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Demora's Tale, Part 1



Chekov was startled when the door to the house swung suddenly inward. He had only been standing there a moment, bent over and fumbling with the latches of a heavy equipment case he’d lugged off the shuttle. He hadn’t even rung the bell.

“Pavel! It is you…”

There stood Jana, a drift of ocean blue sarong and long red hair.

“Well, yes,” he laughed breathlessly. “But how did you know?”

Eyes sparkling, she angled one finger up and over his shoulder so he spotted the snout of the security scanner peering at him from the ceiling of the sun porch that had been built onto the house sometime during the year he had been gone.

“Ah,” Chekov nodded with a pleased expression. “You got my letter. Good.”

She hugged him. “Come in. You must be hungry.”

“Er, no…we, um…I ate on the shuttle. Jana,” he pulled a little away and bestowed a somber look. “Something has happened, and…I need your help.”

At once, her eyes widened. “What is it? What can I do?”

Chekov shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and his hand came up to rub the back of his neck as he spoke. “I’ve brought someone…with me, this time.”

“Oh. Why didn’t you write? I would have…”

“No, I couldn’t put it in a letter,” Chekov answered. “You see, she…”

At that moment, the sunlight on the path to the house darkened, as a tremendous, looming shadow blocked the light. Instinctively, Jana retreated behind Chekov.

“No, it’s all right,” he started to tell her, but then turned to address the massive alien that had clambered up the path from the road behind him.

“Morn, where is she? You’re supposed to be—ah, Demorshka, there you are.”

Jana released her tense grip on Chekov’s shoulders long enough to glance around him. At first, she could only focus on the huge, ash-skinned monstrosity hunching his head under the tree branches. Then, movement pulled her gaze closer to the ground, and a small, dark-haired girl emerged from his shadow.

“Demi,” Chekov said, crouching down to her level. “Say hello.”

The girl flicked a cursory glance at the woman, and then fixed her gaze sharply on Chekov.

“Kto eta?” she asked.

The Russian shot an embarrassed glance up at Jana, then said in a lowered voice to the child, “Vi gavaritye pa Standard?”

“Da,” she responded with obvious impatience.

“Paftaritye pazhalsta,” Chekov admonished, giving her a stern look.

An up tilted thrust of chin preceded the girl’s next words in clear, Federation Standard, “Hello. Who are you?”

Now the woman knelt before the child as Chekov stood up and beckoned her forward. “My name is Jana,” she said, smiling. “And you are…Demi?”

“Demora,” the girl corrected her.

“And this is Morn,” Chekov added, taking Jana’s elbow to help her to her feet.

Jana looked up and up and up to meet the alien’s narrow, deep set eyes.

“I told you I knew someone who could serve as security for room and board, remember?”

“Ye-es,” Jana replied.

“Morn, could you bring that inside?” Chekov gestured at the equipment case. So saying, he took Demora by the hand. Then, turning to Jana, he added, “Aren’t you coming in?” and turned to step through the doorway.

******************************************************************

An hour or so later, when Morn had been handed off to Barbara for introductions to the other girls and Demora gone to become acquainted with Nikki and Riju, Chekov and Jana finally found a moment alone in the sitting room…

“Well,” she said, handing him a cup of dark tea, “something has happened, hasn’t it?”

Completely missing her tone, Chekov sighed, “Yes. I’m sorry I couldn’t write to you ahead of time. I wasn’t certain Morn could come until yesterday, and Demora…well…”

Jana put a hand on his arm. “It’s all right. What happened to her mother?”

“She died, after a long illness. It was very sad.”

She looked at him oddly. “You…don’t sound like you were very close.”

“Susan…and me? No, I never met her.”

Jana blinked. “Then…how…?”

Chekov looked at her blankly for a moment, then, “Oh, God, you thought—dusha moya, I’m sorry.” He laughed and put a hand over hers. “I’m her godfather. Sulu is her father.”

“Oh!” And Jana laughed too. “But…wasn’t that Russian she was speaking?”

Chekov sipped his tea, and then replied, “Yes, it was. She asked me to teach her. But she knew she was to speak Standard on this trip. She’s very stubborn.” He shook his head fondly.

“Pav,” Jana asked soberly, “why is Demora here?”

Chekov set his cup onto the table, leaned forward with his hands clasped between his knees and looked into her eyes. “You may have heard that the Federation has recently begun negotiations with the Klingon Empire.”

“Yes, it’s all over the news nets.”

“Sulu—now, Captain Sulu—and his ship, the Excelsior, have been chosen as the flagship that will escort the various diplomats throughout the treaty area while negotiations are in progress. But,” and here, Chekov sat back with a sigh, “not everyone in the Federation has put aside their prejudices against the Klingons.”

“I know. There have been some incidents here, too.”

“The Excelsior has already suffered a number of attempts at sabotage. Sulu was concerned that if the instigators can’t get at him any other way, Demi might be in danger, too. So…he asked me to find a place to take her where no one would find her.”

“That’s why you couldn’t tell me in your letter.”

Chekov nodded, “Exactly.”

“Well,” she sighed, “we’ll do our best to make you both comfortable here until the treaty is signed.”

“Thank you,” Chekov leaned forward to kiss her gently on the cheek. “And, in the meantime, I can refine your security systems.”

They sat drinking tea in companionable silence for a moment more. Then Jana said, “Pav, come with me. There’s something I want to show you.”

Chekov readily got up and followed her out into the studio. The place was already working its magic on him the way it always did. His shoulders were nearly painless now when they’d been knotted all morning with tension while sitting in the shuttle. And as he picked his way in between the myriad new works she’d sculpted that year while he’d been gone, he saw everything anew, the wondering way that Demora would see it.

He was glad he’d brought her here.

They stopped in front of the winged horse, the first piece Jana had ever shared with him.

“Notice anything?” she teased, tipping her head to one side.

“No…” Chekov said, strolling around the statue as he had the first time. “Wait. You fixed the broken wing.”

“Yes. And no.”

Chekov looked again. “Both wings are shorter,” he remarked.

“You have a good eye, Commander.” She walked to a table next to the horse and lifted a velvet drapery from its surface.

Chekov came closer. “Those…look like Samoyeds.”

“They are.”

Wonderingly, the Russian lifted one of the stone dogs, examining its glittering obsidian eyes, so meticulously set into the white stone. “You made these from the wing tips,” he said slowly.

“Yes.” She lifted its mate and regarded it critically. “The hardest part was breaking the other wing in such a way that the rest of the main sculpture didn’t shatter.” She turned to him and put the second dog into his other hand. “They’re for you.”

Carefully, Chekov placed both stone dogs back into their velvet bed on the table. He remembered the night she’d lain in his arms and he’d told her about his boyhood home and his family’s dogs—how much he missed them, how much he missed the snow…

He kissed her, slowly and thoroughly this time. “Thank you,” he said, against her hair. He thought about telling her how amazing she was, to actively make something so beautiful out of something broken, how much he wished that they could be—

But instead he just hugged her fiercely for a moment.

She stepped away from him then, wrapping the Samoyeds away into their velvet and putting them into a box. “So,” she asked casually, “what changes do we still need to make to our security system?”

Chekov might have resisted the change in mood, except that at that moment Kioshi appeared in the studio doorway. “Excuse me, but there’s someone in the foyer asking for Commander Chekov.”

Jana lifted a brow. “Another unannounced guest?”

Chekov shrugged and grinned, then put an arm around her shoulders to lead her back toward the front door. “He’s a technical consultant. Believe me, this man knows everything about the equipment we brought.”

As they reached the foyer, Chekov saw a knot of girls giggling and cooing in the center of the parquet floor, among them half a dozen he didn’t recognize. A graying head bobbed up from their midst as he and Jana approached.

“Chekov!” the man exclaimed. “Ye told me it was a large house, man, but ye never mentioned there were such beautiful doves living in it!” A little Andorian girl trilled laughter as he chucked her under her blue chin, while a dark-haired Coridani woman fawned over one of his shoulders.

“Mr. Scott,” Chekov responded, stepping through the female tide to shake his hand. “It’s good to see you again, sir. Jana, meet Captain
Montgomery Scott. ”

“Hello, Captain Scott,” his companion said cordially.

“Very nice to meet you, lassie,” the elderly engineer said, pumping her hand energetically. “But call me Scotty. I’m retired now, ye know.”

Once the girls had been shooed away by Jana, Chekov sat down across from Scott in the dining hall. Without preamble he asked, “Any news?”

Scott shook his head. “Nothing they’ll tell either of us, anymore. The official word is that Excelsior’s station of patrol is classified. Even Jim Kirk cannae be reached for comment.”

Chekov scowled. “It won’t take Demi much longer to start asking where her father is. And I’m worried about Sulu.”

“Aye, that makes two of us, lad.”

The two men sat in somber silence for a moment. Then, Scott said, “I take it that big galoot I saw as I came in is the little lassie’s guardian, of sorts.”

“Yes. His name is Morn. He adores her.”

Scott grunted.

“There’s just one little problem with Morn…” Chekov looked embarrassed.

“And what might that be?”

“Well, I met him in a bar…”

The Scotsman looked affronted. “And what’s wrong with that? Lots of people of good repute in the local pub!”

Chekov patted his shoulder. “You don’t understand. We were playing darts, and…well, he has terrible aim.”

Scott’s bushy brows went up. “Well now, that’s hardly what I’d call a bad character trait, Laddie.”

The Russian leaned back in his chair. “He hit the barkeep.”

“He did?”

“And the dabo girl.”

“He didn’t!”

Chekov folded his arms and nodded. “And two of the customers.”

“What did you do then?” Scott inquired.

“What would you do? We ran,” Chekov laughed.

Scott started chuckling too. “I take it there aren’t any dartboards about, then?”

“Not one.”

Just then, Jana returned and draped an arm across the Russian’s shoulders. “Captain Scott, your room is ready.”

Scotty looked at Chekov with a twinkle in his eye. “Let’s go see!” he said.

***********************************************************************

After showing Scott to his room, they rounded a corner in a part of the house where Chekov had never been. Jana stopped at one of the open doors.

“This will be your room,” she said.

Chekov blinked. “My room?” he said. “But I thought…”

She looked at him.

What did you think, idiot? Chekov said to himself. You can’t stay in her room.

Realization moved over her face, a veil being lifted. “Don’t worry. I’ll come visit you.” She kissed him sweetly on the cheek. “I promise.”

The Russian looked down and smiled. “All right.”

“But now I have to go. Will you be all right?”

“Of course,” he assured her.

After a final hug then, she walked away.

Chekov sighed and moved into the bedroom, lugging his duffel up onto the bed and gazing out the window into the garden.

“Uncle Pav?”

The Russian turned. “Demorshka! I thought you were playing with Nikki.”

His goddaughter hovered at the doorway without entering the room. “I was. But…she was called upstairs and…”

Chekov saw her face then, and remembered his own childhood—a series of strange rooms in military schools, each one more impersonal than the last, none of them ever his own room, his own space. He sat down on the bed and held out his arms.

“Come here, Demi.”

She came, hot tears splashing his shirt almost at once.

“Now, now, what’s this?” Chekov tried to sound reassuring. “I think you must be tired from the trip.”

She sniffled. “A little, I guess. But mostly I miss Daddy.”

Chekov pulled away a little to wipe at her tears and push her hair back behind her ears. “Me too. Don’t worry so much. He will be back soon.”

“That’s what everybody always says. But he never is.”

He thought it best to change the subject. “You’ll like it here, Demorshka. You can swim on the beach and eat all the food you like best. Nikki and the other girls will find lots of games and toys for you.”

She yanked herself free of his arms, turned and flung herself across the big bed next to his bag. “Everybody’s always nice to me. But I’m always left behind!” Thrusting her elbows into the bedspread, she propped her chin in her hands and watched a blue macaw maneuvering a Risan pear apple bud into its beak outside.

Chekov thrust his hands into his pockets and scowled, not knowing what to say, how to comfort her.

“Uncle Pav, do you think I could serve on a starship?”

He blinked. It was the first time she’d ever asked him that. “Someday, when you’re older—absolutely!”

“Everything’s always when I’m older,” Demora complained.

Chekov had to chuckle. Here he was, at the end of his career, and she was so young she couldn’t wait to start hers! “Don’t worry,” he said, “life will come sooner than you think and be over before you know it.”

Something in his tone made her turn and sit up to look at him.

“Are you sad, Uncle Pav?”

“No, of course not.”

Demora tipped her head on one side and regarded him steadily, much as her father might have done had he been there.

“Well,” Chekov admitted, “maybe a little.” He held up his thumb and forefinger an inch apart to show her.

But his godchild wasn’t fooled. She suddenly leaned forward and hugged him. “Oh, Uncle Pav! I promise to cheer you up if you promise to cheer me up.”

Chekov hugged her back and not for the first time laughed a little at how wise she could be for a child. “Always,” he murmured against her hair.

*************************************************************************

The next morning, right after breakfast, Barbara assembled all the girls to hear what plans Chekov and Scott had made. The engineer set up a small computer terminal and wall screen right then and there and Chekov began to speak…

“As you know, I’ve returned to help bolster your security system,” the Russian said. He couldn’t help but glance at Jana at this and catching her knowing smile, hastily cleared his throat. “We will begin by upgrading the safe doors you have now…but we have brought along one new and important piece of equipment. Captain Scott is the expert on it, so I’ll let him explain.”

Chekov sat down and Scott took his place, bringing the first image up on the screen.

“It’s called,” said Scott, “a man trap.”

The girls murmured to each other at the strange contraption and Jana caught Chekov’s gaze in question.

“It’s comprised of two brig level forcefields, engineered to work in tandem, so that one can never be activated at the same time as the other.”

“And these would be placed—where?” Barbara asked.

“The most likely place,” Scott replied, referring them to his schematic of the house and grounds, “would be on the sun porch.”

“How does this system work?” Jana inquired next.

“Well, unlike the conventional forcefield safe doors set up by Commander Chekov the last time he was here, this man trap gives you the ability to question visitors about their intentions before letting them enter the house, and--if ye’ve a mind--to deactivate any weapons, as well.”

“And…just how does it do that?” the Andorian, Chuma, spoke up.

Scott placed his pointer on the schematic. “A visitor enters here, at the entrance to the sun porch, with a guest code he’s given when making his reservation, or in response to someone in the house keying him in after viewing his image on the security scanner. Once he’s inside, the first trap door field activates behind him. Then, before he can enter the second door, into the house, someone inside can visually inspect him for weapons and ask his business here.”

“But what if he has a hidden weapon?” Kioshi piped up.

“Once he’s inside the trap, it won’t matter,” said Chekov. “An energy damper will be installed in the ceiling of the porch. It will drain any weapons of their charge immediately and reveal on the inside monitor any other weapons he’s carrying.”

“So handing their weapons over is just a gesture?” Jana asked.

“Aye,” Scott agreed. “Ye’ll learn quick who ye can trust, lass.”

Barbara looked at the men. “I have some concerns. The first is practical—although we were grateful for the Starfleet clients’ assistance in installing our safe doors the last time they were here, there have been some problems…girls forgetting to activate the doors, or forgetting they were activated and getting shocked by them.”

“Don’t forget Tanu!” Riju exclaimed. She held up a cat with a singed tail, and several of the girls giggled.

But Scott and Chekov exchanged sober looks.

“One of those problems will be solved by the new computer we’ll be installing to handle automation of the doors,” the Scotsman responded then. “It will be keyed to the DNA of every girl here, as well as Chekov and me. So the new fields will open at the activation of palm locks on either side.”

“No more codes to remember!” Zhr, the Coridani, click-whistled and grinned.

“As for getting shocked,” Chekov took the cat from Riju and examined its tail worriedly while it squirmed and tried to get away. “We can easily vary the strength of the safe doors inside. But, the man trap…” he looked up and around the room, trying to meet the eyes of each girl in turn. “Don’t walk into those fields.”

“But what if we do?” Chuma pressed.

Chekov looked at her. “You might not walk away.” He handed Tanu over to her.

“You said there was another concern?” Scott asked then of Barbara.

She sighed. “Yes. Will this look pleasing?”

Chekov saw the Scotsman take a deep breath but before he could step in the engineer exclaimed, “See here, Missy! D’you wanna be safe or not?”

Quickly, Chekov put in, “I’m sure we can…work something out…we’ll add some plants,” he waved a hand, vaguely, “or some decorative furniture on the porch.”

Barbara nodded and Scott narrowed his eyes at the Russian but held his tongue.

As the girls filed out, Jana approached them. “Is there anything I can do to help you get started?”

“Yes,” Chekov turned to her, grateful affection standing in his eyes. “We’ll need to get DNA samples of everyone.”

“And how do we do that?”

“That’s easy. We just need a hair from each girl.”

“But…what about the Deltans?”

Scott and Chekov looked at each other. “Well,” the Russian said, rubbing one hand around the back of his neck. “Maybe you should ask them for blood samples.”

Jana laughed at his embarrassment and patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” She hurried out.

The two men moved through the studio into the library and began unpacking the computer equipment they’d need.

“That lass is a smart one,” Scotty commented, grunting a little as he picked up a console and moved it to a table they had set up for the purpose.

Chekov pushed up his sleeves and began tearing open more boxes. “Jana? Yes, she is.” He smiled a little as he worked.

“You could just see her figuring things out in her head,” Scott went on. “Zhr’s sharp as a tack, too. Not to mention friendly—if ya know whut I mean.” He winked.

Chekov stood up straight, a computer monitor held in his outstretched arms. “I thought you and Chuma…”

Scott waved one hand in a negating gesture. “Not my cup o’ tea, Lad. You, eh—ever been with an Andorian?”

The Russian crawled under the table and began hooking up wiring to hide his reddened face. “No,” he responded in a muffled voice.

“Well, remember your basic xeno-anatomy? They’re insectoids.”

Chekov just pulled his head out from under the table in time to see Scott shudder.

“Besides,” Scott added, seating himself at the table and placing the monitor a comfortable distance from the other peripherals, “Coridani can see in the dark!”

Chekov was still grinning at this when the Scotsman pointed his finger at him and added, “But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna be a damned interior decorator! You do the plants.”

********************************

That afternoon, Scott helped Chekov upgrade the safe door wiring on the lower level, and then beetled off to enter the girls’ samples in the new computer system while the Russian re-connected the sensor grids to both the door protecting the dining room and the entrance to the service quarters on the opposite side of the foyer. The air was now both hot and humid, and Chekov might have been tempted into somnolence if not for his uncomfortable vest with its array of tools providing a rather lumpy mattress.

Jana hadn’t reappeared, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted her to right now. The incident earlier had unearthed feelings he didn’t want to think about, let alone discuss…

A soft pressure against his chest made Chekov lower his arms. The cat, Tanu, had climbed up on him and was settling itself for a nap. “Hey!” he said to
it, but then decided shooing it away was too much work. He’d be finished here in a moment anyway…

The cat regarded him in enigmatic fashion for a moment, then glanced away and began purring.

As he reached back up and carefully connected each wire, an idea came to Chekov. He looked at the cat, then at the grid, then the cat again. “I wonder…” he said. One by one he began taking the wires apart and reconfiguring them.

Tanu turned to look at him then. The cat blinked one green eye as though winking.

Chekov laughed and felt the creature’s claws unsheathe briefly against his ribs at the unexpected movement. “Don’t worry,” he said to it, “I’m just setting this so that you can go in and out and not get shocked.”

The cat turned its head on one side and he saw its nostrils flare as though being presented with a new, interesting scent.

“But I have no idea how I’m going to explain to Mr. Scott that I have to re-wire all these other doors again,” Chekov added.

Suddenly the cat clawed at him and bounded away across the foyer.

Chekov was so startled he gave a yelp and yanked the wire he was working on completely free.

“Are you all right?” a sibilant voice murmured nearby, and the Russian angled his head off the floor far enough to see it was Chuma, the Andorian girl.

Her antennae were curled forward, showing her concern. “I’m afraid I startled Tanu.”

Not to mention me, Chekov thought but didn’t say. True, it’d been awhile since he’d pulled security duty on Enterprise, but he wasn’t used to people being able to surprise him this way. “Yes, I’m fine,” he said, and connected the last few wires, then replaced the panel and got to his feet.

Chuma backed away only far enough to give him room to stand. Her antennae were upright now, and Chekov tried to remember what that meant: alarm? Curiosity?

“Did I hear you say you modified this door for Tanu? How?”

Chekov had to listen and think an extra moment to realize what she’d said. Her accent was still heavy. She must be a recent addition to the house then, where most of the girls spoke fluent Standard. He could sympathize, not having much of a knack for languages himself. “Well, all we need really is a cat hair, and I think I have collected enough of those.” He laughed a little and brushed some off his shirt. “So I adjusted the scanner to read for him below a certain height.”

The Andorian girl stepped forward. “You’re very clever,” she said. And you’re Human, like the other one, aren’t you?”

Chekov swallowed, and resisted the urge to back away against the wall. He tried to think of a kind way to move aside without making it look obvious.

“Yes,” he answered.

In the next moment, Chuma pressed herself against him and kissed him, and for no other reason than simply to keep his balance, Chekov’s arms came up around her. Immediately he realized what Scott had tried to tell him the night before: her tongue felt and tasted like woody moss, while the carapace of her exoskeleton crackled as she moved against his chest. She felt alien.

Chekov pushed her away…but not before he felt a sharp nip at the corner of his mouth. “Hey!” he exclaimed as he swiped the back of his hand across and it came away bloody. “You bit me!”

“Chuma,” a cool voice said from the direction of the kitchen, and Barbara moved into the foyer. “That was inappropriate.”

The Andorian girl crossed her arms, and her antennae bowed once again. “I was only curious.”

“Nevertheless. I believe you have other duties in the kitchen at this time.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Chuma replied, but in her native accent it sounded more like a hiss. She walked away, Chekov’s blood still on her chin.

The Russian wiped at his mouth again. “She bit me,” he repeated in a dazed tone.

Barbara smiled in a kind fashion. “Yes, well, not all cultures are as…affectionate with their mating rituals as humanoids are, Commander. So…how go
the renovations?”

Gathering himself, Chekov ushered her toward the library, filling her in on all they’d accomplished that morning.

In the process, he forgot all about Chuma…

****************************************

It had been an extremely long day. Chekov couldn’t remember the last time he’d carried out so much physical labor. He dropped onto the bed, for once grateful to feel a soft civilian mattress and not his bunk on the Enterprise.

The Enterprise…he wouldn’t be going there again. It was a strange thought, after all these years. Even his officer’s quarters on the Reliant had never felt so much like home.

His muscles were just relaxing enough to pull him into a doze with the light still on when the door creaked and a small voice asked, “Uncle Pav?” Chekov just had time to register Demora’s presence before she climbed up on the bed beside him and offered a sleepy hug through the covers. He hugged her back.

“Demi, I thought you were asleep.”

“I was. And now I’m not.”

Chekov cocked his head to look at her lying snuggled onto his chest. “Did you have a bad dream?”

“I dunno.”

“What does that mean?”

He could feel her frown against his shoulder. “Uncle Pav? Where’s Daddy?”

It was the question he’d been dreading. But then he heard Scott: She’s the daughter of a starship captain. She can take it.

“I don’t know,” he murmured.

Demora sat up. “You don’t know?” Her mouth was open, eyes wide. “You don’t know?”

Chekov squirmed. “He’s on a mission. No one is allowed to know.” He pulled himself up on one elbow to look into her eyes. “That’s his job, Demorshka.”

The tears in her eyes didn’t fall. “Will he be all right, Uncle Pav?”

“Of course he will.”

The child held his gaze steadily for a moment.

How like Hikaru, Chekov thought. I do miss you, old friend…

After a moment, she hunkered down next to him again and asked in a small voice, “You’re not going away on a mission, are you, Uncle Pav?”

Chekov’s hand came up to stroke her hair. “No, Demorshka. No more missions.”

“That makes you sad, doesn’t it?”

Hm, what to say now? After a moment, he responded neutrally, “Sometimes, yes.”

“But you like being here.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Yes.”

Demora was silent for so long he thought she’d fallen asleep, and reached up for the light.

“Uncle Pav?”

Chekov paused. “Yes, Demi?”

“Do you love Jana?”

Startled into laughter, he asked, “And how old are you, again?”

She giggled.

Chekov thought about it. “Yes,” he said.

Demora was nodding against him now. “I thought so. Daddy and Manda act like you and Jana do.”

“Oh?” Chekov said, yawning. “And how do we act?”

She thought for a moment. “Well, your voices change for one thing. They’re softer. And you touch each other a lot, hold hands and stuff.”

“You’re very observant,” Chekov commented, privately considering he should perhaps watch exactly how he touched Jana in her presence from now on…

“Daddy says I’m a quick study. Anyway, I like Jana,” Demora declared. “It’s okay that you love her.”

Chekov’s tired lopsided grin surfaced just as he flipped off the light. “Why, thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Demora replied.

And they slept…

***********************
The next morning, Chekov ushered Demora to the dining hall. It was the custom of the house to break their fast together—with the exception of the girls that were still with clients. Considering what he’d witnessed yesterday, Chekov was surprised, then, when Jana greeted him at the doorway with every evidence of flushed pleasure…

“Pavel! Good morning.”

Blinking, he allowed her to kiss his cheek, mindful of his godchild gazing up at them with wide eyes. “Good morning,” he murmured.

Nikki nipped around them at that moment and got Demora by the shoulders. “Come on! Where have you been?” They disappeared into the crowded room beyond.

“Well, it looks like she’s made herself quite at home,” Jana commented, and slipped her arm around Chekov’s waist.

The Russian let her lead him to a seat, but said nothing. The truth was, he didn’t know what to say. Everything that came to mind seemed...awkward or angry.

“What may I serve you?” Jana smiled down at him.

“Don’t,” he said, and sure enough it came out with a snap.

She blinked.

“I…” Chekov added then, in a softer tone, “I’d rather you’d sit with me--beside me.”

Jana hesitated, unaccustomed to being served.

“It would…please me,” he added.

Jana sat.

Kioshi set a plate of food before each of them, and with only a moment’s hesitation, Jana picked up her fork. The chattering of girls filled the room in a gradual wave, along with clinking glasses and cutlery. Chekov noticed Scott a few yards further down the hall, but Zhr and Barbara were missing. Chuma sat at the far end next to Morn but when Chekov looked her way she didn’t even glance at him.

A scraping chair announced the return of Demora to his right a moment before she bumped his arm with her own. “What are you eating?” Her large, inquisitive eyes were bright with a full night’s rest.

Chekov, still chewing, tilted his plate to show her.

From his other side, Jana took a sip of water and ventured, “So…how go the renovations?”

“Uncle Pav?” Demora interrupted as he would’ve responded.

“Yes, Demi?”

“What is this?” She pointed to something on her plate he didn’t recognize.

Chekov shrugged and suggested, “Why don’t you try it and find out? I’m sure everything here is good.” He turned back to Jana. “We got all the safe doors upgraded…except I have to do a small re-wiring job on some of them today. Then we start on the man trap.”

Jana smiled and touched him. “I heard what you did for Tanu. That was nice of you.”

Chekov’s mouth twisted. “Yes, well…I’m just a nice guy. What can I say?”

“Uncle Pav?”

“Yes, Demi?”

“What if I don’t like this?” She was poking at something else on her plate now, holding her spoon as though whatever it was might crawl off at any moment.

Without thinking, Chekov responded, “If you don’t like it, don’t eat it, Demorshka.”

Jana pushed her plate away and folded her napkin on top of it. “When do you think you’ll be finished today?”

The Russian hesitated. “I hadn’t thought about it,” he answered. That wasn’t strictly true. The fact was, he didn’t want to think about it. He was confused by how he’d felt when he’d seen her yesterday…and then this morning.

“Uncle Pav?”

“Yes, Demi?”

This time when he turned he saw at once she was about to be sick. He started to get up… But Riju was suddenly there, wearing an older sister air. She turned Demora around and began steering her away from the table. “I’ve seen this before,” she called over her shoulder. “She’ll be all right.” And they were gone down the length of the hall.

Chekov watched, frowning, as they moved off.

From beside him, Jana said, “Don’t worry. All our girls have excellent training.”

The Russian threw his napkin onto the table without looking at her.

“Yes, I know. Excuse me.”

Scott was already putting his vest on in the foyer when Chekov came up next to him and did the same. He knew by the way the engineer’s eyes opened the slightest bit wider that Jana had followed him. Chekov went right on rummaging through the toolbox without turning.

“Pavel…”

He gave a small sigh, then forced himself to stop scowling and turned.

Jana’s expressive face revealed her distress. “Pavel, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Don’t be silly,” he responded. Behind him, Scotty moved off to give them some privacy.

Hurt replaced worry then in her green eyes. “I think we know each other a little better than that, don’t you?”

After a moment, Chekov offered, “I was just wondering…where Kumar was this morning…” He watched her face.

Jana’s mouth dropped open. “You saw us!”

Her affronted tone fired his anger at last. “Well, I could hardly miss him. He almost destroyed the sun porch!”

She crossed her arms, and her chin came up. “He broke one pot. And he had an early freight run today. He left at dawn.”

Chekov could just imagine what the goodbye had been like. “I see,” he said tightly and turned back to the toolbox.

“Pavel,” Jana said in a softer tone then, “I’d forgotten your culture thinks we…”

“It doesn’t matter,” he cut her off. “I just forgot where I was, that’s all. It won’t happen again.”

She put a hand on his arm.

“Uncle Pav?” A pale Demora was crossing the foyer, Riju and Nikki hurrying behind her with Morn loping along at the rear.

Chekov went to one knee as she approached and hugged her to him. “Are you feeling better?”

“I think so. Do I have to eat breakfast?”

Her godfather sighed. “I suppose not, today.”

Demora beamed.

“But put a piece of fruit in your pocket. You’ll be hungry later. And lie down if you don’t feel well again.”

She hugged him. “Thank you, Uncle Pav.”

Chekov just smiled and squeezed her again, then got up.

As Morn scooped up the squealing younger girls and tromped away toward the kitchen, the Russian turned back to the waiting Jana. Her face now had a thoughtful expression.

“Pavel,” she said, “I was wondering if we could spend some time together tonight.”

A crease appeared between his brows. He looked down at the toolbox and worked one of its latches back and forth a couple of times. “You…have another client today?”

Jana put her hand over his, forcing him to look at her. “I’m sculpting today,” she said. “And I have duties in the garden tomorrow.”

Chekov tried to look as if none of this mattered. But it did—a lot more than he wanted it to. “I don’t know what time we’ll be finished…”

She took a step toward him and then slipped her hand along his cheek and around the back of his neck, drawing his face to hers. “It doesn’t matter what time.”

They kissed, long enough that Chekov tasted the strawberries she’d had for breakfast, briefly enough that he sighed a little when it was over…

“Just send Riju or one of the other girls to find me,” and she moved away, smiling over her shoulder as she went.

Chekov watched her go. He didn’t know how he was supposed to feel about all this. Maybe later, when they—

“You coming or not, Laddie?” Scott said from behind him.

Locking the toolbox closed, Chekov turned and followed him toward the equipment cases holding the man trap.

**************************************************************************************************

Giggling, Demora and Nikki held their hands over each other’s mouths as Morn and Riju played hide and seek with them along one of the twisting corridors of the upper floor of the house. After a few moments the older girl and her hulking companion turned down another hallway and were lost to view…

“That was close,” Demora said. She looked around. “Where are we anyway?”

“Shhh,” Nikki said and rolled her eyes. “Don’t you know anything?”

Demora sighed. She hated it when Nikki got all superior.

“That,” the Risan girl said, gesturing at the door behind them, “is Zhr’s room.”

“So?”

“So…” Nikki hinted. “She’s with a client.”

At this, Demora nodded with a solemn expression.

“And do you know what they’re doing in there?”

Chekov’s godchild shrugged. “Of course.”

“Oh, really? What then?”

Demora’s expression grew confident. “They’re kissing and stuff.”

Nikki snorted. “That shows how much you know,” she declared. “At first they do that….but then they make some loud noises while they jump on the bed for awhile. That part’s real important. Then they take a nap and then they kiss and hug some more and then they come out.”

“Oh,” Demora responded. Somehow she had thought there was more to it than that. Still, Daddy was always telling her girls her age didn’t
jump on the bed.…

“How old are you again, Demi?” Nikki asked.

“Nine.”

The Risan girl patted her on the back. “Don’t worry. When you’re ten you’ll know everything.”

***************************************************************************************
Chekov and Scott worked the rest of the morning putting together the field frames for the man trap…

“Damned women,” Scott muttered at one point. “They want everything to look like high tea and crumpets, but they don’t stop to think how much harder that makes things, do they now?” He grunted as he ran one gnarled hand around the outer door frame to the sun porch.

“What is it?” Chekov asked. “What’s wrong?”

Scott threw him an exasperated look. “Well, this is wood, isn’t it? How the hell are we gonna get it to support these brig door frames? They’re heavy as the devil and God knows I don’t want to be responsible when one of them falls in and squashes one of these wee lassies like a nut under a wagon wheel.”

Smiling, Chekov turned back to his work on the ceiling of the sun porch. “Oh, you’ll think of something, Scotty. You always do.”

In fact, the engineer had been going on this way since they’d started. After the first hour or so Chekov remembered the Scotsman’s questions were almost always rhetorical. He’d been just the same when they’d disabled the transwarp engines on the Excelsior. His constant grousing was just his way of thinking problems through.

“How’re you coming up there?” Scott asked after a moment.

Chekov wiped sweat out of his eyes with the back of his shirt sleeve. “Almost finished.” He’d been standing on an anti-grav with his arms over his head for so long he wasn’t sure he could put them down again. “Lucky for me, no one sees the ceiling, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Right?”

“Don’t count on it,” Scott retorted from his position leaning against the outer door. He continued in a prissy voice, “After all, the dampening field should be camoflaged; otherwise someone with dishonorable intentions might see it when they come in.”

Chekov lowered his arms and made a face. “Musor,” he commented in a sour tone.

By late afternoon, they’d completed the assembly of the man trap’s main components: the brig frames and the dampening field generator. In the process they’d put together a list of additional items they’d need to get in the city for the following day’s work. Then, in preparation, Scotty decided they should end the day by stripping the existing doors of their hardware.

The two men were near the end of that task when Chekov first saw The Boot.

A creak of the sun porch floor made him turn from his crouched position to the right of the inner doorframe. From the corner of his eye he saw Scott doing the same on the other side. The boot landed a meter or so away, jarring loose dusty Risan mud and vibrating the entire structure. The decorative thorn near its toe curved backward toward the wearer’s ankle.

The Russian’s gaze traveled up and up, beyond an armor-plated knee, all the way to a fingerless gauntlet. The hand of the Klingon rested on a totem buckle indicating his family’s house. His contemptuous gaze met Chekov’s halfway through oiled waves of coarse, dark hair falling forward over his face.

“Who runs this place?” the Klingon demanded.

Chekov didn’t answer, only got to his feet and watched the six Orion males who had swarmed up the stairs behind him. Larger than the Klingon, they nevertheless were accepting him as their leader—at the moment. Considering what Chekov knew about Orions, he wondered how long it would take one or two of them to get their volatile companion inebriated and challenge him to fight them all…

“Who wants to know?” Scott put in before the Russian could say anything.

The Klingon Chekov now thought of as The Boot took a step toward him, and Chekov moved to intercept. But Scotty was having none of it.

“Come on then, ye bleedin’, big bastard! I can take ye,” he declared, face crimsoning.

“No!” Chekov threw the engineer an alarmed glance as the Orions fisted themselves around them. The Klingon was one thing, but didn’t Scott
remember that the others were from a high gravity world?

Barbara’s calm voice spoke just then from the foyer: “Gentlemen…how may I assist you?”

The Klingon pivoted to face her, and Chekov felt every aching muscle in his back relax.

“We demand the use of your house!” The Boot bellowed. He pushed Chekov aside and stepped through the doorway.

“Of course, Milord,” Barbara placated. “We are here for your pleasure…”

One by one, the Orions cast contemptuous glances at the two Earthers and walked past too—all except the largest, who paused to gloat down at Chekov. “I like you small ones,” he declared, hands on hips. “You have spirit! Perhaps you’d like to sign aboard my ship—as part of the cargo, of course.”

A slave runner, then, the Russian thought, and narrowed his eyes, taking in the Orion’s waxy, plaited beard and the smell of alien spice that lingered about his vivid mesh tunic. But before Chekov could reply, one of the others called:

“Dasan! Come…”

And the massive Orion stepped through.

Scott came up beside Chekov, and the two men stood in the doorway watching. Barbara was too far away for them to hear what was being
said, but it was plain The Boot was gesturing and making more demands. After a moment she nodded and walked away to tug at a rope that hung near the spiral staircase. From everywhere at once came the sound of tiny, brass bells…and soon girls began flooding into the foyer from all directions. At Barbara’s guidance they began lining up side by side across the parquet floor.

“Wh—what’s going on?” Scott exclaimed.

“I don’t know,” Chekov murmured. But he didn’t like it. Something bad was about to happen. He could feel it in his gut, the way he always had on the Enterprise. He caught Barbara’s eye and motioned her over.

“What are you doing?” the Russian asked. “Why are all the girls--?”

Barbara sighed. “Our Klingon client has requested he be able to see all our girls.”

Chekov blinked. “You mean all the girls that are working now.”

Understanding came into her eyes, and her tone softened. “No, Commander. All the girls.”

“They cannae do that!” Scott protested, as yet more girls filed in—among them Chuma, from the direction of the garden, and the Deltans from the library.

“Most certainly they can,” Barbara turned to him now. “It’s a right of the client, to be sure the transaction is the one that will bring him true satisfaction.”

“Well, there ought to be a law!” Scott was waving his arms now.

“Captain Scott,” she responded evenly, “on Risa that is the law.”

But Chekov had long since stopped listening. He was watching the crowd of girls for one in particular…

The Boot stalked up and down the line, while his Orion companions smirked and snickered behind him. A door opened at the end of the hall and Jana, flushed and tousled as she often got while sculpting, trotted forward to take her place next to the others. The short, pink shift she wore shimmered about her slim calves as she moved.

The Klingon’s head turned.

Ah, God, Chekov thought. No. Not her…look at the others, the others…

But The Boot didn’t look at the others. He strode straight to Jana.

At once, she assumed a submissive posture, sinking to her knees and bowing her head to avoid his direct glance.

“This one,” the Klingon rumbled, “knows the way to treat a warrior.” He pivoted and bellowed in Barbara’s direction. “I will have this one…with hair of flame!”

Chekov became aware that his hand was clenched so hard around his spanner that it hurt. Beside him, Scott murmured, “Are ya all right?”

Then, as Barbara glided forward to close the transaction, the Klingon bent and twisted a handful of Jana’s burnished mane into one hand, tugging her to her feet.

Chekov took a step forward.

Scott put a hand to his arm. “Don’t do it, lad.”

And that’s an order, the Russian heard, from long habit, in his head. He froze.

Jana’s face remained serene, accepting…even when her client dipped his head and ran his teeth across the side of her neck to catch her scent. A thin trickle of blood seeped from just under her ear down into the collar of her shift, but she never moved, only a slight widening of the eyes betraying she had any feeling about the situation at all.

At this, a growl arose in Chekov’s throat and he pulled another step forward.

“Pavel!” Scott barked.

In the corner, an unspoken decision was made by the Orion males, and they too dove into the line, scattering the women like cooing pigeons. True to their breed, they each picked up a girl and tossed a few coins in Barbara’s general direction before making off with their purchases for use elsewhere in the house or out. Chekov saw Chuma carried away by the leader, Dasan. But by the time the chaos had subsided, Jana and The Boot were nowhere to be seen.

Slowly, as though he’d forgotten he held it, Scott released Chekov’s arm. The Russian stood for a moment clenching his jaw and staring at the spot where Jana had been just a few moments before.

Now only a few drops of her blood marked the parquet floor…

“I don’t know about you, but I need a drink,” the Scotsman announced. He turned to Barbara, who was giving instructions to the house bots. “What’s the nearest pub?”

“The Joyful Lyon,” she replied, and told him how to get there.

Scott stripped off his vest and slapped at Chekov’s back. “Let’s go.”

The Russian didn’t move.

“For God’s sake, man. Let’s go.”

Numbly, Chekov turned, and the compassion in his friend’s eyes made him swallow hard.

“I’m coming, Scotty,” he croaked. “A drink is exactly what I need.”

*****************************************************************

Scotty waited until the waitress walked away and took a long sip of ale before he spoke:

“Well, that tears it. Ye’re on the ladder all right.”

Chekov had been staring at nothing; lost in his thoughts, his hands wrapped around a drink he didn’t recall ordering. Now he blinked. “Ladder? I don’t understand.”

In a gentler tone altogether, Scott explained, “The ladder of love, o’ course. At least…that’s the way I’ve always thought of it.”

The Russian said nothing, only lifting his glass for a sip.

“It’s always like that, y’know. Ye climb one rung at a time…sometimes goin’ steadily up—sometimes slippin’ a little, dependin’ on how ye step. O’ course, in ye’re case I wouldn’t look down, mind ye.”

At this, a tired smile spread across Chekov’s face.

“We’ve just got ta find some way to keep ye from gettin’ ye’re dander up every time another rooster comes in the henhouse,” Scott added, in that pensive tone he reserved for particularly thorny problems.

The Russian bristled at once. “That was no chicken,” he said in a sour tone. “It was a Klingon.”

“Aye,” Scott agreed. “And now that the Federation has started the peace process with the Empire, I doubt it’ll be the last that uses that house.”

Chekov took a longer drink. He hadn’t thought of that.

Watching him, the engineer clucked his tongue. “Well, it’ll all be behind ye in a few days. It’s just a matter of time.”

The Russian said nothing, but something in his face made Scott gasp, “Och, ye can’t be serious, man!”

For the first time, Chekov looked him in the eye, with more than a little of the fire he’d had as a young navigator. “Why not? People can change.” He put his glass on the table and signaled the waitress for another.

“Some people yes. But not that girl.”

Chekov scowled. “Why not?”

“Well,” Scott sputtered, “because she’s a…”

The Russian shot him a frosty glance.

“—a professional,” the engineer recovered hastily. “It’s hopeless.”

As the waitress brought another round of drinks, Chekov leaned back, the corner of his mouth twisting up. “You forget,” he continued, “it’s not the first time we’ve seen such a hopeless romance.”

Scott grunted. “Aye, I’ll give ye that.” He took a drink and pushed his chair back a little. “Let’s see, there was…”

“Nurse Connie,” Chekov supplied with a smile.

Pleased to see his friend’s sense of humor returning, Scott asked, “Now was that the little blonde that patched up your black eye that time the gravity failed on the bridge?”

Chekov took a swallow of his drink. “Yes. But she left to go home to Centaurus. What ever happened to that scientist? The one that was blind…”

“Ah,” and Scott’s grin was beatific, “Miranda, that was. She married an ambassador.” He quaffed his ale, then added, “I say we drink to all the fine-looking women we knew on Enterprise.”

“Done!” Chekov agreed.

The both drank this time. Then Scott continued, “Let’s see, there was…”

“Marla McGiver,” Chekov suggested, and flushed bright red while Scott pointed a finger at him and chuckled.

“And Mira Romaine…” The engineer heaved a sigh.

Chekov looked wistful, adding, “Martha Landon.”

Suddenly, both men looked at each other and said, “Carolyn Palamas.” And they finished their drinks in one gulp…
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