Major Kira Nerys stood rigid, forcing her body not to tremble in suppressed anger and humiliation. It was all the Bajoran freedom fighter could do not to leap across the brief gap and throttle the black-clad, black-helmeted alien "dean" who now commanded Deep Space Nine...or Emissary's Sanctuary, as Kai Winn had renamed it -- the same Kai Winn who had just surrendered the station to the "Liberated," as the invaders had called themselves.
The Liberated said little but the necessary. But that was a welcome change from the more loathsome, loquatious representatives of the Dominion, the Vorta -- and from the harsh Jem'Hadar, who would already have slapped a restraining field on Kira, the Kai, and the other Bajorans. These unknowns were gentle, at least, now that they'd won the station. Have to change the name to Hot Potato, thought Kira with a curled lip, the way we're passing it around from hand to hand. Living among humans had taught her many old Earth expressions.
"Courage, child," said the Kai in a monumentally condescending attempt at raising Kira's spirits. "The Prophets send tribulations to test us."
"Did you say that during the Occupation, too?" The words were out before Kira could swallow them, but she was secretly glad she'd said it: too many people, herself included, tiptoed around the blind, stubborn Kai Winn as if she were a glacier, unturnable and irresistible.
"Yes, child, I did." Winn turned to stare at Kira's face, bringing a flush of self-consciousness to the major's cheek. Kira kept her eyes on the invader dean, who was quietly ordering his troops into quite an effective occupation of all three Promenade levels. "And at last, we passed that test," said the Kai.
Kira clenched her teeth so hard, she felt one of them crack. There was nothing she could do but obey the dean's last order to stand still and not move: Kai Winn, Kira's commanding officer and governor of the station, had surrendered to the Liberated, and the Bajoran frigates had backed far enough away not to be a factor. Not that they could have done anything but die gallantly, she thought, tasting another lump of bile; we were outgunned, out fought, and out thought. Already, the ghosts of three hundred Bajoran souls haunted Kira Nerys -- the number lost in the first naval wave sent by Bajor to reinforce the Emissary's Sanctuary and its governor, the Kai.
Kira snuck a glance to her right. The Kai wore a sweet smile, the vapid mask of "serenity" that Kira had learned hid a capable and determined middle-aged woman, a true leader of her beleaguered people. Kira fought the illusion that Kai Winn projected. The major struggled to remember that Winn could be as bloodthirsty and dangerous as any Resistance fighter, no matter how much or little she might have done during the Resistance. We fought in different ways, Kim caught herself thinking, now my way is futile...could the Kai Winn route still be viable?
The futility of fighting had been demonstrated to Kira a few scant minutes after she and the Kai met the alien dean on the Promenade three hours ago. Then, Kira had been her angry self, coldly confronting the dean and demanding...what? Everything: that the prisoners be treated gently, that the station integrity be respected, that the Liberated apologize, beg forgiveness, and get off Deep Space Nine! But Kai Winn passed on an opportunity to back up her executive officer, offering only that the name of the station was Emissary's Sanctuary now.
Furious, Kira turned on her Kai. "That's it? That's all you can say?"
Winn smiled gently through the tirade, irritating Kira even further. "Child, the Way of the Prophets is not the child's blind resistance to authority. I'm sure our new masters will be kind to the Bajorans, who freely offer to share the Orb, the far-seeing anomaly." Kai Winn turned to the dean. "Won't you?"
"Bajorans will not be harmed," said the universal-translator implant in Kira's head, the clicking and buzzing of the alien's actual speech an annoying background noise.
"And what about those who aren't Bajorans?" asked Kira, beginning to tremble as she held back a wall of rage. "Jake Sisko, and Nog, and -- and Garak." Did I really just say that, fretting for the safety of that butcher?, "And what about our freedom? Is that just another casualty of war?"
She was shouting at the dean, but her fury was directed more at Kai Winn for her betrayal. Dropping her hands to her side, Kira's thumb brushed the combat knife she still carried. She had of course surrendered her phaser rifle and hand phaser, but she had conveniently forgotten about the largely ceremonial "kolba's tooth" commando knife, which she had worn all through the Resistance. Then, though used only once to kill, it had come in handy a thousand times to open a food pack or cut a fishing line.
Without thinking, her hand curled around the wooden haft. She slid it from the sheathe, silent as the grave, and concealed it up behind her forearm. Kira glanced at the Kai...but she could never turn her wrath on one annointed by the Prophets, no matter what the betrayal. Kai Winn will never get a knife in the back from me, whatever the provocation.
At that moment the alien dean turned his back to order a complete search of all buildings on the Promenade. Kira had a single chance and took it. She leapt the short distance, thrusting directly forward with the blade in a brutal and efficient lunge.
Evidently the Liberated boasted significantly quicker reaction time than Bajorans. The dean barely glanced back over his shoulder as he hooked his foot up and slightly deflected Kira's lunge, which missed wide. Giving her a gentle push in the direction she was already moving, he flung Kira to the ground with disturbing ease. Then he picked up his conversation where he'd left off. Meanwhile, three other aliens dogpiled on Kira's back, wrenching the knife from her grasp and nearly breaking her wrist in the bargain.
The black-clad invaders were anonymous, their heads in tight-fitting, opaque helmets, or so Kira originally thought. Close up, she saw there were no helmets. Their faces were featureless cyphers, and she felt her stomach turn despite long exposure to disgusting aliens. Sensory organs buried inside, she realized, built to withstand terrible punishment. Feeling the hardness of the bodies pinning her, she understood with revulsion that they wore no armor, as she first imagined: their outer skin was an insect-like carapace covered only with a layer of metallic clothing. They needed no suits or helmets, not even to cross the abyss of space between their ships and the station, nothing but what looked like some kind of foil, to protect them against the background cosmic radiation. Perfect killing machines.
And they let her up. Her captors helped Kira to her feet and didn't even bother binding her hands. They even gave her back her knife. Burning with humiliation, Kira shuffled back, to stand alongside her Kai...who throughout her attempt had never stopped negotiating diplomatically with the dean. I'm not the slightest threat to them, Major Kira realized. I'm a child with a toy sword.
Hours later she still felt the dull ache of uselessness, the same claustrophobic feeling of horror that had driven her to join the Resistance at such a young age. Today, however, there was no outlet. Kira's shoulders slumped, and she could barely work up the energy for verbal defiance.
One certainty echoed through her head: despite the Kai's seeming surrender, she knew that Winn had no intention of giving up either control of the station or hegemony in Bajor, that she would never voluntarily turn over so much power.
Kai Winn must have a plan, some plan, some amazing, unexpected plan that would cast out t