The freighter was Cardassian, of an older class, and everyone on board was about to die.
I'm dreaming, Kira thought. She had to be, but the awareness brought no relief. The details were too real, the sensations too vivid. She stood at the entrance of a large cargo bay, the curved and heavy lines of the ship obviously Cardassian, the kind once used to transport laborers and plunder during the Occupation. And in front of her, sprawled amidst the broken crates and overturned bins, were a few dozen raggedly dressed Bajorans and a handful of Cardassian soldiers, gasping for air, many of them already unconscious, bathed in the dull glow of the ship's emergency lights. Life-support failure.
She clamped down on a flutter of panic, inhaling deeply -- and though she could breathe easily, she had to clamp down even harder, her senses telling her that she couldn't possibly be asleep. The air was cold and sharp, and she could smell the fading scents of sweat and fear and watery katterpod bean gruel, the smell of the Bajoran camps where she'd spent her short childhood. It was dark, the only light coming from emergency backup, casting everything in deep red shadow, and the only sound -- besides the pounding of her heart -- was the hopeless, laboring beat of slow asphyxiation, a chorus of strained and pitiful hisses.
She stepped into the storage bay, afraid, struggling to stay calm, to try to make sense of what was happening.
The clothes, the Cardassian's weapons, the very status of the Bajorans -- Occupation. And from the bulkiness of the guard's uniforms, probably from before she was born.
Kira stepped further inside, feeling old defenses rise to the surface, grateful for them. Though bloodless, it was as terrible a death scene as any she'd witnessed. Except for the struggle to breathe, nobody moved. Most of the Bajorans had huddled into couples and small groups to die, clinging to one another for whatever pitiful comfort they could find. There were several children, their small, unmoving bodies cradled in the thin arms of their elders. Kira saw a dead woman clutching a pale infant to her breast and looked away, fighting to maintain control. The Cardassian soldiers were in no better shape; they still gripped their weapons but were obviously helpless to use them, their gray, reptilian faces more ashen than they should have been, their mouths opening and closing uselessly. The image of fish out of water came to her, and wouldn't go away.
Kira turned in a circle, dizzy from the helpless terror she saw reflected in so many eyes, so many more glazing as they greeted death -- and saw something so unlikely that the disaster's full impact finally gripped her, sank its dark teeth into her and held on tightly.
Two young men, slumped together against the wall to her right, their stiffening arms around each other in a last desperate need for solace, for the consolation of another soul with whom to meet the lonely shadows of death. One was Bajoran. The other, a Cardassian.
What's happening, why is this happening? Her composure was slipping, the things she saw all wrong -- foreign to her mind and spirit, a nightmare from without her consciousness. She was lost in some place she had never known, witnessing the final, wrenching moments of people she'd never met. Stop, this has to stop, wake up, Nerys, wake up.
A new light filtered through her haze of near-panic. It filled the room, coming from somewhere above and toward the back of the cavernous space. It was the pale blue light she'd always thought of as miraculous and beautiful, the light of the Prophets. Now it threw strange shadows over the dying faces of the doomed men, women, and children, combining with the emergency lights to paint everything a harsh purple.
She felt herself drawn toward the source of the light, breathing the air of her youth. For some reason, she couldn't pinpoint the light's origin. It was bright enough, and well defined -- but there was a sort of haze at the back of the bay, obscuring the exact location. It was like looking at a sun from under deep water, the light source shifting and unsteady, far away. Kira walked on -- and then she was in the haze, like a mist of darkness, and the light was as bright as a star's, only a few meters in front of her.
A voice, spoken or thought, she wasn't sure, but there was no doubting its owner -- and there he was, emerging from the dark like a spirit, like a borhya. He stepped in front of the light and was enveloped by it, his face serene and aware, his deep gaze searching for hers. The Emissary, Captain Sisko. Benjamin.
He's been waiting for me....
Kira, this is
"...is Security. Colonel?"
"Go ahead," Kira croaked, and opened her eyes as she bolted up, instantly awake. Her room. Her bed. A man's voice on the com...Devro?
Dream, just a dream but it was so --
"I'm sorry to wake you, Colonel, but there's been an attack on board the station." It was definitely Devro, newly assigned to security, and he sounded excited.
Kira sat up, blinking, forcing herself to leave the dream behind. "What happened?"
"Ah, I don't have the details, Colonel, but it appears that at least one person was killed, possibly two. The lieutenant said that she'd meet you at Medical D."
Autopsy facilities. Kira felt a rush of anger. Quark's, it had to be, and he was going to be sorry this time. There had been several drunken riots in his place in the past few months; no fatalities, but it had only been a matter of time. Just two weeks before, a female Argosian had stabbed one of Quark's servers for mixing up a drink order. He'd been lucky to survive.
I told him to start cutting them off earlier...and where the hell was security? After I specifically ordered higher visibility on the Promenade?
"On my way," she said, and Devro signed off. The computer informed her that it was 0530, only a half hour before she had to get up, anyway. She swung her feet to the floor but sat for a moment, eyes closed. Bad news after a bad dream, after a whole series of bad days. Frustrating ones, anyway, with the station's overhaul running past schedule; she had enough to do without having to worry about the continuing stream of die-hard revelers on the station, still looking for a party to celebrate the end of the war. Or having to babysit her new security chief, a woman to whom inconstancy was no stranger.
She dressed quickly, her anxiety growing as her mind began to work, as she woke up and considered the possibility that Quark's had nothing to do with the incident. Maybe she should talk to Jast about trying again to request a few additional security details from Starfleet, just until things settled a little....
...wishful thinking. Might as well have her ask for a few dozen Starfleet engineers while she's at it, and the backup tactical and science cadets to fill out the duty rosters, not to mention medical. They'd have as much luck requesting a new station made out of gold-pressed latinum. The Federation's postwar reconstruction efforts meant that Starfleet's resources were spread thin, almost to the point of being ineffectual in some places. Not to mention their humanitarian work, the aid being extended to independent worlds and cultures that had been damaged by the war. Politically, it made sense -- the new allies and friends they were making meant potential new Federation members, and if that meant that facilities like DS9 had to run overextended and understaffed for a while longer -- well, those facilities would just have to make do with what they had.
Some of us more than others. As if they didn't have enough to do, DS9 had also been designated the official coordinator for the multi-societal relief efforts to Cardassia, which meant extra work for everyone on staff. With supply and aid ships from over a dozen worlds arriving and departing daily -- supplemented by an ever-changing number of freelance "ships for hire" -- there seemed to be a near-constant stream of problems great and small. Add to that a strange new emotional climate on the station, like nothing the colonel had ever experienced. Although Kira had faith in the good intentions of her people, with the overwhelming majority of the station's nearly 7500 inhabitants being Bajoran, she wasn't so certain that DS9 was the best choice for the restoration effort, regardless of their position and capacity.
First Minister Shakaar had disagreed, arguing that Bajor's willingness to take point in the relief efforts would be an important step toward rapprochement with the Cardassians...as well as in Bajor's renewed petition to join the Federation. "Besides, Nerys," Shakaar had said, "you were there. You saw what it was like. How can we not help them?"
The question, so gently asked, had left Kira unable to argue as she recalled the carnage and destruction the Dominion had wrought. There was a time, she knew, when she might have looked on Cardassia's fate as a kind of poetic justice. But thinking back on the blackened, smoking ruins, the corpses that lay everywhere, the shocked and vacant faces of the survivors...It was no longer possible to view them as the enemy that had raped Bajor for half a century.
But while convincing Kira of the role that Bajor, and DS9 especially, was to play in the healing of Cardassia had been relatively easy...the Bajoran populace was another matter. A Bajoran installation providing aid to the Cardassian homeworld? Irony was seldom so obvious, and the atmosphere of reluctant, often grudging charity from some of the Bajorans aboard the station was less than ideal.
At least Starfleet had given her Tiris Jast. The commander had already proven herself able to work miracles when it came to administrative matters, among other things; after a somewhat rocky start, Kira's new first officer had turned out to be a definite asset.
It wasn't until Kira checked herself in the mirror on the way out the door that she thought about the dream again, and was surprised by the sudden loneliness she felt, the loneliness she saw in her tired reflecti...