Captain's log, stardate 445215.74
The Enterprise is on a diplomatic mission to the star cluster of Yggdrasil to facilitate peace talks between two of the nine primary "Realms" within it. By all accounts, they have been embroiled in a bitter war spanning millennia. The Enterprise being requested for hosting the talks is considered quite an honor, for the Nine Realms have been conducting a policy of intense isolationism for the past three centuries. Records of them before then are sparse as well and as such, nearly everything about them is a mystery. I look forward to discovering more about the people of both Jotunheim and Asgard and hopefully the Federation can help bring them together in a new peace.
"Welcome to the USS Enterprise, Prince Loki," Picard said to the tall alien in front of him on the transporter pad. The prince inclined his head gracefully, stepping down. He was blue skinned and almost seven feet tall and seemed taller due to the horns that swept back from his head. His companions were even taller and broader, though one lacked the horns and hair and the other lacked the hair. Word was that other Jotnar, including the king, towered over these delegates at twelve to fourteen feet. It was hardly surprising of them to send some of their shorter diplomatic delegates to the negotiations.
"It is an honor to be here, Captain Picard," Loki said, "It is remarkable what you Midgardians have achieved in such a short time."
"I was not aware you've had previous contact with us," Picard was surprised. Though he probably should not have been. They had all already commented on the peculiarity of the names of the people's in Yggdrasil and their connection to Earth's Norse mythology. It was quite possible they had visited Earth centuries ago. It seemed a foregone conclusion now. Picard was fascinated. Imagine what they could learn from them! Not just about Jotunheim itself, but Earth's own history. So much knowledge had been lost in the tumultuous days of the early 21st century on Earth.
Loki grinned, showing off his sharp teeth.
"That is a long tale I would be happy to tell another time. For now, may I introduce my sibling Byleistr," he indicated the hornless jotun that loomed protectively over his shoulder, "and my chief advisor and friend Angrboda."
"A pleasure," Picard said and then indicated Data and Worf in turn, "This is Lieutenant Commander Data and my chief of security, Lieutenant Worf."
"Charmed," Loki said. He inclined his head to the both of them after giving them a long look and then turned back to Picard, "Shall we?"
"By all means," Picard smiled and led them away.
"It is curious that you have no fear of us at all," Loki commented later on as Commander Data escorted him to Ten Forward, "Did no records of us survive?"
"There are mythological records of Jotnar in Earth's history, but nothing more recent. Until you contacted us for these negotiations, the Federation was barely aware of your existence. Not even the names of your Realms were known."
"And what do these myths tell of us?" Loki asked. He was quite certain it was nothing good. They'd never invaded long enough to spread stories of their own. Far likelier that the Aesir had filled their heads with stories of their own glory and how they had driven the monsters from their realm.
He watched as Data paused momentarily, eyes rapidly flicking back and forth. Data was a remarkable being, for all that he was made and not created. Loki could feel his life force with his seidr, a blazing spark against the calm of the ship.
"Earth's mythology indicates that Jotnar are neither good nor bad. They are presented more as forces of nature, doing as they please. This is largely in juxtaposition with the Aesir, who are present to maintain a sort of order."
Loki's brows rose in surprise.
"That is surprisingly more generous and self-aware than I would usually give the Aesir credit for," he admitted. "Perhaps these negotiations will not be a total lost cause then."
Data titled his head in a puzzled way.
"You do not anticipate the peace talks going well?"
Loki snorted, bitterness rising within. When had anything gone well with the Aesir? If they weren't conducting raids on Jotunheim that killed scores of their people, they were leaving them to starve to death by refusing to return the Casket. In truth, the call for "peace talks" by the Aesir had many of the Jotnar deeply suspicious. They'd demanded a neutral party to facilitate. Truly, they would have spat in the Aesir's faces for wanting to negotiate only now. However, they could not afford to refuse; the lives of all their people depended on it.
"We have been at war for over a thousand of your years, most of which have left my people defeated and subjugated by the Aesir. So no, I do not particularly think they will go well. But for Jotunheim, I will try."
For Jotunheim, Loki would do many things. Even face his greatest enemy.
"It is not uncommon for tensions to persist after such a long state of war. But I believe an agreement can be reached. In my time in Starfleet, I have learned that often the only thing needed to begin is a willingness to talk. The rest, as they say, shall follow."
"Let us hope you are right," Loki said. Finally, they arrived at Ten Forward. Loki's attention was immediately caught by the view outside. Suspended amidst the stars, was Jotunheim in all it's diminished glory. Loki's breath still caught.
He'd never seen if from this perspective. His people were no strangers to interstellar travel and Loki had oft made his way across Yggdrasil's branches, but he had never had the chance to look at his world this way.
It was a planet of snow and tundra, dark blue glaciers threading their way across the land under the light of a pale and distant dying sun. Its surface was ravaged by marks from the Bifrost and deeper scars from the constant war. One part of the planet was cracked, a trail of rock and ice floating out into the atmosphere. It was desolate and dying. It was beautiful.
It was home. And one day Loki would either restore it to its former glory or lead its people away to a better world where they could rebuild.
"Remarkable," Data said, stepping up next to Loki's place at the window, "How did you prevent the planet from disintegrating completely from that attack?" He indicated the cracked part and the debris.
"Magic," Loki smirked, though humor was the last thing he was feeling. He let a spark of green light escape from his fingertips. His smirk turned into a true smile when he saw the look of fascination on Data's face.
"Is it truly magic or merely a form of energy you are capable of manipulating directly without a technological interface?" Data said. He retained enough politeness to not whip out his tricorder and begin scanning, at least.
"Is there a difference?" Loki said, turning back to the view. "In truth, most of our resources - both seidr and technology - since that calamity have been tied up in keeping the planet stable. We have stagnated for centuries just trying to stay alive."
Data frowned slightly.
"If these talks go as you predict, you still have the option of petitioning the Federation for help. The Enterprise in particular and Starfleet in general have often provided aid to non member planets and if needed, relocated them. All you need do is ask."
Loki considered that, his mind whirling. Whatever the Aesir hoped for choosing Midgardians as a "neutral" party, they had sorely miscalculated. Far from still worshiping the Aesir as gods, they were truly willing to provide a helping hand to the Jotnar. If things went badly, Loki would gladly take it.
The Aesir delegation had arrived a few days ago. The peace talks were yet to formally start. The past week had mostly been taken up by the delegates exploring the Enterprise and exchanging information with the crew.
There had been plenty of away teams invited to Jotunheim itself and their scientists would have weeks of work sifting through the data gathered. For all that the Jotnar had not left their world for longer than the Federation had existed, the wealth of their knowledge was remarkable. The distances they were able to transverse without ships had the higher ups at Starfleet salivating with the possibilities.
By all accounts, the Aesir were even more advanced. Though, Deanna noticed, no invitations to visit Asgard from their corner had been issued.
Deanna found the Aesir king and his companions odd in their actions towards the Jotnar. While Forseti and the Lady Sif acted as though any move from the Jotnar would turn to violence, King Thor regarded them entirely differently. There was a deep undercurrent of sadness within him whenever he interacted with them, especially Prince Loki. And an odd sort of brotherly affection. None of the Jotnar acted remotely the same, not even Loki.
Though it was difficult for her to get a read on him, considering he was scrupulous about maintaining his mental shields. He'd allowed her an initial glimpse before hiding all of his thoughts. She would not have pried either way, but she wondered at the strict enforcement of his privacy.
In any case, his actions towards Thor were no different than the other Aesir. Possibly even more antagonistic, even. So Thor's quiet regard of Loki was odd.
Tonight, the crew was hosting an informal soiree at Ten Forward. Both the Aesir and Jotnar had taken a liking to the space, particularly the view.
Deanna approached king Thor, who was staring out at the depths of space. The Enterprise had settled on making a slow circuit around Yggdrasil to combat any perception of favoritism and to gather as much data on the area as they could. Before, the area had been under a strange form of shielding impenetrable to them.
"How are you enjoying your trip so far, Your Grace?" she asked. King Thor turned to her with a brilliant smile that did not reach his eyes.
"Thor, please. I fear I shall have enough formality for years to come after this, Councillor."
"Thor, then. Please, call me Deanna," Deanna smiled, trying to put him at ease.
"I was just remembering the last time I was among humans. You have come so far in so short a time."
Another remarkable thing about these people, among many other remarkable things was their longevity. Few known races lived as long as them. It was humbling, in a way.
The wash of emotion from Thor was unexpected, however. A mix of grief and pride. And guilt.
"It must be difficult to outlive all those you knew back then," Deanna said.
"Aye," Thor said, turning thoughtful. He was looking at her with a contemplative expression that told her he knew exactly what she was doing. He didn't seem to mind, however.
"The last time I saw humans was...difficult. It was just before Earth's World War three. I chose to retreat rather than get involved, for all that it was considered a protectorate of Asgard. Even today, I still wonder whether that was the right choice."
"For what it's worth, I think you may have. Starfleet has a philosophy - you may have heard of it - that is encapsulated within what we call the Prime Directive. It's not perfect and often difficult to navigate, but at its heart is the idea that each species has the right to self determination and development. Few could have that if other aliens interfered with their internal affairs, or even let them know other life exists out in the universe before they are ready."
"Asgard's absence led to this ship and all its wonders," Thor turned back to view the stars, "That is both an encouraging and saddening thought. I would not have forsaken the friendships I made then for all the ships in the universe."
Curiously enough, Deanna could tell he was lying. And also telling the truth. He laughed, short and sad.
"It is a selfish thought."
"But understandable," Deanna said. She could tell he no longer wanted company. "I'll leave you to your stargazing, Thor."
He bowed shallowly.
She left, more intrigued than ever at Thor's contradictions.
Thor had not thought it would be this painful to see Loki again. He had thought himself at peace with his choices during the Infinity War. But seeing him hale and hearty and self assured in a way he had never seen him be in Asgard made crack after crack appear in his resolve to never tell another soul at what he had done.
None in this universe knew the price Thor had paid to even begin fixing what Thanos had wrought to ruin.
He had shielded the Nine Realms from the destruction, except for Midgard. Midgard was the gateway to Yggdrasil and he could not cut it off like he had the rest. He had left Midgard to pick up the pieces. It gladdened his heart to see how far they had come and how much they had accomplished.
It was also disheartening to see how much had changed in the rest of the galaxy, how many civilizations had fallen, how many empires had crumbled, the sheer number of souls that had died in the calamity Thanos had brought. How much Reality and Time had changed to allow different races to develop instead.
It had taken Loki dying in his arms once more, maddened and hateful, but once more on his side, to make Thor realize what he had to do. He had somehow wrested the gauntlet from Thanos, isolated the Nine Realms and then unmade the Titan. He had not dared to fix the rest of the universe, knowing well the dangers that could present. Before unwishing the gauntlet from existence, he had made one other change.
He had wished Loki to be alive and well, in whatever form that would take. It had cost him his brother. Loki had received his second chance at life, but had never been taken in by Odin to be raised as his son.
Thor had watched and waited until Odin stepped down and he was made king. Now, he could finally offer what little he could to his once brother; he could help him rebuild the home they had both once tried to destroy. It would not be much, but it was all he had left to give.
"Thoughts on our guests, Number One?" Picard asked, watching the various Jotnar and Aesir interact with his crew. They seemed to be getting along well, for all that the Jotnar and Aesir were avoiding one another, careful to never be left alone with each other. There was a tension in the air, but far less than Picard had anticipated. It seemed the respective heads of the delegations had had strict orders given to the others to be on their best behaviour.
"Too soon to tell. I think we can pull this off without too much trouble. Both groups seem to be trying," Riker observed, leaning against the bar, "At least Worf seems to be having fun." He grinned.
Picard held back his own smile. Surprisingly, Worf was surrounded by a mixed group of Jotnar and Aesir, all of them occupied with a drinking contest. Worf seemed to be holding his own.
"I take it that's not synthehol?" Picard asked. Riker's grin widened and he gained an innocent expression.
"Ask me no questions and I will tell you no lies, sir. Besides, if anyone can handle drinking borderline toxic stuff, it's Worf."
They watched as Worf slammed another cup down onto the table and shouted for another, much to the approval of their guests. They cheered and slammed their own drinks down, filling the air with their raucous laughter.
"Your Lieutenant Worf is a fierce warrior!" King Thor said as he approached them, draining his own glass. He looked like he was in a merrier mood than earlier, blue eyes sparkling with laughter.
"High praise coming from a warrior such as yourself," Riker was quick to add. All the senior staff members had read the info packets that had arrived with the delegations. The Aesir tended to have an admiration for warfare that was positively Klingon.
"My thanks, commander. But I find I have lost the taste for war. There has been so much of it and so little to show for it. I am hopeful these talks will bring an end to at least some of it."
"It is an admirable thing you both are doing. Bringing an end to such violence is never easy, but it is always worthwhile," Picard said. Thor nodded, turning pensive.
"Asgard has much to make up for. In truth, I am pleased the Jotnar asked for mediators. There is little love between our peoples. A third party has already proven invaluable in preventing things from descending into bloodshed."
Before either Picard or Riker could answer, a cool voice interrupted them.
"Then let us hope your deeds are as honorable as your words, king Thor. Much though both have been sorely lacking in your demeanor of late," they turned to see Prince Loki. He was staring at Thor with a burning gaze at odds with his detached and faintly mocking tone.
"Captain. Commander," he inclined his head at the both of them and then left, joining the others at Worf's table.
Thor watched him go, a regretful expression on his face.
"Aye, let us hope," was all he said.
The next day when the peace talks finally began, Thor presented the Jotnar with the Casket of Ancient Winters.