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Unwitnessed, Unratified: A Good Day, A Bad Day

Posted on 15 Sep 2023 @ 7:28pm by Lieutenant Commander Maurice Rubens
Edited on on 06 Feb 2024 @ 10:17pm

Mission: M4 - Falling Out
Location: Montevideo, South America, Earth
Timeline: April 5, 2385
3123 words - 6.2 OF Standard Post Measure

“Señor Rubens! I’ve been wondering when you would show yourself again in Montevideo.”

Rice smiled and grabbed the coffee from the outstretched hand of Rafaella. The tropic morning sun was already well above the horizon, its warmth carried on the western breeze. The café’s carry-out window was thrown open wide giving him a good view at the five baristas bouncing from customer to coffee station and back again. They were swirl of colorful clothes, Rafaella most of all. Her calf-length sunflower-yellow dress with inch-wide red, blue, and green dots that turned into tiny rainbows when she spun to fill a cup with amber liquid.

He'd had an unreciprocated crush on her when he’d trained at the Department of the Exterior’s headquarters campus in Montevideo. Despite five years having passed since he’d left for Cardassia, his name in her mouth still made his heart leap when she called out her surprise at seeing him.

“Good morning, Señiorita – ”

Señiorita now is it? I’m old enough to be your beautiful and wiser older sister,” Rafaella snickered, while tucking a long strand dark hair behind her left ear.

“No! Surely, you’re only twenty-two…”

“Flattery! Don’t they teach diplomats other tricks? What can I get you?”

“Uh, let’s see. Do you remember the usual?”

“You use to ask for a Peruvian dark roast and a date. Do you want to change your order?”

Rice nodded seriously. “Now that you mention it. Let’s forgo the coffee and just go on a date.”

She laughed. “Peruvian roast it is.” Rafaella floated over to a coffee machine, pulled out the pot, and poured its nearly black contents into a small thick porcelain cup. “There you go. And,” she added slyly, “I get off at 3.”

He cocked his head trying to figure out if she was teasing him, but there was nothing in her eyes that suggested she was kidding. “I expect I’ll be in a meeting most of the day. Meet here at 5?”

“See you then,” she nodded and smiled. “Happy First Contact Day! Next!”

First Contact Day, he’d forgotten. In his childhood he thrilled at the fireworks that lit the night sky in blossoms of blue, green, gold, and red. Now that same feeling rushed over him, but for a different reason. As he walked away from the coffee shop, a glistening white mass transit pod landed with a pleasing hush next to the sidewalk and Rice joined its disgorged riders flowing down the Rambla toward the Exterior’s glass-and-marble campus a few blocks away. There was a spring in his step now: a date. He hoped to be on Earth at least a few weeks, so who knew what could transpire. He let himself dream that his solo return to Cardassia would be less solo than reality suggested…

Across the Rambla, Montevideo Bay stretched out. Blue waves, tops encrusted with foaming white water, crashed on the beach where palms and grasses springing from the yellow-white dunes seesawed in the warm breeze. The view elevated his mood even more. Maybe he and Rafaella would go on a walk on the beach. A picnic maybe.

What a good day!

As he crossed the Peotonal Sarandí, Rice entered into the Exterior’s campus. Cresting over the entrance was a smooth glass arch, crafted to look like a stream of water jetting from the earth. “Diplomacy is like water finding a way through solid rock,” Riva once said – or emoted, in his case – but the buildings had been constructed along the same theme. Some were towering and mimicked the waves in the bay in shape, while others were short and puddle-like in form. The white skin of the buildings shined in the sun, the windows, which doubled as solar panels, reflected a warm blue.

Rice slowed as he passed his favorite building. He’d chosen to stay in the hostel up the Rambla because it would require him to pass by the Bureau of Environmental Resources. It’s building twisted up toward the heaven, like a drop of water just hitting the ground. Each level was terraced and bedecked with thousands of plants: red, white, yellow, and orange flowers the shape licks of flame or stars or birds were interspersed between long grasses in all the hues of green. There were shrubs the color of honey or midnight sky and, emerald palm trees, blue wisteria, and purple jacaranda perched like birds on the ledges of the building.

He breathed in the aroma before meandering on, lingering steps carrying him slowly to a large gray-brick square. In the center were the Hands of Hope – a sculpture of four hands from different species, each ten-foot black marble swirled with white and gray, holding up a twenty-foot-tall Federation seal in white marble – rose up from fountain that encircled the piece with dancing ribbons of water arching twenty-feet into the air.

Rice’s destination lay on just the other side of the square. The Interstellar Trade building had no aromas worth mentioning. The solid square building had never tickled Rice’s fancy either: it looked like a giant block of granite with tiny windows dotting its side. The water pouring from its roof and into a reflecting pool that surrounded the building had its charm, but the whole construction reminded him of some of the Brutalist architecture that had survived the ravages of World War III.

He walked into the lobby through large spinning glass doors. A blue-green ceiling hovered ninety-feet above his head; otherwise, the interior was a colorless white, with the exception of the Interstellar Trade Commission’s bird-shaped emblem in silver embedded into the center of the floor. He crossed over it and picked the last of the sixteen kiosks that were lined up against the wall next to the hallways that led to the lifts. A barrel-chested security guard standing next to the machine, an Exterior badge of silver glinting on his dark blue uniform, gave Rice a quick nod as he arrived.

“Maurice Rubens to see Zernet Gree,” he said to the kiosk. A slowly rotating blue disc appeared on the screen.

“Identification, please.”

Rice held out his diplomatic badge, a white-and-blue enameled starburst on a field of silver. The kiosk scanned it. “Welcome Diplomat Second Grade Maurice Rubens. Please proceed to the fourth floor, west wing, office 463.”

The fourth floor, west wing was a mass of tiny offices one after another, each the same. Just big enough for a desk and two pale yellow chairs, one taken by a harried looking person who hadn’t slept in months.

He stopped at a small plaque engraved with 463 and popped his head around the doorframe. “Zernet, you old son-of-a-gun. You old so-and-so. Have you missed me?”

Zernet looked up from his tiny desk, covered in PADDs. Considering the amount of data each of those could hold, the Bolian was quite literally buried alive. Deep, dark circles around his bloodshot eyes made Rice’s smile fade. “All that is holy. What has been done to you?” The office, Rice immediately noticed, was one that did not have a window.

“Nothing good, my friend. I’d prefer to be back on Cardassia.”

“Yeah, well. If I were you, I’d want back there too. These are hellish accommodations.”

Now that he was closer, Rice noted the temporary nature of everything. The walls looked like they’d been thrown up overnight and painted by a troupe of blind baboons. Gray paint was splashed over them in blotchy manner – dark here, light over there.

“We’re well above capacity in this building. Everyone trying to wring every last trade deal for resources for the Romulan thing,” Zernet groused.

The Romulan thing. The big rescue. Zernet had been working on the rebuilding of Cardassia since the end of the Dominion War; he’d been pulled back to Earth a year ago. Rice had nearly been ripped away, too, if not for Dae-Jung using his influence. “You have anything cooking for that?”

The Bolian laughed mirthlessly. “No. I get to do everyone else’s work. I’m dealing with Klingons, First Federationists, Talarians, Barzanians, and…And!” he shifted dove into the PADDs on his desk, causing one tower to collapse to the hard floor. He barely glanced at the mess and shook the PADD in his hand at Rice. “Risans! Risans! As if they had anything to trade except sand, water, thongs, and those little statues.”

“I’m afraid all I’m bringing you is more work.”

“Yes, yes, but it’s for Cardassians. It’s what I want to be doing. The Risans can wait. I looked over the notes you sent enroute, but walk me through it.”

Rice carefully moved a stack of PADDs off a chair as he began talking. “As you know, Cardassian cities have consistent power, but rural areas are still suffering brownouts and blackouts. This has gone on too long now. There’s talk about opening the mines of Taluone again.”

Zernet sighed. “They can’t. The planet needs to heal and doing that would just poisoning it more.”

“Right, so clean energy. Prior to the Romulan efforts, the Federation had agreed to build geothermal farms. That’s been scuttled until after the rescue is over. So that means – what? – three years at the earliest? And that’s if elections go well for us, both here and there. If not, Taluone and others like it will be back open again in maybe sixteen months. We were at an impasse with the Cardassians. Good news though – the USS Tranquility made first contact two months ago with a species that specializes in clean energy and has for a couple centuries. In fact, their stuff rivals the Federation.”

“And the problem?”

“Cardassian signed on to the Monte Cassino Accords when we started helping them, so they’re very limited on what they can trade with a technological inferior planet and that’ll all this species wants. Not that the Cardassians have anything to trade.”


“Right. So. Here I am.”

“We could put in an arbitration request to Law. See if they’ll bite.”

“No go. This species’ clean energy is highly advanced, but everything else,” Rice shrugged, “Warp one. Late-twentieth to mid-twenty-first century technology. They’re still using electric vehicles with, uh…” He made a motion with his hands, pumping his fists up and down.

“What? Are you milking a cow?”

“No. No. Uh. What’s that called? Wheel! Steering wheel! They still manually steer vehicles. On the ground.”

Zernet stared at him, still not comprehending. Instead of belaboring the anecdote, Rice moved on, “The other problem is there are one-hundred-fourteen nation states grouped into three big, but loose alliances. Different forms of government. Different levels of freedom and political and social outlooks.”

“So, we need to trade something that would fit into an antediluvian civilization and be valuable to everyone, but not so valuable that they’ll launch wars over it. And that something can’t be something that is needed for the Romulan stuff,” Zernet sat back and scratched his head, “What’s their currency standard?”


“You’re kidding.”

“No, apparently, it’s rare on their world. Diamonds they have by truckloads. Quartz, not so much.”

“Quartz is the most common mineral virtually every Federation world. We can even synthesize the stuff so...we could just pay them...”

“And the inflation would cripple their global economy. Not sure our careers would survive that one. Plus, wouldn't that violate the Prime Directive?"

Zernet shrugged. "I don't know. The Prime Directive has always been a bit of mystery to me. For something so important, you'd think it be a hard and fast rule, but every starship captain who discovers a pre-warp civilization on a world about to go kablooey seems to ignore the thing."

They spent the next four hours brainstorming, even eating lunch in the cramped office. Zernet occasionally had to take a break to answer questions about the various other trade negotiations he was working on, so Rice would stand up and pace the hallway.

“There’s a loophole in the Accords,” Rice said. He’d pulled up the other chair in the office directly in front of Zernet’s tiny desk, his feet kicked up on a tiny plot of wood he’d cleared of PADDs. He was slowly re-reading the Monte Cassino Accords for the fifth time. “It doesn’t say anything about trading ancient technology that matches another civilization’s level.” A security guard went racing by Zernet’s office, but Rice barely noticed. “As long as it doesn’t destabilize their world, which would be in violation of section 4, subsection 3 point 3…” His words petered off as another security guard went racing by. Now his curiosity was piqued. The third guard flying by got him out of his chair to stand in the doorway. Other heads popping around doorframes from offices with curiosity, like prairie dogs checking for danger.

Zernet didn’t seemed perturbed by the commotion. “Mmm. That could work. Did you have anything in mind? Rice?”

“Hey! Hey!” Rice tried to stop another guard by stepping out of the doorway. “What’s hap-” was all he got out as she flew paced, swerving just enough to brush past his shoulder. By then Zernet had joined him in the hallway.

“They’re acting like we’re under attack,” the Bolian muttered, perturbed at having their conversation interrupted.

The buildings alarms went off. Loud blaring, pause, then a feminine computer voice urging everyone to stay calm and leave the building, pause, then more loud blaring. The cycle continued over and over. Offices emptied and the hallways were snared in gridlock as people made for the stairs.

Rice became separated from Zernet once they reached the stairs. The wave of bodies carried him forward and bundled him out a side door and into the bright sunlight. His head – like everyone’s ticked upward to look at the sky. Blue. Cloudless. No sign of torpedoes or bombs or energy pulses raining down on their heads. A white seabird lazily wheeled above.

Diplomatic security directed people out toward the Hands of Hope Plaza. It was there that Rice spotted Starfleet uniforms, a knot of four people in what could only be Security gold.

“Excuse me,” he called out, twisting his way toward them through the ocean of people. The ensign, a chief petty officer, and two crewmen didn’t even acknowledge Rice until he nearly stood in the middle of them. “Excuse me, what’s going on?”

“Move along,” the chief petty officer, a human with more salt than pepper in his dark short-cropped hair intoned with the air of the authority. The ensign, a young man no doubt fresh from the Academy, tried not to make eye contact, so Rice focused his attention on him.

“Ensign – ”

“I said, move along,” the chief’s baritone voice ordered.

“And I’m not talking to you,” Rice snapped. He pulled a holo-identification card from his wallet and held it up. His Starfleet information appeared, hovering a couple inches above in an opaque blue card. The chief was not cowed by a lieutenant junior grade and opened his mouth to say so, but Rice cut him off, “Don’t let the rank fool you, Chief. I’ve been around. Now someone answer the question. Ensign?”

The ensign looked like he was between a rock and a hard place, eyes darting between the chief – who had obviously been ordered not to let the young officer cock this up – and Rice. He licked his lips. “Um. Don’t quite know, Sir. Um. We were told that Mars was attacked.”

“Mars?” Rice blinked back shock. “Mars! By who?”

“Don’t know, Sir. Our orders are to help clear this campus and then secure it,” the Chief rumbled, a not-so-subtle suggestion that Rice needed to move on.

He did. His pace quickening until he was nearly at a jog, slowing only when any way forward vanished in the crush of people leaving the Exterior. He didn’t know what he was running toward, but the need overtook him like the need to breath, to sleep, to eat. He had to run as if he could out run the truth.

They must have shut down the transporter pads, because the Rambla was swarming with people marching along, none sure where they were going, none sure what was going on. Rumors had begun to move through the crowd: San Francisco had been attacked. No, Paris. Paris and San Francisco. It was a coup by anti-Romulan officers in Starfleet. The Tal Shiar had blown up the Golden Gate Bridge.

Attracted like moths to a porch light, thick chains of people peeled off when the sound of view screens or holographic projectors in restaurants, bars, hotel lobbies fluttered over the group. Rice even saw people crowded around the lower windows of apartment buildings. If they couldn’t see the viewer from the window, the residents were passing along information.

Soon, the rumors became fact. Mars had been attacked by the synthetic workers who’d gone haywire. The entire First Fleet had sortied for a rescue operation and other Starfleet ships were warping in from all corners of the quadrant. Even with the armada amassing it seemed too late: the first images beamed from any remaining satellites suggested the Utopia Planitia was burning while others showed the entire atmosphere aflame.

The haze Rice was experiencing reminded him of being on Trippelt VI when it felt at any moment the Jem’Hadar battle cruisers would rain yet another orbital barrage down on their heads. Every moment felt frozen and a single minute became the rest of your life.

He marched on like a zombie, directionless and alone in a mass, when he spotted a sunflower-yellow dress. Rafaella was holding her hand up to her mouth, tears rolling down her cheeks, as she watched the viewscreen mounted on the patio above the café.

Without pondering its implications, Rice moved to her, grabbed her by the hand and led her away. They walked on together hand-in-hand until they came to a park by the shore. Only seagulls and lapwings occupied the stretch of beach. The bustling crowds had fled upon the news.

They sat together in the sand, silent, for so long that high tide creeped up to lap against their feet. A cold wind blew from the east against their backs and angry clouds blotted out the sun.

Rafaella stood, her gravity pulling Rice up, too. She grabbed his hand and they walked toward the city and into a misting rain.


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