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Staggering Stories Podcast #259: British Robots Invasion of Earth 2150AD
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the 1966 film Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. and the 2017 film The Lego Batman Movie, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:15 — Welcome! 02:01 – News: 02:20 […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #258: That Osgood and Kate Sound
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler and the Real Keith Dunn discuss possibilities for the next Doctor on Doctor Who, review the first three Big Finish UNIT New Series boxsets, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:20 — Welcome! 01:42 – News: 02:04 — […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #257: Holistic Double Banking
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller discuss BBC America/Netflix’s ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ and Douglas Adams’ time on Doctor Who, play some games, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:20 — Welcome! 02:14 – No news […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #256: The Double Whammy
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 12 Feb 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller discuss Peter Capaldi’s departure from Doctor Who and the legend that was John Hurt, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:25 — Welcome! 02:09 – News: 02:20 […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #255: The Six Idiots
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 29 Jan 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review the Big Finish Doctor Who boxset ‘Classic Doctors, New Monsters: Vol. 1’ and Sherlock Series 4, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:35 — Welcome! 02:49 […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #254: Bad Awakenings
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and the Keith Dunn review the 1966 Doctor Who story ‘The Power of the Daleks’ and the 2016 film ‘Passengers’, say what we’ve been up to recently, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:14 — Welcome! 02:18 – […]

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Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Eight

Written by Karen Dunn


As much as he would hate to admit it, Odo was a child of technology. Although perfectly capable of surviving in the bleakest of conditions, he felt safer, more confident, when he had access to computers, tricorders…runabouts…torches.

He remembered his 'childhood' and his first excursion from Dr Mora's execrable laboratory and its plethora of intrusive instruments. Mora had agreed to show him the Bajoran countryside as a treat for some humiliating documented success or other and Odo had been insanely pleased to be free. He had gazed around him in wonder, barely noticing the savage rents in the hillside left over from the latest mining travesty; or the sunken, frightened eyes of Bajoran children as they watched him pass before cowering from the forbidding glare of the Cardassian guards who had been committing slow motion genocide for over a generation. He saw an eternal blue sky with powdery wisps of cloud that held no threat of rain. He saw mile upon mile of open land rolling off into the distance beckoning, enticing, urging him to explore.

Mora had handed him a back pack and he had shrugged it on with an all too familiar obedience, before setting off after the doctor with long, easy strides, the guards following like silent shadows.

They had camped that night deep in the forest, bathed in the glow of a portable light generator, and he had watched in curiosity as one of the Cardassians trapped a squealing Palaku and gutted it as it wriggled on the end of his knife, legs thrashing wildly. That was the first death he had witnessed and he did not care for it in the least; and, in his first act of disobedience, he had point blank refused to accept the man's proffered knife as another of the small creatures scuttled across the campsite and away to safety.

The Cardassians had laughed openly at him for the rest of the evening, until Mora, in a rare act of mercy, had suggested that they turn out the light and get some sleep. One of the men deactivated the generator and a new wonder opened itself to Odo's eyes.

The night was so bright. Even this deep in the forest there were lights everywhere. The clouds had dissolved as night crept in and the stars were brilliant. One of the moons was full and white and he could make out small flying craft as they hugged the sky and silhouetted themselves across its surface. In the distance he could see the vast mosaic of tiny pinpoint lights that made up the city and every now and then a low flying skimmer would flood the land with its search light as it worked to root out any Resistance fighters who may be in the area.

One by one, Mora and the guards dropped off to sleep leaving Odo to lay back on his blanket and wonder what true darkness looked like.

And now he knew.

He could tell that the track beneath him was firm, worn smooth by centuries of passing feet and he could tell that the night had turned cold, the wind biting into his changeling flesh. But that was all.

With heavy cloud cover and no sign of artificial lighting, the darkness was absolute.

For an hour he picked his way carefully along the dirt road, feeling his toes scuff against pebbles and occasionally stumbling from the track all together. After one particular tumble down a short incline, he muttered an old Bajoran curse and wished for a torch. When he fell again, he gave up his shape and morphed into the innocuous form of a rodent - his fur short and coarse from the tip of his long nose to the base of his stringy tail, his black eyes large and bright and all seeing in the darkness, his tiny feet scurrying impatiently as they scratched their way along the edge of the track.

He made good time and thanked the Prophets for keeping him safe from roaming predators and dagger eyed birds of prey, then rounded a bend in the road and found what he was looking for.

Caspii lay before him, an ominous shadow against the hillside, flickers of torch light illuminating the tops of the steep stone walls. He scuttered a little closer until his sharp rodent eyes could make out the huge double gates, the obvious way in. A number of small fires were flickering outside the gates as the men on sentry duty huddled round them in an attempt to keep warm, their breath steaming over the flames as they blew on their numbing fingers. They were all carrying the simplest of weapons and Odo knew that he could probably disarm them with little effort. What was inside the walls of the prison remained a mystery, though, so with a rippling of substance he spread newly formed wings and took to the sky.

He flew over the walls of the prison and began to wheel slowly in the air, memorizing the site below him. There was one building, large and forbidding. It looked grey in the torch light, its walls rising in jagged turrets, each stone jutting and crude. It seemed to be cut into the actual hillside, almost buried, as if the structure had been built first and the land had grown around it over the years. Beyond it lay an impressive amphitheatre set deep in the ground, it's centre ringed by what looked like large wooden hutches. Probably used to house some animal or other, he mused.

The place was all but deserted, the only signs of life being the guards at the gates and an occasional sentry who patrolled the grounds, torch in one hand, sword in the other as he rattled the doors to the main building to check they were secure.

Odo circled again and headed back to the main gates. Just inside them was a large dust courtyard. He swooped low, looking for a place to hide, to gather his thoughts and plan his next move. He flew silently across the courtyard, wings all but touching the ground, keen eyes darting to and fro in search of danger.

The gallows loomed up out of the darkness.

With a startled thrashing of wings he gave a cry of shock and took to the air once more. He knew that that Detrius character had said they were going to execute her, but had managed to keep it to the back of his mind. Had subconsciously reasoned with childish logic that if he didn't think about it, perhaps it wouldn't be true. It was an old trick, a legacy left over from long painful days in Mora's laboratory before he had learned to make himself understood.

It hadn't worked then, either.

He shook his head as if to clear it - he had to concentrate. He knew nothing of this prison and its inhabitants aside from superstitious mumblings that it was impregnable and inescapable. He had seen perhaps ten guards on the outside, which suggested over confidence, but had no idea how many were on the inside.

He circled back and skirted the gallows once more. It was sturdy in the extreme, with a raised floor some six feet off the ground which was obviously designed to drop away from the doomed person and either choke the life out of them or snap their neck. He had seen the Cardassians use something similar on captured Resistance fighters when ammunition was running short.

It was not a pleasant way to die.

Anger boiled up within him as the memories distorted and Kira's dead eyes stared back at him accusingly as her twisted neck began to discolour beneath the unyielding noose.

Trying to outrun his own imagination, he soared upward on strong wings, across the wall and back towards the wilderness, his cry of rage echoing across the night sky, spooking the superstitious guards into murmured prayers and frightened glances.

Odo didn't care. Somehow it seemed appropriate.

*********

The melancholy call of a Bajoran moon owl filtered into her disturbed dreams with its keening lament and Kira Nerys snapped awake with a cry. With the night had come the cold and the enticing oblivion of beckoning sleep. And dreams of home. She listened for the owl again, but no cry came and she knew it must have all been in her head.

Pushing herself to her feet, she began pacing her cell, arms crossed over her chest, hugging her sides in a vain attempt to keep warm; her breath floating before her in mocking spirals as the ever present ache of bruises forced short gasps from her almost blue lips. As time passed, her steps becoming more and more sluggish as fatigue set in, the monotony broken only by the mocking laughter of her guard as he periodically glanced through the grill of the door to check up on her.

If her unknown friend from the outside world was going to do anything, she hoped it would be soon. She had been pacing forever, or so it seemed, and she desperately needed to sleep.

It would be morning soon.

Her tired feet stumbled and she fell against the wall, pushing herself up, determined to stay awake even as her fatigue wracked body betrayed her. The cold ate into her aching limbs and she sank back against the wall, her strength ebbing in waves. She tried once more to call on all the old tricks from the Cardassian occupation, remembering the songs Lupaza had crooned to her that first night in the cells. She had tried her hardest to live up to the heroic image of the Shakaar; the stories the older children had told when the adults weren't listening, but the reality was painfully different. After six hours alone in the dark, with only the equally frightened Lupaza as company, her age and lack of experience had began to show and she had shamed herself by crying, sobbing like a baby. She had hated herself then as her friend's arms wrapped around her. She was fourteen years old, for Prophet's sake, she should not be crying in the dark like this. As she berated herself through muffled sobs, Lupaza had sighed heavily and began to sing, a half whispered lullaby that had finally sent her into an uneasy sleep, the melody caressing her fears.

She tried to sing it now, quietly, a reassurance that help would come soon, but the cold had taken her voice as well as her strength and she couldn't form the words. Drawing her knees up and wrapping her arms around her legs, she licked her lips and tried again, humming the song as it dropped in and out of her sluggish mind. It was tuneless and broke up on every other note, but it was a lifeline to grip onto as it echoed round the cell.

A voice hissed through the half light, cutting across the somewhat quivering melody, "Deviant""

Kira scrabbled to her feet and edged up to the door, her voice shaking as she gripped the iron grill and squinted through the gloom at the woman on the other side, "I thought you'd never come," she whispered.

"I had to wait."

She tried to peer along the passage, "Where's the guard?"

The woman nodded back up the corridor, her face grim, "Sleeping, finally. He was extra vigilant tonight, you must be important."

A snort, "It would seem so."

For a moment the woman ducked out of sight and Kira could hear the rustle of fabric, then something was pushed through the grill towards her, "Here."

It was a cloth bundle and she unwrapped it quickly, half frozen fingers clumsy in her haste. Nestled in the folds was a stubby, short handled dagger, its blade jagged and stained. Kira weighed it in her palm and looked up, her brow furrowed, "What..?"

"They'll tie your hands before they take you out. They won't be expecting much resistance after that."

"Not surprising."

She gestured through the grill, eager to get this exchange over with before the guard should wake, "Hide it in your sleeve."

Kira looked up at her in confusion, "Is that it?"

She didn't know why, but she had been expecting something more, hoping for something more. A jail break, a key, a sympathetic guard who was willing to go to the wall for a prisoner he couldn't bear to watch executed. Even though she knew from experience that these things never happened outside of story books her disappointment must have shown because the woman on the other side of the door gave a snort of laughter, "This is a prison. What did you expect?"

Kira nodded, "I'm sorry. I just want to get out of here."

The smile was kind and the blue eyes reflected hope as they met Kira's brown ones. She reached through the grill and squeezed the Bajoran's hand, "We all do. It's up to you now. Just be ready to run."

She let her hand clasp the other 's a little longer, grateful for a moment to be near some-one who did not want to hurt her, "Thank you."

Outside the door, the guard mumbled in his sleep and the woman pulled away from Kira, "I have to go."

Her running footsteps echoed down the corridor and were gone.

Alone once more, Kira sank to her knees next to the door and examined her new possessions. Though stubby and old, the knife was sharp and she had no doubt that it would be able to slice through any bindings as long as she could manoeuvre it safely. She flipped it over so that the blade was laying along the length of her wrist as she held the handle in place. With her free hand, she picked up the strip of fabric and began to wind it snugly around her arm, hugging the blade to the flesh. With the knife secure, she tugged the cloth higher up her arm, dragging the blade with it until it was tied just below her elbow. Clasping her hands before her in mimicry of what was to come, she gave a shrug of the shoulder and a shake of the arm. The blade came loose, as she had hoped, and slipped down her tunic sleeve towards her waiting hand. Her cold fingers, though, fumbled the catch and the dagger thumped heavily to the floor.

The sound seemed to echo across the night and she frantically snatched it up and watched the door with wide eyes in case the idle guard should be roused from his sleep.

No-one came.

Kira practised again and again, tying and retying the blade to her arm as she clasped her hands in front and back until she caught it cleanly every time it fell. The need for sleep had been eating into her harder and harder and she finally submitted. With the knife once more secure on her arm, she curled up behind the heavy wooden door and let the cold chase her into dreams.

*********

Jhemor was crying in his sleep again; a soft whimpering sound, like an animal in distress. His blanket had long ago slipped to the floor and he was shivering convulsively, arms and legs hugged tight in a foetal ball. For the third time that night, O'Brien slipped from his uncomfortable bed, retrieved the blanket and tucked the boy up in its rough folds. And for the third time that night he returned to his uncomfortable bed and laid on his back staring up out of the window at the starless sky, unable to sleep.

Presently Jhemor stirred again, calling to some nameless person he probably didn't even remember before snapping awake with a cry. He sat up on the bed, pulling the thin blanket around his skinny shoulders, his eyes huge in the darkness. With the instincts of a natural father, O'Brien pulled his own blanket from the bed and crossed to the boy's side; sitting close to him, "Are you all right, son?"

Jhemor pulled the blanket tighter and sniffed wetly, trying his hardest not to cry, "I'm scared, Mr 'Brien."

With a heavy sigh he laid an arm across his shoulders, "What are you scared of?"

For a moment the boy didn't speak as hideous distorted images of everything he could conceivably fear ran through his mind. He had lived his whole life within the walls of Caspii, raised by prisoners long gone to fates he relived through nightmares. That he was still alive was something of a miracle in this place where miracles had lost their charm and there were so many memories eating at his soul that it was little wonder he was not completely sane. Years of abuse and terror welled up inside him and he wished more than anything that he had the words to express them to his first real friend. He could taste the words, see them in his head as they taunted him, just out of reach and he turned brimming eyes to the man at his side, willing him to understand, his voice a harsh whisper, "Marius is a bad man…"

O'Brien nodded and squeezed his shoulders, "He is at that."

For a long while there was silence and O'Brien wondered whether Jhemor had dropped back into sleep. He looked down at the tousled ginger head and gave his shoulders a reassuring squeeze. He could understand the lad being afraid and admired him for the way he bore it. Although he wore his fear like a jacket, there for all to see, he kept his panic in check. He knew when to be still and when to run and O'Brien was relying on him not to forget. If they were going to succeed in the morning, he needed to know that the boy would be able to put self preservation before any new-found attachments he may have formed and get himself away from Caspii as fast as his legs would run. He would never forgive himself if anything happened to him.

Starfleet warned against forming this kind of bond. Cadets were required to sit a course on the subject and up until now, O'Brien had managed to pass his career with the minimal of emotional fuss. He had sat in interminable lectures listening to ageing Admirals warn about the risks involved when thinking with your heart and not your head. He had even agreed with them when they stated that the Prime Directive was too vital a concept to risk for the sake of a few tears and lost friendships. But they weren't here now. They weren't looking down at a sleeping boy who understood little of what was happening to him, who was relying souly on them to see him through the trials to come. If the Prime Directive dictated that he, as a member of Starfleet, should not get involved, then the Prime Directive wasn't seeing the big picture.

He shifted his position ever so slightly as pins and needles began to tingle along his arm, and Jhemor's quiet voice piped up, "Are we going to run away?"

Miles smiled to himself at the boy's simple summing up of what was to happen, "Yes, we are."

"Is the Major lady coming with us?"

Well, that was the question. Katalia had not seemed overly concerned whether Kira lived or died, seeing the execution only as a diversion to aid her own plans. Although he knew that he would make her rescue his first priority, what would happen to her if he should fail, if he could not reach her in time. He would be alone on this world with no means of getting home. If he had any idea where he actually was, things might have been different. But with no Odo and no Kira and Jhemor in tow - and with the runabout all but useless - things were not looking good. He looked down at Jhemor with what he hoped was a reassuring smile, "I hope so, son"

The small face was creased in a frown, "How? Marius will tie her up so she can't run away. He always ties people up so they can't run away…he's a bad man."

O'Brien pushed him away to allow himself a full view of his earnest blue eyes, determined to take at least one worry away from him, "Don't you worry about it. There're lots of people out there with lots of ideas. We'll get her out."

But Jhemor wouldn't drop the point, his brain trying hard to piece together a picture of what was to come, a route plan in his head where all the roads were clear, "What people?"

"Lots of people."

"oh…"

"Why don't you try and get some sleep?"

Jhemor shook his head, "It's morning now, I can see the sun, yes I can."

He was right. The weak yellow sun was filtering through the clouds, bathing the cell in its pale light. The first birds were singing in the distance and in the corridor outside he could hear voices and the slamming of doors. O'Brien scrambled off of the bed and peeked through the grill on the door, then turned back to his young charge, "Listen, Jhemor. Whatever happens today, I want you to stay close to me. If I run, you run. If I hide, you hide. Do you understand?"

A nod, "Yes, Mr 'Brien."

"And if anything should happen to me…"

The blue eyes were huge again as he shook his head rapidly, refusing to listen, "nonono, nothing will happen."

O'Brien took him by the shoulders and shook him sharply, locking his gaze with the boy's frightened eyes, "If anything should happen to me, I want you to stick by Major Kira or Katalia…"

Jhemor's face crumpled and his voice was almost a wail, "But I don't like 'Talia, she gets cross a lot."

"That's because she's scared, too."

He frowned. That thought had obviously never occurred to him and he was having trouble equating the awesome Katalia with what he knew to be fear, "She is?"

O'Brien pounced on the questioning tone and embroidered the facts, "Sure she is. She wants to cry as much as you do, but she's afraid people will think she's weak This is a scary place to be in, you know."

As if to reinforce the Irishman's point, a rough voice shouted just outside their door, threatening some poor soul who was slow to move when told and emphasising with a flying fist on flesh. Jhemor swallowed and cowered, his skinny face pleading with O'Brien, "I suppose…but you'll try and not have anything happen to you, won't you, Mr 'Brien?"

"I'll try, Jhemor."

The door opened before the boy could respond and one of Marius's henchmen glared in at them, baton at the ready, "Out."

Without a word, they shuffled past the guard and followed the other inmates down the passages of the prison and out into the morning sunshine. The shadow of the gallows greeted them as it dominated the courtyard and O'Brien felt Jhemor's small hand slip into his as the boy sought comfort against his growing fear. He gave the hand a squeeze, but did not say a word.

One by one, every prisoner in Caspii filed out of the prison building and stood before the ominous structure. Waiting. He felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and turned to see Katalia standing behind him, her dark eyes set, her mouth a grim line of determination. With a nod, he turned away. The doors opened with a bang and they lapsed into a silence so deep it was almost painful as four figures began the long walk across the courtyard. Marius led the way, his stride confident, arrogant, his unpleasant face set in a half smirk. Behind him came two of the guards, swords drawn and gripped firmly in one hand as they led Kira towards the gallows, her hands were bound before her.

No-one spoke. Even the air was still.

O'Brien had never attended an execution before, but had spent much of the last long night wondering what it would bring, allowing his imagination to conjure up image after image, none of which matched the scene before him.

There should have been noise. There should have been the monotonous beating of a drum or the melancholy wail of a trumpet. Something to let the world know that one of it's charges was passing. Instead, there was a silence broken only by the tread of footsteps. Of Marius and the guards' slow march and the scuffing stumble as Kira limped between them.

He studied her closely as she passed, anger gripping at his chest as he saw the new bruises, the reason behind Marius' smirk and tried to catch her eye, to offer comfort where there was none to be had; but her thoughts were focused on some far away point on the horizon and he doubted that she saw him.

The little procession came to a halt at the foot of the gallows, Marius stepping back to allow his guards access with their prisoner.

Kira stood between the two men and slowly looked up at the structure before her. Three large steps led up to a raised platform upon which was set the towering cross beam, a length of rope running up its length and hanging down in a noose. The platform itself was designed to drop away when the catch at its centre was sprung with a tug of a lever. She let her eyes linger on the noose and swallowed nervously, feeling very small, clenching her bound hands together as if to steady herself.

The other prisoners were assembled around her, circling the gallows like an unwilling honour guard and she found herself searching for O'Brien, desperate for at least one friendly face to latch on to as she fought to keep her fear at bay. But she couldn't see him. She had heard nothing of him since the Arena and paranoia began to whisper to her that he had been made to pay for her crimes. She tried to turn, hoping to catch a glimpse of him amongst the group behind her, but the guards gripped tight on her arm and tried to force her up the steps.

O'Brien watched as Kira's head turned to and fro, scanning the faces before her in suppressed panic. Her hands were clenched tight together, the knuckles whitening as nails dug in to her flesh, and she tried to turn away from the gallows. The guards, of course, were quick to stop her, their grip on her arms far too tight and he heard her cry out, not in pain but in frustration, as she struggled to spin away from them. She had not seen him as she passed, he was sure of that now, and it was suddenly important that she knew he was there. That they saw each other one last time, just in case…He took a step forward, feeling Katalia's hand on his shoulder as he did so, and raised his voice for all to hear, "Major!"

She turned at his cry, the guards momentarily distracted by the unexpected interference, and he smiled at her, the broad Irish smile that had defused so many arguments when she had been living with his family and carrying his son. She returned the smile, relief shining through in her doe brown eyes, and gave a seemingly innocuous little shrug before allowing herself to be turned away by the guards as Marius approached O'Brien and pushed him back into line with a snarl, "Very touching. Shame she won't be here to do the same for you."

The temptation to fly at the man and wipe the smirk from his face once and for all was immense, but Katalia's steady hand and Jhemor's sharp intake of breath kept him in line, fists clenched at his side as he waited.

Marius stepped back to the base of the platform and waved an impatient hand at the guards, "Take her up."

They gave Kira a tug and she stumbled against the first step, her bound hands twisting before her, straining at her bonds as they dragged her up to the platform. There was silence as they turned her round and slipped the noose round her neck.

O'Brien shifted nervously, his hands sweating as Marius took the steps one at a time and approached the lever that would send Kira to her death. This was running too close for his liking. Katalia's voice hissed in his ear, "Wait…"

On the platform, Kira raised her head skywards and squeezed her eyes tight shut, her hands fumbling frantically as if trying in vain to snap the ropes that held her. Marius reached for the lever and Katalia pushed O'Brien forward with a blood curdling howl.

As one body, the battered, frightened inmates of Caspii surged forward to exact their revenge on their oppressors and claim their freedom.

 

Kira's eyes snapped open as a cacophony of raised voices rent the once still air and the courtyard erupted into chaos. All around her, the prisoners were rioting, racing towards the platform, the guards, the gates, eyes alight with the fire of determination. And she could see O'Brien at the front, Jhemor close behind, his childlike face a mixture of terror and panic as they ploughed towards her.

The doors to the prison building were flying open, spilling more guards into the compound, swords raised to hack at defenceless flesh, and Kira renewed her efforts at her bonds. The stubby dagger was slick with her sweat and she had almost dropped it on more than one occasion. She thanked the Prophets that Marius and his cronies had put her twitching and fumbling down to nerves. They would regret their mistake.

The two guards had jumped from the platform and thrown themselves into the melee with the passion of men who had grown far too used to hitting people and only Marius remained. His back was turned as he gaped on the scene before him with new found fear. That the prisoners may one day be pushed too far had never occurred to him and he was fighting an inner battle against the urge to flee his post. Below him, a full bodied punch from O'Brien knocked one of the guards back against the gallows with enough force to send teeth flying and rock the entire structure. Marius took an unconscious step backwards and gave a shout of pain as one of Kira's feet connected with the base of his spine.

He spun round to face her. She was still struggling with her bonds and he saw for the first time the dagger she was no longer making any efforts to conceal. She kicked out at him again, furious that hunger and abuse had left her so weak. The first blow should have been enough to pitch him from the platform into the waiting embrace of the crowd below.

Seeing his world falling apart around him, and knowing full well where the Merchants would place the blame, Marius turned away from her, intent on completing one last duty. And as the bonds confining Kira's hands finally snapped loose, he pulled the lever and the floor dropped away.

 

With a final tug and a scream of frustration and pain as the rope tore through the skin on her wrists, Kira managed to snap her bindings and free her hands. Before she could draw breath, though, the floor dropped away, there was an all too brief moment of freefall and the noose around her neck snapped tight, choking off the scream as soon as it left her lips. Then all she knew was panic.

She had often wondered how she would face death when it came for her. She had hoped that she would be a picture in dignity as she walked to meet the Prophets, that she would accept the inevitable without a struggle so that her pagh could go on its way untroubled. Deep down she had always harboured a hope that death would be quick, instantaneous - a phaser blast that she never saw coming, that didn't give her time to think. Not this. This was humiliating and graceless and slow and it hurt.

Time had slowed down like the old cliché that it was and she was being eaten up by that most primal of reactions - fear. Her legs kicked wildly, desperately searching for purchase against the edge of the platform as the noose pulled tight. She tried to breath, newly freed hands scrabbling at her throat. In desperation she jabbed the dagger at the noose, not caring that she was in danger of skewering her own neck

The noose changed - shifted - enveloping her hands, dagger and all. And she realised that it had been little more than a second or two since Marius had pulled the lever and that, after the initial shock of being jerked to a halt, the rope along the gallows had been lowering her slowly and gently to the ground and it had hardly hurt at all. As soon as her feet touched the sand, the noose melted away from her neck and pooled before her as Odo took his usual shape and looked down at her in concern, "Major. Are you all right?"

It had only been a few days since she had last seen him, but it seemed like forever and she had missed him terribly. Every time she had been in trouble over the last few years he had been there to pull her fat out of the fire. Every time she had needed to talk he had offered an ear. His eyes were as blue as she remembered. They were gazing at her in concern as his photographic memory registered and catalogued every bruise and abrasion on her body; and she knew it was eating him up inside. She wanted to hug him, to tell him that everything would be all right, but it would hurt them both too much. So she smiled up at him instead, "I never thought I'd be this glad to see you, Constable."

His voice was gruff as he tore his eyes away from her to take in their chaotic surroundings, "I suggest we get out of here…"

She saw the danger a split second before he did. He was intent on the rioting prisoners and their guards as they fought a pitched battle in the courtyard, and did not see Marius as he leapt from the platform with a cry of fury and landed behind the shapeshifter, his sword held high. As Odo turned, one arm raised to fend off the blow, Kira stepped forward, her mind clouded in a haze of red rage, and slammed her dagger deep into the overseer's side. He dropped like a stone, the blade embedded through leather and cloth, tearing an ugly gash in his flesh. He clutched at his side in shock, trying desperately to stem the steady flow of blood that was staining the ground beneath him.

Without a word, Kira bent down and picked up his fallen sword. She flipped the blade over in her hand, holding it like a dagger, and took a step towards the fallen man, moving in for the kill.

"Major…"

His voice was quiet, questioning even as his hand rested on her arm, preventing her from delivering the killing blow. She tried to pull away, to finish what she had started and he saw for the first time the look of utter desolation in her eyes as she realised he would do everything in his power to stop her. He wondered what she had gone through in this prison to drive her to an act of cold blooded slaughter and vowed to help her through it when they got home. For now, though, he could not stand by and watch her sell her soul for a chance at revenge. He tightened his grip on her arm, "Major, there's no need…"

And she turned on him like a wild cat, fury burning her up from within, her voice almost a scream as she pulled away from him, "There's every need!"

He planted himself firmly in front of the injured man and renewed his grip on her arms, "I can't let you do this, Kira."

"Odo, let me go!"

With a strength that belied his size, he pulled her towards him and hugged her close, choking out a whisper that was almost a plea, "Nerys…please…"

She stopped struggling and, with a heart rending sob, dropped the sword, "You weren't here, Odo. You don't know…you don't know…"

He pushed her gently away, looking deep into eyes that were not accustomed to tears, "I'm here now and we have to get away from this place."

She nodded and wiped a hand across her face, dashing away the unwanted tears, "We have to find the Chief and Jhemor."

Odo peered beneath the platform at the continuing mayhem and spotted O'Brien's ruddy face as he battled his way through falling bodies and warring souls in his fight to reach the gallows. In his wake came a young boy who seemed to be propelled by fear and luck more than judgement, his hands flailing desperately for the Chief's tunic and something to guide him. O'Brien spotted the Changeling and his face broke into a momentary smile of joy before his fists slammed into the gut of one of the guards who had stepped in his way. Reaching behind him, he took the boy by the hand and they ran full sprint for the gallows and dived into the relative safety beneath them, "Odo! For the love of God, man, where have you been?"

"It's a long story, Chief."

"I'll bet." The Irishman spotted Marius and the fallen sword and Odo saw the same fury on his face as he had seen on Kira's a moment earlier. He stepped in front of him, "There's no time, Mr O'Brien, we have to get out of here."

The engineer's eyes were shooting daggers at the overseer, but he made no move towards him, "Yeah, right. The guards in the courtyard are all but finished. Katalia wants to rush the gates then we'll be home free."

"Then I suggest we leave."

He turned to Kira. She was on her knees in the sand, caught up in a bear hug with the boy, hushing him and rocking him like an infant, "It's okay, Jhemor, it's okay…"

"I was scared, Major lady. I didn't think you would come back, no I didn't."

"I'm here now."

The boy broke the hug and looked at her with large, earnest eyes, "We're going out the gate, yes we are. Katalia has it all planned."

Kira looked up sharply at O'Brien, "Katalia?"

Jhemor tugged at her arm, nodding fiercely, "She's scared too and wants to cry, too, just like me. And she's sorry she hit you all that time and you did win after all." He gave a shy smile, "Mr 'Brien, 'splained it all."

O'Brien helped her to her feet, "It's good to see you, Major."

"You too, Chief."

As they turned to leave, Marius's smarmy, faltering tones taunted them all and Kira in particular as he called to her from the ground, "What's wrong…deviant..? Still afraid…to..kill..?" She turned back slowly, the light fading from her eyes once more and he grinned at her through the pain, one hand still clutched to the weeping wound in his side, "I'm dying…deviant…Don't you…even…have the stomach to…finish me off..?"

Then O'Brien's fist connected heavily with his jaw, knocking him unconscious, "Let's get out of here."

With Odo leading Kira by the arm, they stepped back into the courtyard. Bodies lay all around them, the sand littered with the corpses of guards and prisoners. And Katalia was leading the first charge on the gates.

They ran across the sand, intent on joining the throng of surviving prisoners as they fought to overcome the last obstacle that stood between them and freedom. None of them had any idea what they would do once they were away from the prison. The runabout was useless, a dangerous anachronism to be associated with on this superstitious world and Odo's one friend on the outside had too much to lose to be dragged into all this once more.

Ahead of them, the gates began to roll open, slowly at first and then with gathering speed, and the prisoners jumped back as one body. Instincts on full alert, Odo brought his little party to a standstill just short of the main group.

Something was wrong.

The gates opened the rest of the way and a legion of men were waiting on the other side, armed with…Odo blinked and O'Brien cursed, "What the hell?"

With barely a pause, Katalia raised an arm and screamed a banshee wail. With little left to lose, the prisoners roared their own curses to a Creator who had forsaken them and charged towards the gates.

The men on the other side raised their disruptors and opened fire.

*********

Chapter Nine