January 15th 2263
Captain Diana Dacre surveyed the latest crop of hopefuls the Academy had sent her. As a Federation Council liaison officer, Dacre drew what she considered more than her fair share of cadets but a high proportion of officers were destined for staff, starbases and the diplomatic side of Starfleet. It was all too easy for them to get on the wrong side of often touchy alien diplomats, and the more cadets there were about, the more apologies Dacre found herself making. Her eyes went along the line to the final cadet; Dacre thought of the warning from Commander Staunton that if it was possible to fall into a scrape, Chekov would manage it, and wondered what she had done to deserve him.
"As you know, Midshipmen," Dacre began her standard lecture, "it is one of Starfleet's functions to support and defend the members of the Federation Diplomatic Corps. You will be assigned to work with different officers; that will provide you with a great deal of varied experience, enough for those of you considering such work to decide if it is for you. The only rule I can give you is not to speak to any council member unless they speak to you and if you are in the slightest doubt about any request made to you, you will contact me or another officer before complying. Despite the way some of the delegates will speak to you, they may only request and not order. Is that clear?"
"Ma'am! Yes, ma'am!"
Dacre detailed the cadets to find the various officers to whom she had assigned them. "Midshipman Chekov, you're with me."
Dacre surveyed him thoughtfully. "Your record says new alien races don't bother you, Midshipman?"
She made up her mind. "I'm going to assign you to the Phloxi. Know anything about them?"
"Yes, ma'am. I read up on all the new contacts."
"You will certainly find it good experience looking after the Phloxi as we're discovering we don't know very much about them. Their delegation arrived two days ago, and they've done nothing but complain ever since, and yet they won't say precisely why. It's up to you to make sure they're settled in and comfortable before they meet the council and the president. I don't want them to begin with a list of complaints."
"Yes, ma'am. Is there any new data on them?"
"Go on back to my office. You can access the file there and check on that. My aide, Lieutenant Croft, will clear it for you. I'll be back about lunch time if you have any further questions. Off you go."
Dacre had decided to head home for what remained of the evening when a weary looking Chekov appeared. "Ma'am, I'm glad I caught you. We have a problem."
The captain sank back into her chair and gestured to another one. "Sit down. You look as though you need to. Where have you been all day? No, let me rephrase that. I know where you've been. Any luck with the Phloxi?"
"Yes, ma'am." Chekov was pleased with what he had achieved and even more with his first encounter with an avian race. It was Dacre's reaction to what he had to tell her that was worrying him. "I've been adapting the Phloxi quarters. They've been unhappy because, well for a number of reasons:
"They don't feel safe in our gravity. Engineering fixed up counter gravs in their quarters for me so at least the Phloxi can relax there. They're very nervous about the effect it would have on them if the neutralizers failed so I've obtained back ups for them.
"The Phloxi were uncomfortable with the lighting; it was far too bright and direct, but that was easy enough to adjust. They were unhappy with the barrenness too; their home world is mostly jungle so I've rounded up enough plants to make them feel happier. Oh, and they need perches at night. They have to sleep off the ground to feel safe. The engineers fixed that up for me, too."
"Midshipman, one of your talents is obviously talking to aliens. Well done!" Dacre smiled at him. She was pleased not only that the cadet had solved so many problems but that he had not bothered her until he had. "So, what is the problem?"
Chekov looked embarrassed for the first time. "Ambassador Y'ami and Ambassador Ly'ami have informed me they have to mate within the next three days. They need precise conditions for this. Ma'am?" He paused as Dacre groaned, but she only waved to him to continue. "He has to perform a mating dance and for that he needs a space about a hundred meters across in the middle of a jungle and at point six gravity. Ambassador Y'ami was most emphatic about the requirement for him to move freely, or he says he won't be able to display the true beauty of the dance and the clutch won't be large enough to do him credit as a male of high status. He will lose status amongst the other males unless Ly'ami lays at least four eggs. He didn't say so in so many words, but I received the impression if he lost status any treaty would be devalued."
"Why on Earth didn't the Phloxi either send someone who doesn't need to mate or wait? There's nothing crucial about the timing of this visit." Dacre eyed her young companion with extreme misgiving. "Midshipman Chekov, you're about to spring something else nasty on me, I know you are!"
"I'm afraid so, ma'am. I asked why they'd come now, as it would surely have been more comfortable for the mating to have taken place on their home world, but the Phloxi told me the mating dance is a crucial part of diplomatic negotiations on their world. Oh, and the more high status males who watch, the greater the honor that accrues to the male dancing." Chekov looked at her more apologetically than ever. He was inexperienced in anything to do with diplomacy, but he understood how odd his next statement was going to be. "Ambassador Y'ami wants to perform his mating dance in front of the entire Federation Council, ma'am."
Dacre slumped as the cadet destroyed any chance she had of relaxing that evening. "Anything else?"
"Yes, ma'am. That was when I informed the ambassadors I urgently needed to consult you." Chekov blushed as his stomach suddenly complained loudly about its emptiness. "Sorry, ma'am."
Dacre thought of the meal to which she had been about to treat herself. "When did you last eat?"
"I grabbed a sandwich about lunchtime, ma'am."
"Come on then. I had just promised myself a meal at Romano's, and I'll treat you. You've earned it. You may have just handed me a whole lapful of problems, but at least we've found out about them before the Phloxi walked out in front of the Council and announced what they wanted to do. I assure you I am extremely grateful for that! Do you want to go off duty once we've eaten or stick with this? I warn you I'll probably be up most of the night sorting this out, and you've had a long day."
"I'd rather stay with it, ma'am, if you'd kindly clear that for me?"
"Of course, you have to log in at Academy curfew times." Dacre nodded and stopped by her intercom to inform the duty officer that Chekov was with her.
Chekov turned to see Amanda smiling at him, Sarek at her side. "Good evening, ma'am, good evening, Mister Ambassador."
"Delivered any babies lately?"
"Oh, don't, ma'am. I'm still trying to live it down," Chekov told her.
"Not after going to Australia and finding a second lady about to give birth and who promptly did!" Amanda informed him severely. "That argues a truly outstanding ability to find the most extraordinary predicaments, and don't tell me Admiral von Steuben didn't say exactly the same!"
"As a matter of fact, ma'am, he told me any appropriate comment completely eluded him."
"I am not surprised. I didn't expect to find you here though?"
"Commander Staunton decided my diplomatic skills needed improvement, ma'am."
"According to Commander Staunton, Midshipman, the term is 'acquire' not 'improve'." Dacre decided to seize the moment. "Mister Ambassador, there is a matter on which I would very much appreciate your advice, and I don't have very much time." She tried not to grin as the embarrassed cadet's stomach rumbled again, earning him a sympathetic smile from Amanda. "I wonder, if you haven't yet eaten, if I could invite you both to eat with us?"
"It would be my pleasure," Sarek responded. "Would I be correct in deducing Midshipman Chekov has found a way of complicating your life, Captain?"
"It would be fairer to say he's apprised me of complications about which I knew nothing, sir, before they all descended on me unannounced," Dacre countered as she led the way to Romano's. "For which, as I've just told him, I'm extremely grateful."
She saw the cadet's surprised expression as he took his seat and explained, "All the tables here have privacy fields, Midshipman. Since so many diplomats eat here and ask for them Romano's decided to install them as a matter of course. They also cooperate closely with Federation Security to ensure there aren't any bugs so you don't have to worry about what you say as long as you're at the table. Just wait until we've been served."
"I understand, ma'am." Chekov looked around. Many of the tables were filled with various alien diplomats and senior Starfleet officers. He could understand that at the tables occupied by combinations of diplomats, the diners would want to be sure no one overheard them.
The waiter soon returned with their orders to the cadet's relief; quite apart from being hungry, he wanted to silence his stomach. Dacre eyed him for a moment before smiling and talking to Sarek and Amanda on innocuous subjects for a few minutes so that he could eat in peace.
"Right, Midshipman, if you're not about to collapse with violent indigestion, which I would, if I'd eaten so much so quickly, perhaps you'd detail the problems for Ambassador Sarek?"
"Aye, ma'am. Captain Dacre assigned me to see if I could help the Phloxi delegation feel more comfortable, sir." Chekov related his day's activities before going on to the specific problems he had taken to Dacre.
Sarek looked unperturbed. "I gather the Phloxi have no privacy requirements for mating?"
"No, sir. The more public it is, the better. Ambassador Y'ami spent a lot of time explaining it all to me." Chekov had not realized until this assignment that a lot of what he thought of as first contact work could actually take place on Earth. He had found that part of his day fascinating and providing for the needs of the aliens equally interesting. Now, he wanted to see how Dacre sorted out the problems. "The dance is a relic of primitive times when the strongest male around first defeated all the other males and then triumphantly mated with the females while they watched. They've eliminated the fighting part, and the whole thing has become very ritualized, but the dance is still a sign of the importance of the male mating. He has to show he can gather as many important males as he can to watch to emphasize he is dominant."
Sarek looked alertly at the cadet. "Did Ambassador Y'ami use that precise term, Midshipman Chekov?"
"Yes, sir." Chekov knew why that had attracted the ambassador's attention. "He told me he understands he won't be dominant over the non-Phloxi males who watch. The mating dance has become part of Phloxi diplomatic ritual, and Ambassador Y'ami must perform it in front of the Federation Council before he can enter into any negotiations. He must prove his strength by publicly fathering the largest clutch he can."
"But where on Earth can we find somewhere large enough for Ambassador Y'ami to perform this dance in front of the Federation Council, and at point six gravity?" Dacre decided to hand the problem over to the cadet while she thought. "Midshipman Chekov, I'm supposed to be improving your diplomatic skills, so tell me how you'd handle it?"
"Two possibilities spring to mind, ma'am." Chekov had learned to be ready for such questions. "We could hold it on the Moon, Mars or perhaps on a starship."
Sarek nodded. "Midshipman Chekov, one aspect on which you have not touched is the length of this dance."
Chekov sighed. "I was getting to that, sir. I'm afraid it's another problem. Ambassador Y'ami told me every male seeks to surpass R'edi, a great male from the legends of the past, who was reputed to have danced for three days."
"Three days!" Dacre eyed him in horror. "We won't get the Council to all sit still for three hours!"
"I did wonder, ma'am, if we could suggest it would offer them greater honor if warriors watched the dance?" Chekov suggested diffidently, "and use Starfleet officers? Only I wasn't sure if we'd want to emphasize the naval aspect of Starfleet so I didn't say anything to the ambassadors. My data didn't cover that."
"None of the senior officers at Starfleet Headquarters are going to love you, but it might work." The captain looked thoughtful. "Any chance of asking the Phloxi tonight?"
"No, ma'am. They were retiring to their perches as I left. Only the mating dance keeps them awake at night." Chekov shook his head as he reached the crux of the matter. He could not imagine how his audience was going to react to what he had to say next. "The problem is with whoever watches."
"What now?" Dacre groaned.
"Before any treaty negotiations take place, we have to perform a reciprocal dance."
"I don't suppose you could manage one of those spectacular Russian dances and solve the problem?"
"I could, ma'am, and I'm willing to do that, if you think it would help, only."
"Not when the Phloxi want me to." Chekov blushed vividly as he thought of all he had learned of what the aliens intended. "To complete the ceremony as they will, ma'am! I really don't think I could do that. Not with everyone watching!"
Dacre chuckled. "That would be asking rather a lot of you."
Chekov thought of an objection that would carry weight. "If I performed the dance, ma'am, I'd have to be the one to negotiate the treaty and surely the Phloxi would be insulted if they had to negotiate with a cadet when they've deliberately sent us one of their highest status males?"
"A nice, sound, logical reason for getting out of that suggestion, don't you think, Mister Ambassador?"
"Entirely logical," Sarek nodded. "But you are correct, Midshipman. If the Phloxi are sending us one of their highest status males, we cannot offer them, if you will pardon the expression, a low-status male in return. I think this is a case for informing the Phloxi politely that while we are willing to watch their dance, our own customs are different. We do not wish to set a precedent and other races may prove to have customs with which it would be even more impossible to comply. We could, however, comply as far as offering a dance sequence. I am sure Federation President Cogges would agree, if not immediately, then when he learns what the ceremony will entail.
"Midshipman, are there other Russian cadets who could join with you a display?"
"And could you organize this within twenty-four hours?"
Amanda laughed. "I don't suppose you ever thought Russian dancing would enter into your Starfleet career, Pavel?"
"The instructors tell us that anything you know comes in useful sooner or later, ma'am. The part they seem to miss out is living it down afterwards!"
"We'll check with Ambassador Y'ami to see if that's acceptable." Dacre looked at Sarek. "Let's put the Phloxi proposition in all its glory to President Cogges first before we mention our solution. I want to see his face!"
"I will accompany you, Captain."
Dacre looked at the cadet. He would not know how everyone who had anything to do with the current president was counting the days until his term of office ended. Including Sarek! "And you didn't hear me say that, Midshipman."
"Hear you say what, ma'am?"
Dacre eyed the midshipman's stunned expression with alarm. "The Phloxi didn't like the idea?"
"Quite the contrary, ma'am. They loved it."
"So why are you looking at me like that?"
Chekov found a grin forming. "It was the effect of telling them we have dances for other purposes than mating, ma'am. Both ambassadors were absolutely fascinated by the concept. I think it has something to do with the mating dance becoming so ritualized they're rather bored with it. I left them looking up examples of Earth dances on the computer. They asked me if we'd mind if they copied some of them, and I assured them they could."
"Just as long as they agreed to that dance display you've got organized. Now for President Cogges!"
The Federation President's mouth dropped open in what his audience considered a very satisfactory manner. "The Phloxi want me to do what?"
"Perform a mating dance before mating in front of the entire Federation Council, sir," Dacre replied evenly.
She, her officers and every career diplomat at the Council were counting the days until the man known as the 'most undiplomatic politician in the entire Federation' completed his term of office. If Dacre and her staff often had to apologize for mistakes made by their cadets, even the touchiest alien knew the cadets were only youngsters in training and were inclined, once their dignity had been appeased, to forgive the incident. Smoothing over the offences caused by Donald Cogges's repeated tactlessness was far more difficult and far more wearying. Dacre thought of those endless apologies and decided revenge was sweet.
"I can't possibly do that." Cogges leaned back, his face pale. "Isn't there any way out?"
"As a matter of fact, Mister President, Captain Dacre suggested Russian dancing. Midshipman Chekov is going to organize a display for us. That will show the Phloxi we understand the importance of dancing without actually complying with their full custom," Sarek replied. "That, if you think about it, would set an extremely dangerous precedent for other applications."
"True, true." Cogges was ready to grasp at any alternative to the Phloxi demands. "You can perform these dances, Midshipman?"
Cogges waved a dismissive hand. "Get this past the Phloxi, Dacre, and let me know."
"Of course, sir." Dacre reflected that a conscientious officer would tell Cogges the matter was already settled, but then he would raise his usual endless quibbles and suggest his unfeasible alternatives. This way, he would undoubtedly agree to anything she and Sarek suggested.
He seemed to see Chekov for the first time. "Chekov? Aren't you that cadet who keeps beating my Donny to the top of the class?"
"Possibly, sir. I do have a tendency to finish in the top of most of my classes," Chekov answered politely.
Cogges was frowning. "I must have a word with the commandant. That isn't good enough. I want Donny to graduate first. That's why I agreed to the five year missions of exploration. I want him promoted as quickly as possible." He looked up, as if surprised they were all still there. "Off you go. Thank you for your help, Ambassador. Dacre, I want a report in the morning."
Dacre looked at the young cadet. "His term of office finishes before you graduate. Just make sure you stay in one piece long enough to come out at the head of your class."
"If I don't, ma'am, it won't be the president's son who does."
They both left the Federation building smiling inwardly, each thinking of their tasks and how to best get through the next few days.
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