“The president will see you now,” his aide informed her before showing her through the heavy leather clad door. Kathryn was immediately struck with how opulent the décor of the room was. Her own president’s official office was certainly fancy by Haven standards, so she supposed the difference was emblematic of nothing more than how much more prosperous Kobol was than Haven.
She brightened noticeably when she saw Jaren sitting on the red leather couch perpendicular to the large presidential desk it was in front of. It appeared quite old and was made of a dark wood, and she had an immediate like of it.
“Hello Kathryn, good to see you again,” Jaren offered with a smile.
“Likewise Jaren, I quite enjoyed the reception party last night.”
“Glad to hear it,” President Mortensen acknowledged as he closed the leather folder he’d been working on at his desk when she’d walked in. “Few occasions around here are as big a cause for celebration as officially welcoming a delegation from another colony planet for the first time.” He came around from behind his desk and sat on one of the two red leather chairs facing the couch and invited her to sit on the couch beside Jaren. “You are after all only the second other colony planet we’ve made contact.”
“Were you able to communicate with your people this morning?” Jaren asked her. She’d been ordered to check in daily with Haven and had conducted her first check in this morning. It had gotten boring quite immediately waiting for messages to be transmitted back and forth. Even through the rift, it took more than seventeen minutes for a message to travel from planet to planet, which could be even further delayed since the rift had to be opened for each passage of a message. It couldn’t be left open indefinitely for such a conversation on account of not only the system burning out, but also due to the dangers associated with depriving a planet like Kobol of that much sun light on a longer timeline. As a result, occasionally the timing would be off and a message wouldn’t make it through, resulting in an even longer delay.
Fortunately not much back and forth was required for her purposes today. She reported a description of Kobol City, her impressions of the dignitaries and diplomats she’d met, both the Koboli as well as the Roman ambassadors. Along with her expected report, she included details of the conversation she’d had with Ambassador Teresa and requested direction on how to proceed on the suggestion presented to her. She chose to leave out Irvina’s opinion of the president on an official channel. She felt that kind of information could wait to be relayed in person.
It took nearly an hour for her original transmission to receive a response, suggesting that some time had been taken on her home planet to discuss how to proceed before they replied. It was after all a huge decision to consider quite quickly. There must have been some impulse to maintain the New Horizon exactly as it was, as something like a museum ship, or perhaps something more like a temple. However, when considering how the original builders of the ship would feel, one would think that they built the ship to be used, to facilitate travel and adventure. In this light it seemed like such a shame to just mothball it, to render it merely inert and forbid it any further use. It was a tool which begged to be used, not put away.
“Yes, we were able to communicate quite effectively through the rift. I greatly appreciate the permission to use your equipment to do so.”
“Our pleasure. So what’s your next move? We’d be happy to facilitate setting up a formal embassy for Haven here on Kobol, and as soon as possible we’d like to formally request the opportunity to set up a similar facility for ourselves on Haven.”
“Thank you. I will forward those sentiments in my transmission tomorrow.”
“How is your team finding their time here?” Mortensen asked.
“Oh, like children in a candy store!” she exclaimed. “They’re still spending time with the crew Jaren brought to Haven. We all got to know each other along the way,” she smiled at Jaren, “and they’re still trying to learn everything they can about your world, your history, your art, science, technology… they couldn’t be more excited.”
“Glad to hear it. Irvina, Xion, and Nadelle seem to be quite fond of your people as well.”
“So… how long will it take for you to copy the archive?” Kathryn leadingly asked.
“Over a year,” Jaren sighed with obvious lament. “It takes a long time to read that much data on the New Horizon’s decoder and transmit it down to the surface one page at a time”
“Well… I have been authorized to make you an offer which should speed up the process considerably,” Kathryn suggested.
“We… are eager to hear your suggestion,” the president offered with uncertainty as he looked over at Jaren momentarily. “Go ahead.”
“Well, I understand that an investigative expedition to Earth is low on your people’s list of priorities for whatever reason,” Kathryn cautiously started, “but for my people it has always been a priority second only to reaching the New Horizon itself.”
“I thought you’d get along with the Romans,” Jaren said with a knowing smile.
“What are you proposing?” President Mortensen asked, much more seriously.
“Well you’re right Jaren, in speaking with Ambassador Teresa, we concluded that if the New Horizon were properly supplied, it is a quite appropriate ship for an expedition mission of that kind.”
Mortensen shot a concerned look at Jaren, but he seemed only intrigued with a single raised eyebrow.
“Don’t worry,” Kathryn tried to reassure them, “we have every intention of honouring the deal we’ve already made with you.” The president seemed to relax somewhat, but Jaren remained merely intrigued as to what she wanted to propose. “However, I have been authorized by my people’s government to negotiate an arrangement further to our additional one which we believe would serve us both quite well.”
“Well I’m happy to hear what you have to offer,” Mortensen said with a smile, a smile which Kathryn could now recognize how fake it was after speaking with Irvina about him.
“So, we agreed that in exchange for you helping us get the New Horizon up and running again, and granting us access to your Escher rift system, we are allowing you to copy the contents of the archives.”
President Mortensen nodded and rolled his wrist.
“As you know though, part of that original arrangement was that we retain possession and control of the archive. That’s why you’re having to go through the painstaking process of reading it sheet by sheet on the ship and then transmitting it down to the surface.”
“That’s right,” Mortensen acknowledged.
“But like you said it’ll take you a long time to do it this way. Well I’ve been authorized to offer you the opportunity to physically remove the archive from the New Horizon in order to be able to copy it here on the surface much faster than the methods you’re limited to now using the ship’s native built in technology.”
The president looked at Jaren with cautious inquisitiveness. “It’s too precious to risk atmospheric entry with it,” Jaren suggested, “but we could certainly launch appropriate equipment into orbit to read it much quicker up there. If you were to let us do this, we could have the entire contents transferred in only couple weeks!” Jaren seemed quite excited at the prospect.
“And what would you want in return?” President Mortensen seemed far more concerned with her ask than with what she was offering in return. The archive and its contents clearly didn’t mean much to him beyond what it could benefit him politically.
“Well, first of all we’d want the archive back when you were done with it of course.”
“As well as a complete copy of its contents.”
“As we originally agreed, yes.”
“In exchange for this concession on our part, we would ask for an upgrading re-fit of the New Horizon.”
“Upgragde?” Jaren asked with another raise of his eyebrow.
“What kind of re-fit?” the president asked dubiously.
“The kind which would allow us to mount our own investigative expedition to Earth.”
The president leaned back in the chair, laced his fingers behind his head, and looked up towards the ceiling. She could tell it seemed like a big ask to him.
“Jaren helped us re-start the fusion core so we’ve got plenty of power, and the atmospheric cycler you’ve already provided us takes care of the ship’s environmental needs. But, we are still limited in propulsion with its original ion engines. If you could replace them with some of your fancy anti-matter engines as well as an adequate supply of fuel, we could cut our transit time between planets from months down to days.”
Mortensen looked over at Jaren. “Is that even possible?”
Jaren pursed his lips as he considered what would be involved. “Probably… yes, sure. But it would take some doing.”
“We… would also require a couple shuttles with orbital ascent and descent capability.”
Mortensen eyes narrowed slightly. She had the sense that he was deciding that he didn’t like her. “Is that all?” he asked with a sarcasm that seemed poorly masked by design. “It’s a big ask, Commander Barnes. We do well for ourselves, but our resources are far from infinite.”
“I appreciate that, but… well, can I be honest with you?”
“I would hope you have already been,” Mortensen countered expressionlessly.
“Er,” Kathryn’s face scrunched at the realization of her unforced error. “If you’ll allow me to rephrase, what I mean is that what I’m about to say I haven’t been officially authorized to say, and is only of my own mind.”
The president nodded his understanding.
“The Romans are as motivated as we are to investigate Earth, and have offered whatever resources they have which could help us, and we could technically pull this off ourselves. They have adequate shuttles and the New Horizon’s original engines could eventually get us all the way to Roma and then all the way to Earth. Like I said earlier though, it would take years.”
“And you’d have to wait until we harvested the archive to even start, unless you intend to…”
Kathryn put up her hand to stop him. “That’s the other thing, again in my own mind if this is the only option we’re left with, I’m convinced my government wouldn’t want to wait, nor would they want to cross Kobol. I have to imagine they’d let you take the archive off of the New Horizon either way.”
“Why are you telling us this?” Mortensen asked bluntly. “It’s not a very effective negotiation strategy.”
“Because I want to impress on you just how important Earth is to Haven and Roma. We’ll do it on our own if we have to, even if it means giving up our only bargaining chip to do so, it’s that important. I don’t…” she sighed, “I still don’t fully understand your people’s lack of interest, but that your prerogative and that’s fine. But I sense that your people have a real desire to be friends with mine, as we do with you. I ask you not only to share in what we discover, but as a gesture of friendship. To do this for us would cement our appreciation of your people as our strong friends and allies unambiguously.” She sat forward on the couch and physically leaned in to her argument. “Granting us this, would make us a space-faring people as long as we have the New Horizon, and this could be useful to you as well. When we’re done with Earth we would be an additional ship you could call on to assist in whatever ventures you do with to engage in, or to respond to your own ships in distress; you would create a resource of our sincere friendship, which would additionally grant you the resource of access to an upgraded New Horizon for whatever mutual interests we have, and-“
“Okay, okay!” the president said with a laugh as he held up his hands. “You’ve convinced me! Make it happen Jaren, with all responsible haste. Kathryn you’re right. We aren’t interested in Earth. We consider it a place we may someday want to establish a new colony there, but who may be there now, or… what made it lose all technological sophistication, it really doesn’t matter to us. There’s nothing of value there now. But, as a people we do place a sacred value in family. Your colony is sibling to ours, and we would go to lengths which may even surprise you to secure and nurture friendship between our peoples. From our perspective you are our siblings, but whatever is left on Earth is a pale shadow of our noble parent civilization which used to exist there. To us what has happened to Earth is just a shame best… left honoured to rest. We mourn Earth more than we are curious about it, but clearly that’s just us. Commander Barnes, there was no need to negotiate. You only needed to make it clear how important your request was to us, and what it would mean as a gesture of good will. We will breathe new life into your precious ship and honour its builders.”
“How long will it take?” Mortensen asked Jaren.
“Only a few days if we make haste.”
“Grand,” President Mortensen said as he stood and headed back behind his desk. “Okay, Jaren you oversee the refit, Barnes please report to Haven our agreement and our request for formal embassy staff to be brought here especially if you and yours will be gone in a few days. Since the Romans seem as obsessed with Earth as you seem to be, you might want to ask them if they’d like to send some people along with you if you’d welcome them. Just a thought.”
“Yes, thank you sir, I doubt we’d be able to keep them away. And personally sir… thank you very much. A month ago I thought setting foot on the New Horizon would be the height of my career and the biggest moment of my life. Now… it seems that it was only the beginning. I have your people to thank for that.”
“Putting our family back together is our pleasure,” he answered.
“I can’t believe we’re actually going to get to go, it’s… like a dream,” Felix said as he and Kathryn laid on the ground that night looking up at the night sky. They were in the back yard of a government guest residence facility a bit of a ways out of town. The next morning her and her team would be ascending to re-board the New Horizon and oversee the re-fits and get a crash course in all of the new technology.
After her meeting with the president Kathryn had communicated with her home world again and been profusely praised and congratulated for good work. She’d been told that when this phase of her career was over she had a promising future as an ambassador if she wanted it. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that prospect. For now she was just happy that she could enjoy the role which the fates had landed her in presently.
“Yes, like a dream…” she answered distantly. The sky was different. It was funny, she’d never really studied the Haven sky much; she’d never really appreciated the pattern to it. But seeing a totally alien sky, how different it was made her appreciate how familiar she must have been with the sky she’d grown up under, even without ever thinking much about it. The moon was bright, and this was the most striking thing. There was no comparable large moon on Haven, just a few small captured asteroids on a slow march to inevitable destruction. The moon was nearly full and provided a remarkable amount of light reflected from the sun, more than she’d ever have imagined such an effect could produce.
“He’s pretty dreamy too, isn’t he?” Felix asked.
“Yeah…” Kathryn answered, immediately thinking about Jaren when he’d said it. She then snapped to her senses. “Wait, what? What are you talking about?”
Felix laughed mischievously. “Come on Kat, I know you better than you know yourself sometimes. I’ve seen the way you two flirt.”
“Flirt??” she cried indignantly with an undercurrent of embarrassment. “I don’t, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Nooo, of course you don’t,” Felix teased. “I’m jealous… he’s quite a man, and for whatever reason you’re the only one who seems to have struck anyone’s fancy on this trip.”
“Felix this isn’t a… a cosmic dating cruise,” she expressed in frustration. “I’m a professional. Even if, if I had… well, it’d be… aw fuck it.” she sighed as she looked up into the night sky. “Is it really that obvious?” she asked.
“Just to those who care about you,” he answered. “You’re not with Tobyn anymore, you’re free to do whatever you want.”
“I didn’t want to entertain anything while we were still on the mission to get here, but we’re still here on official function though aren’t we? Wouldn’t it still be professionally inappropriate to… date a Koboli at this point?”
“I’m clearly the wrong person to ask, I don’t think the mission we were on should have even stopped you.”
She couldn’t see him in the dark, but she could tell he was grinning.
“There’d really nothing stopping you now is there?” he asked. “Unless it has nothing to do with your work and that’s just an excuse.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were with Tobyn forever. It would only be natural if you were scared to open yourself up to someone else so soon.”
“Scared? I don’t know… We spent a lot of time together on the trip here. I think I really like him… he’s not like anyone I’ve ever met before.”
“Literally,” Felix laughed. “He is an alien after all!”
Kathryn’s brow wrinkled. “Do we call them aliens? I mean if they’re from another world but they’re still humans… are they really aliens?”
“You know? I don’t know… I guess it’s up to us if we consider them aliens or not,” Felix answered with as much of a shrug as laying down on the grass allowed.
The two lay on the grass side by side for a while. Kathryn was surprised again at how much Jaren occupied her thoughts when there was so much else to think about, so many things which her professional brain considered so important and exciting, and yet…
“Pretty dreamy indeed…” Felix teased, breaking the silence.
Kathryn punched his arm hard but he just laughed.
As his laughter turned to pouting and he rubbing the now tender spot where she’d punched him, Jaren appeared at their feet looking down at them. “There you are,” he said. “Commander, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you about the mission. Care to walk with me?”
“Romantic nighttime stroll under the stars you say?” Felix mischievously asked.
“Felix!!” Kathryn hissed at him with a mixture of fury and embarrassment in her eyes, before punching him again in the same spot.
“I’m… I’m sorry?” Jaren asked, confused.
“Forget it,” Kathryn quickly said as she took his arm and led him away. She felt fortunate that the darkness of the night obscured her blushing, at least she hoped it did.
Before she could get away, Felix grabbed her arm to stop her. He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. Before pulling back he whispered in her ear: “I’m sorry Kat, I just want you to be happy.” He smirked at Jaren before turning to head back into the residence.
“Um, shall we?” Jaren asked awkwardly.
“Yes, of course.” Kathryn answered. She held out her hand for him to lead and then followed beside him. “So what did you want to talk about?”
“Well, while my people are rather dismissive of Earth, people like myself and my team don’t necessarily share that lack of enthusiasm.”
“Well, we’re the type who volunteer for missions like first contact with Haven. We’re into that sort of thing, even if the wide majority of our people are not.”
“What are you saying?”
“We’d like to come with you. Me, Irvina, Xion… Nadelle. We’re all onboard if you’ll have us.”
“Really? Well that’s fantastic! Of course we’d be happy to have you along. A four person team from each planet is exactly what we need and it would be a big help to have you along in case anything goes wrong with any of your technology.”
Jaren nodded. “My thoughts exactly.”
“Wait, you don’t want to come along just to make sure I’m okay do you?”
“What? No, that’s… no. Well, I think the mission has a better chance of safe success with us along if that’s what you mean. Plus we’d certainly all feel terrible if you got into trouble trying to use our technology and didn’t have anyone there to help you.”
“I see… Well I’m glad to know you have more interest than the rest of your people.”
“You’ve had a lot to do with it Kathryn. Your people were an inspiration to my team.”
The two were walking through a forested area which now opened onto a meadow beside a modest lake which reflected the moonlight in a wide streak across the surface of the water. Kathryn bit her lip and silently damned Felix for putting the idea of a romantic walk into her head. This locale certainly fit the bill and it now made her uncomfortable for some reason.
“Have you asked the Romans about it?” he asked.
“Absolutely. As I mentioned it was their idea in the first place,” she answered. “They were quite eager to participate when I told them your President agreed. By the way I see where she’s coming from but Mortensen didn’t seem nearly as objectionable as Irvina made him out to be.”
“If you ever question or challenge him you’ll see what she means.”
“Right. Anyways, the Roman ambassadors insisted on joining the mission themselves along with two of their embassy staff. They said that their home world would immediately dispatch temporary replacement ambassadors to Kobol.”
“Three teams of four working together, there’s a certain… symmetry to it isn’t there?”
“Yes. I think it will work out well.”
“What about your own people? Have they agreed to exchange embassies?”
“Yes actually, my people agreed quite eagerly. Your people will send their mission to Haven on a transport ship which will then return Haven’s mission here. It’s all coming along so well and so fast, it’s incredible!”
She found herself stealing glances at him, trying to appear as though she were casually looking at other things about them. When she realized what she was doing she privately chastised herself and insisted she stop. Immediately after she did it again despite herself but this time caught him doing the same thing and they both understood the glances the other had failed to adequately mask. They both looked away from each other embarrassed.
Jaren turned back to her to say: “Look, Commander, I-”
That was all he could get out before she grabbed him with her left arm around his waist and her right hand on the side of his face as she kissed him. They paused with their lips on each other, but it felt so right they couldn’t resist opening their mouths and kissing more deeply ever so briefly before they both pulled away despite their desire to continue.
“Kat,” she croaked as she looked away at the lake and fought back a tear. “Call me Kat,” she said. “At least, when we’re alone… you can call me Kat.” She was trembling. She had no idea what she was doing, what she’d just done, or if it had been a terrible mistake.
“Okay, okay,” he smiled. “Kat.”
“I know what you’re going to say Jaren, and I agree. That was stupid.”
He touched her chin and directed her gaze back towards him. “That is not what I was going to say. I was going to say, I was wondering how long we’d be able to resist before one of did that.”
“I feel like we became very close on the trip here,”
“I feel the same way…”
“Clearly,” he said with a grin.
“I don’t know if it’s… appropriate though.”
“We’re… colleagues. Shouldn’t we be trying to keep things… professional?”
“I believe we have been trying.”
Kathryn looked down and smiled. “Jaren tonight I don’t see anything wrong with… this,” she said as she gestured back and forth between them. “But if you come on this mission with us… we become colleagues again. It becomes inappropriate again doesn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t want to do anything which would make you feel uncomfortable Kat. I understand your concerns about intermingling the personal with the professional, but for the record, I am bound by no rules which forbid… this.”
“Now that I think about it neither do it,” she reflected with surprise. “But it still would seem implied.”
“Fair enough,” he somberly agreed. He held his hand out for her to shake. “So, just colleagues then? As long as we’re working together?”
She shook his hand, but held it. Keeping hold of his hand she slowly twirled herself around, putting her back to his chest and holding his hand to her breast. “On the other hand… we can be discrete right?”