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[2009: JUL-AUG] The Darkest Night

Kali Nicholotti

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It had been a bad idea from the second it had entered his mind. Sure, Rhul had wanted to go and help his brother. Sure, he wanted the stinking spoonheads off the planet as badly as any other Bajoran he knew, but Soban should never have agreed to bring him along.

Soban was twelve years old, his brother six. His parents had warned him that leaving the house after dark wasn’t a good idea, that the Cardassians wouldn’t have a second thought about shooting him dead, even if he was still a child. But Soban knew better. He knew the compound like the back of his hand, his father had worked there for many years, and he knew that it backed onto a system of caves through which he could escape after doing what he had planned.

And yet there was Rhul, following after him, phaser in his hand like he was some high-ranking member of the Bajoran militia. For a moment Soban almost convinced himself that his little brother would have followed him no matter what he had said, he was fast on his feet, and it was better that he keep him within eyesight, but that feeling was short-lived. He should have locked him in his room, promised to take him another time, come clean to his parents about what he was planning, anything to keep his brother out of danger.

The moonlight shone down upon the duo, both fair haired, Soban standing tall for a Bajoran of his age, and Rhul around half his height. He would be able to reach into places that even Soban couldn’t, and in the end, that was what he was counting on. Rhul would be able to arm the device, plant it in a maintenance conduit near to the facility’s power core, and then the escape operation would begin in earnest. The contacts waiting for him on the other side of the tunnels would be surprised to see his brother, but they would no doubt have room for him in whatever transportation they had arranged. If necessary, Soban would sit his brother on his lap, that way he knew no-one could complain.

The terrain around the compound was rocky, as it was set into the hillside. Rakantha province was mostly made up of flat, arable land, in which farmers could plant their crops on vast farms that sprawled across the countryside for miles, but there were a few hilly areas and rock formations. The compound had been erected for a number of reasons, the most important of which was to serve as a facility to mine the one such formation to which it was attached, and the Cardassians had certainly put it to full use. Under the soft light of the moon, the rocks took on a strange hue, making the land seem alien. Indeed, it had not felt right since the moment the planet’s occupiers had first set foot on Bajoran soil.

The ascent to the fence of the compound was short, and relatively easy thanks to the gentle slope of the rockface. There were plenty of outcrops to grab onto, many of which had clumps of grass growing from them in unruly tufts. Soban was almost at the top of the slope before he turned round to check on his brother, who was only a few feet below, and moving with a quiet determination that could have been attributed to a fully grown militiaman. Hauling himself onto the ledge at the top of the slope, which was tantalisingly close to the compound fence, he turned around and reached out his hand to Rhul. For a second he stared into the boy’s eyes, expecting him to return the gesture so that he could be lifted to the top of the slope, but the moment never came. Instead, Rhul shook his head gently, his blonde hair rippling gently in the night-time breeze, and continued on the last leg of his journey.

He had nearly reached the top when his foot slipped on some loose stones, and he fell. It was nothing more than a stumble in truth, the ledge he had been on was quite wide and flat, and Rhul was easily able to stop from overbalancing and tumbling down the slope. He gasped out in pain, however, as he s[...]ed the skin on his hands and knees, blood trickling slowly from beneath the hem of his sturdy shorts. Rhul clutched his knee, clearly in pain, and Soban felt it too, but in his heart like a needle of guilt: he should not have brought his brother here.

It was too late to turn back now, and Rhul treated this minor setback with the professionalism he had treated the rest of the journey. In his mind, he was saving the entire planet in one night, and Soban knew that if they made it through to the end of the mission safely then he would feel like a fully fledged member of the resistance, much as his cell would never allow it. They were reluctant to allow him to join, but his agility and their lack of numbers had been more than enough persuasion. Rhul joined him at the top of the slope momentarily, and Soban remarked there were no tears, no more cries of pain, and certainly no more clutching at knees. Rhul was ready.

Cutting through the wire fence with a small tool taken from his pocket, Soban quickly created an opening through which they could sneak into the compound. There were storage pods all over the yard between them and the entrance, and so it would be only a few seconds until the two “operatives” were inside. Soban chose an access hatch that was rarely used, one that allowed mining vehicles to deposit ore directly into a storage vault for processing, and unfastened its cladding quietly. He beckoned for his brother to get inside, and followed suit, covering their entry point as he did so.

The silence was unerring. Many of the machines that would have been in operation during the day were now quiet. It was not unlike the Cardassians to work their Bajoran labourers through the night, but with the depleted ore reserves in this part of the province and the mining station in orbit there was no real need to use large portions of the plant. The fact that it was any use at all was the reason it was a target for the resistance, that and the fact that there was a Cardassian officer based inside who commanded three garrisons in this area. In addition, Rhul had not spoken since they had left home. Apparently he was taking his brother’s advice to make no noise at all extremely seriously. Soban couldn’t say he wasn’t grateful.

It only took a few minutes of crawling through maintenance conduits and sneaking through corridors to plant the device. When they arrived at the required location Rhul accepted the small device that Soban offered him, pressed a few buttons on the top, just as he had been shown, and disappeared for a few moments into a crawlspace in the wall. When he returned, Soban broke the silence.

“Did you put it in the right place?”

“Mmm,” replied Rhul, nodding. He looked stern, just like their father during a telling-off, which Soban was guaranteed to receive when he returned home. This would take some explaining.

“Looks like you’re already a pro.” He forced himself to smile, and ruffled Rhul’s hair in appreciation. Or was it affection? Or reassurance? Any of those would do right now. Heck, it could even have been to reassure himself.

Rhul did not utter a word in reply, instead he just stood there, waiting to follow his older brother back out of the compound and to safety.

The duo snuck out of the compound every bit as easily as they had made their way in. Soban made every effort to avoid areas of the facility that he knew would be staffed at this late hour, and before long they had climbed through a window in an empty office and dropped to safety outside. There were no fences at the back of the compound, as the walls of the building and the rock surrounding the cave entrance formed an enclosed space. There were also no guards, and there should have been. Soban stood puzzled for a second, hugged against the corner of a wall, before shrugging his shoulders and heading quietly around the edge of the rock face. If the Cardassians wanted to take the night off, he wasn’t going to complain.

A cold, musty breeze blew from the cave mouth. Soban resisted the urge to recoil at the smell, which was unpleasant to say the least, and instead looked down at his brother. Rhul had screwed up his eyes, and was screwing up his face, darkening the lines across his already wrinkled nose as his brow blocked what pale light there was from his face. Tapping him on the shoulder in silent support Soban strode forward into the tunnel, pulling out a palm beacon from his pouch. He shone it into the darkness, lighting a path for them to travel, closer and closer towards his contacts in the resistance, closer and closer towards safety. They walked quickly, sometimes breaking into a trot, winding in and out of the caverns, sometimes passing an abandoned mining cart, sometimes diverting through narrow crawlways, and sometimes moving as quickly as they could through the wide tunnels that had been hollowed out for the mining vehicles themselves.

The lack of Cardassian patrols was beginning to bother Soban greatly. It was a relief to know that Rhul was in less danger, but he could not understand why the spoonheads were leaving the compound unguarded. They knew there had been activity from the resistance in the area, and it was unlike them to allow anything to be compromised without challenge. That was, after all, why the cell had agreed to let him run this mission solo: one operative, and a boy at that, would be nothing like what the Cardassians would expect, and Soban’s knowledge of the compound had put them in the perfect position to strike. Yet still, there should have been guards here, they patrolled these caves and the compound perimeter every day. In a few seconds, Soban hoped, his fears would be assuaged, as the explosion from the compound should have been audible even from inside the tunnels, and that would mark the mission as a success. The Cardassians would have been caught napping.

They were on them before he realised. Too much time thinking, too little time watching. One had seized Rhul, and Soban’s heart leapt into his throat, thumping with adrenaline.

“Let him go!” He tried to muster as much confidence as he could, ordering the soldier into releasing his brother, but the Cardassian just laughed. He was holding Rhul around the waist, two clear feet from the floor, and Rhul kicked and struggled, squirming and writhing in his grasp. Two more Cardassians flanked him, and Soban could hear footsteps coming from behind them, signalling the approach of more guards.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here? Are the Bajorans running so low on men that the send children to perform their terrorist acts?”

The voice came from behind Soban, but he would not turn around, his eyes were fixed on his brother, who was still trying to break the grip of his captor.

“What is your name?” The words were spoken harshly, the unctuous tone that had previously flowed through the tunnel like honey now chilled him like an icy wind.

“I’m not telling you.” He stood defiant.

“Oh please,” the voice rang out derisively, “we both know that you don’t want anything to happen to your young friend.” Rhul’s eyes widened slightly. “It would be a terrible shame for you to have to watch him die.”

“You leave him alone!” Soban yelled angrily, his voice almost choking in his throat at the realisation that this was all his fault.

“Believe me, we will. I would like nothing more than to release him, but I’m afraid I’m unable to do so until you’ve told me your name.” The last part of the sentence was insistent, making it quite clear that any answer other than the information that had been requested would be met with something undesirable.

“My name is Rel. Rel Paron.” It was a risky move, but he refused to allow his brother or his parents to suffer due to his actions on this night.

“Well, Paron...” the Cardassian paused, the sliminess returning to his tone, “I’m sure you don’t mind me referring to you by your given name, would you mind telling me what you were doing here?”

“We were lost... we thought we’d explore the caves and we took a wrong turn.” His voice was shaking, but he forced it to stay steady. Those Cardassian pigs were never going to see him cry. A hand gripped Soban’s shoulder, and span him around unceremoniously. Struggling to stay on his feet, Soban could now see the Gul that had been commanding the unit. He should have been in the compound, and Soban’s fear was now mixed with crushing disappointment that he had failed in his mission, this was all for nothing.

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t quite believe you, Paron, you see this entire area is fenced off from both sides. Not to mention the fact that my regiment is returning from wiping out a large number of Bajoran insurgents who seemed to be waiting to release an impounded interceptor at the entrance to the cave system.” He strode towards Soban and stooped down so that their faces were inches apart. “You wouldn’t be lying to me would you? Because that would be a very, very bad idea.”

Soban stared into his eyes, trembling slightly. The Gul’s breath smelled worse than the breeze in the cave, but Soban dared not flinch, he was rooted with fear.

And then a release came just as quickly as they had been impounded. The cave rocked with the force of the explosion. It seemed it had been much more powerful than Soban had realised. The lights in the cave failed instantly, as they had been powered by the generator back in the compound, and they were plunged into darkness. He hurled himself in the direction of the Gul, trying to grab onto his head or neck, and he felt his target stumble and fall in surprise. A yell of pain rang through the cavern. Presumably Rhul had bitten the Cardassian who was holding him, and he began to cry out too, shouting for his brother.

Soban whipped back around, his eyes only starting to become accustomed to the dark. He had only the Prophets to thank for the fact that he managed to grab hold of Rhul’s sleeve, barrel past the Cardassians guards who were behind the Gul as they started to regain their footing, and start his escape down the tunnels. Within seconds, disruptor blasts streaked through the air, exploding chunks of the rock wall and showering the pair in grit. Rhul began to panic. He had done well so far, but this was too much for him. Stopping for only a second, Soban lifted him up, supporting him as best he could in a tight embrace. The adrenaline coursing through his legs granted him the speed he needed to weave through the caverns, led by memory, heading for the cave exit.

Bursting from the exit of the cave, Soban caught sight of the interceptor that had formed a part of their escape plan. He carried Rhul as far as the front of the craft, before setting him down and opening the hatch.

“Quickly, get in.” He tried to sound as calm as he could, but they both knew that calm was further from their minds than it had ever been.

And for an instant, for the first time since they had entered the cave, Soban got a good look at his brother’s face. It was stained with drying tears, while new ones silently streamed down his face. His pupils were wide, and there was no colour in his usually jovial face. He was terrified.

There was no time to hang around. Soban lifted him into the craft, stalling only to kiss him on the cheek, and placed him gently into the co-pilot’s chair. Mustering all his strength, he leapt onto the interceptor’s nose, and lunged for the seat behind the helm, the sound of disruptors growing ever louder and ever nearer.

As the compartment sealed, he breathed a momentary sigh of relief. The resistance cell was gone, and the Cardassians were on their tail. It wouldn’t be easy flying to safety, but they had a fighting chance. The Tallis family had reached the end of their first gauntlet, and now it was time to run another.

((Tallis Rhul, 23/8/09: 2,829 words))

Edited by Tallis Rhul
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