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Epilogue

Ten Years Later: 2388

Tigranian Homestead, Gault: United Federation of Planets

Laria's parents had spent years turning this farm into their private refuge from the galaxy's problems. Now, it was hers. She grabbed three eggs from the stasis unit in the corner of the kitchen before shutting the door with her hip. Laria cracked them on the countertop and dropped the yolks and whites into a pile of salam flour. Finally, she began working the mixture into mapa bread dough for that evening's special dinner.

The black matted finish of the stasis unit was covered from floor to ceiling with pictures of friends that had become family. In the top left corner, Annabeth and Alex hugged their two children. Max, almost a teenager, kissed the top of his little sister's head. Min-seo was eight years old and already wanted to be a doctor just like her mother. Alex was now a partner in her practice and the most popular pediatrician in Munich. Annabeth was still in Starfleet and still a captain. She couldn't have been happier.

Next to that photo was last year's Lexington Family Christmas Card. Commander Katie Lexington and Commander Phil Lexington had their smiling seven year old, Victoria, up on their shoulders. Daredevil, who Victoria always called "Aunt Dee Dee," had pinned on captain and taken over "Top Gun" when Godfather retired six years ago. Phil was her head instructor, but he spent every free moment with his daughter who he referred to as his "little princess."

The Scharr clan was almost too large to fit in one holophoto. Tren had finally retired from Starfleet when the Pershing was decommissioned three years ago. Now, the old Andorian spent his days driving his three wives absolutely crazy. Zhenia and her husband, Brett Hawkins, now lived in Texas on Earth. She was a cardiologist at Parkland Hospital and he was an executive at a deuterium distribution company. Zhenia had also just given birth to the Scharrs' 16th grandchild, a boy named Dallas.

T'les and Doctor Kinzo Katan had married three years before on Betazed. Despite the full �frontal nudity, everyone agreed it was a much happier occasion than her first wedding back on Vulcan. They didn't have any children yet, but joked that it was because they had adopted Aaron Adamson instead. All three were still in Starfleet and all three were still a part of the same crew.

Subik IV had quadrupled in population and the formidable Lady Lucretia was still the Imperial Governor. The planet's top export was a kali-fal so good even top sommeliers had trouble distinguishing it from Romulan labels. Gourmets had dubbed it "Subik's Miracle" because it's origin in the Klingon Empire had made it the only legally available brand in the Federation. Now, since the destruction of Romulus, it was the only brand available at all. Crestia graduated Georgetown summa cum laude and now served as the colony's ambassador to the High Council. As such, she was constantly traveling back and forth from Subik to Qo'noS. However, Crestia still managed to make it back to Gault every year to celebrate the Bajoran Gratitude Festival with her adopted family.

A timer went off next to Laria. She silenced it before opening the oven door and pulling out a baking sheet of kava cookies. She had just put them down to cool when, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed two small hands reaching up from the floor towards the hot treats.

"HEY!" Laria shouted while pointing a wooden spoon at the offending palms, "Lanassa-ga-ne! Rellas-ga-ne! No cookies before dinner. You'll spoil your appetite."

"Mame!" her ten-year old daughter and six-year old son said in unison as they popped their heads over the counter and looked at her with pleading eyes. Their nose ridges twitched as they inhaled the sweet smell of fresh baked goods.

"I said, no!" Laria said as her tone ratcheted up to full maternal mode.

"Oh, let them have a cookie!" the elder Lanassa called out from the couch in the living room. She smirked at Laria as she knit the finishing touches on a mofar wool scarf.

"Yaya says we can have a cookie!" Little Lanassa pleaded.

"Yeah, Yaya says!" Rellas echoed his big sister.

"Yaya is not your Mame," Laria answered.

"True. She's yours�" Big Lanassa chuckled. Laria sighed and wiped her hands on her apron. "Come to Yaya, little ones," Lanassa said putting down her knitting and holding out her arms. Both children ran out of the kitchen and into her embrace. "Oh, my precious gifts from the Prophets. Yes shad les lave," she said kissing their foreheads. Then, she clandestinely slipped a piece of kava candy into each of their hands. The kids smiled as their grandmother put a finger to her lips and grinned.

"Yes shad les lave, Yaya," the mischievous pair said back to her.

"You never let me have a cookie before dinner�" Laria muttered as she went back to working her bread dough.

"You raise your children right so you can spoil your grandchildren," Lanassa said back into the living room. "Your father, Prophets rest his spirit, would agree with me!"

She could hear a frustrated Laria in the kitchen punching the dough into submission.

"You'll overwork the dough if you knead it angry�" Lanassa warned as she picked her knitting back up. "What is it I always taught you?"

"Mapa comes out of the oven as happy as you are�" Laria grumbled before looking towards the shrine next to the door. The Bajoran Eternity Wheel had been joined by a statue of Kahless the Unforgettable and a painted icon of Saint Rellas they had purchased during one of their visits to Qo'noS. "Give me Bajoran and Klingon strength," she whispered in prayer. "I need both to tack care of this family."

Suddenly, Laria froze as she realized a very large form was watching her from the front door. Slowly, she looked up.

"I wasn't expecting to see you yet�" she said narrowing her gaze at the figure.

"UNCLE TORLEK!" her children screamed in excitement as they sprinted across the living room and to the old Klingon. He laughed in triumph as he scooped them both off the ground and into his arms. Torlek's thick mane had turned from black to grey, but his strength and soul remained perfectly intact.

"Little warriors!" Torlek said bouncing them up and down as they laughed. "You get larger every time I see you!"

"Did you bring us presents?" Little Lanassa asked.

"LANASSA-GA-NE!" Laria shouted horrified.

"Ohhhh," Torlek chuckled. "They are honest and ask what they want to know, Laria. Those are good Klingon traits." Then he turned back to the little ones. "And of course I brought you presents." Little Lanassa and Rellas laughed as he put them back on the floor.

Laria punched the ball of dough again.

"They're going to be so spoiled!"

"Happy Mapa bread, Laria-ga-ne�Happy Mapa�" Big Lanassa said making another stitch on her scarf.

Laria took another deep breath and looked back to Torlek.

"I was going to send Daniel to pick you up at the spaceport in two hours," Laria said forming the dough into a loaf and covering it with a tea towel to rise by the window. "Did your flight get in early?"

"I brought one of my private birds-of prey," Torlek said marching inside the house. Since the Dahar Master retired from active service, he wore a civilian tunic of klongat leather and wool. However, his influence on Qo'noS was still extraordinary.

"Daniel is not going to like that," Laria said raising her eyebrows. "You know he thinks taking Klingon warships to Earth for personal reasons draws too much attention. People are just starting to forget about us coming back to the Federation."

"Am I not the head of our house?" Torlek said crossing his strong arms. "It is not my decision on how I travel in my personal fleet?"

"Yes, you are the head of our house," Laria said picking up the tray of cookies and walking over. "Would you like a cookie, My Lord?" she laughed. Torlek rolled his eyes as Laria went back into the kitchen to work on the rest of dinner.

"Besides, Max only gets one First Rite of Ascension," Torlek added. "He should light his kor'tova candles on a Klingon warship not in some apartment building on Earth! Daniel is Max's godfather and should understand that."

"That apartment building has been Max's home for the last twelve years. Don't you think he would want to do the ceremony in a familiar place before he leaves it, possibly forever?"

"He's chosen to take the first step towards becoming a Klingon warrior, Laria," Torlek replied. "Max needs to start putting childish sentimentality behind him."

"Klingon culture is full of childish sentimentality. Look at my husband," Laria muttered.

"What?" Torlek asked.

"Did Elessa get the cases of spring wine I sent her?" Laria said quickly changing the subject.

"She did," Torlek answered taking another step towards the living room, "She sends her love along with half a dozen blood pies in stasis. Unfortunately, she had too much business on the estate to get away."

"Why do you think I'm not going with you and Daniel to Earth to pick up Max?" Laria said pulling a bowl of Bajoran shrimp out of the stasis unit. "Klingon men get to go off and play. Klingon women have to stay home and keep things running."

"You really are starting to sound like my wife�" Torlek laughed.

"Ba'ney Chor Hege'dmas bhov var gha has Ghar knavem�" Big Lanassa muttered.

"Mame�" Laria warned from the sink as she rinsed the shrimp.

"What did she say?" Torlek said bemused. "It's always good."

"She says, 'some things are the same on every planet,' but she can tell you that herself because she speaks perfectly good Federation Standard!" Laria called out.

"nuqneH, Lanassa," Torlek said with a smile and respectful bow to the Amira clan's matriarch.

"Inchbas, Torlek," Lanassa said smiling right back.

Laria sucked in a deep breath. It was painful just how much the two of them enjoyed pairing up to make things difficult for her and Daniel. The love was always there, but so was the endless amount of good old-fashioned guilt.

"Where is my brother?" Torlek finally asked.

"In the barn with his targs," Laria replied. "One of the sows had a litter last week, but the runt isn't eating. You know, Daniel. He loves to fight with the strongest, but he'll always choose to spend his time with the weakest."

****

Koloth, the Tigranians' old barn glommer, was buried in the hayloft. The creature was done hunting rodents for the day and softly purred with fatigue. Its four long legs were tucked gently beneath its orange fur covered body. On the ground below, a mother targ lay on her side and oinked while nine strong targlets nursed at her belly. The tenth one was on the lap of a man wearing dirty denim jeans and a muddy flannel shirt.

"C'mon, Little One," the man said holding up a bottle to the tiny creature's snout. "You have to eat." The small targlet's eyes fluttered beneath the tiny bump of a horn on its forehead. Finally, it opened its mouth and accepted the nipple of the bottle. "They're we go�"

Suddenly, a grin crossed the man's lips as he realized he was being watched. He ducked his head down just before a Klingon d'k tahg flew through the air and whistled cleanly over his neck. The blade buried itself in a wooden beam behind him.

"I offer you a position on the Chancellor's staff!" Torlek's voice boomed in tlhIngan Hol as he stepped inside the barn. "You refuse." He took a few steps closer to Tigranian, carefully avoiding the piles of targ dung piled on the floor. "Starfleet Academy offers you the position of head of the Klingon Language Department. You refuse." Torlek threw back his shoulders and crossed his arms. "Now, I find a former Starfleet captain and the Klingon jenSa' of all Cardassia sitting among piles of dung wet nursing a litter of targs."

"I may be a wet nurse, Brother," Tigranian answered as he fed the targlet with one hand and pulled the d'k tahg free with the other. Suddenly, the blade flew through the air right at Torlek's head. The Klingon grabbed the handle and stopped it just centimeters from his nose. "But I'm still a warrior. I just chose to spend the rest of my life on a different battlefield: one where I can help create life, not just destroy it. It's better for me. It's better for my family. It was even more essential after Jion lost his battle to the cancer caused by all those Cardassian poisons spread in Rakantha during the Occupation. Keeping his dream of this place alive is my way of helping his soul rest."

"If you say so," Torlek said returning the d'k tahg to his sheath. "But what will your children think when it's their turn to light the kor'tova candles in a few years?"

"As time passes, a girl or boy inevitably becomes an adult, but what is not inevitable is that an adult becomes a warrior. If Lanassa and Jion choose to follow the River of Blood, I will be there to guide them."

"And if they don't?" Torlek asked skeptically.

"Then, I will still love them as a father should."

The targlet finished the bottle. Tigranian gently laid him back down next to his mother and stood up.

"Well, Max has made his choice," Torlek continued. "I still don't agree with your decision to train him here on Gault though."

"Where else would I train him?" Tigranian said throwing the empty formula bottle into a wash bucket.

"Qo'noS!" Torlek shouted. "Max is a blood-christened member of the House of Torlek. He can learn his bat'leth with the greatest Mok'bara masters in the Klingon Empire!"

"You don't think my swordsmanship is up to the task?" Tigranian joked. "I could ask Laria to go over the weapons forms with him then."

Torlek ignored him.

"He could be the first human to graduate from the Defense Force's Preparatory Academy," Torlek added. "Max can have every chance you were denied growing up."

"First," Tigranian said wiping his hands on his jeans, "that was not the deal that Alex and Annabeth agreed to. Second, and more importantly, he could never be the first 'human' to graduate from any Klingon school. Max must discover that despite his smooth forehead and his childhood on Earth, he is already Klingon. If he can't do that among the fields of Gault, then he will never be able to do it among the domes of Qo'noS. If he doesn't realize he is already worthy, he will NEVER be treated as an equal among our people."

"How long did it take for you figure that out?" Torlek asked.

"A lifetime," Tigranian responded.

"I suppose I should grateful that Alex and Annabeth allowed Max to travel the River of Blood at all. Well done for convincing them."

"It wasn't easy," Tigranian replied. "I think it helped that Annabeth will be gone for the next two years anyway."

"Yes, how is our house's cha'Dich acclimating to her new command? I was worried that five years behind a computer console on Earth dulled her reflexes."

"She hated the computer console part," Tigranian answered, "but she loved that she could come home to Alex, Max, and Min-seo every night. However, the chance to take out a brand new Sovereign class on its first deep space exploration mission was too much to pass up. Alex understood that," Tigranian said grabbing a bale of hay from the corner of the barn. He cut the bindings with a pocket knife and spread the stalks around the targlets to keep them warm overnight.

"May Kahless guide her on their new adventure," Torlek said.

"It's Annabeth Geist we're talking about," Tigranian said with a smirk. "Besides, her first officer is pretty good too�"

****

After dinner, Torlek, Lanassa, and the Tigranians gathered around the holoscreen in the farmhouse's living room. They had known about this day for months, but still were unsure it was real. The event was so important, that even Torlek agreed they should stay and watch it together before he and his brother continued their journey to Earth. Laria and Big Lanassa sat on the couch with Little Lanassa between them. Tigranian and Torlek sat in a pair of armchairs sharing a bottle of blood wine. Rellas was on the carpet in front of his father.

"Daddy?" he asked confused. "What's going on?"

"Something really big, Bud," Tigranian said. "Just watch and remember," he added before kissing the top of the boy's head. "You'll understand one day."

"This is Temorek Klens, reporting live from Cardassia Prime for the Federation News Service. Since the destruction of Romulus by the Hobus Supernova and the collapse of the Romulan Star Empire last year, reunification efforts between the Republic of Cardassia and the Cardassian State have accelerated at a tremendous pace. The barriers and travel restrictions have long since been rescinded. The borders are open�"

In Republic Plaza, a sea of a million faces crowded together in total celebration. Tens of thousands of Cardassian Republic and MSECA flags waved in their hands. There were even a few banners from the Federation and Klingon Empire. Rockets and fireworks screamed and burst through the clear night air. The image cut to individuals in the crowd. A Cardassian couple looked at the camera. The woman cheered and waved while the man raised one finger and repeated over and over in Federation Standard:

"One Cardassia! One Cardassia!"

The shot cut back to the announcer:

"The referendum three months ago where both countries overwhelmingly voted for reunification was the culmination of endless work and negotiation between politicians, diplomats, and humanitarians. Now, all the efforts have led to tonight. In less than five minutes, when the clock strikes midnight here in Republic Plaza, the State of Cardassia will cease to exist.

For the first time since the Dominion War ended almost fifteen years ago, both nations will become one and be governed under the democratic constitution of the Republic of Cardassia. Over a million people have gathered in the plaza for tonight's historic celebrations with tens of billions more watching on holovision. This is a day that neither the Cardassian People, nor the rest of the galaxy, will soon forget."

The camera switched to a shot of the dignitaries watching from the stands above the crowd.

"On the balcony of the Capitol Building is the prime minister of the Republic of Cardassia, Alket Lighen. He is seated next to Interim Premier of the Cardassian State, Toranr Pavin, who has been head of that country's 'Reform Party' since its decriminalization late last year. Premier Harok, of course, resigned as leader of the Cardassian State after Romulan troops departed. He is currently being held pending a judicial tribunal for actions of his government deemed by many as 'crimes against humanoidity.'

After tonight, Mr. Lighen will be named Prime Minister of the new unified Republic. Pavin has already been announced as the New Minister of the Interior.

Next to Prime Minister Lighen is retired Prime Minister Elim Garak. Garak is a national hero to many Cardassians, both for his actions with the Cardassian Resistance during the war and as Prime Minister during many of the most difficult years of the Republic.

Behind them are the official delegations from the other MSECA nations. You can see Federation Ambassador Tolbey Kuhm. Next to Ambassador Kuhm is Ambassador Karakt from the Klingon Empire. Also on the balcony is Qato Rozya from the Bajoran Republic. Bajor has a long and tumultuous relationship with Cardassia, but First Minister Nolt Uizic has already stated that the Bajoran Republic is looking forward to working with the unified Republic of Cardassia on joint economic development projects and trade reform�"

"It's a good thing your father isn't still alive to see this," Lanassa grumbled from the couch still working on her knitting. "Otherwise, he would die all over again. Cardassian animals�Vanetsey'er changehm kham chanyivor eghas yissek, chini'es mishneyt irehnhyum akahz�"

"Mame," Laria warned sternly. "You promised you wouldn't say things like that in front of the children." Lanassa rolled her eyes and went back to her scarf.

"I pray to the Prophets they never have to find out the truth like we did."

"What did she say?" Torlek asked leaning over to Tigranian.

"Something to the effect of: 'Once you kill as many of the vermin as I have, you never forget their real smell�'" Tigranian whispered back.

"Ha!" Torlek said slapping his leg. He raised his goblet towards Lanassa. "I knew I always liked her." She looked back at the Klingon and nodded. Everyone then turned back to the screen.

A Cardassian honor guard emerged from the capitol building and marched in formation down the steps. An empty flag pole waited for them next to the statue of Legate Damar. When the crowd saw them, they went wild and the dignitaries rose to their feet. More fireworks screamed and burst in the sky.

The guardsmen, four soldiers from the Republic and four soldiers from the Cardassian State, carried a giant Cardassian Republic flag between them. They reached the flag pole, and in a series of crisp, rehearsed movements, fastened it to the hoist.

"This is it," Laria said nervously leaning forward and wrapping an arm around her daughter. "This is what we fought for�"

A military band began signaling with herald trumpets. Everyone started cheering, clapping and crying. Then, the giant bronze bell in the dome of the capitol began the thirteen booming chimes of midnight. The honor guard raised the flag up the pole until the banner of a united Cardassia began waving proudly in the night air.

"After all this time," the announcer said fighting back emotions himself, "after the largest war the galaxy had ever seen, after so many dead, after so many catastrophes that almost lead to apocalyptic conflict: the Constitutional Crisis of 2376, the Cardassian State Blockade, Legate Varak's terrorist attack on Earth, the Refugee Embargo at Lissek, the Battle of Celdis Prime�it is over. Cardassia is one! Cardassia is free!"

The military band struck up another tune. Their instruments began playing the "Hymn of Cardassia," a national anthem that had wrung hollow for many years after the end of the Dominion War. However tonight, it was once again sung with pride by every single Cardassian man, woman, and child in attendance:

Family, faith, and love unite us for our Cardassian Motherland!

Now, we join together for our people. Let us serve for greater good!

The camera panned back to the balcony. The politicians were all standing respectfully paying tribute: all save one. Elim Garak was so overcome with emotion, he couldn't move. He shook in his chair as tears of abject joy streamed down his face. The entire galaxy was watching him cry as he saw his reunified nation's flag flying freely above his homeworld. It was like he was witnessing the birth of his child. In a way, perhaps, he was.

Our wish is that you live forever, our beloved Cardassian Motherland!

Our greatest hope is that you live forever, our beloved Cardassian Motherland!



Untrepiat Belt: Cardassian Frontier
Border of the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants


Captain Annabeth Geist finished sending the last report to Starfleet Command before crossing the mission's line of departure. It had taken almost a month and half at high warp to reach this point since they left spacedock. However, this new Sovereign class vessel performed like a dream. It was nothing like the Pershing.

Her old battlestarship was large, reliable, and strong, but now she found herself in a completely different world. Now, Annabeth had more scientists on board than marines, more laboratory space than torpedo storage, and a full reception area for hosting diplomatic conferences instead of battle planning sessions. For the first time in her Starfleet career, she was an explorer. It felt good.

Still, she did feel a real twinge of sadness when she remembered that all the decommissioned Pershings now rested in the Starfleet Reserve Fleet in orbit of Qualor II. Their mighty torpedo turrets were coated in corrosion resistant polyduranium paint. Their tritanium ablative armor was charged with positrons to repel micrometeoroids. Their weapons control consoles were all draped with space dust-proof protective coverings. The battlestarships were being preserved in case, God forbid, the Federation ever needed them again.

Annabeth still had hope that Lady Blackjack and the others would find new homes as memorials or museum ships. It's what great vessels like them deserved rather than the oblivion of the scrapyard. However, until their final fates were decided, the Pershing and her sisters would softly slumber, and Annabeth would remember their glory days. Luckily, she had plenty of people on board this ship to commiserate with.

That nostalgia is why Annabeth kept a small model of NCC-19860 in her ready room directly below the portrait of her new ship's namesake: an explorer who had given her life in the earliest days of space travel. Having those two things together was a wonderful reminder of both where she came from and where she was now going.

With a final deep breath, Annabeth rose from her chair, blew a kiss at the picture of Alex, Max, and Min-seo on her desk, and then straightened her uniform jacket.

"You ready to do this, Judy?" Annabeth said to the portrait across the room. The dark-haired woman silently smiled back. Annabeth took that as a yes.

****

"Captain on the bridge!" Commander Katie Lexington rising from the first officer's seat.

"Carry on," Annabeth said marching over to her captain's chair. "How we looking, Number One?"

"All departments report ready and awaiting final checkout with you, Ma'am," Katie smiled.

"Damn fine work, as always," Annabeth smiled turning to the image of space on the main viewscreen. "So that's the Gamma Quadrant? Funny to think that no Starfleet ship has ever explored the near side of it before."

"The Bajoran wormhole spoiled us, Ma'am," Katie chuckled. "Luckily, we're here to fix it," Katie said taking her seat.

"Well spoken, Katie," Annabeth grinned. "Alright, let's do this by the book at least once."

"Mr. Grayson?" Annabeth said looking over her shoulder.

"Tactical standing by," a tall, muscular lieutenant said from his console. "I even made the recalibrations that Commander Lexington wanted, Ma'am."

"Once a security chief, always a security chief," Annabeth whispered at Katie. Commander Lexington just shrugged back. "Science?" Annabeth asked next.

"Science is standing by. Can't wait to see what's out there," Lieutenant Commander Adamson replied.

"That makes two of us," Annabeth thought about the next department on the checklist. Before she could answer, the intercom spoke.

"Sick bay standing by," Doctor Katan announced.

"Kinzo, you said you would stop doing that!" Annabeth said.

"Sorry, Ma'am," he chuckled. "It's just so easy to mess with you non-telepaths."

"Engineering?" Annabeth continued.

"We have full power. Warp drive and impulse at your command, Captain," T'les replied from below decks with her Vulcan calm.

"Alright then. Mr. Morko," she said towards the helm. "Take us into the Gamma Quadrant. If you hit the Dominion, we've gone too far."

"Aye, Ma'am," the Benzite said in between puffs on his breathing apparatus. "Course laid in."

Annabeth smiled and sat down in her new chair.

"Engage."

As the captain saw the stars on the viewscreen streak into warp, the lines of her oath echoed through her mind:

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Resnik. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before�


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