Thicker than Water
A piercing, burrowing, and semi-blunt ache throbbed slowly at a point just behind the surface of Jocelyn Davies' brow. Exactly how long she had sensed its presence was far beyond her ability to discover. It gathered with each new minute into a recognisable form, its boundaries defined, its shape revealed - little by little - as her awareness of her surroundings grew. A bright, steady glow burned painfully through the lids of her eyes. She doubted her ability to prise them open, even had she not been in too much pain to render such an attempt worthwhile.
If she focused all the energy she could muster - struggling to peer through the dense, almost solid cloud - she thought she may have sensed the ghosts of ill-defined recollections. She had been feeling tired, increasingly dizzy, a fog closing over her sight. There may have even been a touch of queasiness rising upward from her stomach.
Groaning softly, she rolled onto her back on the hard, narrow bench. Nobody responded from the darkness. So, she decided. Either she was alone, or whoever observed her was carefully silent, never revealing their presence, but standing somewhere beyond her reach as they waited for her to awaken.
Still with eyes tightly closed, both her eyelids swollen and sore, Davies rocked unsteadily as she levered herself into a semi upright position, with her head pressed back against the surface of what she assumed must have been a rough, hard wall. Now she was certain. There were other people in the room with her. Five metres away - or possibly ten. As the cobwebs thinned and drifted from her mind, she imagined that she had heard the muffled footfalls of someone moving around.
"Lower the force field," said a voice. The light dropped noticeably as a soft sharp burst of static came to her ears.
The constriction around her head was lessened, if only by a little. Forcing the lids of her eyes to part, Davies found that the light of the gleaming energy barrier was no longer at full power. She realised as quickly as her still groggy brain allowed, that she had expected to find the man who now looked back at her from the other side. But she had imagined that he would be taller, that his hair would be darker - and that even the details of his face would be different to what she saw. Unwavering blue eyes stared directly into hers, expressionless, but calculating. The hair upon his head had browned somewhat, but could possibly have once been red.
Another stood behind his right hand shoulder. Davies noted a broad chest, and a large, square jaw. Both were clad in identically angular jackets of gleaming black vinyl. But it was the smaller companion of this dark haired leviathan who drew Jocelyn Davies' attention, and held it. Some deep instinct told her that he was the one to watch - as a panther was more worthy of cautious notice than a heavier, thick shouldered bullock.
The first man nodded to his larger subordinate, who reached beyond Davies' view of the space outside her cell, and returned with both hands wrapped around a covered metal tray.
"I thought you might be hungry after such a long journey." It was the same steady voice which she had heard earlier. Davies was not surprised that the smaller of the pair had been the one to speak. His companion remained as silent as before, but stepped forward to set down the tray at one end of the prison bench.
The smell of something warm and savoury forced bitter acid all the way into Davies' throat. She grimaced, swallowing - and grunted under her breath. Eyes opening once again, she peered beyond both black-clad men to the beginnings of a closeted and dimly lit passageway.
"I won't stop you from trying to escape, if that's what you really want." Her pale, blue eyed captor spoke as though he'd plucked the thought directly from her mind. "But you won't gain anything by it."
"I wouldn't be so sure," insisted Jocelyn. "From what I hear there are no shortage of hiding places on this station. I'd only have to avoid Security long enough for someone to find me and get me off this place."
"I doubt they would be able, Ms Davies," the man challenged her. "Or do you still think these are the holding cells of station Deep Space Nine?"
Davies blinked, frowning - studying him closely. "But aren't they…?"
"In fact," her captor interrupted with barely a pause. "It might be fair to say that we three are the only ones who even know you're here."
The man had taken a backward step away from Davies' position, even as the last of his words were yet to leave his mouth. The forcefield was re-activated with a sharp, bright flash, and Davies flinched from a renewed glare now stabbing again at the very back of her eyes. She rose on faltering legs, and glanced at every corner of her cell, as though in an effort to find the spectres she imagined rising all around her. They were close, these imagined ghosts now ravening at her back. Close enough to send a chill across her skin and cause each tiny hair to rise to goose pimples.
Is that what he meant by a long journey? she asked herself - but said nothing.
Pride, stubborn persistence, and a degree of false bravado was sufficient to cool her expression until it was as obdurate as solid titanium. "Fine. So, we're not in Kansas any more. And I assume you know everything Starfleet knows."
"And more," the stranger confirmed. "We probably know more about your little group than you do, and that certainly includes the identity of all its members."
As he moved to stand a little closer to the light, the direct illumination before him seemed to flatten each groove on the landscape of his pale, tight skin - although still not enough to erase them entirely from his face. But what did she have left to fear? There was nothing that she had not already confessed - if not to Captain Sisko, then certainly to that pet changeling of his. What more did she have to hide?
"I was chosen for this task because I look vulnerable." She straightened a little and tilted her head defiantly. "But don't go getting any ideas. I'm not. Not for a moment."
"I know." Nevertheless, the pale man had masked the thoughts in his mind so entirely that not one hint was revealed from behind those cold blue eyes. "I've been looking into your activities of your leaders over the past several years. You'll forgive me, of course, if I don't say precisely how long. I know what you claim to believe, and I've known for a long time that you and your friends are competent liars. With clearly more confidence than you claim to possess, even now."
His smile grew even more conspicuously congenial - flavoured with an undercurrent of something coldly dangerous. "In fact, I'm counting on it."
"Contrary to how it may appear at times--" Sloan recalled having spoken these words to Admiral Ross, whose eyes had watched him with a familiar trace of uncertainty, bordering on mistrust. Even this was blunted at the edges, as time had allowed each man to acclimatise to the other. "We don't have one hundred percent control over the details of every operation. We plan ahead, to a point. But to envision the course of future events with any degree of clarity… That would take a time traveller."
He had imagined a lingering touch of reluctance in Ross' response. But was there not also some small measure of curiosity? William Ross was as capable a tactician as any. Nothing of what he'd been told was likely to have escaped his understanding.
Crossing his arms, Sloan had leant against the admiral's desk. Yet even in this stance of apparent leisure, he somehow managed to maintain a precise, attentive air. "Even so," he'd added. "Surprises are not always entirely unwelcome."
And the best chance, his instincts were telling him, was to allow Jocelyn Davies to see the precarious nature of her situation. Show her the cards. As long as he and his associates played their hand with skill, her capture could afford them opportunities for which they could not otherwise have hoped.
"You've been engaging in deals with the Dominion," he told her.
"Old news." Davies shrugged defiantly. "So what? I can handle prison. And if you're waiting to get any more out of me, you can wait until the trial like everyone else."
"There isn't going to be a trial."
"What?" The young woman's voice was suddenly hoarse, her face a shade paler and her throat now visibly tight.
Good, thought Sloan. And there's your opening.
"I see two choices before you," he informed his prisoner, who continued to regard him with an air of tense suspicion. Simmering hatred creased the skin beneath her eyes. But even this came as no cause for concern. At least he knew that her attention was undivided.
Clasping both hands against the small of his back, Sloan stood at the forcefield's edge, watching every change in the woman's expression. She was smaller than most, this prisoner, with arms and legs so willowy thin that they could just as easily snap under the slightest pressure. But she moved about her cell with controlled precision - and more than likely with a hidden ability to squirm away from even the most inescapable corner. Perhaps she may have been able to flee, had there been any other vessels or habitable planets within ten light years of their gigantic, drifting holodeck.
"We could allow this encounter to reach the ordained destination," he went on, meaningfully. "Unless, of course, you and your friends were to show me some way in which you might prove useful."
He waited, noting that Davies had started to pace, so that the light shifted over the loose amber strands of her hair. Lifting one hand to press against her forehead, the agitated young woman's stride grew ever more halting. Again, Sloan waited. Jocelyn Davies had slowed, although not quite to a stop. But she turned once more to bring her captor's pale and slightly haggard face back into view.
Her voice was low, the tension beneath it lending an illusion of near silence to the one deliberate word that finally emerged.
Until next time.