by Travis Anderson
Ro situated herself in front of her comp/comm. It was a portable version of the desktop mounted units that had proliferated in Starfleet. Starfleet also used the occasional portable model, but they were more frequently employed by civilians. The Maquis had “acquired” several cargo holds’ worth of these units from a sympathetic merchantman who claimed pirates had taken his whole cargo after the Maquis kindly shot up his freighter. The damage was enough to disable the warp drive but not enough to cripple the venerable ship. Both sides had won that day.
The real trick was the encryption protecting the subspace transmission. Hudson and Koraponova had recruited several Starfleet cryptologists. Ro herself was a fair hand with codes, but the specialists made her skills seem rather feeble in comparison. This was good because Starfleet Intelligence monitored the bulk of the DMZ’s transmissions with the Argus Array. Their code breakers worked overtime against their former peers.
Added to the dilemma was the fact the Cardassian Obsidian Order also monitored every transmission in the Zone, not only through their border outposts but also through passing ships that cruised within the DMZ itself. Some humans made jokes that the nondescript Cardassian freighters would claim to merely be “fishing vessels” if boarded. Ro didn’t get the joke.
Ro activated the comp/comm. She keyed in her cipher for the comm unit. The screen first activated to show the red symbol of the Maquis Council. Kalinda had once warned Ro that could prove incriminating if the unit was captured.
Ro had replied with gallows’ humor, “If they’ve get this far, I think they’ve already figured out who we are.”
Numbers flashed across the bottom of the screen as the incoming message was accepted into the memory. The numbers stopped and Ro activated the playback. Sveta Koraponova’s features suddenly appeared. Despite being a fairly striking woman, Ro was jealous of Koraponova’s looks. She’d never admit, it of course, but the pang was there nonetheless.
“Laren, I hope you get this in short order. I’ll be holding on for the next two hours awaiting your reply. The reply cipher is attached to this file. Use it as soon as you can. If it’s already been two hours then we’ve switched to our secondary option and more lives will be lost.” Koraponova was dead serious as she spoke. “Call me.”
Ro checked the time stamp on the message. It had come in while the cell was travelling back to base but she still had a few minutes before the deadline was up. It would be close though.
She triggered the attachment and the comm automatically replied. Ro fidgeted while the signal was being accepted at the other end. Finally the picture shifted and Koraponova gazed back at her.
“Laren! Thank God!” Koraponova practically sagged.
“Sveta, what’s going on? You made it sound like life or death,” Ro forced Koraponova to focus.
“It is life and death,” the Maquis Chief of Operations replied. “The cell on Umoth was hit. Dozens are dead, most of them innocent bystanders whose only crime was to host our cell.”
“Who did it?” Ro said in an eerily cool voice.
“The survivors saw Cardassians.” Koraponova held up a hand to stop Ro from venting her outrage. “They weren’t Militia. They were paramilitaries. Although, their precision indicates that they had military training. One of them was killed. Our contact in the local constabulary is trying to get us an ID.”
“But why Umoth? That cell has been quiet lately,” Ro wondered.
Koraponova looked stricken. “Cal has been based off of Umoth for the last six weeks.”
“Oh, hell,” Ro lamented. “They have him?”
The Architect nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Ro grimaced, “I suppose you want me to go after them?”
“I’d ask Chakotay but Seska was able to get a feeler on the supply route the Cardassians have been using to smuggle arms into the DMZ. He and the crew of the Zola are ‘taking care of the problem,’ or so he said.”
Ro snorted. “If anyone can, it’ll be him and his crew.”
“Which leaves you rescuing Cal Hudson and the command staff of the Umoth cell,” Koraponova said as though it were nothing.
“I’m honored Sveta, you have to know that, but I don’t know if we can pull it off. Santos was just killed and I’ve been made brigade commander,” Ro confessed.
“So you’ll be in a better position to get results,” Koraponova assured her. “Look, I know you’re new, but you’re the most capable asset that I have now and I need you. The Maquis Council needs you. You can do this.”
“All right.” Ro held up a hand to ward off any more encouragement. “I never was one for pep talks. I’ll do my best to bring them back.”
“If you can’t,” Koraponova’s voice turned glacial, “then you have to eliminate them. Cal in particular. Hecannot be taken to Cardassia.”
“You think that’s where he’s headed?” Ro inquired.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense. Evek wants Cal in order to show how effective he’s being at ‘suppressing’ the Maquis. He’ll hand off Cal to some monster like Gul Madred. They’ll break him. Oh, it’ll take a while, but eventually he’ll crack and the whole movement will suffer for it,” Koraponova explained.
Ro nodded. She’d been in similar circumstances in her youth in the Resistance. She put a phaser to the head of her only friend on the world and fired. She would do it again if the mission called for it.
“I understand,” Ro said with an air of finality. There was an instant understanding between the two women. “Any idea where they took him until they can hand him over to Evek?”
Koraponova looked crestfallen. “I haven’t a clue.”
Ro suddenly broke into a fierce smile. “Well, my intel chief has wanted to impress me. Now’s her chance.”
“Good luck,” Koraponova said. “However this plays out.”
“Thanks, Prophets know we could use a break,” Ro said.
That amused Koraponova, “I thought you were agnostic.”
“Being dead changes one’s outlook,” Ro quipped.
Koraponova gave her a quizzical look. Ro waved it aside, “Never mind. Look, some aliens inside of a wormhole want to play god? Fine. I’ll humor them.”
“Whatever,” Koraponova said dismissively. “Just get it done. I don’t care how or how high the body count is. Get it done.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ro nodded.
The screen went dark. Ro contemplated the task at hand. Was Alea up to her part? They’d find out. Ro had a contact in Starfleet Intelligence. It was time to call in some markers and try not to get arrested in the process.
The Rio Grande arrived at Umoth. Her presence was recorded by the Cardassians’ Outpost 61 and passed along to Gul Evek. He ordered them to continue monitoring the area and keep him apprised of the runabout’s movements.
Dax sat the ship down at Alores’ principal spaceport. Terrestrial capable craft of all shapes and sizes were parked there. Traffic Control alerted the city’s constabulary to the Starfleet team’s arrival. Two peace officers presented themselves.
The Superintendent of the Constabulary was a shifty fellow that owed his appointment more to his ability to coddle Cardassian feelings than actually manage an investigation. The “power sharing” arrangement between the Federation colonists and the new Cardassian minority reflected many instances of this effect across the DMZ. The Superintendent blustered about this was a bad business for all and that heads would roll.
The political official left and a real police officer presented herself. She held out a hand to Sisko. “Hello Commander, I’m Chief Inspector Bernstein. Lt. Hathaway and Ensign Dezuron told me to be expecting you as we began our investigation.”
“I trust that the two officers have proven useful?” Sisko asked.
“Of course they have,” Bernstein let go of a bitter laugh. “Unlike most of my force, they know what the hell they’re doing.”
Sisko blinked and the others remained quiet as Bernstein waved the comment aside, “I’m sorry. Local politics. Let me get all of your names.”
“As you’ve probably been warned, I’m Commander Benjamin Sisko. This is my Science Officer, Jadzia Dax. This is my Chief of Operations, Miles O’Brien. And this fellow is my Chief Medical Officer, Julian Bashir,” Sisko revealed.
“Aren’t you a little young to be a Chief Medical Officer?” Bernstein eyed Bashir skeptically.
“I assure you I’m fully qualified,” Bashir insisted.
“We’ll see,” Bernstein said warily.
“Excuse me, Inspector,” Sisko began to say.
Bernstein unexpectedly laughed, “Just call me, Sarah. Our force isn’t big on formalities.”
“All right, Sarah, you sound as if something has happened,” Sisko surmised.
“You wanted us to watch that suspected Maquis hideout, right?” Bernstein asked.
“Yes,” Sisko replied.
“Well, it’s now a confirmed Maquis base,” Bernstein revealed. “Or at least it was.”
“What do you mean ‘it was’?” Dax inquired.
“Somebody blew the holy hell out of it,” Bernstein explained. “They tore through the housing bloc the Maquis were holed up in and killed anyone who got in their path.”
“How many were injured?” Bashir’s interest was suddenly galvanized.
“We don’t have an exact estimate yet,” Bernstein admitted. “We’re still figuring that out.”
“And the fatalities?” Sisko grimly inquired.
Bernstein sighed, “We’re still figuring that out, too. All we know for certain is that both numbers are high.”
“Can you take me there?” Bashir suddenly blurted. Knowing he may have overstepped his bounds, he turned to Sisko. “Commander, I may be able to help.”
Sisko nodded. “Let’s see what we all can do.”
Bernstein brightened a little bit. “Follow me and I’ll take you to the scene.”
They walked towards a large box-like vehicle. Bernstein flashed them an embarrassed smile as she said, “I’m sorry. Ground transports are the best we can manage.”
“Bajor relies upon ground based transports as well. Most of them were left behind when the Cardassians withdrew,” O’Brien reassured her.
Bernstein stopped when she reached the vehicle and patted its chassis. “Well, this baby is a local product.”
“What’s it called?” Dax asked enthusiastically.
“We call it a ‘van.’” Bernstein said with pride.
“Can I drive?” Dax eagerly asked.
“I…” Bernstein floundered, “Are you qualified?”
“I have previous hosts stretching back three hundred years,” Dax said merrily. “I remember driving vehicles like this.”
Bernstein looked to Sisko for advice. He smiled, “It’s your call.”
Bernstein looked at the imploring look in Dax’s eyes. She also saw something while Dax met her gaze. The Trill looked to be in her late twenties, yet her eyes were ancient. She’d heard stories about Trills and their arcane knowledge, but this was the first time that she’d encountered it.
She decided to take a risk. “Climb in. I’ll ride shotgun.” She rolled back the cargo door. “Gentlemen?”
They climbed aboard. Bernstein keyed the biometric ignition with her thumb and they were off. A Heads Up Display gave Dax direction after she’d queried the van’s computer. Bernstein filled in Sisko and his crew on some of the details that they knew so far.
“Witnesses claim the attackers were Cardassian,” Bernstein shared.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” O’Brien commented.
Sisko gave him a pained look and the Chief managed a “sorry.”
Bernstein grinned, “Normally we’d take that info with a grain of salt. The Cardies are the boogeymen of the planet, so there’s a lot of hyperbole regarding their ‘crimes’. Add to that the fact that these people sheltered the Maquis.”
“Which also makes them a prime target for this kind of attack,” Sisko realized.
“Bingo,” Bernstein said. Seeing the blank stares that she got in return, she added, “It’s a game.” There was still no recognition, so she plunged on. “You collect numbers and when you get the right ones you…oh, never mind.”
“Sounds like Quark trying to explain tongo,” O’Brien chuckled.
“Actually Chief, tongo is very easy to learn once you master the rules of acquisition,” Dax shared.
“Spare me,” O’Brien muttered.
“What was that?” Dax cheerfully asked.
“Nothing,” O’Brien replied.
“I’m sure Keiko believes you every time you say that too,” Dax teased.
O’Brien blushed and Dax laughed. Sisko looked towards Bernstein and asked, “You have more evidence than heresy to point to the Cardassians, don’t you?”
Bernstein reappraised Sisko. “Very good, Commander. We have direct physical evidence linking Cardassians to the crime.”
“And that would be?” Bashir wondered.
“A body,” Bernstein revealed.
Bernstein wouldn’t elaborate except to say they were running the corpse’s identity down through the usual channels. Sisko asked if the Cardassian Militia liaisons were assisting. Bernstein grimaced and admitted the Cardassians were throwing up more roadblocks than assistance.
They arrived at the scene and Bashir plunged ahead where the planet’s emergency medical services staff labored. Bernstein brought them into the courtyard. Bodies littered the area. She explained that they’d had to move the bodies from the entrance in order to get their medical equipment in.
Dax looked horrified. O’Brien’s expression badly gave his opinion away. Sisko had to admit to dismay as well. He’d seen the atrocities of war against the Tzenkethi and the Borg, and this was a massacre that rivaled any of those.
Bernstein called over an inspector from her department. He grabbed Hathaway and brought her along as well. Hathaway smiled out of relief upon seeing fellow Starfleet officers.
“Commander, you are a sight for sore eyes,” she said a little shakily.
“I know the Chief Inspector mentioned your name before, but you’ll have to refresh my memory,” Sisko admitted.
Hathaway nodded. “Lt. Diana Hathaway. Ensign Ilk Dezuron is my counterpart.” She turned to Bernstein. “I’ve organized everyone as best I could. Most of the deputies are taking statements. Dezuron is helping with forensics.”
“So Charlie told me. Found anything conclusive?” Bernstein asked.
Hathaway wore a wry smirk, “You mean besides a Cardassian body?”
Bernstein grimaced. “What are our Cardassian liaisons doing?”
“They’ve established a perimeter around the corpse and won’t let anyone near it.” Hathaway tried to keep the anger out of her voice.
“What?” Bernstein began to share Hathaway’s anger, “Has anyone informed them when need to ID the body and find out who she was?”
“Repetitively,” Hathaway’s frustration was mounting, “But they’ve claimed jurisdiction over the body and are waiting for one of their transports to haul it away.
“They don’t have any jurisdiction. I have jurisdiction. It’s my damn planet!” Bernstein snapped, “Of all the unmitigated gall!”
She stormed off to confront the Cardassians. Sisko turned to Hathaway, “Lieutenant, how would you like to assist us in getting some scans of the body?”
Hathaway genuinely smiled for the first time. “I’d love to.”
Bernstein was in the leading glinn’s face. His subordinate, a garresh, stood by as she grew livid. The glinn nodded in all the right places but his reply left something to be desired.
“The murder victim was a Cardassian national. As such, her remains fall under my jurisdiction. We will determine her identity and process her remains as per her legal arrangements. Afterwards, we will hand over her identity so that you can investigate, apprehend, and prosecute her killers.” The glinn smiled coldly. “Unless you’d like to see Cardassian justice done.”
“Murder? The forensic evidence all points to the fact that she was one of the killers,” Bernstein sputtered.
“And who did she kill?” the glinn wondered.
“Aren’t the bodies littering this courtyard and the corridors evidence enough of murder?” Bernstein asked.
“Nonsense. This was a food riot and these people killed one another.” The glinn pointed at Galan’s corpse. “She was lured in here expressly for the purpose of slaying the lovely woman. Yet another evidence of the racism that pervades your Federation.”
Sisko, Hathaway, and O’Brien joined Bernstein. They’d moved into the Cardassians’ body space so the two junior officers shifted position. The Starfleet representatives repeated their move and the Cardassians moved yet again, but this time they fiercely glared at the Starfleet team as if to challenge them to try it again.
“Do you mind explaining to Commander Sisko what you’ve been suggesting to me?” Bernstein hotly demanded.
“I would love to share. I-” A beep cut the glinn off. Suddenly he and the garresh realized that Galan’s body was now behind the humans. They each darted to a side to find Dax rising to her feet while holding a tricorder.
“Give that to me,” the glinn requested.
“I don’t think so,” Dax replied sweetly.
“You will give that to me now!” the glinn shouted.
Dax looked to Sisko, who nodded. She shrugged and handed over the device. The glinn turned to Bernstein. “I believe we are done here, Chief Inspector.”
Bernstein bristled but Sisko took her by the shoulders and began to steer her away. “I believe we should visit the Constabulary station.”
“Why?” Bernstein was puzzled as Sisko guided her towards the van.
Sisko looked to Dax. “Do you have it?”
She held up the isolinear data rod from the tricorder. She’d palmed it before handing over the hand scanner. “Oh yeah. I’ve got it.”
Her grin was infectious. They reached the van and Sisko spoke, “Now we need to be out of here before those two figure out what we’ve done. Lt. Hathaway, are you coming? We could use your help.”
A sudden roar of outrage filled the air. Hathaway nodded. “I’m in.”
They piled into the van and its tires squealed as Dax stomped on the accelerator. Bernstein entered in the destination request and Dax’s HUD shifted. She wore a mischievous grin as she drove through the town. It was only a matter of time before the two Cardassian officers joined them at the Constabulary station. With luck, they’d have the mysterious Cardassian woman’s name and history by then.
Bernstein turned to face Sisko and Hathaway. “Diana, Dezuron was helping my people with forensics. Had they found anything?”
“Ilk and I were composing a battlefield analyses,” Hathaway reported. Seeing Bernstein’s curious look, she explained, “We were trying to establish how much training the killers had and what their motive was.”
“And did you?” Sisko inquired.
“Possibly,” Hathaway hedged. “They set up a rooftop sniper and then came through the front door while others of their unit flanked the other access points and killed the guards there as they tried to respond to the main assault. That speaks of a high degree of training and coordination.”
“So they were soldiers,” Bernstein growled.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Sisko countered. “Intelligence reports have the Cardassians recruiting ex-military personnel and relocating them into the DMZ and newly acquired Federation colonies.”
“And into the paramilitary units,” O’Brien added.
“So you don’t think this was the Cardassian Militia at work?” Bernstein asked.
“I don’t think it was an official arm of the Central Command,” Sisko clarified. “But the Central Command was supplying the paramilitaries with arms and training until recently. Officially, it has stopped.”
“Yeah, but unofficially the bastards are just sneakier about it,” O’Brien opined.
“Belay that, Chief. We aren’t here to worry about the Cardassians. The Maquis are our focus. The Central Command believes Starfleet is smuggling in weapons and training to the Maquis,” Sisko warned.
“But they only believe it because they’ve done it themselves and are probably still doing it,” Dax chimed in.
“Be that as it may, it still doesn’t answer the why of this attack,” Sisko reminded everyone.
Hathaway spoke up. “Commander, surviving witnesses claim the Cardassians took prisoners.”
Sisko’s blood ran cold. He retrieved a PADD out of his pocket, activated it, and scrolled through the information until he reached a file photo. He handed it to Hathaway.
“Did any of the witnesses describe the capture of this man?” Sisko asked sharply.
“They mentioned him by name,” Hathaway confirmed. “All they could talk about was how Cal Hudson had been taken.”
Bernstein whistled, “The Big Kahuna himself. He wasn’t among the bodies so I assumed he got away.”
“You knew he was there?” Sisko demanded.
“Yes,” Bernstein warily replied.
“You knew and didn’t tell me,” Sisko growled.
“You already suspected he was there or you wouldn’t have come all this way,” Bernstein fought back. “And in case you hadn’t noticed, I have one helluva crime scene back there.”
“And what were you going to do when it came time to arrest Hudson?” Sisko angrily inquired.
Bernstein smiled slyly. “Let’s just say Cal Hudson would’ve been on another rock before you reached him.”
“I could have your badge for this,” Sisko threatened.
Bernstein laughed. “How? You don’t have much more jurisdiction that our Cardassian friends.” Seeing Sisko’s sudden dawning of realization, she added, “You have what authority I give you. No more. No less. Right now I think your quest for Hudson will lead me to my killers so I’m willing to give you some rope.”
Hathaway looked perturbed, “What I want to know is: if the locals kept Hudson’s location from Dezuron and I, how did the Cardassians get it?”
Sisko suddenly looked gut punched. “They know because I told them where to find him.”
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.