Kathryn stood with her back to the iron bed. Her back was ramrod straight, her eyes forward, arms down to her sides. ‘This is worse then the academy,’ she thought. Marcole stood beside her, being her bunk mate in this filthy room they were forced to live in.
A tall woman walked about the bunks, inspecting them, making sure that they were secure, that nothing had been done to them to make weapons. She tested the making of the bed clothes, which Kathryn didn’t see the point of. They were given holy blankets and grimy sheets.
The woman walked back and forth after inspection, in front of the women, looking at each one, sizing them up. Kathryn was reminded of the Nechisti guide they had encountered on a planet years away. But there was none of that kindness in this woman’s face. Kathryn smiled at the memory; how Chakotay and Neelix had begged her to not go into the shrine, that Kes wouldn’t want her to make that kind of sacrifice. . .
“. . .what are you smiling at, woman?” The guard asked, stepping in front of Kathryn. Kathryn quickly shook the memory aside and looked up into the guards face.
“Nothing,” Kathryn said, but wasn’t quite finished. “And my name isn’t ‘woman’. It's Kathryn.” The guard regarded the small woman in front of her, then picked her up by her arms so she was eye level. Kathryn, couldn’t stop the look of surprise that crossed her face. The guard pushed her back far enough that the back of Kathryn’s head met the metal of the bunk.
“No lip, Kathryn,” the guard hissed. The smell of her; breath and body odor, was making Kathryn ill. As the guard turned to the rest of the women, she let go of Kathryn, who landed on her feet, jarring her knees.
The guard continued as if Kathryn’s flip attitude was nothing. She walked around, looking, testing. Finally, it seemed she was done with her inspection. “All right, line it up,” she said in her loud voice. Kathryn winced inwardly at the noise.
The women filed out in an orderly manner, none of them talking. Thoughts had crossed Kathryn’s mind that probably half them didn’t even breathe unless ordered too. Her thoughts whirled about. She disliked the way that the beings were treated. It was the kind of situation that had turned her stomach in Starfleet and for that matter, had made her all the more determined when she’d become a captain, to get rid of these types of situations. Kathryn never dreamed that she would end up being part of one of these systems.
The line moved quietly from the barracks to the food area. The food was usually heavy and lacking any real taste. Day in, day out, the same thing. To Kathryn, anything, even leola root would be preferable. Going to one of the outdoor tables with Marcole, Kathryn noticed something.
“What’s that?” Kathryn whispered, using her fork to point to a fancy transport.
Marcole looked behind her to where Kathryn was pointing. Her face fell and she was glad that she was turned from Kathryn. The distaste rose her mouth like bitter bile. “It’s the owner of this mine,” Marcole whispered back. They hushed as a guard passed behind Kathryn.
“Checking to see how the masses struggle,” Kathryn whispered once the way was clear.
“They do that occasionally,” Marcole replied, turning back to Kathryn and giving her a smile. “They believe they are doing us a favor by gracing us with their presence.”
“Splendid. They must be wearing blinders,” Kathryn replied.
“Stop the transport,” the woman in the back of the transport said. She lowered her eye covering and looked out the window toward the table.
She focused first on the tall, female alien with the striking red hair at the food table. Her lips turned up in a smile, then she turned to the man who sat beside her. “Don’t tell me Marcole is back?”
“You know her, always in trouble,” the man said, sitting up so he could see better. At that moment, Marcole had moved just enough for the woman across from her to be seen.
“And who is that beautiful woman?”
“A new prisoner,” the man said. “Former captain of some ship. Her and her second—whatever they are called, took the responsibility for a couple of their people who had helped Ishomach.”
“Ah,” the woman nodded. “I saw the trial. Such a proud woman.” She continued to watch the two eat. “Proud, yet beautiful.” She turned to the man beside her. “See that she is not harmed.”
“You see something?”
“Perhaps,” she said. She smiled again. “And keep an eye on Marcole. From the look of it, she is playing at defending this woman. Does she have a name?”
“Kathryn. That’s the name she gave when they entered her in the books.”
“Beautiful name. So melodic.”
“And has the spirit of a glashoc.”
The woman tapped the shoulder of the driver and he began driving off. “She won’t after she’s been here a while.”
The rock was huge and Kathryn was sure it weighed over eighty pounds. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t have bothered her to lift such a stone, but this was not normal. She couldn’t get the leverage, nor could she get her fingers far enough beneath it to roll it enough to pick up. Taking a moment, she looked at the stone, cursing it mentally and contemplating how to go about moving it. A jab to her side moments later got her attention.
“Get back to work,” the guard hissed at her. He shoved his stick back into its holder at his belt. Kathryn glared at him with her steely blue eyes.
“If you want this to be picked up for moving, then you’re going to have to give me more to work with then just these hands,” Kathryn said, holding up dirty, callused hands. “That is, unless you like to see your workers laid up.”
The guard considered Kathryn for a moment. A small insignificant creature, glaring at him. He gave her a feral smile, showing his rotted brown teeth. It played out quickly, so quickly that Kathryn never saw it coming. She was on the ground, her nose bleeding as he stood over her, leering.
“Work with what you’re given, woman.” He moved closer to her, giving her a vicious kick to the thigh. The pain shot through Kathryn and her body took a moment to recognize what hurt worse; her nose or her leg. She looked up at him, narrowing her eyes and fiercely regarding him. He had hauled back to hit her again, when Kathryn saw, from the corner of her eye, a familiar form run toward her. Marcole flung herself in front of Kathryn.
“One more step, beast, and I will gouge out your eyes,” Marcole said, crouching down beside Kathryn to protect her. The guard stared through yellow slitted eyes.
“Any more from you, Marcole, and you’ll pay the price,” he said. He took his stick from it’s holder and poked Kathryn in the side, not to lightly. “And you. . .you will have this pile stacked and moved before you retire tonight.” His eyes scanned over Kathryn, as if taking inventory of her.
He lumbered off to check on the others. From the distance, they could hear him giving the same to the other workers. Marcole ripped a piece of her dress hem and gave it to Kathryn to hold to her nose.
“I’ve told you, don’t aggravate them,” Marcole whispered, helping her hold the rag to Kathryn’s nose.
“I didn’t. I just told him it was impossible to move something if you don’t have the leverage to work with,” Kathryn whispered back. She tried to stand, but the blow to her thigh made standing hard to do. “And I thought the Cardassian’s were bad,” she said, sucking in her breath.
“Kathryn, you can’t afford to wear yourself out or be beaten. Keep this up, and you’re going to be fighting off more then him and his stick and fists.”
Kathryn said nothing as she went back over to the pile of rocks. She looked at them, then ran a hand through her hair. It was dirty, greasy, matted. Marcole came around her and looked at her. “Kathryn, remember, who you are means nothing. What you were means nothing. All you are to them, is a living specimen born to do their work.”
“I’m nobodies slave,” she said with conviction.
“Keep telling yourself that,” Marcole replied as she began helping Kathryn with the stones.
Shalmon watched his workers from a hill side. He was acutely aware how harsh he was supposed to treat his ‘wards’, but he couldn’t be so cruel. So many men, such pitiful offenses. But seldom had his hospitality been taken advantage of. That’s why he watched; to see how they worked.
This newest group, had been by far a most decent bunch of men. They worked well together, talked, laughed. It did the old man’s heart justice to see his workers with such jovial moods. Though the work was still dirty, they worked at it like a life long commitment. When faced with forced work, men sometimes rebelled. Shalmon gave them the incentive to not rebel.
Yet Shalmon was an optimistic. He didn’t please easily, yet he regarded each and every man as an individual. He’d made up his mind a long time ago about that. Once one had seen the other encampments, especially the one directly west of his, they would know why he did as he did.
And he watched. His focus was turned to one of the newest men. Shalmon had seen in him something he couldn’t quite explain. A longing, yet understanding. The man seemed to contradict everything this world represented. The world; the land, was harsh. This man was gentle. Where others saw only ugliness, this man saw beauty. Shalmon couldn’t explain this one. All he knew, was the man had come from far away; that he’d taken punishment for another mans crimes.
This man had given up his chance to return home. Shalmon thought that was punishment enough. But he saw more behind this man. Yet, despite his like for this man, he kept himself back, reserved. The last thing he wanted was for the others to become jealous over any special treatment.
Shalmon continued to watch. The dark haired man worked endlessly. A smile would sometimes grace his face. Other times, he looked a world away. Other times, he would look toward the west, as if seeking something that was there.
West. Shalmon looked toward the west, hoping to see what the man saw. He saw the same thing that the man did.
A sky colored blue gray. Like the eyes of beautiful woman.
Chakotay looked at the sky. The color reminded him of Kathryn; her eyes, the one dress that brought them out. He shook his head to clear it. Though he thought of her often, he couldn’t afford to let her spirit distract him. The conditions were much better then he had ever thought possible, but the fact remained. . .
He was a prisoner.
He had been put in with three other men. One elderly and two slightly younger then himself. Their offenses were, as Chakotay’s, small and insignificant. The elderly man had given water to a woman lying in the streets, dying of dehydration. The two younger had taken wood from a neighbors property for fires to keep them and their families warm.
Chakotay considered it an injustice. After all, these were things people did on civilized worlds. Which brought him back to the present. His eyes drifted toward the hill where the owner sat often. For all his experience with first contact, Chakotay could not figure this man out.
He was kind, first and foremost. Chakotay noted that the small cabins the men shared were well built, not thrown together. The furnishings were comfortable. Food was plentiful and good. Clothes were workable and not irritating such as the jumpsuits they’d been forced to wear in the transport. All in all, Chakotay had been suspicious at first, but had learned the man was like this all the time.
Shalmon, seemed wise. ‘Much like Kolopak’, Chakotay had allowed himself to think. But there was something missing. Chakotay thought that it was probably his spirit. He seemed to care about the well being of the men brought here. Yet he kept his distance, not wanting to grow close to any of them. Chakotay suspected that it went further then the conditions they were forced to endure, that it was something more personal then what was going on in the mines. But it wasn’t his place to ask.
He turned back to his work, looking at the mechanics. Today, he’d been assigned to help rebuild part of the water line. As he’d done as a Starfleet officer, Chakotay had put together a plan and oversaw the work. Some habits, he’d mused, were hard to break, no matter what the circumstances were.
Chakotay looked at the men who’d been working with him as he released the mechanism that would let the water flow freely through the new line. The water sloshed and worked it’s way down the new section. He sighed with relief when there were no signs of leaks or cracks. Had he been in a different situation, he would have been proud of his work. Not that he wasn’t, but his heart wasn’t into this.
“Not bad,” one of Shalmon’s supervisors said, inspecting the work. “You have no idea how long we’ve been urging that section to stay together.”
“It’s matter of working with what you have and a system known to work. I hate to say this, but whoever put this up originally, did a shabby job of construction,” Chakotay replied.
“That would be the original owner. This aqueduct has been operating for over 100 years.”
Chakotay wiped his hands on a rag and looked at the line carefully. “This isn’t going to solve the whole problem. The entire line is going to have to be replaced. Sections up there and down closer to the mine already show signs of cracking. It’s just a matter of time before the whole thing gives,” Chakotay said, pointing up the hill and down toward the mine.
“I will take it up with Shalmon,” the supervisor said. He eyed Chakotay. “If given the opportunity, would you be interested in overseeing and designing the new line?”
Chakotay looked at him and gave him a small smile. “If I can help, I’ll do it. It’s why I’m here.” He watched the guard look once again at the section and lumber off toward the hill Shalmon stood on. Chakotay watched a moment, then walked back down to the mines where he had work to finish. Not that he minded manual labor, but if he could work on something useful, he’d feel his skill would be better utilized.
Before entering the mine, he looked again at the sky. Blue gray sky.
‘Take care, Kathryn,’ he silently sent west. ‘I miss you.’
With Marcole’s help, Kathryn managed to get the pile of rocks moved and stacked. They managed to get the job done before the last meal of the day. They walked toward the eating area and took their trays. Kathryn had a good limp. An examination of her thigh before they had left indicated one large bruise; black, purple and blue. It felt hot to the touch and it ached.
Marcole had told her to try not to limp too much, that she shouldn’t appear weak. Kathryn did her best, but her jaw had begun aching from clenching her jaw shut so tightly. The meal was thick stew and stale bread. She picked at it, not wanting to eat, but after seeing some of the incidents that had happened since her short time here, she knew she had to keep her strength up.
Ten minutes into their meal, it was rudely interrupted. From an area blocked from sight came a young humanoid, named Veece. She was a small woman; smaller than Kathryn. Kathryn had heard she was only about twenty, here for something a younger sibling had done. Kathryn watched with wild eyed horror as the young woman ran, her jumper torn. Her breasts were exposed and the closer she got, Kathryn could see that she’d either been cut or bit. As Veece ran by the table Marcole and Kathryn sat at, Kathryn could see one of the woman’s nipples had nearly been ripped off. Upon seeing this, Kathryn had turned her head, her hand over her mouth, resisting the urge to lose her dinner.
As she turned back around, the guard that had hit and kicked Kathryn earlier, lumbered after the girl. He ran, limping and pulling his trousers up. Blood dripped from his mouth and Kathryn’s worst fears of what happened became perfectly clear. Veece tripped and sprawled on the ground. Kathryn rose, as did Marcole, along with other prisoners, wanting to see what had happened; what would happen.
The guard reached Veece before she could get up and run. He jumped on her and began delivering bone crushing blows to her face and body. Veece fought, kicking her legs, clawing at him. But being little she couldn’t fight him effectively. Kathryn watched as he reached for the stick on his belt. The captain, the Starfleet training, came to the surface and she took a few steps when she felt Marcole’s strong arms grab her around the middle.
“No, Kathryn. You can’t help her,” Marcole whispered in her ear. Kathryn reached out, fighting Marcole’s hold. The stick came up and hit with a loud crack. She closed her eyes and turned away as Veece’s body stopped moving and the stick moved to within sight; stained red by blood and matted with hair, bone and brains. Slowly, Marcole led Kathryn to sit down again.
The guard got up and looked at the dead body before him. He turned and walked, stopping at Marcole and Kathryn’s table. He laid the stick down between their trays and grinned at Kathryn.
“You two—clean up this mess,” he snarled, then lumbered away. Kathryn and Marcole looked at each other as two women prisoners came and took the dead body of Veece away.
Their appetites ruined, they took the stick and began cleaning it under the watchful eye of one other guard. Kathryn kept swallowing hard to keep from gagging, but in the end, was unsuccessful. Ducking behind a wall, Kathryn lost the contents of her stomach. As she shook with the horror she witnessed, Marcole led her gently back to the barracks.
When Kathryn woke, Marcole told her that the blow had split Veece’s head literally down the middle.
Kathryn looked far away out a window that faced east. “At least it was quick,” Kathryn said. But she knew that the torture more then made up for Veece’s death.