She was born in 2355 on the agricultural world of Ithic II, a Cardassian colony in the DMZ. In 2370 she was orphaned when her parents were killed in a Maquis attack on that world. Fortunately she was staying with her uncle, Mikor Khevet, on Cardassia Prime at the time pursuing her studies in agronomy. Her life on Cardassia was very different than the life she lived on Ithic II, particularly after her parents' death. As an orphan she had no rights and no status in Cardassian society and was entirely dependent on her uncle's charity for everything from food and shelter to permission to continue her education or travel.
She met Rugal Pa'Dar in 2370 at age 15 and the two became friends, and later became romantically involved. She was extremely humble and grateful to her uncle and other family members for providing for her after the loss of her parents, despite the fact that, as Rugal observed, her relations often treated her like a servant. Kotan Pa'Dar explained to his son that Mikor Khevet was merely using his niece, conditioning her to be a free farm manager.
In 2373, after Cardassia joined the Dominion and eliminated the Maquis, Mikor Khevet chose to send Penelya back to her family's farm instead of allowing her to further her education as she had planned, but Penelya refused to allow Rugal to speak ill of him. She asked Rugal to come with her and he declined.
In 2375 she had to flee Ithic II again, when the Dominion turned against the Cardassians. Though feared dead, Rugal found her on Cardassia Prime three years later in 2378, where they were reunited. She agreed to return to Ithic II with him and his human charge, Hulya Kiliç. (DS9 novel: The Never-Ending Sacrifice)