Ro Laren turned fitfully in her sleep. She'd moved her quarters on Ronara several times over the last few months. With Kalita's imprisonment after Tom Riker's theft of the Defiant, her Maquis cell had been even more short-handed than ever. Although her cell had supported Riker's abortive mission, Ro had avoided personally meeting the man for fear of the memories he might invoke within her. The subsequent loss of Chakotay and his crew had been the worst morale crisis since the death of the cell's founder, Macius.
Chakotay's ship, the Liberty, numbered amongst the most powerful and versatile of the ragtag Maquis fleet. Its destruction, already felt, paled before the loss of her captain. Chakotay remained a moral and tactical inspiration to many of Ro's comrades. Despite the accompanying destruction of Gul Evek and his cruiser, Chakotay's absence would be felt for some time.
This left Ro in the unenviable position of being elevated by her peers to the ranks of Calvin Hudson, Sveta Korepanova, and Michael Eddington. The unyielding and mounting pressures of command wore at her but she'd risen to every obstacle. Her success rate established her as one of the most formidable Maquis commanders. Her skills, determination, and devotion to her peers comprised the foundation for this reputation.
The Cardassian security forces, humiliated by the loss of a prominent and influential Gul, initiated another sweep of the DMZ. Several cells had been devastated, their members detained or summarily executed. Other groups suffered disruptions from relocations to evade Cardassian Death Squads. Ro's cell managed to retain mission readiness throughout the recent upheaval, only enhancing their legend.
Exhausted from the frequent movement of personnel and equipment, Ro had taken a rare respite from the daily crises to turn in early. Although nightmares and fits punctuated her sleep, she remained unaware of the other humanoid presence that silently crept into her quarters. The furtive shadow paused, looming over the foot of her bed and awaiting instructions from an unknown source. It nodded its head in acknowledgement and its hand moved towards the disrupter at its belt.
Ro's eyes snapped open at the sound of the disrupter sliding from its pouch on its owner's belt. Her hand flashed under her pillow, deftly retrieving the Type I phaser secreted there. She rose and turned in a single motion, orange energy lancing forth from her weapon. The beam's arc caught her would-be assassin across the chest, felling him.
Her free hand flicked the light switch while her left kept the palm-sized weapon aimed at her subdued attacker. She reset the "cricket" phaser's discharge to a lethal level. If her unexpected visitor had armor proofed against light particle beams, she preferred staying alive to taking a prisoner. Hopefully, the intruder's identity would be apparent enough.
He'd fallen forward after slumping to his knees. Ro consciously knew it was presumptuous to assume gender based on his greater size and bulk, but instinctively did so anyway. A hood and cowl obscured the assassin's features and species. As Ro slowly bent to one knee, she knew what species would be revealed as she pulled back the cowl.
Surprise nearly paralyzed her upon discovering her assumptions were wrong. Although possessing thick black hair, her attacker was not a Cardassian. Her gender hypothesis also proved wrong as Ro turned the unconscious form over. The greatest shock arrived when Ro gazed upon the vestigial bone ridges lining the bridge of the woman's nose, unmistakably marking her as a Bajoran.
Rising unsteadily to her feet, Ro backed to her dresser and retrieved the surplus communicator setting atop it. Flipping it open, she spoke with as steady a voice as she could manage; "Ro to Tulley. I need two guards sent to my quarters at once."
Tulley's voice replied immediately, "I'll grab Thool and be there in a minute."
Ro's thin lips twisted into a grudging smile at hearing the concern transmitted over the communicator. Aric Tulley had stood solidly by Ro's side over the last year. The ex-farmer's stolid nature and laconic patience provided invaluable comfort to the rest of the cell. She considered her decision to appoint him her lieutenant in one of her rare moments of brilliance.
She got dressed while waiting for Tulley and Thool. Although never an ardent follower of Bajoran traditions, she did attire herself in the trademark woven sleeping garments of her people. Her usual response to Bajoran norms was flouting them in similar fashion as her wearing her earring on her left ear rather than her right to block any vedek or lay priest from trying to read her pagh.
Originally, this attitude stemmed from Ro perceiving her people as being weak. She'd witnessed her father being tortured to death and countless other atrocities inflicted by the Cardassians upon the dispirited Bajorans scattered amongst the work camps littering the Cardassian/Federation border. Ro traveled across the border, vowing never to appear weak or vulnerable again. She'd regarded her acceptance into Starfleet Academy as a path to fulfilling this goal.
Ro's Starfleet career was tumultuous at best. Assigned as an ensign to the USS Wellington, Ro disobeyed orders during an away mission on Garon II and eight fatalities resulted. She subsequently spent four years in the stockade on Jaros II before being tapped for a special assignment involving the Bajoran Resistance. Ro impressed her temporary CO, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and she was asked to join his crew as a Conn officer. Her success aboard the USS Enterprise-D led to her enrolment in Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training.
Upon graduation, Ro received a promotion to lieutenant and reassignment to the Enterprise. The starship rushed to the aid of a cruiser, ironically captained by the ill-fated Evek, and warned off several Maquis ships attacking the beleaguered Cardassians. After tending to the wounded, the Enterprise continued on to their rendezvous and briefing with Admiral Alynna Nechayev. The Admiral wished to discuss the growing dissent and violence surrounding the group known as the Maquis.
The Maquis arose on the colony worlds ceded by the Federation to the Cardassian Union at the end of the Second Cardassian War and re-designated as a Demilitarized Zone. Some of those settlements dated back over a century. They'd born the brunt of the First Cardassian War of the 2350s and the lingering Cold War and border disputes. To the colonists, their involuntary transfer to Cardassian control felt like abandonment. Starfleet's subsequent efforts to forcibly relocate many of the settlers became widely perceived as a betrayal of a century's worth of sacrifice and effort.
The new Cardassian authorities, desiring the land and resources but not the colonists, implemented a series of increasingly discriminatory and hostile measures. The treaty between the Federation and the Union granted administrative control of the DMZ to the Cardassians but denied them a military presence there. The treaty also prohibited Starfleet's entry but granted access to their former colonies for trade and law enforcement. To side step these prohibitions; the Cardassians utilized civilian "volunteers" to convince the Federation colonists to leave.
Tired of the beatings, property destruction and murders; the colonists took matters into their own hands. Since the Cardassian authorities refused to investigate the very actions they covertly supported and Starfleet would not intervene in what was deemed Cardassian internal affairs; the Maquis arose. The Maquis took their name from the French Resistance movement of Earth's Second World War and espoused a singular goal: to drive the Cardassians out of the DMZ. The Cardassians swiftly proclaimed them terrorists and the Federation, fearing a rekindling of hostilities, branded them as outlaws.
The Federation's leaders failed to anticipate the repercussions of their decision within Starfleet and their civilian population. Scores of civilians, particularly those from nearby worlds or other outer colonies, felt the Maquis' actions were justified and the legal sanctions against them unwarranted. The wave of empathy exuding from Starfleet came as a greater surprise. Veterans of both Cardassian Wars and regional natives alike felt outrage over the official policy and expressed their sympathies or actively supported the rebellion.
Nechayev tasked Ro to infiltrate the Maquis and bait a trap for their capture. Despite her expressed reservations, she accepted the assignment in order to repay Picard's long-standing faith in her. Her history with Starfleet, with minor modifications, provided the perfect cover story and placed her in good stead with the Ronaran Maquis cell. The death of the cell's founder at the hands of a Cardassian Death Squad ignited Ro's crisis of conscious.
Ro's own experiences with the Cardassians provided motive enough to endorse their struggle. Witnessing their desperate plight first hand shattered any element of detachment she'd tried to shroud herself within. Wrenched by conflicting loyalties and threatened with punitive action by her captain, Ro proceeded with the entrapment. In the end, holding Commander Will Riker at phaser point, she warned the other Maquis of the imminent trap and said her farewells to Starfleet.
As Ro alluded to Riker as she departed, she'd felt adrift for years. She identified with the Maquis. They were ordinary people dealt an extraordinarily brutal hand by fate. Inside their ranks, she discovered a sense of belonging that she'd never felt before and hadn't known she'd craved. She couldn't abandon the people that awoke such passions within her.
As she brushed her raven hair back from her face, she switched the phaser from one hand to the other. She'd alternated hands while dressing, never setting it down. Her prisoner never stirred but that was no reason to drop one's guard. Near assassination experiences tended to make a person hyper-vigilant.
A chime alerted Ro to Tulley and Thool's arrival. The door locks had to be deactivated manually to release. Colonies such as Ronara could not offer such luxuries as voice activated controls or computer regulated rooms. Such items were reserved for administrative and public buildings or owned by the prosperous.
She pressed the panel that unlocked the door. It slid open to reveal two men, one human and one Bolian. The human, Aric Tulley, wore an expression of grave concern. Thool, the Bolian, seemed anxious and even more skittish than usual.
Both wore jackets to combat the chilled air of Ronara's northern continent. Tulley drew a small Ferengi phaser from his coat pocket as Thool withdrew an Orion disrupter from his. They entered the apartment with their weapons at the ready. Thool's eyes widened as he saw Ro's unconscious "guest". Tulley's jaw tightened as he gave Ro a cursory glance, checking for injuries.
"I'm fine, Aric." She assured him.
"Have you checked that with a medical tricorder?" Tulley asked, not ready to accept Ro's assessment, "The Cardies have started using toxin injectors lately."
Ro gave him an annoyed glare, "If you hadn't noticed, she's Bajoran, not Cardassian. Of course, I also searched her and she didn't have anything besides a disrupter."
Tulley winced at the reprimand lacing her last comment, "Sorry."
Ro patted the man on the shoulder. As the cell's chief of security, he viewed assassination attempts, even failed ones, as a failure in his protective preparations. Tulley knew from his days as a farmer that one couldn't plan for every contingency. That'd never stopped him from trying before or continuing to do so now.
"So any clues to her identity?" he asked, changing the subject.
Ro's arms crossed across her chest as she shook her head in frustration, "No, not a thing. Her anonymity is more of a clue than anything else."
Tulley gave her a quizzical look, "How so?"
Ro smiled indulgently as she pointed at the fallen woman, "Like all good assassins, her clothes are nondescript and she carries no ID. The Cardassians extend their racial prejudices against "inferior" aliens to weaponry as well. She carried a Klingon disrupter rather than a Cardassian phaser. She's not a Cardassian agent."
"Who does that leave then?" Tulley inquired with mounting consternation at this puzzle, "Could the Orion Syndicate be involved?"
"Starfleet could have sent her." Thool muttered bitterly.
Ro considered both suggestions. Although the Maquis engaged in infrequent transactions with the Orions, they proved mutually beneficial despite being prohibitively expensive. The Syndicate wouldn't want to eliminate a proven profit source any sooner than a Ferengi would. Starfleet wasn't an option, even at their shadiest they were far too pristine for these tactics. That left someone local.
"She has to be from another cell." Ro thought aloud, "Or a former Bajoran Resistance unit."
Tulley scowled at this. The loose knit nature of the various cells allowed the Maquis to evade pursuit easier but also bred many operational philosophies. Integrating every different method and perspective wasn't always possible and an occasional cell or individual would form a splinter group. Such splits didn't usually result in violence but it happened occasionally.
"I'd bet on Resistance." Tulley commented.
Ro nodded. Most Resistance fighters either joined the Provisional Government's Militia upon the Cardassian withdrawal of Bajor, or retired to their native provinces. Sadly, far too many did not. Sought by the Bajoran government and unable to surrender their hatred of all things Cardassian, most of the renegades eventually traveled to the DMZ and took up the fight alongside the Maquis. Ro also knew that some of them regarded the Maquis' normal tactics as too passive and agitated for a more preemptive campaign.
"I'd say they're our best bet as well." She conceded with distaste, "Ever since the latest Cardassian purges started, they've been pushing for retaliation against civilian targets."
Tulley shook his head in disgust, "That'll never happen."
"Don't be so sure." Ro warned, "Some of the other cell leaders are starting to waver."
Tulley's jaw tightened, "Leaders like Cal Hudson and Sveta Korepanova will never allow it."
"They're not everyone." Ro replied sadly, "And their star is falling with every recent setback."
Tulley grumbled a reply involving natural fertilizers but Thool interrupted them, "I don't know if this is a problem or not, but mystery woman here isn't waking up."
Ro turned quickly and retrieved a medical tricorder from the lavatory. Detaching the sensor wand, she waved it over the other woman's still form. Her breathing remained slow and steady, as though she'd fallen into a deep slumber. No outward sign of her inability to rouse could be seen.
"Her brainwave pattern seems dampened." Ro said with a frown, eyes narrowing as she studied the medical scanner's read-outs, "Every time she starts to awaken, it seems to trigger a neural impulse that sends her back to sleep."
"What's causing it?" Thool asked as he backed away.
Ro shrugged, "I don't know. I'm no doctor."
"Any chance T'Kir could pull the info we need out of her in lieu of a conventional interrogation?" Tulley inquired.
Ro pursed her lips. T'Kir was an invaluable manipulator of computer systems but was also the first mentally unstable Vulcan Ro had ever known. She was unpredictable enough without mind-melding with an unknown assailant displaying abnormal neural readings. If no other recourse became available, then Ro would authorize it, but not until every other option was exhausted.
"No, not yet." Ro replied with grim finality. She turned towards Tulley and forced a lighter tone, "So… when do Macen and Danan get back?"
The runabout's landing lights cut through the darkness as the miniature starship continued to descend towards the settlement's landing center. It settled with the sigh of venting thrusters. Moments later a hatch and stepway lowered to the ground. An interior hatch slid aside with the whoosh of airtight seals releasing.
Ro and Tulley waited for the two passengers to emerge. When they ventured forth from the craft, they bore travel bags slung over their shoulders. Both wore Starfleet's Class B Sciences division uniform. Brin Macen and Lisea Danan had returned to the fold.
Ro was heartened by Macen's return. The El-Aurian had served with Starfleet Intelligence longer than Ro had been alive. Macen's involvement with Cardassian affairs began with Starfleet's first encounter with them. He'd been assigned to the DMZ to monitor the ongoing developments in the DMZ. Macen accepted the mission and another as well: he'd become Ro's intelligence officer.
Between Michael Eddington, Brin Macen, and a handful of other Starfleet officers serving as double agents, the Maquis continued their campaign armed with the assistance of the very agency hunting them. Lisea Danan accompanied Macen to the DMZ while going on a leave of absence from active duty. Stellar cartographers were far more highly prized amongst the Maquis than Starfleet. Although the Trill detested the violence inherent to an armed resistance, she recognized the legitimacy of the settlers' cause.
"Hello Laren." Macen said as he drew nearer to Ro, "Anything happen while we were gone?"
Ro's dark scowl was answer enough, "Just an assassination attempt by persons unknown. Nothing much."
Macen stroked his reddish gold goatee; "This attempt wouldn't have been made by one of our own would it?"
Ro's widened in surprise, "Probably, how did you know?"
Macen's expression twisted into a grimace; "I'll brief as soon as Lees and I can get changed."
Ro nodded, "We'll meet at my place.
Ro glanced about at those gathered around her table. She'd assembled the core of her cell, the most trusted officers and confidants. Tulley sat at the other end of the table, his craggy face and careworn features lending him an air of sturdy reliability. His dark hair was swiftly becoming shot through with gray.
Macen sat to Tulley's left. His appearance suggested he was entering his thirties but Ro knew that appearances were deceiving regarding his seemingly ageless race. His fair features and red-gold hair marked him as coming from another part of his distant world than her old friend Guinan. Like the bartender aboard the Enterprise-D, Macen possessed an enigmatic sense of humor and an ethereal knowledge base.
Danan sat opposite Macen, as though naturally forming a counterbalance. Her blonde hair was worn off the shoulder and flipped upward at the ends. The dark spots running down her face and neck highlighted the darker streaks of her hair. Her blue-green eyes twinkled with mischief whenever she looked at Macen.
They were a good group, the kind you could trust with your life. Since Ro relied upon them in that capacity on a daily basis, she had no doubts as how each would react in a crisis. In Starfleet, both Macen and Danan outranked her but here in the Zone she was in command. Talent and ability outweighed all other merits in a life and death struggle.
Ro nodded towards Tulley to begin the debriefing, "In the predawn hours, an unidentified Bajoran woman was captured while attempting to kill Ro. We've been unable to rouse her for questioning. She seems locked in some kind of conditioned response to prevent interrogation. We haven't had any success in trying to determine her identity through standard means and are waiting for responses from inquires made to other cells."
Macen nodded, "Your difficulty identifying her and your inability to break her from her programmed state make perfect sense."
"I'm glad you think so." Tulley replied irritably, rankled by his failures.
"Aric, relax." Ro urged, "None of this is your fault. Some one went to great lengths to create the perfect assassin."
"I think assassins are the least of our concerns right now." Macen warned, "The meeting I attended on Deep Space 9 may provide the answers to our little mystery here."
Ro's eyebrow arched, "Really? I thought it was just another Cardassian bitching session."
Macen nodded, "That's what I originally thought as well. As you know, as one of Starfleet's Cardassian analysts, I observed the meetings. The Bajoran Militia also sent a representative. As Starfleet's Chief of Security aboard, Michael Eddington sat directly in on the meetings. We had several discussions about what we learned from the Cardassians and the Bajorans."
The irony of Eddington's role in things brought a smirk to Ro's face. Eddington's assignment to DS9 came after the station's Militia constable, Odo, had disagreed with Starfleet regulations. Eddington's role included curtailing Maquis activities in the sector. No one in Starfleet Security realized that Eddington was a Maquis.
Macen continued his briefing; "The Cardassians have had several interesting 'incidents', as they prefer to call them. Prominent citizens disappear for several days and then reappear just as mysteriously. They report that nothing unusual has happened and that they just left home for a few days rest. No amount of investigation can reveal any discrepancies in their story and the matter is dropped."
Macen held Ro's gaze as he pressed on, "These citizens then attack paramilitary units, civilian centers, or stray Cardassian soldiers. The Cardassian authorities cannot interrogate their prisoners since they slip immediately into a catatonic state upon capture."
"Sounds familiar." Tulley griped.
"As we were preparing to depart, I was approached by the Bajoran representative." Macen ignored Tulley's comment; "Major Thrall Beren and I previously worked together while he was still a member of the Bajoran Resistance."
"Starfleet never aided the Bajoran Resistance." Tulley protested.
Ro shook her head, recalling the deal that got her out of the stockade; "If its convenient, Starfleet will work with anyone."
"Thrall mentioned the name of a former vedek and Maquis that the Militia was searching for in relation to several incidents involving indoctrinated agitators."
"Tiro Anadis." Ro said, distaste filling her mouth at his name as a chill slithered down her spine, recalling her last meetings with the maniacal zealot.
"Why would Tiro try to kill Ro?" Tulley inquired in a tone suggesting he'd rather not know the answer.
Danan cast him a sympathetic look as she replied, "Tiro is an extremist hard-liner. He advocates victory by any means necessary. He initiated the whole debate about whether or not to continue a paramilitary campaign or switch to terror tactics."
Tulley nodded sadly. Ro admired his ability to seek the best in others even after all life had put him through, "But Ro and Chakotay got him thrown out of his old cell."
"Yet another motive for revenge." Danan offered.
"Assassination may not have been the goal." Macen commented absently, "All his other recent activities involved brainwashing opponents into doing his bidding."
"That's it!" Ro exclaimed, to her own surprise; "Tiro wasn't trying kill me, he was trying to kidnap me."
"A disrupter doesn't have a stun setting, Laren." Tulley scolded, "It doesn't make a good kidnapping weapon."
"It may not stun but it can disable." She retorted, "Once Tiro had is hands on me, I'd have a wound to make my disappearance and return look like a painful escape from an actual kidnapping."
Everyone nodded at the logic behind the theory. Ro noted that Macen didn't seem surprised by the notion and wondered if he'd withheld that theory. He had tendency to be too damn cryptic sometimes. She kept reminding herself to have a little chat with him about it.
"That doesn't answer the question of why, though." Danan observed.
"You said it yourself," Ro explained, "I'm one of Tiro's philosophical opponents. All the cell leaders are gathering next month to settle the issue of tactics and strategy. If Tiro can 'change' enough people's minds, then the Maquis will alter policy and fight the type of war he craves."
"What a sonuva…" Tulley began to mutter in disgust.
Ro shrugged, "No arguments there."
"So," Danan interjected in an expectant tone, "what are we going to do about it?"
Tulley sighed, "It's not like we can start a Zone wide manhunt. One the things that actually gives us half a chance in hell against the Cardies is that it's such a large amount of territory to cover."
"And Tiro fought the Cardassians on Bajor before travelling here." Ro reminded them all, "So he has a lot of experience at disappearing when he needs to."
"I could put out feelers with all my contacts and sources to see if they've heard anything." Macen informed her, "But that's a slow process and I'm not certain we have that much time before he strikes again."
Ro rolled that thought around, looking at it from different angles; "So why not let him?"
"Excuse me?" Tulley blurted in disbelief.
Ro turned towards Danan, "Lisea, could you rig a homing device that could be inserted into a body and still be visible to sensors from a distance?"
The other woman nodded, "Easily. It would just require a dilithium crystal shard and knowing the exact subspace frequency the shard resonates in."
"Then do it." Ro ordered, "We're going to spread the word that I was attacked but foiled the assassination attempt. The attacker's identity and motives are unknown since they're unable to respond to questioning."
She folded her hands together on the table and fixed a determined gaze at her confidants, "That should provoke Tiro into trying again. When he does, we'll track him back to his base and shut him down permanently."
Tulley had to ask, "How permanent are we talking?"
Ro's shrug was barely perceptible; "We'll see when the moment arrives."
The brush passed through Ro's raven tresses as she stood before the mirror in her bathroom. She'd allowed it to grow out again since joining the Maquis. It hung to her shoulders and she frequently held it back out of her face with a headband. It was a minor vanity but one that granted her the illusion of a normal life during peaceful moments as this.
She finished brushing and leaned in closer to gaze at her reflection. Her dark eyes glittered back at her, filled with memories of far too much pain. Her thin lips pressed together more tightly. These were the moments when she could confront her wounds and fears, when others were present she wore a stoic mask.
She'd been taught that leadership principle at Starfleet Academy but she'd learned it under the watchful eye of Jean-Luc Picard. Picard's confidence never wavered in front of his crew or his opponents. Even when admitting error, he exuded confidence. That trait had won her undying respect.
Ro often wondered how successfully she emulated her chosen role model. The veterans of her cell certainly respected her and she seemed to quickly win over new recruits. Despite facing death at Cardassian hands an immeasurable number of times beside some of them, she didn't know if they'd stare death in the face out of sheer loyalty to her and her leadership. A forlorn sigh escaped her lips as she pushed away from the mirror with no more answers than she possessed before.
Nearly a week had passed since Tiro Anadis' abortive attempt to either kill or kidnap her. Several members of her cell had traveled off-planet to procure needed supplies. Tulley tightened security around her dorm and obsessively hovered nearby. Danan completed her work on the homing device now implanted in Ro's arm the day after being ordered to devise one.
She exited the bathroom and stepped out into her bedroom. She was surprised to find it already occupied. She tensed but refrained from drawing the Type I phaser secreted in her waistband. Thool stood in the middle of the room, keeping a wary eye out for intruders.
"Thool," Ro chided, "I know Tulley told you to stick close, but don't you think staking out my bedroom is a little too literal?"
Thool didn't reply. That made her nervous. In Ro's experience, Bolians tended to swing between loquacious sociability and effusive anxiety. Thool did not display either of these traits.
The Bolian standing before her was a changed man. He moved with quiet certainty and purpose. The earnest zeal lighting his eyes testified to the depth of Tiro Anadis' work. Thool had never been zealous towards anything not involving digestion.
Ro's hand slowly gravitated towards her waistband and Thool raised his own phaser, "I'd rather you not. I'd hate to have to carry you to the runabout from here."
Ro nodded, "I'd hate that too. So what do you suggest?"
"Turn around and place your arms in the air." Thool ordered, "I'll retrieve the phaser you have tucked in your waistband."
"Sounds reasonable." Ro replied aloud but inwardly she fumed, Dammit it all! The whole cell knows I keep a holdout weapon in the small of my back.
She'd expected Tiro to send someone after her; she'd just never expected it to be one of her own people. Although the knowledge of the trap had been restricted to Ro and her immediate lieutenants, Thool knew enough about her tactics to complicate any later escape attempts and perhaps the plan itself. Her hand reached for her waistband as she began to turn as instructed.
Thool's particle blast caught her squarely in the chest before she even pulled her phaser free. She slumped to the ground and remained there. Thool stepped closer while keeping his weapon trained upon her. He plucked her phaser from her belt and stood again.
He shook his head and clucked his tongue as he observed her prone form, "I said I didn't want to carry you, not that I wouldn't."
An alarm sounded and Lisea Danan swiveled her chair to face the readouts flashing across the screen of the master sensor controls. Starfleet built the planet's sensor network almost twenty years ago when tensions with the Cardassian Union first flared. Although the hardware had not regularly upgraded, Danan guaranteed that the software algorithms were the latest available. She'd supervised the construction of dozens of fixed monitoring stations, such as this, in addition to a half-dozen mobile remote access units.
She'd programmed the alarm to sound if the sensor drone in geo-synchronous orbit above them detected an energy reverberation from Ro's tracking crystal. She tapped at her controls, refining the sensor's emission and return parameters. Overlaying the results across a map of the city illuminated the cause of the alarm. Ro's signal was moving after having received an energy pulse.
Danan toggled the comm, "Brin, we have movement. Sensors indicate that Laren was hit with a particle blast and is now moving across town."
Although awakened from sleep, her news chased grogginess from his voice; "Probable destination?"
"Looks like she's bound for the landing pads." Danan reported, hoping bound retained a singular meaning in this case.
"Call Tulley." Macen advised with grim determination, "Tell him the trap is sprung."
"Oh, he'll love that." Danan commented under her breath as she closed the line and paged Tulley's communicator.
Ro awoke with a pounding headache. Well, she thought miserably, at least I know I'm alive. No imaginable hell could hurt this much. That notion amused her as she struggled to open her eyes.
Before her stint on the Enterprise, Ro'd never given much thought to her people's beliefs. The Prophets certainly never smote the Cardassians nor delivered miraculous comforts, so she'd pretty much forsaken them as they'd forsaken Bajor. Finding herself, along with Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge, a veritable living ghost had given her cause to re-examine some of her views. The experience made her more humble but did not alter her agnosticism.
While she regarded the Bajoran "wormhole aliens" as just that, she admitted there was more than enough evidence that they had played a part in Bajoran history. All that made them, in her opinion, was yet another advanced species playing Gods with a lesser race. She'd acknowledge their role in her native culture, but she'd do it her own way. As her eyes fluttered open, she faced another Bajoran who'd decided to honor his heritage in his own fashion regardless of the practices of his fellow religious leaders.
Ro found herself in a reclining chair. Tiro Anadis sat on a bench across from her. The scene reminded her somewhat of her initial contact with the Maquis. Tiro forsook his vedek robes long ago, taking up the simple work clothes of an itinerant monk.
"So, how am I supposed to address you?" Ro asked with an acerbic edge, "Somehow Vedek Tiro leaves a bad taste in my mouth."
A smile twitched at the corners of Tiro's mouth, "And what would you prefer?"
"Oh, I don't know." Ro replied lightly, "I usually call you 'that murderous bastard' but I could settle for "you hypocritical son of a bitch' in a pinch."
Tiro laughed in genuine delight; "Your sense of humor never fails to delight Laren. May I call you Laren?"
"Not of you expect to survive this little encounter." Ro growled, "Get to the point, why am I here?"
"So that we can become better friends."
Ro snorted derisively, "It'll be a cold day in the Fire Caves before that happens."
"Hear me out." Tiro smiled, "I can be very persuasive."
"And if you lose the debate, you'll just reprogram me anyway." Ro interjected, "Must've been a handy hobby when it came to collection time at the Temple. Worshipers are a little stingy in their offerings, take them in the back, give a little mental nudge, and the latinum starts flowing in and no one knows why their suddenly so generous. Is that how this all started?"
Tiro's face darkened, "You know nothing! The Prophets gave me this gift. With it, I can purify the flock and repay the aggressor."
Ro cocked an eyebrow, "And when does it stop? The Cardassians are off Bajor. Does it end if they leave the DMZ?" She saw his hardened expression and shook her head; "I don't think so. I don't think it can end for you until every Cardassian is dead."
"They are the oppressor!" spittle flew from Tiro's lips as he shouted, "They mocked our beliefs and pillaged our Temples. They tortured and ground our people into disbelief. People like you, who hold no truths to be sacred. They divided the Vedek Council and heresy crept in."
"Bajorans have always been divided over how to worship the Prophets and the meaning of Orb prophecies." Ro replied with bitter disappointment, "We were so damn divided that we couldn't co-operate enough to repel Cardassia's invasion. Hell, the Occupation united us in a way that hadn't been seen in centuries."
Tiro rose suddenly, "I thought I could make you see the truth willingly. I see that's impossible. You will come to the truth Ro Laren, whether by choice or by force, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that when the Maquis cell leaders meet, you will spread my message for me. Your name and word will carry far more weight then I could ever bring to such a council."
"Like hell I will." Ro declared, starting to rise.
Tiro pulled a phaser from his brown tunic and aimed it, "I do not wish to stun you again but I will if necessary."
Ro froze and sat in a neutral posture, "Why's that?"
"The conditioning process works better on a conscious subject." Tiro lectured as if to a classroom, "The desired behaviors and triggers can be more deeply implanted into the subconscious and long-term memory of a cognizant subject. This allows for the person or persons to be reintegrated into their original roles and held for activation at leisure. Unconscious recipients generally only retain enough conditioning to achieve a single objective immediately after release."
"Oh really? And what if the subject wants to dismember you?" She failed to keep the sarcasm from her voice.
"You'll learn soon enough, my child." Ro grated at his slipping back into the role of religious instructor, "Will you come willingly, or do I have implant a mental self destruct in your sleep?"
Ro tensed, trying to gauge the distance between them. She wondered if she could reach him before he fired. Going with him was not an option. Her hopes rested on her cell's ability to track her here. If they'd been unable to, her expectations of a successful escape diminished greatly.
Tiro opened his mouth to speak when a vibration passed through the walls and floor. An echoing explosion followed on its heels. Ro fought to suppress a smile as Tiro moved to a comm panel affixed alongside the doorway. He slapped the activation button with barely suppressed rage.
"What's going on?" he demanded.
"We're under attack!" a panicked voice answered.
"Of course we're under attack, you dolt!" Tiro yelled back at the comm, "Who is attacking us?"
"I…I don't know." The panic was now tinged with resentment; "They're small craft like those typically used by the Maquis."
Tiro spun to accuse Ro of perfidy with a wrathful, "You!" All he managed to get out was a mangled, "Yourghk!" as her fist slammed into his mouth. His head snapped back and rammed itself into the wall. Ro drove her knee upward into his stomach as he staggered forward.
The phaser came loose from his grip as he fell to his knees. She kicked the pistol away and dropped to one knee while thrusting an elbow down between his shoulder blades. The battered vedek fell facedown onto the floor with a groaning gurgle. Ro sprang to her feet, snatching the phaser up as she distanced herself from Tiro.
Explosions continued to cause the floor and walls to shudder. Now she could hear ground based Type VIII phaser banks firing into the air at her comrades' ships. Whatever shielding this place had wouldn't last much longer. Unfortunately, she had no idea how much longer the ships' shields would last either.
Deciding she couldn't wait to see who won that little contest, Ro checked the phaser she'd taken from Tiro. It was a standard Bajoran Militia issued sidearm. She didn't know how much that should worry her, or if the fact that it didn't, should. She appreciated its simplistic, combat ready design as she verified its setting and shot Tiro with a heavy stun burst.
Satisfied that she had at least an hour before Tiro could pose a threat again, she activated the door. Warily stepping out into the hall, Ro glanced from one end to the other. She didn't readily recognize the building's design or architecture. If she were to disable the phaser array, she'd have to find it on her own.
Above the complex, a half dozen ships angled and juked while pummeling the installation's shields with phaser fire. An occasional burst penetrated a weak point in the electrostatic barrier to cut a swathe through the buildings below. The varied mix of couriers, raiders, and scouts wove a tapestry of choreographed destruction through the sky. Aboard the Ju'day-class SS Indomitable, Aric Tulley's nerves frayed as he awaited word from Danan that she'd located Ro.
Ro noticed a portable shield generator erected in the corridor before her. Curious as to whom else Tiro had imprisoned; she strode up to the door to garner a glimpse inside. To Ro's amusement, Thool sat mournfully on a bench. Ro cleared her throat and Thool's eyes lit with hope as he recognized her.
Approaching the field, he stopped just short of it; "Ro! I'm so sorry! They grabbed me when I met with the Altos cell. I knew what I was doing but I couldn't stop myself."
The pleading anxiety lacing his words sounded like the real Thool but she had to be certain, "So you're all right now?"
He nodded, "As soon as I landed and popped the hatches, I was myself again. Tiro's accomplices boarded and immediately hauled me here." He paused and then added angrily, "I remember everything."
"Does everything include the location of the phaser array control room?"
Thool nodded with a hunger in his eyes, "Yes, and I'll take you there if it means making these monsters pay for toying with my mind."
Ro smiled, "You just said the magic words."
"I found her!" Danan announced from the scout's science station.
"Beam her up." Tulley ordered breathlessly to T'Kir, the Vulcan Maquis manning Ops.
"Belay that." Macen interjected, "Don't attempt a transport."
"Excuse me?" Tulley asked testily, "Who's in command here?"
Macen sighed before answering, "The shield is unstable, but it could still interrupt a transporter beam. Ro is also on the move and a Bolian life sign is moving with her."
"Presumably." Macen answered, "They're moving towards what looks like the phaser array control room. If they take it out, we can probably end this without any more bloodshed. The Cardassians kill enough of us every day in the Zone, I thought we might like to avoid doing their work for them."
Tulley grated under Macen's sarcasm but conceded his point, "Then let's keep the bastards busy and focused elsewhere."
They'd ambushed two Bajorans rushing down the corridor to parts unknown. Ro took their weapons, arming Thool with one. From what Thool recalled, the control room possessed four stations that would be constantly manned, not accounting for visitors. She placed the disrupter she'd captured, set the power cell on overload, and ran like hell towards cover.
The building whine of the disrupter had an unexpected effect. The locked door slid open to reveal a nervous looking tech. Her eyes widened as she registered the cascade of events unfolding before her. She tried to jump aside but she was too late.
The release of energy unleashed a particle wave that engulfed the phaser control room. Undirected torrents of energy attacked the molecular bonding of equipment and sentients alike. The techs died an agonizing death as the control's EPS conduits spewed their loads, adding to the miasma of lethal currents. The resultant feedback overloaded the powergrid for the entire complex.
As the sparks diminished and the lights died out, Ro rose to her feet. Smelling the scent of charred flesh wafting from the control she scrunched her nose. She regretted the necessity of her actions but still couldn't see an alternative. Fanatics in league with Tiro Anadis were hardly likely to respond to a request for surrender, no matter how persuasive or compelling it was.
"You okay?" she asked Thool.
"I hope so." He coughed; the Bolian was still on the floor but beginning to stir.
"Come on." Ro urged, "Let's go baby sit Tiro. Tulley and the others are in a better position to find us than vice versa. I don't want that motherless son of a gul slipping away in the confusion."
"Can't blame you for that." Thool groaned as he rose, "Any chance he has any food on him?"
"Their shields are down." Danan reported, "Hell, their whole damn powergrid is down. It's lights out down there."
Tulley slapped the armrest of his seat. Ro had done it again! He had no idea how she kept pulling off minor miracles such as this, but he was about to complain. He turned towards T'Kir.
"Signal them and order their unconditional surrender." Tulley relayed, "Any resistance will be met with force."
He turned towards Danan, "Are you still monitoring Ro's location?"
Danan nodded and Tulley finally smiled, "Good, I'm taking some men and beaming to her position. Macen, you can have the bridge."
"What if I don't want it?"
Two days later, Tiro Anadis sat in a cell aboard a Bajoran Militia flitter. The Indomitable departed less than twenty minutes after rendezvousing with the Militia craft. Major Thrall Beren's comm exchange with Ro had been both brief and revealing. Ro contended she only foisted Tiro off on the Militia because the Maquis lacked penal facilities.
An incredulous smile affixed itself to Thrall's face as he turned to face the other occupant of his workroom aboard the flitter, "I don't know how you predicted it, Elias, but everything followed the outline you described when you suggested this course of action."
Commander Elias Vaughn, Starfleet Special Operations, nodded in acknowledgement; "You have to know your players. Ro Laren is by all accounts a tactical prodigy. My old friend Jean-Luc Picard is her biggest fan and I've learned to trust his judgement implicitly. Her mentor at Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training and among the Maquis was a former student of mine. I knew she wouldn't disappoint."
"It's a shame she wastes such talent with the Maquis."
"It's no waste." Vaughn countered, "But if you think her talents could be better used elsewhere, do something about it."
Thrall was confused, "Like what?"
"The Maquis won't last forever. Keep track of her, offer her a job when things quiet down."
"Won't Starfleet do it?"
Vaughn shook his head sadly; "According to Starfleet, Ro Laren is a deserter. No matter what incredible talents the young lady may have, they won't overlook that."
Thrall made a note in his padd; "I'll talk to First Minister Shaakar and see what he thinks."
Warmth returned to Vaughn's eyes, "I'd appreciate it."
3 months after the close of the Dominion War, Elias Vaughn assumed the post of Executive Officer aboard Deep Space 9. His Chief of Security was one Lieutenant Ro Laren of the Bajoran Militia's Special Forces. Vaughn knew immediately this assignment would rank among the most memorable of his eighty-year career.