The sparks of welding torches and thick smoke of burnt metal filled the maintenance pit as the labor camp worked under the watchful eye of their Dominion masters. The work was hard, and the hours long, but these were men of industry, and they would endure. They had no choice.
Mixed among the dirty, sweaty bodies were two covert operators. Three days ago, Crewman Nam Jae-Sun from the USS Polaris and Ryssehl Th’zathol from Sebold Logistics had embedded with the sorry souls of this pit as, by word of mouth, they had learned this was where the Dominion sourced workers for the orbital station that the Dominion had fitted as an autonomous weapons platform. There were not a lot of ways to get up there, but this would be one. The banter between the weary workers as they passed the time was also a treasure trove of information.
“Did you hear what happened yesterday?” one of the workers said to another over a large piece of sheet metal they’d just finished cutting with an energy lance.
“Yeah, I heard another umbilical broke,” the second man replied as they tried to lift the metal. It was too heavy for just the pair, and so Ryssehl and Nam gave them a hand, listening intently.
“Yep, and four more drifted off into space when their magboots failed.”
“I can’t believe people volunteer for that.”
“I mean, they give you a whole two days off every week.”
“I’d rather work eight days a week than do spacewalks day after day. At least if I die here, it’s because one of you numbnuts carved me up with an energy lance. Up there, it’s old faulty equipment just waiting to demagnetize or untether.”
The first guy looked up at a Jem’Hadar soldier in the watchtower above them. “That crummy equipment, it happens so often, almost makes you think it’s some sort of sick entertainment for those guys.” He looked across at the two covert operators in their coveralls who wordlessly were helping them carry the sheet. “What do you two think?”
“I’d honestly kind of like to see space again,” Nam shrugged.
“And I’m lazy so two days off sounds nice,” laughed the Andorian.
“Well, you two are crazy,” one of the guys laughed.
“I didn’t even like space travel before the Dominion made it a fool’s errand,” the other man shared as the four of them set the sheet metal down. “But I’m sure they’ll ask for more volunteers today, so you’ll probably get your shot.” And with that, they all turned back to the pit and got back to work.
About an hour of grueling labor later, the Jem’Hadar First summoned the entire labor crew to gather around.
“This pit is behind schedule,” he shouted. “So you will all be working after sundown tonight. You do not go home until the work is complete.” The decree was met with sighs.
“Every day, you bring us more than the day before,” one delirious worker protested under his breath.
He didn’t realize that the Jem’Hadar had impeccable hearing. One of the guards lashed out and grabbed him by the neck, lifting him off his feet. “And every day, you underproduce. I did more as a child. Service is life. Remember it,” he snarled, his eyes narrowing on the suffocating man in his grasp. Just as it looked like the man’s eyes were going to pop out of his head, he let go of the man’s throat. The man fell to the ground, gasping for air.
“If any of you would like a reprieve from this work, we have an alternative for you,” the First announced with a saddistic grin. “It seems some of your colleagues could not handle a spacewalk. This means we need four more volunteers to help us with a little project. And, in exchange for your service, you will be given two days off for every ten worked.”
Ryssehl quirked an eyebrow. The colonists they’d just been with an hour ago said two days off every week. Now it was ten and two. He didn’t really care though. Ten and two just gave him a better chance of being on the station three days from now when the USS Polaris was scheduled to arrive. The Dominion wouldn’t even be here long enough for him to get his first vacation, as long as he did his job right.
“Do we have any volunteers?” the First asked, looking out at the crowd. “Don’t be shy.” The way he smiled, the First almost seemed to revel in the nerves of the people knowing what happened to their colleagues. “If there are no volunteers, we will choose.”
Ryssehl raised his hand to volunteer.
“Well that’s better than nothing,” the First remarked, and then added under his breath towards Ryssehl: “I hear your kind exhaust more easily, so it was the days off huh?” The First thought him weak, and Ryssehl played the part, just bowing his head submissively as he took his place at the front. “How about some humans to pick up the slack when this blue skin tires?” The First looked around for any takers.
Nam Jae-Sun slowly raised his hand. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go. He absolutely did. He needed to be up there with his partner. His hesitation simply came from not wanting to look too eager. If he had just jumped at the opportunity, they might have suspected his purpose. No one with half a brain would eagerly go up there with how often there were tragic accidents.
“That’s two. Do I have any more?” No one raised their hands so the Jem’Hadar just swooped into the crowd and grabbed three more.
“I thought you said you needed two more?” one of the men said as he was dragged forward, hoping it was a counting error.
“We only need four, but we have five so if one of you forgets your place, we will have an extra,” replied the Jem’Hadar First. “Now, back to work, the rest of you!” And with that, Ryssehl, Crewman Nam, and the three other laborers were dragged from the pit towards a waiting shuttle.