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“Ragged Oasis” by karrenia
Right up until the moment when the runabout’s on-board computer informed her that her shields were failing and that structural integrity would not hold for much longer, Kira fought with every ounce of her will and skill to keep the ship moving, laying on muttered curses and invocations the gods of her people in between. She did not much fear her own death as she did fear for those she was leaving behind.
When the blinding flash of incandescent light hit her ship and dazzled her eyes Kira believed that that she had sent the emergency messenger buoy seconds before the dazzling light engulfed her damaged vessel and then, she knew nothing more than the subsuming blackness.
Except, she did not die, instead she regained consciousness on a green and brown slopes of a series of low foothills. She gasped and rubbed the sockets of her eyes with the backs of her hands and pinched the bridge of her ridged nose to stave off an oncoming headache.
Kira briefly wondered if she could trust the evidence of her eyes at this precise moment, or if this was some kind of dream. I smelled, felt, and looked like a dream, a dream made flesh and blood, but still a dream.
Scattered among the grass-lands at the foot of the hills and beyond them the mountains where she had spent most of her young adult-hood haunting and hunting the despoilers of her world, the Cardassians, were the fields, and houses, and temples and all the varied structures built by her people, miraculously restored to the way they had been, or maybe to the way they would one day once the Reconstruction Project was complete.
For someone who had always believed herself a realist, who looked to a future, but not with the idealism coloring her decisions, Kira, at this moment, almost felt as if she would break down in tears of happiness and pain, for all that had been sacrificed to bring this moment to fruition.
She managed to scramble to a standing position and stifle her tears and her churning emotions to a much more manageable level before moving. She was sore and bruised and did not quite understand how she had been spared the destruction of her runabout, but determined to make the most of it.
In the midst of heat haze coming off the freshly plowed fields, she could see farmers ambling along with their plow-beasts in tow Kira rubbed her eyes again; this time she wondered if the heat haze combined with her own exhaustion were playing tricks on her. “Shakaar? Is that you?”
“Nerys,” the man she had identified as Shakaar Edon greeted her in a warm and familiar tones.
He was dressed in the clothes of typically worn by men of this region and his clan earring dangled from his ear at a jaunty angle.
He appeared both genuinely over-joyed to see her and if he was at all taken aback by her ragged, bruised and disheveled appearance, she also knew that he was too good a friend to show it. He was also a very good dissembler, perhaps that was had made him such a good foil as a politician.
And of late, Kira also firmly believed that what would serve Bajor best was that he take a stand against the unhindered ambitions of Kai Winn. Although she was Bajor’s spiritual leader, the woman took too much upon herself in matters secular, that Kira felt were profoundly dangerous.
Shoving the dark and meandering thoughts to a back corner of her mind, Kira blurted out:
“I thought you were running for election, but instead you’ve decided to go back to being a farmer?”
“When did I become a politician?” Shakaar replied, this time appearing genuinely puzzled,
“Wait, don’t tell me. I don’t think I want to know. First things first, you look like you’ve been rock climbing up in Verquar Mountains and without proper equipment. Let’s get you seen to you, and then we can share a meal of haspart and spring wine. And you can tell me all about your adventures.”
Shakaar had been as good as his word, nor did he same to take any notice of the bedraggled and sooty Star Fleet uniform that she had been wearing. Instead, he waited while she took it off and put on a loose shirt and trousers that he had provided. He had also allowed her the use of the bath house in the back and clean and dry she was looking forward to the promised meal.
“Nerys,” he began. “You, look, different, amazing how well you clean up,” he remarked with the tight, mirthful and nonchalant laughter that she remembered so well. The smile stretched the lineaments of his handsome face and showed his even white teeth.
From the moment she had first seen him, in the refugee camps, as a girl, Kira had thought then; all unwittingly and without her even being aware of it, with that laugh and that expression on his face, Shakaar had taken a bite out of her heart. Not that she had she minded all that much, not really.
“Do you remember how we first met?” he asked. It was as good a question as any to get the conversational ball rolling and it also helped stave off the more problematic questions for a later time.
“Of course I do,” she replied. She liked and admired Shakaar but at times he did have an irritating habit of becoming maudlin and a bit too nostalgic for her tastes.
“How’s the meal?” He asked, noting that she had not gone into details about their first meeting and figuring that he knew her as well as he did, it would be the wiser course of action not to press her on the point.
“Excellent as usual,” she replied as she speared another of the delicately seasoned and roasted vegetables on her plate with her fork and brought it up to her mouth. She put the forkful into her mouth and savored each bit. The flavoring and the spices he had used were excellent as usual, and she found herself eating the entire meal faster than she had thought she would. She was hungry, and the wine had come from his personal stores.
He was a good cook, but it had been while since she had departed Deep Space Nine and she had become more or less accustomed to field rations, or even, dare she think of it, the meals cooked by Benjamin Sisko. Still, she could not remember when she had last eaten, and this was genuinely prepared Bajoran cuisine and this was Shakaar sitting in front of her anxiously awaiting a response.
She could not help but laugh at the eager, guileless almost boyish expression on his face as he expectantly awaited her praise of his culinary skills. “Okay, it is the best hasperat that I have had in quite some time. Happy now?”
“Ecstatic,” he replied as he took yet another delicate sip from his glass of spring wine.
One thing had led to another and the following morning found them tangled up with nothing but the bed linens between themselves and their naked bodies. Not that either minded much, really.
“Nerys,” he whispered huskily, wondering what he could do or so to persuade her to coming back to bed, but then after a moment’s consideration decided against it.
She got out of bed, clutching a sheet to cover her nakedness and hurriedly dressed in the clothes that he had provided for her, with her back turned to him.
Finished dressing she turned back around to face him. “I want to see the rest of the province. Take me on a tour.”
“On a tour? I thought you knew all the provinces, and those,” Shakaar rolled out of bed and picked up a shirt and a pair of trousers and quickly dressed as well, before moving over to the window where the first rays of sunlight came slanting in through the lead paned windows, “putting with a sweeping gesture toward the hills in the distance, “like the back of your hand. “What’s wrong, Nerys? Something is obviously bothering you. And don’t try to bull your way out of coming clean with me; I know you too well.”
Kira shook her head and frowned. She still was a bit undecided on how exactly she felt about having slept with him last night, but knew that if he did not bring it up then she would just as well not be the one to broach the subject, instead she shuffled her feet and shoved her hands into the pockets of her slacks.
In the back of her mind she thought, “Everything’s right where it should be, the hills, the farms, the houses, the terrain, but,” even as she mulled the more obvious details over, it suddenly occurred to her with the force of a sucker punch to the gut, there had been much more subtle details that she had missed or rather overlooked on her way down.
Where were the jagged black searings that still marred much of the Bajoran farm-land from the scorched earth policies of their former Cardassian oppressors? Something was definitely off here, she could feel it. The only problem was whether or not if that ‘something’ was with her, or with the situation.
‘Where were the lines of anger, and hardship that could be seen in the lines around the faces of the men, women and children who had been either caught up in the years of the Occupation?
Something was definitely wrong with this picture, she just wished to the Prophets that she could figure out what that something was before it was too late.
“What’s eating at you, Nerys?” Shakaar asked worriedly. “I’ve never seen you this off-balance before. Even as he asked this question it suddenly occurred to him that the clothes she had been wearing prior to her arrival were off a cut and style that he had never seen before, and
Kira, never a slave to the varying whims of fashion would never have donned something just to show off a new style. Something was wrong, he could feel it, he could even almost taste it.
There was a tension in the air, and although, Shakaar had always felt that he led a reasonably devout life in service to the Bajoran Prophets; he suddenly very much wished that he could go to them right now for divine intervention, because right now he did not have any answers for her at all.
“I think we should go see Kai Opaka,” he stated aloud.
“She’s dead,” Kira replied somberly. Thinking even as she did so that the quiet, serene yet strong woman that had once been Bajor’s Kai and intermediary to the Prophets would be sorely missed. She had even been instrumental in getting Captain Benjamin Sisko around to his dual role as Emissary of the Prophets. She would be missed. In fact, she had become, for Kira, something of a stronger presence in her absence than she had been in life.
“What? He blurted out. “No she isn’t. I saw her only this past five day! What would make you think she was dead?”
“I saw her die; or rather Captain Sisko saw her die, in the Gamma Quadrant.”
“Where?” He was no doctor, did not even pretend to be, but he had worked on his farm long enough to have on hand some herbal remedies for both people and his herd beasts, and he knew enough to recognize the signs of a possible concussion or perhaps worse. He liked her, perhaps even had been falling in love with her, and now that coupled with what she had been saying and her disheveled appearance upon her arrival had alarm bells going off in his mind.
“The Gamma Quadrant. You know it. It lies just on the other side of the Celestial Temple.”
“Okay, now you’re just talking crazy.”
“I am ‘not’ crazy. She retorted firmly. “I’m just tired, is all. And don’t you start in on lecturing me about being crazy, mister I won’t ask my men to take on any risk that I wouldn’t risk myself!”
“That settles it,” Shakaar stated firmly. “Whatever happened to you up in those hills obviously affected your mental well-being. We’re getting you over to the temple immediately.”
Although she was prone to stubbornness and argument at most times, Kira felt it wise not to press the issue for the moment and agreed to go see the Kai, even if should that Kai turn out to be the one that she was most familiar with.
Kai Winn Adami, although nowhere near high on the list of Kira’s favorite people, the woman might be able to explain what was going on both in with Bajor’s current politics and with her spiritual unrest. ‘Although, ‘ Kira thought, ‘that last requires a lot more speculation.’
“Okay, okay. Have it your way,” Kira replied aloud. “I guess, that’s as good a place any to start out with.”
At the temple both were ushered in and then escorted to a luxuriously appointed waiting area were Kira, stubbornly refused to engage Shakaar in idle conversation. Instead she sat staring at a tripod where incense burners had been mounted and lit, forcing her eyes not to tear up from the sweet-spicy scented fumes.
Thus balked in idle conversation Shaakar also patiently waited in silence. He knew that when she was ready to talk about whatever she was thinking about, she would. It would not do him much good to attempt to drag it out of her. And the last thing he wanted to do was provoke an argument. Much as he enjoyed debates, or rather arguments, this was neither the time or the place for it.
When the robed figure at last emerged from the inner temple sanctum Kira nearly did cry. It was not Kai Winn Adami, but the shorter, and also to Kira’s way of thinking, much more serene yet strong-willed Kai Opaka who greeted them and waited till they rose to their feet and accompanied her back to her office within the inner sanctum.
“May the blessings of the Prophets be with you this day, children,” Kai Opaka greeted them with formal opening and then offered a wide and genuine smile and then. “Shakakar, it’s been too long.”
“Don’t you start,” he replied. “I’ve been a good boy as best I know how. You know that.”
“You can’t blame a girl for trying,” Kai Opaka replied with an impish grin that would not have been out of place on the face of the proverbial cat that ate the canary.
“But all kidding aside, “She continued in a much more serious tone of voice, “I can tell you are both troubled and it takes no spiritual intervention from the Prophets to make that determination. ”Tell me what it is that troubles you.”
“It’s me,” Kira replied with a sheepish grin on her face. I don’t know quite how to explain this. It’s like of late, ever since I can came down from the Verquar hills it’s like everything that should be in its place, is there, but not quite there. It’s like the pieces of the puzzle are slipping askew just so much that I don’t quite recognize them anymore.”
“How long has she been like this?” Kai fired the question at Shakaar.
He rubbed his hands through his bushy brown hair and then brought one to his earring and restlessly tugged at it. “I don’t know. I’ve only seen her since her rock-climbing expedition in the hills for one night and today.”
“Rock-climbing?” Kai Opaka appeared a bit a startled by this response, but she schooled both her facial expressions and her emotions back into a serene smile and said: “Go on.”
“That’s what I thought she was doing,” he replied.
“What were you doing in those hills, Neyrs?”
“I, I, don’t know. I can’t remember,” Kira replied. The fact that there was a large gap in her memories from the time she descended from the hills and when she came to Shakaar’s home, bothered her. But try as she might Kira could put the fragmentary parts of her memory into a whole picture. The more she tried the more those pieces eluded her.
“It’s entirely possible that she is suffering from no more than a mild concussion,” Opaka remarked and the services of healer would be more appropriate than my aid. Then again,” she trailed off and smoothly glided out of her chair and over to where Kira sat, placing her fingers against the lobe of Kira’s ear and between the gap where her earring dangled. “Try and relax, this won’t take but a moment.
She began to probe, ever so gently and then with a bit more intensity for Kira Nerys’s ‘pagh’: troubled, fiery and stubborn as was wont to be, and she sensed a multitude of currents moving like a river in high flood. At times the torrent seemed to rush onwards to its ultimate destination of the ocean, in a straight line with no deviations. At other times, there were black and white crests, rising and breaking with a thunderous clamor.
Kai Opaka also sensed that, as the young woman had mentioned that something was very wrong here, and it was important that they be able to determine what that something was, more than ever.
Kai Opaka nearly staggered back but quickly recovered and idly waved off the concerned
Shaakaar who had risen to her feet when he saw her about to fall. “No, no. I’m al right. Don’t concern yourself with me.”
“Well?” Kira demanded.
Kai Opaka sat back down in the chair behind her desk and placed her elbows on the surface with her chin resting atop her arms. “It would seem that you are straddling a river whose banks cross two sides.
“Metaphors. I hate metaphors. Shakaar griped.
“That’s why you never made a very good poet,” Opaka remarked.
“Never wanted to be a poet,” he remarked.
“Have I mentioned lately, that you are incorrigible, my dear,” Opaka replied.
“Okay, I don’t get it either. What do you mean by that?” Kira demanded.
“I mean, you are here on Bajor, but if the signs I have sense are to be believed, this is not the Bajor that you have known for the span of your entire life.”
“Your Bajor is a troubled one, one that has been witness to strife and suffering, of sacrifice and triumph, and much like a sword that has been annealed in the fire to make it stronger,” Kai Opaka continued, made stronger.”
“You’re referring to the Cardassian Occupation? Kira remarked.
“Who are the Cardassians?” Shakaar remarked.
“What? You don’t know?” Kira remarked. “I don’t believe it!”
“Our world has never heard of these Cardassians, Nerys, you might want to leave it that way.”
“Are you chastising me!" Don’t treat me like a child! Kira exclaimed.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Kai Opaka inserted smoothly into the eye of the storm that was Kira’s fury.
“The question that remains, is if this Kira, is in point of fact not our Kira Nerys, but one from an alternate universe, and my head is spinning from just thinking of the possible ramifications, where is ours?”
“I don’t understand much about the science involved when it comes to alternate universe, you might best be served by seeking out Errin Thokar at the University for such things." However, I doubt there are two of her running around somewhere.”
“Bajor is still your home, Nerys,” even if it’s not the one you know.” Shakaar replied.
“That’s a good thought, “Kai Opaka remarked. “Arrange for a tour of the provinces, starting with your own,
Kira shook her head, she had spent enough time serving aboard Deep Space Nine and missions back and forth through the spatial anomaly known to the Bajorans as the Celestial Temple and to many others as the Bajoran wormhole to knew that the existence of alternate realties was not only theoretically possible, but having experienced several of them in person. ‘The question remained what do I do about it? There’s always a way back? ‘
What with her own stubborn pride, determination and duty, added to the duty she owed to her people, her friends and fellow crew-members she had to try and get back to her own reality. In the back of her mind, she told herself, ‘Easier said than down, Nerys.’
On the other hand, what was so very wrong with taking the tour of a Bajor unsullied by the brutal predations of the former Cardassian oppressors?
She might even enjoy it, and it might very well inspire her to push for greater efforts to restore Bajor for the future of her own world, reality, what have you. She shook her head and then pinched the bridge of her ridged nose to stave off an oncoming tension headache. ‘Best put that option on the back burner for now.’ Aloud she said. “Sure, I’m up for a tour.”
Several hours into the tour and Kira felt both tired and happy in a way that she could not remembering feeling in years.
Tired because Shakaar had proven to be voluble and dauntless tour guide; and happy because nowhere had seen the scars of the years of Occupation. Her people, for the most part where industrious, happy, and well-off.
In a back corner of her mind, she thought. ‘I could stay here. I could make it work. There really is nothing that says that going back is even in the cards. What is so wrong in staying in this reality ?’
Without drawing too much attention to it, Shaakaar noticed her mingled reactions to the sights, sounds and individuals that they met or crossed paths with and he thought, ‘I wish this really was ‘our’ Nerys, I wish she could stay. Am I being selfish, should I press her to stay just because it’s what I want her to do?’
Meeting at the Bajoran University
She couldn’t help but notice that the while the man himself appeared unassuming and rather shy he had decorated his office with elegantly carved and paneled woods and a plush rug that absorbed the sound of her shoes as she tread upon it.
“Please, have a seat," their host invited.
She waited until after everyone was seated. “What brings you here?”
“What we have to tell you is going to sound most strange,” Shakaar began and then trailed off with a helpless kind of shrug of his slender but strong shoulders. “In fact, since this should rightfully be hers story to tell, I’ll turn this over to Nerys.”
“You coward,” Kira snarled with an echo of the helpless little shrug that had just done. “You don’t want to get any deeper into the weirdness that than I do.”
“True enough,” he replied, not in the least fazed by either her accusation or the fact that she was glaring proverbial daggers in his direction.
Errin Thokar, meanwhile, spent this interval darting curious looks at both of them in turn.
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course not, because we haven’t yet gotten into the weirdness.” Kira sighed and then looking directly at him she said. “It’s like this. We’ve just come from visiting Kai Opaka and because of well, what I’m going through right now she recommended you as the best person to help me with my, ah predicament.”
“I’m a scientist, a scholar,” Thokkar, if your predicament is one that could not be solved but ah, spiritual intervention, what help do you think I will be?”
“Let’s get right to the point,’ Shakaar replied. “You stated yourself that you’re a professor a scholar, and while you’re well regarded in your field, your ah extra-curricular activities are not as….
“Well received,” Thokarr concluded. “That being said, what does that have to do with Nerys’ problem?”
“Let me ask you one question before we get any deeper into this,” Shakaar replied. “Are alternate realites possible or is all just a bunch of theoretical nonsense?”
Thokkar appeared a bit startled for a second or two and spent that time clearing his throat and shoving the glasses up over the bridge of his nose before he took a deep breath and replied. “Yes, they are possible. Time as we perceive it, exists for us one from one moment to the next, but in fact time is yet one of many dimensions, layered one upon the other, like the skin of an onion.”
“So, you’re saying that I could very well have originated from one of these layers?” Kira sighed.
“Yes, but I still don’t fully understand,” Thokkar replied.
“You see, I am Kira Nerys, but not your Kira Nerys, and if it’s possible for me to have slipped through one of these ah, layers, than I should think that it’s within the realm of passivity that I can slip back to the reality that I belong in.”
“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. But why don’t you grab some lunch and I’ll start researching it.”
“Good idea. I could eat,” Kira replied,
Lunch was uneventful, a decent but filling meal in the main refectory of the university and a rather desultory conversation over what she had seen thus far in their tour of the provinces.
Either he was just giving her time to mull over everything that they had learned, or he too, felt a bit ambivalent about the weirdness or if something else was troubling him.
In any case, Kira finished her meal and stared at the wall. At that precise moment the tension head-ache that she experienced days earlier came back and she reached up to rub the bridge of her noise with her fingers.
“Nerys?” he asked in some alarm, shoving to a standing position and causing the bottom of his chair to making a loud and startling scrapping noise along the polished wooden floor of the dining hall.
“I, I’m all right. I think.”
“You know, something’s been troubling me about this whole situation,” he stated, shoving his fork around among the remainders of his meal without actually being aware that he was doing so.
“What??” she asked acerbically.
“Even if Thokkar does come up with more information on alternate universes, there’s something that’s been bothering about this entire conundrum. If you here, where’s the other you?’
“The other me? Please, no more complications piled atop the ones we’ve already got. I’ve got a massive head-ache.”
“I’m sorry. Really I am. But I think it’s a possibility that we should consider.”
“Well, damn, so you think if that’s true, and I’m here, you think that your Kira is off in my reality, trying to get back to this one?”
“I believe so,” he replied.
“I really don’t want to deal with that possibility just now. She heaved a deep sigh, one that seemed to begin at her feet, travelled up her legs and made her whole body shake with released tension and lodges itself in her throat.
She started into Shakaar's eyes, deep dark eyes but it became more and more difficult to concentrate and hold that image in her mind. She became dizzy and then,she knew nothing more.
Kira swayed back and forth for a few moments and then collapsed to the ground with a thud, and right before his wide and concerned brown eyes she shimmered like a heat mirage and disappeared.
Kira regained consciousness with a pounding headache that nearly drove her back into her fugue state. The inside of her mouth taste like woolen socks that had been dipped in paint thinner and she felt as if her body was just one solid bruise. Her eyelids fluttered open and she began to slowly make out blurry grey shapes that gradually resolved into the uniformed colors of mingled Bajoran Militia and Star Fleet personnel.
For a brief moment, she was forced to wonder if her eyes were playing tricks on her, when she caught a glimpse of the featureless but oh so familiar face of Constable Odo, and directly behind him the blunt, crisp features of Captain Benjamin Sisko.
“We’ve got her. It was a very near thing, Sir,” the sturdy, slightly accented voice of Chief Miles O’Brien was saying. “If we hadn’t picked up the emergency beacon when we did, we might have lost her. As it was, the runabout a total wash, but we managed to transport her out before the ship exploded.”
“Good work, Mr. O’Brien,” Sisko replied. “Sisko, to Infirmary.” He said as he tapped the silver lapel commiunication badge on his chest.
“We’ve got Kira, and she’s in a bad way.
“Understood, Sir. I’ll have everything prepped and ready to receive once you arrive. If she’s in that bad away, I can come up with a medical emergency team with a gurney instead.”
“No, no, that won’t be necessary, Julian, but thank you for the thought just the same. Sisko, out.”
Kira sat up in the examination bed and wondered what Dr. Bashir had given her to stop her tension headache because she felt immeasurably better than she had before. She even felt the urge to smile at him. “Hey, Julian.
“Hey, right back at you, Kira,” he replied.
“What happened to me?” she asked.
“What didn’t happen to you, would be a better way to term it,” he replied with an impish grin but then adopted a much more serious demeanor. “You could have died back there when the gravimetric pressure from the anomaly tore apart your runabout, and it nearly took you with it.”
“But I’m not dead, near as I can tell, and I’m not a ghost. In fact, I feel great.”
“Well, that’s good, that’s great even, but as your physician I am ordering you not to take any further risks with your life until further notice.”
“Is that an order?” she playfully asked in both a half-serious and half-joking tone of voice.
“Do you want me to make it one,” he replied.
“Sure, “she replied. “I could use the time-off. It’s been, surreal, Julian. You don’t know the half of it and I don’t think I could explain everything that I’ve experience in any way that would not sound half crazy.”
“Well, good, I’m glad to hear that. Let me just finish running a few more tests and then you are free to go.”
“You do that, Julian.” I’ll just wait right here. Kira leaned back and closed her eyes.