Posted on February 29th, 2020 by Kathryn Harper
Queen Ashexana I of the Free Fleets perched on a plush chair in Venya Kashar’s office suite on Refuge, raven curls arrayed fetchingly around her smiling alabaster visage. “Darling, I just had to come,” she began, taking a sip of tea before placing the cup and saucer on a side table as her smile faded a bit. “It would seem that not only did you ask Starfleet for help without consulting me first, you also hosted a holiday party for Atlantis. Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”
From her couch, the Orion woman smirked and sweetly answered, “Is Her Majesty upset that she didn’t receive an invitation? It’s understandable, since such a marvelous time was had by all!”
“Oh, come now, Venya. I would say that such banalities are beneath you, but we both know they are not.” Idly twirling an ebon lock around an ivory finger, she sighed and continued, “The intricacies of our relationship with the Federation are all very interesting, and I’d love to explain them to you, but I just don’t think you’re capable of grasping the true complexity of the situation.”
Years ago, in another meeting that, like this one, seemed to have been held for the sole purpose of insulting her, Ashexana had said something strikingly similar that had stuck with Venya. That day, Venya swore that Ashexana would learn the First Rule of Refuge: You Do Not Fuck With Venya Kashar. Perhaps it was time to educate her, at least if she wouldn’t stop with the condescending bullshit. “Please, Your Majesty, insult my intelligence again,” Venya mocked, hoping that Ashexana would take the bait.
“An insult? No, my dear, just a reinforcement of the natural order of things, which you would do well to remember.” Ashexana’s eyes narrowed, pools of inky darkness under the accents of her sharp, meticulously-trimmed eyebrows, and her voice dropped the air of cordiality, turning stern. “Regardless, Venya, you will not ask Starfleet for help without my approval again. Is that understood?”
Then again, Venya thought, the Second Rule of Refuge might be more applicable: If You Fuck With Refuge, You’ve Fucked With Venya Kashar. Her response was immediate and direct. “Your inaction on the matter was a threat to Refuge.”
“Ah, Refuge! Of course, the mother must fiercely protect her babies, after all. But after so many years, do I really still have to remind you of the nature of our relationship? All of this,” the Queen gestured at the opulent suite with thin fingers before affirming, “exists at my whim.”
“Does it?” Venya leaned forward, the black leather of her pants squeaking against that of the couch. “You keep telling me that, but I’m not sure that I still believe you.”
Ashexana slightly pursed her lips, their redness a stark contrast with her skin. Venya had resisted before, each prior attempt ending with her submission. This time, however, Ashe could sense something different, but perhaps it could be quelled by calling her bluff. “Well, by all means, if you aren’t sure, please go ahead and test me, Venya dear.”
“What if I do?” Venya quietly answered with an almost predatory grin. Yes, she decided, the time to make her move had finally arrived. “Do you really still think that Refuge exists at your whim? That it is not a crucial center of commerce for the Free Fleets? All of the fleets, I mean, not just yours? That the people here, and those that trade with them the most, are not more loyal to the woman who puts their welfare first?”
Ashexana perked a corner of her mouth up and retrieved the cup of tea, taking a moment to consider how best to deal with this unruly cur. Never breaking her intense stare over the cup’s rim, she sipped the tea and decided to stall for a few more seconds to think, chiding, “You should watch your tone when addressing your Queen, darling. For your own sake.”
“Proclaiming yourself to be a queen over a disparate population that defines itself by having fled various other authorities was not the smartest move. Darling.”
The Queen paused behind the cup of tea, taken aback, not from the statement itself, which was true, but that Venya had grown bold enough to voice it. It became clear to Ashexana that her usual tactics with Venya would no longer be effective, and that it was time to treat this as a business meeting rather than yet another visit to yank Venya’s leash. She took another sip of the tea and returned it to the table, then crossed her legs and stacked both hands on her knee. “Alright, Venya. What is it, exactly, that you are hoping to accomplish here?”
“The Free Fleets need Refuge as much as we need the Free Fleets. I require status and respect equal to that of any other fleet commander. The status for the public recognition, from you, and the respect so that you privately stop treating me like shit. Yes, I almost stole your ship and crew out from under you, but you also thought you were buying me as a slave for their entertainment, so I’ve little sympathy, especially since you marooned me afterwards. Regardless, Ashe, that was over a fucking decade ago! Yet here we still are, forced to deal with each other, so isn’t it about time that it was a little more pleasant?”
With a deep breath, Ashexana carefully considered her options. Perhaps she had, once again, underestimated Venya; despite her personal disdain for the Orion woman and her entire society, she had to admit that Venya had a point. She also was fully aware that Venya must have an ulterior motive, although she sensed no deception at the moment — Venya seemingly had all her cards on the table, and her hand was strong enough to go all-in.
Since Venya’s nearly-successful mutiny, Ashexana had always felt partly responsible for her, perhaps out of guilt for having fallen for her trap so many years ago, or possibly out of respect for one of the few people to have almost defeated her. It would also be much simpler to just grant Venya’s ultimately trivial demands than it would be to take Refuge by force, especially given that she wasn’t entirely certain that anyone would follow an order to attack their favorite port and its popular mistress.
Having made her decision, the smile returned to the Queen’s face. “Done! To address the first part, henceforth, you will be known as Lady Venya Kashar of the Free Port of Refuge, equal in status to the fleet commanders. Consider Refuge and its holdings to be your fleet, which you will continue to run autonomously while being aligned with the Free Fleets. As for my treatment of you… allow me to apologize, Venya. I know that you doubt my sincerity, but perhaps you will believe me as I demonstrate it in our future dealings. You’re right, of course, that it’s high time we put all that unpleasantness behind us! You’ve done well for yourself here, and it would benefit us both to work better together.”
Venya could hardly believe her ears. She didn’t trust Ashexana at all, so she naturally assumed that the Betazoid woman was playing an angle she hadn’t anticipated. Making this move took years of planning and networking, and it didn’t seem possible that it could have just simply worked this easily. Venya’s thoughts raced, creating a chaotic jumble that she knew Ashexana could sense as a weakness. After a few long seconds, a smile finally escaped from the turmoil in her mind. “Ashe… I don’t know what to say. Other than thank you.”
“Pay it no mind, my dear Lady Venya. It was long overdue anyway; Refuge is invaluable to the Free Fleets, and it is I who should thank you for that. To be honest, I must confess my gratitude that you handled our little problem by engaging Atlantis; your semi-independent status can make it so that the Free Fleets are not required to directly ask for help.” Ashexana finished her tea and offered a smile that would be mistaken as mischievous by those unacquainted with the austere Betazoid woman. “This calls for a celebration! Wouldn’t you think wine to be more appropriate than tea?”
With a sharp double clap of Venya’s hands, a shirtless well-muscled Orion man appeared with a tray containing an open bottle and two glasses, already filled with liquid gold. Neither woman trusting the other, they nevertheless raised their glasses and clinked them together with friendly smiles. After a taste, Ashe’s face brightened. “Château Picard, all the way out here, darling? Impressive, and a selection befitting the new Lady Venya Kashar!”