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At night, when the tunnels of B'hala were empty, dust swept through on tireless winds. The night breezes were relentless in their irregular keening, the soft, lonely sounds trailing over heaps of dry and crumbling soil, lingering in the corners and dark spaces of the long lost city. Like the gentle cries of shades and spirits lamenting the daily disturbances of their tomb.
Sometimes, particularly at night when he couldn't sleep, Jacob Isaac Sisko thought he might like to write about those ancient spirits -- a short piece of fiction, or even a poem -- but those instances were few and far between. For the first time in years he had put aside his writing padd, and for the time being, at least, he didn't miss it much. Besides, by the end of each day, he was usually too exhausted to do more than eat, pull off his boots, and crawl into his cot, the sheets heavy with dust in spite of the air recycler. His sleep was deep and peaceful, and if he dreamed, he didn't remember upon waking.
Last night, though...
He wasn't quite ready to think about that; he concentrated instead on the small patch of dry and faded earth beneath his fingers, on the feel of the brush in his hand as he carefully dusted. Behind him, Prylar Eivos droned on about some of the recent discoveries in the southernmost section of the dig, his ponderous voice seeming to draw the very life out of the tunnel's cool, recycled air. Eivos was a nice enough man, but probably the most dreadfully dry of all the student overseers; the aging monk seemed to be perfectly happy with the sound of his own voice, regardless of whether or not the content was relevant to anything. Jake tuned in for a moment, still brushing at what would almost certainly turn out to be yet another pottery shard.
"...but there was one figurine among the rest that was carved out of jevonite, which is nothing short of extraordinary," the prylar said, his tone suggesting that he'd devoted great thought to the matter. "As you know, it has always been believed that jevonite could be found only on Cardassia..."
Jake tuned out again, paying just enough attention to know when to nod respectfully. From farther down the tunnel he could hear the soft hum of the solids detectors and the repetitive chunk of manually worked picks and shovels. They were pleasant sounds, a bright counterpart to the nights of ghostly crying from ancestors not his own....
He was feeling a bit on the poetic side lately, wasn't he? It was strange, unearthing fragments from an ancient culture, and stranger still that the culture wasn't even his --
-- Dad's, though, in a way, and in the dream --
He shut that thought down before it could get any further, afraid of the concomitant feelings, afraid of what he might uncover. And he realized that, beneath the soft bristles of his brush, a sliver of color had appeared, a dull red against the lighter soil.
Jake waited for a break in Prylar Eivos's oratory.
"...but then, quantum-dating of the jevonite artifacts unearthed at the site proves indisputably that they actually predate the First Hibetian civilization," the monk stated firmly, and took a deep breath.
"I think I've found it," Jake said quickly.
The prylar smiled, stepping forward and crouching, using the tunnel wall as a support. He pulled his own brush from a fold in his robes and whisked the remaining soil from around the piece with practiced ease. As Jake suspected, it was another broken clay shard. For every intact relic that was uncovered at B'hala, there seemed to be about a billion broken ones.
And they all have to be catalogued.
"Let's see what we have here...ah, very good, Jake!" The prylar stepped back, reaching for one of the innumerable trays on the nearby cart. "And how gratifying -- it's kejelious, one of the most important materials used during the Sh'dama Age. Have I ever told you about kejelious? I don't know if anyone truly appreciates how versatile it can be, when the liquid ratios are altered..."
Jake nodded, smiling, seeing no point in reminding the monk that he'd already heard all about the virtues of the stuff, twice. Eivos really was a nice old guy, and seemed to be genuinely excited about the work -- though for the first time in all his weeks at B'hala Jake found himself feeling disappointed, gazing at the slender fragment as the monk eased it from the ground.
Maybe because it's not what you came here to find, his mind whispered, and it was another thought that he pushed away -- but not so quickly as he might have only a few days before. Things were changing whether he liked it or not, and though he knew it was inevitable, had known for some weeks, a part of him was still fighting to avoid the next step.
When the prylar suggested that they break for a meal, Jake was relieved. He hurried away, suddenly eager to be out of the tunnels where the dead were dust and wind, where his father was a ghost that could only be longed for.
It was late in the afternoon before he thought of it again.
The dream, Jake. Last night.
He felt a tingle at the back of his neck, a subtle shiver of remembered dream-reality -- something about the wormhole...?
Jake sighed, still not sure he wanted to remember. Not sure he was ready, in spite of the fact that he'd been having trouble concentrating for the last several days, really. He was alone in one of the smaller catalog rooms, a constant, soft drone of activity filtering in through several openings that had once been windows; he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, breathing deeply.
As far down as they were, second level up from the tunnels, it was always pleasantly cool, and although a lot of the volunteers preferred to work in the larger, climate-controlled areas, he liked the fresh air. Usually it kept him alert, but he'd been daydreaming since lunch. Well, since breakfast, technically, although working with Prylar Eivos would make an android's mind wander....
Jake opened his eyes and returned his attention to the shard he'd been handling, one of several from the area he thought of as the Kitchens, over at the northeast end of the partially unearthed city. Number, 1601; Designation, C/Utensil. The familiar numbers and keys of the database portable flew; he hardly had to look at the container tag, knowing from the curve and distinctive blue color that it was another one of the goblet sets. He'd catalogued at least thirty of them in the last few days, all from the same coordinates. Standard estimation comments from Prylar Krish, noted date of extraction...
...and had he been in the wormhole with his father? It seemed so distant, but he thought that the dream had been about him and Dad, together, flying...
Jake set the piece of clay aside, knowing that he had to stop dancing away from the truth of things. Away from the gentle physical and mental repetition that his time at B'hala had been about, and toward why he had come.
To accept the fact that I have to go on without him.
The hesitant thought, so simply worded on the page in his mind's eye, struck him as a little trite -- but no less true or powerful for that. When no paralyzing sorrow came, he allowed the thought again, accepting the heaviness in his throat and chest. For now, at least, he had to make a life for himself.
It hurt, but there was also a forced quality to it. Or, not forced, but...deliberate. He knew what had to happen, what he was supposed to do, but he didn't feel it yet.
But Dax said that's normal, didn't she? That it could be a gradual thing, or all at once. Ezri had been very straightforward about what he might experience, telling him not to underestimate or belittle his loss, and to keep his expectations to a minimum. He'd talked to her a few times, before and after leaving the station, carefully skirting any real conversation about his father. When he'd told her about his intention to join the B'hala excavation, she'd suggested that not thinking for a while might be exactly what he needed; in the almost nine weeks since he'd started, Jake had come to agree wholeheartedly.
He'd been invited just about everywhere on Bajor after his father's disappearance. Like Kas, Jake had politely turned down each hopeful request -- to speak at schools, to lead prayer groups, to extend blessings over everything from local harvest festivals to the openings of new business ventures. Kasidy had received twice as many offers; he was the Emissary's son, but Kasidy was carrying the Emissary's unborn child, a somehow more miraculous connection. They'd shared a quiet laugh about it the last time they'd talked, some small joke that was more affectionate than funny. Jake loved her for that, and had been glad to see how well she looked. Kasidy had the celebrated pregnancy glow about her, even if her eyes were a little sad.
You're still dancing, Jake, avoiding the inevitable --
Jake scowled at his inner voice. If it was inevitable, why rush? It wasn't like he was on a schedule.
Although he hadn't realized it at the time, getting away from the station had been the best thing he could've done. The initial invitation to visit B'hala had been extended by a branch of the Order of the Temple, the prylars who primarily worked the dig, and had been offered as a chance to experience Bajoran history firsthand. Being the Emissary's son surely had plenty to do with it, but Jake appreciated the less-obvious wording. He knew that B'hala had been a special place for his father. And the fact of it was, the station had been too empty without Dad, and the looks of sympathy -- or worse, the well-meant platitudes from the Bajoran segment, about the Emissary's great calling -- had only served to remind Jake of just how much he missed his father. Kas had been great, and his friends, especially Ezri and Nog, but B'hala had been what he needed. He'd heard about the volunteer program -- usually open only to religious initiates -- on the second night of what had started as a four-day visit, and had only been back to the station once, to pick up a few personal items.
He'd had time here. Time to not think, to categorize shards and books, to run artifacts between scholars and techs and prylars and vedeks. In the mornings, there were the digs, while afternoons were usually for cataloguing. Occasionally he helped out the students who hand-cleaned and preserved the crumbling stones from the many small temples that dotted the city, each etched with secrets from thousands of years past.
For all the sense of community, there were enough people milling around for Jake to feel anonymous -- well, more so than on the station, anyway. Besides the initiate program, there was also a large, semi-organized group of research scientists on site. Mostly they were Bajoran archeologists, although there was a handful of recently arrived Vulcan chronologists and a few assorted off-world theology groups -- not to mention a constant trickle of the faithful, devout sightseers who came to pray and meditate in the long shadow of B'hala's central bantaca. Jake generally avoided the spire during the daylight hours, as uncomfortable as ever with being recognized --
Jake blinked, then smiled amiably at the small Bajoran woman in the doorway. Speak of the devil, as his grandfather liked to say. He still felt uneasy with the semi-reverent attitude that so often accompanied his name -- when spoken by a Bajoran -- but it was actually a relief to have his meandering self-analysis interrupted.
The stranger wore a prylar's robes, and was very obviously a member of the dig; short, silver hair contrasted sharply with her deeply tanned skin, and she had the look of leathery strength that he'd come to associate with the lifelong archeologists who had come to work at B'hala. She didn't look familiar, but there were always new people coming to the city.
The monk stepped inside, and in the few seconds it took her to cross the room, Jake decided that she was nervous about something. She walked stiffly, her expression polite but blank, her hands clutching at the shoulder strap of a well-worn satchel.
She stopped in front of him and seemed to study his features, her pale eyes intent with some emotion he couldn't place. Jake waited for her to speak, interested; a break in routine, with a vague air of mystery....
Give it up. She probably wants directions, or an entry reading.
The prylar smiled, revealing small white teeth and deeply etched laugh lines. "My name is Istani Reyla. I'm -- I was one of the main overseers with Site Extension."
Jake nodded. Beneath the seemingly casual working atmosphere at B'hala was a well-organized system of committees and unions; Site Extension made the decisions about where to dig next and sent in the first documentation people, mostly scientists or vedeks with years of archeological experience. Interesting job; Jake had heard they'd recently excavated the oldest shrine yet discovered, in the ruins beneath B'hala.
"Nice to meet you. What can I help you with?"
The prylar reached into her bag and pulled out a narrow, loosely wrapped bundle, vaguely tube-shaped. The careful way she handed it to him suggested that it was exceptionally valuable or fragile. The package was very light, the cloth it was wrapped in organic and extremely soft.
"It's a...document of sorts. Very old. If -- it may be -- I believe it's important that you -- " She grinned suddenly, and shook her head. "I'm sorry, it's been a long week." Her voice was low and musical, and Jake noticed how tired she seemed. There were dark circles under her eyes.
So much for intrigue. He smiled, setting the bundle on the counter in front of him. She seemed nice, if a little odd; scientists. "I understand. I have these dishes to go through, and there's a tray of jewelry ahead of you, but I can run it through the translator after that. There's kind of a backlog for the main computer, but if you don't mind a simple text, I should have it done by -- "
Prylar Istani shook her head, her grin fading. "No, it's for you. It was written for you, for the son of the Emissary. I believe that unequivocally. Please, don't share it with anyone until you've read it. Whatever you decide to do after that..."
She took a deep breath, meeting his gaze squarely. Her own was bright and sincere. "Read it, and think about it. Trust your heart. You'll know what to do."Without another word, she turned and walked out.
Jake started to stand, then sat down again. That was interesting. After nine weeks of quiet and routine, he wasn't sure what to do...besides the obvious.
He peeled back the soft, fibrous covering, conscious of his heart beating faster at the sight of the tattered parchment inside. "Very old" was an understatement, though Istani surely knew that. Jake hadn't become an expert by any means, but from his weeks of cataloguing, he'd seen enough to make a layman's evaluation. By the uneven texture of the single page and the light shade of ink, it was the oldest document he'd yet handled. And he'd dated writings 23 millennia old.
He looked back at the suddenly boring sprawl of pottery bits he was supposed to finish and decided he couldn't wait. There was a text translation program back at his field shelter, the very one that Jadzia had augmented during that crazy "Reckoning" business over a year ago; new symbols were being added all of the time. He was ahead of schedule, anyway, and it wasn't as though anyone was waiting urgently for his next filing.
He marked where he'd left off with a tag and quickly straightened the work counter, excited about the mini-adventure -- until he realized that he was looking forward to telling Dad about it. To seeing his eyes light up with interest, and the slight smile he'd wear as he listened to Jake recount the facts.
Jake took a deep breath, releasing the sorrow and anger as best he could, deciding that he'd worked on his acceptance of truth enough for one day. He had a mystery to unravel -- and though he would not have admitted it out loud, he could not help the small but desperate hope that somehow, in some way, whatever he uncovered might tell his heart something about why his father had had to go.
A Herald, unforgotten but lost to time, a Seer of Visions to whom the Teacher Prophets sing, will return from the Temple at the end of this time to attend the birth of Hope, the Infant Avatar. The welcomed Herald shares a new understanding of the Temple with all the land's children. Conceived by lights of war, the alien Avatar opens its eyes upon a waxing tide of Awareness. The journey to the land hides, but is difficult; prophecies are revealed and hidden. The first child, a son, enters the Temple alone. With the Herald, he returns, and soon after, the Avatar is born. A new breath is drawn and the land rejoices in change and clarity.
...battles fall and fail, and there is a time of waiting, the space between breaths as the land heals and its children retire from war. The Temple welcomes many home, the faithful and the Chosen.
A Herald, unforgotten but lost to time, a Seer of Visions to whom the Teacher Prophets sing, will return from the Temple at the end of this time to attend the birth of Hope, the Infant Avatar. The welcomed Herald shares a new understanding of the Temple with all the land's children. Conceived by lights of war, the alien Avatar opens its eyes upon a waxing tide of Awareness.
The journey to the land hides, but is difficult; prophecies are revealed and hidden. The first child, a son, enters the Temple alone. With the Herald, he returns, and soon after, the Avatar is born. A new breath is drawn and the land rejoices in change and clarity.
Jake rubbed his eyes, wincing at the hot and grainy feel of them, too excited to care much. It was late, hours after he normally went to bed, but he couldn't sleep. He sat at the ancient chipped desk in his small field shelter, the translation and the original in front of him, writing and rewriting the text's story in his mind. He'd lost count of how many times he'd read it, but if it was true...if he decided to believe it...
...everything changes, and how can I not believe it? How can I deny what's in front of me?
He'd already verified an approximate age, making it a credible artifact. To get an exact date, he'd need access to equipment in B'hala's lab complex; they had a sensor there for detecting the degradation of cytoplasmic proteins in plant cells, used specifically for pounded root parchment. It was amazing, how well-preserved most of the ancient Bajoran writings were, the materials treated by some method long lost to Bajor of the present; even the oldest books seemed to have held up better than many stone carvings from only a few centuries ago.
The remnant in front of him was way beyond "old." His tricorder had only been able to run a basic biospectral analysis, but that still put it as written between 30 and 32 millennia ago -- putting it in the era of the tablet that had correctly foretold the Reckoning.
And what it says...the son goes into the Temple and comes back with the Herald, the lost messenger who communed with the Prophets -- and in time to witness the spiritually significant birth of an alien child.
The translator's dictionary said that avatar meant "embodiment of revelation" in the document's context. The word for herald, "elipagh," could also be translated as messenger or proxy, as carrier or bearer of news -- and as emissary.
The son, him. The elipagh, Benjamin Sisko. The Avatar -- Kas and Dad's baby, conceived in wartime, due in...five months, give or take. He'd have to get a ship, go into the wormhole by himself...
"'Prophecies are revealed and hidden,'" he said softly, and rubbed his eyes again. Was that meant for him? Did it mean that a revealed prophecy would be hidden, or that there were things that wouldn't be revealed? Maybe it wasn't a prophecy at all; a lot of the ancient writings contradicted one another, or foretold things that had never happened.
But...it feels right. True. He wasn't Bajoran, and didn't share the Bajoran faith -- but he'd seen and experienced enough not to doubt that the Prophets, whatever they really were, had an interest in the destiny of Bajor, and he knew from his father's encounters with the wormhole beings that feelings counted for a lot. It felt true, and he couldn't shake the distinct feeling that he was meant to see it.
Jake shook his head, not sure where to put such an overwhelming thought -- that millennia ago, someone had foreseen him. And written about it.
He'd already tried to track down the prylar, but she was gone, or hiding. He wanted to know more, to ask her so many things. According to Site Extension, Prylar Istani Reyla had signed herself out for an indefinite leave of absence the day before. She'd been working alone in a newly excavated section of the tunnels, beneath B'hala's foundation. The ranjen Jake had talked to obviously thought highly of her, commenting several times on both her dedication to the Order and her reputation as a scientist. Jake had been careful not to ask too many questions; until he decided what to do, he planned to take Istani's advice.
Think about it, and trust my heart. Easier said than done, when all he could think about was that his father might be waiting, expecting Jake to come and bring him home.
He was too tired to think about much of anything anymore. Jake carefully wrapped the ragged parchment up and slid it into the top drawer of the desk, then stood and stretched. He had to try to get some sleep.
He crawled into bed, tapping the manual light panel at the head of the cot and pulling the dusty coverlet to his chest in the sudden dark. He doubted he'd be able to fall asleep right away, but it was his last coherent thought before he drifted off into an uneasy slumber -- and he dreamed again of Dad, dreamed that the two of them were flying through space without a ship, his father laughing and holding his small child's hand as they swam through the infinite black.
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