This is the last place in the universe where I want to be.
Terri Letac remembered thinking exactly that when she first found herself in the Hilirat Monastery nearly two years ago. She was recovering from the injuries she sustained during the evacuation of the USS Swiftfire-A when it was destroyed by Dominion forces. She was alone, separated from her crew and Starfleet. The only other member of the crew she knew the fate of had been buried in the monastery’s cemetery after dying of his injuries. She knew that fate was probably shared by many of the Swiftfire’s crew. But others had to have survived and be fighting on.
This was the reason why she was upset with being at the monastery. She wanted to be back with Starfleet fighting to save the Federation despite the news of its rapid collapse under the weight of the Dominion’s onslaught. As continual news of the fall of the Federation arrived she came to hate the stone walls that surrounded her. Despite what all those within had done to not only save her life, but try to save that of her friend, she couldn’t help but feel anger towards them and everything she saw as trapping her on Bajor.
While her time at the monastery had not been all that long, it was enough that when she finally left Bajor the war was effectively over. Federation territory had been wholly conquered by the Dominion and the last pockets of resistance in the Klingon Empire were fighting bitterly to a bloody end. It was a futile gesture to the conquering Dominion that did not care about losses sustained when it had such an expendable and easily replaceable fighting force.
She still had fight left within her and joined a resistance movement to fight against the region’s conquerors. For a time it gave her purpose. For a time it allowed her to feel like she could continue with some semblance of her life in Starfleet. However, the pointlessness of the fighting became evident. No matter how stunning their success might be it was never more than a minor annoyance to the Dominion. On the other hand every loss they suffered was felt and their numbers diminished while the Dominion’s ever grew. Finally she had to admit the obvious that there was no real hope of reversing what had happened.
Letac found herself without anywhere to go. Earth was not an option. It was simply too dangerous for her to return to. She was an enemy combatant and she had seen and heard of how the Dominion dealt with them. To return to Earth would likely mean her death. It was beyond her reach.
The reason she wished to return to Earth was that she desperately wanted to see her adoptive parents again. They had thought her dead for some time and out of necessity she had never contacted them with the truth of her survival. She had dreamed of reuniting with them; to let them know she was alive. It was not to be. In the end she had to abandon any hopes of a family reunion, maybe even forever.
So she came back to Bajor, the planet of her birth. There was only one place she could think to go and it was back to Hilirat. The monks had thankfully welcomed her back. They had not asked why she had returned or what she had done in the intervening time. They just accepted her return as just that; a return.
It was a year ago yesterday that she had returned. She remembered making her way down the very hallway she walked now, exchanging polite smiles with the monks despite the emptiness she felt inside. She walked the same path and exited the building into the large kept grounds that surrounded the monastery. She made her way along the same path to a secluded corner of the grounds and entered the modest cemetery. Only a few dozen graves were here. It was not required for a monk to be interred here and she knew that many opted to be buried closer to their homes with their ancestors and family. However, there was one person buried here who was not of the monks. It was her crew mate. Her friend.
Letac made her way to his grave. She placed her hand on top of the marker, stroking its cool, smooth surface. Her mind drifted back to a year ago to the moment she stood over Frank Edwin’s grave and the feeling of hopelessness she felt inside…
“It’s over, Frank,” Letac stated forlornly. “The Dominion won. The Federation is gone. Even the Klingons are now under the boots of the Jem’Hadar; or at least what’s left of them. There’s nothing left to fight for.”
She sighed loudly as she hung her head. She had left the resistance group she was with. She no longer felt the urge to keep fighting a useless campaign that had only one outcome: their deaths at the hands of the Jem’Hadar. Months of fighting, running, and hiding. It was an endless cycle. One she had finally had enough of.
Now she found herself here. A place she only came back to because she had nowhere else to go. She wanted to go to Earth to be with her parents, but the Dominion heavily restricted travel to Earth. There were also many stories about former Starfleet officers just disappearing that she didn’t want to risk it. Nor did she want to endanger her parents. It was safer for them to continue to believe that she had died when the Swiftfire was destroyed during the failure of Operation Return.
She was now left empty. There was nothing left for her. There was no Starfleet. There was no Federation. She no longer wanted to fight. She was alone. She was lost.
“Terri, it is a pleasure to see you again.”
Letac turned to see a familiar face. “Vedek Pemka, it’s nice to see you too.”
“Tanos, my dear. Remember we are quite informal here,” the older man reminded her with a warming smile.
Letac did remember. This order was very relaxed compared to the few she had been exposed to in her infrequent visits to Bajor. Most were very rigid and set in the ways and formalities of an organised religion. It was one of the things that she found most pleasant about this group.
“Thank you for allowing me to stay,” she said.
“Charity needs no reward. And as I said it is a pleasure to have you back.”
She smiled and turned back to look at Edwin’s grave.
“You are feeling lost,” he stated.
She didn’t look back as she replied, “Is it that obvious?”
“I recognise it in you. I have felt the same and had that very look on my face before.”
“Oh, you mean the darkening of the orbs?” she guessed referring to the unexplained change in Bajor’s most prized and holy of religious relics.
“That has been a…trying experience for all Bajor. I was thinking more of when I was younger. In fact, the young me and you weren’t so different.”
She gave him a questioning look. “I find that hard to believe.”
“I found myself at what I thought was a dead-end in life. I found that violence and conflict no longer seemed to give me the comfort and purpose that it once did.”
“Violence?” she repeated as she turned to give Pemka a confused look. Given the Vedek’s age it dawned on her what he might be referring to. “You were in the Bajoran resistance?” she asked sceptically.
“A young country boy disgusted by the rape of his planet and people picks up a weapon and turns it on those responsible, the Cardassians. Is that so surprising?” he asked quizzically.
“No, I guess not,” she admitted with a shrug.
Bajor had suffered greatly under the Cardassian occupation that had ended less than a decade ago. Some of the crimes that were committed by the occupiers were truly shocking. It was why her parents had tried to flee the planet when she was a baby. It was why they had died and left her an orphan. If she had made her way back to Bajor instead of into the Federation she couldn’t discount that she would have taken arms against the Cardassians as well.
“For a while I felt like I was doing the right thing. That the blood on my hands didn’t matter because it was Cardassian,” Pemka explained glancing down at the palms of his open hands briefly before continuing, “However, blood is blood. Killing others, even so called monsters, didn’t make my life better or my conscience clearer.”
“So what happened?”
“As with many I turned to the Prophets to ease my tormented pagh. I probably spent as much time praying as I did sleeping, especially as the latter got harder as my doubts about my life grew,” stated Pemka. He gazed off into the distance, his thoughts surely returning to the past. He shook off his reflection and continued, “It is no coincidence that so many in the resistance eventually end up donning religious robes. We seek forgiveness for our actions and appeasement for the evils we committed, no matter how necessary we tell ourselves they were. Plus you hang around with the religious types enough and it rubs off,” he quipped.
“So you just decided to become a monk?”
“Not straight away. I first decided that violence would no longer be my life. Deciding what my life would be after that…took time. I eventually found something that I could still fight for, without violence, as well as give my life purpose.”
“It must have been comforting to find that.”
Silence filled the cemetery and Letac turned back to Edwin’s grave marker. She placed her hand back on its cool surface.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do now,” she spoke breaking the silence.
“Well, you’re more than welcome to stay here as long as you need.”
“Thank you, Vedek. If only finding what to do next was as simple.”
“Actually that was one of the reasons I wanted to find you. I was wondering if you have any interest in history, particularly Bajoran history.”
“I enjoy the study of history.” Letac turned back to face Pemka and continued, “I can’t say I’m very well versed in the history of Bajor, so I wouldn’t mind learning more.”
“We have an extensive library of writings dating back tens of thousands of years. The government has been wanting us to digitise and translate our collection, particularly the more important works.”
“I’m not sure how much use I will be with translating ancient Bajoran given I only have a basic knowledge of modern Bajoran.”
“That part I’m not so worried about,” he said waving away her concerns. “We have a number who are very proficient in ancient Bajoran. It’s more the archiving the pieces. My people are more comfortable with paper than they are with modern technology. Another by-product of the occupation where technology was far more controlled than it is now.”
Letac felt she could hardly refuse to help. They were providing her with food and shelter and had not asked for anything in return. However, it did have the positive of giving her something to do while she tried to figure out her next step.
“I’ll be happy to help,” she replied.
“I’m so very glad you have accepted. Come, let me walk you to the library. There is much that can be learnt from history and the study of the Prophets’ teachings. Maybe you will find something that will light a new path for you.”
Letac followed Pemka away from Edwin’s grave with no more surety of her path than when she arrived.
Letac’s mind returned to the present. She had been staring unfocused at the graver marker as her mind drifted to the past. She knelt down and pulled out a small trowel. She dug at the earth at the base of the marker and cleared a small hole.
From her pocket she pulled out an object. She turned the almost star shaped object over in her hands as she stared at it. Her combadge was one of the few objects that she had left of her life and service to the Federation. It was a symbol of who she was. Letac placed the combadge in the small hole.
“To bury the past is a difficult thing,” said the easily recognisable voice of Vedek Pemka.
“My past was lost to me when Frank died,” Letac said solemnly. “No matter what I want I can’t be Lieutenant Terri Letac again. To continue to hold onto that impossibility will never bring me anything good. It’s time that I let it go.”
Over the last year Letac had worked with the monks on their archiving. Through it she had learnt more about her people and their history than she could have imagined. It had given her back something she thought was lost, one of the major reasons why she had joined Starfleet: to discover and gain knowledge. What had started for her as merely a way to fill time was now much more.
It was not the only thing she had found. She had taken on aspects of Bajoran religion years ago, but now realised how basic her understanding of it was. Her time with the monks and in the monastery had truly opened her eyes. She had found a spirituality within her that she had barely touched the surface of before. It was now so much a part of her she wondered how she had managed to live without it.
All this had led to this moment. It had given her strength. It had given her purpose. It was allowing her to do what she was about to do. She reached down and touched her combadge one last time before she covered it with soil. Letac tapped the surface flat with the trowel.
Letac reached out and touched the delicately engraved writing on the marker and whispered, “I found my way, Frank. I am no longer lost.”
She got back to her feet and turned to Pemka. “Vedek Pemka, I would like to give my vow to the Prophets and the order. But not as Terri Letac, as Letac Vari,” she said using her birth name.
Pemka reached out and took her ear between his fingers. He closed his eyes briefly as he sensed her pagh. When he opened them he smiled serenely, satisfied with what he had felt from within her.
“The Prophets have led you to this path and I will be more than happy to welcome you into our order, Vari. Come, let’s make things official.”
Letac Vari smiled as she followed the Vedek towards her future.