Kolana woke with her back still latched to the bed and ice waves still traveling down her spine, as well as that familiar presence in her quarters. He hadn’t even let her sleep for an hour. How had he known exactly when to come when all his information was supposed to be coming from her?
“Sloan,” she sighed at him, “just once, do you think we could hold these meetings when I’m not immobilized?”
“Couldn’t you turn the charger off, if you needed to?” He approached her bed, though in the dim light she could see only his outline. If she ordered the computer to raise the lighting it would probably obey her; he didn’t *usually* prevent her from doing that. But to do that would be an admission that she was affected by his antics, and that was one admission Kolana had no intention of making. Nor did she turn the charger off, for the same reason.
“To business,” he said when she did not respond. “We’ll only discuss the immediate difficulty tonight; our other task here can wait until another night. Did you successfully tag this ‘Windblow’?”
“With both audio and video,” she replied. “You can review the results if you like; the feed downloads into a spool below my coffee table, the authorization code’s Mincet zeta Orinoco sigma.”
“Have you looked at it yourself yet?”
“It’s only three hours old, if that. I set the system up and then went straight to sleep.”
No doubt hoping he would find something she should have discovered already, he turned and walked off, going onto tiptoe as he got further from her bed, actually believing he was thwarting her keen hearing instead of only making her aware of his trying to maneuver against her. She was disappointed in him; she had thought him smarter than that. Especially since even if he could have somehow walked in complete silence to the table and possibly gotten the spool off the floor without scraping the tiny part of the floor where she had deliberately removed the carpet, there was the beeping and his voice giving the commands that anyone with half-decent ears would hear, and that was before the recording itself had been turned on and of course made its use clear to her.
As it was, she heard the scrape clearly, and though it was too soft for his human ears she thought a man of his talents should have detected the setup, but he said nothing. The only sounds now were the beeps, him trying to keep her from distinguishing his words-unsuccessfully, of course-and then the scribbly sound of him reviewing everything recorded in accelerated time. She was starting to get very impatient, but she remained silent.
“Nothing so far,” Sloan finally was forced to concede. “You know how long he’s been on the station?”
“About twenty-six hours, give or take a few minutes. I’m fairly certain he’s met with his contact already, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to tag him in time for that.”
He tsked her lightly, then said, “Did you know there’s a member of the Orion Syndicate on the station, arrived about ten hours ago?”
“Would that be Ouvar?” She would have had him confirmed by herself within a few more hours anyway.
“Very good, agent. You’re getting better. I assume you’ll tag him?”
“As soon as I can manage.” He would be harder; Orions always were, even when they weren’t constantly on guard, because they knew everyone who saw them on a place like Deep Space 9 would at least suspect they were working for their planet’s Syndicate.
“I have a bit of information for him here.” She heard a clink as he put it down on the coffee table. “It isn’t much, but it’s enough to get you started. I’m afraid there’s no history between him and Windblow. But you should have another source for Windblow, I believe.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I do.”
“Do you have her real name yet?”
“Not yet, and I don’t think that’s exactly my priority here. Yes it would be useful to have, but when it’s not even his...” The truth was she didn’t want to know it. She knew she was supposed to be the cold, detached agent with no qualms about betraying those she had befriended for the greater good. But she didn’t see how all that much greater good could come about from violating her friend’s privacy in such a manner.
She was assigned to this station because of one great betrayal already. Surely that was enough.
“If you say so,” she heard him respond, in that non-chalalant-but-not-really tone that showed his knowledge and disapproval of her true feelings. At least he wasn’t going to make a fuss over it. “You don’t think she’s a willing collaborator?”
“Depends on your definition of ‘willing.’ I’m dead certain she doesn’t like her relatives at all. But I don’t think they’re manipulating her without her knowledge, or literally forcing information out of her mouth, or anything like that. I think she’s choosing to comply with them out of cowardice.”
“Then she can be turned on them.”
“Easily. We’d be doing her a favor if I could just convince her.” But she had more reserversations about if she could manage that than she wanted to admit to.
“See to it that you do, agent. I don’t have to tell you what it might come to if you can’t.” He gave her a moment to let that sink in, then continued, “As for the third man involved, I would suggest you search for his luggage. I don’t think he’s arrived here yet, but when he does, he will likely be carrying about half a liter’s worth of dilithium gel. It was anonymously purchased on Regulon last week.”
“So this involves drugs too?” Dilithium gel, known in Nissian slang as “raindrops,” had an extremely powerful psycoactive effect on Nissians, though it did them brain damage as well. They were also extremely expensive; it sounded like Windblow was making his money while he was here.
“That’s less our concern than the Syndicate’s business is. But they may be made Windblow’s concern. If his raindrops are held hostage, he might be willing to sell out.”
And probably sell out Storm’s life while he was at it. But Kolana knew she couldn’t allow that to stop her.
“So that sums it all up at the moment. Get your sleep, agent. You’ll probably be up a few nights within the next two weeks.”
“Good night,” she murmured as he walked out. She’d tried to follow him out the first time he’d done that. Maybe that was why he kept coming while she was stuck to the bed.
She dozed while her implant continued to charge, but when the process finished it and the conduit detached itself from her back and retreated back under the pillowing she pulled herself up, and went to look herself at the feed she had attached to Storm’s clanmate. He, however, was asleep.
“No,” said Storm. “The only ones on the station are still in that holding cell.” She grinned at that, even though Lelti seriously wondered if she wasn’t going to drop the charges. Quark might have a strange reluctance to fire her, but drawing that kind of attention could, in his own mind, force his hand. “Where’s Kolana?”
“Her shift’s only just ending; it’ll probably take her a few minutes to get here.” She looked over at the Replimat’s entrance. “Is that an Orion?”
It was, an extremely tall green bald man, the kind you might expect to see in a cheap holosuite program, complete with the half-shaved head and the bulge on his hip that would have been a knife, except that this was real life so Lelti supposed it was probably something else. He looked a little intimidating, and she was glad there were no empty tables near them.
Even so, Lelti mischieveously started, "Make sure you don't get anything started with him, Storm. Not the sort of person you want to so much as bump into."
Which was when, right in front their eyes, a hulking creature of species she didn’t recognize who'd been running into the place for some reason collided into him. That would have been bad enough, but then, as they watched, both of them were thrown forward by the inertia, crashing into two young Bajoran woman and a Starfleet man who had just been getting out of his chair, sending five bodies sprawling to the floor.
The Orion was the first up, and he grabbed the individual responsible and shook him, yelling something incomprehensible, thought presumably along the lines of his needing to watch where he was going. The Bajoran girls lay in a daze. The Starfleet officer scrambled to his feet and showed that organization’s courage by daring to place a hand on the Orion. “Calm down,” he urged. “It was just an accident.”
This resulted in another spate of yelling, during which Kolana abruptly appeared, and had both hands on him, which made Lelti relax; the two officers combined could probably subdue him if need be. “You’re not injured, I don’t think,” said Kolana, though she pulled out her tricorder to make sure. A moment later she turned her attention to the two Bajorans, who were now also getting back on their feet. “Not so good for you, m’am,” she said to one of them, a blonde kid in a silly-looking scarlet jumpsuit. “Do you want to go to the Infirmary?”
“No, I’m fine,” she snapped, and was clearly trying to get away, though now there were onlookers as well as tables in her way.
“Are you sure?” Kolana asked, good, dutiful nurse that she was.
“She’s fine,” repeated the other Bajoran. Meanwhile, the other officer had somehow calmed the Orion down, while the runner responsible for all this had understandably made himself scarce. With the situation winding down, Kolana was able to desert it and join her two older friends at their table. As she came over, in accordance with their long-standing arrangement, she, as the last one to arrive, stopped at the replicator for the favorite dishes of all three: noodles with katterpod sauce for Lelti, boiled Andor longfish spine for Storm, and her homeworld’s own famous soup for herself. She was quite a sight, tottering over with them while trying not to spill anything.
Storm, who knew something about carrying multiple dishes at once, kindly stood up and took Lelti’s noodles and her own spine from her as she got close enough. “Take a load off,” she said. “You’ve had busy enough a day as it is, haven’t you?” The word had been that there’d been an outbreak of some sort of disease on at least one of the ships that had arrived that day.
“Not really,” said Kolana, sitting down and taking the first slow sip of her soup while the other two dug in. “There was some concern when a group of ill Draylaxians arrived, but they turned out to have Ton’s Fever, which doesn’t spread to other species. I was pretty impressed, though, how quickly Dr. Bashir recognized it; it’s an extremely obscure disease. I admit, my first thought was that it was Rigellian Fever, and then it would have been a busy day, and possibly an ugly one. Speaking of which, Lelti, I think we should get Liset’s boosters done within the next couple of days. I can do them at 1000 tomorrow if that’s all right with you. Terisne can accompany her to the Infirmary now; she’s old enough.”
“Yeah, that should work,” said Lelti. “Hopefully she won’t give you as much trouble as Mara did!”
“Just remember,” Storm told her, “if Mara is to be a true artist, to see her with a temper is only an encouraging sign.”
“All the same,” laughed Lelti, “it would be easier if that temper wasn’t a requirement of the profession.” She thought of her late husband, then, of some of the horror stories her mother-in-law had told her of his earliest years, though noone had remained a child under the Occupation long, and as for what he had eventually become...well, that had certainly been the product of a stubborn mind and temper as well.
“Did you sell any of her spheres, though? I thought I saw someone in Quark’s this morning with one of them.”
“No, she still hasn’t made any fit for selling; I sold one of my own. You’d be surprised just how well those things sell; I’d keep on making them even if it wasn’t good for keeping the hands in shape.”
“I hope you haven’t told Mara she’ll spend her entire life making them,” commented Kolana with a wry smile. “That could turn her off the whole career track.”
“Make sure you don’t tell her either, then.”
“Don’t worry.” Her grin turned practically wolfish. “Noone is better at keeping secrets than me.”
The problem, was, though, she wasn’t; there was someone who was probably better than both of them at it sitting with them. Which might have been why Storm hastily changed the subject. “Did you hear the latest news from Earth? Some big religious leader there is receiving final rites. His name was John something I think.”
“Humans still have religion?” asked Kolana, surprised. “Dr. Bashir swore to me they don’t anymore!”
“Some of them do,” said Lelti. “A few months ago, when I came back here after the first Dominion scare died down, I actually shared quarters with a Catholic family of nine children. Apparently Catholicism doesn’t exactly encourage birth control.” She suppressed a shudder at the thought; living under the Occupation had been bad enough in that capacity.
“Wow,” said Storm, “that sounds like a story.”
“Oh the tales I could tell you...but anyway, she told me most originally human religions now have more non-human adherents than human adherents. There are a couple of exceptions, religions that don’t generally recruit and such, but I wrote my condolences to her back when this Pope, John XXVI, first started ailing, and she told me his successor’s not likely to be human.”
“Oh him,” said Kolana. “I’ve heard of him. I think he’s almost as old as you are, Storm.”
Funny, Lelti couldn’t remember Storm’s age, though if Kolana was making a remark like that, presumably she’d told them it at some point. The Nissian, meanwhile, laughed and said, “There are not many humans that old, are there?”
“Nor Bajorans, nor Daled,” said Lelti. “When we are all dead and gone, Storm, you must meet with our children and grandchildren and tell them about us.” If Kolana ever had any children; Lelti honestly had no idea what her plans there were.
“I know,” said Storm softly, staring down at her half-eaten spine. She absently chewed on another forkful of the fish meat before saying, “but who knows. Kolana, didn’t you say some of your species can last a couple of centuries, and that furthermore, your most fertile years are when you’re in your seventies?”
“The first’s not a common thing, but yes, in nature we would have children after we’ve learned the land, live just long enough to raise them, and then die so as not to take up their resources. Which gives me time to decide whether to have them. Though finding another Daled with which to have them...you have no idea Lelti; you’ve always had crowds of members of your own species around you.”
“Maybe too many, I sometimes think,” smiled Lelti. “But what about with other males? Can you do that? Would you need help? Could the kids then have kids?”
“Well, when we mate with the people on the other side of the planet, it produces allasomorphs, who I think actually are infertile, but don’t quote me on that. With off-planet species I’m not sure there are even any documented cases; I’ve never heard of any. We’ve been very isolated.”
“Then maybe you’ll end up doing new research,” said Lelti. “Try a human guy; they can fertilize anything. For my own species, I can say a Bajoran man’s a good bet too. Also, if you want a husband in the process, he’ll probably be a better one than a human.”
“Says a Bajoran woman,” Storm felt the need to point out. Lelti couldn’t protest that, but she still thought she was right.
“I really don’t know,” said Kolana. She leaned back in her chair, empty soup spoon pressing down momentarily on the table. “I’m starting to think it’s a pretty big assumption I’ll even live that long.” She almost sighed this, which made a shocked Lelti realize she honestly meant it.
“What makes you think that?” she asked anxiously.
“Lots of things,” she shrugged. “I’m a Starfleet officer, after all, and there’s a war coming up, make no mistake. It may not come tomorrow, it may not even come next year, but it will come. And don’t forget the only thing that keeps my from dropping dead right here of heat stroke is this.” She tapped her back, above where she wore her climate implant. “Most of the time I’m highly vulnerable to it malfunctioning. Scary if you think about it, eh?”
“Yeah,” Storm agreed. “Pretty scary.” She was finishing up her spine. “Well, I have to go over to Odo’s office and tell him I’m not pressing charges against the Nausicaans, unfortunately. Though who knows, maybe he can find something on which to hold them longer anyway.”
Lelti wished she could say she was surprised. “Surely you can make them languish a few minutes more,” she said. “Eat the rest of your fish very slowly.”
“Good idea.” She was down to the last bite, which she put in her mouth before closing her eyes. The little sounds of pleasure she made were a touch embarrassing, but it was all for a noble cause. Lelti herself used it as excuse to lick the katterpod sauce off her fingers, which was undignified too, but it did taste good.
Filled with gratitude for his understanding, she nodded. “But I walk quick,” she added.
“Good. Good night.”
“Good night,” she sighed, and started on her swiftest stride. Within five minutes she was safely in the turbolift.
Unfortunately, the person she really didn’t want to deal with wasn’t any of the Nausicaans she’d left behind. It was the clanmate waiting for her in her quarters.
She tried not to think of him, tried to run her mind back to the good food and good conversation of the Replimat. Her greatest source of happiness in the universe right now were her two friends. Though sometimes she feared she might be putting them in danger, especially Lelti and her young daughters; Kolana, at least, could probably take care of herself.
It was with this final thought that she reluctantly let herself in, and told herself to just tell him what he wanted to know and get him to go away as quickly as possible.
“Well, Keshlita?” He didn’t even wait until the door closed, which made her boil inside; what if someone had been passing by and had heard him? “Have you thought about it?”
“What do you want?” she demanded. Please, she thought. Get out of here before I lose it and try to strike you.
He heaved a huge sigh. “I came here,” he said, as if to himself but she knew better, “only because I needed to know how often a certain human, one named Simon Maltin, comes to Quark’s, and what holosuite programs he uses. Also how often he meets with any Andorians.”
Ignore the theatricals, she told herself firmly. “I think he comes in about every other afternoon,” she said. “Not exactly like a computer; occasionally he shows up three or four days after his last visit instead of two, but that’s his basic schedule. For the holosuite programs I’d have to check, though I think he’s fond of lumph-racing simulations. And I’ve seen him meet with Andorians a couple of times, though of course I’m not going to see that every time, he could also be meeting with Andorians when it’s not my shift, or when I was on the other side of the bar, or working at the Dabo tables. I’ve never seen him play Dabo, if you think that’s important.”
Unfortunately, he didn’t thank her and leave, as she’d held out hope for, or even make more condescending remarks and then leave, as she’d more realistically expected. Instead he turned around and strolled towards her plants. She hurried after him, ordering their food and water from the replicator as she went, just so she would have an excuse to get between him and then.
He stood there and let her give all three plants their water, but as she was giving the matsi its oil, he continued, “Did you know he had a half-Bajoran uncle?”
“No,” she said in surprise. She was also a little intrigued; despite Lelti’s remarks to her earlier that day, intermarriage between Bajorans and other species had only really started to become common during the last decade or so, and, sadly, most individuals who were half-Bajoran had Cardassian fathers.
“Am I right in believing you’ve befriended a certain Ival Lelti?”
“Yes...” said Storm warily, not really knowing where this was going, but not liking the various possibilities.
“Do you know who her husband was?”
“Only that his name was Ival Toro, that he was in the Resistance, and that the Cardassians killed him,” she shrugged. She was now feeding the other two plants, and tried to appear indifferent, and not ask if Maltin’s uncle had known Lelti’s husband.
She didn’t have to anyway, because he promptly told her he had, and had smuggled weapons to him. “Your friend might even have met him a few times before her husband was killed.”
She remained silent, hoping he wouldn’t ask. To her surprise he didn’t directly. Instead he just said, “I wonder if she would recognize his name. Maltin’s, I mean. The uncle was related to him on his mother’s side, so it’s not the same family name.”
Then she wanted very badly to ask the uncle’s name, especially because that he didn’t have any reason to tell her. But she had some lingering pride, and it kept her from doing so.
Instead he asked, “What can you tell me about Ival Lelti?”
She shrugged. “She’s the owner of a stall on the Promenade, she had four daughters by her late husband, aged fourteen, twelve, eight, and six, and no surviving relatives of her own, or at least none she’s ever mentioned to me; it sounds like you know more about his relatives than I do.”
“She’s very fond of holosuite simulations when she has the time for them, isn’t she?”
Of course he’d look that up. “Her preference of programs cannot possibly be relevant to any purpose you might have. Take my word on that.” Many of her scruples had dried up by necessity over the years, but she really would greatly prefer to keep confidentiality on that detail; if only because in Lelti’s case there was great potential for pointless embarrassment.
She feared, though, that her cheeks were blushing duranium grey to give it away. When she heard his nasty chuckle, she knew he had guessed. But with what little decency he had in him, he passed over it, asking instead, “Anything else she’s done? When was the last time she left the station?”
“Long before I came here, I think. She doesn’t travel much. I don’t think she’s ever been outside the system, either. Whether her husband ever did, of course, I can’t know; she doesn’t talk about him much. I think the last time was probably when the Dominion threat started and almost everyone with children or some other reason left for places they imagined safer, and she went back down to Bajor, but I don’t think she stayed away half a year. Her children are happiest here, and maybe she likes it best here too.”
“Not a very remarkable woman, then,” he commented, and she felt the relief flood her; in all likelihood, that meant he wouldn’t have any further interest in her. At least once he’d asked his last question: “And you’ve seen no contact between her and Maltin?”
“None,” she said. “At the very least, she’s never met him in Quark’s, and if he ever even came into her store, I haven’t heard about it.” Though she found herself thinking if he’d known about the connection, he might have just gone there once, just to have a look. That was painful, because it would still mean nothing, while still getting Lelti attention she really didn’t need if her relation and his cronies found out about it.
“Very well.” He was satisfied. She determinedly looked out the window at the stars so he couldn’t see how intense her relief was. Ness’ sun was supposed to be in that direction, though it was just a little too far away to be visible. “I will probably be here for a couple of weeks. See to it that when I come into Quark’s, I am served quickly.”
Left alone, she showered again, though she didn’t quite feel the need for it she had after their last meeting. But as she stepped out of the shower she nearly bolted back in, for she thought she heard something pulling on the carpet.
Then a moment later she realized it wasn’t sentients who did that. This did mean she ought to call the station’s pest control, but she never did. She didn’t mind voles.
In fact, when she saw the little creature struggling, having apparently caught its claw on a thread, she even went so far as to bend down and try to help it out. Naturally at being touched by a big two-legged creature like those that usually killed voles when they saw him, it panicked and started to thrash. On some instinct, she stroked it under the chin, which calmed it down a little, and her finger happened to brush between its eyes.
Then suddenly, from out of its brain through her arm-she could actually feel it passing through her system into her own brain-she was assaulted with the vole’s absolute terror, then by the soothing instinct her stroking had invoked, then more terror the gesture hadn’t gotten rid of. It was so primitively brutal she recoiled, dropping the vole in the process. It scurried away as fast as its legs would carry it and was out of sight before she recovered.
Slowly, her shock gave was to wonder, and she pressed her hands to her head as if that would confirm or deny what she had just felt-not that this did anything, since almost every sentient in the universe could experience their own thoughts and emotions without telepathic help.
She’d always known about this ability, of course, and had even been looking forward to its development. But she hadn’t been expecting the first signs of it for twenty more years at the very least. It wasn’t completely unknown for Nissians to get it before they’d lived two centuries, but in every case she knew about, their twin had still been alive, and hers had been dead for over a decade.
If she developed this quickly enough, she thought, it might be enough to change everything. None of her relations had it; the members of her family didn’t tend to live that long. And once they found out they’d keep from physical contact with her, but they had no reason to do so right now. She just had to wait for it to develop further-it could be a lot of time in between reading animal feelings and reading sentient thoughts. And then she had to figure out just what to do with it.