THIRTY YEARS AGO
The Bulletin-Tea in Legate Migar's headquarters droned on and on, stretching into its fourth tedious hour. Sister Winn and the other Bajoran servants -- Shimpur Anan, who served Gul Feesat; Lisea Nerys and Alahata-something, who were brought down to the planet by Gul Dukat; and the six servants of Legate Migar who cooked and served the food (one was a true collaborator, Winn was certain) -- were at last allowed to eat their own lunch in the kitchen...after they had waited upon the high-ranking Cardassians, served, fetched, and cleared away.
Alone with themselves now, the Bajorans let their bitterness erupt; like a baby spitting up, thought Sister Winn, surprising herself with her own cynicism. Alahata spoke of his anger at servitude. He was nearly as young as Gul Ragat, but he had grown up in a village not far from Winn's, Riesentaka on the Heavenly Blue River. Winn tried to calm him with homilies from the Prophets, but the boy would not be placated. He'll learn, she thought in sadness, noting the interest of two of Legate Migai's valets, one of whom was probably the snitch.
The others spoke of domestic issues. Nerys was worried about the rains, which had come too soon for her father's farm. But even in the simplest conversation, Sister Winn could practically out the tension with a knife -- if Bajorans in service to a gul had been allowed knives. They each knew who and what they were, and how precarious was the thread by which their world dangled.
The Bajorans fell silent as Winn blessed the food, and they ate; the food was too rich for the priestess, not the simple, country fare she had grown up with, but the elaborate, spicy meats the Cardassians preferred among Bajoran foods -- food from the Northern Islands, Winn said to herself. Her mother had come from there, but her father had forbidden spice in the family meals, as he had a weak stomach.
The kitchen was gigantic but cozy. Legate Migar had not built his own house, but taken over the house of the original governor of the subcontinent, Riasha Lyas. Riasha had disappeared thirteen years ago and was rumored to have been sent up to Terok Nor; but no one who returned from the station orbiting Bajor had ever reported seeing him. A stained-glass window facing northwest allowed in much natural light in the afternoon, but Winn could not see outside. A smaller, plain window set above the stained glass afforded an abbreviated view...assuming the priestess were to stand on a chair. The men used the plain window to look out for arriving VIPs.
Red and blue shadows crossed the kitchen table as Winn pushed her food from one side of the plate to the other, hoping to fool the cook into thinking she had enjoyed the meal. She answered automatically whenever one of the other Bajorans would ask her religious advice, or beg for a prayer or benediction for the weather, the crops, a sick cousin, the soul of Bajor. But she smiled and turned her face full on whoever was speaking, seeming to give undivided attention; inside, Sister Winn was thinking dark thoughts and wondering how she could pull off her mission without ending up the Headless Sister of Shakarri.
At last, the table was cleared by the probable collaborator, whose name she learned at last: Revosa Anan. She filed away the information for future use. Sister Winn rose, gave a final blessing and thanks to the Prophets, and bowed her way out of the kitchen, saying she had to return and see if her master needed anything.
She stepped lightly toward the conference room but paused in the courtyard; no one appeared to be watching; the house felt heavy, sleepy after the midday meal. Bowing her head and walking with a firm step, Sister Winn turned to the right and cut across the short angle of the courtyard toward a small, forbidden door she had observed from its other side when she first arrived at Legate Migar's palace. The door opened to her firm touch; she entered, smiling and readying an obsequious apology if she ran into an overly dutiful Cardassian guard. Not that an apology would matter. If the door turned out to lead where she prayed it did, and she were caught inside, then the next stop would surely be Terok Nor... and Gul Dukat's tender ministry.
Sister Winn entered the small antechamber that led to the formal reception room, and in the other direction, to the entrance hall. The walls were done in bloodwood paneling, very dark, and the only light came from two "electric candle" light fixtures at opposite sides of the outer wall. Between the fixtures was another door, this one soundproofed and sealed with a push-button combination lock popular among the erstwhile Bajoran military missions...like the house of Governor Riasha.
Swallowing hard, the priestess approached the lock. Her steps faltered. If she were caught in the next few seconds, no amount of bowing and scraping could save her from interrogation, followed by execution -- and disgrace and exile for Gul Ragat; but quite frankly, Sister Winn could not have cared less what happened to her Cardassian "master." His own conscience was in the hands of the Prophets; either he would see and save himself, or he would remain in ignorance and be forever barred from their embrace.
The strangest thing about Cardassians, Winn pondered, is how thoroughly they believe their rules of conquered and conquerer! They had won the battle; they had won the war. Simple honor among soldiers required that the Bajorans accept their status and work to achieve full recognition as eventual citizens of the Cardassian Empire.
It certainly never occurred to Legate Migar to run around replacing all the locks in his house. It never penetrated his bony Cardassian skull that although poor Governor Riasha was probably in the arms of the Prophets a decade since, and the officers of the Bajoran Army were all executed or imprisoned in penal colonies or mines around the planet and even on Terok Nor, that many of the governor's former civilian engineers had also worked in the palace...and some had frequent occasion to work in the communications room. And the legate, who had never been any kind of an engineer, civilian or military, was evidently unaware of the disdain with which such people treat security precautions.
In particular, Legate Migar had never heard of a lock having a "back door," used by the engineers if the military men changed the lock and neglected to tell the civilian contractors. He had ordered the combination altered, of course; but he never realized that there was more than one combination.
Licking her dry lips, Sister Winn took a deep breath, stepped up to the lock, and punched in the back-door code she had received from her cell leader. The lock clicked twice, and the red lights on the side turned green. Sister Winn pressed firmly on the door, and it pushed noiselessly open, exposing a dark room whose walls were lined with communications equipment. In front of the six chairs were lists of common frequencies, map displays, and miracle of the Prophets, a current codebook!
Please protect me, she begged; then she stepped into the room, pushing the door nearly shut, and felt in the heel of her knee boot for the tiny, digital holocam she had carried for four months, waiting for just such an opportunity. The bright displays beckoned, but Sister Winn knew her first goal; she activated the codebook and began to click through it, snapping pictures of every screen.
When Sister Winn finally finished holocamming the book, a wave of relief flooded her brain. She wasn't "off the mountain," as her villagers used to say; she still had to exit without losing the holocam and get the images to her cell -- or some cell, at least. But at least, even if she got nothing else, her mission was successful.
But in a lapse of security that would be incredible to anyone who hadn't lived with the Cardassians for years and didn't know the depth of their disdain for the "lesser races," the communications room remained unattended for another ten minutes. During that time, Winn took holopictures of every screen and all the frequency settings; she even dared project different maps on the coder's viewer and holocammed them as well; though her mouth was so dry, she was having trouble breathing. If there were a history file, somebody was going to be awfully suspicious...and if there were security viewers, she could be under fatal observation as she brought up map after map, caught and convicted by her own hand.
Then Winn heard what she had expected to hear minutes earlier: the bootsteps of the Cardassian guard returning on his rounds. With a lot less coolness than she would have liked, she rested her boot on the console and rotated the heel outward with trembling fingers. She replaced the holocam and swung the heel shut, hearing it lock into place. She exited the room just as the guard turned the corner, but she didn't dare pull the door shut...the guard would hear the click of the lock and be alerted.
He paused when he saw her standing with her back to the communications room door, staring with a vacant expression as if she were in a trance. "Bajoran slave! What are you doing here?" he demanded.
Winn turned toward the guard, blinking as if she had never seen a Cardassian before in her life and wasn't quite sure whether it was alive or not. "Sir?" she asked, striving for an intelligence level somewhere above imbecile but well below normal.
The Cardassian was only too happy to oblige, seeing her as a conquered "animal." He spoke very slowly, enunciating every word in Bajoran (but with a barbarous accent). "Why -- are -- you -- here?"
Winn brightened. "Oh! Can you help me? My master needs the activity reports on Resistance action for the last month. He's very important."
"Activity reports? I don't know anything about that! I have received no word. Who is your master?" He paused, and Winn stared at him uncomprehendingly. "Who -- is -- your -- MASTER?" shouted the impatient guard, raising his clenched fist.
The priestess cringed away from the man, burying her face in her hands and falling heavily to her knees. "Please don't hurt me! My master is Gul Ragat, subgovernor of Shakarri and Belshakarri! He is here to meet with their lordships Legate Migar and Gul Dukat for the bulletin-tea."
The guard, wearing the uniform of a sergeant major and carrying only a hand disruptor at his belt, paused to ponder the new information. He was evidently aware of the bulletin-teas, but didn't seem to know for sure which guls were on the invitation list. "Well," he snarled, "where are you supposed to find this report? You're not allowed to be in this part of the building!"
"Please, Sir! My master told me to report to the duty officer of the communications room.
The sergeant's gaze strayed immediately to the door, still open a crack. His eyes widened. "What -- !" Rushing to the door, he threw it open, seeing only the dark room with a few illuminated controls and the main viewer showing the Cardassian insignia, the neutral "background" image when nothing else was displayed.
A moment later, he returned to the hall, staring down at Sister Winn with a new light of crafty intelligence. "Did you enter this room, Bajoran?" "I wanted to," she blurted out, "but I was too afraid! I don't know what the report looks like, and -- and I was afraid to go poking around where I wasn't -- I didn't know what to do, so I just waited until..." Winn began to sniffle, making herself cry real tears and sneeze; it was a talent she had learned as a child, always good for eliciting sympathy from sympathetic adults. It didn't work quite as well against Cardassian conquerers; but still, it was the only weapon she had. Her knees hurt, which helped the deception.
"Look, stop that sniveling! Did -- you -- enter -- this -- room? Just answer the question!"
Winn shook her head vigorously. "No, sir, but I..."
"I didn't, but I..."
"You WHAT?" The sergeant major was rapidly losing what tiny bit of patience he had.
"I -- I -- I touched the door! Oh, Prophets preserve me, I pushed it, and it swung a little, and I -- I looked inside for a minute!"
The guard sighed and seemed to slump a little. He looked away, starting to be embarassed by the sight of a but still somewhat pretty, young woman sobbing hysterically on the floor. The priestess peeked through her fingers and saw the man chewing his lip and staring at the door, probably wondering whether he's going to get in trouble over the open door, she understood.
"Stupid civilian com-techies," he muttered in Cardassian. Then he looked back over his own shoulder, reached out, and pulled the door shut tightly. "Look, you couldn't get the report thing you wanted because there wasn't anyone in the room. You got that? Do -- you -- underSTAND?" The sergeant major nodded his head affirmatively.
"There wasn't...I couldn't get the report?" Winn put on a look of bewilderment.
"There -- wasn't -- anyone -- here! Oh, for goodness sake, it's so -- -- easy!" He used an obscenity Winn had heard before, but only from lower-class Cardassian soldiers.
"Oh! I couldn't get the report because...because..." Winn paused, tapping her forehead as if thinking through the scheme. "There was nobody in the room!"
"Yes!" he exclaimed, pushing her back against the wall. "Open your foolish Bajoran ears next time! And" -- he leaned close to snarl directly in the priestess's face -- "don't you ever push open a door like that again! Never! You understand me?" For emphasis, he put his metal-shod boot on Sister Winn's back; she made no move to push it away, merely drawing back in terror, and the sergeant major didn't put his weight on it, either.
"Yes, sir! I understand, sir! Thank you, sir!"
He let her up but made no move to help; Winn rose shakily to her feet, bowed and cringed in the most servile manner she could manage, and backed away -- still bowing and thanking him for correcting her. As soon as she rounded the same corner whence the guard had come, she turned and bustled as fast as she could manage to the "allowed" section of Legate Migar's house. She didn't meet any more Cardassian guards along the way; this deep inside the pale, the gul had no fear of Resistance action, and he seemed to take an austere pride in living virtually alone with his family and only a skeleton force of soldiers. She had already returned to the conference room, where her master was desperately trying not to nod off during an interminable supply report by Gul Feesat before the reality struck her full, starting her trembling all over again: I did it! she screamed inside her mind; I actually did it and got away!
But another voice answered back, the voice she usually used to correct her behavior when she violated the word or spirit of the Prophets: You've not gotten away yet, child, or haven't you noticed whose house this still is?
She couldn't help smiling, praying that the worst was over. But her inner nag warned that the worst had just begun. Sister Winn was now officially "hangable."
The young Gul Ragat was still brooding over his possible elevation, and annoyed that nobody mentioned anything at the bulletin-tea about it: Legate Migar and Gul Dukat simply spoke to him as they normally did, with no special winks or nods, nothing to indicate it was other than ordinary that Ragat be invited to such an unordinary meeting. He complained -- or hinted at his irritation, actually -- to Sister Winn in a long soliloquy in the garden that evening, while Winn did her best to appear sympathetic and hopeful.
Her own agenda was somewhat different. "My Lord," she said soothingly, "I'm sure you were right in your original thought, that you are being groomed for the higher grant of honors. Surely you see the hand of the Prophets in this?"
"The Prophets?" Gul Ragat blinked at Winn. "I don't quite follow. How do the Bajoran Prophets figure into my elevation?"
"They know what a compassionate man m'lord is; they must know that of all the Cardassians, Gul Ragat is most concerned about the physical and spiritual ills of the Bajoran people! Surely they have brought your qualities to the attention of Legate Migar for a reason."
Ragat paced agitatedly. "A reason? Because I will be a more compassionate master than, say, Gul Dukat, with his iron fist and heart of stone?"
"Oh, you most certainly would be." She wondered whether he would catch the significance of the reference to the spiritual ills; Winn had heard that somewhere in the Cardassian Empire, scattered and powerless but there, was a group of Cardassians who argued bitterly against the occupation of Bajor, and indeed all the other planets forcibly "civilized" into the empire. She knew Gul Ragat was not a member of that outlawed group -- he certainly wouldn't be given even a subgovernorship if there were the slightest hint in his background check! -- but if Winn had heard of them, then Ragat had heard of them...and she would not give up hope that the Prophets would in time lead those Cardassians with even the slightest hint of decency to the moral position.
"Yes," he mused, "I suppose I could do much to alleviate the needless suffering of your people, were I to be granted a higher position in the administration of Bajor."
"My Lord," said Sister Winn, bowing her head and looking intently at her feet, "may I speak frankly?"
"Of course, of course! I allow all my servants the freedom to say what is truly on their minds, in private."
"My Lord, if your people continue along this path they have chosen, there will certainly be bloody resistance against Cardassian rule. My Bajorans are a proud people, and we do not take well to the leash."
"Winn, you are a priestess! A spiritual leader! How can you threaten such a terrible thing?"
You young fool! "My Lord, I do not threaten; I predict. I know my own. And I know that a few hundred thousand Cardassian troops will not hold against an entire planetful of bitter, determined freedom fighters. I shudder at the images my mind conjures, fantastic scenarios of mass destruction. But I cannot turn my face from the inevitable."
Gul Ragat turned his back to Sister Winn. "I cannot listen to a prediction of such betrayal! Sister, I'm surprised at you, giving credence to the juvenile boasting of that Resistance rabble. You know what would happen: those who revolted would be wiped out, as well as their family and probably their friends, even if innocent."
The garden was dark and cool, but Winn saw it full of menace and unfriendly, grasping tree branches -- though it was the same, friendly garden as in the days of Riasha Lyas. Evil had escaped from the Cardassian garrison inside the house and permeated the trimmed paths and hedgerows of the pastoral arboretum. "And it would be such a waste of resources," sighed the young subgovernor, almost to himself.
Winn was glad the garden was dark, so Gul Ragat could not see her rolling her eyes in disgust. She quickly and silently apologized to Those who did see, because They saw all. Then her young "master" made one more offhand remark that electrified the priestess: "Perhaps it would secure my advancement and serve the true interests of your people both," he mused, "if I were to bring in a few of these rabble-rousers myself...the ones who incite peaceful Bajorans to bloody revolution and cause us no end of trouble."
There was nothing, nothing that Sister Winn wanted more desperately than to get away from Legate Migar's palace and relocate somewhere she could pass along the priceless content of her holocam. But Bajoran servants -- slaves, she corrected herself unemotionally -- simply did not travel alone without travel documents issued by the Cardassian Planetary Authority...not even priestesses on a religious mission. There were only two ways for Winn to remove herself from Migar's estate without exciting attention: get her gul or another, higher-ranking gul to send her on an errand; or else, get Gul Ragat to travel with her.
The first was virtually impossible; anything important enough to go get was by and large too important for a Cardassian to leave to a Bajoran. The invaders had skimmers; they had shuttles; they had starships with beaming facilities. If Gul Ragat really wanted something physical, an artisan's vase or a barrel of sunberry wine, he would either transport it to him or transport himself to it; he would not send Sister Winn.
But if Ragat wanted to personally capture some antiCardassian Resistance leaders -- especially with out alerting other guls who might want to elbow into the credit -- he was pretty much restricted to moving by skimmer, as he came...and moving his entire entourage in the direction of home. Anything less, or moving in any other direction, and the planetary Authority would demand his travel documents! Since he didn't have enough skimmers for everyone, he and his household would ride, while everyone else, Cardassian honor guard and Bajoran domestics, would go as they had come, on foot, as befit their station as a subject race.
It's amazing how many opportunities a lengthy walk presents, thought the priestess craftily. But before she could plan an escape or rendezvous, she first had to start the wheels in motion. Winn had to persuade Gul Ragat to take the trip in the first place.
"My Lord, I..." Winn trailed off, then tried to look as though she had said nothing.
"Yes, Sister Winn?" Gul Rapt waited; Winn could feel the tension in his body, and she realized she had struck just the right tone: I've got a terrible secret, but I don't know whether I can tell you!
She fidgeted. She opened her mouth and sucked in a breath, then let it out without saying anything. "You can tell me anything when we're alone," soothed the gul, deliberately standing far enough away from her that she wouldn't feel crowded. Again, the priestess almost spoke and didn't.
Finally, she pretended to come to a resolution.
She sat slowly on the bench, despite the fact that her gul was standing...a terrible breach of protocol! "My Lord, I know of a rise that's planned for a few days from now -- but I cannot tell, I cannot! Not even to secure your advancement."
Now, Gul Ragat couldn't contain himself. He spun to face her and asked breathlessly, "You do? You know? You have? You will?"
"I cannot violate the trust of my people, even if it means your grant of honors, Gul Ragat. I just can't!" Come along, child...convince me!
The gul stepped back, seeming to stop himself by brute force from grabbing Winn's shoulders and shaking her vigorously. "But, Winn -- Sister Winn...you wouldn't be doing it for me; you'd be doing it to help your own people!"
"My own people? How do you mean?" She allowed a note of hope to creep into her voice.
"Your own people, whom you would save from the brutal retaliation sure to be inflicted upon them by the harsh and stern military leaders of the Empire! Imagine what will happen to the Bajorans living in that province or prefecture if you allow this insane rebellion to proceed!"
Sister Winn gasped. "I never thought of that."
"You must! You must think on it, and you will see that the only thing to do is to tell me now, quickly, so I can stop the troubles from ever starting by arresting the callous, uncaring leaders."
Ragat shook his head sadly, sorrowing with her, not at her. "There is no other honorable course for you to take. You are a leader, the voice of the Prophets. You must look after your -- your flock; yes, that's the word. They look to you for guidance! Exercise your moral leadership to lead them to acceptance of the inevitable, and think of how much happier they will be."
Sister Winn suddenly jumped to her feet, pretending guilt at suddenly realizing she was sitting while her "master" stood. "Forgive me, My Lord!" she cried; Gul Ragat waved away the infraction, intent upon the information she might give him. Winn felt like a fisherman reeling in her catch.
The problem, Winn realized nervously, was that she actually had the information to give. In her position as spiritual leader for all the Bajorans who lived at Ragat's compound and many in the village of Vir-Hakar, in the county of Belshakarri, she always heard rumors of Resistance activity...often well-founded. She knew, for instance, that there was a planned meeting in precious Riis, a meeting that would probably lead to action against the spaceport ten kilometers away -- a facility now used by the Cardassians to transport high-ranking members of the military and important visitors to and from the planet. A bombing was likely, and a full-scale assault was not out of the question.
It was the only such action that she knew of, if she wanted to give Ragat something he could substantiate -- and it was clear he would check it out through his own intelligence network -- there was nothing else for her to give. The attack could probably be postponed without much danger, if she got word to the Resistance in time! If not...then Sister Winn would have just committed a real, honest-to-Prophets act of collaboration which would surely result in the violent deaths of many Bajoran freedom fighters. It was a terrible choice!
But really, she thought anxiously, I have no choice. With the information digitized in her holocam, such blows could be struck as to completely eclipse the strike at the Riis Spaceport, called the Palm of Bajor. If she could get the holocam to her cell leader, as always, IF!
"My Lord," she whispered, "I have heard that there is to be a rising very near to here."
"Between here and our own home, in fact."
"Yes?" Gul Ragat's excitement was palpable; Winn fought hard to keep her expression neutral, her eyes cast respectfully downward, and to sniffle a bit.
"It will be in -- in Riis. That is what I heard."
"Riis? On the Shakiristi River?"
"That is what I heard, M'Lord."
Now Ragat sat suddenly, wearing a goofy grin and staring into space...staring at his grant of honors, thought the priestess bitterly. After a moment, he remembered himself and grew solemn. "You have done a noble and brave thing, Sister Winn. You have saved many of your people from a terrible fate. The Prophets would be proud of you...I'm certain of it."
Oh Prophets, she prayed, please grant me that same certainty! But the Prophets, as was often the case, remained as mute as the stones on the issue.
Once more, Kai Winn woke in the night, the tendrils of the past wrapped around her. Now, at least, she knew there was some reason -- that the Prophets were sending her a message, something that she must, must, be clever enough to grasp.
Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures
Meanwhile, on the other side of the wormhole, Captain Sisko and the crew of the Defiant are stranded on an alien world overrun by ruthless invaders....