A big thanks to thyme2read, BewilderedFemale, and JustaCrazy-Man! And thank you to 0afan0 for your ideas and suggestions!
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
It took Tristan two weeks to reach the Federation starbase nearest to the Ellison sector, as it was on the very edge of explored space.
The place was not at all what he expected. It was a dump, to tell the truth. All of the alien trash of the galaxy seemed to have gathered there. But there was one thing it had in its favor. Here it was that he would find a pilot to take him to the planet where he could find the Guardian of Forever.
He was well aware that all information concerning the Guardian was classified. In order to keep from being arrested by Starfleet, he would have to be discreet in his inquiries. As luck would have it, there were peoples from all over the place gathered there—including many Vulcan and Romulan traders. He would have no problems blending in.
The most logical place to start he surmised was the tavern near the spaceport. That's where all of the pilots would surely be gathered.
Tristan entered the public house. Once again, he was surprised by what he saw there. It was not that a bar was an unfamiliar setting to him. It was rather that he hadn't expected a Federation outpost to be like this. According to all of the accounts he had heard—both Romulan and Nua Breizhian—the Federation was filled with mostly do-gooders who never smoked, drank, or swore. In short, he had been led to believe that they didn't know the first thing about living.
Not so with this place. As soon as he entered the room, smoke filled his lungs. And from what he could smell, whatever it was the patrons were smoking could have given anything on Nua Breizh a run for its money. Though Tristan often enjoyed cigars himself, he coughed uncontrollably as the revolting vapor assaulted him.
There wasn't even a hint of synthehol anywhere. No, they were serving only the real stuff as far as he could tell. People of all types were staggering around and vomiting all over the place. Leaning against the wall was a group of women who were most certainly prostitutes. One of them—he had no clue what species she was, or if she was even really a female—smiled at him. Her worn face and rotten teeth made his stomach turn.
"No, thanks," Tristan retorted when she offered her services, "I like girls who sing soprano." It was enough to make him want to join the ancient order of celibate monks who resided in the mountains above San Mihael.
A la vache! he thought. The irony of the whole experience made Tristan laugh to himself, despite the revulsion he felt from his senses. Who would have thought that a Federation station would contain a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than any den of vice either of his home worlds could have ever cooked up?
Despite the fact that nearly all of the hotels were rented on an hourly basis, he managed to find one that wasn't a house of ill-repute. He figured he would have to stay there for at least a few days before an opportunity would present itself. But it was better than being arrested by the Starfleet authorities.
Tristan sat at the bar for all of the first night. He had only a few drinks, as he had to keep his wits about him. A drunk staggered in and asked the bartender for a drink.
"No credit," the large, Wagnerian woman said firmly.
"Listen," he slurred, "I'm gonna be a rich man soon."
"Well, you can come back then," she laughed mockingly.
The wino's demeanor became hostile, and he loomed over the bar. "You don't understand, you wench!"
Without warning, the man next to him threw a punch and knocked him out cold. "That's what you get for insulting a lady!"
"I didn't hear any insults," the bartender shrugged.
"That's cuz you've been working here too long!" roared another drunk at the other end of the bar.
The surrounding chaos never ceased to astonish Tristan. He had never realized how innocent and sheltered he had been before that point. A part of him wished he had been able to stay that way. Every time he thought he had finally seen it all, a new, sickening experience topped the previous one.
Though most of the clientèle didn't seem to mind, Tristan found the tavern to be downright creepy. Most of the lights in the huge, gaudy chandelier were burned out. Instead of being replaced, the owner of the establishment simply added multiple dim lamps. Between that and the thick clouds of smoke, he could hardly see his beverage sitting on the counter in front of him.
The second night, there was a murder. Apparently, some chap didn't like another dude's face. So the two had it out, and one of them killed the other. The scrap got everyone's attention, but as soon as it was over, they all went back to their business as though it was a common occurrence. Tristan was appalled.
"You're not from around here," the bartender observed as she dried a glass.
"I'm only here for a while," he answered, not wishing to reveal any information before he was sure about her.
The woman narrowed her eyes, trying to figure out her customer. She really was a hideous cow. "Ok...So what brings you to these parts?"
"My business is my own."
She smiled deviously. Did everyone have rotten teeth on this forsaken rust bucket? "Ah, so suspicious. You're a Romulan, eh?"
"Half-Romulan," he shrugged, "but who's paying attention to that sort of thing?"
"You're a handsome young devil, whatever you are." She licked her lips. "That's why I'm going to help you."
Tristan flashed a grin he was certain was the epitome of innocence. "Who says I'm looking for help?"
She ignored his denial and leaned forward to whisper to him. Tristan really wished she hadn't. "Don't look now, but that man has been staring at you all night." She inconspicuously pointed with her chin behind him. "He was here last night, too. Just giving you a friendly warning, since you're not from around here."
"Who is he?" He resisted the urge to look over his shoulder.
"No one seems to know," the woman replied. "Everyone calls him Blondie, though. He showed up out of the blue a few months ago. He started dealing in tobacco, Romulan ale, and loads of other shady crap a romeo like you doesn't want to know about. Doesn't seem interested in leaving, but if you're gettin' by, why mess it up. Right? Of course, right."
"Romulan ale is illegal?"
At first, she seemed to think he was joking. Then she laughed shrewishly. "You really don't get out much do you?"
Tristan smiled sheepishly. "Well, I am part Romulan..." he said, dancing around the real issue. He and the barkeep exchanged jokes and laughs for a while. But then she went back to her work, leaving him to wonder about his peculiar stalker.
As soon as he got the chance, he stole a peek at the stranger. He was sitting in the darkest corner of the room, puffing on a fat cigar. The smoldering end glowed each time he inhaled. His partially-illuminated face appeared ghastly, and Tristan hoped it was merely an effect caused by the flicker of the embers. The man seemed to be surrounded by an air of mystery.
From what he could tell, his watcher was human. The strangest thing was that Tristan recognized the tobacco he was smoking. It was an heirloom Earth variety grown extensively on Nua Breizh. The kind he preferred himself, in fact. And he was drinking Romulan ale.
Best not to examine him too closely, he reminded himself. The fellow looked dangerous. And after what he had witnessed the night before, he knew it was wise not to draw any more attention to himself than necessary.
On the third night, he finally found a pilot who seemed to show some promise. He was a Ferengi. "How much will you pay?" was naturally his first question.
Before Tristan could answer, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and found himself staring into the face of the weirdest alien he had ever seen. It grunted and growled at him in a language he couldn't understand. He shook his head, trying to ignore it and continue negotiating. But then it started to poke him.
"Stop it," he hissed in annoyance.
"He doesn't like you," said the Ferengi.
"Come to think of it, I don't like you, either."
Tristan felt his temper starting to rise. "That's your problem. Not mine."
In a rage, the miscreant lunged headlong toward him with a long knife, and Tristan barely whipped his own out in time. The other one pulled out a disruptor, only to have it knocked out of his hand.
Tristan managed to take down the two challengers relatively quickly. "If you're going to shoot, shoot. Don't talk," he said, somewhat shocked by what he had just done.
He didn't know there were other members of the gang close by.
The half-Romulan youth fought well. He was his sword master's most prized pupil, after all. But he was unfortunately outnumbered. Before long, he was on the ground, thinking it was going to be his last night alive. And then, the remaining blackguards were suddenly on the floor next to him, howling in pain.
Tristan looked up to see the mysterious stranger holding his hand out to help him to his feet.