"You are too profligate with the gifts nature has given you; if you would reach the heart, you must take a more plain and simple road."
Emperor Charles VI to Farinelli, 1731
Jake had heard it whispered all morning all over the station, in tones ranging from pity to disgust, delicate horror to prurient interest. But he had yet to learn just who this castrato was. With a station full of musicians and singers from all over the quadrant, 'who' wasn't immediately evident.
Space stations the size of DS9 made odd communities, blending small-town insularity with port-town flux—material for social science studies yielding dry monographs of technical language accessible only to other specialists. Jake could have summed it up more simply: a torrent of temperamental musicians was unusual enough for comment. A castrato qualified as prime gossip fodder.
Were Nog still around, Jake could have counted on him for the details. But Nog was at the academy, and bothering his father to satisfy curiosity was unwise. He tried Odo, who was making the rounds of the promenade. "Who's this castrato everybody's talking about?"
Odo eyed him. "'Everybody', Mr Sisko? 'Everybody' would seem to be something of an exaggeration. I am not talking about 'this castrato', but would I not count among 'everybody'?"
Jake made a gesture of frustration. "Odo, you know what I mean!"
"I'm afraid I do not. Nor do I think it any of your business until—and unless—the person in question makes his presence known. Or does personal privacy count for nothing?" And Odo stalked off. Testy. But Jake supposed that was what a body got for asking one anomaly about another.
So he wandered about, listening carefully. Among the skills his writing manuals insisted one acquire, the twin arts of listening and watching stood paramount.
He got an earful.
"It is an abomination!" That from Worf. "The sacrifice of one's manhood for art! Klingons do not condone such...mutilation."
Quark's assessment had been more pragmatic: "High cost for high notes, seems to me."
Others, like O'Brien, simply found the topic too uncomfortable. Jake noticed him get up and walk away when his neighbors at the bar in Quark's fell to discussing the matter.
But the most interesting conversation he overheard was between Kira, Dax, and the doctor. Jake had climbed the stairs to the bilevel above, sat nursing a rootbeer while he eavesdropped on discussions immediately beneath.
"I can't believe a civilized society still condones castration," Kira said.
"Maybe it was an operation from medical necessity," Dax replied. "Julian, what do you think?"
"Oh, yes!" interrupted Kira, "And after, he just happened to go on to become a vocal virtuoso? Seems a little convenient to me."
"Like an attack by wild geese," the doctor said, half laughing.
"An attack by...what?"
"Wild geese. Or pigs. Or a fall from a horse. The usual excuses trotted out in the autumn of the operatic castrati. In its heyday, no one made excuses at all. From the medical histories, it seems to have been a common, fairly safe operation."
"So you think this singer may be a Terran?" Dax asked.
"I have no idea. The practice of castration was common in the histories of many humanoid worlds: for religious reasons, punishment, slavery or—occasionally—art."
"But that's history," Kira insisted. "No one still does it."
"Actually yes, some do."
"Well, our friends the Cardassians, for one."
"Figures," Kira muttered. Jake heard her sit up in her chair. "But it's cruel—mutilating little boys just to preserve a voice. It's unnatural!"
"Nerys," Dax said, "by some lights, I'm unnatural, being a joined Trill."
"Symbiosis is normal for Trills. Cutting off boys' balls isn't!"
"Bluntly put," Bashir said with a wince in his voice.
Jake had winced, too.
"But Trill hosts don't need a symbiont to survive," Dax pointed out. "To be a joined Trill is the exception, not the rule. Modern Trill culture has made it an honor, but in our past, some parts of the planet viewed it as 'unnatural'—a punishment, or a burden. There was even a brief phase on the South Continent when joined Trills were hunted down and burned alive."
"Witch hunts," Bashir said.
"Similar," Dax agreed. "But definitions of what's natural andbunnatural are more cultural than we usually like to admit—or even recognize."
Kira sighed. "You're right; I know. But it just feels... barbaric. Something the Cardassians would do. I feel sorry for him. Whoever he is."
And therein lay the rub. Jake had amassed vast and varied opinions about the practice of castration, but no one seemed to know who the castrato actually was. Not even his fellow musicians and singers had met him yet. Jake began to wonder if he existed at all: a rumor with no substance?
Returning to the cabin-suite he shared with his father, Jake tried focusing attention on something marginally productive: his writing. He pondered using a castrato for a character in a story, but shied away from it. 'Write what you know.' And he certainly didn't know about that.
His father was home; Jake set aside the PADD and rose, wandered out into the main room. "Hey, Dad."
Sisko stood just inside the doorway, hands clasped before him in that way he had: poised to speak but frozen the moment before. Then he dropped his hands to his side and smiled. "There's a special guest who needs an escort. He's your age, more or less, and I wondered if you'd be willing to show him around the station? The two of you might get along."
Jake's internal warning buzzer went off. "One of the musicians?"
"Yes, one of the musicians."
Almost, almost, Jake asked, The castrato?—but checked himself. If his father knew of his interest, he might change his mind. His father had mixed feelings about Jake's occasional obsessions with research. 'Learn about people because they interest you, JakeO...not because you want story ideas.'
"Just let me put back on my shoes—" Jake said now.
They circled around to the visitors' side of the habitation ring, passing a number of musicians going to and fro in the hallway, carrying instrument cases, folders of music, or calling out to one another in various languages from dozens of worlds. Bajor was hosting a month-long music festival—her attempt to be seen by the Federation as more than a charity case. Art had a sacred place in Bajoran society: the Inspiration of the Prophets, and Bajor hoped to become one of the Federation memberworlds known for artistic contributions, along with Betazed, Vulcan, Sivao, Cygnus, and Hamal.
At the very end of the corridor, Jake's father stopped, hesitated and turned. "I asked you to be Salene's escort not just because you're around the same age, but because you're both artists. You'll understand him in a way others wouldn't." Sisko held Jake's eyes a moment. "I know I can trust you for discretion and tolerance."
Meaning his father would expect it, but Jake still felt warmed by the confidence. Sisko hit the buzzer. After a moment, the door opened and he ushered Jake inside.
"Captain Sisko, be welcome," said an unseen speaker. The voice was too pure and fluted to be male, too low to be a woman. It rang like an alto bell.
Jake felt a furtive excitement kick hard in his belly.
Sisko spoke to a shadowed corner behind a slatted-wood partition. "Chi`pah Salene, may I introduce my son, Jake? Jake's a writer."
"Well, I'm trying to be," Jake corrected, shifting posture awkwardly. His father embarrassed him when he introduced him that way. "I don't have anything published yet."
"A writer is one who writes—whether published or not," said the bell voice, and inside the shadow, a figure stirred, stepped forward. Jake found himself eye-to-eye with the dark-robed owner of the voice.
Being eye-to-eye with anyone was, for Jake, an experience in and of itself.
"You're tall!" he said, stupidly.
"It is not an uncommon trait, for a eunuch." The castrato did not smile, but managed somehow to convey a bitter amusement.
Salene was a Vulcan.