An Alternative History of the Dominion War
Year Two - Metamorphosis
Part 1 - Occupation
Lonnie wasn't asleep when the orderly came to wake her. It had only been a little over a week since the bodies of Vance and Blanchard had been returned. She knew that her staff and Willy and Bashir were probably dead. She didn't want to imagine what had come of them before that release. But now she kept seeing Vance's abused and starved corpse when she thought of them.
She was exhausted by all the work, the hospital full of accident cases and minor illnesses. Many did not take much care, but they'd filled up what little space hadn't been crowded. Nearly every night she was awakened for something.
Jabara had been assigned to be on call for the minor cases. She didn't want to be so tired she made the wrong choice some weary night.
But this time the waking was different. The orderly already had her coat and shoes. "You have to come right now," he told her.
She stumbled out of bed. Putting on her coat, she checked the time.
It was just before dawn. It would still be almost dark outside. "Two helpers," said the orderly. "We're ready when you are."
She slipped on her shoes. A coldness surrounded her. They had more bodies. She'd have more ashes to keep as a final good bye.
Someone else could handle that. She didn't have the time. If they were lucky, the Vorta would make it a quick trip this time.
But this time was different. Her staff was told to wait by the gate. She was ordered out past the boundaries of the hospital, past the gate alone.
The guard didn't stay. She stood alone in the chilly morning with murky darkness all around her. It didn't matter that it smelled better than inside. All it had to do with was death.
Then, in the distance, she saw the Jem'Hadar. They had a prisoner they were prodding along in front of them. It was too far away to tell who it was.
He or she stumbled and nearly fell, then was pulled to an uncertain standing position. She could tell it wasn't Kay. She was too short. But there were plenty of others it could be.
Casually, without any ceremony, the prisoner was shot by the Jem'Hadar, falling with hands clasping the stomach.
She was stunned, but a horrified fascination took control. She stared as the executed victim was placed on a stretcher and lifted by two guards. They carried her new patient towards the gates.
She remembered how long James had lived. This one wasn't like Vance. This one was being sent back to die.
She was numb. It had been so sudden and casual. Her eyes were locked on the stretcher, suddenly needing to know who she would watch die. She didn't expect any of those taken to survive, but held out a small hope that some of them might live somewhere.
This one wouldn't. She could see the blood seeping through the ragged clothes already. Perhaps it might be faster than with James and the cold.
Or maybe they'd send some of them back. If any survived, one of the doctors would be a much greater gift than the staff that had managed to hide their secrets. She hoped it was one of those. She willed it be one that others inside the hospital could live without.
But the shock was closing in. Her legs stiff from the tension, she could not see who it was until the Jem'Hadar and their stretcher came near.
Then she stared at him. He'd tried so much to please them. He'd terrorized his staff and made himself the monster to hate.
But it hadn't saved him. Lying limply on the stretcher, his bloody hand dangling to his side, Dr. Leonard Willman-the one man who couldn't be replaced-lay bloody and still but alive.
The Jem'Hadar weapon had not done enough damage to kill him immediately. The anti-coagulant and minor tearing would still seal his fate when he bled to death. But for a little while he was awake, and despite the pain, aware of his surroundings
She wanted to give him something to relieve the pain. But she knew he'd refuse. They were so short of supplies that the dying couldn't be afforded anything but a quiet room and some companionship. This was the same dark, quiet room that James had spent his last moments, and Jadzia. She hated the room, but now and then considered that there was a small peace there, the peace of death but it was more than most had.
Willy hadn't said much, sleeping most of the time. But she could tell he'd noticed the changes. He'd given her a sudden look of pride when, during the changing of his bandages, she'd given out several orders.
She didn't speak softly to them, but with all the authority she possessed. Nobody questioned her orders. He must have seen that. She thought he must have known that Bashir was gone, too.
Bashir should have examined him, and the nurses should have asked him the questions they asked her. She knew that Willy had known about Bashir's secret, but not at the end. He had known about the hidden instruments, and she assumed that Willy had figured out he been taken, too.
She was checking the dressing on his wound when he surprised her with a question. "Where is Bashir? There are a few things I should tell him about the treatments while I have the strength."
She had been concentrating on the wound, her hands covered in blood, when she paled a bit and looked up at him. "You didn't know?" she said, confused. He said nothing. "He was arrested. He had that device he used on his leg in his pocket. They dragged him away when he couldn't walk."
Willy was angry. It surprised her, somehow. She'd seen a respect grow between the two men near the end and somehow expected it to counter his disappointment.
"Then he lied to me. I took it away from him. He seemed to be doing well enough with the drugs alone."
"He was always in pain," she said, surprised she was defending the younger doctor who had taken so many chances and left her alone as a result. "I think the drugs didn't do enough and he just couldn't manage without it."
A wave of bitterness filled her, quickly banished. She couldn't live with that and still work on the victims. Later, some day, she'd allow herself to feel again.
Willy's anger had faded into disappointment, aimed at both Bashir and her. "He told you, then."
"No. But I knew about the pain. He didn't want me to but I could tell. I didn't know he had his instrument."
She wondered, quite suddenly, what she would have done if she had known. She'd been so terrified of Them coming. She'd known they'd take Willy. If she'd known they'd take Julian too she would have made him get rid of it?
Or could she? Willy had confiscated it. He thought it was destroyed. If Julian wanted to hide it and keep his secret he would have slipped it into a better place where she didn't see it.
But she'd still have known. What would she have done then, turned him in? Would she have been held responsible for his secret, too, if they'd known she was hiding it?
What *had* been done to the people they'd taken? Willy looked thin and filthy, but he hadn't been visibly abused. But she knew there were ways of hurting that would never show up on a tricorder.
Willy was breathing slowly, letting out long, slow breaths almost as if he'd been in labor. The bandages were almost finished. She hoped the pain would be a little better then.
He closed his eyes and she thought he might fall asleep. But he opened them again.
Quietly, his voice low and exhausted, he asked, "Is he dead?"
She suddenly needed to tell him everything. She knew he didn't need to know. Or maybe he did. He must be curious. Maybe he felt guilty that he hadn't done enough to stop them.
"Missing. A lot of people are missing. We're locked inside here and it's worse for some of the rest. There are a lot of sick, hungry people too." He took in the news without reaction.
"I hope Justin is happy now," he said with bitterness.
"He's dead. Vance too. He finally died of that disease, as far as I could tell. They hadn't hurt him. I think they were treating him. Vance was just beaten to death."
She could tell he wasn't talking to her. His mumbles were thoughts he thought he was keeping to himself.
"Maybe they'd have saved him if we'd let them have him with Zale," he muttered. "Must really want this process, if they'd try to bring him back from nowhere."
She didn't react. She didn't know if it was because she wanted Willy not to know how bad off he was, or if she was too curious to stop him.
"Hope they got what they wanted before he went. Maybe they'll leave."
She watched as he rolled his head to the side, looking towards her. "Damn," he muttered, almost inaudibly, "Don't even recognize Lonnie."
She almost let on that he was speaking out loud. His mumble was so slurred it was hard to decipher, but she could tell by the look in his eyes that he was proud of her, too.
Then his eyes focused. He asked about two of those taken, but not with contraband. She was a little surprised since he used their names. "Are they here?" he finished slowly.
"They were arrested. They didn't have anything."
A dark look crossed his face. "Good," he said faintly.
She said reluctantly, as if she already knew the answer, "No mysteries. Why?," she ask quietly.
"They put the things in the cave," he whispered, very weakly, in her ear.
He was exhausted. She could tell he needed to sleep, but didn't want him to never wake up.
He took her hand. She could feel the weakness of his grip. For the first time, she dared to make eye contact.
She saw understanding in his eyes. "Be strong. They all look to you now." He squeezed her hand too faintly.
She realized he was near collapse, and spoke very quietly, and softly. "I am. I do all I can."
He was forcing himself to stay awake. His words were mumbled, with irregular pauses between them but he knew he was speaking. "I was . . . in charge. I didn't . . . hide the things, but it was . . . my . . . responsibility. I confessed to them to save you and Bashir, so, so they would leave you alone." He took a deep breath and winced from the pain. "Perhaps . . . perhaps they will spare him after all."
His eyes closed and he fell into a deep sleep.
She did not want to leave him, but could not neglect her responsibilities. Others could sit with him. One of those who'd come there with him and knew the man he'd been was called to share his company.
He was running a fever when she returned a few hours later. For a little while, she had a breather. She told the nurse she could go, but Willy was holding her hand and she stayed.
The room seemed smaller than it had, and darker. It was too quiet. She had nothing to do. She almost brought the paperwork for the day to the room, but it would not have been light enough. She seldom had such quiet moments, and could not help feeling more alone than she had ever felt before. She needed Willy, not just because he was a doctor, but because he had become the father she had never had, who shared her dreams and supported them.
Somewhere, in a place they would not see again, her family still lived, but the one that mattered was dying next to her and she could do absolutely nothing about it.
This would not be the last deathwatch in this room. She had the tricorder with her, not sure if she wanted to find some sudden bleeder which would end it quickly. James had been too far gone to judge anything by, but she thought Willy wouldn't mind if she kept track of his condition. Maybe she could help the ones to come somehow.
She scanned him, saving the record. There was a small infection, very localized, but it would kill him sooner than the bleeding alone. There was noting to write with in the darkened room, but the tricorder would store the record for later.
She had to leave, but scanned him again in an hour. His temperature was higher, but that was expected.
The next scan, two hours after the first, was alarming.
The small infection had become a major one, his blood spreading it throughout his body. His fever was very high. James had spent the whole night outside and hadn't reached this place.
Maybe the cold was the difference; James had felt icy when brought in. But there had been others like Willy, with sudden catastrophic infections that killed very quickly. Most had contaminated wounds, but he didn't. She would have to try and isolate the cause, somehow.
But it would end much sooner this way.
She didn't scan him anymore that day. She had too much to do. But by evening he was delirious. Both the fever and infection were out of control now.
He was in agony. She almost gave him something for the pain, but it wouldn't be enough to help much. He was close to coma. She hoped that would give him some escape before he died.
She left now and then, the nurse always filling in. There were only a few more scans, but she knew he didn't have much time. He'd fallen into a deep coma by midnight. Slowly, he drew his last breath and his hand went limp in hers before the sun rose.
Lonnie had been raised that it was wrong to hate. Somehow, she'd managed to push it away before now, but this was Willy. She'd had bad times in the end, but understood now.
Retreating to her office, she gave into her grief, shedding the tears that had not been permitted to fall before.
The infection had killed him. He'd died in agony, but hadn't lingered so long. She'd sat with him, taking the tricorder readings and noting how hot he was. She'd filed it all away as if he was a simulation and she was still a student.
But alone in her office she couldn't keep back the feelings. Nothing from her world would have saved him. But she suspected that there were drugs in that other world on the other side of the barrier they'd built in space that might have.
The anger was so strong. She wished she could take a rifle and kill. The Bajorans had had that option. She had never believed she would have gone to the hills before, but knew now. In Willy's name she would have taken out as many of those as she could, even knowing she might die too.
But she didn't have that option, and knowing that, the anger faded to a dull, constant pain that never disappeared.
She had only been borrowing the office before. Now, she knew it belonged to her. Bashir might come back, but she couldn't allow herself to hope that in case he didn't.
At first, she explored the room which had been Willy's, and which still carried all the reminders. She had left it as he had made it, and could still feel his presence. She gave into the tears, sobbing openly for the first time, deep sobs of grief for the man who had become her friend, and a part of her family. She sobbed out the grief until it became something else.
Someone had knocked on her door, and had left what passed as the daily meal. Looking at it, something snapped inside. The anger filled her as she looked at the soup. She didn't want rations to eat. She didn't care for their taste anymore. She didn't like the way they broke into stringy clumps as they were cooked.
Mostly, she wanted Willy to be alive. She wanted him to tell her she wasn't alone. She wanted him to save those she couldn't.
She stared at the soup. She was hungry, but couldn't stand the thought of eating it. The broth and the chunks of ration cube were theirs, and they'd killed him.
She picked it up, staring at the wall. She lifted the lukewarm soup in her hand, nearly spilling it on the desk as she prepared to throw it at the door.
But her hand would not obey. Once, she had taken food for granted. Meals were social occasions with friends and tasty surprises, and if it was not pleasing it was left. But the last year, and especially the last month and a half, had changed that. She couldn't destroy food. They were not starving, but the results of marginal malnutrition were already showing. She went to bed hungry every night.
She would never again see food, even the little cakes, in the same way. The form or the taste didn't matter anymore. Having food at all was what mattered.
Willy understood. She had never really known why before. Each sip of the broth was a little more compromise, a little more control. But she had no choice.
She couldn't hurt them back. All she could do was save as many of the victims as possible.
But she could hate them.
Calmly, she sat her soup back on her desk. There were a few scraps of the herbs they'd tested the year before in her desk. None had medicinal properties, but did make it taste better.
Lonnie dropped a small pinch in the soup. It was a small victory. She didn't have to taste the cubes that way.
She remembered the Vorta, standing in the square as he lectured them on the rules last year. She saw him a bludgeoned bleeding hulk and the knife was in her hand.
Slowly sipping the soup, she finished a little of her work. She held the image of the blood and the knife in her mind, thinking of it dripping on the reports she had to make. Yesterday, she'd been numb. She'd done what had to be done, but without feeling. Yesterday, despite the death and misery, she'd been innocent.
Today, all the days to come, she'd remember the moment when blood became victory.
Julian didn't bother with the pebbles anymore. He couldn't tell if he remembered. The rations were so few. They came closer together some times and took much longer others. He slept by the place they arrived and drank when he was awake. He barely moved at all. The Vorta had said he'd be interrogated. He wasn't sure he could even think straight enough to answer their questions anymore.
He dreamed. The Vorta stood in the circle and died in various horrible ways. Old nightmares shifted and changed. The Jem'Hadar still shot Garak but sometimes he didn't die, but stood, all the blood flowing and tore them to pieces before he fell. He was standing in their fighting ring, all the guards and prisoners standing round them in a circle, as he fought the Vorta, and was about to slice through his pretty shiny shirt with the knife he had hidden when the door slid open.
He didn't move. It had been so long, he didn't even worry about numbers anymore, that he was doubting it would happen at all. But the Jem'Hadar stomped in and ordered him to stand. He could not even sit, let alone stand. They hit him with their rifles and he rolled to protect himself, shocked out of his dream. Then they pulled him up and dragged him by his arms outside to a dully lit corridor..
He was dropped flat and hit his head again. Dazed, he did not remember much but hazy light as he was moved into a cell.
There was a Vorta. He could hear the softer taps of the feet as this one walked around him, and examined the heap he lay in.
She spoke to him in Standard. "I ordered your rations cut. If at any time you choose to cooperate, they will rise to what you received per day last year before we were forced to discipline your people."
He was in a haze, but most of it got through. It was a different Vorta. A female. There was a sharpness to her voice and a threat that Glebaron was not capable of. He assumed the others had been interrogated and wondered if she asked the questions. If they kept him as they had he would end up dying on them. Amid the haze was a clarity. The Vorta, not this vorta, would not allow that.
"Prepare it," she ordered.
He was pulled off the floor, balanced on his knees as his arms were gripped. The now filthy garment was cut open, his mind suddenly very aware as the bayonet ripped it apart. The pieces were torn away and when they were done he lay naked in front of her as he collapsed.
"Much better." She walked around him, but did not touch. "Straighten it out," she snapped. He could imagine even Jem'Hadar snapping to attention at the tone of her voice.
He was lifted and straightened, but without the abrupt force he expected. She examined him again, carrying some kind of stick. She poked it in his belly and groin. Then she studied the leg. "It's lame. Don't expect it to walk. And it's filthy. Clean it up." The guards moved but stopped. She added, making him an offer, "That could be fixed. Quite easily in fact. Be a very good boy and I'll make sure it looks just like new."
"Do you wish to question it when it's clean?" asked one of the guards with great deference and he thought, a little fear.
"No. Store it. Make sure it gets more to eat. Just as with the others."
Her voice was ice. Was she the same sort of Vorta as the rest, or something created just for that use? He remembered Garak once saying it was the threat that mattered, the belief that harm would be done, and the anticipation of it that which was persuasive. There was nothing they needed him to tell them, no secrets, no confessions, except one. It didn't matter what. That was negotiable.
His icy tormentor left the room. He stayed on the floor for some time, waiting to be taken from the room, interspersed by moments of fog. It was surprising when they arrived with a stretcher. He was lifted to it and hauled out of a door, no attempt to restrain him, and left in a small room.
He felt the touch of a sonic shower, crawling across his filthy skin, slowly and with tingles that were not unpleasant. They left him for some time, again, but there was mist in the air, and he breathed it into his lungs. He fell asleep, the room darkened, and when he woke could breath better than before.
Whatever she would do, she was not allowed to kill him. He suspected he was to be returned undamaged when she was done. If he won, if Glebaroun got his wishes and he broke, he wanted him to be able to survive whatever followed. If he lost, if the Vorta failed to get what he wanted, then Deyos would expect the delivery to be in good health. At least for a while.
And he knew there were many ways that did not leave a mark.
He wanted Garak to come and tell him what he should do, how to read these tormentors. But Garak had done with him. When the guards returned and carried him into a new cell, one that was small and clean with a molded cot, he was placed on the bed. Then he was propped where he could eat from the bowl provided. He took it curiously, for it was very small, not much more than the ration cubes, but looked different. It had no taste at all but a completely different texture than the rations. He suspected it was heavily fortified, but would not disrupt his shrunken stomach.
"You shall receive one bowl each day. We must confirm all of it is eaten." The guard stared as he finished. It didn't take long and the bowl was taken.
He watched as the guards departed and the door closed. The lights dimmed but were not pitch dark. He was sleepy. It was enjoyable to be clean. He did not like being held naked, and the insinuations she had made were worrisome. He felt somehow diminished by becoming an it.
But the food was soothing and calming and he fell asleep before he could complete the thought.
On Cyrus, there were three meals for most of them. The hospital split their meager supplies into small bowls so they'd not be so hungry. The main section fed them better, but still not enough.
At first, the children were sick too often. They had colds and rashes, and anyone already sick got worse. But as time went on, even the healthy adults were showing signs of malnutrition.
For most, it was being too tired and too easily sick. The colds would not clear up. It was hard to sleep, and harder to wake when morning came and reluctant bodies had to rise from bed.
The diet was balanced, just insufficient. If it hadn't been things would have been much worse.
It was for those locked inside dark rooms. There was nothing extra and nothing to look forward to but a stumble outside and dry cake to eat. Time hung like an endless tunnel, and sleep and dreams kept them company most of the day.
But they were lucky. When the virus appeared they were isolated. Otherwise it might have killed them. But for the others, already weakened by hunger, it was close to epidemic. Few needed the hospital, but it sapped away both the energy and the hope that tomorrow would somehow be better.
Cary was too sick to work. He'd asked to move, temporarily, to a place he could rest better. He couldn't shake the sickness. Each time he felt a little better, he'd try to work and be confined again to his bed.
He dreamed about her. She smiled at him across a shining river. He longed to go to her, to fall into the cool water and not be so hot.
Sometimes, when his fever ran higher, he'd see the girl's dead eyes and feel her stiff body in his hands. Then she'd open her eyes and whisper just above silence, her face soft and glowing, "Do not fear I wait for you." She'd smile and the face would be hers, the river reflecting in her eyes.
But he was tired. Someone brought his meals to him. He didn't bother with the hospital. Nobody could do much to help, and he'd rather sleep with her smile than be crushed with too many others.
Sometimes, when he felt a little better, he watched the children. They didn't run now. He thought they looked too pale and small. He knew adults could cope with this better than children. They'd bear the mark of hunger the rest of their lives.
He helped with lessons sometimes. But the children were too tired, or too hungry, to really listen. What would become of them? Would they grow up barely able to read and knowing only this mean little world?
It had only been six weeks since the monsters had come. Unless there was more food and even a faint hope that life would improve, they might welcome the Winter this year.
Tarlen Jaro sat on the floor of his cell, trying to remember the formulas he and Justin had created. It was necessary because he needed to remember what they'd done or he would lose his mind. They had stabbed his neck with their device, and kept him hungry, but had not physically touched him.
He didn't know what to think. For a long time, he had expected the door to be opened and to be dragged into some sort of torture pit every time he heard noises outside his cell door. But all it had ever been was food, or water, or an occasional scan by a strange alien they had not seen before. Once, they had even given him an injection. After that, the cold which had lingered since the winter had finally disappeared. The strange looking alien had returned to scan him several times after that, and his food allotment had suddenly doubled.
He didn't ask why he was getting such odd treatment. He assumed, when they'd tired of the game, that they would take him away to a pit of despair. The Cardassians did. These creatures were said to be their allies. But in the meanwhile, he sat in his lonely cell and hoped their game lasted a long time.
But even this gentle captivity had its own kind of torment. He could only stare at walls for so long. The food was sufficient he wasn't so hungry now, but its arrival was awaited just as much. It relieved the unending monotony. Even better were the occasional visits by the odd little aliens. Often, after they had come, good things happened.
Recently, in addition to more food had been a mattress. He no longer had to sleep on the hard metal floor. And the lights in his cell were no longer almost completely dark.
He didn't think of food constantly anymore. He just stared and waited for the creatures to come. He'd been experimenting. Sometimes he sat in the middle, sometimes at the back. He liked to watch and see what they'd do, especially when he stretched out on his mattress and pretended to sleep.
The food came anyway. They would wait to see if he noticed them and sit it by the door.
All of it helped, but none of it made up for the isolation. To fill the time, he drilled himself on the formulas. He repeated them over and over to himself. Sometimes he even dreamed about them. They were keeping him from going mad. He had even had thoughts on how to improve it.
Then, all of these had fled that morning when the guards had taken him from the cell. He could barely remember his name let alone the carefully balanced formulas by the time they had led him to a small, office like room. There was a chair, and he was told to sit in it. He sat. He recognized openings where one could be bound, but no one made any moves to restrain him. Instead, Glebaroun, the Vorta that had addressed them that day so long ago, sat near by at a table and uncovered a plate of food.
It was hasparat. Tarlen stared at it. The ration cakes quieted the stomach, but this was food from home. He had wondered if he'd ever taste it again.
"Welcome, Mr. Tarlen, I've been looking forward to speaking to you," said the Vorta, and Tarlen grew confused. He had grown up amid Cardassian violence, and expected it of those in power. Here, even the Jem'Hadar had not touched him except for the tag. The Vorta smiled, and he could almost believe that the smile was honest.
One of the Jem'Hadar picked up the plate with the hasparat and placed it on a small tray attached to the chair. Glebaroun smiled again, and Tarlen was more wary than before. He wanted the hasparat. Even here, it brought back deeply pleasant memories he hadn't allowed himself to remember before.
He could think of no reason for the Vorta to offer him hasparat, but hesitantly picked up the spoon and took a small taste.
The cell and the odd office vanished. He took a second bite, and the delicate flavors filled his senses.
It was excellent. He doubted his grandmother could have done better. He enjoyed another spoonful and his stomach began to feel odd.
The Vorta looked concerned. "You look a little pale. Are you well? You do like the dish. If something else would be better we can bring it tomorrow."
Tarlen knew he had to answer. But he didn't want the hasparat to disappear. "It's excellent. I . . . it's been a long time since I've had something this spicy, Sir."
"Take your time, then. It is rather strong." The Vorta smiled again and Tarlen concentrated on eating, lest they take it away. He had to eat slowly, but enjoyed each bite and wondered what they wanted.
He was almost finished when Glebaroun suddenly broke the silence. "Mr. Tarlen, how are you feeling? You've finally gotten over your illness, I assume."
The Vorta paused, and between bites Tarlen answered. "I have been feeling better, Sir, since the aliens began working on me." He went back to eating. There wasn't much left and he wanted all of it.
Glebaroun sighed. "It is unfortunate that Mr. Blanchard was so badly damaged from the contamination that they could not save him. I was hoping the two of you could work together. Very unfortunate that his condition was never diagnosed as poisoning before it was too late."
Tarlen had finished the hasparat, and looked up at the Vorta. He was stunned. Somehow he'd managed to convince himself that the creatures who'd taken him hadn't known. He didn't see why he was still alive, and especially why he had just finished hasparat and had a mattress. "Then you know about the accident. We didn't tell anyone."
"Actually, we didn't. Please, how did it happen?" Glebaroun smiled again.
The smiles made Tarlen nervous. It was the look of a cat ready to pounce on its next meal.
But he'd explain. It would be better to sound like he was cooperating.
"Our last test. We were mixing the chemicals. The soup needs ventilation. We had none. Justin breathed enough to make him sick. He never really got over it."
"He died a bit over two weeks ago, with all the best care we could give him. I am sorry, I believe you were friends."
Not for the first time, Tarlen wondered if he was dreaming this conversation. As long as he had not been dreaming about the food, he didn't care. He might not have believed them, but he remembered the aliens. They must have been some kind of doctors, he thought. They had probably saved him from a much slower version of Justin's death. But he didn't expect the favor to be free.
"Now, you did enjoy the hasparat? Would you like more tomorrow, or would you prefer something else?"
It had been very good hasparat. He still wasn't absolutely certain that this was real. Maybe he was drugged or sick and delirious. Maybe they'd driven him to cling to the illusions he wanted he was so ill. But even if it wasn't real, he liked their bribe.
"More would be fine." He hesitated a little, but managed to sound calm. It this was real, he kept wondering what made him so important.
"Excellent. There is one thing you need to do for me, however, and that is to remember everything you know about that last test you made. The chemicals and ratios are especially important."
He almost felt relieved. There was always a cost to any deal. If they wanted to know about the project, he was willing to cooperate. He would not be a fool like Vance had probably been, and he still believed that should the project be resumed, Justin would still approve.
"I can provide them better with a padd to record them," he suggested. Somehow, he hoped this was true. He knew, lost on Cyrus, the project was already dead. But it had been too important a dream to lose, even if They helped fulfill its promise.
The Vorta nodded. "I will consider that. For now, rest. We need your health restored properly."
Then he did something extraordinary. He had a printed book on his desk and passed it to the Jem'Hadar who led Tarlen back to the door.
Everyone paused. "You may be getting rather bored, now that you're feeling better. Perhaps a book would help."
Tarlen took the book. It was a copy of several classic Bajoran novels from before the Cardassians, and was even printed in his native script. He hadn't read anything that wasn't in Standard since arriving on Cyrus. He wondered if the Vorta had any idea how special it was.
He followed his guards back to the cell, sitting slowly on the mattress. He could wish for a pillow, but was used to its lack. He hardly noticed them closing the door as he opened the book.
Lonnie wrote the last line of her report and closed the folder. The infection ward now comprised a full third of the patients. She noted that the numbers had been steadily climbing as malnutrition had become a greater problem. But that wasn't *why* so many developed such severe infections.
She only saw the worse ones. Of those, most were treated and released. Permission had finally been given for small medical teams to go to the Residential section to evaluate patients. If they could be treated at home it was best. Some needed special procedures, and were transported to the hospital. If they grew worse, they'd be brought back, but most of those were able to manage with the medicines sent back with family to treat the wounds.
But not all of them. If the more virulent infection type occurred, they joined the now crowded ward at the hospital until they got better or died.
There were fewer of those lately. She had forgotten the tricorder this time, but the nurses were keeping a close watch. She'd started using it only on those where the degree of infection was uncertain. No use wasting it on those who would recover or not, depending on luck and how much they wanted to live.
But a few more patients had been admitted that morning, and the wall that separated the wards had been moved back to accommodate them. One was a child, whose cut leg had swollen and purpled despite immediate treatment. She was young and strong, at least. The other one was among those under house arrest. After collapsing during the daily inspection, and had been sent to them. The jagged cut on his foot had been washed and bound, but it was a deep infection, unlikely to respond to anything. The best option was amputation. A year ago she'd have never considered performing one, especially without a doctor's guidance. But Willman had trained her in the procedures, and she done a lot of things she'd never tried before. He had a day to improve before they took that option. The third, a young woman, wasn't so bad off, but her arm was too badly injured to treat at home. She'd survive with proper medication.
But for all of them, survival depended on escaping the deadly, always fatal version of the infection that had already cost a few lives. It killed within days, and in case it saved their lives she'd turned to Willman's book for help.
There had been another of those treatments that afternoon. She still remembered the second one Bashir had endured, nearly killing him from the shock. She'd allowed herself a passing moment to wonder if it might have been better for him to have died then. It would have been an easier death than the ones Willy and Vance had, and if they were keeping him alive, quicker than the extended death that they'd made into survival.
She knew the method. It was rather simple. She'd been too tired to let any memories bother her the night before.
But it had been so easy; once they began it became a mechanical process, and the patient's distress was the hand holder's job. The young man had already been moved out of the ward. He was still sedated, and in pain, but the infection was gone. He had a chance to survive. For Lonnie, that had become the measure of success.
People could live with nightmares; but sometimes without them they wouldn't live at all.
The Ag staffer was stable, but she wanted to check for herself. The wound was deep and not treated until it had been too late. She'd use the tricorder to be sure.
Tomorrow, the surgery was already set up. She didn't expect him to improve. Recovery would be slow, and maybe they'd leave him there long enough it might save his life.
If he couldn't come out on his own to get his rations, maybe it wouldn't matter at all when they shot him.
Since James had been shot, Morris and Rafferson had said almost nothing to each other. Numbly, they stumbled out at dusk for their rations, and then back into the darkness. They ate their food, and drank their water, and returned to bed, only to lay for endless hours, unable to sleep and too tired to do anything else.
Hunger was their constant companion, but it had become dulled. They didn't have the energy to worry about it anymore.
The future was the next dusk and the next stumbled trip outside. Beyond that was too far to consider. One dusk might bring release or perhaps death, but each walk back inside was a tiny victory.
Another day had passed. Another lost night was to come. It might bring release, or maybe death, but it was too distant to deal with.
Reality was the present moment, hour, and day. Dusk was the rite of passage between days. Returning safely inside was all that mattered. They hardly noticed the moments spent outside the door. Gradually, the sun was brighter and earlier. As the day's lengthened, their eyes, accustomed to darkness, could not take the brightness. They stood with them covered against the haze.
Inside, James's bed, and his things, lay undisturbed, except for a small drawing laid there as a wreath. A small piece of paper had been left in the corner and with a soft rock they'd made the picture.
They didn't touch the cot, or the things. Tom often couldn't sleep, and lay watching the space James had lain. He could sense the unquiet spirit that still remained.
He turned away, as did Randy, when he slept. James had been taken too soon. He had too much life to go. There were so many pictures inside him nobody would ever see.
Tom wondered if those executed in the square were still wandering. How did those who passed beyond life see those who lived? Did those who had died violently linger much longer, not yet ready to leave?
Sometimes he heard little noises. James mumbled in his sleep, and Tom could almost make it out. The cot would groan as he turned.
Randy had probably noticed, and some day he might ask him. But Randy didn't talk anymore. Neither did Tom, except in his dreams.
Tom had never allowed himself to turn over to see if there was a ghostly image, or not. The noises were bad enough. James found some kind of peace by morning, and Tom could sleep by dawn. No light leaked inside, but the days warmth was able to penetrate their prison.
The hardest part of the day was afternoon, waiting for the next ordeal. Tom didn't sleep. He was afraid he'd not hear them soon enough, and perhaps not move fast enough.
He didn't know if he cared if he lived or died anymore, but didn't want to die that way.
Sometimes he thought of Zale. He'd been there from the first day that Vance and his first abbreviated staff had arrived. Tom didn't agree with what he'd done, but didn't want to see him taken away. That's why he'd put the strip of metal inside the room. Some days, after James groaned half the night and the day was too hot to sleep, he wished someone had forgotten one there. Maybe it would be easier to get the misery done.
He was so tired, and so hopeless that maybe a quick death would be better. But there was nothing in the room that would grant him that, and he would not die as James had.
He didn't want his spirit caught between death and life.
When the Jem'Hadar came for the next scan they would once again be lying awake, in anticipation of the ritual of the meal, the only thing grounding them to reality. There had been no interruption of this pattern since the day James had died.
But that day, a resounding thump had stirred them from their dreams, and the door opened to the soft light of dawn. The guards ordered them out. Still groggy from sleep and half lost in dreams, Tom pulled himself to his feet and stumbled outside. Randy didn't look up, but followed.
Even lost in their misery, the sudden change in routine brought a sharp, dangerous awareness to the moment.
There were others standing outside their prisons. They were pushed forward together to the place James had died.
Tom didn't look down. He was afraid some of the blood might still be visible.
Then, suddenly, a group of figures materialized across the square. Most were Jem'Hadar, but three were prisoners. Each had their hands tied behind their backs and were blindfolded.
The blindfolds were removed. Dirty and unkempt, they squinted at the light unable to shield their eyes. Rafferson recognized them despite their filthy, wasted states. All three had been in Blanchard's inner circle.
They stood, dirty and wasted, eyes shut against the light, heads down. They didn't move from where they were. Randy was watching, but barely paying attention as if he'd seen something on the ground.
Andy wasn't sleeping when they banged on the door. They'd had two more meals, given them with a water refill while the Jem'Hadar scanned the room. There were others imprisoned here as well, but he didn't try to see faces, and it was too dark to tell. But the banging seemed early, as he sat up in bed as the others roused themselves, looking at the door in apprehension. Sitting up, they pulled on the boots as well and when the door burst open were prepared. But instead of nearly evening it was the early dawn.
"Out," bellowed an unfamiliar guard, as they scrambled to obey. Outside, a knot of others, the ones they saw in the dusky light during feedings, had been gathered out near the middle of the square.
They looked different with their coats, but were pulled to the side for a better view of whatever was to happen. Andy noticed Rafferson, looking away from something. His roommates were watching. They'd known him for a long time. Andy wondered what else had happened that he didn't want to see.
But across the square, a group materialized, Jem'Hadar and prisoners, and as they were positioned, blinded again by the rising sun as their blindfolds were removed, he shivered, even if it wasn't that cold a morning.
Those assembled from the rooms watched intently, in absolute silence. The tied prisoners and the guards stood as the sky began to lighten and the first bright rays of the sun could be seen on the horizon. The head guard motioned to the others and the prisoners were hauled into a line, each facing into the sun. Each had a Jem'Hadar weapon pointed at them. At a signal from the head guard, all three dropped from a single shot in the abdomen.
Morris continued to stare, frozen in place, still seeing something in his head at which his un-focused eyes were staring at. Rafferson had once considered them friends. The blood of the man in the square, and James, mingled in his mind and covered them.
He didn't care what they'd done anymore. He simply wished a shape edge and a quick death to banish the nightmares.
They didn't move at all.
The guard ordered the living back inside their dark rooms. Neither he nor Morris moved. But someone bumped into Rafferson and he grabbed Morris and dragged him along, back into the room. The door shut behind them and locked. Rafferson steered Morris to his bed and sat him down. Then he sat on his own.
Morris sat for a few moments, and laid down, curling towards the wall. He was shaking. Rafferson watched for a few moments, and lay back himself, staring at the ceiling. A while later he noted absently that Morris had stopped shaking and was probably asleep.
But he could not sleep. He could not drive the images of his friends from his mind, and the flashes of their faces he saw when the explosion of energy hit. He was still awake when dusk and the next day's cycle came.
He'd heard that Vance was dead. They'd been told. He could still remember the day the runabout had landed on Cyrus the first time, with Vance and his first little staff inside. It had been so clean and new. There were so many dreams.
How could it become such a nightmare?
Eventually, the day fading into another endless night, he fell asleep.
He tried to remember the first time he'd stepped into the square, but now all it had on it was blood in the sunshine.
Somewhere between breakfast and lunch, Miles stared at the paperwork on his desk, barely seeing it. The next time he was called for an audience, he'd have to sit there and make nice, because his own needed the small extras the Vorta was giving. He'd have to fill out more mounds of the paper. He'd have to encourage everyone to cooperate by standing by Michael and his rules.
But what he wanted to do was trample the paperwork and give it back. The bribe was his family. Even with his new friends he knew it was dependent on his cooperation. They wanted to take out the Vorta, some day at least, but he was also sure they wanted this place. The survey they'd done was careful and meticulous. Glebaroun thought it would be his future to. But he must have known that hiding behind the hills were those who wanted it more. And that for Miles and his own, it was all going to end the same, no matter who won.
Michael was just sitting at his desk, mostly staring at the door. They knew they were executions. He'd spent the morning keeping calm, ordering people to stay home. Miles didn't really understand how it worked that they obeyed, since officially Michael only had the power of suggestion. He'd threatened a few with cuts in their own rations so perhaps they all knew he might make it for everyone. But they had stayed. Or maybe they were afraid the Vorta would add a few to the list of soon to die.
If he was desperate enough, would he? Would they be the ones he might know to be watching and waiting? Would he pick out some from their little enclave just so it would be more public?
Miles head was whirling with all the possibilities, and he set down his pen, certain he couldn't concentrate. Michael hadn't bothered to pretend and was still staring. Nog had totals he'd need, but he could have done half of his smaller stack now.
The big hill was sending someone home that day. Lonnie would send the names of her new temporary patients. They knew there were three, but not who. There were friends and spouses and virtual family sitting and waiting and hoping the names didn't include their own.
Looking at Michael, he spoke quietly. "We should know soon. I suppose you're going to announce it."
"After Nog makes notifications," he said, his eyes never leaving the door.
Miles wondered how this strange person had taken him over. At times he seemed almost cold. He still made sure the extras got sent to the prep crew, headed mostly now by Shandra, but when he dealt with the citizens his rules were absolute.
As the weather slowly improved, the mud was seeping down off the upper deck. Those who didn't comply were towed out of their homes by his unofficial 'staff', like Nog, and put in work crews. It was dirty and cold work. There was not enough water to really clean up. They worked until Michael personally dismissed them from their duties, for as many days as he decided.
Sometimes Miles thought his own actual official authority had been eclipsed, but then he still had to play the Vorta's game, and Michael didn't. And should there be a problem, he would rather be himself.
"You think they're Ag?" asked Miles, the silence daunting.
"Probably. They already punished Medical. I'm sure they knew all the details before they even came. I'm guessing it's the one that got this nightmare dumped on us."
There was little hint of sympathy. "Not that we're going to have that problem now," he said.
"Nobody likes it. But it's how life is. We both know this gets over, and whatever he's afraid of, whoever wins, they'll see a sufficiently obedient population to move on. What happens after that? We'll find out."
"I don't think anyone is going to be bored with nothing to do," said Miles.
Michael glanced at him. "That survey? I guess they got good results."
"More than good. I wonder if Vance or his people ever dreamed of the bounty outside their doors."
"Then I'm doing the right thing. Whoever they are, they aren't going to tolerate breaking the rules either." He seemed to fade inside himself for a moment, and Miles wished he could tell him the secret. Those things which were obvious about the way the Vorta acted were shared with him. He had noticed a few Miles hadn't even thought of. They both had authority, but somehow, Michael didn't need a title. "What about the moss, did they find a lot of it?" he asked.
Miles considered. One the deck there were good areas of it, but the other one was the most valuable. None of their own would be harvesting any of it so he took the chance. "Quite a bit. The rock did us a favor, I guess."
"Things aren't good," said Michael, " but they'd be a lot worse without it. In case you can ask, anything that happens to be growing *on* lower deck, if we use it do we have permission?"
The wording was interesting. "My guess is it will be all right. It's too early to harvest anything yet so we have time to ask." And time to hope it would be done by then, he thought.
"I've told people to keep hands off. We need it checked anyway. Maybe you could ask about that too." But this time Michael had faded, and had returned to the stare, this time a bleak one. Miles couldn't help. He'd need to tell the people on the deck what should be cleared that day too. One patch which looked like the moss was to be eradicated, but it didn't say what it was.
He was about to say he'd have to take a walk up there later, and Michael should stay until he returned, when Nog burst in the door and for a moment that was all that mattered.
"All of them were Ag," he said. He'd given the list to Miles, and he'd nodded, rather curiously. Michael would have to find any family or close friends to notify before he got to let the rest out so he had his own copy.
"These were all on discipline last winter," said Miles. "Tarlen didn't trust any of them. They got information out of the ones they took, or they already knew."
"There's a couple of widows, " said Michael, "One's pregnant. I'll get a notification list going but it won't be long. And you're sure of this. They were the ones who brought this on?"
"Yes," said Miles. Nog looked at the two of them, relieved all he did was deal with supplies. Willman's death had left a pall on everyone, but he knew Michael well enough to know he'd be sure they understood that.
He didn't know Michael anymore. The threats to cut selected household's rations had spread, and he got immediate cooperation after that. But it wasn't the same man he'd worked with before. Shandra was running the prep group as Michael had, with the same attitude, but he saw the way she looked at him sometimes, as if she didn't know him either.
"I'll need some time this afternoon, since I want to have a talk. I'll get this done by tomorrow." Michael moved the paperwork over, taking out a blank sheet and a pen.
"I have to go up the deck. The lab report needs to be discussed, so maybe Nog can sit in for us this time. He can start on your paper, too. I don't want to wait too long on this and we have lunch soon." Miles wasn't watching his reaction at least, thought Nog. That was the last thing he wanted to have to do.
"I guess you just got a promotion," said Michael.
Nog just nodded, remembering Dax and wondering if now, with the killings, she'd have had to abandon her approach or if the Vorta would still be accommodating her. He'd already figured out that Miles wasn't much of a recruit. "Maybe I can bring in supply's and finish it up," he suggested. Even if he liked spending as little time in the depressing office as he could, he didn't really want to see the faces today. By tomorrow they'd have accepted things, but even if Ferengi were raised to deal in reality, this was one he wasn't quite ready for.
Nog with a pile of work holding down the office and Michael giving his lecture in Residential, Miles was glad to escape to the deck that day. He carried the report with him, number 31 noted as moss, and thought at least it might be a small positive out of a terrible day. Michael was right. The men had brought this down on their heads, but he could still dredge up the memory of their shock and innocence back then. Others had hidden the household variety of contraband too, but given it up. He could understand the drive to preserve a little of your life, and if it was Ag, something to believe in. At least he could now. Back then, he'd simply allowed himself to exist. If it was good or bad didn't really matter. His was over. His family was abandoned and even if something miraculous happened and they came home, they wouldn't be the ones he missed.
Now he didn't care if they were or not, just to have them near. His luck in being chosen for this job had made it a possibility. Or even better, something likely. But that day had dimmed the mood. Where were they? What kind of life were they living? Would they look at him as someone who'd... who'd collaborated?
The word had been used before, but carefully. But now it wasn't so simple. The others were still being starved, if the report on the condition of the dying was typical. His own were still hungry but lucky. You had to remember that luck mattered and be considerate so it didn't disappear.
But the two men he'd met, the ones in grey with the slashes, had already heard. They were marking off several areas where the mud was still intruding, and he stepped up near them before they saw him. "Hard day," he said.
The younger one kept on working while the other approached. "We heard. The suits wanted them. They had plans to get information out of them, carrot versus stick, with some nice meals and some special perks if they were forth coming. They were expecting them to be slashed, but he ordered them shot instead. I don't think I want to be him when he has to face up to them in a few months. It's almost over for him now, but he won't admit it.
"And I have to sit in his office and cooperate, where does that leave me?"
"No doubt appropriately intelligent about things. They have to publically play the game too. Privately it's different. They'll want you, and Emery. Definitely Emery. I'm sure they've got someone watching him right now, just keeping tabs."
"I don't know him," he admitted. "He did all the paperwork for food but he seemed to find something to appreciate too. At least until the end."
"They've seen that too. And you. And he's doing the right thing right now. Anything else is suicide."
"I know. But at least I have some good news. I think we need to look at the false reading too since there might be something to look for."
He handed the report to his contact, who nodded. "It's over yonder. I don't want to hold you from work any longer than we have to, but we need something to look out for before we wipe it."
Miles was glad. He hadn't made up his mind yet, but couldn't ask there. On the other side of the hill, however, it was different. And after he knew the Vorta had killed them out of spite, he knew he'd mind even less if he suffered an accident sometime sooner than planned.
Miles studied the two leaves, noting one was more pointed than the other, and grew more flat to the ground. It was the bad moss. They took multiple cuttings and sealed them in a box, but gave him one too, incase it grew further down the deck. He almost said nothing, but didn't know when another chance would come to ask.
"When these suits take out the butcher, then are you the enemy?"
"We're already the enemy. They know we exist. They just don't think we matter."
"I need to know about you. I don't dare let on how disgusting my job is, or how hard it is now to not let that show. What do you stand for? I don't think I can do this if there is nobody out there willing to stop them someday."
They stopped near a patch of flowers. They were red, with petals like a rose. "Looks like we won't have to look far for ceremony," said one of them.
He picked a bud. "This is us now. We have dreams and plans, but its not time yet. This is our symbol, a bud. We can't pay back the Dominion, not ourselves so we'll help them, but then comes the hard part, keeping the dream while we wait for our time. You already understand. If you didn't, you wouldn't have encouraged Emery to teach them to hide. We all have our moment. Ours isn't here yet. But it doesn't matter what they think, we know we don't belong to them. Once you let go, you won't either."
He took the flower. "This looks a lot like a rose. Make sure you save those. It would be nice to have some flowers."
"We are the Rose," said the man. "And just remember. You only belong to them if you let yourself. Doesn't matter what they see."
He didn't have much time and had to be back or he'd be gone too long. "Then I'll learn to, and maybe you can tell me more," he said as they passed into view, the bud tucked into his pocket. When he didn't think he could stand his life, he'd have that to remind him that not everyone had forgotten how to dream.
Andy was trying to get the vision out of his head, the way they'd fallen, how it looked like they would be left in the dirt to die there. He had visions of revenge, but the shock and blood had not been so sharp and defined before. He knew who they were, and that they'd probably organized the cave and the other stashes, and were why he was lying hungry in a locked room, but just the same, it had never been so starkly defined a plan. He'd known them just well enough to know how much they believed they had to do their deeds. It had been the wrong choice, but he knew it was the only one they could make.
Revenge didn't sound quite as simple with the smell of fresh blood still in his mind. When had they known that it was going to lead them to this day? Had they already gone too far to back away? Or did it matter if somehow it made a difference?
One of his roommates was crying. It was quiet and he had his head buried in the blanket, but Andy just lay still, also cocooned, but listening, as the silence filled the room. They'd been outside for their meal already. None had looked that way, not even him. But it was after the food, almost as if that way they knew it was real that the crying began.
He had worked with all of them. He knew the kind of damage a close up Jem'Hadar shot could do, and how slowly they'd actually die. But dreams aside, they *had* known. They had made the choice not only for themselves, but everyone, knowing they were playing this deadly game. But they did not have the right to make the choice for everyone.
The others with him had been there from the start, just as the dead, or dying had been. He tried to phantom how it would feel to know the hurt and pain they'd caused everyone, but still remember the little daily memories of better days which might matter even more now that they were over. And he'd told them that these men had been suspected. Unless they'd killed the rest while interrogating them, why were the rest missing?
Trying not to ponder the question, wanting to sleep, the crying was irritating. He pulled the blanket closer as if it would block it out.
The youngest of his roommates finally sat up. "I hope they die quick. They could have at least used kill shots. Not just make them bleed to death."
Andy just listened to the silence that followed. Then the most senior of them stirred. "Don't feel too sorry for them. It just gave Them a good reason to bleed us out too. I have a friend in Residential. She's pregnant. Before they moved us, They told me what they did there. They shot some of them too, just because they could. Just randomly. And they don't get much more than us. In a few months maybe they'll kill enough of us they'll be done, but these deserved it."
Tabler was glad he'd stayed by himself. He wanted to owe them for everyone, not just a few. He wanted to be the invisible man. The crying stopped, probably quieted by sleep. The light never went out, and it was as if they lived in an endless twilight, where the easy absolutes were all gone.
He thought of the civilians and the children and the people who'd never even heard of the teraforming project, and how now they were paying for the dream of saving it even if the men were dead. Just to get revenge wasn't enough. Not anymore. They'd stolen dreams, and futures. Nothing would restore them. But they'd have plans for Cyrus if they were going to this much trouble, and if you stole dreams, then it was only fair to have yours taken too.
Ray was thinking of Walter. He'd heard he was dead. There were no direct links with the hospital, but patients came and went, and word came with them of the changes. He could still remember, in sharp focus, the day They had come. Everyone had been ordered outside first. Walter and a few others had been removed and taken away.
His hands were tied behind him. He'd stumbled away in a daze, prodded onwards by the guards.
Walter was gone and Ray and Tara were ordered inside. The terrible day they'd killed their hostages across the line they'd been lucky. Since then, they'd gone on as best they could manage.
Walter had been so scared the last months. He never talked about the place Cyrus had been, or his dream, but shared meals and small talk with his friends. You'd never know he'd once been the director of the place.
But one afternoon, shortly after harvest was done, the three had been standing on he hill overlooking the fields. "The dream will come," Walter had said very quietly. He'd worn a look of grief. "But not the dream we shared. Dreams are things to twist and use. That is all they matter," he'd said bitterly.
Tara had nodded. Walter had paused, looking towards the place his large test was to be. "This will end," she'd said. "That field is still our future."
"No," he'd said quietly, "not ours." He turned away from the field and settlement, looking at the office area. "I was a fool. This has always belonged to them. My violet-eyed friend gave us too much. We should have known."
Ray hadn't known if he should believe it or not. Watching Tara he still did not know.
Ray had heard some of the history of the colony, mostly from Tara's telling him Walter's story. She'd learned how to make people comfortable when she had her shop. Walter said more to her than anyone.
"You heard what you wanted to hear," she said.
He'd looked at her, his eyes grim. "Sisko brought you here and he blames himself. He allows them to make him their puppet. But I allowed this place to exist. This Vorta in disguise offered us everything and we welcomed them. We never ask any questions at all." He'd looked at the field one last time. "I brought my people here, but will not compound the injury by continuing the dog and pony show." Then he'd stood, and started to walk away.
Once past the field he'd stopped, staring at the place Sisko and his people ran the colony now. Ray had tried to follow, and then changed his mind. But he was close enough to hear the final mutter. "I suppose I'll still pay for my ignorance."
He'd never spoken of it again. Still rather shocked, Ray and Tara had decided to keep his secret. It would do no good for any of these people to know, and be worse for Walter if they did.
Ray thought about the Antelope. Bashir had lied. They should never have beamed anyone off the ship. Barrett had lied too, for he too should have known. Everyone had lied and accepted that it would be better left alone. Why should Walter be any different? But he suspected some of these people would certainly disagree with him about that.
In the last months, Walter had helped care for his friends, still recovering from the last symptoms of the winter's sickness. Whatever bad judgements he'd had before, that meant much more now.
Now, his punishment was done. The guilt he'd never allowed to be spoken was absolved. He'd never have to look upon the place he'd thought was a dream and see the nightmare.
But Ray still missed him. His whole crew had died in the crash of the Antelope. Ray had served there as a technician for five years. He wished, somehow, that even one had managed to live.
All he had was Tara and Walter. Until they knew he was dead, Ray had still hoped that somehow his friend would come home. Now, all that remained was Tara.
He'd met her as she tended to his minor wounds, housed in his quarters. She came every day and by the time he was well they'd gotten very close. She'd moved in soon after that, and later Walter had been added to the family.
Walter was gone, and he was terrified that Tara might be lost as well.
Frantically pacing, he stood outside the door of their bedroom as the medical team stood over Tara. She had had a mild case of the virus, and a persistent cough from the flu that followed. But despite the hunger, she had nearly recovered. Until a week before she had been relatively healthy. But she had come down with the new virus, and had gotten progressively worse since then.
They were bringing a stretcher. She was being wrapped in a blanket, and carefully lifted off the bed. He watched, trying to memorize her face, afraid she would die and leave him all alone.
The medics began to carry her out, and he moved out of the way. One of them came up to him, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Why don't you pack some clothes for yourself and a few for her? We'd like you to come too."
Ray was surprised. He knew how crowded they were. "Won't I be in the way?"
"We're asking those who'll need more personal care to have a relative come along. We don't have enough staff."
Ray didn't mind, but was apprehensive. While he packed some of their things, he started to worry. What had he meant? He'd been caring for her and could do it there, but wondered beneath the calm voice of the medic if more wasn't wrong.
They started out, the medical staff carrying the stretcher. Ray followed along behind, wondering if he really wanted to ask. Waiting near the bridge were guards, and he tried not to look their way. But once the gate was passed the medics stopped to arrange something.
"How bad is she?" he finally asked.
They were almost to the hospital. He was afraid that once inside they'd be too busy to say anything.
"She's real sick. But she's relatively strong, so don't worry too much."
Ray noticed as they were walking how labored his guide's breathing was, and how thin he looked. As he followed the young man into the hospital doors, he avoided looking at the guards who stood near, as he entered the building.
He had never been to the hospital. He had heard about the smell, but as he followed a nurse down a crowded hallway he wondered how these people could ignore it. It was oppressively stuffy, filled with the residual smell of sickness, infection, and barely adequate hygiene. The air hung in the rooms in invisible clouds which shifted as they moved about.
He knew they did their best, but even before he saw his first crowded room could tell how full the place was. The noise of too many bodies and the moans of those in pain drifted along with the air.
The summer before he had worked on one of the crews building the extra hospital buildings, now empty. Just one of them would have made all the difference. But they were out of bounds. He feared for Tara more than he had before they had brought her here.
He was stopped in a small corridor, and Tara was taken away. He stood against the wall, wondering if he should ask someone what to do. But a nurse with a harried look on her face stopped next to him.
"Ray?" she asked. "Your wife Tara was just admitted."
He had almost hoped she'd be sent home. That would mean she wasn't as bad as it sounded. "Yes," he said quietly, afraid to add to the din which filled the corridor.
"I'm in charge of civilian help. We have a policy that if you're here you are expected to help when asked. Do you understand?"
She was so abrupt. He'd hoped for a little consideration. "I was told I'd be caring for Tara."
"Yes, her and others as needed. Nothing medical, but feeding and cleaning if necessary. Your ration allotment will come here, so you'll get fed the same."
He hadn't expected this kind of organization. But he was willing. If he had to stay in this overburdened place at least he wanted to contribute.
"When can I see Tara?" he asked, still worried about her disappearing from his side.
"She's being evaluated. We have several small wards and you'll be there to make sure they get fed and to alert the staff to any emergency. You'll see her there. In the meanwhile, I need to show you where things are."
He followed. The corridors were simple to remember. He was amazed by how they'd managed to crowd so much into such a small place. The food area was warm and steamy, and she stooped there.
"I'm on lunch. You might as well have yours."
He sat at the small table opposite her. His bowl was almost as full as at home, but the soup had no seasoning. He didn't care as long as when this was done he went back with Tara.
She finished quickly. He'd gotten used to eating slowly so it took more of his time. "Should I stay here?" he asked.
"Wait here. I'll find out where your wife will be assigned. But you'll have to get used to eating more quickly while you're here. These are the only tables where staff and civilians can eat and you're taking someone's place.
Ray watched as she retreated. He was going to tell her he hadn't known, but she was already leaving. But just the same, he hurried the food and stood, leaving space for the next person.
She returned a little while later. "Your wife is being treated but I'll take you there."
She handed him a large bowl of broth in a heavy pitcher and a stack of small bowls and spoons.
He followed her a short distance away. There was an empty bed near the side, but the rest was full of some ten others, both men and women and children.
She took the pitcher and sat it by a table. Ray looked at the room in growing dismay. At home, Tara would be so much better off.
He took a small bowl and spoon when the nurse handed it to him, and followed her to a young boy lying awake but feverish. She indicated a chair next to the bed.
"He needs his meal. Give him a little at a time. He will eat, but you'll have to talk to him. He's ten. He likes to play ball. His mother reads stories to him but she's sick too. His favorite book is on his bed. If he won't eat, then read a little to him and he'll take a little."
Ray looked at the boy and the others in the room. Tara would occupy the empty bed. She slept a lot and his mind would wander too much when she didn't need anything he could give.
But he picked up the spoon and moved it carefully towards the boy. He didn't open his mouth. 'Nurse, what's his name?"
"His mother calls him Keele."
"Keele, son, just take a little sip. It's good and warm."
The boy responded to his name. He eyed Ray with a mild suspicion, but took the first sip of broth. Ray refilled it and smiled at him.
Tara was very ill, and this place reeked of sickness. There were too many people and too much noise. How had the empty bed been cleared for her? Had someone died? Had they grown so bad they would and been moved to another room? How would he keep all of these people fed and watched over and still give her the time he had to?
But it didn't matter much then. Keele smiled a little when he told him about the way they'd played catch on his ship, losing points if you hit anything along the sides of the corridors. The Captain hadn't much like it but they did it anyway.
All his friends from there were dead. But Keele ate his soup. The nurse hadn't told him where to go next, so he picked up the book and read a few pages to the boy before he went to sleep.
It was easier at home. But there was so much time. He carefully closed the book, looking at the nurse as she returned.
"Who next?" he asked with much more enthusiasm.
She introduced him to four others. Tara would be there by the time he was finished. She told him a little about each of them and he smiled again, this time without having to force it.
Building had been hard work. He'd gotten tired and sometimes he hated getting up in the morning. But he'd mattered. He'd been more complete than before. Sitting, offering soup to a woman who's children were all she had, he mattered too.
She needed to eat. He couldn't be a doctor or a nurse, but he could give her soup.
Ray didn't even notice how long it took before Tara was brought in. She wasn't so hot as before. She was asleep, and more peaceful than she'd been in days.
At home, he might have sat with her all night, holding her hand and wishing he could make it better. But here, he gave her a little kiss and went to comfort Keele, crying from a nightmare.
Walter had refused to help in any way, but he was wrong. For the first time since the winter had come and then the Jem'Hadar, Ray knew that he could make a difference.
End, Legacy Year 2, Part 1, Chapter 10