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Don D'Ammassa[T]he author does a good job of rising above the limitations of the form and the result is a reasonably complex and definitely entertaining adventure story.
— Science Fiction Chronicle
Captain Benjamin Sisko stood in room 77A of the All Prophets Council chambers on Bajor, facing Kai Winn and surrounded by sixty-six vedeks and conciliators and priests and votaries and even an audience circumnavigating the viewing stage above the council floor. The crowd mobbed in from the left, circled the viewing stage, and exited on the opposite side, where their prayer tokens were collected. Major Kira Nerys stood next to the captain. As they had arranged, Kira spoke first.
"Most Gracious Kai," said Kira, "the Federation offers an...assignment of Deep Space Nine on a temporary basis, to Bajoran command."
Kai Winn frowned in the virtual council chambers, smoothing her plain frock. She pulled at one finger, carefully framing her reply in the most diplomatic terms possible. Although it was Kira who had spoken, she addressed her reply to Captain Sisko. "If the station remains under Federation control, Emissary, yet Shakar or some other member of the council becomes its governor, doesn't that mean we have accepted the authority of the Federation over Bajor?"
Damn her. Sisko -- the "Emissary of the Prophets" -- was careful to keep his poker face, but the Kai had a point. Tricky diplomacy was required not to offend the Bajorans. "The United Federation of Planets most certainly does not claim hegemony over Bajor, the council, or any vedek or political leader who might assume temporary control of the station."
Kai Winn shook her head; "more in sorrow than anger," quoted Sisko silently to himself. "Emissary," she said, "if we control the station only subject to approval of our actions by the Federation Council, then we are nothing but puppets of the Federation." She put her hand over her mouth as if she had accidentally let slip an indiscretion. Good acting job, thought Sisko glumly. Kai Winn never did anything by accident. "I beg your pardon.... Perhaps it would be better to say we would be nothing but -- political subsidiaries of the Federation. Rather like a colony or a protectorate."
Sisko took a deep breath. Winn had negotiated his back right up against a wall: he was authorized by the Federation Council to offer one further step...then that was it; if Kai Winn and the other vedeks didn't accept that offer, negotiations were at an end.
"The Federation is prepared to forgo the normal review process for turnovers of this sort in lieu of an explicit timeline of events, culminating with a final evaluation."
"You won't be looking over our shoulders? Emissary, how kind of you to make such an offer."
"No reviews until the final evaluation, Kai." added Kira, bobbing her head rapidly.
"But does the Emissary have the diplomatic authority to make such an offer?"
"I do," Sisko said. "And the Federation feels that with tensions between us and the Cardassians in abeyance for the moment, this would be an excellent time for such an experiment."
"How pleasant to carry on such productive negotiations." Kai Winn smiled broadly. She's going to take it, thought Sisko. And he was right: "I, too, am authorized by a vote of the leading vedeks, of each party in the council to agree to the Federation offer -- on a temporary basis, of course, subject to our own evaluation of the ongoing process."
Fancy footwork on first base to confuse the pitcher, thought Sisko with a simile. But the extra escape clause allowing Bajor to terminate the agreement early would not substantially alter the final proposal; the captain was certain the Federation Council would approve. "Then we have agreement, Kai Winn, Members of the Council. In nine days, you will send up a governor to assume control of Deep Space Nine for a period of sixty days...which may be extended indefinitely, provided both parties agree."
The Kai's eyes flickered toward First Minister Shakar when Sisko, mentioned "governor." An excellent choice, thought the captain. Major Kira's only fear had been that Winn would try to take the position herself. For obvious reasons having little to do with the future of Bajor, Kira was quite pleased with the prospect of once again working under her old Resistance commander...and current romantic interest.
Before the final ceremony could begin, they were interrupted by the chime of a combadge. Sisko tapped his combadge as discreetly as possible.
"Captain," Worf said, "My apologies for interrupting. But there is an urgent message for you from Starfleet. You are needed on Deep Space Nine at once."
"This had better be good," Sisko said to Worf under his breath. He was not looking forward to the explanations and apologies he'd have to give the council.
Back on the station, Kira was in no way pleased with the interruption from Starfleet. "Captain, couldn't whatever this message is have waited until we finished the negotiations or at least -- "
"Let's see what Starfleet wants, Major. If it wasn't worth it, we'll soon know," Sisko said. As he spoke, he read down the text of the message on the padd that had been handed to him the moment he stepped into Ops.
"Sir, Kai Winn and the vedeks are going to be very upset. We walked right out on a meeting of the Council of All Prophets....That's like -- "
"Apparently a group of renegade Cardassians have invaded a star system on the edge of the Federation," Sisko said bluntly. "I think even Kai Winn and the vedeks will understand the urgency of the situation."
Kira froze in midsentence as the implication sank through her annoyance and humiliation and crash-landed on her comprehension circuits. If the Cardassians, any Cardassians, were starting a major offensive, the Federation was in grave danger, indeed -- as was Bajor, needless to say. The Cardassians had never forgotten the embarrassment of Shakar and his compatriots forcing them off the only planet they never quite managed to subdue.
"How close?" she asked.
"Not very close, Major," said Wort hovering nearby -- as usual when the subject is war, thought Kira. "The Cardassians have invaded the system around Sierra-Bravo 112, the active half of the binary star system that includes the neutron star Stirnis."
The captain shook his head. "I was afraid of something like this; that's why I fought like the devil against this turnover of DS9....At least right at this moment."
"Oh? And why is that?" She didn't mean it to sound quite so frosty; it was almost an autonomic reaction.
"I mean no slur against Bajor, Kira."
"I'm only concerned," he continued, "about the timing. While Starfleet is claiming that these Cardassians are renegades, disavowed by their central command, there could well be more to this. At the moment, I think it's a terrible idea to remove the Federation presence here."
"Radiation readings," said Dax, stepping forward from her science station, "in the vicinity of Sierra-Bravo 112 indicate a technological civilization on the second planet from the star, but the Federation long-range survey ship didn't pick up any subspace transmissions or warp signatures."
"Prime Directive, Old Man?" asked Sisko.
"Yes, Benjamin, I'm sure the Prime Directive would apply."
"Benjamin," continued Dax, "There are no enemy ships anywhere near here and a quarter of the Klingon fleet is on standby in case anything nasty comes out of the wormhole. Now is as good a time as any for the turnover -- much as I hate to leave."
"Perhaps you're right," allowed Captain Sisko. "But in any case it's not an option: gentlemen, we have been ordered by Admiral Baang to at least investigate SB-112....Investigate, not necessarily to act upon what we see. That, at least, Starfleet leaves to my discretion."
Kira's blood leapt in response to the simple announcement -- stop! It's just another mission, it's nothing! But her pulse raced regardless. The admiral had downplayed the potential for fighting, but Kira somehow knew the rumor would turn out to be true, and they would have no choice but to intervene. And by the Prophets, I want to be on that job. She tried to tell herself it was only to avoid tedious duty during the turnover...or even (a dark thought) to avoid the inevitable deep, meaningful discussion with Shakar about where they were headed -- they, as in They.
But she was too honest to deny what she knew: she had killed Cardassians for so long -- her whole adult life and much of her youth -- that she had become accustomed to blood. She fought the dreams every waking moment and gave in to them at night...slinking once again through the black dark with disruptor rifle in arms, approaching the Cardassian sentry as quiet as a meurik, and "taking him out" (such euphemisms for perverse joy) with a k-bar knife.
Kira smiled, remembering grim and glorious days in the Shakaar resistance cell. "I can see where you're going to need someone like me, Captain." To go to battle again -- against Cardassian aggression -- was surely enough to overcome her conflicted desire to be with Shakar during his moment of triumph. Besides, she thought, putting a pious spin, he'll be proud of my role in a mission like this. It would mark the first time she went to war with Cardassian slavers on her own, without Shakar.
Sisko stopped, turning to gaze in seeming serenity upon the assembled senior crew, Kira in particular. "And that is why I am disappointed to have to leave you behind, Major."
"What?" She blinked, not understanding.
"You are of course a very good choice for this type of job, but you are the only person who can smooth the inevitably choppy waters of the turnover of Deep Space Nine to the Bajoran government."
"But I -- "
"Major Kira, when First Minister Shakar arrives -- or whoever is sent by the council -- I cannot give him an executive officer who is a member of Starfleet; Kai Winn would never allow it. She's already as nervous as a cat that this is a conspiracy to take away Bajor's independence. There are only two people on the station she almost trusts...and one of us, Major, has to command the Defiant."
Captain Sisko turned and ascended to his imperial roost, leaving behind a Bajoran major with her mouth opening and closing wordlessly. But...I should be in charge of the Cardassian operation! Who else could -- Alas, when Kira turned for moral support to the rest of the Ops crew, they had all returned to their ongoing task to ready the station for the turnover.
Kira blew a breath through her clenched teeth. "Aye, sir," she said belatedly and angrily sat at her station. Don't be such a whiner, she berated herself; perhaps it's a hidden blessing from the Prophets. Leaving Kira as executive officer of the station not only provided stability, it would mean sixty days of face-to-face contact in a relationship that already appeared to be drifting toward the shoals of neglect. She smiled, wondering what it would be like to once again take orders from the most brilliant leader she had ever known.
Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures
Major Kira Nerys stood rigid, forcing her body not to tremble in suppressed anger and humiliation. It was all the Bajoran freedom fighter could do not to leap across the brief gap and throttle the black-clad, black-helmeted alien "dean" who now commanded Deep Space Nine...or Emissary's Sanctuary, as Kai Winn had renamed it -- the same Kai Winn who had just surrendered the station to the "Liberated," as the invaders had called themselves.
The Liberated said little but the necessary. But that was a welcome change from the more loathsome, loquatious representatives of the Dominion, the Vorta -- and from the harsh Jem'Hadar, who would already have slapped a restraining field on Kira, the Kai, and the other Bajorans. These unknowns were gentle, at least, now that they'd won the station. Have to change the name to Hot Potato, thought Kira with a curled lip, the way we're passing it around from hand to hand. Living among humans had taught her many old Earth expressions.
"Courage, child," said the Kai in a monumentally condescending attempt at raising Kira's spirits. "The Prophets send tribulations to test us."
"Did you say that during the Occupation, too?" The words were out before Kira could swallow them, but she was secretly glad she'd said it: too many people, herself included, tiptoed around the blind, stubborn Kai Winn as if she were a glacier, unturnable and irresistible.
"Yes, child, I did." Winn turned to stare at Kira's face, bringing a flush of self-consciousness to the major's cheek. Kira kept her eyes on the invader dean, who was quietly ordering his troops into quite an effective occupation of all three PromenaKai Winn passed on an opportunity to back up her executive officer, offering only that the name of the station was Emissary's Sanctuary now.
Furious, Kira turned on her Kai. "That's it? That's all you can say?"
Winn smiled gently through the tirade, irritating Kira even further. "Child, the Way of the Prophets is not the child's blind resistance to authority. I'm sure our new masters will be kind to the Bajorans, who freely offer to share the Orb, the far-seeing anomaly." Kai Winn turned to the dean. "Won't you?"
"Bajorans will not be harmed," said the universal-translator implant in Kira's head, the clicking and buzzing of the alien's actual speech an annoying background noise.
"And what about those who aren't Bajorans?" asked Kira, beginning to tremble as she held back a wall of rage. "Jake Sisko, and Nog, and -- and Garak." Did I really just say that, fretting for the safety of that butcher?, "And what about our freedom? Is that just another casualty of war?"
She was shouting at the dean, but her fury was directed more at Kai Winn for her betrayal. Dropping her hands to her side, Kira's thumb brushed the combat knife she still carried. She had of course surrendered her phaser rifle and hand phaser, but she had conveniently forgotten about the largely ceremonial "kolba's tooth" commando knife, which she had worn all through the Resistance. Then, though used only once to kill, it had come in handy a thousand times to open a food pack or cut a fishing line.
Without thinking, her hand curled around the wooden haft. She slid it from the sheathe, silent as the grave, and concealed it up behind her forearm. Kira glanced at the Kai...but she could never turn her w rath on one annointed by the Prophets, no matter what the betrayal. Kai Winn will never get a knife in the back from me, whatever the provocation.
At that moment the alien dean turned his back to order a complete search of all buildings on the Promenade. Kira had a single chance and took it. She leapt the short distance, thrusting directly forward with the blade in a brutal and efficient lunge.
Evidently the Liberated boasted significantly quicker reaction time than Bajorans. The dean barely glanced back over his shoulder as he hooked his foot up and slightly deflected Kira's lunge, which missed wide. Giving her a gentle push in the direction she was already moving, he flung Kira to the ground with disturbing ease. Then he picked up his conversation where he'd left off. Meanwhile, three other aliens dogpiled on Kira's back, wrenching the knife from her grasp and nearly breaking her wrist in the bargain.
The black-clad invaders were anonymous, their heads in tight-fitting, opaque helmets, or so Kira originally thought. Close up, she saw there were no helmets. Their faces were featureless cyphers, and she felt her stomach turn despite long exposure to disgusting aliens. Sensory organs buried inside, she realized, built to withstand terrible punishment. Feeling the hardness of the bodies pinning her, she understood with revulsion that they wore no armor, as she first imagined: their outer skin was an insect-like carapace covered only with a layer of metallic clothing. They needed no suits or helmets, not even to cross the abyss of space between their ships and the station, nothing but what looked like some kind of foil, to protect them against the background cosmic radiation. Perfect killing machines.
And they let her up. Her captors helped Kira to her feet and didn't even bother binding her hands. They even gave her back her knife. Burning with humiliation, Kira shuffled back, to stand alongside her Kai...who throughout her attempt had never stopped negotiating diplomatically with the dean. I'm not the slightest threat to them, Major Kira realized. I'm a child with a toy sword.
Hours later she still felt the dull ache of uselessness, the same claustrophobic feeling of horror that had driven her to join the Resistance at such a young age. Today, however, there was no outlet. Kira's shoulders slumped, and she could barely work up the energy for verbal defiance.
One certainty echoed through her head: despite the Kai's seeming surrender, she knew that Winn had no intention of giving up either control of the station or hegemony in Bajor, that she would never voluntarily turn over so much power.
Kai Winn must have a plan, some plan, some amazing, unexpected plan that would cast out the tide and reclaim the dry land! If Major Kira could only control her temper and work with Kai Winn, together they still had a chance -- many chances -- to unspill the water jug.
...Or at least, my other thought was intolerable to the major. Bajorans, and most especially Kira Nerys, could not live without hope. And the most burning desire in Kira's stomach, she admitted to herself shamefully, was to live through the ordeal -- to survive.
Light-years away, on a strange an different world, Security Chief Odo sat rigidly on an overturned barrel, puzzling over the sheaf of documents Tivva-ma, daughter of hereditary Mayor Asta-ha, had just shoved into his hands.
Odo po red over the pages she had scrawled on in her childish hand. At first, he humored her. He began a suitable period of study, to be followed by a pat on the head and some encouraging words.
But as he read section after section, Odo became so enthralled he forgot even to simulate breath. What Tivva-ma had pushed into his indulgent hands was less a manifesto, as she had claimed, than a fully developed constitution for a complex trade republic, it included a declaration of rights and duties that balanced so nicely, Odo, thought the United Federation of Planets might want to take a look.
"Tivva-ma, where did you say you got this?"
The girl put her hands over her eyes, shyly refusing to answer.
"Did your mother work it out?" She grunted, meaning No. "Owena-da? One of the away -- one of us officers?"
"Uh-uh." Abruptly, the waif threw her arms wide, exposing a huge grin set against her pale blue hair and alabaster skin. "I did!"
Odo slowly lowered the pages into his lap, restraining the pulse of excitement that whirled round his mind, which was his whole body. Easy, easy. Maybe she didn't understand the question. Maybe she's lying or mistaken. Choosing his most imperious schoolmaster tone, he began to question Tivva-ma about specifics and particulars. But at every query, he was satisfied: the tot knew the proposal backward and forward, at least. And in her squeaky, little-girl voice, she defended the provisions from all attack, whether the tricameral judicial legislature, the ceremonial and functional presidents, the selection and evaluation criteria for government officials, or the minimalist nature of state authority. After a quarter hour of discussion Odo was reeling from her obs ervations, calling into question as they did everything he had ever believed anent the value of law in guiding good behavior.
Odo rose, holding the pages carefully. He wanted to scan them into a computer and compare them to the constitutions of thousands of societies in the Federation memory banks...but a more important task loomed. "Child, what you have created is brilliant. You are a shining star. But we cannot set up a government until we have a society at least -- a community!"
Tivva-ma gasped; her eyes showed she had been stunned by Odo's critique. "That's what I forgot! I knew I forgot something, but I couldn't remember what it was." The girl turned and sped like a lightning discharge back toward the temporary camp. She paused, just before the scattered trees that hid the shelters. "I'll be right back! Wait..." Then she grinned sheepishly. "Actually, it might take a couple a days." She dashed away, if Odo had blinked, he would have missed her exit.
Suddenly freed from the darkness of techno-utopia, the Natives, as Commander Dax called them, had lit up as though suddenly electrified. They had been living their lives unchallenged, with nothing to tax the brain beyond a few peripatetic raids of one village by another, and the simple act of destroying the hemisphere's power grid had energized them like the spark of life. The socially infantile Natives flickered suddenly at the threshhold of intellectual puberty.
How far will they go? wondered the constable, looking nervously back over his shoulder at the away team's own camp. How soon will the Tiffnaki surpass us? And what will they do then, when we're no longer useful to the them? He snorted, taking refuge in sensible cynicism. They were still the same Natives: Major-General Asta-ha had once again changed the name of her villagers, the third time in the ten days since Captain Sisko, Odo, and the rest of the away team had blown the power generators: from Tiffnaki to Tivvnaffi to Vanaffi, and now to Vanimastavvi. So what if their IQs were already cruising past 200 on their way up? Their personalities had hardly changed -- and that was a better measure of who one was than raw brain power. Or so the constable and the rest of the away team had told themselves at every opportunity.
He heard a terrible, hacking cough from Chief O'Brien. Odo felt a twinge of guilt that he alone of all the team members didn't experience the asthmatic agony produced by microscopic, poisonous algae in the atmosphere. Captain Sisko had concocted a slapdash antitoxin from his own emergency Medi-Kit but it couldn't compensate for the algae anywhere near as well as Dr. Bashir's original had. We must return to the Defiant, thought Odo. But the Defiant had disappeared from orbit and was not communicating.
The constable heard a wild patter and someone screaming semicoherently. He leapt to his feet, already annoyed even before he recognized the owner of the bare feet pounding in the latinum-laced mud toward the constable. But he was struck dumb at the sight of mad Quark, naked save for a large, palm-like frond wrapped around his midsection, dashing like a frog monster toward Odo's "courthouse stump." The Ferengi's eyes were wide and wild, his skin a livid pink-tinged. orange under the ruddy sun.
"Do something -- do something! You -- you -- just do something, by the Final Accountant! Or I'll..." The Ferengi heaved and panted, gripping his frond, simultaneously enraged and humiliated.
"Oh dear, Quark. Mind snapped at last?" Odo tsk-tsked and turned back to Tivva-ma's astonishing constitution.
"I've been robbed! By force!" Quark mumbled something under his breath.
"What was that last part?" asked Odo, half-sure he knew what the Ferengi had said but wanting the pleasure of hearing it aloud.
Quark closed his eyes, took a deep breath, facing up to the latest outrage against his Ferengi sensibilities. "I said, I've been robbed by force -- of fraud."
"Force of fraud? Is that what you call it?" Odo smirked, a talent he had perfected through long years of dealing with the Ferengi bartender. "In other words, little Native friends, whom you've your been swindling out of everything they owned before you came here -- oh, I have notes! -- and I'm going to file quite an interesting report when we get back to the station...your friends have now turned the tables on you, Quark, and beaten you out of every slip and strip. And from the look of things," Odo stretched his finger out to poke nastily at Quark's bare chest, "you've been kind enough to let them have the shirt off your back. How generous of you!"
Quark paced up and down nervously, waving his arms in agitation; the mauve-colored palm frond slipped and almost fell. "You raise them, you try to help them, teach them everything you know -- "
"And they turn around and out-Ferengi the Ferengi. So you, too, are discovering the full mental abilities of our Native friends, eh, Quark? Now that we've kicked away the crutch of new tech." Odo threw the sheaf of papers down on the barrelhead. "Forget your petty losses for a moment. You see this formative documen t? It puts to shame the constitutions of every planet in the Federation and, not incidentally, all my own research on the ideal government. And it was drafted this afternoon by an eight-year-old child."
The constable shook his head, speaking more to himself than his audience. "With all the changes around here, the Natives decided to put together a workable society to deal with the Cardassian/Drek'la invasion and the sudden loss of their magical technology. I helped them a little with some sociological information and some organizing documents...and I get back this."
Constable and Ferengi sighed in unexpected harmony, to Odo's chagrin. Quark sat gingerly, holding the frond carefully to prevent undue financial exposure "I wonder how Commander Worf is doing?"
After a beat, the Ferengi grinned wickedly. Only the iron will of Constable Odo prevented him from doing the same. The image of Commander Worf trying to "instruct" a class full of inquisitive, socially inept military geniuses raised his spirits ten-fold.
Elsewhere on the planet, the Cardassian prisoner, Gul Ragat, walked in front of Julian Bashir like a man already dead whose legs had not yet gotten the message. Jadzia Dax followed somewhere far behind and to the side, so that she and Julian would not drift dose enough to make a single target. I wish we could talk, thought the doctor. But speech would have informed the prisoner that they were Federation, and Dax wanted to hold that information in reserve.
The Gul had recovered somewhat. The doctor quietly scanned him while he rested and determined that Ragat had no serious injuries -- minor burns and abrasions, smoke inhalation, bruises, and other blunt-force trauma, b ut nothing life-threatening. The diagnosis was a relief. Had Gul Ragat required medical treatment, not all the wild splitheads on Sierra-Bravo 112-II could have stopped Bashir from doing his medical duty, and their cover as "Natives" would have been blown, Ragat would then realize that Starfleet officers had infiltrated the Cardassian/Drek'la occupation.
So what would that mean? wondered Julian; what's he going to do, publish it in a news clip? Still, the lovely Jadzia (who had insisted upon command prerogative) had gone to great lengths to guard that secret. The Cardassians and their Drek'la crew evidently believed that the Defiant had crashed and burned in the ocean -- when in fact it lay submerged in shallow water, intact, under the command of Ensign Joson Wabak and a couple other junior officers, waiting to lift off when the Cardassians and Drek'la were cleansed from orbit. So long as no soldiers of the Empire knew that the Defiant still lived, they wouldn't waste time searching for her.
So maybe Jadzia is right after all, Bashir tentatively concluded. Still it was a pain: they couldn't talk for fear the Gul's "universal translator," or whatever the Cardassians called their version, would warn Ragat that Julian and Dax were speaking a Federation, not Native, language. They couldn't show their faces -- or even let Ragat look back at them for fear his sharp, Cardassian eyes would penetrate the disguise.
But nothing stopped the Gul himself from talking, which he did without concern for their stony silence. "They couldn't take my title. The house was far too old for that. But they took everything else. Stripped of all rating. No command, no authority, no face . Do you know what it's like to enter a room and hear only silence? I knew Legate Migar and Gul Dukat personally. I was on the list -- on the list, I say. I was to be legate, legate! Until...she came and dashed the cup from my lips. She spilled it on the ground -- my honor, my promotion, even my governorship. I was a governor, that's what I tell you. But there were those, those -- don't think I didn't know who they were! Neemak, now he was the one to watch. He was the one who waited, any slip, a weakness. And she gave it to him in a silver chalice. She, she, she. Don't mind me -- I'm an old man now, I run on. You know what what it's like? It's entering a room and hearing all conversation cease, the music, dead silence. Do you know?"
Julian Bashir continued to walk silently behind as they headed toward the hidden skimmer; there was only one left now, the other having long since run out of fuel and been abandoned. The ex-Gul rattled on, an old man with a new, fresh ear for the first time probably in decades. He told them more than they wanted to know about his pain and suffering, his banishment. He never mentioned the name of the woman who had done him wrong (a failed love affair?) save that she was his sister, or perhaps a friend close enough to be called Sister.
Jadzia didn't so much as glance at the prisoner. The doctor felt pangs of guilt. Ragat had made some sort of terrible mistake long ago, something involving a woman, and had been stripped of all his positions and power. No wonder he had fled the Empire and tried to stake out a life far across the quadrant. To a Cardassian, losing face was infinitely worse than losing one's life.
But Bashir and Dax's own problems were more pressin g than understanding the enemy: they had to find Captain Sisko and link up. He didn't know that the Defiant was still on (actually under) the surface, or that they were waiting for his signal via old-fashioned radio waves, which neither the Cardassians nor the vicious, automatic planetary defenses were likely to monitor. Dax, Bashir, and the junior officers back on the ship needed to know what the captain intended, fight or flee, either an attack on the Cardassians and their Drek'la allies or abandonment of the mission would have to be coordinated between Sisko, Dax, and Wabak back on the Defiant.
The day was hot and steamy, the ground broken, the sun reflected from brittle crystals in the latinum-laced soil. Gul Ragat fell to his knees without warning, palms loudly slapping the baked mud. The old man had had it for now. But they were near enough the hidden skimmer that they could stop for the night, and mount up and ride in the morning. If we're chummy enough, thought the doctor, I suppose it can carry the three of us.
Commander Dax caught Julian's eye; she gestured at the ground, then formed a triangle with index fingers and thumbs. The doctor was puzzled for a moment, before he connected the gesture with the stylized image of a tent: they didn't have one, but the idea was as clear: camp here for the night.
Julian sat down, surprised at how tired he felt. It took even more energy to remain lithe and graceful (as a genetic freak should, he added to himself) than merely to march in the bright, red sun. Jadzia, with no reputation to protect, had the easy job.
Gul Ragat continued to talk. He spoke of the invasion of Sierra-Bravo, speaking with r epugnance of the "aborigines," how primitive and savage they were, how disgusting, what a perversion of men. His bigotry was bright but blunted by impotence: there was nothing Gul Ragat would ever be able to do about the Natives again, and he knew it. He could curse them freely now, for he was himself free of responsibility: having surrendered to the two of them, he could at last also surrender to his bottled-up rage, humiliation, and prejudice.
After several early attempts by Ragat to turn and look at his captors, the Gul had got the message; he kept his back to the Starfleet officers as he lay on his side, breathing too deeply. Worried, Julian again scanned Ragat from behind. I'm not sure, he thought, but I think some internal bleeding may have started up. Julian decided that during the night, while Gul Ragat slept, his ghoulish doctor, like a reverse vampire, would slip some life into the old fellow.
The ragged breathing provoked an empathy in Julian Bashir that burned beyond the Hippocratic oath. He gently laid a hand on the Gul's shoulder from behind, squeezing gently.
Ragat cleared his throat. "Thank you," he said. "Good night, doctor."
Alarmed, Julian stared at Dax; but the Trill frowned and shook her head.
Probably just an honorific, Julian nodded, then lay back to look at the stars.
Just before drifting into a troubled sleep, Gul Ragat raised his voice again to a throaty whisper, which was all he could still manage. "And good night to you too...Commander Dax."
Julian grinned, unwilling to look the startled and probably stunned Jadzia Dax in the face. All that care, the silence, the face masks! And all along, the damned Cardassian had known exactly who his captors were.
With a quiet chuckle, Julian, too, drifted into the shadowlands, too exhausted even to consider eating.
Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures