Note: I started this story in November of '97 - my first attempt at the brave new world of fanfic. I finished it during the summer of '98. When I look back at this piece, it's with a mixture of pride and embarassament. I have fixed the formatting and made a few corrections to the text. Thank you for reading - Seema, 11/13/00.
From her position at the helm, Commander Jadzia Dax said quietly, "Benjamin, I believe that's the last of them."
The captain stood, almost as if in disbelief. He took a step closer to the view screen.
"Magnify view screen," he commanded. "I want to be absolutely sure."
The captain smiled, "You're right, Old Man. They are all gone now."
"It's about time!" Chief O'Brien burst out from his perch behind Captain Sisko. "I say five years of the Dominion is quite enough."
There were murmurs of assent from the bridge crew as the wormhole swallowed up the last of the Dominion fleet.
"You should consider yourself a hero," Major Kira said. "You led the Federation in the war against the Dominion, and I think, frankly, kudos are in order."
"Kudos, Major?" the captain couldn't help but smile at the Major's use of the ancient earth expression.
"Well, of course," Kira said. "You managed to get the Romulans, Klingons, Bajorans and the Vulcans allied. Without that, the Federation would never have won the war."
"Well, thank you, Major," Sisko said. "But to be honest, you are all equally deserving of congratulations. The war hasn't been easy on any of us, but you have all served well in your individual capacities and I'm proud of you all."
"Ah, it was nothing," Dr. Julian Bashir said with his customarily goofy grin. "We beat the bad guys, let's go home now."
Sisko smiled, "That's the best idea I've heard in a long time. Helm, take us back to the station."
Back on Deep Space Nine, the Defiant's officers were warmly welcomed by an assembled crowd of Romulans, Bajorans and Vulcans.
"Business has never been so good," Quark gloated, as he floated around his restaurant. "I believe the war has the been best thing that ever happened to me."
Dax laughed at him, "Only you would think to profit off of a war, Quark."
Quark appeared injured, "Really, Commander, I am pleased the Federation won. After all, I found the Dominion and especially the Founders, to be a boring lot."
"Not to mention unprofitable," Bashir put in.
Quark sulked for a moment, "You give me no credit, Doctor."
"He's only teasing, Quark," Dax said reassuringly, putting her hand on the Ferengi's arm.
Quark took a deep breath and looked around at the people milling about the restaurant.
"The dabo tables are full," he exulted. "And all the holosuites are occupied. I tell you, business has never been better."
Dax and Bashir looked at each other and smiled. Quark nodded at them and moved away to find Sisko and Kira enjoying a drink at the bar.
"Quark," Sisko said. "Looks as if you're doing well today."
"All thanks to you, Captain," Quark said. "Without you, I doubt we'd have such a motley crew here on the station. And I never knew that Romulans were such big gamblers. We really need to attract more of them."
Kira smiled, a bit wearily, and said, "I'm so glad business is doing well for you, Quark,even if it was at such a great expense."
For a moment Quark seemed a bit subdued. "I did miss you all," he admitted. "Business aside, the war has been horrible. The things it has done to people… I'm just very glad it's over now and the Dominion is back in the Gamma Quadrant, where they belong. Hopefully, we will never have to deal with them again."
"From your mouth to the Prophets' ears," Kira said quietly. "We shall just have to see, won't we,if that treaty holds or not?"
"You think it may not, Major?" Sisko asked.
"Who knows? If Cardassia and the Dominion choose to team up again, our treaty with the Dominion means nothing. After all, Cardassia has been out of the war for years now and they have had time to rebuild their fleet. You know as well as I do that the Federation is crippled both financially and in terms of ships and manpower. I honestly do not think we could hold out again against the Dominion. Not even with help from the Klingons," Kira replied.
"Really, Major," Quark said. "You know how to ruin a party."
Sisko stared thoughtfully at Kira, "I've been thinking the same, Major. We need to be prepared at all costs for another attack. The past five years has shown we can't trust the Dominion."
Kira bit her lip and looked around the station, "There are just so many people I don't see here now. It is almost painful to look and count the missing."
"It'll be years before we know what happened to most of these people," Sisko replied.
Quark shook his head, "Yes, I am missing many of my regulars."
There was a moment of silence, then Kira roused herself.
"Come, this is supposed to be a victory party, isn't it?" she asked. "I'm going to find Julian and challenge him to a game of darts."
"Sounds good, Major," Sisko said. "That's the spirit."
Kira pushed herself away from the table and went to find the doctor.
Quark leaned forward for a moment, "Between you and me, Captain, I do mean it when I say I feel the war very keenly,and I'm not talking business."
Sisko said, "I understand, Quark. I understand you. Very well."
There were changes on Deep Space Nine, O'Brien could see. As he strolled the Promenade, he could see there were fewer people than ever before.
He noticed more Romulans and Vulcans than ever before. Much of the station had fallen in disrepair, due to the lack of funds and people to fix the less important parts of the station. Hence, many parts were blocked off.
Supplies were scarce and even Quark had resorted to using a replicator.
More poignantly, the children were all gone.
O'Brien stopped and leaned over the railing, surveying the scene below him.
The Federation had sent some engineers to begin repairs on the station. It was comforting to see the familiar Federation uniforms - as if things were finally getting back to normal.
"You're quiet, Chief."
A comforting hand on his arm.
O'Brien turned, "Commander Dax."
She smiled at him, a wistful, half-smile,
"What are you looking at?"
"Things getting back to normal, I suppose."
"You're right, I guess. Nothing will ever be the same," O'Brien said. "You and I, we will never be the same."
"It's the war; it changes people, attitudes, things. I've been through so many wars, Chief, and it doesn't get much easier, I can tell you. The pain lingers long after the victory parties."
"Do you suppose the Dominion is mourning the same way as we are?"
"I imagine so. All of their dead, someone's child, husband -" Dax paused for a moment.
O'Brien turned to look at her for a moment,
"Jadzia, you can't lose hope."
"I haven't, Miles, I really haven't," she said. "I believe Worf is coming home. I really do believe it."
"You haven't heard otherwise now, have you?"
"I am sorry, Miles, really."
"I thought sending Keiko and the children to Earth would really be the safest alternative," O'Brien said quietly. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"You couldn't have known, you couldn't have. War is so uncertain."
"But my family," O'Brien said. "What will I do without them?"
The Chief's shoulders began to shake. Dax leaned over, stretching her arms around him. He buried his face in her shoulder. Awkwardly, Dax touched his hair.
"After all this time," O'Brien said after a few minutes. "It's been two years now, Jadzia, and I can't believe thatI will never seen them again. Not Keiko, or Molly or Kirayoshi. I guess, when the war was going on and we were still on the Defiant, I could put it out of my mind. But now, here, I realize it as the truth."
"You don't have official confirmation that they were on theNantucket when the Dominion destroyed it."
"I know, but the last time I talked to Keiko, she specifically said they were taking the Nantucket to Earth. It's no use, Jadzia. I know it's true," O'Brien sighed.
Dax squeezed his shoulders once again. She knew exactly how O'Brien felt; the uncertainty about Worf was driving her to distraction also.
"You've been a big help," O'Brien said unexpectedly. "This hasn't been easy for you either."
"No," Dax replied, thinking of all she had been through in the last five years. She had spent a year as a prisoner of war in the Gamma Quadrant and it was only through Sisko's efforts she had been freed. Then of course, there had been the attack on Bajor, which had decimated much of the Bajoran population. Having led the Federation in the Battle of Bajor, Dax felt tremendous guilt and responsibility for what had happened to the once beautiful world.
"The war was cruel to all of us, Commander," O'Brien said unexpectedly.
"Yes, but mostly to you, Chief. Mostly to you."
Alone in her quarters, Dax loosened her hair from the polished shell barrette. Worf had given her the barrette just before the war had broken out in earnest. Worf. Dax moved listlessly about the room. She touched familiar objects, reveling in the smooth feelings of some of the sculptures.
In their few shorts months together after the wedding, they had collected many of these statues. Some were Klingon, others came from Trill and still others had originated in Bajor.
"Oh," Dax sighed and threw herself onto the sofa. The months following their wedding had been less than idyllic, given the war, but nonetheless, they had managed to spend time together and they had been happy.
Everything had changed on what had been a routine mission to Bajor.
Dax had piloted a runabout down to the planet, in order to attend a conference.
On the way, she had been ambushed and kidnapped.
The year that followed had changed her forever. She could not say that the Dominion treated her badly; in fact, the Dominion had had held great respect for Curzon Dax's negotiating skills. Yet, she had been separated from all her friends, with no way to get word to tell anyone she was safe.
She had spent those long isolated days remembering her seven lifetimes and then when she ran out of memories, she began solving complex Boolean algebra theorems in her mind. As days merged into nights, she slowly began to lose count of how long she had been imprisoned.
With no one to talk to, Dax felt as if she would lose her mind. And every day, the Jem Hadar had brought her food, silently stood, and watched her eat. Once she tried to speak and the soldier had slapped her across the face.
By the time Sisko and other Federation negotiators had been able to obtain her release, Dax no longer had a sense of herself or time.
Things had changed back on Deep Space Nine and Dax felt overwhelmed by the amount of information she was now forced to absorb. Worf had been patient, understanding that the frivolous and headstrong woman he had married was now gone.
Thinking of that time, Jadzia felt a surge of love for Worf.
He must have been confused by her disappearance. Sisko said it had been nearly six months before the Federation learned that she was still alive. Yet Worf had waited and had not given up hope she would come home.
And when she did arrive, he was there, a silent but strong presence.
At night he held her close when the nightmares came and during the day, he would talk to her softly and gently about happy things. Never once did he lose his temper with her.
Now, Dax sat in their quarters, feeling that same apprehension. Waiting.
It had been two years since she had last seen Worf and nearly a year since she had last heard from him.
"He will come home," Dax whispered. "He will come home to me. He must."
It was then, with certainty, she knew that life without Worf would be close to unbearable.
Benjamin Sisko held the baseball in his hand, staring at the smooth contours and rubbing the worn leather against his palm. Behind him, the stars blinked in the distance. He could see where the entrance to the wormhole lay and further, the small dot that was Bajor.
The door chimed and Sisko turned.
Major Kira appeared, dressed smartly in her orange uniform.
"Major," Sisko said. "It's early. We weren't to meet for another thirty minutes."
"I just wanted to talk to you," Kira said quietly. "I'm concerned about morale on the station."
Sisko arched an eyebrow, "That's not really your province, is it?"
"No, sir, but I have been noticing things and it worries me."
"A general despair."
"In case you've forgotten, Major, we've just spent the last five years at war with the Dominion. Of course there are problems of despair, as you put it."
"Sir, permission to speak freely."
"Go ahead, Major."
"I think people have lost hope," Kira said. "I don't believe people feel they are safe."
"That will take time. People have lost a sense of security, it will just take time."
"I know, Captain, but this is different. I was just pointing out to you my feelings about the Dominion. But the station, there is a real sense of loss and I believe, great depression. It's affecting how people work here and how they are interacting with others. You must see it, Captain."
"I'm not surprised," Sisko said. "The war was long and hard, but you cannot expect less from interplanetary warfare."
"No, sir," Kira said. "But I am worried about the Bajoran contingent. The war absolutely devastated Bajor and I think we need to face the real possibility that many of the Bajoran personnel on the station would like to go home and trace their loved ones."
"Are you asking for permission for something, Major?"
"Captain, I would like to lead an expedition," Kira said. "I would like to return to Bajor and help in the reconstruction effort. And I spoke to Commander Dax. I believe she would also like to go."
Sisko was silent for a moment.
"Captain," Kira said.
"I'm thinking, Major."
Kira remained silent, her fingers digging into the palms of her hands.
For a moment she tried to read Sisko's face, but she was unable to decipher what he might be thinking. Then again, she did not know him as Dax did.
"You can go, Major," Sisko said finally. "But Commander Dax will stay here."
"She would like to go, Captain."
"She would like to go because of an obligation and a sense of guilt she feels towards the Bajoran people."
"Jadzia has always had a sense of responsibility."
"Yes, but I don't believe she ought to go."
Kira said, "You have your reasons? It will be difficult to keep Jadzia here. You know how she is, headstrong about things."
"I need Dax here, Major," Sisko said quietly.
"Will you tell her, Captain?"
"I will," Sisko said. "You and O'Brien have suffered terrible losses, Nerys. For both of you, I think keeping busy would be most effective. I think you should take Chief O'Brien to assist you, Major."
Kira bowed her head, "As long as you speak to Dax."
"I will," Sisko said. "Don't worry about it. I can handle her."
"You wanted to see me, Benjamin?" Dax asked, entering the captain's ready room.
"Yes, sit down."
Dax pulled the chair closer to Sisko's desk.
She looked the same as usual, but Sisko thought he detected a change. She smiled at him wanly and Sisko realized that her eyes were bloodshot.
"You haven't slept, have you?" Sisko asked quietly.
"I tried, but things keep me awake. I tried everything from counting sheep to drinking some of Quark's horrible Ferengi sleeping droughts. The nightmares don't stop, Benjamin. I keep seeing Bajor in my mind and everything that happened there."
"Old Man, you have to forgive yourself for that," Sisko said.
Dax crossed her feet at the ankles and then uncrossed them. The nervous gesture did not go unnoticed by Sisko.
"I just know that when the history books are written about the Battle of Bajor - Benjamin, I don't know, I just don't know."
"War makes villains of us all," Sisko said. "You did not go blindly, Jadzia. You really did not. You did not do anything the rest of us wouldn't have done."
Dax closed her eyes. She could still see the flames of Bajor, the screams, the piles of the dead.
And inside, she could still feel the emptiness that came out of the realization that she was responsible.
"The Dominion attacked Bajor, Commander," Sisko said. "You only went in to aid the Bajorans. You cannot assume blame for everything that happened there."
"Perhaps, but I do feel responsible."
"And it's for that reason I cannot allow you to go with Major Kira to Bajor."
"Benjamin!" Dax rose angrily. "It would mean so much to me. It's the least I could do."
"I need you here, Jadzia. I need you to be at Ops, while Kira and O'Brien are gone."
"O'Brien is going? Captain!"
"Sit down, Commander."
She sat, "I'm sorry, Benjamin. I just, I just needed to do something."
"I know," Sisko said quietly. "But I also wanted to tell you something else."
"I got a report from the Klingon High Council today," Sisko said. "Concerning the Battle for Vlata."
"Vlata," Dax said quietly. "I haven't heard from Worf since Vlata."
"I'm not going to lie to you, Old Man," Sisko said.
Dax gripped the arms of her chair and braced herself. She sucked her lower lip in and then looked straight at the captain.
"To be honest, the Klingons don't really know what has happened to Worf."
"What does that mean? What don't they know?" Dax cried.
"Meaning the Klingons have listed him missing in action. I am sorry."
"Oh God," Dax said. "Oh God."
"He could still be alive, Jadzia. You just need to prepare yourself for the idea he might not be coming home."
"I know, Benjamin. God, but I didn't think, I mean, he might not come home. Benjamin, I don't know what I will do if he doesn't."
"That's a very real possibility."
"He must come home. He promised me."
"Worf is a man of his word," Sisko agreed cautiously.
Dax stood and paced the room, twisting her hands together.
"What of Martok?" she demanded.
"Yes. I am sorry, Jadzia."
"The list keeps growing longer, Benjamin. Garak, Rom, Leeta, Keiko, the children, Shakaar, and now Martok?" Sisko did not answer.
"They were together always," Dax said quietly. "Worf and Martok."
Dax took a deep breath, "Captain, what would you like me to do?"
"We can talk about this more, if you'd like."
"No. No," she held up a hand. "I think, I think it's best if you tell me what you would like me to do. I'd rather not have to think more than I have already."
Kira made her way down to Ops, looking for O'Brien. She had no idea how he would react to the idea of going down to Bajor to help with reconstruction.
Out of all of them, the war had hurt O'Brien the most and it would be years before recovered. Still, he was a Starfleet officer and knew his duty. Kira just hoped would be more than "duty" that would propel him to Bajor.
"Chief," Kira said, spotting him across the room.
"Oh, good morning, Major," O'Brien said.
Kira tried to ignore the gray hair creeping up O'Brien's temples, his red eyes and the premature lines stretching across his forehead.
"Just trying to get some of these systems on line," O'Brien said. "It's good to have some time to really sit and figure out what's going on here. Some really nasty cross configurations here, I can't understand. It'll take years to fix all this."
"I was actually going to ask you, Chief, if you couldn't spare some time."
"Really, Major. This is stuff that needs to be done in order to get the station operational again."
"I know, I know. But I was thinking, I'd like to go to Bajor and help with the reconstruction effort. Sisko suggested I take you."
"No," Kira took a deep breath. "You. I think it's a good idea too, Chief."
"I don't know, Major. I have a lot to do here."
"That's just an excuse, Chief."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you have to face the war. You have to face what it has done, not only to you, but to everyone. You just can't keep running away from things. In that sense, you and Dax are exactly the same. You're running from something that's not going to go away. I think you should come to Bajor with me and help put right what the war did. We have an obligation, Chief."
"I don't feel that obligation, Major."
"I know you don't. I know how you feel. For God's sake, I just spent the last five years fighting the same war with you. I may not have lost family as you did, but I did lose people I cared about and I understand that pain. I think the only way to heal is to keep busy, be productive. Come to Bajor with me, Chief. Please."
O'Brien considered for a moment, "The planet was devastated, wasn't it?"
"Close to 20 million dead in the last two years of the war, O'Brien. It will take years to rebuild. Even the Cardassians didn't leave Bajor as badly as this."
"And the Cardassians aren't exactly known for heart," O'Brien said, more to himself.
"I think it would be good for you, Chief. I know that I certainly could use the support."
"You?" O'Brien asked in surprise.
"Yes. It breaks my heart to see Bajor the way it is now. And I have a lot of ghosts to face down there. I understand the ravages of war, Chief, but comprehension doesn't always signify easy acceptance."
"Yes, acceptance. We all need to come to terms with what has happened here during the last five years. And I believe the best and easiest way is to start rebuilding."
O'Brien nodded, "You are a good saleswoman, Kira. I will come to Bajor with you."
Kira felt her facial muscles relax, "Thank you. It can only help. Please understand that."
O'Brien nodded grimly, "Right now there isn't much I understand, but I do understand that people need help and I should help them, since I can."
Major Kira nodded, "Now, you should get back to work, Chief. I've distracted you long enough."
She started to walk away and O'Brien stared at his computer console pensively.
Then, with a couple long strides, he caught up to Kira.
"And you're wrong, Nerys," he said quietly. "I do know your loss. I do."
Kira smiled at him and O'Brien leaned across to give her a hug.
"It will get better, given time," Kira promised.
"Oh, it has to. It certainly cannot get worse now, can it?" O'Brien gave her a crooked smile.
Dax, Bashir and Sisko accompanied O'Brien and Kira to the runabout. There was an awkward silence as O'Brien and Kira strapped themselves into their seats.
"Now, you don't get into any trouble, okay?" Dax said, attempting to break the tension.
"On Bajor? Little chance," O'Brien grumbled.
"Quietest little planet I've ever seen."
"Contact me if you need any medical supplies," Bashir said. "I will take inventory as soon as you leave, but supplies are low. No telling when Starfleet will send more medicine."
"We understand," Kira said softly. "We will be fine. I think everything will be fine, so you all needn't fuss like old women."
"Major!" Sisko said.
"It's true, Benjamin," Dax said. "Sometimes you do fuss a little too much."
"I suppose," Sisko said. "I'm just concerned."
"Of course," Kira replied. "But I give you my word we will be fine."
Bashir said, "See? You have the Major's word."
"That's what he's afraid of," Dax grinned. "Now, Nerys, you have to promise to stay away from all the good looking men down there. You're going to have to keep your mind on the business at hand."
"Is that all you think of me?" Kira laughed.
"Doctor, Commander," Sisko said. "We should leave, so that the Chief and Major can head on out."
Bashir led the way out, followed by Sisko. Dax lingered a moment and touched Kira's hand.
"I wish I were going with you," Dax said quietly.
"I know," Kira replied. "But you will be fine."
Dax smiled, "Good luck and safe trip."
Without a look back, Jadzia Dax exited the runabout.
Kira had always been considered O'Brien, Odo and Dax her closest friends.
However her relationship with the O'Briens had always been more familial than anything else and for advice and gossip, she usually had turned to Dax. Later, after Dax married Worf, Kira found herself spending more time with Odo.
Though their relationship had been strained during the Dominion occupation of the station, Kira found it in herself to put those feelings of anger away. Later, as the war escalated, Odo began to long for his own people and one day, he had simply disappeared.
No one talked about Odo anymore; they accepted the betrayal as complete. Kira still felt anger for what Odo had done. In her eyes, he had violated their friendship, strangely enough there were days when she wished fervently that he would come back.
"Nerys," O'Brien said, breaking the silence.
"Oh," Kira took a deep breath. She could not explain her love for Bajor anymore then she could explain the sun or the stars. But deep inside, the feelings surged as the green and blue planet appeared in the view screen.
"You missed it," O'Brien commented.
"Yes. Oh, Miles, it's so good to be going home."
She tried to not to think of the devastation she knew awaited them down on the planet. She blocked out all thoughts of the blood-stained soil, the burnt shells of the forests or battle-scarred mountains.
"Who is left?" Kira asked out-loud.
O'Brien said, "Do you really want to know the answers?"
"I believe I have a right to those answers."
"That's not what I meant."
"You mean, do I want to know? In my heart, no. Logically, though, I must."
O'Brien nodded, "Setting course for orbit."
"Miles," Kira turned to the Chief. "Do you ever think that this is all a terrible dream and that we will wake up and everything will be back to normal again?"
"Depends what you define as normal, Major," O'Brien said.
"Before the war. Before all this happened."
"Of course. I think we all do, to an extent."
"I really love Bajor," Kira sighed.
"We know that you do."
"I guess we are all entitled to our one love."
O'Brien didn't answer. Kira looked at him and for a moment, she was about to speak and then changed her mind.
Bajor was beautiful, O'Brien had to agree. Or at least, it once had been.
He now understood Dax's tremendous guilt. As he looked about the remnants of the courtyard where he and Kira had beamed into, he could see the war's devastation clearly.
Houses were burned to a crisp, vegetation had nearly disappeared. Few people could be seen and those O'Brien could see were emaciated and weak.
Kira dropped her pack on the dusty ground and took a deep breath.
"At least the air here has not changed," Kira said quietly. "It's a treat for the lungs, to breath clean Bajoran air."
"Yes, but the rest of the place," O'Brien waved his arm.
"I know, I know," Kira said impatiently. The rest of the reconstruction crew had beamed down and were now awaiting their orders.
For a moment, Kira looked completely at loss.
"I don't even know where to begin!" she exclaimed.
O'Brien took a step forward, "Perhaps we should salvage some of these homes. I'm guessing people are living in the hills, or here on the streets."
Kira nodded, "You're right, Miles. Housing is a good place to start. Let me tell the others."
O'Brien smiled and moved off to walk through the streets by himself. He enjoyed being alone with his thoughts; his crewmates, especially Dax, could not understand his need for solitude. But alone, he could replay his memories of his family and he could grieve for them in his own way.
He reached the outskirts of the scarred town. At one time, the area had been a basin of fertile green fields. Today, the ground was unusable.
"The Cardassians left our fields so toxic, it took us nearly six years to repair the damage," a voice said from behind O'Brien.
O'Brien turned around.
"I'm Delat. Delat Caron," the man continued. "You must be from Deep Space Nine."
"I am. Miles O'Brien. I'm sorry about what has happened here."
"The Federation only tried to help," Delat said quietly. "But Bajor has been a battleground for over sixty years now. I don't see that every changing. We have beaten them back, the Cardassians and the Dominion, but unfortunately, we have not defeated them."
"Do all Bajorans share your attitudes?" O'Brien queried.
"Twelve years, sir," Delat said. "For the last twelve years, since the Cardassians left, we have been trying to put our world together. However, every year forward has put us one back."
"Your losses sound very great."
"I lost my father to the Cardassians. They accused him of being in the resistance," Delat sighed. "Of course, my father was a simple farmer with no thoughts of anything but next season's crops. He had no trial and could not prove his innocence. They executed him the very next day. And in this last battle, the so-called Battle of Bajor, my wife and child were on a transport to Eviane Four and the transport was caught in the cross-fire."
O'Brien turned to Delat, almost in shock.
"I lost my wife and children in similar circumstances," O'Brien said hoarsely. "On the Nantucket. They were on their way to safety, to earth."
"We can never know these things," Delat said. "We can only do what we feel is best at the moment. But the guilt is overwhelming."
O'Brien nodded, "Exactly. And I keep thinking how trusting they all were, and how Keiko and I really believed it was the right thing."
Delat, in a moment of silence, put his arm on O'Brien's shoulder.
They exchanged a glance and then stared out into the horizon, at the barren plains of Bajor.
Jadzia Dax moved through Ops efficiently, exchanging quick smiles with some of the crew. Since her promotion to Commander two years before, Dax had taken to manning the command center of the space station whenever Sisko or Kira were unavailable.
"Let's see how that scan is going," Dax murmured under her breath, as she took a seat at her station. The Cardassians had riddled the station's computers with numerous viruses, and Dax's head was beginning to spin from the Herculean task that awaited her.
"However does O'Brien manage such things on a daily basis?" Dax asked herself. Her expression changed as the computer began beeping at her. "What is this all about?"
"Old man," Sisko said. Dax had located the captain in his quarters, and unwilling to track him on the comm, she had merely come to his quarters.
"I thought you should see this," Dax handed him a PADD. "It just came across, a sub-space transmission of some sort."
"You have read it?"
"Curiosity killed the cat, Benjamin."
"You've always been inquisitive," Sisko laughed. "So what have we here?"
"A probe of some kind. The beacon is very faint."
"A probe, eh?"
"Came right through the worm hole. A message from the Gamma Quadrant,
I guess. Maybe it's the Dominion trying to apologize."
Sisko looked at Dax, "Not likely, Jadzia."
She shrugged, "Your guess is as good as mine, Benjamin. But I'm dying to check it out."
"A derelict probe from the Gamma Quadrant. It could be a trap."
"It could be important," Dax argued. "I'm willing to take that chance."
Sisko considered, "I suppose you could take the runabout and check it out."
"That's what I was hoping you would say," Dax winked at Sisko.
He smiled and shook his head, "Have fun with your little adventure, Commander."
O'Brien and Delat Caron made their way to where Kira was sorting through the supplies.
"Major," O'Brien said. "Meet Delat Caron. He wants to volunteer."
Kira turned her face up to meet Delat's glance.
"Pleased to have you. There is so much to do," Kira said. "We're starting with the houses. Somewhere warm and safe for these people to stay."
"That's a good idea," Delat said. "We really need that. Thanks to the war, there are bands of renegades roaming the hills. They come out at night and terrorize the town and its inhabitants. Many of the town's residents have taken to sleeping out in the hills, just to avoid the bandits."
"What about the army?" Kira asked.
"No match for these guys," Delat said. "Their weapons are supplied by the Dominion. Our Bajoran weapons are nothing in comparison. So we hide."
"Maybe the Federation could help out," O'Brien volunteered.
Delat laughed bitterly, "Don't you think that the Federation has done enough already?"
"In range in about thirty seconds," Dax said out-loud. Her voice echoed through the empty runabout. She slowed the speed as she caught sight of the probe.
"All right, beaming it in now."
A second later, the probe materialized.
"What have we here?"
She knelt by the object, touching the metal carefully. The probe was a Federation model, but was badly damaged.
"You're a long way from home," Dax murmured. "No Federation ships entered the Gamma Quadrant during the last year of the war. Who sent you?"
She moved around it, trying to discern some more information.
"Well, I'm guessing you've seen some serious warfare. These burns are something else. I'm surprised you made it this far. Your power cells must have drained months ago. I wonder who sent you."
Dax moved back to the console and hailed the space station.
"Captain," Dax said. "I have the probe. I'm bringing it back now."
"Understood, Commander. Where is it from?" Sisko asked.
"I don't know. I'm trying to determine that now. It's about ten meters long and five meters high, classic Federation design from a couple years back. It looks as if it was damaged in a battle and has been adrift since then. I'm just surprised it didn't crash on a planet."
"All right. Well, bring it back to the station and we'll see what we can find out."
"Understood. Dax out."
Dax turned once more back to the probe. Her eye caught a burned patch of metal and she moved to touch it. The ash flaked off into her hand and she began to feel the indentations of carving.
"Oh," Dax said, pleased with her detective work. "You have a name."
She worked to pick the ash off, and finally the words were revealed.
"The Rotarran," Dax breathed. "You came from the Rotarran."
The night sky began to fall as O'Brien finished stacking the last of the medical supplies Dr. Bashir had sent down.
"I just hope we have enough," Kira said quietly, coming up behind O'Brien.
"We should be okay," O'Brien said, laying his hand on her forearm.
"I know, but Julian is strapped for supplies. It's not like we can get more if these run out."
"Look, things will start coming in soon now. They must."
"I just can't help feeling despair at moments like this," Kira waved her arm towards the hill. Already the glow of small fires began to break through the darkness. "I just don't know where to start."
"This is a good start, Major. It is." "You think the supplies will be safe here? You know what Delat was saying about raiders?"
"I will guard them, if you like."
"You can't stay up all night," Kira objected.
"Nerys," O'Brien said firmly. "We have very few options right now and it makes little sense to beam this stuff back up to the runabout. That makes no sense."
"I'll stay up with you. And then we can have Lieutenant Smith and Lieutenant Morrow relieve us."
"Sounds fine," O'Brien said. Kira went to fetch a blanket. When she returned with the wool covering, she spread it on the hard, dusty ground.
"I understand Dax now," Kira said, taking a seat. "I couldn't possibly hold this all in my conscience and remain sane."
"War is like that though," O'Brien said quietly.
A small candle flickered through the dark and as the light came closer, O'Brien and Kira recognized Delat.
"I thought I'd come and keep you company. The two of you are no match for the raiders," Delat said softly. "They come in big groups. Your phasers are nothing to them."
"It's good to know," O'Brien said, attempting to smile. "I feel as if I'm in one of Julian's holodeck programs, except this time I'm the good guy."
Kira laughed, "And maybe this time you will get the girl."
O'Brien looked at her and burst into laughter. He hadn't laughed in a long time and it felt good. Delat shook his head, not understanding the joke.
"I wish I could explain," Kira said, "but really, it's funny."
Delat said, "It's good that you have a sense of humor. In times like this, sometimes it's so easy to forget how to laugh."
"Game of darts, Dax?" Julian came up behind the Trill. She laughed at him, as she twisted around in her seat.
"Don't you ever have any work to do, Julian?" Dax asked, amused.
He seated himself on the barstool opposite her.
"I could ask the same of you, Jadzia. You seem to have replaced Morn as the barfly of Quark's," Julian answered.
"It's his company," Dax said a mischievous smile. "Quark is simply irresistible."
The Ferengi bartender scowled at the Trill and she laughed at him.
"Quark, could I have a root beer?" the doctor asked.
"Humans," Quark grumbled, but he compiled with the request.
"So, tell me," Julian said. "There's a rumor flying around that a probe from the Rotarran has been found."
"Yes, I brought it back to the station."
"What does it mean?"
Dax shrugged her elegant shoulders, "It could mean anything, really. I dare not even try to decipher it."
"You? How are you holding yourself together?"
"It's not easy. The suspense is killing me, but I'd rather it this way than have disappointment break my heart."
"You think it might be from Worf?"
"Just no one has heard from the Rotarran in so long and when the Captain told me that Martok was killed at Vlata, I just didn't think there was much hope."
"You see, Julian, there's the difference between you and me," Dax said quietly. "I have believed. All this time, I have believed."
"Admirable. Truly admirable," Quark said, leaning into the conversation. "No wonder your concentration in tongo is off."
Dax smirked, "You're just angry because I beat you three times in a row at the dabo table. My concentration is not failing in the least."
Julian rose, "So how about that game of darts?"
"Sounds good, but keep in mind. I'm feeling lucky," and with a flirty smile, Dax accepted the darts from Quark and headed over to the board.
Go to Part II
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