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Nov. & Dec. Runner-up: Pray For Favour


Chen
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The phrase ‘dead of night’ certainly seemed apt. Were it not for the fact that Kellan’s young eyes had adjusted to the dark, he felt he could have been sneaking around a crypt. There was a presence in the atmosphere of Valo II that was reminiscent of the underworld somehow, a heavy, oppressive quality to the air that threatened to crush you with every passing minute. There was no hope here. No light.


The young Bajoran scrambled over crumbling walls. The familiar tickle of brick-dust on his lungs brought with it the threat of a telltale cough that could wake one of the tumbledown ruin’s inhabitants. This part of the city was nothing more than a slum, filled with people like him. Food was scarce and money even more so. This wasn’t his first time sneaking food from here; the ruin’s inhabitants were thrifty and resourceful, a gang of street thugs with just enough influence that they were able to gather food as a tithe in addition to whatever else they were able to scavenge or pilfer from forays further into the city. They were known to Kellan, and he was known to them. In fact, their relationship to one another was well defined. They provided him food and, on the frequent occasions when they realised that, they also provided him pain.


It was worth it, though. The clandestine operation always brought with it a chance of success. The truth was, Kellan’s hopes lay far from here and he wasn’t stealing for himself. The sixteen year-old thief had found someone he cared about in the slums. He had been led to him not by the Prophets, but by his own two feet, and when he’d encountered the old, gaunt beggar and offered him part of the food he had managed to gather during the day, he had suddenly felt and understood the meaning of kindness. In return, the man who he had come to know as Heril had given him quite the unique gift. During the hours they spent together, he taught him incredible things about the stars, about space and about the rules by which the world worked. It wasn’t much of a world, but to suddenly find himself beginning to understand it made Kellan hungry for knowledge. He’d had a basic education in the refugee camps but, once they had been broken up, he’d learned little else other than what was necessary to survive on the streets of this excuse for a slum. And so the never ending quest to sate two kinds of hunger had begun.


The camps didn’t exist any more. They had been dispersed after the liberation of Bajor. Many of the Bajora had taken their chance to travel home but for some, such things were not possible. Kellan had no family to whom he could return. During his early years in the camps, he could remember being taken care of by a number of different families but inevitably the same thing would always happen and he would be passed along like an unwanted disease thanks to the amount of food a growing boy needed to consume. He was as thin as a rake now, all arms and legs as he had shot upwards but not outwards. His frame was ideal for nights like this, sneaking through exposed segments of foundations, into and out of cavities in walls, or in the narrow spaces between ceilings and floors. Heril’s concerns about his health usually fell on deaf ears, not because Kellan wasn’t worried himself, but because he couldn’t afford to think about it. Fortunately, it was easy to get the old man talking about what lay beyond the bitter world that they lived in. During those times, such things were easily forgotten.


A floorboard creaked. He’d allowed himself to become too distracted and deviated a few inches from his normal path. He knew it was going to cost him and his suspicions were confirmed moments later when his sharp ears picked up three words that made his heart sink: “I’ll go check.” Immediately, he had to make a decision about whether or not to listen to his instincts, which were all telling him to run, or his stomach, which was telling him he had to stay. Heril had to be hungry, too. It was two days now since Kellan had managed to find anything for them. No-one else would look after the old man; without Kellan he might starve. His feet carried him quickly to a darkened recess despite their will to carry him to the nearest window. With great dread, he realised that there were two sets of footsteps coming towards him and not one.


“It’s that whelp again. I’m telling you, he comes here every night.”


The room’s metal door was unceremoniously heaved to one side by two pairs of hands. Kellan never used it, there were other ways in and out, but none that he could access now without being seen. He held his breath for fear that even that might give him away. To his own ears, it sounded like the men would be able to locate him by the drum beat of his heart. No matter how many times he was caught by them, he could never be quite sure what form their justice would take. Lately they had been getting more and more inventive.


When he saw them start to check recesses where the wall had collapsed, he knew that he was going to have the chance to find out.


At times like this, he could feel parts of his mind starting to shut down. It was a protective response, he realised, one that helped him to cope with the fact that this happened so regularly and that let him maintain his will to keep coming back to the most reliable source of food in the whole area. Rather than cowering until the inevitable moment where he would be caught, he was taken with the overwhelming desire to just get this over with. He stood, and walked out of the shadows where they could see him.


“I knew it! Didn’t I tell you it would be that brat?”


The man closed the distance between them in seconds; Kellan took a step back towards the wall and did his best not to flinch. He just had to be brave now, he told himself, although he felt the painful tug of a fist closing tightly around his hair and the unpleasant moisture of spit on his face before he’d fully finished the thought.


“You steal from your own people! You betray the fact you are a Bajoran! You’re no better than a Cardassian!”


Kellan could pick up from his captor’s tone that a ‘Cardassian’ was something undesirable but the significance was lost on him. He was sure he had been born here; this was the only world he knew. He’d only ever known other Bajorans and some humans, a gaudy looking race of people with smooth noses and brightly coloured uniforms. He was speaking before he’d even realised it; his mind had been trained to fill gaps in his knowledge.


“What’s one of them?”


Apparently he’d said the wrong thing. The fist tightened around his hair, causing him to cry out briefly before he was silenced by a backhand across the face that was hard enough to make him taste blood.


“You’re an insult to your people! You don’t know what it means to be a Bajoran!”


There was a heat in his words like nothing Kellan had ever heard. Somehow, he had drawn a primal rage from this man like none he had ever seen before. All concerns of food and knowledge were abandoned and his mental defenses crumbled: he was terrified for his life!


The other man drew alongside him and grabbed his face, rough fingers squeezing Kellan’s jaw as he forced his head sideways.


“He doesn’t even wear an earring. He probably doesn’t know about the Prophets, either.”


“Do you?”


The weak nod he gave them was honest, but not so much so as the whimper that accompanied it. He knew enough about the Prophets to know that they didn’t care about him. There was no path they wanted him to walk. They had doomed him to this desolate existence to live with barren guts and absent hope. Heril spoke fondly of them, but Kellan could not bring himself to believe in deities that would make such arbitrary condemnations.


“Then pray they will look favourably on you tonight.”


The boy’s answer was despondent. He knew that his spirit, as well as his body, would take a long time to recover from this night.


“They won’t. They never do.”


::He was immediately grabbed and dragged through the door. They manhandled him over to the edge of a table, and forced his face down onto it. One of them grabbed his hand and stretched it out over the table’s filthy surface, pinning it into place with strength far superior than his. He shook with terror as he caught sight of something metallic and cylindrical as it was raised into the air. Before his sentence was delivered, a voice hissed into his ear, the heat of Bajoran breath making his skin crawl.::


“Then perhaps they will see fit to teach you the lesson that treason against your own people is something we will not tolerate. It will be a long time before you think about stealing from us again.”


He screwed his eyes closed as the heavy metal bar sped down towards his fingers...

Fleet Captain Diego Herrera

Commanding Officer

USS Vigilant

NCC-75515

Deputy Commandant: UFOP: SB118 Academy

Edited by Diego Herrera
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