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"WHAT IS THE REASON for this delay? Legate Valdor of Orakisa slapped the conference table, leaving a ghostly impression of his splayed palm on the formerly spotless surface. The cluster of multicolored crystal baubles at the base of his official topknot -- each one the mark of a successfully completed diplomatic mission -- chimed and jangled against each other. "This is unbearable! A deliberate insult! When we return, I will file a complaint with the Reclamation. I will not be treated in such a way by a mere--"
"Father, please." The younger Orakisan at Legate Valdor's elbow spoke in a voice so burdened with embarrassment as to be almost inaudible. His own pale silver topknot was adorned with a single, lonely crystal pendant small to the point of invisibility. "I am sure that there is a perfectly logical explanation for her absence."
"With respect, I agree with your son, Legate," Captain Picard put in. "Ambassador Lelys herself requested that we call this briefing. She would gain nothing by delaying it on purpose."
"Nothing but another chance to remind me that --" The legate's voice dropped to angry, incomprehensible mutterings. From his place directly across the table from Valdor, the android Mr. Data observed the older Orakisan's sulks and "rumblings with marked interest.
At that moment, the door to the conference room opened as Dr. Crusher entered, followed by a tall, alien woman of striking height and exotic beauty. "Sorry to be late, sir,"
Dr. Crusher said, taking the chair between the captain's and Counsellor Troi's "Ambassador Lelys made it a point to call for me in person, but just as we were about to leave, I was unavoidably detained." A mysterious smile flickeredover her lips.
"Unavoidably?" Captain Picard echoed, regarding her closely.
He preferred his mysteries solved.
Before Dr. Crusher could reply, the alien woman spoke up.
"Captain Picard, I accept full responsibility for our lateness. If you must undertake disciplinary action against anyone for the offense --"
"Madam Ambassador, I assure you that nothing was farther from my mind," Picard replied. "I only wished to know --"
"Good," the Orakisan woman cut in. "Then we can proceed.
Captain, if you please." She wore a gown that held all the brilliant shades of an Earth sunset the sleeves mere wisps of iridescent drapery secured at wrist and shoulder with sunbursts of faceted gemstones, and when she extended one slender hand bearing an information chip it was with the sinuous grace of a trained dancer.
"Certainly, Ambassador." Picard felt a momentary twinge of irritation at being interrupted, but he quickly put it aside. He inserted the chip into the control unit at his fingertips, and immediately a holographic projection of a gold, blue, green, and white planet set against a field of stars materialized in the center of the conference table.
"Ah. Skerris IV," said Mr. Data automatically.
"S'ka'rys," the ambassador corrected him. She glided to the head of the table where a chair stood empty at Captain Picard's right hand. Instead of sitting in it she passed it by in favor of the vacant seat next to the younger Orakisan male. As soon as she settled in beside him, he took an intense interest in his datapad. The crystal pendant in his hair trembled violently.
Ambassador Lelys noticed none of this. "I beg your pardon,"
she said to Mr. Data. "I did not intend to make you feel inadequate. I should not have expected you to know how the name is pronounced in the old style."
"Quite the contrary, Ambassador." Mr. Data replied. "In preparation for your arrival aboard the Enterprise, I thoroughly familiarized myself with Old Skerrian as a matter of course, as well as all variations of that language as currently spoken throughout the Skerrian daughterworlds.
As I understand it, it has become the fashion for the Reclamation colonists on S'ka'rys to adopt old-style ways as much as possible, although I must confess I fail to see a practical purpose." He cocked his head briefly to one side,
then added, "S'ka'rys. I believe that means the mother in the old language."
Ambassador Lelys inclined her head in agreement, a charming smile illuminating her face. Silky hair the color of a storm-ridden sea swept forward, clusters of crystal droplets making their own music. Like her colleagues, she too wore a topknot, but hers was the merest tuft of hair caught up in a tiny golden ring. She was not the sort of person who needed to rely on official symbols to establish her authority. "You are a credit to the Federation, Mr. Data. I am privileged to count you among our most valuable resources. With someone like you helping us, I feel certain that our mission will succeed."
"Thank you," the android replied. "However, given the nature of the problem that your colonists are facing, I would say that Dr. Beverly Crusher will be a much more valuable resource than I."
"Why do I suddenly feel like a med probe?" Dr. Crusher murmured to Counsellor Troi behind latticed fingers. The Betazoid declined to comment.
"Yes, of course," Ambassador Lelys was saying, turning the power of her smile on Dr. Crusher. "As soon as I volunteered for this mission, I made it a point to request transport by the Enterprise, chiefly because I knew you were assigned to this ship. Your reputation as a xenobiologist is extraordinary, and we may well need the extraordinary before we are done. I can not begin to tell you how unnerved I was when we were informed that you might not share this voyage with us."
Copyright © 1997 by Paramount Pictures