The mountains rose sheer and high to the north and the west, their shadows shifting across the valley throughout the course of the day. When you walked around the settlement, you could always feel them. You could usually make a good guess as to the time. Like living in a sundial,
Keiko thought absently, propping her elbows on the windowsill and resting her chin in her hands, staring up at the peaks that marked and measured out the days at Andak.
The mountains were shot through with black rock, which would glitter when hit by the harsh Cardassian sun, sending sudden sharp shards of light over the base and the settlement. Obsidian, Feric had told her, and then had launched into an impromptu lecture about the volcanic activity that had formed this part of the province. It had been the subject of his thesis.
"Too much information, Feric!" she'd groaned as his eyes, beneath their ridges, took on a zealous gleam. "There's a very good reason I'm not a geologist!" He'd laughed, taking it in the good humor she'd intended, but couldn't resist adding a little bit more information ("Don't worry -- the volcanoes are extinct").
He was a first-rate scientist, and she hoped that soon enough he might also be a trusted friend. She was sure that she had made a good choice, appointing him as her deputy.
Early evening in Andak brought with it an acute light that, for an hour or more, seemed to settle upon the ancient valley and the new base that lay there in its folds. If you looked at the calendar, it was supposed to be autumn -- but the heat had not noticeably dissipated, and it endured even after it went dark. As the year died, Keiko had been told, and winter did come at last to the mountains, the days would become more barren and the nights would be bitterly cold. Cardassia, she suspected, had many cruelties left to reveal.
This evening, the sun seemed to have intensified further, and the efficient gray edges of the buildings were outlined with silver. It was still and hot -- and expectant, as if the valley was waiting for something to happen, as if it was waiting for some change. Keiko opened the window, wishing for a little breath of air upon her face. She watched as a small group of people -- ten or twelve, perhaps -- assembled in the dusty, unpaved square around which the settlement was ordered. Feric was among them. He stood for a while, speaking to one or two of those gathered, and then he and a young woman -- Keiko recognized her as one of the junior engineers -- moved a little distance away from the others. They each were carrying something, and it was only when they held these before them and then fastened them over their faces that Keiko saw that they were masks.
They turned to face one another, each studying the mask that hid the other from view. The moments slipped past more quickly now, and a hush had fallen over the others gathered there. They were drawn to the scene before them, and stood by unknowing, but eager, watching and waiting. Keiko gazed at this tableau as it held for a long, still moment. The mountains behind at first framed the scene and then, almost imperceptibly, seemed to become part of the composition.
A ripple passed through the onlookers as first Feric, then his companion turned to them. It seemed as if, each in turn, they became connected; whether by their own fascination or some other, more physical charge, they could not afterward tell. The sense of anticipation in the square was growing, the air was becoming slow. If this had been anywhere else, Keiko might have said a storm was coming.
The young woman began to speak, her voice low and rhythmical."The power that moves through me, animates my life, animates the mask of Oralius..."
There were some children in the square too this evening, Molly included, playing some game or other -- it looked to Keiko as if Molly was organizing proceedings. Like mother, like daughter,
she thought, with a grin. Growing up on Deep Space 9 had been good for Molly in many ways. She seemed to be able to fit in wherever she was -- she certainly had none of her father's difficulties mixing with the Cardassians here, although there were some children hanging back, Keiko noticed, watching the games but not taking part. Well, Molly could be a bit much at first, if you were a shy kid. No doubt they'd get used to her in time, or perhaps get used to each other.As must we all....
The woman was still chanting:"It is the song of the morning, opening up to life, bringing the truth of her wisdom, to those who live in the shadow of the night..."
Keiko had known even before she'd set foot here that a large part of her job at Andak would be making the staff come together not just as a team, but as a community. Cloistered together, all this way out, it would be easy for feuds to grow, for minor incidents to take on massive significance -- for the place to become a hothouse of resentment and intrigue. Keiko was director here -- but it was not just the scientific research that would need her attention. A community, that's what she wanted too. And so she'd requested that the team she'd assembled should bring their families with them to Andak. It was only when the requisitions came through -- for living quarters, for rations -- that she began to realize what a Cardassian "family" might mean. Everyone at Andak had been touched by the war. She, Miles, Molly, and Yoshi -- they were the oddities: mother, father, sister, brother. No one else was that lucky. Some of them were the only survivors of their families: Feric, for one, had lost everyone -- mother, two sisters, a wife, and a little boy. When Feric looked at Yoshi, Keiko thought her heart would break -- another good reason to encourage a community at Andak.
She heard Feric's voice rising, clear and sure in the evening air."It is this selfsame power -- turned against creation, turned against my friend -- that can destroy his body with my hand, reduce his spirit with my hate..."
She'd had to fight a hard battle to get Feric's appointment confirmed, right the way up to the advisory board. At least Charles Drury back at the I.A.A.C. had supported her -- well, she was his
appointment, after all, it wouldn't do to lose face and faith in your new research director this
early on in the project....
"You've got your geologist, Keiko," he'd said, with a twist to his mouth, "Despite his, ah, fascinating
"He's a member of the Oralian Way, Charlie -- and don't raise your eyebrow at me like that. The only reason there's been this much fuss is that he's had the nerve to discuss his beliefs openly. And since when did the I.A.A.C. hire people based on their religion, or lack of it?"
"You make, as ever, a convincing case. But no more controversy if you please, Keiko," he'd said, leaning over to turn off the link. "The budget won't stand for many more emergency meetings. Catering for the great and the good doesn't come cheap, you know. The funding isn't that
secure. Yet."Politics, politics, politics...We're meant to be doing science!
Keiko sighed and leaned her forehead against the cool plastic of the window. It would be all politics again tomorrow, she thought ruefully, with far too little chance for science. Abandoned on her desk, a padd flashed a lonely and unnecessary reminder that the following afternoon, the Andak Project was to be favored with the presence of one Vedek Yevir Linjarin. As if that weren't intruding on her every thought already. A high-profile visitor, putting the project under the spotlight. Yevir, it seemed, never went anywhere without a cavalcade of cameras in his wake. All in the cause of peace -- although it didn't seem to be doing his popularity back on Bajor much harm either....
Keiko chewed on her bottom lip. Playing the usual politics was bad enough, but when it meant putting aside all your personal feelings...Yevir had hurt a friend of hers, hurt her badly, and Keiko was going to have to spend tomorrow making good-mannered small talk with him. Her friend was a practiced politician herself these days and would understand, Keiko knew, but she would still feel a pang of guilt when she next had to look Kira in the eye.Welcome to the Andak Project, Vedek Yevir. Here's a punch in the mouth in return for my friend's Attainder.
Keiko suspected, would get the funding cut for sure. No, she thought with a grin, she'd better steer away from the Miles Edward O'Brien School of Diplomacy and stick with something a little more welcoming.
She cast an anxious and appraising eye around the settlement, at the buildings that seemed to her to sit as yet precariously on the land, and wondered how it would all appear to an outside observer. It was, she would be the first to admit, pretty basic, but there were far worse places to be on Cardassia Prime these days. They had come through the capital on their way out here -- that had been a shock. Keiko had read
about it -- had known in an abstract way, the way you think you know things that you see on news broadcasts or read about -- but nothing had prepared her for the reality. Nothing had prepared her for the black, blasted landscape, for the dust and the dark, for the hollow eyes of the survivors trying to keep on living in the ruins. Trying to get down one street, they had been held up by workers clearing away the debris -- she remembered with a shudder watching as they unearthed a pile of skeletons....She'd only just distracted Molly's attention in time, before the little girl had seen. There had been risks, she and Miles knew, in first moving the family to Deep Space 9, then bringing them here to Cardassia. But there were limits. There were some things you had to protect your children from.
In the square, someone had started humming. Someone picked up the melody, then someone else -- and soon the whole assembly had joined in. The sound seemed to build up, seemed to be moving outward from t...