Once a modest, yet prosperous colony in the middle of nowhere, Vashti was still in the middle of nowhere.

It was a world of breathtaking natural beauty, though it offered few resources. When its population swelled with Romulan refugees from the collapsing Star Empire, it sank into a place of poverty, degradation, and ethnic strife.

Elnor was one of those refugees. He barely remembered Romulus or his parents. For most of his life, he identified as the foundling child raised by the nuns.

His fate had been better than many on Vashti. He'd never gone hungry – at least, not unless he chose to. He often followed the nuns' example by giving away his meals to those less fortunate than himself. That very afternoon, he'd given his lunch to a hungry little girl whose parents were too caught up in their own problems to notice her. His stomach rumbled to remind him of his good deed. He understood all too well that the same fate might have also been his.

Of course, Elnor was grateful for all that he had. And yet…

He longed to leave Vashti. Life was passing him by while he lingered on this forsaken planet. Here he was, nearly twenty-five, and still living with the nuns. He'd completed his training last spring, and now...what was he going to do? He couldn't stay with the nuns forever. Even if he'd been born female, he was pretty sure that wasn't the life he wanted.

High above the North Station village, he crouched on a rocky ledge and watched the moon rise, feeling the arid desert wind on his face change from heat to cold with the fading light. Already, its pale form dominated a quarter of the sky. Behind him, the setting sun bathed the cliff side in golden hues, casting tall shadows. He watched the shade creep out from the chinks and chasms of the rock face. In a few days, the moon would eclipse the sun and cover his little part of Vashti in darkness for several weeks.

And, he would turn twenty-five.

He needed to speak with Zani about this matter. Sooner or later, he must grow up and make his own way. Surely, she could understand that? At the same time, he felt afraid to step out on his own. Absolute Candor had been ingrained in him, yet why was it so hard?

A low rumbling sound announced a landing ship at the nearby space port. Grateful for the interruption, he studied the strange vessel. He'd never seen a ship like that before, though it hardly surprised him. While Vashti received few visitors, those who came proved an eclectic bunch. From smugglers and gangsters to the Fenris Rangers, even an occasional Klingon, they hailed from all parts of the Beta Quadrant - and beyond.

If he really wanted to find out, he could seek out Tenqem Adrev at the Romulan Social Club. The former senator would tell him everything he might want to know about the visitors – plus a whole lot more.

But Elnor decided against that course, at least for the time being. Adrev was deeply entrenched in the Romulan Rebirth Movement. The group had good intentions, but Elnor disapproved of their racial leanings. Discussions with members almost always deteriorated into bigotry, so he avoided them as much as possible.

He sighed. He was delaying. Sooner or later, he must speak his mind to Zani. Absolute Candor demanded it.

All the same, he took his time climbing down the cliff. The darkness deepened, and it became difficult to find footholds and ledges. He welcomed the hardship – it was easier than dwelling on his dissatisfaction with life.

By the time he entered under the boughs of the great tree that sheltered the Qowat Milat order, most of the sisters had retired to their chambers for the evening. The time for lengthy discussions had passed.

If Elnor was honest with himself, he'd admit he planned it that way.

Only a single light in the common area had been left on. Drawing aside the sheer curtain, he caught the aroma of hot soup that had been left out for him. His stomach rumbled again.

"Clean the pot when you're finished," Zani called from her chamber.

He started. "I will," he answered, not concealing his annoyance. He wasn't a child who needed to be reminded to do the obvious!

After he'd eaten and cleaned up, he felt a little ashamed of his impatience. It seemed to prove that Zani might be correct in viewing him as a moody teenager. Fasting always had that effect on him.

He shook his head. She'd made no such accusation in years – it was all his own fears creating these scenarios in his mind. The truth was that his irritability was the result of his refusal to take action.

He stretched out onto his bed, listening to the rusting leaves above and the soft tinkling of chimes blowing in the gentle night wind. No more stalling, he resolved. First thing in the morning, he would speak with Zani.