Two Months Later
Zoka walked down the promenade of the space station with the appearance of nonchalance but inside he was riddled with trepidations. It had been nearly eight days since he deserted the freighter on which he was indentured. It had reached his goal destination of Deep Space Nine, known throughout the quadrant simply as DS9, and he had no intention of fulfilling his term of servitude one second longer.
Six of those days he spent in hiding. Not willing to risk bumping into any of his former crew mates he hunkered down and waited for them to leave on their next run. He therefore slipped into the deepest levels of the station, those off limits to all civilian inhabitants of DS9 and where the crew seldom had cause to visit. Once his old ship was gone, he emerged ravenous and thirsty.
On the few foraging excursions he made while in hiding he learned that the real hub of activity on the station was a place called Quark's Bar. It was there that nearly all the station's secrets were common knowledge and anything, be it legitimate or otherwise, could be found. He also learned that none of it was available useless those desires were backed by gold pressed latinum. It was to the acquisition of that currency Zoka now turned his small hands.
*You enjoy thieving and pick-pocketing a bit too much, if you ask me,* the pious voice of Mother Elop, a past host who was a convent headmistress in life, whispered in Zoka's mind.
Zoka liked her. She was rigid, true enough, but she was also fair and for the most part kept out of his head.
*No one did ask now did they?*
That was the pirate Plax. Zoka liked him too, but was very wary of Plax's advice. He had too much in common with his father's old Orion Syndicate comrades to be trusted. Still, when it came to stealing, the pair made an excellent team for while Plax had a master thief's skills, Mother Elop kept him from being greedy and taking unnecessary risks. Also, and Zoka was undecided if this were really a boon, she made him feel a little guilty about it.
"Hey!" a voice startled him suddenly.
Looking around and quickly stuffing a heavy money purse he had just lifted delicately off a passerby into his own pocket, Zoka saw that the voice belonged to a young and pretty Bajoran girl tending a booth which sold native snacks.
"Hey what?" he called back sharply.
*Gently, son. Gently.*
Zoka didn't know who that was and what's more he didn't care. In the short time he was joined he had learned that there were many fantastic advantages to having so many past life experiences to draw upon. There were times, however, when they felt more like voyeurs and were decidedly unwelcome.
"I was just wondering if you were hungry," explained the girl.
*Oh-ho! She's a fine one!* crowed Plax. *You should steal her away to that little nest of ours down below and see if you can't win a kiss or three off 'er!*
Though he had grown accustomed to replying to the past hosts with his mind, he still sometimes caught himself answering aloud. Unfortunately, he did so on this occasion and he growled at Plax, "Not now!"
"I'm sorry," said the girl obviously offended.
Zoka walked over so the two no longer needed to shout across the walkway at each other. "What I meant was, I'm not hungry just now. Sorry if it sounded rude from way over there. I just…"
"You just thought you were caught picking that man's pocket?" she interrupted.
The experience of a thousand lifetimes told him he was caught at it and lying would be futile and would only serve to make him look ridiculous.
"You gonna tell?"
"That depends. You going to buy something to eat?" she grinned mischievously.
"Sure. I'll have one of those meat pie things."
As she was fetching his food he continued talking, "You have a quick eye."
"During the occupation I lived on the streets where I learned to pick pockets myself. I was never as good as you though. That's a Beeta Pie, by the way. Very spicy."
"Stealing's nothing to be proud of," Zoka said hastily, hearing Mother clicking her tongue disapprovingly in his head. "It is just something you do if you have to."
"Oh! I know that," she said watching him take a big bite of his pie and opening a bottle of cold monji juice. Slowly his face became berry red and giggling she handed him the juice. "Told you it was spicy!"
"Yes, you did," he coughed and laughed simultaneously. Once he could speak again he introduced himself.
"And I'm Paja Naom," she replied.
"Nice to meet you, Paja."
She giggled again saying, "You haven't been here long have you? On Bajor, the surname comes first then the familiar name."
"Sorry," he said. "Nice to meet you, Naom."
He turned to leave when it occurred to him to ask, "Say, Naom? What do you know about Quark's?"
She looked at him curiously then said, "I know it's a bar for adults and I'm still considered a child. I've never been in. I know the Ferengi who runs it is security crazy and can be very nasty to thieves, especially if they operate in his place. I also know that none of that really matters if you have enough latinum."
"That's what I heard too. Thanks."
"Zoka," she said sounding genuinely concerned, "whatever business you have with Quark you need to understand: he operates at a level well above picking pockets on the promenade. You do what you have to but be careful."
Zoka smiled, "See you around Naom."
That evening he milled around the shops and kiosks until Quark's was full and buzzing. He slipped in and took a seat at the bar. In a matter of seconds, a small Ferengi trotted up to him and took his order then shifted off. Zoka watched as the bartender said something into a larger and more flamboyantly dressed Ferengi's ear. This second Ferengi then placed a mug filled with a frothy brown substance onto a tray and came toward him.
"Here's you drink," said the Ferengi slapping the mug down harshly.
"That doesn't look like fermented Venishian dragon's milk," observed Zoka.
"It's not. It is an Earth drink my nephew favors called root beer. I don't serve intoxicants to minors."
"So you must be Quark, yes?"
"That's right. And this is my bar. And I don't like unaccompanied children in my bar."
"That's a shame, Quark, because I was hoping we could get better acquainted," Zoka said laying several gold pressed latinum coins onto the bar's surface.
"Aha," Quark stammered, torn between greed and conscience. "Just why would I find it in my best interest to be your acquaintance?" Finding his footing again he said, "Commander Kira, who runs this station, would have me put out and airlock if she even suspected I served liquor to a minor."
Zoka took a long drink of the root beer before cooing, "I'm not interested in alcohol. I'm after information," and he placed three more coins on the bar.
"Ummm….What kind of... ahhhh… information," Quark stuttered caressing his ear lobes and looking at the now attractive mound of latinum growing out of his bar."
"I simply want a name." Another coin was placed on the bar.
"Someone who can guide me," another coin went down, "to the Orion Syndicate," and three more coins clinked onto the heap.
In a breaths' time Quark swept all the latinum off the bar and into his pocket as he cordially welcomed two Federation officers who took up seats next to Zoka.
"Dr. Bashir! Counselor! The usual?"
The two officers consented but the doctor seemed less enthusiastic than his companion as he cast a quizzical glance toward the boy next to them.
"Yes, Doctor. I was just lecturing this young hooligan on the dangers of drinking and gambling at such an inappropriate age. Perhaps, being station's counselor, you'd like to talk to him too, Dax?"
"Dax?" Zoka asked.
"That's right. I'm Counselor Ezri Dax. Who might you be? I didn't know there were other Trills on the station at the moment."
"There aren't, that I know of. I mean I'm by myself. Maybe we could go to your quarters and I can tell you the whole sad story privately?"
Dr. Bashir choked on his beverage.
"Maybe you should try to pick up girls your own age? Or better yet, wait a few years," scolded Dax.
"My own age, huh?" teased Zoka nodding his head with tongue in cheek. "So, if I were a bit older, that line might have stood a chance?"
Ezri crinkled her nose and playfully pouted as she shook her head negatively.
"No? Well. Can I try again? Please!" Zoka begged playfully.
With an indulgent sigh Ezri turned to face him. "Alright. But after this, you answer my questions and no more games. Agreed?"
"After this, I'll answer any question you have!"
He tenderly took her hand and looking into the depth of her eyes softly said, "All I can offer you are the star-jewels of the night sky; the endless ocean of space; and the enslavement of my heart to your happiness and if you would but place me in that bondage, my loving soul shall forever know freedom."
Dr. Bashir craned his neck to stare at the strange little boy next to Dax for, while the poetry may have been trite, the sound of the boy's voice convinced him that whoever this youngster was, he meant ever word he had just spoken and despite his young years, meant it passionately.
Dax's face lost all expression. Her cheeks were flushed. She swallowed hard before muttering a barely audible, "I've got to go, Julian."
"You have got to be joking!" he objected in confused amazement but she had already gone.
She walked out of Quarks with the boy at her side then, driving Julian's disbelief to even greater heights, the two joined hands and headed off toward the crew quarters.
"Must be somebody she knows," Quark laughed nervously after which he made himself extremely scarce.
"Nice quarters Dax," Zoka observed as they entered her rooms.
"Who told you to say that to me?" she snapped thrusting his hand out of hers ignoring his small talk.
"Palo died two hundred sixty three years ago. Now if you don't start giving me answers I'm going to call security. Who gave you those words to say?"
"Palo did. Dax, Palo was a secretly joined Trill. He carried the Goth symbiont I now carry."
"That's it! I'm calling security."
Zoka moved casually to the replicator and ordered, "Bothian Moonflower mead."
When the drink appeared he removed the cool, blue-glass goblet from the machine and presented it to Ezri.
"That is your favorite, isn't it, Lela?"
"Lela Dax died four years before Palo. I'm Ezri Dax!"
"Ezri may be who you are now, but I know who you were. I know the exact date you died. We were married fifty one years and made three beautiful children. How could I not know! And I also know about that one odd shaped spot right next to your…"
"Stop!" shouted Ezri blushing.
"It is true. Palo was joined, Beloved."
"Don't call me that. That was between Lela and Palo. I'm Ezri and your, what? Eleven?"
"Twelve! Almost thirteen!" Zoka objected with puffed up indignation.
"I need to sit down," sighed Ezri as she took a large mouthful of mead.
She surveyed the boy who took a seat at the other end of her divan.
Finally she spoke, "I still can't believe it. My…Lela's…husband of over fifty years kept such a secret from me…her. Oh! I don't know if I'll ever get used to being joined!"
"You haven't been joined very long then?" asked Zoka.
"No," she replied flatly.
"Longer than me, I'll bet. I've been joined for less than three months."
"I can't imagine what it's like for you, being so young," she sympathized.
"From what they tell me…"
"They?" she asked to which Zoka tapped one of his temples.
"The previous hosts talk to you? Actually talk?" she asked.
"Yes. They are telling me now that joining is different for children than it is for adults. It has something to do with the Mengrid Cortex in the Trill brain. Though its function isn't totally understood, in adults it allows the symbiont to share past lives as memories but before it is fully developed, as it is in us kids, they come across as people talking."
"Sorry, but that sounds dreadful," Ezri said.
"You get used to it. I'm sure you had to get used to every topic bringing up dozens of different and conflicting memories."
"So they just blurt out stuff depending on what you are experiencing?" she asked with a disgusted expression.
"No. It is much more one sided than that. The symbiont is in total control of what I get told and by which previous host, though some of the more dynamic hosts can blurt out from time to time if what I am feeling deeply moves them to it. For example, when I brought up that funny looking spot by your…"
"Yes! I know the one!" blushed Ezri holding her hand up in a pleading gesture for him to not go any farther. "Please stop talking about it!"
"Well," grinned Zoka who, Ezri noticed, was also very pink in his cheeks as he continued, "you knew exactly what I was referring to. That memory is shared and available anytime you want or need it.
"I, on the other hand, had to be told by Palo. If I just wanted to know and didn't really need that knowledge I'm certain I'd be denied access to it.
"Here's another example. I know many previous hosts visited Risa but Goth, the symbiont, won't allow me to know what they did there. Sometimes I actually try to concentrate solely on that topic when I want them all to shut up for a while," Zoka smiled broadly, reminding Ezri of a child sharing a secret trick played on a parent. She didn't know how she should feel but one thing was certain. She felt very sorry for him.
"Is that all they do?" she asked as if investigating a case of child abuse.
"Not quite," he answered. He rose and again addressed the replicator, "Fermented Venishian dragon's milk!"
A highly polished lava-rock drinking vessel shimmered in the dispensation chamber. The glass' steaming contents were producing a strong hard-alcohol scent which rapidly filled Dax's quarters.
"Somebody in my head really wants a drink of this stuff," Zoka said, "and their craving is filling me with a dreadful desire to try it! It's probably Plax."
Zoka chuckled a little before drawing the glass toward his lips. Ezri slid to the edge of her seat in indecision. She was stuck between the two options of allowing a young boy swallow a near hallucinogenic strength liquor and wanting to see where this demonstration was heading.
As she watched, the glass stopped its progress toward his mouth and his hand and arm began to shake as if with tremors. He clearly was struggling to take a drink and just as clearly was being physically prevented. It was only when the shaking became so severe that the beverage began to slosh out of the goblet and onto the carpet did the boy relent.
"And that was Ton. And a few others," Zoka breathed obviously worn out from the straining effort he had just displayed.
"So the symbiont can control everything you do?"
"Not exactly. It has next to no control over what I do, but far more control over stopping me from doing small things it doesn't want me to do. That way the symbiont gathers more varied life experiences."
Ezri dind't know how she felt about that. It sounded like slavery to her and that perspective clashed hard against the respect she always afforded the symbionts as enlightened creatures. While sorting that conflict in her mind she off handedly asked, "Who are Plax and Ton?"
"Plax was a space pirate from the twenty third century. Ton you probably know. Ton Yuti."
"Ton Yuti? The moral philosopher? That Ton Yuti?"
"That's him. But there never was a Yuti symbiont. Just Goth under an assumed name."
"But why? Why all the deception?"
"Ezri, who is the oldest known symbiont?"
"That would be the Lux. She is cherished and revered by all of Trill!"
"Yes, I'm sure she is. But what is the driving force in a symbiont's life?"
"To experience as many lives and gain as much knowledge as possible."
"Exactly. So what hapapens to Lux after three of four lifetimes of its being the oldest known symbiont and the prize of out race? Where's the growth, the new experiences? Goth has already lived that life, through several hosts. He moved on. And there are many just like him. Most of the really, really old symbionts do join in secret."
"So, just how old is Goth?" Ezri asked starting to sound dazed.
"My first host has no recollection of time, it was so long ago. He was a gigantic warlord from the forests of the North Country. His people's wooden ships had just begun to brave the open oceans. He wore animal skins and hunted with bow and spear. That's all I can tell you. Even the symbiont has forgotten his name."
"I just remembered!" Ezri exclaimed suddenly. "I was so mad when we first came in I forgot to ask who you were."
"I am glad you forgot. If you had asked me that first, you would have been convinced I was crazy. My name is Zokalaroo Goth."
"The general? No, I mean who are you?"
"That's what I mean. My mother christened me Zokalaroo twelve years ago on Celestus 4 where I was born, the general being an actual ancestor of mine. My becoming a host to the Goth symbiont was purely by chance. The fact that my mother named me in honor of a previous host was fate having a laugh."
"Zokalaroo, what am I to do with you?" Ezri asked exasperated.
"You can call me Zoka. Everyone does. And, if it is all right with you I'd really like to stay here tonight."
"Where have you been staying?" she asked.
"I'm not telling," he flatly stated while eyeing her cautiously.
"But it is not very nice?"
"No, it's OK. It's just that, while I'm never alone," he tapped his head again, "I am a bit lonely.
I know I'm not Palo and you're not Lela and the symbiont isn't going to allow me to know most of what the two of them shared, but I can still feel some of the love the two had for each other and, well…" Zoka stammered into silence.
"…and it's been a long time since you've felt loved?"
"I'm just being a big baby!" growled Zoka in prepubescent bravado.
"Not at all! You are just being twelve," soothed Ezri as she rose from her seat and hugged him. It was the first time since his joining that he felt he had any privacy. Not a single voice spoke in is mind and the symbiont totally withdrew from him. He was allowed to simply feel and enjoy peace as, to his surprise, he softly sobbed in Ezri's arms.
The stayed up all night talking about their lives since their days together as Lela and Palo until Ezri eventually did the only thing natural and that was inviting him to stay permanently with her.
"The last thing I need is another parent! And somehow I just don't see us as lovers."
Throughout the evening she had grown accustomed to his rye whit and they both chuckled at what earlier would have brought her indignation.
"What I could use," he continued, "is a big sister to whom I can talk about being joined without preparation or about anything really but who will turn a blind eye as I do, well, whatever."
"Speaking as someone who is already a sister," she said scornfully, "I can't promise to that whole blind eye bit. But I do know sisters keep their brother's secrets, generally. So, as long as you aren't breaking any laws…"
Zoka shot her his own scornful look, "Ok! Sheesh! My point is, you'll have to trust me."
Over the next few days everybody came to accept that Ezri's visitor was her youngest brother. Everyone, that is, except Quark who had the good sense to not ask any questions and Dr. Bashir who demonstrated the good manners to leave it at Ezri's explanation of, "It's complicated."
Evenings were spent dining in the company of Ezri and her colleagues. Zoka particularly liked Dr. Bashir and teased her that he'd make a fine boyfriend. Playing tit-for-tat she ribbed him about spending his days hanging around the Bajoran snack stand and talking to Naom.
Becoming suddenly serious one evening in their quarters he asked, "How old were you when you when you first kissed a boy?"
She sputtered into her mead, "Why don't you ask Elop or better yet, Ton?"
"That's Ok. I'll just ask Plax."
"THIRTEEN!" she abruptly shouted, "And don't ask him for any advice when it comes to girls!"
"Thirteen," he repeated softly to himself. She saw that he was in earnest; that his cheeks were blushed pink; that this was difficult for him; and that he needed his sister. What ahd somehow eluded her all this time finally struck her hard. While the symbiont might be thousands of years old, Zoka was still only twelve.
They talked for many hours after which he said flatly, "Sis, I am going to leave soon."
She stared into her goblet, "So it's a goodbye kiss we've been talking about."
"I think so."
"I don't want to say when or where I'm going. You'd just try and stop me and then I'd have to thwart you at it and we would be against each other. I don't want that. So one day you'll just find me gone."
"Is this what you want or what Goth wants you to do?"
"Both. You are the last one to whom I need explain how complicated it can be."
Three Months Later
Commander Kira emerged from her office in response to Chief O'Brien's call.
"What is it, Chief?"
"I've got a priority one message coming in on a Starfleet high security channel. It is scrambled in such a way as to defeat any attempt to trace its point of origin."
"I'll take it in my office, but shouldn't you have just patched it through?"
"That's just it, Commander. Protocol says I notify the station commander, but the message is for Dax!"
"Dax?" she turned to look at Ezri questioningly. "You can use my office if you like."
"No. That's Ok," she said looking confused. "It was sent to OPS so let it play in OPS."
"On screen," stated O'Brien.
"Zokalaroo!" she said reproachfully. "What are you doing on a top secret channel?"
"Just thought I'd check in. I will be out of touch for a while and this will be my last opportunity. I wanted you to know I was Ok."
"Hold on just a minute," objected Kira. "You mean you hijacked a top security frequency just so you could catch up with your sister?"
"If you check with Starfleet they will confirm that nothing irregular has happened without confirming anything happened at all."
"Black ops, you mean?" asked O'Brien.
"Black ops!" Ezri cringed. "Zoka what have you gotten yourself into?"
"Like I'm going to answer that! You'll hear from me again in a year or less."
"A year! Zoka, you are going to drive me crazy!"
"It'll be Ok. Oh! If you should happen to be hungry for Beeta Pie, tell Naom I'll be back for my second one as soon as I can."
Ezri smiled broadly, "So how was your first?"
"Spicy! Worth remembering for a thousand years!"
"Got to run, Sis. I'll contact you as soon as I can."
"Be careful Zokalaroo! DS-9 out."
"What was that?" ranted Kira. "Secured messages used for family chit-chat! Black ops! And I've had Beeta Pie. It's not that special! Will somebody tell me what is going on?"
"Sorry, Commander. Sister-Brother secret!"
"A Sister-Brother secret, huh? In that case you can tell me all about it tonight at Quark's! You're buying!" Kira grinned at playing the same trick on Dax as Sisko had done on several occasions to herself and strode back into her office.