Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The Honored
by Gabrelle Lawson

Chapter Two

Odo sat alone in his quarters, feeling himself dripping down his face. He needed to rest, but he felt no reason to do so. He had no will to change, to move, to live. Nerys was gone. Over and over, he played the recording, a copy he'd made from the logs Sisko had found. Bashir went down and then she was thrown over to him. The shot came from behind and she crumpled over the dead doctor. Dead. Gone. Taken by a Founder, one of his own people. What was life now without her? There was nothing left. Not among the Solids, not in the Link. Nothing. He was alone.

"Odo?" It was a familiar voice, one which Odo didn't want to hear just now. "Odo? I know you're there, Pally," it said. "I heard what happened. Figured you could use a shoulder to cry on. Why don't you come over? I can't come there."

"Go away, Vic," Odo finally answered, forcing himself to form the vocal cords that gave him voice. "I don't feel like talking."

"I figured as much," the singer said, still a disembodied voice over the comm system. "I figured you're sittin' on the floor contemplating your emptiness and melting all over the carpet. You need to talk to someone, Pally. It doesn't have to be me."

"Who is there left?" Odo asked. "Nerys is gone."

"So is Julian," Vic said, his voice sad. "I rather liked the kid. He was having a rather tough time of things. I hope he's getting some rest now."

"Who needs to talk?" Odo shot at him, angry now. "Me or you?"

"Whoa there, Pal," Vic said. "No need to yell at me. Why don't you do yourself a favor and turn in for the night? I'll still be here when you need to come by." The comm channel closed with a click and Vic was gone. Silence filled the room again, and Odo wished Vic's voice would come back. A tear fell from his eye and reverted into the golden color of his natural form. He couldn't hold it anymore. Following the tear, he sunk to the floor, spreading out over the carpet. He didn't know if he'd ever get up again.

Nodgarin was a sparkling mountain, inlaid with lights or jewels, standing tall against the red and furious sky. "We must stop here and continue on foot," Tarlingen stated, breaking the silence that had filled the car.

Kira had to force her eyes from the mountain and back to the comparative plainness of the transport. Tarlingen stepped into the next car, presumably to give orders to the others who were carrying the supplies.

"How can something be so beautiful and so ugly at the same time?" Bashir asked her.

"You mean our liaison?" Kira asked.

He shook his head. "Her, the planet, that mountain out there." He pointed out the window where a village was taking shape at the foot of the mountain. "I don't know whether to be fascinated or horrified."

"I know what you mean," Kira said. "You think you find something understandable and then something different comes out to blow it all away."

The transport slowed and Tarlingen returned. "You'll need to cover again. The sun still shines." She led them outside again into the village. A crowd had gathered, but their attention was not on the newcomers, but on a scaffolding not far from the transport.

"What's going on?" Bashir asked, as Tarlingen led them in that direction.

"I do not know." She stepped up to the crowd, but it didn't part. "Chishot!" she barked. Heads turned, and taking in her black cloak, they bowed and moved away, allowing passage.

Kira could see now the commotion and it froze her steps. The face was purplish, the eyes the same reflective white. He was Gidari, but the features of the face were very human. "Maylon," Bashir breathed beside her.

"Julian!" the Gidari called. "So they got you, too? I don't get it. I left you for dead."

"Silence!" another figure in black ordered, pulling back on Maylon's silver hair. "You may not speak to the Honored." Maylon, whose hands were tied behind him, snarled in pain, but the man seemed not to care. "Forgive Honored," he pleaded to Bashir. "He will trouble you no more."

Bashir seemed at a loss. Tarlingen, impatient that they had stopped, walked back to them and whispered, "Forgive. We haven't time for this."

"I knew him," Bashir said. "What are they doing to him?"

"You do not know him," Tarlingen retorted. "He is not the one you remember. He is Harglin Nastrof the Younger. He has taken Life." She spat at the ground at the foot of Nastrof's platform. "His Life will be taken."

Bashir continued to stare. "How?" he found himself asking.

"Forgive and let us go," Tarlingen ordered quietly. "It is not your Purpose."

Still staring at the Gidari on the platform, Bashir nodded. Kira turned back to the platform. The Gidari there—the executioner, she guessed—bowed and then raised Nastrof's hands behind him and secured them to a post there. He stepped back and off the platform, which was removed by two others on the ground. Nastrof screamed as his body weight pulled him down, but his hands, secured to the post, stopped his fall. He continued to writhe and groan after the initial fall. His shoulders snapped and he fell again, but only as far as his arms would allow. Bashir, beside her, turned away. "It is done," Tarlingen said, impatient. "Let us go."

But it wasn't done. Kira could still hear the man as they passed the crowd and moved farther into the village. If she turned her head, she could see him wriggling there, shaking from pain, as he hung above the people who watched and shook their fists at him. He started screaming again, and it was a long time before Kira couldn't hear or imagine his suffering. Bashir didn't say another word.

Finally, the sound was left behind and little buildings lined busy streets around her. Little Purple-faced children ran around, chasing each other and a small reptilian animal, which squawked in excitement. All parted in front of Tarlingen though, obviously aware of her station. Some of the older children bowed in respect. All the adults did. A plaza was up ahead, with an ornate fountain, depicting a battle, with an oversized Gidari woman in the center. "We enter Nodgarin," Tarlingen said. "We must drink of the water."

She stepped up to the edge of the fountain, and Kira and Bashir followed just behind her. Tarlingen slipped off one glove, and dipped her hand into the water, which dripped like blood past her fingers. Red, like the sky. She jumped back, extending her hands out to either side of her to guard her charges. "Farsinglot!" she yelled. Runners came from all around the plaza toward the fountain. They carried spears with them. Kira strained against the arm at her waist to see what had caused the alarm.

The wall of the fountain was just below waist-high, and she could see over the edge into the dark red water. Strange fish were serenely swimming there, with heads made mostly of huge, ghostly, translucent teeth. But there was one thrashing about, forcing the surface of the water into turbulent waves. There was something covering its head, something black, but Kira could not make it out through the fish's convulsions. The runners were apparently familiar with it, however, and they jumped up onto the wall, their spears held ready. They were mostly men, but Kira noted a few women among them. Gender was not always a determiner of station or status, Kira decided. One of the men yelled something unintelligible and thrust his spear into the water.

The water fought back. Or the fish did. Or the thing which had the fish. Kira couldn't tell, but the man struggled to keep his footing as the spear twitched and spun. Finally he fell right over into the water. There was a collective gasp of alarm among the others, who kept their spears at the ready. It was a deep pool, judging from the fact that he fell all the way in, pulled down by the constant grip he held on the spear. Finally, he faded from view altogether, and Kira was amazed that the thing—whatever it was that had a hold of that fish—had been able to kill a man. It couldn't have been more than a dozen centimeters across.

A dark shadow moved somewhere near the bottom of the pool. It rose and formed slowly into the figure of a man, silver hair catching the light that filtered in through the water. He reached a hand up and was caught by one of the others, one of the women. She pulled, jumping down from the wall, and the man came up, dripping water from his face, but smiling. He got his footing and sat on the wall with his feet still dangling among the startled fish. He lifted his other arm. The spear came up with it. It was broken in the middle, but it held the black thing on the end of it. He held it up for the others to see. "Farsinglot!" he cried in triumph.

"It's a waterbug," Bashir said, as surprised as she was. And it was. It had six gangly, clawed legs radiating from a thick black torso. At one end was a head with no feature so promenent as its angled fangs. It was a waterbug, but apparently a vicious one.

"One thing you learn on Gidar," Tarlingen said, with a hint of smile. She and the other Gidari around the fountain bent down to kneel on one knee, with the left leg placed on the ground perpendicular to the right foot. She stood. "Never drink with a 'waterbug.'" She waited for the man to exit the pool, before standing up to dip her hand in again. "Drink," she told them.

Bashir shrugged. "I guess it can't hurt us," he said. But he didn't remove his glove. He dipped his hand in, lifting the edge of his hood with the other hand so that he could drink the water.

Kira took a deep breath. There were fish in the water. She could deal with that, she told herself. She had drunk from rivers and streams during the Occupation. But a man had just been in the pool. He had just killed one of those bugs in the pool. And she hadn't had to drink from a river or stream in six years. It wasn't her idea of refreshment now. Still, she didn't think it worth a scene. She followed Bashir's example.

The water was cool and surprisingly sweet. Tarlingen was already moving off, toward the tall mountain. Bashir followed, and Kira followed him.

Every building they passed poured forth people who stared at the "Honored." They just stood, staring, whispering to each other, until Tarlingen and the entourage came up even with them. They bowed then, like a long, moving line, a caterpillar moving. The bows flowed up the road, past the buildings, toward the mountain. But Kira was struck more by which bow. It was not the one that beige-cloaked Gidari gave in deference to Tarlingen. It was the one that Tarlingen gave in deference to the her and Bashir: the Honored.

The village was a small one and was behind them in minutes. Still, Gidari lined their way, though in admittedly lessening numbers. The mountain loomed ahead, growing larger at every pace. Kira scanned it, looking for a grand palace, shining spires, tall towers perhaps. But all she saw were trees and rocks and snow. At least she thought it was snow. It was red like the water in the pool. Oh, and there was the sparkle that seemed to have no source.

At the base of the mountain, she saw a cave. Tarlingen stopped before the entrance and told the others to leave the supplies. From the inner darkness of the cave, twenty new Gidari arrived, each in the black cloak that Tarlingen wore. They picked up the supplies and carried them inside, disappearing into the darkness where the sunlight didn't reach.

"The way is sacred," Tarlingen warned, "and there is no light." She pulled a cord from her sleeve and passed one end to Bashir. "Take hold, lest you become lost within." The cord was too short to pass on to Kira, so Bashir held out his hand to her.

Tarlingen nodded, apparently feeling this adequate. Kira had not been inside a cave for several years, but the memories came back to her easily. A cave was safety at the same time it was risk. It offered shelter, but threatened confusion. One could easily get lost, just as Tarlingen said. There were jagged rocks hiding in the darkness. But those same risks kept the enemy or an intruder at bay.

As the last of the daylight left her behind, Kira felt the darkness close around her. Literally. She could feel it. She remembered that, too. At times, it had been a comfort, a refuge from the ugliness of life made visible by the light. At other times, it had been a curse. Now, she wasn't sure how it felt, only that she felt it. Bashir felt it, too, it seemed. His fingers tightened around hers.

Ezri Dax sat at the bar at Quark's and waited for Quark to settle down. He was busily bobbing from one customer to another. Leeta saw her though, from the Promenade, and entered just as Quark put his tray down and met her at the bar. "What can I do for you, Lieutenant?" he asked, tactfully dropping his usual smarminess.

"You can toast with me, Quark," she told him. "To Julian and Nerys."

"Me, too," Leeta said, sitting down beside her. "If you don't mind."

Ezri looked over at her and smiled. Leeta had no reason to be nervous about asking. She had been a friend of Jadzia's before Ezri knew her. And she and Julian had been involved before she'd married Rom. "Of course," Ezri told her. "They were your friends, too."

Quark set three glasses on the bar and filled them. "I've said it before about Bashir," he said. "He was a good customer."

Ezri raised her glass to that, knowing it was high praise from a Ferengi. "And Nerys."

"A woman, all the way," he added. "She would stand up to anything. I admired her."

It was rare to hear Quark speak so sincerely; one could almost forget he was a Ferengi. "I did, too," Ezri added.

"She was strong," Leeta agreed. "But also kind and sensitive. She had a heart."

Ezri raised her glass again. "Julian had the biggest heart of anyone I'd ever met."

"And he didn't even know it," Leeta added. "He was special."

Quark raised his own glass. "They both were."

Ezri sat with them for perhaps another hour and then left Leeta to Rom and Quark to his customers. She wanted to be alone. She wandered the Promenade past the Infirmary and the temple. She paused for a moment there in the door. She remembered Julian's face looking down at her—at Jadzia. He was worried and busy, but she could see the hurt in his eyes. He knew from the moment he saw the readings on the tricorder that he would lose her. And it hurt him. She remembered. And now she felt it herself. Seeing him in her mind's eye, she was looking over him as he died, as he had looked over her. She had lost so many people, now that she was Dax and not just Ezri. But the pain was always so hard, each time. It never got easier.

Darkness. He'd had darkness before. It both unsettled him and calmed him. He'd been in cave before. Several, in fact. And then there was the cell—the dark cell in the bunker of Block 11. He'd called the cell his refuge. And it was. But it was also a place of pain and death. If the door hadn't opened every few hours, he would have suffocated. The air stifled him. He felt that again now.

He couldn't see Tarlingen anymore. He couldn't see anything.

Remembering his agreement with Kira, he forced his mind to concentrate on the path he couldn't see. It was easier than focusing on the memories. They had gone straight in from the entrance which had been wide and open. It was there that he heard a faint roaring, the echo of water falling in another area of the cave. He wished now he'd removed the hood, but he knew it would do little good. Absolute darkness was absolute. Only light could let him see, and they left the light behind at the entrance of the cave. Tarlingen, linked to him by the cord, had moved farther to the left without turning, perhaps indicating a narrowing of the path. That was about twenty meters ago, and the rushing sound diminished with every step. Now the cord pulled him to right. His head hit something. Hard. But it didn't hurt. He did, however, drop the cord. He couldn't help it. Tarlingen was shorter than he was and probably went right under whatever it was, but he had hit it. When she kept going, the cord was pulled from his hand. He didn't move. It was safer to stay put.

"Are you alright?" Kira asked, having apparently heard the impact that Bashir had barely felt.

"Didn't even feel it," Bashir told her. "However, we've lost our guide."

"Forgive," Tarlingen's voice came out of the darkness. "I forgot your height." A short rod of blue light appeared, casting a soft glow on the completely flat walls of the cave. He couldn't see her, but he could see her hand. She held the cord again. "Please, we must hurry."

The light winked out as he took hold of the cord. The cord immediately became taught. Bashir ducked, hoping to clear the low ceiling, and was pulled along. In turn, he pulled Kira along with him. They turned left after another ten meters. The floor began to slope upward in a steady fifteen-degree angle. Sixty-five meters and then left again. Then right, almost immediately. They continued on like that for perhaps an hour—or a Glif—turning this way and that and this way again. Every once in awhile, he'd feel a breeze from a connecting pathway, but no light ever permeated the darkness allowing him to see it. It must be a maze, he thought. But Tarlingen's pace never wavered. She knew the way by heart. He would, too, by the time they arrived at their destination. There were times that being genetically enhanced became a distinct advantage.

When the light finally opened up on them, it was the white artificial light that he was used to back home on the station. It strained his eyes, making him glad for the hood. Tarlingen stopped, perhaps to allow their eyes time to adjust. They were in a hallway. But it was more than that. The ceiling was four stories above his head, and ornate railings at every level looked down on the new arrivals. The hallway was perhaps a hundred meters long, with no visible connecting corridors to break it up. He could see doors at the end of the hall. Two doors, as tall as the ceiling and carved with gold inlays, though he couldn't make out any images or symbols from that distance.

Tarlingen had taken the cord already, as it was no longer needed. But Bashir didn't feel like letting go of Kira's hand just yet. Still, it might be taken for weakness, and this did not look like a place for weakness. He dropped the colonel's hand.

"May we," Kira asked, and she paused for just a second, "'uncover' now?"

"No," Tarlingen answered, replacing her own hood. "We go before the Leader. All must remain covered." She took a breath, and Bashir thought perhaps she was nervous. "When we are in the Chamber, you must remain silent. Answer if you are spoken to, but be brief and respectful. Follow me and repeat my movements. This is very important. Life and Death reside together in the Chamber."

She dropped her head and dusted off her cloak. Then she looked from her own feet to those of her guests. Bashir looked down, too. Dust—strangely, not mud—covered his boots. "From here," Tarlingen indicated, slipping her right hand beneath the left lapel of her cloak. Bashir reached inside his own cloak and found several pockets there. Tarlingen drew out a silvery cloth, so he felt in each pocket for something similar.

Kira found the cloth as well, and so they all three knelt down to dust off their boots.

"Your head," Tarlingen reminded, and Bashir remembered that he'd run into the ceiling earlier. But, of course, he couldn't see if there was dust there or not.

"I'll get it," Kira offered. With one hand she held the front edge of his hood down as she dusted with the other.

Tarlingen stood and replaced the cloth with ease. It took Bashir slightly longer to find the correct pocket again. The Gidari looked over her charges carefully, and Bashir began to believe her about Life and Death—though the threat was weak as he was already dead. Finally satisfied, Tarlingen gestured that they should follow her down the long hallway. He glanced upward as they walked and noted that now the railings weren't the only things looking down on them. Blue faces and white eyes peered at them from above. Most were Liytners, he surmised, as they wore the black as Tarlingen. Some wore a combination of red and black. All looked on with interest, but did not appear very surprised.

The doors were huge, and the engravings were of the mountain and the world beyond it. The gold accented the sparkle of the mountain, the rays of sunlight, the streams of water. It was beautiful. But there were also figures in black etched into the doors that Bashir hadn't seen from farther back. These were predators and dangers: storm clouds and shadows hiding among the trees. Life and Death together. Two black and red cloaked Gidari stood at the door handles, with long, bladed staffs held at the ready.

Tarlingen stopped about twenty feet back and turned around to face her guests. "When we march," she said, sounding like a teacher, "we either make sound," she demonstrated by stamping a foot, "or we do not." She picked up one foot and took one step forward, her toe touching down before the heel. It looked very much like a horse prancing, but it made no sound-at all. "In the Chamber," she continued, "we want silence.

"Our hands," she held up her hands allowing her sleeves to fall down around her elbows, "must also be placed with care." She turned her palms inward and crossed her hands until the thumbs caught on each other. Then she lowered her hands, so that they lined up evenly with her forearms, which remained straight across her torso. Bashir looked to Kira and then repeated the movements. Tarlingen nodded her approval. "Now, beneath the cloak." She dropped her hands, and her sleeves fell down again. She raised them quickly, following the same movements to cross her hands beneath the sleeves. She waited for Bashir and Kira to get it right and then nodded again. "We do this only as the door is fully open. Once in the Chamber, we will stand. You will see from me how to stand."

She turned sharply, a correct about face. More teaching, Bashir thought, but he already knew that one from the Academy. He hoped Kira had been paying attention. Tarlingen stepped forward, now stopping only five feet before the doors. She stood at attention, arms to her sides, as the two attendants turned to open the massive doors. Bashir watched her arms. They didn't move until the doors were directly perpendicular to the walls that held them. He snapped his hands up just when she did, folding them perfectly beneath the sleeves of his cloak.

She pranced, he pranced. Kira kept in step just to his left, and the three of them entered the room. It was more impressive even than the hallway or the four storey doors. The room gleamed with gold and silver. Weapons hung from the walls, alternating with religious or cultural symbols. A long carpet lay across the floor connecting the doors to the throne at the far end. There was no other furniture on the main floor. The throne itself was oversized and raised on another level, perhaps a full meter above the floor. There was no sound, and no one sat upon the throne, as Bashir had expected. In fact, it appeared that the three of them were alone in the great chamber.

Tarlingen stopped five meters in front of the throne. Bashir stopped behind her, and waited. Tarlingen didn't move, so neither did he.

And then she came. The Leader stepped through the back wall, though Bashir didn't see it happen. "Lower your head," Tarlingen whispered urgently. Bashir did as he was told. He could just see the Leader's booted feet from under his eyelids. They came to the front of the throne and then stood still. There was still no sound.

Tarlingen bowed, slowly so that Bashir and Kira could see her movements. Her arms crossed so that the backs of her fingertips touched each other, then her arms swept backward as with all the other bows. This time, she put her right leg back, taking her bow lower as she dipped her head. She waited for Kira and Bashir to execute the bow and then stood again. This time she widened her stance and placed her hands behind her back, though she held them a little ways out from her body. The tips of her thumbs and pinkies met each other.

"What is this?!" a voice thundered. But it wasn't one voice. It was three, in harmony, though somewhat discordant with anger. "Where is the Healer?"

Tarlingen moved one of her hands in an unmistakable signal for he and Kira to remain standing. But she bowed again, this time sitting back on her back leg and folding herself even closer to the floor. "Forgive," she begged, and her voice shook. "He is here, Leader. He has been Honored."

The Leader didn't tell Tarlingen to rise, so she stayed put. But the Leader moved. She stepped down from her platform, and Bashir could still only see her waist without looking up. She stood in front of him. "Why?"

"Our enemy took his Life, Leader," Tarlingen explained, "as he has tried to take yours."

The Leader's three voices were quiet, the anger forgotten, when she spoke again. "And the female?"

"She was with the Healer," Tarlingen replied, a little more confident. "She was mistaken for his Other."

The Leader turned sharply, and Bashir felt the brush of wind from her robes as they whipped around with her. "Why?"

"Leader?" Tarlingen's voice shook. So did her hands. Her arms were tiring.

"We ask the Healer," the Leader said. "Rise. Answer, Healer. Why was your Life taken from you?"

Tarlingen sighed and rose. Bashir wasn't quite sure how to respond. He preferred not concentrating too hard on the fact that he was dead. But Tarlingen had said to answer if he was spoken to. "The Dom—the Enemy is angry with me." Bashir offered, preferring not to risk elaborating unless it was necessary.

She came back around to face him, though that still did not put them eye to eye. "Why you? The Enemy is at war with all your people and more. Why you?"

"I was their prisoner," Bashir answered, trying to see the Dominion's side, and not enjoying it, "but I escaped. Twice. They tried to kill me before, but I survived. They tried to take my mind, but I kept it. I tried their patience."

"And you?" the Leader asked with a swish of her robes as she turned to Kira. "Was the Enemy angry with you?"

"It is possible," Kira replied. "I have killed a Founder and fought against them. But my life was taken only because I was there when they took his."

"Are you angry with him? His death caused yours."

"No." Kira's voice was soft, but sure. "I am not angry with him."

The Leader was silent and she walked away. She stepped back up on the platform and stopped just in front of her throne. "Look at us," she commanded.

Bashir lifted his head, expecting to see her face, but he only saw her torso. He raised his head more and was shocked at her height. She was perhaps twice as tall as the other Gidari he'd seen. She was unhooded and uncloaked. She wore instead gold and jewels and shining robes of red and purple silk. But her face drew his attention. Lesions. Ugly, black, starfish-shaped lesions marred the natural beauty of her Gidari face. It was the Blight. And he'd been unable to save Ekoria from it. How was he to save this woman?

"Take them to their chambers," the Leader sang. "Bring the Healer to me in half a Glif. There is much to be done." She turned and her robes flipped around her long legs. Tarlingen bowed again, and Bashir repeated her movements. They waited until the Leader was gone, fading back through the wall behind her throne. Then they turned and marched silently out again. Only when the massive doors closed again did Tarlingen relax her shoulders. "You did well," she breathed, obviously relieved. She pulled something from inside her cloak and handed it to him. "I will show you to your chambers. You can work there."

"I'm sorry for your loss, Benjamin," Admiral Nechayev stated. "I know you counted Bashir a friend. He was a damn fine doctor. And Kira. She meant a lot to you, too. Started out rocky, but you two made a good team."

Captain Sisko nodded. "Thank you. I've notified Julian's family and the Bajoran government. They're sending a new liaison officer. We'll need a new doctor."

"Of course," the Admiral replied. "I'm also sorry they didn't reach that Outpost. Bashir was needed there."

"The Dominion apparently didn't care," Sisko said, a little angry.

"I wasn't blaming Bashir. Without that aid, however, dozens of the colonists were lost. Still, the war doesn't stop for them or for your people. Keep up the good fight, Captain. We need you there."

"Of course, Admiral," Sisko replied, letting the anger go. It was a tragedy all the way around. But the war wouldn't stop and he was damn sure he'd make the Dominion pay the next time they met.

Once the door to their chambers closed, Bashir started to relax, but only a little. He and Kira were alone, but they were alone on an alien world in an alien palace. And the aliens expected so much of him. He stopped just inside the door and watched Kira as she moved about the room. She moved like a cat, exploring every wall and space. She pulled off the hood as she checked one of the cargo containers.

"It's definitely the Blight," he told her, removing his own hood and examining the device Tarlingen had given him. "It took me months to find a vaccine on Teplan Three. This is a completely different species and a completely different environment. It's impossible." The device was similar to a tricorder except bigger. There were two display screens. One contained symbols that he could only assume were Gidari writing. The other carried words in Standard. It was a translation device.

Kira stopped exploring and turned to face him. "That's not our main task."

Julian knew what she was getting at. "That looks impossible, too. We're in the middle of a mountain." He chose one of the crates and sat down on it. There was no furniture in the room beyond counter tops and computers.

Kira sat beside him. "I think you give up too easily. We still have a week. You'll be treating the Leader, maybe you can influence her."

"She's going to die," he reminded her.

"Not for awhile," Kira argued. "Besides, you just may find a cure. Don't sell yourself short. If we can help these people, we should try. They call the Dominion their enemy. Being their friend can't be a bad thing. So do your best while you're here. The question is what will I do while you're working with her. Maybe if I can get back out of the palace, I can find a way back to the port."


She looked over at him, a question in her eyes. "Of a sort," she said.

Bashir shook his head. "No, medically. If I'm going to have any chance at all, I'll need samples from outside. Plants, herbs, whatever might help." It was a long shot, but it could also be a jackpot. A completely different environment, just like he'd said. On Earth, countless medicines had been discovered in the rain forests. Things could be the same here. "It will get you out, let you spend time with our liaison. Maybe you can influence her. She's a Liytner. Apparently that means something."

Kira nodded and they sat quietly for a few minutes. Finally, Kira stood up. "We're wasting our glif or our half-glif or whatever. Where do you want to start?"

Bashir stood, too, and patted the crate he'd been sitting on. "Unpacking, I suppose. If you'll do that, I'll see what I can find in the Gidari medical database." He walked over to the largest of the computers and found that his translation device fit nicely into the console. Behind him, Kira set to work unloading things onto the counter.

When Tarlingen Nardek came for him, Bashir had barely had time to compare Gidari medications with familiar ones. A few were similar, and thanks to the translating device, he was beginning to get an idea of how they affected Gidari physiology. It was a start.

This time he was not taken to the throne room. It didn't seem appropriate for a medical examination anyway, so he wasn't surprised. The room he was led to turned out to be even more ornate, draped in silks and trimmed in gold. A guard had opened the door for him, and Tarlingen had remained in the hall. He went in alone.

The door closed behind him, and he couldn't see anyone else in the room. There were weapons here, too: swords and daggers and axes. But there were also symbols. Religious, Bashir supposed. There was a bed in the far corner and chairs nearer to him. They were oversized, like the throne. The bed alone was perhaps four meters long. He was in the Leader's living chambers.

He thought of calling out, but he didn't open his mouth. He didn't move from his spot by the door either. He was nervous, perhaps because of Tarlingen's fear of this woman. Life and Death, she had said. You're already dead, he reminded himself. It was a sobering thought, though it didn't remove all of his anxiety. The Leader still intimidated him.

Again, he thought of calling out but wondered if that would be a breach of protocol. Should he step farther inside? Surely, if she was here, she would have heard the door close.

"Come, Healer," he heard. Three voices in harmony.

He took a step and then another. He forgot protocol and merely walked. But when she stepped out from around a corner, he remembered himself and bowed as he had learned from Tarlingen in the throne room.

"Rise," she told him. "You learn quickly, Healer. That is good. But in this case, it is not practical."

That threw him off guard, though he did rise. She didn't sound nearly as imperious as she had in their earlier meeting. He didn't know what to say.

"We do not have many Glif, you and us," she continued. "I am sure that you did not wish to die. Neither do we. When we are not alone, you should bow and behave accordingly. But when we are alone, who is to see that you do not?"

He looked up at her. She was not dressed in splendid robes, but in a simple one. Her face was bare, and dark green, oozing lesions marred the beauty of her blue Gidari face. "No one," he answered.

She nodded. "You will need to look at us, to touch us. We sent for you even when you were an alien, knowing this. Now you are Honored. It matters less." With that, she sat down on the bed, which brought her to eye level with Bashir. "Please," she said, "help us."

Bashir felt his anxiety melt away. She was no longer intimidating. She was vulnerable, and she needed his help. She was his patient. He took out his tricorder and moved toward her.

The nurses and med-techs all gathered in the Infirmary. Jabara brought the wine and Reyna the cups. They took turns, each telling what they had thought of Dr. Bashir when he had first come to the station or when they had first started working with him. And then what they felt about him now, after half a dozen years with him as their doctor, their leader.

"He was young, and far too eager," Ilona said. "To him, this was 'frontier medicine,' while to us, this monstrosity of a station had been our oppressor. And a more technologically advance oppressor. It was the opposite of frontier to me. It was, is, a place to join the rest of the galaxy and yet, still remain Bajoran. And in time, I grew to love it here. It's still a monstrosity, but the Infirmary isn't. It's light and airy and comforting. And Dr. Bashir brought that, not just the equipment but the comforting. He had the best bedside manner of any doctor I ever worked with in the camps, that's for sure. He could be funny, or just so sincere. And he was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant."

"I remember the Gidari," Reyna said. "How scared I was when they took me. I hadn't been on the station very long. But I also remember how forceful he was in telling them to let me go. And they did. And he was gentle and sweet as he took care of me and gave me back my voice. I remember when they found him after the murderer had poisoned him. I was determined to do my part to make sure he lived, because he had done it for me."

"I've heard stories," Garrett, one of the med-techs said. "He has this voice. He can make anyone obey him. He got Odo to hold a neck wound and got his med-kit back from those warring tribes that had captured them. He just turns on that voice, and even enemies obey."

Some of the others laughed at that. "But he only used that superpower in a medical context. He never used it for evil."

Jabara laughed, too. She'd heard that voice once or twice. "I never knew him to do anything evil. Not once. Some doctors become jaded, and so much had happened that could have done that to him. But he never lost his compassion, his need to help. He was good man, and an even better doctor.

"No doubt they'll send us another one," she added. "And we'll resent them because they're not him. But we have to give them the same chance we gave that awkward, too eager, med school graduate that came here all those year ago. He grew on us, we grew on him. The new doctor deserves no less."

She held up her glass. "To Dr. Julian Bashir!" All the others raised their glasses and joined her toast. Some drifted on after that, but a few stayed and continued to share stories. Jabara cleaned up the glasses and the wine and made sure the Infirmary was tidy and ready for whatever need should arise. Bashir would have had it no other way.

Kira had waited for five minutes after Bashir left before she wandered out into the hall. She was met with stares, moreso now that she was unhooded. But they were respectful stares and anyone who came close enough bowed to her. "I need to speak with Liytner Tarlingen Nardek," she told one man, another who wore black.

"I will find her, Honored," he replied, bowing again.

Kira bowed back and the man scurried away. Liytner was a high rank, but Honored appeared to be higher. That might be useful in implementing an escape. She imagined Odo back on the station, mourning for her. He would be lost. He already felt so alone, cut off from his people. Now he would have only his work. Would that be enough for him? She remembered with a shudder his words to her when the female changeling had been aboard the station. It was something she tried not to think about, a mistake he said was past. But it troubled her now. Would he turn again away from the Federation without her there to hold him?

A voice disturbed her thoughts. "You asked for me?"

She turned to see Tarlingen standing behind her. She didn't bow, but Kira didn't mind. She was the liaison. She would have a lot of contact with her and Bashir. It would be pointless to bow every time. "Yes," Kira answered. "I'm not a Healer, but I want to help. I'm Honored, so I should have a purpose, too. Doctor Bashir wants me to gather plants, herbs, anything that might be of medicinal value."

Tarlingen nodded. "A wise desire," she said, "and a worthy Purpose. Gather what you need. I will take you out."

Tarlingen led her past a labyrinth of corridors and chambers before they finally emerged outside. Kira covered her head again before stepping out into the crimson sunlight. "Is it late?" she asked, looking at the darkening sky.

"It will not be dark for several more hours," Tarlingen explained. "We have time."

Kira had anticipated being taken out near the village, but instead they were high on the mountain, yet still below the tree line. She could see for miles where she stood, and she looked out over the valleys below. There were other mountains behind her, but the land was open in front of her. She could see a prairie of tall, orange grass and large animals roaming it. She couldn't make out any details but they had to be huge to be seen from that distance. A low, rumbling growl came to her ears, and she saw one of the animals attacking another. There were groves of trees and some of the animals fed on the highest leaves. She saw a flutter of movement, like a flame dancing along the grass.

"Darglin," Tarlingen's voice spoke softly from behind her. "They are the most regal of our world. Mighty hunters and yet, when they fly, they are full of grace and beauty."

"It's a bird?" Kira asked. Then she could see it, the points of fire were wings. Their color blended so well with the grass beneath that the bird was almost invisible. If she hadn't seen the movement, she would not have seen it at all.

"I believe that would be your equivalent, yes," Tarlingen answered, "though that does not sound very regal to my ears."

She sounded disappointed, which was not Kira's desired reaction. "It's magnificent," she added, hoping to convey her appreciation of the animal. It was magnificent. Perhaps Bashir had been right. Maybe they hadn't come here by choice, but getting to see Gidar was a 'bright side' she hadn't given much thought to until now. The planet was gorgeous, though alien in every way.

"Come," Tarlingen said, drawing her away and into the woods. "Follow me carefully. There are dangers. You may take samples from what you see. I will warn you if something is harmful."

Kira noted Tarlingen was armed with a spear, which, given her own Honored status, could only be assumed to be for protection. Considering the size of the animals out on the prairie, she wouldn't be surprised if protection were necessary.

It was still odd to her to see trees that weren't green. Leaves were only orange on Bajor during the autumn, but here it was apparently a more permanent sight. The weather was warm, and none of the leaves were falling, so Kira decided it was probably summer in this region of Gidar. There was a soft breeze blowing through the branches, and she heard the sounds of little creatures all around her. Tarlingen walked on confidently, though, so Kira assumed they hadn't run into any dangers yet. But she kept aware nonetheless. Dead or not, she didn't want her body damaged any more than it already was. As she walked she snapped off twigs and leaves and put them in the basket she carried. She took a snapshot with a Gidari device Bashir had translated, so that he could know where each sample had come from.

They went deeper into the woods, and Kira could just barely see the red beyond the orange above her. She had to push branches out of her way and watch her step in the undergrowth. Tarlingen stopped suddenly, and since Kira was watching her feet and not her companion, she nearly slammed into the Gidari. "Haftha," Tarlingen whispered, pointing to the trunk of a tree off to the right. Kira could now see the large insect there. "Might the Healer find it of use?"

"Possible," Kira whispered back. She had thought mostly about plants, but the thought of animals had not slipped her mind. She had several small bags with her, too. "Can you get it?"

"It would sting me," Tarlingen replied. "But you would not be harmed. Walk slowly, silently, and snatch it quickly."

Kira took a deep breath. She hadn't planned on catching animals with her bare hands. Okay, so she was wearing gloves, but that wasn't the point. She handed Tarlingen the basket and removed one small bag. She held it in her left hand and crept slowly toward the haftha. It was actually somewhat exhilarating, reminiscent of her days in the resistance. They would sometimes have to stalk and hunt animals for food. Though she usually didn't have to catch the animal by hand.

The haftha saw her but made no move to run off. It flicked its long tongue at her, and she forced herself to remember that she couldn't feel pain. Nothing to fear. She stepped closer. Arm's distance. The haftha lifted one of its legs and took a step up the tree. But it wasn't fast enough. Kira's arm snapped out and she caught the insect across the middle. It snaked its tongue out and grabbed at her with its sharp feet. She marveled at how she could feel the sensation of it holding on to her, but not the pain. She stuffed it into the bag and then pulled it off of her with her other hand.

"Well done," Tarlingen complimented. "Shall we continue on?"

It was clear as soon as he opened the tricorder. "You're a Trill!" he exclaimed, forgetting all about decorum and protocol.

She snapped her head around to him, but he didn't see anger in her white eyes. "We haven't heard that name for centuries. But we had not doubted that you would recognize the one within us."

Bashir wasn't quite sure where to go from there. His duty was to continue the examination, but his curiosity wanted to know more. Thankfully, he was equipped to do both. He continued his scan and tried to bring the Leader out. "I have a friend," he said. "A joined Trill."

"I have been Leader of the Gidari for longer than your friend has been in existence," she said, though without raising her voice. "You have questions." It appeared she was willing to talk.

"Yes," he answered, stopping the scan. "But only if you don't mind."

"You are Honored," she replied, dipping her head in deference. "I would not deny you."

Heartened, Bashir reopened the tricorder and picked up where he'd left off. "How did you come to Gidar?"

She smiled, and her smile was beguiling, set into that beautiful face. Not for the first time, Bashir felt it was a pity that the Gidari hid themselves away from others. "That is the only question, is it not?" she said. "You are wise."

Now Bashir smiled. "There are those who would argue," he replied, not realizing that he was opening up to her, just as she was to him. Since the discovery of her symbiont, she had ceased to engender the fearful reverence she had in the throne room.

"And you would be one of them," she countered.

"You are wise yourself," he offered.

She was silent for a moment, and he worried that she had decided not to answer. He looked up from the tricorder and waited.

"I was Trill," she began, "eight centuries before this. My host was Nailati, and I have chosen her name for myself in return for her sacrifice. She and three others were exploring this region of space. They crashed on this world. Only Nailati survived, though she could not breathe the air here. I could feel her dying.

"My people had never seen such a craft in the sky like that which had fallen. They came to investigate. I saw them first, uncovered and glorious, through Nailati's failing eyes. Even as she lay dying, gasping for the poisonous air, she tried to tell them of me.

"The priestess was the first to understand. I used a scanning device so that she could see me within the host. The priestess took out her dagger and held it up," the Leader, Nailati, explained, holding her own hands up as if they held the knife, "offering a prayer to the Creator, though I could not then understand the words. Through Nailati's eyes, I saw the dagger plunged through me—through my host. I saw the priestess cut herself with the same blade. Even as Nailati still drew her futile breaths, the priestess took me from her and placed me within herself. I saw Nailati die from new eyes."

She had acted out the whole thing with her hands and Bashir could see the pain and the wonder on her face much as it must have been on that day eight hundred years before.

"But the Joining," the Leader continued, "was not easy. I did not know of Gidari or Gidar. The chemicals that had killed Nailati were foreign to me even as they coursed through my new host. The priestess suffered greatly from her wound and the pain of the changing. And now, my people knew of aliens. The Leader was fearful, and he came to our dwelling to destroy the alien that was within the priestess, to kill me. Despite her pain, she stood up to face him, rising from her bed for the first time in three days. Only then were we aware of the change. The Leader was so small. He grasped his chest at the sight of us and fell dead at our feet.

"There were others who feared us and sought our death, but none could stand against us. The enemies were vanquished and their supporters destroyed. All who knew of the change were gone and we, with all our knowledge and strength became Leader of the Gidari. We have been Leader since that day."

Bashir had listened, enraptured by the tale, picturing it all. The ancient dying Trill, the violent transfer of the symbiont, the battles fought. The introduction of one Trill symbiont had changed the society as much as it had the host's body. And yet, that society had remained distinctly Gidari.

"It is I," Nailati told him, "who told my people of other worlds. I taught them to fly among the stars. My people now trade with many aliens, but we keep ourselves pure. We are Trill no longer. We are Gidari."

Kira remembered teasing Dax once about a paluku on one of Bajor's moons. She was beginning to regret even that light-hearted taunting. She'd seen more different and frightening creatures in the last three hours in this one forest on this one mountain on this one continent on Gidar than she had her entire life up to that point—to the point of her death, though she tried not to think about that. In just those three hours, apart from the magnificent beasts in the valleys, she'd seen sloths as big as two-storey houses, waterbugs which preyed on the sloths, plants that slapped her hand when she tried to pick the flower from its stem, birds as small as insects, and insects as large as O'Brien's cat.

One creature had captivated her. It was an adorable-looking creature, small and covered in long, soft fur with large brown eyes. Kira thought it not too dissimilar from the stuffed bear Bashir kept in his quarters back on the station. It sat on a tree branch, half-hidden by folliage, and watched as Tarlingen warily walked past it. Tarlingen had waved Kira by, never taking her eyes off the little bear. Kira watched it, too, caught up in its luscious fur and sympathetic eyes. She didn't see the fallen branch at her feet. It snapped when she stepped on it and the bear snapped too. Its eyes closed to menacing slits and its lips pulled back into a snarl that revealed rows of razor-fine teeth. It leapt toward them, teeth-bared and claws unfurled. Only Tarlingen's quick skill with the spear kept one of them from being bitten or shredded by the thing.

The next creature of note was not so terrifying. It was annoying. It was a midulka, which translated into Standard as "mimic", and that was exactly what it did. It mimiced. Everything. Any words one might say, the direction one took; it stopped when one stopped and started when one started. And it had decided Kira was the most interesting thing in the forest. It had been following them for about forty-five minutes already and seemed not likely to give up.

The mimic was, if one were playing by Bajoran rules of appearance, a dangerous animal. It was taller than the bear-creature had been, with leathery skin and clawed toes. It walked hunched over but on its back legs, holding its forearms in front of it much like Kira held the basket she carried. Its toothy mouth seemed to grin at her as it cocked its head from side to side.

But this wasn't Bajor, and things were deceptive on Gidar. This was a docile creature, a plant-eater according to Tarlingen's quiet whispers. The mimic either didn't hear or didn't consider her its source of amusement. It only repeated the words that Kira said. It had found her at the slapping plant and hadn't even been scared off by the bear-creature. Kira had tried to shoo it away but that only drew its interest more keenly. It had tried to shoo her away but followed when she tried to leave it behind. Tarlingen only shook her head and kept walking.

The forest was getting darker, though there was still enough light for a few more hours, according to Tarlingen. Enough time to get back to the palace before nightfall. Kira got the feeling that Tarlingen didn't want to be outside after dark. From what she'd seen in the daylight, Kira couldn't blame her.

The mimic followed them the entire way through the forest. Kira stopped for a moment at the break of the trees, and the mimic did the same. She wasn't paying him any mind though. She was marveling at the color of the sunset. The sun itself had become the deepest blood-red. The sky that touched its edges was a glowing crimson that darkened as it reached up toward the mountains and over her head. It didn't seem right that there would be light at all.

Tarlingen stepped past her. "We should go. It will be dark very soon."

"It will be dark very soon," the mimic repeated, apparently having decided that a moving, talking Tarlingen was more interesting than a standing, staring Kira.

Tarlingen sighed, unhappy with the mimic's change in taste. The mimic sighed too.

They followed the treeline for another fifty yards before Tarlingen abruptly stopped, which caused the mimic to run right into her. Kira stopped too, and tried to see in the dimming light. She heard a snap to her left, just into the trees. Tarlingen turned her back, but Kira was curious and she peered harder into the folliage.

Then she saw it, close to the ground, perhaps half a meter up into the lower branches of a leafy tree. It was long and slender, like a tenticle, and it reached up and grasped something in the tree. The snap sounded again and the tentacle lowered, its prize wrapped in its grip.

Kira followed the unusual arc of the tentacle as it folded itself forward toward the ground. Kira crouched down to see it better.

"Stand now!" Tarlingen whispered.

"Stand now!" the mimic repeated.

Kira ignored them, having finally decided what it was the tentacle had grasped. A nut. It wasn't even a tentacle at all. It was a tail. A prehensile tail, to be exact, and it belonged to a snake which now was delicately nibbling the morsel it had plucked. Its thick, reptilian legs confused her for a moment, but its head and slender body gave it more similarities to snakes, as she knew them, than to lizards.

Her curiosity satisfied, Kira stood. Tarlingen and the mimic were both facing away from the trees still. "What?" she asked, keeping her voice low, but not whispering as they had.

Tarlingen's head snapped around. Her eyes were wide. But she still didn't face the trees.

Kira heard a chirp and turned back to see the snake step slowly toward her on its two front legs—or rather, its only legs. She backed up a bit, but Tarlingen stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. The mimic tried that as well, but could only reach her rib cage.

The snake emerged from the underbrush not one meter from Kira's feet. It still had the nut tucked carefully in its tail, which it now held straight out over its head toward her. It placed the nut on the ground and then lowered its tail.

"Take it," Tarlingen ordered.

"Take it," said the mimic.

"Take what?" Kira asked. She really didn't know if they were referring to the nut or the snake itself, which might be a useful sample for Bashir

"Take the nut," Tarlingen told her. Her voice was quiet but also urgent. The mimic dutifully repeated.

Kira really didn't know what they were so afraid of. The snake ate nuts. It obviously was not a carnivore. Besides, she had several of the nuts in her basket already. "I already have a sample of those," Kira replied.

The snake edged forward a step more, and nudged the nut toward her with its nose. Then it backed up to where it was before.

"Take the nut and eat it!" Tarlingen demanded, obviously agitated.

"Take the nut and eat it!" the mimic insisted, hopping nervously from one foot to the other.

"I'm not hungry," she told them, finding it annoying that she'd have to remind Tarlingen of that. It was Tarlingen who had explained her present state, after all.

The snake moved forward again, nudging the nut with its nose. But this time it flicked its tongue out a few times.

"Take the nut!" Tarlingen urged, pushing her forward.

"Take the nut!" the mimic squealed.

Kira resisted. She'd had enough of orders and pushing. She was Honored, and she decided now was a good time to call on the respect that apparently warranted in the Gidari culture. "Will you please explain to me what is so important about that nut?"

The snake didn't move back this time, but stayed right near the nut. It flicked its tongue again, and its eyes flashed red.

Tarlingen pleaded. "Take it!" The mimic merely darted away.

Kira swallowed. The mimic had run away. The mimic hadn't left their sides for over three hours. It had left the forest without fear. There was obviously something to that snake.

Kira slowly knelt and crept toward the snake. It can't hurt me, she told herself. I'm Honored. The snake's eyes returned to normal, and it again nudged the nut to her. This time she took it.

"Eat it," Tarlingen whispered, much more calmly now.

Kira wondered if her sense of taste had been altered by the substance within her in the same way her sense of feeling had. She lifted the nut to her mouth and tried not to think about the spots where the snake had already started to eat. She popped it into her mouth, deciding to chew and swallow it quickly so she wouldn't have to think about it. But she nearly spat it right back out. It was the most bitter thing she'd ever tasted. It burned her tongue and made her eyes water.

"Show him you like it," Tarlingen coached.

She didn't like it. Not at all. But she nodded and mmm'd so the snake would think she did. It turned abruptly and darted back into the trees.

"Don't spit it out," Tarlingen admonished. "Just swallow it down."

Easy for her to say, Kira thought. "Explain that," she mumbled, still trying to swallow the foul thing.

"That snake could have destroyed you in less than a gleer, a minute," Tarlingen explained, leading the way back to the palace. "It's the most venomous creature on Gidar. Its venom causes rapid necrosis. You would have rotted, Honored or not."

Kira swallowed the last of it. "And the nut?"

Tarlingen didn't even bother turning around. "It likes to share."

Ezri Dax clutched hard the little bear to her chest as if, by holding it, she could somehow hold on to Julian. It hurt so much more this time, and she knew that was because it was 'this time'. Not the only time. She and Jadzia had lost him three times now. Four, really, but they hadn't known he was replaced by a changeling and held prisoner by the Jem'Hadar. Each time before he'd been her friend. Each time before, he came back.

But this time she knew he was more than a friend. This time she knew she loved him. And this time she knew he wouldn't be coming back. Dr. Gerani had run a DNA test on the blood they'd found just to be sure. This time, he really was dead.

The part of her that was Ezri Tigan had never felt that kind of pain before. She had lost her father when she was too young to really understand what death meant. Her chest hurt now like someone had sliced her in two. Everything she saw—the bear, her own uniform, even a bare wall—reminded her of him and told her again that there would be no happy ending this time.

The part of her that was Dax offered the comfort of experience to them both. There had many loved ones lost in the lives of its many hosts. Time would dull the pain. Life would go on. It always had before.

But with each new host, Dax felt feelings anew. And the knowledge that it would pass eventually did not lessen the pain that Ezri Dax felt. And combined with her present loss was the full weight of all her loved ones lost through time.

Ezri clutched the toy harder to her chest, hoping that somehow it could bring her the same comfort it had given Julian as a child.

Julian Bashir found it a lot easier to analyze the changes in Nailati's physiology caused by the symbiosis than the symptoms caused by the Blight the Dominion had introduced. The latter had frustrated him for months after his return to DS9 following his discovery of the vaccine on Boranis III. The former was new and fascinating. No other known species that had acted as host to a Trill symbiont had ever had such drastic changes. In fact, the symbiosis had caused an alteration in the Leader's DNA itself within hours of being joined.

But it was that DNA change that made her even more susceptible to the disease the Dominion had cooked up for the Gidari people. For the Gidari, the disease would likely behave as it had on Teplan. The weak and infirm—and the Leader—would fall quickly, leaving the others to carry it for months, years, or even decades before they quickened.

One thing was reassuring, however. No matter what changes had taken place in the Gidari hosts DNA, the symbiont remained static. Not even the disease had affected it, just as it hadn't affected Dax back on Teplan III, so it could be passed on to a new host if necessary. The Dominion was most likely unaware of the dual nature of the Leader's physiology, otherwise they would have taken the symbiont under account when designing the Gidari's Blight. The loss of the Leader would have destablized the entire cultural and political infrastructure on Gidar.

He was startled by the door. Kira stepped through backwards, saying something to someone in the hall. She had a basket which she set on the floor so she could shut the thick wooden door.

Finally, once it was closed, she turned and leaned back against it. "You won't believe it," she told him simply.

Bashir smiled at that. "Neither will you."

"Did you find the cure?" she asked, standing up straight again.

Deflated, Bashir's smile vanished. "I'm a doctor, Colonel, not a miracle worker. But I did find something very intriguing. In fact, if I weren't already dead, I'd probably be killed for knowing too much."

Something in the basket moved and a small, wriggling bag fell out. Kira snatched it up and held it out to him. "I found at least three things that probably would have killed me if I weren't already . . . Honored. There are creatures out there. . . ." She let that hang without offering any descriptions.

"I was wondering how you'd done," Bashir told her, taking the bag. "What is it?"

"Haftha," Kira replied, picking up the basket again. "And that's only the most dangerous thing in the basket. Outside, on the mountain, in the forest, is another story. Don't even get me started on the valley. What about you? What did you find?"

Bashir set the haftha's bag back in the basket and leaned closer so she would hear him. "A Trill," he whispered.

"What?!" Kira exclaimed, forgetting all about the basket. "Where? How? Like us?"

Bashir put a finger to his mouth. It was a rather big secret in Gidari society; they didn't need anyone listening at the door. "The Leader," he told her, speaking very quietly. "Gidari host, Trill symbiont, older than Dax by about five hundred years."

Kira whispered, too. "How? The air here, the light."

"The Trill host died," Bashir explained. "A ship crashed here. The Trill host was dying, but made a priestess who found her understand. The priestess took the symbiont into her own body and changed. Right down to the DNA."

Kira sat down on a chair and didn't say anything for a few minutes. "What about descendants?" she finally asked. "Why aren't we seeing giant Gidari running around?"

"Sterile," Bashir answered, turning to lean back on the counter.

Kira stood. "There were successors though," she said, though it sounded more like a question. "This one Gidari isn't eight hundred years old."

Bashir shook his head. "No, but no Leader has had a child since the first became joined. They must have some other system for choosing a Leader. Or she had her heir before becoming the Leader at all."

"She didn't tell you?"

"I didn't ask," Bashir replied, sitting down beside Kira. "If I don't find an antidote, we'll likely witness the succession. I didn't want to remind her of that."

At that moment, the haftha's bag wriggled out of the basket again. Bashir jumped up to grab it before it got free of the bag. "So what else did you bring me?"

As Kira told him about her day in the forest, Bashir sorted the spoils. He didn't relish the idea of hurting the few small animals Kira had brought, but he did take samples of blood and venom and run them through some extensive scans.

The plants were interesting as well. No chloroform to produce oxygen, they were mostly orange in color. Many contained chemicals and components he couldn't even recognize. It would take weeks to analyze them thoroughly. But he didn't have weeks. He didn't even have one week.

"The thing actually followed me around, repeating everything I said," Kira was saying. "Only the snake scared him off."

Bashir was only half listening. He had other things on his mind. He was trying to remember everything he had learned about the Blight. And he was calculating just how much time he had left before his "second" life followed his first.