June 2009 Writing Challenge - "A Foreign Perspective"
"To Simply Exist" by TheLoneRedshirt
Stardate 53693.3 (10 September 2376)
Orion space, near the Federation border
Ondo Karthani slowed his vessel, an old and battered ex-Klingon transport, bringing the sub-light engines to idle and firing braking thrusters. As the ship came to a relative stop, still a few thousand jilats
inside Orion space, he gazed across the border at the stars of Federation space. The elderly red Orion rubbed his scarred face with the remaining finger and thumb of his left hand. The other three fingers were lost long ago, removed by an Orion Ahmet
who felt that Ondo had failed to show proper deference.
Ondo had lived his entire life under the thumb of the Syndicate. He was of the Sundija,
the “under-people” who made up most of the Orion population. Most citizens of the Federation assumed wrongly that all Orions were either members of the Syndicate or pirates. In fact, those were simply the two extremes of the Orion population. The vast majority of the green and red races lived at the whim of the Syndicate clans, providing food, services and labor for the Syndicate families in the ancient feudal society. Ondo’s family had eked out a meager existence for centuries, tending livestock for the Elix clan. Ondo himself had often been pressed into service for the Elix family, sneaking into Federation space to smuggle illicit goods or, worse, living cargo to the pleasure districts in the Vega and Rigel systems.
Occasionally on these smuggling trips, Ondo wondered what life in the Federation might be like. Though his exposure was limited (he was in Federation space illegally, after all) he could not help notice how well-fed and healthy the denizens appeared. He found the vast number of different species to be quite overwhelming. On Verex III, he generally only encountered other Orions. Their Syndicate Ahmet’sur,
Tranji Elix, had told them that these were simply conquered races that served the Humans, Vulcans and Andorians. He had heard all his life how the Federation was a corrupt and cruel society – their amazing technology stolen from the conquered races.
Yet Ondo had wondered if this were true. He knew that the Syndicate itself was cruel and corrupt – he bore the physical scars to prove it. Also, if the Federation were intent on conquest, why had they not conquered the Orion homeworlds? Ondo wasn’t quite sure what to believe.
He turned slightly in the pilot’s seat and glanced back at the sleeping form of his Cahn-cahdoi,
his great-grandaughter. As part of his clan-debt to the Elix cartel, the first-born of each Sundija
family was given to the Syndicate, either as a fledgling apprentice or as a slave. Fasal was the first daughter of Ondo’s grandson, Naydon. Ahmet
Lortho Elix had decided that little Fasal would fetch a good price in the sex-slave market. Naydon had objected. Now Naydon was dead, his head decorating one of the gate spires that led into the Elix compound.
To appease Ahmet
Lortho Elix, Ondo had begged for the life of the rest of his family. Lortho had relented, only after Ondo had agreed to personally deliver Fasal to the Vega system and to one of the slavers with which the Elix clan conducted business. Lortho found the irony amusing. Sickened at the thought, but left with no option, Ondo had agreed.
The old Orion looked back out at the stars. He remembered the words of his father when his own older brother was led away to live out the rest of his days in service to the Syndicate. His father had said, “It is not for us to live, my son, but to simply exist.”
Ondo had not seen his brother since that day, nearly 90 standard years ago.
Ondo checked the nav-computer. The only way to reach the Vega system was to traverse the badlands. The old Klingon ship had made the run many times, but even its durable construction was showing signs of wear and fatigue. Ondo wasn’t sure the vessel could make it to Vega, much less survive the return journey.
You could allow yourself to be captured by the Border Guard.
The thought crept, unbidden into the forefront of his mind, surprising him. He had been taught that to be caught by the Federation Border fleet was to suffer certain torture and death. In truth, he had never met anyone who had returned from such an encounter. The Ahmet’sur
had instilled in him a visceral fear of the Federation.
I am not afraid to die.
This thought, too, surprised the old Orion. He had lived in fear all his life. Fear of the Elix clan, fear of losing family members to slavery or worse, but more recently, he feared living. Echoing his own father, he had once admonished his youngest son for criticizing the Syndicate. When Talhu had argued that their lives could be, should
be better and have meaning, Ondo had replied, “Sometimes you just exist.”
Yet, mere existence had become a waking nightmare for Ondo. Perhaps the Federation Border Guard would torture him. What torture could be worse than delivering your own Cahn-cahdoi
into the hands of a slave-master? Might the Border Guards kill him? It would be a relief. There was even a chance that they might treat Fasal well. A life as a servant was better than existing as a sex-slave.
Better uncertain hope than certain despair.
He thought, wanly.
He tapped in a new course into the nav-comp, and advanced the power settings on the impulse engines. The old vessel vibrated ominously, then settled into its guttural rhythm and moved across the border – not toward the badlands but into open Federation space. He glanced again at the small girl, still sleeping peacefully – curled up on a pallet on the hard deck. She was a beautiful thing, her hair dark as night, her large eyes as green as fire-gems. The old man smiled at the peaceful child.
Maybe they will simply blow us out of space. She’d never know what happened.
He activated the ship’s scanners. Nothing appeared in range, though he knew the sensors were limited in range and accuracy.
I wonder how long I will have to wait?
The vessel moved deliberately into Federation space at a leisurely .25 c. No sense in being in a hurry,
The com-link speaker suddenly crackled to life, startling Ondo.
“Unidentified vessel, this is the
USS Bluefin. You are in violation of Federation space. Please power down your vessel, lower your shields and prepare to be boarded.”
he mused. He glanced back again, relieved to see that Fasal was still asleep. He briefly considered making a run for it, inviting the Federation ship to open fire and send them both to the afterlife, but some spark of intuition quelled that action. Hope, perhaps? He could not say. He had never experienced hope.
Ondo obediently slowed the ship to a stop and waited. He idly wondered if he would feel anything when they opened fire. More likely, they would board the vessel and take him for interrogation and torture. He would plead for Fasal’s life. He was quite adept at groveling – it was as natural as breathing for him. Ondo had managed to stay the hand of the Ahmet’sur
on more than one occasion. Of course, he had not always succeeded.
“Please keep your shields lowered. A boarding party will transport to your ship momentarily. Do not display any weapons and you will not be harmed.”
Through the obsolete translation matrix, Ondo could tell the voice belonged to a female. That gave him no sense of relief. In his experience, some of the more ruthless Syndicate clan leaders were green Orion women.
The distinct sound of transporter effect filled the control cabin. Ondo remained seated – not afraid now, merely curious. He was glad that Fasal remained asleep. Perhaps she would never awake.
Three figures in dark uniforms materialized a few meters away. Ondo’s breath caught in his throat and his eyes widened as he saw the central figure was a very large red Orion male. For a moment, he feared that a Syndicate vessel had found him.
The uniformed Orion held a phaser carbine, but kept it pointed at the deck. Beside him stood a Human male and a smaller Human female that held some sort of device. The Humans glanced around the control cabin but made no threatening moves.
The burly Orion glanced down at the sleeping girl before fixing his gaze on Ondo.
“I am Senior Chief Solly Brin of the Border Cutter, Bluefin
. Are you lost, Ahm’suka
?” The last word was a term of respect for an old man. Ondo was confused by the gentle tone. He was more accustomed to bluster, threats and ridicule.
“Do you mock me, Ahmet’
?” Ondo asked quietly.
“Not at all. But I have to wonder how you found yourself in Federation space. Did your navigational computer fail?”
Ondo fixed his gaze on Solly. “I am here of my own accord, Ahmet.
Do with me as you will, but please – take pity on the little one. She would make a fine house servant – she has served the Elix clan well since she could walk.”
Something dark passed over Solly Brin’s face and for a moment, Ondo was sure he would die. He quickly realized that the Orion Border Guard was not angry at him, however.
“The Elix clan,” Solly spat, and made a gesture of contempt which elicited a look of surprise from Ondo. Brin’s voice softened. “What is your name?”
“I am Ondo Karthani, bond-servant of the Elix clan,” he replied.
To Ondo’s surprise, Solly squatted before him, placing the phaser carbine on the floor. Brin turned to the two Humans.
“Rice, why don’t you check on the girl – make sure she’s okay. Sandy – do a quick walk-through of the ship.”
“Sure Senior,” Corpsman Sanders stepped through the hatch while Corpsman Rice ran a medical scanner over the sleeping girl. She smiled at Ondo. “She’s in decent shape, but some food would probably help. She has a severe vitamin deficiency.”
“That’s something we can handle,” replied Solly, still looking at Ondo. “Tell me, Ondo – why are you here?”
Ondo was still confused. He had expected harsh treatment, interrogation, abuse – not the gentle, quiet words he was hearing. Perhaps they were trying to keep him off-balance. He glanced suspiciously at the female who ran the scanner over Fasal.
The old Orion turned his gaze back to Solly. “I am here because of her,” he gestured to Fasal, “my Cahn-cahdoi.
I am supposed to take her to the Vega system. I will not do that.” He gave Solly a defiant stare.
A look of sadness came over Brin’s face. He laid a hand gently on the old man’s bony shoulder. “You think we want to hurt you . . . to enslave her?” it was not really a question.
Ondo again felt off-balance, but kept up his front of bravery. “Of course,” he said simply. “But if you will kill me and allow Fasal to serve as a house servant instead of a pleasure-slave, you could send my body back to the Elix compound for a bond sum. Please . . .” His voice began to quaver.
Solly understood. He pushed down the anger and rage he felt toward the Syndicate, particularly toward the Elix family, and spoke quietly.
“I promise you, on the memory of my father that no harm will come to you or your Cahn-cahdoi
. If you wish, you can apply for asylum in the Federation. I will be glad to sponsor you. You’ll both be free – no slavery, no servanthood, none of that. You will have food, clothing, a place to live . . . but you must request it of your own free will. If you don’t you’ll be returned to Orion space.”
For a moment, Ondo’s mind could not process what he heard. Of all the possible scenarios his mind had created, he had never dreamed of this.
He searched Solly’s face for any hint of guile and saw none. Finally, Ondo rasped, “I have never had free will before . . . I do not know what to do.”
Brin swallowed. “Why don’t we go to my ship? We’ll let our doctor check you both out, get you some food, and give you some time to think. Then, we can talk again and you can ask me anything you want. Alright?”
Ondo continued to stare at Solly, his eyes wide in wonder. Finally, he extended his mangled hand to the Senior Chief.
“I . . . we will go with you.”
A small smile formed on Solly’s face and he nodded. He tapped his combadge. “Brin to Bluefin.
“Bluefin, go ahead Senior Chief,”
came the voice of Inga Strauss.
“Everything is secure here. Suggest we take the ship in tow. Five to beam over.”
“Acknowledged. Stand by for transport.”
Ondo hesitated and spoke before the transporter took them. “We’re going to live?”
Solly nodded. “Yes, Ahm’suka,
“I will have to learn how,” replied Ondo, as they disappeared from the old transport.
* * *