“Faith isn't faith until it's all you're holding on to."
- Bajoran Proverb
Twenty four years ago
"I know my mother's dead."
Simple words spoken by a simple child. Tami looked up to the priest, the rags that the Cardassians charitably labelled 'clothing' dangling off her limply. Her toes were blue and black, the result of too many winter nights with too few blankets and shoes.
The Vedek, concern flooding his face, placed an emaciated hand on the girl's earlobe and rubbed gently.
"You're only nine," Vedek Antani Silari childed. "You don't have an understanding of these things. Children don't know what happens when people go to the Prophets... as a matter of fact, most adults don't either. It's something that takes a lifetime of wisdom to understand... and a completely picture is only obtained when you, yourself, pass."
The girl tilted her head. She, unlike most children, didn't mind it when people rubbed her ear- it was a comforting feeling, something to remind her of her family and her life before she was bought to this camp. There wasn't much to remember- a few flashes of memory, a handful of words and phrases spoken by people she barely remembered. Words of courage as the plasma mortars fell around them, words of comfort for loved ones as endless Bajoran women and men went out to fight the Cardassians and never returned, words of strength when the dark times seemed entirely endless.
"I know what happens when you go to the prophets," Tami replied, her tone sincere and flat- as though she were reciting some fact in her school's textbook. "The Cardassians take you and throw you in the incinerator they have in the middle of the camp." Another pause. "Is the incinerator some kind of portal to the prophets?"
Antani looked shocked for a moment, his hand falling away from the child's ear.
"Who told you that?"
Tami blinked a few times, her face screwed up in confusion. "Nobody told me," she answered truthfully, "I saw the two guards- Zumarl and Izkadi- throw mother's body in there this afternoon. So I know what happens when you go. It's nothing like the stories you tell."
Antani shook his head.
"The journey to the prophets is... just a metaphor, child. The body is just a shell," he said, "Just a container for the soul. When a Bajoran dies, if they have been honest and true throughout their lives, their soul departs the body and it flies up towards the Celestial Temple. There, it's reunited with the prophets, to live forever with our creators."
It was a simple answer, but simply and precisely articulated Tami's feelings on this matter.
Antani reached up and rubbed the child's ears again. "Look to the heavens, child. See all the stars?"
Tami nodded. From somewhere else in the camp there was a shout, then a shriek, followed by the high pitched whine of a phaser. Then silence. Searchlights illuminated the far corner of the camp- it was another escape attempt. The Cardassian who had discovered the tunneler picked up the woman's body and began dragging it towards the central incinerator. The priest and the girl carried on as though nothing had happened.
When the Vedek spoke, his voice was soft. "Those stars are the balconies of the Celestial Temple. From there, our ancestors- and our friends who knew us in life- can look down on Bajor and see all that we do. That's how they know if we've been just in our life, so that when we pass, we too may go to the Prophets and join them."
Tami canted her head, looking upwards.
"So my mother's up there watching me? Watching me right now?"
The priest smiled, nodding his head. "I suspect that she is," he said, "At least... if the balconies are not too crowded this evening."
The girl nodded thoughtfully. "Do you think they have a lot of food up there? Fresh water? Big, thick, fuzzy blankets?"
Both she and he had become accustomed to the hunger, the thirst, the cold... but they both had memories of better times. Imagining the biggest, warmest blanket she could, the girl drew comfort from the thought- it didn't stop her little body from trembling, though, but she had become used to it. Every night was cold, some more than most, but you either survived or you died. Talking help keep you warm.
"I'd imagine that they have everything their hearts desire," Antani replied, rubbing the little Bajoran's ear again. "Food, water, warmth and shelter..."
There was another pause.
"Are there Cardassians in the Celestial Temple?"
The Vedek hesitated before answering. "The Temple allows access only to those who are good of heart," he explained, "So... it's not impossible for there to be a goodly Cardassian or two up there. But... I'd imagine there aren't many. And I'd imagine that there are fewer still drawn from those who... 'share'... our world."
"Are there camp guards up there?"
This the Vedek was certain of. "No, child."
Tami nodded her head, seeming pleased. "That's good. I hope none of the other Cardassians up there turn into guards. I want my mother to get her food from the crops, or from a store, or a market... not from guards she has sex with."
The Vedek's surprise was total now. "Tami, where did you hear that? Did your mother tell you what she was doing...?"
Tami smiled, shaking her head. "Oh, no, I figured it out on my own. I'm not stupid. Children don't get separate rations, they're supposed to share their parents, but I'm nine now. I eat a lot." Her voice became sad. "I tried to eat as little as I could, but I get really hungry... and I know she had to find food somehow, since we somehow got extra whenever we needed it and there's not many ways you can get it around here. Mister Belaran told me that's how he got the extra rations for his sister, so I figured mum was doing the same thing." She sighed, shaking her head. "Besides, she would often come back to our cell late, with bruises- in places where people usually don't get bruises- and she'd cry a lot. It's a good thing dad's dead, or he might be sad."
The little child smiled again, as though expecting the Vedek to be proud of her cleverness. "So, yeah. I figured it out on my own." She shuffled closer to the Vedek, trying to draw some warmth from his body. "I think mum did it so they would leave me alone..."
The Vedek rubbed her ear again, gentle since he knew his fingers were bony and gaunt. The child was nine, yet knew so much about the dark place in which they had found themselves... far too much for a child of her age.
"I can say this, Tami... nobody has any harm come to them in the Celestial Temple."
"It sounds nice," said Tami, wistfully.
The Vedek nodded. "It is. It's a paradise. Your mother has everything she ever wanted up there."
"Not everything." Tami's voice was quiet, mournful even. "My mother doesn't have me. I know that she would want me over any food in the galaxy, any amount of water to drink or warm blankets to cover her... mum would want me over the biggest, most softest blanket that the northerners could make. She told me so herself."
"I know she would. And, in time, you'll see her again."
Tami nodded thoughtfully.
The pounding on the metal grew louder. Tami could hear it from where she was- a solid metal container, nearly four meters cubed, the floor covered in ash.
"Blast it open! Hurry, curse you!" came a voice. Tami recognized it as the Vedek Antani. The girl smiled and pressed her face against the soot-covered transparent aluminum, looking at the mix of Bajoran and Cardassian faces that stared back at her.
One of the Cardassian guards raised his voice in reply. "No. That's Cardassian property... it you damage it, it will be out of action for weeks- Gul Marev will have all of our heads."
The original voice again, thumping on the metal with his weak, starved hands. "Tami! Tami, open the door this instant!"
It WAS Antani. She could see the man was trying to open up the furnace door with his fingers, which were now missing their nails, broken and bleeding. "I want you to open this door right now!"
The energy inside the furnace began to build and build, just as Tami knew that it would. She'd seen what the Cardassians had done to her mother after all. "It's okay," she said, smiling at them all. They looked so very frightened, angry, alarmed... but she felt perfectly at peace with the cosmos. "I'm going to see my mother."
Antani pressed his face against the glass. "It's not your time, Tami. You're just a child!"
Tami shook her head, giggling at the adults foolishness. "No, it's okay. Mother misses me- I'm going to see her. Don't worry. It's like you said- the body is just a container. Up there, there's food- there's water... there's blankets and warmth and everything I could ever want. And she's there, she wants me to come..."
The timer she had set ticked down. Already she could feel the growing heat beneath her feet. She wiggled her partially frostbitten toes- it was the first time she'd been really warm in years.
"You're going to die! Turn off the timer!"
Tami smiled, closing her eyes. "I won't die, I'll go to the Prophets. That's what they told me- that's what YOU told me- and I believe it."
A pause, now, as the energy buildup reached a crescendo.
"I have faith."
She opened her eyes. It was surprisingly cool and white and air rushed past her- rushed through her. She felt herself fly through the atmosphere of Bajor, floating gracefully up into the night sky. She could see the bright pinpoint of light- the ignited furnace- far below her, but such mortal trivialities were behind her now.
She left the planet's upper atmosphere and gasped in wonder at all the things around her, things she hadn't seen before- things nobody alive had seen. The pale white trails of souls heading away from Bajor and towards the welcoming gates of the Celestial Temple. The dark black streaks of the Pah-Wraiths, floating around in space, catching and punishing those unworthy of entering the Celestial Temple.
None came close to her, however.
Tami saw the faces of the dead, watching, smiling, from the stars... which ever so much resembled the balconies of a house. They called her name, crying happily, beckoning her towards the light.
Then the doors of the Celestial Temple opened, and Tami saw the outline of her mother, arms outstretched, waiting for her.
"I have faith," she repeated, throwing herself into her beaming mother's welcoming arms.