Ambassador Rosenberg sat across from his Batarian counterpart - the eerily lit, nondescript room doing little to ease the tension. The 12 by 12 chamber was adorned with nothing more than a single metal table, two chairs upon which the ambassadors occupied, and a low light source emanating from the center ceiling. The room seemed more fitting for an interrogation cell than a meeting between two ambassadors. It was hardly what Rosenberg would consider a 'warm welcome' in hospitality.
Perhaps that's the point. If this was a subterfuge attempt to intimidate the Batarian Ambassador, it obviously wasn't working. Kiln'Ikka - who was a full foot taller than Rosenberg - towered over him, all four eyes intently boring into his with something akin to disgust or indifference; as if he were looking down upon an inferior being who dared enter his presence. Based on personality and psychological profiles gathered by the United Nations Intelligence Service, Rosenberg knew Ambassador Ikka to be an impatient and shrewd negotiator - oftentimes using brute force negotiation tactics to achieve his goals. Perhaps such an extreme diplomatic gamesmanship was necessary for the Hegemony, who for the past 200 years have become more accustomed to negotiating with unstable Terminus powers and warlords than legitimate governments. At any rate, Rosenberg knew enough not to underestimate him.
Deciding to end the silence that had enveloped them, Rosenberg opened the single large folder in front of him and began to make his prepared remarks. "Ambassador Ikka, first I want to thank you for coming here…"
Ikka was having none of it. "Save your breath Ambassador, I have neither the time nor the patience for political smooth talking or pretend gratitude. It serves no purpose. We both know why we are here; to deal with the increased Alliance interference into our borders. So, are we going to talk business or sully in games?"
And there was that Batarian strong-arming. Rosenberg's face remained neutral, although he internally frowned. Not a few seconds in and already Ikka had made an effort to take the initiative. He silently berated himself for treating the Batarian Ambassador as if he were a council representative. If he were speaking to an Asari or Salarian, there would be protocol to be followed, concessions to be made, and perhaps a little double talking and the occasional hand-wringing from both sides. But in the end, the negotiations would always remain professional and respectful - even in relationships as constrained as the Turians. But Ambassador Ikka had already tossed traditional diplomacy out of the window. Realizing that a continuity of standard negotiations wasn't going to win any points with the Ambassador, Rosenberg gently closed his folder and placed his hands on the desk.
"Fair enough" Rosenberg replied. "Let's get straight to the heart of the matter - colonization rights concerning the Skyllian Verge. As you are no doubt aware, much of the Verge was gifted as concessions to humanity following the First Contact War, and has since then…"
Once again, Ikka's impatient side won over, much to Rosenberg's annoyance. "A concession that the Council had no right to give" he interrupted. "The Verge was unclaimed territory - territory that the Hegemony has spent well over a century colonizing. You or your Council rulers had no right to claim what is rightfully ours!" he said while leaning forward, attempting to use his height advantage in a not-so-subtle way to intimidate his human counterpart.
Rosenberg was unfazed. "If the Verge was truly unclaimed territory, as your government so vehemently argues, then why wait so long to make claims to it?" Ikka squint all four eyes, and Rosenberg knew he hit a nerve. "You had nearly two century's to do so - well before my kind even had starships. Tell me Ambassador, why did the Hegemony not claim the entire Verge for itself when the opportunity presented itself?"
Ikka leaned back, and for the first time took a less confrontational tone. "There were…issues, concerning other inhabitants within the Verge - and to an extent the greater Traverse."
Rosenberg pressed on. "Issues? Yes, I would say there were definitely issues. That's because the Verge may have been unclaimed, but it wasn't unoccupied, was it Ambassador." A dark, perhaps uncomfortable expression crossed Ikka's face, and Rosenberg went on to remind the Ambassador that he was more than capable of doing some strong-arming of his own. "Hundreds of millions of people live in the independent worlds of the Verge - the vast majority of them coming from the Council races. And as I'm sure you are aware, these people are slightly less sympathetic to your 'cultural heritage'. In fact, from what I gather, the people of the Traverse overwhelmingly wish to never see the Hegemony's influence anywhere near their worlds." Ikka's dark expression turned to a grimace, and Rosenberg continued. "You couldn't claim the Verge, could you Ambassador. The people of the Verge wouldn't allow it. And attempting to take it by force would not only result in massive uprisings, but would probably cause the Council to intervene."
Ikka responded in barely contained rage. "Their unfounded prejudice against our culture has nothing to do with…"
It was Rosenberg's turn to interrupt. "On the contrary, while the people of the Traverse have rejected both your government and your culture, they have welcomed us with open arms. In two centuries the worlds of the Traverse had never allowed a single Batarian military vessel into their systems, yet in just a little over a decade they not only give us permission to send fleets through their systems, but allow us to station military posts around and even on their worlds." Ikka once again gave Rosenberg a menacing look - the military posts and fleets were a sticking point to the Batarians. "They've allowed humans to freely colonize in their worlds, whereas the Batarians have been rejected time and time again. Human companies are highly sought after for trade and investment, whereas they want nothing to do with the slave-supported Batarian economy." Rosenberg grinned.
And then got petty.
"The Asari want humans as bondmates and lovers, whereas they balk in disgust at the mere sight of a Batarian- "
"How dare you insult my people like that!" Ikka said while pointing a finger towards Rosenberg. He shot up from his chair, no longer able to contain his rage. The normally collected Ambassador was almost seething. "Not only do you attempt to steal our land, but you spit on our culture and mock our people. The Hegemony will not stand for this indiscretion!"
Rosenberg's neutral face never changed. "I merely state the facts Ambassador. Despite what so many believe, this is not a territorial dispute. Not really. It's actually something else entirely. This is a culture war - a war in which we overwhelmingly won."
Ikka leveled all four eyes at his human counterpart, and for a brief moment Rosenberg thought the Batarian was actually going to attack him. Instead he placed his hands on the table and leaned forward, his face the very definition of hostility. "If you think, for one second, that the Hegemony will give up the Verge, then you have vastly underestimated my species."
The two shared an intense glare, neither willing to back down. Rosenberg suspected that much of Ikka's anger came from the shock that someone had dared to challenge him. Realizing that perhaps he had pushed Ikka a little too far, Rosenberg decided to steer the conversation back to the main purpose of this meeting. "No Ambassador, I don't expect the Hegemony to give up any of their already claimed territory in the Verge." Rosenberg responded. "However, I think it's time that the Hegemony must come to accept that their dream of completely controlling the Verge simply isn't going to happen. Both our people will not willingly give up any territory. You and I know this. And after we both come to accept this fact, we will find that there is truly only one way out of this mess. Which is why my government has developed a compromise I think we both can live with."
If there was any indication in Ikka's expression that signified he believed there could be an acceptable compromise, Rosenberg didn't see it. Yet despite this Ikka slowly sat down, indicating he was at the very least willing to listen to the proposal. "I will hear what you have to say, for now."
Rosenberg nodded, and then opened the folder sitting in front of him. "The United Nations Systems Alliance is willing to halt all further expansion into the Verge - other than the worlds we have already begun to colonize. We are also willing to relinquish all rights to the worlds of Sialajara, Terlla, and Moherzzic."
Ikka squinted his lower eye set - the Batarian equivalent of a raised brow - at the mention of three worlds the Alliance was willing to give up. Particularly Sialajara - a vastly resource-rich world discovered a decade ago, and was at the center of the territorial disputes. The planet would be an incredible windfall to anyone who claimed it - which is why both the Hegemony and Alliance sought to control it. But Ikka was no fool. He knew that if the humans were willing to give up Sialajara, as well as halt all of their advancements into the Verge, they would be making steep demands in return. "What is it you wish in return?"
"We only have two concessions" Rosenberg replied. He listed off the first and most easily acceptable concession to the Batarian. "First, that the Hegemony actively suppresses all slaver runs within the Alliance controlled sphere of the Verge." Rosenberg, seeing no obvious sign of objection other than calm contemplation, continued. "Second, that the Hegemony outlaws all non-Batarian slaves within the Verge." Rosenberg paused for a brief moment, before saying what he knew would put Ambassador Ikka in fits of rage. "And that any Traverse citizen captured into slavery - human or otherwise - is to be unconditionally released back to their respective governments." Upon this last concession the Ambassador instantly scowled in anger.
"And now you demand we give up our cultural heritage!" he shouted, all but losing himself in self-righteous rage. "You can forget your pathetic proposal. The Hegemony will never do such a thing."
"This term is non-negotiable" Rosenberg replied firmly.
Ikka once again shot up from his chair, this time so fast that the chair tipped over. "Then there will be no negotiations. I warned you not to waste my time. I promise you, the Alliance will pay dearly for this mockery!" And with that, the Ambassador stormed out of the room to where his two personal guards were waiting.
The door closed behind Ambassador Ikka, leaving Rosenberg in silence. Instead of getting up, he spent a few moments collecting himself, contemplating the consequences of what just happened. Normally, this would have been seen as a diplomatic failure - and will certainly be described as much in news networks across the galaxy. But this wasn't one of those 'normal times'. The United Nations Alliance was unwilling to stop its expansion into the Verge, and never - for a second - considered giving up Sialajara. In truth, the entire proposal - the entire diplomatic meeting - was a farce; A ploy in the great game of propaganda. The key, Rosenberg's superiors told him - was in that last concession. By demanding that the Hegemony return not just humans - but all non-Batarian slaves in the Traverse back to their respective governments - humanity would win huge political points with the other races, further solidifying the Alliance's ever increasing grasp into the region. We tried to reason with them, the Alliance would say. We even offered to stop all human expansion and give up valuable worlds. And all we asked in return was that they return non-Batarian slaves back to their weeping families, even though in reality the Alliance had no intention of ever solidifying the deal. Rosenberg knew it was a clever plan, and would no doubt help win the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of the Traverse. It would shift the paradigm in humanity's favor. Aliens would no longer look at it as a 'human vs. Batarian' problem, but instead as an 'us vs. them' problem - with the Batarians being in the unenviable position of 'them'.
But Rosenberg also knew that this ploy came with great risks. Most notably, further confrontation with the Hegemony and increased slaver attacks. Was it worth the risk? Rosenberg wasn't so sure. Still, he was told to ensure that the Batarian Ambassador would reject the proposal of his own volition, and he did just that. Now it was time see how everything fell into place.
Two months later
Tarjah stood in the CIC of his new ship - prosperously given to him by the Hegemony. The outdated Turian Cruiser - which had been gutted and sold to the highest bidder 40 years ago, had been re-modified and upgraded into an effective fighting force. Well, upgraded as much as it could be. Tarjah knew that if faced off against any modern military ship of similar tonnage, he would most certainly lose. The Hegemony could have of course provided modern ships of its navy that would easily crush the humans. But they didn't want any evidence linking them to the attack. Not that Tarjah was much concerned about his ship's outdated stature. Because in the upcoming battle he would have something that the humans didn't - numbers.
"Bring up the tactical display" he said to one of his subordinates. Immediately the hologram in front of him displayed his entire attacking fleet. It was beautiful. Thirty-eight ships in total - nearly twice that of the defending human forces they were about to engage. It was by far the largest pirate fleet in history. They had managed to unite every major slaver and pirate group in the Traverse, bringing in dozens of ships and thousands of soldiers who wanted nothing more than to strike fear in the heart of the Alliance. Everyone present here had their own reasons for wanting to attack the Alliance. The humans had burrowed themselves into a deep, in-escapable hole - and now they were going to pay for it.
"Lord Tarjah" his communications officer said. "I have a priority transmission on our secure frequency. Sending it to your Omni-tool now".
Tarjah typed a few commands on his Omni-tool and was soon greeted with a familiar face.
"I assume your forces are ready for immediate engagement?" Ambassador Kiln'Ikka asked him.
"We've been ready" Tarjah replied. "Every moment we waste waiting for approval to commence attack is a moment we risk being discovered."
"You mustn't wait any longer. You are hereby authorized to engage enemy forces." Tarjah smiled at this. Finally, after so long a wait, after so many months of preparation, the time had come. "Remember, your objective is to devastate the colony as much as possible as quickly as possible, and then leave. The less time you spend on the colony, the less chance there is of evidence linking the attack back to the Hegemony."
"We are more than capable of destroying their patrol fleet" Tarjah responded.
"Perhaps, but as soon as you enter the system they will send reinforcement to the area. You'll have a few hours before those reinforcements arrive. When they do, I suggest you leave with haste."
Tarjah tilted his head to the left in respect. "I understand. Don't worry, in those few hours I will make the humans wish they had never left their homeworld."
Ikka tilted his head left in return, and then disconnected. Tarjah wasted no time giving out his next orders. "Put me in communication with the entire fleet" he ordered his comms officer.
"You're now connected with all ships."
"Attention all vessels" Tarjah began. "The wait is over, the time has come. This will be remembered as the day we struck fear into the Alliance - the day our enemies trembled before us. Today, we will exact our revenge against those who have stood against us."
This will be a glorious day for the Hegemony.
"All ships, head for Elysium."