This was the tenth day in a row. The local news was predicting the longest streak of rain since 2430. The restaurant’s business suffered. Joseph Sisko’s work ethic didn’t. He kept all three of them busy, at least when he could keep Jake in the restaurant, and Jake had grown tired of fleeing into the rain. He washed fruits and vegetables, checked plates and glasses for damage, set tables and helped keep the restaurant in order. He had to insist on time off to write, and his writing wasn’t coming. His brain felt rusted, and he felt very, very tired.
When he first saw the Trill girl enter the restaurant and his grandfather escort her to a table, Jake didn’t think too much of it. He did think of poor Jadzia Dax for a moment, but he saw no reason why any random Trill should be connected to her, and the restaurant got plenty of customers from offworld.
He was waiting on the neighboring table when he first noticed the way she was looking around, and at him and his grandfather, and around the room. She didn’t look too comfortable. It was as if she knew this place, and the two of them, and wasn’t sure how to deal with it or them.
By the time Jake came to wait on the young Trill, after leaving her a few minutes with her drink, he was fairly certain she was the new host of Dax. It was the only explanation for why she was staring him down as if she was both afraid of who he was and relieved it was only him; he and Jadzia Dax had never known each other especially well, after all. He tried to kept a normal impersonal demeanor, however, as he greeted her with a “Hi, can I take your order?”
“Hi, Jake,” she said, clearly without thinking, then caught herself; he saw her eyes flick to his name tag, as if reassuring herself that at least she had an easy explanation for knowing his name, if not for using it like that. “I’ll, um, have the, um...” When she had begun to speak, she’d sure sounded like she’d known what she wanted, but it seemed that halfway through her sentence she’d suddenly decided that she didn’t know after all, and was fighting an internal war to decide. Jadzia Dax had always ordered the same dish in this restaurant, his father had mentioned when they’d first gotten here. Jake now wished he’d added what it was.
“Do you need more time to decide?” he asked gently. “I can come back.”
“Yes, thank you,” she said, and her face flushed with gratitude. He had already noticed she looked cute, and now he saw she was prettier still when she had some color in her complexion.
There was another table waiting for him, so he left the mysterious Trill and for a minute or so forgot about her. But when he took their orders into the kitchen, his grandfather said to him, “Jake, I need to talk to you for a moment,” gestured for his sous-chef to look after his pot, and led the two of them to the far end of the kitchen, where they wouldn’t be overheard. “The Trill,” he said, his voice holding an urgency he didn’t display that often.
“She’s Dax,” said Jake immediately. “Or at least I’m pretty sure she is. She greeted me as if she knew me.”
“All right, then. But we need to be certain of it...look, get her food, let her eat, make sure she’s well accommodated. This’ll be easier if she’s in a good mood, and I won’t end up with an unsatisfied customer over this if I can help it. But when she asks for the check, I want you to first ask if she’s Dax, and if she is, if she’s willing to talk to your father.”
“That’s not very polite,” Jake had to say.
“Make it as polite as you can, but damn it, Jake, someone needs to get through to him! You can’t. I can’t. Dax might be able to. I don’t really know how this whole symbiont thing works, to tell you the truth, but if she has any of Curzon or Jadzia’s feelings, hopefully she’ll listen to you. Tell her how he’s been; she’ll have to listen.”
Jake was absolutely in agreement with his grandfather that someone had to intervene with his father, who after three months was showing no signs of being any better than when Jake had accompanied him back to his quarters after Jadzia’s funeral and as soon as they were alone told him he was taking leave. He nodded and said “I’ll see what I can do.”
He wasn’t looking forward to it, though. It really was a rude thing to do to a customer, and probably even more so to a joined Trill, when he knew they were supposed to have some detachment between their lives. Of course Jadzia hadn’t minded continuing her friendship with his father, but this new host might want to move on.
Yet she’d come there. Of all the restaurants of all the cities of all the planets. It couldn’t have been just coincidence. Unless she’d just wanted to say goodbye, that was a possibility. A private mental goodbye, not involving any actual people, just places. If that was the case, she wasn’t going to be happy with him.
Being a waiter meant having to concentrate, so Jake couldn’t think about any of this much, which was a good thing, because it was hard enough for him not to as it was. During one spare moment as he made his way from one table back to the kitchen he did think he was feeling a little too nervous about this, if only because his fingers were trembling a little bit and he was having trouble reading his own shorthand. It was a simple pair of questions, he told himself, and he already had the words for an apology prepared, too, if he needed them. And come to think of it, he had never seen Jadzia Dax lose her cool. He’d watched her argue with his father once, but she’d been ice then rather than fire. That might keep this new Dax from making a scene, at least.
When he returned to her table she ordered a gumbo quickly, and when he gave the order to his father he marked that it was indeed Jadzia’s usual, and took charge of the cooking of it himself. “I thinks she liked it a certain way,” he told Jake.
As it cooked, and he continued to work, Jake found himself stealing glances at the girl. She never looked comfortable; he spotted her fingers constantly drumming the table. He found himself thinking she was even prettier than he’d first thought; she wasn’t much older than him, ignoring the symbiont’s age obviously, and had dark boyish hair that settled gracefully along the line of spots that flowed down the sides of her face and neck. She had been wearing a black raincoat, but when she removed it he saw she wore a Starfleet uniform, with a blue collar and a single pip.
“Your gumbo, madam,” he announced as he brought it, and watched as she closed her eyes and breathed in its smell, for a moment her features relaxing as a broad smile spread across her face. It made her go from pretty to beautiful; he watched her throat flash, and for a moment, Jake forgot to breathe. But then the moment passed and she looked uneasy again. Jake found himself not wanting to bother her. Clearly she was upset about something, and now wasn’t the time to be pestering about a connection from the symbiont’s past lives. He found himself asking if he could get her anything else with his mind far away, and was relieved when she said no thanks.
Out of out of the corner of his eye as she ate her way through her dinner, listening to the rain outside get louder; maybe she’d think it just as well to stay a while longer. When she was done, Jake took the checking pad out to her table, but kept it behind his back. She saw him coming, and he watched her stiffen.
“Excuse me,” he forced himself to say. “I don’t mean to bother you or anything, but are you...?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m Dax. Ezri Dax, I mean, not Jadzia Dax, obviously...this is weird.”
“No, it’s okay,” he said. “It’s just that...well...” He had to ask it, he told himself.
“You know why I came here tonight?” she sighed. He said no. “I wanted to see Ben.”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” said Jake, intensely relieved. “Granddad wants you to talk to him.”
“Oh,” Immediately her expression changed, her eyes and mouth rearranging themselves into something that reminded Jake very strongly of Jadzia. “He’s bad, isn’t he? I heard about what happened, with the wormhole-and is it true the orbs have stopped working? I mean, Jadzia's memory of everything after Dukat attacked her is really fuzzy, but I myself heard...”
“It’s true.” Jake dropped his voice. “He’s in the back right now, cleaning vegetables. He’ll do anything granddad asks of him except he really doesn’t like waiting tables, and he doesn’t want to do anything else. You can come back there right now if you want to.”
“All right then,” and she followed him through the restaurant, glancing around as if she expected stares, though there were none.
Captain Sisko was seated near the back door; he probably would have been out on the step if it hadn’t been so wet out. He had a handful of carrots in his hands and two bucketfuls of them next to him. He’d probably gotten through enough for the rest of the night and the lunch sitting the next day. Jake picked up the bucket of cleaned ones-his granddad would be so pleased he could finally tell the difference-which caused his father to look up, and see who was with him. “Ensign Ezri Dax would like to meet you,” he told him, and hurried off as fast as the heavy load of carrots would allow him to go. He heard her “Hi, Ben” and his father’s hello back before the ordinary noise of the kitchen started to drown them out.
His grandfather intercepted him. “Did she agree?”
“Not only that, she wanted to already. Though to be honest I don’t know if she’s in shape herself for this sort of thing. I think the whole joining with the symbiont thing has left her a little...I don’t know, unnerved maybe.”
“Well I think she was supposed to be selected because they thought she was the right person for it. But maybe it is a little disconcerting at first. Kind of wish I’d asked Jadzia about it now.” There was more regret than just over that in his voice. In the end, neither Ben Sisko’s father nor his son had known either of the two hosts of Dax they’d met so far as well as they would have liked. If Ezri hung around, Jake thought, he might try to fix that with her.
The rest of the evening went by with Jake continuing to wait tables, his grandfather continuing to operate in the kitchen, and both of them trying not to let themselves be distracted from their jobs by what was going on in the kitchen corner. Every time Jake came to his grandfather, he got a vague report of how they were doing, “There were some really intense words about ten minutes ago, I think,” or “I do believe I heard them laughing.” Finally he came to him for one last piece of news: “She’s gone. Left about two minutes ago, while you were taking orders from the big Duque party on the other side of the restaurant. She said she would probably come back tomorrow, though. I think that’s enough for us to know right now.”
It was, but to Jake’s surprise, his father spoke to him about it before the night was up, but mostly to reveal an astonishing piece of information about Ezri. “She wasn’t trained to be a host,” he explained. “But she was the only Trill crew member on board the ship that was taking the Dax symbiont back to Trill, and it took a turn for the worse and had to be joined with someone immediately. I think it’s extremely difficult psychologically, to adjust to a symbiont’s memories if you aren’t trained to do it.”
“So did she come here for help?” Jake asked, wondering if the blind could really lead the blind here.
“I think so. I’d like to help her, though. If I can.”
When he repeated this conversation to his grandfather, however, Joseph Sisko sounded pleased. “Maybe he just needs something he can care about enough to snap himself out of it. Anyway, what he’s been doing hasn’t been working. Let’s just stand aside and let them talk. For now.”
It wasn’t the only place where the senior staff had been downsized. There was to be no immediate replacement for Jadzia. Maybe after the war, there would be a place for a science officer again. Also Worf had put in for a transfer, and was now with his old crewmates on the Enterprise-E. It hadn’t seemed that drastic at the time, Odo was still insisting. He’d managed the area security on his own for four years under Starfleet without an Strategic Operations Office, after all. But it had become a different sector since then, with much more activity, both criminal and combative, some of which is it wasn’t even politically wise for Odo to deal with.
Eight weeks after Worf’s departure, with no replacement in sight, when Nerys entered her lover’s office, the first thing on her mind was the question of when he had last regenerated. He’d started keeping his old bucket in his office again.
He knew she was coming off shift, so he emerged wearily from the holding area, and posed his “Evening?” as a question.
“Yeah,” she said, “and you are not working overtime again, and don’t argue with me, that’s final, and I’ll make it an order if I’ll have to.”
She’d thought it a 50-50 chance that Odo would protest this. When she saw his wry smile, she knew he wasn’t going to that day. “Very well,” he said, and as she reached his desk, he took hold of her shoulders and pulled their foreheads together. Which from a strategic perspective had actually been an error on his part, because it let her notice his skin was a bit too tender, slightly liquidy. Now that their relationship had become months old, Nerys was familiar with those things that had once been completely unknown to her, such as the signs of when he was only a couple of hours away from really needing to regenerate. “Out of curiosity,” he said, “did anything particularly horrendous happen today?”
“No,” she sighed, “just the usual. If I have to interrupt my day to field a call from the Vedek Assembly one more time...”
“No, she’s still off in the...” Damn, why couldn’t she remember? Maybe she needed sleep too. “In the...”
“Telyet Province?” supplied Odo. “You said something about her and there.”
“Yeah, there, thanks. New guy today. Young guy, new to the Assembly, probably.”
“Lots of those lately,” noted Odo, and the grim tone was obvious, and with good reason: most of the new Vedeks were getting their positions because the old ones had started committing suicide. Which was honestly causing Nerys more pain than anything else, that particular statistic concerning Bajor. The closing off of the Prophets-she refused to think of them as gone; they had to still be there somewhere, the departure of Sisko and Worf, even the death of Jadzia, were nothing to the knowledge that when Dukat had done whatever he’d done in the Temple, he’d not only struck all those blows, he’d found a way to start murdering her people yet again.
Odo knew that, knew how much it hurt, so he pulled her closer and let her bury her face in the side of his head. But here wasn’t the place for such gestures, whatever displays of public affection they happen to have impulsively engaged in in the past, especially not when she was now the station's commander. So Nerys pulled away and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.”
Dinner wqas in their quarters-officially their quarters, now, with his various objects arranged about the living area. She ate while he watched, and she deliberately sat facing away from the viewport-not that it worked; she was still too aware of the window being there. How many times had she stood just in front of it, and seen the Celestial Temple open up for a ship to go in and come out-not for a year before the attack, of course, but still more than enough times before that?
Odo, as was his usual way, waited for her to ask, “Do you want to know why they were calling?” He nodded immediately. “They got a communiqué from the Dominion a few days ago. A few days ago, and they took this long to tell anyone, me, Shakaar, anyone! Apparently the Dominion actually tried to flatter the Vedek Assembly into entering into some sort of negotiation with them behind the government’s back.”
“They’re trying to play Bajor’s powers against each other.” Of course Odo got it immediately. “You don’t think they’ll get anywhere, do you?”
“It bothers me that it took them this long to tell us,” sighed Nerys. “But I don’t they can, really. If only because an organization like the current Vedek Assembly isn’t that good at keeping secrets.”
“If, on the other hand,” Odo mused, “they started working with only a couple of the high-ranking Vedeks...or with the Kai.”
“Yeah,” Nerys agreed. Kai Winn was the real danger, and they both knew it. She was a woman in desperate straits at the moment, her enemies have been provided with an environment in which they would finally be listened to. Meanwhile, rumor had gotten out about her being responsible for stopping the Reckoning, and if she hadn’t done that, everyone was sure, this never would have happened. For that matter, Jadzia would have lived. Thinking about that made Nerys angry all over again. Winn was getting what she deserved, no doubt, but that made her dangerous.
“So what’s the government going to do?” asked Odo. “Do you know?”
“No idea,” she shrugged. “The one thing I do know is that the new Romulan contingent is still coming to the station, and that fact was deemed important enough that I had to spend an hour giving them answers to questions where they pretty much knew all the information already.” She wasn’t exactly happy about the Romulans either, which Odo knew.
“So what do we do about this latest piece of wonderful news?” he asked, but as he did so, she noticed his hands on the table looked like they were about to melt.
“We figure out what to do after you’ve regenerated,” she replied. His only response to that was a rueful grin.
Odo liked to regenerate around her bed, even if she sometimes accidentally stepped in him in the morning. It was a little early, but it had been a long day, and she found herself wanting to lie down. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, spread out on top of the bedclothes with her uniform and even her boots still on, but she drifted off anyway.
She dreamed she was walking through the corridors of the station, looking for someone, Captain Sisko maybe, but there was noone anywhere; she was all alone. If she could find a lift and get to the Promenade she might be able to find them, but there weren’t any anywhere. She had a vague idea she might also be looking for his baseball, and that she needed to return it to him, but she had absolutely no idea where that thing was.
Finally she decided to get to the emergency ladders and climb for it. She did find one of them, one connected to the station’s hull itself, where the winds buffeted her so hard she had to grip the rungs tight as she climbed, and her hands sweated so hard she didn’t know how she could get up 500 whole levels without losing her grip. She was only starting to realize how tired she was too.
She wasn’t sure how far she’d climbed when she first scented the stink of burning flesh. It was coming from the floor she was passing, and though the hatch wasn’t there, she had to leap from the rungs into the open corridor. She didn’t know if she could do it; she could have easily when she was younger, but now her limbs felt weaker than they once had been.
But she had to, and so she hurtled herself through the air with all her might. Her hands and knees hit the corridor floor hard, the impact knocking through her whole body and sending shocks through her system that it took her a frighteningly long moment to recover from; it was as if she was frozen in the transporter. But after that she was on her feet, and the smell was so strong it had to be close by.
There was only one door in the whole corridor; she ran to it. Then she thought it wouldn’t open, but it slid aside.
There before her lay a mangled body, so badly burnt she couldn’t even tell its sex. It wore a Starfleet combadge, but there was nothing else to give it any identity, and it almost felt as if it wasn’t anyone in general anyway, just another one of many, because they were all dead, she didn’t even know how she knew that, but she did.
She awoke short of breath, with the terrifying feeling she’d just overlooked something important.
She hastily pulled herself up and looked about. Odo was still regenerating on the floor. She asked the computer for the time, and learned she’d been asleep for about two hours.
Ordinarily she would have dismissed her dream as just her mind reacting to the anxiety of the last ten weeks, but this hadn’t felt much like a case of that. If things had been normal she would have been sure her dream had been sent from the Prophets, but when noone had heard from them lately, she wouldn’t dare to presume they’d come to speak to her now like this.
And even if they had, what exactly had that dream meant? There were the obvious fears, for the safety of those fighting the current war, those individuals like Jadzia had been, whom she’d come to care about during the past six years. She might now have to worry that it was a prophetic dream, and that it meant she’d lose them all.
Not feeling at all refreshed, but too restless to sleep, or eat, or to do anything else either, she wandered over to the viewport and looked again, out at those tiny distant stars. Suddenly she was angry at them, those stars, and the Prophets, and Pah-Wraiths, and Captain Sisko, and Admiras Ross and Starfleet, and of course Dukat, and Kai Winn, who she almost held as more responsible for the loss of the Prophets as the now mentally unstable former commander. If she hadn’t interfered for the worst of reasons...but thinking about how things could have been was too painful, and she had to cut her mind off right there.
Nerys left the viewport then, glanced down at Odo but decided to let him regenerate a little longer without any disturbance. Instead she went to the far side of the room, where she’d left a padd loaded with the Starfleet report on activity in the sector. It was while reading those she missed Worf the most; among his other duties he had prepared weekly reports like this for Captain Sisko, except distilled to highlight what the Klingon had judged the priority, and usually been right about. These general reports were long and cumbersome, and by the time she reached the important information in them, she often had too much of a headache to properly process it.
She actually had only read two-thirds before going off to her shift that day, and she thought she could get through most of the rest in an hour if she focused. But focusing was hard with too little sleep and the dream she’d just had.
The only words she really read at first were those Starfleet had already thrown at her, three days ago when they’d wanted someone from the station who had experienced with Cardassian engineering to help them out with a ship they’d managed to take over, and she hadn’t been able to spare anyone with the expertise. They’d wanted Miles, of course, but he’d been busier than any of them, because when a population was bitter due to losing the Prophets, and it was generally known that they’d been lost due to some sort of event that had happened on the station (officially what had happened in the temple was classified information, but there was only so much of it they’d been able to conceal, especially with a body left lying on the scene), vandalistic sabotage was an unfortunate but obvious result. So far it hadn’t been anything that threatened the stability of the station’s basic systems, but she knew that was one of his many worries. So no, no time or energy for any extra work off the station.
They were going to make her pay for it, Nerys knew. They needed more crew on the station, and now they weren’t likely to get them. Being deprived of two Starfleet officers without replacement ought to have afforded them two more, but Starfleet’s billeting system was a complex one, one even Admiral Ross was having problems getting anything out of, to the point she was even trying to wrestle a new militia billet out of the Bajoran government. But she couldn’t hold out much hope there; it was very hard to get one of those in the best of times, and with an unprecedented amount of officers now resigning their commissions, it was probably just about impossible.
Her mind was still lingering over this officer problem, wondering if there was any way she could think of to even get some sort of assistance for poor Miles, when her eyes wandered across a paragraph that she found herself having to stop and go back to read properly. Then she went back again to read it over. It probably didn’t mean what she thought it did, she told herself. It might not even have anything to do with the Bajoran star system and sun. She did have a habit of assuming any piece of news she didn’t specifically know was about some other planet was about Bajor.
Still, how many other unusually celestial phenomena were there in the sector? Especially ones that had engaged in “unprecedented unexplainable behavior,” which would be what the Temple closing up would’ve looked like to non-believers? If only the summary had thought to provide the name of the star affected, or even described how it had been affected; she could have tried to determine if they were talking about a wormhole then.
There was nothing else of significance in the report that she hadn’t already known about. Putting the padd down, she considered going to look at the newsnet to see if she could get more information about this celestial phenomena that was behaving unexplainably, but she was just too tired. The state he had been in before regenerating, waking Odo up wasn't practical yet, so she took ten more minutes to replicate and eat a small meal, then lay back down.
With no more dreams that night, she woke in the morning feeling much more rested than she’d expected to, though that might have been because she overslept. Odo was gone, having apparently decided to let her sleep in. She had just enough time to take a quick shower, wolf down her breakfast, and race for Ops.
She went running her fingers through her hair, her braids from the previous day a little matted. It sure had been easier when she had kept her hair more closely cropped down, but Odo loved to melt his hands in it, and she herself loved it too when he did, the soft, warm pulse of it against her scalp, so shoulder-length it was.
Under the sonic waves it maybe got a little less wild, while the sound beating against her skin soothed her body and mind both. But she spent just long enough to think especially about the dream combined with the events of the past weeks and the sabotage especially. It was unlikely, in theory, that she should have a prophetic dream just about something mundane like that, but maybe if it was on a large enough scale?
She had thought about it too much by the time she was heading out to Ops. As she made her way to the turbolift, she kept tense, as if, absurd as she knew it to be, Dominion ships would suddenly swoop down on the station with blasters blasting.