THE LONG HAUL
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.
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
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
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 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
"I'm certain that
at least one planet, among the hundreds in the Federation, has built a dam
"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?"
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?
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
"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
"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,"
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."
-- 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."
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
"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
"Working with Starfleet?"
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.
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