Chapter 6: Inheritance
"Sir, you have a visitor at reception ," came the voice on the intercom.
"Do I have any appointments scheduled for today? Who is it?"
"No appointments, sir. She's a freighter captain. She insists it's urgent."
"One of our freighters?"
"No, sir. I think it's a Federation freighter."
"How do I know this person?"
"She knows your brother. Or… Sorry, sir, I guess she knew your brother."
The junior associate governor of the Ferenginar Reserve Bank sighed. He had lost his brother several months ago. He switched off the screen on the computer he had been working on.
"Please send her in," he said
"This is an OUTRAGE!" screamed Kee.
"I told you," said Staff Sergeant Driver.
"Tough. It's my ship," said Val.
Val and a couple MARCO squads had just entered Cargo Bay 2. Kee had just been beamed aboard the Vetara without his firearm. The rest of his entourage was similarly disarmed.
"Who's in charge here?" asked Driver. He was looking at a group of about 25 Krowtonan.
"I am," said a young female in a huff. "Explain yourself."
"Explain myself?" asked Val. "We just saved your butts from a malfunctioning spaceship."
"You have taken the arms of my men. Restore them immediately."
"You are in no position to demand anything," said Val.
"I am the First Princess of Yammja. You will return my men's arms. Now!"
"Great. Princess of Yammja. Well, consider yourselves confined to the illustrious kingdom of Cargo Bay 2," said Val as he waved his arm to indicate the cavernous cargo bay.
"This is not the proper conduct of a nobleman," insisted the princess. The Krowtonan only allowed high born individuals to command heavy battle cruisers. Judging by the size of the Vetara, the princess had surmised Val to be at least a mid ranking noble. Perhaps even a count. Of course, since she was a princess, a count would be obliged to serve her every whim.
"I guess not," replied Val.
Kee and a couple of his warriors made a motion that seemed as if they wanted to attack Val. Immediately, several MARCOs brought their rifles up and the Krowtonan backed down. Driver did not bother to unsling his rifle from his shoulder. He knew his troopers had the Krowtonan covered.
As Val and Driver started to walk out of the cargo bay, another Krowtonan approached. He spoke with a much more friendly tone.
"M'lord," he said. "Please forgive the young princess and the pow."
"You are?" asked Val.
"I am called Flin. I am the princess' principal Shi." Flin had served as the princess' father's advisor for foreign relations, and had the demeanor of a diplomat.
"Do not worry, Flin. I will deliver you and your people safe and sound to your destination."
"I have no doubt you will, m'lord," said Flin. "However, it is not necessary to confine us to your cargo bay. We are of no threat to you."
"That's fine," said Val. He had no real intent on keeping his guests confined. He had wanted to make a point early after the heated exchange over the communications channel when the Krowtonan angrily insisted that they be allowed to keep their weapons before they agreed to be beamed aboard. When the two parties couldn't reach an agreement, Val told Kejal to beam them all to Cargo Bay 2. The royal transport had been on the verge of losing life support. There was no time to negotiate.
"We are grateful for our rescue, and for your hospitality, m'lord," said Flin as he put his right fist to his chest and bowed slightly as a sign of respect.
"You're welcome. My security chief will show you to your assigned quarters."
Val walked out of the Cargo Bay and left Sergeant Driver and his MARCOs to deal with the newcomers.
Courtney McDonnell knocked on the door.
She opened the door and gestured for her guest to enter the office.
"Sir, this is Navaar. She's with the United Federation Agency for Interplanetary Development."
"Please, have a seat," said the young man as he gestured to one of the chairs facing his desk.
"Court, can you please bring me a fruit smoothie?"
"Sure, Mr. Shin."
"Would you like anything?" he asked Navaar.
"No, thank you," Navaar said politely.
Courtney nodded and stepped out to fetch the smoothie.
"So… you knew my brother?" asked Shin. Whitford Shin was the junior associate governor in charge of Earth relations at the Ferenginar Reserve Bank's central office. He liked working in finance. He loved numbers. But he hated the climate on this planet. He hadn't eaten anything crispy in months. The humidity was overbearing. Everything was moist. In fact, every food he had eaten had the texture of soggy bread.
"I did. Val and I were… close."
"I see," said Whitford. He tried to remember if his brother had ever mentioned an Orion before. He didn't recall an instance of that. "What brings you to Ferenginar?"
"Do you know anything about your brother's disappearance?" asked Navaar.
"Only that it involved a fugitive retrieval operation to capture some member of the maquis. A relatively high ranking one. He and his men were harassing Federation shipping lanes near the DMZ."
"Do you know what ship he was on?" asked Navaar.
"The U.S.S. Voyager. Why?"
"This is going to sound crazy, but I don't think he was on that ship."
"What makes you think that?"
"This is a long story, but hear me out."
"Several nights ago, I experienced a strange teleportation event."
"Right… well, I'm not really sure what it was. One second I was on the flight deck of my ship, and the next second, I was seemingly beamed onto another ship."
"So you were beamed onto another ship?"
"Seemingly. Only, there were no ships anywhere near my ship at the time. I considered that it was perhaps a cloaked vessel, but to my knowledge, ships can't operate transporters while cloaked."
"That sounds about right."
"So, somehow, I was brought onboard another ship. I can't remember completely, it lasted for 20 seconds at most. But I saw Val standing there, in what appeared to be his quarters."
"Are you sure this wasn't just some type of dream, or a memory?"
"No. No. This was real, not a dream. Nor was this a memory. The quarters I saw him in appeared to be of Cardassian design. We were never in such a place."
"Cardassian? Maybe he was on DS9?"
"Maybe. I don't know. At first, I was facing a porthole, and the stars out of the window did not look familiar. I began looking around the room slowly. I have an eidetic memory, so I can picture it right now as I speak. I was standing near a couch. On that couch were a Captain Proton comic book and a microbiology encyclopedia of some sort."
"Okay… Well, my brother hated Captain Proton, so that probably wasn't his. I mean, we loved comic books as kids, but he was always a bigger fan of the comics with superhero teams than individual heroes. He constantly decried about how he disliked Superman because he had every superpower imaginable, and preferred the teams where each member had a different power and therefore contributed to the team."
"Right…" said Navaar. She liked Val a lot, but his comic book geekiness was not something she found attractive. Luckily for her, Val had figured that early on, and so did not talk about the subject much when they conversed.
"So, you saw the comic book, and…?" said Whitford, attempting to steer the conversation back to her train of thought.
"I saw a computer padd laying on the coffee table. It appeared to be a personnel roster of some sort. The ship name was Vetara. Val's name was under it, assigned as the ship's commander. The second in command appeared to be the ship's engineer, named Kejal, and Val's security chief appeared to be someone named "Nate." I couldn't read any family or clan names."
"Well, when I got back, I made it a point to write every detail down, even though I can remember as if it just happened. I checked the registry of ships operating under Cardassian central command, and there is no such ship as the Vetara. I checked the name Kejal and there is no such engineer in Starfleet. I considered the possibility she was on loan from the Bajoran militia, but there is no such person with that organization either. No Starfleet officer serving on Voyager was named Nate, or Nathan, or Nathaniel."
"Okay, so now you're giving me evidence that these are people that don't exist on a ship that doesn't exist."
"Well… I did a little bit more digging. You know how the Obsidian Order collapsed a few weeks ago?"
"Yea, after the Omarion Nebula fiasco. It was all over the newsfeeds."
"Some of the Order's operational files were liberated from the government's classified secure servers. I looked through them, and found something of interest. Before the combined Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar fleet started their operation, the two agencies each sent ships into the Gamma quadrant for recon. By law, the Obsidian Order did not possess any warships, so they had to start building them covertly in the Orias system. But as the ships were being built, the Cardassians wanted some more background information on the Gamma Quadrant. One of the Order's field commanders was close with Gul Macet, who leant the Order one of his warships. The document trail then gets a little hazy, but there is some suggestion that one of the ships under Macet's command might have been named the Kejal. Macet's flagship is named the Vetar, but that ship is currently operating in Cardassian space."
"So the Obsidian Order sent a scout ship to recon Gamma. It was most likely destroyed in the ensuing conflict. Why would it have involved my brother?"
"I think the Obsidian Order was too short-handed to man the ship. They were concentrating to building their attack fleet and needed every available officer and deckhand for their soon-to-be built ships. Faced with possibly not getting adequate intelligence from the Gamma Quadrant, I believe the Romulans or Cardassians reached out to Starfleet and asked to borrow manpower. I think your brother was assigned to command the Vetara."
"That makes very little sense. Val was a prosecutor. He wasn't actually an officer of the line," said Whitford.
"I know not everything makes sense, but I know your brother's still alive. I can feel it."
"We all want him to be alive. It doesn't make it so. You saw him in a dream, that's all."
"Maybe," said Navaar. She was debating with herself whether she should discuss the possibility that Val was a Section 31. She wasn't sure Whitford knew. And even if he did, she wasn't she whether he'd deny it.
"But," insisted Navaar. "If Val is still alive and stranded in the Gamma Quadrant, shouldn't we notify Starfleet or something?"
"Right. And tell them what? You saw him in a dream? Starfleet isn't going to send a ship to Gamma after the Dominion just mowed down a fleet of twenty Cardassian Keldons and Romulan warbirds. If it's true that Val somehow got himself mixed up in this Gamma debacle, let's just hope that the Cardassians had enough sense to outfit Val's ship with a cloaking device and that his ship is slowly limping back to the wormhole as we speak."
Whitford's suggestion made Navaar smile inside. It would make sense for the Vetara to be equipped with a cloak. After all, the Romulans had been willing to lend the tech for the Keldon warships for the joint assault and a while back had also leant it to the U.S.S. Defiant in return for intel about the Gamma Quadrant. Navaar was satisfied with her meeting. Even if she didn't get Starfleet to do anything, at least she told Val's brother.
Navaar stood up and reached over to shake Whitford's hand.
"It was nice to meet you," she said. "Maybe the next time we meet, Val will have made it home."
"Here's hoping," said Whitford. Although, he wasn't sure he believed a word his Orion visitor said.
"They're doing okay. At first they were a handful but it appears things are under control," said Val.
"Glad to hear it," said Burke. "Oh, by the way, the Emperor has made you a warlord."
"Come again?" said a slightly confused Val.
"You've been granted a noble title, in gratitude for you rescuing his distant relatives."
"Yea, I think I'd prefer some other title there."
"Your official title, at least for now, is the Baron Vetara. You've been named after your ship."
"The Emperor decided to start you off slowly. You could've been named a Count, like me."
"Lemme guess, the Count Solstice?"
"Ha. Actually, I'm the Count of San Angeles. Don't ask me how that came about."
"I guess that's better than the warlord of San Angeles."
"All of the noble ranks are split into warlords or landlords. So, either you primarily fight, or you rule over land. Which do you think better describes you?"
"Okay, whatever. This is just a temporary thing anyway, right? Until I deliver the princess and her entourage?"
"I'm guessing you'll probably get to keep the title. You've now been inserted into the Krowtonan High Guard command hierarchy, on an interim basis. With the exception of flagships and heavy cruisers, you have command authority over High Guard ships in your vicinity. That authority will probably end once you've delivered the princess."
The doorchime to Val's quarters rang.
"I'll speak with you later. Enjoy your night," said Burke. The screen blinked off and Val walked over to his doorway.
"Enter," said Val as he approached within 3 feet of the door.
The princess entered, looked around, and seemed slightly displeased.
"Is there something I can help you with?" asked Val.
"Your quarters are significantly larger than mine," said the princess.
"Your accommodations are the largest guest quarters we have onboard," said Val.
"I demand we exchange quarters. Now!" she insisted.
"Your current accommodations are quite sufficient. In fact, it is my understanding that they are much larger than your quarters on your royal yacht."
"You will address me properly as 'your highness.' You will pay me proper respect, and you will satisfy my request."
"You, highness, will leave my quarters this instant. Or I will remove you myself."
"You wouldn't dare!" she said in a huff.
Val tapped his combadge. "Security team to the captain's quarters."
"Who do you think you are?" yelled the princess. "You are a lowly baron, with no land to call yours. Not even a county. I rule over a planet. What makes you think you can disobey me?"
"I'm the captain of this ship. And I would have gladly left you to die on your royal yacht. Even if your yacht's environmental and propulsion systems hadn't been damaged from a previous firefight, sensors picked up 3 enemy combat patrols closing in on your ship. You had lost both your escorts. You would have perished."
Corporal Logan and Pfc. McCarter entered the captain's quarters.
"Corporal Logan, please escort the princess back to deck 7," said Val calmly. All of the guest quarters were located on that deck.
The princess slapped Val. Then the two of them stared angrily at each other for three seconds before the princess stormed out into the hallway.
Logan and McCarter stood by, a little bit frozen. What was Logan to do? Throw the princess in the brig? Val could see her hesitation.
"Just make she her highness over there makes it back to her deck. I'm revoking wandering privileges for her and the rest of the Krowtonan. Confine them to deck 7 and the mess hall."
"Aye, sir," responded Logan.
Whitford had just finished breakfast and was about to head into the office. It was a Sunday, and he would normally be off. But there were some things he had to wrap up. He decided he would head into the office for half the day and then go to the gym. He hadn't played basketball in a while and searched for his sneakers.
As he searched around in his walk-in closet, he happened upon a box of Val's personal effects. One of Val's Starfleet colleagues had delivered it to Whitford after Val was declared missing in action. Inside the box were some of Val's knick-knacks that were scattered across his desk in his JAG office. He noticed a couple of two and a half inch mini-figures of characters from a Disney movie called "Beauty and the Beast." There was the Beast, who was some sort of cross between a lion and a bear. He was dressed in a fancy suit. His companion, named Belle, was dressed in a yellow ball gown. The cartoon movie was Val's favorite as a child.
Whitford then began thinking about his visitor from two days ago. What if she was somehow right? While he did not believe she was teleported to the Gamma Quadrant, Whitford had heard some rumors that a very small percentage of Orion females developed psychic bonds with their mates, similar to betazoids. It was a stretch, but stranger things have happened.
During the standard missing persons investigation, DS9 security had trouble finding anyone who had witnessed Val actually boarding the U.S.S. Voyager. That wasn't completely surprising. Who would remember such a thing? But it was a loose end.
Before heading out the door, Whitford decided to message one of his friends who used to be news reporter. This friend was often interested in conspiracy theories. Whitford was going to see what his friend thought about the possibility that Starfleet used the Voyager mission as a ruse to place Val at DS9 and then subsequently send him and a few others into the Gamma Quadrant for a scouting mission.
The First Princess of Yammja approached the massive MARCO leader.
"Sergeant, tell your captain that I wish to speak with him," she said.
"I'm sorry, princess. I don't think he's in any mood to be bothered."
"Tell him anyway."
"Oh-kay," said Driver, sounding a little sarcastic. He would tell Val, but he was quite sure Val would not want to meet with any of the Krowtonan. Val had left his confinement instructions quite clear.
As Driver turned and walked away, the princess had something more to say.
"Sergeant," she said. Driver stopped and turned. It took a few seconds for the princess to say what she wanted to say. Driver stood there, a little impatient.
"Please tell your captain that I apologize for striking him," she said.
Sergeant Driver had heard there was an argument in Val's quarters a couple of nights before. But he did not know what exactly happened. He was surprised that the altercation got physical.
Val stood in front of a computer in engineering as Kejal watched. He had been studying a schematic for over an hour.
Prior to beaming the Krowtonan over to cargo bay 2, Val had skimmed over the inventory logs to check that there were no weapons stored there. There were none. However, he made a note to inventory all the weapons that were onboard the Vetara. Earlier in the morning he decided to check on a couple of crates in the shuttle bay which were marked as containing Cardassian disruptor rifles. To Val's surprise the two crates contained pieces of a device. Val wasn't quite sure what it was, but it piqued his interest. After an hour of examination, he was able to figure out that the device was designed to attach directly to the Cardassian ship's engines, and that the device design was Romulan in origin. Val was going on the theory that the device was capable of extending the maximum speed that the Vetara could travel. That would be of great help. In general, Romulan ships were capable of significantly greater speeds than the Cardassian warships.
Staff Sergeant Driver entered engineering.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir" said Driver.
"No, that's okay," said Val. He had been a little tired of looking over the schematics. It might be better to return to them with a fresh pair of eyes.
"Her highness the princess of Yammja would like to speak with you."
Val nodded. He was resigned to putting up with the annoyance for the next few days. Then he could finally drop her off on her planet and be done with this.
"Did she say what about? Are we flying too slowly for her tastes?"
"Well… she said that she would like me to tell you first that she apologizes for hitting you."
That slightly decreased Val's annoyance. But it was still there. She shouldn't have hit him in the first place.
"And then she complained about something?"
"Not quite. She asked me if you knew how to dance."
"Yes, sir. I told her you probably could. She said she needed a dance partner."
"Well, that is something I will trust to delegate to you, my trusty right hand man."
"I had asked her why she couldn't partner with one of her entourage, perhaps one of her advisors. She said it had to be you. Only you."
"Wonderful," said Val sarcastically.
"Full revolt. The southern continent is in full revolt," reported Commandant Sardu. He was in charge of Home Guard forces tasked to quell the rebellion on Yammja.
"This is unacceptable. What have your men been doing for the past two and half months?" asked Admiral Burke.
"They've been holding their positions, under constant attack," said Sardu, insisting that his troops were competent, but severely outmanned.
"The princess' coronation is in less than 6 days. You've lost control of about one third of the planet?"
"I didn't lose anything," said Sardu. "It was lost by the time my battalion arrived here. I've sent multiple detailed situation reports over the past four weeks, requesting further reinforcements. The Home Guard is stretched too thin."
Burke immediately ordered the Solstice to Yammja Prime. Along with the Solstice, Burke managed to pull two medium armed frigates off of their assigned defensive area patrols to meet up with the Solstice. Well, to Burke they were medium armed. But the frigates were the second heaviest armed ships in the Krowtonan fleet. One of these was Pow Beeshar's Yond. The frigate Yond would rendezvous with the Vetara first, as they would both approach Yammja from a similar direction.
Val and the princess stood in the cavernous cargo bay two. This, of course, was the site of their first argument. But it was also a room large enough for their needs. Along with the princess, 2 of her stewardesses, her advisor, and 3 bodyguards joined her.
"Is there a reason you decided to torture me specifically with this?" asked Val.
"I needed to practice dancing with a partner," said the princess.
"Why am I the only person practice with?"
"You can dance. I've asked a few of the MARCOs. The consistent answer is that as an officer of Starfleet, you are expected to be a gentleman and be capable of attending officers' balls and other formal government functions. You were probably taught to dance at the academy, if you hadn't already known."
"I'm sure some of your high ranking advisors dance as well."
The princess was reluctant in explaining her situation, but she knew Val would keep asking.
"My advisors are not allowed to touch me. Neither are my bodyguards."
"What if you fall down or something? They can't help you up?"
"No. At least, not the males. My maidens may. And I will surely have at least one or two female advisors by the time I am installed as the ruler of Yammja."
"Then dance with one of your maidens," said Val.
"Will you just shut up and dance with me already?" said the princess.
The two of them got closer together and the princess placed her right hand into Val's left. It was slightly awkward as the two of them got closer. The princess placed her left hand on Val's shoulder, and Val placed his right hand on her back.
The two of them just held their pose for a few seconds and stared at each other.
"Well?" said the princess.
"Well what?" said Val.
"Start dancing," said the princess.
"I don't know how to dance," said a confused Val.
"Yes, you do," said the princess.
"I mean. I can. But I don't know how to Krowtonan dance, you know what I mean?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, different ethnicities, or different alien races, dance in different ways. I don't know how you dance."
"We all dance the same way," said the princess. "The Krowtonan have never met any alien race which do not dance the way we do. Just dance how you normally would, and I'm sure it will be sufficiently similar to how I've learned."
The two of them stopped talking but once again stared at each other for a few seconds.
"Well?" said the princess, getting a little impatient.
"Shouldn't there be music or something?" asked Val.
"Your sergeant told me that you could provide the music. Through your ship's computer."
Val requested the ship play a slow song. The song started to play, but the two of them still stood there.
"Well? What are you waiting for?" asked the princess.
"Are you ready?" asked Val.
"Whenever you are." She was waiting for him to lead.
Val had decided that the waltz would be the simplest dance to deal with, and probably the easiest for the princess to follow even if she were not entirely familiar with it to begin with. To Val's surprise, it appeared that the princess did indeed know how to waltz. It felt a little bit weird at first, but after less than a minute, the two of them were comfortable with each other.
"So, I still don't understand, why are you allowed to dance with me but not any other males?"
"It is not any other males. Only people of the upper echelon are allowed to touch me."
"You mean royalty?"
"Nobility. Although you are a mere baron, you are the only nobleman onboard. This is why you were the only person I could choose."
Val was actually quite impressed with how gracefully his dance partner moved. In the beginning, he had wondered whether it would matter that her knees bent backward, the other way compared to basically every other alien species he had ever met. It made him start wondering why every species in the Alpha and Beta quadrants had such similar leg structures to humans.
After a few more minutes of dancing, Val asked "By the way, I meant to ask, what's your name?"
"Yea. What do your people call you?"
"Either the First Princess of Yammja, or Your Royal Highness. As you should." She did not say it in a condescending way.
"Well, you're free to call me Val if you'd like."
"You are the Baron Vetara and I shall refer to you as such," said the princess.
Val chuckled. "That's perfectly fine."
"Do you always talk so much when you dance?" asked the princess.
"I don't know," said Val truthfully. "I mean, I think it's normal for people to talk once in a while during their dance."
Val took it as a cue from the princess that she didn't want to talk, so he decided to remain quiet. The two of them danced for two more songs and the music stopped. The sequence Val had requested from the computer only lasted for 4 songs. The two of them danced for a few seconds after the music ended, and then they slowly trailed off and came to a halt.
"Well, princess. It appeared you didn't need any practice at all."
"I had fun," she said, and then smiled. It was the first smile Val saw on her ever since the two of them met. He smiled back.
"It has been over 20 years since I first learned how," she said. "From my father, when I was five. I have never had any occasion to dance. I am hoping I will not look too foolish at my coronation ball."
"I think you'll look perfectly elegant," said Val.
The two of them finally let go of each other's hands and parted.
Val started to walk towards the cargo bay exit.
"Val," said the princess. "Thank you."
"I thought you were going to stick with Baron Vetara," said Val teasingly.
"Call me whatever you're comfortable with."
Val started to walk toward the exit again.
"Val?" said the princess.
"Djeena. My parents called me Djeena when I was young."
"That's a cute name."
"Maybe we could have one last dance later, before you deliver me to my palace."
Val nodded and then headed off to the bridge.
"It is good to see you again, captain," said Pow Beeshar. The Yond had just met up with the Vetara about thirty minutes prior, and Beeshar beamed aboard with a couple of his senior officers.
Pow Beeshar, Shi Flin, and Captain Val Shin set up in the Vetara's conference room, where Beeshar updated Flin about the situation on Yammja. Val would be the on-scene commander at Yammja until Admiral Burke arrived. As the unrest on the Southern continent proved to be sustained, the Emperor himself ordered two of his auxiliary ships into the system as well. They would arrive a few hours after the Solstice would.
"This looks like it could get a little messy," said Mah Tex. Mah was the Krowtonan rank roughly equivalent to ensign. Tex was the second-in-command of the Yond.
"I do not think the princess wishes to engage the rebels in conflict, especially during her coronation," said Flin.
"It is a shame that military prowess is usually not inherited as easily as land. Or title," said Pow Beeshar. Although he respected the royal family and had great loyalty to the Emperor, he sometimes resented the fact that royalty were born into such high positions and military authority without having to prove themselves in battle. It turned out that former King of Yammja was indeed a great military tactician. All evidence was to the contrary regarding any of his children.
"So the plan is to rout the rebel headquarters down in the southern capital? Before the princess is elevated to queen?" asked Val.
"We're waiting for the Admiral Maximus to arrive. The rebels may very well decide to surrender once they see the full force of the princess' support. It is what we predict will happen. It's the most logical outcome," said Beeshar.
Val wasn't sure what part of that sentence irked him more, the fact that Beeshar sounded a bit too Vulcan with the logical outcome snippet, or that Beeshar and others in the Krowtonan High Guard referred to Max as the Admiral Maximus. Though, the latter never seemed to bother him on prior occasions.
"I thought the Krowtonan referred to Admiral Burke as the Count of San Angeles?" asked Val.
"He hates being called that," said Beeshar. "Of course, when he attends the coronation banquet, he will be addressed with his full title and will be introduced as the Admiral Maximus Orwell Burke, Count of San Angeles. He prefers just his name though, but we're protocol bound to at least call him the Admiral Maximus."
"I've studied American history. Your nation-state was first formed after a rebellion against royalty," said Tex.
"Is that true?" asked Flin.
"Well, the nation-state no longer exists. But yes, I am from a region of Earth which used to be part of the nation you mention. It was first formed after declaring independence from a monarchy."
"The Admiral Maximus is from the same region as well," added Tex.
"I'm not sure. He's probably a Midwesterner."
"What are your feelings about the Krowtonan Empire," asked a curious Flin. "Do you support the rebels who are wishing to end it?"
"I guess I'm mixed. I realize there's some usefulness to a strong central authority, especially in times where there are external threats. But I do feel that some degree of autonomy is called for so that the common citizens can run some of the everyday aspects of their lives," said Val.
This new information piqued Flin's interest. He had always been loyal to the royal family and to the system of nobles. But Flin was born a commoner, and never completely felt like he belonged in the ruling classes. Right now, his immediate concern was whether Val would defect and join the rebellion. While a very small percentage, there were at least 3% of the Krowtonan High Guard who had already done so, including a number of lesser lords, and even a viscount.
"As the Admiral Maximus dislikes his noble title, you probably dislike yours as well," said Tex.
"I wouldn't say dislike. I'm just not accustomed to it. It's just not my style, that's all."
"I believe the Pows and Chars have always referred to you as the Captain Vallicent," said Beeshar. Char was the Krowtonan rank for colonel.
"I'm not sure I'll ever get used to that either," said Val.
"I bet most of the lords in the Jang ranks refer to you as Baron Vetara, though," countered Tex. "Seeing as the vast majority of them are themselves of noble status." Jang was the Krowtonan grades of general and admirals.
"It doesn't matter, people can call me whatever they want," said Val.
"It does matter," said Shi Flin. "The nobles see you as one of them. Even if you are from a race clear across the galaxy. Even if you earned your title through performance in battle and were born a commoner. For all her condescension towards you, her highness the First Princess views you as someone similar to her. Quite frankly, you seem to be the only person outside of her family she can even mildly tolerate. My question to you, m'lord, is that when the time comes, will be back the princess or will you feel sympathy for the rebels?"
"What are you asking of me?" said Val.
"When it comes time to install the Princess, will you support her? Will you help crush her opponents?" asked Flin.
"Whoa there. That's not what I'm here to do," said Val. "A ship was in distress and I was asked to deliver the passengers to their home planet. That's all I'll do. I can't take sides in a civil war, if that's what this is. Starfleet has strict regulations on this sort of thing."
"You've already taken sides!" insisted Shi Flin. "You are expected to be on our side!"
"Wait!" said Beeshar. He tried to remain calm but he was a little bit riled up by the people around him. "The Admiral Maximus made it clear that the Captain was in fact a neutral party and can decide to remain such. While the Admiral has pledged his allegiance to the Empire, Captain Shin has not. It is his choice how far he wishes to support the princess."
"This is preposterous. He has been given precedence in the High Guard. He has a duty to us," said Flin
"He has a duty to deliver the Princess to Yammja. At that point, his duty ends. He will be released from serving the Emperor. That was the deal and we will abide by it," said Beeshar in the most respectful tone he could muster. "Remember that Captain Shin did not have to agree to rescue you in the first place. He did not want to get involved in a brewing civil war, and we made a promise to him that his ship wouldn't be dragged into this. When the command ship Solstice arrives with the frigate Sullis, the three of our ships will be more than enough to suppress the rebellion. Not to mention the two orbital artillery ships that are scheduled to reinforce us in a matter of weeks time."
Flin reluctantly restrained from counter-arguing.
"Captain, you have said your orders do not allow you to be involved in alien civil wars. Am I correct in presuming you will also not be interfering on behalf of the rebels?" inquired Beeshar.
"I will not."
"That is all the Empire asks of you," said Beeshar.
"I must ask, though. Is there no middle ground for negotiating? Surely the Princess and the rebel commanders can reach some sort of arrangement?"
"That is up for the Empire to decide. As you are not part of it, you have no say. Sorry, Captain."
"No, I understand. That's your internal operations."
The meeting was more tense than Beeshar had hoped. It ended with Flin saying he would discuss the status of the rebellion with the princess.
Once Flin left the conference room, Beeshar once again expressed his gratitude to Val.
"Thank you for rescuing the Princess," said Beeshar. "Her coronation is in four days time. Let's hope everything goes smoothly."
Val nodded, and Beeshar left the conference room with Tex in tow.
"Whaddya think?" asked Val, a little weary.
"I think we're getting ourselves into one fine mess," said Staff Sergeant Driver. "But at least it'll be interesting."