Francis didn't need to know that Winn Adami had packed the audience with her supporters. He could just tell. He didn't mind, though. The very best fights were staged before hostile crowds that the visiting fighter would win over.
Father Mulcahy didn't like thinking of it as a fight. But everything he had read, heard or seen about Kai Winn suggested that she always thought of it that way. Like his hero, The Gentleman Boxer, Francis always went into a fight prepared to win. But hopefully, he could do so without destroying the other boxer. This was the ideal, in any event.
Colonel Kira announced the beginning.
"We are truly blessed today, to hear an exchange of ideas between two people whose lives have been directly touched by The Blessed Prophets. There is Her Eminence, Kai Winn Adami, Leader Of The Revered Vedek Assembly, And The Voice Of Faith On Bajor."
Winn nodded, and was all calm and regal confidence as she ascended. She smiled at her 'children', and despite herself, Nerys was drawn in. She was The Kai, after all.
Then Kira remembered the school. Then the siege. Then the extortion that won her election. Then her overwork of the dying Bareil. Her failure to truly acknowledge Benjamin Sisko as The Emissary until The Lost City was staring her in the face. Even then, her talk was of all she herself had endured--never anyone else. Colonel Kira Nerys then had a vision of startling and frightening clarity : Winn Adami was going to dwell with The Pagh Wraiths, and now nothing could be done to avert that.
Gathering herself, she introduced her own favorite, a man whose view of faith was far closer to her own. Kira and Francis had different religions. But they both viewed Faith as having mysteries, of itself being a mystery. Like Vedek Yarka and Bareil himself, he was a man of humility and gentleness, not fixated on the need to be right.
"The Prophets have said that The Potter will build a vessel for The Emissary with The Clay provided for him by The Priest. While the deeper meanings of all that are lost on such as we, these things are known. Sherman Potter is ancestor and inspiration to Benjamin Sisko, The Prophets' chosen Emissary. A man who helped to inspire Potter was this man, Father John Francis Patrick Mulcahy, who belongs to a Terran sect of Christianity called Roman Catholicism. I know him to be a gentle and gracious man, and one who has never tried to proselytize me. I know one thing more. He was The Prophets' chosen vessel during The Last Struggle. Though they exist in our time still, at that time were The Pagh Wraiths destroyed forever. I give you The Priest."
Kira had left out her own contact with a strange but wonderful being, back in the Missouri of 1956. Francis had been possessed by The Prophets, who were Kira's gods. When Kira asked the being possessing her who 'he' was, the response was simple.
"I Am That I Am."
Francis had been the vessel of The Prophets. Kira, if this being was to be believed, was the vessel of the being most Terrans knew simply as God. Even more startling was this being's claim that he was The Father Of The Prophets. It was a simple statement that either tied two great faiths together or shattered them both.
The Priest, as the challenged, spoke first.
"As a young boy in Pennsylvania, I stared out at the night sky, and I saw the stars that I now am out among. From here, my home is a star, and for that it has lost no wonder. I always thought I'd find God, if I could just travel out here. I now know that God is vaster than any distance, and greater than all the stars. Creation, however we believe it came together, is simply put--Vaster. Bigger than ourselves, and all our worries. Larger than concerns about whether a soft-boiled egg should be eaten from the top or bottom first. The rituals, the pomp, and the circumstance are to increase our understanding of creation. But Creation understands us just fine, thank you. It always has."
If Francis or Nerys expected Winn to open with a statement about fealty and devotion to The Prophets, they were both sadly mistaken.
"The Priest offers up the best his faith has to give. What a rosy, inclusive picture he paints. But what of women, Francis? What of your Church's stance that no woman could get to heaven except through a man?"
"A belief mostly discredited by my time, Eminence. I certainly do not hold it."
Winn smiled, her trap sprung.
"How enlightened of you. Especially considering that, in your year of 1957, women in your United States had only gained the right to vote some 37 years earlier. That your Church's stance on such things as reproductive rights----"
Francis cut her off, having been ready for at least that attack.
"....Is, Kai Winn, quite similar to Bajor's stance prior to The Occupation. Certain people were restricted in having children based on class and occupation, I believe?"
A bit stung, the Kai pressed forward on other fronts.
"I see Chief O'Brien and his wife are not here. Pity. I'm sure they'd love to tell us how Katherine Mulcahy O'Brien gave up being a Nun---A Holy Sister Of Your Faith--for despair of advancement, as much as any other reason?"
Francis finally saw where this was going, and liked it not at all.
"My sister left the Order for the love of Seamus O'Brien. I have never heard her give any other reason, and I am her brother. As her brother, Winn Adami, I'll kindly ask you to leave her, my parents, Miles, Keiko, and Molly--well out of this."
"Francis, you forgot Yoshi O'Brien."
"No, Kira, I did not. After all, Her Eminence would never involve an infant in her---fervent discussion."
The Kai shrugged.
"It merely seems to me that you have many things you fear talking about, Priest. Of course, history shows his Church is one of secrets and shames. The Donation Of Constantine--a mere real-estate fraud. The Inquisition---ritualized torture of those who disagreed. The Holocaust--a blind eye turned on so many fronts."
Rather than be baited in again, the Padre merely nodded.
The Kai shook her head.
"Go on? Oh, I could go on forever."
Well under her breath, Kira whispered.
"You got that right."
"But, I merely choose to conclude the body of my discourse with this small fact-and yes, Priest--it is about children. Shortly after your time, it will be revealed that a handful of Priests molested small children and teenagers. Rather than imprisoning these monsters or forcing them to seek help, your Church merely reassigned them--quite regularly. Even when this shame was exposed, your Pontiff was quite slow to react. How do you answer for that crime?"
At that moment, Francis heard the voice of his hero, The Gentleman Boxer.
"Sometimes, kid--they don't leave you no choice. Maybe they got stones in their gloves--maybe they played with your shoes. Maybe they're sneakin' shots in below the belt, and the ref don't see it. You can try to show you're a boxer, and an athlete. But sometimes, ya gotta show em'---restraint means you don't want to - it doesn't mean you can't. Padre, put this bum away. She's wide open for a haymaker. She just don't know it."
Father Mulcahy shook his head.
"I answer by pleading guilty. But I'm very surprised at you, Kai Winn. For that crime is hardly at the pinnacle of my Church's wrongs. Are you holding back on me? I'm not fragile, you know."
Winn was drawn in by what she foolishly saw as an opening.
"I--was--unaware of any further malfeasance on the part of your Church, Francis. Would you care to enlighten us?"
What came next had its parallels in the Balboa-Drago fight of 1984.
"Yes. I will enlighten you. You see, in The Middle Ages on Earth, my Church wielded temporal power equal to its spiritual power. Well, power corrupts even the holiest of people. The Church lost a great deal of respect, and many followers. When Rome made and broke kings--it lost the ability to carry out God's will. When America was founded, this was the reason why a wall was placed between Church and State. Not merely to protect the State. But to protect religion. If The Church is merely another political party---then its message is lost in the campaigns. Our crime was placing the two together as one. Such power in the hands of one or a few individuals--"
He looked directly at Winn.
"---leads invariably to war and disaster."
The Kai's mouth was wide open, but no words came from this woman who had tried very hard to achieve the kind of power that Francis had rightfully proclaimed impossible to wield justly and effectively.
"I call a recess. Priest---I would speak with you--privately."
Kira, joyful and triumphant, pointed towards the CO's office. The debaters went inside. Winn was blunt.
"You will go out there and concede the debate in front of everyone."
Francis puzzled at this.
"Why, Eminence, would I do such a thing?"
She smiled a cobra's smile.
"Are you fond of Kira Nerys?"
"Yes, of course. She's a dear girl."
"Do you wish her to be banished for her blasphemy? For believing in Gods other than the Prophets?"
Francis looked around the room in which he and Kira had spoken of her visions.
"Winn Adami--you have not won."
"Oh, haven't I, Priest?"
Francis shook his head, in sorrow for this little lost soul.
"No, you haven't. You see, you aren't the first to use surveillance devices on me, to spy on the sanctity of the confessional. I knew what sort you were--so I came prepared. Sadly, I must fight fire with fire."
Winn refused to believe him.
"You have nothing to fight me with. Nothing at all."
A voice from the shadows spoke out.
"But I do, Eminence."
The Kai shook with fear, at the sight of the man, hidden from view. The dead man.
"Bareil! No--this is a trick."
Vedek Bareil grinned.
"No trick, Adami. No Mirror duplicate. Its me--five weeks before my death. Oh, yes, I knew before I came on the station. But for the sake of the Bajora--I laid low. I took my silence to the grave. Silence about a slow-acting poison whose effects were exactly those of my apparent illness. Now I can go out there, and verify my identity--and then my story. In my time, I was afraid of splitting our faith, so soon after the Occupation. But if you so much as breathe in Nerys's direction -- I will expose it all - and there are things and places and bodies that even you've forgotten about. Goodbye, now, Kai Winn. We will not see each other again. Take from that what you will."
Francis returned Bareil to his place and destiny.
"Thank you, Bareil."
"Francis, I do what I do for the good of Bajor. But--Prophets forgive me--it felt good, for once, to drag her off that pedestal she uses so often. I'm only glad Opaka never found out who succeeded her."
Francis nodded, and vanished. The Kai Winn of that timeframe then entered Bareil's office.
"Vedek Bareil, were you speaking with someone?"
"No one you'd care to know, Eminence."
Back in the relative present of DS9, Francis saw that Winn and her entourage had withdrawn. Kira remained, smiling as she had not for some time. Odo stood beside her, and addressed the Padre.
"Francis--you want to apply to my security staff? Because you sure know how to get rid of the troublemakers."
Francis smiled, having fought a draining but successful fight.
"Odo--compared to the bunch at the 4077th--your Kai is a big creampuff!"
RIVER BEND, MISSOURA, 1957
Mildred Potter saw her husband and Francis walk in, Bajoran potatoes in hand, as promised.
"So, did you boys do anything while in the 24th Century?"
The two shrugged, and looked at each other. They spoke as one.