Warnings: Angst, torture and its aftermath, some violence and mild swearing.
Thanks: To SueC, who helped me with some of the technical specs for Enterprise.
Notes: Enjoy the angst while it lasts, kids!
He entered the small shop and rubbed his hands together, grateful for the welcoming rush of warmth as heat from inside sped past him and escaped into the cool evening air. The place was crowded with people, most there to pick up items for their nightly meal. Winding his way through the crowd, he approached a table piled high with foodstuffs - fruit, from the look of it.
He unfastened his battered black jacket, the chill of the coming night no longer biting through the thin fabric. The jacket wasn't the best, but all he cared about was that it kept him somewhat warm and helped him blend with the locals.
Catching sight of himself in the security mirror hanging near the till, he thought he actually rather liked the jacket, despite its shabbiness. The dark fabric set off his own colouring, and the length and swoop gave him an air of mystery that he quite enjoyed. Still, there was no getting past the age of the thing, and its condition. Glancing at the other people in the store, he noted their clothing tended to look quite new and little worn. So much for blending with the general population, although it was certainly better than what he'd been wearing when he'd arrived.
It had taken him some time to get back to this planet, which Enterprise had visited several months before. He'd picked the place purposefully because he knew that his colouring and build would allow him to fit in with the local populace.
He'd been here, on The Shade Planet, as the natives called it, for over a week. Although the days here weren't exactly sunny - thus the name of the place - they were fairly mild. The nights, however, could get cold, near freezing, and he'd yet to find a safe and warm shelter for the evenings.
He'd quickly learnt to keep moving at night and sleep in the day, when it was milder and often safer. He'd mostly drifted amongst a series of city squares and parks, trying to keep to less-travelled areas and out of the view of the natives. Although now that he'd discarded his own clothing, trading it and the last of his ration bars for the local version of dark trousers, a grey jumper, and this jacket, he'd been able to come out in public, rather than lurking about in the shadows.
Enterprise would be looking for him, but he expected his trail would not be an easy one to find. And so long as he kept to himself, he'd leave few identifiable traces.
He just needed some time - time on his own, to think things through. A lot had changed.
His stomach grumbled and he cast a surreptitious glance to the shopkeeper, who was busy with other customers, then to the people nearest him. They were all occupied by their own purchases. He reached a hand toward the fruit and quickly palmed a small piece, moving it toward his jacket.
He was a different man from the one who'd signed on to Enterprise, all spit and polish, so concerned about propriety, formality, and doing what was right. He hesitated, staring down at the frayed bandage on the hand holding the fruit. He hadn't done the "right" thing in some time.
Replacing the fruit and letting his hand fall away, Malcolm Reed, former Starfleet officer, turned and left the shop.
Sitting on the low wall, Malcolm leaned his back against the building and let the streams of people pass him by as they hurried who knew where. None of them even seemed to see him. It had always amazed him how easy it was to hide in plain sight if one looked the part.
His stomach grumbled, yet again announcing that he was hungry. At this point he almost regretted having traded away his last ration bar. With no money and, as he'd learnt in the store, unwilling to steal, he hadn't yet eaten that day. Or yesterday for that matter.
Eyes down, he picked at the edge of the bandage on his right hand. His palm hurt with a low, dull ache. He turned his hand over, palm up, and pressed at the wound, hitching in a breath at the sharpness of the pain. It hurt, but at least it wasn't bleeding any longer. He closed a fist around the dirty, greyed covering.
The scent of cooking food hit him with a strength and suddenness that almost knocked him over, and his head flew up. There was a restaurant across the street, and its door had opened to let patrons in, releasing those food smells. He literally felt faint, taking several deep breaths as he tried to get himself together.
He was seriously considering rummaging through the bins behind the restaurant when someone approached him, and he looked up warily, tense and ready for anything.
"My name is Dzohn," the man said, his brown eyes serious as he studied Malcolm. He pushed his light hair back with an impatient hand. Waving toward the space on the wall beside Malcolm, he asked, "Mind?"
Malcolm shrugged and watched as the man sat.
"You were here yesterday," the man said, more of a statement than a question.
Malcolm's breath caught and he tried to school his expression. This man had been watching him? For how long? And why?
"I work with an organisation which helps people in need find shelter and..."
"I'm not homeless," Malcolm said, cutting him off.
Dzohn looked at him appraisingly. "Okay." The man stood again, obviously sensing that he was not welcome. "We run a place just off Sinjames. Not far, no cost, no questions asked."
There was another waft from the restaurant, and Malcolm felt his eyes drawn toward it. It was like torture. He'd have to move. Eyes locked on the restaurant, he stood woozily and lifted a steadying hand to the wall beside him.
"When was the last time you ate?"
Now Malcolm fully looked at the man. He found no sympathy there, no pity, and no disgust either; just a calm, assessing gaze.
"We have food," Dzohn said, reaching into his back pocket. He handed Malcolm a piece of paper, about the size of a playing card. "This will let you in. Show it at the door."
Dzohn stepped away and approached another person sitting on a nearby bench.
Malcolm turned the card round and round in his hand. Life certainly had taken a turn.