Security measures aboard the Phoenix began as soon as the Minbari attache’s transport docked.
Romedel introduced himself and debriefed the command staff with the ease and efficacy most people had come to expect from the religious caste. A standard hour had barely passed by the time he finished his last-minute inquiries.
Then the call went out to the other capital ships in orbit around the Abbai homeworld. Seven shuttles came in response.
For the convenience of these guests and the sake of ship security, a section of Deck 22 was fitted as a large conference room. Visitors were able to leave their shuttles and be escorted to the meeting, limiting their transition to a few meters of corridors.
Romedel welcomed each of the visitors in turn. He met Rokunvig, the Brakiri captain, with a firm Earth-style handshake. With a curt nod to the Drazi captain, he indicated a chair at the table which the Drazi promptly took. Commander Du’Syar met the Minbari attache with a fist held proudly to his chest. All his other guests, he greeted with a slow nod of his head, the tips of his thumbs meeting and his hands overlapping in the customary welcome of the religious caste.
Pleasantries done, Romedel led them to the table and took his seat. “On the behalf of President Sheridan, Entil’zha Delenn, and Captain Hale, I welcome you to the Phoenix. Thank you all for coming. I’m sure your duties are many, but as members of the Interstellar Alliance, we must band together in these troubled times.”
“Indeed,” Rokunvig said. “I take it this meeting is re the raids on our shipping lines?”
“No, sir, I was not briefed on that issue.”
The hopeful smile on Rokunvig’s waxen, angular face fell. The Drazi captain slammed his fist into the conference table. As a murmur of dissatisfaction streamed through the conference room, Romedel caught and righted the tiny metal cone sitting at the center of the table.
“Half cycle!” the Drazi shouted. “Near half a cycle! From Alliance, nothing!”
“That will change, Captain Hyeja.” Romedel emphasized the next word by slapping his palm on the table. “Soon!” He allowed for a dramatic pause, to give the others time to re-focus. “But I don’t have that information. First, the Abbai system. We must settle things here.”
The Pak’ma’ra spoke up, his translator flickering as it worked. “What is left to settle?”
“Exactly,” Du’Syar chimed in, “the Rangers have done what they set out to do. The Abbai situation has stabilized. As the others said, we have our own problems. We only maintain a presence here as a show of solidarity.”
“Solidarity?” Romedel tapped the conical holoprojector on the table. “That is our greatest concern. More grave than any of you realize.”
The hologram of a Centauri transport leaving Abbai 4’s atmosphere rolled like a curtain into existence above the table.
Captain Heyja frowned, glancing around the table, through the hologram, before raising his gruff voice again. “Civilian ship. Not ours. Not our concern. Not even Drazi!”
“On the contrary.” Romedel pulled up the image of a portly Centauri, lavishly attired in the fashion of a successful merchant. “The ship was leaving for the Abbai 6 jumpgate several hours ago. It is registered to one Rasabo Cheys.” He looked around the room. “I take it you are all quite concerned now?”
Instead of waiting for an answer, he summoned a slideshow of spreadsheets, headers from private messages, the occasional still image. “The Rangers have just completed investigating this man, a Centauri merchant of some means. It seems that Cheys is deeply connected to a variety of criminal enterprises. Transporting contraband.”
Romedel glanced at the Gaim ambassador in its insectoid encounter suit, the snarl on the craggy-faced Grome, then the silent Pak’ma’ra. “Narcotics.”
“Slavery.” Captain Heyja sputtered, indignant, when Romedel fixed his dark eyes on him. The Hurr representative showed no emotion.
The leathery, speckled face of Commander Du’Syar was taut when the Minbari met his stern gaze. “Espionage. And graft. Sometimes in collusion with other groups, like the Thieves’ Guild. And the Zhardatu Chadi.”
Brakiri Captain Rokunvig kept his eyes on the table.
That was when they realized the Minbari had left one chair empty. As Romedel shut off the holoprojector, the door slid open. Ambassador Kalika entered and took the last seat beside him, glaring at them.
“Who else knows?” Rokunvig muttered.
“Natar Yrisha has been notified,” Kalika said. “The Marti held an emergency session to examine the evidence presented to us by the Rangers.”
The Brakiri brought his fists down on the table. As if the act has broken all remaining restraints, the others at the table started shouting epithets, threats, and explanations.
“Gentlemen!” the Minbari called. “As I said, these are trying times and we must join together. Ambassador Kalika has come with a proposition from the Natar.”
All eyes turned to her. “No charges will be announced or pressed if three conditions are met. First, you must leave government and military service. Second, make financial reparations for the social and economic damage done to our people. The Marti will send their tabulations in five standard days.” She glowered at the Hurr representative. “Third, you will release and provide transport for the Abbai taken into slavery.”
The Hurr stood up, ready to leave the table.
“At your expense!” she yelled at his back.
“Fauld,” Romedel cried, “anyone who does not agree to the Natar’s terms will be prosecuted under Interstellar Alliance law! To the fullest extent!”
Fauld stopped his charge to the door.
“And considering your current status, it seems unlikely they would provide much of a defense.”
Finally the lumbering Hurr shook his head and returned, sinking into his seat.
“This is for the good of us all,” Romedel added. “Our respective governments could turn on one another because of this, but that would leave no one to stop the raids on Alliance shipping lanes.”
Kalika nodded. “And my people are not interested in punishment, only solutions. Solutions to problems not of our making. That is all.”
Romedel reached under the table for a folder and passed hardcopies to everyone. “If you sign this agreement, no charges will be pressed, the evidence sealed to anyone except the Abbai and the Anla’shok….and the Alliance will consider this matter resolved.”
“Delenn leads the Anla’shok,” Fauld murmured. “What she knows, Sheridan will know.”
“The Rangers are the responsibility of Entil’zha Delenn and hers alone. Even the President has stipulated this. This agreement will remain in confidence.”
A few more minutes of discussion passed before they all signed the agreement. Sullen, they allowed their Ranger escorts to lead them back to the shuttlebays and left the Abbai ambassador and the Minbari attache to collect the signed documents. When they were finished, Ambassador Kalika sat back in her chair, relaxing for the first time in months, perhaps years.
Romedel bowed in farewell to her and stepped into the next room. He looked around to be sure he was alone and activated the comscreen, smiling as an elderly Minbari appeared.
“Greetings, Romedel,” the Minbari said with gentle enthusiasm. “What do you have for us?”
“Good news, Sech Turval. All interested parties have agreed to the terms. For the most part, this matter is over. Please convey Ambassador Kalika’s thanks to the Entil’zha.”
“I shall indeed. And please do the same for Captain Hale and her crew. It has been a long, hard task for them.”
Romedel smiled at Turval’s subtle hint. “I will, master.”
“Now then, what are your recommendations?”
“I would suggest the deployment of a small group to support the Abbai fleet, as Sech Durhan recommended.”
“Agreed,” Turval said. “He has already selected a White Star and two transports for the task.”
“With your permission, master,” he said with a bow to the screen, “I might inform Captain Hale that she may return to Minbar. She tells me that the Sorna’silat must be restocked immediately.”
“I believe there may some technical upgrades as well?”
“If there is time.”
“And her people can no doubt use some rest.”
Turval’s smile was tinged with bitter irony. “If there is time.”