Duty to Cardassia Supersedes All

Deep Space 9

During their transit, which fortunately was uneventful, Melset and her staff kept to themselves while preparing contingency plans to win some time; however, shortly after departure, Azin and his compatriot were informed that their home world had also been the target of Dominion attacks which had caused widespread damage. They opted to return to Khobeeria at once after contacting their Secret Service which arranged for their return and new postings. In fact, a Khobeerian freighter rendezvoused with the starship within a day.

For Talik the news was far better: Lissepia had escaped the effects of the past war, all except for strongly localized damage which was already being repaired. Upon receiving this information, he offered, "Gul, if you wish, I will remain in your service for three more C-Standard years, by then reconstruction in the Union will be well under way. I have already contacted my commander on Lissepia; he has expressed no reservations. My reassignment is to be effected at the end of that period."

"Most positive news, Talik. This will make initiating processes easier as you know all procedures and can assist the others should problems arise in the beginning." She considered him for some moments, remembering their time at SFCCEI, "and you are a most impressive bodyguard indeed." Furthermore you have become a reliable friend and an advisor I am glad to have at my side.

After about ten days, they arrived at Deep Space 9. From the little Melset could see from the docking ring, a lot had changed since her last stay on the station, facing her first deployment for the Order.

Two Bajoran officers were already waiting for them when they came out of the passage with some other arrivals. For a moment, Melset, taken unawares, stared at them, then quickly rallied. Why be surprised? This station is now Bajoran with a Federation presence!

"Welcome to Deep Space 9, I am Commander Kira." Kira gestured at the tall, dark-skinned Bajoran male next to her, "And this is Security Chief Remosi."

"I am Gul Melset," then, indicating the Lissepian, "Major Talik is my colleague and former bodyguard at SFCCEI and will be a member of the SFHS team."

The two officers, the Bajoran and the Cardassian, briefly considered one another before Melset said, "I wish to thank you and your people for agreeing to host a branch of SFHS on your station with a Cardassian as one of its three organizers. Above all, you have my, our gratitude for your people's generosity in face of the past."

"At present, everyone is working for peace and, in many cases, for reconstruction," was Kira's answer, "The bureau of SFHS is scheduled to open in a little under four weeks. I have been told that you will spend three days on station before going to Cardassia to gather data on the situation?"

A nod was the reply, then, "Aid for other worlds in this sector which have suffered damage due to the war will also be organized here to simplify matters, shorten supply lines." Melset's voice became very soft, "The Alliance with the Dominion made all of my efforts at SFCCEI futile. Perhaps now …" she fell silent.

The Bajoran looked at her pensively, thinking. She reminds me of someone, but I can't quite place it.

"If you come to OPS with us, there are some details you have to know."

With Kira in the lead and Remosi following, they walked through the Promenade; on the way, Melset and Talik looked around interestedly; the station was very different to how it had been during the Occupation; it was brightly lit, somewhat chilly by Cardassian standards, no more Bajoran section, but, not unexpectedly, a shrine, various peoples on station, no guards on the Promenade, a wide range of shops…. In fact, much like SFCCEI, or even Starfleet Headquarters except for the shops.

When the group reached the Commander's office, Remosi left.

"Please, sit down." Kira said, "You may have been informed that the offices of SFHS are nearly ready. Staff is scheduled to arrive in three weeks while you, Gul Melset, are still on Cardassia; by the time you return, work will already have been initiated. In case of urgent messages before then, they can be sent to my office. You already know that you and all fifteen staff are assigned quarters on the same level and area of the habitat ring."

"Chief Remosi has expressed security concerns; you and the other staff will be issued commbadges as is the case with all personnel on this station; as long as you and your colleagues are here, at SFHS, Security Chief Remosi and his staff are responsible for your safety."

"I was equipped with a transponder when I was a recruit and will give Chief Remosi its frequency. It is most kind of you and the Chief to ensure our safety, Commander."

"Cardassians are not very popular anywhere on Bajor or its installations right now, to borrow an Earth expression." She continued, "Commander Chandler has already seen to formalities, so the only one left is for you and Major Talik to report to the medical department for your physical."

"May as well get it over with at once."

Talik left with her after saluting the Commander.

"Dr Bashir? Gul Iníki Melset reporting."

He turned to see the new station Cardassian as he called her, enter then wait near the door.

"New members of the station's crew, and that is what you are as an employee of SFHS, undergo routine examinations upon arrival and at half-yearly intervals."

"Central Command had the same procedure," While talking to him, she removed her armour.

After half an hour, Bashir said, "You check out fine, except for high levels of stress hormones. I strongly advise you to get as much rest as possible before leaving for your home system." Sure you will. I know your kind. Door to quarters closes and you'll be at the annex, preparing files and whatever you need until you report for transit, he thought, resignedly.

There was no reply apart from, "When I return from Cardassia in four weeks, I'll report back to you. From your expression it would appear you have registered something or another."

"Nothing pathological, only an implant whose removal would kill you within seconds. My source told me that his own, nearly identical to yours, is of Order provenance."

This was unexpected; Melset stared at him for a moment; Bashir did not mention the name of his informant, but she knew.

After a moment of thought, he went to his supply room, took something out of a pigeon-hole then said, "Take these along. They will make coping with the impact of what you will experience easier, but not compromise your ability to fulfil your duties. Trust me, you will need the help." The doctor gave her a small box.

She glared at it resentfully. "Is this really necessary, Dr. Bashir?"

The doctor's reaction was exasperated. "Look, Melset, I've just about had it with Cardassian pride and 'we cope with everything on our own, need no assistance'! You are concealing that you are under severe emotional pressure, but it registers; you were on Earth, but saw reports, heard comments, no doubt suffered personal losses. Those reports are nothing compared to what will confront you in a few days. If I had any say in the matter, I would not even authorize your immediate departure for that hell-hole your planet has become." Dr Bashir continued, "But as you are going, I can at least offer some support. And, please, do me a favour when you get there."

"Yes, doctor?" Gul Melset's expression was neutral.

"When you meet Garak, give him my regards. I miss the lunches."

"I most certainly will." Melset walked out and nodded at Talik. Garak is alive and on Cardassia. The thought was comforting.

Talik entered, shrugging in resignation.

"Gul Melset?" A Bajoran officer came over. "I am to give you these; they arrived for you yesterday and contain information about conditions on Soukara, Quinor and Pentath."

"Thank you," She made the Bajoran gesture of thanks.

Taken unawares, the officer briefly hesitated before answering, "The Commander said you will no doubt want to begin your analyses and evaluations at once."

The reaction was a nod as she gazed at the data rods she held.

When Talik returned and joined her, Security Chief Remosi came over, "In the meantime, you and Major Talik can go to your quarters. A transport is leaving for Cardassia Prime three days from now; passage has been secured for you. Major Darol will notify you when it docks. Garak has been contacted and notified of your ETA." He struck his commbadge. "Major Darol, report to security."

A Bajoran officer entered moments later. "Darol reporting."

"Accompany Gul Melset and Major Talik to their quarters and," he indicated Melset, "see there are no incidents on the way."

"Understood." He turned to the group, "Come."

She took in the station's atmosphere, comparing it to how it had formerly been as they walked along the promenade. "The station has changed for the better."

Darol gave her a sideways glance. "Since when?"

"Since the end of the Occupation."

Her words surprised him into asking, "You did not approve?"

"No." For the next six years, she would have to interact with both the station Bajorans and other residents, so admitting to what she had seen and realized in Nevaris Village could make establishing contacts easier as her comments would be shared. "The system, the exploitation, I saw it, at the time thought it justified, but later understood that propaganda had influenced me, hidden the truth about what was being done, and the truth about your people."

"An interesting statement, coming from a Cardássian."

"Here we are." The door slid open when he entered a code. Melset went in, briefly stood in the middle of the living area. The Cardassian layout and architecture were comforting, made her feel at home. Main room, bedroom, sonics, replicator, communit, standard furnishing … "This is generous, I expected basic crew quarters."

"You and your colleagues will be on station for six years, so the Commander has assigned you and the other staff standard quarters in the same area of the station; your property is already here; I will notify you when your transport arrives in three days." Darol added, "A word of warning: watch your back when you go out. Cardassians are bitterly hated by many of us as Gul Dukat fought against the Emissary. Wear this and do not hesitate to use it." He handed her a commbadge.

"Tell the Chief I greatly appreciate his concern."

With a nod, the officer left with Talik. "The other personnel will also be issued badges upon arrival."

When the door slid shut, she opened her bags, noticed that they had been searched but carefully repacked. She took out her clothing as well as the cache of latinum put aside during her time on earth at Gart's advice. Her requirements had been minimal, with free room and board at SFCCEI Melset had hardly needed anything. Cardassians were not used to luxury, though the wealthy had immense residences, safe houses, access to goods unaffordable for the average citizen. In the beginning of her stay on Earth the fact she was expected to have more than three sets of clothing including a uniform had been astonishing. And here, on the station? Large quarters, for her future colleagues as well.

Pensively, Melset sat back on her heels, considered the supplementary goods she had bought as well as the latinum. Only a drop in the ocean, but could make a difference to someone who has lost everything.

The Cardassian put the few decorative articles she owned in place, the holograph of Loo'Wess in the living area. All this, it is gone, is ruins, some areas a wasteland…

The thought of being met by a member of the Order at her return to Cardassia was comforting, made for a sense of normalcy. As we most likely already know each other, cooperation will be that much easier.

This is new… When Melset went into the bedroom, she saw the symbol of the Celestial Temple above the bed. It looked slightly out of place in a basically Cardassian area. No, I will not request it be replaced by our standard illumination… This detail will be registered, then discussed among the station Bajorans. Nevaris Village … how quickly any information was spread throughout neighbouring villages, like wildfire, as her human contacts had expressed it.

After some hours of rest she inspected the data carriers lying next to the annex. Let's see what they contain. Quickly, she checked their contents, frowned: the situation was an unmitigated catastrophe. May as well establish a spreadsheet of factors to be considered: areas, status, survivors, requirements, aid accorded, then enter the first sets of data. That will save time as the basic plan can be used for other worlds too.

Outcome of War

"Security Chief Remosi?" Gul Melset went into his office.

"Yes? Can I help you?" The Bajoran looked up from a data padd.

"I am departing the station, will return within four weeks and report to you then." With that she left for the docking pylon where two non-Cardassians were already waiting. Ignoring their stares, she read the data on her padd.

As soon as the airlock opened, she went straight to her cabin. Transit would take roughly two days, useful for preparations. Better avoid contact with the other passengers – those waiting with me looked at me with aversion and contempt.

Shortly before arrival, a human ensign contacted her, "Gul Melset, Mr. Garak has been notified that you are on board and has given us the coordinates for beamdown."

"Thank you."

The young man hesitated. After waiting for some seconds, Melset added, "Now for rebuilding."

Uncertain of what to say or whether to say anything at all, he said, "To judge by reports, the situation looks bad, but the Federation will not stand by and watch you struggle to survive and rebuild. That is not our way."

"I sincerely hope you are right, Ensign Jenner."

Only hours later Ensign Lassen accompanied her to the transporter bay.

She was beamed into an interconnected group of domelike structures, Federation-made. The technician, a Cardassian, saluted her, "Gul Melset, follow me."

On their way through the complex, Melset inhaled slowly so that the air passed over her Jacobson's organ, a secondary group of olfactory nerves her people possessed; the smell and taste of the air was far different to what it had once been; it carried a burned-metal, dusty odour typical of space stations or after attacks planetside. The hint of advanced decomposition, here, on Cardassia, it was profoundly disquieting.

She immediately recognized Garak who was waiting for her at the exit while talking to a civilian; he looked preoccupied, his attitude one of barely restrained impatience and urgency. Work is already in progress, first basic structures re-established.

When he saw her, he came over at once. "Ah, Gul Melset! I hope you are prepared: conditions are extremely disturbing. I saw the end of the conflict and its outcome first-hand, but for returnees the impact might be overwhelming. Even the crews of the cruisers which had come through the battle undamaged were stunned at the extent of the devastation when they beamed down.

The Military has established outposts in former population centres throughout the Union, the remaining Jem'Hadar and their Vortas have been extradited to the Federation. Let them do with those Dominion elements what they will."

"I know what Iwould, if they were under my jurisdiction! But they are not. Be assured I received masses of information, an endless stream of reports about conditions here during my last weeks at SFCCEI. To judge by the footage, the Dominion left hardly anything intact." And some of it was expressly chosen to shake me.

A hint of the Garak she knew briefly surfaced as he commented with a wry smile, "Ah, but there is, my dear Gul Melset. As you can see, the planet itself is undamaged." He abandoned his tone of levity. "Apart from some few areas, the infrastructure of our worlds has been destroyed, all systems down. The last of the fires died down only three or four days ago. The Dominion knew exactly where to strike to cause maximum damage." He added, "Locarian City was laid waste in retribution for the sabotage just before Damar's call to rebellion. No survivors. Fused ruins."

"Cities and settlements on a number of other planets have also been hit. Teams are evaluating the situation, and will transmit their findings to the order operatives cooperating with the personnel of Central Command to organize basic networks of redistribution and aid. These findings will be passed on to you."

Devrin Kovar's home town – gone. For some reason this hurt more than it should have, even though she had heard about it while at SFCCEI. "I am prepared."

"Then come," he laid a hand on her arm in a gesture of support when they went out together. Garak made an expansive gesture, indicating the view from the group of domes housing the provisional centre of organisation which was erected on a low hill on the outskirts of the city. "See for yourself what is left of Loo'Wess and its former splendour."

In spite of his even tone of voice his sorrow was evident. To leave Cardassia for any reason was like exile, to return from exile tothis, unbearable. She remembered telling a human staff member back at SFCCEI who had called Cardassian cities monstrosities that, for her people, these monstrosities represented home and a safe haven.

And now? Numbed, disbelieving, she was incapable of reaction; it was a nightmare of a view that extended to the hills on the horizon which were hardly visible through the thick haze of smoke and fog. At fully grasping what remained of the once-splendid city, Melset uttered a moan of despair, whispered, not trusting her voice, "Garak! Only ruins, not one building intact!"

In a space already cleared of debris, survivors had erected makeshift shelters, little more than hovels. It reminded her of scenes on Bajor after Withdrawal, except that, on Cardassia, destruction had been systematic and thorough. "In retaliation for the uprising incited by Legate Damar, the Dominion wanted to eliminate all signs Cardassia and Cardassians had ever existed."

"When I left Dominion Headquarters, I began searching for surviving members of Central Command and the Order at once. Fortunately, our communicators were still functional. Some of us managed to regroup, cooperated with civilians to implement a basic emergency programme for rescues, law enforcement and marginal government while enlisting others to do the same in more distant areas. It was impossible to do more. During those first two weeks, searching for and rescuing as many survivors as we could reach had priority; the injured were taken to centres we had organized. We still had phasers, even a few sensors to find survivors until our equipment's fuel cells gave out, so that option was lost. None of us wanted to take even an hour of downtime unless ordered to do so, knowing that every second counted, made a difference between life and death. And it is the same all over this planet as far as we know, and on many planets in the Union." He suppressed the recollection of stumbling over mangled and charred bodies, of hearing cries for help from under the ruins and being unable to help, the flames and the smoke and the choking dust….

"Over there, see that building just beyond that collapsed bridge?" He pointed towards the former central archives. "That is where we established a provisional clinic on the first floor and in the basement; above, have housed as many survivors as possible."

"The Klingon invasion of three years ago was nothing compared to this; the doctors we managed to find could not help all victims who were brought in even though they worked to the point of collapse; finally they were forced to restrict aid to those injured who had a chance of survival, leaving the hopeless cases to die. These were already grateful that they were not left in the streets. The sickbays of our remaining cruisers could only take about fifty people each, and Federation Starbases?" Garak averted his eyes, "I did not leave my communications console for days, trying to get them and other outposts to take at least some of the critical cases. Their hesitation was understandable as they had sustained great losses themselves, yet when they agreed, their help was generous indeed." He met her eyes, "At reaching our provisional headquarters, I saw Ocett at her annex, face in her hands. I waited outside until she had regained composure, knew that she despaired of recruiting enough help to make a difference. Many of us ended up in such a state in the beginning."

Melset said nothing, only listened...

"After a number of incidents, we were forced to station troops at the distribution centres to keep the population from plundering what we collected centrally prior to repartition; every semblance of the discipline that had always been an element of our life broke down because of starvation and need. As soon as we could manage, we evacuated everyone from those areas of the cities where they insisted on staying, trying to secure the little they had left, and directed them to centres, basically camps with shelters built from debris which have been partially replaced by habitat domes in the meantime. Everyone was issued a code, then registered to avoid theft or taking advantage of greater strength. Evacuation and transferral are an ongoing process."

"And those people who were trapped?"

"Some were so for a long time; we may be very resistant to starvation and lack of water, but even we have our limits. I worked with Ocett and her staff until she was transferred to another area; often enough, rescue teams reached the people in the ruins only to find they had arrived too late or could only free one or two individuals. It was and is difficult, for all of us."

He gave her an overview of current procedures, keeping his voice carefully neutral. "Now, four weeks after the Defeat, we are surveying the entire planet, some of the remaining militaries are doing the same in our other systems to find survivors and direct them to small camps to facilitate distribution of available aid and, most importantly, register their data and skills to establish a pool of resources for the work that is to be initiated. The only encouraging fact is that the Founder ordered her forces to stand down before devastation in those systems became as severe as it is in our central system.

"The military with its experience in post-combat situations is invaluable." He faced her, "That is why you are to coordinate the reports and requirement lists of the Cardassian Union for transmission to SFHS on Earth which has agreed to grant assistance to our Union and other worlds."

There was no comment, so Garak continued, "As you see, Gul Melset, the task is daunting. We are still finding masses of bodies, many hardly recognizable as such; before vaporizing them, DNA samples are taken for identification, to be effected once we gain access to the subterranean area of the Obsidian Order's complex. This protects the living. Epidemics have to be precluded at all costs." Melset tore her glance away from the ruined city to look up at him.

"Within two days the first survey groups should return with their findings, the others within ten. A group of organizers will record findings, give them structure, the data will be yours for further processing; this should save time." Garak asked after some moments, "How long will you be at SFHS?"

"I have signed up for six years with the option of earlier release, all depending on the circumstances." Melset inquired, "Has Major Tepek survived? Or Entek? What about Colonel Rajin and Major Sitela? Dejar is still alive; she recalled me. And which officers now lead Central Command?"

Garak neither met her glance, nor did he answer.

No answer is also an answer of sorts. In spite of rivalry and intrigue among the Order's agents, they had always closed ranks to protect Cardassia whenever threats arose. The Order had already been seriously weakened by Tain's disastrous mission in the Gamma Quadrant which had seen an unknown number of its members lost. How many operatives were left could not be determined; the Order had always kept their numbers a secret.

"It appears we can expect at least some aid. The Alpha Quadrant as a whole has sustained extensive damage; Federation assistance will of course concentrate on member worlds. I have, however, been assured that, once we have submitted our findings, SFHS on Earth will implement projects to provide survivors with basic support until assistance can be increased, or, if not, enable us to partially re-establish infrastructure."

Have to be cautious… "My Bajoran associates on Earth contacted their own government, including their religious order on Bajor and agreed to establish a depot for relief supplies in one of the monasteries near the capital; this material is being supplemented by donations from neighbouring worlds. Negotiations were difficult, but Vedeks Yarim and Serad were successful. Yarim asked me to give our organizers this message: 'Resentment fades in face of an enemy's need; compassion must take its place.'" In spite of the atrocities we committed during the Occupation, they adhere to the precepts of their culture and faith. However, I fear survivors might resent accepting help from the Federation and especially Bajor."

"I can see making you a liaison was a wise decision. After your time on Bajor, Entek considered you best suited for offworld duty. He covertly informed me that your Bajorans contacted Central Command shortly after inception of the provisional government to protest your recapture, as it violated their rights. You had been left to them, they had spared you. Your life was theirs and no one else's."

Melset recognized the irony of the account. To judge by Sitela's reactions to her contacts, she had thought her too open to offworlders and certainly had not failed to mention this to her superiors. "The Order's modifications to my files were useful, as was my having spent a year with Bajorans, so that I knew how to react to and imitate them."

"Sitela valued your abilities, considered your adaptability when interacting with other peoples an asset," Garak told her, "She did disapprove of your close contact to the Bajora and Klingons at SFCCEI, yet recognized their support helped you gather information."

"Something else, Garak: The dissidents and others who fled, respectively were stationed off-world are returning to assist in reconstruction after being contacted by Diyala; the first should arrive on Terok Nor within days. Most likely they have networks of friends and supporters who will help for their sake, if not for our people's."

"For now, however, we have begun work on our own and will see whether those promises have substance." Garak considered her; Not much taller than a Bajoran woman, but you certainly had unpleasant surprises in store for attackers or opponents... He suppressed a smile at recalling some of the more memorable incidents. "Let's visit some survivors in the city."

They used a small shuttle and soon landed in a space that had already been cleared of debris, got out. Garak watched Melset look around in horrified disbelief, slowly reach out to touch a blackened wall as though not trusting her eyes, then pick up a shred of cloth and let it drop.

"We are in what used to be the main square. This was the centre," Garak pointed out various sites, "...the tribunal; organization was there, the headquarters of the Obsidian Order and Central Command over in that area, near Detapa's buildings."

"How did anyone survive … this?" Melset whispered. Not one building was undamaged; most were gutted, their structural elements upright webs of metal rods, like strange forms of art.

"Astonishing, isn't it? Remember the underground passages connecting all buildings and installations, doubling as shelters in case of attack, constructed after inception of Central Command and the Order? Some of the population managed to reach them in time even though no one was prepared for the violence of the Dominion's response. Orders were to destroy all buildings, exterminate Cardassians like vermin. Our installations are out of order, but if they have not been hit directly, can be repaired and reactivated; sources of energy are needed to fill basic requirements. Technician Uvari and his trainee Mikar are currently checking whether the plant on the river's underground channel can be repaired. Others are surveying installations elsewhere. The troops assigned to this city have already combed the ruins closest to this area and have freed people who were trapped."

This may be difficult. "Garak, I know we solve our problems on our own, do not allow offworlders to see them, let alone help in their resolution, but this..."

"You have something or someone in mind?"

She gave a quick nod, "Indeed. Do you or anyone else have a holorecorder?" At his quizzical look, Melset explained, "The scenes should not resemble the situation on Bajor after Liberation too closely. Every detail, the subjects themselves, their reactions, the sites, must be carefully selected."

They were interrupted by a call. "Garak!"

They turned to see a group of Cardassians, a family together with a few other people. Melset was dismayed at their appearance. Some were injured, those left unharmed suffering from lack of food and shelter, others ill. Yet seemingly children orphaned in the conflict had been taken in. In face of so many deaths, the principle of 'a child without parents has no place in society' would be self-defeating. For a moment, she thought of Tymaris and Jivan with hope, but, no, they had been tracked down by the Dominion, publicly executed, their execution broadcast. Damar himself had witnessed it. There was no chance at all they were still alive.

"These people have established a form of Detapa Council in their own camp, very basic, but highly effective until we have a new planetary government,"

Garak turned to the group who had come over, "This is Gul Melset. She was transferred to SFHS from her posting on Earth, has notified me that aid is on its way, exiles and expatriates returning." He addressed a woman who seemed the leader of the camp, "Relanis, how many individuals are in this group?"

"Known survivors in this city number five thousand seven hundred and nineteen; plans are to establish four more camps. This group? Roughly two thousand. Five births are due within the next weeks and many people still find their way to us." Her face became grim. "Some of the injured have died; about two hundred are in serious condition, not expected to survive. We have no more medical supplies, so that we cannot give them the care they need. Our clinics were targeted first, destroyed even to the underground areas. The supplies of food we have salvaged are being used up rapidly in spite of strict rationing; what we find in buildings now is, for the most part, tainted. Whatever clothing we salvage from the ruins is collected and redistributed, four teams are erecting temporary shelters." With a sigh, she added, "At least we are no longer preying on each other. The troops under Gul Ulujan are seeing to security and searching the ruins for salvageable items."

She turned to Melset, "Gul Melset, what have you heard?"

"I have been assured that SFHS will assist us as much as possible considering the extent of destruction in this sector. A branch office where I am stationed has been opened on Terok Nor, a depot for relief supplies established on Bajor. Supplies are to be of mixed provenance."

Relanis' eyes hardened, "Assistance from Bajor? Gul Melset, you can't be serious!"

"Gul Dukat gave Bajor twelve industrial replicators in a gesture of goodwill when it was cut off from offworld trade. After the Defeat, trade has resumed. The Bajoran government has unanimously decided to send us six of the units to produce basic supplies of food and material, with three more to follow, thus marginally improving our situation; starvation and exposure would lead to further losses of population."

One of the men who had been listening to the conversation with growing distrust shouted, "You expect us to accept help from our enemies, you ...?" He just kept from using the worst insult for a Cardassian. "Those replicators will be reprogrammed to poison us. Now that we are defenceless, it is the best time to kill us off, remove us from the Quadrant, allowing those shrine-crawlers to annex our worlds and spread their miserable excuse for a culture!"

Even though he is speaking in despair and hatred for all those peoples who have escaped, I have to make my point clear; our xenophobia could be deadly in the present situation. We need all the help we can get, from whoever it is, at least in the beginning, whether we like it or not!

Garak, who had been ready to give a retort of his own, waited to see what would happen.

Facing the male, Melset called out with a hint of warning. "I know what you want to call me. I pronounce it: traitor. I am no traitor. For me Cardassia always came first and always will. But in this situation, we must set past conflicts aside, accept Bajor's help to survive as a people and a culture. This assistance was offered with the words: The time for hate is past; the time has come to heal old wounds, create a new future. We have to do what it takes to save our history, our traditions, our culture which is one of the greatest, if not the greatest in the Quadrant, not choose slow death rather than accept aid. Look at yourselves, at your children! We mustn't end like this, an impoverished, broken people living in ruins. The war is over, the Dominion has withdrawn to the Gamma Quadrant. Our priority now is to reconstruct. We have to survive!" She added, "When reports on the Defeat came in, it was not the Bajora who triumphed. They offered assistance, to me as a friend and to us as a people."

"Who are you anyway? You were neither mentioned during the Border Wars, nor in this conflict. Suddenly, you appear at Garak's side, expecting us to accept what you say. How do we know you aren't a Federation agent deployed here to make sure we are eradicated? Anyone can replicate a Gul's uniform or have himself surgically altered to look like one of us!" was the angry comment of a male named Jevron. Murmurs of assent followed.

"I am Gul Iniki Melset of the Fourth Order, nearly died in battle twelve C-Standard years ago to secure a system for Cardassia together with Guls Jasad and Renor. That system remains ours, has enough resources to last for generations, is worth the price I paid. My family has served honourably, loyally, throughout generations."

Garak whispered, "Gul Melset, tell them, no matter how difficult it is. This could make a difference. Your brother is remembered as the man who sacrificed his life and the lives of his family for Cardassia's freedom."

Turning to the others again, Melset said, "Legate Damar was my brother. He gave his life and the lives of his family, who were brutally executed by the Dominion, to free Cardassia after realizing the Alliance had reduced our Empire to a pawn in the hands of a power that did not recognize our sovereignty as a Union. If this does not give me the right to be here, nothing does."

"What she has said is enough for me. There is no need for further debate." Relanis turned to Melset, "Assistance will be accepted. What other choice do we have?"

"Relanis, we have no other. The situation is so desperate that if we rejected help, thousands more would die." Garak stated, "It appears order is already breaking down in some areas. We must keep this development from spreading."

Relanis turned to other details. "When are the survey teams expected back?"

"Those combing Cardassia Prime in approximately ten days, all depending on what and whom they find."

"Have you reached further passages?" was Garak's inquiry.

"In the east of the city. No survivors, must have died within minutes, suffocated by the fumes from ruptured coolant conduits." Jevron reported, "Four other teams are trying to reach further passages, but without equipment to register life signs or remove the debris? We have to dig at random with whatever we can find, most of us with our bare hands. At this rate, those still trapped in the passages will never be found in time."

"Garak, is it possible to contact Terok'Nor? I heard about supplementary antigravs and other equipment before departure. Federation bases often have surplus in case of unforeseen events. It is worth a try; perhaps they are still on station."

"Yes, by all means. This has the access code for the shuttle," he gave her a rod, "and will also activate the communications array." At seeing Melset hesitate, he added, "Your negotiations need not be supervised. I know you." With a smile, he added, "If it makes you feel better, allmessages are recorded for later reference, respectively as evidence, if needed; that has not changed."

Recognizing his comment for what it was, she said, "Thank you for the information. I feel safer already."

Within an hour, contact with the station was established, "This is Gul Melset of SFHS, currently on Cardassia Prime."

"Kira here."

"Commander Kira, we only have non-visual communications at our disposal," she explained. "I am contacting you because problems have come up."

There was a moment of silence. No doubt running the transmission through a voice analyser... moments later the symbol forIdentity Verified appeared. Never trust a Cardassian ... Moments later, contact was re-established. "State your purpose."

"Commander Kira, we are trying to reach subterranean passages in Loo'Wess; perhaps people managed to reach them before the barrage started. If so, they have been trapped there for well over three weeks. We urgently need equipment, anti-gravs, heavy-duty disruptors. Our own? Damaged. Most rescues effected so far have seen people remove the rubble by hand, and so few of us are left to help. Under these conditions even more will die." The despair in her voice was not feigned.

A brief silence followed; no doubt others had been listening in and were now discussing the request. The answer came within moments. "I will see what we can do. Wait. It will not take long."

Within an hour, renewed contact. "Some returnees have arrived, so I rerouted your transmission to their quarters; they have agreed to accompany our own staff to dispel the distrust that a purely human and Bajoran team would arouse; arrival? Within two days. I have informed them about the situation and what to expect. I regret we can't get the equipment to you sooner."

"Those two days will not make much difference. Until then, we will do what we can." Melset felt her throat briefly constrict, then continued, "Colonel Kira, your kindness is valued. I shall notify the teams at once. They need the encouragement. Melset out."

When she left the dome to get on the shuttle, darkness was setting in, a darkness more intense than she had ever seen on her world. Power grid down, generators blasted to shreds, and the mass of particulates in the atmosphere is adding to the darkness. I wonder how security is assured... After landing, she ran over to Garak and the representatives of the survivors. "Contacted Terok'Nor, reached Commander Kira. Some exiles have arrived, are already on their way with staff from the station who are bringing equipment. Work to be initiated within two days at most."

"Good, so that problem has been partially solved." Garak turned to the others, "Have you managed to activate the security systems?"

"Yes, they are functioning."

At Melset's inquiring glance, Relanis explained, "In spite of the situation, we have not yet been reduced to plundering or to mutual violence as would be expected considering the circumstances, but precautions are necessary. Some people are so severely traumatized that they have become mentally instable, refuse to join us; hopefully they will recover. We cannot afford to lose any more citizens than we already have."

A breakdown of order is inevitable now that all is in shambles; we need camps with enough shelters, support for the survivors; but a form of government has been established in extant camps. … She was about to speak to Relanis when someone called.

A youth came over, indicating a Cardassian who wore the uniform of a technician, "Relanis, pardon the interruption."

"Yes, Mikar? I hope it is positive news for a change."

"Uvari has activated the generator, the current of the water in the channel is strong enough to run it, but it is best not to extract too much energy; he hopes to repair and stabilize further generators within some days, provided he can salvage parts and volunteers stabilize the canal's banks."

Relanis turned to Garak and the others, "For today enough has been done. The first system is functioning, so I suggest retiring to save energy. Gul Masok has assigned some of his troops guard duty."

"Agreed." Garak turned to leave.

He is still alive! Masok was an excellent officer; Garak did well to assign him and his troops to this city.

"You know Gul Masok?"

"Yes. He was my adjutant when I commanded the Orissà and became her commander after Torel. He excelled in all disciplines, with logistics his specialty."

"Then he will be recommended for further duties, but failure will have serious consequences for you." was Garak's reply.

Melset did not react to his mock-threatening words. "We have to accept this danger; all decisions bear the risk of failure. However, no one rose to the rank of Gul without excelling in those areas of competence."


Together, Melset and Garak returned to the small habitat dome adjoining the provisional centre; Garak sealed its entrance before going to a cubicle in the back and returning with some packets. "It is not much; however, they are Starfleet issue high-energy field rations." At Melset's gesture of rejection, he said, "As your superior, I order you to take this, Gul Melset. We must keep up our strength, even though the situation makes it hard to eat."

"Ah, yes, the first survey teams will return by tomorrow evening, which means you will obtain data which you can add to that given you by Relanis."

The gul nodded, took a bite of the food bar before asking, "How many of the trapped are still alive? All conduits were routed through the passages. If they have been ruptured by the detonations... People under ruins in various areas of the city, and two days until the equipment arrives. And all of Cardassia Prime and our systems are in this situation. What about the others?"

"Teams have been formed to help in the search and this throughout the central system as well as the other ones. Even without machinery, some individuals can be saved." He looked over at Melset, "Having to accept assistance from Federation NGOs and others will prove demoralizing, unless we retain at least marginal control over procedures; this worries you, doesn't it?"

"My concern is that some could reject it outright, even attack those who come to help. Safeguards both for our people and for the members of those organizations have to be developed."

"When the time has come, this will be seen to. Some operatives have survived; you may remember one or the other." Garak rose, and together, they cleared the table. "Your area is behind the curtain, if you wish."

When Melset returned from the sonic elements between the domes, glad to be rid of the dust and soot, she input the information one of the survivors had given her, then lay down, still planning procedures.

Hours later, she finally fell asleep, only to be shaken out of rest moments later, or so it seemed. Garak was standing at her bunk, his hands still gripping her shoulders.

"Finally." he reached over for a small container, held it out to her. "Iníki, I fear you have forgotten the good doctor's advice."

She looked up at him, wondering at being addressed by her given name then quickly sat up, "What is it? Has one of the teams returned?"

"You do not remember, do you," Garak replied as he replaced the container. "You must have been dreaming about the situation, cried out about the ruins and ... other things before I finally managed to wake you."

"I thought I had overcome Order re-education, regained Cardassian norm; seems its methods are far more effective than expected," was her angry reply.

"In case you are worried about crying out … you sounded as though you were giving orders. Now listen to me: The situation is affecting all of us. How do you think I felt in Mila's cellar, when the ground shook with the force of the detonations, when I realized what was happening?" Garak looked at the woman sitting on the edge of the bunk, ashamed. "What do you expect of yourself anyway? We aren't Jem'Hadar or Borg! No one can stay impassive when faced by … this; even Ocett, even I….." He left the word unsaid.

"Now take this," he opened the container to give her one of the pills. "Objectively seen, it could be too traumatizing to confront the situation without assistance. Many of us resorted to this help during the first one or two weeks; thought and action had to be automatic. We need everyone, so it is fortunate your Commander gave you that transfer."

Looking away, he admitted, "When I left Dominion Headquarters after taking leave of Dr. Bashir, I could only imagine what I was about to see, thought I would go insane at realizing that a culture and world I loved with all my being lay in ruins. For a moment, I almost wished I was still exiled, rather than having to see this. My love for Cardassia gave me the resolve to save what can be saved, as it does you."

"Garak, I am a Cardassian military, systematically trained to face the worst and remain impassive; I do not trust that medication. These people need to see strength and resolve."

"You have both, or you would have stayed on Terra, safe at SFCCEI. The Order's re-education did not change what you are, only made your responses approximate human norm, quite useful when interacting with humans or Bajorans. And consider this: work has been initiated," he told her gently, "With the equipment, aid and information we are to get, things will improve and a new Cardassia will arise from ruin."

Outraged about his manner, she nearly told him that she did not need to be protected because of the behavioural modifications, then realized he was trying to comfort himself as well. Whathas happened to you? You used to be detached, untouched by anything, accepted the most painful losses, the greatest injustices without the slightest reaction. Korinas was the same; I envied you that detachment.

"I know what you are thinking, Melset. The past two years were difficult for both of us. I was the only Cardassian on Terok'Nor after Withdrawal. It was the only place I was relatively safe, even though the Bajora were never really happy about my presence. After watching developments for some time, I realized what the Alliance meant, wanted to help eliminate it before it was too late. Soon I was presented with a choice: either assist Starfleet or be forced to leave Terok'Nor; not unwillingly, I ceded to Starfleet's and to Captain Sisko's demands, did things which normally would have had me report to the authorities, then face public execution. The knowledge that decoding the communications I was given saw thousands of loyal Cardassian troops killed was traumatic. Ask Dax or Bashir for details. Yet, the Dominion had to be stopped. Little later, Kira and I were assigned the task of helping Damar set up and organize his resistance cells."

She stared at him in surprise. "I didn't know that. We only heard he had rebelled."

"Unfortunately, it was short-lived. Its bases were destroyed within hours because of Gul Revok's betrayal. In the end, Mila was killed, Damar died in my arms, and millions of civilians and militaries lost their lives. The ruin of our worlds, our culture is a death too. All of us reached our limits and went beyond them more than once." After a moment, he urged, "Comply with my orders and then rest."

Wordlessly, she did so before lying down, trying to breathe evenly in spite of the tightness in her throat when Garak left, letting the curtain that separated their respective areas fall into place.

In the evening of the next day, a Federation shuttle landed; its commander had contacted Garak just before arrival. The group that arrived was a mixed team of Cardassians and humans; when they came out, the latter hung back a little, warned about possible reactions of the survivors. The former exiles had told them about the arrogant pride of Cardassians, their distrust of offworlders, a distrust far stronger now that they were virtually defenceless.

Garak saw a tall, slender Cardassian woman leave the shuttle, followed by a younger couple, and come over to him as if the incident of nearly five years ago had never happened. "Professor Lang, welcome."

"My students, Hogue and Rekelen, insisted on joining me. As the machinery was ready for transport, we decided to leave at once. Further expatriates will return within the next few days and weeks. We are offering whatever we have to give at least some aid." Natima gestured at a human. "Major O'Connor talked his commander into giving us passage. He tried to contact you, but all systems here are down. They have further supplies for us."

"What are they? We need to get to the people who are still trapped." Relanis and Jevron had come over and were eyeing the shuttle expectantly, ignoring the fact off-worlders were nearby.

This time, a human civilian replied, trying to adopt the even intonation of Cardasi. "I am Don Heinzen, a member of the Reconstruction Foundation. We have two antigrav systems, more to follow later, four disruptor systems modified to break down and separate metal and rock, sensors to facilitate searches. It would take too long to comb those passages one by one."

"That is exactly what we have been doing since the Defeat, with all means at our disposal," Jevron replied, holding out his hands which were cut and bruised. "Not very effective."

At seeing Jevron's lack of animosity, Heinzen inquired, "Do you know whether sensor shields are still up and would make scanning impossible?"

"We used to have them throughout the city, but they were destroyed along with the rest of our systems. Of course, it is possible that some units are still functional, but that remains to be seen. Although we have initiated clean-up operations, finding survivors still is our priority. The passages parallel the system of streets, which makes them easier to find. Luckily, the Dominion never discovered this or even more of us would have died."

Melset who was nearby, developing a contingency plan with Relanis, only thought, I am sure they were fully informed about every underground passage in our cities, but wanted to leave some of us alive to suffer the humiliation of becoming dependent on offworld aid instead of being part of the glorious Dominion!

The human of higher rank went over to her after a few moments, "Gul Melset, I am Major O'Connor. I should tell you that the branch of SFHS on Deep Space 9 is now active, the depot on Bajor is receiving emergency rations, clothing, equipment, various necessities such as basic medical supplies, and..." he held out a datapadd, "Commander Chandler has sent you a message you are to answer as soon as possible. It is important." He added, "A shuttle will arrive tomorrow afternoon. It has an industrial replicator as well as a generator on board. Those survivors need to be provided with basics as quickly as possible."

She took the padd, looked at it for a moment, then inquired, "How long will you be here?" She saw his startled glance. "No, I am not impatient to see you leave! But search teams are still scanning the planet and most of them, according to Garak, won't report back in under 10 days as they have to both register survivors and make a list of the equipment that is still intact. We do not want to request material which could take away from your own peoples or have to be transported back if superfluous. The conflict has left nearly all worlds in the Alpha Quadrant in need of help."

He gave her an embarrassed glance, "Sorry, I misunderstood. You know the problem: very little information about your mentality and reactions, and that unreliable. Delios wanted to come as he knows you, but his duties could not be transferred to another officer without undue complications. Wait a minute." He went into the shuttle which was being unloaded, and returned after some time. "We will leave in roughly two or three days, but another transport will arrive within a week. We can transmit those evaluations and findings you already have directly to SFHS on Deep Space 9. When you return on the second transport you should have enough information to specify exactly what is needed." He smiled at her hesitantly, not knowing how to put a Cardassian at ease or show he was not hiding anything, then opted for information. "Even before that, further assistance is due; some ships are already on their way. No one wants the condition of survivors to deteriorate."

He is trying hard; Chandler selected someone who is relatively free of preconceptions, and his cooperation with Delios and Andrews has helped as well...."Thank you." She held up her wrist, "These communicators' range is not all that impressive, but then, they are only meant for use onworld or to contact a cruiser in orbit."

He nodded, "The same range as ours. We will programme the scanners at once, then, by tomorrow morning, can begin checking the passages for life signs. Looks like you have already assembled all the survivors who were on the surface or managed to escape on their own. If you excuse me, I'll get work started."

Unexpected Sources

Once she had returned to the dome, she activated the padd to read the message together with Garak.

"Melset, Vedek Yarim and his associates wish to notify you that supplies in the depot suffice to provide two thousand people with shelter, and food for a month. The goods are of Federation and Bajoran provenance, the rations suitable for Cardassians. Colonel Kira said you will return to Deep Space Nine in about ten days; by then, the supplies will already be on their way, SFHS HQ waiting for information on further requirements."

"G'Kathor has pulled some strings; a freighter with N'Kreth in command will arrive on Bajor within five days to speed up the process. A group of volunteers will assist in distribution of these goods onworld. More to follow once we know what is needed."

Garak looked over at her, feigning astonishment. "Now this is quick. How did you manage to mobilize so much?"

"That is not due to my efforts. First of all, they could not help but be horrified at seeing the reports. The transmissions showing Loo'Wess in flames, or Sisko, Ross and Martok on Cardassia, standing on rubble, surrounded by dead Cardassian troops, had quite an impact. Those two Klingons and Vedek Yarim became my friends during the six years I spent on Terra, together with some others who were not put off at a..." her inflection became vicious, "...Cardàssian butcher sharing their building and installations.

The re-education effected by the Obsidian Order made my Cardassian reaction patterns resemble those of humans. Two of the human staff now at SFHS explained how they interact among themselves at seeing I did not recognize the cues." She smiled, "You may have experienced it yourself. One Cardassian is not very threatening, will only be watched carefully, but after some time, contact is made, if only out of curiosity.

Resentfully, she said, "However, some spoke of poetic justice when the reports came in."

"Melset, that was my reaction, too. Think of what we did on Bajor. Before leaving, our military destroyed whatever they could; it took years for the Bajora to repair respectively rebuild everything; fields were poisoned, it took years to overcome that. You will hear about Nevaris Village. Our people was not innocent."

"I know, but members of the Federation say they respect others and their feelings. Yet some of the comments made in my presence…" She added, "The officers were reprimanded by their superior, even though he resented cooperating with me."

Garak remembered Bashir, one of the few Humans who had responded to his friendly overtures although he suspected he was a spy, offering him a friendship he had valued in his isolation from his own kind. Bashir had seen him as an individual.

He indicated her padd, "What are you including on the list? When you are ready, let's review it together, I have some elements in mind."

"As many habitat domes as possible for survivors; the one we are sharing could easily provide shelter for six individuals as they will need no space for a communications unit. The makeshift shelters built of debris? Little protection, overcrowded, people worse off than even the poorest were before. When the rains begin, exposure will lead to illnesses, especially as particulates in the atmosphere will cause severe weather. Medical personnel need field hospitals, medical supplies, basic communications systems. But we have to wait for the teams' return."

"A few domes, five or six, have already been sent, and will be set up in a day or two," was Garak's reply. "Some troops and survivors have been assigned to clear a larger space where there is less rubble to remove. The other two thousand, they will make a difference even though Loo'Wess alone has five camps."

"Five or six…." Melset sighed, "Not even a drop, but a molecule in the ocean, four hundred for five camps with over 10 000 people…. In this area – and what about those all over the Union who need help? There is too little of everything…."

The next morning, preparations were completed; "We'll scan the city and the county in a grid pattern." O'Connor quickly followed Garak to the dome where they programmed the annex to receive data. When preparations were concluded, he explained, "We should cover the entire area within 8 to 10 hours, change shifts on board." He suggested, "Melset should join us as she knows the city. Commander Chandler says she lived here before TDY at SFCCEI."

Notified by Garak about the change in plans, she left with the major. The other crew, slightly uneasy at seeing a Cardassian military on board, were watching her every move. Quickly, she took in the surroundings, briefly considered the crew, thinking. The usual preconceptions: a vicious, untrustworthy Cardassian butcher, but after the conflict that has just ended it is no wonder. Betazoids, Trill, Humans, Vulcans, Tellarites, all suffered.

Noticing that the Cardassian seemed wary of them as they of her, the crew briefly spoke among themselves, then a Betazoid male at navigation addressed her. "I am Lieutenant Aroijan. No one is planning to take advantage of your being the only Cardassian here, Gul Melset. After the scan has been effected, further measures will be discussed. That is all that will be done."

"Thank you for your assurance, Lieutenant Aroijan. I owe you and the others an explanation," Melset turned to the people on the bridge, "My reactions are habit. In a new environment, we make a mental map of the place, then begin work. We consider it essential to know every area which could offer unauthorized access to vital positions."

O'Connor nodded, "All clear then. Stations." A slight vibration and the shuttle was on its way.

The process was routine, but the atmosphere remained undeniably tense in spite of her explanation. The Dominion Wars and Cardassia's role in this conflict have set back development of peaceful relations by at least a decade. Melset unobtrusively surveyed her surroundings every now and then in an instinctive reaction, only to notice she was being observed just as covertly. This observation at least is familiar.

During the shift, there were no conversations apart from brief orders or comments whenever it seemed that some discovery or another was made. After six hours of unremitting concentration, Melset noticed someone come to stand next to her.

A human female placed a cup on her station, smiled at meeting her glance. "I took the liberty of choosing for you. We have heard you drink redleaf as a stimulant. Shifts take six hours, so someone will report here shortly to relieve you so that you can have a break. Before departure, our engineer programmed the replicator in the canteen so that the meals are also suitable for Cardassians."

"I am taking over for you, Gul Melset." It was a Bolian female who gave her name as Ensign Geroth.

"Thank you." Taking the cup, she rose and went to the small canteen to select a meal. Holding her tray, the Cardassian looked around before choosing an empty table, sitting where she had a view of the room. May as well pretend caution. They will not leave me on my own, too curious for that; this group is trying to put prejudices aside for the sake of cooperation. Perhaps, in the course of the conversation, I can find out what the Federation is planning to do for us.

Garak had appeared very disquieted about some element or another, and Melset well knew his instincts seldom betrayed him.

After a few minutes, the human woman who had spoken to her shortly before came over to ask, "May I join you, Gul Melset?"

"Certainly." The Cardassian gazed up at her, stance neutral, waiting.

She set down her tray, taking a seat that did not block Melset's view of the room. "I'm Alia Donelly," she said, "We've heard reports on conditions on your worlds, Gul Melset. How is the situation? We have been told the number of casualties may be over three billion dead and millions injured."

In a matter-of-fact inflection, Melset answered, "Difficult, as to be expected. We have virtually no power, although we have managed to reactivate one generator in the main city and hope to find more that can be repaired. Our survivors? Very little food, insufficient access to medical care, supplies or shelter, even though items are being found in ruins and deliveries are on their way. The Dominion levelled entire cities, eliminating the most crucial elements of infrastructure. In essence, my people was to be annihilated in retribution for the rebellion. At least no pathogens were released into the atmosphere." Melset's expression was resigned as she said, "The alliance with the Dominion was the greatest error in all of Cardassian history."

Heinzen, who had already met her on Cardassia Prime, came over to join them at hearing the last sentence, "Yours is not the only world to be attacked; and…" his voice became gentle, yet did not hide resentment, "I was there when a colony I had helped found was levelled by your troops fifteen years ago. I also was there when the Federation initiated help for Bajor. There was not that much left after your forces withdrew, leaving the Bajora destitute. In essence, this is poetic justice."

Before Melset could reply Donelly warned him, "I know about your settlement on the border, Don Heinzen, am sorry you saw it destroyed, but this reproach, even though justified, does not belong here. Not now. You volunteered for this project, as did I. So just leave it be."

"Mr. Heinzen, where exactly was that colony?" Her pulse racing, Melset barely managed to keep her voice even. So she had understood his name correctly…

"Near the border, New Nevshehir. It was a mixed colony, Vulcans, humans, Bolians, Trill, you name a race, that race was represented." His glance grew distant. "It was such a promising colony, only just beginning to thrive; all of us combined our talents to develop it."

With horrified realization, Melset thought. That was the colony Guls Parn and Jasad annexed. I beamed down with them, was seen by some of the colonists! Outwardly, she remained impassive, only inquired, "Where did you settle afterwards?"

"We either joined other colonies or returned to our home planets, one group applied for a go at a new colony some years later. I no longer had the heart to do so; had lost far too much; my entire family died in a building incinerated by a phaser blast."

Still trying to overcome her reaction to this chance encounter, hoping she would not be recognized, Melset said, "Major Donelly, please make the Lieutenant no reproach. I understand him. What we did in the name of Cardassia was often unconscionable. That is why requesting assistance is so hard for us in spite of our desperately needing it. None of us could oppose policies. Years ago, before the Liberation of Bajor, I suggested making Bajor an ally. I was arrested, interrogated, court-martialled, sentenced to death for treason. Central Command's and the Order's sentence? Left me on Bajor after interrogation to be killed by the Bajorans, a clever sentence with an unexpected outcome. I was taken in, my injuries treated, and I shared the lives of those villagers for nearly a year."

She said, as if to herself, "The Bajora have every reason to hate us and yet... who was the first to offer us help when the news came in? A Bajoran, a Vedek who was stationed on Earth and became a close friend initiated negotiations with his order at once."

Her inquiry about the ill-fated colony was unexpected as was her indirect admission of the atrocities committed during the Occupation.

Heinzen gazed at the Cardassian woman and after some moments said, wanting to gloss over his previous statement, "Well, I have good news for you. Sensor readings show far more pockets of survivors than expected, both in the passages and, as reported, scattered throughout most cities except Locarian City. Plans to get to them as soon as possible are being drawn up. Personnel is working at restoring limited power to some areas and improving conditions for the survivors."

The reaction was astonishment, even hope.

"Are you looking for someone?"

After a moment, she answered, "Yes. I had given up hope, feared that the death toll was even higher than expected. Cardassia Prime had a population of 10 billion before this. Strange as it may seem, considering our reputation, we love our families and our worlds." Her voice became wistful, "Perhaps some members of my family are alive after all. The information shows that the situation is not hopeless."

With that, she left for her station to resume duties. That she was cooperating with one of the witnesses of her division's attacks unnerved her. What if I am recognized by someone? Heinzen never saw me face to face, but a number of officers and civilians did. Kelani do look subtly different to other Cardassians. She recalled Danilo Herven, Captain Hoffmann and his bridge crew, Martens and Hoffmann, to mention only a few. Melset realized that, in the course of negotiations, she could be recognized, accused, to finally be extradited to stand trial for atrocities committed during the Border Wars.

That evening found her returning to the encampment where she met the others. Garak was already waiting. "More data has come in. Better process it at once. Natima and one of her students will accompany the rescue team."

Jevron added, "We have found a group of survivors the scanners registered just beyond the area of greatest destruction and have cleared away the rubble. We don't know how many there are, but will soon reach them."

"Natima, Hogue, take over from Melset. Information for SFHS has come in; this is her priority; you do have the holocam?"

After arriving on-site, they entered; carefully avoiding instable walls and masses of debris that could slip and block the passage they had cleared, the team went in. The air was barely breathable, thick with dust, smelled of decay. Over three and a half weeks. How have they managed to survive this long? It was not hard to guess the unspoken question in the eyes of a Trill officer, Erjem Nal, who was next to Natíma.

She explained, "We are very resistant to lack of food and water as our metabolic system is different to yours; when we lack oxygen or other basics, we go into torpor. With our surveillance systems, no one was ever lost for long in the time before. If no toxic fumes have been released, the survivors should be alive." They walked on, lost in thought.

Heinzen, who had joined the team, called out, "About thirty metres." The passage was blocked by a wall of rubble, metal girders and reinforcements skewed out of shape. It was impossible to remove them by hand; phasering a passage into the debris took some minutes and, once the debris had cooled to form a relatively stable entrance, the group climbed into the space the sensors had located.

"Should be no more than twenty-five metres ahead now."

Donelly spoke into her communicator, "Are you reading me? We are close to a group of survivors. Stand by for beam-out. Perhaps seriously injured in need of immediate treatment."

"On your signal."

The group continued on its way single file, swinging a lamp so that they could see the entire passage. At one point, Natíma gave a low call that, in spite of its pitch, could be heard for a surprising distance. There was an answer, a hesitant, barely audible reply from close by, a child's voice.

Hogue turned to the aliens, "Natíma and I will go on ahead. After the Defeat, any alien is considered threatening, and who knows in what condition these people are. Under circumstances, if they are severely injured, the shock of being faced by non-Cardassians could be too great."

"The sensors show that life readings are still strong!" Natíma, accompanied by Hogue, rushed along the corridor, taking care to avoid instable piles of debris, the two humans and one Trill only paces behind them.

"Found them."

A huddle of children in a corner, barely moving, clinging together for protection and warmth.

Natìma was about to reach out to the children who were alive, though torpid. When she looked around, she caught sight of some adults just around the corner who had not managed to escape the falling masses. Someone had covered them with rubble to give them at least a semblance of a burial.

Hogue held her back, "Natíma, wait. Do you have your holorecorder?"

"Yes." Natìma took it out of a pouch and activated it.

"Our priority is to help these people, but I'll register this scene, the entire sequence. Garak and Melset have good reasons for wanting the footage."

Natíma gave it to him, realizing what the two had in mind. Gently, she called to the children, "Come with us; you have been found and will be taken to safety." Immediately one of them moved, and at seeing the two adults, stretched his arms out towards them with a low cry, his eyes wide and frightened.

Hogue recorded the scene while speaking into the communicator, "There are survivors in this passage: five children, and," they heard a slight movement further back, followed by a contact call.

Hogue and Erjem Nal followed the sound and saw a woman slowly making her way along the corridor, carrying a bundle of clothing she had found. She was injured and moved with difficulty, at times leaning against the wall, barely able to stay on her feet. "one adult, a woman, injured but not severely."

At hearing the voices, she froze in terror, fearing enemy forces had returned to kill whoever was still alive. Hogue and Nal directed the light at themselves and at the others to show they were not Dominion personnel.

"We have been waiting so long, nearly gave up hope!" The woman cried out, trying to hurry towards them. She addressed the rescuers, "Are the children still alive?"

Hogue and Natima could read the expressions of the two humans and the Trill in the dim light; all had seen battles and devastation, were no doubt influenced by the reports on Cardassians' treatment of prisoners and subjected peoples, but now were forced to rethink their idea of them as an unfeeling, brutal people who cared for nothing and no one.

Hogue still recorded the rescue as Natíma answered, "Yes, they are, but will be examined to see whether they need medical attention."

The woman explained in a low voice, "My name is Sivena Revnor. My husband was killed in the final battle. Two of these children..." She nodded towards them, "... are the only ones left of my own seven, the other four belong to two unrelated families. If they have no surviving relatives, I'll claim them." For a moment she stared off into the darkness. "We are the only ones who made it. Their parents and those further back were crushed when the tunnel collapsed. The worst is that they …" She gestured at the children, "… saw their parents die. Such recollections are hard to overcome."

Addressing the children who still clung together, staring at the alien members of the team in fear, she said, "You need not be afraid. Look. There are no Vorta, no Jem'Hadar, but a Trill, two Cardassians and some humans. They have come to help us. We will be taken out now, we are safe." Gently, she helped them to their feet.

Watching the aliens with barely disguised fear, they came forward hesitantly. "They were used to Dominion representatives, but the destruction and wholesale killings committed by those formerly allied forces have left their mark," Sivena explained. "It will take a long time for them to lose their fear of offworlders, even those who are helpful."

One of the Starfleet personnel went over, avoiding any abrupt movements and stood so that they could watch what he was doing. They closely followed his every gesture, and one by one came forward to let him pass the scanner over their body. After registering the children's data he said reassuringly, "They are traumatized, but uninjured. An injection to strengthen their immune systems is enough; I will see you get food and shelter. They will be fine, especially as you have said you will care for them. Help has arrived from offworld." He hesitated, "Do you have counsellors to help survivors cope with their trauma? The way it looks, they have seen and experienced too much to do so on their own."

Sivena did not understand at first, then realized what he meant. "No. We never share fears or emotional distress with anyone outside the family. While waiting to see whether relatives have survived, those who have lost family will form groups for mutual support. That alone, to belong, will help. I assure you, though, that we are grateful for your assistance." She made a helpless gesture, "Unfortunately, we cannot repay you."

The medic watched Natima who, looking over at the woman, placed her hands together in a gesture of encouragement and said, "Sivena, we will, someday, when rebuilding is in progress." Indicating the team, she continued, "For now, we want to get you out of here, then see whether we can find the other survivors registered in the scans."

When they had been beamed out, one of the humans took DNA samples from the dead before vaporizing the bodies. Natíma switched off the holocam Hogue had returned to her; it was only now that she realized that the human members of the team who normally always had something to comment on, were silent. I wonder whether you, at seeing the reports, commented on our losses, calling them just retribution for our deeds.

When the team returned, Melset came out and when she saw Natima, went over to where she sat on a piece of debris, shaken by what she had returned to with her students. During her career as a civilian war reporter, she had inevitably been exposed to horrors on- and offworld, especially on Bajor, but to nothing even remotely like this, not on her home worlds.

Touching her arm, she said, "Professor Lang, I have been requested to send information on aid required and the situation of survivors to Starfleet Humanitarian Services. My stay on Earth permitted me to establish contacts who see us as individuals, not as a mass of enemies. Everyone reacts most strongly to the fate of the young and their parents, of individuals. Your holographic record of the rescue, from the moment of discovery to beamout, should be very effective and result in more assistance. Our reactions are far more restrained than those of most Federation peoples, but those children and Sivena should arouse sympathy."

"Good. I will record further scenes that could be useful, then send them to you via SFHS on Deep Space 9 without my code. Do with them as you see fit."

Melset had to return to her annex where more data had arrived. Before leaving, she told the professor. "Professor Lang, Garak and most of the other organizers will speak in favour of instating you as the provisional leader of the new Cardassian government. Negotiations are due to start in the greater Loo'Wess area, now that the camps have established their own councils."

This was unexpected. Natima Lang stared at the gul.

"Please do this for Cardassia's sake, for our future. We need leaders who are trusted by the population and have the competence to supervise the organisation of camps, motivate even the most discouraged and begin reconstruction. People with your reputation and that of your students are what we need."

Natíma, taken unawares by the request, watched her until she disappeared into the dome, then turned to the others in the team.

Ideals Destroyed

In the meantime, shifting teams of personnel were seeing to evacuations and rescues. Upon their return to the camp just outside Loo'Wess, O'Connor notified Melset who was occupied with organizing the layout of the camps together with a number of other officers, "Gul Ulujan wants to speak to you. Your terminal has been activated."

"Thank you." Her fellow officer appeared on the screen. He resents the necessity of cooperating with former enemies, but we have no other choice ….

"We have been ordered to transfer the remaining civilians from the outskirts of the city to the camp east of Loo'Wess to establish the number of survivors as reliably as possible, concentrate them in six camps, then establish requirement lists enabling us to distribute goods more effectively. My officers are in place to initiate procedure at once. We could use you."

"Let me contact Organizer Garak first. He will have to find a replacement for me."

Some moments later she had a connection via her commband. "Organizer Garak, I have been asked to join Gul Ulujan's crew in combing Loo'Wess - East Sector, for survivors."

There was a brief discussion in the background, then, "Gul Melset. Sechey Agor will take over, he has been assisting you so can continue your analyses."

There was a rapid exchange in the background, after which Garak explained, "I will be assisting Professor Lang in registering arrivals. Some of the population are still making their way here on their own, but some groups and individuals are refusing to leave their home areas; they have to be convinced otherwise. You know what to do; you have had enough practice at SFCCEI. Garak out."

Contact was ended before she could get in a remark of her own.

"Gul Ulujan, Gul Melset here. Ready for beam-up"

His adjutant, Glinn Harib, was already waiting in the transporter bay and informed, her on the way to the ready room, "The Gul has warned us of negative reactions. Our sense of territory has become more pronounced, people are destabilized by trauma; there will also be trapped, injured, or dead. If you find the first, contact me: we will beam down troops to free them. As to the injured and those who are unharmed, they are to be beamed up at once. The two largest cargo bays have been turned into provisional infirmaries. The dead? The troops accompanying you will take DNA samples then vaporize the bodies as per orders." The officer added a warning, "This may lead to protest among the survivors because the idea of their dead not receiving proper burial rites will further traumatize those who have lost family. You have to find some way of softening the blow."

There was no additional information apart from the pattern in which the assigned sector would be searched.

"Gul Ulujan – East Sector. Maintain standard orbit. Transporter ready for beam-down."

Gul Ulujan nodded at the officers, "All transporters are on stand-by. Success."

Within moments the team of nine officers materialized in the only clear spot in a chaotic jumble of girders and debris coated with ashes that drifted up in suffocating, reeking clouds at the slightest breeze. The team advanced cautiously, scanning every centimetre of the way to avoid hidden craters and pits, unexploded ordnance, or unstable piles of debris. While picking their way, all had the same thought: How to ever rebuild this city? Priorities … formerly so clear, so obvious, but now? Melset glanced at her fellow officers; their expressions were grim.

After a time, every beamdown seemed identical to the one before, evoked the same sense of near-hopelessness in spite of the people they found …

In the outskirts, they discovered a large group of survivors crowded around a communications relay which one of them was trying to repair. The militaries exchanged glances. Cardassians reduced to such a state. A few of them, obviously in shock, were sitting on the ruins, waiting passively for whatever would happen, others lay on the ground, under a shelter which their companions had erected for them after doing their best to tend to their injuries ….

At seeing the officers, the civilians stopped whatever they were doing and slowly turned to face the newcomers, their attitude suspicious, even hostile as they eyed the team approaching them. Some prepared to fight, picked up rocks and metal rods.

"Ah, look who has finally decided to turn up!" The speaker was a tall male, a labourer, to judge by his speech; his attitude revealed him as the spokesman of the group.

Glinn Adrik immediately contacted the cruiser, "We have found survivors: roughly 37 uninjured, a greater number of casualties."

He was interrupted by a call from a Var who had addressed one of the women who was caring for the injured. "Sixty-one injured, Glinn Adrik, five critical, have to be evacuated at once!"

Glinn Adrik nodded, gave the numbers then added, "Will report back as soon as we are sure. Adrik out."

He addressed the people. "We have come to transfer you to one of the camps in the Loo'Wess area. Six have been organized outside the area of maximum damage."

Contrary to custom before the Defeat, the leader of the survivors did not bother to give his name, nor those of the others; his words, however, were to the point. "We are staying exactly where we are, have taken the injured we found out of the ruins, are doing our best for them." He shook his head, momentarily losing his defiant attitude. "I do not know what chances they have, but I do know they will only be left to die in the camps; I have seen what is left of the city, of the whole area. There is no one who can help, nowhere, better for them to be among friends when their time comes than in a camp among strangers who care nothing for them."

"There is a destroyer in orbit, personnel ready to beam you aboard. Doctors are waiting in sickbay to treat your injured, troops ready to free the trapped. Give them a chance to live! You cannot remain here. This area is far too hazardous; scans have registered unexploded ordnance, the ruins and debris are instable, the dust could contain pathogens and is a risk in itself if inhaled; in addition, the bodies under the ruins,.. We have been directed to transfer survivors to centres where aid is being distributed, and, later, further assistance given. Most of what is being salvaged from the ruins now is tainted, has to be destroyed. We have been promised help. You will be provided for to the best of our abilities."

There was no reaction of relief at the news, only mute waiting until a female called out, her attitude aggressive, "You hear that, Medak? To the best of their abilities?"

"Lies, as always. Sanjara, remember those statues of Heroes of the Empire along the avenue to Central Command? What even one of them cost could have rebuilt the poor district in which we lived three times over!" His voice was nearly a snarl when he said, "I should know: my family lived in this one for over six years after my father died in an accident. We were starving most of the time, so that my sisters …." He was unable to continue.

Sanjara turned to the officers. "What best abilities are you militaries offering us this time? I'm willing to bet you are planning to rebuild the fleet on the cost of the civilian population that is left, stuffing the assistance Cardassia receives into Central Command's coffers! Your glorious leader, Gul Dukat the Traitor promised to make Cardassia great again. If you are offering more greatness of this kind," She gestured at the surrounding devastation, at the clouds of dust in the air, the injured lying in their provisional shelter, "… we want none of it. Keep it for yourselves, award each other a few more shiny medals to show off as you strut around in the ruins, trying to impress us!" Her accent revealed that she, too, had been a simple worker before the Defeat.

The contempt and derision in Sanjara's voice was unexpected, but Adrik did not react to it, only repeated, "All of you will be transported to a camp where you can stay together if you wish. You will be far safer than here, and have access to at least basic medical care." He saw Sanjara look over at a child of perhaps four or five that one of the other women was holding close. He could see it was injured, not too seriously, he hoped. "Our remaining forces are cooperating with Federation teams, searching for survivors in former population centres to evacuate them."

"Now this is interesting! The poor have suddenly become important, have they? What a change! Before, we were only good enough to sacrifice and sacrifice for the good of Cardassia until the little left to us was not even enough to put food on the table for our families or give them decent shelter. Tell me: where did the wealth from annexed planets go to anyway? Wasn't it poured into cleverly hidden little channels leading to the higher-ups in the Military, the Order and their cronies, to those who had supporting roles? Certainly not into improving our lives! Now you suddenly remember us! For what? To remove the ruins you have settled us with, choking on that stinking dust, working like Bajoran slave labour while you give the orders but stay safe on your cruisers with everything you need? We had enough of that in the past, constant sacrifices for the damn Military!" Medak shouted "Talsvar Kardássu!" with a sneering laugh before staring at Adrik, at Melset, at the other officers. "You certainly do not look as though you have lost anything! Look at yourselves, you filthy parasites! You have profited from this war, from all wars! Your got your own families to safety before the Defeat."

The reactions bewildered Melset, so that she called out, "Most certainly not! All of us are in the same situation, do not know what has happened to our own relatives and friends. Those of us who are left are trying to organize basics for the survivors, then, once that has been done, reconstruction is to be initiated in cooperation with the civilian …."

"Sure!" A young woman who gave her name as Tamura interrupted her, sneering, "With you lot giving the orders, and we expected to obey or disappear!" "That is how things always worked with your sort!"

"Exactly who are the leaders of your new organisations anyway? Let me guess: interrogators, military taskmasters who execute all who do not obey at once, or, I nearly forgot! Are we to be sent to some system or another on the border to rot under the guise of 'holding the territory' for the Union?" called one of the women who had limped over with an effort and was now being supported by a male who seemed to be her husband.

Glinn Masset explained quietly, "No, Glinn Adrik and Gul Melset have told you the truth. I give you my word, for all it's worth. Our leaders are to be Professor Lang, her students Hogue and Rekelen, Gul Madred, Garak, and nine civilians, all of them working for the good of Cardassia and her people. Now come with us. We want to help. You have my, our word as Cardassian officers."

The retort was a yell, "In no danger? We have your word? The old phrases and lies! Some of those names do not exactly make for trust in the new organizations! Madred and Garak … and, where is Tain? Where are his interrogators, his agents, all of that snooping Order vermin? How many disappeared without a trace for glancing at a screen the wrong way when a report came in, or were press-ganged together with their families into 'fulfilling the glorious task of settling a new world to make it part of our great Empire'! I, for one, am staying right here!" Medak declared. "The military did not care about us before, except as a source of cheap labour, and nothing has changed with the collapse of the Cardassian-Dominion Alliance."

"Lisana, you should not move too much …." A young male went over to a woman who had struggled to her feet and was leaning against a wall, staring at the officers suspiciously, half-weeping with anger and shock. He spoke to her, then briefly turned to the team, "My sister escaped the factory in the very last moment with those you see here. All of us are simple workers, we have our strength, that is all we ever could offer and all we can offer now; we were too poor to be given more than a basic education, no special programmes, no assistance, we never were offered a chance." He indicated the injured, the people suspiciously eyeing the militaries.

That is not possible! Everyone got his or her chance, provided results were good. Melset suppressed the feeling of suddenly being thrust into a nightmare that was revealing iniquity in the system she had implicitly trusted throughout her career to do the best for the Cardassian people. And yet, the rage of these people showed there was truth in what they said ….

"There is no other choice. We have to do as they say or die here." Kelor said the words to his sister, but meant them for the entire group.

She leaned against him, "I know, Kelor, but remember what happened." Melset caught the words, "… so many taken away … traitors … innocent…. My fiancé among them." The woman began sobbing quietly, trying to hide her tears.

Kelor whispered to her very gently while helping her over to the away team. He looked at Melset for some moments before asking. "Answer me as a fellow Cardassian, not as an officer: what is to be done with us? Tell us the truth, woman."

I have to try for an opening… "You will be beamed up to the destroyer together with us; your sister will be treated. If you wish, you can remain in sickbay with her until she is released. Everything is as Glinn Adrik has said. We have no interest in lying, in betraying you, we never did. All we want to do is help." She stared at them, distressed, then cried out, "I … We were told the poor would have a good future on those planets! Start new, good lives there! One of my comrades applied for such a posting!"

The survivors looked at her in disbelief, then Medak drawled, "Looks like those up there stuffed you so full of propaganda and patriotic phrases that you can't think for yourself, are blind to the truth. I am surprised that you can speak normally, and not just spout slogans like a trained kyssil! You are to be pitied, all of you! " He looked at her and the others with contempt. "Used for all you had to give, exploited exactly as we were but we, at least we knew what was going on, even though we were unable to change anything."

After Medak's words, Var Ugur covertly nodded at Melset in approval; her reaction had provided the turning point. The people's resistance was weakening now that they had vented most of their anger. He went over to the woman who was still holding her child close and spoke to her until she nodded and gently pulled back the cover that protected him from the dust. The young soldier looked down at the boy, hesitantly touched his cheek before saying softly, meeting the woman's eyes. "Let us take you to the cruiser. There are doctors on board. They can help." His voice barely audible, he said, "That child, unlike my younger brothers and sisters, has a chance to survive. For the sake of us all, give him that chance. If his injuries become infected …"

The woman inclined her head, said in despair. "Evren is the last I have of five …." Her voice trailed off.

"Don't fall for their phrases, Nadiye!" Again Medak's voice, resentful, nearly threatening as he again addressed the team. "Trying to get our trust, are you! All you will do is sedate him, leave him lying somewhere, then when it is over tell us 'he died like a Cardassian'! We don't want your help! We only want to survive, somehow, and if we have to hunt voles and other vermin for our subsistence as we often had to in the past! We will never believe your lot again. False promises of prosperity which were never realized in spite of those systems you annexed! The prosperity we saw were statues erected to your military heroes, transmissions of ceremonies for those honoured. Eulogies for those who had died in heroic battle!" His rage mounted, "You certainly do not look as though you were suffering. Youpeople never did!"

Frightened by his words, the woman next to him called out, "No Medak! You will get us all interrogated and killed! There are still Order members alive!" She was mortally afraid, went over to the male, touched his arm.

"We have the advantage, Jevora, and I, we, are not leaving. My entire family is there." He gestured at a gutted building before turning to the team to inquire resentfully, "and yours? Off-world, safe!" He indicated a woman standing nearby, her face stony with despair and suppressed grief. "We have nothing more to lose and we cannot just," his voice nearly broke as he stared at the ruins, "… leave them there! Those who have been killed…. We cannot just leave them there, unburied …."

One of the militaries went over to Medak, laid a hand on his shoulder. Medak, his anger spent, did not react as Glinn Serel said. "I repeat, Medak: You will be safe. I ask you and your friends to come with us. Here, you will starve or be killed when the masses of debris collapse. We can do nothing for the dead, except to take tissue samples, then vaporize them to prevent epidemics, but for you, the survivors, we can." Gently, he added, "And if monuments are erected in future, they will bear the names of those killed in this last battle onworld."

As if on cue, a nearby wall shifted slightly as its weight destabilized the masses of rubble underneath. Adrik repeated, "For those who have been killed, nothing can be done. But there is that child, there are so many other children, and you, alive. Everyone is desperately needed for a new Cardassia."

Suddenly, all the fight left Medak, his shoulders sagged in defeat as he dropped his weapon. Glinn Adrik made a gesture of encouragement. "What I am telling you is the truth."

"Then we place our trust in you and only hope it is not misplaced." were Medak's barely audible words. "We have no other choice. Only … let us stay together."

"Beam us up in groups of six. Have medical teams waiting in the transporter bay." He added, "This group … is a family."

With that, the survivors assembled; just before the last six were beamed up, they saw the team move towards the gutted buildings.

The teams worked until nightfall and in the end had found more survivors than expected, had repeatedly been obliged to beam the uninjured into camps between searches to make room for more. Scans located a few people trapped in hollows deep under the ruins; these would be freed the following day.

Melset did not witness any more rescue operations as she was beamed down to the camp just outside Loo'Wess at Garak's urgent request. He was already waiting.

Together they walked towards the dome. "I hope the survivors who are being evacuated can surmount their shock enough to face what is ahead."

"What makes you say that?" Garak looked over at her, saw that she was perturbed.

Melset did not reply at once, only said as if to herself, "In the last group, one child was saved. Luckily his injuries were not as severe as they looked. Besides the thirty-seven adults we beamed up, there were about sixty-one injured, some of them seriously. At least they are finally getting care. The uninjured had done their best under the circumstances."

Garak did not ask more, noticing that she was holding something back. Enough to be disturbed about now; surmount the trauma, work on and not give up. After some minutes he inquired, as she seemed quite content to remain silent, "What were the reactions of the civilians?"

"Suspicion, contempt and hatred." Melset replied, still uneasy about what she had heard. "They believe we want to exploit them, use them for our purposes, whatever they think those may be at present. We never exploited the poor! Our goal was to improve their situation by annexing those worlds, expanding our territory, recruiting volunteers to initiate colonization. One of the men said the wealth from annexed worlds went into expanding the Military and the Order, but the poor were left to fend for themselves in their areas while the upper echelons of the Military and the Order lived in luxury."

"Are you sure that your view is really valid, Melset?" Garak asked as they walked on. "Did you ever speak to those civilians you and the others transferred to future colonies?"

"Yes, I was interested in meeting the people who would be working for the prosperity and well-being of our Empire. They were the true heroes of the home front for my officers, troops and for me." She met Garak's eyes, "They said they were honoured at being chosen to found a new colony. Hardly had they beamed down than they began setting up domes, generators and readying the machines needed for operations."

"They would never have dared say anything else, not with operatives among them as was always the case." Garak said, quickly touched her hand, "Melset, are you really that trusting as to the true motivations of our former leaders? You, my dear, I can see you are not just paying lip service – you really believe what you were told! The Federation has a word for this: brainwashed."

When he fell silent, Melset briefly looked over at him then admitted, her voice barely audible. "When I was at the Military Academy, all of us wanted to rise through the ranks, said we wanted to serve Cardassia, and yet,… So many of us looked at the upper ranks with envy, wanted to be among their number, enjoy the same privileges, influence and wealth, were motivated by that alone, not by love for Cardassia or its people, many considered our poor with contempt. One of my comrades hoped for a career to leave poverty behind, give his wife and child a decent living; he, however, really believed in serving Cardassia, loved our Union and all it represented, as did I. Ceklan … I wonder what has happened to him; he was a good comrade."

"And the reactions of the people who were just saved have corroborated what you already knew and refused to accept, considering such thoughts treasonous."

"Yes." She inclined her head. And all I lost, all that was taken from me would have no more meaning, no more justification if this was really true. No, I am a Cardassian, have to accept the truth as is. My sacrifices only served those in power, not Cardassia, not its people…

"There are more details I have for you, perhaps in a few months." It would be too much for you at the present time.

She tried to meet his glance, but Garak avoided eye contact.

"There is one event I wish you had been there to witness," Garak's voice was sneeringly bitter and satisfied at the same time. They had reached their quarters, turned to look towards the ruined city.

"Ah? Which one?" Melset knew that if it was a source of triumph for Garak, it would be for her as well, perhaps offer the comfort both of them needed.

"Did you know that the Cardassian people, or rather, the Military, had a statue of Gul Dukat erected on the Avenue of Heroes of the Empire shortly after inception of the Alliance? Well, only days after the Defeat, some of us who were searching for survivors heard shouts and calls, followed the uproar, only to see a mob crowded around the base of that very statue." Garak closed his eyes, remembering. "It was an ostentatious thing, a full ten metres high, on a pedestal. The plaque read, 'To our beloved leader, Gul Dukat of the Second Order, who has recreated Cardassia's power and glory. Due to his courage and foresight, our Union has risen from the ashes to attain renewed splendour.'"

Melset stared at him then, after a few moments asked, "Please continue, Garak."

"Two men climbed up and with phasers they had taken off dead soldiers, cut through most of the bolts then shouted to the crowd to retreat to a safe distance. Thick cables taken from the ruins were passed up to where they stood, slung around the legs of the statue, and after the two men had climbed down from the pedestal to join the others, the crowd of men and women took hold of the cables, nearly fighting for the privilege. Those who did not get at the cables cheered the others on. With a strength born of rage and despair they pulled, pulled … the remaining bolts broke loose and the statue of Gul Dukat, the Saviour of Cardassia, came crashing down, broke apart at impact." Garak's last words were like a sigh.

"I hope no one was injured when it fell."

"No, fortunately not. They then went about removing the inscription on the plaque, and a new text was burnt in. 'An enemy of the State deserves no mercy: Gul Dukat, you sold out your own people to the Dominion, and left us a devastated world.'"

Garak met her eyes for some moments, then came to a decision. "There is one other matter. I briefly considered making you pay for Damar's crime, one I can never forgive although we cooperated and he redeemed himself in the end. You have nothing to do with it nor even know what happened. Iníki Melset, I assure you in all sincerity that you have nothing to fear from me."

What are you hiding from me, Garak? What did my brother do to earn your resentment? Melset knew that she would either have to wait, or else try to find out on her own.

Reasons for Hope

The next days were much the same; more often than not, Melset found herself cooperating with Natíma Lang.

When the next shift took over a few days later, Natíma and the team left with her as no new information had come in. Upon their return, the next phase of search and remove was taken over Hogue and Rekelen. In the meantime, the centre had been expanded by three domes for further personnel.

Melset was astonished when she saw that, a little further off, the area chosen for the fifth refugee camp had been cleared of debris, habitat domes set up; survivors moving into some of them, others preparing to do so. There were far more than the few units Garak had mentioned, along with sonic elements, a smaller dome housing the industrial replicator O'Connor had said would arrive. The area chosen for the camp has been fully cleared and shelters put up for the people who have survived! I thought there were only five of them... there are forty plus 400 of those sent from the depot on Bajor! But they weren't due before next week.

At seeing her expression, Major O'Connor explained, "We were given thirty-five shelters one of the starships in the sector was transporting back to Starbase 27 as surplus returned from Betazed; we suggested they be taken here, where they would come in useful as only five had fit into that shuttle. The captain agreed immediately. The others? Slightly ahead of schedule, I guess." He smiled at her, pleased about his team's success. "I guess you did not expect that."

She answered matter-of-factly, "No, really not. We did not expect to be accorded any help at all, but be left to deal with ... all of this on our own, considering recent conflicts between Cardassia and the Federation. Our very name was feared during the Border Wars and now? There is justified resentment because of the Alliance with the Dominion. We brought massive destruction to the Alpha Quadrant; many said this ..." she indicated the ruined city, "... is just retribution ... And now …" Suddenly everything she had experienced and seen in the past two years crowded in on her, a wave of hopelessness that had her eyes glisten with tears of despair. The human did not know what to do or say.

Melset turned away to escape into the dome she shared with Garak and sat down at the annex, cursing her reaction, yet unable to consider the experiences and sights neutrally. After some minutes she cleaned herself of the dust, put on fresh clothing. Perhaps my reaction, shameful as it was, will work in our favour, as will those survivors we found... O'Connor's concern is honest, his pleasure at having those domes ready genuine. Humans were strange; many hated her people, and yet here they were, helping in spite of the past. Even Don Heinzen, who resented her for what she was, had found some words of encouragement.

Five more days before I return to Terok Nor..., she thought, wondering what news the remaining survey teams would have. Grasping the entire scope of this disaster was nearly impossible. Loo'Wess had been one of the most populous cities on the planet; if the teams were fortunate, they would perhaps find some few hundred additional survivors, hardly more. No one could survive there for over eight weeks. How can we ever re-establish the life and culture we once had? And this here is but the tip of the iceberg, all of Cardassia, the majority of our systems…

She was pulled out of her thoughts by the comm unit. "Melset here."

"The next two teams have returned." Garak's voice was expressionless. No good news, then..."Coming."

When she went over to Garak and a Glinn who had just arrived, she saw their expressions. Is there not one province less damaged?

"The situation in Lesana Province is bad but not hopeless. The cities and towns are rubble for the most part, the majority of the population dead, but the good news is that the area is suitable for agriculture, and smaller settlements can be constructed as soon as the ruins are gone. Lesana and Kelan Provinces were among the most fertile regions before their economy shifted to industrial production, fortunately non-polluting. Samples of the soil show no toxins. That area can be resettled within weeks or a few months." The leader of the survey group, Glinn Jahan, gave the datapadd to Garak who passed it on to her.

"Have you made contact with any of the others? There are six groups in all; you are the first to return."

"I received a signal, very garbled, perhaps a damaged beacon, but the pattern of transmission makes it seem that someone has repaired a transmitter. The signal came from the border to Kelan Province. Gul Senjit is assigned that area. We could not contact him, but he should have received it as well."

"Any teams on their way back yet?"

"I have received notifications from three more. They gave no details, but should arrive before long, perhaps a matter of some hours."

Lieutenant Donelly came over and said, "Sorry to interrupt, but we have been recalled. The equipment remains at your disposal; your rescue teams are used to working with it and, as you know the area better than we, you should make rapid progress as you have assembled further search teams. We are leaving as many medical supplies as possible, so that most injuries can be treated."

Major Nal, who was carrying a case of parts back into the shuttle, stopped to say, "Relanis has agreed to have the most seriously injured, forty-nine in all, taken to the nearest starbase, with more to follow in a cruiser within another day. The shuttle that brought the replicator has already left with thirty victims. I have inquired about the ETA of the next arrivals; a shuttle is due in roughly eight more days, accompanied by a freighter with supplies as further delay could see conditions deteriorate too much. The expatriates who have returned in the meantime are to help supervise distribution. Others are waiting on Deep Space 9 for passage to Cardassia Prime." He shifted the container. "Better get going before my arms drop off."

Donelly added, "We have been contacted by the Guls who have returned to their cruisers; some will be taking further casualties to other Starbases whose commanders have offered help."

Melset did not answer; there had been opposing factions on her world following Central Command's loss of power shortly before the Dominion Alliance; she was concerned about favouritism although everyone was cooperating for the good of all Cardassia in face of this catastrophe. We have made a first step, but what about The True Way and other groups who might become active because they want to keep out Federation influence?

Donelly explained, "I know what you are thinking. The problem was addressed in a meeting. We were assured that aid will be distributed neutrally. The branch of SFHS on Deep Space 9 is now active, so that relief operations will be organized as needed. It is staffed with a team of four humans and three Bajorans as well as representatives of other peoples. According to Lieutenant Andrews who, by the way, sends his regards, you will be pleasantly surprised. As to the Federation shuttle, it will be taking you back to Deep Space 9, Gul Melset."

"Thank you. But you do realize that I have to wait for those other teams first."

"They have been notified and will plan their ETAs accordingly." He added, "As far as I know, more supplies are underway so that the situation will improve marginally for the people in the camps in this area and in others."

Melset checked the information on her datapadd before saying, "We are having the survivors gather in camps in their home provinces. The Guls assigned the task have already planned them in areas given the all clear by our and your search teams. Isolation will keep possible epidemics localised, not strain restricted resources and facilitate distribution of aid. Give SFHS on DS-9 the names of the injured and where they come from. They should report to this station prior to repatriation so that they can be taken directly to the camps where they are registered." With that she handed the padd to Major O'Connor who transmitted the information, then returned it to her. "The data will arrive within the hour."

The following days were like those before; a steady pattern of working through corridors towards the sections registered in the course of the scans and rescuing survivors. When further teams arrived with those they had saved, the group organized by Relanis and Jevron had grown by roughly six thousand, far more than they had expected to find. And this city had a population of over three million! Melset thought. Of course, an unknown number fled the city during the aftermath and left for other regions.

Finally, the organizers agreed to split the largest camp to avoid overcrowding in one relatively small area, making it easier to organize the day by day routine as well as repartition of necessities. There would be a population large enough to effect reconstruction, and most importantly, present an invaluable pool of information and skills.

Perhaps our culture can be recreated... With a stab of pain, she remembered The Verses of Life and Creation she had read together with Vedek Serad while on Bajor and suppressed the memory.

Garak and Melset, together with Gul Masok and two of his officers were planning networks of distribution onworld when they heard an excited discussion outside. The shuttles had finally arrived. One of the team organizers came over with a recording of the transmission, Garak listened, made a quick gesture, "Inquire further ..."

The organizer continued, "There may be generators and other equipment in cities in Lesana-Kelan Province that we can salvage, respectively cannibalise for parts, some systems are being repaired to supply the basic needs of the populations we have found. They want to stay on-site as they say they require only little assistance. To expedite implementation of relief efforts, we have combined our results, breaking them down into survivors, skills, requirements, potentially reparable equipment, first for the provinces, then in general." He gave it to Melset.

"Gul Melset, in Varon Province the population has come through the massacres relatively unscathed and is also insisting on remaining in place. A Federation team is already there, so if you could go there, it would free us for other projects. Take the runabout."

"Agreed." Melset hurried over to the machine. Her time on Cardassia so far had been a blur of unceasing activity with varying teams with whom to cooperate. At least I do not have time to think; like in combat, all action and reaction …. As she flew towards the next destination, she could not help but feel renewed discouragement at seeing the devastation. That is exactly what our forces attempted to do on Bajor at Withdrawal. Leave nothing behind but scorched earth, a dying world…..

Assistance and Conflicts

Within an hour, she guided the runabout to a landing just outside base camp, next to the domes reserved for the SFHS team that had just arrived. When she got out, Manod was already waiting to welcome and introduce her to the personnel that had arrived just minutes before. "Gul Melset, good you could come. Commander Chandler said you would be onworld and could be contacted via Garak; if you wish, you can take the cubicle in the dome just to your right. Number 4 has been reserved for you, in case you want to settle in before beginning work."

"Thank you, Manod, good to see you. It has been a long time."

She quickly put away her duffle to come back out moments later, "We can begin immediately."

With that, they walked over to the dome housing the commlinks where the others were waiting to be briefed on their duties. Together, they inspected the data, at times crowding around a screen. Melset noticed one of the officers avoided her. She ignored it; responding to his attitude would mean disruption of work; in no way did she plan to initiate the conflict. Letting him experience the censure of those who witnessed his actions or heard his words would be more effective.

"I'm one of the civilian observers, Karima Allen. "I'm to write a report on progress in this area, but also on difficulties. I'll be listening in on discussions, see how cooperation functions, the usual thing."

"You are welcome to do so. Feel free to join whichever groups you think best show what we are doing, or trying to do, and how cooperation is working out."

As they went back outside after hours of intensive discussions and planning sessions, one of the staff, a human female, told her " The good news first. Perhaps you already know, but not all the generators here have been irreparably damaged. Some of the cables only had to be spliced, two of the irreparably damaged ones were cannibalized to fix the other four. Chiefs Tanjay and Roberts, who has returned to the starship, have made provisional repairs together with a group of Cardassian technicians so that the machinery can be activated. You are lucky you kept essentials underground and not above as is the custom on most Federation worlds. As a result, at least some of them are relatively intact. This is actually the case throughout Varon Province, which will markedly advance reconstruction in this area."

"We always had key elements underground to avoid sabotage. It was virtually impossible for anyone to get to a generator undetected. Observation screens, retinal scanning devices at each entrance, guards... The Order and the Military cooperated as to security." She glanced over to where preparations were being made, recalled her first duties. "When I was a recruit, I was assigned guard duty, was supervised via observation modules, required to make quarter-hourly reports. Sleeping on the job as I have seen guards covertly do while I was stationed on Earth would have resulted in court-martial, demotion, and a sentence of three or four years in a forced-labour camp, followed by dishonourable discharge."

"Much different system to ours. We mainly rely on mechanized surveillance. Of course, for us too, sleeping on the job is a court-martial offence." Allen was curious; she had never spoken to a Cardassian or heard first-hand about their security systems, or about their attitude towards what, for Federation members, seemed blatant suppression of citizens in general.

One of the personnel came over with a padd, gave it to Allen and acknowledged the Cardassian's presence with a brief nod in her direction. After thanking him, she showed Melset the diagrammes on the screen. "What do you think?"

"Very effective." Melset looked over at a group of domes, "Commendable to erect the habitat domes at a distance from these installations. That ensures safety from incidents. I would however suggest for guard duty to be a joint effort of Federation and Cardassian personnel. This is not distrust, but shows that responsibility is shared for installations and work. We are thankful for the assistance, but we always include recipients of assistance in planning and implementation, they are expected to participate. In this case, with aid coming from off-world, we won't offer to participate, but rather wait to be invited: remember our pride. Among us, whoever volunteers for a given task has the necessary skills; if that is not the case, he or she keeps away. I have noticed some of your specialists observe ours with distrust, as if they doubt our knowledge; this does not make for trust on our part, much to the contrary."

A moment of embarrassed silence followed, then Allen replied, "I'm sorry. We did not know. I'll tell the other personnel so that misunderstandings of this kind can be avoided. A few people from the camp have repeatedly come over to watch. We could not read their attitudes, although it seems they are waiting for something. So that is why they don't volunteer. Their behaviour seemed odd to us; they did not act like rubberneckers… sorry, curious spectators."

The reaction was laughter, "Don't worry, Allen, I know most of your expressions. In fact, those were the first elements I learned during my stay on Earth." Seriously now, she explained, "Their behaviour is according to our ways; refusal to accept what they offer would be public humiliation, something to which we have never taken kindly. As we desperately need your help, no one wants to risk compromising the entire project." With a smile, she added, "It seems, though, that your personnel have no problems associating with us." They looked over at the group near the generators.

Allen shrugged, "The Federation is made up of so many different races that any form of xenophobia would make cooperation impossible. Whoever goes off-world first attends courses about the most important elements of another culture: gestures, body language, and, above all, on no-goes. Unfortunately, we have very little information about your people, except for some few observations when we had captives or encountered Cardassian settlers who had chosen to stay on colony worlds on our side of the DMZ. Those really weren't normal situations and most likely influenced behavioural patterns."

The Cardassian withdrew very slightly. We purposely behaved differently to give you all the disinformation we could... "We never offered details about ourselves, our culture and way of life. Those facts could have presented a weakness which would have made it easier to attack us. When I went to Earth to work at SFCCEI, only the most essential information on our physiology was included on a padd. Nothing else. I was informed, 'You will only tell them what is absolutely necessary.'"

They saw one of the humans to whom she had been introduced, Behrens, look over at some Cardassians who were coming over from the camp. To Melset and even Allen, their attitude was recognizable as curious, even friendly, but the human gestured at them to stay away which, by Cardassian standards, was just short of insulting. When he rejoined the other personnel, he dismissively turned his back to them, another serious offence.

Irritated as she already was about the way her compatriots were treated, Melset barely refrained from protest at hearing him address one of the SFHS personnel, Manod, the Bolian officer who had welcomed her. Only some years before, he, too, had been at SFCCEI, studying Bajoran culture and history in preparation for a long-term project. After a tour of duty cut short by the Dominion War, he had left for Terok'Nor before being assigned the position of a coordinator. Now he watched the Cardassians leave after a brief discussion.

Reading his attitude incorrectly, Behrens told him, "I can't see why the Federation is so interested in helping the Cardis find survivors, establish camps and keep them from starving, get them on their feet again. They'll just come boiling out of Cardassia in two generations, as murderous and brutal as ever. Restrict them to subsistence farming, systematically re-educate that lot so that they'll be ashamed of what they are. That would mean safety for the whole Quadrant. Would you believe those snakes can keep all their systems? They should be portioned out to neighbouring unions along with those they annexed just before the end of the Border Wars, leaving them with only their central worlds."

The involuntary witnesses could not hear Manod's reply. Apparently it was not one of agreement as Behrens only shook his head in disgust before turning away; in disbelief, the Bolian watched him leave.

The officer next to her and Allen, Gupta, had heard the exchange; he quickly glanced over at the Cardassian, then at Behrens before activating his communicator. "Captain Patricks, this is Commander Gupta, I request Behrens be recalled at once. Details to follow when my shift is over. Gupta out." When he turned to Melset, hoping to defuse the situation, he saw she had already left for the dome where she had her cubicle.

His assistant, Allen, offered, "I'll check. They say Cardi hearing isn't as acute as ours, but he meant his words to be heard. They go against everything Starfleet means; none of us was told to come here. By the way, she says those people are waiting to be asked to participate; that is why they come over again and again."

Gupta looked over at them, "Good. I'll take the matter in hand. We could use the help and smooth over ruffled feelings at the same time." He called to the Cardassians who were on their way back to the camp, waving in what he hoped would be understood as an invitation; to his relief, they responded in kind, waited for him.

In the meantime, Allen had entered the personnels' dome where Melset was inputting findings as if nothing had happened. With a helpless gesture, she tried to apologize, not knowing what reaction she would get, "Melset, we overheard what Behrens said. Gupta has had him recalled and is inviting those civilians to join us. Sorry about Behrens' attitude. I assure you we don't all have this mindset."

Melset turned to her, "It was not unexpected. The Dominion-Cardassian Alliance has ruined any progress in Federation - Cardassian relations. Mutual resentment was just beginning to fade very slightly, but now? I know many peoples in the Alpha Quadrant would have rejoiced had we been eradicated. Too much has happened, according to reports I received from contacts on Bajor and in the Federation. A negative image cannot be overcome within a few years, nor even a generation. The Alliance and the Occupation of Bajor will go down in history as the most heinous crimes committed by Cardassia."

Allen had expected anger, not this calm reaction to Behrens' remark, especially in a situation which had the nerves of the Cardassian population and coordinators more than slightly frayed. "Yes, but now … it is only the beginning, barely eight weeks after the Defeat, with your people still in shock. We have seen a lot in the course of our various projects, but this..." she said, "...was attempted genocide. You certainly don't need the added aggravation of such remarks."

"I know what you are thinking, Allen, and value your consideration and the apology. Right now our goal is to work towards recreating what we have lost and that is all that counts."

The human's relief was obvious; returning to current affairs she reported, "Manod and Chief Tanjay have completed the connections and are ready to activate the industrial replicator. If their jury-rigged system works, you'll have access to material for use in rebuilding in a larger area, about six counties in this province," was Allen's comment. "Your technicians will be able to effect repairs easily enough if necessary." Incredulous, she commented, "I've never seen such recall in my life! You show them a diagram and they remember the details at once."

"In our educational system children as of the age of four were trained to develop this ability, taught the first elements of music, art and basics of other skills. Hopefully it will soon be re-established. Then you can see our methods. You should find them interesting."

With that they reached the replicator. With amusement Melset saw Chief Tanjay's slight unease, surrounded as he was by the silent, watchful Cardassians whom Manod and Gupta had invited over to observe procedure.

"All right, here goes... Prepare for the explosion." Tanjay pressed the switch.

There was none. The unit hummed into operation. "There," Chief Tanjay turned to Denit, one of the technicians, "The rubble can be processed into building materials, provided you keep metals separate. I think you and your colleagues can begin organising shifts for your staff. There'll be surplus energy to provide you with light and, if needed, heating. Each dome has a system to deliver both." He pointed at an encased network of cables covered by walkways. "Your remaining cruisers and ground transport can take the elements to where they are needed."

A Cardassian woman he had heard addressed as Parváni answered, "After the Klingon invasion, the Federation gave us twelve replicators; they were invaluable then. We never expected to need them again. Our population being only a fraction of what it was, we should be able to return most in the near future." She averted her glance.

"SFHS says they are yours to keep for as long as needed." He looked around, "Even with your loss of population, it will take a long time to re-establish infrastructure and a network of institutions; but you are a strong, disciplined people." He watched teams of Cardassians transporting debris to a disposal site.

Tanjay's comment elicited a shy smile from the woman, "Indeed, but rumour about usis true: we do not ask for more help than necessary or expect it for longer than needed to recreate a basis of civilization and subsistence."

The apparatus had now reached its level of operations without any cables or connections exploding or short-circuiting. "All right, those responsible for repartition and transport can begin. You already have seen to all details." Remembering the diagrams shown him of future hospitals, housing and civic centres, he indicated the transports waiting nearby.

At seeing the quiet joy of the bystanders, he smiled at them, a few of those closest to him responded. They are just like the people we helped on a Federation world devastated by a Klingon attack. No one is complaining, there is only hope for improvement. "Look." he activated an annex. "This should provide enough food until you bring in your first harvest. We insisted for a replicator to be included with each of these units."

The group had already agreed on the emplacement of future homes, had begun excavating foundations, calculated the material needed. To avoid favouritism they would move into their new homes only after the last one was erected. The domes would then be dismantled, cleaned and taken to the depot for redistribution or to be returned. For the humans, the discipline and determination of the Cardassians, even the worst off, was astonishing. No one was sitting around waiting for what would happen. Five mothers with small children could not do much, but had found easier work, with one of them watching the children. All did whatever they could. Children no older than four or five were spending part of the afternoons carrying little pieces of debris to one of the piles.

Melset returned to the dome where she input her observations then copied the list of people belonging to this specific settlement with their names and professions, transmitted it to Loo'Wess Centre and SFHS.

"May I disturb you?" The voice was pleasant, calm.

Melset turned to see a tall, dark-skinned Vulcan woman standing just inside the door, gazing at her. Much as she resented stares, the Cardassian found herself looking at her in turn, curious, then said. "Of course. I have just input the data from Varon Province's first settlement. This evening I am to report back to Loo'Wess."

"Then my own data should prove useful." She gave the Cardassian a datapadd which Melset immediately copied, then returned. "We have effected a scan of this entire province as well as of three neighbouring ones: Kelan, Lesana, and Baryn Provinces: no traces of pathogens or toxins. In our estimate, agriculture can be initiated within months or even weeks, thus enabling this population to become independent of assistance within a year." Her clear gray eyes met the Cardassian's directly. "The Dominion devastated some of our cities; protracted loss of independence would have demoralized us. I assume the same holds true of your own people."

The Cardassian did not know why she relaxed in her presence, felt she could trust her. "Thank you for the data, for the assistance given us in spite of your own situation onworld, for the suggestion and the encouragement. It is very kind."

The other inclined her head in greeting, then, wordlessly, turned to leave. Strange Vulcan indeed, not as cold as a statue, but interested in our fate, considering our dignity.

The rest of the day was uneventful. In the evening, Melset returned to Loo'Wess to continue processing incoming data while awaiting further developments. Troops were constantly on their way, combing the general area of the city and province for hazards as well as potential resources prior to agreeing on where to build future settlements, establishing a provisional layout for both prospective population centres and the city as such. The retaliatory airstrikes had massively altered the profile of the land by gouging deep craters where buildings once stood along the river so that the dikes were gone; parts of the land began reverting to what it had once been, an immense wetland.

The Vorta

Vedray noticed something unusual and, after waving over his companion, Aydan, asked him to see for himself. The other men had already moved off and could not be recalled without losing valuable time. The task of searching for ordnance had to be completed by the evening.

Aydan stared in the direction Vedray indicated, "See? That shelter has been repaired. Some days ago, it was near collapse after a family had pulled out wood for a shack; someone is now living in it, but seems very interested in not being found. Cannot be a Cardassian. All civilians have been evacuated from this area."

The two men waited, then Vedray whispered, pointing at some boulders close to where the wreckage of a Dominion troop transport had been found. "Movement! Someone is returning!"

A humanoid was looking for the Dominion ship troops had inspected and removed shortly before, then hesitated at seeing the now-empty impact crater. Aydan commented, "No, that's neither a Cardassian nor a Human. Let's check."

Using every bit of available cover, the two approached until they could see the individual whose species did not exactly make for friendly feelings. "A Vorta! A female one. I thought all of them were captured." Vedray exclaimed.

"Seemingly not. There were more of those things than you would think. Facilitators, doctors, strategists, military advisors... each ship had one or two, if not more on board."

"As far as I know, Gul Melset is still here. She might appreciate dealing with that. Aydan, I'll stay here while you contact her."

Linas Aydan hurried to their runabout and activated the comm. "Gul Melset?"

After some moments, contact, "Var Merol here. Gul Melset is supervising a team unloading newly-arrived goods. There was a misunderstanding that had to be straightened out. Wait... she's coming back."

Merol called, "Gul Melset, Linas Aydan wants to talk to you."

"Melset here. I regret the delay, had the usual problem to resolve, suspicious Federation officers, offended Cardassians..."

"I can imagine," then he smirked, "We have found a Vorta. Vedray has her under observation. We're saving that one for you. We are just beyond that range of low hills to the west."

"Coming. Melset out."


He looked up when Melset entered and recognized her irritation. "Let me guess. Arguments over repair methods or someone trying to convince Gul Masok that the camps should be organized differently?"

"No, worse. Two troops have found a Vorta." Melset stated. "That one is mine. It may be useful."

"Be careful, they are treacherous. Remember never to turn your back on one of those." Garak pointed at his annex. "Before you leave, here is what we downloaded from that Dominion craft. Perhaps you can use the information when dealing with that Vorta."

Within an hour, Aydan saw the runabout approach then land, Melset quickly walked over to him. Together they went back to Jonar Vedray. "Where is she?"

"In that makeshift shelter. She is hoping to remain undetected and possibly get off-world. Not one Jem'Hadar around."

"Well, let's check." Melset took out her phaser and adjusted it, her expression stony with hatred. "Vedray?"

Together, they approached the shelter. "It would only be justice if you set fire to that shelter, let her die like so many of our people did, trapped, unable to escape either the flames or the Jem'Hadar." That was how his entire family had been killed in Locarian City.

With a predatory smile, Melset aimed, anticipating at least slight revenge for her family, for the Cardassians who had died in the onslaught, for the dependence on offworld aid which meant so much humiliation. Yet, after some seconds, she shook her head, lowered the phaser and hooked it on her belt. "No. This one did not participate in the destruction. From what I gathered from the ship's files, she was involved in the supply run, was stranded at withdrawal. Vedray, she could be more useful alive."

With an exclamation of angry disbelief Vedray turned to stare at Melset, remembered Legate Damar and his family, the losses suffered by all families on Cardassia. "Gul Melset! That is an enemy! Has your time with non-Cardassians made you less of one?" The young officer immediately regretted his words, she had fought side by side with his friend's cousin Berak years ago. "Gul Melset, I ..." He averted his eyes, apprehensive. She'll put me on report for this. I'll be disgraced and my family name with me…..

"No need to explain, Vedray; I did want to kill her. Who doesn't wish to execute all representatives of the Dominion? I myself would like to get my hands on that korrigan* …. I mean Founder and Weyoun, but they are inaccessible," She looked over to the camp and its Federation personnel, saw movement there, "Best forget revenge; we are being observed very closely." For a moment, her eyes reflected anger at recalling Behrens' words. "There is enough prejudice against us without adding to it."

"Behrens..." Vedray said, "Highly competent, but why did he volunteer? One of the children, Sitaal, told us what he had said. She was afraid that what he suggested would really be done. It took quite some time to convince her that not all offworlders had such ideas."

"You can tell her he has been disciplined by his commander and will not be sent to any more Cardassian worlds. Vedray, cover me." Arms spread, palms turned upwards, she went over to the shelter where the Vorta was hiding, and called in Standard, "I give you my word we will not execute you, will give you safe passage home. Members of the Federation are here, and I will see to it they take you back. The war is over, a treaty signed." She had briefly spoken without the sibilant undertone of Cardassian speech to avoid any semblance of a threat.

There was no reply, but from her position to the side of the shelter, Melset heard a slight rustling, as if someone was cautiously moving towards the door. She added, "I am here with the officer who found you. I repeat: you will not be harmed. I will not go back on my word."

After a few more moments, the Vorta came out of the shelter. Her calm expression did not quite conceal apprehension. The Gul and the Vorta eyed each other for some moments.

"I know what you expect and repeat: you are safe. We will go to base camp; I strongly advise you to comply. You are quite fortunate that you are my captive," was Melset's unsmiling comment. "I offer two alternatives: obey or be stunned into compliance."

The Vorta between them, the two got into the runabout to return to base camp, Aydan and Vedray guarding the captive, Melset planning to use the Vorta to her advantage.

Commander Kempke, who had been supervising erection of the domes, saw the runabout bank, come to a landing; the serial number showed it was stationed on Terok'Nor, as the Cardassians, much to his annoyance, persisted in calling Deep Space 9. He saw the group that got out of the runabout: three Cardassians and one Vorta, the latter under guard, and went to them. "Where did you find her?"

Vedray answered, "Near to where the Dominion ship crashed. She took shelter in some ruins."

When Commander Kempke prepared to take charge of the Vorta, Melset got between the two, turning her back to Lakeena. Vedray and Aydan could see the captive's surprise at this gesture.

"No, Commander, this Vorta is my captive. A Bajoran security officer will accompany her to Starbase 27 for debriefing. Afterwards she will return to Kurrill Prime, still accompanied by the Bajoran officer. Starfleet knows where it is, and that is exactly where she'll be going. Not to one of your P.O.W. camps." Melset's voice was even, each word stressed.

The Commander looked at the Gul contemptuously when he replied, "She is under our jurisdiction as is her ship, so I order you to step down, Gul Melset. Torturing captives or summary executions are not acceptable."

Not moving from her place, Melset tensed her neck membranes, feeling her preconceptions against the Federation well up. Doesn't take much for you to show your true colours, does it... The powerful Federation generously shares some of its limitless wealth with The Enemy and thus feels so morally superior, the supreme arbiter of the entire Quadrant. She repeated calmly, "Had I wanted to liquidate this Vorta, I could have done so without your noticing. As you can see, the Vorta is very much alive, your reservations unjustified. My reasons for non-compliance. First: I outrank you. Second, for the two days of your presence on-world, you are involved in the relief effort, for which we thank you, but your authority is restricted to effecting and supervising repartition of goods as stated per orders. If you wish to file a complaint about my perceived insubordination, feel welcome to do so. Remember: my chain of command involves Commander Kira, my co-organizers at SFHS, Andrews or Myssiro or, if you wish, contact Commander Chandler of SFCCEI directly. He will refer you to the supervisors of SFHS." Her glance was direct, unblinking, reptilian.

After a moment, she said, "Now if you will step aside..." She heard a warning hiss from Vedray when the Commander made a gesture as if to arrest her. "I would be very cautious in your place," she said, not turning to face him, but her attitude one of warning. "I am not just anyCardassian, but directly involved in organisation onworld and, with my peers, coordinate the efforts of Federation relief agencies active in this sector including, I repeat, SFHS. In case you are not aware of the fact, the Cardassian Union has not lost autonomy quite yet. If you touch me, you will face the consequences." With that she briefly looked up at him, eyes viciously arrogant. Without another word, Kempke backed down, furious, hiding his outrage.

Addressing Vedray, Melset said in Cardassian, "The Vorta will be held in my runabout, where she will be safest and have everything she needs. Guard her, Vedray; I do not trust these people. You have a communicator?"

Vedray indicated his wrist. "Yes, Gul." Getting this responsibility showed his impulsive words were forgotten. Moreover, he had enjoyed the scene he had just witnessed. For him and others, the overbearing attitude of some members of Starfleet was a constant irritation.

Melset reached up to touch his shoulder, "Your reaction is forgotten." As an afterthought, she added hopefully, "Anything new about Berak or your family?"

He shook his head, "Only forty-seven left of over three hundred members of our entire family. And here I am, guarding a Vorta ..."

"She was not involved in the massacre. Let's go in; I have to contact either Gul Madred or Natíma immediately." The Vorta followed them and was secured before Melset went to communications.

After some minutes, the screen cleared. "Madred here."

"Gul Melset reporting. We may have a potential conflict. Vedray has captured a Vorta whom we agreed to transfer to Starbase 27 prior to returning her to her homeworld. She was not stationed in the Cardassian Union, thus is no enemy."

He briefly gazed at her then stated, "Do you think this is wise?"

"Yes. We are being observed very closely. Only moments ago, I was accused by a member of Starfleet of wanting to subject the Vorta to interrogative procedures." With a sigh, she continued, "We need the Federation, but some personnel sent to assist us think they have the authority to determine what we are allowed to do and what not. I, for one, refuse to satisfy their feelings of superiority. It seemed best to inform you, a member of the Obsidian Order and a government representative."

"... to guard your back," he relaxed slightly. "Natíma and I will support you, but the responsibility for further developments is yours and yours alone."

"Agreed." Pretending horror, she said, "Imagine, a Cardassian protects a Vorta, behaves humanely, and Starfleet Security tries to make problems because of her refusal to hand over her prisoner, and that on her own world, which has not lost its independence ... That would make for a rather negative image of the benevolent Federation, if the facts were revealed, wouldn't it? In case of such a development, my contacts will make sure that Chandler, as well as the presidents of various NGOs and the public in general are informed immediately via the media, complete with background information, all corroborated by one Bolian, you, some human witnesses of the incident, Vedray, Aydan and one Vorta who has no reason to love us."

"I understand and agree. Madred out."

Melset looked out of the runabout and saw Commander Kempke had left. No doubt to file a protest of his own... Vedray and Aydan were standing guard in front of one of the cells, watching the captive when she entered the security area. Aydan reported, "No incidents."

"Good. Madred says I am on my own with this." Melset briefly considered her options, "Vedray, I would like to hear what that Vorta has to say."

"Lies. Remember Weyoun, speaking of the destruction of Locarian City and the execution of Damar's family as though it was of no consequence whatsoever."

"Weyoun was a diplomat, presented facts in accordance with the Founder's expectations. But this one was involved in the sciences, according to the ship's logs." Melset had seen some of the reports featuring Weyoun and had immediately noticed the difference; this one was neither a diplomat, nor a troop leader. "Vedray, cover me. I'll see what I can find out."

He shut down the security field to reactivate it as soon as Melset had entered the cubicle.

The Vorta and the Cardassian looked at each another silently until Melset asked, "What are you doing here? Where are your Jem'Hadar? There were none on your ship. Were they killed trying to eliminate Cardassian citizens?" Her voice was harsh with suppressed anger.

"My First had to kill his men; we had no more White. I then terminated my First."

"I see, you were trying to save your own hide," was Melset's reaction.

The Vorta replied at once, "My assignment was to provide logistic support, keep the supply lines open, was not involved in any military operations apart from this. I was activated to be a scientist, a biochemist, not a strategist or troop leader."

"Then why weren't you in a laboratory somewhere in the Gamma Quadrant, creating a pathogen or toxin to liquidate us?" was Melset's sneering query. "The Dominion had quite virulent pathogens at their disposal, capable of infecting a wide range of species."

"With the disappearance of the Wormhole, the loss of over 2500 ships with their Jem'Hadar and Vorta, the casualties in the course of conflict, manpower was in short supply, so in their infinite wisdom the Founders ordered all living Vorta to take over for those who were lost."

The explanation was acceptable. This procedure was routine whenever there was a shortage of personnel after a conflict; she and her fellow officers had often taken over duties outside of their normal responsibility. This applied to all ranks without exception. She had once spent a month at communications, sharing command with Glinn Masok. "Why did you land here?"

"At withdrawal, I was caught between the lines, cut off from our convoy, finally forced off route. My ship was disabled, so we landed on the nearest planet, Cardassia Prime. I planned to hide until found by the crew of another Dominion ship."

"And that ship never came because the war was over..." Melset again waited, watching the Vorta. At seeing Lakeena slowly raise a hand to her jawline, she said, "Ah, Vorta, don't do that. Do you think I have kept you out of human hands only to have you activate your termination implant? You are a valuable part of my plan. Of course, if you insist, I can sedate you until you arrive on Starbase 27."

The Vorta wondered about her captor's recognizing her intention, then remembered Weyoun, 6th incarnation. No doubt details had spread throughout Cardassian and Federation military circles.

"We extradited all Dominion personnel after its withdrawal from the Alpha Quadrant. Its present goal is to establish a peaceful system now that the Founders have learned via Odo that Solids are not their enemies. The Union of your peoples will live, but there will be no more expansionist wars. Due to the losses you have mentioned, the Vorta gene pool has been seriously reduced, especially as your cloning facilities with their stock of individual genomes were destroyed. Every single Vorta alive is needed to ensure the genetic diversity of your population. As far as I know, the Dominion is currently restructuring its hierarchy of peoples. The Federation is hoping for peaceful cooperation at some time in the future."

"How do you know that?"

"While I was still on Earth the terms of the treaty were transmitted as part of the celebrations at the end of the war. As to you, Vorta, I want you sent back to your own world." Melset realized that her words were possibly unwise, but added, "As a biochemist, you will be essential to your people's recovery, just as every Cardassian is needed on my own world." She called Vedray who had been standing guard at the entrance of the shuttle.

"Vedray, contact Terok'Nor, and request Security Chief Remosi, then link up to the Starship presently in orbit." The young male left immediately. Melset again addressed the Vorta. "What is your name? It will make my demand more effective than if I only say 'I have captured a Vorta'."

"I am Lakeena, second incarnation." The Vorta met the Cardassian's eyes, "Why are you doing this?" she asked softly. "Your subordinates wanted to burn down the shelter with me inside, you kept the Federation officer away, too."

"Three factors, Lakeena." Melset leaned against the wall as she explained, "First, there is the parallel to our own situation; second, you did not participate in the slaughter of Cardassians. Moreover, you will be important for your own people as a bearer of information and genetic material. Then, consider the third factor: surely you have been told interesting details about what Cardassians do to their prisoners. We do have a rather negative reputation in that respect, and deservedly so, according to the Federation, so my kindness could surprise the humans into compliance in other ways too."

"Ah, I understand," a tentative smile from the Vorta who relaxed perceptibly. Manipulation and scheming was something she well understood. That was why her people were so successful in what they did: most of them small, harmless-looking, often attractive, their facial expressions identical to those of most species in the Alpha Quadrant. Thus, they did not encounter the distrust the warlike Jem'Hadar or the Founders themselves elicited.

Vedray reported, "Gul Melset, the link to Terok'Nor has been established; I have transmitted your other request to Commander Johnston. He will notify you as soon as he has patched it through."

"Good, this gives me some time." She went out to the communications area and saw Chief Remosi on screen. "Remosi here."

"Chief Remosi, my request is the following: I have a prisoner, a Vorta, Lakeena, who is to be taken to Starbase 27 for debriefing, then returned to her homeworld. Is Retto Naphtal available?"

"Wait a moment while I check the duty roster ... Yes, I can free him for the time necessary."

"Good. I gave her my word she would not be handed over to Federation personnel without a security detail. Once I return, I will tell you my reasons in person." She barely kept from smiling at seeing his curiosity.

"Retto will go on board when the Garonne docks." Remosi briefly waited before inquiring, "Is there something else?"

"No, Chief Remosi, that is all. I'll speak to you when I return to the station. Gul Melset out."

She relaxed, waiting until the captain of the Starship, Patricks, contacted her.

"You are Gul Melset?" He gazed out at her from the screen.

"Yes. And I thank you for making the time for my request."

"I didn't have to make it. We are beaming down supplies and effecting minor repairs onworld and up here; we should be leaving in roughly two days. How can I help you?" He had the usual attitude of suspicious observation.

After a brief explanation of procedure, the Captain seemed ready to refuse, but after an officer in the background had spoken to him, he turned back to her and said. "Request granted. As, according to you and Commander Thompson, she was non-combat, non-diplomatic personnel, your request is acceptable, as is her being accompanied by the Bajoran security officer who will come aboard when we dock at Deep Space 9. We are leaving orbit on schedule, will contact you on arrival."

"Thank you; that is most helpful, Captain Patricks," was the response.

"Quarters have been arranged for the Vorta; two guards to be stationed outside for the time of transit. Patricks out."

That is solved. Perhaps the debriefing will yield more information on booby traps and other hazards. Melset left after requesting Federation guards watch her prisoner. Among Cardassians, there was too much resentment to risk entrusting her to the vars or glinns.

When she returned, she saw that activity around the camp had picked up markedly. Registration of survivors was running smoothly. Not even this situation can change our need of order.

She was addressed by a young woman. "I am Yarusha Nevin. Natima Lang has asked me to give you this." She held out a padd.

"Good, I will register findings. A Federation shuttle is due to arrive here tomorrow with supplies and a group of returnees. Repartition of goods to be effected according to plan. Within some days six more industrial replicators will be sent; emplacement already determined. Remember: the Bajora bringing them are friends. I expect them to be received as such."

The shuttle arrived on schedule, goods were unloaded by the former Cardassian exiles. That done, they were also registered, then informed the organizers about what they had brought. When they left for the camp, Garak and Melset exchanged glances.

"The latinum will help purchase necessities, further shelters, but by far not enough Not only our central system, all our Union is in need of assistance.. We have to find more help and soon." Garak turned the padd over and over, stared at it, deep in thought, then gave it to Melset, "For your collection."

"We have been forced to make some unpleasant concessions. I have just heard details from one of my sources." She got up and pretended to check the new files. "A Federation base, on our world!"

She did not see his startled expression.

"I know nothing about that!" Garak came over, touched her hands. "Details, Iníki."

"One of my reliable sources informed me that the Federation has received the go-ahead to establish a base on Cardassia Prime within a few weeks, just outside of Loo'Wess, to help the population more effectively."

That anyone even considered agreeing to something like this showed her and Garak all too clearly how critical the situation was. The organizers would have to mitigate the damage done with this agreement by presenting acceptable reasons for their decision, and the Federation fulfil its part of the contract. For now, this humiliating development had to be accepted as the price of much-needed assistance.

The second shuttle arrived soon after; a number of Cardassians neither Garak nor Melset knew got out and after registering were assigned their duties and areas on the spot. It was no use wasting time. While preparing for departure and supervising evacuation of further casualties to be transported out at the same time, Melset noticed that, again, as many supplies as could be loaded onto the shuttle had been brought, so that she could leave with the knowledge that a beginning had been made. Even if three or four provinces become partially independent of aid in a year, there are so many more whose populations will remain dependent on assistance….

"I will be back in roughly five or six months. Within this first year I am authorized to return more frequently in my role as one of the three organizers of SFHS. Keep me informed how everything is proceeding." Melset hesitated, May as well be open, "Observe all developments. I have some concerns, Garak, and hope they will not prove justified."

"I was planning on doing just that." Garak considered her briefly, I have the same concerns as you as to the factions, and see they are valid. "Comprehensive reports will be transmitted on a regular basis, so that you can continue your work without any concerns as to effective distribution of assistance, nor of other details."

"I wonder what information my two co-organizers at SFHS have waiting for me."

"Who are the other two?"

"One Bajoran, Myssiro, with whom I had cooperated on Earth and one human, Andrews, both of whom are trustworthy. I have yet to meet the other eleven staff."

They went into the dome together where Garak said, "Contact Lieutenant Dax when you arrive. She will be waiting in her office." Melset could not read his expression, but it seemed to indicate a positive development.


Within an hour, she had boarded the Federation shuttle. Once in quarters, Melset began processing the requirement lists and reports she had been given just before departure. Clearing the debris and planning the new cities' layout had been initiated, but the scope of destruction was so overwhelming, help so desperately needed, she wanted to lose no time. At times, she went to the canteen for a quick meal, or visited the medical area to check on the injured, speaking to some of the less traumatized ones, then returned immediately.

The officers and crew left her to her own devices, realizing that what she had confronted in the past twenty-eight days was beyond anyone's limits, even a Cardassian's. On no other world had genocide been attempted.

Melset was thankful to the leaders of the search teams for making the compilations ready for entry and transferral. First of all, it would be necessary to confer with the staff of SFHS on Deep Space 9 and perhaps even with Colonel Kira whose people had faced nearly the same situation.

Shortly after station midday, arrival at Deep Space 9 where the shuttle docked; Kira was waiting for her, "I hope the stay was not too disturbing?"

The reception is slightly friendlier than the first time. Averting her eyes, Melset answered in Bajoran, still perturbed in spite of the first minuscule steps towards reconstruction she had seen. "Far worse than expected. The devastation, the loss of lives, the conditions under which survivors are living. Advances are being made, even at this early stage, but … the task is daunting, so many of the worlds in the Union are in the same state."

They walked out to the Promenade while she continued her account. "Garak told me about his encounter with the female Founder shortly after the Tal Shiar's and Obsidian Order's destruction of their home planet. Before beaming down to her people's new world, the female Changeling told him, 'They are all dead. Cardassia is dead.' And it is; we will rebuild, but all we once knew is gone forever. The Order and Tal Shiar destroyed the Founders' home planet, so they exacted the same price from us."

"We who are alive are focussing on our duty to Cardassia alone, whatever the price we pay as individuals. We are thankful to you and the others for lending us the equipment."

"One development might make things easier for you. Garak contacted us and we agreed Ezri Dax should give you the news." Kira met the Cardassian's eyes, saying. "You have an appointment at her office at 9 hours tomorrow." With that the Bajoran left for her station.

Puzzled, Melset went to her quarters. Those four weeks on Cardassia had been a rush of impressions, of duties, of experiences she had never faced on her own worlds; no rest, no time to cope with the situation, the sights…. The demands of military life appear simple compared to the challenges we are now facing. After unpacking, she took the padds containing the information for SFHS, arranged them in sequence.

While preparing to report for duty, she realized that she still had a day off. Better not lose any time; go to the offices, meet my colleagues.

Quickly, she input the code and contacted the office. "This is Gul Melset. Anyone at SFHS?"

There was a quick conversation in the background, then, "Yes, Gul Melset. This is Mr. Chambers. Everything is up and running and waiting for you."

"Reporting for duty, Melset out."

Melset left the habitat ring, looked around interestedly. How many changes had been effected in so brief a time: on the Promenade, representatives of nearly all races in the Quadrant were mingling peacefully. Melset noticed that the Bajoran presence on Deep Space 9 had increased. A positive development, considering the Wormhole is their Celestial Temple; they never were pleased about Starfleet's terms "Wormhole aliens" and "Wormhole." I wonder when they will reactivate their application for Federation membership.

Two weeks before, the staff of SFHS had arrived after the bureau had been established; We can inspect the Promenade together after shifts… No, that is a luxury I cannot afford. Duty to Cardassia supersedes all.

Just at the farther end of the Promenade, immediately adjacent to the door that led to Ops, she saw a door with a plaque inscribed Starfleet Humanitarian Servicesand entered.

"Well, here you are, Gul Melset. We were wondering when you would turn up as we weren't given your ETA." The officer addressing her had an anticipatory gleam in his eyes.

"I am pleased to see you, Major Andrews. The Commander was true to his word when he promised to select people with whom I had already cooperated!"

The human smiled about her reaction, "The two of us did have quite a few discussions, remember? I was questioned as to my knowledge of your people's ways and mentality, your methods. In the end I was selected for this group. Remember your beloved archives? They had a lot of valuable information too. To get to the point: As you know, the situation is bad in the entire Quadrant, but, assistance is on its way to all worlds that require it to any greater degree, quite a logistic challenge."

A young male, a civilian, came out of one of the offices to join them. "My name is Hervin Chambers, Gul Melset, we just spoke. Delios said that, as I want to gain experience offworld, this would be the best place to start."

Melset remembered the patterns of human interaction and replied, "You certainly will get it here, especially if you go to Quark's after a shift; you'll find very interesting forms of interspecies communications, games, the lot."

Chambers looked astonished at her reply. "You mean that seriously?"

"Of course I do." The reply was unsmiling, but her eyes showed a glint of humour. "I am a Cardassian. Do you doubt my sincerity?"

"The Bajorans on staff are Myssiro, Bos Lyoba, and Arnem Los; they'll be back from the shrine in about half an hour. Other staff? A Bolian, Jal Geroth; Humans? Dale Johnson and Karen Yung; Galtor and Talik, Lissepians; Yeron and Isnaya, Trill; Nerada, a Betazoid…." Andrews stated, amused at the byplay.

"Now, as to this branch, we have received the data you sent, initiated work at once. Garak transmitted an additional list just after your departure from your home world. Everything has been entered in the spreadsheets you had waiting for us. Additional heavy equipment to remove the ruins prior to reconstruction has also been requested. It should be expedited within another week or so. As to Federation worlds, reconstruction has already begun on the least damaged: Tellar, Betazed."

Her manner became matter of fact in response to his report, "Excellent news. The search teams readied information about the situation so I could prepare and send requirement lists. The first part was transmitted via Major O'Connor." She gave him the pad "This contains additional details." Turning to him, Melset inquired, "Which other worlds are on our list of recipients?"

She reached for an empty padd, transferred the data that had already been compiled, began reading the details.

"Good work – that saves time; you people certainly are efficient. A Starship is scheduled to depart in two hours; Its Captain has to report to Starfleet HQ, so can transfer the padd to Commander Chandler. Do you want to give it in person?"

"It appears I can begin work at once." She smiled slightly, "and I want to meet the rest of the staff." The Cardassian quickly walked to the docking ring.

Some minutes later, Melset entered the Starship to be met by the Captain who considered her for some moments before saying, "Lieutenant Andrews notified me that you would come in person. Your data will be given to Commander Chandler as soon as we arrive in Earth orbit. I have already sent him a subspace message."

"I appreciate your assurance." After a moment, she added, gesturing at the station, "Give Commander Chandler my regards. I am grateful to him for assigning me this position."

"I shall do so."

The gul and the captain exchanged salutes before Melset left, sensing the observation of the crew who had witnessed the exchange.

At passing a Bajoran shop on the promenade near the shrine, she briefly hesitated, covertly looking at the articles on display. It will be a long time before I can enter one of these shops; I fear I would not be welcome right now.

When she quickly moved on, Melset noticed her surroundings grow distorted, indistinct; before vertigo hit her, she leaned against a wall. That cannot be happening! Not in public, in sight of Bajorans!

As from a distance she heard someone speak into a communit, then address her, "Sit down here and stay where you are, Cardassian. Someone will come in a minute."

The vertigo had already begun fading when she saw Dr. Bashir arrive.

"What's the matter, Medana?"

The woman who owned the shop explained. "This Cardassian nearly collapsed. I did not want to touch her, not knowing how she would react, so called you."

"You again," he muttered while scanning her. "Reminds me of my old friend Garak – never reporting in until he had no other choice. Stubborn and secretive to the last."

Her tone of voice was aggressive as she tried to get to her feet. "I have no interest whatsoever in a lengthy discussion. All I want to do is go to SFHS at once." For good measure, she added, "It would appear from your remark to me before I left for Cardassia, that you miss Garak. Apart from being a female, I am much like him, stubborn, irritating, secretive, verbose when pressured for details, a typical Cardassian. A true snake in the grass."

The doctor laughed then became serious again. "So I've noticed." A liaison between Order and Central Command? A spy? One fact is a given: She's as single-minded as all her kind when it comes to duty to her Union. The doctor held out a hand to briefly support her. "Good attempt at distraction. Tell me, Gul Melset, what exactly was your schedule on Cardassia these past four weeks? I know what I diagnosed when you arrived; looks like you're not just running yourself into the ground but tunnelling right into it. Have you looked into a mirror lately? If not, do so."

At seeing the angry glitter in her eyes, he said, "Don't answer. I can imagine: moments of sleep snatched every now and then at your annex or wherever, same for meals, travelling all over Cardassia Prime, establishing lists of data, participating in rescues, and who knows what else, more than triple shifts. Spent transit organizing your data. You will say 'This is none of your concern,' but I order you to call it a day. Tomorrow, do whatever you want, load shuttles single-handedly for all I care. And if you think I do not have the authority to give you an order, I do. You are a member of SFHS, thus…" He smirked at seeing horrified realization in her eyes, "… an unofficial member of Starfleet during your stint with us." He added, "Look, I know all of you are desperately working to improve the situation, but: don't pull triple shifts, have regular meals outside of SFHS, take time to rest. Cardassians are not indestructible." Bashir offered, "I'll notify SFHS, even though they may realize what has happened."

To his surprise, she nodded, "Thank you, Doctor. I fear you are right and will follow your advice." She got up and, noticing the weakness was past, quickly returned to her quarters where she opened the comm only to discover that she could be reached, but any information she was sent rerouted to SFHS, her own access blocked for the next twenty-six hours.

Developments and Options

The next day she reported to the counsellor's office. "I am Gul Melset. My appointment is for 9 hours."

The looked at her with a friendly smile as she said, "I was expecting you, Gul Melset. Come on in and have a seat."

Curious, the Cardassian looked around. By her people's standards, the room was too brightly lit, too colourful, but suited the counsellor to perfection, enthusiastic and lively as she was. She does not seem to have any reservations towards me. So, I'll see what she has to say.

Dax took a seat facing Melset. "Gul Melset, Dr. Bashir received a message from Garak shortly before your departure from Cardassia Prime, said it is personal."

Melset stared at her, not trusting what she had heard. "Garak? He has personal information for me?"

"Just activate the annex." Ezri said. "Would you prefer to be alone?"

"No. I am quite sure it is nothing personal, late-in lists of requirements,..." Quickly, Melset accessed the message, heard Garak's voice.

"Melset, your parents have been found in Kelan Province. They are well. Their ethnic group's application for permission to travel to Kelan Province for the Samagaltayi Magtaal had been authorized well before the Alliance and was honoured by Dominion authorities. After inception of the Breen Alliance, shortly before Damar's call to rebellion, they realized what would happen, left at once with the other Kelani participants and their families after contacting as many of their fellows and friends as possible who wanted to join them. Those in place were already prepared to host the arrivals. During the blackout, they went into a system of underground passages only known to a very few older Cardassians. According to Gul Damar, a number of your relatives have survived." There was a short silence. "It's fortunate your people preserved their backwards customs. The entrances and corridors were cleared after the Klingon attack, supplies covertly brought in. During the blackout, everyone fled inside then resealed the entrances so no traces were visible once the blackout was over. Gul Masok and the troops of the Orissà are organizing everything in Kelan-Lesana. They know you are here and when you return in some months, you are to spend some time there to collect information. The first elements have already been registered on the padd you were given before you left. Be strong, Iníki, Garak out.

Melset stared at the monitor, then repeated, incredulously, "They are alive … I was resigned to the fact my entire family was killed."

Dax considered her briefly, "Your brother and his family are gone, sorry to say, but at least you finally got positive news."

Melset asked quietly, "Why did Garak not tell me about this while I was onworld?"

"He told me he had preferred to wait, not wanting to confront you with renewed loss if the report proved to be wrong." A moment passed before she continued, smiling at remembering her disastrous attempt at therapy for Garak. "And for some reason I think I know, he wanted you to hear it from me."

"Then I thank you for the news." For a moment, the Cardassian waited, then said. "That I did not react is according to our ways 'Accept both the positive and the negative with equanimity lest you present a weakness.'"

"I know. Dr Bashir told me about Garak's unwillingness to give him any information about himself or his past." Dax gave Melset a friendly smile, "I do notice that you are happy about the news." Another pause, "Are you allowed to say how things were?"

The other woman's eyes grew haunted. "Ruins everywhere, massive damage, immense camps for the displaced, lack of all basics, victims of the retaliatory strike still being found. All of us militaries… we saw horrors in battle, weeks of trench warfare with all imaginable horrors. Yet nothing, nothing prepared any of us …nothing prepared us … for this." Melset shuddered, briefly closed her eyes as past and present recollections crowded in on her like a nightmare. She felt Dax gently grasp her wrists, and took a deep breath, fighting to overcome the flashback.

She changed the subject. "Aid is reaching us, but all we do, all we get is like a drop in the ocean. The Dominion did not manage to destroy all of our buildings and infrastructure, but for the most part, we have to rebuild everything. The remaining population is faced by starvation, disease, exposure to the weather which has become cooler and wetter because of the particulates in the air. Former bodies of authority are trying to create new structures, new authorities to keep certain elements in check. A provisional government is slowly being established. The organizers on Cardassia, 150 in all, have put together teams to clear away debris, organize basic health services, communications, energy delivery, establish a programme for agriculture.

"Professor Lang and her contacts, Garak and his fellow organizers are cooperating to create a network of centres on Cardassia Prime to see aid and machinery are sent to where they are needed. I am thinking of contacting the Bajorans with whom I stayed some years ago. They had to cope with poisoned soil and the destruction of their farming infrastructure after Liberation."

"And what will you be doing now?" was the query.

"My work and that of my own team at SFHS will consist of arranging for the distribution of supplies on Cardassia, the other staff will administrate other worlds, but we will cooperate spontaneously in projects throughout the Quadrant as needed."

"Then the offices of SFHS will soon need more personal, the way it looks."

"Indeed. Four staff and I are concentrating on Cardassia, the other eleven on Federation worlds, but it will not be enough, not with such widespread damage in the sector. I was informed by Commander Chandler that I can hire further people when needed."

The intercom in the other room activated. Dax left to answer it and Melset caught some snatches of conversation before Dax called to her, "Is it all right if Julian joins us?"

"By all means! He was Garak's friend, so I trust him."

Within moments he entered, just as Melset was giving Dax a brief explanation, "We have become dependent on outside aid, but deeply resent it. I was accused of being a Federation agent when I said we would be receiving assistance from both the Federation and Bajor, that some goods would be brought on a Klingon vessel or two.

Our main problem is that we lived in large agglomerations, never in small units, as do Bajorans, so we have to adopt a far different lifestyle, at least in the beginning. Depending as we did on mechanized farming, our farms encompassed thousands of..." she remembered the Bajoran term, "tessipates of land." Melset hesitated, "Garak mentioned Cardassian war orphans left behind at withdrawal; perhaps they would be willing to return in spite of the conditions, but there may be problems in the beginning because they have been raised as Bajorans."

Dr. Bashir replied pensively, remembering Rugal, the children at the relocation centre. "Perhaps. Yet if more of them are repatriated and they know what to expect and how to react, it should work out." He considered the situation, then added, "Contact Vedek Navri. He has already inquired about you. He despises Cardassians, but seems willing to make an exception."

Melset concealed her surprise about the network which Vedek Yarim had opened to her. "I remember that village where I was left. Each of its inhabitants had special talents used to the benefit of all, but could improvise outside of his field of expertise. This skill will be welcomed, but the war orphans' challenge is being Cardassian in appearance, but Bajoran in mentality."

She took out the padd with the information. "I was told the main cities of Lesana, Kelan and Varon Provinces were levelled, but that the soil is still fertile, was not poisoned - the forces of the Dominion were more considerate than we were. We plan to have agricultural communities as was custom in those provinces before the Lissepian War."

"Contact Vedek Serad, meet him in person. He may possibly find some people willing to show you their methods in agriculture."

Bashir got up, "I have to get back to the infirmary. I'm a doctor, not a specialist with SFHS." His smile belied the irritation in his words.

Melset thanked him and Dax before returning to her quarters where she contacted Myssiro, "Could you open a channel to Vedek Serad of Relaketh Province? If you wish to record communications, do so, no matter how the conversation proceeds."

Within minutes, Serad's image appeared on-screen; He has hardly changed.

After some moments, he greeted her, then waited.

"Vedek Serad, there is a matter which we should discuss directly. It concerns my home worlds." She saw him gaze at her calmly, then incline his head in agreement.

A conversation in the background followed. It does not sound unfriendly, perhaps... "Iníki, contact Sitesch Kiven, level 3, A-48. He is on Deep Space 9, will return in two days. If you do so in roughly an hour, I should have informed him." Serad considered her again before saying, "The Prophets have been merciful, to you and to us. You are welcome."

"I thank you for your goodwill. Melset out."

At the time agreed on, she went to the Bajoran's quarters. Sitesch opened at once, greeted her and, much to her surprise, asked her in. "Vedek Serad has told me that you want passage to Bajor. There is no problem; I have four free places."

"I can pay in Bajoran currency."

The Bajoran shook his head in refusal, "Remember Loris' cell? We still owe you a favour. You could have seen to our group's elimination in exchange for a pardon. If you insist on paying for the trip, supervise transmissions."

She looked at him closely then recognized him; he had repeatedly come to Nevaris Village, but she did not know his name at the time. "It is good to see that you came out of the Occupation alive."

His answer was amusement. "In two days, then."


Back in her quarters, she settled down at her annex, reading the reports, Help is coming in on a regular basis, but we require more heavy equipment to eliminate the debris prior to starting a rebuilding programme. Various departments had to be reorganized, but Garak was in place, had established or renewed contacts, seen to 'making the militaries finally do some real work' as he expressed it. Most likely he was already involved in clandestinely overseeing the repartition of assistance. I will have to contact him tomorrow, as early as possible.

She did not realize just how much time had passed when her doorbell activated. "Enter."

It was Major Andrews. "I can see that everything is being taken care of. Is it true you are going to Bajor tomorrow?"

"Yes. When I return, I shall take up my duties at once."

"As if you haven't been doing so all all the while! You even come in at night, and don't try to deny it. Remosi has incriminating evidence; can you people ever make use of the slightest cover! You Cardassians," he shrugged in mock exasperation, "You have a remarkable capacity for work, but have a tendency to forget that even you need downtime."

She recognized what he really meant and replied, "I understand what you want to say. But all of us have to do our utmost until conditions have improved."

During transit, she had hardly any contact with the few Bajora who were on their way home; remarkably, they did not show overt resentment. Apparently Sitesch had informed them. Melset had not expected this; after the Occupation and after Dukat's fortunately unsuccessful attempt at retaking Bajor her people were viewed with hatred.

"We have arrived. Proceed to beamdown."

At arriving, she was nearly in the same place she had been left at the beginning of her first tour of duty. The village had grown slightly; the buildings were different, but the area itself unchanged, as beautiful as she recalled it. We only take what we need, not more, unless no harm is to be feared to the whole...

Two male Bajorans, Arna and Rendon, came to meet her. It was Rendon who addressed her, "Vedek Serad is waiting. He told us you wished to speak to him and considers it best for the heads of the families of our village to be present as well."

As they walked towards one of the houses she wondered how she would be received, whether her proposal would be accepted, then inquired, "Are you all well, and your area untouched by the past war?"

"We were more fortunate than the first time." Arna said, "At withdrawal, shortly after you were retaken, our village was attacked, destroyed; we lost a number of friends, had to rebuild each single house, even our shrine." Arna's voice was bitter, "I wonder why Cardassia was so determined to lay waste to everything we had managed to preserve throughout those six decades."

"Revenge. You resisted us throughout fifty years; as soon as one of your children could hold a phaser or even throw a stone, he joined the fight. Remember little Andyra and his skill with flat stones? To be forced from this planet because suppressing you, a primitive, superstitious people, as we were told, cost too much in terms of manpower and resources was a humiliation for our militaries."

"And now, your people are experiencing the humiliation of having lost all the power you once had, even your subsistence. In essence, you are now dependent on the charity and support of the very peoples you once considered inferior."

"Indeed. We could have remained a member of the Dominion, but my brother, and many others realized we would be absorbed into an Empire making us but an element of a greater whole, rather than forming true alliances as does the Federation or as we did. Better the present situation than what the Dominion had in store for us, hard as it will be to rebuild."

With that they arrived. Serad's greeting was friendly, but with an undercurrent of suspicion. Many remember me, yet fear I plan to misuse their trust. We did join the Dominion, and Dukat fought against the Emissary himself, tried to free the Pagh-Wraiths from the Fire Caves, hoping to destroy Bajor in the process ... She gave him the traditional greeting.

"Come. All are present, you can begin at once, if you wish. Afterwards, feel free to stay with us, no matter what the decision. Sitesch will not be returning to Deep Space 9 before tomorrow evening; you are welcome and may enjoy meeting some of the people you still remember. When Vedek Yarim contacted us, it was hard to believe you were alive. That phaser beam impacted very close to you and Yokim saw two soldiers drag you into that shuttle."

"Upon my return I was interrogated and re-educated. Central Command judged that, if I had survived you, I could cooperate with other offworlders, gain their trust. With you though, it was different. I realized the information I had about you being a primitive, violent populace was but propaganda to keep us from questioning policy. But I had to keep this knowledge to myself."

With that, they entered the main room; a number of villagers she had known were gathered, waiting.

"Most of you will remember Melset Iníki. She contacted me two days ago, asking for a meeting. I ask you to listen. There will be time enough for questions later." Serad nodded at her.

She looked around, made eye contact, then adopted the Bajoran posture of a supplicant, "Years ago, you showed compassion, protected me, a member of the occupying forces, and let me live, in spite of what I was and am. For that I will always be grateful." She waited a few moments before continuing. "Now our cities and colonies have been destroyed, everything we knew and loved ruined, entire families eradicated. It will take generations to recreate even a shadow of what our culture used to be. The Cardassia you remember, the Cardassia of vipers who brought only destruction is gone and will not return." If Dejar heard this, she would execute me on the spot ... "On Cardassia the organizers and I, some militaries who took part in the revolt against the Dominion, some humans, and two Bajora who worked together with me on Earth are establishing a recovery plan." She felt Serad touch her arm.

"Let me interrupt, Iníki. I have not told the others about this yet." He turned to the villagers, "Vedek Yarim belongs to my order; he knows about Melset's time with us and what has happened since. He contacted me some days ago to state she is trustworthy." He nodded at her to continue.

"We relied upon mechanized farming throughout many generations, aquaculture, replicators, forgot the old methods, lost contact with the land. Now, not even records are left. I have come to ask whether any of you know Cardassian war orphans who would be willing to return home permanently or stay with us for a cycle of seasons to instruct us. A lifetime of experience is needed to do what you are doing, but we, we have to start relearning at some point. They would be hosted by the people of Kelan-Lesana Province. "

Unlike Cardassians, who would have begun asking a multitude of questions, the Bajorans only looked at her in silence.

"As yet, we have nothing to offer in exchange, except for samples of some crops which may be unknown to you, but these crops grow very quickly, have a wide range of nutrients both our peoples need, yet do not exhaust the soil." Her voice became soft, "I am grateful for permission to come and speak to you directly, whatever your decision." With that, she sat down on one of the benches set up along the wall and waited quietly, resignedly.

Everyone remembered the Occupation when Faisol asked. "Who would see to their safety? Some will not react kindly to the fact that these young people behave like we do, and worship the Prophets."

"How many Cardassians still consider us became clear when Deep Space 9 was reoccupied, fortunately the Vorta saw to our protection." Sanye said resentfully. "They wanted to return to the old ways."

"I know, and wish it had been different. My brother, regrettably enough, was one of them, even though he valued Kira's skills in the revolt against the Dominion. And yet, he was not evil, we were raised to believe in our superiority."

She then described what she was planning. "The province where I was born, Kelan Province, was mainly agricultural in the days of the great Empire, as were its neighbouring provinces; this should be the case again. My parents and many survivors of our ethnicity have returned there to do their part in recreating Cardassia. The orphans left behind would be welcome. I can give you my word that they will be safe."

Further details were discussed before the meeting ended. Melset went out together with the Arna family. The atmosphere was much different; the constant fear of raiding parties gone, so that the villagers were animated, reminiscing on past events, making plans beyond the next harvest; the ever-present fear typical of the Occupation was over.

Andyra asked, "What will do you upon returning?"

"Work for reconstruction in this part of the quadrant with my colleagues. After the Defeat, Commander Chandler released me from my contract with SFCCEI and gave me one with SFHS to coordinate assistance to worlds touched by the war. On Cardassia, organizers have established groups who administer refugee camps, clear away debris, effect repairs …, hopefully, we will have at least a semblance of normality within a decade. Our cities are in ruins, over a third of our population dead, if not more, but all of us are working for our future."

"Like it was for us, over eight years ago. We cannot forget what happened during the occupation, although our precept of forgiving is important. Labour camps, massacres, torture… remember Loris' cell? Abductions ... You knew what was being done and recognized it was wrong. Remember what was done to you. When Kenin and Syvan brought you in, we did not expect you to survive. What kind of people abuse someone for recognizing injustice and evil, and suggesting changes in policy?" Rendon shook his head. "I wanted to eliminate you as I believed that you were a spy sent to destroy us."

For a moment, Melset realized she was thoroughly tired of the fiction the Order had invented. "I remember. Questioning the methods of dealing with conquered peoples was seen as subversive and whoever did so put on trial." Melset added, "And now? I was called a traitor because Bajorans and Terrans are involved in aid."

A day later, Sitesch notified Melset that he would leave for Deep Space 9 that evening; Arna Yokim and Kenin had been chosen to speak for their peers and addressed her.

"Iníki, if I may still call you by your given name, I have spoken to various villagers. We will inquire about Cardassian orphans raised here who would be willing to return home, to your Province."

Melset nodded, remained silent.

Yokim looked at her for some time, he hated Cardassians, but in spite of accepting that some were different, he reacted like his fellows. "I hope the plan will be a success, but in case we meet with refusal, remember: Bajor has sent your people the Federation replicators Gul Dukat gave us; Vedek Serad's order established a depot. He did not tell you about the strong opposition he encountered."

"I understand. Your help, both the supplies and the replicators is generous indeed. Hopefully we can welcome some returnees. As to our respective peoples, it will take generations to overcome the past." She rose to leave. "In one or two years you will get samples of the crop I described, my own thanks for your help." Melset could not understand what made her say, "It may be offensive for one of us to use a phrase which means so much to you, but 'May the Prophets guide you.' Thank you for receiving me."

Arna Yokim replied, "Remember, you are welcome at any time."

"I will make use of your offer once the situation has normalized."

With that, she touched her wrist communicator and seconds later materialized on Sitesch's shuttle.

She spent the return trip sketching procedures in case her proposal found acceptance.

Curious about what had happened, Sitesch went to her cabin to ask about the results, which she told him readily enough.

The Bajoran commented, "That plan will be more successful than either you or Garak expect. We integrated these children and young people as we had no other choice, yet they do not feel they belong. They are Bajoran in their paghs, but are always reminded of their heritage, hate what they see reflected in mirrors, in a shiny surface. Torn apart, that is what they are. If they are given the chance to return, they will help you heal and, at the same time, heal themselves."

With that, he took leave of the Cardassian to return to shipboard duties….


Immediately upon arrival, she went to the office of SFHS and contacted Garak.

"I have been on Bajor. The result is the following: Vedek Serad and the heads of the families will contact Cardassian war orphans, offer them the chance to come home. They, together with some of our survivors who have basic knowledge can initiate the first efforts; in essence, we need only reduce the scope of operations, then expand agriculture parallel to rebuilding and re-establishing infrastructure. Perhaps we should contact Federation specialists."

"I have done just that. A group of roughly four hundred of our people, all Kelani, by the way, have gone to Lesana-Kelan Province with a team of specialists to take soil samples for analysis, then select the appropriate crops. It will be experimental as yet, but in about a year, we should see first results.

They have decided to settle there, as have I. SFHS has already received further information: we now have three commlinks powerful enough to send subspace messages, which arrived after you left for Deep Space 9." Garak smiled at her, "I have something else to tell you. Your Vedek contacted me only minutes ago to say that his first inquiries seem promising."

"It may still be some time before we can let them return. Housing is needed, families found to help them readapt. … A year would be realistic." Melset suddenly realized what he had said. Garak has decided to settle there? But Loo'Wess is his home. Wait a minute…he said 'our people, all Kelani'

She was pulled out of her thoughts when Garak continued.

"All the better; they can prepare for what they will encounter, start relearning Cardasi. If they know only Bajoran, distrust will be stronger." On the screen, Melset saw Garak reach for a padd which a young assistant had given him. "There is one more element before I end communications. We have managed to contact a few former members of Detapa, and ten of the camps have already elected spokespersons. Within four months provincial governments should be established."

"Professor Lang?"

"She has been chosen to lead; Lang is best suited for what we are facing now. Our strict structures and hierarchies have no more place; flexibility is what we need at present."

For a moment, Melset was suspicious. Evidently there is something you do not wish to tell me just yet. "Her reputation as a dissident will make non-Cardassian unions more willing to negotiate with the provisional government."

"In fact, she already is doing so, with a representative of the UFP." Garak made a small gesture Melset recognized as a pretence of exasperation. "And most successfully, too."

"I will be in contact with you tomorrow at this time. My duties are waiting for me in SFHS. Melset out." She remained in her quarters for some time, then got up to look out of the viewport before going to SFHS. At least there is finally some reason for hope.