An Alternative History of the Dominion War
Year Two - Metamorphosis
Part 1 - Occupation
Calla Jackson had never known anything but the harsh, rocky world of Cyrus 3. She had been born the day of their first arrival, delivered by Dr. Willman. She was a healthy baby, though, and had mastered walking early. She wasn't quite one and she ran everywhere. Her chief delight was the grey rocks that smashed into bits so easily. Like most children her age, she seldom paid attention to her parents when she decided to explore.
That day Jeffrey had been in a bad mood and Cheryl had had to bring the children back home early. Calla was sitting in front of her house, playing with the pebbles and a few rounded rocks found by the water. Jeffrey was playing with his new game, home made letters made by his father, and didn't notice his sister at all.
Then Calla stood up. She started to run, approaching the open area where the line was. Cheryl took after her, almost catching her when she glanced back at Jeffrey, thinking he was following.
Calla stopped, playing a game with her mother one year olds liked to play. Most of the time it was fun. She giggled and stared out past the line, where the Jem'Hadar and their rifles stood ready to kill.
There was a big rock, sitting a little beyond the line. Calla saw it and sprinted after it.
Cheryl followed but the child was too fast. The little girl had almost reached the blue line when Cheryl froze.
She didn't scream. Later, she wondered if it might have stopped the child from running further.
Their worse nightmares came true when Calla danced across the line. Cheryl dashed forward, but could not stop her.
Calla giggled at Mommy's game. But she reached her rock and grabbed another in her little hand to smash with. Her giggles echoed in her mother's ears as she stopped, just short of the blue line, and froze.
Calla was still alive, sitting on the ground playing with the rock. They were holding back, at least for the moment. But she knew if she tried to go to her daughter they would shoot her. They had guns trained on the child, still playing, oblivious to the commotion she was causing. But they had not fired.
Cheryl also knew that if the child did not go back soon they would kill her.
She tried to call her, tempting the girl with her favorite games if she would come to mommy. But Calla just giggled at Mommy's new game and continued to hit the rocks together.
Word had spread; someone ran up carrying her favorite doll. The little girl saw it, and abandoned the rock. Cheryl kept the sheer panic and horror out of her face while she danced the doll around, keeping her voice cheerful, still calling the child to come. Calla was standing now, and was dancing around, laughing and giggling at funny mommy. But she was not coming.
"Dada," she said as her father walked slowly forward, stopping right on the line.
He called her too, but she liked all the attention she was getting and giggled some more. Mommy had stopped playing with the doll and stood next to Daddy, calling her again. The Jem'Hadar looked towards Cheryl and Carl.
One of the others trained his gun on the little dancing girl, while the ranking guard addressed them. "She comes now. No more time." Carl Jackson looked at the guard, pleading with his eyes. Cheryl tried to call her again, but Calla had found a game to play and was not paying any attention to them.
"Disobedience of this sort cannot be tolerated," said the head guard.
All Cheryl could see was her dancing child and the gun that was going to kill her. Carl was frozen is a state of shock. But then, another voice broke the spell. It was Dax.
"Please. Wait," she said, addressing the head guard. She was perfectly calm. "The child is too young to understand. Someone will have to come and get her."
He looked at Dax, who alone among the crowd was calm. He gestured for the other guard to wait. "You, then. Take the child. But the next time there will be no leniency."
Dax nodded, then carefully crossed the line of blue posts and moved towards the little girl. Now, guns were pointed at her as well. She knelt down in front of the child, holding out her arms. "Come on, honey, your mommy needs you." She scooped up Calla and calmly walked back over the line, the guns dropping as she passed over it.
She continued walking toward the settlement, and a neighbor grabbed Cheryl when she fainted.
Carl was walking in a daze. They reached the buildings, and he followed Jadzia to their quarters. Several adults guarded Calla as Jadzia sat her down outside. She entered their door and he followed. Cheryl was carried inside and he took her in his arms.
"She'll be fine outside," said Jadzia. "But we must talk about this now, before anyone forgets what almost happened."
He nodded, numb, but wondered, looking at her, why there was almost a look of disappointment in her face.
Jeffrey had noticed the commotion and put down his letters just in time to see the guns leveled at his sister. With all the adults he'd stayed by his house, frozen in a kind of trance. He already knew what the guns did. He could see his sister all covered in blood. But when she didn't die he picked up his letters and started to arrange them.
He liked his blocks better, but his mother had taken them away when he'd hit someone who touched them. The letters didn't keep much of his interest. And he kept watching as his sister was carried closer.
Then the one with the spots put her down. He ran to catch his sister and held her tight. She tried to squirm loose but he didn't let her go. In his best imitation of the lectures his daddy gave him, he told her never, never to run away again.
She giggled, discovering his numbers, and started stacking them in piles. He just sat and held her, the terror still in his eyes. Gradually it faded, but no matter how much she squirmed, he just held tighter.
And from then on, when she played, her brother promised that he'd never be far away.
Dax hesitated when she returned home. She'd spoken to Jackson and his wife for almost an hour, watching as they kept glancing at the door. There were plenty of watchers outside to keep the children safe, but she could feel their need to hold them.
She wondered if the reason for her own freedom was to save the girl. A great weariness had come over her since she'd left their home and the children were rushed inside.
She didn't know why the Jem'Hadar had listened. But she was certain that she alone could have done it.
After a moment of indecision, she entered her office. There was always more work to do. But now it was just a pile of paper. Dinner would be ready soon. She forced herself to sit and take the first form from the pile.
It meant nothing. She wrote the proper words, but the connection to that and much else had suddenly broken. Worf was near, waiting for her to sleep so he might come closer to her dreams.
She would leave this place soon. A little child was alive but in exchange, she would give her own life.
She wished that the fates had seen fit to tell her when. There was much to do. Someone else would have to file and process reports. Someone else would need to take the daily walk and touch the rest. Someone else must be calm and in control so the rest would believe there was something beyond this time.
But who? The others of her former rank were held captive. If the reports were true, they'd been confined in solitary. She couldn't imagine how hard it would be to suddenly be freed to face this mound of papers and the faces outside who needed someone to care.
Would her replacement remember how to care? Perhaps they'd simply give Emery or Jackson her place.
Emery was fully in charge of the food. She wouldn't want to burden him with more. And Jackson . . . he was not right for it. In the privacy of their bedroom, sitting with her as a mediator, he'd lashed out at his wife.
She'd almost had to physically stop him from hitting her. He was too afraid of the Jem'Hadar to let out any of that rage. But his wife hadn't been watching well enough, he'd said, coldly at first. Then his tone changed, deep anger filling each word.
He'd accused her of nearly murdering their daughter.
Cheryl had backed away, stunned by the rawness of his grief and rage. She'd finally gotten both reasonably calm, but the fear inside him was worse now.
If he was ever put in charge of anything, he'd be *worse* than the enemy. She wished there was someone to talk with, someone to warn. She would be gone by then. More than once, at first, she'd had to refuse his ideas. The line of Jem'Hadar was bad enough. They didn't need to create more oppression from within.
She'd ask Emery to go by and check on the Jacksons. She didn't really have to explain. He saw it too.
Maybe, later, he'd manage to warn them.
But there was a light tap on the outside door. She abandoned the forms and answered it.
It was Jackson. He'd been crying. Rage had gone into grief and she guessed his wife was still too afraid of him to help.
"Could we talk? Cheryl won't let me in the bedroom. She took the kids in there and shut the door."
She opened her own door and watched as he slowly stumbled into her room, then collapsed on her bed. She took the chair. "You threatened her before. She almost had a baby shot in front of her. You need to give her time."
"I didn't mean it. I'd . . . I'd never hurt her."
"You sounded like you wanted to. And you lunged at her."
She was worried about them. Carl had to face the dangers inside himself. If he didn't he might destroy more than just himself and his family.
"All I could see was Calla lying there dead. I don't know what I would have done if they'd shot her. I don't think I'd have cared if they shot me. I'd have gone after them."
"You don't know. It didn't happen. But you can't turn on your wife. She didn't hurt Calla. She just tried to save her."
He held his head in his hands and sobbed. "I know," he said in a little voice.
"Give her some time. And *remember* who the enemy is. We have to see them and the line, but don't forget, they broke their own rules to save her."
He stopped sobbing. Sitting up straight, he looked at her. She saw devotion in his eyes, but it was holding back a storm. "No," he said calmly, "You saved her. I don't know why they brought you here, but we need you."
She shivered. There was no image and no sounds, but she saw a great looming darkness in his soul. She could hold it back, but wouldn't be there when he needed her.
He stood. She wanted to tell him to take care, but couldn't find the words. "I'd like to go home now," he said. "I think I need to sleep."
Worf was waiting. She could sense him very close. Jackson opened the door and let himself out.
She sat on the bed where he'd been. Before, her fate, looming so close, had been a welcome dream. Now, seeing the darkness in his eyes, she wished to push it back.
Dinner should be ready. She'd eat and then get back to her reports. At the moment, she couldn't stand that room and the trace of death that waited.
Worf was so close. He drew her near, but now she pushed him away. "Not so soon," she told him. "I have to stay."
But he just backed away. She'd keep him that way as long as she could and maybe she could make a little more of a difference.
Up the hill, things were very different. Lonnie Broadman was addressed as "Sir" by her staff. She had hated Willman's ironclad rules, but in the end, hers were even more absolute. She did what she could for the patients, much more than she once had thought she could do. There were new ones, mostly from minor accidents gone infected, but the hospital had already been filled beyond capacity when they'd come. Slowly and inexorably, the worse off were dying because there wasn't enough to risk on them when it could save someone else.
The staff worked long hours, sharing the small sleeping area allotted to them. Rations for them were officially only one third, but they got more than that. The patients contributed their own half allotments, and while everyone was still hungry, nobody had collapsed.
Patients received what food they could tolerate. But those that stayed were too sick to eat much. Maybe it wasn't fair, but it worked. Any of her staff who committed serious infractions would have to live with only their third. But no one had and she did not expect it to happen. It was different when you had the real enemy outside your door. But she would enforce her rule if it did.
She'd only been in charge for a very short time. But the responsibility and the grimness of life had already taken it's toll. The bodies she'd destroyed that had died of murder had hardened her heart. She ran her hospital with a strict, unbending set of rules that had been written the day after the rations-and ten new patients-had arrived.
She was hard on everyone. The staff was divided into sections. The sleeping area had been filled with cots and cushions and even stacks of blankets, but now the staff worked and slept together in their sections. It eliminated the chaotic sleep they'd been getting before.
Inside the sleeping room, she left to them who slept where, but the staff appeared far more rested.
Even families were formally required to help in some way. Most of them were already, but she had no place in her rules for the useless. The families of staff and companions of those who were patients had been loosely organized as the "non-medical" staff and housed, sleeping in shifts matching the medical staff, in their own room..
They did whatever they were told. The medical staff, by definition, outranked them and could assign work as needed.
Without them, the patients wouldn't get much of a personal touch. The medical staff didn't have time. Kept busy, she knew, they would have less time to worry. Working, they had less time to notice the misery.
She vaguely remembered the hospital as it had once been, a small but reasonably equipped medical center built to serve the few residents of the original population. The beds had not been pushed so close together it was difficult to move between them. There had been empty spaces. Now, even the smallest corners were used for something, and privacy didn't exist.
The water tap had improved, but it was still the only one. Bathing, beyond the patients abbreviated bed baths, and an occasional wipe down with a wet towel for the rest, was forbidden. It took too much time and effort to collect, store and move water for that. Some had tried to keep cleaner than others, but the unwashed smell was already obvious after those brief times when they breathed the outside air..
She hardly noticed it anymore, even then. The only times were the occasions when the door was opened, and there was fresh air. Mostly it was a little gift amid the horror of outside. But inside was theirs, and even when the trip was for supplies, the threat was every present. In a little while, back inside, the only ones who'd care were the patient companions who hadn't gotten used to it yet.
And if she ask a lot of them, she ask more of herself. She'd commandeered a cot and moved herself into her office. That way she could take naps but still go back to the work. Jabara, who was fast becoming indispensable, slept there when Lonnie wasn't using the cot.
Six of their number were gone, including Willman. But none were spoken of. Shari was cared for with the other children of staff, and Kay was assumed to be dead. If she, and the others, did come back it would be a great gift, but it was easier not to have hope and be faced with the doubt and the disappointment when all was done.
Life went on. Patients died and lived and in the crowed rooms they held onto the hope that when it was over they could see the sun again. Too many had died., twelve in the last week. But she understood now. Julian had said a part of him had never left the internment camp. She knew that for those trapped inside none would ever be able to leave it behind.
Jadzia pealed off the wet clothes, draping them on chairs to dry. Spring had come, or at least the beginning of the rainy season was here.
Her day so far had been most unpleasant. Before curfew ended, there had been a knock on her door and she found a Jem'Hadar standing before her.
"You must come. The Vorta wants to speak to you."
He'd stood in the pouring rain, water running down his scaly skin, while she dressed. Throwing on her winter coat, the morning still very cold, she followed him out past the houses to the deck.
The mud was already spreading. It was still confined to the deck area, but the rock they'd been unable to dislodge blocked most of the flow from the drainage channel and just caused more flooding. The spring runoff hadn't come yet, but when it did instead of murky water the ditch would be full of slippery mud.
They'd already moved food to the lower deck, dispensing it out of the storage building. People ate at the tables placed nearby and turned in their bowls. There hadn't been a line. But they opened for dinner immediately after lunch and allowed breakfast to merge into lunch. That way people could come whenever there was room.
With the rain most of them stayed inside. But they'd stand outside in the downpour with their children in the afternoons. The rain washed some of the dirt away.
The outside water wasn't sufficient for bathing. Stripping off the last of her soaked clothes, she rubbed her wet skin with a towel. She felt a little cleaner. Changing into dry clothes, she took the time to carefully brush out and towel dry her hair before pulling it back into a ponytail.
It wasn't sticky, at least.
She wished this was the last visit across the ditch and through the gate. When they'd arrived, the dawn was just brightening the sky. Everything was still in shadow.
It was eery. Everything looked the same. The square was covered in pale green moss, growing thicker from the rain. The buildings were untouched and there were no guards visible.
But she could see the doors with locks on them. Silently, she followed the Jem'Hadar to the room Glebaroun had chosen to use as his office.
She was a little surprised that he hadn't used Sisko's. It appeared to be closed but not locked. She wondered if the paperwork left that day a lifetime ago was still waiting for Ben's signature.
She was ushered into the office and the Jem'Hadar stayed outside. It was one of the conference rooms they'd used for larger meetings, and all the papers from her and Lonnie were piled on the end of the table.
The Vorta eyed her with curiosity. "I wanted to meet the woman who convinced my guards to spare the child."
Jadzia didn't move, standing in front of him. "She was too young to understand, Sir," she said.
"Yes. I worry it's set a bad prescient. I want you to make certain that your people know that the next time there will be no leniency, no matter how young the offender. They will be shot."
She didn't look at him. But she studied him just the same. She hadn't met a lot of Vorta, but enough to compare. His clothes were brighter than theirs, but hardly the bright colors Weyoun chose to wear. Nor did he look especially pleased at where he was. But she sensed they were important, and thus, so was he.
"I have already made sure the incident won't be repeated," she said.
"Sit. I'd like to talk. I am very pleased at how well you've been keeping order, aside from the child."
She sat. "I do my best. I try to be reasonable."
He eyed her with amusement. "I chose to spare the proper one, then. The head of Operations destroyed the things hidden in the cave, as well, so he did not deserve my clemency."
She'd destroyed all the things left in the box. Apparently, he'd chosen to overlook that.
What had happened to Miles, she wondered. Was he dead? Was he locked away here or had he been questioned and shot? She didn't want to know the answer. It only reminded her that she did not have long to stay.
"I am most grateful, sir," she replied.
He was amused. He pushed a button and the side door opened. One of the Ag people, she thought his name was Thompson, stumbled in.
What had they done to him? He stood and waited, utterly subservient. He looked thin, although the bruises were almost gone. But there was terror in his eyes.
She didn't look at him. Was that the fate of the others they'd taken, to be reduced to slaves?
"Some juice for my guest. And quickly."
He disappeared, bolting like a scared animal. "He was recently disciplined. I do hope he doesn't spill it. Your Agriculture Department heads had been experimenting with a berry that grows on the planet. I find its juice rather interesting.
Thompson returned with two glasses, carefully sitting them in front of her and the Vorta. He stood back, waiting to be dismissed.
"Good, nothing spilled," said Glebaroun. "You may have you meal today."
She didn't react. But Thompson bowed. He slowly turned and disappeared.
She sipped the nectar. It was weaker than Tarlan had made it but any hint of sweet was delicious. Or it would have been if she hadn't seen Thompson.
"It's a pity the original colonists didn't explore the native plants," she said. "There are a number of useful ones."
She was curious why he'd brought up the nectar and showed off Thompson.
"Yes. Indeed. This planet has many possibilities. I'm sure your people will be much relieved when they can be utilized."
He smiled at her. She smiled back, but her's didn't make the skin crawl.
"They will be most grateful." She kept her tone soft and polite.
"I believe there is little to do right now. You may assure them that is a temporary condition."
She already knew that. She'd seen it in the flash of vision that came with the knowledge of her death.
"Do you find my reports sufficient, sir?" she asked.
"I'm very pleased with them. When this annoyance is done, I may recommend you for a higher position in our civil authority. Please consider this in the future."
She smiled at him. It didn't matter what he said. She wouldn't be there to be made into a traitor.
But what about the others? If Jackson had a chance to prove he could be trusted, and his family was safe, he'd take it. How many others would find the easier pathway acceptable until there was nothing else left.
"I will do so."
She finished the nectar, wishing that it hadn't been offered. It was a tiny step towards the line some had already crossed. Had she? Was her attempt to make life a little more tolerable for the others now made up in part by guilt over before?
"Good. We will discuss it further the next meeting."
She was dismissed. Opening the door, the Jem'Hadar was waiting. The Vorta watched her as she left. As Vorta went, he was rather pedestrian. Perhaps he thought he'd found someone to promote in the new scheme of things that might get him further.
He wasn't as clever or devious as some of them. He only thought he was.
Overseeing a group of small captive colonies was as far as he'd ever get, even if one was a little more important than the rest. And he knew it. But if he thought she might get him something more she'd play the game.
Curzon understood even if Jadzia found it repugnant. In whatever time she had left, she'd buy all the good she could from his misconception.
Dorothy watched the small group of women everyone was calling her "daughters", sitting together in the sun. After several days of rain and dampness everywhere, they had gathered on the sunny morning. Breakfast was done and there was still a chill to the air, but the sun was out and where it was dry enough little groups of people gathered to let it lift a little of the gloom of their existence.
It would have been a perfect day for stories. But since Calla Jackson had run and nearly died, no one was willing to let their children go from their side. Materials for a play area on the upper deck were being gathered, with a fence to keep childish impulse from becoming deadly, but was not yet built. Several of the Daughters had children, and at the center of them, in a space well guarded by all, they played.
But she wasn't watching the play. Sitting a little away, Catherine sat by herself. Tina was worried. Catherine hardly slept, and cuddled the empty blanket she'd made for the child she lost as if it was being held. Dorothy had children lost on both sides of the line, and would not lose more of her family without a fight. There, one could die of execution or sickness–or from simply giving up, as she feared her daughter was on the verge.
She sat close and watched as Catherine looked up, past the blue line, and glared. Her body tensed. They had taken everything from her and Dorothy feared she would not care if they noticed.
Dorothy moved closer as Catherine was staring, eyes fixes on the place Calla had run across the blue pickets, now an ever present part of their lives. She said quietly, "We should be thankful for our good fortune."
Catherine had known better before they had taken so much from her and now didn't care. "Until they kill the next one," she muttered bitterly.
Dorothy turned her full attention to Catherine. "We do not make such assumptions." Dorothy cornered her, her voice steady and cold and insistent. "I learned much from the time I lived on Bajor. This child lived. We celebrate the victories."
Catherine wasn't ready to give in yet. "At least Tessie won't have to grow up in this place," she said grimly. Catherine looked up, plainly staring at the line, and glaring at the Jem'Hadar. Everyone else ignored them unless they were on their side for some sort of business.
Dorothy moved in front of her, blocking her view. "Other children will. Very likely yours." Dorothy looked her in the eyes. "Tessie is dead. As is her father. But you are not. I doubt they want you to join them so soon. Keep that up and you will."
Catherine looked away, but quit staring. Without the anger, all Dorothy could see was the sadness and the loss and the grief. Gently she rose, taking Catherine's hand. "Come," she said.
Catherine obeyed. She tensed as they approached Dorothy's small dwelling, collapsing on the small couch as the door shut. Anger was still mixing with grief but spoke only in a whisper. "Today is my birthday," she said quietly.
"We will celebrate at dinner with a story," said Dorothy.
But Catherine didn't want one. "No reason to celebrate," she said. Dorothy waited as she fumbled with the words. "All I can think of is how they . . . . My sister loved the name Tessie. She'll never know about her. None of them will. I doubt they even think of us anymore."
Dorothy had heard enough. Some of those abandoned there figured it out by themselves, but Catherine wasn't going to. She would not, however, be allowed to wallow herself in self-pity and give up. "*That* isn't important," Dorothy said flatly and coldly, catching Catherine's attention. "*Here* matters. *People* here matter–like your sisters outside, the children you'll have tomorrow, the friends who depend on you. Not the past, and not the ones lost." Dorothy watched as she straightened, resignation filling her eyes. "You are one of my daughters. You have family. Sometimes we just make out own," said Dorothy softly.
Catherine, caught between anger and grief, said with quiet and much bitterness, "They picked him and his child and executed them just as surely as if the Jem'Hadar had done it. Am I to forget that?"
"Yes, they did," said Dorothy crisply. "You are not alone. Nor you sisters. My husband was not in good health. Being trapped here was a death sentence. He knew it. I cared for him for months as he grew weaker. Then one day, he told me he loved me, and was gone." Dorothy forced Catherine to look her in the eyes. "Yes, I miss him. I wish he had not been ill, or we had not been here. But that is all *done*. I am here. You and the others are here. Would he want me to mourn so deeply I was lost?" Catherine tried to look away but was forced back into the stare of the older woman's eyes. "He came to live free, and became a highly educated and respected man. But before that he was born in a place like this. His father died when he was five from an epidemic. He never forgot what it was to be hungry. He knew what it was like to live in fear." She paused, Catherine now entirely captivated by the quiet words. "But he knew that was not *everything*." Dorothy spoke in gentle whispers now. "Even on Bajor living under the Cardassians he knew that he could not allow it to be. He wrote his first poetry on Bajor, beautiful poems of hope. When he was ten his mother disappeared and eventually he ran away. He was very lucky to find escape. Very few did. But he cherished the beauty in life every day, even the life here."
Catherine closed her eyes. She whispered, "We'll never have that gift." There were tears flowing down her cheeks.
Dorothy took her hand, looking her in the eyes, and stroked her hair. "Unless we *give* it to ourselves. If we assume no tomorrow we've already canceled it."
Catherine collapsed, letting Dorothy hold her. Dorothy waited until she had quieted. "Tonight, I will read a poem of hope. It was written here by my husband, one of the few he wrote first in Standard. But it was for us, all of us." Catherine had calmed down. "It will be for your birthday, and those of any others who need reason to go on, but I will not announce it as such unless you want me to."
The younger woman was exhausted, and Dorothy brought a blanket and pillow from her room. Catherine accepted them and stretched out, almost collapsed but now just worn out. "Go ahead," she whispered. "I'm sure there are a few others with birthdays coming up who could use some inspiration."
But as the younger woman arranged the blanket and tucked the pillow under her head to sleep, Dorothy hoped it was just not an act to be played out in secret until it tore her apart.
James had been counting the days. The food came very regularly and he kept track of the date in his head. He might be a few days off, but thought it was right. Today was his seventeenth birthday.
He lay on his bed, tears stinging his eyes. That day, resting before mealtime, he'd taken a nap. He had dreamed of the birthdays of his past, and the picnic that was family tradition. He had played in the sun as a child again, tumbling with his cousins. He had watched the next generation of children play as he saw the picnics he would not attend. The dream had been so real that he had not remembered the grim reality which he woke to. When the half-dark, stuffy room came into view, he cried.
He had not seen the sun for weeks. With the two others, he had been locked in this room for all but moments a day, when they received their scant rations at dusk. For James, the few moments outside the stuffy room were what he lived for. But not today. Today was his birthday and he wanted to see the sun. He wanted to see the square and at least imagine his party.
A tap at the door brought the three of them to their feet. The latch was opened and the door let in the orange rays of the setting sun. They marched out of the room and waited.
James strained his neck to see over the wall that was obscuring his view. One of the guards was looking at him, and he looked away, as the others had. He was scanned. His little rations pack was handed to him. Rafferson took the new pitcher of water. They were ushered inside. The other two went in the door.
But James could not. Even if it was nearly set, today, he had to see the sun. The hunger and fear were meaningless at the moment. He had to have just one glance, and the wall was in the way. Instead, he started to walk past it.
The orange rays glowed invitingly. His roommates hastily backed further into the room, not daring to make a sound.
"Return *now*!" the guards ordered him back.
But James heard only a distant echo. Instead, perched on one of the buildings in the darkening, bare square was a mocking bird. It's song filled the square and he stopped, staring at it.
It's music was so joyous. Before he'd painted his birds and they'd come to life, the mocking bird called to him. Now, lost in this grim, pale world, the bird shimmered in bright daylight.
He took a step forward. The trees came to fill the square. The little birds started to sing.
Then the park appeared. It was as if his painting had come to life, inviting him inside his dream.
It was full of people. Children played in the grass. His aunts and uncles chatted, their conversations punctuated with laughter. Sitting near the open grass, his grandfather was telling a story, arms waving about in a demonstration of some small detail as he'd always done in James' memories
Then his grandfather stopped, and looked at him.
"Come back, son. We miss you," he said.
James could see the grey world of Cyrus behind him. The Jem'Hadar stood with their rifles ready to shoot. He knew they would kill him if he didn't go back inside.
He couldn't see Rafferson and Morris. They were too far inside. But in front of him was the park. He could see the frame with its delicate designs high above him. His life was there. Everything that mattered existed in that place.
The smell of the dishes they'd brought for lunch filled the air. Sitting together, as if nothing had ever happened between them, his parents looked towards him.
"Jimmy, we love you. It's very lonesome without you." His mother smiled at him and his father put his arm around her.
He knew it wasn't real. He didn't care. Since they'd taken all the pictures in his head nothing mattered anymore.
He stepped forward, the chattering of the birds louder now. He could still see the Jem'Hadar behind him, the rifle pointed and ready to fire. He turned, staring at the greyness.
He didn't move. He saw the guard fire and felt the sudden burning in his belly as it hit him. James fell, all the strength fading in his legs. Bent forward, he could see the park behind him.
But he'd landed in the grass. His belly was clean and healed. His favorite cousin was running towards him, arms held wide.
"Jimmy, we got the best present of anybody here. I got to pick it out."
He hadn't seen his cousin for a long time. He didn't try to get up, but stayed still, watching the life all around him.
Then it faded for a flash. The sky was fading orange and the air was cold. He was so weak he could hardly move.
The Jem'Hadar shoved him to his side with a kick. It hurt, but none of that was real. He could see the door shut behind him, and the guards move onto the next one.
Then the park was back. His cousin had charged and knocked him down. He picked himself up and stood before his grandfather.
"I found some wonderful art things for you. I hear you have a lot of pictures to paint."
"I just wanna be home," said James.
Then everyone was there, crowding around him. The mocking bird sang a cheerful morning song. Somewhere beyond the trees was a dark place, but he had left there for the last time. Now, there were presents to open and a picnic to eat.
Hours later, the morning having dawned, the birds and the trees faded one last time. The grey skies of Cyrus with the first hint of dawn were above him. He was so cold he could barely move. His shirt was soaked in blood, but he could send the pain away by letting himself drift beyond his body.
Several Jem'Hadar were picking him up, dropping him on a stretcher. He watched as his limp body collapsed as they bound him in place.
The doors of the other prison cells were open, their wan inhabitants staring blankly as the Jem'Hadar carried him away.
Rafferson and Morris stared at him. He could see the grief in their eyes. There was no pain anymore. But he was still alive.
He missed his roommates. When the park had been so far away and the canvas incomplete they had cared about him. He wanted them to know he wasn't sorry about his fate. If he could have his pictures back it didn't matter how it came to be.
He knew he was dying.
He couldn't go to them now. Now, he had to hold onto his park and the only life that mattered.
Later, when he lived at the park forever like the aunts and uncles that had passed beyond life, he'd perhaps tell them.
If he could. But now he could tell he was being carried inside a building. The park was still there, but ghostly. The stench of people and blood and disinfectant banished the sweet breezes. The dark square was gone, but a little room had replaced it.
The pain was worse now. But he let go of all that he'd left behind. The park was all around him. There was no grey, no stench, no Jem'Hadar. There was just the trees and the birds and the only life that he allowed to exist.
James lay on a cot, separate from the other patients in a small room used for the dying. He was awake, staring at something off in the distance, occasionally smiling to himself. Lonnie sat next to him, giving him sips of broth or water when he would take it, otherwise unable to help. He was bleeding internally. There was infection, too, and she felt helpless. He would die in perhaps a day. If he was lucky he would die sooner.
When he'd been brought in and his frigid body warmed, he'd rallied for a time. The bleeding was very slow and insidious, but he had no infection. Warmed up, he had awakened. She'd sat with him. Others volunteered to help but Lonnie refused. In the past year, since the takeover, between the restrictions and the never ending work, she hadn't seen him more than a few times. He kept mumbling to himself, and while much of it was unintelligible, she had understood enough to realize that what had appeared to be coping was an illusion.
He had seemed a little distant, but in the few times she'd seen him she had assumed it to be because he was at work, just as Willman-and herself-expected her staff to keep personal feelings at home. But he'd spoken nonsense in his mumbles, of birds and trees, and of people left behind on Earth. She knew he'd spent all his spare time on the painting. Now, she guessed that he lived inside it.
In his impending death, he was there.
The infection had started not long after his lucid period, and he had lapsed into a delusional state. At least he was happy, she thought. His fever was climbing steadily and would kill him soon enough.
She wasn't treating it. The medicines had to be for those who could recover. She was exhausted and her mind was drifting back to her own childhood, and people and places she had shut out of her mind. She drifted off to sleep.
A few hours later she awoke from a pleasant dream to the grim reality. It was hard to push the dream away. She had been moved to a cot, and one of the nurses was watching. He had been mumbling in his dream when she went to sleep, and she thought he was a little boy again having a birthday.
But now, he was no longer talking, just staring in the occasional moments when he woke. His eyes still followed something in his dream, and he smiled occasionally. But mostly he just slept.
There had been no convulsions. But he was so hot it wouldn't be long until the final stage of his young life was reached. He would be dead within a day.
She didn't want to leave him, but she had other patients to tend to. She left with the nurse holding his limp hand to tend to the living.
Two hours later, she was called back. He had begun convulsing. They stayed with him, holding his shaking hand, talking gently even if he couldn't hear, and saying good-bye.
Lonnie watched and felt nothing. He was dying and she held no power to change that.
An hour later he was gone. She was holding his hand when he jerked very suddenly, his whole body jarred by the severe convolution. But then they stopped. He relaxed, still breathing. She thought he opened his eyes.
But then they closed. Quietly, without any other sign, he took his last breath.
She covered him. The nurse performed a ceremony she had made habit. She'd explained it released the spirit so he could fly free. Lonnie didn't believe in the Bajoran Prophets or their religion, but thought it might help someone. Or maybe he really had been set free the only way he could..
Lonnie was used to death now. There had been so much of it. But sitting in her office, the door shut with a sign she wasn't to be disturbed, all she could remember was the joy in his face when he'd opened his gift for his last birthday, and the excitement he'd radiated about Calder.
She wanted to cry for him, for all of them. But she had no tears, not now, not there. Tears would open up too many other wounds she must keep safely bound away.
Then she looked at the date, and everything made sense. He'd turned seventeen the day he'd been shot. Maybe he thought he was going to his party when he'd wandered into the square.
But he was dead now. She amended the death certificate, listing his age as 17. Then she put the pin in its little bag, and dropped the sheet in the pile with the others.
Two more of the surgery patients had died that week. She had tried. They were almost recovered but in the end a raging infection had killed them, along with the others who's final record sat in her box. They'd shot James, but they were all victims. The method of execution didn't matter much anymore.
She'd tend to his body herself. That would be her one concession.
For now, she was behind in her work. She left to help the living, since she could do nothing for the dead.
Kira Neres had retreated to the back of her loop of cavern, pulled the curtain and was sitting quietly. Narven was getting restless. She'd convinced them that without knowing what they were fighting, they didn't stand a chance. Odo would be back, she'd said, having planned a long reconnaissance. But it had been slightly over a month since he'd left, and they were growing convinced he was dead. She'd let them do quick food runs since otherwise there would have been little to eat, but the last one had nearly turned disastrous, since they'd nearly gotten caught, but nobody knew where they'd come from and they'd made it back safely. Luckily, they'd gotten the Dominion cakes home too. They were hard and chewy, the taste foreign and hardly pleasant, but cooked until soft they filled the stomach easier.
She had convinced Narven to ration them, so they were a little hungry, but could hold out longer. And with food, they were less impatient to go fight the enemy. But even if Odo had *planned* on a longer journey, she didn't think it should have taken this long. Sitting in the dark, wondering what happened when she lost Narven's confidence completely or he lost the trust of his increasingly desperate troops, she hadn't heard until Narven himself roared into her nest. "I stand corrected. Your changeling friend is indeed alive. I think he would like to see you."
She knew that Narven would see the relief, but didn't really care right then. "When?" she said.
"A short while ago. He brought us more food, those cakes but it is better than starvation. We rushed to store them before they were seen."
She was following Narven to the 'general assembly' area. But her relief in seeing Odo was dampened a little by the first distant glance.
He looked tired. Or worn, or worried or some other less than changeling look. The closer she got to him, the stronger the feeling. He looked like Odo. But he looked older. Changelings didn't age. "I would like to speak in private," he said. "Make sure it's stored very securely. I have doubts about another trade being possible."
She didn't much like the way he'd put it, especially in front of them. But she took his hand and led him back into the nest. Pulling him inside her curtained sanctuary, she could feel him collapse. "They thought you were dead. I was beginning to wonder if we had lost you," she said, seeming to ignore the weakness.
"I went much further than I intended. Do you think you can talk them into leaving here as refugees? There isn't much left to fight here. And something very odd is happening further out. Central Authority is running the major camps all by themselves. I witnessed a group of Jem'Hadar trading the locals they'd captured and the food the locals had stolen for white. Something has gone rather terribly bad for the Dominion, I think."
She almost asked him what was wrong with him, but if he felt like telling her he would. "I don't think they'd ever do that. I convinced them they needed to have current knowledge, but if that's the best you can suggest, they'd rather die."
"They won't die. They'll be captured. Then they'll be sold to the blacksuits. CA has apparently cut off the white from this area. That is why so many of their rations are here. The Jem'Hadar are being told by the Vorta that they are following the orders of my people, but they're rounding up the locals with food as a lure so CA can slave them instead. The Vorta gets white so long as he cooperates. If these try something they'll just be merchandise." He took her hand in the dark, kissing it gently. "We must leave before that. We have some time. The providence next to here is where the thieves mostly operate, so they'll let their mercenaries clean it up first. A rather brisk 'Trade' has popped up here and steals all they can. They wish to wipe that out first, and if the Jem'Hadar will do it for them I'm sure the Vorta will continue to lie to them."
He had laid down, and seemed less weak, but she was still worried. "I can't tell them that. They'll just stop listening entirely. We've been exploring the cave system. There's a few other ways in and out. There is one which would get us completely out of the area but they don't know about it."
"Good, we'll need that. Right now, they have to stay out of sight. My last weeks were exhausting. I haven't been able to properly regenerate or rest. But somehow while the deal which resulted in our current bounty was being made, the supposedly real destination was leaked. They have no idea where we are, but when they come upon the Traders they think it went to, they'll have plenty to do for at least a month. Probably more. I will need some privacy and rest, but you are welcome of course."
She sat up, staring into the darkness. "I'll come up with something to tell Narven. He'd cooperate, but not the rest. But they do understand that this bounty as you describe it will be looked for so I can keep them working on cavern duty. Narven thinks we can hide a big army down here, and pick them off. I've been encouraging him, but it doesn't sound like there's much left to make it up."
Then Odo's tone changed, and she stared towards him in great curiosity. "There is a growing army out there who will fight, and are a lot smarter than your lions out there. And they'll have the patience to wait for when it is *time*. But before then, they do as they are told. And nobody will know they are there."
She lay back down, against him, and he held her. "Is something wrong, Odo? You seem," she said.
"Tired. Not enough resting. Perhaps each moment wondering if the creature I was would be a tasty meal for someone. May I stay here? I may revert, if you'll let me. I'd like to be near you."
"I need to talk to Narven but for as long as we stay this is your home."
He took her hand and kissed it, and she wished Narven could wait, but he promised to hold off until she returned.
Narven was waiting. He understood they had to all stay out of sight, but with supplies could make better plans for the army. She left him to dream.
But settling down behind her curtain, Odo took her in his arms, the tension ebbing, and as sleep took him, the goo bathed her and the blanket and she felt as if for a little while, they were one.
The ration cubes came. There was never much and only enough water to keep him from growing too delirious. He dropped the cubes into the cup to soften and soak them. Hard and sticky, they were too dry to eat.
Julian still slept most of the time, but not so soundly. His dreams were no longer a refuge, and when he was awake he was obsessed by the hatred he'd grown for the Vorta. He had stolen and mangled his memories. He would survive because he had to be alive to destroy the Vorta. It didn't particularly matter if he lived through his revenge, as long as Glebaroun didn't. And when he dreamed, it was in surreal visions of hell.
They stood in a circle of death, chanting the song slowly and methodically.
"Ring around the rosy,
Pocket full of posies's
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."
And then they stopped and waited for the sacrifice to be done.
They stood silent. All were very calm, and very patient. The cycle repeated in its own time and the sacrifice would come when it was ready. The remains of the others taken before were scattered on the grounds, many crumbled to dust already.
Then, slowly one of the Jem'Hadar stumbled forward and fell. The swelling in the armpits and groin began and started to ooze blood and pus. Boils and black blotches formed on the skin. The pain of the dying was obvious, as he quickly wasted away. The foul smell of rot filled the air.
And he died, like the others, watched by the circle. The living again took hands and repeated the death song, chanting with care so that the magic be preserved.
The cycle repeated. A human fell that time, a child. The death came in the same manner, though quicker. The Jem'Hadar had already gone to the worms. The next cycle was a Bajoran, who stumbled and fell, the Jem'Hadar little more than bones. It repeated again, a human female, and the bones were mostly dust. Another Jem'Hadar fell next, while the last blew away in a gust of breeze, then a Bajoran male, and so on.
The cycles never stopped, and new bodies replaced the dead in an endless dark carousel. At the center, directing the circle was the Vorta, Glebaroun, who nodded and recorded and watched but did not die.
The chant went on again, and he sang it methodically, "ashes, ashes, we all fall down." All but one. Each time he wished it to be his turn, and yet was denied. He watched Glebaroun as he chanted, and the dark magic grew inside his soul.
The hands were joined. The chant was done. A dark presence touched him, pulling him forward. He stumbled out of the circle, wary and ready.
All watched, waiting for him to fall. The Vorta looked up, noting something down but showing little interest.
But he kept walking, straight towards the Vorta.
Glebaroun looked up, a little annoyed but mostly amused. The violet eyes showed the first hint of surprise as his intended victim was standing directly in front of him still quite alive and unharmed
Hands were joined. The circle was still but everyone watched the Vorta. He scowled as a finger came pointing at his face. He opened his mouth to speak, but didn't get the chance.
He was the man who did not die, but not this time.
The finger lowered, reached towards his hand. Warm, living human skin touched the cool, pale Vorta's hand. Glebaroun tried to jerk it away, but could not move his hand at all.
"You're it." The finger was removed and the hand dropped with sudden weakness. The One Who Did Not Die stared at the one who had not. Then the chosen stepped back to the circle and rejoined the circle of hands.
The Vorta stood, then fell in a sudden weakness. Lying on the ground, helpless to rise, the eruptions began. The breeze stirred the ashes of the recently dead, as he slowly became the last victim.
Even before death took him, the worms were busy.
The Vorta, puller of strings, was gone.
The circle broke, split, and reformed into three, the smaller towards the center. They walked slowly, hands still joined, chanting the chant. The inner and outer circles moved to the left, the middle one to the right. With each round of the circle, the chant grew in power.
And it changed. What had been a call for death had taken on the sing song tones of a children's play song. Even the voices which filled the valley sounded younger and higher and laughed in between the songs.
Then, possessed of an energy they had not known before, they skipped around the circles, singing loudly and with glee.
As what had been Glebaroun became powder and spread under their feet, they danced on his grave.
Then the circles stopped. They were fidgety, and impatient as children sometimes come to be. Moving slowly in one last ring and chant, the survivors slowed down, but sang out the words impatiently.
Then they fell.
The wind blew. The dark sky above began to lighten. A bright sun rose and at its touch the ground became green with a carpet of grass.
The fallen remained and the sun lit the sky with yellow brightness. No worms had touched them.
The sun lit the new land, but passed along its journey to night. As the sky wore a bright glow of gold with the setting sun, the dancers started to wake. But they were no longer old and lost and somber. The were a circle of children, the oldest perhaps five, now dressed brightly in finery of their own design.
They skipped in a circle, once, singing the nursery rhyme and giggling, then stopped. Running, they did the work of children and played.
He woke with the laughter of children in his mind, a hope of renewal, and even more the afterglow of power and the satisfaction of revenge. He knew it was a dream, but having lost everything else, he let it give him a reason to go on. Without that there would be nothing.
Mac lay collapsed on the floor of the cell, moving as little as he must. The slot where the meager rations dropped was close enough to reach, but he had seen few, and only scraps of them. He was past hunger. Vaguely, he knew that was bad but didn't care. He'd lost track of time since the isolation cell but had not really known how long before that.
He made them curious. In their world there was a hierarchy. Sisko talked to the Department Heads. They talked to the Sub-Department heads. Either managed the senior staff who managed the rest. But he was a sub-department head who managed a staff who worked in all the departments, and he consulted with the one department which was informally set up. He broke the rules, and his authority was far magnified above his title.
They wanted to know why. Or he guessed that was why he had drawn such concentrated attention. He'd been questioned so many times he didn't remember the questions anymore, or much of what had been so he could answer. They'd tied his feet to pegs and beat him when he didn't answer, but eventually he couldn't and they just rendered him unconscious.
He'd come to in the isolation cell. They'd fed him depending on his answers, insufficient of late, and he had not seen much food. Then it came at random, maybe a half of a cake if he was lucky. The pain and cravings were already gone and the weakness had set in as his body consumed itself.
He wished it didn't take so long to die when you starved to death.
His feet had been so bruised he could not put weight to them, and were still intensely painful when they door opened and two Jem'Hadar dragged his limp body up and out of the cell. They didn't need restraints. He was too weak for that need now. But it wouldn't help them to ask questions. Even if he could remember much about what they were talking about he wouldn't. It had become his best option to let them overtax his weakened body and just let him die.
But they wrapped a blanket around him and stood him on throbbing feet, and for the second time he felt the odd sensation of their transporter. The cell had been pitch black, and the light from the early morning sun blinded him. Trying to hide his face from it he just shut his eyes tight and looked down.
Then they ordered him to walk. Stabs of pain shot through his feet and legs and he nearly collapsed before they had gotten him past a bridge with rough, painful ridges to soft, mossy ground. He knew where he was now, or hoped. But every bit of energy had gone and he could not move. They dragged him a little ways, preparing to let go and let him fall when a familiar voice, sounding as if it came from a long, long way away filtered through his fog.
"No, don't drop him. I'll take him." Emery. Michael was familiar and comforting, but he still wished he could die and it be over.
"Take him now," grunted the guard, forcing Duncan on to his feet and the pain nearly making him faint.
Arms reached around him, and took the weight. The pain lessened. He leaned all his weight on Michael as someone yelled to get Sarah.
No, he thought, no, not like this. She shouldn't see him like this.
But he was gently lowered to the mossy ground and another blanket put under his head, covering his eyes from the light. He lay there, bewildered and unsure if it was real or some kind of starvation inspired dream until Sarah screamed his name and was laying on top of him, sobbing uncontrollably. There were other voices he could remember, but not who they were, telling her to be careful, to back away a little.
He wanted to believe but couldn't really tell if it was real but was too exhausted to move as everything faded into blackness and peace.
Ray sat the box of cakes, carefully counted and recorded, by the women who broke them into pieces. Tara had tried, but she was so tired she had to stop. They still left their sad little home each day, Walter's room still untouched, the door not opened. It was as if somehow he'd come home if they didn't disturb his things. Ray knew he'd never help if there had been something formal and official, not with the taint it would carry, but somehow Dax didn't make it feel that way.
Since their hungry days at the beginning, when the half-ration had seemed like a lot, they were beginning to feel the effects of malnutrition already. Everyone was tired. The preoccupation of each day was meals and he knew that most would do whatever they were told just to eat. With Tara and little Walter at stake, he knew he would too. But along with the hunger, there was resignation. It was a time to get through. But how long? Willman's writings had been read by enough of them to make them afraid for their children. Already, they didn't seem childlike anymore. When food appeared, a silence fell over them as everything else faded into nothingness. Tara ate every bite, but she still wasn't feeling better.
But lunch was over. The cakes he had brought were for the next meal. He'd been put in charge of accounting for the cakes, and once they'd been moved to the cooks, he had other work to do.
He detoured by Tara, sitting near a group of women reading a story aloud, just listening. She said she was fine. He wished he could believe her, but there wasn't anything anyone could do.
Slipping into the office, he remembered the way the suits had treated them almost as invisible before. But she didn't. He took his seat, Dax handing him his folder. She waited while he set up his list. "How is your wife doing? I know you're worried about her."
He could tell she was sincere. "Tired. She sleeps a lot. She looks at Walter's door all the time. But I know there's nothing anyone can do."
She looked at him, and he saw confidence in her eyes, and purpose. It was so hard to feel that way for the rest. "I'm hoping to get permission to have a nurse come and check on our people soon. But I suppose you should get that done so I can finish this," she said.
He didn't see how the Vorta would allow it, but then he wasn't going to ask any unnecessary questions either. Walter had taken his stand, but he hadn't had a family, and now that Ray did he understood how that made all the difference. And maybe Walter would never know it, but little Walter would learn to share the dream his namesake had abandoned, and Ray would teach him how much it mattered.
Walter Vance sat on the floor of the dark cell, staring at the door. He even daydreamed about food. For many days they'd taken him out of the cell to the little room with the swivel chair. They kept asking him questions about the project. But he couldn't answer most of them. Justin had gotten so far beyond his own understanding of the process years before that he didn't know how most of it worked.
He hoped he had convinced them that he couldn't tell them anything and they would end this punishment. Justin had assumed disinterest, but Walter was only intelligent. Justin was brilliant, and concepts which were simple to him were difficult for Walter to grasp.
But he'd done his work, promoting what their process could do. He told his tormentors about that. When they ask him to explain specific things he tried, but hoped it was obvious that he just didn't know.
He never told them that he knew, that they had given him everything he wanted before they took it away. It puzzled him why they were asking so many questions when they had seen every last scrap of their work already. And he knew nothing about the new, simpler process that had been tested near the cave. But they persisted in asking him questions about it anyway.
And as Walter got more and more hungry, as rations became his only meal and then briefly became few, as food had come to dominate every thought, he'd tried harder. He'd fielded questions from investors, and answered theirs in much the same way. No matter how advanced Justin had gotten, he could still describe the basic workings of the process. For awhile the dogs and ponies did their job. Walter got more to eat for a little while.
But they kept asking about things he couldn't tell them.
He didn't question if it was right to answer anymore. The bits of information he told them were not a secret. If it bought him food, he'd tell them whatever he could figure out.
Then they'd reviewed the history of the project with him. For a short time he was seldom even hungry, able to give all the details that bought decent meals. Each day had become a ritual of waking and waiting, following the guards and answering every question with as much detail as he could muster from his fading memory. Then they'd feed him. It wasn't the spongy cakes of the last year, but real food, and when he was very good, his own personal requests.
He'd dreamed about the children he'd grown up with who had taught him that food was precious and life giving, and no matter how many replicators and how much abundance in his life he never forgot it.
But they'd gone past what he knew. He'd kept trying, but the dogs and ponies had lost their touch and couldn't dance anymore. The food had gotten more meager and basic. When they got to the last few years when he'd spent his entire time promoting and cajoling for Justin, he couldn't give them enough to get even three stingy meals.
Then they'd stopped taking him to the room. They fed him only the minimal starvation diet he'd been given before the questions. His stomach kept hurting after that, and he wished that he'd stayed with Justin instead of refusing a pin or any rank.
Then he'd know the answers. Then he'd have enough to eat.
But he was getting weak now. They hadn't come for too long. A guard pushed a bowl of crumpled ration with water inside each day, and *that* had become the highlight of his life.
The diet wasn't killing him, but he was quickly weakening. The cubes were hard to chew with his gums tender. Willman had written about the effects of malnutrition in his book, and Walter tried not to notice how many of them he had now.
But Willman had survived. Somehow, he'd find a way to make himself useful if they'd let him. Somehow, he'd get enough to eat.
Once in a while he got more. He'd sit it aside and nibble on it all day as the cubes got softer. His head would clear, and he'd wonder, again, why they were asking all those details of the project of *him* when the one who could tell them was Justin.
Justin had worn a pin. He'd risked disaster for everyone to keep the project alive. Walter knew his old partner enough to be sure that if they'd let him do it, he'd tell them anything they wanted to know, especially if he got to have it back..
Walter listened at the door, hoping to hear it open. The bowl was empty. The footsteps were coming, heavy clumping steps of the guards, stopping every so often while they opened the section of the doors to feed their caged animals.
The bowl came. Walter crawled across the floor and gently dragged it to his spot. Dipping fingers inside and tearing a piece of ration free, he forgot about Justin and the project and the questions for a little while.
Mac had been moved to a bed, the inner blanket taken off, and the filthy clothes cut away. He had lost a lot of weight, and had bruises not completely healed. Passed out, he looked almost peaceful but shuttered when his feet, badly bruised and swollen, were touched. A general summary was written up of his condition, and someone who could be justified to need the hospital found to be taken there with a message. It was hoped they'd return with the reply instead of their escorts but aside from sleep and food nobody knew what to do.
But he was one of sixteen who had been taken and the only known one returned. If he was in this kind of shape, it was hard to hold out hope for any of the rest. He had not stirred, even when Sarah had sponged off some of the dirt. The broth from the soup was brought and small amounts dribbled in his mouth and he swallowed. But they had been warned if any were returned and not fed to take care and send a message. If the hospital wasn't the pest spot it was, he should have gone there but nobody was willing to take that risk.
Michael sat by him, Sarah having been sent home to rest. It had been many hours and hope was fading for a reply from Medical that day. He remembered when the Jem'Hadar had found him at Shandra's quarters and beat him as payment. Mac had seen far worse. Several of their own had rudimentary training from the Winter, and checked what they could. They did not think he was otherwise injured past the bruises and starvation. But Willman hadn't trained them for this.
As Michael stared at the dim light coming in the window, hoping if the others had this done to them instead of wasting away alone before they died, it was quick. But he heard a small sound of movement. Mac was on his back, covered except for his head, which lay on a pillow. But he had his hand around the blanket.
"Mac?" asked Michael softly.
The hand froze as if discovered and he fought the impulse to put his own over it. He leaned over and spoke softly instead. "It's okay. Your home. Sarah was with you all day but she needed to rest."
At her name, for just a flash, Mac opened his eyes. Then he closed them but he seemed less tense then. He'd been instructed to offer a little broth if he woke but small amounts spread out. He held the spoon where Mac could see it and ask if he wanted broth. Their was a vague awareness in his eyes as he looked again, trying to focus.
But he opened his mouth, and Michael dribbled in a spoonful of broth. He gave him several more but stopped, fearful it would be too much. He thought he saw disappointment in Mac's eyes, but he closed them soon and fell asleep.
Michael thought of those who were still missing and wondered if they saw them again if they'd even recognize who they were, or know them when they could. Leaning back, he rested against the wall until Mac woke and it had been enough time or Medical's instructions had arrived and he would not feel so helpless.
Blanchard was awake, but well past ever answering questions. He stared up at the ceiling, eyes following the creatures of his dreams. Around him was a complex medical system imported from the Gamma quadrant along with the doctors brought there to save his life. Blanchard himself was hardly aware of them, perhaps hearing their alien words now and then, tucking them into his dreams. A monitor showed his level of consciousness, drifting in and out now.
The doctors had tried to tap the images in his brain, but the poison had been so destructive the memories were lost. They'd reported that it was likely he didn't know where he was or how he'd gotten there. He wasn't brain dead, but far past even the advanced system Glebaroun had brought to save him.
When the Jem'Hadar had come to take him, Justin Blanchard was in his bed, sick with one of the frequent attacks he suffered. Dr. Willman had been questioned about his treatments. He had tried to put Blanchard in the hospital, but had concluded he would do better in the quiet of his room. There was nothing Willman could do, anyway. Blanchard's lungs were too damaged to ever really recover with what Willman had available.
Glebaroun had made a terrible mistake. If he'd taken Blanchard when he could have, after the test, the doctors could have helped. The Bajoran would recover but Blanchard was the architect of the project. Vance was only the mouth that promoted it.
They'd listened, intrigued with the possibilities. Then, waiting until Vance was so desperate he'd take anyone's sponsorship, they'd offered him everything he ever wanted. Cyrus was covered in what Vance believed to be useless soil and worthless plants. The settlement was small and isolated. The colony could have anything they wanted as long as detailed reports went back to them. But the experts were sometimes perplexed by what appeared to be inconsistent results.
The replicator had been a special gift. It had been meant to encourage them to experiment, since Vance had this odd idea that replicators were only for special things. This one was to belong only to the project. Unbeknownst to them, it also transmitted to their sponsors every detail of what it was used for.
They'd known about the things made in the cave, and the experiments that followed as soon as they were done. It was disappointing that the two men hadn't simply replicated the formula, rather than insisting on mixing it themselves. It would have been so much simpler. Blanchard would be healthy and alive.
That had been another miscalculation on his part. Once the contamination was known, he should have moved, even before Willman had a chance to mis-diagnose it. Blanchard wouldn't have killed himself that way. When they realized what he and Tarlan were trying to do, they'd watched and waited. He'd had to warn Sisko about the contraband and other things, and the test, or someone might have caught on.
But the pressure just inspired their subjects. Tarlan had been a fortunate surprise. The crackdown was planned all along, too. But it had been held until secret samples of their last test had proven that it worked, even if not perfectly. Now, all they needed was the formula and they could perfect it on their own.
He'd watched as Sisko and his people had tried to find and destroy the hidden contraband, privately pleased. But he couldn't let on. Sisko had done as he expected, and when the Jem'Hadar had come, everyone was already used to being controlled.
But the experiment wasn't done, even if it worked perfectly. The little test done hastily in the mountains wasn't enough. Blanchard and Tarlan's project was his now. He would need someone to run it.
He had made too many mistakes, something currently likely to prove more than simply fatal. He'd have to make up for them. Willman had known about the damage, and his scans with the tricorder would implicate the Vorta as a failure. Blanchard was too important to have been left to die.
He'd hoped the alien doctors could save the man. But the chemicals had poisoned his body too fully. They'd stopped the damage, but Justin Blanchard only knew the dreams that had replaced his knowledge and memories now.
He didn't even know what terraforming was anymore. Once it was confirmed that the brain mapping would not harm him, they'd tried to find it. Blanchard had awakened and only looked bewildered until he had slipped back into his own world.
The project, all the efforts to make it a reality, all the hours of research were gone. He remembered nothing of the last months at all. He wasn't afraid of them, but simply peered at them in great childlike curiosity. When he had been awake and talked, each time they entered the room he had asked who they were, able to remember neither the answer nor having asked the question.
Slowly he slipped into a world of his own and from there into his current state of semiconsciousness.
Vance had known about the beginning, but little more. The Vorta touched a button on his desk. Vance lay against the wall of his cell, entirely consumed by his bowl of ration. He looked pale and wan, his face thinned and covered in a ragged beard. He might be allowed to live, if Tarlan didn't work out. Otherwise . . . .
Another button showed the pale and still body of Blanchard, awake for the moment, but drifting in some sort of dream.
He shut off the monitor. He didn't really trust the Bajoran. But for now, he was all that was left.
Tomorrow, the doctors would examine Tarlan to see how badly he'd damaged himself. Blanchard had been easy to treat, too far gone to worry about his catching on. But the Bajoran would take more care.
He'd leave it up to the doctors. When he was well enough to ask questions, Vance and Blanchard would cease to matter. He studied the brief file they'd assembled on their prisoner and smiled to himself. Most conveniently, Tarlan had a family living on Bajor.
Glebaroun didn't understand why it worked. He had no concept of their ways of reproducing. But those with children could be made to do almost anything.
Lonnie Broadman had retreated to her office, saying she needed to write the note about Mac, but it was only partly true. She kept thinking about how Julian had gone limp as they dragged him away. Was he alive? If he was had they been tormenting him to where he wanted to die instead of live? Would she even know him if she got him back?
A little of her was glad she couldn't go down the hill to examine Duncan herself. Maybe it would be too hard to shut out the feelings faced with the first example in front of her.
But she did have letters to write, specific instructions to his wife, to Emery or the other staff, and to the two of the Winter helpers who at least knew how to check him for complications. They would be primary caregivers until he was stronger. He was to be kept isolated from others except the select few, and anyone who was ill, or had family who was ill. They were to keep checking for the moss, for it should be growing soon if it wasn't already, to augment the broth. But nothing solid yet. And he should sleep. What she didn't say was that if there were internal injuries there was nobody who could fix them even on the hill. And if he didn't want to live, he wouldn't.
She folded up the letters, each with its recipient's name on the front. Jabara would be sending one dealing with his mental state, when he was fully awake, but he would sleep most of the time for a while. The woman who'd been brought was going home. If nothing else, Duncan by being sent back then had made her come for treatment before she was worse and recovery was uncertain. Maybe if some of those who had waited until they were too sick to refuse had come earlier, they would not be lying with no certainty of survival now.
But the hospital was still busy and she had taken as long as she could and she didn't see any of them as they were allowed out the door to go home.
Calla Jackson giggled as she tore the wrapping from the present. Her brother Jeffery sat nearby, gathering the pieces before she could tear them too small for use. What would have been trash a year before was now saved until all the possible uses were done. Calla wore a harness with a leash, the other end tied to her brother's arm. He had not let her out of his sight since the day childhood had fled.
Without the harness, he would have been just as attentive. He had always been a studious child, much more reserved than other children his age, but since that terrible day she had wandered over the blue line, the last shreds of innocence were stripped away. At five years old, he vowed to keep his sister alive.
Calla was not the only child wearing the harness; most of the younger children did. The leads had been removed, so the children could play in the fenced off area built shortly after the incident, but they did not leave it without being under control.
Jadzia had stressed, very specifically, that the next child would die. They'd killed eight people to make a point already. She didn't have to do more than remind them that anyone who stepped past the line was dead.
Children could run too easily. They didn't pay enough attention to where they went. It would be far too easy to have it happen again.
The day after Calla's near death her father had held her, visibly harnessed, as a reminder. The meeting was for all adults who lived with children. Many others had come, seeking news and something to do.
She had been very blunt. The Vorta did not want any more incidents. It interfered with the orderly supervision of the colony. Nor did they want to see anyone else die.
Jackson sat in full view with his children. She required them to keep their children under restraint. For once, she did not make it voluntary. All adults in a household that did not comply would have their rations cut.
But the fence had been built, and the weather was improving. The mud was awful, but the rain water was collected for baths and washing clothes. The rains were wet but not especially cold.
The children liked the mud. With so little to play with, that was important.
Calla's birthday was an occasion. All the other children were there. Some of the adults tried hard to look cheerful, but it was very difficult. It just reminded them of children left behind on Bajor or lost behind the line that divided them from whatever remained of the Federation.
And a birthday demanded presents. The clothes and other more practical items were placed in a box, unwrapped. Calla didn't care about those.
The ones everyone wanted to see were the toys.
Calla pulled the last piece of wrapping from the gift and squealed with delight. It was a rag doll, made with knots and stuffing.
It wasn't fancy, but little girls would always love dolls. Fascinated by her doll, she ignored the rest while she pulled and twirled and played.
Jeffrey had left childhood behind, but his sister was still lucky enough to be a child.
Michael Emery, standing near the back where no one would notice the tears in his eyes, smiled a half smile. He had made one for his daughter once, and she had cherished it above all the more ornate toys a replicator could make. When she left the station with her mother, she'd been clutching that doll, worn from use, to her as she cried. Michael missed her intensely that moment. No matter how much it hurt to think of it, he would have given anything to hold her one last time.
Needing a little privacy, he backed away. Outside was a pale blue sky, so different than home. He tried to remember a clear night sky with a full moon, but it was so hard to visualize.
His Tasha might be looking at one now. She'd have grown a lot in a year. He wondered if he'd even recognize her after a little more time had passed.
Then a hand touched his shoulder and he saw Shandra standing there, the baby asleep in her carrier. "Sorry I was late. She fussed a lot. I think she missed you."
He loved this Tasha, too. And without her mother he might not have cared about the mean hard world they'd fallen into. But he still loved his wife and child left on Earth. Sometimes it felt like it would tear him apart.
But of late he'd come to know that here and now, he also loved Shandra. She was more than a companion. She shared his life. When this Tasha was old enough she'd get a rag doll too, and he would make it with special love and care.
He hadn't fathered her, but was her father anyway.
He'd even started hoping his wife would find someone to give his daughter the love he could not. He couldn't imagine this Tasha not having a father to love her.
"That's all right. You made it in time for the important part," he said.
The rest of the toys had been opened and the feast was about to begin. There was no cake or candles; but everyone in attendance had helped gather the mossy grass that had begun to grow. It made the broth thick and gravy like, and it's flavor was different.
The cakes had been soaked in the spice, and served with the gravy. It was a special meal in a time when *every* meal mattered. But Michael had found a small patch of the moss a few days before, and with Dax's permission had organized the gathering of it. They'd used it the year before to thicken the sauce, but everyone there would remember it's flavor with a little bit of joy.
For it was a celebration. Amid the worry and fear, they celebrated the life of one child, who by all rights should not have been alive to have a first birthday. In their grim new world there were few victories, and those few were cherished.
Tomorrow, they would go back to the same dreary days, but the memory of this one little victory over death would still be remembered.
End, Legacy Year 2, Part 1, Chapter 6