An Alternative History of the Dominion War
Year Two - Metamorphosis
Part 1 - Occupation
Walter Vance sat in his favorite corner of the cell, the one with a clear view of the door. He could see a shadow underneath, and had a few seconds to wonder what they wanted before it was demanded of him.
Since they'd started starving him again, they hadn't wanted much of anything. He'd been taken out once, and some odd looking aliens had examined him. They'd given him a few injections, but no food.
Since then the days had all been the same. The watery cake came each day. He still looked forward to it, but it was as much for the measure of time passing now as for the food. It didn't fill him enough to stop the pain. He was used to it now. Sometimes he thought the dishes that filled his dreams were as real as the cakes. But he ate them. It was another part of his day that came and went.
He didn't move much. He was too weak. Occasionally, he thought it astonishing that the trip across the floor for the cakes made him so tired.
The rest of the time he sat watching the door, hoping they'd come. But he didn't look forward to the room again. He'd had time to think about the questions and dinners they'd given, as if they were rewarding a dog for behaving.
He would not be an animal to be tamed.
Lying on the floor of his cell, his clothes filthy and his body wasting away, shame had banished the desperation and he vowed to remember how they had thought they owned him already.
The filth that covered his body could be washed, but the taint of his eager answers would never be scraped away. In his hunger and weakness, he had nearly become like Sisko.
But in the end, he would save himself. He wanted them to come and ask again. They had to know he would no longer betray his soul. Sisko had chosen to become the enemy, but he would not.
The Vorta had stolen his dream. It perplexed him why they ask so many questions about the project when they didn't need to, but remembered how they'd continually repeated the requests to make it more simple during their own dog and pony show. In the end Justin had done as they wished. Justin could still run with it if he wanted to. If they couldn't cure Justin then his Bajoran friend could soil himself by accepting the bargain. Walter would never be clean, but would not add more filth to his soul. He would not betray the friends left on Cyrus or the memory of his father and the dream he had inherited.
The dream that was as dead as Walter would be when they tired of him entirely.
There was noise. He watched with anticipation since the feet stopped outside his cell.
The door was yanked open. Three of them stood there. One stepped inside.
"Out," he was ordered.
He was so tired. The exhaustion was so immense he didn't think he could even stand. But he would not die wasting away in their grubby little box without taking one.
He pushed himself against the wall. "No," he said.
The guard moved forward and the other pushed his way inside. They stomped up to Walter, pressed against the wall.
They reached down to grab him. He knew they'd drag him out. At least he would not go willingly.
But as they touched him a sudden surge of adrenalin made him strong for a moment. He jerked away from them, pulling to the side. Then, he kicked the nearest one.
It wasn't much of a kick, and Walter was exhausted. He sunk down to the floor, unable to move.
He didn't feel much of the beating, already too weakened. The surge of energy had left him as limp as a ragdoll, and the guards pulled him up by the shoulders.
Walter slumped in their grip while the hit him. He didn't even react. The Jem'Hadar were blurry phantoms in his haze.
When they were done, the guard let go of him and he crashed to the floor. He hit his head as he fell, his eyes fluttering shut as a welcome blackness covered the painful haze rising around him.
Glebaroun had been notified that Blanchard was in a deep coma. The tests showed his brain was dying. Blanchard could have been an important man. He could have *had* his project and all the resources he wanted to perfect it. Had the Vorta not failed, instead of watching him die he might have been rewarding him by saving his Bajoran friend.
He'd have to save the man now. It was unfortunate. Blanchard would have cooperated without question. He'd have to be careful with the Bajoran.
Vorta were more important than Jem'Hadar, but the Founders didn't tolerate mistakes like the one he had made, especially as it weakened their rivalry with the others. Unless he could convince the Bajoran to work with the aliens, his next copy would replace him and he'd have a most unpleasant death.
He'd noticed how some of the prisoners clung to life no matter what was done to them. It was perhaps the only thing he shared with them, because he himself did not want to die.
Blanchard would die in peace. His mind had faded so fully he was barely aware of anything. The doctors had recommended letting him go since there was nothing more anyone could do.
One of the doctors entered, and the Vorta spoke into the translator. "How long?" he asked, looking down at the small doctor.
"Difficult to say. But not a great deal of time. Life support is off. He will not wake."
"What about the Bajoran?"
"His health has been restored. He is receiving reasonable nutrition as well."
"Good, I'll speak with him in perhaps a week."
The Vorta watched as the readout ceased to move and the light started to blink.
The Bajoran didn't know that he held the power of life and death. Glebaroun had no intention of allowing him to find out. But he'd already had the man's family located and was relieved that they were alive. They had been transferred to an internment camp and would be in much better condition when they arrived on Cyrus. A few hints to the Bajoran should make sure he understood the reward that waited for him.
The doctors were shutting down the machine. Blanchard's still body was peaceful now. The Vorta did not let on that with his death, all of them stood on the verge of disaster.
A week past the new matts, and Greason's surprise find in his, life had improved in the barn. The small, abundant lifeforms on the old matts had launched their assault on the new ones, and the day before they had returned to the sweet smell of a decon. For a little while, there would be only a small colony of fuzzies as they were brought back inside, and as they passed to the blacksuits with their spring duties, the decons would become more frequent.
So had an infection being passed from person to person, settling in cuts and sores. Megan had cut her leg and the doctor sent for when it swelled. The infection was being treated, but she was given a respite from rain and muck in the meanwhile. The spring season was being set up in earnest now, and other supplies were needed. A supply room had been opened, with a lower level suit running it, but he needed help. To her great surprise, suspecting that Greason was trying to make up a little with Dan, she had been assigned as his clerk. Two others, both military and vetted not in the trade, retrieved the merchandise.
Either Greason had suggested it, she thought, or they liked her background, but now she sat in a chair processing paperwork. For minor bits of supply, at least they had been before, the process had become very elaborate. They arrived with their request and she copied all the information on her list. Someone authorized checked that it was genuine and issued a confirmation number. Then the merchandise arrived, and if there was a serial number it too had to be recorded. The customer and the one authorizing things both signed, and it was verified that all her codes and numbers were right.
That way if it showed up in the wrong place they could trace where it came from. Everyone present, including her, hoped that never happened. She suspected the Trade was still flourishing despite executions and slashings and the general nervous way the suits were acting.
Greason, according to Dan, had started keeping his distance from them, but that wouldn't save him when someone eventually slipped. They should have been moved out, but slashies dealt in Trade too, and until the suits were done watching, nobody would go anywhere.
None of the rules had changed for them, but Greason had given Dan much better assignments, and the slashies in the corner were now usually ignored. The rest were scared. The clock was ticking and soon would reach midnight.
She was on her third day of clerking, and it was late in the day. Her bosses had begun the days report, leaving her alone in the room, when three men entered, two slashies, and one a suit. He was to pick up a delivery and they'd haul it. One followed him back to push it out, leaving her and the slashie alone.
He didn't look at her. Dirty and wet, he was trying not to. But she had to record the recipients of anything which left, including the slashies. "Excuse me, I need your number for the paperwork," she said. It was supposed to be crisp and official, but she couldn't quite manage.
He said nothing, just walked forward and held out his hand. He wasn't just a slashie now, but one on discipline. She recorded the number, hoping they'd finish soon. But he moved back a little, still not looking up. "It's going to take a little while. It's a big container. I'm not allowed past the door."
She hadn't though about him for a while, especially since she and Dan were no longer divided by a blanket. When Dan held her, she understood the difference between playing at companionship and really sharing it. But the book with the drawings had not been opened, afraid of losing them.
"Are they?" she whispered.
"They're good. Wife's pregnant. Everyone who came from Devon got slashed. Every single one. They do that here."
Slashing wasn't exactly equal, she thought, looking at him. He was limping slightly, and she wondered if the ones who had seemed to make it had to be taught a harder lesson.
He was getting more nervous, listening for sounds of anyone approaching. "We're still here," she whispered.
Hesitating, he looked up at her. She barely recognized him, especially the anger in his eyes. But his voice was low now but not a whisper. "Look, be careful. They know Trade runs through the sarki barns. They'll check those reports you do carefully. Try to match them if you can. But it won't be long. Three is one they're watching real close."
He faded back into himself as she busied herself with her summary, concentrating on the numbers, making sure they were right, but thought back to the office, to the silvers and then the greys. And how they all lost. But she couldn't concentrate with him in the room.
The rumbling sound of the cart finally came near, and she had copied half of them. The door was opened by the suit, the slashie waiting for it to be fully open before pushing the bulky container out, and he was waiting to steady it. They'd both be punished if it slipped. As the door closed, she asked her boss if there would be anymore today.
He looked over her list. "No, they've closed everything down for a delivery so we'll be busy tomorrow." He walked out into the lobby and locked he door, coming back in and locking the entry door as well. "We need to make sure we didn't forget anything. Bring that and your list," he said, pointing at her tally sheet, and she followed. But then, she already understood that Trade did not respect caste, not in its profits, and not in its blame either, as the echos of the nightmare drew closer once again.
Jadzia pealed off her shoes, covered in mud and soaked through. She had been called to see the Vorta again. He'd asked an odd assortment of questions. Everything had been in order so far. He had surprised her by allowing two of her people one trip to the store rooms for dried food to add to their soup the next day. She'd smiled and thanked him.
But she wondered why he was being so cooperative. Something must be wrong. He'd offered more nectar, this time without having Thompson drag it in.
She'd sipped it slowly, a little guilty about enjoying it. A few rooms away Thompson and his fellow prisoners were being half-starved and she had sweet juice to drink.
But the Vorta was preoccupied. He had problems of his own. There was no hint of trouble up the hill. Every person who went to the hospital had a flood of questions to answer, and none had noticed anything unusual.
He'd gone out of his way to charm her, though Weyoun had put on a better act. This Vorta wasn't used to having to persuade lesser beings that he cared.
But she understood that she mattered to him. Perhaps it was the way she cooperated without resentment. Did he take that as a sign she was crossing the line, that she'd work with them willingly? Or did he see, in her lack of fear, a recognition of their authority and power?
She was doing their bidding, but because she understood that it was necessary. And if she didn't know that her life would soon be done, would she be so calm about the compromise he was expecting?
She didn't know the answer. But she'd been able to get permission for extra food. He'd allowed more of the moss to be gathered. The guards stood further back from the blue line, not so close they could step across without warning.
She couldn't stop the mud which flowed over the upper deck, washing down to the lower one with heavy rains. She couldn't keep the ditch from overflowing with muck from the spring melt in the mountains. She couldn't do anything to have the water in the channel cleaned up, making it unusable for food or drink.
But the next time she crossed the slippery pathway over the bridge she hoped to get help with the rock. Things had gone wrong for the Vorta. He'd mentioned a new organization that would run things instead of Jem'Hadar. He wanted to show off his candidate and was willing to deal if she'd cooperate. She would smile and ask pleasant questions without making any promises, and then mention that the mud was getting out of hand and she was hoping for help in removing the rock.
It still rained daily. The mud oozed across the deck and onto the pathways, and was tracked everywhere. People collected rain water for washing, or simply hung clothes for the rain to rinse. But they didn't have the energy for much else. Even with half-rations, they were still showing symptoms of malnutrition.
She knew the rations wouldn't be raised. But cooked into a thickened soup, the dried food and moss would make meals more filling. For the sick, able to eat less, it was more nutrition than simple broth.
That was necessary. Already, most of the children were sick. Most were minor ailments, especially colds, but everyone was afraid of another epidemic when they were too weak to fight it off. The moss made the broth thick and added taste, but most of all it was very nutritious.
As the mud dried there would be much more moss to gather. They all knew the skies would clear and they would once more have the deck to use, but only when the moss had finished its cycle and been saved.
She would explain. There would be no threats but the rule would be firm. There was little to do, and with the rain there was even less. When the deck was there to take the children to play and to sit in conversation with friends it would be easier.
But time was running out. Each day she woke, she knew Worf was drawing closer. Once, Worf so near she could nearly feel his touch, she had almost fallen. But it was a warning and she'd caught herself before it was too late.
For a long time, she'd hoped death would claim her and end the suspense. But she took her inspiration from those around her now. A line of blue surrounded them, and one step across it would mean the end, but none had given up. They could celebrate a child's birthday and take real joy from it. Up the hill, the medical staff fought for life despite hunger and exhaustion. She didn't see those in the little rooms or taken away, but could believe that even they clung to life, no matter how bad their existence had become.
Worf could wait. When death's release came, she would not regret it. But she would savor the moments that made each day worth holding precious until then.
On one side of his cell, in a corner, the floor dipped down to a drain. It was useful but the odor which hung around it was too strong. Bashir curled against the opposite wall most of the time, near the slot where the rations dropped and the water dripped down to a depression in the floor before it ran like a rivulet to the outside drain.
He drank when he needed to. There was always water. Mostly he slept. People and places from his life filled his dreams. Sometimes he even could tell they weren't real.
For he had a measure of reality. Rations came when they came, but he hadn't lost count of how many had been.
Seven meals had passed since they had taken him to the room. In his more lucid moments he knew it had been longer than that. But he took his cake and dropped it in the puddle of water next to the drip to soften it. They he'd pull chunks away as it broke up.
It took time to eat it that way. He had to find real ways to fill all the emptiness.
There was a small, uneven ledge near his sleeping area. After each ration cube had come and been eaten, he dropped a pebble on the ledge. Even if he lost track of the count in his mind, he could count the pebbles.
It didn't matter how long it was between feedings. That he could tell how many was a firm tie with reality to which he desperately clung.
After all the food was gone, he curled back to sleep. Sometimes he just daydreamed in such a vivid reality he was surprised when his body's need interrupted his mind play.
In his reality, the only refuge he had anymore were dreams.
He hated his captors. He'd feared them for a long time, since they'd taken him and put a Founder in his place. But even then it wasn't so personal. They were fighting a war that hadn't yet become visible. And he'd gotten home.
Even the last miserable year the enemy in the sky had been a distant presence.
But Glebaroun and his special meal had changed all that. He could live with being hungry, and hurting and alone. But the Vorta had stolen something important from him. He'd kept the dinner to himself, even on the station. It was special.
Glebaroun had tainted the memory. For that he could never be forgiven. The Founders might run the Dominion. Their scaly soldiers might enforce the rules with fists and guns. But for him, the enemy was exemplified by this single Vorta.
He would destroy him. He didn't know how, or when, but he knew somehow he had to survive this so he could extract his revenge.
He'd never go back home. He knew that. But before he died, the Vorta would know why he had to die. Sometimes he wondered if Vorta clung to life or cared little as there would just be a new clone. But the seeming desperation of this one suggested he wanted to live. Somehow it would make his death far more of a satisfaction and Julian vowed he would live too, so he could know it.
He was dreaming. His finger pointed at the thing in the center of the circle. This time the Vorta stepped back, afraid. He saw the power in the eyes of his accuser. "You're it." The monster fell nearly splitting apart in his agony as he died.
Each reputation he died a little quicker and with more pain. Each time the dust had been ground to power and mingled with the ground Bashir knew that somehow the last death would be real. He slept in peace for a little while, knowing he was the one who would live.
Andy Tabler, hungry and tired, watched the gloom of his shadowy cage as he pulled his daily ration to the back, where he could see the door but have a warning of what they wanted. Everything was so silent now. Once a day they opened the door and put his days water and one cake just inside. He must remain absolutely still and look at the floor. He must show himself, pulling back the blanket. They knocked as a warning so the miserable survivors could crawl out of their cocoons in time. Leaving the blanket, he'd waited until the sound of the feeding were past, and crawled forward, taking it back to his place. Draping himself in his blanket, he would drop the cake in the water. Sipping it, he'd set it aside and sleep. But if it was a meager existence, it was better than what had been before.
He'd never touched any contraband. He'd even supported and helped Mr. Tarlan when he tried to find it before they all destroyed themselves. Perhaps they'd noticed, since he was only forced to watch when the others were tortured. They'd strapped his feet once, but only once, and never asked any questions, but then he knew how painful the straps were when the ones Mr. Tarlan had suspected were questioned. They'd scream an inarticulate primeval howl of pain, and when they'd asked him what the difference between those who had been catered to in Ag's winter duties, and those working the snow, he'd told them. All he could say was they were suspected, he didn't know anything, but then they'd put him in this cell and given him a blanket. And silence, but in his dreams the screams went on, but distantly away.
He shouldn't have been 'ag', not having been much involved in it before, but he'd worked in the hydroponics area on one assignment, and was reasonable familiar with the terms. When Tarlan had been put in charge, he'd been put there to revise reports as Tarlan's written command of standard was questionable.
He was alone. Knowing that Ag, and anyone associated with it, would feel the full weight of the hammer when it fell, he'd stayed alone.
Waking from a nap, he sampled his water. The taste of the cake had infused it, but not strong enough to eat yet. He could tell with the taste when the gummy cake would be softened enough his sore gums could stand it. He was grateful for the darkness and the loose, now filthy clothes, so he didn't have to see his body shrinking. At first, he'd been so hungry. All the rest faded before the desperation for food. But it was different now. He ate the cubes since they were there, but he wasn't hungry. He put it in the water so he'd have to eat it. The Vorta and his Jem'Hadar were going to allow him to live. He could tell. So he'd eat. If he thought they would shoot him, he'd leave the cakes by the door and just drink. He could now, the hunger gone. It made his teeth hurt with the chewing and he could keep that away.
But he was going to live. He'd known it when the Vorta had asked. Nothing he said was a secret. Tarlan had probably told them by then anyway. And he wanted to live for a reason.
He hadn't been on the station long, on loan to a team of Bajorans working on a survey of their food distribution problem. The places where it came from did well. The ones where it was needed did much less so, and it had been suggested that one neutral entity redistribute the supply. It would have been Starfleet, or civilian suits provided by the Federation. There would have been nothing 'neutral' if it was anyone from Bajor.
That was what the Vorta was going to make of them, he knew. They were interested in the plants. If they became a village, they would be among the lucky ones, not the ones who were hungry.
But he'd learned something from his last assignment. The Bajorans were proud, especially of their own labor. They didn't live on Bajor so much as their little village or valley. They were happy to trade what they didn't need for themselves, but would have fought a bitter war if someone had insisted on taking it all.
As the Vorta had tormented those who'd broken his rules, Andy had walled himself off. They *all* knew the rules. His shared dwelling had been searched when his roommates were gone, he being careful they knew, just in case they had the wrong idea. It was not that resisting was wrong, but useless resistance was. He'd learned that from his last assignment. The test had gone well, the local farmers cooperating perfectly, all the way up to the end when the food was to be picked up. Somehow, enough for themselves had simply disappeared. No one seemed to know where it went. He hadn't understood then, not entirely, but honored them now.
Perhaps if the guilty had dug a pit and buried their booty for ten years, when the Vorta would have lost interest, but to challenge him at everyone's cost was no better than those who burned the Bajoran fields so the Cardassians could not take it, but weren't there to pay the price.
He would pay Them back, but not yet. He had to live to do that. Sitting in his darkness, sipping his flavored water he thought of that moment, and that then, he might die. But it would be a death worth dying.
The cake would take some time, and he couldn't say awake long between his naps. But he imagined the moment of his triumph, when they knew he'd been fooling them all along, and how they'd have to wonder who was next and for once there was pleasant silence in his dreams.
Walter Vance had come to collapsed on the floor, everything hazy. Since then, every moment was a combination of pain and confusion. He'd pass out and dream, and then have to wake to the numbing reality.
Lifting his head was agony, but he'd fallen with his body twisted and sprawled. Somehow, after an eternity, he'd managed to slowly drag himself into a less painful position.
He couldn't see clearly. The light in the cell blurred into a fog. But moving had taken all the energy he had, and for a time afterwards he couldn't move at all.
Time meant nothing. Food came, but he slept so much he didn't know when. He didn't have the energy to drag himself to the door anyway. He rolled to his side, lying on the least bruised places, and slept.
Time passed in undefined flashes of memories, dreams, and nightmares. He stood by the newly cut tiers with Justin, pride and expectation competing for his time. He looked into the future and wanted to hold that moment for ever.
The day the colony had been established was very vivid. Stepping off the shuttle the day they'd arrived, looking over the expanse of grey and the scraggly plants, he'd seen it transformed to the bright greens and browns of his homeland.
And sometimes, he and Ray and Tara sat in the sunshine, remembering memories of places many there couldn't have imagined. He liked those moments best of all.
He wasn't from Earth. He'd been born in a little colony which was now on the other side of the Line. Cyrus Vance had been a renowned botanist, but was especially a man with a mission. The hearty seed he developed had bought life for a lot of little desperate hungry places. He had taught his children how to dream as well. Lying on the hard floor of his cell, having reclaimed himself, Walter was grateful for all the cruelty and hunger and devastation because he'd grown up among, working along side the children who did not have a safe, soft place to go home to when his father was done. He would not forget them, nor allow his own misery to steal his soul ever again.
As his mind cleared and he could lie awake, he'd thought a lot about his father. Mother had left him when Walter was sixteen, wanting more than a series of rough camps in-between stop offs in civilization. His sister had married and gone to live on Earth. His older brother had died with his father, massacred along with the village they were living with. Walter had almost gone with them. But he had a dream of something better. When he met Justin, both studying soil chemistry, the path of his life had been set.
The project, even the early research, was Walter's idea. But Justin and his brilliant mind had made it real and taken it places Walter could only dream of. It was such a pity that their tormentors had made a mockery of it, especially when they were so close to recognition.
Would they have allowed it? When they asked him the questions, if he could have answered them, would he have been willing if it kept something of his dream alive, knowing they already owned him?
Was it better that it exist in their hands, or should he have never had that dream of it at all?
But now his head hurt too much to think. He'd started to drag himself across the room for his rations again. They'd stolen his dream, and yet he would not let Them win.
There wasn't much to live for anymore, but he'd eat and rest and survive anyway.
He could move a little easier. The pounding in his head was more a persistent throb now. The bruises still hurt, but the pain was dulled. Eventually, unless they executed him, he'd recover on his own.
But there was a lump on his neck. Swollen and hard, he couldn't turn his head without stabbing pain. Somehow he'd slept for a while, but when he woke it was to extreme fatigue. He tried to remember the day Justin had come up with the first working formula, but it was all a jumble in his head.
Despite the hunger, when the bowl was shoved inside it took him a lot of time to go to it. It was exhausting to pull himself to his knees and drag himself across the small cell. He collapsed on the floor next to the bowl, too tired to try to lift it.
He slept for awhile, but woke just as exhausted. But he was hungry and ate the meager meal. Then he drank the water and rested awhile.
Everything was hazy when he woke. He wanted water, but almost spilled it when he tried to pour it into the bowl.
Half a sip later, the bowl fell. The pressure tearing against his neck suddenly ceased and he took a long gasping breath. Every muscle went flaccid as the heart stopped, the swollen artery in his neck purpled and soft after it burst.
Walter crumpled like a rag doll. There would be no more dreams or temptations. He had answered-or refused-his last question. Walter Vance had reached the end of his rebellion, and now only Tarlan remained to keep the Project from fading away.
Jadzia was preoccupied. The Vorta had been very careful to mention how well she'd been doing, and she'd taken the time to thank him in everyone's name for allowing the vegetables and spices to be collected. He'd authorized a second trip, and even allowed enough for the month to be taken this time.
Something must be wrong. He wasn't as good as Weyoun at faking charm. She could see past his act and could read the worry in his violet eyes.
He was scared. Somehow he'd slipped up and was looking for ways to recover. Finding someone who was calm and cooperative and who gave every impression of being willing to go along with his plans must have made him feel a lot better.
She intended to get everything she could out of his problem. She knew she wouldn't be around long enough to have to live up to her impression. But Worf had been very distant of late. Now and then she worried that perhaps her vision hadn't been quite complete, and someday she'd either have to live up to the hints she gave the Vorta or face his payback if she didn't.
But that would be later. For now, she had helped feed them better. The guards didn't stare anymore. There were hints that there might be an additional tap of water for the more remote parts of the little captive village.
And there was the rock. The rain never really ended, just cleared for an afternoon before it poured again. It had warmed up enough the snow pack in the mountains was melting, and it only added to the mud.
The upper deck was inundated. The sandbags had helped, but one end of the lower deck was still running with wet muck. She was ready to ask about the rock. She had all the questions planned. She'd ask him about this new civil authority and just what sort of position it would be. He'd be relieved and *then* she'd ask about removing the rock.
Worf and the darkness was not even on her mind. As she carefully navigated the slippery deck, she considered the words to use to hint without making it impossible to back out should her vision of death be incorrect.
She didn't want to end up branded a traitor. She was thinking of that when she avoided a deep puddle by moving to a dryer side of the edge near the ditch.
She started to back away, moving towards the puddle, when her foot slipped. But it was too late. Even the Jem'Hadar tried to grab her, but she'd already lost her balance.
She fell straight down into the muddy channel. It came as such a complete surprise that she didn't even have the chance to react.
She landed face down. The bottom had been hacked out of rock, and there were sharp spikes in the mud. She hit hard. It jarred her whole body. The mud flowed over her, forcing her against the jagged rock.
She could feel Dax convulse inside her, and the cracked ribs and broken bones were strange, numb places that she could not define.
Worf was hovering near. He wasn't close enough to take her, but tangled in the mud and blood, she could smell his scent.
Her vision hadn't been wrong. She'd never have a chance to ask about the rock. Someone else would have to worry about that life.
For a moment, trapped in the mud, she feared she would drown. The water was almost at her face, and she couldn't move to get away from it.
She knew she would die, but didn't want to suffocate.
She was angry at the gods who decided about death. She wasn't ready for it now. The careful cat and mouse game with the Vorta was her way of making up for the secrets. She could get more from Them than someone else. She belonged now.
It was so cold. She shivered in the mud and weakness that took over control of her body.
Then there were voices. They were trying to reach her. Ropes were lowered. Carl's voice, stunned and full of fear, said he wanted to go after her.
Then the Jem'Hadar spoke. "The Vorta will have her transported."
She didn't know how much she'd meant to him, but as the first strands of the transport beam tugged at her body, she realized with a special clarity that it had not been a game to him. He believed he owned her. Perhaps he would save her if he could.
Before, death had been a welcome escape. But now she had other things to live for, and she knew she did not want life to fade. But the game had been very real. Slowly, she was being drawn inside the web.
If he saved her he'd own her just as he owned Thompson and how many others? Dax was weakening, but she clung to the cynical wisdom of Curzon that had guided her through the hardest times.
What if Dax was to die? She would die too, but what if the Vorta managed somehow to save her? Would Jadzia alone have the strength to resist the lure of temptation? She could help them, but only at the cost of herself. Was she willing to pay that high a price without Curzon to tell her it was all she could do?
He was distant now, drifting away. She was cold and tired and almost wished that the mud would swallow her and it be done.
And Worf waited. She could feel him near. She understood now. Since she had played the Vorta's game, Worf had retreated. He would not welcome a traitor.
Then she could feel the mud disappear. A cold, hard table was beneath her, and the chattering of some alien creatures all around. She kept her eyes shut. In her mind, she sat between the Klingon she loved and the old withered man she had been in a basic waiting room.
Curzon smiled. 'He's trying to save you. We must go, too weak, but he might keep you alive. Remember what has been shared."
But Curzon was distant and hazy. Since she was joined, he'd been a part of her, an intangible merging of the self called Jadzia. But now he stood apart, a small but tangible barrier between them.
Dax was dying. She'd landed on the rough rock directly where her symbion was placed, and besides the damage to herself, Dax had been morally wounded.
She could feel things touching her on the metal table. The shock was wearing off and the pain growing worse. Dax writhed inside her.
Curzon looked so pale she could almost see through him. He was resigned. Jointed trills did not survive the loss of the symbion, but she wondered if the Vorta had some special medicine that would change that.
She didn't know if she liked the idea or not. Already, she was more alone than she'd been since the joining, except for the short time Dax had been taken from her years before. She'd never forgotten how lonesome it had been. Now, Dax still connected but the touch fading, she remembered the loneliness and emptiness and fear.
Julian had held her hand that time. But he was gone now. She didn't want to die in this cold empty place with only the bird creatures surrounding her.
Then the pain stopped. All the touching ended. Curzon was translucent, but Worf was solid and close, taking her hand.
She couldn't hold his. She was too weak. But he smiled. "I will never leave you," he said.
The pull of a transporter tugged at her again, and Curzon faded. Worf was true to his word and was still holding her hand when she felt the lumpy stretcher underneath her, and a brief look proved she was in the courtyard by the hospital.
She closed her eyes. Glebaroun must have discovered she couldn't be saved. He'd given her one last gift when his twittering doctors had at least spared her the agony.
Worf walked next to her as she was taken inside. She hardly noticed the stench. She'd already anticipated it.
She was moved into a room, and lifted to a bed. She recognized Lonnie Broadman's voice giving the orders. With Willman and Bashir gone, she'd become very strong and careful.
As she let Worf come nearer, Jadzia let her mind wander. Not all of those taken would die or disappear, though they'd come back damaged. She would sleep now, but perhaps before the end she could say goodbye.
The pain had been banished. She knew she was bleeding, but Dax was calm now. Her part in this nightmare was almost done. Letting go of the games and fear, she lay in Worf's arms not quite touching and dreamed of the moment the final barrier between life and death would disappear and they would be one.
Miles was sleeping when a loud banging woke him. Confused and nervous, he was certain they were going to commit some new outrage. He sat up, resigned at his fate. He had on only his shirt and pants, his shoes lying next to him and his jacket crumpled under his head as a pillow.
When the door was yanked open the bright daylight streamed into the small cell. He looked away, having been kept in near darkness for so long he couldn't see in the bright light. But the Jem'Hadar didn't push inside. "Get dressed. Gather your things. You will be brought."
Still mostly stunned, he was grateful for the sudden darkness when the door was shut. Since he'd been returned to the surface after the nightmare of being questioned on the ship, he'd been held in solitary in that room. Once a day, at dusk, the door was opened and he stood outside in the fading light to get his rations. The only exception to that had been the hard day they'd been called out to watch James limp body hauled away after they'd shot him.
He hadn't been there long when that day came. On the ship he'd been tortured and questioned and starved. The little room where nobody bothered him was welcome in comparison.
What were they going to do now, he wondered. Was he to be deported? Would he end up lost on a wreak of a planet where Cyrus would be held up as luxury?
He'd worked so closely with Sisko, and destroyed the cave. He'd even confessed to that. The best guess he could make was he would die like James that day.
He'd dreamed of seeing his wife and children. It had been too impossible a dream. But now, if they deported him, would they allow them to be together or would he just be grateful to live in time where he wasn't a stranger?
Sometimes he talked to E'Char, telling him about his days. It didn't matter that he wasn't real. He hadn't been real in the simulation he'd been forced to endure so long before either, but he'd almost shot himself over the confusion after it was done. Sure that the Vorta had the technology to repeat it, he would never know if the ordeal was 'real' or not anymore.
Then, Julian had saved him. Sitting alone in the dark, Miles often wondered what had become of his friend. He understood the fears Julian had only barely managed too well now.
There were the small parts hidden in the warehouse. He was certain that they'd find them and somehow blame him. He still didn't want to die, especially the way they'd promised him he'd die on the ship if he declined to answer their questions. He still remembered how Muniz had died, shot with a Dominion weapon on the ship, and trapped without medicine inside while the siege wore on outside. He'd had a horrible death.
They shot people and left them to bleed to death. But then, for some who'd never be released and never have enough to eat, dying fast with the blood was easier than slowly wasting away.
At least, that way it was over.
But sitting on his lumpy cot, his few things filed in his coat pockets, he was completely confused. Why have him dress and pack if all they were doing was shooting him? Was it to give him one last banished moment of hope?
Unless he was sent to whatever place they'd put Keiko and the children, he'd rather that than be deported. But he'd sit in the dark cell alone and untouched over the rest.
Nobody knew what happened to the rest unless they were "allowed" to watch a beating or an execution. It was part of the torment. Next door, your best friend could be waiting to be dragged away to live through the nightmare again. Or perhaps they might be telling the Vorta anything to spare further torment.
He stopped guessing and waited. When they came back he'd have to deal with the bright light, too. That was the only saving grace if they shot him. His executioner would be too hard to separate from the fuzziness.
They were taking their time. He listened to the breeze outside. The sun would be bright. How could it be so dark inside when the warmth could be felt through the shut door?
James was dead, but had he told them about the spare parts? Had it been too long for them to wait to question him about that?
E'Char was sitting near. He watched the door as well. "You will not be alone," he said.
Miles closed his eyes, and he was sitting with E'Char on the floor, the sand loose and even. He held out his hands, and E'Char did as well.
They painted in the sand. The pictures formed slowly, and Miles pushed away the fear.
E'Char looked up, a small smile in his eyes. "You shall not ever be alone."
Miles paused, smoothing a rise of sand. He'd killed E'Char. He still didn't understand why the man had forgiven him, but didn't ask anymore.
Without his friend, he would have found a way to finish what Julian had stopped that day he'd taken the phaser.
Keiko was grateful, this time, to step back through the gate of their prison, for she had not known if she was going to that day. The work wasn't overly hard, but the day had ended too soon, and all had been ordered to sit, including the slashies who now supervised their work. The shipment of the day's supplies was short. Everyone knew of the Trade and that it was possible none of them would go home that day.
But they'd taken some of the slashies first, and then returned them. They'd left the civilians alone. It could mean they'd be given over to someone else, so there was no relief in it, but finally, late they and the slashies had been loaded into the same transport and it began moving down the soggy road.
It wasn't until they reached the end and were allowed out of the pitch dark box they knew they were home. Even the slashies looked relieved. One said before they left that whoever had packed the shipment was going to be torn apart. But then, better them than us.
It was odd hearing themselves in the same group as their new guards, thought they were also watched. She passed through the gate, the sky dark and the wind blowing, to be sent inside for dinner, which all had missed. Tension and worry had give way to relief, and as the two groups got their bowls and sat, eager to eat so they could show family they were still alive. Then Te'Salle, the wife of the Vulcan who had briefly led the Counsel, sat near her.
One of the slashies stationed in the camp looked at her and her nod was imperceptible. He sat where he could watch them, and yet appeared to be absently mindedly eating his late dinner.
Te'Salle spoke very softly, her taciturn manner and calm voice betrayed by the energy radiated by her look. "Marka is doing well. I though you should know. I was told if she requires a doctor, one will be sent. But I don't think the need will arise."
"I'm relieved, but what about tomorrow?"
"You shall work but here. They will find something easy for you to do until she is well."
It wasn't how things were done. It didn't fit. "I won't complain," she said cautiously.
"Do you know," said the Vulcan, speaking slowly and with expression now, "Do you know that these new people, the ones in fancy grey and black, that have done the transfers to other camps, do you know that almost everyone left of us has a connection to someone out there who is of interest to them?"
Keiko didn't. But she thought of Miles. "I don't know if my husband is even alive," she said quietly, between bites.
"Ah, but he is. You should take care with the slashies, but not disregard them. They hear things. They are not our enemy. Your husband is alive and if Marka who is a widow is to see a doctor I'm quite sure her luck comes from being of your household. That is how they are doing it, by household. For bad or ill."
Keiko was having trouble with dinner, no matter how hungry she was. If he was alive and of so much interest, he would have to be wearing one of their suits. She despised these new creatures, especially as so many being of her species, as much as the ones they'd replaced. She did not wish to think of her husband as one. "And you're sure of this?"
"Yes." She ate a few more bites, trying to decide how to feel, since Te'Salle's contacts were good, and probably right.
"That's not why we came home today," she said, wishing to avoid further mention in such a public place.
"No, since the slashies returned with you it was a distraction. Those who packed it will be looked for but while they are doing that the real theft will occur. But they won't catch them because by the time they look it and them will scatter."
Keiko decided it was best not to ask any more questions, especially how Te'Salle knew these things, but as dinner ended and they walked back to the housing area, the slashie was still behind them, and she hoped Te'Salle's trust was warranted. He passed them and she felt him slip something into her pocket.
Parting company with the slashie, Te'Salle followed her back inside. "I'm supposed to check on Marka. I'll bring the children back in the morning if you'd rather."
She didn't like the idea, but if Marka needed the sleep, perhaps. But the older woman looked her over. "Burn it after you read it. My husband is not important, but our son is, quite a well known chemist. I know he's working with this new element. When he is settled on his own new home, we'll be joining him. So will you on the dirt colony your husband was resettled on. That is what it is, an old human term. Forced resettlement. But while many of our own believe these new ones in black and grey are more acceptable and safer than the aliens, they are wrong. The others did not understand soon enough. They will pay the price. You do not have to be an altered form to be ruthless."
Keiko waited while she checked on Marka, still with a low fever. She would see a doctor tomorrow. Te'Salle would stay with her that night, so Keiko could stay with the children.
But she had to get some of her things. There was just enough time to read the letter. She folded it small, intending to dispose of it along with way, but Te'Salle took it. "Please heed his warning. I like your children. Without you, there would be less safety for them."
Scared and worried, Keiko just followed her to the small quarters where Te'Salle lived, and hurried to her children, wishing she could still take comfort in the resignation of ignorance, since it was so much easier than the fear that came from knowledge.
Lonnie stared at the tricorder, the one that Willy had gotten permission to keep. Jadzia was unconscious now. She didn't even move. Since she'd been transported to the square before the hospital, she hadn't made a single sound.
Jadzia Dax had been moved to the examination area, the wet clothes cut from her body. The injuries that were visible weren't bad. Oddly, she appeared to have broken ribs, but the tricorder showed them to be healed. But inside she was bleeding.
A long time ago, Lonnie had read about Trill biology. And in the last months, she'd been taught a little more. The Dax symbion was badly damaged. She knew hosts did not survive the loss of the symbion and could do nothing for it. This had been an accident, but like James, deliberately killed, only surgery beyond her skills and supplies could stop the bleeding. Host and symbodiant would both die. It would be another death marathon she must endure.
She was sure because the Vorta had tried to save her, but his doctors must have discovered the same deadly injury she had. Dax was too badly injured to live. Death was inevitable. He'd sent her back with broken bones repaired to spare her the pain, allowed to waste away with her own.
So she had been dressed in a gown and moved to the death room. A few of the staff knew her and had kept her company, but Lonnie stayed as much as she could manage too.
The people in Residential revered her. What would happen now? She might still wake. The dying were always offered a chance to say good bye.
But she thought of those who should have been there to try more than she knew.
Julian was her friend. He'd hidden the device and doomed himself. But he'd doomed her too, and so many others. If he'd put it in the box, Willman would have punished him, but he'd have been there to try. He would have tried anyway.
Now he'd never have the chance to save any of them. For him, all but perhaps his own death was over. They'd kill or deport him. If he died, she hoped it was quick, but feared it had not been.
Those left behind got the care she could give. She eased pain as she could afford to. She treated what she could. The dying received as much dignity as time could afford. But that was all.
Needing to let something out, she wanted to ask how many had died because he'd been so careless. She wanted to shout it. But then, in the rare moments she allowed herself to think back, she missed him. Still, he owed them all. Of all of them he should have known.
It was as if death was looming all around her, and she could not run. Willman knew he was doomed. Those in charge, especially those who'd known about contraband, would pay for their mistakes. But in the month since martial law had been declared there had been a steady increase in infections. Most were from Residential, the result of accidents and bad sanitation. Five more had finished out the monthly total, days before, none of them badly hurt if their wounds could have been properly treated. But that required minor surgery she was not trained for. Maybe there wouldn't have been the supplies for most, but this would have been simple. How many more would there be? The dark vision on that hill when her patient had touched her hand had come true. Now it trapped her, and she understood how he'd never really left that internment camp.
She focused the anger for a moment, then let it go. The truth was he couldn't save Dax. If they'd healed the broken ribs the Vorta's doctors would have saved her if they could. Two were dying. Jadzia was slowly bleeding to death and if she escaped infection would die from it. The worm inside her was weakening fast. He'd said, once, that Dax would always go on. Now it wouldn't. All those lifetimes would be lost, too.
But so much else was already gone. Across the line, had the Federation forgotten about them? Were they dismissed as dead? Did anyone care anymore?
But her patient was stirring a little, and she did a quick scan. She would wake up in a few hours. Lonnie had things to do, but would make sure they were done before that.
That time before, which now felt as if it was a long time ago, Dax had looked so ill and shaken that Lonnie was worried about her. But in that short moment before she'd gone, she had seen something dark and terrifying. No matter how much she must have missed her friend, she had never come again. Until now.
Lonnie had seen the haunting look in her eyes that day. Had she known she would die here? That momentary touch and the dark place Lonnie had seen, that was their home, but not the same, had that been now or a time to come?
Lonnie tried to save those she could. She gave the dying as much dignity as could be spared. But since that day, she had understood. Her nurse attended the dying in the last moments, and still performed her ceremony.
She didn't know if they flew free. But she would make sure their nurse was there at the last moments, perhaps for both of the beings that made up her patient. She wasn't a believer, but if the ceremony did set them free, it was worth the chance. Perhaps death was the only way they would ever find freedom in this desolate world and the ones she lost were really the lucky.
Miles was concentrating on his sand waves when the door was shoved open. The sand faded and E'Char stood.
"I will follow," said his ghostly companion.
Miles stood, moving hesitantly towards the blinding light. He tried to keep moving despite the pain. He didn't want them to think he was resisting.
He still wanted to live.
Waiting outside, he offered his wrists. But his hands weren't bound. E'Char was ahead of him now, Miles lost in the bright painful glow of the sun. "I will lead. Follow my voice."
He closed his eyes and followed E'Char's directions.
He knew where they'd turn to be taken to the ships. They'd pass the square and turn to the small field where the ship would wait.
But E'Char didn't tell him to turn. He stumbled forward, heading towards Residential. He opened his eyes, hoping to see where he was going.
Why this way? He dared not believe he was being released, but could not think of how close the warehouse was to the path. Would they lead him to the door and make him show them where the things were hidden? Would they push him inside and trap him there to die?
There were a few shadows. He could make out the boots of his guards now and then. He was being led along the pathway around the offices, deserted and out of bounds since the Jem'Hadar had come.
He could feel the mud sloshing in his boots. The hazy glare of water obscured the path to the bridge, and he guessed they were bypassing the flooded area.
Had that rock he'd seeded with Tarlan's mix been converted yet? If they lived long enough might it still spare them the mud the coming spring?
He'd liked listening to the rain. He and E'Char sat and enjoyed it as if it were music. But he guessed for those outside, with the mud and flooding, it wasn't as welcome.
They stopped. E'Char stepped over a row of blue posts and he followed. There was a large gate by the bridge, patrolled by many Jem'Hadar.
The First stood beside him. E'Char backed away.
He could see the fuzzy line of blue posts and the First was pointing at them.
"That is the blue line. You are permitted free movement up to that line, but must not cross it. Those who cross it will be shot. Do you understand?"
Miles was stunned. He wasn't surprised by the line but why was he being told the rules?
He nodded, and muttered cautiously. "Ugh, yes. I understand."
They continued past the gate, into Residential. E'Char was close now. "I believe they are sending us here," he said.
Miles stumbled after his guards. Then they stopped next to one of the quarters built the previous summer.
"These are your new quarters. Your responsibilities will be explained to you later." The Jem'Hadar began to walk away.
Miles looked at the haze where the boots had gone, and E'Char moved closer. "We are saved," he said.
But Miles didn't move. He was sure it was some kind of trick. Then several of last years staff people came out the door.
Standing in the shade of the building, he could see them a little better. He couldn't miss the stricken looks on their faces. E'Char was right. They'd been saved. But for what?
"Could somebody tell me what's going on?" asked Miles.
Jadzia was suspended in a murky fog, the light slowly penetrating the mist. There was little pain, and she puzzled over that. Then she remembered the cold metal table and alien doctors twittering about her.
But she knew where she was now. She remembered the disorientation of that day, standing on the hill. The smell was awful, but she already knew it. The cot and the vague light was the same. Worf stood near, but not close. When her time came, he would be with her but she had a little more of life to pass through.
There was no fear. She'd known that moment for so long that now she welcomed its melding with reality. It became a comfort to know it was almost over. This was the moment of her vision.
As the mist thinned and brightened, she clung to its comfort. Even when she woke, opening her eyes to the somber room and the young woman sitting half-asleep next to her, she was peaceful.
She tried to lift her hand but did not quite have the strength. The rustle of the blankets woke Lonnie Broadman.
Jadzia knew she was dying. She'd known from the moment of first awareness. The pain was gone, but not the weakness, nor the cold. She could barely move at all. The little strength she did have was slowly fading.
Dax was quiet and distant. Her other selves were too far away. An immense loneliness stood waiting to take her when Dax passed beyond life.
But there was not much time. And there were a few duties to this world before she was gone.
Lonnie leaned down to hear the whisper. Jadzia's voice was faint but clear, and rather calm. "Dax is almost gone. Please do not leave me alone."
She wasn't afraid of dying. Without her symbion she wouldn't last long. But the emptiness of being alone, of having all the merged selves ripped away frightened her. Julian had been there before. He would return but was living in hell now. Lonnie Broadman was her only comfort.
Worf moved closer as she gasped with shock. Dax had suddenly vanished. There had been no warning, no movement or pain. There was just a sudden devastating emptiness.
Lonnie took a deep breath. She had the tricorder and ran it over Jadzia. "Your symbion is dead. I wish I could have done something."
Jadzia stared at the dismal room, all sense of comfort gone. Worf drew near but he couldn't hold her hand and she needed a personal touch at that moment. "Dax was hurt too much. And I'm bleeding inside. I can feel it, without the pain." She shivered. "It's so cold. I can't get warm."
"I have more heated blankets coming but its hard to warm them," said Lonnie in a gentle voice.
All the hardness was gone from her eyes. Jadzia wondered if she'd felt something that day as well. "Dax would die when I do. There is none to host. A human or Bajoran wouldn't survive the joining."
Lonnie squeezed her hand. "Rest. I'll make sure the blankets are on the way." Then she let go and Jadzia started to panic.
"Don't go," she whispered. Lonnie took her hand again and an odd serenity came to both. Jadzia could feel the exhaustion and numbness inside her companion. She had become what she had to, but would be marked by it forever.
Jadzia was exhausted. She could feel the life draining out of her body. But she wanted to say good bye to those who would miss her. "The others, letters . . . . " she said, her voice trailing off.
"I'll write them for you." Lonnie picked up a pad, pulling out a pen, and leaned close.
"Do you need something for pain?" she asked.
Jadzia shook her head and the dizziness nearly made her pass out. "No," came another whisper. "Letters."
Not letting go of her hand, Lonnie wrote her good byes. She could tell that Lonnie didn't believe they would ever be read, but she recorded them anyway.
She had said good bye. Worf was hovering closer but she was still lost in a vast empty place and was afraid.
Dax had lived here the day before. Jackson and Emery hadn't touched any of her things. They'd just closed the door of her room and Miles had collapsed in the large chair in her office.
"She was assigned here to handle supplies," said Jackson quietly, tears forming in his eyes. "We get more since there was nothing found in this section. And we get it by the month. This meeting was supposed to be about our next shipment, which is due tomorrow. And she was going to ask about the rock."
Miles wondered why she'd bother. It was out of bounds and he knew they'd shot people already as an example. But Jackson acted as if he expected it to be allowed. "As a reward," said Miles, softly, hoping for an explanation.
At least if they did find the parts the warehouse wasn't in this area.
"She made a big difference for everybody here, Sir. Not just keeping people calm, but . . . I can't explain it. She has been so reasonable, so cheerful, almost. The Vorta liked her. He had some kind of plans. If it had been an hour later . . . . " Jackson had tears running down his face.
Miles was still astonished that he'd been brought in to replace her. For all he'd known she was captive in one of the little boxes. She'd handled as much contraband as he had and knew all the secrets. He guessed she'd been chosen over him because of the cave.
But now, he had to fill her shoes. Jackson had hinted that the Vorta had some kind of special relationship with her. Miles had imagined he might get some sort of favors if he did a good job. He didn't think Jadzia would have done that, but then on the station he knew he would never have considered it himself.
But he did have a family, and they might still be alive.
But Jackson had brought him a bowl of soup. It had scraps of vegetable in it too, and was seasoned. He guessed she'd said all the right things for the Vorta to be so cooperative.
Maybe he hadn't known her as well as he thought.
E'Char watched him eat, his face enraptured. E'Char didn't eat, but shared Miles enjoyment. He sat on the edge of the couch next to Jackson. Miles tried to be careful not to look his way lest Jackson notice.
He'd been told about the hospital, and the conditions, and the shortages. He could only imagine how bad it was now, with everyone locked inside. But they had just said she'd fallen. They were talking like she was dead. "I'd guess she'll be sick for a while, but . . . . "
"If she was going to live, you wouldn't be here, Sir." It was Emery, pale and stunned, but calmer. "I saw it. She was walking along the rock path to that meeting. It was all wet and muddy but the other path was flooded. She just slipped, and fell down in the ditch. In the deep part, the part we did last year. There were so many rocks there. She was so still. She was half on her side and stomach, and I think her arm was broken. I don't think she was bleeding much, but she was so pale. They said she was bleeding inside. There is nothing that can be done without a surgeon."
Jackson stared at the floor. "He took her first. I think if he could have saved her he would have. She was letting him think she was going to join his new bunch of collaborators. I don't know if she would have if she hadn't fallen."
Miles was stunned, still unable to take in the idea that Jadzia was dying. She had been a rock of support so many times, even in her distant moods. She'd held Sisko together more than once, with her reasoned calm. They needed her. It seemed unfair that a fall because of rain could take her away.
He wondered if she would have been trapped in her game eventually. Would they have thought so much of her then?
How could he do it? E'Char would stay, but family was gone. Jadzia had kept him from giving up, and the hope of someday connecting with Julian had given him a reason to go on. Now she was dead and . . .
What had happened to Julian? Why had he taken so many chances?
Was he dead yet, or did he just wish he was?
Soon, he gathered, Jadzia would be dead. But what about Dax? Who would be joined with her symbion?
"What about Dax?" he asked. "They will need a new host." He had a crazy idea, born of loneliness and desperation.
"I heard both halves of her are dying," said Jackson very quietly. "Too much bleeding. Or direct injuries from the fall."
Miles sighed. It had been a stupid idea anyway. Humans couldn't host the slugs. It had almost killed Riker. He would have to do this somehow on his own.
But E'Char had stood and walked to the chair. He held out his hand. "Not alone," he said.
Miles looked away. He knew the others couldn't see E'Char. But they'd wonder if he'd been locked away too long if he appeared to be talking to nothing.
He'd have to be careful. E'Char smiled. "Never alone. But you don't have to speak."
Miles looked up, towards Emery but was looking at E'Char directly in back of him.
"You'll stay with me, all of you?" he asked.
Emery nodded. Jackson mumbled almost to himself, "not much choice." But E'Char just smiled, and Miles knew that no matter how hard it was, he'd have to go on.
And, if Dax could find a way to get them a few rewards, perhaps they would be willing to. look upon hm in the same light.
Jadzia floated in mist again. The light had been fading for a time, and she couldn't see anymore. The mist was so cold. Sounds were distant, too, and she could no longer tell what they were. The mist was soft and velvety, with the scent of spring. She could feel her body, so still and cold and pale. In her minds eye she could even see it. But it was as distant as the fog now. Lonnie sat by her, and another nurse, beginning a small ceremony.
She was drawn to the new nurse. Watching as a small candle was lit, there was light all around her. It was the brightness of an early morning when the world was new again. There was peace, too, and a soft quiet she hadn't known before.
Her body lay unmoving. Her eyes were closed, covered with a small cloth. The spots that decorated her face and neck were pale and faded.
Surprised, Jadzia realized that her body had ceased to live. Worf stood a distance away, but she could not come. She watched, her gaze fixed on the candle.
It had been dark before. She wished the light to stay. She wasn't cold now. The warmth of the morning sun shone on her face. The mist was softer now, not so close. It was drifting away in little puffs of clouds.
She wasn't alone. The nurse sprinkled her body with some scented ointment and the mist disappeared. But the other was still trapped. Curzon and her other selves, so recently stolen away, were close enough to touch, but still lost in the mist. It had trapped her before. She could go to Worf now, but not them. She was afraid of the mist. It might take her again and the candle and the ointment would not set her free.
But the nurse pulled up the gown that covered her. The candle was blown out, but lit again. Curzon and Emory and all the others, even the killer inside her, stood very near. Even Jadzia— an echo of Jadzia-stood with them.
Then the others came closer. The woman like her, the sister of spirit she had left behind, touched her and she was whole again.
Worf moved closer, but did not intrude. She looked down on the still, lifeless body that had been hers and watched. Lonnie covered her with a sheet. A stretcher was moved next to her body and the two women slid her still form off the cot.
But Jadzia and those who had been a part of her were free. Worf was close. Dax had loved him too.
She reached towards him, all of her. He took her hand and all she could see was the bright light of summer. Flowers bloomed in the grass and birds sang in the trees.
She and Worf were one. In life it had been denied, but both were past that meager measure now.
With joy, she embraced him. The sunny sky and gentle flowers grew vivid and alive, and she left behind all the time she'd wondered and waited and feared.
She was a part of eternity now. As Worf walked across the land, the flowers sprung up higher. The fruits grew fat and mature as she touched them.
But she didn't recognize many of them. Or perhaps she did. Blanchard had grown them in his lab.
She wasn't to pass the seasons on Cryus. But she belonged. The spring and the fall, the summers and winters, she would share the new bounty that would come, and the freedom that would emerge after they had passed through the darkness.
Mac still couldn't see very well, everything still blurry, and slept most of the time, but the complete exhaustion that had taken over his life was fading. He hadn't said much, nothing at all about the ordeal, but he would ask for soup and told Sarah he missed her every time she had to go home. They'd bathed him and he had clean clothes, and the bruises had faded enough it didn't hurt to lie on his side. Time still had no real meaning. He slept are woke and ate and slept again, especially since the doctor had said to feed him every two hours during the day. Now he was getting finely chopped bits of ration with the moss and broth and had started feeling full.
Michael came and sat with him, on feeding duty but encouraging small bits of conversation as
well. He'd been told about the blue line, and how they were getting half rations. Michael sounded happy about it and Mac didn't quite know why. Half was far better than he had gotten but he couldn't quite make any of it real.
And Michael was very quiet this morning. He was sure something was wrong, but Michael was trying to make things sound a little better than they were. Or maybe wishing so.
He'd finished what he could and the bowl was moved. Emery had dropped back into his chair as if it had been terrible. "I've got to get to work," he said. "Shandra will stay with you. You did good with the food."
Mac was fighting off sleep already. It had been a week but even his meals exhausted him to the point of napping now. It was good because he remembered bits and pieces and if he was awake would try to put them together. But he had to know. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"We're waiting for word," Michael said. "Someone was hurt."
Mac just sunk into his pillow, not wanting to know. "Up the hill?" he asked.
"Yeah, we get notes," said Emery.
Maybe he thought Mac knew how things were but none of it made any sense. Maybe they'd told him earlier and he forgot. But he was falling asleep, a few minutes later when he heard Shandra come in.
"Michael," she said softly. Mac could see him look up in his mind, waiting. "We heard. She's gone. Last night. She did the ceremony."
"Oh," said Michael, holding back. "A few minutes, tell Carl I'll be there."
Mac lay still, listening to the sound of her footsteps as she left.
Michael sounded as if he was far away when he spoke, just barely holding control because he had to. "Do you remember what I told you, I mean about how things are?"
"Just a little," whispered Mac.
"Well, we have the blue line, deadly little pickets around the deck, all painted blue. Behind them are Jem'Hadar. Step over and they shoot you. They shot eight the first day. Then James, on his birthday. Almost another one a little while ago."
"They shot somebody on the ship," he said. "I just saw the blood." He could see the open cage and the naked prisoners and the dried blood by the door. He tried to shake the image but now it was real.
"When they let us out of house arrest, they brought Dax to run this place. She's been miraculous. She's kept us together. Carl's little girl ran over the line and the Jem'Hadar were ready to shoot her and she got them to let her pick up the baby. She saved her life. Nobody else could have."
Mac was pretty sure she was dead, then, if Michael was talking about her. "Is she?" he asked.
"The Vorta was playing some game with her, and she got us things. She went on a muddy day, yesterday actually, and she didn't make it. Slipped and fell in the mud channel. Vorta tried to save her life. I guess she's gone now."
Michael sounded like he was ready to collapse but didn't have the time. "What now?" asked Mac.
"No idea. That's up to Them." He took a deep breath. "But you should already know that."
Then he went on about the ones they'd taken, including Julian. Contraband, he thought, wasn't something worth dying for. He was sure they'd let himself go since they were satisfied. He didn't want to know what happened if not.
Shandra came in, running. "They need you," she said, "I'll stay."
Mac looked up, opening his eyes but his vision was too blurry. Settling back, the grief and shock still so strong around him, he first understood that he had left one world and come back to one far darker and more terrible than they'd ever really imagined it could be.
End, Legacy Year 2, Part 1, Chapter 7