Foul sludge splashed across the ground before Lieutenant Thirishar ch’Thane, and he recoiled in momentary shock as a noxious odor assaulted his nostrils.
“Get away from here!”
Wiping away flecks of the rancid fluid that had hit his face, Shar backed away from the older Andorian who had thrown the filthy water at his feet. The merchant, his blue skin darkened with age, stood stoop-shouldered in the doorway leading into his shop. Shar had seen him tending to the plants outside his storefront on more than one occasion during his walks through this part of the city. In his hands, the shopkeeper wielded a rusted metal bucket, which he now shook before him in Shar’s direction.
“Get away from here, you traitor!” the old man repeated, stepping down from the doorway onto the sidewalk lining the row of buildings on this side of the narrow street. He raised one arm and pointed a long, wrinkled finger at Shar. “We don’t want you here!”
Shar held up his hands to indicate he presented no threat, still trying to fathom what he might have done—or failed to do—to call forth the aged merchant’s ire. He had been warned about isolated instances where other Starfleet personnel—none of them Andorians—had encountered such behavior, but none had been reported here in Lor’Vela. Indeed, he had come to think of this part of the city as his new home, just as many Andorians had in the year since the Borg invasion. The largest population center on Andor to weather the attack relatively intact, the city had served in the months that followed as a rally point for survivors across the neighboring regions, with sprawling refugee camps springing up along the coastline and in the foothills to the north and west. While much of the city lay within and beneath the surrounding mountain range, this section had been constructed aboveground, reminding Shar of his childhood home. The reconstituted, provisional Andorian planetary government now was located here, having summoned lower-ranking officials from cities and provinces around the world to fill the void left by the loss of so many political leaders. Laibok, the former capital city, had fallen to Borg weaponry in the opening moments of the attack, with much of the surrounding region being laid to waste. Had Shar been on Andor when the invasion began, he would have been working there, and certainly would have numbered in the millions of casualties recorded on that day.
And now someone here might want to help correct that oversight. You should go. Now.
“I’m not looking for any trouble,” he said, keeping his voice low and doing his best to impart no trace of anger or resentment over what the shopkeeper had done to him. “I’m just—”
The older Andorian cut him off, shaking a fist at him. “I know what you’re doing! I’ve seen you on the newsnets. You and those other traitors, working with the Federation to wipe away our culture. Our very identity!”
Shar rebuked himself for his stupidity. Had he missed a briefing about upswings in anti-Starfleet sentiment within Lor’Vela? So far as he knew, the city had experienced little of the civil unrest that had plagued other areas in recent months, but to expect that not to change at some point was the height of naïveté. This was particularly true in light of the steps Starfleet and the Federation—working in concert with the Andorian government and Homeworld Security—had taken to retain order among the populace as the planet struggled to rebuild from the devastation inflicted by the Borg. Though Lor’Vela had seemed at the outset like a haven of cooperative spirit between Andor and the Federation, current events and the stench of his uniform told Shar that enthusiasm for such an alliance might be waning, at least in some quarters.
Excellent deductive reasoning, Lieutenant.
Opening his mouth in what he knew would be a futile attempt to put the elder at ease, Shar sensed another presence behind him and turned in time to see another Andorian, a thaan, approaching him from one of the buildings on the other side of the street. Though he was much younger than the merchant, he appeared to be no less irritated by Shar’s presence here.
“You heard him,” the new arrival said, stepping closer. “You’re not welcome here.” Shar recognized him as another merchant—a restaurateur of some sort, if his memory served. Despite his attempts at self-control, Shar felt muscles tensing as the other Andorian came to the boundary of his personal space.
“I understand,” Shar said agreeably, though he had no idea what had happened in the five days since his passage through this area of town to so change the way local residents felt about Starfleet personnel in their midst. Taking a step back, he added, “I’m leaving.”
A tingle in his left antenna made him duck an instant before a chunk of brick sailed past his face and slammed into the wall to his right. The brick shattered on impact, peppering Shar with debris. Flinching from the rain of shrapnel, he turned in the direction from which the projectile had come to see a young zhen standing across the thoroughfare. She glared at him with open contempt, seemingly unrepentant at having nearly injured or killed him. Indeed, her expression seemed to be one of frustration at having failed to do either.
For the first time, Shar allowed an edge to creep into his voice. “I said I was leaving.” He bit each word, forcing them between gritted teeth as he glowered at the thaan, who still stood entirely too close for common courtesy.
“Maybe we shouldn’t let you go,” the thaan replied, glowering at him, and for the first time Shar realized other residents were emerging from doorways and alleys between buildings. A low rumble of disapproval emanated from the people as they began coming closer, drawing a circle around him. Training—to say nothing of mounting trepidation—made Shar scrutinize the threat potential of each new arrival. None appeared to be carrying anything that might be a weapon, but they already had numbers to use against him. A phaser would have gone a long way toward evening the odds, but Shar’s weapon was in a locker at the local Starfleet field office.
Tucked away, nice and safe, along with your common sense.
“Let him go,” a voice said from somewhere behind him. “Leave him alone. He’s not bothering anyone.”
“No!” countered someone else. “He doesn’t belong here.”
“He’s no better than the looters from the camps!” shouted a younger zhen, whom Shar recognized from the long antennae atop his forehead as a Talish.
“Teach him what happens to trespassers!”
His eyes still locked on the thaan’s, Shar regarded his adversary. “If it’s a fight you’re looking for,” he said, hoping his words sounded more convincing to the other Andorian’s ears than to his own, “I’m more than happy to provide it.”
The thaan leered. “You cannot fight us all.”
“No,” Shar conceded, feeling his pulse beginning to pound in his ears as he resigned himself to the situation, “but I can kill you first.” While he did not want things to deteriorate to that point, it was becoming apparent that he likely would not escape this confrontation unscathed. He would defend himself, and worry about explaining or justifying his actions should he survive the next few minutes.
Always the optimist.
Certain he sensed the thaan readying to strike out at him, Shar took another step back, moving into a defensive stance just as his opponent lunged forward. The other Andorian was sloppy, unschooled in unarmed combat, and Shar easily met the clumsy assault. He blocked the thaan’s outstretched arm and with a single fluid motion pivoted on his heel, using his opponent’s weight and momentum to carry him over his left hip and flip him down onto the sidewalk’s cracked pavement. The thaan landed hard, grunting from the impact, and Shar followed through by grasping the Andorian’s right wrist and twisting the arm until the thaan yelped in pain. He tried to break free of the grip, but Shar placed his foot on the restaurateur’s throat, holding his arm taut. Seeing other people from the crowd beginning to move forward, he pointed at them with his free hand.
“Stay back!” he shouted. He again twisted his opponent’s arm, emphasizing his point as the thaan loosed another anguished cry. Shar sensed movement from his left and ducked just as a clenched fist sliced past his face. Releasing his grip on the thaan’s arm, Shar dodged right, scrambling for room as he beheld his new attacker, the Talish who earlier had yelled at him. The shen’s features were contorted in rage as he lunged forward, swinging again.
Moving to defend against the attack, Shar felt hands on his arms just as someone gripped the collar of his uniform tunic. Another hand clamped around the back of his neck and he was pulled backward, off-balance. He jerked and twisted, his body reacting on instinct to free himself. A face appeared near his right side, and he lashed out, striking the attacker’s chin. There was a grunt of pain as the assailant staggered away, then a hand grabbed Shar’s wrist, arresting any further movement as he was pushed to the street. As he felt the unyielding stones beneath his back, he looked up to see three Andorians holding him down. One of them was the thaan he had first fought, who knelt beside him and thrust a forefinger at his face.
“Traitor,” the thaan hissed, glaring at Shar.
Shar tried to move, but failed. Continuing to struggle against his assa...