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THE LONG HAUL
By Yahtzee
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The faces flash by on the computer screen, one after another. Sometimes Nerys studies the features and expressions; sometimes she just watches Odo's reactions to them. He's one of the very few people whose judgment she trusts above her own.

"Looks harmless," Odo pronounces as the image of "O'Brien, Miles Edward" hovers in front of them.

She examines the face for herself: pleasantly expressionless, broad and bland. "Boring," she says at last, with some satisfaction.

They could do with a little more boredom around here.

**

It's not as though the Starfleet people will be here very long. They'll blow in, full of themselves and proud of their wealth, pretending to be the saviors of the Bajoran people. But the Bajoran people saved themselves, and the work they have to do now is long and dry and dull -- no glamour here to hold the attention of Starfleet officers in their ever-crisp uniforms. The Federation isn't in this for the long haul.

So why is she curious about them all the same? Perhaps it's just the enjoyment of anyone or anything new. After a lifetime of deprivation, Nerys can take some novelty value from even this irritation.

And, for whatever brief time they will be here, Nerys does expect it to be quieter. The glorious myths of Pax Federation have never fooled her, but she's pretty sure the peace they keep doesn't come with handcuffs attached. In her darkest moments, she wonders if her people haven't traded one set of overlords for another -- but she doesn't really believe it. No race in the galaxy could possibly be as traitorous and vile as Cardassians. If the Bajorans could take care of them, they can handle the Federation.

**

"The Aelfahl River needs damming," she says.

Odo blinks. It's a trick she helped teach him; his stare used to unnerve people. Unnerve them more, that is. "Will you request Federation aid for that?"

"I don't know." She runs one hand through her cropped-close hair. "They cross the galaxy on pleasure trips. They make fine wines out of thin air. What do they know about dams?"

"I'm certain that at least one planet, among the hundreds in the Federation, has built a dam before."

"That's not what I mean. The Federation -- I hate going to them with an empty sack in my hands. They've forgotten what it's like to need --" Her voice trails off, because there are so many things the Federation has forgotten to need. A coherent legal system. Reliable transportation available to all. Adequate medicine. Unspoiled food. Shoes. They have forgotten what it's like to need, period. "I swore when the Cardassians left that I'd spent my last hour on my knees, Odo. And now we're bowing and scraping to Starfleet officers instead of Cardassian ones."

Odo's pride is one of the most solid aspects of his character, and so Nerys expects him to back her up wholeheartedly. But instead he studies her with his inky gaze. At last he says, "That empty sack is all we have."

Nerys snaps, "I don't need their pity."

"So don't accept it. Their attitudes about coming here aren't our concern, are they?"

Who cares what they'll think of Bajoran poverty? Who cares how they'll consider the requests? All that matters is getting the most out of these fatted aristocrats while they're here. In an instant, Nerys has gone from seeing herself making requests to seeing herself making demands. Making demands feels much more natural.

She smiles at him. "You always focus on the basics, don't you?"

"Sometimes." Odo has these odd moments of melancholy, every once in a while -- she glimpses one now, but doesn't pry. From long experience, Nerys knows that Odo only talks about himself when he's ready, which isn't often.

"It's not about them," she says, trying on the idea. "It's about us."

It all makes much more sense that way.

**

Nerys sits up late one night, reading the course catalog at Starfleet University.

She is doing her research. The Starfleet officers will think her provincial, which is galling, but worse yet would be any suggestion that they're right. Nerys does not intend to ask so much as one stupid question.

Their training seemed a logical place to start, so she pulled up this course catalog. And now all she can do is page through, screen after screen: Masterworks of Galactic Literature. Exobotany. Problems in Timeshift Archeology. Jujitsu. Advanced 5-Dimensional Modeling. Seminar in Telepathic Issues of Psychology. Ballet.

Nerys learned to read from moth-eaten scrolls she studied in the back of a tent.

Do they know? she thinks. Can they understand how privileged they are?

Her anger flickers like a candle, blazing bright, then changing into the shadowy thought of her own younger self, dancing beautiful steps in a studio. In her mind, the studio is clean and safe and full of light.

No. She will not envy them.

**

That night she dreams of the war. She does most nights.

In this dream, Nerys is scrambling down a gravelly hillside in the dark. Varten is ahead of her, his sandy-blond hair pale in the moonlight. "We have to hurry," he whispers, but she already knows. She remembers this dream, the moment that it springs from. The reason she keeps dreaming it is because she's never quite fast enough, but this time will be different.

They make their way toward the cave where the weapons are stored; if they can steal some, just a few -- only as many as they can carry -- it could be the difference between life and death for them and their friends. All their decisions are life-and-death decisions, really; Nerys' mind works best that way.

But as they peer into the cave itself, two yellowed eyes peer back.

Cardassian! Nerys cries  -- in the dream she screams it out loud, though when it really happened, she didn't. Her hand goes to her phaser, and it's less than a second before she's raising it up toward those eyes. And yet she can see the Cardassian's armored hand, the weapon in it, the red-gold bolt blasting toward Varten's chest.

Varten falls against her an instant before the Cardassian falls to the ground. She clutches Varten as they slump together to the gravel. He's gasping for breath, so it is left to her to speak for them both.

"No, oh no, oh no --"

Nerys awakens with tears in her eyes. She stares at the ceiling of her cabin for a long time. No matter how many times she has the dream, she isn't fast enough. She has to be faster. Why isn't she faster?

**

"Major!" Quark's outrage is, as ever, ridiculous in someone so inherently outrageous himself. "Do you mean to tell me that you allow that man to cheat and just wander off?"

"You were cheating him. You think I don't know a rigged domjot table when I see one? The guy compensated for the tilt. Sounds fair to me."

Quark puffs up like a threatened river toad. "Next time you come in here, you're paying full price for your drinks."

"I pay full price for them now! You give your 'special discount' to everyone, which means you just overstate the price." Honestly, she wishes Quark were just a bit more challenging. Nerys nods at the crooked domjot table as she heads for the door. "You'd better clear that thing out before Odo sees it."

Perhaps Odo's name has the power to summon him, like it does for spirits in the old myths. At any rate, in a few seconds he has joined her on the Promenade, hands clasped behind his back. "The first ones will arrive tomorrow," he says. "Commander Sisko and the rest."

"Well, break out the confetti." Confetti is universal.

"They'll replace me," he says.

"They won't." They've had this conversation many times. She's not all that sure of her answer, but what else can she say? "Even Starfleet couldn't be filled with THAT many fools. And only a fool would try to get rid of you."

Odo looks out over the Promenade, his domain and his world. Even now, with empty storefronts and broken panels littering the place, Nerys thinks he feels at home here, inasmuch as Odo feels at home anywhere. "They won't want a shapeshifter in charge of law enforcement."

"Listen, Constable -- you're not going to have any problems. Know why?" When Odo shakes his head, Nerys grins. "Because I am going to get up in their faces and be so loud, so demanding and so obnoxious that by the time they get around to you, a shapeshifter in charge will seem like no problem at all. Hell, they might try and get you to replace me."

A Bajoran would laugh. Odo just lifts his head a little. "Thank you, Major."

"My pleasure." They stop then, as if on a cue they'd rehearsed, and he look out at the stars. She studies his unnaturally smooth profile for a moment, the strange, straight line of his nose, then decides that if she can't tell Odo, she can't tell anyone: "I'm scared."

He stares at her. "Of the Federation?"

"Of course not." Nerys looks at the stars that occupied Odo's attention just a few moments before. "Of myself."

"You're afraid you'll lose your temper and shoot a Starfleet officer."

"No," Nerys says, wondering if this is Odo's attempt at humor. "I'm afraid I can't hack this."

"Working with Starfleet?"

"Building  dams. Working with governments. Setting up new laws. Odo, I've spent my whole life trying to be faster and hit harder. I know how to tear a world down. I don't know how to build one up again."

Odo nods. "Maybe it can be done. Maybe it can't. But you'll learn how or die trying."

Other people would soothe her with false reassurance. Odo is too smart for that, and once again, Nerys is profoundly grateful to know him. Whatever strange chance brought him to them can only have been a blessing. The Prophets provide.

It isn't a question of her ability. It's only a question of her resolve. It all makes so much more sense that way.

**

END

**



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