?"That's new," Khan commented. While he had fans who were very vocal about their admiration for him, those rumors had never come from specific factions.
Khan didn't add details to his statement, but Amy saw right through him, and her response addressed his doubts. "Your career is quite inspiring, Major. You went from scout to Ambassador in less than a year. That's every scout's goal."
Khan couldn't help but grow warier. Amy's insight into Khan's situation vouched for her instincts, confirming the rumors around her. She didn't need to stop and think to understand Khan's situation. She had immediately delivered the right reply without needing additional explanations.
Moreover, Amy's reply disclosed details Khan was unaware of. Yet, they made sense when he thought about it. Scouts were famously inferior to Ambassadors, and many struggled their entire lives only to fail to jump into that superior field. Instead, Khan had succeeded in no time, even if the official title was still missing.
The additional fame was justified, but the revelation created new worries. Khan knew preventing rumors was a hopeless endeavor, but they sounded more detailed than he expected and also involved specialized fields. The word "classified" seemed meaningless in the Global Army.
That wasn't the end of it. Khan glanced past the main deck, looking at the cargo area and the soldiers roaming through it. The mission on Baoway was supposedly classified, but Khan could count dozens of potential leaks.
Amy read Khan's mind once again. She didn't even examine the cargo area before addressing Khan's concerns. "The Global Army is enforcing a strict policy on this mission. Even the private businesses won't share any information until official authorizations arrive."
The news was surprising and odd. The Global Army had the authority to control the flow of information, especially regarding interspecies issues. However, they didn't enforce it when Khan replaced Ambassador Abores.
Moreover, Khan could immediately find problems with it. The strict policy would prevent many parties from receiving updates about Baoway's mission, leaving Khan without allies if something were to happen.
Khan's thoughts accelerated, reviewing that conflicting situation in a few seconds. There was no fixed pattern in the flow of information. It could become public knowledge or remain hidden depending on the Global Army's leaders' whims, and Khan couldn't let them have all the power.
If something truly were to happen on Baoway, Khan needed a lifeline, a backup plan that could interfere with any trap. Still, the list of allies strong enough to go against his potential enemies was short.
After short pondering, Khan could only think of three names. Rick's faction might help, the Solodrey family would be on his side, and Hyper-Privacy could spread specific information to useful parties if everything fell apart.
Of course, those allies would become useless if the nobles intervened, but that was the worst-case scenario. Ambassador Abores' allies, the criminal organizations, and other inferior parties would be manageable if Khan planned accordingly.
"Baoway sounds pretty hot," Khan commented, making a mental note to contact his three allies. "Too hot for a simple interspecies mission."
Khan's comment left no room for interpretation. Everyone understood what he truly meant. The Global Army's strict policy, experienced team, and outstanding gear were too much for a species wielding wooden spears and slings. There seemed to be something bigger at play.
"First contacts are often like this," Celeste explained. "Our priority over the Thilku Empire is also to blame. The Global Army needs this mission to be a clear success."
'Am I overthinking this?' Khan wondered after his senses confirmed Celeste's trust in her explanation.
Khan had been on the other side of those matters. For example, the public learned about Nitis' events only when the Global Army gave its approval. Khan also recalled his time as a simple soldier when gathering classified information was straight-up impossible. That was one of the reasons why he had focused on his career in the end.
'Am I being too paranoid?' Khan thought but couldn't find reliable answers. It was hard to understand when his paranoia went too far, and only time could prove him right or wrong. Until then, he had to rely on Monica for a second opinion.
Being clueless was annoying. The last period had been a mess of conflicting information and events, and Khan didn't know where to find clear answers. Preparing for everything was his only option, but his patience was running dry. He preferred facing danger head-on rather than waiting for unknown threats to arrive.
The team's apparent earnestness only aggravated that problem. Khan's senses couldn't find any fault in his companions. They appeared like proper specialists with nothing but the mission in mind, leaving Khan clueless about where the danger lay. He couldn't even confirm whether it existed in the first place.
"Major," Randall eventually called, distracting Khan from his short pondering. "I took the liberty of drawing a basic strategy, but everything is flexible. I wanted the loading process to be more advanced before calling a meeting, but you can take a look at it beforehand."
The offer piqued Khan's curiosity, and he let it show on his face, which made Randall smile. The man seemed pleased about that interest and didn't hesitate to point at one of the consoles near the pilot's seats.
Khan followed Randall, who tinkered with the console's menus to open a small file. A short but detailed schedule popped into the air, allowing both men to review it.
"Did you use historical records to write it?" Khan asked after skimming through the schedule.
"Yes, sir," Randall confirmed. "I received special clearance for this mission, so I studied as much as the Global Army had to offer."
Khan could only nod. As part of his catch-up process with Ambassador Abores' preparation, he also gained access to and studied those subjects. That knowledge told him that Randall had done an excellent job.
The standard first-contact approach consisted of no physical interactions. Initially, the political envoy only had to settle on the planet without disturbing anyone's domain while still notifying the aliens about its presence.
The second step consisted mostly of gifts. The political envoy would periodically leave goods, ideally food, where the aliens could find them. That could continue for a while, and the aliens' reaction would determine the next move.
Apparently, the first step had already happened, although only partially. The Scalqa had noticed the human presence during the previous short trips. The event had been without interactions but complicated things nonetheless.
For that exact reason, Randall had planned a slight show of force. He planned to land the ship close enough to allow the Scalqa to witness the event. He didn't want the aliens to see it as a threat but still desired to show humankind's technological prowess.
The idea was to warn the Scalqa about the difference in power to achieve peaceful cohabitation, which was more than sound. However, it was also a gamble since it took the aliens' fear of the ship for granted.
'It's risky,' Khan thought.
Based solely on the pictures and scarce reports, Khan guessed that the Scalqa were a battle race similar to the Ef'i. He could be wrong, but the primitive weapons and those huge muscles were two big hints he couldn't ignore.
Showing superior technological prowess to a battle race could be the right move, but only if they recognized that equipment. The Scalqa could very well ignore the ship's intrinsic meaning and opt for a frontal assault.
"The Scalqa are split into tribes, right?" Khan questioned.
"From what the first explorers could gather," Randall confirmed. "It's unclear how, how often, and if they communicate with each other."
"It will be fine then," Khan stated. "If the first tribe chooses war, we can always move to the next."
"Do you expect resistance, sir?" Randall asked.
"We are invaders," Khan declared. "I expect them to treat us as such."
The main deck area was spacious but not spacious enough to hide Khan's words. Celeste, Amy, and even Marcus heard him, and a sense of seriousness inevitably spread.
"Major," Celeste called, lifting her eyes from the holograms. "I accepted the invitation due to the peaceful nature of the mission. I have no intentions of witnessing a bloodbath."
"Fleeing at the first sight of enmity would show weakness," Khan commented. "Once that idea is rooted into the Scalqa, it will be harder to interact on equal terms."
Randall, Celeste, and Amy noticed that Khan's behavior had grown softer. Although a strange intensity still surrounded him, his curiosity made him more cooperative. He couldn't help but enjoy discussing the topic with fellow experts.
"I thought you would have suggested a third option," Celeste continued, "Considering your history."
"Are you accusing me of being partial toward alien species?" Khan questioned, his tone aggravating the widespread tension.
Khan pointed his eyes at Celeste, and the latter shuddered. Still, she did her best to remain straight before uttering a single line. "I hoped as much."
The tension became palpable. Randall held back a gulp, Marcus felt frozen on the spot, and Amy's eyes darted left and right as she inspected the two combatants. Celeste was openly challenging Khan, and that wasn't even her first time.
"That will depend," Khan said, surprising the audience with his calm tone. "I also hope meeting me will be enough to make them lower their weapons."
Frowns spread through the area, with Amy being the only exception. That was the most arrogant thing Khan had said since his arrival in the hangar, but his tone had changed. He didn't mean it as a threat, and his tone carried no pride. He had made it sound like the most basic truth of the universe.