18

CAPTURED

The attempt to absorb the system into the Union's sphere of influence, or exploitation, as the Federation chose to see it had become a stalemate. Cardassian and Federation forces had been locked in battle for nearly two weeks, each trying to mark a decisive victory.

The Federation colonists as well as the contingent of Starfleet personnel that had arrived two days before were well-armed and very determined to keep the system; when the Cardassians heard that Federation cruisers were on their way they reacted with outrage. So many combatants lost and nothing to show for their sacrifice. The troops were desperately trying to hold their ground or even advance when the order: "Withdrawal initiated!" came in.

Contingents of thirty were beamed up at intervals of a few seconds by the cruisers; personnel would return to their home ships once the squadron was back in Union space. When the colonists realized what was happening they intensified their attack as a captive Gul would be a fine prize. There was no getting information out of them but they were useful in prisoner exchanges and negotiations.

Thirty junior officers, among them Melset, remained behind to keep Federation forces from reaching the remaining two Guls near the beamup point. "Glinn Kovar, you and your troops are next; we'll cover your retreat." With relief, they saw the last two Guls beamed up with their troops.

"Those Cardis have been cut off from the others!"

At once, phaser fire increased, making it impossible to move out. Var Nadroy called, "We're on our own, the cruisers have moved off." In spite of the news, they kept up their fire; surrender was not an option. Cardassians went down fighting.

The Federation combatants had far better cover, pinned down the Cardassians with a barrage of phaser fire. Var Melset heard loud cursing from Var Veral when some of their troops were beamed up. To her right, a flicker of movement… "Hit the ground!" She threw herself to the side, pulling Nadroy, her immediate subordinate down with her. A flash of light, a force that crushed the breath from her lungs, a glittering effect…

At regaining awareness, she felt disoriented; the ambient sounds were unfamiliar, from the language spoken by the crew to the hum of the warp drive. Concentrating on breathing in the even rhythm of sleep, the woman kept her eyes closed, analysing the situation. The last thing she remembered was the notification that their squadron was moving off, then phaser fire and the sensation of beaming. We have been captured. Whatever happens will happen. We have done our duty.

Shortly after, she could not suppress shivering; shipboard temperatures were far lower than Cardassian norm, and the pitched battle had kept personnel from having more than a bite of their field rations every now and then. Why do they have to keep temperatures so low? She turned over, analysing what she felt. No serious injuries. That is positive. Now to remember Entek's advice about unexpected behavioural patterns, and make use of some factor or another to escape.

Immediately, a human voice reported, "Captain, the female Cardi has regained consciousness. Lieutenant Pierson reports the others are awake, too."

Most likely they'll interrogate me. Fortunately, they know very little about our physiology ….

Melset opened her eyes and saw a Starfleet officer in front of her holding cell; two security officers stood at his side, phasers aimed at her.

"You and your soldiers are captives of the Federation, on board the Tejon. You will not be mistreated."

Ah, yes: the Federation is respecting of sentients' rights... Melset sat up, swung her legs over the side of the bunk. The officers waited for her to speak, but their captive only observed them, eyes questioning.

"Name and rank?" The officer stood just outside the cell, a little to the side, forcing her to turn her back to one of the guards.

Melset shook her head after some moments. Simulate aphasia and inability to understand or use Federation Standard, see how they react.

He approached the force field to deactivate it, carefully maintaining eye contact; her only reaction was a slight movement to keep out of reach.

"Stubborn? Your choice. You'll talk sooner or later, same as your troops. For now, watch." He showed the cell's amenities, indicating colour-coded points on a panel next to the bunk. The Cardassian watched his every gesture as he explained, "Replicator,... thermostat, ...call button in case you decide to talk after all,... waste extraction, ...sonics, ... privacy screen, ...dimmer, ...cleansing unit."

This cell is the ultimate in luxury.

Reactivating the forcefield, he said, "Keep this Cardi and her men under observation 24/24 until we arrive at Starbase 26. In a few hours I'll send over to speak with this one; he's had dealings with her kind more than once and perhaps can get some info out of her. Maybe she'll be more willing to talk without Cardi witnesses."

With that, he left the Security area.

Melset stayed where she was, watching the guards who repeatedly glanced over at her, at times speaking together, even laughing. Covertly, she reached for her communicator only to notice all equipment, even that in the pouches under her armour had been removed.

One of the guards smirked at seeing her disbelief which was followed by double-checking whether she was mistaken. No doubt enjoying the fact you have one of us in a cell; that my uniform is filthy doesn't exactly help either. Must have taken half of the dirt from that trench with me!

Pushing back her braids, she touched the area behind her right ear. A slight ridge. The transponder is where it belongs!

"At beamup anything you could use to escape or transmit a positioning signal was removed. You can be very thankful we let you and your men keep your Cardassian butcher's uniform instead of stripping you to the scales and searching you like you do your captives. I have some ideas I'd like to try out on you." The guard's voice expressed such hatred she met his eyes, her own expressionless.

May as well get cleaned up. She got up with some difficulty to activate the privacy screen, put her clothing into the cleaning unit, used the sonic shower then wore the cover of the bunk like a robe. When everything was ready she redressed and continued observing the guards.

The officer named Mertens watched her for some time before saying, "You damn snake! Too bad we have laws determining treatment of prisoners. I sure would like to process you the way you did that civilian we found!"

He turned to his colleague: "Just look at that female, Hartmann; I've never seen anything so revolting!"

"Leave her alone. Seems she can't understand a word you're saying, so save your breath. Cursing at her won't bring your wife back. To judge by her insignia, she's low in rank, was fighting to let her superiors escape. Planning attacks and interrogating prisoners is done by specialists." Hartmann looked at the prisoner interestedly. "Must be very young. Dr. T'Parin told me the markings of their neck scales become more pronounced after the first two decades." He pointed at her, "She's far younger than that. See? Her scales are an even shade of grey, their edges not so defined."

"Aaaw, little lady troop fresh from the Academy," Mertens drawled, "Doesn't keep me from wanting to get my hands on that damn Cardi! Look at her attitude! Just like those men. Thinks she's superior to everyone else."

At that moment, the door slid open to admit a human male dressed in command red. Seeing the guards close to the force field, he inquired, "Has she said anything?"

Hartmann reported, "No, Commander Arensen, all she's done is clean herself up and go back to staring at us. What about her friends?"

"Same thing, according to their guards, except that the men have tried out all of the amenities in their cells, commenting on how luxurious Federation holding cells are. At least they aren't tearing up the place as the Klingons did. That's the only thing to be said for them; they don't leave the cells a shambles."

"This one is very quiet." After considering the captive a while longer, he ordered, "Cover me" and shut off the force field to go into the cell. Melset drew back warily as though expecting mistreatment or some other atrocity, prepared to defend herself.

"Name and rank?" His voice had an unpleasant edge to it. Some moments passed, "I'm waiting."

She moved her lips, touched her throat, then shook her head, eyes wide and frightened, breathing accelerated. I have to find out where we are headed and what they are planning. One advantage of being taken by the Federation. You win time. We would already have started interrogation.

"Can't talk or won't talk?" His voice and expression were harsh. "Don't think you're entitled to any privileges as a female apart from being held in a separate cell. I'm waiting. Giving name and rank tends to make negotiations just a little easier."

Melset touched her lips and again shook her head, tilted it slightly upwards. Her eyes reflected near-panic as she froze, her breathing still accelerated.

Like Earth reptiles when startled... "Do you understand me?" He asked very slowly, pronouncing each word clearly. "I'm Mr Arensen, the Second-in-Command of this ship. You are on board the Tejon."

She spread her hands in the Cardassian gesture of incomprehension. The human shrugged and asked, "What do you mean?"

She indicated his lips, again spread her hands; after a moment of concentration, Melset shook her head, drew a deep breath and averted her eyes, recognizably distressed.

"Get her to sickbay, something's wrong. I know she was only stunned." Accompanied by one of the guards, he went over to Melset, "Come," and reached out to take her by the arm. She quickly rose to avoid being touched, but fell to her knees with a startled exclamation, managed to get up, then slowly, uncertainly, returned to the bunk, sat down.

"That's a trick, watch that damn Cardi run for the hills the moment you turn your back!" Mertens prodded her with his phaser, "Get up, Cardássian, stop simulating!"

The captive pressed her back against the wall and lifted her arms to protect her head, shrinking away from the guard, frightened. This should take them off-guard; we normally strike back or laugh about their efforts to instil fear. He pulled her to her feet, but to his annoyance, she clung to him for support. When he struck at her hands with his phaser to make her let go, the result as she had expected.

Arensen shouted, "Cut that out! You can see something's wrong!" He struck his communicator badge. "This is Commander Arensen. Activate the forcefield in sickbay's detention cell. Four to beam over."

They arrived in a sparkle of light, Melset still clinging to Mertens. The other guard roughly pulled her away so that she nearly fell. This at least is familiar.

Gesturing at a female nurse, Arensen told her in a kinder tone of voice. "We're only going to remove your armour and boots, nothing else. She will do so to avoid misunderstandings. It will be easier to register your life-signs."

Now, time for panic. She tried to fight off the nurse, was restrained by the guards. Have to keep their doctor from examining me too closely or he may find that transponder, and possibly recognize it is not only programmed to show where I am.

"That Cardi seems fine except for the weakness in her legs... There, got it." Melset looked apprehensive when the latches of the armour were released.

Mertens covertly struck her in the back as hard as he could when it was removed. The response was a cry of pain followed by a violent attempt to tear free; the guards forced her arms behind her back, then Hartmann laid his forearm across her throat, exerting just enough pressure to make breathing difficult. Immobilized, she stared at the nurse, then at the commander, terrified.

"That's enough!" Arensen went to a comm outlet, "Dr. Terhagen, we're ready."

"Different if you're at the receiving end, huh? Too bad we've got laws regulating the treatment of prisoners, even Cardis." Mertens whispered. No reprimand this time, only a suppressed comment from his colleague. Apparently verbal insults are not as serious as physical violence.

"You know them, arrogant in packs; one alone is still arrogant, but cautious. Bet this female was mighty fierce alongside her own kind. I'd sure like to know how many Federation citizens and Bajorans she's killed or tortured," Hartmann commented.

The doctor had entered the room unnoticed and seen everything, "She can't escape from the cell, so leave. The captain will be informed that you tried to rough her up. We may be at war with the Union, but that Cardi has to be examined and treated, not abused. Help her to that bunk," he said, briefly switching off the forcefield. He went in to join them, leaving the nurse ready to activate it in case of trouble. "Let her go."

Finally! She made use of the shove she was given to hit the wall with a thud, leaned against it, gasping for breath, hand to her analysed the doctor's observation. Usual attitude, but some curiosity. Have to make use of it.

"Commander Arensen, I think I'll be safe, and there is that forcefield. But send new security personnel. You saw how Mertens and Hartmann treated her. You want information from a Cardassian? You won't get it by means of force or threats. I've attended some interrogations; our methods don't impress them in the least, much to the contrary."

"Tell me when you find out more. I'll send in two other men," with that he left.

The doctor turned to the Cardassian with a friendly smile, trying to put her at ease, "My name is Dr. Terhagen," he said, pointing at himself, then repeated, "Dr. Terhagen". I wonder whether they understand our gestures. That race is so very different to us, was his thought. He disliked them and all they represented but disguised it; perhaps kindness would make her comply.

She understood every word, but made a negative gesture. That most members of the Federation concealed their hatred of her people to appear tolerant and accepting was disturbing; Have to delay scanning as long as possible.

"No translator? I thought you were routinely equipped with implants like we are. Wait a minute, we've got some spares." He went over to a shelf, adjusted one and approached her slowly so that she wouldn't feel threatened, held it out for her to take. "Here. If you can't talk, at least you will be able to understand what I'm saying. It is not the most refined model, but it works."

She hesitantly took the translator to clip it to her uniform, still watching the Human closely.

"Sorry about Mertens and Hartmann. They were out of line. Our experiences with your forces have led to resentment, but mistreating prisoners is against the law. No one will harm you."

The officer was surprised at seeing what he interpreted as gratitude in her eyes, looked at her more closely; many Cardassian females were attractive if you forgot about their grey skin, facial ridges and scales; their eyes were large, often beautiful, a form of sexual dimorphism. They even seemed gentle; yet experience had shown that those in the military were as aggressively vicious and brutal as the males.

He slowly took a medical scanner out of his case and held it up, turned it around so that she could see what it was. Melset did not move away, only nodded once when he indicated her lower back and the area under her left shoulder blade, then allowed him to scan the nerve centers where she had taken the phaser beam. "I'll also take care of the injury you got when Mertens hit you, that's a massive bruise in the making," he offered. "I'll report this to the captain; striking you was unwarranted."

Treatment concluded, Terhagen checked the elements in the cell for accessibility, adjusted the thermostat. "Everything you need is in here." He looked at a display then at the Cardassian whose uniform did not seem warm enough for the ambient temperatures on board. "If you want, you can have a thermal outfit to wear under your uniform. Should I notify Nurse Hall? A warm meal and something to drink would help, too, no doubt. The replicator is here." He indicated it.

The female did not react, but at understanding his suggestion, the distrust in her glance and the tension in her attitude increased.

"As the higher-ranking captive you are expecting to be interrogated, aren't you," he said, very pleased with himself for realizing what she most likely expected. "We neither lower resistance with gases, nor lace food and drink with psychotropic drugs; this is illegal. I only wanted to find out what happened when you were stunned, help you, and make this situation a little more bearable." He waited again, maintaining eye contact. No response. "This is the end of my shift, so I'll leave. Remember, whatever you need is here." He met her glance, it was troubled. She may be worried about her troops if these people share our military ethics. "Your comrades are on this ship, safe and uninjured, two to a cell."

A pretence of resignation may be best. She inclined her head, laid her hands in her lap in a sign of acceptance.

Once the door slid shut behind him she thought, Better keep up the pretence; no doubt I am under constant observation. With some difficulty she rose and, supporting herself against the wall, reached the elements she wanted before pulling the cover off the bunk to wrap it around her shoulders for warmth. Leaning against the wall facing the door, Melset dozed, yet was alert to any sound. The nurse on duty repeatedly checked on her, but saw the same watchful, defensive attitude each time. When the doctor's shift began the next morning, he noticed the captive had apparently remained exactly where she had been the evening before.

"Good morning," Terhagen said at seeing she was awake, but got no response. He went to a screen. "No internal injuries. But you haven't eaten." He looked at her curiously as he had never seen a female Cardassian officer without the armour militaries wore. This one didn't look at all dangerous... she was not as tall as the average Cardassian female and very slender, with greyish green eyes, dark brown hair with reddish highlights. Have never seen this Cardassian phenotype before. "You don't look as though you could keep up a longer hunger strike." He programmed a meal and, calling a guard, went in to sit next to her, out of reach then offered her some fruit. She glanced at it and at him, turned away.

"It is untainted." Yet as soon as he had said the words, he realized that she had no reason at all to trust him. From her perspective, she was a captive at the mercy of her captors. For all intents she was to be drugged in preparation for questioning.

"I'll leave it here in case you want it after all," he said, placing the tray next to Melset before rising and reactivating the force field.

Doesn't your pretence of kindness give you a feeling of moral superiority? You don't know how very resistant we are to lack of food and water. Once alone, she lay down, placed the tray on the floor, half under the bunk and settled on her side, back to the wall, eyes closed, knowing that this would arouse concern.

Soon after, he returned, stared, then went to a comm outlet; she only caught part of what he said: "Doctor Terhagen here. Yes, the prisoners are fine. The female? No... hasn't touched a thing... lying there. No translator; seemingly not standard for lower ranks... No, can't talk. You can tell Dr. T'Parin she has... Send over... Look, I'm not doing that unless you take responsibility for the consequences. No, I am not!... She's my responsibility. ... What? Then I'll let you try!..." The discussion became heated, then, finally, "I'm waiting."

A tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed Betazoid woman in civilian clothing entered little later; and the two briefly stood together for some time, speaking, backs to Melset who was now sitting up again. The doctor's concern was recognizable. Before leaving, he shut off the forcefield and told her, "You'll be all right."

She was not naive enough to believe this offered her a potential route of escape, but was an attempt to see if her condition was faked to gain an advantage or be guarded less sternly; the woman who had come in surely was well-trained in self-defence. Even if I managed to escape this area, I could not reach a shuttle... and I cannot abandon my troops. This procedure should be interesting, however... Melset had often heard about Federation counsellors; her commander, Gul Previn, had once been captive for nearly half a year and had told some of his crew about counselling during downtime in the officers' mess. They had been astonished, especially at his assurance that every bit of his story was true.

Melset drew back, her neck membranes slightly spread, not leaving the newcomer out of sight for even a moment. At seeing her attitude, the counselor advanced no further and extended her hands, palms up. "Look. No weapons or hypospray. I only want to talk to you. My name is...," she slowly advanced to show her a padd.

"It reproduces speech. You can choose the sounds you need. See?" She held it out to Melset, then touched some of the symbols. "Darina Elos" was the name given in a medium-pitched female voice. "And you?"

The Cardassian cautiously took the padd.

After a few tries, the name "Var Asimi Navra" was pronounced. Melset nodded.

The counsellor met her eyes. Their expression was now cautious, inquiring. "Var Navra, the Doctor and the First Officer have told me you seem to fear being drugged, interrogated and executed?"

"Yes." The sounds were found within seconds.

"This is not Federation procedure. All sentient beings are respected without exception."

Melset reacted with disbelief, then concentrated on her work. "I am in a cell, stared at like a specimen. A guard struck me without provocation. I'm not with my troops, don't know whether they are still alive."

"The situation is highly volatile, leading to overreaction. I assure you we won't do anything that would go against our principles. Your comrades are safe, unharmed; we do not keep males and females together in one brig," she explained, hoping to get past the suspicion. So far, she had been successful with most of the aliens they had encountered.

Arensen had already sent her to the troops but she had left after a few minutes. Just before, the men had been given translators, then taken to another area one by one for preliminary interrogation, and had spoken volubly without saying anything at all useful. One of them had even gone so far as to pretend the most abject of terror before laughing out loud when his guard said he would not be tortured. At present, the troops, who seemed slightly younger than the female, were enjoying the luxuries their cells offered, relaxing on their bunks, discussing harmless topics, commenting on the officers who were guarding them, laughing, inviting them in for some combat training. They had also invited the counsellor, but not for combat training... However, the female facing her? Distrustful, wary, evidently capable of violence and cruelty by Federation standards. Yet, oddly enough, she did not look vicious.

"What will be done with me?"

"Questioning. Afterwards either prisoner exchange or internment in a P.O.W. camp, repatriation after negotiation of a peace treaty, but that can take years, the way things look. Neither option means abuse or execution." She waited, then inquired, "What happens to repatriated Cardassian militaries?"

The counsellor was astonished at seeing the speed and assurance with which the captive touched the keys she needed. Perfect recall! They certainly haven't exaggerated Cardassian memory!

"Debriefing, re-education, respectively execution if there is any suspicion sensitive details have been revealed. We are Cardassians, would rather die than to commit treason." For a moment she showed the arrogant pride the electronic voice could not express, met Elos' glance, her own vicious, aggressive, without the slightest hint of the fear the doctor had mentioned.

"We have some questions we need answered. Some of your people are living in an enclave after requesting and being granted sanctuary. You can share this privilege if you give us information."

I have to find out where it is. That would explain some of the incidents pointing at information leaked to the Federation. Knowledge of the whereabouts of these traitors who deserve public trial and execution for their crimes will be invaluable for the Order. Operatives can be sent to rectify the situation within a week. Have to invent some story for my captors to find out more. Harmless questions indeed…

Melset heard the counsellor's commbadge activate.

"She's grateful for the possibility to communicate, is considering our offer. I'll report in later. You can beam her back into the holding cell after I have left."

"I'll see whether I can get quarters for you, but you will be confined, with guards stationed outside the door." She hoped for cooperation in exchange for this privilege.

Previn reported there are guards outside quarters, but no listening devices or visual observation inside; under circumstances, I may be able to tap into their computers. The transponder's double function should come in useful.

The Cardassian despised imitating gratitude, fear, despair, seeming inoffensive, when her goal was to escape with her four troops. Entek and Tain had recognized her ability to manipulate offworlders, a talent few Cardassians had or bothered to develop, considering it demeaning to imitate other people's ways. Her time in the Order, though, had demonstrated that the information accessed was well worth the humiliation.

The counsellor turned back to her, but Melset shifted position, as if preparing to attack. Startled, the counsellor left, reactivated the field, then watched the Cardassian glare at her, warning her off.

Frightened? That one is as paranoid as any of her kind. Elos went to the ready room.

The Captain was already waiting for her. "You mentioned that enclave?"

"Yes. She seemed interested in the option so may reconsider. We need more information to give us an edge. No one wants to be executed as a traitor, especially not a Cardassian, so that enclave means protection." She added, "I have been trained to work with various peoples on a one-to-one basis, but Cardassians? Fanatic, untrustworthy and vicious, especially Navra. She seems harmless at first sight, but is capable of anything."

"In brief, a Cardassian. What is her rank anyway? She is above those men we captured with her, isn't she?"

"Not by much. Var would be the equivalent of lieutenant, or lower, but we know very little about their ranking system."

"Perhaps not even that high. Hartmann thinks she is very young, under twenty, but we know neither their rate of maturation, nor their educational system. Think of Vulcans; they attend university as of the age of thirteen or fourteen... Of course, even if she is as young as he says, she must not be underestimated. Cardis are raised to the most fanatic patriotism I've ever seen. Remember that colony planet?"

Just some weeks before, they had taken a Cardassian colony. The civilians had appeared grateful for not being massacred, accepted help for their wounded, but there was a rash of unexplained systems failures, small explosions. Only some Cardassian children came closer of their own accord. Charming in spite of their reptilian features, they first seemed friendly, harmless and curious, but were like the adults: evaluating, cold, and vicious, watching for any exploitable weakness.

Elos suggested, "We should give her quarters, treat her like a guest, convince her of our sincerity; in spite of her attitude she seems more approachable than the others. The communications outlet in her quarters can be blocked. I'll discuss letting her see her troops with the Captain. Under guard: one troop, one security officer, ten minutes' contact."

"Too long. Five."

"Good. Show her that they are unharmed. She thinks they have been killed as they aren't sharing a brig."

The next day, Elos went to see the prisoner and was greeted with a slight smile. "Navra, the captain is assigning you quarters until we arrive at the base. Arensen has agreed to let you see your men to prove they have not been killed."

Melset took the padd and chose, "This is most generous."

Trying to make me feel gratitude and satisfy their desire for information. She was pleased about this development. With Korinas, she had developed a system of nonverbal communication she taught her troops, refining it until the uninformed thought it slight nervous fidgeting. Perhaps the men's guards had been less vigilant than her own, permitting them to gather information. Entek's precept had served her well so far: "Never underestimate the value of even the most minuscule factor, the least element of information."

The next day, transferral from the cell to quarters was effected with all due precautions.

Elos nodded at her, "Ready?"

She nodded once, hiding contempt for the counsellor and resentment of her patronizing manner. The way we would treat a pet: what will it do if you give it a treat?

Melset got up to stand at attention. Arensen came in for added security and touched his commbadge. "Send the first two over." Within moments, Nadroy and Sherkan were beamed over with their guards.

Nadroy saluted before saying with relief, "Ah, Var Navra, you are unharmed. We feared you were mistreated." His inflection hinted that he knew exactly what she had been up to. He turned to the guard, "Am I permitted to give my comrade this rod? You have already scanned it."

No one watched Sherkan…..

"Yes. No quick motions."

He slowly went to her and, avoiding any suspicious moves, gave her the rod, smiled, then made a slight gesture, seemingly an affectionate greeting, and returned to his guard.

Melset clutched the rod as if it was of greatest value to her and hesitantly returned the smile, responded with a slight motion of her hand, then pushed back her braids, looked at him, serious, but not unfriendly.

Nadroy stated, "I am satisfied. You have told us the truth, she is unharmed. We can return." It was no request, but an order which made his guard bristle.

"All right, next two."

This time the greetings were formal. Arensen and Elos suspected messages were being exchanged, but the question was how. They only saw slight motions, like the nervous fidgeting Humans and some others were prone to in critical situations.

When the last two were returned to their cells, Melset relaxed. I have the details I wanted.

Arensen said, "Forget about escape: there are two guards at the door and the conduits are sealed." The officers exchanged glances before going into the corridor.

Once alone, she quickly examined everything. What luxury! Decorations on the walls, furniture like in the quarters of a Gul, a replicator, everything to ensure comfort; I have never seen such a bed, either! Aboard Previn's ship, the quarters she shared with eleven troops were basic, but served well enough. Whoever desired marginal privacy could close off his area with a weighted curtain. Service was just that, no luxury cruise as Starfleet seemed to consider it.

Now to find out what is being offered... She activated the replicator to choose at random, smelled then tasted the food that materialized. May as well enjoy it. My troops said there is no sign of tampering. Afterwards, she stretched out, casually inspecting the rod Nadroy had given her and nearly laughed when she saw it was Federation-made. No doubt liberated during the last attack. He had had an identical one in his possession, a blank rod he had given to the security officer for scanning to avoid suspicion. This definitely was a point in his favour. For now, she slipped it into a pouch in her armour. Some hours later, she activated the commlink. If I do nothing, they will become suspicious. Arensen came in seconds later. Seems I am his responsibility.

"Bored?" he asked at seeing her in front of the commlink, staring at it in frustration.

She nodded.

"Want to talk? We have little contact with Cardassians; perhaps a shorter inquiry and safety in that enclave can be negotiated in exchange for information."

Melset looked away.

"You do not believe me?" he spoke into his communicator. Within moments, the screen of the commlink cleared. "Send visuals of the Cardassian enclave."

"Transmitting." The screen showed a walled enclave outside what appeared a Federation city, guarded by Starfleet personnel, its inhabitants Cardassians. She registered every detail, the quality of the light, the sky, the clothing worn by the inhabitants. It was not much to go on, but the Order could locate it.

Arensen recognized her revulsion and contempt, but laid a padd next to the now-blank screen. "Your decision, Navra. Here is a padd. Use it wisely."

Immediately after he left, she input contradictory statements, made the knowledge the Federation had about her people and Union seem incorrect. If this disinformation was shared, it would be an excellent source of error. After finishing, she carefully reread everything to ensure that nothing potentially treasonous had slipped in, then deactivated the padd. I think I have recovered from the aphasia.

The next day, Elos came in, saw the padd on the table and asked. "Have you decided?"

The answer was a nod and a whispered "Yes."

"Finally! The shock of stun has worn off. We'll arrive at Starbase 26 in two days. You will stay in its detention area prior to transferral to another cruiser which will take you to your destination."

"Where?" her voice was slightly stronger.

"This is classified. Questioning will be effected on a Federation base, the padd sent with you. You and your troops will stay together. Before, you are to be examined and given treatment if necessary."

With a gasp of disbelief, Melset turned to stare at Elos, "The men are not being repatriated? My fate is sealed as I've given you information; but my troops! Please, send them home! Nadroy is his parents' only child. They depend on him for their subsistence!" she was incapable of saying more.

Elos replied, "Var Navra, they too will be questioned." She saw Melset incline her head in despair, sit down and hide her face in her hands. Remember what you know about her people: they exploit every weakness they can find, especially compassion. She rose and left with the feeling she had betrayed the Cardassian's trust, sacrificing the young officer and her troops for a few bits of information.

The next day Arensen came in, accompanied by two security officers who took up position at either side of the door, weapons at the ready. "We will arrive at Starbase 26 in a few hours. Is there anything you want to say before transferral? Your men were quite talkative, so all we require are some last details which you may be able to provide. Your silence will only make procedures more unpleasant. We too have ways of extracting information, not as horrific as yours, but very effective."

You are welcome to try. Those troops would never give information! She stated in Federation Standard, "If so, they will be executed. A traitor must not be allowed to live. If need be, I will do so myself, rather than see them escape justice. Cardassia comes first and foremost, is more precious than life itself."

"So you can speak," Arensen commented, not without sarcasm.

"My condition was due to the shock of stun and capture." She gave the voice padd to Arensen. "Tell Elos this was very kind of her."

"I'll be sure to do so." Turning back to Melset, he asked, "How many ships and transports are deployed along the border to this sector?"

"Not many." She considered the question carefully. "One fleet of three squadrons. Our resources are stretched to the very limits, or else your reinforcements would have been eliminated to the last ship before firing even one shot."

"Not according to what your men said."

"That is regrettable. I have given you my information. The choice of whom to believe is entirely yours. Choose wisely."

"Your options are: P.O.W. camp with potential enemies or a peaceful life in an enclave, under guard but safe with your compatriots."

"I am no traitor to Cardassia, nor are those inmates in your enclave my peers; by betraying Cardassia, they have sentenced themselves to permanent exile. Whatever bribes you offer will make neither my men or me cede." She rose in dismissal.

"If this is the way you want it, fine. Transferral to Starbase 26 in ten hours, medical evaluation, followed by the next trip." He had hoped for more compliance after the kindness and generosity he had shown her during her stay on the Tejon.

After he had left, Melset went over to the viewport and looked out. Gul Madred is right. Humans speak of respect for all but exploit their captives, discard them once they have what they need. Those exiles in that enclave would rather be tried and executed on Cardassia than live out their days in the Federation. Whatever happened had to be accepted. Hope? It was for peoples who lacked resolve. Melset activated the computer to read some of the files at her disposal: propaganda extolling the virtues of the Federation...

The next day, she was already waiting when the security detail came to take her to the transporter bay. Her troops were heavily guarded, as was she. Nadroy stared at the guard supporting her.

"What have you done to her? Is this the much-praised Federation respect for personal integrity?" With a nearly human gesture, he turned to Melset, "That is why they kept you separate: to brutalize you without witnesses!" Nadroy's concern and outrage were unexpected from a Cardassian.

"We do not abuse prisoners. She is still feeling slight aftereffects of stun. And now, no talk."

Nadroy fell silent, but his eyes and stance showed virulent hatred of their captors.

What neither Arensen nor the guards realized was that Nadroy had informed Melset of an attempt to bribe them for information, but none of them had taken the bait. They exchanged knowing glances. The method was so basic it insulted the intelligence of a Pakled.

Beamdown to Starbase 26; here, too, the temperatures were uncomfortably low, the light far too bright. On their way to Security, the prisoners noticed the reactions of the Starfleet personnel and civilians they passed, recognized the contempt and revulsion in the eyes of the people who saw them, heard comments about their appearance and their people. This was familiar as they displayed their own captives, except with far more roughness to stress the fact of their captivity.

Once in the detention area, they were again separated and, shortly after, a security guard accompanied a human xenophysiologist into Melset's cell.

"I'm Dr. Shaffer. Dr Terhagen of the Tejon informed me that after stun, you experienced aphasia and difficulties walking, asked me to corroborate his findings."

"Unfortunately I cannot give you details on Cardassian physiology as I am a military, not a doctor. Nor am I an object of experimentation for you to satisfy your curiosity about us."

He did not react to her overt attack. "We do not conduct experiments on captives. That is forbidden by our code of ethics."

"If that is the case, go ahead." What did concern her was the implant, but she saw he was not going to do more than check the nerve centres in the area impacted by the phaser as had Dr Terhagen.

"Thank you," he replied, briefly considering the values he had recorded. "I'll go over these; they are not unlike those of one or two species I have studied."

"Ah? Then your level of competence has increased quite impressively over the past three days! What you know about us is grossly insufficient. As you can see, I have nearly recovered, will be well within days. So, if a Cardassian butcher is allowed a request, mine is to be left alone if I cannot be with my troops." She was disappointed that the translator omitted the more colourful expressions, but hoped the inflection of her voice had said it all.

Dr. Shaffer met her glance only to encounter contempt. Wordlessly, he left, accompanied by the guard. Melset went about her affairs, enjoyed what the replicator offered, then leaned against the wall, legs drawn up, dozing, after turning up the thermostat to normal values.

An hour later, a call from the neighbouring cell, "Navra, what's next?"

"No more visits from personnel! That quack has had enough. No doubt he's now complaining to his superior about my lack of gratitude."

"The counsellor on the Tejon was rather standoffish," was Berak's call, which was followed by loud laughter from Veral and Sherkan who suggested, "Perhaps she would have preferred a Gul?"

"Always the same... choose status, not sheer, unadulterated strength and staying power!" was Nadroy's regretful comment. His variant of Cardasi was slow, very clearly pronounced, so the translator in the cells missed not one word.

The five kept on calling to each other, exchanging comments, enjoying the humans' increasing irritation. Cardassian Standard was a highly flexible, beautiful language, but unpleasant to human ears due to its sibilant undertones. Again, unbeknownst to security personnel, they exchanged information, planned stories to avoid any inconsistencies in the questioning.

The next hours were uneventful. From the neighbouring cells, Melset heard the murmur of the troops' voices, even, low, the sound much more pleasant than Federation Standard or Bajoran.

Six hours later, the next shift took over. One of the officers went to the cells, eyeing the captives. He considered the Cardassians contemptuously, idly tapping his fingers on the partitions as though bored by his duties. He first met Nadroy's eyes, then, at the next cell, watched Veral before going to Melset's cell and turning to his colleague. "Lt. Bertholt, I'm going in. Do not interfere. Never show Cardis you are expecting an attack. They'll see your caution as a sign of fear and weakness. Believe me, I know those damn reptiles. You control one, you control its associates."

He was welcomed with a suspicious, aggressive attitude as she slowly got up from her bunk.

"Var Navra, my name is Danston." He made a slight, barely perceptible gesture. A chance motion? Melset kept her defensive stance and said derisively, "Have you also been sent to try for information? If so, I invite you to waste your time elsewhere."

"You will comply with all demands. Is that understood? You are a prisoner, remember that. Our generosity is no weakness; we have enough ways of breaking you and I will stop at nothing should you persist in refusing to cooperate." With a quick motion, he grabbed her upper arms to force her backwards until she was pinned against the wall, glaring up at him outraged, ready to fight back. He quickly whispered as if in threat, slurring the words so that the translator could not record them, "Code 2489-OTK. Var Iníki Melset, Kelan Province."

An operative! We're safe if all goes as planned! Suddenly, as if she had lost all her fight, she sat down on the bunk with a low moan of despair, frightened into passivity, looking up at him; she seemed to have lost the last shred of hope.

"I think we understand each other, Cardássian. I shall conduct the debriefing at Headquarters. Once we have the information we require, you and your men will be sent back to Cardassia. At least your final hours will be spent in your beloved Union, looking forward to facing trial in your kangaroo court. Imagine, you will experience your travesty of justice one last time. Either way, your fate is sealed. If you and your men create further disturbance, you will face disciplinary measures." With that, he took over guard duty after accepting Bertholt's congratulations on 'fixing up those damn Cardis.'

Security personnel came into the detention area the next evening. As the resident expert on Cardassians, Danston was to organize the transferral. To avoid any delays he had already determined who would be responsible for which captive.

Danston switched off the forcefield to Melset's cell. "Var Navra, I am to take you to Headquarters."

She got up at once, eyes lowered, and held out her hands, wrists together. It seemed the Var had accepted her fate and would make no more trouble.

"No, manacles are not necessary. You and I know any attempt at escape is useless. Take hold of my arm. You have not completely recovered," he said in a low, friendly voice.

"Is that a good idea? I wouldn't trust her not to try something."

"That Cardi has realized that any resistance is futile and would make things even worse for her and her troops." He turned to her again. "Now come."

Melset took his arm for support as they walked to the transporter bay. No one noticed him pass on a message to her by means of a code consisting of touches to her hand. When we get to the doors at the end of this corridor, you will experience vertigo, nearly fall, be given a miniaturized phaser, as will Nadroy and Varel. Two personnel accompanying us are operatives. All is prepared. I trust you can run.

At the place indicated, Melset stumbled. Danston caught her before she fell, covertly slipped an object into her hand. She took it, feeling for the buttons. Two of the troops were similarly equipped during the distraction.

"Perhaps beamover would have been better," commented one of the guards who felt slightly more charitable towards the prisoners now that Starfleet officers had the upper hand.

"We're nearly there," Danston said before warning Nadroy's guard. "Watch out! That troop is too close to Navra. You know they can't be trusted; they're like Klingons, prefer to go down fighting rather than remain captive."

The guard pulled Nadroy back. "He rushed forward when she nearly fell, seems protective of her." He grinned, "Perhaps we could have made use of this? They do when they capture couples. I wonder how quickly he'd break if given the right cues?" He looked at Nadroy then at Melset. "Without those scales and ridges, that reptile would be a real looker."

Danston retorted. "We aren't Cardis, Sandner, and won't stoop to their level."

Unembarrassed, Sandner shrugged, "Just a thought. They see our own treatment of prisoners as a sign of weakness."

They had reached the access to the shuttlebay when Danston said, "There is a slight change of plans. For security reasons, the Amu'Darya's captain has sent a runabout which will transfer us to a shuttle. This more circuitous route will make it harder to trace us. I know Cardassians, they may have a agents waiting somewhere. I want to get the captives to Headquarters without any incidents."

"Why weren't we informed?" Sandner asked, suspicious.

"I was directed to keep it under wraps as Chief of Security. If the Cardis had got wind of it, we would be in for a surprise." His voice shifted to arrogant contempt, "You know those snakes. Grapevine has it they are trying to infiltrate Federation installations along the Border."

The doors slid open soundlessly; the group went in, passed the guards who were stationed just inside, near the runabout. Just before boarding it Danston shouted; at once, the Cardassians and two of the security personnel vaporized the officers in the docking bay. The others, taken by surprise, went down after getting off only one or ineffective shots.

"Get in! No prisoners!" Danston ordered when Melset and Berak wanted to drag along an officer after searching for and removing his equipment.

The moment they were aboard, the doors were sealed and the runabout lifted off; the human at the controls was not what he had seemed to Starbase personnel. Melset drew a breath of relief when they had left its immediate vicinity but wondered at their taking a route deeper into Federation territory.

"I know what you are thinking, Var Melset. The shuttle is staffed by two operatives. This route is hazardous, but if we leave our present trajectory ..." Further details were unnecessary.

"And the two men left in the docking bay? They will have been discovered by now," was Berak's query. "That phaser fire must have alerted the entire Base."

"An acceptable risk. We opted for a runabout because of this very factor. It will be easier to find concealment until we are picked up." With that, the runabout swerved, and Serit deactivated the systems. "Now to wait..."

"Ah, here it is," reported the navigator. At seeing the Federation shuttle, everyone relaxed perceptibly. For all the efficiency of the Order, there was always a risk of disaster in such missions.

Within minutes, they were taken on board. While her troops went into the personnel area, Melset was addressed by Danston. "Anything to report?"

She took a data rod out of her uniform. "Yes. Var Nadroy liberated this when we briefly entered an office in that colony; it could contain useful data."

"And you?" Two of her troops and she were Order educated; thus the personnel due for recall was directed to free them.

"I don't know yet, but I kept that implant activated throughout; it seems this prototype works. That Federation doctor didn't discover it when he gave me treatment." She unhooked two datapadds and a Federation hand phaser from her belt. "Perhaps these can be useful."

"The search is on." He pointed at a monitor, then told the navigator, "Serit, Warp six to system ð -256. Eject the debris and the irradiated organic matter so that the dispersal pattern simulates that of an explosion. Most regrettable … We have met with an unfortunate accident." He turned to Melset, "We are to be picked up there. As of now, there should be no more danger of our being traced, not with all the activity in this sector. Arrangements have been made so that debriefing can begin on the way back to Cardassia Prime. Dejar is aboard the Kevra."

"Good. That will save time. But I have two requests: I want an in-depth debriefing in the offices of the Obsidian Order and Central Command to make sure not one detail is forgotten; I also would appreciate Nadroy's being present when his data rod is evaluated so that he can see what information he has obtained."

Danston, she would never learn his Cardassian name, agreed. "That can be arranged. In fact, Entek and Garak have already seen to preparations; Tain will conduct your debriefing."

That is an honour! "I only hope that the information will help us."

"No detail is ever useless. We are scheduled to be picked up in another hour. Perhaps you would appreciate a report on recent developments? We have annexed that colony after all."

Together, they returned to the personnel area where the four troops were filing their reports. Nadroy nodded at Melset and Danston, then brought them some redleaf. After the tension of the past hours, all of them felt the need of a stimulant.

It was with relief that they saw the Kevra approach. The Gul was waiting in the docking bay to welcome them back although low-ranking members of the military were normally taken back without ceremony.

Danston saluted before reporting, "Melset, Veral, Sherkan, Berak and Nadroy have been freed and request debriefing."

The Gul considered them in turn. "We shall arrive at Headquarters within two days." Turning to Sherkan and Veral, he said, "Major Yildon will come for you in fifteen minutes and you, Melset, already know that Dejar will debrief you. For you, Nadroy and Berak, tomorrow at this time." With that, he left for the bridge.

Together with Danston, they waited in the officers' mess, discussing the battle which had seen them captured; some Vars who had an off-shift came to join them.

Little later, a tall, slim Cardassian in civilian clothing entered, "Sherkan and Veral?"

The two rose at once. Sudden silence showed that, in spite of the safety it ensured all Cardassians on- or offworld, the Order and its representatives were considered with apprehension.

Major Yildon greeted Melset, saying, "I am pleased to see the mission was a success."

"Thanks to Order competence, Major Yildon," she smiled up at him, ignoring the covert stares of the others. "It is good to be back again."

Dejar came in little later. As soon as she saw her, Melset rose and followed the operative to one of the rooms set aside for debriefings and official functions.

"Sit down, Var Melset. Commence report."

With greatest precision, Melset gave her an account of the past five days, then answered further questions to clarify some last details before giving her the padds she had taken. After four hours, everything was concluded.

"That will be all." With those words Dejar took a data rod out of the recording device and sealed its container. It would be evaluated in the Order's offices to every facet of Melset's voice, facial expressions and intonation. "You are free to go to quarters."

She took out the rod Nadroy had given her. "Var Nadroy liberated this and entrusted me with it. We both hope it contains useful information. I gave him my word it would be passed on to you, and he present to see what it contains."

Dejar smiled slightly. "Good work. And what about the transponder? Did you test it? If so, the results should be quite interesting."

"I made use of its dual function, so it should contain relevant details. I would be pleased if you notified me of results."

"You will be informed." Together, they went out, Dejar to begin her analyses, Melset to go to the quarters assigned her and her troops. When she entered, the men were already waiting. "Var Melset, we have this shift off. Glinn Majen will give us our assignments in an hour."

As was custom, they were integrated into the crew of the Kevra. Having inactive personnel on board was a luxury Central Command could not afford. For those concerned, it was always interesting; and permitted them to expand their personal networks of informants and useful contacts.

Debriefing at the Order was routine, except that at her own request, Melset was given an injection to activate even subliminal recollections. Many elements would be irrelevant, but there was always the chance of obtaining one last essential fact. After an hour of recovery, she was called to Tain's office.

"There were indeed a few more details we could extract." He let her read a padd on which they were recorded. "You have only done your duty, but I have requested your commanding officer accord you two days of downtime, Var Melset." His manner fatherly, Tain added, "Iníki, you have a talent for this work. We could use you."

Melset did not reply. She had repeatedly considered this option, but appreciated her work for Central Command. There was no luxury, very little downtime, but furthering Cardassia's interests on the front lines was a privilege. However the Order offered so much: information, a wide range of postings...

"Your promotion to Glinn First Level is due in a month. Remember: you are on our list of recruits, should you ever decide or be forced to quit the service."

"That you consider me a potential member of your organisation is an honour I deeply appreciate, Tain," Melset answered. She respected his dedication to protecting Cardassia. His aide, Garak, her senior by at most five or six years, was much the same. Only the guilty fear the Order and its representatives.

"We know about the enclave you mentioned and have infiltrated it with operatives to observe the inmates; those who are really traitors are hoping for leniency by gathering information for us."

"That some of our people choose to defect rather than to return to face justice disquiets me. I cannot understand such treachery."

"My dear Var Melset, there are those who will do anything to get what they think is their due. Remember we have dissidents even here."

With a bemused smile, he gave her two Federation insignia and a commbadge she had liberated, "These objects contained no information whatsoever, but your precaution of giving them to me was wise. You had your brother in mind when you took them?"

"Yes. He always wants information, as well as the simple pleasure of having some offworld items. Åvron is a child, so unfamiliar objects fascinate him."

"Give Delhina Melset my regards. Her lecture on data reconstruction and methods of recognizing forgery was most intriguing."

"I shall do so."

Once at home, Melset changed into civilian attire. It was rare to have home leave more than once every six months, so she appreciated Tain's generosity. In two years she would return to the Academy for the six months of courses and lectures for Phase 2 of command training, followed by a week of exams in all subjects relevant to this rank. Only twenty-five percent of candidates became Glinn second level at the first try, candidates could take the test only twice.

She opened the window, enjoying the warm air that drifted in, the muted sounds of the residential area, then stretched. To be on Cardassia again. During those five days of captivity, her greatest fear had been of never returning again, the worst fate imaginable for a Cardassian. To her regret, Gul Damar was on a half-year mission on the far side of the Union. She had hoped to discuss her experiences with her father and get his advice.

Hours later, the alarm system activated when someone entered the house. Within seconds, renewed silence. Curious to see who had returned, Melset went into the corridor.

"Ah, Iníki! Tain told me you were at his office after requesting an additional debriefing, an excellent idea." Delhina Melset smiled at her in welcome; she had feared her daughter lost like so many other militaries.

"Attàvi Melset, details are often registered subliminally; it was those I wanted activated for evaluation as to usefulness, Tain's and his aides' questions help focus on relevant details."

"Indeed. He is one of the best interrogators I know; his protégé, Garak, is also highly gifted." Delhina added, "He described how you dealt with your captors. Federation personnel is so easily taken off guard by atypical behavioural patterns."

"I know; my behaviour was extremely uncardassian." Melset looked away, "I felt their hatred and fear, their wish to mistreat me, saw it in their eyes. But they thought a pretence of kindness would make me betray my people to gain sanctuary in the Federation."

"We heard of your capture and feared the worst, so Central Command's notification that you, your men and the other operatives were successfully recalled came as a relief." Delhina embraced her, "Welcome back, my daughter."

Iniki briefly clung to her, "My worst fear was never seeing Cardassia or you again."

"Losir's cousin was captured by the Federation shortly before your birth. His fate is unknown; we can only hope he is not forced to live out his days far from the Union. Yet we know and accept the risks of duty in Central Command; accept every loss in the knowledge that the officer concerned was a true Cardassian."

"I cannot understand the distrust and suspicion between the Order and Central Command. They complement each other, offer us security both on- and offworld."

"These two institutions have to be kept apart and be it by artificial differences," was Delhina's reply, "Mutual observation keeps those in check who strive for personal power and thus risk undermining the stability of the past 500 years. Some incidents nearly ended in disaster."

They went into the living-room. It was sparsely furnished, but comfortable by Cardassian standards. At entering the Order and Central Command, the Damar-Melset family had moved from Perali City in Kelan Province to Loo'Wess, but attended the Samagaltayi Magtaal every three years, preserved their form of Cardasi and their customs.

"Åvron is second in his year and wants to either join the Order or Central Command when he graduates, yet also excels in sciences." She said, "The news of your captivity was a shock for him, yet he was nearly as controlled as an adult. I considered keeping the news from him as he had important exams, but he is five years old, thus of an age to be told everything, no matter how distressing."

"I know; it is tempting to spare a child, but that would foster weakness. We grow up strong enough to face everything."

He came home little later, took his padds and equipment to his room then greeted his mother. Her own greeting was formal, but affectionate. Åvron's uniform was that of second-year students, pale grey and black, complementing his clear blue eyes and dark hair.

"Look who is back."

With a call of joy at seeing his sister who was near the communit, Åvron ran over to embrace her. They were 15 years apart so he looked up to her as he did to his parents. Melset considered him proudly, he was such an attractive child. Intelligent and dutiful by nature, he excelled in his age group, was respected by his peers in spite of the rivalries encouraged by instructors and parents in order to find the best personnel for future high-level positions.

She gave him two Starfleet insignia and a commbadge. "For your collection. Tain has examined these, they contained no information. I got them on Starbase 26 when we escaped."

The child was delighted; they looked at the objects, commenting, enjoyed being together. Cardassians believed that no other race had the depth of affection they had because they were never put to the test.

"How long will you stay, Iníki?" he asked. "I am so happy you are back. When Attàvi Melset told me you had been taken I was afraid for you. Humans are so cruel! How were they?" He was curious, but uneasy. They looked horrible with their oddly coloured, soft skin, their thin necks.

For a moment, she hesitated, "They pretended kindness, yet I could see how much they despise us. Without their laws that protect prisoners, we might have been killed for what we are. They tried to make me commit treason by offering me a comfortable life in the Federation in exchange for information." Melset added, laughing, "The Order made fools of them in the end, and I liberated valuable data carriers."

Åvron was horrified. "If you ever betrayed Cardassia, Iníki, I would never want to see you again. A traitor is not a member of a Cardassian family and deserves to die."

"Åvron, you believe in true justice, no matter who is involved. Family is important, but what are we without Cardassia? She is our home, our life, our protection. Whoever endangers her must be eliminated." She held him close, as if shielding him from the dangers beyond the border. "Whoever harms Cardassia harms all Cardassians and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." In a very low voice, she said, "I was shown an enclave with individuals who had done that. Knowing I could never return to Cardassia again would be worse than death!"

Delhina agreed. "Our family has always served Cardassia: as parents, members of the Order or Central Command or scientists. We are Kelani, have our own ways, but are Cardassians first and foremost. Remember, Åvron. Never trust an offworlder, not even a representative of one of our allies."

"Now to finally answer your question: tomorrow evening my troops and I will return to Gul Previn's ship."

Later that evening, they exchanged news, discussed developments while Åvron studied. That every word they said was being recorded and analysed did not bother them; they felt safe, secure; only dissidents had reason to fear these measures. Publicly transmitted trials proved that all crimes were solved, all criminals brought to trial and severely punished for endangering Cardassia's integrity which had to be ensured, whatever the cost.

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