Breathe in, breathe out. Tora Manar listened to herself breathe, instead of the bustle of the Promenade below. It seemed vaguely sacrilegious to watch for the Prophets in the hustle and bustle of an alien marketplace, full of people paying no heed to the wonder in their midst. The Orbs were kept in monasteries for a reason, so that the faithful might come on retreat and meditate on them in peace, even if they were not fortunate enough to see an Orb directly.
The stars were beautiful, so many more of them than she had imagined, and yet somehow colder, too, stripped of the twinkle of atmosphere. Manar had stood at the window for … some time. A newly arrived security officer did not have the clearance to see a schedule for ships transiting through the Celestial Temple.
But there, she was getting distracted again. Manar breathed in, and out. In, and out.
Like a storm blowing up out of nowhere, the Celestial Temple opened, and Manar laughed in wonder.
“As the great river floods in the rains
So your wisdom washes over us
Scouring away impurity
Washing us into new courses.”
She leaned against the bulkhead, vigil over, weariness fighting with elation as she sang the old chant softly, the chant that she’d learned in the mining labor camp so far from her family’s lands. Now, she could find her room and get some sleep after a long day’s travel to her new posting. She slung her bag over her shoulder and checked the map on her PADD, humming softly.
The merchants below didn’t bother her so much, now. If the Prophets were with them in a Cardassian labor camp, surely a free market-place would not trouble them.
“He’s just like a machine. Look at him, Manar.”
Manar looked up from fiddling with her new Starfleet uniform to see what her friend Rez was looking at. This was her first full day on the station, and now that she’d had a decent night’s sleep she was a bit nervous. Rez was watching a Vulcan, wearing security gold, eating some kind of soup and studying a PADD. He looked fairly ordinary, for a Vulcan: tall, thin, greenish skin, straight black hair, pointy ears, smooth nose, probably around thirty years old, relatively good-looking. Exotic, to a girl who’d never been off of Bajor before.
“What?” she said, turning back to Rez. “He looks normal to me. I mean, normal for a Vulcan, anyway.” Manar dug her fork into her hasperat. It wasn’t as good as her grandfather made, but what could you expect of replicated food? She stole a glance at the Vulcan. He was the first one she’d ever seen; the Human’s oldest allies might be a power in the Federation, but they had a reputation of keeping to themselves.
“You wouldn’t know,” Rez said, “you just got here. But every day in the two months I’ve been on the station, he follows exactly the same routine. He gets to the Replimat at exactly the same time and orders the same soup and reads the same PADD. It’s like clockwork. I wonder why he does it?”
“Clockwork, huh,” Manar said. “And how do you know that? Have you been here every day for the past two months timing his movements?”
Rez shot her a look. “No,” he said. “But it’s not like it was hard to notice.”
“So you’ve been watching him for two months.” Manar sat back and tilted her head. “Have you ever seen him talk to anyone while he does it?”
Rez snorted. “I’ve never seen him talk with anyone, period. On duty or off.”
“In the two months you’ve been watching him, have you ever been polite and introduced yourself?” In the section on Vulcans in the training course designed to integrate Bajoran officers into Starfleet, they’d said that Vulcans often didn’t mix much with people of other races even when they did move among them. But still—two months without speaking to anyone?
“No.” Rez shook his head. “Why would I want to? And what would I say to a Vulcan?”
“Now, I know your mother taught you better manners than that, Teno Rez.” She stood up, tossing her napkin on the table. “And ‘hello’ usually works.” Before she could talk herself out of it, she marched over to the Vulcan’s table. After all, one of the reasons she’d transferred to Starfleet after Bajor finally joined the Federation was to meet aliens other than Cardassians and experience things she wouldn’t get to do on Bajor.
She stopped two feet away from the Vulcan, careful not to invade his personal space. He didn’t look up from his PADD. “Hello,” she said. “I’m Tora Manar.” She smiled at him, hoping her friendliness would help smooth the waters even if the Vulcan couldn’t reciprocate.
The Vulcan looked up from his work. “Ensign Tora,” he acknowledged. “I am Soval.” He seemed to be waiting for something.
Now what? What do you talk with a Vulcan about? “I just got here,” she said, gesturing around the Promenade. “I’ve been assigned to the Beta shift Habitat ring security station.”
Soval raised an eyebrow. “I am also assigned to that station and shift. You are replacing Ensign Latha?”
“I guess,” Manar said. Latha was a common Bajoran name; Starfleet assigned a lot of Bajorans who’d transferred to Starfleet to DS9 for their first few months, before moving them to a more permanent assignment. They called it ‘getting your feet wet,’ and it was the reason Manar and Rez were here. She was just glad their assignments had overlapped enough for them to be there at the same time; Rez was shipping out on the Lincoln in a week, and who knew when they’d see each other again? She glanced over at Rez, who was trying to surreptitiously motion her back. “So, this is my first Starfleet assignment,” she said. “What can I expect?”
The Vulcan followed her glance to Rez. “I am not aware of any great procedural differences between Starfleet and Bajoran security arrangements that were not covered in your classes,” he said. “I believe your companion is attempting to attract your attention.” He returned his attention to his PADD.
Manar frowned. That hadn’t gone well. She stalked back over to their table and flopped down.
“And that would be why I haven’t introduced myself,” Rez said with a grin. “Crash and burn.”
“Are you done yet?” Manar said, irritated. Besides, she hadn’t given up on the Vulcan. Before she was transferred off, she was going to have a real conversation with him if it killed her.
“Yes,” Rez replied. “Want to take a walk along the upper Promenade? Maybe we’ll get lucky, and a ship will go through the Celestial Temple.”
“Ooh, wouldn’t that be nice,” Manar said. To live in a place where one could see the Prophets’ own home open to mortals! Twice in as many days! It was such a blessing.
Two minutes before Beta shift began, Manar walked into the secondary security station that covered the Habitat ring. Soval was already there, running a check on his phaser. Maybe she’d get the opportunity to talk with him sometime during the shift. Manar stepped up to the weapons rack next to Soval and selected one for herself, signing it out with her security code and running a check on it. A third security officer, an ensign, human, entered right behind the last patrol from Alpha shift. Manar stepped over to the secure console to give them room at the weapons rack. A fellow Bajoran jogged in, earring clinking.
“You are late, Lieutenant Hazar.” Soval’s voice cut across the murmured pleasantries as the shifts switched off. “This is the fourth incident of tardiness in the last two weeks. If it becomes a habit, I will have to report it.”
“Sorry, sir,” Hazar said stiffly. “It won’t happen again.”
Soval nodded acknowledgement, then turned to the Alpha shift supervisor. “I relieve you, Lieutenant,” he said formally.
“I stand relieved,” the other replied a little less stiffly. “See you tomorrow.”
As Alpha shift filed out, Soval turned to Manar. “Our routine is fairly standard. At least one officer must remain in the station in case of emergency; we follow a regular patrol schedule, with assorted random patrols. Report anything suspicious immediately. You have been given the standard station security orientation briefing?” At Manar’s nod he continued. “Then you and Ensign Wilkins will be assigned to the first patrol sweep. Any questions?”
“No, sir,” Manar said. Her briefing had been thorough, and she could ask Wilkins if she had any questions on patrol.
“So,” Manar asked as they made their way around the station through one ugly gray hall after another, “is there really enough of a security problem in this area to justify two-man patrols?”
“Not really, no,” Wilkins replied with a grin. He was a human, and she had seen enough of them since joining Starfleet that his species was no longer a novelty to her. Like all humans, he was fairly laid-back and talkative. He was short and fit, with a round face and attractive features, if she ignored the lack of ridges. “Not since the war ended, anyway. They just want the new Bajoran officers paired up with a regular Starfleet vet in case of emergency. And after the war, and the station being occupied, people find Starfleet patrols reassuring. So, here we are.” He shrugged. “I don’t mind—it’s nice to have the company.”
“I suppose so,” Manar said. She smiled at him. It was a pity they worked together. She allowed herself a brief fantasy of what his dusky amber skin would look like against her rich bronze, before shaking it off. She didn’t date her partners. “Kind of insulting to us, though, when you think about it.”
“They just want to make sure you have a chance to figure out the ropes before throwing you in the deep end. It’s fairly standard procedure for integrating large numbers of prior service organizations into Starfleet, Ensign.” He paused to check that a maintenance cover was properly sealed. “Not that we do that often.”
“Yes, but you have new planets joining every year,” Manar protested.
He shrugged. “Usually, they make recruits from new Federation members go through the full four years at the Academy even if they were in whatever military or scientific corps their planet had. You Bajorans, all they gave you was a three month BASIC course. And then a couple months of hand-holding afterwards.”
“Well, I guess when you put it that way, it isn’t bad,” Manar admitted—she’d only had a one-year course to become an officer in Bajoran service; if regular Starfleet officers had four-year training periods, she had a lot to catch up on.
“Hey, on a less serious note, we have a weekly get-together in Quarks,” her partner said. “You’re welcome to come. Wednesday night—that’s two days from today—right after we get off-shift.”
“Thank you, Ensign,” she said with a grin. “Sounds like fun.”
“Call me Brendan,” he said.
“I’m Manar.” She smiled; one thing she’d been worried about, when joining, was that she wouldn’t find the kind of camaraderie among aliens that she’d had in the Bajoran militia. It was good to know that wasn’t the case, especially after her run-in with the Vulcan.
“So, what do you think about the latest round of trouble on Bajor?” Brendan said.
Manar shrugged. “Bajor’s still half-destroyed from the Occupation, and nobody’s quite sure what it will look like when it’s been put back together again, except that it won’t look like it did before. Somebody’s always upset about something.”
“Yeah, the whole situation’s a mess,” Brendan said. “If you ask me, a lot of people down there are just plain counterproductive.”
Manar shot him an annoyed glance. Who was he, an alien who’d grown up in freedom and plenty, to pass judgment on Bajor? But, she reminded herself, she sometimes thought that, and besides, she didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with her new partner.
A week later, Manar was feeling pretty confident in her duties. Walking a beat was pretty much the same, whether you were in Bajoran or Starfleet service. She’d made friends with all her shift mates besides Soval, who didn’t talk much unless he was giving an order, though he didn’t seem to mind his crew chatting as long as they paid attention to their duties. His silence did nothing to dissuade her curiosity. Humans were an open book, easy enough to figure out; Manar liked challenges.
“Has anybody ever invited Lieutenant Soval to Quark’s?” she asked Brendan as they made their way back to the Habitat Ring security station after their last patrol. It was her second Wednesday on Deep Space Nine. Other shift supervisors came with their crews, so she knew there was no protocol reason why Soval couldn’t come.
“Not that I know of,” Brendan said with a shrug. “But people generally don’t invite Vulcans to bars. And Vulcans tend to be big on hierarchy—they don’t often socialize with their juniors. Besides, it’s not like he doesn’t know about it.”
“But nobody’s ever asked him?” she asked. She knew Vulcans were solitary by nature, but surely some form of contact with others outside of his duties would be welcome.
“Not in the six months I’ve been here.”
“Mind if I invite him?” Manar asked, slightly appalled.
“Knock yourself out,” Brendan said skeptically. “I doubt he’ll come, but you can ask him.”
They turned the last corner to the security station, and entered to find that Gamma shift had already started to arrive and gear up, making the tiny room a bit crowded. While she waited her turn to check in her phaser, Manar ran through a dozen different ways to ask Soval to come. It didn’t take her long to figure out that a simple invitation was the best, and if he turned it down, it would hardly be the end of the world.
He was still working on paperwork. The Federation required far more of it than she’d ever dreamed, when she’d volunteered for transfer; she couldn’t imagine what they did with all of it. Though, at least none of it required actual ‘paper,’ which couldn’t be counted on in a Bajoran militia still recovering from the occupation and not always possessing reliable computers. She stepped up and checked her phaser in. (She still thought the design of a Bajoran disruptor much easier to handle). Soval didn’t seem to be close to finishing up, she decided, hovering near his desk. Should she ask him now, or wait until he was done?
“Yes, Ensign?” Soval said, glancing up at her.
“The rest of the team goes to Quark’s, after shift on Wednesdays,” Manar said. “I was wondering if you would like to join us tonight?”
He sat back and raised an eyebrow.
“It’s okay if you don’t want to,” Manar said, feeling stupid, after waiting for him to say something. She could feel the eyes of the rest of the team on her. “I just thought maybe you’d like to get out, a little.”
“Thank you for the offer,” Soval said, studying her. “I have paperwork that must be finished.”
“You can come when you’re done,” Manar countered.
He considered that for a moment, head cocked. “Perhaps I shall.” He turned his attention back to his screen.
Manar let out an unobtrusive sigh of relief. That had gone better than she expected.
Brendan tugged at her sleeve, and she followed him out the door.
Manar hovered on the fringes of the group, glancing at the door to the bar when no one was looking at her. After almost three quarters of an hour, she was starting to give up. Brendan and his girlfriend had already left, and some of the others would start drifting away soon. She turned her attention back to the story Fala was telling involving childhood pranks between siblings.
“Oh, that’s nothing,” Tom said. The two were both on the Docking Ring crew, and were in the habit of swapping stories. “My sister, Gracie?” He shook his head. “On ranches on Earth, they have these fences with electrical current through them, to keep cattle from straying, right? I grew up on Deneva, I’d never seen one before my family visited my grandfather when I was nine. Anyway, Gracie and I were playing by ourselves out in the north forty one day, and we found this fence. She dared me to pee on it, which I did.”
“Ooh,” Fala said. “That was nasty. You win, I have no stories that can top that one.”
“Wonder what Lieutenant Soval’s doing here?”
Manar glanced up to see him standing, somewhat uncertainly, in the doorway. “Over here, Lieutenant,” she called, waving to make sure he spotted them.
“He’s joining us?” Tom said, a little incredulously.
“I asked him,” Manar said.
Tom shrugged. “Fine by me. I’m just surprised he actually came.” He raised his glass towards a passing waiter.
“Actually, so am I,” Manar said.
“Pull up a chair, Lieutenant,” Fala said as he drew near. Her speech was slightly slurred from drinking, but if she was drunk she hid it well. “Join us. We were just sharing embarrassing childhood stories.”
“Painful ones,” Tom said. “Don’t forget the painful part.”
“D’you have any you wanna share?” Fala asked.
Soval raised an eyebrow. “Not particularly.” He hesitated, standing behind the chair next to Manar.
“Fala and Tom were sharing stories,” she said. “The rest of us were listening and laughing. Actually, it was a bit of a competition for who had the worst story, and Tom just won it.”
“I see,” he said, sitting down. “Vulcan green tea,” he told the Ferengi hovering at his elbow.
“And where’s my refill?” Fala asked. “But Tom did win. His sister once talked him into peeing on an electrified fence. Tops anything my brothers ever did to me.”
“I am not surprised,” Soval said gravely, raising an eyebrow at Tom.
“I was nine, and I’d never seen one before.”
There was a slight silence, and Manar shifted uncomfortably. Now that the Vulcan had joined them, the others seemed to have lost their ease. “I always got along fine with my brothers—better than I generally got along with the other girls in the camp. I was a bit of a tomboy, which my mother was constantly trying to remedy. Though I think her main objection was trying to keep our clothes clean and in one piece. Climbing rocks and things was a bit hard on them.”
“Did it work?” Tom asked.
Manar hesitated. “I never stopped preferring playing with the boys instead of the girls, but she did manage to get me interested in books and schoolwork, which kept me out of trouble more than my brothers.”
“I had understood that education was a low priority on Bajor during the Occupation,” Soval said neutrally.
“It took a back seat to survival, but that doesn’t mean we’re ignorant or backwards,” Fala shot back.
“No, but it does mean we have a lot of work to do to catch up,” Manar replied. “The primary and secondary education in my home province is only just getting going again in some places, almost a decade after the Occupation ended. We have to rebuild the universities, and even then most people can’t afford to take the time off work to go. I couldn’t; that’s why I joined the militia. And then transferred to Starfleet—their continuing education programs are much better than Bajor’s. I don’t want to be a security guard or a soldier all my life.”
“What career do you wish to pursue?” Soval asked. “You are not currently enrolled in any academic studies.”
“How do you know?” Manar frowned. She didn’t think she’d ever mentioned the subject in the station house.
“As your immediate superior, I would be informed of your participation in any such endeavors so that I could adjust the duty roster as necessary to accommodate them.”
“Oh,” Manar said, bemused by the idea that one’s superiors would rearrange the duty roster to take personal studies into account. And that Soval was so matter-of-fact about it. “Well, I wanted to get settled in to my duties before adding anything on the side.”
“Logical,” Soval said with a nod. “Unfortunately, assignments are currently in a state of flux while Starfleet transfers itself from a war footing to a peacetime footing. It may be some time before you receive a long-term posting if events are left to themselves. It is unfortunate, as Starfleet needs fewer guards and more scientists during peacetime, and greater education—particularly in the sciences—would greatly enhance your career flexibility.”
“Oh,” Manar said. “So you’re saying I should start classes as soon as possible, even if I’m not going to be here long?”
Soval hesitated. “If you can maintain your studies during periods of transition, it might be wiser. Also, there is a greater chance of your being assigned a post with resources to assist you along your chosen path if you have demonstrated both aptitude and interest in that area.”
“Thanks,” Manar said brightly. “I’ll look into it.”