LEGACY

An Alternative History of the Dominion War

Year Two - Metamorphosis

Part 1 - Occupation

Chapter 11

Shaking off a dark shadow, Tarlan looked about the room. It was good to be in a larger space, with so many others. It had almost become normal. And there were no chairs with bindings. The tables were arranged so everyone could see each other. He'd never seen the aliens, but after so much solitude was grateful for even new, unknown company.

If only the Vorta was not still there. Glebaroun sat at a table by himself.

In addition to himself and the Vorta and the three aliens, there was a recording device. The aliens were similar to the ones that had treated him, but taller. They were chatting among themselves when they entered the room. The universal translator had been started, and their odd chirp-like sounds became words.

The questions had started after that. He thought they must have known more about the Project than he'd said before. Perhaps before he died Justin's mind had been repaired enough to record his thoughts. Or they'd simply taken the records.

But he didn't care now. If they could ask such knowledgeable questions, then his answers were not telling them anything really new.

There was a small discomfort that he was betraying all the rest, but he was sure that what came of it would make it worth the cost.

He wasn't sure how long they'd been talking. But lunch had been provided, a large platter of ratamba stew, and they had waited for him to finish. It seemed a lifetime since he'd eaten his home food, and he savored every bite. But he was reminded of his people's history, and how he was betraying it. But in the end, the Cardassian's ruin of the land could be fixed, and only the enemy could allow it. The taste of his lunch lingering, they had returned to the questions and answers and commentary about what had before only lived in the dark.

It was the third day he had come and he was almost comfortable with the odd creatures now. Now, upon waking, he was ready for his day, his mind already remembering the small details of the project, even the parts that had broken all the rules.

But they knew all about it and he was still alive. So he saw no reason not to tell them what they hadn't already discovered.

They must have noticed. It was the first time he'd been offered Bajoran food. He had dreamed of the flavors. There was much promise on Cyrus, but it would never be the lost food of home. He thought of Teala, the scents drawing memories closer. He'd thought he'd never see her or his children again. But now, he knew, if he cooperated enough, they might be his reward.

But the greatest joy was the talking and discussion and free flow of ideas. They had made the time before have meaning, and then helped him keep his sanity while the enemy had locked him in a box. But now the ideas took on a promise they hadn't before, and with the chirping aliens could even consider if there were mistakes.

This was how it was supposed to be. The odd creatures lost their strangeness when their chirps got faster and higher and he remembered how he and Justin had found some light in the dark. It was so much better than having to hide.

His mind was full of ideas again, new ones, greater ones than he would have dared. Sometimes he couldn't sleep, thinking of what they had come so close to perfecting. Justin was a the best friend he'd ever had, but the feeling had gone deeper than that. In the short time after Jaro had become part of Justin's team, they had become family. Respectful of their talents, they'd shared a love of the knowledge they might find, and a love for the dream. Justin had recorded everything he knew about the project when he got sick, and Jaro had read all of it. Somewhere it was all tucked into a file in his quarters. But he didn't need to read that; he knew all the important details by heart. And the Vorta and his alien scientists cared about what he knew, and listened to what he said.

Even through the translator, he could sense the excitement in the voices of the aliens. Only someone who understood the importance of the method would ask the sort of questions they did.

"When the formula for a particular soil is set, how critical is the makeup of the source soils?" ask one of them.

"Oh, very critical. We add what is needed for that particular soil. For a different soil the mix would be totally different." Curious which had asked the question, both talking, Jaro could feel the excitement growing as the aliens were nodding furiously.

The translator beeped, and the translated voice further strengthen his optimism. "It is so simple and so adaptable. You shall receive great status for this."

Tarlan hadn't considered that when he dreamed of family. Teala had pushed him to quit when he had held a position before. She would be not be impressed, he understood, especially with who made the offer. But it was getting him decent food and excellent conversation. He himself could handle the reflection. She would learn to. He smiled at the alien. "I would be honored to have my name associated with this procedure."

He meant what he said. It wasn't just the food and the rewards, because he wanted the recognition too.

Justin had risked his life for the Project. Jaro knew the price that might have to be paid if they honored him for his cooperation. But he *believed* in it, and the dream.

The Vorta looked up, apparently bored by all the technical terms. He smiled at Jaro, "I am much pleased to hear that. I will be away for a few days, but I see no reason why you should not continue your discussion with these gentlemen."

The aliens had switched off the translator. They chittered to each other, but looked as pleased as Jaro felt inside.

The translator was turned on again. "Perhaps Mr. Tarlan should have a padd to consult. It would make our discussions much simpler."

Jaro realized he'd passed. "I'll provide one for meetings. When I return we'll consider allowing him to keep it. For now, when he is not here, he'll be provided with paper and pen."

The tallest of the three spoke. "I do not like this arraignment. One table would be quite sufficient."

Glebaroun smiled again, "I see your point. It would be best just around a table, so we will prepare the room properly next time."

Tarlan didn't trust the Vorta, but this he believed. Whatever he wanted with Tarlan, Glebaroun had kept all his promises. He knew the Vorta wanted the project, and he was perfectly willing to come with it if they would take him.

It was only about teraforming the land. He let the chittering alien voices drown out the knowledge of what they were making of him.

o0o

Sitting on his desk where he could look at it, the middle of a set of books often used for research, Miles had pressed the small rose. The second book was part of the set but hadn't ever been used, and it looked normal sitting with the others. He'd been tied to his desk with an unusual amount of forms this month's end, and knowing the rose was with him helped. Slowly, CA was taking away the Vorta's authority, and their forms were different. Since the shootings, he understood his new compatriots better. He'd let them take out the monster. Rumors had passed up to the deck that someone had surveyed all those held up the hill. He alone knew why.

The younger slashie, hid main contact, had been ambivalent about the deaths, but even if they lost some expertise, CA would be sure to prevent it from happening again.

Maybe it would be easier when there was only one enemy.

The room was too quiet. He sorted the forms by who sent them, no special notation but the print was different, and the heading at the top of the page. Then he came to a single sheet, not CA, not even a document.

The Vorta wanted to see him, but not that day. He was actually scheduling a meeting. It was the first time. All the others had been an order to come that day, usually immediately.

He put it in his desk. He had a couple of days to be ready this time, or if you thought of it their way, a couple of days to be taunted by it.

The room still felt too empty, too lonely. He moved the top book, picking up the second one, turning to a page where if someone came in you wouldn't see. But he remembered the sweet smell of the flower and the sudden brightness of their blooms, and decided it was up to him to decide what to call his situation, not them, either of them. But Glebaroun had shot Willman, and he liked the man and the man had done nothing but try to keep his own safe. He'd even tried to save Julian.

He sat the second stack to the side, pulling the new ones closer, thinking how nice it would be to tell the pixie eared tyrant that he'd have to wait, and he already knew who was pulling the strings. Even knowing he'd lose, Miles understood the meeting would taunt him until it was finally done.

And then there was Emery. He was holding Residential together, largely by the force of his word. There were no words for the admiration Miles felt for his Chief. Because he did it for the right reason, for themselves. He wished he could tell him of what he knew, but his time would come.

Before that, Miles must pretend. But even when the Vorta was gone, Michael would be allowed to see only what he should, because he gave everything, and he would not if he knew the victory was a lie.

The Vorta would pay, but too late. Shuffling papers into piles so he could fill in the blanks easier, he wished they could see the revenge, if they could bring it to him themselves, if they could see the flash of fear in the violet eyes.

As he transcribed the pertinent figures to a sheet of waste, and began carefully writing them in, he understood they were already at war. The only problem was , they were the village in the middle of the battle, and for them there was no where to run.

o0o

Biting his lip, a wave of dizziness sweeping over him, Duncan wondered if it had been as bad for Julian when Willman had forced him to stand that first time. But then he forgot his own pain, for Julian was still in Their captivity. He would have to think about what they might be doing to him, if he'd ever come back at all if he let the thought go on. But both of the medics, which they were calling them though neither was, were steading him and he was supposed to stand and see how much pain there would be if he walked.

"Don't worry," said the woman, "We have you. You won't fall."

He wasn't reassured. And it wasn't about falling. It was about how sensitive his feet were when the covers were too tight. It was about how when it was cold they felt so numb. It was about having to face what the hideous monstrosities had done to him.

But there *was* a choice. The man gripped his arm harder as he tried to pull away. "Look we do this or we carry you up the hill. Simple as that. You try you get to go home."

They had finally decided he wasn't going to kill himself. Sarah spent as much time as she could with him but he missed her every time he saw her go. Gija came and kissed him. He needed them. "I don't think I can walk," he said.

"You don't have to. They want you to stand with support. That's all."

He sighed. "Okay, just do it."

They leaned him forward, helping him slide to the edge of the bed. Then they pulled him up, slowly, and he clenched his jaws shut as his padded feet took the weight. Standing up, pulling his shoulders back, he made himself breath slowly and calm himself.

"See, you can do it."

Panting now, feeling dizzy, he wanted to lay down again, but they let him take more and more of the weight instead. But it was odd. The longer he stood, the less pain. The more he shifted his weight, the greater the numbness. His leg hurt, but not badly. He wouldn't try to walk, not yet, but the intense stab of pain he expected would almost have been better.

"Enough," said Duncan, panting, "Please."

They eased him back, and he let himself fall back on the bed. He could remember how they'd thrown him on the floor, already covered in fresh bruises and his hands had been strapped down on his back, pinning him to the floor. Then they had lifted his feet, wrapping something thin and tough around his ankles so the bottoms were exposed.

Then they'd started the questions. If they didn't like the answers, or they weren't fast enough, or he couldn't give one, a strap hit his feet. He tried not to scream. He really didn't remember if he had. The pain was so real now, in his head. But standing, feet pressed against the floor, there had been pain but it was minor. And mostly there was . . . nothing.

He was crying. The strap had made a sound when it hit, especially when they were annoyed and they'd hit him harder. He could hear it in his head now. The stabs of pain were there, but distant, lost in a mist. He turned to the side, letting out the tears and finally sobbing so much someone was holding him.

He hadn't noticed when Sarah had come. She lay behind him, just holding him. "Just let it out," she said.

She kept holding him, talking softly, and she was crying too. Their world had crashed around him and he knew it would never go back to what it had been. He couldn't understand why they'd hurt him so bad, but they had. All the grief started spilling out and she cuddled him and he knew without her, he would not care anymore.

He hadn't heard the others go, didn't know how long had passed.

Later, after they fell asleep, and he woke with her sleeping next to him, holding him near, he wondered if that was what they had done to O'Brien and what he might have said if Sarah had been the sacrifice.

o0o

In spite of the looming theat, Julian slept in relative comfort. He must have been sick and not noticed it because his breathing was no longer stressed. Despite the nakedness, he liked being clean. The molded cot was even comfortable. Aside from the daily visit with his bowl, he was being left alone.

He was feeling better. The mush filled him up each day. He thought the amount had increased a little after the first day. The cell was not soundproof, and he could hear movement outside, tensing when someone came near, but it had been five days and nothing but bowls of mush had interrupted his dreams.

He dreamed of the fighting ring. The enemy was now the Vorta, not just Deyos and Glebaroun and the woman, but a long line of them. They died and returned and died again. But at the end of the line was Deyos. In front of him was Glebaroun. And waiting next was the woman.

She smiled at him, anticipation on her mind. He slew them over and over and she never came near. He knew eventually they would all be gone and she would be next. But he *knew* the smile. Garak wore it when he was playing guessing games about his secrets, enjoying the confusion. Garak had tortured, too. Had he looked upon his victims with the same anticipation as she was? Would the assembled crowd be able to watch as she took him down and made him wish she would kill him?

When the other vorta were done, and did not return she was next. He woke then, sweating and shaking. She would step inside the ring and smile, and that would be the image in his mind when he woke, still half in the dream.

He had begun to wish she hurry it up. He remembered how Garak had explained about the anticipation. He wouldn't die. Perhaps he might wish to, but he knew she was not in charge of that decision. Would Glebaroun watch from some monitor, waiting impatiently for him to break? Could he stop himself from screaming out names if her torment was working? Did he even want to?

If he didn't he would die in some slow and painful way at Deyos's hands. However it worked, he was the loser.

He was sleeping when they came, a pleasant dream. It was interrupted by the Jem'Hadar and the door and the stretcher. He wasn't quite awake when they yanked him off the bed and dropped him face down, He considered trying to climb off but even if he fell the injury might not delay things. Or they would beat him and it would proceed anyway.

He stayed still. Garak and his words floated around in his head, fears surfacing he did not want to know. He heard the Cardassian's screams as he'd been tortured, and the thuds as he'd been beaten. He could feel the shake of the floor as they'd come towards him, now magnified to a roar. But they hadn't touched him. He'd been lucky. But now luck was going to run out.

He had his eyes closed when they reached the room. He was grabbed roughly and dropped on a large table, molded where it enclosed him with a space where his forehead sat and a space underneath his face where he could breath. He did not move, all the pent up anticipation making the moment feel quite unreal.

"Bind it," she said, giving someone a command. He could feel his feet being pulled and bound to the table. Then a hand. But the footsteps did not sound like Jem'Hadar. He looked up, stunned to see a prisoner pinning his hand in a slot and backing away.

But there was nothing there. No interest, no expression, nothing at all. He stood, frozen, waiting for instructions.

She snapped an order. "Get into position." He watched as the slave moved with slow, but attentive purpose out of his view. He laid his forehead on the resting place, closing his eyes and taking a deep, nervous breath.

He could hear her move closer, but she did not approach the table. "It may speak. It knows what is expected of it."

He thought of the men who had put the things in the cave. If they had not, he would not have had the device. He would never had played the game with Willman and spent so much time locked inside his own personal dungeon. They would have had so much less to find. Perhaps Willman might have had a chance to live. He knew someone would have to be sacrificed but perhaps it might have been someone else.

His life would have been lived in pain, but it would have been better than this. She knew about his memory. She would play it out.

"It does not choose to speak. Perhaps tomorrow."

He almost did, right then. Garak had tried to convince him, and had finally just walked away. But they had done nothing yet.

"Begin," she said.

He heard the prod as it engaged. All he could hear were the screams of the Cardassian. They echoed around the room. He could not quite take in that it was not the Vorta or the Jem'Hadar but the prisoner who was going to torture him.

Then he realized that the screams were his own, and could feel the pain seizing his body. The tip was burning his skin, resting along his lower back near the spine. He could not breath, but managed to gasp between the screams. It must have been set high. Or he remembered the time before too well and didn't know what was real and what he dreamed.

"Enough," she ordered calmly.

He collapsed onto the table, panting and shaking. The burns throbbed. He didn't pass out but wished to. Unseen, tears were running down his cheeks.

Slowly, he got control of his breathing, but did not move. The pain still echoed through his body and he did not ever want to move again. He wished he didn't know how long she could keep it up before the injury was so bad it couldn't be easily healed. But the memory would never be lost.

She distracted him from the deep gloom and terror by making it so much worse.

"It was not given permission to speak. It must remain silent unless given permission to make a sound, any sort of sound."

Like the slave. She was going to make him one. He wanted to scream out a confession, but he was not allowed to now. If he did she would punish him for the words. But would it end it after that was done or would that not count as he didn't have permission?

He didn't try to move. He let his mind fall into a deep blackness and wanted to lose himself inside it forever.

"Begin the lesson again," she said calmly. "It must be silent. If it is not it shall be put in the box until the next secession."

She knew about that too. The only thing worse than holding in all the pain would be the nightmares that would evoke. He clamped his jaws shut, fighting panic and pushing away the blackness. He could not stop the screams if he went to that place.

The slave obediently repeated the lesson, tormenting the same nerves and the same already burned skin. He did not know for sure, lost in a miasma of pain, but it went on for a long time.

She must have commanded it end with a gesture, or he was so preoccupied with keeping silent he did not hear but it stopped.

Collapsing, silent sobs hidden from view, he was afraid to move. The fire moved up his leg, and the monsters and their shadows loomed over him. It moved further, and he wished for the cooling waters of the mist. It was faint, but enough. She and her slave and their torture was distant now. He would silently hide in his pool of cool water and she could not touch him.

He could hear her. She walked up to the table, ordering the slave back. His back was examined. She ordered one more lesson for the day.

He could feel it but it was distant, cushioned by the mist. It had hardly begun when the mist darkened into blackness and he passed into silent, empty nothingness.

o0o

Andy wasn't sleeping, but lying so still the rest of them thought he was. But in his mind's eye, he heard his brother's laugh. He loved his brother. He was a goofy kid, often assumed younger than Andy, when in fact it was the other way around. Andy was the studious son, who did his school work without prompting and was always at the top of his class. His brother did only what he had to. He preferred hands on tasks. When they worked together on something, Andy did all the planning and Jeffy put it together.

He couldn't stop thinking of Jeffy now. Not since the mysterious men had come. They wore coats over their grey uniforms, but had been waiting when the door was banged too early. Oddly, they also wore gloves. The Jem'Hadar had stood back, outside, while they'd come inside.

They had a form. Each had to give their full name, what they'd done the year before, if anything, and if they'd worked for a department, which one. All in that room were Ag. They'd double checked their names, and asked if anyone had been taken out and not returned. It was odd and suspicious, but had provided conversation until they all got sleepy again.

But they'd used a date, an earth date. March 25, filled in at the top of the form. They'd been told to sign the form too and that was where he'd seen it. The nightmare they lived in had faded and he'd crawled inside his blanket once they'd been done.

Jeffy would have taken the chance, he'd thought, like the ones who filled the cave. He would have never really thought of what it could bring. Jeffy might have even been there in his place, if things were different. But he liked thinking of the times he kidded his brother for being so different and he was in turn insulted back.

But Jeffy did take risks without ever thinking them out. Maybe he'd just been a regular kid, unlike Andy who had always been different and quiet and thoughtful. The last one he took had been just a whim, the weather nice, the pathway clear, and the little cart they'd made to ride down it near. One of the wheels had a crack and Andy was going to fix it before it broke, but didn't get his chance.

One of his roommates woke up and was moving around, talking to himself. His birthday was in March. They'd just missed it.

Andy wondered why the Vorta would even care what month it was, and use an Earth term, but he'd think about that later. All he could see or hear or dream of was Jeffy right then.

Jeffy had tried to get him to ride with him, but he'd said he wouldn't. Jeffy shouldn't either. They'd gone in for dinner and then to finish studying. It was still light after they'd eaten, and he had gone to his room because Jeffy's diddling interrupted his concentration. He usually tried to share the room with Jeffy since he worked harder that way, even with the prodding which sometimes made Jeffy mad.

They argued all the time but seldom really got mad about things. Andy had told him not to touch the cart when he'd found the wheel was broken, in his serious voice which usually meant he listened. But he'd been suitably mocked, not funny this time because he was serious. He'd decided to take off the wheel after he finished the last assignment. That way nobody could use the cart.

But his mother had knocked on his door, just putting away his books. It was still light outside. She was looking for Jeffy, since he wasn't in his room.

The steadiness that had always been a part of Andy tried, but panic set in, a horrible feeling overcoming him. He'd run out the door, out of the house, out to the pathway. The cart wasn't there. Then he'd raced down the pathway as the sun shone in spectacular oranges and yellows and reds as it set over the mountains in the distance.

Jeffy wouldn't see anymore of the sunsets he loved.

The cart was flipped over, and he'd been thrown. He must have been going fast when the wheel had come off and it skidded to the side. Andy had been the first to find him, touch him, and his chilled, still body.

His parents had screamed at him over the cart, in grief he knew now, but not then. Everything had changed. They said good bye to their son, and left home. They moved, off Earth at first, and then back. His mother cried every time a kid who looked like his brother was near. But she never let her remaining child out of her sight.

While Dad worked away his pain, Mom just sunk deeper into it. They'd been back on Earth, visiting her family, on March 25th when she'd let go of it forever, the same day Jeffy had snuck out to take his last race down the hill.

Dad had faded away then. Andy had been sent to live at school. It was only for those with the smarts, but he'd made it a refuge. All but that day. That day, he found a private place to mourn.

But four days before three men who took the same kind of chance had been shot and condemned to slow death, and once the shock was done, he couldn't feel anything. After Dad had moved on, and he'd gone to school, he'd quit grieving for his brother, except for the day. But he missed him, wondered what he'd done, if he'd have gotten older and stayed the same or given in to normal. Jeffy was a part of him and always would be, but one who only lived again that one day a year.

The men they'd shot he'd known, even relatively well, but they were just dead now. He'd add their deaths to the toll owed, but that's all. They'd stolen a part of him, a part of all of them. He was afraid that by the time he could rob them back it wouldn't matter anymore.

But he heard Jeffy laugh. 'Go get'um, little brother,' he said, and Andy smiled, then understood. It was the same laugh he always had when Andy had gone Vulcan on them. He'd keep reminding him, even if only Andy knew he was there.

He closed his eyes, and they were skimming down the hill together, the cart sailing faster and faster as he steered it past the bump which had dislodged the wheel and the brothers, together, would never let go of one another again.

o0o

Julian came to, dumped on the stretcher, as it moved past the door of the torture chamber. There was something sticky and dry on his back, the sting just fading. The twitches had faded and there was nowhere that did not know pain. He didn't move, not betraying he was conscience, until they reached his cell and he was dropped on the bed.

"Sit up," he was ordered by the Jem'Hadar.

He was so weak he couldn't but knew he dared not tell them. He just looked at them, letting his arm dangle off the side limply and hoping they'd understand. He was on his back, the burns pressed against the smooth surface of the bed. But he was too exhausted to notice the pain now.

One of them pulled him up, propping him against the side where he wouldn't slip, and held out the bowl. He knew he must eat. He tried to forget that the other reason was that she had ordered it and he could not disobey. But he needed the nutrition too. He couldn't manage the spoon but the Jem'Hadar patiently waited while he scooped it up with his fingers and sucked it into his mouth. It took a long time.

He guessed this was not a first time for them. Eventually he'd scraped out all of the mush and it was taken from him. They left him as he was as they marched out and the door shut. The light dimmed but not to dark again. Slowly and painfully he managed to lay on his side and let himself collapse.

He closed his eyes for a time, the pain too much to move. But its worse moments faded and he forced himself to remember the waters. The next day he could go there. The mist was thin now, but it shielded a little of the pain. But he was careful to neither groan or wince or make any sounds at all.

How long could she do this to him before Glebaroun stopped it? That she couldn't kill him, or even badly injure him unless it was healed didn't matter. She didn't have to with the prod. He was sure his Vorta was keeping track of things. If he didn't speak before he had to, then would he simply ship him to Deyos or taunt him more?

The silence surrounded him and he remembered the slave who had tortured him. Was this how they had made him? All he had to do was tell them something. But the empty eyes of the man, now stolen and owned, made him shudder. He was desperately afraid that if he didn't tell, if he didn't let Glebaroun own him, this would be his fate.

The bloody circle and the sticky red knife of his dreams were far away. He let the mist come, and the image of the slave faded too.

But there was *home*. They had punished them, he was sure. There would be much misery there and more death. They would never forget and would never dare take the chance again. That was the idea. They too would be owned and know it. But it would be better than dying in one of Deyos' slow executions, or being tortured and bought more each moment he obeyed. And Lonnie, she was still not a doctor. She would lose so many that he might save. What in his knowledge could make a difference that she would never see?

The pain was ebbing a little and the food making him sleepy. Afraid he might forget and mumble he tried to stop sleep but exhaustion won. He slipped into blackness and wished silently that he never woke again.

o0o

Four days before, the three executed Ag men had been brought in on stretchers. It had been a very busy day, with twice the normal load of new patients and fewer discharges than normal. Lonnie knew she'd have to evaluate them eventually, but they'd still die. Most of her fever cases wouldn't if they got sufficient attention and rest.

The Ag men had been towed to the dead room and given the standard treatment. There was enough to keep them comfortable when she could spare it. Right then she couldn't give them much, but all got enough to sleep.

They had company and quiet. If they wanted to talk to the head of the temple, he'd come to see them. A few of the human patients had asked. Maybe he wasn't of their particular faith, but he would serve.

The room already had one resident, a woman who lay unmoving as she quietly bled to death from internal injuries too great to treat. She died the night they arrived, leaving them to die with friends.

They were lucid, if in pain, when she was removed. The report noted that the three victims spent much of their time talking quietly at the beginning. She'd pulled out the companion for a time to give them a last few hours of privacy.

They had pen and paper to write to friends and family. All but one had written their letters themselves. She taken a quick scan, confirming that they were not going to survive, and gone back to work.

By the end of the second day, they were too weak to be alone. The weakest had already developed a minor infection. The others slept most of the time. They didn't talk much anymore.

The nurse in charge of the room, given a chance to rest herself, kept brief notes. When they became critical Lonnie would do a second exam for her records.

She was getting tired of finding ways to say someone had died of execution.

The first died the morning of the third day. The infection had been carried in his blood. Suddenly, without any warning, he'd faded and died. She'd taken more time checking the others after that. She had to have enough information to properly fill out a report. She didn't have time to autopsy them after it was over.

They didn't notice the practical way she dealt with them. It had been too long for them to notice who was in the room.

The second died that night. His infection wasn't bad, but he was bleeding worse than the others.

Their last victim was stronger, and the bleeding was very slow. By the time he died four days after his arrival he was unconscious and in shock, but oddly enough, still had not infected.

He'd already written his letters, but before he lapsed into the last stage, he'd asked her to write one last letter. He seemed to expect her to know who it was. His nickname was "deadhead". It was a bitter letter, and she tried not to think of the things he'd said. One of the staff had bore that nickname, but she didn't want to remember which one.

But she knew if he came back she'd know. She'd put the letter in her drawer, not certain he was rational enough to make such accusations.

Maybe Deadhead would die in their custody or be exiled. She almost hoped so. She'd have to ask about the letter if he came back.

Once her last patient was gone, the room would be empty for a time. The virus cases were mostly recovering. She didn't have so many death certificates to fill in.

The pertinent facts were easy. Death was from expected causes. But before the last's body was removed, she checked one last time.

She confirmed he hadn't infected. She'd hardly even looked at him. The injury wasn't different from the others, just a little lesser in degree. That shouldn't have made the difference.

Her oddities file was getting full. She added a short description of his end, and why she couldn't explain. Later, she hoped, the time would be there to answer the questions.

Instead, she and Jabara took some victory in the way the other patients were doing better now. As busy as they'd been, they'd gotten less monitoring than normal.

It was odd that those who received the most care seemed to die more often, and those who got almost none lived. But they'd lived. Why wasn't as important when she had neither the time or inclination to care.

o0o

Duncan watched as his tormentors arrived, the two marginally trained medics from Winter, with their instructions. Sarah had taken Gija, so he'd have privacy, but he wished they'd stay. Maybe she would see. Maybe he could try to talk to her about the fears. They made him sit up on his own, and slide his legs over the edge of the bed, and helped him into a chair. It was just an ordinary one, but had arms so he could feel more supported. He had lunch before they began, and it felt good to sit up and eat. He was feeling better, except for the legs, and there was no pain. What he neglected to tell them was there wasn't much of anything.

The woman took each leg, massaging the muscles, loosening them up, and keeping them warm with a blanket. The man, while she helped support his upper body, lifted and bent and straightened the legs, one at a time, and it was almost good when they started to throb. Anything but the numbness was good. To a point. Julian had destroyed himself over the pain. But he hadn't had a wife and daughter. He hadn't had anyone to take with him if he failed.

Duncan McFarron was not going to fail. He had already promised himself, and Gija and Sarah. And the people around him. Even if it turned out he couldn't really walk, he'd do all he could for them.

They had bent his legs enough, and the muscles massaged and covered for warmth, and he was so tired. No matter that when he lay in bed, the hopelessness came. He was exhausted.

Then they stood on either side, holding his upper arms. He could grip the chair arm for support. But he was to lift each leg up as high as he could, on his own.

It was such an odd feeling. He could tell how tense the muscles felt, and how weak. But it was as if they were from someone else. There were sharp stabs of pain, but mostly he felt nothing. It was as if they were pegs which had been stuck in in place of the real ones.

Sweating from the effort, the muscles tightening into cramps, he'd lifted both, neither very high, but all on his own. They'd helped him back to bed, and gave him some tea. He knew what it was, and wondered how it had been smuggled down the hill, but all the knotted muscles relaxed. He felt like a puppet on a string now, laid out after the show so his strings wouldn't tangle.

But he slept. And he dreamed, the men with their straps there and the orderlies now standing by, waiting for their turn.

And then he realized something. They had really wanted answers. He'd run an office. He'd helped impose some order over the staff and set a standard for work. He'd lost it when the monster came out. The rest they kept were still being starved on the hill, or maybe on the ship, or, perhaps, something worse. His interrogation was about information, not show. But, why?

The sedating tea was taking hold, and he gave into it, letting his mind float in its dark place as sleep came.

But before, he remembered some of the questions. Why ask those, he thought. She didn't have anything to do with his job. She was taking care of her daughter, and sharing his life, and even as he'd gotten involved with Sisko's security, had never brought up any of that.

But the drug won and the rest went away and he had forgotten when she woke him with dinner.

o0o

Tom listened for the sounds. Since the three men had died, his days were different. He'd known all of them, and very well. No matter that since he'd chosen to work for Sisko they'd avoided him, and some had probably helped hide some of the contraband that had helped bring on this nightmare. He still remembered early days spent scraping out space for test fields and the celebrations when the work was done.

He'd actually grieved for them. In the quiet darkness, there wasn't anything else to think about. Maybe they weren't friends anymore, but they had been.

Now, dying or dead, they had gone without saying good bye.

But Tom had broken the endless cycle of waking and sleeping, and days lived in automatic motion. Now, he noticed how hot or cold the room had gotten. He checked the color of the sky and how light it was when they were sent outside. He listened to wind and rain, seeing it fall and the small bushes and occasional trees bend in the wind. He counted the times the guards walked back and forth, and the telltale signs that it was near dinner.

And he was counting the days. He'd found a piece of wood, and after their meal each day scratched a mark to count the days since the executions.

He'd even started trying to get Randy to talk again.

The deaths had brought him back alive, but not Randy. He stood and went out the door, but there was a hesitation that hadn't been there before. When Tom tried to get him to talk, it was as if Randy didn't see him at all. He pushed his friend out the door each day, and gripped his arm to draw him inside. Randy might have not even left the room otherwise, and be dead like James.

He could see fear in his friend's eyes. Tom was afraid, but it was a fear he lived with day and night and had become part of the world. Randy's terror was different, deeper and much harder to keep away.

Tom wanted to help. He wanted to find a way to keep his friend alive, and let fear slip back against the wall. But he knew, like with James, that he could do absolutely nothing. Randy would live with his demons, or die from them. But it was always his choice.

o0o

Randy was dreaming. The guards were pounding on the door. Rafferson was asleep, and James sat quietly on his bed, calmly watching and waiting.

For company, Randy knew.

The door burst open. Rafferson didn't wake and they didn't even look at James.

He couldn't move. He was awake and wanted to stand, then obey as they pushed him out the door, but his body was frozen in place.

"Out, NOW!" ordered the guard.

Randy managed to get his legs to move and was sitting now. He didn't know if there was enough strength to stand or walk, but he willed it to be.

Rafferson hadn't moved and James was already dead.

The guard pointed the rifle at Rafferson. But he looked at Randy. "Move outside now."

The rifle was fired at Rafferson, hitting him in the back. He jerked up and fell, his eyes glazed and dead.

The rifle was pointed at Randy now. James stood and went to wake Rafferson. He separated from his body and stood with James, looking at Randy.

The guard pointed his weapon. Randy didn't want to die. He didn't want to live in this darkness alone either.

"This is easier," said Rafferson.

Randy forced his stiff legs to move, standing up. He didn't have his shoes but pushed his right foot ahead, careful of his balance. His body was still too stiff to cooperate.

Maybe it was easier to die, but he wanted to live.

The first step led to another, but they were slow and difficult. Life waited at the door, and death behind him. One pulled him forward while the other held him back.

He used all the strength he had to speak. "I'll go. Just not fast. I can't move fast."

The guard backed up, his rifle still aimed.

The other guard bellowed, "Now."

Randy couldn't make his legs move. He looked towards Rafferson and James, pleading with them to let him go.

The guard shot one blast from his rifle, aimed at Randy's stomach.

He woke up, sweating and shaking. Rafferson was curled in a ball with his blanket wrapped around him, sound asleep. James was elsewhere at the moment.

He gulped great deep breaths of relief that it had only been a dream. It had taken hours to get to sleep, with the sounds outside and the dim light flickering shadows. James rustled in his bed. Finally, exhaustion taking over, he'd slept again.

Then the dream came. It came every night. Rafferson always died and he was next. Which time would it come true? Which day would be his last?

Except for a quick nap, he couldn't sleep. He stared at the flickering shadows. It was warm by afternoon. The sounds outside changed. Rafferson woke and took his morning drink of water, leaving Randy his half.

Eventually the thump came again. James was gone and Rafferson up and ready. But Randy had the vivid image of the rifle and the blood and the lure of a quick way out. It still pulled and tempted him, even if the callers were not there.

Tom grabbed his arm and pushed him ahead and his legs gained strength again. He stumbled out the door. The light was brighter. The last vestiges of the heat of the day warmed his body.

He let Tom take his rations, as he had since the dream had started. Randy couldn't stand coming that near them.

Then, without waiting for a hesitation, Tom took his arm and pulled him inside. He went to his bed, sitting, while Tom handed him his food. He poured the evenings water, and gave Randy a cup.

The cubes were so small. But they were tough with the sore gums and teeth. He'd put his cube in the water to soak after Tom was done with his share. Then when it was soft he could eat it easily.

Tom just tore them into pieces and sucked on the strips. Randy wondered if he did that to make it last longer, but couldn't find his voice to ask.

Tom took out his piece of wood and marked it. Randy didn't care how long had gone by. He didn't need to know how many days had passed, or would, until the dream came true.

When his cake was soft, he'd eat it and put the cup on the table. Rafferson would be resting but awake. Randy would curl on his side away from the living and the dead and try to sleep. But it was all a dream which repeated endlessly until it didn't.

There was a rustle in James bed, and he sounded restless, maybe even impatient, and Randy wished however it came out that it would soon be over

o0o

Cary sat in the little chair he'd fashioned for himself in the relative shade of his small quarters. He wasn't so sick now, but still very weak. Later, when he'd gotten strong enough to help, he'd go back to work with the soup. But he'd decided he liked his little hut of a room where nobody bothered him unless he wanted them to.

He'd taken a few walks. A patch of grasses, small but inviting, had sprung up in a damp spot near the edge of the deck. He'd helped gather the spice before and decided his lunch would taste a little better with some taste. Nobody had seen him pull the small patch of grass. It was one of the advantages of his hut that he could hide things if he wanted to.

The Jem'Hadar weren't going to search again. They were extracting a greater punishment with the sickness and the hunger than a terrible day of fear and a few deaths could manage. He'd never forget the executions, but the weary, hungry time that followed was harder to take.

Today, he'd gotten his own lunch. It wasn't officially permitted, but nobody minded if you took your meal home to sit in the shade of your wall to eat. As long as the bowl came back it was overlooked.

He'd gone inside the warm room for a few minutes, sprinkling the minced, now dry grasses into his soup. Then he'd let it sit for a time so the flavor might fill the small bowl.

He even had an appetite now. He hoped that the flavor would be a little reward in the dreariness of every day.

But he swallowed the soup slowly, enjoying each sip. The flavor was good. Somehow it didn't seem the same, but he was enjoying it too much to worry.

After eating, he was sleepy. A small breeze had sprung up, and he retreated inside, the bowl left by his door. He'd take it back after his nap. He didn't think he had the strength to walk that far until he'd rested.

He fell asleep immediately, despite the warm room. He dreamed of odd bright lights, swirls of color and flashes of things he couldn't remember. His body was heavy and yet he couldn't stay still. And she was there, somewhere, behind the bright show. All he wanted was to tear it away and run to her.

But it was hot. He woke, still disoriented, from the dream needing a drink of water. The images were still in his head, held back a little as he forced his legs to stay still. He'd drink and go back to the vivid world she was hiding behind. Before morning, he'd find the hidden door and have her in his arms.

He was so hot. Perhaps he'd been wrong about the sickness. Maybe it was worse again. The fever must be back, and too high. Awake, the shiny dream was distant but real. The fever must have caused it.

He'd think about the hospital if it didn't stop before morning. But now, he was too tired to make that long a journey.

His pitcher was low, but he was near the water. Stumbling outside, he filled it and took a huge drink. Then he retreated back to his bed.

This time he didn't dream. All he knew was a deep velvety blackness of despair. She was gone. Without her to call to him, to remind him of his lost life this one didn't mean anything.

But some time near late afternoon, he suddenly woke. She was calling him. The blackness was still there, but he could hear her leading him away from it.

Hardly knowing what he was doing, he took another drink to wet his parched throat and stumbled outside.

Standing unsteadily by his door, he gazed across the flat area leading to the blue line. She called from that direction. She was hiding-teasing him to come. Then a flash of brilliant light blinded him suddenly and when it faded she was standing in full view.

She looked small in the distance. But her call was strong and teasing and joyful. She wanted to show him some treasure she'd found.

Once, they'd walked across a field of flowers. She'd found one that was perfect and stood waiting for him to see it. She would not pick the flower and destroy it's life. She was too gentle for that.

Around her was grass and bright spots of color. Perhaps she'd found the flower again. They'd hugged and kissed and he'd asked her to become his wife that day. The memories of his joy when she'd embraced him filled his mind.

The space between him and her patch of flowers was green and beautiful. The air smelled sweet. The breeze was cool and birds sang distant songs.

Beyond that was greyness and terror and hunger. But he didn't want to be there now. She bent and turned, pointing at the flowers. "Come," she said. "It's wonderful. You have to see it."

The flower had been blue. He could see a smudge of red behind her this time.

"It's just like the other one," she said joyfully.

He was unsteady on his feet but the thought of touching her, of holding her close made him strong. He started to walk her way and she giggled.

"Hurry up, silly," she said.

She'd said that all the time. It was their joke. She sprinted and he plodded after. But today he'd run. He couldn't bear to waste any time reaching her.

He ran towards the flowers and the only woman who mattered to him in his life. The greyness beyond his tunnel was fuzzy and ignored.

"Surprise," he shouted.

He had a vague sense of bodies moving towards him, but they could not cross his barrier. Someone yelled for him to stop, but it was too far away to matter. He was full of energy, all the weariness and pain gone now. He pushed himself beyond his normal speed, wanting to hurry.

Something brushed against his leg, a little peg of some sort. Then a sudden flash of pain erupted inside his belly and he fell.

o0o

Jackson was out of breath. He'd nearly caught Cary before he reached the line, but a sudden sprint of energy had overtaken his friend. He'd sailed over the blue line, almost tripping on one of the deadly little pegs.

Then the guard had shot him. Close up, in the abdomen, Carl knew he'd die fast.

At least there was that.

But then Carl and all the others who had watched stopped their retreat. Cary should have been nearly dead, but suddenly he stood, shakily, and began stumbling towards a small pump station near the edge of the deck. Ignoring the warnings by the guards, he was shot again, this time in the upper chest. He collapsed, not moving now. Everyone froze as the guards casually tossed the body back over the line and Cary landed in a small thump in safe territory.

o0o

It had been such a long run. He didn't know how far he'd gone to get to her. But the sudden pain had stopped his quest. He wanted to lie still and beg her to come to him.

But she still had the flower to show him. She would wait. He thought he might be able to stand, though not long. Somehow he knew once she held him he'd be healed again.

It was hard to force shaking legs to be still. He was dizzy and everything was blurry. The pain was terrible, but still distant. It belonged in that grey world and he wasn't in that place. He stumbled towards her open arms, letting himself fall towards her grasp.

Another blast of pain ripped into his chest. This time he couldn't move. But she was there. She held him close and all the pain disappeared. He was too tired to move, but let her support him in arms so strong he was floating in air.

They rose off the ground. She shielded him as they settled softly into the dirt and the red flower sprung up anew in bright, brilliant perfection.

She whispered softly, stroking his hair. "I shall not leave you again."

There were voices around him. They surrounded him and yet they could not touch. She shielded him from the pain and the grey and the misery of the world he knew he'd seen the last of.

Safe in her arms, he didn't care anymore. She flowed into him and he into her and they were one.

Cary Larson had finally found peace.

o0o

Miles arrived almost as the body was tossed over the line. Jackson stood, pale and stunned, while others turned Larson over and were getting his blood all over them.

He was bleeding from his abdomen, and high on his right chest. Somehow the guards had missed his heart or he'd be covered in blood by now.

But everyone stared at the body. He should have been dead. At the very least, he should have been unconscious. But he was neither.

His eyes were closed, but he mumbled to himself. The words were unintelligible, but he was speaking to someone in his dream. He trashed a little when moved, but appeared to be in no pain.

But he was very weak. He wouldn't last long. The witnesses were trying to stop the bleeding, but even Miles untrained eye could tell it was hopeless. He'd die sooner or later and he supposed while in shock and without pain was better.

There was a noise behind him, someone yelling at the crowd to move. It was a medical team.

They didn't try to help him. Instead, they gently lifted him up to the stretcher. The medic stepped up to Miles, paper in hand.

"What happened?" she asked.

Miles deferred to Jackson. "He just started to run towards the blue line. I tried to stop him but he was all full of energy. I don't know where he got it but . . . . " he paused.

"He's still alive. Shock might keep the pain under control, but he should be out by now."

"He's been eating by himself," said one of the food people. "He's been pretty moody lately. Sick, too, but more than that."

"We'll check his quarters. Does he have any family here?"

Miles knew he didn't have long. Even if he couldn't hear them, his friends might want to say good bye. "No, but I'll get his friends."

Jackson shook himself out of his mood and was already searching. Several groups of people, mostly from the food crew, arrived immediately. They surrounded the dying man and Miles kept out of their way.

The medic motioned Miles to come. "Do you know what happened? He should be in great pain. He has a little fever but not high enough for this kind of delusions." Noticing the little pin that indicated his status, he added, "Sir."

Miles shook his head. "I didn't see it, but some of these people did. I'll have Jackson ask around. Will it be long?" he waved toward the dying man.

"I'm not sure. Normally he'd be dead by now, but this is very odd. Ugh, I have to have something to say in a report. I think you have to sign it, Sir."

"Sure. His quarters are over there. I need to know if anything dangerous is found."

The medic was called back to her patient, now barely breathing. Miles stepped a little closer, but did not intrude. They'd removed all the pseudo 'moss' from the upper deck, but as spring grew warmer, more new plants were sprouting. They'd have to check them all, just in case. They'd have to enforce more restrictions too, since the Vorta would not like that his soldiers had had to shoot. Whatever his game, he wouldn't want to look weak, especially not now.

He heard the medic tell the friends to say goodbye.

o0o

Lonnie had done a quick examination of Larson's body, still wondering how many more death certificates would list execution as the cause of death. But she'd read the report of his amazing strength at the end, and had already pulled her oddities file from its hiding place.

She still had no idea why patients with little or no infections suddenly turned ill and died, but suspected that Larson had managed to kill himself, however unintentionally.

A sample of some grass was found in his quarters. It *looked* like the spice but only lab tests could prove it. If it wasn't, he'd discovered the next pharmaceutical drug to grow naturally on Cyrus.

She read over the reports that witnesses had provided. He was depressed, missing his wife though he never mentioned her by name. He'd been sick but was much better. Then he'd eaten his lunch and slept. When he woke he ran with a determined burst of speed past the blue posts to death.

What had been going through his mind, she wondered? Did he know he was going to die? James had probably not really understood he was walking into a dark, deserted square to die. Sometimes people had had enough and didn't care anymore. But Larson had been hanging on. The food crew reported him to be studious and dedicated. He'd asked if he could start helping as soon as he was a little stronger.

She was convinced the grass was a drug. He must have been dreaming or out of his head with a hallucination when he ran. That could be a problem. Patients might have to be tied down.

But he'd been shot twice, both fatal wounds. He should have been in immense pain from either of them. But he was not. That was clear. He'd been locked inside some fantasy before he died, not recognizing anyone, but had been calm and comfortable. He'd bled to death from the second wound. But the drug had also taken the pain.

She fingered the bowl from which he'd had his last meal. Bits and pieces of the grass clung to the sides. She scraped them carefully into a tube. The grass samples were already in the lab. She take blood from the body, too.

Larson had died, but some of her patients might rest a little easier because of him. So many had died for nothing. This one at least had something to give back.

She finished the death certificate. It was just a week since the three Ag staffers were executed. She pushed the cause of death from her thoughts. The others would be remembered only in fading memories. Larson's name would always be known, the grass he'd discovered already named after him.

The year before they had put together a makeshift lab, and between the tricorder and the less modern devices that had come from Garnett's unexpected supplies had done fairly well with it. She bagged the bowl and her samples, taking a blood test kit along. Placing the paper in the box she kept on her desk for the death certificates, already with three besides the ag people for the start of the their official third month of this hell, she let it fall in place. Today, instead of dwelling on death, she would confirm a new discovery.

The lab always reminded her of the time she'd surprised Bashir and he'd told her about the disease. But she pushed all of that away and started the tests.

She couldn't spare too much time. But she had to find the answer.

The blood test showed a heavy concentration of some unknown drug in his system. The bowl samples tested the same. She started the test for the same drug in a pinch of the grass when a thought occurred to her.

Larson must have found the grass by himself. Others might have as well, and not used it. He had given his life to spare others, but there was no need for more incidents.

She pulled a clean sheet of paper from her file, and wrote O'Brien a note. He had to find the stashes of spice and take them. They were to go to the hospital. People would be reluctant to hand them over, so she suggested some sort of exchange.

Someone knocked on the door. She had an emergency to attend to. She scribbled the end of the note, giving it to the orderly.

"Make sure this gets to O'Brien immediately," she said. The first patient released that day would carry it back across the gate. There were several scheduled this afternoon, and if not there were others who could be.

He nodded and she rushed to work again, but this time with a little more hope.

o0o

Jaro couldn't sleep. Every time he shut his eyes, the Idea blazed a new pathway in his thoughts and he was wide awake again. He'd return to his notebook and scribble more notes. He feared some was being lost as he couldn't write fast enough to keep up with the rapidly maturing Idea. He wished again for a padd, or even better a computer interface. Perhaps, if the Vorta stayed in the room long enough tomorrow, he'd make the suggestion.

But Glebaroun stayed only a few minutes each day. Sometimes he didn't come at all. Aside from special requests, it was better that way.

He and the aliens who he already thought of as partners had spent the entire day, except for a quick break for lunch, sitting around the table in intense discussion of the Idea. After, sitting alone in his cell, he remembered how Justin had felt when they first began the secret tests-that heady feeling of urgency that had banished even his own deeply seeded sense of risk.

That was his world now. He still did not trust the Vorta, but understood that the aliens didn't either. They were very proper when he was in the room but relaxed a little when he'd gone. But Jaro had had a sudden flash of insight that day, and had explained in an excited rush to his odd friends. It had been a true breakthrough, and they would have met through the night if allowed. But the meeting had been cut short too soon.

Perhaps the Vorta knew how much they had accomplished that day. The dinner, eaten with his alien friends, had been a surprise of veklava, mode fruit and as desert a delicious tumway pie. On Bajor, such dishes were usually reserved for celebrations.

He had savored them. Even the aliens had sampled a little of the dishes, though they did not appear to be impressed. But despite the special food and the treat of not eating his dinner alone, the Idea was demanding his attention. As soon as he could sit on his mattress with his pad of paper, he was writing.

He could not bear to lose any of it. Each small detail must be recorded lest he forget.

It was still the same chemical process, but this might make it more dependable and simpler. He took separate pages to record the main points, then one by one filled in all the details. The light wasn't dimmed and he knew they were watching, but didn't care.

The Idea mattered more than anything else.

When morning came, his breakfast a Cardassian dish he'd become fond of was left to the side. He'd fallen asleep amid a great sea of papers, and carefully gathered them into an organized pile before eating.

But breakfast was eaten in a fog. He knew that some would consider him a traitor. Some would say any cooperation at all marked him for life, and perhaps an early death. But he had taken over more than Justin's work. He held the dream in his mind now, too.

This Idea would make it easy. Even Cyrus could become a garden when it was done. If the Dominion ruled Bajor now, it might make the dead soil live again even there.

The Dream would live. He must work hard to make it exist. Neither the food or the mattress or the Vorta or even the locked door mattered as long as the Dream was allowed to continue.

o0o

Shandra listened as the door opened. He was being very quiet, Tasha asleep. She assumed he would try to sneak in with her asleep again, like he had before. She'd let him, not wanting to make problems when they didn't need more, but now she felt she had to.

She didn't know him anymore. After dinner, he'd had everyone stay and ordered them, unless it was necessary, to stay inside the next day. She'd watched, especially the way they looked at him. Nobody would even open their door, she thought. O'Brien had given him full discression on his own. The man who'd smiled at meals had somehow been swallowed up by a stranger.

He slipped in their door, and she waited until he'd changed. O'Brien had asked him to come to the office after dinner, and that would mean breaking curfew. But in his official position, he was allowed to. She already felt the distance kept with her by some. It would just get so much worse now. He slipped into bed and she turned on the light.

"I'm sorry I woke you. I was trying to be quiet," he said.

"I wasn't asleep," she said, but he wasn't wearing his public face and she stopped.

"I wish I could tell you this would be over soon," he said, and instead of the face of authority he wore one of fear.

She wondered if he was relieved to be able to let her see. "I don't assume that, and I know you won't tell me what you talked about tonight, but I saw the way they were all looking at you. No, I don't think it will end. Not as long as they remember."

"Miles knows things, and he won't say, but this is starting to end all ready. I don't ask. But right now, the blue line matters more than that. I don't know what else to do but make it plain we'll enforce our own rules. If we don't everyone pays for it."

"I know. But you know they'll remember. It's not just you. It's me and Tasha too."

He turned away from her. "I've noticed the forms. There's almost two sets of them, like there's two departments who get them. Miles knows why but won't say. Someone went through the hill and did a census of all the ones they're holding. If they're the Vorta's people, why would they need one?"

"There's the soldiers," she said.

"He knows about them, too. I almost asked. But right now it's the blue line and the Jem'Hadar and more casualties that matter. Any ideas to get people away from it, I'll listening."

"Maybe stories," she said. "But be honest. They know we can't have trouble too, even if they don't want to."

He looked exhausted. She held him. But she knew there would come a time when he'd have to choose, and take a side and only hoped it was the right one.

o0o

Dorothy had finished her dinner, a watery broth with chunks of ration, and had finally been allowed to rest. She picked up her book but was too tired to read. But she needed something to distract her from the place which was invading her dreams.

The worse part was she no longer knew if it was day or night. The patient staff, like Ray, fed those who couldn't eat themselves, and it took a long time. She didn't even know how many days she'd been there. At least, she was improving. The little boy wasn't, the sickness lingering now. She didn't want to dream of this place, so she held her book, something of hope to keep her from drowning.

She was almost asleep when he came by to take the bowl. "Would you like me to put that up here?" he asked, tapping the book.

He looked exhausted. His wife was also improving at least. "No, I'll hold it. I'm too tired to read but its near at least."

She heard him pull up his chair. "I'm done with this. Would you like me to read for you?"

"If you would. Just for a few minutes. Page fifty, the first section."

He took the book, opening it to the page. He wasn't used to reading out loud and the meter of the poem was wrong, but it didn't matter. The words took both of them away from the dingy room.

"I've got time if you want to me to read some more," he offered, but he sounded different, better somehow.

"No, but if others might like it," she whispered, sleep ready to take her there.

"Tomorrow?" he asked as the smells and sounds faded away.

But she smiled, for there were different kinds of medicine, and Ray had used it to perfection.

o0o

He was floating above, not seen or heard, but watching every moment. Someone who looked like him was tied down on the floor. He cringed and sobbed and finally stared at the floor as his tormentors beat him. Duncan was the bug on the wall, watching and listening and remembering. In utter misery, he stayed distant from the huddled man because that way he could remember what they were asking.

It must have been very important to them to beat him so badly, when according to the hospital, they hadn't anyone else who'd been sent home to die. If those sent home to live had been, he knew he could never ask.

But they wouldn't be asking them the same questions.

Most of them were about fall, and the Winter that followed, and he and Sarah and the fiction which had become true at the end.

At first, of course, the men had just set it up as cover, as a relationship like so many others. She'd even brought her child. They'd watched and listened as ordered, but it had come to nothing.

Or, had it?

They'd brought in others, who had stayed, and Sarah and Gija. This 'mission' he had decided was bogus. But whoever ran it, they had plenty of personal information now. And they'd left their people behind. The same were here now, and if the rumor of strangers watching was true, they just might have someone to report to waiting for the right moment.

If they knew all that, then why were the Jem'Hadar and the Vorta so interested in what *he* had to say? Why hadn't they just sent him back to the hill and locked him up there? Why with his family? What did they want?

Sarah had gotten Gija settled, and come to bed. "I heard you took a few steps today. Very good." She leaned over and kissed him. "I knew you wouldn't give up," she said as she started to kiss him, but noticed. "Duncan, what's wrong?"

"Didn't take any steps, but I'm sure that's for tomorrow." He watched as she sat across from him, and he stared at her. "Why am I here, here not up on the hill with the rest?"

She started to speak,, but backed away. "I don't know. I'm just glad you are."

He kept staring at her. "Last year when you came, there were others too, who stayed. Why? What was the charade all about? Why are you here?" He watched her, studying her eyes. She was elsewhere. "Who are they?"

She focused on him. "I don't know what they were looking for. And they had particular things in mind. We never found a match, but maybe we did find what they wanted." She came closer, sitting next to the bed. "And I had lost my husband and was told I'd have a home here, with Gija. I figured out the story was just that early on. But it got me and Gija here. It's a whole lot better than where we were."

She was whispering, but lost in memories. "I'm sorry. I'm just trying to sort things out." He wanted to let it go, but he had to know now or he never could. "I remember their questions. They asked about you and the men and the charade. I didn't answer them, wouldn't because I didn't know what to say that would keep them from hurting you. And then they just started punishing me for staying silent and all I remember is the pain."

That day, with his new tormentors, he had had a harrowing day, told to stand and having to balance on half numb legs. They'd taken an arm each, but he'd felt like he was going to fall anyway. It was hard to face how weak he'd become. But somehow, tomorrow he's take a step. Maybe a few more with his keepers supporting his weight and balance. He'd laid in bed all day, again, and wasn't going to let that be his life anymore.

After his standing, they'd put him back to bed and given him more of the tea. Then he'd dreamed, with only enough to relax him and take away most of the pain, not knock him out. He didn't want it to look like he'd been laying in wait for her to come home, but then, maybe he had.

She said she wanted to get Gija in bed, since she had a cold. He watched, wishing he'd never ask. However they had met, with whatever intentions or past, he didn't care. He'd wanted to survive his ordeal so he cold come home to family.

Eventually she returned, sitting across from him in the chair, her hands knit together in her lap she was so tense. "You deserve to know. Just remember I love you and I hope you still do."

"You don't have to tell me," he said.

"No, I do. But there's things you can't tell anyone else. No matter what."

"I'll promise on my life," he said.

"Gija's father was a doctor, a brilliant man. He did research, and his specialty was genetics. His chief interest at the time were the children of two species. Of course, in order to do that we needed all the science we had. So we won't have anymore now. But he decided to study Bajor since the kids there happened on their own. Something about the Bajoran genome, he suspected. So we moved there shortly after the Cardassians left. Gija was born there, in a small village we lived in where he was doing studies of the locals." She got quiet, and he wished he could hold her. She'd never said much about 'before', but then it had become unofficial custom not to.

"You were there when they attacked, then," he whispered.

"Yes, a larger village, but there was an orphanage nearby. A lot of the kids were mixed and had been abandoned. I can't tell you just what he was doing since I don't really understand all the details, but he was on to something. But they came through and herded everyone, us, the orphans, and the rest of the village into this camp."

"Was there resistance?" he asked, her eyes staring at some other place.

"Not from us, but there was. We were put in this large building, they call them barns, and with matts and blankets lived with just what we carried. They fed us and made up work, but we were always hungry. We shared giving Gija more so she'd be stronger. But he helped people and they got curious about him. It was maybe six months." She stopped, taking a deep breath. "They made him an offer. They were making a new layer, officially organized collaborators to keep order for them. They wanted doctors and there weren't many left." She closed her eyes. "We talked. But we couldn't last long with what we had left when we fed her, and she wouldn't last or would grow up one of those pitiful stunted children. He did it for us. They put Gija and I in this nicer cage, since we were hostages, and took him away."

"The soldiers?" he asked, growing more curious.

"It's called CA. Central Authority. The first time I saw him he had on a blue uniform. He just held me. They wouldn't let me bring her. He said was going to get a promotion. Research. When he got settled we'd come. But he knew what that would mean. He whispered that he loved me, and he was working on 'mixed DNA' and if things went bad someone would look out for us." She slumped back in the chair. "I knew I wouldn't see him again. He had to be sabotaging his work. Or planned to."

"Why would they want to do that?" he asked, no longer thinking about his own problems. For there really wasn't any reason for them. They knew more about it than the Federation had. If they wanted to create their own speciality people they could without forcing anyone to help.

"I don't know, but it was a great priority. Something somewhere had gone wrong. And the next time he had on a black uniform. I hardly recognized him. But he was scared, I could tell. He gave me something, and I still have it. He said we would be transferred together soon. But he wasn't the same man anymore. His eyes were hard. But the only time I recognized him was when we were absolutely alone and he told me things would be all right for us. We had maybe a week together and he was called away and never came back."

"Is he dead?"

"Yes. They caught him. I don't want to think about how he died." She had tears in her eyes but spoke calmly. "Before they got us some other men came and put us on a transport. They gave us new identification first. The transport was beastly, but by then I knew. He had friends, like these men, who were working against them. We got pulled off at a stop, and by the ones who sent us here."

Stunned, he remembered how they'd been so convincing. "Were they this CA?"

She looked calm now, her voice no longer dragging. "No. Not entirely. Don't trust every uniform you see."

He shivered. "Do they know where you disappeared to?"

"They might. But they told me that you don't leave this place. I don't know why but the ones who saved us said they wouldn't come looking."

"What were we looking for then?" he asked.

"I suspect just what we found."

He took her hand and pulled her into bed, and as she settled next to him wondered if the nightmare would ever end. And what of the odd collection of information they'd found had been the most important. All together, it would say a lot. But someone official wouldn't need to do that.

And if they'd been looking for the right people to use, he hoped he hadn't destroyed their lives too.

"Were they good guys?" he whispered.

"For us. I can't say for anyone else," she replied, and for little while, as he finally relaxed into sleep, his own misery was only a little drop in an ocean.

End, Legacy Year 2, Part 1, Chapter 11