Y'bbuth l'Nerys
copywright Zayin Miko; 2338

Deykn ju'jeli, ju'jeli ko;
lerat loraya ker stulo.
Deykn ziv a deykn pagh
Ul lit's'Bajor ko jaya.

Nerys y'bbuth mit ju'ora
Nerys anak'va
Nerys y'bbuth mit ju'ora
Nerys anak pagh.

L'stera atah ju'reyar,
per ychem sera ybdilar.
Per ychem sera ul'nerys.
Iz'pa pa'er serar pa'eys.


Song For Tomorrow
(literal translation:)

Soldiers travelling; they're travelling.
The people don't know their struggle.
Soldiers live with soldier's souls
At the end of the world they die.

Tomorrow's song we're singing;
Tomorrow we fear.
Tomorrow's song we're singing;
Tomorrow fears our souls.

Yesterday I was fighting
and I buried my heart in drink
and I buried my heart in tomorrow.
Before it's over your heart will be lost.


THE MUSIC MAKERS

Family Kira

Kira Regat (2310-2346) m. Zam Taban (2303-2363)
begat
Kira Onep (2334-2354)
Kira Miko (2340-2354)
Kira Nerys (2343- )

_Deep Space Nine, 2374_

The buzzer hailed, and Kira answered the door. Keiko O'Brien stood in
the hall, beaming, her eyes shining with the glow of
the maternal. She seemed to warm the hall around her.

"Nerys!" she smiled, stepping over the threshold to embrace the Major.

"Welcome home, Keiko," Kira returned the smile. "Come in."

"Nope. I have a surprise for you, Major, but we have to go to one of
the holosuites to see it," Keiko winked, and started
down the corridor, a puzzled Kira in tow.

"Computer," Keiko said, when they reached the holosuites that
encircled the Promenade's second story. "Is program O'Brien
K-one still running?"

"Program O'Brien K-one is currently in progress," the computer
agreed. "Enter when ready."

Keiko squeezed Kira's hand and the door to the room rolled back. The
two women stepped forward into fragrant summer wind.

_Bajor, Singha Refugee Camp, Dakhur Province, 2343_

"Nep, please, sit still," Taban said again, pressing a hand to his
son's shoulder. "Are you okay, my love?" he addressed
his wife.

Regat was perched on the edge of the bed, her head in her hands. "I'm
fine," she said, with some effort. "It'll pass. I
promise."

Miko scrabbled up onto the bed and tried to crawl into his mother's
lap. She brushed him aside without looking up.

"Ma's sick, Mik," Onep managed a stage whisper. Miko leaped off the
bed and joined his brother and father, standing vigil
over the writhing Regat. She groaned, and lapsed into another fit of
sneezing, her eyes bulging.

"That's it. I'm getting help," Taban said, squeezing Onep's hand.
"You're in charge 'till I get back."

"Want me to go?" Onep blinked big gray eyes up at his father's creased face.
Taban smiled, nodding.

"Yes, yes, that would be very helpful, Nep,
thank you," he ruffled Onep's hair. "Do you know where Vedek Ystral
lives?"

Onep nodded. "Be right back," he said.

Regat collapsed on her side, curling herself into a ball as much as
was possible with her distended midsection. Her eyes
were squeezed shut, and she dug her nails into her palm. Taban rushed
to her side, mopped her brow and whispered. "It's
okay, my love, it's okay. Onep's getting help." Regat just writhed.

Miko watched suspiciously, not daring to approach.

"It's not time," Regat managed. "It's not..."

Taban shushed her, stroking her hair. "Don't try to talk," he said.

"I'll talk if I want to!" she snapped, the strength in her voice
bringing a smile back to Taban's face. "Miko, come here,"
she held out a hand, her other arm pressed across her aching chest.
Miko crept toward it, wondering what he had done wrong.
"Do you know what's happening to me?" Regat demanded. Miko shook his
head. "I need a doctor," Regat said, "and I'm not
going to get one. Do you know why?" Miko shook his head again,
cowering a little. "Because the Cardassians don't consider
medical supplies a necessary part of our rations. Because the
Cardassians figure if we're sick, we'd be better off dead
then in their way. Because the Cardassians don't give two damns about
us if they're not shooting us, fucking us, or glaring
in our general direction!" Regat spat the last words, sneezed
violently, and clenched her hands to her sides again, hugging
herself and moaning.

Taban reached out for Miko, hugged him close. "Don't worry," he
whispered. "Your Ma's gonna be just fine."

Miko shivered in the small room. "Okay," he said. "Okay."

Onep blustered in, Vedek Ystral right behind him. She ushered him to
the corner of the room, sent Taban and Miko to sit on
the bench beside the table. "There," she said, swiping her hands
against one another. "Now, how are you feeling, Mrs.
Kira?"

Regat hissed and rolled over onto her back, spread-eagled across the
bed and panting.

"Just take some deep breaths," the Vedek said. "Meditate."

Regat seemed to relax a bit, sneezed once and let her limbs fall
slack into the mattress.

"That's better," the Vedek said. "Now, you boys go wait in the hall.
We don't need any more complications here. I promise
to take good care of her," she added, noting Taban's concerned
expression. Sighing, he led the boys from the room and let
the door click shut behind him.

Hours passed; they felt like weeks. Taban kept a sweaty palm clamped
on the arm of each of his sons, alternately kissing
them and clutching them toward him like talismen.

Finally, Ystral emerged from the apartment, her hands dripping blood.
She wiped them on her trousers before speaking.
"She's fine. Tired as hell, but she'll be okay," she smiled at Taban.
"And, it's a girl."

Nearly whooping for joy, Taban and the children breezed past the
Vedek, shouting thanks, and hustled into the apartment to
join Regat and her new daughter.

_Bajor, Singha Refugee Camp, Dakhur Province, 2346_

"Do we have to share it with the baby?" Miko whined, scurrying to
catch up with his brother.

"Stop calling her 'the baby,'" Onep paused in the road. "She has a name."

"What kind of a name is Nerys, anyway?" Miko raised a hand to shield
his eyes from the sun as the two boys walked the
gravel path toward Singha's gates. "It's a boy's name."

Onep sighed. "It's not a boy's name. It means 'tomorrow' in the old
language, and Ma liked it. And, yes, we have to share
the riztan with Nerys."

"Fa thinks it's a boy's name," Miko challenged.

"Just shut up, Miko. Stop bothering me," Onep began taking longer
strides, leaving his brother behind.

"He does," Miko muttered, running after Onep. "He wanted to call her
Herrin. He told me."

"Okay," Onep sighed again. "Fine. Let's just go home."

//We've been going home all along,// Miko shook his head, tripping
down the road beside his brother, leaping and skipping
to match Onep's wide gait. //Onep can be so weird sometimes...//

They reached the barracks and Onep dug out his keycard to open the
door. Inside, Ronen Ilik was doing laundry, and he
smiled at the boys as they entered.

"Riztan," he commented, noting the bottle of fizzy juice Onep was
carrying. "Where'd you boys find that?"

"There's a lady in the Tibel-Kari who gets it from Rokantha," Miko
grinned. "She brings us some and we oil their skimmers
for 'em."

"Sounds like a fair trade to me," Ilik winked at Onep. "Tell your ma
if she's got any clothes need washing to bring 'em
down tonight; we won't get soap again for some weeks now."

"Thanks," Onep said. "I'll tell her." He nodded farewell to the
launderer and started down the corridor to their
apartments.

Taban was feeding the baby when they arrived. "Hey Fa," Onep smiled,
peeling off his sweaty jacket and setting the bottle
of riztan carefully on the table. "How's Nerys? She talking yet?"

Taban waved a hand at his sons, never looking up from Nerys and her
bottle. //Of course she's not talking yet,// Onep
sighed. //That girl is never going to talk. Ma says I was saying
whole sentences at her age, and Miko was pretty chatty at
one himself. Well, makes sense. There's not much to say around here, I guess.//

"We got riztan!"Miko shouted gleefully.

Taban whirled around, took in Miko's wide smile, so like his
mother's, his wild dark eyes. "You're not messing with those
Tibel-Kari folk again, are you?"

Onep looked at the floor. Miko cowered.

"I told you boys to stay away from them; it's too dangerous for you.
Promise me you won't go near them again!" Taban was
shaking, furious.

"I promise," Onep muttered.

"But why, Fa?" Miko whined. "Ziza's real nice, and lots of kids help
the soldiers out with stuff."

"I don't care how nice Ziza is," Taban had regained his composure,
and was staring Miko down. "I don't care if you're
working for Tibel Lio herself. The resistance is too dangerous; it's
nothing for children to meddle in."

"Okay..." Miko didn't sound convinced.

"Ilik says to bring laundry today," Onep changed the subject. "Says
we won't have soap for another couple weeks."

"Okay," Taban nodded, "there's some stuff on the floor by the door;
bring it down to him when you go out. And take him a
couple of those lero melons we got too; I'll bet Ilik doesn't get his
hands on fresh fruit too often."

"Sure, Fa," Onep said, and he shuffled over to his bed to change
clothes. Miko sidled up beside him.

"What's wrong with the resistance?" he whispered, freeing his head
from his shirt and tossing it into the laundry pile.

"They fight too much, Fa says," Onep explained. "They're making the
spoonheads even more angry with us, so they hurt us
more. Like taking away our soap, or shutting down the waste disposal units."

"But the spoonheads are the bad guys, right?" Miko struggled to
understand. "So if the resistance is fighting the
spoonheads, that's good!"

"Sometimes fighting is good," Onep agreed, lowering his voice. "But
not when it makes the spoonheads take out their anger
on the civilians - that's us."

"I want to be in the resistance when I grow up," Miko said decidedly.
Onep shook his head.

"Hopefully there won't be any more resistance when you grow up," he
ruffled his brother's hair. "Hopefully the spoonheads
will be gone by then, or we'll have worked out a way to live together here."

"Live together here! No way," Miko said. "This is Bajor; we're
Bajoran; they're not! They have their own world to go to!"

Onep gathered up the laundry in a mesh bag and slung it over his
shoulder. Leaving his brother to muse, he started for the
door. "Where's ma?" he called to his father, palming a couple of the
lero and tossing them in the laundry bag.

"At work," Taban said. "She'll be home soon, and she'll be hungry, so
you should come home and help me make dinner."

"Sure," Onep smiled, and headed for the laundromat.

_Bajor, Singha Camp, 2346_

"Ma's not eating tonight?" Onep nodded suspiciously at the three
placesettings his father had set at the table.

"She...ate earlier, when she fed Nerys," Taban didn't meet his son's eye.

Miko was sitting at the table, swinging his legs, and Taban slid onto
the bench beside him. Onep hesistated. "Really,"
Taban said. "Please, Nep, sit down."

"She hasn't been home for dinner all week," Onep licked his lips. "Is
she mad at us?"

"No," Taban said abruptly. "Your mother loves you very much. Very,
very much. Now, sit down and eat."

Onep sat down reluctantly, pushed the few wilted vegetables on his
plate around with a fork.

******

It was a cool room; it was a good day. It was the height of summer, but
the air circulators in the basement offices hissed full-blast, and Regat
found herself, for the first time in weeks, underdressed for the
climate. And she was loving it. It was a hateful place; it was a hateful
time. It was war and oppression and the stink of rotting, sweaty bodies
that was always there, lingering, painting rings around the edges of the
sterile basement office. It was blood, and starvation, and the hottest
summer in years, decades. It was a time of drought, the lakes sucking
inward from the bone-dry rocks of shore. It was a time forsaken by the
prophets, a time of mortals hands bloodied from weapons or slave labor,
a time of many, many more deaths than births. But it was a cool room,
and it was a good day. She found a smile where she could.

She was filing, which beat mine work a thousand times over, and she had
to bite her tongue on more than one occasion to keep from whistling
while she worked. It was enough for her not to be on her knees,
whip-lashed, sweating, her lips and eyeballs cracking from dehydration;
she felt no compulsion to let her overseers know that she was almost,
*almost* enjoying herself. She punched in the next access code on her
list, began separating files into subdirectories.

"Who's got 299-blue through 400?" the Bajoran man at the console beside
her, Yzak, addressed Regat and the other four workers.

"I just input the last batch of them now," Regat replied. "I'm in the
tertiary database in the blue filemanager. Do you need me to find
something?"

"I've got a file which crossreferences something in blue, and Gul
Namerov wants a hyperlink. Can you upload the directory name to my
console so I can do a search for it?" Even Yzak's voice sounded chipper
today; last time Regat had worked beside him they'd been digging
waste-disposal ditches, and he'd barely uttered two words except to ask
her to pass the water canteen. Yes, it was a good day.

"On their way," she said, inputting his server name and transferring the
file codes to his console.

There was only one supervisor on duty, a Glin-something-or-other, and he
was sitting crosslegged at the desk, reading, not particularly
interested in the parley among the slaves. Chatting while they worked
was another luxury not to come again in the near future, and the
Bajorans were taking advantage of it.

"Van Teprim finally gave birth," announced a stocky woman at one of the
wall consoles.

"Amazing," laughed Regat. "I was beginning to think that baby would
never come out. It's been, what, eight months?"

"It's a boy," the woman, Maiaya, said with a grin. "An adorable little
gift from the Prophets. She's calling him Nerys."

"Really?" Regat chuckled. "That's my daughter's name! I know it's a
boy's name, but 'tomorrow' just seemed like the perfect choice for a
name for the new generation."

"That's what Teprim said," Maiaya nodded, chewing her lip as she sorted
files. "I think it's pretty. How old is your daughter?"

"She'll be three in half a moon," Regat said. "She's not talking yet. My
husband and I are beginning to wonder if we should be concerned."

Maiaya cast a glance in the direction of the supervisor and shook her
head, a small enough movement as to be nearly imperceptible. "No," she
said abruptly. "I wouldn't worry." Regat was sure this wasn't what
Maiaya had intended to say, and the room felt just a bit colder as she
returned her focus to the filing in front of her.

Something beeped. And beeped again.

The six Bajorans looked up in unison, trying to locate the source of the
noise, and the supervisor, upon reading something on his console, stood.
Regat shuddered despite herself.

"Aily Maiaya, Kira Regat, Masa Tzo," he announced without preamble. The
three women in question stood still, waiting for further instructions.

"Report to launching area five in Singha proper," he continued. "Your
assignments have been changed."

//Okay,// thought Regat, preparing herself mentally for the heat of the
outdoors. //We're on plasma-unit repair. I've had worse jobs.//

Following the guard who had been standing outside the door, the women
started up the spiralling staircase of the sentry office.

*

That was the last time anyone saw Kira Regat alive. When she didn't come
home from work that night, Taban, along with Aily Prem and Masa Jiaka,
sent out a buzz across the Singha camp to begin a search for their
missing wives. A week passed, then two, with the men no more enlightened
then they'd been that first summer night. Nerys and Miko didn't quite
understand, but Onep, along with Masa's daughter Laren, understood that
their mothers were dead by Cardassian hands, despite Taban and Jiaka's
attempts to construct plausible stories to explain the disappearances.

Autumn came but the heat wave never broke. One evening, Onep and Laren
were working in the orchards when their overseer informed them that Gul
Namerov himself wished to speak with them. Before he uttered the words,
they knew.

"I regret to inform you," he began in a low, thundering Dakhur dialect,
heavily accented with the Kardasi hiss, "that I have received word from
our shipbuilding facilities in orbit that Kira Regat and Masa Tzo have
died. It seems that the Bajoran workers were unable to ration their food
supply adequately, and I'm afraid your mothers starved to death before
any of the overseers were able to procure more supplies. Please relay my
apologies to your families."

Onep nodded somberly, but Laren spat at the ground. Onep touched her
shoulder.

"I understand," Namerov continued. "You blame us. I assure you, the
officers assigned to the shipbuilding facilities are committed to caring
for their workers. Any problems the Bajorans may have had come from your
own people's inability to cooperate. Again, however, I offer my sincere
apologies for your loss."

"Thank you," Onep managed, and, grabbing Laren's hand, he raced through
the orchards to the barracks.

*

She hadn't seen daylight in what seemed like weeks. The tent was barely
large enough for the three women, and they were forbidden to leave its
walls unless summoned, so Regat found herself with a lot of time to
contemplate her hatred. They took turns. One night, Regat would be
summoned to the prefect's quarters, Maiaya the next, Tzo the next. And
for each it was the same. The woman would report to the main building,
escorted by the on-duty glin. Once inside, she would be asked to remove
her clothing, and she would be washed thoroughly, head to toe, her hands
clamped in place behind her while the Cardassian who was sponging her
ogled her starved and bony form with something akin to disgust.
Sufficiently cleansed and scented with vile Cardassian perfumes (which
took days to dissipate, at which point it was time to be scrubbed
again), she was led, naked and dripping, up the wide stone stairs to the
prefect's quarters. He was always otherwise engaged -- reading, on a
comcall, downloading files -- and he'd wave a hand at the woman, telling
her to sit down on the bed, he'd be right with her. Between the scent of
the perfume and the balmy-to-humid climate Cardassians seemed to prefer,
she'd sit, nearly suffocating, goosebumps rising on her exposed flesh.
Waiting. And then the prefect would finally complete his task -- she was
always surprised, and furious, to realize that she'd actually been
*impatient,* waiting -- and start towards her with grin playing at his
mouth. "Well," he'd say, without fail, "what shall we do tonight?" And
it was always the same.

Afterward, bruised, sore and bitten, her hips so strained that it hurt
to walk, she was led downstairs, her insect-ridden garment returned to
her, and she was tossed back into the tent with the other women, to
await her turn again.

They didn't even know what province they were in.

After the first week, the women didn't talk much; they'd run out of
things to say. Maiaya had no children, and Tzo and Regat had stopped
speaking of theirs; it hurt too much. Once in a while they'd bring up
the resistance, speculate on what the brave Bajoran soldiers were up to
that would finally liberate this world, but the words were hollow and
they knew it. Regat wanted to believe it, but she knew, had known since
she named her daughter 'Nerys' that it was tomorrow's generation who
would liberate their world, not Regat's own. It was too late for her,
but the new generation, the children who were being taken in by the new
resistance cels that were forming had a chance at living in peace, and
having their world back. But not until then. Not for years.

They never spoke of their spouses -- Tzo and Regat's husbands, Maiaya's
wife, left back in Singha -- somehow, that brought it all into focus,
made the separation too final, and the horrible violations the prefect
was performing on them nightly, too real. Regat prayed to Taban,
sometimes, begging him to take care of the children, and to forgive her
for abandoning them, but when she was lying in bed under the prefect's
heavy, armored frame, she would talk to herself, talk herself to
distraction to avoid letting her mind touch on Taban, alone in the bed
they used to share. It wasn't the same. It wasn't the same. What Regat
did in the prefect's quarters was no different from any other job she'd
held under the mercy of Cardassian overseers; it was a job. And she did
it. And she never, never let herself think about what this man was doing
to her, how he was mining her like blasted stone from the inside. Never.
And the women never spoke of it.

Sometimes Maiaya would sing -- battle hymns, generally -- and Tzo and
Regat, both with tin ears, would listen solemnly, unsmiling, as if the
lyrics in the ancient tongue were some code that, if they could only
crack it, would spell their freedom. In an effort to keep them "shapely"
(the glin's words), they were fed quite well, but the food was
Cardassian, pasty and bland, and the women could barely stomach it. Tzo
would eat, and Regat and Maiaya would offer her their leftovers, in the
hopes that the prefect would take a liking to her "shapely" form and
perhaps give her better treatment. But she would come home from her
encounters as bruised as the other two, and tell the same story they'd
each been telling, every night.

It must have been early winter when the on-duty glin came to collect
Regat for the second night in a row. "He asked for you again," the glin
explained. Casting a terrified glance at her compatriots, Kira Regat
exited out into the foreign-familiar Bajoran night.

After the scrubdown, Regat started for the stairs, knowing the drill by
rote, wanting desperately for it to be over with. "Not yet," the glin
said, clapping a hand on her shoulder and stopping her in her tracks. He
steered her back into the atrium where she'd been bathed, and slid open
the door to a shiny alloy cabinet. From it, he drew a plaited, wooly
bundle, which he pressed against Regat's damp breast. "Put it on," he
said. "Legate's orders."

She shook it out, and saw that it was a robe, cableknit from some
luxurious wool and belted at the waist with a wide ribbon. She slid her
arms into the sleeves, thankful for the protection from the dank air and
scrutinous eyes. Warm and shivering, she blinked up at the glin,
awaiting instruction. "Go on up," he said. "You know the way."

//Alone?// she didn't say, but instead turned on her heel and started
for the stairs.

When she opened the door to the prefect's quarters, he was waiting for
her. *He* was waiting for *her*. He was seated on the bed, crosslegged,
with a tray of fruit and a bottle of spring wine -- spring wine! --
beside him. And he smiled when she walked in. At first she thought she
was dead, and was dismayed at the cruel joke the prophets were playing,
but the ache in her groin and the teethmarks across her arms and neck
reminded her that she was very much alive. Her world was growing more
bizarre by the moment, but she was very much alive.

"Hello, my dear," the legate cooed. "Please, sit down."

Unable to formulate a good reason not to, she complied. "Yes, sir."

"Please," he said. "Call me Dukat."

"Yes, Legate Dukat," she said, furrowing her brow.

"Dukat," he said with a grin. "Just Dukat."

She merely nodded, petrified. //I should slap him,// she thought, //spit
in his face, holler to the Prophets for vengeance against all he's done
to us.// Hating herself for her cowardace, willing herself to feel some
instinct other than self-preservation, she sat stock still and waited to
see how this would play out.

"Have some wine," he said, pouring a glass and holding it out to her.

//Yes. Have some wine. Dull the pain.// Nodding again, she took the
glass from him, downed the strong alcohol in one gulp.

"Tell me about yourself," he said, refilling her glass. "Tell me about
your family."

"They're slaves!" she said before she could catch herself, but Dukat
merely shook his head and smiled knowingly.

"Personally," he said, "I despise the actions that Gul Namerov has taken
in the Singha facility. Shall I have him replaced?"

"He beats people at random; every month he declares what he calls a
'holiday,' where five innocent people get executed in public. If those
are grounds for dismissal in this tyrannical culture of yours, I'd say
replace him," she said, her tongue loosened by the wine and Dukat's
apparent sympathy.

"That's terrible," he said. "That is no way to train workers who are
under your command. He should be nurturing you, helping you learn, and
grow. I have no taste for violence," Dukat clicked his tongue.

"But you have no problem with fucking us twice a week!" Regat spat
before she could stop herself; Dukat's syrupy words cut her to the bone.
Regretting the outburst immediately, she searched Dukat's face for signs
of response.

At first it looked like he would strike her, but then his face fell, and
he looked at the floor. "I regret that," he said. "I'm sorry."

"What's going to happen to them?" she asked. "Maiaya and Tzo. I imagine
I'm to stay here with you." She hadn't made that leap until the words
were out of her mouth, but as soon as she uttered them she knew they
were true. She was to be Dukat's consort; he had chosen her. She
supposed she should be flattered, but hate and bile rose in her throat.

"They will be returned to Singha as soon as I can arrange for transport.
And, yes, you're correct. I'd like for you to live here in headquarters
with me; it must have been *anguish* living in that wretched tent all
these weeks."

"So why did you order us to live out there?" she asked.

"I had to!" Dukat lost control for a moment, tossing his head, his onyx
hair swinging wildly around his face. "Don't you understand? I'm the
Prefect of this annex! I am in charge of the entire Bajoran project! I
had to set a strong example! Half my men are older than I am; I had to
prove to them that I was to be respected as a leader!" He slammed his
fists into his thighs and refused to meet Regat's gaze. "But I was
wrong. I know that now. A good leader is respected for his powerful
mind, not his 'tyrannical' actions, as you so aptly put it. I am an
intelligent man. A great man. I am the youngest member of the Cardassian
military ever to be risen to the rank of Legate, and I am a credit to my
title! Centuries from now, when this world takes its stand as a strong
and powerful part of the great Cardassian Empire, people will remember
the name Dukat as the man who began it all. And do you know why?" Dukat
looked to Regat, not really expecting an answer. There was a long pause,
and Regat tried to take in what Dukat was saying. But his next words
shocked her. "Because...I love Bajor."

"What?" she asked, leaning over to try and catch a glimpse of his face
as he stared at the floor.

"I do," he said, attempting a laugh which stumbled over the lump in his
throat. "At first, it was just a job. Central Command sends me out here
and says: 'annex!' But this is a beautiful world; your people are so
good, and simple, and kind...under our tutelage, you could learn to
become great, as we have. That's all I want; all I've ever wanted. For
our two peoples to coexist peaceably."

And, for a moment, Regat understood. //They want to be more like *us*.
They can be enlightened by our peace, our spirituality and wisdom, just
as they believe we can be enlightened by their power and strength.// For
a moment, it all made sense; the occupation, the resistance, the
Cardassian brutality and slaughter. While she couldn't forgive Dukat for
what his people were doing to her world, she understood that it was the
Prophets' will, to teach the misguided Cardassian race a little of what
the Bajorans already understood about peace, and faith, and love. And
she was to be their emissary. For a moment, it all made sense, hanging
above the bed, above the two of them, shimmering in its crystalline
perfection. It was the truth; the awful, horrible, genocidal truth. And
a moment was all it took.

Regat reached out and touched Dukat's shoulder, gently. "I understand,"
she said.

Dukat looked up, his face wrought with pain. "You do?" he whispered.
"You forgive me?"

"No," she said. "I don't forgive you. But the Prophets will save your
soul. I can help you."

Dukat reached out, slowly, and traced a finger across Regat's face, the
touch so unlike the violent attacks of the previous weeks that Regat
shuddered. "Thank you," he said.

He pulled her head toward his, gently. "Maiaya taught me this," he
whispered, touching the corner of her mouth with his exploring finger.
"She was drunk; I think she threw *me* down that night. She used to
struggle, and fight; the other one -- Tzo? -- used to scream, to let out
these uncanny high-pitched wails. Only you were resigned, were at peace.
I could see the faith in you, and the confidence that everything would
someday come right. I respect you for that. But Maiaya did teach me one
thing about Bajoran custom, and I thank her for that..." So saying, he
tipped his head and closed his eyes and pressed his lips to Regat's,
letting their tongues taste one another, their moist mouths move
together.

Regat sighed, the tenderness of the kiss more moving than she'd
expected. She weakened, and allowed herself to fall into Dukat's
embrace. //Prophets, grant me the courage to help this lonely,
misunderstood man....// she thought. And somewhere, on that winter
night, the Prophets heard.

_Bajor, Singha Camp, 2351_

"You're pretty good, kid!" Masa Laren grinned, slapping Nerys on the
back. "Pretty soon you're gonna surpass your brother
here; I suggest you start playing against *me* if you want a worthy opponent."

Nerys looked at Onep, all lanky height and hair so dark it was almost
black, long enough to tuck behind his ears. His eyes
never wavered from Laren's face. //He gets so moony around her,//
Nerys thought. //No wonder he doesn't play well when
she's around. If that's what being in love does to you then I'm never
gonna do it.// "Wanna serve?" she asked, holding out
the ball to her brother.

"Laren's right," he said. "Play a couple rounds with her; I'll
watch." He sat crosslegged on the ground and smiled as Nerys
sent the ball hurtling against the barracks' wall, and Laren leaped
to complete the volley. A tap on his shoulder made him
jump.

"Lexa!" he shouted. "You scared me! What's up?"

Orrin Lexa, Onep's closest friend save Laren, flopped down on the
ground beside him. "What're you doing?" he asked.

"Just watching my girlfriend teach my little sister the intricacies
of defensive springball," Onep smiled. "You?"

"There's a meeting of the Contra-Rebels at 2100 tonight," Lexa said.
"Gul Ra'kul is going to speak. Can you come?"

Onep eyed him suspiciously, then laughed. "Oh, sure. Sure, my fa will
let me go sit in on a collaborator's meeting. I'm
sure your parents are pleased as hell about it too."

Lexa shook his head. "Not collaborators; Contra-Rebels. Come on, Nep, you don't
like the resistance any more than I do;
they've gotten Singha i
nto more trouble this year than I want to think about. I mean,
remember when the Cardassians used to
bring us clothes every couple months? And soap? And remember when
Bajorans had shops in the barracks square? We'd still
have all that stuff if the resistance wasn't pissing the Cardassians
off so much. The Contra-Rebels just want to end the
fighting."

Onep chewed a thumbnail. "I don't know," he said, finally. "Have you
been to these meetings before?"

"Yeah," Lexa said, surprising Onep. "A bunch of us go every couple
weeks. But this is a big deal meeting, because we're
trying to strike a deal with the Cardies so they won't blame civs for
the militia's action. The more voices we can get to
back us up, the better. You in?"

Onep cast a look in Laren's direction.

"Laren already said yes," Lexa said. "I asked her this morning."

Looking from Lexa to Laren and back again, Onep nodded. "Okay," he
said. "I'll come."

"A ha!" Laren whooped. "Got ya!" Scooping a squirming Nerys up under
one arm she rushed over to where Onep and Lexa were
sitting, and collapsed on the ground beside them, breathless. Nerys
broke free and flopped back on the grass, panting.

"You won?" Onep winked at Laren.

"Yeah," Laren said. "I was all set to let the kid win, but she's
*damn* good. It was the best game I've played in months,
and even so I only won by a couple points."

"She's better than you are," Nerys smirked at Onep.

"I'll bet," Onep said. Casting a glance at Nerys and leaning toward
Laren, he lowered his voice. "Lexa says he talked to
you?"

"About the meeting?" Laren peeled a sweaty shock of hair from her
brow. "Yeah. I'm gonna go. Are you?"

"I think so," Onep said. "I feel weird about it, I feel like I'm
working for the spoonheads or something."

"You're working for peace," Laren said firmly. "You've got two
younger siblings; I've got one and my mom's pregnant again;
we want these kids," she gestured at Nerys, "to grow up without
having to worry that they might never have fresh food
again, or indoor heating, or that some guard might come and 'make and
example out of them' and shoot them in the head in
the middle of the square. Hell, we want 'em to be able to go to
school on a regular basis - how long has it been since the
schools closed? Months! The only way to fix that is to stop the
resistance from making the Cardassians angrier than they
already are."

"Why are the Cardassians angrier?" Nerys asked, sitting up. Onep flushed.

"All this fighting is making them madder at us," Onep said finally.

"I don't know," Nerys said, gnawing her lip. "I talked to Miko, and
he said that the Tibel-Kari have been doing really
well. He thinks the resistance is going to get rid of the spoonheads
by the end of the year."

"Miko's too young to understand," Onep said.

"So's Nerys," Laren whispered. Onep nodded, closing his eyes.

"Well, I don't care who gets angry, as long as the spoonheads get out
of here," Nerys concluded, leaping to her feet. "I'm
going home, Nep. I'll see you at dinner."

Watching her skip off, Onep pressed his fingers to his temples. //I
hope they get out of here, too, Nerys...//

*

Nerys found her father outside in the rain. She sat beside him on the
wet grass, pulling her shirt up over her head.

"I do *not* condone this," he sighed, after a long silence. Nerys
just watched him, knowing he'd explain what he was
talking about if he felt like it. "That's not it at all. It's just
that...oh, Nerys."

Taban turned, took his daughter's face in his hands. "Are you going
to stay with me, when they're both gone and I've got no
one?"

Nerys furrowed her brow, played with her bootlace, waiting for her
father to start making sense.

"I don't condone it, but, oh, Prophets, at least I know he's safe. I
can't even believe I'm saying this - I always thought
I believed in the resistance, but now? Maybe he's right," Taban shook his head.

Nerys looked up. "Who, Fa? Maybe who's right?"

"Onep," Taban sighed. "Your brother - my eldest son - Onep. He's joined the
Contra-Rebels."

"Yeah," Nerys said. "He doesn't like the r
esistance."

"Neither do I," Taban said. "Promise me you won't get yourself
killed, Nerys. Promise me."

Nerys cocked her head and peered at him, assessing. "Fa? Tell me about Ma."

"Regat," Taban called out, more to himself - or to his wife - than to
his daughter. "Your mother was a phenomenal woman,"
he turned to Nerys. //Until the spoonheads started carving her up
from the inside, screwing that beautiful face into
something hard, and ugly, and militant.// "She was the strongest
person I've ever met. You and Miko take after her; I can
see her in your eyes." //All the hatred, all the passion, the same
determination - oh, Nerys...she'd have been so proud of
you.// "She'd have been very proud of you; of all of you."

"I don't remember her," Nerys said, chewing a cuticle. "Miko says I
look like her. Nep says Miko does."

"Yes, you both do. It's the eyes, I think," Taban said again. "And
her mouth. You definitely have her mouth." //And you'll
inherit her sharp tongue along with it, or I miss my guess.// "Do you
know what these are?" Taban pointed to a plot of
orange flowers, swaying in the stormy breeze.

Nerys shook her head. Taban stood up, and she followed him as they
crossed and knelt beside the plant. "Music-makers," he
said. "In the old language they were called ju'ora'talbiethe,
'singers-in-the-storm.' Listen; I think it's windy enough for
them to sing tonight." He leaned his head toward the ground and Nerys
imitated him, her tiny frame shivering in the rain.
The flowers seemed to whistle a melody; the longer she listened, the
stronger it got, chords overlapping chords, moaning a
somber requiem. She stood, shook her head, spattering rainwater.

"Your mother used to say you kids reminded her of these," Taban said
sullenly, eyes closed, listening. "Born in the winds
of war, she said. That's when you'd sing your true song. When Miko
showed interest in joining the resistance, even as a
child, she was so proud of him. I never thought Onep..." he trailed
off, shaking the cobwebs of memory from his mind. //He
just wants peace,// he told Regat, somewhere. //That's all any of us
want.// Even to him, the words sounded hollow. He
stood, smiled sadly at Nerys.

"Fa," Nerys said. "It's raining. Why are you sitting outside in the rain?"

"It is raining, isn't it?" he looked up, his hair dripping down his
face. "Let's go inside."

He reached out and took her hand, and they ducked into the dryness of
the barracks.

_Bajor, Outside the Singha Camp, 2352_

Ren Jakoma grunted, sweat beading on his brow. "One, two, three,
now!" he said, lifting with all his weight. The unit
didn't budge. "Miko, IÊthought you said we help them with little
chores, they give us free food. This is not what I signed
up for!"

"This thing's fucking heavy," Miko agreed. "We need more help. Hey!
Dina! Grab Ziza and help Ren and me lift this console!"

The two women strode over, pushing up their sleeves. Taking places at
alternate corners of the computer unit, they braced
themselves. Miko counted again, and this time they lifted the unit a
couple feet from the ground, shuffling awkwardly as
they crossed the camp and deposited the computer next to the main sentry.

"Now we've only gotta figure out how to connect this thing," Ziza
laughed, wiping her forehead with the back of her hand.
"Ren? Kira? Either of you kids trained in systems technology?"

Miko and Jakoma shook their heads. "Didn't think so," she smiled. "Ah
well. When Kari gets back he'll tell us what to do
with it. Thanks for your help. There's tea and sandwiches inside the
mess hall, if you're hungry."

Waving their thanks, the boys rushed inside and joined the cafeteria line.

"Kira Miko, by the Prophets!" Tibel Lio stepped to where the boys
were standing. "Haven't seen you in a couple weeks! We
missed you around here! Who's your friend?"

"Ren Jakoma, Tibel Lio; Tibel Lio, Ren Jakoma," Miko introduced.

"Are you as precocious as your companion here?" Tibel eyed Jakoma,
cocking her head to one side. "Miko's been an incredible
asset to this cel; I can't tell you how lucky we are that he's helped
us out these past few years."

A little nervous, Jakoma just nodded.

"Hm," Tibel said, scratching her head. "Will you excuse us for a
second?" Jakoma nodded again, and Tibel ushered Miko into
a corner.

"You said you wanted to join us when you were old enough," she said,
fixing her eyes on his and placing a hand on his
shoulder. "Do you still feel that way?"

Miko nodded, not daring to speak. //Was she saying...//

"Well, here's the thing. We're getting set to move out; that's why
we're bringing in all the new sentry equipment, to
maintain an uplink. The Shakaar cel will still be stationed in
Dakhur, but we're moving up to Musulla as part of a big
troop - " she stopped, furrowed her brow. "Are you in or what?"

"I'm in," Miko said simply. "When do we leave?"

Tibel swung her head from side to side gently, smiling. "I knew it.
We leave at 0400 day after tomorrow. Will you be ready
by then?"

"I'll be ready," Miko said.

"Excellent," Tibel said. "Be outside the gates and out of sight of
searchlights, and someone will come by and get you in a
cruiser."

"Okay," Miko said. Tibel had turned and was starting to walk away,
and Miko called out after her. "Thank you," he said. "I
promise not to let you down."

"Okay," she shrugged. "I won't hold you to that."

And with that she turned and left the building.

Jakoma, a sandwich in each hand, rushed to Miko's side. "What was
that all about?" he asked.

"She asked me to join them," Miko said, tasting the words on his
tongue. "She asked me to be part of the Tibel-Kari."

Ren gave his friend a sad look. "Be careful, Miko," he said.

Miko stood silently a moment, then slugged Jakoma on the shoulder.
"Gimme a sandwich," he said. "And let's go home."

Chomping noisily, the boys stepped out into the bright sunlight and
started back toward Singha.

_Bajor, Singha Refugee Camp, 2354_

"Hey, Fa," Nerys called, dropping her jacket on the floor and running
into the apartment. "Where's Nep? He was supposed to
meet me for springball an hour ago!"

"Out here, Rys," Taban called, and Nerys crossed the room, opened the
back door into her father's tiny rooftop garden. He
was sitting on the stoop, Laren beside him, her eyes red.

"Hi Laren," Nerys said. "What's up? Where's Onep? What's going on?"
Laren glanced at Taban and bit her lip. "What? What is
it?" Nerys demanded.

Taban lay a hand on Laren's shoulder. "Onep is gone," he said. "He
left this morning. He didn't even say goodbye - Laren
found out from Glin Neyesh at work this morning."

Laren bit her lip, vowing not to cry. "I didn't know he was so
serious," she stammered. "I went to the meetings too, but
pretty soon Onep was going all the time, working for Neyesh and the
others on the weekends..." she trailed off.

"Well, when's he coming back?" Nerys put her hands on her hips and
fixed her eyes squarely on her father's face. //Miko's
been gone for a year now; we still hear from him; I don't get what
they're so upset about.//

"We don't know," Taban said, simply.

"Well, Fa, one of these days I'm going to join the resistance, too,"
Nerys said. "Already Akrim says I'm big enough to
learn how to use a phaser."

Taban bit back a shout, instead grabbed Nerys to his chest. "I hope
to the Prophets that you don't join that damned
resistance," he said, hearing Regat's voice in his head,
softly...//They're Bajor's only hope, my love...//

"No, Nerys," Laren said, swiping a hand across her eyes. "Onep didn't
leave with the resistance. He left with the
Contra-Rebels. He left with a group of demonstrators to protest in
the Capital. He left...with the Cardassians."

//She's got to be wrong,// Nerys thought. //We're fighting *against*
the Cardassians, not *with* them!// "You mean he left
to fight the Cardassians, right?" She looked from Laren to her
father, struggling to understand.

Taban shook his head. "No, my love. He left to fight the resistance,"
he sighed. "But it's all the same to me - it doesn't
matter who kills you - " //Oh, Regat, where are you when I need
you?!// " - you're still just as dead."

//One brother in the resistance and one brother fighting the
resistance,// Nerys thought, the words seeming to contain more
significance than her eleven-year-old mind could really process. //I
guess I'm the tie-breaker...// "I've got to go," she
said. "I'll see you later, Fa. Bye, Laren," Nerys waved a hand and
was halfway out the door, ignoring her father's pleas to
come back, sit down, stay, stay, please, Nerys...

_Bajor, Outside Singha, 2354_

"What's this again?" Nerys said, holding up a complicated tangle of wires.

"D'lik. D...LIK..." Furel enunciated, so she'd learn the word. "It's
a kind of communications relay that runs underground,
or overhead on wires. Rather than using satellite transmissions -
which can be intercepted - here the messages are sent
directly through the wires, or across a kind of fiber-optic system.
The quality is generally hazy, but it does the job."

"D'lik. DLIK dlik dlik" she said, coiling it carefully and setting it
into the bottom of a road rack. "And this?" she held
up a black box with a metal spike extending nearly a third of a meter
from one end.

"Soil sanitizer," Furel said. "Stick it in the ground and it
virginizes the soil's EM signature, oh, for about a five, six
kilometer radius. Useful if someone's tracking us on foot - they
won't be able to get a lock."

"But not as useful as a RECLAT," Kira said, gesturing to the series
of black spikes stacked neatly in the corner of the
road box. "Those virginize the soil for hundreds of kilo's, right?"

"Damn, she's a quick study," Lorit Akrem said to Furel. "Maybe a
hundred, if you're lucky," he explained to Kira. "But
they're nearly foolproof."

"You'd think they'd really destroy the soil, though," Kira mused.
"For planting, and so forth. Really scorch the hell out
of it."

Shakaar looked up. "You farm?" It was the first time the cel's leader
had ever spoken to her directly, and Kira was a
little shaken.

"No, but my father loves to garden," she replied, thinking of Taban,
sitting outside, mourning for his lost sons. //Poor
Fa...//

"Well, we'll just have to be careful where we use our RECLAT, in that
case," Shakaar smiled. "It really does...scorch the
hell out of the soil. After the war is over, we're going to have
another century of rebuilding on our hands."

"Give it to me now!" Lorit said. "Farming over spoonheads, any day of
the week. Any day."

"Hear, hear!" said Lupaza, crawling over to where Kira and Furel were
sorting through inventory. "How are you, kid?" she
addressed Kira.

"Learning," Kira said. "What happens next?"

"We've got a rendezvous with the Tibel-Kari this evening," Shakaar
said. "Your brother's up there, right?" Kira nodded.
"Well, there's a raid on Doyanpar, outside the Capital tomorrow, and
the ranks up there are a little slim. Old Dakhur is in
okay shape; until the next raid, that is; so it might behoove us to
join forces with them, see if we can do some cleaning
up in Musulla," Shakaar concluded.

"I'd love to work with Miko," Kira said.

"You..." Shakaar addressed Nerys once again. "You, my dear, are doing
nothing of the kind. Ten years old is absolutely too
young to fight with the Shakaar. Talk to me again when you're...I
don't know...twelve?"

Kira looked at Shakaar, met his eyes. "You need me," she said simply.
And Shakaar looked away, shaking his head. But he
knew, had known since he met this young girl two years before; they did.

_Bajor, Singha Refugee Camp, 2354_

//I can't I can't I can't I can't I can't// Lorit's footsteps matched
the meter of the voice in his head as he paced the
crumbling sidewalk outside the barracks. He looked around for a
savior, but he was alone. He had to do it. //Damn it,
Prophets, I'd give anything if I didn't have to deliver this message;
if no one did...//

The Prophets were, as usual when Lorit implored them lately, silent.
He walked up the steps.

"Mr. Kira?" Lorit said, when Taban opened the door to the tiny apartment.

"Please. Call me Taban. Little Nerys has told me so much about you that I feel
we're old friends. Lorit Akrem, if I'm not
mistaken?" Taban
gestured for Lorit to follow him into the cozy chamber.

"You're not mistaken," Lorit said, his face expressionless.

Nerys came racing out of her bedroom with a book in her hand. "Lorit!
How did it go? Tell me everything. Did you see Miko?"

"Slow down. I don't know where to begin, and your enthusiasm is
making it all the harder," Lorit said, while Taban explored
his face with his eyes. "I have good news, bad news and worse news,
and that's just all there is to it. I've never been
good with words. So." He took a deep breath. "The good news is that
the Doyanpar raid was successful. That whole station is
out of commission indefinitely." Nerys smiled, touched her father's
arm. His face was stone. "The bad news is that we're
moving out; the Shakaar, that is. Intelligence reports a prisoner
transfer through here sometime this week, and I've
*never* heard evidence of a waypost city on a transport route
surviving unscathed. More likely than not we'll be halfway to
Gallitep ourselves if we stay here, so we've got to keep heading north."

"And the worse news?" Taban's voice shook a little.

For a long moment, Lorit Akrem just studied the floor. Then Nerys spoke.

"I know, Fa. I know. It's okay, Lorit. Thank you," Nerys said.

Lorit still stood, shuffling his feet and not daring to look into
their fallen faces.

"He's dead," Taban said flatly. "Miko's dead."

"I'm sorry," Lorit said, near to tears himself. "But I have to tell
you something more."

"What is it?" Taban shrieked. "What more could there *possibly* be to
tell?" Nerys was shaking, gripping the back of her
chair afraid she might tear it apart in fury.

"Uh..." Lorit began. "There was a demonstration, at the Capital. At
Doyanpar. Just a handful of Contra-Rebels;" he spat the
word, "they'd staked out the place. I mean, they might be
collaborators but they're still Bajoran; we tried to warn them
that we had the place surrounded but they wouldn't move...they just
sat there..." Lorit slammed the heel of his hand
against his forehead. "I got the list of casualties from our
intelligence link. Onep Kira was among the demonstrators
lost."

"Onep," Taban said, his face ashen. "I see. Dead. Both dead. All
dead. Everybody's dead."

"I'm sorry," Lorit said again.

"Why!" Nerys screamed. "Why would Onep interfere? When he knew that
Miko..." she took a breath. "We're trying to fight the
Cardassians here; my brothers aren't supposed to *kill* each other!"

Taban stared past Lorit unblinking at a spot on the wall.

"I'm sorry Nerys, Taban. I am truly, deeply sorry."

"I know," Nerys said, willing herself not to scream out again. She
nodded goodbye to him, and kissed her father gently
before heading into the bedroom to light the Duranya for her brothers.

_Bajor, Singha Refugee Camp, 2355_

//They can take my wife, they can take my children, but they won't
take my garden,// Taban muttered. The fourth
Gallitep-transfer caravan in as many months had traversed the city
today, and so far no one had taken any notice of a tired
old man puttering around in his garden.

They had told him to leave; they had insisted, but Taban refused.
Only a handful of Bajorans - sympathizers and lackeys,
mostly - still remained in Singha; the rest, including Taban's only
living child, had moved north to Shonii and the
outlying plains.

//She's gone. I might as well face it. Any day now some sad looking
soldier's gonna come knocking at my door to tell me
that my Nerys was blown to bits. Nerys. My only child. My favorite,
always my favorite. Onep was the first, the smartest,
the most independent. Miko was a brilliant soldier, ingenious,
innovative and devilish. But you, Nerys, light of my life,
gift of the Prophets...you were all these things. And you were her,
my Regat, my true love. The same wide, elfin smile, the
same fire in your eyes, the same short temper and long memory. Oh,
Nerys, to lose you would be to lose her again. I can't
do it. I can't do it again, Nerys...my Nerys...my Regat...//

That was the day Taban cracked.

He threw his head back and laughed, and laughed and begged to the
Prophets for death to come swiftly, and to make sure his
music-makers were protected. //They are my children, now, singing,
dying in the wind...//

But death didn't come, and his flowers blossomed as brilliantly as
any year. And, a few kilometers north, Kira Nerys was
initiated into the Shakaar resistance cel.

_Bajor, Shonii Camp, Shakaar Cel, 2357_

"Higa Mentar cel moving west-south-west, returning on all
frequencies, transmitting onÉ"

"Yeah, like you ever stayed *conscious* in hand-to-hand combat, much
less knocked out a Gul!" Orlat stood, towering over
Matu who was prying open the end of a discharged phaser power-cell
with his teeth.

"Sh!" Kira Nerys commanded, then flushed. "Sorry," she said to Orlat,
fifteen years her senior and more than twice her
size. She smacked the side of the comm unit with the heel of her hand
to try and get back the fading transmission.

"ÉLenaris Holm debriefing regarding [garbled sounds] at 0800 [garbled
sounds]. All personell to await [garbled sounds]."
The unit whispered mostly static, and Kira smacked it again.

"Do you doubt me?" Matu stood, wresting the power-cell from his teeth
and spitting the metal plug on the floor. "Do you
want some moreÉpalpableÉproof?" Orlat let out a snarl, and raised an
arm to strike Matu when --

"Please! Shut up!" Kira said, no longer caring if she was out of
line. There hadn't been this much comm traffic in weeks,
and now, massive troop movements were being reported, cel leaders
being called to the capital for clandestine meetings. She
pressed an ear to the comm unit.

"Transmitting on seven-seven-three-one; all further messages on
secured channel six-oh-three- oneÉ"

Kira tweaked a dial, realigned the unit for 6031,

"Éphalanx forming outside Gallitep. Higa Mentar and Shakaar liasons;
authentication required for further assignment.
Contact General Ari at Alpha-RedEightSeven-Kava. To all personnel and
civilian proctor groups in the southern quadrant,
stand by for information regarding troop movement throughÉ"

Shakaar reached past Kira, his arm brushing her shoulder as he shut
the transmission off.

"Why all the secrecy?" Lupaza gave Shakaar a sideways look. "A
secured channel only to tell us to open transmission with a
General on an Alpha-Kava line?"

"Alpha-Kava line?" Kira repeated stupidly.

Shakaar looked to both of them, sighed, raked his fingers through his
hair. He was 27 years old, one of the youngest cel
leaders in the militia, but today he could have passed for fifty. He
closed his eyes for longer than a blink before
speaking.

"Alpha-Kava lines are twice-encrypted, only used for high- to
extremely-high-priority orders, never the same channel twice.
Red Eight Seven, huh?" Shakaar mused. "Sounds like Yabata province,
but it could be a decoy channelÉanyway. As for why all
this secrecy?" He looked to his communications officer, Gant, Kira's
direct superior. "Get me that line open, authorization
Shakaar five five white. We'll find out."

Gant logged on to the main computer, used his auth code and Shakaar's
to open the secure line. Kira, Lupaza and the others
fell back, tactfully out of earshot and conspicuously silent.

"Have you ever used anÉAlpha-Kava line?" Kira asked Furel, who had
slipped in beside Lupaza, his hand on her shoulder.
Lupaza blinked up at him.

"Just once," he said. And paused. "When they gave us the orders to
assassinate Legate Limar."

"*You* assassinated Limar?" Kira went ashen, remembering the riots
that took place after Limar's death, and the looting,
and the fires - the Cardassians had doubled their presence in Dakhur
after that. A mixed blessing, considering the effect
of martial law on the civilian population of Old Dakhur, but Limar
was one of the top Cardassian officers on the continent,
and one of the most feared. She looked at Furel with new respect.

Matu started speaking, but Furel hushed him, looking at Lupaza. "Yes,
we did," he said simply, and Kira knew the
conversation was over.

And Shakaar approached them, the fifteen members of his squad waiting
to hear their orders, afraid to hear their orders. He
looked at them and smiled.

"Gallitep," he said, his voice cracking with an excitement Kira
hadn't seen since she joined the resistance.
"Prophet-damned Gallitep Labor CampÉwe're taking it back!"

Shouts of "we're taking it back!" and "good-bye Gallitep!" pounded
through the room, bouncing off barrels and ceilings and
floors. Furel swept Nerys into his fleshy embrace, kissed her
forehead. "It's about time, girl," he said. "It is *about*
time!" Watching his troops psych up like this, Shakaar slipped away
from the throng for a better view. And he couldn't
shake his smile.

_Bajor, Gallitep, 2357_

Shakaar picked desperately at the barracks lock with the Ferengi
ear-pricker their last supply run had provided. Behind
them, the familiar clicking sound of Cardassian patrol-copters shook the sky.

"Anach'vo!" Shakaar swore. "Kolla, Zabeth, you can't afford to wait
any longer; see what you can do up north. They're
evacuating us at 2500, come hell or ta'omer, so we'd better have some
wetbacks to show for it. Gant, what do you hear?"
Shakaar strained to hear his communication chief's report over the
sound of Kolla and Zabeth's troops kicking up dust as
they raced northward.

Gant clapped his hands over his earphones as the din of the copters
encroached. "Oh, no," he said. "Uh uh. No way. Damn."

"Talk to me," Shakaar said, never taking his eyes off the barracks door.

"It's Darhe'el," Gant said. "He's setting off a domino-system of
mines all across the western quadrant."

"He's afraid we'llÉ" Lupaza began.

"Damn right he's afraid; he'd rather destroy the entire camp, guards
and all, then see us liberate these prisoners."
Shakaar punctuated his comment by pounding his fist on the metal
door, and a weak knocking came in response. Kira shuddered
at the sound. She leaned close to the building, heard the faint
screaming, crying, moans of desperation through the thick
metal walls. She pulled back as if she'd been burned. Half a
kilometer away, the copters landed.

The ear-pricker registered the correct frequency, beeped in
affirmation, and everything happened at once. Tens of tens of
prisoners poured out into daylight, blinking, crying, naked, grasping
for Shakaar as if he were a god. The first wave of
Cardassians approached on foot, firing at everything that moved.

Kira unslung her phaser, threw herself against the barracks wall and
returned fire. The prisoners scattered, screaming,
despite Shakaar's orders to shut up, get down, get out of the way.

More thermals erupted, one after another, as Darhe'el's troops
approached from the west. The air was thick with screams of
agony.

Gant dove toward Lupaza, throwing her clear of a blast that tore his
leg instead. He grimaced. "I'm fine!"

Kira fired blindly, screaming, eyes closed, Furel at her side. She
didn't open her eyes for a long moment after the last
Cardassian fell.

When she did open her eyes she could see the blazes of Darhe'el's
explosions pockmarking the horizon. Bodies littered the
ground, Bajoran and Cardassian alike. Kira waved an arm in front of
her face, trying to make sense of the battle raging
around her, through smoke as thick as wool.

Furel and Lupaza were already collecting the prisoners, ushering them
down the slope to the evac site. Shakaar looked to
Kira and Gant.

"We've lost the west, and it looks like Darhe'el's moving north
through the mining camp. Suggestions?" Shakaar said.

Kira thought quickly and spoke. "Take out the main concourse," she said.

Shakaar squinted up. "Why?"

"Look," she pointed. "See how those thermals are erupting in
sequence?" One went off, as if to illustrate. "They must be
wired along those main concourse splints, so each one will set the
next off. Take out the splints before the mines
detonateÉ"

"And they won't domino anymore! But, can we do it?" Shakaar stared at Kira.

"If you'll let me try toÉ" she began. "My brother was an expert at
defusing explosives. He taught me a lot of his methods.
All we need to do isÉ"

"Don't have time to tell me. You've got to do it," Shakaar said.
"Gant, you're with me. Let's get to the rest of these
barracks while we still can, try and link up with Mobara's squad toÉ"
he glanced at Kira, who stood dumbly, her mouth
agape, her bony frame shaking. "Kira," he said hurriedly, then
paused. "Nerys. If you don't think you can do this, please
tell me now and we'll find another way."

//My one chance to prove myself. And a chance to prove to you, Miko,
that you didn't die in vain. I'll finish what you
started. I promise.//

Instead of answering Shakaar, she took a deep breath, nodded, and
took off, pounding the ground toward the concourse.
Shakaar watched with awe.

That night, drinking to their victory aboard a transport cruiser,
Kira was promoted to Specialist. She was fourteen years
old.

Shakaar approached her and squeezed her arm in congratulations. From
now on, the war would have a distinctly different
bias.

Gallitep had fallen.

Here's the Gallitep scene written differently, as extracted from
another story I wrote. Which is better? Should I
combine them? Which bits from which should IÊuse?

The siren blared as half of Shakaar group stormed down the hill,
nearly blinded by smoke. They reached the
clearing, panting, and raced between markers that, until moments
ago, had projected a force field strong enough
to vaporize anything that so much as approached. Kira glanced
over her shoulder, noting green flares erupting
like pox across the valley. They had disabled the Cardassians'
communications systems, which gave Shakaar's cel a
distinct advantage, but at the rate these warning beacons were
flaring, perhaps not enough of one. The
Cardassians would be upon them too soon. Without even noting the
reflex, Kira spat at the thought, and peeled a
strip of hair back from across her forehead. They reached the camp.

Lupiza swung her phaser too late; the Cardassian guard's blast
tore her shoulder and she stifled a scream. She
raised her arm to strike, but the guard reeled back stiffly and
collapsed, blood spurting from his neck. The
Bajoran soldier behind him grinned at Lupiza, lowered his rifle
and ran off. Kira struck the second guard
squarely in the chest with her next shot, and leaped over his
body to join Shakaar, who was desperately picking
at the barracks lock. A scream made her turn in time to see
Furel collapse in a heap against the wall. She looked
away.

"Kid," he called, sounding exaggeratedly hoarse. Kira knelt
beside him. "Something's wrong with my knee," Furel
said. "That shot ripped right through the ligament. See if you
can find something to bind it with."

Kira felt for the joint, tore away the bloody fabric from the
older man's trousers. The shot had barely broken
the skin; already the blood was caking, but Kira knew what Furel
was trying to do. Behind her, she could hear the
muffled pleas of the prisoners as Shakaar clamored at the door.

"I've been in my share of battles," she told Furel. "I've seen
dead bodies worse than this. You don't have to
distract me with this drama," she gestured to his knee, gently
wiping the nearly-healed wound with her
shirtsleeve.

"Psh!" Furel spat. "Dead. Dead is one thing. These people would
be better off dead, many of them. They've spent
there entire lives here, with only the vaguest of understandings
that life exists beyond the horror of these
camps. They're ghosts."

"I'll take care of them," young Kira said bravely, squeezing
Furel's shoulder. He shrugged her hand away.

"No you won't," he said. "You'd better not. In here, we do our
job and we get the hell out of here. Brick up your
heart, kid; if you open it to these prisoners, if you look into
their eyes and try to see even an glimpse of what
they've experienced, you're broken forever." His voice wavered,
looking at Kira. "Damn," he said, to no one in
particular. "She's too damned young for this." Ro Zayim was
approaching, and Kira and Furel rose to meet him.
"We're all they've got," Kira whispered, but Furel didn't hear her.

"This entire quadrant is cordoned off!" Ro reached the site,
breathless, shouting. "Darhe'el must have suspected
his reinforcements wouldn't make it in time - he's destroying
the camp, and everyone in it! The only way out is
the western launching pad - I've sent all the troops down that
way. We've got to close the gates." Even as he
spoke, Kira could hear the sound of mines erupting, on by one,
across the ruined camp. She watched incredulously
as bits of shrapnel fluttered across the sky, innocent in
appearance as a flock of birds. The unmistakable scent
of burned flesh hit her like a blow and she waved her hand
across her face to try and make sense of the battle
raging around her through smoke as thick as wool.

"It's over," Shakaar said. "Kira, take the northern route, along
the inside of that group of buildings. Lead
everyone to the launch site, then try and knock out as much of
the main concourse as you can. If you take out the
bridge splints, Darhe'el will have to go around the ore pits and
it will buy us some time. We've got..." he
consulted his PADD, "eighteen minutes before Darhe'el gets here
to flatten this quadrant as well. Zam, Kopra,
follow her, break south and meet up with the other factions. And
be careful - the field is riddled with mines.
Eighteen minutes. Go!"

Bodies littered the field, legs and arms torn mercilessly from
their owners, Bajoran and Cardassian alike. Kira
steeled herself, and, with a last glance at Furel, leapt into a
sprint, Zam and Kopra at her heels. She didn't
look back when she heard the barracks door unlock.

Kira, Zam and Kopra raced across the field, ducking behind the
nearest tower as a barrage of shots rang out
behind them. Near the next barrack, fifty or sixty prisoners
huddled together, as mines erupted on all sides.
Kira tripped nimbly across the field, narrowly escaping a series
of shots from behind as the guards, led by
Limar, closed in. "Come with me!" she shouted to the Bajorans,
and they dove behind the longhouse as the tower
exploded into bits behind them. Kira fumbled with her detonator,
programming the coordinates for the bridge that
suspended the main road over the ore mines that bisected the
camp. She plunged the detonator into the dirt and
engaged power, the ground around it glowing orange as the device
sent electronic impulses to the concourse
splints. Kira heard the splints explode, one by one, staccato.

Kopra was peering through an optic scanner. "Ro must not have
reached the northern barrack!" he gulped. "There
are dozens of prisoners up there! Darhe'el will be on them any second."

"You lead these people to the launch," Kira said. "I'll take
care of the prisoners up north. Wait for us as long
as you can."

"You'll never make it," Zam said. "They're kellipates away!"

"I'll make it," Kira said with a grin, suddenly looking very
old. Zam shook his head, but she had already started
up the hill. "Wait for us!" she called, and disappeared over the
ridge as Kopra and Zam left for the launch site,
waving the prisoners along.

That night, drinking to their victory aboard a transport
cruiser, Kira noticed a phaser burn across her right
wrist that she didn't remember receiving. Puzzled, she nursed it
in silence, sitting beside Shakaar. They had
succeeded, and from now on, the war would have a distinctly
different bias. Gallitep had fallen.

[End extracted chunk. Back to TMM.]

_Bajor, Dakhur Province, Lenaris Cel Campsite, 2363_

"Good party, huh?" a tiny, dark-haired woman poked Lupaza.

"Yeah, Colonel Lenaris is pretty remarkable," Lupaza agreed.

"Yeah, yeahÉ" the woman seemed sidetracked. "But who is *she*?"

Lupaza laughed. "*My* name is Lupaza Anisu. And you are?"

"Deserrat. Naoma Deserrat," the woman smirked sheepishly, her eyes
glinting as midnight-black as her short hair. She handed
Lupaza a bottle of ale.

"Thanks," Lupaza said. "Now, I believe you were inquiring after that
auburn-haired beauty monopolizing my boyfriend?" She
gestured over to where Furel was standing, beneath a drooping jumja
tree. Deserrat nodded impatiently.

"You're drunk," Lupaza grinned, taking a long, lazy swig of the
bitter ale. She winked at Deserrat. "Her name's Nerys.
Captain Kira Nerys."

"Kira, huh? Familiar name. She's Shakaar?" Deserrat asked.

"Yeah," the older woman replied. "You?"

"Higa cel, PFC," Deserrat answered absently. "So?"

"SoÉwhat?" Lupaza sucked her teeth noisily.

"SoÉis she single?"

At this, Lupaza just threw her head back and laughed. Nonplussed,
Deserrat rose to approach the captain.

"Hey! Furel!" Lupaza called, as Deserrat neared the tree. "Get over here!"

Nodding farewell to Kira, Furel obeyed, leaving the two women alone.
Kira turned to walk away, but the raven-haired woman
touched her arm. "Ale?" Deserrat asked, holding out a bottle. Kira smiled.

She took the bottle, blew at the foam that had collected at its
mouth. It spattered into a thousand tiny bubbles which
floated a moment, then burst, one by one. "Kira Nerys," Kira said,
holding out a hand to Deserrat, who took it, shook it
firmly.

"I know," she said. "I've been asking about you. Heard you
single-handedly liberated Gallitep, damned precocious kid that
you were. You were what? Ten?"

Kira cocked her head to one side. "And you are?

"Naoma Deserrat, Higa Cel, PFC," Des announced proudly.

//A private. A damned private come to tell me why I don't deserve to
be a captain, why I'm nothing more than a minor
operative who got lucky at Gallitep. Great.// "Actually, I was
fourteen. And all I did was my job. Shakaar's the real hero
of Gallitep," Kira waved a hand toward where Shakaar was standing.

"Oh, modest, too," Des drawled. "You get a lot of action with that line?"

"Line?!" Kira glared at the girl. "Action? What sort of action are
you looking for, *Private*?" She rolled up her sleeves
and planted her feet squarely. //By the Prophets, I *will* belt her
one if she doesn't get out of my sight in the next
thirty seconds.//

"Hey hey hey," Des said, taking Kira's hand and squeezing it. "Calm
down, Nerys."

//Nerys!//

"...You're pretty hot-tempered, huh?" Des smirked.

//I'll give her 'till the count of three...// Kira growled. "Do you
want something?"

Deserrat's face fell. "I'm sorry," she muttered, looking at the
ground. "I can be a real brat sometimes. I didn't mean to
be rude."

"Hmpf," Kira said. "Well, if you leave me alone we'll pretend it
never happened. How's that?"

Deserrat shook her head and started to walk away. She had gotten no
more than a few paces when she turned and leaped to
Kira's side again.

"Have you ever done a Croylus Loop?" she asked.

"Is that a pick-up line?" Kira sighed.

Des grinned. "Yup," she said. "Have you?"

//She's cute,// Kira thought. //Even tinier than I am, if such a
thing is possible. Hell, I'm drunk.// She took a swig of
her beer. "No, I haven't," she said. "What is it?"

"Okay," Des began pushing up her sleeves to illustrate with her
hands. //Nice hands,// Kira thought. "You lauch a shuttle
full impulse, cut back on the mixture while you're still inside the
atmosphere, and pull a Ren-Luey at 3 g's."

"Ren-Luey?" Kira asked.

"He came up with the trick; you flip the shuttle over, send the
engines into clip and *ride* your own plasma wave on the
*inside* of the atmosphere."

"Upside down?" Kira looked skeptical.

"Upside down, right-side-up, doesn't matter at 3 g's."

"So this is a tactical maneuver?" Kira asked. "Can you fire on land
sites from up there?"

Des looked wounded. "No it's not a *tactical* maneuver!" she said.
"It's a stunt! It's *fun*! You burn these big stripes
into the inside of the atmosphere; they can be seen from the surface
like blue contrails, ripping out behind the ship."

//Stunt. No practical purpose,// Kira chewed on the idea. "Huh," she said.

"Aw, forget it!" Des said, throwing her hands in the air. //*Really*
nice hands,// Kira thought again. "You soldier-types
are all alike. I didn't expect you to understand."

"Soldier types!" Kira's eyes grew wide and she grinned. "That
includes yourself, Ms. I-fly-for-fun Deserrat!"

Des sighed. "Not by choice, believe me. I was recruited as a pilot -
tricked into it was more like it - though I guess
serving the resistance is better than the other options."

"And I hear Higa Mentar is quite a Commanding Officer," Kira added.

"Oh, she's adorable. Ferocious, brilliant, but a real sweetheart. She
calls us her 'kids', guess 'cause she never had any
of her own. Works for me - I never had parents!" Des swung her head
from side to side.

Kira squinted at her. //Okay. She's *terribly* cute. And not so
bratty now that she's not trying to impress me. And, okay.
*Terribly*, terribly cute.// "Want to sit down?" she asked, brushing
some leaves away at the base of the tree.

"Thought you'd never ask," Des smiled.

*

The party had broken up hours ago, soldiers gone back to camp with
their various cels to sleep off the debauchery before
the raids tomorrow. Under the jumja tree Deserrat lay, her head in
Nerys' lap. Nerys twirled a finger idly through the
other woman's hair.

"I heard some of Zayin Miko's work on digidisc once, but they say
he's best in concert," Deserrat said, then paused. "What
is it?" Her voice was rapidfire, vibratto, flitting through the air
as she stared up at Kira's shadowed face.

"My brother's name was Miko," Kira said softly. "And, no. I'm
embarrassingly illiterate when it comes to music."

"Well, one day, you and I will have to go see Zayin play. Hold me to
that," Deserrat said. "AndÉI'm sorry. How did your
brother die?"

"He was in the Tibel-Kari when they raided Doyanpar. Less than half
the cel survived the attack. But they really bruised
the Cardies - the Doyanpar landing pad was a major drop-off point for
supply ships."//Would have done more if Onep and his
damned Contra-Rebels hadn't interfered. Stop that,// she commanded
herself. //Don't think about Onep. You've pushed that
incident out of your mind for nine years, girl; don't start feeling
his guilt now.//

"A worthwhile life and a combat death," Deserrat mused. "That's about
all we can ask for. There are two things I want to do
before I die. I want to win the ultralight stunt competition at
Railos Prime" - Kira shook her head - " andÉI want to fall
in love."

Kira laughed nervously.

"Smile," Deserrat said. Kira attempted a smile, Deserrat tickled her,
and she broke into a wide grin. "I love that."

"What?" Kira squinted at her.

"How wide your mouth gets. It was one of the first things I noticed
about you," Deserrat winked up. "You smle, and it's
likeÉyour whole face gets involved. Your eyes light up, and your nose
sorta crinkles, and the corners of your mouth reach
all the way up toÉ" Deserrat traced a finger gently across Kira's
lips, "those incredible cheekbones of yours."

Kira let the tip of her tongue explore Deserrat's finger, kissed it
gently, closed her eyes.

"Tell me aboutÉ" she began, "the first time you made love."

"WellÉ" Deserrat began, snuggling up beside Nerys and resting her
head on her shoulder. "I was at this party, see,
celebrating the Lenaris cel's victory at Polek Five..."

Kira laughed aloud. "Presumptuous!"

"Éand I saw this adorable little redhead standing under a tree, her
eyes sparkling in the moonlight. And I said, ÔDes, you
only live once and not long at that! Talk to her.' "

"SoÉ" Nerys picked up "you sauntered over, and you allowed that poor
girl to get to know you, and you sat up all night
talking, and laughing, and pressing that body of yours up against her
until it was all she could do not to tear your
clothes off. And thenÉ" Kira's voice was trembling; she trailed off.

"And then," Deserrat's eyes glinted mischevously. "And then she did."

Nerys took Deserrat's face in her hands, closed her eyes and kissed
her, her shaking hands groping, wanting to be
everywhere at once.

The sun rose to find them naked and entwined, Kira's jacket
protecting them from the damp summer ground. Deserrat awoke
first. She poked Nerys a couple of times to no avail, finally biting
her breast, gently enough. Kira's eyes opened.

"Did I really just meet you last night?" were the first words out of
her mouth. Deserrat kissed her.

"Yup," Deserrat said. "That's not all we did last nightÉ"

Kira grinned, then leaped to her feet. "Ay! My troops - what time is it?"

Deserrat squinted at the sun. "Oh-six-twentyÉsix-thirty, maybe?"

"Good," Kira said. "I've got to get dressed. I've got a pep talk to
give and a strike team to lead. And you - your sergeant
will be looking for you - you ought to get back to camp."

"Pulling rank now, Captain?" Deserrat smirked.

"No, but if one of my troops showed up late on the morning of a raid,
I'd be concerned."

"Even if she was out all night with a beautiful young captain from
the famous Gallitep-liberating Shakaar?"

"Even if," Kira said, pulling Deserrat into a kiss. "Now go. I'll see
you at the rendezvous, if not before."

Deserrat pulled on her uniform, struggled her feet into her boots,
tousled Kira's hair and skipped away into the
orange-yellow of sunrise.

Kira allowed herself a few minutes for the warmth of the previous
night to flood her body before brushing herself off,
dressing, and setting forth to rally the troops.

_Bajor, Outside Singha, 2363_

"Nice to be back at the old haunt?" Gant ribbed Kira, strapping on his boots.

"Oh, yeah, nothing like the ol' work camp to bring back memories of
home," Kira grinned, smearing sunblock across her
cheekbones and nose.

"Gonna stop by and see your father?"

//I can't deal with him right now. I can't listen to him moan
anymore. Ever since Miko and Onep died he's been brooding,//
Kira looked away from Gant. "Yeah, maybe, if I have the time," she
dismissed him.

"Never time for dear old dad," Gant shook his head, ducked inside the
cave the Shakaar had made their start in, years back.
"Well, good luck. I'm in contact with General Ari if you need
reinforcements," he called.

"Hardly," Kira called back. "This is what they call
quick-and-painless. We'll be out in seconds."

"I sure hope so," Gant replied.

Kira triangulated her scanner and programmed the main computer's
frequency into its small memory bank. Tucking it into her
belt, she set off to organize her team.

"Matu," she greeted her troops, "how's the communications relay?"

"It's in place, Captain," he nodded, "I've got two guys running d'lik
from Singha's generator; we should have data for
download in a couple minutes. What luck, huh, to have both the
security grid and the communications scrambler down in the
same day."

"No luck about it," Kira grinned. "Trentin Fala risked her life to
bring us this information. This is a once-in-a-blue-moon
opportunity to sting Singha."

"Well, it looks like smooth sailing," Matu nodded. "Once we get
inside the overseer's office, we'll be able to shut down
security for half the camp."

"That's what I'm counting on," Kira said. "Herrin, Keli, this should
be a breeze. In and out of Gul Nayesh's office while
we've got him distracted down here, and you should be able to engage
a security overload before the system catches you.
Okay?"

Herrin gave her a high sign, strapped her phaser to her belt. "Let's
do it," she said, and Keli followed her through
Singha's walls.

"Got it," Matu raised his scanner victoriously. "Here are the
coordinates, and I've intercepted an alert beacon; they're
acknowledging the booby-trap signals. Yup, they're moving out now."

"All right then," Kira said. "Jeke, wait here for me - I'm gonna reload the..."

"Kira!" Matu looked alarmed. "They're not leaving the grounds like we
thought. They're dragging Bajorans from the barracks;
they must suspect an informant! And...wait! There's more troops
coming in, damn it, strike teams! That's why the security
net was down today; they were baiting us - bringing in reinforcements!"

"Fala!" Kira gasped, and then, as an afterthought, "Fa!"

"Indications of conflagration are showing up all over; they must be
ransacking the place," Matu furrowed his brow,
examining the lifesign readings on his scanner. "I'm getting
casualties across the board."

"Jeke!" Kira ordered. "I'll be right back." //We're going through
with this, and we're doing it now,// she thought. //I'm
going to make them pay for what they did to my home.//

Turning on her heel, Kira sped back inside the cave and pushed her
way to the weapons locker. She had loaded up her arms
with phaser rifles and was headed for the door when Gant shouted her down.

"What is it?" she asked gruffly.

"We're transporting the wounded up here as quickly as we can," he
sputtered, out of breath. "Quick and painless, huh?"

"Nerys!" she heard Furel's voice from the other side of the dugout,
and when she turned to look she froze, dropping her
armload of rifles with a clatter.

Taban lay on a stretcher, severe burns across his arms and chest,
from what appeared to be crossed-phaser fires. He was
shaking. She rushed to his side.

"Fa?" she whispered.

"Nerys," he smiled. "Here to see me off?"

//Oh, no,// she thought, //not you too. Not Onep and Miko and now
you?// "Medic!" she shrieked, her voice cracking. She
stood, furious, terrified. No medic came.

"Nerys!" Taban gasped. "Don't leave me. I was...such a fool...the
Cardassians who were setting fire to the barracks; I
tried to *reason* with them..." he managed a small laugh. "Look what
they've done to me!"

Kira clenched her fists, locking eyes with her father. "I'm gonna
make them pay for this," she spat. "I promise."

"They burned my garden," he moaned, his eyes rolling back in his head
and his chest heaving. "They set fire to everything.
I worked for years, planting, and caring for it...my music-makers,
gone, it's gone..."

Nerys knelt beside him, biting back tears. "We'll plant another one
together, you and I," she promised.

Taban shook his head. "You're so like your mother. I wish I had your
strength, your confidence...but I'm so *afraid*..."

//I can't listen to this anymore,// Nerys shook her head, standing
again. "Where's that damned medic!"

Taban tugged her arm, weakly. "Don't go," he whispered. "The medic
can wait. Stay with me Nerys; I don't want to be alone."

//No. I can't see this. I can't watch this.// Closing her eyes, she
sat beside him, clutching his frail hand in hers. "I'm
right here, Fa," she sighed.

"I can hear the Prophets calling me now, Nerys," Taban croaked, his
eyelids fluttering. "My pagh is slipping..."

//No, Fa! No. This is not happening.//

Furel burst in, shouting her name. "Nerys! We found 'em. Cardassian
heavy weapons unit, third assault group, ninth order.
They've been plotting this for months. It was a trap."

"How far to their base?" Kira asked him, gently wresting her hand
free from her father's claw-grip.

Furel cast her a puzzled look, then glanced at her father on the
stretcher. "Just outside of Tempasa," he said.

"I'll go with you," Kira said. //I want to watch them die, not you,
Fa. Not you. Not like this.//

Furel looked at Taban again. "Are you sure?"

"I know the area," she said. //Please, Furel, please don't make this
any harder for me than it already is.//

"So does Gant," Furel argued.

The rage that was boiling inside Kira erupted, and she hit the roof.
"They didn't shoot Gant's father!" she hollered. "They
shot mine."

Furel nodded and left the room, waving for Kira to follow.

She knelt beside Taban one last time. "We found the soldiers who did
this to you," she smiled. "I'm gonna make them pay,
just like IÊpromised."

Taban frowned at her. "The others; let them do it. You don't have to go..."

Kira shook her head. "Yes I do. Yes I do. I won't be long," she
kissed him on the head, nearly retching at the taste of
seared flesh on her lips. Then, rising, she shouted out for Jeke to
follow, and they raced to catch up with Furel.

_Bajor, Shonii Camp, 2363_

"Nerys, girl, get up. Get up," Lupaza shook her, and Kira rolled
over, buried her face against the wall.

"Anisu, go away," Kira growled.

"Kira Nerys!" Lupaza said, louder this time. "This is unacceptable,
and tiresome. You've been excused from active duty for
a month now. We need you today."

"What's today?" Kira rubbed her eyes.

Lupaza sighed. "General Ari's cel is retaking the capital day after
tomorrow, remember? We're running perimeter defense
with Higa cel, and ranks are *too* slim. You're not expendable,
Nerys. We have a lot of preparation to do."

"I'll probably just get you all killed," Kira glared at Lupaza, shook
her head and flopped back onto her bedroll.

Lupaza grabbed Kira by the shoulders, flinging her blanket off and
looking the younger woman squarely in the eyes. "We put
up with your cold feet when you were Shakaar's precocious
fourteen-year-old soldier, but it doesn't work anymore, Kira.
Your life is not your own, and we can't keep making exceptions for
you. Shakaar was going to come and tell you this
himself, but I told him to let me do it to *spare* you his wrath. And
I promised him I'd have you up, and dressed, and
ready to go."

"When does Higa cel get here?" Kira stalled for time. "Don't tell Des
I'm here. I can't see her."

Lupaza looked away. "They're already here, Nerys," she said. "They've
been here since last night."

//Des didn't come see me?// Kira tried not to let the thought sting.
//It's one thing if I can't see her, but I'm the one
who lost the last member of her family; she's supposed to come take
care of me!// "Oh," was all she said.

"Nerys, you've been avoiding her for a month. You may not have moved
on with your life, but she has. And, frankly, I don't
blame her," Lupaza said, not daring to meet Kira's eyes.

"My father died!" Tears welled up in Kira's eyes for the
thousand-and-first time that month. "My mother died because the
Cardassians *let* her; when Miko tried to fight the spoonheads Onep
got in his way, and *boom*, both my brothers, dead. But
my father never hurt anyone in his life, he was just an old man who
loved his garden," she leaped out of bed, started
pacing, ranting, waving her fists, her face red, "and they come to
kill him for no reason, and I'm right there, and I'm
supposed to stop it, I'm supposed to be *protecting* him, but instead
this twice-damned resistance is just some big joke so
we don't have to admit we're all Cardassian slaves, they're just
toying with us, making us think we're significant! Nothing
matters anymore! Anisu! Tell Shakaar I quit. I quit the resistance. I
quit it all. I quit," she collapsed, panting, buried
her head in her arms. "I quit," she said again.

Lupaza sat beside her, put her arm around Nerys' shoulder. "Are you
done?" she said quietly. Kira nodded. "Good," Lupaza
said, standing again. "Because you made quite a scene, and that's not
valuable for morale on the day before an imporant
raid. So I'm going to go out there and tell everyone that's
pretending not to be eavesdropping that you needed to get that
out of your system, and you're fine. And you will get dressed and
meet the rest of us on the training field in five
minutes."

Kira looked at Lupaza through tear-reddened eyes, astonished. //She's
complaining that I'm making a *scene*?// Kira tried
to catch her breath. //She's supposed to tell me it's going to be
okay, she's supposed to...// Lupaza was getting up to
leave. "Anisu!" Kira pleaded.

"Five minutes," Lupaza said, not looking back as she left the dugout.

When Kira still hadn't shown up half an hour later, Lupaza considered
going back and trying again, but thought the better
of it. "Naoma," she called to Deserrat, who was sitting in an
enormous pile of purged phaser power cells, squinting at them
blankly, picking up one and another, looking at it, and dropping it.
She waved Lupaza over.

"Hi, Lupaza," Naoma smiled. "Do you know how to tell which of these
are recyclable?"

Lupaza nodded, sitting down. "Shake 'em," she said, demonstrating.
"Hear that ball bearing rattling around? That means this
one's spent; we'll send it back to headquarters for refit. But if you
don't hear the rattle it's okay to recharge; we can
get a couple more uses out of it." She started sorting through the
pile, separating them into groups. Naoma followed suit,
and the pile shrank in silence. Finally Lupaza spoke.

"You're not going to see her," she said. Naoma looked away.

"I don't think so," Naoma tried to sound casual, but her voice cracked.

"I think it would really help her to talk to you," Lupaza said.

"Maybe," Naoma said, "but I tried weeks ago, and I'm sick of it. I
can't do it anymore."

Lupaza blew air through pursed lips. "We're all sick of it. But she
needs you, Des."

There was a long silence. "I can't," Naoma said again.

"Okay," Lupaza said. "I understand."

There was another long silence, only broken periodically by the clunk
of a flying power cell landing on the appropriate
pile on either side of the women. Finally Naoma flung the power cell
she was holding and stood, walked away. Lupaza
followed.

"What is it, Deserrat?" Lupaza asked gently.

"It's not your problem," Naoma stammered. "You hardly know me."

"I know you well enough to know that we both love Nerys," Lupaza
said. "Talk to me."

"Okay," Naoma began, taking a deep breath. "Here's the thing. When I
first met Nerys, I thought, 'this girl is unbreakable.
This girl can do anything.' And I felt so safe with her, I felt like,
no matter what happened, she'd take care of me, she'd
stay strong. And I felt like..." Tears welled in Naoma's eyes and she
swallowed hard, took another breath. "I wanted to
believe that the resistance was made up of people like her, that we
really had a chance against the spoonheads. But to see
her like this..." Lupaza folded the girl into her arms, and Des
sobbed on her shoulder.

"It's okay, Des," Lupaza whispered. "It's okay. I know what it's like
to fall in love with someone, to want to believe that
they're invincible, perfect. But nobody is."

"But to see her like this," Des said again, gulping as she clutched
Lupaza's shoulder, "I can't do it. I'm afraid I'll lose
what little nerve I have. My parents died when I was too young to
remember; I grew up at the shipyards, working my way as a
test pilot and practicing stunt flying. Everything is okay when I'm
up in a shuttle, when I'm away from all this. But now,
I'm too close to it all. It's too real to me, the war, the
Cardassians, all this death. And if Kira Nerys can't handle it,
how am *I* supposed to?"

Lupaza stepped back, smiled at Des. "You are, girl. You're handling
it right now, better than Nerys, I might add. You've
got the strength for it, even if you don't know it. She could use
some of that strength right now."

Des wiped her eyes. "Maybe," she said, not sounding convinced.

"No maybe about it," Lupaza said. "But we have one more day to
prepare for what could be the biggest battle either of these
cels has ever been in. And we need Kira back on her feet."

"And she's my responsibility," Des finished sullenly.

"Something like that," Lupaza laughed gently.

"Okay, Anisu," Des said, sucking air through her teeth. "I'll talk to her."

"Thank you," Lupaza said. "She's in the dugout."

Naoma's eyes went wide. "Now? Right now I have to do this?"

"There's only ever 'now,'" Lupaza said. "Now's all we've got."

"All right," Naoma shook her head. "Here goes nothing."

"Good luck," Lupaza called, as Naoma headed for the barracks.

*

Nerys feigned sleep. Des circled her bedroll for a moment, finally
collapsing on the ground beside her, slipping under the
covers and wrapping her arms around Nerys tightly.

//Go away go away go away,// Nerys thought numbly. //You don't want
to be involved with me, Des. Save yourself.//

"Nerys," Des said, squeaking a little.

"Please go away, Des," Nerys said.

"I love you, Nerys," Des said.

Nerys sighed heavily. "No you don't, Des. You don't. Trust me."

"Well, I need you, Nerys, like it or not. And so does Lupaza, and
Shakaar, and General Ari..."

Nerys cut her off. "General Ari doesn't give a damn about me," she
said, "and I'm just in Shakaar's way, and Lupaza's - and
yours. You're so much better off without me."

Des bit her lip. //I can't keep this up,// she thought. She pulled an
unresponsive Nerys closer to her, pressed her cheek
against Nerys' back, felt the knobby lumps of spine dig into her jaw.
She tasted tears; her own. "I love you, Nerys. I love
you so much, and it hurts me to see you like this. Please, please
come back to the world." Nerys' body tensed.

//She deserves better than me,// Nerys thought. //Hell, she thinks
she loves me. My father - there was so much I never told
him, how important he was to me, how guilty I felt for not taking
better care of him after Nep and Miko died. But Des, she
has a whole life to live, people who care about her...//

"Nerys, all I want is you," Des murmured, as if she could hear Nerys'
thoughts. "Please come back to me."

Nerys felt Des' arms tighted around her, and she slipped a hand in
Des', twined her fingers around Des' slender ones.
//You're all I have, Des,// Nerys felt tears streak her own cheeks.
//That's too big a burden for me to place on you, after
all I've done.//

"You're all I have, Nerys," Des said, and Nerys clutched her heart.

//Who does she think she is, making me care about her so much? I
can't afford to love her; I've lost everyone I've ever
loved, and I can't go through that again.//

"Please, Nerys," Des spoke over a massive lump in her throat, her
voice sounded strained, choked.

//But you can still fight for her, Nerys,// she chastised herself.
//Lupaza was right. I'm being such a jerk. I think
losing my father is the end of the world? What about all the other
civilian families I could fight for? What about Des? She
needs me. I'm not going to let down the one person left in the world
who I can care for.// "Okay," Nerys murmured. "Okay,
Des." She untangled herself from Des' arms, stood, brushed herself
off. Des stood beside her, took her hand and squeezed
it.

"You're okay?" Des couldn't contain the hope in her voice.

"No," Nerys said. "I'm not okay. But what choice do I have? Lupaza
was right; my life's not my own anymore."

Des stroked Nerys' cheek, pulled her into a kiss. She tasted the salt
of tears on Nerys' tongue, her cracked, musky skin of
too many days without washing, too many days of sweat and hiding in
bed. Des licked Nerys' cheek, raked a hand through her
oily hair.

"Okay," Nerys said. "Let's do it. Let's show those spoonheads we're
not down yet!" She broke free of Des' embrace, went to
wash and dress. //I won't love her,// Nerys told herself as she
stripped of her pajamas, stepped into the shower. //I won't
love anyone, ever again - there's too much to lose. But I won't let
her die, not if I can help it. Not one more death under
my watch.//

*

The resistance lost over a hundred soldiers at the raid on the
capital. Matu. Herrin. Zabeth. More than a fifth of the Higa
cel, and almost a quarter of the Shakaar. The place was a fortress;
by the time Ari's troops had penetrated the perimeter
the Cardassians had called in all the surrounding units, resulting in
the bloodiest land battle since the Doyanpar raid
nine years before.

That night the soldiers went home in silence, defeated, miserable. No
one spoke about it, but the loss at the capital
resulted in an all time morale-low for the resistance. Kira didn't
care. Kira didn't care about anything, anymore. Sitting
around the fire with Gant and Shakaar she warmed her hands, stared
blankly into space. //We kill them, they kill us. We
kill them, they kill us. That's the way it is; that's the way it will
be, world without end. But I will take care of you,
Des. If nothing else, I will take care of you.//

Five months later, during the attempt on the weapons base at Neela
Pol, Naoma Deserrat was captured by a Cardassian scout,
and was brought to their camp to be shipped to Terak Nor.

_Bajor, Shonii Woods, 2364_

On the cold ground of Shonii, in a building held together with spit
and prayers, Lupaza pressed her body closer to Kira's
and tried to ignore the rain. Kira squirmed and fidgeted.

"ShhÉ" Lupaza whispered, her teeth chattering. "Stay still. If you
want help we'll do this tomorrow. I am *not* coming with
you tonight."

"I can't just lay here and do nothing," Kira said. "She could be
halfway to Terak Nor tomorrow."

"And if you go outside," Lupaza muttered, trying to conserve energy,
"you will catch a cold and be no use to yourself *or*
the rest of us. Or Deserrat, for that matter. So you're staying here
until the rain stops. I suggest you try and get some
sleep."

"Shh!" came Gant's voice from somewhere in the darkness. "I'm trying
to sleep, and it's hard enough as it is, in this
freezing wind. Please!"

"Sorry," Kira said, and closed her eyes, willing herself to sleep.
Sleep did not come. About an hour later, she untangled
herself from a sleeping Lupaza, tucking the blankets closely around
the older woman so that she wouldn't lose too much heat
with Kira gone. The wind howled, chilled Kira bone-deep. She dragged
a sweater over her head and stole gingerly toward the
door, stepping over sleeping bodies as she went. She had pushed back
the flap and was bracing herself for the pelting rain
when a voice broke the silence.

"You need help?"

"UhÉ" Kira looked around, trying to identify the speaker in the dark.
"No, I'mÉ"

"Take a lantern, at least." It was Shakaar. Kira crept toward him,
knelt beside his bedroll. "I assume you're headed for
the Dalin Gatho. I think it's an idiotic risk, but I know how much
she means to you. Understand, though, you'll be alone
out there. The rest of the cel can't get involved in your personal
act of valor. But be careful, kid. Take one of the
lanterns from the brown road case, and take my disruptor. It's
smaller than a phaser rifle, and you'll need that kind of
maneuverability if they catch you up there. Glin Maho is not a gentle
man, nor is Gul Keng. They guard that Dalin Gatho
like it was a prison."

"It is a prison," Kira spat.

"It's all in how you look at things," Shakaar said. "When your best
friend is held captive there, sure, it's a prison. But
to Gul Keng, it's simply a nice big halfway house for folks who
didn't fit on the Terak Nor transport shuttle." His voice
dripped acid. Kira touched his shoulder.

"Thanks," she said. "I'll take the lantern and the disruptor."

She rose, rummaged in the road case and found what she was looking
for. Strapping the lantern across her chest, she headed
once more for the freezing, rainy, Shonii night.

*

The lights of the Dalin Gatho illuminated the trees, shimmered off
the raindrops and wet leaves like so many fragments of
shattered glass. Kira saw the warm blue glow of the Higa cel camp
just across the river, and her heart sank. //Why her?//
she thought, looking at the campsite, knowing that Deserrat wasn't
there, sleeping peacefully with her cel mates. //I
promised to protect you, Des, and I failed. Again. First my father,
and now my - " Kira punched herself in the forehead.
"Des. Scheduled for the Terak Nor transport tomorrow. Scheduled for
*ore processing*. That girl wouldn't know how to
process ore if she had a gun to her head!// Kira regretted the image
almost instantly. //Hell, she needs *me* to show her
how to pitch a tent, and I'm the least mechanically-inclined person I
know!// Kira's eyes turned up the hill to the three
building campus of the Dalin Gatho. Taking a deep breath, she started
towards it.

There were two lights on when she reached the campus. The main
building, all gargoyles and columns and stone slab, stood
between two smaller buildings, enclosed by a circular driveway, a
shuttlepad, and a series of wrought-iron gates. Kira
scaled the gates and leaped down into the campus, staying close to
the ground. She reached the first light; a small room on
the second floor of the east building. Taking her disruptor between
her teeth, she slung her body up the wall, clawing to
the protruding stone, and peered in.

A Cardassian was crouched over, kneeling on a low bed. His head hung
low, his oily hair hanging about his armored
shoulders. He seemed to be rocking back and forth, his hips shaking.
Kira pulled herself into the windowsill and pressed
her face to the glass. And then nearly fell to the ground when she
saw the scene inside. A Bajoran girl, no older than
twelve, peered out from the side of the bed, her hands gripping the
covers, her knuckles white. Tears streamed down her
face as the guard on top of her continued to thrust, his heavy knees
and chest pressed into her frail frame, his hot breath
clouding her vision. Kira held her breath. His arms pinning her to
the mattress, the guard threw his body into the girl's,
over and over, a perverse grin painting his wide, gnarled, cavernous
face. //Just don't think about it,// Kira willed the
girl. //It will be over soon. Don't let him get to you,// she
thought. Inside the room, the girl bit her lip and stifled a
scream as the guard moaned with pleasure. Kira dropped from the
windowsill and leaped into the grass, where she spat the
bile that had collected in her mouth.

The Dalin Gatho looked larger now, more ominous; tall shadows snaked
the grass flickering from the warm green lights of the
beacons inside. She shook her head, wrested the cobwebs free and
surveyed the camp. //That other light must be the
headquarters, or maybe the communications room...there's got to be
some sort of all-night sentry in there. Okay. So there's
one wing to avoid.// Looking from building to building, her stomach
clenched. //Four more to go.//

//Come on, Nerys - analyze!// she ordered herself as she slipped into
an alley just off the main drive and leaned against
the wall, regrouping. //The Dalin Gatho is a prison - no, it's a
halfway house - hell, it used to be a *University*, for
Prophets' sake! These old buildings used to seem so beautiful, so
majestic... - get a grip. She's counting on you. Okay.
This is where they keep prisoners before transport to Terak Nor or
Empok Nor or any of those other stations - or to the
camps, I guess, Pakar and Singha and those construction facilities
down south...so how do they divide up the captives?
Well, I imagine they keep some Bajorans as servants; they'd probably
live in the main building. She won't be there; she's
only been here half a week and she's probably going to be shipped out
any day now -- the field house!// Kira clapped a hand
to her forehead and almost smiled. //It's right next to the launching
pad, it's not equipped for real habitation - they
probably just toss all the Bajorans in there one day, and send 'em
off on ships the next.//

Her mind racing, she set off for the field house, her boots kicking
up mud from the dewy grass. The field house was set
apart from the main campus, a large, elliptical building honeycombed
with - if it was anything like the University her
father used to talk about - springball courts and wave pools around
the big Parrises Squares Field. //Dumb game, Squares,//
Kira thought. //I don't know why we chose *that* sport to borrow from
the Federation. I'd have preferred hockey, or at
least - what's it called? - jousting.// Kira reached the entrance.
She crept up nervously, rapped her fingernails on a
large frosted window. //Oh, smart, Nerys. Make them think there's
some animal out here chittering at the door. Either a
spoonhead'll throw a rock at you or some Bajoran will think you're a
reimar and come shoot and eat you.// She knocked a
little harder. Movement inside, some shuffling and murmuring gave her
confidence, and she pulled herself up by her arms and
pressed her face against the glass. Even through the tinting she
could see shadows moving. //Cardassian guards?// She
furrowed her brow. //They're too meticulous. They've got this place
locked tight enough, and with enough alarms upon alarms
to have to worry about stationing guards in here. Of course, even if
I find Des, I won't be able to get her out without
tripping one of a thousand possible alerts - " a figure came closer
to the window, and Kira knocked again.

"Hello?" she whispered. "It's the resistance, it's okay!" she said.
//Okay. That's a lie. They're expecting a massive
rescue now, and I'm going to take my girlfriend and leave the rest of
them here to rot.// Kira regretted the thought upon
thinking it, but fortunately the figure inside didn't seem to hear
her, and moved past the window out of view.

A door opened. Kira jumped. A tall Bajoran poked a head out and
looked at Kira with glassy eyes. "Whatta you want?" he
asked.

"I'm with the resistance," she said, emboldened, approaching him.
"I'm looking for a friend of mine, a woman named Naoma
Deserrat."

"Black hair?" he asked, eyeing her suspiciously. "Obnoxious?"

Kira nodded, smiling.

"Yeah, she's here. Hold on a second and I'll get her for you." The
man disappeared inside, and the door clicked shut behind
him, locking again. //That's strange,// Kira thought. //It locks from
the *inside*?//

The man had opened the door again, and this time Kira noticed the
insignia on his wristlet, the three-flame flower of
Cardassia. She bit her lip and steeled herself, terror shivering her
bones. "She's coming," he said. "Just stay put."

Kira nodded. //He'll go inside, and then...//

"The resistance, you say, huh?" the man said, pulling his shirtsleeve
over his wristlet idly and stepping out into the
night. "You folks doing any good? We could certainly use a rescue
here - is there one planned?"

//Yes? or no? I don't know what to say, I don't know what this
collaborator wants to hear...//

"Not that I've heard," she said. "I'm just a...lackey, really. I
don't really work for the resistance at all." //Wimp! I
hate you I hate you I hate you!// She cursed herself.

"'Zat so?" the man said, stepping closer to her. "Which cel is it
that you don't really work for?"

//If I move, he'll know I'm on to him. If I stay here, I'll get
captured and thrown in there with Des and the rest of them.
But I can't *not* answer this question...//

"Kira cel," she said at last. //If I'm going to get in trouble, why
bring the rest of 'em down with me?//

"Haven't heard of that one," he said. "Who's your CO?"

"A...a man named Kira Miko," she said. //Forgive me, Miko...//

//Wrong move.// "Kira Miko, eh? Yeah, I knew him. He was in the
Tibel-Kari at the Doyanpar raid. Last I heard he - "

Kira spun on her heel, leapt to and over the fence and disappeared
into the woods. Behind her she could hear klaxons
blaring as the Dalin Gatho sprung to alert.

*

"You're sure they didn't follow you?" Shakaar asked again.

"Positive," Kira said, still shivering, as Lupaza plyed her with
coffee and a towel. "I programmed your disruptor for a
steady power leak and I tossed it way the hell away from here. If
they're looking for a signal, that's what they'll pick
up."

"So you've bought us some time," Shakaar said. "You've compromised
our position and you've declared war against the Dalin
Gatho, but, hey, at least you bought us a couple minutes!"

His words stung. Kira looked away.

Shakaar shook his head. "Well, let's get to it, then. If we're going
to make a stand, it's happening now. Matu, Enith,
cross the river and clue the Higa cel in on the situation. We'll need
to coordinate efforts. Furel, take a team and
penetrate those woods, set up as many false signals as you can. Maybe
we'll get out of here before they find us. Kira,
Lupaza, Gant, you're with me. We'll try and hold them off as long as
possible here, with help from Higa's cel. Everyone
else, head for the hills. We'll rendezvous at Jakoba Gulf at 0800. If
we're not there..." Shakaar looked at his ragged army
sadly, "report to General Ari that we've engaged the Dalin Gatho.
They might as well start organizing raids now...and
recovery parties."

The cel broke off, nervous and furiously working. Shakaar touched
Kira's shoulder.

"I don't blame you for this, Nerys," he began. "Okay. That's not
true. I do blame you for this, but I understand. I know
she means a lot to you, and, honestly, if I were in your position,
I'd have been as hell-bent on rescue as you were. But
you have to be careful what you do here. Your life isn't your own
anymore. You're a Captain in the Bajoran Militia, and
that's a group that can't afford weak links. Next time - if, Prophets
forbid, there should be a next time - plan a little
better, huh?"

Kira just nodded, knowing if she tried to speak all the shame, and
guilt, and pain she felt towards Shakaar and the cel,
and toward Des - poor Des - would come spilling out in a flood of weakness.

Shakaar had turned away and was programming the sensor relay. Kira
stood dumbly for a minute, then picked up a phaser rifle
and took her place standing vigil outside the tent.

*

"That her?" Higa Mentar's version of a whisper cut the air like
crackling slate. Kira moved just far enough away not to
look like she was eavesdropping, but Higa's voice was hard to miss.

"Yes. Captain Kira," Shakaar whispered in reply to the short woman
beside him, and winked at Kira over her head.

"Naoma talks about that girl non-stop. I don't see what all the fuss
is about, frankly. She's a little skinny thing, huh?
'Course, so's Des," Higa eyed Kira with a scowl, and Kira shuffled
off to the tree where Klin and Kolla were crouched over
a portable generator. Still, she cocked her head to listen to the
conversation the two cel leaders were engaged in. //It's
not really eavesdropping if they're talking about *me*, right?// Kira
shook her head, grinning inwardly.

"...at Gallitep," Shakaar was finishing.

"How old did you say she was?"

"Fourteen, then, do you believe it? She was [too quiet to hear]
before anyone knew what was [too quiet to hear]," Shakaar
laughed.

"You're kidding," Higa said. "No wonder you let her off the hook so
easily for getting us into *this* den of palakus! But I
understand where you're coming from, Edon. They're like our children;
if the positions were reversed and little Naoma went
after that Kira in prison, I'd understand too."

"Honestly, Tara, how are your troops doing? I know it's ben a rough
year for you." Shakaar touched Higa's shoulder, and
Kira looked away, trying to find something to do. She knelt beside
Klin and fumbled with the dampening-field generator
coils.

"Oh, no worse than any other year, really. Better, if you consider
the long-term implications of the Empok Nor victory and
the Jeraddo evacuation. I wouldn't be surprised if we had control of
half the southern continents within the next two
years," she said.

"How do you feel about the Federation's front line [too quiet to
hear] and the plans to intervene?" Shakaar asked.

//The damned Federation again,// Kira thought. //Just when we're
getting this thing under control they're going to come in
with their rules and directives and negate all the hard work we've done!//

"To tell you the truth, I say more power to 'em," Higa said,
cackling. "If they think they can do something to slow the
spoonheads let 'em try. I'll take all the help we can get, at this point."

"Even if they try and set up a base here, get us under their thumb?"
Shakaar seemed wary.

"Ah, they won't," Higa sounded confident. "Bajor doesn't have
anything to offer the Federation save for some architecture
innovations they've already 'borrowed' from us; they won't waste
their time here. So let's use their resources to get back
on our feet and then wave goodbye. I can't understand why they've got
a stake in this war anyway - we're too far away from
Terra to be a significant outpost for them, and we're peaceful, artsy
folk, not diplomats or soldiers. If I were the
Federation I'd stay far, far away..."

"But they've been engaging the Cardassians all over the sector, and
they're not always victorious. The Cardies must be
putting up a fight against the Federation, too," Shakaar mused.

"I don't get to hear much about galactic politics, these days," Higa
agreed. "Maybe there's more going on up there than we
know. Either way, I say bring in the Feds, clean this place up, and
then let 'em deal with their own problems. Once the
Cardies are out we'll have a ton of rebuilding to do all over this world."

"You can say that again," Shakaar sighed.

"But in answer to your question," Higa brightened, "my kids are doing
wonderfully." She waggled her fingers at a couple of
cel members who had just entered the camp, pushing a rusted, smoking
land skimmer. Looking a little embarrased, they waved
back.

"My XO Duli Warin - there's a soldier for you! He's bright, and
confident; a little cocky, maybe, but not a man to be
trifled with. Sounds a bit like your Captain Kira, actually," Higa
smiled. "Des, on the other hand; she's no soldier. She
takes orders well but she's always got her nose in a book or her
hands on a flight sim. console when I'm not telling her
what to do. She was trained as a stunt pilot; did you know that?
She's a performer, she likes to play. Damn, I wish she
didn't have to be stuck here in this war zone. I don't blame Kira for
wanting to rescue her - that girl won't survive on a
mining station. She'll go mad or worse."

"Then let's get moving. That skimmer might run; I say we meet Gul
Keng before first light; we'll keep to the woods, we know
this terrain better than they do, especially in the dark," Shakaar said.

"All right then!" Higa said. "Yoo hoo, Warin!" she called, waving a
hand. A stocky, bitter looking man rushed to her side.
"Get the kids all tucked in and let's get out of here, what say?
Organize strike teams of threes and fours, use the old Ko
Ko Lira method and back up the folks in the skimmer. That'll be me
and Edon...er, Shakaar, here, and a couple of his kids.
Can you handle the rest?"

"No problem," Duli saluted, and began organizing the troops.

By her own demand ("I got us into this...den of palakus [sharp look
from Higa at that], and I'm going to get us out!"),
Kira took a place among the skimmer crew with Shakaar, Higa, and a
Shakaar cel man named Ri Librum. The Shakaar and Higa
strike teams took to the woods, and the skimmer launched, blowing
bajor and wet leaves in its wake.

*

"Pull up, Nerys, we just want to buzz 'em on the first pass," Shakaar
said, and Kira yanked at the controls and pulled the
little ship up over the top of the Dalin Gatho's main building,
rippling the grass beneath.

Cardassian soldiers were rushing out of the doorways firing blindly
into the sky, but the skimmer was flying blind in the
dark pre-dawn, lights off, and they circled for another pass, getting
several shots off in the process. The first line of
strike teams - a la the Ko Ko Lira method - emerged from the woods in
a clump, then scattered to surround the campus. Shots
rang out, white and blue streaks of phaser fire ripped across the
ground. The skimmer took a nosedive and dropped a couple
thermals by the front door of the field house and it ignited,
shattering. From the flames, hordes of Bajoran prisoners
poured forth, to be ushered into the safety of the woods by the
ground crew. The skimmer fired again, this time taking out
the launch pad and the small hut that stood beside it.

The second line of teams burst from the woods, leaping over bodies
where they lay and forming a phalanx in front of the
main building. The Cardassians were stymied. For all their warning
they were caught off guard, and they ran around like
voles in all directions, shooting at anything that moved, often one another.

"Okay, let's set 'er down," Higa said. The skimmer took a steep dive
and attempted to land on the driveway, but crossbeams
of phaser fire ripped at the hull and Kira pulled up to avoid being
burned to bits.

"No, kid, not like that," Higa said. "Come in sidewise, keeping the
port thrusters at half and firing across our hull. Let
gravity take care of the rest, but mind you don't set us on fire first."

Kira tried again, this time landing pitched 45 degrees to the right,
and firing downward as she spiraled to the ground. All
her shots missed, and she had to pull the skimmer clear again to
avoid spinning out of control. Below, the strike teams
were all in place and bodies were dropping right and left.

"Damn it, kid, we don't have time for this!" Higa yelled over the
din. "Sorry, Edon, but I'm taking the reins, here. Kira,
you fly. Just fly. Leave the rest to me. Ri, you need to keep the
port thruster hot enough to keep us from a tailspin, but
not hot enough to ignite from our phaser fire. Edon, you remember the
Rodowik massacre? Just like that. Take fore, I'll
take aft, we'll blow these buggers up before they know what's hit 'em."

A Cardassian skimmer had launched and was rising to meet the one Kira
was piloting. "Hang on," she called as she tipped the
vehicle violently to the right to avoid a collision. Shakaar got a
few shots off as the ships passed one another, but the
Cardassians had come around again and were right below Kira's ship,
their blasts rumbling off her lower shields.

The next pass wasn't even that lucky. A shot tore through their
shields and shattered the windscreen. Kira ducked to avoid
it, but it hit Ri squarely in the chest and he tumbled from the
craft, sailed to the ground with a thunk. Higa had fired
again, and the port thruster heat up like a kiln. "It's gonna blow!"
Shakaar screamed, diving into the front seat to try
and disengage power, but the controls were fused.

"Land! Now!" he ordered Kira, and she pulled back on the throttle and
cut the engines, and the ship plummeted bajorward.

In a mad stroke of luck, the ship crashed into the facade of the main
building, and the door blew open. More prisoners
raced for freedom, the remaining members of Higa and Shakaar's cels
gesturing to the woods, herding them clear of the
battle zone.

Kira, Higa and Shakaar leapt free of the ship and dove for safety
before the tiny engines blew. The Dalin Gatho shuddered
for a moment and then crumbled with a groundshaking boom. Kira
covered her ears.

"It's over!" Higa announced. "We liberated the place, best we could,
anyway. We can't stay here. Get clear; we'll
rendezvous at your camp in twenty minutes." She hurried over to join
a team from her cel, and they beat the ground toward
the woods. //For such a tiny person, she can sure run fast,// Kira
thought as Shakaar dragged her by the arm.

Passing the ruins of the field house Kira tossed it a look. //She got
out,// she promised herself. //I did it. I got her
out of there.//

*

There were bodies everywhere. Prisoners. Soldiers. Kira had tunnel
vision; she crawled on the ground in the dim light of
sunrise, questioning every medic she saw as to the whereabouts of her
raven-haired love.

"Haven't seen her. Hand me that tricorder, will you?"

"Naoma? No, I haven't seen her among the slain or the living. Have
you seen Kolla?"

"Yeah, where *is* Naoma?"

"Naoma, I don't know, but Matu here is going to die if we don't get
him to an infirmary soon."

"Black hair, you say? Hard to tell with all this blood, huh?"

And then, there she was. A little pile of person with a shock of
bloody black hair - //sticks, with a birds nest on top//
Kira thought - curled up beside a heap of bodies dragged from the
woods. Kira caught the lump in her throat. //She's dead.
My arrogance. My fault. She's dead.// Hardly daring to think
otherwise, she walked over.

"Nerys!" Des croaked. "That was some damn good flying up there. When
this war is over you and I will have to enter the
Sector eight-one stunt flying competition at Railos Prime."

Kira couldn't shake her smile as she dove to the ground beside Des,
stroking her hair, squeezing her hand, smothering her
with kisses. "Are you okay? Prophets, say you're okay!"

"I'm okay, Nerys," Des smiled weakly. "Don't you worry."

"Anything broken?" Nerys scanned Des' body but her uniform was so
torn it was hard to tell which blood was her own and
which belonged to the bodies she lay heaped against.

"Don't think so," Des said. "Hey. You rescued me."

"I nearly got us all killed, and jeopardized the confidence of two
resistance cels in the process!" Kira shook her head.

"For me?" Des asked coyly. "I'm touched."

"Yeah, for you," Kira said, snuggling next to Des and laying a head
on her shoulder.

"Hey, Nerys?" Des reached up, stroked Kira's nose with a bloodied
finger. "Remember when I said there were two things I
wanted to do before I died?"

"Mm hm..."

"Well...one out of two ain't bad."

"Which one?" Kira smiled.

Deserrat's face grew serious. "You. Kira Nerys. Kira Nerys champion
of the resistance. Warrior and strategist and lover
extraordinaire. I love you, Nerys. I love you so much I can't think
straight, most of the time. You are going to change
this world; you are going to see Bajor into the next era. And I am so
proud of you, and so, so glad I got the chance to
know you..."

Kira stared. "Why are you talking like this? Des, Des...you're fine.
You and I will see this Occupation end; we'll have a
home together, and a family in freedom. Just wait."

Des just shook her head. Reaching spindly arms around Kira's neck,
she pulled her into an embrace and kissed her on the
cheek. When they parted, Kira felt the front of her uniform soaked
through with blood. She touched Deserrat's chest, and
pulled back as if burned. A phaser blast, as big around as her fist
was eating away at Des's flesh, and her ribs were
exposed and bloody.

"You're not fine," Kira was incredulous. "Des...we've got to get you
to a doctor - now!"

Deserrat just smiled. "Triage, Nerys. They said I'd be too hard to
save, better to save a couple of other soldiers then
waste time on me. Everyone knows I'm not much of a soldier. The
resistance doesn't need me."

"*I* need you!" Kira's eyes were dry, and wide. She licked her lips,
unable to comprehend what Deserrat was saying.

"No, you don't. You don't need anyone. You're a hero, Nerys, and a
soldier. Save our people."

"Can't I save you?" Kira was almost begging. Deserrat's eyelids had
begun to droop, and Kira squeezed her hand.

"In the name of triage," Deserrat was muttering, "in the name of the
resistance and Bajor, and in the name of the great war
hero Kira Nerys, love of my life...I'm going to die. Now."

"I love you, Des," Kira said, simply. //And it hurts like hell. I
swore I'd never do it and I've done it and it hurts like
hell. And I love you.// "I love you and I'll fight for you 'till
there's nothing left in me."

"Now," Des said again, and her face went blank. Kira stayed with her
a long moment before laying Des's body on the ground
and closing her eyelids with a finger. Then she rose and headed for
the camp, not looking back though her world collapsed
and her heart was breaking and darkness and fear closed in all around her.

_Deep Space Nine, 2374_

"Ju'ora'talbiethe, the music-makers!" Keiko said victoriously. "Well?
What do you think, Nerys? I had the computer simulate
Dakhur's windy season so we could hear the song; it's so beautiful,
don't you think? They're an interesting breed, similar
to the Terran tigerlily in shape, but with deep petals and long
stamens more indicative of the cactus flowers from Bajor's
more arid regions; as far as I can tell they only grow in Dakhur
province, and when I saw them on the survey I just had
to...Nerys? What's wrong?"

Kira's face had gone ashen as she knelt beside the whistling flower.
"He forgot to tell me," she said softly, "or he didn't
want to." She sounded bitter. Keiko sat beside her, touched her shoulder.

"Nerys? Are you all right?"

Kira stood up, brushed herself off. She looked Keiko squarely in the
eye and said, "my father loved these. But he forgot to
tell me that after the windy season, when the song is done, they die."

"Yes," Keiko nodded, "they do have a short lifespan, but that's
common among arid-region biennials..."

"They sing, and then they die," Kira said again. She tossed the
flowers one last glance. "Keiko, thank you for bringing
these. I needed to remember." She started for the exit, then paused.

"Computer, end program," she said firmly.

The End