Winterborn and the three Quin'tel walked down the hallway and towards the conference room. Each subsequent step seemed to cause the Quin'tel to shrink more into themselves, their steps slowing.
"What can you three tell me about the previous Prime?" asked Winterborn.
Ren'brus shuddered, a wordless clicking escaping his mouth. "The Second is a...formidable Quin'tel. He is clever as he is venerable—given his age to be over three-hundred years, he is cunning indeed," Ren'brus paused briefly before continuing, "He rose to prominence in the last war with the Galactic Federation. He was a Captain of extreme skill, rising to the position of Admiral during the conflict. He was the youngest to attain that position in history, barely one-hundred twenty."
"I see," the Captain replied, "I must admit, it's odd to hear of a male in any position of authority. Though I suppose if he earned the post through merit, I can't fault it."
The Quin'tel seemed surprised as he said, "We do not place importance on gender, we have found sex to be a poor judge of individual capability in most cases."
Winterborn considered this as she palmed open the door to her conference chamber. Stepping inside she said, "I understand your position. Our position on sex related to capability is one we learned through experience within our own species. We would not presume to judge the efficacy of your species' gender dynamic."
Winterborn sat down in her chair, facing the blank monitor where the former Prime would soon be displayed. "Stand behind me, the three of you. I want him to be able to see you clearly."
They all seemed to wince, but moved to follow her order.
Pressing a button on her wrist, a communication device sounded to life, "Fallborn, patch the com-link through to my conference chambers. We are ready to proceed."
"Patching through, Sir," came Fallborn's voice in the Captain's ear.
The display activated, the wall now looking like a window into the room of the former Prime. As he came online, they saw the former Prime looking out at the Quin'tel and Winterborn as if they were rotten food served to him at dinner. With a voice which rasped like sandpaper, he spoke, "I am Sin'tel, former Prime, and current Second of the Prime Empire...You are my usurper, and the traitors who assisted them. I am not a man for platitudes or small talk, so let me be direct. The Quin'tel you have on your ship are traitors to the Prime Empire. They have endangered everything by their actions. Do. Not. Trust. Them."
Winterborn regarded the former Prime carefully, "Ren'brus, what is he talking about?"
Ren'brus took a step back, his five red arms linked together, rubbing them nervously. "We..." he gestured to the other two, "...have done what is right for the Empire. The former Prime simply disagrees with our actions..."
The elderly Quin'tel wheezed with sharp laughter, "You did what was right by handing over the Empire?! You sabotaged Empire property! You allowed yourselves to be scanned first! You delivered the Empire into the hands of a race of which we know nothing!" The Quin'tel on the screen quivered as he finished his tirade.
Val'brus stepped forward, "Our actions will light a new spark into the Empire! Under our leadership, the Empire has grown stale and stagnant. We are besieged by the Federation, we are threatened by civil war! We have never faced the kinds of internal threats we face now. We cannot survive if we continue as we have."
Winterborn looked sharply at the three aliens, steel in her voice, "We are going to have an in-depth conversation about this. Mark me," she turned to the former Prime and said, "Have they done anything which would invalidate my claim on the Empire?"
The former Prime scoffed, and said, "No. No they haven't. They've also informed nearly every species in the Empire about the events as they have occurred. We no longer have the option of assassination to make this go away. If we did, our right to rule would crash. Rebellion would cease to be a fear, it would become inevitable."
Winterborn smiled a shark-like grin, "I'm glad that's sorted out. Besides, destroying this ship would be more difficult than you think," she lost the predatory tone as she shifted gears, "Now, tell me about these troubles you're having with rebellion and the Federation. I don't want to Captain a sinking ship."
The Second began to speak, but was interrupted by Ren'brus, "The Galactic Federation is a group of species who banded together early in our history. They formed the Federation in response to the Quin-Afari accord, which cemented the existence of the Prime Empire," he paused, walking around to look Winterborn in the face, "They are one of the most consistent threats to the Empire. They constantly seek to disrupt and destroy our hold on other species."
Winterborn nodded, "Makes sense, they could claim the moral high-ground, and potentially break one of their greatest rivals in the galaxy. So this rebellion, is the Federation behind it?"
The Second looked surprised, "Well...Yes. We believe they are kindling the fire of rebellion. The few rebels we have put down are also using Galactic Federation weapons and ships. When asked, they say that they've had weapons and ships stolen by our citizens..."
"So they are ducking responsibility for arming the rebels, and helping them to destabilize your rule. I'm impressed."
Sin'tel sat, silent for a moment, "With this all in mind, do you still plan to accept the position of Prime? The position has many obligations, and the duty cannot be shirked once taken on. Do you intend to risk this?"
Ren'brus spoke up, "Be aware, Prime. If you do not accept the position, your species will default to being considered a subject species of the Empire. Very few escape the yoke of the Empire for long. Even with the trouble we are facing now."
Winterborn grew still and quiet, her mind racing at the implications of what the Ren'brus had said. This was definitely a more complex situation than she had previously thought.
"So..." she considered carefully, "if I reject the position of Prime, The Prime Empire will attempt to use that refusal as a casus belli?"
Sin'tel inclined his head forward, rocking it side to side, "That is correct under most circumstances. Under these, however, I would be able and willing to make an exception. We could say that we discovered each other at a mutual moment."
Val'brus laughed, his voice a wheeze, "This is a lie the Empire has used before. It isn't widely known, but other civilizations have been in your position before. They were either assassinated, or given this offer. Inevitably, they wind up as servants to the Empire."
The ancient Quin'tel on the screen looked harshly at Val'brus and growled, "Don't listen to the traitor, we can both record this meeting. The proof would be simple to produce. Besides, this situation is unlike any other, the Humans' claim has been broadcast to every species in the Empire. We can't quietly make this go away."
Winterborn nodded to herself slowly, taking in what the elderly Quin'tel had said. "You both make interesting points. Given the situation, I don't think I can rush to a decision. This represents a significant opportunity and risk to my people. We could use this position to leverage ourselves into a powerful force in this sector of the galaxy," she paused, breathing deeply before continuing, "This could also embroil us in what sounds like civil war, and possibly a war against The Galactic Federation."
The Second looked at Winterborn; she almost thought there was respect in his alien gaze. "Very well, take the time you need to consider. Decide soon, you cannot afford to dally," looking at the Quin'tel behind Winterborn, he scowled, teeth like interlocking razors showing, "Regardless of her decision, you three had better not be caught around honorable Quin'tel. You are hereby banished from the company of our race." Turning promptly back to Winterborn he reiterated, "Time is of the essence. While you deliberate, our Empire is floundering. Make up your mind, Human." With that, he reached forward and severed the communication.
Winterborn leaned back in her chair, running her fingers through her thick, red hair. She sighed deeply, and closed her eyes, calming herself. "You know, my ship is a research vessel, Daedalus class, built to research new forms of space travel."
Ren'brus looked at his fellows, his head cocked to the side, "Prime, I'm afraid I don't understand the point. Would you enlighten your humble servant?"
She smiled and laughed softly, "I understand, let me explain. I enrolled in the Fleet Academy in the science division—I dreamt of pushing back the veil of ignorance, furthering the cause of science. Turned out," she said, pushing the chair back, "I was more suited to command, to guiding others in doing the work which I thought of as my destiny."
She stood from her chair, the Quin'tel chittering too low for the communicator to translate. As she walked towards the door, Ren'brus called out, "We understand. To strive to be what you aren't, that is torture. You do yourself credit by following the path for which you are suited. Many of our people haven't learned this lesson yet."
They walked behind Winterborn, trailing behind her like puppies following their mother's milk. She turned her head to them as she walked and asked, "So, tell me about the ceremony to transfer power from one Prime to the other. What steps are involved? What are the pitfalls I need to look out for?"
Val'brus answered, "First, we will travel to the home world of the previous Prime, Quin'tel. When you reach the planet, you will meet with the Prime Council. A group of representatives from each Administrative Zone-"
The Captain cut in, "Are you three representatives of a zone? You do Govern twenty planets."
Ren'brus responded, "No, we are...we were minor Governors. Our Administrator oversaw the direction of a dozen Ministers of our group. They would typically be responsible for at least two-hundred worlds."
Winterborn whistled in surprise at the staggering number as Val'brus continued, "You will meet with each individually. This time is used to meet each representative, you will later decide if they are to keep their positions based on these meetings. Next, you will dine with the former Prime, there he will offer to officially become your Second."
"What exactly does a Second do?"
"A Second serves as the direct go-between for the Prime and the public. They handle public relations, organizing events, and doing other diplomatic tasks required of them by their Prime."
"Do I have to accept his offer? Can I choose someone else?" she asked.
Val'brus looked shocked at the idea, "....Yes, I suppose that you could do that. However, custom would then dictate that you behead the former Prime. Otherwise, they could represent a threat to your position, and your life."
Winterborn went slightly pale, "Well, I definitely don't want that. I suppose it may be helpful to have someone around who understands the position though, even if he is a curmudgeonly old reptile."
Coming to a stop in front of a heavy, blue door, she turned to look at the Quin'tel. "This is where you and I part ways."
Ren'brus looked concerned, "Where are you going, Prime? Is there anything we did to offend you?"
She laughed quietly, "No. It's late, and I'm exhausted. I'll call Fallborn and let her know to collect you. She'll see that quarters are made to accommodate you all. No offense, but I don't want you all in my bedroom."