by Travis Anderson
The Rio Grande assumed orbit over Solosos. Dax had requested an orbital insertion rather than a reentry glide path. Sisko wanted the runabout in position to be a more effective tool in tomorrow’s operation.
He’d chosen to move in the local morning. Since the suspect farm was only sixty kilometers away from Zyrex, the closest city with a spaceport, he’d opted to spend the night in local accommodations and leave the runabout where it was. The ship’s systems would be locked out from any potential boarders.
They beamed down to the local streets and began wandering, looking for shelter. After being rejected by several proprietors, one warily agreed to let them stay. Although they carried no luggage, the guests were first shown to their rooms. They had three altogether.
O’Brien gave Bashir a rueful look. “Looks like we’re bunking together.”
“It’ll be interesting,” Bashir said.
O’Brien merely grunted in disgust. “I’d rather be aboard the ship.”
Sisko suggested that they try the local cuisine. They moved on to the attached pub. It was quite a contrast to the Old Biddy. For one thing, the bulk of the patrons were Cardassian. They noted that their uniforms drew a lot of hostile attention. They took a seat and ordered a meal from an indifferent server.
The Starfleet officers drew sullen stares from all of the Cardassian patrons. Although, to be fair, even the Federation colonists seemed embittered towards them. They ate quickly and returned to Sisko’s room.
Sisko retrieved his PADD and the others groaned but did likewise. They reviewed Starfleet’s intelligence again. Dax voiced the opinion that there had to be more. The picture was too incomplete. Bashir suddenly brought up the idea that Starfleet shouldn’t run an operation within an operation.
“I mean, what if we end up working at cross purposes?” Bashir wondered.
“Admiral Nechayev is famed for her efficiency. She may see the overlap as just another surety of success,” Sisko tried to defend the official line.
“Curzon didn’t think much of her,” Dax revealed. All eyes turned to her. “He saw her too concerned with results to worry about how she got them. They butted heads on several occasions.”
“And how’d that work out?” O’Brien was curious.
“Let’s just say in the end it was probably a draw,” Dax admitted, “And Nechayev has a long memory. She’s a political player with capital to burn. It may have made her arrogant.”
“I remember hearing about her coming aboard the Enterprise. Seems even Captain Picard walked on eggshells around her,” O’Brien shared.
Sisko was impressed. His impression of Picard was that the patrician officer wouldn’t easily bend for anyone. He’d received a similar vibe off of Nechayev. He wondered what it had been like for two unmovable objects to collide.
“I agree,” Sisko admitted. “Admiral Nechayev has potentially set us at cross purposes with another Starfleet team. Our assignment has gotten immeasurably harder rather than easier.”
“What if they’re not Starfleet?” Dax asked. Everyone cast her wary looks. She shrugged in return. “Nechayev was a big booster for ramping up Starfleet’s civilian corps of intelligence gatherers and she plays favorites. Any one of them could now be in the DMZ getting ready to effect a rescue.”
“Let’s not forget the portion where she said that Hudson would be silenced one way or another,” Bashir reminded everyone. They had all seen the copy of her transmission with Sisko. While that statement had unsettled them all, it seemed to especially bother Bashir.
Sensing the need to change the topic, Sisko stood and announced, “Let’s take break. Check in here in four hours.”
“Commander?” O’Brien seemed hesitant.
“Yes, Chief?” Sisko tried to be encouraging.
“Seeing as how this is now primarily a Cardassian colony, I think we should treat it as hostile territory,” O’Brien suggested. “We should travel in pairs and within sight of the group.”
“What about our rooms?” Dax asked suddenly.
“I don’t follow you,” O’Brien admitted.
“Well,” her eyes danced mirthfully, “If we’re to stay in pairs and within sight of the group, we’re going to have to share one room. And it suspiciously sounds as though the boys all want to get in bed with me.”
O’Brien blushed and Dax laughed. “Why Chief, is that a little guilt showing? Don’t worry, I won’t tell Keiko.”
Dax noted the Irishman’s immediate relief. However, Bashir looked a little too intrigued by the possibility. “Julian, you can forget it. I’m sleeping alone tonight. Although, I’d prefer it to be otherwise.”
“I’ll be alone as well,” Sisko decided, “But you and the doctor can still share a room, Chief.”
O’Brien detected Sisko’s humor at play. He nodded, “Yes, sir.”
“But what is there to do?” Bashir lamented.
“Well, if you’re so interested in sharing a bed, you could check out the local women,” Dax suggested.
“Indeed!” Bashir brightened.
Dax was happy to see Bashir wasn’t sullied with prejudices, but he seemed a little too eager. “What do you have in mind, Julian?”
“Well,” he began slyly, “There is the mystery of the ‘third spoon.’”
“The what?” O’Brien made the mistake of asking.
“Well we all know that Cardassians bear a physical mark resembling a spoon on the foreheads.” Bashir was still grinning.
“Yeah, that’s why we called them ‘spoonheads.’” O’Brien remarked, “So did the Bajorans. So what?”
“Well, Cardassian women also bear another mark where their clavicle bones join together,” Bashir continued. He could see his audience wasn’t very receptive yet, but he’d saved the best for last. “There’s a rumor that there’s a third spoon on Cardassian women’s bodies. I’d like to find out where it is.”
“Bloody hell,” O’Brien muttered.
Sisko didn’t quite trust himself to react. Dax, on the other hand, was totally amused. “Trust me, Julian. You can’t handle that truth.”
“I’m just as much a scientist as you are,” Bashir sniffed.
Dax broke into a fit of laughter. When it had ended, she was flushed and so was Bashir. “Good luck with that, Julian. Really. I mean it.”
She began to chortle again when Bashir turned to O’Brien. “Ready, Chief?”
“Ready for what?” O’Brien asked defensively.
“You did suggest that we travel in pairs, Chief. It was a good idea. I think we should stick with it while we’re in public areas,” Sisko said dryly.
Bashir gave O’Brien a baleful look. The Chief rolled his eyes. “Oh for the luvva… All right. I’ll go, but stop looking at me like a wounded puppy.”
Bashir cheered up immediately. “Too right! Follow me, Chief.”
Bashir practically sprinted out the door while O’Brien ambled after him. He could be heard calling, “Slow down, Julian. No one is going anywhere.”
Dax bemusedly looked to Sisko. “Is it really wise letting Julian loose on Cardassian women?”
“Given the traditional xenophobia displayed by Cardassians in general, do you really think he’ll get anywhere?” Sisko humorously asked.
“Well, the Cardassians do take ‘comfort women’ everywhere they go,” Dax pointed out.
“Comfort women,” Sisko repeated. “Have you ever heard of ‘comfort men?’”
Dax snickered. “No. Poor Julian.”
“I believe the good doctor asked for this of his own accord,” Sisko grinned.
“Now what?” she asked eagerly.
“Now we pour over the materials again and see if there’s anything we missed,” Sisko said.
Dax pouted. Sisko ignored her so after a moment she began asking questions regarding if Sisko remembered certain events with Curzon. Sisko played along for several minutes but then redirected back to the task at hand.
“Okay,” she sighed. “I liked it better when I was the senior official and you did my fetch and carry.”
“That was another life, Old Man,” Sisko chuckled.
Dax smiled warmly. “So it was.”
Roughly four hours later, Bashir and O’Brien returned to Sisko’s room. Bashir was downtrodden, but the Chief was pretty upbeat. Bashir’s uniform was also covered by an oily green substance. Dax took a whiff and smiled, “Kanar.”
“What happened?” Sisko was desperately trying not to laugh.
“Wonder Boy here tried to romance every woman in the bar,” O’Brien recalled. “It seems a few of them, although they rejected him, felt put upon by his simply switching to a new target when shot down. They surrounded him and poured their drinks all over him and stormed out together. At that point, the proprietor kicked us out for chasing his business away,” O’Brien happily shared.
“Oh, Julian,” Dax said sympathetically, “I did warn you though.”
“Thank you, Jadzia,” Bashir said. “Commander, could I return to the Rio Grande and replicate a new uniform?”
“No,” Sisko replied, still trying not to laugh out loud.
“But Commander!” Bashir whined.
“No,” Sisko said much more forcefully. “We have an ops plan and no one is going anywhere until we’re reviewed it.”
Even O’Brien sighed over that. They gathered chairs and sat in a circle around a table stand. They’d surrendered their PADDs to Sisko earlier. He redistributed them now.
“You’ll find the plan loaded on each PADD,” Sisko shared. “Chief, it could still use some refining. If I remember correctly, you served on Solosos during the war.”
“That’s right,” O’Brien replied uncomfortably.
“Is there anything you can share about the target area?” Sisko wondered.
O’Brien looked pained. “Look Commander, I spent most of my time keeping my head down and our unit’s equipment running. I can tell you that these farms are a dime a dozen.”
“I’m not sure I follow you,” Sisko admitted.
“They’re all the same. It happened because the colony relied upon prefab construction materials. So every house looks like every other house and it’s the same with the bunkhouses,” O’Brien shared. “I can give you a rough outline, but the orbital views we got from Starfleet will spell out the terrain a lot better that I can. I can’t say I’ve ever been there but I can tell you that, except for the terrain, it’ll look just like its neighbor,” O’Brien elaborated.
Sisko nodded. “Thank you, Chief. We’ll need your knowledge of the interiors in a moment.”
Sisko stated that they’d be transporting to the Rio Grande in the morning and from there to the farmhouse. Sisko and Dax would try the front door while Bashir rested in a nearby grove of trees as back up. Sisko turned to O’Brien.
“Sorry, Chief. You’re staying aboard the runabout to man the transporter,” Sisko informed him.
O’Brien looked irked. “The runabout’s computer can handle the transporter, like usual.”
Sisko gave him a wry look. “Humans are faster with the transporter than a computer any day. You’re even faster than most because you excelled at being a transporter chief. I need you aboard the Rio Grande. Our lives could depend upon it.”
“But you need someone in the trees to provide cover fire if the Cardassians call reinforcements from the house,” O’Brien argued.
“That’s where Doctor Bashir will be stationed,” Sisko said.
O’Brien turned to gaze at Bashir. The doctor was elated to be trusted with the responsibility, yet was unsteady all at the same time. O’Brien had seen that same expression hundreds of times on the front lines.
“All right,” he skeptically said to Sisko. Turning to Bashir, he added, “I’ll give you some pointers tomorrow. Just to be sure.”
Bashir wore a grateful smile. “Thanks, Chief.”
Sisko went on to describe the plan as it stood. He then asked if everyone understood. Everyone nodded. He noticed O’Brien still wasn’t happy but he’d do his duty unflinchingly.
“Good night then,” Sisko dismissed them. “We’re setting out at 0800 local time.”
“See ya, boys,” Dax said as she strolled out of the room.
Bashir looked to Sisko imploringly. “Can I have my own room as well?”
O’Brien looked affronted and Bashir sheepishly explained, “No offense, Chief. But you snore.”
“I do not!” O’Brien insisted.
“Chief, Keiko has come to me and asked if a separate living module could be added to your quarters and if we could soundproof it,” Sisko revealed.
“Of all of the…” O’Brien muttered as he rose. He turned to Bashir. “Coming?”
Bashir looked to Sisko one last time and the commander nodded. Bashir had a defeated air as he followed O’Brien to their room. Sisko chuckled as he went to the bed and tested it. He lay down and switched his PADD’s displayed document to a book he was reading. Almost unconsciously, he switched it back to the operations plan and began to read through it again.
The SS Indomitable flew through space at impulse as it entered the star system containing Solosos. Ro sat at the helm and flew her ship herself, just as Chakotay commanded from the CONN. Kalinda sat at ops beside her. She monitored the ship’s systems despite Thool managing things in engineering. Tulley manned the weapons console to Ro’s left. The final station was taken by Alea. She monitored the sensors and she’d just gotten a hit.
“Ro, I’m detecting a Cardassian shuttle. Just like you said,” Alea reported.
“Transfer its position to the helm and keep a running update to the navigation systems,” Ro replied.
Kalinda grinned over at Ro. “Good call. They’re coming in straight from the Cardassian border, just like you predicted.”
Ro grimaced. “Don’t thank me yet. That shuttle will be armed and we haven’t tested the Indie’s weapons or shields.”
“I think we’re about to get that test,” Kalinda smirked.
“Right,” Ro agreed grimly. “Tulley, arm weapons and raise shields.”
Tulley acknowledged the order and Ro’s status indicator shifted. The shuttle was up on the navigational sensors now. Ro angled her ship for maximum effect. She gave the order to fire and Tulley unleashed a volley from both wingtip-mounted Type VIII phasers.
Ro fired the thrusters and halved the impulse output. The Indie pulled a tight Immelman turn and came back at the Cardassians. They managed to return fire this time. The shields took a hit and deflected most of it, but some of the energy bled through and systems aboard the Indomitable overloaded.
“Damage report!” Ro snapped.
“Some primary systems have gone down and auxiliaries have engaged,” Kalinda reported. “But the backups are unstable. We may lose them if we take another couple of hits.”
“Tulley, load photons,” Ro ordered.
“We only have four,” he reminded her.
“So load two of the damn things, use one, and see if we need to use the other. Okay?” Ro argued.
“Photons loaded,” he reported.
“I’m lining us up. Take the shot ASAP because we’re going to be taking fire and I want to angle us away as soon as the torpedo is off,” Ro explained her plan.
Tulley grinned. “At your command.”
The scoutship was bucking from disruptor strikes and the shields were rapidly losing efficiency and strength. Ro ordered the strike. The port launcher yielded a photon. It streaked straight and true into the Cardassian shuttle.
The shuttle’s shields were already failing when the photon warhead totally overloaded them. The shuttle wasn’t destroyed, but that was by the barest of margins.
“The shuttle is crippled. She’s lost structural integrity and is venting atmosphere,” Alea informed Ro.
Ro fell silent. Kalinda looked over at her with some concern. “We can’t handle prisoners until we run the operation.”
“And where would we hold them anyway?” Ro asked bitterly.
“Orders?” Tilley inquired.
Ro set course for Solosos. “Let nature take its course.”
They all fell silent at that. A staple of interstellar travel was rendering aid to a crippled ship. They’d just crossed a line they could never walk away from.
“On to our real mission,” Ro said as she piloted the ship towards the planet.
Ro landed the Indie at the appropriate spaceport. She was three times the size of a standard runabout. but she was still much smaller than some of the freighters that had touched down here. It was close to dawn. Ro checked in with Thool. His engineers would man the ship will the strike team went out.
“Your friend will be ready for us?” she asked archly.
“Belieze is waiting for you,” Thool assured her. “She’ll have everything ready for you.”
“And how much is this going to cost us?” Ro wanted to know.
Thool grinned, “It’s on the house.”
Ro shared his grin. “My kind of price.”
They met Belieze at her shop, where she ran an equipment rental agency. She had heavy equipment of all types and places of origin. She brought Ro and the Maquis to two six wheeled rovers.
Kalinda sneered. “Those are Cardassian military scouts,” she complained.
“They’re the civilian model,” Belieze retorted, “And unlike most Cardassian equipment, they’re utterly reliable.”
“We’ll take them,” Ro said gratefully.
“Hold on.” Kalinda drug Ro off to the side. “They’re Cardassian!”
Ro shrugged. “So’s the disruptor you’ve been using for the last six weeks.”
Kalinda was stymied and she knew it. “Do you even know how to drive one of things?”
Ro smirked. “Of course. The Cardies drove all over Bajor in these monsters. I was stealing them before my twelfth birthday.”
Kalinda grimaced. “Well, I don’t know how, so you’re going to have to show me.”
It actually took Ro only a few minutes to show Kalinda the basics. Hopefully, they wouldn’t need any fancy driving. Ro doubted the average garresh or gorr knew how to copy moves Ro had been performing in these vehicles since her youth in the Resistance.
They loaded up and took off. Kalinda was tentative at first but she quickly got the hang of things. So they tore down the public road towards their target.
Many thanks to Bernd Schneider of Ex-Astris-Scientia.org for designing the Blackbird-class scout vessel mentioned in this story.
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.