This novelization was written out of appreciation for the episode it was based on, and the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. No infringement of any of Paramount's copyrights is intended.
The Darkness and the Light
Novelization by Tracy Hemenover
From the teleplay by Ronald D. Moore
Story by Bryan Fuller
The vedek inhaled deeply of the incense, and smiled.
Five, ten, twenty years ago, he thought to himself, when I was mixing chemicals, experimenting, trying to determine which combinations effected the biggest explosion, which would do the most damage...forever scrounging for parts, for more chemicals to build yet more bombs...living always hungry and believing with every nerve in my body that today was my last day to breathe...if the Prophets themselves had come down then and told me that I would ever be doing this, I would have laughed until I hurt.
Or else cried.
He stepped forward through ancient caverns deep within the world of his birth, Bajor, the world he had fought to win and which was now his. His and every other Bajoran's. He could say now with pride that it was because of him, in a small way, though in actuality he rarely spoke of it at all. His feet and his pagh now walked a different road, the road of peace.
Because I waged war then, I am able to wage peace now...
Candles lent their soft light to the cavern which he entered now, into the circle of six broad pillars, carved in graceful, mystic designs by long-dead sculptors. In their center stood a mar'huanya, a circle of thin metal poles that suspended a large lantern. Five red-robed monks stood silently waiting for him. He stepped into their midst, and smiled gently at them as, without a word spoken, they joined him in forming a circle around the lantern, with every distance equal from monk to monk.
When all were in their places, he spoke to them.
"I am Vedek Latha Mabrin, and I welcome you to the Calash retreat. Today we begin prayers and meditation, as preparation for our days of atonement. May the Prophets walk with us, as we begin our journey."
He picked up a long, slim taper, and reached with it toward a candle. The candle gave up part of its flame to the taper. He then swung it slowly, reverently, toward the lantern, inserting it gently and watching as the flame caught within it. As the portion above glowed yellow, the portion on the bottom glowed a cool blue.
Latha set the taper down, and, with the others, knelt, raising his hands, elbows down at his sides, in the manner of prayer that had been prescribed from the earliest times that the Prophets were known to their chosen people.
Slowly, the blue light grew stronger, and then seemed to burst into full flower, sending a beam to illuminate each person in the circle. Latha knelt quietly, suffused in awe, basking in the radiance of the Prophets -- Prophets whose existence he had once doubted as he had watched family and friends enslaved, tortured, murdered, as he himself had suffered for being Bajoran. But now, the Cardassians were gone, and the long-prophesied Emissary watched over Bajor. He had never thought either one would ever come to pass.
The blue light faded from each of them. It was what always had happened, what should happen.
Except that this time, the light did not fade from Latha.
Still bathed in its luminescence, Latha glanced around, confused. What was happening? Was it some kind of --
A white finger of electricity...no, not electricity, a beam, as if from some kind of weapon...spat out of the mar'huanya, straight at Latha.
Before he had hit the ground after being flung into the air, before his body had finished rolling into its final position to lie still in front of the shocked eyes of the other monks, Latha Mabrin was with the Prophets.
"Have you been taking your makara herbs?"
Kira Nerys nearly groaned, even though she had known the question was coming. Doctors were so predictable, damn them all. Especially Federation doctors. Especially human Federation doctors. Especially human Federation doctors named Julian Bashir.
For his part, Bashir looked up from his medical scanner, his serious "doctor" look plastered all over his thin, handsome features.
"Absolutely," she told him.
She'd said it a little too quickly. I always was a lousy actress, she thought glumly.
Bashir cleared his throat meaningfully. He hadn't bought it.
Kira sighed, and conceded. "Mostly." Here it came. Inevitable, unstoppable as the movement of a planet around its sun. The lecture.
"Kira, you have to take them. Your progesterone levels are way too low."
She tried to reason with him. "But if I take the herbs, then the sedatives you gave me don't work."
"Yes -- the herbs do act as a counteragent." Bashir walked over to a table to set the scanner down on it, then he came back over to her to face her with gentle, almost paternal sternness. As if he wasn't almost exactly the same age she was. "But I thought you said you weren't having any trouble sleeping, and you didn't need any sedatives."
Kira could have kicked herself. She had told him that because she had no intention of sleeping this entire thing through. She was pregnant, not sick, and she had no need to be coddled, soothed, or put to sleep as if she were a baby herself.
"I don't," she insisted, then decided to opt for honesty. She turned a pleading look on Bashir. "But Julian, those herbs taste like something that crawled out of Quark's ear."
Bashir's expression didn't change, though he might indeed have sympathized. His voice was still that of a father with an errant child. "Just take them," he admonished.
"All right," she sighed. Wonderful. At least those kelp buds and Prophets-know-what-else Keiko eats have hardly any taste at all. Why can't I just eat those instead?
"Major." It was Odo's voice.
Kira turned, as did Bashir. Odo stood in the doorway between the two main rooms of the infirmary.
"May I have a word with you?" the security chief asked, his expression serious. But then, Odo almost always looked serious. No matter what he had come here to say to her, however, she was glad to see him. It was a welcome distraction from doctorly solicitude.
Involuntarily, she looked at Bashir, who said, "We're finished here."
"Sure," Kira said to Odo, as Bashir made his exit, into the other room, past the security chief. Odo barely seemed to note him. His gaze focused on Kira, his arms folded with one hand thoughtfully touching his sharply molded chin as he watched her get up, with some effort, and walk to face him. He lowered his hand, glanced at Bashir's back, and said gravely, "I'm afraid I have some very bad news."
Kira steeled herself. Odo was not given to overstatements of any kind. If he said something was very bad, it virtually always was horrendous.
"One of the former members of your resistance cell has been killed on Bajor," he continued. "Latha Mabrin."
Kira took in the news quite calmly, she thought, though not without a sting of shock too sudden yet for grief. "How?"
Odo gave it to her straight, as was his wont. Some things never changed, even though Odo himself had. He was now fixed in a solid form, no longer a shapeshifter. "It appears a small hunter probe was hidden inside a ceremonial candle, and fired a disruptor blast."
They killed him during a religious ceremony? Kira thought incredulously. Latha? "Do they have any suspects?"
Odo hmphed, a soft grunt of sound. "Too many. Before he became a vedek, your friend was involved in some -- very questionable activities."
Kira nodded, sadly. "Latha was a violent man," she acknowledged, remembering his neverending quest to build bigger and better bombs. He had been the best explosives expert the Shakaar cell had, and he had truly relished his work. She gazed at Odo. "But then he found the Prophets, and the last time I talked to him, he'd changed. Really changed." Somehow she felt it was important that Odo -- an old friend, but still a more recent friend than Latha -- know that Latha was good at heart, and that he had discovered a way to that goodness and peace.
"I don't doubt that, Major," Odo reassured her, as if he sensed her need. He very well might, too; he was more perceptive than a lot of people gave him credit for. "But it would appear that the violence of his past has caught up with him."
Kira sighed, accepting that Odo was very likely right. "Let me know if you hear anything else."
"Of course." Odo nodded to her, and left her to absorb the impact of the news by herself.
She sat on the biobed for a moment, thinking about Latha, then finally got up and made her way through the Promenade to a turbolift, heading for the quarters she shared with the O'Briens, the human couple whose baby she was currently carrying due to a freak runabout accident which had necessitated the transfer of the fetus from Keiko's womb to hers, the only other one available at the time. Miles and Keiko had wanted to be as near their unborn child as they could, so they had invited Kira to live with them for the duration, and Kira had accepted.
Although she was generally a private person, she had also never been part of an intact family, not since she was three and her mother had died in the camp at Singha, and after that her father and brothers had been killed. A typical history for most Bajorans, at least the ones who had fought.
One could almost say that her whole life since then had been a search for family. She had joined the Shakaar cell at thirteen, and they had become her family. And after the occupation's end, well, she could say that her fellow crewmates on DS9 were like a family in some ways. But the O'Briens' offer had awakened a longing in her to see what things might have been like for her if she hadn't been born Bajoran during the occupation of her world.
It was pleasant enough. Miles was a close friend now, and so was Keiko, and she had found she enjoyed playing with little Molly, reading to her, and just being "Aunt Nerys". But there were times when she felt smothered, although those times were less frequent now that she had spelled it out to both Miles and Keiko that she felt uncomfortable being treated differently, like a fragile child, just because she was pregnant. She understood their anxiety that nothing harm her and therefore their son, but she was a grown woman, she was tough, and she could handle herself. She had survived battles and bombs all her life; having a baby was a cakewalk in comparison.
Too bad her body didn't seem to believe that.
She entered the quarters and walked tiredly through the main living area. What a day. At least Miles was on duty, and Keiko and Molly had gone to Earth for a visit, so she had the place to herself for a while. She went into her room, which had been Molly's, and to the small altar she had set up there. It was too much effort to kneel, with her swollen abdomen hampering her movements, so she stood, lifting her hands to begin a prayer to the Prophets for Latha.
Then the computer bleeped at her. "Major Kira, there is one message waiting for you."
Kira flopped her hands down to her sides again, annoyed, though she quickly reined it in. She went to the computer terminal and sat heavily in the seat beside it. "Play back message."
A face appeared on the screen: a Bajoran man, balding, with dark hair. It was Latha. The information beside it said, in typical Starfleet lettering, "incoming transmission, source unknown."
The voice issuing from the computer was flat, oddly mechanical. It somehow added to the chill she felt as the message played.
The message replayed itself, this time in Odo's office. Kira had notified him, and together they had called in Captain Sisko to inform him. Odo turned from the wall screen where the picture of Latha was displayed. "As you might have guessed," he told Sisko, "there's no point of origin listed in the computer log."
"When did we receive this message?" the captain asked.
"It came over the primary subspace antenna at 1341 hours," Kira said. "Almost the same moment Latha was killed on Bajor."
Sisko looked to Odo. "And you think that this is a threat to all the former members of the Shakaar resistance cell?"
"That's my working theory, but I'm not ruling anything out," the ex-Changeling acknowledged.
"Did anyone else receive this message?"
Kira shook her head. "Not that we know of. So obviously there's some connection to me, but I don't know what it is. I haven't even spoken to Latha in two years." She suppressed another pang at the memory. It had been when she had gone on the run with Shakaar and the rest of their former cell, from Kai Winn. Latha had joined them, not in his former capacity as bomb-maker, but to offer spiritual guidance. He had urged Shakaar toward a peaceful solution, and one had eventually been found, thankfully before any Bajorans spilled Bajoran blood.
"I'm waiting for the preliminary crime scene report from the authorities on Bajor before I begin my own investigation," Odo went on. "But I'd like to increase security here on the station and initiate random checks on all incoming cargo."
Sisko nodded. "Agreed."
"I've contacted most of the surviving members of the Shakaar and warned them to take precautions, just in case," Kira added.
Sisko aimed a long glance at her with his dark eyes, eyes that were gentle now. He spoke not as her captain, or the Emissary, but as someone who cared. "I'm sorry about your friend," he said.
"He died serving the Prophets," Kira replied, grateful for Sisko's sturdy, discreet sympathy, as well as Odo's. "They'll take care of him."
"I'm sure they will," Sisko said, and looked at Odo. "Keep me informed." Odo nodded, and Sisko walked out of the office.
The next morning, Kira sat in the replimat, hunched over a bowl of ummila and spooning the pinkish substance into her mouth. It was a Bajoran breakfast food not unlike Earth yogurt. The place was crowded, but no one had yet tried to join her. Her reputed temper, which was surely even quicker to ignite now that she had all manner of pregnancy-related hormones bouncing around in her body, served to allow her to eat in peace.
For the most part.
"How are you feeling?" a voice asked. Kira looked up to see Miles O'Brien there, one of the few who felt relatively safe in her presence. He was also the father of the baby she carried, an interesting and rather awkward situation, considering that she had never had sex with him. She wasn't even slightly attracted to him in that way -- though they had felt a brief mutual pull a few months back, which both now chalked up to hormones and the general circumstances, and which they had not acted on, thank the Prophets.
"Fine," she answered with her mouth full, and swallowed, before admitting, "Exhausted. I didn't get much sleep, and Julian's got me back on those herbs again." She grimaced at the remembered taste of the makara herbs she had dutifully forced herself to swallow last night, and took another mouthful of ummila to help herself forget it.
Miles sat across from her. "I know," he said. "I heard you pacing all night."
"I'm sorry," Kira said, genuinely contrite. Miles was one of the busiest people on the station; he needed whatever rest he could get.
"Don't be," he said gallantly. "I would have gotten up and kept you company, but I figured you wanted to be alone."
"I couldn't stop thinking about Latha. All those firefights and bombs he lived through, just to be killed during a religious ceremony." She shook her head. "You know, if I wasn't pregnant, I'd be down on Bajor right now, trying to narrow down the suspects."
"You're safer on the station," Miles said.
Anger forced its way to the surface of her face and voice now. She was angry, not at Miles, but at the whole situation. "That's what's driving me crazy! I'm sitting here eating breakfast, while someone may be hunting down my friends. I'm a major in the Bajoran militia. I should be down there trying to protect them."
Miles withstood the onslaught with fortitude, as he had learned to do quite ably over the last few months. But then, he had also been through Keiko's pregnancy with Molly, and Keiko could have a temper as fierce as Kira's at times. "Right now, you're needed here, protecting someone else," he said mildly, glancing significantly at her belly.
Kira looked down, and subsided. She even smiled, almost. "Yeah -- I guess I do have my hands full at the moment."
Her commbadge chose that moment to chirp at her. "Ops to Major Kira." Odo's voice.
It was unusual but not unheard of for Odo to call from Ops. "Go ahead, Odo."
"There's another incoming message for you, Major, and they refuse to give either their name or location."
Miles followed as Kira entered Ops. She stepped from the turbolift, seeing Odo turning away from the main comm station. "We're having trouble tracing their signal," he reported.
Sisko was standing at the central operations table. "They're running it through some kind of scrambler, using a phase-diverted carrier wave. Try to keep them talking," he said to Kira, who nodded as she stepped up to the main comm station. Odo gave way for her, withdrawing from the range of the lens pickup.
Kira pressed the panel. "This is Major Kira Nerys. Who am I talking to?"
A dark-haired Bajoran woman, lines of worry prematurely aging her face, appeared on the screen. "Nerys? Is that really you?" Her voice was tense, anxious.
"Fala?" Kira whispered, recognizing her.
Fala's eyes shifted nervously. "Are you alone? I don't want anyone to hear me. I think -- " She gulped. "I think someone's trying to trace my signal."
"Stand by," Kira told her, and cut off the transmission. She turned to Sisko, Odo, and O'Brien, who stood together watching her from the Ops table. "She's a friend. Her name is Trentin Fala."
"One of the members of your cell?" Sisko asked.
"Then why is she hiding her location?" Odo queried, ever suspicious.
Kira sighed. She couldn't blame Odo, under the circumstances; it was his job to be suspicious. "I'd rather not talk about it here, but trust me, she's no threat to anyone. Let me talk to her alone and see what's going on."
Odo and O'Brien looked to Sisko, who nodded, and Kira ascended to a secondary comm station, away from the general working area of Ops. There, she reopened the transmission, and Fala appeared.
"I'm alone, and no one here will trace your signal."
Fala seemed to almost collapse with relief, though something was plainly still upsetting her very badly. "You've heard about Latha? They killed him. As he knelt in prayer, they killed him." Tears shone in her eyes, and her voice shook.
"I know," Kira said, trying to soothe Fala with her tone. "And the authorities are investigating that right now."
Fala swallowed, speaking now with fearful certainty. "They're going to kill me too, Nerys. They've been watching me."
"Who's been watching you?" Kira asked, with patience that would have amazed almost anyone who knew her. Fala's nerves could sometimes make her incoherent, but she was not one to make a subspace call for frivolous reasons. In fact, Kira could not recall ever being contacted by Fala since the end of the occupation.
"I don't know." Fala's eyes filled again. "But I can feel it. I need to get out of here, go somewhere safe. Please, Nerys, you've got to help me. You always promised you'd help..."
"All right. Calm down," Kira reassured her, as gently as she could. "I'll protect you. You can stay here at the station until all of this is over." She certainly owed Fala no less than that.
Her words seemed to finally have an effect on Fala, who stopped trembling and essayed a smile. "Okay."
"Two of our officers are returning this afternoon from Starbase 63. I'll reroute them to Bajor and have them pick you up, okay?"
"Okay." Fala's sigh spoke volumes of relief and gratitude.
"Their names are Worf and Jadzia Dax. They'll contact you within the hour."
Fala gazed at her, tears once more threatening, but they were now hopeful tears. "I knew I could count on you." Another, tiny smile.
Kira smiled back. "I'll see you soon."
An hour later, as the runabout Rio Grande approached Bajor, Dax eyed her Klingon companion and lover with a narrow gaze. "You've been smirking ever since we left the starbase," she accused.
"I do not smirk," Worf stated, primly (for a Klingon) keeping his eyes on the instrument panel before him. "But if I did," he added, "this would be a good opportunity."
Dax sighed, exasperated. She felt humiliated enough; she didn't need Worf adding to it. Klingon or not, he was most definitely taking an unholy pleasure in her chagrin. "How was I supposed to know that Captain Ramirez was a three-time Tongo champion?"
Worf shot her a look from under his heavy brows. "You might have asked before mocking him and then allowing him to up the stakes to a no-limit game."
"I didn't lose that much," Dax hmphed, still stinging.
"Two bars of latinum," he reminded her. "I hope you have it."
"I have it," she said defensively. "Most of it." She paused, then plunged hopefully ahead. "Worf -- "
Dax scowled. No doubt he was trying to teach her a lesson. She hated it when he got like this. "Fine," she groused. "I'll borrow it from Quark. He likes me." She raised an eyebrow at him, with a little smirk of her own, which, she noted with satisfaction, did not seem to please him.
A signal from the planet sounded on the comm panel. "Major Kira's friend is ready for transport," Worf reported automatically, before returning to his lecture. "Quark may lend you the money, but remember Rule of Acquisition number one-eleven: Treat people in your debt like family -- exploit them."
Dax dismissed an urge to stick out her tongue at him, and instead raised her eyebrows in disbelief. "You know the Rules of Acquisition?"
"I am a graduate of Starfleet Academy," Worf intoned. "I know many things."
Dax eyed him, deciding she would have to take him down a peg or three, later, perhaps in the holosuite. She had been practicing a lot with the mek'leth lately, and had come up with a few moves that just might jolt that smugness right out of him.
"Energizing," she said, matching actions to words. A humanoid shape began to shimmer into existence on the runabout's small transporter pad.
Something was wrong. Dax felt dread clutch at her stomach as she studied her instruments. "There's a power surge in the buffer," she reported tensely.
"Something is interfering with the integration matrix."
"I'm transferring her pattern to the secondary buffer."
Worf rose and headed for the auxiliary transporter control, between their chairs and the pad. "Boost the gain on the energizing coils."
"It won't go any higher...I'm losing her..."
Before them, the half-materialized form of Trentin Fala writhed in agony on the transporter pad as they watched in horror. Then it finally came fully into being, and collapsed backwards -- a blackened and burnt corpse, hissing where it lay, smoke rising from the coils around it.
Kira entered the runabout slowly, feeling numb. Another friend gone, like that. A friend who had never harmed anyone, who had come to her for protection, and she had let her down. Fala had deserved much better than that from her.
She swallowed down anger and tears. They wouldn't do Fala any good now. They wouldn't help find the murderer -- and her gut said it was murder, a murder committed by the same person who had killed Latha.
She looked at Sisko and Odo, who stood quietly at auxiliary transport, watching her, while Worf and Dax sat at the science station. Then her eyes turned to the transporter pad, where Bashir and another medic were bending over Fala's charred remains.
Bashir felt her presence, and rose. "I'm sorry, Nerys," he said sincerely.
"I'm hearing that a lot lately," Kira said wryly. "Can I have a moment?"
"Of course." Bashir stepped gracefully away with the medic, going into the runabout's aft section.
Kira lowered herself awkwardly to kneel beside Fala, to look at the ruined body of a woman who had never picked up a phaser but was every bit as much a hero as Shakaar, as Li Nalas, as any other person who had fought for Bajor's freedom. There were more ways of fighting than simply shooting a weapon or planting a bomb, and Fala was one of those who had made all those other acts of courage possible.
She saw Fala's earring, still intact, and picked it up from the pad, wondering dully why it hadn't been scrambled too. She gazed at the simple design, wondering if Fala had any family left, and resolving to find them to return the earring. Then she clenched it in her fist.
Footsteps, soft, behind her, then Sisko's voice. "I wish there was something I could say, Major."
To ward off the tears, she said, without turning, "Just tell me it was an accident." After all, there was a chance her gut was wrong.
Sisko dashed that hope. "The constable thinks otherwise."
A pause, then Odo spoke, sounding reluctant to be the bearer of bad news. "I believe she was killed by a remat detonator. It's a device programmed to scramble a transporter beam during rematerialization. They're typically no more than two cubic millimeters in size; it could have been hidden in her clothing, or injected into her skin."
Worf spoke up, as if to remind everyone that he had been a security chief too. "The device is typically used by the Romulans. However, it is sold on the black market."
"Why didn't the transporter's security system detect the device?" Kira wanted to know.
"We're not sure," Dax said. "The system is programmed to scan for remats. So whoever did this has a sophisticated understanding of our security protocols."
Kira got up, not without difficulty, and faced Sisko. "And a vendetta against the Shakaar," she finished.
"I thought you said that Trentin Fala wasn't a member of the Shakaar," Sisko said.
"She wasn't." Kira looked down briefly at Fala's earring. "At least, not officially." She turned back toward Fala's corpse, seeing the woman as she had been before this, a woman who now existed only in memory. "Fala spent the occupation cleaning floors in a Cardassian records office in Dahkur Province. She passed us information for years without anyone catching on." She almost smiled, a bitter smile.
"She was always so afraid -- afraid she'd be caught and executed. But she never stopped." Forcing her eyes away from the corpse, she turned to Sisko again. "I told her once I thought she was braver than all of us. Because she had to live with her fear every day. Even after the occupation was over, she didn't want anyone to know that she was secretly helping us. She was worried that someone would come looking for her for revenge."
Sisko let his eyes rest on Fala's corpse, as Bashir and the medic returned with a blanket and began covering the body.
"Looks like her fears were well-founded," he said somberly.
Life went on on the Promenade. It always did, Kira noted wearily, trudging through the crowd toward the temple. Traders, diplomats, shoppers, tourists, here and there a station crewperson, milling about talking, eating and laughing as if nothing was happening. As far as they were concerned, nothing was.
For her, something was happening. Two of her friends had been murdered. She had been unable to find any members of Fala's family. The earring lay in a drawer in her room, unclaimed. She would keep looking. After she visited the temple to pray for Latha and for Fala.
"That's two. That's two. That's two."
She turned and walked in the direction the voice was coming from -- the same weird, electronically-scrambled voice she had heard before. It was coming from the "window" of Quark's. The Ferengi was holding a PADD in one hand and stabbing at it with the fingers of another hand, looking as perplexed as Kira had ever seen him. He looked up, with almost a guilty expression, as she approached.
"Hello, Major. I was just about to call you -- "
"Quark, what is that?" she cut him off, indicating the PADD.
Quark looked at it, his face scrunched up in disgust and puzzlement. "I just found this PADD in a shipment of Saurian brandy I just received. It was coded for you, but somehow I just accidentally activated it."
Kira suspected that Quark had been trying to break into it and see if someone had sent her some information he could intercept and use for his own profit. Its sudden activation had probably been in response to her presence within a certain radius.
She held out her hand. "Give it to me."
Quark didn't argue, but handed the PADD to her, seeming glad to get rid of it. She looked, and saw a picture of Fala.
"That's two. That's two."
One of Odo's deputies, Lt. Brilgar, stood patiently outside the security office as Kira sat inside, in front of the desk with her feet up and inserted into a small recess in its face. She was watching Odo, who sat behind the desk, studying the PADD with a thoughtful expression.
His features and their lack of definition or obvious emotion seemed somehow eerier now than when he had been a Changeling; perhaps due to the fact that physiologically he was now as human as Captain Sisko, Bashir, or the O'Briens, yet his face was the same smooth mask it had been when it had only been an approximation of humanity. It was disconcerting at times.
"Since she was an informant, it stands to reason that Fala was killed because she was providing information to the resistance. Information that the Shakaar used to plan an attack on a Cardassian target. The killer is probably someone who was either injured or lost a family member or friend in that attack."
He was most likely right; Odo's astuteness in matters of criminal investigation was beyond question. But that still left a dishearteningly wide field of possible suspects. "We planned dozens of attacks based on Fala's information. It could be any of them."
"Not any," Odo said, apparently impervious to her glum mood. "We're dealing with an operation in which you played a prominent part. Now, perhaps you could make a list of all the attacks by the Shakaar in which you participated."
Kira pursed her lips. "That's a long list."
A crackle came from the security monitors as every screen in the office suddenly went crazy. Odo whipped around to watch the flickering static.
"Someone is accessing the security database." He turned quickly to his desk computer; his fingers flew across the panels.
"Can you trace it?"
Odo let out an annoyed sigh. "No." He didn't stop trying, though.
Then the static cleared. And a picture appeared on the monitor behind Odo. Kira just had time to give a start of recognition, before the voice from the previous two messages spoke.
"Mobara," Kira breathed, looking at the dark-haired Bajoran man in the picture. "He was in the Shakaar."
"Where does Mobara live?"
Kira had to think for a moment. "Ummm...Musilla Province. The university engineering school."
Odo tapped rapidly at the comm system in his desk. "I'm sending an emergency message to the authorities in Musilla. Maybe it's not too late."
Kira sighed explosively, unable to keep her tension in any longer. She wanted to be down in Musilla, jumping in a skimmer and racing to the rescue. She hadn't been particularly close to Mobara personally, but the thought that he might be dead at this moment because of her... However, she was here, pregnant, forced to let everyone else do the work and keep her safe. She heaved herself to her feet and began to pace, her hands automatically going to the small of her aching back.
Odo glanced up at her. "Are you all right?"
"No, I'm not all right!" she snapped, turning on him. "I haven't slept in three days, someone is killing my friends, and my back -- "
She stopped herself short, ashamed. If anyone deserved her anger, it was the killer, not a friend who was doing everything in his power to help her, and whose concern, though understated, was genuine. Maybe it was just that all this concern was starting to grate on her just a little. But that's hardly Odo's fault, is it, Nerys? she reproached herself. Would you prefer it if he _didn't_ care?
"Sorry," she said, somewhat sheepishly, sitting back down again.
"No apology necessary, Major," Odo said quietly. He gave no sign that her tirade had affected him, for which she was both immensely grateful and profoundly irritated. He looked down at a bleep from his commlink. "They haven't been able to contact Mobara, so they're sending a search party to the university right now. They'll let us know what happens."
Kira gave a tired nod.
Odo studied her, with something in his eyes that might have been understanding. "Major," he began, rather delicately, "if I may make a suggestion, why don't you return to your quarters and rest for now? It may be several hours before they're able to make a complete search."
As usual, Odo made sense. Kira bit her lip and nodded. "You may be right." Levering herself up from the chair again, she turned to him as she started out the door. "But you'll let me know the minute you hear something?"
"You have my word," Odo assured her seriously.
Brilgar followed her as she left the office and disappeared into the Promenade crowd.
Odo watched her go. He wished that he himself could be the one to personally protect her, but he had decided he would probably be more useful doing what he was doing. Brilgar was one of his best deputies, after all, and both he and Kira had found him very reliable and easy to get on with. And it was better this way in any event.
That didn't stop his eyes from reflecting his worry, as well as something beyond worry, beyond even friendship, just for a moment. But of course, no one saw it.
Kira hated every minute of the trip back to the O'Briens' quarters. She hated it because she felt like a damned visiting dignitary with a bodyguard. Not that Brilgar wasn't a pleasant enough fellow, but part of her had been inclined to think Odo had been overdoing it a little when he had assigned the lieutenant to her.
Yet she had to admit privately that if it had been someone else in the same situation, she would have insisted on the same thing for them. In any case, she knew that Odo would definitely have fought her on this had she objected, and she was too tired for a fight right now, so she had acquiesced.
The story of her life lately, it seemed.
With an inward sigh, she obediently waited for Brilgar's all-clear nod before she left the turbolift. She waited for him to check out the quarters too, before he gestured to her and she walked in. There was a half-smile on his face, as if he sympathized. She was sick to death of sympathy.
"I'm going to lie down," she told him. "Help yourself to the replicator if you're hungry."
"Thank you, Major."
Kira entered her room and walked wearily to the bed. She wouldn't have admitted it to Odo or anyone, but she was indeed exhausted. She had almost reached it when she heard a thud in the outer room.
All fatigue fled as adrenaline flooded through her system. Alert, she stepped as noiselessly as she could back to the door. There was another thud.
Softly, she slid open a drawer and took out her Bajoran phaser, set it to heavy stun, and listened again at the door.
Cautiously, she opened the door and stepped as silently as she could back into the main living area. It was dark. The lights had been on when she and Brilgar had entered. Her finger was poised near the firing control of her phaser. She resisted the urge to call out for Brilgar, or for the lights.
There was a slight clunk. She turned instantly toward it, aiming her phaser toward the noise and squinting for a visual target.
"Don't move!" she barked.
"Hold it!" commanded a man's voice, at the same time.
Kira blinked, astonished. She knew that voice. "Furel?"
"Nerys?" He sounded equally surprised.
The lights abruptly came on. There was Furel, one of her closest friends from her days in the resistance, a burly Bajoran with a slightly graying beard and one arm. He had lost the other saving her, Shakaar, and Lupaza from a Cardassian detention center once. He could have had it regenerated after the end of the occupation, but Furel had considered his arm small enough payment to the Prophets for his survival.
Where Furel was, Lupaza generally was too. Kira turned quickly around, and yes, there she stood, a tall, angular woman with a squarish face and a mane of fiery, curly red hair. One hand was on the light controls, the other casually cocked against her hip, holding a phaser; one foot rested easily on Brilgar's back. The deputy was prone on the floor, looking both embarrassed and furious.
Kira sighed her relief, lowering her phaser. "You're lucky I didn't shoot you," she told Furel, her heart still racing from reaction.
"I could say the same about you." Kira took some small pleasure in the fact that Furel had obviously been as startled as she was. "What are you doing creeping around in a dark room with a phaser?"
"I live here," she pointed out.
"What about him?" Lupaza indicated Brilgar with a jerk of her head.
"This is Lieutenant Brilgar, station security. He's here to protect me."
"Oh." Lupaza shrugged and took her foot off Brilgar's back, allowing him to rise, which he did, slowly, watching her warily. "Sorry." She didn't sound all that contrite, but she did give his phaser back.
Brilgar continued to watch her as he accepted the phaser. "You know these people, Major?" But he was holstering the phaser as he spoke.
"I'm afraid so. This is Furel." Kira indicated them in turn. "Lupaza. We were in the same resistance cell."
Furel looked a little sheepish. "Brilgar. Sorry about the -- " He gestured toward the back of his own neck.
"Yeah, yeah," Brilgar muttered, still chagrined. "I'll be outside if you need me."
"Thank you." Kira didn't blame him. She watched as Brilgar left, edging his way past Furel, then she turned to Furel. "How did you get in? We just installed a new security system."
"And a pretty good one it is, too," Furel said cheerfully, walking over to Lupaza. "But they have not yet invented the system that Lupaza cannot beat." He grinned at his lover, who smiled back with her usual sardonic expression.
"It took some work, but I managed to retune the transporter scrambler," Lupaza explained matter-of-factly.
"You beamed in? From where?"
Lupaza came over toward her as she spoke. "We stowed away on a transport ship making a run from Bajor. Just before it docked, I accessed the station personnel records." Which explained how they had known which quarters to beam into, but still --
"We beamed into the bedroom about five minutes ago," Furel added. "We heard someone moving around in here. I thought it was you."
"But it turned out to be a man with a phaser," Lupaza put in.
"I tried to tell her that we should contact you before we came -- "
"You did not!" Lupaza gave him a playful shove in his stomach.
"I should have you both thrown in the brig." Kira tried valiantly to hold onto her stern expression. She failed, giving in to the smile that broke through. "But I'm glad to see you."
Furel and Lupaza joined in her relieved laughter. "It's good to see you," Furel answered. And then Kira was enfolded in a tandem hug from both of them. She hugged back as fiercely as she was able, thinking with a rush of emotion how much she had missed the pair of them, how it filled her heart to have them here with her. She thought of asking why they had left their farms and come here, of all places, not to mention in such a manner, but she realized the reason before she had the words organized in her brain. The killings.
She heard them whisper behind her back. "Go ahead," from Lupaza, then, "What...oh," from Furel. As the hug finally broke, Furel headed back into the O'Briens' bedroom. Lupaza held her hand up, a hopeful, questioning look on her face.
"Oh. Go ahead." As Lupaza tentatively placed her hand on Kira's baby-swollen abdomen, Kira held it there, wondering yet again at the universality of the urge most people felt to do that when they saw a pregnant woman. Only a few people, of course, could get away with it where she was concerned. The O'Briens, of course, as the child's biological parents. Bashir, in his capacity as doctor. Dax, as a friend. Even Odo had once ventured to ask, and been granted permission. As had Sisko, and now Lupaza.
The baby obliged by choosing that moment to turn over inside her. Lupaza gasped in pure amazement; Kira had the rare treat of watching the face of a battle-hardened resistance fighter transformed by awe. "How much longer?"
"A couple of weeks."
"Off and on. The doctor's been giving me something." As Furel returned, Kira continued, "But before we get too deep into baby talk, I had another message today. This time it's Mobara."
Furel's face froze. "Dead?"
"We don't know yet. There's a search party out right now, looking for him."
"Do you have any suspects?" Lupaza asked.
Kira shook her head. "No," she admitted.
"When you do, you let us know," Furel said.
Lupaza glanced at him. "That's why we're here. To find out who's doing this. And take care of it."
Kira realized instantly what she meant, and didn't like the idea. She shook her head. "I can't send you out like some -- assassination squad."
Lupaza's gaze was understanding but determined. "You don't have to send us anywhere."
"You give us the name. We'll take care of the rest." Furel paced toward the outer door and stopped. He was plainly equally set on this, Kira realized with a mixture of gratitude and dismay at their loyalty.
"The occupation is over," she attempted. "We can't go around fighting private wars. Times have changed; we've got to change with them. Leave this for the authorities."
"Authorities!" Furel snorted.
"Maybe you feel that way now," Lupaza said evenly. "But trust me, when you find out who killed Latha and Fala, and maybe now Mobara, you're not going to want to leave it to someone else. You're going to want him dead. And you're going to want us to do it."
Kira was torn. Part of her, the fighter in her, agreed with Lupaza, wanted to strike out, to end the life of whoever was doing this. An eye for an eye, as the old human saying went. In this case, three eyes, and counting. But another part, the part that couldn't help being influenced by her work with the Federation over the past four years, balked at the notion. She had changed over that time. Hadn't she? It was a good change. Wasn't it?
"Maybe so," she finally conceded, sitting in the viewport as she suddenly felt her fatigue returning now that adrenaline had worn off. "But we're not at that point yet."
Furel snorted again.
Kira sighed inwardly. Furel and Lupaza hadn't been here. Like a lot of former resistance members, they were having a hard time broadening their vision beyond Bajor and its needs, to the big picture. She couldn't blame them; she'd been like that herself when she had begun working here. Sometimes she wondered if she was even fully Bajoran any more...
She saw a box in Furel's hand, and, to change the subject, nodded her head toward it. "What's in the box?"
Furel looked down at it, as if only now realizing it was in his hand.
"It's for you," Lupaza told her.
"A gift," Furel clarified, crossing the room to hand her the box. She took it and opened it. Inside was a collection of very familiar-looking leaves.
"You're, umm...you're supposed to take them. During your pregnancy." Furel sounded as embarrassed as a lot of men were by mention of such female matters.
Lupaza shot him a look of mingled scorn and affection. "She knows what they're for." She turned back to Kira. "We thought you might have trouble getting fresh herbs on the station, so we picked them last night."
Kira couldn't think of anything to say. Rather, there were a lot of words she could say, but she didn't want to. Furel and Lupaza meant well...and the things were supposed to be beneficial. "Thanks," she said, forcing a smile as she closed the box, fortunately shutting off the odor of the leaves. "Really. Thank you."
She discovered that she meant it. She was grateful, not for the herbs, but for the presence of her two oldest, dearest friends, and their loving regard for her that had made them leave their homes and come all the way here, for her sake. She actually felt tears welling up. Hormones again, probably.
"Well. If you're staying, I'd better find you some quarters."
Lupaza shook her head, determinedly. "We're staying right here, where we can keep an eye on you." She put her hand once more on Kira's abdomen. "On both of you."
"We'll sleep out here," Furel declared, in tones that similarly refused to hear of denial. "The couch is a little short, but it's probably as comfortable as our bed." Lupaza joined him beside it, a sensual smile on her lips.
"Well," Kira conceded, "since Keiko's visiting her parents with Molly, I guess there's room..."
The outer door swooshed open suddenly at that moment, and Miles O'Brien walked in. He stopped in his tracks, his eyes widening, as he was greeted by two phasers, Furel's and Lupaza's, which instantly swung toward him, aiming for his chest.
"Hold it," Furel said authoritatively.
"It's all right!" Kira said quickly, before poor Miles could be shot to death in his own home. Furel and Lupaza slowly lowered their phasers, and Kira could breathe again.
"Miles," she said, as calmly as she could, "we have houseguests."
Mobara's image stared soberly from a computer screen in Sisko's office, his frozen gaze almost accusing, as Odo related the grim news to the captain. "They found his body about two hours ago. Or, at least, what was left of it. Mobara had a micro-explosive planted just behind his right ear."
"How could someone get close enough to implant something behind someone's ear and not get caught?"
A fair question, but the killer's past MO provided Odo with a logical answer. "I doubt he was ever near Mobara. The killer has shown a pattern of using remote control devices. He was probably using some kind of hunter probe, and injected Mobara as he slept."
Sisko glanced out of the door transparencies, at Kira, who stood behind Dax's science station with the Trill, listening to the messages again. With them was Nog, who had been in Ops as part of his duty as a Starfleet cadet, and offered to help in the search for whatever clues could be gleaned from them. Sisko had acceded. It couldn't hurt.
He looked toward Odo again. "What are we dealing with here? Professional assassin?"
Odo shook his head slightly. "Well, that was my initial thought. But a professional would never be sending anonymous messages. No, our killer is someone with a very personal stake in this. Someone who is trying to make a point to Major Kira."
"And once he drives his point home..."
"He'll try to kill her too," Odo completed the thought, as calmly as if he were discussing docking schedules.
Inside, he was vowing fiercely that the killer would only succeed over his, Odo's, dead body. And if that happened, the killer had better hope that there was indeed no such thing as ghosts.
"That's one. That's two. That's three."
"It doesn't sound natural," Nog opined, listening intently. His huge ears were practically aquiver with the effort.
Dax swiveled around to look at him, one eyebrow raised. "No kidding," she said with gentle irony.
Nog shook his head impatiently. "I mean, I know they're using some kind of scrambler to disguise the voice, but there's something else. The rhythms don't sound natural. More like a composite of words from different speeches put together." He straightened, with either satisfaction or embarrassment at having gained the attention of both women.
"You can tell that through the distortion?" Kira asked.
"It's the lobes," Nog explained, gesturing toward his ears, then turned back to Dax. "The intonation and phrasing are slightly off."
Dax gave one of her eloquent shrugs. "I've made it a policy never to argue with someone's lobes."
"All right," Kira said. "Let's say these are composite messages. Does that help us?"
"Maybe," Dax said, serious now. "Since the first word of all three messages is the same, let's assume it's simply been copied three times. That gives me a reference to begin screening out the electronic interference." She pressed a control, and the voice began repeating again.
"It's a female," Nog stated confidently after a moment, earning himself another look from Dax. "And it's not Cardassian."
"You're sure?" Kira demanded, before remembering about the lobes. "All right, all right," she said quickly, holding up her hands to ward off whatever rebuttal the young Ferengi might have made. Nog turned away from her again, and bent over the console, his head cocked.
"It's...Bajoran," he said after another moment, sounding a little less sure this time. "I know that voice. Can I hear the rest of the words?" he asked Dax, who complied.
"That's one. That's two. That's three..."
As Dax adjusted the playback, the voice became more recognizable as belonging to a person rather than a machine. It was...very recognizable. Kira gasped as she realized whose voice it was.
"That's me," she said. "He's using my voice."
Before either Dax or Nog could react to her statement, a sudden signal blared from Dax's console.
Dax looked, and stiffened. "There's been an explosion in the habitat ring."
"Location," Kira asked, although she had a sick feeling she knew.
"Level five, section twenty-one alpha. The O'Briens' quarters," Dax added unnecessarily. She jumped from her seat and went to the Bajoran workers on the level just below, speaking with calm urgency. "Go to red alert. Stop all incoming and outgoing ships until further notice."
Kira hardly heard. She stood there, numb again with shock and grief. They washed over her like waves of an ocean.
Dax was at the Ops table as Sisko and Odo emerged from the captain's office. "Dax to infirmary. Dr. Bashir, report to habitat ring, level five, section twenty-one alpha. Medical emergency."
"Report," Sisko commanded.
"There's been an explosion in O'Brien's quarters," Dax explained tersely. "There's a hull breach. The compartment is venting air into space."
"No word yet. I'm having trouble scanning through the debris."
"Where's Kira?" Odo asked suddenly.
Dax and Sisko looked at him, then at the spot where Kira had stood. She was gone.
Kira pushed her way blindly through the corridors of level five of the habitat ring.
"Major, you can't go in, there's a hull breach -- "
"Get out of my way!" she roared, punching the deputy to the floor and moving on.
Furel. Lupaza. Miles.
"Major, please -- " It was a Starfleet security man this time. Kira didn't even look at him as she hit him and he went down.
Arms grabbed her from behind. Brilgar. His voice spoke urgently into her ear. "Major, no! You'll vent the whole corridor!"
She gave him a quick elbow to the stomach, and kicked him out of the way. He lay wheezing on the floor as she strode up to the O'Briens' quarters. She wasn't even thinking. Intellectually she knew they were right, that this was insane, but her feelings were overriding everything at the moment, and they demanded that she go in, find Furel, Lupaza -- Miles, if he was there...find them and --
-- And what? a voice inside her sneered. Protect them? Too late for that. Make them live again? Wail over their bodies? You're a fool, Nerys...
Nonetheless, her hand was on the lock panel when pain clutched at her insides and she crumpled slowly to the floor, still trying to open the door even as she sank into unconsciousness.
"Nerys...Nerys, can you hear me?"
"You're in the infirmary," Bashir's quiet voice told her. She slowly perceived that she was on a bed, and that he stood beside her, looking into her face. And that her insides ached dully.
She gasped, coming fully awake with a start of panic. "The baby -- "
"He's fine," Bashir reassured her quickly, and she relaxed, relieved beyond words that the baby was none the worse for her stupidity. "You suffered a placental laceration," the doctor continued. "And then you began to hemorrhage. But I've repaired the damage. You're going to be all right."
With difficulty, she turned on her side, away from him. She didn't want to face his concern, professional or otherwise. She didn't want him to see the tears that she knew were about to pour from her eyes. After she had settled, breathing hard either from effort or from emotion -- she wasn't sure which -- she said in a frozen voice, "Lupaza and Furel...they're dead, aren't they?"
"I'm afraid so," Bashir said simply.
"He wasn't there when it happened."
There was only one question more that Kira had to ask. Or rather, that Bashir was likely to have an answer for. "Did they die quickly?"
Kira nodded, suddenly tired again. The greatest hope of everyone in the resistance had been that the Cardassians would leave or die; the second greatest hope had been that if the first failed, one's own death would be swift, leaving no time for suffering. She supposed she should be glad that Furel and Lupaza hadn't lived to become old and die by inches; that they had had both hopes fulfilled. Even better, they had died together.
She tried to sense their borhyas, their spirits, but all she felt was a bleak despair that settled in the pit of her stomach and refused to be dislodged. She didn't try. She wanted to feel it.
Her hand moved almost of its own accord, and removed her earring. She looked at the clasp, at the pagh-chain that connected it to the symbol of her family. The globe of Bajor, the spire rising from it, against the four arcs of rising sunlight. Or was the sun setting? Strange, that she had never wondered about that before.
She was vaguely aware of footsteps behind her, and recognized them as Odo's, before his distinctive voice confirmed it. He spoke to Bashir. "Doctor. May I?"
A pause, then Bashir's voice, speaking to her. "I'll be right outside."
Footsteps. Bashir's, moving away, as Odo's came closer. She sensed his presence behind her. Strangely enough, she took comfort in his nearness, in his silence. She found herself speaking. How did he do that, make her want to talk, without even opening his own mouth to coax it out of her?
"I was thirteen when I joined the resistance," she said, unsure whether she was speaking to Odo or to the piece of metal she held, clenched in her fist. "I'd been hanging around the Shakaar base camp for a couple of weeks. You know, running errands, cleaning weapons, that kind of thing.
"Then one night, they had an ambush planned and they were a man short, so I volunteered. But everyone thought I was too young, too small. Lupaza -- " she almost choked on the name, " -- stuck up for me. She said I had the heart of a cynoraptor." She smiled, remembering Lupaza's voice as if her friend were here in the room. A tear broke loose and wandered down to her ear. She let it. She even laughed a little. "And they didn't have much choice.
"Furel made some kind of joke, I don't remember what it was, but I do remember that Lupaza hit him. She was always doing that. They loved each other insanely." She looked at her earring, turned it over in her hands. "But it was up to Shakaar, and he stared at me for a long time before he decided I was big enough to carry a phaser rifle after all.
"We set the ambush up along a ridge line at night, and waited. It was so cold. My hands were shaking. I was so afraid that one of them would look at me and think that I was nervous that I kept biting my fingers to keep the blood flowing. We must have waited there three or four hours before the skimmer appeared. It set down right where Furel said it would. And when that hatch opened, and the first Cardassian appeared, I just started firing, and I didn't stop until I had discharged the entire power cell.
"When it was all over, I was so relieved that I hadn't let anyone down that I was giddy. They told me to stop grinning, that it made me look younger, but I couldn't help it. I was one of them. I was in the resistance." Again, she looked at the earring. "Lupaza made me this, out of some of the metal from that skimmer."
Odo didn't say a word, just let her talk.
Kira drew in her breath, bringing herself back. Furel and Lupaza needed her to live in the here and now, to give their deaths meaning by finding their killer. "How were they killed?" she asked.
"Someone attached a small hunter probe to the hull of a Talavian freighter," Odo told her, his voice low. "When the ship docked at the station, the probe detached itself and then began a visual scan of every room in the habitat ring. Once the probe found its assigned targets, it attached itself to the window and exploded."
Kira forced herself to turn back over onto her back, so she could look Odo in the eyes. She knew he could now see the trails her tears had made, but she didn't care. "Do you have any leads?"
"My sources on Cardassia have given me a list of possible suspects. They all have the computer skills, the opportunity, and the motive to carry out these attacks."
She looked at him, realizing the depths of his dedication to this. It wasn't easy to get cooperation out of the Cardassians, even now with their new government, yet Odo had done so. "You must have called in a lot of favors," she said.
"One or two," he shrugged. His eyes said he would do it again in a heartbeat. She was touched despite herself. How had she come to deserve such friends in her life?
Before she could start bawling again, she asked, "How many people are on the list now?"
"Can I see it?"
Odo paused slightly. "Not just yet. I'd like to narrow it a little."
Kira didn't have to ask the reason for his hesitation. She smiled. "You're afraid I'm going to take the names and go charging after them."
Another person might have demurred, but she knew Odo. He was too honest. He nodded, a slight smile appearing on his thin lips. "Something like that."
Kira chuckled. "You're right. I probably would."
Odo's smile vanished. He gazed down into her face, his expression as calmly determined as she had ever seen it. "I'm going to find the person that's done this," he stated with quiet certainty. "I promise you that."
"I know you will, Odo. Keep me informed."
He nodded. "Absolutely."
She nodded back to him, and watched him walk out of the infirmary. Did he have any idea how dear he was to her? She had told him once, in a rush of exuberant emotion after Shakaar had left her quarters for the first time. It had seemed to embarrass him, and he had departed somewhat precipitously.
She smiled at the memory, even as she levered herself out of the biobed, a resolve forming and solidifying in her heart. She was alone; she couldn't see any sign of Bashir, who was probably with another patient. All the better. She walked over to the computer console and pressed a set of coordinates into its interface.
"Emergency transport standing by," it said. "Enter command code authorization."
"Authorization Kira one-five-seven-alpha," she told it.
The tingle of the transporter beam took her. Her vision cleared, and she saw with satisfaction that she was now in Odo's office. She walked around the desk, turned the chair to face the computer behind it, and sat there. She found the list easily, and downloaded it into a PADD, erasing it from the files as she did so. Then she stood and went back to the spot where the transporter had set her. She had to hurry; Odo would be here any minute.
"Computer, initiate emergency transport program Kira-two."
Odo arrived at his office barely five seconds later. The old, familiar worry that he had perhaps revealed more than he had intended to Kira during their conversation was nagging at him once again. It disturbed him profoundly, making his stomach feel as if it was turning over; yet, strangely, he also wished he could make himself slip somehow, let her see...
He went to his chair, and paused. His memory might not be quite as precise now as it had been before he had been made human by his people; but his sense of order was intact. He always left his chair so that it faced his desk. Yet now it faced away from it. Someone had been there.
Suspicion instantly dawned. He knew who it was.
"Computer, locate Major Kira."
"Major Kira is no longer on the station."
Odo hurried out of his office, anger and alarm forming a band that constricted itself around his recently-acquired heart.
Kira was praying, praying to the Prophets to keep the baby safe. What trepidations she had about going on this quest while she was pregnant, she had quelled with the thought that the baby was in as much danger if she stayed on the station as he was if she went off to find the killer. Even so, he was a captive passenger, and she promised him silently that she would not let anything happen to him.
She also prayed that Odo would forgive her for what must seem to him like a failure of trust on her part. She knew that if anyone could find who was doing this, Odo could. But it was her battle. It wasn't in her to sit back and let another fight it for her, pregnant or not. And Odo was more vulnerable physically as a human than as a Changeling; the murderer might very well kill him too, if Odo found and confronted him. She couldn't stand the thought of losing yet another friend before she ended this.
As the runabout flew free of DS9 and headed toward Cardassian space, Kira went to the weapons storage locker, got out a phaser, and set the charge to kill.
"She's obviously going after the suspects on the list, but she erased their names from my computer file when she got them, so there's no way to know where she's headed." Odo was still angry as he spoke. It served to keep the fear at bay.
"Prepare the Defiant," Sisko told Worf. "I want to leave in ten minutes, see if we can pick up her ion trail."
The Klingon rumbled, "That will be difficult. Our sensor logs show Major Kira masked her engine emissions with a polaron field. The runabout's -- "
Sisko cut him off. He too was using his fury as a weapon against worry. "I know what the difficulties are. You have your orders. Dismissed."
Kira Nerys, personal log, stardate 50416.2:
I've eliminated three of the suspects from Odo's list. I'm satisfied that none of them could have committed the murders. The fourth name is Silaran Prin, a Cardassian living on a planet near the DMZ.
It was not a holiday resort world by any stretch of the imagination. Tall thin mountains stood out like fangs against a turbulent sky, as the dust blew past the hut near which she beamed down. She turned around, getting her bearings, then went into the hut, phaser and tricorder at the ready.
The place was dark; she could dimly make out the outlines of a jumble of computer parts and other equipment. Prin was seemingly not much of one for housekeeping.
She could hear nothing, but her tricorder confirmed a single humanoid lifesign. He was surely aware of her presence, yet had not come forward to greet her or demand to know what she was doing here. Either he was just some weird old hermit, or --
A sound behind her. She whirled, and saw a Cardassian standing there, raising a weapon aimed at her. Instantly she fired, her beam striking him squarely...and passing straight through him. He disappeared.
Her shocked brain barely had time to register the thought before another beam struck her, from behind, and she crashed to the floor, the darkness claiming her.
"A creature, born within the comforting anonymity of darkness, awakens in the harsh truth of daylight."
The voice was the first thing she became aware of. It was a soft male voice, speaking low, as if reciting a story and pitching itself for dramatic effect. Yet there was no one here but herself and the voice's owner. At least, she assumed there wasn't.
She opened her eyes. Light assaulted her vision, shining directly into her face. She tried to lift an arm to shade her eyes, but discovered that she couldn't move. Her legs too were immobilized.
"It squirms in the glare, afraid of the light that pins it to the chair, like a needle through its heart."
Yes, she was in a reclining chair or bed of some kind. She could lift her head and look around her, but that was all. She opened her eyes again, more cautiously, and squinted into the shadows, but was unable to make anything out.
"Its heart beats faster..."
The voice was in front of her, she was pretty sure.
"Who's there?" she called. "Silaran, is that you?"
"Panic starts to creep into its soul. Does it understand? Or is it so blinded by the light that it can think only of returning to the velvet cloak of darkness?"
She thought she could barely distinguish the silhouette of a face against the wall, but it disappeared almost instantly.
"No matter." The voice continued its peculiar recitation. "Perhaps it is better that it doesn't realize how close death has come. But make no mistake...there is no escape. It has reached the end. And soon, it will die."
Inanely, the only thought that came to her mind at that moment was, Well, Nerys, looks like you've found him.
"What's the matter, Silaran?" she taunted into the murky blackness, with all the scorn she could muster. "Are you so afraid of a pregnant woman in a restraining field that you have to hide in the dark?"
"It bares its tiny fangs, hoping for a chance to strike, to sink its teeth deep into the flesh of its tormentor. But that chance will never come."
Kira let herself sneer. "You'd better hope I don't get that chance."
The voice shifted direction. He was walking around the perimeter of the room, she perceived. "And somewhere beneath the gleam of hatred in those eyes lurks the certain knowledge of its impending death. And it begins to know...fear."
"I'm not afraid of you," she challenged, allowing her anger to show. "I'm not some coward who's been sending anonymous messages and bombs to murder innocent people."
Swift movement ahead of her. She could now see his clothes, dark and drab, and the slight outline of his face. The voice was very close.
"No, Kira! I didn't murder anyone. You did. You killed them all."
At least he was addressing her directly now, instead of telling her stories. She was determined to take that as a good sign. She smiled, a little. "There. That wasn't so hard, was it? Now we can talk."
The voice thickened. "Talk and lies won't help you. You're in the light, and the light reveals the truth." He took a step forward, but she still couldn't see his face. "And the light shows me no regret in those eyes, no compassion."
"You want me to feel compassion for you?" she said in disbelief. "You murdered five people. What compassion did you show to them?"
"Unrepentant. How unfortunate. I thought you might have changed, might have found a path out of the darkness."
She watched a hand come up in an accusing gesture, then lower. "What am I supposed to feel repentant for? What are you talking about?"
"That is part of your guilt!" Now he was shouting. "You did this to me!"
A face thrust itself forward into the light that shone on her. She could now see it, and she couldn't help but recoil. The left side of the face was that of an average Cardassian male, one she had never seen before; the right, however, was puckered and scarred into a huge, hideous mass of flesh. A still-intact eye glared out of the horror of that face, staring at her in pure, naked hatred.
"And you don't even know who...I...am."
Kira breathed deeply, gathering her wits and forcing her paralyzed body to relax. Odo had been right, it seemed. "So, you were wounded by an attack I carried out when I was part of the resistance. And I'm supposed to feel guilty?" The face withdrew; she sensed he was moving away from her again. "We were at war, Silaran. Fifteen million Bajorans died during the occupation. And you want me to feel sorry for you?"
"No," he hissed. "I wasn't part of your war. I was an innocent. I wasn't even in the military. Do you know what I did on Bajor? I was a servant." He bit off the words with icy calm. "I cleaned uniforms. For Gul Pirak."
The emphasis on that name was unmistakable.
Finally it was coming together. She knew the name. In only a few seconds she connected it to an identity. "Gul Pirak. Commander of the weapons depot at Haathan."
"I'm glad that you remember." Prin's voice had become ironic. "Now. Do you remember what you did? How you put a plasma charge outside his bedroom window in the middle of the night?"
It had been summer, she recalled. The house had been beautiful, and huge. Before, it had belonged to a wealthy Bajoran family who had been forced out and enslaved while the gul, his family, and his retinue took up residence. The Shakaar had planned the raid for weeks.
"I remember," she said. "He executed fifteen Bajoran farmers because they refused to display the Cardassian banner outside their homes."
"Trentin Fala showed you how to circumvent the defense system. Latha Mabrin built the plasma charge. Furel and Lupaza stood guard outside while you crept up to the house."
And Mobara had taken out the Cardassian sentries. She shook her head. "None of us liked killing. We were fighting for our freedom, against -- "
Prin interrupted. His voice had risen to a shout. "You vaporized the entire east wing! Twelve Cardassians were killed! Including Gul Pirak's entire family!" He calmed himself with an effort that was almost palpable. "Twenty-three others were crippled. Don't you feel guilty? Don't you feel ashamed of what you did?"
The thought flashed in Kira's mind that perhaps she should play along, tell him yes, tell him anything else he wanted to hear, bide her time, look for a chance to escape, perhaps sweet-talk him into lowering the restraining field. But she was not good at deception, and she knew it. Her voice shook with her own fury.
"None of you belonged on Bajor! It wasn't your world! For fifty years you raped our planet and you killed our people! You lived on our land, and you took the food out of our mouths, and I don't care whether you held a phaser in your hand or you ironed shirts for a living -- you were all guilty, and you were all legitimate targets!"
She had been waiting a long time for the opportunity to say those words, she realized. No matter how many decent Cardassians she had met since the end of the occupation -- and she had met a few: Marritza, Ghemor -- it couldn't change what the others of their kind had done to her and her people. It had shaped her. The anger had driven her to become what she was. She could not dismiss it, even after four years.
"And that's what makes you a murderer," Prin said, his voice icy now. "Indiscriminate killing! No sense of morality. No thought given to the consequences of your actions. That's what makes us different."
"I was a soldier!" she raged. "You're just a bitter old man out for revenge!"
"I am bringing the guilty to justice," he countered. "And, unlike you, I take care to protect the innocent. I could have killed every monk in that cavern. Or everyone on the runabout. Or half the population of Deep Space Nine. But I didn't. Only the guilty have died." There was a pause as she perceived him coming closer again. "And that is why, although your actions have condemned you, the life of your child will be spared."
Kira was instantly alert. "What does that mean?"
He didn't answer. She heard his footsteps moving away and around the edge of the room.
"What does that mean???" she shouted.
He finally spoke again. To her dismay, he had returned to his odd narrative. "The creature's diseased mind cannot understand its plight. Its imagination is too limited to perceive the truth. It cannot be saved, but there is still hope for the child. It can be taken from the womb and raised in the light."
She understood, with a jolt of near-panic, what he planned to do. "Listen to me, Silaran!" she called desperately. "The child I'm carrying -- it isn't Bajoran. It's human. It has unique medical needs. If you force me to give birth now, you risk -- "
"The creature's cries grow louder, but no one can hear them." She heard wheels, and realized he was bringing a medical supply cart around toward her. "All that remains is to bring the child into the light, and discard the diseased carcass of the mother, before it can infect its offspring."
He had known she would come here, she thought. He had counted on it. It occurred to her, very briefly, to wonder just how he had known which members of the Shakaar had been there, much less who had done what. And how had he known about Fala? Could he have been more than a servant? An Obsidian Order agent, perhaps? Had he made sure he was on the list?
It didn't matter. "You can't bring it into the light! Not yet! Dr. Bashir said if I don't have at least three more weeks -- "
She could see him pick up an instrument from the cart.
"It's time," he said.
"We both agree this baby's an innocent. Don't put him at risk! Please, Silaran!"
"Don't worry. I promise that I'll take care of the child. And that I'll teach him the difference between darkness and light." He activated the instrument. It was a laser scalpel. It glowed a hot red as he brought it closer, closer...
"Wait -- please, I'm begging you!" Terror, not for herself but for the baby, caused her to throw her pride and outrage aside. They weren't important. The notion came to her -- stall him! Maybe Odo, Sisko and the rest, maybe they've picked up my trail... "At least give me a sedative! Show some compassion! Don't just cut me open!"
The scalpel was almost touching the mound of her abdomen, but now he stopped. The eye in the ruined half of his face gleamed as he regarded her. After a moment, he deactivated the laser.
"All right," he said. "I'll show more mercy than you have."
Kira let out her breath in a relieved sigh which she couldn't help. She closed her eyes and sent a silent prayer to the Prophets. Suddenly a hand slapped her cheek, making her open her eyes again.
"Take a good look at my face, Kira," he whispered fiercely. "I want it to be the last thing you see."
She looked up into his wreck of a face. She didn't answer, and he pressed a hypo to her neck. The hypo hissed, and her head lolled to the side.
"The creature slept, dreaming its dark dreams, and happy to be out of the light. The innocent life it held would waken in brilliance..." The restraining field sparkled and winked out. "...and never know darkness again."
Kira heard every word. She felt slightly woozy, but she was awake -- how, she wasn't sure. But she knew beyond doubt that this would be her only chance. The restraining field was off; her phaser was on the floor nearby. And Prin stood at her feet.
She lashed out, catching him in the gut and sending him reeling backwards to crash against a pile of junk. At the same time, she flung herself off the chair and dived for the phaser. She refused to let her bulky body slow her down; she was carried along by adrenaline, and it felt good. She snatched up the phaser, and aimed it, just as Prin was heaving himself to his feet and looking wildly around.
Before he could spot her, she fired.
For you, Furel. For you, Lupaza. For Fala, and Latha, and Mobara.
The beam hit Prin squarely. He tumbled backwards and collapsed, jerking like a puppet, then was still.
Slowly, trembling, Kira lowered the phaser, and dragged herself out of the light, to lean against a cabinet and wait.
Footsteps and figures moving. Odo's voice, urgent. "Are you all right?"
Dear Odo. She wanted to reassure him, but it was so much easier just to sit and rest.
Someone else...Bashir, that was it...knelt beside her, scanning her with a medical tricorder. "She's fine. There's a large amount of merphadon in her system."
A deep voice from behind Bashir and Odo. The Emissary. Sisko. "Merphadon?"
"It's a sedative. But the makara herbs she's been taking have counteracted the effect."
Sisko looked around, his gaze falling on Prin's body. "I take it this is our assassin."
"Why did he give you a sedative?" Odo asked. Unlike the others, he spoke directly to her, as if she were all that mattered. She blinked, managed to focus on his face, made her lips move.
"He wanted to protect the innocent," she said slowly. "And separate the darkness from the light." She shook her head, as if that could clear it. Odo's face was getting blurry again. "But he didn't realize...the light only shines in the dark. And sometimes, innocence is just an excuse for the guilty."
She knew they were puzzled by her words. Probably chalking them up to the drug in her blood. But they sounded right to her. Even if it wasn't the way she usually spoke.
Had Prin been right, in his own demented way? She couldn't have said. Yes, she had done many things as a rebel that still haunted her even now. Not only Cardassian soldiers, but Cardassian civilians were now dead or maimed through her actions. She regretted that, but she couldn't regret the actions. They were in response to what the Cardassians had done first, to her and her world.
As the old Bajoran saying went, "If you trap a razorcat, don't blame him for your lost fingers."
Prin had forgotten that. Perhaps he had never known it at all.
She knew that she had done many things that others, who hadn't been through what she had, would believe wrong. She agreed; she often found it difficult to live with her deeds and reconcile them to the person she was now. But they had been necessary. To have not done them would have been even more wrong. The occupation had forced that choice on many.
And indeed it might be better like this. She had meant what she had said. Without darkness, how could one know what light was?
The important thing was that everyone was safe. And the mourning could begin. She thought of the temple, and the death chants that would be sung.
Odo and Bashir stood up too as she rose, Odo looking as if he wanted to help her up. But she made it on her own, and smiled at him. When she spoke again, she sounded more normal, even to herself.
"Let's go home," she said.
(-|-) THE END
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