An Alternative History of the Dominion War
Year Two - Metamorphosis
Part 1 - Occupation
Carl Jackson stood on the walkway between the two tiers, watching the guards moving near the edges. His gaze did not rest on the moving Jem'Hadar, but rather the small line of blue poles placed in the ground. They called it the Blue line. It was easier than calling it a Death line.
He would never forget the executions. It had only been four days, but for him everything had changed. Since Dax had appointed he and Emery as her assistants, he'd hardly been home.
She and her crew had been granted free movement around the Residential section if it was needed to complete their organization. Carl had learned to knock softly and introduce himself, then tell them he was going to open the door when he was sent to contact those Dax wanted for her unofficial help. But it still felt odd to be outside when everyone else was still confined.
Dax had found an empty house near enough the loading point for the supplies, one of those intended for two. Its former occupants were dead. The plan was to use it to store the supplies, and appoint one person caretaker, responsible for them to remain untouched. There would be other security, some already recruited, but the position of caretaker remained unfilled.
He had been given permission to contact all the staff of Supply and Ops they considered sufficiently trustworthy to find one of them who wanted to move. He wanted to find someone quickly and be able to go inside again where he could feel busy over singled out in a far worse way than a pin might.
After the extended curfew was lifted when the supplies were stored that morning, Dax was going to make a few announcements. One was about the soup, for they'd decided the pot was now mandatory, but the most immediate concerned housing.
They required a list of where everyone lived. There had been one before, but people moved out of relationships or in with friends. The ID tags on the Jem'Hadar's record of that day had not matched the residents whereabouts and that needed to be corrected. They did not care how, but when she turned in the list, they were committed. It was in effect an implied stated marriage if a couple wished to stay together. It was due tomorrow morning. If anyone wanted to move they had the afternoon. After that, the acceptable reasons for changing your address were few and drastic.
Enough people for normal security had been found. It was to be low key and relatively
private. There was no need for anything resembling Sisko's little raids now. The Jem'Hadar, standing off to the side, were ample reminder.
Next on his list of potential caretakers was Cary Larson. He'd been detained over water, but had otherwise been acceptable. Carl knocked softly on the door to not panic them too much. Announcing himself, he explained he was sent by Dax. If they didn't open the door he would be coming in.
He didn't have to this time. Two people were standing there, half the room dismantled, when he looked in. The woman glared at the closed bedroom door on the other side. "We've been kind of busy," she explained.
He decided not to ask, but thought this a good possibility. They were obviously looking for something. Larson had received water but the container wasn't anywhere in evidence.
"I need to see Cary Larson," he told them.
He could tell from the looks that it wasn't a happy household. The woman drilled holes in his door with her eyes. "The rat's in there. You'll probably have to knock yourself since he isn't talking to us."
Carl stepped past and over and around the mess all over the floor. He tapped on the door. "Cary, it's Carl Jackson. I have a proposal for you."
The door opened. Cary gazed around the room, then gave his disgruntled room mates a satisfied look. "It appears you made a mess," he observed.
The woman gave him the evil eye. "Big surprise. Just wait. You'll have to leave eventually."
He said nothing, but motioned for Carl to come inside.
In his room, everything was very neat. The water allotment was sitting on the table. It appeared to be much more full than it should be. "I take it that's what they're looking for."
"Not exactly. There's a couple of bottles hidden in the room. When they find them I'll fill them. They're also trying to find the food they hid that we're all lucky the Jem'Hadar didn't find."
"I take it they won't." Carl suppressed a shiver from the memory of his own last meal.
"I ate it when I got back in the morning. But I'm pretty sure there's more. I put the dishes on their bed to remind them of why I wasn't in the mood to share my cup. But it looked like the Jem'Hadar left it there."
"Sounds like you'd like to move," observed Carl.
"When we get sprung from this I'm going to. I might even leave the water for them."
"It's back on outside. They can fill their bottle themselves today. But I wouldn't trust them for a moment if I had to leave." Carl watched as Cary surveyed his room.
"I know. But I told them if we weren't getting water they shouldn't find any. They even said they'd take care of it."
Carl sat down on his chair. Cary was standing and watching the door, probably waiting to open it and surprise them.
"We have room available."
Larson sat on his bed. "You offering it to me?"
"I'm hoping. We're getting supplies today. You'll be sharing with them. Mostly, you just keep an eye on our supplies. It shouldn't take more than the one room to store them."
Larson stiffened. "You mean work for Them."
"No. Us. The guards are on the other side of the line. We both know that if we don't keep real close track of supplies we won't have any left."
Cary turned very pale, looking across the room as if he was seeing a ghost. "There was a girl. They hit her high and she bled to death in front of me. When they offered a deal I took it and they picked me. I carried her body to the hospital so I could go home early. But I still see her."
Carl didn't feel much empathy. "We all had to watch that."
"You didn't have to touch them. She was dead when I carried her there. I can still feel how cold she was." Cary looked down at the floor.
Carl moved the chair closer, where he could look Cary in the eyes. "You didn't have to do that. You took their deal."
"You weren't there. It was so cold and the field around us had already killed someone. A lot offered but they only picked a few."
Carl couldn't picture it. But he thought Cary could be convinced to move anyway.
"And we have a lot of people who'd love to live with the supplies in the next room. But we need someone we can *trust*."
"After what's happened it's different. I wouldn't let anyone steal anything, but its too close to a pin now."
Carl continued in his theme. There was a loud crash as they dropped something outside. "Look, you trusted *them*. What do you think they're going to do when you go out for lunch? It's *them* we have to keep out of the supplies."
Cary stood and started pacing. Carl could tell he was close. "I know. What do you plan to do when you catch them? Toss them over the line?"
"No. But I'll bet there's a few that might. Look, you don't have to worry about that. All your doing is living in your own quarters which just happen to be shared with supplies. I know, whatever you think of the rest, that you'll watch for us. That's *all* you have to do. No meetings, no reports, nothing."
The two outside were arguing now. They couldn't find the bottles and he was accusing her of missing them.
"She's gonna yell at him now. She always does. Then she threatens to leave and he threatens to throw her out and then they tear off each others clothes and have sex. Loud sex." Cary looked forlornly at the door and the noise. "You sure this is the only way I have to get away from them?"
'There's no where else to go. The other empties are having families in single units moved to them. The single units are having extra personal that used to live up the hill moved in. Its supplies or them," he said, pointing at the door, as outside, he screamed at her that he'd personally toss her out the door.
Cary sat again, defeated. One of them threw something. "Wait a little bit. They'll both be sorry and I can get my stuff out without having to look at them."
"I'll help you move it," offered Carl.
"No. I need to do that myself. Just leave a few boxes. I don't have much."
Something smashed. "I'm sorry," said a voice outside. "I didn't think he'd have hid them there."
Cary poured Carl a glass of water. "Maybe I'll need a broom too."
Carl took it and drank. He'd been up most of the evening and gotten up before dawn. After the supplies were received and stored he could go home and sleep.
"We'll have them clean it up. We might have to move someone in here so they'd better have it finished first." Carl added, slowly, "If I could think of anybody I'd stick with them."
They listened to the conversation. "I didn't mean to break it, really I didn't," he apologized.
She was quiet. "I know. I didn't either."
Silence ensued and their door closed. Cary was still sitting there, looking very lost. "Think of it this way," Carl said. "Supplies are very quiet and never break anything."
But Cary was soon busy sorting his few things. "Maybe I can sleep," he muttered as outside he laughed and she screamed.
"I'll get you a couple of boxes before they get done."
Cary only nodded, but Carl's long day was almost done and he could go home soon.
Before Carl was sent home to rest, he and Emery had been sent to knock softly on doors and send people out for water. They looked unnerved but relieved, and since nobody had told them if they could stay out most took their water inside and shut themselves in again. But the few who hadn't were ordered inside when the supplies were beamed in. Carl had been sent home finally and Emery had replaced him as authorized door knocker. While the beam in happened, they sat waiting in the office for the all clear, the crew already assembled with them.
Dax would need both of her assistants alert and rested. There was no need for both to be working at the same time.
A small crew of former assistants had been formed to move the supplies. Larson had already moved in. Jackson was probably already asleep for a nap before their first meal of the day.
There was no real rush to move the boxes quickly with everyone still inside. But they were probably growing impatient again and the sooner the supplies were stashed the better. It hadn't taken very long. First, it was to be moved into the larger room to see what was there.
She sent Emery to start knocking on doors after that. They could fill their water if they hadn't yet, and stretch a little but were to go to the edge of the upper deck and wait after that was done. He'd just returned.
She let the others open the boxes. Larson was standing in his doorway, just watching. "Doesn't look like much," he observed.
"It's packed pretty tight," said Nog. She watched as the Ferengi took a quick count of rations in the box. "I think there should be five more," he added.
The box was put inside the room. Nog started looking for the others. He opened each in turn and checked. In a few minutes, he'd found all the rations and they were being stored safely with the first.
Larson stepped out. "Ugh, what are you planning to do about breakfast?"
Jadzia looked around the room. "We are doing soup. I need help setting up the pot so we can get something prepared."
He sighed. "I guess I could help. Just don't appoint me to anything."
"Certainly. Michael has that responsibility. Anyone who wants can volunteer. Beyond the staff, it's your choice if you want to help or not."
Carl had told her about his reluctance, and his room mates. Officially, he held no position, though in time that might have to change. By then hopefully he would be used to the idea.
Emery was busy getting out a list. "We need to figure out how much of this goes up the hill," he said. "Then, of course, how we get them there."
"Their list is on my desk," she replied. "Start counting out today's total for everybody. We'll pull them later."
Larson followed Emery into the room, carrying an empty box. The rest of the supplies were being sorted carefully by Nog and the two others.
"What's our count?" she ask Nog, directing the others.
"It looks like half of everything." The little Ferengi hesitated a little. Half would be very hard on them. But it was much better than a third, she reminded herself.
"We should make sure that doesn't change," she said.
Jadzia Dax was very calm. She was going to die. She accepted that without argument. But now, she had her last duty to perform.
Assembled before her were all the residents of Cyrus not missing or under house arrest. They'd had no food for days. They'd witnessed murders staged for their benefit. She studied them first, measuring the changes.
They were afraid. She'd had them sit in the middle, away from the guards and the line. She stood fairly near, on a little rise by the hills. Her small staff was with the others. She did not want to mark them as privileged.
They were so quiet. No children were allowed to wander. Everyone held firmly to their families fearing something would tear them away.
She knew she was alive to make sure that didn't happen. Ben had pushed and threatened and become the enemy. It hadn't worked. She needed to be what he'd been on that day he'd spoken as the Emissary.
She was surrounded by calm and strength. A few feet away were Jem'Hadar who would kill her should she step too far. But she ignored them. They only mattered if someone crossed the line.
"We received a shipment of supplies today," she said. "This must serve for the next month. All rations of food and other items for this section have been reduced to one-half what we were receiving. In addition, we are denied access to any of our stored goods, including that which was harvested this fall. As a result, you will get used to hunger."
She watched as they pulled family closer and looked away. "But consider this. Other areas are only receiving one-third rations. They are being fed on a weekly or daily basis. Should They be displeased, the next day's meal might not come. Do not dwell on the fear or the hunger. Remember, those here are very fortunate. And also remember that our good fortune could disappear just as quickly as the other's meals should we not comply with the rules which govern this area."
She watched as they looked at the blue line. She knew they all would remember the sight of eight of their number shot to death for something that they might well have done themselves any other day.
"You may leave your quarters at dawn and must be inside after dark. We will have a small crew to prepare meals which I have been permitted to break curfew. Water to your quarters has been cut off, but it is available outside and you may fill your containers for the night. But food is *not* to be saved inside your quarters. It will be dispensed and eaten on this deck. This applies to myself and my small staff as well."
She was absolutely calm. They were all watching her. She sensed a small bit of relief in their faces. They were traumatized and hurt. She-and Curzon-knew they'd follow anyone who promised a little hope.
"As for food, we will use a community pot. Today's is being prepared now. We will serve two meals today, a light lunch and a more filling dinner as it has had longer to cook. Tomorrow, we will serve breakfast as well. In order to do this we will need volunteers. If you wish to help, please see Michael Emery. This is up to you entirely, and no commitment will be asked beyond what you are willing to offer."
The mention of food had peaked their interest. Near the supplies, the crew was starting the days meals, and people were staring that way.
"If you are ill and need medical attention, you'll be allowed to go to the hospital with escort for treatment. Those hospitalized will have their rations follow them, and one adult will be allowed as an attendant for any patients needing one. But you will be under the same rules as Medical, which means you will be under house arrest during your time there."
She hoped they wouldn't avoid the hospital and its devastation. But she would not force them to do anything. The murderers had done that.
"We will be left alone here. Keep control over your children and pay attention to where they go. Anyone who crosses the blue line will die. Remember that. No one wants to see more of what has been these last days."
They were watching her with rapt attention. Her voice wasn't loud or abrasive. Her manner wasn't abrupt. She might have said that it would end and they'd be alone again, but she could not make that promise. And even if she believed that day would come, life would never return to what it had been. Once they'd been warned and the fear had been planted deep inside, there would be other uses for them.
In a way, she was making it possible. But she would keep them alive. Even damaged, they were fated to survive.
"There is one other matter. I must submit an updated list of your choice of residences. Each of you needs to list your names, including babies and unborn children, and your address. Once you have done this you must stay there. You'll need to do this before receiving your dinner tonight, so make your decisions before then."
She was sure there were those on the brink of coming together or moving apart. They had the afternoon to decide. She hoped they all made the right choices.
"That is all for now. News will be posted in the morning when there is something new. Go and rest, sit in the sun and be grateful for your luck. And remember, it is up to you to insure it does not disappear."
They weren't sure they could go, but she stepped away towards her office, deliberately skirting the edge of the line. The guards on the other side stiffened as she passed. She knew she was tempting fate, but kept going past her new quarters, circling the entire space. Calm and composed, she would be the strength they could see. Perhaps if Benjamin had stayed the Emissary, he might still have been there to lead his people.
The Jem'Hadar waiting for orders, watching their prisoners, did not notice the small creature that lurked in the tall grasses behind them. He was not worried about them. Their captives had been caught raiding supplies, mostly Bajoran but not all. All of them were hungry, though. He knew his small form wouldn't last long if they noticed. He could morph, still, but it was getting harder and took more energy. He couldn't run and change form and escape, so he hid.
He'd gone further than usual on his information gathering journey, safe so long as some animal didn't catch him, or one of the sort the Jem'Hadar had captured. Things in Narven's area, if that was all you knew, were deceptive. There was no one there but Jem'Hadar and Vorta. They had already wiped away most of the population, and thus there was little to interest their rivals. But here, just a border away, the Jem'Hadar were vanishing. They still patrolled distant areas, but their prisoners would not be executed or starved. They would be given over to the all too solid bodied men in the black uniforms to deal with.
The prisoners were thieves, intending to supply some local boss who had however temporarily carved out his spot. Their bounty of food would have been used to enforce his power. But now he'd have nothing, and his victims might even welcome CA. The Jem'Hadar would be leaving once the prisoners were given over, and move the towards the same area he was going. They would never suspect that one of their gods was crawling in the bushes.
Odo was on his way home, having infiltrated into the area where the Jem'Hadar themselves had disappeared. CA would not waste perfectly useful labor, even if they were going to make them slaves. They would probably welcome Narven and his band if Narven didn't just make them his new enemy, and the survivors would meet the same fate at the prisoners sold to CA.
He hadn't made his way that far, but heard word of a slave province, new bodies from off Bajor of multiple species brought there and forced into a caste system. And that it was run, entirely, by CA. Kira had been 'cooperating' with Narven to keep him and his men busy, but harmlessly. Odo had gone looking for food, but had found something far more valuable instead.
Some sort of vehicle arrived, his amplified senses hearing every word. The prisoners and the food they'd stolen somewhere else were sold to fulfill some sort of deal. With the merchandise hustled inside the ground transport, the Jem'Hadar First waited for them to leave before telling his squad the White would be dispensed by the Vorta as soon as they got it to him.
He could guess what the hapless thieves had paid for now.
With much on his mind, Odo waited until the noise disappeared, and made his way to the cover of the thicket, desperately needing to regenerate and rest. He crawled into a crevice, digging it deeper, and allowed sleep to release the form he could not so easily release himself. But now he must get back and warn them. Strength ebbing, his return to his natural state took longer this time, the pain in his borrowed form greater. There wouldn't be too many more long journeys like this, he thought. But the wind was blowing and he could hear the gravel hitting the rock and thought that if he needed more time, at least there, the bush would cover him. But his next creature would be small and fast and *inedible* or he thought he'd never make it back at all.
Cary sat on the bench, the ladle in his hand. There were two pots, one boiling with a brisk plumb of steam, cooking tonight's dinner. The other, smaller one had the half-cake ration each person received, and had been boiled first. They were simply split and dropped inside the water. By the time lunch came, they'd be softened enough to chew easily.
There wasn't anything to flavor them, but nobody would mind. His job was to dispense the broth into a bowl and add the half-cube. Each had been given a bowl and when done it went into the tub of hot water near the ledge where seating had been created for dinner.
There would be no more seconds. Someone was watching to make sure no bowls were taken home.
Dax offered her bowl. He dipped the broth and her half-cake and she smiled.
He hadn't seen a smile in a long time. "Thank you, Cary," she said.
He'd worked in Ops and there was little of that either.
He didn't know why he'd volunteered. Maybe the thought of sitting in that room any longer was impossible. But as she walked away, he knew.
He wanted to help. She was different than the rest, so calm and pleasant. She never resorted to threats or anger. She quietly appealed to reason. Her calmness, even with the Jem'Hadar visible near the blue line, helped keep things in perspective.
But she was distant, too. It was as if she was only a visitor, and would leave soon. He didn't want her to go. After the Chief's grim meetings, and the arrogance of the pin-wearers she was astonishing.
He'd watched them as the boxes were opened and stored, and the gloom had started to lift. He didn't want anything to do with his former roommates. But keeping guard on supplies wasn't much better. There were no reports and he held no official rank, but he still had to watch. He had a pad of paper and pen to keep track of everyone, no matter what sort of permission they had, that entered the storeroom. He had to check their identification and see some thing official if it wasn't Jackson or Emery or a few others.
It was close enough. If it hadn't been impossible he'd have considered going back. But Jackson had mentioned they'd found someone in need of a room, and his old one was filled. But now, sitting on the deck dispensing the soup, he didn't feel like that. His customers came up slowly, hesitating as if it wasn't quite real. They presented bowls, holding them very still, and he was careful not to spill a drop. He'd already eaten, and it was hard to look at all the food knowing he'd had his share. They moved away carefully, carrying their treasures as if they were worth more than the finest of latinum.
Because it was. The broth was weak and the cakes undercooked, but after days without it was the finest delight.
He did something else, something he'd learned from her. When they came to him he smiled. It had been an eternity since he'd had even the smallest of reasons. But they smiled back sometimes, and he politely greeted them too, wishing them a good meal.
Never mind that *any* meal would be good then. For he knew there were different kinds of enemies. One stood on the other side of the blue line, watching and waiting to kill. That could not be changed.
Another was sitting a little ways away, the woman glaring at him. He'd left the rest of the water with a note saying simply, "Your share." He was hungry, but would take no more than his portion. He knew they would not have been so considerate. He was the guardian at the gate and would keep them away from the little flat, chewy treasures in the keep.
The other he'd banished that day. The aides and assistants now gone or imprisoned had kept to themselves. He'd been one too. He'd looked upon the rest as somehow less important than himself. But today he'd made up for it. When he smiled at them, he opened the door. When he spoke to them, he joined with their existence.
Jadzia had been gentle about it, but they'd been warned. Her crew were not isolated or special. They were no different than the rest, slowly waking from a nightmare into a different one. But a few days before had been stunned horror. Now there was resignation and the sudden, wrenching acceptance that the world had once again shifted and changed and nobody cared what they thought. But the soldiers along the line were the enemy. Her crew were not. They would be polite and helpful and show every consideration to the wounded who showed no wounds.
Tomorrow, he knew, it would be different. They'd start to remember the spices that made dinner extra good, or the bits of vegetable that gave a special taste. But they'd eat, just the same. And he promised himself that no matter how long he had to sit and dispense soup to them, he would never let go of the smile and the greeting and the gift of caring.
The cell was absolutely dark when Julian woke from a fitful sleep, a velvety blackness that pushed against him. His mind searched for some hint of brightness, even a brief sparkle, but there was none.
How did the others, who had never been in one of these boxes, manage now? Were they so sure their secrets were worth it?
His stomach reminded him that time had passed. His leg hurt all the time, though less now since he'd kept it absolutely still.
He wanted food. Not so much out of hunger, but for something to do. Even much more than that, he needed water. There had been none of either since their arrest, and he could guess it had been several days, from the preoccupation in his head with anything wet.
Water was even driving away thoughts of his future.
He'd dozed again when the door opened. He heard the footsteps and the woosh, and bright light blinded him as they shone it in his eyes.
Covering his face with his hands, he tried to calm the panic. But the Jem'Hadar dragged him ahead, then tied his hands behind him.
One took his arm, hauling him to his feet. Apparently they didn't know he couldn't walk. He almost fell when the guard let go. But he was taken by both arms and hauled along the corridor.
The light wasn't so bright, but still hurt. Mostly, the agony of his leg being dragged blocked out any other thoughts, even of his destination.
They didn't go far. He was towed into a plain room with a desk and several chairs. The one he sat in faced the desk.
There was a full pitcher of water there.
The rest of the room faded. The guards seemed far away. He stared at the water as if it was a vision in some desert mirage, and tried to reach for it. There was a glass sitting next to the pitcher, and he could feel it in his hand, the glass cold and full.
Leaning forward, he reached for it. He could almost touch it. But the guards had other ideas, shoving him against the chair and pushing his arms to his lap. Then straps bound him in place and trapped his arms.
Then they left him. He could not take his eyes off of the water, so close but impossibly far away. Everything else faded and blurred, but the pitcher was crystal clear. The cup shined and glowed. He had held the craving at bay when there was none to have, but now that was impossible and his entire being was focused on the desperate need to reach it.
His mouth was sticky and dry. He tried to lick his parched lips, but his tongue was pithy with mucus. If the chair wasn't bolted to the floor he would have tried to knock it over, even risking the guards punishment, even for just a sip. He stared at the water, transfixed, pulling as hard as he could in a futile effort to reach it.
He was still staring when someone came in the room from behind him and sat at the desk. Glebaroun picked up the pitcher and poured half a glass of water, holding it up for his prisoner to see, and smiling pleasantly.
"I'm sorry I was delayed, Doctor. I imagine you're a bit thirsty."
Bashir tried to answer, trying to deny they were winning, but the words would not come.
"Would you like this?" The Vorta held up the glass. One of the Jem'Hadar took it and released a strap, allowing him partial use of one arm. Julian balanced the glass in his hand as if it was the finest of wine. "Now remember to sip."
He still hesitated. But thirst overcame caution and hatred and everything else as he lifted it carefully. He could just reach it, and cradled it gently so as not to spill any. Supporting the glass with bent fingers, he drank. After the first few tentative sips, trying not to look desperate, he swallowed a large gulp.
There was so little left. He stared at the nearly empty glass, wishing it full again. He could not remember anything ever having tasted so good. Another sip and he swallowed the rest, afraid they'd take it before he was done.
The Jem'Hadar took the glass, placing it on the table next to the pitcher.
"How do you feel?" ask Glebaroun, rather kindly. "Perhaps we can talk now." Bashir was still looking at the water. "Would you like another glass?"
His voice sounded scratchy. Each word was spoken carefully and separately. "Yes, please."
Lonnie cleared a space at her desk, staring at the bowl Jabara had brought her. She'd let her head nurse take care of the delivery of food from Residential that morning, too busy to spare the time. But all day she'd thought of the dinner they'd have. Most of the patients from Residential were too sick to eat much more than broth, and those that could eat solid food couldn't take much. The staff's allotment of the day before hadn't stretched all that well. The broth had much more flavor, but it wasn't filling. With the staff so busy and getting so little sleep they *had* to have more to eat.
The whole box of cakes had gone into the soup this morning. Everyone received three meals each day. Only one had the majority of the cakes, and they could choose.
She'd picked dinner. The cakes would be soft and flaky. They'd have broken into little bits. The broth had a strong flavor. She didn't even care if it tasted all the same.
It was food. She'd had little more than crumbs for days and wanted to feel a little closer to full.
But she took the first bite and her stomach hurt. She ignored it. She'd never been this hungry before, and was impatient that it took so much work to chew it before she could have another spoonful.
Jabara had settled across the desk, very gently sipping her bowl. "Not so fast. You won't be able to keep it down if you keep that up."
Lonnie stopped, sitting down her spoon. "My stomach hurts."
"You've never gone without before," said Jabara. It wasn't a question.
"No." Lonnie looked at the bowl, a queasy rumbling inside her. "I was so hungry. Now . . . . "
"Sit it aside. Take a few bites when you feel better, then wait."
Lonnie pushed it gently to the side. She still felt sick but willed it to stay down. "I guess you'd know."
"You'll manage," said her nurse, looking away.
Glebaroun poured a full glass this time and the Jem'Hadar released his other hand so he might hold the glass with both. He took the water carefully, knowing the Vorta was winning but not caring at the moment.
He was drinking the water slowly, trying to make it last, when the platter was brought in. The guard took the glass when he finished, and it was not refilled.
But the platter was uncovered. They had to have scanned his memories. How else would they have known about *this* dish and all it meant to him?
"I believe it has been a long time since you had this dish. You never ordered it on the station. You wanted to keep the taste quite special. But I believe this will meet your expectations."
He stared at it. He knew that the Vorta was watching, probably expecting it to work as well as the water.
But this was a very important meal. He'd kept the taste and sounds of this last meal before he'd left for his new life on Deep Space 9 as a special memory. The Vorta wasn't going to destroy that.
But the game was more complicated than that. "This is for you, but unlike the water you must share a few things to enjoy it."
He smiled again, and Bashir tried to not look at the food. The smell was so enticing he found his glance drifting back towards it. Despite the memories, he was hungry enough that a pile of the chewy ration cakes would have been as desirable, but this meal brought to mind other times now lost and made it all the more terrible to see. It belonged to a time where there was no such thing as the finality of being across the line.
"I will not betray anyone," he said, his voice raspy but strong. He knew they didn't have to ask about that. They already knew.
"Come, Doctor. You know you want some of this. Here, have a bite." Glebaroun took a single bite from the pasta and stepped from behind his desk. Waving the spoon in front of Bashir's mouth, Julian tried to close his lips and refuse. But the Vorta found his mouth open and fed him.
Julian closed his eyes while he tasted the delicate flavors. Somehow, they had recreated it perfectly. If he shut out the room and his tormentor perhaps the memory could survive without too much damage.
But the taste brought back other memories, of times and places long before he'd ever heard of the Dominion or Vorta, long before he'd ever been challenged by the bitterness of his Bajoran patients. He remembered a time lost so completely that he had banished it from his mind. And They had taken it away when they had copied him and sent back someone quite different.
"I will not tell you anything." He didn't look at Glebaroun or the food, but a spot on the floor he had been studying before. The food was too much a reminder of all that had been stolen, and who had taken it. He meant every word he said. The Vorta wanted him to tell something. He understood it didn't matter what. All that mattered was that he was willing.
"Think about it. If you change your mind just say so."
The guards removed the straps holding his shoulders against the chair. They slumped down in relief.
Glebaroun moved the water over and slid the platter next to it. He and the Jem'Hadar left the room.
Even with his eyes closed, he could smell the food. It should have evoked a pleasant memory, of old friends and laughter, but now it had taken on a deep sadness. In the last year, he had learned to push away old memories. He couldn't cope with them. Few people could. They were grieving for what had been lost, and shielded the precious moments so they might not lose their meaning. He hated Glebaroun and all he represented for tainting that day.
But he could ignore the hunger and the temptation. Glebaroun wasn't greedy. Julian knew he would settle for just one small answer, and the food would be his. He hadn't realized how hungry he was, but sitting in the room, alone except for food and drink, he could not stop staring at the table and its temptations.
The walls softened and blurred. He rested his hands on his lap, pressing his back against the chair. The bonds were too tight around his waist, but the chair was rounded. His shoulders drooped forward, especially with the upper straps removed that had pulled back his upper body.
It hurt, not nearly as much as his leg, but enough. He wanted the food. Now that the memory was already ruined, what harm would it do?
But what would he say? The two who hid the medical devices had been among those in the cell. They already knew. It wouldn't hurt to tell. Maybe he could say that.
The room was monitored. He was sure of that. All he had to do was tell the empty room and then the food would be his. Even better, so would the water.
He nearly spoke. He could still taste a bit of the spices and remembered the perfect texture that they duplicated. But later, he knew, they would want more things. He knew they all ready knew all that he could betray, but still . . . . How could he? They'd killed the nurse and the ag man and how many others by now, just to serve as examples. They had forever tainted a cherished memory.
If they'd waited longer before bringing him here he knew he might have anyway. He understood how the desperation for water or food could change people. But he wasn't there yet. The Vorta had miscalculated. He could keep it up, deny him water for more days and perhaps would get what he wanted. But not with this dish. They didn't understand. The taste had opened up a closed door and he could remember that day so clearly. Glebaroun and his kind had ended that life, and sitting in the deceptively painful chair, he found himself grieving for its loss.
Lonnie picked up the paper she'd been working on. Two of the surgery patients had died. There were complications she couldn't help. They'd been moved to the dead room and an off-duty orderly sat with them until they'd passed.
Their families were in Residential, but she couldn't send for them. They had been aware enough to dictate a few last words to pass on. But she had their death certificates and all the other paperwork to do now.
Thinking of it distracted her stomach a little and she took another small bite. It went down easier and the churning was a little less.
There were more papers to do. That hadn't changed, at least, though now she had all of them to complete. She had plenty of time to get down her dinner.
Jabara was helping. She checked over the documents to make sure they were complete and did Lonnie's old job of filling in the basics before she got them.
Outside her office, there was a cart set up for water and supplies. There was always activity. It was never quiet anymore.
"When you get done, you should get some sleep," suggested her nurse.
"I'll try, if there aren't any emergencies." But she was already past sleep. She hadn't reached exhaustion again yet. But the food was making her sleepy. She rubbed her eyes, the forms blurring.
"I'll save it for you if you can't eat it all."
Lonnie pushed the forms aside. "No, I want to eat. I don't care about a stomach ache. I can't concentrate on these," she added.
"I'll make sure there's a cot," said Jabara, still sipping. I'll get the forms ready for you to finish while you sleep."
She left and Lonnie ate the rest. Her stomach wasn't upset, but had gone from too empty to too full. How could that happen, she wondered vaguely, yawning, with so little?.
Jabara returned, noting the empty bowl. Lonnie was half-asleep at her desk.
"Come, now," she said. "I've got the cot reserved."
She gave in, remembering something Bashir had once said. Jabara took care of people. She decided to let her take care of Lonnie, too.
Safely delivered to her cot, she wrapped the blanket around her, thinking of him. Was he dead, or had they shipped him back to that prison by now?
It didn't matter. His patients were dying without him. She couldn't think beyond the walls of her own prison now.
Maybe tomorrow she'd be able to eat without it hurting so bad. There was always something good to wish for. Falling asleep, she dreamt of the day James had turned sixteen and they'd celebrated with a feast.
She stuffed herself in her dream. Her stomach didn't hurt. The sun was out, and the rest, now dead or gone were there.
It was a pity you had to wake up from dreams into reality, she thought briefly before she fell into the blackness of exhaustion.
Hours must have passed since they left him strapped alone to the chair. He stared at the platter. The sauce had started to separate and the pasta had started to darken and dry. He caught himself in occasional moments of sleep, the pain waking him. The straps around his waist and chest were cutting into his skin and moving made them hurt more. The circulation in his arms was so limited his hands were going numb.
How long would they leave him? He still stared at the water, his mind pushing away everything else as thirst dominated all the other miseries.
The platter, dried and old, still tempted his empty stomach.
All he had to do was speak, but wondered if his sticky tongue could manage.
If he tried, they'd give him some water. Even if he said the wrong things and was punished he didn't care
He'd dozed, pushing away the pain and need for a little while.
Then the sudden need to breath woke him. He was leaning forward and the strap was making it hard to take a deep breath.
He looked at the food. It was dry around the edges. The sauce was getting crusty and the pasta was half dried. But it hadn't lost its scent, only faded a little. Given the opportunity to reach it, he still would have eaten it.
The straps were pressing hard, cutting deep bruises into his skin and the pain was inescapable even pressing as hard as he could against the back of the chair.
His leg, dangling from the seat, had gotten cold and throbbed constantly. The numbness was crawling up his arms. The pain obscured some of the hunger now.
In his ordeal after the crash, he'd escaped into dreams. But this time the still lingering scent of the sauce flavored them.
Felix hoisted his glass high, and roared above the laughter, "I propose a toast to our good friend the doctor, and his sweet, puppylike devotion," he finished, mockingly. There was a chorus of "ayes" from the others and more laughter. They were all mildly drunk, from the local wine and the occasion. It wasn't often your best old friend graduated from Starfleet Medical with nearly top honors.
He laughed at the joke, feeling a glow from the wine and proposed a toast of his own. Lifting his glass and catching the others attention, he said, "Here is to old friends," he paused, looking at the glass, "and good wine."
They all shared the toast. The bottle was passed around again for refills, and another toast was being proposed to the pursuit of adventure.
He had tears in his eyes. He had known Felix for a long time, long before Starfleet. He had been deeply touched by his friend's surprise dinner, and especially the trouble he'd taken to find so many long lost friends. He lifted his glass to the toast and sipped, feeling a little less boisterous than the rest.
In the next few days he'd be leaving for his new post on Deep Space Nine, and it occurred to him that despite his desire for adventure, recently saluted, that he would miss this.
The bottle was nearly empty, and the waiter appeared with another. Another cart was rolled into the room with plates, and the waiter and busboys began setting them in place, clearing glasses and the remains of the salads out of the way.
Felix had had more to drink than the others and said rather loudly, "I think I smell the food."
Almost immediately, a larger cart appeared with a steaming covered platter. Everyone was anticipating the dinner.
It was the specialty dish that made the small hideaway so busy. It was served on a large platter, and the delicious odors filled the small private dining room. Each of them had scooped a portion for themselves, and conversation had ceased for a few minutes while they enjoyed the tastes and smells. The others were eating slowly, savoring the taste.
He tried to enjoy each bite, but he was overcome with a frantic need to hurry, and he worried they would take it away before he was done. He watched the waiter as he filled the glasses, holding on to his plate and glass. Instead of the wine the others were drinking, he had plain water. But he swallowed the entire glass in several swallows. He finished his first plate full and began serving himself the next, spilling it on the table in his haste.
They were all staring. The waiter stood directly behind the table, standing stiffly, glaring at him. One by one the other stopped eating and rose, standing together in an arc around the waiter. They were all staring at him, their eyes searching deep into his being.
But Felix still sat next to him, calmly smiling. He finished his plate of pasta and sat down the spoon.
The others faces were hard, wearing bitter looks. He dropped his own spoon and looked away, unable to stand the reproach he saw in their eyes.
Looking at the messy table with its reminder of temptation, he shut his eyes to block it out.
"Thank you for all the cooperation, Doctor. I hope you've enjoyed your meal. It was really quite excellent fare."
It was the Vorta's voice, but the face was Felix's. He turned toward Felix in time to see the face mutate into the Vorta's.
He heard Willman's voice but could not look him in the eyes. "What did you betray us for, a good meal? Traitor."
Looking towards the assembled group, he watched as they blurred and became other friends. Lonnie stood next to Willman, her eyes hard and bitter. She said nothing but stared.
Sisko stepped forward and pointed at him. "You know better than that, Doctor. I trusted you. Everyone trusted you." His face wore a look of utter disdain.
Miles looked at him with and expression of horror. "I really thought we knew you. I thought you were a friend."
"I didn't betray you. I didn't say anything," he pleaded with them.
All of them but Sisko stepped back and turned their backs to him.
Sisko pointed at him again, his expression stern and disappointed. "But you wanted to." He turned his back on the table and the doctor. "Enjoy your meal."
"As the captain said, please have your fill," Glebaroun added, cordially, rising and leaving him alone in the room.
The others vanished. Only the food remained. He tried to push it away but could not. He reached for a bite but found it had become bitter and sickening to eat. He spat it out.
Then the sobs came, deep grief for all that was lost.
Even if the Vorta offered it to him without a word, he knew he couldn't stomach it anymore. All that was left was the bitter ruin of a dream.
He pushed his back against the chair, pressing his shoulders as hard as he could. The pain banished the image of the party and the grief and the guilt and he endured.
Hours later, Glebaroun returned, and the platter with its ruined food was removed and dumped into a replicator bin along with the water.
Julian stared grimly at the floor, refusing to acknowledge Glebaroun or any of the guards. "You know, Doctor, I would think you had learned that it's not good to waste food by now. I suppose we'll have to work on that some more. How unfortunate, especially for you." The Vorta left the room.
The guards unstrapped him. He was lifted up and each held a shoulder. He offered no resistance. Reaching his cell, his hands were untied and he was dumped on the floor. A half-wafer of the chewy rations was dropped next to him, and a small cup of water sat next to that. He didn't move. The door was shut and darkness returned.
He lay in the darkness, only moving enough to stop his leg from hurting, and tried to sleep.
He couldn't use his hands. But eventually the intense aches of new circulation returned, and he could manage to pull the ration cube to him, and he cupped the water close, sipping it like the fine treasure it was.
He tried to forget the scent of the sauce filling the room, but it still filled his mind.
The dinner replayed in his dream, as vivid as the moment their escape had failed and Garak died before his eyes. There were different accusers, but they said the same.
He told himself he had only been tempted. The dream was borne of hunger and thirst and pain. He hadn't spoken, though it would have been so easy.
But he *had* wanted to. If not for the dream he would have betrayed the two they already had taken, blood on his hands.
The dream repeated, the food growing more meager and his need to take it all too absolute. And when he looked at his hands they were always smeared in blood.
The Vorta had made his memory into nightmare. He would not allow himself to forget.
Cheryl Jackson nibbled on the chunk of cake. She watched as Jeffrey dug fingers into his food to fish out the pieces. Calla needed help, but they spooned as much of the broth into her as they could. Jeffrey had his cup, and when he'd eaten all the chunks, his father poured the broth into the cup for him to drink.
There was no problem getting them to eat. Hungry children were not fussy over food. It was only the second day of regular meals, but they had learned.
The deck was covered in people. They'd brought matts and blankets to sit on, and it was almost like a picnic. If you didn't look too far, where the Jem'Hadar stood behind their line, it was almost a pleasant day.
It wasn't so bad now. The food was plain and insufficient, but they were already used to that. The children already knew that complaining wouldn't help. The older ones stared across the line where dark stains still shone on the grey rock, but never looked at the Jem'Hadar.
They'd kept the bargain. They behaved inside, and the guards didn't cross over the line. But just the same everyone always knew they were there.
You chose to see what you wanted. Children still played, but corralled inside a ring of adults. Everyone was terrified of a child running too far and dying. They sat and talked, or traded books, or just sat in silence.
There was little to do. Dax had had no problem getting volunteers. There just wasn't enough to use them all. Emery took as many as he could, but they didn't work for very long. That left endless hours to sit in the sun, or stare at too familiar walls, and pretend that outside a line of blue death did not live.
But life revolved around meals. Breakfast was early, mostly broth with a hint of flakes left from the night before. The pot was never emptied, only added to. A crew of too many helped, but the wash water was warmed and the bowls washed. Then they were dried and replaced on their shelf.
Then more hours were left before lunch. It was still cold and most who didn't get to help went home until then.
Lunch came with the bright sun, and children arrived with toys. A ring of adults guarded them. When the food was ready, they broke into families again and the children forgot about everything but the bowl they waited for.
Nobody got seconds anymore. Pregnant women-and by now there were plenty-got one refill as did nursing mothers. But the rest had to be satisfied with what they got.
It showed already. It had been a few days since they'd been released from curfew and fed, but they'd been without anything for nearly a week. The scant meals didn't make up for it.
Even the children were tired. And when they played, they were always watching.
Cheryl sat in the ring after meals. Jeffrey brought his blocks and wouldn't let anyone else touch them as he smashed. Calla loved to play with the dirt, and dug out the rocks she found.
Cheryl took solace in the joy she saw in her daughter. She managed not to see the angry child her son had become. But now and then she had to take him home early when he hit someone who touched his blocks.
Nobody talked about before. The rain would come, and they kept to themselves the hope it would wash away the blood. But nothing would remove the memory.
Carl spent meals with his family, but afterwards disappeared into Dax's office. There were still forms. But their neighbors no longer stared.
Life was dismal and boring. But it could be worse. Each day resembled the last, but at the end of the day, they knew nothing terrible had happened.
A few people had been taken to the hospital and returned with tales of crowding and smells and noise. Nobody wanted to be sick enough to have to stay more than a little while.
It was a reminder of their luck. Dax ate with them, and toured the deck every day, watching the children with a deep sadness. Sometimes she left her work to watch the children, and had brought a book of children's stories to read.
They read to them in the afternoon now. They'd played long enough that they were tired. Cheryl had taken her turn at story time. The children didn't seem to mind if they read the same stories every day. Once in a while an older woman named Dorothy came and told better stories. She had been ill, and only came when the weather was good. Even the adults would gather to listen when the storyteller spoke.
But the day always ended the same. Dinner came and went. The cleanup crew washed and dried, and the food crew covered the pot. Carl had things to do and left her with the children until curfew.
He went home with her. They'd file inside and close the door. The water bottles were already filled. The matts and blankets they used outside were shaken and brought in. Jeffrey tossed blocks at the wall for a while before he fell asleep. Calla was already out, but if she woke her favorite rocks were stored by her bed.
Cheryl didn't let herself think about how little she had. There was no brightness in her life. She played with dull colored rocks and wore bland clothes. There were no supplies to spare for her to color, and aside from a few homemade dolls, little else to play with.
She feared for her daughter. Worse, she knew the damage this place had already done to her son.
But night came. The children slept. Carl held her and she pretended that somehow, maybe, tomorrow might be better.
Molly was getting her worn, already grimy clothes covered with dirt as she and the other children played a rough and tumble game of tag. After the long time in hiding, Keiko had worried that her daughter would never smile again. But there were a number of children here, and Molly had slowly been drawn into their games.
She doubted her daughter would have a normal childhood in this place, but at least she would have a taste of it. Keiko smiled at the noise and energy, so refreshing in the dullness. She told herself, again, that it really wasn't that bad, repeating the litany everyone here lived with. She had even managed to forget that it was a convenient line. It was easier that way.
Next to Keiko was Jackie, Marka's year old daughter, asleep on a mat along with Yoshi. Keeping Keiko company was Teana, Marka's three year old daughter. The oldest, Pashe, a little older than Molly, was among the tag players. Keiko watched them as they played, telling herself that her children might keep their childhoods.
But then she saw the first hesitation as the noise approached. Abruptly, the game ceased. They scattered, and Keiko moved herself and the three children past the alcove where it would be difficult to see them.
There were four Jem'Hadar. They must have had somewhere to go because they moved through quickly. But no one moved until the sound of their footsteps faded completely.
Gradually, the children climbed out of their hiding places, the older ones looking around cautiously for signs of the enemy. When they were satisfied one of them whistled. One by one, the smaller children came out of hiding, slowly and with great caution, still listening.
Molly was among the guardians. Keiko watched her, dirty and ragged and wary. She tried to remember the little girl and her stuffed animal, hounding her father for attention when he'd just gotten off work.
But she couldn't find that child anymore. Miles, if he was alive, might be among those captured and deported to places the natives had failed to survive. She couldn't imagine her husband lost in such a place at all. The Chief, ever busy and proud of his work, was the man she held in her memory.
These creatures played like children. But childhood, as Keiko understood it to be, had already gone.
Jackie was stirring, wanting to be held. She scooped the small child off the mat and watched as she relaxed in her arms. She and Marka alternated caring for the children while the other worked. In the months since they had become roommates, it was almost like the children were siblings.
Molly and the others were safe again. The game became as noisy as before. Keiko held the small girl in her arms, wondering if she and the others so young that they'd not remember what came before would ever really know what childhood was.
Randy was awake. It was probably the middle of the night. The room was cold and he had the blanket wrapped tightly around him. The wind was blowing. He listened as it slammed pebbles against the wall.
He liked it when the wind blew. It was so hard during the quiet times. Wind made noises and he could lay and guess what had changed. Sometimes he closed his eyes and watched it in his head.
He was too tired for much else. One cake a day and a couple of cups of water wasn't much. All they had to do was lie still and think, but that made it worse. There were too many things that hurt and too much to remember.
Tom still wandered. He slept on and off and sat up in-between. But he didn't stare out the window so much anymore.
James hardly moved. He'd curl against the wall after he ate, and not roll over or make a sound for hours. Randy wondered if he was trying to find the park. But he stood when the guards came, and followed the others out to be scanned. He took his food and silently sat on his bed while he ate.
Randy had tried to see his eyes, but it was too dark. He wanted to know if James saw anything but grey.
He'd started keeping count of the days. But he wasn't sure how many there'd been before that.
But at dusk they were ready. The door would open and they'd get that one, brief moment of light.
The sun had been setting. The colors were all faded but he remembered them well enough to make them brighter.
He hoped James could do that. But he couldn't stand to think of papers now. Each was a reminder of the other life. He couldn't remember it or he couldn't take the dullness and emptiness of this one.
But the dusk and their brief moment outside kept him alive. Each day he lived for that moment, the brief glance of sky and dusk and color. The long, empty time after just existed.
Tomorrow they'd come again. He didn't know if the food or the sky mattered more, but wished the day would hurry past so the next moment could come.
Tom was stirring. James had shifted his position on the cot. The wind was so loud, the pebbles sounding so much like rain.
He closed his eyes and saw it spit against the wall, shattering off small sparkly chunks. They flew in the wind, blowing from the rocks that had bound them. If he could be anything in the world right then, he would choose to fly free in the wind and fall, safe, to ground.
The wind blew. Randy let it fill his mind until he swirled and danced and for a time he was free.
It was so starkly defined on paper. Jadzia stared at the sheet she had been provided to post for everyone to read. Evidently, They wanted her people to understand what they had to lose.
The Dominion assigned degrees of guilt. The Ag department had taken the greatest losses. There had been the replicator and all the things in the cave. It was foolish to think that they hadn't known. Those who knew about the project, that done in secret or before, faced the choice of cooperating or else.
Curzon could guess the else.
Sisko's upper level aides knew all about the contraband that had been destroyed rather than be reported.
All the Ag people had been questioned. Sixteen had been arrested and removed.
Sisko's aides and the others, and the Department heads except her, were being held in detention in the office area. Later, when the survivors went to their offices, they'd always remember.
Contraband had been found inside the hospital, three arrested and removed with it, including Bashir. Two others had been taken without any explanation. They were under house arrest on one third rations. She'd heard things about the hospital. It had been bad enough when she'd been there. She didn't mind dying. But she didn't want to die there.
In her section, they were bored and hungry. But they were not safe. She knew that each day life was sharpened by a fear they couldn't name. The Jem'Hadar were always there, and the line of blue was the difference between life and death.
It didn't mention those killed as examples or having died in the crowded hospital. It didn't suggest the hungry children or the ones who had seen someone fall from a rifle shot and would never be the same. She wished it had been more complete. But in time they would know, when all the stark numbers were assembled and compiled and they really understood how much had been lost.
Noting the date, near James birthday, that day a year before no longer quite real, Lonnie added the four papers to her box, patients who had infected and with nothing to treat them, had died quickly. She could use Willman's treatment for some wounds, but not all. Or maybe these were just "susceptible" as Bashir had noted last winter.
She was tired. She just wanted to sleep and wake with none of the forms that filled in their tally that day. The red section had not disappeared, though it was smaller now. But every day more moved there. She signed the last form, taking a quick tally for herself. Sixteen since they'd come that horrible day Jenny had died, mostly those sick already but now with nothing to treat them. At least that many were destined to join them in the next week, barely hanging on.
She stored the box. The records would be picked up soon. It was getting close to the first month of their nightmare. She yawned, looking at the cot. Jabara was watching the store tonight. If anything else went wrong she'd be gotten but maybe tonight she could sleep.
She laid down on the cot, laying the blanket across her, and watched as the shadows fell in the dimmed light. She didn't believe in ghosts, but sometimes, when the light was right she wondered. But the day was ending. She shut out the ghosts and the fears and everything else, and dreamed of home and dreams and tables filled with foods she had almost forgotten. But she heard her father, when he didn't know she was listening. A nurse, he'd said, just a nurse? If she had to quit art school at least she should be a doctor.
She wondered if he'd be satisfied now, knowing that he was right. Maybe she'd know more, or been able to learn past what Willman had taught her expecting Julian to live. But she couldn't go back and her stomach was rumbling. Residential hadn't been able to transfer the rations this time. So she let her world be all the feasts she'd ever known and for a little while she wasn't hungry or tired and could remembered what it was like to dream.
The persistent cold of that corner of Bajor's winter had shifted to very cold windy nights and icy cold rain over snow. But the warehouses in their compound had filled up with the supplies for the springs planting, still stored in its shipping containers. Before it could be divided for the spring work they had to be opened and re-packed. The slashies housed within, and the military version permitted to cross compounds had been busy for over a week. But Megan and Dan had not been among those who got to work inside where it was dry.
Megan hung up her wet coat and pulled off soggy boots, storing them in the corner they had assigned for wet things. The outside assignments were done earlier. Underneath, today, her winter work clothes were filthy, but dry. She hurried to her blankets and could not find her slippers. Giving the few in the room a hard look, Dan pulled them out of his side, nicely warmed. She pulled them on and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, pulling one over her lap.
Only then did she notice the bruise and cut on his cheek. He was sitting quite still, staring across the uncrossable divide in the matts straight at Greson. Greson had taken a particular dislike to Dan. The men who had come with him had chosen to keep their stories private, given the attitude of their neighbors. Dan had dribbled out just enough they knew what they were missing. Greson didn't like her attitude because he didn't intimidate her, but Dan had become a special project. He'd come in soaked through most days since the warehouse work and glared at Greson as he took off the wet things and dumped them over the edge of the piled mats to dry.
They were all hoping that the new shipment arrived soon and they'd be moved so he had someone new to torment. Within their corner they had adjusted. The men, after the shock of landing in such a bitter, low place, had settled quite quickly. Dan had first reached out in that cell and was their personal leader, but they no longer slept as a group. Darla sometimes shared blankets with one of them, and the two were sound asleep, curled under a pile of blankets. She didn't want to wake her but the cut needed attention.
Dan's eyes never left Greson, both cold as ice and brimming with resentment at the same time. She tried to imagine how it would feel to be dropped into this brutal world with no warning at all but couldn't fathom it. They had known for months that something bad was rushing their way at CA, and saw the reality of life on Devon outside their shielded world. Maybe knowing what awaited you made it a little easier to adjust. The soldiers had had different demons but it didn't help.
She hadn't seen *him* since the doctor, over two weeks ago. Others had been sent there to work in the warehouse, but not him. If he'd been caught, she knew, she never would. But she and Dan had gotten used to each other now, and she saw the time with *him* had just been the first few acts of a play never finished. He had been an adventure, but Dan was her companion.
"When Darla wakes up we've got to see to the cut," she said.
"It'll be fine," he said, entirely preoccupied.
"No it won't." She wouldn't ask him who and when. He'd tell her if he was ready.
"Wasn't the blackies," he mumbled softly, using the name the men did for the CA guards outside. "They are amused but they keep their distance." They knew the slashies in G3 were not CA. But that didn't buy them anything but letting the sarki do the punishing instead.
His constant gaze on Greson explained things well enough. The walkway in had been a sea of half-frozen mud that morning and it was cleared now. Only Greson and his little cadre of lieutenants would be ordering that. "Made me shovel it out twice and then said it was taking too long, so he made sure I remembered."
She had been assigned the recording of the shipments as they were pulled out of the warehouses for dividing. She recorded the contents after a survey of the crate, sometimes with multiple items crammed inside together, and it took time. Then, with the list fastened to the top, it was returned inside to wait its turn. But outside, all she had was an awning over her where she stood. The crates remained dry, and the paperwork, but then they had much more value than the workers.
In theory, her work in supply on Devon, and hands on in the warehouse had found some worth, but just the same everyone knew she was really just being punished. But she had finished before the rest and still not completely soaked, got to go home.
Home was strictly defined, the width of the blankets and piled, infested mats she shared with Dan and the invisible line which separated their corner. Past that lie the enemy, home surrounded by a siege and she and Dan the gatekeepers.
Everyone knew, soon, the next batch of victims would arrive and they'd be moved to their own section. There were rumors it was overcrowded and the guards were worse, but none of those trapped in the corner cared anymore. But with the pure hatred in Dan's eyes and the cut, she wondered if as a favor for something Greson did for them, they might leave them behind.
There were shadowy memories of the moments past the door, and waking, broken and bleeding on the floor, but she remembered no real details. But they reminded her that when Greson stared at her, he was only a pretender. And when Dan held her, there was still a wall that could not be crossed, or she might remember. She hated Greson as much as those that had abused her for his intrusion.
Darla had made some headway offering first aide. One of the sarki women was a nurse and the two had gotten to know each other, but aside from that it was as if their little space was fenced as tightly as the compound. After numbness and shock wore off, and after the double work load they were given wore them down enough to just wanting to get through the day, they had adjusted rather quickly to the brutal world where they found themselves at the bottom.
Darla's group, still hoping for some leeway, had gone invisible and Robbie had gone into hiding inside herself. Megan had become their watcher as Dan was the men's. Communications, as short and gruff as they were, were still addressed mostly at them. She didn't like it but it was how it was. Now, she too lived in Darla's half world.
Shivering, she was tired and cold and needed to rest before the evening. After the line for dinner was done and they were allowed their turn, there would be work to do. At least, she thought, when the roughly chopped wood the military slashies were processing was chipped, the sarki would be spending long days digging it into muddy, cold soil all day. At least they would be gone by then. Slashies couldn't be made to work there. The rules of the caste system in which they lived were as stringent and uncrossable as they could be made. The Dominion masters had finally figured out a way to control their slaves without having to shoot so many of them.
Or was it the Dominion? Nothing resembling a Vorta or Jem'Hadar, or even the aliens from Devon had been seen at all. Nothing but blacksuits and greysuits, all alpha quadrant calties, and too many of them quite human. And whoever ran other places, CA was obviously in charge of their little piece of hell.
She slipped into the blankets, pulling him down towards her. She needed his warmth but then she didn't much like the stare either. Greson could retaliate too easily. But in their nest of blankets, slowly warming, he started to whisper and she smiled in the dark of their sanctuary.
The blackies responsible for this group–she found herself calling them that too now–hung around more than needed, and Greson had some connection with them. Dan didn't know or care, but while he'd been cleaning out a spill near a shed, working out of sight, the two blackies and Greson had gone into the shed that day. There had been whispers and though he couldn't hear them well enough to understand, he guessed it was the Trade. Others guessed it was something more basic, the dark-haired one clearly interested in Greson, but Dan didn't read it that way.
Greson had been granted tacit authority over them anywhere near the barns. The guards did the normal work assignments but didn't interfere otherwise. If there were other than bribes going on, the sarki population would have suspected. That sort of favor was one they would not have tolerated. But Dan slid something into her hand, something hard and metal and unlikely to be found in their now primitive level of existence. She could hear the satisfaction in his whisper.
It could end badly, she knew. She had played such games. She still wasn't sure if she had lost or not. She could be dead in a pit like Sir. But you had to try. That evening a new pile of matts would arrive. The old ones, destined to be cleaned of the infestation of fuzzybugs, were to be left so that they would so graciously have more of their own matts to pile. It would mean the bugs would just move back to set up home in the new ones, and then they'd decontaminate the room. But the slashies would have to live with the concentration of them until then, if not moved before. They didn't work in the fields and their little area had been relatively lightly infested so far.
But everything would have to be moved out first. Greson would make them do it. After the sarki got their personal property, they would be made to move out the old and clean up the area. Then they'd re-lay the new ones. And when the new slashies arrived, Greson would make sure both of them went with the rest to the next compound.
Dan had found the device in the mud, dropped accidentally. He would have ample opportunity to leave it where Greson could find it in his matts. There was only one possible way for it to get there.
Dan wouldn't turn him in. It would endanger everyone. But Greson would know he knew. One word to a guard, any guard, or a slip of paper left to find was all that was needed. The Group might still go on half rations, unthinkable, but always a risk if it was Trade. But Greson would either die or be slashed himself. The blackies he dealt with would be executed and their families slashed. He didn't see the flash of fear in her eyes, remembering walking to a door knowing it was all over. Before the next day was out, Greson would dispose of it somewhere nobody would see it, for if found, CA there, too, would have its own bloodbath.
Greson would make sure that didn't happen. Very soon, if they stayed when the new shipment was parceled out, they would be treated a little better. Perhaps even before they were moved. It would never change that the slashies were outcasts, but small things meant more than she had ever thought they could when that was all you had.
You took your chances. They might pay off. They might fail. You did what you had to, no risk, no gain.
The metal object slipped out of his hand as Dan fell asleep, pressed against her with his arms wrapped around her. She liked the feeling, the closeness. His plan to tame Greson drew them closer. But as he reached around her and pulled her against him, a tension made her shudder and he soothed her, gently rubbing her back.
The device was a recorder, once commonly used to document meetings or take notes during warehouse inspections. Now it equaled nothing less than death.
He whispered softly, as she hid the metal device where it would not be activated accidentally, that even if he didn't wear the uniform, Greson was a blackie, and still owed them. And when they were gone, he would pay for it.
The tension ebbed a little, and she thought of how Dan spoke of his father, a gently man who hated war and how he would no longer even know his son.
end, Legacy, Year 2, Part 1, Chapter 5