Sep 21, 2023 8:48 AM
Ferengi Naima and Bajoran Elie

It's not that Nama follows every rule. If she followed every rule, she wouldn't have ended up in this situation, because she wouldn't have convinced her husband to let her help him with his work offworld. But she follows the big rules. She listens to her husband. She doesn't talk to strange men (or anyone, these days, besides her husband and his brother and her infant son). She doesn't try to earn money for herself, even if she does keep an eye on which things she does affect her husband's bottom line. She doesn't wear clothes. And she may have left Ferenginar, but she never leaves their freighter, so if you think about it, it isn't really very different from spending all of your time inside a building on Ferenginar that you never happen to leave, which isn't very different from how her life was before her father leased her to her husband. None of these things have ever struck her as problems; they're just how life is.

She's not going to claim that her life was ever perfect. But she loves her husband, and she loves her baby, and she loves getting to do maintenance and repair work, and all in all she thinks her life is pretty good.


The pirates take over the ship in minutes. She spends most of the attack hiding in a closet, hushing her infant son, listening in on pirate communications and holding them up to a computer translator, which is how she finds out that her husband and his brother are dead. Then she sneaks to the secondary maintenance controls, fills most of the ship with poison gas, and fires on the pirates' ship before the remainder realize what's happened. The other ship has its shields down, probably to facilitate beaming over. The only sense in which it is not utterly destroyed is that she might be able to salvage some scrap metal or other materials, if she could find a way to access the wreckage. 

Apart from her four-month-old infant, she is alone, billions of miles from the nearest other living being. Her own ship barely has enough power to maintain life support. But her cargo is intact, and she does have just enough power - if she can make the repairs quickly - to come within hailing distance of their intended destination, the Cardassian space station of Terok Nor. The shipment will be late, that is unavoidable, but it may be timely enough to trade for the help she will need to return to Ferenginar.

It is forbidden, of course, and if she does return, she will return in utter disgrace. It will involve talking to strange men, and earning profit, and wearing clothes, and setting foot inside structures that don't belong to Ferengi at all. And it requires a dozen skills that she does not possess - trade negotiations, acting, an ability to communicate in Cardassian beyond the few dozen words she's picked up in overheard conversations, any understanding of Cardassians as a people besides "torture" and  "they do everything their leaders say" and "they care about family" -

But the alternative is death, and no Ferengi places dignity above life. 


It takes her two days to get the ship limping in the correct direction at all. She fiddles with the replicators until she can get them to produce a set of prosthetic ears. She dons her husband's clothes. She tosses all of the bodies into space. She sets the computer to prepare to translate Cardassian to Ferengi (which will cause delays, since her computer can't do simultaneous translation and will need to translate and then play its translation in Ferengi, then do the reverse for her own speech - but she's hardly going to take the time to finish learning Cardassian.)

Then she slowly drifts towards Terok Nor, broadcasting a distress signal.

Total: 23
Posts Per Page:

When Kotan Elas is eight years old, the headman of his village is executed. The official charge is hoarding grain, of which he's certainly guilty; though as he's been successfully bribing Gul Jakar for the last five years there's a great deal of speculation about what changed. Maybe the Gul upped his price, or maybe there's some new anti-corruption directive from central command. The whole thing takes three days, and when it's over his father lectures him on the virtues of honesty – like Elas doesn't know they have their own sacks of salam seed under the floorboards. 

It's the most exciting thing to happen in Maro township that year, for everyone except the Kotans. That's because Elas is one of the lucky children of loyal parents chosen by lot to attend the Cardassian school in Jalanda city. The graduates of the Cardassian schools are eligible for the best jobs, government jobs. They don't have to worry about having their homes seized and being sent to a refugee camp. Their families get rich, when they come back. If they come back, but then – his mother reassures him – they almost always do. Elas isn't afraid. It's not like things are so safe back home in Maro. 


When Elas is twelve, he speaks flawless Cardassian and knows how to speak intelligently for half an hour (and inanely for longer) on the eighteen aspects of perfect obedience and can sit still for eight or ten hours at a time, and is often in trouble anyway. The first preceptor says that he praises the Cardassian state with an air of sarcasm, which Elas can't really dispute. His parents write him often to be good and walk in the path of the prophets, long letters, which he reads aloud in the dormitories to general amusement. He's popular with the Bajoran children, and even a few of the Cardassians, who Elas privately suspects are trying to annoy their fathers. He does well in school. He isn't beaten more often than he can handle. He hasn't been home in two years. 


When Elas is fifteen, he takes to writing pamphlets. His favorite theme is the Bajoran people and their desire for freedom, but he's found he can also be quite eloquent on the subjects of ideal governance and the evils of the Cardassian oppressors, which it doesn't take a great deal of imagination to describe. The preceptors have determined that he's to specialize in medicine. It suits him well enough. In the meantime, he can write. After a few months he shows some his work to Laran Antet – a quiet Bajoran boy who wants nothing more than to reform agricultural production his home district, probably his closest friend. Antet, as it happens, knows more about data sticks and cloaked transmissions than Elas would have thought possible. He thinks the stuff's good. He thinks the risk is worth it. 

In the end, only Antet is caught. And by some miracle, right up until he dies, he never says Elas's name. 


Now Elas is twenty-three, a great disappointment to his family, and a member of the Kaaro Ban resistance cell, though that's not the business that brings him to Terok Nor. There really is an outbreak of the Kalandrian newt plague, and the medicine he needs can't be got on Bajor – at least, not by Bajorans.  He has a contact who can get him false papers and an assignment to a work crew. He doesn't have any idea what he's supposed to do when he gets there, but he'll figure it out. He's always been a clever boy. 


She's so scared, when the Cardassian message comes through. But the computer says they're asking for identification, and also asking whether she needs help, so she takes a deep breath and follows her plan.

She identifies herself as Tarek, her late husband. She offers the ship's identification information, although it takes a moment to tell the computer to send it. She explains that she is carrying cargo ordered by Gul Dukat, and that she was attacked by pirates, who killed her brother, who she is going to pretend was the one who was fluent in Cardassian. Her main engines are completely nonfunctional and her life support is only barely functional, so yes, she does need help.

They lock a tractor beam onto her ship and tug her to the station, where she gets to make the computer give the Cardassians the long version, and her proposal: the cargo in exchange for repairs to her ship, in lieu of ordinary payment. (This is sort of, arguably, not earning profit.) They tell her that the repairs to a whole freighter like hers are too expensive to be a fair trade for her cargo. She would argue, but - that seems, uh, probably true, actually, now that she thinks about it.

She asks if there are any other outgoing ships that could take her back to Ferenginar, as sick as it makes her to think of leaving the freighter. This is a military station, she is informed, so no, there are not. 

"My wife and brother were killed in the attack," she says into her translator, carefully. She's brought her infant son to the negotiations. It isn't even really a ploy for sympathy, it's just that she doesn't have anyone to leave him with. "All I want now is to return my son to his home, so he can grow up safe and healthy."

"How noble," the reply comes back, cold and mechanical when filtered through the computer. "I applaud your goal, and wish that I had either engineers or ships to spare. But you're a Ferengi, aren't you? You must be capable of making money somehow."


She sells the cargo for latinum, for perhaps seventy percent of what Tarek had hoped. She fights for that seventy percent, but she can't find it in her to be angry, with the cargo late and the Cardassians having saved her life. The price is a loss, but that hardly matters at this point. There's no price that makes a journey profitable if it kills you.

They won't hire her for an engineer. They won't hire her for anything, actually, because she doesn't speak Cardassian, and doesn't have any skills that make this worth tolerating. But she's a Ferengi, isn't she? It's said that the Ferengi can squeeze payment from a stone.

So she wanders the station, looking at what businesses already exist. A tailor. A chemist. A hardware and furniture store specializing in assembling things too large to replicate in one piece. A sad little cafeteria for the Cardassians to take their meals in, undecorated except for the stains on the walls. A quartermaster who doesn't use money, and gives to every Cardassian what his rank means he is owed. She watches the people, more people than she's seen in her whole life, picking out males and females. The station population appears to be mostly male, though it's possible that there are more females behind closed doors. Those females she does see act exactly like males, commanding and competitive and dangerous, every last one of them wearing clothes. The Bajorans skitter around like insects, keeping their heads down. The Cardassians are surly and bored.

She thinks - what do soldiers want, in deep space, far away from their families and their homes, far away from the things that they're working to have? And the answer is, of course - they miss females, and the things that come with them. They miss comfort, and softness, and service, and sex; they miss a place to take off their coat and relax, a place to have fun without worrying about what someone else wants from them; they miss beauty, and music, and food and clothes made just for them. They miss a million simple pleasures that men - military men least of all - simply can't be expected to manage for themselves. Even when they do manage to find some fraction of them alone, the effort of it all clearly weighs on them terribly.

The question is, how do you sell that? 


She uses the latinum from the cargo sale to rent a sizable central area of the station. The Cardassians are using it for storage, and at this point it's little more than an extra warehouse. But she imagines something better, and she knows that she can make it the thing she imagines. The only question is whether the thing she imagines will be something that the Cardassians actually want.

She paints murals on the walls, stylized representations of Ferenginar's great rain forests (not that many of those still exist in real life, according to her husband). She replicates and assembles furniture, feeding the computer exquisitely detailed artistic designs. The main area becomes a restaurant, far more beautiful and atmospheric than the sad little cafeteria across the way. Storage closets become bedrooms. A couple of them become janky little hologram chambers - no hard light, she doesn't know how to do that even with the freighter computer holding her hand, but she can at least do images. She uninstalls the freighter replicators and reinstalls them inside her new establishment, where they can be used to serve food and drink (she has no idea where to get more replicators, if anything should happen to these). She sets up games to play, a little arcade in one corner and a collection of dignified board games in another. She puts in an eternally cycling stream of water to run around the edges of the upper floor, and then adds little replicas of ancient boats to float along it, and spends a day giving them tiny holographic crews and sea monsters to fight. She curates a list of music to play softly inside the establishment, half Cardassian and half songs from other aliens that she thinks sound kind of similar, familiar and exotic at the same time.

She has the computer teach her Cardassian while she works. She doesn't have any proper programs for learning Cardassian from Ferengi, so she tells the computer to read out articles written in Cardassian, pausing after each sentence to get the Ferengi translation, asking about specific words as often as she can pick out what they are. She's still not fluent, but she's at least arguably conversant, by the time the space is ready.

She asks permission to hire some Bajorans, to work in her establishment. Bajoran employees are practically free, apparently, as long as you've got permission to hire them.

In about a month, Nama has - she's not really sure what she has, actually, since she doesn't actually know very many words for kinds of businesses that you visit, rather than the kinds of businesses that send things to your house. But it's a place for people to eat and sleep and play in comfort, at the very least, which she's pretty sure is more than they had before. Now she just has to see if anyone around here cares enough about comfort to pay for it.


There are two kinds of Bajorans who end up sent on ore processing assignment on Terok Nor: criminals, who aren't expected to survive, and the desperately poor, who aren't expected to survive either, but whose death payments at least benefit their families. Elas has his whole backstory worked out: he's Rasela Narin, a war orphan with six younger siblings, all raised in a refugee camp, two tragically disabled in a terrorist bombing. His dearest wish is to afford the surgery that might heal them, which he could never afford working as a simple day laborer. He's memorized names, birthdays, even a heart-wrenching story about his promise to his dying father to look after the little ones that he's sure will play well with Cardassian security forces. 

Nobody asks. He's able-bodied and the gene scan checks out: that's enough. Lucky him – someone must be behind on their ore processing targets. The new arrivals are unceremoniously disinfected, tagged, given uniforms, and sent to the dormitories. Some of the workers, he's heard, have their own quarters – families on the station, even – but his new home has fifty other Bajorans and thirty berths. No bed for "Narin," that goes by seniority. (Not to worry, the man in the bunk above him quips – he'll get his turn soon enough). 

The next morning, it's time to process ore. It's blisteringly hot: that much he expected. The sweat stings his eyes and the ore burns his hands. The hours are long, but not the longest he's worked – that would be the three days he and his friends spent digging their way out of a Cardassian siege on a safe house in Lasuma. The thing he's not prepared for is the noise. The rumble of the pulverizing rock he could take, he thinks, even though it's loud enough to make his bones shake, but not the intermitting metallic screeching or the dull mechanical whines or the very occasional shocking silence when a limb gets caught in the machine. 

It's hard to think. Worse than that, it's hard to talk – and talking, of course, is the whole reason he's here. The Bajorans on the station work, and sleep, and on their half-day off each week they drink, and even that they do quietly. That isn't an obstacle in itself: if it was Bajorans he needed to meet, he'd have stayed on Bajor. What he needs is an excuse to spend time on the station's promenade. He's seen it in passing, and it's promising. There are Klingons, Ferengi, Lurians, and even the occasional Romulan or Trill, not to mention whatever the security chief is. 

None of the aliens stay for long (except the Klingon, who owns a restaurant of all things). That's perfect – he doesn't want to deal with anyone who's beholden to the Cardassians. All he needs is a reason to speak to one. And for that, he needs to get reassigned out of ore processing. 

That shouldn't be too difficult. It's not like everyone else in the plant wants exactly the same thing.  


The good news is that despite never having run - or, uh, visited - a restaurant or an arcade or a casino or a hotel or a place that offers shitty knockoff holosuites, within three months, Nama is just about breaking even. Some of her ideas are flops, but the Klingon across the way doesn't have a baby with him, and Cardassians are suckers for the baby. She makes a little money on the gambling tables, a little money on physically cooking new orders and then having the replicators scan the results for later retrieval, a little money on the occasional traveler who doesn't have their own ship and needs to sleep somewhere, and a little money on Cardassians renting back rooms to have sex with her employees, which she's decided she's fine with as long as it doesn't seem to be dramatically affecting worker performance.

The bad news, of course, is that... she's just about breaking even, which is, you know, not actually any better than just not having done anything in the first place. Actually, it's worse than not having done anything in the first place; it means she's not recouping any of her capital investment. It means that she can rent this place for the next century, assuming no price hikes or change in management, but it also means that she's getting no closer to Ferenginar or to getting her son home. She really would like to get her son home. Partly because, you know, everyone here is a barbarian and this is no place to raise a child, and partly because - her son is actually quite sick. She doesn't understand the specifics. She knows that when Tarek was alive, he talked to his contacts and was able to secure some necessary medicine, and now she has a stockpile of the stuff. But the stockpile won't last forever, and she understands his condition to be fatal if untreated. She's pretty sure you can buy anything worth having on Ferenginar, but out here, the available merchandise is... limited.

Fortunately, it turns out there are other ways of making money, too.


Everyone in the galaxy - except, of course, for Nama - is apparently under the impression that all Ferengi are in the business of smuggling every kind of rare, valuable, and illegal substance. Nama's - not, actually, at least not before people start asking her if she can obtain various particular items, or if she's interested in buying certain wares. She didn't even know that there were illegal substances, and wouldn't have expected people to make it illegal to sell something you had, or illegal to have had it in the first place. But in fact, Cardassian space has lots of laws about what you can or can't have, and who you can or can't sell it to. And everyone - Bajorans, Cardassians, and aliens of all other stripes - seems to expect her to know how to get around them. So whenever anyone on the station needs anything, whether it's illegal or just practically difficult to obtain, they come to her first. And whenever anyone is selling something that they know is dangerous to sell, they sell it to her, knowing that she'll have customers for it.

It takes her a while to get good at it. She is terribly fortunate that the Cardassians don't happen to catch her for some of her early screwups. But over time, she learns which people are safe enough to talk to, and which specific things she can say without giving herself away, and which people are willing to source which things in exchange for which favors. And slowly, over time, she begins to do more than just break even. For all her smuggling network and contacts, though, nobody seems to be capable of getting the medicine she needs for her son, and she's saving money much too slowly for it not to be an issue.


Nama doesn't have a medical-grade replicator. Her replicators are meant for making food, and have safeties installed in them that prevent them from copying medicine, because too often, they'll copy it badly.

She doesn't know how to design medicine, but she knows how to make a replicator copy something, and she knows how to disable replicator safeties. She's eventually able to figure out how to get the computer to display the molecular structure of what it's created, and to report to her on how consistently it replicated that structure. Then she can fiddle with the settings in a dozen different ways, and remove the matter that doesn't meet her standards, and filter the molecules by shape, and - still, in the end, get out something that's an unsafe mixture of the thing she meant to create and a bunch of stuff she didn't.

Eventually, she's down to a single dose of her stockpile. She decides to save it, to use as a base for continuing to try to replicate better copies, and switch to giving her son the janky medicine that she was able to replicate. All of the warnings on the replicators tell you to never, ever do this. It isn't safe, and you could kill someone trying. She's very, very scared that she's going to kill her son and have nothing, but - tomorrow, if she uses the last dose, she will have nothing else to give him.


And then, in spite of all the warnings, the baby doesn't die.


At first, Elas thinks he'll try being obedient. Cardassians are just wild about obedience. It doesn't take him long to realize that's no good – everyone's obedient in ore processing, and the lucky Bajorans with positions of responsibility and freedom of movement on the station aren't more obedient than anyone else. As far as he can tell, neither are they more competent, or cleverer, or even better at flattering their superiors. Ore processing is dangerous, poisonous work. What they are – after spending years on Terok Nor – is alive. 

Ordinarily, that wouldn't bother him. Elas is good at staying alive. In other circumstances, he'd say it's one of his better qualities. Right now, though, he doesn't have time. It's not safe to get transmission from home, but he's programmed a little simulation to track the plague's progress, when it might start to spill uncontrollably beyond the borders of Musilla province. Weeks, not months. 

He's considered bribery, but only as a last resort – he'd rather save his latinum until he knows how much the smugglers charge. Befriending the Cardassians is obviously a non-starter, and he doesn't trust himself to play them off against each other. That leaves blackmail. Fortunately, Terok Nor is almost as much a punishment assigment for Cardassians as it is for Bajorans, and the guards in ore processing are the sorriest lot he's ever seen. He doesn't expect the officer in charge would hear anything from a laborer about his men drinking or gambling on duty, but he thinks he might be able to get somewhere with the more serious charge of equipment theft. Elas even has a target in mind: the pale, shifty Glinn who puts in the replacement orders and spends altogether too long in the machine room just before something breaks. 

So He waits. He needs proof, but that'll be easy enough – the man's not cautious, and anyway Elas can plant a spare sensor keyed to his biosignature just to be safe. He needs a trusted Bajoran collaborator, for life insurance. This Glinn doesn't seem like the type to murder his problems, but you never can tell. He's feeling people out. It's going well. Nobody suspects a thing. 

That's when the central refiner explodes. 

He's on the other side of the room when it happens. A moment of bright, searing whiteness, stinging ash, pressure and pain and then, uncanny silence. Later, he'll realize that his eardrums are ruptured. Later, it will occur to him that he's making a very serious tactical mistake. Rasela Narin doesn't know the first thing about emergency medicine. Rasela Narin is probably terrified. Rasela Narin doesn't want to draw attention to himself. 

But Kotan Elas, however reluctantly, is a doctor. (Really, a domestic terrorist with a sideline in medicine – in either case, he knows his way around the scene of an explosion). Two Bajorans were actually working on the machine when it blew up – obviously dead. He can't do anything for the burns without a dermal regenerator – he calls for one, automatically, not that he has time. The important thing now is triage: the victims impaled by shrapnel or missing limbs can mostly be set aside; they'll live. He's looking for signs of internal hemorrhaging, head trauma, anything that might need immediate attention as soon as the medical team arrives. 

It takes them another ten minutes, an by then a sort of dismal carmaderie has set in. Bajorans and Cardassians alike – anyone with at least three working limbs – is sifting through debris, stanching wounds, calling Elas over when they've dug up a new body. Ten more Bajorans and one Cardassian are dead, and when the medical officer pulls him aside, Elas is sure he's about to make eleven. By then, he has a shallow excuse ready – his grandmother was a physician. Or maybe his cousin. Or he wanted to be one when he grew up, but his family didn't have the money, so he read textbooks – 

– In the end, it doesn't matter.  The first thing Elas hears, when he's got his eardrums back, is that Glinn Gikar spoke highly of his quick thinking, and he's being reassigned. They need more assistants in medical. 


Nama spends weeks being scared that the medicine she's giving her son is going to kill him. Or even if it doesn't kill him, that it'll just fail to treat his condition, and that in a few days he'll fall over dead because he stopped being able to process the oxygen in his bloodstream or something. For weeks, every cough, every extra nap, every shiver, every howl of complaint, she worries might be a sign of the end.

But he doesn't die. He keeps not dying. He seems, actually, to be stably surviving. And Nama's business is surviving, too; she doesn't feel like she's anything to write home about, as a smuggler, but she's managing well enough to earn a little bit of profit, and is thus far managing not to get caught at it.

So, by the time Elas makes it to the promenade, one of the businesses he sees will be a restaurant (arcade, bar, hotel, ambiguous brothel) with a Ferengi proprietor, whose infant son sits on the counter at all hours and waves to customers. Most people don't know what Ferengi infants are supposed to look like, but if one does, it will be obvious that this one has some kind of medical condition, and equally obvious that he is nevertheless surviving with it in deep space, which might or might not imply something or other about his father's ability to obtain rare medicines.


Elas covered Ferengi and possibly even their infants in a survey course in medical school, but it hasn't come up much in his practice. Not that it matters: everyone knows that Ferengi are all born smugglers. Even if this one can't find what he needs, he's not likely to report him for asking. 

First-level medtechs get one evening a week off. When his comes around, he'll spend it at Tarek's bar. 


Nama is going to ignore him until he asks for something. New Bajoran faces have less money than basically any other kind of face, so they're usually not worth worrying about. One of the Bajoran workers will handle it if he looks like he needs something. There are three of them wandering around, all women, serving drinks and manning games and asking customers if they're perfectly satisfied.

Nama herself is busy cooking a vegetable pie for a Cardassian. The Klingon across the way cooks too, of course - has to, because he uses live ingredients - but Nama advertises the ability to cook any dish if given an ingredient list and one day of notice (and only sometimes needs the day), and the Klingon can't do that. The point, in theory, is to provide dishes that remind you of home, regardless of whether the quartermaster or the replicators even know what they are. In practice, the Cardassians basically treat it as a party trick, but, you know, as long as they pay for it. She puts the pie in an oven when she finishes filling it, and takes a moment to spoon feed the baby some food she chewed up a couple hours ago. (Most aliens, she has learned, are suckers for the process of feeding a baby, but are for some reason kind of upset by the process of making the food edible in the first place.)


Awwww. Cute kid, in a wrinkly sort of way. 

His plan was to start with the waitresses anyway – he's interested in what they have to say about their boss. He works in Musilla now, but his hometown, Maro, is in Rakantha province. Any familiar accents?


Nothing exact. They're more focused on the Cardassians, but nobody comes into Tarek's House without being greeted at all. In a minute or two one of them will come by and ask what he's looking for.


Why, he'd like a moreka tea. He's feeling a bit homesick. 


Of course! That's what Tarek's is for, after all. The waitress will get him one from the replicator.


How nice. He tips generously, and sips his tea, and watches. Do any of the patrons of this fine establishment look like they might be after more than home cooking?


Honestly most of them are not here for the home cooking. But a few of them are also not after any services that the establishment advertises providing, not that it's immediately obvious which ones. At some point an Enolian trader approaches Tarek, and Tarek suggests that they discuss business in one of the hologram rooms.


(She brings the baby with her. You can't just leave babies unattended.)

She returns to the bar about fifteen minutes later, and changes the temperature the pie is baking at.


When she's done with that, he'll walk up to the bar. ...How's the baby doing?


Oh, as well as can be expected under the circumstances. Doesn't have a mother, you know, and that's terribly hard for someone so small, but you wouldn't know it from how happy he is most of the time.


It's good that the child is bearing up. Does he have any opinions on popular Bajoran nursery rhymes? "Narin" would be happy to tell him some, but he's heard that Ferengi don't do anything for free, and this one looks like quite a little businessman. Will his nose do for payment? Oh, look, Narin seems to have taken it.


The baby looks bewildered. 

"Well," she tells the baby, "Once you've paid for a service, you'd better be sure you get what you paid for."


Narin is exceptionally honest and reliable, ask anyone. He'll deliver. 


Well, excellent. Baby and customer seem to be momentarily entertained. She'll go serve another, and then come back and check on this one.


The customer is very seriously trying to teach the baby how to count on his toes, or else how does he expect to be of use to his father. The baby is giggling and trying to grab his ears. 

He smiles when he sees Nama. "I'm sorry. You know, when I came here, I really did have some business to discuss." 


"Oh you did? Something outside our core services, then?"

Total: 23
Posts Per Page: