Kalem Apren could have been perfectly content with his current lot in life. When he had been minister of Hedrikspool Province, before the average Bajoran even knew that there was a Cardassian Union, there was always a part of him that resented the responsibility that came with his birthright. He had never been like Kubus Oak, who relished his power so comprehensively that it had devoured him, landed him straight into the lap of a traitorous alien presence. No, Kalem had never been one to clutch and grapple at the authority of his D'jarra; he had always thought himself more like Jas Holza that way, content to simply wield his title and let his adjutants do most of the actual governing.
How times have changed, he thought grimly as he wandered through the afternoon marketplace at Vekobet, in the central region of Kendra Province. Kalem had never particularly cared for Kendra, and had often wondered why the Prophets arranged it that he would be here on business when the Cardassians first showed their true colors. It had been a chaotic time, frightening, infuriating, terrifying. He had offered to help reorganize civilians in the aftermath, with Jaro Essa and some of the other Militiamen on the scene -- those of the Bajoran homeguard who had not been killed or absorbed into the false Cardassian-sanctioned new government. And somehow, he had remained here for all these years. He was fairly certain now that he would die here, too, for his new wife was from Kendra, and she seemed to have no intention of leaving. What was there left for him in Hedrikspool anyway? Hedrikspool had lost more than half its population to the exodus, even before the soldiers had come; the government had effectively been taken over by Cardassian political "liaisons," with most of the older civilians falling in line and the younger running off to join the resistance or subsiding into apathy. Bajor didn't need politicians at the moment; it needed leaders.
So now that he lived out a simple life in Kendra Province, with a beautiful new wife and many friends, he could simply resign himself to having been plucked from that uncomfortable seat of responsibility and deposited here, to a time and place where a former politician's roles were much less complicated than before. He still had money and resources; though they had dwindled significantly, there was enough to keep him in relative comfort -- relative to the suffering elsewhere on his world. He still had residual influence among the people here, as much for his role in quieting citizens in the aftermath of the first attacks as for his former minister's seat.
But he could not accept his lot in life. He would not. He recognized now how much he had taken his position for granted in the past -- he could have done more, so much more to prevent his world's current circumstances. But there was nothing to be gained from regret; the only thing to do now was to plan the next step. Because, despite the pessimism of many, Kalem had to believe there would be a next step. It was the only thing that kept him moving.
People greeted him as he passed through the marketplace; a few even stopped to shake his hand. He met the eyes of a man about his own age, a man with a taut, malnourished visage and a pleading expression in his eyes. Please, Minister, his expression read, please assure me it's going to get better. Kalem smiled at the man, saying nothing, but his expression telling him what he wanted to hear. Just wait. Things will be different someday. Did any of them truly believe it? Kalem knew they couldn't possibly -- they simply repeated it to themselves to shut out the roaring insistence of defeat.
Passing through the marketplace, he found his way to the residence of Jaro Essa, who had been a major in Bajor's Militia before it had been disbanded. A great many were slaughtered in the early days of the Cardassian attacks, and the handful that were left put in a very quick surrender -- much to the chagrin of those like Jaro, who had been in favor of a military coup since long before the Cardassians had announced their formal annexation. If only Kalem and the others would have supported his position! But there was that regret again. Nothing to achieve from it now. The Militia was a distant memory, as was any semblance of real Bajoran government; Kubus Oak and the others were a mere panel of Cardassian pawns.
Kalem represented one of dozens of former politicians and leaders who had sunk into informal law-keeping positions, men and women who had simply taken charge of things at the right time to have fallen into permanent ad hoc positions that seemed to carry lifelong terms, for who else would fill their shoes? There were no elections, no formal designations -- only secret town meetings with the few Bajorans who weren't too despondent, who still saw the point in trying to maintain government at the provincial level. Time and again, the people of Kendra agreed that Kalem, Jaro, and a handful of other volunteers continued to do what they had always done -- which was to prevent complete chaos from taking over in the wreckage of their cities.
He stepped to the door of a small adobe home, which opened to his knock.
"Hello, Major," Kalem said.
"Minister," Jaro replied. It was foolish, perhaps, that they kept to their old titles when they spoke to each other, but some shared grain of stubbornness would not allow either to acknowledge for a moment that it wasn't entirely appropriate to do so. Kalem entered the house, and Jaro shut the heavy wooden door behind him, first peering outside as if it would truly ensure they were safe from the prying of collaborators.
"I received the communiqué from Jas Holza," Kalem informed Jaro as the old militia leader gestured for him to sit in a cracked leather chair coated in a thin layer of dust. Jaro was a bachelor, too busy with his informal adjutant position to keep his home especially tidy.
Jaro was taken aback. "Already? I thought he wasn't due to contact us until -- "
"A discrepancy with the calendar on Valo III. We still haven't adjusted it satisfactorily to coincide correctly with Bajor's. I suppose we've been too...preoccupied here to bother with such trivialities concerning the outlying colonies."
Jaro never bothered to acknowledge Kalem's acid sarcasm anymore. He sat down himself, in a chair nearly identical to Kalem's except that the seat was split open along lacy cracks, the stuffing coming out in tufts. Jaro's things had once been sturdy and expensive, but time took its toll. "What news did he have?"
Kalem frowned, feeling disgust as he related the information. "News we should have expected. Jas has managed to make himself out to be some kind of goodwill ambassador to the Federation. They have no idea what our real situation here is, and it doesn't sound as though Jas has any intention of clearing matters up for them. He's enjoying his status far too much to make waves."
Jaro nodded. "As I've been saying, Minister -- we can't rely on the Federation to help us. Perhaps it's better that we forge our plans without the consideration of fickle outsiders."
Kalem shook his head. "But if the Federation truly knew -- if we could make it plain to them what the Cardassians' presence here has become..."
"They won't listen," Jaro said firmly. "It's possible that Jas did try to tell them, Apren, but there simply wasn't anything they could do to stop it -- not within the realm of their own rigid code of sanctimonious laws. We must not pin our hopes on the Federation, or anyone else. There is only us."
Kalem resisted the urge to argue; it would get him nowhere -- they had been over this many times. "What about Keeve Falor?"
Jaro sighed heavily. "What about him?" he said. "My own attempts to reach him have still been mostly unsuccessful, and you tell me that you have had a similar experience."
Kalem nodded in reluctant acknowledgment. Jas Holza was easy to reach, just as long as he wanted to be reached. He still had money, still had influence in alien trade partnerships. He still had a few warp vessels that he somehow managed to keep under the Cardassians' notice -- the Union paid little attention to what went on in the Valo system, too far away to disrupt their own business ventures. But it was another matter for Keeve. Valo II had fallen into dire poverty -- the people there were struggling just to stay alive, to maintain a few strained trade relationships. If it hadn't been for Jas Holza, probably the Valo II settlers would have perished decades ago. A reliable comm system was the least of Keeve Falor's worries.
"We should keep trying," Kalem said. "We should tell Jas to connect us. Bajor needs strong voices, strong leaders who will be ready to do what it takes when the time comes. Keeve is someone I know we can count on."
"If the time comes," Jaro said.
Kalem shook his head. "Major," he said, "we cannot think that way."
Jaro's mouth tightened. "You're right, of course, Minister," he said faintly, but Kalem could clearly detect the brittleness in his tone. They had discussed such things often, but still, the years passed and so little had changed.
It will change, though, Kalem told himself. And we'll have to be ready.
They talked over a few local matters -- rationing their allotment of winter crops early this year, a minor boundary dispute between neighboring farms that they needed to resolve before the Cardassian "peacekeepers" got involved. After a time, Kalem rose to go, shaking the old Militia officer's hand as he left, considering the wisdom of his own dogged optimism as he stepped out into the gathering twilight. Of course, his beliefs were not far removed from Jaro's, but he could not bring himself to speak them aloud, even if Jaro could. Even if everyone else on Bajor could. There was logic in making preparations to guide Bajor in the aftermath of a Cardassian withdrawal, and even if he didn't quite believe that the Union would ever leave them, Kalem would keep moving, keep working to ...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.