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Countdown - Part I by Travis Anderson

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

Prologue

Macen fidgeted and glanced about the room. The entire crew of the Obsidian was gathered in the small chapel Daggit and Parva had selected for their wedding site. In the front row sat Tom Riker and Lisea Danan bedecked in formal attire. Next to them sat Joachim Dracas. Dracas was resplendent in his dress Star Legions armour and uniform. Kort uncharacteristically wore a dark suit.

Standing before Macen to either side were T'Kir and Hannah Grace. T'Kir wore an ivory scoop necked bias cut dress. Her raven hair cascaded down her shoulders and her sapphire eyes were bright and eager with anticipation. Grace wore a cream V-necked surplice dress. Her blonde hair was worn up, fastened with a diamond comb.

Macen was unexpectantly nervous. He'd never officiated a wedding before and he didn't want to destroy the beginning of the nuptials. He noted that Amanda Drake sat in the back of the room. She wore her Starfleet dress whites. The Admiral seemed amused by Macen's discomfort.

Daggit appeared. He wore a traditional Angosian wedding ensemble. He wore an olive tunic with a loose fitting black vest and brown trousers. Macen squared his shoulders and committed himself to the ceremony at that moment. All doubts were gone. He would complete the mission or die trying.

Daggit came up beside Grace. Daggit's preferred choice for attendant would have been Hal Dracas. Unfortunately, to everyone's sorrow, Hal was dead. Grace was Daggit's closest surviving friend so she earned the honour of standing beside him during this auspicious occasion.

T'Kir was Parva's Matron of Honour. They'd never been close until recently. T'Kir had telepathically plumbed the depths of Parva's soul in an effort to help restore her memory. That had forged an unbreakable bond between them.

The music started and everyone rose. Parva appeared at the back of the chapel. She wore a black dropwaist tank dress. She radiated joy. Macen couldn't recall ever seeing her look so happy or so beautiful.

Daggit was swept away by the moment. The hard bitten ex-soldier had tears in his eyes. He unashamedly wiped them away and returned his gaze to Parva.

Parva began her procession in time to the cadence of the music. Drake seemed somewhat startled. Prepared to be slightly nauseated by Orion pheromones, the Admiral was surprised to find that she was unaffected. Little did she realise that Daveed B'nner had always removed the glands that produced the infamous secretions. In that way, he remained dominant in the face of Orion feminine wiles.

Parva reached the podium and stopped. She reached out and Daggit took her hand. They faced Macen and waited patiently.

Here goes everything. Macen thought before beginning, "Today we are gathered together to witness a blessed event. There is no greater joy than uniting two people in the bonds of matrimony and ship captains have shared this august privilege since time immemorial. Rab Daggit and Parva seek to solidify their already strong relationship through the exchange of vows to keep themselves faithful and true to one another."

"They have already made this commitment in their hearts but today they would like to share their love with each of you. They have not entered into this decision lightly. They have faced trials and even death together. They know the road they are taking is one full of struggle yet is also one with the deepest rewards."

"These two people have fortitude and resolve. Two characteristics that are vital to make a marriage succeed. They also have an undying tenderness for one another. This will grace their happy days and ease the burden of their sorrows."

"Today we mark the end of their individual lives and witness the birth of a new union. They will become parts of a greater whole merging their strengths and weaknesses in an effort to find a stronger balance and a greater good than they could find apart. This is their goal and will, the Fates providing, be their achievement."

"Now we come to the exchanging of the vows. This will mark the formalisation of their love for one another and clarify to all what their true intention is." Macen turned to Daggit, "Rab Daggit, do you pledge to put Parva above all of your needs, to seek the common good, to stay faithful to her no matter the circumstance, and to above all else, love her as the unique and cherished individual that she is?"

Daggit never hesitated, "I do."

Macen faced Parva and smiled, "Parva, do you pledge yourself, wholly and unconditionally to Rab, looking after his needs, committing yourself to the ideal of two becoming one, and respecting Rab throughout the various tribulations that will arise?"

Parva was quite solemn as she answered, "I do."

Parva lit into a radiant smile that melted Macen's heart. It took him a moment to composer himself, "Then by the power granted me by the Federation Privateer's Commission and by the Prime Minister of Barrinor, I pronounce you man and wife."

Without prompting the couple locked themselves in a passionate embrace and a lingering kiss. The crowd rose to their feet and roared with approval. Daggit led Parva to the rear of the chapel and the line of well wishers formed up.

T'Kir sidled up to Macen, "Well, so far their day is going smoother than ours was."

"Ours was fine until this part." Macen grinned ruefully, "There's still the rest of the day and the honeymoon."

"Our honeymoon was sweet." T'Kir protested.

"Yup." Macen agreed, "I enjoyed every moment of it up until we were captured by mercenaries."

"Sure," T'Kir pouted, "focus on the bad stuff."

Macen's eyes met hers, "I'd do it all over again if it meant that we could be together."

"Now you're talkin'." T'Kir lit up.

"C'mon," Macen took her hand in his, "let's say congrats to the newly minted couple."

"You're on." T'Kir happily followed him.

The reception went on for several hours. There was singing, laughter and dancing. The affair was catered by one of Barrinor's most famous chefs. The Obsidian's chef swapped recipes with him. In the end, Daggit and Parva were escorted back to their flat. The couple disappeared with a final wave. The cheering crowd dispersed and went on to various private celebrations. The following morning, everyone saw Daggity and Parva off as they caught a shuttle bound for Risa.

 

Chapter One

Four weeks later...

Astris Beru rolled over in her bed for what seemed the thousandth time. Try as she might, she couldn't escape the feeling of inevitability. Something was going to happen. She couldn't define it but the Prophets were revealing it to her.

Astris had been elected to the post of 1st Minister barely eight months ago. She'd been born and raised in the Bajoran Camps inside the Federation border. A decorated Starfleet officer, she'd resigned her commission in order to enter the political arena of her parents' world. Her campaign had focused on reconciling the disparate elements of Bajoran society back into a cohesive whole.

Bajor had joined the Federation six years ago but that admission still bred great social, economic and religious upheavals. Astris had been elected on her strength of having successfully lived in both the religious world of Bajoran faith and the secular world of the United Federation of Planets. She often wished she honestly felt the confidence that she outwardly displayed. Her world was changing faster every day. The people were sceptical and the Vedek Assembly was resistant.

Astris was viewed as the port in the storm. She carried the faith of the people while navigating these new untested waters. With the Emissary in seclusion and the Kai immersed in dogmatic minutia, that left her as the sole banner of reasoned faith. Her one steadfast ally was Captain Kira Nerys of Deep Space 9. Owing to Kira's leadership during tumultuous times, Kira was viewed with a kind of reverence. Kira's influence was also hampered by her duties to Starfleet.

Astris heard the door to her chambers swing open slightly on its hinges. Astris sighed. The Militia's Constabulary was paranoid about her safety. It had been years since the Circle or any other terrorist movement had threatened a member of the Ministry. On restless nights, Astris resented the intrusions of her ever-watchful security detachment.

That's what sensors are for. She thought bitterly and flopped a pillow over her head. It was childish, she knew, but it seemed apropos. Perhaps the demons haunting her could be hidden from. If only my former captain could see me now. Astris laughed to herself.

Astris was the youngest 1st Minister since the end of the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor. In her mid-thirties, Astris had barely reached the rank of Commander before leaving Starfleet. The toil of her present occupation was beginning to show. The wrinkles in her forehead had deepened and her blonde hair was now shot through with white. Her blue eyes still shown with vibrant intelligence but much of her former enthusiasm and optimism had waned.

Sighing, Astris threw back the blankets and the pillow on her head. She padded over to the replicator across the room and ordered warm mijou. It had been her mother's cure for sleeplessness and it still occasionally worked. Astris fervently prayed that it would work tonight. Despite Bajor's joining the Federation's "gift economy", she still had a budget meeting in the morning.

Astris downed the fluid before it cooled and recycled the glass. Squaring her shoulders, she strode back to the bed and laid herself upon it as though engaging an enemy. She pulled the blankets tight to her chest and returned the errant pillow to the stack under her head. She shut her eyes closed and began her meditative exercises.

Soon, she was breathing deeply on her own and slumber overtook her. She fell asleep in time to avoid the next visual sweep of her bedchambers. Satisfied, Sergeant Jared Kilj closed the door and returned to his post in the sitting room.

The sitting room had been converted into a compact security office. Sharing Jared's post was Leto Fira. The young corporal was among the first of the first generation of Militia officers that hadn't been members of the Resistance. Jared resented the fact that the woman had been in grammar school while he'd risked his life for Bajor's freedom. Astris Beru was a problem on an entirely different scale.

"So," Leto smiled, "how's the Princess sleeping?"

Jared returned her smile upon hearing the detail's secret nickname for Astris, "She just nodded off."

"About time." Leto huffed, "I was getting as jittery as a razorcat. Having to tiptoe everywhere gets old in a hurry."

"I believe the Princess resents our presence." Jared observed, "She's Starfleet trained. She's used to caring for herself."

Leto snorted, "She should have thought about that before she ran for the job."

Jared shrugged, "Old habits and attitudes die hard. I still sleep with a phaser within arm's reach."

"It's been fourteen years since the spoonheads left." Leto chastised him, "They're not coming back."

"That's what we thought before the Dominion War happened." Jared rebutted.

"Maybe." Leto allowed, "But now we have treaties in place and Federation fleets to back us up."

"Believe what you will." Jared counselled, "I'll be content to just get our charge safely through the night."

Leto lifted her mug of tea, "Amen to that."

In an outer room of the Minister's Mansion, two Constables monitored a sensor station. It could have easily been manned by a single occupant but doubling personnel helped keep the Constables awake and alert. The two Militia officers were trading jokes when a looming shadow fell over them.

The two men started, "Dammit Kelv, don't do that!"

Kelv Sidra shrugged, "Not my fault you're getting sloppy."

"Whatever you say." the complainer retorted and returned his focus to his screens, "Hey, there's a lorry outside the main gate."

The Constable barely had time to register the hypo pressed against his neck before it hissed and he became unconscious. Kelv placed a vice-like hand around the other man's mouth and pressed the hypo to his neck. It discharged and the Militia officer went limp.

Kelv shoved one of the men aside and took his seat. Systematically, he deactivated all of the sensors and visual feeds. He removed a comm badge from his pant's pocket and tapped it with his thumb.

"The compound is secure." Kelv relayed, "Neutralise the guards as necessary."

Outside, two armoured figures jumped out of the lorry and stunned the challenging sentry. The Constable in the security booth hit the alarm button but nothing happened. She reached for her phaser but one of the armoured figures had reached the booth and shot her through the open window. He then reached into the booth and deactivated the gate's forcefield. The lorry whooshed by, propelled by an antigrav field.

Jared and Leto heard shouts outside the Minister's Residence. Phaser fire followed. Leto activated her external monitors but the feeds were dead. She stood and drew her phaser.

"Get to your firing point." Jared ordered.

Leto moved over to a corner where the foray opened into the living room. She heard a noise behind her and turned her head. Jared calmly stood behind her with his phaser aimed at her.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

Jared smiled sadly, "You wouldn't understand." With that, he stunned her. She fell to the floor and the residence's doors opened. Kelv strode in.

"Any problems?"

"Not yet." Jared replied, "But she won't go quietly. She's been awake all night. She may have heard the commotion and is preparing a reception."

"I'll handle this." a regal looking woman in business attire said and moved past Jared and Kelv.

The woman proceeded to the bedroom door and knocked on it, "Beru? It's Kara. Let me in."

"Gena? Do they have you?" Astris called back, "Are they forcing you to do anything?"

Kara Gena laughed, "No one has me except for you, Beru. Let me in. We can talk."

"Just you." Astris counter-offered.

"I promise." Kara assured her. Kara unlatched the door and slowly swung it open, "See? I'm alone and unarmed."

The bedroom was dark and Kara called for the lights. Astris was crouched behind a hastily pulled out desk. In her hand she gripped a Militia issue phaser pistol. Upon seeing her lover, Astris sagged in relief.

"Come out from there, silly." Kara gently cajoled.

"What's going on?" Astris quizzically asked.

"We're going somewhere for a nice long chat." Kara replied.

Astris peered around Kara and saw armed men and women in her residence, "Are you part of this?"

Kara's laugh tinkled, "I'm their leader."

"So we were an illusion?" Astris was devastated.

Kara put a reassuring hand on Astris' shoulder, "I love you, Beru. That part is real enough. I just disagree with your policies and I think we need to get away from everyone and hammer out a few differences."

Astris shook her head in bewilderment, "I knew you were unhappy with some of my decisions, but to go to these lengths...? There are proper channels for this."

"We've tried proper channels." Kara sighed, "I've tried private ones as well. Changes need to be made and you need to see that. This will...enlighten you."

"Bajor's on a solid course." Astris argued, "We've a solid footing in intergalactic affairs."

"And it's that footing that we need to discuss." Kara smiled, "There's a New Order coming to the Federation. You can either be a part of it or be left behind."

"I don't understand." Astris shook her head.

"You will." Kara's smile was benign, "You will."

"Parva does not like having to fly commercial on a run as short as this one to Bajor." Rab Daggit tightly squeezed Brin Macen's shoulder as he growled in his Captain's ear.

"Is this complaint coming from Parva, or from you?" Macen calmly asked as he took another drink from his beverage.

Daggit hesitated in the face of his commander's unwavering gaze, "It's mostly me."

"Then take your hand off of my shoulder and get this through your head: Parva is no longer a member of the crew. She may be your wife, I was happy to perform the ceremony by the way, but she is disabled. She's content with her new life and you should be as well." Macen said severely, "I only allowed her to meet you here because this is supposed to be a routine information drop. That means most of you will do nothing while T'Kir and I do the real work."

"Don't forget your local Starfleet Security representative." Lt. Commander Ro Laren demanded.

"Calm down Laren." Macen rolled his eyes, "No one is forgetting your contribution, even though it basically seems to be drinking down ale on my tab."

"Everyone has something to offer." Ro shot back. Her jacket was unzipped and her uniform blouse was undone to her breastbone. Ro had definitely settled in to relax.

"But why does it have to be so much?" T'Kir, Macen's Vulcan wife, teased.

"I'm not talking to you." Ro huffed.

Neither Macen nor T'Kir represented the average member of their respective species. Macen was an El-Aurian. Rather than subscribe to the usual pacifism of his people, Macen believed that force was often necessary to insure the safety of others. This had led him to a career in Starfleet Intelligence's Special Investigations Division.

T'Kir originated from a Vulcan colony where emotional expression was not only allowed but encouraged. She'd met Macen after the Cardassians had decimated her homeworld and she had joined the Maquis. Starfleet had assigned Macen to infiltrate the rebel organisation and he had subsequently formed an intelligence gathering unit. Ro had assigned T'Kir to its ranks.

After the Dominion War, Macen had recruited T'Kir to his SID unit. Time elapsed and they formed a romantic entanglement. Eventually married, the now formed the nucleus of one of Starfleet's premier SID units. Their association had lasted for over a decade and they formed a formidable partnership.

Daggit apologetically released Macen's shoulder and straightened up. Macen was tall for a humanoid but Daggit towered over him. The only member of the team that met him eye to eye was Tom Riker. Daggit's hard eyes swept the interior of the pub they currently occupied.

The chosen location for the meet was a rather popular Bajoran public house. The band playing was an example of Bajor's current musical fad. Having discovered the musical styling of Earth's 1970's, the quartet singing emulated a Swedish super group from that era. The music wasn't bad. It was just different from what the SID personnel were used to.

"And I thought I was a connoisseur of ancient musical stylings." Macen commented to T'Kir.

T'Kir's smile was indulgent, "I kinda like it."

Macen nodded, "I have to admit it's growing on me." Glancing up at his vigilant Special Operations Specialist, Macen motioned for Daggit to lean down, "Take the night off, Rab. Parva is waiting for you at the Inn. Go and meet her."

Daggit frowned, "Are you certain?"

Macen emphatically nodded, "I've never been so sure of anything in my life."

Daggit brightly smiled, "Good evening then."

Daggit pushed his way through the dancers dominating the centre of the establishment. T'Kir leaned in, "You're sure that's smart?"

"What can happen that you, Ro, and I can't handle?" Macen grinned, "It'll be like old times."

"That's what I'm afraid of." T'Kir grumped.

Hannah Grace finished her whiskey and sat the glass down, "I'm afraid I have to turn in as well. I have a letter to record."

"Say ‘Hi' to Ian Delaney for us." T'Kir grinned manically.

Grace reddened and frowned, "Are you sure you can't read my mind?"

T'Kir stuck out her tongue, "I don't have to. Your intentions are obvious. So what's your message about?"

"C'mon," Grace pleaded, "a little privacy please."

"That naughty, eh?" T'Kir grew more insistent.

"Ian and I are trying to coordinate our leave times so we can take a trip together. That's all."

"Yah yah." T'Kir waved the assertion aside, "We know the truth."

Grace rolled her eyes and huffed, "Good night everybody."

As she left, Macen scolded T'Kir, "You could have been nicer."

"Hannah's my best friend." T'Kir replied defensively, "She expects a little abuse."

"Her relationship with Delaney is still very tentative and young." Macen observed, "There's nothing concrete yet and Hannah is still unsure of her boundaries."

T'Kir pouted for a moment and then relented, "Okay. I'll apologise later."

Macen smiled, "That's a positive step. Not doing it again is another."

"Yes, Boss." T'Kir sighed, "Whatever you say Boss."

Ro laughed, "You two never change. This could have been a scene from a dozen years ago."

"Thank you. Thank you very much." T'Kir took a mock bow.

"And I see you're as humble as ever." Ro commented.

"Of course I am." T'Kir grinned, "This much perfection is a heavy burden to bear."

Ro rolled her eyes and Macen hefted his glass, "Let's have a drink in memory of our fallen Maquis comrades."

"I'll second that." Ro lifted her own mug, "To the most faithful soldiers we could have asked for."

They all clinked their glasses in the toast and took a pull of their individual beverages. While this was accomplished, the band stepped down and a second group took their place. This one was comprised of three brothers and their instrumentalists. They launched into a tune that soon seemed to revolve around staying alive.

A Vulcan traveller dressed in robes entered and approached the bar. Ordering a dark stout, the woman manoeuvred her way to Macen's table and came to stand before the assembled trio. She sat her drink down.

"May I sit here?"

"Actually, we're waiting for someone." Macen replied, "Sorry."

The "Vulcan" threw back her hood, revealing the features of Commander P'ris of the Romulan Tal Shiar. P'ris' laughter bubbled up, "I believe you are waiting for me, Commander."

"Oh boy." T'Kir remarked apprehensively, "This is going to get interesting."

P'ris took a seat unbidden. Folding her hands in front of her, she smiled, "I wish to assure you that there is no ill intent after our last meeting. You outwitted me. It is that simple."

P'ris' dark eyes glinted with humour. Her hair had grown out and now reached her shoulders in a mass of soft curls. Her wispy bangs reached her jaw line and framed her heart shaped face.

P'ris studied her opposite numbers for a moment. Macen was fair skinned and fair haired. His red hair, moustache and goatee highlighted his blue-green eyes. He was from the northern climes of El-Auria and resembled an Earth-born Scandinavian.

T'Kir was atypical among Vulcans. Besides her full lipped, ready smile, her sapphire blue eyes and long, flowing raven hair belied Vulcan standards. Her olive complexion was an envy of many Terrans.

Ro was a striking woman. A strong jaw and cheekbones dominated her face. Her large brown eyes seemed to swallow one whole. Her dark hair was combed back and floated just above her shoulders.

"You know, P'ris," Macen broke the silence, "You could have used another contact other than Harry Mudd. Besides that, you could have told us you wanted to directly meet."

P'ris bit her lip, an unusual sign of trepidation from the audaciously confident agent, "I was not certain you would meet with me. Our last encounter left much to be desired."

Macen nodded, "All right. I concede that point. But Harry Mudd?"

P'ris smiled warmly, "It was something of a joke. Mudd once outwitted you. It seemed only fair to use him as an agent. We had detained him as a smuggler of ale and offered him the goods in exchange for his services."

Macen sighed, "Life will be so much easier when the Federation ends its prohibition of your native ale."

"I agree." P'ris nodded, "But enough pleasantries. I have business with you. It is time that I reveal my purpose for being here."

"That would be nice." Macen remarked dryly.

"My Service has learned that an organisation bent on reforming Federation policy is planning on kidnapping Bajor's planetary leader." P'ris divulged.

"We've just been through something like that with Cell 51." Macen countered, "It won't be repeated quite so soon."

"This movement is the brainchild of a world that has planted agents throughout Bajor, possibly a disaffected colony." P'ris elaborated.

Ro's comm badge went off and she slapped it, "Ro here."

"This is Midge." came the voice of her Militia liaison, "We have a situation that Starfleet needs to be informed of. I just heard you're on planet. Meet me at the Minister's Mansion."

"It has begun." P'ris murmured.

Ro frowned, "I'll be right over. Ro out." The link went dead and Ro turned to Macen, "Care to tag along? I'm sure it'll only be a matter of time before Admiral Drake calls you."

"You're probably right." Macen sighed, "Let me gather my troops."

"You've half an hour." Ro informed him, "I'll meet you at the Inn with ground transportation."

"Would you terribly mind if I accompanied you?" P'ris asked hopefully.

Ro shrugged and looked to Macen, "It's your call. I'm placing this case under SID jurisdiction."

"You don't even know if there is a case yet." Macen groaned.

"I'm just covering my bases." Ro insisted.

Macen turned to P'ris, "Okay. Meet us in front of the Inn of the Seventh Star in half an hour."

P'ris bowed her head slightly, "I will be there."

Macen rose and T'Kir joined him. "Ready to piss everyone off?" T'Kir asked.

Macen closed his eyes and shook his head, "This is going to be a long night. I just know it."

"Well lead on Mon Capitain." T'Kir pushed him onward, "We've work to do."

 

Chapter Two

Back at the Inn of the Seventh Star, Kort was enjoying a raktajino by the blazing fire in the sitting room's hearth. He was catching up on his reading of the Starfleet Medical Journal. He'd just finished his third issue when a shadow fell across his lap. Kort looked up to see a bemused human brunette smiling down upon him.

"You must be a doctor." she observed whimsically, "It's either that or you have a very eclectic choice of reading material."

"I am a physician." Kort confirmed, "This is the first opportunity I have had for months to catch up on my reading."

"I know the feeling." the woman dug the latest copy of the SMJ out of her duffel, "My name is Hayley Galloway, by the way. I'm a doctor too. I just came back from eighteen months on Qo'noS and now I'm here on Bajor."

"You were in the Empire?" Kort asked wistfully.

"Yep." Galloway's head bobbed, "I was helping set up a new university program."

"How did you find Klingon medicine?" an amused Kort enquired.

"It's very...abrupt." Galloway replied diplomatically.

"It is indeed." Kort chuckled, "My patients still find my bedside manner to be too rough."

"But you're reviewing Starfleet medical practices and you're on Bajor." Galloway didn't quite ask, "And you're not wearing IDF armour. I'd say you're attached to Starfleet in some way."

"In a manner of speaking." Kort replied warily, "I am an employee of Outbound Ventures, Inc. Our largest client is Starfleet."

"I've heard of Outbound Ventures." Galloway admitted, "Your reputation for excellence proceeds you."

"How would you like a drink?" Kort offered, "The café here is excellent."

"High praise coming from a Klingon." Galloway laughed and shifted her shoulder strap, "I don't need to be in my room for awhile so I'll accept. Lead on, kind sir."

Grace typed in the comm code and anxiously awaited the response of the USS Intrepid's communications officer. The officer kindly routed Grace's signal to Delaney's location. Delaney appeared on screen. He looked wet and there was a sunny sky behind him.

"Hannah!" Delaney said happily.

"`Lo Ian." Grace happily smiled, "I hope I'm not interrupting anything."

"You just caught me on the holodeck." Delaney revealed, "I'm learning to sail. What do you think about sailing the Caribbean when we take leave?"

"Sounds good." Grace excitedly agreed, "I didn't know you have a boat."

"I don't." Delaney replied, "Emily does."

"Emily?" Grace asked suspiciously.

"Ensign Emily Johnson of Engineering." Delaney answered, "You've met her."

"Yes." Grace conceded, "She fixed my shuttle."

"She's teaching me to sail and is willing to loan me her boat." Delaney elaborated.

"Do you want to sleep with her?" Grace blurted.

"What?" Delaney was shocked, "Where did that come from?"

Grace laughed, "It's no business of mine if you want to, or do it. I'm just figuring out where I stand."

"You wouldn't care?" Delaney repeated in disbelief.

"I'd be disappointed but it would clarify our situation." Grace explained, "We've made no promises and made no pledges to one another. We're each free to do what we want."

"This conversation is getting very weird." Delaney looked bewildered, "Does this mean that you want to sleep with someone?"

"Not at the moment." Grace confessed, "But that situation may arise and I just wanted to make certain you'd be prepared for it."

"Okay." Delaney nodded, "I'm duly warned. What about our leave together?"

"It looks like I can take leave in two months." Grace happily informed him.

"Same here." Delaney smiled, "I think you'll enjoy sailing. It's a kick."

"Looking forward to it." Grace admitted, "I'll keep writing you and sending you messages until then."

"And that gives me something extra to look forward to." Delaney grinned.

"Flatterer." Grace retorted, "You're already trying to charm me."

"As long as it keeps you in touch, I'll try anything." Delaney revealed.

"I'll see you soon, Ian." Grace said and signed off.

As the screen darkened, Grace leaned back in her chair. She'd spoken the truth to Delaney. They'd made no promises and that left the field open. The ball was now in Delaney's court. She'd wait and see what he'd do with it.

"So Johns Hopkins sent me to Qo'noS. Now I'm on Bajor to instruct Sinherra University's surgical unit on the latest techniques coming out of the rest of the Federation." Galloway explained between sips of her spring wine.

"You must be very talented." Kort observed, "To be entrusted with so much is an honour."

"I'd shuck all this honour for a chance to sit at home for a month and do nothing." Galloway wistfully admitted.

Kort grunted, "I've spent the last three months doing next to nothing. A challenge would be a welcome relief about now."

"We've discussed my career," Galloway shifted gears, "what about you? You're a doctor with a security consulting firm. What kind of assignments do you accept?"

"We are an investigative unit." Kort vaguely answered.

"What kind of investigations?" Galloway pressed.

"Special investigations." Kort offered.

Galloway frowned, "I take it you can't, or won't, talk about it."

Kort smiled, "Something like that."

"Figures." Galloway grumped.

Just then, Macen and T'Kir entered the café. T'Kir stormed up to Kort and Galloway's table. Macen travelled in her wake.

"Hi!" T'Kir said chipperly and thrust out her hand towards Galloway, "I'm sure Kort hasn't mentioned me yet. In fact, I know he hasn't. I'm T'Kir."

Galloway accepted T'Kir's grip, "Hello, I'm..."

"Hayley Galloway, doctor at large. Yah yah." T'Kir released Galloway's hand and planted her fists on her hips, "Anything you want to know, anything Kort's not telling you, ask me."

"Well," Galloway said uncomfortably, "we have reached an impasse or two."

"But you haven't discussed what you really want to know." T'Kir grinned manically and leaned over to whisper in Galloway's ear. Galloway turned a brilliant scarlet. Macen took hold of T'Kir's waist and pulled her away.

"You'll have to forgive her." Macen offered a wan smile, "She's an escaped mental patient."

"It's true." T'Kir giddily confessed and jerked a thumb in Macen's direction, "He broke me out."

"Kort," Macen refocused the group, "we're going active. Meet us in front of the Inn in twenty minutes. Be equipped for anything."

"As you say." Kort nodded, "I will be there."

"Now to bug Hannah." T'Kir announced and happily bounced off. Macen sighed and shook his head, "Its one of those days."

As Macen walked off, Galloway fixed a wide-eyed stare on Kort, "What was that?"

Kort's head hung low, "That was T'Kir."

"A friend of yours?"

Kort snorted, "Hardly. She is a shipmate and the Captain's wife."

"So that was your Captain?" Galloway inquired.

"Yes." Kort still looked pained, "As you can see, he has difficulty with her as well."

"How did she know...never mind what she knew but how did she know?" Galloway demanded.

"T'Kir is a Class 4 telepath." Kort replied wearily.

"My God." Galloway breathed, "I knew it was theoretically possible but I never imagined I'd meet one. How does she function? What's her range?"

"She could read every mind in this solar system if left untreated." Kort revealed, "She functions as an individual because we medicate her in order to curb her abilities. Unfortunately, she is growing resistant to the treatments."

"Have you sought outside help yet?" Galloway was concerned.

"Not yet." Kort admitted.

"I'd be happy to help." Galloway offered, "If only to prevent someone else from going through what I just did."

"I apologise for that." Kort said sincerely.

Galloway shrugged, "Wasn't your fault. I'm guessing you're running out of time though."

Kort heaved a heavy sigh, "I am indeed. I'd like to call on you while you are staying here."

Galloway laughed, "I'd like that. I'll be staying here throughout my tenure on Bajor. And, by the way, my name is Hayley. Feel free to use it."

Kort smiled, "I will. Until later, Hayley."

"I suppose this is another case you won't be able to talk about?" Galloway asked.

Kort shrugged, "I have no idea."

"Scoot." Galloway ordered, "I don't want you getting in trouble on my account."

Kort gratefully bowed his head and departed. Galloway swirled her spring wine and took another drink. Kort was definitely a mystery and she loved mysteries. Getting to know him would prove to be fun.

High above Bajor, the Nova-class SS Obsidian sat in standard orbit. The surveyor was the pride of Outbound Ventures fledgling fleet. Given to OV by the SID, it was Macen's command. Sitting in the command chair was her 1st Officer, Tom Riker.

Riker was the transporter doppelganger of Captain Will Riker. Tom had chosen several hard roads in pursuing a separate identity. He'd joined the Maquis and later Macen's SID team. Both had carried high personal costs. Riker had found contentment in his present post and despite Macen's encouragement to accept his own command Riker wouldn't be budged.

"Captain Macen is calling." the rating at the Tactical station reported. Riker exchanged a bemused glance with Shannon Forger, the ship's Executive Officer.

"Open a channel, Darnell." Riker ordered, "Captain? This is unexpected."

"Unexpected things happen." Macen soberly replied, "Have Lees, Joachim and Radil beam down to our location. They need to be fully kitted out."

Riker frowned, "What can they expect?"

"A potential Ministerial kidnapping." Macen answered.

"There hasn't been anything on local traffic about a kidnapping." Riker informed him.

"My guess is that the Militia is keeping a pretty tight lid on the situation." Macen opined, "Remember, Bajor's security organs have a greater degree of control over the press than the average Federation planet."

"Seems to be working." Riker grunted.

"Just get them down here and I'll get you more answers." Macen promised.

"I'm on it." Riker assured him.

Joachim Dracas, the Obsidian's Chief Engineer and the Engineering Specialist for the SID team, stepped out of the sonic shower and began dressing. The Obsidian had undergone an overhaul recently but the ship hadn't truly been tested until recently when the ship engaged several raiders. That encounter had revealed several faulty components. Most of the repairs had been filthy ordeals.

Dracas was using part of his administrative time to shower and change into a clean set of coveralls. He'd just pulled on a black tee shirt over his well toned torso when the comm panel started beeping. Dracas pulled up his coveralls and tied the arms about his waist. He placed his comm badge on his left breast as he neared the comm panel.

Dracas tapped a control, "Dracas here."

"Message for you, sir. Should I route it to your quarters?"

"Yes." Dracas replied with a hint of irritation, "I will accept the message."

Dracas sat down before the panel and activated the viewer. The image coalesced into a view of a Trill male that was roughly ten years older than Dracas. Dracas found him quite handsome but his wide-eyed look of shock alerted Dracas to potential danger.

"Can I help you?" he asked as politely as he could.

"By the Pools." The Trill breathed, "You even sound like him."

Dracas' ire was raised, "I sound like whom?"

"Hal Dracas." the Trill replied, "The man you were cloned from. Your face is different but Hal had had cosmetic surgery."

"Who are you?" Dracas impatiently demanded. Joachim Dracas was indeed a clone of Hal Dracas. The Nova Romans of Magna Roma had sampled Dracas' DNA while he was their prisoner and had produced Joachim. Raised as a Roman soldier, Dracas had recently been assigned to the Obsidian by his Emperor.

Dracas had undertaken a personal quest to learn all that he could of his progenitor in order to learn what kind of heritage he'd inherited. He'd read Hal's logs and reports but that had left him sadly lacking in personal details. The SID team had regaled him with remembrances and they had closed that gap somewhat. Now it seemed he had the opportunity to talk to someone who knew Hal Dracas well.

"Forgive me." the Trill bowed his head, "My name is Kiv Rever. I was Hal's partner. We'd even discussed marriage shortly before his death. I'm the reason why he's dead."

That heavy announcement left Dracas speechless so Rever continued, "Captain Macen told me of your existence and of your quest to get to know Hal. He thought it might be cathartic for me to describe Hal's life to you."

"What did you mean you were responsible for his death?" Dracas asked through a tight throat.

Rever looked anguished, "I supplied the information Solarian Security Systems used to report him to the Troglyte authorities. I didn't murder him myself but I was a pawn used to that effect."

Dracas' comm badge chirped and he angrily swatted it, "Dracas!"

"Easy Chief." Riker replied calmly, "You're needed for a mission. Suit up and be at the transporter room in ten minutes."

Dracas sighed. Duty called and could not be ignored, "I will be there."

"It sounds like you have to go." Rever said sadly, "I've attached our...I mean, my address to this message. Use it to find me the next time you're on Earth. We can begin our talks then."

"I shall." Dracas promised, "I look forward to meeting you Mr. Rever."

"Please," Rever almost pleaded, "call me Kiv. We're practically family. If things had gone as planned I would be your ‘stepdad' now."

Dracas nodded, "I am Joachim."

Rever offered a wan smile, "A good strong name. Hal would have been pleased."

"I must go now." Dracas informed Rever.

"Of course. Rever out." The transmission ended and Dracas stared at the blank screen. He wasn't certain how he should feel about this opportunity. His progenitor's partner? Dracas had known that Hal Dracas had found no reference to a partner. This would be an interesting meeting indeed.

Dracas rose and continued putting his coveralls on. Next he strapped on his armour. Lastly, he put on his gunbelt and sword. That completed, he exited his quarters and headed for the transporter.

Lisea Danan's brow furrowed in concentration. The Trill scientist was composing her final paper on the ultramatter the crew had encountered during their last encounter with the Omicron. The Omicron had used the metamorphic properties of the primordial substance to assist in their engineering of biotechnology. A fragment of the original "egg" that birthed the universe, the ultramatter could shape virtually anything when certain types of energy were applied to it.

Danan brushed a loose strand of chestnut coloured hair out of her eyes. Her sea-green eyes narrowed as she reviewed her last sentence. It seemed lacking and her lips twisted in frustration. Her comm badge chose that moment to chirp.

She slapped it, "What?"

"Lees?" Riker sounded uncharacteristically uncertain, "Is something wrong?"

"Just a million little things." Danan sighed and then more hopefully asked, "Is this strictly a social call?"

Riker sounded rueful, "I'm afraid not. This is business. Brin needs you on the surface."

"For what?" Danan demanded, "Bajor has plenty of scientists."

"All I know is that it involves a kidnapping." Riker explained, "The Captain wants you fully equipped."

Danan relented slightly, "All right. I'll gather my equipment. How much time do I have?"

"Ten minutes." Riker answered, "And then you beam down."

"Great." Danan remarked sourly, "Danan out."

"Riker to Radil." the 1st Officer said for his comm badge. He waited and then repeated the call. There was no reply.

"Computer," Riker said irritably, "locate Security Chief Radil."

"Security Chief Radil is not aboard." the computer's feminine voice replied.

"Riker to Telrik."

"Telrik here." the Tellarite Transporter Chief replied.

"Where is Radil?" Riker's temper was flaring.

"Chief Radil beamed down to join the others at Sinherra two hours ago."

"On whose authority?" Riker grated.

"Yours."

Riker's veins bulged. In a very controlled voice, he issued orders, "Lock on to her location. Beam her aboard when I arrive at the transporter room."

"Aye air." Telrik said agreeably.

"I'll kill her." Riker announced to no one in particular.

"That'd be a shame." Forger commented, "It would take a while to train a replacement."

"Dracas stepped into Parva's shoes didn't he?" Riker asked, "Maybe we'll find a clone of Radil."

"Doubtful." Forger looked pensive.

"All right." Riker conceded, "I'll just maim her."

"That's the spirit." Forger smiled, "Always let them live."

"Tell me something, Shannon." Riker instructed, "Were you once a cheerleader?"

"Does pep squad count?" Forger enquired.

Riker groaned, "That's what I thought. You have the bridge. Just don't lead a cheer while I'm gone."

"Wouldn't dream of it." Forger beamed mischievously.

"Better yet, go back to bed." Riker suggested, "Your shift doesn't start for another six hours."

"And miss all the fun?"

"What fun?" Riker demanded to know, "We're in orbit."

"I'm waiting for you to start torturing wayward crewmembers." Forger laughed, "Then I'll go to bed."

Riker's head hung low, "I'm going now."

"See you and good luck." Forger called out before the turbolift doors closed.

Radil Jenrya stopped before the Monument of the Sinherran Massacre. On that day over seven hundred Bajorans had been put to death by the Cardassian authorities. It had all been precipitated by a Resistance cell seizing control of the city's administrative centre. Radil had been a teenaged member of that cell and had lived through these events.

Radil felt sorrow over the slayings but she'd never felt guilt. It had been the Cardassians' decision to slaughter civilians. Radil laid a lilac down before the monument. She wore the traditional red shawl and headscarf of mourning.

Tears came to her deep brown eyes as she began to be flooded with memories of that day. The Tranjaar cell had accessed the ancient sewer tunnels running throughout Sinherra. They came up through the floor into the administrative centre. They took the civil servants and collaborators hostage.

After several hours of negotiations, the Prefect of Bajor, Gul Skrain Dukat decided that the cell would be persuaded by mass executions. The cell responded by executing hostages. Dukat decided that the Cardassian civilians were expendable and an assault started.

The Tranjaar tried to hold but they were hopelessly outnumbered. Volunteers offered to stay behind and torch the building while the others escaped. It was a suicide mission and all knew it. The Bajoran defenders died fighting.

The administrative centre was still a fire gutted ruin. The Cardassians never bothered to rebuild it and the Bajorans saw it as a shrine. The monument had been built to honour both the massacre victims and the fallen Resistance fighters. This was the first opportunity Radil had ever had to visit the shrine and pay homage to her comrades.

Radil's pilgrimage was cut short as she felt the familiar tug of the transporter. Swearing, her vision blurred as she dematerialised. Her world reformed in the Obsidian's main transporter room. Telrik looked nervous as Riker stood beside him looking incensed.

"Why the hell did you beam me back aboard?" Radil demanded. She pulled her scarf off and ran a hand through her short auburn hair.

"What the hell do you think you're doing leaving the ship without permission?" Riker raised his voice in anger.

"What was the point of staying?" Radil remarked, "We're safely in orbit and I had a spiritual pilgrimage to complete."

"As much as I respect your religious beliefs, you need to check in with me before leaving the ship." Riker fumed.

"What harm was done?" Radil wondered.

"The Captain has need of you. You have five minutes to prepare and report to this transporter room." Riker growled.

"We have a case?" Radil asked incredulously.

Riker nodded, "You'd better hurry. You don't have any time to waste."

"All right." Radil moved off the transporter pad and headed for the door, "I'll see you in a minute."

Riker waited for several minutes before following Radil out. Once in the deserted corridor, he let loose a torrent of the foulest Klingon curses he knew. Having verbally exploded, he straightened his flightsuit and proceeded to the turbolift. He'd be happier once Radil and the others were safely off.

He entered the lift and wondered what Forger would have to say. Riker discovered he didn't care. He was ordering her to go to bed. That would silence her.

 

Chapter Three

Radil, Danan and Dracas transported down outside of the Inn of the Seventh Star. Radil had changed into her black Special Operations Battledress fatigues from the 2290's with a charcoal grey turtleneck underneath. Radil wore her gunbelt as well. She was also cradling a Bajoran phaser rifle.

Danan wore her Sciences blue coveralls with her utility belt around her waist. She carried a grip filled with specialised sensors. Dracas also carried a case filled with equipment. They glanced about, wondering where Macen, T'Kir, Daggit, Kort and Grace were.

Macen and T'Kir stepped out of the Inn. Macen wore black SOB's with a grey crewnecked shirt underneath. His Bajoran phaser pistol was strapped low on his right leg.

T'Kir wore black leather pants and mid-calf boots. Her top was a forest green zippered front fleece. Her pistol was strapped low on her left leg. Her hair was pulled back into a tail and her eyes were alert and merry.

Kort exited next. He wore his customary suit of Klingon armour. He had a medkit slung off his shoulder and his phaser on his waist. He also had a knife shoved into a boot.

Daggit and Parva left together. Daggit kissed his Orion wife and then she re-entered the Inn. Daggit wore M.A.C.O. fatigues. He carried a grenade launcher in addition to his pistol.

Grace was the last to exit. She wore her flightsuit. Her utility belt and phaser were worn high on her hips. She wore a vaguely disappointed expression.

"Why do I have to go back to the ship?" she complained, "I always have to go back to the ship."

"To be blunt, Hannah," Macen sighed, "your skill set isn't required here. You're a pilot, not an investigator."

"So train me." Grace urged, "I'm willing."

"Maybe later." Macen considered her proposal, "Now's not the time though."

"Now is not the time for what?" P'ris asked as she strode towards them. She wore black leather pants, a grey tunic and a long, black leather duster.

"She gets to go?" Grace exclaimed, "I get stuck on the ship and she gets to go?"

"Hannah..." Macen began to explain.

"You stole my coat!" T'Kir accused.

"You knew when it was given to you that it was standard Tal Shiar issue." P'ris countered, "I am Tal Shiar, so I wear it when the mood strikes."

"It isn't fair." T'Kir pouted, "That's my look."

"So I have heard." P'ris remarked dryly.

"She's doing this on purpose." T'Kir complained to Macen, "Make her change her clothes."

Macen rolled his eyes, "She's staying dressed just the way she is. Deal with it."

T'Kir stuck out her tongue, "Some loving husband you are."

Macen was about to reply when a large vehicle with wheels in front and treads on the back came lumbering up. It mounted a phaser cannon atop the cab. The technology was so retrograde that it had to date back to the beginning of the Cardassian occupation.

The driver's side door swung open and Ro leaned out, "So what are you waiting for? Climb aboard!"

"Laren, what is that thing?" Macen called back.

"I don't know what the spoonheads called it but it's become known as a half-track." Ro explained, "Are you getting on board or not?"

Macen sighed, "All right people. Mount up."

Macen and T'Kir proceeded to the cab and climbed in. The others went to the cargo area and boarded it. Bench seating was provided behind the armoured sides. Daggit inspected the phaser cannon as the half-track lurched forward.

"Seems to be in decent shape." then he sat down, "This must have been a riot control vehicle. It's too lightly armoured to be a heavy combatant. However, it would easily withstand small arms fire."

"Spare me." Radil growled, "I've seen these in action. They're deadly enough."

Daggit turned silent. He minded the scenery around him, what little that could be seen. They were leaving the city and headed down the road. The Ministerial Mansion was located in the nearby capital and that was their destination.

Meanwhile, Grace watched them go off into the distance. Forlornly, she tapped her comm badge and requested to be beamed back aboard the Obsidian. She sighed as she felt the transporter's effect take hold.

Grace stepped off of the transporter pad and greeted Telrik as cheerfully as she could. Her belongings were still in her room at the Inn so she assumed she'd be returning there eventually. She checked the ship's clock and discovered that the alpha shift was almost half over. That meant she'd be relieving Ceryx at the helm.

Manning the helm in orbit is sooo boring. Grace mentally complained. She longed for a fast paced combat manoeuvre or threading through a dense asteroid field at high speeds. Anything but the monotony of endless orbit after endless orbit. She dreaded stagnation.

Grace was a daredevil by nature and inclination. That was why she'd accepted her people's mission to infiltrate the Federation. She'd earned the highly dangerous and coveted assignment of entering Starfleet. Later, as a natural extension of her temperament and duplicitous nature, Section 31 had recruited her. S31 had assigned her to infiltrate Macen's investigative team and she'd done so without reservation.

Betrayed by S31, her cover blown, she'd turned to Macen for help. He'd extended her the currency of trust. She'd betrayed that again when she'd acted against the crew at the behest of her people, the Kelvans. Forced by her superiors to choose between remedial punishment or to stay with the life she knew and opt to explore her "humanity", she chose to stay.

Having regained the trust of her teammates, Grace felt as at home with them as she did with her own natural family. That was why she hated getting left behind on assignments. She felt useless and helpless to affect a positive outcome for her friends.

She entered the turbolift and exited it on the bridge. Riker greeted her and she nodded in his direction. Riker had been the hardest to convince that she really had changed her ways. She'd once altered his memory to protect her identity and mission. Forgiveness had been slow in coming.

She tapped Ceryx on his plated shoulder and he smiled at her. Apparently his boredom with orbital maintenance was manifest as well. He gladly rose out of the station's seat and backed away. Grace sat down and waited for the mind numbing sameness of it all to overwhelm her.

"What do we know so far?" Macen asked Ro as the half-track trudged along. It wasn't the swiftest of vehicles. Ro had already explained that it was the only troop carrier the Sinherran Constabulary had been willing to release. T'Kir had already made several colourful comments about that situation.

"We know this frinxing vehicle is an uncomfortable bastard." T'Kir bemoaned.

Ro ignored the comment, "So far the Militia has reported the apparent kidnapping of Astris Beru."

Macen whistled, "The 1st Minister herself. The stakes are high."

"That's why the Militia is cutting us in." Ro explained, "The Militia and Constabulary are very stiff necked when it comes to jurisdiction. There's a lot of pride involved. Most of the high ranking Militia officers refused Starfleet commissions in order to remain with local planetary defence."

"And they'll be afraid Starfleet will step on their toes and steal their thunder." Macen surmised.

Ro wore a grim smile, "Exactly."

"I'm assuming that the security detailed was killed or stunned." Macen revealed.

"Stunned apparently." Ro confirmed.

"Is everyone accounted for?" Macen asked in a placid tone.

Ro frowned, "A couple of officers appear to be missing. Why?"

"Have they revived the stunned personnel?" Unfazed, Macen continued his inquiry.

"They're starting to at last report." Ro was growing irritated, "Why? Do you think this is an inside job?"

Macen pursed his lips before answering, "It's always a possibility in cases like this."

Ro tapped her comm badge, "Ro to Midge."

"Midge here." came the liaison's reply, "How can I help you Commander?"

"Give me a situation report." Ro insisted.

"Sorry, Ro." Midge sounded guilty, "General Tannit has cut off all information. This situation is now classified."

"We'll see about that when I get there." Ro snapped, "Ro out!"

"Pompous jackass." Ro snarled, "Who does he think he is, trying to cut off my access?"

"You said it yourself," Macen gently reminded her, "it's a matter of pride."

"We'll see about that." Ro grew more incensed and tapped her comm badge again, "Ro to Vaughn."

The signal was routed through the Militia's subspace relay and received by Deep Space 9. Commander Elias Vaughn was her XO. He was also a veteran of Starfleet's Special Operations division. He was over a hundred years old and had spent nearly eighty of those years in Spec Ops.

"Vaughn here." came Vaughn's wry reply, "I assume you're calling regarding the ministerial kidnapping."

"Damn straight I am." Ro growled.

"The Captain is on the horn trying to regain Starfleet's access to the situation." Vaughn informed her, "I assume Macen's with you?"

Vaughn and Macen had known each other for most of their respective Starfleet careers. There were decades of mutual respect and trust between them. Vaughn had been one of those responsible for Macen's "third option" of becoming a privateer in the employ of the SID after Macen's court-martial for disobeying a direct order from a superior officer. The charges of murder had been dropped by that time but Macen was convicted on the charge of insubordination.

"Yes." Ro calmed somewhat, "He's here."

"Good for you." Vaughn verbally applauded her, "Tell Brin that Admiral Drake has been apprised of the developing situation and will be contacting him shortly with instructions."

Ro glanced over at Macen. Macen wore a wry smile. T'Kir's rolled her eyes at the news. Ro's own smile was wintry.

"He's so advised."

"Good." Vaughn sounded relieved, "Wish him luck since I expect this entire mess is about to get dropped in his lap."

Macen's squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. Ro actually chuckled, "He understands. He'll be waiting for that call."

"I'm sure he will." Vaughn remarked dryly, "Carry on Commander. Vaughn out."

"Elias has always had a gift for understatement." Macen sighed, "This political hot potato is going to ruin careers."

"We're screwed." T'Kir muttered.

"Aren't you glad you're a private contractor and not regular Starfleet?" Ro asked dryly.

"Thrilled." Macen remarked ruefully.

"We're sooo screwed." T'Kir amended.

"Well, we're almost there so get ready for a fight." Ro advised.

The half-track rumbled up to the gates of the Ministerial Mansion. A dozen Militia officers in burgundy or grey uniforms stood post. They were all armed with pistols and rifles. A major approached the driver's side door and climbed up to speak to Ro.

"This is Militia matter." the major said, "Starfleet's presence isn't required."

Ro's eyes narrowed as she stared into the other woman's eyes, "I think you'll find your orders have changed. Contact General Tannit and confirm this."

"I don't need to confirm anything." the major protested.

"Humour me." Ro insisted.

"Very well." the major conceded and jumped off the half-track's running board. Once she was on the ground, she tapped her comm badge and began an earnest conversation with the recipient of the call. A moment later, a slightly wide-eyed major pulled herself up to Ro's window.

"I don't know who you know but you've been granted access." she informed Ro.

"Thank you." Ro replied dryly and started the vehicle forward through the gates. She parked the half-track alongside a row of Militia vehicles. They were a mixture of abandoned Cardassian ground vehicles and modern Bajoran aircars. Setting the brake, Ro, Macen, and T'Kir exited the cab while others jumped out of the rear compartment.

A Militia lieutenant approached the assembled group. He hesitated upon seeing P'ris amongst their midst. Ro moved in front of him and held her arms akimbo, fists on her hips.

"Is there a problem, Lieutenant?" she demanded.

"Yes, sir!" the Militia lieutenant replied, "Er, ma'am."

"And what would that be?" Ro asked scornfully.

"Her!" the young man pointed, "I mean, there's an enemy agent among you."

"I wasn't aware of any hostilities between the Romulan Star Empire and the Federation." Ro said drolly, "In fact, the peace talks have gone surprisingly well ever since they assisted against Cell 51's coup d'état."

"Yes, ma'am." the boy's head bobbed, "It's just that..."

"She's my responsibility." Ro assured him, "General Tannin can take it up with me."

"Yes, ma'am!" the lieutenant blurted in obvious relief, "If you'll all follow me."

The lieutenant led them inside the mansion's front door. Inside, they passed a security booth. Several constables were gathered around. Two were inside the booth reviewing scan logs. Two bewildered looking men sat drinking spice tea. Two more constables stood poised over them with padds ready, asking questions.

"It was Kelv." one of the men insisted, "Why would we suspect him?"

The team moved on. Everywhere Constables and Militia personnel were interrogating recently revived security guards. The lieutenant wove his way around them and led the team to the Minister's Residence. Macen noted a security keypad on the outside of the door as they passed by and entered the Residence. Inside, two women and a man were being questioned.

"Jared Kilj was my partner. I never expected him to incapacitate me during an attack on the 1st Minister." Leto Fira stated to her interrogator. The woman turned to the gate guards, "And you say that the attackers wore Bajoran Militia issue ablative armour?"

"Yes." the female guard answered, "They wore riot helmets so I didn't get a look at their faces but everything they wore and carried was Militia issue."

A stern faced older man wearing general's insignia stood by and listened in on these reports. A constable deputy entered and reported to the general, "Several of the security agents report seeing an unarmed woman in business attire trailing the assault force."

"Have they ID'd her?" General Tannin enquired.

"Not positively." the deputy replied, "But there are several tentative identifications of her being Kara Gena, the Legal Minister. She was a frequent visitor of the 1st Minister." the deputy lowered his voice and leaned in towards the General, "They were lovers, sir."

Tannin nodded, "Understood." Tannin turned and saw the SID team for the first time. His expression soured, "I take it these are our esteemed ‘colleagues' Lieutenant?"

The young officer's head bobbed, "Yessir."

"You're dismissed." Tannin said gruffly, "Assist Major Hure at the main gate."

"Yes sir." the lieutenant said eagerly and exited the Residence.

Tannin's eyes drifted over the team and came to rest on Ro, "You're Commander Ro, the Security Chief aboard DS9?"

"Yes sir." Ro respectfully replied.

"You used to be under my command until you transferred to Starfleet?"

"Yes, sir."

"Harrumph." Tannin replied distastefully and his eyes drifted to Macen, "And you're Captain Brin Macen?"

"Yes, I am." Macen replied confidently.

Tannin moved in and stared Macen down, "You don't easily bend do you?"

Macen levelly met Tannin's gaze, "Nope."

Tannin smiled thinly, "Good. I can respect that. I understand you're not with Starfleet. You're a private agent reporting to the SID?"

"That about sums it up." Macen answered stoically.

"You should be getting a call any minute that's going to offend me further." Tannin revealed, "I've already spoken with your Admiral Drake. I can't say I'm very happy with the results so far."

On cue, Macen's comm badge chirped. He tapped it on its position on his belt, "Macen here."

"Riker here. You have a priority message from Admiral Drake's office. Should I relay it?"

"Yes." Macen replied, "I'll take it here."

There was a moment's silence and then Admiral Drake's voice rang through, "Brin?"

"'Lo Amanda." Macen grinned, "How's the weather in England?"

"Terrible." Drake replied ruefully, "What's the situation there?"

"Compromised." Macen's grin faded and he became sombre, "Militia officers were involved with the kidnapping and this investigation team may have been infiltrated as well."

"Here now..." Tannin began to sputter.

"Take over." Drake ordered, "You have jurisdiction. General Tannin can file whatever protest he wants."

"Understood." Macen nodded, "Macen out."

Tannin stood by, silently livid. Macen met his glare with a calm gaze, "Your people will turn over any and all reports they have made, any statements taken and any records of any scans performed. They will then vacate the Mansion. Your troops will hold the perimeter."

"Anything else?" Tannin grated.

"The witnesses will gather in the Mansion's lobby and wait for their earlier statements to be reviewed." Macen instructed, "You will compile a list of Militia personnel who have not reported to their posts or are AWOL. The kidnappers must have used a vehicle to arrive here."

"A Militia troop transport." Tannin growled.

"Have you tracked down where it came from?" Macen enquired.

"We're working on it." Tannin spat.

"Report the results as soon as you get them." Macen ordered.

"Will that be all?" Tannin growled.

"Compile a list of all departing ships since the attack. I want their filed flight plans and actual vectors plotted." Macen added, "Send the results to my helm officer aboard the Obsidian."

"Will that be all?" Tannin asked sarcastically, "Perhaps you'd enjoy the company of Quark's dabo girls as well. Or perhaps you'd like drinks and refreshments served?"

"I think we can manage." Macen remarked dryly, "Thank you for your cooperation."

"What choice do I have?" Tannin said begrudgingly, "Come on people. Let's give the so-called specialists room to work."

The Bajoran personnel filed out of the room and Macen addressed the SID team, "Lees, you and Kort will begin making forensic scans of this room and the outer hallway. T'Kir, start with the security booth. See if there's any back-up systems or backdoors that monitored the kidnapping. Joachim, inspect the vehicle the kidnappers arrived in. See if they modified it in any way or left a message behind."

"You think they'd use the lorry for that?" Dracas asked.

Macen nodded, "It's the only material evidence that they left behind. I'm willing to bet it holds the answer to a lot of questions. Either Kort or Lisea will be along later to conduct a forensic scan."

Macen turned to Daggit and Radil, "Inspect the reports given by the security detail. Verify any unusual or suspicious facts with them."

Daggit, Radil and Dracas all exited the room and that left P'ris to deal with. She wore an ironic smile, "And what of me?"

"You and I are going to have a nice chat." Macen said firmly, "You know more than you've let on so far and I want to know what that is."

P'ris spread her hands wide, "But I have been completely transparent with you, Commander."

"We'll see." Macen said coldly, his eyes narrowing.

P'ris looked slightly afraid. She had reason to be.

 

Chapter Four

"Now Commander," Macen growled, "you will kindly reveal all that you know regarding this case and tell me how you obtained this information."

"You do not honestly expect me to give up valued sources in the Federation?" P'ris asked scornfully, "Would you do the same?"

"I don't want your sources' names or whereabouts." Macen clarified, "Generalise. You're good at it."

"I don't know what I can recall..." P'ris hedged.

"You can do this with me or I can have T'Kir rip it out of your mind." Macen coldly offered, "Choose."

P'ris looked daunted, "You would not dare."

"How many times do I have to remind people that I'm not Starfleet?" Macen asked with a dangerous edge, "Desperation can, and will, drive me to measures that a Starfleet officer wouldn't consider."

"You would consider yourself to be desperate?" P'ris was intrigued.

"Commander, do you or do you not agree that the Legal Minister was behind this kidnapping?"

A slight smile played across P'ris' lips, "I would but not all of the facts are in yet."

"But would it fit the information you have?" Macen inquired.

Slowly, P'ris nodded, "It would indeed."

"Tell me." Macen urged.

P'ris shifted her weight uncomfortably, "It was difficult enough to obtain permission to disclose what I have already. I am unsure of the breadth of my discretionary authority."

"Roll the dice." Macen demanded, "It's time to play or leave the game entirely."

P'ris' mouth worked but no sound came out. Macen's right eyebrow quirked, "Do I call for T'Kir?"

P'ris shook her head and swallowed hard, "You are most persuasive, Commander."

"For the last time, I'm no longer Starfleet. It's not ‘Commander' any more." Macen sighed, "I'm Captain of the Obsidian."

"Very well." P'ris barely nodded, "You have convinced me to cooperate, Captain. What do you desire to know?"

"Is this attack part of a larger scheme?" Macen asked.

"Yes." P'ris was still restrained, "That is our information."

"Is this part of a movement?" P'ris nodded so Macen continued, "Is this movement interstellar?"

P'ris hesitated. Macen's hand drifted to his comm badge. P'ris' eyes narrowed and her lips twisted in a savage snarl.

"Yes, damn you!" P'ris yelled, "We intercepted an arms shipment being transported to one of your citizens. The weapons were earmarked for distribution to a widespread political movement. Many in the Tal Shiar still hold the Federation as enemies so the shipment was sent on its way."

"But your government assisted us during Cell 51's coup." Macen protested.

P'ris shrugged, "We knew what Cell 51's intentions towards the Star Empire were. They were a threat and they were dealt with as such."

"And you don't feel that way about this group?" Macen was growing frustrated with P'ris' answers.

P'ris shrugged, "We know nothing of this group. This so-called New Order movement is virtually nonexistent according to our known intelligence. It was felt by some that a little disturbance within your borders would make you more amiable at the negotiating table. Unfortunately that view prevailed until I was able to convince the Senate to allow me to specifically warn you."

"Why me?" Macen was puzzled.

P'ris gave him a sly smile, "Although the Senate died in Shinzon's coup, your contribution to Romulan affairs is in the collective bureaucratic psyche. The Tal Shiar remembers and therefore the Senate remembers as well."

"A moment ago you referred to these people as the New Order." Macen seized upon that point, "Is that the name of the entire movement?"

P'ris nodded, "To the best of our information it is."

"And they're sponsored by a foreign power?" Macen inquired.

"Yes, they are." P'ris answered crisply.

"Will this tactic extend beyond Bajor?" Macen asked.

P'ris hesitated then plunged ahead, "I believe it will."

Macen's comm badge chirped and he tapped it, "Macen here."

"Brin?" came Vaughn's voice, "It's Elias."

Macen was surprised, "Are you in orbit?"

"Yes." came Vaughn's reply; "The Defiant and crew were dispatched to assist you in the advent that the kidnappers are still on the planet or in local space."

"Come on down, Elias." Macen suggested, "From the information I was just given, this is an interstellar group. I sincerely doubt that they are on Bajor."

"The interstellar part of the equation has already been confirmed." Vaughn tersely supplied, "The President of Alpha Centauri, the Premier of Bolshevik, and the Governor of Risa have all been abducted as well. We're waiting on reports of the situations of other planetary leaders."

"I think I've discovered a common denominator." Macen revealed, "I don't want to discuss it on an open channel though. The Militia has access to Starfleet's usual encryption ciphers. They've already been implicated in this."

"Understood." Vaughn replied, "I'll be down in five minutes."

"See you then." Macen smiled, "Macen out."

"So," P'ris wore a coy smile, "the infamous Commander Vaughn will grace us with his presence. This will be a historic meeting. No living member of the Tal Shiar has ever encountered Commander Vaughn."

"I find that hard to believe." Macen frowned.

"No other agent has survived such an encounter." P'ris revealed matter of factly.

"Now that I believe." Macen wore a rueful grin, "Elias can be quite deadly when provoked."

"The engagements were to the death." P'ris described, "Vaughn's survival is a testament to his skills."

"That and more." Macen agreed, "I'd better start getting preliminary reports from my people. You're welcome to join me."

P'ris bowed her head, "With thanks."

Macen proceeded into the master bedroom where Danan and Kort were conducting their scans, "Any news?"

"I need to tie into the Bajoran Security Net." Danan proclaimed, "I need to run a few ID checks."

"Patch in through T'Kir's post." Macen instructed her. Danan rose from her kneeling position and exited the room. Kort took one last scan of the misplaced desk and closed his tricorder.

"There were only two occupants of this room." Kort reported, "The 1st Minister and a second party. That party left fingerprints on the door and on the discarded phaser that the Minister had also gripped."

"Have you checked the security keypad of the entrance to the Residence for these prints?" Macen enquired.

"I was about to." Kort shouldered past P'ris, "Excuse me."

This aggravated Macen but P'ris gently put a restraining hand on his shoulder. She wore a bemused expression as she spoke, "I do not believe the good Doctor likes or trusts me very much. Some racial prejudices are harder to slay then others."

"He should know better." Macen said in disgust.

P'ris laughed, "Come now, Captain. Even with all of your vaunted Federation inspired benevolence you do not fully trust me. And it is wise that you do not! My superiors originally allowed these deeds to proceed unhindered until doubts as to what your reaction would be if their complicity were learned."

"No guilt involved?" Macen wondered.

P'ris smiled, "Ours is an amoral profession Captain. You are a highly moral and honourable man but even you must operate in an ethical vacuum at times."

"At times." Macen grudgingly admitted.

P'ris pressed a finger to her lips, "That is enough for now. I do believe Commander Vaughn has arrived."

Macen heard Vaughn greet Kort and then he appeared as he stepped into the master bedroom, "Hello Brin." Vaughn's eyes widened a bit at the sight of P'ris, "And who is your delightful companion?" Vaughn smiled, all charm and grace.

P'ris drank in the sight of a legend. Vaughn appeared forty years younger then his actual age of almost eleven decades. Still graced with a thick shock of white hair and a snow-white beard, Vaughn's eyes narrowed as he sensed her scrutiny. Even past a century old, the human was still cunning and alert.

"May I assume that you are Commander P'ris of the Tal Shiar?" Vaughn cordially asked, offering his hand in greeting.

P'ris accepted his grip, "I am. You, of course, are Commander Elias Vaughn, formerly of Starfleet Special Operations and now the Executive Officer of Deep Space 9 and Commanding Officer of the USS Defiant."

"You are well informed." Vaughn tacitly admitted her assertions.

"As are you." P'ris countered, "We have never met yet you ascertain my identity with the merest of glances."

An easy smile crossed Vaughn's rugged features, "Captain Macen has spoken so highly of you in the past that I assumed any Tal Shiar agent standing beside him would be you."

Laughter bubbled out of P'ris, "I do like you, Commander. You and Captain Macen banter alike."

"I should take that as an insult." Vaughn's eyes twinkled in Macen's direction.

"As it was intended." P'ris easily grinned.

Macen's comm badge began chirping before he could reply, "If you'll excuse me."

Macen stepped out of the bedroom. Thinking twice about P'ris' Vulcanoid ears, he exited the Residence before tapping his comm badge, "Macen here."

"Danan." the Trill announced, "T'Kir and I have discovered something rather interesting. You might want to see this."

"I'll be right there." Macen promised. On his way out of the Residence, he saw Kort folding up his tricorder, "Any luck?"

"The freshest prints come from the mysterious second party in the bedroom." Kort reported.

"Good work." Macen praised him, "Get outside and run an examination of the kidnappers' transport."

"Yes sir!" Kort practically bellowed and hurriedly proceeded down the hall towards the main exit.

Macen followed and began to stride down the hallway towards the Security Office. He'd considered letting Vaughn and P'ris know where he was going but he'd opted to hear T'Kir and Danan's reports first. He trusted Vaughn completely but like P'ris had said, she was still a question mark. He'd evaluate the data and disseminate it as he saw fit.

It only took a few moments to reach the Security Office. T'Kir and Danan were both seated in its two chairs. T'Kir was running some sort of diagnostic of an indeterminate nature. Danan was searching the Bajoran Security Net.

Macen placed his hands on either side of the doorway and leaned in, "Ladies?"

T'Kir turned and gave him a beatific smile, "I've done good, Boss."

"What do you have?" Macen asked.

"Did y'ditch your entourage?" T'Kir enquired, peering past Macen.

"They're still in the bedroom." Macen replied with a grin.

"Sounds naughty." T'Kir wore an impish grin.

"Can we get to the point?" Macen asked a tad testily.

"Rude and pushy." T'Kir commented to Danan.

Danan shook her head sadly and confided in T'Kir, "That's always been his problem."

Macen could immediately see a problem with this work arrangement. Having his wife and his ex-lover sitting in confined quarters with no restrictions on their conversation could breed trouble for him.

"C'mon, Lees," Macen pleaded with Danan, "T'Kir's already a handful. Don't infect her with any more rebellious ideas."

"What's this ‘any more rebellious ideas' shuk?" T'Kir demanded, "Since when am I under your authority? I thought we were partners."

Macen shut his eyes and groaned, "Domestically and in business, we are partners. On this team and as part of this crew, you answer to me."

"Back to being rude." T'Kir haughtily announced to Danan.

"Cut the crap, T'Kir." Macen insisted with a hint of irritation, "What did you find?"

Chastised, T'Kir's cheeks flushed emerald, "There was a back-up to the primary security systems."

"Really?" Macen was immediately intrigued, "What is it?"

"The building is laced with Digital Video Recorders." T'Kir explained, "It's an archaic tech. It predated the Occupation and the Cardassian, Bajoran and Federation upgrades to the system."

"Why weren't they removed?" Macen wondered.

T'Kir shrugged, "They're museum pieces. They should be donated to the Bajoran Technical Institute. The system was taken off the main security grid decades ago. But the DVRs are still running as a secondary system."

"So what did you get?" Macen wondered.

"Only three of the DVRs are still functioning and the memories on those is failing. What we have are grainy images of the perps prior to the kidnapping and during their transporter escape while the inhibitors were down." T'Kir described, "We've gotten a good look at the leader that Lees is enhancing and should have a positive identification in a moment."

"Stream the video from the first recorded image until the last." Macen ordered.

"You got it." T'Kir said in a chipper voice and began inputting commands into the computer.

"If the DVR system was removed from the security grid, how did you access it from here?" Macen enquired.

"Just to show you how good I am," T'Kir grinned victoriously, "I'll tell you. I accessed several subsystems and one of them related to maintenance. Equipment labelled as security devices was still receiving power after the shutdown. Isolating the location of the devices was easy."

"Next, I ran a peripheral hardware search to see what these were. An old, corrupted database still had 'em on file and I started looking for command and control codes. Whoever ‘deleted' these files simply rerouted them to an unused portion of the database but the files remained resident. Having found 'em, I activated 'em and started screening the little movie you're about to see." T'Kir took a breath, "Any questions?"

Macen held up his hands, "Not from me."

"Good." T'Kir rose and offered Macen her seat, "The view's better down here."

Macen sat down and T'Kir plopped down on his lap. Macen gave her a wry look, "Are you sure this is safe?"

"Safest seat in the house." T'Kir promised and then her brow rose, "What? You thought I'd just give up my seat?"

"Are you comfortable?" Macen teased, "Can I get you a pillow?"

T'Kir wiggled her butt, "I'm comfy."

"Can we start the video now before I get distracted?" Macen asked.

"Whatever you say." T'Kir grinned and pressed a LCARS style control.

On the main screen a grainy image formed. It showed a pair of Militia officers get shot by particle blasts. A man stepped into view. He looked around and his face was clearly shown.

"I already checked." T'Kir happily pre-empted Macen's next question, "That is definitely one Kelv Sidra. Keep watching."

A dozen armoured Bajorans appeared and were led down the hallway by Kelv. A smartly dressed woman with an elegant and regal bearing trailed them. Her gaze never wavered. It stayed straight ahead towards the goal.

T'Kir froze the image and enhanced it, "That is Kara Gena. She's the Legal Minister and Astris' partner. It gets even more interesting after this."

The imagery resumed. There was a splice and next it showed the outside of the Residence. Kara moved forward through the throng of her "troops". She keyed in the access code to the door and Kelv went through the door first. No phaser fire met the incoming kidnappers. After a moment's pause, Kara entered the Residence.

Another splice brought them to the Residence's master bedroom. There, Kara greeted a hunkered down Astris. Astris revealed herself and stepped out. The couple had a brief conversation and Kara reached out and gently disarmed the stunned looking Astris. Afterwards she peacefully led Astris out of the room. The visuals ended there.

"So our Legal Minister is the primary mover here." Macen surmised.

"Yup." T'Kir sadly agreed, "It's no wonder poor Astris looked so betrayed."

"The armoured Bajorans were wearing helmets." Macen grimaced, "No positive IDs available. Have the results of the AWOL personnel come in yet?"

"General Tannin is still compiling it." T'Kir reported.

"Help him out." Macen instructed.

"Aye, aye Captain Bligh." T'Kir replied with a mock salute.

Macen shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, "What have you got, Lees?"

"A migraine." Danan grumped.

"I think it's catching." Macen rubbed his temples.

"Poor dear." Danan said with mock sympathy.

"Do you have a report or not?" Macen wearily asked.

"Shore 'nuff." Danan replied with a grin. Using T'Kir's favourite sayings was becoming a game amongst her teammates. "The video proves our forensic evidence that Kara was the other occupant of the bedroom and also handled the phaser. Sweeping the room for skin samples, I procured two distinct and separate genetic samples. I've sent these findings to the Obsidian's labs and am having them reviewed as we speak."

Danan grew sombre, "One of the genetic samples was almost too perfect. It was like looking at Hannah Grace's DNA."

Macen frowned, "Genetic manipulation?"

Danan shrugged, "I'm not ruling anything out at this time. I'll let you know the results of the lab findings as soon as I get them."

"What lab findings?" Vaughn asked from behind Macen's position. He merrily surveyed Macen and T'Kir's relative positions and had to chuckle, "Your investigative techniques really do boggle the mind at times, Brin."

Macen grinned, "Whatever works, Elias. That's my motto."

"Your leaving us behind was shrewd, Commander." P'ris ruefully remarked, "Well played. I will have to remember that technique."

"What technique?" Macen innocently asked.

"Distracting one with one's object of admiration and departing to ostensibly answer a comm signal." P'ris dryly explained.

"To be fair, I did answer the page." Macen helped lift T'Kir out of his lap, "It was afterwards that I decided to receive my subordinates' reports alone."

"Watch who you're calling a ‘subordinate'." T'Kir warned.

"We've had this conversation." Macen reminded her.

"We haven't begun to have this conversation." T'Kir promised and retook her seat.

"I'm going to have a long day in the near future." Macen commented as he stepped out of the Security Office. He took Vaughn and P'ris off to the side and began to explain what T'Kir and Danan had learned.

"Could Kara Gena really be the product of genetic engineering?" P'ris wondered, "I believe eugenics are still illegal in the Federation."

"Bajor is a fairly recent addition to the Federation." Macen observed, "Who knows what was done during the Occupation or the centuries before it. The Bajorans have had spaceflight for fifty thousand years. They've been colonising nearby space during that entire time. Who knows what one of those colonies could have secretly developed?"

"A chilling thought." Vaughn remarked grimly, "Dr. Bashir aside, I have to say that my experience has been that eugenically bred ‘super beings' are inherently unstable."

"I would dare say that we all have shared those experiences." P'ris ventured, "The question now is, if this kidnapping leads to the revelation of a genetically engineered planetary population, what would you be willing to do in order to halt their ambitions?"

"Wait a minute," Macen objected, "who said anything about a planetary population? Is there something you haven't told us yet?"

"I merely draw the, dare I say it, logical conclusion." P'ris answered, "Bajor is hardly likely to have been able to develop or shelter a race of engineered mutants. A colony, perhaps, but not the homeworld. If a colony is sheltering a group of these beings then it must do so with the tacit consent of the government. The natural ambitions and talents of the enhanced insure that they would have achieved positions of superiority."

"She's right." Vaughn ruefully admitted.

"In preparing for this mission I would be willing to bet that Commander P'ris now knows more about Bajor and her colonies then either of us." Macen wryly commented.

Vaughn held up his hands, "I'm not taking that bet."

P'ris graced them with a smile, "You are a wise man but you have not yet answered my question."

"Starfleet would devote as many ships and personnel as it took to capture and resettle those found to be genetically engineered in proper psychiatric institutions." Vaughn admitted.

"They may not be insane." Macen pointed out, "They may be able to assimilate into a culture as Kara evidently did here."

"Have you pulled her dossier yet?" Vaughn asked.

"I was about to head to the Residence and use the security station in there to peruse the records of her and her known accomplices." Macen revealed, "Care to join me?"

"Ah," P'ris wore a wry smile, "we are given a choice this time around."

"And I say we keep tabs on our wily Captain here." Vaughn voted.

"I agree." P'ris chuckled, "He is much too dangerous to be allowed to roam around unattended."

"Then let's be about it." Macen said and led them back to the Residence.

 

Chapter Five

Astris Beru paced back in forth in the small cabin she'd been confined in. She had no idea what kind of craft she was travelling in. All she knew was that it was travelling at high warp. The vibrations permeating the decks and hull indicated that.

It appeared to be a scoutship of some kind. It possessed Bajoran elements as well as features that were vaguely Cardassian. She supposed that was natural. The Occupation still permeated every facet of Bajor.

She heard the locks on the door cycle and it slid aside. Kara Gena stood there, unescorted and unarmed. Astris calculated her odds of overpowering her partner. She just couldn't bring herself to commit violence against her lover, at least not yet. Kara's abduction of her had been bloodless and surprisingly cordial.

"Gena," Astris remarked scornfully, "have you come to gloat?"

Kara adopted a pitying look, "Please Beru. You have no idea how difficult this is for me."

"Treason is usually difficult, Gena." Astris dryly retorted, "That's what keeps most people from engaging in it."

"Whether or not I've committed treason is for history to decide." Kara calmly declared, "The difficulty is of a more personal nature and you know it."

"No," Astris said flippantly, "actually I don't. I'm used to my lovers betraying me."

"You weren't supposed to be 1st Minister when this occurred, Beru." Kara pleaded, "Please tell me there's a chance ‘we' will survive this."

"The concept of ‘us' will stand a much better chance if we return to Bajor and you surrender yourself to the authorities." Astris warned.

Kara grew pensive, "I don't think that's going to happen. Keep an open mind, Beru. It'll make your time pass by far more gracefully."

"Can I at least get some clothes?" Astris asked.

"The replicator is on." Kara informed her, "Its programming is understandably limited but you should find something to suffice."

"Thank you for that at least." Astris moved over to the replicator and began perusing its menu.

Kara looked unaccustomarily uncertain, "I thought you might like to talk."

"Will you discuss where we're headed and why?" Astris wondered.

"I can't." Kara almost whispered.

"Then I'd prefer to be alone." Astris decided.

Kara looked hurt but she stoically stiffened her lips and nodded, "As you wish."

As Kara exited the cabin, Astris regretted the lie. She'd like this to be nothing more than a bad dream. Then she could wake up and have Kara wrap her strong arms around her. It had been some time since Astris had been on her own. It would be a difficult transition.

Even through all of this, Astris still wanted to forgive Kara but her duty to Bajor, and previously to Starfleet, could not permit it. Escape! That was her only option now. Any obstacle in her path would have to be neutralised, permanently if necessary.

Kara was her opponent now. Despite Astris' blinding love for her, she had to be treated as an enemy. Astris' heart fractured into shattered shards at the thought. If Kara presented herself alone again it may prove to be Astris' only hope for escape. Astris prayed to the Prophets that she would be strong enough to take advantage of such an opportunity.

"Kara's been on Bajor for twelve years." Macen said as he read the fact on her security file, "She's from the colony on Ceta Organus III."

"That colony's been virtually independent since before the Occupation." Vaughn added, "The Cardassians used it as an agricultural hub rather than as a mineral resource centre."

"Was the colony inducted into the Federation along with Bajor?" P'ris wondered.

Vaughn nodded, "It retains its colonial status as a matter of pride rather than of necessity. All of Bajor's colonies were included in her admission."

"Is that usual in these cases?" P'ris enquired, looking from Macen to Vaughn.

"Yes." Macen supplied the answer, "Colonies are usually inducted into the

Federation along with their homeworld."

"Have all of these worlds been inspected by the Federation?" P'ris continued her inquiry.

Macen nodded towards Vaughn, "Go ahead, Elias. You field this one."

Vaughn shot Macen an irritated look and Macen merely grinned like the proverbial Cheshire cat, "Ever since the Federation's rehabilitation of the Bajor sector began, all of the known colonies have been contacted, assessed and assisted by the Federation."

"So you are admitting that there is room for unknown colonies?" P'ris wore a coy expression.

"Well," Vaughn rubbed the back of his head, "Fifty thousand years is a long time to cover and Bajor lost contact with most of her former colonies. The Cardassians reunited some of the colonies but there's always room for a few to have slipped through the cracks."

"Most interesting." P'ris grew pensive.

"You still believe that this is the work of a ‘hidden' lost colony aren't you?" Macen inquired, "Despite her file saying that she's from Ceta Organus III."

P'ris slowly nodded, "But of course. Your Security services and the Bajoran Militia are present on all of the known colonies. We have a potentially genetically engineered suspect and no trace of where that engineering came from. I suggest that you run a physical records check on Kara Gena on Ceta Organus III and dispatch Starfleet Security to investigate the possibility of a genetics laboratory operating in secret."

"That was going to be my next course of action." Macen replied dryly.

"Oh." P'ris' cheeks coloured.

Macen accessed the board's subspace transmitter and made the various calls that P'ris had outlined. The wheels were set in motion but there was little else that could be done besides reading the rest of Kara's file. Macen returned to it and began perusing the stark outline of Kara's life. When he'd finished, he leaned back and rubbed his bearded chin.

"It's too perfect." he declared.

"Her file?" Vaughn asked.

"She's dotted every I and crossed every T." Macen described, "She's never made a mistake. Which wouldn't be possible even if she were genetically enhanced. If she were able to assimilate, she'd make mistakes in order to fit in and avoid scrutiny."

"The Starfleet Intelligence Law of Improbability is now in effect." Vaughn declared, "If the file looks too good to be true then it's an enemy agent."

P'ris pursed her lips and then broke into a lopsided smile, "I will endeavour to keep that in mind, Commander."

"Hopefully our two governments will build a lasting peace and there won't any reason to keep it in mind." Vaughn smiled in return.

"That is indeed a hope." P'ris bowed her head slightly, "Let us see if reality can conform to it."

"We shall indeed." Vaughn brightly predicted.

Macen's comm badge chirped and he tapped it, "Macen here."

"Dracas." the Nova Roman announced, "I have found something that will interest you."

"Really?" Macen was intrigued, "What is it?"

"An isolinear data recording." Dracas revealed.

"I'll meet you in the Security Office." Macen ordered and rose out of his seat and started moving.

"It will be done." Dracas confirmed, "Dracas out."

"He's an eager one, isn't he?" Vaughn smiled.

Macen grinned, "He is at that."

P'ris looked confused, "Is this the same Hal Dracas that was a member of your crew? Our information states that he is dead."

Macen and Vaughn exchanged a glance. Macen adopted a wry expression, "Hal was killed."

"Then who is that man?" P'ris wondered, "The resemblance is remarkable."

"Joachim is a clone of Hal Dracas." Macen disclosed, "He came from...a backwater world. His skills are remarkably similar. He's still getting used to some of our tech but he's a quick study."

"I see." P'ris replied but she still seemed perplexed. Her eyes reflected her inner turmoil. Questions filled her mind but they remained unspoken.

"Come on." Macen waved Vaughn and P'ris onward, "Let's see what the big discovery is."

Dracas was already waiting for them at the Security Office. He warily eyed P'ris as he handed the isolinear rod over to Macen. P'ris returned his scrutiny. He was an unknown variable and she needed to reassess him.

"Excuse me." Macen said to T'Kir.

"Oh goody!" T'Kir said as she eagerly rose, "My seat cushion is back!"

Macen sat down and T'Kir happily plopped down onto his lap. Sitting with her arms wrapped around his neck, she smiled as he inserted the rod into a receptacle. The computer automatically read the data and began to display the information recorded onto the rod.

An auxiliary screen activated and the image of Kara Gena appeared, "Greetings. I only have to assume that our formidable Militia and the vaunted Starfleet are watching. Allow me to introduce myself to the uninitiated. My name is Kara Gena. I am the Legal Minister of the Bajoran government. I represent and lead the New Order movement on Bajor."

Kara's revelations continued after a heartbeat's hesitation, "As the name suggests, our movement seeks a new order within the Federation. Our recent political upheaval amply demonstrated the inherent weaknesses that currently exist within the existing system. Many strides have taken place to insure that such events will not repeat themselves but these are slow and inefficient. We offer a viable alternative."

"We have ‘borrowed' dozens of your planetary leaders in an effort to convince them to side with us on this issue." Kara divulged, "We offer you order and stability. Elect our representatives to your high offices and you will see strength and a resolve you have never witnessed before. We give you one standard week to reply to our message and begin deliberating our proposal. Failure to broach this issue will result in a reprimand."

"Do not fear for your planetary leaders." Kara assured her audience, "They are our honoured guests and will be treated as such and will not be bartered or used as hostages. Please see reason and accept our proposal at face value."

The image froze then the screen went dark. Macen turned towards P'ris, "Well, that lends credence to your ‘lost colony' theory."

"Yes." Vaughn rubbed his chin as he nodded, "I agree."

"Somebody want to explain this ‘theory' t'me?" T'Kir demanded.

"P'ris theorised that our kidnappers are from a ‘lost' Bajoran colony that's operating as a rogue nation." Macen explained, "Kara's own statements lend credence to this. She constantly referred to the Federation as ‘your' government. Her strong emphasis on stressing that her group is acting independently of the Federation gives this some weight as well."

"But we referred to the Federation as a hostile entity as well in the Maquis." T'Kir countered.

"We did." Macen agreed, "But we never declared ourselves to be anything but Federation citizens. Even as rebels we claimed our cultural identity."

T'Kir's lips curved into a wry grin, "Well, at least some of us did. I don't recall you ever waving an El-Aurian flag around."

Macen grinned in reply, "I never saw the point. What was I supposed to be, an "Army of One"?

"You'll always conquer me." T'Kir cooed.

Macen rolled his eyes, "Puh-lease." Macen swivelled the chair around to face Vaughn and P'ris, "While it's true truly disaffected terrorist will refer to an opposing government as a separate entity, having no claim over the revolutionary movement, there is still a strong possibility that this is a case involving a ‘lost' colony. Kara Gena didn't exist before twelve years ago and she's already established herself as a formidable presence in Bajoran affairs."

"For the abduction of so many leaders to occur simultaneously is unnatural." P'ris observed, "It is only achievable through an infinitely complex and elaborate degree of planning and coordination. This plot may have well been years in the making."

"Agreed." Vaughn nodded, "The precision of these people's attacks indicate patient, methodical preparation. They will be hard to find."

"Of course they will be." Macen smirked, "That's another element that lends credence to the unknown colony theory. These operatives have to find a place to hide their prisoners. Where better than a missing world?"

"You don't think that they're on Bajor?" Vaughn asked.

"The video indicates that they never left the Residence and their transport is still outside." Macen replied knowingly, "They aren't here so they have to somewhere else. Bajor doesn't possess a site to site public transporter system."

"Neither does the Militia." Vaughn revealed with a sidelong glance at P'ris.

P'ris laughed with sheer delight, "Fear not, Commander. You have not betrayed a confidence. The Tal Shiar made a thorough evaluation of the Bajorans' capabilities during the Dominion War."

"Really?" Vaughn grew intrigued.

"It did seem prudent." P'ris said innocently, "We were about to go to war with Bajor over our hospital facilities."

"A hospital with a Tal Shiar presence." Vaughn dryly surmised.

"Patients can be debriefed as effectively as the fit and able, Commander." P'ris sniffed.

"I suppose." Vaughn murmured with more than a hint of suspicion, "I have to wonder what capacity you served in during the war, Commander."

A sly smile spread across P'ris' face, "My past can remain shrouded in mystery, Commander. Too many of my dealings have come to light in the Federation already."

"As have mine in the Romulan Empire." Macen said pointedly.

"The curse of our association I am afraid." P'ris offered by way of consolation.

"That's little comfort, Commander." Macen's eyebrow quirked, "My ability to operate undercover in the Empire has been neutralised."

"As a freelance investigator who only accepts the ‘occasional' contract from Starfleet," P'ris remarked dryly, "your endeavours should not be greatly affected. What you are describing is the work of intelligence agents not privateers. Unless, of course, your true vocation lies outside of your cover story."

Macen smiled, "Keep trying P'ris. Any pertinent details of my profession can be found at the Security Guild databases."

"For you are truly a civilian now." P'ris chimed in with a merry twinkle in her eye. This game always remained a constant source of amusement for her.

"Well," Macen looked uncomfortable, "Starfleet refused to accept my resignation but they did shift my status back to ‘Reservist'."

"So," P'ris retorted with satisfaction, "you are still, however indirectly, a Starfleet officer."

"Technically I am." Macen conceded, "But I write my own ticket. I don't have to accept any contracts I don't like."

P'ris shook her head and clucked her tongue, "You still will not admit that you are a Starfleet operative in deep cover although we both know that is the truth."

"It was the truth at one time." Macen confessed, "But that reality no longer applies."

"Someday. Someday I will get you to reveal your true associations to me." P'ris vowed then brushed her hair away from her face, "Until then, we have a case to consider here."

"Exactly." Macen nodded and turned towards T'Kir, who still happily clung to him, "How's it coming with those reports from General Tannin?"

"I was about to ‘assist' him when you showed up." T'Kir divulged.

"Do I really want to know how?" Macen looked worried.

"Probably not." T'Kir laughed, "Beings we have jurisdiction, they'll be unlikely to prosecute in case I'm caught. Since that's highly unlikely, I wouldn't start worrying yet. But if I am, I wouldn't let any Starfleet personnel furlough on Bajor for the next six months."

"But you are not technically Starfleet." P'ris had to get one final shot in.

"We're operating on a Starfleet admiral's authority and latinum voucher." Macen calmly replied, "That makes us Starfleet in his eyes. Especially with Elias here standing right next to me."

Macen patted T'Kir's backside, "Upsy daisy. You need to get those reports. I don't care how you get them. Just get them."

"Right!" T'Kir hopped up and waited for the return of "her" chair. Macen obliged her and she sat down to hungrily attack the Bajoran databases. T'Kir sliced into a document carrying Tannin's authorisation code and copied it. Using his command code, she began accessing the Militia's secure databases.

She hurriedly set up keyword and time/date parameters and let the search engine take over and scroll through the database files. Two hits registered and she displayed them on the two main screens. Smiling triumphantly, T'Kir turned to Macen.

"Check these out." she urged.

Macen stepped into the Security Office and stood behind T'Kir. His hands settled on her shoulders and he began kneading her taut muscles. T'Kir moaned.

"Don't...stop." she breathed. His hands moved up to her neck and attacked the muscle knots to be found there. His eyes searched the reports she'd found as he worked. Eyes narrowing, he focused in on one report.

"We have five AWOL Militia troops and two more likelies." Macen called out to Vaughn and P'ris, "That matches the numbers shown in the video footage."

"What about the ships leaving orbit?" Vaughn asked.

"Sixty-seven ships left in the two hour time period following the estimated time of the abduction." Macen answered and turned to face Vaughn.

"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "You stopped! Get back here before I have to kill you."

"Patience." Macen suggested, "You'll never know what's to come if you don't settle down."

"Fine." T'Kir huffed. She folded her arms across her chest and slouched down in her chair.

Danan looked over and gave her a reassuring smile, "He'll be back when he's done conferring with our ‘guests'."

"Traitor." T'Kir grumped, "Take his side, why don'cha?"

Danan shrugged, "I was merely trying to cheer you up. No need to make a federal case out of it."

Macen spun on his heel and faced T'Kir again, "Can you pull up the Militia records of Jared Kilj and Kelv Sidra?"

"Will you finish my massage?" T'Kir enquired.

"No bartering." Macen scolded, "Get to work."

"This is not how I planned on spending my evening." T'Kir pouted as she began querying the computer.

"Poor baby." Danan consoled her, "Brin, the lab called me while you were away. The DNA has been modified from the Bajoran norm. We're dealing with some form of genetic manipulation."

"Elias, alert Starfleet of the possibility of these acts being perpetrated by genetically enhanced individuals." Macen ordered.

Vaughn adopted a wry grin, "Yes, sir." He stepped further down the hall and tapped his comm badge.

Macen turned to P'ris, "Now would be a good time for you to contact your superiors as well."

P'ris' eyebrow arched, "But I am unsupported. My mission is unofficial so I was sent in..."

"Alone?" Macen laughed, "I never knew you were a comedian, Commander. You have some powerful friends, P'ris. They've kept you alive this long and I'm willing to bet they want you to stay alive. I'm guessing you have a shuttle at your disposal at the least and a full scoutship at the most. Be honest. I can always find out the hard way."

P'ris pursed her lips, "I have a scoutship in orbit."

"Then I suggest you alert them to what's going on here and request instructions on how to proceed." Macen insisted.

"Yo!" T'Kir called out, "I've got Jared and Kelv on display."

"Let's see what we can see." Macen said and he stepped up behind T'Kir again. Once again, his fingers began working on her tense muscles. T'Kir groaned and leaned her head forward as he carefully applied pressure to her neck.

"Don't flop your head around." Macen scolded, "Keep your head upright but loose."

"Yes, Boss."

Macen scrutinised the records of the two men. He was searching for similarities, a common history. There were several such occurrences.

"They were both orphaned in the Occupation and they were both Resistance fighters. Both Jared and Kelv rose through the ranks to the Ministerial guard detail and both requested transfers back to regular Militia duties." Macen said aloud as he perused both files, "They were previously assigned to a protection detail together guarding...aha! They were guarding Kara Gena when she was still the Deputy Legal Minister."

"Did you find something significant?" P'ris asked as she poked her head back into the Security Office.

"A connection between two of the kidnappers and Kara Gena." Macen happily announced then he sobered a bit, "What're your marching orders?"

"Apparently I have already exceeded my mandate." P'ris said ruefully, "I am to break contact immediately and return to my vessel."

"But not on to home." Macen surmised.

P'ris wore a wry smile, "Please, Captain. You know I cannot divulge any more of my business."

"T'Kir, are the transport inhibitors still off line?" Macen queried her.

"Yup." came the glib response.

"Thanks for your help." Macen took a break from T'Kir's massage to clasp P'ris' wrist, "I hope to return the favour some day."

P'ris looked amused, "That day shall come sooner than you anticipate."

Macen's right eyebrow quirked upward, "I believe it."

P'ris tapped the comm badge affixed to her wrist as a bracelet, "P'ris to Talon, one to transport."

"Acknowledged."

A moment later, P'ris disappeared in a halo of energy that swiftly dissipated. Vaughn came striding up at that moment, "I take it the lady's been recalled."

Macen shrugged, "What else?"

"I'm having the station run an antiproton sweep to try and detect the Romulan ship but I doubt we'll get anything." Vaughn smiled in admiration, "You have to admit, she's a gutsy lady."

"You don't know the half of it." Macen remarked with a rueful tinge.

"A-hem!" T'Kir insistently cleared her throat, "Why don't you tell Elias about Jared and Kelv while you finish up on my shoulders?"

Vaughn's smile grew wider, "Lady knows what she wants."

"Always." Macen grinned. As he resumed his labours on T'Kir's shoulders, he relayed what he'd discovered about the two Bajoran constables. Vaughn listened intently.

Eyes blazing, Vaughn began his own interpretation of the data at hand, "We need to pull the records of that entire detail and have people run the officers down. We need background and details from everyone involved with Kara Gena over the years."

Macen patted T'Kir on the back, "You're good to go. Pull up the rosters of Kara's guard details over the years and match them up with the AWOL officers list."

T'Kir forlornly sighed and genuflected, "Thousand pardons for enjoying the moment, Master. I live to obey."

"If only you meant it." Macen retorted.

"You'd go mad from boredom if I meant it." T'Kir shot back, "You love the challenge."

"You're probably right." Macen conceded.

"I am." T'Kir firmly replied.

Vaughn had to laugh. Macen cast a bemused eye his way while T'Kir ran a comparative search between the lists she was compiling. Soon, five names were highlighted. T'Kir punched up the files on all five.

Danan whistled, "Tough bunch of customers."

"Jared and Kelv each had a hard look to them as well." Macen pointed out, "Let's see if their files and psych profiles are similar as well."

"Want me to run a comparative search?" T'Kir enquired.

"Do it." Macen decided. He'd reviewed Jared and Kelv's psych data. He'd noticed similarities there. If these files contained them as well then they'd have a pattern. Patterns could be pursued.

"Whoa!" T'Kir lurched back in her seat, "Take a look at this."

All seven files now had sections highlighted. There were a remarkable number of highlights. Each highlight registered a matching parameter in another file. Macen, Vaughn, T'Kir and Danan all began to peer at the assembled files.

"They all suffered a particularly nasty trauma during the Occupation." Danan noted.

"Each was a member of the Resistance." Vaughn observed.

"They all joined the Militia after the Resistance folded. Terrorists gone legit." T'Kir grinned in Vaughn's direction.

Vaughn chuckled but his merriment ended when Macen spoke, "That's how they got to where they are but notice the last addendums. Each of these people were passionately driven towards building a stronger, more secure Bajor. That was their tantamount reason for rising each day."

"And?" Danan had to ask, "That's probably true of every Militia officer if not every Bajoran."

"Strong enough to get noted in a psych eval?" Macen wondered. Danan thought about it and shook her head. Macen studied the screens, searching for the next intuitive leap.

"Kara mentioned that this New Order offered strength and stability." he recalled, "That's the draw. These seven are average Bajorans. Kara represents an effort of genetic engineering. What brings them together? The safety and future of Bajor."

"I think you have something." Vaughn nodded as he reflected on Macen's deduction; "If this New Order were promising a new, more secure future for Bajor it would influence people like this. It could even go so far as to prompt them to kidnap their own 1st Minister."

"We have to further analyse Kara's statement." Macen said and drew the data rod out of his pocket and placed it in the terminal's receptacle. The message replayed. Macen held his fist up to his mouth as he watched it. The message terminated and he withdrew the rod.

"She addresses Starfleet and the Militia but she speaks as though she were talking to the Federation Council. That's who the message is ultimately aimed at." Macen opined.

"Dax reported to me that several Council members are already pressuring Starfleet to see a copy of this message." Vaughn revealed.

"Word travels fast." Macen replied dryly.

"Nothing exceeds warp 10 except a rumour." Vaughn chuckled.

"You can transmit it to Starfleet Command in a minute." Macen said, "First, though, don't you agree that the week long deadline starts today?"

Vaughn nodded, "It seems logical enough."

"That means that if the Council is the intended audience, they'll be the ones reprimanded in a week's time." Macen followed the train of thought.

"Makes sense." Vaughn conceded.

"That means the strike will be on Earth near, or in, the Council chambers." Macen surmised.

"Now, hold on..." Vaughn began to protest.

"Look at it Elias." Macen insisted, "If the last year with Section 31 and Cell 51 has taught us is that there are people throughout the Federation that feel the same as these seven Bajorans. This ‘New Order' has to have people still in place."

"I'll agree with the last but the rest of this is pure..." Vaughn faltered.

"You see it to." a grin began to creep across Macen's features.

"They've gotten to the leaders of two dozen worlds." Vaughn revealed, "They've brushed past the best security that could be provided on those planets. They could have the ability to threaten the Council."

Macen handed the data rod over to Vaughn, "Now that you see it my way, go make your report to Bill Ross."

"You are aware of the fact that he's no longer a member of the Council of 5?" Vaughn asked.

"What Council?" Macen asked innocently.

"I've known about the Council longer than you have Brin, so don't play dumb." Vaughn warned.

"Yes," Macen grinned, "I know Bill is no longer on the Council and that Edward Jellico is back on it. Ross will relay the information to Jellico since he's the Chief of Operations. Jellico will alert Alynna Nechayev and Amanda as well as Bob Johnson and Edward Noyce. Jellico will be pleased that things are being run his way and he won't scrutinise the details of my investigation until I've played the game out."

"You're a canny bastard, do you know that?" Vaughn grinned.

"Flattery will get you no where." Macen brushed the thought aside, "Now get back to your ship and make your report."

Vaughn tapped his comm badge and asked for an immediate beam up. Macen turned to T'Kir.

"Transmit all this data to the ship." turning to Danan he added, "Lees, go collect Kort, Dracas, Daggit and Radil. I think we'll be leaving here in a moment."

"All right." Danan agreed, rose, and left.

Macen sat down in her seat, "Where's the comm channel? There it is."

Macen hailed the Obsidian and was transferred to the main viewer's pick up, "Hello Tom."

"What can I do for you?" Riker asked.

"Patch me into Admiral Drake's office." Macen ordered, "I need to have a little chat with Amanda."

Riker grinned, "Sure but go easy on her. We have her kid sister aboard. She might recruit Shannon to kill all of us."

"If Shannon does that it will be because Shannon wanted to and for no other reason." Macen laughed.

"Duly noted." Riker looked to his side and then returned his attention to Macen's image, "We have Ambril Delori on the circuit. Patching you through now."

Drake's young Bajoran aide now appeared on the screen, "Captain. Do you need to speak with the Admiral?"

"No, I need to make my report to you Lt. Ambril." Macen answered sarcastically.

"Why can't it ever be ‘yes' or ‘no'?" Ambril asked in frustration.

"Because life isn't that cut and dry." Macen replied curtly, "I need to talk to Amanda and I need to speak with her like it was yesterday."

"She's free right now." Ambril divulged, "I'll transfer you...now."

 

Chapter Six

Admiral Drake's head and shoulders filled Macen's screen, "I see you're hassling my aide again, Brin."

Macen shrugged, "She was protecting your schedule again, Amanda. I don't have the time for it so I cut through the crap."

Drake squared her shoulders, "What have you turned up?"

"A lot." Macen wore a tight smile, "Our culprit on Bajor was one Kara Gena."

"The Legal Minister?" Drake's surprise showed, "My feelers were that she and the 1st Minister were quite intimate."

"They are." Macen confirmed, "Kara and Astris' relationship began before Astris was elected 1st Minister. I think this agenda was planned well in advance and Astris and Kara's relationship just got in the way."

"Or not." Drake commented, "Seeing as how she was kidnapped anyway."

"Kara seemed genuinely reluctant to take Astris into her custody. I think she wavered for a moment between her cause and her lover. We might be able to use that later on."

"Perhaps." Drake remained unconvinced, "What else have you found?"

"Kara Gena is genetically enhanced." Macen revealed, "Her troops were typical Bajorans but she herself is a product of eugenics and genetic manipulation. We have the names and Militia files on all our suspected kidnappers."

"How did you come up with all of this?" Drake was astonished, "The rest of our investigative teams have barely turned anything up."

"Thank the Bajorans insistence on utilising any spare bit of technology, no matter how retrograde, for capturing the bulk of the kidnapping on video." Macen grinned.

"Have you recorded that footage?" Drake eagerly asked.

"Of course." Macen turned to T'Kir, "Can you prepare a data packet for Amanda? Include everything we've turned up."

"Sho' nuff." T'Kir's eyes glowed with enthusiasm.

"We're on it now, Amanda." Macen assured Drake.

"What's this 'we'?" T'Kir teased.

"Never mind her." Macen urged Drake.

"I usually don't." Drake replied.

"Hey!" came T'Kir's sparse protest.

Drake laughed, "I wish I could see the look on her face."

Macen chuckled, "You'd enjoy it."

T'Kir stuck out her tongue at him.

"Have you seen the ‘ransom' demand?" Drake nodded and Macen continued, "As you've probably surmised by now, this ‘New Order' is an interstellar movement. I think the week long deadline mentioned in their transmission is undoubtedly aimed at the Federation Council and it begins today."

"You truly believe they could strike at the Federation Council?" Drake enquired.

"They believe they can and so far they've managed to pull off whatever they want to. They have help in all of the right places."

"You believe they have agents in place?" Drake wondered.

"I do." Macen confirmed, "They were well connected here on Bajor. They undoubtedly have influenced Starfleet Security. Cell 51 proved that was possible."

"I'll have Ed Noyce look into it." Drake promised, "What's next?"

"The Tal Shiar intercepted an arms shipment bound for the Federation." Macen relayed, "Its destination was an arms supplier who would distribute it amongst an interstellar movement. That sounds like our boy, Pytor Boromov, is back in business."

"Boromov was cleared of all charges as a reward for his actions during the Cell 51 coup." Drake reminded Macen, "It was stipulated that it was a conditional pardon dependent on his retiring from the revolutionary business and living life as a private citizen."

"Then this private citizen won't mind us paying him a visit." Macen insisted.

Drake sighed, "You're hell bent on this aren't you?"

"Yup." Macen's lopsided grin returned.

"Then no matter what I say, you'll pursue this course of action." Drake correctly surmised, "I therefore authorise your interrogating Boromov."

"Thanks Amanda." Macen's grin blossomed into a smile.

T'Kir cleared her throat and Macen asked Drake, "Ready for that packet?"

Drake nodded and Macen cued T'Kir. With the tapping of the screen, the data was transmitted. The subspace signal was relayed through various communications arrays. Travelling faster than even the Prometheus-class starship, the signal reached Earth in less than twenty minutes.

In the interim, waiting for the signal to arrive, Macen and Drake outlined his line of questioning for Boromov. Finding themselves with a free moment, the topics became personal.

"So how's Alynna?" Macen asked.

"As good as to be expected in the wake of the coup." Drake answered, "It took a huge personal toll on her. The fact that she didn't see it coming is a constant source of guilt for her. She could stand to hear from an old friend."

Macen guiltily nodded, "If we survive this crisis, I'll contact her."

"That would be a help." Drake smiled, "It would mean a lot to her. She wonders why you haven't reached her for almost a year now and it weighs on her. I'll be contacting her as soon as I've reviewed your data. I'll pass along your regards."

Macen nodded, "Thanks."

"How's Shannon?" Drake asked, "You haven't gotten her killed have you?"

"Not yet." Macen chuckled, "And the ship still hasn't been destroyed."

Drake shook her head, "Give it time. You'll blow her up and my sister with it."

"Don't tempt me." Macen wore an evil grin.

"You'll do it." Drake groaned, "Just to spite me."

"Maybe." Macen was all innocence now.

"Makes me wonder about all those other ships." Drake almost accused.

"Those were honest losses." Macen ruefully admitted, "I'm not a very good ship handler."

"You were never Command track." Drake consoled him, "But Admiral Janeway can testify that the Sciences track can still prepare you for command. You've developed into an able shipmaster."

Macen looked dubious, "Thanks for the kindness but I still believe I'm a better investigator than a ship's captain."

Drake shrugged, "Believe what you will. The truth is self evident for those to see."

Macen grinned wryly, "That's what I'm afraid of."

Drake glanced sideways, "The data arrived."

"I'll leave you to it then and get underway." Macen replied, "I trust Boromov is still playing hotel baron on Risa."

"No." Drake corrected him, "He's on Magna VII. He's left the day to day operations of the Royale in his manager's hands."

"No longer needs a front, eh?" Macen remarked sceptically, "We'll see."

"Go easy on him, Brin." Drake warned, "For all intents and purposes, he's an innocent man. We don't even suspect him of anything."

"At least you don't." Macen said.

"Legally we don't suspect him of anything." Drake amended.

"I'm still going to shake him down." Macen resolutely declared, "If nothing else he can provide the name of the true dealer."

"You think he still has contacts in the Underground?" Drake enquired.

"It's a game to him." Macen explained, "It makes him feel powerful. He'll keep his hand in out of love of the game."

Drake pondered his words and then nodded, "I see your point. Sweat him."

Macen grinned, "With pleasure. Macen out."

The screen went dark and T'Kir stared at him with a manic gleam in her eye, "So, we're gonna press Boromov. This should be fun."

"When was the last time you took your meds?" a suddenly concerned Macen asked.

"This morning." T'Kir huffed, "When you saw me take them."

"The dosage isn't enough anymore is it?" Macen inquired.

"No." T'Kir readily admitted, "But it's as high as Kort can proscribe because of the toxicity levels."

"I thought as much even though neither of you told me." Macen divulged.

"It's not bad yet." T'Kir assured him, "I can still block out most thoughts. If a person is really concentrating then it slips past but for the most part things are under control."

"Except when you're tired." Macen countered, "Then your control wavers again."

T'Kir sighed, "Ye-es. I also lose some of my control when I'm tired."

"Like now." Macen deduced.

"Yes," T'Kir was becoming irritated with the scrutiny, "like now. Drop it will ya?"

"Okay." Macen sighed, "We need to find a solution for this though. The last time we faced Boromov you melted down because your med dosage was too small. I'd hate to see that happen again."

"So would I." T'Kir admitted, "But no one can do anything about it right now."

"That'll change as soon as we complete this investigation." Macen said and took her hand, "I promise you that."

"You're sweet." T'Kir squeezed his hand, "Here comes the others."

Macen rose and met the oncoming team, "Everyone ready to go?"

"I found additional skin and hair samples in the lorry." Kort reported, "We can cross reference the DNA with Militia records."

"Excellent." Macen smiled and turned to Daggit and Radil, "Any new information?"

"Nothing that deviates from what they've already reported." Daggit grumbled.

"You had to try." Macen patted Daggit's shoulder.

"Actually," Radil remarked, "one new detail came to light. Leto Fira was the first to awaken. She saw the transporter halos that whisked the kidnappers and Minister Astris away. She then sounded the alarm and requested back-up."

"What times was that?" Macen asked.

"Approximately 25:15 local time." Radil supplied.

Macen hit his comm badge, "Macen to Defiant."

"Bowers here." the Defiant's Tactical Officer replied, "How can we assist you, Captain?"

"I need to speak with Commander Vaughn."

"I'll patch you through."

"Vaughn here."

Macen smiled, "Elias, the kidnappers beamed out of the Residence at 25:15 local time."

"That would make it 10:30 Greenwich Mean time." Vaughn calculated, "Thanks. That'll narrow down our search."

"How's it coming?" Macen enquired.

"Twelve of the ships haven't made it to their destinations yet. We'll narrow our search parameters down to those ships that left between 10:30 and 11:30 Standard and get back to you."

"Elias, I'm breaking orbit." Macen announced, "I'm calling on Pytor Boromov."

"That slime?" Vaughn let loose of an evil chuckle, "Happy hunting."

"I may have need of the Defiant's assistance in the next week or so. Will you stand by?"

"We'll be ready." Vaughn promised.

"Thank you." a relieved Macen said, "Macen out."

Macen hit his comm badge, "Macen to Ro."

"Ro here."

"We're beaming back to the Obsidian." Macen announced, "Can you check in with the Inn and keep our rooms reserved? Keep the corporate tab running and let Parva know that we'll be back soon."

"I'll have the Defiant transport me." Ro replied, "Then I'll hop a ride back to the station with them."

"How's General Tannin holding up?" Macen asked.

"He's a veritable sabrecat right now." Ro chuckled, "It seems someone used his authorisation code to access Militia files."

"I wonder who could have done that?" Macen innocently enquired.

"So do I." Ro's smirk could virtually be heard, "Let's just hope Tannin can't trace it. He's ready to crucify someone."

"I have it on good authority that the culprit will go undiscovered." Macen assured her.

"Good." Ro asserted.

"Are you endorsing a crime, Security Chief Ro?" Macen teased.

"No." Ro retorted, "Ro Laren, former Maquis, is cheering for the good guys on this one. Safe travels, Brin. Get these bastards."

"We will." Macen promised, "Macen out."

"Ready to leave?" Macen asked his team. Receiving positive nods from everyone but Daggit, he tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Obsidian."

"Obsidian here."

"Transfer me to the Transporter Room."

"Aye sir. Standby."

"Telrik here."

"Beam us up, Chief." Macen ordered.

"Give me a second to lock on to you." Telrik grunted, "Ah, I've got you now. See you in a moment, Captain."

With that, the world dissolved.

"Hannah, break orbit." Macen said as he exited the turbolift, "Set course for Magna VII."

"Yessir." Grace replied gratefully.

"Trouble?" Riker asked.

"Probably." Macen answered, "We're off to see Pytor Boromov."

"Definitely trouble." Riker opined.

"Why are we going to see that toad?" Grace swivelled around to face Macen.

"He has information we need about the case." Macen answered.

"What is the case?" Riker enquired.

"Shannon relieves you in what, eighteen minutes?" Macen asked.

"Yes." Riker confirmed.

"See me in the Team Room and I'll fill you in." Macen replied, "Now if you'll excuse me, I'll join my wife for a midnight snack."

"It's dinner time." Grace insisted.

"You were on the surface with us, Hannah." Macen pointed out, "What time was it there?"

"Point taken." Grace acknowledged that fact.

"I'll see you in twenty minutes." Riker informed Macen.

"Good." Macen grinned, "You'll like this one, Tom. It has all the elements of a holonovel."

Riker chuckled, "I'll take your word on it for now."

Macen stopped in front of the lift doors, "Tell Shannon to keep us on course and to proceed at warp 8."

"You've got it." Riker assured him.

"Later." Macen called out as the doors closed.

"Sounds bad." Riker leaned back and rubbed his chin, "The big mystery is how are we going to find a ‘lost' colony if that's the source of the trouble?"

"Hopefully that's where Boromov comes in." Macen explained, "I want information on what the New Order's ‘reprimand' is and the location of the movement's headquarters."

"Do you really think Boromov will know all of that?" Grace asked between bites.

"He doesn't know." T'Kir supplied for Macen, "He's basically hoping that Boromov will be obsessive enough to have put the New Order's plan together."

"Why would he do that?" Grace wondered.

"Insurance." Macen detailed, "Our boy Pytor will use that knowledge to insure his own safety. He'll spill his guts to Starfleet Security if he's threatened by the kidnappers."

"Makes sense." Grace accepted the reasoning and then took another bite of her entree.

Riker sat his fork down, "What will we do if Boromov knows both pieces of the puzzle?"

"We'll give Admirals Drake and Noyce the details of the plot against the Federation Council and go after the New Order itself." Macen disclosed, "We have the Defiant standing by ready to assist us."

"That's a relief." Riker grinned, "The way this New Order keeps coming up with surprises, I'd hate to barrel into their system and find a fleet of starships waiting for us."

"That might still happen." Macen said grimly, "Remember, they had a ship waiting for them. Who knows what kinds of vessels they have."

Riker frowned and went silent. Grace perked up, "How was it working with Commander P'ris again? The last time we met, we were shooting at each other."

Macen grimaced, "Don't remind me."

"We coulda resumed the firefight this time `round." T'Kir suggested, "She still thinks we're Starfleet for Elements' sake."

"Really?" Grace's brow crinkled as her eyebrows rose, "What's she know that we don't? I know my commission is back in the reserve rolls. Otherwise I'd have made Lt. Commander by now."

"Don't worry Hannah." Macen smiled, "I have it on good authority that your promotion has come through."

"Yea!" Grace happily exclaimed.

"What about me?" Riker asked.

"I don't know." Macen admitted, "Amanda only specifically mentioned Rab and Hannah."

"So Lees is left out as well?" Riker testily enquired.

"Her next grade is Captain." Macen explained, "She'd have to do time at a research facility learning administrative management to attain that."

"So she's making a sacrifice by staying on the team?" Riker looked disquieted.

"We all are, Tom." Macen reassured him, "I could have a nice, quiet analysts posting back in Starfleet Intelligence and wouldn't have to bother with all of the Operations' hazards and details. You could be back in the regular fleet serving as the Ops Officer, and probably as the 2nd Officer as well, of some starship. Everyone could find a calmer way to live but for whatever reasons, we've banded together. We're each free to leave at any time."

"You sound as though you've put some thought into leaving." Riker pointed out.

Macen shrugged and wore a wry expression, "I always think about dropping out of the SID game. You'd have to admit our three-year ‘hiatus' was fairly nice and relaxing by comparison."

"You could have rejoined Starfleet Intelligence then." Riker smirked, "Why didn't you?"

"And give up this life of crime?" Macen laughed.

Riker chuckled, "I see your point."

"What do you want to do when you retire?" Grace asked, wiping her mouth.

"Sit in the sun and frolic in the water all day long." T'Kir happily grinned.

Macen smiled at his wife's notion of paradise, "I've been thinking about teaching."

"Really?" Grace wrinkled her nose, "Teaching what?"

"My people bestowed a lot of knowledge upon me." Macen said with all due seriousness, "I need to pass it along before I die."

"Is this that ‘Seekers of Truth' shuk T'Kir told me about?" Grace wondered.

"Yes, Hannah, it is." Macen patiently answered.

"I know all about Kelvan history and I don't feel a need to pass it along." Grace announced.

"You may feel differently in the future." Macen counselled, "Don't rule it out quite yet."

"We'll see." Grace replied sceptically.

T'Kir yawned and Macen took a final sip of his apple juice, "If that's all, I think we'll turn in."

"You're going to bed?" Grace plaintively asked T'Kir.

"I have to, Honey." T'Kir defended herself, "I was up all night upgrading the computer core and then today's been a full day as well. I'm beat."

Grace pouted and T'Kir patted her cheek, "I'll see you in the morning, Sweetie."

"Fine." Grace was still slightly sullen, "Have a good night."

"Always." T'Kir laughed.

"So what are you up to?" Grace asked Riker.

"I think I'm going to find out how Lees is doing." Riker told her.

"Where is she?" Grace wondered, "I'd assumed that she'd be here eating dinner."

Riker shook his head, "She's probably eating dinner at her work station in the lab. She's writing a paper for the Daystrom Institute."

"Oh." Grace's mouth puckered, "She'll be cranky."

"Most likely." Riker chuckled.

"Good luck." Grace cheered him on, "I'll take care of your tray and dishes."

"Thanks." Riker gave her his most charming smile.

Grace looked about. Radil was eating with some of her Security personnel. Abigail Collins, the Deputy Security Chief, looked as though she were having the time of her life. Grace had to wonder. Radil was never that jovial around the team. What made her Security detail so special?

Kort had taken to eating in his quarters. Ostensibly, replicated Klingon food was still preferable to Chef's creations. Personally, she thought that was a load of crap. Grace assumed that he just couldn't stand the sight of Radil having this much fun so soon after their break up.

Dracas was there as well. He was enjoying a conversation with a few of the engineers. Telrik was among them. Despite Dracas' militant bearing and upbringing, he could be quite charming when he wanted to be.

Grace found Dracas to be an affable companion. His loyalty towards Macen was unquestioned. The Nova Roman Emperor had commanded that Macen's word be treated as his very own. Dracas would fall on his sword if ordered to so there was no doubt as to his unflinching obedience. His devotion to his duties was a plus as well.

That and he's cute. Grace regretted, Too bad. I might not have paired up with Ian if Joachim were interested at all.

The thought of Delaney made her lonely. I think I'll see what he's up to. His attitude about my last message should have coalesced by now. With a smile on her lips, she rose from her seat and returned the two trays in her charge. She exited the Team Room. Anxiously awaiting Delaney's reaction, she hurried to her cabin.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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