Captain's Log, Stardate 5983.2. The Enterprise doesn’t get to revisit places very often, but we’re about to enter orbit around Cestus 3. Our presence has been requested at a diplomatic ceremony, the signing of a peace treaty with the Gorn Hegemony. After nearly three years of negotiations, it is certainly an historic occasion for all parties, but I find myself uneasy, remembering our first visit here and the Gorn warship we chased from a smoldering colony.
Before the tingling had completely faded from his skin, Captain James T. Kirk took a deep breath and forced his spine to relax with the exhale. This was not the same colony he’d last visited. Oh, it was the same planet, but the cleanup and reconstruction had been quick and thorough, and aside from the diplomatic presence, Cestus 3 had become home to a large Starfleet Communications Station as well as a young colony with more than a thousand volunteer colonists, eager to change the memories of the world.
He watched a heavy transport roll down the street, pulling what looked like a load of transparent aluminum sheets. Reconstruction efforts had obviously dropped the “re” and were still moving at warp speed. Kirk wondered if he should have taken the time to read a little more background on plans for the colony but the call of some alien bird distracted him, and he turned around to find they’d materialized in front of a polished marble gateway, wide and welcoming as it braced a path leading to an open courtyard and a handful of large buildings beyond. It was hard not to notice the oversized emblem of the Federation Diplomatic Corps stretching above the gate.
“We’ve clearly come to the right place, gentlemen.” And even harder not to notice that the gate didn’t have a fence or a wall to go with it. “At a guess, I’d say this is the new diplomatic compound. A little larger and more open than I expected.”
Standing to his left, McCoy still faced out into the street. “And not exactly separate from the rest of the colony. Office buildings, a warehouse, a park, and that looks like a restaurant over there.”
As if looking for a tricorder he wasn’t carrying, Spock’s hand brushed his side. Reflex or intent, no sign of anything touched the Vulcan’s face. “A significant change from our last visit.”
McCoy nodded as he turned around. “I think I like it.”
Spock almost certainly took in more peripherally than either Kirk or McCoy did directly, and didn’t seem to feel the need to look around. “Cleanup and reconstruction do seem to have been quite effective, Doctor.” An echo to Kirk’s earlier thought. “Without a detailed scan, one would never guess we stood on the site of an orbital bombardment.”
Frowning as he turned to face the same direction as the rest of the party, McCoy brushed an unseen wrinkle from his dress uniform. “Hmm. Hard to believe this little planet almost caused a war.”
Memories slipped though Kirk’s mind and he closed his eyes for a moment against them. Unsuccessfully. His memory filled in old gaps. A crater there, a burnt out building there, a smoking pile of rubble further over. Ensign O'Herlihy. “I wish it were harder, Bones.” Quick footsteps along the stone path saved him from following the memories further and he opened his eyes again to find a young woman in the grey folded blazer of the Federation Diplomatic Corps approaching.
Barely stopping before colliding with Kirk, she bowed quickly, bending her body at the waist just far enough to break eye contact. “Oh, excellent. The Enterprise delegation, at last. I’m Ambassador Tam Nguyen. It is my honour to act as your escort and liaison on Cestus 3.”
Smiling, Kirk offered her his hand as she rose and was almost surprised at the strength in the grip, though he should have known far better than to only consider appearances at this point in his career. “Ambassador. Captain James T. Kirk.” She released his hand, raising both eyes expectantly as he gestured to the other members of the landing party. “My first officer, Commander Spock. Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Leonard McCoy. Lieutenants Gareth and Li.”
Nguyen shook hands with both Spock and McCoy, smiling the whole time. Her attempt to engage with Lieutenant Li, on the other hand, met with a gentle headshake to the offered hand and a bit of a flush came to her cheeks. Opening her mouth to apologize, she obviously thought better of it, and barely made eye contact with Gareth. That old Security aloofness. “Gentlemen, welcome all of you.” Straightening completely, Nguyen specifically addressed Kirk. “I must admit, Captain, when we received your communiqué, we weren’t sure you’d be able to make it in time. The arrival you projected seemed a very narrow possibility from your reported position.”
Which he took as a polite way of the Ambassador wondering if the Enterprise spent all its time careening from one crisis to the next. It certainly felt that way at times, but he was certainly aware enough of reality to recognize the long stretches of boredom and routine, too. “A… minor delay in the overall scheme of things, Ambassador. Our arrival was never in doubt.”
With a grunt, McCoy specifically didn’t bring up their most recent temporal anomaly or the Sarpeidon supernova, shortening the conversation by some large but not easily measurable amount of time, and Kirk wasn’t all that eager to relive being taken as a witch, at any rate.
The grunt and the pause that followed it seemed to go completely by the Ambassador, however, who continued to smile. “Well, I’m personally glad you were able to reach us in time for the Ceremony, even with such a small safety margin. Since you made the initial, um, contact with the Hegemony, you’re regarded as an important symbol of the progress of peace.”
But you couldn’t keep a good doctor down for long. “Symbols are nice, but I like my first contacts with less weapons fire.”
“I think we all do, Bones, but we didn’t get much of a choice, did we?” He cocked an eyebrow and McCoy took the hint, grinning at him. He hoped the ambassador would be forgiving.
She didn’t stumble much. “Ah, yes, well. I should give you your translators. Ear pieces, I’m afraid. A little more discreet than handheld units, no audio range considerations, and they’re less likely to interfere with each other even when close together. Standard models, so the fit won’t be perfect, but they should serve.” She pulled five of the devices from various pockets in her jacket that shouldn’t have been able to hold them without bulging somewhere and gave one to each member of the landing party. “Now, if you’ll please follow me, it isn’t far to the Treaty Hall, and we still have a just little time before the official Signing begins so I can give you a few quick pointers on Gorn formal custom and etiquette on the way.”
Kirk fell in beside her as the ambassador moved back through the arch, immediately angling off the stone path and across the manicured lawn towards a gap between two of the visible buildings. “What’s the least we need to know, ambassador?”
She smiled, shaking her head, and Kirk had the feeling that he’d committed some minor faux pas without knowing what it might be. “I’m sorry, Captain, but I’m not sure I’ve reached the level of the least I need to know, so it might take a little time for me to give you the real basics. We don’t have much of that, and only a little space between the ceremony and the reception, but there are a few critical points, and a little knowledge in advance never hurts.”
He nodded, wondering if he’d underestimated the junior ambassador just because of her apparent youth. Considering his own past, that was something he thought he’d learned to avoid. “Fore-warned is forearmed.”
“Exactly, Captain, and not a bad way to phrase it when dealing with Gorn.”
McCoy snorted. “Well, since we’re forearmed, maybe we can hope for fewer casualties this time.”
“Bones.” Kirk just managed not to sigh out loud.
Nguyen looked over her shoulder at McCoy. “Umm, yes, that… should be the case, doctor.” She bit her lip and he thought she might be trying to hold a smile in. “We have made it through the talks with very little bloodshed.” Looking ahead again, she adjusted their course back onto a path. “The Gorn are not actively hostile, but they are territorial by nature, both personally and as a species, and a lot of their social customs work to establish a great deal of formality and hierarchy in order to help mitigate any potential disagreements.”
Territorial. Formality. That might go a long way towards understanding what had happened with Cestus III the first time around. Kirk had wondered more than once why the attack had been so sudden and savage coming from what had been a largely empty part of the explored galaxy as far as the Federation was concerned. If the system had been at the edge of what the Hegemony considered as claimed territory, putting a small outpost colony there would probably have been seen as aggressive. Of course, if the Federation had had even a hint of the Hegemony’s existence, there would have been a completely different approach to the area, as subsequent talks had clearly shown.
Still smiling, Nguyen glanced left and right before leading them between the two buildings and Kirk could almost feel the rise in the tension levels of his security escort at the confined space. “When speaking with one of the Gorn, it is important to hold your head high. Looking down is a sign of weakness or subservience.”
“Eye contact. No bowing, I’d guess. What passes for a standard greeting among the Gorn then, ambassador? I don’t suppose they shake hands?” He thought about what it might feel like to wrap his fingers around those claw-tipped tree trunks.
“Not exactly, captain, though they do have an equivalent.” One side of her smile rose a little higher. “They are a standoffish bunch by human standards, but if, against all probability, a Gorn happens to approach you with his or her hands held out at chest level, press both of your palms firmly to theirs. It's the rough equivalent of a handshake, and if they nod, that’s a gesture of respect and their equivalent of a bow. You should feel encouraged to do so as well.”
“Hmm.” Kirk started to feel a little uncomfortable with the spacing of the buildings himself, but thought it likely he was just adding remembered stress to an innocent situation. “Nod, but don’t break eye contact.”
“Precisely, Captain. By no means should you break eye contact. And don’t interlock your fingers with theirs. That’s a direct challenge of strength.”
Which he knew from personal experience would not be a good idea. “Something I’m very likely to lose, Ambassador.” Not likely. Certainly. Unless his greeter took pity on the poor, ignorant human who didn’t know any better. Given his specific history with the Gorn, he didn’t feel the probability of that was particularly high, either.
They stepped out from between the buildings into a large courtyard, and Kirk was surprised to see what amounted to an honour guard on the far side of it, protecting the main entrance of what was obviously the primary diplomatic building on the planet. A dozen bright yellow steps, wide and shallow and gleaming with reflected sunlight, led up into a huge open doorway. The actual architecture reminded him a little of what he considered to be the primary ancient Greek style, thick columns supporting a marble roof. Those columns were likely just for show since the building had perfectly normal walls as well.
“The Treaty Hall, gentlemen.”
Six Starfleet marines stood on alternating steps on the right side, perfectly matched by the same number of Gorn soldiers on the left, and Kirk suddenly found himself wishing he’d chosen to walk on the ambassador’s right. He did his best to crush the thought as soon as he had it. Far better for him to be closer to any potential danger than a civilian, even though she’d spent far more time around Gorn, even Gorn soldiers, than he had. The problem was that Kirk had a very different experience interacting with Gorn than he expected the ambassador had, and that certainly coloured his perceptions of them. Something he’d have to deal with.
He breathed normally, evenly, consciously as they slowly climbed the stairs. Neither marine nor Gorn so much as turned a head as they passed, though they all certainly had to be wondering who the ambassador might be bringing to the ceremony so late. Kirk had to wonder if maybe his face had been circulated among the Gorn for identification purposes, but he didn’t detect any reaction as they passed.
There were more guards beyond the stairs and Nguyen excused herself for a moment to approach them and display her credentials. McCoy took the opportunity to lean forward and whisper in Kirk’s ear. “You okay, Jim?”
He smiled a little and turned far enough to catch his friend with one eye. “Fine, Bones. Just fine.”
“Liar. Try to relax a little. You’re moving like a statue. I should have poured a drink down your throat in the transporter room.”
And that would have made a great first impression. Here’s the famous Captain Kirk, the human who almost killed the first Gorn he met in person, reeking of Saurian brandy at the treaty signing. “That obvious, is it?”
“Only to Spock and I.”
His Vulcan friend said nothing, of course, and neither did Kirk as the ambassador turned back around and waved them forward. “Gentlemen, please come ahead, and again welcome to the Treaty Hall. We do still have a few minutes before things get started, but you did cut it very close, Captain.”
“Again, Ambassador, it wasn’t our intention.” They stepped through the interior doors and instantly into a large hall filled with milling delegates and dignitaries. The crowd seemed to be about evenly split between Federation personnel and Gorn, an easy distinction to make since the crowd appeared split nearly down the middle complete with a separation gap. On the fringe of each gathering, he saw a few looks exchanged, but nothing he could class as friendly or even more than indifferent acknowledgement. Starfleet dress uniforms seemed to make up about a third of the Federation side, and he tried to pick someone he knew out of the group. Captain Singh should be here somewhere with the Resolute in orbit, but he didn’t see her at the moment.
The ambassador didn’t seem to mind not having his full attention, but she did keep speaking, trying to drag him back to the present. Not an easy task. There had to be more than fifty Gorn in the room. “I know, Captain, but you did have us worried.”
“A surprisingly small gathering for such an occasion.” A glance told Kirk his first officer was also busy scanning the crowd, but likely with a much more analytical mindset than he had. “I had expected somewhat more formality, particularly considering the ambassador’s warning.”
Kirk nodded. “Agreed, Mr. Spock. And a lot more people. It’s not every day the Federation signs a treaty with another major power.”
Trying to maintain her smile, Nguyen nonetheless let a small sigh slip out. “Circumstances in this case are… unique. There are security concerns, of which the Gorn are very conscious. They have a tradition of paranoia to rival the Andorian Imperial Guard and, given the original sequence of events that brought the Federation and the Hegemony together, there is a certain amount of nervousness on both sides.”
“Ha! Nervousness I understand.”
“Bones.” Kirk didn’t even try to stifle his own sigh this time.
But Nguyen glossed right over it and he wondered if she might be getting used to his Chief Medical Officer already, or if it were just diplomatic training. “You must also remember we are effectively in the middle of nowhere. Cestus 3 is on the frontier for both parties. Three years isn’t nearly enough to change that. Ten years won’t be enough.”
“I suppose not, but it’s still a major peace treaty. I would have thought there would be a bit more, um, ‘high level’ presence.” He did notice a pair of human reporters who appeared to be discussing angles and lighting over their instruments. They weren’t making much of an effort to be quiet so the words carried fairly clearly over the low murmur of the crowd.
“Yes. We’ll have full view of both entrances, Gorn on the left and the Federation Ambassadors on the right, plus the whole dais, the signing table, and a perfect shot of anyone who speaks.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just paranoid. This is history, you know?”
“It’s not like we’ve got the time to change them anyway.”
Kirk tore his mind away from the distraction he didn’t need in time to pick up Ambassador Nguyen’s thread without looking lost. Focus. He needed to pay attention, but he could admit to himself, at least, that the cavalier attitude was a way of hiding from memories he didn’t like, memories of what had almost happened. Part of Kirk wished that they had been held up just a little too long to make the ceremony. At which point, Scotty would have found a way to get a little more out of the engines after swearing it wasn’t possible.
“—but the senior ambassadors have been vested with the authority to sign the Treaty. Ratification by the Federation Council and the Gorn Parliament is required within 15 months, but it's certainly just a formality. No one wants a war.”
“Well, I sure don't.”
As per usual for a formal occasion, Bones was in rare form, but this time Spock made the reminder, and in a way that gave McCoy the extra shock of tacit Vulcan agreement. “Thankfully, Doctor, the majority of citizens of both the Federation and the Gorn Hegemony seem to share your opinion.”
Looking around, Kirk was struck again by the stark division in the crowd. “I agree that it is a little strange, Ambassador. I’ve been to a few diplomatic events in my time and there’s usually a little more mingling going on, even between official enemies. Not so much here. I see a few nods and greetings at the edges, but otherwise it’s Gorn on one side of the room and Federation on the other.”
With one of those unemotional nods to someone on the crowd’s edge, Nguyen turned to face Kirk. “Security concerns, Captain, as well as a concession to Gorn custom. Outside of official dialogue, only junior members of either delegation will normally interact with each other, and those in a limited way, delivering formal messages and appointment notifications and so on. Members of the press and the documentary crew have a little more freedom, and military interaction is something entirely different that both sides are trying to avoid at this stage.”
She smiled. “Once the Treaty has been signed, the Gorn should relax a little. They correctly don’t consider it nearly on par with an alliance, but it will let them be a little more social. I think you’ll find a very different environment at the reception this evening, but you should expect the Gorn to be very cool and aloof until then.” Nguyen stiffened suddenly, her eyes going over Kirk’s shoulder as she cleared her throat. “Ah, there are, of course, exceptions to everything.” Her voice dropped. “Please remember what I said about posture and bearing.”
Taking a step to one side and narrowly avoiding tripping over Lieutenant Li, Kirk turned to face whomever she’d been looking at and found a large Gorn approaching. He felt his body tense even as he tried to force himself to relax, but the sight of an old enemy sometimes caught him fast and hard, and this one had a special place in his past, particularly juxtaposed to current events. Maybe having a little farther in the past would have helped his current reaction.
The uniform might be different, a long robe, several shades of tan with short sleeves and a glittering array of ovals and circles making two straight lines across the broad chest, but there was no mistaking the shape of the shining eyes and the curve of the heavy skull.
Nguyen’s voice, a little louder now, cut through his sudden tension and gave him a moment to breathe and reset himself. “Captain Kirk, this is S'Kresh-Captain. He's—”
But he didn’t let her finish the introduction, his response much tighter than he might have liked. He hoped that wouldn’t come through the translator. “I believe the Captain and I have met.” Kirk licked his lips once and let his breath out slowly, but couldn’t quite get himself to smile. “You're looking well.”
A tumble of sibilants and harsh growls fell from the predator’s jaws, but the translator in Kirk’s ear provided an unaccented, if slightly flat, baritone. “Considering my state of health when we last parted company, thank you.” The huge lizard executed a slow bow, more than a nod of the head but not bending too far. “I am somewhat surprised you recognized me. Your species seems to have trouble distinguishing individuals of mine. Not that the problem doesn’t work in both directions.”
“Certain things tend to focus the mind.”
“Truth.” Raising both hands, three thick fingers spread wide on each, S’Kresh took another step forward, just close enough to make the Gorn formal greeting possible. “Your strength and honour.”
He felt himself hesitate, though he was sure it only lasted a moment, and hoped it didn’t show. Part of Kirk wished he could wait longer and part of him cursed that wish, but you had to learn and adapt to who you were to become who you wanted to be. And you had to be who you said you were. How else could you look at yourself in the mirror?
Kirk raised his hands and pressed them to the other captain’s and it wasn’t lost on him that he had to move his fingers into twin Vulcan salutes to do so. “And yours.” Those hands were warm to the touch.
The reptilian face didn’t have much in the way of expression to Kirk’s eyes, so he wondered if he imagined the eyelids scrunching down into a frown as S’Kresh gave a small, breathy snort. “Odd. Human palms are always so much warmer than I expect.”
S’Kresh let his hands drop and the sudden loss of heat made Kirk’s seem almost cold. “I had a similar thought, Captain.”
Near the front of the room a serious looking man in the brown uniform of the Diplomatic Security Corps moved to the front right corner of the room and struck a brass bell twice. Nearly all eyes turned towards the sound and most of the conversation drifted off to murmurs or nothing.
Ambassador Nguyen cleared her throat. “The ceremony is about to begin. Really not much time to spare.”
Taking a step back, S’Kresh gave an exaggerated nod, almost from his shoulder. “Hmm. A strange day.”
Forced into polite conversation, there wasn’t much Kirk could say to that, at not much time to say it at any rate. “Agreed.”
The Gorn captain shuffled back a little farther, heavy feet scraping the carpet. “I must return to my delegation. I, hunh, Kirk-Captain, if it is not objectionable, I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you at the reception.”
Well, so much for ducking out of the reception early. He’d had little doubt some of the ambassadors would want to hear about his experience with the Gorn three years ago, and chiefly so they could look down on his barbaric behavior. He’d been considering dressing it up a bit to make it seem something less than the brutal contest the Metrons had made it. Now he had something else to look forward to. “Certainly, Captain S’Kresh. At your convenience.”
Another nod, deeper this time, deep enough that Kirk had to take it as a Gorn bow equivalent. He didn’t know if that was his former foe’s attempt to adapt a little to being around humans or a genuine gesture for the occasion, but felt obliged to return it.
“My thanks.” With an abrupt turn, the big reptiloid walked away, moving surprisingly quickly.
McCoy leaned in close to Kirk, more careful of his words or volume than he’d been since they beamed down. “That was a little cryptic. What do you suppose it’s about?”
Shaking his head, Kirk managed not to shrug. “No idea, Bones. I’ll find out at the reception, I suppose.” There didn’t seem a reasonable way to avoid it short of the Enterprise being called away for another emergency. Considering the level of the orders that had brought them to Cestus 3, that didn’t seem to come with a high probability.
“We should find our own seats, gentlemen.” Nguyen’s hand twitched as if she wanted to reach out and grab Kirk’s sleeve. “The second row on the Federation side has been reserved for us, directly behind the rest of the ambassadorial negotiation team.”
As they slipped into those seats, a Gorn in what Kirk assumed was a similar level of dress uniform stepped forward opposite his Federation counterpart and tapped another brass bell. The Gorn, however, used a claw tip instead of a small hammer to make the surprisingly pure sound. The Gorn then turned to face the settling audience, adopting a posture he would have called relaxed attention in a human soldier, match the human officer’s posture in the opposite corner extremely well.
At each side of the room, a door slid open simultaneously, the one on the right admitting the three senior ambassadors of the Federation negotiating team, two humans and an Efrosian, and the left releasing what appeared to be their Gorn counterparts. Aside from differences in height, he could definitely tell that the four Gorn now on the stage all had slightly different skin tones. Or should that be hide tones? It was going to be a lot of work to tell them apart easily, but it seemed obvious now that not all Gorn looked alike even at first glance. The reception was still going to be a bit of a challenge, but maybe not as bad as he’d feared.
The two groups of ambassadors walked slowly from the sides of the room to the centre and turned to face the front, each standing behind a chair at the white cloth-draped table. Each of the Gorn wore an almost floor length white robe, sleeveless but with a thick hood cast back over their shoulders and making an odd counterpoint to the staid brown suits of the Federation diplomats.
When the ambassadors were all in place, the Gorn and Federation guards in the corners each turned to their bells and tapped them twice more, so closed to simultaneously that the difference was lost to Kirk’s ears. The last few whispers died away, leaving the room with only the sound of breathing and the anticipation of speeches to come. The Efrosian ambassador, closest to the table’s centre, and the Gorn next to him, remained standing as the other four ambassadors sat. He smiled at the gathered audience, lingering for a moment in the direction of the reporters at the back of the room, before he began to speak.
“Gathered sapients. Today we reach the culmination of long negotiations, a sequence of small steps toward peace and understanding between the Gorn Hegemony and the United Federation of—”
A quick trembling in the floor was Kirk’s only warning before explosions shattered the walls on both sides of the treaty hall. Dust and debris filled the air, stealing everything more than arms’ length away from his vision. His instinct was to dive to the floor, carrying anyone nearby with him. Ambassador Nguyen, sitting straight in her seat was an easy catch. Luck and a long reach drew in the man sitting beside her and the three of them collapsed to the floor as bits of the ceiling began to poor down around them.