Secrets and Lies by Ln X
Summary: On a remote planet in the Badlands called Tau Primia, and in the middle of nowhere, Megan Felpes and her colleague Jack Smith observe a prison manned by rebel Cardassians. But what starts as a simple mission goes horribly wrong, when she and Jack are captured and imprisoned, and for the next two years Megan's life becomes a living hell...

Fast forward two years and captain Ezri Dax is the new commander of Deep Space Nine, and on a personal level there are many challenges to overcome, as she comes to terms with her long term break-up with Bashir, and the friends she lost contact with during the many years away from the station. However shortly after arriving, Ezri faces a new problem when a fleet of Cardassian warships arrive at DS9.

Upon being contacted by one of the ships, Ezri encounters Garak, the president of the Cardassian government and general commander-in-chief of the Cardassian Union. During a private meeting, Garak gives to Ezri a very unusual offer...

This soon morphs into Ezri's first mission as captain to carry out a daring rescue operation to free the prisoners on Tau Primia...

///

Set eighteen years after the Dominion War, this story sees the return of some the main characters from DS9: Kira, Odo, Bashir, Quark and Ezri. This universe is NOT based on the DS9 relaunch books, this is my own interpretation of events after the end of the Dominion war. This is DS9 but radically tweaked...

Warning: Contains occasional strong violence, mild swearing, adult situations and emotive mush.
Categories: Deep Space Nine, Expanded Universes Characters: Bashir, Julian, Dax, Ezri, Felpes, Megan, Garak, Elim, Holo, Kira Nerys, Odo, Quark, Weatherby, Max
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Family, Friendship
Warnings: Adult Language, Adult Situations, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: Star Trek: The Approaching Shadow
Chapters: 3 Completed: No Word count: 16039 Read: 4170 Published: 03 Mar 2016 Updated: 12 Apr 2016

1. Chapter 1 - Tau Primia by Ln X

2. Chapter 2 -- Two Years Later by Ln X

3. Chapter 3 -- Old and New by Ln X

Chapter 1 - Tau Primia by Ln X
Stardate: 68453.2
Location: Tau Primia, M-class planet, Badlands


Arid winds rushed up the steep cliff face to sweep over the wide mesa, shrubs and bushes reflexively buckled to each and every change in the wind. Such wind should have provided respite in the dry heat but its warmness did little to alleviate this scorcher of a day.

Such weather was typical of Tau Primia, an N-class planet in the middle of the Badlands. Half the planet was a vast desert with an equator uninhabitable to most humanoids, even Tau Primia's so called temperate areas regularly exceeded thirty degrees centigrade. Though the mesa had inadequate shelter at least its elevation took the edge off the often overpowering heat. The mesa provided a great view of the valley below where a mighty river swept along dusty flood plains, on both sides of the valley canyon-esque cliff formations bounded the catchment areas.

Most humanoids would not thrive under such conditions, but this environment was perfect for Cardassians, grey-skinned humanoids with prominent facial and shoulder ridges, a people who adored the heat and a strong sun. A Cardassian settlement had sprung up around the somewhat dilapidated frame of a redoubt which blended into the largely orange and red scenery, no one knew how it got here on this remote world or who created it. What mattered was that it was called home to the two thousand or so occupants who had been living here.

A remote Cardassian colony would be of small importance to the likes of Starfleet and its subsidiary branch Starfleet Intelligence, what was of great importance were the five hundred Cardassian soldiers who guarded the so-called “Butcher of Keram”- Gul Bordak. By chance a Bolian freighter had passed by the Tau Primia star system and picked up transmissions from the planet, two years later and this planet was regularly monitored by Starfleet.

And thus we come back to the mesa and to the casual observer there would be nothing out of the ordinary, indeed holographic technology would fool pretty much anybody if they did not know what to detect for. Inside this technological deception there existed an observation shack covered in desert orange and suitable shrubbery camouflage. Most of the time this shack remained unoccupied, today though it bore resident to one Megan Felpes and her human partner Jack Stiles.

A Starfleet commander and also agent of Starfleet Intelligence, SI, Megan had been tasked with this observational assignment due to the USS Liberty conducting some exploration of a completely different continent upon Tau Primia, this week-long mission just happened to coincide with the mission SI had given to Megan and her colleague to complete.

Monitoring like this sometimes caused Megan's mind to wonder, right now she half-focused on the monitor screen in front of her as she thought a bit about the past. The “brown-eyed Mediterranean beauty” some male cadets in the Starfleet Academy would say, especially those looking to date her. This always struck Megan as funny because she was born on the east coast of the former country known as the USA, such silly statements...

And such silly thoughts Megan sternly told herself. Now was not the time for reveries, not when Gul Bordak was expected to come into their line of sight in about half an hour's time. Megan's ship, the Liberty, had intercepted subspace communications coming from the redoubt compound and thus at 1340 hours a meeting should be taking place between Gul Bordak and a contact of his, the Tren captain Abarzjid. Who the Tren were was a mystery both for Megan and her superiors, she had never even seen this alien race before. One thing appeared clear, the Tren were not local to the Alpha Quadrant.

The explorer in Megan buzzed with excitement, after all Starfleet's mission was to seek out new alien races and explore new worlds. The intelligence operative, and her experience, cautioned her otherwise, after all the technological capabilities of the Tren were unknown and in Megan's line of work considering the what ifs was the difference between a nasty surprise and immense peril. What if the Tren were aware of SI's surveillance, how would this alien species respond?

Such questions would gnaw away at any person until they became a dithering, undecided mess, Megan though was made of stronger stuff, she was trained to handle this persistent uncertainty which could change on a short notice. Should the worse happen she and Jack had a contingency plan to make their hasty escape.

As Megan waited for their quarry to arrive, since silence was observed and conversation kept to a bare minimum, the outlet of idle conversation was not provided for her. So instead she focused the optical sensors beyond the redoubt and at the Cardassian settlement. The buildings appeared hastily constructed and their dull gray duranium frames contrasted so vividly with the sandstone landscape. These were hardy people to live in such a wilderness, even for Cardassians...

Jack, her black-skinned, bald colleague, gave her a quick tap on the shoulder and Megan got the hint.

They had located Gul Bordak.


***


Bordak leaned back into his chair after reading the daily report on the status of the prisoners. He was quite tall, thin and possessed a rather twisted face, it revealed a certain gaunt and reptilian quality about it, and for a Cardassian his facial ridges were unusually pronounced.

To be a Gul was to command a ship, an installation or a battalion of men. Gul Bordak commanded all three: four Galor-class warships, a redoubt and five hundred soldiers. Additionally, he oversaw the prisoners who worked in the mining installations, many of the prisoners were bandits and mercenaries who had the misfortune of visiting Tau Primia. Though Bordak had a low opinion of criminals and prisoners in general, he was not cruel, he ordered the prison overseers to burden the prisoners with only what they could manage. A starved, emaciated prisoner was not a productive one and the Cardassian mining crews needed all the help they could get.

The four Cardassian ships under his command were his most important assets; he used them to attack ships passing through the Badlands. Outsiders thought that many of the disappearances in the Badlands were due to the region's ferocious plasma storms; but Bordak knew better. Some of these missing vessels were his work and Bordak remained careful of not being greedy, if too many ships were lost then undoubtedly further unwelcome visitors would come to investigate, visitors such as Starfleet.

Through careful raiding this ensured there was sufficient labour by capturing the crew of these ships. Through this process, Bordak had acquired all sorts of prisoners: humans, Klingons, Ferengi, Starfleet officers, slaves, and even a Bajoran vedek. On one occasion, Bordak and his men captured a shapeshifter, that had been an interesting challenge trying to imprison a shapeshifter. Over the years this penal workforce had grown to three hundred in number. This was yet more evidence of how Bordak had helped this colony to find a foothold on a world, though much akin to Cardassia Prime, was still unforgiving and supply ships from the homeland were few and far between- the price of negotiated, unofficial exile.

This afternoon was a Tren afternoon, one of Bordak's more useful allies Captain Abarzjid, of the Tren Empire, would be visiting to negotiate weapons sales, in return Bordak would have to hand over some of the prisoners into Tren hands. Although Bordak occasionally deployed torture, he shuddered to think what the Tren would do under the pretext of "medical experiments". But Tren weaponry was worth a thousand highly productive prisoners, thus it was a reasonable price to pay.

The door to his office opened and one of his Glinn's, Jeralin, came into the office.

“Sir, Captain Abarzjid has arrived. He asks to speak with you immediately.”

Bordak merely nodded, he always valued Jeralin's direct manner, a quality he most valued in his closest confidant.

“Inform Abarzjid that I will come in five minute's time,” he answered to his trusted Glinn.

Jeralin nodded before adding, “and what of those Starfleet spies?”

“Let them watch...” Bordak calmly replied.

“There is a strong possibility that this reconnaissance is a prelude to a Starfleet attack, I would not put it past Starfleet to seek revenge on the "Butcher of Keram".”

“As long as the President designates this planet as territory of the Cardassian Union then nothing will happen.”

“And what of the meeting with Captain Abarzjid?” Jeralin inquired. “If Starfleet Intelligence has some inkling concerning our dealings with the Tren, what stops them from relaying their findings back to the homeland?”

“That is a risk I am willing to take,” said Bordak stridently. “I have no intention of spending the rest of my years on this arid world!”

“Me neither, but our situation is precarious.”

“I understand your concerns Jeralin but we should be grateful that fortune has bestowed to us the Tren.”

Jeralin's brown eyes steadfastly gazed upon Bordak. “Whatever my inner doubts I do trust your judgement; the colony is proof enough of that.”

With a slight nod Bordak silently bade Jeralin to leave and wordlessly his friend, and ally, departed from the office. Having Jeralin's vote of confidence provided a measure of certainty in unclear times.

In a slow fashion Bordak made his way out of the office, he was in no rush. What he most fancied would be a glass of kanar and a relaxing afternoon under the intense sun. Being both a Gul and the leader of this settlement denied Bordak the opportunity for such pleasant diversions, he may have been in exile but he was a busy exile nevertheless. The glass of kanar would have to wait for late, late in the evening.


***


Everything was going according to the plan, Megan watched as Gul Bordak entered a courtyard, contained inside the redoubt, and smartly walked over to greet Abarzjid. Sadly, an audio recording was not possible, however the video recording would hopefully be sufficient for Starfleet xenolinguists to lip read Bordak, perhaps even Abarzjid if this Tren captain was addressing Bordak in actual Cardassian and not a universally translated Tren-to-Cardassian tongue.

The last thing Megan remembered was adjusting slightly the optical sensor's focus, a sharp tap upon the back of her head rendered her immediately unconscious...



***


Bordak entered the outer part of the courtyard, his footfalls echoing off the stony floor comprised of black flagstones. This sheltered area had an outer perimeter of severe-looking ceramic columns holding up the high roof. Three sides of the courtyard bordered prison areas within the redoubt and the fourth connected up with the main command centre. Right in the middle a small fountain gushed water via a holographic generator. Though a facsimile, the sound the water made as it splashed into the pool was very real.

And there Abarzjid stood, patiently waiting at one end of the courtyard, as Bordak walked closer to the Tren he noticed how Abarzjid appeared just as equally bored as Bordak felt deep down inside. Though an ally of Bordak's, he knew Abarzjid had no real love of being a Tren liaison to the colony.

“Captain,” Bordak said in his most courteous voice possible. “How was the trip from... well wherever it is you came from?”

“The same Bordak,” Abarzjid replied as he forced a smile. “The same monotonous sights that I have seen for the last eight years of my assignment.”

“Of course; how foolish of me,” said Bordak, a faint smile of his own lingered before he made his point. “So how may I be of service to you?”

Now Abarzjid perked up. “I -- that is to say the Tren military -- want fifty of your prisoners for...” The Tren paused, searching for a reason. “Let's say "medical" purposes for the sake of the Empire's exploration of this galaxy and its study of the various inhabitants...”

“You have no need to explain yourself,” said Bordak, “But fifty prisoners are quite a lot considering past dealings.”

“You have a shapeshifter in your custody right?”

“Indeed and quantum subspace inhibiter or not, he has been quite troublesome to deal with.”

“Well I can knock off twenty prisoners if you are willing to hand the shapeshifter, he would be very valuable-”

All of a sudden, the sound of an explosion muted Abarzjid's voice. Bordak instantly crouched down as he felt a terrific streak of heat run across his back. “Get down!” he yelled.

Behind his back one of the courtyard's columns had been damaged badly, a thin layer of molten metal oozed from the struck part of the column.

When Bordak got to his feet he was pleased to see that Abarzjid looked a little shaken. However, his vindictive pleasure rapidly faded when he heard the sizzling noise coming from the column. He had escaped death by millimeters, but where was the shooter?

Bordak looked around, someone had definitely fired a phaser beam, more than likely tracerless, and that someone could only be outside the prison... Instinctively Bordak knew where the shooter could be...

As he and Abarzjid made a hasty dash for the safety of the redoubt's confines, some of the initial shock began to wear off and a powerful rage built up inside Bordak. Who had the audacity to attack his prison and try to kill him? Was this some sort of botched assassination attempt on Starfleet's part?

In any case, the prison sensors would have detected the beam, and the telemetry of the heat signature would give the location of where the beam originated. Moreover, when he captured his would-be assassins, he vowed to punish them severely...


***


Megan came around and momentarily she felt horribly groggy, the back of her head still pounded. A surge of alertness, brought on by her Starfleet training, made her sit up and her eyes struggled to comprehend that they were seeing- Jack was hastily disassembling a phaser rifle trained in the direction of the redoubt, a phaser rifle?

“What are you-”

She dashed forwards, too late for Jack to really react, as she lunged for the rifle and snatched it out of Jack's hands. Without thinking she wrenched open the hatch to remove the energy cell, as if that could somehow alter what she had just witnessed.

“We have to leave now,” said Jack tonelessly.

Leave? Megan did not know what was going on and the small part of her which did found the conclusion too dreadful to bear... So she picked up a nearby optical visor and trained it upon the courtyard, what looked like a phaser beam had struck one of the courtyard's columns and her heart sank in despair.

Whirling around, removing her phaser from its holster, she confronted Jack. “What are you doing?” she demanded.

The strange neutrality from Jack started to crumble, those brown eyes betrayed desperation and even fear.

“You tried to kill Bordak, why?” she demanded, punctuating this with a jab of her phaser upon Jack's chest.

“We need to get out of here before the Cardassians detect us.”

Anger flared up inside Megan, it was such a pathetic answer and after all they had been through and what they had so intimately shared... The betrayal hurt all the more for it. “We're not going anywhere until you answer my questions!” she said sharply. “Who are you working for?”

Jack failed to respond and instead moved closer to her.

“Don't move!” she warned.

Now the fear became detectable from Jack. “In less than two minutes the Cardassians would have traced the origin of the phaser blast. In another minute Cardassian soldiers will beam in and surround this shack, we need to leave. Now!”

Jack said the last couple of words with such incredible force that Megan almost jumped, through all the shock and dismay she began to focus and to quickly reassess the situation. Megan made a split second judgement; escape was a lot more important than questioning Jack. Any questions would wait until they were safely onboard the USS Liberty.

“Pack up the equipment,” she ordered.

Jack worked at break-neck speed packing away the various devices and gadgets into a container. Megan haphazardly sorted out her own equipment, not once did she turn her gaze away from Jack though, after what he did she could never trust him again. After two minutes they were both ready to leave.

Only instead they both froze upon hearing the sound of transport beams close to their location. Megan knew the Cardassians could not see them or physically detect them, but even so haste was called for. She signalled to Jack, and he got the message, they both activated the site-to-site transporter devices which they wore on their wrists.

Suddenly the Cardassians started shooting randomly into the area Megan and Jack were hiding in. Megan dropped down to prone as phaser fire penetrated through the shack as did bits of burnt camouflage coating. Her hand flew from the transporter device on her wrist to her hip-mounted phaser, she set the weapon to stun.

The Cardassian soldiers continued firing, setting the surrounding bushes on fire. Smoke billowed through the shack's phaser holes and it clogged up Megan's mouth and nose. She heard a yelp from Jack and looking rightwards she saw a horrible penetrating wound embedded deep into the man's wrist, with a horrible lurch of worry Megan realised Jack's transporter device had been hit as well.

There was nothing for it; they were going to have to shoot their way out of this situation. Whatever Jack had done Megan refused to leave him at the mercy of the Cardassians. She nodded to Jack and, pointing their phasers through the large holes in the shack, they both fired at different soldiers

The two Cardassian soldiers crumpled and fell to the floor. The remainder of their comrades concentrated their fire upon Jack's position. He was a mere ten feet away from Megan but they caught each other's eye, in that moment she knew he was going to protect her no matter what the cost...

“Go!” Jack shouted. “I'll hold them off!”

For a brief moment Megan paused, she realised Jack really did care for her. Whatever comfort this generated faded immediately as she focused on what mattered, activating the site-to-site transporter. The last thing she noticed, as her body disappeared, was a phaser beam striking Jack. She yelled out his name but no sound came from her disembodied mouth.


***


Megan materialised, she held her phaser out expecting to be fired upon at any moment, but there was nobody around. She spotted the Starfleet runabout ten metres to her left, the Cardassians it seemed had not bothered to beam over to the runabout, not yet anyway.

The runabout was close to a series of lakes, enclosed on three sides by massive sandstone mountains and cliffs. Rainforest clung to the edge of the lakes and stretched some distance up the vast slopes. Rainforests were a rare sight on Tau Primia found only in canyons and vast gorges where the low water table was exposed.

Approaching the runabout, Megan desperately tried to think of some kind of explanation to Ensign Cotore, who was inside the runabout. Since she was also a Starfleet officer, Megan usually kept secret to everyone else that she worked with Starfleet Intelligence, in reality she was a hired hand whom SI found to be useful. In between SI missions, she served onboard various starships. For the last six months, she had been stationed on the USS Liberty and her colleague Jack resided on Geckon II, a planet orbiting a trinary star system, which was the headquarters for SI in the Badlands. Given their private relationship, what Megan had thought a blessing now transformed itself into a terrible, terrible curse.

Her official mission, the cover for the SI mission, was to conduct a geological survey of a site half of a kilometre from the runabout. Only the Liberty's captain, Elenor Haydra, had knowledge of the SI mission. To date Megan had never completed an SI mission while still serving onboard the starship she had been posted in. Moreover, that fact did not bode too well with Megan.

In fact, she hated the secrecy, it was an idiotic decision from Starfleet Intelligence, since this very secrecy had just added several minutes between now and the moment of her informing the only person who could get the Liberty out of this peril. Megan presumed that the Cardassians possessed at least one warship, and there the Liberty was serenely orbiting the planet completely unaware of the danger...

264 lives. Unaware of the terrible threat bearing down upon them.

She opened the runabout's hatch, not really caring about the noise she made, and once closed she moved as quickly as she could along the compartment hold and into the cockpit.

Ensign Cotore, a Bolian, sat at the front operating the controls, she turned around as Megan approached.

“Commander?” Cotore inquired, looking startled. “What's going on? Where is Lieutenant Stiles?”

“Cardassians, they've captured Stiles,” she said briskly as she occupied the chair next to Cotore. “We have to get off this planet immediately!”

“Cardassians?” said Cotore disbelievingly. “But how did-”

Whatever question Cotore wanted to ask she then quickly disregarded, the same with her surprise. “Aye sir,” she replied and began preparing the runabout for takeoff.

As Megan sat back in her chair she contemplated the magnitude of Jack's recent actions. He tried to assassinate Gul Bordak, assassinate! There was no warning and no reason for doing so. So why? Now the despair returned, Jack was more than just a colleague to Megan, he was her lover, indeed home was wherever she and Jack lay down beneath the sheets.

Now Jack had betrayed that trust; whacked it out of her the moment he struck her unconsciousness. Megan was so troubled she barely noticed the runabout taking off and streaking upwards through the planet's atmosphere, the orange glow of the Badlands did catch her eye though.

The Badlands... Everyone wanted a piece of a vast expanse littered with fiery plasma fields, ionic storms and generally turbulent space. Virgin territory blessed with vast untapped natural resources in pockets of stable space and filled with plasma fields, a major source of energy if safely harnessed. Currently the Cardassian Union, the Federation, the Breen and the Ferengi Alliance were all laying claim to the right of controlling the Badlands. And the most dubious territorial claim of all only came from the Cardassian whom Jack had tried to assassinate, not just any Cardassian, the Butcher of Keram. Megan's only hope was a swift escape before Gul Bordak's wrath condemned not only her but the entire crew of the Liberty.

She could not bear thinking of this outcome, in agitation she looked out of the cockpit window and watched the planet growing smaller. It was a big mass of red mixed with orange, clumps of water and streaks of green vegetation. Somewhere down there the Cardassians were attacking Jack, the man was undoubtedly dead already...

Jack...

The betrayal stung deeply, so did the prospect of a lover lost. Megan was deep in thought when Cotore spoke. “What happened down there?”

It was more than a question, there was something almost accusatory in Cotore's voice which forced Megan to quickly revert back into her alert mode. “Stiles and I were carrying out the geological survey...” She paused as she tried to construct a story. “But... I sensed that someone was watching me... I turned around and I saw Cardassian soldiers approaching my position.”

Cotore looked shocked. “What were Cardassians doing so far away from their settlement?”

“I'm not sure,” said Megan, pretending to look confused. “I managed to escape, but Stiles was captured... I don't know if they killed him afterwards...”

Megan sincerely hoped Jack was not dead, though at the very least Cotore seemed satisfied with her answers, thankfully Cotore remained silent throughout the duration of the journey, permitting Megan some brief, but much needed, time to think.


***


Megan watched as the Liberty began to dominate the entire view from the cockpit windows. The ship loomed over the runabout and seeing the ship so close brought back to Megan, in full force, her worries for the Liberty's safety.

If the Cardassians on Tau Primia had even one warship, then the Liberty would be attacked in a matter of minutes. The Liberty was an Intrepid-class starship, the Intrepid class of starships had been decommissioned two years ago due to obsolete weaponry and shielding.

Ultimately the Intrepid class of starships was designed for deep-space missions, however after Starfleet cut the number of deep-space missions by more than a halve, the Intrepid ships were no longer needed anymore. Thankfully, the Liberty had been upgraded and retrofitted with tertiary shielding, adamantium armour, phaser banks and mark eight torpedoes; as per standard starship defences.

The moment the runabout had docked at the Liberty's shuttle bay, Megan dashed out of the runabout and practically ran towards the nearest turbolift, ignoring the staring of her fellow crew members. Megan felt like time was elapsing twice as fast.

“Felpes to Captain Haydra,” she cried tapping the combadge upon her chest

In her haste she had already stepped onto the turbolift when Haydra responded.

“Yes Commander? How was-”

“No time to explain, Captain- the ship must leave Tau Primia, it must travel to Geckon II immediately!”

“What-? Commander I am not moving this ship anywhere until you explain yourself.”

“I'm heading for the bridge right now; I will explain myself in person but you must believe me Captain! Felpes out.”

“Commander-”

Megan banged the side of the turbolift with clenched fists as she urged it to travel faster, she could not wait any longer...

At last she was walking out onto the bridge and to her relieve she found Captain Haydra waiting for her, immediately Haydra rose from the commander's chair. Haydra was a human woman: small, thin with long red hair which was always, when on duty, tied in an implacable bun. At the first sign of trouble, she was on the Liberty's bridge in a matter of moments.

“Commander I want you to explain to me what exactly is going on!”

“Cardassians!” Megan breathlessly exclaimed. “They detected the shack when Mr. Stiles fired at their fortress, they are mad with rage and Gul Bordak knows. He knows!”

“Lieutenant Stiles attacked the redoubt?”

“Captain,” Megan cried, putting her hands forth beseechingly. “What I say is the truth, I will tell you everything the moment this ship is travelling for Geckon II!”

Haydra just nodded with an if-you-say-so look on her face, immediately afterwards she addressed the officer at the helm. “Ensign Tabor set a course to Geckon II at once, maximum warp.”

“Why sir?” said Tabor sounding confused.

“Just do it Ensign!” both Haydra and Megan commanded.

Haydra sat back down in the commander’s chair and signalled to Megan to sit down. She shifted in her seat to face her first officer. “You were detected?” she whispered.

Megan nodded; and she could see Haydra quickly considering up her options.

“Commander,” she said quietly. “What on earth happened down there-”

Lieutenant Commander Abrahm, who was directly behind Haydra, interrupted the Captain, as he looked at his console. “Captain! There are two Cardassian ships... decloaking!” There was surprise in the Andorian's voice. “They are directly in front of us!”

“Decloaking?” Haydra asked, though her voice was steady, hiding her surprise. “Hail them!” she ordered.

On the view screen was Gul Bordak, who was standing on his ship's bridge. Bordak was smiling unpleasantly and despite the visible humour his eyes belied a cold, hard fury. “Greetings Captain, I am Gul Bordak the administrator of the Tau Primia prison camp, although I think the title of the "Butcher of Keram" would be more appropriate.”

“Captain-” Haydra desperately began only for Bordak to cut her off with one harsh, loud, "Silence!”

All the humour had vanished. “You have trespassed on Cardassian space. Because of this transgression you will now, unfortunately, be destroyed.”

The transmission ended as Haydra stood up from her chair. “Now wait just one moment-”

The whole bridge suddenly shook as the Cardassian ships bombarded the Liberty with phaser fire and photon torpedoes. Consoles everywhere exploded as EPS conduits blew out. Bulkheads dislodged, one of them collapsing upon Tabor, crushing him.

Megan clung on to her chair for dear life. Suddenly her chair gave way as a bulkhead came crashing down displacing the chair and herself, she was thrown onto the floor and in that instance she could not hear any more such was the ringing in her ears.

Time seemed to slow as the ship continued to shake and fires burned in the bridge. Darkness mingled with the fires, when the emergency lightening came on, the red illumination revealed a scene of complete devastation.

The shaking stopped and Megan slowly got herself onto her feet. She looked around to see dead body after dead body, some were burnt, others twisted and bloodied, some of them were still on fire. Shock threatened to paralyse Megan, hope flickered in the midst of her dark terror when she noticed someone moving on the floor.

It was Haydra; there were cuts all over her face and her bun had collapsed causing her long hair to drift down the middle of her back. “Damage report!” Haydra ordered.

“Captain they're all dead!” Was the first thing Megan could say.

Megan stopped panicking and she pulled herself together; Haydra's calmness was her courage. Megan went over to the closest functioning console. “There's massive damage to pretty much everyone of the ship's systems! No shields, phaser banks are depleted, the ship's computer is heavily damaged, and the warp core is moderately damaged -- containment holding barely -- and Captain...”

She looked up from the console. “We're being boarded!”

Haydra went pale but it was hard to tell under the flashing red lights. Regardless, she promptly tapped the console on the commander’s chair to address the Liberty's crew. “This is Captain Haydra to all crew members. We are being boarded by the Cardassians!” Still Haydra's voice remained as calm as ever. “Evacuate the ship immediately; open fire on the Cardassians if they try to stop you.”

“Captain,” protested Megan, “we don't stand a...”

Megan stopped talking as eight Cardassians, including Bordak, transported unto the bridge.

Haydra lurched for her phaser beneath her chair, the Cardassian soldiers simply snatched it off her and the Captain stood where she was, with fists clenched and defiance firmly holstered, while Megan froze.

“Captain what an unfortunate situation...” said Bordak with chilling sarcasm.

“Unfortunate?” shouted Haydra, anger in every syllable. “You attack my ship, kill my crew, and you say-”

Bordak interrupted Haydra. “If you surrender yourself I will let the survivors escape -- unharmed -- you have my word.”

“And what do you want from me?” Haydra spat out.

“You'll soon find out...” said Bordak, he was almost teasing Haydra. “I also want your first officer to...”

“Commander Felpes?” Haydra interrupted.

“Why yes,” replied Bordak heatedly. “After all it was your first officer and her accomplice who were spying on the settlement, that I could tolerate until they attempted to assassinate me.” The Cardassian's tone became ferociously harsh. “They will pay the price for their attempt on my life!”

Haydra's composure slipped, now she looked shocked and her eyes betrayed a terrible agony. “Is this true Megan?” the Captain said imploringly, as if hoping for the opposite. “Did you really-”

Somehow Megan tried to tell Haydra that she played no part in this, yet her lips and tongue made a mockery of her attempted answer. Too late though- a Cardassian swung his phaser rifle hard into the back of Haydra's head, the Captain fell to the floor unconscious. A terrible guilt erupted inside of Megan as her doom drew nigh, if she had only realised what Jack was planning to do! Then the Liberty would never have been attacked by the Cardassians and 246 crew members would not have to die horrible deaths or, worse still, face the horrors of Cardassian imprisonment.

Megan moved closer to Bordak, her fear became so strong it caused her hands to shake. At last she stopped before him and she was ready to die to protect her crewmates. “Please let the survivors go,” she pleaded, now she was on her knees, dignity be damned. “They're innocent, take me... not them please... Punish me, not them... Please, I beg you!”

Bordak was not swayed, such vivid triumphalism seemed only to savour the despair on Megan's face. He whipped out a communicator. “Troops!” he said, while holding the communicator to his mouth. “Capture all the survivors, those that resist, kill them! Let us show them some of our famous Cardassian hospitality...”

Terror struck Megan, this could not be happening... this was not real... “Please!” she screamed.

The last thing Megan saw was a Cardassian soldier swinging the butt of his gun towards her face...

Blackness followed...
Chapter 2 -- Two Years Later by Ln X
Stardate: 70466.8
Location: Cardassia Prime, capital city, Cardassian Senate


Few Cardassians ever set foot inside the Cardassian Senate, a place where the political elite conglomerated, an elite which deeply distrusted humans and especially disliked the Federation.

Yet a human was walking down the long, thin Senate corridors, ones where the green lighting tinged the colour of the bronze-like walls, reflecting the Cardassian's avoidance of bright lights and their love of the shade. Any human to even set foot on Cardassian soil would have been killed on sight.

However, Timothy Rooter was the exception, being the head of Section 31, and having strong connections with President Garak, gave him this right, this privilege, something which Rooter carefully maintained. Although Rooter had only five meetings with Garak, every meeting was important, indeed, it unofficially determined the diplomatic status between the Federation and the Cardassian Union.

Despite all of that, this meeting was different, the stakes had never been so high. Nevertheless, should the meeting be successful Rooter would get something he had wanted for a long time. Maybe he would eventually achieve the nigh on impossible; peace and cooperation between the Federation and the Cardassian Union, history would probably not mention his role, but he would know.

When arriving at the President's office, the Cardassian guards accompanying Rooter stopped. A third guard stationed outside the office's door approached and scanned Rooter with a type of Cardassian tricorder. The guard nodded once. “All clear,” he replied.

Next the guard tapped his communicator. “President, the Head of Section 31 Timothy Rooter is here at the designated time for the private meeting.”

“Send him in,” said the voice coming from the communicator.

At once the guard opened the office door and Rooter casually strolled in. While the guard had left the office, closing the door, Rooter and Garak came face-to-face and shook hands.

“President,” said Rooter respectfully.

“Mr. Rooter,” replied Garak with equal respect.

With the introduction finished, the two men took up their respective chairs situated on opposite sides of the Cardassian President’s desk.

Garak's office was very spacious yet austere, and behind Garak’s desk a window, which stretched across the width of the office, provided an impressive view of the capital city. The day was cloudy and the greyness blended in with the city's typical dull colours of brown, beige and tan.

“Very impressive security,” Rooter commented as he seated himself before Garak. “I doubt a changeling could make it a few metres without being caught.”

Garak mildly chuckled. “A changeling actually infiltrated the building once, disguised as the defence minister he attempted to assassinate me. Well after that unfortunate incident, quantum inhibitors became mandatory in all state and military buildings.”

“The audacity of the Dominion, attempting to assassinate the President of the Cardassian Union!”

“Actually the changeling was working for one of the dissident factions, I recall the Dominion representative pleading his case and the highly nervous Vorta emphatically assuring me that the Dominion had no part in this and how it could not account for changelings who had left the Great Link.”

“Perhaps a fractured link would be a more suitable description?” suggested Rooter.

“One of many strange occurrences in that part of the galaxy...” answered Garak, his gaze shifted rightwards slightly. “Milon, one tealberry tea for me, and for you Mr. Rooter?”

Turning around, Rooter saw an aged Cardassian whose composure reminded Rooter very much of human butlers. “Forgive my conservative taste,” he told Milon, “but please may I have red leaf tea and if possible add in a teaspoon of sugar?”

“Don’t be so modest!” said Garak. “All culinary tastes and preferences of foreign dignitaries are accommodated for here.”

“In that case Lapsang souchong tea, this time with no sugar.”

Milon nodded and left without a word, Rooter took this lull in the discussion to inspect the paintings displayed around the office, something which he had never got around to yet. One such painting caught his eye immediately, as he stood next to it the painting’s depiction was an odd one, it was divided in three evenly vertical parts each depicting a different scene and the boundaries smoothly blurring the edges of the scenes. Each part had one prominent figure: A Romulan to the left, a Klingon in the middle and a Starfleet officer, of human origin, at the right.

“Such stark beauty,” Rooter commented. “A testament to the skills of Cardassian artists.”

Garak came over to glance at the painting in question. “My wife painted a couple of these, in her spare time she is quite the consummate painter.”

“Did she create this one?”

“She did; simply titled “The Three Conquerors” it reflects three different occupations. The Klingon’s brutality is obvious with the butchered Cardassian woman, her helplessness and agony, shared by many of her race, shown by the batleth embedded deep in her bloodied chest. The Romulan’s soulless oppression, while not even comparable to the physical violence the Klingons dispensed, shows the violence towards our culture.”

“So the dreary, almost featureless, faces of Cardassian labourers suggests cultural suppression?”

“It does and lastly there is the Federation, though outwardly it appears benevolent notice the UFP patches embroidered on the shoulders of every Cardassian?”

So is that how the Cardassians always see us, given the past history between Cardassia and the Federation Rooter could understand why, it was after all a valid fear. “Let me guess… Cultural assimilation?”

“Yes, a rather benign form of oppression,” said Garak and still his tone remained light, “something few Cardassians asked for but were too shell-shocked to refuse or begin to understand immediately after the end of the Dominion war. Note also how the Starfleet officer does not face us.”

Now Rooter saw where this was going. “Hmm… And that’s symbolic, how?”

“Her back is turned to both the Romulan and the Klingon soldier,” Garak coldly replied, “she turns a blind eye to the oppression and the atrocities her allies commit.”

“I can safely say that was not the Federation’s proudest moment.”

“It’s complaisance towards its allies?”

Rooter ignored the question, whether or not Garak had brought this matter up in their past meetings, this reflected the biggest challenge Rooter faced when he dealt with Cardassians. It was said neglect is worse than hatred and Cardassian animosity towards the Federation was testament to the statement’s truth.

A diversion from this tense moment came when Milon returned. In his silent fashion he held the tray before Garak and Rooter and the two men took their respective beverages. After Garak thanked Milon the Cardassian butler left without a word.

Garak and Rooter sat upon a bench-like sofa, one placed directly under The Three Conqueror’s painting, and for a minute the two drank in silence.

“You know,” said Rooter, “I cannot do anything to change the past, I like to think though that I can help to nurture a better relationship between our two states.”

“How?” asked Garak, his gaze still on the tea. “As I recall Section 31 is an intelligence agency, not a diplomatic one.”

Setting aside his cup, Rooter explained himself. “Oh but there is a certain level of diplomacy involved, consider these meetings...”

“Our sixth one,” Garak blandly added, then he smiled. “Jaraw paid a visit one time, just the one time during his seven-year tenure as Section 31’s chief intelligence administrator. He came to apologise to me just after the Tau Primia incident…”

Now Garak turned his head to look Rooter in the eye. “Quite pathetic if you ask me.”

“It was either diplomatic groveling or war, I urged him to apologise -- in person -- to you.”

“A most interesting strategy, I cannot recall when a head of the Obsidian Order apologised before another member of state.”

Rooter ignored the humorous jab. “It helped keep the peace.”

A silence followed but Rooter remained patient, he drank his Lapsang souchong at a leisurely pace, right now he wished to put the Cardassian President at ease.

“I must say there is something strangely...” Garak searched for the relevant word. “Inviting about your demeanor, very different from your predecessor Jaraw.”

“Perhaps Jaraw was lacking in certain qualities of diplomacy?” Rooter suggested. “Do not mistake niceness for weakness, believe me my agency could make life very unpleasant for your government if it truly threatened Federation interests.”

“And does my government threaten Federation interests?” asked Garak pointedly.

“Let's say the answer is ambiguous at best,” said Rooter with feigned caution. “Perhaps more tending towards helping than hindering said interests, then again perhaps after this meeting the answer will definitely skew more towards helping.”

“And what do you have in mind?”

Pausing briefly Rooter considered his approach. “How long has this cold war lasted?” he then asked. “15 years since the Karem Massacre and the Cardassian Union has defied expectations of collapsing by instead flourishing. Something which must be credited to both its government and its President.”

He raised his cup before Garak. “To sound leadership.”

Garak merely nodded, the tea had been disregarded, and now that Rooter had the President’s full attention he continued on.

“Having said that, no state is an island. I bet the Cardassian economy would have recovered at least twice as fast without Federation sanctions?”

“Far sooner,” said Garak, “perhaps a relative parity would have been achieved around about now...”

“But the slaughter of eight hundred million of your people is an incalculable loss.”

Something dark, almost despairing, very quickly flashed in Garak’s eyes. “It will take at least a century just to merely restore this civilization, possibly two. The Dominion were thorough with their typical brutality and vindictiveness.”

“And it was not just the Dominion who waged genocide against your people, the Breen were happy to play their part and the Klingons practiced their textbook occupation tactics. You fought against fierce enemies and incredibly unforgiving odds, yet here you are.”

With each account of Cardassian loss, Garak’s stare only intensified upon Rooter after his heartless telling of the facts.

“And the point of this is?”

“How are you going to safeguard Cardassia's future?” Rooter asked. “Where are your allies when hostilities are directed towards the Cardassian Union? Who would you turn to if say the Breen invaded? The Tzenkathi maybe?”

Looking away Garak considered this. “A Federation Alliance would at first appear ideal,” he commented.

“But,” Garak said, once more firmly meeting Rooter’s eye. “They are allied with the Klingons, a military alliance no less and enshrined in the Khitomer Accords. The Federation may be outwardly honourable but can they pull the leash on their Klingon friends?”

“The Klingons are in no position to threaten anyone, their glory days are over, regrettably their last attempt for past glory cost the lives of over twenty million Cardassians-”

“Regrettable?” Garak repeated.

“Yes, regrettable,” answered Rooter with practiced steadiness. “The Federation was scared of additional war, only by misfortune did it persuade the Klingon Defence Forces to leave Cardassian territory. Ironic that it was the Breen who inadvertently provided respite to your people.”

“The Federation sat by and did nothing as the Klingons inflicted fresh woe upon my race, a friend in words only is no friend of mine.”

The guise of neutrality vanished from Garak as his anger broke forth. “Where were they when the cities on Torros were razed to the ground? Or the destruction of Vellim metropolis on Loval? A frayed alliance with the Klingons was far more valuable than the wellbeing of the Cardassian people. What the Federation did was unforgiveable.”

“Unforgiveable!” he repeated harshly.

“Yes it was,” said Rooter and he did not turn away from the hot anger Garak radiated at him. “But that does not mean the Federation is of no use to the Cardassian Union. Yes the Federation can be undoubtedly aloof and neutral to the point of sin, given the right circumstances though it can be a powerful ally.”

Garak’s eyes narrowed. “An ally to us or a pawn to them?”

“I would hope an ally... Section 31 is more than just an intelligence agency, it conducts some of the unofficial diplomatic dialogue, the kind of talks two races would refuse to hold were it not for some intelligent individuals who had a vision for the future. Section 31 may burn bridges but we are careful to maintain the bridges that matter and build new ones. I'm not asking for some miraculous "peace in our time" sentiment to arise overnight. No, what I'm offering is a small bit of cooperation which will pave the way for more valuable opportunities: trade rights, research agreements, military pacts...”

Rooter stopped there and he was pleased to see Garak’s anger had largely diminished.

“Go on,” Garak prompted.

“This will start with a little amount of self-interest on both sides. Gul Bordak is a thorn for both you and the Federation, in particular Starfleet.”

“A thorn Starfleet tried to remove, what a disaster that was, an embarrassment for your agency. Its sloppiness nearly triggered a third Cardassian/Federation war, so forgive me if my confidence in Section 31's efficacy is low.”

Rooter ignored Garak’s cutting sarcasm. “Jaraw was a poor administrator, he stepped up to the role simply because no one else would. By the time he had resigned -- part of the fallout from the Tau Primia incident -- I had to step up and clean the mess which was strewn everywhere. What happened on Tau Primia was the work of a loose cannon and if Section 31's vetting procedures had been more strident, the incident would never have occurred nor would I have lost one of my protégés.”

“So there are personal reasons for eliminating Bordak for good?”

Rooter could almost hear the intelligence agency mantra now, never make business personal. “Repatriating this agent would be a pleasant bonus, an unlikely one though as I can well imagine Bordak had him executed long ago.”

“Fair enough...” Now Garak gazed more intently at Rooter. “So what exactly do you propose?”

“If the Cardassian Union and the Federation work together to capture Bordak it would be a start in thawing diplomatic relations. Perhaps it could lead to the end of the Demilitarized Zone and the resumption of trade between these two interplanetary states?”

Garak though turned away from Rooter and focused on the tea mug he held. “I feel Gul Bordak is not really a pressing concern. Given the man disgraced himself by pledging his allegiance to the state and imposing on himself exile to Tau Primia, a world of little importance. His supporters in the Union, those that still remain, continue to question why he accepts aid from Central Command.”

“He is a spent political force,” Garak bluntly added.

“Maybe,” replied Rooter after he had passed a padd to Garak. “But his newfound allies may find him useful in the future.”

“The Tren?” asked Garak sharply as he reviewed the padd.

“The mystery of the Alpha Quadrant... Come on Elim, we both know they are making inroads, gathering intelligence and finding allies. Their actions imply an imperial power at work, one perhaps similar to the Dominion. The fact they choose to aid Cardassian dissidents shows who they think is most likely to cooperate with the Federation.”

Lowering the padd with a finality and also resignation, Garak mused, “These Tren... They're playing a game of regime change, that much is obvious, nevertheless I will find these traitors who work with the Tren to further their petty schemes, but not until they publically expose their hand.”

“And why not prune one such traitor right now?” suggested Rooter, and now the tension arose inside of him, he had to sell this now. “Section 31 has all the evidence you need to ensure Gul Bordak not only receives a swift execution, but it will finally destroy his image once and for all. Think about it... You work with Starfleet to capture Bordak, you can argue that Federation cooperation has strengthened the Cardassian Union, that Cardassia must make its mark on the quadrant again and end the isolation.”

Again Rooter paused, not for one moment did he avert his gaze from Garak, he was trying to read something, anything, from the President’s masklike countenance.

“Capture Bordak,” Rooter repeated with great emphasis. “End his operation on Tau Primia and you may have the Federation as your ally. Suddenly that Breen invasion is starting to seem far less threatening...”

Garak continued to mull it over, until… “And what does Section 31 gain from this?”

“Cooperation,” answered Rooter with complete conviction. “That and the fact a good deed is its own reward...”

He changed tack. “We could play the leverage game, hide behind cold war tactics and believe me I know some very compromising things. Assassinating a Romulan Senator and fooling the Romulans into thinking the Dominion were responsible? "Purging" several hundred high-ranking members of the Yatiya Party? Section 31 knows all about your dirty little secrets, frankly I no longer care, but is the President of the Cardassian Union stupid enough to pass up a gift like this?”

Another pause, one which ended when Garak got to his feet. “Alright...”

Now Rooter stood up and shook Garak's offered hand, not the human hand shake though, the Cardassian one where the hand pressed upon the other’s forearm; a true Cardassian seal of agreement. Though there was caution in Garak’s eyes, Rooter could see the opportunity as well.

“Let's try this out,” said Garak with a warm confidence. “You give word to your contacts in the Federation and I will prepare a small fleet in anticipation of this joint military operation.”

“It will be done... And where on the border would you arrive?”

For a brief moment Garak considered this.

“How about Terok Nor, forgive me, Deep Space Nine?”
Chapter 3 -- Old and New by Ln X
Support her.

That one small sentence had been running through Kira Nerys' mind during the morning as she got prepared for the day's shift. It had been a funny dream, a series of odd dreams lately, and Kira recalled parts of the dream: vague, amalgamated images of Bajor and her area of birth Dakhur Province. Then the dream shifted and the bronze tinge of the surroundings was the most vivid parts of what Kira remembered, perhaps the Prophets had been speaking to her, or perhaps their appearance was merely the workings of her subconsciousness.

What did feel the most real for Kira was the part where the Emissary came to her, all he said was this small sentence: support her. Support whom? A friend of Kira's? Perhaps a family member, one of her daughters?

Despite her perplexity, Kira felt the Emissary's brief utterance had some kind of prophetic nature to it. Though she had seen him in her dreams, only twice had he spoke to her directly ever since the Emissary ascended to the Celestial Temple, or as the Federation insisted upon calling it: the wormhole, the only stable route from the Alpha Quadrant to the Gamma Quadrant, a passage bypassing ninety thousand light years of space, watched over by the Prophets. Non-corporeal beings according to the Federation, to Kira though, and many other Bajorans, they were nothing less than gods who watched over her race and her world.

As Kira had her breakfast it was the Emissary where her thoughts were centred the most. The Emissary had been her former commander on Deep Space Nine, a Starfleet captain, Benjamin Sisko, one whom she had the distinct privilege of both knowing the person and witnessing the ethos of the Emissary- a speaker of the Prophets, Bajor's best guide and spiritual leader by default.

Sisko had been the only Starfleet commander Kira felt truly proud to serve under, even without his distinction as Emissary she saw a great man. With Sisko's ascension to the Celestial Temple, Kira became the commander of DS9, something she relinquished during a term of maternity leave. The post of station commander would have returned to her if it were not for Starfleet insisting they had their own person in charge.

Although the Bajoran Militia and Starfleet worked together under the terms of Bajor's membership to the Federation, lately it felt to Kira that the two military forces had been at odds on Deep Space Nine for at least a couple of years. Starfleet commanders of the station came and went, none really lasted more than two years.

Kira considered this as she rode the turbolift to Ops, the nerve centre of the station, soon there would be a new Starfleet commander, or captain, arriving. The departing one, Captain Stoner, had lasted ten months and today was his last day on the station. Kira did not dislike Stoner, where possible she always tried to make friends, unfortunately it was Starfleet's protective measures which annoyed her and Stoner, being the one to implement most of these measures, just happened to be on the receiving end.

One of the latest Starfleet station policies was designating the USS Defiant to be manned exclusively by Starfleet crew, for many years Kira had been the defacto first officer of the Defiant, a symbol of the Bajoran Militia's and Starfleet's cooperation. Now her security clearance only permitted her to visit the ship, that of course being at Captain Stoner's discretion.

At first she had found Starfleet's willingness to help, and its openness, irritating, almost naive, when she initially started her commission on DS9. Now she wished more of that welcoming attitude would return, she had never known Starfleet to be so guarded. Then again Kira reckoned the Dominion war had changed many attitudes, it most certainly had amongst the Bajoran government, the existence of the Bajoran fleet originated as a need for an extra layer of security to complement the protection Starfleet had provided to Bajor for a quarter of a century.

Kira had received many offers to command one of the ships in the Bajoran fleet, however she had persistently refused. This station was her home and her commission a treasured one, many members of the Bajoran Militia longed to serve onboard DS9, the station which was situated at the gateway to the Celestial Temple. To work for her people and to do so in such close proximity to the Prophets was something Kira deeply cherished, no matter how obtuse and inflexible Starfleet became.

At the last the turbolift came to a halt and Kira stepped onto Ops, a cylindrical room with a high ceiling, a pit-like centre and a commander's office placed adjacent, positioned in such a way that most work areas were below it. Typical Cardassian design, at first it repulsed Kira to work on a station which provided constant reminder of the Cardassian Occupation, DS9, or Terok Nor when the Cardassians occupied it, orbited over Bajor and was the symbol of Cardassian domination, that and the labour camps, strip mines and factory areas. The station's design had grown on Kira, it had become inviting and safe, still she never forgot its past, no matter how many years elapsed by.

Her first duty for the day was to meet Captain Stoner in his office, one final meeting and then he would be gone. When she arrived Stoner was in the midst of setting his duffel bag down on the desk, he directed an awkward smile in Kira's direction which she did not return.

“I must say that I am very glad to leave this place,” said Stoner, he sounded almost relieved.

Kira almost felt sorry for the man, she had been hard on him at times. “Where will you be posted to?”

“In a month’s time I will be taking command of the USS Prelak, it will be good to permanently command a vessel again.”

“There is the Defiant,” Kira pointed out.

“It’s not the same,” said Stoner with a little sigh, he holstered up the duffel bag and seemed ready to leave, until- “I just want apologise for those times when we did not see eye-to-eye, Starfleet has been-”

“You don’t have to explain yourself,” Kira told him. “You are a good captain, but this station’s politics and affairs can be dicey at times and I personally believe Starfleet is not helping here. There have been other Starfleet captain’s and commanders who were… discouraged by what was happening. So I’m not blaming you.”

“So all those times you yelled at me it was never personal?”

“Well…” Kira paused and she felt almost sheepish. “It was personal at the time.”

Stoner briefly laughed, now he had relaxed a bit. “You know you are the only first officer whom I am genuinely terrified of… But for what it’s worth I’m glad to have worked together.”

“When we were working together,” Kira reminded him.

The awkwardness from Stoner returned again, Kira ignored this as she had a more pressing question on her mind. “Who is Starfleet going to send next?”

“I honestly don’t know, the person in question should definitely be here within a couple of days, that is all Starfleet Command told me.”

“Well,” said Stoner with an air of finality. “I must leave, I give my best wishes to you, your husband and your children, and I do mean that.”

The two shook hands.

“May the Prophets guide you captain,” responded Kira. “And good luck with the Prelak.”

“Thank you.”

With that Stoner left, there really was nothing more to say because formal politeness had run its course.

Once Stoner had disappeared from view, taking a ride on a turbo lift, Kira walked around the desk and sat down on the commander’s chair. For a half minute she indulged herself as she admired the feeling of the chair. For all her frustration with Stoner she found there was little to think of him now that he was gone. Instead Kira focused on the small details, details such as several padds neatly laid out on the desk before her.

As temporary station commander she would have to take care of the administration until the Starfleet replacement arrived, whoever this person was.


***


The expression full circle came to mind as Ezri Dax rested in her quarter's sofa gazing at the window's view and the endless domain of space while she remained deep in thought, seventeen years ago she had left Deep Space Nine a mere shadow of the woman she was now. Balance had been lost between herself Ezri Tigan and the symbiont Dax, as a joined Trill to lose such balance was looked down upon, worse it could even be fatal. All it took was for the Symbiosis Commission to make an assessment and the symbiont would be removed, the host would die a few days later as the symbiont always came first.

Unfortunately, Ezri had allowed Dax to come first and so the symbiont responded accordingly as it overwhelmed her with memories of past lives, former desires and yearnings, even the impulses and wants of Dax itself. She had forgotten the boundaries between her personality and Dax's, while the balance she believed to have achieved turned out to be an illusion.

The first sign was her relationship with DS9's chief medical officer Julian Bashir. Her former host, Jadzia, may have fancied Bashir even considered the man worthy of love and of marriage, however, Ezri's recalled how her own feelings were ambiguous at the time. This ambiguity still lingered but Ezri had the personal tools to live with such uncertainty.

Passion turned into lust, lust turned into an awkward situation when Ezri became accidently pregnant with Bashir's child. They were simply not ready for it; Bashir was too career-driven and Ezri was not even sure of who she truly was, the last thing she needed were the responsibilities of looking after a child. So they decided to orphan their son and Ezri personally took it upon herself to find a great family to raise the child she could not.

Orphaning her son had to be the lowest moment of her life, it was a sign of how she had lost control and the most powerful reminder of how balance between herself and Dax had been lost. Depression set in, Ezri left DS9 and returned to the family home on Sappora VII. She was a Starfleet officer, a counsellor no less, yet she found herself marvelling at the hypocrisy of helping other people to resolve their personal problems when she herself, in a true test, had failed so miserably.

Several months of moping around, of fighting Dax's impulsiveness and attempting to assert her wants upon a creature more than three hundred years old. Some of the most dominant personalities seeking to assert themselves was Torias, a former pilot with a reckless nature; Curzon, a Federation diplomat with a love of women, vice and mischief and of course Jadzia, a Starfleet officer who had a real passion for life.

Ezri had never experienced such passions before, she was always more inward looking, quiet and not even remotely as zestful as those former hosts had been. But she had to find balance and she turned to the one host who best fitted her personality; Toban, a rather reclusive engineer.

Given Toban's background and Jadzia's expertise in science, Ezri finally saw a way forwards. She would become an engineer and the rest of Dax's impulses be damned, with this ambition in mind she retrained and one six-month conversion course later she joined the USS Proxima's crew; a lieutenant and deputy head of the ship's engineering department.

Where Dax had proved to be a hindrance, the following arduous events which transpired would reveal Dax to be Ezri's greatest source of comfort and resilience. She had barely joined the Proxima crew when the Corneria war began, a three-year war between the Breen Confederacy and the Federation. A forgotten war, a war of attrition and a war which almost broke Starfleet's mettle, coming so soon after the Dominion war, Starfleet was not fully prepared for the Breen. Still the Federation, and its worlds along the Breen border, endured, and endure was all Ezri and her crewmates could do.

The war was hard but Ezri gained friends, gained promotion to chief engineer of the Proxima, after the previous one was killed in combat, and made lieutenant commander. She finally found her personality, her calling and the means of presenting herself. She made a suburb engineer yet she was never smug about it, whereas her former hosts Curzon and Jadzia had a tendency to boast, Ezri retained that level, measured part of her own personality. It was a pleasant, inviting component of her character which when combined with Dax's experience proved to be a powerful combination. Driven but gentle, inwardly passionate yet outwardly restrained.

Balance had been found.

The Corneria war came to an end in 2381, opportunity once again presented itself when Ezri was offered command of the new, but small, Starbase 2024 along with promotion to commander rank. It even came with a designated ship permanently stationed at the starbase, the ship was necessary given Starbase 2024's close proximity to the Breen/Federation border.

For twelve years she worked there commanding the starbase. Any aspiring Starfleet commander, or captain, would not have been so content to remain for so long on a space station, after all the real excitement, and challenge, was on starships. Ezri though was of a different disposition, space station life did not bore her because she had lived on DS9 for eight years, additionally on-and-off border skirmishes at the border, usually from Breen privateers, kept life... interesting on the starbase.

After ten years Starfleet Command made her a captain and began offering to her starship commands of her own, it was not for lack of ability which made Ezri turn down these offers, she simply felt content with her current commission. A sense of uneasy satisfaction slowly emerged, Dax liked a challenge and slowly Ezri came to see that she had to push herself. But how? And where?

Her dreams over the last year were often strange ones, they seemed more to her like distorted memories, in particular the ones of Jadzia's and of DS9 were prominent. To top it all off when Benjamin Sisko, a very close friend of hers, one whom she wished she could see one more time, appeared to speak with her -- or was it a conversation between herself and Sisko? -- something switched on in Ezri's mind. It was time for a change...

When she told Starfleet Command about her wish to command DS9, caution after caution, doubt after doubt, was uttered by the various admirals she spoke with. Expressions like "career-suicide" and "extremely difficult assignment" only interested her further, even when she pointed out that she had served for a long time on DS9, that she knew the senior staff who still remained there, it did little to assure the admirals' doubts. Eventually they relented and Ezri was placed first on a waiting list for when the command post became vacant again.

The turnover of commanders on DS9 was atrociously high, here though was her opportunity, to not only make her mark but also to carry on the dedicated work of DS9's first commander, Benjamin Sisko, work done for Bajor, for the community which lived on DS9 and for the Bajoran Militia and Starfleet crew who worked together to operate the station. Ezri knew she had something to contribute to this, this move had far less to do with her career and far more with her personal connection to the station and to Bajor.

Serving onboard DS9 had been the proudest period of Jadzia's life, it proved to be highly insightful and informative for when Ezri worked there, and now Ezri hoped she would feel that same pride again. Here was something she could fully commit to and believe in, how she could pass up this opportunity?

With opportunity came problems though, it would bring into sharp focus the mistakes of her personal life: leaving Bashir, failing to stay in contact with old friends, especially Kira. While professionally Ezri believed she could gain the confidence, and trust, of the senior staff, with some of them she doubted if that trust would extend onto a personal basis.

It was a risk, then again she was here to prove herself, she expected to be tested. She had come full circle, the urge to command DS9 was less about logic and far more grounded in gut instinct. Tomorrow she would arrive at DS9 and the usual nervousness arose due to the forthcoming new circumstances, what concerned her the most would be her true reaction when she was in the thick of it. Would past memories be a constant thorn on her side, could they even discourage her and force her to leave DS9 once again?

This uncertainty made her anxious, the actual day-to-day and technical details barely daunted her. She had the skills, the experience and the knowledge. Still, was it enough?


***


With Captain Stoner gone Kira was now acting station commander, she had called a senior staff meeting on the basis of formality. Indeed, the station would probably have run just as smoothly, or more exactly just the same, without a Starfleet officer commanding Deep Space Nine since Kira was a highly competent second-in-command, likewise such competence could be said of the senior staff gathered before her.

All of them treated her as the chief commander regardless of whom Starfleet sent, too often had Kira found them coming to her to speak their mind about station issues rather than Captain Stoner. As Kira sat down she took a brief glance at the staff members seated before her inside the wardroom.

To Kira's right there sat Chief Medical Officer Julian Bashir and Chief Engineer Nog. Lieutenant Commander Bashir had operated the station Infirmary for 25 years and dealt with any, and all, medical needs for the people living on DS9. Though in his early 50s age had been kind to him, Kira suspected his genetic engineering had a part to play in this. Kira could not imagine anyone replacing Bashir, the man was invaluable and his holosuite adventures with Nog were always the talk of both crew and civilians, it was the costumes which were the subject of much conversation, they were so out of place despite being on a station where all kinds of people, races and styles of clothing resided.

Seated behind Bashir was Nog, again of lieutenant commander rank, another long-serving member of the senior staff, he had worked on DS9 for at least eighteen years and managed not only the maintenance needs of the station, which proved to be problematic given the mix of Bajoran, Federation and Cardassian components, but also the maintenance needs of the Defiant and any other docked ships which requested assistance. In fact, Nog had become so busy that he had been in discussion with both Kira and Captain Stoner about creating a new senior staff role; chief starship maintenance officer, or the CSM post as they called it. Kira made a note to mention this matter to the new station commander when they had settled in.

To Kira’s left were Lieutenant Commander Max Weatherby, Lieutenant Commander Larry Paulson and Constable Odo. Max was a recent addition to the senior staff and the least experienced officer at the table, he had barely served a year here on this station but Kira found him to be a competent officer and one who did a sterling job managing the science department. A reasonably young human male, Kira found him to be more or less likeable and the man half-reminded her of a very fresh Bashir when the good doctor first started on DS9.

Sitting behind Max was Starfleet’s chief of security Larry Paulson and the Defiant’s tactical, and security, officer, the middle-aged man had seen his fair shake of combat with both the Dominion and Corneria wars. Kira really did not know much about him because he was a private person, or perhaps private towards her. Though Paulson had been stationed here for about two years, she was aware of the private dinners Paulson had with Captain Stoner and his predecessor, given Paulson’s -- Kira could not find a better word for it -- very Starfleet attitude, she could see why Stoner got along so well with Paulson. They were traditional Starfleet officers working onboard a very unorthodox station, having said that, Kira never sensed any hostility from Stoner towards either her or other members of the Bajoran Militia. So the man was sound, just very private outside of his work.

Lastly there was Constable Odo, the most experienced member of the senior staff and one who had worked on this station for at least thirty years. He knew station security inside out, and though he shared a similar title to Paulson, it was Odo who managed station security; Paulson was simply Odo’s deputy when it came to station matters. With Starfleet matters that was separate, but since Odo was a member of the Bajoran Militia such matters were never under Odo’s jurisdiction in the first place. Out of all the senior staff members Kira trusted Odo the most, he was always her closest confidant.

With Stoner gone Kira felt like the station's commander as she sat at the head chair situated at the table's end, it was a position which she felt Starfleet had denied her for many years. Whatever her grievances she would not hog this temporary position nor give the impression to her colleagues that the next station commander was not deserving of this position. She never tried to undermine anyone, even if they deserved it.

The meeting started with each staff member reporting news from their respective departments with the addressal of any cross-departmental tasks to be completed or resources to be transferred. When it came around to Kira's turn she started with the most important point on the meeting's rather small list of topics.

“As you know Captain Stoner has left, Starfleet Command will be sending a replacement shortly, one who will be arriving in two days’ time. The person's identity is a mystery, Starfleet did not inform either myself or the Captain. Right now I am in temporary command and I want a smooth handover, I do not want our new commander to be assaulted with a barrage of staffing and departmental problems on his first day here.”

In response the staff simply nodded to this.

“On the subject of our new commander's identity,” spoke up Bashir, “Quark has started a betting pool for the person's name, species and age.”

“I'm betting it will be a Trill, 40s...” said Max.

Kira had to restrain herself from smiling, trust on Quark to collect bets on the most mundane and innocuous of things.

“A lucky guess?” Bashir asked Max.

“Gut instinct.”

The moment Max had finished his comment Nog immediately piped up. “Why can't Starfleet just tell us?”

“I honestly don't know,” said Kira, she longed to say a ‘but’, however that would delve into speculation and inevitably besmirching Starfleet’s reputation.

“Unless,” said Odo, “they're deliberately being difficult, being antagonistic by omission.”

“We don't know that,” said Paulson, “it could be that Starfleet Command is hastily choosing someone at this very moment, so they would not know.”

“So why do they say a commander will be here in two days?” Nog asked.

“Perhaps that is the deadline Starfleet has given?” responded Paulson in a pointed fashion.

“But how-”

“Gentlemen, enough!” Kira told the two stridently. “In two days’ time there will be a new commander, if that is what Starfleet has promised then the matter is settled. There could be a thousand reasons for Starfleet not giving any further details, speculating about this will not change anything.”

She paused and briefly glanced around at the faces before her, not one of them looked keen to cavil about this matter. With the argument nipped in the bud Kira continued on. “What I do want to see is this station operating smoothly, I know there are issues between the two crews but I don't want them happening during the first day of our new commander's arrival. In fact, there should not be any issues in the first place.”

“Colonel,” said Nog, “I wish there was less fractiousness, but if the commanding officers can't put up a united front-”

“That is still no excuse,” Kira replied, “if Mr. Weatherby's science department has barely an issue then the same should apply for the other departments. I get tired of repeating this but sort it out, I can only do so much.”

Kira paused again, this time the staff appeared less satisfied, in particular Nog and Paulson seemed to be restraining themselves from any further disputation. This was not a contented senior staff, despite this Kira did not want a repeat of the usual comments, complaints and arguments. She held out in hope that the new station commander could somehow resolve these differences.

With nothing further to say Kira decided to wrap up the meeting. “The next staff meeting will take place when the new commander arrives, it will be arranged by him at the first available opportunity. Finally, address this antagonism between the Bajoran Militia and Starfleet personnel, we are here to work together. Dismissed.”

The staff filed out. In typical fashion Bashir and Nog left together, those two were close friends after all. Paulson left before Odo did, Kira knew the two security chiefs did not see eye-to-eye on some matters, a usual point of contention would be over jurisdiction, though Kira reckoned it was Paulson who argued far more about each security chief’s respective jurisdiction. Lastly Kira observed Max and the man appeared rather pleased, clearly glad of her praise.

Kira followed Max out and made her way back to Ops, she reflected on using Max as an example of an exemplary-managed department and half-regretted doing so, Max ran an easier department because most of his staff were scientists, there was simply a different ethos with the top priority being research and many of them probably being introverts- dedicated to their branch of science. Then again people were people, scientists had their own rivalries and competitions so perhaps Max did deserve her praise and commendation.

At least the meeting had been amicable, Kira recalled how on a few bad days there were moments where the dialogue descended into a shouting match. As she considered the next 52 hours Kira felt reasonably confident about there not being an incident between the crews; the new commander would definitely have a decent first day. The days after though would be critical and despite a string of, in Kira’s opinion, poor leadership from past Starfleet commanders, she still remained hopeful for the latest one. Perhaps in her dream Sisko’s simple utterance suggested an improvement, maybe that was the reason for her hopefulness.

She put matters of commanders and staff relations to the back of her mind as she focused on the remainder of the shift. As usual the hours flew by, when she was not directing ships either docking or departing, or processing departmental requests, or occasionally inspecting a part of the station if the situation really warranted her presence, then Kira spent her time completing reports. This juggling act had become something of a second nature to her, there was always an ever present pressure, but this pressure rarely hassled or stressed her.

With the shift over Kira headed back to her quarters, she checked her chronometer, it read 1755 hours, thus she was just in time for the usual family tea. Despite her so-so job, every day she had a family to return to which nearly always cheered her up considerably.

She had been married to Odo for fifteen years, and the happiest memory of her life was the day when a triumphant Odo returned from the Great Link: the Dominion was now peaceful, the wars waged were no more, worlds bearing Dominion oppression were at last freed, substantial reparations were made and the changelings finally became trusting of the solids; all previous xenophobia largely extinguished.

She and Odo had always been close friends, comrades in arms, both had lived through the horrors of the occupation. While she fought the Cardassians wherever, and whenever, possible on Bajor as she served as a member of the Shakaar resistance cell; Odo remained at first a neutral observer, for he was neither Bajoran nor Cardassian, settling disputes and then he became the chief constable of Terek Nor. He was said to be the only trustworthy person working for the Cardassians thanks to his deep sense of justice.

It was a noble quality which Kira found very enticing and proved to be the bedrock for the trust she had in Odo. Though Odo's sense of justice often made him foreboding, empathy and understanding he was equally capable of. In a way Kira should have seen it coming but it had taken six years to openly acknowledge the love they had for each other, a large part of which Kira had been completely unaware of, she had not expected Odo to be capable of such feelings.

Thus Odo's separation from her proved to be so heart-wrenching, they were both prepared to let the other go when duty called and for Odo duty was indeed calling upon him. In those two years Kira wondered what Odo would be doing in the Great Link, she always prayed for him to be successful- to bring peace to a former interplanetary war machine. Above all else she wondered if he was happy, if Odo had truly found what he wanted. If Odo had never returned Kira distinctly believed she would have remained celibate; no one could give to Kira the love she felt for this man, this changeling.

A year after Odo's return later they married and desiring children, since Odo, being a changeling, could not physically procreate with any humanoid, Kira used an anonymous sperm donor and asked her friend, and doctor, Julian Bashir to perform IVF so that she could conceive a child.

Her husband's only claim to being a biological father was two tiny pieces of DNA, largely recessive ones hearkening back to the time when changelings were humanoids millions of years ago, which he contributed to their children's genetic code. It was the only genetic contribution he could make as Federation biologists had only extensively used these two gene codes: one for cellular longevity and the other for a type of telepathy triggered by physical contact. For all intents and purposes her children were Bajoran, albeit they were guaranteed to live to a ripe old age and possessed a very limited form of telepathy.

Mia was Kira's oldest child, she was fourteen years old and looked very much like her mother. However, she had long red hair instead of her mother's shorter hair. Deru, Kira's son who was eleven years old, did not really resemble anyone from Kira's family, though Kira suspected Deru would probably be the spitting image of his Bajoran biological father, although Deru had her brown eyes and red hair, but that was where the similarities ended.

Kira came out of her reverie when she arrived at the door to her quarters, a most pleasant sight after the end of a shift. I'm back she thought. She opened the door and came into the living room.

“Hi kids,” she called out.

Deru entered the room, he walked towards her and gave her a hug. “Yeah hi,” he said.

Nothing pleased Kira more than seeing the smile on his face. After Deru had finished hugging her, Kira looked around for her other child. “Mia?” she called.

Then she noticed Mia, instead of the smile Kira anticipated there was instead a subdued quality emanating from Mia. “Hi,” the girl said rather half-heartedly.

Kira frowned slightly at her daughter. “Hi Mia… Are you okay? You just look a little bit... down.”

“I'm fine,” said Mia though she did not appear so.

“Okay then,” replied Kira.

Obviously Mia had another appalling day at school and she had been bullied once again. Right now Kira did not want to think about this and a fortunate diversion came when she sniffed the air; something smelled great. “Mmm... That is good, is Odo back early?” she asked Mia.

“He made a breakthrough with one of his investigations.”

Mia sounded detached, almost bordering on uncaring, and Kira saw the look of a person wanting to get away. Kira gave a small smile in a feeble attempt to comfort Mia. “I bet he did,” she answered.

“Odo?” she called.

“In here,” came a gruff voice from the kitchen.

As Kira ventured into the kitchen, she heard Deru challenging Mia to a game of chess. The first thing she noticed was Odo grinding up Bajoran herbs against a wooden breadboard, he stopped when Kira came in.

She gave Odo a brief kiss to his lips. “How are the children?”

“Deru is his usual boisterous self, but as for Mia...”

“What about her?” demanded Kira.

“I think her classmates have been calling her names; she will never admit it, but I can tell,” observed Odo as he moodily ground up the herbs putting more force than necessary into the process.

“I get sick of seeing her like this,” said Kira miserably, but quietly to ensure the children would not hear. “She's too timid, and she rarely lashes out, but when she did...”

Kira trailed off as she remembered that horrible day, it still sent shivers down her spine. She grimaced in frustration; once again they were having this conversation and it had become so frequent Kira was really weary of it. “Do you think we should pull her out of school?” she suggested.

“What choice do we have?” Odo replied. “She is intelligent, but she is not the most sociable girl...”

“We cannot protect her forever Odo! She needs to toughen up!”

“She will, just give it time...”

Kira gave the smallest of acknowledgements to this, she wished she shared her husband's confidence about their daughter.

“Make yourself comfortable Nerys, it will all be ready in ten minutes.”

So Kira returned to the living room and, after giving instructions to her children to prepare the table, she then rested herself on a wooden rocking chair. Something that Odo had designed himself as a wedding anniversary gift to her.

She watched her daughter set up the dining table. Mia was her first child and she lost many Bajoran friends simply because she had a child who possessed two tiny strands of changeling DNA. Or were they friends? she thought miserably. Though she deeply cared for her people, some of them could be at times very xenophobic, often they cited the Prophet's teachings as a reason for their xenophobia.

The greatest humiliation for Kira happened when three vedeks publicly denounced her and her newborn child as infidels of the Prophets. She did not sleep for days after that announcement fearful that some crazed fundamentalist would try to attack her and Mia.

She consulted the Prophets but they did not give her any clear messages. Another humiliation for Kira was when Mia, aged seven at the time, nearly strangled to death one of her classmates, a young lad who had been constantly tormenting her. It happened on board this very station and Kira recalled dozens of angry Bajoran parents confronting her on the Promenade.

The very thought of this made Kira close her eyes, after the Cardassian occupation this had to be one of the worst moments of her life. She secluded herself from Odo for two weeks, many a time she cried herself to sleep on those nights. To be so humiliated and yet powerless at the same time… If she had been in the resistance there would have been a means of hiding her despair; a reckless mission to give the Cardassian soldiers living hell. But she was a colonel of the Bajoran Militia, she could not go around behaving violently towards the parents of those children who tormented her daughter, nor could she dish out her bitterness verbally. Instead she forced herself to behave civilly even when other people did not.

And now, Kira miserably told herself, seven years later and Mia is still being bullied!

Over the years watching Mia suffer had become an ever deepening burden for Kira, but what could she do to ease Mia's pain? When the family came to the table for their dinner, Kira tried to push away these wearisome musings from her mind, she did not want her children to see their mother look so subdued and preoccupied.


***


Kira arrived at the outer docking ring airlock with ten minutes to spare, the new Starfleet commander of the station would be arriving at 1100 hours. She recalled nine months ago how Captain Stoner had arrived half an hour late, despite the ship he transported on having already docked, it made a bad impression to Kira and her intuition at the time proved to be correct. Past predictions and all, it did nothing to abate her curiosity. Who would arrive?

Personally Kira believed the person would be Vulcan if she were to take a wild guess, even so Starfleet should have informed her of the identity of this new arrival, aside from good protocol it just made for good manners. This small slight added up when Kira tallied the various mistakes, infractions and gaffes which Starfleet made, in her darker moments she wondered if Starfleet resented the Bajoran Militia. Since Starfleet could not outwardly appear antagonistic Kira suspected this resentment manifested in a myriad of small things.

Like not informing her of the new station commander’s identity.

At 1100 the computer informed Kira that the USS Wear had docked, barely a minute had passed when the outer airlock doors opened and they revealed only one person. From a first glance Kira could make out a small woman, as this woman approached Kira started to recognise that face, surely though it could not be the person she had in mind, it had to be someone else, someone who looked similar…

The inner airlock doors rolled away and out stepped forth-

Dax?

The Trill woman stepped forth and immediately outstretched her hand which Kira quickly shook. “The very same.”

Kira almost hugged Dax before she reminded herself that this was her new commander, a captain no less, and not a friend to be affectionately greeted.

“I know it’s a surprise,” Dax continued as Kira remained speechless, “Believe me it was a surprise for me… But enough about old times, there is work to be done.”

“Work?” The forthrightness caught Kira off guard. “Of course, you will want a meeting with the senior staff and a debriefing today?”

“My thoughts exactly, additionally have plans for a formal handover ceremony been made?”

“A ceremony?” asked Kira, feeling more perplexed. “But there has not been one for years now.”

“It is Federation tradition,” Ezri explained, “besides I want the station to know there is a new commander, I don’t intend to covertly take over the role. The station crew need to know, they need to see some openness and approachability.”

Such strength and assertiveness pleasantly surprised Kira, the Ezri she knew seventeen years ago was radically different to the one whom she saw now. This was the Dax which Kira remembered the most: the confidence of the last host Jadzia and the much talked-about boldness of Curzon, a Dax host which Kira had never met.

“What about Captain Stoner? He left two days ago and without him the ceremony cannot be initiated.”

“He’s onboard the Wear, I had to bend Admiral Ross’ arm to make this happen, but Captain Stoner is here… Shall we go to Ops?”

“Sure…”

As the two women walked along the corridor, Kira’s surprise began to ebb away, now she felt cautiously optimistic. It was the first time she had a good feeling about a station commander, a feeling not experienced since Captain Sisko had been in charge. After all, Dax, being one of Sisko’s closest friends, would be very aware of Sisko’s style and more importantly grasped the nature of Deep Space Nine. Seventeen years may have passed by but many things remained the same: this station was at the frontier, Bajoran Militia and Starfleet worked directly side-by-side, Quark would still pull a scam whenever he could…

“If you don’t mind me saying so, you remind me a bit of Jadzia.”

Some of the authority wavered and now Kira definitely saw a few signs of a much younger Ezri she once knew.

“I am Ezri Dax, I have not radically changed, just matured…”

Ezri paused when they waited for a turbolift. “When you knew me all those years ago I was still finding balance with the symbiont, I was still sometimes overwhelmed by Dax’s experience. Now though it is a blessing, it’s opened up opportunities I would never have imagined possible. Without Dax I would still be a counsellor and a rather timid woman at that.”

“It’s good to see you again… Captain,” Kira warmly said.

“The same Colonel,” replied Ezri, just briefly she placed a hand to Kira’s shoulder.

The hand withdrew the moment the turbo lift arrived, to Kira it told her there was still a warm, gentle pagh inside, except now Ezri projected an authority and gravitas which Kira found not only convincing, it left her in no doubt that she was in the presence of a Starfleet captain, possibly a great one…


***


Ezri looked out of the window, resting in the commander's chair, and stared out into the vast and open frontier. She turned around in her hand the baseball on the commander's desk, a special item of Benjamin Sisko's and a sign of his former presence on the station. This was her station now, she had met the senior staff and tomorrow she would have the official handover ceremony to attend. She had expected to be more emotionally charged after this first day, instead a dutiful sense of determination was her main reaction, one tinged with slight guilt as she considered Bashir and Kira.

The two had been nothing but professional, yet outside of duty hours Ezri doubted whether Bashir would wish to speak with her, or whether Kira would either. Despite these personal issues the station still felt like home and she would resolve these issues, it just needed some time and there was plenty of it as Ezri had no intention of leaving this station when the going got tough, and it would do pretty soon.

She had to find a way to smooth the relationship between the Bajoran Militia and Starfleet personnel. From her debriefing there were other concerns to: political trouble on Bajor, territorial disputes in the Badlands, the cold war between the Federation and Cardassians and lastly Jem'Hadar ships emerging from the wormhole in small groups, sometimes just the lone ship arrived, before being escorted through Federation space to reach the border where these ships would disappear into the vast frontier.

Not only was she the commander of DS9, another responsibility was to keep a pulse on Bajor's government, with the assistance of numerous diplomats and members of the Federation Council of course. In particular, one such duty was keeping tabs on the Bajoran Militia's fleet of starships, to accomplish this she needed contacts other than the ones from Starfleet. Gaining Kira's trust was the key to this, surely the Bajoran Colonel had information about the hidden agendas of the people who commanded the fleet.

There should have been no reason to distrust the Bajoran Militia however, giving the political problems on Bajor, the loyalties of these troops had to be questioned. Bajor was after all no stranger to terrorism and had come close to a civil war shortly after the Cardassian occupation ended. Ezri recalled her debriefing a few days ago by Admiral Ross, he had been ever-so explicit that one of her top priorities was defusing any situation which could lead to a Bajoran civil war. Bajor's admittance into the Federation had been a hasty one and now the ramifications were beginning to take shape.

Ezri had underestimated the political challenges of her position, she did not expect Bajor to be so troubled, if anything she had been under the illusion that Bajor was a Federation world flourishing and prospering. Those were just the geopolitical concerns, many of which were far beyond her control, what she could apply a large measure of control upon were the working affairs of the station.

She turned to the padd on the desk and began studying the administrative arrangements on board DS9. The first thing she needed to do was call another senior staff meeting; a new organizational structure had to be implemented. There was work to be done despite the danger of those troubles plaguing this part of the frontier, troubles which could upset the running of this station at any moment.
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