Disclaimer: Star Trek: DS9 belongs to Paramount and probably a bunch of other people too. No harm, no foul, no money made.
Author note: This is based on/around the s1 episode Duet, and as such, contains one or two graphic descriptions (as does that particular episode). It's set roughly a month after the episode and just after In the Hands of the Prophets. I've also played a little loosely with one or two timings, but hopefully I haven't done anything unforgivable.
Feedback is much appreciated; please tell me how you think I've done!
She cut a curious figure, Sisko decided. Dressed in civilian clothing, she could have been almost any Bajoran woman in her late twenties. Only the military pose gave her away.
"Major?" he called.
She didn't turn to face him. Instead, she remained where she was, staring down at the lush green valley before them. "Commander."
"I was surprised when the minister told me you'd come here."
She didn't say a word. Didn't move a muscle. Sisko finally reached her side and took in the view she was studying. There was nothing in the valley that even hinted that this was once the site of the most infamous forced labour camp of the Cardassian occupation. There wasn't even a grave marker for the countless victims. That lack didn't surprise Sisko; the camp had been liberated twelve years before the occupation actually ended, and since its end, the Bajoran authorities had been busy with more urgent affairs. Someday, though, he knew Gallitep would get its memorial.
"I was barely eighteen when the Shakaar came here," she said, breaking the silence.
Sisko pursed his lips in a silent whistle. Sometimes he forgot just how much she'd seen at such a young age.
"Hard to believe what it was like," she continued softly. "The barracks were there." She pointed to the top of the hill opposite. "Communal housing there." She snorted. "Detention block there. Right between the two. The biggest building of the compound. There was a charnel pit behind it. When we liberated the camp, it was more than full."
"I can't imagine," Sisko murmured.
"No." She finally turned to look at him; the shadows of that remembered day lurking in her expression. "Why are you here, Commander?"
"After everything you said about Gallitep, I wanted to try and understand," he answered and was instantly amused to see her feathers ruffle at that. "Major, I realise that is probably not something I can achieve, but I'd still like to try."
To his surprise, she smiled. "Just like the Federation," she muttered, but there was little heat to her words. "Unless you were here, it's not something you can comprehend. Not even all Bajorans really understand what it was like here."
"Tell me," said Sisko.
She turned back to the view. "You know, I hadn't thought about this place in maybe four years. It took me that long to fill my nightmares with images of other mutilations."
Again Sisko pursed his lips in silent shock.
"It never occurred to me that some of the Cardassians might have been victims of Gallitep," she continued, "but they were. I did some digging, into who Marritza was before he came here. Do you know what I found?" She turned to Sisko again. "He was a playwright and an actor. They forced him into the military when the Bajoran resistance really became active. They made him serve at Gallitep for fourteen years. He left here about a week before we liberated the camp."
Marritza's background didn't surprise Sisko – he'd guessed most of it from his interactions with the man and from everything that had happened. What did surprise him was that she'd cared enough to look.
"And there's witnesses, survivors of the accident, who said that Marritza was one of the only Cardassians to lend them a hand," she continued. "He couldn't do much, not as one man acting alone, but he did what he could. That's how he contracted Kalla-nohra." She came to a sudden stop. "I can't believe I'm sympathising with a Cardassian."
"In times of war, there are good and bad people on both sides," Sisko observed. "We both know there are Bajorans who committed evil acts during the occupation."
"The Kohn-ma," she whispered.
Sisko nodded. "That there were Cardassians who weren't evil incarnate shouldn't be a shock." But he knew it was to her because she'd been the one brought up under their brutal rule. She was the one who'd been forced to believe they were all the enemy because that was all she'd ever seen.
She made no comment. Instead, she turned her gaze back to the valley and they stood in silence, for a time, just studying the grassy slopes.
"Do you know the worst thing about liberating this place?" she asked, abruptly tearing the silence again.
Sisko shook his head.
"We hit the camp at first light. Maybe fifty fighters at the most. We'd gotten intelligence that said the guards were understaffed, so we took the risk and attacked. Gul Darhe'el had been recalled to Cardassia, so there was a young, inexperienced officer in charge. He never knew what hit him. None of them did.
"We dispatched all the guards and then, while half the party went into the mines and started to lay charges – so that this place could never be reopened – the rest of us went into the communal quarters to help the survivors leave. Someone said: What about my daughter? They took her to the detention block last night. This was my first real raid with the resistance. I was reckless and foolhardy – even more than, than now – and so I volunteered to go looking through the detention block.
"I thought there was nothing the Cardassians could do that would scare me. I was wrong. I found thirty people, strung up by their wrists. The Cardassians had just left them to drown in their own fluid. There was another room that was filled with the stench of burned flesh. The body of a little girl was in the middle of the room, so charred and burned it was all but unrecognisable. Then there was the wrack room. That was the worst."
"I think I can guess," said Sisko softly.
"Can you?" she asked sharply. "I don't think so. The poor bastard in there was still alive. His body was mangled and mutilated but he was still breathing. He saw me and begged me to kill him. And there you have it: My first personal kill as a resistance fighter was a Bajoran."
"You couldn't have done anything else, Major," said Sisko gently.
"We could have got there sooner. We could have liberated the camp a long time ago, but we didn't. We let them down."
"I disagree." Sisko paused for a moment, searching for the right words. "Major, no-one can save everyone. The only people who could have done that were the Cardassians in charge here. Marritza couldn't change things here, but he did the best that he could by helping. You did the best you could when you liberated the camp. Also, think how many lives you saved by liberating the camp when you did. It might not be much comfort, but it is their lives you have to measure by."
"It doesn't feel like it was enough."
"No; I don't suppose it does."
She shot him a look of mixed surprise and annoyance. "Why are you here?" she asked, repeating her earlier question.
"Minister Kaval thought you would like to know that there's been an anonymous donation to the Gallitep Survivors' Fund. From Kora II."
Her eyes widened. "Marritza?"
Sisko smiled. "I would guess so. It seems, one way or another, he wanted to help."
She smiled faintly. "I guess he did." She turned her back on the view. "We should probably go back into town. Before Minister Kaval sends a search party."
Sisko smiled in return. "That sounds like a good idea, Major."
The started to walk back. Sisko glanced over his shoulder as they went, taking one final glance at the grassy slopes that hide the old labour camp. For just a moment, he fancied he could see the shade of a Cardassian who was braver than he ever realised, in the company of the shades of hundreds of Bajorans who'd deserved far better, standing on the top of the hill where the camp buildings had once been. "We won't forget," he murmured. "We won't ever forget."