Character: Leira (my name for not!Gaila)
Summary: Leira grows up on a backwater on the edge of the Federation, one of those places the rest of the galaxy prefers not to know about.
Notes: for where_no_woman's latest drabble fest.
Word Count: 1300
Leira grew up on a colony world far from Orion Prime. It was far from everything; that was why her mother had chosen it for her escape. Slavers and bounty hunters did not come there, and neither did Federation patrols. For a time, it was comfortable. Her mother opened a small shop; her father sold pirated holovids through underground channels. Their clothes were second-hand, their food humble. Leira shared a bedroom with three of her sisters. The DataNet was slow at best and non-existent at worst, and at night, sometimes the lights flickered.
"It's a life," Leira's mother said as she lit candles for them to cook by. "More than lots of people have."
Leira agreed. Even then, she was not one to complain, and their lives were no different from anyone else's on their planet. She saw no reason to dream of the fancy things others had.
Gradually, the absence of interplanetary law enforcement that drew Leira's mother here drew others too. A pirate boat picked off a passing freighter from a nearby world. The locals turned a cold shoulder to the criminals, but their crime went unpunished and they enjoyed their small wealth. Others like them came. Their success was hard to ignore. Soon businesses sprang up around them, rough men to fence their stolen goods and prostitutes to keep them entertained.
Leira, the oldest, learned to watch her sisters carefully when they played in the streets, and she stopped going out alone at night to meet her friends. People said that bad things happened to pretty girls these days. It was no more than whispers, but Leira's mother thought it best to be prudent. She knew the ways of the world, after all.
When the boldest of the pirate ships picked off a Vulcan research vessel, her mother watched the blurry newscast and said they ought to get out now. But there wasn't money enough to leave. Instead, she taught the girls how to shoot and put bars on the windows. Leira crammed her growing feet into last year's shoes without complaint and bargained a little harder when she went to the market. No one spoke about it, but they all knew hard times were ahead. She could tell from by the pinched looks on her neighbors' faces, how they never lingered in the street to chat anymore. Everyone stood aside when the pirates drove past in hovercars and splashy motorcycles never seen on their world before. The older people shook their heads at the opulence, but Leira saw how her youngest sister's eyes widened in delight.
The pirate attacks, once barely blurbs on the nightly Federation newscast, garnered more and more attention. Almost every night, Leira read long special reports, many entitled "what can be done about the pirate question?" They spoke of logistics, the manpower needed to defeat the pirate ships and coerce Leira's government into action. Ethicists posited that the Prime Directive was irrelevant when local governments threatened the safety of the galaxy; politicians suggested that Leira's people would be grateful to be "liberated" from the "pirate invasion." No one asked for their opinion. Wordlessly, her mother began to stockpile jars of food and cooking fuel.
When Leira turned fifteen, their father left for Minos III, a small world on the edge of the Federation. He could earn money there, her mother said, and when there was enough, he would send for the rest of the family. Leira nodded her head obediently but privately doubted. Her father was a good man, but then, so were many of the mothers and fathers who had left her friends' homes for far away worlds, fallen in love, and never been heard from again. She bought a few scraps of cloth to lengthen her skirt and tucked away the money her mother had given her for a new dress. If there was hope, they would make it for themselves.
The Federation blockaded their spaceports two months later, a threat to their government to control the pirates hovering just inside their orbit. But by then, the government could not control the pirates even if had they wanted to; the pirates were wealthy, and bought weapons from Klingons that far outstripped even the government's most sophisticated military vessels.
The blockade changed nothing, except the people were a little hungrier. The Federation did not block food shipments of course, and in any case, the people could farm their own crops. But the goods that Leira's mother -- and thousands of people like her -- sold did not arrive, and their businesses crumbled. Not everyone had the money to eat. With legitimate channels of earning money closed, crime flourished. Blockade runners joined the pirates, charging exorbitant prices for the goods they brought through the Federation barricades. Young people flocked to them, eager for berths on their ships or simply a night in their beds. Leira's second sister was among them.
Leira learned how to look even poorer than she was. Her mother ran a theater in the backyard, half a credit to watch blurry holovid downloaded from the unreliable DataNet, and the money kept the family afloat. Leira, who'd always been honest, hauled in a few more credits doing science homework for the children of families better off than hers. That gave the family a little money to spare. It wasn't safe though, looking like they had something extra. They repaired their old shoes clumsily, and put tattered patches on their dresses.
Her second sister's lost by then, mixed up with pirates and blockade runners and who knows what else.
"One less mouth to feed," her mother said grimly as she counted out how much longer the food will last. Some girls might hate a mother for that, but Leira knew her mother's heart had simply suffered too much to let in any more pain. She bore the hurt for her as best she can.
Between her mother's savings and her father's irregular transfers home, they scraped up enough credits to get one of them out. Leir was the one to go, as she'd known she would be. She fought it though, pleaded for her youngest sister, who still looks wide-eyed at the pirates in fancy dress who swagger in the streets. But it was no use; the family needed her practicality on a planet where there's money to be earned. It was their only shot at getting another one of them out before things get worse.
They paid a doctor to shoot her up with Malivirian measles and used the rest of the credits to buy her passage on a medical ship, the only kind the Federation allowed past the blockade. The plan went wrong when she almost died in the black of space, six light years from home and no priestess to give her the last rites. She never did figure out why she pulled through, but she tried not to think about it so that she could get on with the business of living. Her father greeted her warmly on Minos III, and if his mistress was a bit cold, she tolerated it as best she could. Her father still sent money home after all.
The Federation attacked her planet's government not long after her departure, and she followed it through grainy videos on late night news casts. Data transmissions rarely got through, and she took up fraternizing with the blockade runners more than she'd have liked. They clustered in a backwater spaceport on Minos' smallest moon, and refugees from her world gathered around them, assembling unofficial lists of the healthy, the missing, and the dead. Leira was half sorry and half not when she heard her mother was earning a living by selling her body. It was the life she'd fled from, and Leira had never wanted her to return to it. But as she watched faces dissolve in tears when they heard the names of the dead, she was happy enough for any news of home, and she supposed that if her mother can earn credits somehow, there would be medicine if her sisters take ill.
When her schooling finished, she joined Starfleet without considering that the were the people who attacked her planet. All that mattered was the promise of a steady paycheck and a reliable job. She had the grades for the academy but enlisted instead; four years without an income was out of the question. She liked to learn, and she would have liked to be more than a low-grade lab tech, even on a ship as good as the Enterprise. But her dreams were expendable. She hoped for better for her sisters, but for her, survival was enough. It had to be.