Broadleafed trees covered most of the open courtyard in a rich, dense canopy. Between the leaves, sunlight from Zanel the bluish farther star in the binary Orion system shined, illuminating the manicured ground in a gentle light.
Danel stood quietly next to the inner gate that led into the yard. It had been a difficult day at the market, haggling constantly for the best price on the hand-carved Obnurite charms his family of green skinned Orions had crafted since before his great-great grandfather was born. Danel often stood thus, gazing into the quiet peace inside and calming his spirit before entering. This day, he smiled at the special joy of seeing Tara, his daughter and only child at just fourteen, playing gracefully with her pet Unchat.
Putting on a jovial smile, he clanked the gate open, and walked to greet his daughter. Tara smiled when she saw him, running to him with the Unchat it tow. “PatPat!” She greeted him, still using the affectionate child-name she had called him since she could first toddle around.
Danel gave her a quick hug. “How is the day treating you, Daughter?” He asked, still smiling. Tara answered. “Oh Father, today has been wonderful. Mother made griddle cakes for first meal.”
Tara continued speaking, “And, one of your friends stopped by, a Mr. Gardak I think he said his name was. He seemed important. He talked to mother.”
The smile vanished from Danels face as he stood suddenly. “Did you say Gardak?”
Confused, Tara answered, “Yes, Father, he said he had a proposition for you.”
Danel spoke through clenched jaws, “Where is Mother?”
“The last I saw her, she was in the greeting room. Are you angered, Father?”
“No, no. You just keep playing. I am going to talk to Mother.”
Danel strode quickly into the house, past the heavily decorated entryway into the first main room in most Orion homes, the greeting room.
The greeting room was used to receive visitors and entertain them without having to open the private area of an Orion home to guests. It also served as a meeting place for distant family members claiming hospitality, while background checks verifying their identity were done.
This greeting room was lavishly furnished. Drapes hung along the walls, and billowed from the ceiling. Antique fire lamp holders hung suspended from metal brackets bolted into the stuccoed wall, several burning dimly and adding a flowery smell to the room.
Couches, designed to allow occupants to recline on one side, while sampling food from trays set on low central tables, lined the outside of the room. At the rooms’ center, an indoor fountain trickled panjat, a blue liquid refreshment, over three central discs. Each disk was smaller than the one below it and off-centered slightly. It wasn’t the typical greeting room fountain featuring an unclothed female figure in a seductive pose with the flowing blue panjat her only covering, but both Danel and his wife were of the same mind on that issue.
Danel found his wife, Zalia, sitting quietly on one couch with a cup of panjat in one hand. “Husband.” She rarely used the formal greeting, but the serious look on her smooth featured green face would have told Danel something was amiss even if she hadn’t.
“A man named Gardak came here today. He said that Tara was nearly of age for someone to make a claim on her, and that he was thinking about submitting one himself. A claim! Not only that, the way he leered at her, he was disgusting. I thought we paid off that technician to disguise her genetic screening. No one was supposed to know she has the pheromone trigger gene.”
Danel put his hand on Zalia’s shoulder. “We did pay him, but apparently, someone is paying him more for un-disguised reports. We will have to report him to the Underground as unreliable.” He stood silent for a moment, thinking. Unfortunately, no grand solution came to him. Instead, he merely said, “We’ll think of something,” before sitting down next to Zalia, who began to cry quietly.
The gate bell, rung only by official visitors, startled both Tara and her parents above. As her parents moved to the gate to greet the unknown visitor, Tara ran the opposite direction, making her way quickly, from experience, through the cramped passageways to her room. She had to be immediately available should her mother or father summon her, or risk her secret place being discovered.
Danel reached the gate first, only to discover that his fear was substantiated. Flanked by two goon-like “witnesses,” stood Brindon moc’Gardak, number four in the Syndicate hierarchy of two towns that Danel knew of. He had hoped, in the brief time since his wife mentioned the name Gardak, that this was not the Gardak of which she spoke. Upon seeing the grinning Orion, flanked by his two henchmen, Danel’s hopes were dashed.
With a hungry grin starting on his face, Gardak stepped to the gate and spoke. “Danel, son of Minta and father of Tara, I Gardak, a rank twenty Syndicate member, hereby give notice in front of the two required witnesses of my claim to your daughter Tara, who by genetic testing has shown to be worthy of Jak-reb status.” Jak-reb, or Orion slave girl.
Zalia sunk against Danel’s side, unbelieving. Someone of Gardak’s rank could not be denied, not by them. The chances of someone of higher rank making a claim were slim, and besides, her fate would be the same, genetic manipulation and a lifetime of slavery. Whether she was used to gain control of weaker men by Gardak or not, she would still be forced to submit to him ultimately.
Danel knew he was supposed to invite Gardak in, to share panjat with him in the greeting room, and to thank Gardak for bestowing on his humble family the honor of such a high-ranking Syndicate members attention. He could not bring himself to let that grinning lecher into his home. Consequences and decorum forgotten, all Danel could say was, “Gardak, Tara has a year and a half until she is required to submit to your claim. Come back then.” With that he turned his back on the high-ranking Syndicate member and led his wife back to their house.
If Gardak was offended by the snub, he showed no outward sign, but the meaning of what he said next was clear, his voice smooth yet somehow slimy as his words drifted across the courtyard after the couple. “Danel, I had hoped you would not hold me to that old formality. In any case, I sincerely hope that the Obnurite shortage does not harm your family business. Please, feel free to contact me if it does. I’m sure we could work something out that benefits the both of us.”
Danel made no response as he walked inside and closed the door behind his wife. For the second time that day, Zalia began to cry. This time, she did not cry quietly.
The Orion Underground had existed for generations upon generations. When several notable families realized some fifty thousand years ago that Orion culture was on an inevitable collusion course with decadence, debauchery, and a loss of respect for honor both personal and societal, it’s seeds were sown.
At first the families tried to overtly influence the downward spiral, but those growing to power held little tolerance for the now passé ‘men of quality.’ Repercussions were harsh, and those who wished to preserve some of the traditional greatness of Orion culture were driven underground.
Relegated to furtive meetings in out of the way places, and secret teachings to family members, the Underground developed a structure not unlike that of twenty-first century terrorist groups on Earth. Isolated cells or pods were developed out of necessity to spread out the power base and make total eradication unlikely.
While effective at maintaining the groups’ existence, the spread-out structure made actual useful action by the Underground rare.
Thus it was when Danel held a meeting with his local pod. After weeks, then months of banter and useless deliberation, it was decided that nothing could be done to help his Daughter.
One of the frustrating facets of being under claim was that Tara and all of her immediate family had their travel passes rescinded. Any travel attempted outside the city would send up immediate red flags and they would be confined thereafter until Tara reached the age of induction and had been taken.
In practice, actual claims on unwilling families were rare, as plenty of poorer ones frequently sold off daughters far younger than Tara. The younger the girls started training, the higher value their eventual sale at market would bring. Danel and many others in the underground found the practice revolting, but Orion society as a whole accepted it.
The only way Danel would get Tara away would be to bypass local channels completely. Planning in secret, he sent out feelers to every off-world trading vessel to avail itself of the local starport facilities. Anonymously approaching traders, always cautious, he nonetheless was almost exposed twice. To him, the risk didn’t matter. The only way he could fail was if Gardak claimed Tara in the end.
Then, fortune of fortunes shined on Danel. One of his contacts proved willing to transport Tara off world to a Federation colony. She would be a stranger in a strange land, but at least she wouldn’t be hunted for the rest of her life as a runaway slave. Well, technically she would be, but the fingers of the Syndicate didn’t reach far into the Federation, and with any luck she would have a normal life.
Seated in the private part of their house, Danel addressed his daughter. “Tara,” he said gently. “I need you to listen to me one last time and not interrupt. This will be difficult for you to hear, but you must do as I say, and not tell anyone what I am about to say to you.”
Tara nodded as she looked at her father and mother with trusting, but confused eyes. “I will do as you say.”
Danel nodded, “Good. I don’t know if you even remember a visitor who came here almost a year and a half ago. His name was Gardak and he is a very powerful Syndicate member. While he was here he declared claim on you, and your sixteenth birthday is days away. He will be coming back soon.”
Tara dropped her head disconsolately, “I will prepare myself Father, do not worry.”
Danel actually managed a laugh, “No! No, little one, your mother and I would never allow you to be taken! But to refuse a claim is very dangerous. He could take you by force, so we need to get you out of here, secretly.”
Tara thought she understood, but hadn’t grasped the magnitude of her father’s statement yet. “Of course, we will go to Uncle Jeminon and stay with him on the south continent. I have always wanted to go there.”
Danel grew serious once again, “Wait Tara, what I am saying is that you must leave the planet. I have arranged transport to a Federation colony.”
Tara, ever hopeful, said, “Well, at least we will be together!”
Shaking his head, fighting the emotion welling up inside him, Danel held up his hand. “Stop, you must wait until I am finished. This is difficult for me. In order for you to be safe, you must leave Orion space completely. Only you. Your mother and I must remain to ensure that you are not hunted. We will never see you again...” Danels voice broke and he sat, silent, tears welling in his eyes.
Zalia stood and walked over to hug her daughter, reassuringly. “You will make a new life Tara, away from the Syndicate, away from slavery and corruption. We will be fine.” Her last words, We will be fine rang hollow, in her ears and in Tara’s.
The actual leaving was silent. It went smoothly, and by the numbers. Danel and Zalia stayed to watch the ship launch. With their daughter away safely, that risk had seemed miniscule.
The next day, Tara’s sixteenth birthday, was an empty pit in their souls. Zalia lit the ceremonial lamp for her daughter’s coming of age. The two waited in silence for Gardak.
Gardak arrived at precisely confluence, when both stars were visible, one at each horizon. “Danel, I grow weary of waiting, send out your daughter, my claim is valid.” The Green skinned one had seemingly gotten even more slimy and revolting in the year and a half since Danel had seen him last.
Danel stood on the steps at the back of his house, Zalia behind him. He felt ill that he had not prepared his wife for what must happen next, but there was no way he could have. She would never have accepted it, she could never understand.
“Go away Gardak, Tara is not here and she will not be claimed by you.” Danel yelled back.
Barely a second passed when the courtyard gate flew open and Gardak, enraged, stomped towards Danel. Two bodyguards strode menacingly at Gardak’s side. “What is the meaning of this? There has not been a refusal in ten thousand generations!” Gardak was so incensed that spittle flew as he talked. Then he noticed Zalia. He knew he could flatten this man’s whole estate and it would not faze him, now that the daughter was seemingly gone, but here was a way to get to him. He uttered the words that proved his death sentence, gesturing towards Zalia. “Fine, then I will take her instead.”
What Gardak had not counted on was that while the claiming of a daughter could not be challenged, the taking of a wife could. Overconfident perhaps, with two bodyguards in a small craftsman’s house, Gardak just stood grinning.
He never saw the thin blade that appeared as if out of thin air in the smaller man’s hand and embedded itself at an inward angle beneath his chin. As he fell stiffly backwards onto the ground, Gardak briefly wondered why breathing seemed impossible. His last sight before blackness engulfed him was a small avian, chirping in a tree above him. It chirped once more, but Gardak was gone.
The stunned bodyguards considered reaching for their jewel encrusted ceremonial swords, but before they could decide Danel spoke. “I have challenged Gardak’s lust for my wife. As Syndicate protocol demands, I now submit myself for judgment.”
Zalia realized what was about to happen and screamed, “No Danel!”
With sad eyes, he turned towards her, smiling, “We saved Tara, that is all that matters. Now I have saved you as well, my wife.”
The larger of the two bodyguards shook his head as he drew at last the ceremonial blade. He didn’t get to use it much, but he kept the blade adequately sharp. “Kneel for judgment then.” He pointed the tip of the blade at Danel.
As the second guard drew his blade as required, Danel began to kneel. Zalia stepped in front of him and placed her arm gently on the guard’s sword hand. “I offer myself freely to save his life. It is permitted.” As she looked down at the ground, Danel saw clearly a tear fall from her face and land on a single blade of grass, bending it, before rolling off the tip onto the ground.
The guard began to grin stupidly at the beautiful woman in front of him, when he noticed Danel move.
Danel dove forward between the two men, pulling the Kanut from Gardak as he rolled to one side of the body. The first guard had not even turned fully around when Danel severed his brain stem, the thin Kanut sliding cleanly between bone and cartilage before finding the delicate nerve tissue between.
As he pulled the Kanut out and faced the last Guard, who unceremoniously shoved Zalia to the ground to get her out of the way, time slowed.
He heard the man inhale as he stepped forward, drawing his sword back for a clumsy thrust aimed at Danel’s heart. A child could have sidestepped out of the way. He watched in mild amusement as the blade inched closer.
Reversing the grip on his Kanut, holding it so the blade pointed inward, Danel stepped into the oncoming blade. To anyone outside of the fight, it would have appeared that he had simply failed to get out of the way. That is how Danel wanted it.
The guard hadn’t expected such a quick fight, but he was even more surprised as Danel fell towards him, impaling himself even farther onto the blade. The surprise turned to shock as he felt the pinprick of Danel’s Kanut enter his skull below his ear and a white pain engulfed him as he died.
Danel released the Kanut and turned, letting the man fall. He took a few staggering steps towards Zalia who was just rising from the ground. Blood had already begun running down his chest, welling from the protruding sword blade. Danel made no attempt to pull the blade out. He focused only on his wife.
She futilely looked around for something to staunch the flow of blood, but knew deep down, that it would be no good.
Danel shook his head. “My family is safe.” He croaked. “I......I......Love you.”
Zalia began to cry, “I love you too,” and reached out to take Danel’s hand.
Danel looked over his wife’s shoulder and blinked in a dreamy haze. He saw Tara running around the yard, playing with her pet, and laughing. He smiled and was gone before his body fell to the ground.
This story is also part of the Star Trek: USS Shepard series, and is a vignette giving some background to Tara, one of the main characters in the series.
The story here is a shortened version of the full vignette located in the Vignettes thread for the Shepard, here:
Star Trek: USS Shepard; Vignettes
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