Aboard the Lukari station Orbital, there was no weather; there was only the omnipresent scent of the recycled air and the soft blue lighting reflecting off lavender—gray wall panels. Even the occasional carefully—managed plant did little to break up the technological sameness.
Kuumaarke centered herself as she waited for the airlock to complete cycling. It wasn’t like she wasn’t already buried under various responsibilities—labor shortages, political struggles, military agendas tugging at every aspect of her work, and of course the constant demands for interviews, recordings, statements, and looks into her daily life. Though all of that came on suddenly after the unexpected visit by time—traveling aliens and the near—death of the Lukari star, it had a tenor of familiarity. The new visitors did not.
The strip lighting around the airlock door finished progressing and shifted its hue to a light purple, indicating completion. The airlock cycled, and the door opened to reveal a massive Gorn and a pair of honor guard clad in the burnished regalia of that elite Klingon unit. One was an older Klingon warrior bearing a multitude of scars, graying hair, and a disruptor pulsewave-etched with hand—carved House sigils. The other was an Orion woman who had the smooth and ageless visage common to that green species, with a similar weapon (sans the sigils) and multiple sheathed d’k tahg knives.
“Ambassador S’taass,” said Kuumaarke without missing a beat, “welcome to Orbital Station.” She performed a bow, as she’d seen in the recent cultural exchange videos. S’taass inclined his head—he really had no choice, as he was so massive that he had to duck through the airlock—and fixed her with an uncanny gaze.
“Administrator Kuumaarke,” said the Gorn in his sibilant, grinding voice. “Honor to you and your House.”
“And to yours,” said Kuumaarke as firmly as she could manage. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you—”
The Gorn cut her off. “I do not want a tour of your facility. We have work to discuss, and we should not waste time.”
Kuumaarke paused briefly, and then said, “Of course. Your time is valuable, Ambassador. I’ll have my senior staff meet us in the conference room.” She paused to thumb the comm panel on the wall near the hallway junction and said, “All stations, this is the Administrator. Team leads please report to the main conference room.” She pressed the button to turn the channel off again and gestured. “This way, Ambassador.”
S’taass gave a very slight twitch of one huge, clawed hand, and his honor guard stepped into position, following behind him. “You have a construction underway,” he said in what Kuumaarke suspected was a neutral tone for him.
“Yes,” said Kuumaarke, “we’ve decided that it’s time to start working on our own ship. There’s… still a lot of work to do, but we’re making great strides in warp technology, and we hope to have the new vessel operational soon.” She glanced back at S’taass and fixed him with what she hoped was a strong gaze. “We’re not afraid to see what’s beyond our own star any more.”
The group turned at a junction and a pair of Lukari engineers moved quickly to clear out of the way of the narrow hall. S’taass ignored them and said, “Construction should be going much faster. Your facilities may not include industrial replication, but they are not that crude.”
Kuumaarke led the small group around another corner and into a small refreshment suite—just large enough for a small team to have a meal after leaving a shift on the outer ring of the station. The Gorn flicked his hand again, and his honor guard took up positions on either side of the door. He ducked inside and folded his arms as Kuumaarke turned on him.
“There’s a lot of debate about whether we should even be doing this,” she said tensely. “Nobody can agree whether we should be building a warship or an exploration vessel. The Federation sends us science updates and analytical tools, the Empire sends us shipments of weapons, and the Science Council still fights with the Economic Council about whether we should fund Orbital, much less a long—range warp-capable ship.” S’taass watched silently as she began to slowly pace in front of him, still tense. Outside, the honor guard exchanged a brief glance of amusement before she continued.
“Half of the people appointed to my staff on Orbital are political picks to represent competing interests and the Chief Engineer isn’t even sure we can get the gravity generators to work and is saying we’ll have to build it with a rotating section for the crew compartment!” Kuumaarke stopped in front of the Gorn and looked up, locking eyes with him. “In the meantime,” she said, her tone beginning to rise in volume. “I’m supposed to play babysitter to ten times more people than Orbital was built to hold while we try to turn the station into the landing facility for alien ships as well as the construction center for the most ambitious space project we’ve ever undertaken. So don’t lecture me about timetables!”
Kuumaarke found that she was quivering on her tiptoes, her voice clipped and short. She landed softly back on her heels and an odd, repetitive hacking sound emitted from S’taass. At first she thought he was choking with indignation; a moment later she realized that he was laughing. She leaned to one side to look past S’taass and see if anyone had watched the whole miserable diplomacy—destroying exchange, but saw only the hint of the honor guard on either side of the door.
Deciding not to cede what little ground she might have left, Kuumaarke cocked her head slightly and stared at S’taass once more.
Finally, S’taass broke the silence and said, “You don’t really understand why the Klingon Empire is a spacefaring power, do you?”
Kuumaarke paused and then replied, “I’m… sure that has something to do with the issues at hand, but I don’t see what. The story is that they… killed their gods? Took the power of spaceflight from them, and now they conquer throughout the galaxy?”
S’taass said, “That is a superficial view. To be expected. Klingons, as a species, require conflict. It is built into them – into their biology, to be precise. A Klingon can only truly experience joy, ecstasy, exhilaration—all of the elevating emotions that drive so many species to their height—from conflict. In order to be at their best, to be ‘truly Klingon’ as they might say, they must fight, struggle, and suffer. So, you see, they could never remain on Qo’noS. No matter how much glory there was in combat against other Houses, eventually those conflicts would grow stale and predictable. The Klingons had to go into space so that they could continue to grow—not just as an Empire, but as a people.”
Kuumaarke nodded slowly. “You are comparing this to my own people’s… awakening? Our decision that we can’t remain here, locked on one planet or in one star system, when the universe is too dangerous and too magnificent for that?”
“Yes,” said S’taass. “But your conflict is stalling you, rather than driving you forward. You must harness that conflict and turn it into something productive.”
Something clicked and Kuumaarke said, “So that’s why we’re having this discussion around a mess table, instead of a conference room. You wanted to talk to me outside of the conflict—without my staff and crew. The ones I chose and the ones foisted off on me by political pressure.”
S’taass turned his head. For a moment she thought he was looking away; then she realized he was simply regarding her with one eye, from the side. “Correct,” said S’taass. “First I had to see how you would manage the conflict. Then I had to see if you were intelligent enough to understand its nature.”
Kuumaarke digested that information, and then nodded her head. “You’re… giving me advice.”
“Correct again,” said S’taass. “And you have the wisdom to accept it, it seems… Captain.”
Kuumaarke’s nostrils compressed in an expression that showed frustration among the Lukari. “I’m not going to be captain of anything. Our ship’s construction is so badly delayed that we don’t even know if it will be ready in the next five solar cycles. I’ve been given ownership of a project that can’t succeed and political burdens that will guarantee its failure. Then, when it does fail, I’ll take the blame and the regressives who want this all scrapped will have their excuse to dismantle our space program.”
“Turn the conflict to your advantage,” S’taass replied slowly. “It is a common mistake for people to refuse to deal with their enemies. You can learn from them. Watch them. Discover their motivations. Subvert them. Compromise them. You know by now that the Federation and the Klingon Empire have been allies and enemies alternately for centuries now, yes? Why? Because we are enemies of the Federation when we must be, and allies when we need to be.”
S’taass turned his head again to face her directly and said, “When Gornar was taken, the Gorn were subjugated, and the Federation protested. They fought the Klingons because they wanted to… protect my people’s independence. They fought the Klingons because they did not believe that the Undine threat was as grave as the Klingons said. But it was. And through that war the Federation saw the Undine threat for its reality. Fighting the Federation was the only way that the Empire could prepare them to fight the Undine.”
Kuumaarke said in a low tone, “I have some allies… crew that I can trust, people I’ve worked with for years. So you’re suggesting that I should put the political appointees…”
S’taass folded his massive arms and waited for her to finish.
“...where I can control the outcome of their actions,” she said finally. “Just… like they are trying to do to me.”
S’taass said, “You have the insight to be a captain, if you have the opportunity to use it.”
She nodded once, and replied. “It seems a bitter taste, though. We’ll never have a ship for me to turn them into a crew. They’ll never be more than personnel on Orbital overseeing our various departments and teams.”
S’taass said, “Ah. That is where I have the opportunity to assist you.” He turned and walked back out the doorway and into the hall, waiting for Kuumaarke to join him. As she stepped out and started to lead him toward the conference room once more, he dropped the bomb.
“I have brought you a ship.”
Kuumaarke missed her stride, and then said, “A ship? You’re just giving us a ship?”
“It is no gift,” said S’taass. “It is an opportunity. A Gorn vessel. An… older one, but serviceable.”
Glancing back at the honor guard for a moment, Kuumaarke said, “The Empire isn’t known for this kind of generous aid. But this isn’t about using us to vex the Federation, or as target practice, is it? You want us to get out there… don’t you, Ambassador?”
“That is why I came,” said S’taass as the small group moved into the main conference room. “Because the Empire would prefer to annex your people… but the Empire cannot survive on conquest alone. If the Empire were to conquer the galaxy, it would die.”
Kuumaarke paused again before reaching the conference table and said, “But they conquered your people. Why help us? Why would they even let you?”
S’taass made the odd hacking sound once and said, “You can work that one out for yourself.”
Staff Game Designer
Star Trek Online