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Catalyst - 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 Nine

Macen couldn't help but smirk at Rockford as she explained her plan for bring Delain into the SID team. Quite frankly, it was irking her; "Wipe that smug smirk off of your face or I'll belt you."

"I knew what you were up to as soon as you and Delain traipsed off to your offices," Macen chuckled.

"Brin, she's perfect to take Radil's spot," Rockford insisted, "Jenrya had to learn how to be a security officer and specialist. Ziva has actually been a law enforcement officer."

"You're forgetting something," Macen warned her, "Eric was a Maquis and Rab fought in the Dominion War. Both conflicts pitted them against Cardassians."

"What a load of shuk," Rockford snorted, "Ziva was eight years old when the Dominion War started. And you were a Maquis and yet you managed to bed Mariska."

"Lyoti and I were both at low points in our lives," Macen reminded Rockford, "We each needed a little shared comforting."

"The point is that you overcame your own prejudices in order to get close enough to her to have sex with her," Rockford was getting exasperated, "And if someone as boneheadedly stubborn as you can do it, so can they."

"You're making an assumption," Macen stated.

"Based on clinical observation," Rockford fired back, "You do it all the time."

"But you don't know what these men have been through," Macen advised, "You may be an Angosian Augment like Rab but you avoided the Dominion War."

"Okay, you have a point," Rockford conceded, "Annika sat out the war by reverting to me. But how bad could it have been? Certainly the Tarsus War was much worse."

"I wouldn't bet on that," Macen replied, "Rab described the Tarsus War. So have you. While brutal, it paled to facing the Jem'Hadar. Rab led a platoon of Angosian Augment commandoes during the war. Ro was their guide and I was their intel officer. We undertook missions Starfleet won't ever admit to condoning. Technically we were under the Bajoran Militia's auspices but the reality was we were Starfleet."

"You've regaled me with tales from your Maquis days but you're awfully tight lipped about the Dominion War," Rockford admitted.

"There's a reason," Macen assured her, "It's not that I want to keep anything from you but I just can't revisit those days. At least not yet."

Rockford took his hand in hers and pressed it to her heart, "I understand completely. I feel the same way about most of my memories from the other Infiltrator personalities."

Macen nodded, "So you've said. But back to the topic at hand, I really don't know what to expect from either Rab or Eric if we bring Delain aboard."

Rockford grinned, "I like this 'we' stuff."

"She's now your employee but the team and the ship are mine," Macen clarified his position, "Which means bringing her into the fold will be a collaborative decision."

"Which means you're wondering why I hired a compete stranger and suddenly insisted she join the SID team," Rockford surmised.

"Something like that," Macen agreed.

"Ziva told me her story. The unedited version," Rockford confided, "She's very good at what she does and she won't back down from either a fight or a difficult choice. Both are requirements for being in your investigative SID team."

"I get the feeling there's more," Macen revealed.

"There is," Rockford divulged, "I'm listed as the 'Lead Investigator'. I'm good. I'll admit it. But I also need a second mind to go over the same clues I process and the conclusions I draw from them. You have P'ris to complement your skill set and second guess you. I need that as well. You've been wonderful at trying to fill that role but mine is a rarified and specialized field just as yours is. To be frank, I need Ziva on the team to keep me at my best."

"Okay, she can join," Macen suddenly decided.

"You're not doing this just because you love me, are you?" Rockford hesitantly asked.

"No, I'm doing it because you presented a flawless argument regarding a deficiency within the team as well as a proposal on how to fix the problem," Macen answered, "Don't make me second guess my decision after you've gotten what you wanted."

Rockford tippy toed and wrapped her arms around his neck. Kissing him, she pulled back while wearing a grin, "I've got to tell Ziva. Bye!"

Rockford made a hasty departure and Macen decided to track down Forger. She needed to know two new members of the crew were coming aboard before they disembarked from Deep Space Nine. He also needed to warn Tom Riker that trouble was coming his way.

Ro took the Defiant out the next day. Cenn would watch over the station in her absence. He was utterly grateful that Tenmei was the starship's XO and not him. Cenn had also been pleased to learn Wyn and Delain were shipping out with Macen. Cenn only knew Macen by reputation but what he'd heard from Ro, and even from Quark, he was impressed with the El-Aurian's professional achievements. As a former Resistance fighter he had a soft spot for the Maquis so he was rooting for Ro and Macen to hand this "Section 31" its collective backside.

Parva gave Delain and Wyn the tour of the ship. McMasters covered for her, having switched his duty rotation from Beta watch to Alpha. That way he could be off duty, and far away, from Forger when she had the center seat. Therefore, McMasters was surprised when Macen came to Engineering.

"Eric, we need to talk," Macen informed McMasters.

"Look, if Shannon sent you to crawl to me on her behalf you can just jump out the nearest airlock," McMasters retorted.

"Look you hypocritical son of a slime devil," Macen snapped, "I told Shannon about your little trysts with the Deltans while you were involved with Lees. So she, along with me, are wondering what crawled up your butt and died."

"You know about that?" McMasters was very quiet all of sudden.

"Lees and I were lovers before she met you and we've been friends ever since," Macen reminded McMasters, "You hurt her in a very real and major way. The same way the news about Shannon impregnating Jenrya hurt you."

"I hear Radil is leaving the team," McMasters said.

"She is," Macen confirmed it, "And if you think you're changing the subject that easily, you'll find I'll be breaking your assorted bones before I allow that to happen."

"Why are you sticking up for her?" McMasters wanted to know.

"I think the question is why you are being a prick and not standing by her," Macen countered, "She loves you with all of her heart. And not that it makes any difference, but the evidence suggests Shannon never actually had sex with Radil."

"Say what?" McMasters was very alert now.

"Genetic transfers occur both ways in the sex act," Macen explained, "Radil did have Shannon's semen in her but Shannon didn't have any genetic markers inside of her penis. Do you have the slightest idea of what this implies?"

"Hey, I'm not stupid," McMasters protested.

"Yes, you are," Macen replied, "And the faster you can admit that to Shannon, the better off you'll be. Groveling couldn't hurt either."

"I need to see her," McMasters suddenly realized.

"Yes, you do," Macen dryly commented, "But not until Parva returns from her little escapade."

"Can't you call her back now?" McMasters wondered.

"No, I can't," Macen stated.

"Can't or won't?" McMasters asked.

"Both actually," Macen admitted, "You dug this pit. You can suffer for a little while while trying to climb out of it."

"You can be a real bastard sometimes," McMasters realized.

"It's a point of professional pride," Macen confessed, "I'm going now. I recommend you decide what is the best way to beg Shannon's forgiveness in my absence."

Macen departed and McMasters' feverish brain began rolling out ideas.

Aboard Serenity Station, its CO, Captain Tom Riker, came out of his office and descended down its throne-like vista to the operations center. There his wife, Lisea Danan, was overseeing things. She turned to face him and her mirthful eyes met his gaze.

"It's about time you crawled out of your office," Danan teased him, "You pontificate from on high and we, your lowly minions, do your bidding."

"Lees, it's not my fault this Cardassian built monstrosity was built to house a Prefect rather than a commanding officer," Riker argued.

"You, sir, need to re-examine your prejudices. The Cardassians are our friends now," Danan quipped.

"Look, you spend a couple of years in a Cardassian labor camp and see how many prejudices you have," Riker drolly remarked.

"I did happen to fight against the Cardassians with Maquis, same as you. So don't go there, husband of mine," Danan warned him, "And I'm a joined Trill, so I remember previous hosts' encounters with them as well. None of those were pleasant either."

"Captain, we have an incoming transmission from the USS Defiant," the duty comm officer reported.

"Put Captain Ro on screen," Riker ordered.

Ro's image appeared in the upper viewer. She looked blandly amused, "Hello Captain Riker, I take it you're all still in one piece?"

"We deployed the Outbound Ventures ships across the star system like you requested," Riker informed her, "So far, nary a blip on a sensor."

"Well our quarry does have a cloaking device," Ro reminded him, "So they will be a little hard to detect."

"And Brin wasn't kidding when he said this ship could fire while cloaked?" Riker sought confirmation.

Ro provided, "At least their torpedo launcher will be active, if history teaches us anything."

"Well, as soon as there's a hint of trouble, we'll clear the docking ring and raise shields," Riker said.

"I would do that now," Ro urged.

"We can do it..." Riker began to protest.

"Listen to reason Riker and don't be a regulation bound ass like your 'brother'. Clear the docking ring and raise the damn shields before torpedo strikes blow your defense sails to hell," Ro said tersely.

Riker bristled and Dana stepped in, "Ro knows what she's talking about. She's the best strategist I've ever met much less served under."

"Okay," Riker relented, "We'll play it your way. But I'm telling the various captains and crews that these are Starfleet's orders. The blowback will be in your face."

"What else is new?" Ro wryly asked. The transmission terminated at her end.

"What the hell do you and Brin see in that woman?" Riker grated.

"She looks after her own," Danan said icily, "And in this case that includes you. Even if you are too bullheaded to realize it. Now scurry back to your office while I deal with clearing the docking ports."

"Lees, I..." Riker wavered.

"Just go, Tom," Danan insisted, "We can talk when I'm not so busy."

Riker surrendered and went to the turbolift. He could at least see if Gerrit Gren had preparations underway. After he'd visited the Bajoran he'd call on Kort and see if the Infirmary was ready as well.

Douglas sat at the Sentinel's Mission Specialist station. Bashir sat beside her at an auxiliary station. The Ramses-class escort was underway at high warp and under cloak. Douglas swiveled her seat to speak to the captain, "It's time to divert to intercept our primary target."

Bashir shifted in his seat as Captain Kalana turned to face Douglas. The Cappellan woman was a rarity amongst her kind. She was one of the few female Cappellans to leave her home world, "Did the Obsidian depart Deep Space Nine when she was expected to?"

Douglas nodded, "Yes, our observers marked her departure. Routine positioning checks by subspace comm relays have her proceeding at Warp 6 as expected. I have an intercept course plotted and ready for implementation."

"Send the plot to the CONN then," Kalana ordered.

"Now see here," Bashir interjected, "Our primary target has always been Serenity Station. Why are we diverting to meet the Obsidian rather than waiting for her arrival in the Barrinor system?"

"Because you told Captain Ro that's what we were going to do," Douglas said coldly.

Bashir winced and Douglas continued, "You made a poor choice, Julian. One that will cost you everything."

"That seems to be the favorite threat amongst Section 31 agents," Bashir replied icily.

Douglas snapped her fingers and two security agents gathered Bashir up at phaser point. He eyed Douglas with disdain, "I never should have cured you, Sarina. Your life would have been better if you'd stayed trapped in your own mind."

"And to think I actually pitied you until now," Douglas angrily snapped, "Take him to the brig."

Bashir was hustled off of the bridge and Kalana asked Douglas the obvious question, "You are certain Bashir knew nothing of our altered plans?"

"He didn't," Douglas assured her, "He was under observation the entire time we modified our objectives. This caught him cold."

"Good," Kalana said with satisfaction, "Traitors always get what's due them."

Don't they though, Douglas mused, no longer quite certain who the traitor really was.

Ro contacted Serenity Station again when the Defiant reached the Barrinor system. Barrinor III was the solar system's main colony. Admitted into the Federation as a member state rather than being subjected to the Colonial Affairs Office, Barrinor had long resisted the Federation's overtures until the planet got the recognition it felt it deserved.

Barrinor had also resisted occupation by the Breen during the Dominion War. It also had the dubious record, at least in Federation eyes, of lending material support to the Maquis in their campaign for freedom from the Demilitarized Zone and Cardassian oversight imposed upon them. Ro knew it was little wonder Macen had chosen Barrinor for his corporate headquarters.

What was a little less clear is why he'd had the corporate space station built around the system's fifth planet, Odin. She knew full well that she'd helped convince him to have a Cardassian Nor-class station built. The choice to have it orbit a world rather than occupy an orbital point in the system boggled her. And the decision to orbit a struggling colony rather than the star system's parent world played politics when Macen had prospered on Barrinor by avoiding them.

As the Defiant egressed the star system, Slaine detected five older Starfleet designed vessels scattered throughout the outer and inner system. ID transponders labeled the Spearhead and the Guinevere orbiting between the outer gas giants and the ort cloud. The inner system was composed of five planets, Odin being the last before reaching double asteroid belts. The Dog Star and the Lug Nut patrolled the region between the system primary and the asteroid belts. The science vessel, Copernicus, maintained a vigil between Barrinor III and Odin.

Serenity station also had an Emden-class escort deployed. Named after Ro's vessel during her tenure as a Maquis cell leader, the SS Indomitable was an even tougher ship than her venerable, old Ju'day-class raider had been. Ro noted with some amusement that the Indie answered her hail. And she was positively delighted when the ship's commander turned out to be Danan.

"I always knew Brin was holding you back," Ro grinned.

"This is Tom's job, dammit," Danan sulked, "But just try and get him off that bloody station."

"When the old DS9 was struck by the Argyn, I felt I should have been there instead of gallivanting about on the Defiant," Ro confided, "The same held true when I was off of Ronara Prime and the Cardassians struck those left behind. Every time it ate a little hole in my pagh. So I understand Tom's wanting to stay aboard Serenity."

Danan sighed, "So can I, actually. But it's still a pain,"

"I take it the Copernicus is providing enhanced sensor coverage while Tom plays the field marshal from Serenity," Ro surmised.

"That's my husband," Danan grumped, "The little tin god."

"Well, tell him we're going dark," Ro advised, "We won't be in contact and we won't receive transmissions much less broadcast them."

"Got it," Danan remarked wearily.

Ro smirked as she cut the transmission. Turning to Slaine, she gave the order; "Cloak us Dalin Slaine. We need to be a hole in space."

Slaine smiled, "I may be able to arrange that."

Macen suddenly lurched forward in his seat behind the CONN, "Shields up! Go to Red Alert!"

Daggit immediately complied. P'ris stared at her sensor readouts at OPS, "I am not reading any threats. Perhaps you..."

A quantum torpedo slammed into the shields, jarring everyone aboard. Parva called up to the bridge, "What the hell...?"

"We're under attack," Macen warned, "Get ready to divert power reserves to the shields."

"Why don't you shoot them?" Parva asked in a huff.

"Because we can't detect them," Mace replied.

"It's always something with you," Parva sighed.

Macen felt she was becoming more and more like her old self before the brain damage had been inflicted upon her. Macen rose but was almost knocked off his feet as another quantum torpedo hit, "Hannah, drop out of warp."

"But we might outrun them," Grace complained.

"That was the old Obsidian," Macen reminded her, "The new Obsidian can barely limp along compared to a Ramses-class escort."

"But..." Grace tried again

"Just do it," Macen snapped.

Macen approached Daggit's Tactical station, "I take it you have an idea."

"When the Klingons deployed a Bird-of-Prey that could fire while cloaked, Captain Kirk fought it using a torpedo hardwired with gas detecting hardware," Macen informed Daggit.

Daggit smiled, "Because of the plasma the impulse engines spew. And if they're cloaked it stands to reason their shields are down."

"At least that was true one hundred years ago," Macen warned, "Section 31 has access to tech that Starfleet disavows so anything is possible."

"Parva can have..." Daggit began.

"Not to disparage Parva's skills but she's need in Engineering more than anyone else right now," Macen decided, "Eric can do it."

"I can do what?" McMasters asked as he and Forger stepped out of the turbolift together.

"You can modify a photon with gas detection gear so it can home in on an impulse trail," Macen instructed.

"Want to help?" McMasters asked Forger with a grin.

"I'd love to," Forger almost melted.

"Go. Now," Macen urged, "You can propose to the girl after we survive the bad guy with the quantum torpedoes."

McMasters turned several shades of red and Forger held on to his arm as they returned to the turbolift. She began grilling him as to his plans regarding surprising her with a proposal. McMasters could be heard denying it but Forger refused to believe him.

The doors shut on them and Daggit heaved a heavy sigh, "Thank the gods that's over."

A torpedo strike rocked the bridge yet again. Macen patted Daggit on his shoulder, "Somehow I think it's just begun."

The Obsidian took a pounding while McMasters and Forger swapped out the guidance system on a torpedo. Parva informed Macen that even their reinforced, redundant shielding was nearing its saturation point and would collapse soon. Macen replied to her that they may get to test out their ablative armor a little sooner than expected.

McMasters hailed Macen, "We swapped out the guidance system on a torpedo but there's one preceding it in the launcher so you'll have to clear the launcher to load this one."

Daggit chuckled evilly, "They'll think we're panic firing. They'll have no clue that the second fish is their personal doomsday."

"I think I like it," Macen grinned.

 

Chapter Ten

"Why did they drop out of warp?" Douglas murmured to herself.

Accessing the SPYards database, she learned that the drive components of the surveyor hadn't been modified. Like typical Nova-class starships, the Obsidian still held to a maximum emergency speed of Warp 8.3. Interesting things had been done to her shield emitters though and there was the revelation regarding ablative armor. And a curious side note was the fact the entire ship was equipped with holo-emitters in order to facilitate the ship's EMH.

"They've fired a torpedo," Kalana said with some amusement, "And now a second one. Sheer panic fire."

"Maybe. Maybe not," Douglas proclaimed, "They knew enough to raise shields before we struck."

"Did your lover give something away?" Kalana asked testily.

"I rather doubt it," Douglas replied in a cool tone, "Julian was sitting right beside me and his board was slaved to mine so I could observe what he did. I think the fact Macen is an El-Aurian plays into it here."

"What difference does it make what race he's from?" Kalana was growing short tempered.

"Captain!" the Tactical Officer cried out, "The second torpedo is bearing straight towards our aft quarter."

"What?" Kalana was stupefied.

"It's tracking us, ma'am," the Tactical Officer elaborated.

"He knows," Douglas breathed. More forcefully she declared, "Captain, decloak and raise shields!"

"That's ludicrous!" Kalana snapped back.

The Obsidian's photon torpedo struck and klaxons resounded throughout the ship. Kalana shouted over the noise, "Cut impulse engines! Maintain the cloak at all costs."

"Those bastards tracked us using our impulse exhaust," Kalana snarled at Douglas.

"That's how Captain Kirk defeated General Chang in 2293," Douglas calmly replied, "And Macen is an ardent student of Kirk's."

Kalana was barely mollified by that news, "Helm, engage in a thirty second warp jump."

"Ma'am, our transition to subspace will be marred by the fact we're bleeding momentum," the CONN Officer reported.

"Just do it," Kalana grimly ordered.

"I have detected a subspace ripple," P'ris reported, "The likes of which occur when a starship engages a warp drive. Additionally, the ripple was rather...choppy. I would venture to say they had shut down their impulse drive before translating into subspace. That would guarantee them a rather harsh transition."

"All right Hannah, resume course and speed," Macen ordered, "And Rab, I think we can stand down from Red Alert now."

"You're sure?" Daggit wondered.

"Not entirely but I think it's safe to say Sarina Douglas has other problems to deal with right now," Macen ventured.

"Chris, how can you be sending all of the Outbound Ventures ships to the same colonies they just returned from?" Riker demanded to know.

"Tellar and the Andorian Empire agreed to neutral observers monitoring the handover of those colonies over the next thirty days. It's a professional coup for the agency," Pike crowed.

"But those ships are currently defending Serenity from a threat," Riker dismally informed her.

"What threat?" Pike was bewildered.

Riker groaned and then gave her a brief synopsis of what was occurring. Pike grew angry, "This wouldn't have happened if field personnel would have communicated with office personnel. Those ships are committed, Tom. We gave our word. I gave my word to it and this agency has never backed out of a contract. We're known for our steadfastness."

Riker numbly nodded his head, "I know. Luckily, Brin is due back in a few hours and Starfleet dispatched the Defiant to assist us."

"That will have to do then," Pike said angrily. She terminated the connection at that point.

Riker received a page from the comm officer that Ro and Danan were trying to contact him. Obviously having every Outbound Ventures field unit pull out of the star system had alerted them to the situation. Danan looked very grim while Ro was amused.

"I take it Section 31 has found a way to divert our forces," Ro assessed the situation.

Riker confirmed it and then explained what the agency's new contract with Tellar and the Andorian Empire was. Ro chuckled, "We should've expected this."

Danan scowled but Riker nodded his agreement, "Yes, we should have. But now we have to redesign our defensive posture."

"This may, or may not, help but I have a few Cardassian orbital gun pods in inventory," Ro announced, "We could set them up to specifically target a Ramses-class ship."

"We have the same problem Deep Space Nine has and that's a helluva lot of civilian traffic," Riker informed her, "Plus there's the colony on Odin."

"Then I suggest you move the station," Ro replied.

Riker nodded his acceptance of that proposal, "We have a fallback contingency regarding that option. I suppose today's a good day to implement it."

"I'll have Nog transmit Chief O'Brien's logs of how he reinforced Terok Nor's structural integrity field to move the old Deep Space Nine."

"It would be appreciated," Riker admitted.

The Obsidian arrived in the Barrinor system to find Serenity already placed in an orbital track that carried it between Barrinor IV and Odin. There was some surprise among members of the Obsidian crew but P'ris noted Macen's amusement over this event. She concluded that it was part of the station's contingency planning.

Forger had been called to the bridge to relieve Macen while he retired to his Ready Room to confer with Riker. McMasters came with her, looking like a lovesick puppy, and he manned the otherwise vacant Engineering station. Macen had Grace place the Obsidian in a parking orbit near Serenity. Meanwhile, the Indomitable swept near space and Macen idly wondered what had happened to Ro.

The Sentinel cloaked before she passed by the Barrinor system's Oort cloud. As she cleared the two asteroid belts the crew was surprised to find that Serenity was no longer in orbit around Odin. It didn't seem to be much of a risk to utilize the main sensors to locate the space station since EM radiation was flooding the system.

The source was revealed to be the Obsidian from her position between Barrinor III and Barrinor IV. The Indomitable's patrol around Serenity was soon discovered. The station itself seemed to have been moved between Barrinor IV and Odin. However, there was no trace of the Defiant.

Douglas was concerned about that last point. She knew Ro had received orders from Nechayev to assist Outbound Ventures in its defense of its station. Douglas was intimately familiar with the training Ro had received at Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training Center. But more to it, Ro's adolescence with the Bajoran Resistance and then her tenure with the Maquis had forged Ro into a crafty wench. Ro was the single greatest threat in the system and the Sentinel didn't have one damn clue as to where she was.

"The station already has its shields up," Kalana advised Douglas.

"So we'll give them a reason to lower them," Douglas replied.

Kalana gave her a questioning look so Douglas rolled her eyes, "Attack the station's support craft. Once the Indomitable faces imminent destruction, Riker will lower the shields to beam survivors aboard the station. We'll break off at that moment and glide in on a ballistic course. They won't be running high enough resolutions scans to detect our braking thrusters so I can beam aboard with little to no interference. Even if station security is high alert, I served aboard a Nor-class station. I'll be able to get around their security patrols and checkpoints."

Kalana gazed at Douglas with adoring eyes and Douglas made shooing motions to get the Cappellan woman into motion again. Kalana began issuing orders and Douglas exited the bridge to gather her gear for her insertion into the station. Since her materials were stored in the armory, and said armory was next to the Security office, she stopped by the brig.

Bashir wasn't angry with her. Rather he seemed disappointed. Disappointed to the point of devastation.

"You shouldn't have betrayed us, Julian," Douglas informed him, "You won't be coming back from this."

"Are you seriously listening to yourself, Sarina?" Bashir wondered, "You're plotting my death because I tried to prevent you from murdering over a thousand people in one fell swoop. Who is the true betrayer here? I may have betrayed Section 31 but you're betraying your basic humanity."

"I'm defending the people of the Federation. Sacrifices occasionally have to be made in that cause," Douglas asserted.

"And how has Outbound Ventures become a threat to the Federation?" Bashir wanted to know, "We both have seen snippets of Macen's record and that of his SID contracted team. My God, there really wouldn't be an SID if it hadn't been for him. Why is he such a monster now?"

"If you'd read between the lines of those reports you'd have seen that the Special Investigation Division was designed solely to supplant Section 31's role in the Federation's security," Douglas angrily insisted.

"It was designed to provide Starfleet with a recourse other than Section 31 because Section 31 is notoriously unreliable. Starfleet wanted their own agency that would still operate within some boundaries while solving the same class of crises. Can you honestly tell me that Section 31 would have involved itself in any of the situations the SID teams have been deployed to handle?" Bashir sharply inquired.

Douglas' only reply was a defiant stare. Bashir shook his head, "Somehow I didn't think so either."

"Section 31 is the Federation's last line of defense," Douglas recited.

"Even from itself?" Bashir recalled the Gulag and Cell 51's creation.

"Especially from itself," Douglas grated.

"What's happened to you?" Bashir had to wonder, "When did you begin to see yourself above everyone else?"

"My destiny and my true nature as the Federation's defender were revealed to me by L'Haan. Thanks to you I was under the mistaken belief that I was merely human but she showed me how I was so much more," Douglas revealed.

"So you're genes were resequenced and now you're Khan Noonien Singh's true heir?" Bashir asked.

"If you'd like to think of it in those terms," Douglas replied.

"So when do you join Thor in mounting the throne?" Basher asked scathingly.

"You always have been so limited in your scope, Julian," Douglas said disdainfully, "People rebel against those greater than themselves. But if those far greater move behind the scenes and shape events and organizations so as to control the destiny of the populaces' lives, they remained fat and happy and stay out of the way of those in true control."

"How could I have been so wrong about you?" Bashir inquired in horror.

"You're very good at deluding yourself, Julian. You wanted the perfect lover. I barely had to perform for the part. Your own feverish little brain provided the details you were seeking," Douglas coldly informed him.

"You'll ultimately fail, Sarina," Bashir prophesied, "All would be tyrants fall."

"But they can have magnificent runs until the imbeciles regain control," Douglas countered.

"I may never have known the true you before but now that I do I pity you," Bashir proclaimed.

"Julian, you're such a colossal sanctimonious pain in the ass," Douglas decided as she triggered the control that flooded the cell with anesthezine gas. Turning to the guards, she instructed them, "Prep him and await my signal."

The Sentinel bore down on the Indomitable. Kalana began issuing orders regarding the attack, "Target lock the space between the warp nacelles. Angle our approach so that our shot clears the imbalanced portion of the shields and strikes Main Engineering."

The CONN Officer plotted the course while the Tactical Chief prepared the targeting sensors. The Chief warned Kalana, "They'll detect our targeting sensors."

"Echoes from the Obsidian banging away with the active sensors," Kalana dismissed the danger, "Carry on, Chief."

"Target acquired," the Chief announced.

"Begin firing and don't stop until that ship is a gutted hulk in space," Kalana ordered.

"Captain, we're being targeted," Danan's Tactical Officer, one Specialist Reardon reported.

"Source?" Danan's gut clenched.

"Unknown," Reardon admitted with some confusion, "Nothing's out there."

"Evasive action!" Danan gripped the sides of her seat as she yelled the order.

She had to give Ryobi credit; he tried his best to implement the order as the first quantum torpedo slammed straight into their shields. The ship bucked as energy bled through the shields. A second shot was followed by a third salvo. Reardon was grim as he stated the obvious.

"Our shields are at thirty-seven percent. Another couple of..." the ship shook again before he finished, "Make that one more torpedo strike and our shields will collapse."

"We need to call Serenity or even the Obsidian," Ryobi declared.

"They already know our situation," Danan informed her bridge crew, "They're already responding as best as they can. Standby for an evacuation order."

Two more hits came in succession. After the second one, every panel that hadn't already overloaded did so then. A few exploded. Two crewmen were killed by that event. Danan swore Sarina Douglas would pay for that in the end.

The lighting died out to be replaced by red emergency lighting. Danan called her engineering crew. To her surprise, the Chief Engineer was still alive.

"What's left, Alice?" Danan inquired.

Alice Sinclair let go of a forlorn sigh, "Just the batteries. It won't take much more pounding to rupture the antideuterium tanks and blow us all up."

"Can you at least clear up the sensors?" Danan requested.

"Captain, I've been lucky to keep life support running. Don't start getting choosy on me." Sinclair warned.

Danan suddenly felt a transporter's annular confinement beam lock onto her. The next thing she knew she was sitting on the floor of Serenity's Ops transporter pad. She immediately sprang to her feet.

"Tom! Raise the shields!" Danan demanded.

"We're still getting your crew clear," Riker countered.

"That's what Sarina Douglas wants," Danan informed him, "With your shields down they can make an approach and transport a boarding part over to the station."

"Well, they'll only have another twenty seconds in which to do so," Riker boasted.

"More than enough time," Danan murmured.

Douglas transported into her assigned coordinates. Gerrit Gren was no fool. He'd sought the assistance of the station Chief of Operations, Christino ard'Vret. Fortunately for Douglas, Chris was an Andorian patriot. When he'd received his orders from Imperial Security, he'd undertaken completing them.

Chris had entered a subroutine into the station's internal sensors. When they detected Douglas' comm badge, they automatically masked her life signs. She was therefore essentially invisible to the Security Office. In exchange for this service, Chris would be beamed out when Douglas withdrew.

Emperor Shan had signed off on Chris' orders. The Federation currently believed Shan hadn't been a part of Thor's coup. The reality was that he was the power broker that had arranged for the deal between Section 31 and Thor. Thor had been intended to take the fall before the Council of Ministers and herald in Shan's reign. Thor's carefully arranged "suicide" had been the merest of afterthoughts.

Chris had loaded a padd outlining all of the corridors that had been secured by Station Security. It had been left in an equipment locker by Chris. Douglas had the location of the locker, and its access code. Douglas had arrived in Access Point One, Section Theta. The locker was located in that section. Having retrieved the padd, Douglas proceeded on with her mission.

Douglas started for the reactor access way when she stumbled onto Macen, Rockford, and Ro. Douglas couldn't help her jaw from dropping, "How?"

"Gerrit has had Chris under observation ever since Outbound Ventures proceeded with the Tellarite contract," Macen explained, "His communications have been closely watched and every encrypted message was deciphered well in advance of your actual attempt to destroy the station. It's nice of you to be wearing the incriminating evidence, though."

Douglas' hands started to move and Ro took aim at her head, "I'd surrender, Sarina. Even at 'stun' a phaser's strike to the head is lethal."

"Which would have a certain symmetry since that's how Valeris killed the assassins who were responsible for Gorkon's death," Macen added.

Douglas suddenly smirked and Ro challenged her, "You really think this is funny?"

"No, but if you ever want to see Julian alive, you'll let me go," Douglas countered.

Macen taped his comm badge, "Tom, activate the tachyon flood."

Douglas glared at him. She knew the tachyon field would reveal the Sentinel's position below the station's reactors. Douglas' comm bade sounded.

She irritably tapped it, "Douglas."

"Agent Douglas, we're being bombarded by tachyon emissions and are now visible to the Defiant," Kalana reported.

"The Defiant is here?" Douglas was slightly surprised.

"She decloaked off our port side as soon as the tachyon bombardment began," Kalana dismally reported.

"You wouldn't dare attack my ship," Douglas asserted, "It would damage the station."

"The station can be repaired," Ro growled, "Can your tub?"

"I'll make my offer again," Douglas reiterated, "Julian for my freedom."

"You were going to leave him here to die anyway," Rockford interjected, "So what's the difference now?"

"If he stays with you, he lives," Douglas explained her reasoning, "Because I can't destroy he station if I'm not aboard it."

"I should be explaining to you now that the transporter inhibitor network is currently active," Macen wondered.

"There's no such network on this station," Douglas insisted.

"Call for a transport," Macen instructed.

She did so and nothing happened. Kalana reported that an inhibitor field was blocking the transporter's targeting sensors. Douglas began to have a hunted look in her eyes.

She made a break for it but collided into a force field. She spun around and began arming the explosive on her vest. Rockford scoffed.

"She's bluffing," she decided.

"No, she's not," Ro informed her companions, "Sarina spent most of her life locked up in mental institutions. She has an ingrained, overly paranoid fear of being incarcerated."

"Must suck when you're a secret agent," Rockford quipped.

Douglas broke free down a junction tunnel. Ro stopped Macen and Rockford from pursuing, "The only thing down there is an airlock."

"She can get off the station that way," Macen reminded Ro.

Ro shrugged, "If she does, more power to her."

Ro began issuing instructions to Tenmei while they waited to see if Douglas would return. No one believed she would.

 

Chapter Eleven

Douglas sealed the inner airlock and then overrode the system and rolled the outer airlock open. The explosive decompression sucked her out into space. She activated her emergency transponder as she ostensibly cleared the inhibitor field. Sentinel's transporters locked on to her and she was spirited away before the hard vacuum of space could inflict permanent damage.

Kalana ordered maximum impulse and the Sentinel lurched out of Serenity's vicinity. The Defiant made to pursue but the Section 31 escort immediately jumped to warp speed. Tenmei broke off to recover Ro. The Obsidian entered transporter range at that point and Serenity's transporter chief beamed Macen and Rockford back to their ship.

The Obsidian and the Defiant set out after the Sentinel together. When Douglas had lit her emergency bacon, Nog and the Defiant's Science Officer, Lt. Grozzit, had implemented a failsafe program they'd created in case of such an event. A subspace signal had been transmitted to Douglas' beacon. Now, even in its standby mode, it transmitted a low level signal. A signal the Obsidian's enhanced sensors could easily track.

Bashir had listed the mission as originating from Izar. But as the situation at P'Jem had illustrated, Section 31 was very good at abandoning bases they felt were compromised. They had track the Sentinel to its current destination in order to be certain of where it would end up.

Bashir awoke from the anesthezine haze when he was injected with a stimulant. He blinked a few times and saw an unknown doctor hovering over him as well as Douglas. His heart leapt when he saw Douglas until he saw her angry visage and the burst blood vessels all over at the surface of her skin.

"When did you encounter hard vacuum?" he croaked.

"Never mind that!" Douglas snapped, "When did you tell Ro when I was coming aboard Serenity and how did you do it?"

"I was told of how you discovered my transmissions to Captain Ro," Bashir informed her, "So you should know what I said."

"You're lying!" Douglas angrily tore into him, "Why was she waiting for me at Serenity's reactor control room?"

"You've served under Ro all this time but you really haven't figured her out, have you?" Bashir asked. Seeing Douglas' confusion, he elaborated, "You severely underestimated her. It's as simple as that."

"I doubt it," Douglas said dismissively, "I think I rather underestimated you. Our base on Izar was constructed when Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training Center was built in 2250. Thanks to you, we have to abandon it. You may have been given a reprieve from dying with Serenity Station but you will certainly be killed when we blow our facilities on Izar."

"Something to look forward to then," Bashir quipped.

"Is this all a joke to you, Julian?" Douglas demanded to know.

"No, I find my life to be quite precious," Bashir acknowledged, "But I also find Section 31 to be a cosmic joke."

Douglas's hand flashed across the space to slap him but Bashir caught it, "I may not be as brilliant as you are, Sarina. But my particular forte is hand-eye coordination. You'd best remember that."

"Good point," Douglas admitted, "Bind his wrists."

The two security guards moved in from the side of the exam table. One held a phaser on Bashir while the other slapped a pair of binders on him. Douglas nodded her approval.

"Very good," she said for the guards' benefit, "Leave them on while he's in his cell."

The guards ushered Bashir back to the brig and Douglas reported to the brig. Kalana saw her slip back to her Mission Specialist station, "L'Haan wants to have words with you."

"Right," Douglas sighed, "I'll be in the secure comm room."

"Good luck!" Kalana called after her.

I'll need it, Douglas thought ruefully as she exited the bridge.

"Captain Kalana has put your ETA at just over eight standard hours," L'Haan informed Douglas, "Most of the agency's activities on Izar will have ceased by then. The bulk of our personnel have already begun transferring to other locations."

L'Haan silently gazed at Douglas for a few seconds before continuing, "This is the second base that Outbound Ventures has cost us within a week's time. This cannot be tolerated. And neither can further interference from Doctor Bashir."

"Are you ordering me to summarily execute him?" Douglas asked.

"No, but I am recommending it. For your sake if for no other consideration," L'Haan stated.

"I think Julian can still play a pivotal role as a hostage if Starfleet and Macen arrive during our final stages of evacuation," Douglas asserted.

"Their interference is guaranteed and has been accounted for," L'Haan assured Douglas, "Countermeasures are already in place to permanently deal with Captains Ro and Macen."

"I see," Douglas deferred to L'Haan's judgment.

"I shall require your assistance on the ground after you arrive at Izar," L'Haan informed Douglas, "Bring Doctor Bashir with you. We shall deal with him then."

"Ma'am," Douglas nodded her head in acquiescence. As the Vulcan terminated the transmission, Douglas's gut clenched. She knew full well that L'Haan would kill Bashir at that time. What should she do? Should she do anything at all? Douglas was in a quandary and knew she had no easy answers before her.

It took the Obsidian closer to twelve hours traveling at Warp 6 to arrive in Izar's home system. Ro had taken the Defiant and pushed ahead as soon as it was fairly well confirmed the Sentinel was on a direct, least time course for Izar. However, Ro hadn't reported in to Macen what she'd found upon arrival since it was assumed Section 31 was monitoring the local subspace communications buoys.

The Obsidian dropped out of warp and proceeded into the system at half impulse. That allowed the sensors to effectively map out the star system as the surveyor cruised to the third planet in the solar system. Dozens of freighters orbited Izar. There was an orbital shipyard as well, designed and intended for basic repairs of civilian craft.

The Obsidian's sensors registered a Ramses-class starship as it rotated around Izar. Daggit whistled, "So that's what the mother looks like."

"Jane's Starships database gave you a thorough view of it, Rab" Macen chided him.

"It's not the same as eyeballing it," Daggit sniffed.

"Captain Ro is waiting to speak to you," P'ris announced.

"Put it on speakers," Macen instructed.

"Brin?" Ro's voice came over the speaker system.

"I'm here, Laren," Macen assured her, "What's been going on while we've been traveling?"

"Nothing much," Ro reported, "I have to assume that some of the civilian traffic is actually Section 31 goons bailing as fast as they can."

"Safe bet," Macen agreed, "Do you have an Away Team prepared?"

"Yes, I'm leading a group along with Zivan Slaine to the surface. I'm guessing you'll be joining us." Ro wondered.

"Yup," Macen confirmed it, "See you dirt side."

Macen's team beamed down to the landing tarmac shared by Starfleet and Section 31. Rockford, P'ris, Daggit, and McMasters were the usual cast of characters that accompanied him. But Ziva Delain joined them now for her first mission. During the voyage back from Deep Space Nine, Rockford and Delain had been converting Rockford's shipboard office into a dual occupancy area so Delain could join her. Afterwards, Rockford had fully briefed Delain on the nature of Outbound Ventures' contracts with the SID. Needless to say, it was rather eye opening to Delain.

The Defiant decloaked before inserting itself into orbit. Delain found reason to be delighted by Ro's choice of a team XO. Slaine was equally pleased to find yet another Cardassian with the joint mission. Gorr Das Rekkit and Garesh Oksa Femor also represented the Cardassian Guard alongside Slaine amongst the unit.

The Bajoran Militia had provided security forces to Deep Space Nine. In keeping with the effort to utilize personnel untouched by Section 31, some of these officers had been tapped rather than tradition Starfleet Security crewmen. But, Sergeant Harb Tannin and Corporal Jari Renna were the Militia officers attached to the mission.

And select Starfleet Security personnel had been cleared by Commander Blackmer. Crewman Jess Downey and Chief Mick Farley had been assigned to the group as well. The last Starfleet officer attached was Lt. Lahna Rees. She was a Bajoran medical officer that had transferred from the Bajoran Militia to Starfleet after serving her enlistment period with the Militia. With Bashir absent, Lahna was the senior medical officer aboard Deep Space Nine so she'd been wrangled into coming with the Defiant crew.

The two teams travelled across the tarmac towards the second training camp. Finding it seemingly deserted, they followed the beacon signal until they came to the hidden bunkers. That was when the signal went dark.

The Sentinel broke orbit and cloaked. Forger ordered that the shields be raised. Miller immediately did so. Grace broke orbit as well when instructed to. Forger was making for the nearby Phobos-like moon. She wanted draw off the Section 31 vessel so that when, not if, it instigated a conflict it would be clear of the civilian traffic.

Parva and Gilan led a full engineering crew that had been brought aboard while waiting for the Sentinel to strike out at Serenity Station. A full science complement had been brought aboard as well for Galen 3 to lead. Tessa now had a medical staff so her department was braced for the advent of casualties.

With Radil out of the picture, and Delain's disinterest and lack of experience in shipboard environments, that left Miller in charge of security. She'd barely had time to meet and greet her new Deputy Chief of Security and her new detail. She would have liked to have been able to run at least one drill before a potential boarding action was threatening to occur. But then again, most of her team was ex-Starfleet or ex-Militia so she was confident in their abilities.

Tenmei ordered the Defiant to cloak as she broke orbit. Tenmei itched to be at the helm. She was a pilot first and foremost, not a bloody starship captain. Still, most of the senior staff was still aboard. She'd lost her captain, her Tactical Officer, and had been replaced by a lieutenant with more years at the Academy under his belt than at the CONN of a starship. But hey! Who wanted to live forever? Right?

A quantum torpedo struck the Obsidian's shields. As the ship shuddered from the energy bleed striking the hull, Miller swore, "Dammit! Those buggers pack a wallop."

"Do we have any modified photons prepped?" Forger asked as Grace threw the ship into a slingshot maneuver around the moon and out into the outer system.

"Gilan's on it," Miller replied.

"Why weren't there a pair already prepped?" Forger asked snippily.

"We didn't know if we'd face any conventional forces," Miller explained, "The gas sensors don't track by conventional means. Ergo, they're useless against a traditional opponent unless their impulse engines are running hot."

Consoles began to short out across the bridge as another quantum torpedo hit. Forger sighed, "How fast are the shields depleting themselves?"

"We're already below sixty percent with just two impacts," Miller grimly reported.

"Hannah, it's time to perform a miracle," Forger implored.

"Fresh out," Grace irritable replied.

Forger was surprised. Usually by now Grace would whip up some Kelvan magic. She said as much.

"Look, I'm kinda broken or something. I can't utilize any of my Kelvan abilities. I'm pretty much just human now," Grace complained, "So what do you want me to do? Get out and push?"

Forger almost said "yes" as the shields withstood another hit. Instead she addressed Zimbalist at OPS, "Signal the Defiant. We're about to give them their opening."

"Aye, ma'am," Zimbalist said crisply before he began to address the Defiant's crew.

"Hannah, implement the Immelmann," Forger ordered.

Grace engaged the starship in the infamous turn and looped above and behind the hidden Sentinel. As she trimmed out, Miller fired off the modified torpedoes. The flare effect upon the Section 31 vessel's pinpointed where she was.

The Defiant decloaked as the Obsidian utilized the Immelmann to get into firing position. Ensign Samantha Humboldt, sitting at Tactical in Slaine's place, snapped off two quantum torpedoes and then continuously fired more as the Section 31 ship reeled under the onslaught.

The Sentinel decloaked in order to funnel more power to her shields. The Obsidian joined in the torpedo barrage even as the Defiant's pulse phasers lit up. The Sentinel's shields collapsed under the weight of the firepower assaulting it. Explosions ripped through the Ramses-class ship and she was soon powerless and adrift.

Tenmei hailed the ship but there was no answer. Zimbalist alerted Forger and Tenmei to the fact that the antideuterium and deuterium pods' magnetic seals were collapsing. Both commanders veered their starships away from the resultant explosion. They returned to Izar's near space. And then they found themselves under fire from the ground based and orbital defenses.

When the SID and Starfleet teams reached the bunkers they encountered a security check point surrounded by pillboxes. Well aware of the gun crews in the pillboxes, Ro approached the security booth. She presented her orders from Admiral Nechayev with Admiral Jellico's countersignature. The gate guards were less than impressed.

"These orders aren't valid," the Security Chief informed Ro.

"Oh really?" Ro asked archly, "If the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief's authorization isn't good enough to get me past this gate, whose is? President Bacco's?"

"Sorry Captain, but even the UFP President couldn't get you in here," the Security Chief replied, "Now, my people are going to walk you back to the landing field. Will you go quietly?"

"Hell no!" Ro asserted.

"That's what I thought," the Security Chief said dourly. Security guards swarmed seemingly from nowhere and the Security Chief advised Ro, "I wouldn't resist if I were you."

The ground based Type VIII phasers began firing into the sky and everyone realized Section 31 had overridden them and their friends and family aboard their starships were now in danger. Daggit began to get restless and Macen intervened. Daggit was now a volcano of lethality ready to erupt. He knew Forger was trying to stand by her missing comrades but he really wished she'd break off and head out of range. Ro felt the same way about Tenmei.

After they were disarmed, the two teams were brought into the bunker complex. Led to large briefing room, the teams' members began to prowl about. The room almost had an auditorium-like feel to it. All the chairs pointed at a stage with a podium and an overhead viewer.

A bevy of guards entered the room and ushered the SID and Starfleet personnel to the seating portion of the room. Few, if any, actually sat down. L'Haan strode in at that point. Douglas was at her heels. Ro bristled as she recognized the Vulcan that had recruited Bashir for the Andorian mission.

"Your relative starships have broken orbit and headed out of range of Izar's defensive platforms," L'Haan informed them, "But that does not negate the danger they are in. More of our starships are en route to this location. To put it simply, you will simply be outgunned. I advise you order your crews to surrender."

"Is that your only demand?" Ro wanted to know.

"Hardly," L'Haan replied, "I also require your pledge that you will no longer interfere in Section 31's plans."

"Why don't you dive into the Fire Caves?" Ro retorted.

Macen had been quiet up until now, "Where's Bashir?"

L'Haan approved of the calm but assertive tone the El-Aurian employed, "Let me show you."

The overhead viewscreen flared to life and the image on it was that of Bashir tied to an "X" frame cross. Directly in front of the video recorder was a pair of Section 31 security guards who were armed with rifles. Ro's face darkened.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Ro quietly warned.

For the first time, L'Haan's unflappable certainty wavered. Macen added to the blow, "You really don't know what you're unleashing by attacking the Enforcers."

L'Haan actually blinked in surprise while Douglas' body visibly jerked. Macen elaborated, "Initially it did seem as though the plan was to lure the Gorn into attacking the Federation. But then it seemed that P'ris had learned of Section 31's and Sela's plans far too easily."

While L'Haan and Douglas tried to recover from their shock, Macen continued; "I had to ask myself, what did the Typhon Pact consider its greatest foe? Was it the Federation, which was a known quantity and had allied itself with the Star Empire twice, or was it something new? Something entirely unpredictable? Something that had driven the Typhon Pact to cooperate with the Khitomer Accords, if not entirely side with them. The Borg are no more. The Kazon, the Krenim, and the Hirogen are still too far out. That left the Enforcer Territories. They're next door and they're utterly unknown to every known power in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants."

"With that said, it just seemed par for the course for an entity such as Section 31 to want the Khitomer Accords powers to launch an all out offensive against the Enforcers with the Typhon Pact as our allies. Better to keep the foe you know within dagger's reach then the foe you know nothing about beyond arm's length," Macen concluded his summary.

"Well done, Commander Macen," L'Haan congratulated him, "Very astute. But then again, she said you were quite clever."

"Who is she and why should I care?" Macen wondered.

"Sarina, bring in our Chief of Operations," L'Haan instructed.

"There was silence while Douglas was out of the room. Then she returned with another Vulcan in tow. A Vulcan most recognized.

"Hello T'Kir," Macen said with a great deal of disappointment. Beside him, Ro struggled with her surprise at this turn of events. Rockford gently took hold of Macen's hand and held it.

"Greetings Captain," T'Kir said emotionlessly, "It is an unfortunate happenstance to see you again."

"I take it joining Section 31 was the logical thing to do?" Macen inquired.

"Quite," T'Kir agreed, "My memories and skills are rather rarified yet a valuable commodity. Since affiliating myself with the Special Investigations Division would result in greater percentage of encounters with you, I chose to seek out Section 31. Their mission is essentially the same yet they have an even higher rate of success because they are less...squeamish. I have found my place in which to make a contribution to a larger universe."

"Pretty words but they're just lies," Macen countered, "The kohlinahr masters found your writings. You don't want a place in the SID because you simply want Celeste and I dead. You don't feel you can be completely restored to life until we're removed from this plane of existence. Joining Section 31 enhances the odds of making those aspirations come true."

T'Kir recoiled and Macen gave her a cold smile, "I hate to remind you that my first wife tried to kill me as well. Do I even have to bother to go into what happened to her?"

T'Kir restored herself to a semblance of logical calm, "Indeed not."

"Then learn from Arinae," Macen advised.

"Commander Macen, Captain Ro, may I reminded you that in recent history the Federation and her allies have been struck by the Borg, the Argyn, and the Enforcers," L'Haan interrupted, "The Caelier assimilated the Borg into their gestalt. Detective Rockford paved the way for the Argyn to withdrew to their own, as of yet, undiscovered territory. But the Enforcers dealt both the Khitomer Accords group and the Typhon Pact nations a severe blow. The Typhon Pact is ready and willing to assist us in permanently dealing with the threat they pose."

"And how do you justify that?" Ro asked sharply.

"The Khitomer Accords members are reeling from the multiple invasions. Most of their frontline forces have been obliterated. Over a trillion casualties occurred in the Federation alone. There are billions of refugees and dozens of devastated worlds that are now unsuitable to support humanoid life," L'Haan listed off, "The Typhon Pact nations were similarly afflicted. Each and every stellar power has reactivated their reserve fleets. Even the Dominion War paled in comparison."

"Surely you see for yourselves that the Enforcers prey upon the weak?" L'Haan wanted to know, "If we present ourselves as being vulnerable then the Enforcers will be upon us before we can mount a reasonable defense."

Seeing she still wasn't getting through to her audience, L'Haan tried one last tack, "The Enforcer Territories are filled with oppressed beings that are ready to rise up against their masters. All they require is assistance. The Typhon Pact is willing to aid us in being that assistance."

"Agent L'Haan, you're well aware that most of us present have fought in wars for most of our lives," Macen replied, "There doesn't have to be a continuation of that trend. We have a spirit of detente with the Enforcers right now. So does the Typhon Pact. Starfleet and its allies are vulnerable, as you suggested, so why create a conflict with a power whose strength rivals that of the two alliances combined?"

"If we strike now we shall have the element of surprise and that is our sole advantage," L'Haan proclaimed.

"I don't buy it," Ro decided, "Right now we have a neutral border patrol supported by all three sides. We have an opportunity to rebuild our fleets and train new recruits to operate them. And you want to flush all that down the san. So no, I don't believe the ghost story you're weaving here."

"It is a pity," L'Haan admitted, "You could have been useful to our plans."

L'Haan turned to the guards, "Summon reinforcements. And then escort Commander Macen's SID team to the sublevel detention center. Captain Ro's crew is to be held with Doctor Bashir in the training camp."

"What about Macen and Ro?" T'Kir inquired.

"They shall be transported to the Stronghold," L'Haan decided, "We can then interrogate them en route to meet our Typhon Pact allies."

"And after the interrogation?" despite T'Kir's newfound discipline in the arts of logic, there was a note of hunger in her voice.

"Then they shall be executed," L'Haan said simply.

A smile threatened to break out across T'Kir's face.

 

Chapter Twelve

"Commander, I just detected a quantum slipstream tunnel opening at the edge of the system," Zimbalist reported to Forger, "It looked like a Vespa-class starship but as soon as it entered normal space it cloaked."

"Warn the Defiant," Forger ordered, "Tell them we have a cloaked hostile in-bound."

"Yes, ma'am," Zimbalist turned his attention back to his OPS station's boards.

"Jaycee, give me a best time estimate of how fast a Vespa-class could navigate the system and arrive at our position?" Forger wondered.

"Twenty-two minutes," Miller readily answered.

"You had that answer prepared," Forger accused.

"Just anticipating my commanding officer's needs," Miller grinned.

"Keep it up. It's appreciated," Forger applauded her efforts, "Hannah, let's draw this out by nearing the fourth planet and its moons."

"That'll decrease the time before the hostile intercepts us," Miller advised.

"Duly noted," Forger acknowledged, "But I want civilian traffic out of the line of fire."

Miller got back to business as Forger returned her attention to Grace, "How many moons does the fourth planet have?"

"Five," Grace informed her, "I can run a gauntlet between them in order to confuse their targeting sensors or at least their operator."

"You read my mind," Forger grinned, "Edwin, has the Defiant cloaked yet?"

"Two minutes ago," Zimbalist reported, "Would you like me to apprise them of our plans?"

"Certainly," Forger said cheerfully.

When the Stronghold decloaked, Miller alerted Forger as to its presence and its name. Forger frowned. The Stronghold didn't follow Starfleet's usual pattern for naming Vespa-class ships. Starfleet had constructed and registered the current crop of the class after the hills of Rome. The Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal were all of Starfleet's Vespa-class starships.

The unusual registration of NCC-81011 USS Stronghold implied a Starfleet origin but a quick check of the registry revealed another vessel altogether bequeathed with that registration. If the cloaking device didn't give away this was a Section 31 vessel then a little research would.

The Stronghold came blazing in with quantum torpedo launchers belching forth destructive warheads. The Obsidian's already battered shields soon neared collapse. Forger sent out a distress call to the Defiant.

The Starfleet escort decloaked and came in with pulse phasers lighting up near space. Her quantum torpedo launchers threw one deadly blow after another. Tenmei signaled Forger that she would cover the Obsidian's withdrawal.

Then the battle truly began.

Two guards marched Macen and Ro to the transporter room. Ro rolled her eyes as Section 31's sloppiness. They had to have perused her record, and with T'Kir siding with them, they had to know her history with the Maquis as well. Unless, of course, T'Kir's brains were still scrambled like an egg. Whatever the case may be, it was downright insulting.

Macen made a move before Ro could signal him that she was about to. He dropped low and swept his leg back to knock his guard's legs out from underneath the brute. Ro spun as well, chopping down hard on the wrist of her guard, slapping his phaser towards the ground.

Ro drove the heel of her hand into his nose. As the guard's eyes began to water, she drove her knee into his gut. Air exploded from his lungs as he doubled over. A descending right cross finished him off.

She pulled back to find Macen kneeling on his opponent's chest. He drove his knuckles into the guard's throat in an expertly delivered phoenix punch. The guard began choking as his throat swelled. Ro tapped Macen's shoulder with the phaser she'd retrieved.

Macen's eyes searched the area and he realized she'd retrieved both discarded phasers. He accepted her offer and set the phaser's power level to "stun". He shot his guard and stood.

"Detention center?" he asked Ro.

She nodded and firmly agreed, "Detention center."

Ro's face was nearly burned off by a particle beam as she tried stepping out of the corridor into the detention center. As it was the door frame glowed and would bear a scorch mark. Whoever was shooting wasn't playing around.

She heard Macen chuckle and she gave him a rather irked look. Macen he called out to the shooters, "It's okay. It's Macen and Ro."

"Get in here you adorable little target you," Rockford called back.

Macen happily complied. Their kiss was interrupted by Ro, "How did you get your gear back?"

Rockford gave her a piqued look, "They stored everything in the security office. Your crew's weapons and comm badges were stored along with ours. Rab has them in a rucksack. You should go get yours."

"I will in a moment," Ro replied.

"Captain, that wasn't a suggestion," Rockford said lightly but it was clearly a demand.

"Right," Ro accepted it for what it was.

"Now, where were we?" Rockford playfully asked Macen.

"I believe we were snogging," Macen said with a happy smile.

"Oh. Right," Rockford's eyes lit up with merriment, "Let's get back to that, shall we?"

"Commander," P'ris said suddenly, "a moment of your time?"

Rockford's head thumped against Macen's chest, "Oh Lord, why now?"

"Can't be helped," Macen sought to console her. From her expression it was a wasted effort. Still, she tagged along.

P'ris brought them into the security office. The monitors displayed Ro's crew being tied to X-frames alongside Bashir. Ro entered in and immediately recognized her personnel.

"Where is this?" Ro asked.

"The training camp we passed on our way to this location," P'ris readily answered.

"Brin, I need some of your people to help me rescue my crew," Ro stated.

"You can have Daggit, McMasters, and Commander P'ris here," Macen assured her, "I believe Rab's carrying all your equipment anyway."

"Pardon me, but why am I included?" P'ris wondered.

"Rab's a good tactician but if Laren should be stunned or killed your group will need a strategist. An extremely sneaky strategist," Macen informed her, "That elects you."

"I am uncertain as to whether I should thank you for this assessment or not," P'ris admitted.

"A compliment, even a left handed one, is still a compliment," Macen advised her.

"Then thank you, I think," P'ris was still unsure.

Ro gathered her makeshift team and informed Macen, "We'll use the transporter to beam in on them."

"Good luck," Macen wished them well.

Macen, Rockford, and Delain reached the Operations Center in time to see the last three people beam away. Of course, L'Haan, Douglas, and T'Kir comprised the trio. However, the main computer was running a countdown, presumably to the base's destruction.

Rockford examined the screens. It was gobblygook to her, "Say what?"

"Very amusing," Delain suddenly commented, "The computer is programmed in my native tongue. We have five minutes to evacuate before these bunkers and the adjacent training facility are destroyed."

"Five minutes is an awfully long time," Rockford opined.

"They still have personnel at the training camp," Delain remarked.

"I hate to interrupt but shouldn't we be adjourning to the transporter room?" Macen asked.

Rockford shared a wry glance with Delain, "He does have a point."

"He certainly does," Delain agreed amiably.

"Need I mention that we need to use the transporter to ferret away Ro's group before we can transport ourselves?" Macen wondered.

"Nag," Rockford quipped.

"You can call me all the names you want after we clear this facility," Macen promised.

Rockford's eyes danced, "I think I'm going to enjoy that."

Macen rolled his eyes as they exited the Operations Center.

Ro and her crew, along with the SID trio with her, were caught in a site to site transport to New Seattle's primary public transporter hub. The techs there were alarmed as the group came in a single wave. Ro ordered them to keep the pads clear and then Macen, Rockford, and Delain materialized. Less than thirty seconds later a sound like a clap of thunder rolled over the city. Starfleet requested civilian assistance in suppressing the fire damage to the bases alongside the Advanced Tactical Training Center.

Macen and Ro each tapped their respective comm badges and tried to contact their individual ships. To their consternation, both attempts failed.

The Defiant raveled down the Stronghold's z-axis to attack the Vespa-class starship's dorsal plane. Hammering at the shark-like saucer section, the Defiant's pulse phasers ate away at the Section 31 ship's shields. In a desperate move, the Stronghold barrel rolled in order to present its ventral side.

Before, the Stronghold merely had its upper phaser strips on the saucer to fend off the Defiant with. But like the larger Sovereign-class, the Vespa-class starships had a ventral phaser strip to augment their ventral strips on the saucer hull. But in response, the Defiant opened up with her quantum torpedo launchers.

Tenmei had long ago relieved Lt. Choupta at the CONN/OPS station. The put upon helm officer sat in the command chair in the center of the bridge. At Tactical, Ensign Humboldt recited a litany of ongoing status reports. Irritably, Choupta thought about issuing some orders just for the hell of it.

Tenmei broke the Defiant out of its swift approach. Running along the length of the Stronghold, Humboldt strafed the other ship with the pulse phasers. One disadvantage the escort had over the more conventional starship was she had to face her enemy in order to employ her primary weapons. Right now they were behind the Stronghold and heading away from her.

After impulse turns from both starships, the Defiant and the Stronghold were aimed at each other again. Both volleyed shots with everything they had available to use. Suddenly, the Obsidian came in on the Stronghold's aft quarter. Photons and phaser bursts shot out from the surveyor.

The Stronghold's overtaxed shields were once again on the brink of collapse. Having received the signal that L'Haan and her group were safely away, the Stronghold's commander had no reason to stay except to inflict a revenge kill. That possibility was shrinking with every second that passed. Knowing the ship was needed for the assault on the Enforcers, her captain decided to withdraw.

Employing its quantum slipstream drive as soon as the ship broke free of it opponents, the Stronghold escaped at velocities beyond Warp 10. Tenmei signaled Forger and they agreed to return to Izar in order to retrieve their respective commanding officers and their teams. Transmissions for a ground based Starfleet communications center alerted both XO's that they needed to hurry up and slip into orbit ASAP.

The two ships returned to Deep Space Nine. While the rest of the crews enjoyed a respite, Macen and Ro spoke with Nechayev from Ro's secure office. Ro reported on the mission and its results.

When it was Macen's turn, he added; "It seems Emperor Shan is as much in bed with Section 31 as Thor was."

He explained his theory regarding Section 31's motives. He then added, "When the Enforcers attack the Federation her allies will join us. And then the Typhon Pact will offer assistance. Once on Federation soil, the Pact will never leave. Meanwhile, the Andorians will have swallowed Sectors 005 and 007 and formally joined the Typhon Pact."

"What's frightening is it could succeed," Nechayev admitted, "But what does Section 31 gain?"

"Effective control of the Federation," Macen shared, "The citizenry will be so panicky as to offer anyone that can deliver security free reign over their lives. Section 31 will utilize the opportunity, and the Typhon Pact's assistance, to eliminate the Enforcer threat altogether. And then the Khitomer Accords and the Typhon Pact will forge a new super alliance."

"God help us all," Nechayev breathed. She straightened up, "Taking your earlier speculations and reports en route to Izar and Deep Space Nine, the Council of Five has formulated a response. Captains Sisko and Dax will be recalled from their exploration duties. We're moving in assets to assist them in intercepting the Section 31 thrust past the Enforcer Neutral Zone. We've also alerted the Zone Border Patrol so they're expecting trouble."

"What about me?" Ro wondered.

"Deep Space Nine is our fall back," Nechayev informed her, "The Seventh Fleet is being rerouted to your location. If the Enforcers cross the zone, you'll be in the thick of it. Your orders are to hold at all costs."

"Wonderful," Ro sardonically quipped.

"And my team?" Macen asked.

"You will deliver Doctor Bashir to the Andorians," Nechayev informed him. Seeing his sour expression she added, "They respect your integrity now that you've helped them. President Bacco has interceded on Bashir's behalf. He'll get life in prison but he won't be summarily executed by the most painful methods available. But this is a limited time offer. The countdown began today. You have five days to each Andoria so I wouldn't waste time getting there."

"And what happens on day six?" Macen wondered.

"The sentence reverts back to a heinous execution," Nechayev grimly replied.

"It seems I haven't much time then," Macen commented.

"Brin, while you're on Andoria I want you to find out where the Andorian fleet units are being staged for the invasion," Nechayev requested, "I have Starfleet units moving to the respective sectors but I need to know precisely where to put them."

"Who have you enlisted for this?" Macen inquired.

"I pulled Mackenzie Calhoun and the Excalibur out of Sector 221-G, Merry Limerick and the Hood away from Iotia Sigma, Hev Callas and the Monitor from parts still classified, and Alec Prine and the Merrimack from those same territories," Nechayev revealed.

"So what were Hev and Prine doing in Nova Roman space?" Macen asked innocently.

"I don't even want to know how you found that out," Nechayev wearily replied, "Just deliver Bashir and get my data."

"Is it any wonder why you love me, Alynna?" Macen gibed.

"I'm ending this conversation," Nechayev did as she said and the screen went dark.

"Brin, Julian was a dupe," Ro reminded Macen.

"I'm sorry, Laren. But this could avert a war. Bashir made his choices to go along with the assassination," Macen countered.

"He listened to the woman he loves," Ro pleaded, "Are you going to condemn him for that?"

"Yes," Macen bluntly confirmed it, "I had a choice today with T'Kir. I could have seen her as the woman she was or as the woman she's become. I chose the truth. And because of it I won't hesitate to defend myself the next time I see her."

"You really think she wants to kill you?" Ro couldn't believe it.

"I read her journal," Macen stated, "And what that didn't tell me her eyes and mood did today. So yes, I think she's not only serious about killing Celeste and I, but she's utterly committed to it."

"I don't envy you your life," Ro admitted.

"I wouldn't get too comfortable, Laren. She wrote a lot about you too. She's got a lot of pent up hostility there. If you ever run across her, shoot first and shoot to kill. She won't hesitate to do it to you," Macen warned her.

"What they say is true. You can never go back," Ro sighed.

"Tell me about it," Macen said dourly.

 

Chapter Thirteen

While the Obsidian transited to, and through, the Home Sectors Delain and Rockford compared notes regarding their current mission in their office. Delain ruefully commented regarding her return to Deep Space Nine, "It seems I left the station just to swiftly return there once again."

"But you didn't stay long this time," Rockford pointed out, "And you're going to have to get used to it. DS9 is a frequent stop for this crew. Ro and Brin share a special relationship."

"Are you jealous of her?" Delain wondered.

"I have no reason to be," Rockford quickly replied with great confidence.

"But they do seem extremely...close," Delain ventured.

"They've literally trusted each other with their very lives on more occasions than I can safely count," Rockford reminded Delain, "That engenders trust, which in turn engenders closeness."

"And that closeness could be problematic over the long term," Delain warned.

Rockford smiled, "Let me put this in terms you'll understand. Ro and Macen had choice years ago to decide on whether or not they wanted to pursue one another. They chose not to and they've never regretted or second guessed that choice. Which is good because they'd kill one another."

Delain was startled by that assessment, "Yet they're friends."

"And they can remain friends because Brin is no longer under Ro's authority. He couldn't serve in the capacity that he does and be her subordinate. They barely managed to function that way during their time with the Maquis," Rockford was amused to see Delain derisively stiffen at the mention of the terrorist group, "Besides; Ro is involved with Captain Alfonso Reyes, the commander of Deep Space Three. She won't stray on him."

"But what about Macen?" Delain asked pointedly, "You're certain he won't be unfaithful?"

"Some things you just know," Rockford said contentedly.

"It seemed that the second Vulcan woman presented to us was once Macen's wife," Delain recalled.

"Yes, he was married to T'Kir before she died," Rockford explained. Seeing Delain's obvious confusion, she elaborated. When she finished she asked Delain if there were any other questions.

"Yet Macen mentioned another wife," Delain realized, "How many times has he been married?"

"Twice before," Rockford easily answered, "He'd actually still be married to T'Kir if she hadn't died. We became a couple over the year that followed."

"What happened to the first wife then?" Delain wondered.

"She faked her own death during the Borg assimilation of El-Auria and her colonies. Brin thought she was dead for over a century. When they were reunited she tried to kill him and he simply performed the deed before she could," Rockford explained.

"Why did this wife want him dead?" Delain asked.

"You're just full of questions now, aren't you?" Rockford grinned. She held up a hand to ward off Delain's resultant glare, "Arinae had simply gone mad after the loss of her people and her home world."

"If your description of this 'T'Kir' is accurate, madness seems to be a common thread in Macen's relationships. As is the desire to kill him," Delain surmised.

"Truer words have never been spoken," Rockford quipped.

"Yet you seem to be an exception to that rule," Delain observed.

"This is me now. Let me tell you about me then," Rockford shared her history apart from and with Macen.

"Macen must enjoy the sense of danger," was all Delain could conclude.

"It's deeper than that. He'll give you a second chance. And he's willing to bet his own life that he's right for doing so," Rockford shared.

"Admirable," Delain concluded, "Completely foolish and delusional. But admirable nonetheless."

"Yeah, but it works for me," Rockford smiled.

Macen met with Forger in his Ready Room while P'ris monitored the bridge. It was a fairly benign duty while raveling through the heavily patrolled Home Sectors. Forger listened to Macen's description of their current assignment and when he'd finished she asked a simple question.

"Won't the Andorians simply blow us away while we're in orbit?" she wondered.

"They're more likely to try and keep us inside of Andorian space and unable to communicate with Starfleet," Macen advised her, "Which means everyone will have to be ready to depart at a moment's notice."

"Not a problem," Forger promised, "But I'd like Hannah to step off the bridge for a while. Wyn Mesa can handle things easily enough inside of the Federation's heartland. She could probably do so as well inside the Andorian Empire but I doubt Hannah will sit by and let her."

"Well, this can't be easy for Hannah. Bashir was her friend. He was almost more than that before Ian appeared in her life. And now we're handing him to the Andorians," Macen stated.

"So why are we handing him over?" Forger wanted to know.

He could hear the defiance in her voice, "Shannon, he broke Starfleet regs, Federation law, and tore Andorian laws apart and peed on them. Need I go on?"

"It just doesn't seem right though," Forger protested.

"Then Bashir should have broken free of the Andorian guard he was grappling with and helped him subdue Sarina Douglas before Emperor Thrak died," Macen countered.

"I'm not going to win this, am I?" Forger suddenly inquired.

"Not a chance," Macen informed her.

"Then can I ask who Starfleet is sending to help?" Forger wanted to know.

Macen told her of the various commanders and ships being sent into the affected areas. He added that local patrols and border units were supporting them. Forger frowned, "I know everyone but this 'Calhoun'. Haven't you mentioned him before?"

"Mackenzie Calhoun and I were Alynna Nechayev's two favored sons. He was already an independent agent of Starfleet Intelligence before my commission was suspended and I joined the Maquis. While I was with the Maquis, Calhoun formally rejoined Starfleet and assumed command off the Excalibur to undertake a mission into Sector 221-G and help stabilize the Thallonian Empire," Macen described the history, "Long story made short, Calhoun was joined by his former XO and now wife, Elizabeth Shelby, when she commanded the USS Trident in patrolling what became the Thallonian Protectorate. Shelby was promoted to admiral and placed in command of Beta Station near the Federation's entrance to the sector. The Trident is now commanded by Calhoun's ex-girlfriend, Katarina Mueller."

"So, is he still one of Nechayev's 'favored sons'?" Forger inquired.

"No," Macen smiled ruefully, "Now he's Admiral Jellico's drinking buddy."

"Oy vey!" Forger groaned.

"Pretty much," Macen concurred.

Macen stepped out to dismiss Grace while Forger relieved P'ris. He loitered about for a few minutes while the Beta Watch arrived. Wyn looked eager to get her hands on the controls of a starship. Even a small one as the Obsidian was. Forger politely, but forcefully, instructed Wyn to "cool her thrusters" while in Federation space. Of course this opened the door for mischief once they crossed the Andorian Empire's border.

Grace approached Bashir's cell. Rockford and Delain had relieved Daggit so he could enjoy the shipboard evening with his wife. Parva was getting testy over Daggit being away so much over the last few days. Having an Orion put out over an Angosian was a recipe for repairs.

Bashir brightened a bit at Grace's appearance before him, "I heard you're married now."

"Yes," Grace confirmed it, "I married Ian Delaney. He's the Chief Tactical Officer aboard the Intrepid. We sent you an invitation."

"Ah yes, but you know the vagaries of Starfleet life. I was involved with helping wrap up the Starfleet occupation of Cardassia Prime. I didn't get your message until days after the fact," Bashir informed her.

"Maybe Starfleet should have stayed on Cardassia," Grace suddenly commented.

"But they didn't need us anymore," Bashir wondered what brought this on.

"But they would be stronger allies if they were still beholden to the Federation," Grace opined, "Cut off an ally's medicine and food supplies and they become very willing to aid you."

"That's not an alliance," Bashir coldly retorted, "That's extortion."

"It's political reality, Julian," Grace snapped back, "You're learning about that now, aren't you? Your precious ideals won't get you out of your cell."

"Have I ever really known you?" Bashir wanted to know.

Grace laughed, "You're asking that question a lot lately. To all the wrong people at the wrong times. I'll be glad when you're off this ship."

Grace turned and stormed out of the brig. From the Security Office, Rockford and Delain chalked it up to her being upset over the fate of a friend. Bashir knew better.

When the team transported to the Ministry of Internal Security, Superintendent Irak stood with a bevy of officers to receive the prisoner. Grace had accompanied Bashir to the transporter room. While it seemed motivated by concern he knew it was intended to keep him quiet.

Bashir pleaded with Macen to give him five minutes to speak with the SID agent. Macen ignored the request. It seemed as though Bashir had reached the end of his tether and was reacting solely out of fear. He had no evidence to the contrary.

While Macen dealt with Irak, Arad cornered Rockford, "It has been good to work with again, Celeste. May it continue to happen in the near future."

Rockford subtly accepted the padd he'd handed off to her, "I'm sure it will. Maybe sooner than we might think."

Irak inquired as to Macen's plans. Macen grinned, "We might take in some local sights."

Irak was less than happy but he gamely said, "I hope you enjoy yourself. You've earned an evening off."

"Thank you, we will," Macen replied and the team exited.

As the group strolled away from Internal Security's HQ Macen, P'ris, and Delain all crowded around Rockford. They all wanted to know what Arad had slipped her. Rockford smirked.

"Arad informed me of when he gets off duty. He also listed a address of where to meet with him," Rockford informed them, "It isn't much but I have a feeling the white elephant in the room back there was the Andorian Navy's plans to invade Federation space."

"You would be correct," P'ris assured her, "Before my exile, I spent some time on Andoria as a Typhon Pact 'cultural exchange officer'. In that short span of time I learned to recognize the fidgeting of their antenna as a sign of nervousness. Every Andorian officer in that building displayed such characteristics in our presence. All save your friend, Inspector Arad."

"I know Arad," Rockford assured P'ris, "He would have opposed the secession from the Federation. But he would have also sought rapprochement with the Typhon Pact nations in order to foster peaceful relations on a grander scale."

"Sadly, his ambitions are not shared by most within the Andorian Empire. They see membership within the Pact as a step to further their territorial ambitions. Those same ambitions are viewed as having been stymied by membership within the Federation," P'ris detailed.

"So when and where does Arad want meet?" Macen inquired.

"When is in four hours and where is a location on the other side of the planet," Rockford divulged, "At least it is if my memory regarding native addresses is up to snuff."

"I have complete faith in you," Macen shared.

"Good, 'cause otherwise I'd have to kill you," Rockford quipped, "And this time I'd succeed. You're in love with me now. You'll hold back."

"It appears Detective Rockford knows you better than you know yourself, Commander," P'ris opined.

"Remind me again of why I let you stick around?" Macen teased.

"Excuse me," McMasters butted in as the group came to a halt at a crosswalk, "Rab and I couldn't help but overhear. And I'm wondering, what are going to do for four hours?"

"Has anyone besides Celeste and P'ris ever been to Andoria before?" Macen wanted to know.

Everyone else wore blank expressions. Delain had the distinct look of a vole caught in the crosshairs. Macen grinned.

"Looks like we have time to play tourist," he announced, "After all, we may be the last Federation tourists these folks ever see. So behave."

Every opted to go along with Macen's suggestion. Rockford wrapped an arm around one of his, "Reasons like this are why I love you."

"And here I thought you were sleeping your way into my good graces so I'd lower my guard and you could kill me in my sleep," Macen bantered.

Rockford punched him in the gut, "I should just for that innuendo."

"Well, at least I'd die happy," Macen mused.

It turned out that Arad wanted to meet at a peace officers' bar. Macen and Rockford joined Arad in a booth. Rockford signaled Delain that she wanted the Cardassian detective present as well. P'ris, McMasters, and Daggit took over the space at the nearby bar. Many of the Andorian patrons were curious but they were outnumbered by those that seemed nonchalant.

"Isn't this a tad risky?" Rockford asked Arad.

"Most of the current clientele are collaborators of mine. They oppose the military's ambitions as well," Arad informed his guests, "They will keep the imperial loyalists from acting out."

Arad nodded in Delain's direction, "She didn't join you the last time you were here, Celeste."

"She's a new hire into my agency," Rockford informed him, "I trust her and so should you."

"That's an awfully fast development," Arad hedged.

"You know how good I am at vetting people, Arad," Rockford was a little insulted, "You've trusted my methods and my instincts before, what's the real issue here?"

"The stakes are far, far greater, dear Celeste," Arad shared, "I'm about to commit treason."

"We know about the invasion plans, Inspector;" Macen informed Arad, "What we don't have is the coordinates the strikes will be launched from."

Arad stared at Macen in disbelief so Macen elaborated, "When Section 31 provokes a retaliatory strike from the Enforcers then the Typhon Pact will offer assistance. In the midst of the Pact overrunning the various borders, Andoria will launch an offensive into Sectors 005 and 007. Once your forces have done so, there is no going back from what will transpire from that point on."

Arad gathered his wits, "It seems Celeste is marrying her deductive equal."

"Actually, she deductive. I'm inductive," Macen corrected him, "She puts the details into a big picture and I see the big picture and pick apart the details. It's why we make a good team."

"I believe you do," Arad murmured and then he galvanized himself into action, "My fellow officers have formed a cadre of those loyal to the Empire but not necessarily to the emperor. We aren't prepared for a war."

"And if you were" Macen mused.

"We still shouldn't bite the hands of those that were once friends," Arad declared.

"Well said," Macen agreed, "What do you propose to do about it?"

"I have already told you I wish to help you stop this lunacy from happening," Arad declared, "Shan has far reaching plan within the folds of the Typhon Pact. He envisions a Pact dominated by our Empire."

"I think Empress Donatra and the Romulan Star Empire would have something to say about that," Delain predicted.

"Measures have been taken to insure Andoria's prominence and the current Empress' demise," Arad revealed.

"How do you know this?" Macen asked in a still voice.

"One of our like minded brothers is an Imperial Guard," Arad divulged, "He sat in while Shan spoke to a Vulcan from Section 31. She is dispatching an agent to kill Donatra."

"When?" Macen inquired sharply.

"I am uncertain," Arad admitted dismally.

"I need access, Arad. You know I can find out," Rockford insisted.

"I cannot return to the Ministry. They would suspect something," Arad countered.

"Do you still have access from your flat?" Rockford probed.

"Yes," Arad looked pained.

"Then we're going to your home," Macen decided.

"If we must," Arad sighed, still having no real grasp on what this decision would cost him.

The team gathered in Arad's now rather crowded flat. P'ris volunteered to take Daggit and McMasters outside to distract the inevitable arrival of the security forces. P'ris and McMasters set up in the building's lobby. Meanwhile, Daggit mounted the rooftop of the building across the street. He had a high power phaser rifle beamed to his location and took up position.

Macen received P'ris' call and learned that McMasters had disabled the building's security systems. He'd rewired them to target anyone bearing a security forces badge or weapon. Macen wished them well and told her not to overly risk anyone's life. P'ris merely laughed.

Arad showed Rockford to a terminal. Beside it sat a second one slaved to the first. Delain took a seat at it and gaining access from Arad into the Security Net, the pair began their searches.

Macen pulled Arad aside, "Are you prepared for the fallout from this?"

"I know I shall probably have to resign my office," Arad admitted.

"If you don't want to be executed, you'll have to leave the planet when we transport out of here. Your Emperor will consider this to be high treason," Macen warned.

"I don't know if I can abandon my home," Arad shared.

"Your former compatriots are probably already on their way now," Macen advised, "So you have a few minutes to consider your options. I suggest you don't waste them."

Arad stared at him in disbelief for a moment before Rockford called out, "Military Security just came crashing down. We'll be locked out in thirty second or less."

Macen stepped over and recited a pass code to implement. Rockford did so and all of the lockouts evaporated, "How the...?"

"Thank Admiral Akaar," Macen suggested, "He's the one that had Starfleet Intelligence investigate whether or not the Andorian military rewrote all of the security protocols or just implemented patches to customize them. SI found that Starfleet's overrides still worked and I was given a code that will open most doors."

"And you didn't bother to share," Rockford mused, "Have anything else you've been holding out on, you sneaky bastard?"

"Well, when we have a free moment you could always try and interrogate me to find out," Macen chuckled, "Although, others have found out I'm a tough nut to crack."

"I wasn't thinking of cracking anything," Rockford admitted, "More along the lines of sucking on something."

Arad chortled and Delain was wearing a wry grin. Rockford looked slightly abashed, "Sorry. Forgot we had an audience."

"I noticed," Macen drolly replied.

"Watch it, buster. Or I'm not sucking on anything," Rockford chastised him.

"Duly noted," Macen acknowledged, "But I think Ziva is gaining ground on you."

Rockford scowled. Her reputation was now at stake. Delain was startled as Rockford began flying through databases. Suddenly Rockford halted on a set database.

"Aha!" she exclaimed victoriously, "This should be it."

Rockford turned her head to directly address Delain, "Ziva, you take file trees seven through twelve and I'll take the first six. Copy anything pertinent to your isolinear rod."

A flashing blue light above the data terminals caught their attention. Arad grimaced, "The security forces have arrived."

"Trust me, they're about to meet heavy resistance," Macen assured him.

"In that case, the military won't be far behind," Arad warned him.

"And we'll withdraw at that point," Macen informed Arad, "We aren't here to fight. Once we have the files we came for we'll be gone. What about you?"

Arad sighed, "It seems I have little choice now."

"You still have choices," Macen countered, "It's just that none of them are good ones. It's come down to the lesser of evils."

"Wonderful," Arad groused.

"Pull back!" P'ris snapped at McMasters.

"I got this!" McMasters countered, "Rab's got most of them pinned down."

"But a good third of those have access to this lobby," P'ris reminded him, "Our position is highly precarious. It is time to withdraw to better ground and let the automatic defenses distract our foes while you endeavor to set up a defense grid in the hallway leading to Inspector Arad's domicile."

"Damn woman!" McMasters retorted, "Loosen up. Try a contraction or two. You sound stiffer than..."

"Your woman's penis?" P'ris mirthfully asked.

"Yeah," McMasters ruefully allowed, "That."

As they headed for the turbolift bank P'ris observed something, "You do not seem pleased by that analogy."

"Shannon's serious about undergoing SRS now," McMaster's shared.

"And you are less than supportive," P'ris surmised.

"Well, it's just that she's had a dick since I met her. Why does she need a vagina all of a sudden?" McMasters wondered as the turbolift rose.

"Perhaps it is to reassure you after what recently happened with Radil," P'ris suggested.

"Maybe," McMasters allowed.

"In any case, if you untruly care for her you will support her in the decision. After all, do you love Shannon Forger or just her penis?" P'ris wanted to know.

"Damn, you're turning into Macen," McMasters replied.

"I am uncertain as how to take that remark," P'ris confessed.

"It wasn't an insult," McMasters grinned.

"Very well then," P'ris accepted the compliment at last, "Now, can you rig this hallway with defenses?"

"The built in anti-intrusion devices will be active. I can add a few stun bombs along the way," McMasters explained.

"Excellent, only hurry. I fear our foes are on our heels even as we speak," P'ris commented. She went down the hall to join Macen's team.

"Lady needs to loosen up," McMasters murmured under his breath as he got to work.

 

Chapter Fourteen

Daggit kept most of the Andorian security officers at bay for several minutes. And then a trio got passed him and entered the building he was crouched upon. They would, of course, try and approach his rear. But he had a surprise in store for them.

The ear piece he wore chimed and Daggit triggered the remote detonator he had lying beside him. Small charges blew the magnetic drive that suspended the lift. Its safety clamps would engage and lock the lift in place. Hopefully between floors.

Daggit knew that one or more officers would now ascend by means of the stairwells. He continued firing at the crowd below until his ear piece sounded a different tone. The first Andorian out of the door found himself a victim of a remotely detonated stun grenade.

The second fearlessly leapt through the open portal and ran towards Daggit. Daggit rolled to his right. As he did so, a particle beam struck where he'd just been. Daggit swung his rifle up and over and targeted the Andorian on the fly. His aim was flawless.

Daggit resumed his efforts towards the group milling about below. During the ever so brief respite, security officers had stormed the lobby of the neighboring building. Others were also unaccounted for and were likely headed his way. He thought it best to prepare for them.

"Celeste, we're running out of time," Macen cajoled her.

P'ris and McMasters had jimmied the door open and were in a high-low position firing shots down the hallway. Rockford blew an errant strand of hair out of her face, "Nagging won't help."

"I found something!" Delain excitedly declared.

"Flag the directory tree," Rockford instructed.

The two women inserted their isolinear rods seconds apart. Rockford grinned, "You found the mother lode, Ziva."

"So we've got it?" Macen asked.

"What's this 'we'?" Rockford teased, "I've got it and if you want to see it you're gonna have to rock my world."

"You know, I could make you walk home," Macen retorted, "I'm sure the Andorian security officers would just love to speak with you."

Rockford sighed, "Where's the love gone?"

"Wait until later," Macen suggested, "I have a special bonus in mind for you."

Rockford grinned from ear to ear. Macen gave her a wry look, "I haven't mentioned what the bonus is."

"I know," Rockford gloated, "But my imagination is running wild."

"It'll have to wait though," Macen let her down easy.

"I've got time," Rockford said as she pulled the isolinear rod free, "Of course, I'm tacking on interest with each passing second. Soon, you'll be relegated to being my love slave again."

"There are worse fates," Macen rejoined. He turned towards P'ris, "Are you two ready to go?"

"Order the transport already!" P'ris snapped.

So Macen did.

Daggit was on one knee and shooting at two separate targets. His rifle was in his right hand and his pistol was in the left. He was laying down suppressive fire on the stairwell door and the lift door. The security forces had managed to climb above the lift and reached the doors. They hadn't made it out of the tunnel but it was just a matter of time.

Daggit felt the annular confinement beam of the transporter grab him and he almost smiled. He found himself kneeling on the Obsidian's transporter pads. McMasters was the only SID team member present.

"Where did everyone go?" Daggit asked Telrik and McMasters.

"Macen wanted me to tell you Jaycee can take Tactical from here," McMasters shared, "He doesn't expect a fire fight as much as a screening element jamming our communications."

"And everyone else went where?" Daggit wondered.

"Macen, Celeste, and the Cardie went to his Ready Room to report to Starfleet," McMasters explained, "P'ris is in Sickbay getting a couple of phaser burns treated by Tessa. We picked up a stray along the way."

"Arad?" Daggit wondered.

"Yeah, some yeoman I've never had a chance to meet before picked him up and carted him away to a spare set of quarters," McMasters shared.

Something registered in Daggit's mind, "Something I should know about the yeoman?"

McMasters shrugged, "Her name's Dakota Bedford. I never laid eyes on her before. I think I'll have to get to know her though."

McMasters exited the transporter room at that point. Daggit smelled a foul wind in the air.

"Transmission is off," Zimbalist reported, "And with no time to spare. We have to Andorian registered Soyuz-class cruisers in bound."

"Wyn, plot a course for Sector 008. Specifically head for the Ophuichus star system," Macen ordered, "Proceed at maximum warp."

"Not a problem," Wyn gleefully boasted.

"Shannon, the bridge is yours. While we're at Warp 8.3 those cruisers can't overtake us. But they'll come in hot and heavy after the follow across the border and we slow down," Macen informed her.

"So why are we slowing then?" Forger asked.

"We'll have to eventually anyway. We might as well pick a spot where we can get some help," Macen replied.

"We have help coming?" Forger was surprised. Sector 008 was pretty barren around the border with Sector 006.

"So a little bird named Alynna Nechayev informed me. And her word is usually good," Macen quipped.

"And if it isn't this time 'round?" Forger wondered.

"Then we'll be outnumbered," Macen ruefully admitted.

Rockford and Macen entered the Galley. It was the modern equivalent of their former Team Room. A chef hadn't been hired yet but several cooks were aboard. Macen and Rockford took a seat with Delain and P'ris.

"You two look positively miserable," Rockford realized.

"Most aboard this vessel see me as an enemy," P'ris ruefully admitted.

"Same here even though the Union is an ally of the Federation," Delain sighed.

"This is ignorance at its best," Macen fumed.

"Don't blow a blood vessel, Brin;" Rockford advised, "Having everyone see the captain eating with the outcasts is going to change minds. Not all at one but even slowly is better than not at all."

"So what happens next?" Delain wondered.

"Now we head into Sector 008 and pick up some help," Macen told her.

"Is there help to be had?" P'ris inquired.

"So I've been told," Macen assured her.

"Mind if I sit with you?" Tessa asked after abruptly appearing next to the table.

"Have seat, kiddo," Rockford pushed a chair out for Tessa to occupy, "Where's Galen 3?"

Tessa wore a wry expression, "My genius boyfriend has corralled our Andorian guest and is single handedly trying to solve the reproductive issues that have crept up in the genome. Before Rhiann left he was taking samples from her every day. She was getting ready to bop him on the nose."

"So where are Daggit and our Chief Engineer?" P'ris wondered.

"Parva is still on duty so Rab is probably treating her to lunch in Engineering," Macen conjectured.

"And McMasters?" Delain shuddered.

"What's wrong, Ziva?" Rockford insisted on knowing.

"McMasters fought my people. He has a long memory and no forgiveness. He doesn't want to realize that not all of us were soldiers," Delain said.

"Still, it's odd that he's not here," Macen realized, "Shannon is on the bridge so it's not like he has anyone else distracting him right now."

"I wonder if that's true," Rockford mused.

McMasters' sweaty body collapsed in between Bedford's raised legs and she laughed in an uproar, "You're getting old, Eric!"

"Hey, I just came back from a very strenuous mission," McMasters protested.

"You were in a twelve hour holding action against the Cardies on Valon II and we still managed to make love for three hours afterwards," Bedford giggled, "Look at all your gray hair, Grandpa."

"And when did you decide to go blonde?" McMasters retorted, "When you had to hide the gray?"

She slapped him, "Mind your manners."

"I see you still like it rough," McMasters grinned.

"Hey, I'm not a total sub like your bitch girlfriend. I know how to top a man," Bedford boasted.

"Honey, I'm a man that's been dying to play sub for a while," McMasters chuckled.

"Then bend over and grab your ankles," Bedford commanded, "'Cause I'm about to ride you hard."

Four hours later, the Obsidian crossed over into Federation space. Grace had relieved Wyn and dropped the ship out of warp. The two Andorian ship crossed as well and came in on top of the Outbound Ventures ship and began to fire as soon as they closed to optimum range.

"Well, this was well thought out," Daggit quipped.

"After all these years, now you get humorous?" Macen had to ask.

"Commander, a Federation starship has just dropped out warp within weapons range," P'ris reported, "It is a Galaxy-class vessel identified as the USS Trident."

"Thank you, Kat;" Macen mused.

The Trident beat back the overmatched Soyuz-class cruisers. Captain Katarina Mueller hailed Macen, "It seems we meet again, Captain. It's only been ten years. I would have thought you could have at least sent a post card."

Her icy delivery silenced everyone on the Obsidian's bridge. All except Macen, who grinned; "Still as effervescent as ever, Kat."

"Nechayev told me you had information for me," Mueller, as was her custom, got straight to business.

"I need to personally brief you," Macen informed her.

"I'll let you aboard. None of your crew is invited," Mueller dictated her terms.

Macen knew she held the advantage. He needed her help, "Very well. I'll be aboard in five minutes."

Mueller smiled coldly, "Rinky dink tub. It takes more than five minutes for me to even reach a transporter room."

"Yes, yours is bigger," Macen conceded, "Can we find a new pond?"

"I'm just saying," Mueller gloated.

Macen signaled P'ris to cut the transmission. She eyed him carefully, "Do you consider this woman a friend?"

"More like a business partner," Macen allowed.

"No wonder you allowed me aboard," P'ris commented.

"Isn't it just?" Macen quipped before entering the turbolift.

"Hell, it actually is good to see you again," Mueller smiled slightly as Macen grasped both of her hands.

"I see that scar is still there," Macen noted.

Mueller fingered the lateral scar tracing her left cheek. She'd received it fencing with the Heidelberg masters, "And you still have a flip tongue."

"So, how have you been taking Mac's marriage to Shelby?" Macen referred to Mackenzie Calhoun. Mueller and Calhoun had been lovers between Calhoun's relationships with Shelby. Not counting a brief affair while Calhoun was frustrated with romancing Shelby.

"Not as hard as Mac has coping with Elizabeth," Mueller's smile was predatory, "Having one's wife as your CO can be a little...demanding."

"I bet," Macen agreed.

"So how are you taking the fact that Mac is now Jellico's favorite son while you're the unwanted bastard stepchild?" Mueller verbally fenced as well as she physically did.

"I'm a civilian now," Macen rejoined, "Mac can blow anyone he wants to."

"I see your new fling hasn't improved your common courtesy skills, such as they were. I understand she's detective. A top flight one at that. What could she possibly see in you?" Mueller danced around the issue on her mind.

"What you're really asking is what happened to T'Kir?" Macen prodded her.

"Well, first I heard she was dead. And then she magically came back to life. And now Nechayev is warning everyone that ever knew her that she's gone rogue. I have to ask myself what part do you play in that." Mueller confessed.

"She wants me dead. Plain and simple. She thinks Section 31 will give an opportunity and a hope of making that happen," Macen shared.

"Will it?" Mueller inquired.

"The moment I see her coming she'll return to the grave," Macen promised.

"Good," now Mueller was satisfied, "You've been notoriously soft before. Rumor has it you have a pet Romulan aboard your ship."

"She's not a pet," Macen clarified.

"And a Cardassian," Mueller noted Macen's surprise, "Eyes and ears did notice her coming aboard your ship at Deep Space Nine."

"Ziva is hardly a pet as well," Macen informed Mueller, "And the Cardassians are officially allies now."

"And unofficially they're treacherous sonuvabitches that can't be trusted," Mueller retorted.

"The Powers That Be disagree," Macen reminded her.

"The Powers can go screw themselves," Mueller shot back.

"Are we done?" Macen wondered, "Or can we get to the point?"

"What is the point?" Mueller's words dripped with disdain.

"This," Macen handed her an isolinear rod, "The raw intel is there as well as summaries and analysis by my team."

"All right," Mueller went behind her desk and sat down, "Take a seat."

Macen did so as Mueller got to work. Fifteen minutes later she swore, "Is this real?"

"As real as it gets," Macen advised her, "We pulled it from the Andorian military mainframe. The Andorian Empire is going to formally join the Typhon Pact in twenty-four hours. Several days afterwards, Empress Donatra is going to be assassinated by a Section 31 agent planted within the throne room by Sela. The assassin will in turn kill Sela and pave the way for a restored Praetorship. The Praetor has already been selected."

"Does the candidate know that?" Mueller wanted to know.

"No," Macen replied, "The selected Praetor will then lead the Typhon Pact, by virtue of being the largest single power, into gentler relations with the Federation. Andoria will be stymied because they were assured that they would become the preeminent power within the Pact through Section 31's machinations."

"Hell, even the Tholians and the Tzenkethi have more territory and assets than the Andorians," Mueller observed, "Who got their antenna wrapped around this idiotic grandiosity?"

"A Vulcan named L'Haan," Macen explained.

"I hate her already," Mueller decided, "We can be underway in fifteen minutes. I assume your team will ride with us?"

"So, now they can come aboard?" Macen teased.

"Don't screw with me," Mueller warned, "Just get your damn team aboard. And keep the Romulan away from secure areas."

"Yes, mother," Macen headed for the exit, "I'll inform Admirals Nechayev and Forger as to what we're doing."

"I'll be on the horn with Admiral Akaar," Mueller told him, "And Brin?"

He stopped just before reaching the door, "Yes?"

"It's good to be working with you again. It'll be like old times," Mueller stated.

"I desperately hope not," Macen replied and then exited.

Mueller finally broke into a contented smile.

 

Chapter Fifteen

The Trident forged ahead while the Obsidian struggled to catch up. Cutting across sectors to swing below the Klingon territorial borders, the Trident arrived at Cestus III, the planned point of incursion into the Gorn Hegemony. From the Hegemony, the Section 31 agent would skirt the backside of the Klingon borders to reach the Holy Order of the Kinshaya's territory. The Kinshaya would insert her into the Star Empire where Proconsul Sela's forces would move her to the Imperial Center.

Of course, the "her" sent by Section 31 was none other than Sarina Douglas. Macen thought it fitting that his team should have another crack at her. Oddly, Grace had insisted that Macen couldn't apprehend Douglas without her being present. Macen had politely told her to shut up and fly the Obsidian. Fire had burned behind Grace's eyes but she'd wisely backed down.

Mueller received word from Calhoun while her starship was en route. Calhoun had led Prine and a force of border patrol ships in blocking the Andorians at Sector 005 so Vulcan and its colonies were secure. Limerick and Hev had done the same at Sector 007, thus safeguarding Tellar and its territories.

Further word was Captain Sisko and Captain Dax and their force had routed the Section 31 vessels at the Neutral Zone between Enforcer Territory and the Federation. Ro and the Seventh Fleet were moving to the Zone's border to demonstrate to the Enforcers that their end of things was secured once again. All of the Section 31 vessels had self destructed and all hands had been lost. So clues as to where Section 31's hidden shipyard was hadn't been obtained.

As the Trident slipped into orbit over Cestus III, Mueller finally contacted Admiral Shelby. Shelby was a littler perturbed by Mueller's protracted silence, "Why Kat, so good to hear from you. How are you doing? And just where the hell are you?"

Shelby's voice rose at the end and Mueller gave her a thin smile. She was hardly intimidated by the higher ranked officer, "I'm still needed in Federation space. Admiral Akaar's office should have forwarded my orders to you by now."

"They haven't," Shelby grated, "And the damn Thallonians are getting uppity."

"Not bowing before the Federation's magnificence, are they?" Mueller quipped.

"You're sounding just like Mac," Shelby groaned.

"Must be why you secretly fantasize about me," Mueller retorted.

"Dammit Kat! With you and Mac gone Starfleet has no assets assigned to this region!" Shelby snapped back.

"What about the Equinox-A?" Mueller wondered, "They're in Sector 221-G."

"They're a Nova-class surveyor. They're hardly a trouble shooter," Shelby complained.

"You might be surprised. Despite Captain Ransom and crew's record, the original Equinox took a helluva beating in the Delta Quadrant and still kept giving," Mueller reminded Shelby, "And I've been reunited with an acquaintance that swears by them."

"A scientist, no doubt?" Shelby sighed.

"A SID agent," Mueller corrected her CO, "The agent that pretty much created the SID."

"Oh," Shelby was privy to even more rumors regarding the SID than Mueller was. The admiral was also privy to quite a few facts. Of course, the fact merely reinforced the myths and raised far more questions than they answered.

"I thought Soletta and the Shadow were still in the sector," Mueller commented.

Shelby looked pained, "She's docked at the station now."

"So get her to bust some heads," Mueller cheerfully suggested.

"Soletta resigned from Starfleet. She effectively stopped being a viable Starfleet asset at that point," Shelby said stiffly.

"Soletta didn't resign. She was ejected from Starfleet when it became known she was half-Romulan. A fact she didn't know herself until she'd served in Starfleet for over a decade," Mueller pointed out.

"And she should have reported it herself when she discovered that 'little' fact," Shelby said officiously, "Where did she go when Starfleet ousted her? To the Romulan Star Empire!"

"She was practically shoved into their arms. And she used her newfound fame to assemble a crew...a crew sympathetic with Starfleet. They traveled to Sector 221-G to be the Star Empire's presence in the area. And Soletta and her crew promptly went independent. They've been covert operatives for hire. Their biggest client is the Thallonian Protectorate itself. So just why do you have your knickers in a knot?" Mueller wanted to know.

"She can't be trusted!" Shelby hissed.

"Then neither can I because I would have done the same damn thing," Mueller admitted.

"Do I have to report you to Internal Affairs now?" Shelby asked sharply.

"This conversation is over," Mueller terminated the connection. Within seconds her OPS officer reported the admiral was back on the line.

"Respectfully tell the admiral to go screw herself," Mueller ordered. Sensing hesitation, Mueller relented; "Belay that order. Just refuse calls from Beta Station."

"Yes, Captain," the OPS officer sounded very relieved.

Mueller decided a call to Nechayev was warranted. She wanted to assemble a few facts to throw in Shelby's face in case the bitch actually launched an investigation. At one time Mueller wouldn't have thought the admiral capable of such pettiness but after hearing her views on Soletta who knew anymore?

The SID team beamed to the surface of Cestus III before the Trident broke orbit. Mueller headed for the system's outer planets where her crew could monitor traffic in, out, and through the solar system. Ships approaching Cestus III would receive the greatest scrutiny. After all, the Typhon Pact was transferring Douglas off of the planet somehow.

The SID arrived at the very heart of the planetary police network. The transporter pads were necessarily poised before a defense grid. Alarms sounded when it detected the team's weapons. A rather severe looking woman ordered the alarms to be cut off.

"Process their gear into the network. They're already in the Starfleet grid. We should have uploaded their profiles hours ago," she commanded, "Get to it or heads will roll."

The woman approached the group, "I'm Police Commissioner Jayne Brevitt. The Governor sends her assurances that my people will fully cooperate."

"Hers but not yours?" Macen asked.

"I take it you're Macen?" Brevitt asked.

Macen nodded and Brevitt's mien lightened slightly, "The Borg cut a swath across our world. Over fifty million citizens were killed. Relief efforts have been notable but an increasingly large black market has swooped in to meet needs the official sources can't touch."

"Can't or won't?" Macen sought clarification. He raised his hands at Brevitt's stern glare, "It has to be asked."

"Mainly can't" Brevitt shared, "But there is some illicit trade going on. Mostly narcotics."

"So we're essentially seen as an unwanted nuisance," Macen surmised.

"Let's say your crisis really isn't my problem. But our Planetary Governor deemed it otherwise so we're here to help. Even if it is begrudgingly," Brevitt assured him.

"Did you circulate the file we sent?" Macen wanted to know.

Brevitt grimaced, "The Customs Office got wind of the file ten minutes after your Sarina Douglas had passed through. Unfortunately a major public transporter station sits outside the office. She was long gone by the time my police forces were alerted."

"And you're trolling through the transporter logs?" Macen inquired.

Brevitt looked at him as though he'd just grown a second, and then a third, head; "Maybe I haven't explained to you about our manpower shortage. I have a team reviewing the logs but we have five billion surviving citizens and most use the transport hub on a daily basis. It's going to take time."

"Which is precisely what we don't have a lot of," Macen informed her, "Mind if my team coordinates the search?"

"Knock yourself out," Brevitt flippantly remarked.

It turned out there were six officers pouring over the records. Rockford took charge over two of them. Delain did the same for another two. P'ris picked up the stragglers. Macen used his padd to upload a search program.

"All right folks, switch over to the newly uploaded search engine. My people will instruct you with the search parameters. You have six major hubs so each of you will tackle a hub. My team will assist you and advise when needed."

Within five minutes three hubs reported traffic. Macen ordered them to collate the data according to time stamps. They now had a trail to follow.

"Sir! We have another transport!" a police officer reported, "She's arrived at the Bates Motel transport pads."

"She's in Deereburgh," Brevitt realized. Seeing Macen draw a blank, "It's an industrial town. They service industrial replicators and fabricate large orders of farming equipment for a dozen sectors around not including their Klingon customers."

"Can we get real time surveillance?" Macen asked.

"I'll alert the local units," Brevitt promised.

"I also need that transporter network hub shut down," Macen instructed.

"That'll inconvenience thousands of people at this time of day," Brevitt argued.

"Let me tell you what I can," Macen began, "Lt. Commander Sarina Douglas just murdered the Andorian Emperor. Now she's on her way to assassinate the Romulan Empress. The idea was to install someone who would be amenable towards the Federation after her superiors started a war with a third party."

Macen relentlessly pressed on, "That action has failed. This leaves Commander Douglas in the unenviable position of assassinating Empress Donatra as agreed to with Sela, killing Proconsul Sela as directed by the Romulan Senate, and then eliminating the Senate's nominee for Praetor. This last movement will be an improvisation to draw the Typhon Pact out so that the Khitomer Accords alliance can decisively deal with them once and for all sooner rather than later."

Brevitt looked shell-shocked, "But that's..."

"Monstrous?" Macen queried her. She numbly nodded, "Just another day to these people. Now can you shut down that hub as soon as my people clear the pads?"

"Of course," Brevitt promised him, "I'll get the ball rolling."

"Now, we just need to get there before it's too late," Macen commented.

"Follow me," Brevitt urged.

The team approached the Bates Hotel. Rockford wondered why Macen was ruefully pondering the establishment's name. He explained its history in Earth's cinema. Rockford ruefully found it an apropos hidey-hole for their target.

P'ris, Daggit, and McMasters wet to the three exterior exits while the rest of the team approached the lobby staff. The staff nervously explained that the police had sent them a copy of Douglas' wanted poster. They showed them that the hallway video recorders had shown Douglas enter her room and she hadn't emerged yet. Which made sense if Douglas was waiting to step out as a Romulan.

The team was given biometric access to Room 207. They proceeded to the doorway and discovered that the room was shielded. Rockford shoved her tricorder into her belt.

"Piece of junk is useless," she muttered.

"We should be using a Cardassian model rather than a Bajoran one," Delain opined.

"Spare me," Macen groaned.

"Hey!" Rockford snapped, "The room is shielded. No one's tricorder is getting through. Got it?"

"Well, at least she can't scan us either," Delain sought the silver lining, "But she can still see us."

Delain shot the room's video recorder, "Now she can't."

Macen and Rockford shared a grin. Video recorders had long ago replaced peep holes in doors. Now when Douglas tried to see outside her door all she would get is static.

Macen drew his phaser pistol and gripped it with both hands. He stepped in front of the door. Delain did the same and stood behind him. Off to the side, Rockford held her phaser singlehandedly and waved the other hand in front of the room's entry sensor. The door slid open.

Macen went in first. Sweeping his eyes and phaser together he checked the room and its corners. When he turned to his right, Douglas' fist smashed into his jaw. He was thrown across the room into the nearby wall.

Delain tossed a smoke bomb into the room before entering. As her vision was obscured, like everyone else's, she didn't expect the sidekick that hurled her back into the hallway. Bouncing off the opposing doorway, Delain sagged into the floor still reeling from the blows.

Rockford rushed into the room. Delivering a round kick to Douglas' head, she knocked the Section 31 agent off of her feet and over her couch. As Douglas rose, Rockford pulled her phaser's trigger. Nothing happened.

Rockford snarled a curse as she realized the hotel's security dampers had deactivated the team's weapons. As best as Rockford could manage to peer through the smoke, Douglas was wearing a cocky smile as she pulled her own diminutive phaser free from her belt. Douglas took aim but found her pistol wouldn't function as well. Her face fell as she realized Rockford intended to fight her hand to hand.

Rockford snapped a sidekick into Douglas' ribs. Douglas rolled with the blow but it still took her aback. Rockford was easily as strong as Douglas herself. The Section 31 agent, and former Starfleet Security officer, threw a left jab which Rockford easily deflected. Douglas snapped off a right cross that Rockford used to twist Douglas' arm behind her back and throw her into the wall.

Douglas came to the grim realization that Rockford's decades of experience granted her a considerable advantage. However, Douglas still had a few tricks left. She electrified her clothing and Rockford yelped as she jumped back.

Douglas spun to face her opponent, drawing out a carbon fiber knife as she did so. Expertly thrusting and slashing at Rockford, she forced the detective out of the way so Douglas could make a break for it. Shoulder checking Delain into the wall, she broke free and headed downstairs.

"Are you all right?" Rockford inquired as she helped Delain to her feet.

"Nothing broken but my pride," Delain ruefully admitted "How's the captain?"

"Probably warning the others that our quarry is headed their way," Rockford ventured a guess.

"You haven't checked on him?" Delain was mildly surprised.

"Brin is a big boy," Rockford explained, "He's fought me to a standstill so I'm betting he's okay."

Macen emerged from the room, "I've warned the others."

Rockford gave Delain a triumphant smile. Macen could guess why, "You two search the room. We need evidence that can lead us to Section 31."

"That's not going to happen," Rockford flippantly dismissed the idea.

"Celeste, she wasn't ready for trouble so she may have gotten sloppy," Macen cajoled her.

Rockford held up both of her hands, "Okay, we'll do it. But only because you asked nicely."

"No, I didn't," Macen replied.

"That's my point," Rockford asserted.

"Would you kindly search the room?" Macen tried again.

"I'd love too!" Rockford gushed, "C'mon Ziva. Let's ransack the place."

"Won't the proprietors object?" Delain wondered.

"Nah. Starfleet is footing the bill. So who are they gonna complain to?" Rockford wondered.

"And Starfleet objected to the Central Command's methods and mentality," Delain huffed.

"Takes one to know one," Rockford teased.

It was only then that they realized Macen was already gone.

Douglas reached the street only to find Daggit blocking her path. Her hand wielding her phaser started to rise and Daggit shot it. She cried out as the red hot casing that had been her phaser flew from her hand from her fling it and its smoldering remains lay on the ground. It was at that point Douglas fully realized Daggit could, and would, easily kill her.

She subsided and he called in his teammates. P'ris and McMasters quickly responded. Macen was a little slower to arrive. Douglas was horribly embarrassed to have been taken by surprise by mundanes.

Macen called in police assistance and Douglas rolled her eyes, "There's no way you can actually take me prisoner."

"I wouldn't proclaim that too loudly," Macen advised, "Rab already wants to execute you."

"But you won't let him," Douglas smugly replied.

"I have before," Macen cautioned her.

The police transferred Douglas to their central holding cells. The SID waited for the Obsidian to arrive to transport her into Starfleet's custody. Meanwhile, Rockford and Delain joined the others. They shared the results of their search.

"The only thing that might be incriminating is this isolinear rod," Rockford handed it over; "Whatever is on it is encrypted on a level I've never encountered before. Nothing we had available could read what's on it."

Macen grimaced, "It didn't take T'Kir long to get busy."

"Great," Rockford groaned, "Your formerly dead, cyber genius, ex-wife is outfitting the enemy with security we can't break. Got any other good news?"

"Actually, it's your news. I just interpreted it," Macen gibed.

"Don't make me hate you," Rockford warned, "This really isn't the time."

"Want to visit our prisoner?" Macen wondered.

"Can I break her face?" Rockford inquired.

"Not yet," Macen replied, "To many witnesses. Maybe after we get her aboard the Obsidian."

"Oh goody. Something to look forward to then," Rockford conceded.

Daggit stood vigil over Douglas. Commissioner Brevitt personally brought Macen and Rockford to Douglas' cell. Douglas scoffed when she saw Brevitt.

"You don't honestly think this can is going to hold me, do you?" Douglas taunted them.

"Break out and see what happens," Daggit encouraged her.

"I think I might," Douglas countered.

"This cell would easily hold our Angosian friends here or a Gorn," Brevitt coldly proclaimed, "So tread lightly."

Douglas smirked, "Funny you should mention the Gorn."

 

Chapter Sixteen

"Captain, I have six Gorn heavy cruisers transiting across the star system," Lt. Romeo Takahashi reported from OPS.

"So the games begin," Mueller mused.

"Ensign Suresh, plot an intercept course," Commander Paullina Simons ordered. The XO then added, "Keep us between the Gorn and Cestus III at all times."

"That may not be possible, Commander;" Suresh commented.

"Then I suggest you disembark from this starship and walk home to the Rigel system, mister," Simons said tersely.

"Yes, ma'am," Suresh sighed as he implemented the new course vector.

As requested, the Trident boldly inserted herself between the encroaching Gorn and the Federation colony.

"They're hailing," Takahashi spoke up.

"Of course they are," Mueller said lightly, "Put them on screen."

One of the few remaining warrior caste Gorn appeared. He began hissing and spitting and the universal translator caught up with him a moment later, "What right have you to interfere with a diplomatic mission?"

"Since when does it take six warships to deliver one diplomat?" Mueller queried him, "I'll tell you what, produce even one single member of the political caste acting as a diplomat and I'll let you pass unmolested."

"We are here as an honor guard for one of our Typhon Pact sisters," the Gorn commander replied, "She is a Romulan and is on Cestus III awaiting us."

"I could call ahead and see if she's ready and waiting," Mueller offered.

"Unnecessary," the Gorn snapped, "Now let us pass."

"Isn't going to happen," Mueller promised, "Your Section 31 mole posing as a Romulan has been arrested. She's not going anywhere but into custody to await a trial."

"She will be leaving with us, one way or another," the Gorn commander promised, "I suggest you stand down while you can."

"Their weapons just came on line," Lt. Commander Arax Na Eth suddenly reported from Tactical.

"Light up everything we've got," Mueller ordered, "Let's see if we can draw them out into talking."

"And if we can't?" Simons mused.

"Then the Gorn better pray the Metrons find a reason to intervene again because I won't let a single ship reenter their territory," Mueller said firmly.

Simons knew her CO meant every word.

Macen's comm badge chirped and he was curious as to who on Cestus III had his signal trace. Starfleet had it on record but the local Starfleet installations barely knew he was on the planet. He tapped the brass shield.

"Macen here," he acknowledged.

"Captain, this Forger. We've assumed orbit over Cestus III and are standing by to receive you," she reported.

"Advise ship's security we have a prisoner transferring aboard," Macen informed Forger.

"Roger that," Forger paused while she alerted Miller as to the situation and Miller dispatched a detail to the transporter room, "We're prepared. Did you happen to know that there's a Gorn squadron in system?"

"No, but I bet they want to talk to us," Macen remarked.

Forger sighed, "I just knew you were going to say that."

"Cheer up, Shannon;" Macen cajoled her, "After all, who wants to live forever?"

"I'd at least like to try it out before I give up on it," Forger petulantly retorted.

"Just have Telrik standing by for our signal," Macen instructed, "Out."

Macen ordered the Obsidian to break orbit and head out to the Trident's position. He could see Grace squirm and wondered just what was running through her head. He didn't have time to worry about it right now though.

Miller had taken charge of Douglas supported by Rockford, Delain, and four other security officers. Daggit now manned Tactical. P'ris as at OPS and McMasters had scurried off to parts unknown. Parva hadn't lodged a complaint so he obviously hadn't gone to Engineering...which worried Macen.

"Shannon, if you'd like to step away, now would be a good time;" Macen informed her.

"Are you sure?" Forger asked with a hint of eagerness in her voice.

"For some odd reason I think you should check on Eric," Macen counseled her.

Forger frowned, "Um...okay."

"I'll give you a call if you're needed," Macen promised.

"I'll see you later then," Forger said and then she hurried to the turbolift.

"Hannah, increase speed to maximum impulse," Macen ordered.

"Aye," Grace replied, all coolness and professionalism again.

Forger reached her quarters to find Bedford fulfilling McMasters' wishes in a way she never had. Forger grabbed a paperweight off of her nightstand and threw it at Bedford, "Get out!"

Bedford smirked, "Oh really? Have you noticed that I'm naked?"

"I don't give a shit," Forger declared icily, "Get out before I drag you out by your hair."

Bedford languidly rose from the bed, "I'll see you later, Eric."

"Like hell you will," Forger snapped, "Eric, get the hell out of my quarters."

"Um...naked?" McMasters feebly protested.

"Were you listening while I spoke to your whore?" Forger angrily inquired.

"Uh...yeah," McMasters suddenly realized this wasn't going to go his way.

"Then you can join her and she can screw you to death," Forger said disdainfully, "You seem to like it that way."

"Shannon, we can..." McMasters began.

"So help me god," Forger interrupted him; "if you say we can work it out I will break off your dick and cram it up your own ass."

"But my stuff..." McMasters' protest was weak even in his own ears.

"You can come back and get it later," Forger grated, "Now get the frinx out of my quarters. Both of you!"

Bedford called back to Forger over her shoulder, "If you ever want to get it on in a three-way, call me sometime. Or just a one on one between us girls."

Forger just let the door close without saying a word. Fifteen minutes later, McMasters returned to find every one of his belongings unceremoniously dumped in the corridor. Forger didn't respond to the door chime. He thought it best to leave her alone for a while.

The Obsidian slowed and came within one light minute alongside the Trident. P'ris swiveled her chair to face Macen, "The Gorn commander is hailing."

"Let's talk to the man," Macen said lightly.

The Gorn's face appeared on the main viewer, "Who are you? You are not Starfleet. What business do you have with us?"

"We have Sarina Douglas in custody," Macen opened with.

"Who?" the Gorn played dumb.

"The human who was going to play a Romulan and kill Empress Donatra and Proconsul Sela," Macen decided to simply show the Gorn there were no secrets left.

"Release the female into my custody," the Gorn demanded.

"She'll be dead before I release her to you," Macen promised.

"Or will you be dead before you can issue another order, mammal?" the Gorn posed his own question.

"Commander, four starships are entering this star system. They are two Galaxy-class vessels and two Defiant-class escorts," P'ris informed Macen.

"Commander, the Excalibur, the Hood, the Monitor, and the Merrimack have just entered the system and are in bound for our position. They just routed the Andorian invasions of their neighboring sectors. I'd say they're probably a little cranky about the whole affair right now. Captain Calhoun of the Excalibur is especially known as a warlord strategist having liberated his home planet while still a teenager. Care to try your luck with him now?"

The Gorn consulted with his subordinates. While the Nova-class Obsidian was negligible in their tactical analysis, the three Galaxy-class and two Defiant-class starships weighed the balance of power heavily in Starfleet's direction. And then the Hood, a carrier variant, began rolling fighters. The Gorn capitulated.

As the Gorn cruisers began to withdraw, Calhoun contacted Mueller. His next message was to Macen, "You owe me for this, Brin."

"Technically I owe Admiral Akaar for ordering you to our rescue," Macen grinned.

"When are you going to admit you needed my help this time around?" Calhoun wondered.

"Probably when you break down and realize you needed my help on Valo II," Macen rebutted him.

"I never needed your help on Valo II," Calhoun retorted, "Orta did and I just played along."

"Right," Macen agreed sardonically.

"You can be a stubborn bastard," Calhoun observed.

"Have you ever taken an honest look in a mirror?" Macen quipped, "So what were you talking to Kat about before you called me?"

Calhoun wore a wry expression, "Eppy has throttled a few throats at Starfleet Command and cut Kat and I orders to immediately return to Sector 221-G if not sooner."

"I bet Kat had a few words to say about that," Macen guessed.

"She said Eppy was just worried that I would sleep with her of we didn't come right back," Calhoun wryly admitted.

"There might be some truth in that," Macen ventured.

Calhoun scowled, "Never mind that. You owe me one."

"All right, I give. What will repaying you entail?" Macen asked.

"Just don't be surprised if Admiral Forger sends you into Sector 221-G one of these days," Calhoun warned.

"If it happens, we'll come running," Macen assured him.

"Always a pleasure, Captain;" Calhoun signed off.

As the Excalibur and the Trident moved off and set course for Thallonian Protectorate space, the other Starfleet commanders signaled their regards and began to move off to other assignments. Macen ordered Grace to set course for Starbase G-6.

He retired to his Ready Room to confer with Admiral Forger. After updating her he informed her of his destination. She was surprised he wasn't headed for Earth.

"A lot can happen between here and Earth," Macen commented, "I'm not headed to Starbase G-6 either. I'm going into the Briar Patch and dropping Douglas off with the Ba'ku."

"That's a quarantined area, Brin;" Forger scolded him.

"Like Magna Roma isn't?" Macen retorted.

Forger's cheeks reddened, "So what are you thinking?"

"Section 31 won't be looking for Sarina Douglas on Ba'ku and it'll be the ultimate penal colony for her," Macen suggested.

"I'll alert Alynna," Forger stated.

"No," Macen insisted, "Starfleet Intelligence is riddled with Section 31 sympathizers. This is between you and me."

Forger sighed, "Okay. But how will we explain Douglas' disappearance?"

"List her as KIA," Macen advised, "She died trying to escape. Given my team's reputation, it'll be believed."

"Yes, it will," Forger murmured.

"What was that?" Macen playfully inquired.

"Nothing," Forger replied.

The Obsidian docked at Serenity Station and the entire crew, except Tessa and Galen 3, disembarked. After all the scuttlebutt aboard ship it was no surprise to anyone that Dakota Bedford relocated into McMasters' quarters aboard the station. The same had already occurred aboard the Obsidian so it seemed a foregone conclusion.

Bedford's past as an ex-Maquis fighter and former lover of McMasters also became common knowledge. Afterwards, Bedford put in for a transfer to the ship's security department. But Forger had to approve the lateral transfer. She compromised. Bedford was now part of Jaycee Miller's security detail and was the ship's yeoman. Bedford seethed but she knew her only recourse was to leave the ship and join the station's security detachment.

Riker and Danan hosted Macen and Rockford to a private dinner. Riker shared that he'd replaced Chris and brought on a new Tactical Officer. Macen inquired as to who the replacements were.

"I managed to get one of the original engineers that constructed the station," Riker bragged, "Merik Cardan was one of the foremen during Serenity's construction and now he's its Chief of Operations."

"That's quite a leap for you," Rockford observed, "I was under the impression you didn't favor Cardassians."

"I'm learning," Riker admitted, "And who's better qualified to repair a Cardassian station than a Cardassian engineer?"

"Tom also hired a Zakdorn named Berent Undulation as Tactical Officer," Danan smirked. Rockford snickered as Danan added, "And you should see the way he slinks around."

"Are you prepared for a Zakdorn officer?" Macen inquired.

"He takes some getting used to, I'll admit;" Riker said ruefully.

"How are Kort and Radil doing?" Rockford wondered.

"Things are stormier than ever," Danan shared, "He won't treat her or run routine prenatal scans on her. She has to schedule visits so he can leave the Infirmary while she's there."

"It's not like he was being faithful in their marriage," Rockford pointed out, "And they'd previously agreed to a polyamorous relationship. So he should have expected this."

"Well, he didn't," Riker opined.

"Obviously," Macen said dryly.

"So when are they getting divorced?" Rockford inquired.

"They aren't," Danan said dismally, "Kort doesn't believe in it."

"What about the Bajoran Rite of Separation?" Macen asked, "It's pretty effortless."

"Kort walked off before Radil even finished her part of it," Riker said grimly, "Unless she completes it, and he does his part in front of witnesses, it isn't legally binding."

"They both just need to grow up," Macen commented.

Everyone agreed.

Forger settled Delain into her own office within her agency's hub, "Now, we just need to find you some cases to work on."

"Are there enough to go around?" Delain innocently asked.

Rockford couldn't help but laugh and she watched Delain get a little miffed, "I'm sorry. It isn't you. But Ziva, there are more cases than my agency can handle. I simply don't have enough qualified detective to accept every job we're offered."

"Really?" Delain perked up.

"Yes, and it's only going to get worse. Starfleet is exploring the rest of the Alpha Quadrant again. The Luna-class ships are being led by the USS Titan into the Beta Quadrant. The Voyager fleet is on a three year mission into the Delta Quadrant to track down what happened to the Borg. With the discovery of the quantum slipstream drive, our borders just grew a lot bigger. Fortunately the crystalline minerals needed to facilitate a slipstream drive are almost as rare as latinum so there won't be a lot of them constructed," Rockford explained, "But as the frontier stretches further and further away, our client base grows."

"I've always dreamed of being part of an agency like this," Delain admitted.

"Me too," Rockford confessed.

Macen showed up at his own long neglected office, "Hello Bryce."

Bryce Fanning wore an evil smile, "I've collected your job offers and organized your messages. It should only take you a week to get through it all."

Fanning's expression became absolutely ruthless, "And by the time you're done sorting that out, you'll be another week behind."

"You enjoy this, don't you?" Macen wearily asked.

"You betcha," Fanning enthused, "It's a perk."

"Hold my calls for a month," Macen said as he headed into his private office.

"As if," Fanning retorted.

Macen settled down to find an unmarked message urgently flagged for his attention. There was no sender, no point of origin, and no identity to trace attached to the message. Macen grimly realized it had to be Section 31.

He opened it and L'Haan's cool visage appeared, "I know Sarina Douglas is alive, Commander and I shall find her. And when I am done doing so, I shall spare no effort in assisting T'Kir in eliminating you. Rest easy while you can."

Macen deleted the message and headed out. Fanning yelped at him as he passed by, "Hey! You just got here!"

Macen interrupted Rockford while she aided Delain in her search for an appropriate case to tackle, "I just got a message from L'Haan."

Rockford scowled as she shut the door of her office, "And Miss Pollyanna had what to say?"

Macen described the message. Rockford thought it over, "You think the threat is credible?"

"Very," Macen confirmed it, "The problem is that T'Kir shared a telepathic link with me. She knows how I think to a degree. That could be problematic."

"So how do we respond?" she inquired.

"We go on with our lives," Macen assured her, "And when T'Kir and L'Haan appear on the horizon, we end them."

"I'm copacetic with that," Rockford said easily, "But speaking of going on with our lives, we have a wedding in two weeks. So don't get us entangled in anything long term."

"I have Amanda's assurances she won't call for at least two months," Macen shared.

"You lovely man," Rockford smiled, "Have you confirmed all our reservations?"

"We've been a tad busy," Macen said wryly.

Rockford smirked, "We'll go over it together after hours. Right now, I've got to plug Ziva into the thick of things."

"I'll leave you to it then," Macen said as he rose out of his chair.

"Hold it, buster! Tribute is due," Rockford grinned.

Macen rounded the desk, leaned down, and kissed her. It lingered for several minutes. Then he broke free.

"Bryce is going to kill me if I don't get back," Macen apologized.

"Damn! And you just tuned up my motor," Rockford pouted.

"Catch me in between reservations," Macen offered.

"Hah! The honeymoon is starting early," Rockford cheered.

"Well done, Agent Grace," L'Haan said from the screen.

Grace nodded, "Getting Sarina off of Ba'ku will be simplicity itself."

"You have done well in your present assignment for all these years," L'Haan said appreciatively, "But I think a change of venue is coming."

"You're finally assigning me to the Intrepid," Grace realized.

"Yes, Admiral Johnson is becoming problematic. And your husband has come dangerously close to the truth regarding some of our operatives inside of the Federation Diplomatic Corps. With you aboard, you can influence his thought processes," L'Haan shared.

"Ian will do as Ian does," Grace warned.

"A wife has ways of distracting her husband from certain truths," L'Haan assured her.

"The treaty with my people has been approved?" Grace wanted to know.

"Parvac has signed an alliance with us and you are no longer an exile," L'Haan informed her, "In exchange for our noninterference agreement, the Kelvan people will have unfettered access to the Beta Quadrant."

"As it should be," Grace opined.

"Rest easy, Agent Grace. Macen and his lover will soon be dead. Your Starfleet commission will be reactivated in the wake of that event and you shall finally join your husband's side," L'Haan promised, "And in the interim, the plans to rearrange the government and Starfleet Command are in motion. Soon Section 31 will rightfully direct the affairs of the Federation."

"I am so looking forward to it," Grace confided.

"So am I," L'Haan divulged.

 

- The End -

 

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