494: Once Upon a Time: Two



by Zanh Liis
80830.17

-----=/\=-----

...continued from part one


Before she could form any sort of question, Keiran volunteered the answers she was looking for.

-----=/\=-----


"When I came home from the war," he folded his hands and stared at the floor, "I was told straight away that I was not the same man I'd been when I left."

"War changes everyone," Liis replied quickly.

She knew all too well that it had changed her.

"Yeah, but some handle that better than others. Sometimes, the people most changed by a war are the ones left behind when their lovers go off to fight it."

Keiran continued without hesitation now. "My wife," he twisted the title bitterly as he spoke it,

"...decided when I returned that she didn't want to live with a man who was haunted by things he'd seen, and a life he'd lived a world away from the quiet village that was their home. She decided, amidst great interference from and coaching by her friends and family that," his voice shuddered with barely controlled rage.

"...that I wasn't fit to be a part of my own family anymore."

He stood up and paced across the room, back and forth before her.

"You tell me this if ye can, Zanh Liis. Who has the right to tell a man, after he's done all he can to be good to and love a woman and his child," he waved his arms as he spoke, in emphatic gestures reflecting his frustration.

"After he's done his best to keep the darkness from them, after he's gone through every kind of counseling that the 'fleet can offer and has returned to being as close to what he was as a man can who has been to Hell and survived the trip..."

'Who has the right to tell a man what?" She prodded gently, moments after his words had died out and he'd retreated into his own thoughts.

"To tell a man that he's got no right to be a part of his son's life?"

Liis averted her eyes now, wrestling with the implications of his question as she processed it.

He paced back towards her again, and continued without waiting for her reply.

"Because that is what Maggie did to me, Zanh Liis. She didn't just end our marriage, she ended our family."

Liis stood up and reached out, placing her hand up and onto his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she offered, knowing there was nothing else she could possibly say that would have any meaning.

She would not patronize him by trying to tell him that it was not that bad, that he could have another life, another family.

She'd been told, more times than she could count, as a child with no family that someday she would have a real family when she built it herself. Those words didn't comfort her in the least back then, and she knew the idea of trying to replace the irreplaceable would bring him no comfort now.

Keiran pulled away from her physical show of support and turned his back to her as he struggled to keep his composure.

"You do all you can in the service of your family, and your Federation. You live for them, you bleed for them, and all the while you're doin' it all you want to do is come home," he whispered. "Then when the fightin' is finally over, you find out that you've got no home to come back to."

He lumbered away, sitting down slowly this time and picking the book up again. He opened it up and began to flip through the pages. "Know what this story is about, Zanh Liis?"

Having no idea she stood mute, simply listening.

"It's about a little stable boy, marching for the very first time through town with the King's royal procession." He analyzed each illustration carefully, slowly, as he continued turning the pages.

"The boy is teased because he is riding upon an old donkey and not a fine horse like the rest of those in the Procession.

"At first, he doesn't care, he sits tall and holds his head high. But as the jeers of the people grow louder, he finally responds to the crowd by telling them 'nevermind, I am still marching in the King's Procession',"

He turned another page.

"The sound of the villagers' cruelty reaches the King's ears at the front of the line, and he brings his Procession to a halt. He addresses the crowd and says that since the stable boy has served him well and faithfully, that he is not to be ridiculed and will first thing be given a fine, new pony when they reach the Castle."

Liis was frozen, spellbound as he continued to tell the tale.

"When they got back to the palace, the boy was very excited at first about the idea of owning a fine new pony. Until he saw it."

Keiran held up the book so she could see the drawing on the page. "To be sure, it was a strong, fancy white pony. With a new leather bridle, complete with jingling bells and roses upon it."

Keiran whispered each word now, as once again reading the book to his small son as he'd done so many times he'd lost count.

"But then the boy looked back at the old donkey that had been so loyal to him, that he had loved so dearly and for so long," His voice faltered, and he cleared his throat. "The crowd had called the donkey an 'old bag of bones', but to the lad..."

Liis felt the burning sting of tears behind her eyes and looked up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly to try to disperse them.

"...to the lad, he was the most true and beautiful steed in the world." Keiran turned another page, though he did not need to read the words to complete the ending.

He knew this story by heart.

"So Pippin the stable boy went to the King and respectfully thanked him for the fine new pony, but said that 'he belonged to the donkey, and the donkey belonged to him, and they just can't not belong to each other.'"

Keiran drew in a breath and held it a moment, shuddering. "The King was wise, and he told the boy that he could keep the donkey if he wanted, but how would it be if that donkey had that fine new bridle with bells and roses? So that no one could speak badly of him in the Procession."

Liis turned her back, quickly brushing away the tears she was now incapable of fighting before O'Sullivan could see them.

When she turned around, she could not believe that as he sat now also holding the holo-image of his son, he had no emotion at all in his voice, or his eyes, anymore. He had gone completely numb once again.

"Sometimes, unlike dear little Pippin, people value the wrong things in this life, Zanh Liis." he concluded, as he switched off the disk and the image of the boy disappeared from view.

"They throw away the things, the people that could be the very most important in the the end. They think that they will always have the luxury of time, the chance to make amends someday. Or perhaps they're so bitter and angry thinking they've been cheated out of something that rightfully belongs to them that they don't care if amends are ever made. They will use whatever thing they can use to hurt the person they are so angry with."

Bringing both his story and Pippin's to an end, Keiran closed the book, stood, and approached the Bajoran standing still just over his shoulder.

"I don't think I ever was the man that Maggie wanted me to be, but I didn't know that when we decided to start a family," he confessed.

"If I'd known, I sure as hell wouldn't have tried for it. In the end, she knew the one thing she could do to hurt me was to take my son. But as sure as there's a God in Heaven above us, and on my life I swear to you Zanh Liis, I never did anything but try my very best to make her happy, and to be a good husband and father."

His eyes pierced hers, desperately seeking understanding. Trying frantically to determine if she believed him.

She believed him.

She thought about telling him that things may be all right in time, if he was patient, if he waited. But she thought that holding out such false hope would be nothing short of cruel, with no proof of any kind to support it.

"I write to him, all the time you know." Keiran volunteered. "Pages and pages. I send them, and I know she gets them. But I don't think she'll ever let him see them."

"As someone who grew up without knowing their parents, O'Sullivan, I can only tell you this one thing," she said at last. "That is that the less you know about them, the more you wonder about them. Even if only when he's a grown man, Carrick will need to know about the man his father is. One way or another, he will find out. He will know the good man that you are."

Keiran shrugged.

Liis marched a step forward and attempted to shake him free of his melancholy by the shoulders, but the man was so large that she barely moved him in the attempt. "You are a good man, O'Sullivan. Don't forget that."

He turned away and folded his arms. "If ya don't mind, I'd really rather be alone just now."

"I do mind, actually." Zanh replied, and she pointed toward the balcony.

"I'll sit out there all night and you can be alone in here. Or you can go out there and burn the building down lighting one damn cigarette after another, your choice." She put her hands on her hips, indicating that her decision was final and not at all negotiable.

"But if you think I'm going to leave you alone tonight in the state you're in, then I don't think we've met."

She extended her arm out, offering an exaggerated, mock handshake. "Hi, I'm Zanh Liis; monumental pain in the ass. Pleased to meet you."

"You are that." Keiran snorted, retreating out onto the cramped balcony.

As he slid the door shut leaving her in the living room alone, he nodded to her once. Then he took to his chair and resumed staring off into the distance at nothing, seeking the answers to everything.

Zanh Liis sighed and plunked back down onto his couch.

She flipped to the end of the storybook and regarded the picture of the skinny, worn-out old brown donkey dressed up in the bright, new leather bridle.

Then she glanced up, and out the screen door at the man beyond it, as he struck a match against the small tiled table-top and lit another cigarette.

He valued loyalty, and that was something that was so rare in the days since the war had ended. Even in the fleet, and especially, it seemed, at Temporal Investigations.

It was then that she realized that this was just why their new partnership was working so well.

She would never be a first rate, shiny white pony in anyone's eyes, but he saw past her flaws, and appreciated her for what she was.

Because she knew that no matter how many shiny pips she earned in her career, whatever station she may one day attain, all those trappings would be her own personal leather bridle with bells.

Trying to change her would be as productive as dressing up that donkey.

She would always be a child of the streets, yet O'Sullivan didn't judge her for that. He accepted her as just that and never once looked down on her for it.

She set the book aside and activated Carrick's picture again, and as she glanced one last time between the boy's image and the profile of his father as he sat now illuminated by first moonlight, she could only hope that someday, Keiran's son would know just how fine a man his father truly was.

-=End Flashback=-


"Captain?" The voice of TC Blane addressed her from the doorway. "We're about to arrive in orbit."

"On my way," Liis replied, swinging her legs over the edge of the bunk and pulling on her boots. As she laced them, yanking the strings taut to the point of nearly snapping them, she made herself a promise.

No matter what happened to Keiran when the Cascade was stopped, she would make damn sure that the boy did know, when all was said and done, how good a man his father was.


-------------------
-=/\=-Zanh Liis
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


NRPG: The book is called The King's Procession by James and Ruth McCrea.

It was published in 1963 and has been out of print longer than I've been alive.

I used to check it out of the library every week when I was four- and then one week, someone else checked it out and never brought it back.

Then, when we went back a few weeks later, the library had suddenly closed.

I did not see that book again, anywhere, no matter how hard I searched,
for more than thirty years.

I only found a retired library edition through the used book website Alibris a few years ago- and I remembered every illustration when I finally held the book in my hands again.

I still love Pippin's donkey, and that book is still my all time favorite.
Now, I read it to my own child. ~ZL

493: Once Upon a Time: One

by Zanh Liis
80830.17
Hours after On the Hook

-=Crew Quarters, Rixx Rewards=-


Trying in vain to get to sleep, Zanh Liis clenched her eyes shut as she tried to find a comfortable position on the metal shelf which passed for a bunk on the small merchant vessel she was traveling aboard.

She wondered if it was the bunk that was truly the problem, or the screws and pins that made up the implants in her spine instead.

In the end analysis, she knew it was neither that was truly keeping her awake.

She'd been unable to dismiss a memory which kept playing itself back to her over the past several hours; the memory of the very first time she had ever heard the name Carrick O'Sullivan.

Flashback: Alternate Timeline, late 2376: Earth=-




Sitting on the tiny balcony of his second floor flat, Keiran O'Sullivan stared blankly out at the distant sunset.

Smoke from the cigarette burning in the ashtray beside him blurred his vision, but no more than the tears he'd shed earlier already had.

He thought he'd become incapable of producing tears long ago; no more left to cry, on any day, for any reason. He was a man with no feeling heart left in him, and it seemed to him that if you couldn't feel your heart, there should be no way to know when it's broken.

The day was almost over.

He couldn't wait for it to be. Then it would be three hundred and sixty-four linear days until it came round again, and he would have to face the emptiness that it brought with it.

He heard the sound of metal scraping against metal below him. The building where he rented his flat had been deemed a historical site and as such, the architecture and the finer details of the building were kept as they'd been when it had been built, four hundred years before.

This fact seemed to provide no end of amusement to the person making the racket he now heard, as she pulled down on the metal fire escape ladder and began to climb it slowly, rung by rung.

The top of her head popped up into his line of vision a few moments later, but he did not focus on her face. Instead he retrieved his cigarette, almost burnt out in the tray and put it to his lips. He inhaled deeply, then slowly blew the smoke out as his visitor threw first one long leg then the other over the railing, climbing the rest of the way onto his balcony.

With obvious annoyance, she waved her hand in front of her face to try to disperse the cloud of smoke that he had just exhaled.

"Are you kidding me? Give me that thing." She grabbed the stubby remains from his lips and stomped it out with one heavy grinding motion of her boot. She nodded with satisfaction.

Keiran simply reached to the pack beside him on the small tile-top table and pulled out another.

In slow motion he raised it to his mouth, struck a match, and lit it to replace the last one.

"Damn you." Zanh Liis grumbled, as she began to unstrap the backpack slung over her shoulders. "Have a look. I brought something to celebrate the success of our latest Jump," she declared, pulling a bottle of Jack Daniels out from behind her.

"I thought you'd have glasses ready and waiting." She knew he'd warned her sternly in the past against the "dangers of Drink" but on this night, for some reason she thought that he might want to make an exception and join her.

They had just completed their third Jump as a team, and Zanh was pleased, if not thrilled with the way it had turned out. Something about the way the time line had been changed seemed to bother O'Sullivan though, and she couldn't put her finger on what it was.

It seemed as if he had somehow expected a different outcome, or more specifically, for a change to the life that he was living now when they returned home.

It was upon realizing this that she decided that if he was going to get drunk tonight, which was in her opinion highly likely, he'd better do it with her. In a controlled environment where he'd be safe and not get into trouble.

She owed him that much.

"You know where the glasses are, if ye want one," he whispered hoarsely, as he lifted a condensation covered glass of iced tea from the table and showed it to her. "But this is all I'm drinking tonight, thank you just the same."

"Hmm. That's interesting. What makes tonight so special that you want to stay sober to remember it?"

"'Tis not that I want to remember it. Is that if I drink to try to forget it, I won't stop. And a wise man knows when to say when. Sometimes, that's before the first glass is poured."

"Your Saints have nothing on you when it comes to self control, O'Sullivan, that's for sure." Liis plunked down onto the small wrought iron chair beside him, and regarded him carefully.

She had seen him many ways in the time they had worked together; angry, upset, ready to march through the gates of Hell in pursuit of The Cause of the Greater Good.

She had never seen him quite this way.

"What's that?" she asked, indicating something that sat at his feet. It appeared to be a book of some sort.

Keiran shifted in his chair, betraying his discomfort. He moved to cross one booted foot over the other to try to conceal the item in question. "'Tis nothin'."

""Tis not 'nothin'. When you say ''tis nothin' 'tis always somethin', yeah?" Liis imitated his accent teasingly in the way which usually amused him, but this time her ever-more accurate impression drew no response other than a continuation of his previous scowl as he took another long drag from his cigarette.

"Okay, really. Enough already." Liis took the second offending article from his lips as well and stubbed it out into the ashtray.

"O'Sullivan, if we're going to work together, you can't be this upset about something and not give me a clue what it is. Otherwise, I start thinking things, I start assuming things, and I end up reading all sorts of things into everything that really have nothing to do with anything."

Keiran cocked his head to the side, almost chuckling at her. "Yeah, now what was that again?"

"Look," Liis frowned, moving her chair right in front of his in slow, scooching motions that caused a horrible metal against stone grating noise with every bounce beneath her body as it inched nearer. O'Sullivan winced with each assault on his ears, finally folding his arms and sighing with profound annoyance as she attempted to force herself into his line of vision.

"Something is wrong. I am asking what that is, so that I know for sure it has nothing to do with the way I do my job and my ability to help you do yours. That's all."

As she spoke, her hand slid surreptitiously down, and in an instant she held the book he'd been hiding in her hands.

"Hey now," he protested, truly getting angry now. "Give that back."

She jumped out of her chair and dodged past him, back through the sliding door and into his apartment. She'd left her heavy iron patio chair between them, and Keiran was slowed momentarily as he had to extricate his long legs from the tangle of furniture before he could follow her.

She plunked down onto the couch with one leg crossed beneath her, completely unafraid of the ire in his voice.

"I'm warnin' yis, Zanh Liis,"

"Hang on a second, I just want to see what the big... mystery is... all...about..." Her words slowed. She was puzzled as she flipped through the pages and admired the fairytale style illustrations.

She lowered the book, and she looked up at him in confusion.

"This is a child's storybook."

"Aye. An' it does not belong to you. So if you'd be so kind," Keiran growled, holding out his hand expectantly.

Liis flipped the book shut and held it out toward him. "I'm sorry," she offered contritely. "I just,"

Her eyes asked him again for some sort of explanation as to why he was chain smoking on the balcony with a storybook at his feet; and Keiran knew that if they were truly going to get to know each other and work as a well paired team, in truth, she had a right to know why he was doing just that.

"Wait." He set the book down on the coffee table and disappeared into the bedroom. An instant later he came back with a small disk in his hand. He activated the disk and the image of a small boy appeared.

"That's Carrick William Riley O'Sullivan," he rumbled softly. "My son."

Liis didn't know what to say. In the time he'd worked with her, he had only once ever mentioned the fact he'd been married but that 'the war had a way of changin' people,' and it had ended badly. He had never mentioned that he had a child.

"Handsome boy," Liis nodded, analyzing the picture carefully. She looked up at Keiran and then back at the image of his child. "He has your eyes."

Keiran sat down on the couch beside her and ran his hand through his hair. He inhaled sharply, exhaled heavily, and then began absently stroking his bearded chin.

"'He's turnin' five today, you see." He picked the storybook up off of the table and turned it in his hands without opening it, eyes fixed on the cover. "I used to read him this book every night at bedtime, so."

Liis felt a lump form in her throat, one so enormous it made it difficult to speak, or breathe. She wondered if she was intruding upon something sacred. If she should just leave him to his sadness, as it was apparent that he had not seen his child in some time. *Had something happened to the boy?*

Before she could form any sort of question, Keiran volunteered the answers she was looking for.


-------------------------
-=/\=-Zanh Liis
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

492: On the Hook

by TC Blane and Landry Steele
80830.21
Hours after Confessions of Trust

-=Crew Quarters, Rixx Rewards=-


Dane Cristiane was already awake when Zanh Liis entered the room.

She'd finally been shooed off of the bridge by TC Blane, who had insisted she try to sleep at least a little now that their journey was nearly at an end.

Cristiane rose from the bunk, nodding to her respectfully as he prepared to leave.

"Dane, wait." Zanh gestured for him to keep his spot. "Sit. We need to talk."

She stood before him with her hands clasped behind her back, unsure what to do with them since she was not currently wearing an earring.

"I have just one question for you. Was Keiran's faith in you as misplaced as mine apparently was?"

Dane winced, and she continued without giving him a chance to reply.

"Because that man saw something in you. He trusted that the good in you would win out over all of the hard knocks you'd had in life, and your natural preference for taking the easy way out of any situation." She surveyed him, and somehow Dane felt she had the ability to see through him and take stock of his very soul; finding it lacking.

"I need to know. If I look away or turn my back on you, will I regret it? Unless you can tell me without hesitation that you have learned from your mistake and that I can trust you enough to do just that, I can't take you down to the surface."

"I have learned, Zanh Liis. I swear I have,"

"I know you want a chance to redeem yourself." Liis interrupted. "But so much more than that is riding on the outcome of this mission. So very much more than that. So tell me, Dane Cristiane, should I be trying to still see you through O'Sullivan's eyes, or are my own the ones I should be trusting?"

"If you try one more time to see me through his eyes," Dane's jaw set resolutely, "I promise you, Zanh Liis, you will see in me what he saw."

Zanh considered his words a long moment, and then she nodded. "Get back to the bridge. Have someone come and get me when we're almost there, if nothing comes up between now and then."

Dane stood and opened his mouth to speak, but no words could be found to explain to her how badly he felt about what he had done. He closed it again and went on his way, determined that the only way to prove it was to show her.


-=Bridge=-




TC turned to look back at Dane from his position overlooking Landry Steele, who was seated at the helm.

He pointed to Dane and then to the ops console. “Take the position.” He ordered.

Dane nodded then sat down, glancing at a very unhappy looking Ensign Steele. Blane had not moved from his spot behind her since her return to the bridge, until now.

He now stepped to stand between Dane and Steele and folded his arms across his chest. He glanced at each of the ensigns in turn.

“Boy I don’t know if I am lucky or cursed,” he commented after a moment.

He moved again to stand behind Dane.

“Here I am, alone, with the two people, well one for sure, that stabbed their captain…” He suddenly clapped Dane on both of his shoulders, causing him to jump. “…my captain, in the back.”

He strolled slowly back into position between them both. “I’m all a twitter.” The sarcasm was palpable as was a very distinct, brewing anger.

He finally sat down in the command chair. “Now what should I do about this?” He asked.

"Whoa, now, wait just a darn, I mean, hey," Landry stuttered, slamming her fist down onto the helm and accidentally taking them off course momentarily.

Blane growled and corrected the settings.

"Sorry about that. But you do mean he did something to the Captain, right? 'Cause I haven't done anything but whatever job I've been given by you all since the day I left my cushy, if annoying desk job back at TI and came to join the happy little party you run here."

TC scoffed.

"Yeah, he means me, Steele, but come on. Don't tell me that Vox didn't send you here to snoop around," Dane looked at Blane suddenly, silently seeking permission to continue his line of questioning.

TC made no move to stop Dane. In fact, everything was working out better then he had hoped. It was a test of not only Dane's resolve to prove that he was a changed man but also of Steele, to see if she was the other spy.

"I don't know what you mean." Landry huffed. She thought back to the day that Vox had cursed her by sending her here. The words he'd spoken, in fact, had been "Eyes and ears, Ensign. I need eyes and ears upon Zanh Liis and you're going to help me with that."

Thing was, he had yet to tell her exactly what she was supposed to be watching Zanh Liis for. Furthermore, Landry had had no time to watch the woman at all.

She'd been in hiding the whole way to Betazed, then she'd been on the planet, then Landry had been roped into babysitting the XO's kid for a day and now they were on the way to die what she was certain was to be a very drawn out and unpleasant death on an alien world and she had managed somehow to piss off TC Blane simply by existing.

“So Vox didn’t send you to gather information on the captain?” TC asked point blank.

"Um, well...he," Landry knew that lying was only going to get her into deeper water than she was already doggy-paddling through to stay afloat. And the truth was, with Vox currently under TEMA investigation and the fact that they were all probably going to die soon, there was no point in trying to dodge the issue.

"Commander Blane, I am a junior officer in my first year out of the Academy," she began. "I was, until just a few days ago, just a secretary. To a very powerful man."

"Too powerful," Dane mumbled.

"Yeah. Well, he is my boss, and if I read the flow chart right he's your boss too. He's Zanh Liis' boss. He runs the whole frigging Alchemy Project. So please, tell me what is a first year Ensign supposed to do when she's sent to the ship at the forefront of said Project and told to keep her eyes and ears open but she doesn't even know for what? I'll tell you what she does."

Landry wagged a finger at Blane, and he made no attempt to stop her confession.

"She just does what she's told while she tries to figure things out. In this case, doing what I was told has included taking Trouble over there to the University of Betazed to research a paper on the Articles of the Federation and playing far too many games of Kadis-kot with the XO's kid. So." She shrugged.

"If I've done something wrong, please tell me what it is other than just following orders, 'cause I thought that following the Admiral's orders was the thing you were supposed to do when you are lowest on the food chain."

"You did exactly what you were supposed to do, Ensign."

Another voice spoke up, and Blane was surprised to see Zanh Liis poking her head in the doorway. "I came back to see why we veered off course and I got tossed out of my bunk. I'm glad I did. Otherwise I would've missed the show."

"Captain Zanh," Landry stuttered, "I apologize, I just,"

"No no, Ensign. You did what you were told because you don't know me, so you didn't know better." She glanced at Dane quickly, then away. "Others do know me and did know better."

Dane scowled in silence, knowing better than to try to justify what he'd done. She was right.

"If neither of you told Vox about the Captain's memories then who did?" TC still wanted to know.

Dane and Landry looked at each other then back at Blane, shrugging helplessly.

"I did, Thomas," Zanh admitted. She remembered how he'd told her not to be 'foolish' down on Betazed, and hoped he wouldn't think less of her for having gone ahead with her plan despite his advice. "He had his suspicions, but he had no proof until I told him."

"Why...did you DO that?" Dane sputtered.

"Because, Dane," Zanh leaned against the door frame and stared past the crew, at the view screen. "A person can only keep the truth of what they are secret for so long. I decided to tell him on my terms, so he can't ever hold the past over my head again."

She stood tall once more and looked around, seeming satisfied all here was in order. "Since it appears we're not going to be careening to our deaths before we even get to Klaestron, I guess I'll go back to bed."

She looked back over her shoulder at Steele and Cristiane. "If we're heading into anything like I imagine we are, you two are going to be the bait for our hooks," she warned. "So prepare yourselves. Thomas, wake me up when the time comes."

"Aye, Captain.” TC replied.

She left and TC turned back to watch the forward view screen.

A silence fell over the bridge until out of the blue TC started to sing in a quiet voice.

Farewell and ado my fair Spanish ladies, farewell and ado fair ladies of Spain.” TC smiled at the stunned expressions on the two ensigns faces.

Apparently they had never seen the old 20th century movie called Jaws.

---------------------------
Commander TC Blane
Second Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

and

Ensign Landry Steele
Shark bait
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

491: Confessions of Trust

by TC Blane and Zanh Liis
80829.16
Following All Aboard

-=Bridge of the merchant ship Rixx Rewards=-



“Alright, clear the bridge.” TC barked as he stood up from the tactical station. “Get some grub and rest. I’ll take first watch.”

As he made his way to stand next to the captain's chair, concern crossed his face.

He glanced back when he noticed that no one was moving.“That means now. Don’t be fooled by the lack of uniform.”

Slowly the rest of their gathered team began to file off the bridge.

“Steele, I want you back here as soon as you are done eating.” TC called out after the ensign. “I want you where I can see you.”

She opened he mouth to protest but was stopped by TC’s icy expression.

“Aye sir.” Was all that she could muster before leaving. Internally, she wondered what she had done to become the lucky bearer of the title Public Enemy Number One in Dane's place.

The bridge was now clear, leaving only TC and Liis. TC walked around to lean on the back of the console in front of the captain. This was the first opportunity that he had to talk to her alone since she had abruptly left Betazed.

He folded his arms across his chest. “You should take your own advice. You could use the rest.”

"If I try I'm only going to see," she drew in a deep breath, averting her eyes to check they were still on course...

...for the twenty-third time since they'd left the Gauntlet.

She expelled her breath slowly through tightened lips. "...things I don't want to see."

"If you don't rest, when we get there you'll be too tired to see anything."

"Fine. Just as soon as we reach the half-way point." Zanh conceded. She looked up at Blane now, his face illuminated by the dim lights of the console alone.

"So. We never got to toast our scars. Would it be all right if I still asked about yours?" She spun away from him in her seat, not wanting him to feel that the request was an order of any sort. It was simply a request, from one friend to another.

She sorely wanted something, someone else to think about rather than her own struggles at the moment, and she could think of no better way to spend the luxury of this time than to use it to get a deeper sense of what had turned TC Blane into the man she so valued.

TC laughed his rare, deep, quiet laugh. The one that was only meant to be heard by those close to him; by friends and family.

“We seem to be lacking the necessary alcoholic beverages for this conversation.” He sensed that Zanh asked him as a diversion, more for herself then any other reason. Plus, he figured in the back of his own mind that he probably wanted to have this discussion. “Ask away.”

Zanh considered making a flip remark about the fact that they were also lacking the alcoholic beverages necessary just to deal with working with Dabin Reece on a daily basis, but she resisted.

She often used humor to mask her true emotions, and Blane was giving her a gift rare among men, let alone men who were Starfleet officers. Let alone Starfleet officers with a Spec Ops history. That gift was genuine openness.

She would not treat that gift with such disrespect as to joke about it.

"The ones on your back," she'd noticed them at a point when he'd turned to look over his shoulder at the Bonding. "Deep."

TC lowed his head for a second and stared at his feet. He licked his lips before responding. “Yeah. Deep.”

He looked up. “Nausicaans are not known for there gentile temperament. Certainly not towards prisoners who allegedly…” he emphasized the word. “…stole information about their top secret new phase plasma bomb.”

He shrugged. “You should've seen the other guy once I got loose.”

Zanh's expression conveyed her sorrow at the thought of what he had endured in the line of duty. She was certain that as with herself, it was very likely that the worst of his scars were the internal ones- those that most others would never have opportunity to see or know of. "Then, there is that tattoo...”

“Yes, it is a nice piece of artwork." He joked, then paused. “I got it when I passed the Spec Ops training and got accepted to a team. You know how it is, you're proud, full of yourself, young, and very very drunk.”

Zanh thought to herself about the difference between them in that moment- any time she had ever gotten drunk, it was precisely because she was anything but proud of herself at the time.

“The locations are the locations of every mission I went on and the numbers,” he paused again. “Are the number that died there. Good guys and bad.”

Liis was struck speechless.

This information did not simply speak volumes about Blane, it declared every word, page and chapter of those volumes like a bugle sounding Reveille with crystal clarity in the first light of dawn.

Knowing that he had kept count of the deaths among his foes, as well as his friends, was nothing short of astonishing.

She thought about how as bad as things had been for her with Temporal, that when the timeline was 'reset' often more lives were restored than were lost- at least among the 'good guys' as he'd called them.

*How convenient. How sanitized for the sake of the conscience.* Liis thought with more than a little disgust. *How misleading.*

She wondered now just how high that number of 'bad guys' she had dispatched in her past would be, if she were to count them with the real, honest intention of keeping track as Blane had.

Her mind flashed briefly to the conversation they'd had in the flagship's arboretum, nearly a year ago after the evening's Halloween festivities.

That was the conversation during which he had confessed to her that he had done away with the team of Yensuli hit men sent to kill not only their Away Team, but to finish collapsing the tunnels on the innocent women and children within them.

She remembered the conversation as if it had happened yesterday.

-=Flashback=-

"The fact that it haunts you,"she began softly, "that violence, that killing, for whatever reason, still bothers you," she put a hand on his shoulder, "says an awful lot about the man that you are, Thomas Cassius Blane."

She somehow addressed his next unspoken thought when she added, "When should you worry about the man you might become?" His lips parted in surprise, but he didn't speak as she concluded. "When it ceases to bother you at all."


-=End Flashback=-

The fact that even after all the corruption he'd seen since then, among even those who were supposed to be leading them- that he was still mindful of every life lost in the course of his past work, painted a crystal clear picture of the moral character of the man.

Zanh felt, in this moment, even prouder than she had ever been to call him one of her officers, and her friend.

She realized that now it was her turn. Time for a confession of sorts, and one that she dearly hated to make.

"I'm in over my head here." She explained, folding her shaking hands one over the other on top of the helm. She stared down at them intently. "I hope that my coming on this mission hasn't been a grave miscalculation by those who made the decision to send me."

“The only miscalculation has been made by Vox.” TC quickly responded. “If he would have followed his own rules we might not be in this situation. Besides, if there was anyone in the universe that was made to find O’Sullivan’s son and get him out of whatever mess he is in, it is you. Well, other than me, anyway.” He smiled weakly.

"The thing is, if the mission only involved rescuing Carrick, that would be one thing. If I knew that Keiran was out there, somewhere, safe but simply unavailable for the task himself it would be different."

She looked up at him now with the same expression of despair he had seen when he found her target-shooting in the holosuite on the Alchemy.

"To know that his life may depend on my ability to keep it together terrifies me, Thomas. Scares me to death."

TC reached over and placed his hand gently on her shoulder.

“That’s just it Zanh Liis, it doesn’t depend on just you holding it together. It depends on all of us holding you together." He allowed his words sink in a moment before continuing.

"This is something that you do not have to handle alone. I’m not going to let you.” He paused. “You are my captain and my friend. I’m here not because of you, but for you.”

He pulled his hand back and leaned back against the panel. “We will be successful because what we are doing is right. It is right not because TI says so but because we know it to be so.”

He tapped his barrel chest with his fist. “Every instinct of my being believes in this mission because I believe in and trust in you.”

Unable to express the overwhelming emotions his confidence inspired, Zanh focused her tear-blurred eyes once again on the flight data before her.

"I think we might be able to coax a little more speed out of this beast if we work together to persuade the Warp coils a bit. Think she has it in her?"

"Yes." Blane answered unequivocally. "I know she has it in her."

-----------------------
Commander TC Blane
Second Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012


and

-=/\=- Zanh Liis
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012

490: All Aboard

by -=/\=- Zanh Liis
80828.16
Following Rescue Orders

-=Admiral's Ready Room: USS Gauntlet=-


After Salvek's departure, Admiral Vox addressed the rest of the would-be Away Team and gestured toward the door with an open palm.

"Move along. Security will show you the way, you can replicate some new clothing and will be given other appropriate... accoutrements for the task ahead."

"No such 'accoutrements' of the Temporal Investigations variety, Admiral," Fen warned, and Tred concurred with resolute agreement.

"Yes, that's right. No futuristic toys. It is imperative that Captain Zanh and her team use only the standard issue technologies of the day on this mission. Otherwise they risk corrupting the timeline even further."

"Is that even possible?" Dane couldn't fathom the thought, given in the current version Keiran was dead or dying, his kid was in trouble, Zanh Liis was not acting at all like Zanh Liis, and he found he was on everyone's shit list, including that of the Admiral who owned him and the very imposing, exacting Commander Blane.

"Don't ever ask if it's possible to make a timeline worse, Mister Cristiane!" Tred gasped, shuddering with horror. "The answer is always, always a definitive yes."
"A moment of your time, Zanh Liis?" Fen asked, lurching forward and taking Zanh by the sleeve as she walked by. She stared down at his hand as it grasped the fabric of her tunic, and then up at him again.

"Are you touching me?" Zanh's question was the only warning he would get before she stopped him, violently, from doing so ever again.

Immediately, Fen let go, snatching his hand back as if he'd touched an open flame. "No, no, of course not, Captain. I would never show such disrespect, it's just, we need to talk. Just for a second."

"Everyone else out, please." Tred added, joining Fen at Zanh's side. He was amused by the fact that the smaller man took up position behind him, putting the taller TEMA agent between himself and the seething Bajoran.

Vox looked absolutely opposed to and insulted by the idea, but he knew he had no choice but to comply if they insisted. "You can't possibly mean to include me."

"Yes, everyone, Admiral. Please and thank you." Fen clarified, politely smiling at Vox as he waited for him to obey the request.

Finally and with great disgust, Vox vacated his own Ready Room.

"This is ridiculous," he complained. "Absolutely ridiculous."

*You've got that much right, and whose fault would that be?* TC Blane thought angrily, staring through Vox as they walked out onto the Gauntlet's bridge.

Inside the room they had just vacated, the captain clenched her jaw and demanded to know why 'Tweedledee and Tweedledum' had delayed her. She wanted nothing more at this point than to get the hell wherever they had to go, find Carrick, and bring him home.

"What do you want?" She folded her arms and clamped her hands down tightly against her own skin, trying to conceal the fact that she was shaking.

"We only want you to listen to your instincts, Zanh Liis." Fen answered softly. "You must leave guilt, regret, and all of the corresponding emotions behind if you're going to see your way clear through this."

She was about to argue that she could see just fine, but she knew better than anyone that the past was exactly what had been in front of her- for days now. It blinded her- an enormous obstruction between her and her future.

"You must see your way clear through this," Tred added sympathetically, but firmly. A long silence followed as each was preoccupied by their own thoughts. Then the man's expression suddenly brightened. "If you do, the results could be quite surprising."

"I hate surprises." Zanh balked.

"Of course you do. Given your history, I would expect no other response. Surprises can be frightening," Fen conceded. "But sometimes fear is more our friend than our enemy. Remember that, and whatever happens..." he looked her dead in the eyes, "go with your gut, Zanh Liis."

"I'll do my best," Liis promised. "For the timeline, and for..."

Sadness haunted her tired features, and once again Fen found he couldn't help but risk personal life and limb to try to encourage the woman with the weight of the worlds on her shoulders.

He patted her gently on the back as she concluded her thought with a hoarse whisper. "...for the O'Sullivans."

"Just think," Fen offered gently, "if you succeed, you will probably never see us, or anyone like us, again in your lifetime." *At least not in this timeline,* he thought.

"Now that's something to strive for." Zanh returned, breaking free and walking to the door. She glanced back over her shoulder. "No offense."

"None taken." Tred assured her. "Godspeed and good luck, Captain."


-=An Hour Later: Main Shuttlebay of the USS Gauntlet=-


A cheery voice, singing remarkably on key broke the weight of the stillness that had enveloped the crew as they took stock of the controls of their borrowed Betazed merchant vessel, Rixx Rewards.

Dane Cristiane looked up from the comm station with marked annoyance, and across the small bridge TC Blane mirrored the expression identically. This was something that ordinarily would have amused Landry Steele to no end. But right now, as she sat at the Science station feeling completely useless, nothing could amuse her.

She had no idea why she'd even been drafted for this. In fact, her career had stopped making any sense to her at all the moment that she'd been sent to this mysterious entity called Temporal Investigations to become personal assistant to the Admiral-in-Chief.

Next thing she knew, between doling out aspirin by the handful, medication for Vox' blood pressure and getting sworn at, repeatedly, by the likes of Zanh Liis, she was sent into this most disturbing form of exile.

*Internship, my ass...* Landry thought, then she winced when she realized that she seemed to be picking up the propensity for profanity that had so offended her upon first meeting the Bajoran woman who sat at the helm, cursing softly even now as she analyzed its configuration.

"Problem, Captain?" TC inquired, looking up from the tactical display. This ship was, in his estimation, woefully vulnerable considering the fact that the mission they were about to undertake was so dangerous. He honestly hoped that they would just be dumping it when they arrived at their destination- and that they could rely on the Sera or Alchemy to be their ride home if they needed to escape their environment in a hurry.

"It's just that Vox neglected to consider the fact when he got us this loaner that none of us are telepaths." Zanh grumbled softly. "I am trying to find a way to turn the neural command interface off and go to manual control." Ordinarily, she would have been able to locate the manual override very quickly. With her history as a pilot, Zanh had flown many interesting, alien vessels in her day.

But these were not ordinary circumstances and today she was having a hard time keeping her focus. She knew that she had to pull herself together before they reached their destination.

She could not afford to be scattered or distracted once they got into the heart of the mission- or everyone would pay for her inattention with their lives.

"Thomas, could you take a look? I need to have a quick chat with our very...musical friend over there." Liis pointed to the just-arrived Commander Reece, the source of the tune they had been serenaded with thus far.

He put his hands on his hips and stared indignantly down at Steele. "Hey you, girl I don't know. You're in my seat. Moooove."

Landry sighed and began to look around for another quiet corner in which to hide. Finding there were none left, she joined Blane at the Tactical station, standing just over his shoulder.

TC turned slowly, his ice blue eyes piercing through her. "Did you need something,

Ensign?" His tone made Landry jump back a step.

"Just looking for a place to stand, Sir."

"Well don't stand there." Blane was still suspicious of the young woman, knowing who had sent her to their crew to begin with, and doubting her true purpose here was anything other than to spy on Zanh and her crew- himself included.

"Isn't there something I can do to make myself useful?" Landry threw her hands in the air helplessly. "I'm just using up oxygen here and it's driving me crazy."

"Yes." Zanh Liis stopped mid-step on her way to talk to Reece and addressed Steele. "Take this, and read it. When you're done, read it again." It was a report with what little data the TEMA people had been willing to share to allow them to undertake this ill-advised rescue attempt. "Then tell me what's there."

"Aye, Captain." Landry took the PADD gratefully and moved over to the last vacant chair on the bridge, at the main engineering station. Controls to it had been rerouted to security so Blane could monitor them as well.

Reece had settled into his chair and was still, much to Zanh's chagrin, singing.

Liis grabbed the back of Reece's chair and spun him violently to face her.

"Whoa." Reece marveled, blinking rapidly and holding his hand up in front of his face as a wave of dizziness washed over him. "I see spots. Wait." He thought of the irony of that remark and then laughed a little. "Again!"

Once his vision came back into focus, he yanked gently on the low ponytail secured at the nape of Zanh's neck. "Awww, you didn't keep the dreads! I really thought that look was totally you, Tia Dalma!"

"Reece, this is no time for you to be...you. Got it?"

Liis leaned forward and whispered in his ear for a moment, and he jumped out of his seat and clapped his hands together. He began humming another song, and moving stealthily around from person to person. He pretended to duck and dodge imaginary adversaries, holding his right hand aloft with fingers outstretched into the shape of an imaginary pistol.

"Reece. Dabin Reece," He whispered loudly to Blane, wiggling his eyebrows. "Temporal Investigations Secret Agent!"

"You are no such thing." Zanh snapped, clapping her hand on Reece's shoulder and pulling him away from Blane just as TC looked like he wanted to jump up and remove the man from his personal space himself, much less gently than Zanh was doing it. "Thomas, how's it going with the manual control issue?"

"Still working on it, Captain." Blane replied, releasing a frustrated breath slowly, his eyes still boring into Reece with annoyance that made Reece thrust out his lower lip into a mighty pout.

"Come on, you guys are no fun. We're on some super secret classified covert mission thingie, and this is the mood of the day? Whatever happened to that 'we're unstoppable and we're going to save the day' Starfleet spirit? Goooo team!"

"Stop yammering a minute will you and listen to me? Very, very carefully." Zanh's patience was wearing thin. She hadn't brought Reece along for his entertainment value, which, if she were being honest, was truly considerable.

She brought him because he was the best CSO in the whole of Starfleet, and if anyone could find one human on a planet full of various lifeforms, the proverbial needle in the haystack they were looking for, Dabin was the man for the job. But she needed him to pay attention and realize that this trip, while 'cloak and dagger' of necessity, was not going to consist of fun and games.

"Yeah, sure okay Liisy." Reece stopped, listened, and nodded his understanding once as Zanh began whispering to him.

She continued for a good ninety seconds before he responded again.

"Soooo," His expression began to change, and he stopped bouncing up and down on his feet. He tilted his head closer to her lips, taking in every word she spoke until she was done.

"Um," His eyes clouded with concern, and the corners of his lips turned downward. "Oh. Crap. That's not good."

"No, it's not. So, we have to fix it. We have to find him."

Suddenly, Reece put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed them supportively. "I understand. We'll find him all right, don't you worry your pretty little wrinkled nose about it. Reece is on the job."

Liis nodded her thanks, and then turned her attention back to the helm. "Did you find it, Commander Blane?"

"I found it. Whether or not the command actually went through, I couldn't tell you yet, the computer is still crunching the data. This machine is not exactly what you would call state of the art."

"Yeah, well if our ride was too elaborate, we'd raise suspicion among whomever it is we're trying to blend in with." Liis fell heavily back into the pilot's seat, preparing to test out Blane's efforts to reroute command control.

She gave him an appreciative glance as the lighted panel came alive beneath her fingers, and the engines began to wind up.

"Thomas Cassius Blane, you are one handy guy to have around." She smiled gently as she laid in their course based on the coordinates they'd been provided.

"Happy to be of service."

"Heading and speed laid in. Dane, request departure clearance from the Gauntlet's bridge."

"Time to arrival at Klaestron?" Dane asked as he worked, anxious to get down to business.

"We'll get there when we get there, Ensign," Zanh was still very unhappy with the young man and had every intention of making him squirm the entire way there. "Until we do get there, you will speak only when spoken to- or if we have incoming comm traffic. Understand?"

"Yes, Sir." Dane muttered, turning back to his station. "We're cleared to depart."


-=Bridge of the Gauntlet=-



Jonas Vox paced with his hands behind his back as he watched the Betazoid ship disappear into Warp.

"Do you think they can do it, Sir?" Commander Yeager asked quietly, having been briefed by Vox the moment that the TEMA agents had gone.

"If they can't, no one can." Vox answered honestly.


-=Aboard Rixx Rewards=-



An hour passed in silence, with everyone doing their respective jobs and trying to brace themselves for whatever lay ahead. With the auto-pilot locked in, Zanh Liis stood from her chair, turned, and addressed her team.

"There is something you should know."

Her voice was hollow; her eyes void of all emotion.

"I know that you've all at least met Keiran O'Sullivan. I also know that none of us has ever met his son before. But that son is," she paused as she sought the proper words of explanation. "...in a way,"

Blane's jaw set as he watched her struggle- he knew what she was going to say, and was amazed she had somehow found the strength to say it.

"Carrick O'Sullivan is, or was, in another time and place," she took turns meeting the eyes of each officer with her own. "My stepson."

Reece stared at the floor. This was what she had whispered, among other things, into his ear earlier. Still, he found hearing the words spoken so clearly aloud even more disturbing. Suddenly so many things, including the Vedek's departure from the ship for the time being, made so much sense...

"Wait," Dane knew he wasn't supposed to speak, but he couldn't stop himself. He thought back to what he'd been able to read of Keiran's letter, and he understood that Zanh had meant something to the man- but enough that he could actually have married her?

"You and Keiran were, somewhere, in some time,"

"Yes, Dane." Liis shivered as she spoke. "We were." Her countenance hardened again, and she pointed toward his chair. "Keep your station."

"God," Dane muttered softly, "Married? I don't believe it," The gravity of what he had done for Vox pressed ever harder down upon his shoulders.

He had to make it right, somehow.

"Believe it." Liis replied, directing her gaze back to the helm.

"I want to be sure everyone gets some food and a little sleep before we arrive," Zanh instructed. "Because we don't know how long it'll be until we get either once we are there."


==============================
-=/\=- Zanh Liis
Commanding Officer
USS Serendipity NCC-2012
Currently aboard Rixx Rewards

489: Silent Transition

by Rada Dengar and Lair Kellyn
80825.12
Concurrent with Rescue Orders

-=Sickbay, USS Alchemy=-


Rada was barely able to force his eyes to open. There was a light, a white light burning into them from somewhere above. Eyes open or closed made no difference; that was all he could see. One second it shone so brightly that it blinded him and then just as quickly as it had come, it began to fade.

There were figures above him. They were just blurs of dark clothing and definitionless faces. He didn’t know where he was but it seemed so obvious, this was death. He couldn’t make out their voices but they seemed some how familiar. They sounded like someone did speaking to you when you weren’t quite awake.

He realised that he was lying down and brought his arms to his side to prop himself up. His body felt heavy on the sore arms and he was barely able to support himself. He felt a hand on his chest holding him down, it was not forceful as if to restrain him but merely firm as if to say ‘relax, you don’t have to get up yet.’

He turned his head and began to make out faces. It was a sad site before him; it was Wren and Tam. He was hit by the realisation that if they were here too; he’d failed them, he’d let them be killed.

There was another face above him, it was Kellyn. He was not surprised; she’d died before and it seemed quite natural that a part of her would be here now. He was surprised however to see young Lair Arie and even more so that the style of the room looked like Federation d├ęcor. It was familiar, very familiar.

This was the sickbay on the Alchemy.

Rada realised now that he was alive, a bit sore perhaps, but he was alive nonetheless.

He praised the deity which he had begun believing in a few seconds earlier when he believed that he was witnessing the afterlife as he realised that if he was indeed alive then they were as well. He began to laugh as he realised that the white light had been little more than one of those torches that doctors use to test the reactions of your pupils.

The doctor suddenly jerked his head sharply to the side, indicating that he wanted everyone to step backward.

He gestured with an open palm toward the exit, intending for the Vulcan nurse T'Dara to escort the children out beyond the glass divider separating the waiting area, and she did so, without a sound.

Tam and Arie moved along obediently.

As they reached the waiting room, the girl felt that she should try to say something to the boy who stood so grave and still beside her.

"My name is Arie," She offered. She looked at his ears, and couldn't help but ask the question burning in her mind. "Are you Vulcan?"

"I am Vulcan and Betazoid." Tam droned, staring at his mother through the window as she refused to be parted from the man lying injured on the bed.

"I'm Vulcan and Bajoran!" Arie explained excitedly, lifting her hair up above her ears to display their distinctive shape as if she needed to prove this. "I've never met another half Vulcan before, let alone someone so close to my age. How old are you..." She realized now he'd never given his name. "Who are you?"

"Tam." the boy replied softly. "Is he going to be all right?"

"I am sure that our doctors will do all that they can to help him. But he opened his eyes," Arie explained, "That is a good sign, I know that from when my mother was sick."

On the opposite side of the glass, Lair Kellyn bit her lip, and exhaled with relief when she saw Rada's eyes opening up.

She felt an eerie sense of knowing that he had been walking the path she had started upon herself at points in the past; the one leading to that great train trestle in the middle of nowhere.

She was grateful that something had stopped his journey before completion, and returned him to the caring keep of his friends and crew mates.

“He said his name was Rada Dengar, is that true?” Tam asked absently.

“Yes, that is his name.” Arie said innocently, not realising what hearing that meant to Tam.

“Then he really is my Dad.” Tam concluded “Mum tried to tell me but I didn’t believe her,” he cast his eyes down and said in what was barely more than a whisper “I was scared of him.”

Rada was coming back now and Wren could feel it. There had been one brief, terrifying moment when he had seemed to accept it all. To concede that the fight was well and truly over and he’d lost. A wave of melancholy had enveloped him and worst of all he had done nothing to hide it. Then suddenly, he’d laughed. It warmed her so much that it almost stung, like when you first step into a shower on an icy morning and your feet feel like they’re defrosting in the water; it’s the breaking of a frozen surface that you didn’t even know was there.

"But, you said you were Vulcan and Betazoid, and Rada," Arie questioned, but she quickly bit her tongue.

She didn’t understand what Tam had meant about Rada being his father but she didn’t feel this was the appropriate time to press him on it. She knew that the definition of a parent wasn’t always clear cut. If anyone could comprehend how flexible the definition of a parent could be, it was the orphaned girl from another timeline, who found her parents again here.

What was more perplexing to her was how anyone, particularly someone part Betazoid who should have been able to get an immediate sense of the man, could be afraid of Rada. She could tell that for all the relaxed confidence that Rada may try to project at times, he’d still struggle to justify saying boo to a duck, even if he did he’d probably regret it if he scared the duck away. Still, there had been times in her life when she felt irrational fear and so she knew just how powerful a sensation it could be.

She lifted a hand as if to place it reassuringly on Tam’s shoulder but decided against it at the last second and said simply “He is going to be okay.”

Tam smiled sadly and then turned to the glass “In there, the Bajoran woman, she’s your mum?”

“She is my mother, yes.” Arie confirmed, moving her hand back down to her side.

“What’s it like? I mean, having a parent in Starfleet?” Tam asked, he’d always just assumed he knew the answer to that question; having a parent in Starfleet meant that you never had a chance to see them but that you can’t complain because they’re just doing their duty. Yet here was Arie and there was her mother in a Starfleet uniform, perhaps things were different for her.

On the other side of the glass partition, the doctor looked at Kellyn, his eyes asking her assistance. She knew what he wanted, for her to reach out to the woman beside her, thereby temporarily removing her from Rada's bedside. This would allow him the chance to truly do his job and care for the engineer's injuries.

Kellyn slowly lowered her own gaze and blinked once in an exaggerated fashion to show that she understood, but held her hand up begging a moment longer for the couple.

She had been on both sides of this equation in her own life in the past; the one injured and the one standing by helplessly only able to watch events she had no control over unfold with maddening slowness. She knew that the willowy Betazoid whose eyes showed such pain at seeing Rada suffer needed to be alone with him a moment first before being shuttled out of the way, doomed to that most wrenching, soul-crushing Purgatory known as the Critical Care waiting room.

"It's different for me than for most Starfleet kids," Arie explained, confirming Tam's suspicions that she, and her experience of being with her mother as she was, was something unique. "I get to be with both of my parents, and the ship is our home. My mother is a research engineer. She used to do what Rada does, but she had other work she needed to do. My father is the First Officer, and I see less of him than I do my mother. Duty often takes him away for days at a time," Tam could sense Arie's sadness at this, but he felt something else too. A sense of gratitude he couldn't, with a child's command of his telepathic skills, classify.

He didn't know that Arie was remembering their recent days as a family on Betazed, and reliving memories of a time that would not come again, at least not for a long while. "But the work they do is important. They help people."

"Do you..." Tam had another question now. "Do you know him much?"

"Rada?" Arie's lip curled at the edge into a smile. "Oh, yes. He's one of my favorite people on the whole ship."

"This isn't a very big ship," Tam blurted, innocently speaking his worry aloud.

"Not this one, silly. Our regular ship. This is just the little one. The big one has a couple hundred people on it and Rada is still one of my favorites."

Arie did now take the liberty of reaching out and stiffly patting Tam on the back of his shoulder. "I have a wonderful father, but I will tell you something, Tam..." She nodded toward Rada, just as he disappeared behind a curtain drawn back by T'Dara, leaving Kellyn and Wren on the other side from the patient.

"Your mother is sad," Tam announced, interrupting before Arie could finish. He watched closely as Kellyn put her arm around Wren's shoulder and then wiped tears she could not prevent away from her face with her other hand. "She is upset to see my father in pain."

"They're good friends, my mother and your...Rada." Arie whispered reverently. "They work together often, and they care what happens to each other." Arie watched as Wren buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with a sudden storm of sobs now that they were in a safe location, and Rada was getting the care he needed.

Kellyn comforted her as best she could, leading her out toward the children in the waiting area in slow, cautious steps; knowing she was now supporting more of the Betazoid's weight than the woman realized.

As the children watched their mothers' approaching, they each instinctively put their small hands up flat against the glass, pressing little noses to it in a vain attempt to touch them while still obeying the mandate that they stay behind it.

"I will tell you one thing," Arie volunteered, continuing her earlier thought as her mother came around the corner at last. "I think that any child would be lucky to have Rada Dengar as their father."

Hearing this, the look on Lair Kellyn's face changed, instantly and completely.

She looked at Wren again, her eyes asking the unspoken question that Wren could read all too clearly telepathically.

*How is that possible?*

Commander Lair Kellyn
Engineering Research and Development
USS Serendipity/Alchemy

and

LT. SG Rada Dengar
Chief Engineering Officer
USS Alchemy NX 53099

488: The Forgotten: Three

by Fleur Le Marc
80824.15
...continued from part two


"I wish I could, Pace," Delle replied regretfully. "But you know that our only medic left camp days ago to travel to Ahnorr. They haven't had a doctor in that village since the storm, and they were desperate,"

Fleur watched the little girl, gasping fitfully for every breath, her ear causing her obvious pain. She had an idea, an old family remedy which at the very least could not hurt, and could very well help until the antibiotics she likely needed arrived with the rest of the cargo in the morning.

*If only...*

"Do you have any food staples left at all? Anything?" Fleur interrupted.

"Miss, now is not the time,"

"Just answer me. Do you have access to salt?"

The very confused Prylar gaped at her. "Salt?"

"Yes, you know, sea salt, or other form of sodium,"

"We may have one tin of sodium left from the last governmental food drop, but-"

"I need it. I also need a metal pan, and a fire." Fleur began rifling through her small bag of belongings, searching out a particular article of clothing.

Both the boy called Pace and Prylar Delle stared at Fleur as if she were crazy.

"Do you want me to help the child or not? Get them!"

The Prylar put her shoes on quickly and disappeared, leaving Fleur with the boy and the still shrieking baby.

"Can you help her?" Pace begged, "I can't stand to hear her cry like this." He rocked her tenderly in his arms, whispering words of comfort to her, but she was crying far too loudly to hear.

"I will try," Fleur replied.

She unmated the pair of cotton socks she held in her hand, and looked around for anything she could burn to start a small fire.

A short while later Fleur moved back into the tent, holding something up toward the young man, and the Prylar.

"The warm salt acts as a dessicant, drawing moisture out of the ear," She gestured for Pace to take it. "Put it to her ear, gently. It will help the pain until proper medicine arrives."

Pace waited for the Prylar to give her nod of approval, and the old woman did so, believing that it could not hurt the child, at least.

"Tressie," Pace tried once again to calm his sister, who had not stopped crying for a moment and had succeeded at last in waking the entire camp. "Here, let me."

They wrestled a moment as Fleur watched, wringing her hands.

Finally, the boy's strength won out over the flailing of the frantic toddler, and the warm, salt-filled sock met the child's ear. Almost instantly, her eyes opened wider, and instead of pulling on her ear as before, her small hand pressed the sock more closely against it.

She began to hum softly instead of crying, rocking back and forth as she continued to suck her thumb.

Fleur realized then that something else in her bag could be of help to the baby tonight.

She rifled around in it and produced the handmade blanket that February had sent, draping it gently over the baby. Feeling the soft material surround her, the baby sighed heavily with contentment.

*Thank you, Bru,* Fleur thought.

After a few moments, Tressie's head began to loll to the side, and Pace sank to the ground, barely able to stand a moment longer.

"Here, let me take her," Delle volunteered, though she was as exhausted as the boy.

"No, let me." Fleur offered, holding her thin arms out toward Pace. "You can sleep in my sleeping bag, boy. Prylar, you sleep too. I will hold her, and when this sock grows cold, I will give her the other one."

Prylar Delle eyed Fleur nervously, still unsure she could be trusted. What if they went to sleep and she took the baby and left?

She closed her eyes, saying a silent prayer to the Prophets, asking their counsel. A moment later, she looked into Fleur's eyes again, and realized that she had to begin to trust her, in some small way.

"Do not take her outside the tent."

"I will not, I swear it. I will just hold her." Fleur promised.

By now the baby had dropped off into a deep sleep, so relieved that the pain was lessening and tired from crying so long that she didn't know where she was, let alone who was holding her.

Pace gratefully handed the baby to this stranger, and dropped down on top of the sleeping bag Fleur indicated to him. As soon as his his head hit the ground, the boy was fast asleep.

Reluctantly, Prylar Delle lay down again as well.
"Merr-see," she said to Fleur, attempting to thank the woman in her own language.

Fleur smiled softly. "It is nothing."


-=Daybreak=-


"Prylar! Prylar!"

A frantic voice called out to Delle, piercing the early morning silence. "You must see!"

Delle jumped up and ran, barefoot, out of the tent.
Fleur, who had fallen asleep with the baby still in her arms, looked up. The little girl opened her eyes and her lips parted lazily, making a soft sucking sound as though she were nursing a bottle.

She realized instantly that she was not in familiar arms, and drew in a deep breath to cry.

"Shhh, it's all right, little one. Pace, wake up." Fleur nudged the lad with her toe, in a hurry for him to take his sister back now. Having forgotten where and when he was, Pace groaned, still in a dream.

"Mother, can I please sleep just a little longer? There is no school today,"

"Pace," Fleur repeated softly, sadly. "Wake up now. Tress needs you."

He heard Tress's name and his eyes flew open. He averted his eyes, embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Miss," He took the baby, and instantly Tress rested her hair on her brother's shoulder. "Sometimes, when I'm asleep,"

"It is all right," Fleur whispered, blinking to try to hide her emotions. "We all dream, Pace. Your mother must have been a wonderful woman."

Pace nodded, and Fleur hurried outside the tent to hear what all the fuss was about. She had an idea, and could only hope...

*Yes.* She sighed with relief at the sight of the two ships setting down in the distance. "Finally."

"Gather all the able bodied people that you can," Delle instructed the older children, who had come from the tents to see what all the excitement was.

"Tell them to hurry!" She couldn't believe what she was seeing, and as the ships touched down in the distance, she sank to her knees. "Praise the Prophets," she whispered.

Fleur put a hand on her shoulder, and the old woman looked up at her with tears in her eyes. "You spoke truth to me?"

"I did." Fleur assured her. "The supplies are here."

The old woman leapt to her feet with the strength of one forty years younger and hugged Fleur fiercely. 'I do not understand." She drew back, weeping with gratitude. "When so many others have turned a blind eye, why have you done this for us?"

"I love Bajor," Fleur replied softly, "And all of her beautiful people."

"I believe," Delle replied, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her tattered robe, "That the people of Bajor will love you in return, Fleur Le Marc."


-=Hours later=-



Towering stacks of crates containing everything from clothing and non-perishable food items to toys and games for the children were lined up as far as one could see. The sound of laughter, of children and adults alike, as well as animated discussion, filled the air. Activity on this level had not been seen in these streets since before the storms had come.

"I am concerned," Fleur said with all seriousness, "About looting. What can we do to prevent those who are so desperate for aid that they will steal from others coming and taking all of this?"

"I have already reached the man who led the local constabulary here before the storms," Delle replied, having been worried about it in advance of the supplies ever arriving.

"I spoke to him last night before retiring. He will be here shortly, and he and those who were his officers of the law previously will help us. But we must," Delle sighed,

"We must share as much as we can with the other camps. The need is just so great,"


"We will not be able to care for everyone, straight away," Fleur cautioned. "I had a great deal of money to spend, but nowhere near what it would take to completely stabilize and rebuild the Plains overall. Small steps, Prylar. Small steps."

"Where would you begin, if you had to choose a place to start?" Delle asked, suddenly overwhelmed.

"A kitchen." Fleur replied. "A structure where the people can come for a hot meal. Once their strength is built up, they will work even harder to help, and we will make the absolute most of the supplies that we have."

"It will be done." Delle answered. "There is one small building that was spared when the storm came. It stood in the shadow of..." her eyes glazed over again, "Of the Temple. It has underground pipework for water, and if the wiring can be restored, there will be power."

"We can use a generator in the meantime to power the refrigeration unit," Fleur replied. "The stove itself can run on wood."


"There is no stove," The woman clarified, thinking Fleur had somehow misunderstood.

"There is now." Fleur replied, leading the Prylar to a large crate a few meters away. Fleur took a screwdriver from the tool belt she now wore and began to pry the container open.

Upon seeing the stove, Delle clasped her hands to her chest and again thanked the Prophets for their kindness.

"I will need an assistant in my kitchen to get it up and running," Fleur advised. "More than one, actually. But I would like someone to serve as apprentice cook,"

"Pace." Delle replied, instantly. "His parents actually ran a small restaurant for tourists before the storm came. He knows his way around a kitchen, and," Delle shook her head sadly, "He has done nothing but tend his sister since the storm, the boy needs to think about his own future as well."

"Very good."

"What shall we do with the baby?"

"I believe," Fleur said, "That with the use of a proper play-pen now and then, we shall be able to manage her as well, just fine."

Rolling up her sleeves, she began to sort through the closest stack of crates to take inventory. "Now, Prylar Delle if you will permit me to get started, there is much work to be done here."

Fleur Le Marc
Getting to Work
Takesian Plains, Bajor

NRPG: Hurricane Katrina happened three years ago this week (August 29th).

What has become of the survivors, and what happened to those who did not survive it, is something that still weighs on my mind. Daily. ~ZL

487: The Forgotten : Two

by Fleur Le Marc
80824.15
...continued from part one


Fleur Le Marc moved quietly and at a distance traced the footsteps of Prylar Delle as the woman moved toward the area of the camp where the children without families were housed.

Fleur's heart sank to her feet as soon as she was within hearing distance of the tents.

So many little voices. Somewhere, in among them, a baby was crying.

How had a baby managed to survive in conditions like this? Had it been born after the storm, or been found as an infant alive in the rubble?

Fleur watched the faces of the children light up as Delle offered them what she could, the energy bars and water packs were eagerly devoured.

Her eyes were drawn to a scrawny teen-aged boy, standing under a the splintered remains of a tree that had been twisted and broken by the storm itself.

He hurried into the tent next to it, and returned with a small bowl and spoon. He took both energy bars he had been given crumbled them into the bowl and added a little of the water from one of the packs. He looked all around nervously, and held on to the bowl tightly, never leaving it for a moment, seeming afraid if he did that someone would take it.

He disappeared into the tent again, and when he returned, he had a toddler with him; a little girl with frizzy ringlets of white blonde hair on her head. She was wearing a little 'granny' gown that stretched down to her bare feet, and the tell-tale shape of her form told Fleur that she was not yet out of diapers.

She could not have been much more than eighteen months of age.

The boy sank to the ground, and with his free arm he hoisted the baby into his lap.

Without taking a single bite of food for himself, he fed the baby everything in the bowl. Looking more closely at the baby, Fleur observed that her eyes were red and realized then that she had been the one crying moments earlier.
After her small belly was full, the boy gave her the rest of the water packet to drink, and then put her over his shoulder, tenderly rocking her to and fro.

Tears streamed down Fleur's face at the sight.

Clearly, this boy was the girl's brother.

*What became of their parents? * She wondered, as she brushed the tears away.

"What are you doing?" Prylar Delle rushed up to Fleur, angry. "I want you to keep away from our children, Miss. Until such a time as,"

"Until I earn your trust. Yes, I understand. I am grateful that they have you to look out for their interests." Fleur assured her. "I apologize, Prylar. I did not mean to overstep my bounds. Tell me please, where would you prefer I put my sleeping bag for the night? My tent will not arrive with the other supplies until morning."

"You brought no other protection from the elements at all?"

"No." Fleur hated the fact that the ships had been delayed bringing in the supplies, the original plan was for them to arrive just before she did.

"You can't just sleep outside, even with repellent, if you have any, the insects will eat you alive."

*Great.*

"You may put your sleeping bag in my tent for one night." The Prylar decided. "As thanks for the food you have given our children. But by tomorrow nightfall I will expect you to have your own provisions in place."

"The Prylar is very kind. Merci." Fleur saw confusion on the woman's face upon hearing the final, foreign word. Fleur apologized, and then thanked Delle in proper Bajoran.

"You speak Bajoran as well as Standard and..?"


"French. It is the language of my family." Fleur explained, continuing in flawless Bajoran.

"Whoever taught you the ways of the Prophets, did they also teach you to speak our language so well?"

"The Vedek," Fleur replied, sadness creeping across her face, "has taught me a great many things."


-=hours later=-


Fleur woke from her dream suddenly, in the middle of it.

The sensation of waking suddenly from such a deeply consuming sleep was jarring, and she felt as if she was physically falling from a great height. She lurched upward and opened her eyes, grateful of the fact there was no chance she could fall out of bed; she was already sleeping on the ground.

The sound which had roused her also stirred her elderly host, and Prylar Delle jumped out from beneath the thin blanket she called her own as she heard someone calling her name.

"What is it?" Delle folded back the flap that served as door to her tent, and allowed the teen-aged boy that Fleur had seen earlier to enter.

He was carrying the baby, who was wailing pitifully.

"Tress is sick," the boy declared, panic stricken. "She keeps pulling on her ear, and she won't stop crying."

The Prylar turned pale, putting the back of her hand to the baby's forehead. "She has no fever, are you certain,"

"Yes, look." He tried to pull the baby's hand away from her ear, but the child fought him. She pulled on her ear forcefully with one hand, while she sucked desperately on the thumb of her other hand to try to comfort herself.

"Has she been otherwise ill?" The Prylar asked. "When did this begin?"

"No, and earlier in the day, it seemed to come and go but now," the boy's eyes pleaded for her help. "She's in so much pain, I don't know what to do. Help me, please, Prylar. Please."

Fleur Le Marc
Civilian Volunteer
Currently on Bajor

486: The Forgotten : One

by Fleur Le Marc
80824.15
Concurrent with The Return

-=Takesian Plains;
At the location of what used to be the village of Iidian; Bajor=-



"Absolutely not." The elderly Bajoran woman looked her nose down, literally, at the Terran female standing before her.

"I don't know what you think this is, Miss, but we are running neither a religious retreat nor a spa here. We are struggling, every day, just to survive. We do not have enough provisions for even the children, let alone the rest of the people who were born here and who will likely die here. You must leave immediately.'

Fleur bit her lip, patiently waiting for the gray-haired Prylar to finish her monologue.

It was apparent that the woman was tired, frustrated, and hurting, While Fleur did not take her words personally, she knew very well that the woman was making a snap decision before she had even heard what Fleur could offer her yet.

"Madame, if I could possibly speak to your presiding Vedek," She tried, when the woman stopped at last to take a breath.

The request elicited a bitter laugh from the Prylar.

"Presiding Vedek? Are you serious? We have not had a Vedek present in the Takesian Plains since the Vedek Jariel left, right after the storms."

The sound of his name, tossed into the conversation so casually and unexpectedly, took Fleur by surprise and rendered her momentarily mute.

She shook off the associated emotions as best she could, and pressed on. "I believe you have misunderstood my intentions, Madame. I have not come to vacation here. I have come to help you."

Again, a short burst of incredulous laughter was the response she received. "You? You are can't weigh more than forty kilograms. You're a child. You can do nothing here but give us another mouth to feed. That is something we cannot afford."

"Judge me by my size, do you?" Fleur asked softly. Patiently. "What if I told you that this forty kilogram woman could cook enough soup to feed hundreds of people in a matter of hours with but one stove?"

The very idea gave Prylar Delle pause. She had been trying for a long time to organize food distribution in a way that would provide for more of those in her charge, but had run into dead ends with every plan she had attempted.

The Bajoran Government, still in the honeymoon phase of its union with the UFP, had been reluctant to press the Federation President to follow through on his promises of aid, made right after the Plains had been devastated.


There had been great talk then, of rebuilding, of healing. Of the strength of the Bajoran spirit to endure in the face of most grievous tragedy. That much had been true, and many of the people had managed to survive the past year with their faith somehow intact.

But the dangers of such a life of need were creeping up on them, and as the months dragged on Delle had no idea how long they could possibly stumble along this way without mass starvation, plague, or other manner of secondary disaster taking what life remained in the decimated region of her world.

"Even if you can cook that way, girl, we have no ability to support such an undertaking. Power and sanitation services here have yet to be restored. Most of the people are living in tents, if they are lucky. The children," Delle stopped, and for the first time her wrinkled face betrayed her sorrow. "The children suffer most."
Fleur did something so unexpected now that the old woman hardly knew how to react.

She hugged her.

Delle bristled at first, and then gently returned the embrace, seeming to lean against Fleur for support as emotion rushed over her, through her, and then once again was overtaken by the strength of her mind.

"I appreciate your sympathy for our situation and I am sorry that you have traveled all this way for nothing. But unless you have brought enough supplies to build a village with you,"

"Actually," Fleur interrupted, raising her diminutive hand into the air, "I have."

Delle's mouth fell open.

"Where are they, then?"

"Obviously they are not with me presently..." Fleur reddened slightly under the heat of the woman's stare.

"But by morning, two ships carrying not only emergency medical supplies and food staples will arrive, but needed construction materials to try to reestablish sanitation services and the power to at least two or three buildings." Fleur explained. "Moreover, there are blankets, tents, and everything that I will need to open and run a proper kitchen."

Delle stared at her in disbelief. "How is this possible? Do you represent Earth's government? Are you here on behalf of the Federation?"

Fleur laughed softly. "I am here on behalf of people who care, and represent only myself. I am, as a good friend of mine likes to put it, "one crazy French chick." She smiled, thinking of Reece and Grace, and the generosity that they had shown in support of her personal mission here.

"There is also construction equipment that will facilitate demolition," Fleur added. She had seen the rotting, mold encrusted buildings lining the road on her walk in from the site where her hired pilot had dropped her off, refusing to bring her any nearer. He did not want to have to look at what the formerly beautiful province had become.

*How easy it is to turn away when you refuse to see what is right before you. * Fleur had thought.

"The ruins are a danger to all here. They must be destroyed, and then rebuilding can truly begin. There is only one thing," Fleur bit her lip- here was the catch.

"I have not brought an army of workers with me, and so it may be that the equipment will go unused, unless there are those here capable of operating it and of undertaking the repairs to the infrastructure."

Delle's eyes stared blankly into the distance. Fleur misread this as disappointment, but in reality it was a sense of sadness over the villages full of men who had sat idly by in despair the past year, with the strength and ability to help those around them but no supplies with which to do it. Engineers, Architects, Builders. Artisans.

So many skilled and talented people whose spirit had been so destroyed by not the storm itself, but the overwhelming lack of a response from any able to aid them, that they had simply given up.

"We have..." Delle began slowly, "many capable of such work. If you are telling me the truth," She tried to judge the girl's intentions, and suddenly she reached out and clamped her hand onto Fleur's ear tightly.

She expected the Human to jump backward or to otherwise protest, but Fleur did neither. She lowered her eyes humbly and allowed Delle to take stock of her soul.

"Your Pagh is strong, Miss..."

"Le Marc. Fleur. Le Marc," She had told the woman her name at the outset, but Delle had been so annoyed by the intrusion that she had not taken note of it.

"Miss Fleur You..." She paused, looking at Fleur in surprise. "You have knowledge of the Prophets."

*Lady, you have no idea, * Fleur thought.

"I have studied the teachings of the Prophets for some time." Fleur admitted openly.

"Who has taught you?"

"A friend," Fleur was not so willing to be open about how she had come to make the journey here. Not yet. "A dear friend."

Delle nodded. "Must be a dear friend, if you are so willing to sacrifice whatever life you had before you came here to live in these conditions with us."

One final possibility troubled Delle, and she felt that she had to voice it before she put any trust in this person.

"You are not running from the law, are you? If you are wanted for some crime..." Every so often, a con artist with promises of help would show up at the camps, and end up breaking the hearts of those in dire need of real assistance.

Fleur laughed riotously. "No, no no, Madame, I assure you," She shook her head. "The greatest crime I have committed lately is missing evening prayers."

"Hm." Delle folded her arms, still unwilling to trust what she was hearing. It sounded too good to be true. "Tell you what, Miss Fleur. If what you say is true, and you have got ships coming tomorrow with supplies, then I will welcome you to our family of survivors here with open arms and I will do all that I can to see that you get the workers that you need."

Fleur was satisfied. She understood why the woman had to be cautious.

"That is completely reasonable. In the mean time, as a show of good faith," Fleur gave the duffel she was carrying to the Prylar. "This is my entire supply of rations. Energy bars and water packets. Please, distribute them to the children."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes."

"But, what will you eat?" Delle asked. "I have no other food to offer you,"

"I understand that. If you are too busy to distribute the food, I will be happy to do it for you." Fleur offered. "I have taken up so much of your time already."


"No." Delle objected immediately. She had no intention of letting a stranger, even one who seemed as harmless in stature as this woman, near the children until she had proven herself. "I will do it."

She took the bag, leaving Fleur in the tent that served as the 'command center' of the community.

She paused a moment, looking into the bag. There was enough for a simple meal here for at least twenty children. "Thank you."

Fleur sighed, folding her arms. "I only wish I could do more," she whispered, though the Prylar was already gone.

---------------------------
Fleur Le Marc
Civilian Volunteer
Currently on Bajor

485: Breakfast and Building

By Jariel Camen
80825.2300
The morning after The Return

-=Sanctuary and Orphans'Home, Altaan Province, Bajor=-



Five o’clock in the morning, and Camen was wide-awake. Timal had ordered him to help with the morning meal, and he intended to do much more than that.

He had always known that the way to impress Timal was through hard work. You earned the food you ate, the resources you consumed, in some way. If that was preparing the food, or teaching the children, or cleaning the floors, or painting artwork for the gallery, it did not matter. Everyone at the orphanage contributed something, somehow, to the overall well being of the community.

Work on morning meal usually did not begin until seven in the morning, with the children expected to be at the table at eight. At this early hour children and staff alike were usually still sound asleep. He would have an extra two full hours to prepare a surprise for the children this morning.

He clipped his new earring into place, and dressed in a deep wine colored red shirt with loose fitting dark gray pants and his large buckle low-slung belt around his waist. He knew all too well how hot the kitchen could get and wearing cool, loose fitting clothing was an essential if one intended to make it through the morning. In the past he had been the most comfortable wearing his orange Vedek robes, until the incident when the burning smell he could not explain turned out to be the end of the robe he had slammed shut in the wood-burning oven. After that, sensible and sanitary street attire was the order of the day in the kitchen.

He creaked open the door to his room slowly, and tiptoed down the hall to the kitchen. Timal was a light sleeper and never missed a trick, so stealth was required if he was going to make it to the kitchen unnoticed.

As he passed the children’s quarters, he could not help but notice how many of the beds were filled. It hadn’t been this occupied the last time he was here. Nothing compared, of course, to the days of the occupation, but still quite a lot of children. Jariel could only assume the Takesian Plains disaster had once again pressed the orphanages of Bajor into service. Another fresh batch of children with no one left in their life to care for them except those who reached out to help when everyone else turned their backs.

Jariel entered the kitchen, and reviewed the menu for the day. Today was the third day of the week, and that meant the children were to receive a bowl of oatmeal, slice of fruit, and glass of juice. That was a simple enough meal for Timal and his apprentices to prepare.

He began looking around the kitchen and pantry for the ingredients he needed. Sugar, yeast, butter, flour, water, milk, eggs, and stilsa spice. Stilsa spice was refined from the bark of the plant of the same name. The taste was similar to the Earth spice known as cinnamon, or at least that was what his memory told him. He began working the ingredients together in a large bowl until the mixture formed into dough. He removed the dough, set it on a floured pan, and kneaded it until it was almost elastic in consistency. He then returned the dough to the bowl, coated it with oil and covered it to allow it time to rise.

As the dough rises, Camen mixed together the butter, sugar and Stilsa spice in a sauce pan, preparing the mixture that would be worked in with the dough. With the mixture prepared, he took a moment to rest as he waited for the rising dough to catch up with him. He drew a glass of water and nursed it until he felt the dough was ready.

Once again he rolled it out onto a pan, this time cutting it into strips and coating the Stilsa spice mixture onto the dough as he coiled the dough into the proper shape of the breakfast roll.

Again Jariel needed to allow the dough time to rise. He lit the oven, and again sat down to rest. He sat quietly in the kitchen, and checked the time. It was still a half hour until Timal would wake up, and an hour and a half until the children were due at the table. Exactly as much time as he needed to let the dough rise and then bake the rolls.

Camen felt a bead of sweat roll down his cheek as the temperature in the room began to rise. He looked down at his shirt, which was already stained with the various ingredients he had been working with. Indeed he appeared to be earning his keep.

The kitchen door slowly creaking open broke the silence of the morning. Instinctively he held his breath, not wanting to make any noise until he knew who or what he was dealing with. A young girl’s face appeared in the doorway. She did not see Jariel, who, from her perspective, was behind the door.

Camen noted that, while she was young, she seemed too old to be just passing through. The youngest children were adopted the quickest, by families looking for a child with a “clean slate” to raise. Older children were sometimes seen as “too far gone,” to be adopted. These children were often taken in by the more loving families that wanted to care for them without feeling the need to raise a child from infancy. Still others chose to stay and study with Timal until they were ready to go off on their own into adulthood.

Then there was the group who simply did not care for any choice. They were too jaded to want a new family or accept Timal’s religious guidance. These were usually the most difficult children to reach, and required the most patience. Jariel could tell simply by this young lady’s surreptitious behavior that she probably fit into the last group. Judging by her height and weight he had the girl pegged as approximately the same age as Lair Arie.

She stepped quietly across the floor, her sandaled feet not making so much as a squeak or creak. Jariel watched as she opened the pantry door, and took out a box of crackers. She opened the box, reached inside and grabbed a handful of food. She held the cracker sin one hand, and with the other folded the box shut and stored it back in the pantry. Leaning against the door, she began to eat, still unaware she was not alone.

“May I help you, child?”

The girl spun around, but did not scream. Her hands closed around the food she held, and she clutched it close to her body, as if afraid it would be taken away.

“Who are you?” She whispered.

“Jariel Camen, an old friend of Vedek Timal’s. Why are we whispering?”

“Shh. You’ll wake him!” The girl protested.

[[I could teach you a way to speak that will never wake the Vedek.]] Jariel signed. The girl shook her head, confused.

“You did not tell me your name.” Jariel whispered, content to lower his voice to calm the girl down.

“Milea.” She said.

Jariel smiled. "That's a very pretty name. Is it your family name or given name?"

"It is my name." She snapped back at him. Camen had clearly hit a sore spot.

"Do you know what it means?" Camen asked.

Milea blushed, as she could tell by the tone of Jariel's voice that he probably knew.

"Do you?" She replied.

Jariel stood up and checked on the rise of his rolls as he turned his back to Milea and began to speak.

"Milea Fendalia is the scientific name, from the ancient Bajoran tongue, of the plant known affectionately to botanists on this world as the strangulation vine."

Camen slid the rolls into the oven and continued. "It wraps itself around an unsuspecting host plant and invades the internal workings of the host plant, stealing its water supply, in effect killing the host. Once the host dies the vine simply spreads to an adjacent plant and starts all over again."

"Wow. Am I supposed to be impressed?"

"I have some experience in gardening, I'm quite familiar with Milea. Did you pick that name out for yourself?"

She shrugged, "I guess. It seemed appropriate. All I do is suck the life out of people."

"The children will be up soon. Would you like to give me a hand with the rest of first meal?"

"No." Milea said honestly, as she stuffed a few crackers into her mouth.

"All right." Camen said with a smile. He was not going to let the girl bait him into anger, since that was what she wanted, or at least felt like she deserved. He merely retrieved several melons from the cooler, and began to wash them in the sink, ignoring her.

"What are you baking? Smells good." She asked finally, as the combination of the smell of hot food and frustration of being ignored got to her.

"Nothing you'd be interested in. Looks like you have no trouble taking what food you want."

"Good morning!" Jariel and Milea both turned to see the smiling older face of one Vedek Timal standing in the doorway. "I see some enterprising individuals have gotten an early start on things."

Milea stuffed the last of the crackers in her mouth and chewed them quickly.

"What have I told you about stealing food child? We make sure you all are fed three meals a day and if you are hungry at night to just ask myself or one of the other adults." Timal spoke in a very soothing tone.

Milea crossed her arms, looked away and shrugged. "I wanted to eat something before I go for a walk."

"What about the building? I was hoping you'd help us with construction today." Timal said.

"Whatever." Milea spun on her heel and stormed out of the kitchen and out of the orphanage all together.

Jariel watched out the window and she passed through the gardens and out of site.

"You're getting soft Vedek Timal." Jariel observed, thinking when he was a child, he never would have dared walk out on Timal in such a fashion. Timal raised his hand to reassure Camen.

"I know, I know. She's still relatively new here so I'm giving her a wide berth."

Timal took up the blade Jariel had washed to cut the fruit and began slicing sections of melons for the children. Camen held each steady as Timal made the cuts. "What happened to her parents? Victims of the Takesian Plains?" Camen asked.

Timal shook his head and was quiet for a moment. "If only she were that lucky." He said softly. "That's why I can not push her hard right now. She'll learn to be part of a family in her own time, but if I rush the process she'll only withdraw further."

Camen left the conversation there, and removed the rolls from the oven.

"Blessed be the Prophets!" Timal exclaimed, his mood brightening. "You always knew how to whip up a meal but nothing this complicated. Where did you learn to bake like that?"

Jariel froze in place for a moment, looking down at the food. He stuttered as he tried to speak. "I... I don't know. It was just there. I've never made these before."

Truth be told he knew exactly how he had learned, from the French baker he had once called his wife. Truth be told, as it sank it what he had just done, he was scared to death. "I guess these are part of the reason why I needed to come here to sort out everything, Timal. I can't even define my own identity, let alone anyone else's.

Timal paused in mid slice. "You need to sort everything out... because of the rolls?"

The kitchen began to fill with prylars and monks to assist Timal with preparing breakfast.

"We'll talk soon my friend." Camen said.

The children filed in as the meal was finished, and Camen watched the try of rolls it had taken nearly three hours to make vanish in a matter of moments. There were a few bits of spice left stuck to the bottom of the pan, which he scraped off with his finger to eat. *Not bad.* He thought.

After the meal, the children assisted with cleaning and washing. Timal then organized them into workgroups for the new school building they would be putting up today. The adults and older children would be responsible for heavy lifting, and the bulk of the construction work. The young children would serve as runners looking for materials, getting refreshments and relaying messages between workers.

The sun was unrelenting as Camen worked, and he thanked each child that brought him water profusely. The manual labor and building from scratch was a far cry from his life on the Sera. There, when you needed something done, you simply called Rada, Salvek or Kellyn, and it was done. They worked their magic with replicators and computers and most tasks could be completed without breaking a sweat.

Today, Camen's shirt was soaked through with sweat, and clung to his chest. His muscles ached and his eyes hurt from squinting against the bright sun. Still it felt wonderful to immerse himself in this and let his mind wander free. He looked forward to tomorrow as well, when his engineering extension course began. The chance to expand his horizons excited him, and he wondered if someday when Rada, Salvek or Kellyn needed something done, if they might ask him to work the magic.

As day turned into dusk, Timal called an end to the work. The floors, walls, roof, and internal rooms had already taken form. With the shell in place, the next day's work would cover the internals.

"So you can build, too?" Timal said, clapping a hand on Jariel's shoulder.

"I believe, Timal, anyone can accomplish anything with the right instruction."

Timal tossed Camen a clean shirt, to replace the sweat soaked one long enough for Jariel to enjoy his supper before showering. He untucked his shirt from inside his belt, and pulled it off over his head. He used the last remaining dry spot to wipe his brow and chest one more time, and pulled the new shirt on. As the two walked back to the main building, they heard a rustling from the bushes.

Milea appeared, covered in grass stains and sporting a few red spots that were either pricks from a thorn or insect bites.

"I'm starving." She said.

"The children are just sitting down to evening meal. They worked hard today for their food. Perhaps tomorrow you can help us with the inside of the building?" Timal said.

"We'll see." Milea said, as she marched past Jariel and Timal and into the orphanage.

------------------------------
Jariel Camen
On Bajor