The entire building rattled from the shock of a nearby explosion. Inside, Prime Minister Mendakyl Benito smiled weakly at his two human companions, who were sitting at the table with him.
"Would you please pass the wine, Miss Evelyn?" he calmly asked the lady to his left.
The planet Benzar had been under Dominion occupation for months, and had had no contact with the outside quadrant. The last they had heard was the grim news that the Federation was well on its way to losing the war. Indeed, they all expected to receive the terrible confirmation—that the Federation had surrendered—soon.
But it was a strange event that was happening now. The planet was under siege again. The mystery was, by what power? They all agreed it was unlikely that the Federation could have recovered quickly enough to re-take Benzar. It must be the Klingons, they decided, even though it seemed just as improbable.
Dr. Evelyn Frost held her hand steadily as she gave her host the carafe. Benito had been kind enough to let her and her assistant, Amber Brooks, stay with him at the capital building. With all of the ruthless Jem'Hadar soldiers prowling around, they accepted his offer graciously. Though they were under house arrest and couldn't leave, it was far better than the alternative.
Before Benzar had fallen to the Dominion forces, Evelyn was there on an archaeological expedition. She and Amber had barely uncovered the gates of an ancient city when their work was halted. They were fortunate that the Vorta leader didn't consider them to be much of a threat. She apparently had bigger fish to fry.
During the conflict, the two women dodged the bombs and weapons fire, and managed to make their way to the nearby capital city of Utva. It was the most harrowing experience of Evelyn's life. When she had decided to pursue a career in archeology, the idea that it was going to be so dangerous had never once entered her mind.
Benito, relieved that the Federation researchers were safe, insisted that they stay with him as his guests, though he was unsure as to how much hospitality he would be able to provide. They soon became fast friends, and promised they would keep in touch with each other if they ever got out of that situation.
Since they were permitted few liberties, the three of them often passed the time by playing cards.
"Would you like to deal first, Mr. Mendakyl?" asked Amber. The Prime Minister insisted that they follow Earth's Southern American tradition of addressing each other by their full first names with a title. It would be a fun game, he had proposed, which would also help to distract them from less cheerful matters.
During a diplomatic conference on Earth, he had happened upon a book, Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. Ever since, his imagination had been enthralled by the idea of the "Old South." Naturally, when he met "Miss Evelyn," who was from that region, he was thrilled. The day they were introduced so many months previously, he just couldn't stop expressing his fondness of her pretty drawl.
Evelyn's accent had diminished somewhat once she started studying at the university, though everyone who was not from her region insisted that it hadn't. She was brilliant and analytical, but also very feminine. Like every traditional Southern lady, she had never forgotten her mother's lessons about keeping up her personal appearance. She was mostly optimistic, even-tempered, and seldom held a grudge; but if ever pushed over the edge, she went all out and fought like tigress.
She had graduated near the top of her class, and contributed considerably to Earth's archaeological knowledge through her research and writing. But she had not yet proven herself in the respect of actual experience out in the field. Her chance had finally come when she was nominated to excavate the ancient city of a pre-Benzite civilization on the Benzar home world. Her triumph was brought to a screeching halt by the Dominion, however.
By most people's standards, she was considered to be quite successful. But upon recent introspection of herself over the past few months, she found she was not satisfied. It was more than the disappointment over the dig. Her mother had told her many, many times that she needed to settle down and get married.
But Evelyn had never even been in love. The only date she had ever been on was with her brother's friend, who needed a girl to escort to their high school prom. After that, she had never had the time to waste on men. Most of the men she knew were either too immature, or if they were more worthy, they were already married. A few of the bachelors of her acquaintance were right-minded and ethical enough, but they weren't interested in anything other than their work.
Evelyn contended with this verity by throwing herself into her career. Better to never marry, than to get stuck with a jerk, she had resolved to herself.
The siege continued. It had been 17 hours since the blasting began, and it didn't look like it would let up any time soon.
Besides the fighting that was taking place in space, the planet was being bombarded from orbit. Mendakyl Benito could do nothing but watch and hope that only the Jem'Hadar suffered casualties as the dueling beams destroyed most of his infrastructure. The inhabitants of Utva could only pray that they wouldn't be wiped out by a stray blast.
Gradually, however, the fighting seemed to move toward the outskirts of the city. Crawling out from under the mattresses they had shielded themselves with, Evelyn and Amber made their way to the window.
It was a dreary sight, and their hearts sank as they looked over what was left of the beautiful city. Everything was in ruins, and pillars of dark grey smoke swirled up into the sunset. Overhead the heavy purple clouds were still occasionally lit up by a distant explosion, and here and there flecks of burning debris came down like meteor showers.
"Whoever they are, they seem to have no respect for anything," said Evelyn.
"Look," said Amber, pointing toward the countryside, "They're fighting around our excavation site," she sniffed, brushing a lock of strawberry blonde hair out of her face. That was the last straw, and she broke down into tears.
Evelyn was also mortified, but instead of crying she simply accepted that there was nothing they could do about it. "I'm going to go talk to Mendakyl and make sure he's alright. Do you want to come with me?"
"No, I want to go home!" sobbed Amber. She wasn't used to all this drama.
Evelyn hid her annoyance until she was out of the room. Amber's sobs were the last thing she wanted to hear right now. She was a sharp and dependable enough assistant, but she tended to complain a lot, and in Evelyn's opinion she relied too heavily on the comforts of modern technology. When Amber wasn't helping her catalog ancient alien artifacts or tinkering around with their equipment she was usually playing video games, buying something through subspace, or talking to her boyfriend.
Mendakyl was alright, but he was understandably anxious about his people. Evelyn sat with him for a few hours and they speculated over the situation and what could be done.
Gradually, the rumbling got further and further away, and at midday it seemed to stop all together.
Prime Minister Benito was soon absorbed in organizational matters as the Benzites that survived the bombardment ventured out of their shelters seeking answers and medical attention.
Reports began to trickle in from various parts of the planet. The bombardment had ceased. As initial recovery efforts began, there was one question on everyone's mind: which side had won?
Anxious to be doing something useful, the two human women offered their assistance, but Mendakyl urged them to remain in the palace. "Truly Miss Evelyn, I appreciate your offer and your concern, but the best thing you and your assistant could do right now is to remain here and look after yourselves. There is much to be done, but you are not Benzites, and we still don't know which power is in control up there," he said, motioning toward the sky.
So they stayed in their suite and waited. Early the next morning, the Prime Minister sent for them. He looked anxious. "Last night I received a message - from the Romulans," he said.
"The Romulans?" echoed Evelyn.
"Yes. The Romulans," he repeated. "They have defeated the Jem'Hadar forces here, and have orders to hold Benzite."
"Since when did the Romulans join the war?" asked Amber.
"The Commander didn't say much, but he informed me that he will arrive at the palace at dawn to establish a base of operations."
Romulans. What an unexpected development! They were not exactly the type to champion another's cause, no matter how worthy it may be, so they must have their own selfish reasons for getting involved in the war.
"I don't know much about the Romulans," admitted Mendakyl. "Do you think they'll be better or worse than the Jem'Hadar?" he asked nervously.
"Nobody knows much about them." said Evelyn. "I suppose we'll just have to wait and see."