Title: The Night Before Christmas
Author: Paula Stiles (thesnowleopard@hotmail.com)
Series: PRE-DS9
Part: NEW 1/1
Rating: [PG, for language and not so happy people]
Codes: B&f

Summary: On the night before Christmas in Glasgow, a 16 year old street
entertainer and his Bajoran landlady find an abandoned child.

Disclaimer: The grinches at Paramount own Trek and all of the characters in it. I'm
not making any money off of this story (which is mine). Really. Please don't bother
to sue me. I live overseas and I'm skint.

Archive: Sure, if you ask.



THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Little baby,
I am a poor boy, too.
I have no gift to bring
That's fit to give a king.
Shall I play for you
On my drum?
The Little Drummer Boy


"Oy! Ge'rrof, you little git!" Julian pounced on the young boy trying to steal his
juggling kit.

"Bugger off, Santa!" the brat yelled back, whacking Julian with a sparkly-painted,
plastic club. Then, he dove for Julian's Risan glowbaubles.

Julian snapped. "Give me back my balls you sorry little bastard!" he bawled.
"That's two weeks of my hard-earned money!" Ignoring how his working-class
London accent rang down the hallowed halls of the William Wallace Memorial Mall,
Julian snatched a glowbauble out of the boy's hand, grabbed him by the collar, and
shook him. Pushing back his worn, red Santa hood, he glared at the boy.

"Got you, you nasty, little monkey," he snarled. "Now you can help me clean up
the mess you made."

"Ow, Ower, Ow!" the boy yowled, attracting righteous scowls from passersby.
"Lemme go or my grandad will make you!"

"Make him do what?" Both Julian and the boy looked up at the elderly man
nearby. He leaned against a storefront corner, arms folded. He looked decidedly
amused.

"Grandad, eh?" Julian said heavily. He shoved the boy at the man. "Does this
belong to you, then?"

"Ay, I'm afraid he does," the man said in a heavy Paisley brogue. He opened his
arms. "Just hand him over."

Sighing in resignation, Julian released the boy, who immediately ran to the man.

"Go ahead and thump 'im, Grandad!" he yelled from behind the man's long,
brown coat.

Julian got down on his hands and knees to pick up his juggling kit. The brat had
scattered balls, rings, sticks, and clubs of all sorts of colors and lighting schemes on
the blue, mirror-tiled floor. Last-minute Glaswegian shoppers, with and without
screaming children, had been hurrying through the Mall since 9am. This was the
third irritating wee monster Julian had fought off today. Thank God Christmas only
came once per year.

"Thump 'im good, grandad!" bellowed the kid cheerfully.

"Thump him? I don't think so," Grandad retorted.

"Don't bother yourself with that, young man," he told Julian. "I'm sure that my
grandson will be happy to clean up the mess he made. Won't you, Ian?"

"Awww, gran-dad," the brat whined.

"Don't you 'grandad' me, little lad," Grandad said firmly. "You know better than to
make a mess around me that you don't intend to pick up. I'm not your parents. Now,
get to it."

Julian stared up at the old man, who grinned at him and winked. Julian couldn't
help grinning back. Then, he sat back on his heels and watched as the boy
grumpily set to work sorting his juggling kit.

"Thank you," he said to the man when his grandson had finished.

"You're welcome," the man replied cheerfully. He didn't bother to make Julian
direct his 'thank you' at the brat, Julian noticed.

"Come here, Ian," the man said, when the boy had done. The boy returned to the
man, looking morose. "Now apologize."

"Gran-daaaad," the brat whined. "He's just a busker--an' he's a sassinach, too."

"Do it, Ian," the man growled. "Now. Or you're gonna find out just how much coal
Santa can stuff in your stocking tonight. An English street musician deserves your
respect just as much as I do."

The boy looked at the floor, scuffed the tiles, and muttered an apology. His
grandfather made him repeat it until Julian could hear it echo across the Mall.
Grandad then stepped forward and pressed five latinum strips into Julian's hand.

"Here you go, son," he said. "Merry Christmas."

Julian was startled. "Uh...thank you," he said, his hand closing reflexively over
the money.

"You're welcome," the man replied, smiling wryly. "Ian's a good lad, really. He's
just not being raised very well." He grabbed his grandson by his coat collar. "Come
on, you. Let's go home and see if your grandmother has figured out the new
replicator yet."

Julian watched them go. He sighed. Grandad had a good idea, there. Pity Julian
didn't really have a home. Still, he was exhausted from juggling and singing carols
all day. The hostel was warm. He had his own bed, there. Mrs. Anar, his landlady,
had promised to cook a nice, duck dinner. With grandad's generous tip, Julian
thought he might actually be able to buy both a present for her and that box of
Delavian chocolates he'd been drooling over for weeks.

He picked up his juggling kit, slung it over his shoulder, and trudged off toward
the Mall exit.

Outside, Julian huddled under an awning with two Vulcans, a Tellarite, and 10
grumpy Glaswegians. No, wait. Not all of the Humans were Scots. Two older
women standing behind him were discussing the weather in thick, Geordie
accents. They were being both uncomplimentary and too accurate. Well, they
wouldn't be the first English to move to Scotland and end up hating it. Julian
watched the rain pour down, glumly reflecting that the last time it had rained this
hard in Great Britain, York had been under water. Some Christmas Eve.

He *would* move back to a country where the locals were so used to rain that
they didn't bother to build domes over their cities. No wonder his parents had
moved to Australia. But then, that was why he'd moved back up here.

Eventually, the rain let up a bit and everyone hurried down the street to their
various destinations. Julian decided to cut down West Nile Street and head for the
hostel. He could stay under street awnings while in the town center, but there was a
good half mile of open street before the hostel. With luck, it might stop raining
altogether before he finished his errands. Then again, Glasgow might see an
impromptu pig airshow, too.

Julian skirted a large creche in the town center. At 4 o'clock, the sun had already
set. The creche lit up the darkness with Christmas lights and a large, illuminated
star overhanging the manger. As he passed by, he thought he heard a wail.

He stopped, causing two older boys behind him to curse as they shouldered
past. He looked around, listening intently. Then, he heard it again. None of the
other shoppers streaming by seemed to have noticed. That didn't surprise him. He
had exceptional hearing.

He was finally able to locate the source of the noise on the third wail. It was
coming from the creche.

He approached the creche warily. From a distance, nothing looked out of the
ordinary. Whoever had built the stable had done a good job. The well-lit Nativity
scene looked warm and dry. The creche figures were traditional--no holograms, no
robotics, just plaster and paint. Dark-skinned Joseph wore a brown cloak and
looked stolidly responsible. Mary was pale, with brown hair glimpsed under a
blue-hooded mantle. The shepherds (added that day) looked properly amazed.
The dozy cows and sheep were too well-groomed to have seen a Scottish field.
The wise men hadn't yet arrived.

Julian stepped closer, and saw the difference. The baby Jesus was real.

He lay in the manger, just as the old story said. The blanket that wrapped him
round was white, covered with rainbow sequins. He had been crying, until he
looked up and saw Julian gazing down at him. Then, he smiled.

The baby's black eyes focussed with remarkable awareness on Julian. His skin
was slightly darker than Julian's. Julian wondered who would have abandoned a
baby like that on Christmas Eve. Could it be possible that this baby was like Julian?
Had his parents been found out? Had they abandoned him in a panic? But why
had they left him in the creche? Irony aside, it wasn't likely that anybody would
have found him quickly. There was too much noise on the street.

Julian turned to walk away. Aside from life education classes in school, he didn't
know anything about taking care of babies. He'd only just turned 16, himself. Any
patience and nurturing instinct he'd had for the day, he'd lost fending off little brats
in the Mall for six hours. He didn't even have a home. If it weren't for the
interplanetary hostel system in Sector 001, he'd be sleeping rough. And this baby--
surely, he had a mother. Surely, somebody was looking for him, or missing him.

Julian thought of his own mother in Australia, and hesitated. Was she thinking
about him today? Did she miss him at all? Did anybody?

Julian knelt down beside the manger. The baby waved two tiny fists at him.
When Julian reached out, the baby grabbed his finger and gurgled. Julian couldn't
help feeling pleasure that at least somebody was happy to see him today.

"Ah, damn." Julian sighed again in resignation, as thoughts of Delavian
chocolates gave way to calculations of where he could buy diapers and formula.
Gently, awkwardly, he scooped the baby up, blanket and all, tried to wrap his jacket
closer around the both of them, and hurried down the road toward the hostel.




The break in the weather he'd been hoping for did not materialize. He was
soaked through by the time he reached Mrs. Anar's B&B. Fortunately, he'd been
able to protect the baby from most of the rain. That made it worthwhile, which saved
him from the foul mood he would otherwise have been in by now.

Mrs. Anar was an elderly Bajoran, past 90 years old. She seemed less spiritual
than most Bajorans, unsentimental, and very quiet, but Julian didn't think she'd
mind a baby. She had a knack of keeping the disparate members of the hostel from
irritating each other. If Renny the 60-something syntheholic from Mars, Bigger the
hyper-Vegan anarchist from Andor, and Gibs the future Orion Syndicate operative
from Aberdeen could eat their replicated corn flakes peacably at the same table
every morning, then somebody was running that particular household well.

Fortunately, the hostel was deserted this week. Julian slipped in through the
door and headed down the hallway to the kitchen in back. "Mrs. Anar?" he called.
"Mrs. Anar, I found something in town. I'd like you to see it."

"We're in here, Julian," Mrs. Anar answered back from the kitchen.

"We? Who's we--" Julian stopped dead in the kitchen doorway. "Oh," he
whimpered.

Mrs. Anar sat, her white hair braided down her back, sipping tea at her kitchen
table. Across from her sat a black-haired woman, wearing a long-sleeved maroon
dress. The woman had been crying, making her look older than her 30-something
years. When she saw Julian, though, she broke into a smile that revealed her
crooked front teeth.

"Jules!" she exclaimed. "Thank God."

Julian looked at Mrs. Anar's cracked, parquet floor and scuffed his feet. "Hullo,
Mum," he said reluctantly.

When he looked up again, he felt a stab of guilt. Her smile had vanished. But,
she stepped forward and hugged him anyway. The baby wailed in protest.

"You didn't call. You didn't write. We didn't know where you were," she said. "We
didn't even know if you were alive or dead." She drew back. "And what is this? Is
this child yours?"

Julian clutched the baby defensively. "I found him in the big creche in town. His
mum abandoned him." His mother seemed to notice the bitterness in his voice, for
she winced. "I'm going to take care of him now."

Mrs. Anar looked bemused. "You found him in the creche? What an odd place to
leave a baby. On my world, people would see that as a sign."

Exasperated, his mother shook her head. "Really, you make it sound as though
he were the Second Coming. Jules, what has gotten into you? You were always
such a good boy, and now this--"

"Mrs. Bashir!" Mrs. Anar stepped forward. Julian's mother started. Julian backed
away from her, back into the hallway. "Julian," Mrs. Anar said. He stopped.

"It's all right, Julian," Mrs. Anar said. "Come in and have a seat. I'll fix you some
tea and we'll see about feeding your little one."

All Julian wanted to do was leave. Then, the baby stirred in his arms. Surely it
was his feeding time. Julian couldn't just run back out onto the streets with a hungry
infant. So, he came back into the kitchen, and sat down. Mrs. Anar put him in
charge of heating the formula he'd picked up and fixing some tea while she
dragged his mother off to the attic to find a baby carrier. The star of the hour lay on
the kitchen table, waved his fists, and gurgled to himself.

Julian cradled the baby. "What am I going to do with you?" he said. "I made a
promise. If I have to leave, I won't be able to take you with me. Mrs. Anar is right. It
wouldn't be fair."

Julian was glad for the parenting lessons he'd had in school. He'd always
preferred them to cooking classes, or even DIY (although he could do basic repairs
on a commconsole, if he had to). Interacting with a baby was much more fun. It was
almost like having a patient--not that he was likely to ever be a doctor, now.

No. That dream that his parents had supported so enthusiastically, they had
destroyed on his 15th birthday. And his own, secret dream of joining Starfleet had
vanished in the same instant. Because, when he had been 6 years old, his father
had taken him to Adigeon Prime and had had him genetically enhanced. Because,
when Julian had turned 15, he'd found out.

He'd found out the real reason why he'd been so bright in school, why he'd
been so good at tennis, why his father had shuttled their family all over the sector.
He was illegal, unnatural, a thing.

Julian had settled into a chair with the baby and a bottle by the time Mrs. Anar
and his mother returned. His mother frowned at him, but took her tea and sat across
the table from him without comment. Mrs. Anar brought the carrier in and set it on
the floor.

"When he's ready to sleep, you can put him in there for awhile," she told Julian.
"I've set up a crib in one of the spare rooms upstairs."

"Thank you," Julian said. "It's all right to keep him here at the house, isn't it?"

His mother's frown deepened. "Jules..."

"Mum," Julian returned, through his teeth. "My name is 'Julian,' now."

"Julian," Mrs. Anar put in gently. "We need to talk about what to do about this
baby. I think we all can agree that we should do whatever is best for him, yes?"

"I can take care of him," Julian insisted.

"Jules...Julian," his mother said. "You're just a child, yourself. How could you
possibly take care of this baby?"

"I can take care of myself," Julian retorted. "I've done all right so far, haven't I?"

"Done all right?" His mother exclaimed. "You've run away from home. You've cut
yourself off from your family and friends. You don't have a place of your own. What
kind of parent can you be to this child?"

*A better one than you and Dad*, Julian thought, but didn't quite dare say.
Nevertheless, something in his glare betrayed his emotions to his mother. Her lips
thinned.

Mrs. Anar broke the tension. "We don't have to come to a decision right now,"
she said. "It looks as though you've gotten enough formula and diapers for the next
several days, and I'm sure that I have enough supplies from the last family who
stayed here to keep this baby perfectly happy. So, let's just sit tight until after
Christmas, shall we? We can make a decision then."

"Fine," Julian said truculently.

"Mrs. Anar, could you take the baby for a little while?" his mother said tightly. "I
would like to speak to my son alone."

Julian shrank down in his chair. Mrs. Anar glanced warily at him, then at his
mother. "With all due respect, Mrs. Bashir," she said. "That is your son's decision,
not mine."

Julian relaxed, but tensed again when she added, "On the other hand, Julian, I
think that you and your mother do need to talk. You could put it off, but the longer
you wait, the more difficult it would be, I think."

Julian hated the waver in his voice when he said, "Do I have to? Can't I just stay
here with the baby?"

His mother took a deep breath and visibly swallowed her anger. "Jules--Julian, I
only want to talk. It's all right."

"Here. I'll take him while you two have your chat." Mrs. Anar stood up stiffly,
came over, and took the baby from Julian's arms. She patted Julian on the
shoulder.

"It will be all right," she said, as the baby cooed and tugged on her earring chain.
"You'll see." She went out of the kitchen, gently pulling the door closed behind her.

Julian and his mother stared at each other for a few minutes. Then, she came
over and hugged him. Julian flinched, but she didn't pull back.

"Jules," she said, sounding near to tears. "Tell me why you did this. What is
going on?"

"Nothing. I just wanted to come back to Britain, that's all," Julian said. He
huddled inside his mother's embrace, closing himself away from her.

"I'm sorry that I was angry before," his mother said. "But, you were so cold. I've
been so frightened for you. You just disappeared one day without a word and
never came back. Your father and I--" Julian shuddered at the mention of his father.
"--we were worried about you. It's been over a year since we last heard from you. I
didn't know what was happening or where you were. So, when I heard where you
were, I rushed right up here."

"Who told you that I was here?" Julian asked, dodging the confrontation for as
long as he could.

"The Planetary Juggling Society contacted me about sending you some free
promotional offer," his mother explained. "They had your address here in Glasgow."

Julian cursed himself silently. He'd forgotten all about them. The Society officers
had insisted on a real home address when he'd signed up for a demonstrator's
license in their annual London festival. Then, he'd had to give them his hostel
address in Scotland so that they could send him some laser rings that he'd
accidentally left behind at the festival. It had been unforgivingly sloppy of him to
leave such a direct connection. He'd have to cover his tracks better, next time.

"I see," he said finally. "Is Dad here?"

His mother shook her head. "He's found a job working as a secretary for the
consulate on Rigel VII for three months. I was afraid that you would disappear
before I had a chance to get up here. So, I came up right away. I'm going to contact
him in the morning."

"No," Julian said.

His mother pulled back and held him at arm's length. "Jules," she said sternly.
"Don't be difficult. I know that things have not been good between you two the past
few years, but you are going to have to see him when you come home, anyway."

Julian took a deep breath, and let it out very slowly. "Mum," he said. "I'm not
coming home."

His mother's mouth tightened. "Jules, what is wrong with you? If you don't go
back to school now, you won't be able to catch up in time to get into Starfleet
Medical Academy when you're 18. Now, don't be foolish. You're coming home with
me tomorrow."

Gently but deliberately, Julian pulled free of his mother's grip. "I'm not coming
home, Mum. And I'm not going to Starfleet Academy, or medical school, either."

"What?! But--why?"

"You know why, Mum." With a regretful sort of detachment, Julian watched the
blood drain from his mother's face. She opened her mouth, but seconds stretched
by as she remained speechless.

Finally, she managed, "How? How did you find out?"

"I heard you and Dad fighting, two days before my birthday last year. I heard you
mention Adigeon Prime, and I remembered the trip Dad took me on when I was six.
Then, I looked up Adigeon Prime, which, it seems, has been suspected for years of
selling illegal genetic enhancements, and put two and two together. I'm rather good
at putting two and two together, Mum. It makes up four."

"Julian," his mother said faintly. "I'm sorry. I had no idea that you...but it doesn't
mean that you can't go on to medical school. Nobody knows what we did; I swear.
Your secret is safe with us."

*As safe as it can be with a couple of liars and cheats,* he thought bitterly. *I
thought you taught me not to be a hypocrite, Mum.* He said nothing, though, and
kept his face as blank as he could.

"It's all right, Mum," he said. "I understand." He didn't, not really. But then, he
didn't want to, either.

She pulled him back into an embrace. He endured it, and tried not to shrink
away. "We'll make it right, Jules. I promise," she whispered. "I'll call your father
tomorrow and we'll go back home. Everything will turn out well. You'll see."

At that moment, Mrs. Anar came back into the room with the baby. When she
saw mother and son embracing, she broke into a smile. Then, she saw Julian's
face over his mother's shoulder. The smile disappeared. She knew.

*Please don't tell her,* he thought. Mrs. Anar, bless her, seemed to read his
mind. By the time his mother had realized that his landlady was back in the room
and had turned around, Mrs. Anar had summoned up a cheerful expression. This
smile was not as genuine as the first, but as his mother hadn't seen the first one,
she didn't appear to notice the difference.

"So," Mrs. Anar said brightly. "Have we all made up, then?"

Julian's mother nodded. There were tears on her cheeks. "We've decided to go
back to Australia tomorrow. I'm going to call Jules' father and see how soon he can
come home."

Mrs. Anar glanced at Julian, who felt as though his face had suddenly set into
stone. "Ah," she said. "So you'll be leaving us, then, Julian? Well, we will miss you,
though I'm sure it's for the best. I'm cooking Christmas dinner tonight. Why don't
you join me and we can celebrate your reunion together?"

Julian's mother tried to plead modesty, then exhaustion. Mrs. Anar's, however,
was for once the stronger will. She soon had Julian's mother sweet-talked
(perhaps strong-armed was a better word) into staying for dinner.

Julian busied himself with fussing over the baby. He ate little. The duck dinner,
which he had been looking forward to all day, was tasteless. He forced himself to
act normally, to throw off his mother's suspicions. If it hadn't been for the baby's
cheerful gurgling and Mrs. Anar's silent stolidity, though, he would have screamed
his head off.

After dinner, he clung to the baby, sitting grimly through his mother's attempts to
manufacture holiday cheer. It didn't help that she didn't know how--being from a
culture that neither needed nor wanted a Christian/Pagan winter holiday.
Fortunately, transporter lag hit her at about ten o'clock. By Australian time, it was
early morning and she'd been up all night already. It didn't take much persuasion
to get her to go to bed. Mrs. Anar disappeared upstairs with her for a few moments
to make up her bed. Julian stayed down in the kitchen with the baby, changing his
diaper and making him a warm bottle of milk.

Mrs. Anar came back downstairs. "Are you sure that you're all right, Julian? You
look upset."

"I'm fine," Julian lied. He stood with his back to her, testing warm formula on his
forearm.

"Don't lie to me, Julian." The old landlady sat down at the table. "I've been here
long enough to know a Human child injured by a secret. I also know what it's like to
live in Paradise, and be the only one to not love it."

Julian didn't answer. Instead, he concentrated on settling himself back down in
the chair with the baby and feeding him. When Mrs. Anar reached across the table,
and stroked his cheek, he refused to flinch.

"Did he ever hit you?" she asked gently. "Is that why you won't see him?"

Julian pretended ignorance. "Who?"

"You know who. Your father. Did he ever hit you?"

"Sometimes." Julian shook his head. "Not after I grew up enough to hit him back.
It wasn't so much what he did, as what he said. He's very, very good at making you
feel very, very small. Maybe even as small as him; I don't know."

"Is that why you want to raise this baby?" she asked. "He's a nice baby, I'll grant
you. Unusually good-tempered. Still, surely you have other things that you'd like to
do in your life."

"People raise babies and still do all sorts of things," Julian retorted.

"True," Mrs. Anar agreed. "But some people use babies as a way to trap and
label other people. If you choose to raise a baby now--this baby--you'll have to risk
that trap. I can't see your parents helping you stay out of it. I don't mean to insult
your family, but as someone who once faced that trap, I think it's best to warn you."

She stood up. "I'm going upstairs for a little while. Please let me know if you
need anything before you go to bed."

"Thank you," Julian said, surprised. She tilted her head to one side in
acknowledgement, and padded out of the kitchen.

Julian sat for a long time, over an hour according to Mrs. Anar's Betazoid,
ceramic kitchen clock. The baby slept deeply, as if Julian had all of his trust. Julian
looked down at him, played with one small fist, and thought about what Mrs. Anar
had said.

If he took on the baby, if he were allowed to raise it, he would probably be
trapped, just as Mrs. Anar said. There would be no way to keep his parents out of it.
His mother liked to say that one shouldn't avoid opportunities, because they came
from God. On the other hand, this baby deserved better than a homeless busker's
life. The only way Julian could do this properly would be to go home to Australia
with his mother. But, he couldn't put another child into his father's hands--one had
been more than enough.

The decision made, he did not hesitate. He gently put the baby into the carrier,
then went to pack. He could be stealthy, when he chose. He snuck back and forth
outside the bedroom where his mother slept, gathering the few things he had in his
room. He had learned to pack light, since his father had moved his family all over
the sector for most of Julian's life. Julian realized now that part of this had been to
throw off any suspicion of his criminal enhancements. And, of course, it had made it
easier for his father to play omnipotent patriarch to his wife and son.

Julian returned to the kitchen with his juggling kit and a duffle bag. He knelt by
the baby, who still slept, and ruffled his hair. He leaned down to kiss the boy's
cheek.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I can't take care of you. I want to, but I can't, not the
way you deserve. Don't worry. Mrs. Anar will find you a good home."

With no more ceremony, he stood up, picked up his bags, and left the house.



Mrs. Anar found him in the orbital shuttle station out on Buchanan Street, two
hours later. He had walked all the way up to the station in the pouring rain to save
money, but it hadn't helped much. Now, he was sitting on a bench across from the
ticket booth, glumly comtemplating the reality that Mars was about as far away as
he could get. He didn't like the idea; his mother had cousins on Demos. He just
couldn't see any alternative.

When he looked up and saw Mrs. Anar come through the rotating door, he was
almost unsurprised. Nor was he surprised to see that she was angry.

"I'm sorry I left him behind," he said as she approached him. "I know what I said,
but I couldn't take good care of him right now. I thought he would be better off with
you--or whoever you could find to take him."

"But, I thought you---" Mrs. Anar stopped. A strange look came over her face, and
then, she didn't look angry anymore. "I thought he was awfully alert for a newborn,"
she said.

She sat down on the bench next to him. "Have you decided where you'll go?"

Julian laughed bitterly. Suddenly, he felt very tired. "Not far, on what I've got."

"How about Vulcan?" she said, as if she were suggesting he go to Edinburgh.
Then, she pulled out a small, blue velvet bag and handed it to him. "This should be
enough."

Confused, Julian took it. He peered into the bag. "God, there must be 50 strips of
latinum in here."

"I believe that a return ticket to Vulcan costs 20," Mrs. Anar replied. "And the
Vulcans won't charge you for your keep while you're there. Give me your hand."

Julian didn't argue anymore. He gave her his hand. Reaching into her coat
pocket, she pulled out a small, gold ink pen. Deftly, she made three rows of blocky,
rune-like symbols on the inside of his wrist. She finished with a flourish.

"When you get to Vulcan," she said. "Ask for a man named Surol. This writing is
Bajoran. He'll understand the message. He helped me once, and we've stayed
friends over the years. He'll help you, too."

She stood up to go. Julian looked up at her. "Why?" he asked. "Why are you
helping me run away?"

She smiled sadly. "I was once like you. On my planet, we used to be ruled by our
d'jarras, our caste marks. What we did in life, who we married, where we lived, was
determined at birth. When I was 14, I told my mother that I didn't want to be an icon-
maker like her. She beat me and locked me in a cellar for a week. After that, I
escaped to Vulcan, and started a new life.

"You don't have to be what your parents want you to be, Julian," she continued.
"I loved Bajor. I miss it, and when the Cardassian Empire invaded my home, it
broke my heart. But, the Bajor I left was arrogant and cruel to anyone who didn't fit
in. I do hope that when my people break the Cardassian yoke, they won't go back
to that. I hope that you'll find the same freedom on Vulcan that I did."

She leaned over and hugged him. Julian hugged her back with more feeling
than he had ever shown his mother. "Goodbye, Julian." She kissed his forehead.
"Good luck."

"What about the baby?" he called after her as she walked away.

"Don't worry," she replied. "He's in good hands, now.. God's hands, as you
Humans say." Then, she was gone.

Julian sat for a long time, looking down at his Christmas gift. No one had ever
offered him his freedom before. Hard to believe that it only cost 50 strips of latinum.
Slowly, he stood up and approached the ticket counter. He counted out 20 strips of
latinum, one by one, from the blue velvet bag and pushed them across the counter.

"I'd like a return ticket to Vulcan," he said.

END