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Star Trek:

Aesculapius' Staff

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Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and all related characters, situations and other items are owned by Paramount/Viacom © 1999

Star Trek: Aesculapius Staff, and all in it that is none of the above, is created by Niels van Eekelen

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Screenplay by Niels van Eekelen

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RAGGED EDGES

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Set a few months after Entrance.
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They were attending a party in their honor that afternoon. Maulus VIII had been struck by the white fever a week and four days earlier, but due to the quick intervention by the Ace' and her crew, the casualty list had remained very short. To thank captain Blevins and all the rest, Maulus' governors had organized some sort of dinner party. The timing of the party - about 1530 hours local time - was a bit strange, Cmdr Ryalla Tesoras thought, but then, she'd discovered a while ago that the native species had five meals a day, so it was probably perfectly normal for them to eat at that time.

The senior staff and most of the officers from the Ace' that were off duty were spread out over a long, horseshoe-shaped table in the open air. Maulus was a hot, almost tropical world, and it was fortunate that Steve had vetoed the mandatory wearing of the dress-uniform - over the objections of Dr T'Lera and, though they were considerably less sincere, those of Cmdr Sandersen, of course.

Ryalla herself was wearing a matching wide blouse and equally wide trousers in a tone of green that didn't fit with her blue skin-color at all, but she liked it anyway. On her left, a Mauli doctor was engaged in a lively conversation on some obscure detail of medicine with Dr Talek, so Ryalla turned to her right, where the Bajoran girl Ahgon Tis, who called herself Rag, and crewman Bestaar from Operations were sitting. The heat had compelled even her young Bajoran friend to wear a short-sleeved shirt. Usually she always tried to use her clothes to hide in, or so it seemed to Ryalla, anyway.

The others were obviously enjoying the meal, and well they should. The food was delicious. When Rag reached out to grab one of the yellow fruit, Ryalla saw something strange on her bare arm. She put a hand on it to hold it still, so she could take a look at it. Rag looked at her sideways, but didn't say anything about it. Over the past few months, they'd pretty much gotten used to each other's weird habits. Rag had more than her share of those, so she didn't complain about Ryalla's.

"That's a strange scar," Ryalla said. The scar actually appeared to consist of a double line of small puncture wounds. "It's almost like... someone bit you?"

She let go of the arm as she turned face to face with Rag. Rag drew back her arm and stared at it absently. "Yeah," she said, "someone bit me."

"How did that happen?" Ryalla asked.

The girl didn't seem to have heard her, and didn't look up. "He was the first man I ever killed," she said. Ryalla was a bit startled, of course, but it was not like she had thought Rag had never killed anyone: she had fought in the Bajoran war for liberation, after all. "I'd helped with a bombing before that, but he was the first man I ever really killed. From up close." Rag had spoken softly, but still Bestaar's head snapped 'round toward her at her words, and across the table, Ryalla saw Melanie Kubert fall silent.

-/\- -/\- -/\-

It was early in the afternoon in Yalto Province, Bajor, on a day nearly seven years before. As it nearly always did in the autumn in Yalto province, it was pouring. Ahgon Tis, barely ten years of age, was walking across the muddy grounds of Yalto work camp. Of all the 600 Bajorans in the mining camp, she was most likely the only one who hadn't been chosen to be put there by blind fate, but had instead been sent for a specific purpose. She was also the only one who wasn't registered.

It was whispered among the Bajorans of the camp that the guards could sense it if one Bajoran worker was missing in a crowd of a hundred. Erling Gujo, the leader of Tis' cell in the Resistance, had bet her life on the fact that they wouldn't notice one Bajoran extra, and so far, he was winning. But it wasn't like Gujo had had much choice. Since the new supervisor had arrived at the camp three months ago the death toll among the Bajoran workers had tripled. Something had to be done to help these victims, and the Erling Cell was the only one in the vicinity.

Despite her lack of experience with the Resistance - or perhaps because of it, because her face wasn't on any wanted posters yet - Gujo had decided that Tis stood the best chance of getting through the camp's security measures unnoticed to plant the computer virus that was crucial to their plans. She had, after all, displayed an ability for inconspicuousness amazing for one so young before.

Getting into the camp itself hadn't been a problem: only the workers' sleeping area was fenced, and Bajorans running around doing dirty jobs for their Cardassian masters wasn't uncommon. All Tis had to do was to look meek, defeated and afraid every time a Cardassian guard looked at her. Looking afraid took no effort at all.

Tis turned around the corner after passing the building with the guards' quarters with a shiver running down her back. She clutched the sheet of supposedly waterproof fabric she was wearing against the rain with both hands. Except for the time when her mother was killed, she couldn't remember ever being this scared. And the worst was yet to come, she knew. To gain access to the right computer console, Tis had to enter the main building. Dokin, who had observed the camp hidden on a hillside nearby for an entire week had seen enough Bajorans enter unchallenged to be sure that it could be done without any special codes or anything, but still Tis quivered at the thought of going in.

There was no more time for fear now: the main building was right ahead of her. The two guards were taking shelter from the rain in the building's doorway. She walked straight on, without looking at them. The mud that splattered from her boots onto the clean steps gave her an odd feeling of anticipation. Increasingly nervous, Tis walked on still, watching only the floor in front of her feet and in her most submissive stance. Then, suddenly, there was a firm hand on her shoulder.

"And where do you think you're going?"

-/\-

Three quarters of a kilometer away, inside a small, hidden cabin on a hillside, Dokin's eyes nearly fell out of their sockets behind the macro-binoculars.

"Prophets be cursed!" he exclaimed, and quickly whispered a prayer asking for forgiveness for his words. "They stopped her! The blasted Grey-skins stopped her!"

Behind him he heard Ahgon jump to his feet. Dokin could only imagine what he was feeling right now, but he thought that he couldn't be feeling much less bad himself: it was, for a large part, his surveillance that had sent that girl out there. Sweat started running down his brow.

"What the... ! But ye said... !" Ahgon shouted.

While Dokin was still frozen behind the binoculars, the third person in the cabin, Erling, stopped Ahgon's advance on Dokin by the simple expedient of bodily blocking his way. He pushed him back on his seat. "Ovlin," Erling said, "you're not going to do your daughter any good by panicking. She's a clever girl, and the odds are that she'll talk her way past the guards." He turned on Dokin. "Now, what's happening, Dokin?"

"Tis spoke with the guard - I couldn't tell what they were saying - and now he's taking her inside." Dokin was an excellent lip-reader, but even with the macro-binoculars, this distance was too great for him.

Erling cleared his suddenly dry throat. "I think we could all do with a prayer for the Prophets to stand with our little Tis," he said.

-/\-

Tis' eyes jerked to the gruff face of the guard before she could point them at the floor again. "Gods, let her go inside, Mevar," the second guard spoke. "The gods know she wouldn't have come here unless someone ordered her to."

Unfortunately, the first guard paid no heed to him. "Shut up," he said.

"Have it your way," the other one muttered darkly.

"Now, tell me!" the first one shouted at the frail Bajoran girl in front of him. He was obviously getting a kick out of scaring her.

"I..." she stammered. She had to think of something quickly. A name. She would have to know a name. But she only knew the name of one of the Cardassians in Yalto work camp. "I'm... I'm here for supervisor Tellik."

The guard looked at her doubtfully for a moment, but then he nodded, though still suspiciously. Apparently Tis didn't have to give him any further explanation. Fortunately, because she hadn't thought of any yet. "Come with me," he told her, and started through the doors, into the corridor. With her heart pounding in her throat, Tis followed.

She hadn't thought the guard would actually come inside with her, and she'd never expected to even get near the supervisor. The guard took her through a series of corridors, but she hardly noticed any of them. She was trying to come up with a way out. Unsuccesfully. What would happen when Tellik told the guard that he knew nothing of Tis? She did not want to die.

When the guard stopped in front of a desk, she was so startled that she almost bumped into him. The guard spoke with the clerk behind the desk, and then to her. "You will wait until the supervisor is ready." He addressed only her, but he himself kept standing where he stood too. From the door opposite to the one they had come from, Tis could hear faint voices.

"And I tell you, supervisor," one heated voice said, "you can suppress the workers as hard as you wish, but the way you are doing it will lead the Resistance straight to someplace behind your back, from where they will be able to stab you whenever they feel up to it." Silence. "And of course, the incompetence of your security measures won't help much either." Again, there was a few seconds' worth of silence.

"Be careful with your words, agent," another voice, undoubtedly that of Tellik, spoke with barely suppressed anger. "The Order doesn't have nearly as much power on Bajor as it does elsewhere. I -"

"And that's why we're on this miserable planet now, oh supervisor, to find out whether we want more power here," the first voice said calmly. "Because if we do, we will have it. It is you who should watch his words, Tellik. Goodbye." Tis heard footsteps coming out of the room, and saw the Cardassian's feet when he passed him.

Then there was the sound of someone storming into the doorway. "Garak!" the supervisor's voice boomed. "Get back in here! I'm not finished with you yet!" Despite her situation, Tis' lips tried to curl into a smile. She took special care not to look anywhere but at the floor.

After a few moments, in which the footsteps calmly disappeared around the corner, the supervisor took a few deep breaths and spoke again: "What's this?"

The guard immediately snapped to attention. "This girl says that she's here for you, sir." More afraid of not knowing then of looking, Tis dared to look up, but after only a short glance at the fat Cardassian studying her, she looked back at the floor, shivering. She remembered now that she had heard that supervisor Tellik often called Bajoran girls to him. Those stories had not been nice ones.

"The work-leader must have screwed up his schedule or something," he snapped. Then his voice turned soft and gentle. "But then, who am I to turn down such a pretty girl? Come in, girl." Tis obeyed meekly. Her mind was still racing, but she wasn't making any progress. "And you, soldier" - Tellik's voice was suddenly hard once again - "get the hell back to your post!" The guard turned on his heels and nearly fled out into the corridor.

Tis had stopped a few steps into the office - or living room, rather. Behind her she heard the supervisor order that he was not to be disturbed until he returned and withdrew that order again. Then he came inside and closed the door. Unsure of what to do, Tis raised her eyes from her boots, only to see the Cardassian's fist descend on her. There was no time to react, and Tellik hit her dead-on. He was a fat man, but it seemed that that hadn't weakened his muscles. Before she knew what was happening, Tis had crashed into the wall and was crumbling to the floor.

"Look what you've done to my carpet," Tellik accused her. Dazed, Tis looked up. She could see several muddy footsteps. She hadn't even realized that she was still trailing mud. She'd thought she had lost all of it in the corridors. But they hadn't been particulary clean either.

Along with the blow, all the anger seemed to have left the supervisor. He sighed. "I'm sorry, girl," he said, in an almost gentle voice, "I'm just a little tense. Now, be a dear and put that blanket in the corner there and then come to me - and take your shoes of as well, before you make any more stains." He went into an adjoining room. Tis did as he said. On an impulse, she put the precious data-cilinder in one of her shoes to keep it hidden.

When she was standing in front of him again, now barefoot, the supervisor looked her over, sitting on a bed. "You're all wet," he stated the obvious. "And you aren't my usual girl."

"There was an accident in the mines, master," Tis explained hastily. "- but she'll recover quickly," she added when she saw Tellik's face cloud.

"Well, I suppose it can't be helped," he muttered. "But you're a bit young, aren't you? Exactly how old are you?"

"I'm thirteen, master," Tis lied. She didn't know what age Tellik was used to with 'his girls', but it didn't matter: she couldn't have told him she was any older than thirteen and expect him to believe it, anyway. She only dared adding three years to her age because she knew that some children stopped growing early in the mines.

"That's bloody young," the fat Cardassian complained, "but you'll have to do for now. What's your name, girl? I don't want to keep calling you 'girl'."

"I'm Kallas Tis, master," Tis lied again.

"Well, Tis, come over here so I can help you out of those drenched clothes. You'll catch a cold like this." Tis wanted to scream, to run, anything but let Tellik touch her again, but she knew that for her only chance to get out of this situation unharmed, she had to stay calm now. Trembling, she stepped forward, into Tellik's waiting arms.

Gently, he touched her stomach, her chest and finally her arms as he drew her sweater over her head. Gently, but Tis' cheek was still throbbing where he had hit her. Gently, but she remembered from the stories that every girl that was called to Yalto work camp's new supervisor returned severely beaten, and from time to time, one did not return at all. Tis felt a wave of nausea each time he touched her. She looked into his eyes, and saw that all his common sense - as far as he'd had any to begin with - had been replaced by a primal lust. Tellik drew her closer, into an embrace.

By now, Tis was shaking from sheer terror, and it was that, probably, more than her inexperience that made her falter. Tellik hadn't noticed her taking the knife from the hidden pocket in her trousers, didn't suspect anything as she put her arm around him, apparently joining him in the embrace. But when she struck, he should have died nearly instantly. Instead, Tis faltered and missed the point between his fourth and fifth rib where a single knife-thrust could kill a Cardassian. She had never killed a man before. How could she do it now?

-/\-

The guard returning to his post didn't mean anything, Erling decided. Either the Cardies had put Tis in a holding cell, or she had talked her way past security. Personally, he preferred to think the latter. He had to. Silently he cursed the Cardassians for everything they were, and he added himself, too. How could he ever have sent a ten-year-old straight into the jaws of the cruelest race in the known universe? But he'd had to think about the bigger picture, and he still had to. All those innocent Bajorans dying in the camp, could they still be saved if Tis' mission failed?

Erling stopped his pacing and glanced at Ahgon. The man was sitting on an empty crate rigidly, staring into nothingness. His little girl was all Ahgon had left in the way of family, Erling knew. He'd been there when Ahgon's brother died, and he consiled the two survivors after his wife and cousins were killed.

"Any change?" he spoke softly to the man glued to the binoculars at the window-opening.

"Nothing," Dokin said.

-/\-

Pabran started when he suddenly heard the girl scream and nearly dropped his datapadd. The sound was muted through the door, but he could hear the fear in it. He scowled at the door for a moment - Damn Tellik for his perverted pleasures! - before turning back to his filing work. Pabran had no love for any Bajoran, but he found what his supervisor did with them disgusting.

To his regret, he was only a filing clerk. The best he could do to stop Tellik was to point out that he was depleting the supply of fertile Bajoran women in the camp, which would have to deliver they next generation of workers. Pabran doubted if that would impress the supervisor, and he kept silent.

-/\-

After Tellik felt the knife glance off his back, his entire face terrifyingly transformed from its previous expression of lust into one of pure, equally mindless anger. Tis stabbed at his back again, but because of a wild movement by Tellik, she only managed to scratch him.

When the Cardassian opened his mouth, Tis immediately thought he was going to call in guards, and she did the only thing she could to silence him: she thrust her left forearm across his mouth. She had not expected Tellik to bite down hard on her arm. Tis screamed when the sharp Cardassian teeth broke her skin and her blood began to flow.

Whether it was out of luck or in a moment of desperate clarity, Tis would later never remember, but somehow she managed to stab once more. This time she found the fourth and fifth rib. As the knife plunged into his heart, Tellik stiffened suddenly and slowly started to fall over forward. His mouth was still around her arm, his teeth pricking in her flesh. With his final heartbeats, the Cardassian's blood began to spill out of his mouth, like it did from his back. As Tis watched in horror, the two slightly different colors of blood, hers and his, mingled on her arm and, as the fat man landed on top of her, all over her bare chest.

Knocked out of her frozen shock by the impact on the floor, Tis frantically kicked the corpse off of her. She tore her knife loose and put it back in it's scabbard without cleaning the blade. Then she scrambled to her feet and fled back into the other room. While she gathered her clothes, her eyes were searching the room for the access panel to the ventilation shaft. She knew it was there: it had been the plan all along for her to use the extensive ventilation shafts in the building to get where she needed to be. Gujo and her father had just never imagined that she would need the shafts to flee from something like this.

When she found the panel, Tis wrenched it loose and crawled inside. She didn't stop until she was halfway across the building. Only then did the girl put her clothes back on. She put back on everything, even the sheet for the rain, and she did not even really realize what she was doing. Once she was fully dressed again, Tis noticed that her hands were shaking. She hugged herself tightly. It was the best her shellshocked mind could come up with.

-/\-

"And?" Berlak asked. "Was it fun, herding a slave-girl through the building?" It was the first he had spoken to his fellow guard since the former had returned to their post three quarters of an hour ago. Mevar had looked very pissed ever since he took the girl inside. "Did you get all the brownie points with the supervisor you had your eyes on?"

"Shut up, Berlak," Mevar snapped at him. Berlak smiled.

-/\-

She had been crying. She didn't know for how long, though. Tis could feel the trails of her tears running of her face. It was one of the better things she was feeling. Tis was getting herself back together, though. She scolded herself for lying there on the floor for Prophets knew how long while she had an important job to do. Father, Gujo and the others were counting on her.

Carefully, Tis got up to her hands and knees - as up as she could in the shaft. She blinked when she realized that she could feel the data cilinder against her foot inside her left boot, where she had hidden it. She took it out and put it back in her pocket. Her hands were still trembling, but little enough that she could ignore it. Crawling through the ventilation shafts, Tis tried to get her bearings. She had lost all sense of direction when she'd fled blindly. Her bleeding left arm hurt each time she leaned on it, as did her cheek, but she used the pain to help her focus. The only thought Tis let herself have about what had happened in the supervisor's rooms was that the bastard had gotten what he deserved.

Soon Tis had found the empty control room. She tried to get the access panel loose quietly, but it fell to the ground with a bang nonetheless. Completely quiet, Tis waited for ten seconds before moving again. Nobody came. Apparently the information Harl had gotten was correct, and this floor was temporarily out of use. Tis could see why: it was nearly as cold here as it was outside. The heating must have been broken.

She went over to the computer that filled one entire wall of the chamber and looked for the right drive to enter her data cilinder in. It was supposed to be at about eye level for her. When Tis found it, she entered the cilinder, and after a few short moments lights started flickering on and off. It was fortunate that her father had told Tis that she wouldn't have to push any buttons or anything, because Tis hardly knew a thing about computers. There weren't that many of them that worked among the Bajorans.

After the lights had stopped Tis took the cilinder out again and activated the built-in self-destruct. The cilinder vaporized. Then Tis got back into the shaft. She noticed that there was some blood on the wall and floor near the panel. She tried to wipe it away, only half succesfully, before picking up the metal panel and awkwardly shifting in back into place.

-/\-

Pabran wasn't sure what to do. After the one scream, he hadn't heard anything from the supervisor's rooms anymore. Tellik had told him that he was not to be disturbed under any circumstances, and Pabran knew very well just what that meant, but on the other hand, it was getting late, and Tellik hadn't missed a meal since the day he had arrived. What would do the least to annoy Tellik: ignoring his order, or allowing the mealtime to pass unnoticed?

After some consideration, Pabran decided to risk it and go inside. He pushed the button to open the large doors and shuffled inside. "Sir?" he called. "Supervisor Tellik?" When any response failed to come, Pabran walked further into the room, all the while dragging his feet. He frowned when he saw the traces of blood on the carpet. Had Tellik allowed the girl to attempt to escape, perhaps? Usually, he was ridiculously careful with his expensive carpets.

"Sir?" Pabran called again when he approached the door to the other room. Still, there was no response. Could the supervisor have fallen asleep? As silently as he could, Pabran stepped inside. He froze. He gasped. In the middle of a veritable pool of blood he saw the fat, lifeless body of the late supervisor Tellik. Shocked deeply, Pabran hurried to the nearest communicator in the wall and activated it. "Security to the supervisor's rooms immediately!" he ordered. "We've got a situation here." Then he looked back over his shoulder at Tellik one last time before hurrying out of the room, and though he knew that he really shouldn't, Pabran smiled for a moment. He'd never liked the bastard anyway.

-/\-

Berlak and Mevar relieved their replacements when they came back from dinner and took their places again. Berlak grimaced at the still continuing rain as he leaned against the wall - not that he had expected it to have stopped raining: it probably wouldn't for weeks yet. They were lucky they didn't have to go to the common Messhall, but instead could eat here in the main building. Mevar frowned disapprovingly at Berlak. He was standing at attention, of course. As if anyone was going to come out here and check.

Berlak chuckled when he recognized a small, scurrying shape a little distance away. "Hey, Mevar," he said.

"Yes?"

"Isn't that the girl you were kind enough to escort inside earlier?" He pointed in her direction, and Mevar nodded, irritated at the reminder. "She looks like shit if I ever saw anyone look like shit," Berlak continued, and chuckled. "You think one of us should take her to the Infirmary? The supervisor might want to see her again, if he had so much fun with her."

"She can bleed to death for all I care," Mevar muttered darkly.

"There, there," Berlak chided his fellow guard mockingly. "That's not very nice of you, my friend."

"Berlak?" Mevar said.

"Yes?" Berlak replied, already knowing the response he would get.

"Shut up!"

-/\-

Tis still had no idea how much time had passed while she had been lying in that ventilation shaft, but as she took her first look through the panel in the building's outer wall, she realized that it must have been quite a while: it was hard to make anything out from the clouded sky, but she thought it was getting dark already. She should have been back ages ago. Her father must be terribly worried.

She took a deep breath and started to unscrew the panel with a hydrospanner she had taken from a maintenance kit a little while back. Gujo had explained to Tis how the external panel of the ventilation system was heavily guarded, but only for when someone tried to open it from the outside.

When the panel finally gave way, Tis let it drop into the mud a feet beneath it, for once not bothering to cover her tracks. She tried to crawl out and slipped on a tip of her cloak, so that she fell into the mud, too. Well, with everything she had on her by now, it didn't matter very much anymore, she supposed. Tis got to her feet and, as she had done before, she put on an air of defeat and fear before starting to walk through the camp. It was surprisingly easy to slip away into the countryside.

It was still a ten-minute walk back to the hidden cabin - fifteen or twenty even if she made certain that she wasn't being followed like she was supposed to - and Tis suddenly realized that she was dead-tired. She was walking on half-asleep a few minutes later when she saw someone running towards her from a patch of trees. It was her father!

With new-found energy, Tis ran a few steps towards him, before stumbling and literally falling into her father's arms. The much taller man let himself fall to his knees beside her and cried from the relief of having her back. A quick check assured that practically all of the blood on his daughter wasn't hers. When he realized they ought to get to shelter and got back to his feet, Tis had already fallen asleep.

-/\-

At four o'clock the next morning, the Erling Resistance Cell executed a lightning raid on Yalto work camp and made it back out again with nearly half of its prisoners. Due to a mysterious virus in the camp's main computer, all automated defenses failed to respond to the threat until it was too late. Still, the cell lost three man, including Harl, the spy who had gathered much of the information that had made the raid possible. It was a dark page in an otherwise positive story, but all in Erling's cell agreed that their three comrades would have thought their sacrifices worth the gain.

Tis was not there, during the attack. She didn't even wake up - except to sleepily confirm to Gujo that she had indeed planted the virus - until the raiding party returned and she had to come with them into the mountains. Tis still did not believe that she would ever be able to kill anyone again, not even a Cardassian.

That idea only held for three days, until the Cardassian military caught up with them. A Cardassian soldier whose throat she would cut less than a minute later shot a Bajoran boy from the camp who couldn't have been more than seven years old right in front of her. Fortunately, the boy was one of few new casualties, and ultimately 274 former prisoners made it to their new homes. That was surely worth what she had been through, she knew.

-/\- -/\- -/\-

"Well?" Ryalla asked finally. "Are you going to tell me this story today?"

Rag started back into the present. She hadn't realized that she was staring at her scar. Leaning forward, Rag took one of the fruit she had wanted to try earlier, and didn't reply until she had taken a first bite. It was cloyingly sweet, and she had to grimace. "No," she said, "I don't think so."

Ryalla grunted, but didn't press the issue. Refusing to talk about her past was just one of Rags many weird habits, and though she didn't like this one at all, Ryalla respected it.


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