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Prodigal Son

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Tom always forgot how unbearable high summer on Dorvan V could be until he was smack-dab in the middle of it once again. With the temperature topping one-hundred-and-twenty degrees Fahrenheit more days than not, even the hardiest colonists retreated indoors and livestock were kept in shelters until the hottest part of the day passed. Most everyone in the settlement was Dorvan born and raised, so they knew how to look after themselves in the planet’s extreme temperatures, but every once in a while Tom got a call about a suspected heatstroke.

 

It turned out to be a false alarm this time, thankfully, but on his way back home another call came in, this time for a broken arm.

 

One splinted-and-bandaged limb later, Tom was back in the shade of his home. He peeled off his sweat-soaked clothing and took the briefest shower he could. They would have to start rationing their water supply again in the coming weeks, if Chaya’s weather projections proved correct. It was unlikely that the settlement would see rain for at least another four months.

 

Once, he had made the mistake of suggesting to Chakotay that the settlement move north, away from Dorvan’s desert equator and closer to the steppes. All he’d gotten out of that conversation was an icy glare and a brisk, “This is our home, Tom.” He never brought it up again.

 

The remains of breakfast awaited him in the kitchen, and he surveyed the mess with a sigh. Peval, true to fashion, had eaten his in three minutes flat and abandoned the bowl on the table before racing out the door that morning. Tom at least had managed to move his dishes to the sink before tackling the non-emergency medical messages that had come through to his computer terminal overnight. Chakotay never ate breakfast, but he hadn’t left the house without first downing two cups of steaming tea, and his mug was still on the counter. How he could drink the stuff in this weather, Tom would never know. With the sixteen- and eighteen-hour days the Council had been pulling these past few weeks, though, Chakotay had come to rely on the stuff.

 

A glance at the computer screen on the wall told Tom that outside the temperature had dipped to one-hundred-fifteen. It was the coolest he’d seen it in days, though still far outside his comfort zone. He wondered how the ruling council was faring in the colony’s administrative building. Its climate controls had malfunctioned yesterday in the extreme heat, and it was estimated that the repairs would take another couple of days.

 

If not, well, at least the Cardassians would be comfortable inside the council chambers, Chakotay had pointed out last night with bitter amusement. The idea had been his, after all, to have the negotiations to take place during the hottest part of the year on Dorvan. It was a subtle manipulation. Cardassians were difficult enough to deal with under the best of circumstances. When they were uncomfortable, as with all creatures, their dispositions worsened. These negotiations were delicate, years in the making, and Chakotay wanted every advantage he could wring from the situation.

 

The back door banged open, startling Tom out of his thoughts, and he turned around as Peval blew into the house.

 

“Hey, Tom.” Peval plucked an apple from the bowl on the table and bit into it. “I’m going to the flats, wanna come?”

 

Tom could think of nothing he wanted less than to go outside again. “Absolutely not.”

 

Peval shrugged. “‘Kay. I’m going with Kitar and Kabek. We’ll be home by sunset. When’s Dad coming back?”

 

“Probably not until late. It’ll be just us for dinner.”

 

Peval’s eyes lit up. “Cool. Can we have Ratamba stew?”

 

Tom laughed. “Sure. You’ll have to help me clean when you get back, though. Dad’s going to have an aneurysm when he finally pulls his nose out of council business long enough to notice the state of this house.”

 

Peval pulled a face. “Yeah, like that’ll ever happen.”

 

“Peval -”

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know. The fate of our entire planet rests on these negotiations going well and Dad’s under a lot of pressure, et cetera. Can I go now?”

 

“Yes, go,” Tom said with a laugh, and he had barely finished speaking before Peval was off again like a shot.

 

****

 

Chakotay sat back in his chair and passed a hand over his eyes.

 

“Run that one by me again,” he said.

 

“The Cardassian delegation would like us to set up private meetings with all the families who adopted the orphans,” Sara repeated. “One family at a time, with the children present as well.”

 

“No,” Chakotay said. “Next item.”

 

“Chakotay,” Tamati said quietly.

 

Chakotay pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. Sweat prickled the skin between his shoulder blades.

 

“Private meetings with the parents,” he said finally, opening his eyes, “and without the children.”

 

“One meeting,” Tamati said, “with all the families at once, children included. The council will be present as well.”

 

Chakotay looked at him. “Tamati -”

 

“They’ll want to see the children. That, they won’t negotiate on.”

 

“I agree,” Kiri said. There were murmurs of assent around the table. “I’ll respond to the Cardassians’ request first thing in the morning. What’s the word on the Federation delegation?”

 

“They are en route and will arrive in five days,” Itzel said.

 

“Assuming there are no delays, both delegations will come into orbit within minutes of one another. They’ll beam down at the same time,” Chakotay said. Timing was everything, and appearances were crucial. It was imperative they didn’t give the Cardassians the idea that they were favoring one delegation over the other, even though the colony’s views on the whole matter were well-known. Dorvan V overwhelmingly wished to be returned to Federation hands. “The delegations will sleep on their respective vessels at night and spend their days with us. Meals each day will alternate equally between Earth and Cardassia Prime cuisines.”

 

“The great hall will be kept at a temperature of no less than eighty degrees Fahrenheit and no more than eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit,” Tamati said, consulting his notes. He looked up and added dryly, “Assuming anyone ever fixes the controls, that is.”

 

Kiri looked down at her own list. “I see we moved the open forum to the afternoon of the first day.”

 

“We thought it would be better to begin with the tour of the settlement instead, and then move to the open forum after lunch,” Apeli said. “It will be cooler in the morning. Besides which, the Cardassians might be in a better frame of mind to hear the concerns of our colonists if they aren’t bombarded with them right away.”

 

“I approve the change.” Kiri made note of this. “Is there anything else?”

 

“Nothing that can’t wait until the morning,” Qura said.

 

“I’ll see you all back here first thing,” Kiri said. She gathered her notes and left the table. Slowly, the rest of the ministers filed out after her.

 

Chakotay knew he was in that odd state of exhaustion where his body physically ached but his mind would not settle. He’d have to put in a couple of hours working in the shed out back when he got home, or he’d risk waking Tom with his tossing and turning.

 

“Talavera and her family are going to speak in favor of remaining under Cardassian rule.” Tamati fell into step beside him as they crossed the wide, empty streets of the settlement.

 

“Hell.” Chakotay had at least half-expected this, but it was still a blow. So far, that made three families of Cardassian children who were in favor of remaining with the Union. “What about Behar?”

 

“Undecided, but I’ve a feeling he’s leaning toward advocating for complete independence.”

 

“That’s his right,” Chakotay said, but couldn’t help the note of frustration in his voice. That was even more of a far-fetched idea than being given over to the Federation. One step at a time. They had to obtain their victories one step at a time. They couldn’t make the leap from living under rule of the Cardassian Union to complete independence. Being returned to Federation hands was enough of a stretch as it was.

 

“They can’t force the children to go with them, you know,” Tamati said.

 

“I know.” That, at least, was one worry off his plate. When the Cardassian Union finally took notice of Dorvan V again two years ago, it had been because they wanted to mine the southern continent. Six months of negotiations followed, and in the end the colonists had managed to come out of it with paperwork that stated the Cardassian orphans were legally members of the Dorvan V settlement, and that they were not bound to any blood family they might have elsewhere in the Union. “But there’s always the chance that the children might be curious about their origins and want to visit Cardassia Prime. Perhaps even remain there. Several of them are now legally adults in the eyes of the Union.”

 

“Including Peval.”

 

“Including Peval,” Chakotay said quietly.

 

They paused at the top of a small rise. Most of the settlement was spread out below. The houses, save for a handful, were dark. Tamati lived to the west; Chakotay, to the east.

 

“It’s natural for the children to be curious,” Tamati said finally. “I doubt any would leave, though. Half-Cardassian children would be about as welcome on Cardassia Prime as they would be on Earth. Distrust runs deep on both sides.”

 

Chakotay was suddenly very tired. “Go home, Tamati.”

 

Tamati gave a soft huff of laughter. “But we have such stimulating conversations. Anaru hates politics.”

 

“He should have known what he was getting into when he married you.”

 

“I’m not sure that he did,” Tamati said, his tone unexpectedly somber as he gazed out across the settlement. Before Chakotay could probe that comment further, he added, “Oh, the light’s still on in our house. He’s waited up for me again, the idiot. I should go. Don’t forget, we need to discuss seating arrangements at the meals tomorrow.”

 

Chakotay groaned inwardly. So far, that was the one item that was taking them the longest to iron out. Of everything, it seemed the least important.

 

“I won’t forget,” he said. “Goodnight, Tamati.”

 

****

 

The chatter of insects woke Tom just before dawn. All the windows in their bedroom had been thrown wide, the cool nighttime air whistling through the house. He’d close them all again just as the sun started to peek over the ridge, and the house would remain tolerable until mid-morning. The life outside would fall silent as soon as the first rays of light touched the valley, and the world would soon grow still under the baking heat.

 

He rolled over. Chakotay was still asleep, head turned away from Tom, a hand resting on his stomach. Impossible to know when he had come to bed last night. Tom made it to midnight before dropping off, and still Chakotay hadn’t returned home.

 

However it turned out, he would be glad when these negotiations were over.

 

He curled up against Chakotay without waking him, and managed another hour of sleep before the alarm went off.

 

“Morning.” Chakotay kissed him in greeting. “Did I wake you last night?”

 

“No. When did you get in?”

 

“It was almost two.”

 

Tom winced inwardly. “How are preparations going?”

 

They spent a few minutes going over the minutiae of the previous day. Chakotay talked about the ever-present headache of the seating arrangements; Tom told him about Elija’s broken arm and Peval’s antics.

 

“Peval spent nearly the whole day outside with his friends. Didn’t even break a sweat. I know it’s his Cardassian physiology, but it’s still something. And then he was sleeping under two blankets last night when I looked in on him.” Tom stretched, felt his spine pop. “Wish I had his genetic makeup, sometimes.”

 

“You’d never survive a day on Earth if you did. He’d be miserable almost anywhere else but here.” Chakotay checked the time, then carefully extracted himself from Tom. “I’ll be back late again tonight. Don’t wait up.”

 

“Hey.” Tom slid a finger into Chakotay’s waistband and pulled him in. “Love you.”

 

“Love you, too.” Chakotay’s warm voice was full of affection. He kissed Tom again and added, “Clean the house sometime, would you?”

 

Tom was lulled back into sleep by the sound of the shower, and Chakotay was gone when he woke again. It was just after dawn. He made his rounds of the house, closing all the windows and drawing the blinds in an effort to stave off the worst of the heat until later. He took a cold shower and dressed in an outfit of light cotton, resigned to the fact that he had perhaps an hour or two of comfort before the worst part of the day set in.

 

Peval was eating breakfast in the kitchen when Tom walked in.

 

“Hey.” Tom squeezed Peval’s shoulder. “Sleep okay?”

 

“Yeah.” Peval shrugged. “It was kind of cold.”

 

Even now, he was dressed in pajama pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tom touched the back of his hand to Peval’s forehead and found his skin chilled.

 

“Take a warm shower when you’re done eating,” he said, moving over to the coffee pot and pouring himself a mug. “By the time that’s done, it should have warmed up enough outside to where you’re comfortable. What are you up to today?”

 

“I was going to go help Aunt Chaya at the lab for a while,” Peval said. “I don’t know about after that.”

 

“Okay, well, I have a few house calls to make today, so just make sure you’re home for dinner. Dad’s busy again, so it’ll just be us.”

 

“Hey, Tom?”

 

Tom paused in the doorway. “Yeah?”

 

Peval picked at a loose thread on his sleeve. “I - uh.”

 

He stopped. Tom went over to the table and sat across from him.

 

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

 

“Nothing,” Peval said. “Never mind.”

 

“Hey.” Tom ducked his head to meet Peval’s eyes. “You can tell me.”

 

“It’s just - I was wondering… How do you get a Federation citizenship application? Do you know anyone in Starfleet who could send you the paperwork?”

 

“I’m sure I do,” Tom said warily. “Why?”

 

Peval blew out a sharp breath between his teeth and said, “I want to go to the Academy.”

 

Tom’s chest constricted. “Kiddo, you’re only sixteen.”

 

“I have to establish residency in the Federation first. That takes a year,” Peval said in a rush. “I’ll be seventeen by the time I’m a Federation citizen. If I apply to the Academy right away, then there’s a chance I’ll be able to start at eighteen, just like most cadets.”

 

Tom shouldn’t have been surprised. The first thing Peval had ever said about himself was that he wanted to go to the Academy; that he wanted to be a pilot. He’d been unwavering about it. According to Chakotay, he’d wanted this ever since he was eight years old. It still felt like a blow.

 

“You realize what that would mean, don’t you?” Tom said gently. Peval swallowed visibly, but he nodded. “Dad and I aren’t Federation citizens any longer. If these negotiations fall through, we couldn’t…”

 

He trailed off. The application process for a pass across the border took ages to process. Visiting their child was a compelling reason to cross into Federation space, meaning that it was unlikely their applications would be turned down, but it wasn’t an urgent reason. They could apply tomorrow and still be waiting for permission two years down the line.

 

“I know it’s not great timing,” Peval said. “I know Dad has other things to worry about right now.”

 

“Does he know?” Tom asked.

 

“No,” Peval said quietly. “I don’t know how to tell him.”

 

“Okay.” Tom rubbed a hand over his face. “Well, it’d probably take me a couple of weeks to get my hands on the application, then a few months for the Federation to process it. We’d need to find you a place to live, so you can establish residency.”

 

“Any of the deep space stations would work. I’ve already started looking into them,” Peval said, a gleam of hope in his eyes.

 

“No, I’d want you on Earth or Mars. Or near Bajor. We have friends on those planets, people who could check in on you from time to time.”

 

“So… yes?” Peval asked tentatively.

 

“Well, I don’t have a problem with it. Aside from the obvious.” Tom gave him a shaky smile. “We’d miss you.”

 

“I have to do this, Tom.”

 

“I know,” Tom said. “God, do I ever. I’ll talk to Dad for you, and we’ll go from there.”

 

****

 

Tom had learned, from past experience, that it was better to face difficult discussions with Chakotay head-on rather than put them off. Chakotay didn’t appreciate information being kept from him, even if the reasons for that were perfectly logical. Like how he might prefer to spend the next three weeks focusing on the negotiations without having Peval’s impending departure hanging over him.

 

He put it off for a day, but Chakotay didn’t need to know that. Tom spent that time doing his own research, and found that what Peval had told him was solid. It would take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for his application to cross the border to be approved, given his reasons. He would then need a year to establish residency and, from there, citizenship. He could only apply to the Academy after he was legally a citizen. Dual citizenship didn’t exist between their two governments, so Peval would need to renounce the Cardassian Union and resign himself to yet another lengthy process just to obtain permission to cross the border again should he ever want to visit Dorvan.

 

It could be years before they saw one another again, if these negotiations fell through. Tom felt ill at the thought, and he’d only known Peval for four years.

 

He was pulled out of his ruminations early the next morning by the wailing of his hand terminal. Chakotay was long gone for the day, and Peval was still asleep. Tom checked the device and saw that it was an urgent medical matter. He scribbled a note for Peval and left the house.

 

Eight hours later, he had welcomed the settlement’s newest resident into the world. There were no complications, as he had initially feared when he first got the message. It was just a long, difficult birth, but mother and child had come out of it just fine in the end.

 

The administration building was on the way home, and Tom stopped in. He had to give the new baby’s information to Tamati to enter into the database anyway, and it was an excuse to get out of the heat for a little bit.

 

An excuse to see Chakotay, too. Time to bite the bullet.

 

Tamati was in his office. The shades were drawn, and his formal robes were hanging in a corner. It was as casual as Tom had ever seen him in public. He wore a simple brown tunic over a red shirt. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, his only concession to the heat.

 

The light in the room was dim and unforgiving. Tamati’s skin looked waxen, the bones of his face too prominent.

 

“Afternoon.” Tom rapped on the doorframe. Tamati looked up. “They actually give you all breaks around here?”

 

“So they tell me.” Tamati pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned back in his chair. “We reconvene again in an hour. I have three bonding ceremonies in the coming week to prepare, so I’m trying to make good use of the time.”

 

Tom could think of better ways for Tamati to spend his little downtime, but wisely refrained from saying so. He held up his PADD and said, “I have a birth for you to enter.”

 

“Moriah had her baby?”

 

“Yeah, finally. Here.” Tom handed over the PADD and Tamati entered the information into his computer. “Chakotay in his office?”

 

“Yes, though I would suggest steering clear of him for a time.”

 

“Oh?” Tom picked up the PADD and slid it back into his pocket. Chakotay was the council’s newest and most reluctant minister. He had only taken the position six months ago, in the wake of both Ephram’s passing and the decision to expand the council from seven ministers to nine. Chakotay had been serving as a de facto minister for so long that he had been an automatic choice. He was often torn between fear of failing his people again and anger at being forced into a position he didn’t think he could possibly serve well. On top of all that, he was desperate to do right by his people. It made for some very tense nights at their house, though Tom was mostly getting used to it. He knew how to diffuse Chakotay, most days. “He was saying something about seating arrangements the other night.”

 

“If that was our only problem, I would be delighted.” Tamati rested his head against the back of his chair. Truth be told, he looked exhausted. Worse than Chakotay did most nights. “Now we are in disagreement over the gifts.”


“Gifts?” Tom echoed.

 

“Yes. It’s customary for us to offer gifts to visitors.”

 

“You didn’t get me a gift when I first came to Dorvan. Should I be offended?”

 

Tamati glared at him through narrowed eyes. He knew better than to rise to the bait, and said, “It is doubly important now that we choose an appropriate gift, one that can be offered to both delegations and will be seen as an offering of peace and good faith. There is much disagreement over precisely what that gift should be.”

 

“Sounds fascinating.”

 

“It’s incredibly dull,” Tamati said wearily. “We should be planning for the negotiations themselves.”

 

Tom knew better than to ask if he was all right, so instead he asked, “How are your energy levels?”

 

“No worse.”

 

“Pain?”

 

“About the same.” Tamati’s voice was tightly controlled. His patience was wearing thin.

 

“You might want to move a cot in here,” Tom said. “Catch a nap during breaks, if you can. Even if you just lay down for a bit, it will help tremendously.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Tamati said, a note of warning in his voice now. Tom let it be.

 

He was halfway to the door again when he thought of something. “Tamati?”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Am I Peval’s parent? In the eyes of the government, I mean. I never thought to ask at the time, but I’m wondering if the bonding ceremony gave me those rights.”

 

“No, that’s a separate process,” Tamati said. “Why?”

 

“I was just curious. See you around.”

 

Chakotay was indeed in his office. Tom didn’t even need to knock on the doorframe to announce his presence. Chakotay had obviously heard him approach.

 

“Hey.”

 

Chakotay gave him a distracted smile. “Hi. What are you doing here?”

 

“I was in the area. Moriah had her baby. Lunch?”

 

Chakotay glanced at his computer. “It’s four o’clock.”

 

“Early dinner, then.”

 

There was a replicator in one of the lounges, which was empty this time of day.

 

“So what is it that’s so important it can’t wait until after these negotiations are over?” Chakotay asked as he nursed a mug of tea.

 

Tom shot him a glare. “Sorry, am I not supposed to speak to you for the next three weeks?”

 

Chakotay immediately looked contrite. “Sorry. Long day.”

 

“To answer your question, no, I’m not sure this can actually wait. I had a talk with Peval last night.” Tom drew a deep breath, then plunged forth. “He wants to go to the Academy.”

 

“And if these negotiations go well, he will,” Chakotay said. “Is that all?”

 

Tom shook his head. “No, Chakotay. I mean that he wants to go to the Academy no matter what. Even if it means renouncing his Cardassian citizenship and becoming a permanent resident of the Federation. He wants me to see if I can get a Federation citizenship application for him.”

 

“Obviously, you told him no.”

 

“Obviously, I didn’t, which is why I’m here talking about it now,” Tom said heatedly.

 

“Tom, we have delegations from Cardassia and the Federation meeting here in four days,” Chakotay said. “The fate of this entire planet rests on these negotiations going well. I don’t have time to entertain Peval’s flights of fancy right now!”

 

“Flights of - you were barely older than he is now when you left for Starfleet!”

 

“Yes, and I never saw my father again!” Chakotay got up abruptly. “He wants to go so badly, then you sign the paperwork. I won’t be part of this.”

 

Tom’s jaw clenched. Peval might be an adult in the eyes of the Union, but he would have to wait two more years to be considered one in the Federation. “I can’t. I’m not his father. Or his legal guardian. I checked with Tamati. The bonding ceremony doesn’t automatically give me the same rights you have over him. I can’t sign that paperwork. I’m nothing to him.”

 

“You’re not -” Chakotay broke off, shaking his head. “You’re not nothing to him. It’s just -”

 

“You’re his father, and I’m not,” Tom finished for him bitterly.

 

“I think we’ve gotten off-topic here,” Chakotay said. He rubbed his temples. “Peval can go to the Academy if we are returned to the Federation. If we remain with the Union, then he stays here. That’s all there is to it, Tom. Look, I have to go. We have a lot to do before the delegations arrive.”

 

He got up from his seat, picking up his mug of tea and Tom’s empty plate.

 

“You’ll talk to him, then,” Tom said. “It’s your decision, you should be the one to tell him.”

 

“Yes, fine,” Chakotay sighed. “I’ll talk to him. I really do need to go now, Tom.”

 

He stooped to kiss Tom on the cheek, added, “Don’t wait up for me tonight,” and left the lounge.