Chapter 2, part 1
“Are you sure you heard correctly?” asked Jake, while he fired his rifle at targets in a firing range.
“I'm positive,” said Nog who was also shooting, though in a separate block. “I was wide awake and I heard Ezri get into the shower, and she said something like 'go away, you're not real!'. That's what it sounded like, and then she spoke for a second time and it sounded like she was having some sort of breakdown. She sounded scared and upset, and I think Ezri is getting stressed out and could even be hallucinating.”
“Maybe she is stressed,” admitted Jake. “But hallucinating?”
“Computer end program,” said Nog.
The firing range disappeared and Jake and Nog were standing on the holosuite floor. Nog looked really annoyed by Jake’s scepticism. “Well explain to me the 'you're not real' part? If you ask me it means she is seeing things or hearing things.”
Jake was a little miffed at Nog suddenly ending the program, but he recognised that Nog was more concerned about Ezri than rifle practice. “You are absolutely certain you heard this correctly?”
“I was wide awake the whole time, I woke up and realised it was Ezri muttering in her sleep. It sounded like she was having a really horrible nightmare, so anyway I tried to go back to sleep but couldn't. Then I heard her wake up, and then walk over to the bathroom. So I'm telling you I was wide awake the whole time.”
“Okay okay,” said Jake wearily. “I believe you!”
“Good,” said Nog, for a brief moment he looked victorious. Though that soon changed into worry. “I wonder if we should tell Ezri that she needs to see a doctor for her stress?”
“Firstly this is your idea so why not you tell her?” pointed out Jake, he wanted no part in this little idea of Nog’s. “Secondly I don't think she would like it if you told her she was stressed.”
“For we all know Ezri could be at breaking point, we have to tell her!” said Nog a little desperately.
Jake though thought that Nog was not only worrying for the captain, he knew that Nog looked up to Ezri and she had given them all hope and the strength to keep fighting on. “Listen Ezri would only want help when absolutely necessary. She's the leader of this team, sort of like our captain. She wants to appear strong and not show any signs of weakness, besides Ezri isn't stupid, eventually she will ask for help if her problems worsen...”
As she walked along the promenade Ezri felt much better, and the events of last night seemed like a distant memory. She was now more concerned with day-to-day matters: buying ammunition, weapon upgrades and, more recently, acquiring sturdier body armour.
“Are you certain about buying new armour instead of the XM7 plasma rocket launcher?” asked Max.
“We upgraded our plasma rifles to fire HE Fralax rounds, so I'm happy with our firepower. But the gladiator armour just doesn't cut it, we need stronger armour, and I'm also getting sick of having slasher blades dig into my body. You have no idea how painful it is, and hopefully with stronger armour I can avoid that.”
“We can try Hodge's Armoury, the store owner. He's a Relletian called Vajarn Felour and he sells the best quality merchandise, but...”
“But what?” said Ezri somewhat impatiently.
“He charges an arm and a leg for it, he puts most Ferengi to shame with his negotiating skills.”
Ezri suspected that this Vajarn person had been running rings around Max, and she knew exactly why; Max was no negotiator, whereas negotiating was more her realm. “Tell me something Max, did this Vajarn fellow get a sense that you were a soft touch?”
At that moment Max looked a little uncomfortable. “Well I was just investigating, and I wasn't buying... I wouldn't exactly say I was pussy-footing around.”
“People like Vajarn are ruthless and calculating, the only way to counter this is to be equally as ruthless...”
There was silence after that, and the two continued along the promenade until they arrived at Hodge’s Armoury. It was a dingy looking place, and most of the light came from the armour displays. The rest of the store was cast in shadows, and Ezri noticed that not all the produce on sale was armour. There were all sorts of bottles, vials and containers, which contained metals, pastes and powders. She recognised some of the substances and realised this store sold the materials for gladiators to make their own armour.
One of the armour suits caught Ezri’s eye and she had seen that type of armour before because Tesla X wore it. Even from here it looked fanciful and elaborate, with little grey nodules all over the black scaly armour. She stopped looking when she saw someone come out of the shadows.
It had to be Vajarn, and his yellowish scaly skin, messy brown hair, purple eyes all seemed to make him blend in with the colours of the shop. Though he stood very upright, there was a certain devious quality in his eyes, but physically he looked woe-by-gone with a somewhat bulging belly and weak chin.
“Ah Mr Weatherby welcome back!” he said in an oily voice. “I see you brought a lady friend with you!”
“This is Ezri Dax,” explained Max, “the leader of Team UFP.”
Vajarn bowed slightly towards Ezri, though Ezri could tell Vajarn was going through the formalities, as all Vajarn really cared about was Max’s money.
“A pleasure to meet you. I take it you are here to buy some new armour?”
“We are,” said Max, briefly glancing at Ezri. “And I'm interested in buying the Norconian armour plating.”
“Indeed,” said Vajarn, though he seemed to ignore Max’s request. “But why not try the electro-stasis armour that Tesla X himself wears?”
“We don't want electro-stasis armour,” said Ezri, her mouth had become rather thin due to her impatience. “We just want the Norconian armour plating.”
“We're on a tight budget, and I'm buying for four people,” explained Max.
“Oh,” said Vajarn looking a little disappointed. “Well… in that case I'll show you the Norconian armour plating.”
Vajarn walked over to a shelf and removed a plastic container. He moved over to a nearby table, placed down the container and opened it up.
Ezri moved closer and looked down into the container’s contents. There was an assorted amount of brown armour plating. “May I?” she asked Vajarn, pointing to the armour.
Vajarn nodded, and at once Ezri’s hand went for one of the forearm plates. She raised the piece up, examining it against the light. The armour felt surprisingly smooth to the touch, yet it was somehow almost furry as her finger brushed over the metal. “Just how strong is this armour?”
“It has three times the tensile strength of standard issue beginner gladiator armour. Not only that the armour is specially layered in microscopic lattices which allow for the absorption of shock against a melee weapon.”
“How much does it cost?” asked Max.
Vajarn turned around to face Max. “300 strips of gold-pressed latinum for each unit of armour.”
“300 strips?” breathed Max, his mouth was agape in disbelieve. “I've only got 700 strips in my financial account!”
“Well that is most unfortunate,” said Vajarn, though he did not at all sound sympathetic. “Of course if you weren't so intent on buying four units of Norconian armour and instead tried the more superior Yustol armour suit it would-”
“I'm not interested in the Yustol armour suit, I want the Norconian armour instead! Besides I've done some checking and I've heard rumours that you have sold Norconian armour at a fraction of the price to some of Apocalypse's more famous gladiators!”
Vajarn though looked a little uneasy, and at that moment Ezri realised that Vajarn was ripping both her and Max off.
“Those are just simply rumours,” said Vajarn, with a faint smile. “I assure you I don't discount!”
Ezri dropped the armour and advanced upon Vajarn. “And why should we believe you?”
“If I discounted my products I would be out of business a long time ago!” he explained, trying to sound confident but giving himself away by the nervousness his face betrayed.
Ezri though had had enough of Vajarn’s lies and excuses, and she launched her right hand straight at the collar of Vajarn’s rather posh looking jacket. She pushed Vajarn leftwards and slammed his back onto the top of the table. Her right hand pulled out a knife in a hidden holder between her jacket and her shirt, and she placed the knife against Vajarn’s throat.
“Liar,” she hissed. “I can see in a man's eyes when he lies to me! And you sir are lying through your teeth! I want the truth or I will slit your miserable little throat and you can bleed to death!”
“I swear to you I'm telling the truth, I don't discount!” replied Vajarn, who sounded very scared and his eyes were constantly flicking from Ezri’s face to the knife she was holding against his throat.
“Tell the truth!” she said loudly, giving Vajarn a little shake with her right hand.
However Vajarn seemed to regain a little of his confidence. “You wouldn't kill me, as Nemoltz would track you down and execute you!”
Unfortunately Vajarn was right, Ezri was not about to kill him, but she had to keep bluffing if Vajarn was ever going to abide by her terms. “In case you haven't noticed I've got nothing to lose, whereas you have everything to lose. You can't make money when you're dead! Whereas everyday I face death in the arenas, and whether I get slain in the arena tomorrow, or slain by this station's security today, there is no real difference.”
She pressed the knife more forcibly against Vajarn’s neck, almost to the point where it would cut through his rather saggy skin. “Now tell me the truth, what is the discounted price of Norconian armour plating?”
“Alright alright!” squawked Vajarn. “The truth is I don't discount at all. Norconian armour plating actually costs 100 strips of latinum! But everyone who isn't involved in the armaments trade doesn't know that! Civilians and nearly all of the gladiators simply accept the high price of weaponry and personal protection!”
“So why do you raise the price?” demanded Ezri.
There was a moment’s silence and it seemed Vajarn had lost his will to talk. “Answer me!” she said in commanding tones.
Vajarn looked even more scared, but managed to find his tongue again. “Apocalypse taxes and tariffs are quite punitive, and because of that if I sell at 100 strips of latinum I barely make any profit! Fortunately though Apocalypse doesn't impose a mark-up tax, and it gives merchants like me the opportunity to mark-up the value of produce considerably, and this mark-up is all tax-free! That's how we make so much money, but please don't tell anyone what I said, otherwise we could all get arrested!”
Now Ezri realised she had some considerable leverage over Vajarn, and with leverage Vajarn would have no choice but to agree to her terms. “If you sell to us the Norconian armour plating at 100 strips of latinum each, Max and I won't tell a soul about your trading practises!”
“Agreed,” said Vajarn shakily.
At once Ezri stashed her knife back inside its holder, and pulled Vajarn back onto his feet.
Vajarn was now trembling slightly, and with shaking hands he took out a padd and a tracer pen. For a moment he was writing something on the tracer pen. Finally he passed the padd to Max. “You need to pay here, and sign here.”
Max took the padd, and Ezri waited as he accessed his bank account.
About half a minute later, Max was done and he passed back the padd to Vajarn.
“Excellent sir,” said Vajarn, while he checked the payment details on the padd. “Your armour will be delivered by 1700 hours today to your quarters.”
The moment the transaction had been complete, Vajarn hurriedly scurried away to the back of the shop. He seemed too frightened to be in Max and Ezri’s presence any longer.
“You see Max,” said Ezri, when they were outside of Vajarn’s shop, “a little ruthlessness can go a long way...”