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Arrivals - Part II by Travis Anderson

The Spy, The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The Tinkerer,
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...

Chapter 6

"With any luck, all we'll find out is that Kendra is honouring the peace treaty between Bajor and..." Deirdre froze in mid-sentence. Literally froze up, stiff as a board. Macen lurched forward in his office chair and activated the security feed from the bridge. He noted all of his officers were also immobile. All except Hannah Grace that was.

"Computer initiate contingency Zulu Charlie Foxtrot seven zed five zed eight. Lock on to these co-ordinates and initiate site-to-site transport as designated in the Baker eleven protocol." Macen fired off these instructions with the rapidity born of practice. The transporter beam caught him and whisked him away to the bowels of the ship.

Grace cursed as her board went dead. The ship was now at a dead stop and she was locked out of her controls. She heard a chime from the Tactical console and she moved over there. It was difficult to manoeuvre around Daggit's lunging form but she forced herself to manage.

It's a little late for guilt to stumble you. Grace chided herself. She accessed internal security displays and learned an internal, site-to-site transport had occurred. Unfortunately, Daggit's board was effectively shut down as well. The system was on automatic and while you could see what the computer was doing, you couldn't alter it. Worst of all, the ship was now transmitting an automated distress signal.

Grace bit down on a particularly vivid metaphor. A sudden fluctuation in the power grid caused her to examine Parva's Engineering station and discovered the mains were off the line. A sudden and crushing realisation hit Grace. Someone had taken the warp core off-line since she'd supposedly immobilised the entire crew.

She tried to release the computer controls through a voice override but wasn't surprised when the attempt failed. Grace's Attuner could transform thought into reality but it was restricted to realities known by Grace. She hadn't a clue as to how the computer had been deactivated so she couldn't resolve the problem. She had obviously overlooked one or more of the crew. Her only option now was to track down the mysterious interloper and force him or her to release the computer codes. Grace could reactivate the warp engines herself.

Grace pulled the tricorder from her belt and tied it into the internal security feeds. Judging by the log, the "intruder" had exited Main Engineering and headed for the turbolift. Once there, they'd exited on Deck 2. Sickbay had been accessed and the doors hadn't reopened since. Grace's lips spread in a victorious smile.

"Gotcha sucker." Grace headed for the turbolift and was taken aback by the sight of her best friend frozen in place. T'Kir looked ready to protest Riker's orders and declarations. Grace would never know. Her soon to be former friend would have a far different reaction after being revived and reoriented to the changed circumstance.

Grace entered the lift and wondered how she'd feel when she was reunited with her people. They'd surely recall her from her mission. She'd spent six years with most of these senior officers, how would that sundering affect her? She had to admit to herself, if no one else, that the prospect frightened her. She'd made a family here, a dysfunctional family at best, but a family nonetheless.

The lift doors opened and Deck 2 beckoned. Grace hesitantly stepped out. Who was out here? Did she really want to know?

Her sense of duty drove her feet on. Her sense of dread rose as she approached the Sickbay doors. She'd betrayed so many people, so many friends. How would Macen react when he was released? It was his presence the arriving Kelvans had specifically requested.

Macen's enduring acceptance of Grace filled the Kelvans with hope. The examples of James Kirk and Brin Macen were their banners as to what people in the Alpha Quadrant would be like. Grace hoped she hadn't poisoned that banner through this action. Her orders had stated, quite clearly, deliver Macen and the crew now, not after completing a mission bringing the Maquis to justice.

Grace stopped in front of the Sickbay doors and stepped into range of the motion sensor. The doors slid aside and Grace cautiously entered. The EMH was on and looking at her speculatively.

"Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

"We have an intruder. He or she is in Sickbay. You have to help me find them!" Grace pleaded.

The EMH cocked her head to one side, "He said you'd say that."

"Who?" Grace tensed.

"Him." the EMH pointed to Grace's right. A shadow moved and all Grace saw was a fist flying into her face. She lost her balance and staggered back out into the corridor. Grace collided with the bulkhead and sank to her knees.

Grace had half a second to recognise her assailant before Macen stepped forward and kicked Grace squarely in the ribs. All the air in Grace's lungs exited in an explosive "huff" as her diaphragm took the hit. Grace tried to rise but was struck down by Macen's right fist. Her vision starred as her brain sloshed about in her skull.

Desperately, Grace pulled her Attuner out her pocket and wielded it like a remote control, aiming it at Macen. She depressed the activation stud but other than a flash of some indicator lights, nothing happened. Macen kicked the Attuner out of her hand and it skidded down the corridor.

Grace fumbled for her phaser but Macen beat her to the draw, "Do it and I'll kill you where you lay."

Grace released her grip on the phaser and wiped the blood profusely streaming from her nose, "Can I visit the EMH?"

"No." Macen's voice was colder than she'd ever heard it before, "You will unstrap that gunbelt, liberate the crew, and then you'll go to the brig."

"Captain," Grace pleaded, wiping her nose again, "I was summoned by the Commander of the Kelvan Scouts. They requested an immediate meeting with you. You're to be an example of an Alpha Quadrant dweller."

"If you hadn't noticed, we're busy." Macen's voice was glacial, "Now unhook that gunbelt, drop it, and kick it away."

Grace sniffled and unbuckled her holster/utility belt. She kicked it away and tried once more to reason with Macen, "It wasn't personal. You just wouldn't have come..."

"It was personal!" Macen yelled, "All the other things you've done have been on the periphery but this, this was done to me."

"It wasn't like that!" Grace blubbered and then whimpered as Macen placed the barrel of his phaser to her head and pressed it up against the bulkhead.

"It was like this." Macen was utterly devoid of emotion now, "The only thing keeping me from pulling this trigger is the loyal service you showed for six years. You pulled that trigger. You took aim at my crew, at me and you pulled the damned trigger."

"I'm the only one that can liberate everyone." Grace said a tad smugly.

"Think about it." Macen said dryly, "I'm running around free. Why didn't your Attuner affect me?"

"I don't know." Grace wiped her nose, fear returning to her eyes.

"Your Attuner only affects things you know about." Macen continued in the same emotionless inflection that had dominated his speech since their fight. Hah! Grace thought bitterly, Since I took a beating.

"I'm an El-Aurian." Macen reminded her, "That means I'm more than a long-lived human. I exist between realities. I'm largely anchored in this realm for now, but I also reside elsewhere. I'm beyond your conception of a lifeform. The closest creatures to us are the Q. Figure them out."

Macen shrugged diffidently, "I'm willing to lay odds that I can make your Attuner work."

Grace shook her head, "It requires a degree of focus..."

"I can be very focused when I need to be." Macen said simply, "I'll offer you a trade. I'll spare your life if you free the crew."

"You can't just kill me!"

"I'm not Starfleet. I could toss you out an airlock and no one would say much about it. Not after this fiasco."

Grace slumped in defeat, "Can I retrieve my Attuner?"

"Touch that gunbelt and you will die." the certainty in his voice convinced her not to try it.

Grace picked up the Attuner and returned to his place against the bulkhead, "I'm ready."

"Remember, we're close enough I can sense even your emotions. I'll be ready for any tricks."

"No tricks." Grace muttered than depressed the activation stud. Macen snatched the Attuner out of her hand and placed it in his pocket. He waved towards the Sickbay doors with his phaser.

"Inside."

The doors hissed open and Grace stumbled through the threshold, shoved by Macen. Inside, Kort was bellowing, "What's that godsforsaken EMH doing on and what's wrong with all the chronometers?"

"Here's the source of your ills." Macen declared, waving his phaser at a defeated Grace.

Kort took one look at her and ushered her to a biobed. Macen, meanwhile, called Radil at the Security office.

"Jenrya, gather up a couple of your officers and report to Sickbay."

"Gotcha." Radil replied, "What happens then?"

"You take Hannah Grace into custody and escort her to the brig."

"Right. I've just got two questions: has she been stripped of that damn Attuner of hers?"

"Yup."

"And, are you still in your ‘kill or be killed' mode?"

"Yes. What's it matter?"

"Just trying to figure out how many pieces she's in."

"Kort's tending to her now."

"Not much of an improvement then." Radil said dryly.

"Just get here double time." Macen ordered.

"We're on our way."

Macen's comm badge began chirping and he tapped it to life, "Macen here."

"Dracas." The Chief said in surly tone, "Can you explain why we lost twenty-six minutes of our lives and why someone tore the holy hell out of my matter/antimatter flow regulator?"

"Grace was responsible for the former," Macen answered, "and I did the latter. Sorry, but I had to find a way of slowing her down while she was trying to Shanghai the ship."

"Knew we should've never trusted her after the Section 31 thing."

Macen pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, "That's behind us, Chief. Recriminations are pretty useless at this point."

"especially when they're aimed at you, eh?"

"Grace was my responsibility. I misjudged her." Macen admitted, "Now we need to move forward."

"That'll take an hour or so." Dracas reported, "You frinxed us good."

The Security detail arrived just in time for Kort to finish ministering to Grace's wounds. She sported several livid bruises and a split lip but her nose was no longer bleeding. She was also breathing easier. Macen approached Kort as Radil and the detail marched Grace off, wrists in binders and head hung low.

"So, how bad was it?" Macen asked.

"I healed a broken nose, several loose teeth, two broken ribs and a bruised diaphragm." Kort reported, "I left the dermal bruising to give her something to think about."

"Whatever happened to the Klingon credo of wearing your scars?"

Kort snorted, "I've been corrupted by you weak-kneed Federation types."

"And here we were just getting used to your gruff bedside manner." Macen grinned for the first time since Grace immobilised the crew.

"That won't change so you'd better be used to it." the Klingon physician paused then assumed a philosophical air, "You know, I can empathise with that poor girl."

Macen's grin vanished, "Poor girl?"

"She's of two worlds." Kort explained, "I can relate to that. I haven't been in the Empire in over ten years yet I am still a loyal Klingon citizen. I have found new allegiances here but in my heart I shall always be Klingon. Grace is the same way. In her heart of hearts, she is a patriotic Kelvan. It's why she gravitated towards you and T'Kir. You're both children of divided cultures. T'Kir's bred of both the Vulcans and Romulans. You're an orphan of the Delta Quadrant who found a home here in the Alpha Quadrant. You're still a Delta at heart rather than an Alpha. This what makes you the thinker and leader you are."

"Perhaps," Macen relented, "but she could have found a better way of fulfilling her duty to her people. A request to divert would have been nice, rather than an attempted kidnapping."

"Still," Kort mused, "it was a hell of a beating you gave her."

Macen released a heavy sigh, "I was ready to kill her. Only my doubts as to whether or not I could successfully use her Attuner stayed my hand."

"It showed." Kort said softly, "As do the fruits of your workouts with Rab Daggit. When we clashed at our first meeting, you were nowhere near as deadly or powerful."

"We become what we need to be." Macen replied, "Our lifestyle doesn't exactly engender safe living conditions."

"Neither does it yield danger at every turn." Kort said sagely, "It's just a thought."

"When did you become so wise?" Macen asked incredulously.

"Sobriety helps." Kort admitted, then shrugged, "Plus I'm the ship's Chief Medical Officer as well as the Medical Specialist for the Investigative team, it is all part of the job description."

Macen clapped Kort on the shoulder, "I like the new you. Maybe we can talk again later."

"My doors are open." Kort assured him.

On the bridge, the situation was swiftly devolving into pandemonium. Daggit had tackled an empty chair. Riker was waving his phaser about, searching for Grace. Deirdre emerged alone from the Ready Room and Ryst went orbital. She pulled her weapon free and demanded that Riker drop his phaser. Daggit was next.

"Where is he?" Ryst demanded of Deirdre, "Where's Macen."

T'Kir, who'd perused the status of the computer, tried to calm Ryst, "There's been an attempt to take over the ship. That probably accounts for the span of time we can't recall. We seem t'have been immobilised somehow." Grace's absence combined with the computer lockdown and the unexplained phenomenon of the paralysis all pointed towards a conclusion T'Kir didn't want to reach.

"It's a trick!" Ryst shouted, "Macen's planning on betraying the Maquis! If you want to live, bring him to me now!"

"Oh, shut up." T'Kir said impatiently and Ryst collapsed as though someone had turned off an internal switch.

"Good work." Riker said as he stooped to retrieve his phaser, "How long will she be out?"

"About five hours." T'Kir revealed, "I could make it longer."

Riker chuckled, "I think that's long enough." He tapped his comm badge, "Riker to Security."

"Deputy Collins here." a young sounding female voice replied.

"Where's Chief Radil?"

"On an apprehension and detention in Sickbay. That's all I know, sir."

"How many more do you have on your watch?"

"Two, sir, excluding myself."

"Well, dispatch them to the bridge. We have a pick up headed for the brig."

"Will two officers be sufficient?"

"I'd hope so. The detainee is unconscious."

"Oh." Collins sounded disappointed. Riker supposed it was only fair. Other than the Investigative team, the rest of the crew didn't see much action. "The two officers are on their way. Can I help you with anything else?"

"No thank you." Riker replied, "I'd just have to say that Radil chose the right deputy."

"Thank you, sir." you could hear the pride in her voice as she closed the circuit.

The Security officers had finished disarming Ryst and were lifting her off the deck when the turbolift disgorged Macen, "Exciting times?"

T'Kir shook her head and tightly hugged him, "Glad to see you're in one piece. I take it the computer lock out worked like predicted?"

"It was perfect." Macen grinned, "Another brilliant piece of work."

T'Kir nodded but did not smile, "Was it Hannah?"

Macen sombrely nodded, "We apparently have a date with the Kelvan High Command and she was afraid we'd decline the invitation."

"Would we?"

"We would have postponed until our current mission was concluded."

"So, in essence, she was right." T'Kir's eyebrow arched.

Macen sighed, "Now's not the time to debate this. Take it up with me in our quarters tonight."

"You've a date. Can I see her?"

"She's in the brig." he jerked his head towards the turbolift.

"Thanks." T'Kir said and kissed him on the cheek.

"You may change your mind when you see her." Macen warned.

T'Kir frowned but refrained from comment. As she neared the `lift, Parva called out for her to hold the lift.

"Where are you going?" Macen asked.

"Chief Dracas has requested my presence down in Engineering. Apparently someone decided to destroy the matter/antimatter flow regulator." she said challengingly.

"Everybody's a critic." Macen muttered as the two women stepped into the lift.

Deirdre cleared her throat and Macen turned towards her, "Let me take care of a few things in my office and then I'll call you in, okay?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"No."

Deirdre shrugged, "Then it's okay."

Once inside the seclusion of his Ready Room, Macen called upon the computer, "Computer, release code Beta Alpha Delta zed zero zed zero zed seven."

"Computer parameters have been restored to normal." the computer announced.

Macen sat down behind his desk and tapped the comm badge on his belt, "Macen to Armstrong, you can come in now." He triggered the door to open and Deirdre entered.

"You mind explaining to me just what the hell just happened?" she demanded.

"It's rather complicated." Macen said.

"Try me." Deirdre commanded.

Macen shrugged, "Here's the simple version: the young woman you met as our Chief Flight Operations Officer isn't human despite appearances to the contrary."

"Rather like you." Deirdre dryly remarked.

"Something like that." Macen conceded, "Only in this case, her people are from another galaxy. They can't exist in this galaxy without assuming a native form. The first galactic natives they encountered were some human settlers out on the rim."

"So they became human." Deirdre made the next logical conclusion.

"For the most part." Macen supplied, "These events occurred under James Kirk's watch. That group of extragalactic settlers sent a signal back home and colonised a small world out on the rim of the galaxy. That world just happens to be in the Alpha Quadrant."

"Enough with the history." Deirdre insisted, "What's this have to do with the events of the last hour?"

"In the last hour, Grace received a signal from her people." Macen revealed, "The second wave of colonists arrived and they want to meet us."

"So this required paralysing us and stealing the ship?"

"Hannah knew that I'd refuse to abandon our current mission, so she took steps to circumvent the decision making process." Macen divulged.

"Yet you proved to be immune to her technology." Deirdre supplied, "Care to comment on that?"

"No." Macen's stance was firm.

"Somehow I thought you'd say that."

"You were correct."

"So now what?"

"We continue on to Kendra and complete our survey."

"Simple as that?"

"Pretty much."

"What if these people want to chat with you so badly they track you down?"

"Then we deal with them if that time comes."

Deirdre whistled, "Pretty interesting life you lead."

Macen shook his head, "You don't know the half of it. Now, if we could vacate these premises, I have some further crisis management to conduct."

"Not a problem."

Once out on the bridge, Macen acknowledged Shervarhia'annderi's presence at the helm, "Rhiann, lay in a course for Kendra. Engage at warp 8 as soon as Chief Dracas clears us for warp speed."

"Aye, sir." the Andorian pilot replied in a clear soprano.

Satisfied, Macen hit his comm badge, "Commander Forger, please report to the bridge."

A drowsy, "Yessir." came back over the line.

Riker grinned, "Nice to see someone wasn't affected by the recent disturbances."

"Tom, when she arrives I want you to convene a meeting with the shuttle pilots we have on staff. See if any of them are qualified to pilot a starship."

"They should all be."

"That's simulator time." Macen said, "I want to know if anyone has any real experience at the helm. Just in case."

"Just in case? We're down a helmswoman. What kind of ‘just in case' could you be talking about unless you're planning on...you wouldn't?"

"All I can say for certain is that I'm about to have a huge fight with my wife." Macen said sadly but resolutely, "You, on the other hand, are going to start reviewing dossiers as soon as Shannon arrives to relieve you."

Macen moved towards the turbolift and Riker called out, "Good luck."

"Thanks." Macen replied and then muttered, "I'll need all I can get."

 

Chapter 7

Macen stood outside his cabin door and "tasted' the mood of the sole occupant. T'Kir was angry and apprehensive. Rather than avoid the upcoming conflict, Macen took a deep breath and approached the door's sensors. Recognising him, they automatically slid the door aside.

"Oh," T'Kir's voice glacially dripped, "it's you."

"Shite." Macen sighed and plunged into the nearby couch, "Let's not waste any time, let's just plunge into this."

T'Kir resumed her pacing, "Have you seen Hannah? It's criminal the state she's in."

"Of course I've seen her." Macen rejoined, "I'm the one that put her in Sickbay."

"I'm not talking Sickbay." T'Kir corrected, "I'm talking now. The girl's a wreck."

"After being thwarted at hijacking a starship?" Macen acerbically asked, "I'd hope she'd at least be contrite."

"Brin," T'Kir stopped moving and honed in on her husband, "she's a mess. She's honestly repentant over what's happened."

"That's good." Macen replied, "That attitude will get her out of the brig sooner."

"How long is she supposed to stay there?" T'Kir asked hotly.

"I don't honestly know." Macen admitted, "I'd always hoped this situation would never arise."

"You told Aric hoping bred bad planning." T'Kir countered.

"Your computer overrides weren't bad planning." Macen informed her, "In fact, they saved the day."

"I really never thought they'd have to be used." T'Kir admitted, sitting down next to Macen.

"At least not in the fashion in which they were used." Macen conceded. His comm badge chirped and he tapped it, "Macen here."

"I checked the dossiers." Riker's voice came across.

"And?"

"There's no one with even simulator experience." Riker revealed, "I appear to be the next candidate for helmsman." Riker referred to his first starship assignment before transferring to Ops.

"Thanks, but I need you where you're at." Macen informed Riker.

"Brin," Riker spoke up, "the only other alternative is a really bad idea."

"So noted." Macen said wearily, "Out."

"What alternative?" T'Kir asked.

"How'd you like to accompany me to the brig?"

T'Kir grinned, "You're on."

Radil joined them in the detention centre. Her hand rested on her phaser's grip at all times. Ryst's privacy screens had been activated, effectively turning her into a blind, deaf, mute for the proceedings. Grace sat in the corner of her bunk, huddled into a defeated mass.

"Show some life!" Macen barked. Grace's spine took on some rigidity and her eyes met his.

"D'you know why I'm here?" Macen enquired of her.

Grace shrugged, "You've checked the personnel files and found that only Rhiann, Tom, and I are qualified to fly this tub. Now you want to test and see if you can trust me enough to reinstate me."

"Can I?" Macen asked tightly.

"I don't know." Grace weakly replied.

"That's not good enough." Macen snapped, "If put in a position of trust, would you once again betray that trust and threaten the lives of your crewmates?"

"If you mean knowing what I know now, and with the limitations imposed upon me by the absence of my Attuner, no I wouldn't."

"T'Kir tells me you're honestly contrite over recent events." Macen said, "Given all your advantages back, would you attempt to take over this ship under the same set of circumstances?"

"I don't know." Grace's voice was barely above a whisper.

"Honesty at last." Macen sighed and stepped back from the cell's forcefield and steepled his fingers in thought in front of his mouth. After holding that pose for a moment, he returned to the screen, "Here's what I propose: you will be confined here when not on duty. A Security officer, preferably Chief Radil herself, will escort you to and from the bridge. This will occur for a probationary period of two weeks. If this period is successfully completed, then we will transition to a similar scenario involving restriction to quarters for an indefinite time frame."

"During this period, there will be no unsupervised social engagements. No visits to the Team Room or the Gym." Macen described, "You can have those visitors approved by Security." he offered Grace a weak smile and a nod in T'Kir's direction, "I'm sure T'Kir will head that list and will be using that privilege daily."

Macen sternly stared Grace down, "Can you abide by these conditions?'

Grace was in tears as she nodded and hoarsely agreed, "I believe I can, sir."

"So let it be recorded and may the Fates have mercy on your soul." Macen sombrely intoned.

Macen had departed and Radil had been relieved by one of her junior officers. The term was a misnomer. The bulk of the Obsidian's crew were former Starfleet enlisted personnel. They'd resigned Starfleet and recruited with Outbound Ventures in the hopes of high adventure and derring do. So far, most of them had been highly disappointed. Amanda Drake had warned them that when their moment of crisis arrived, it would happen so fast as to preclude thought.

T'Kir was left alone, excluding the Security officer, with Grace. Ryst was still enveloped in the privacy screens. Grace approached the force screen separating her from T'Kir and freedom and assumed a grateful air.

"Thank you. I don't know what you told him, but thank you."

"Save it." T'Kir replied curtly, "If it had been left t'me I'd have left you in here for a little longer. Brin came to his decision because the ship needs your services, nothing more, nothing less. I only asked how long you'd be in the brig."

Grace's mouth worked but no sound came out so T'Kir continued, "I placed my faith in you Hannah. I've trusted you with my heart, my secrets, and my belief in you. You've ripped all that t'shreds. Maybe those bonds can be restored, maybe they can't. Only time, and your actions, will determine that. Give me a reason to believe."

That said, T'Kir left. Grace slumped down on her bunk and cried the tears of the forlorn. The Security guard noted Grace's behaviour in her log and returned to monitoring Ryst on the video feeds.

They say gossip is the only thing that can exceed Warp 10. So naturally, word of both Grace's attempted hijacking and Macen's subsequent "work release" program filtered down through every deck and department within the hour. Those with the most to say on the matter were those closest to Grace.

"I think Macen made the right decision." Parva declared to the table in the Team Room occupied by Daggit, Danan, and Dracas. The Team Room concept had replaced the Ten-Forward designs. It had been widely incorporated in the Defiant, Nova, Intrepid, Sabre, Steamrunner, and Yeager-classes. Rather than provide a full service lounge, a smaller galley was utilised for the ship's crew. Most were completely replicator dependent. The Obsidian had sacrificed mess space to incorporate a full service kitchen. Four full time cooks, a chef and three "short order" cooks, servicing the crew throughout the shifts, manned the kitchen.

"Are you insane?" Dracas asked, wide eyed, "The woman's a blasted menace. Let her rot in that cell is all I've got to say."

"To be fair, you've been biased against Hannah since it was revealed she was actually a Kelvan agent sent out to investigate Starfleet's probable response to a Kelvan landing." Danan pointed out.

"Maybe." Dracas reluctantly conceded, "But that doesn't explain why she's so hot to defend the Captain's decision."

"No." Danan said and rested her sea green eyes on Parva, "It doesn't."

"When a fellow fem is in trouble, you stick up for her." Parva said hotly.

"But you're not exactly unbiased yourself." Daggit said softly and Parva wheeled on her lover.

"What d'you mean by that crack?"

"I know how you feel about men. Not just one man in particular, but all men. I especially know how you feel about the Captain," Daggit paused, "and about myself."

Parva looked horrified, "How? What? Why?"

"You talk in your sleep m'dear and you say some fairly interesting things while your dreaming." Daggit revealed, "Anyway, your general loathing and detestation of all things male is what allows you to maintain a relationship like ours without getting too involved. You're using me for the sex. Its that simple."

Parva made to protest but Daggit pressed on, "I've made headway over time and I think I'm starting to crack your wall of hatred but only time will tell."

"If you've known all of this, why've you stayed with me?" Parva whispered.

"Because I honestly care for you." Daggit admitted, "You were willing to take a chance on me because you honestly cared for me, when you didn't want to eviscerate me that is. I've watched your emotional walls come down over the last six months and I can honestly say I look forward to they day when their all the way down, if that day ever comes. In the interim, I take what I can get and give all that I can. That's what love is all about and that's how I feel about you."

"You...love me?" Parva's whisper was ragged now. Dracas and Danan sat transfixed on the edge of their seats.

"Yes, Parva." Daggit slowly nodded, "I love you. With all the good, bad, and in between that brings."

Parva broke down and began bawling. Daggit scooted his chair closer so she could rest her head on his shoulder. She clutched his tunic and used it as a handkerchief. Dracas sat looking nonplussed by what he'd just heard. He'd encouraged Daggit and Parva's relationship but had never realised the true dynamics of it. Danan smiled broadly and reassured other patrons of the Team Room that everything was all right.

Soon, Parva devolved to simple sniffling and Daggit was stroking her hair, "Feel better now?"

"M'not hungry anymore." she croaked.

"Then let's get you to your quarters." Daggit said and lifted the Orion out of her seat. He carried her to the door while the occupants of the room applauded.

"Stay with me." Parva whispered as they entered the turbolift.

"If that's what you want." Daggit assured her as the lift raised one level.

"It is."

"Then your merest wish is my command."

Back in the Team Room, Danan Turned to Dracas, "Any bombshells you'd care to drop?"

"All my secrets are finally out in the open." Dracas admitted, "I'm fresh out."

"So," Danan laced her fingers and rested her head upon them, "how's Kiv?"

Dracas started to blush. Danan was one of the few members of the team that knew of his relationship with the flight engineer. He'd never regretted confiding in her. But seeing the gleam in her eye now, he was willing to reconsider that position.

"Kiv's fine. In fact, he's better than fine, he's great." Dracas disclosed, "The passenger line he works for has just promoted him to Senior Engineer."

"I wasn't asking about his résumé." Danan clarified, "How are the two of you doing?"

"Right now we're still smitten with each other." Dracas confessed, "We'll learn whether not its something tangible or just an infatuation soon enough."

"How does that make you feel?" the question reminded Dracas that one of Danan's previous host's had been a therapist.

"A little trepidatious." Dracas revealed, "Kiv's a good man. He's gentle, kind, and very caring. Except for our scheduling conflicts keeping us apart, it's the ideal relationship. It's too good to last. He's got to have a past or some demented personality quirk."

"Or," Danan brightened, "he could just really care about you."

"Gods, I hope so." Dracas sighed.

As Danan walked down the corridor towards her quarters, Kort and Radil's exertions could easily be heard in the passageway. She felt very alone at that moment. Rather than spend the evening with a book, she wanted company. Male company.

One of Kort's nurses is cute. she reflected, The least I'd get is conversation. Filled with a new sense of purpose, Danan queried the computer as to his location and upon receiving it, set out to track the fellow down. As it turned out, the nurse had been nurturing an attraction of his own. The conversation proved to be even more interesting than Danan had hoped for.

"Elements, they make a lot of noise." T'Kir said, her ear pressed against Kort's door.

"Made all the more apparent by the fact you're eavesdropping." Macen said tugging at her arm.

Radil let out one near deafening shriek and Macen winced, "Okay, you're right, they're very enthusiastic. Can we return to our own quarters now?"

"Any chance you'll do that to me?" T'Kir asked brightly.

"We'll see what happens after the discussion I want to have."

"Bummer." T'Kir deflated.

"Hope springs eternal." Macen advised, "We'll just see if you're still in the mood after we have our little chat."

"Oookay." T'Kir replied warily.

Riker sat in his quarters and replicated himself a drink. He was careful to limit himself to synthehol. If he used hard liqueur, he'd have been sent to the same treatment centre that seemed to have cured Kort of alcoholism. He looked at a holopicture of Jamie Kirk and swore softly.

It had been damned hard to get over Deanna Troi but Jamie had proven up to the challenge. It also helped that according to both Deanna and Will's letters they'd resumed being a couple. Their marriage had come well after Jamie and Riker had become lovers. They'd grown so close that Riker had asked her to marry him and surprise, she'd said yes.

He still felt the hole her death had ripped into his heart. Her loss would stay with him the rest of his life. Not that he wouldn't press on with his life. As his past attested to, Tom Riker was a survivor.

Macen had offered him the chance at a command of his own. It was an opportunity he wouldn't waste. He'd dreamt of his own command since he'd been a boy. He still couldn't believe his brother had turned down so many commands before accepting the Titan. Riker had often wanted to take a phaser to the other Riker's head.

Riker already knew how he'd run his command. It would be a tiptop machine. Lenient when need be and stern when called for. His approach had borne fruit aboard the Eclipse when he'd been her commander. Since then he'd been hampered by Macen's more personalised but generally more lax command style. That would end soon. Riker just knew it. He took one last shot and turned in.

Despite Macen's best intentions, Hannah Grace would betray them again. And when she did, Riker would be watching for it and ready to respond. Without her damned Attuner, she was a mere mortal. Mere mortals could be gunned down where they stood.

"So you disapprove of my letting Hannah back on the bridge?" Macen asked incredulously.

"I don't disapprove as much as wish she could have stayed a full thirty days or so in the brig." T'Kir revealed.

"Actually, I'd been thinking forty-five days and then confined to quarters." Macen confided, "Afterwards, I'd hand her over to Starfleet and Amanda could have the headache of what came next. Deportation back to her homeworld seemed the most likely."

"There really wasn't anyone else who could fly the ship?"

"You have to remember, most of our crew is former enlisted personnel. They've been trained to do one job. They do it well, exceptionally well in most cases but they're skill sets are still limited."

"Damn." T'Kir sighed, "So what happens now?"

"She does her job until we can get back to Earth and drop her off with Drake and then we find a replacement pilot."

"What about Rhiann?"

"Rhiann's fine but she's no Hannah." Macen replied, "In fact there's only one Hannah Grace. So unless we find a better pilot than Rhiann, she gets a promotion."

"What are the odds of Hannah staying with us?" T'Kir's voice and attitude softened.

"She needs to do something to really reassure me of her loyalty or she's gone." Macen declared.

T'Kir pondered that for a moment, then nodded, "Fair enough. Now about those animal noises?"

Macen lunged atop her from across the couch they were sharing and began tickling her.

"No fair!" she squealed, "Wrong noises."

"Consider this and a little wrestling a warm up." Macen told her and returned to the business at hand.

Passer-bys heard shrieks of delight and peals of laughter. Later they heard noises of an entirely different nature.

The following morning, Radil brought Grace to the bridge in manacles. She unlocked the restraints and allowed her prisoner to relieve an exhausted Rhiann. Rhiann had been on duty for twenty-one hours, as had Shannon Forger. Both women gratefully left the bridge.

"Status Helm?" Macen enquired as Grace checked the status of her board.

"We'll be entering the Kendra system in twenty minutes. If we close on a least time approach we'll make planetary orbit in forty-six minutes." Grace reported crisply.

"Excellent." Macen replied implement least time approach and keep Commander Riker informed of any problems." Macen turned to Riker, "Tom, I'll be in my Ready Room."

Macen rose and faced the rear of the bridge, "Deirdre, T'Kir, if you'd accompany me?"

Once ensconced in Macen's office, everyone sat around his desk, "Time for a little strategy session." Macen informed the others.

"I think our previous approaches have worked." Deirdre replied.

"I was thinking on this one we should have Radil directly contact the government. She can pose as a potential settler. She'll be in a position to let the government hang itself if they really are collaborators."

"I still think we should send a scouting party posing as tourists." Deirdre countered.

"Agreed." Macen said as he laced his finger on the desk before him, "We'll send the usual cast of culprits, minus Ryst and Grace of course."

"Sounds good." Deirdre subsided.

"T'Kir, Kendra has an extensive planetary computer network thanks to the Federation's Colonial Affairs Department." Macen shifted his focus to his wife, "We need those data banks stripped. I want to know everything that planet's population has been doing for the last year."

"Gotcha." T'Kir said perkily. She'd been in an unusually pleasant mood all morning. Macen often wondered if the crew used her moods to gauge the previous evening's recreational activities.

"Now that that's set, all that's left to be done is the doing." Macen said.

"Duh." T'Kir replied in a teasing tone.

"Watch yourself." Macen warned in the same spirit, "I am the tin god of this boat. I could have you flogged."

"Not if you ever wanted to repeat last night's experience." T'Kir frowned.

"Heavens forbid." Macen said in mock horror.

"You'd think that if it happened, buster."

Yes, I would." Macen admitted, "Can we all go back to the bridge and pretend to be doing something while Grace does all the real work?"

Both women agreed with smiles and they all set out for another adventure.

 

Chapter 8

Kendra proved to be in collusion with the Cardassian government. Just as Bajor had extended economic ties with Cardassia over the last six years, so to had Kendra followed the homeworld's lead. Keeping with their cover, the SID team profiled the capital and identified several targets of opportunity.

Grace was confined to the brig while the investigative team was away despite the fact that Riker oversaw the bridge during their absence. Upon the team's return they returned Grace to the bridge and made way for Freislind. No one had any expectations of how they'd find the typically aggressive Andorian colony.

It was a half-day's journey at Warp 6. What they found stunned them. The cities had been orbitally bombarded. The Security forces Radil could spare joined Kort's medical staff and the investigative team in forming search parties seeking survivors. What they found was corpses strewn across the streets and in the extant buildings. It was a scene reminiscent of Dorvan V and Shial.

Macen's people carefully recorded the scene with tricorders and holocameras. Imagery would strike a deeper chord with the public than sensor readings. The sensors revealed that the colony had died three years before, three years after the conclusion of the Dominion War and the formation of the "friendly" democratic Cardassian government.

Once the returned to the Obsidian, Macen had all the evidence uploaded to the main computer. He then opened a comm link with Cardassia's largest independent news service. He transmitted a complete copy of the evidence, including the ship's ID transponder code.

"We could have used that!" Deirdre said hotly after the message had been transmitted.

"For what?" Macen demanded, "Propaganda? That would have been dismissed as a hoax. This way, their citizens confront the government. They have to face the scrutiny of the public and provide real answers or face public retribution."

"The Cardassians have always toed the official line provided by big brother." Deirdre argued.

"Have you been to Cardassia since the war?" Macen asked pointedly, "There's a dedicated opposition now. Most of the press is free. It's a society making massive reforms and most are taking hold. They recognise that the previous regime brought them nothing but sorrow. It's time for a new future."

"You sound like an apologist for them." Deirdre spat.

"I'm a realist." Macen replied coolly, "I wouldn't do business with them if I wasn't."

"You...collaborate with the Cardies?" Deirdre asked in utter horror.

"Even as we speak." Macen pulled his phaser free and fired before Deirdre could draw a bead on him. Next he tapped his comm badge, "Security?"

"Radil here."

"I've got a pick up for you."

"'Bout time you locked up that Maquis bitch."

"Thanks for the commentary Jenrya."

"Anytime."

The circuit closed and Macen sat down in his seat, "Set course for Ronara Prime."

"Aye sir!" Grace snapped off and got to work.

The Obsidian entered Ronaran orbit just over twenty hours after leaving Freislind.

Forger and Rhiann were manning the bridge while the rest of the senior staff grabbed four hours of sleep. When those four hours concluded, Macen and T'Kir made an appearance at the brig. Neither Deirdre nor Ryst were pleased to be awakened but Radil cut their protests short.

Macen approached Deirdre's cell, "I want the location of Aric's base."

"Or what?" Deirdre scoffed, "You'll tear it from me?"

"Basically."

"Go to hell."

"Your choice."

Macen stepped aside and T'Kir moved forward. Deirdre saw her approach and shifted her weight uncomfortably. T'Kir's expression was inscrutable. Her brow's knitted as she studied Deirdre and Deirdre stiffened.

"Stay out of my head, mind witch."

An eerie smile crept over T'Kir's face, "Too late."

Deirdre began to shake and T'Kir's expression intensified. Ryst lunged at the forcefield and it became visible as Ryst fought against it. After thirty seconds, she relented.

"Annika, Annika," Macen scolded, "don't you know? After the Enterprise's encounter with an Angosian super soldier, Starfleet shielding technology was revamped."

"I hope Aric spills your entrails and chokes you with them." Ryst snarled.

Macen glanced over at Radil, "Now that, you have to admit, was original."

"I'll give it points for the visual it conjured." Radil conceded as she deactivated Grace's forcefield.

"Hon, are you almost done here?" Macen asked.

"Give me another sec." T'Kir's expression cleared and Deirdre slumped, "Got it."

"Keep an eye on them, Enlin." Radil ordered as she, Macen, and T'Kir departed with Grace in manacled tow.

"We've got company." T'Kir announced as the group moved toward the turbolift.

"Good, then we can join the others." Macen pronounced.

They made their way to the main briefing room and joined Daggit, Parva, Kort, Dracas, Riker and Danan. On the main viewer was the image of Gul Macet. His resemblance to his cousin Dukat was unsettling. He was now in command of a brand new Galor-class IV cruiser, the Chin'toka.

"Hello Macet, welcome to our party." Macen said in way of greeting.

"Thank you, Captain." Macet smiled, "I wouldn't miss it for the worlds."

"Now that we have the location of Tulley's base, it should be a short-lived engagement. Be warned though, the defenders will be fanatical in their defence. We have a few more seats available if you and your senior tactical officers would care to join us." Macen advised.

"Most obliging Captain. Let our transporter chief confer with yours and we'll transport over shortly." Macet said with a slight bowing of his head and the screen went blank.

"The plan is simple, a search and destroy frontal assault with air support." Macen described.

"How can you be certain this approach will work?" Macet enquired, "Wouldn't it be far better to soften the target with orbital phaser and disruptor strikes first?"

"This is a warren of caves, network and fortified. Orbital bombardments were planned for when these bases were constructed." Macen explained, "Besides, we've seen enough of orbital bombardments lately."

Macet winced at the reminder of the breaking news back home of the massacre on Freislind, "All right, we'll directly attack. How can we withstand the firepower of the fortifications?"

"The fortifications will only be partially manned, just enough to create an overlapping field of fire. If we utilise our air support early on, we can eliminate the heavy weaponry and forced them to engage us with small arms." Macen divulged.

"If you've only seen the command centre, how can you be so certain of their defence posture?" Macet wondered.

"The original Ronaran Maquis cell occupied a similar headquarters during the rebellion." Macen revealed, "The base was located 247 kilometres south of this location."

Macet's brow ridges rose in surprise, "Yet we never learned of their existence until now. What other surprises are in store?"

"The facility will have a hangar operating out of the largest cave. Several light and heavy attack craft will be based there." Macen answered, "Dealing with them will be the secondary objective of our air support."

"Next comes the division of labour." Macet replied, "I can provide one hundred assault troops, six assault shuttles, two attack fighters and four passenger shuttles."

"I can provide thirteen troops and a runabout." Macen supplied.

"So little?" Macet was dismayed.

"Most of my crew are techs, they aren't trained for ground combat. I have a dozen security officers but half of them will be involved in transferring our two prisoners to your care."

"Six sentries to transfer two prisoners?" Macet asked in disbelief.

"One of the prisoners is an Angosian." Macen informed him.

"Then we shall take all due precautions." Macet said with due gravity.

"I strongly suggest that you keep your disruptors set at ‘Maximum' and don't hesitate to use them."

"So noted." Macet nodded, "How soon can your people be ready?"

"Give us thirty minutes."

"We came in on ‘Ready' status and we'll still require an hour."

"An hour then." Macen agreed, "Signal us when you're ready to commence."

"My word on it." Macet clasped Macen's wrist and Macen returned the gesture.

Riker, Dracas, and Danan were to remain on board during the surface attack. Riker visibly started when Macen announced Grace, rather than Rhiann or one of the shuttle pilots, would pilot the Corsair II. He took Macen aside to express his concerns.

"You're giving her a loaded weapon. It's not her Attuner but it's deadly enough, especially in her hands."

"That lethality is exactly what I need." Macen informed him, "The Cardassians are going to have two strike birds in the air as well as the assault shuttles but it's going to take time to empty the shuttles. The assault shuttles will also be providing combat air support for the passenger shuttles as they return to the Chin'toka. I need Grace's skills at flying to even out the odds when those Maquis light attack craft and fighters begin pouring out of that hangar."

"Besides, Shannon will maintain a constant phaser lock on her. If she leaves the combat zone, she'll destroy the Corsair and Grace along with it." Macen said grimly.

"A Danube-class runabout's shields are pretty tough, what if she breaks orbit?"

"Then you pursue and destroy." Macen said coldly, "She needs to learn for once and for all the price of betrayal."

After changing into combat fatigues, the assault team assembled in the shuttlebay. The normal complement of two Type 6 shuttles common to Nova-class ships had been replaced by the Corsair. The ship had a proud legacy to live up. The original Corsair had died bravely facing an Orion frigate. She'd stood her ground and given as good as she got. In the end she'd just been overcome by superior firepower.

Macen and T'Kir each wore a black variant of the M.A.C.O. uniform with tactical vests, their traditional sidearms and a phaser rifle apiece. Kort wore his proscribed Klingon combat armour. He carried a phaser pistol and a bat'leth strapped to his back. Slung over his shoulder was a medkit.

Daggit, Radil and the Security forces wore their normal black and grey M.A.C.O. uniform. Daggit carried a pistol, a rifle, and his grenade launcher. Parva had made him a new launcher and he was eager to test it. It was a bullpup design with a forty round magazine. It was also an autofeeder, not requiring the pump action design of his earlier launchers.

Radil was strapped into her portable phaser cannon. She carried two powercells on her back. She wore a sidearm as well and carried a large knife. Her Security forces carried rifles and sidearms.

Parva wore a black leather catsuit. She carried a rifle, pistol and a toolkit slung over her shoulder. Grace wore the flightsuit variant of the navy blue Earth Starfleet uniform. She wore the gold Command stripe and the shoulder patches she'd designed. Grace wore no weapons.

They'd hesitated long enough to correspond with Macet's one-hour deadline. The team boarded the runabout. Radil and the Security officers retired to the crew's lounge in the rear of the ship. Kort busied himself in the med unit, preparing for the worst.

Grace manned the helm. Beside her, T'Kir took Ops. Parva seated herself at Engineering. Macen settled into the Science station. Daggit manned the Tactical console.

The Corsair's main hatch sealed and Grace signalled Bay Control to pump out the atmosphere and open the shuttlebay doors. Once this was accomplished, there was nothing to do but wait on Macet. That wait lasted almost fifteen minutes then Macet called.

"We are prepared, Captain."

"As are we." Macen disclosed, "We're launching now."

"Then so shall we." Macet said with a grim smile.

The Corsair leapt out of the tail end of the Obsidian's engineering hull. Grace banked and rolled the runabout so that the planet's surface was below them during re-entry. The beginning of multiple launches out of the Chin'toka could briefly be seen before the atmosphere began burning around the Corsair. As they descended at several thousand kilometres an hour, Grace began applying the counter gravity units along with the braking thrusters.

Counter gravity had developed as a natural evolution of artificial gravity. Where weight could be applied, so could weightlessness. It now served as the principal means of moving terrestrial vehicles since impulse engines had created too many environmental concerns and repulsorlifts tended to affect a planet's magnetic field when used en masse. For now, countergrav units seemed to be the best reactionless drive.

The Corsair began to slow and Daggit activated the shields. The planetary defence grid had to have detected them by now. That meant the sensors links the Maquis base had with the defence network would also have detected them. Defence coordinators should have had time to plot out the runabout's approach vector and its intended destination.

The Corsair was still out of range of the Maquis' fortress' guns but they were swiftly closing the distance. It took five minutes at the speeds they were travelling to enter the cannon's range. As predicted, they were caught in a crossfire.

Still decelerating, the Corsair was also able to bring its phasers to bear on the attacking guns. The gun emplacements were shielded and therefore as resistant to fire as the runabout itself. The Corsair's shields flared to visible life as she took blow after blow from the cannons. Grace's evasive manoeuvres could elude one cannon at a time but rarely could she dodge both guns at the same time.

Grace closed the distance until she had reached the planned landing zone. She'd decelerated to a near hover. Daggit unleashed two of the runabout's six photon microtorpedoes on the closest cannon, causing its shields to falter. Next the ship's phasers were brought to bear exclusively on the stricken cannon.

The Maquis' guns shields collapsed and it was subsequently destroyed under the weight of fire impacting it. Four photon torpedoes, two from each assault shuttle coming up from behind the Corsair, pummelled against the remaining active gun and destroyed it. The ships, joined by their brethren brought the weight of their fire against the unmanned cannons while the Corsair proceeded to land.

Portable cannon and small arms fire came to bear on the runabout even as it disgorged the assault team. Daggit transferred weapons control to the helm before exiting the miniature starship. Macen was uncustomarily the last to leave. Before proceeding through the hatch, he called Grace's name and when she turned, he bestowed one last expectant gaze upon her.

Grace nodded in reply, accepting Macen's unspoken charge. With that understanding established, Macen leapt out of the Runabout and joined the rest of the team as they established a beachhead against the opposing Maquis defenders. Radil and Daggit laid down suppressive fair as the rest of the team found cover. The Corsair lifted, laying down suppressive fire as she sallied forth towards the emerging enemy spacecraft.

All four of the Cardassian passenger shuttles had disembarked their troops and were lifting off. Three of the assault shuttles had likewise landed their troops and were escorting the lightly armed passenger craft back to the Chin'toka. The remaining three assault shuttles were completing landing operations and preparing to lift off. The two Cardassian fighters were already swooping in to engage the Maquis ships.

The Maquis were rallying forth with five armed Peregrine-class couriers, three Skylark-class light attack craft. These were heavily armed variants of T'Kir's scoutship, the Idiot's Delight. Next came two Bajoran impulse raiders. These particular raiders though had their hulls extended and warp nacelles attached to the superstructure at the hardpoints above the wing struts.

Two of the Peregrines set out to chase the departing shuttles. The remaining two fighters engaged their Cardassian analogues. The Corsair attacked the Skylarks. One of the remaining assault shuttles joined her while the last two engaged the Bajoran heavies.

The first thing learned about these craft was that they sported pulse weapons analogous to Type VIII phasers. The heavies didn't carry more powerful weapons, simply more arrays.

Within seconds, one of the Peregrines was descending in flames but so too was a Cardassian fighter. The remaining survivors threw themselves into the fight with fervent desperation. Of the remaining Peregrines, the escorting assault shuttles came about and engaged them. One shuttle was damaged but the Maquis fighters were simply overwhelmed by superior firepower. The assault birds returned to their mission of protecting the virtually defenceless passenger shuttles and their own limping comrade.

The last remaining Peregrine exploded in a cacophony of plasma fanned flames. The last Cardassian fighter, however, was damaged and needed to return to its mothership. It retreated even as the battle in the air intensified.

The Bajoran heavies and the assault shuttles were engaging high volumes of fire. Both sides unleashed phasers and photon torpedoes to devastating effect. One Cardassian assault shuttle was limping skyward. The other, though damaged, was pressing the engagement. One of the Bajoran ships was spouting flames. The other had been minimally damaged.

One of the Skylarks had been destroyed at the outset by the attacking assault shuttles photon torpedoes. The shuttles ability to sport full sized torpedoes was offset by its limitation in only being able to manage two. A plea for assistance from the sole shuttle facing down both the heavy attack craft diverted the shuttle, leaving Grace with two light attack craft to deal with simultaneously.

The first was dealt with as Grace rolled out of the way of the pulsing phaser fire of the more aggressive of the two remaining armed scouts. She flushed her rack of its remaining four torpedoes in sequence at the second craft even as it brought it weapons to life. Grace was already rolling out of the way and the cockpit of the scoutship took a heavy blow as the first two torpedoes collapsed its forward shields and the remaining torpedoes slammed into the command centre of the raider. Bereft of its command crew, the ship plummeted to the ground below.

The remaining Skylark performed a frame bending bat turn and came about to pursue the Corsair. Grace took the runabout vertical, forcing the less capable craft to try and match her climb. What she didn't know as she rocketed skyward was that her actions had drawn attention elsewhere.

"She's breaking and running!" Riker cried, "Fire!"

"What she's doing is a legitimate tactical manoeuvre." Forger countered, "If she climbs to suborbital range, I'll engage her, but not before then."

"Are you refusing to obey a direct order?" Riker demanded.

"When the order's stupid?" Forger met his glare and matched it, "Then yes, I refuse to obey it."

"You're relived." Riker said coldly, "Captain Macen will be hearing of this."

"Big threat." Forger countered, "He'll probably thanks me."

"Aspect change to target." Rhiann announced, "She's changing course."

Forger looked over at Riker with a "See? I told you expression."

"What's her new course?" Riker enquired.

Rhiann looked back at her superior officers, "She's turned towards the enemy."

"What?" Riker asked, stunned.

Forger returned to her station, "She's pulled an Immelman turn and is headed for a face to face with her opponent. She didn't run. She set a trap."

"I'll be damned." Riker murmured.

"Eventually, dear." Forger replied with a smirk, "But hopefully not today."

Centuries of aerial combat all dictated one hard fats rule: speed wins the engagement. Speed was one thing Grace now had in abundance. The Skylark struggling to catch up with her were now vainly coming about and diving for the ground. Given their relative velocities, Grace would be in optimum firing range in two seconds and overtake the craft in six seconds.

She began firing her phasers one second early, giving the computer time to solidify its targetting solution. Grace passed by the scoutship after pummeling its shields. She levelled out and pulled another Imelman. She was losing relative velocity but she wa still faster than the now level Skylark.

Her second pass collapsed the aft shields. Grace made a wide, sweeping turn, accelerating all the way through it. She swiftly came back around the raider's "six" and began firing at the vulnerable aft portion of the ship. Small explosions led to a larger secondary explosion as the impulse reactor blew. The warp core scrammed and the ship lost all power. It dove into the valley below, spreading its wreckage for kilometres around.

Grace adjusted course and took off to assist the two remaining assault shuttles with their battle against the heavy attack craft. One of the shuttles, the one damaged earlier, was withdrawing. Fortunately, the heavily damaged heavy was sinking closer and closer to the ground. Grace dove into the fray, phasers blazing.

Sudden photon strikes surprised her and she checked her sensors. The two combat air patrol assault shuttles had escorted their charges into orbit and returned to finish the battle. The fighting heavy scuttled rather than face capture. The last heavy crashed against the ground and silently lay there.

Ascertaining that the ship was indeed neutralised, the Cardassians sent along its co-ordinates to the Chin'toka, who could send down reserve troops in the passenger shuttles to secure any prisoners. That done, the three shuttles and the Corsair set course for the entrance to the Maqusi base to see what assistance they could lend the ground assault.

 

Chapter 9

"Holy shuk!" T'Kir exclaimed as she ducked below a particle blast, "They've got a frinxing army!"

"In front of us or behind us?" Macen asked dryly.

T'Kir looked back over her shoulder at the massing Cardassian troops, "Both."

"Stretch out with your mind." Macen instructed, "I think you'll find there's less than fifty so-called Maquis."

"You're right." she said with some surprise, "I'm only sensing about two dozen minds over there."

"Told you."

"Then why does there seem to be so many of them?" T'Kir demanded.

"Because they're employing the ‘One Shot, One Kill' approach. They fire then relocate." Macen explained, "What else are your sensing from them?"

"They're scared."

Macen rolled his eyes, "I could have told you that. Their fear is so powerful I can detect it from here. Not that I blame them. They're trapped and facing overwhelming odds."

"Sad for them." T'Kir said without emotion.

Macen shrugged, "They should have chosen a more ethical cause."

"Those same arguments were applied to us back in the day." T'Kir countered.

"With far less merit." Macen argued.

"Just pointing out that they'll be just as convicted as we were." T'Kir said sadly.

"I know." Macen's voice was devoid of emotion, "I don't expect many of them to survive."

"What a waste."

"Agreed."

A scuttling sound made them look behind them and they saw Gul Macet running in a half crouch towards them. The sound of photon torpedo impacts and secondary explosion began filling the air. The aerial conflict was underway and now it was time to begin the ground campaign.

"Are your troops ready?" Macen immediately asked.

"Yes." Macet answered, "I must admit, your people have done admirably. You've forced the enemy to reveal themselves."

"At the cost of two wounded already." Macen said sourly.

"Is their condition serious?" Macet asked with genuine concern, "We have a field hospital established."

"Our doctor has treated them." Macen informed Macet, "They're stable but they need to be kept out of the fighting."

"I'll dispatch a detachment to guard them while we engage these terrorists."

"Thank you."

"Are you ready?"

"Whenever you are."

Macet smiled and spoke into his wrist communicator. An overwhelming battle cry resided throughout the area and one hundred Cardassian troops surged forward, disruptors firing. The Maquis put up a token resistance then retreated into their caves.

"We'll take the lead." Macen told Macet, "We know the interior. Divide your forces into two platoons. One stays out here to apprehend any escapees and provide cover fire. The other platoon follows my team in."

"How can you possible know the interior of these caverns?"

"I stripped the knowledge from Deirdre's mind." T'Kir replied nonchalantly.

"Yes." Macet said sombrely, "I've heard about you and your abilities. Please stay away from my mind."

"No promises." T'Kir said with a teasing smile.

"I feel reassured already." Macet remarked dryly.

"It's time to go." Macen told Macet.

T'Kir nodded, "Yup."

"Very well." Macet began issuing orders into his wrist communicator. After a moment, He focused on the SID pair, "It's arranged."

"Then let's do it." Macen said and scrambled to his feet, "Let's go!"

The SID team moved forward as one. A barrage of disruptor fire accompanied them. Fifty of the Cardassian troops followed in their wake. The remaining Maquis at the cave's entrance gave only token resistance before retreating into the base's warrens.

Upon reaching the entrance, Macen halted the team in order to confer with the Glinn leading the platoon, "We'll be coming upon multiple tunnels. Send a squad of men down each tunnel. They can run the flankers to ground."

The Glinn nodded, "Excellent plan."

Macen turned to Daggit and Radil, who would lead the penetration, "Ready?"

Daggit merely nodded while Radil gave him a jaunty grin, "I was born that way."

"After you then." Macen ushered them on with his arm. He and T'Kir took up positions behind the lead pair. Kort and Parva came next with the four Security officers bringing up the rear. Several metres behind them came the Glinn and her forces.

The recruitment of women into the Cardassian Militia became commonplace after the manpower depletion brought on by the Dominion War. Women across the Union were being offered opportunities that had long been denied them. It was a major reform the government was desperately trying to make into a permanent social change.

As Daggit and Radil neared a fork in the tunnel they were travelling in, phaser fire issued forth from the tunnel on the right.

"We want the left tunnel." T'Kir called out and Daggit and Radil returned fire.

"Move out!" Macen ordered and the team proceeded. The Glinn did her duty and detached a squad to pursue the gunmen.

The Outbound Ventures crew entered a rotunda with five tunnels stretching forth in every direction. T'Kir pointed at one particular tunnel but was unable to speak as phaser fire rained from every direction.

"Duck!" Macen yelled.

Daggit began a rapid spin. He fired a grenade down each tunnel as fast as the launcher would cycle.

The Maquis' fire subsided for a moment and the Glinn moved forward, "If I continue detaching ten man squads, you'll be left alone."

"Do it." Macen commanded, "We'll manage on our own."

The Glinn issued orders and squads began proceeding down tunnels. Disruptor and phaser fire could be heard from each. The Glinn saluted Macen before ducking down her designated tunnel.

Macen and his group proceeded down T'Kir's tunnel. They travelled for over 100 metres before the tunnel split again. Phaser fire streamed from both tunnels. Radil and Daggit unleashed a volley of return fire.

"We want the tunnel on the right." T'Kir shouted to be heard over the weapons fire and the grenade detonations.

"Collins," Macen called out to the Security deputy, "Take your squad of Security personnel down the left tunnel. Remember, we want prisoners."

"Yessir." Collins replied and mustered her troops. The groups split up, each engaging the enemy. Daggit's grenade launcher spat two more rounds and the resistance stopped. They swiftly came upon two shrapnel ridden corpses.

"We want them alive, Rab." Macen chastised.

Daggit set his launcher down and unslung his phaser rifle. He then slung his grenade launcher. He double check the power setting on the rifle and looked over to Macen.

Macen nodded, "Thank you."

Daggit grunted his acknowledgement and set out with Radil further down the tunnel. They came upon the transporter room, which was defended by five Maquis. Radil opened fire and destroyed the transporter controls.

"Oops." She reddened.

Daggit fired off three quick shots, all of which found their mark. Not to be outdone, Radil fired at the containers the remaining two Maquis were hiding behind. Molten bits of metal landed on them and they jumped up shrieking. Daggit calmly gunned them down.

They then set out down the sole tunnel exiting the space. They entered the control room and the Maquis communications tech began babbling into the comm set, "We've been penetrated! It's Captain Macen. He's turned traitor. We can't hold out!"

Radil shot the comm board and the LCARS panel exploded, shredding the tech. Two more Maquis offered resistance. Daggit stunned them both. The remaining two terrorists surrendered.

"Where's Tulley?" Macen asked, rounding on the two conscious prisoners.

"Go frinx yourself." The older of the two, a man, replied.

"That's impolite." Macen responded and punched the man. The Maquis hit the stone below him and shook his head. He wiped his bleeding lip.

"You can't do that." The man protested, "There's rules."

"How many times do I have to explain this?" Macen demanded, "I'm not Starfleet. I can do what I want."

"You're bluffing." the man said defiantly.

"Rab," Macen said impatiently, "blow off one of his hands."

Daggit stepped on the man's right wrist and thumbed up the power setting on his rifle. Seeing the emotionless expression on Daggit's face, utterly devoid of mercy or compassion, the man began sweating and talking very rapidly.

"He's in the Dorvan system, I swear to God!"

"Why?" Macen wondered.

"An arms drop from our allies. That's all I know."

Macen looked to T'Kir, who nodded, "Let him up, Rab."

Daggit almost looked disappointed as he released the man's wrist. The Maquis scrambled to his feet.

"You're psychopaths!" he accused.

"Only some of us. Be grateful, I could have let her have you." Macen jerked his thumb towards T'Kir. T'Kir wore her best demented smile. The Maquis shuddered upon seeing the hint of madness in her eyes.

"Now what?" Parva asked.

"Now we signal Macet and get relieved so we can scurry off to the Dorvan system." Macen explained, "Hopefully we can discover the identities of these mysterious ‘allies'."

"Your funeral." the man shrugged.

"T'Kir." Macen said coldly.

T'Kir stepped forward and her smile widened. There was a gleam in her eye that frightened the Maquis and his compatriot. T'Kir's brow knitted and her smile disappeared. Both Maquis stiffened.

The man and woman both felt an incredible pressure in their skulls. A searing pain lanced through their heads and they began to have flashbacks from their life. Most were of recent events, conversations with Tulley, their time with the Maquis, and then earlier segments of their lives began to cascade before them.

The woman screamed first and collapsed to her knees. The man went into convulsions and cried out before dropping into a twitching heap on the ground. T'Kir shook her head at Macen. Macen swore under his breath and tapped his comm badge.

"Riker here."

"Patch me into Gul Macet's frequency."

"We've relayed you through the Chin'toka's comm array."

"By the way, did you happen to scramble an earlier transmission from the surface?"

"Yes. Was it important?"

"You probably just spared us from being shot at on sight." Macen informed him.

"Just by way of warning, the planet's constabulary is en route."

"Thanks." Macen closed the circuit and opened a channel with Macet. He explained the current situation and requested immediate relief.

"Don't worry, I'll handle the local constables." Macet assured him, "Are you certain you don't wish to wait for us to accompany you to Dorvan?"

"No offence, but we stand a better chance of gathering the necessary intelligence without a Galor-class warship accompanying us."

Macet chuckled, "Agreed. My troops are on the way."

"Then we'll be on our way."

Macen glanced over to Kort, who was scanning the two mind probed prisoners. The woman was whimpering and reaching out before her. The man was frothing at the mouth and convulsing. Kort nodded at Macen.

"Our prisoners are incapacitated. They'll offer no resistance to your people."

"Very well."

Next, Macen called Collins, What's your status?"

"We have two stunned baddies." she replied cheerily.

"Good job. Contact the ship and get beamed back aboard."

"Trouble?"

"We're being relieved and we have another mission."

"Yes, sir. Contacting the ship now."

The line went dead and Macen's team assembled themselves as Macen contacted Telrik. Moments later they rematerialised in the Obsidian's transporter room. Macen immediately hit his comm badge.

"Have we recovered the Corsair yet?"

"No." Riker replied, "She's still on station."

"Recall her and prepare for an immediate departure for the Dorvan system."

"Do the previous rules apply?"

"I think Grace has earned a little slack." Macen told Riker, "Keep an eye on her but don't shoot unless she makes a break for it." This statement earned some surprised glances from the rest of the team.

"Let's get to the armoury and alleviate ourselves of all this extra gear." Macen grinned. He received a few smiles and nods in reply but Parva and Daggit were reserved.

The six remaining Security officers took their gear and reloaded it where necessary before placing each piece in their proper place in the armoury. They reported the prisoner exchange had gone smoothly.

This surprised Macen but he refrained from comment. The ship's Security detail had so little to do that even a minor victory should be celebrated. He congratulated them on a job well done and left the armoury with T'Kir in tow.

Along the way to their shared quarters, Macen wondered how the Cardassians fared with Annika Ryst and Deirdre Armstrong. Despite the growing presence of strong women in the military, such as the Glinn and many of her troops, most male officers still held chauvinistic attitudes towards the females of any species. He hoped their potential overconfidence hadn't opened the window of escape for these two domineering women.

Macen and T'Kir kept their own thoughts to themselves while they entered their quarters and began to change clothes. Macen wore his normal ensemble, with the tee shirt variation. T'Kir adopted leather pants, a powder blue hooded sweatshirt, and pinned her hair back in a ponytail. Both retained their holsters and combat boots.

"So," T'Kir broke the silence while pulling her hair back, "why didn't y'just let me read those two Maquis at the outset?"

"Two reasons." Macen replied, "First, my method was far more satisfying."

"And the other?"

Macen took a deep breath before continuing, "You've never seen yourself while your manipulating someone's mind. You adopt a...gleeful expression. The more the subject suffers, the happier you get. It's a tad unnerving. It almost borders on sadism."

"You think I'm a sadist?" T'Kir asked, wounded.

"I trust you with my life. I wouldn't put that faith in someone I considered to be a sociopath." Macen explained, "I just think you enjoy playing God in someone else's mind a little too much."

"Why haven't you said anything before now?" she asked a tad defensively.

"It's been a growing trend. Ever since we went up against the Orion Syndicate, you've taken great delight in forcibly probing other minds. Look at how casually you messed with Annika Ryst's mind. You would have shown more restraint in the recent past." Macen pointed out.

"So what d'you want t'do `bout it?" T'Kir apprehensively asked.

"Nothing." Macen confessed, "I just thought you should know that I'm concerned. I'll help you however I can but the real choices are yours. You have an awesome ability. Its up to you to use that gift responsibly or to abuse it. You're on the fence now so I'd hurry up and make a decision."

T'Kir hesitated then open her mouth to reply when the door chime went off. Macen frowned before calling out, "Yes?"

"It's Kort. I need to speak with you." came the Klingon's voice over the room's intercom speaker.

"We're coming out." Macen replied, "Give us a minute."

The circuit closed and Macen looked expectantly towards T'Kir who swallowed hard, "I choose responsibility. Please, please help me control myself. I need you to be my anchor for a while. Watch me during my little ‘interrogations' and help monitor my attitude."

Macen moved towards her and embraced her warmly. He kissed her on the forehead, "It'd be an honour to help you."

They tenderly kissed and squeezed each other one last time before separating. Macen grinned ruefully, "Time to find out what Kort wants."

With that, they left their quarters and met Kort in the corridor.

Once at the bridge, Riker reported, "The Corsair has been recovered without incident. Radil is down in the shuttlebay waiting to escort Hannah to the bridge."

"Good. Best speed to the Dorvan system." Macen ordered know that their best speed was 1.67 w beyond a typical Starfleet Nova-class' top speed of Warp 8. The SPYards technicians and engineers had done their job beautifully. No one suspected the ship's true capabilities until they were revealed by use.

"You have the bridge." Macen informed Riker as T'Kir took her post, "I'll be in my Ready Room."

Kort followed Macen in and sat down in front of his CO's desk. Macen folded his hands together and bent his elbows, "So Kort, what's on your mind?"

"T'Kir." Kort said bluntly, "Her telepathic probes are out of control. They completely disrupt the neurological functions of the scanned."

Macen chuckled and Kort scowled, "This is no laughing matter."

"No, but it is about twenty minutes too late." Macen revealed, "T'Kir and I just had a conversation along these lines. She's agreed to curb her...appetites."

"Good." Kort harrumphed, "At this rate, she's going to kill someone."

"She's already killed with her mind in the past." Macen reminded him, "I'd say that's a very real possibility."

"And if she doesn't stop?"

"Then we find a way to increase her meds." Macen said sadly.

Mercifully, the trip to Dorvan was uneventful. The Obsidian dropped out of warp at the edge of the system. The ship's enhanced sensors detected two space going vessels rendezvousing near Dorvan V. The readings though, were disturbing.

"Brin," Danan called out, "Take a look at this."

Macen approached her station and leaned against it to gather a better view of the various displays. Danan pointed at one, "See that pulsing power fluctuation from the larger ship? That's an Omicron power signature."

"Are you certain?" Macen asked gravely.

"I've only seen the pattern once, but since the ship it belonged to blew the holy hell out of us, I've committed it to memory." Danan replied.

"What class is that Omicron ship?" Macen asked Daggit. At the mention of Omicrons, the Investigative team froze. Daggit recovered first and took a sensor reading.

"The profile is identical to the ship encountered at Magna Roma and the one we engaged in the Eclipse."

"Oh shite." Macen cursed so softly than only T'Kir's acute Vulcan hearing could detect it. The Eclipse had been far more heavily armed than the Obsidian and she was crippled and destroyed as a result of her encounter with an Omicron cruiser. The smart ploy was stealth. If they lay doggo for a while, they could follow Tulley's ship back to his secondary base and apprehend him and the crew.

Sadly fate worked against them. "We've been scanned!" Danan called out

"By the Omicron, no doubt." Macen retorted bitterly.

"Aye, sir."

Macen stood and proceeded to the helm. Once there, he handed Grace her Attuner. Riker started out of his seat.

"Sit down Tom." Macen said sternly then faced Grace, "You're going to do one thing Hannah. You're going to contact your superiors and tell them we're delayed because we're facing a superior foe. If they wish to have our meeting, they'll have to come here and assist us."

"But I could simply..."

"You've abused the privilege of carrying this device." Macen pronounced, "You'll do nothing with it but make the call for help."

"All right." Grace conceded, "But I don't know if they'll come."

"You'd better hope they come, or we'll all be dead."

"My Lord Ezexial, we have an unidentified craft approaching." The hologram of the commander of the Omicron ship informed the subversive coordinator.

"Show me." Ezexial gravelly voice said.

The image shifted to that of a Nova-class image. "Enhance." Ezexial commanded.

The saucer section suddenly loomed before them. The ship's name and ID were prominently displayed. Tulley shrugged.

"That's the Obsidian. It's Brin Macen's ship."

"Brin Macen?"

"An intelligence analyst we hired. Its his job to discover where we are."

"This name is familiar to me." Ezexial rumbled, "Of course!" His flinty eyes went wide in his black onyx like skull, "This is the meddler that destroyed my operation on Magna Roma."

"Well he's assisting us here."

"Don't be a fool." Ezexial snapped, "Meddlers don't change their stripe. With your permission, I shall deal with these fools for their past interference."

"Okay, I guess." Tulley shrugged.

"Ship Liege, you may destroy the approaching craft."

The leathery skin of the Liege widened into a smile, "It shall be my pleasure."

 

Chapter 10

"Bring us about to 180 mark 5." Macen ordered as soon as Grace handed back her Attuner, "Engage at maximum warp."

Grace looped the ship end over end and engaged the engines. Within minutes, Dracas was on the horn, "I thought we were done with all this high warp claptrap."

"Life or death, Chief." Macen divulged, "We get caught, we die."

Dracas knew Macen wasn't prone to exaggeration. "I'll see what little extra I can squeeze out of the engines."

"It'd be appreciated." Macen said and terminated the connection.

"The Omicron ship is now in pursuit." Daggit reported.

"Why do I always have to be right?" Macen complained to Riker, who merely chuckled with gallows humour.

Aboard the Omicron ship, whose name roughly translated as Predator of the Night, the Ship Liege approached the sensor section of the ship's bridge. The officer literally plugged into the alcove viewed his commander with multifaceted eyes without removing his gaze from the various displays laid out before him.

"Scan Tech, what have you learned of the enemy vessel?"

"While it is twice the size of the other human vessel, it is far less heavily armed than would expected of a warship of that size. Given its sensor capability and limited weaponry, I'd say Lord Ezexial's proxy is correct, it is an observation vessel. Perhaps in his employ."

"Why then why does it run?"

"I have no answer my Liege."

"I do. I perused the ship's databanks. This Macen was essential to the expulsion of the Omicron mission on Magna Roma. During the orbital attack, the Wave Skipper, encountered a vessel like this Tulley's. It was much more heavily armed and powerful than his pathetic raider. The Liege explained, "This same ship later engaged another Omicron cruiser. They were spared only by the appearance of a more powerful ship. A ship built along similar lines as this one. Strategists largely agree that this Macen was in command of that ship as well."

"This human as defied the Imperium twice and lived to tell the tale?"

"He's not human. Apparently he belongs to some species from across the galaxy."

"Could this account for his continued survival?"

"Perhaps." The Liege mused, "We must be prepared for anything. Keep your eyes on your screens and inform me of the slightest change."

"Yes, milord."

The Liege moved to the pilot's alcove. The multi-limbed pilot was busily making minor course correction to account for the enemy vessel's evasive manoeuvres. The pilot possessed an enlarged cranium that allowed it to interface with the ship. All of the onyx skinned Omicron wore simple loincloths. Their thick skin was proof enough against most injury or weaponry.

"Status Pilot?" the Liege asked.

"The ship has increased speed to kerup 9.67. I have accelerated to our maximum velocity of kerup 9.998 but we shall not overtake the craft for approximately 900 ticks."

"Just so long as we catch them." the Liege assured her and moved on. Now it was time to discuss strategy with the Weapons Officer.

"They've accelerated to Warp 9.998." Daggit reported.

"How long until they overtake us?" Macen asked grimly.

"Fifteen minutes."

"How long until we can reach the next system?"

"Seventeen minutes." Grace answered.

"Here's the plan: we stay alive long enough to hide in the atmosphere of some sizeable gas giant. Hopefully the static discharge will confuse their sensors."

"Too bad there isn't a nebula handy." Danan commented.

"Let's focus on what we have and what we can do." Macen replied, "Lees, how many gas giants are in the Lynx system?"

"Twelve, with two supergiants that fit your needs. There's also a smaller protostar reminiscent of Jupiter in the Sol system."

"Hannah, aim for the protostar. The added heat and radiation should help disguise us."

"You got it!" Grace said with nervous enthusiasm.

Macen knew some of the anxiety on the bridge stemmed from his insecurities about facing the Omicron ship. But the facts were simple: in two previous encounters with Omicron vessels of this class, they'd gotten their arses handed to them. The Obsidian was horribly outmatched. The best they could hope for was survival...and even that would come at a price.

Macen forced himself not to think of the potential body count as the minutes ticked by and the Predator loomed ever closer. Soon the Ort cloud of the Lynx system loomed before them. Macen was about to order Grace to slow to impulse when the ship suddenly rocked from a sudden impact. The ship automatically dropped out of warp.

"Sorry, Captain." Dracas' voice boomed over the intercom as the battlestation lights snapped on, "The warp core has been...neutralised for wont of a better word. We'll do our best to get it back up."

"Focus on keeping the impulse reactor and auxiliary power going." Macen instructed, "We absolutely cannot afford to lose either of those."

"Look at it." Grace said with awe in her voice as the Omicron ship sailed past. It was like an organic beast. It had wings and a tail. The wings rippled in space as it travelled. It curved as it began its turn to make a second pass.

"Lees, what the hell is that thing?" Macen demanded.

"Its like stingray on Earth or an orla on Pacifica."

"Any weaknesses?"

"Too soon to tell."

"Is it bioorganic?"

"Possibly." Danan allowed, "It would account for a great deal of what we're witnessing. My sensors are reading emissions that are best described as biorhythms."

"Great." Macen said with more enthusiasm, "So how do we kill it?"

"Its too soon..."

"Its alive." T'Kir interrupted, "I can feel its mind."

"Can you communicate with it?"

T'Kir shook her head, "Not easily. It's intelligent but it's not sentient. Its almost protosentient."

"Like dolphins and whales on Earth or..." Danan began.

"Enough analogies. T'Kir, keep at it; try to convince it we're a friend. Rab, what did it hit us with?"

"Some kind of electroshock burst. Elements of it were electrostatic and resonated with the shields. Those passed through the shields and hit the engine room like a focused ion blast."

"Which would shut engineering down." Macen finished for him, "Where did the blast originate from?"

"It seemed to leap right off its skin."

"That's akin to the electric ray of Earth. Muscular contractions release electrical discharges." Danan offered.

"Any way of stopping it?"

"Not without severing the muscle groupings."

"Now you know your target." Macen told Daggit, "Do your best."

"I'll keep you updated as I learn more about its anatomy." Danan promised.

"Get ready people." Macen warned, "Here it comes."

The Predator made a sublight pass this time. This time the sensors could detect the coiling muscles building up the massive electroshock blast. Tulley targeted the two ventral phaser strips on the charging muscle bundles and fired. One muscle grouping was seared and discharged its energy into space. The other fired as the particle blast approached. The two discharges cancelled each other out.

There was elation on the Obsidian's bridge but a far different reaction was forthcoming on the Predator's bridge. The Ship Liege's nose vents flared. The Omicron didn't possess noses, just ventilation slits in the face. The Liege rubbed his bald head, they were bald as a species, and began yelling at his crew.

"How could you let a group of mammals defeat you?" he demanded, "These genetically inferior infections are probably laughing at us right now. Shall we allow this to continue?"

He received a rousing vote of dissent and nodded, "Then let's do it better people."

"They're turning for another pass." Daggit reported, "We have no chase armament. We can't fire until they're within range of either the ventral or dorsal phaser strips of the saucer section."

Macen patted him on the shoulder, "Do what you can." He retook his seat and intercommed Dracas, "Get ready for a pounding Chief."

"Worse than before?"

"We've pissed them off. I'd expect them to unleash the fires of hell upon us." Macen informed his chief engineer.

"We'll batten down the hatches."

"Good luck."

"You too."

"They're approaching." Daggit declared, "Interception...now!"

The ship rocked as the electrostatic discharges issued forth. Sparks flew from consoles across the bridge. The lights flickered and the air filled the smell of ozone

Daggit fired the phasers as soon as he had the range. They gouged into the Predator's "flesh". Unfortunately, the sensors showed that the phaser wounds were healing rapidly.

"Of course, a heightened immune system and healing factor." Danan said with admiration in her voice, "All perfectly adapted for space."

"A little less admiration, Commander." Macen chided, "It is trying to kill us."

"Have we tried hailing them?" Grace piped up, "Maybe this is a mistake."

"Hannah," Macen said wearily, "they chased us, shot us, tried to shoot us again and just successfully shot us again. I don't think there's much room for doubt as to their intentions."

"Yeah, but at the Academy they taught us to..."

"Seriously people," Macen cried out in exasperation, "how many frinxing times do I have to explain this? We work for Starfleet but we aren't Starfleet. We operate under a looser set of rules."

"Which are?" Danan asked.

"Whatever I decide they are." Macen answered.

"Not to interrupt, but they're making a third pass." Daggit interjected.

"Any chance of repeating our previous performance?" Macen enquired.

"They're juggling the charges. It's a random pattern. I doubt I can isolate it."

"Do your best." Macen tried to encourage Daggit after that painful admission.

The fourth pass disrupted equipment across the entire ship. The shields were faltering. Several small fires had to be put out in engineering and on the bridge.

"T'Kir! How's our communication coming?" Macen wondered.

"I think it wonders why we keep hurting it if we're friends."

"Because it's shooting at us."

"It's only doing that because its masters are telling it to. It has to trust its masters."

"Oh bullsh..." Daggit interrupted Macen.

"Our shields just collapsed. It seems a residual ionic charge knocked them out."

"What's that thing going to do to us with its next blast?"

"I wouldn't hold onto anything metal."

"Rab, this whole ship's metal."

"Then we're pretty well screwed."

"Actually," Parva chimed in, "the bulk of the interior is made of non-conductive composites. It's why your consoles haven't fried you already. Only Engineering is primarily made of metals."

Macen slapped his comm badge, "Dracas, evacuate engineering."

"What?"

"Evacuate now!"

The electroshock attack came and Dracas was the last man in Engineering. The electrical currents lashed throughout his body as his comrades watched from a viewer outside. Auxiliary power failed and the impulse engines quieted. As soon as the electrical maelstrom ceased, Gilan, the Engineering Mate, summoned a med team. Dracas was covered with burns and was randomly twitching.

"Kort to Macen."

"Go Doctor."

"Chief Dracas has just been brought to Sickbay. He's suffered intense electrical burns. Frankly I don't know how much of his body I can save."

"Just keep him alive." Macen instructed, "Anything else will be a bonus."

"I'd better get to Engineering." Parva said.

"Stand fast." Macen replied, "We've evacuated Engineering and it's staying evacuated. In fact, I'm evacuating the whole ship."

"What makes you think they won't blast lifepods?" T'Kir asked suddenly.

"Do they do that?" Macen enquired.

"They have in the past memory of this vessel."

"I'm only sending everyone to their quarters." Macen explained, "Tom, instruct all personnel to report to their quarters and to engage the emergency seals to their doorways."

Puzzled as everyone else, Riker still complied. No sooner had the internal sensors indicated every last crewmen outside of the bridge was safely locked away in their quarters, then a new sensor beam probed the ship.

"I think they're preparing to utilise some kind of transporter technology only its like nothing I've seen before." Danan reported.

With that said, an omicron warrior wavered into existence on the middle of the bridge. All the Outbound Ventures personnel drew their weapons and took aim. The Ship Liege merely chuckled.

"You may kill me, but you'll doom my ship. My men are even now scouring your vessel seeking to isolate and contain your crewmen."

"Too late." Macen replied, "They're already confined to quarters."

"Let us determine that for ourselves. I do so hate insurrections."

"So what happens now?" Macen asked.

"Now I determine the precise nature and mission of this vessel." The Omicron grimaced in its approximation of a smile, "And hopefully discover how you've managed to get my ship into an argument with the Weapons Master over the value of continued hostilities with you. No one has ever wavered the loyalty of an Omicron ship before."

"We aim to please." Macen quipped.

"It shall be the last time. The individual or individuals responsible will be found and executed."

"Let me just say two words: Omega twelve." The Ship Liege heard the turbolift's emergency seals engage.

"What have you done?" The Liege demanded.

"I've opened every external hatch and bay door. The turbolift shaft doors are open to carry any unwanted passengers towards the nearest available hatch. In short, your men are being sucked out into space. Care to take your chances on your ship winning the argument?"

The Liege slapped a crablike device at his wrist and uttered some guttural words the translator refused to comprehend. He wavered out of existence and quiet reigned on the bridge.

"Brilliant move, sir." Daggit said with admiration in his voice.

"Now let's see if we survive the countermove." Macen said, "Computer, initiate Alpha six."

The hatches and bay doors closed and atmosphere began being pumped into the depleted areas. Daggit checked his board and shook his head.

They're moving away to what appears to be their optimal firing distance."

"Figures." Macen groused, "Lose a few dozen men and everyone gets touchy."

"Captain!" Danan shouted, "I've got a transwarp conduit forming up on our starboard side."

Macen sighed, "Surely the Borg couldn't worse than the Omicron."

Riker gave him a horrified stare as Danan continued, "Unknown vessel configuration."

"Put it on screen." Macen ordered.

What appeared there was a ship composed of two towers interconnected by bridges. Green and blue light highlighted the towers' surfaces.

"That's a Kelvan battlecruiser!" Grace cried happily, "It's the biggest ship in the fleet."

"So how are they going to differentiate us from the Omicron?" Macen mused.

"The same way they found us, they'll hone in on my Attuner."

"Oh, wonderful." Riker muttered.

"How do the atmosphere levels check out?" Macen asked Danan.

"Back to normal."

"Parva, now you can proceed to Engineering."

The Orion leapt out of her seat and headed for the turbolift. Macen turned to Riker, "Let everyone know they can return to their posts."

Riker got busy and Macen observed the Omicron ship approach the Kelvan ship. The Predator was roughly the size of an Intrepid-class ship. The Kelvan craft was nearly the size of a Borg cube. The Omicron appeared hopelessly outmatched but looks could be deceiving.

The Predator unleashed a volley of electrostatic fire. The Kelvan ship absorbed some minor damage in comparison with its bulk. It returned fire with fifty green energy missiles. T'Kir gasped as the Omicron ship went through its death throes. They didn't last long as the barrage totally destroyed the opposing vessel.

"We're being hailed." Daggit announced.

"Put it on screen." Macen commanded. The image that met them was a middle aged human. Silver haired with a lined face, he appeared to be lean and fit.

"Greetings." Macen began, "My name is Captain Brin Macen. We would like to thank you for your assistance in this matter."

"You took a foolish risk, Captain. You were clearly outmatched. Surely even your sensors revealed this."

"We attempted to retreat rather than engage the Omicron. They pursued and you can see what resulted."

"Have you summoned aid?"

"We're transmitting an SOS even as we speak." Macen explained, "May I congratulate you on your mastery of Federation Basic?"

"It was a long journey and Commander Rojan's reports and tapes were invaluable."

"And now you wish to settle a world of your own?"

A ghost of a smile flickered across the older man's features, "That may depend largely on you."

"I'll try to be of what service I can." Macen assured him, "It's the least I can do."

"May I ask why Hannia has been stripped of her Attuner?"

"Hannia?"

"The true name for the woman you know as Hannah Grace."

Macen sighed, "That's a long story and one best served by our meeting face to face."

"Let me transport aboard your ship." the Kelvan requested, "It would best serve me to accommodate myself with vessels from this galaxy."

"Agreed." Macen conceded, "One last thing, in our culture two potential friends exchange names."

This time the Kelvan did smile, "I am called Parvac."

"I look forward to meeting you Parvac."

Parvac beamed aboard alone. He apparently felt his Attuner was all the protection he needed. Macen couldn't argue the point.

"Interesting matter-energy conversion device. Disorienting but useful." Parvac commented.

"One grows used to it over time." Macen assured him, "Shall we retired to the Briefing Room?"

"Where does the crew recreate?" Parvac asked suddenly.

"Primarily in the Team Room."

"Then that is where we shall hold our discussions." Parvac declared, "My crews are experiencing the beginnings of human emotion. It shall be good to observe first had what we will become."

"Good idea." Macen agreed and led him to the recreation parlour. Parvac was delighted to see dinner being served and sampled everything chef had prepared. He ate voraciously and then finally put his napkin down with a loud belch.

"I can see my people getting used to such edibles. They are...what is the word? Delicious?"

"That's the word. I'm sure chef wouldn't mind you paying him a compliment later."

"Paying him a compliment."

"Repeating your praise for her food to her."

"Ah, yes. Excellent plan. Boosts morale."

"Among other things." Macen allowed, "We find it also increases job performance."

"Through such a minor act?" Parvac wondered, "Astounding."

"What's more astounding is your completion of your long voyage."

"The development of the warp tunnel aided us a great deal."

"We refer to it as a transwarp conduit."

"Interesting name. I am certain there will be many such things."

"To cut to the heart of the matter, why did you wish to see me?"

"Hannia's reports listed you as a fair and just man. You accepted the revelation of her true identity without a qualm. You appeared to feel the same way about the Kelvan refugees."

"As a refugee myself, I have a great deal of sympathy for the displaced."

"Do you think your Starfleet will feel the same way?"

"If you've truly come in peace, they'll embrace you. If you set out with these battlecruisers of your on a path of conquest, you'll be opposed."

"The path of conquest is what caused us to be expelled from our home galaxy. We have no desire to repeat past mistakes. We do not seek conflict. We will defend ourselves when provoked, but we will not seek conflict with others."

"That's all that can be asked." Macen conceded.

"Now about Hannia?"

"She used her Attuner against members of this crew. Instead of asking permission to arrange a meeting between us, she paralysed the crew and hijacked the ship." Macen explained.

"These are serious charges. They must be dealt with."

"They are. She's been deprived of her Attuner and other security precautions have been put in place."

"May I suggest a choice? To remain with your crew or to face justice among the Kelvans."

"Fair enough." Macen tapped his comm badge, "Tom, have Shannon and Rhiann report to the bridge. Have Radil escort Hannah to the transporter."

Macen and Parvac retired to the transporter, "This has been productive, Captain. I hope to do this in the future."

"So do I." Macen admitted.

The transporter doors opened and Radil led a shackled Grace into the room.

"Hannia, I have a simple proposition for you, come with me and face Kelvan justice or stay here with these creatures and fulfil their punishment. There is a price, if you stay, your Attuner comes with me. You will be Kelvan by birth alone. You will be stripped from the ranks of the Expeditionary Forces. You may visit the colony world, but you will have no status or place there outside of your parent's generosity. Do you understand these terms?"

Grace nodded, face ashen.

"Then choose." Parvac commanded imperiously.

"I..." Grace's voice faltered, "I choose them."

"So be it. Captain, her Attuner." Macen removed it from his pocket and handed it over. Parvac removed a golden disk from his belt, "A communicator so that you may remain in contact with your family."

"My business here is concluded." Parvac announced.

"Step onto a pad and Telrik will transport you back aboard your ship."

"Until we meet again, Brin Macen."

Parvac disappeared in a shimmering blaze of light. Grace stood immobile looking stunned, clutching her communicator.

"Jenrya," Macen said softly, "remove the shackles and escort her to her quarters."

"Should I post a guard?"

Macen shook his head, "She has nowhere left to run to. She chose her home and that home is here. Its time we begin to make her feel welcome again."

"If you say so." Radil muttered as she removed the handcuffs and led Grace out of the room.

Macen tapped his comm badge, "T'Kir, Grace's in her room. She desperately needs a friend."

"What's she done now?"

"Something right." Macen said with a tinge of pride.

 

Chapter 11

Aboard the Viper, Tom Reynolds piped a message down to the cramped quarters shared by Tulley and Ezexial. The message was from Annika Ryst and was being broadcast from the interior of a Cardassian assault shuttle. Ryst looked harried and there was no sign of Deirdre.

"Report Annika, what's your status?" Tulley enquired.

"We've just escaped from a Galor-class cruiser that your friend Macen locked us up in. Macen's working for the Cardassians, they're attacking Ronara Prime."

"Since Macen just appeared here, I'd assume the attack on Ronara has concluded." Tulley replied dryly, ignoring Ezexial's smug expression.

"Where are you headed?" Tulley asked, "How's Deirdre?"

"Deirdre took a disruptor blast during our escape. She's hurt but she'll survive." Ryst explained, "We're en route to the cell on Maevis IV."

"Any signs of pursuit?"

Ryst shook her head, "I left a large body count to be dealt with an ripped the ID transponder/tracker out of this ship as we stole it. We're flying under the sensor net."

"Meet us at Maevis. We'll distribute the latest arms shipment there."

"The circuit closed and Ezexial folded his arms across his chest, "I shall be taking my leave of you on this Maevis. The Predator of the Night's sister ship, the Solar Sailor, is en route to pick me up."

"You've never explained to me how a society built around biotech understands conventional, synthetic technology."

Ezexial bared his teeth, "We mastered one before discovering the secrets of the other."

"When will you return?"

"Up until now you have only seen us sporadically, delivering supplies and advisors. In three months time, the Omicron fleet will be deploying to support all our allies across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants."

"And if Macen has any more surprise allies like those that destroyed the Predator?"

"We have waited 100.000 years to re-establish our ascendancy. We will not let some technology dependent upstarts stop us now. We will counter their technology, we always have and we always shall." Ezexial said forcefully.

Tulley held his hands up in surrender, "Okay, you've got me convinced."

"You have chosen the correct side Aric Tulley." Ezexial assured Tulley, "There is a new wind sweeping through the galaxy and when it is spent, the Omicron and their allies will stand triumphant."

"And what about Macen?"

"Macen is insignificant. Before his allies arrived, his ship was crippled and his crew cowered before us."

"They still blew your boarding party into space."

"Careless fools. They deserve their fate."

"Is that how you're gonna treat us when we go to battle alongside you?"

Ezexial chuckled, a humourless sound, "Tulley, we Omicron were giants among the stars before your civilisations existed. We must adhere to a higher standard. Allowances are made for your relative youth."

Listening to Ezexial dispense life and death as though discussing the weather disturbed Tulley. Not for the first time, he wondered if he'd chosen the wrong ally for his war.

"How is he Kort?" Macen asked over the still form of Dracas. Dracas was in a stasis tube awaiting transfer to a full medical facility. He was missing both legs and his right arm. His right eye was bandaged as well. His skin appeared pink and new.

"The obvious losses are plain to see." Kort replied, "The dermal layers were harder. I had to clone muscle and dermal tissue to transplant onto his body. He'd lost 90% of his skin and 47% of his muscles due to burns. I was able to reconstruct his face using transplants and dermal regenerators. The right eye is a complete loss. The nerves may be saved but that will require a more advanced facility than this sickbay. The missing limbs were burned and cauterised to the bone. There was no hope of restoration. Perhaps the hospital will regrow his hair."

"You did a miraculous job under the circumstances." Macen put in encouragingly.

"Thank the damned EMH. That hologram knew more about burn treatments than I would ever have guessed. When she got knocked out, I had to simply wing it."

"Looks to me you did a fine job." Macen assured him, "The hospital will fit him with biosynthetics and he'll be the same old Dracas in no time."

"We'll see." Kort said a tad despondently, "If it were me, I'd make a careful re-examination of my life after I woke up."

"We'll deal with that when the time comes." Macen said, "In the meantime, keep him alive so he can have that re-examination."

A ghost of a smile flickered at Kort's lips, "Yes, sir."

Parvac had agreed to stay on station until Federation reinforcements arrived. When three Sabre-class patrol cruisers arrived, the Kelvan ship slipped back into a transwarp conduit and vanished. The Obsidian immediately received a hail from the senior captain.

"Captain Revij here, what the hell was that?"

"Commander Forger here, Captain. I wasn't on the bridge but I understand they were our saviours."

"Who, or what, are they?"

"The Kelvan, sir."

"Never heard of them."

"I have a feeling you soon will." Forger remarked as Macen entered the bridge.

"Forger?" Revij repeated to himself, "Didn't that use to be your maiden name? Amanda! My God, it's been what, ten years? I'd heard you'd made admiral by now. You haven't aged a day."

Forger looked imploringly at Macen, who merely ushered her on. Frowning, she took a deep breath, "I believe you're referring to my older sister, Amanda."

"You're Shannon? The last time I saw you, girl, you were all spit and polish in your cadet's uniform. What happened? Why are you with these civilians in this tin can?"

"This ‘tin can' happens to represent the latest in Starfleet technology and I'm not ‘with' these civilians. I volunteered."

Revij faltered. A rare occurrence amongst the blustering Tellarites, "I don't understand."

"I was the Tactical and 2nd Officer aboard the Javelin when Amanda contacted me and offered me a posting on the Obsidian."

"I still don't understand. The ship's ID transponder lists her as the Outbound Ventures vessel, the SS Obsidian. How could Admiral Drake have any say in her crew manifest?"

Macen stepped in, "Captain Brin Macen here, perhaps you'd like to see our bona fides, all of them."

"I think I would."

"Shannon, if you'd send our records over to Captain Revij?"

Revij carefully scrutinised the ship's charter and licenses. His porcine eyes widened as he hit the SID clearances and letter of marque. Revij looked up, open mouthed and staring.

"I trust that clears things up, Captain?"

"It does indeed, Captain Macen. How can we be of service?"

"We've managed to restore impulse and auxiliary power but our warp core is fried. We need to be towed to a full service shipyard. A shipyard with full medical facilities specialising in biosynthetic replacements."

"Starbase 415 isn't too far from here. It's a Class-A Starbase. It should be able to handle all your needs."

Class-A's were the same design as Earth's Spacedock. If it couldn't found there, then they'd have to go to a member world of the Federation. Macen nodded his approval.

"That would be perfect."

"The warptug, Merry Andrew, set sail from that Starbase in response to your call. They should be here within two hours. We'll stay on station and provide cover for you. The Rapier will also escort you back."

"Thank you, Captain."

"It's the least I can do for a frontline defender of the Federation."

Macen's next call was to Castellan Ghemor. He reported all they'd learned of the Maquis and their Omicron allies. Ghemor was less than pleased to learn of the outcome of the Obsidian's encounter with the Predator.

"I know your ship is not designed for combat but it is still a Starfleet vessel. How do you estimate a Galor or Kelvan-class cruiser will fare against one of these living ships?"

"Poorly. We haven't developed adequate defences against their ionic weaponry. It's the same reason ion storms are so dangerous. Our defences aren't geared toward fully protecting us from them. Electrostatic shielding is porous against an electroshock discharge of that magnitude." Macen described.

"We shall find a way." Ghemor vowed, "We are Cardassians. We do not shrink from a challenge."

This particular challenge could blow you to pieces, Macen thought but remained silent as the connection closed.

The journey to Starbase 415 proceeded without incident. The Claymore and the Cutlass resumed their patrol of the DMZ border while the Rapier escorted the Merry Andrew and the stricken Obsidian. Parva and her engineering team were working miracles but the entire ship's systems had been overloaded. They had to repair one individual system after another and fatigue was taking its toll.

Macen called a halt to any work that didn't involve a vital system and ordered the bulk of the engineers to bed. Meanwhile, Macen gathered the senior staff in the briefing room. The one notable exception was Grace. Macen told them of the choice Grace made between the team and her people.

"I know this doesn't exonerate her past actions, but it does go a long way to regaining our trust. She chose remaining with us fully expecting to continue with the punishment I had prescribed."

"Which you promptly rescinded." Riker bitterly pointed out.

"Tom, she's dead to her people. There are other Kelvans out there but she's not a part of them. I understand that feeling. She chose duty and comradeship over racial ties. That's a huge step for her." Macen divulged, "I think we should support her during this time rather than berate her over past mistakes."

"So you want us to simply forget what she's done?" Radil asked hotly.

"No. She needs to be reminded of what she's done and its impact upon all of you but she doesn't need it constantly thrown in her face. Not right now." Macen urged, "All I'm asking is that for those of you that can reach out to her, please do so."

Riker, Radil and Kort's expressions were frozen. T'Kir, Daggit, Parva, Danan and Forger all softened. Forger made to speak.

"I know I'm a virtual stranger here but I say we give the girl a break. What she did took guts and she's going to have enough regrets without us adding to them."

Several moments of silence followed and Macen dismissed the group, each lost in their own thoughts.

It took a month to replace the warp core and repair the engine room. During the period, the crew took a month's leave enjoying the station's recreation facilities and visits to the planet Gilmore below. Dracas spent this time adjusting to his new limbs and eye and learning how to use them. The departure date for the Obsidian loomed a couple of days away and Macen and T'Kir visited Dracas. They found him in full Starfleet uniform.

"Hal, what's going on?" Macen enquired.

"I'm resigning from Outbound Ventures. I've reactivated my Starfleet commission and I'm returning to the SPYards." Dracas replied.

"Isn't this kinda sudden?" T'Kir asked, "I know you got hurt and all, but that's no reason to run away."

"Believe it or not I'm not running." Dracas remarked, "I've had a lot of time to reflect. I joined the SID to taste adventure in the field. What I've discovered is I'm a horrible field agent. I've been considering this move since before I returned from Ba'ku. I gave it one last chance and that chance nearly killed me. I've never had more to live for than now. I'm at the beginning of an important relationship and I'd like to live long enough to see how it turns out. Returning to Utopia Planetia and the SPYards makes answers all my needs. Please don't make this more difficult than it is."

Macen thought about it for a moment then smiled warmly, "Do what you need, Hal. We won't stop you."

"Thank you. This'll serve Parva more than anyone else. My return to the team has been holding her back. She's ready to be Chief Engineer. Let her have the job."

"Not a problem." Macen confirmed.

"Take care, Hal." T'Kir kissed him on the cheek.

Dracas sighed, "Now for the second hardest part: the goodbyes."

Dracas' goodbyes were bittersweet. The hardest of them were with Daggit and Danan. Both were the closest to him. There were many promises to write and a few tears. The others were happy for him and his opportunity. The goodbye between Dracas and Grace was awkward but polite.

Dracas departed the Obsidian to catch the courier to Earth. The next day, the Obsidian sealed her hatches and set sail. As they left, Macen received a priority message from the Outbound Ventures business office. After he'd perused the message, he summoned Riker to his Ready Room.

"What's up?" Riker asked informally

"Captain Kilress is retiring. This is the third captain to leave the George Kelly in six months. She needs a strong and stable hand"

Riker's heart skipped a beat, "Are you offering me the command?"

"As soon as we reach Barrinor, if you'll have it."

"Of course I'll have it!"

"Tom, it was Jamie's ship. Will that pose a problem?"

Riker sobered, "No. No, of course not."

"Good. We should reach Barrinor in two days. I suggest you have your things packed."

"Of course." Riker rose but was stopped by Macen.

Macen rose and extended his hand, "Congratulations."

Riker accepted the handshake, "Thanks. Coming from you, that means a lot."

Riker left and another communication came in, this one from Starfleet Command. Amanda Drake's features filled the screen.

"If this is about your sister, she just got promoted."

Drake smiled ruefully, "As happy as I am for Shannon, this is about the report you filed concerning the Omicron. Are their ships really that powerful?"

"'Fraid so."

"And they're alive?"

"And very obedient to their crews. I suspect a symbiotic relationship is in play."

"Any proof?"

"Not yet. For now it's a hunch."

Drake grimaced, "Your hunches are usually right. Dammit we need more data. We have reports of Omicron sightings across the Alpha Quadrant, the Romulan Empire and the Klingon Empire. God only knows what their during in the Tholian Assembly and the Gorn Hegemony."

"Offering goodwill and peace to all sentients?" Macen remarked.

"Blast it! How can you be so flippant at a moment like this?"

Macen shrugged, "It's a coping mechanism. I prefer it to depression."

"I suppose." Drake allowed, "We have every available ship searching for Omicron cruisers. They have orders to observe and not engage."

"Good luck with that."

"Any chance the Kelvans will side with us?"

Macen shook his head, "My impression is that they wish to left alone. They're not looking for a war and they won't volunteer for one. My advice is send a diplomatic mission to New Kelva and sound them out."

Drake nodded, "We'll do that. What about you?"

"Do you have a mission for us?"

"No."

"Then we'll accept some lightweight security and intelligence work to stay in practice until you call. Supposedly I have a list of work requests I'll never be able to meet so I'll have my choice of assignments."

"Well good luck and happy hunting."

"Same to you."

Later that evening, Macen was reading contract proposals in his shared quarters with T'Kir. T'Kir was reading a popular action thriller novel.

"What a load of crap!" she declared, "This manoeuvre wouldn't work. We tried it and nearly got our heads blown off."

"That's why they call it fiction m'love." Macen replied, "Maybe you should something a little less close to home, like a comedy or a drama."

"I could try a romance again."

Macen shook his head, "Gives you too many ideas and some of those Herculean feats are improbable if not impossible."

"You're no fun."

"You could help me pick out our next job."

T'Kir flopped across the bed until she lay on her stomach next to him. She picked up a stack of padds and began tossing them aside, "Boring, boring, cheap frinxers, boring, cheap, they gotta be kidding, did these people even check out our brochures?"

She picked up another stack and repeated the process with similar results until, "Hey now, this looks interesting."

She handed to Macen who read it, "This does look good."

"Of course it does." T'Kir said imperiously, "I picked it."

"I think I'll call them in the morning and arrange a meeting."

"Good, now for mutual backrubs?"

"That can be arranged." Macen said with a smile.

"Goodie." T'Kir clapped her hands.

 

The tale continues...

 

- The End -

 

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