by Travis Anderson
A long and arduous two years followed, but the incarcerated prisoners had no idea that the span of time was so short. All they had to measure time with was the death, release, or induction of prisoners. Brief spurts of brutality from either the guards or their fellow prisoners punctuated Sito and Riker’s daily existence.
But for both Starfleet officers, one listed as KIA and the other as AWOL, the spats of violence were nothing compared to what they had already endured at the hands of their captors. The Cardassian jailors actually adopted a “hands off” approach toward the Bajoran and human, which just enraged the gangs dominating life amongst the First Level dwellers all the more…which was Rokai’s intent all along.
Riker collapsed down onto a makeshift bench, utterly exhausted. Sito plopped down next to him. She surveyed the broken bodies strewn about.
“You’d think they would have given up by now. However long ‘now’ is,” Sito mused. “Prophets know however long we’ve both been here now.”
“It’s got to be at least ten years,” Riker grumbled.
Sito gave him a rueful look. “I don’t think so. You don’t have enough gray in your beard or hair for that.”
“But I do have some now. I didn’t before I got here,” Riker complained.
“But it gives you a dashing appearance,” Sito tried to console him. Riker’s self image as a ladies’ man had suffered while he was on Nervalla IV, and his dreams of a life with Deanna Troi had also been shattered afterwards, but he still knew he’d been a desirable male for most women.
“Yeah, but you’re the one who’s popular here,” Riker teased.
“Just the same, I’d prefer a little anonymity,” Sito sighed. “We seriously had to hurt them this time. The guards may take it out on them by not sending them to the infirmary this time — which would serve them right.”
Riker winced. “There are quite a few bones jutting out.”
Flashing lights flared to life and a siren began to sound. Cardassian guards lined up at the hatch leading down to the inner corridors of the administrative section. The airlock lay that way.
“Another new prisoner,” Sito said warily.
The hatch opened and a human male and a Bajoran female were shoved through it. The hatch closed behind them. Riker’s jaw dropped.
“I know them!” he blurted.
“Really?” Sito’s interest was piqued. The woman was familiar to her for some reason. “Should we do the meet and greet then?”
Riker grinned at Sito’s knowledge of Earth slang learned while at Starfleet Academy. “The woman is Ro Laren and then man is Aric Tulley. They were senior Maquis cell leaders on Ronara Prime. They planned my last mission.”
Now Sito remembered Ro. Ro had been the first Bajoran to ever serve aboard the Enterprise and Sito’s fellow officers had initially gauged Sito’s behavior by Ro’s precedent. Ro herself had been away attending Starfleet’s advanced tactical training course during Sito’s eight months aboard Starfleet’s flagship.
“So, are we saying ‘hello’ or what?” Sito impatiently asked.
“Follow me,” Riker chuckled.
Sito and Riker approached the Maquis pair. Ro greeted Riker with a smile. “It’s good to see you again, Tom. And you look healthy enough for a dead woman, Ensign.”
Sito digested the fact that she’d been declared KIA. “It’s just Sito now.”
Riker looked at Ro. “You wouldn’t know how long we’ve been here, would you?”
“You’ve been here two years.” Ro then looked to Sito. “And it’s been three for you.”
“How did they capture you?” Riker wanted to know.
“They didn’t,” Ro answered. “We surrendered.”
They went to Riker’s cell to explain. Sito’s sleeping mat had been moved into it years before, shortly after Riker arrived. Ro could tell from Sito’s body language that there was nothing overt about it. It was simply a measure of protection. And the broken and bleeding bodies outside the cell attested to the need for it.
“I think you’d better explain yourself,” Riker said.
“Watch your mouth, Riker,” Tulley snapped.
“Calm down, Aric,” Ro said quietly but with a measure of authority that made Tulley cower. Ro explained how the Maquis had blossomed while the Cardassians were losing a war against the Klingons, but then Dukat had come to power and had forged an alliance between the Cardassian Union and the Dominion.
The Maquis were subsequently butchered wholesale by the Jem’Hadar. Starfleet had then been pushed out of the Bajoran Sector and the Federation had been invaded while Dukat transferred his seat of power to Terok Nor and tried to learn how to destroy the self-replicating minefield sealing off the Bajoran Wormhole.
Starfleet had finally recaptured Terok Nor and had it redesignated Deep Space Nine again. Michael Eddington persuaded Captain Benjamin Sisko to undertake a mission into the Badlands. There, a handful of Maquis survivors were barely holding out against the Jem’Hadar. Eddington’s wife led them to safety aboard Sisko’s runabout, but Eddington himself died holding the Jem’Hadar shock troops off of the departing runabout.
In the weeks that followed, the Bajoran government had issued an amnesty offer to the Maquis survivors — not just to the Bajoran members, but all members regardless of race. Sveta Korepanova had led a bulk of the Maquis to safety on the Bajoran colony of Dreon VII near the Badlands. There, she spread the word and most of the Maquis had come in from the cold.
“Why is that significant?” Sito asked.
“Korepanova was code-named ‘the Architect.’ She was the primary unified mission planner, as well as one of the people who made the plan to break you out of here,” Ro stated.
“If there was a way out, we would have found it already,” Sito asserted. “All you did was trap yourselves in here with us.”
“You really think so?” Tulley scoffed.
“Yes, I do,” Sito challenged.
Ro suddenly posed the question, “Why weren’t we tortured before being brought here?”
Sito frowned. “I don’t know.”
“Think about it and get back to me.” Ro turned to Riker. “Think you could still handle OPS aboard a ship?”
“You know someone on the inside?” Sito blurted.
Ro nodded. “Which is how I knew about you even though Starfleet has you listed as ‘deceased.’”
“You’ll never get the rest of the Maquis out of here,” Sito warned. “They’re detained on the Fourth Level in permanent lockdown in their cells, they’re completely broken, and there’s only one spaceworthy craft and it’s a courier ship with room for four. That’s not exactly a transport liner waiting to be stolen.”
Sito challenged Ro. “Besides, I don’t think you can do it.”
“Are you certain you haven’t been broken as well?” Ro asked harshly.
“As long as I’m alive they’ll never break me,” Sito growled.
Ro nodded. “I like the attitude. You can come with us.”
Sito stared at her with an incredulous look on her face. For her part, Ro stood and started out of the cell. “Follow me.”
“Why should we?” Sito asked Tulley as he rose as well.
“Just do it if you know what’s good for you,” he said as he exited the cell.
Riker was already out the door. Sito caught up with him. “Who is she to come in here like she owns the place?”
“She’s Ro Laren,” Riker said matter-of-factly.
“That’s not an answer,” Sito said dourly.
Riker whispered to her a brief sampling of Ro’s résumé. Sito began to understand. “Okay, I may be a little impressed now. Over a third of the advanced tactical classes wash out every cycle.”
Riker smirked. “So she told me.”
Sito suddenly looked worried. “Did you ever sleep with her?”
Riker grinned. “Sort of.”
“Isn’t that typically a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question?” Sito was getting confused.
“She slept with my twin,” Riker relieved her bafflement.
“Commander Riker slept with her?” Sito was indignant.
“If you’re done talking about me, we can get to work,” Ro said from the edge of a corner. That corner opened into the hatch that led into the restricted zone housing the administrative center and eventually led to the shuttle bay.
“Why is it you seem to know where you’re going?” Riker asked Ro.
Ro smirked. “If you recall, Aric and I were conscious when we were escorted into the complex. And then there are all the briefings we attended. So you figure it out.”
Sito glared at Ro but Riker gave her a side hug. “It’s okay, Jaxa. You need to trust Ro.”
Ro reappraised Sito. “Anger’s good. It’ll keep you going strong. But don’t let it cloud your judgment or rush you into easy assumptions. Anger kept me going in the Bajoran Resistance, Starfleet Academy, and ever subsequent assignment and training. It can be a valuable tool if you know how to shape it and master its energy for your needs.”
Ro had just given Sito two valuable insights, the first into one aspect of perseverance and the other into Ro herself. Sito suddenly knew without a doubt not to underestimate the woman.
“Now we’re going straight into those guards. Your help would be appreciated but it isn’t necessary,” Ro informed them.
“Of course we’ll help,” Sito volunteered before Riker could even react.
Ro wore an honest smile. “Good to know. Just follow Aric’s and my lead.”
Ro led the contingent to the four guards posted at the hatch and Sito wondered just what the older Bajoran had in mind. The Cardassians challenged them. “Halt! This area is off limits.”
They came to a halt in front of the guards anyway. The garresh in charge snarled, “No admittance to prisoners.”
“I’m afraid cargo arrived during the prisoner transfer,” Ro spoke up. “We were detailed with bringing out of the cargo bay.”
“No, it didn’t,” the garresh argued.
“Sir, some cargo did arrive.” A gorr behind the garresh checked his padd.
The garresh snatched the padd from his subordinate’s hands and checked the display. Then he wheeled on the four prisoners. “Just don’t stand there gaping like simple primates. Get in there and unload that cargo!”
The squad escorted the “prisoners” to the cargo bay. Two gorrs joined them inside the bay while the garresh and another gorr stood at the entrance. But Ro went straight for a cargo container labeled in both Federation Standard and Efrosian marking. She popped the seal and the container opened.
The garresh began barking warnings while Ro lifted a metal sphere out of the container. Depressing her thumb on a small circle imbedded in the sphere’s surface, she sat it down. Tulley reacted by punching a nearby guard and ripping his disruptor rifle out of his hands. Ro smacked the palm of her hand into another’s nose.
Dragging the two bodies behind cover while the garresh and the remaining gorr opened fire, Ro gave her gorr’s rifle to Riker while she retrieved the fallen soldier’s pistol. Tully did the same for Sito. Then they gunned down the Cardassians who were still trying to get heir communicator cuffs to work.
“Aric and Tom, drag the bodies in here and get them under cover,” Ro ordered. Grabbing Sito, Ro returned to the cargo container. She plucked a padd out of it and handed it to Sito. “Guard this with your life.”
“What is it?” Sito wondered.
“Beyond the obvious, it’s our ticket out of here,” Ro informed her. Ro then fished a tricorder out of the container.
“So why didn’t the guards raise the alarm?” Riker asked after he and Tulley had completed their task.
“The sphere creates a subspace distortion field,” Tulley explained. “No FTL communications are possible while it’s on.”
Ro shut it down. “But if we leave it on it will be detected.”
Ro and Tulley returned to the exit. “Come on. We’re still just at the beginning.”
The quartet navigated the interior of the administrative hub. Neglecting to actually approach the operations center, Ro led the escapees to the troop barracks. There they gunned down the off-duty Cardassian troops. Sito discovered she had an almost orgasmic release from shooting her tormentors.
Ro checked on Sito afterward. “Are you all right?”
Sito was flushed but eagerly smiling with a satisfied radiance. “Never better.”
Ro’s party then moved onward to the shuttle bay doors. The Maquis gunned down the two Cardassian guards before they could react. Ro asked for the padd back from Sito.
She patched it into the door’s interlink with the prison’s computer. Activating one command sequence, she opened every secure door. That included the ones on Levels Four through Six. Alarms sounded throughout the complex as the lower levels rioted. Additional guards called on duty but they never arrived because they were all dead.
The Maquis prisoners entered the hangar. Riker went to the operations booth and cleared the courier ship for takeoff. Transferring all control functions to the fastboat shuttle, Riker boarded the ship. Sito and Tulley sat in the auxiliary station seats. Ro told Riker to sit down at the ops station.
Riker deactivated the force field keeping the vacuum at bay just as he released the artificial gravity. Ro pushed the ship’s impulse engines to their maximum thrust and the courier boat launched out of the hangar bay. Ro then handed off the essential padd to Tulley before concentrating solely on piloting the ship.
Tulley patched the padd into the courier’s comm array and transmitted a signal. Sito’s board registered a massive explosion in the prison’s first level originating in the cargo bay — an explosion that gutted the administrative wing and gouged a hole into the second level as well. Sito found herself grimly enjoying the prison’s fate.
Tulley then checked his board. “Central Command got a data squirt concerning the prison being overrun. Then they queried us. I ran Administrator Rokai’s ID past them so, for the moment, they believe we’re the prison officials running like hell from their worst case scenario.”
“Well, the names and places may have changed but it’s a fair assessment,” Ro grinned. Slipping free of Cardassia Prime’s gravity as well as clear of Letau and the other two moons, Ro slipped the ship into warp.
“Central Command is demanding we return to Cardassia Prime at once,” Tulley snickered.
“Give them our reply,” Ro ordered with a straight face.
Tulley hit the transmit key and blew the listeners a “raspberry.”
Outside of the former Demilitarized Zone, Ro dropped out of warp long enough for everyone to beam over to a Boslic freighter. The escape shuttle, operated by computer, lurched out towards the Badlands and streaked off, hell-bent to reach them. The Cardassians destroyed the vessel in short order. Tricorders had emitted falsified life signs and a liter of biomemetic gel would provide the organic residual matter, but there was still a chance the Cardassians would confront the Boslic captain.
This was a fact Captain Rionoj impressed upon her passengers. “If the Cardies get uppity and board my ship, I will hand you over without a qualm.”
“That’s what I understood at the beginning of this,” Ro assured her.
“Follow me and we’ll get you into the shielded smuggling bins,” Rionoj insisted. “The Cardassians won’t be able to detect you, but anything is possible for those damn Jem’Hadar. It doesn’t help that you’re late to begin with.”
“I never could keep a schedule,” Ro retorted.
“This is a hell of a time to discover your sense of humor, Ro,” Rionoj scolded her.
“Better now than when I’m dead,” Ro countered.
“Whatever,” Rionoj said dismissively as she opened a hatch door. “Just get in.”
The former prisoners did so.
The Cardassian border patrols did come alongside Rionoj’s freighter and scan her, but they didn’t find any trace of anyone that wasn’t listed on the crew manifest that was provided by the captain. Rionoj’s poise swayed the Cardassian patrol leader more than anything and the Boslics were sent on their way.
The freighter skirted the Badlands plasma storms until it neared the Rolor Nebula. Finally, it came within sensor range of the Bajoran colony of Dreon VII. This was her passengers’ ultimate destination. Rionoj escorted the liberated prisoners to the transporter room as the freighter made orbit and wished them luck as they beamed down to the surface. Rionoj herself followed them down but to a different location. She had business with the Colonial Governor’s Office. Ro and her party would be meeting with representatives of the Maquis survivors and the Bajoran Militia.
The Bajorans had first settled Dreon VII before the Occupation. Relative hordes of refugees had settled upon the world when the Cardassians claimed Bajor as their own. A similar rush had been made to the Valo system where three Bajoran colonies had been established, one each on each habitable world. Valo I-III had received the greatest influx of refugees. Although Valo had been located in nonaligned space, the Federation had incorporated it into the DMZ and now it was occupied territory.
The Bajoran Militia’s offer to the Maquis was a simple one. In exchange for policing Bajor’s outer colonies, the Maquis would receive legal protection from the Federation and the Cardassians. Piracy had increased around the colony worlds and shippers were loudly proclaiming they would abandon their routes if Bajor didn’t provide a modicum of protection.
That being said, the Militia’s pool of warp capable craft was comprised of roughly three runabouts. The Maquis had over eight and most were the larger Ju’day-class raiders that the Maquis favored. Most of the rest were the modified Peregrine-class couriers retrofitted into fighter craft.
The list of colonies was fairly short. Bajor VIII, also known as Andros, was within the Bajoran system itself. Prophet’s Landing was the closest colony to the Cardassian border. Starfleet patrolled these regions for Bajor. Then there was the unfortunate Valo system. Until the Dominion’s lines could be broken, those settlers were cut off from Bajor.
But that left Golana, Free Haven, and Dreon VII. All were in nonaligned territory and all had become targets as of late. No troops were involved, despite rumors of the Cardassian Union hiring ex-soldiers to harass Bajoran shipping, but no standing military forces were engaged in piracy.
Ro had been formally offered a commission within the Bajoran Militia. She’d enlist with the rank of Lieutenant and be the Militia’s official liaison with the Maquis. Ro would also retain command of her Maquis raider, the Indomitable.
The Maquis, in turn, were being chartered as a private security firm incorporated on Bajor. As privateers for the Militia, they would be duly authorized law enforcement agents. A fact that would rankle Starfleet Command. In addition to that legal pretext the Militia would also supply funds for additional weapons and ships.
Sveta Korepanova would head the Maquis as their Commander. Since the vote was overwhelmingly to adopt the new post, Korepanova took Sito aside. “Ensign, I understand you’ve endured hell on Letau for the past three years. If you’d like, I can arrange for transportation to Deep Space Nine where you can report for duty.”
Sito grimaced. “If it’s just the same to you, I’d rather not throw myself under the treads of the war machine. I’d like to pitch in here instead.”
Korepanova smiled. “Well, I’m certainly not going to throw away anyone with your training and potential.”
Sito smiled as well.
The Maquis moved from Dreon VII to Bajor. Captain Sisko personally challenged them and Ro appeared on his viewer in Militia Special Forces gray. “Hello, Captain. Sorry to ruin your day, but we’re reporting for duty.”
“The Bajoran government and Militia Command has informed me of the so-called status of you and your Maquis, Ro,” Sisko said with an edge to his voice. “The legal trickery supposedly shielding you all from Federation justice will only hold up as long as the war lasts.”
“Maybe, but then again, maybe not,” Ro replied. “The Federation is going to have more on its mind after this conflict ends than a few privateers serving an allied government.”
“You sound like Michael Eddington,” Sisko grated. “When he died, he thought he was a hero.”
“Captain,” Ro said dryly, “to my people he was a hero. Are we going to have a face off with Starfleet now or can we transit the rest of the way into the system?”
“You’re cleared to proceed. Just watch yourself very closely because I will be watching you too,” Sisko warned her.
“I just feel all warm and cuddly now,” Ro said flippantly before signing off.
“Major, I want them observed every time they leave or approach Bajor’s surface,” Sisko ordered.
“Can I speak with you?” Kira wondered. “Privately.”
Sisko led the way to his office and as he sat down, he noted Kira remained standing. It was her usual posture for an impending confrontation. “Speak your mind, Major.”
“I don’t think you should be harassing the Maquis,” Kira stated baldly. “They’re providing a vital service to Bajor while Starfleet is refusing to engage the pirates.”
“The colonies in question are in neutral space,” Sisko replied. “Under peace time conditions, we’d be happy to oblige, but…”
“But there’s a war on and Bajor found a solution to our own problem,” Kira retorted. “Why do you object to it?”
“They’re terrorists,” Sisko said simply.
“So was I, yet here I am,” Kira reminded him.
Sisko struggled for a reply when his computer chimed to alert him that the communications officer had traffic for Sisko. “Go ahead.”
“Sir, we just received a resignation letter from one Ensign Sito Jaxa,” the comm officer reported.
Sisko knew it would fall on his desk because he was sector commander, but he was curious as to why this warranted his immediate attention and said as much. The comm officer was quick with a reply. “Sir, she was listed as KIA off of the Enterprise three years ago. Commander Dax triangulated the subspace message to its source and it’s a Maquis ship. If she’s dead, then what the hell is she doing with the Maquis?” Catching himself, he quickly added, “Sir!”
Sisko let the junior officer’s lack of protocol go. “Thank you, Blevins. I’ll look into it.”
“Major, does the Militia have a record of every Maquis that bought into this amnesty deal?” Sisko wondered.
“Probably,” Kira warily answered.
“I want it,” Sisko stated.
“Why don’t I look into it for you?” Kira asked. “I’m more inclined to be less…rude about it.”
Sisko almost laughed at this new reality where Kira considered herself more diplomatic than he himself. “Carry on, Major.”
A few hours later, Kira reported to Sisko. “The Militia is refusing to hand over a list of contracted ‘security specialists,’ but the general was willing to tell me that Sito Jaxa and Tom Riker were liberated from the prison complex on Cardassia Prime’s moon, Letau.”
Sisko repressed a shudder. Letau was as legendary as Rura Penthe and possibly even more brutal. Sisko knew Gul Dukat had revised the prison along the lines he would later employ on Bajor during his stint as Prefect. Having seen those results firsthand, he could only dare imagine what Dukat’s vision for a captive “society” would be when he had an unrestricted hand.
“Why won’t the Militia share the personnel files with us?” Sisko wondered.
“Does the Militia ask for the files on all of Starfleet’s personnel in the sector?” Kira retorted.
Sisko had to give her that one. “Very wel,l Major. What were your superiors willing to share?”
Kira handed him a padd. “These are the results of medical examinations of both Sito and Riker. I think they’re rather informative.”
Sisko perused the summaries and what he found made him glad he’d skimmed over the actual details, “I’m beginning to see Ensign Sito’s point of view.”
“Starfleet simply left her there to endure violation after violation. It’s no wonder she doesn’t want to return to active duty,” Kira ventured. “It wouldn’t matter to her that Starfleet thought she was dead. That sense of abandonment would still be there and then the Maquis came along and rescued her. She’d feel obligated to them just out of a sense of gratitude.”
“Are you authorized to tell me how she and Riker were rescued?” Sisko wondered.
“Not precisely,” Kira replied, “but I can tell you it was a two person infiltration of Letau led by Ro Laren.”
Sisko didn’t know whether or not to applaud Ro’s efforts or condemn her for them. To escape Letau, and then Cardassian space, while the Dominion was in a war footing bespoke of a certain amount of genius. Sisko suddenly worried where Ro would lead people like Sito Jaxa and Tom Riker. Certainly Ro answered to the Bajoran Militia now, but it seemed they were giving her free rein.
Sisko didn’t agree with Bajor’s position on the Maquis, but he wasn’t in a position to argue with the government over it. Starfleet needed Deep Space Nine and its strategic position, and he certainly wasn’t willing to abandon Bajor to the Dominion for a second time. So he would bide his time and wait until the war ended to see what the political climate was then.
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