April 2382 1
Kasidy Yates watched as a seething sea of fire cascaded toward her. Within the roiling flames, she spied sections of hull plating hurtling forward, end over end, the conflagration feasting on the lost atmosphere and fractured fragments of the wounded space station. The blaze grew until it filled the screen on her companel, and then the image changed to a view of the aftermath of the explosion. From above, with the red globe of Mars in the background, Utopia Planitia floated in orbit with a substantial chunk of its main cylinder ripped away. The great dome at that end of the station, dark and seemingly abandoned, barely remained attached to the structure.
Tension gripped Kasidy’s chest, as though a cold hand had reached in and seized her heart. According to the news feed, some sort of industrial accident had befallen Utopia Planitia. Starfleet had yet to offer casualty figures, but she had no doubt that lives—many lives—had been lost.
Kasidy reached up and stabbed at the controls of the companel to deactivate it, then pushed herself away from the wall-mounted device. The wheels of her chair rolled smoothly on the hardwood floor, and she stood up as though propelled from her seat. She stalked across the room that served primarily as a home office, but doubled as a guest room for any visitors who stayed overnight. Framed photographs of family, friends, and special places adorned the walls, and a sofa to her left converted into a comfortable bed.
The heels of Kasidy’s shoes clocked against the floor as she crossed the room and over to the window. Pushing aside the wine-colored drapes, she glanced out the back of the house. She slid open the window, and a warm drift of air greeted her, carrying with it the bittersweet scents of autumn. In the distance, atop the rolling hills of Kendra Province, the skeletal forms of denuded trees marched along a base of yellowing grass, the groundcover partially veiled by the vibrant crimsons, ochers, and golds of fallen leaves. Just three weeks earlier, the sky had grown pale, and a cold snap had attested to the impending arrival of winter. Over the previous few days, though, the cerulean expanse of summer seemed to return, with higher temperatures bringing a temporary reprieve from the snows that would eventually blanket the land.
Kasidy concentrated on the vista before her, attempting to put thoughts of the Utopia Planitia calamity out of her mind. Away to the right, she could just make out a short arc of the Yolja River as it bent southward, to where it twined through valley plains and dense forests until it spilled into the turquoise waters of the Korvale Ocean. To the left of the house stood an outbuilding that Kasidy had built during the past six months, a constructive outlet for her anxious energy. The oversized shed lodged the escape pod that Nog had long ago modified for planet-based emergency use. A good friend, Nog had worried about her when she’d been pregnant and alone back then, and he hadn’t wanted her to have to walk the couple of kilometers into Adarak if the town’s local transporter went off line for maintenance or some other reason. At the time, six years earlier, Ben had yet to return from his mysterious sojourn in the Bajoran wormhole. Ben.
Just thinking about him hurt.
Except that it didn’t just
hurt. Even more than a year after her husband had gone, thoughts of him dredged up a complex mix of emotions. Kasidy recalled vividly the last time he had been home—and how she had pulled open the front door and told him to leave. In retrospect, that night had not brought an end to their marital troubles, nor had it truly been the beginning of their separation. Emotionally, they had parted ways months prior to that, perhaps even years. No, not years,
Kasidy thought. She had waited for Ben through her pregnancy, choosing to believe the veracity of the vision she’d experienced just after the end of the Dominion War. In it, her husband spoke to her from within the wormhole—what Ben and the Bajoran faithful called the Celestial Temple—and told her that he would someday return to her.
And he had. Just a moment after Kasidy gave birth to Rebecca, Ben walked through a doorway in the Shikina Monastery, as though he’d simply been away on some ordinary excursion. The three of them—mother, daughter, father—went back to the house outside Adarak, to the land that Ben had secured, to the house that he had planned and that Kasidy and Jake had built during his absence.
For years, all had been well. Rebecca grew up healthy and happy, and despite her status among adherents of the Ohalu religious sect as the Avatar—a harbinger of a new age of awareness and understanding for the people of Bajor—the Bajorans for the most part respected the family’s privacy. Kasidy and Ben settled into a relatively quiet life centered around raising their daughter.
Starfleet had wanted Ben back, of course. They offered him an admiralty, which he declined, preferring instead to step away from active duty. Kasidy, too, distanced herself from her vocation; though she continued to remotely oversee the operations of her freighter, Xhosa,
she turned over the actual day-to-day running of the ship to her first mate, Wayne Sheppard.
Those days at home in Kendra had brought simple but deeply abiding joys. With Ben’s attentions not continually given over to the responsibilities and vagaries of command, and with Kasidy not away for weeks at a time on cargo runs, she felt closer to her husband than ever. And the emotions engendered in her by their daughter filled her so completely, she could scarcely believe it; Kasidy never before knew anything like the bond she shared with Rebecca.
As though summoned by Kasidy’s thoughts, a high-pitched peal rang out. In the instant before she recognized her daughter’s laughter, her brain processed the sound as a scream. A sensation like an electric charge flowed through Kasidy’s body. Two years prior, such shrieks had haunted her dreams. A religious zealot had kidnapped Rebecca, and in the nights before they safely recovered her, Kasidy’s nightmares frequently woke her with the echoes of Rebecca’s shrill cries for help still seemingly in her ears.
Kasidy watched as her daughter came racing around the corner of the house, dressed in her pink jumper. Her thin little legs carried her confidently past the once-colorful flowerbeds that mother and daughter had planted in the spring. Behind Rebecca followed Jasmine Tey, the young Malaysian woman she and Ben had retained after their daughter’s abduction. While Tey nominally helped around the house a few days a week, her advanced security training provided peace of mind with respect to Rebecca’s safety. Kasidy and Ben—and now just Kasidy—felt sure in their ability to protect their daughter, but when Rebecca went to school, or when they sometimes needed to focus their attentions elsewhere, they brought in Tey. That morning, Kasidy had required a few hours to plan out Xhosa
’s manifest and itinerary for the next month, and in the afternoon, she’d wanted to go into Adarak, so Tey had agreed to spend the day there.
Rebecca ran with abandon along the back of the house, her wide smile exposing the gap where she’d recently lost her two upper front teeth. A bit small for her age, she otherwise tested normal for a five-and-a-half-year-old human girl. She favored neither of her parents particularly, her features seeming to blend the best of both of them. Rebecca possessed her father’s rich, dark coloring, but with the smooth texture of Kasidy’s own complexion; she had Ben’s penetrating eyes and self-assured bearing, but Kasidy’s high cheekbones and slender nose; she smiled with her father’s lips, but expressed amusement with her mother’s laugh.
As Rebecca darted past the window, she waved a hand in Kasidy’s direction without looking. “Hi, Mommy,” she yipped, and kept running.
Kasidy had not seen her daughter take notice of her standing at the window. Kasidy dismissed the odd moment, but not quite as easily as once she would have. Such episodes—Rebecca perceiving some detail she had apparently neither seen nor heard, knowing some fact that seemed beyond her knowledge and experience—had occurred from time to time, even all the way back to her infancy. How often in the middle of the night had she stopped crying the moment Kasidy opened her eyes, as though Rebecca somehow sensed that she would soon receive food or a diaper change or whatever would satisfy the need that had caused her tears?
Tey chased along after Rebecca, looking up at the window, also waving and offering a “Hi, Ms. Yates” as she passed. With a slim figure and a personable demeanor, the young woman, just turned thirty, did not appear especially formidable. Her extensive law-enforcement training and experience told a different story, though. Skilled in the implementation of protective techniques, in the use of numerous weapons, and in myriad forms of hand-to-hand combat—including the rigors of Klingon martial arts—Jasmine Tey constituted an impressive one-woman security force. At the time Rebecca had been seized by the Ohalu extremist, Tey had just stepped down after a five-year tour on the detail safeguarding Bajor’s first minister, Asarem Wadeen. At Asarem’s suggestion, Tey had been brought in to assist in safely recovering Rebecca, and she had been instrumental in those efforts.
From the first time Rebecca had met her, she’d loved “Auntie Jasmine.” For her part, Tey seemed to return that affection. On days when she came out to the house, the two spent all their time together, sometimes playing, sometimes reading, sometimes staying outdoors.
As Kasidy looked on, Tey caught up to Rebecca, r...