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Broken Crown - Part I by Travis Anderson

The Spy, the Rebel, the Daredevil, the Fighter, the Lightbulb, the Muscle, the Fixer, the
Rock, the Brain, and one ship shared by all. The tale continues...

Chapter One

The downtrodden prisoners filed into the sports arena. Armed Militia troops watched their every move with sharp eyes. The prisoners, most of whom had already been beaten, dutifully entered the arena without protest. After all, obedience beat in the heart of every true Cardassian.

Gul Maret gazed across the arena and his face twisted in rage. Hatred consumed him. Monarchists were parasites from a bygone age. It was better to be rid of them entirely so that the collective whole of Cardassia could thrive once the diseased portions were carved out.

First these monarchists and then those damned democrats. Maret fought the urge to spit. All of the retrograde elements threatening Cardassia's glory will be destroyed.

Bodies were lined up against a wall and shot. A list of charges preceded the executions but there were no trials. Cardassian justice, it seemed, had leapt backwards.

Maret and his sponsors wanted to return the Union to the perceived golden age under the troika of the High Command, the Obsidian Order, and the Detepa Council. Each member coordinated with the other but effectively controlled their respective portion of the government without interference from another member. The Cardassian Union had functioned in this way for hundreds of years. In the uncertain future of the democratic age it was seen as a panacea by many.

The competing utopian vision was that of the monarchists. Besotted by their dim recollections of a monarchy that died before the birth of the Union, they propelled the advent of their fabled Chrysalis child. The problem was that this heir to the throne was very much alive and she was on her way to Cardassia to assume the throne in a newly minted constitutional monarchy. If a Unionist's soul cringed at the thought of elections and constitutions, imagine the stark terror it felt at the thought of royalty.

Maret ruminated on these topics as the latest round of prisoners was marched before the firing squad. One of them, a boy of nine or ten defiantly stared at his would be killers in the face. With a blend of courage and conviction he began to sing a song. It was a ditty taught to schoolchildren to mock the former ways of king and country but the boy sang it proudly.

It was an ancient ballad full of eldritch power. As its notes filled the air spirits lifted and other voices were raised. Soon an anthem echoed through the streets of Kildana on Carbel VIII. Maret activated his comm and screamed into it, "Kill them you fools! Kill all of them!"

The hand selected troops raised their riffles and fired. Particle beams lashed out at the crowd, decimating it. Once the screams and the whine of the disruptors faded all that was left was silence. Maret surveyed the scene and called his lieutenant over, "Dispose of the bodies. I want them cleaned up before dawn."

"It will be done."

A smile played at Maret's lips, It isn't much but it's a start.

"Are we really leaving for Cardassia Prime tomorrow?" Katreen Dervin earnestly implored.

Katreen's father, Feist, proudly smiled. Her only desire was to return to Cardassia even though she'd only been technically born in Cardassian territory. Katreen had been whisked away to the Federation and the safety it offered on the very eve of her birth. Katreen's destiny had literally been scripted hundreds of years before her birth and now the moment of fruition was about to arrive.

Katreen was the Chrysalis child of Cardassian legend. Hundred of years before it had been prophesied that a child bearing the royal birthmark would be born and would restore the royal family to power. Katreen bore the mark. The Purple Peppercorn was emblazoned on her royal derriere.

Katreen's gender had proven to be a sticky point. Most adherents to the legend had assumed the child would be male. Fortunately, in a rousing show of Cardassia's ongoing social evolution they'd forgiven her for being female and heartily embraced her.

Dervin watched his daughter as she checked and rechecked her luggage. Her life had not been an easy one. Aneesh, her mother, had passed when Katreen had been three. She was the victim of an assassin of whom Katreen had barely survived.

Katreen's survival was the direct result of Lyoti Mariska's handiwork. Mariska was Katreen's sworn protector. A former officer aboard a Cardassian cruiser, Mariska provided security expertise and bodyguard services for Katreen.

Dervin considered the reasons for their impending move. Eight years of democracy had taught the Cardassian people that they desired a more stable system. Hence a constitutional monarchy. In essence, the President would run the daily affairs of office but the liege would have oversight and veto authority. The monarch would also not leave office every six years when the President did.

Of course, Castellan Ghemor had just been elected to his second six year term as Cardassia's president. Part of that election had been bought on his promise of reforming the constitution. Thus Katreen was to be crowned Monarch in the evening of her twelfth birthday. Dervin would act as her advisor and handle her affairs until she reached her majority in her seventeenth year.

There was a discreet clearing of the throat from behind Dervin and he turned to find Mariska standing there. As always, she wore her body armour and her phaser, "Your Majesty, the transports have been prepared and the security arrangements aboard the liner have been taken care of. We're ready for departure."

Dervin grew melancholy, "It's been twelve years. Can we ever truly go back?"

Mariska nodded, "Of course we can...for her sake."

Dervin grew ashamed, "Yes. Yes, of course. We'll be ready at the appointed time."

Mariska smiled, "As you say, sir."

As the exiled soldier strode away Dervin wondered if he'd ever had as much faith in his daughter's future as Mariska had. Mariska had been a source of inspiration for Dervin and had silently guided the negotiations with Ghemor. He hoped that she found her reward for her faith to be adequate. He himself still had grave doubts...

Brin Macen moved from the auditorium to the outer lobby. Refreshment kiosks were set up there and he was dying for a latte. The last speaker had been dry beyond words. The Annual Conference of the Guild for Security Consultants and Private Investigators was never lively but it usually avoided tedium.

Generally, Macen was involved with a case and had to send a proxy to these events. Owing to the severity of injuries sustained during his last mission Admiral Amanda Forger had put Macen's Outbound Ventures firm on suspension from receiving new contracts from Starfleet's Special Investigations Division for just over nine months now. Macen had an appointment with her tonight after the conference wrapped up to amend the situation.

Physically, there were no lasting repercussions from what Bertram Sindis had done to Macen. Psychologically it was a different story and that's what Forger was afraid of. Macen already had a documented case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Being beaten nearly to death would undoubtedly add to the layers of emotional scarring wrapping Macen's soul.

Macen was one of the best irregular agents hired by Forger but he was also unpredictable. His responses to threats were wide and varied. They tended to be lethal and Starfleet's governing authorities frowned upon that.

The entire reason Macen wasn't in Starfleet any longer was the fact that he had decided to summarily execute an entire shipload of pirates. Only his decades of meritorious service had spared him from prosecution...in exchange for early retirement. And since Macen was an El-Aurian early was the operative word.

Macen was human in appearance and only seemed to be in his mid-thirties. Truth be told, he'd lived for over four hundred years and was still going strong...as he was determined to prove to Forger. He'd had enough of resting on his laurels.

As his mind rested on his likely approach with Forger his eyes drifted across the milling crowd. He drank his coffee with satisfaction and was considering a second cup when he thought he recognised a woman's profile. This startled him because he couldn't believe that person would be here of all places.

He manoeuvred across the lobby in order to get a better angle. All that proved was that it was who he'd thought. He couldn't believe Annika Ryst had the brass to come here for this conference.

He made his way towards her and silently crept up behind her. She honestly seemed engrossed in the conversation that she was having with Glick Gutterman. Macen couldn't imagine anyone enjoying Gutterman's company.

"I do believe someone is trying get your attention, Ms. Rockford." Gutterman pointed out.

Celeste Rockford smiled, "Yes, Captain Macen is an admirer of mine. Could you excuse us?"

"Of course." Gutterman sniffed and strolled away.

Rockford turned, "What do you want Macen?"

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I'm a member." Rockford replied, "I come every year."

"Annika Ryst is not on the membership rolls." Macen snapped.

"No," Rockford replied, "but Celeste Rockford is. Now keep your voice down. I've gone legit. I'm working full time as an investigator."

"You're a bloody fugitive!" Macen whispered.

"A mere technicality." Rockford countered, "I was never convicted. A judge sent me to Arcadia on the recommendation of a psychiatrist. In the raid where I was arrested, I didn't actually kill anyone. Forensics backed me up on this so they couldn't go to trial."

Macen's empathic senses could taste the veracity of her words. Furthermore, his ability to detect probability shifts was working overtime. Macen could literally see potential futures and he chose one that seemed most likely based upon number of repetitive occurrences. Rockford shook him, "Snap out of it!"

"Where will you be tomorrow?" he asked with a new determination.

"On my way back to Laos V." she answered, "Why?"

"Would you be willing to meet me for lunch?" Macen enquired.

"Maybe." Rockford was growing wary, "Why?"

"If what you say checks out I want to offer you a job." Macen said, "I'm willing to triple your daily rate."

"I'm not a merc any more." Rockford warned him, "And I'm not Annika Ryst. I'm Celeste Rockford. Get used to it."

"All right Celeste." Macen surrendered, "I hear and obey."

"Where do you want to meet?" Rockford asked.

"Ever here of a pub called the Dark Man in Belfast?" Macen wondered.

"No." Rockford admitted.

"Ask for directions." Macen instructed, "Noon, Greenwich Mean Time, okay?"

"Fine." It was Rockford's turn to capitulate, "I'll be there."

"See you tomorrow then." Macen grinned and went off in search of another latte and a scone.

"What the hell have I just agreed to?" Rockford asked herself.

Macen rang Forger's door buzzer and waited. He'd never been to her flat before. He knew this was a new place of residence for her. Ever since she'd been crippled she required a home that was antigrav chair accessible.

The door slid open to reveal a spacious living area. It was all one story and most of the objects in the room were sensibly placed. With the antigravs her chair could levitate her all the way to the ceiling so retrieving objects was no challenge. The only thing missing was Forger.

"I'm in here." A muffled voice called out. Macen pushed past the living room and went down the hallway. He heard noise up ahead and came to stop at a doorway that led to an exercise room. Forger was working out her upper body on a resistance machine.

"Sorry." Forger said as she finished her final reps, "I got a late start."

"It's all right." Macen assured her, "I was late because of doing some research."

"If you'd wait in the main room, I'll shower and get dressed." Forger suggested.

Macen complied and waited for his employer. After a time she came floating out. Her skill with the chair's controls had drastically improved over the last nine months.

"Looking good, Amanda." Macen cheered.

"Stop it." Forger blushed, "I'll run into something."

"Heavens forefend." Macen teased.

"Okay," Forger sighed, "enough of that. Would you like a late supper?"

"Sounds good." Macen admitted.

"Good." Forger began formulating plans, "I know a great Chinese place that does take out. They're so good people from Beijing travel here to have a meal."

"That makes sense." Macen opined, "The food in Beijing sucks. You have to go to Shanghai or Hong Kong for an outstanding meal."

"You're just prejudiced." Forger countered, "And your prejudices are out of date. It's been fifteen years since you spent any real length of time on Earth. A lot of top drawer restaurants have opened in Beijing since then."

Macen conceded, "I bow before your greater knowledge and infinite wisdom."

Forger rolled her eyes, "If only."

"Alas, you know me too well." Macen said theatrically.

"Would you shut up and let me order?" Forger called from the comp/comm.

"But of course." Macen continued in the same vein, "You need but ask."

"Spare me." Forger requested.

Forger knew the restaurant's staff by name and quickly ordered a veritable feast. She moved into the kitchen and called out, "What's your poison?"

"What do you have in the way of fruit juice?" Macen wondered.

"White grape." Forger answered, "It's pretty old though."

"I'll take it." Macen replied, "Thanks."

"So where's the other half of your particular combo?" Forger asked.

"You mean T'Kir?" Macen smiled.

"Who else is constantly attached to your hip?" Forger enquired.

Macen's shrugged, "So we're a little co-dependent. Where's the harm?"

"I suppose there isn't any." Forger relented, "So where is she?"

"Mountain climbing in the Italian Alps with Hannah Grace." Macen said, referring to his SID team's resident pilot, "They'll be rejoining me in two days."

"They'll be in the mood to party." Forger loosed an evil chuckle, "Are you ready for that?"

"I've girded my loins." Macen promised.

"You'd better have." Forger's eye held an evil twinkle, "Those girls can get down. Their exploits have reached Earth."

"We'll be okay." Macen assured her.

"All right." Forger became more sombre, "You said you wanted to talk. What's on your mind?"

Macen hesitated. Using his paranormal senses he scrutinised Forger. She'd been dealt a harsh blow but it hadn't broken her. She was saddened and there were regrets but she was fiercer and more stubborn than ever.

"I was wondering when my team would be going off suspension." Macen said.

"You mean you want to know when you will be getting off suspension." Forger corrected for him.

"It amounts to the same thing." Macen admitted.

"You've stayed busy by taking non-Starfleet contracts. Dr. Blink had a devil of a time trying to coordinate with your schedule." Forger pointed out.

"Has the good doctor made her recommendations?" Macen asked.

"She has. You're to be considered an extremely dangerous man. You're also to be reinstated by order of Admiral Nechayev and your records sealed at the highest level. Congratulations, you can go back to work." Forger revealed, "So, how's my sister doing?"

Shannon Forger, Amanda's younger sister, was the Executive Officer of Macen's ship. Macen grinned, "The Obsidian wouldn't function without her. Tom Riker was a brilliant tactician but he was a horrible administrator. Shannon is five times the XO that he was."

"And no signs of a drug problem?" Forger wanted to know.

Macen shook his head, "She's clean. She just needed to do the job in order to realise that she was more than capable of doing it in the first place."

Forger wore a rueful expression, "That sounds like Shannon."

"Still," Macen added, "She's a natural when it comes to personnel matters. She's a top notch ship handler and she's beginning to relish the job. Personally, I can't ask for more."

Forger smiled, "Thank you, Brin. You didn't have to give her a second chance. It was good of you."

"Yeah right." Macen countered, "I just didn't want to lose an officer with her potential."

The door rang and Forger instructed it to open. The delivery man brought in their food and set it out on the table. Forger went to the side of the table without a chair. Macen took a seat opposite of her.

They dove into the food and hungrily ate for some time. Later, Macen picked at his food but barely partook. Forger watched this for several minutes and finally intervened, "Something's on your mind and it isn't the food."

His eyes intently met hers, "You spoke of second chances. Would you give a second chance to someone who'd tried to kill you?"

"You mean Richard don't you?" Forger apprehensively asked. Her ex-husband, Richard Drake, had been the man to put her in the antigrav chair. He'd been psychologically conditioned to do it and did it without meaning to but the net result was the same: she couldn't walk.

"Not necessarily Richard." Macen replied, "But he could prove to be the most useful example. He's freshest in your mind."

"Richard had no choice." Forger admitted, "I can't fault him for that. His predicament, however, came as a result of decisions he willingly made. I can't forget or forgive that. It's all a moot point anyway. Richard's programmed to kill me on sight. We have to be kept separated or one of us dies."

Forger studied him for a moment, "That wasn't an idle question, was it?"

Macen told her of meeting Ryst in her new identity. He relayed what they'd discussed and his offer of tomorrow. Forger frowned.

"You're not honestly thinking of employing her are you?" she asked.

"I'm offering her Rab Daggit's empty slot on the team." Macen revealed.

"Ye Gods, Brin." Forger exclaimed.

"I've made up my mind, Amanda." Macen warned her.

"Heaven help us all." Forger muttered, "I'll start processing her security clearance tomorrow."

Macen brightened, "Thanks. I knew you'd understand."

 

Chapter Two

Macen entered the Dark Man and found it to be the same as when he and Elias Vaughn had discovered it fifty years ago. The furniture was newer but in the same style. The sparse wall decorations were still the same as before. It looked lived in without appearing shabby.

Belfast had a history which fascinated Macen. Throughout the 20th century it had been the object of a fierce struggle for independence. The primary antagonist had resorted to terror tactics and lost the sympathy of the world. At the end of the century they began seeking a political solution achieved through negotiation.

Dissidents sought to continue the violence but the former rival factions banded together and drove the terrorists out through an act of popular will. It was an example that helped guide the struggling nations of Earth to come together after World War III. Since his time with the Maquis, Belfast had earned itself a special place in his heart.

Macen surveyed the room and spotted Ryst...he had to get used to her new name...he spotted Rockford sitting alone in a booth that afforded a view of the interior of the pub as well as the entrance. He smiled to himself. That was the spot he would have chosen to sit at if he'd arrived first.

He reached the table and sat down, "Hello Celeste. Have you been here long?"

"Long enough to wonder if you were going to be on time." Rockford admitted.

A pub matron came to their table and they ordered. She immediately brought their drinks. Rockford had a pint of the bitter while Macen enjoyed a cup of tea. Rockford eyed Macen, "So what do you want?"

"I checked your criminal records yesterday." Macen said.

"And you discovered I don't have any." Rockford supplied for him.

"Right." Macen grinned, "Which clears the way for our imminent conversation."

The matron reappeared with their meals. Rockford chose Shepard's pie while Macen had a bacon sandwich. Once the server was gone Rockford asked, "What imminent conversation? I thought you were going to offer me a job."

"How would you like to join my SID team?" Macen enquired.

Rockford stared at him in stunned silence. Eventually she dropped her fork and that snapped her out of it.

"You've got to be joking." She sputtered.

"No, I'm not." Macen assured her, "You have all of the qualifications. I've checked your reputation. You're purported to be a highly competent and professional investigator. These reports came from some parties that are very hard to impress. I not only want you for my team, to be blunt, I need you on my team." Macen hesitated and then added, "And if I may be so bold, you need to be on the team as well."

"How can you say that?" Rockford wondered, "How can you offer me this? I've tried to kill you."

Macen shrugged, "I can forgive a lot. You were working for other individuals at the time. It was your job to do as they said. Later, when it became personal, you decided to forgo fulfilling your desire for revenge and instead tried to help." Macen grew intent, "My impression of you is that you're a person searching for something. On Mityr, you tried to warn me of Sindis' plans. You abandoned B'nner's quest for vengeance and fled to forge your own life."

Macen continued, "During the Tarsus Wars you aspired to a goal and an ideal greater than yourself. You sought the greater good. All of your merc jobs gave you a small taste of that pursuit. Now, as a private investigator, you're trying to help people sort out their lives."

"I can offer you more than eking out a meagre existence. I can offer you a dream." Macen promised.

Hesitantly, Rockford asked, "What kind of a dream?"

Macen told her of the dream of the Seekers of Truth, of restoring balance to the galaxy, and of uniting sentient life under one banner. He talked of realising the ideals of justice and equality. He spoke of hope.

In a choked voice, Rockford said, "If I agree to this you have to absorb my agency and retain my employees. They're good people and they deserve a shot at being under the Outbound Ventures umbrella."

Macen handed her a padd, "All you have to do is read the contract and approve of it. Your agency will become a subsidiary of Outbound Ventures, Inc. and you'll always be welcome there even after you decide to leave the SID team."

"How...?" Rockford was astonished, "How could you anticipate my request?"

Macen grinned, "Trade secrets, my dear."

Later, after they'd finished their meal and Rockford had accepted the employment contract and the sale of her agency, they stood outside the pub.

"Need a lift?" Rockford asked as she stood by the curb hailing a cab.

Macen shook his head, "I'm catching a train to Dublin. I'm meeting my wife there."

Rockford grimaced, "I'd forgotten about her."

"She won't bite." Macen promised, "I'll see to it."

"Why're you being so nice?" Rockford had to know.

"Everyone deserves a second chance. Just don't waste yours." Macen advised.

As he strolled down the street, Rockford considered his words. Her cab arrived and she instructed the cabbie to drop her off at the municipal public transporter.

At the Clarence Hotel in Dublin, Macen dropped T'Kir's gear off in their suite. He turned to face her and she came running towards him. Leaping into the air she landed into his waiting, if somewhat startled, arms. Unfortunately, her momentum carried them backwards and they fell onto the bed in a jumble.

T'Kir kissed him fiercely and her body melted into his. She ran her hands down the length of his body until her hand reached his groin. She adopted a wicked smile.

"D'we have time for a quickie?" she giggled.

Macen accepted her offer and they were thirty minutes late meeting Grace in the restaurant. She smiled good naturedly and asked, "Only had time for a quickie?"

Macen blushed but T'Kir plopped down in her seat, "Yeah, but what a rush after being stuck in the middle of nowhere."

Grace looked to Macen, who was settling in his chair, "She missed you."

Still blushing, Macen smiled, "I got that."

T'Kir pinched his cheek, "Isn't he cute?"

"I suppose." Grace allowed.

"What d'you mean?" T'Kir growled.

"T'Kir, I don't think of him in those terms. I acknowledge the fact that he's a reasonably attractive man but he's my Captain. That fact supersedes anything else. Hands off. Out of bounds. Plus, he's married to you."

"Thank you." Macen gratefully replied.

"Well, when you put it that way..." T'Kir relented.

"Since I've had plenty of time to study the menu," Grace smiled, "let me make a few suggestions..."

As the meal wore on, T'Kir's enthusiasm went up a notch as she and Grace described their trip to Macen. Other patrons unabashedly stared. They weren't used to seeing an emotive Vulcan.

T'Kir's parents had been followers of the tenets of Sybok rather than Surak. Emotional expression was the highest form of personal fulfilment. As things stood, T'Kir was highly fulfilled.

A more pressing point was that she'd been an extremely sensitive and powerful telepath. Others' thoughts had been her own without desiring them or trying to access them. That had driven her to the brink of madness. Truth be told, she'd never fully recover.

Her abilities were drastically paired down now so any intrusions were done with intent and purpose. Of those sitting at the table with her, Grace was immune to her telepathy. Macen could block her out despite a permanent and private rapport that they shared. Although her abilities were limited in range, her connection to Macen seemed boundless.

Although they were enjoying their meal, T'Kir took an opportunity when the conversation lulled to ask, "Why are you blocking my telepathy now. Earlier you felt guilty but I didn't probe deep enough to discover why."

"I have news you won't like." Macen confessed, "I've been holding back in order to avoid talking about it."

"Too late, buster." T'Kir decided, "We're talking 'bout it now."

"I've found someone to take over Rab's role on the team." Macen revealed.

T'Kir was surprised. He'd nearly given up on placing someone in that slot. Intrigued, she asked who it was.

"It's someone you know and don't like." Macen warned her.

"I'm a big girl, Brin." T'Kir replied, "I can play nice. Now, tell me."

"It's Annika Ryst." Macen blurted, "Only it's not. She's assumed a new identity. She's Celeste Rockford now."

"Are you out of your frinxing mind?" she hissed between clenched teeth, "She's tried to kill us. Twice."

"Read my thoughts and you'll see why I made the decision I did." Macen suggested.

T'Kir hesitated and then her brow furrowed ever so slightly and she perused his memories. When she finished, she whistled, "Okay, good call."

"What?" Grace protested, "I don't get to know?"

"T'Kir can tell you later. Right now let's finish up and then take in some of the local sights." Macen said.

"Yes, Captain my Captain." Grace retorted.

"Ain't she somethin'?" T'Kir wore a Cheshire grin.

Macen rolled his eyes and went back to his meal.

Tom Riker swung through Outbound Ventures' offices. He was headed for Christine Pike's lair. Pike was a former Starfleet administrator that now served as Outbound Ventures' official liaison with the SID.

Riker poked his head into her office and grinned, "Hiya Chris, got a minute?"

"For you, Captain," Pike returned the grin, "always. Take a seat."

Riker turned a chair around backwards and straddled it "Any news from Brin?"

"About his reinstatement?" Pike sought clarification.

"Is there anything else?" Riker wearily smiled. Riker had recently left Macen's SID team to assume command of the newly refurbished Emden-class escort. The SS Indomitable was her name and she'd already proven that she was a tough little ship. In fact, she was the most powerful ship in Outbound Ventures' privateer fleet. She was rivalled only by the SS Jack Aubrey, an Iotian built Constitution-class analogue, and Macen's SS Obsidian, a Nova-class surveyor.

Riker was the second Outbound Ventures captain to secure work as a SID team leader. In Macen's absence and with his years of experience serving with Macen Riker had taken up the shortfall created by Macen's suspension. Needless to say, the entire crew was exhausted.

Riker waited for an answer. Finally his brow raised, "Well?"

Pike laughed, "Brin's back. You've earned a vacation. Take it easy."

"I will." Riker assured her, "Thanks."

"Any plans?" Pike wondered.

"We're starting off by having dinner with Rab and Parva tonight." Riker informed her.

"Sounds fun." Pike turned to her desk and handed Riker a padd, "You may be interested in this."

"What is it?" Riker asked.

"Brin just bought a detective agency." Pike revealed, "They seem quite competent."

"Why'd he do that?" Riker enquired.

"He hired the head of the agency on to the SID team." Pike answered, "It's all in the file."

"I'll be sure to check it out." Riker said as he rose, "For now, I'm meeting Lees, Radil, and Abby for lunch. See ya."

Pike wished for the umpteenth time that she'd landed Riker before Danan. "Oh well." She said to herself and went back to work.

 

Chapter Three

"So, we're reinstated." Macen said over subspace, "I'd expect a mission at any time."

Dracas nodded, "I agree. Do you want me to alert our newest teammates?"

"That would be appreciated." Macen replied.

"Gantz and Galen 3 left the ship together." Dracas informed him, "They were planning on spending the evening together."

Macen grimaced, "This could spell trouble."

"I don't know where they went." Dracas confessed.

"Gantz prefers the Sailor's Moon. It's part bar, part brothel. It's where he'd take someone as naïve as Galen 3." Macen sighed.

"I'll be there shortly." Dracas vowed before terminating the connection.

A few hours before, Gantz and Galen 3 entered the Sailor's Moon. Galen 3's eyes nearly popped out of their skull at his first glimpse of all the women in the bar. They were dressed provocatively yet within the common framework of the modest standards of Barrinor.

The two were a study in contrasts. Gantz was grizzled and grey haired. He was built like a tree trunk with thick limbs. Galen 3 was sandy haired, youthful, and gangly. Gantz was an experienced traveller having traversed the length of the Federation. Galen 3 was fresh off of his homeworld of Eminiar VII.

Gantz had been born an Acamarian Gatherer. Effectively a pirate, Gantz had grown up raiding ships and pillaging colonial outposts. After his clan had reconciled with their fellow Acamarians Gantz became a bounty hunter and skip tracer.

He became well versed in all the legal and police procedures spanning the Federation as well as dozens of worlds beyond the UFP's borders. He possessed a fierce reputation. Few fugitives had managed to elude him throughout his career. Now he was a member of Macen's SID team.

His breadth of knowledge coupled with his skills as a tracker had appealed to Macen. Added to this Gantz's stoic demeanour and laconic manner immediately won Macen over. Hired in as the newly christened Law Enforcement Specialist Gantz provided a valuable step towards the team's new direction.

The original team had drifted off into a paramilitary mode. Macen's goal with this revamped edition of the team was to form an investigative unit. He remained as the Mission Commander. T'Kir was his cybernetics and computer expert. Galen 3 was hired in as the Sciences Specialist. Grace remained the pilot without peer. Dracas was the engineer. Tessa, the EMH, had become their medical expert.

Rockford had been hired in as an investigator. Radil Jenrya was their Security agent. Rockford, Radil, Dracas, and Gantz also doubled as the muscle. If called upon they could still perform military ops.

Galen 3 was a brilliant scientist. Unfortunately, he'd only been off his native world for three weeks before being recruited out of the Daystrom Institute. Fortunately, he was eager. He had a puppy-like quality about him. He was likeable and no one wanted to hurt him.

He'd practically begged Gantz to let him tag along on his excursion to the surface. Gantz had shrugged and agreed. He figured that it would open the kid's eyes a little. Judging by Galen 3's gaping expression that had happened.

Dracas entered the Sailor Moon and stopped to study his surroundings. He had to admit, if he'd been even remotely interested in the flesh of a woman this would be the place to cater to that desire. He spotted the table where Gantz and Galen 3 had women draped around them. Shaking his head Dracas went to intervene.

"I don't get it." Gantz complained, "I should've drunk you under the table hours ago."

Galen 3 grinned, "I have a catalyser implant. It consumes elements that my liver wouldn't normally handle or can't process."

"Crap." Gantz glumly replied.

"The Captain said you'd be here." Dracas said disapprovingly, "I'd hoped he'd be wrong."

"Why Dracas, are you here to break out of your usual mould?" Gantz asked.

Dracas gave him a withering gaze and Gantz shook his head, "Didn't think so."

"What are you doing here?" Galen 3 squeaked.

"We've been cleared for Starfleet contracts." Dracas informed them, "We're now on alert."

"No point in it." Gantz replied, "The Captain's not due back for four days. We won't make a move without him. We just spent nine months proving that."

Dracas couldn't argue the point. The Acamarian was correct. That still left another matter.

"Do not corrupt the boy." Dracas warned, "He has much to learn and a lifetime in which to learn it."

Gantz was about to protest but it was already too late. Dracas was headed for the door. Gantz had no idea that Dracas felt akin to Galen 3. He too had recently left his native world and begun travelling with Macen. He'd had much to learn and his teammates still gently helped him. He wanted Galen 3 to have that same opportunity.

Grace strolled down the dock until she reached slip 9. The boat sitting there was beautiful and familiar. Ian Delaney waved her aboard from the aft deck. Seeing her he gave her a wary nod.

"I was surprised to get your call." He confessed, "After all, we did break up nine months ago, right?"

"Things were accelerating a little too fast." Grace replied, "I didn't think you knew what you were getting into."

"And what could I be getting into?" Delaney asked, "Beyond the usual?"

"That's just it, Ian." Grace sighed, "I'm not the usual. I may appear human, smell human, feel human, taste human, and scan human, but I'm not human."

"I'm Kelvan." She continued, "With all of the prejudices and racial memories that implies. I have a genetic imperative to conquer and kill anything non-Kelvan."

"Really?" he asked.

Grace sighed, "Yes. There's a part of me that wants to kill you right now. It's something we all struggle with."

"Then why don't you?" Delaney asked, "With your superior tech it would take a while before we could beat you."

"That's just the point." Grace said, "Someone always comes along and beats us. It's just a matter of time. It's better to learn how to cooperate and live in peace."

"All right, I admit it, I never realised." Delaney confessed.

"That's because we were too busy shagging." Grace opined.

"But it was fun." Delaney grinned.

"Yes, it was." Grace admitted, "And I miss you. As long as we stay friends, we can hang out. Who knows what else can happen as long as we keep things casual?"

"I like the gist of that." Delaney said, "You still want to join me for the day?"

"Ooohhh yeah." Grace enthused.

"Then cast off." Delaney ordered.

"Aye, aye." Grace snapped a salute and happily complied.

Three days later, Katreen ran around excitedly. It was her first sight of her new apartments and she was giddy. Mariska kept trying to contain her while Dervin just beamed.

"You could help." Mariska complained.

Dervin chuckled, "It seems we have at long last discovered a limit to your esteemed talents."

Mariska scowled. Dervin called out to Katreen as she moved room to room, "Sweetness, it's time to go. The servants need time to prepare for us."

"Oh foo." She pouted as she came to a skidding halt. She immediately transformed from a bundle of excited energy to a quiet and attentive observer. Ghemor congratulated Dervin on her manners and upbringing.

"Mr. President?" Katreen politely asked, "If you're discussing me couldn't you also address me?"

Ghemor gazed upon her as a pleased grandfather adores a grandchild, "Of course your Majesty. I apologise for being rude."

"Why do we get such a nice place to live?" Katreen enquired, "Millions of Cardassian citizens are still living at sustenance levels. Why are we granted such luxuries?"

Ghemor was astonished at hearing such a lucid question from an eleven-year old, "I must say, your insight into the issue both surprises me and delights me. To answer your question: The situation was far worse in the Unionist days. Legates, Directors, and Legislaturists used to live in opulence that staggered the imagination. To this day the top 2% of wealthy business leaders still live in such grandeur as to propel them to a different world. We have removed much of the largess from the budget for elected officials. We do not, at this time, redistribute the wealth of the nation to equalise incomes. Cardassia has undergone many reforms but that would be one too many at this time."

Ghemor continued, "As far as the Monarch and the President go, the voters have actually agreed by referendum to compensate us for our efforts with extra privileges. Our actual wages are low but our support staff and our accommodations are paid for. Think of it as a reward stemming from the gratitude of the people."

Katreen frowned, "We're going to revisit this later."

Ghemor laughed good naturedly, "I have no doubts."

"What comes next?" Katreen wondered, "Watching the servants unpack my clothes and things doesn't sound like much fun."

There were smiles all around from that. Ghemor knelt down to address her, "How would you like to tour the school you'll be attending and meet some of the students there?"

"Can we? Please!" Katreen implored her father.

He smiled, "It's already been arranged."

Displaying the multicultural influences in her life, she pumped her fist in the air, "Yeeesss!"

Dervin looked slightly distressed, "Humans. Who can explain them?"

Mariska was profoundly unhappy with the security arrangements outside. Two Presidential guards accompanied Ghemor. Mariska's own force had to be abandoned at the border. She was Katreen's sole protector. Dervin's paternal instincts might prove useful but the odds were likely that he would simply get in the way.

Joining them in the courtyard leading to the pinnace landing pad was Elim Garak. Mariska knew next to nothing about Garak. His public record listed him as Ghemor's Special Advisor. Before that he participated in Damar's revolution. His past beyond that was shrouded in mystery. Some said he'd been an exile in Bajoran space for years. Other reported that he was a tailor of some repute. Whispers alluded to connections with the Obsidian Order and Enabran Tain.

Garak's secretive role included arranging Ghemor's security. Much to Garak's consternation. Ghemor insisted upon having only two security agents. In response Garak ensured that the agents would be the deadliest people within the Union.

Today a military honour guard was attached to the detail. What was unexpected was that the guard turned their weapons on the principals and began to open fire. Mariska and the two agents got several shots off before they were hit. Mariska's ablative armour left her wounded but conscious as two soldiers grabbed Katreen. Mariska started to rise but was tackled by Garak.

"If you truly love the child you will save your strength to strike at them when the odds are in your favour." Garak whispered in her ear.

It was a moot point because the soldiers had transported away and spirited Katreen away with them. The agents were wounded as was Dervin. Only Ghemor and Garak remained unscathed. Garak lifted himself off of Mariska and assisted Dervin. When Dervin regained his feet he was seething.

"How could this happen?" he growled.

"I'm terribly sorry." Ghemor tried to reassure him, "I'll get my people on it immediately."

"'Your people did this!" Dervin thundered, "I want Starfleet and I want them now!"

"That's impossible." Ghemor shouted back.

"Gentlemen," Garak almost cooed, "there is a solution. One of Starfleet's best has turned into a private contractor. We've hired him before and the results were favourable."

"You're discussing Brin Macen, aren't you?" Ghemor realised.

"Precisely." Garak's smile was benign.

"I know this Macen." Dervin revealed, "I'd trust him with my daughter's life. Only, he was a Maquis. Can you forgive such a thing?"

"Useful talent can be forgiven anything." Garak replied, "And Macen is very useful. That is why Starfleet began hiring him after he resigned in disgrace."

"I don't care if he was disgraced." Dervin declared, "Macen saved my family's life. He may yet do so again. Find him. Hire him. Make it happen Ghemor."

Ghemor looked to Garak, "Can it be done?"

Garak graced him with a knowing smile, "I know who to talk to."

 

Chapter Four

The Barrinor Macen, T'Kir, and Grace were returning to was a vastly different one than the Barrinor that had existed six months ago. Barrinor had joined the United Federation of Planets. It was an almost unprecedented event.

Securing membership had been a long, arduous process. The Federation's Colonial Affairs Department had been offering Barrinor the protection and full developmental assistance of the Federation in exchange for submitting to colonial control. This offer had stood unheeded for almost half a century. Barrinor opted to hold out for full membership. In the end, the plucky settlers outlasted the colonial officials. Full membership was secured in the end.

Drastic changes had come over the last six months. Gone was the capitalistic economic model that had been Barrinor's lifeblood. Truly, little else changed. New jobs were developed for displaced workers. Those that wished to move off-world were resettled.

The major change was that Starfleet had arrived in force. Three starships had been assigned to Starbase 418 which was currently under construction in orbit over Barrinor. The existing KX station would remain the planet's commercial hub.

Added to the flurry of activity was the station being built for Outbound Ventures. Macen had finally decided that the corporation required a facility all its own. The station would be able to handle maintenance, repairs, refuelling, and refits.

They'd opted to orbit Odin, the system's fifth planet. It was a cooler world with Scandinavian type weather at the equatorial range and Antarctic conditions at the polar continents. The planet only boasted a million settlers so it would be private and with clear traffic lanes. There were also two moons, Ve and Vili. Both were frigid, uninhabited balls of ice.

Macen had hired a Cardassian firm to build the station. They were getting a Nor-class station. Being an older design they were relatively inexpensive and proven to be durable. The neighbouring Bajoran sector was littered with them so it wouldn't stand out.

In lieu of an ore processor the station was receiving several industrial replicators to be installed in its heart. These would be used for starship repairs and construction. Six SPYards engineers were being based there to over see modifying and upgrading Outbound Ventures' SID vessels.

Another advantage was is that all of the Outbound Ventures ships could be based there as well as their crews. The corporate offices were remaining on Barrinor while the engineering support and vessel crews were moving to the station. The corporate offices were getting applications from merchants that wanted to set up shop there.

Macen and T'Kir were planning on moving to the station but keeping their terrestrial home as a vacation spot. Grace had similar plans. Radil and Dracas were setting up permanent quarters on the station. Gantz and Galen 3 were expected to do likewise. Macen assumed Rockford would since she was a fugitive on Barrinor. Now they just had to name the behemoth.

Macen had fielded several suggestions and requests for a name. He himself had suggested Tiberius Station, named after James T. Kirk. Dracas had liked it but T'Kir had replied with a backhand that nearly tore his arm off. The most popular choice so far was Dracas' Artemis Station. Macen and T'Kir liked it but felt they should choose something with a broader meaning. Whatever they chose it would be the result of long deliberation.

Grace brought the Idiot's Delight in for final approach for Barrinor. T'Kir had relegated her usual role of pilot in an acknowledgement of Grace's infinitely superior skills. Although the Delight wasn't much to look at, she was T'Kir's baby and Grace was being extra cautious in order to spare her friend any grief.

The Skylark-class scoutship had preceded the Danube-class runabout in size and modular configuration by twenty years. The Advanced Starship Design Bureau spent many years studying the Skylark design and its flaws. T'Kir had completely renovated the ship through a series of refits and modular exchanges. The Idiot's Delight remained a cranky ship but at least she wasn't being repaired every other day now.

"Watch the lateral RCS thrusters." T'Kir warned, "They've been sticky lately."

"T'Kir," Grace wore a wry expression, "I've got it."

T'Kir took a deep breath, "Sorry Hannah. It's just been a while since someone else handled her."

"Okay, you're forgiven." Grace replied, "Now, where were we?"

"Ian Delaney." T'Kir answered, "You went to see him, now dish."

"Ian was very sweet." Grace informed her, "Instead of asking me about interests, hobbies, and previous assignments he took the time to learn more about me."

"And how did he react?" T'Kir asked.

"He coped." Grace said, "It was a little hard for him but our sweet little Ian has a few secrets of his own. He's not the pure, virtuous angel we've all thought him to be."

"Ooo, do tell!" T'Kir gleefully demanded.

"I'm sworn to secrecy." Grace replied, "News of this could send Ian to jail and I'm not going be the cause of that when I agree with what he did."

"Oh poop." T'Kir groused, "And I can't just read your mind to find out."

"Poor baby." Grace said consolingly.

"What have I missed?" Macen asked as he came forward from the aft compartments.

"Not much." T'Kir replied, "Hannah has just been expounding on Ian Delaney."

"I thought you were over him." Macen commented.

"I'm neither over him nor pining for him." Grace explained, "He's a dear friend."

"'Dear,' my eye." T'Kir retorted, "Are you or are you not pursuing Mr. Delaney?"

"No, I'm not." Grace sighed, "I'm giving Ian a chance to know the real and complete me. Once he's done that he can decide on whether or not I'm worth pursuing. My hopes aren't set either way. I'm content just being me."

"Congratulations, Hannah." Macen opined, "That's a very healthy attitude."

"But it doesn't get you any nookie." T'Kir complained, "I think I'll withhold judgement until later."

The comm started beeping and T'Kir answered it. Pike's image was displayed on the viewer, "T'Kir! Is Brin with you?"

"Naturally." T'Kir replied.

"You've had an assignment come in." Pike revealed, "I'll give you the details when you land."

"Gotcha." T'Kir said, "We'll be there in fifteen."

"Good." Pike replied, "This one's trouble."

Grace brought the Delight down on to the elevator pad. It descended into the underground complex as soon as the ship was stable. Once the elevator had stopped, Grace popped the hatch. She stayed behind to secure the ship while Macen and T'Kir pressed forward to meet Pike in their shared office.

Pike was already inside. She stood studying Macen's bookshelf, "I see you have some new titles."

The books in question were The Captain's Loves by Janice Rand. Also included were I am not Human and I am Human by Spock. Pike was perusing Rand's book, "I didn't think you were into this sort of thing."

Macen grinned, "You have to study all facets of a person's life in order to get to know them. Besides, T'Kir recommended it."

"You gotta make his obsession interesting." T'Kir opined.

"I can understand his interest." Pike admitted, "Kirk was a charismatic leader and a brilliant tactician. He just bent the rules to the breaking point."

"That sounds familiar." T'Kir grinned.

"Discussing yourself, dear?" Macen teased.

T'Kir stuck out her tongue and Macen replied, "Put that away unless you intend to use it."

T'Kir flashed him a wicked smile, "Don't give me any ideas."

"Ahem." Pike cleared her throat, "If we can all settle down?"

"Right." Macen agreed, "Have a seat Chris."

Macen and T'Kir's desks had moved and now sat side by side with enough room to manoeuvre in between. Pike opted to sit in one of the available armchairs. Meanwhile, T'Kir retrieved everyone's favourite beverage of choice. When she had settled down Pike began.

"The pertinent data can be found under the ‘Chrysalis' file in the ‘SID Impending Cases' folder." Pike explained, "Yesterday Admiral Forger received a message from the Cardassian Union's Office of the President. Elim Garak specifically requested your assistance with a sensitive matter. The President's Office is offering twice the normal rates for the job."

She explained that the Chrysalis child had been kidnapped by rogue Cardassian forces. The government needed her back in a week's time in order to perform the coronation ceremony on time. The resources of the Cardassian Union stood ready to assist. Ghemor himself had signed off on this request.

Forger approved of the mission, as did Starfleet Command, Pike informed them, "Attached to the file is a personal request from President Delane urging you to accept this contract." Gant Delane was the President of the United Federation of Planets. A heady request indeed.

Having finished, Pike sat in expectant silence. Macen looked to T'Kir. She gave an almost imperceptible nod. This concurred with Macen's feelings so he told Pike that they'd accept the mission. Pike smiled as she rose to leave, "I'll call all the appropriate people."

"Thanks Chris." Macen smiled, "Can you also alert Dana to issue a general recall of the Obsidian crew?"

"Of course." Pike departed.

"Now what?" T'Kir asked.

"Now we find Celeste Rockford." Macen grinned.

Outbound Ventures acquisition of Rockford's detective agency had sailed through the legal and financial hoops. The company was already listed as a subsidiary asset on the corporate directory. Macen pulled up the agency's comm listings. He grinned.

Rockford had purchased and installed filters that allowed her to screen calls. She could appear to be away even when she was actively using the comm system. Macen's people had already installed his override so she was in for a surprise.

He paged her and then waited. She replied within seconds, "All right. How did you penetrate my filter?"

"I keep telling you..." Macen began.

"'Trade secrets', yah, yah." Rockford finished for him, "What do you want?"

"What's your ETA for Barrinor?" Macen asked.

"Three hours seventeen minutes at present speed." Rockford reported, "Why?"

"We have a case." Macen revealed, "We have an estimated system departure in six hours. The sooner you arrive the sooner you can get settled in aboard the Obsidian."

"It would be nice to occupy quarters other than the brig." Rockford said dryly.

"Point taken." Macen agreed, "Just get here ASAP."

"I've revised my estimate." Rockford informed him, "I should be arriving in one hour twenty-two minutes."

"Good." Macen said, "We'll be ready for you. Macen out."

"I hope you know what you're doing with her." T'Kir softly warned.

"Yeah." Macen replied, "Me too."

 

Chapter Five

Maret had established his encampment on Lopso B II, more commonly referred to as Gemini. It was a rustic world located in the heart of the DMZ. Settled by Federation citizens, it had made peace with the Cardassian Union through commerce. In short, Cardassians craved Gemini's beef. Maret's own forces were happily consuming prime cuts bought at wholesale prices.

It was this world that Katreen had been brought to. Housed in a field tent, she was guarded 18 hours a day. That encompassed the local solar day.

The Cardassians had set up camp in the foothills of one of Gemini's many mountain ranges. Herds of cattle roamed these lands and the bored troops took delight in scaring them off. Visiting Maret was one Bertram Sindis.

Sindis was the head of both the Orion Syndicate and the Meirkus Conglomeration. He was essentially the most powerful crimelord in the known galaxy. He was Maret's sponsor and he wanted an update on the gul's progress.

"As you can see we have the child contained." Maret boasted, "She will remain that way until she is publicly executed."

Sindis stared into Maret's eyes, "Take care. Children are capable of anything."

"Yes, I had four myself before the Dominion slaughtered them." Maret spat.

"Yes, that is unfortunate." Sindis regretted it only because it removed a leverage point he could have used himself, "I approve of your endeavours but I bring a warning. Brin Macen has been hired to find the girl and eliminate you."

"Macen?" Maret repeated, "I've never heard of him.

Sindis held out a padd, "This contains all the pertinent information regarding Macen and his cohorts. I suggest you study it well and prepare."

"You make it sound as though he'll find me." Maret chuckled.

"Make no mistake about it Maret." Sindis warned, "He will find you and at that moment you most likely will die. Be cautious. Be prepared."

Maret was somewhat spooked, "I will. Thank you."

"Farewell Maret." Sindis smiled, "I wish you the best of luck." He tapped a control on his wrist communicator and shimmered out of existence. Maret began studying the contents of the padd. Soon he was reaching for a nerve steadying glass of kanar.

The primary hatch to Rockford's ship opened. There was a name inscribed on the side of the ship. Her craft was now dubbed the SS Vision Quest. To Macen it seemed apropos since Rockford had been seeking a purpose ever since the Tarsus Wars ended.

Rockford herself appeared in the hatchway with bags draped from her and others surrounding her feet, "Hello there. I didn't know what to pack so I brought everything."

T'Kir smiled despite herself and Macen replied, "It's all right. You'll figure everything out soon enough. Let me help you with your bags."

Macen picked up two large duffels, leaving one behind. Macen gave T'Kir a pointed look. She grinned, "I guess I've been volunteered as well."

"I still can't believe you're being so nice." Rockford exclaimed, "After all, I've tried to kill you both."

"T'Kir tried to kill me once and I married her anyway." Macen disclosed, "I'm a hard luck case aficionado."

Rockford looked to T'Kir for confirmation. T'Kir wore a goofy grin and nodded, "Lucky for me I missed his heart."

"You're nuts." Rockford decided, "Both of you."

"Means you should fit right in." T'Kir assured her.

They were crossing the tarmac when Tom Riker came jogging up. He fell into step beside Macen, "We need to talk."

"Tom, we have a mission." Macen told him, "We're departing the system in less than four and a half hours. I don't have time to talk."

"It's SID business." Riker confided.

"My in-box is available. I'll get to it when I can." Macen replied, "Better yet, call Amanda. She loves these little problems."

"Who said it was a problem?" Riker wondered.

"Your whole demeanour screams ‘imminent disaster'." Macen explained.

"All right." Riker relented, "I'll call Admiral Forger." His eyes drifted off in Rockford's direction, "Is that Celeste Rockford?"

"Yup," Macen answered.

Riker hurried over to Rockford's side, "Hello, I'm Tom Riker."

"Yes, I know." Rockford cryptically replied.

Riker grew serious, "You know, you remind me of someone."

Rockford smiled, "I get that a lot. The curse of being average."

Riker chuckled, "Good luck on your first mission. Brin, give the team my best. Later."

Riker departed just as the trio reached the awaiting shuttlepod that would take them to the Obsidian.

Kalista, the ship's yeoman, greeted them at the airlock, "Hello there. Did you manage to get everything?"

"Yes." Rockford replied with a smile, "As these bags can attest to."

Kalista's smile was warm, "Then let me show you to your quarters so you can unburden yourself."

The Deltan led them through the corridors until they reached a cabin door. Kalista stood in front of it and it opened. The trio entered in and set all of the luggage down. Kalista retrieved a tricorder and flipped it open.

"Would you mind if I took some biometric data?" she asked, "I can program the door's security settings from it."

"Be my guest." Rockford consented.

Kalista took a few readings and then closed the instrument, "Well, I'm done. Would you like a tour of the space?"

"I'll figure it out." Rockford replied.

"Kalista," Macen interjected, "would you mind paging the SID team members and have them join us in the Team Room?"

"I live to serve." Kalista grinned.

"We'll show Celeste the way." Macen informed her.

Kalista turned to Rockford, "Page me when you want a tour of the ship."

Rockford nodded, "I will. Thank you."

"Come on Celeste, we have people to meet." Macen gently urged.

Tessa was already in the room waiting for them. The entire ship had been fitted with holoprojectors and now the EMH could appear anywhere. Having been designed by some holoprogrammer named Felix, they were discovering all sorts of quirks to Tessa's program. As it was, she was delighted with her newfound freedom and sometimes wandered the corridors just for the sheer joy of it. She was quickly making friends with most of the crew.

Tessa approached Rockford, held out her hand, and gave her a bright smile, "Hi! I'm Tessa. Who're you?"

"I could ask the same thing." Rockford had a wry smile, "But I'd say you're a doctor."

Tessa looked down at her scrubs and a goofy grin spread across her face, "Yup. That's me. Your friendly neighbourhood Emergency Medical Hologram...and I make house calls."

Although she was quite pleased with herself, Tessa peered at Rockford, "But you're still avoiding my question."

A weary smile broke slowly graced Rockford's face, "So I am. I'm Celeste Rockford. I'm the latest recruit to the SID team."

Tessa's face lit up, "I've read your file! You're incredible! How did you manage to crack the Marconi case?"

Rockford was at a loss for words. Macen stepped in, "When I acquired your agency I uploaded the Rockford files to the Outbound Ventures' database. The case files require a security clearance but Tessa's cleared for just about everything and she reads a lot."

"Oh." Rockford said. Macen could sense her confusion over the matter. Her inexperience with holograms would be understandable.

"Let's have a seat." Macen suggested, "Tessa, could you get our drinks?"

"Happily." Tessa bubbled, "The usual?"

Macen and T'Kir nodded. Tessa grilled Rockford over her beverage of choice and then bustled off to the replicator. Using a tray, she brought the three mugs back and sat down.

"You're not joining us?" Rockford inquired.

Tessa scrunched up her face, "Can't. Felix made me pretty human but even he can't program a digestive track that would work on real food. I could always use a transporter effect to beam the organic mass out of my ‘stomach' but I still wouldn't be able to taste it. So what's the point?"

"I honestly couldn't tell you." Rockford confessed.

"That's what I thought." Tessa huffed.

The doors to the Team Room opened and admitted Hannah Grace and Galen 3. It was painfully apparent to all, even Rockford, that Galen 3 was completely smitten with Grace. Grace had been Galen 3's age when she'd joined the team. That had been eight years prior and a lot had happened. She in turn seemed oblivious of Galen 3's obsession.

Grace froze when she saw Rockford. Then her left arm swept to propel Galen 3 behind her. Her right hand dropped to her holster. Rockford remained very, very still.

"Relax Hannah." T'Kir urged, "It's okay."

Grace's pose looked relaxed but there was an air of wariness about her, "What's she doing here?"

"She's joining the team." Macen answered.

"You're frinxing with me, right?" Grace bitterly laughed, "How can you two sit there? She's tried to kill you."

"Annika Ryst tried to kill us." Macen replied, "This is Celeste Rockford and she hasn't done a thing."

"So you're telling me this is a different person?" Grace asked.

"Somethin' like that." T'Kir grinned.

Grace plopped down into a chair, "I'm so confused."

Rockford looked at her with empathy, "So am I."

Grace gave her a disbelieving look. Galen 3 eagerly approached, "Hello, what's your name?"

"Celeste." Rockford supplied, "Celeste Rockford."

"And you're on the team?" Galen 3 asked.

"That's the idea." Rockford sighed.

"What's your speciality?" he enquired, "Mine's science."

"I'm an investigator," she cast a sidelong glance towards Macen, "and a surveillance expert."

Galen 3 opened his mouth but Rockford pre-empted him, "What's your name, Skippy?"

"Galen 3." He proudly informed her.

"Why is there a numerical designator behind your name?" Rockford wondered.

Galen 3 grinned, "Traditionally names are passed down on Eminiar VII. My own name originated with my grandfather. My great-grandparents travelled to Earth, heard the name, and loved it. They named their second boy Galen 1."

Galen 3 was merely beginning, "However, if the continuity of the name is broken, the family can reserve it for one generation and begin again at 1. If they fail to utilise the name in that generation it is opened up central pool of names and people can apply for it. One lucky participant will win the rights to the name and they will begin with Galen 1."

"You're obviously well informed." The inundated Rockford replied.

"Let me tell you..." Galen 3 began but the doors opened again. Gantz casually strolled in. He looked to the cluster of people surrounding Rockford. He strolled up and smiled.

"Hi there," he drawled, "Long time no see. Which alias are you using?"

"Celeste Rockford." She replied, "And ‘hi' yourself."

Gantz grinned, "I always liked Rockford. She had her head screwed on straight...unlike some other aliases I could mention. Let's hope the law of averages hasn't run out."

"It hasn't." Rockford said fiercely, "I've given the rest up. What you see is all that's left."

"I hope so." Gantz took a seat and pulled the ebullient Galen 3 down into a chair, "Sit down, Sparky."

Galen 3 looked sullen but no one an opportunity to comment because the door's had opened again and Radil Jenrya and Dracas wandered in. They were engrossed in a conversation.

"I just don't think you should be advising me about relationships." Dracas opined, "After all, you are still currently single and your past exploits left something to be desired, did they not?"

Radil's hands went to her hips, "So learn from my mistakes."

"My only mistake thus far has been listening to you in the first place." Dracas shot back.

"Stan'll love it." She protested.

"I think I know him better than you." Dracas dismissed her assurance, "I refuse to send him that thing."

"It's a teddy bear!" Radil groaned, "How can you hate a teddy bear?"

"Quite easily." Dracas sniffed.

"Oi!" T'Kir called out, "Over here!"

The bantering stopped and Radil's eyes went wide. She drew both of her phasers and aimed them squarely at Rockford. Dracas drew his sword and stood beside Radil, "Where is the threat?"

"That person sitting next to Tessa." Radil explained, "She's the threat."

"She doesn't look like a threat." Dracas replied.

"Radil, Joachim, stand down." Macen ordered, "Come over here and meet your newest teammate."

"Teammate?" Radil exclaimed, "But that's...that's...that's..."

"Celeste Rockford." Macen provided the answer.

"Celeste..." Radil tried out the name, "But what happened to...?"

"She's Celeste Rockford now and has been for quite some time." Macen divulged, "That's the name we'll use and we'll get used to it."

"But why?" Radil asked.

"Because we need her on the team." Macen replied.

"But why?" Radil just couldn't grasp it.

"You'll find out soon enough." Macen assured her, "Everyone will."

Macen escorted her to a chair, "Take a seat. Now I think it's only fair that we get to know our newest member a little better. What are some questions that you have for her?"

They spent the next two hours exploring Rockford's life and career. All references to Annika Ryst were stymied and the conversation always returned to Rockford. Several questions were left unanswered for privacy sake and others because they were based on prejudice or blind hysteria. In the end, the SID team started to accept their newest member but trust was still to be earned...

 

Chapter Six

The Obsidian was preparing for departure. Every station was occupied. Due to discontent amongst the regular crew, Macen had reinstated the SID personnel to their regular shipboard duties and shifts. All of the holdover team members but T'Kir had complied without complaint. The new team members hadn't known anything different so they went along with it.

Grace manned CONN while T'Kir sat at Ops. Rockford familiarised herself with the Tactical station. She shot the occasional evil glare Macen's way. The argument regarding this particular duty had been very loud and very angry. Macen had won but Rockford was still resentful.

Dracas oversaw Engineering. His people were busy bustling about ensuring that the ship could indeed go. Radil sat in her Security Office and monitored vital areas of the ship. Where Tessa was would be anyone's guess.

The duty roster wasn't very onerous. Macen had taken on extra staff. Now the standard duty shift lasted six hours. All of the crew's quarters were filled. The ship's personnel now numbered 80, exactly the specification Starfleet had designed her for.

Shannon Forger ran the bridge. Her demeanour was a far cry from that of the stimulant craving addict she'd been nine months before. Now, her confidence was not only restored, it was bolstered. Coupled with this was a fierce determination to succeed at her chosen duties. So far, she'd performed brilliantly.

The ship flawlessly detached from Barrinor Station and set course for Deep Space 9. Now Macen's pulse quickened. This was the part of space travel that he appreciated. His ship was freed to follow her true purpose: to sail amongst the heavenly bodies. It evoked a sense of wonder that Macen had never lost and eagerly embraced.

Macen had business with Ro Laren and Elias Vaughn at their destination. They possessed intelligence files he required. He could have downloaded the information from Starfleet Command but he also wanted their personal analyses of the raw data as it came across the border.

Ro Laren was a Lt. Commander in Starfleet. Her current assignment was as Chief of Security for the Bajor Sector. The assignment depended as much on luck as it did on the wishes of the Bajoran Militia.

Ro had been a Maquis. She'd abandoned a plum assignment aboard the Enterprise-D as the star pupil of Jean-Luc Picard himself and run off to be a self-proclaimed freedom fighter. She'd quickly earned a position as a cell leader when she suddenly found herself in command over one Brin Macen. Both being MIA Starfleet officers, they quickly discovered they had much in common.

Macen had been an Intelligence officer. He had much to teach in the way of tradecraft. She in turn mentored him in tactics and strategy. Her completion of Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training course granted her superior insights as did her experience with the Maquis.

Ro allowed Macen to form an intelligence gathering unit, with one proviso: he had to accept T'Kir into his team. She'd been mentally unstable then. Her telepathy scouring every brain within thousands of kilometres. Discovering she couldn't read Macen's mind, she became instantly infatuated.

T'Kir's attraction was swiftly reciprocated. In most ways Macen had met his counterpart. Unfortunately, he was in a relationship and he felt obligated to continue on with that. And so the sexual tension built...

Within a short time Macen's lover broke the relationship but by this time T'Kir was so far gone Macen didn't initiate a relationship. When the Maquis were fleeing the Jem'Hadar, Macen's ex-lover was injured and he went to her to ascertain the scope of her injuries.

T'Kir became unhinged. She pulled a combat knife from her belt and she rushed Macen, stabbing him in the right side of his chest. Fortunately, El-Aurian physiology is nearly identical to that of humans and she missed his heart. He was put out of commission with a punctured lung.

T'Kir was committed to a mental health facility and Macen was returned to active duty, serving on the front lines. He sent her video mail and the incoming v-mail soon became the highlight of her week. Two years later, he broke her out of the asylum and asked her to join the SID.

They served side by side without any signs of attraction until they went to Magna Roma. They were separated and when they were reunited old passions erupted. And the rest was history.

Now when it came to history, Elias Vaughn was your man. A Commander in Starfleet, he'd served for eighty years with Starfleet Intelligence and the Special Operations Command. Vaughn was one the new generation of humans. He was one hundred and eight years and had the health and vitality of a man half his age. Over the last nine months he had undergone a radical medical procedure. Virtually every bone in his body had been laced with a polymer coating. Now, he'd resumed his duties as XO of DS9.

Vaughn and Macen had met fifty-four years ago. Vaughn had been Starfleet Intelligence's top Operations man and Macen had been their premier analyst. Their pairing was a natural consequence of their talents.

Starfleet expected, due to their stellar credentials, nothing short of greatness. In truth, the collaboration had a less than auspicious debut. First, the Java-class freighter they were riding in lost its warp drive as it left Earth. They were towed back to Spacedock and two days later were given a fresh berth on an Andor-class transport. The time lost was almost made up for by the greater speed of the Capetown.

When they safely arrived on Prylar V they found that their technical team had left and gone back to the orbiting starbase. Vaughn angrily requested that his team be returned to him. Starbase 127's CO angrily told him that he'd had his chance and wasted it. A request for clarification from Starfleet Command settled the dispute.

Having lost three days, the team could only hope that they hadn't already lost the suspects. The people they were after were a group of engineers that were selling weapons technology. The leak was in Armour Bright, Inc.'s design team and they needed to get it plugged. The potential buyers this time 'round were two Tzenkethi trade delegates. They'd have diplomatic immunity but they would get deported if nothing else.

Six days of tedium crawled by. During that period Vaughn discovered that although Macen had exemplary marks on the range, he'd never fired a phaser at a living thing. Frustrated, Vaughn conducted a crash course on apprehension techniques.

On the seventh day, two human engineers met two Tzenkthi in the warehouse that Starfleet had been tipped off to watch. The sensors and remotes captured the entire transaction. Macen and Vaughn made their move.

Macen flawlessly performed his role...at the beginning. Vaughn, never a fan of the Starfleet issue Assault Phasers they were using, accidentally ejected the powerpack out of the grip. The suspects scattered. Leaving Vaughn cursing at himself for pulling such an amateur move for the first time in a thirty-year career.

Meanwhile, Macen had stunned the closest engineer and then took off after the Tzenkethi with the plans on foot. Vaughn slapped the powerpack back into the phaser. Next, he ripped his communicator off of his belt and flipped it open, "Commander Vaughn to Starfleet Security Dispatch, I'm declaring a Code-7. I require immediate assistance."

"Dispatch to Vaughn, we have confirmed your presence. We copy the alert and units are on the way." Came the efficient female voice.

He noted with some amusement that she'd chosen the phrase ‘confirmed his presence' to state they knew of his mission and orders. That would be handy. He wouldn't have to waste much time explaining the situation. Now where had Macen gone?

Meanwhile, two blocks east, Macen and the Tzenkethi he was pursuing were trying to cross four lanes of traffic during peak hours. He'd already shot his prey between the shoulder blades with a stun blast. The mere fact that the Tzenkethi was up and mobile indicated he was wearing body armour. Now, Macen was prepared to catch him and club him half to death.

After being bounced of the hoods of two different cars, Macen made it across the street and he took off in pursuit of the Tzenkethi once again. The elusive Trade Delegate had selected a blind alley. Macen slowed and proceeded with caution.

His fugitive had stopped at the other end of the alley and was now aiming a disruptor at him. Macen ducked behind a dumpster. The entire area was filled with them, all awaiting transport to the energy conversion station. Macen's eyes swept the sky. He noticed something.

The Tzenkethi was standing directly beneath a dumpster mounted on an antigrav pallet. He thumbed up the power on his phaser and then shot out the antigrav's powercells. It sputtered and died. The Tzenkethi, not believing what he was seeing, stood still. The dumpster landed on him and squished him like a bug.

Macen came out from behind the dumpster he'd been hiding behind and walked over to the scene of the injury. He stopped and said, "Crap." Macen noted that there was a lot of blood but not much flesh to be seen. It seemed to be a soggy mass under the dumpster. He stepped on something and noticed that a blood spattered padd lay on the ground.

He picked up the padd and activated it. What could be seen of the screen looked like schematics. In fact, they looked decidedly like photon torpedo schematics. Macen grinned, "Not a total loss after all."

Macen's communicator began beeping. He flipped it open, "Macen."

"Macen, this is Vaughn. Where are you?" Vaughn sounded anxious.

"Standing in a puddle." Macen replied.

"Where's the Tzenkethi you were after?" There was still anxiety in the field agent's voice.

"He is the puddle." Macen explained.

There was silence while Vaughn processed this. Finally he said, "Stay there. I'll be there with Security officers in just a minute."

"Roger that." Macen remarked, "I'm not going anywhere."

Vaughn and a forensics team arrived a few moments later. Vaughn surveyed the scene and then instructed the forensics people to get to work. He strolled over to where Macen was standing. Macen handed him the padd.

Vaughn eyed the padd and then studied Macen, "You seem awfully calm for someone that's just killed a fellow sentient."

Macen shrugged, "He was trying to kill me. I couldn't stun him so I didn't see much reason to hold back."

The forensics team took Macen's phaser and ran comparative tests of the energy's frequency modulation. That proved his weapon had knocked out the antigravs. Next, they quickly recovered the Tzenkethi delegate's disruptor. After scanning the weapon and the scorch on the dumpster Macen was proven to have been behind, the question of murder was resolved. It was a clear case of self defence.

Macen and Vaughn were then released to return to Starbase 127. The local commander once again took the opportunity to harangue them. As was the case before, the Admiralty absolved them of any blame. They left behind one angry Commander.

As they returned to Earth aboard the Capetown, Vaughn softly approached Macen with an idea, "Well Brin, you were pretty successful for your first time in the field. You were also pretty lucky. What would you have done if that antigrav pallet hadn't have been there?"

"I would have waited until he closed in to kill me and I would've clubbed him to death with my phaser." Macen replied. Seeing Vaughn's surprise, he amended the statement, "Or I would have blasted him in the head with my phaser."

Vaughn seemed to sense that both answers were potentially true. This paved the way towards his next question, "How did you like being in the field?"

Macen grinned, "It was certainly more exhilarating than my average day."

"How would you like to do it again?" Vaughn asked.

He could see the hunger in Macen's eyes as he answered, "What would I have to do?"

Vaughn smiled, "You've already done the first part. That was to get noticed. Now you meet with Admiral Hollis. Hollis is the brainchild of operation OO86."

"And that would be?" Macen wondered.

"OO86 is an operation recruiting intelligence analysts and preparing them for active duty on the field. The Admiral feels that an agent with the specialised perspective of an analyst will be able to handle extremely difficult assignments in their chosen area." Vaughn explained.

"When do I see the Admiral?" Macen eagerly asked.

"I can arrange it so that we see him the moment we get back to Starfleet Headquarters." Vaughn said.

So began a series of joint missions which spanned fifty years and into the present.

 

Chapter Seven

Vaughn, Ro, Macen, and T'Kir assembled in DS9's secure briefing room. It was small and claustrophobic. The room was reminiscent of the briefing room in the original NCC-1701 USS Enterprise. Vaughn and Ro were here to present a report on Starfleet Intelligence's latest intel coming out of Cardassia. From the head of the table, Vaughn began his presentation.

"The Cardassian Union now posses three distinct major political parties. Smaller one issue parties have arisen as well but these three address the needs of the nation as a whole." Vaughn waited for the impact of his statements to sink in, "This is a far cry from eight years ago when there was one party. Point in fact it wasn't even a party it was merely the ruling junta."

"The Democrats are the newest party. At one time they possessed a membership of 90% of the Cardassian populace. That figure has been drastically reduced. They now rank as having 37% of the voting population in their pocket. This is the party of change and reform. It is largely comprised of the youth and idealists and former dissidents." Vaughn explained, "Now, the Monarchists are the oldest party. Their's is the smallest of the major party with 21% of voters adhering to their cause. Only their alliance with the Democrats ushered them into power. Combined, the Democrats and the Monarchists outnumber the third party but separately they cannot win a majority."

Seeing that his audience was attentive and settled into his lecture, Vaughn pressed on, "The Unionists are the single largest party in the Cardassian political scene. With 42% of the vote, they can win a clear majority and form a government. They cater to the military, the wealthy, and the disaffected with democracy. Their numbers are strong and they're expected to keep growing." Vaughn paused, "This party endorses xenophobia, unrestricted warfare, and expansion through force. In short people, if this party attains power we'll have a return to the troika of the High Command, the Obsidian Order, and the Detepa Council."

Vaughn sat down and waited expectantly. Macen had to comment, "Nice job, Elias. It seems I've taught you something after all."

"You taught me?" Vaughn scoffed, "I don't think so. That delivery was the result of decades of experience."

"Decades of hanging around me, you mean." Macen chuckled, "How many briefings have you seen me give?"

"Too many." Vaughn heaved a heavy sigh.

Macen groaned, "Here we go."

"I'll refrain." Vaughn begrudgingly promised, "For the sake of the mission."

"If you two are done?" Ro pointedly asked, "Could we wrap this up?"

"Of course, Dear Laren, I hang on every word." Macen vowed.

Ro gazed at T'Kir. T'Kir shook her head, "I wash him and wash him but he's still a filthy beast. Ain't nothin' I can do with him."

"Riiiight." Ro said, "To begin, recent reports indicate that a foreign power or powers is aiding the Cardassian Unionists. It seems the movement's wealthier participants aren't much in the way of being contributors. They've been hoarding their latinum and the party's been starved of cash. Quite recently though that all changed. Suddenly the Unionist party's coffers are full and no one knows where the funding is coming from."

"Gul Maret," Ro divulged, "the party's nominal leader is now engaged in a five day whistle stop tour of the Cardassian reaches. He's stumping in order to get the party's platform message out before the coronation."

"The Cardassian Militia ordered Maret and his Keldon-class cruiser to the Cardassian Farside but Maret refused to go and the Militia is in no shape to stop him." Ro reported with a hint of satisfaction, "Even after eight years of rebuilding, the Cardassian fleet is still a shell of what it had been before the Dominion War. The added danger is that most of the military is loyal to Maret's cause. If he's handled roughly, the soldiers may decide that he's a martyr and revolt."

At this point, Vaughn interjected, "To complicate these matters are reports that our mutual ‘friend' has been recently seen in the DMZ and some say he's the mastermind behind Maret."

Macen's jaw tightened. Even after nine months the merest mention of Sindis made Macen rage. Sindis had broken virtually every brittle bone in Vaughn's body and left him for dead. Then he'd beaten Macen to an inch of his life. Macen had neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Sindis literally wanted to conquer the galaxy and was doing so one solar system at a time. He'd made considerable in-roads surrounding the Federation. Macen literally wanted to stop him by any means necessary. And the more necessary the means the better.

It had once been joked in the halls of the SID HQ that if you wanted to tally a lot of collateral damage, assign Macen to the case. That was all well and fine to joke about but that assessment covered times when Macen was reasonably collected. Now, the situation was different. Anger had suffused every portion of Macen's psyche and he was holding on to it, storing it for the appropriate day.

Macen stuffed his anger back into the recesses of his soul, "We'll deal with Sindis on a different day, Elias. Right now there's a little girl who's been ripped away from her family. We need to find her and then administer some good old fashioned Cardassian justice."

Ro and Vaughn exchanged a flicker of a worried glance. This could spell trouble.

Macen and T'Kir rose. Macen shook Vaughn's hand, "Thank you for everything. If we get her back in time it'll be because of you."

T'Kir said her goodbyes and they left. Afterwards, Ro looked to Vaughn, "Good old fashioned Cardassian justice?"

"The government could authorise it and it would be legal." Vaughn mused, "I wonder what he's up to?"

"Trouble." Ro groused, "He's going to be knee deep in trouble."

"We can only hope for the best." Vaughn sighed, "Come on, make a stop by Ops. We could both use a cup of coffee and the replicator up there has some of Chief O'Brien's favourite blends programmed into it."

Ro smiled, "I remember the Chief's coffee. It was legendary aboard the Enterprise."

"Then join me for a cup." Vaughn grinned.

"I think I will." Ro's smile blossomed.

The Obsidian slipped free of DS9's Lower Pylon 3 and sailed off into the night of space. They swiftly crossed the imaginary meridian that divided Bajoran space from Cardassian space. As they crossed they were immediately hailed.

The listening post that had detected them was located in the nearby Kilrah system. It was a nearly vacant system filled only with asteroids and cometary fragments. The listening post was stationed within the asteroid field.

During the Dominion War the field also based interceptors that flew out to harass Allied ships travelling to and from the front lines. Between natural attrition and being targeted by six squadrons of Federation fighters, the interceptors were destroyed. The post, however, remained.

After transmitting their ID, the Obsidian received clearance to traverse Cardassian territory. Federation starships rarely navigated Union space any more. All of the military units had to be alerted to the Obsidian's presence or there might be an accidental weapons release when the surveyor encountered a Cardassian cruiser.

Vaughn had been entirely correct when he surmised that the Outbound Ventures' ship and crew would be acting purely under Cardassian law. Macen's vast knowledge of the arcane strictures of pre-constitutional law could very well be useless now. Post-constitutional lawmakers had tried to do away with some of the ghastlier facets of the penal code. What that meant for the investigative team had yet to be learned.

Amanda Forger returned to her office after a session with the Council of Five. This ultra secret cabal were the true power behind Federation security. Comprised of Alynna Nechayev, Director of Starfleet Intelligence; Robert Tavar Johnson, Starfleet's Diplomatic Envoy; Edward Noyce, Chief of Starfleet Security; Edward Jellico, the Alpha Quadrant Theatre Commander; and Forger herself. This group shaped security policies for the CinC of Starfleet and the Federation President. The group generally functioned smoothly but occasionally a personal agenda or two would crop up and create friction.

Jellico had been a source of constant irritation regarding the SID. Ever since the division had been conceived he had opposed it and constantly manoeuvred to dismantle it. His most recent effort was failing miserably and that just irritated him all the more.

Jellico had pushed through an initiative to pare down the SID in areas of operation where it overlapped with Starfleet Intelligence. All of the SID's assets and agents were now civilians. Except for Forger and her aide, Ambril Delori, all of the Starfleet personnel had been reassigned.

Forger's meeting with the Council had been to brief them of Macen's mission. Jellico had revealed that he'd dispatched Bob Johnson to Cardassia. Johnson would establish Starfleet's response to the developing situation in the Union.

Forger could see trouble ahead. Personally, Johnson and Macen got on well. Operationally there were occasional conflicts and from what Vaughn had reported to her there could be trouble ahead.

The ship travelled through Union space at a leisurely warp 2. Although time was of the essence, Macen didn't want to go hurtling into a squadron of Galor VI-class cruisers without an opportunity to demonstrate that they weren't aggressors. He hadn't accepted this contract just to foolishly rush about and get killed.

The 2nd watch had relieved the SID team members so they had fanned out across the ship to enjoy some free time. Macen retreated to his Ready Room. He'd pulled up all the files that Starfleet had on the Cardassian Union's justice system. The bridge swiftly informed him that he had an incoming message from Admiral Forger.

Macen accepted the call and was soon looking at Forger's image, "Hello Amanda."

Forger looked serious, "Brin, Bob Johnson has been dispatched to Cardassia."

Macen was disappointed, "I'd hoped to do this without Starfleet's interference."

"Bob is just there to represent the Federation. He isn't there to participate in events." Forger assured him.

"He'll be travelling aboard the Intrepid won't he?" Macen enquired.

"Of course." Forger responded.

"Neither Jim McKinley nor Bob Johnson are afraid to act when they see a perceived injustice. This could spell trouble." Macen predicted.

"Hopefully it won't." Forger said wishfully.

"I'll wait and see." Macen reserved judgement, "Is there anything else?"

"Not at this time." Forger replied, "I'm off duty in twenty minutes and I have plans for the evening."

"Enjoy yourself." Macen urged, "And since I'm already off duty, I'm going to track down my wife and see what mischief she's up to."

Forger smiled, "Night, Brin." The screen went dark. Macen queried the computer as to T'Kir's whereabouts and then set out to join her.

T'Kir and Grace could be found in the Rec Room. They were sitting on a couch facing a hologram of a fire in a faux fireplace. Behind the illusion a space heater was mounted in the wall and it blew out heat. Despite the heat T'Kir wore a cable knit sweater.

"The Fire is toasty." Grace opined, "I can't believe that you're still wearing a sweater."

"Blame it on my genes." T'Kir complained, "My ancestors evolved on a desert world. I was born and raised on a jungle world."

T'Kir waved her hand, shooing away the distractions, "Enough about me. What about you? You visited Gerrit Gren's cousin on DS9. How was it? How is he?"

Grace smiled. Gerrit Gren was Radil's deputy. They'd served in the Bajoran Resistance together. He'd remained on Bajor while she'd gone off to serve as a mercenary. Gerrit joined the Militia and became a constable.

"Aran is doing well." Grace answered, "Our time was brief but very romantic. He may not be well travelled but he's got a down to earth sensuality about him and a fresh spirit that can't be contained. He's very charming and more than a little precocious."

"So when do we take him to bed?" T'Kir enthused.

"'We' don't." Grace rebutted, "And I'm going to take my time."

"Oh foo!" T'Kir pouted.

"I do have a date planned with him for two weeks from now." Grace revealed, "We're spending two days and nights in the Kendra province."

"Oh boy," T'Kir rubbed her hands together, "Ian Delaney on one hand, Gerrit Aran on the other. Two years ago you didn't know where the field was and now you're playing it!"

Grace bowed from the waist and Macen walked in, "Did I miss something?"

"Lots!" T'Kir enthused, "If you're nice to me I may tell you what's happened so far."

"I may have an idea or two in that area." Macen grinned.

T'Kir concentrated and then a naughty smile formed on her lips, "I like what you're thinking. Definitely get back to me on this."

"Okay change of topic." Grace announced, "Are you frinxing nuts? How can you trust Annika Ryst...Celeste Rockford or whatever the hell her name is now?"

Macen smiled, "I can trust her because she's become Celeste Rockford."

"Okay." Grace frowned, "That went over my head."

T'Kir squeezed her hand, "It's like this, Honey. When the Angosians psychologically conditioned her they created an ability to so fully compartmentalise her mind that she can actually form separate personalities for cover identities and aliases."

"Get outta here." Grace retorted.

"It's true." Macen assured her, "The various personas can be reintegrated with the core personality at a later date. Starfleet counsellors reintegrated Daggit and the Angosian commandos that joined Starfleet before they could serve on the front lines."

"Is Ryst aware of this?" Grace asked.

"Annika Ryst manages the personalities." T'Kir reveals. "She's chosen to be Celeste Rockford."

"Why Rockford?" Grace wondered, "What's so special about her?"

T'Kir looked to Macen for guidance. He explained, "Rockford is honest, honourable, dedicated, loyal, and committed to aiding her fellow sentients. These are all things Annika Ryst remembers being in her past and she misses them. It's important for her to be Rockford. Billions of lives depend upon it."

Grace looked dubious, "That's cryptic."

Macen shrugged, "It is what it is."

"Okay." Grace grew concerned, "Is she up for visits from her teammates?"

T'Kir smiled, "She'd appreciate it more than you can know."

"Having been ostracised by most of the team twice before myself, I think I can relate." Grace said and rose, "I think I'll drop by now. Bye."

"See ya at dinner." T'Kir called after her.

Macen plopped down on the couch, "You wanted to discuss some of my ideas?"

"Yah!" T'Kir enthused as she snuggled up to him.

In her quarters, Radil sat at her comp/comm and spoke with Abby Collins. Collins was melancholy, "Being on vacation without you just isn't any fun. I have three more weeks of leave and I've been planning on spending it with you."

Radil tried to console her, "That's the nature of our business. You knew this would happen if you took the posting aboard the Indomitable."

"I only did it because it was the only way to prove you weren't just another infatuation." Collins shot back.

"Take heart, my Love, you have good news to wait for." Radil smiled.

"This isn't going to be another DTR is it?" Collins asked.

Radil was puzzled by the reference, "DTR?"

"Determine The Relationship talk." Collins sighed, "We have a lot of those."

"Yes, it is." Radil informed her, "But like I said, you're getting something that you want."

"What?" Collins eagerly enquired.

"You have to wait until I'm there to tell you." Radil insisted.

"So how long is your mission going to last?" Collins changed tactics.

"One way or another, everything will be settled in a week." Radil predicted.

"I got your earlier message." Collins confided, "Did Macen really allow Annika Ryst to join the team?"

"Yep." Radil confirmed it, "That he did."

"How does that make you feel?" Collins wondered, "She was the enemy."

"I'm not sure how to react." Radil admitted, "I want to hate her but really, when you think about it, she's in exactly the same place I was in when I joined up."

"I was also a mercenary that worked for the Orion Syndicate and yet Macen let me in when Rab accidentally kidnapped me." Radil said. Her brow furrowed and she plunged on, "It's really strange. Ryst's had more than a name change. Rockford has a new attitude and a whole new demeanour." She summed it up with, "It's like she's a whole new person."

"Maybe she is." Collins commented, "The rest of the SID team feels like you're a whole new person. Maybe this Rockford is too. I just wish you luck in dealing with her."

Radil grinned, "You need the luck. You never know how a DTR is going to turn out."

Collins blew her a raspberry and then said good night. Radil returned the wish, knowing that it was past midnight where Collins was. The screen went dark and Radil sighed. She wanted to be with Collins too.

Dracas and Gantz shared the ship's sauna. They had just finished a sparring session and were luxuriating in the muscle soothing steam. Gantz decided to break the silence.

"You seem awfully fond of Galen 3." He commented.

"I am." Dracas admitted it.

"I hope it's not an attraction because one, the boy ain't interested, and two, you have a good thing going with Stan Guthrie. I'd hate to see you mess that up."

Dracas was both surprised and pleased by Gantz's concern, "Have no fears Gantz. I view Galen 3 as I would a younger sibling. Furthermore I would do nothing to jeopardise my relationship with Stan."

"A younger brother, huh?" Gantz whistled, "I'd hate to see what happens to whoever hurts him."

"No," Dracas grew dark, "you wouldn't."

"So where do you think your younger brother would be right now?" Gantz grinned.

Dracas smiled, "Wherever Tessa is right now, Galen 3 will be found nearby."

Tessa stood alone in the cargo bay. She was poised and positioned to burst into movement. She wore a skintight outfit that literally left nothing to the imagination. What was revealed was that Felix had designed her to be anatomically correct.

She took a deep "breath" and slowly let it out and then music began pouring out of recessed speakers and she launched into song and dance. The music was that of a pop princess from the 22nd century. The dance was primitive and feral. The song, seductive.

Galen 3 walked into this. He was mesmerised. There was no embarrassment or ogling on his part. He took genuine delight in the performance.

Tessa came to the end of the routine. She stood in silence with her head bowed, reflecting upon her performance. There had been imperfections in her vocals and she'd been off on her movements. T'Kir had once explained to her that imperfections were part of life and in fact made an experience unique to that individual. She was proud of her effort and quite satisfied with it.

The sound of clapping startled her. She looked up to see Galen 3 applauding her. There was a distinct sense of pride in his eyes. That confused Tessa.

"Galen!" Tessa raised her voice, "What are you doing here?"

"I came to... I mean I wondered if... I wanted to know how you were..." Galen 3 fumbled, "I mean ‘Hi'."

"Hi yourself." Tessa's fists went to her hips, "That still doesn't answer my question."

Galen 3 squirmed and then he asked, "Why did you drop the numeric from my name?"

That derailed Tessa's irritation, "Oh. Well, you're the only Galen that I know so I don't see the point in constantly referring to you as the third Galen in a row."

"Thank you." Galen 3 offered her a shy smile, "At least I think so."

"Why are you here?" Tessa repeated.

Galen 3 nervously ran a hand through his hair, "I just wanted to find out if you were doing anything."

"I was." Tessa remarked, "Now I don't know."

"Would you like to hang out with me?" Galen 3 asked.

"I have to ask T'Kir a few things and then we can get together. After you eat dinner, okay?" Tessa suggested.

Galen wore a grateful smile, "Thanks. I'll see you later."

"Bye." Tessa said and then disappeared.

Galen left the cargo bay, his spirits buoyed.

Tessa reappeared in the Rec Room. Macen and T'Kir were still seated at the couch. T'Kir took one look at Tessa's attire and grinned.

"Yeow." T'Kir said, "Hot mama!"

Tessa looked down and then folded her arms across her chest and nodded with a blink and her clothes became her typical scrubs. T'Kir laughed, "Did you learn that from a particular genie?"

Tessa was flabbergasted, "How'd you know?"

"I am the endless fount of pop culture trivia." T'Kir declared.

"I believe you." Tessa admitted.

"What's up, Sweetie?" T'Kir enquired, "You look like somethin's on your mind."

"Galen 3 is on my mind." Tessa confessed.

Macen and T'Kir exchanged a knowing look. Tessa panicked, "What?"

"We'll get to that, Honey." T'Kir assured her, "What about Galen 3?"

"He tracked me down just to find out what I was doing and if I wanted company." Tessa gushed, "Why would he do that?"

"Well, Lovebug, Galen 3 has a crush on you." T'Kir revealed.

"On me?" Tessa couldn't believe it, "Why me? What about Hannah?"

"Hannah's an infatuation." T'Kir explained, "She's safe because she's unattainable. He thinks you're closer to the ground and therefore accessible."

"I don't understand." Tessa confessed.

"Do you like Galen 3?" T'Kir asked.

"Of course." Tessa immediately responded.

"Then hang out with him and see if anything develops." T'Kir urged.

"What could happen?" Tessa asked, "I'm a hologram."

"Wait and see." T'Kir replied, "Trust me."

"Okay." Tessa sceptically agreed.

"So now what?" T'Kir asked.

"Now I do some research into what people do on a date." Tessa revealed.

"Good thinking." T'Kir encouraged her, "Good luck."

"Thanks." Tessa said and walked out of the Rec Room.

After she had left T'Kir looked to Macen, "Our baby is growing up."

Macen smiled, "Happens to everyone."

"Hold me." She said. Macen wrapped his arms around her and she snuggled in close.

Rockford was busy unpacking. She'd already explored her quarters and had determined where everything was. It was Spartan compared to her runabout but it was far closer to what she'd lived in since the Tarsus Wars. She'd finished unpacking her toiletries and her undergarments. Now she was tackling her wardrobe.

The door chimed and Rockford instructed the computer to open it. Hannah Grace was revealed to be waiting on the other side of the door. A wry grin appeared on Rockford's face, "Come to shoot me?"

Grace looked embarrassed, "I'm sorry about that."

"I would have done it too so don't worry about it." Rockford reassured her, "Care to come in?"

"Sure." Grace entered and her eyes swept the room. She saw all the clothes and her eyes widened, "Oh my God! You have terrific taste! How did you manage to get all of these clothes?"

"Being a private eye can be very profitable." Rockford grinned.

"I guess." Grace breathed.

Rockford bit her lower lip, "Is this a purely social call or do you have a beef with me?"

"Social call. I've decided to give you a second chance." Grace revealed.

"Thanks. Any particular reason?" Rockford wondered.

"I've betrayed the Captain and the team twice. Both times their lives were jeopardised because of it." Grace divulged, "I was given a second and a third chance. I didn't deserve either one but I was handed them. I can do no less for you."

Rockford was touched, "That's so sweet."

Grace was going to protest but she was pre-empted by the door chime. Once again, Rockford bid the door to open. Outside was Radil. Rockford motioned for her to enter and she stepped inside.

Eying Grace she smiled, "Here to do the same thing I am?"

"Probably." Grace replied, "I already said my peace so you're up."

Radil met Rockford's eyes, "I don't hold any grudges and I'm going to give you your shot at being on this team. I was given the same opportunity so I can't withhold it from you. Make no mistake about it though, you turn on us and I will find a way to kill you, augmentation or no augmentation. See you at dinner."

With that, Radil departed. Rockford turned to Grace, "At least she's honest."

Grace frowned, "Possibly her only virtue."

 

Chapter Eight

The briefing took place at the Presidential Palace in the Main Conference room. Macen, T'Kir, Gantz, and Rockford attended. The Cardassians were represented by Ghemor, Dervin, Garak, Mariska, and Legate Akellen Macet. Ghemor began the proceedings.

"We have received word from Gul Maret." He announced, "He is claiming responsibility for Katreen Dervin's abduction."

"He's a military officer." Macen pointed out, "Is there any way you can coerce him to return her?"

"He's demanding that I step down and dissolve the government. Furthermore, the alliance between the Democrats and the Monarchists is to come to an end." Ghemor described, "This would clear a path for the Unionists to assume power."

"In which case he'd have all the members of the respective parties executed." Macen surmised.

Ghemor wore a bitter smile, "I see you have heard about the events on Carbel VIII."

"Word travels fast." Macen allowed.

"Indeed." Ghemor sighed, "We have tried to keep those events, as well as the abduction, under wraps. Apparently our efforts have failed. The leading news service broke both stories an hour ago. No doubt they were aided by the Unionists."

"Why can't you control Maret?" Macen asked.

Macet stepped in, "The military is unreliable. At least 80% of the serving officers and troopers are adherents of Maret's cause. Loyalists are few and far between and usually working in silence for fear of being persecuted."

"I recommend that you and your people solely rely upon the Union Security Bureau." Macet sadly proclaimed.

Garak wore and oily smile, "Unfortunately, the USB finds itself in a similar situation. The rarefied loyalist generally meets death rather than persecution. They can't offer you anything."

Garak continued, "The only visible agency that can offer any form of assistance is the Presidential Guard. They possess both a Protective and an Enforcement detail."

Ghemor baldly stared at Garak. Garak filed the moment away. They would discuss it later in private. This was the exact reason he had secreted the Enforcement unit in the first place.

"I have briefed the Guardsmen." Garak revealed, "They will assist you however they can."

Next, Ghemor, Dervin, Garak, and Mariska shared their accounts of the kidnapping. Afterwards they opened the floor for questions. Rockford plunged ahead, "Do you have the identities of the kidnappers compiled, including military and personal data?"

Macet handed her a padd containing the requested information. She forged ahead, "I want a list of known Unionist strongholds and places where support runs high. Information regarding Unionist barracks and pubs would be appreciated."

Now Garak delivered a padd, "Be careful with this, my Dear. This information is classified and may cost you your life."

"I'll be careful." Rockford promised as she tucked the padds away in her utility belt.

Rockford nodded to Gantz and he took over the questioning, "Which ship did the abductors beam to?"

"The Coreis." Macet provided.

"What is the normal patrol route for the Coreis?" Gantz enquired.

"The Federation border near Starbase 375." Macet answered.

"Close to the DMZ." Macen proclaimed.

"Of course." Macet hesitated, "Do you think that Ms. Dervin is being held in the DMZ?"

"I'll answer that in a moment." Macen promised, "We need a compilation of all Cardassian movements in the DMZ for the last year."

Macet looked to Ghemor. The President nodded his assent. Macet said that he would comply.

"Now to answer your question." Macen said, "I think that Katreen is in the DMZ because Bertram Sindis just visited the Zone."

Macen fended off questions regarding Sindis' significance. He described Sindis' dual position as the head of the Meirkus Conglomeration and the Orion Syndicate. He did, however, leave out any mention of Sindis' ultimate goals.

"From the reports we received we learned that Sindis didn't stay long. He wasn't cultivating fresh contacts. He was there to meet an ally." Macen reported.

"Maret?" Ghemor asked.

"That's what it looks like." Macen said, "The timing is awfully coincidental."

Ghemor was angered by this news, "Why didn't you inform us of this earlier?"

Macen shook his head, "My responsibility is to my individual client at the time. Discretion is my business so I'm not going share private information valued by a previous client. I told you the data you needed when you required it. It was all public information that can be learned through the latest instalments of the Encyclopaedia Galactica or the Who's Who. The full information dump went to Starfleet. I don't know why Starfleet didn't choose to disseminate this information. You'll have to take it up with them."

Only Garak took this with aplomb. Ghemor, Macet, and even Dervin were angry. Mariska just looked impatient.

"What will you do now?" she demanded.

"We'll track down some of the families and see of they've been in contact with their loved ones. If so, we determine where those loved ones are." Macen replied.

"But you said they were in the DMZ." Mariska said accusingly.

"If they are in the Zone, we don't have time to search planet by planet. We have to narrow down Katreen's location to less than a handful of worlds and we need to do that in a day maybe two." Macen revealed, "And if they aren't in the Zone then maybe we can determine where they are."

"I'm coming with you." Mariska insisted.

"No." Macen was firm and inflexible, "Would you want me on one of your security details?" Mariska scowled and Macen continued, " I didn't think so. My people are specialists. This is what they do for a living and they're very good at it."

"But she knows me." Mariska pleaded.

"She knows T'Kir and I as well." Macen reminded her, "Stay home Lyoti. We'll bring her back safe and sound."

The briefing concluded and Macen's team returned to the Obsidian. Ghemor, Garak, and Macet returned to dealing with the multiple crises erupting all over the Union. Dervin and Mariska returned to the Royal Palace to share some tea and to worry.

The following morning, morning being according to the local planetary solar day, the team transported to the surface. Tessa and Galen 3 remained behind. Tessa for obvious reasons and Galen 3 because he lacked any experience with field ops.

Once on the surface, the SID team collected their ground transports. They were six wheeled military rovers. Radil had experience driving this type of vehicle so she was selected to resume that role. After inspecting the controls, Grace decided she could drive the other.

The team split into two units at this point. Macen and Gantz joined Grace. T'Kir, Rockford and Dracas climbed aboard Radil's transport. After comparing notes, they were off.

Following a map reader, Grace quickly traversed the road to Rakaran City. She easily found the first home that they'd selected to stop at. Inside they found an embittered Cardassian woman. She viewed aliens as the source of the Union's ills and wasn't afraid to angrily say so. All of the interviewed women and men that they spoke to felt that way. Stymied, they left Rakaran and headed back to the capitol.

Meanwhile, T'Kir's team travelled to the military officer's family barracks village of Grimoire. Radil drove them there, dodging and weaving out of traffic. T'Kir enjoyed the thrill ride but Rockford and Dracas were quite unsettled.

They found luck with their very first stop. They were introduced to a young Militia wife named Mirenda Loff. Her husband, Trem, served in the Advanced Scout regiment. The Scouts were the very elite of the Militia.

Trem had become increasingly dissatisfied with the ruling government and had embraced the Unionist cause. His great opportunity to serve the cause came when he'd been assigned to guard Ghemor and the Chrysalis child. Maret himself had included Trem in the operation to kidnap her.

A day after the kidnapping, Trem contacted Loff. He was anxious and full of guilt and remorse. He tried to give instructions to his wife but a rifle butt slammed into his head. The transmission terminated and Loff was left frantically contacting the military. They claimed to not know anything and dismissed her pleas.

Her comm service had been shut off. The last call she had received had been Trem's. T'Kir and Rockford replayed the message and then T'Kir sliced its memory. She had the address of the subspace relay that transmitted the message. Now she just had to query the relay and see if she could track down the origination point of the signal.

T'Kir beamed back to the ship and Loff turned to Rockford, "Help me...help us! I can't trust anyone on Cardassia but maybe you can do something. Save my husband!"

Rockford took her hand, "We'll do everything in our power to find him and bring him home. When we combine our efforts there's virtually nothing we can't do."

Later, as they were leaving the Loff residence, Radil turned to Rockford, "Pretty speech. I almost believed it."

Rockford faced her down, "You should believe it. I can't vouch for the rest of you but I'm going to do everything I can to bring Trem Loff back to his wife."

"As will I." Dracas swore, "You need to proceed with some cautious faith here, Radil."

Radil frowned, "Okay. I'll back off."

Dracas checked his chrono, "We're late for our rendezvous with the Captain."

They all piled into the rover and sped away for the capitol.

 

Chapter Nine

The two teams reunited near the Jysmor Barracks mere blocks from the Presidential Palace. A pub next to the barracks. It had exclusively served military officers for over a hundred and fifty years now. It was into this bastion of Unionist strength that they invaded.

Radil and Grace remained with the vehicles, keeping the engines running. The sight of Macen, Dracas, Gantz, and Rockford entering the public house stopped all activity within. Soon there were shouts and curses demanding that they leave. The proprietor angrily yelled for their expulsion. The team stood its ground.

"Quiet." Macen ordered, "We have a message for Maret. We know where he is and we're coming after him."

"We'll certainly deliver the message." A voice sneered. The owner of the voice stepped forward. He was a dalin, probably the ranking officer of the base. Macen knew that a dalin was equal in rank to a Starfleet commander. This confrontation was now a matter of pride and it would quickly escalate.

"Tell me, Fed, why does Starfleet care about where Maret is?" the Cardassian officer asked.

Macen noted the use of the slang term "Fed" for "Federation citizen". It had become the greatest insult in the Cardassian language. He ignored it.

"Starfleet doesn't." Macen answered, "And I'll tell you what I seem to have to tell everyone: I'm not with Starfleet. I've been hired by the government to find Katreen Dervin and I'm going to accomplish that while she's still alive."

"And what makes you think that you can accomplish that?" the Dalin sneered.

"I wanted to find the biggest, dumbest jackass on Cardassia and I found you didn't I?" Macen quipped.

With an angry roar the Dalin threw a punch. Macen, already turning, caught the Cardassian's arm and used it to throw the officer over his shoulder. Landing flat on his back, the Dalin gazed around to find Macen standing over him with his phaser in a two-handed grip and aimed right at the Dalin's head.

"I wouldn't suggest it." Macen warned, "This is set on maximum disrupt."

"You won't kill me." The Dalin predicted and started to push himself up off the floor. Macen cut a swathe down the Dalin's arm and he collapsed with a scream of pain.

"That's a favourite Militia interrogation technique." Macen lectured, "Several of my friends underwent that kind of treatment. Let's just say that I've waited twenty years to repay the kindness. Move and it'll cost you."

The surrounding crowd of Cardassians surged forward only to be halted by the SID team wielding weapons. One, near Rockford, reached for his sleeve. She warned him off. He quickly pulled a mini-disruptor out. Rockford shot him and then killed the man next to him who tried a similar move.

A gil drew a weapon and Gantz opened fire with his flechette rifle. Essentially an electromagnet that hurled small arrow-like bolts at supersonic speeds, the flechette rifle skewered the gil and the glinn behind him. They were hurled backwards into the wall. They left an ugly smear of gore and blood behind when they sank to the floor.

Gantz chambered another round and spun in order to place the working end of the barrel squarely in a charging gil's face. Gantz shook his head, "Don't try it boy. This will decimate your head."

"We'll be leaving now." Macen informed the dalin, "But just so you'll have extra motivation for calling Maret my Roman friend here is going to give you a gift."

Dracas came over. His short sword was in his hand. Primarily designed as a stabbing weapon, it was ideal for close quarters combat. It was also good for stabbing legs...which is what Dracas did to the dalin.

That accomplished, the team slowly backed out of the pub. The Cardassians followed but didn't fire any weapons until the Federation team was mounting their rovers. Radil and Grace peeled out upon leaving.

Macen now rode with Radil and Rockford while Dracas had ended up with Gantz and Grace. They knew the alarm had been raised and that military units would be pursuing them. Their only hope for survival on the ground lay within the bowels of the Presidential Palace.

As they approached the main gate, they found it blocked by a hovertank. The tank began to target them and Radil commed Grace.

"Follow my lead and do exactly what I do." Radil ordered. Grace acquiesced and Radil accelerated and made a sharp turn into a public park. Civilians scattered as the two rovers raced through the glen followed by a hovertank.

Radil slid onto an adjacent street and race towards the gate. Sliding through the entrance, Radil was pleased to discover that Grace had followed her through every manoeuvre. The Guardsmen locked up the gate behind them. Scores of Militia troops arrived and angrily demanded that Macen and the rest be turned over to them. The Guardsmen refused. The Militia cadre pressed forward, closer the forcefield. The guardsmen readied their weapons.

"Just try it citizen." The Guard's watch commander said.

After a tense moment the Militia troops dispersed. The watch commander faced Macen, who had subsequently exited the vehicle, "The President is expecting you. One of my men will take you to him."

"Thank you." Macen said, "For everything."

The Cardassian remained silent but a slight smile played across his features as the SID team departed.

Macen was escorted to Ghemor's private office while the rest of the team loitered about an ante room and sampled local delicacies. The aide stopped at Ghemor's door while the two Guardsmen verified his identity and then alerted Ghemor to Macen's presence. The door opened and Macen was confronted with an expected surprise.

Admiral Robert T. Johnson and Captain James McKinley of Starfleet were seated in the chairs laid out before Ghemor's desk. Both rose upon seeing Macen. Dervin sat nearby on a couch. He smiled and nodded his approval as Macen entered the office area.

McKinley smiled as he shook Macen's hand, "It's about time, Captain."

Macen tipped his head, "Good to see you too, Captain."

Johnson stepped forward, "Captain Macen, we have things to discuss."

Macen didn't offer Johnson his hand, "I don't think so, Admiral."

If Johnson were offended, it didn't show, "C'mon Brin, I'm not here to persecute you. Starfleet just has concerns."

"What kind of ‘concerns'?" Macen asked.

"Starfleet assets are in play here in the Cardassian Union." Johnson replied, "I'm just here to show the flag and to protect our interests."

"I take it I'm the ‘asset in play'." Macen grumbled, "Tell Jellico and the CinC that Starfleet will be well protected since I'm not operating on Starfleet's terms or for Starfleet. My employer, and only concern, is the Cardassian government. They establish my operating guidelines and the parameter of my mission. My methods are based upon Cardassian law not Federation law."

"But you are a Federation citizen and hence subject to the laws of that body." Johnson reminded him.

Macen smiled, "Who's going to turn me in? Dervin? Ghemor? Somehow I think I'll be safe as long as the government doesn't fall. If the government falls I think Starfleet will be the least of my worries."

"Dammit Brin!" Johnson grated, "There's already been deaths."

"Which were allowed under the terms of my operational limits." Macen replied, "I needed the military to be agitated and now they are."

"Bob," McKinley spoke, "step back a moment. Brin's right. As long as he operates inside of Cardassian territory in compliance with Cardassian laws we can't touch him."

"If Starfleet were to hound him we would offer him asylum here in the Union." Ghemor vowed.

Macen grinned, "I'm watching Starfleet's back. This way nothing can be laid at the feet of the fleet."

Johnson shook his head, "Of course you're right. I've been listening to Jellico for too long. What was I thinking?"

McKinley grinned, "You can't be perfect all of the time, Admiral."

Johnson replied with a wry grin of his own. Until a few years ago, Johnson had been the starship captain and McKinley had been his XO. McKinley's elevation in rank fulfilled a lifelong dream of commanding his own ship. Johnson's promotion was also a fulfilment of lifelong goals but it carried a price.

Johnson's lone regret over accepting promotion was the loss of the independence that came with command. Johnson had to rely upon the Intrepid or some other starship to ferry him around. His role as Starfleet's diplomatic crisis manager dictated his movements now. What time that wasn't spent in that capacity was consumed by duties revolving around the Council of Five. The challenge of the thing brought him to life every day and sustained him. It wasn't a bad trade-off but he still had his wistful moments.

Johnson's thoughts were interrupted by a comm call to Ghemor. It was the Crisis Control Centre, "Mr. President, the Militia has activated the planetary network of transport inhibitors. They're demanding that Captain Macen and his staff be turned over to them."

"Has the Obsidian responded?" Ghemor asked.

"No, sir." The faceless manager replied, "Subspace comms are being jammed as well."

"Wait!" the manager grew excited, "The Obsidian has launched a runabout. They're entering the atmosphere and presumably on their way here. If you come down you'll be able to track it all."

"Gentlemen," Ghemor was grim, "We'll reconvene in the C3."

The tactical display took up most of one wall. The runabout, properly named the Corsair, was now dodging disruptor fire.

"That doesn't look like Grace's flying style." McKinley opined.

"Hannah's here on the surface." Macen's guts clenched with cold certainty, "That's T'Kir."

Just then, the Corsair was simultaneously hit by three disruptor cannons. The runabout faltered and then began to plunge towards the ground. Macen watched in horror knowing there wasn't anything he could do.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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