refined this elevator is. It’s amazing how much they manage despite their primitive technology>. Elrax was clearly more interested in the wires and wight that were moving them up that their actual mission.
Mertha let out a slight sigh, dinner was not long away, and she still felt like a new bloom.
While they walked through the polished stone corridors that we actually tall enough for her, Serla noted that she was happy she came. Mertha was right, the ability to study the humans while not under affini supervision was something quite interesting.
The way the ‘president’ had managed to command the guards was quite interesting, if anything that human was the source of the fear of the guards
She noted that the look and atmosphere of the hallways also betrayed human thought patterns. They were clearly not for comfortable habitation, and no one needed this much space. Had this been made by an affini she would have guessed it was some sort of attempt at flirting to impress a floret.
For the humans, however, it was more likely to display wealth and power. Simply showing that one had more space than one needed was a clumsy, but somewhat efficient way to communicate the wealth that Terrans cherished so much.
one of the guards barked out “This will be your quarters” The room that they had been assigned was about the size of a standard affini hab.
As the large doors closed, Mertha seemed to let out a gust of air in relief. While Elrax got busy studying the crystal lights hanging from the ceilings.
The dining hall was a large chamber with a very tall roof. The centerpiece of the room was a huge wooden and metal table with three seats on one side and one on the other.
That would be his battleground. The large fireplace behind his seat was dead, apparently, affini had a fear of fire. If he needed to look more intimidating for a future meeting it could be light up but for now, it would be counterproductive
His new suit was a few shades darker, and his tie was a dark shade of red, apparently the best match for looking serious but also more laid back. Hendrik did not really buy it, but ignorance of fashion was a weakness he could accept.
Nora was looking quite different, mostly by the fact that one could actually see her. Clad in a totally black suit but with a black tie, she was standing by the door. Her shoulder-length scarlet hair and clear green eyes were not covered in a mask and visor as usual.
While the muscle of carrying 40kg of ballistic armor every day was visible, the look of relief from the lack of its weight was even more so.
Her senses would work just as well without the armor and the affini would be enough muscle to protect him from danger in the short term. The lack of weapons would hopefully allow the affini to relax and become more open.
The imminent negotiations would certainly decide his future. He was going to get every advantage that the universe could produce. A quick reminder of his plans was all he had time before the doors opened and two affini walked it.
The gray bushy affini was not here. He should have known this, now he was slightly surprised. For future meeting, the guards would notify him beforehand.
“hope you had a good trip” he tried to sound friendly, like a good host before a normal meal. Had he attended more normal meals in his life he might have sounded more convincing, the affini did not seem to notice.
“oh it was quite....exceptional, not every day one is escorted by a fleet of human vessels .” the one with the many-colored flowers stated.
Nora showed both of the affini to the largest chairs that the staff had managed to acquire. He sat down first and the affini followed his move.
Once they had sat down. he immediately felt like something was wrong. He had to look up to even look them in the face. usually, he had the privilege of being the taller one but here he was utterly outclassed.
For a split second he wondered if a dinner had been the right call, it would be harder to seem authoritative if they were looking down on him. A second later he crushed those doubts, this would work, it had to.
Continuing with his generous host performance “We humans, have a saying that one should never discuss something important on an empty stomach”. The largest affini seemed pleased and interested in the expression.
He showed off a bit of his knowledge “I understand that you affini consume mineralized water. I hope the meal we have prepared will prove adequate to your tastes”. Displaying that he held knowledge on the affini would help build authority.
The look on the affini faces was just as he had hoped, a bit of pleasant surprise. “Well, that sounds lovely, very thoughtful of you little one” the affini with the white and yellow flowers replied
The tallest one was most likely the leader of the delegation “we have not properly introduced ourselves, I am Mertha Verina, Second Bloom, she/her”
“I am Serla Adri, 5th Bloom, she/her. It is nice to meet you!” the colorful one with the many different plants exclaimed.
Serla sounded quite confident while Mertha, as the tall was apparently called, sounded younger and more excited. The affini were not humans so analyzing them as individuals would be difficult but far from impossible.
“I apologize that I have yet to fully introduce myself. I am Hendrik Hansen, interim president of the Cethana republic”. While he was talking Nora effortlessly and silently removed the huge excess chair.
With a covert press of a button underneath the table, three chefs began to bring in the food. 2 large bowls of a green liquid that the affini apparently used as substance. For him a plate of expertly prepared steak that probably cost the same a moths rent in East New Hamburg. A crystal glass of red wine was delivered by a fourth servant.
He began cutting into the meat. The meat was expertly seasoned to not taste anything more than your standard nutrient bar. A good meal was a distraction that he could not allow himself. The wine was also nothing more than expertly colored and scented water, it would not affect him in any way.
The affini extended a large vine each and slowly the liquid began to drain from the bowls. The one called Serla spoke up “this is quite good, please give our complementarities to the chef”.
“I do believe it compliments, not complementarities” Mertha explained rapidly. He could not stop himself from raising an eyebrow at the situation.
They seemed out of their element, was this truly what the affini considered diplomats? Perhaps if his fleet was strong enough to defeat any power, he would also neglect his diplomacy.
Another weak point to be added to the list. Now it was time to make his move.
He put down his fork and knife, the meat only half eaten, and looked up at the plants “As you know the Centhian republic has decided to not surrender and follow the Human domestication Treaty. It is important for us that you do not see this as an act of hostility. We only want good relations with the Affini Compact”. this would be the first step, before he could get something out of them he would have to secure peace.
Mertha was the one to respond “it is wonderful to hear that you do not want to fight us. I am perplexed by your decision to not follow the treaty. As far as we have seen the situation here is too poor for us affini to accept”. The affini wanted to invade, if all went to hell then surrender was the worst-case solution.
For now, he needed to convince them that invasion was not in their interest “Well to understand our position, you first need to understand Centhia and its history”. Mertha looked quite invested, good he had them where he wanted them. Now all he had to do was tell them what they needed to believe.
Mertha sounded almost excited “Please explain, we still lack much information about your history and culture”. Hendrik wished the affini would take it more seriously, they irked him.
He just had to lay out the facts, most of this was even true “When Centhia was first settled a few centuries ago it was selected for a numerous set of factors. It was rich in natural resources; the planet could be quickly terraformed as it had supported simple life before and there were several other points of interest in close range”. He let the information be processed by his opponents
Now for the interesting part “The planets population grew faster than terra could ever have imagined. The large population, massive wealth, and the strategic position for trade made Centhia a regional power”. He took a brief pause to make sure that he still had the affini attention.
Mertha was looking at him with intensive eyes, he could almost hear the affini commit every word to memory. The other one was also looking at him but in a more analyzing way, like it was studying something under a microscope. Let it look, it would find anything he did not want to show.
He continued while he still had their attention “while this explosive growth was beneficial in many ways, the speed never allowed Centhia to form a stable balance of power. Gangs, corporations, Terran politicians, and natives fought for power. The Game for power has become ingrained into Centhian culture and way of life. Countless have died trying to gain control of this sector over the centuries”. The affini seemed to recoil a bit when he described the violence, perfect!
Now he just had to bring the point to its conclusion “that instability is quite severe at this point. My regime is holding the peace for now…..if there is a spark then the powder keg that is this planet will explode.” Serla looked confused at him.
“I am sorry, but I am afraid I don’t understand, what is a powder keg?” both Hendrik and Serla looked at Mertha for a second
She answered a bit proudly “A powder keg is a container of quite unsafe explosive material, it’s an expression for a situation that can develop for the worse quite rapidly, with devastating effect” the other affini seemed to understand now but their reaction was not quite what he had hoped.
Serla sounded more confident than her companion “Well if you have trouble with keeping the peace, the affini could help you. What does this have to do with Centhia not conforming to the Human domestication treaty?”. A good point but he was prepared, this was the final stretch. He hoped dearly that it would stick home.
He tried to sound a bit dejected “I would like nothing more to accept help, but the fact is that it’s not safe. If it got out that I invite the Affini compact to occupy the planet there would be chaos.”
This was the hard line if the affini crossed this it was all over “Within the end of the first hour the casualties would be in the tens of thousands, by the third hour it would be in the millions. Within the time it would take an affini warship to reach the system the number of casualties will have climbed exponentially”. The affini looked at him with shock and disbelief.
He hoped he could dispel the disbelief “Even with your efficient pacification the death tolls would be disastrous.” He had lowered his gaze to the meat on his plate, they needed to buy the sincerity of him caring for the people. The death tolls were not a total lie but still an exaggeration. Not that he cared for the lives, but they did.
As he looked up, he had to concentrate to not smile, both of the affini looked mortified. Some of the flowers of Mertha had begun to wilt. Mertha burst out “That is terrible! are you sure that this is true? Such a loss of life is unacceptable for the affini compact!” the lead negotiator was far from calm, but that suited him just fine.
The other one, Serla looked a bit suspicious “we affini have invaded countless worlds. When we come we will pacify the planet before it comes to what you describe”. This Serla was more irksome than Mertha.
when offering any deal stressing urgency was important “and how quickly can your fleet get here? My regime might not last the month, perhaps not even the week. People are quite upset with the loss of terra. If I can’t offer them a new safe path it will get ugly”. Serla leaned back a bit further into the chair.
He had them, now was the moment to deal the final strike. Producing a small stack of paper from a suitcase and putting them on the table he proposed the solution. “Luckily, we still have time, if the affini compact will acknowledge the republic’s independence then I can get time and support to stabilize. With your cooperation we can avoid disaster”.
Grabbing the agreement with several vines the affini quickly combed over the document. “We will need some time to evaluate and discuss with the armada council, is that alright?” despite their towering form they did not look threatening at the moment.
He tried to sound concerned “Of course, just keep in mind that time is of the essence. Also, encrypt the signal beyond human hacking capabilities, we cannot afford to create any suspicion”.
Unless there were some strict orders from above the document would be signed before tomorrow evening, he was sure of it. And if the affini needed more convincing he had a trap lying in wait.
The two Xenos thanked for the meal before hurrying out of the room. As soon as the door closed, he let himself grin. The first round was his, now for the second stage.