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Old February 6 2011, 04:21 PM   #94
Rear Admiral
Re: Writing Challenge- The winning entries.

January Challenge: Down, But Not Out
The challenge-to tell a story about overcoming the odds

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Tonkean Belt
June 2376

“So, this is what it must have been like?” Kall Yano whispered, her nostrils flaring as they filled with the stench of unwashed bodies and desperation. “My grandfather told me of the settlement camps when I was a child, but I thought he was exaggerating, you know? How grandfathers embellish things.”

Jake Sisko nodded tightly, thinking wistfully of Joseph Sisko’s occasional tall tales. He couldn’t lie and not wish that he weren't with the old man now, enjoying a bowl of his granddad’s quadrant famous gumbo. Instead he was here, cramped next to Kall, which wasn’t a bad thing he also had to admit. He had picked the eager young cameraperson not only because he saw the same drive to prove herself that he had, but also because he thought the Federation News Service assignment would go smoother with a beautiful woman to chat with.

Kall’s beauty couldn’t be denied. She was a wonderful blend of two worlds, Bajor and Vulcan, with gracefully pointed ears and a ridged nose. Though the woman was caked in dirt, like him, her lustrous brown skin continued to accentuate her attractiveness. She had been a pleasure to work with, and that made him feel even worser for putting her life in jeopardy like he had.

The stern and caring voices of Joseph and Kasidy, his stepmother, floated through his head. They hadn’t been the only ones who had warned, cajoled, and demanded that he not venture into Alshain occupied space, but they were the only persons whose words nearly made him waver.

“I don’t want to lose you too son, not after…,” Joseph’s voice trailed off and the corners of his eyes moistened. Jake had had to turn away from the monitor to wipe his own tears away.

“I know why you’re doing this,” Kasidy had said, after pleading with him to reconsider, “I know from whom you’re doing this, but Ben wouldn’t want this…not for you,” the words had pierced his heart. But Jake had been committed to reporting on Alshain atrocities.

From his research, Jake had concluded that the Alshain had used their wartime alliance with the Federation to cleanse their space of the Son’a, who had been in league with the Dominion. Species cleansing was abhorrent no matter who the victim, but he had learned the hard way how the war had evinced a callousness that would not be soon removed from the hearts of many a Federation citizen.

Many grumbled about the post-war reconstruction of Cardassia, despite the near extinction of the Cardassian people at the hands of the Dominion. Some Federation politicians would only support funding rebuilding efforts by making a big deal about it being for security purposes only, to prevent terrorism, and not on compassionate grounds. In comparison, the much ‘smaller’ plight of the Son’a was swept under the rug.

It was too politically untenable to intervene in the affairs of the Alshain, especially since their joining the Allied war effort had opened a crucial fourth front and blunted some of the momentum of the Breen’s entry into the war.

But the Alshain hadn’t been satisfied with exacting revenge on the Son’a for a decades-long parasitic relationship, the Alshain were attempting to rid all of the territory in their sphere of influence of non-Alshain. They were guided by a manifest destiny termed “Greater Alshain” by their ruler, the megalomaniacal Exarch Jedalla. Innocent species like the Tarlac and Ellora, both victimized by the Son’a even more than the Alshain had been, were swept aside like detritus in the attempt to restore a mythical past. The genocidal inferno now threatened to consume species such as this sector’s native Munzalans, a langur-like species that had been relocated to this sector as reparations for years of involuntary servitude to the Alshain.

The Alshains’ bloodthirsty march reminded Jake of some of the darkest chapters in human history, and he knew he had to do something about it, in the only way he knew how. Where others were content to allow genocide to occur, he would go to the front lines and he would write about it, he would report on it, and if his words, and the images of the suffering of the Tarlac and Ellorans didn’t pique the hearts of Federation denizens then the war against the Dominion had been fought in vain.

The cave rumbled again, causing another round of panicked cries. Jake instinctively grabbed Kall and drew her close to him, ostensibly to protect her from any falling rocks. Dust kicked up by the ground quake got in his lungs, making him hack and tearing his eyes. He felt Kall’s long, yet supple fingers wiping away his tears before he opened his eyes again.

“Are you okay?” Her breath was warm and welcome on his face. Though the cave was cramped, with terrified refugees holding each other or themselves, Jake felt the cold approach of death with each fusillade.

“Get a room you two,” grumbled Ceven. Kall giggled nervously and pulled away reluctantly. Jake’s cheeks grew hot and he glared at the man after wiping the last of the tears and most recent grime away.

“Hey kid, if you don’t take her, I will,” he replied with a lopsided grin. The crusty Bolian tightly clutched an old-style plasma rifle, a kind Jake had once seen in a museum. To Ceven’s credit kept the ancient weapon spotless. It even glinted in the dim light provided by the few lamps that had survived the preceding barrages.

“Stop joking around Ceven,” Zene snapped. The young dark-skinned Elloran’s mien had never been more serious. He held a modern TR-116 rifle, a projectile weapon that Jake knew had been recently discontinued by Starfleet. The young reporter didn’t know how Zene had gotten his hands on the weapon, and he was smart enough not to ask.

If anything, the arrival of Zene and his group of irregulars had selfishly proven a boon to his efforts to highlight the tragedy wrought by the Alshain. The genocide needed faces, it needed human interest stories, and to be blunt, it needed an entertainment value that could lure the casual reader in.

Zene had recently left Starfleet, ending his short career to defend his people against the Alshain onslaught. Only months ago, the man had piloted the Starship Aegis, one of Starfleet’s most cutting edge vessels. After that ship had met an untimely end, Zene had decided to leave the Fleet and return home to give his life if need be to prevent more bloodshed.

The Aegis connection had proved fruitful for Jake. The ship had been captained by his “uncle” Terrence Glover, the Academy roommate of his father. Before Zene found that out, the Elloran had been determined to expel the journalistic duo. The former ensign still didn’t believe that their reports were doing much good.

So far, they hadn’t generated enough outrage to prompt the intervention of the Federation, outside of tepid support for a safe haven on Ba’ku. But Jake was convinced that the pen remained more powerful than any sword or tritanium bullet.

He had received some positive feedback on his feature on the acerbic Ceven, the ex-Maquis throwing in his lot with another group of underdogs. Jake’s Earth-bound editor gushed that the Bolian had the makings of a folk hero. A modern day Davy Crockett, Jake recalled the woman glowingly saying. The reference brought back memories of Dr. Bashir and Chief O’Brien’s scale model of the Alamo Mission. The model currently resided in Dr. Bashir’s quarters.

Damn it, he caught himself. He was trying not to think of DS9, and especially not Dr. Bashir. His memories of the young doctor hadn’t always been fond ones. His first real taste of war had been on Ajilon Prime only three years ago, and his cowardice had nearly resulted in Bashir’s death. Though Jake would later ‘redeem’ himself, causing a cave-in that prevented the Klingons from slaughtering Starfleet evacuees, he knew had truly done nothing heroic. He had panicked again, but the second time had resulted in him getting off some lucky shots.

He didn’t have a phaser rifle this time. The ceiling shifted, as more rocks fell and dust coated everyone. Jake heard soft groans and sharp cries. He heard hushed prayers, but more chillingly he heard a resounding detonation thunderclap at the mouth of the cave, followed by a gush of superheated air. They were far enough back in the cave to avoid injury from the explosion, but Jake knew that something worse had been loosened. Voices and hearts froze at the lusty howls of the Alshain. That old fear knifed his stomach, making his muscles palsy. The young man gulped hard, closed his eyes, but snapped them open quickly once his imagination started going into warp. He would rather face what was coming through the breach than the vivid horrors his mind conjured up of what the Alshain intended to do to them.

“They’ve broken through our barricade,” Ena, a soot covered Tarlac female said. Underneath the dirt, the fair-skinned woman was an eye catcher. She cradled her Breen disruptor as she stood up.

“Hold on Ena!” Zene barked, gesturing quickly at the surviving members of his crew. They each took up positions, determination engraving their countenances. Except for one.

“Godsdammit, I knew this was a fool’s errand,” the hard bitten Tarlac Galig snarled. “We’ve doomed ourselves in a vain attempt to save just a hand full! You’ve doomed us Ensign Zene!” He said the Elloran’s former rank with palpable disdain.

“No, no, you’ve all doomed us! You and your damned war!” Cried out an anguished voice. Through the dust-thickened darkness, Jake saw a trembling woman clutching a limp child, their head turned an impossible angle. This had been an ongoing debate among the refugees. Zene had argued that their presence prevented greater Alshain atrocities from occurring at the camp, while others were fearful that the raids the guerillas conducted against the Alshain would result in brutal reprisals.

The debate had been answered with finality when Alshain forces had swarmed the planet, decimating villages in search of Zene’s band. An Elloran herald, younger than Jake or Kall, had died at Zene’s feet after delivering the news of the surprise Alshain attack. Before the irregulars could scramble, the Alshain had hit the camp, driving the survivors into long abandoned mines that had been converted to inclement weather shelters.

“Shoziz Galig!” Spat B’dulla, a gray furred, charcoal faced Munzalan. A livid pink scar cut diagonally across his visage. B’dulla had rejected the usual pacifism of his people to take up arms.

“No, godsdammit,” the querulous Tarlac replied. “If we had just accepted the help of the Son’a they could’ve protected us.”

“Yeah, like they’ve been protecting us all these years,” a burly Elloran, whose name escaped Jake, replied drolly. “I promised my mother on her deathbed that I nor my siblings would ever be slaves again.”

“Well, at least we can remember what the lash felt like Mannar,” Galig remarked. Jake glanced at Zene. The man’s back was to him, but he saw him straighten slightly at the dig.

“Now’s not the time for this,” Jake rasped. Galig chuckled, and shook his head.

“As if you have any right to talk to me, much less be here,” the Tarlac said, looming over Jake. Jake stared up at the man, meeting his challenging gaze head on. Galig reached out and flicked the datacard hanging from Jake’s neck. “This press pass and you being human protects you.”

“You think so?” Jake asked. “You really think battle crazy Alshain warriors are going to give a damn who they sink their teeth into?”

“Yeah,” the Tarlac replied, “I do. They might look like animals, but they’re much smarter. They know what lives to take, and who to spare. And our deaths will make quite the byline for you won’t it Sisko?”

“That’s totally uncalled for,” Kall replied heatedly. “We’re here when we don’t have to be. This is our fight because we have chosen it. The galaxy has to be made aware of the injustice taking place here.”

“And that means when you get bored, you’ll simply chose something else to inveigh against,” Galig remarked, totally unimpressed.

“Galig, the Alshain are almost upon us,” Zene said calmly, turning around to face the larger man. Jake wasn’t certain if it was his imagination, but he thought he heard galloping. Though the Alshain were considered haughty and ostentatious, in part to impress their biped neighbors with gauche displays of their “high” civilization, Jake had read other stories.

He had read reports that their feral natures revealed themselves in combat, and that they often fought as quadrupeds. “If you don’t want to fight, if you want to be slaughtered like livestock, please hand your weapon to someone who still has at least a modicum of dignity.”

The Tarlac stepped back as if he had been slugged. His hand reached for the pistol at his side, causing several of the irregulars to aim at him. Galig quickly noticed that and his empty hands shot up. “I’m alright, I’m alright,” he promised. “I…I was just going to take up position.”

“Do so then,” Zene’s voice never wavered. His gaze turned back toward the mouth of the cave. A few of the refugees took the initiative to huddle their compatriots toward the back of the cave. Some of the refugees shielded their children and other loved ones while others picked up anything that could be used as a weapon. The howling grew louder, and it was punctuated by fierce barking.

Jake’s stomach roiled with fear. He felt the shroud of death over his shoulders. He wanted to grab Kall again. He wanted to tell her that he wished there had been more between them, but he didn’t. Instead, he did what he had come here to do in the first place.

“Set up the holorecorder,” he said dryly. “We’ve got a story to complete.”
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