Kai Winn worked quickly and two days later Jake was arriving at the main entrance to the caverns that led to the buried ancient city of B’hala. Waiting for him was a single female prylar sitting on a flat boulder near the entrance. As Jake approached the prylar stood.
“The son of the Emissary, I am honoured to meet you,” said the woman as she bowed gracefully.
“Jake is fine, prylar.”
“Since my order is also quite informal I don’t see why you can’t just call me Vari, if we’re going to be doing away with ego boosting titles,” said Vari with a smile.
Jake couldn’t help but smile back at the shorter woman. She had a very relaxed manner about her, which Jake appreciated. Those in religious orders could be formal to a fault and it could get a bit grating.
“So, I’m told you want to go to the lower levels under the city itself.”
Jake paused before he answered, “Ah...I don’t know.”
Jake was prepared for a scowl or at least a sigh but Vari didn’t seem flustered by his lack of anything even remotely resembling a plan. “So it’s just wandering around aimlessly. That could be interesting.”
“Well, I hope it isn’t aimless.”
Vari raised an eyebrow. “So you do have an idea where we’re going.”
“Yes...no...it’s hard to explain.”
“Let me guess; we’ll be following cryptic clues from your orb experience during the ceremony for the Festival of Tears.”
“You know about that?” said Jake surprised.
“Well, guessed. Unsurprisingly those of the faith were watching closely and while it wouldn’t have been obvious to most what was seen did create quite a bit of buzz in our community. I do have to warn you that no one has been down in the lower levels in twenty years. They were among the last areas opened up before all worked stopped due to the spiritual crisis that arose from the death of your father and the orbs going dark. It is possible not all the proper reinforcements of the tunnels were completed and these caverns might have caved in over time.”
It was a potent symbol that the most important historical, cultural and archaeological finds of Bajoran history had been so completely abandoned after the death of his father. Jake could not blame the Bajorans in losing interest in the past when the present seemed to be crumbling around them at the time.
“Have you been in the tunnels before?” he asked.
“I have gone as far as the city of B’hala. A few years ago the Vedek Assembly wanted us to check the B’hala ruins hadn’t just vanished as well. In all likelihood the most recent visitors into these tunnels and those with the most up-to-date knowledge of what is down there are probably criminals who were trying to escape the law. Do you still want to venture into the dark abyss?”
Jake took a deep breath. “I have to.”
That was good enough for Vari. She fished out a torch from the satchel she was carrying and passed it to him. “Well, down we go.”
At first Jake followed Vari and directed her where to go. After a while he took the lead as he followed the path from his vision as it snaked its way through the tunnels. Vari questioned some of his direction decisions as being less efficient, but they found that his path avoided collapsed and damaged tunnels and she soon stopped questioning his path.
They were deep under the surface when Vari said, “I’m sorry, Jake, but can we just rest for a moment.”
“Okay,” he said suddenly aware of how tired and sweaty he was.
They sat down and Jake pulled out his water pack and took a sip.
“I obviously need to add more exercise to my routine,” said Vari.
“That’s partly my fault,” apologised Jake. “I was caught up in tracing the path that I was rushing it.”
The two sat in silence with only their heavy breathing making any sound in their dim confines.
“There was a time when I would’ve had a panic attack just knowing I might have to go underground,” said Vari breaking the silence.
“You had a phobia?” Jake asked.
“In a way. I was trapped in a cave-in while studying an extinct civilisation on another planet a long time ago. It left a few scars that were more than just physical.”
“What were you doing studying extinct civilisations on other planets?”
“Well, before I was a member of the Bajoran religious order I was a Starfleet science officer.”
Jake gave Vari a surprised look. “You were in Starfleet?” he said, the word sounding almost foreign given the years it had been since he had heard it out loud.
“Is it that surprising? Actually don’t answer that, I’m not sure if my ego can take it,” joked Vari.”
“Did you fight in the Unification War?”
“I took part in the Dominion War, yes,” said Vari, her eye’s dipping to the floor as she did.
She used the former and little used name of the conflict. Once the Dominion was close to succeeding in its pacification of the Federation and Klingon Empire they had quickly rebranded the conflict as the “Unification War”, lauding it as a grand achievement in uniting the people of the region under one glorious banner – the Dominion’s.
“How did you survive? Starfleet was devastated by the war.”
“Destroyed is a more accurate term. I guess luck would be the answer. I only took part in the first few months. The ship I was on was one of the ships that took part in Operation Return. The operation that tried to stop the Dominion from reinforcing itself from the Gamma Quadrant.”
“I know what Operation Return was,” stated Jake tersely, his father’s last battle was not something that he could just forget.
“Of course you do, I apologise. Well, we made it through what we thought was the main battle and after we lost contact with the Defiant the fleet continued to DS9 in the hope we could still retake the station before significant Dominion reinforcements came through and do...something. We arrived and found only a dozen ships defending the station and went to attack. Then the Dominion’s reinforcements came out of hiding and surrounded us. As you know they destroyed every single ship in that attack force. I managed to get to an escape pod and what happened next is hazy. I was knocked unconscious during the pod’s launch. Not completely sure what happened but I was told that the pod was badly damaged. Likely it was caught too close to a ship exploding, most likely the vessel I served on,” Vari said sadly. She paused for a moment, no doubt her thoughts back to her crewmates that perished that day. “My pod was missed by the Dominion and was just floating around the Bajor system. I was found days later by a Bajoran ship and brought back to Bajor where I was taken to a monastery for medical attention.”
“Were you the only one to escape your ship?” he asked cautiously.
“No, a number of other pods launched. Just in my pod there were three others, I was told two were dead when the pod was found with the third, our chief flight controller, badly injured but still alive, so we both were saved from that pod. He died before I regained consciousness and the monks buried him in their cemetery, which was very generous of them. Over the years I’ve heard of a few others who survived the destruction of the Swiftfire, but nearly all were later killed fighting the Dominion.”
Silence descended on the pair. Vari had taken to inspecting her hands and needlessly flicking a finger as if to remove an invisible mark on her hand. A lot of people had been affected by the war, not just Jake. This was a very clear reminder that despite the passage of time those losses suffered were still felt keenly by those touched by them.
After a while Jake asked, “Did you try to rejoin Starfleet when you recovered?”
“It was weeks before I was fit enough to leave the room the monks gifted me. By then Earth, Vulcan, Andor and so many others planets had fallen or simply surrendered. What little was left of Starfleet was deep in Klingon space in the futile fight to stop the Empire from meeting the Federation’s fate.”
Jake could remember those days well. He had lost his way after his father had died. Each new day reports would arrive and it would be full of the latest Dominion victories as the Federation and Klingon Empire crumbled. The Dominion had made a major statement after its reinforcements arrived with the quick conquering of Earth. The causalities in that battle were terrible as Starfleet put nearly all it had to prevent their capital from falling, but it was for nothing and the subsequent subjugation of the planet only added to the horrendous death toll. Vulcan, Andor and Tellar all followed quickly and once these major worlds fell many Federation planets simply surrendered upon sight of a Dominion ship entering their system. The Klingons had put up more of a fight, but in the end all they gained was a death toll of a magnitude that was truly too difficult and sickening to imagine.
“What about the Exodus?” he asked.
“If I’d known about it at the time I might have tried to join. That is if I believed it to be true.”
‘The Exodus’ was the supposed last official act of the Federation Council. It had ordered Starfleet to gather a fleet of ships, including civilian vessels, and take as many civilians as they could and to flee to parts unknown. No one was sure where they went, some thought they headed to the edge of the galaxy where they would prepare to move beyond and out of the Dominion’s reach. Others thought they went to the centre of the galaxy to hide, others said they headed off to the Delta Quadrant to seek new allies to prepare for the eventually arrival of the Dominion. The most outlandish opinion was that the fleet had travelled to another dimension or universe. No one knew for sure and most did not even know if the exodus really happened.
Most of the ‘evidence’ for the Exodus was based on the fact that many Starfleet ships disappeared during the war, their fates unknown. Jake considered it simply a fairy tale created to appease people so they could dream that one day these lost Federation citizens would return and free them from Dominion rule. Jake would not be surprised if a few ships had fled the carnage or if a colony had abandoned its home to seek safety in the unknown, but as for a well organised retreat, he was not as convinced about that.
“So you became a monk instead,” stated Jake.
“Not straight away. The monks agreed to let me stay as I had nowhere else to go. My first choice was to join up with a criminal element. They liked to use caves and tunnels and to help them I need to be able to go into where they were hiding, which helped me get over my fear eventually.”
It was not difficult for Jake to read between the lines as to what ‘criminal’ element Vari was referring to. “You joined the resistance movement?”
Vari nodded. “I wasn’t with them for long. Once the Dominion declared the war over...I lost heart. I fought on for a while until one day I found myself back on Bajor and standing over the grave of my shipmate outside the monastery that had cared for me and I was engulfed with nothing but regret and sorrow. So I turned to the Prophets for solace and now here I am. Quite a turnaround given my upbringing.”
Jake gave her a questioning look.
“Long story short: My parents were killed fleeing Bajor during the Cardassian occupation when I was a baby. I was adopted by a Human couple and I didn’t even know my real name until I was a teenager. I was in my twenties before I really started to practice this faith. I can safely say that nowhere along that road did I ever entertain this as a possibility for my life,” said Vari gesturing to her elegant robes. “So what about you? Why did you stay on Bajor and not go back to Earth? I don’t want to seem too familiar but it is well known that you are uncomfortable with taking part personally in Bajoran religious practices. Given you are the son of the Emissary and the expectations tied in with that, this would not seem like the best place to settle down.”
“Well, much like you I had nowhere else. Initially it was purely because I couldn’t go back to Earth. The war made any journey to Earth risky and once it was conquered the Dominion clamped down on people travelling to and from the Earth, but if I could I would have and gone and stayed with my grandpa. I was on Deep Space 9 at the time but I couldn’t stay after what happened there, so I had nowhere to go but here. Then after my grandpa died...” said Jake, his voice trailed off as he thought about his kind and gentle grandfather, who did have a long and full life did not deserve to die the way he did.
“Didn’t you have any other family?” asked Vari.
“I have an aunt and two uncles but I’m not really all that close with them or their families that I felt I could impose on their lives. So I fled back here to a remote village where I could hide from the galaxy and wallow in my sorrow,” he said mournfully. “Thankfully things changed. It took a few years but I got my life together, eventually met a woman whom I married and now I have a family. I guess we can never know what path our lives might take,” said Jake.
Vari smirked. “Too true. Talking about paths, shall we continue on ours?”
Jake nodded and stood up. He helped Vari to her feet and the two continued on their journey deeper under the surface.
Jake was starting to think that this was all going nice and easily when he found himself facing a dead end.
“By your face I’m guessing this isn’t what you expected,” said Vari.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Did we make a wrong turn?”
“No, at least I don’t think so,” replied Jake. He reached out and touched the stone wall in front of him and while it felt just like any other rock there was something about it that irked him. “No, this shouldn’t be here. This should be a flight of stairs going down to the alcove we’re looking for.”
“Well, let’s see if you’re right.”
From her satchel Vari pulled out a familiar looking device and started scanning the wall.
“A Starfleet tricorder? Yes, it is,” said Vari finishing and answering Jake’s question. “A trapping of my former life that I’ve never had the heart to get rid of.” Vari continued to scan the wall. “Well, you’re right. The path does continue on and it does appear to be a tunnel sloping sharply downwards beyond this wall.”
“Why would the Prophets show me a path but not tell me that I can’t get to it?” asked Jake.
“Life often throws obstacles in our way, Jake. It’s up to us to find a way around or through them.”
Vari fished in her sack and pulled out another small device.
“Is that a bomb?” asked Jake surprised.
“It’s an explosive, but not a weapon. It’s a clearing charge.”
“It can still kill someone.”
Vari gave him a look that Jake had seen his wife give him more than once when she thought he was being naive. “I could strangle you with the sleeves of my robes but that doesn’t make my robes a weapon. You are sure this is the right way? I was only able to get my hands on one of these.”
Jake nodded. “I’m sure.”
Vari positioned the charge on the wall. They moved back down the tunnel and Jake stopped. Vari herded him further away.
“We better move back further. The tunnel will funnel the explosive force.”
Once they were suitable far enough away to satisfy Vari she asked, “Ready?”
Jake nodded. A concern suddenly popped into his mind. “Wait; is it safe to use the explosive? Couldn’t it bring down the ceiling?”
“That is indeed a possibility.”
“Then shouldn’t we –” Jake never finished his sentence as Vari detonated the charge. A thunderous explosion rumbled through the tunnels. Dirt and dust fell from the ceiling and Jake reflexively raised his arms to cover his head, though there was nothing falling that would do the tiniest bit of damage to him.
Jake stared at Vari. “You could have killed us.”
“Jake, you’re on a mission for the Prophets. They will protect you until you see out their will.”
“Then why did you make us move so far away?”
“For my safety,” she said with a wry smile. “The Prophets have something special in mind for you, not me.”
They cautiously made their way forward and found that the explosive had done its job. The wall was now a gaping hole. Jake went first and shone his light through and found the stairs he had said would be there. He carefully stepped down the ancient stairs, a task not made easier with the rubble scattered from their breach of the wall. Both he and Vari made it safely to the base of the stairs and into a dark alcove.
“What is this place?” asked Vari.
“I don’t know. I just...saw it in my orb experience,” he explained.
Jake shone his light to the floor where he had seen his “father” sitting. From there he traced up the wall to the stone tablet in the wall. Vari gasped and immediately went up to the tablet.
“It’s inscribed with ancient Bajoran,” she said.
“Can you read it?”
“Part of my work has been with ancient Bajoran texts so I have a fairly good grasp on some of the ancient Bajoran languages. Let’s see, it’s a bit dusty but I think I can make out this here. It says, ‘Welcome...Emissary, child of the Prophets’.”
“Welcome Emissary?” repeated Jake in shock. “It’s a message for my father?”
“It would seem so,” said Vari. She did not look away from the tablet as she continued to read the text, her voice low and barely above a mumble. “Wait, that’s not right. This is the masculine form of child and I’ve got the syntax wrong. It says, ‘Welcome, son of the Prophets’ Emissary.” Vari turned to Jake. “It’s addressed to you!”
“What?” Jake moved closer to the orb and stared at it, not that he could understand even one of the symbols on the tablet. “How old is this?”
“This level is under B’hala...so we’re probably talking tens of thousands of years old. There have been prophecies regarding the Emissary for millennia, but I can’t think of any that are messages for him, let alone any that even mentions you.”
“Are you sure that’s what it says? Your initial translation makes more sense.”
Vari again closely studied the ideograms on the tablet. “I’m as sure as I can be. I’m pretty sure I can translate more.” Vari mumbled as she translated the ideograms and put them together. “Okay. The age of Reckoning is at hand.”
“Reckoning? Are you sure that’s what it says?”
“Yes, it mentions it in a number of other places as well. It sounds vaguely familiar; does it mean something to you?”
Jake gulped as he nodded. “The Prophets mentioned a reckoning.”
“Then we’re definitely in the right place.” Vari continued to translate the tablet. “Looks like we can look forward to a feast,” she said sounding slightly surprised and amused.
“At the time of the Reckoning, the Bajoran people will eat fruit. That doesn’t seem right. It’s a very innocuous thing to have on a hidden tablet; maybe it’s a metaphor that will make sense in further context.”
“Maybe if I clear some of the dust,” offered Jake as he reached forward to brush some of it away with his fingers.
In a blink of an eye Jake found himself somewhere else. He was still in the alcove but now he was in the middle of the room, which was now bathed in an odd light. He instantly recognised the scene as that from his orb experience. His head spun around looking for his father but found no one.
“The child of the Sisko has come,” said Vari who stepped out from behind him, seemingly from nowhere.
“He must begin the Reckoning,” voiced Kai Winn who moved up next to him on his other side.
“What is this ‘Reckoning’?” he asked.
“Much will depend on the child of the Sisko,” said Vari, moving back around him.
“He is corporeal,” said Winn. “Limited”
“He is my son,” boomed the voice of his father. A hand clasped his shoulder. “He will not waver.”
Jake looked over to see his father, not a Prophet but his father. “Dad!”
“The Sisko is of Bajor,” said Winn, seemingly accepting his father’s proclamation.
“You must bring the Reckoning, Jake. For the sake of all of Bajor.”
“I don’t know what I have to do.”
Winn moved in front of him and stared deep into his eyes. “It will be the end...”
“Or the beginning,” said Vari in almost a whisper from his other side.
Jake turned to his father. “Dad, I don’t understand,” he said confused.
“Don’t worry, son. You will know. I have faith in you.”
There was a brilliant flash that blinded Jake and the next thing he knew he was flying through the air. He impacted something with a painful thud as blackness took him.
“Jake! Jake! Are you okay?”
“Dad?” he replied as he slowly opened his eyes.
“Looks like you took a hard hit to the head,” said a smiling Vari kneeling over him.
“No...I saw my father.”
“We’re alone, Jake. You must have had a vision.”
Jake gestured for Vari to help him sit up and she did. Jake rubbed the back of his head, though his entire back side seemed to hurt.
“We need to translate the rest of that tablet,” he said.
“It will go much faster if we take it back to my order. We have a number of ancient Bajoran language experts and plenty of material that will help us.”
“Good idea. Maybe you should carry it after what it did to me.”
Vari agreed and went about carefully removing it from its place in the wall. She wrapped it up in cloth and placed it in her satchel. On the way back Vari led the way as she had recorded their path down. When they finally broke out under blue sky they found several people waiting for them.
One of them walked up to Jake. “Jake Sisko?” he asked.
“I’m from Bajoran Security,” said the man. A look of guilty unease flashed across his face. “I’m sorry I have to do this...I’m taking you into custody for questioning by the Dominion.”