Lotha Province, Bajor
“What an engineering marvel,” Lt. Rha’ow placed his hands on the guardrail and leaned over, allowing the breeze to nuzzle his orange-furred face. He looked down into the water surging below before smiling at Lt. Okala, fangs flashing and whiskers twitching. “First, sharing hasperat with your sister Lata and now this unexpected trip. Thanks.”
Science Officer Okala Lahn smiled back at the man. Spending time off the station and with her sister had been more of a palliative than she expected. The pain of Easun’s loss several months ago was still potent, but had become manageable, thanks to the help from Counselor Dax and her friends, including Rha’ow.
The Caitian was still learning his way around the station’s engineering compartments, but they had become fast friends when his duties placed in the operations center.
Lahn thought the nucleus of their friendship was how out of place each of them had felt. This was Rha’ow’s first station assignment and he had the fortunate misfortune to be made assistant to Chief Koenig.
While Koenig would teach the younger man invaluable skills he would likely strain his forbearance. After a particularly grueling shift, Okala thought a trip planetside was in order instead of simply venting at Quark’s. Both were still in their respective uniforms, Rha’ow’s Starfleet black and gray and Okala’s Militia operations silver and gray.
Lata had been only too happy to see her younger sister. Lahn knew that Lata was concerned about her wellbeing and that was partly while she had been avoiding returning to Lotha. She didn’t want to rehash Easun’s death and what it had meant to her. As best she could she wanted to forget and/or move on from it.
And she could allow herself to nestle within Rha’ow’s joy at visiting the aqueduct and getting some real sunlight even if Lahn found it difficult and treacherous to experience any for herself.
“I can’t believe it took thousands of years to complete this project,” Rha’ow said. Lahn nodded.
“Yes, wars and other things got in the way…and then the Occupation,” Okala suppressed a shudder. “After the Cardassians left, completing the project was something the provisional government thought would unify our people, would signal to the galaxy that we were back and ready to rebuild.”
“A grand testament to the endurance and resiliency of the Bajoran people,” Rha’ow beamed.
“A lot was done via ancient methods and hard physical labor,” Lahn said. “Lata even participated. My parents wouldn’t allow me to join in. They said I was too young.”
“A pity,” Rha’ow shook his head. “But there will be other ways to make history, to leave an impact. I mean, you’re doing that every day aboard the station.”
Lahn chuckled, the noise sounding alien to her ears. “Your latinum tongue must have been inherited.”
Rha’ow wrinkled his nose. He didn’t like being reminded that he was the scion of a political dynasty on his native Cait. However, Lahn couldn’t help herself. The man had a way with words that sometimes bordered on the surreal.
Rha’ow let the moment pass and Lahn pondered whether she should apologize. Before she could, the Caitian reached out and patted her shoulder. “All in good fun I suppose,” he said.
“Yes,” she agreed. “I’m sorry if I…”
“No need to apologize,” Rha’ow said, “There’s nothing to be sorry for.”
“Perhaps…” Lahn never let a good opportunity to beat herself up to go to waste.
“Seriously Lahn,” Rha’ow moved closer, and she became aware of the nearness of him, of his muscled torso, sinewy arms, and Jumja sweetened breath. She also realized she was bumping against the railing. There was no place to go.
Okala suddenly need oxygen. She looked right and then left and sidestepped the man. She wasn’t ready yet…not so soon after Easun.
“Now it is to you that I should apologize,” Rha’ow said, turning quickly to face her. He dipped his head.
“No, you don’t, it’s just…” Okala couldn’t find the words or strength to finish.
“Please, say no more,” Rha’ow’s warm golden eyes were filled with sympathy. “I shouldn’t have moved into your space.” More gingerly he reached out and touched her shoulder. “I was impertinent.”
“What are you doing to her?!” An ugly voice tore interposed more than Rha’ow’s gesture ever had. Both officers turned toward the speaker.
An older woman, clutching the hand of a sneering child both pointed at them. “On Bajor our hara cats are supposed to be leased.”
“Excuse me?” Okala said, not quite believing what she had heard. A burly man, with thick nose ridges, came to the older woman’s defense.
“She’s right. Perhaps we should call animal control.”
“Hold on,” Okala said, her cheeks turning hot. Rha’ow remained surprisingly stoic. “I think you need to apologize right now.”
“No, that creature needs to be in a zoo,” a red-haired woman said, and now a small group was forming, beginning to surround them. Some leered, while others were merely curious. A few looked embarrassed but said nothing. Okala didn’t know who to be infuriated with more: those that were spewing hatred or the ones who knew better but said nothing.
“This man is a Starfleet officer and he should be accorded respect,” Okala said.
“Starfleet,” a voice without a face threw out, “That’s the problem right there!” That assertion got several nods.
“How can you say that?” Okala asked, exasperated. She had heard that an anti-Federation hysteria was sweeping through the planet, but she had thought it would pass in the aftermath of Premier Lang’s assassination.
“How could you wear that uniform and not say it?” The burly man charged. “You should be defending us, not shielding them!”
“The Federation are our allies, they saved us from the Dominion,” Okala pointed out.
“We had a pact with the Dominion, which they honored,” someone called out.
“A pact endorsed by the Emissary,” another voice added.
“Who was a Starfleet officer,” Okala found herself nearly shouting now over the throng. “And a human.”
“His mother was a Prophet, that is what I heard.” The old woman who had first started this said. “He was of Bajor.”
“And that’s more than I can say for your pet there,” The red-haired woman spat.
“Lt. Rha’ow is a sentient being,” Okala said, “Don’t speak of him in that way.”
“It would just be better if he and his kind left our world. We can manage our own affairs.”
“But what happens if the Cardassians come back or the Dominion, or something even worse?” Okala asked.
“I would rather take my chances than wait for another malfunction or ‘sabotage’ to happen,” the burly man rejoined, “and turn Terok Nor’s weapons against us.”
“That’s right,” the red-haired woman said, “They could murder us in our beds!”
“I don’t know what propaganda Bajor First has been telling you, but that would never happen!” Okala declared.
Unfortunately the only words that got through were Bajor First, the name of the rightwing party that had swept into power in the most recent elections. The crowd took up chanting “Bajor First!”
Lt. Rha’ow leaned over to Okala’s ear and finally spoke. “I think it’s best if we leave.”
“These people need to see reason,” Okala protested. What punctuated that statement was a bottle shattering at their boots.
“I think they would rather see blood, mine and yours,” Rha’ow said, “And I would so not want to mar further such a lovely afternoon.”
Okala was still resistant. The planetary mood was shifting, become fearful and insular, a macrocosm for her own feelings after Easun’s death. And she resolved to fight them as she had her own demons.
“We’ll leave…for now, but I promise to be back,” she declared.