TEROK'NOR

"Glinn Kadrai, you have the conn."

With that, Melset left the bridge, went to a restricted area of the cruiser, then entered a cabin to contact the Order; after checking that every element was calibrated as required and inactivating surveillance devices, she spoke into her commband. "Proceed."

The individuals who beamed into the room were startling at first sight. Apparently Bajorans, in reality they were surgically altered Cardassian operatives, according to Melset's information. Their mission was to infiltrate the Bajoran resistance with the goal of acquiring sufficient information to contain and subsequently crush the rebellion which was forming against the occupiers before it could develop enough momentum to spread uncontrollably across the entire planet; already the sabotage of installations was increasing exponentially along with attacks against individual Cardassians as well as groups, so that the militaries and officials as well as their families had stopped going outside without bodyguards.

She briefly inclined her head in greeting. "Welcome to the Orissà. I have been instructed to effect your transferral to Terok'Nor."

No specifics as to security protocols on board the destroyer were mentioned or demanded. The organizer of the mission had sent them on their way after notifying the Gul, knowing all necessary procedures would be seen to.

The leader of the mission, Fyros, handed her a padd. "This contains the frequencies of our transponders; the information is meant for you and the Guls on patrol on and around Bajor to preclude incidents. Prefect Dukat is to be kept out of the loop as pertains to certain details about our presence and the exact goals of our mission."

Melset had the general area scanned once again for potential risks before inquiring, "Mission? Code F-4508- Red."

"During repairs at Terok'Nor, the Reymac, a Hideki class vessel was entered and captured by terrorists of the resistance. It was docked at the station for repairs and upgrades with a crew of 15 maintenance workers, five of whom were working outside." He continued after exchanging glances with the others. "Just at the junction of two corridors, a group of Bajorans created a disturbance which became a violent altercation; four other men made use of this distraction, coming out of hiding to eliminate the guard with stolen phaser rifles. They and their accomplices boarded the ship; accessed the ventilation system and released an odourless but toxic gas …"

", that drugged the remaining staff." Melset finished the sentence for him.

Fyros briefly inclined his head. "…they murdered the crew, later threw the bodies out of the airlock at clearing the station." His voice was even as he continued the account. "We apprehended the merchant who had sold them the chemicals needed to produce the gas; he was repeatedly interrogated about each detail and after only some very minor encouragement gave us a remarkably accurate description of the Bajoran agent who had ordered them so that identification and arrest should present no problems. The merchant remains imprisoned, permitting us to subject him to further interrogatory procedures should his information prove to be incorrect. Central Command and the Order expect that Bajoran and his fellow terrorists – 12 refinery workers have been registered as unaccounted for on Terok'Nor – will presumably attempt to stage attacks on our enclaves and on freighters within the coming weeks or months."

A recurrence of such incidents must be circumvented lest they become a pattern. Each extant weakness in Security has to be eliminated, failsafes and backups instituted. Too much is at stake here! The Gul watched the leader of the group, waiting.

"We are to be beamed onto the promenade, arrested by station security as undocumented labourers and subsequently contrive to escape into the Bajoran sector of the Promenade. Under no circumstances must we be recaptured; precluding that scenario is your responsibility until we are in the Bajoran section of Terok'Nor; that is when your role in this mission ends. Is that understood, Gul Melset? Central Command has authorized your and Gul Renor's temporary separation from Gul Jasad's division, with Gul Renor to be notified the day after you have initiated and completed the first phase."

"We shall depart at once." Melset added, "This area has been declared off-limits to all crew during your stay on board to circumvent any security breaches. I trust the accommodations meet with your approval? The replicators have been activated." She indicated three spots on the walls, "I have surveillance devices here; feel free to deactivate them whenever you have to discuss anything that must remain classified. Once you have left, I'll see to reactivation."

"Arrangements are satisfactory as are your precautions." Fyros added, "While on Terok'Nor, register all aspects of administration and factors which may have led to the deterioration of security on the station proper and on Bajor. You have served under Prefect Dukat's command for some years. Draw him out … you know what you may have to do. The report is to be submitted to your contacts who will meet you at the appropriate time." The leader of the mission turned to his colleagues and began a last-minute briefing.

Wordlessly, Melset left for the bridge where, before retaking his station, Glinn Kadrai indicated that there had been no unexpected incidents or developments.

"Var Nadim, open hailing frequencies to Gul Jasad."

Within seconds, her superior's image appeared on screen. Melset rose to stand at attention while saying, "Gul Jasad, request permission to separate from the division as per orders."

"Permission granted." Jasad added, "You will be kept informed about further developments. Gul Jasad out." The request was but a formality as the division leader had already been notified before Melset received her own orders, the procedure only meant to preclude questions in case the mission met with disaster.

"Set course for Terok'Nor. Maximum." With that, the mission was relegated to the back of her mind while she concentrated only on her immediate surroundings. She had received her orders, it was her duty to fulfil their exact terms or face the consequences.

Major Tepek entered, and, contrary to usual procedure, relieved the Var at communications. "Var Nadim, you are required in engineering."

The young officer saluted and left.

After making some minor adjustments, Tepek began sending out a flurry of encoded messages. Melset had been notified he was to initiate the mission proper and provide the agents with last-minute information, information which was none of her concern as she was only marginally involved. She felt privileged at being permitted to meet the operatives and entrusted with ensuring the mission's implementation as well as the fact-finding afterwards.

Four days later, Terok'Nor appeared in space, a deceptively fragile-looking station in orbit around Bajor, a world which was destined for full-scale colonization by Cardassia within the next one or two decades at the very latest. Freighters and destroyers of all classes were arriving and departing the station which had become a hub of activity; under the prefect's command, all developments had been accelerated.

In spite of the apprehension concerning the orders she had been given, Melset considered the planet as it slowly orbited its sun: it was a beautiful world, with masses of free water, its land highly fertile and, far more importantly, Bajor was incredibly rich in raw materials which were presently being exploited for the greater glory of Cardassia. Even its moons possessed invaluable resources; the ore refinery on Terok'Nor has increased output markedly …. She smiled faintly, It is a privilege to be a part of this development, exchanged glances with Glinn Desan who was also looking at the the planet interestedly. Cardassia forever – further her interests at all costs. The Glinn responded to her smile, his expression proud. All ranks, from recruit to Legate, took pride in their work for Cardassia, rejoiced at every slight sign of progress.

"You are approaching Terok'Nor. State your purpose." The command was peremptory, according to norm.

"Gul Melset, in command of the Orissà, assigned to division F-489, under the command of Gul Jasad. Purpose: delivery of parts and new personnel to Terok'Nor. ETA in 15 minutes." She transmitted the series of codes given her at departure from her division.

Within seconds, data had been verified. "You are cleared for docking procedures. Upper Pylon 1. Glinn Kailas out."

Your career is proceeding as I expected. Melset remembered Kailas from her time as a Glinn under Gul Dukat's command and was pleased at her former comrade's having risen so far so quickly.

The navigator quickly input the coordinates as the ship slowly approached the station.

"To all personnel: Glinn Chagjat will establish the R&R roster for the time of our stay. The soldiers are to beam down with their respective troop leaders." She decided to dispense with the usual warning as all Cardassian militaries knew the rules and the penalties for infractions and only added, "You are all aware of the rules and regulations; exercise due caution when on the Promenade, move about the station only in groups."

"Glinn Masok, you have the conn. Glinn Tebran will relieve you in 6 hours. Contact Prefect Dukat and transfer communications to the ready room." Melset rose, leaving the bridge to her adjutant. Once in the room, she waited for the door to slide shut before placing her hand on the scanner.

Within moments of verification, the communit activated. As soon as she had registered her access code the screen cleared to show Prefect Dukat.

His greeting was friendly, even pleased. "Ah, Gul Melset! You are punctual, as always. I suggest you beam down at once. My adjutant, Glinn Shelan, will be expecting you. Prefect Dukat out."

"Glinn Kadrai and Glinn Yadrin, meet me in transporter bay 2 in five minutes," was her order via commband as she walked through the corridor. Major Tepek would see to clandestine beamdown of the operatives parallel to her and her men's own arrival on the station. With a quick gesture, she activated the implant she had insisted on having – it would record all conversations around her for later reference as well as trace her itinerary on Terok'Nor.

They materialized in OPS where Glinn Shelan saluted them. "Welcome to Terok'Nor, Gul Melset, Glinns Kadrai and Yadrin. Prefect Dukat is waiting for you in his office." He added, "The Prefect is providing you with an escort during your stay here and has placed quarters at your disposal as well. As to your Glinns, he invites them to make use of the Orissà's stopover together with your other crew."

"That is very generous." She turned to her officers. "Glinns Kadrai and Yadrin, feel free to join the others. Your orders are to enjoy your downtime. I have heard there is no lack of facilities for entertainment and relaxation on Terok'Nor, but before that, notify Glinn Masok he is to organize groups for R&R on the station."

A salute and the men left, their attitude showing their pleasure at this unexpected privilege.

"Prefect Dukat, Gul Melset has arrived." Glinn Shelan stepped aside to let her enter.

After briefly inclining her head in recognition of his higher status, Melset saluted. "Gul Melset reporting." before coming to stand at attention.

Prefect Dukat acknowledged her greeting, saying, "At ease, Gul Melset. Welcome to Terok'Nor. Unfortunately, the present situation is less than optimal. We definitely need to discuss the problem that has been developing; I fear it is quite serious."

He came around his desk to precede her to a separate area of his office where he gestured at Melset to take a seat next to him. "Here are the facts." Activating a screen, Dukat indicated the statistics displayed. "As you can see, terrorist activities have been steadily increasing over the past 25 years with an abrupt surge of attacks in the course of the past two. Attacks on enclaves constitute the latest development, with that in Dahkur Province of roughly 15 months ago representing the most infamous so far; it claimed over 36 dead, 98 injured, massive damage to buildings and infrastructure." He glanced over at the Gul only to notice that she seemed to withdraw for a moment; the Prefect looked at her questioningly.

"Only a personal matter, nothing of importance to Cardassia." Glinn Kovar… Her voice was barely audible. This officer, her fiancé, had committed suicide a little over a year ago as a result of this very event.

At seeing she was avoiding his glance, Dukat thought, There is some deeper truth here, my Kelani Cardassian friend, as well as an element that apparently cannot be rectified…. "I understand. Your own obvious experience as those of many others indicates how critical the current situation has become. The latest act of terrorism, the liberation of a Hideki class ship in connection with the murder of fifteen crew members, is only the latest in a spate of attacks and attempts at disrupting mining operations and stalling or delaying procedures in our preparations for full-scale colonization."

"It does present a distinct pattern. Obviously the resistance movement no longer consists of a band of loosely-organized or even individual terrorists, each one following a uniquely local agenda, but rather an entire network of cells spanning all of the occupied provinces, cooperating in a concerted effort to destroy all we have built up and to demoralize us." She fell silent, unwilling to state the obvious.

"Continue." Gul Dukat urged, remembering her ways from his time on the Orissà, when he had been her superior. Never a word too many, careful analysis.

"I suspect they have organized separate but interconnected cells; members are presumably using aliases. As a result, when you capture one individual, interrogate him or her, you cannot obtain names permitting us to trace further members of the network. Their organization is highly sophisticated, strongly resembling that of the Order. The interrogations of captives effected in the Order's facilities may prove a waste of time and resources – all we get is falsified information or outright lies." She elaborated, "It would appear the only practicable option is to summarily execute those individuals taken together with their associates. Possibly, however, if offered the prospect of clemency and release after some years in a labour camp, one or the other can be motivated to give information. As a precautionary measure, those Bajorans taken are to be kept imprisoned and subsequently, once their leads have been followed up, executed. Of course, there is an alternative that would make us appear generous: if we decide to release one or the other of them, their compatriots may well see to eliminating these individuals for collaboration. Either way, they are slated to … disappear."

"We have made the same experiences, tried the same methods you have just suggested. Of the leads we obtain, but 14 percent have proven useful. Useless information is the predominant kind we extract and usually indicts our informants within the Bajoran population, never the terrorists themselves. These are regarded as heroes by the general population who clandestinely provide them with protection and goods to ensure their survival."

"Operatives." Her reaction was to the point. "They would be able to access the information necessary to end the conflict once and for all."

Prefect Dukat leaned back, obviously not all that enthusiastic about Order involvement. He placed his hands together, leaned his chin against them. "We do seem to have arrived at a point where we are forced to accept whatever works. Under circumstances, Central Command and the Order will indeed be obliged to join forces to circumvent even more harm. Personally, I am not pleased about this development, but Cardassia's integrity must be ensured at all costs, and this station is my responsibility." And if I fail, I will pay a very high price indeed.

He met her eyes, relaxing slightly. "My shift is over, there have been no incidents so, as you have never been here, I wonder if I might invite you to one of our entertainment facilities?" Dukat rose, gestured at the Gul who followed suit. "We can continue our fact-finding discussion on the way."

Hiding her surprise at the offer, Melset replied, "That is most kind, Gul Dukat. I admittedly am curious about this station." Before being assigned command of the Orissà, she had been hoping to be transferred to Terok'Nor together with the personnel Dukat had selected.

The officers were flanked by four guards when they left the office. As they walked past the various stations, the personnel of OPS did not react to the presence of the gul and the prefect, concentrating as they did on their respective tasks.

"Fine officers," murmured Gul Melset in approval. "Two or three of them served on the Orissà under my command before transferring here with you, Prefect Dukat."

"Of those in OPS, six, among them Glinn Shelan, are due to receive promotions, respectively commands of their own within the next four or five months. Some of the others who came with me have been sent planetside, are stationed on bases; their duties are organizing protection of enclaves and military installations as well as supervising camps and various mining operations, seeing to logistics in diverse areas, and are supervising civilian organisers who, in turn see to processing raw materials and transporting the end products to the Empire. The skills they acquire here, while working under often difficult conditions, will present an inestimable advantage for them in the future once they are redeployed elsewhere."

Melset did not reply, only continued looking around interestedly. And I would have appreciated being a part of all this. Prefect Dukat is one of the best commanders and organizers.

Within minutes, they had reached the Promenade which, as all other station areas, was dimly lit, very warm, comfortable according to Cardassian norms. In the public section, however, it was divided into a Bajoran and a Cardassian sector, separated by a high fence with heavily guarded gates. Beyond this barrier lay a world all its own, totally different from that of the occupiers. Gul Melset immediately registered the fact that the Bajoran sector appeared impoverished, even sordid, densely populated by a constantly shifting mass of children and adults with strangely fashioned clothing. Yet even the poorest adult wore an earring. Every now and then, some individuals covertly stared out at the Cardassians, their eyes betraying their true feelings about the representatives of the occupying power, and that feeling was pure hatred.

The Prefect followed her glance. "As you can see, their cultural level is far below ours, rudimentary at best, although they claim millennia of great architecture, literature and music, speak of their purported achievements with pride. In spite of their insistence on this fact, their comportment is no better than that of savages. They refuse to exploit the extensive resources their planet offers, stating they only take what they need, not more, so as not to destroy what the Prophets have given them ...'The Prophets have given us a world of great beauty for us to enjoy – why should we destroy it by taking what we do not need? That would offend Them.' Dukat fell silent for some moments before adding, "They have no ambition whatsoever, no urge to attain power. To complicate the matter even more, you cannot let these primitives move around freely on the station or around any Cardassian installations on Bajor. Give one of them even the slightest leeway, and that Bajoran will inevitably make use of it, pass on information in order to mount another attack or sabotage equipment. They constantly complain about our measures, call them excessively brutal, yet they consistently refuse to realize that they alone are responsible for their current situation. If they complied with our expectations and laws, there would be no problem."

"The customary excuses and reactions of criminals when they are first interrogated, but ours at least have the moral fortitude to recognize, regret and finally confess their crimes when confronted with the consequences their deeds have had on innocent Cardassians," stated Melset. "Probably these maintain they have the moral right to strike at us because of alleged injustice or even our presence alone. They are not able to defend their world, thus we have established our colonies to obtain what we need as is our right." She hesitated, then inquired, "I am curious: what do those earrings signify anyway?"

"Always looking for information, aren't you… They are a sign of their belief; as far as I know, their so-called holy men and women can sense something they call the pagh of a fellow Bajoran when they grasp his or her earlobe." He shrugged imperceptibly. "Blatant superstition." For some moments, they looked over at a group of Bajorans, obviously a family.

Evidently frustrated by his inexplicable lack of success with this recalcitrant population, Prefect Dukat sighed, "Yes. The surprising fact is that even kindness makes no difference. I have been forced to recognize that most deplorable fact because at taking command of the station I immediately requested and obtained permission to effect modified policies at realizing that conditions were unnecessarily harsh. I saw to effecting changes at once, accorded the labourers in our camps more rations, reduced working hours, abolished child labour … Did I get any thanks for my generosity? No, much to the contrary. Increased terrorism was the outcome of my efforts on their behalf. He shrugged, "Would you believe that only some weeks ago, there was an attempt on my life? Fortunately, I was nearly beyond range of the detonation and thus escaped with lacerations and bruises. Five of my troops, however, were not so lucky. We never found the perpetrators, so I directed our Chief of Security to have five prisoners executed on the Promenade to demonstrate our intolerance as to acts of violence."

Melset did not reply. To her disquiet the situation was indeed threatening to escalate into an unmitigated catastrophe for Cardassia unless drastic measures were effected. Possibly the operatives Tepek had clandestinely beamed down would manage to make a first step in turning things around, especially as their branch of the Order had scheduled deployment of further personnel once the latest group had taken over the places of the Bajorans who had been captured and were allegedly waiting to be extradited.

When they arrived at Quark's, the officers and troops from the Orissà already were mingling with the resident militaries, relaxing, enjoying their unexpected downtime. After gesturing at her men to carry on when they saluted, Melset looked around curiously as she had never been in a Ferengi establishment before. Turning to Dukat, she said, "You left me a fine crew, Prefect Dukat, the best, if I may presume to say so."

"A crew is only as good as its commander." Dukat put his head slightly to the side, smiling as he commented, "A number of promotions are in order, so I have heard."

Melset showed no reaction to the implied compliment. "You need but log onto the files – they should be of interest." The seemingly disrespectful words were pronounced with a marked change in pitch, an element Dukat remembered, and responded in kind.

"As you onto mine. Same reason." He gestured at one of the Ferengi waiters who came over at once, covertly leering at Melset appreciatively, obviously under the mistaken impression the young gul was the Prefect's latest conquest. A glare from Dukat sufficed. The Prefect quickly glanced at Melset who, to his relief, was still looking over at the promenade curiously. She has not noticed anything; this one would never understand the need for certain … comforts to make duty on this station more bearable….

Panicked at having been caught, the Ferengi quickly gave a list of menus, hoping to make the Prefect forget his curiosity by means of excellent service.

After going through the options, Dukat ordered a Bajoran dish for himself and suggested the same to his companion who decided to take the risk. Some minutes later, a Bajoran servant brought it, served the officers flawlessly, in accordance with Cardassian custom, before accepting the payment and leaving silently.

"This is the role they refuse to accept," sighed Dukat, indicating the departing waiter. "That of servants who have to comprehend what true civilization means and adopt it before they can be considered equals. Consider this: we dearly love our children, but only regard them as equals at their finishing their education, attaining maturity and taking their place in society. Before that time, it is their duty to obey, learn and observe. The Bajorans, though, unlike our children, are unwilling to accept that they have much to learn before they can be accorded the position they desire in the hierarchy of peoples of the Cardassian Empire."

Melset nodded, cautiously sampling the food. "How are incidents of accidental poisoning avoided?" she inquired. "That would seem a most effective way of striking at us." She indicated the drinks as well.

A laugh was the reply, "A typical comment, my dear Gul, you have not changed in the least. Be assured we have not neglected to take that specific possibility into consideration: Quark has been informed he will be held personally responsible for any such or similar occurrences and publicly executed, his personal assets confiscated for the benefit of the injured party's family. In addition, the Bajorans' families live on the station, thus are within our reach at any time in case of incidents. Quark's employees along with those of the other establishments know very well what to expect should they become … creative," was the matter-of fact explanation. "They have been told so in no uncertain terms." He indicated one of the Ferengi. "As to Quark and his kind, they are too concerned with making profit to consider aiding and abetting terrorists."

Much to her surprise, Melset found herself enjoying the meal. "Their culinary skills would rank seven on the scale."

Gul Dukat's eyes glittered with amusement. "So, the risk was worthwhile. That and their planet's resources are the only aspects that make Bajorans of interest." He suddenly stared at Melset, saw her make a minuscule gesture before following her unblinking gaze and quickly turning around.

"What are you doing there?" he shouted at a Bajoran waiter in his own language. "Trying to listen in?" He moved his hand to his commband, prepared to rise.

Frightened, the waiter shrank back, staring at the prefect, his eyes wide with fear before he held up a cloth. "Cleaning the tables for the next guests, Prefect Dukat." As an afterthought, he added, "Prefect Dukat, I have recently arrived and understand no Cardasi Standard."

His terror was so obvious, Dukat relented, realizing that the man had not been spying after all. "See that you do not learn it, Bajoran."

He again turned to Melset, "You cannot be careful enough with these people; constantly trying to find out something they can use against us. Good reaction."

"Habit, Prefect Dukat." She added very quietly, "I suspect he knows far more Cardasi than he will admit, at the very least he knows the lingua franca that is used. After all, we,too, have learned our own enemies' languages and codes for security reasons and to be partly independent of translators. These people are undeniably primitive, but definitely no fools."

The two were briefly distracted by a loud burst of laughter from the Dabo tables and glanced over. "With the border wars gaining in momentum, downtime will become increasingly infrequent due to current developments. As far as I have heard, Gul Jasad's division has been involved in a number of operations in the past weeks and months." commented Prefect Dukat.

"Indeed." She did not specify. "Shore leave has become a rare luxury, but I still attempt to grant it as often as possible in spite of the escalation in Cardassian-Federation conflicts. These men and women …" she indicated a tall Cardassian officer of Ubari heritage, "…deserve it. Var Kerathi, for example, held an outpost against overwhelming odds with only 25 men until reinforcements were sent in; this Var did not accept the triple shifts' worth of downtime I offered her." Melset looked over again at the troops. "She said she had rested enough in sickbay and respectfully maintained extra downtime was an indulgence, especially as her injuries had not been that severe. Service to Cardassia had priority." Melset looked over at the crewmember again before adding, "I gave her lighter duties until Dr Kedra informed me she had fully recovered."

They watched the soldier in question interact with her peers. Deceptively slow and deliberate in her movements, the fact she was an excellent fighter and talented strategist had become evident within the first months of her posting on the Orissà. Melset had spoken to her repeatedly, at times even had demanded Kerathi develop strategies to test her strategic instincts. She was not mistaken in her judgment. Only half a year after Kerathi's arrival on the Orissà, her Glinn had given her exceedingly favourable reviews.

"A Var second level," commented Gul Dukat.

"She'll be third next month," explained Gul Melset. "I plan to propose her for the next phase of training within another year. Var Kerathi's service record is impeccable as is her concept of duty, her dedication to our interests, her readiness to sacrifice everything for Cardassia."

Gul Dukat did not reply; furthering talented young officers was the duty of all commanders. Yet, unconscious of Melset's covert observation, he considered the young woman appreciatively for some time, taking in her exotic Ubari looks. In contrast to most Cardassians, her people had very dark eyes and a slight bronze tint to their skin; in their home region they were a relatively small ethnicity as many had left for other areas of the planet to find work.

On their way back to Prefect Dukat's office, they were startled at hearing shouting and the sound of station alert from the general direction of the security chief's office. Fearing it was another attack, they exchanged glances and, their escort forcing a way through the crowd, ran towards the office. All the while, phaser fire, screams of fear from Bajorans, cursing from Cardassian militaries contributed to the general uproar. A surge of populace when the gate to the Bajoran ghetto was opened to let a group of Cardassian officers in created even more chaos; drawing their phasers, a platoon of soldiers ran towards the Bajoran sector, forcing the Bajorans outside back into the fenced-in area, then left the guards to secure the gates while those forces within began a search of the Bajoran ghetto.

Accompanied by Gul Melset, Prefect Dukat entered the security area only to find Thrax lying on the floor while being treated by a medical officer. At seeing his superior officer, he tried to at least sit up when the Prefect entered with Gul Melset, but sank back again with a frustrated hiss when the medical officer shook his head.

"No, stay where you are. That injury looks unpleasant," cautioned Dukat. "What happened?"

"Six Bajorans were brought in for questioning after being arrested by the guards because they were unregistered and had none of the required identification. The next thing we knew, they used miniaturized phasers and whatever they could get their hands on to fight their way out after stunning two of the guards. That vermin used the momentary shock of all involved to escape and reach the gates." He winced when Dr. Galin treated his head injury. "I assure you they will be arrested within the day and extradited to Cardassia for interrogation. Those phasers they used were the latest design; we must learn from where they obtained them. Whoever was so incautious as to have them stolen will face disciplinary action."

Dr. Galin finished his work, then stated, "Security Chief Thrax, it is best you spend the remainder of the day in quarters. You have sustained slight concussion and should rest."

"I will see he does." Prefect Dukat spoke into his commband, "Gul Janot, take over Security Chief Thrax' shifts until further notice. Dukat out."

The medical officer helped Thrax up; Janot entered and went to Thrax' desk where he began entering details in his computer to initiate and facilitate the search.

As soon as Galin had left, Melset contacted the officers sent to the Bajoran sector and ordered, "Call off the search for those six Bajorans and do not initiate tracing of the phasers' owners. The criminals have already been arrested and are now in a holding cell, the stolen phasers recuperated."

Turning to Janot, she stated, "Have six of the sentenced in your detention cells executed. No doubt you have the requisite number at your disposal for a display of what happens to terrorists?"

The security chief's assistant avoided her glance, quickly looked over at his commanding officer, Prefect Dukat. "Yes."

The gul's pronunciation was clipped as she explained, "Both you and the Prefect will obtain an explanation in good time. No one is to be informed of this matter which touches this future colony's integrity or I myself will see the guilty party suffers the consequences of his indiscretion which, in this case, would constitute treason." She went to the door to quickly look out; when she turned back, Dukat glared at Melset, outraged. The Prefect had held back until Thrax' departure: subordinates were never to see commanding officers at odds lest it undermine discipline.

"Gul Melset, may I call your attention to Central Command's rules and regulations? You, a Gul Seventh Order, do not possess the authority to countermand even the least of my commands, neither here on Terok'Nor nor anywhere else." He reached for the intercom, prepared to revoke the Gul's orders. "If you presume to do so again, you will be facing court-martial procedures for insubordination. In public. You know what the sentence is." He then stretched his hand out to activate the comm unit.

Unmoved by the prefect's statement, Melset quickly leaned over the desk to cover the button with her hand before the Prefect could press it; her attitude remained the same as she twisted around to face him directly, her expression subtly warning him off when he made a move to grasp her wrist. "What you want to do would not be wise at all, Prefect Dukat. I have my orders as you have yours; any interference on your part is not advisable at this point." She gazed up at him coldly. "As to my authority to countermand your orders, rest assured that I do have it, Prefect Dukat, or I would not have presumed to supercede your own ones. You should know me better than that." Straightening, she unhooked the padd Entek had given her from her belt. "This contains my authorization code together with data for the security chief and for you. It is also meant for the security officers on all ships and outposts in the Denorios sector." Her voice was even, her expression unreadable. For a moment, at seeing the padd was of Obsidian Order make, Dukat remembered his initial suspicions of her being an Order liaison.

At recognizing his resentment and renewed distrust, she addressed the matter directly. "Prefect Dukat, to preclude any suspicions you may still have about my affiliations, know that your reservations are unwarranted; you read my file when I was stationed on the Orissà under your command. Even if I was what you obviously still suspect I am after the incident on the Orissà, this fact would be irrelevant in the present situation; as security in this entire sector is at stake. This breach must be mended by whatever means at our disposal and soon, before the situation deteriorates even further than it already has." She waited before continuing, "I reiterate: All necessary information, all of it strictly confidential, is registered here. All personnel is to comply with the orders transmitted or face the consequences."

She quickly input a code to effect transferral of the data, which done, she gave Prefect Dukat the padd after registering the various codes to expedite the data to the other terminals concerned. "This contains further details for you alone, Prefect Dukat."

His outrage and surprise over at seeing she had evidently been assigned a supporting role in getting a mission underway, he shook his head. "Gul Jasad was right, you know. He warned me, "You will be in for a few surprises with that one.'"

She did not react to his joking tone of voice as she saluted, then turned to walk out of the office when Janot arrived to take over as soon as she had left. No time could be spared for any form of pleasantries now that the mission had been initiated.

Inwardly seething, Dukat watched as she was joined by her guard and, as though nothing extraordinary had happened, marched off without a backwards glance.

Later that day, Prefect Dukat and Melset were walking along the Promenade towards OPS, discussing the situation in an obscure Cardasi dialect. Melset knew that, in the meantime, her role in the mission had ended as it had been successfully initiated; the operatives, concealed by their alleged compatriots, would be now recounting details about their careers, families and home provinces in order to gain the trust of the resistance members whom they were trying to contact and join. The agents' memories had been extracted from terrorists who had been apprehended, questioned and subsequently eliminated, so that, in essence, nothing could go wrong anymore. Transponders that transmitted Bajoran signal patterns with a variant that made them recognizable as operatives further ensured the men's and women's safety.

"I think a detailed tour would be in order. I recall being told of your desire to be among those selected to accompany me here, but all of those involved in procedure agreed that your potential would be best realized with you in command of a cruiser," was Prefect Dukat's friendly comment.

"The former was indeed the case, but the latter is a challenge I greatly appreciate." The tone of her reply matched his own, making him consider her quickly. The two of them had cooperated well in the past, respected one another and valued each other's abilities even though he had and still had reservations because of her contact with high-level Order members and the fact that she had taken courses with them.

The tour was indeed fascinating – all levels of operation functioned with Cardassian precision. The only uncontrollable, totally unpredictable element were the Bajorans on the station. Surly, filled with resentment, fear and hatred, they covertly, as though waiting for an opening, watched the two Cardassian officers who were escorted by their bodyguards. Melset well knew that there were a number of collaborators who more or less clandestinely cooperated with the station rulers for the sake of the power and the privileges this betrayal bought, gave the Cardassian occupiers information, even went so far as to denounce their own compatriots for some minor advantage. They were obsequious, anxious to please, regarded with hate and apprehension by their fellow Bajorans, with the utmost contempt by those who accepted said information or solicited their services. Everyone knew that these treacherous opportunists would be the first to die in case of any form of insurrection, and not at the hands of the Cardassians.

The ore-processing facilities were impressive, with extraction proceeding at a consistently high level, the refinery proper manned by masses of workers who had been signed up on Bajor, promised equitable pay. Yet the conditions were gruelling – the heat radiated by the machinery created an ambient temperature that often had Bajoran workers collapse, prostrated by temperatures they could not support. Worker safety did not matter, thus accidents were relatively frequent. That was of no concern to anyone because there were more than enough individuals who could be recruited. For a moment, the gul was disquieted by what she recognized before suppressing her apprehension, putting it down to what she had once seen in a Cardassian factory.

"A very generous gesture," stated Dukat with pride. "This work permits them to earn their living and that of their families and simultaneously offers them the possibility to observe our own level of civilization, perhaps in time motivate them to abandon their superstitions and backward ways to finally become full, productive members of the Cardassian Union. Otherwise, too, I see to their well-being. They are assigned quarters that correspond to their own norms, we provide their meals free of cost. In essence, they need not concern themselves with anything apart from their work." And in a few more years, the majority of Bajorans will be eliminated, with only a small population preserved for hazardous work.

Melset again considered the workers with distaste – those earrings, their clothing and general appearance … to her, they seemed an unprepossessing and incredibly primitive species of humanoid. With a surge of contempt, she remembered those she had seen on the Promenade a while ago. "They are far from attaining that goal!" was her derisive evaluation. "Those earrings, that furtive, yet potentially aggressive attitude some of them have. No more than savages! I fear you have your work cut out for you, Prefect Dukat."

Dukat gestured at the Bajoran labourers. "And yet, at the same time, they seem like children to me, untaught, waiting to be instructed, to find true enlightenment while being forced to accept their position in the Quadrant until they have learned enough. But the question is how to teach them, which methods to use? Kindness is answered by even more violence, justified sanctions by hate…" he seemed momentarily troubled before turning to Melset with a slight smile.

"Regrettably, Prefect Dukat, I know of no solution to this dilemma," she said, "But – their world and what it offers is important to us." A little later, the Gul added, "The problem at hand must be resolved before the benefits are outweighed by the costs of keeping this rebellious populace under control."

Dukat briefly inclined his head in agreement. It was true that Central Command was forced to commit an increasing amount of manpower to safeguard Cardassian interests on Bajor. The situation had to be turned around by whatever means at his disposal lest he be suspected of incompetence by Central Command and recalled in disgrace. The prefect had no interest in giving his enemies this satisfaction or in losing his prestigious position which offered him so much.

After two hours they arrived at the door to Melset's quarters. "It was good to see you again, Gul Melset. Unfortunately, I am on duty when you leave tomorrow. To ensure your safety, two guards will be posted here and later escort you to your cruiser."

"Success, Prefect Dukat and thank you." She saluted him, then entered her quarters only to utter a startled call at seeing a Bajoran male. In a reflexive reaction, she drew her phaser and took aim at the man.

In spite of his own fright at her unexpected response to his waiting in the main room, he had the presence of mind to make a gesture of respect before saying, "I mean you no harm, Gul Melset. I am Meydar Arjan. Prefect Dukat has sent me to serve you in every way." The Bajoran, whose voice was pleasant by Cardassian standards, spoke simple Cardasi. Although Meydar's expression was friendly, she noticed his eyes remained blank as if he was concealing his true thoughts and feelings.

Honestly puzzled at these arrangements, the Cardassian put away her phaser, saying to no one in particular, "Why send me a servant? I have always done all requisite tasks myself." A moment later, she thought, I won't dismiss him as I have never seen a Bajoran in person, nor even talked to one. He may be quite interesting and perhaps offer me some minor details; after all, I have been ordered to gather information about the general situation and about station policies. Melset relaxed and looked at him curiously, without the slightest contempt. The Bajoran was tall, with wavy blond hair and blue eyes, his features and build very attractive, his clothing more in accordance with Cardassian norm. After some moments during which he submitted to her scrutiny with seeming indifference, she inquired, "What are expectations, Meydar?"

"Service, in all areas if so desired," was his prompt reply.

She caught a hint of helpless revolt under the male's calm exterior. Certainly Cardassians would not have … closer contact … with a representative of such a people! More harshly than intended, she replied, "As to my expectations: I want nothing at all beyond the basics – see to these quarters, my clothing for the few hours I will spend here. This may not be wise, but I have to know…. "Why precisely are you working here on the station as a servant? Bajor's soil is exceedingly fertile, according to my information. You should be working the land."

Again she noticed the momentary flash of resentment and apprehension when he answered. "I was … specifically selected for this privilege four months ago. By means of this work I can support my family on Bajor. We lost our farm and our home to strip mining; my wife and children are in a refugee camp if they have not been deported in the meantime to serve as hostages to ensure my obedience while I am here. My income and … supplements are all we have to live on."

She did not reply even though his words gave her an odd feeling which she rigorously suppressed at once; as a child, she had overheard her parents speaking about something that had happened to their own ethnicity generations ago; at noticing her nearby, they had switched the subject at once. Never allow yourself to feel compassion for a member of an inferior people, no matter how much his reactions may resemble your own or it will make you open to manipulation. "You may leave, Meydar; I do not require your services."

In silence, the servant went out of the room, leaving Melset gazing after him pensively, disquieted. This detail of station policy is extremely unwise, but – it is none of my concern.

After changing into leisure attire, she locked her door and slept, not hearing the servant return early the next day. The next station morning, the Bajoran was already gone again, but her uniform prepared and a simple meal on the table.

When Melset had finished with everything, Meydar entered again, waiting motionlessly at the door, avoiding her glance.

"I do not know what station custom is, but services well rendered should be rewarded. I mean no humiliation when I give you this. You … may have lost income," she said, offering him a strip of latinum.

His face hardened; the Bajoran did not reach out to take the strip of latinum she was holding out to him.

"You seem uncomfortable accepting this. Please, tell me why. I must know and promise to keep your words for myself. I have no interest whatsoever in harming you." Gul Melset's voice was gentle, her eyes reflected concern, her entire attitude made her appear kind, without malice or cruelty. "Meydar, I assure you we are not all the same, hard though it may be for you to believe." As if trying to form a bond, she added, "I myself belong to a minority that is often maligned or considered with amusement."

"What I am paid and otherwise granted encompasses all services you can imagine, including the … humiliation. The same applies to the women who are brought… to the station… for …" Suddenly he looked at her in terror, apparently thinking she was playing some kind of game with him. His experiences thus far had taught him to fear all Cardassians even more than he already had before his forcible removal to the station.

At hearing his words, Melset suddenly understood, felt profound, sickening disgust. To couple with a non-Cardassian! Such relationships, whether temporary or not would only lead to the corruption of even the most dedicated officers. A servant was meant to see to quarters and clothing, nothing else! She had suspected these things were done, either openly or clandestinely, but to hear it first hand from one of the servants made it far worse. At the same time, she felt anger at the prefect who evidently thought her perfectly willing to indulge in such amusements in spite of knowing about her Kelani customs and values. Could it be Dukat was trying to discredit her in revenge for the incident in the security office?

"Nevertheless, I ask you to take this for your family's sake if you do not want it for yourself. Quark's dabo tables were quite generous." Her voice was very low and kind. If this is an accepted part of station life, how can the officers on Terok'Nor avoid being contaminated by the ways of these people? For a moment she thought of the Prefect. Doesn't Dukat know or care what is happening?

"You are kind," was the reply as the Bajoran took the latinum she held out to him, but she could clearly recognize the hatred in his eyes before he turned to leave her quarters.

With that she also left. On her way, her escort fell back when she was addressed by a Cardassian male in civilian attire.

"Code 4508 – Red. Mission under way. First contacts initiated. Regular transmissions via closed channel, Order notified," was the whispered report. Aloud, he said, "Thank you for your intercession on my behalf, Gul Melset. It was invaluable."

"Now you owe me a favour," was the cheerful reply before the two clasped each other's forearms.. "Success, Yaneto."

Her guards at her side, she reached Upper Pylon 1, and went on board after exchanging salutes with her own shipboard guards.

Glinn Masok was already waiting. "Message from Gul Jasad. It has been rerouted to your ready room."

"Thank you, Glinn Masok. Any incidents?" She had heard of none, but knew the inquiry was expected.

"None that were reported, at least. All personnel who could not make use of the last station could do so now," the Glinn said with an undertone of satisfaction. The stopover at Terok'Nor had proven an invaluable boost for troop morale.

"Good. For all their dedication, the crew need downtime at regular intervals." She set off down the corridor while being briefed by her adjutant.

They reached the ready room which she entered, leaving Masok to continue to his own quarters. When she activated the comm, she recognized the code at once. Gul Jasad… Hopefully nothing of concern has happened.

"This is Gul Jasad. Gul Melset, you and Gul Renor have been temporarily reassigned to the area around Bajor and Terok'Nor at the orders of Central Command and the Obsidian Order. You are to rejoin us after an indefinite time. Until then, you are under the command of Prefect Dukat."

No doubt we are to assist in tracing the operatives and recapture the Reymac. At once she input the frequencies of the transponders and that of the abducted ship, then informed her crew of the change. As she had to wait for the start of her assignment, Melset began working on reports and crew evaluations before discussing shifts in duty with Glinn Masok who then filled her in on shipboard reports, results of combat drills.

Only hours later, Prefect Dukat contacted her. "We suspect a massive build up of resistance forces to the east of Dahkur and on the border to Rellaketh. Clandestine movements have been detected, but we still lack unequivocal evidence. A pre-emptive strike at this time would only see the terrorists scatter and, for the most part, escape and establish a new base of operations."

She quickly encoded a reply, demanding any further notifications be thus processed as well. "Before you continue, consider the following: it would appear that these groups are intercepting our transmissions both on- and off-world, thus are warned of pre-emptive strikes and troop movements, possibly even newly-instituted precautions, alarm systems and security codes; Order intelligence states that our frequencies are being intercepted and systematically screened. Equipment stolen in the course of the past years is being turned against us by enabling these terrorists to access all frequencies at our disposal. Presumably they have also acquired extensive arsenals of Cardassian weaponry, markedly increasing the danger of devastating attacks as a result. Remember the phasers used in the attack on Thrax' office."

Prefect Dukat's expression became impassive, disguising his irritation, when he suddenly recognized the implied reproach made by his former subordinate. He well knew the Bajoran resistance was everywhere on Bajor, even on the station: its operatives attempted and sometimes succeeded in staging assassinations, often sabotaged machinery, caused disruptions of station security, committed thefts of datapadds in spite of all precautions.

"So be it then, my dear Gul Melset. All communications encoded. So far, no trace of the Reymac." He gazed at her evenly. Is the Order trying to eliminate me to place her or an Order operative at the head of the station? Outwardly, he showed not the slightest sign of his suspicions.

"The plasma fields? A small ship could manoeuvre there with relative safety," was her suggestion.

"We have already mounted searches in that region, three so far with more to follow at irregular intervals. Sensors have been deployed along crucial areas." Prefect Dukat stated, "There is no passing them unchallenged." He saw her expression become grim.

The Gul took a deep breath before stating her request, "Prefect Dukat, it is requisite I speak to you, but in person." This may lead to a serious conflict.

""Beam directly into my office. Prefect Dukat out."

She materialized minutes later, saluted, then waited at attention.

"You wish to say?" was Prefect Dukat's query.

Melset went up close to him and spoke so quietly he had to concentrate on every word. "Prefect Dukat, in my opinion, the Bajoran servants on the station are cause for greatest concern ... Only consider the following: they routinely overhear casually mentioned details, living as they do right next to their employers' quarters; they have access to the rooms of resident officers in the course of their duties. It is all too easy for them to gain access to critical data should padds and other components not consistently be kept locked in a safe place, yet even this precaution is not truly effective as locks can be manipulated easily enough. I have already told you of my distinct impression that these people, primitive as they might seem at first sight, must under no circumstances be underestimated. The servant you assigned me was excellent in seeing to my quarters. He is polite, prompt, very well-trained, very thankful to be in a position to support his family, yet …. he, as all others, obviously resents our presence on his world, which makes him and his compatriots a constant, inestimable threat." Melset hesitated, "Abstracting equipment needs no great skill."

After the first words, she had been restlessly pacing around the office and now, after quickly looking over her shoulder at the Prefect, came to stand, back still turned to him, while unhooking some datapadds with other equipment from her belt to lay them in a row on the table before facing Gul Dukat. Her expression was blank when she held out her fists, slowly opened them. He stared in surprise at two listening devices and a tiny phaser, then at the array of objects on the table. He had not even noticed Melset taking them from his desk, or from a drawer when she had apparently dropped a small item and bent to pick it up.

"The policy that should be incepted is one of strictest separation of Cardassians and Bajorans; we would be well advised to employ only servants from among our own people. Many of our poor would rejoice at being accorded such a position!" Melset said with an urgent undertone. "What I have just done is definitely not beyond the … skills of a Bajoran servant."

"Bajorans are far better suited for subservient tasks. It is their place in the hierarchy of peoples." He added, gesturing at the objects she had placed on his desk, "You have made your point sufficiently clear, Gul Melset."

"Prefect Dukat, there is one more element: These people refuse to accept the place accorded them by fate, will do anything to strike against us. And yet," She briefly hesitated as this was a potential source of conflict, yet she had to address it, "… I wonder how many officers have taken mistresses from among Bajoran women? How many go to Bajoran females for some hours? How many are brought to the station for … entertainment? The threat to security is inestimable! In a moment of weakness, who knows what information may be leaked and passed on to their terriorists? …." Her voice betrayed her growing concern and apprehension.

With an irritated gesture, he interrupted her in mid-sentence, his voice hinting at suppressed anger. "This is quite enough, Gul Melset. Station policy is mine alone to determine. Your warning, however, is noted." His eyes were icy.

In spite of her superior's annoyance, the Gul remained insistent. "Consider all I have said objectively, from the point of security alone, Prefect Dukat. How do we know there are no cells or seeds of cells on this very station? No one can tell me those servants are immune to recruitment in spite of the income we permit them to earn! They hate us even while earning their living and that of their families, only wait to find a weakness they can exploit! The Bajoran section here is an ideal hiding place for potential attackers; are conduits secure enough to keep those people out? Only think of what happened to Thrax."

"Their area is under constant surveillance – by all methods at our disposal," was the reply. "Guards are on patrol and conduct unannounced searches of the Bajoran sector for added security."

"Do you recall this?" Melset remained where she was, looking around suspiciously, fidgeting very slightly as though worried.

Dukat observed even her slightest motion, then said, "They are doing the very thing you are doing now, and with impunity – right under our surveillance devices, in front of their guards." He said this in a low voice, suddenly realizing the danger at hand.

Melset inclined her head, "And you would not have noticed a thing, had I not called your attention to my gestures." She added, "There is a constant shift in population; a merchant may seem a simple merchant, but could be a terrorist, too, delivering chemicals, electronic components. The latest incident is sufficient proof of this hazard. Prefect Dukat, do not underestimate these people." The Gul's eyes were pleading as she looked up at her superior, desperately hoping he would recognize this decisive factor and act accordingly.

"I am well awareof this fact, Gul Melset. Screening devices have been installed at the airlocks, at the gates. Yet these workers are essential for our projects. Our own people are much too valuable to be wasted at such tasks. They are needed to colonize newly-annexed worlds!"

"I grant it is a dilemma. Prefect Dukat. The only solution is to markedly increase surveillance, leave not one nook or cranny unsupervised at any time. Restrict the Bajoran population to one area alone and restrict this population to essential personnel, such as labourers for the refinery." She got up and went to a screen that showed shifting views of Terok'Nor, wordlessly pointed to conduits, little-frequented corridors, passages, corners out of the range of nearby devices. Her list became disquietingly long.

Prefect Dukat joined her. "The problem is implementation, obtaining devices and, above all, guards. To seal the conduits means limiting access for repairs and – possibly – our own escape routes. Don't think that I have not repeatedly considered these problems. The Guls and Legates stationed on Bajor itself are conscious of the problem and we are working to find a permanent solution."

"What you say is true, the countermeasures appropriate, but for some reason, those people are fanatically committed to destroying their own potential for progress and well-being together with our own. The instigators of disturbance and attacks must be found and eradicated under all circumstances! They must not be offered refuges where they can plan their activities. That Bajoran sector on Terok'Nor seems an excellent place for them to recruit new members, make their plans."

His voice showed his irritation at hearing the gul's evaluation with which he agreed in essence, at having heard her criticism of station policies as to contact with the Bajoran populace. With a surge of annoyance he realized that she would inevitably have learned about the comfort women on-station, especially after his having sent Meydar to her quarters. I should have expected her to obtain information even from a Bajoran …. "I know all of these details, Gul Melset. You are stating the obvious. Do you have any constructive advice to give?"

There is indeed a problem, Prefect Dukat. You have changed since I last saw you at my promotion three years ago. "I have just done so and meant no offence with my statements," was her quiet, unapologetic answer. "Prefect Dukat, I reiterate – consider the question of abstracted weapons, data carriers and surveillance devices, indiscretions on the part of officers who have become … involved."

Gul Dukat stared down at her, neck membranes tense. That Gul Seventh Order presumes to advise me on station policy, criticises procedures; her arrogance is intolerable. She has to be put in her place. His voice as cold as his expression, he answered, "Security will be stepped up. Otherwise, my dear Gul Melset, feel free to inspect the station for further security breaches; you are welcome to inform Thrax who will be most grateful for your assistance. As to myself, I have duties that require my immediate attention." With that he sat down behind his desk and inclined his head at her in a casual gesture of dismissal, the supreme insult. "Good day, Gul Melset. You may leave."

Melset walked out, not offended by his words and gesture, but deeply concerned. The Bajoran situation must be far more serious than I thought. His reactions are too extreme. At realizing there was still some time left before beaming back to her ship, she decided to take up his offer.

The station was indeed impressive; after she had looked at the Cardassian area, she dismissed her escort and, alone, walked through the corridor to the habitat ring, wanting to give the prefect a last element of information that could prove important. As the gul rounded a corner, she caught sight of a light-haired Bajoran woman walking along the corridor as though she had every right to be there. She was a tall, slender beauty with a young dark-haired child in her arms. She is dressed like one of us, except that she is wearing her hair open. Melset looked at the woman more carefully before her heartbeat suddenly accelerated with shocked realization …that child! It is of mixed race! Melset pressed herself against the wall behind one of the structural elements to watch what would happen without being seen. Normally, Bajorans were not allowed into these heavily guarded corridors unless they were servants, which this woman assuredly was not. She wore good, even luxurious clothing of the kind to which Melset, in spite of her position, had no access. The woman seemed self-confident, anticipated something or another, nor did she show any signs of malnutrition – obviously this one was well provided with all she needed or could desire. Perhaps the wife of a collaborator?

The woman, not realizing she was being observed, went straight to one of the guards at the force field protecting the area immediately around the Prefect's quarters. The guard switched it off at once to let her pass. She walked straight to the door to press the access panel in a certain pattern. The door promptly slid open as though she had been expected. After a moment, Melset heard Dukat's voice, gentle, welcoming, very tender. "Naprem, my love, come in! I have just ended my shift." The child said something Melset could not understand, but which had Dukat laugh and say, "Do let me have Ziyal …." Melset heard no more as the door slid shut behind the woman.

For some minutes she was too stunned to react, only stayed where she was, leaning against the wall, staring blindly down the corridor. The Prefect himself had taken a Bajoran mistress by whom he even had a child, and that in spite of his own family on Cardassia! This explains your reaction to my words – anger hints at guilt. For a moment, she considered confronting him, but immediately decided against such a move. It would serve no purpose and, worst of all, he could ruin my career with an accusation of insubordination because it is true I have no right to criticise policies instituted on Terok'Nor; but the Order expects a detailed report; I fear that this report will have serious repercussions, to say the least. Yet, she had agreed to this fact-finding and would fulfil her duties.

At that moment a guard passed by and saw her standing at the junction, as though lost. He saluted and inquired, "Gul, do you require assistance?"

With feigned embarrassment, Gul Melset answered, "I fear I have entered the wrong corridor; it is my first time here. I wish to go to the transporter area."

The guard indicated a corridor to her right and, with a gesture of thanks, Melset left. Thoroughly disheartened by her discovery, she quickly went to the transporter bay and beamed up to the Orissà.

Some days later, Melset had returned from a routine patrol during which she had cooperated with Guls Renor and Danar. When the intercomm activated she heard Renor's voice.

"Gul Melset – analyse these patterns. They seem to be a code. I take it codes are your specialty?"

The reply came at once. "Modified Cardassian frequencies – close enough to standard to pass as such if viewed casually. Glinn Dagrij, who is specialized in codes, can decipher them. I'll notify him as he is currently off-duty and can take over." In spite of the seriousness of the situation, she grinned. Renor was constantly commenting, trying to irritate her by alluding to her alleged Order affiliations.

Within minutes she received the results: at reading them, she hurried to notify Gul Renor and Prefect Dukat simultaneously. "Warning – imminent sabotage of station's security system! Activate all security protocols to counter attempt!"

At the same time, one of the Glinns contacted the other ships in the immediate area.

The nerves of the Cardassians were strained; Terok'Nor was invaluable for its ore refinery, for the regular deliveries of raw materials and other goods to Cardassia. To lose the station or even have it sustain such damage as to curtail its functions for even the briefest period would constitute a worst-case scenario of inconceivable consequences; those who had seen developments without taking the appropriate actions to circumvent them would pay the price of failure. Each threat had to be taken seriously, no matter how many false alarms occurred. Complacency or overconfidence could spell disaster.

"Hideki-class fighter in visual range, moving towards Terok'Nor. No answer to my hails," was Gul Erit's report. He added a moment later, "That is the captured vessel, the Reymac –warp signature identified."

Melset turned to Glinn Kadrai, "Encode following: Intercept at all costs. Signature frequency…" she input the data to be transmitted to all cruisers.

"Now to wait," she shrugged, "No doubt both the saboteurs on the station and those on that ship are playing for time, tripping alarms, creating disturbances, trying to fray our nerves until we see attackers around every corner or, conversely, become lax."

At that moment, the door of the bridge opened to admit Major Tepek who came to sit next to Melset and quickly give her some information. The two of them exchanged satisfied glances. He had been notified that the operatives had already been smuggled off station and were now on Bajor.

In response to the alert, station security had been markedly stepped up, newcomers were checked with even more thoroughness, guard details along the Bajoran ghetto increased. Outside the station, the waiting took hours, with the fighter passing in and out of sensor range in a random pattern.

Renor contacted the others. "They are trying to provoke us into pursuing the Reymac, thus offering them an opening for an attack from different quarters." He waited before adding, "Make our sensor range appear a third of what it is."

A few more passes, then the ship headed towards the plasma fields of the badlands. On the station, too, all remained uneventful.

"Testing our response time," Gul Erit commented to the Glinn next to him.

"Playing games with us – and they will lose," the young officer stated confidently.

Erit nodded. There was nothing to say. Four hours later, the gul transmitted a stand-down to the other ships with the command to remain prepared for immediate action. To underline the fact they allegedly were no longer concerned, he and the other Guls allowed 50 men each to beam down to the station.

Some days later, a message reached five of the Guls assigned to Terok'Nor simultaneously. "The Prefect of Terok'Nor requires your presence."

Gul Melset quickly contacted him. "Prefect Dukat, I suggest we come in civilian attire but with concealed weapons to avoid attracting unwarranted attention."

An amused smile was the reply. "Ah, and why would that be necessary in your opinion?"

She remained serious as she answered, "The arrival of five or more Guls will draw the Bajorans' attention, imply that plans and strategies are up for discussion. Civilians though are uninteresting unless as potential targets. As shipboard alert has been instituted, our friends cannot hope to attack from those quarters, thus will aim for easier victims."

An hour later, the officerss, all dressed like civilians in accordance with Melset's advice, arrived on a normal Cardassian shuttle together with other passengers. The group looked around curiously as they, preceded unobtrusively by their personal guards, went to Prefect Dukat's quarters. At entering, she quickly, covertly, glanced around. No sign of the Bajoran woman or the child. Only your quarters are decorated with objects definitely not of Cardassian origin.

A male Bajoran came in and served drinks. Another Bajoran servant! To her relief, he was sent away after placing them on the table. As additional precaution, Dukat went through the outer area of his quarters to check for listeners before returning, satisfied.

"He's gone. To return to the situation: as you may have heard, it has progressively deteriorated in the course of the past months. Resistance is growing with increasingly devastating attacks. You will recall the Dahkur Province attack of over a year ago, with over 50 dead and more than twice that number injured." He briefly paused, then said, his voice low, "You suffered a personal loss, Gul Melset, and for that I wish to express my belated sympathy."

Taken unawares, she briefly stared at him, then briefly inclined her head in acknowledgement…

"In the past years, cells have sprung up in all provinces – you eliminate one, another immediately takes its place. The latest coup saw a weapons depot attacked, the guards killed or severely injured. A detonation destroyed the entire complex shortly after. In the course of such attacks, those terrorists acquire Cardassian weaponry, electronic components, power cells together with other equipment to use them against us. Up to now, our forces have failed to discover any of their depots. The few we have located thus far are either abandoned camps or clearly decoys as they only contain spent ordnance and irreparably damaged weaponry. Nor have we found any of their rebel bases. These criminals strike, then move on, or disappear into the general population, become harmless civilians. Even severest winter weather does not curtail their activities, much to the contrary. They use its extremes to their advantage."

"Where were the guards?" inquired Legate Sutor.

"Doing their duty," was the terse reply. "No charges of dereliction of duty were filed after the surviving guards were debriefed. Remember that the Bajorans train their children to enter via openings too narrow for adults and create distractions by setting off false alarms. Not even sensors suffice to guarantee the safety of our on-world installations and enclaves. In the course of retaliatory actions we have eradicated entire villages whose inhabitants were suspected of harbouring insurgents. Result? Some weeks of relative quiet followed by renewed terrorist activities. Only today an open mine in Tekendra Province was sabotaged. The pumps sustained extensive damage from explosives, leading to numerous casualties among the workers; the entire mine was flooded so that it has been temporarily shut down. Repair crews are working non-stop to reactivate it within a week or less. Similar incidents are becoming increasingly frequent; these individuals must be stopped lest even more devastation occur and set our goals back by decades."

Those present exchanged glances before Gul Renor stated. "Step up retaliatory measures, take the families of suspects in custody and, at any attack, execute as many of them in public as Cardassians have been murdered. In case of sabotage, make those involved work in the most hazardous areas. Or better yet, execute them in their shrines."

Gul Melset hesitated briefly, then inquired, "What about their religious leaders? I have no doubt they are actively encouraging these people by clandestinely preaching revolt. Remember: Verses can play a double role – select the right ones and a message of peace becomes a message that incites revolt. Send them directly to their Prophets who in their infinite wisdom can then decide who is guilty and who not." Her statement was matter-of-fact, apart from a sneering imitation of Bajoran intonation in the last sentence which had those present laugh in appreciation.

"That could markedly advance our goal of colonization," commented Gul Renor, "Hardly one of those shrinecrawlers is innocent. What is being done to circumvent religion-instigated terror?"

"My predecessor had already forbidden the population to practice their religion, but with a marked lack of success. Their superstition still lives on, like a malignancy. For the past ten years unobserved gatherings in shrines have been declared an offence punishable by fifteen years in a labour camp; we have destroyed many of these buildings after searching them for weapons, impounded religious artefacts, imprisoned vedeks, executed the most outspoken of their number, but their response has been to go underground and clandestinely continue teaching and performing services. Besides, a viable population must be preserved to ensure us labour and servants so as to free our own people for more involved work," replied Prefect Dukat

"... As well as provide some select individuals for those among us who desire personal service," was the interjection from Legate Sutor, "They are quite ... entertaining in some situations."

At seeing reminiscent smirks from one or two of those present, Melset's eyes grew hard as she turned to the Legate, but before she could repeat her warning, Prefect Dukat stepped in. "Legate Sutor, Gul Melset, your incipient argument is beside the point, thus time-consuming and ultimately unproductive. I am quite aware that one of the more … conservative and, if I may state, deeply patriotic among us, has already expressed serious reservations as to the latter use, fearing our being corrupted by closer contact with the Bajoran populace." He met Gul Melset's eyes directly.

Her own glance did not waver for a moment. What is this? Prefect Dukat, you have fallen into the trap by taking that Bajoran mistress, have developed feelings for these people that you are trying to deny; now you are even ridiculing me because of my justified concerns. Precautionary lectures at the Academy – with warning examples - to preclude indulging in such intensive contact were among the first requirements and you of all have become involved! For a moment Melset felt nearly overwhelmed with outrage before she forced her attention back to more immediate concerns.

Outwardly unmoved, the Gul did not hesitate before stating, "Gul Renor's proposal has, in fact, been partially implemented. A further method that has already proven effective in other cases is that proposed by the Order: increased use of surgically-altered operatives. A reliable source notified me before Gul Renor's and my temporary separation from our division that at least fifty deep undercover agents could be activated and deployed within a three-month period with fifteen more to follow if required. The cells have to be infiltrated and destroyed from within. To engage the terrorists on their own ground in the course of military operations, in their own home provinces where they know every cranny, each canyon, cave and mountain will only lead to an unjustifiable loss of indispensable manpower and waste irreplaceable resources, without our changing the situation for the better," was her contribution. "Thus we will acquire information about where cells meet, locate and subsequently eradicate rebel bases with the result that we will be able to protect potential targets."

Those present recognized the prefect's unwillingness to request the Order support he so desperately needed to cope with the task at hand when Dukat answered slowly, as though carefully choosing his words, "We have no jurisdiction over operatives." Most of them shared the Prefect's reservations in spite of having been obliged to cooperate with the Order at one time or another.

"No, and this jurisdiction is not necessary. You have a situation, you report it, and all the rest will be taken in hand after due notification about plans," was Melset's rejoinder, "Both the Order and Central Command have shared a common goal ever since the creation of both institutions: that of preserving Cardassia's integrity. In the present situation, requesting aid from the Order entails no humiliation, no admission of defeat, only inception of combat on another, clandestine front. All present are informed about the fact that captive terrorists are routinely interrogated, their statements recorded in their entirety so that their recollections can be implanted into operatives' minds together with artificial memories to close the gaps. The operatives' safety is subsequently assured by means of subcutaneous transponders." She held up her right forearm and pointed to her wrist, where ulna and radius joined. "This one, implanted at my request, has saved my skin more than once." And so does the other behind my ear, which also records conversations, transmits my every move.

Legate Sutor and the others inclined their head in acquiescence. Much as they disliked having to admit to the fact, they all knew options had become restricted to this one remaining alternative.

"I also consider this the best path to follow," was Gul Erit's reply. "Conditions are too serious for the two institutions to act separately. Only a joint effort can ensure success."

After some moments of reflection, Prefect Dukat acquiesced in turn. He bitterly resented the Order, its leaders, its members, considered them as untrustworthy and as dangerous as the terrorists themselves. He quickly glanced at Melset who was talking to Guls Renor and Erit, answering Legate Sutor's questions. No doubt you have been waiting for this, to help the Order infiltrate Terok'Nor as well. He shook off his renewed suspicions with an effort. "I shall initiate procedures."

After agreeing on some last details, the Guls left his office, quietly speaking among themselves. While none of them apart from Melset entirely trusted the Order, even resented it to a degree, they knew it possessed the only viable solutions to the dilemma at hand. The militaries strongly suspected the Obsidian Order already had its agents in place on Terok'Nor, on installations planetside, either as passive observers in the role of civilians or as surgically-altered sleepers among the Bajoran population, waiting to be called into action.

In essence, the meeting had not resulted in any new policies or procedures, however all statements had served to demonstrate the seriousness of the Bajoran situation beyond the slightest doubt. A subjected people that stubbornly refused to accept its position, persisted in fighting back, that increased its attacks with each counter strike by the occupiers … obviously only the most drastic measures could provide a solution.

They were halfway to Quark's when a flash of movement to the side distracted them. At the same time, Legate Sutor cried out and doubled over, staggering against Gul Erit who supported him before easing him to the ground while Gul Turrell called for the station doctor. Standing guard, he remained behind with the other two officers while Guls Renor and Erit set off in pursuit of the attacker who was running towards the densest part of the crowd.

The Bajoran dodged through the crowd in his effort to shake his pursuers off his tracks, making use of every bit of cover, seeking concealment among his fellows, workers who were changing shifts; his compatriots immediately recognized what was happening and unobtrusively tried to block the Cardassians' path to win time for their fellow Bajoran. The two officers together with a number of troops who followed and flanked them, forcibly removed anyone who tried to obstruct their path and, when their quarry was about to disappear into the mass, unhesitatingly fired their phasers into the crowd, disabling the attacker, but incidentally killing or injuring several bystanders.

At once, Cardassian troops began dispersing the Bajorans who had crowded together in a desperate effort to get the injured to safety and perhaps reach the attacker who was lying on the ground, wounded but alive, hoping to help him escape after all. Unmoved by the screams of horror and the invective shouted at them, the Guls and some of the other Cardassians present on the Promenade quickly approached, weapons at the ready, to arrest the man for questioning. For a fraction of a second, his eyes widened in fear before their expression shifted to a determined calm and resolve. Before they could reach him, he took out his weapon, shouted, "I am forever out of your reach, vipers, but be warned: the Prophets will exact retribution in full for your deeds!" and turned it against himself.

In the meantime, the guards had cleared the area; breathing heavily, the Guls and the guards stared down at the dead attacker in frustration; they were too late. His information was lost to them forever. Dukat gestured at one of the guards and ordered, "See to it that … this … is taken to the medical area. Establish identity, trace family members, status, possible affiliations with individuals on the station. His associates will suffer the consequences of his crime."

A Cardassian civilian had unobtrusively come over to Melset who turned to the woman in silence, then quickly whispered a few words, grasped her hand in thanks; the female went into one of the corridors leading to the habitat ring.

Major Tarik has the first part of my report, another element done.

At the same time, Gul Renor was giving the Chief of Security who had just arrived a detailed report. When he had finished, Gul Renor turned to Melset, his voice sibilant with outrage. "May as well get back to the others. There is nothing we can do here anymore. That vermin will pay for what they have done. Attacking civilians, innocent Cardassian citizens."

She met his eyes, "I have initiated research on further details surrounding this individual. His associates should prove easy to trace."

Gul Renor, who had witnessed the verbal exchange, did not comment, only said, "It remains to be hoped the cells that evidently have formed on the station can be eliminated before even more damage is done."

When they reached the infirmary, Doctor Galin had good news. "Only deep flesh wounds to the arm and side; the knife was stopped by his ribs. Legate Sutor has suffered no damage to nerves or arteries. He was most fortunate to have seen the attacker at the last moment and deflected the weapon at least slightly." As an afterthought, he added, "I have checked for toxins on the blade with negative results. That is a new method that scum has learned from the Romulans, don't ask me how."

The group adjourned to Gul Dukat's offices to discuss the repercussions of this renewed sign of resistance, then left once Legate Sutor rejoined them.

This Legate was stationed on Terok'Nor, his task that of supervising and coordinating operations. He reported directly to the Prefect who was his immediate superior. Melset knew him quite well from her time as a Var; Sutor was a good-natured man with more than a slight tendency to self-indulgence when off-duty, a fact he did not bother denying. On duty, however, his work was flawless, he himself very exacting, demanding the highest level of performance.

The Orissà and the Kraxon were being prepared for departure to begin a routine patrol as soon as their commanders beamed up when the Guls were notified that the abducted fighter's warp signature had been registered just outside the plasma fields. The Guls quickly conferred about the next move.

Erit turned to Legate Sutor, "Our destroyers cannot match fighters one to one for manoeuvrability."

"That should be no problem in itself. I think Gul Renor has had prior experience in dealing with such matters," answered Legate Sutor. Turning to Gul Renor, he queried, "You attended a supplementary course here some years ago, didn't you?" He laughed briefly, "I thought you would shear your cruiser to pieces, the way you followed that fighter's moves in your last session. The Prefect was observing you and could not believe what he was seeing. I'll not repeat his comments."

Gul Renor did not respond to Legate Sutor's amusement at the recollection. "Yes, that was two years ago; but remember, Legate, that this specific Hideki class vessel is being piloted by Bajorans who have nothing to lose anymore. Under circumstances they may be planning a suicide attack on an enclave or perhaps even on the station. To be more specific, that class' weapons range is identical to that of our cruisers, but there might be another way," Gul Renor stated slowly. "A Bajoran impulse craft, auto-piloted, and, when communications are activated, transmitting a holographic image of a Bajoran. The conversation can be routed from a nearby cruiser to pass through the communications system of said craft. The terrorists on the fighter certainly would not attack a Bajoran ship."

"That's where I come in," offered Melset. "I'll see to reconfiguration of communications – it is a minor change that should take just under an hour's time. The critical element is that, when we get within weapons range, we have to open fire to disable the warp drive and weapons relays, ideally also deactivate life support and above all emergency power to keep the crew from activating the self-destruct sequence. Disable the vessel, not destroy it. If possible, take captives for questioning." Melset added, "Our covers are Maynor Chevar and Jovel Ila of Rellaketh province. The voice transmission module will be recalibrated to give our voices the correct tonality."

Renor went to a console to link his datapadd to it. "All Bajoran frequencies, complete with recent codes." He smiled, holding it up for everyone to see. "I volunteer for this mission… Gul Melset, I request you join, for obvious reasons."

Before he beamed up to the Kraxon, Renor said to her in a low voice, "Gul Melset, you can finally exact your revenge – with some help, of course." Renor briefly considered his fellow military. At the Academy he had briefly been one of her superiors, and had noticed the conflicts, but also seen she had unfailingly and viciously retaliated after each incident, ensuring that only her detractor and she knew what had happened and why, then the conflict solved, cooperated with her erstwhile detractor. Later on, he as a Glinn and she as a Var 3rd level, had successfully cooperated on their first mission. Those conflicts he had witnessed were an integral element of first-year academy life; the instructors did nothing to curtail these specifically Cardassian behavioural patterns, even encouraged them to ensure that only the most determined, flexible and ruthless would pass on to the higher levels.

"Agreed. When do we start?"

"As soon as all preparations have been effected. Prefect Dukat has such a vessel and should be willing to part with it once he hears of the plan. In case of a change, you will be notified. For now, I'll address the Prefect about that impulse ship. We will presumably be using the Kraxon for this hunting expedition."

There was no reply as Melset left OPS to beam up to her own cruiser. No sooner had she materialized in the transporter bay of the Orissà than she contacted Major Tepek.

"We have to modify communication's voice transferral module to give Cardassian voices Bajoran tonality. Gul Renor and I are proficient in the language, but our voices are too much at variance with those of the natives to pass."

For a moment, Tepek considered options. "It can be effected in under an hour if I take over some elements of reconfiguration. I presume you want to route the conversation from a cruiser to the impulse vessel so that it would appear someone is at the helm?"

"Yes. I think that procedure is the only option at our disposal."

At that moment, Melset's commband activated. "Melset here."

It was Gul Renor. "There is a change in plans. Prefect Dukat has ordered us to take command of a cruiser, the Garina, that has been temporarily transferred to his jurisdiction as eventual captives are to be immediately extradited to Cardassia Prime for interrogation. The Prefect has also agreed to place the impulse vessel at our disposal."

"Gul Renor, Major Tepek will beam up to commence operations on your end; he will effect the work to make our negotiations convincing. We need only discuss one last detail."

"There is one more matter, Gul Melset," For a moment Renor hesitated; working with a member of the Order was a first for him, although he suspected there probably were operatives even on his own ship. He shrugged, then inquired, "Does Major Tepek require assistance? If so, I can offer my own expertise – I am experienced in working with and modifying a wide range of communications systems."

When Melset looked over at him, Tepek gave a barely perceptible nod of agreement and told Renor, "That would greatly expedite matters."

After a brief discussion with Gul Renor, Tepek informed her, "I will see to modifications if you take charge of the rerouting procedures. That will save time."

"Agreed." While her Order training had given her the competence to execute both procedures, they were relatively time-consuming, so that Tepek's and Renor's assistance was invaluable.

The operative gave her a slight nod, then once more contacted Gul Renor, "Major Tepek, waiting to be beamed over."

When he had dematerialised, Melset was already on her way to the transporter to be beamed on board the impulse ship.

Within half an hour, all modifications had been completed and, after a trial run, the guls and Major Tepek were satisfied with the results so that Gul Renor could contact the Prefect about inception of the mission.

"Prefect Dukat, we are rejoining our division."

"Your assistance was most valuable. Succeed. Prefect Dukat out."

As planned, the impulse craft left the docking bay under auto-pilot to slowly fly towards the general area of the plasma fields, followed just outside of sensor range by the Cardassian cruiser.

"Message transmitting." Renor initiated its projection over one of the Bajoran frequencies registered on the ship's computer. "Now we wait."

The two guls manned their respective stations, running random sensor sweeps of the area while the var at communications repeatedly transmitted the message at irregular intervals, respectively waiting for a reaction from the fighter they were trying to recapture. There was no casual conversation, no relaxing of attention. Their exchanges were limited to observations on ship movements, probable patterns of attack. The two Cardassians had frequently worked together on previous missions so that they knew each other's reactions.

After an hour, Renor said, while observing his readouts which still showed no developments, "Like our first mission under Glinn Kovar."

Melset nodded, remembering, "Both of us recruits, experiencing our first tastes of combat. You did well, picked off quite a number of Klingons. Do you still have that bat'leth you took off their troop leader?"

Renor nodded. "Of course. Your directing Cardassian life sign readings towards that cliff which a detonation collapsed as soon as those Klingons reached it was a clever ploy … eliminated quite a number of them. By the way, don't you speak of my bat'leth! I clearly recall you beamed up with an impressive collection of family crests! For once Gul Tanesh had none of his comments. All he did was stare."

"I remember; those things were slightly bulky." She admitted, "I still have those crests: on my wall, at home," was her amused reply. "The account of that battle was Åvron's favourite when he was a child."

Both shared laughter at old successes, then fell silent again, concentrating anew on their respective stations.

They had a few more hours of waiting before recruit Mardral finally called out, "Reading at 12.25/4.41!"

At once all went into action. It was the sign for which they had been waiting.

"Var Kalim, initiate transmission – transfer replies to bridge."

"The impulse ship is being hailed," was Glinn Uval's news as he rerouted the signal to the bridge.

Guls Renor and Melset exchanged glances. "Maynor Chevar here. I have recaptured an impulse ship together with Jovel Ila. The vipers did not even notice…" was Renor's report. "They were too distracted, searching as they were for their lost fighter."

The contact on the other end was decidedly suspicious. "I do not recognize those names. From where do you come?"

"Cannot risk giving our true ones. We are from Rellaketh and want to join the fight. When the Cardassians discovered valuable raw materials under the bottom of the lake in the valley just above us, they vaporized the rock that formed a dam to drain the lake; our village was flooded without warning, killing nearly all of the inhabitants. That should be more than reason enough to want those butchers off our world. Maynor Oram and his wife Sarys, Jovel's sisters Aileva and Anira were among the victims. May the Prophets make the vipers pay for every crime they have committed against us."

There was a moment of silence. "No doubt checking the veracity of our story," was Renor's comment.

Melset nodded once. Together, they had gone through recent reports to find a suitably dramatic incident and a few names in connection with it.

"Yagani Samir here. Meet us at Jeraddo, provided you can keep the vipers off your tails."

"Agreed. We have also liberated power packs, weapons, communicators – all of that will be useful…"

"Anyone else with you?"

"No. Only my cousin, Jovel Ila. I don't think I need tell you what the vipers were planning for her." He laughed, "She managed to knock out the first one with his own bottle of kanaar. When I told her about my plans she insisted on joining."

The ships moved out after Prefect Dukat and the other guls had been notified of what Guls Renor and Melset were planning to do.

"I wonder whether they have taken the bait?" Renor asked no one in particular. "I know I wouldn't."

"They cannot risk not taking it. Those impulse ships are essential for their terrorist activities, as is that liberated fighter. They require a way of changing bases at a second's notice now that we have stepped up countermeasures." Melset looked over at Renor, her eyes glittering with pleasure. "You did make a quite convincing Bajoran."

"No problem with that. Learn the invective, call on the Prophets once or twice, complain about alleged atrocities…" Renor shrugged, quickly met her eyes, smiled at her briefly.

Within minutes they were at the appointed place, the Garina still remaining well out of sensor range of the fighter. Tense, hoping the ploy would work, the bridge crew watched the liberated vessel draw alongside the impulse ship.

"Shoot to disable," Gul Renor ordered the weapons officer. "Get weapons and warp offline, possibly knock out life support."

"Should be manageable, provided we get within range quickly enough." Melset turned away from the Glinn at weapons when she heard a signal over the intercom. "Ah, they are trying to contact the pilot. Now!"

No further orders were necessary. The cruiser came in, firing at the designated areas – no destruction, only capture and captives…

Their fire was answered, but the Cardassians did not respond immediately, held fire. Melset advised, "Gul Renor, send 50 troops down to Jeraddo prior to engaging the Reymac. Our Bajoran friends may attempt to beam down some of their number or fully abandon the ship; that will make it difficult to apprehend them as they will scatter at once. It is conceivable that they have established a settlement and weapons depots down there."

Renor relayed the order before his weapons officer fired another volley. He scored a direct hit, swinging the ship around with the impact, flashes of actinic blue crawling along its warp engines, the hull, indicating damage to main systems. The two guls exchanged glances.

"The impulse ship can be sacrificed if necessary, there are plenty more, but this fighter…." Melset considered her displays, "Shields at 45%, beam-over not feasible. Shall we offer them the possibility of surrender with only minor consequences for their infraction?"

"Why not? Let's show them that we, too, can be quite generous." Renor opened contact. "To the Bajoran terrorists on the fighter. We offer you the chance to surrender the vessel you have stolen and place yourselves under our jurisdiction. I give you my word as a Cardassian officer that you will not be harmed in any way; you have been good workers and thus have earned a measure of lenience. There will be no death sentence as would be customary for such infractions, only a brief time at a labour camp and, your sentence ended, release to your world and your families. You have 10 seconds to decide."

The reply was not long in coming. "Our people has come to know the validity of Cardàssian promises. We shall self-destruct rather than surrender."

Cursing loudly, Melset rushed to weapons, gave the Glinn an apologetic glance and made some rapid adjustments before firing a narrow beam that cut into the junction which housed controls for all of the critical areas of the ship.

At realizing what she had just done, Gul Renor jumped to his feet with a shout of, "Melset, are you insane? That ship will detonate, causing massive damage to this cruiser as well," but his warning had come too late. He braced for the explosion.

"No, it won't. I contrived to avoid the power grid, unless our Bajoran friends have tried to modify a few elements. Their ship will be useless to them as of now, but when it has been returned to Terok'Nor, repairs will require but a day or two," she stated evenly, indicating the fighter on the viewscreen. "We both know that the ship might have been set on self-destruct, then sent towards the station to explode there. All energy, barring that to the transporters has been cut, thus cancelling the programme, should it have been implemented." Thank you, Major Oruna, this method you taught me has just come in useful…

When no explosion was forthcoming, Renor nodded "Legate Sutor is waiting. He can tow it back. I'll notify him."

The Glinn at security had been scanning the surface of the moon at regular periods and called out, "Gul Renor, personnel beaming down. Scans indicate an underground settlement on Jeraddo."

"Recruit Sevra, beam up each individual materializing on the surface straight into the detention area – without weapons. There should be roughly 14 people; the more you can get, the better for our interrogators. We need more information."

There was no reply as the recruit had already begun the process. Down in the detention area, guards were waiting to receive their 'guests'.

Within minutes, Legate Sutor's cruiser approached to take the recaptured fighter back to the station, whereas Guls Renor and Melset went to see their prisoners.

"How many, Glinn Rassun?"

"Sixteen in all, Gul Renor." The Glinn accompanied his superiors to the cells where the Bajorans stared out at them, standing quietly side by side, defiant, angry, but apparently unafraid.

"Seems we have captured a cell or elements of various cells." Melset considered the people as though they were specimens on display. "Regrettably, I have no jurisdiction over them." She sounded very disappointed by the fact. "I have never interrogated one of these and do wonder which methods would be the most effective."

"Perhaps you could request the honours, Gul Melset? Prefect Dukat might permit you to extract information in this case." Gul Renor said very seriously. "He can be very generous; After all, he was your commanding officer a few years ago and thought, respectively thinks highly of you."

"A tempting thought indeed, but the Order can use these and their information. …" she gestured at the Bajorans indifferently, "to far better effect than I ever could. Its professional interrogators have methods of obtaining even the slightest element of intelligence, and at present it is those very elements that may be the decisive factors." Trying to draw me out as to the extent of my Order affiliations. You can continue trying… Beyond a doubt, the Order was testing me on this mission. My role was to be only an auxiliary one, but it turned out differently.

The two guls curiously watched their captives for some time; Renor, at noticing a great difference to those they had seen before, exchanged glances with Gul Melset before saying, "At first I attributed their calm to the shock of capture, yet even now … Strange – no cursing, no screaming, a remarkably silent group. A vow of silence perhaps? You should hear those in Thrax' cells. The noise level is incredible." Gul Renor added ruefully, "Not that I miss that shrieking and screaming."

Melset answered, again looking at the captives. "Hardly strange. They are trying to impress us; their behaviour is far more Cardassian than Bajoran." With a gasp of horror, she suddenly thought of a remote possibility.

"Dr. Odran, to detention immediately! Bring a scanner!" Her voice did not reflect her near-panic.

As soon as the medical officer entered, Gul Renor called in five guards. "Remove three of the men at a time."

Melset went over to the doctor and said in a low voice, "Scan them for transponders – Cardassian." then ordered, "Do not speak of my request after this moment."

He nodded and began scanning the men carefully. The first three were 'clean' as were all of those who followed. Aloud, he said, "No sign of explosives or hidden weaponry." With a salute, he returned to the infirmary.

Inwardly, the gul sagged with relief. Her fear had been of possibly having disrupted an Order operation which would have resulted in rather unpleasant repercussions for her as a liaison in training. At times it was nearly impossible to recognize operatives. In such Military- or Order-initiated actions which had to be quickly concluded, minor cues were easily overlooked; the new methods of 'preparing' and conditioning personnel made them virtually indistinguishable from the target population, thus the risk of their being accidentally eliminated by members of their own forces. In an effort to at least marginally preclude such incidents, undercover operatives were now routinely equipped with transponder implants.

"Why aren't you wailing for your Prophets to deliver you from the spoonheads?" sneered Gul Renor. When there was no reaction of any kind, he continued baiting them. "Normally you are not that courageous; if the word 'Cardassia' is but mentioned, you scurry away to hide in the darkest corners you can find, hoping the vipers won't find and bite you."

The leader of the group answered, his intonation indicating absolute indifference to the words of his captors. "You will not derive any entertainment from us, Cardassian. Only take care to remember that the more of us you kill, the more of us will rise to fight against you. The Prophets will reward us for our sufferings and sacrifices, free Bajor in the end; once we have gone through all these trials, Bajor will be renewed, whereas Cardassia will fall in retribution for its crimes against our people, our world and all other worlds that have been subjugated. Not today, not tomorrow, but inevitably. You can only hope the Prophets will be merciful and not permit the Cardassians alive today to live long enough to witness the end," was Yagani's quietly phrased answer.

Melset shrugged derisively at his words before turning away, dismissing his words, unmoved by the threat. "Let them continue their superstitious jabbering among themselves."

Together with Gul Renor, she returned to the bridge. In another few minutes, they would be back on Terok'Nor.

The fighter was delivered to Terok'Nor along with the impulse ship, the captives placed under Thrax' jurisdiction. After the debriefing, the five Guls spent a shift on Terok'Nor, relaxing together with Legate Sutor and Gul Erit, exchanging information. They had been given use of an office near OPS where they compiled the final report for Central Command. At one point, Prefect Dukat stopped by.

"Tomorrow the men you took will be transferred to Cardassia Prime. Perhaps the Order can find a way of eliminating the resistance movement for good, with our help, of course. The settlement established by those terrorists has been eradicated, most of the erstwhile inhabitants taken captive. They too are already on their way to Cardassia Prime with their fellows. All of you have rendered Cardassia a great service."

Approaching Prefect Dukat, Melset looked up at him and said nearly inaudibly, "Prefect Dukat, the situation will further deteriorate unless the entire network has been disrupted, all members taken or eliminated. These men we captured were nearly like our own professional militaries or even operatives: calm, fearless, very determined, very convinced they are serving the will of their Prophets. Once this movement takes hold and spreads, it will be virtually impossible to uproot. It has the support of the entire population, except perhaps for the collaborators who want to keep their privileges. Even destroying villages will not help. The members of the resistance will fight even more determinedly." Melset half-turned away in a gesture of respect. "Prefect Dukat, with all due respect, institute the precautions I have suggested…"

He considered her quietly; even though she recognized a flicker of renewed irritation in his manner, his words were even. "You can rest assured that the situation will be dealt with appropriately. We shall win this challenge."

Melset replied, "It is obvious we are their superiors in every way. In spite of these temporary setbacks, I do know one thing. Cardassia will prevail."

Accompanied by the Prefect, they left OPS to retake command of their respective cruisers, Prefect Dukat for his office.

While walking towards the pylons, all of them were very conscious of the fact that the Bajoran problem would have to be solved thoroughly and quickly lest the situation finally become untenable.

Gul Renor had listened to the exchange, carefully watching Melset. By Cardassian standards, he said very little, preferring to observe. It had become very clear to him that there was an underswell of conflict between her and the Prefect which was due to far more than strongly divergent customs.

On the way to the pylon, he stated, "I think our priority should be securing resource-rich systems on the Federation border."

Melset quickly looked over at him. "The Prefect should manage to annihilate these terrorists in due course, but your suggestion is one we have to follow, no matter what the cost, no matter what the developments here, on Terok'Nor." She added nearly inaudibly. "I fear Bajor…" She did not pronounce the words, only made the gesture for retreat, abandon camp.

The other Gul, startled at what he had just seen, stared at her briefly but did not answer, seeing his concerns reflected in the other's words and attitude. She fears the same development I do; something has happened to the Prefect; he is not the Prefect Dukat we knew …. The situation is slipping out of his fingers for some reason, either due to misguided policies or … he did not dare consider or openly mention the idea that had occurred to him.

Back on the Orissà, Melset took over command from Glinn Masok. While her destroyer cleared the Bajoran system, the Denorios Sector, she sat gazing at the screen in silence. Just within visual range, she saw the Kraxon take the lead. For a moment, she permitted herself to relax but suddenly felt strangely detached from reality, put it down to the tension of the past days, before remembering the captives' phrase. ….'not today, not tomorrow, but inevitably, Cardassia will fall.' She quickly rallied. No! We are not Bajorans to believe in prophecies uttered by power-hungry Vedeks trying to keep the populace under the rule of a religious order. We are Cardassians and – one day, the entire Alpha Quadrant will be ours.

"Glinn Kadrai, take us to Outpost 49; the division is expecting us." Her entire stance showed anticipation of the duties ahead, confidence in the strength of her Empire's resolve and destiny. Gul Jasad had notified her only the evening before that, by the time they arrived, a battle for a system near the border would have been engaged. The Orissà and the Kraxon had been ordered to come in firing in case the battle had not been decided before. Melset looked around the bridge, felt confident, certain that Cardassia would prevail against all odds – what other outcome could there be, given the dedication and strength of her people?

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