Right before the banquet
As the transport passed by a large celestial object, Alenis immediately recognized it as Endalla, the largest and closest of Bajor’s five moons. Since she was a child reading the fairy tales of the five celestial children, the moons of Bajor had held a special place in her heart. One of her last memories of her father was standing outside on a clear night and watching Endalla eclipse Derna. They said if you made a wish at the precise moment that they eclipsed, it would come true. Alenis wished to leave the occupation behind; little did she know that two weeks later, she would find herself hiding in a cargo bay as a stowaway on a Lissepian freighter - and that her father would be left behind.
“Enjoying the view, Commander?” Alenis was interrupted by a stern and familiar voice.
“Yes, thank you, Admiral. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the moons of Bajor.”
“Indeed,” replied Washington. “I trust that our guest of honour will be coming down to join us?”
“Yes,” replied Alenis. “I’m sure that Mr. Rouse will get to the bottom of this issue,” she added, hoping that Tim would save her bacon once more. She glanced back at her crew, all seated in the transport. Jason in particular was looking a little worse for wear – sweating, fidgeting, and surrounded by an aura of restlessness. Alenis chalked it up to him holding a priceless artifact in his hands.
As they broke through the clouds, the city of Ashalla came into view, looking very different from the days of the occupation. In those days, it was a drab, depressing place. The architecture of occupation was everywhere – walls, fences and guard towers protected the Cardassian installations and kept the Bajorans divided from one another. Curfews made the city eerily quiet at night, with the exception of Cardassian patrols. “Dead zones” where entire communities had been evacuated at gunpoint were sprawling neighbourhoods of desolation, the dilapidated structures collapsing in on themselves after years of disrepair. All the waterways were polluted, and a dense cloud of smog hung over the city at all times.
But now, it was a lush, green city whose very existence defied the occupation. Anything reminding Bajorans of the occupation – walls, buildings, statues, work camps – had all been demolished, replaced mostly with parks, amphitheatres, and open-air marketplaces. The pollution was cleaned up, and citizens could even swim in the river if they so desired. The arts flourished with the generous support of post-occupation governments, eager to strengthen the Bajoran culture that the Cardassians tried to wipe out.
The transport circled the city a couple times, waiting its turn to land and giving the occupants a tour of the city – the tall spires of the city centre, the rooftop gardens of the outlying areas, and the waterfront, whose theatres and galleries were a cultural hub for all of Bajor.
It was outside a large banquet hall on the waterfront that the transport finally set down. Peering out the window, Alenis could see a crowd of thousands lining the pathway between the landing pad and the hall, all wanting a peek at the shard. She knew that one day she would again set foot on Bajor; she didn’t expect there to be thousands of people and an army of photographers watching her do it. She got up from her seat and made her way to the door. First to exist would be her and Admiral Washington, with Jason in tow carrying the shard. Then the remainder of the Portland’s senior staff.
The doors of the transport opened to reveal a smattering of dignitaries, led by two figures who Alenis recognized instantly. On the left was Kai Pralon Onala, the long-serving head of the Bajoran faith. On the right, Jeero Zusak, the First Minister. Of all those assembled, perhaps none were more grateful than Jeero. With his popularity waning and dissatisfaction with his government growing from nationalist, independentist, and religious quarters, his coalition was on the verge of fracture. For him, the return of this shard would be a good PR opportunity and a chance to give his political fortunes a much-needed boost.
Alenis slowly stepped forward, descending the staircase, before pausing on the last step. Incredibly nervous, her legs were like jelly, and as she took the first step onto the red carpet, they collapsed beneath her. Tears of joy in her eyes, she embraced the ground. She was finally home.
Without saying a word, Admiral Washington extended his arm to help her back up. With arms locked, they approached the Bajoran dignitaries.
“Kai Pralon, First Minister Jeero, I present to you the fifth shard of Tolic.” The Admiral was the first to speak, reciting perfectly his prepared comments. “May the return of this shard be a symbol of the bonds of friendship between Bajor and the Federation, and may these bonds remain strong and unbroken.”
“Admiral, I welcome you to Bajor,” replied Jeero. “With the return of this shard to the Bajoran people, our friendship will only deepen. Bajor owes the Federation a debt of gratitude far more valuable than you know.” As he finished speaking, two Vedeks stepped forward to take the shard from Jason’s hands.
As Washington spoke with Jeero, Alenis’ eyes locked with those of the Kai. Without saying a word, Pralon squeezed Alenis’ earlobe. “Your pagh is strong, my child.”
“My pagh…” Overwhelmed with emotion, Alenis trailed off, not knowing what to say.
“Welcome home, Meru.”
Capt. Alenis Meru