Indulging in bed together is demonstrably a dangerous activity for both of them. Neither can afford to be discovered; their motley alliance against the Dominion is precarious enough as it is. Still, when Kimara rolls away from her Kira can’t help but grumble at the sudden empty space under the duvet.
She’s already getting dressed. Kira sits up on the mattress, watching Kimara in silence. For once there is little tension between them, the quiet almost peaceful. This is as domestic as it gets, Kira thinks. Observing each other as we sneak out of our quarters. And yet, their unlikely affair had lasted for a few weeks now.
Kimara, now completely dressed in one of her grey Romulan suits, finally turns to her again. Kira’s naked torso seems to give her pause. Kira smirks. Kimara ignores her and sits on the mattress.
“I meant to tell you— I won’t be at the meeting next week, I’m going back to Romulus. Not permanently,” she hastily adds, perhaps noticing Kira’s face falling, “just for two for weeks. I will be there with Admiral Ross and the station’s CMO.”
“The conference on ketracel white,” Kira says, recalling what Julian had been talking about recently. She shivers, the room’s low temperature catching up with her.
Kimara nods. So much for domesticity and peaceful silence.
“When are you leaving?”
“The day after tomorrow, at 0800 hours. I have to make my preparations in order to report to the Senate. I don’t think we’ll have time to be together before I depart.”
Kira closes her eyes and sighs, not caring if it makes her look childish. She won’t make a stink about it, not when Kimara is about to leave, but she’s not pleased by the prospect of seeing her go so soon and without notice.
She reaches out with her right hand towards Kimara. She strokes her cheek, then her jaw. Kimara’s eyes are closed now, as if the sensation of Kira’s palm overwhelms her. She doesn’t particularly care to be kissed in the Bajoran way, but Kira doesn’t mind Romulan custom at all. She brushes the pad of her thumb on Kimara’s lips then takes back her hand, smiling.
Kimara slowly opens her eyes. “If that was a ploy to try and coax me to stay, you almost succeeded.”
Kira laughs. She can forgive Kimara for her small deception about the Romulus trip. There has been much worse between them, and anyway she will be back on DS9 soon enough.
“Have a safe journey to Romulus, Kimara.”
It’s not even 0900 hours, and Kira is already striding into the security chief’s office ready to start a fight.
“This has better be good, because I have to be on a call with the minister of internal affairs in seventeen minutes,” she says, not bothering to hide her annoyance.
Major Ro Laren rises from her chair, ties her hand behind her back. It’s an unusual display of deference coming from the security chief, and it gives Kira pause. “I think you’ll agree with me that this is a matter of extreme importance.”
She’s about to retort when Kira notices that they are not alone in the office. The chair in front of Ro’s desk is taken, and its occupant is observing Kira with an air of mild amusement. An elderly woman, a Romulan with bronze skin and grey hair in a bowl cut, wearing roughly replicated clothing. She clutches a metallic cane with a wooden handle. But it’s her penetrating gaze that makes Kira hold her breath with recognition.
“You’re alive,” Kira whispers, hearing her own voice as if it’s coming from a place far away.
The buzzing and beeping of the security office fills the room for a long moment. A transmission from an officer in cargo bay 5 confirms that customs procedures are complete. Kira dimly wonders if she isn’t still in her quarters, still asleep, and if this isn’t all a dream.
“Indeed I am,” replies Kimara Cretak. Her voice is rougher than what Kira remembers, but still unmistakably hers. “Please forgive me if I don’t stand up, but it’s good to see you again, general.”
The word ‘general’ on Cretak’s lips is a sudden blow, catching Kira completely off-guard. “I— I’m glad to see you too.” She glances at Ro, who is still standing behind her desk, clearly observing them both. Kira returns her attention to the Romulan in front of her. “What happened to you? We couldn’t get a word out of the Senate, not even after the war.”
“That does not surprise me. I was sent to rot in a Tal Shair prison, and that’s where I spent the last ten years.”
Ten years with the Tal Shiar. Ten years. Kira’s chest fills with dread; that would certainly explain how Cretak’s advanced age seemed to have caught up with her in the last decade. And, equally troubling, the presence of the cane too. Kira turns towards Ro, in a silent demand for an explanation.
“She arrived on the station earlier this morning with a passenger transport, and as soon as she cleared customs an old system flag alerted security. I’m assuming it was left by Odo.”
Ro steps aside and Kira approaches the screen on her desk. The old file on senator Kimara Cretak is on display, with one glaring addition. Under the field ‘status’ the file reads ‘borhyas’.
Ro shrugs before Kira has a chance to speak. “Don’t ask me.”
“Odo had a bit of dramatic streak,” Kira says, not without fondness. “But I think we can assume you’re not a ghost,” she adds, looking again at the Romulan on the other side of the desk.
“I am quite alive, although Star Empire authorities would probably disagree on that. Which brings me to the reason why I asked your security chief to call you to confirm my identity.” The amusement that had accompanied the whole encounter vanishes from her expression. “General, I’m here to formally request asylum to the Bajoran government.”
Kira’s eyes widen. “Of course,” she says, her mind already racing. “It should not be difficult to offer proof of your political persecution.”
“Your confidence is reassuring. While traveling here I’ve heard troubling news about the council of minister’s stance on asylum seekers, especially the ones coming from Romulan space.”
“Oh, that’s just the prime minister making noise, since she’s up for re-election. There have been no actual reports of Romulan ships reaching our sector. But you shouldn’t have any trouble with your request, especially if I vouch for you.”
“Woah, woah. Let’s just slow down a bit here,” Ro interjects. “You’re going to go along with this?”
“Believe me, if you’d been here ten years ago, you’d be going along with this too.”
Ro glares at her, then turns to Cretak. “Would you excuse us for a second?”
Ro leads Kira into the brig, out of earshot from the rest of the office. It seems Kira is getting the fight she was expecting when she got here. Luckily, the holding cells are all empty, so they won’t have an audience.
Ro stops abruptly in the middle of the brig, and turns to Kira. “What is going on with you? Why are you rushing to help this woman? Does she have something on you?”
“What? No,” Kira hastily replies. As soon as she says it, though, she realizes it isn’t the whole truth. Cretak has, technically, something on her: Kira never told anyone about their old affair, back during the Dominion war. Cretak can’t know that, not if she’s truly spent the last ten years in prison; still, it’s troubling that it’s taken Ro demanding answers to make Kira snap back to reality.
“I— may have acted on impulse back there,” Kira admits, crossing her arms on her chest. “But I stand by what I said, if you’d been here when she disappeared without a trace you’d understand why her request for asylum makes sense.”
Ro rolls her eyes. “The ‘you weren’t here back then’ excuse is pretty flimsy on the best of days, but this time is just flat-out stupid. I read Cretak’s file. You of all people should remember how devious this woman is.”
Kira knows exactly where this is going. “I haven’t forgotten one single thing about what happened with the Romulans and their hospital on Derna,” she retorts, livid.
“Then why are you so eager to help her!” Ro bursts out. “And don’t give me another bullshit excuse that shuts me out. In case you’ve forgotten, I'm the chief of security, and I can’t keep the station safe if I don’t have access to all the relevant information.”
Though it pains Kira to admit it, Ro is right. She doesn’t know all the context surrounding Cretak’s disappearance, and ‘you weren’t there’ is not an explanation. Kira can’t simply say ‘it was during the Dominion war’ and expect her to understand.
Kira takes a deep breath. “What I’m going to say isn’t on any file, but it’s the version of the events closest to the truth that I know of. Ten years ago, Cretak was convicted for treason by the Romulan senate. They accused her of collaborating with the Federation in order to elevate herself to the Continuing Committee, but those accusations were unfounded.” Kira realizes that she’s started pacing; she stops. The topic always makes her lose her grip. She glances at Ro before continuing: “You know of Section 31. They manipulated both her and Dr. Bashir so she’d fall into their trap, and in doing so they got rid of her and the possibility she could rise at the top.”
“That seems an awful lot of trouble to go through, to eliminate a single Romulan senator. Was she opposing Federation interests that much?”
Kira has to laugh. “On the contrary. She was one of the strongest proponents of the alliance. But she was always going to be loyal to the Empire, while Section 31 wanted to facilitate the career of their own double agent among the Romulans. Of course none of this matters anymore, with the supernova imminent,” she concludes bitterly.
Ro crosses her arms on her chest as well, before distractedly walking up to one of the holding cells. Kira can’t blame her for being suspicious of this too; she hadn’t believed Julian’s words either, when he’d come back from Romulus. The certainty that he’d been telling the truth had only come later, when Kira had resigned herself to the fact that she would not see Cretak again. That she had become another reason for Kira to light the duranja in her quarters.
“And you say there’s nothing on record about this,” Ro says, bringing Kira back to the present.
“There isn’t. There was only an informal report from Dr. Bashir, he spoke only to captain Sisko and me. Any written record would’ve jeopardized the alliance at a critical point during the war.”
Ro sighs. She enters the holding cell in front of Kira and sits down on the cot, clearly aggravated.
“Let’s say this is all true,” she begins, making Kira scoff, “it still doesn’t address my security concerns. How do we know it’s really Cretak that’s sitting in my office, and not someone with a lot of cosmetic surgery? Or, even if it’s her, the Tal Shiar has a history of experiments on humanoid conditioning. Who says Cretak isn’t a double agent, even if she herself isn’t aware of it?”
Kira balks at Ro’s words, but can’t find any solid rebuttal for either hypothesis. The idea that the woman out there could turn out to be an impostor, or that the Tal Shiar could have altered her irreversibly— it’s revolting to even consider, but they have to make sure.
“Alright, I see your point,” she concedes. “Though I really don’t know what the Tal Shiar could gain by sending us a double agent.”
Ro raises an eyebrow. “Right, because the story you just told me was completely linear and with simple motives.”
“I said I get your point,” Kira retorts, raising her palms in defeat. “What do you suggest we do?”
“A thorough medical analysis should do the trick. We can pass that as officially confirming her identity, since she only has a temporary visa from a planet in the Neutral Zone.”
It sounds awfully invasive, but Kira has no alternatives to offer. She gives Ro a curt nod.
Ro raises from the cot. “You’re still going to support Cretak’s request for asylum, aren’t you.”
“If the medical examination confirms it’s her, I am,” Kira says.
Ro shakes her head, with the expression of someone who doesn’t get paid enough to deal with her commanding officer. It’s an old dance between them, and Kira has long become accustomed to Ro’s borderline insubordination. She’d probably miss her attitude, if Ro were to resign; Kira can appreciate having someone that challenges her authority when needed, like today. She wonders idly, not for the first time, if Sisko ever held a similar opinion of major Kira.
“I’ll arrange for one of the guest quarters, then,” Ro says. “But I will ask my officers to keep an eye on her, for the time being.”
Kira is about to retort when her combadge chirps. “Kira here.”
“General, the minister is waiting for you on a secure line in the captain’s office.”
Kira covers her eyes with one hand. She’d completely forgotten. “Tell him I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Again, I’m very sorry about this,” Kira says for what must be the fifth time already that day.
“And again, I understand your security chief’s concerns,” Cretak replies, the corners of her mouth turning up.
It’s early enough that they can watch as the vendors on the Promenade open up their shops. The jumja kiosk is among them, and as they slowly inch towards it Kira is tempted to point it out. Would Cretak remember one of their first conversations, after everything that happened to her? The possibility that she might have forgotten is understandable, but at the same time too awful for Kira to consider testing her hypothesis. She says nothing.
“The Promenade has changed considerably from what I remember,” Cretak says, unaware of Kira’s thoughts.
Kira looks around her, trying to evoke her own memories of the previous decade. “I’m sure you are right. But being here every day, it’s difficult to notice when change happens.”
“Indeed. Currently I’m wondering whether the promenade has always been this long, even if in this particular matter I’m aware that I’m the one who has changed.”
Kira frowns. There is an offer for help on the tip of her tongue, but she hasn’t spent so many years in Furel’s company without learning a thing or two about assuming people’s need for assistance.
In the end, she settles for a neutral statement. “The infirmary is not so far now.”
Cretak nods. They walk past the jumja kiosk in silence.
“Forgive me if I ask, but I was surprised to find out that Dr. Bashir isn’t the station’s CMO any longer. Actually, none of the senior officers of the station that I remember have stayed, except you.”
“They either transferred or retired for various reasons,” Kira replies, with a well-rehearsed line.
“I saw that the former captain now lives on Bajor.”
“He does.” Kira smiles. “Though he still visits the station sometimes.”
Kira can feel Cretak’s eyes on her, but she holds her tongue. There are so many friends she misses dearly now, but she can’t just explain on a whim her belief that her life is measured by cycles of enormous loss followed by hard-won gain. She’s accepted the path that the Prophets have sent her onto, and talking about it is irrelevant.
They arrive in front of the infirmary, and Kira makes use of the opportunity to change the subject. “The doctor will only inform me of the results of the tests regarding your identity. Any other health related-concern will be under doctor-patient confidentiality.”
“Will I be examined by a Starfleet medical officer?”
“Not if you don’t wish to.”
“Then I’d prefer being under the supervision of a Bajoran medical doctor.”
Kira nods. “I thought you might. Dr. Larim is at your disposal.”
“And I am at theirs,” Cretak retorts, right as the doors slide open to let her into the infirmary.
The terrible irony isn’t lost on Kira.
“Iris recognition and retinal scanning confirms what fingerprint analysis already suggested,” Dr. Larim says, checking her PADD. “The patient is Kimara Cretak. All markers match the data we have on file.”
Kira exhales, as if an invisible weight has suddenly lifted from her chest. “And what about the possibility of mental conditioning?”
The doctor checks her PADD again, a strand of black hair falling on her face. “As I’m sure you know, general, neural scans are delicate instruments of analysis. We ran a battery of tests and we noticed no anomalies, but something could have escaped us, given the specificity of Romulan physiology.”
“So you don’t know for certain,” Kira says.
Larim’s mouth becomes a thin line. “I am reasonably sure that the patient hasn’t undergone any mental conditioning. Other factors are at play in my assessment.”
“Other factors?” Kira asks, uncomprehending.
“She means my arthritis, general.”
Cretak joins them in front of the medical lab. Kira groans inwardly, cheeks burning with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
Cretak shakes her head. “I think we can all agree I would make a pretty poor subject for conditioning. My joints don’t really allow the quick movements generally required for assassinations.”
Kira is unsure how to react to that, but the doctor smiles at the joke. “As I said, feel free to come back for any adjustment to your medication.”
“I will. Thank you, doctor.” Cretak turns to Kira. “If we’re done here, I’d like to return to my quarters.”
The doors to the infirmary open to the bustle and noise of the Promenade. On her left, towards airlock C, Kira can already see the crowd gathering to board the midmorning shuttle to Bajor. The chef of the Klingon restaurant is already loudly advertising his delicacies. The sight is somewhat more vivid today than in Kira’s recent memory. Perhaps, she thinks, it’s because it’s been years since the last time she’s witnessed someone come back from the dead. Come back to her.
Kira is about to ask Cretak if she can accompany her to her quarters when she realizes that the other woman isn’t beside her. She turns, only to find Cretak standing frozen a few steps past the threshold of the infirmary, eyes wide, the muscles in her jaw tense.
Kira rushes to her. “What’s wrong?”
Cretak closes her eyes and murmurs something through gritted teeth, but Kira can’t make sense of it. Kira reaches out, but then stops herself. Physical touch, no matter how tempting, could make things worse.
“Can you follow me back inside the infirmary?”
Cretak nods. Slowly, they both move away from the threshold until the doors close again. Kira hears Cretak taking a deep breath.
Cretak nods again. She leans with both hands on the cane, back curved under her own weight, breathing labored. Again, Kira has to repress the urge to reach out, to make her presence tangible. The intensity of her own fear troubles her; she has to make herself useful somehow.
Kira moves to go find a nurse but Cretak’s voice pins her to the spot. “Don’t call anyone,” she murmurs. “Please. It’s nothing.”
Kira considers replying that it’s clearly not nothing, but it would likely be a pointless reminder for the other woman.
“It’s— crowds. And loud noises. Ever since I got out of prison, encountering either leads to this kind of reaction.”
Kira is dismayed to not have thought of that. Neither trigger is uncommon among Bajorans or Starfleet veterans. “Would you like us to wait a bit here? Most people who are on the Promenade right now will clear out in a short while, after the shuttle to Bajor leaves.”
“That is probably wise.” Cretak sighs. “I forgot how busy DS9 could become.”
“Traffic has steadily increased too, after the war. It’s much busier now than ten years ago,” Kira says.
“No doubt thanks to your efforts,” Cretak says, a small smile on her lips. “Which reminds me, shouldn’t you attend to your duties as commanding officer instead of being here?”
“I’m not letting you walk to your quarters alone after what just happened,” Kira retorts.
Cretak holds her gaze for a long while, without speaking. It’s almost like a spike through Kira’s heart; Cretak used to do this too, a decade ago. As if Kira was a cypher she was always puzzling over, trying to discover its meaning.
“Alright,” Cretak finally says. “In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to discuss with you a few things regarding Bajoran protocol for asylum requests.”
Kira smiles at the business-like proposition; Cretak is starting to truly feel better. “Of course.”
Kira sneaks into the temple quickly, almost as if she's intruding. It’s so early that Prylar Jeryo is still on the promenade opening the other half of the gate. He’s been kind enough to let her in for the past week: at any other moment of the day Kira would be interrupted by the other worshipers for all sorts of petitions and requests. At this time of the morning she can simply do what she came here for and leave.
She approaches the altar and lights three sticks of incense, then retires back towards the center of the temple. Kneeling on one of the cushions on the floor, hands on the worn-out fabric of her uniform, Kira tries to clear out her mind with a breathing exercise.
She takes the time to thank the Prophets. She’s here to ask for guidance.
It has not taken long for her and Cretak to fall back into old patterns. Kira might internally rejoice that after such a long time they can still spend hours debating politics over food and drink, but Ro’s words of caution still ring into her ears. It’s still Cretak, there’s no doubt about it, but how and why has she come back to DS9?
Every question Kira has asked on how Cretak escaped the Tal Shiar has been met with deflections and vague answers. Kira has been able to extract only two words from her: prison break. But how this came to pass and how Cretak got off-planet are still complete mysteries. She couldn’t have done it on her own, not with her health conditions.
And even if the circumstances of her escape were clearer, there is still the matter of why Cretak is on DS9 of all places in the quadrant. The notion that she came back to the station because of Kira is gratifying, but also a fairy tale she can’t afford to believe.
No, Cretak clearly wants to achieve something by being on the station. Her interest in Bajor’s immigration policy goes well beyond her own request for asylum, and Kira suspects Cretak is here to act on behalf of all the Romulans that are currently displaced or soon will be by the supernova.
It’s an undoubtedly commendable goal, and part of Kira wants to give Cretak her support. But, but. Cretak has tricked her before with seemingly innocent requests. No matter how much Kira is glad that Cretak is alive, she can’t help wondering why now, and why here. Who helped her escape? And for what reason? She can’t afford to make rash decisions. Vouching for Cretak has already drawn a lot of attention from Bajor, and not much of it is benevolent.
Why has Cretak come back to DS9? Is it a trial? Is it a sign?
“General,” Jeryo whispers from close by. “It’s almost time for the morning service.”
Kira sighs and opens her eyes. She thanks the prylar for the warning, and he nods in acknowledgment. Before leaving the temple, Kira turns back one last time. There are no orange embers left among the burnt sticks.
Kira is so used to the buzz of the captain’s office door that she doesn’t even look up from her reports anymore. “Come in!”
There’s an unusual silence; she’s about to say to whoever it is to please speak their mind when the tall, lean form of a Starfleet officer registers at the corner of her eyes. She puts down her PADD on the desk.
“General,” Julian says, a smirk in full display on his face.
“Julian! I didn’t expect you here from another day at least,” she says, surprised and delighted in equal measure.
He’s keeping with his decision of growing out his beard. The rollout of the new Starfleet uniform seems to have reached Julian’s remote assignment, too. The overall effect looks good on him, not that Kira would ever admit it out loud.
“I finished with my work on Cardassia V more quickly than I expected,” he explains.
Kira stands up, makes her way around her desk until she’s in front of him. “I’m very glad you’re here,” she says.
They hug companionably, and Kira is almost caught off guard by the flood of memories brought back by such an ordinary gesture. Comrades in a decade old-war, reuniting after a long time; it is bittersweet to realize this is who they are now.
Kira gets back on her chair before her emotions decide to play a number on her; it’s been an intense week already, and she doesn’t need more reasons to incapacitate what little rationality she’s still capable of.
“How are things?”
“Medical facilities in the Cardassian system have finally reached pre-Dominion occupation levels of efficiency, almost on track with our roadmap,” he replies, sitting down in front of her.
“Congratulations, that's definitely a hard-won milestone. I'm glad the Federation synth ban didn't interfere with your plans.”
“I didn't matter, really. Not nearly enough resources for synths or even for holograms, anyway.”
The relief mission on Cardassia had not been a priority for the Federation for almost a decade now. Perhaps it is best to leave Julian's work at that.
“Heard the news from Miles?”
“About Molly applying to the Academy? I did. Honestly, the message made me feel ancient. I keep thinking of Molly as a—”
“Child?” Kira concludes for him, relieved to not be the only one who feels oddly put off by the idea of Molly being already of Academy age. “It's the same for me, I just can't seem to put together all the times I babysat both her and Yoshi with the image of Molly in a Cadet uniform.”
“If Ezri were here, ze'd just scold us for being so resistant to change,” Julian says, shaking his head.
Kira chuckles. “Have you heard anything from zir recently?”
“Not in quite a while, no.”
“Last time ze wrote to me, ze was having a great time looking after zir crew of scientists.”
Julian nods thoughtfully. “I'm happy to hear that. Ze deserves the chance to have a good career that doesn't tie zir to the past.”
The image of Ezri's transport undocking from the station is seared in Kira's memory. The last of her old friends from Captain Sisko's days to leave, looking for purpose elsewhere. She doesn’t fault zir for that, though. “I agree completely,” she says.
Julian sits up in his chair. “So— about the reason why I'm here. Is it true? Cretak is alive?”
Time to get back to business. “Yes, it’s true. I know it sounds impossible, but she's on the station right now, in her provisional quarters.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Julian says, eyes wide, leaning onto the backrest of his chair.
“And that’s not all.” Kira brings her elbows onto the desk, hands clasped. “She asked to be granted political asylum; one of the first things she said once she reappeared. Which is why I’m now drowning in paperwork and struggling to understand legal procedure.”
Julian tilts his head on one side. “This can’t be the first time Bajor grants asylum to a political dissident.”
“It isn’t. But it turns out that while I’d be inclined to grant it, the Bajoran government is not quite on the same page. That’s what I’m getting from all this red tape,” Kira says, eyeing the PADDs with contempt.
“I see. Well, for what it’s worth, you can count on my help,” Julian says.
Kira stares at him, dumbfounded. “Shouldn’t you ask me first on what grounds I’ve decided in her favor?”
Julian chuckles, a humorless sound that unsettles Kira. “I trust you remember the report I made to the captain when I returned from Romulus.”
It's less of a question and more a request for confirmation, and Kira remembers that report all too well. “That’s part of the reason why I contacted you.”
“I suspected as much,” Julian replies, the corners of his mouth turning up. “You’re in luck. I’ve been waiting for a chance like this for years. If you thought that Cretak’s demise hasn’t haunted my dreams for the last decade, you’d be mistaken. In some ways, it has conditioned my life ever since.” The heavy silence that follows doesn't need to be qualified. Neither of them has any illusion about Starfleet, not after the war. “So yes, I will support your case to grant asylum to Cretak, former Senator of the Romulan Star Empire, and relate the events of how she was convicted for treason under false pretenses.”
Kira sits back on her chair, elbows on the armrests. “I’m not so sure Starfleet brass will be pleased about that, especially given the current relations between the Federation and the Romulans.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better incentive,” Julian retorts, his bitterness obvious. “I trust the hearing will be soon.”
“In two days the Bajoran council of ministers will send their appointed arbiter, but whether or not this will just be the first of many hearings will depend on several factors.”
Julian looks apologetic. “I can only stay for a few days at most.”
“That will be more than enough. You’ll only need to submit your deposition once. You’re free to stay on the station in the meantime, I’ve assigned you quarters in the guest sector.”
“A chance to visit all the old haunts,” he quips.
Kira laughs. “Quark’s is still the same as ever, dartboard included. I think my chief of security is still waiting for a rematch, actually.”
“It’ll be my pleasure to give her the opportunity to settle the score,” he says, raising from the chair. He pauses, grabbing the backrest with both hands. “You should come too. I’ve heard a couple of rumors that I think you’ll find interesting.”
Kira narrows her eyes at the obvious innuendo. What could he possibly have to say that couldn’t be shared in the Captain’s office, especially after all his talk of defying Starfleet brass? She stares at Julian for a moment, trying to understand this man she thought she knew so well once. Julian doesn’t falter.
“I’d love to catch up,” she says eventually, still holding eye-contact. “Tonight at 2200 hours?”
“That’s perfect,” Julian replies. “See you later, then.”
And with that, he leaves Kira’s office without another word.
Kira sips her springwine distractedly as Ro and Julian have their announced rematch. A few officers have gathered around them, cheering them on. Some of them, like V’ilix’pran and Kira herself, still remember the friendly rivalry between the former CMO and Miles O’Brien.
Kira places her glass on the table, frowning. She’s not been herself since Cretak’s arrival; the nostalgia is usually easier to keep at bay. One would think that being acquainted with a joined Trill would have prepared Kira for the eventuality of people returning into her life in unexpected ways. Cretak is, as ever, a puzzle that makes Kira wary and pulls at her at the same time. If only Kira could understand her motives, be sure that Cretak’s doesn’t mean to trick her—
She’s so caught in her own brooding that Kira startles when Ro and Julian sit down at her table.
“So? Aren’t you going to congratulate the winner?” Ro asks, with a satisfied grin.
“Er, congratulations on beating doctor Bashir?” Kira hesitantly replies. Both Ro and Julian start laughing out loud.
“See? I told you she wasn’t paying attention to the match,” Ro says, elbowing Julian.
Kira groans. “I had a wall of officers in front of me, I couldn’t see a thing!”
“Right,” Ro says, somehow managing to sip smugly from her drink.
“Major Ro was no match for me,” Julian explains, taking pity on Kira. “But your chief of security here took it surprisingly well.”
“I didn’t realize how much I missed throwing pointy things at walls,” Ro says, then crosses her arm on her chest, turning towards Julian: “Most of all, though, I’m very, very curious to hear what you have to say. I bet it’s another tip from that Cardassian tailor I always hear about, right?”
Julian sighs, and then nods.
“And it has to do with our Romulan guest too, I imagine?”
Julian stares at his drink with dismay, then nods again.
“All this secrecy is worrying me, Julian,” Kira interjects, leaning onto the table. “Is this really so dangerous that we couldn’t talk about it in the office earlier?”
“Not really. I just wanted more time to confirm a couple of details to myself, because frankly I find the information quite hard to believe.” He pauses. “Though it does explain how Cretak is here and not in the custody of the Tal Shiar. Kind of.”
Kira and Ro look at each other in utter confusion.
“Kira, you remember that Cretak used to have a few aides here on the station,” Julian begins. “Apparently, not all of them followed her on her last trip to Romulus. The ones who didn’t had a few days to make themselves scarce. The Tal Shiar caught up with most of them eventually, except for one who they never managed to reach.”
“For more than ten years? That’s quite a feat,” Ro comments.
“And that’s not even the most incredible part.” Julian gulps down his drink before continuing. “The aide escaped the Tal Shiar’s grasp by joining a monastery and becoming a nun. A warrior nun, to be precise.”
Kira eyes both Ro and Julian. “Is this another prank?”
“I am as confused as you are,” Ro replied, holding her palms up.
Julian sighs. “I told you this was hard to believe. Apparently this order, the Qowat Milat, has endured for centuries on Romulus, pretty much existing outside of Romulan society at large due to their radical beliefs. My source called them ‘separatists’.”
Kira leans back from the table. “Until this very moment I had no idea there were even monastic orders on Romulus.”
“Well, Romulans do love their secrets,” Ro comments.
“The Qowat Milat is different. They believe in radical honesty, in defiance to everything the Star Empire stands for, and are sworn to always speak the absolute truth. Apparently, just the mention of the order in front of some Romulans is enough to cause mortal offense. I suppose this is why it’s a warrior order, they must have learned how to defend themselves.”
Kira and Ro exchange glances again, this time with dawning understanding.
“They’re like the Brotherhood of Silence,” Kira says.
“Makes sense,” Ro replies.
“The what?” Julian interjects.
Kira gestures noncommittally. “It’s a group of monks that lives in solitude up north.”
“Do they also believe in radical honesty?” Julian asks, still confused.
Ro snorts. “Who can really say with them?”
“Like the name suggests,” Kira explains patiently, “they’re sworn to silence. Apparently, it’s to live in better communion with nature. It’s never been clear if they recognize the Prophets or not, and many centuries ago they were accused of worshiping ghosts and pah-wraiths. Since they couldn’t easily defend themselves with words, they started using bows and arrows.”
“Huh. That’s a pretty interesting similarity,” Julian offers, clearly not knowing what else to say.
The conversation has gone wildly off topic. Kira backtracks mentally to the last piece of information that Julian shared.
“So Cretak’s aide became a part of this order. Then what?”
“Apparently, the Tal Shiar was recently forced to cover a massive breakout on one of their facilities on Romulus.”
“They still have camps there? With the supernova so close?” Ro says, appalled.
“The Cardassians didn't free anyone when they left Bajor, either.” Kira makes a face into her glass. It isn’t the first time that the connection between the two former galactic empires presents itself.
“The important part,” Julian continues, “Is that this facility wasn't stormed. There was no apparent attack, and yet most of the people held here were able to escape off-planet, no Tal Shiar guards following them. And my source believes among them there was Cretak.”
“Believing is quite different than having concrete proof,” Ro observes.
“From now on I really have no proof to offer, just conjecture. But from what I know, Cretak arrived here with a travel visa from Vashti, a planet in the Neutral Zone.”
Ro squints. “That’s true, though now I want to know how you know that.”
Julian ignores her. “Well, Vashti has been home to the Qowat Milat for years now. They’ve helped a considerable number of refugees moving there too. And Cretak has stayed on the planet for a while, since she was able to obtain a visa. So there are not one, but two links between Cretak and the order.”
“So you mean to suggest that the order freed Cretak and then sent over here?” Kira asks.
“I can’t say if she was the Qowat Milat’s main objective, or they just helped her along with many others. But the fact that her aide was there suggests that they knew who Cretak was. The aide wouldn’t have been able to lie about it.”
The whole table is silent for a beat. Kira begins to understand why Julian didn’t want to talk about this in her office. She doubts the story would hold up any better if she were completely sober.
“That was the wildest, most absurd story I’ve heard in a long while. And I know Quark,” Ro says, tilting her head towards the bar. “I'll give you this, doctor, it was at least entertaining.”
Julian raises his hands. “Don't shoot the messenger. I told you it was hard to believe.”
“This doesn’t clear up to me why the Qowat Milat would help Cretak come here, much less escape prison,” Kira intervenes. “Even assuming it was them, what could be their objective in freeing her?”
“There’s another thing I haven’t told you about the order,” Julian says. “They don’t help just anyone. They only bind themselves to what they believe are lost causes. I— think this is why they’re helping other Romulan refugees in the first place, actually.”
Kira holds her breath. For a moment, everything makes sense. What could be more of a lost cause than staging a prison breakout to save a disgraced senator? Especially one that seems committed to help the other, vastly bigger cause of the Romulan population fleeing an imminent supernova? And yet, Cretak is hardly the only Romulan politician ever imprisoned in Tal Shiar facilities. Even considering the link of her former-aide-turned-warrior-nun, it’s a bit of a stretch. Not to mention, it’s hard to imagine Cretak getting along with rebels such as the Qowat Milat.
It would be comforting to believe that the Prophets decided to work in her favor so much, but Kira knows it would be just a convenient fantasy. In the background, a dabo table erupts in celebration.
“Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about, thank you,” she says, rising from her chair. “I have to go, but have a good rest of the evening. And Julian, please send my regards to Garak.”
He chuckles. “I will.”
There have been a lot of nerve-wracking trials in Kira’s career, ones where she wasn’t even half as certain of the result as she is for this hearing. Despite that, she’s tossed and turned all night and her limbs are heavy with fatigue as she wakes up. Dragging herself up, she takes stock of herself in the mirror. She hopes the circles around her eyes won’t scare arbiter Latara away as soon as she steps out of the airlock.
The arbiter makes pleasant conversation as Kira escorts her to the wardroom. Kira decides this bodes well for the hearing, even if she can’t really tell whether or not she’ll be inclined to accept Cretak’s request.
The wardroom is practically empty. Ro, Bashir and Cretak and two security officers are already waiting inside, in what Kira assumes is really uncomfortable silence.
They all exchange pleasantries briskly and efficiently, and after that the hearing is underway.
The first to relate is Ro, essentially confirming Cretak’s identity both with medical evidence and her own research on Cretak’s background.
Next comes Julian. He eagerly shares the details of his experience on Romulus, not sparing any damning particulars, especially when it comes to Admiral Ross’ responsibilities. Kira can’t help but glance at the other two women to gauge their reaction. Ro’s frown only deepens as Julian continues to speak, but Cretak’s reaction is painful to watch. She clearly had no idea how deep the conspiracy ran, and when Ross’ involvement becomes clear, Cretak closes her eyes, turning her head away from the wardroom table.
When it’s Cretak’s turn to speak, Kira watches her as she slowly rises from her chair, walks to the chair in front of the arbiter’s table, and sits down again. A grim expression has set on her face.
“Madam arbiter,” Cretak begins. “I believe what I will say next will make my request for political asylum if not self-evident, at least very credible. I will relate on the last eleven years of my life, which I spent inside of a facility that belonged to the Romulan military organization commonly known as Tal Shiar.”
Cretak stands in front of the porthole of her quarters, holding her cane in front of her with both hands. Neither of them has said a word since the end of the hearing, and Kira feels the tension on her chest like an iron band that keeps tightening.
“You’ve gone through an awful lot of trouble for me, since I got here,” Cretak says, her voice carrying over as though she’s still in front of the arbiter.
Kira doesn’t reply, waiting for more. It may have been years, but she doubts Cretak has become the kind of person who wastes time with expressions of gratitude.
“You’ve given me quarters in the guest sector, and permission to go wherever I pleased on the station. You have no doubt convinced your officers that my presence is no threat to the station, and coaxed your nationalistic governement to set up a hearing for my asylum request in record time.” Cretak finally turns, slowly, towards Kira. “You’ve called upon your old colleagues to support my claim, even at the cost of embarrassing Starfleet in the process. All this is undeniably flattering, general, but I find myself currently wondering what you’re getting out of all of this.”
Cretak’s expression is a mask, the starlight painting hard planes on her face. In the low light Kira can’t quite see her eyes, but it’s nonetheless a staring match. Kira could easily ask Cretak the same question. Why come here of all places? Why DS9?
“I just wanted to help however I could,” Kira says, but as soon as the words are out of her mouth she knows that’s not the entire truth, nor the right thing to say.
“Then let me ask you a question. Would you do the same thing for every other Romulan refugee that will come your way? Would you give private quarters on the station to every single one of them? Would you put your word as a commanding officer on the line for every one of them? Spend hours of your time on every single hearing?”
Kira balks, the question hitting her one after another like anvils. “Those aren’t fair requests and you know it,” she retorts, defensive.
“Reality often isn’t fair,” Cretak says, not missing a beat. “And those refugees will reach DS9, sooner or later. What will you do then, general?”
“Fine, if you want me to admit it that I gave you preferential treatment then I admit it,” Kira snaps. “Is it so bad a thing, that I wanted to honor what we used to have?” Kira pauses, clenching her fists. “There hasn’t been a day in the last ten years in which I didn’t wish I had found an excuse to not let you go back on Romulus. Or in which I didn’t wonder what would’ve happened if I had gone with you. I mourned you, Kimara!”
The former senator’s given name is more of a choked sob than an actual word, and Kira turns away, too close to tears for everyone’s comfort. The stars outside continue on their apparent circular movement, uncaring.
“I appreciate your honesty,” Cretak replies eventually, voice even. “But the questions I brought to your attention weren’t an attempt to force an admission. I was simply trying to make you aware of what kind of decisions you’ll have to make in your near future.”
Kira can’t quite believe her own ears. “Is this really all you have to say?”
Cretak purposefully steps closer to Kira, the cane punctuating her gait. It doesn’t make her look any less imposing: Kira has to resist the urge to step back.
“Make no mistake, general,” she says, her tone more menacing that Kira has ever heard, “no matter the relationship we shared in the past, or how much you helped me in the last few days, I remain a servant to the Romulan people first and foremost. I intend to die as such, in fact. The matter of the refugees escaping my homeworld’s star system is and will remain my absolute priority. Is that clear?”
“Crystal,” Kira replies, chagrined at her own utter failure to read the situation.
Cretak steps back, shoulders slumping under an invisible weight.
"I suggest you think long and hard on those questions, before trying to come back with an answer. If you wish to come back with an answer.”
All those mornings spent praying in the temple, wondering whether Cretak was a sign of the Prophets— and here she was, not a sign, but a herald bringing the message of what was to come. Only Kira hadn’t realized in time, too wrapped up in her own small preoccupations.
Kira glances towards the other woman one last time before leaving Cretak's quarters without another word.
“I didn't expect to see you at Quark's twice in the same week. This is a first.”
Kira scoffs, and downs the contents of her glass. “I thought you liked sitting alone at your second floor table, glaring at everyone who comes near you.”
“That was just for the first few months of my assignment, to keep in line with the habits my predecessor,” Ro retorts.
Kira shakes her glass, the ice cubes clinking together. “To do that you'd have to spend a significant amount of time perched near the bar, exchanging insults with Quark.”
“Truly can't keep up with that changeling,” she says, rolling her eyes. “May I sit?”
Kira looks up at her, surprised by the request. There haven't been many times in the last ten years in which Ro has approached her outside of work. Kira gestures for Ro to grab a seat.
“I wanted to say that the hearing today made me change my mind. I understand now why you're set on granting asylum to Cretak. I appreciate you sticking to what you believed was right.”
“Oh. Well, thank you,” Kira replies awkwardly. “But honestly, I thought you knew how I operate by this point.”
“I certainly do.” Ro smirks, but it quickly fades into a more somber expression. “I'm no stranger to making bad calls on an impulse,” she says, voice now barely audible over the shouts of the dabo table, “but I’m proud of my ability to identify victims and perpetrators. With Cretak though I only saw a threat.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over that,” Kira says. “Cretak is a complicated woman. She has been the victim of a conspiracy, and now is a refugee like billions of other Romulans, but her past is still the one of a ruthless politician with a reputation for deception. I don't blame you for being suspicious, and I appreciate your caution.”
Ro's eyebrows go up at that, but she nods in acknowledgment. Kira holds the glass with both palms, the cold from the ice cubes seeping almost painfully into her skin.
“I'm guessing something after the hearing didn't go as you expected, since you're here,” Ro says eventually.
For a moment Kira imagines coming clean to her chief of security about her history with Cretak. Picturing Ro’s reaction is so ludicrous that she suppresses a laugh with some effort.
“What's so funny?”
“It's nothing,” Kira says, waving away both the question and her own thoughts with a hand. She glances at Ro, who is still considering Kira with some curiosity. Maybe she can make use of this brief moment of calm between them. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
Ro blinks, taken aback. “I guess. I won’t promise that I’ll answer it, though.”
“How was being in Starfleet as a Bajoran refugee?”
Ro’s eyes widen, then she looks away. Kira is about to offer her apologies when Ro says, “Right to the jugular, uh?” She offers a tight smile to Kira, before looking down at her own glass again. “It was— hard. Both at the Academy and once I got my commission, I always met two types of people: the ones the pitied me and the ones that demanded that I was grateful for everything I had. I refused to fit into either of those expectations, and it didn’t exactly make me popular.”
Kira nods, thoughtful. “I’m sorry. You deserved better than that.”
“I made my fair share of mistakes, and I own that. And eventually I had a few friends, people who saw me as an actual person for a change, and not a figurehead for the entire Bajoran population. They are the only reason I sometimes regret leaving Starfleet like I did.”
“I’m glad you had them,” Kira says, truthfully.
“Why did you ask?”
Kira sighs, closing her eyes. She knew the question would come, though she doesn’t relish the idea of laying out her thoughts for Ro to inspect.
“I lived in camps for my entire childhood too. But when I ran away to join Shakaar’s resistance cell, my age and my ability to fight were the only things that were weighed by the other members. We were all displaced Bajorans, so there was no question that we belonged in the fight to take back our planet. That we belonged to Bajor, and with each other.” She pauses, frowning. “You didn’t have the solidity of that belief while in Starfleet, because Bajor was still occupied. And neither do the Romulans now, because their homeworld’s star system is about to be destroyed by a supernova.”
They don’t speak for a long while. Kira can’t tell if she’s talked with too much familiarity to her chief of security. Even after all these years, she finds it hard to understand Ro.
“You think we should commit more openly towards helping the Romulan refugees,” Ro says in the end. It isn’t a question.
“I do,” Kira admits, almost surprised at the simplicity of the answer, after so much agonizing. “I’ve felt uneasy about it for a while. I’m tired of dancing around the prime minister’s fear mongering.” She makes eye-contact with Ro. “Would you consider backing me if I decide to make an independent immigration policy for DS9?”
Ro holds her gaze steadily. “I can do better than that. I can help you draft it, when it comes to security matters.”
“Starfleet won’t like this either.”
Ro shrugs. “I don’t think anyone around here will want to take the stance ‘I won't help these civilians because Admiral Whatshisname says so’. And if someone does anyway, tough luck. You’re their commanding officer.”
Kira laughs despite herself. “You’re right. And I don’t think Starfleet can afford to strong-arm anyone now, especially outside their borders.”
“Would it be alright if I came by your office tomorrow morning and we started discussing this matter? I’d like to hear your thoughts, so we can draft a plan of action.”
“Is 1100 a good time?”
Kira smiles. It’s the easiest time she's ever had setting up a meeting with Ro. “Sure. I’ll stop by at 1100.”
The second floor of the Promenade is empty, no one looking out of the portholes to catch a glimpse of the Celestial Temple. There are no ships scheduled to come through at this time of the evening. It’s a quiet spot for Cretak to spend some time out of her quarters, and Kira isn’t surprised to find her there. She lingers on the last step of the stairs: Cretak’s hair shines like silver under the starlight.
Kira shakes herself out of her reverie. She approaches Cretak silently and stands beside her, hands tied behind her back. Given how she hastily retreated from Cretak’s quarters a few days earlier, Kira figures it’s best if she lets Cretak decide whether she wants to speak with her or not.
“I gather you have answers,” Cretak says, still looking at the stars outside.
“I do, although they’re still partial answers. Major Ro and I have been making plans, and now we have an idea of what to do if more refugees come to DS9. The bottom line is, we won’t turn them away.”
Cretak nods once, but doesn’t speak more.
“As for the other question— I can’t give as much time and resources to every refugee as I gave to you. I did treat you as a special case, and I’m sorry if that’s disappointing. What I can promise is that I will try my best to create an environment that will allow every Romulan to have a place to stay.”
The vendors on the lower level of the promenade are starting to close shop for the day. A loud crash and the following clatter of wares falling onto the floor makes Cretak visibly flinch and shudder. Her knuckles turn white on the handle of her cane. Before Kira can make the suggestion they leave, Cretak closes her eyes and exhales slowly.
“I know it will take time for me to handle loud noises again,” Cretak murmurs, “but I do wish the process wasn’t so difficult.” She looks up at Kira, then continues: “It’s my time to make an admission. You were right. It was unfair to me to suggest you should take the same time for me as you did for any other Romulan. Especially given your history. It was an outburst of frustration, and I regret it.”
Kira blinks in confusion, unsure where the conversation is going.
“During my recent stay on Vashti I had the opportunity to spend some time with— radicals,” Cretak says, her eyes once again on the view outside. “They believe in something called ‘absolute candor’.” She twists her mouth. “At first, living around these people made me wish I was back in the custody of the Tal Shiar. I kept asking myself, how can they stand to reveal their every thought at the slightest provocation? I never met a Romulan, or any alien for that matter, who didn’t believe that a little deception was necessary in order for a community to survive and thrive.” She shakes her head. “Now I understand. These people— they’ve lived at the fringes of Romulan society for centuries, derided and despised. They wanted nothing that wider society could give them, and had nothing except themselves. With nothing to lose, how can the truth hurt? So they’ve applied this principle to everything. Communal living, sharing of resources. They don’t even make promises to each other. ‘A promise is a prison’, they say.”
“Because a promise creates an expectation, and an expectation might not be met,” Kira finishes.
“I see you’ve heard of the Qowat Milat.”
Kira can’t quash her amusement any longer. “I did. Though until now I didn’t truly believe the rumors that they’d helped you escape from the Tal Shiar.”
“I will neither confirm nor deny that,” Cretak retorts, “but I will say that their philosophy has become considerably more attractive to me than I thought possible. I have no title, no property, I owe no loyalty to anyone but myself. My homeworld is about to be obliterated from the star charts and I have no power to stop this from happening. No one does. I might as well start telling the truth, at least to people with whom I wish to live in close contact.”
Kira takes a moment to process what Cretak is saying. “That is— a very interesting notion. And also something you’d likely say to gain someone’s trust and move forward with a bigger deception.”
Cretak laughs heartily at that, and Kira finds herself smiling in turn, a pang in her chest. Kira's fondness for the woman at her side still runs deep, and likely always will.
“You’ve become shrewd,” Cretak says. “It suits your rank. But unless I’m grossly mistaken, you still follow your principles and your instincts with the same sincerity as you did ten years ago.” A pause. “In the spirit of honesty, I will also admit that I wouldn’t have been able to come to terms with living among Qowat Milat if those women hadn’t reminded me so strongly of you.”
Kira looks away, warmth unexpectedly creeping up her neck. “If we’re talking of old habits, you still have a knack for saying things that make me speechless,” she says softly.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Cretak says. “It would be disappointing to find out I lost the ability.”
Kira swallows thickly. This is too obvious an opening to ignore.
“If you’re truly being honest with me, I need to know what you want to do. Where we stand with each other.”
“You know what I plan to do with my future. That is not something I’ll negotiate. You don’t have to match my commitment to help other Romulans, and if my presence on DS9 is a political liability, I’ll arrange to leave as soon as my situation is less precarious. I’ll bear no ill will towards you if that should come to pass.” She glances at Kira. “Does that answer your question?”
“For the record I want to help you with this, otherwise I wouldn’t have started thinking about policy. But I appreciate your understanding— I might become paralyzed in political machinations.”
“I would offer to help you with that matter, but I’m many years out of practice because I failed to recognize the full scope of the conspiracy surrounding me,” Cretak says, her tone far too light for the subject matter, in Kira’s opinion. “I am nonetheless happy at the prospect of working with you again.”
When it’s obvious that Cretak won’t say anything else, Kira resolutely turns to look at the dark expanse beyond the bulkheads of the station. In this, too, Cretak hasn’t changed. Kira has to take decisive action, or they will simply continue trading cryptic praise and everything between them will remain unresolved.
“What about— the two of us? Outside of work?” Kira whispers.
She hears Cretak chuckle. “When I came back here, it was with the full expectations that you’d moved on. Probably into a long-term partnership. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t consider themself lucky to be in one with you. And yet here you are.”
“I refuse to let you characterize this as a failure on my part,” Kira retorts irritably.
“It is no failure. And I’m flattered, of course. But—” she pauses. “As I have to adjust to everyday life again, I also may need time to adjust to people before making any kind of— commitment.”
“We never made any kind of commitment to one another, back during the war,” Kira counters. “I don’t need one now. And I can wait until you feel more adjusted, if that's what worries you.”
“That’s a declaration of intent if I ever heard one,” she says, smirking. “Very well. May I be allowed to call you Nerys once again, then?”
Kira smiles in turn. “I would be honored to, as long as you’ll allow me to call you Kimara.”
Kimara’s eyes shine with mirth, and she nods.