What happens on Pathos, stays on Pathos. That was the unofficial rule.
It didn't bring much comfort to Dallas Ewing.
Drugs inundated Dantari territories. The Dantari were immune to addiction; it was probably good that they had no interest in profiteering, or they could make a killing. They would have made the Sultan of Brunei look like a bank clerk.
However, the Dantari were interested in order. Not profit. Not power. Order. They imposed order with exceptionally-Dantari harshness. And, unfortunately, their immunity to addiction made them insensitive to its effects. Rather than forbid the drug trade, they regulated its flow through their territories.
Pathos sat on the edge of Dantari space, a remote planet afflicted by disease ("pathos"), beyond Federation borders; a free zone where Starfleet rarely ventured. It reminded Dallas of the Old West, in American history: Not quite as lawless, but governed by a system of anarchy that left most to fend for themselves. The Dantari claimed no jurisdiction on the planet's surface, and didn't much care what went on there.
Not that they were unseen. Dallas not only had to deal with the drugs (and, sometimes, the drug runners); when the Dantari came calling, he had to deal with them.
Like today. Two stood in the doorway to the clinic as he walked up: two icicles in the Pathos heat, in their crisp black, green and white uniforms. They looked like… well, sort-of like… well, he didn’t know what they looked like. Some said they evolved from dogs; others claimed bugs. A white, shell-like skin covered their bodies. They had long snouts, and hocked legs jointed backward, giving them an odd gait as they walked; they could spring fast into motion. Most, he understood, wore specialized goggles over their eyes, protection perhaps against some forms of radiation. They didn’t need them here. Two pairs of hard, yellow eyes stared at him… as one regards an insect, about to crush it.
Dallas tried to calm his nerves and ignore the rapid thumping of his heart. It was said the Dantari could smell fear.
"Can I help you?"
"We are looking for a woman," the taller one said – only an inch or so taller. His snout was thicker than his companion's.
"You'll have to go across town for that," Dallas said. "Try the Sublight District. Around midnight."
They didn't get the joke. They reminded Dallas of Laurel and Hardy. But alien. And without a lick of humor.
The speaking Dantari activated a holographic projection: a short, plump, Caucasian female, with a round face and black frizzy hair, pinned up.
"Never seen her. If you think she's a patient here… well, it doesn't matter. I've never seen her." He tried to stare into the yellow eyes, waiting.
"I don't know what makes you think I would know her. Now, if you don't mind, I have a clinic to run." He made to go into the door, which they blocked.
They didn't budge. They looked at each other for a long moment. Were they telepathic? Then the short one told Dallas, "I will remain in your clinic for the day, if she comes."
No, you will not, Dallas nearly retorted. Dantari made people nervous, like they made him nervous. He didn’t want them scaring his patients. That was why patients came to his clinic; for the relaxed, friendly atmosphere he offered.
But he had no way to refuse them. It was his clinic; by Pathos law, he could run it in any way he saw fit. But there was little enforcement of law on Pathos. The meager local police kowtowed to special interests, favoring whoever paid them off or shared aligned interests. They looked the other way when Dantari came around. Dallas could say no, but it wouldn’t matter. No one would back him up. No one made the Dantari leave if they didn’t want to leave.
The Dantari pair parted; the tall one stepped out from the entrance, spoke a word and shimmered out of sight. Transporters. Dallas still hadn’t gotten used to the invention.
He stepped past the remaining Dantari, unlocked the door, and waited as he followed Dallas in (shorter than his companion but still taller, by intimidating inches, than Dallas). “You can stand in the corner there,” Dallas said. And face the wall, he thought. “I’d appreciate if you’d not address my patients or my staff. I don’t know the woman you’re looking for or why you want her…”
He paused, waiting for a clue. The Dantari said nothing.
“…but, if she comes and you need to ask her questions or arrest her, or whatever, please take her outside, in a calm, orderly fashion.” He hoped the Dantari would appreciate that. “Don’t make a scene.”
The Dantari took position and waited, silent, watching the door.
Dallas sighed and went into his office, to prepare for the day.
“Boss, who is that?” Sweetie whispered, half an hour later. Sweetie: a nickname that she insisted her friends use (the people she liked). She was his secretary; his assistant… and a godsend. Dallas couldn’t run this clinic without her. It would never have opened, in a place like this, if not for her knowledge and connections.
“A Dantari,” he said, which was obvious.
“That’s the third time this month.” Sweetie peeked through his window, and the outer window, to the lobby where Mr. Yellow Eyes stood. “Who are they after?”
“How do you know they’re after someone?”
“He sure isn’t enjoying the view,” Sweetie said. “And he’s not a patient.”
Dallas guessed that was obvious too. He wondered if the Dantari could hear them. The walls weren’t thick. Even if they were, it wouldn’t have surprised him. They had things, now, like communicators, the cell-phones of this era – and their big brothers, complants, brain-communication implants, like cell-phones on mega-steroids, that could do all sorts of staggering things.
“I wish he’d go somewhere else.”
“Me too, Sweetie, but who’s going to make him? Try to ignore him. Who’s our first appointment?”
“The Romulan lady and her son.” She hesitated. “I’ll go unlock the door.”
The day passed without incident. Late that afternoon, after Sweetie and the last patient left, a tired Dallas Ewing faced the stalwart Dantari and told him he was closing. He hoped the alien would not return the next day.
Without a word, the Dantari walked out. Dallas locked up and turned to see which way he went.
The alien walked across the plaza toward an alley, a shortcut to the shuttle-bus stop—the same direction Sweetie went, to go home. Not sure why, but suspicious and concerned, Dallas decided to follow as well, keeping a respectful distance. He entered the alley as the Dantari emerged out of the far end, near the bus stop. There, Dallas saw people lined up, as the transport descended from the sky.
He couldn’t see Sweetie—nor the Dantari. His concern grew. Did the Dantari take her back to his ship? (They had to have a ship; few Dantari resided on Pathos that he knew of. Their biology wasn’t suited for long-term exposure in this environment.)
Then he glimpsed the Dantari’s uniform, just as it disappeared down another alley a short way down. That’s a bad alley, Sweetie told him once. Don’t go in there.
Nervously, more from knowing that fact, Dallas moved after him. The shuttle-bus lifted off, behind him. He wondered why Sweetie didn’t use a personal communicator. He could have contacted her. But then he rarely used his. She showed up for work every day. Aside from that, their personal lives beyond work remained private, which suited Dallas. He wasn’t overly sociable.
From the alley came a scream that stopped him cold – a short, harrowing burst that sounded inhuman, like an animal (he pictured a bear) in agony.
Heart pounding, Dallas bit his lip and forced his feet to move. People got attacked on Pathos all the time. Some died: That was (partly) why he came to this backwater planet. He didn’t know what he would do, or what he would find. There was no point calling the police.
In the alley, a silhouette of a figure bent over a shadowed figure on the ground. Dallas stood motionless. He wanted to yell, but he was too scared. The attacker might come after him. He ducked back around the corner of the building to avoid being seen. Was it the Dantari? Had the alien attacked someone in the alley? Was that Sweetie, lying dead, down there? Or had someone attacked the Dantari?
Leave, his conscience told him. Just go home. This happened all the time on Pathos. He shouldn’t have even been there. He told himself that he needed to go, while it was still daylight.
He swallowed and stepped away from the building, intending to do that. Let the Dantari deal with it, or someone else. It wasn’t his concern.
He jumped. Sweetie stood at the mouth to the alley, where he had just stepped away. “What are you doing here?!” he blurted without thinking.
“Same thing I was going to ask you.” She smiled with her usual Sweetie charm.
“I thought you were on the bus.” However, he hadn’t known that, and wasn’t sure why he thought so now.
“You shouldn’t be here, hun.”
Dallas peered past her, down the alley. “Did you see – Did you just come from there? That Dantari went in there. There was a scream.” He couldn’t make out details; it was too dark. The silhouetted figure was gone.
“I told you this was a bad part of town. Come on; I’ll walk you to your car.”
A strange sense of calm overcame Dallas, looking into her eyes. No need to question, he thought; no need to worry. It’s okay. Go home.
He asked no more questions, felt the worry disappear, let Sweetie walk him to his car, and he flew home.
He woke in the middle of the night. Scenes tumbled through his head, from some horror movie he’d once seen. In the dream, a Dantari detective hunted for a killer, but turned out to be the killer in the end.
The clock said it was four in the morning. He laid in bed, thinking of his old life, and the Dantari. Had something happened to him? Would his partner be waiting at the clinic in a few hours? Would they hunt for his killer, if he was dead? Would they somehow think Dallas did it, or hold him responsible for failing to report it… an accomplice?
Don’t worry. Don’t worry, he kept hearing in the back of his mind, a fading echo, like the dream he just had.
He couldn’t help it. And he couldn’t get back to sleep.
Sure enough, the tall Dantari was waiting – without his partner. Instead, he had a troop of Dantari, armed with weapons holstered on their uniforms – phasers, they were called, Dallas had learned. The door to his clinic was open; he could see them rummaging inside.
“What—“ What are you doing, he thought to say, but really he was thinking, What happened?… but figured he already knew.
“You will answer my questions,” the Dantari officer said, flatly. “If you choose not to cooperate, or if you can’t remember, you’ll be transported to our ship, where we can obtain the requested information.” He paused, then added, “With or without your consent, Dr. Ewing.”
It was the first time any Dantari addressed him personally. It unsettled Dallas even more.
“I’ll try,” he said… and weathered the barrage that followed. He described the situation as he had experienced it – still fresh in his memory: trailing the Dantari, out of curiosity, losing his trail, then going home. The obvious question arose: Why did he follow the Dantari? Dallas didn’t want to get Sweetie into trouble – he didn’t feel certain that she was involved – but he couldn’t lie. Honesty came as second nature to Dallas Ewing. So he confessed: He thought the Dantari was after her, and wanted to know why – if the Dantari meant to question her, harm her, whatever it might be – why he hadn’t done so before then, when he had all day to do it, with her sitting in plain sight in the clinic, the day before. Dallas was concerned, and that was why he followed.
“I swear to you I’m not a killer,” he told the tall Dantari. “I didn’t… I didn’t do anything to your man.”
“You are not accused,” the Dantari said, at which Dallas felt a private sigh of relief. “Where is your assistant?”
“I don’t know. At home, maybe. I don’t know where she lives. She—“ He hesitated to spill it, but those hard yellow eyes bored into him. “She should be on her way in. She’s never missed a day of work, and she’s usually on time. Why are your men going through my clinic?” He watched them through the open entrance. “I told you, I’ve never had a patient matching the woman you showed me.”
“Doctor,” the Dantari said. “That was your assistant.”
Dallas stared at him as if he was daffy. “What? No. Uh-uh.” He shook his head. “That wasn’t the face you showed me.”
“Sweetie is her alias. Does she have other names? A family name. A surname.”
“Yes, it’s—” Dallas paused. “It’s…” He couldn’t remember it. He tried, and… couldn’t. Odd. She had worked for him for the past year. He felt certain that she had a real name, a last name, and that he knew what it was, but… Why couldn’t he think of it?
“The woman we seek is a shapeshifter.”
Dallas had learned that there were such things… though to his knowledge he’d never met one – but then, how would he know? – until now. If the Dantari was right.
“A limited allasomorph with hypnotic ability,” the Dantari continued. “She is a killer, Doctor. A murderer. She has killed several individuals in these territories. My subordinate is her latest victim.”
“How do you know?”
The Dantari didn’t explain. “Your clinic is closed for today. Perhaps indefinitely, until further notice. Return to your home. Go nowhere else. Your further cooperation may be needed. Do not attempt to leave Pathos. It would be best for you if you remain in town limits… in the presence of others… for your protection, Doctor. And, should you see or hear from your assistant… contact us at once.”
Dallas wanted to stay, in case Sweetie appeared – and this was his clinic; they were tearing the place up! – but he knew better than to argue with authority.
Once again, he got into his aircar and flew back home.
TBC -- YG link: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/Arcadia-Nea_Opsis/message/4962