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JL | Lt Merlin, Empress Xue'Daio | "Iron Before Bronze"

Posted on Sun Nov 26th, 2017 @ 6:27am by Xue'Daio Nox Tr'Verelan & Commander Evan Merlin

Mission: The Round Table

Stepping out upon the promenade, Xue was no less aware of the eyes upon her than she was the fact she was breathing. It was hard to miss. The assault of scents wafting through her olfactory glands was enough to leave her feeling nauseous at first with everything from Klingon to Terran fare and body odor all coming to assault her as one magnanimous slap to her pixie-ish face. It was a drastic change from the last time she'd stepped foot on the station - it had been quieter then, perhaps even lonely, but that felt like ages ago.

It had been two and a half years.

With a roll of her bright rose eyes, the Albino drew a deep breath and settled herself, steeling away her senses and choosing to ignore the insanity spaced out all around her - at least for the interim. The fact so many had flocked to this location, so close to the border of Ascendancy territory, was of great interest and great concern. The lawlessness of the sector was of no secret. For millennia her people had battled with raiders and pirates, often luring the less savory to their deaths deep in the nebula - but never had they been foolish enough to visit the bits that had swallowed the Vindicator whole. Bydem'minear lacta’ligunaï. Broken space. A place too violent for even the Ferengi to try and exploit - and yet the Federation had charged in without thought or care, likely against Si'a Daixun's recommendation. A sigh left her lips, barely parted, and with an errant flick of her wrist she rid herself of her guards - hulking members of the Ascendancy's fabled Makta caste that once more blended with the shadows, obediently allowing their snowy regent to step away and into the melting pot.

He walked over the Promenade not all that far away from from where Xue had just dismissed her escort and looked around with great interest. The crowd on the station utterly amazed him. Nominally, the station was still operating under a skeleton crew, but with the increase in size, the number of people present had grown as well. And it was slowly changing into a local hub, which meant that instead of only bored Starfleet personnel patiently counting days, weeks and years until retirement, there were all kinds of people on the station these days. The Promenade had been an open corridor with locked areas and walled-off partitions. Now the single deck was tripled in size and formed the heart of the civilian area of the station, with shops, bars and restaurants and even a beauty parlor.

As he strolled along, something seemed to tug at his attention. He had learned long ago not to ignore those tiny tugs, so he turned and looked into the direction where ghost fingers had tapped directly onto his soul. It was not hard to see what had drawn his attention: the sheer amount of power concentrated in one delicate package stood out. The greater miracle was, he thought, that nobody else seemed to perceive it. People walked by, brushed past her with a murmured apology. They did often turn back for a second look, but it was clear that those looks were for her ethereal appearance, not for any of the deeper layers.

How fascinating!

He strolled over to her, calmly, still taking in not only her presence (though the sheer weight of power was hard to ignore) but everything else around him: a Klingon arguing with a Ferengi where, amazingly, the Ferengi actually stood his ground; an Orion woman flirting with a Bajoran in monk robes, two Bynar who seemed to be talking with a computer core. As he came nearer, he felt several sets of eyes watching him. He turned his head to pick them out and gave each of them a friendly wave.

Soft silks had caught the Empress's attention, calling to her more feminine sensitivities as she weighed each fabric and considered their color and merit. The seller claimed they were created from Minutian silk bats, hand dyed and carefully pressed by young monks learning patience and virtue. "And yet they support vice. Profit. Vanity." Xue chuckled, leveling her floral colored irises with those of the Minutian who, she decided, was most definitely not a monk or a sherpa. Minat, while beautiful, was filled with beggars and thieves. A planet that was barely larger than the average moon, it boasted an intriguing ecology that had always interested Stenellian scholars and now they were producing textiles. It was worthy of note and worthy of purchase. A full bolt of lavender silk was ordered to be delivered to her suite along with a second bolt of silver and a third of white - a display of power and wealth that certainly wouldn't go unnoticed in a place like Cold Station Theta, and Xue could feel the electric thrill of being watched, perhaps a bit lasciviously, arc down the dainty line of her spine from nape to coccyx.

One part of eyes, however, stood out against the others. It was fascination, curiosity, and nothing more. They didn't seem to care about whatever money she held or anything beyond the actual nature of her appearance and self-carriage. It was to those eyes that she turned, the billowed gathering of her wintry hair swaying in it's binds of pearls and soft peach hued coral horns, and when she saw him she knew him for what he was and for what he wasn't. He wasn't human. He wasn't from there, but in many ways he belonged.

And so she stood, catching his eyes with hers and standing in all her glory as if to challenge his sense of curiosity and the level the playing field with her own dominant nature. Friend or foe, he'd learn quickly that the Ascendancy feared nothing and no one - especially not his kind.

And he smiled, not in challenge or superiority, nor in a deferential way. There was indeed curiosity in his eyes, and a sense of playfulness, a childlike enthusiasm overlaying something so far deeper that he might not even be aware of it himself. He strolled over, gave a courteous nod just short of a bow, acknowledging her position without humbling himself. He began to speak in such a casual voice that he seemed to just resume a conversation which had been going on for awhile. "What amazes me," he said quietly, looking from Xue to the crowd around them and back, "is that people do not spin and revolve around you like the planets do around a sun. Barring your retinue, of course," he added with a smile. "But the general population here does not, oddly enough."

"Just as well," She replied with a tip of her jaw. His height compared to hers demanded she look up at him, but given the sense of joie de vivre chiming in the silken richness of his voice, she felt no need to deny him his day in her court. "To have them do so would become tiresome and make life difficult. Unfortunately they won't remain ignorant of who and what I am for much longer." The albino sighed, watching as a Horta slid woefully past, muttering about life as they often do, "It's worth it, though, in the long run."

The man gave an easy shrug. "And you are the only one who can determine whether the price of, ah, your certain kind of fame is too high or not." Some of the smile faded. "You do seem saddened by the prospect, though, in the near future." He tucked an errant curl which had escaped from the band which held his hair together in the back of his neck back behind his ear, then clasped his hands behind his back.

A silvery brow raised in response, "Is it wrong to value privacy and quiet? The Stenellis have gone for millennia without being disturbed and now..." She gestured towards the commotion all around her, the sights, the smells, the people, "All at our door step and it's up to me to decide how we truly feel about this." Her smile was wry as she turned back to study his face, "Do we celebrate and embrace the same cultures we've kept at arm's length for sake of trade, or do we find their growing masses to be a threat? The Federation is here. They're not going anywhere unless something awful were to come to pass, but I cannot foresee that happening."

"They've been here for decades," he remarked. "Sixty people at most in a space station which was perpetually two rolls of duct tape and a jar of glue from falling apart. You must've been aware of the Federation well before they even knew your people existed. So, yes, I see your dilemma…" He smiled his easy smile again. "But I was under the impression that you were not using a royal 'we', but speaking about your people in general. Do you always have to place the common good above your own personal thoughts and feelings? Are these stolen minutes where people do not see what you represent, but see who you are, the only moments you have to be – you?" The smile was diminishing as he spoke, and by the time he finished it was gone altogether, and he looked at her gravely. The sound of the crowd around them faded in the distance, just for now.

"They have been." She nodded in agreement, "But not in the insistence or consistency that they now are." Of course that was much due in part to her late mother's psychosis and the fact she'd chosen to listen to a Romulan madman in his attempt to lure the Vindicator to their doom like sheep to the slaughter. Her death had been, perhaps, the best thing to happen to the species in quite some time - and such a thought was unapologetic given to how it had left a young girl to assume the throne... And still, as inexperienced and wet behind the ears as she had been, she was a better leader than Psy'Daio before her. "I ruler is only as good as their subjects and one reaps what they sow. Were I to be anything less than what I am, the situation could be very different." She shrugged, choosing the diplomatic answer to what she perceived was a very personal question.

"Now that's a very interesting statement." Suddenly, she had his full attention. His sea-colored eyes locked with her own, and something inside them seemed to shift. He was not probing into her, but – was he inviting her in? Actually showing a deeper layer than the childlike, bouncy surface one? "So you're saying a ruler can be worse than the people they are supposed to serve, but never better? That's a rather bleak view, isn't it?"

"Depends on how you view the people," She countered, lifting her chin ever so slightly higher as she considered those layers and the entry way down the rabbit hole as it were. Vaguely she was aware of Vokar's teachings and warnings humming at the back of her head. "The people are a direct barometer of their ruler. The happier they are, the better the ruler. It should be seen as a compliment, though there are some that have complete disregard for those they serve."

"So a ruler can drag their people down," he replied, nodding slightly. "But can it not be the other way around? A ruler inspiring their people to greatness? Or one influential person? Kahless for the Klingons, Surak for the Vulcans. Even humans have had several historical people which have inspired large parts of their population."

She shrugged, a soft, dismissive motion, "I suppose, but I generally believe that the people, with their needs met and hopefully exceeded, are inspiration to the hand that guides them." The press of him was becoming more insistent, more encouraging and the Albino briefly wondering if he'd been sent to find her or if the meeting was truly by the design of providence itself. "How foolish would one be to mistake a ruler for a God?"

He began to talk slowly, the colour of his eyes gradually deepened as he spoke, from the turquoise blue of a shallow sea to the deep midnight blue of ocean depths. "That tells more about the people than about the ruler. If someone is charismatic enough, promises enough and even manages to deliver upon a few of those promises, if they tell people what they wish to hear, make them feel special and stand out, then it's easy to believe that their ruler is a God and that they are the chosen ones. The faithful. The honoured ones. They'd do everything to perpetrate that dream, because to deny a part of it is to deny their own self-worth, is to realise that they are not special, not chosen, that their suffering is in fact meaningless-" He cut himself short with an abrupt jerk of his head, sighed. "In short," he said after a slight cough, "quite foolish indeed."

"Indeed." Xue replied, slowly drifting off to where the glitter of hair baubles drew her eye. She knew he'd follow, knew he'd persist, but the conversation was beginning to grow stale and her tolerance for it spread thin and transparent. "Federation history, especially the Human aspect of it, is filled with several characters... However... The people are powerful, should they choose to be sheep then they allow a wolf to dictate."

"Perhaps," he murmured with another of those easy shrugs. "Your experience exceeds mine, as far as I'm aware." He glanced around, noticed that her retinue had begun to move forward, ready to intervene the moment she would signal she'd had enough of the conversation or of him. On the one hand, she seemed to be luring him on. On the other, the way she looked away from him, the way she held herself, seemed to indicate that she was ready to move away. To follow or to stay? Dilemma, dilemma. He chose to stay.

Leaning against a bulkhead, from where he could see part of the promenade, as well as Xue and several of her guards, he remarked: "Still, remarkably useful animals, sheep. Wool and felt and leather and food. Whereas a wolf can make a nice rug and not much more." It was still within her hearing range, yet far enough away that she could choose to ignore it, should she wish. Absentmindedly, he pulled the small pendant out and began to play with it.

"Depends on how you view them. I for one would rather tend to my flock than consider slaughtering them." The Albino nodded to her retinue, watching as they wordlessly came to flank her and chaperone her through the crowds without another word to the strange Lieutenant... Her mind, however, lingered on him - and would for some time to come.


Lieutenant Evan Merlin
Chief Strategic Operations Officer

Empress Xue'Daio Nox
Queen of Apsha
Ruler of Aleine
Stenellian Ascendancy


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