The window in her kitchen faced east. She liked that. Even though several buildings blocked her view of the sun rising above the horizon for most of the year, she could still watch as the light flooded the sky. On a few days of the year, the gaps between the buildings permitted her a brief glimpse of Sol low in the sky. On those days, Earth's atmosphere refracted the sun into a huge, glowing ball. She kept track of the course of the year that way, like a priestess studying astronomy at Stonehenge. On those rare days, she tried to be home on Earth. The rest of the time, she liked being on the move, anywhere but here.
She had expected to watch the show on the next couple of mornings if the sky were clear, but now it appeared she would not be around to see it. All things considered, she wasn't at all disappointed.
They'd heard from Voyager. Tom was alive and well. Her son was alive.
Alicia Kelley Paris gazed out her kitchen window, oblivious to the light flooding over her face, as she wept in joy and thanksgiving.
Several minutes later, her emotions firmly in check, Alicia wiped away her tears and contacted the travel agent who had booked her on a flight to Bajor the following week. She would need to move that up as much as possible, for, at the express interest of Starfleet's Admiralty, she had a task to perform.
It was not the first time she had gone to Bajor, but this time, it was going to be much more satisfying than the first time "Alicia Kelley" visited the Planet of the Prophets.
The path up to the ancient and venerable building complex seemed as old as the monastery itself. She could see how the stones had been worn down their centers, with chipped edges which bespoke of the feet of the untold numbers of pilgrims who had negotiated the steep slope before her, throughout many centuries. The Terran woman who traversed them now puffed heavily from exertion. At least the air of Bajor was close to that of her home planet. As heavy as her heart was, she didn't need to struggle for oxygen, too.
When she reached the top of the steps she put down her travel bags and caught her breath for a moment. She knew that the calendar said she was no longer young, but she was still in her prime. If the last couple of years hadn't made her feel so old, she wouldn't have felt the climb so much.
Of course, if not for the events of the last few years, would she even be here on Bajor, when strife was imminent? Never.
Her reverie was broken when the door opened before her, without any overt action upon the Terran woman's part to request entrance. From the kindly, welcoming expression on the face of the Old One at the doorway, Alicia knew her coming had been anticipated. Perhaps the doorkeeper had simply looked out upon the path by chance, to see her walking up the path. Perhaps her coming had been foretold and the door's opening for her, right then, was not due to chance. Warily, the Terran looked upon the Bajoran, tussling with her own paranoia and self-doubt.
"Who comes?" asked the old woman at the threshold.
Alicia looked at her blankly for a moment, unsure if she should give her true name or not, before recalling that what was called for here was the ritual response she had been advised to give. "One who . . . who seeks the ways of the Prophets," she said, stumbling over the words. It was one of the few Bajoran phrases she knew, and she was sure she'd made a mistake in the response somewhere.
"Enter, my child." The woman stated gravely, bending her head down and stepping back to give Alicia room to enter through the open portal. The bags bumped against the legs of the old woman as Alicia stepped inside.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" the Terran exclaimed in embarrassment.
The Bajoran woman laughed. "Don't worry about it, my child. I'm used to it. Most of those who enter the Supplicant's Gate carry burdens far heavier than those bags of yours. I've come to expect a bump or two on the knee."
The brown eyes bore deeply into Alicia's own, stripping away the last bits of composure she could muster. "I'm still sorry," she said in halting Bajoran.
"As I am for you, my child. As I am for you, too."
Alicia's tears flowed freely. The bags tumbled to the floor as Alicia held out her arms and leaned into the embrace of the old woman, who patted Alicia on the back as she finally allowed herself to sob out her desolation. Her baby boy, her only son, would never come home to her again.
"Are you all right now, my child?" the old one asked.
Although she was still shuddering a little from weeping, Alicia nodded that she was. The doorkeeper would have none of it. Shaking her head, she pointed to a bench and urged, "Just sit here a while. I will call someone to guide you within our walls. Here, take this, for your eyes."
The doorkeeper handed Alicia a soft cloth soaked in water from a jug by the doorway. The woman was right; the cloth was soothing to her eyes. Alicia knew she needed to pull herself together.
The doorkeeper stepped through the doorway to the interior courtyard of the monastery. She called out to someone who answered from a distance. Alicia did not hear exactly what was said, but a few minutes later, she heard slow steps coming from the courtyard. Alicia picked up her bags and stood, just as the person who had been called to fetch her stepped through the doorway. Alicia's guide was swathed in the robes of a vedek. The voluminous folds could not disguise the fact that the woman was heavily pregnant.
When Alicia looked at the vedek's face, she caught her breath in shock. She knew that face.
"Ro? Ro Laren?"
"Alicia? Alicia Paris!"
At the sight of the tears brimming in Ro Laren's eyes, Alicia Paris broke down again, this time to be comforted within the arms of someone she knew, and more importantly, someone who knew her son. Her Tom, lost to her forever.