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Broken Crown - Part II 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 Ten

Lisea Danan and Tom Riker were walking down the corridors of the Security Alliance Academy. It was within the confines of these halls that Rab Daggit, another former member of Macen's SID team, taught. Riker was sullen and withdrawn. He stopped Danan just shy of Daggit's office.

"I can't let you do it." He declared.

"You don't have a choice." She scoffed, "I'm leaving and that's that. I already resigned from your crew so just face facts and accept the situation."

"But..." Riker tried to protest.

Danan cut him off, "I know you're trying to protect me but it's this overbearing protectiveness that's the problem."

"But going back to Brin..." Riker managed to squeeze out.

"Brin's a known quantity. I won't be in any more danger traipsing after him then I would be with you." Danan declared, "The only major difference is that I'd be free to do my job my way."

"But..." Riker faltered.

Danan shook her head, "Tom, I've made my decision. If we are going to continue to grow you need to respect my wishes."

Riker struggled with the concept for several heartbeats and then released a mournful sigh, "All right but I don't have to like it."

Danan kissed him, "No one said you had to, Darling."

"Now you try to butter me up." Riker rolled his eyes, "That might have worked two days ago when this was first brought up."

"Yeah," a sly grin spread across Danan's face, "but this way we get to have make-up sex."

Riker grinned, "This is sounding better all the time."

"I thought it would." Danan purred, "Now, keep it in your pants. Rab's waiting for us."

Riker sighed, "Always with the interruptions."

Danan grinned, "Comes with the rank, Captain."

"All right." Riker straightened out his shoulders and was suddenly transformed. It was his "command mode". His strength and resolve would not waver. Daggit would need that.

Danan activated the door chime and it opened a moment later. Daggit was rounding his desk with a smile as they entered, "Tom, Lees, come in and sit down."

They went to the offered couch and sat down. Daggit asked them if they wanted anything. Riker declined but Danan asked for some Arquillian tea. Daggit produced her requested item and held a steaming mug of raktajino for himself.

"I'm glad you decided to stop by." Daggit grinned, "You can only do so many performance reviews and grade so many papers before you go buggy."

Danan smiled at his increasing familiarity with human slang. The Daggit that had first joined Starfleet and then the SID had been a taciturn soul. It was good to see him relaxing.

"So," Daggit was all eagerness, "what's brought you by?"

Danan and Riker exchanged a nervous glance. Riker retrieved a padd from his jacket pocket and handed it to Daggit, "This contains a personnel file you need to review. It's about the newest member of Brin's SID team. Everyone's corporate file is included but you need to focus on Celeste Rockford."

"Rockford?" Daggit's eyebrows shot up, "We contacted her agency. They weren't interested in joining the Security Alliance but they are a first rate detective agency."

Daggit glanced from one to the other, "Why do you want me to see this file?"

"The answer's self explanatory." Riker said, "Mind if I replicate a synthale?"

"Help yourself." Daggit said as he activated the padd. He copied the unit's files and transferred the copy to his desk computer. Sorting through the files, he opened Rockford's and began perusing it. His eyes narrowed and a scowl deepened as he read on.

Finally, he returned to Rockford's ID photos and he scrutinised them. Finally he spoke, "What the hell is this? This is Annika Ryst! You mean to tell me the Captain has hired Annika Ryst to join the SID team? He wouldn't do that. Would he?"

They all exchanged glances and then chorused in unison, "He would."

"What I don't understand is why every file on her refers to her as Celeste Rockford. Her real name is listed as a ‘known alias'. Why is that?" Riker asked.

Daggit sighed and then shared the secret of the compartmentalisation capabilities of Angosian Infiltrators, "Annika and I were both part of that elite cadre. You became the enemy in order to kill the enemy. In this case, she seems to have become someone respectable. The Heavens know why."

"It may stem from a long suppressed desire for respectability." Danan suggested.

Daggit pondered the notion and then slowly nodded, "It could be. She was pretty idealistic. Coming home and being locked away like an unwanted dog hit her pretty hard. I don't think she ever recovered from that blow."

"Hmm." Danan mused, "I guess it's a good thing that I'm rejoining Brin's team."

"What?" this alarmed Daggit, "You two haven't...?"

Danan softly laughed, "Have no fears, Rab. Tom and I are fine on a personal level. It's the professional element to our relationship that's out of focus. My dear former captain spends all of his time keeping me out of danger."

"Not all of the time." Riker sullenly interjected.

"Most of it, dear." Danan bemusedly pointed out, "And just try to deny that."

Riker's shoulders slumped, "I know when I'm beaten."

"That's nice to know." Danan winked at him.

"Why do you think being on the Captain's team will be good?" Daggit refocused the discussion. Macen would always be the Captain.

"I can observe Ryst and maybe assist her in rejoining her myriad personalities." Danan said.

"Maybe." Daggit conceded, "It certainly can't hurt."

"There's a cheerful thought." Danan grumbled. After a moment's silence, Danan changed the subject, "Do you and Parva have plans for the evening?"

The Corsair plummeted towards the ground. The runabout was a creature of space and was hardly defined as being aerodynamic. It gracelessly fell aft first.

The craft's primary antigrav system had failed thereby sending the Corsair into freefall. Inside, T'Kir had tried to reengage the auxiliary systems and was busy getting them up and running. So far her efforts had met with little success.

T'Kir! Are you all right? Macen's thoughts "shouted" in her mind. She frowned as she replied in kind, Keep it down, will ya? I'm tryin' to work.

A little sheepishly, Macen asked, Are you all right?

Never better, she happily replied, Course the frinxing ship is busted.

You only have thirty seconds left before you crash. Macen advised her, Transport out while you can!

I've got it, really. T'Kir responded.

T'Kir! Macen desperately thoughtcast, Beam out now!

No, she defiantly projected back, I've really got it!

With that, the auxiliary system flared to life and the antigravs slowed the Corsair's descent. A blast from the RCS thrusters brought the ship to a hover ten metres above the pavement. T'Kir lowered the nose and the runabout sat poised for action.

T'Kir plotted a course towards the Palace. It involved a twisting and turning route through the city streets. She smiled to herself. No one would expect a miniature starship to fly at street level.

With a maniacal laugh she applied the impulse engines and scooted forward. She would fly forward for several blocks and then cut the impulse engines half a block away from an intersection. As friction burned away her momentum she would apply the RCS thrusters to change her vector. As soon as she was in the centre of the desired thoroughfare she would once again apply 1/20th impulse power.

The air friction slowed down the already lessened pace of the runabout. The Corsair paced the traffic below her. Progress was slow but it was steady. That all ended when the ship reached the Palace walls.

Hovertanks surrounded the palace. As she emerged from the cover of the buildings surrounding the avenue she was travelling upon, the tanks began to open fire. Several shots gauged out holes in the nearby buildings. Debris and rubble showered the walkways below.

"Hey, you frinxing shukheads, target me!" T'Kir yelled to no one in particular, "Leave the civilians alone!"

Not believing what she was doing, she targeted the closest tanks and readied herself to defend Cardassian citizens. T'Kir didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It seemed to be a betrayal of everything she'd fought for alongside the Maquis.

T'Kir was awash within a comforting wave of understanding from Macen. She'd known of the tumultuous struggle that he'd undergone before agreeing to this mission. Now she understood why.

The decision to assist the Cardassians was much more than a simple willingness to forgo old hostilities. It was much more profound than that. It was the choice to view them as people rather than monsters. It was a choice that had been over a decade in the making.

T'Kir also thanked her husband for making the decision first. She also knew what that had cost him. Macen's loathing of the Cardassians was almost as intense as his hatred for the Borg. He'd fought the Cardassians for nearly thirty years and such prejudices were easily forged but died slow, lingering deaths.

T'Kir was very precise in selecting her targets. During her time with the Maquis her definition of enemy combatants had been very negotiable. That hadn't changed much but she saw no reason to fire on anyone other than a hovertank.

T'Kir fired a full powered phaser stream at the closest tank. Its shields withstood the first barrage but collapsed under the weight of the second round of sustained fire. An insistent alarm alerted her to the fact that another tank was swiftly approaching her aft quarter. Pivoting the Corsair 180 degrees, she rounded on the encroaching tank. It was swiftly dispatched in a similar manner as the first.

Another round of alarm klaxons prompted T'Kir to check the sensors again. Two Militia soldiers were setting up a shoulder fired photon missile launcher. The loader had just locked the missile into place when T'Kir boosted the antigravs and bobbed high above the Palace walls. The missile, still within its safety range and off target, rocketed harmlessly below the runabout and slammed into the Palace shields.

The Corsair's RCS thrusters flared to life and positioned the ship directly above the Palace's central courtyard. T'Kir cut the antigravs and once again the runabout plummeted towards the ground. The minders in the Crisis Centre deactivated the shields only to reactivate them once the ship was within their envelope.

When the ship was a mere two metres off of the ground the antigravs and thrusters pushed the Corsair away from the ground. Unfortunately the already abused antigravs died and the runabout gracelessly flopped onto the ground. It settled with a crashing thud and silently stood still.

The entire investigative team had gathered in the Crisis Centre. They stood riveted as the plight of the Corsair unfolded. The scene was displayed in a massive holotank that replaced a traditional viewer. As soon as the runabout settled down Macen bolted from the room.

Macen climbed the stairwell leading to the ground floor two steps at a time at a dead run. He exited the stairwell in full flight, colliding with a secretary sending his carefully stacked array of padds that he was carrying flying across the corridor. Macen reached the main foyer and sailed out into the square beyond. He was waiting beside the runabout when the main hatch slid open.

T'Kir saw him and she grinned, "You're silly. There was no need to worry. I had the situation well in hand."

"Bull." Macen retorted. He then lowered her to the ground and tightly embraced her, "Don't ever do that again."

"How's this: we skip the actual argument, pretend we had a knock down drag-out, and then have really spectacular make up sex?" she offered.

It was Macen's turn to grin, "I like the way you think."

"We can start like this." T'Kir drew him in and proceeded to deliver a smouldering kiss. Macen had to come up for air, "Wow."

Grace suddenly arrived, "Don't you two ever stop?"

"No." T'Kir petulantly replied, "So go away."

"Not so fast," Grace warned, "I am but the first of many."

T'Kir gazed past Macen's shoulder and saw the entire SID team coming her way as well as Ghemor and the Presidential Cabinet.

"Great." She groaned, "Talk about frinxed up timing."

"Not to change the subject or anything," Grace wore a wry grin, "but what have you done to my runabout?"

"Your runabout?" T'Kir choked, "When did it become your runabout?"

"When you got shot down." Grace asserted.

Dracas arrived at that moment at a jog, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. Really." T'Kir assured him.

"What have you done to my runabout?" he inquired.

"Your runabout?" Grace yelped, "That runabout is mine mister!"

"You only fly her." Dracas argued, "Her care is in my charge."

Macen ushered T'Kir away as the debate heated up. He chuckled, "It'll take Hannah awhile to realise she fighting a losing battle. I may hold the title for the Obsidian but Joachim owns her."

Radil, Rockford, and Gantz were the next to arrive. Radil was stoic.

"Glad you're in one piece." She offered.

"I know that was like pulling teeth so thank you." T'Kir replied.

"For what it's worth," Rockford smiled, "I'm really glad you aren't dead."

T'Kir returned the smile, "That actually means quite a bit."

"Hey, it's good you aren't dead." Gantz said, "Life around Macen would be a real bitch if you died."

"That's so sweet and so eloquent too." T'Kir riposted.

Ghemor and his Ministers rounded on T'Kir. They offered platitudes and assurances of safety. Ghemor's wrist communicator sounded.

"Ghemor." He informed the device.

"Legate Macet has arrived with a relief column." A staffer in the Crisis Centre reported, "He's taking up defensive positions."

"Have the... have the rioters responded?" Ghemor had to ask carefully choosing his terminology.

"No, sir." Came the reply, "They appear to be standing by."

"Are there any clues as to why?" Ghemor inquired.

Ghemor was swiftly informed that "Signal intercepts indicate that they are awaiting instructions from Gul Maret."

"We'll be returning directly." Ghemor faced his staff, "Maret's forces are holding position. We must return to the Crisis Centre immediately in order to formulate and implement strategy in response to his next move."

"If you don't mind," Macen spoke up, "I'd like to come along."

"Of course." Ghemor agreed, "You and your entire team are invited."

"Not quite." Macen replied. He gathered his group together, "Hannah and Joachim, you're on the runabout. Find out what's wrong and fix it. Radil and Gantz, make sure nothing happens to them. Celeste, you're with T'Kir and I."

Rockford hesitated for a split second but complied. She curiously accompanied The Captain and T'Kir as they proceeded to the Crisis Centre amongst the Cardassian politicos. Their return was almost as hurried as their departure.

Once there, Ghemor received updates. Macet had been in direct contact with Maret. The Gul had urged his supporters to stand down and obey the legally instituted authorities. Ghemor recognised this for the double edged sword that it was.

The Unionists didn't recognise the Democratic government's legitimacy. They acknowledged Macet's authority since his was a rank duly earned within the Militia's framework and owed nothing to political influence. The Legate's personal politics were largely unknown. He defended the current government but no one knew if he approved of it or not. In short, no one knew where he would stand if shooting actually started.

The watch commander approached Ghemor, "Legate Macet is on the line for you."

Ghemor was ushered to a console. He signalled for Macen's entourage to accompany him. He accepted the call and Macet's grim features filled the screen.

"I've called off the dogs, Mr. President, but it comes at a price." Macet wearily confessed, "I had to reveal that Outbound Ventures was hired by the government. Maret is certain to use that information for his propaganda machine in wake of the recent incidents."

Macet's eyes became sharp, "I have agreed to arrest Macen and his team and hand them over to the Justice Ministry for trial. I estimate that it will take me an hour to settle the situation out here. Will that be enough time for them to relocate off the planet?"

"It will have to be." Ghemor steadily replied, "Thank you for your consideration Legate."

The screen went dark and Ghemor turned to Macen, "It seems your coming here was for nought."

"No." Macen firmly insisted, "It wasn't. We'll still find Katreen."

"But you'll have the whole of the military after you." Ghemor warned.

"I've had the Cardassian Militia after me before." Macen grinned, "I've managed to survive so far."

Ghemor shook his head, "You're mad but then I suppose you have to be in your profession. Good luck, for us all."

"Exactly." Macen concurred. Turning to his companions, he said, "I guess we'd better go warn Hannah and Joachim about the time limit and help out wherever and however we can."

"I'm useless then." Rockford complained, "I know diddly about starships."

"Neither does Hannah." T'Kir laughed, "C'mon, you can always hold a spanner."

"Sure." Rockford was less than convinced.

"Trust me." T'Kir said with a cocky grin.

Rockford looked skyward imploringly, "Why do I feel that would be my first mistake?"

"Smart Girl." T'Kir's grin blossomed.

 

Chapter Eleven

It took longer than hoped to repair the Corsair. The deadline was just minutes away and the team was just now boarding the ship. Macet had ordered the air defence sites to stand by and await his orders. Traffic had been discreetly steered away from the runabout's intended flight plan. Now all that was left was the launch itself.

T'Kir activated the comm and punched in the Crisis Centre's code. Grace's screen activated and she addressed the staffer, "Corsair to Base One. We're ready to depart. We are initiating a five minute countdown. Advise your personnel to clear the area."

"So advised." The staffer nodded, "Please note that Legate Macet's forces will be entering the compound during your launch."

Grace grinned, "So noted. Thanks for everything."

"It was our pleasure." The staffer acknowledged and cut the connection.

Cardassians ran away from the runabout. When the countdown ended Grace activated the antigravs. Mercifully they engaged and the runabout rose. Tanks began to enter the compound as the runabout tilted its nose skywards. Grace slammed the impulse engines to maximum and the ship rocketed out of sight.

The Corsair entered orbit on the opposite side of the planet than the Obsidian. They raced around the planet always striving to get to the protective bosom of the surveyor. After dodging myriad ships they finally sighted the Obsidian.

"Open a channel." Grace instructed T'Kir.

T'Kir complied and Grace began to speak, "Shuttle Bay, this is Corsair. Be advised we're coming in hot."

"How hot?" the bay chief asked.

"Max impulse." Grace grimly replied.

There was a moment of silence before the chief spoke, "We'll be ready. Always wanted to see if our contingency plan will work."

"Thanks. Corsair out."

T'Kir passed a worried glance towards Grace, "What's he mean ‘if it'll work'?"

Grace smiled, "We've never tried this. If it works we'll be fine."

"And if it doesn't?" T'Kir wondered.

"Then we'll be pudding." Grace informed her with a nonchalant shrug.

The Obsidian's bay chief set the external and internal tractor beams to arrest the incoming runabout in the shuttle bay. Repulsors set in the rear wall were also activated. All was in preparation now it was time for action.

Grace cut the impulse engines and drifted forward on momentum. She adjusted pitch and angle with the thrusters. Although these minute adjustments slowed them the changes were too miniscule to measure.

The Corsair plummeted headlong at the Obsidian. At what seemed to be the last moment before the runabout entered the awaiting bay, the external tractors grabbed a hold of the smaller craft. She bled inertia but she still broke free and hurtled into the shuttle complex.

The internal tractors activated and even more speed was bled off. The repulsors fired and the runabout came to a halt. Inside the craft sparks showered the passengers and they were thrown from their seats as the inertial dampers overloaded and failed.

Grace peeled herself off of her console, "Sorry, Joachim. Looks like you have another mess to fix."

Dracas picked himself off of the deckplates, "Really? I hadn't noticed."

Grace turned to a shaken T'Kir, "Have you ever noticed that Roman sarcasm has a mocking quality to it?"

"Yup." T'Kir concurred, "I wonder how our kids in the back fared?""

Gantz noticed that the floor underneath him was soft and warm...and struggling to move, "Rockford, is that you?"

"Yes." She growled.

"Funny," he grinned, "mother never told me that it'd be like this."

"Get off of me before I emasculate you." Rockford advised.

Feeling a blade pressed against his testicles, he hurried to comply. Rockford got to her knees once Gantz had scrambled off of her. She noted that Radil was sitting on one of the lounge area's beds.

"I take it you came out okay." Rockford observed.

"Never better." Radil replied, "Just another typical Hannah Grace landing."

Rockford's expression soured, "Can't wait to live through a few more of these."

Radil wore an evil grin, "Remind me to tell you about when we landed in the side of a building."

"Oi!" T'Kir's voice cut through the chatter, "Are you all still alive?"

"We're fine." Radil called back, "And we're coming out." She turned to Rockford and Gantz and winked, "Unless you two want some more quality time."

Dracas stood by the hatch. The sensors pinged an alarm when the outer atmospheric pressure and breathable mix of gases had been achieved. Dracas opened the door. Macen ran through it.

Slapping his comm badge he began, "Macen to Forger. Set course for the Lopso system and immediately engage at maximum warp."

"But we're still in the traffic lanes." Forger hesitated.

"We have three Galor-class cruisers bearing down on us." Macen explained, "I don't want to be here when they arrive. Engage the damn warp drive."

"Yes sir." Forger crisply replied.

"Y'could've been a little nicer." T'Kir said as she came up behind Macen.

Macen shook his head, "We needed immediate action and she needed motivation."

"Okay." T'Kir held up her hands, "I know better than to argue when you get like this."

"Like what?" Macen frowned.

"All captainy." T'Kir revealed.

A wry expression settled on Macen's features, "So what are you up to?"

"Hannah and I are going to see if Chef won't cater a little party." T'Kir smiled.

"There's not much to celebrate." Macen countered.

"We survived. That's enough for me." T'Kir asserted and then she paused, "Why d'I get the feeling you won't be joining us?"

"I can't." he said to her disappointment, "I have captainy stuff to do."

"Can't you..." she started to protest.

"Honey," he sighed, "someone has to fill out the after action reports."

"Oh poo." T'Kir sulked, "Why's it gotta be you?"

"Who else would do it?" Macen asked, "Besides these are Starfleet forms for Amanda and Alynna. No one else here has the experience or technical wherewithal to fill them out."

T'Kir heaved a longsuffering sigh, "I'll be thinking of you."

Macen lifted her chin and kissed her, "We'll have time together later tonight."

A naughty grin spread across her face, "Good." She shooed him away, "Get busy so we can get it on later."

"Yes, dear." Macen replied and exited the shuttlebay.

"T'Kir turned and shouted across the bay, "Hannah! We've a party to plan."

Forger updated Macen as to the ship's status as he passed through the bridge on the way to his Ready Room. Apparently a probe left behind by Forger detected the arrival of the three Cardassian cruisers within ten minutes of the Obsidian's departure. Macen thanked her for the information and entered his office.

He sat out to work and industriously, even if he somewhat lacked enthusiasm for the chore, tackled the after action reports. Just about when he'd thought he'd go mad, Ops signalled him that he had an incoming transmission. He routed to his station and was pleasantly surprised to see Danan looking back at him.

Danan grinned, "Surprised?"

Macen smiled, "You could say that. What's up?"

"I'm in a corporate runabout and on my way to rendezvous with you." Danan revealed, "Are you still at Cardassia Prime?"

Macen shook his head, "We'll be in the Lospo system in a few hours. Remember Gemini?"

"All too well." Danan admitted.

"Why are you coming here?" Macen asked, "Problems?"

You could say that." Danan confessed wryly, "I've resigned from Tom's crew. He was being overprotective and wouldn't let me do my job. I thought it would be best if I moved elsewhere."

Danan gave him an imploring look, "Got room for one more?"

"For you?" Macen grinned, "Always."

"How's Galen 3 going to feel about this?" she asked.

Macen laughed, "He'll feel relieved. He's a little overwhelmed by his duties and responsibilities. He may not be a wise choice for the Science Specialist but he'll make a first rate Lab Assistant. He's been dying to meet you so I don't think there'll be a problem as far as a working relationship will go."

"Something of a fan, eh?" Danan smirked.

"If I hear one more tirade about the brilliance of your pioneering work on ultramatter or Omicron physiology I'll go insane." Macen revealed.

Danan blushed, "I like him already."

"How long will it take you to reach Gemini?" Macen inquired.

"We just entered the Bajoran sector fifteen minutes ago so we're still hours away." Danan informed him.

"We'll hold Gemini orbit until you get there." Macen smiled warmly, "Welcome back, Lees."

She nodded, "It'll be good to come home."

"I hate to be rude but I have a metric ton of paperwork to finish up. Can we postpone our reunion until it's in person?" he requested.

"Love to." She chuckled, "Later."

The screen went dark and Macen spoke to himself, "Lisea Danan? Go figure." He pulled up the next appropriate form and returned to work.

"No, really!" Galen 3 insisted, "It's true!"

Tessa gave him a disbelieving look, "I rather doubt it."

Galen 3 frowned. His attempts at impressing Tessa were going wildly awry. She doubted his every word. It was true he had "mildly" exaggerated on a few points but there should be no way for her to know that.

He struggled to find some means of winning her confidence. He was spared any more painful brainstorming by the chirp of his communicator. Gratefully he tapped it.

"Galen 3."

"Galen 3, this is Macen." Came the Captain's voice, "I need to see you in my Ready Room."

"I'm on my way." Galen 3 assured him. He turned to Tessa, "I'll be back."

"Don't bother." She coldly advised him.

Wounded, he left Sickbay.

Seated before Macen, Galen 3 wrestled with his crushing disappointment and his curiosity as to why he was here. Macen let him linger for a moment and then finally spoke.

"I have some news that it is both good and bad. I have a new Sciences Specialist en route. You're being demoted. You'll be the Science Division's Chief Lab Assistant." Macen informed him, "I think we can agree that you were promoted too fast. You're too reluctant to take up the more martial aspects of your post and therefore can't fulfil all of your duties. This compromise will be best for all."

Galen 3 digested this and nodded, "I can agree to that. Who's replacing me?"

"Lisea Danan is returning to the fold." Macen revealed.

Galen 3 was ecstatic, "Lisea Danan! This is wonderful! What an opportunity! Did you know...?"

Macen held up a hand to stop him, "I know. I was there."

"Wait until I tell the Science team. They'll be thrilled." Galen 3 bounced out of his seat like an overeager puppy, "Can I go now?"

"Go." Macen waved him on his way. After the Ready Room doors closed in Galen 3's wake Macen shook his head, "At least he didn't piddle on the floor."

 

Chapter Twelve

"Hey!" T'Kir yelled, "Wait for me!"

Grace held the lift and T'Kir came bounding into it. A bemused Grace observed, "You missed breakfast."

"I ate in my quarters." T'Kir sniffed.

"My God!" Grace gasped, "You are positively glowing. You and Brin didn't...?"

A very smug T'Kir replied, "I had a night of wild and woolly rough sex. Everyone should try it at least once."

"You little scamp!" Grace retorted, "Tell me."

The lift doors opened, revealing the bridge. T'Kir squeezed Grace's hand, "Details will be coming later."

"Looking forward to it." Grace admitted, "Gotta live vicariously, y'know."

Grace relieved Ceryx at the helm while T'Kir took over Ops. Macen was already in the command seat. The Obsidian was minutes away from entering the Lopso system.

Grace translated the ship out of subspace back into normal space and approached the binary star system. Lopso B II was their destination and they were going in slow and easy in case there were any surprises lurking about. Having been shut out of the Militia GUARD channel any number of ships could have been repositioned here during their voyage without their knowledge.

Tactical and Ops ran continuous sensor sweeps as the ship sailed onward. Rockford wasn't at Tactical since her involvement there was as a back-up. Rockford and Gantz were seconded to Radil's Security team during normal operations.

As the Obsidian neared Gemini it became obvious that the only traffic was of a commercial nature. Freighters and ore haulers littered the system coming to and fro. The surveyor settled into standard orbit with nary a glitch.

Macen turned to Forger, "All right Shannon, keep a weather eye out while we're gone. If a military cruiser appears on the horizon, bug out and try to return when the Militia ship departs. We'll be safe on the ground. I still have some old Maquis contacts that will shelter us."

"Just be careful." Forger advised.

Macen grinned and rose. Turning to T'Kir he issued orders, "Have the investigative team assemble in the transporter room. Make sure they're kitted out for an extended stay."

"You got it." T'Kir replied and activated the comm.

The team materialised in an alley just off of the main street of Dodge City. Like its historic namesake, it was a wild town of ranchers, cattle barons, farmers, and prospectors. There also were, of course, bandits and gunfighters. The colonists idolised the Old West of the American and Australian frontiers. Even the non-humans lived by its ethos.

Asteroid miners and prospectors blended with freighter crews who sought wild diversions in the free for all atmosphere. What law there was to be found had proven itself to be more direct and brutal than the local villainy. In short, it was just the place for Cardassian troops to get lost in.

Since the war, Cardassia Prime had dealt Gemini a free hand to run local affairs as they saw fit. In exchange the locals saw no reason to interfere with Union officials or troops stationed on their world. Militia liberties on Gemini were the stuff of legend. The debauchery surpassed even the heady days of the Bajoran occupation. Dodge City was the hub upon which all other carnal centres revolved around. The locals were proud of their free wheeling ways, and as long as no one got killed, pretty much everything was negotiable.

Macen led the group out into the street. Many of the festivities normally contained within the local saloons and brothels had spilled out into the sidewalks. Traffic was halted in the meantime and the main thoroughfare was the clearest path through town.

Sheriff's deputies were scattered amongst the crowd, milling about, and keeping a general eye on things. Macen approached one of the lawmen and asked where the Sheriff was. He was pointed in the direction of the jailhouse and the team proceeded there.

Deirdre Armstrong sat behind her desk. The jail was empty but she knew that would change. Drunken brawls would soon break out and the respective participants would need someplace to sleep it off. There would be no charges but restitution would be due if anything had been broken. The various proprietors would be there bright and early queuing up to make certain they received their appropriate sums.

Armstrong sighed. Her job was a relatively simple one compared to her days as a Maquis terrorist. She'd been an original member of the Maquis. She'd also been a member of the ultra-violent faction, the Real Maquis. It had been as a member of that splinter group that she had finally been apprehended and turned over to the Cardassians.

It had been one of her own that had accomplished this. Brin Macen had hired on with the Cardassians in order to bring the Real Maquis to a halt. Unbeknownst to Macen, the Cardassian government had treated her with leniency and she'd been released from prison after a mere two year stretch. They'd even approved her appointment as sheriff citing her former experience as invaluable for ferreting out malcontents.

Armstrong nearly died of shock as Macen entered her door. Slowly, she rose to her feet, mouth gaping. Macen was also stunned and uncertain as to what to do next. Armstrong's hand pulled her disruptor free from its holster and she aimed at Macen. Rockford pushed her way in front of Macen and held out a hand.

"Deirdre, it's me." She assured Armstrong.

"Annika?" Armstrong was puzzled. She knew Ryst and Macen were enemies.

"Give me the pistol, Deirdre." Rockford insisted, "No one here wants to harm you. Give me the gun and we can all sit down and talk."

"Talk?" Deirdre shook herself as she handed the pistol over to Rockford, "Talk about what?"

"Kidnappers." Rockford revealed, "We think the ones that kidnapped the Chrysalis child are here on Gemini. We need your help in apprehending them."

"You need my help?" Armstrong was wary, "Annika, what's happened? Why are you working with Macen?"

Rockford wore a wry expression, "It's a long story. I'd love to share it but you have to be willing to listen to our whole story."

Armstrong mulled it over. Finally, she nodded, "All right. I'll listen. Come in and close the door. Find a seat where you can."

Armstrong whistled, "Let me get this straight, you think Gul Maret orchestrated the kidnapping of Katreen Dervin and that he's stashed her here on Gemini." Macen nodded and she continued by addressing Rockford, "And you're on the run from Barrinoran, hence Federation, justice. Celeste Rockford is an old, established, and respectable identity so you're exclusively using it now. Added to all of this, you've joined Macen's SID team and you're quite happy...at least so far."

"That about sums it up." Rockford reassured her.

Armstrong's face screwed up, "I don't know whether I finally understand it all or if I'm more confused than ever."

"I can understand." Macen assured her, "I really can. The decision to work for the Cardassians was a rough one to reach."

"You helped them round up the Real Maquis." Armstrong accused.

"The Real Maquis were trampling on the memory of friends." Macen angrily shot back, "I would have hunted Aric and the rest of you even if no one else wanted to apprehend you."

Macen's vehemence took her aback, "If you weren't going to arrest us...that means you would have..."

Macen's eyes were cold as he answered, "I would have eliminated you all."

"Every one of us?" Armstrong timidly asked.

"Every mother's son and daughter." Macen confirmed.

Armstrong fell silent. After struggling with this revelation, she spoke, "On whose authority would you have executed us?"

"Ro Laren and Svetlana Korepanova are the last surviving members of the Maquis Council." Macen said, "They approved of the policy."

"That gives you the right to kill people?" Armstrong demanded.

"What gave the Real Maquis the right to kill Federation civilians?" Macen turned the question around.

Armstrong frowned. This wasn't where she'd wanted to go. She wrestled with how to regain the initiative.

Macen got there first, "The Maquis were meant to be the guardians of the everyman. We were destined to be the vanguard of colonial society: its caretakers and examples of how to struggle for freedom. We strove to secure that freedom if only to hand it back to those that didn't fight or even support or appreciate our efforts. Their thanks wasn't the issue. The issue was the pursuit of happiness and the unrestricted exercise of liberty."

Armstrong blinked and then began to look distinctly guilty, "You should be a politician."

Macen soured, "No need to be insulting."

"Deirdre," Rockford spoke, "Macen has an idea, a dream really, of a time where people like the Maquis can gather together and be a force for change."

"Another socio-political lobby." Armstrong grumbled.

"No." Rockford shook her head and smiled, "This is a paramilitary force, a revolutionary force whose sole aim is to reshape the galaxy into something fairer and more liveable."

"They'll resist you." Armstrong warned, "The governments won't back down and they'll refuse to change."

Macen grinned, "The first priority for any organisation is its own survival. The second priority is its own immutability for that is seen as the mechanism for accomplishing the first goal. The Allied governments may allow concessions and minor adaptations of policy but in the end the core of the governmental mechanism remains the same. That's what we're going to change, one star nation after another, until the galaxy is united."

Armstrong was in shock, "You're crazy."

"Yes, actually. According to my last psych eval I'm certifiable." Macen's grin and enthusiasm remained intact, "But I'm also a man with a mission. Want to give us the benefit of the doubt?"

"Us?" Armstrong looked around, "You all buy into this shuk?"

Intent eyes gazed back at her as Macen nodded, "They all believe. They know it won't be accomplished in their lifetimes, in fact it probably take a millennia to fully implement, but they're willing to lay the groundwork for what's to come."

Armstrong still struggled with what she was hearing. Macen relieved her of the pressure, "I'll tell you what, if you want to know more in the future I'll tell you more. As for now all that matters is one little girl's life. Will you help us find her?"

Armstrong readily agreed, "There is a Cardassian base on Ted Sutter's land. It's supposed to be secret so of course everyone knows about it."

"How long has it been there?" Macen wondered.

"About a month." Armstrong answered, "They let different squads take a three-day liberty every three days. There are always troopers in town."

"How many are at the base?" Macen asked.

Armstrong shrugged, "A four man squad usually makes a repeat visit twenty-eight days after the previous visit."

"That's twenty-eight troops, Boss." Gantz offered.

Macen cast a weary look the Acamarian's way, "Thanks."

"A Cardassian platoon." Radil offered.

Now Radil got "the" look, "Thank you, Jenrya. I would have never have guessed that."

Armstrong smirked. What Macen found to be annoying was actually his people's way of trying to useful...and protective of their Captain. It was rather sweet.

"Not you too?" Macen groaned as he looked at her.

Armstrong's smirk became a friendly smile, "Not at all. I can tell you this: there are the obligatory four Cardassians in town right now. I can take you to them."

"You'd be willing to put aside past differences?" Macen inquired.

"The little girl is more important than my grievances with you." Armstrong agreed, "But we will take them up in the future."

"That's a promise." Macen vowed.

"All right," Armstrong stood, "if'n y'all would follow me?"

T'Kir snickered and Armstrong defensively retorted, "Hey, I gotta sound like a native."

T'Kir held up a hand, "Have no fears. I know the burden of archaic slang."

"Hmph!" Armstrong replied and waved them on towards the door, "Follow me."

 

Chapter Thirteen

"There it is." Armstrong swept across the horizon, "The Cattle Rustler, the roughest, shadiest, and most expensive saloon and whorehouse on Gemini."

"And the Cardassians frequent here?" Macen asked.

"Almost exclusively." Armstrong confirmed.

Macen turned to his team, "Here's how it'll go down: Sheriff, you'll approach the ranking officer of the group. Celeste and Gantz will accompany you and act as your deputies. The rest of us will filter in and cover you in case there's trouble."

He turned to Armstrong, "Are you okay with the plan?"

Armstrong nodded, "It'll just be a typical day on the job for me."

Rockford smiled and squeezed Armstrong's arm, "Cheer up, Deirdre, it'll be the like the old days rousting stray Cardassians."

Armstrong cheered up, "There's a thought."

The fateful trio entered the saloon and sized the place up. It was a chaotic sight to behold. Three Cardassian Garreshes could be seen cavorting with the proprietor's prostitutes. The fourth, a Dal, stood at the bar enjoying emptying shot glasses.

A Garresh was an enlisted man and of little consequence in the Cardassian Militia's scheme of things. A Dal, however, was a command rank just below Gul. This Dal could presumably be the base commander. They approached him and ignored the rest.

"Excuse me, Dal, but could I speak with you?" Armstrong said after negotiating the crowd and arriving at the bar.

The Dal sized her up. Seeing the star on her vest, he offered her a polite smile, "Certainly Sheriff. How can I be of assistance to you?"

"Well...what's your name?" Armstrong began.

"Dal Faruk." His smile remained intact.

"Well Faruk," Armstrong was being as ingratiating as she knew how to be, "as you know, Katreen Dervin was kidnapped by unknown forces."

Faruk's smile began to slip, "Yes. May I ask what this has to do with me?"

"We have reason to believe the girl is being held at your base." Armstrong said breezily, "Would you be so kind as to take us there and prove that she isn't?"

Faruk stood stone still for a moment and then bolted for the back door. Armstrong began to react but Rockford and Gantz were already gone in hot pursuit. Flustered, she started for the back door when Macen caught up with her.

"Let them go." He advised, "Either one of them is imminently qualified to bring him back. Together they should be unstoppable. You need to stay here and quite the enlisted men down once they realise their officer is missing."

She nodded, "Yes, of course. Where will you be?"

"We'll be poised to move to wherever Celeste and Gantz capture the Dal." Macen revealed.

"His name is Faruk." Armstrong divulged.

Macen grinned, "Good to know." With that he and his team took their leave of the tavern.

Faruk ran headlong through back alleys and twisting thoroughfares. Rockford and Gantz pursued him to a shanty town. Faruk was scaling a ladder in order to reach the rooftops.

"Circle around and cut him off." Rockford yelled as she started up the ladder, "I'll flush him."

Gantz took off as Rockford reached the rooftop. Faruk had a considerable lead on her. He was travelling across domes and flats, leaping across spaces between buildings. Rockford picked up her pace and kept it at an even cadence.

Faruk turned and saw that Rockford had nearly closed the distance between them. He drew his disruptor and fired. Rockford ducked behind a turbolift aperture. She dropped to one knee and returned fire. Her shot caught Faruk in the wrist and he dropped the weapon.

Rather than attempting to retrieve his fallen pistol he turned and ran. Rockford holstered her weapon and went after him. She lost sight of him as he turned round a corner. She ducked as she cleared the corner.

Faruk's blow missed her entirely. She drove a knee into his midsection. He shoved her backwards with both hands. It was so unexpected of a move that it caught her by surprise.

Faruk was running again. He leapt down to a lower roof and then leapt off of it to the ground. He fell onto a stacked pile of metal roofing. Regaining his footing, he resumed his flight.

Rockford came off of the roof and hit the stacked metal tucking and rolling. She saw that Faruk was headed down an alley towards a main street. Cursing Gantz she headed after Faruk.

Faruk reached the sidewalk. He turned and a rifle butt hit him the forehead. Faruk staggered back as Gantz approached.

Faruk drove his booted toes up into Gantz's testicles. The tracker went down onto his hands and knees and vomited. Faruk smashed his fist into the side of Gantz's face and the Acamarian collapsed.

Faruk was suddenly propelled forward as Rockford landed a jump kick in between his shoulders. When he turned he found her facing him in a fighting crouch. He threw a punch which she blocked.

Blow after blow followed but Rockford always deflected or dodged the strike. After about thirty seconds of this she went on the offensive. She rained blows and kicks down upon him. He staggered backwards and finally she swept his legs out from underneath with a backspin sweep.

Rockford regained her feet and stepped back, drawing her phaser out at the same time in one fluid motion, "I'd surrender if I were you."

Faruk heaved a sighed and his body went limp, "You're not a Sheriff's deputy. Who are you?"

"Ever hear of Outbound Ventures?" Rockford asked.

"I've heard that they were pirates and thugs." Faruk snarled, "Are you one of them?"

"Yup." Rockford confirmed, "I don't know anything about pirates or thugs but I do know that my teammates and I are here to find Katreen Dervin. Know anything about her?"

Faruk erupted into a harsh laugh, "You are too late. She has been moved. You'll never find her."

"So certain are you?" Rockford asked.

Faruk frowned and Rockford waved the question aside, "All right. I'll spare you the movie quotes. Where is she?"

Faruk laughed again, "I don't know. I truly don't. Go ahead and torture me but you'll never discover anything."

Rockford scrutinised him for a moment and then holstered her phaser, "I'll right. Go."

"You're releasing me?" Faruk was puzzled.

"Yes." Rockford impatiently replied, "Hurry up. Get up and go. You could probably get back to the saloon in time to join in the evening's festivities."

"Why are you letting me go?" Faruk enquired.

"You told the truth." Rockford shrugged, "Besides, I'm tired of torturing people. Let someone else do it."

"You are a rare example of a Fed." Faruk surmised, "I would wish you luck but honestly I hope you are stymied at every turn."

Rockford smiled, "Honest enough. I wish you and your compatriots the same."

Faruk had already risen so he turned and proceeded to walk down the street. At first he was hesitant as if he expected Rockford to renege on her word. As he gained distance he became bolder and more confident.

Rockford turned to Gantz. He was on his knees trying to wipe the vomit stain off of his tunic. He looked up and shook his head.

"Nice going." He quipped, "You just let our suspect go."

"He didn't have anything to give us." Rockford replied, "There was no point in holding him."

Gantz heaved a sigh, "Help an old man to his feet?"

Rockford assisted him and Gantz scowled, "I'm getting too old for this shuk."

"Nonsense." Rockford patted him on the shoulder.

"To tell you the truth, Celeste, I was getting ready to retire before Macen came my way." Gantz confessed, "I have plenty socked away. But he just has a way of getting to you."

"Tell me about it." Rockford laughed, "I never expected to be here, working for him."

"I suppose we should call Macen." Gantz sighed, "He'll want an update."

Rockford groaned, "Okay, here goes..."

The team reunited at the Sheriff's station. Macen had readily accepted Rockford's judgement regarding Faruk's veracity. Once the team was gathered Macen contacted the Obsidian.

"Macen to Forger." he said for the comm pick up.

"Forger here." Came her reply.

"Sitrep, Commander." He requested.

"We've tapped into the system's defensive grid." Forger reported, "A Keldon-class cruiser is on its way. If they drop out of warp at the outer boundary it'll reach the inner system in approximately twenty minutes."

"Do you have time to beam us up?" Macen asked.

"Of course." Forger assured him, "Fortunately we already processed our personnel transfer."

Macen grinned, "Good. I'll see you straightaway after we board."

"See you then. Forger out." She signed off and the circuit closed.

Two minutes later Telrik had locked on to their coordinates and transported them to the ship. Dracas hurried off to Engineering. Macen and T'Kir headed for the Bridge.

The turbolift deposited them at their intended destination. Macen headed straight for the command section. T'Kir paused before relieving the Ops officer. Danan was manning the Science station. T'Kir went to her and gave her a warm hug.

"Welcome back, Astro." T'Kir hadn't used that particular nickname for Danan in over a decade. It referred to her specialty as an astronomer. Danan had once hated the moniker but now she brightly smiled.

"I'd wondered whether or not you still remembered that one." Danan laughed.

"I just held back 'cause you hated it." T'Kir grinned.

"Well," Danan sheepishly smiled, "time has a tendency of changing how we look at things."

"Yay!" T'Kir gave her another quick hug, "Until later, Astro!"

The two women settled down at their stations and the command section became the focus of attention.

"We broke orbit as soon as we recovered you and the investigative team." Forger informed Macen.

"Excellent thinking." Macen commended her. Focusing on Grace, he ordered, "Hannah, set course for the Federation border and take off at maximum warp."

"In-system jump again?" Grace wondered.

"Yes." Was his simple reply.

Grace manipulated the LCARS controls laid out before her and the ship leapt into subspace. As they rapidly departed the Lopso system, T'Kir reported.

"The Cardies are pursuing. They're matching our speed."

Macen shot a quizzical glance Forger's way, "Our top speed exceeds their design specs. What's going on?"

"I have no idea." Forger admitted, "Intelligence hasn't reported any performance upgrades for the Keldons."

"Uh, I think we have a problem." Grace interjected, "We're losing speed."

"Are you certain?" Macen had to ask.

"Initially we only achieved Warp 9.6, which is below our performance specs." Grace explained, "In the last couple of minutes we've dropped to Warp 9.5 and it's still sliding."

Macen opened a comm channel with Dracas, "Joachim, why are we losing speed?"

"We're losing more than that." Dracas tersely replied, "One of the antimatter injectors is unstable and our intermix ratio keeps surging and falling. It's wreaking havoc with our EPS grid."

"Is there anything you can do?" Macen inquired.

"We have three options. One, we take the warp core off-line and replace the injector. Two, shut down the injector. This will slow us down even more and reduce our potential total power output. Three, we nurse the damaged injector along and hope she can provide enough power to get us where we're going."

"That's it, huh?" Dracas couldn't see Macen's frown but he could hear it reflected in his voice.

"I'm assuming you'll opt for the third option." Dracas dryly remarked.

"You know me too well." Macen chuckled, "Macen out."

"So we have nothing but bad choices?" Forger asked.

"Yup." Macen nodded, "Hannah, maintain course. Coax what speed that you can out of her."

"Right." Grace dubiously replied.

 

Chapter Fourteen

"What's our status?" Macen asked.

"We're fifteen minutes from the border." Grace piped up, "Unfortunately we're still losing speed. We're at Warp 8.9 now."

"Status of our pursuers?" Macen turned to T'Kir.

"They're slowly overtaking us." She said grumpily, "They're thirteen minutes away."

"Sir," the Tactical rating spoke up, "we'll be within their maximum torpedo range in three minutes."

Macen looked down at Forger, who was still sitting in her seat, "Well, this just keeps getting better doesn't it?"

"Be careful what you say." She advised, "It can get worse."

"I don't see how." Macen grumped.

The ship violently bucked. The lights flickered several times and sparks erupted from overtaxed EPS relays. Still standing, Macen was thrown to the deck.

He used his seat to help him up. He looked at Forger, "Forget I said it." Tapping his comm badge he spoke to Dracas, "How bad is it?"

"That final surge destroyed the faulty injector. We had to shut down that pathway or watch a build-up to a warp core breach." Dracas explained, "I'm sorry but Warp 6.2 is the best I can give you now."

"Divert what power that you can to the shields." Macen ordered, "We're in for a fight."

"Understood. Dracas out."

Macen activated the shipwide intercom, "In a few minutes, the Cardassians will overtake and we will be fighting for our lives. Attend to your emergency stations and we'll get out of this."

"Oh, really?" Forger asked as he retook his seat.

"Well, we just can't give up." Macen replied.

"Somehow I don't think they would accept a surrender." Forger opined.

"I'm inclined to agree with you." Macen admitted, "Buck up little camper, it'll all be over in a few minutes one way or another."

Forger frowned, "Oh, joy."

The Keldon took its time opening fire. It closed the distance and waited until they had reached optimum range before unleashing the death and destruction associated with photon torpedoes. The Obsidian, unable to fire her phasers at warp speed and lacking an aft torpedo launcher, had little choice but to bear the onslaught.

Fortunately, the surveyor was armoured with ablative plating. The amour absorbed the energy that the shields could not deflect and "evaporated" layer by layer thereby shielding the primary hull. It was a fact that they crew held on to. If they could make it across the border the sensor buoys would record their being under fire and Starfleet would dispatch patrol craft to investigate.

The buoys appeared on the Obsidian's viewer and the bridge crew cheered as they passed through the net into Federation space. The ship was rocked as another volley of torpedoes struck. Macen asked for an update.

"They've crossed the border and are continuing the engagement." The Tactical rating reported, "Shields are down to twenty-four percent and failing fast. The ablative armour is down to its final layer. Our hull will be exposed after one more strike."

"Hannah, drop us out of warp and bring us about." Macen tersely instructed, "It's time we made a stand against these bastards."

Grace complied. The Cardassians dropped out of warp but they had been a little slow doing so. There was less than ten thousand kilometres between the ships. The Cardassians continued pressing forward but adjusted their vector so that they would pass alongside the science vessel.

"Give 'em everything we've got." Macen ordered.

The Rating at Tactical gleefully complied. Torpedoes and phaser burst forth from the starship. They struck the Cardassian's shields and were largely repulsed. Macen ordered Grace to break off the attack and engage in evasive manoeuvres. Tactical fired when they could.

The two ships engaged in this dance for several minutes before torpedoes sailed in and struck the Keldon along her broadside. T'Kir reported the arrival of two Starfleet vessels: A Cheyenne-class and a Steamrunner-class vessel. The Keldon made a run for the border while being pursued by the Steamrunner. The Cheyenne came alongside the Obsidian and hailed them.

The viewer switched from a starfield to that of a forty-something human women, "Greetings. I'm Captain Erin O'Donnell of the USS Geronimo and you would be Captain Brin Macen of the SS Obsidian."

"Thank you Captain for the rescue. How'd you get here so quick?" Macen wondered.

O'Donnell grinned, "Patrols along the DMZ and Cardassian borders have doubled, Captain. We're all on the lookout for your ship. Starfleet is to assist you in any way it can in your search."

"Can you repair my ship?" Macen asked.

"Better than that," O'Donnell confided, "I can escort you to Starbase 242. They have shipyard facilities there. You can also gather additional information and support."

"Thanks again." Macen said, "When can we get underway?"

"As soon as you're able." O'Donnell smiled.

"We'll set out at Warp 3." Macen shared.

"Warp 3 it will be." O'Donnell laughed. The viewer went dark.

Macen turned to Forger, "Summon the 2nd watch. They can start their shift a little early."

"Sounds good to me." Forger smiled.

"I'll be in my Ready Room." Macen confided, "You can handle the whining. After all, personnel matters are the prevue of the Executive Officer."

"You dog." Forger complained.

"Arf." Macen replied and then proceeded to his office.

Ten minutes later the door chime sounded. Macen ordered the door to open and T'Kir and Danan strolled in. T'Kir gloated upon seeing him.

"I told you he'd have his feet up." She relished every word, "He won't do his reports for at least an hour."

"All right." Danan sighed, "I concede. When do you want me to pay you your winnings?"

"As soon as we get back to Barrinor." T'Kir decided.

"As good as done." Danan promised.

"What are you two talking about?" a perplexed Macen had to ask.

"Nothin'." T'Kir wore her "innocent face".

"You'll find out." Danan said coyly.

"You," Macen pointed at Danan, "I can't do anything about."

"You," he pointed at T'Kir, "I can tickle the information out of you."

"Hah!" T'Kir defiantly proclaimed, "I am a stone. You'll get nothing from me."

"We'll see." Macen's eyes narrowed.

"Oh, goodie!" T'Kir clapped her hands, "A challenge! I love it!" T'Kir conspiratorially winked at Danan, "I betcha we end up having sex."

Danan rolled her eyes, "With you in the equation I have no doubts."

"And that's the way, that's the way, uh huh uh huh uh huh, I like it." T'Kir radiantly grinned.

Macen moved from his place behind the desk and approached Danan. He gave her a warm hug and she smiled. Separating from her he looked her up and down.

"Well, being under Tom's care doesn't seem to have done you any harm." He observed.

"Of course not." Danan scoffed, "I was never near any danger...or any scene that had been dangerous and was now contained. In short, I never left the ship."

"Ouch." Macen winced, "I can see why you're upset."

"I'm not all that upset. Tom's had a lot of losses in his life so he's very protective of those he's close to." Danan remarked, "I just couldn't do my job. I knew I could here so here I am."

T'Kir scrunched her, "And we're happy to have you, Astro."

"'Astro'?" Macen yelped, "There's a spectre from the past."

"Get used to it." T'Kir instructed, "Astro's back and here she stays."

"Okay," Macen sat on his desk, "not that I'm not enjoying the company of the two most important women in my life but why are you here? What are you up to?"

"Well," T'Kir coyly began, "since you're not doing your reports, we were hoping to coax you into going to a little ‘Welcome Back' party that Chef's throwing together."

"She's doing that?" Macen was sceptical, "All on her own?"

"Hannah may have encouraged her." T'Kir admitted.

"Working hand in hand with a certain Vulcan." Macen surmised.

"Maybe." T'Kir grinned.

"All right." Macen relented, "I'll come."

"Yippee!" T'Kir enthused, "Now it's time to gather the rest of the flock."

The rest of the flock was already gathered...except for Dracas. The stoic engineer was guiding the repair efforts underway. Since he had a rather unrelenting personality no one knew when he'd go off-duty.

"So," Galen 3 enthused, "What was it like down there?"

"If you'd ever leave the lab or Sickbay you'd find out for yourself you little desk weenie." Radil snapped.

Galen 3 was hurt by the vehemence behind her words. His reply was an angry one, "Well it's a good thing Lisea Danan has replaced me as Sciences Specialist isn't it? She can take the risks while I sit in the lab."

Galen 3 rose and Gantz spoke, "Wait a minute, kid. All she means is that you woulda had to have been there."

"Oh." Galen 3 subsided but before he could retake his seat Macen and party entered the rec room.

Galen 3's eyes went wide and he gaped, "Doctor Danan! What a privilege! I'm Galen 3. I'll be your lab assistant and I'm so excited to be able to serve."

Danan held up a hand to restrain Galen 3, "Slow down. I'm happy to meet you too and I'm sure we'll get along as long as you follow a few basic rules: One, I'm Lisea or Lees if you prefer. Two, calm is good. We like calm. When you're calm you can absorb, process, and synthesize data far more efficiently and accurately. Three, I'll be relying upon you to run the Sciences section when I'm away. This means you cannot, I repeat, cannot forget to heed rule number Two. Have I made myself clear?"

Galen 3 was far more relaxed and was distinctly looking embarrassed, "I understand."

"Step aside, Sonny." Radil barked. When he had moved she grinned at Danan, "Good to have you back."

"It's good to be back." Danan admitted.

Tessa manoeuvred around Radil and embraced Danan, "Lees, I'm so happy. I've missed you."

Danan protectively held Tessa, "I hope you've been okay. Has anyone been bothering you?"

"We can talk about that later." Tessa promised.

Tessa stood by Danan as the Trill turned to Gantz and Rockford, "I take it you're my other new teammates?"

Gantz held out a hand, "Heard a lot about you. I'm sure we'll get along fine."

"I'm sure we will." Danan turned to Rockford, "Well, we've met before."

Rockford looked unsure of herself, "I'm sorry. It was a different time and place."

"You know, I had a very interesting chat with Rab Daggit about your being here." Danan revealed.

"Er...yes." Rockford looked gut shot, "I'm sure that went well."

"Actually let's just say the jury is still out on that one." Danan shared, "As for me, he gave me information that gives me hope for you. I'd like to talk with you about when you have time."

Rockford relaxed a little, "I'll see what we can set up."

"Okay folks!" T'Kir raised her voice to be heard, "Enough of the meet 'n greet. Let's party!"

 

Chapter Fifteen

Starbase 242 was an Immense-class space station. It was a well named design. Although it lacked interior docking it did possess four shipyard style drydocks. There were fifty exterior hard point docking slips.

The drydocks were each attached to the station via an umbilical arm. The arm was large enough to have an industrial replicator for the individual dock and a shuttle pad with shuttlepods and work bees for the engineers. The arm also contained a turbolift for transporting ship's crew and station personnel.

The Obsidian had been assigned to Dock 2. All of the crew were granted shore leave. Dracas stayed behind despite serious efforts to persuade him to accompany his friends and teammates. Macen, and of course T'Kir, were escorted to the station CO's office.

Admiral Herbert Spitz seemed ill fitted for station duty. He was restless and his eyes constantly sought out the horizon. His disposition immediately soured as Macen and T'Kir were shown into his office. Also present for the meeting was the staff intelligence officer, an Orion woman named Chian.

Spitz impatiently motioned for the couple to sit, "I don't know why you're here, Macen, but I can tell you already I don't like it. You should be finding Katreen Dervin not being hounded by some triggerhappy Cardassian Gul."

"We are searching for Katreen." Macen informed him, "That's why the Cardies were pursuing us."

"Don't get smart with me!" Spitz snapped, "I've seen your record. Seventy years of exemplary service only to end in disgrace. I would have hanged you, boy. I've seen your type before. You think because you got away with disregarding orders before you can again as a privateer. Your exploits are legendary amongst my intelligence staff."

Spitz soured even more, "They look up to you and quietly wish they could emulate you. You should be put away for the good of the service."

"Then why are you helping us?" Macen quietly asked.

Spitz glared at him, "Because I've got my orders. Admiral Jellico has reassigned half the fleet to support your efforts. Edward Jellico is a good personal friend of mine. I know of his loathing for you and I don't know why he issued such damnable orders but, by God, I will fulfil them."

"We also received word from Admiral Johnson from the scene on Cardassia Prime." Chian spoke, "He advised us that the Cardassian Militia would likely try to apprehend or kill you."

"Oh, really?" Macen jovially replied, "And here he was saying he disapproved of my methods."

Chian smirked, "He also advised us to be on the lookout for any violations of Federation law."

Macen shrugged, "I guess you can't please all of the people."

"Listen you flippant little turd," Spitz barked, "it's bad enough I have to allow your so-called ‘investigative team' to bear arms aboard my station but I will not condone any usage of them. You violate one station regulation, one federal law, one planetary law, or one municipal code and I'll have you strung up by your balls, is that clear?"

"Exactly which planet or municipality are we talking here?" Macen wondered.

"All of them!" Spitz bellowed.

"I see." Macen said genially, "Then we're all in clear violation of Code 563 of the city of Vego on Serin VII. There you have to conduct all formal meetings while sitting on your head."

Spitz began to turn purple and then his comm panel chirped. "What?!" he screamed at it.

"I have a call coming in for you." The Station's XO reported.

"Have them wait." Spitz snapped.

"It's Admiral Nechayev." The XO pointed out, "She's waiting and she does outrank you."

"Step outside." Spitz commanded, "All of you!"

Macen, T'Kir, and Chian waited outside the office. Wearing a bemused smirk, Chian turned to Macen, "Do they really require you to sit on your head on Serin VII?"

"Only in Vego." Macen revealed, "It seems the local bureaucracy would frustrate petitioners by holding such lengthy meetings that the grieved parties would go home. The local populace utilised the democratic process and voted in a law requiring that meetings be conducted while sitting on your head in order to expedite the gatherings."

Chian was astonished, "Has it worked?"

"It certainly did while I was there." Macen confided, "The meeting I attended gave me the worst headache."

Spitz's door swooshed open, "Macen, what's your name, get in here. Admiral Nechayev wants to talk to you."

As T'Kir passed by Spitz, she paused to pat him in the cheek, "Sweetie, the name's T'Kir. You'll remember it." Before the door closed behind her she blew him a kiss.

Once again, the Admiral was apoplectic, "Why that little trollop!"

The XO steered him away from the door, "Why don't we go to the Commissary and you can tell me all about it." She winked at Chian as they were exiting and Chian winked back.

Chian had no reason to stay in Ops but she decided to linger anyway. In her opinion, Macen was cute. It was true he was married but she'd been with a lot of married men. If T'Kir were adventurous enough she could join them. Chian hummed to herself as she waited by the door ready to pounce upon Macen as he exited.

Tessa was in the rec room. She sat staring at the holographic fire. Although she couldn't feel the heat coming from the space heater she knew it was on without checking the setting.

"Someone was careless." She scolded the phantom perpetrator.

As she clicked the heater off, she heard Galen 3's voice behind her, "Tessa, do you have a minute?"

She was dubious but she felt sorry for him, "All right. Speak your mind."

"I'm sorry." He contritely gushed, "I shouldn't have exaggerated so much. On Eminiar VII, such boasts are part of the courting ritual. Both parties make large claims even though they know their puffed up résumés will be exposed. You aren't an Eminiar girl and I should have realised I needed to treat you differently."

Tessa's eyebrow arched in an imitation of T'Kir, "And who prompted this little confession?"

"Lisea and I talked." Galen 3 confessed, "She pointed out that I wasn't on Eminiar VII anymore and I needed to view the galaxy through wider eyes. I realised the rest on my own."

"And now you're telling the truth." Tessa smiled.

"How do you know these things?" a baffled Galen 3 asked.

"My program is tied into the ship's internal sensors." Tessa grinned, "I can read your biometric responses to any question, or to what you're saying, and tell you whether or not you're lying. Of course some people can ‘beat the box' but the vast majority, like you, can't."

"By Gaan that's brilliant!" Galen 3 enthused.

"Thank you." Tessa curtsied, "And by the way, you're forgiven."

Galen 3 blushed, "Can I ask you a personal question?"

"I don't know how personal a hologram can get but go ahead." Tessa replied.

"Why the name ‘Tessa'?" he asked, "Why not ‘The Doctor' like Voyager's EMH?"

"First off," Tessa began to explain, "Parva gave me my name. I love her and I like the name. Secondly, I'm not a Time Lord."

"What?" a confused Galen 3 asked.

"Never mind the reference. You're obviously uncultured." Tessa said dismissively.

"I don't understand." Galen 3 miserably confessed.

Tessa looked skyward, "Oh, all right. I have to show you though."

"As long as my curiosity is satisfied I'll be happy." Galen 3 replied.

She responded with a sheepish grin, "Okay." She made her episode selection and settled into the couch beside Galen 3. He was surprised by this but also delighted. The day was turning out better than planned.

Nechayev was grave, "The situation is bad."

"What type of bad?" Macen enquired.

"The fall of the Cardassian government type bad." Nechayev grumbled.

"I know." Macen revealed, "Cardassians thrive under strong, forceful leadership. Ghemor's democratic government is far from that. They were stronger when they began but doubt and inner turmoil have set in. Without Katreen Dervin his government is doomed."

"Exactly." Nechayev concurred, "You'll be interested to know that Dervin has been found."

"What?!" Macen exclaimed.

"Legate Macet negotiated with Maret and arranged for her release. She'll arrive at the Presidential Palace on the day of her coronation." Nechayev shared.

"I don't believe it." Macen admitted, "Why would Maret surrender his leverage?"

Nechayev's smile was a nasty one, "Macet negotiated young Dervin's abdication in exchange for her life. Maret jumped at that."

Macen whistled, "I'm sure he would. He'd still need to call a popular vote to change the structure of the government."

"It takes a petition of ten billion signatures to call for a general election. Maret has twenty-five billion signatures. The Legislature took a ‘no confidence' vote this morning and Ghemor was impeached." Nechayev confided, "The Prime Minister is in charge until a general election can be called. The Prime Minister is a Unionist."

Macen whistled, "Maret's certainly stacked the deck."

Nechayev nodded, "That he has."

"You said Katreen had been located. Where is she?" Macen enquired.

"Macet's transmission was intercepted by the Intrepid. Her XO, Commander Jonathan Striker, cracked the cipher and decrypted the message. It's too bad he transferred out of Intelligence." Nechayev said wistfully.

"Alynna," Macen scolded, "you're drifting."

"Right." Nechayev took the reprimand in good spirits, "The Dervin girl is on Cepha V. They'll hold her there until it's time to take her back to Cardassia Prime."

"Which is four days away. We have three days worth of repairs, and given transit time, I'd say could reach them just in time." Macen calculated.

"Remember, it's a garrison world in the heart of the Outer Marches." Nechayev warned, "That's solid Unionist territory. You won't find any friends out there."

"Yes, Mother, we'll be careful." Macen quipped.

Nechayev rolled her eyes, "Do I have to remind you that we don't need an interstellar incident on our hands?"

"Nope." Macen readily responded, "We'll be good. I promise."

"Good luck then." The screen went dark.

"Well, she was certainly full of bad news." T'Kir groused.

"That's what she received so that's what she passed on." Macen said pensively.

"Honey?" T'Kir asked in a sugar laced voice.

"Yes?" Macen warily replied.

"Are we really gonna attack a Cardassian garrison?" she asked sweetly.

"Yup." Was his simple reply.

"Are you frinxin' nuts?" she demanded and then thought better, "Scratch that. You already answered that when we went after Solarian Security Systems."

"It'll be better this time." Macen assured her.

"No crashing the ship into any fortress walls, buildings or mountain sides, Okay?" T'Kir implored.

"Trust me." He cockily grinned.

"Now I know we're in trouble." She complained.

Macen walked over to her and offered her his hand, "C'mon, let's blow this joint before Spitz has an aneurism."

"We could always take his desk for a spin." T'Kir coyly suggested.

"And have him walk in on us?" Macen shook his head, "That would be as awkward as when Tom and Lees caught us in the gym's equipment locker."

"Oh, c'mon." she laughed, "That was funny."

"In hindsight maybe." Macen ruefully contended, "At the time it was inconvenient."

"That's only 'cause they wouldn't leave and let us finish up." T'Kir pouted.

"Whatever." Macen sighed, "The point is: let's go somewhere fun. I don't want to stay cooped up in this cruddy little office."

T'Kir rose and pinched his cheek, "Then let's find you some excitement."

They breezed past a sputtering Spitz and a lustful Chian and headed straight for the turbolift. They set course for the Pavilion and sought out adventure there.

 

Chapter Sixteen

Macen and T'Kir exited one of the plethoras of turbolifts littering the station. The Pavilion was in the station's core and took up three decks. It offered a little of everything for everyone. If they didn't have it they would get it in short order.

T'Kir consulted an info booth. Deciding they needed to rise a level she steered Macen to the nearest escalator. Once they were there she began hunting down the restaurant she wanted to find.

Her search ended at the entrance of Enchante. It boasted fine dining from across the quadrant. They met the host and were subjected to a biometric scanner to verify they were Federation citizens. Visiting aliens had to pay in latinum.

As they were being ushered through the dining area, they spotted several members of the crew. Macen offered a nod and a smile to everyone. T'Kir about wore her arm off waving.

As they reached their seat, they noticed the SID team seated at a round banquet table. Macen motioned for the host to follow and he proceeded to the table occupied by their friends. Eyes lifted as they approached and there was a chorus of greetings and delighted squeals.

Grace and Danan fell all over themselves trying to convince the couple to join them. It was a soft sell. As fate would have it T'Kir was seated next to Grace and Macen ended up next to Dracas. The newcomers were handed menus and the host shuffled off.

The rest of the group was past appetisers and was in the soup and salad phase of the meal. Macen leaned over to Dracas and asked, "How's the soup?"

"The minestrone is excellent." Dracas assured him.

"High praise coming from a Roman." Macen grinned.

"Well, I wouldn't..." Dracas began to fumble.

"Never mind Joachim. It was a backhanded compliment." Macen explained, "Next time I'll be more straightforward."

"All right." Dracas readily agreed.

"So," the gleam in Macen's eye was positively wicked, "how did they manage to get you out of Engineering?"

"The station's yard dogs forced me out." Dracas grumbled.

"How?" Macen had to know the impossible was accomplished.

"They refused to work until I left." Dracas said wearily, "Since we're on a deadline I agreed."

"And here you are." Macen breathed, "And the ship hasn't blown up yet."

Dracas gave him a sour look. Macen knew he'd made his point so he relented. He switched the topic to that of Stan Guthrie and they talked about the love of Dracas' life.

The dinner went well and they exited all at once. Then the pairing off began. T'Kir and Grace wandered off to see boutiques. Dracas and Gantz decided to find a holodeck and do "Man's Stuff". Danan and Macen walked along the spacious corridor while window shopping.

Danan stopped Macen, "We've got a straggler."

Macen followed her line of sight and he saw Rockford standing alone at a kiosk perusing books to download into her padd. Danan gave him an imploring look and Macen nodded. They quietly approached but Rockford detected them without turning around.

"Hello, Captain." She said without diverting her attention, "Hello...whatever it is you want to be called."

"Like I said to Galen 3," Danan warmly smiled, "I'm Lisea, or Lees, for short."

Rockford turned to face them, "You don't have to feel sorry for me. I'm used to being alone."

Macen smiled, "But that can change. You're here to do the team a service. Did you ever think we could do the same for you?"

Rockford mulled it over and then shook her head, "Nope. Never thought about it."

"Daggit was like this when I first met him." Macen confessed, "Now he's a close personal friend."

"You want to be my close personal friend?" Rockford scoffed, "I'm your enemy, remember?"

"You were the enemy." Macen stressed, "Life usually makes your enemy your best friend in times of trial. Well, the trial's here and so are we. Let's make the best of it."

Rockford intently studied him, "I just don't get you."

"So hang out with me, get more info, and make up your mind as to what I'm all about." Macen suggested.

"Okay." Rockford hesitantly agreed, "Let me upload my books and I'll go with you."

"All right." Macen grinned in triumph, "Let's find one of those information kiosk doohickies and find out what there is to do."

"There's one right over there." Danan pointed out.

"What?" Macen looked around, "Oh, right. Good."

"I'm done." Rockford slid the padd back into her belt.

"Let's check out this data thingie and find out what's around." Macen enthused. After scanning the database, Macen turned around with an evil grin, "They have a water park."

Danan happily smiled while Rockford loosed a confused, "What?"

"You don't know what a water park is?" Macen couldn't believe it.

"No." Rockford replied.

"Even with all those cities you occupied and planets that you blew up, you never heard of a water park?" Macen inquired.

"No." Rockford insisted, "I don't have a clue as to what you're talking about."

"Oh, Celeste, we are about to change your universe." Macen turned to Danan, "Get her suited up. T'Kir and Hannah will be joining us. They're at a shop called Belinda's on Level 3. They have suits there. They're waiting for you. After you're done will meet on Level 1 at the entrance to the park."

"What about your suit?" Danan enquired.

"Leave it to me." Macen asserted, "The situation is well in hand."

"Yeah," Danan was dubious, "I've heard that before."

"Just go." Macen insisted, "Before Celeste changes her mind."

"I never said I wanted to do this." Rockford protested.

"Well, at least go before she resists." Macen urged.

"Come along dear." Danan turned Rockford by her shoulder, "We have purchases to make."

"But..." Rockford faltered.

"No ‘buts'." Danan scolded, "You'll have fun."

Rockford shrugged and let Danan guide her. Despite her outward protests she was really curious about what Macen had planned. The thought of having some fun really appealed to her. With all of these factors in play, she learned what a water park was and remembered how to play.

Three days passed quickly. T'Kir, Grace, and Danan paid visits to Tessa. She was encouraged by their devotion to her. She still wished she could exist out side of the ship's hull.

"It sucks being cooped up all the time." Tessa bemoaned.

"I don't doubt it." Danan said consolingly, "But we're at the limits of technology now."

"Elements!" T'Kir suddenly exclaimed, "No, we're not."

"I need to access the holomatrix." T'Kir said as she rounded the master console in Tessa's office. She furiously began to run diagnostics and test programs. "I got it!" she declared.

"Got what?" Grace asked the obvious question for everyone.

"We can't create a real holodeck but we can create holographic environments within the framework of the cargo bay. In other words the walls and clear spaces would be filled with holographic imagery but the actual cargo would superimpose itself into the created world. With a little creativity that could work to your advantage."

"By the Pools." Danan breathed, "Why didn't I think of that?"

"You're not an engineer." T'Kir said smugly, leaning up against the master console, "Particularly not a cyberneticist. I am." She took a bow.

"Oh, thank you!" Tessa caught T'Kir up in a jubilant embrace.

"Okay, Sweetie, okay." T'Kir gasped, "I can't breathe."

"Oh." Tessa's eyes widened and her mouth formed an "O". She quickly let go, "Sorry."

"Just happy that you're so happy...and that I can breathe freely again." T'Kir managed a grin.

"I could examine you." Tessa suggested.

T'Kir waved her aside, "M'fine. Really."

"T'Kir," Tessa's tone became firm and commanding, "sit down on the exam table. Now."

"Okay, okay. No need t'get pushy." T'Kir relented.

Tessa waved a medical tricorder around, "As I thought. Your ribs are bruised. I can't do much about that but I can alleviate the pain. There's something else here...I've never seen a reading like this."

"What?" T'Kir was getting nervous.

"Oh my!" Tessa exclaimed, "It's true!"

"What?" T'Kir came off the table and she gripped Tessa by the lab coat, "Tell me!"

Which Tessa did.

Macen arrived at Sickbay with a grave expression on his face, "What's wrong?" After saying this he noticed that everyone in the room was smiling. T'Kir, in fact, was beaming.

"Congratulations! Tessa enthused, "You're going to be a father!"

Macen rushed to T'Kir's side, he leaned over so that he was at eye level with her, "Really?"

"Yup." She sparkled.

Macen scooped up in his arms and twirled her around. Once he started feeling dizzy he returned her to the exam table. "How? When?"

T'Kir radiated, "For when: over the last week. As far as how goes: I think you've proven that you grasp the fundamentals in that department."

"There are some important concerns though." Tessa was loathe to point out, "El-Aurian and Vulcan physiologies have never been mixed before. The foetus may not be viable."

Macen and T'Kir both turned to look at her. She stepped back and held up her hands, "Don't look at me that way. I'm just the messenger."

"We'll take our chances." Macen declared.

"Yah!" T'Kir lent herself to his decision.

"Okay, okay." Tessa relented, "Let the pregnancy commence."

Back in their quarters, T'Kir slowly kissed Macen, "Thanks for not telling the crew. I just want to see how this goes before announcing anything."

"Understandable." Macen concurred, "Also if we broadcast now people will treat you differently."

"Speakin' o' different, I'm still on the team, right?" T'Kir wondered.

"At least through the first trimester." Macen agreed, "Tessa will make the call on the second and the third is beyond a chance in hell."

T'Kir kissed him on the cheek, "Thanks, Babe. You're sweet."

Macen grabbed her and threw her down on the bed, "Let's see how sweet I am."

T'Kir's eyes danced with delight, "Okay Cowboy, ride me hard."

Down in Engineering, Dracas and his crew finished their inspection. Satisfied, he thanked everyone for their efforts and hailed the Bridge. Forger responded.

"What's our status, Chief?" she asked.

"The yard dogs were almost as thorough as I would have been." Dracas commented.

"Does that mean we're a go?" Forger wondered.

"All systems check out." Dracas reported, "She's all yours, Commander."

"Thanks Chief." Forger replied, "Keep the mains on-line."

"Okay, Rhiann," Forger called out to her helmsman, "Set course for Cepha V and pour on the speed."

"With pleasure." Rhiann smiled, "She still had to manoeuvre out of the station's traffic control but that was the easy part. Approaching Cepha, that's where things could get dicey. The Cardassian fleet was after them and they had to cross half the Outer Marches to get to the desired system. That was going to be the fun part, yes, indeed.

 

Chapter Seventeen

The Obsidian dropped out of warp at the edge of the Cepha system. The 1st Watch crew was on duty despite the fact that it was the middle of the 3rd Watch. The ship was on yellow alert and standing by to go to battle stations.

"Ops, report." Macen requested.

"Long range scans are showing nada." T'Kir replied, "There isn't a single cruiser out there. Wait a sec...I got a ship on my scope."

"Tactical, analysis." Macen redirected the effort.

"It's a Belkor-class cutter." The rating described, "She's an in-system interdictor. They class is designed to run interference against capital ships until reinforcements can arrive."

"What about subspace chatter?" Macen wondered, "Who are they talking to?"

"No one." Tactical reported.

"Come again?" Macen was dubious.

"There are no subspace ripples in this system. No ships have recently left and no communications are underway." Tactical said defensively.

"This is too easy." Macen muttered.

"This whole thing is too easy." Forger opined, "We haven't encountered a single patrol possessing capital ships. All the Galor and Keldon-class cruisers have been rerouted and reassigned."

"Maybe they're hoping that the discrepancy will throw us off the trail." Macen said hopefully.

"You wish." Forger scoffed.

"Maybe." Macen replied, "But we're playing this through. Hannah! Proceed at half impulse and set an intercept course for that Belkor."

"I hear and obey, oh Captain my Captain." Grace replied.

Ten minutes later they were engaging the Belkor. It was smaller than the Nova-class surveyor, roughly the size of a Blackbird-class scout, but she was well armed. Despite the Obsidian's light armament she prevailed. She soon sailed past the crippled cutter and made for Cepha V.

As they made their final approach, Macen began to issue orders.

"Helm, position us in geosynchronous orbit above the garrison, nose first." He instructed.

"Okey dokey." She responded.

"Tactical, load two BFT-2000s into the launchers." He ordered.

That particular order rooted everyone to their spot. No one moved or breathed. Every Starfleet officer and privateer knew that "BFT" stood for "Big Frinxing Torpedo." It was the latest and greatest photon. It rivalled its cousin the quantum torpedo for yield. The Obsidian carried four of them. They meant for desperate times. They'd loaded them aboard while at Starbase 242 as part of their "assistance by any means" treatment.

"You don't actually intend on using those things, d'you?" T'Kir asked.

"Yes, I do." Macen replied.

"But you could kill Katreen." She protested.

"She'll most likely be held in the detention centre." Macen explained, "That's on the backside of the base above the command bunker. If we concentrate our fire on the front of the base we should be able to disable the anti-starship gun and the shields at the same time without cracking the detention centre."

"You hope." T'Kir clarified.

"Yes. I hope." Macen conceded, "But there's risk involved no matter how we do this."

T'Kir began to settle down, "You'd better be right about this."

"I am." Macen informed her, "Let's just say I have more particular insight into this situation that the rest of you."

"Oh?" T'Kir responded and then realisation dawned, "Oh!"

She addressed the rating at Tactical, "Jaycee! Load the damned torpedoes!"

The torpedoes were loaded and Grace parked them over the garrison, "We've arrived."

"Sir!" Jaycee sounded, "A disruptor cannon is locking onto us."

"Target the cannon and fire one torpedo." Macen requested.

"The cannon fired." The ship shuddered and then, "Torpedo away!"

"Detonation in three...two...one...their shields have collapsed!" T'Kir cheered.

"Select the same target and fire the second torpedo." Macen instructed.

"Torpedo away!" Jaycee cried.

There was a pause and then T'Kir announced, "The cannon is destroyed."

"Hannah, assume a more typical standard orbit." Macen called out.

"No problem." Grace smiled.

"Telrik," Macen commed the Transporter Room, "Lock onto coordinates near the detention facility and prepare to beam a landing party down."

Telrik readily agreed and Macen turned to Forger, "Call out the rally cry to the team. Tell them we're going in."

Grace spun her chair around, "Can I come this time? There's not much else to do while we're in orbit."

"Okay, you can come." Macen sighed.

Grace scrambled out of her seat and headed for the turbolift where T'Kir was waiting. Macen joined them and they sped away, headed for the transporter.

At the door to the transporter room, Rockford was zipping up her tactical vest. Radil was slipping on her ablative armour. Gantz slid his flechette gun intro its place on his leg. Next he unslung his rifle and cradled it. Dracas was wiping down his sword with a cloth liberating it from any fibres or dirt that would slow down his drawing action. Danan stood there as well, armoured and armed.

"Lees, you don't have to come." Macen told her.

"Yes, I do." She informed him, "I may not know Katreen as well as you and T'Kir but I have a stake in her birth and therefore her future."

"I understand." Macen replied, "Welcome back to the frying pan."

She grinned, "Where things get really hot."

With the pleasantries exchanged they went into the transporter area and were beamed down to the planetary surface. Specifically, they were placed outside the main entrance to the detention centre. They found that it was locked and there was no computer interface to override in order to get in.

"A mechanical lock, would you believe it?" Gantz whistled.

"Yeah." Radil tersely agreed, "The Cardies are paranoid bastards. Cheap paranoid bastards but still paranoid bastards."

"T'Kir, what do you sense?" Macen asked his telepathic wife.

"There's about ten of them. They're real fidgety." She answered.

"We could blow the door." Gantz suggested.

"But that alert them to our presence." Dracas countered, "We would have to wade through their combined firepower to try and access the area."

"You're a party pooper, y'know that?" Gantz pouted.

Macen took T'Kir aside and spoke in hushed tones, "Do you think you could remotely kill them?"

"Y'mean telepathically?" he nodded and she mulled it over, "Yah, I think I could manage."

"Go to it." He replied.

She approached the door and put one hand on it. Closing her eyes, she began to concentrate. Several moments passed and then her eyes snapped open. Her eyes gleamed from malicious delight. Everyone but Macen and Grace suddenly clutched at their heads.

Macen reached T'Kir before Grace could, "T'Kir, stop it."

Her only reply was an evil giggle. Macen slapped her and yelled, "Stop it!"

Her head snapped back and she stumbled backwards. Her eyes cleared as she reached up to cradle her offended cheek. She was confused.

"What happened?" she plaintively asked.

"You lost control." Macen said rigidly, "You were trying kill everyone."

"And you hit me?" Dawning realisation crept up on her.

"You were ignoring all other stimuli." Macen replied, "It seemed to be the only way to reach you."

"And now you're torn because you're sorry that you hit me but you feel justified all the same." T'Kir surmised.

"Basically." He admitted.

She smiled brightly, "Don't worry 'bout it. It was one of those ‘Captainy' things. You had t'do it or we wouldn't have a team any more."

"I warned you about this!" Radil angrily shouted, "She's a menace and needs to be put on a leash."

"She did that?" Rockford croaked.

A very ill looking Danan told her that it was. She struggled to rise but fell back onto her knees. Radil rushed to her side while pulling a medical tricorder out of her belt.

"It's the symbiot." She declared after a thorough scan.

"I coulda told you that." Danan attempted humour.

Macen tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Obsidian."

"Obsidian." Came the Ops rating's voice.

"Patch me in to the Transporter Room." Macen instructed.

"Telrik here."

"Telrik, transport Danan from here to Sickbay. Inform Tessa that we have a medical emergency involving Trill biology."

"Yes, sir. I'll have her out of there in a jiff."

A minute passed and then Danan shimmered out of existence. Macen turned to Gantz, "Now you can blow the door."

"About damned time." Gantz grumped, "C'mon Joachim, you can help me lay the charges."

Radil rounded on Macen, "Why isn't T'Kir beaming back to the ship too?"

"The crisis is past. We still need her." Macen offered.

"Like hell we do." Radil snapped.

"Listen Missy, we need her more than we need you." Grace snapped.

"Oh, really?" Radil asked archly, "Care to test that theory?"

"Shut up!" Rockford snapped, "All of you. I've dealt with teammates and shipmates that had unstable quirks to their personalities before. She's got it under control as long as she doesn't release that particular demon. So as long as she restrains herself, we can work together. She's taken a chance on me and I'm willing to take a chance on her. Can you?"

Rockford's strategy was brilliant, Macen thought. Radil had been engaging in a quiet rivalry with their newest teammate. Rockford has obviously noticed it and was using it.

"All right." Radil huffed, "But she'd better stay out of my damned head! I'm warning you."

Gantz and Dracas jogged over. Gantz had a gleeful look in his eyes, "Better find cover."

They rounded the nearest corner and Gantz yelled, "Fire in the hole!"

The remote detonator worked perfectly. The noise was deafening though. The whole back side of the building shook.

"Now all we need is some ale." Gantz declared.

Rockford gave him a sidelong reproving glare. He shrugged, "What? Beer and explosives. Is there anything better?"

The door was blown off of its hinges. Smoke festered from the hot spots created by the bombs. Careful not to touch the door frame, the team entered with their weapons ready.

Bodies were littered everywhere. Blood pooled around their noses and down their faces. They'd died in agony as was evidenced by the rictus of death.

"Was that going to happen to us?" Gantz wondered.

"It still might if you don't shut up." Radil barked.

There was a groan. Rockford and Radil went straight for its source. They found a Cardassian guard struggling to rise. Radil pinned up against the wall while Rockford relieved him of his disruptor.

"So why are you still alive tough guy?" Radil demanded.

"What the hell did you do to us?" The Cardassian shrieked.

"It's a long story." Rockford said. She eased Radil back with her hand, "Where's the Dervin girl?"

"What Dervin girl?" the Cardassian asked.

"You think your head hurts now?" Rockford turned steely, "Frinx with me again and we'll find out what happens when you skin a Cardassian."

"She's gone." The Cardassian confessed, "Gul Maret took her six hours ago. They're on their way to Cardassia Prime."

Rockford patted him on the cheek, "Thanks so much. Sorry 'bout your friends."

Macen called the Obsidian and the team was transported back to the ship. Forger was let in on Maret's travel plans. Dracas turned to Macen.

"I'll give you as much speed as I can for as long as I can." He promised.

Macen patted him on the shoulder, "I can't ask for more."

"How fast can we make it to Cardassia Prime?" Macen asked Grace.

"Roughly seven hours...if we pour it on and try to burn out the nacelles and the warp core." She calculated.

"Maret's going to beat us no matter what." Macen grimly surmised, "At least we have seven hours before we face life threatening danger again. Make the most of it."

Macen and T'Kir headed for Sickbay. Danan was in a biobed wearing patient's smocks. She smiled brightly and waved as they entered.

Macen went to confer with Tessa while T'Kir approached Danan, "Lees, I'm sooo sorry."

"No worries." Danan assured her, "What's a little attempted murder between friends?"

"Don't joke." T'Kir scolded her.

"Why not?" Danan wondered, "I'd rather laugh then cry. The point is: what have you learned from this?"

"I can't let the genie outta the bottle even for a second. I can't control it." T'Kir said with heartbreaking, plaintive honesty.

Danan kissed her on the forehead, "I think you've got it in one."

Macen arrived at the bed side, "Hiya Lees. Feeling better?"

"I'm ready to go back to my own room." Danan said that loudly for Tessa's benefit.

"No, you're not." Tessa yelled back, "Now lie down and rest or I'll sedate you."

"See what I have to put up with?" Danan huffed.

"Tessa told me she wants to observe you for twenty-four hours. We're going back into action in roughly seven hours so that means you'll miss all of the fun this time 'round." Macen shared.

"Oh, damn." Danan couldn't quite extinguish the relief from her voice.

"Anyway," Macen began a topic change, "You need your rest and we need to leave before the good Doctor loses her temper."

"Damn straight." Tessa called out.

"Later." T'Kir said. Macen escorted her out into the corridor. He kissed her and then ushered towards the turbolift, "I don't think we'll try repeating today's exercise."

She leaned into him as he put his arm around her, "Good idea."

"I have my moments." Macen smugly replied.

"Y'know, with all of this free time available, we could frolic." She suggested.

"Frolic?" Macen asked, "Is that your latest euphemism for sex?"

"Yah! Interested?" she asked with hope in her eyes.

"I'm interested but the body needs a break." Macen let her down gently, "We've been a regular pair of rabbits lately."

"Paid off didn't it?" she patted her belly.

"In more ways than one." Macen admitted, "But that doesn't change the fact that I'm saying ‘Not tonight'."

"Oh foo." T'Kir pouted.

"I will give you an all body rub down." Macen offered as a consolation prize.

"Yay!" T'Kir said with delight.

 

Chapter Eighteen

Six hours later, the bridge crew was back at their stations. They'd relieved the 3rd Watch early in order to make the final approach to Cardassia Prime. Although the ship had been spotted numerous times by Cardassian patrol craft, freighters, fighters, and runabouts they'd never been molested. Now as they entered the perimeter of the core systems, capital ships were on the horizon.

"Give me a report people." Macen voiced.

"They're just sittin' there." T'Kir incredulously replied, "No shields, no weapons, no nothin'."

"What are they doing?" Macen wondered, "Do they just not see us as a threat?"

"We're not." Forger reminded him, "They could swat us like a bug and they know it."

"Hey, be kind to her. She's a tough little ship." Macen protested.

"She should be given all the hell we've put her through." Forger grinned.

"Uh, Captain?" Jaycee interjected from Tactical, "Should I raise the shields?"

"No." Macen decided, "If their offensive systems go active raise the shields."

"Won't it be too late then?" Jaycee squeaked.

"Have a little faith." Macen urged, "Hannah, ETA for our arrival?"

"Forty-five minutes." Grace answered, "That's taking for granted that we don't get blown straight to hell in the interim."

"We won't be harmed." Macen opined, "Maret wants us there in order to prove how impotent we are to stop him."

"Frinx him!" T'Kir snarled, "If he's hurt Katreen I'll rip his head off."

"Let's just stay calm and wait to see what plays out." Macen advised his crew and especially his wife.

Although their nerves were still taut they settled down and rode out the rest of the journey.

"Holy shuk!" Grace yelped, "I think we found the fleet."

The Cardassian home system was filled with capital ships. They were stacked atop and beside one another alongside the designated traffic lanes. Any hostile ship attempting to access the system without permission would be swiftly vaporised.

Cardassian Traffic Control contacted them and directed them to a parking orbit over the capitol. They were a mere ten thousand kilometres away from the Intrepid. Surrounding both ships was a cluster of cruisers with their weapons hot.

"Hail the Intrepid." Macen ordered.

James McKinley's face filled the screen, "Hello, Brin. We really need to stop meeting like this."

"How are you doing?" Macen enquired.

"As fine as any hostage can be." McKinley replied with gallows humour.

"Where's Bob?" Macen asked.

"On the surface." McKinley answered, "If he hadn't been down there we would have bugged out long before they reached this level of build up."

"Can you reach him?" Macen asked.

"They've removed his comm badge." McKinley wore a rueful grin, "Of course, we could locate him with sensors and beam him up since he's the only human in the Presidential Palace. If we do that, or beam Security officers down there, they'll blow up the ship and execute the hostages."

"What hostages?" Macen growled.

"The Dervin family, their bodyguard, and Ghemor himself." McKinley explained.

"Lovely little situation." Macen grumped.

"What instructions have they given you?" McKinley wondered.

"They haven't given me anything." Macen replied.

McKinley grinned, "Which amounts to an open invitation. Give them hell, Brin."

"I will." Macen promised. Turning to Forger he ordered, "Round up the team. We're going in."

The SID team materialised in the corridor outside of the Presidential Office's waiting area. Presidential Guards surrounded them but upon recognising them safed their weapons.

"He has two squads and the hostages in there." The Commander of the Guard reported, "He'll execute everyone if we go."

"But he's leaving the door wide open for me." Macen mused.

"What?" the Commander asked.

"Commander, open the door. My people will rush in as soon as it's open. We go on three." Macen ordered.

Everyone positioned themselves and the countdown began. When "three" was called the doors slid open and Macen led the rush. He came to halt halfway into the room. T'Kir was off of his right shoulder. The others fanned out from behind them.

The nearest Cardassian garresh pulled his disruptor and shot T'Kir in the abdomen. Macen shot him and then shot the next garresh that reached for his sidearm. The Cardassians all drew weapons or trained rifles.

A gil was holding Dervin in front of him while holding a disruptor to the older man's head. A glinn had Mariska's hands bound behind her and a rifle trained at her back. Ghemor was likewise handled by another gil. A dalin held Katreen by the shoulder with one hand and held a gun to her head with the other.

Legate Macet stood beside Maret next to Katreen. A third Cardassian in finely tailored civilian attire stood near them. They all three looked so smug that Macen wanted to kill them. He glanced over to where T'Kir lay curled up on the floor. She was clutching her belly while Radil tried to treat her wound.

Macen's jaw tightened and he took aim at Maret. Robert Johnson jumped in front of Macen's pistol, "Stop it, Brin! This is wrong."

"Get out of the way, Bob." Macen warned, "I'm settling this."

"You'll just make him a martyr and then he'll have more power as a symbol than as a man. Do you want that banner to be held high as they march off to war with the Federation?"

Despite his anger Macen mulled the question over. After several tense moments, he lowered his pistol, "No, I don't. But something has to be done."

"The Federation is committed to the principle of non-interference in other cultures. That rule applies here." Johnson assured him.

"I'm not here on behalf of the Federation." Macen snarled, "I was hired by the Cardassian government."

"You were hired by Ghemor." Johnson pointed out, "The government has changed hands since then, hasn't it Mr. Prime Minister?"

The finely addressed civilian approached, "Greetings Captain Macen, we haven't been introduced. I'm Iltz Ganan, Prime Minister of Cardassia. You have worked hard on behalf of former President Ghemor. But, as you can see, the child has been safely found and returned. The government will still honour its contract with you and pay your company its fee."

Ganan wore an oily smile, "As far as the deaths that you caused here, any Cardassian husband would have reacted the same way. We'll call things even and let you go without prosecuting you. The trick to the whole thing is that you go."

"Not without the Dervins, their retinue, and Admiral Johnson." Macen countered.

Maret interjected himself into the conversation, "Have no worries, Captain. The Dervins will be free to accompany Admiral Johnson back to the Intrepid as soon as the ceremony is completed."

"What about Ghemor?" Katreen suddenly chimed up, "I won't sign unless Ghemor comes with us."

"You do realise what will happen to your father, protector, and Ghemor if you refuse to sign? What will happen to you?"

"I know." Katreen met his intense gaze with an intensity all her own, "You'll kill us all. But then you'll create martyrs for causes you won't have time to fight."

Maret gazed at her with wonder in his eyes, "Are you truly only eleven years old?"

"Twelve. My birthday was a couple of hours ago." She replied.

"And you're committed to this course of action?" he asked.

"Yes." She defiantly declared.

Maret turned to Ghemor, "Do you hear that? The child is risking her life for yours. Are you willing to go into exile with her? Can you make that sacrifice? If you stay here your life will be a hard one. The Federation will coddle you and nurse your wounded pride and ambition."

"I'll go." Ghemor agreed, "But I'll return."

Maret loosed an evil chuckle, "I'm sure that you will."

Maret addressed Macen, "Well, Captain? Are you satisfied? Will you return to your ship and allow history to unfold?"

"My crew will return." Macen replied, "I'll stay here with the Admiral and act as a witness."

Maret's smile grew, "Agreed."

Macen knelt next to T'Kir and Radil, "How is she?"

Radil hesitated, "She'll be fine...but the discharge affected the womb."

"You know?" Macen wondered.

"Tessa told me in case there was a scenario like this." Radil confided.

Macen took T'Kir's hand, "You'll be fine. Tessa will take care of you. I'll be back aboard the ship in a few minutes."

T'Kir blinked back tears and croaked, "Hurry."

Macen stood and turned to Grace, "Hannah."

Grace tapped her comm badge and had the team transported out of the Palace. Macen took up station next to Johnson. Macet brought Johnson his comm badge.

"Since you have shown where your principles truly lay." Macet said as a consolation.

"You've certainly shown your colours." Macen accused.

"I am a Cardassian patriot." Macet replied, "I am loyal to Cardassia not her government. Cardassia needs strong leadership and Ghemor cannot provide that the Unionists believe in strength and security. Let's see what they can accomplish." With that said, Macet strode off.

"I'm sorry, Brin." Johnson said softly, "I have to play this one by the book or the first thing the new government will do is declare war."

"I understand." Macen said stiffly, "I really do. That doesn't mean I don't want to squish Maret like a pimple."

"Will T'Kir be all right?" Johnson said with grave concern.

"She'll be fine." Macen said tonelessly, "But she may have lost the baby."

"Baby?" Johnson's sense of shock jolted, "Oh God, I'm sorry."

"It's the risk of the profession." Macen was rigid, "She knew that when she insisted on staying with the team."

Johnson knew any words he could offer would be inadequate. Macen was an empath. He could sense Johnson's grief. He hoped that his emotional support would Macen with his present turmoil.

Macen returned to the Obsidian. He went to the bridge and Forger was there. He called her into his Ready Room.

"The Dervins, Mariska, and Ghemor are travelling on the Intrepid. Both starships have been given 24 hours to depart Cardassian space and the DMZ is off limits as a travel route." He explained.

"So we go to Bajor." Forger shrugged, "It's the quickest route anyway."

"You'll have to do without me for a while." Macen informed her, "We've had a personal tragedy."

"'We'?" Forger asked, "You mean you and T'Kir?"

Macen nodded as he rose and started out of the office, "I may explain it to you someday. I may not. We'll see how things go."

"Okay." Forger hesitantly replied. Now she was getting worried.

"It'll be okay, Shannon." Macen assured her, "I promise."

As the turbolift doors closed, Macen reflected on his promise to Forger and thought, It'd damn well better get better.

Macen walked into the Sickbay and stopped. Grace and Danan had T'Kir wrapped up in their arms and they were all crying. T'Kir had telepathically given him the news twenty minutes ago. She'd lost the baby.

Tessa approached and Macen waved her off, "It's all right Tessa. I already know."

Macen came to stand next to T'Kir. Danan moved off and T'Kir fell into his arms. He held her and cried with her.

 

Chapter Nineteen

The Obsidian and the Intrepid were docked at DS9. In the station's largest briefing room a debriefing was being conducted. Johnson represented Starfleet Command. McKinley represented the Intrepid. Macen and Rockford represented the SID team. Forger represented the Obsidian. Kira and Vaughn represented the station while Ro represented the Security Division for the entire sector.

The Dervins, Mariska, and Ghemor were there to represent the aggrieved parties affected by the recent political manoeuvring in Cardassian space. These events included the massacre on Carbell VIII. Ghemor pleaded for an intervention.

Johnson reiterated the Federation's stance on interfering with the internal affairs of others. He promised that the matter would go before the Federation Council. Starfleet would follow official policy as dictated by the Council's whims.

The civilians were dismissed and put on a transport headed to Earth. Next Johnson and McKinley shared their respective experiences on the ground and in orbit. Forger reported on the Obsidian's movements throughout Cardassian space and the DMZ. Macen detailed the SID team's objectives and accomplishments of which there were few of the latter. Rockford reported her impression of the Dal she'd captured as a representation of the average Cardassian officer's loyalty to the Unionist cause.

As the guardian of the nearest Federation member world next to the Cardassian border Kira and Vaughn requested information on the implied Cardassian policy regarding Bajor. Ro sought info on the security implications for the sector. Invasion was a very real possibility and everyone knew it.

The meeting broke up and the various officers broke up to seek refreshments or return to regular duty. As Kira and Vaughn returned to Ops, Dax called them over to the Science station. On the sensors were nearly two dozen craft sailing through Bajoran space with a vector aimed at an approach to Cardassia Prime. Dax reported that they had official clearance to navigate through the sector.

"Where are they from?" Kira wondered.

"The Meirkus Conglomeration." Dax answered.

Vaughn stiffened, "That means they're from Bertram Sindis."

"It's classified as a legitimate cargo run." Dax pulled up the cargo manifests, "The six privateers are Solarian Solar Systems' ships."

"Hardly a recommendation." Vaughn scornfully replied.

"As you know, Commander, "Kira spoke, "we may know they're dirty but they check out on a padd."

"Permission to confer with Captain Macen." Vaughn requested.

"As long as you tell him to stay in port until this convoy is in Cardassian space, permission granted." Kira allowed.

"Thanks, Nerys." Vaughn smiled and headed for the lift.

Kira leaned over the Science Officer's shoulder, "Scan those bastards and let's see if we can come up with any contraband."

"I've been trying but most of the holds are shielded." He replied.

"Keep trying." Kira requested, "Sing out if you find anything."

Macen and Rockford were passing by Ro's Security Office when she called them in. Once inside, Ro scrutinised Rockford, "You are Annika Ryst, aren't you?"

"Umm." Rockford hemmed.

"Her name is Celeste Rockford, Laren." Macen replied, "You were introduced to her."

"I've got an arrest warrant with her ID, face, and biometric data on it. Let's run a scan and see what we come up with."

"It'll come up with the name Celeste Rockford." Macen informed her, "The SID has seen to it."

"Why?" Ro asked.

"I need her." Macen explained, "And so do you. We all do."

"You're being awfully cryptic. Care to explain yourself?" Ro wondered.

"Nope." Macen said, "That would ruin everything."

"Excuse me for butting in to everyone's conversation concerning me," Rockford interjected, "but I am Celeste Rockford. Check my detective agency's record. I've been an upstanding member of Federation society for fifteen years."

"I'm sure you have. That doesn't change the fact that you're a fugitive from justice." Ro countered.

"Laren, we accepted all sorts of unsavoury types when we were in the Maquis." Macen reminded her.

"Hey!" Rockford protested, "Who's unsavoury?"

"Quiet." Macen instructed her, "I'm trying to help."

"By insulting me?" Rockford complained.

"It's really that important to you?" Ro inquired.

"Yes." Macen said with conviction.

"Okay." Ro threw her hands in the air, "You're Celeste Rockford. Congratulations. I never saw Annika Ryst. I'll never see Annika Ryst."

"Thanks Laren." Macen grinned.

The office's door and Vaughn suddenly appeared, "Brin! Sindis is moving eighteen transports through the system. They're headed for Cardassia."

Macen's mood soured, "It seems your theory regarding Sindis' involvement with the Unionists is right after all."

"I'm also supposed to tell you that you can't leave port until they're in Cardassian space." Vaughn said with a tinge if disappointment.

"That's okay." Macen shrugged, "Let Sindis have his moment. He thinks he's rubbing our noses in the fact that we can't legally touch him. That's fine. We'll have our day."

"And Maret?" Vaughn wondered, "He's partnered with Sindis."

"Maret will get his comeuppance as well." Macen promised, "He may not lose control of the Union but he will be drug down with Sindis in interstellar circles."

"I wish I had your confidence." Vaughn admitted.

Macen grinned, "It's all a matter of probabilities."

"Is this some sort of ‘Get Sindis Club'?" Rockford asked.

"Yup." Macen revealed.

"Count me in." Rockford pledged.

"What do you have to offer?" Vaughn asked.

"I know Sindis better than you ever will." Rockford confessed.

"I bet." Ro chuckled.

"What am I missing?" Vaughn's confusion was plain.

"Never mind, Elias." Macen sought to reassure him, "Celeste is the perfect addition to our ranks."

"Laren?" Vaughn sought her opinion.

"Trust me, Brin's spot on on this one." Ro smiled.

"I'll right." Vaughn was all certainty now, "Welcome to our little band, Ms. Rockford."

"Call me Celeste." Rockford smiled.

Vaughn smiled back with all of his considerable charismatic charm, "With pleasure. I'm Elias."

Vaughn's comm badge chirped and he patted it, "Vaughn."

"Has your little secret society concluded its meeting?" Kira asked with some amusement.

"Yes." Vaughn wondered how Kira knew about their alliance.

"We have personnel fitness reports to review." Kira reminded him.

"Understood." Vaughn replied, "I'll be there in five minutes."

"Tell Macen not to go haring off until he and his wife have joined me for dinner. Ro's invited too. In fact, she can make the hasperat."

"Understood, Ma'am." Vaughn happily agreed. She signed off and he relayed the messages. He left for Ops and Macen turned to Rockford, "Celeste, could you excuse us?"

"Certainly." Rockford replied, "Hannah wanted to show me the local ‘hotspot'."

"Go get 'em." Macen encouraged her.

Rockford left and Macen turned to Ro, "I have something to share with you. We've kept it pretty quiet but the news is spreading anyway. I want you to hear it from me."

Seeing his grave manner, Ro became instantly worried, "What is it?"

"Let's take a seat." Macen suggested.

Ro joined Macen in one of the chairs in front of her desk. Macen explained T'Kir's pregnancy. He described the encounter with the Cardassians that aborted the baby. He finished with Maret's reaction to her plight.

"Expect trouble." Macen warned, "He'll be sending agents and proxies to disrupt the station and the sector. He doesn't care at all about ‘inferior' races and of course every race other than a Cardassian is inferior."

"He even judges Cardassians." Macen explained, "If they dissent they are inferior and need to be exterminated. He'll start with interior purges and then spread out to covert warfare. Open warfare will occur when he's built up his loyalist armies sufficiently to mount a major campaign. He'll need resources, resources the Cardassian Union lacks, and he won't care how he obtains them."

"You seem awfully certain of someone you've barely met." Ro pointed out.

"I've read his personnel jacket and I am an empath." Macen divulged, "I read him and he's a monster. He's another Sindis."

"Oh joy." Ro groused, "Just what we needed."

"Tell Kira to leave a message of when to join her for dinner." Macen requested, "We may be a little late. Make our excuses for us."

Ro nodded, "You've got it."

"Thanks." With that, he exited the Security Office.

T'Kir stood in front of the mirror. The front of her shirt was pulled up and she was holding her belly. There were tears but she was fighting to hold it in.

The door opened and Macen stepped inside their quarters. He saw T'Kir and instantly knew how she felt. He felt it too.

"We'll have another chance." Macen assured her.

She whirled on him, "How can you say that? How can you know?"

"You should know that better than anyone." Macen calmly replied, "In one quantum universe that I've seen we have two daughters. Two beautiful, healthy, and very rambunctious daughters."

"Really?" T'Kir latched on to that hope.

"Really." Macen sincerely replied, "Of course when I'm looking that far into the future the probabilities get more twisted. I have no idea what choices brought us to that idyllic future but we can get there."

T'Kir threw herself into his arms, "We can't give up!"

"Exactly." He agreed, "If we give up we'll never have another chance at a family."

"Kiss me." T'Kir requested.

He passionately did so. T'Kir sighed, "That's better."

"Ready for the outer world?" Macen asked.

"Yeah." T'Kir dubiously answered, "Why?"

"Captain Kira has requested our presence at a special dinner. Laren will be there too." Macen revealed.

T'Kir mulled it over, "Okay. Anything's better than sitting around feelin' sorry for m'self."

"That's the spirit." Macen said, "The best way to keep going on is by going on one decision at a time."

"Like you're doing?" T'Kir asked.

"Not really." Macen heaved a heavy sigh, "I'm just trying. Just like you."

"Let's try together." T'Kir suggested, "A united front and all that. No one'll be able t'stop us."

"That's the sprit." He gave her a slow, tender kiss.

"I like those." T'Kir admitted.

"So do I." Macen confessed, "There's more to come."

"Yay!" T'Kir said with a lift in her spirits, "The day's gotten better already."

 

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