by Travis Anderson
Anara arrived the next morning and Neela could tell she was quite expectantly awaiting Neela’s answer. Neela spared her an agonizing wait. “I’ve decided to cooperate.”
“Really?” Anara brightened even more. “That’s great.”
“I also studied all of the mission briefs,” Neela revealed. “I found some of them rather lacking.”
“How so?” Anara was mildly amused.
“The intelligence data clearly defines the True Way as a Cardassia movement, yet they seem to regularly employ foreign agents. While these efforts are intended to shift Cardassian society and politics back towards an older mindset, they actually serve to break the True Way’s own xenophobic tendencies.”
Anara blankly stared at Neela as she continued. “The True Way is said to be deeply suspicious of the Detapa Council and prefers the Central Command’s leadership for society, yet the Cardassia Guard itself is wary of the movement. They are pushing to annex Bajor by force again and abrogate the treaty with the Federation and reignite the Border Wars.”
“Yet in all of this, their founder and potential leader has never been identified,” Neela pointed out. “Is this by choice or by a systemic failure committed by both the Obsidian Order and the Cardassian Guard?”
“You always have been a quick study,” Anara replied somewhat ruefully before bluntly stating, “and you could have had a brilliant career in the Militia.”
“It appears I don’t have to be a member of the Militia to serve the Militia,” Neela wryly observed.
“Then why are you doing this?” Anara asked.
“That’s a conversation for another day,” Neela stiffly replied.
“Is it?” Anara acerbically asked.
“If you would bother to recall, I told you my reasoning for my previous actions was off limits,” Neela said firmly. “This is the same.”
“Who is pulling your strings, Neela?” Anara finally asked.
“Do you want me to participate in this little scheme?” Neela asked tersely, “because I will walk away if you don’t let it go.”
Anara still wondered what had provoked Neela to try and kill Vedek Bareil. It just wasn’t Neela’s style. She revered religious teachers. During the Occupation, Neela had spent what little free time she had attending services at a nearby temple or studying religious texts.
Only two things motivated Neela to violence. One was a threat to Bajor, such as the Cardassians when they occupied the planet. The second was a threat on her beliefs in the Bajoran religious system. So the question was how did Bareil threaten Neela?
The only one Bareil had seemed to threaten were Vedek Winn Adami’s ambitions to become Kai. Bareil had been more popular amongst the members of the Vedek Assembly. Neela practically revered Winn. Did Bareil’s ability to quash Winn’s chances at being Kai qualify as a threat in Neela’s mind? And if so, did she act alone or with Winn’s knowledge and potential blessing?
Anara practically shuddered at that line of reasoning. Even if she wasn’t a devout follower of the Prophets, it still didn’t avail one to implicate one’s religious leader in an attempted murder. At least not on Bajor.
Anara told Neela to grab her meager things and prepare for a journey. But first they had to get supplies to construct several explosive charges and some electromagnetic and subspace scramblers. Neela was understandably curious as to why.
“Because in order to keep this an off the books operation, we’re going to steal a warp capable assault ship and head off to the Demilitarized Zone,” Anara explained.
“Before I was imprisoned, the Militia didn’t have any warp capable craft,” Neela reminded Anara.
“We still only have a handful,” Anara admitted, “and most are only capable of warp 2 and even then for short ranges. Mostly they’re used to support the outer colonies.”
“Then why the DMZ?” Neela wondered.
“The Maquis have confirmed that the True Way operate off of the Zone world of Bryma,” Anara shared.
“Why would the Maquis share that information with Starfleet?” Neela felt a little confused.
“They didn’t,” Anara informed her. “They shared it with us. The Militia has been in partnership with the Maquis since they began their campaign. A Special Forces lieutenant named Nerrit Wen is actively advising the Kohn Ma and the Maquis operating out of the Valo system.”
“So I take it our role is to infiltrate the True Way as prospective foreign operatives while actually trying to undermine them,” Neela ventured.
Anara smiled. “Like I said, you’ve always been quick.”
Anara guided Neela on their shopping trip. Even though the Cardassians had withdrawn years before, there was still a viable black market in their weaponry and explosive components. It only took them the rest of the morning to acquire what they needed.
They then relocated to Tempasa. There had once been a base there utilized by the Cardassian Heavy Weapons Unit, Third Assault Group, Ninth Order and now it was the headquarters for the Militia’s Second Battalion. A platoon of Special Forces troops were also billeted there. Anara freely admitted she’d chosen her own home base because of her intimate knowledge of the defenses.
It just also happened to have one of the Militia’s two high warp ships sitting on the landing field tarmac alongside two impulse driven assault ships. Even then, the former impulse craft was modified and equipped with civilian market warp engines. It only boasted a max speed of warp 5 with a cruising speed of warp 3.5. Still, as Earth had discovered in pre-Federation days, a warp 5 engine granted one true interstellar flight capabilities.
Neela quickly spotted the base’s vulnerable points and began formulating where to plant the charges. Anara once again wished her friend could rejoin the Militia. Neela’s skills were too valuable to let go.
The old Cardassian static fences had been replaced with an electronic frontier. Sensor sweeps covered the ground leading to the perimeter. Watch towers littered the landscape, providing eyes on coverage in case the sensors failed to detect someone or something.
The perimeter was lined with sensor shrouds. They limited the range of the active sensors as well as acting as passive sensors, recording any active sensor beam transmitted towards the base. Neela was tasked with planting explosives across the frontier at the shrouds’ locations.
She’d also prepared mobile bombs that would hone in on the sources of the active scans. Mated with proximity fuses, they would detonate only after clearing out of range of a life form. The explosions would be the distraction that would enable Anara and Neela to penetrate the frontier unnoticed. Any further resistance would be dealt with using their black market phasers.
Both Anara and Neela were qualified to operate and fly the assault ship. Anara had more experience with the weapons systems thanks to her cross-training in the Special Forces. But Anara also freely admitted that Neela was the better pilot.
Which brought her to a conundrum. The Militia wanted Neela locked out of the command and control systems with only basic access. Anara felt this was unfair for several reasons. First and foremost, Anara trusted Neela despite her recent past. And in an emergency, should Anara be rendered unconscious or incapacitated, denying Neela control of the ship would prove invariably lethal. Anara had already decided to invoke her command prerogative for the mission and ignore her orders to that effect.
Neela detonated her surface charges and then deployed her mobile anti-sensor devices. An explosion ripped through base as the sensor emitters were destroyed. Alarm klaxons sounded and all lights and personnel were directed for the breach in the secure corridor.
Of course, this turned everyone’s attention away from the landing pads. Anara then activated her engineered contribution to the fray. A sensor scrambler and subspace transceiver inhibitor doused the base and crippled its remaining detection abilities as well as its communication equipment. The Second Battalion’s base was now on its own.
The tower observers were fixated on the destruction of the outer perimeter and the base’s western sensor grid. They didn’t seem perturbed by the fact that their own tricorders were also down. They’d mistakenly assumed it was a side effect of the carnage across the way.
The entire battalion had been roused and was now fanning out across the fields surrounding the base. So far, all of these efforts were focused westward. Anara and Neela were counting on that.
Anara had warned Neela that the Special Forces might be deployed to the landing field if a threat was deduced to be headed there. There were already four Militia troopers guarding the three ships. The pilots would be placed on standby in case a lift off was called for.
Anara and Neela split up as they reached the outer boundary of the landing pads. Anara approached the two guards protecting the interceptors. She silently came up behind one of them. Placing a chokehold on the woman’s neck and clamping her hand over the soldier’s mouth, Anara smothered her into unconsciousness.
But the Militia trooper’s companion still heard the struggle. He tapped his comm badge twice before he fully realized her wasn’t going to get a response. Anara phoenix punched him as she stepped towards him. As his airway swelled shut, he glared at her with hatred in his eyes.
Anara could tell she’d been recognized and despised that fact. Militia Command wasn’t going to break operational secrecy and inform the Second Battalion and her own platoon of her mission. They’d think she’d turned traitor until she returned and the truth was revealed. That is, if she came back. She might die castigated as a traitor to her people.
Neela also choked a soldier into unconsciousness. His companion began speaking to him and sounded guarded when he didn’t receive a reply. Neela took a gamble on which end of the assault ship he would appear at. Choosing the cockpit section, she lay in wait.
As the guard rounded the cockpit, Neela noted that he had his pistol drawn. Neela threw a backhand chop into his throat. The soldier gurgled as he stepped back and clutched his throat. Neela kicked his dropped phaser away and monitored him while he sank into oblivion.
Anara joined Neela at the ship’s hatch. “Special Forces was monitoring the landing pads with macrobinoculars. I didn’t set up anything to inhibit those. I saw them already on their way here.”
“Then I suggest we be elsewhere,” Neela said as she opened the hatch. Stepping inside the ship, she purposefully headed for the bridge. “Do you have command access?”
“I’m on the list of potential commanders,” Anara answered as she sat down at the conn as Neela took ops, “but Command sent a data squirt to the ship’s computer earlier today. I’m the solely authorized commander now. I’ll be setting up a command authorization for you once we leave the system.”
“I’m surprised,” Neela admitted.
“We’re partners in this,” Anara explained. “Our lives depend on each other. It’ll be just like the old days with new priorities attached.”
Neela revised her current opinion of Anara. “What’s the ship’s name?”
“The Ark of the Prophets,” Anara revealed.
Neela’s board chimed. “Your Special Forces friends are trying to gain access.”
“Hetwick is a decent code slicer but I seem to recall you were pretty good yourself back in the day,” Anara smirked. “Give him a run for his money.”
Neela smiled to herself as she went to work. A second chime sounded. “The base has burned through your jamming field. They’re attempting to seize control of the ship’s computer.”
“Good luck with that,” Anara snorted. “I’m done with the checklist. I’m activating antigravs and firing RCS thrusters.”
“The Special Forces personnel are scattering,” Neela reported now that her sensors were active again. “They actually look ready to try and takes us down using small arms.”
“If they could they would,” Anara sighed. “We’re high enough now. I’m cutting in the impulse engines. Keep an ear on the Militia GUARD channel. They’ll probably scramble interceptors to engage us.”
As the assault ship cleared orbit, the Karemma-inspired ship was chased by the gull-winged Bajoran interceptors. Anara ticked off the seconds until they cleared Bajor’s gravity well. “Since Bajor’s the eleventh planet in the system, that puts us out of ready range of Deep Space Nine. If they deploy any runabouts, we’ll already be gone before they reach Bajor. The Defiant could overtake us but I doubt Starfleet is going to scramble a warship to chase down a rogue Militia assault ship.”
“There’s a lot riding on that hope,” Neela commented.
“We’re clear of the gravity well,” Anara announced. “Warp speed…now.”
Anara waited for several more minutes before asking, “Any sign of pursuit?”
“Militia Command put in a request to Starfleet for a pursuit but Sisko is otherwise occupied,” Neela reported. “Command didn’t press the issue.”
“Because they don’t actually want Starfleet chasing us,” Anara reminded her comrade.
“I’m surprised you want me logged as a command officer,” Neela suddenly admitted.
“Why would I exclude you?” Anara wondered.
“The Militia hardly considers me a reliable asset right now and I had two years left to serve on my sentence,” Neela asserted. “They don’t let people out of the Kran-Tobal prison without a compelling reason.”
“Shakaar pardoned you. That’s all I know beyond the mission brief,” Anara divulged. “I don’t know any of the politics behind it. You fit the profile we were looking for and that’s it. Although, the rumor mills say that Kai Winn has been appealing your case since she was elected.”
Neela suddenly seemed reassured about the entire situation. Anara smiled at her. “I know you’ve always felt Winn was selected by the Prophets. It seems your faith was justified.”
Neela kept silent as Anara elaborated. “It’s also said that Winn badgered every First Minister about your case until Shakaar finally relented. But that being the case, I don’t know why she didn’t act on it herself when she held political power alongside ecclesiastical.”
Neela knew Winn didn’t want to seem biased. If a connection between Winn and Neela’s actions was ever discovered, the Kai might be forced to resign. Even if she refused to, the stigma would follow her.
“I’ve set course for the Demilitarized Zone,” Anara told Neela, “so we have time to set up your command authorization.”
“All right,” Neela warmly smiled.
Their end destination was a world named Bryma. Bryma was a Cardassian colony that had ended up inside the DMZ. It was also the funnel through which the Central Command distributed weapons amongst the various Cardassian paramilitaries scattered throughout the DMZ.
The information that the True Way had begun operating off of Bryma had been gathered by Maquis sources. Those reports had made it to Nerrit Wen and she had passed them along to Militia Intelligence, who in turn sent them on to Starfleet Intelligence — the difference being that the Maquis and the Militia were committed to do something about it while Starfleet sat by and “preserved the peace.”
Neela was a convicted criminal and Anara had been spotted attacking fellow Militia officers and stealing one of their assault ships, so both were considered rogues. Anara also informed Neela that Militia Command had trumped up a series of charges against them as well, so hopefully they would be appealing to the True Way leadership when they attempted to sell their services to the group.
The Ark cleared the Federation checkpoint and entered the DMZ. Entrance into the zone was only permitted at established checkpoints. The rest of the frontier was monitored by sensor buoys. Penetration of a buoyed area or a detected tampering with the buoys would receive an immediate response from Starfleet’s Border Patrol. The Cardassian side was guarded but much more permeable by design. But a Bajoran vessel trying to enter the Demilitarized Zone through Cardassian space would warrant an official investigation.
Neela had scrubbed the Ark’s ID transponder and registration of Militia codes. It was now registered in Bajor’s official merchant marine roster. She idly wondered if this mission failed if she and Anara really would end up being mercenaries.
Bryma’s Traffic Control Center pelted Anara with questions but finally allowed a planet fall. Even then, Anara and Neela were met at the tarmac by the local constabulary. They were semi-politely, but assertively, “asked” to present themselves at the constabulary’s headquarters. Once there, their IDs were processed.
The law enforcement agency was directly tied into Central Command’s network. In turn, Central Command queried Bajor about the pair’s status. Central Command listed the duo as ex-Resistance fighters, which slightly agitated the constables, but the Militia’s report soothed their fears.
Neela was listed as a criminal who had rewarded First Minister Shakaar’s pardon by attempting to assassinate him. Anara was listed as a rogue Militia officer who had thrown in with Neela rather than perform her sworn duty and arrest her former cell member. The attack upon a Militia base, the assault of four officers, and the theft of the Ark of the Prophets were also listed. They were both wanted by the highest level of Bajoran law enforcement.
The logic behind Anara and Neela’s landing on Bryma was self-evident by the charges. The Federation was one of Bajor’s allies and there were far too many Bajoran colonists on those worlds within the DMZ that used to belong to the Federation. The same held true of the Federation itself.
The Valo system was closed to them as well. Nerrit Wen and the Kohn Ma weren’t in on the ruse and may attempt to apprehend them in order to trade the duo off for Kohn Ma prisoners either on Bajor or inside Cardassian labor camps. And unbeknownst to the Cardassians, Bryma was exactly where the pair wanted to be.
But the Cardassians had to be careful. The Maquis and the Kohn Ma had struck out at targets on this world on multiple occasions. But neutral human traders frequented Bryma, as did neutral arties such as the Xepolites, the Ferengi, the Yridians, and the Boslics.
Given the interstellar flavor of the trading community, it wasn’t hard for Anara and Neela to find an eatery that served Bajoran food, amongst other cuisine. They ordered up and waited. As they did, they openly conversed.
“I wonder why the Chief Constable said he’d send someone for us,” Anara admitted. “I thought we’d cleared their security check. I’m willing to wager that the government here is even more in bed with the Central Command’s paramilitaries than anyone has suspected.”
Neela shrugged. “It’s only natural. It’s a Cardassian colony no matter what a treaty says and Cardassians will probably always be xenophobic.”
“That’s what I’ve always appreciated about you,” Anara commented. “You’re a pragmatist despite being a religious idealist.”
“Why do the two states of being have to be mutually exclusive?” Neela wondered.
The waiter arrived with their food. “Wait here until you’re contacted.”
“Aren’t you making contact?” Neela pointedly asked.
“Just eat,” the waiter snarled and stalked off.
“Rude,” Neela opined, “but what can you expect?”
Anara was smirking. “Let’s just enjoy our food while we still can.”
Neela smiled. “Now who’s being pragmatic?”
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