Forging Ahead by Travis Anderson
The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...
“I guess now is a good a time as any.” Ro Laren sighed.
"That it is.” Her Intelligence Officer, Brin Macen, concurred.
The battered scoutship decloaked within the Bajoran Militia’s challenge zone. Defence cutters immediately approached and challenged the ship, who’s ID transponder labelled her as the SS Indomitable. The Indie had served as Ro’s personal ship and the flagship of the Maquis cell on Ronara. Now she sat alone and surrounded over Bajor.
Unbidden, thoughts of the last few months raced through Ro’s mind as she stared at the communication requests lighting the console before her. As the Dominion forces began their sweep of the Demilitarised Zone, eradicating any Maquis found and enslaving the Federation colonists, the Ronaran cell held out longer than could have been hoped for. After desperate weeks of fighting, they’d been forced to concede the planet. The Indie and nearly a dozen of her siblings set forth in a nerve wracking ordeal of skipping from one hidden supply cache to another barely ahead of Jem’Hadar and Cardassian pursuit. When the Federation lost Deep Space 9, the Maquis survivors found themselves cut off and behind enemy lines.
Only their intimate knowledge of the DMZ, the Badlands and their surrounding areas enabled the fugitives to survive. Rather than continue a retreat, Ro opted to take the offensive. The handful of raiders, equipped with Klingon Class 4 cloaking devices, were perfectly suited for striking Dominion logistics and procuring intelligence. Utilising Macen’s contacts in Starfleet Intelligence, they transmitted any useful data they uncovered while harassing supply convoys.
While the strikes provided an outlet to avenge their fallen comrades and enslaved homes, they also cost lives the Maquis couldn’t afford to lose. Ro informed her crews of the war’s change of fortune after Starfleet had reclaimed Deep Space 9. Having lost half her remaining forces, she decided it was time for the survivors to withdraw and find what refuge they could. Ro gathered the Bajorans and headed for their homeworld, hoping to receive a kinder reception than the Federation would grant.
The other Maquis ships went their separate ways. The Ju’day-class Indomitable made way under cloak, slipping past Dominion patrols. Dropping to impulse upon entering the Bajor system, the Indie crept past DS9 and the attached units of the 9th Fleet guarding the Wormhole. The scout stopped in visual sight of Bajor and dropped her cloak after nearly sixteen exhausting hours of evading Starfleet sensors and patrols.
“Laren?” Macen’s voice broke her reverie, “Are you going to respond to their challenge before they fire on us?”
Ro blinked, shaking herself back into awareness. With a rueful grimace, she activated the comm. A grey haired Bajoran man wearing a Major’s insignia appeared on her screen. His expression echoed hers.
“Unknown ship, this is Major Jaros Nad, commanding the Prophet’s Scroll.” The man announced, “Identify yourself and your intentions. Fail to do so, and we will open fire.”
Ro gave him a bleak smile, “No need to do that Major Jaros. My crew and I have no hostile intentions.”
“That still doesn’t answer who you are.” Jaros prompted.
“My name is Ro Laren. I’m captain of this ship and her surviving crew. We’re all Bajoran nationals,” she cast a wayward glance at Brin Macen, “with one or two exceptions. We’d like permission to land.”
“Your purpose behind this?”
“To request asylum.” Ro confessed, then circumventing Jaros’ next question; “We’re Maquis and we have no where else to go.”
Ro sat in her cell, wondering how long she’d have to wait before she was handed over to Starfleet. She was still wanted for treason and desertion and would probably spend the rest of her life in the stockade on Jaros II. She wondered if they’d reserved her old cell for her. It didn’t matter, she’d brought her people out alive and that knowledge alone would carry through the long days on Jaros.
All in all, she knew she’d get off lightly compared to Macen. As a rogue intelligence officer, Starfleet would take an even dimmer view of his Maquis affiliations. The El-Aurian may have escaped the Borg, but he wouldn’t escape prison. Life imprisonment could very well mean centuries of internment for one of his long-lived race.
So many others hadn’t made it this far with her. Her lieutenant, Aric Tulley, had died during the Jem’Hadar sweeps of Ronara. The staid farmer had been the solid backbone that supported Ro through their years of guerrilla warfare. She still hadn’t allowed herself to feel his loss, she didn’t know if she ever would.
Their operational systems specialist, T’Kir, had been shipped off to a Federation mental hospital after she’d finally broken down and almost killed Macen during a mission. The young Vulcan had been fraying for a long time and the events following Michael Eddington’s use of biogenic weapons finally proved too much for her. The schism that tore the Maquis after the outlaw Security officer poisoned two Cardassians worlds, attacked Starfleet, and provoked Captain Benjamin Sisko into a personal crusade nearly destroyed the movement at its height of success.
Macen’s counterpart, Lisea Danan, also departed before the decimation of the Zone worlds. The Trill had accompanied Macen as he infiltrated the Maquis but swiftly tired of the violence. As the years drug on, she despaired of ever seeing a peaceful resolution and announced her intention to return to the Federation. Her last message indicated that she’d taken a teaching post and resumed her research.
Memories of friends killed or missing in action drifted through her mind. Calvin Hudson leading the doomed defence of Artra V, Chakotay missing in the Delta Quadrant, Tom Riker imprisoned by the Cardassians, Kalita held by the Federation, Macius assassinated by Cardassian agitators; all valiant and giving their all for a noble but ultimately futile cause. Ro wondered where her place in this litany lay. Would she sit amongst the martyrs or would she be reviled as the last fool fighting an insane struggle against an uncaring galaxy?
Her reverie ended as the electrostatic glimmer of the forcefield securing her cell blinked out. A Bajoran wearing the grey uniform of the Militia’s Special Forces appeared in the doorway. He wore colonel’s insignia and looked vaguely familiar. Ro wondered why a Colonel had been detailed to march her off to Starfleet Security.
“Lieutenant Ro?’ the Colonel’s voice was a rich baritone, “I don’t know if you recall, but we briefly met a few years ago. My name is Colonel Thrall Beren.”
The glimmer of recognition coalesced into a memory; “I handed Tiro Anadis over to your custody after we expelled him from the Maquis. How is the little psychopath? Rotting away in a penal camp I trust?”
Thrall shifted uncomfortably, “Vedek Tiro garnered quite a bit of support from the Vedek’s council who petitioned the Kia to intervene with the Justice Ministry.” Ro rolled her eyes as she saw where this was going. “Tiro was remanded to a minimum security facility where he soon brainwashed several of his guards and escaped custody. He’s currently off Bajor and his whereabouts are unknown.”
Ro grimaced, “If I’d wanted him to escape, I’d have kept him in the Zone.”
Thrall flushed slightly, “I’m sorry. It’s not what I wanted to happen either. Tiro is a monster rivalling the Cardassians.”
Ro cocked an eyebrow; “I’ve never heard a Bajoran describe another Bajoran as a Cardassian.”
Thrall shook his head in disgust; “Some people don’t deserve to be called Bajoran any more.”
“I agree.” Ro admitted, “So what happens now? Am I escorted off in shackles?”
Thrall’s eyes widened in alarm and he shook his head, “You’ve misunderstood my being here. I’m your escort, but I’m not taking you to any Starfleet Security officers.”
Now Ro was truly puzzled, “Then who...?”
“It’s better you see for yourself.” Thrall interjected, “If you’d follow me?”
Ro hesitated. Thrall could very well be telling the truth and Starfleet wasn’t going to be present anytime today. He was also being elusive as to whom they were meeting with. For all she knew, it could be with a Cardassian Gul sent to collect her for a mock trial and execution.
“I can only imagine what’s running through your mind.” Thrall interrupted, “But let me assure you that I have only the greatest respect for you and the course of your career, both in Starfleet and with the Maquis. The person we’re meeting with has also taken a personal interest in your well being and has a proposition I think you need to hear.”
Ro shrugged. No matter what happened, it had to be better than sitting around in a cell wondering what was going to happen. She rose and stepped forward. It amused her to discover she was taller than Thrall.
“Lead on.” She said with a wry smirk.
Thrall led her through the maze-like corridors. Having never spent much time on her ancestral homeworld, Ro had no clue as to which building she was. It could very well be the Provisional Government’s capital building and she wouldn’t know. Thrall finally stopped in front of a set of old fashioned, hinged double doors.
He motioned for her to enter, “After you.”
She nodded in bemused acknowledgement as she stepped forward. Bajoran society had always been matriarchal. Lessons learned during the Occupation showed the importance of greater egalitarianism but old traditions and ongoing religious training still prevailed. This once, Ro opted to use deferential inclinations to her advantage.
She pulled a door open and strode briskly in. The manoeuvre had been intended to impress and slightly cow the waiting party. Sadly it was wasted. The only person in the room knew her already.
“Morning Laren.” Brin Macen said brightly from the conference table he was seated at.
Macen seemed no worse for the wear. His reddish gold hair and goatee had been trimmed. He wore a black Starfleet duty uniform with teal stripes. Somehow the enigmatic spy had convinced Starfleet Intelligence to take him back.
Macen came to the Maquis in quite a similar fashion as Ro herself. As a leading analyst of Cardassian affairs, Starfleet tapped Macen as an observer in the DMZ. They never expected him to volunteer his services to the Maquis. Acting as a double agent, he provided the Maquis with invaluable intelligence as well as providing Starfleet with positive accounts of the Maquis.
He’d earned Ro’s trust a thousand times over. His presence here bolstered her confidence that she’d be treated fairly. Thrall’s assurance that Starfleet wouldn’t be represented suddenly rang out in Ro’s mind and she wondered what exactly Macen’s role here would be. Thrall had been very careful to state no Security representatives would be present.
“Lt. Ro?” Thrall spoke again; “Can you please take a seat? The meeting will be convening shortly.”
Ro eyed Thrall warily as she took a seat beside Macen. She started to speak to him, but Macen subtly waved her question away. Thrall stood rigidly by the door, nervously awaiting the mysterious individual who wanted to make her an offer. Sitting here, her mind began to whirl with different theories as to the nature of the offer.
Her more carnal ideas filled her with rage. She’d fought her entire life. As a youth, she’d fought for survival in the Cardassian camps and for her self-respect and hope after the Cardassians tortured her father to death in front of her. She’d fought for the courage to sneak aboard the freighter that brought her to Federation space and the perseverance to endure the refugee camps and Starfleet Academy entrance exams.
Her battles didn’t end there. Starfleet’s seemingly endless rules and regulations provided myriad opportunities for resistance. Even after her supposed redemption from the stockade, her mission to infiltrate the Maquis offered another struggle. This time the battle was between her loyalty to Captain Picard and her newly found sense of belonging.
Ro followed her heart and plunged headfirst into the Maquis struggle. The daily struggle to evade both the Cardassian militia and Starfleet provided the greatest challenge of Ro’s life. Although victory often appeared unattainable, Ro felt alive as never before. The Dominion’s unexpected entry into the conflict on the Cardassian side nearly ended that sensation as well as her life. Now she only found joy in engaging the Jem’Hadar and disrupting the Dominion’s plans.
Thrall looked down at his hip and withdrew a padd tucked in his belt. He moved towards the door and held it open. He nodded deferentially to the person on the other side before stepping aside. A quiet gasp escaped Ro’s lips as she recognised the man entering the room and taking a seat across the table from her.
“Hello, Lt. Ro.” Shakaar Edon said amiably, “I trust you’ve been treated well?”
Ro blinked in surprise at finding the First Minister of the Provisional Government sitting before her. It was tantamount to meeting with the Klingon Chancellor, the Romulan Praetor, the Federation President, or the Cardassian Legate. At least, It was tantamount to meeting with the Legate before the Union’s alliance with the Dominion. She’d been labelled an interstellar terrorist. What was the leader of a strategically important planet doing meeting with her?
“Hajir got your tongue?” Shaakar asked with a grin, “Or another part of your anatomy?”
Although Ro had never seen one, she knew about the small animals from stories in the camps. They could best be described to humans as a hybrid between housecats and weasels. After the Occupation ended, Shaakar had retired as a resistance fighter and briefly become a farmer before being drug into Bajoran politics. She was heartened to see his humour remained that of a soldier and farmer rather than a politician.
“I’m sorry.” She said at last, “I just wasn’t expecting…”
“To meet with such an important icon?” Shaakar suggested wryly.
Ro grinned despite herself, “Something like that.”
“And now you have to be wondering ‘What the hell does he want with me?’”
Ro nodded, “Pretty much.”
Shaakar’s worn face lost some of its humour, “As you may or may not know, when the Dominion began their war, they began it by claiming this station and offering us neutrality based on an unofficial surrender and signing a non-aggression treaty.”
Ro’s expression tightened, “I saw the slaughter of my Maquis comrades and the enslavement of the Zone settlers as the first act of war.”
Shaakar nodded, “That’s undoubtedly the closest thing to the truth we’ll ever hear but it’ll probably never be told that way across the galaxy.” Ro’s temper threatened to flash but it was tempered by the empathy in Shaakar’s eyes, “That’s an unfortunate tragedy heaped upon countless others. The difference between the Bajoran Resistance and the Maquis is that the Resistance never threatened Federation policy. Because of that, we were exonerated as heroes and freedom fighters after the Cardassians withdrew.”
He broke into a wry grin, “Of course, this too only fit Federation policy. The Federation wanted access to the region so they had to make us more palatable to their own eyes. Memory is such a selective thing.”
Ro appreciated the sentiment, but wondered what any of it truly had to do with her; “This is all a moot point. The Maquis are gone. The Jem’Hadar saw to that, so neither the Federation nor the Cardies have to worry about us any more. All that’s left is a few dozen fugitives trying to live out the rest of their lives in peace.”
“Really?” Shaakar asked, “You seem rather restless for someone who’s only goal is quiet retirement.”
“It beats imprisonment.” Ro retorted, “I’m betting that’s my only other option. Assuming retirement is even on the list.”
“It is.” Shaakar surprised her, “But there’s another option you haven’t considered yet and I’m hoping you’ll hear it out.”
“What is it?” she inquired sceptically.
“As I mentioned, Bajor effectively became an occupied planet during the Dominion’s tenure in our system.” His voice hardened, “That galled me. I hadn’t spent decades of my life running around in the wilderness, risking my life to have Cardassians or their newfound masters take over again. Too many ministers on the Provisional Council refuse to join the war effort so my hands are tied.”
“But,” his eyes glinted, “I still have certain powers and concerns that I can act upon. My doing so will help erase the stain on Bajor’s honour, further the war effort, and earn your people the reprieve they desire.”
“What kind of ‘reprieve’ are you talking about?” Ro asked warily, “And what will it cost?”
Shaakar nodded in appreciation of the question, “I granted fugitive Resistance members a general amnesty if they returned to Bajor, settled, and committed no crimes. I’m extending that offer to the Maquis.”
“How does that further the war effort?”
“Another option is to join the Bajoran Militia’s Special Forces.” Shaakar answered with a smile, “This would grant you the ability to travel offworld, since you’d be immune to Federation prosecution while wearing the uniform. It would also allow you, or whomever else, the opportunity to participate in a covert operation aimed at the Dominion and the Cardassians.”
“The Bajoran Militia’s mounting an offence against the Dominion?” Ro asked in disbelief.
Shaakar understood her reservation, “Not officially. We’re discussing a few select strike teams operating behind enemy lines. The teams will be composed of Bajoran personnel and Angosian volunteers specifically chosen as commandos.”
“Starfleet’s involved in this scheme?” Ro suddenly had an insight into Macen’s presence, “Let me guess, they want experts on the local areas of space and that’s why they're endorsing this plan rather than locking up every Maquis and throwing away the keys.”
“Starfleet Special Operations is endorsing the plan.” Shaakar admitted, “Commander Macen here was instrumental in that, as well as arranging for Starfleet to accept the Militia’s recruitment of Maquis soldiers. The amnesty offer is my own and Starfleet and the Federation will just have to learn to accept it.”
“Who’d be running this little covert operation of yours?” Ro inquired.
“Colonel Thrall will be in complete operational command.” Shaakar replied, “Commander Macen will be the unit’s Intelligence Officer. You’ll serve as Thrall’s Executive Officer. The Angosians will comprise the heart of the strike force, backed by the Militia volunteers and any Maquis that wish to join.”
“Starfleet won’t be involved?”
Shaakar shook his head, “Not beyond providing Macen and the Angosians. Colonel Thrall will co-ordinate with them as far as target areas, intelligence requests, and travel clearances. There’s no sense in getting shot by your own allies while returning home and Starfleet and the Klingons can handle the larger targets our efforts uncover.”
Ro grinned, “You still sound like a guerrilla fighter.”
“Who says I’m not?” Shaakar asked in an exasperated sigh, “Have you ever seen one of our Council meetings?”
Ro enjoyed the moment of levity before it ended with Shaakar asking, “What’s your decision, or do you need more time?”
Ro pondered the question. Musing over the options, she discovered she appreciated the last one more than the rest. Remaining on Bajor seemed unsettling. Having never known peace, returning to conflict offered a familiar environment. The added benefit of tweaking Starfleet’s nose with the inability to prosecute her proved an irresistible perk.
“Sign me up.” She answered with resigned confidence.
“I’m glad to hear it.” Shaakar said with relief, then rose; “You’ll have to excuse me, but I have a hundred other things to do; all of them annoying.”
Shaakar left as silently as he’d come. Thrall made some notations on his padd as he returned to the table. His expression closely matched Shaakar’s before his departure. Ro didn’t know whether to be flattered or annoyed with the attention.
Thrall laid the padd before her, “If you’ll endorse this with a thumb scan, you’ll be the newest member of the Special Forces.”
“What rank will I be?” Ro asked quickly.
“I was thinking Lieutenant.” Thrall answered after overcoming his surprise, “A more advanced rank would displace soldiers with more tenure in service. They’ll easily accept your Starfleet training and former commission to make you an officer, and as Resistance veterans, they’ll accept your time with the Maquis. Prove yourself to them and they won’t care what rank you carry. They’ll follow you anywhere.”
His voice became glacial; “The reverse is also true.”
“That’s what I’m used to.” Ro assured him.
Thrall nodded briskly, “An aide will be here shortly to get you kitted out. I have other matters to attend to and will see you later this evening to discuss recruitment of other former Maquis.”
“Am I supposed to salute now?” Ro asked smartly.
Thrall shook his head while wearing a wry grin, “No. We’re fairly informal in the Militia. Just don’t disobey an order and you’ll be fine.”
“Sure you don’t want to just court-martial me now?” Ro inquired.
“Ask me later, Lieutenant.” And with that, Thrall departed.
Ro turned to Macen, “So here we are again.”
He grinned mischievously, “Was there ever any doubt?”
“How the hell did you pull this off?”
Macen shrugged, “Actually, Thrall approached me. He and a Commander at Starfleet Special Operations pitched the idea. They needed people with intimate knowledge of the Badlands and DMZ region.”
“So this really is a Starfleet operation.” Ro said in triumph.
“Laren,” Macen chided gently, “Shaakar and Thrall initiated this plan from its conception. They convinced Starfleet to assign me to this project as a form of probation rather than court-martial.”
Ro shook her head in bewilderment, “So what’s really going on?”
Macen shrugged, “I don’t know, but then when do I?”
Ro glared at him; “You’re the little game player. I suspect you know more than you’re letting on.”
“When I know something, I’ll let you know it too.” Macen assured her.
Ro sighed at his infuriating elusiveness, “Whatever happens, we’ll be fine as long as we stick together.”
“Just like old times.” Macen replied.
“Everything is set.” Shaakar announced.
Commander Elias Vaughn nodded in acknowledgement. He wore a Starfleet blood red coloured tunic under his black and grey jacket. A full head of white hair and matching beard competed with his eyes as his most notable feature. Those eyes bore his hundred years of Special Operations service even if his features did not.
“I knew she wouldn’t let you down.” Vaughn replied easily.
“I’m glad you knew it.” Shaakar grumbled, “I certainly had my doubts.”
Vaughn shook his head, “The hardest trick was convincing Macen. Once we had his support, Ro’s last vestiges of doubt were removed. Without Ro, the whole thing would have to be called off.”
Shaakar eyed him curiously, “Why do you value her so much? I know you turned Thrall’s eye toward her a few years ago. He in turn kept me apprised of her activities. Your interest still puzzles me.”
“Ro Laren first came to my attention thanks to my old friend, Jean-Luc Picard.” Shaakar nodded in recognition of the famous starship captain’s name, “Jean-Luc put great faith in her and admired her skills and potential more than any other Starfleet officer. I’ve kept discreet tabs on her over the course of both her Starfleet and Maquis careers. She has both the knowledge and skills to achieve our mutual objectives.”
“And when the war is over?” Shaakar asked.
“Then you’ll have a talented, capable, and passionate officer defending Bajor and her interests.” Vaughn assured him.
“She’s also unpredictable and insubordinate.”
“And you’ve never dealt with that type of officer in the Militia?” Vaughn asked with mock gravity.
“Oh no, of course not.” Shaakar chuckled, thinking of Kira Nerys.
“Ro is a good choice.” Vaughn’s confidence remained unshakeable, “You won’t regret recruiting her.”
Shaakar nodded in assent, “I saw it in her eyes. She’s the type I would have, and did, recruit for my second in command. She won’t break. But I wonder, will she run?”
Vaughn considered his question. Ro’s determination remained unvanquished. Once embarked on a mission, she would die rather than abandon it. The question remained as to how she’d react to the war’s completion.
“I can’t answer that.” Vaughn admitted, “I can only say that in your place, I’d take the chance.”
Shaakar sighed, he’d had to make harder decisions over the years; “I agree. I’ll take the chance but Thrall will be watching her closely. She strays, and he’ll cut her down.”
Vaughn’s lips thinned, “I’ve had to issue similar orders. Just tell your man not to miss or hesitate. She graduated from Advanced Tactical Training and her skills are freshly honed from years of combat.”
Shaakar’s eyes narrowed, “My men have lifetimes of experience. If it comes to it, it will be swift and painless.”
Vaughn ran his hand through his hair, “My God, the things war makes us become.”
Shaakar empathised with Vaughn’s shudder of disgust. He walked over to a locked cabinet on the other side of his private office. He opened it and removed a decanter and two glasses. He poured two servings, returned the decanter and closed the cabinet.
Walking across the office, he handed a glass to Vaughn; “A toast Elias. To Bajor’s foray into the war and to the day old soldiers no longer see young soldiers marching off to die.”
Vaughn smiled wanly at the sentiment and the pain in Shaakar’s eyes. It was a familiar sight when he looked in the mirror. He clicked his glass against Shaakar’s and took a deep swig. It was a heady brew of native grains and it had a thick texture Vaughn appreciated.
Privately, Vaughn wished Ro and her comrades the best of luck. They’d fought for their homes and ideals for years without reward or appreciation. Now their foe was the gravest threat the Alpha and Beta Quadrants had ever faced. Perhaps this time they’d be granted some respect.
|Last modified: 02 Jan 2014