by Travis Anderson
Anara and Neela did as the waiter had instructed and ordered drinks after lunch. Both ordered gray leaf tea. Neela seemed disappointed by the meager selection. Anara was pleasantly surprised that the replicator’s formula was almost exactly the same as the typical Bajoran crop yield.
“They’re here,” Neela softly informed Anara.
Anara casually swept the area with her eyes. Three strangers had entered the eatery. All three were Cardassian, as expected. What came as a surprise was that one of the three was a woman. The strict Cardassian regulation of the roles of the sexes normally prohibited females from undertaking such work. But then again, many agents of the Obsidian Order had proven to be women.
Less than one hundred women served within the Cardassian Guard. Famously, Malyn Ocett had achieved command rank. It had been Ocett’s picket cruiser that had discovered the life form that became known as Odo.
“Here they come,” Neela murmured.
The three Cardassians sat down at the Bajorans’ table without an invitation. Anara challenged, “Did we invite you to sit?”
“You did by coming to our world,” one of the males answered.
“How so?” Neela jumped in before Anara could speak again.
“You’re fugitives from the Bajorans,” the man began to explain, “and you’re seeking shelter on a Cardassian world. That’s invitation enough.”
“So you’re with Central Command?” Anara baited the trio. “We were told to expect representatives.”
“We’re representatives of what they should be,” the man grated.
Neela decided to intervene. “Do you have a name?”
Anara thought the game was up. She’d pushed too hard already and now they were angry. Neela’s probe seemed to be the last straw.
“Why do you need to know?” the leading man inquired.
“Because you’ve already gathered our names from constabulary and I want to level the playing field,” Neela replied. “Even members of the True Way shouldn’t be afraid on their own territory.”
The man closely studied Neela for a moment and then he chuckled. “I suppose I should expect you to be rather brash after that assassination attempt on Terok Nor. The Bajorans claim you also tried to kill the First Minister after he pardoned you. Is this true?”
“The Bajorans say what they say,” Neela deflected the question.
“So they will,” the man said. “You were both in the Bajoran Resistance. It must gall you to now seek refuge on a Cardassian world.”
“They say the enemy of my enemy is a friend for at least a short while,” Neela countered. “My enemy is the Provisional Government. Your enemies include that same government and the Federation. I’m no friend to the Federation either. There’s a very real possibility we could come to a mutually beneficial arrangement and assist each other in removing our problems from our horizons.”
“Why the Federation?” the man sharply asked.
Neela shrugged. “One overseer is as odious as another. But if you have to choose, the overseer that openly conquers you is preferable to the one that undermines your society with honey and a kind word.”
Anara was astonished at how the True Way leader was buying into Neela’s lies. At least, she hoped they were lies. Neela was so convincing she was swaying Anara as well.
Anara had never seen the duplicitous side of Neela. Neela always had her nose buried in a PADD reading musty old religious texts and wondering how the words of the Prophets translated into her daily existence. Now she was spinning an entire web of lies and the Cardassians were being sucked into them. And the beauty of it was that everything Neela said could easily be verified with a little interpretation of the Militia Command’s official story. Omissions would be seen as a government cover up to spare itself embarrassment.
“I’ll tell you what,” the leader said after a moment’s consideration, “come back tomorrow and we’ll see what we reveal to you then.”
“We’ll be here at the same time tomorrow,” Neela promised.
The three Cardassians simply exited. Anara stared at Neela in amazement. Neela prevented Anara from speaking.
“We’re still under observation so I suggest you pull yourself together before you blow this,” Neela urged. “We can speak aboard the Ark.”
Anara numbly nodded. “All right.”
Later aboard the Ark, Anara gushed, “That was brilliant! I couldn’t have pulled that off.”
Neela shrugged. “It simply had to be done.”
“But how did you?” Anara had to ask. “Back in the day, you couldn’t lie to anyone. At least not convincingly.”
“Faith can open many doors,” Neela said enigmatically.
“Faith?” Anara sputtered. “Your faith in the Prophets has made you a consummate liar?”
“This is the path the Prophets laid out for me. When I chose to follow it, they gave me the abilities I needed to accomplish their task as set before me,” Neela attempted to explain.
“Like you did on Terok Nor?” Anara dared ask.
Neela shook her head sadly. “I know your belief is thin, Anara. But my entire life I’ve followed the Prophets’ dictates. Their path is mine and mine is theirs.”
Anara suddenly had a cold clench in her stomach. “What if they asked you to kill me?”
“Let’s hope they don’t,” Neela cagily dodged answering the question.
Anara didn’t like the sound of that answer. “So what happens next?”
“Think back to our days in the Resistance,” Neela instructed. “They’ll ask for a demonstration of good faith. When we accomplish that task, they’ll embrace us.”
“Faith doesn’t seem to be a problem for you,” Anara muttered.
“Pardon?” Neela was puzzled by the comment she hadn’t quite heard.
Anara waved the comment aside. “Never mind. What do you think they’ll ask us to do?”
Neela shook her head. “I have no idea. But the real question is how far are you willing to go in order to fulfill your current role?”
“I don’t know,” Anara admitted.
“I think you’re going to find out,” Neela sagely predicted.
The following day, the Bajorans returned to the eatery to await the True Way’s verdict. The pair opted to make the most of the opportunity and sample more food. The Cardassians returned halfway through the meal. Once again, they simply sat down uninvited.
“Don’t let us stop you,” the leader said magnanimously.
“Don’t worry. We won’t,” Neela responded.
The Cardassians merely sat there and stared at the duo until they’d finished their meals. Neither Neela nor Anara did so much as blink under the scrutiny. Afterwards, the lead Cardassian was smiling.
“Your story checks out,” he informed them. “It has holes, but only in those places where the Bajoran government would rather the truth not be known to the public.”
“I’m Gen Rakan,” he began the introductions. “This fellow is Corban Rasal. Our associate is Lyt Garan.”
Neela noted the last name. Winn Adami had been held in a detention center bearing the name of a great Cardassian family. That name was Garan.
“We have a test of your veracity and intentions,” Rakan informed them.
“That was expected,” Neela said with a preternatural calm.
“If you wish to earn the True Way’s trust, you’ll accomplish this task,” Rakan challenged them.
“What’s the task?” Neela asked dryly.
“There are three dissidents that escaped the Central Command’s grasp,” Rakan explained. “They fled into neutral space. We want an example to be made of them.”
“What are their names?” Anara wondered.
“Natima Lang was a professor on Cardassia Prime. She departed with two troublesome students named Rekelan Garan and Bek Hogue,” Rakan explained. “Being Bajorans, you should have any easy time infiltrating a world loosely allied with the Federation. Do you have access to weapons?”
Anara and Neela suddenly held compact phasers on the trio. They were all visibly unnerved. Rakan recovered first.
“Very well then,” he blustered. “You can be off then.”
“What are these people accused of?” Anara wanted to know.
Rakan eyed her suspiciously. Neela brushed the question aside. “Never mind her. Half the time she still thinks like she’s in the Militia.”
“I’ll answer the question,” Rakan chose. “They agitate for reforming Cardassia into a democracy. For this they must die.”
“Good to know,” Neela replied before Anara could. “Where are they located?”
“On Keplek, a neutral world two systems away from Coridan,” Rakan answered.
“If it’s neutral, why don’t you kill them yourself?” Anara interjected.
“My people do not frequent Keplek because of the climate,” Rakan grated. “Therefore, we would stand out.”
“So we should dress warmly.” Neela went into damage control through distraction. “Do you know what Lang and her students do for employment?”
“I have no idea,” Rakan admitted. “Lang was a news service investigator before joining the political science department of one of Cardassia’s greatest universities. Her mere presence sullied its hallowed halls.”
Neela rather doubted that. “Now we have two avenues to pursue.”
Neela turned to Garan. “You share a surname with one of the dissidents. Is she a relative?”
“Rekelan is a cousin of a cousin,” Garan responded. “She is a disgrace to our noble family name and is no longer fit to be called by it. If she ever dares reenter the Cardassian Union, she will find herself an outcast with no family to claim her.”
“Once again, good to know,” Neela remarked.
By this point, Anara was feverishly trying to deduce what Neela was playing at. That’s when Neela got down to business. “Do you want visuals to go with this or will tricorder scans alone do?”
“We want both,” Rakan informed her.
Neela turned to the brutish Rasal. “Do you ever speak?”
“What?” The question confused Rasal.
“That’s what I thought,” Neela mused.
Rasal remained clueless but Rakan and Garan seethed on his behalf. Neela ignored their righteous indignation. “We have a Federation checkpoint to get through and the Militia has undoubtedly posted warrants on the two of us, so we’ll be finding out shortly if my new ID transponder will get us past them,” Neela announced as she rose, “so that will take time, as will racking down Lang and her protégés.”
“Then you’d best leave now,” Rakan insisted.
This greatly amused Neela. “Thank you for your permission. I don’t know what Anara and I could do without your guidance. Right, Rasal?”
Rasal looked blankly at Rakan. Rakan sighed heavily as Neela added, “Don’t feel bad, Rakan. I’m sure he’s highly effective muscle.”
Neela signaled Anara it was time to go. “Feel free to talk about us after we’re gone.”
And so the Cardassians did. Garan spoke first. “I don’t like the talkative one. She’s far too smart for her own good. And I don’t think she takes this seriously.”
“And why should she?” Rakan chuckled. “She’s Bajoran. She’ll only be a temporary ally at best. But she’s smart enough to recognize the winning side even if she’ll never be a true believer in our cause.”
“But they were in the Resistance. They killed our people,” Garan grated. “Both of them. Do Bajorans ever really change?”
“Recall that the one you distrust so much was just released from prison. She was there because she blew up a Federation school and attempted to murder a religious leader,” Rakan reminded Garan. “Many Bajorans harbor distrust of the Federation, but they all united to a degree by their religion. This one thinks outside that box. Perhaps she could be molded into something greater than her people.”
“Why don’t you ask Gul Dukat?” Garan sniped. “You can see where that kind of thinking got him.”
“I’m not Dukat,” Rakan said wryly. “I’ll never forget that our people are inherently superior to Bajorans.”
“Bajorans are mindless, savage beasts unworthy to be called sentient,” Garan elaborated. “Keep that one on a leash and inside a cage or she’ll rip your throat out.”
Rakan changed the subject. “What do you think of the darker-haired one?”
“What about her?” Garan scoffed. “She hardly speaks more than Rasal. She’s simply a soldier and fit only for taking orders.”
“I disagree,” Rakan countered. “I studied her as her companion spoke. She studied the leader and gauged her every word. I can only presume she has an agenda outside of what was agreed.”
“So?” Garan quipped, “We simply kill her when she gets back.”
“Perhaps,” Rakan mulled.
“Can we eat now?” Rasal plaintively asked.
Rakan and Garan exchanged an eye roll. Rakan relented. “Why not? Order up, Rasal. We’ll even join you.”
Aboard the Ark, Neela broke the silence that had descended during lift off. “Have your friends in Militia Intelligence informed Starfleet Intelligence to tell Starfleet’s Border Patrol to look the other way?”
“With our vessel registered to the Bajoran Merchant Marine, Starfleet will flag us as a ‘safe’ vessel,” Anara replied as she set the course for the nearest checkpoint. “Starfleet won’t inquire further than that.”
“Good,” Neela said, “because if they board us and discover a Militia-stocked armory, they’ll detain us until Militia Command blows our cover and that will end our mission.”
Anara knew that was certainly true. As an assault ship, the Ark was discreetly armed and designed to ferry troops — in this case, the Special Forces — to and from combat. The Ark was also replete with a detention cell and an automated medical bay. It wasn’t as fancy as an Emergency Medical Hologram, but the autodoc was far more comprehensive than the medical kits the Resistance had been lucky enough to steal.
“The True Way has friends in Traffic Control; otherwise, we’d still be there waiting for a launch window,” Neela observed.
“I wonder how the True Way is related to the colonial paramilitaries,” Anara commented.
“Forget them,” Neela advised. “They’re a Maquis problem. That is what the Federation resistance fighters are called, right?”
“Once again, you’re a quick study.” Anara was slightly amused.
“The paramilitaries on both sides want to control the Demilitarized Zone,” Neela pointed out. “The True Way wants to push the Central Command into reinvading Bajor. I say we focus our priorities on the immediate threat and then move on to the Valo system when we’ve secured our own borders.”
“But Nerrit is our pipeline to the Kohn Ma and the Maquis in the Valo system,” Anara reminded her companion.
“That’s a risky stratagem,” Neela opined. “I’m surprised a First Minister would sign off on it.”
“None did,” Anara revealed. “It’s a black bag operation within the Special Forces on behalf of the Bajoran colonists in the Valo system. No one asked the Federation to annex that system or to cede it away into a DMZ. Since the Militia is prohibited from landing troops there ourselves, we’re taking steps to insure the colonists’ safety.”
Neela wore a half smile. “I’m beginning to see why you joined the Special Forces. It’s all a moot point anyway. The DMZ is an experiment doomed to failure.”
“So now you’re a Prophet?” Anara teased.
“You don’t have to be one to see what’s going to happen,” Neela responded. “Once Cardassia feels secure enough to threaten the Federation again, they will. And nothing short of overwhelming force will stop them.”
“But they’d need at least one ally,” Anara made her own prediction.
“Who says they aren’t already looking for one?” Neela asked.
Anara received a hail and she activated an automated reply as she dropped out of warp. “We’re approaching the checkpoint. Starfleet has requested we slow to impulse and queue up with the rest.”
“It’s better than the alternative,” Neela reminded Anara.
“Are you really ready to kill these three people?” Anara suddenly asked Neela.
“They’re Cardassians, so it wouldn’t be a first,” Neela allowed, “but it all comes down to what the Prophets direct us to do.”
“And just how will they let you know?” Anara wondered.
A full smile bloomed on Neela’s features. “They have their ways.”
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