Formalities first: all the characters and places belong to Paramount. Rong,
Delat Caron, Lieutenants Alvarez, Smith & Morrow are my own creations as is
Kira stretched, as the first rays of sun hit her face. She could feel every
inch of the ground pressed into her body and she knew she would be sore for
quite a while now.
Next to her, O'Brien began to stir. His eyes opened slowly.
"Good morning, Nerys," he croaked hoarsely.
"Sleep well?" she asked, with a twinkle in her eye.
He groaned and rolled back, trying to shield his eyes from the bright sun.
"How did I let you talk me into this?" he wondered.
Kira sat up and brushed the dust off of her orange uniform. Kira felt relieved to see that the medical supplies were still there and the two lieutenants nodded their greetings at Kira.
"Easy night?" Kira inquired.
"We heard some sounds," Lieutenant Elinor Smith said. "But it turned out to be nothing."
"Quiet all around," Lt. John Morrow agreed.
"Good. We start building today," Kira said briskly. "But first, breakfast."
"Next time, Nerys, I vote to sleep on the runabout," O'Brien said, staggering up to the group.
"Don't be silly, Miles," Kira said. "We can't possibly. It would look terribly unfair."
The town was starting to come alive, as people started to stream down from the hills. Kira took out a PADD and began making assignations.
"Miles, you can supervise the north end and I will supervise the south," Kira said decisively.
"Sounds good to me," O'Brien said.
After a quick breakfast, Kira and O'Brien began assembling their teams. Some of the locals joined the teams, encouraged by the example of Delat Caron, who was turning out to be a Godsend.
O'Brien led the way to the north end of the town, trying not to look at the charred shells of some of the once beautiful homes and stores. He stopped in front of a dilapidated wooden structure.
"We should start here," O'Brien decided. "The outside structure still looks fairly intact and it looks as if this would be the easiest place to start."
Lt. Morrow nodded, "Yes. And if we can finish most of it tonight and put a strong door on it, then the townspeople can sleep here tonight, instead of in the hills."
O'Brien pushed the door open and was immediately assailed by a musty smell.
"A barn," he said, wrinkling his nose. For a moment, he thought of the animals who had once lived here and then he thought about Molly, who loved animals of all types. He took a deep breath and shook the thought away. He could not think about his family now.
"We will clean first," he announced. "Lieutenant, divide the team up into two groups. We'll start here on the bottom floor and after we have checked the integrity of the upstairs, we will move there."
The lieutenant nodded. He proceeded to divide up the Starfleet workers and the Bajorans into equal groups.
O'Brien tramped through the musty hay, scanning the building with his tricoder. So far, he judged the wood to be in fairly good shape, though in time, the beams would have to be replaced. But for now, it would be okay.
Some of the Bajorans returned with wheelbarrows and shovels and began to clean out the barn. O'Brien picked up a shovel to help and as he lifted the first load, he winced in pain.
"It's been a long time," he said to no one in particular. And then he continued to dig, moving in the same rhythm as the others.
"You want to do what?" Sisko asked unbelievingly.
Dax leaned forward, placing her elbows on Sisko's desk.
"I want you to let me have a runabout."
"I heard that part okay. It's the part about the Gamma Quadrant I don't like."
"We might not be at war with the Dominion anymore, Old Man, but it's still not safe to venture out on the other side of the worm hole."
Dax pouted, "Benjamin…"
The captain sighed, "I know that you think the probe holds a clue as to Worf's whereabouts."
"I know it does!" Dax exclaimed. "And those coordinates are the best chance I have to find him!"
Sisko picked up the PADD Dax had thrown on his desk just minutes before. He studied it for a moment, trying to absorb the information.
"This information is old, Dax," Sisko said finally. "It might not be valid anymore."
"But isn't that a chance we should take?"
"It's hard to say no to you."
"Then I can have the runabout?"
"Yes. On the condition you don't go alone."
"I wasn't planning to. I was hoping Julian would come with me. We may need his help once we find Worf."
"I know, I know," Dax held up a hand. "I shouldn't get my hopes up, but I just have this feeling, a very strong feeling that I'm going to find him."
"Anyone else other than Julian?"
"Lieutenant Alvarez," Dax said. "She spent more time in the Gamma Quadrant than anyone else on this station. I could use her expertise."
"That's fine," Sisko said. He handed Dax the PADD. "Good luck, Old Man. I hope you find him."
"I haven't felt this tired in a long time," O'Brien said, as he and Kira settled into their usual positions guarding their supplies. "I swear, I can feel every muscle in my body."
"Ugh," Kira groaned as she shifted her position. "But it feels good, doesn't it?"
"At least the townspeople have somewhere safe to sleep tonight," Delat Caron's voice emerged from the darkness. Kira turned to look at their new friend.
"Yes. At least we don't have to worry about raiders tonight," she said.
"I wouldn't say that," Delat said.
On cue, gunfire sounded in the distance. Kira shuddered.
"I hope no one was hurt," Kira said automatically. Delat shrugged.
"Don't tell me it doesn't bother you!" O'Brien exclaimed.
"It does bother me, but until the government sends troops out here to enforce the laws, what are we to do?" Delat asked.
"Well, we can do something," Kira said. "We can organize the townspeople to protect their town. Running into the hills to hide won't solve anything and there's no point in waiting for the government."
O'Brien nodded, "I agree with the Major."
"What should we do?" Delat asked.
"Tomorrow morning, we can divide the townspeople into brigades and assign them sections to patrol," Kira said decisively.
"You know, I wasn't sure if the Federation could really help us," Delat said. "But if this works, all your efforts will be more than appreciated."
"It will work," Kira said with characteristic stubbornness. "Right, Miles?"
The Irishman looked at Kira, "You're the soldier, Major. I'm just the engineer."
"But I can count on you?"
"See?" Kira lifted her chin. "We can fix this together."
Delat smiled, "I hope so."
Julian slid into the seat next to Dax, his eyes focused on the star map Lieutenant Maria Alvarez had called up.
"So you think Worf is here?" Bashir asked.
Jadzia nodded, "Third planet from Vlata."
"Do we know anything about this planet?"
"Nothing, really," Alvarez said. "This part of the Gamma Quadrant is largely unexplored, but it is the site of the last major Klingon battle."
"And the last known location of the Rotarran," Dax added. "Approaching wormhole now."
The runabout entered the wormhole in a vortex of swirling colors. As usual, Dax felt that tingle that came with the knowledge that she had discovered the only known stable wormhole. Of course, she thought ruefully, it was the wormhole that had opened up the Alpha Quadrant to the Dominion.
"But we won't think about that," she said out-loud.
Bashir looked at her curiously, "Jadzia?"
"Just some silly thoughts running through my head," Dax assured him. The runabout erupted out of the wormhole into the space that was the Gamma Quadrant.
"All right, Maria," Dax said. "What's the best way to get to the Vlata system?"
"I'm plotting a course now," Alvarez replied. "I will try to avoid known Dominion territories."
"That's a good idea," Dax said without irony.
"Laying the course now. It should take us about twenty-six hours," Alvarez said.
"Twenty-six hours in the Gamma Quadrant. That worries me," Bashir confessed.
"It will be okay," Dax said. "We haven't heard any reports of any Dominion activity against the Federation lately."
"That doesn't mean much."
"I know, but I like to be optimistic."
"Think of it as a sight-seeing tour," Dax suggested. "A first class opportunity to see the wonders of the Gamma Quadrant."
Alvarez laughed, "There's not much left to see."
As if to emphasize her point, the long range sensors began to beep, after detecting some debris.
"It's a port nacelle," Dax said. "It once belonged to a Federation ship."
There was a moment of silence inside the runabout as the remains of the starship came into view. Dax tried to identify it, but could not find any markings.
"Alvarez, send a message to Deep Space Nine and have someone come tow it away," Dax said after a long moment.
"Yes, sir. And what of the others?"
"It's a virtual ship graveyard out here. Look, Romulan, Klingon, Bajoran, Federation," Alvarez shook her head. "There are so many ships here."
"Contact as many governments as you can," Dax said finally. "I hate to leave all of these out here… I feel we should bring as many home as we can. Their families should know what has happened here."
"Aye sir," Alvarez said.
Bashir leaned over and put his hand on Dax's shoulder, "This is the price of war, Jadzia."
"I know," Dax sighed. "But I'm wondering now if it was worth all of this?"
The bandits first struck at night in a wave of phaser fire and shouts. Kira
immediately woke and scrambled for her own weapon.
"Chief!" Kira shouted, but then discovered the Chief had already woken. Kira ran outside and immediately found herself in the midst of a scuffle.
"Major!" Delat Caron showed up at Kira's side.
"Where did they all come from?"
"From the hills. How long did you think it would take before they attacked?" Delat asked cynically.
"I don't know!" Kira shouted back, as she fired her phaser at the running shadows.
After a few minutes, the bandits disappeared but Kira refused to accept the sudden calm.
"I should not have let down my guard," she chided herself.
"We were all taken by surprise. Thank goodness the barn was finished, so that there was a safe place for the villagers," Delat answered sensibly.
"I wonder where the Chief is."
"You are awfully close to him."
"Yes, well once we were."
"Well, about five years ago, I carried his child for him when his wife could no longer continue the pregnancy. We were very close then. Almost too close for comfort," Kira said. "It was a very peculiar time."
"And then what happened?"
"The war happened."
Delat laughed, the bitterness evident in his voice.
"Keiko and the children were killed when the transport they were on was caught in the cross-fire. I'm afraid I overreacted to the news and blamed Miles at first, for making the decision to send Keiko and the children away. I couldn't handle hearing about Kirayoshi. After all, I considered Kirayoshi as my own."
"How did the Chief react?"
"Badly, as expected," Kira said quietly. "And understandably. In my own grief, I could not understand his."
"It's been over two years. We have come to accept each other's feelings about the events and forgiven each other for things that were said. But it hasn't been the same since."
"It's sometimes easier to forgive but the forgetting is hardest."
The two began to walk back to the barn, automatically noting the damage done by the bandits' ambush.
"What about you? What is your story?" Kira asked.
"I was a collaborator," Delat answered quietly.
"Vlata III coming into view now, Commander," Alvarez reported.
"Oh," Dax could hardly restrain her excitement. The anticipation within her was building to a crescendo. "Scan for life signs, Maria."
Bashir came up behind Dax, putting his hand on her shoulder.
"Now, Jadzia," Bashir said gently.
"I know, I know. I can't get my hopes up."
"I'm picking up life signs," Alvarez said excitedly. "About twenty."
"Klingon?" Dax turned to face Alvarez.
"Set a tangential orbit, Lieutenant," Dax ordered. "Julian, I can't wait to beam down."
"Worf could be down there."
"He might not be. I don't want you to be disappointed."
"It's been two years," Dax said quietly. "Two very long years since I've heard from him. I don't want to wait any longer."
"All right," the doctor sighed.
Dax turned to her console, "I want to beam as close to those Klingon life signs as possible."
"Not too close," Bashir cautioned. "We don't know what kind of Klingons these are."
Dax's face took on that arrogant expression she always wore when it came to dealing with Klingons.
"It will be fine," she said.
Bashir arched an eyebrow, wishing he shared the Trill's confidence.
"All right," Alvarez said. "We're in transporter range."
Dax stood and for a moment she eyed Bashir.
"Are you ready, Julian?" she asked.
"Yes," the doctor swallowed. He hated to admit it, but five years of war still had not summoned up sufficient courage in him. He watched Dax, who for a moment seemed to lose her composure.
"Are you ready?" Alvarez queried, with a trace of impatience in her voice.
"One moment," Dax said, her voice shaking. She detached her phaser from her belt and checked the setting. "All right, I'm ready now."
"You were a collaborator!" Kira's voice rose to a frenzied pitch. She stalked away. Delat Caron watched her for a moment and then rushed after Kira.
"I don't expect you to understand," Delat said quietly. "But I do wish you would listen to me."
Kira whirled around, "Back during the Cardassian occupation, I hated people like you! Even my own mother was a collaborator! I spent twenty-five years of my life fighting people like you."
"And I'm not making excuses. I'm just telling you the truth."
Kira closed her eyes and pressed her lips tightly together.
"Will you listen to me?" Delat pleaded.
"Your stories are all the same. You were afraid of what the Cardassians or the Dominion were going to do and it was just easier, to have an easier life, to do what they asked you to do," Kira shot back.
"I won't deny that," Delat answered. "And no, my reasoning is no different than anyone else's who was in the similar situation."
There was something in Delat's voice that caught at Kira's heart and for the first time, she opened her eyes and really looked at the man.
"What happened to you?" she asked softly.
Dax and Bashir materialized in a midst of clump of trees. Dax immediately pulled out her tricorder and scanned for the lifesigns.
"That way," she pointed.
Bashir, who had taken to carrying a phaser at all times, eyed his surroundings warily as they moved in the direction Dax indicated.
"Do you hear something?" Bashir asked nervously.
Dax laughed, "Just the natives, Julian. Just the natives."
They could see the glow of a fire a few meters away and they approached stealthily.
Dax and Bashir stopped in their tracks. Dax eyed the giant Klingon with a mixture of wariness and anticipation.
"Hello," she said. "I am Commander Jadzia Dax of the Federation. This is Dr. Julian Bashir."
"What is your business?" the Klingon growled.
"We're here to rescue you."
"We do not need to be rescued."
"Well," Bashir said after a moment. "My tricorder begs to differ. You are suffering from malnutrition and it appears as if some of your bones have healed improperly."
"We do not need medical attention," the Klingon said.
"You are a stubborn one," Dax observed. "Who is your leader?"
"I will take him to you."
Dax and Bashir fell in line behind the Klingon. Dax began to speak in Klingon.
"What is your name?" she asked.
"Rong," Dax said. "How long have you been here?"
"We estimate we have been here for close to two years."
"What happened to you?"
"We were part of the Rotarran's crew. We were sent by General Martok to penetrate a Jem'Hadar camp. We were successful in that mission."
"But the Rotarran never returned. We have been here ever since."
"It must have been difficult."
"A warrior does not complain."
"Ah. I forgot about that."
They reached a clearing, where a group of Klingons were sitting around a camp fire. There was something pathetic about the gathering of once proud warriors, sitting forlornly around the fire. No matter what Klingons thought about pride, Dax believed it would still be difficult for them to adjust to this new life on an abandoned planet.
"We have visitors," Rong announced. "They are from the Federation."
Dax stepped forward and said in Klingon, "We have come to take you back to your homes and give you any medical attention you may require."
There were scattered mutterings to her words and Dax looked at Bashir helplessly.
"They seem confused," she said quietly.
"It seems they are all suffering from malnutrition. It wouldn't surprise me if it was affecting their brains," Bashir answered.
"Where is your leader?" Dax asked. "You must take me to him. We want to help."
"Very well," Rong answered. "Come with me."
Dax and Bashir followed him, the branches and leaves cracking beneath their boots.
"Not exactly a place I would want to vacation at," Bashir observed.
"But perfect for Klingons. It's even cool enough for them," Dax said. "Klingons are not happy unless they are suffering."
"He is here," Rong said, approaching a makeshift shelter. "He spends much time here. He is very ill and will die soon."
"I will attend to him," Bashir said.
Dax and Bashir entered the shelter and even in the dim light, Dax knew immediately who was lying on their on a bed of leaves.
"Worf!" Dax screamed. "Worf!"
Worf opened his eyes.
"Jadzia?" he croaked.
"I was working in the factory, making guns for the Dominion," Delat said quietly. He and Kira were seated at the edge of the river, watching the sun rise. He was playing with some blades of grass, his attention focused on some spot far away.
"I didn't want to," Delat said. "None of us wanted to. But there wasn't much choice. The Dominion threatened our families regularly and all I wanted was to be able to go home to my wife and child every night. And if I had to make guns, that's what I had to do."
"And your father?"
"Executed by the Cardassians. I was just a boy then, but I never forgot," Delat said. "I guess my father's memory had exactly the opposite effect on me than it should have. Instead of being angry, I was scared."
"I can't say I know how that feels," Kira said honestly. "I've always been angry at someone."
"I wanted safety much more than that anger. But then in that last battle, the Battle of Bajor, the Dominion managed to kill my family anyway with the guns I had helped make," Delat buried his face in his hands. Instinctively, Kira placed her hand on the man's back.
"I am sorry."
"For the first time, I was angry. Genuinely angry. And the next day, I sabotaged all the guns I worked on. I don't know what happened, if those guns passed inspection or not, but I never heard anything from the Dominion. And I continued to sabotage the guns until the day they left. I don't know if that made me feel better or not. But it was something."
"I am sorry for everything that you have been through."
"We all have our stories, Major. Some are simply more tragic than others. It's how we come out of that matters."
"And how have you come out of it?"
Delat considered, "Stronger, perhaps. Next time, I will be angrier."
"Worf," Dax caressed her husband's cheek. "Worf, you're burning up."
Bashir looked at Dax anxiously, "He is very ill, Jadzia."
"I know," she snapped back at him. "Do something."
Bashir recoiled from the intensity of her words.
"I am trying everything I can."
"Worf, how long have you been this sick?" Dax asked.
Worf did not answer. His breath came in long and heavy. Dax held his hands in hers, hoping to cool them down.
"Worf, I've missed you so much," she began.
"That's good," Bashir said. "Keep talking to him. Maybe he will come out of his stupor if he hears your voice."
"The war is over, Worf. We can finally live our lives the way we want to. In peace. And we don't have to suffer anymore. I mean, we can do all the things we planned to do. Worf, I've waited so long to find you. You've got to promise me you're going to get better. Come on, Worf, please try. A warrior never gives up."
Worf stirred slightly and Dax's face lit up.
"He was badly wounded," Bashir said softly. "But the wounds are quite old."
"It must have been during the assault on the Jem'Hadar camp."
"It seems that the suffering must have been intense," Bashir said. "From the looks of the others, they all were wounded gravely too. How some of them even survived baffles me."
Dax smiled, "Then you have severely underestimated the Klingons."
"It seems as if I had. Now, if you will excuse me," Bashir said. "I want to go check on the others."
"Yes, and tell Maria we found them."
Bashir ducked out. Dax smiled down at Worf.
"Alone, finally," she said. "But Julian has been awfully brave, Worf. Maybe not quite a warrior, but he did well in the last few battles we were in."
She sighed, and finally she laid down, placing her head on his chest.
"You can't leave me now, Worf," she said quietly. "We've been through too much to give up now. So please, remember your promise that you would never leave me. I certainly kept mine. Okay?"
There was no answer.
Go to Part III
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