Officially, the Alliance didn't know that they were firing on a schoolhouse. Officially, they didn't know there were children inside. As a matter of fact, officially, there weren't children inside. Officially, that was a piece of propaganda propagated by the rebels with no truth to it.
And officially, Benjamin didn't feel sick to his stomach. No wonder this planet wasn't eager to give up the war to the Alliance, even ten years after the war ended, after everyone else had. People didn't forgive the death of their children easy.
Benjamin looked at the helm officer. "Hold here," he commanded. They were enough away from the planet that their weapons couldn't reach it, and to make it clear that was why they'd stopped. "Hail them," he said, reaching up to adjust his hat.
The town hall, thank God, replied. Audio only, and it was hard to say if that was due to a lack of technology or a desire for privacy. "What do you want?" a woman's voice replied.
Short and to the point. Benjamin approved, in an abstract way. "I'm Captain Benjamin Sisko of the I.A.V. Terok Nor. We're here with food supplies."
No bitter recriminations or tears came over the line, just a long period of silence. "How are you going to deliver the supplies?" came the eventual question.
"Any way you want," Benjamin said, shooting a glance at his first officer to keep him quiet.
Another pause. "How would you like to see the surface of our planet, Captain?" If Benjamin had been expecting to just drop the supplies and leave he would have been alarmed by the tone of voice. As it was he'd expected it.
"I'd be honored," he said, careful to make it not sound like a mockery.
"We'll be expecting you, then. And only you."
"And the supplies. I understand." Benjamin signaled his officer to close the channel.
"Sir, I must object," said the first officer, Kai Zhou.
"Then record it on your station," Benjamin said. "I don't have time. But also for the record, if you harm a single hair on anyone down there's head, I will haunt you from the grave."
"Then I'd never be rid of you," Kai said.
"Exactly," Benjamin said brightly.
Some things Benjamin never forgot, like how to pilot an overloaded shuttle when there wasn't a designated landing zone. And how to make people not shoot him. "I'm more use to you as a hostage," Benjamin said, emerging from the shuttle with raised arms.
"I know," came the call back, from the same woman he'd talked to from the Terok Nor.
"I'm also not stupid enough to want to give the Alliance an excuse to retaliate for your death."
Benjamin nodded. "Valid point." His first officer was a decent man, but if Benjamin did die here it was likely the Alliance would just send a different ship if Kai refused to do what was ordered. "So where do you want me?"
"Contact your ship. Tell them that you've landed safely and the natives are friendly."
Benjamin raised his eyebrows but returned to the shuttle as commanded.
"How many guns are pointed at you right now?" Kai asked conversationally when Benjamin had finished.
"Just two," Benjamin replied.
"In that case, I'll quit worrying," Kai said.
Benjamin grinned and cut the comm.
"I don't know what you're up to, Captain-" the woman said.
"Call me Benjamin."
"Sisko. But I'm not inclined to be taken advantage of."
"That works well, I'm not trying to take advantage of you."
"Then what are you doing here?" she asked.
"I'm trying to apologize."
"I thought the Alliance didn't do anything wrong."
"The Alliance gives its Captains a lot of latitude. Last time that hurt you. This time I'm willing to let it help."
"What do you propose I do?"
"Hold me captive until the Alliance acknowledges the wrong they did you. I know it's not nearly enough, but nothing is."
"You're right. It's not. Kasidy Yates." She held out her hand, and Benjamin realized it was an introduction. "I'm the Mayor of this town."
Benjamin wasn't surprised to be locked in a cell in the local jail. It's what he would have done in Kasidy's position. He was settling in to mediate when he heard a noise coming from the entrance.
It was much too soon for Kasidy to return, and it wasn't her. It was another woman - white - with a five or six-year-old clasping her hand.
Benjamin stayed seated, which meant he had to look up to the woman.
"Tell me, if you genuinely want to help people like us, why are you an Alliance soldier?"
Benjamin quickly glanced away from the woman's face, so he wouldn't remember it later. "It's where I can do the most good."
"How many of your morals have you sacrificed so you can say that and mean it?" the woman asked.
Benjamin looked directly into the eyes of her daughter. "None of them. Of course I was Core-born, so you might think I never had any morals anyway."
The girl glanced at her mother, and Benjamin shifted his gaze to the wall behind her. He didn't mean to make her uncomfortable.
"The schoolteacher was Core-born, and she had morals. Morals enough to leave," the woman said.
Benjamin sighed. He'd asked this question of himself more times than he could count, and he still didn't have a satisfactory answer. The truth of the matter was that he'd stayed with the Alliance long enough, at this point, that he could do more good within the system, and he didn't know where he could go if he left. "I've thought about going rogue," he admitted to her shoes. "Taking my ship and my crew and leaving. But the fact of the matter is, it wouldn't change a thing. I'd be doing the exact same thing I am now, only I'd have to pay for it myself, instead of using the Alliance's money to do so."
"I'm not the one you have to justify yourself to," she said.
"I know," Benjamin said.
He felt the woman take a step back. "My daughter's name is Dana," she said. "Her older sister was named Charity." She left, her shoes clacking on the prison floor.
Kasidy walked quietly enough that her words were what startled Benjamin out of his meditation. "Your first officer promised to pass on my demands to Alliance Command."
"And Suzanne told me she had an interesting conversation with you."
Benjamin glanced up to meet Kasidy's eyes. "I didn't want to know her name," he said.
"Good thing I didn't tell you her real one, then."
Benjamin let out a sigh of relief, then narrowed his eyes at her. "Was that supposed to be a test?" he asked.
Kasidy shrugged. "That would be telling. If it was, you passed it."
Benjamin shook his head. "You can't trust me."
"But it's harvest time and we need every hand in the field. I'd rather not have to set aside someone to guard you here."
"So you're going to help. If you want to try anything, well, you'll be surrounded by the whole of the town, and you're wearing an Alliance uniform. I wouldn't give you good odds."
"How did hear our story?" Kasidy asked, starting a conversation rather than laughing hysterically at Benjamin's harvesting attempts, for a change.
"For the longest time it was just a rumor. Half of them turn out to be false, or actually are propaganda, from one side or the other. This one turned out not to be."
"In other words, you're not going to tell me."
Benjamin shrugged. "I can't."
"Here, hold this," Kasidy said, handing Benjamin a bundle of what was probably wheat. He held it while she tied a string around the bundle, then took it back.
"I'm not completely useless," he told her, smiling slightly, hoping it was okay to joke.
She smiled back. "Not completely, no. Though not nearly worth the value the Alliance puts on you. Speaking of that, how long do you think it'll be until we hear back? Not that we're in any particular hurry to have you go, seeing as you're such a help with the harvest, but I'm sure you're eager to leave."
"Three days," Benjamin said. "They'll have made their decision by the second, but they don't want you to think they're over-eager. They are, that's why they won't wait the full week, like regulations say they should."
Kasidy lifted an eyebrow at him. "You done this before?" she asked.
"Never," Benjamin said. "But I've been on the administrative side," he admitted when she looked like she wanted an answer, or some reason to believe the timescale he'd given her.
"I'd apologize for the accommodations," Kasidy started, as she led him back to his cell in the jail. A guard walked behind Benjamin, but didn't seem inclined to join the conversation.
"But you've no need to," Benjamin interrupted. "I've slept worse places."
"Would you still say that if I told you there were rats?" Kasidy asked.
"Yes," Benjamin said without hesitating. "But I'd take it as a kindness if you didn't."
"Fine," she said. "I'll just let you drift off to sleep thinking your cell is rodent-free until you're woken in the middle of the night by a squeaking sound. You'll wonder a little, but you won't think much of it until you're woken again by a bite on your toes a couple hours later."
Benjamin rolled his eyes at her. "If there were rats there would be droppings."
"Maybe we just sweep really well."
"Keep on like that and I'll almost think I'm home," Benjamin said.
"Home being?" Kasidy asked.
"It was Londinium."
"Oh," she said.
"They're very good about making sure there isn't any visible dirt there."
Kasidy smiled, but Benjamin had felt her take an emotional step back from him, like she'd only been getting along so well with him because she'd forgotten he was Alliance.
"I don't blame you for what happened at the schoolhouse," Kasidy said when she came to fetch him the next morning.
"I didn't think you did," Benjamin replied, surprised.
"No," she said. "But you think I should."
He thought about that. "I think I would, in your place. If it had been my son."
"You have a son?" she asked.
"I do," Benjamin said. "He's been grown for a number of years now, though."
"Raising him must have been hard on your wife, if you were off on assignment most of the time."
Benjamin shrugged. Kasidy seemed to want to know his story, and he couldn't begrudge her that, couldn't really begrudge her anything. "She died when he was eleven, near the beginning of the war. That's why I spent so much time in administration."
"It was probably for the best."
Benjamin was glad that most of the townspeople didn't accept him as easily as Kasidy did. As long as they held themselves aloof he didn't have to feel guilty that these people he'd done nothing for had welcomed him in.
He also didn't want to try to convince them that the Alliance wasn't as evil as they thought it was. Given what had happened, they had every right to that opinion. There were some things no one should compromise on, and Benjamin firmly believed that the well-being of children was first on that list.
He also didn't want to have to put any of them in his report of events here. The Alliance might promise clemency if they got Benjamin back, Benjamin was pretty sure Kai would remember to ask for it, but they also might not.
So when Dana approached him curiously and her mother yelled at Dana to stay away from him, Benjamin accepted it. He wasn't here to make friends, anyway. He was here to force his government to take the first step towards making amends.
"I'm sorry to have to do this again," Kasidy said as she led him back towards the jail.
"Particularly as I know for sure there aren't rats this time," Benjamin said.
"Exactly," Kasidy replied. "It's a tragedy. If only our town were large enough to merit a zoo. Then I could put you in the lion cage."
"You ever seen a lion?" Benjamin asked, letting amusement color his voice.
Kasidy shook her head.
"They're a lot like cats," he said. "So if you put me in a cage with one I could just curl up and use it as a pillow."
Kasidy's eyes widened until they suddenly narrowed. "You must think I'm stupid," she said.
"Never," Benjamin protested. "Lions do look a lot like cats though," he said.
"Only larger. And with sharper teeth."
"Now I wish I really could drop you in a lion cage," Kasidy said.
"What a pity you have to make do with a jail cell."
"Rise and shine," Kasidy shouted as she entered the jail, and Benjamin unfolded from his meditation pose. "Don't you ever sleep?" she asked.
"Not much," he said. Not usually, and even less lately. He'd seen the remains of the burnt-out schoolhouse yesterday. It had been cleaned up significantly, and it still looked awful.
"What, you meditate so much you don't need sleep like the rest of us lesser humans?" she teased.
"I was almost a Shepherd," Benjamin said, as a partial explanation. "I mean, I know they accept people of all ages and it's not too late, but it is. Still, I think that would have been the better choice."
"You seem to be making a good job out of being an Alliance Captain, though," she said.
"Thanks," he replied. "But I really don't need your reassurances."
Kasidy shrugged. "You can't stop me from giving them, though. Did you want breakfast, or do you not need that as well?"
Truth told, Benjamin wasn't sure he was hungry, but he knew he should eat, and he knew he'd be able to keep it down. "Breakfast sounds good."
Kasidy had stayed in town expecting Kai to get in contact with her, leaving Benjamin working on his own in silence.
"Are you going to stay here always?" Dana asked. He'd noticed her edging closer but hadn't thought much of it.
Benjamin shot a worried glance around for her mother, but he'd been careful enough that he couldn't tell which of the women were her. "I don't think you're supposed to talk to me," he said carefully.
"I'm fine s'long as I stay in sight of everyone," Dana said. "And?"
"Oh," said Benjamin. "Then no, I'm not always going to stay here."
"Are you going to take me with you when you go?"
Benjamin's eyes widened as he took an unconscious step backward. "No. I'm not."
"Your first officer is apparently very persuasive," Kasidy said when she walked out to the field. It was sometime in the afternoon, though Benjamin hadn't been exposed to the planet's day and night cycle enough to be more accurate than that.
"He is. So what's the news?" Benjamin asked.
"In addition to recognition of the deaths that occurred in the school house, the Alliance has issued a formal apology and is offering a complete pardon for the last ten years for anyone originating from this planet, pending your return."
Benjamin whistled. "He is impressive," he said.
Kasidy started walking off and indicated he should follow.
"You don't want to tell everyone else the good news first?" Benjamin asked.
"If it's all the same to you, I'd prefer to have you back on your ship safely as soon as possible," Kasidy said. "It feels like every unnecessary second you're here you're a liability. Plus, I've no need to give you even more of a hero complex."
Benjamin walked in silence behind her for a while.
"Why did you bring us food supplies?" Kasidy asked when they'd walked about half the distance.
"No one seemed to know much about the current status of this planet," Benjamin said. "Which is usually a sign that things are pretty bad. Besides, the ration bars will last a while, and, if nothing else they're quite valuable."
Kasidy nodded at him. "Well, thank you for your help," she said.
Benjamin shrugged. "I didn't do anything except take a three-day vacation."
"You'll understand if it's easier for me to thank you than to thank the Alliance," she said.
"I'm glad to see that you managed to avoid getting yourself killed," Kai said.
"I'm surprised myself," Benjamin said. "I'm glad you managed to avoid horribly crippling my ship without me around to keep an eye on you."
"Hey!" Kai said. "That only happened the once."