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[2007: SEP-OCT] *WINNER* Els


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Tor Essen wiped the dust from the viewscreen as he sat down. They didn’t get much use out of the thing these days as there weren’t that many people off the station they wanted to talk to anymore. Or, it seemed, that wanted to talk to them. So it had come as a slight surprise to the Bajoran when it had started beeping unexpectedly one afternoon.

The grainy image finally resolved itself into a face and Essen gasped in shock;


The Ferengi’s features twisted into a grin; “You were expecting someone else?”

“But…” Essen’s face hardened as anger replaced his confusion. “How did you find us, Joro?”

“Oh it was easy. Grease the right palms and I can find anything. You know that. Besides,” the Ferengi shrugged, “my cousin runs the pawn shop on your station.”

“What do you want?”

“Now that’s not a very nice way to treat an old friend, Tor. Have you forgotten all the fun times we had?” Joro’s smile was mocking

Essen sat bolt upright at the Ferengi’s words and threw an involuntary glance at the open door beside him. His tone became, if anything, even more frosty.

“That’s in the past, Joro. Now I know this isn’t any social call, so give me one good reason why I don’t terminate this right now.”

Joro tilted his head to one side as he flashed his toothy grin. “Straight to business, I like that about you, Tor, always did. Well now, let me tell you a story, set the scene if you will; a few days ago someone got in touch with me, had a few questions about my smuggling times. ‘Course, I said they were all long behind me, respectable trader these days.”

Essen cut across the preamble with a hand gesture. “Joro? If you don’t get to the point in the next five seconds…”

Joro’s face lost its humour. “Tor, the person who contacted me was a Cardassian. And he was looking for something, or rather someone.”

In the silence that followed, Essen slowly stood up and moved to the door. He glanced out into the next room, but there was no sign nor sound of the appartments other occupant. Quietly, he closed the door and returned to the console.

“Alright Joro, you have my attention. Go on.”

The Ferengi smiled again, a satisfied smirk. “This Cardassian told me a story, about a Legate in the Obsidian Order who had lost his little daughter on Bajor during the occupation. Seems a resistance cell had kidnapped her, held her for ransom. Guess they were counting on the Cardassian family values. But they were in for a shock. Y’see, this Legate, he didn’t give in to their demands; though it tore him up inside, he put his duty before his family. So the resistance got nothing.” Joro picked between his crooked teeth as he paused. “Quite a sad story, wouldn’t you say?”

Essen said nothing, merely stared.

“Well,” continued Joro, “I can tell you’re engrossed, Tor. Probably thinking what it’s got to do with you. Well, I’ll tell you; this Cardassian, he gave me some dates, y’see. And I started adding up. Seems this Legate lost his daughter around the same time you and Loja came to me to smuggle that girl off Bajor.” Joro leaned forward, his face filling the screen. “Thing is, she was Bajoran, wasn’t she? Though come to think of it she didn’t say much, Loja kept her sedated because of her ‘condition’, didn’t she? Said she was some sort of medical emergency and that the Cardassians weren’t going to help her. A mission of mercy I think she said. Very convincing, that Loja, when she wanted to be.”

“What do you want, Joro?” Essen repeated. The Bajoran’s voice was ice cold.

“Ah, still got your business head on. That’s good. Well now, it seems this Legate is retired now, but he’s got some personal wealth and he’s putting it to good use, trying to track down the daughter he once lost, guess he wants to make amends, you know what Cardassian families are like, right? Anyway, he’s offering a goodly sum of money for information. You see where I’m going with this?“

Essen could feel the bile rising in his throat. He was desperately trying to keep his features calm so as not to give Joro any clues, but the old Ferengi was a wily devil. It felt like an interrogation, and it had been a decade since Essen had faced one of those.

“You want to know what I think about that little girl, Tor? I think the Bajoran and the Cardassian girls are one and the same, I think you know where she is. I think if I pass on your name I could get myself a tidy profit.”

Essen fumed. “If you utter a word, Joro, a single word, you’ll regret it. I still have contacts.” Although he wanted to shout at the screen, he deliberately kept his voice low so he couldn’t be overheard outside the room.

“Contacts? Tor, you know as well as I do most of your old cell are either dead or serving time for war crimes. You’re on your own. But I’m not unreasonable, and you’re an old friend, Tor. I could forget I found you…for a price.”

The screen facing Essen was full of the Ferengi’s teeth and the Bajoran felt the fear overwhelm the spark of anger inside him.

* * *

Tor Loja was a tall woman, some might say statuesque. She ran self-defence classes on Gallup Station and was renowned amongst her colleagues for her elegance and grace as much as for her quick temper. Like her husband, she kept herself to herself and rarely talked about her past. Her friends didn’t think anything of it; after all, they’d heard the terrible stories about the occupation and didn’t want to pry. Best left well alone, they said to themselves, if she wants to tell us anything, she will, we‘ll be here for her. Though if they had been honest, most of them would have admitted preferring Loja kept quite about it; tragic stories from the other side of the quadrant were something you could comment upon with a sense of detachment, but if one of those stories moved in next door, well, best left well alone…

Nonetheless, Loja was relatively well-liked on the station, along with her pleasant, quiet husband, Essen, and their beautiful daughter, Sess.

Tonight, though, there was no sign of Loja’s usual poise as she crumpled onto the bed, one hand distractedly playing with her earring.

“It had to happen eventually, Essen. It was never meant to go on this long.”

Essen paced up and down the room. Like his wife, he kept his voice low so as not to wake their daughter.

“I know that. It’s just, well, we’ve put it off for so long. How do we tell her now?”

Loja sighed. “We should have done it years ago. The surgery was only temporary after all, it’s a miracle it’s lased this long without deteriorating. But it’s inevitable she’ll discover the truth. After all, it’s only her appearance that’s changed, as soon as she goes for a scan on her own she’ll know she‘s different. We can’t keep it from her any longer.”

“But she’s Bajoran, Loja. We’ve brought her up to be like us. Physical differences or not, she thinks like a Bajoran, acts like one.”

“That’s just it, Essen, she’s not. Sess is nearly 12 now, pretty soon she’s going to develop, and it’ll be a Cardassian women she grows into, not a Bajoran one. Already she’s changing; you know she notices the cold more than we do. It doesn’t matter how we bring her up, inside she’s still one of them.”

“But her beliefs! Sess will never fit in with the Cardassians.”

Loja sighed sadly. “No, she won’t. I don’t think she’ll fit in anywhere anymore.” She stood up and moved to the window, staring out at the pin[...]s of light. “What did you tell Joro?”

Essen looked up glumly from the desk. “I said I’d let him know. He’s going to call again tomorrow evening. I can’t believe that little troll plans to blackmail us, after everything he did for us with the resistance.”

Loja waved a dismissive hand; “It’s just profit to him. He helped us out because we paid more than the Cardassians were offering. And now he’s got a better offer. I don’t think he’d have any problems selling us out now even if we did pay him, it’s not as if he ever had any morals.”

Essen slammed his fist down on the desk. “I’ll kill him, I swear! I’ll track him down…”

“Quiet!” Hissed Loja. “You’ll wake Sess!”

“But we can’t let him do it, Lo! He’ll tear us apart!”

“If it’s not him, it’ll be someone else. She was never ours to keep, Essen, we were arrogant to think otherwise.”

Tears began to appear in the corner of Essen’s eyes. With a shaking hand he rubbed them away, thinking about what he had to lose.

“I know, Lo. I know. But it’s not easy, it was never going to be easy.” He paused, staring at his wife’s back as she gazed out at the stars. For a time the room was silent, each lost in their own thoughts. Essen spoke first;

“What do we do?”

Loja stirred, speaking slowly at first as she tried to put her thoughts into words; “I’ve been thinking for a while about something. And now Joro has confirmed it, made it possible.” She turned to face Essen. “We could get in touch with her real father.”

Essen let out a hollow laugh. “Ha! And do Joro’s job for him?”

Loja shrugged. “At least he wouldn’t get anything out of it. Look, Ess, it’s over. I know we didn’t want it to end up like this but we have to accept it. This way it’ll be on our terms, no-one else’s. We get to control it.”

Her husband idly rubbed his hand. He could see bruises coming up on his knuckles from where he’d punched the desk.

“You’re right. We have to move on.” He turned to face the viewscreen again. “I still have some people I can call on, despite what Joro might think. If this Cardassian is asking questions he shouldn’t be too hard to track down. And then…”

“And then I guess we’ll see.”

* * *

Three figures sat in a hotel room on Betazed. Watery sunlight filtered through the window, highlighting the snow as it fell on the gardens outside.

Faint sounds could be heard drifting in through the open door to the bedroom, sounds of a little girl at play, but in the main room, beside the holographic log fire, there was silence.

Loja glanced at her husband first before turning to face the person sat on the opposite side of the table.

“Joro. It was Joro who contacted us.”

The Cardassian grunted to himself and nodded, steepling his aged hands in front of him. His thin white hair glimmered in the firelight at the movement but he did not look up as he spoke.

“Hmm. I thought he’d be able to get some results. I was lucky to find him, you know, a Ferengi gunrunner can be a difficult person to track down. But he smelt a profit and I knew I had him.” A pause, and a slight frown creased the grey forehead. “So Joro put you in touch?”

Essen stirred. “No, not exactly. You could call him the catalyst. We didn’t think it was right that he should get anything from this. I…we still had contacts from the resistance, enough to find out who you were, Legate.”

Try as he might, Essen couldn’t quite keep the note of distaste from his voice as he spat the last word. Loja gave him a sharp look. The Cardassian merely smiled, finally lifting his head to fix the Bajorans with a steely gaze.

“That is an old title, one I left behind me some time ago. My name is Jarrek, just Jarrek. In the same way that you are not Captain Tor of the Bajoran military resistance, I am no longer a Legate of the Obsidian Order. Times have changed, most definitely, and we have to change with them.” A fleeting smile crossed his face. “We are no longer at war, that particular issue has been resolved.”

Essen couldn’t control himself any longer, leaning forward in his chair and pointing an accusatory finger. His words came out fast, though it clearly took a great deal of restraint not to raise his voice.

“No,” he hissed, “we’re not fighting any more, because we won, Cardassian! That is something you can’t forget!”

“Ess!” Loja put her hand on her husbands chest, holding him back. “Please, this isn’t helping. We’re not here for us, we’re here for Sess.”

Jarrek remained impassive, waiting for Essen’s anger to subside before replying. “Yes, we were beaten. And we have been vilified enough for what we did. There is a saying, Tor, that I am sure you have heard, that history is written by the victors, yes? It wasn’t just the Cardassians who committed atrocities during the occupation, but they are the ones you hear about. None of us sat in this room is entirely innocent, we have all done things that we regret, but at the time were deemed necessary evils. But that is not why we are here. The grievances between our races may have led us to this meeting, but they don’t have to force our hand. We have the power to decide our own fates, now.” Jarrek looked pointedly at the bedroom door. “And the fates of others.”

As Essen subsided into a sullen silence, Loja rubbed his arm gently. She nodded.

“You’re right. Yes, you’re right.” She sighed. “None of us are painted in glory. We should have put things right long ago, Jarrek, and for that I am truly sorry. But how could we? How could we go back?”

“You could have found a way, had you wished.”

“Maybe. But we’re here now. So what do you want?”

For the first time, Jarrek’s voice betrayed a hint of emotion. “I would have though that was obvious, dear lady. I want my daughter back. I have lived without her for a decade. I think that is a fitting enough punishment for anything I may or may not have done, don’t you?”

Loja lowered her gaze and swallowed. She felt her eyes begin to sting and angrily wiped away the tears. Beside her, Essen unfolded his arms and took her hand in his. The trio remained silent for a long time. Tor Essen and Loja stared into each others eyes.

“Jarrek’s right,” said Loja. “Times are changing. The occupation is something that belongs in the past.”

“Forgiven and forgotten?” Essen’s tone was bitter, but his voice was quiet and resigned.

“No, Ess, certainly not forgotten, maybe not even forgiven. But it is time to move. And there is no reason why the conflict should still be claiming casualties, least of all a little girl. She was a Cardassian, will always be a Cardassian, it doesn’t matter how she looks on the outside. It’s time for the lies to end. But she has been brought up as a Bajoran, we’ve spent the last ten years teaching her the ways of the Prophets. Perhaps now she’ll be able to begin to close those wounds her parents have made.” Loja hesitated. “All her parents.”

Tor Essen cleared his throat after what seemed like an eternity. He looked up again at the enemy across the table and nodded slowly.

“There’s been enough grief to go around, I think. For all of us.” He paused, not sure how to continue. “We… we never knew… all these years, we never knew her real name. I‘m sorry…”

The former Legate met his eye and smiled again, though this time it was a smile filled with tenderness.

“Her name is Els.”

(edit - as the swear filter wouldn't let me have an innocent word...)

Edited by Jhen Thelev
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