When Mertha had returned she had been ecstatic. The president had accepted the condition and the treaty was signed. While Mertha and Elrax went to sleep, Serla decided to do some more research. Something about the president made her uneasy, this all seemed to be going too well.
Serla began to go through the database of the human bureaucracy. It was remarkably well organized but that didn’t matter much now. The more she read the more she began to believe what the president had said. Centhia did not have a problem with instability, it was a constantly exploding time bomb.
The file on assassinations over the last 5 years alone was enough to fill an archive on the Agraria. The skirmishes between garrison forces and criminal elements were constant. The corps had private armies, especially the fireside company had a huge army of mercenaries for hire. The lightly detailed uprisings and coup attempts made her even more nervous. The little that was written was bad enough, and despite her efforts, she could not find where the rest of the report was hidden.
One thing was for certain, one did not just stride into any position on Centhia. For Hendrik to have managed to become and survive being governor and then president…. Her intuition felt more correct by the second. The way Mertha spoke of him this was a stressed and harmless human, it must be a façade. The stress was certainly there, but harmless…a predator might be a more apt description. She would have to talk to Mertha in the morning, they could not afford to be naïve.
The next morning, they gathered to discuss what to do before lunch. Mertha was pacing back and forth “we should have some suggestions ready for what aid we can supply them, the Agraria is ready to send small amounts of personnel and supplies.” Serla had to take it up now, before they got any further
She sighed “Mertha, we might want to consider our options carefully. I have a strong suspicion that we can’t trust the president.” She waited for Mertha’s reaction.
The young affini looked a bit despondent “I don’t understand, we have been able to cooperate so far. He has yet to try to deceive us, is there something I have missed?” Seeing Mertha like that was not pleasant
She chose her words carefully “Things have been going well, almost too well. I’m not saying that he is deceiving us at the moment. Rather I think it’s important that we don’t treat him as an ally just yet. Getting to this position could not have been done without stepping on others. It is very likely that he wants something from us for his own benefit. What that is I’m not sure of yet, but we should be careful.” Mertha looked towards the doors of the chambers.
“He wants our technology” Serla almost extended her needles in shock, Elrax had sat so quietly she had forgotten that he was there.
The eccentric affini continued “while the Agraria orbited Terra I took some time to study human technological development. Because humans were reluctant to cooperate there would often develop an imbalance in their technological development. The group with the less advanced tech would then have to scramble to ‘modernize’ as they called it. If they did not then the stronger group would attack and exploit them.” Elrax ended his lecture and looked up at Mertha that had stopped pacing back and forth.
Mertha sounded a bit hopeful “If that is right then perhaps, he simply wants our tech to help improve the lives of the humans in the sector” Mertha was trying to rationalize it.
Serla stood up “if he asks for our technology then that will doubtlessly be the explanation he gives. Make sure that we don’t give him anything that he could use as a weapon. If he wishes to modernize then perhaps it's because he believes that it can keep us away. We need to help the humans here but not at the expense of their future.” Mertha nodded in understanding.
Mertha said “The lunch will be soon, so we should prepare some suggestions. Elrax, you should come, if I get any questions about our tech, I will need your expertise.” Serla was happy with that. Mertha could be a bit too trusting but she was not stupid.
Hendrik did not look happy or content, he never did anymore. He did however look satisfied and eager, this probably meant that a plan of his was underway.
Nora was ready to get her orders “While I negotiate with them over lunch, I want you to pay a visit to the remaining affini. Gain a bit of their trust and get some information on them” his voice betrayed a hint of authority. This was not just a request.
Espionage against aliens, “What do you want me to do to find out?” Nora knew what she herself wanted to find out, a question that burned in her mind ever since the affini had taken Terra.
Hendrik looked at an encoded document while he spoke “Their plans, their way of thinking, what they value and what they can tolerate. I need more information on the affini, especially on the delegates as individuals”. Well that she could certainly do, this was not the first intel collection mission for Henrik. Her previous missions had allowed for a bit more of a physical touch but simply talking was more to her taste.
Nora looked to the door “Who will be guarding you in the meantime?” When she was sent away, he usually got some other protection. It was not that she was worried for him, it was merely professionalism…
Hendrik moved his sight to a different document “four units from the shadow division. They just arrived from Cebrex V and will be staying here as long as I need them.” Nora felt a shiver down her back.
The shadow division was perhaps the most capable and lethal liquidation team in what had once been the Terran accord. Fanatically loyal to Henrik they were his tool of choice when he needed to purge his political enemies.
She thanked her armor for hiding her swallowing. If they were here then that meant that heads would roll. If it was to counter a plot or to enact one of his own she did not know. These times were always the riskiest, she would have to watch out carefully for assassins. Still, that should not be her focus at the moment. She had a task, and she would perform it to the letter. “I will prepare at once, good luck with the negotiations, president.”
As she left the office, she passed the two masked soldiers standing as statues outside the door. Even with her advanced senses she had not heard them arrive, those soldiers always gave her the creeps. As she left for her quarters several floors down, she reflected that at least she could take off the armor. And if she was effective, perhaps she would have time to figure out the fate of her sister.
As the two affini entered the dining hall Hendrik noticed immediately that something had changed. It was almost like something wrong with the rhythm that Mertha followed when she walked. She was more cautious, and she had brought a different affini. Good, Serla made him feel inspected and studied, this other affini felt far less threatening.
Perhaps they were on to him…Had he made a mistake that would make them suspicious?
He would know soon enough. He decided to be even more careful from now on. Even with the treaty, he would not be safe until all his plans were completed. Hopefully, Nora could discover what had changed the affini behavior.
The bowls of liquid slurry were already on the table, as was his bowl of pasta with some tomato sauce and cheese. As The affini sat down he felt their gaze upon him, they were waiting for him to start talking.
He would oblige them “You will be pleased to hear that the agreement between our nations has been warmly welcomed by all in our republic.” He flashed the warmest smile he could manage, trying to be pleasant was not something he was used to.
Mertha slithered a vine into the bowl “That is certainly good news. Yesterday we spoke of the compact providing aid to your people. Do you have any suggestions for what aid you might need?” With the latent tension in Mertha’s words, she seemed to expect a certain answer. She was also being rather straightforward. They knew something was up but were unsure of what he wanted.
No benefit in avoiding asking something he was going to ask them either way “The Republic is economically strong, we have enough of all essential resources. Where we could really use your help is within technology. Through cooperation, I am certain that we can improve the lives of my fellow citizens.” He would need to play the role well, and also give them no room for further suspicion. His plan was ready for that, he did not regret the lost hours of sleep.
Mertha did not look surprised, rather she seemed to have expected this. He also gained the attention of the gray-leafed affini. Elrax, they had called it. Perhaps he should have started with something else, technology was the greatest advantage the affini had. They would be hesitant to give it up. Hendrik did not need any other types of aid for his plan, he would just have to frame his requests correctly.
He continued “Medicine would be a good place to start. From the little, I have heard your medicine puts human medicine to shame. If we could get a stable supply of different kinds we can dramatically help the sick and infirm.” Medicine was harmless, they could not get suspicious of that
Mertha sounded a bit pleased “That is certainly not a bad idea. Affini medicine requires a lot of knowledge to use and make properly. I’m not sure we could teach you quickly enough” Martha’s words were careful, this was not the unprepared negotiator that he had met at dinner.
This was going well so far, he had a solution to the issue she presented. Holding it to his chest until all his requests were made would be the best move “Our power generation is also quite dangerous. It produces gas that not only harms our health but also damages the ecosystem of the planet. Do you affini have some better form of energy generation that we could use?" The question was purely rhetorical, of course, the super-advanced plant-people had something better than grade 2 petroleum.
Mertha looked a bit more cautious “We certainly do, we have generators far more effective than yours, that also don’t produce such vicious fumes. What do you want to do with them?”
An affini power generator would probably be the gateway to a new generation of warships. It made sense for them to be cautious. Hendrik did not need something so heavy-handed “just for powering the planet, housing, production, and transportation.”
Elrax spoke up, his voice was far darker than the other affini but still held a clear tone. Henrik analyzed its movement and voice as it spoke “the technology is far beyond human capabilities. Even if you knew how it worked you would still need an affini to do maintenance. It also requires complex parts that you are not developed enough to produce.” They wanted their technology to themselves, which was more than acceptable for his plans.
Hendrik was already imagining the logistics he would need to organize later “lastly there is the mining that the republic still heavily relies on. Mining is very dangerous work and harms a lot of workers. I know from some sources that you affini use automated mechanical drones. If we could be provided with these units. We could phase out human mining very rapidly. As a bonus, it should disprove the ridiculous claim that you affini use enslaved humans for mining." The chance of bettering their reputation would certainly be tempting. However, he already knew the nature of the issue before the gray affini spoke.
The gray affini spoke “if you are still using manual labor, then our mining drones would be much safer. We don’t want to put any of you adorable sophonts in harm’s way.” This person was clearly not a skilled negotiator of any kind. Why was it here then?
Hendrik swore he saw one of Martha’s wines poking Elrax, who then quickly added “the drones still need an affini to manage them, you humans could not understand the complicated coding and internal systems.” Just as he expected, they would not trust him to have the tech unsupervised.
He pretended to be deep in thought “this is a rather difficult conundrum…I think I have a solution. If we humans are not yet able to operate this technology then why don’t you? If you have the personnel and resources to spare we can save thousands of lives. I know it might be too much to ask you, but I don’t see a different solution.” Usually, a position of apparent strength was good in negotiations. With the affini, a position of apparent weakness was far more effective.
The two affini looked at him a bit puzzled, not giving them a chance to regain their footing he carried on. He didn’t want them to actually find a different solution. “We can simply delegate an area for affini medical stations, some for power-generation and one to oversee each automated mine.” When he looked up he was certain that he would see agreement, but it would not be that easy.
Mertha looked suspicious “An interesting solution, but there is still one major problem. How can we be certain that you will use our technology for good ends? You humans have a history of obtaining better technology only to do even more harm to your fellow sophont.” The affini was stern, she had a good point.
His thoughts raced, he needed something to give these over-caring plants. A small gesture to show that cooperation would be good for the people living under him. A sign of trust and goodwill…..Perfect.
He would have to play weak again “you are right, I am embarrassed to admit that even with your help there would still be individuals that we cannot take care of. People whose wellbeing we can’t guarantee.” He tried to look sad and defeated, the reaction from the affini showed that he was convincing.
Mertha’s tone had taken a full 180 “I’m sorry that you have to shoulder any of this responsibility, little one. We will do what we can to help if you let us.” Mertha sounded genuinely sympathetic, which made the condescension even worse, but this was going well.
Time to play the card “Could you take care of them for us? We can send those that we can’t help to Terra. In time and with your help we might be able to help all within our borders, but for now, this might be the best solution. Perhaps in time, we can even arrange for free migration. I’m sorry that I did not bring it up before. It is a shameful thing to admit that I have failed them.” As he looked up he saw a great deal of compassion, it looked like the plants were seconds away from giving him a hug.
The point of migration was a pure lie, he would never allow valued labor power to be siphoned away into the affini utopia. the countless prisoners that he had taken during his accent on the other hand would make an excellent gift.
The rest of the lunch went well, with only minor disagreements about certain stipulations and arrangements. The affini still needed to get confirmation from their high command but he was certain that they would agree.
Bringing more affini here would be very risky, people might think that he was allowing them to take over. They would need to be perfectly hidden until the trap was sprung. If anyone knew before the time was right, he might as well invite the affini armada for real. A benefit was that the affini were less likely to leak any information to his opponents, which was crucial. This would be a dangerous gambit, but if he succeeded, he would reign supreme.
This meant he had a lot more work to do. He found an energizer boost in his pocket and injected it. he would have to work through the next night as well.