“I have never, never in all my life,” she was screaming, since if one is really going to be so foolish as to yell at a bunch of Nausicaans, one might as well do so at the top of one’s lungs, as it won’t really make much of a difference in their reaction, “and I mean never, run up against such a group of uncouth, arrogant brutes! Finding loud fault with the dishes and talking to me about it as if it were my fault, ‘accidently’ tripping my outfit tails and laughing at me, and if that’s a sexual advance I can tell you right now none of you are ever going to touch me-”
Whatever else they had done wrong the crowd of goggling onlookers who had leant the foolish female their eyes and ears never found out, because by this time the leader of the group of Nausicaans had gotten up, and now yelled, “I’ll touch you!” and whacked her so hard against the face she fell over. “And then I’ll touch you again!”
“Touch” probably wasn’t a good verb to apply to the way he was pummeling her, with the others joining in while crowd gasped and yelled. On the other side of the bar, a pale female in a blue Starfleet uniform top that exactly matched her hair color stood up and tried to fight her way past her fellow patrons.
She didn’t make much progress, but one inhabitant of Deep Space 9 had the ability to get quickly through any crowd he pleased, and within moments Constable Odo was pulling the Nausicaans off the Dabo girl, winding his extended arms around them multiple times. A few minutes later he had escorted them out with the aid of his deputies, and Nurse Kolana Mincet was carefully ignoring him, as she always did at times like this.
She was trying to examine Storm without injuring her further. When even brushing her fingers against a seemingly undamaged bit of pale green skin caused the delicate Nissian to cringe back she made an observation of the tricorder data and tapped her combadge. “Mincet to Engineering. I need a site-to-site transport. Lock onto my signal and the Nissian’s and beam us both to the Infirmary.”
Engineering did their job well. Storm materialized right on the biobed where she lay without responding at all to her change of location. It was a great relief to see her eyes follow Kolana as she moved about the Infirmary, and hear her ask about the tricorder’s verdict.
“A good deal of internal bleeding, but you were lucky. Why did you go off at the Nausicaans?”
“You would have too, if they’d treated you the way they treated me. I can’t stand the males of big and bulky races. Always puffed up with their own physical power.” She smiled wanly at Kolana. “We, the delicate females of the galaxy, ought to understand each other.”
Actually, Kolana Mincet could easily have taken down twice the number of Nausicaans that Storm had confronted. But there was no way for the innocent Dabo girl to know that. Kolana’s species had evolved in one hemisphere of a tidally locked planet, and so could survive in conditions dark and cold enough to kill most other species, but physically they weren’t very strong or tough, especially in hotter, brighter Class-M conditions.
“Speaking of which, isn’t it about time for you to recharge that implant of yours?”
“It can wait a few minutes. It would have had I had to walk here.” She had set to work by now healing the internal bleeding. Under her instruments the surface bruises also disappeared. “I’ve survived a surprising amount of time with it depleted.” She wasn’t about to mention how long, or that it had been for training purposes.
“Can’t be very comfortable though, can it?”
“No,” Kolana admitted, smiling. Because her biology was adapted to survive in a sunless environment, the implant in her back was there to regulate her body temperature and keep the heat from hurting her. It had to be recharged every 52 hours or so.
She would, that day, have preferred to be alone in the Infirmary during the recharging process, but she was getting the feeling Storm wouldn’t care to leave, and she made it her policy to never ask to be left alone. It would be too tempting to ask often enough for people to get curious, or worse, suspicious.
Even as it was, Storm looked at her with a sort of awe. Of course, Storm looked at many Starfleet officers with a sort of awe.
“There. You’re done. Avoid strenuous activity for a few hours, and, oh yes, try not to get into arguments with any more Nausicaans. I’m recharging.”
Lazily Storm pulled herself up, shaking her blond hair over and about her shoulders as a reflex action. She was one of those people who without even thinking about it shaped her behavior to make herself as alluring as possible to the opposite sex. There was no denying that she was alluring, with her pale green skin, silken hair, and dark, dark eyes. Good limbs too, as the Dabo girl outfit made very obvious.
Kolana’s recharging station had been installed fairly seamlessly into the infirmary’s decor when she’d been assigned to the station. With the ease of one who had done it since she was very young, Kolana undid the back of her uniform jacket and undershirt, and slid back until she felt the energy port snatch onto her. She felt a burst of heat in her back, then the first burst of coolness, a very welcome one; she’d overdone it again. She really ought to save the endurance tests for their logical times. How could she have expected to get here without real problems, if Storm hadn’t provided an excuse for the transport?
Storm joined her. Kolana knew the girl meant it well. It would make sense to most people that when someone was stuck sitting still in a sickbay for an hour, she’d want company. But she was feeling cross with her at the moment, so when Storm lightly lifted herself onto an adjoining console, which really was not supposed to be sat on, she said to her, “Make sure you don’t accidently turn the recharger off there.”
She pouted and got back onto the floor. Kolana felt a little sorry for her, but not much. It was probably better for her not to be climbing consoles at the moment anyway.
At any rate, Kolana thought, she ought not to let her mood prevent her from making use of this time however possible. So she started casually, “So, do you think Quark will fire you over this? I would think he would, but there was that one incident...” Storm had been on Deep Space 9 for about a month, and she’d worked as a Dabo girl for most of it. The first week she’d been there, she’d broken a Dabo table. That kind of offense should have definitely gotten her fired on the spot, but Quark had only told her harshly he would reconsider her employment there, and then never said or done anything to follow it afterwards. Everyone had wondered why. Kolana had very specific suspicions as to why.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Storm, looking down, clearly to try to hide that she did indeed know. Kolana would have staked her life that she knew.
“He ought to,” she prodded, trying to provoke a reaction.
She did, but of the wrong kind. “So you think those Nausicaans had a right to treat me that way?” the girl demanded indignantly.
“Of course not, but you know Quark will; he’s a Ferengi. Why are you working for him, anyway? Is there really nothing else on this station you could do?” She wondered if there might not be.
But when Storm looked down and quickly said, “I have my reasons,” Kolana’s instincts told her this wasn’t the case here. Yet she doubted she was working at Quark’s by choice. This was something she had not thought before, and might make her investigations into this matter...well, more interesting, at any rate.
“Excuse me,” a voice from the entrance to the Infirmary made Kolana tense up; she really did hate having to deal with Odo when she was operating in a medical capacity. “Miss Storm?”
“Yes?” Storm jumped off the console, her landing feline-soft.
“About the incident in the bar just now.” Odo was holding a padd. “I’d just like to ask you a few questions...is she fit to leave in the Infirmary, Nurse Mincet?”
“Perfectly,” Kolana replied.
“Very well. If you will excuse us.”
Kolana was very glad to. She waited a few moments after they were gone before picking up the padd she always kept in use of the recharging station, non-suspicious enough, when she was stuck there for an hour at a time. She loaded up its contents and got to work.
Ival Lelti’s hand gently plucked her daughter’s safely away. “Not yet, Mara. We have to wait half an hour more to make sure it’s settled.” She glanced at the chronometer as she spoke, which confirmed this.
“Why does it take so long?” Mara asked plaintively.
“Because what we do is art,” said her mother. “And art requires hard work and patience.”
“Sure you shouldn’t use a tricorder on it?” called Terisne, Lelti’s oldest daughter, from where she was reshelving the store’s wares.
“You don’t use tricorders on felise,” Lelti snapped at her. Four daughters, and the elder two were hopeless cases when it came to learning their parents’ craft, and the youngest wasn’t showing much promise either, though she was still only six. But eight year old Mara showed some potential, and so Lelti was teaching her how to mold felise. “Bajoran glass,” aliens called it. Lelti wasn’t sure what glass was; something used on Earth, she thought, to make windows, and objects much like the ones she made.
She ran a pretty good business here on Deep Space 9, and combined with the Federation’s way of running things she and her daughters lived comfortably. Terisne was considering trying to get into Starfleet, Genin wanted to become a Vedek, Mara might follow in her parents’ footsteps, and little Liset could do any number of things, but she and Mara were already having better childhoods than their two sisters had.
All three turned their attention as a figure walked into the store, but when it turned out to be Kolana Mincet Mara lost interest and turned her attention back to the clump of felise. Kolana and Lelti had been good friends since about the time Kolana had first arrived on the station a couple of months ago, and Kolana often dropped by the shop right after her duty shift.
Terisne, on the other hand, quickly finished her reshelving and climbed down. “Afternoon, Lieutenant Mincet.”
“Good afternoon, Terisne. How are your studies coming along?”
“Very good,” said Terisne eagerly; she always wanted to impress Kolana. “I’ve started working on linguistics now-I’ve heard that can do you good, help you understand other kinds of people, and my star-charting’s really good now.”
“That’s good, Terisne, very good. And what about you, Lelti? How’s business going?”
“About normal. Though I sold one of the bigger cirs this morning.”
“Really? Which one?”
Terisne gestured to one of the front shelves. “The one that stood in the middle of there, with the image of the planet imprinted. Bought by a member of Storm’s species, actually; he called himself Windblow.”
“Did he seem to know Storm?” Kolana asked. “Was he a member of her clan?”
“Actually, he was,” said Lelti. “Though he said he’d never met her personally before he came here. It sounded like he hadn’t seen her yet either; he asked me a lot of questions about her, what she was like, her job.”
“I suppose he didn’t have any explanation for how she’s avoided being fired?” laughed Kolana.
“No,” said Lelti, “but he did say members of his clan had special powers when it came to getting their way, and I swear the man winked at me.”
That made Mara giggle, but Terisne shook her head. “Storm can not be doing that. Maybe Quark thinks she will, but she’s definitely not.”
“Then how long can she lead him on?” Lelti wondered. “If I were her, I’d see if my clansmen could help me get another job. I think there’s enough loyalty between Nissian clan members for that.”
“I hope she talks to him too,” said Kolana. Then her attention turned to the covered pile of felise on the workbench, and she saw Mara’s gloves. “Well,” she said, “what have we here? Is someone learning to mold?”
“We’re waiting for it to finish settling,” said Lelti. “Then I’m going to have her make a sphere.”
“A sphere?” asked Kolana, glancing about the shop. There were some spheres on display, a whole line of them on one shelf, which was the only place they really stood out among all the intricate eye-popping creations that Lelti displayed in the shop’s more prominent places.
“That’s the first thing you learn how to make,” Lelti explained. “It teaches a lot of basic dexterity, and the need for smoothness. My mother-in-law made me make eleven spheres before she let me make anything else; she wanted the interior to be smooth to her satisfaction. If it’s even a little wrinkled, the beauty of the sphere is all but lost, and if you don’t have it smoothed before you form the sphere, it’s really hard to fix.”
“But how can you hope to get it smooth enough before it hardens?” asked Mara. “You can’t tell before then.”
“You learn to tell,” Lelti reminded her daughter. “And that’s why you have to make so many of them.”
Mara looked sadly at the hardening lump. “I want this one to be good,” she said.
“Just try your best,” her mother told her. “Make it as smooth as you can, and then the next one will be all the better.”
“But for the next one,” observed Terisne, “you’ll have to prepare the felise all over!”
“Terisne!” Lelti snapped. Mara was looking outright gloomy now.
“She merely tells the truth, Lelti,” said Kolana with a mischievous grin.
“Are you going to cause me more trouble?”
“Why is she doing it here, anyway?” Terisne asked. “Wouldn’t our quarters be a better place?”
“Maybe,” said Kolana, “but isn’t it good advertising? I know you’re not the only craftswoman who likes to do her work out in the open, where it can pique the interest of potential customers. And watching a young girl learn charms people even more. And didn’t the Vedeks take interest in her education during that whole business with Akorem Laam?”
“That kind of attention I could have done without,” replied Lelti. Mara, like her father had been, was actually of the right d’jarras for artistic pursuits, but Lelti, by birth at least, was not. The Vedeks had publically praised her being trained, than privately had words about her sisters not following in her footsteps and especially about Lelti teaching her, things other people had murmured about as well.
“And yet you’re now embarrassing her,” said Terisne, “making her work here.”
“I’m not embarrassed!” said Mara hotly, which made Kolana laugh.
“She says she’s not embarrassed,” she said, “So good luck!” She patted Mara’s shoulder. “So I’ll see you and Storm tomorrow evening, if not before?”
“Yes,” said Lelti. “I’ll be glad. It’s been too long since the three of us were able to sit down together.”
“Until then.” She waved and walked out. Lelti watched her go, and wondered what it was about Kolana Mincet that made her always suspect there was something her younger friend wasn’t telling her.
But even worse was the figure she’d spotted on the Promenade this afternoon, the member of her clan who, as she feared, was waiting for her, seated by her window, idly stroking his fingers along her plants. “Hello, Keshlita,” he said.
There was little she hated more, little that got to her quicker, than how her clan members all knew her true name, the name that was supposed to be kept sacred, the name that wasn’t even entered on legal records, except under careful encryption. It was worse because she didn’t know his name. “What do you want?” she asked.
“Your elders just wanted to check on you, Keshlita." Hearing her true name used again was a harder slap. "With good reason, too, I think. Don’t you think people will get suspicious about why that Ferengi hasn’t fired you?”
“Don’t care,” she said stubbornly, “so long as he doesn’t.”
She found herself seized by the throat. “Oh, but Keshlita,” said her companion, calm as ever, “don’t you care about the reputation of our family. Don’t you care how your relatives fare, if they suffer because of your selfishness, Keshlita?”
“NO!” She screamed, and he let go of her throat in surprise. “No!” she yelled again. “I hate you all! I hate who you are and what you do! I hate that you spend your lives lying and stealing and killing people and making people suffer, and I hate how you’re probably going to delay people getting off Ness before it breaks apart, and you’ll have killed maybe millions of people, send our race the way of the Vulcans, only worse, just to make yourself more money! And I hate how you come here and talk to me and desecrate my true name when you use it like that and bully me and tell me how worthless I am and make me hate myself for giving in to you! No respect for one three times your age! I hope every last one of you and my worthless clanmates are on Ness when it happens, and you all die the way you deserve to!”
She hated him even more when he just stood there, with no change of expression, and watched her cry.
“That won’t stop you from doing what I want, will it, Keshlita?” he asked. On hearing her true name yet again, she raised her arm to slap him in her fury, but he grabbed her wrist and wouldn’t let go. She didn’t respond, didn’t give him that satisfaction, but he needed no response from her.
“Three times my age, but still with the behavior of a child. Now, Keshlita,” he said, when she stopped crying, because it wasn’t doing any good, “I want you to think well and good about what you did today-”
“I have thought about it!” she snapped. “And I would do it all again!”
“I want you to think about ways in which you can draw less attention to yourself. Then I want you to think of all the trouble I had to go to in order to get here this quickly to take care of the problem, though I was actually on my way already. Then, Keshlita, I want you to think about how you would fare if we didn’t help you out. In two days, when you’ve maybe brought yourself to a more reasonable and agreeable frame of mind, we’re going to have another talk.”
Then he turned and walked out of the room. She waited until he was safely gone before she started crying again, stumbling towards the bathroom. She needed a shower. A strong water shower.
The problem was, she thought, was that much as she screamed how much she hated her clan, she was terrified of the idea of having to survive without their clandestine support. Not that she was afraid of losing it because of this incident. Not, at least, if she did whatever her kinsman told her to do in two days. They probably just wanted information about a customer. That was what they usually wanted. She wouldn’t even mind if they didn’t all sneer and threaten her. Since the death of her twin nearly twenty years back, she had felt incredibly alone in the universe.
Sometimes Keshlita wondered what would happen when Ness blew itself apart. Current scientists overwhelmingly predicted it would happen within the next century, which was within her lifespan, though maybe she’d so old and decrepit by then she wouldn’t care. She didn’t think too many of the clan would be killed; like most rich Nissians, almost all of them spent most of their time off-planet these days. But things would be changed, no doubt about it. No longer having a home planet or home population, she was convinced they’d have to weaken.
She’d been dirty all over, and washing the filth off felt good. She wrapped herself in a towel and sat on the counter as she combed out her hair. She began to feel safe again, at least for the time being. She wondered how her clanmate had gotten past her lock. Somehow they always did.
Next was to check her plants, to make sure he hadn’t damaged them. She didn’t really think he had, but she refused to put anything past him.
When there appeared to be no damage, she order the computer to replicate food and water for them. There were two different types of food to replicate, because the matsi required special nutrients. The matsi was a short, stiff plant with dark stalks and the most brilliant red blooms which Keshlita anointed with an oily substance that would be absorbed into the entire plant. She also had to be careful when giving the matsi water not to give it too much; she only sprinkled a little into the soil.
Easier to take care of were the pams and the tolsilm; each required only normal nutrients and water put into the soil. The pams were lavender flowers that grew in bunches and nearly filled their pot. Her twin had always loved pams; she'd grown thousands of them when they'd been children, always kept them in her house as an adult, and Keshlita believed that pams grew by her grave on Ness.
The tolsilm sprouted a long green vine, which Keshlita had grown over the table and adjacent bookshelves. If she ever had to move from here, there would be no way to preserve the tolsilm. It was her favorite plant.
She didn’t often eat alone, but tonight she wanted to; she replicated herself a simple dinner and ate on the floor, the way almost everyone did back home on Ness. Then she stayed on the floor, lay staring at the ceiling, while she tried to figure out if there was anything she could do about her clanmates.
It didn’t seem too likely. Most course of actions she could think of would likely result in either the clan’s power being destroyed or she herself cast out. She wasn’t ready for the former, and even less ready for the latter.
She remembered something Kolana had said to her a couple of days ago, “Family can only hurt each other if there’s caring.” She herself had some strange up and downs with her own parents, especially after they have moved back to their home planet with the long-running civil war having ceased and the world now trying for Federation membership. Apparently they were sad because Kolana, having been born on Earth, felt no attachment to her species’ homeworld.
Kolana wouldn’t understand this, she thought. Her parents were just a pair of refugees. And their relatives had probably all been murdered or something.
And yet, somehow, the quote was nagging at her brain. She had the strange feeling that in it lay her answer, what she should do, if she could just spot it.
If the answer was indeed hidden there, though, it remained so; she rose from her contemplation as uncertain as ever.
Where was he, though? He should have been here by now. The Nissian hoped he hadn’t been stood up. He hated being stood up.
Through several more corridors his temper grew worse, until he stopped and stood at a viewport while he tried to calm down. There was supposed to be a wormhole there somewhere. A stable one, of all things. Not that it was very useful even so, since there was a militaristic empire on the other side. They said those empires provided their own opportunities, but in the Nissian’s opinion, they were more trouble than they were worth.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned around, and to his relief found his Orion contact had arrived.
“Hit the stone,” the Orion said.
“And the dust falls.” It was a variation of an old Nissian expression, and the agreed on code.
“All right,” said the Orion. “Have you talked to your clanmate?”
“She will cooperate.”
“See to it that she does.” He did not seem to be pleased by the short answer from his companion. “My man-human-will be here within nine hours. He will be traveling on a freighter called Iso Itibun under the name of Slate Johnson. He has been told to meet you on Deck 54, Section 23, at 1200 hours; both of you are given a reminder that the station is on 26-hour time in accordance with the rotational period of the nearby planet. He will ask you if you know how many planets are in the nearby system of Theta Secunda, you will answer that you believe there are three.”
“And will he have the raindrops with him?”
“He will have one of them with him,” said the Orion. “Though need I remind you that the raindrops are the least important part of our work here?”
He knew well, of course, that the objects known in Nissian slang as “raindrops” were what his companion was most concerned about in the entire enterprise. But the Orion was not a being he was allowed to contradict in this matter, so he simply said, “I will be there at the agreed time, then.”