What am I doing here? Ensign Sito Jaxa asked herself, not for the first time. And probably not the last, she sighed inwardly.
Her life had become an oddity even to herself. The events that drove her into the Cardassian/Federation Demilitarised Zone weren’t of her own creation and still had a surreal air about them. The DMZ possessed a reputation for being a prison for refugees, criminals and Maquis terrorists. Some of the sparsely populated worlds certainly deserved the rep, but most housed some of the hardiest settlers she’d ever encountered.
Negotiated away by the Federation during the throes of the 2nd Cardassian War, the worlds of the DMZ had learned to live without the Federation and now struggled under the heel of their Cardassian administrators. The settlers either accepted the prejudiced policies of the new Cardassian regimes or rebelled against the Governors foisted off on them by an unwanted government. The rebels took their name, the Maquis, from the French Resistance groups of Earth’s 2nd World War. Like those freedom fighters of old, the Maquis fought a desperate guerrilla war against a vast, mechanised army.
Sito came, as so many before her, seeking to elude others pursuing her. Months travelling across Cardassian space had finally profited her the co-ordinates of the world she now lived upon. Even if she’d not wormed the nav data out of the smuggler, she would have jumped to another world. Three weeks on Cardassia Prime had been three too many. She was beginning to see why Cardassians were such hardheaded peilyo herders. Every noise had made her think she was about to be captured and her role as a licensed freighter pilot revealed as a sham.
Her jaw clenched as she thought about her long ago mission. After finishing her extra year at Starfleet Academy for lying about the death of her quadmate in a training exercise, Sito had been assigned the USS Enterprise. It was an unexpected reward for the work and dedication she’d thrown into all five of her years at the Academy. Lt. Worf, the Enterprise’s Chief Tactical Officer had other ideas and personally put Sito through a gruelling training program and back to back duty shifts. After finally earning Worf’s respect, Admiral Alynna Nechayev’s orders to send Sito into Cardassian space arrived.
The mission had been a disaster. The Cardassian and Sito travelled across the border with had been targeted for investigation by the Obsidian Order. Sito was led away in binders and delivered to Gul Madred. Madred’s brutal interrogations were famous across the Quadrant.
As the gruelling days spilled into months, Sito cracked and information spilled out of her. When she’d been there a year, as close as her befuddled mind could calculate, she began to hear rumours of a new Starfleet prisoner. Madred began visiting her demanding information about her former captain, Jean-Luc Picard. Her hopes rose as alarms sounded and the Cardassians scurried about. Then the ruckus dimmed and she was not whisked away by a rescue team.
After that, Sito never thought to leave Madred’s hellish hole of a prison but he granted her a reprieve. Sito was given to a rival Gul Madred owed a favour to. In an effort to upstage Gul Dukat’s infamous Bajoran bordello on Terok Nor, Gul Evek took Sito into his house as a scullery maid and as a whore euphemistically labelled a “comfort woman”.
Sito waited two years, years wasted on hope of a Starfleet rescue, wasted on hoping Evek would die in battle during the war, wasted on hoping at all. Her opportunity arrived when Evek was posted to patrol the DMZ. Rumours of rebels attacking their new Cardassian overlords trickled through the markets and the house. Evek’s wife ignored Sito; grateful that she wouldn’t have to pretend she knew the Bajoran’s true role in the house. Sito used this lack of observation to spend time at the shuttle pads and to eventually contact a smuggler and blackmail a way into a ride of the planet. With Evek gone, his wife never bothered to report the disappearance of the unwanted sexual rival.
She sighed as she passed by a tapcafe on her way home. The skies of Terrescu were perpetually grey and cloudy, but never more so then at dusk. The clouds seemed to consume the planet at night. The flip side was that the rare clear night sky contained the most amazing view of the galaxy’s stars she’d ever seen. One advantage to being on this world, I guess, she mused, or least when the sky isn’t clouded over.
She trudged on towards the flat she rented. It wasn’t much, but then she didn’t need much. Everything she owned had been aboard the small freighter she’d used to get here. She’d sold that to give her a stake with which to secure lodgings and meals until she’d found employment. As usual, the first offers had come from the brothel parlous. She’d given them the same wintry smile she’d used across the DMZ and told them to find the most direct route to whatever hell they claimed and to use it.
Eventually she’d found a job with a small shipping company. It was the same company that had purchased her poor runabout. She’d been aghast to learn they thought her battered ship was quite a prize. After reviewing her flight logs, they asked her to work for them as a dispatcher.
Her job was painfully simple. Try to route as many stops along a run as possible with minimum expenditure of time, fuel, or maintenance as possible. The navigational side of things came easily enough. She still fought with her bosses over how much, or how little, maintenance was acceptable.
The first thing she’d demanded after starting was a training program for the poor souls thrust into the dilapidated ships and hurled into space with almost no knowledge of shiphandling or crisis management. She knew the same was true across Cardassian territory, but at least the idiots there either learned or were vaped in an accident. Here, there weren’t enough people or ships to let that remain a viable business practice. Fortunately her bosses agreed, but unfortunately she had more deep-space experience than most of the locals put together.
After a full shift of scheduling shipping runs for a half dozen archaic tramp freighters, she then put in another six hours trying to hammer the basics of interstellar operations into bored and befuddled minds. She tried to clear her mind of the day’s frustrations as she came around the last corner before her lodgings. She drew her cloak around her as she pressed on. Fortunately, full-length cloaks with hoods were the height of fashion here so she was inconspicuous.
Her flat was an abandoned warehouse. Her rent was affordable because it had been as neglected as long as it had been unused. In exchange for her repair work, her rent was free. In darker moments, Sito wondered how many decades the building had lain unattended.
Her landlord had expressed some curiosity as to why she’d wanted lodgings with so much open area. She’d floundered a bit while she concocted a story of an interest in sculpture. The landlord merely scowled at her but did not challenge the obvious lie. She probably suspected some illicit vices were being indulged and Sito assumed such activities would be tolerated here better than the truth.
She stopped before the large double doors that comprised her front door. She punched her access code into the locking mechanism. It reported that only fifteen incorrect codes had been inputted today. She smiled at that, the number was dropping geometrically on a daily basis.
Either they’re finally accepting they can’t break the code, or maybe I’m losing my sex appeal now that I’ve been here awhile
Sito had been warned shortly after arriving that many of the young bucks loitering around Ceratown made a game of breaking into the homes of any young women that moved to the city from the outer farmlands. Being an offworlder had added to the normal allure and she’d broken all records for attempted break-ins. She’d also set a record for foiling every attempt.
That still didn’t prevent her from carrying a two-arm’s span length of polished hardwood. She’d carried the staff with her halfway across the sector. It had been her only momento she still possessed from her brief days on the Enterprise sessions with Worf. It was also durable enough to brain just about sentient species in the known galaxy.
She’d been trained in its use at the Academy and was marginally better at using it than the other weapon discreetly clipped to her belt. Her parents had both been teachers on Bajor before their deaths at the hands of Cardassians. She was raised an orphan by the village Vedek until she could arrange transport of Bajor to the refugee camps lining the Cardassia’s border with the Federation. Once in Federation space, Sito began hearing stories of Starfleet and dedicated herself to gaining admission into the Academy.
Sito garnered one of the coveted spots in the Academy and excelled. The fatal attempt to execute a banned flight manoeuvre marred her otherwise unblemished record. She wondered why Starfleet had never come for her and wondered if it was because of that incident. She hadn’t served in deep space long enough to warrant being consigned to a virtual death sentence.
As the doors to her flat slid open, she wished for the thousandth time that she’d heeded Worf’s unspoken warnings that far off day. Trying to ignore the groaning noises of the hydraulic motors pulling the doors, she reminded herself that “far off” day was only three years in the past. The doors finished their opening cycle and she punched the activation button on the wall and the doors groaned again as they closed. She rubbed her temples and promised herself, again, that as soon as she had time, she’d oil the damn trackway.
She flipped her hood back. She ran a hand through the tangled mess of her short, blonde hair. Before she went on the run, she’d worn it below her shoulders. It twisted and tangled in every direction due to the simple fact she found it easier to leave it that way then to constantly try and style it.
The effect made her look like she’d just discharged a generator while holding to a power lead. It gave her a slightly dangerous edge to match the subtle grace of her movements and the way her eyes seemed to constantly watch everything. Strangers were intimidated without ever quite knowing why. Their unease enabled her to avoid questions she’d really rather avoid.
She laid her staff aside and shucked her grey cloak. Underneath she wore a loose fitting brown vest over a black knit top. The vest became a useful place to hide her phaser while she was at work or shopping in town. She only wore it on her belt when she was alone or wore the cloak. With the local weather, that was still a lot more than she’d expected to.
She wore brown pants with spacer’s boots. The boots were somewhere between brown and black. She’d never been sure what colour they were supposed to be. She also had no idea what creature had surrendered its life for her comfort but she knew that they were comfortable.
She plucked the Cardassian phaser off her belt. She gazed at it absently for a moment before re-clipping with a resigned sigh. She’d never been comfortable with the thing. She’d been tempted to throw it away several times, but something always held her back.
She shed the vest and moved further into her “home”. It was a cavernous space. One half held her sleeping cot, a chair, and a shelf with a few holos and books. A small cryo held her perishables and a camp heater served as a stove. At least the san worked, after two days of scrubbing to make it tolerable. The building had its own well and pump.
Half the building was empty. She left it that way so she could practice. She’d betrayed everything she’d been while under torture, so why did she still practice combat exercises she found distasteful? Her target practice sessions had a practical, if distasteful, pragmatism behind them. Her skills would prove invaluable if she were ever found by any of those that seeking her.
She’d join Starfleet to make the universe a safer place. The type of universe her parents had believed in. A world were Bajor could orbit her sun in freedom and worship the Prophets as found in the ancient scrolls. Her time with Starfleet was meant to be an example of how strong a Bajoran could be.
She snorted bitterly. Some strength she’d shown and what a difference she was making now. Her mind echoed with Madred’s voice, cajoling her and demanding answers from her and her crying and screaming out the answers. She closed her eyes while she pinched the bridge of her nose and waited for the ghosts to fade.
She released a slow exhalation and headed for the san. As she caught her reflection, she knew it was little wonder that she thought of her mother every time she saw her own image. They could have passed for sisters. The only major sign of her father was her blonde hair.
She had her mother’s high cheekbones, and upturned nose. She had large brown eyes that would have dominated her face if her lips weren’t so full. Her angular face descended sharply into a rounded jaw. She realised her fair complexion came more from her father than her mother.
She’d been told often enough that she was rather attractive. She generally assumed the compliments indicated a desire to exchange body fluids. Prophet’s knew that enough of her recent students had tried to compliment their way into her bed. At least that had been one thing she hadn’t dealt with at Starfleet Academy.
She tried to those thoughts away as her stomach growled suddenly. Sito hadn’t eaten in twelve hours and her body was gently complaining. She started for the kitchenette when she stopped suddenly. She froze as she heard someone outside.
The activation button tripped and the door began its groaning cycle as it slid open. Her security had thwarted the locals because her keypad wasn’t connected to anything. She used a tricorder to transmit her bio-readings to the lock inside the building. Someone without her tricorder would theoretically wait outside until their flesh rotted off.
Her worst nightmare was realised as someone discovered that and circumvented it with a tricorder reading of her biosignature. She moved quickly towards her staff. If her fears were wrong as to her caller’s identity was, the she might still be able to bluff her way out of this if she avoided using her highly illegal phaser, and attract the attention of the new Cardassian constable. If not, she was screwed anyway and she was more comfortable at close in combat with the staff than the phaser.
As usual, a thick fog had enveloped the city as night descended. The figure emerged from the fog and stepped jauntily into the empty area that formed her entryway. Her breathing grew shallow and her blood chilled as she recognised who it was. Even after a year, his image was still burned brightly in her mind.
“Sito Jaxa!” he shouted in challenge, “I’ve found you at last!”
She snatched the staff up and held it in a two-handed grip, “Stay back, Gregin. I’m warning you.”
His scarred face twisted into an ugly smile, “You’re warning me? Why thank you. I appreciate your concern. It would have been nicer if you’d warned me last time.”
Her stomach tightened as she heard his words. It wasn’t from his voice being filled with anger or hate, it was the absence of such emotions that terrified her. She knew that she couldn’t afford to be taken alive. If she were, she’d be pleading for death before he was done.
She was amazed he was alive. The vicious pink scar that ran down the length of the left side of his face was her doing. The pirate hadn’t had access to equipment that could completely heal the wound. The gleaming red cybernetic eye was also a result of her handiwork.
“I’m surprised Feros still wants me back.” She commented.
Gregin shook his head, his smile growing even more feral, “He doesn’t want you. He’s dead. Gul Evek caught him and the rest of the fools that served him. This is personal.”
She gave a flippant laugh that sounded hollow even to her ears, “Wanted the other side of your face carved off, eh?”
His natural eye froze over with that. He was a large man, with broad shoulders and a muscular build. He’d worn his chestnut shoulder length hair in a meticulous braid, now it flowed freely down his back. He hadn’t shaved in days, another sign of his relentless pursuit of her.
Gregin had been one of the reasons she’d left Feros’ pirate ship. The man was a monster. Tales of Madred’s butchery were legendary, but witnessing Gregin recreate some of those tales, and her own memories, for his own amusement had been too much a strain on her wavering belief in Feros’ purported purpose of raiding Cardassian freighters to feed the poor across the DMZ.
Sito had no qualms with their rhetoric of using thievery to drain Cardassian resources. Unlike the Maquis’ rumoured mandate to free the Zone and assist the settlers, the pirates were motivated only by profit and only distributed those prizes that couldn’t be quickly sold. When Feros had sensed her doubts, he’d ordered her to think about what troubled her for a few days and then discuss the matter with him. Gregin volunteered to watch over her and “guide” her reflection. His guidance had been a euphemism for attempted rape.
After slashing him with a Klingon honour blade, she’d fled the ship and had been running ever since. She knew her side of the story would never be believed. Gregin had too much influence and purchased too many allies for her to convince a majority of her shipmates that she’d been justified. Her other recourse was to challenge him to a duel to prove who was true and who was false. The problem with that was that he was among the finest marksmen in the Zone while she remained undeniably adequate.
What Gregin didn’t know was that over the last year as she made her way across the DMZ, she’d discovered depths of herself she never known she’d had. She’d survived everything the Zone could throw at her and came away stronger and harder. Gregin could still scare her, but he couldn’t stop her. She would never surrender, never!
A shrill whining sound broke the silence of the moment and the plastisteel skylight shattered as two hovercycles plunged down through them. Three riders dismounted. A female Kattian, a male Tellarite, and a male human now faced her, wielding stun batons and blades. She should have known Gregin wouldn’t face her alone.
They began to encircle her while Gregin held himself back, aloof from the events. He’s saving his energy for the torture sessions, she realised. Her other three attackers moved clumsily and she knew they hadn’t been aboard ship long before being drafted to hunt her down. With Gregin as their leader on this trip, they were undoubtedly getting an education in thuggry.
She took a deep breath and steeled herself. Her fear dissipated and her resolve hardened as her anger fuelled her determination. Her resolve had carried her to the Academy, then the Enterprise, and then halfway across the Demilitarised Zone. If she were to fight and die today, then these bastards would damn well know they’d been in a fight!
The three toughs approaching her were of varied size and skill. The Kattain looked the most dangerous. Her race taught unarmed combat to their young as a mental exercise to prepare them for the political warfare and espionage their species was famed for. She wielded the baton as though it was second nature for her to have it in her hand.
The Tellarite and human each wielded blades. Neither looked particularly skilled in their use. They resembled the street thugs they probably were. The moral and skills requirements to join Feros’ ship had never been stringent.
Sito ignored the sabre hanging from her belt. Her grip tightened on her quarterstaff. Lt. Tuvok would never know how valuable his early lessons had been to her over her life. Her obvious skill and devotion to the martial arts had persuaded Worf of her competence and determination. That discipline later allowed her to survive her treatment at Madred and Evek’s hands.
Although not as impressive as the vibroblades or the shock batons, the staff had a few secrets of its own. Worf, bless him, had infused it with a transparent aluminium finish. It could withstand blows from a phaser with barely a scratch. Sustained pressure from a particle stream could sever the staff, but nothing less would. Her three opponents were about to have a harsh lesson in martial training.
The Tellarite and the human lunged forward. She met the Tellarite under the jaw with the end of her staff. She then swung it hard to her right, bracing it between her arm and her hip. It struck the human across the face, sending him staggering to the floor. The Tellarite dropped to his knees, clutching his throat. Sito knew he wouldn’t be gasping for air long. His species’ short, folded necks made it virtually impossible to crush their windpipes or bones.
The Kattain slashed in for the attack while these thoughts flashed across Sito’s mind. The fury behind it reminded her of the Kattain’s predatory ancestry. She tried to ignore her opponent’s vestigial fangs as she pressed the attack. As she’d feared, the Kattain expertly wielded the baton.
Their duel reflected the elegance and savagery of their mutual techniques. Unlike Sito’s staff, one end of the baton emitted a paralysing voltage. Due to this, the Kattain continually attempted to disable Sito by striking her with it. Sito began to see predictability in her enemy’s movements. Deciding to gamble on her newfound insight, she stepped back and planted one end of her staff on the floor while her arms remained coiled around it and she held it close to her body.
The Kattain wavered for a second, long enough for Sito to catch her breath, and then thrust forward with her baton in a staggered, two-handed grip. Sito exploded into action. With her right hand remaining at the upper part of the staff, she began to twist to her right. Her hand pushed the staff down as her left drew it up. The arc caught the Kattain’s forehand as she began her charge. She yowled in pain as the continued sweep dislodged the baton from her wounded member and threw it away from her.
Sito carried her spin and rotated completely around. She brought the staff through a pirouette over her head and then brought it crashing down in a one-handed grip crossing behind her body. Her left hand reaching out towards her opponent. Her breath came heavily but her eyes flashed icy fire.
Her defiance and bolstered confidence unnerved and enraged the Kattain. She had never been disarmed in combat before and found it humiliating that a mere strip of a human had accomplished it. Even more annoying was the fact she’d been able to taste the scent of the human’s fear before and now that taste was gone. The only flavour in the air was Sito’s confidence.
She charged headlong towards Sito with an ear splitting shriek erupting from her mouth. Her claws were bared, as were her fangs. She would slay the Bajoran and taste her flesh as her ancestors had done aeons before. The primal lust consumed her, right before Sito’s staff smashed into her forehead.
The Kattain went down like a broken doll. Her skull shattered by the end of the staff. Sito didn’t stop there; she spun around end thrust the staff end out again, catching the Tellarite in the groin. Fortunately, the species shared the same location for genitals as humans and he went limp as he exhaled every trace of air from his lungs. She ended his misery and sent him to blissful unconsciousness with another blow from the staff, this time to his head.
The echoing sound of clapping made her spin around towards its source. Sito had forgotten all about Gregin in the intensity of battle. He strode arrogantly towards her while applauding her success. The sneer on his face spoke volumes regarding his estimations of her chances against him.
Sweat soaked strands of hair clung to Sito’s face. Thankfully she wore it too short to obscure her view but longer strands had adhered themselves to her sweat streaked cheeks. She resisted the impulse to wipe away a particularly annoying strand clinging to the corner of her mouth. Her eyes fixed upon his and remained there.
His sneer blossomed into an arrogant smirk, “Well, my pretty, it seems you’ve learned a thing or two in the last year.”
Her eyes never wavered, never changed, as her hand sought her phaser and found it missing “I’ve always known how to fight, Gregin. The true skill comes in knowing when to back off because you’re simply outclassed.”
“Like you are now?” he asked snidely.
“You know better than that.” Her tone was dry, “How else do you explain your new eye and those lovely scars?”
Hatred flashed across his face, “I underestimated your skills once witch. I won’t do so again.”
“Seems to me you’re doing it again right now.”
She could see the wave of unbridled rage that rippled across him. She drew on the last of her resolve to renew her weary muscles. Gregin slid an emerald bladed Romulan Bloodsword from its sheath. He came at her in a blur that she felt rather than saw.
She parried his first strike, than another... and another... followed by another. She lost count of the blows as she struggled to block them all. She thanked Worf’s Klingon insight in tempering the staff with transparent aluminium as it deflected blow after relentless blow. Minutes passed uncounted, the fervent combat unabated until the unthinkable happened.
Gregin’s emerald blade slashed through the staff, cutting it in half. Internally, Sito wailed in protest at its loss. Externally, she deflected Gregin’s sword hand with one half while she clubbed him in the side of the head with the other. He grunted in pain and blindly lashed out with his elbow, knocking her off her feet.
She rolled with the momentum and came up on her feet. Snatching a baton off the floor belt, she thumbed its power switch and it flared to life. She raised the baton high to her right shoulder in a ready stance as Gregin shook off the last effects of her blow. An ugly cut from the broken end of her cut staff now oozed above his cybernetic eye.
His leering smile was ugly, “That was well played, but you will pay for it.”
“You keep making promises,” she mocked, “but you never seem to be able to deliver on them.”
She heard the hiss of his breath as he pressed the attack. The clash of metal filled the former warehouse. Sito held him off but Gregin had the advantage in a sword fight. The unrelenting waves of hatred wore her soul and resolve down even as his attack wore her physical strength away.
She somersaulted past him and thrust her stun baton straight back. He barely avoided it and twisted to bring a slashing strike down on her back. She pivoted on her heel, angling away from his arc and swung her sword arm up. She still had her baton in an inverted grip and it freed her left leg from its stance and allowed her to deliver a powerful kick to Gregin’s ribs.
The force of the blow pushed air out of his lips as he stepped back. She rotated the baton into a two handed grip and went on the offensive. Gregin blocked her first blow, having recovered faster than she’d hoped and swiftly reversed the initiative. Sito began giving ground though she knew she would eventually be cornered if she couldn’t regain the offensive.
Gregin tapped into reserves she no longer had and intensified his attack. She tried to block a swiping blow only to find him continuing the motion rotating the baton out of her hand and into the air. His left hand smashed into her mouth, driving her off balance and she fell backwards. With his right, he slashed at her baton as it fell towards the ground.
His blade sliced through the power cell. The resulting discharge arced through the emitters. They shattered, causing the baton to explode with them. The pieces rained across the warehouse.
Sito tried to block the shrapnel with arms. A few molten pieces singed her arms and legs. As she swatted at the burning pieces smouldering through her pants, she could feel Gregin’s rage as he swatted at the debris assaulting him. She also tasted her own blood as it filled her mouth from her split lip. She reached towards her mouth to wipe the blood away when the glint of his blade levelled at her throat caused her to stop and look up and meet his eyes.
His expression was smug as he stood poised over her, “You are beaten. It is useless to resist.”
Her mind reeled on two tracks at these words. She desperately tried to find an escape, a final weapon she could throw at him. The other part of her mind tried to remember why those words sounded so familiar. The first part of her mind laughed at the futility of trying dredge up such useless trivia while having an honour blade aimed at your throat by a psychopath.
Stubbornness overcame her fear and her eyes hardened in resolve, “You can kill me, but I’ll just be happier.”
She saw a flicker in his eyes. His mouth worked in a soundless protest. He knows it too! She just wished she knew whether or not it would stop him.
Gregin pulled the sword back and poised it for a thrust. His newfound fear over her claim pushing him to abandon his long plans for vengeance. Her death became a consuming need. It was also the very source of his fear.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” A firm voice advised, “If she lives, you might as well.”
Gregin turned in shock. Sito angles sideways in order to get a better view of the unexpected player in their little drama. There was a lot to see. The woman was dressed all in black, with an ebon cloak and hood covering her.
“Who are you?” Gregin asked imperiously, “How dare you interfere in our business?”
The stranger laughed, “I do it because I can. You’re a stranger here and you’re not wanted here. I suggest you leave before I decide to force the issue.”
“You don’t know what you’re dealing with.” Gregin spat.
“Neither do you, I gather.” The stranger replied with an ironic humour. Her voice sounded familiar. It was obviously a Bajoran accent, or that of a Bajoran Camps planet. Sito had no doubts it could relay authority, scorn, or outrage as well.
Gregin stepped away from her to focus on this new threat. He obviously no longer saw her as a danger. She snorted to herself. He’d learn differently as soon as she caught her fourth wind.
As Gregin stepped aside, she could see the stranger’s garb more clearly. It closely resembled Vulcan robes, except that it was black and the pants were baggier. She wore black gloves and with the hood drawn up and only her jaw could be seen. No other flesh was visible.
It was a gently curved jaw. The lips were thin but firm. Crinkles around it suggested frequent smiles and laughter. Looking at the stern expression now, that possibility was hard to imagine.
The stranger threw back her hood, revealing her long oval face. Her hair was as dark as her hood. Her hair combed back except for a few stray locks brushing her forehead. Her nose widened and curved upwards. Lines matching those around her mouth lined her forehead and her eyes. Her dark eyes glinted in anticipation and Sito’s heart began to beat faster as she wondered what was about to occur.
The woman stepped forward and began to discard her cloak as she did so. Sito judged the stranger to be about a decade older than herself. The mystery woman was tall and moved with an easy grace. Although the loose fitting clothes hid her physique, she held herself like a soldier. Before she was a menacing shadow, revealed she became an instrument of death.
She watched Gregin’s confidence falter and wondered why his arrogance suddenly left him. She searched her unexpected benefactor and saw what had startled Gregin. Hanging from the stranger’s belt was a Roman sword from the planet 492 IV, nicknamed Nova Roma. The last time she’d seen the sword, it had been in Feros’ greedy clutches. If the woman had it then Feros had to be dead and she’d known him.
“Are you a Cardassian bounty assassin?” Gregin hissed.
The woman chuckled, “No, and neither are you. You’re just an ordinary thug with delusions of grandeur.”
“Who are you?” Gregin demanded.
“Your worst fear.” The woman said, her voice hardening, “Surrender now, and you will leave here alive.”
“Never.” Gregin snarled.
The stranger shrugged, “It’s your funeral.”
Gregin bellowed as he charged. The stranger drew her sword from her belt. Its finely honed edges glinted as the light caught it. It met Gregin’s emerald blade and sparks flashed them.
If Sito had thought that her battle with Gregin had been furious, she hadn’t even pondered a contest like this. Both parties moved faster than her eye could track. They were fluid engines of destruction. She could feel the air move as the two combatants dodged and parried.
They struck at each other physically as well with their weapons. The stranger received a kick from Gregin only to roll backwards and rise to her feet. She blocked the follow through as though she’d never faltered. She spun and ducked simultaneously.
Gregin leapt high to avoid the warrior’s kick. As he landed, he stumbled as the sword swung towards him. Blow after blow rained down upon him. His inner ring of defence began to be penetrated time and again. He narrowly avoided crippling jabs to receive glancing numbing taps.
His sword flew from his hand as he gave an anguished shout. The soldier stopped and appraised him for a moment. Something akin to pity crossed her features. She returned the Roman sword to its sheath.
Gregin moved forward and snapped a punch as acceptance of his enemy’s unspoken challenge. It was blocked and he blocked a return. Hands and feet flew at each other. Gregin back-flipped into the wall and kicked off towards the dark warrior. He spun in mid-air, executing an elegant kick that would have broken the woman’s collarbone had it landed.
The soldier stepped aside and outstretched her hand towards Gregin as the pirate tried to reclaim his balance. She took a hold of his collar and punched with her other hand. He flew helplessly against the wall and slumped to the floor. The soldier made a clucking sound with her tongue.
“You’ve got spirit but you don’t have the brains the universe gave a bloody tribble.” She scolded. Gregin’s rage outweighed his sense and her threw himself at the mysterious woman. She sidestepped and took hold of Gregin’s head. Twisting his head, a loud crack echoed across the loft.
The soldier turned away from Gregin’s corpse as it fell to the ground. She retrieved the Bloodsword. Her cloak followed and she inspected it. She sighed as she pushed dust off of it.
“What?” she asked irritably, “You can’t ever dust?”
Sito had managed to reclaim her feet, but stared at the advancing paragon in transfixed shock. The stranger hadn’t bothered to glance her way yet, and Sito was glad of it. Although she’d spit the blood out of her mouth, she knew her strength still hadn’t returned. Sito still didn’t know if she planned to kill her or not. Her eyes desperately sought her own phaser. It had fallen off her belt during the duel.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?” the soldier demanded. “Don’t you recognise a rescue when you see one?”
Sito nodded slowly, wincing from both the pain such a motion caused and the knowledge that the stranger could kill her without her being able to do a thing about it.
“What d’you plan on doing with me?” Sito asked hesitantly.
“I’ve spent months tracking you down.” The stranger asked, “And I’ve just rescued you from a gang of pirates with a grudge. Now why do you suppose that is?”
“You want something.” Sito answered grimly.
The other woman broke into a smile, “Of course, but probably not what you think.”
“And what would I be thinking?” Sito asked apprehensively.
“Oh, I don’t know.” The woman replied airily, “Perhaps I am a Cardassian Tracker sent by Gul Evek. I suppose I could be a Starfleet Intelligence agent sent here to kill you for breaking while at Gul Madred’s tender mercies. Maybe I’m an enforcer from the Orion Syndicate looking to settle up for the double-cross on Tyree V.”
The woman paused and her eyes twinkled, “Or maybe I’m with the Maquis and I’m looking to recruit a former Starfleet Security officer.”
Sito’s eyes widened in horror; “Ho-how do you know these things?”
“Calm down.” The Maquis soldier ordered, “I know it because I need to. I thought you died a few years ago Sito. Once I heard you were alive, I had to found out what happened to you and where you’ve been.”
That strange feeling of familiarity struck Sito, “Do I know you?”
The woman’s lips twisted into a wry smile, “Not very well. You weren’t aboard long enough for me to get to know you. I have to admit it was nice to have another Bajoran aboard.”
Sito blinked in surprise as she sorted through the tumultuous events that comprised her memory these days, “Aboard the Enterprise?” An encouraging nod from the woman, “Ro Laren?”
Ro took a bow, “The one and only.”
“Why are you here?” Sito’s apprehension rose again, “Did Starfleet send you?”
“They did and the jokes on them.” Ro read Sito’s confusion and continued, “What I said about the Maquis is true. Starfleet sent me on a mission like yours, only I switched sides rather than being captured.”
Sito’s world reeled, “So you’re here to recruit me? For the Maquis?”
Noting Sito’s rising panic, Ro placed her hands on Sito’s shoulders, “Jaxa, I know it feels. You’ve waited for years for your Starfleet knight in shining armour to swoop in and save you from the horrors you’ve endured. Now that the rescue is here, its not the people you expected.”
Ro caught Sito’s eyes and locked on with hers, “That’s what’s happened to the entire DMZ. None of the colonists wanted to be handed over as a treaty concession. When the Cardies started harassing the settlers, Starfleet did nothing. They could enforce the treaty but couldn’t enter the Zone to witness the atrocities.”
“Since Starfleet wouldn’t do anything, the settlers took it upon themselves to do something.” Ro said with conviction, “These people aren’t terrorists. They’re farmers, teachers, and every profession imaginable. They’re decent people and I couldn’t obey orders to betray them. The worlds in the Zone are not Cardassian colonies. The colonies were settled by Federation pioneers and Bajoran refugees. They came here for a better life not to taxed out of their lands and homes, to be beat in the street by roving bands of supposed law enforcement officers randomly beating citizens selected on the basis of being non-Cardassians.”
“If I said yes, what then?” Sito asked, a tremor in her voice.
“I’ll contact my ship and we’ll transport on up.” Ro explained, “Then you’ll take a trip our cell’s operational base on Ronara. Another cell will pick you up for an observation period. If you decide you appreciate what we’re about and what to join, then you’ll become part of the team.”
“And if I don’t?” Sito asked.
“Then we’ll arrange transportation across the Federation border and you can turn yourself over to Starfleet.” Ro replied.
Sito thought it over. The mere sound of Starfleet’s name made her angry. The long repressed rage she felt at being abandoned by the service she’d sworn her life to began to flood out of its cage. As angry as she was with Starfleet, the Cardassians generated a tsunami of hate within her.
“I’ll do it.” Sito announced, “I just have one question, why do I have to go to another cell?”
Ro sighed, “For once, my cell has enough personnel. Another cell leader, and ex-Starfleet officer, named Calvin Hudson will take you in. Some of his latest recruits are a little ragged and we thought you might be the counterweight that balances their cell out.”
Sito shook her head, while wearing the closest thing to a smile she’d enjoyed in nearly three years; “I see the Maquis are a more tightly knit bunch then the Bajoran Resistance.”
Ro nodded, “Wouldn’t take much. Maquis cells are pretty loose but more and more Starfleet defectors are joining up and we’re using the situation to establish greater cohesion and improve co-ordination.”
“Sounds like chapter and verse out of the Tactical Training Manual.” Sito remarked.
Ro chuckled, “Tell me about it. So are you ready to go?”
Sito looked about the space she’d been dwelling in for months. She realised that nothing here held any value for her. The importance she’d placed on the now broken staff had resulted from her misplaced hope in Starfleet. That hope was gone so its totem could remain here as well.
“I’ve the clothes on my back.” Came Sito’s reply, “That’s enough for me.”
Ro pulled an older model communicator and flipped it open, “Ro to Indomitable.”
“Indomitable here,” Ro’s Intelligence Officer, Brin Macen, replied; “how can we serve you?”
Sito cast a questioning glance Ro’s way, Ro merely shrugged; “Macen’s sense of humour is unique. Macen, two to beam up.”
For the first time in years, Sito felt the once familiar tingle of a transporter beam. Her vision blurred then coalesced into the cargo bay of an unknown ship. It took Sito a moment to reorient herself. The sudden reminder in matter-energy conversion unsettled her mind and body. Ro gave her a cursory once over.
“Sito nodded, “It’s just been awhile. I’m fine now.”
“All right then, care to see the bridge?”
“Certainly.” Sito said. As she fell into step behind Ro, she wondered if she should have lied about the butterflies in her stomach. Luckily the problem solved before they left the deck. As the ascended to three decks to the bridge level, she had another question.
“What kind of ship is this?”
“A Ju’day-class scout raider. There’s also a single deck model. That was the first ship I ever flew for the Ronaran cell.” Ro answered, “But enough of this, here’s the bridge.”
The doors slid open to reveal a round command module. The module contained five stations. The Captain’s station was a simple chair in the middle of the room, reminiscent of the command stations of the 23rd century. A tall, fair skinned strawberry blond man with goatee rose from the station and offered it to Ro. A Bolian, Human, Vulcan and Trill manned the remaining consoles.
Macen looked human but Sito knew he wasn’t. She’d studied the El-Aurian’s papers on the Cardassians and Bajorans starting back in the 2350s when the Federation first ran headlong into the Cardassians. Watching the Maquis at their stations, and seeing the calibre of people that were willing to join, Sito decided these were people she could work with. What’s more, it proved they were people she could trust. She hadn’t trusted anyone in years.
“Well?” Ro asked.
Sito beaming smile said it all; “I’m in.” And she was, she’d been looking for a new life and it had found her. She couldn’t dream of not grabbing the opportunity while it presented itself. Once again, she could make a difference. That difference was more than an abstract now, now it was personal and she’d fight for it with every fibre of her being.
|Last modified: 10 Apr 2012