by Travis Anderson
Author’s Note: In the TNG season 7 episode Lower Decks, the Enterprise detected debris indicative of a Federation shuttlecraft’s life pod’s destruction. There was no mention of organic material. In fact, the crew had to hear about the death of Sito Jaxa though Cardassian military reports. But again, no body was ever presented as evidence. Is Sito Jaxa alive, and if so, what happened to her?
Chronology: The following are a series of vignettes beginning in 2371 post-DS9 Defiant and stretching until post-DS9 What You Leave Behind.
Rating: M (dark themes)
Cardassia Prime’s innermost moon lazily orbited overhead the seat of the Cardassian Union and self-proclaimed cradle of civilization. Letau was one of three moons orbiting Cardassia Prime. It had a storied history and all for the wrong reasons.
A Class-D planetoid, Letau was basically a giant rock that lacked an atmosphere. Since nothing could survive on Letau’s surface, the Central Command opted to place their maximum security prisoners there in an airtight facility. There were no escape pods, no shuttles, and only one light courier to evacuate the command staff.
When Skrain Dukat advanced past the rank of Dalin and into that of Dal, he was placed as overseer of the Letau’s prison. And, in a surprise to most, it flourished. It was a surprise because those inhabiting Letau were considered too violent for the labor camps on Cardassia IV or too great a flight risk to be allowed into a typical Cardassian internment center.
Starfleet prisoners had been processed through Letau on occasion. But those occurrences had lessened since Dal Dukat was promoted into being Gul Dukat and made Prefect of Bajor. Starfleet personnel, like the common criminals, were usually inducted into the prison after a lengthy “interrogation” — a term that was simply a euphemism for brutal torture.
The prison itself was divided into six levels. The lowest level was reserved for long-term military inductees. Next came political prisoners. The fourth level was set aside for murderers and pirates. The third level was economic criminals and subversives. The second level was set aside for so-called Bajoran “war criminals.” The top level of the prison was interconnected to the command center, the guard barracks, cargo bays, infirmary, and shuttle bay. These were intended to be transient prisoners. Their lot was mostly comprised of smugglers.
The fourth through sixth level prisoners were never allowed outside of the cells. Levels one through three weren’t locked down at all. Guard patrols swept through the facility at regular intervals. This gave prisoners plenty of time to strike at each other and settle differences through violent means.
Dukat had instituted this system and when he left, he promoted his assistant from dalin to dal. Dal Rokai had been, and still was, completely loyal to Dukat and his vision for all Cardassians. Rokai could see no wrong in Dukat’s methods or motives. This included the “self policing” policies amongst prisoners.
The day was going to get interesting in a hurry. A new prisoner was transferring in. Prisoners were rarely shuttled in by themselves, but this one was an exception. He was spared the death penalty through a backdoor deal that had enabled the former Starfleet officer — and current Maquis terrorist — to surrender and safeguard the lives of his Maquis crew.
William Thomas “Tom” Riker was dragged from the guarded shuttle bay to the hatch that led to the first floor. Riker was ingloriously dumped onto the floor and the two Cardassian minders that had brought him this far simply turned and returned to the transport shuttle.
Riker was in luck because there was a vacant cell available. He was barely lucid, but he thought he heard a woman arguing with the guards over Riker’s status. He then felt his legs scraping across the floor again and then he fell onto his chest again and, as before, searing pain made him convulse.
He was rolled over and he heard the woman’s voice again. “It’s okay. Just lay back. I’ll get you your rations and watch over you. Okay? Just don’t die.”
Riker couldn’t tell how long he was in and out of consciousness, but he had the distinct memory of fish juice being poured down his throat. When he finally came fully awake, he noticed a cup of the same vile broth sitting next to his sleeping mat.
Sitting up, he got a look at his surroundings. The cell was dismal. It had no lights of its own. All illumination stemmed from the outer corridor. One wall was simply made of bars but there was no door. Anyone and everyone could walk in on him at any time. He supposed that’s why he needed protection.
Riker stepped out of the cell and looked around and began to lose hope. Then he spotted a petite, blonde Bajoran woman approaching. She wore a satisfied smile.
“I see you’re up, sir,” she said, evidently pleased with that fact.
“Do we know each other?” Riker had to wonder.
“Sir, it’s me. Ensign Sito,” she declared and then noticed the lack of recognition in his eyes. “Sito Jaxa.”
It finally registered with Riker. “Oh, you know the other Riker. Commander Will Riker, XO of the USSEnterprise.”
“So, Commander Riker is your twin brother?” Sito asked.
“In a manner of speaking. I’m Tom, by the way.” Riker smirked. “I take it you’re the one who took care me.”
“Someone did the same for me when I was dumped here as well,” Sito revealed. “I thought I’d pass on the charitable deed.”
Riker was curious now. “Who took care of you?”
“Vera Suris.” Sito knew he wouldn’t know the name. “Vera was a comfort woman brought in for Dukat’s pleasure when he was the administrator. When Rokai inherited the post, he also inherited Vera. But eventually she grew too old to be pretty enough for Rokai’s taste, so he handed her off to his men. After they physically broke her, she became a prisoner here. After all, if she were set free then the truth of what goes on here might be leaked to the Cardassian Information Service.”
“How long was I out?” Riker wondered.
“I’d guess it was five days,” Sito answered.
“That’s a long time to hold a vigil in a place like this,” Riker realized.
Sito grinned. “Maybe I just wanted the company. It’s not like I had much else to do.”
“Thanks,” Riker said ruefully.
“Are you going to explain your dismissive answer about your being Commander Riker’s twin?” Sito probed.
“No,” Riker asserted, “because it doesn’t matter.”
“Then I’m not taking back my comment either,” Sito stubbornly dug in her heels.
Riker suddenly realized that although he may have towered over her, she was a scrapper, both physically and verbally. It was nice to see that this place hadn’t broken someone.
Riker changed topics. “What was your division in Starfleet?”
“I was a security officer with specializations in flight control and tactical systems,” Sito shared.
“I was ops and a fair pilot myself,” Riker boasted.
“Hmm…” Sito looked skeptical. “You’d have to prove it.”
Riker didn’t take the bait. Instead, he looked haunted. “Did…did the Cardassians do to you what they…”
“Peel back my dermal layers with a laser scalpel until I almost died and then use a dermal regenerator to fuse the skin and muscle back together in time to spare your life? All without any analgesics at all?”
“Yes,” Riker said raggedly.
“I don’t know for how long but, in the end, I finally gave up anything and everything I could think of that I knew,” Sito confessed. “Then they dumped me here.”
“Same for me,” Riker said sadly, “although your scars don’t show.”
“Neither do yours when you’re wearing a shirt,” Sito said with some humor. “And being a woman, my breasts were an issue. So they’d just cut them off and reattach them when they were done with me for the day. I’ve always thought I came out of it a little lopsided.”
“They look fine,” Riker said with conviction.
Sito laughed for the first time since she’d arrived in this dreadful place. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“You’ll take my word on that but not on my piloting or ops skills?” Riker was flummoxed.
Sito gave him a mischievous look. “If you’re anything like Commander Riker, then you’re an expert where women’s bodies are concerned. Everything else? You have to prove to me, sir.”
Riker held up a hand. “Whoa! First off, I was only a lieutenant when I left Starfleet. And second, I’m just Tom. Got it?”
“You resigned your commission?” Sito was aghast. “Even as a child on Valo II, I always dreamt of being in Starfleet. I’ll be Starfleet until I die…or until I join the Bajoran Militia.”
“Well, I didn’t resign. I just left. I joined up with the Maquis. Starfleet frowns on having criminals in the ranks,” Riker revealed.
“New inmates would sometimes talk about the Maquis,” Sito shuddered. “They’re housed on level four. The fourth through sixth levels are on permanent lockdown. You never leave your cell down there. But the Maquis are a lot like the Bajoran Resistance, right?”
Riker finally grinned. “They’re almost identical in purpose and principle. The Maquis are just better equipped.”
“I bet you wished you would’ve had a starship,” Sito teased him.
“I had one, but I had to give it back to Starfleet. That’s how I ended up here,” Riker divulged.
“You have to share that story with me.” Sito was practically drooling.
So Riker told her, and when he concluded a loud gonging noise reverberated throughout the cell blocks. Riker was stupefied. “What the hell is that?”
“Dinner bell,” Sito shrugged. “Or in this case, lunch.”
“So where do we go…?” Nearly a hundred sentients formed two lines and Riker shrugged. “I think the answer just became apparent.”
Sito fell into one line while Riker opted for the shorter. She was suddenly at his side. “Are you strictly an herbivore?”
“No.” He was puzzled by her question.
“These beings are. They can’t metabolize animal protein so they’re fed a starvation diet of replicated grasses. They never last long,” Sito warned him.
They fell back to the exact end of the other line. Riker was sorry for her. “I’m sorry you lost your place in line.”
“Actually, we should probably thank the Prophets for it,” Sito emoted. “Any further up and we may have actually gotten meat in our broth.”
“And this is a bad thing?” Riker wondered.
“Tom, it’s raw and usually rancid,” Sito shared.
“I see your point,” Riker conceded.
“And so will your stomach.” She grinned at him.
Riker let it drop and as they neared the serving pot he finally asked, “Why do the Cardassians even offer a vegetarian meal if they’re only going to starve their prisoners?”
“It’s an act of good faith,” Sito said wryly, “or at least that’s the official lie. Most of them are Andergani traders and Cardassia can’t afford to lose their trade deals with the Andergani Oligarchy. So they make a show of feeding them until they’re released.”
“Are they released?” Riker was understandably curious.
“If they live long enough to serve out their sentences,” Sito said indifferently.
It was the first time that Riker noticed that the young Bajoran no longer entirely held with the Federation’s ideals.
An estimated five days later, Riker finally asked Sito the question that had been burning a hole in his brain. “How long have you been here?”
Sito wore a rueful smile. “I knew you were going to ask me that.”
“Well, I’ve finally gotten around to it,” Riker chuckled, “so consider yourself asked.”
“I honestly don’t know,” Sito sighed. “It seemed like they tortured me for years and then they dumped me here. The lights are always on so you lose track of the hours.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that,” Riker wryly agreed.
“What Stardate were captured on?” Sito asked.
“I stole the Defiant and was captured on stardate 48467.3,” Riker informed her.
Sito’s eyes swelled. “I was captured just after stardate 47566.7. Has it really been that long?”
“Sorry,” Riker said lamely.
Sito gave him a wan smile. “Don’t worry. I won’t shoot the messenger. I just thought Starfleet may have tried to get me out by now. A prisoner exchange or something. Anything.”
“The Federation, therefore Starfleet, has pledged not to interfere in the internal affairs of others,” Riker quoted sardonically.
“I just never thought I’d be one of those affairs,” Sito sadly admitted.
Riker thought he’d just seen another piece of Sito break in that instant. He tried changing the subject. “The entire Demilitarized Zone is one of those affairs. That’s why the Maquis formed — to pursue justice where Starfleet wouldn’t step in.”
“Tell me about it,” Sito said.
“Right,” Riker snorted.
“I’m serious,” Sito grated. “The DMZ was barely established when I was captured. I have no idea of what’s going on out there.”
Riker mentally kicked himself as he described the developing conflict between the Cardassians and the Maquis. After he had done so, he glumly added, “I guess I’ll never know who won now.”
“Yes, you will. If the Maquis lose, the guards will rub it in your face. If they win, your life will be made a living hell until they’ve exacted enough revenge out of you to satisfy them.”
“What makes you say that?” Riker wanted to know.
“I’m Bajoran,” Sito said drolly. “That’s why I was chosen to go undercover. But when I got here, tempers were still high over Bajor’s liberation. So I was beaten and raped every couple of hours for what seemed as much of forever as the torture sessions. They killed Vera to get at me. The surprising part was the three times I got pregnant. On Bajoran colonies and in the Federation, the sanctity of life extends to unborn children. The Cardassians didn’t want any half-breed bastards so they aborted them as soon as it was discovered I was impregnated.”
Sito’s glassy tone made it sound like she was distantly reporting on someone else’s life. Yet she’d lived through every horrific hour of it. Riker had no idea of what that could do to a person and he was slightly afraid to know.
“But they stopped,” he ventured.
“Yes, they tired of me the way they tired of Vera,” Sito said neutrally. “But that didn’t stop them from performing a hysterectomy to keep me from getting pregnant again just in case they felt like resuming their ‘sport.’”
“You really didn’t want to carry the children to term, did you?” Riker had to ask.
“No, but that didn’t give these butchers the right to casually kill them. The babies were conceived for whatever reason the Prophets had in mind for them.” Sito saw Riker’s skepticism. “Even if you believe it was just random chance, they were alive and helpless. If they’d been out of the womb, you’d call that murder. And that’s what this was, plain and simple.”
“But that is the Cardassians’ Modus Operandi. Afflict those weaker than themselves just because they can.” Riker was angered by Sito’s tale and he wanted a target for that anger. And so, one presented itself.
Actually, five presented themselves. There was a Romulan, an Acamarian, an Andergani, an Yridian, all led by a Nausicaan. All were male except for the Andergani.
The Nausicaan spoke. “Found a taste for humans, have you? I thought you only swallowed Cardassians.”
Riker started off the sleeping mat in his cell. Sito intercepted him and whispered, “Take it easy.”
She turned to face the Nausicaan. “How’re the knees, Kelim? Ready to have them broken again?”
Now the Nausicaan lunged, but his Romulan companion caught him. “Easy, Kelim. The Bajoran whore will get hers soon enough. Just wait for the right moment.”
“Watch your back, Bajoran,” Kelim shouted as his group moved off.
Riker was still incensed. “Mind explaining that?”
“Kelim runs one of the gangs on this level,” Sito explained. “He tried to recruit me and I broke his knees. He’s been dogging me ever since. Fortunately, his pride makes him attack alone without his group of lackeys in tow.”
“Impressive,” Riker opined.
“Oh yeah, I’m fabulous one on one. Now five or six to one, like his normal outings, those numbers I’m a tad overwhelmed by. Ask the Cardassians for proof enough.” Sito tried to keep the edge out of her voice, but was failing miserably.
“I believe it,” Riker confessed. “Just know that I’ve got your back, Starfleet.”
“I know that, Tom.” Sito wore a shy smile. “And it’s just ‘Sito,’ or ‘Jaxa’ if you prefer.”
Riker knew Bajorans didn’t authorize just anyone to use their given names. “It’d be an honor, Jaxa.”
Sito frowned. “But only in private. Otherwise, all these cretins will be using my name.”
Riker nodded. “Duly noted.”
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.