It was the year 2368 as reckoned on Earth. The Bajorans had been forced to abandon their ancient calendar in favor of that used by their oppressors, the Cardassians. Although unknown to the Bajoran population at the time, it would turn out to be a year where the Occupation began its last throes. Despite their ignorance of Cardassian politics, the Resistance was throwing everything they had into the fight...including a great many lives.
On the Bajoran moon named Jeraddo, the Sekra cell currently occupied Lunar Base V. Two mechanically gifted women were currently overhauling a small squadron of subimpulse raiders. The raiders were shared amongst many cells and the base was frequently a gathering place for disparate cells and leaders. Each cell that was able to provided and maintained their own group of raiders. Although various cell members would share technical knowledge between factions.
The women's names were Neela and Anara. Anara was older and therefore put in charge by tradition. Neela was slightly more gifted if only because she wasn't mentally constrained by boxes. Neela was a problem solver and generally could devise solutions to nearly every mechanical problem and even to some tactical issues as well.
Anara was a fairly straight forward engineer whose specialty was maintenance rather than design. She was also a level headed fighter which often led to her being assigned harrowing tasks within a greater mission. Anara was very, very good but she also knew her limitations.
On the other hand, Neela seemed to be constantly stretching her boundaries, both in her technical skills and her abilities as a fighter. Neela was easily the most religious of any member of the Sekra cell and her growth always coincided with her spiritual development. As her faith expanded so did her capabilities.
Neela and Anara made a game of repairing and overhauling the raiders. Each had three raiders to care for. The first done would require the other to buy them a meal as soon as they were in a proper village.
As usual, Anara finished ahead of Neela. And then she pitched in and helped Neela hurry through. They were on a tight schedule but they'd finished thirty minutes early so Sekra Gim would be very pleased.
The Sekra raiders departed Jeraddo as Terok Nor slipped over the horizon. They had several minutes before the Cardassian picket ship in orbit around the opposite side of the planet came into view. The raiders dove into the atmosphere and pushed their dives to the point that their heat shielding threatened to melt away.
The need was pressing through. The Shakaar cell had begun liberating the labor camp at Gallitep. The Sekra raiders would provide air cover for the fighters on the ground. And they had just slipped into the atmosphere between the nearly overlapping scan cycles between the space station and the picket ship.
The raiders had made their first pass around the camp when the picket ship opened fire from orbit. The raiders veered away from the camp to draw away the orbital ship's fire. This would alleviate the Shakaar group from orbital bombardment.
The Sekra lost three raiders in a matter of seconds of each other. Sekra Gim ordered his remaining people to go to ground and link up with other cells if necessary. He then launched himself into a vertical climb with the intent to engage the Cardassian ship.
Every remaining cell member knew they'd seen the last of their leader but they refused to let his sacrifice be in vain. Using the distraction he had provided they disappeared in the Hill Provinces. But at this point, the cell split up.
Bok and Cheron, the two pilots, went their own way. Neela and Anara headed into the nearby valleys. Half a day's hike later, they arrived in a village they would soon learn was called Arami.
Neela was familiar with the area. A local Ranjen Winn Adami had bribed several Cardassians in order to shield them from capture and subsequently saved the regional villages from reprisals. Neela also knew Winn from her speaking tours.
Anara could easily tell that Neela was impressed by, if not enamored with, Ranjen Winn. As Neela stopped to ask the locals of where Winn was, she was horrified to learn that Winn had been detained for the last five years for her tours teaching about the Prophets. It was the closest thing Anara had ever seen as a fit of rage emanating from Neela.
Neela was absolutely crushed by these circumstances. Anara tried to console Neela but the younger woman merely stoically accepted Anara's words while they truly had no effect upon her. Still, Anara felt responsible to Neela. It was like being an older sister she supposed.
Anara knew this chain of events was making Neela reel. Neela saw the Prophets as the true gods of Bajor and they were intimately involved in every aspect of life. Anara saw them as an abstract. Maybe they got involved and maybe all they did was send prophecies Bajor's way to confuse and befuddled the populace. Whichever testimony was the truth it was plain to see the Prophets had abandoned Bajor to the Cardassians and it was up to the people to liberate themselves. Even Kai Opaka acknowledged vestiges of this truth.
Neela drug Anara off to a quiet corner in the village, "Let's recruit members for a Resistance cell we'll start ourselves."
"They probably already have one nearby," Anara dryly reminded Neela, "And it's better to join it than start over from nothing."
Neela looked like she'd never considered that. Which was a first because Neela was usually ahead of Anara in these matters. Ranjen Winn's fate was already proving to be a distraction.
"Look, it'll work. We're engineers," Anara coaxed Neela towards the idea; "Our skills are in high demand. And you're an explosives expert on top of it."
Neela seemed ready to go with it but Anara added icing to the jumja stick, "We also have two fully functioned raiders that are in top condition if I may brag about our skills. And we already have weapons."
All of which was true. Except none of them were in the village. And Neela silently warned Anara of Cardassian troops approaching.
"Hold," the garresh in charge ordered, "Identification. Now!"
The three gorrs under the garresh fiddled with their weapons. Anara and Neela knew the type. The four man squad oversaw the small village for a local overseer. As payment, they got to be little tin gods in their own minds.
Neither Anara nor Neela had ID. ID cards had transponders that not only gave off personal information but they could be tracked by handheld tricorders and even Terok Nor or capital ships in orbit. No one in the Resistance carried them and travel was forbidden without them.
"Is there a problem officer?" Neela asked innocently.
"I haven't seen you two in this village before," the garresh needlessly explained, "Travel is restricted without ID. But you knew that already, didn't you?"
Neela gave Anara an accusing glare. She'd argued with the older woman about leaving their weapons in the woods outside of the village. But Neela decided to play along with that look of exasperation.
"I told you they'd catch us!" Neela protested.
"Well they haven't until now," Anara immediately argued.
"Until now?" the garresh grated in disbelief, "How far have you travelled?"
"Well, we left Rakantha Province three months ago," Neela answered.
"Come with me," the garresh instructed, "I want the name of every city, town, and village you've stopped at along the way."
Neela smashed the garresh's nose with the heel of her hand. As the three gorrs came out of their slumber, Anara rushed towards one and tried wresting the disruptor rifle out of one's hands. Doing so, she kept her foe off balance enough to spoil the aim of the other two.
As one of them grew wiser and swung wide, he was cut down by a Cardassian rifle. Neela had recovered the rifle the garresh had dropped and shot his man with it. As the senior noncom recovered, she shot him too.
Neela discovered she had the same problem as the free gorr. Just as the struggling gorr ruined his aim, Anara being between Neela and all of her targets did the same. And Neela fumed as the little viper circled counter to her movements to keep the status quo going. And she couldn't expose Anara to his weapon.
Disruptor fired erupted from behind the cowardly vole and he went down. Another armed Bajoran woman approached and gunned down the remaining gorr. She looked rather impatient.
"Just don't stand there and wonder, pick up those weapons!" she ordered.
Neela and Anara gathered a bundle of rifles and side arms. Anara thought it best to inform the stranger of their own cache, "We also have weapons stashed outside the village."
The woman sighed, "We'd best gather them up too."
"So which cell do you two belong to?" the woman, whose name turned out to be Chaz Arin, asked after they'd trod through the village a second time.
Neela and Anara fell silent and Chaz snorted, "Oh please, people with your skills don't just drop out of the sky."
"Sometimes they do," Neela remarked.
Chaz gave Neela a questioning look. Anara explained the fate of the Sekra cell and the location of their raiders. Chaz went from slightly annoyed by her tagalongs to utterly delighted.
"You're both engineers?" Chaz couldn't quite believe it, "We need a pair of engineers. It's like the Prophets provided you."
"They did," Neela said with such conviction Chaz was afraid to dispute her.
"So what are your names?" Chaz wondered.
"I'm Anara and this is Neela," the older of the two answered.
"No given names?" Chaz wondered.
"We'd prefer to keep them to ourselves," Neela asserted.
Chaz shrugged, "Suit yourselves."
Chaz brought the pair to the campground of the Holn Resistance cell. Their leader, Holn Herim, was impressed; "The Sekra cell, eh? I've heard of you. You come by Hedrikspool way."
"We did," Anara silently wished Neela would keep quiet, "But we actually came to your Province by way of Lunar Base V."
"You have raiders?" Holn's jaw almost dropped as he practically began to drool.
"We have two in the vicinity," Anara assured him, "We need two volunteers to train as pilots and two more people to serve as flight crew."
"You don't want to ride along with them?" Holn wondered.
"I prefer maintaining the craft to actually flying in one," Anara admitted, "Neela's a hand with explosives so I imagine her spare time will be cannibalized when she's not assisting me with the fighter craft."
"Well your arrival is a gift from the Prophets," Holn exuded.
Anara shot Neela a dagger-like glare to urge her companion to remain silent. Holn continued, "We're gearing up for a major offensive. Five years ago, Dukat had every vedek, ranjen, and prylar who openly supported the Resistance rounded up. They've been moved on a regular rotation in order to keep anyone from attempting to liberate them. We've just discovered that they're currently held in Rakantha Province."
"They're here?" Neela blurted.
Anara barely suppressed a groan, "Neela is specifically concerned over the fate of one Ranjen Winn."
"Yes, Winn is known to everyone in our Province. She used to tour through here quite regularly. She even travelled after the ban was implemented," Holn shared, "At first the Cardassians overlooked the offenses. Finally, word came from Terok Nor to take her and every religious figure like her."
"We have to get her out," Neela insisted.
"Is this personal for you?" Holn wanted to know.
"Winn saved my family from a Cardassian unit that was going to execute them because the Cardassians wanted our land," Neela explained, "We were still displaced but we were taken to a monastery and sheltered there. Eventually I left to join the Resistance but my family is still there. My sister has become a prylar and my brother is the groundskeeper."
Anara realized she'd never know any of that. Of course, ever member of the Resistance had a story but Neela always directed her conversations towards her faith. It had served as a bulwark for many secrets.
"They're being held in the Garan Detention Center. It's named after some grand family in Cardassian circles," Holn snorted, "Of course they think a name alone will bestow greatness."
Holn shows them a digital map of the area and points at a specific position, "The camp is located there. The map was made before the Occupation so the spoonheads have added to the region but this is the basic topography. Can you get us in?"
The question was directed at Neela, "With the proper materials I can blows holes into anything."
"We should be able to cobble together a communications scrambler with some surplus comm badges and a power supply," Anara suggested.
"We want to move in a week," Holn admitted, "We've been gathering material from a Cardassian munitions depot that we stormed a few days ago. You should be able to find what you need there."
"I'll be able to teach your people how to fly the raiders in that time but they'll be lousy at it," Anara warned.
"Just so they stay in the air and can hit a few large targets," Holn requested.
Anara frowned, "I'd better fly with them just in case."
"Excellent!" Holn enthused, "We can get this done on time then."
Anara cast a glance towards Neela. Her partner practically glowed from pure happiness. Anara dourly wished that the Prophets would actually intervene for once.
As the week stretched on, Anara found herself wishing she could beat her head against the ships' hulls. Then she recanted of that position and wished she could beat her students' heads off of the hulls. It was bad enough to have to rush like they were, but they couldn't even fire up the raiders' systems much less take off for fear of detection.
In the Holn cell's camp, Neela was happily foraging for components and whipping up devices that weren't quite weapons of mass destruction but they would qualify as weapons of mass disruption. These were chemical bombs and the Cardassians had been notoriously slow about expanding their sensor sweeps to target chemical compounds. As it was, it would require a six person team to plant all the bombs along the perimeter of the facility.
Those bombs would blow the outer walls. Combined with an air strike and a full assault from the ground pounding cell members, the Cardassians would be torn to shreds. In addition, the communications jammer would prevent them from calling for assistance.
Neela would be carrying the final bombs to breach the inner walls of the prison facility. They had no way of knowing who was in what room or cell so they were taking a risk of harming a prisoner when they blew the wall. Holn could merely pray that the calamitous noise and confusion all around would alert the prisoners to be ready for a break out.
The assault team would break off and lead the surviving Cardassian guards into the nearby forests. The appropriately named Hill Province would provide its own cover as her native sons and daughters disappeared into that same country. Meanwhile, the rescue team would break out the prisoners.
Now it was just a matter of logistics and timing to get the cell into position.
The plan unfolded as envisioned. Before Neela activated the comm scrambler, she summoned Anara's flight team. Then the scrambler roared into life. Old fashioned radio wavelength transceivers were utilized by the Bajorans after that.
The air strike tore through the front gates and outer courtyard of the detention center. Then the assault teams blew down the vast majority of the remaining outer walls. The fighting was intense but after drawing out the bulk of the guard contingent, the assault team broke away and headed off into the surrounding hill country.
Neela placed the penetration charge on the wall behind where the front gates lay. Blowing the wall, it turned out that she'd penetrated into the prison's security room. The Cardassian units were further paralyzed as their scant reinforcements were killed in the blast. Afterwards it was proven that only a half dozen guards remained to resist.
Neela sought out Winn. Finding her, Neela shot the lock and released the woman who now wore vedek robes. Neela expressed joy at this sight.
"Yes child, I was elevated to the rank of vedek shortly before I was arrested;" Winn happily explained, "Now, can you help me find Prylar Serif?"
"Of course," Neela happily would have obeyed any request Winn made.
Tracking down Serif Haz, who had been liberated by Chaz, Winn had a happy reunion. Neela hated to interrupt but they were on a schedule, "Your Ladyship, we must go. The Cardassian guards will be returning very shortly."
"What is your plan for our escape, child?" Winn inquired.
"Our plan is for two members of our cell to escort two members of the religious community into the hills and from then evade our pursuers and reunite with our main group," Chaz interjected.
Winn was amused by Chaz's irritation, "Then shall we carry on then?"
"Follow me, your Ladyship;" Neela insisted. She led the small group consisting of her, Winn, Serif, and Chaz into the woods and started into the hills.
The quartet travelled deeper into the woods as the foothills began to rise. Soon, the sounds of pursuit could be heard. Chaz called a break.
"The Cardassians must have broken off from our main group as planned," she said specifically to Neela, "I'll drop back and buy you some time. Make camp at the designated site and I'll rejoin you there."
Neela knew from studying Chaz's eyes that the last was for public consumption. Chaz knew she wouldn't return. Neither would she be captured. Neela handed her a micro charge.
"If the worst should happen," Neela said to Chaz.
Chaz gave her a curt nod and then backtracked over their trail. Neela pushed the others on. Shortly thereafter the sounds of disruptor fire could be heard lifted into the air. Neela and her duo had long left the sounds of fighting behind when a sharp crack of an explosive could be heard echoing through the hills.
Winn tugged at Neela's sleeve, "My child, is your companion...?"
"Chaz gave her life so yours could be spared," Neela said calmly, "A noble sacrifice to be sure."
"You seem familiar to me, child;" Winn admitted, "Do we know one another?"
"Let's get to the day's designated destination and I'll explain," Neela offered, "Otherwise we risk sleeping in open ground. The Cardassians aren't ones to work through the night unsheltered, especially in these northern climes but they may just be angry enough to make an exception this time."
"Very well," a very winded Winn agreed, "Let us press on."
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 have to have 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?"
So 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 off the question 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 every 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 straight forward 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 out 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 very arduous and they had to take frequent rest breaks. 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 towards 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 as Terok 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 to Terok 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 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 they have blowing up a Federation runabout ferrying Deep Space Nine's senior staff to their credit. 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 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.
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 of.
The old Cardassian static fences had been replaced with an electronic frontier. Sensor sweeps covered the ground leading to the perimeter. Watchtowers 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 owing 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. 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 fact.
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 guard. 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 of 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 check point 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. Central Command in turn 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 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 of 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. So 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."
"Now who's being pragmatic?" Neela smiled.
Anara and Neela did as the waiter had instructed and ordered drinks after lunch. Both ordered gray leaf tea. Neela seemed disappointed by the meager selection. Anara was pleasantly surprised that the replicator's formula was almost exactly the same as the typical Bajoran crop yield.
"They're here," Neela softly informed Anara.
Anara casually swept the area with her eyes. Three strangers had entered the eatery. All three were Cardassian as expected. What came as a surprise was that one of the three was a woman. The strict Cardassian regulation of the roles of the sexes normally prohibited females from undertaking such work. But then again, many agents of the Obsidian Order had proven to be women.
But less than one hundred women served within the Cardassian Guard. Famously, Malyn Ocett had achieved command rank. It had been Ocett's picket cruiser that had discovered the life form that became known as Odo.
"Here they come," Neela murmured.
The three Cardassians sat down at the Bajorans' table without an invitation. Anara challenged them, "Did we invite you to sit?"
"You did by coming to our world," one of the males answered.
"How so?" Neela jumped in before Anara could speak again.
"You're fugitives from the Bajorans," the man began to explain, "And you're seeking shelter on a Cardassian world. That's invitation enough."
"So you're with Central Command?" Anara baited the trio, "We were told to expect representatives."
"We're representatives of what they should be," the man grated.
Neela decided to intervene, "Do you have a name?"
Anara thought the game was up. She'd pushed too hard already and now they were angry. Neela's probe seemed to be the last straw.
"Why do you need to know?" the leading man inquired.
"Because you've already gathered our names from constabulary and I want to level the playing field," Neela replied, "Even members of the True Way shouldn't be afraid on their own territory."
The man closely studied Neela for a moment and then he chuckled, "I suppose I should expect you to be rather brash after that assassination attempt on Terok Nor. The Bajorans claim you also tried to kill the First Minister after he pardoned you. Is this true?"
"The Bajorans say what they say," Neela deflected the question.
"So they will," the man said, "You were both in the Bajoran Resistance. It must gall you to now seek refuge on a Cardassian world."
"They say the enemy of my enemy is a friend for at least a short while," Neela countered, "My enemy is the Provisional Government. Your enemies include that same government and the Federation. I'm no friend to the Federation either. There's a very real possibility we could come to a mutually beneficial arrangement and assist each other in removing our problems from our horizons."
"Why the Federation?" the man sharply asked.
Neela shrugged, "One overseer is as odious as another. But if you have to choose, the overseer that openly conquers you is preferable to the one that undermines your society with honey and a kind word."
Anara was astonished at how the True Way leader was buying into Neela's lies. At least she hoped they were lies. Neela was so convincing she was swaying Anara as well.
Anara had never seen the duplicitous side of Neela. Neela always had her nose buried in a padd reading musty old religious texts and wondering how the words of the Prophets translated into her daily existence. Now she was spinning an entire web of lies and the Cardassians were being sucked into them. And the beauty of it was that everything Neela said could easily be verified with a little interpretation of the Militia Command's official story. Omissions would be seen as a government cover up to spare itself embarrassment.
"I'll tell you what," the leader said after a moment's consideration, "come back tomorrow and we'll see what we reveal to you then."
"We'll be here at the same time tomorrow," Neela promised.
The three Cardassians simply exited at that point. Anara stared at Neela in amazement. Neela prevented Anara from speaking.
"We're still under observation so I suggest you pull yourself together before you blow this," Neela urged, "We can speak aboard the Ark."
Anara numbly nodded, "All right."
Later, aboard the Ark, Anara gushed; "That was brilliant! I couldn't have pulled that off."
Neela shrugged, "It simply had to be done."
"But how did you?" Anara had to ask, "Back in the day you couldn't lie to anyone. At least not convincingly."
"Faith can open many doors," Neela said enigmatically.
"Faith?" Anara sputtered, "Your faith in the Prophets has made you a consummate liar?"
"This is the path the Prophets laid out for me. When I chose to follow it, they gave me the abilities I needed to accomplish their task as set before me," Neela attempted to explain.
"Like you did on Terok Nor?" Anara dared ask.
Neela shook her head sadly, "I know your belief is thin, Anara. But my entire life I've followed the Prophets' dictates. Their path is mine and mine is theirs."
Anara suddenly had a cold clench in her stomach, "What if they asked you to kill me?"
"Let's hope they don't," Neela cagily dodged answering the question.
Anara didn't like the sound of that answer, "So what happens next?"
"Think back to our days in the Resistance," Neela instructed, "They'll ask for a demonstration of good faith. When we accomplish that task, they'll embrace us."
"Faith doesn't seem to be a problem for you," Anara muttered.
"Pardon?" Neela was puzzled by the comment she hadn't quite heard.
Anara waved the comment aside, "Never mind. What do you think they'll ask us to do?"
Neela shook her head, "I have no idea. But the real question is how far are you willing to go in order to fulfill your current role?"
"I don't know," Anara admitted.
"I think you're going to find out," Neela sagely predicted.
The following day, the Bajorans returned to the eatery to await the True Way's verdict. The pair opted to make the most of the opportunity and sample more food. The Cardassians returned halfway through the meal. Once again they simply sat down uninvited.
"Don't let us stop you," the leader said magnanimously.
"Don't worry. We won't," Neela responded.
The Cardassians merely sat there and stared at the duo until they'd finished their meals. Neither Neela nor Anara so much as blinked under the scrutiny. Afterwards, the lead Cardassian was smiling.
"Your story checks out," he informed them, "It has holes but only in those places where the Bajoran government would rather the truth not be known to the public."
"I'm Gen Rakan," he began the introductions, "This fellow is Corban Rasal. Our associate is Lyt Garan."
Neela noted the last name. Winn Adami had been held in a detention center bearing the name of a great Cardassian family. That name was Garan.
"We have a test of your veracity and intentions," Rakan informed them.
"That was expected," Neela said with a preternatural calm.
"If you wish to earn the True Way's trust you'll accomplish this task," Rakan challenged them.
"What's the task?" Neela asked dryly.
"There are three dissidents that escaped the Central Command's grasp," Rakan explained, "They fled into neutral space. We want an example to be made of them."
"What are their names?" Anara wondered.
"Natima Lang was a professor on Cardassia Prime. She departed with two troublesome students named Rekelan Garan and Bek Hogue," Rakan explained, "Being Bajorans you should have any easy time infiltrating a world loosely allied with the Federation. Do you have access to weapons?"
Anara and Neela suddenly held compact phasers on the trio. They were all visibly unnerved. Rakan recovered first.
"Very well then," he blustered, "You can be off then."
"What are these people accused of?" Anara wanted to know.
Rakan eyed her suspiciously. Neela brushed the question aside, "Never mind her. Half the time she still thinks like she's in the Militia."
"I'll answer the question," Rakan chose, "They agitate for reforming Cardassia into a democracy. For this they must die."
"Good to know," Neela replied before Anara could, "Where are they located?"
"On Keplek, a neutral world two systems away from Coridan," Rakan answered.
"If it's neutral, why don't you kill them yourself?" Anara interjected.
"My people do not frequent Keplek because of the climate," Rakan grated, "Therefore we would stand out."
"So we should dress warmly," Neela went into damage control through distraction, "Do you know what Lang and her students do for employment?"
"I have no idea," Rakan admitted, "Lang was a news service investigator before joining the political science department of one of Cardassia's greatest universities. Her mere presence sullied its hallowed halls."
Neela rather doubted that, "Now we have two avenues to pursue."
Neela turned to Garan, "You share a surname with one of the dissidents. Is she a relative?"
"Rekelan is a cousin of a cousin," Garan responded, "She is a disgrace to our noble family name and is no longer fit to be called by it. If she ever dares reenter the Cardassian Union she will find herself an outcast with no family to claim her."
"Once again, good to know;" Neela remarked.
By this point Anara was feverishly trying to deduce what Neela was playing at. That's when Neela got down to business, "Do you want visuals to go with this or will tricorder scans alone do?"
"We want both," Rakan informed her.
Neela turned to the brutish Rasal, "Do you ever speak?"
"What?" the question confused Rasal.
"That's what I thought," Neela mused.
Rasal remained clueless but Rakan and Garan seethed on his behalf. Neela ignored their righteous indignation, "We have a Federation checkpoint to get through and the Militia has undoubtedly posted warrants on the two of us so we'll be finding out shortly if my new ID transponder will get us past them," Neela announced as she rose, "So that will take time as will racking down Lang and her protégés."
"Then you'd best leave now," Rakan insisted.
This greatly amused Neela, "Thank you for your permission. I don't know what Anara and I could do without your guidance. Right, Rasal?"
Rasal looked blankly at Rakan. Rakan sighed heavily as Neela added, "Don't feel bad, Rakan. I'm sure he's highly effective muscle."
Neela signaled Anara it was time to go, "Feel free to talk about us after we're gone."
And so the Cardassians did. Garan spoke first, "I don't like the talkative one. She's far too smart for her own good. And I don't think she takes this seriously."
"And why should she?" Rakan chuckled, "She's Bajoran. She'll only be a temporary ally at best. But she's smart enough to recognize the winning side even if she'll never be a true believer in our cause."
"But they were in the Resistance. They killed our people," Garan grated, "Both of them. Do Bajorans ever really change?"
"Recall that the one you distrust so much was just released from prison. She was there because she blew up a Federation school and attempted to murder a religious leader," Rakan reminded Garan, "Many Bajorans harbor distrust of the Federation but they all united to a degree by their religion. This one thinks outside that box. Perhaps she could be molded into something greater than her people."
"Why don't you ask Gul Dukat?" Garan sniped, "You can see where that kind of thinking got him."
"I'm not Dukat," Rakan said wryly, "I'll never forget that our people are inherently superior to Bajorans."
"Bajorans are mindless, savage beasts unworthy to be called sentient;" Garan elaborated, "Keep that one on a leash and inside a cage or she'll rip your throat out."
"What do you think of the darker haired one?" Rakan changed the subject.
"What about her?" Garan scoffed, "She hardly speaks more than Rasal. She's simply a soldier and fit only for taking orders."
"I disagree," Rakan countered, "I studied her as her companion spoke. She studied the leader and gauged her every word. I can only presume she has an agenda outside of what was agreed."
"So?" Garan quipped, "We simply kill her when she gets back."
"Perhaps," Rakan mulled it over.
"Can we eat now?" Rasal plaintively asked.
Rakan and Garan exchanged an eye roll. Rakan relented, "Why not? Order up, Rasal. We'll even join you."
Aboard the Ark, Neela broke the silence that had descended during lift off; "Have your friends in Militia Intelligence informed Starfleet Intelligence to tell Starfleet's Border Patrol to look the other way?"
"With our vessel registered to the Bajoran Merchant Marine, Starfleet will flag us as a 'safe' vessel," Anara replied as she set the course for the nearest checkpoint, "Starfleet won't inquire further than that."
"Good," Neela said, "Because if they board us and discover a Militia stocked armory they'll detain us until Militia Command blows our cover and that will end our mission."
Anara knew that was certainly true. As an assault ship, the Ark was discreetly armed and designed to ferry troops, in this case the Special Forces, to and from combat. The Ark was also replete with a detention cell and an automated medical bay. It wasn't as fancy as an Emergency Medical Hologram but the autodoc was far more comprehensive than the medical kits the Resistance had been lucky enough to steal.
"The True Way has friends in Traffic Control otherwise we'd still be there waiting for a launch window," Neela observed.
"I wonder how the True Way is related to the colonial paramilitaries," Anara commented.
"Forget them," Neela advised, "They're a Maquis problem. That is what the Federation resistance fighters are called, right?"
"Once again, you're a quick study;" Anara was slightly amused.
"The paramilitaries on both sides want to control the Demilitarized Zone," Neela pointed out, "The True Way wants to push the Central Command into reinvading Bajor. I say we focus our priorities on the immediate threat and then move on to the Valo system when we've secured our own borders."
"But Nerrit is our pipeline to the Kohn Ma and the Maquis in the Valo system," Anara reminded her companion.
"That's a risky stratagem," Neela opined, "I'm surprised a First Minister would sign off on it."
"None did," Anara revealed, "It's a black bag operation within the Special Forces on behalf of the Bajoran colonists in the Valo system. No one asked the Federation to annex that system or to cede it away into a DMZ. Since the Militia is prohibited from landing troops there ourselves, we're taking steps to insure the colonists' safety."
Neela wore a half smile, "I'm beginning to see why you joined the Special Forces. It's all a moot point anyway. The DMZ is an experiment doomed to failure."
"So now you're a Prophet?" Anara teased.
"You don't have to be one to see what's going to happen," Neela responded, "Once Cardassia feels secure enough to threaten the Federation again, they will. And nothing short of overwhelming force will stop them."
"But they'd need at least one ally," Anara made her own prediction.
"Who says they aren't already looking for one?" Neela asked.
Anara received a hail and she activated an automated reply as she dropped out of warp, "We're approaching the checkpoint. Starfleet has requested we slow to impulse and queue up with the rest."
"It's better than the alternative," Neela reminded Anara.
"Are you really ready to kill these three people?" Anara suddenly asked Neela.
"They're Cardassians so it wouldn't be a first," Neela allowed, "But it all comes down to what the Prophets direct us to do."
"And just how will they let you know?" Anara wondered.
A full smile bloomed on Neela's features, "They have their ways."
The Bajoran pair swiftly discovered why Keplek wasn't a Cardassian hot spot. Unlike Bajor, which was the system's eleventh planet and still temperate, Keplek orbited a red sun and was barely habitable even though it was the third planet in the system. The equatorial ranges were fertile but the rest of the planet was snowy and icy.
Adapted to warm climates Cardassians would naturally be prone to hypothermia anywhere but the equator and even then they would be uncomfortable. Even Anara and Neela had to dress more warmly. As the Ark approached Keplek, Neela had read off a fact sheet on the planet.
There were five continents altogether. The largest was a supercontinent. There were two polar breakaway shelves and two spread across Keplek's massive ocean. One was halfway around the world and the other was between it and the supercontinent but was furthest down in the southern oceanic range without touching the southern polar continent.
Keplek's capitol was located in the equatorial belt. It was a hub for grains, fruits, vegetable, and livestock. Heavy industry was located farther north and south. There was little habitation on the polar continents. The two breakaway continents were largely used for resource extraction since they were too cold to grow food upon. The settlers had to rely upon greenhouses and hydroponics just to subsist.
The primary landing site was in the industrial town of Kallipa on the supercontinent's northern range. It was a shipping hub for all of Keplek's goods. And orbital dry-dock network built and maintained the domestic shipping fleet. The defense force was akin to Bajor's in that it relied upon in-system impulse driven ships.
Anara and Neela utilized local transportation to transit from Kallipa to Cardone. What became apparent was that the Orions had a strong presence on Keplek. Both Bajorans knew that meant the Orion Syndicate would have a strong local presence as well.
The Ferengi also had a strong mercantile presence. While Keplek was a very minor trading partner with the Federation it had a much larger penetration into other markets. It had been denied Federation membership shortly after Coridan was successfully admitted but it was found that Keplek's criminal enterprises were imbedded into the legitimate ones and membership was denied on that basis. Since then the interweaving of the legal and illegal had only magnified.
Recently, Keplek had been engaged in an insurgent civil war. Mercenaries had been brought in to supplant the native police forces since the police had served as troops for the current government and the opposing faction no longer trusted them. The native Sector Defense Force had sat out the conflict and instead kept the system free of opportunists looking to maximize profits at the expense of Keplek during its troubles.
The Bajorans discovered a "relaxed" form of martial law had been imposed. Or at least it had until "stability" had been achieved. Both Anara and Neela knew from the Cardassians such promises were never fulfilled.
En route to Cardone Neela had mused over what political activists like Lang and her students thought of recent events. Anara had to wonder why it mattered at all. Neela gave Anara a rueful look.
"If Lang and her charges were willing to speak out against the Central Command and the Obsidian Order, what makes you think they won't aggravate the locals here?" Neela inquired.
"They'll be watched," Anara groaned.
"Now who's the quick study?" Neela teased, "So the question is, how will these mercenaries react when we go after their surveillance targets?"
"The bigger question is will they stop us or help us," Anara pointed out.
Anara knew she should have been the one pointing out these factors. She'd been trained to after all. Once again she was seeing a side of Neela that discomfited her.
Once in Cardone, Neela approached the closest available public information kiosk. It turned out to be a Ferengi built system that yielded unexpected information just in the primary languages that it displayed information in. The languages to choose from were Keplekan, Federation Standard, Orion, Ferengi, and Romulan. The last came as a surprise because none of the data Neela had perused through had even hinted at a Romulan presence on Keplek.
Neela chose Federation standard and prayed she wasn't too rusty to understand what would be displayed. She'd hardly been fluent when she'd been arrested. Five years in a cell surrounded by Bajoran texts hadn't bolstered the skill any.
Still, Neela managed to discover that Natima Lang was a professor at Hovis University, the planet's largest. It doubled as a neutral party political think tank renowned throughout the Alpha Quadrant and even sections of the Beta Quadrant. Rekelan and Hogue were research fellows in the university assigned to Professor Lang's department. Little surprise there.
Further inquiry revealed that the three Cardassians shared an address. It was on the edge of the city. Looking into the engineering and design of the building she discovered it was a four bedroom townhouse suitably equipped with environmental controls capable of replicating Cardassian environments.
After a quick conference, they chose to confront the Cardassians in their home. So they boarded mass transit and went across town. The professor and her teaching assistants were still at the university for the day so Anara and Neela sought out a nearby eatery with a view of the street leading from the mag lev strain station to the targets' home.
The shop offered teas, coffees, and pastries from across the quadrant. Anara ordered raktajino and a scone. Neela chose a Terran latte and a cinnamon roll. Anara was astonished.
Neela shrugged, "They served human coffee and pastries in prison. If you obeyed the rules and were attentive at the vedek's lessons you'd earn credits to buy coffee and sweets."
"I bet you never missed out," Anara quipped.
Neela wore another half smile as she softly said, "You'd be surprised. But I can be very compliant when I need to be."
Anara felt another chill run up her spine, "So are we actually here to kill them?"
Neela seemed to consider it, "It would certainly be the easiest course of action."
"But they aren't a threat to Bajor," Anara began to argue, "They're actually a threat to Cardassia."
"That's a matter of opinion," Neela said wearily, "According to my source on Deep Space Nine, Natima Lang advocates for a democratic system similar to those enjoyed by the Federation and Bajor for Cardassia."
"And the problem is?" Anara asked testily.
"A nonhostile Cardassia is even more invasive than an openly hostile Cardassian Union," Neela lectured, "They'll want cultural exchanges, technology transfers, commercial trading routes, mutual defense pacts, and finally when the grand democratic experiment languishes and the citizenry want a return to perceived strength and security, they'll descend upon Bajor like voles to an unprotected carcass."
"The Federation won't allow it," Anara did argue.
"That's debatable," Neela sipped her coffee, "Have you ever heard the expression 'Never Again'?"
"Not in this context," Anara admitted.
"Earth had a nation state called Israel," Neela offered, "Look up their history sometime."
"I'm not killing these people," Anara finally protested.
"Keep your voice down. You're drawing attention," Neela advised, "We don't necessarily have to kill them. I just said it was the easiest option."
"You have another idea?" Anara desperately grasped at that straw.
"The Prophets showed me another path," Neela revealed, "It's not an easy one but it may accomplish our goal."
"So what is it?" Anara wanted to know.
"Not now," Neela shut the conversation down, "They're walking down the street."
"Not now?" Anara almost yelped, "Then when?"
"Just follow my lead," Neela instructed, "Everything will become clear to you."
Neela headed for the door and Anara grumpily followed.
Lang was asking Rekelan and Hogue how their day's research went. Hogue snorted, "The Central Command laughably calls troop movements into the DMZ 'colonization'."
"But why does the Federation put up with this fiction," Lang wondered.
"It gets worse, Professor;" Rekena warned her, "The troops are officially discharged from the Cardassian Guard. They're then transported to Bryma or other colonies. Because of the Maquis threat, every 'ex-soldier' is issues a rifle and a few hundred power packs."
"There is no way one trooper could use hundreds of power packs," Lang frowned.
"But Cardassian paramilitaries could distribute the charged packs amongst themselves," Hogue suggested, "And then they'd have a nearly inexhaustible supply because while a few hundred are charging, a few hundred more would be used. Frankly it's quite a coup on the Maquis."
"Well, never forget the Maquis are just as much criminals as the Cardassian paramilitaries," Lang urged.
"But the Central Command started this conflict by dispossessing colonists and forcibly evicting people from their own colonies," Rekelan argued.
"But they'll never accomplish anything good by killing," Lang retorted, "But enough of that. Anything else?"
"The Detapa Council's struggle to interfere in the Central Command's sphere of responsibility has gone public," Hogue reported, "This creating a backlash whereby citizens are calling for a return of military control over the Cardassian Union. It's even bred terrorist groups advocating this position."
"What groups?" Lang asked sharply.
"The foremost is called the True Way," Rekelan answered.
"What a laugh," Lang cynically commented.
"Professor, the True Way has successfully lashed out at the Federation and Bajor," Hogue explained, "They've also failed on occasion. But their rhetoric is escalating and now they're threatening to strike at the Detapa Council itself."
"And," Rekena stated, "any threat to the establishment of renewed military power is considered a viable target by the True Way."
"I..." Lang frowned, "Did the front doors just open?"
"Be careful," Rekelan urged as Lang moved to investigate.
"We should be safe in our own home," Lang was upset, "After all; we paid Quark's cousin enough to be certain of that."
"He was overpaid," Neela said as she and Anara entered the room.
The Cardassians saw the Bajorans were armed. Hogue moved to intercept but Neela aimed at his chest, "I wouldn't if I were you."
"Why would Bajorans hunt us down?" Lang wanted to know.
Neela lowered her phaser so Anara did the same. Neela began her explanation, "Actually, we were sent here by the True Way."
The Cardassian trio all exchanged looks. Lang pointed out the obvious, "But you're Bajoran."
"Which why we were tasked with proving our loyalty by killing you," Neela divulged.
"Then get it over with!" Hogue yelled out.
"Getting excited isn't helping you out any," Neela observed, "If I wanted you dead you'd be so already."
"Then what do you want?" Lang asked.
Neela turned to Anara, "Explain our mission."
Anara relayed how the Militia had sent her and Neela to infiltrate the True Way with the hopes of crippling it. Lang turned to Neela, "So you're both Bajoran Militia officers."
"You're wrong," Neela admitted, "Anara is an officer. I was an officer."
"Then what are you now?" a still hostile Hogue demanded to know.
"Someone who was chosen for this," Neela answered enigmatically.
"Then why involve us if you don't intend to actually kill us?" Lang needed to know.
"We can lure the True Way into adopting a strategy to immolate itself," Neela revealed, "But in order to do so we need bait to distract the True Way from what we're doing."
"Us," Lang suddenly grasped it, "And if we refuse to cooperate?"
"Then our mission is already a failure and you'll hide here until the next assassin really does kill you," Neela decided not to spare the trio.
"Thank you for your candor," Lang ushered her protégés off to her bedroom to discuss Neela's plan.
"I had no idea this would be your alternative," Anara admitted, "It's either absolutely brilliant or it will get them all killed."
"Either way it's the will of the Prophets," Neela said simply.
"What if they refuse to leave with us?" Anara wondered.
"It's the will of the Prophets," Neela shrugged.
"To stay here or go with us?" Anara was a little confused.
"Wait and see," Neela suggested.
Lang and her associates returned to the living space after some deliberations. Lang asked the obvious question on everyone's mind, "Can you guarantee our safety?"
"No," Neela freely admitted, "We'll do the best we can to protect you but in the end there's only two of us and an unknown number of them."
"You're not really selling this idea to us," Lang complained.
"I'm not trying to sell it," Neela informed them, "I'm putting your own convictions to the test. Are you willing to help remove a blight from Cardassian society? A society you profess to cherish so to help ennoble itself? Are you willing to stop talking and take direct action and by taking direct action are you willing to risk your own lives for your own professed cause?"
"You're speaking from experience, I can tell;" Lang surmised, "How does any of this help Bajor? Because that's what you're really here for, isn't it?"
"It eases a very real threat to my people that has even reached as high as the office of First Minister," Neela divulged, "And by removing a societal trigger that could plunge your worlds into war with mine, I've improved future relations between our two societies."
"And why would you do that?" Lang was curious, "Because you both strike me as former Resistance members."
"The Prophets guide my people," Neela stated, "You may refer to them as 'wormhole aliens' like the Federation scientists but that doesn't mean they haven't guided my people through the millennia. But I'm convinced they have a plan for Cardassia as well. It wasn't an accident that brought ancient solar sail vessels from Bajor to Cardassia. Neither was it an accident that brought Cardassians to Bajor. You were led."
"I could argue with your interpretation," Lang quipped.
"But what good would it achieve?" Neela asked, "We'd both still be entrenched in our own positions. Why not show a little tolerance and let me be what you'd phrase as 'superstitious' and I'll forgive you for apostasy. Fair enough?"
"You're a very strange Bajoran," Lang commented, "You're not at all the type I met during the Occupation."
"No, during the Occupation I would have just killed you and called it good," Neela confessed, "But that was then. I've had a few years to wrestle with my faith and how I perceive things. My faith has only grown through the process. I don't need you to believe in the Prophets. I just need you to not deny me my right to do so."
Lang glanced back at Hogue and Rekelan. They both silently nodded. Lang squared her shoulders.
"We're in," she announced, "Thank Hogue and Rekelan. They're far braver than I am."
"Then get ready for an uncomfortable ride back to the DMZ," Anara warned, "We came in a stolen military transport. It's designed for ferrying troops to discreet locations not for comfort."
"Could we bring a few things with us?" Lang asked.
"It would be best if you didn't," Neela conveyed, "In fact we're going to have to make you all look a great deal more 'distressed' before we 'deliver' you to the True Way."
The Cardassians exchanged another look. Lang spoke for them, "We understand."
"Anara's good," Neela promised, "Really."
Anara didn't look like she shared Neela's confidence, "Stand over here and hold these."
Anara handed over comm beacons, "In due time we'll transport you to our ship."
"But we have permanent transport inhibitors in place," Lang warned them.
Anara smiled, "You haven't since we arrived. I'd have someone look at them after you return."
Anara got permission to insert the Ark into standard orbit over Bryma. Permission to do so had been denied during their first visit since it would have granted the crew unlimited usage of the ship's transporter and the Cardassians wanted to control strangers' movements. Apparently they were a known quantity now that Rakan had vouched for them.
Neela transported down alone near the square where the infamous eatery lay. Neela flagged down a passing constable. She asked him to pass word on to Rakan that she was on Bryma. The constable played dumb but Neela could see the recognition in his eyes.
Neela proceeded to wait in the eatery. She grumpily cursed the fact it didn't offer espresso. She made due with gray leaf tea again.
Rakan appeared to arrive alone but Neela knew that was an illusion. She could practically smell Rasal and Garan salivating nearby. Rakan, as always, just sat down.
"Do you have visual and sensor logs for me?" he asked.
"No," Neela bluntly replied.
"Then why did you bother to return?" Rakan was growing angry.
"I brought something better," Neela informed him.
"And what could be better?" Rakan's interest was piqued despite himself.
"I brought Lang, Hogue, and Rekelan here," Neela boasted, "This way you get to mete out any form of justice you deem fit."
"Oh really?" Rakan was still skeptical.
"Have your minions move outside the shop's main window," Neela ordered.
Rakan activated his comm cuff and issued his own orders. Rasal and Garan appeared into the window. Garan looked as disgruntled as Rasal appeared clueless.
Neela gave Garan a jaunty wave. The Cardassian turned livid. Rasal waved back.
"Your turn," Rakan said with a tinge of menace in his voice.
Neela tapped her comm badge, "Anara, transport the prisoners one hundred meters to the east of my current position."
A transporter effect emblazoned in the middle of the street. Anara appeared holding a phaser pistol on Lang, Hogue, and Rekelan. Rakan's jaw dropped.
"But their security...?" he stammered.
"Anara and my primary specialty would be considered combat engineering," Neela shared, "Which you really should have taken into account after reading our personnel jackets. You counted on Keplek's mercenary forces on disposing of us after we publically executed these people. Pity you were disappointed."
"I'm far from disappointed," Rakan assured her, "And I promise never to underestimate the pair of you again."
"We'll see," Neela said dismissively, "Did we pass the test?"
"Of course!" Rakan looked close to kissing her, which totally revolted Neela.
They went outside and joined the others.
Rakan disappeared down the street while the passing crowds took notice of Rasal, Garan, Anara, and Neela holding Lang and her research assistants prisoner. The sight of Bajorans being involved in such a sight angered many. But as long as the Bajoran pair were accompanied by Rasal and Garan no threats were issued or actions taken.
Rakan reappeared in a six wheeled vehicle identical to that Anara had used to pick Neela up from prison. Everyone loaded up into the vehicle, willingly or not. The prisoners were held in the middle row of seating while Rasal held them at phaser point from behind. Anara and Neela sat in back with Rasal while Garan sat down like a queen on a throne beside Rakan.
Neela took a moment to observe that Anara's cosmetic touches to the three prisoners were perfect. Anara was cross trained as a medic so she could skillfully recreate bruises and cuts with a laser scalpel and a dermal regenerator. As a member of the Militia Special Forces she'd "doctored" Trojans before.
Unbeknownst to their captors, Lang and her students had two items strapped to their bodies. One was a miniature chemical explosive Neela had devised. The second was an electronic lock pick Anara had whipped up. Both were to be used to liberate the activists at a designated time.
They rolled into an abandoned industrial sector and headed for a manufacturing plant that had been vacated for quite some time. Rakan boasted that from this "headquarters" he could monitor True Way activity across the DMZ and the Bajoran Sector. Anara gave Neela a wry look.
Neela had predicted that Rakan was directly responsible for the attacks on DS9's personnel as well as the Bajoran ministers and Shakaar himself. But she also contended that he wasn't the ultimate authority behind the shadowy True Way. However, that didn't limit his usefulness as their most vital field commander. A surgical strike against Rakan's faction would likely cripple True Way activities in the affected regions for quite some time. Or at least that was the assumption they were working from.
Inside the former manufacturing center the True Way had set up a block of makeshift cells. They consisted of old fashioned metal cages. Each cell boasted mechanical and electronic locks but fortunately they lacked force fields. So Lang, Hogue, and Rekelan were well stocked for both contingencies.
After the dissidents were locked away, Neela and Anara were taken to the True Way's "war room". The terrorists conducted their operational planning and control from this center. Most of the equipment had obviously been purloined from military suppliers. The few pieces that weren't military surplus were obtained from various neutral traders operating within the DMZ and Cardassian space.
What could easily be acknowledged was that the Cardassian Guard largely overlooked the True Way's activities...at least for now. But things were shifting within the Central Command. Supposedly "progressive" elements were rising through the ranks. The True Way's ultimate master had approached the Legates and offered to purge these new up and comers from the Cardassian Guard's ranks.
He had subsequently been rebuffed and material support was cut off. This also placed the True Way under scrutiny as a "radical fringe". Their industrialist benefactors had also cut them off. The True Way was now at a crossroads trying to determine how to continue their crusade with no outward support.
Rakan explained these facts to the Bajorans, "I know the Resistance faced similar supply problems. Do you have any suggestions on how we can continue?"
Garan bristled as Rakan asked the question. Neela looked over towards Anara. Anara simply shrugged.
Neela laid out the fundamentals of fund raising. Rakan wondered how one compelled penniless slaves to contribute. Neela simply informed him the Resistance didn't force anyone to contribute. Every act of Cardassian aggression was motivation enough. People contributed because they believed in the cause.
"So simply put you need to make people believe in what you do and funds will begin to flow in," Neela explained.
"But Bajoran industry had been mothballed during the Occupation," Rakan countered.
"I'm not talking about industrialists," Neela said dryly, "I'm talking about the common citizenry."
Rakan blinked in surprise and Neela elaborated, "The Resistance went directly to the masses. We also stole a lot from the Bajoran Occupational Government as well as from the Cardassian Guard itself."
"So we should steal our supplies from our enemies themselves," Rakan mused.
"In all their various forms," Neela added.
"What do you mean?" Rakan inquired as Garan sucked in her breath.
"We targeted collaborators alongside Cardassian military depots," Neela divulged, "And we had a saying, 'either you're with is or against us'. It's a great operating strategy."
Neela could practically feel the anger radiating off of Garan. It would make her upcoming revelation that much sweeter. And fortunately, Rakan took the bait.
"Who are you implicating here?" Rakan cautiously inquired.
"If the Cardassian Guard won't back you then they've turned against you," Neela said simply, "The same holds true for your former industrial contributors."
"This is madness!" Garan shouted, "She wants to turn us against our fellow Cardassians."
"But you already have," Neela slid the knife in, "Lang and her associates are Cardassians. The Obsidian Order plays every Cardassian off of each other. The Detapa Council only plays to their respective voting blocs and the Central Command is an authority unto itself. Isn't that right, Dalin Rejet?"
Neela's eyes were fixed on Garan. Rakan gaped in mute horror at Garan. Garan attempted to protest her innocence.
"Rakan, use your access to the Cardassian Guard's Bureau of Personnel. Look up the file jacket of one Dalin Itrya Rejet," Neela insisted.
Rakan moved off to a computer while Rasal put a restraining hand on "Garan's" shoulder. Rakan angrily returned and thrust a padd under "Garan's" nose, "Is this you?"
"Yes," the haughtiness that permeated Rejet's voice was a slap in Rakan's ace, "The Central Command ordered me to infiltrate your pathetic rabble. No one even knows how many Obsidian Order agents play along as well."
Neela knew that a Cardassian dalin was synonymous with a Starfleet lt. commander or a Militia major. Rakan had had enough, "Take her away!"
Rasal manhandled Rejet out of the room. Neela asked the obvious question, "What will you do with her now?"
"What do you mean?" Rakan asked suspiciously.
"If the Central Command learns that you've detained one of their officers, there will be a reckoning. They'll send more after her and next time they'll be armed and hunting," Neela presented the facts.
"I have to talk to others about what all you've revealed. We'll decide Rejet's fate. Not you," Rakan warned.
"So be it," Neela acquiesced.
While all eyes had been turned on the drama unfolding around Rejet, Anara had slipped away. Natima Lang's contacts within the Cardassia underground had revealed Rejet's true identity and mission. Neela had been the one to decide to capitalize upon the truth. Neela had subsequently explained her strategy while they all flew to their fateful meeting on Bryma.
So far, Neela's plan seemed to be a runaway success. The True Way had eaten up her words and the scariest part was Neela was telling them the truth and not just what they wanted to hear. But she presented it in such a way that Rakan and his followers hung on her every word. Once again, Anara wondered just how Neela had occupied her time in prison.
Anara recalled everything she'd every known about Neela. Her faith had been her hallmark throughout her still rather young life. Neela was also utterly bold and confident when presented with a challenge. Those aspects had only been enhanced by her time in prison. So what were Neela's limitations these days, if she even still claimed any?
Anara heard Rejet's cursing and she ducked into an alcove. Rasal dragged Rejet by and neither of them noticed the Bajoran. Rasal swiftly passed by again. Anara thought it over and realized that while Rasal might be utterly obedient he definitely wasn't observant.
Anara checked her chrono. She decided to move closer to the cells ahead of time. As was the case when she'd last been this way, it was guarded by a solitary figure.
Lang checked her chrono, "It's time."
Rejet perked up despite being held in a cell across the way. The dissidents all removed the lock picks from their abdomens. The locks all cycled. Rejet began yelling for the guard's attention.
Lang's group affixed their bombs to the mechanical locks. The guard finally arrived to threaten Rejet into silence. Rejet finally convinced him to inspect Lang's cell.
Lang innocently sat on the cot in her call. As the guard withdrew, the explosives detonated. The dissidents all swung their cage doors open and stepped out.
"Back in your cells!" the guard ordered, looking down the barrel of a disruptor rifle; "Now!"
Anara shot him from behind, "Let's go."
They all ducked into the alcove Anara had hidden in before and waited as she contacted the Ark and waited to cycle the transporter.
Neela checked her chrono. Everyone should have been in motion by then. Which meant it was time to move herself. And that was a good thing because she was getting impatient.
Neela confidently strode across the war room and entered Rakan's office. He sat behind his computer staring off into the middle distance. It took Neela closing the door behind her before he acknowledged her presence.
"Oh, it's you;" he said flatly, "My superiors are very excited by the prospects you've presented to us. They've become so emboldened as to order Rejet's death."
"She would probably thank you for a clean death," Neela commented.
"What are you carrying on about now?" Rakan impatiently wanted to know.
Neela drew her phaser and promptly killed Rakan without a moment's hesitation. Neela locked the door and then unceremoniously dumped Rakan's corpse out of his chair. Fortunately, he was still logged into the system. Navigating the network, Neela quickly found the security measures.
Neela deactivated the transport inhibitors first. Tapping her comm badge, she raised Anara; "You're good to go. Release the package and send it to my location."
Neela knew Anara and her Cardassian charges were safely aboard the Ark when a five hundred kiloton bomb appeared before her. Neela activated the timer, set it for ten seconds, and the requested a transport to the Ark.
The explosion that destroyed the True Way's headquarters was easily detected by the Ark's sensors in orbit. During the resultant chaos on the ground, the Bajoran ship broke orbit and headed deeper into the DMZ. Neela asked if the genetic samples taken from Lang and her students had been left in the cell block before the bomb went off.
"Of course they had," Anara confirmed it, "I sent them down before I sent you the bomb."
"And that precaution will prevent the True Way from sending anyone else after us until we have our own security back in place," Lang admitted, "By the time they figure out we're still alive, we'll have moved on from Keplek."
"It was the least we could do for your cooperation," Anara assured them.
Lang scrutinized Neela, "And why did you play this out?"
"It was the will of the Prophets," Neela stated, "So I did my part."
"You really believe that, don't you?" Lang was astonished.
"And I find your disbelief as incredulous as you find my faith," Neela promised her, "We'll be turning ourselves in at the Federation checkpoint and then returning to Bajor. The Militia will arrange for your return to Keplek."
"All wheels within wheels," Lang sighed, "Will it ever end?"
"Someday," Neela said with utter certainty.
Lang decided not to take her word for it.
The debriefing on Bajor took three days. Afterwards, Anara found out when Neela was being let out of her investigative committee session and waited for her at the steps to Militia Command headquarters. Neela seemed jovial enough.
"Headed back to your unit now?" she asked Anara.
"They were very relieved to learn I was under orders and hadn't turned renegade," Anara confessed.
Neela nodded and started down the street. Anara lightly held her from going, "I tried to get you reinstated. Or at least have an offer made."
"I already have an offer," Neela brightly admitted.
"Working for the Militia?" Anara was stunned. Command had seemed adamant about keeping Neela out in the cold.
"I'll be working directly for the Kai," Neela explained.
"Sounds like a dream come true for you," Anara realized.
"It already has been," Neela said happily. And then she strolled down the street until she could flag down a transport. Meanwhile, Anara drank in the full implications of Neela's usage of the past tense.
|Last modified: 26 Aug 2016