by Travis Anderson
Neela brought Winn and Serif to a cave hidden by several boulders. Inside of the cave was food, blankets, and a pair of rifles. As a member of the penetration team, Neela had merely been issued her personal disruptor that she’d brought with her when she’d joined the Holn cell.
As expected, Chaz never rejoined them, even after the sun set. Winn finally addressed a concern. “Won’t the Cardassians be able to detect us in here?”
“The boulders obscure the entrance so our lights and our thermal signatures are hidden,” Neela explained, “but the hillside is rich in kelbonite. The mineral blocks sensors so their tricorders will need line of sight to acquire us, and with the obstructions, that isn’t going to happen.”
“So can’t we just wait here until the Cardassians give up and abandon their search?” Winn inquired.
“We have a rendezvous not far from here where all of the members of the Holn cell and the liberated clergy will be reuniting,” Neela divulged. “We’ll be safe afterwards.”
“Very well.” Winn seemed nonplussed. “And now child, how do I know you?”
Neela told her. The story jolted Winn’s recollection. “I remember your family. Your sister is truly a prylar now?”
“For two years now,” Neela shared. “She joined her order a year after I left to join the Sekra cell.”
“But I thought you said you were with the Holn cell,” Winn recalled.
“I am now,” Neela said sadly. “Most of my old cell is dead now. But the Prophets spared me and my friend Anara in order that we might liberate you, your Ladyship.”
“And your travelling companion?” Winn asked.
“Chaz brought us into the Holn cell,” Neela explained. “She’ll be missed.”
Winn started to ask another question but Neela warded it off before it was even asked. “You’d best get some sleep now. We’ll be setting out after dawn before the Cardassians rouse themselves.”
“Very well, child,” Winn relented, “but try and get some sleep as well.”
“I will,” Neela promised.
“Wake up,” Neela hissed as she roused Winn and Serif. “The Cardassians searched throughout the night. They’re very close.”
“Give me a rifle,” Serif requested.
“Serif, no!” Winn was adamant.
“Vedek, your light must carry on for the glory of the Prophets,” Serif insisted. “If I can humbly contribute to that cause, then so be it.”
“Walk with the Prophets,” Winn conceded.
Neela handed Serif a Cardassian disruptor rifle. After several minutes of straightforward instruction in its use, she slipped him a cylindrical device with a thumb trigger. “This is a photon grenade. If you can lure them into a perimeter around you of at least five hundred meters. Press this and you’ll see the Prophets in the Celestial Temple and the Cardassians will go wherever Cardassians go in the afterlife.”
“Will it be painful?” Serif’s confidence wavered a little.
“The grenade will be instantaneous,” Neela assured him. “However, the spoonheads’ weapons will inflict a great deal of pain.”
“The Prophets will give me strength,” he hoped.
“Exit the cave and head for the rising sun,” Neela instructed. “Push that way for as long as you can and we’ll head out the other direction.”
Serif nodded and then bravely headed out to meet his fate. Moments later, he was heard shouting at the Cardassian pursuers. Weapons fire was exchanged and then the noises faded into the distance.
As Neela led Winn into the open, a tremendous flash filled the air. A shockwave threatened to bowl them over. In the distance, trees fell.
“That should buy us some time,” Neela commented.
“How dare you!” Winn hissed, “Honor his sacrifice.”
“I do, your Ladyship,” Neela promised. “Choices like this are made every day on Bajor and I honor all that I know of and those that I do not. The Prophets reward their bravery and also share my respect for the fallen.”
Winn looked chastised. “I’m sorry I doubted you, child.”
“We have to keep moving though,” Neela urged. “I sincerely doubt that Prylar Serif was able to disable all of our pursuers. They’ll find our trail and be after us with revenge in mind.”
“Then lead on and I shall follow,” Winn vowed.
The continuing trek was arduous and frequent rest breaks were necessary. Winn wasn’t conditioned for such exertions any more. Five years of relative stagnation inside of rotating detention centers had left her out of shape.
Neela was guiding Winn with a map reader. The calls between Cardassian troops continually drew closer. Finally, Neela brought Winn into a box canyon.
Winn was on the verge of panic. “Surely you misread the map! We aren’t supposed to be here.”
“I’m afraid we’re precisely where we’re supposed to be,” Neela shared. “This is the path the Prophets laid out for us.”
Winn looked ready to argue when four Cardassians entered the canyon and slowly trod their way toward the Bajorans. They all wore cruel smiles.
“Don’t worry, we won’t kill you for a very long time,” the bravest Cardassian spoke. “We’ll be extracting the lives of our fallen soldiers out of your hides for hours to come.”
Disruptor fire rained down on the Cardassians from the edges of the canyon. Anara appeared. “We’d almost given up on you. You’re one of the last to arrive.”
Neela assisted Winn as she climbed the canyon wall. Other Holn cell members gathered the Cardassian weapons as another team disposed of the bodies. Anara grinned at Neela.
“Holn has a special task for you,” Anara smirked. “He’s tired of moddlecoddling the former prisoners. It’s your job now.”
“I can assist you, child,” Winn volunteered.
Two more teams of Resistance fighters and clergy came in and the trap was sprung twice more. Afterwards, the cell led the clergy back to a monastery and left them there. Winn took Neela aside.
“The Prophets have touched you, my child,” Winn assured her. “Go with my blessing and my thanks. I shall be in touch.”
Neela left with a swell of gratitude and pride.
The Earth year 2369 found the Cardassians in a wholesale retreat from Bajor. The withdrawal scarcely took a week. The Cardassians converged on strategic cities and transported out as much material and personnel as they could. Still, hundreds of scout cars and other less offensive vehicles were abandoned, as well asTerok Nor itself.
The Bajorans gathered and quickly appointed a Provisional Government with elections to occur in a year’s time. The very first decree from the government reconstituted the Militia and the Militia Constabulary. Recruiting was heavily tilted towards the ex-members of the Resistance.
Many Resistance fighters sought a life of peace after the lifelong struggle. Others leapt at the chance to continue to protect their home world. And a few found themselves vacillating.
This was the state Neela was in as the Militia recruiters found her. She asked for a day to pray about it. Another knock came to her door at the boarding house she was temporarily residing in. To her surprise, it was a prylar whom she didn’t know.
“Vedek Winn sends her regards.” The prylar bowed low after handing her a padd and then he departed.
Neela activated the padd’s playback and the screen showed a miniature of Vedek Winn’s face. “Neela my child, I know you are probably surprised by this message reaching you. I know you have been extended an invitation to join the newly founded Militia. Join them! It is the will of the Prophets for you to do so. I know this to be true. I need a friend in the Militia and I can think of no greater friend then you. Please heed my words and let me know what you decide.”
Neela’s mind was instantly made up.
Neela contacted Anara and they arrived at the assessment center together. After a series of challenges, they were both designated qualified engineers. They were also fully rated to work on the captured Cardassian equipment that the Militia had “inherited.”
With their designations came a commission of the rank of lieutenant. Anara was immediately chosen to accompany Major Kira’s assessment team to Terok Nor. Neela was scheduled to follow Anara’s footsteps after the latter served a nine month rotation. Neela would become the deputy of the station chief of operations after she arrived.
That was when the pair learned the Provisional Government had asked the Federation to deploy Starfleet toTerok Nor. From there, they would oversee the Federation’s relief efforts directed at Bajor. Not every Bajoran was pleased by this decision and the chief fomenter of discontent aboard Terok Nor was Major Kira Nerys. But that changed even as Terok Nor became Deep Space Nine.
Anara remained aboard the station until the “Pup” incident and then she rotated back to Bajor. Neela came aboard at that point. And the rest was history in the making.
The Earth year 2374 brought changes to a few specific lives. Shakaar Edon had been First Minister for some months now, but his life had recently been threatened by Cardassian interests. Constable Odo had thwarted the assassination attempt aboard Deep Space Nine but many in the Bajoran government cried out for justice. And justice seemed in short supply from the Cardassian Union despite the treaty that existed between the two stellar powers.
It was into this environment that Neela was released from Kran-Tobal’s prison. To her shock, Anara met her at the gate as she exited the place she’d served her time in. Anara met her with a smile.
“How about a ride?” she offered.
“All right,” Neela said a little warily, “but I won’t discuss what brought me here.”
“So I’ve been told,” Anara chuckled. “Not once in five years.”
“Well, consistency is key to a well laid-out life,” Neela quipped.
Anara was happy to see that her former friend could feel somewhat comfortable with her. They climbed into a six-wheeled, open carriage Cardassian scout car. Neela grunted.
“I was hoping these beasts would have been replaced by now,” she admitted.
“They’re still a mainstay of ground transportation with the Militia,” Anara admitted. “Still think you could tear one apart and rebuild it in four hours?”
“Easily,” Neela replied, “but why don’t you get to the real point? The Militia isn’t in the habit of sending captains from the Special Forces to picking up stray convicts when they get released from prison.”
Anara handed over a padd. “Scroll through this and get caught up on the highlights of the last five years.”
Neela did as she was bade and then asked Anara, “That’s the basics. What are the nuances?”
Anara ran down a prepared list that included the Circle, the Maquis, the Dominion, Kai Winn’s assumption of political office and her subsequent electoral loss to Shakaar. Neela seemed to bristle at the last bit of news.
“So why was I released two years early?” Neela decided to get straight to her own point.
“Access the secondary file,” Anara instructed.
Neela did so. After scrolling through the document, she looked over at Anara with an incredulous look on her face. “Are they serious?”
“Serious enough to release you,” Anara assured her.
“You didn’t say anything about a ‘True Way,’” Neela accused.
“The True Way is a group of Cardassian extremists that harbor hostility for the Bajor and the Federation. So far to their credit they have blown up a Federation runabout ferrying Deep Space Nine’s senior staff. They also killed two of our own officials and recently tried to kill First Minister Shakaar. The entire government is united behind an effort to achieve justice in this case,” Anara recounted. “Kai Winn herself has been very vocal about the need to show Bajor can defend itself. She personally suggested placing someone within the Cardassians’ ranks.”
Anara let Neela digest that. “Next, we needed to find someone who was disaffected with the government or could at least plausibly appear to be. There was a very short list of candidates and you filtered to the top of it after a cursory reading.”
Anara brought Neela to a free boarding house run by prylars from the very same order that Kai Winn had formerly belonged to. The monks had made the room available prior to Neela’s release at the Kai’s request. The prylars greeted Neela warmly and invited Anara to stay the evening as well.
Anara declined. “I have to report to the local base tonight and let them know my progress. Neela, please think about the request.”
“I’ll pray about it and let you know in the morning,” Neela offered.
“I couldn’t ask for more.” Anara admitted, “I’m glad I volunteered for this.”
Anara boarded her scout car and drove off into the distance. A prylar guided Neela to a room within the building. “Do you only have the one bag?”
Neela sat her backpack on the bed. “You travel light just getting out of prison.”
If the word “prison” triggered anything in the monk, he hid it well. “I am to give this to you.”
He handed a padd to Neela. “It’s secured and only you can access it.”
“May I ask who it’s from?” Neela inquired.
“The Kai herself,” the prylar announced as he departed.
Neela stared at the padd for several minutes. There was a level of excitement in her that she’d thought expunged. But there was also trepidation.
Utilizing her thumbprint, she accessed the padd’s archival memory. Winn’s image appeared. “It is good to see you again, my child. I have made discreet efforts to have you freed at the government’s mercy but my efforts have been in vain, particularly with Shakaar. Knowing of the impetus to pursue the Cardassians responsible for recent deaths and other attempts on lives, it instigated my suggestion of infiltrating the True Way knowing their chief candidate for doing so could only be you. It is pleasing to see the Prophets reward my stratagem.”
Neela knew the Prophets had greatly rewarded Winn already. Despite Neela’s failure to assassinate Vedek Bareil Antos, he’d subsequently removed himself from consideration to be named Kai and left Winn as the only remaining candidate. Her last mission for Winn had cost her five years of freedom. She wondered what price could be attached to her service now.
“Shakaar was finally ready to listen to my pleas because his own life is in danger,” Winn carried on. “You must undertake this mission, Neela. It will strike a decisive blow against the Cardassians that dare threaten our people’s peaceful reconstruction. Their actions undermine my treaty with Cardassia. It will also serve to lower Shakaar’s prestige amongst the people when my gambit is the one that delivers the True Ways’ heads.”
“Your reward for this service will be substantial,” Winn promised. “Perhaps you will be allowed to rejoin the Militia if you so desire, but I have another proposal for you. I have need of a discreet agent and you have already proven your loyalty through your silence. So I pray the Prophets will guide you not only to undertake this mission but to also accept my offer to become my personal agent within the larger framework of Bajor and the worlds beyond.”
“You will find your supposed disgrace will be the key to your exaltation,” Winn enthused. “Everything depends upon your next decision. Have you lost faith with me, or do you still wholeheartedly trust in the guidance of the Prophets?”
The screen went blank after that was said. Neela had sat through five long years to consider her previous service to Winn. It seemed rewarded when Winn became the Prophet’s chosen vessel despite Neela’s incompetence. For the Kai to now offer her this chance at redemption could only mean it truly was the will of the Prophets. How could she refuse?
Neela used the open link the padd had with the monastery’s comm array and used the reply function to affirm to Winn that Neela would serve the Prophets however they demanded of her. She’d wait until Anara returned to inform her of the decision.
Meanwhile, Neela would scrutinize the mission briefs Anara had left with her. It would be novel to read official documents again. The prison library had largely consisted of religious texts. Neela had a lot of catching up with local and interstellar politics, it seemed, particularly between the Federation and the Cardassian Union.
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