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Chapter Nine

 
Previously: Chapter Eight

Shiu Sah, 3rd Moon of Ketara V
Stardate 41115.0
Approximate Time: 1500 hours


The Ketara System made Gaya Morana think of abundance. It had abundant planets, and each planet had abundant moons, and each moon was blessed with abundant natural resources. In fact, the initial geothermal scans reminded her of the geographical surveys taken of Bajor before the Occupation.

The only reason a developing system like Ketara hadn't already been taken over by a force like the Cardassians or the Klingons was that it bordered Federation space. Morana supposed it was just another blessing of the Ketarans.

As for Morana herself, blessings were in short supply. She was on a team comprising herself, Drelle Marlowe, Ensign Perfection, and headed by the Borg Queen.

Not the best combination of people, not today.

Lt. Sohini Ghoshal was extra stiff today, firing pop quiz-like questions at random intervals as her team began their scans and sample collections.

"Ensign Marlowe," she snapped. "What did you learn during the first round of talks with the Ketarans?"

"They're ruled by a tetrarch," Drelle hurried to reply, even as she tried to scrape rock samples into her pristine set of tubes. "Each member is an elected official, as the Ketarans abolished royal families 124 years and 7 months ago. Captain Picard of the Enterprise actually met with Tetrarch Alayash Mor."

"Ensign Gaya--" and here there was a particularly harsh note to her voice, "what's the most notable aspect about the water on this moon?"

"High levels of sodium, Lieutenant," Morana replied, trying not to yawn. She hated survey work. "Comparable to Earth's own Dead Sea."

"Ensign Willoughby, what's the most prominent ore in these caves?"

"Depends on the layer, Lieutenant," came the annoyingly polished reply. "The first five meters are solid rock, approximately one million years old. Though rich in minerals beneficial to most humanoids, there are no definitive traces of valuable ore. But once you get about five to six meters deep, there are heavy trace of atarium, odotrium, and rynium, all extremely valuable to warp-capable ships. The jewel of ores, however, lies about twelve meters deep, where we'll find heavy deposits of dilithium."

"Excellent, Ensign Willoughby."

Well, of course she gets praise, Morana scowled. To hell with the rest of us.

"Ensign Marlowe," the Borg Queen suddenly intoned, "accompany me down the west cave. Gaya and Willoughby, you take the east cave. We'll rendezvous at 1530 hours."

Drelle followed Her Heinous Royal Majesty, looking like a woman condemned while Morana trudged off with Willoughby, hoping the Human would speak as little as possible.

"So, Morana," Miranda began casually, "I understand Gabriel is kinda fond of you."

"Gabriel?" Mylanti blinked. She recalled his looks, his destructive gift of Cardassian sugar candy and shrugged. "I guess so."

"We've become a bit of an item," Miranda went on. "You don't mind, do you?"

Morana was briefly confused. "No. He's all yours."

"Excellent," Miranda beamed.

"Ensign Sito to Ensign Willoughby."

"Willoughby, here."

Morana's ears pricked up immediately. Sito? Ensign Sito is dead!!!

"How's your cave?" the disembodied, digital voice inquired. "We've barely arrived at ours."

"I'm moving eastward toward the Shon-Ra Sea, but I'm still above ground."

Morana's eyes widened in alarm. Um, can we talk about how Ensign Sito is supposed to be dead?

She would've known. She would've known if there was another Bajoran Ensign named Sito in Starfleet. She would've sought them out, the way almost all Bajoran students and officers sought one another out.

She would've welcomed them, comforted them for the lost of their kin.

"We'll be reaching our cave in 27 minutes."

"Let me know how you like yours," Miranda chuckled. "Willoughby out."

"Ensign Sito?" Mylanti blinked, her heart thudding in her chest. "There's...another Ensign Sito?"

"Yes," Miranda nodded. "Her cousin, Sito Apraxa."

"Sito Apraxa?" Morana shook her head, as if to clear it. That didn't sound right. "Sito Apraxa is no Starfleet Ensign. Sito Apraxa is a terrorist, wanted across nine star systems."

Miranda merely shrugged. "You're Bajoran. You understand."

"Ensign Willoughby," Morana said sharply, "Starfleet code prohibits private contact with terrorists!"

Miranda stopped walking and turned to face Morana.

"But you're Bajoran," she blinked. "You do understand, don't you?"

"Miranda," Morana bit out, her face alarmed, "why is one of the most infamous Bajoran terrorists talking to you and masquerading as a Starfleet officer?"

Miranda looked shocked. "Please tell me you're not one of those housebroken refugees who drink the Federation Kool-Aid, Morana," she blinked. She spoke rapidly, her voice rising to a deadly pitch. "Don't think because they put you through a fancy school and assigned you some cushy quarters on a station built by Bajoran slave labor that the struggle is somehow over. The war with the spoonheads rages on, and you of all people should know that!"

"I, of all people?" Morana snapped. "Simply because I'm Bajoran?"

"Because I know who you really are," Miranda replied with a sudden, deadly calm. "I know about your mother. I know where she really is and I know the life you escaped. I'll admit you did a great job hiding your records from the Bajoran and Federation databases--excellent, really--but you can't hide those things from us, not from our operatives. There are thousands of us and we are everywhere."

At last, it dawned on Morana. "You," she whispered. Her voice suddenly came out much more forcefully. "You are Maquis."

There was a strange, silent pause. What happened next was dreamlike, with things moving both blindingly fast and numbingly slow.  All sounds seemed to come from a distance. Quick as lightning, Miranda pulled her phaser. The next thing Morana knew, she was on the ground, on her back, with a sharp burning sensation in her side. Then the very ground seem to shake, the cave walls began to move...and then there was dark.

Chapter Eight

 
Previously: Chapter Seven

Ensign Gaya Morana's personal log; stardate...whatever.

Ohhhh, what a tangled web we weave.

Youth is a fickle thing. We're also so convinced we know what we want and we're doing, when the fact is, we don't know anything at all. Take Sillia, for example. She doesn't actually want a romance with Pranay. She wants to be Pranay.

It's crazy, all the things we want. Even me. As time goes on, I realize there's so much I want. I want to stay in Starfleet, though I still don't know what for. In the quiet moments, when I lay on my bed and stare at the gray ceilings of this Cardassian monument to slave labor, I admit that I am really angry. I'm angry at everyone. I'm angry all the time.

And I want revenge. I just don't know whom against.

***

When the Borg Queen was tense, all the ensigns felt it. They didn't dare move; they didn't let so much as a hair fall out of place.

"Due to a series of emergency staff meetings," Lt. Sohini Ghoshal announced, "your normally scheduled activities have been replaced by a temporary schedule until the Ketara Mission.

"Ensign Ohn, since you've earned the informal title of 'Digital Whisperer'. Chief O'Brien requests your presence in Engineering. Ensign Marlowe, at 1230 hours, envoys from Ketara II will transport onboard to discuss potential trade missions with Major Kira and Commander Sisko.  It will be the first round of preliminary meetings to follow over of the next week. You will attend as a silent observer."

Sohini actually took a step forward, and rasped when she spoke next.

"I don't think I need to remind you of what will happen if I find out you so much as made a sound."

Drelle actually gulped.

"Ensign Willoughby," Sohini continued, her voice back to its using imposing tone, "you will report to science lab 6. The survey teams are doing test runs on samples from Ketara V's moon.  And as for you two," she turned to Sillia and Morana, "you two are going to learn to ingratiate yourself in with your shipmates.  It just so happens that Lt. Tria's been meaning to sit you down and discuss where you'd best fit in." For some reason, her eyes zeroed in on Morana.

And right then and there, the Bajoran knew something was up.

There was a new tension on the ship; she'd noticed this morning how the faces of the senior officers had deeply hardened overnight. She'd caught a glimpse of the bridge crew at the replimat earlier this morning; Major Kira in particular looked like she'd gotten her ass properly chewed the night before. Morana resisted the urge to laugh aloud at the thought of Commander Sisko going off on his staff behind closed doors; apparently, his yelling was a thing of legend.

Ah, the Federation, Morana mused, even as her lips twitched to keep from smirking. So deceptively bubbly and cloying.

***

Ensign Gaya Mylanti's personal log; supplemental.

To satisfy Lt. Tria, Cillia and I have agreed to join Lt. Cmdr. Damian Silent River's cooking club.  Apparently he's decided to start one, and for reasons no one quite understands, he got approval from Riker himself.

Our first meeting is scheduled in Holodeck 2 after the Ketara Mission.  Apparently it's mandatory all club members attend something called Chopped.

***

Transmission #J1451A8584ADEF4JUJK541212 *chicken* 2AD5FA4613251YUJHK5MH132 *rice* 251524JJIUYPWE.

- They know I'm here.

It'll be over when you reach Ketara.

If I reach Ketara. That meddling Chief Engineer found my transmission.

Where are you transmitting from now?

- Quarters. I piggy-backed off the routine transmissions of the food replicator.

You were always good with replicators.  I don't think you ever met one you couldn't persuade.

- You're as humorous as ever.  What's the plan for Ketara?

Why are you in such a hurry?  No one knows it's you.  No one would ever suspect you.

- That's thing about being Maquis.  
Everyone's an automatic suspect.

You sound more tense than usual.

- This whole ship is more tense than usual. They know, remember?  Already the Mouth is starting to look at me sideways.

Who?

- Not important. What's the plan for Ketara?

Expect to be transported off the moon's surface by 0330 hours, Ketara time.

- Then they'll know!

But you'll be gone by then, so it won't matter.


***

USS Defiant
Stardate 
41022.49
Approximate Time: 2249 hours

Damian was surprised to see Pranay Bhatnagar in his quarters so late the night before an important mission, and without announcement. The man typically notified him a week in advance, unless expressly invited. But like most of the officers on the ship, he clearly had something on his mind.

"I have something to tell you," Pranay announced in his soft voice.

Damian's heart leaped in his chest. They've found the Maquis infiltrator. He'd heard horror stories about the Maquis on other ships, about the shock, and all the broken relationships that left devastated crewmates behind. He wasn't looking forward to this.

"You are my closest friend and most loyal comrade," Pranay continued solemnly, "and I should have told you this much sooner."

Damian's brain whirled, torn between confusion and disbelief. Wait, wait, wait...Pranay's the Maquis infiltrator??? How did that happen? In which galaxy does it even make sense?

Wait a minute...he ran off and joined...but didn't even think to invite me???

"For a few nights now," Pranay confessed with a stoicism that would've easily impressed a Vulcan, "I've been sharing my bed with Ensign Rix."

For a moment, Damian was physically unable to move. Then suddenly, his body moved without thought or permission. His hand reached out for a chair at the dining table.  He pulled it out and sat down.

For this, he needed to sit down.

***

Shiu Sah, 3rd Moon of Ketara V
Stardate 41116.22
Approximate Time: 1622 hours


You are Maquis.

Ensign Gaya Morana's whole body ached. She'd managed to dive out of harm's way during the cave-in, but she'd accidentally knocked herself unconscious in the process. Her head was bleeding, her uniform was dirty and torn. The flesh on her left side stung horribly, as though she'd been burned somehow.

You are Maquis.

Morana wasn't sure how long she'd been out, but that wasn't what troubled her most. There were tiny gaps in her memory; she knew she'd survived a cave-in but she couldn't remember what caused it. She forced herself to move, to gauge her surroundings, and her very bones shrieked when she did.

And over and over again in her mind, she could hear own voice repeatedly stating, You are Maquis. She just couldn't remember why or to whom she was saying it.

But if she were to guess, they probably the same person who shot her and left her to die in a sealed cave.

***

USS Defiant
Previous Stardate
Approximate Time: 2253 hours


Damian Silent River lived up to his surname for a long while before he finally spoke. Though Pranay Bhatnagar never considered himself a nervous person, he was definitely nervous now. He was used to be in reverse positions, silent and sitting while Damian fidgeted and awaited judgment.

"You're sleeping with an Ensign," Damian said finally.

Pranay gave the most obvious reply. "Yes."

"You never sleep with ensigns."

"Not typically, no," Pranay admitted.

"Not typically ever," Damian blinked.

"Correct."

"You didn't even sleep with ensigns when you yourself were an ensign."

"No, I did not."

"As I recall, you specifically stated that sleeping with an Ensign is 'most unbecoming and undignified of any self-respecting humanoid.'"

"I did say."

"But now you tell me you're sleeping with an ensign."

"I am."

There was a strange pause; it reminded Pranay of the calm before a storm.  As it turned out, he was right.

"I can't believe you're screwing an Ensign!" Damian suddenly retorted, eyes flashing with irrational anger.

Pranay raised a puzzled brow.  "This upsets you?"

"Of course it upsets me!" his friend snapped, rising to his feet and pacing his quarters.  "This isn't like you, Pranay!"

"And Sillia is not like other ensigns."

But Damian wasn't hearing that part. All he was hearing was that Pranay Bhatnagar, Captain Moral Dignity, was sleeping with a subordinate.

"Sleeping with an ensign is precisely the irresponsible sort of thing I'm supposed to do," Damian wrung his hands.  "I tell you that I'm screwing an Ensign or a Lieutenant, and you talk me out of it. That's how this is supposed to work, Pranay."

Pranay's head rose and fell in patient understanding.

Damian paused. "Do you see a future with Sillia?"

Considering that in the very near future Sillian Rix could soon become Sillia Irydi, carrying the memories one of the most celebrated Trills in Vulcan history, Pranay definitely saw a potential future.

"Of course.  As I mentioned before, she's most unlike other ensigns."

"You know, the same could be said of Gaya Morana," Damian shrugged. "Sillia, Shondrelle...I can understand them. They're ensigns. But I'm not sure I even see a future for the Unreadable One. Girl's got issues, Pranay."

"She survived the Cardassian Occupation," Pranay reminded him. "By now I suspect she has more than mere 'issues', Damian. I would suppose she has volumes."

"Very amusing," Damian scowled.  "I just wish we knew what it was she's got buried so deep that it leaves her so...dead on the outside."

"Not all refugees are willing to share their horror stories," Pranay pointed out. "Morana's not an activist or famed diarist. She escaped and that's probably all that matters to her."

"Escaped," Damian murmured. He suddenly turned to his friend. "Calandra says there are no records of Morana or her mother after the age of ten, at least not on Bajor."

Pranay raised an eyebrow.  "Yes?"

"We've been asking the wrong questions," Damian realized. "We've been theorizing what she escaped, but not from where she escaped.  For all we know, Morana's issues might not even have anything to do with the Occupation."

Chapter Seven

 
Previously: Chapter Six

Of all the dates Gabriel Ohn had ever gone on, this was by far the best.

The fact Miranda Willoughby had her own quarters was the crux of the date's best-ness.  It was great to not have worry about a roommate showing up without warning.

And then...there was the food.

For dinner, Miranda served pan-seared Andorian kala fish lightly crusted with breadcrumbs and topped with Asiago cheese.  She also served with blue Tellurite angel-haired pasta cooked in Romulan viinerine and Vulcan plomeek soup boiled down in a Bajoran springwine reduction.

Gabriel's contribution was merely two bottles of some simple Risian cordials he'd heard about from Drelle, but Miranda graciously accepted it anyway.  The sweetness of the beverage offset the tangy spice of the dish.

"Let me guess," he chuckled, as they sat down to eat, "you got the recipe from Chopped."

"I refined it, of course," she assured him, eyes twinkling.  "The contestant who originally came up with the combination used a Klingon bloodwine reduction, which is much too strong, and he didn't think to dull the sourness of the viinerine with the plomeek soup."

Gabriel smiled broadly. "Can this possibly get any better?"

Miranda beamed.  "Actually, I put some of your programming skills to test and manipulated the computer to replicating Black Orchid cupcakes.  They're basically Delavian dark chocolate cupcakes infused with the Cardassian mayal flower."

Gabriel's head rose and fell.  "Like they use in sugar candy."

"Mm-hm," Miranda nodded.  "It really darkened the batter, and added a rich flavor.  I'm going to recommend them to Lt. Silent River."

"I'm sure he'll be impressed," Gabriel assured her, and they began to eat.  Everything tasted absolutely perfect and he made sure to tell her so.

"Cooking's actually a big deal in the DMZ," Miranda explained.  "Most of the people are farmers who grow and cook their own food.  To be honest, grown food does taste better than replicated food, but you've taught me that with a little tweaking, computers can rival nature."

They ate for a time, talking about the Engineering lecture from earlier that day and making predictions about the Ketara Mission.

"What's the planet like?" Gabriel asked.  "I haven't searched the database yet."

"The moon we've been assigned is quite beautiful.  I haven't visited it, but I browsed the database." Her voice grew wistful as a faraway look overtook her eyes.

"It has this beach, you know? It just stretches on for kilometers, and at sunset, you can see Ketara V and its first moon.  The Miluna Sea is this beautiful shade of blue green and the sunset...the sunset, Gabriel...so luminous, with soft pinks and tender golds.  If you want, we can go see it on the holodeck tomorrow night."

A second date???  This was too easy.  If there was a catch, Gabriel didn't want to know.  Not yet.  He just wanted to savor this, their effortless synchronicity...and their growing electricity.

When he realized how she was looking at him, Gabriel cleared his throat and immediately broke the silence, grasping for something, anything.

"I'll help you clear the dishes."

Miranda beamed her angelic smile, and nodded.  "All right."

They moved in silence, packing up glasses and dishes and putting them back in the replicator. They wiped the table together, washed their hands, and were about to bid each other good night when Gabriel suddenly noticed Miranda was in his arms, and he was kissing her as though his life depended upon it.

Right away, Gabriel knew better than to bother going back to his quarters that night.  There was no point.

Miranda smelled of some strange jasmine and tasted of the cordial.  He wanted to slow down, knew he should slow down but instead, things kept speeding and heating up.  It seemed to take only seconds for them to shed their clothes.

Though they initially headed for her bedroom, they never made it past the dining table.