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Countdown to Annihilation 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...

It was a bright and sunny day in New Dresden, the capital of Deutschland. In the famed Weimar Park, out in front of the Parliament building, sat a nondescript Andorian woman in her thirties. She normally did have one noticeable distinguishing mark but the disruptor burn on her check was expertly covered with synth flesh. She sat in the park, quietly eating her lunch and reading a book. Unobtrusively, she checked her wrist chrono.

A smile of satisfaction spread across her face as she saw the time. She buried her nose in the book and counted down the seconds. With a thunderous noise, it began. Explosions began gutting the Parliament building. They ended with a deafening finale that destroyed the prized crystal dome that sat atop the building.

People in the park stood mutely transfixed. The woman stood and stared with a look of horror on her features. Some of the crowd began to run away, to check on loved ones, to attempt to assist survivors or merely to crawl home and hide under the bed. The woman stayed, aware that the display wasn't over yet.

The emergency response crews were arriving now and racing into the building. Secondary explosions began to rip through the surviving structure, causing several levels of the building to collapse in upon itself. Aircars and lorries traveled to the uppermost levels of the building and disgorged rescue crews. The building's framework was too badly damaged by this time and the uppermost levels collapsed. Within moments, the entire structure imploded. Of everyone that had been in the building when this reign of terror began, none survived.

The woman slowly closed her book and maintaining her look of sickened dismay, placed the book in her bag. She picked up her trash from lunch and took it to the nearest replicator for recycling. She then confidently strolled out of the park to catch a cab. She had a ride waiting for her and the rest of her team at the shuttleport.

The woman joined her teammates aboard a modified Ju'day-class raider. The ship's captain congratulated her as she stepped onto the cramped bridge and her team stowed their gear below.

"Good job Rhiann." Captain Reynolds said, "If that doesn't get our point across, nothing will."

"It'll send a message but I'm not sure what kind. These people are stupid enough to deal with the Cardies for God's sake."

Reynolds noticed Rhanerh'ianndura picking at her cheek and her antenna twitching, "Point taken. Now get in back and scrub your face. Remember to have your people strap in to the crash couches, we're going into combat and I don't want to lose our vanguard covert operations team."

"Aye, aye sir." the Andorian snapped off a salute and went aft.

Reynolds' ship, the Viper, leapt into orbit. She was waiting for the Galor-class Hurak to investigate. When she arrived, she would find a nasty surprise lying in wait for her.

"They did what?" Ro Laren's voice rose an octave, "Are they insane?"

Calvin "Cal" Hudson shrugged, "I really don't know. Tom Reynolds has always been a solid, dependable fighter for the cause."

"He doesn't sound so dependable, or stable, right now." Ro observed darkly.

Hudson shook his head sadly, "No. No, he doesn't. Which brings us to you."

Ro grimaced, "Why don't I think I'm going to like this?"

Hudson chuckled humorlessly, "Because you won't. The Maquis Council has 'volunteered' your cell to track down Reynolds and put an end to his operations. We're not here to strike our own. We can't allow the public's perception to shift and dry up our support from within the Zone and the Federation."

"I certainly didn't vote for this." Ro growled. As Macius' successor to the leadership of the Ronaran Maquis cell, she held a position on the Council of cell leaders.

"The consensus was that you should be excluded in order to avoid any...prejudice." Hudson smiled thinly.

"You mean in order to avoid me telling everyone to go to Hell." Ro said flatly.

"Something like that." Hudson smirked, "But the decision was based solely on the fact that your loyalty to the rebellion and the Council is unquestioned. You've already dealt with rogues within our ranks on at least two separate occasions. And, you have the most effective intelligence unit in the entire Maquis."

Ro couldn't contest Hudson's facts. She just hated being volunteered for anything ever since she'd felt railroaded by Starfleet to accept the infiltration mission that brought her to the Maquis. She ran a hand through her raven hair and pursed her lips.

"All right, I'll do it." Ro sighed, "Give me all the data you have on Reynolds cell."

"It's being uploaded to your terminal as we speak." Hudson smiled.

"I hate you." Ro remarked, "You do know that, don't you?"

"Only my best hate me." Hudson's smile grew broader and then he sobered, "He's gone to ground, Laren, and he won't be easy to find." Hudson warned.

"Which is why you mentioned Macen and his Merry Men." Ro realized.

"Exactly." Hudson nodded, "Good luck and happy hunting. If anyone stands a chance at stopping these maniacs, it's you and your people."

"Thanks." Ro retorted and cut the transmission. As the comm screen went dark, she rubbed the bridge of her nose. It was a fairly futile gesture for a Bajoran. The vestigial bone ridges that "wrinkled" her nose ran from the bridge to in between her eyes. It also hardened her upper nasal passages making them difficult to massage.

Ro stepped over to the sink located in the restroom of her quarters. She splashed some water in her face. She toweled off the water and looked at herself in the vanity mirror.

Although she would never admit it, what looked back at her was the image of an attractive woman. She was more striking than beautiful in the classic sense. She had a heart shaped face with prominent cheekbones. Her deep, brown eyes were piercing and reflected a lively intelligence. Her upturned nose was slightly broad but proportional to the rest of her face. Her full lips could broaden into a broad smile that dimpled her cheeks. She was taller than the average humanoid female, a trait that, combined with Ro's normally brusque manner, intimidated most men.

The finishing touch to her appearance was her earring. Ro wore the seemingly prerequisite jewelry that signified one's faith in the Prophets, Bajor's living, translinear gods. Only, Ro wore the ring on the left ear, signifying her agnosticism. The Pah-Wraith cult also wore their earrings on the left ear but they wore red earrings instead of the traditional silver jewelry worn by Bajoran traditionalists.

Ro gazed at her reflection and reflected on how her path had arrived at her current state of affairs. Shortly after her graduation from Advanced Tactical Training and her subsequent return to the Enterprise she'd been tapped by Admiral Nechayev to infiltrate the Maquis. Unfortunately for Starfleet, Ro had sympathized with the rebel organization to the point of betraying her former comrades. She'd then returned to Ronara Prime with her newfound family and joined in their struggle against the Cardassians.

Macius' death had affected her deeply. In their short time together, he'd become a father figure to her. His dying exhortation for Ro to carry on his legacy spurred her on to seek the leadership of the cell. To her surprise, it was given to her following Santos' death. The loss of two leaders in such a short period of time forced the Ronaran Maquis to reconsider an alternative direction.

Since that time, Ro had led the cell on several successful missions. Their success rate was now tipped towards more victories than failures. The newfound fame and acclaim accompanying their newfound track record meant that more volunteers than ever were petitioning for positions within the paramilitary unit.

They weren't beyond their setbacks though. Rival Cardassian paramilitary groups had discovered the cell's location three times since her ascending to the leadership of the group. The last such attack had occurred less than three days ago. Their latest choice for a headquarters would keep the Cardies guessing for a while.

Ronara Prime's hills and mountains were riddled with cave networks. One such system had originally served as a civil defense installation. It was already fortified and fully stocked with power plants and critical supplies. The base had been abandoned when the newly installed Cardassian authorities had disbanded Ronara's militia.

Ro learned of the installation through a contact in Ronara's proxy government. The Cardassians allowed the former planetary government to exist to handle domestic affairs, except those of defense and police services. The Governor's Office directly managed those. The members of the planet's Security Council had destroyed the records of their various bases and the cartographical and geological surveys of the various cave networks riddling Ronara.

Several members of the government covertly supported the Maquis. They provided information on Cardassian movements and security initiatives. They'd also handed over the coordinates of several of the hidden bases. It was a move Ro was now grateful for.

They maintained a presence in the Ronaran cities but the subterranean fortress was their central headquarters. Tunnels blasted through the rock formed a network of escape and transit tunnels. One of the interconnected caves was large enough to facilitate most of the cell's spacecraft. This included Ro's Ju'day-class flagship, the Indomitable.

A knock at the anachronistic door drew Ro from her reverie. She swung the door open on its hinges only to find her lieutenant, Aric Tulley on the other side. Tulley was a broad shoulder, solidly built farmer turned revolutionary. His normal taciturn mien and craggy features hid his naturally gentle nature.

Tulley had come to the Maquis after a Cardassian paramilitary group had butchered his wife and children in order to secure the farmland for a local prefect. He was driven by a sense of justice rather than hate. His cool head and dispassionate nature had made him the perfect choice to be Ro's second in command.

"Laren," Tulley's gravelly voice ground out, "the Odyssey's back."

That was refreshing news. The Blackbird-class scoutship was Brin Macen's command. As Ro's intelligence officer, Macen had forged an investigative team whose capabilities rivaled those of Starfleet. Only Ro and Tulley knew that Macen had originally come to the Ronaran cell to finish Ro's mission. But having spent decades on the front during the Border Wars, Macen had many ties to the border settlers and felt the resident of the Demilitarized Zone had received a raw deal from the Federation and Starfleet.

Instead of betraying either Starfleet or the Maquis, Macen opted to become a double agent. He supplied Starfleet with timely yet nonvital information regarding the Maquis and in exchange he provided the Maquis with data concerning declassified Starfleet movements and operations. It was an arrangement that served both organizations needs and provided Starfleet with a friendly glimpse into the Maquis.

Macen's competence was attested to by his seventy-year career in Starfleet Intelligence. He was both a highly decorated analyst and field operative. His services provided the Maquis with decades of experience and centuries of insight.

Macen was an El-Aurian, the only one to have served in Starfleet. His natural inclination to be a "Listener" served him well in his chosen vocation. It also put him in good stead with his cell commander. Ro's experiences with the Enterprise's bartender left a soft spot in her heart for El-Aurians.

Macen appeared to be in his early thirties but was well past four hundred. He was taller than Ro's lanky form by several centimeters. He possessed reddish blonde hair and wore a mustache and goatee. His eyes were blue green and crackled with an energetic intelligence.

He was, Ro decided, the perfect man to help her find Tom Reynolds, "Comm Macen. Tell him to beam down ASAP. Tell him to bring his team."

Tulley nodded his head in acknowledgement of the order, "You've got it."

If only everything were that easy, Ro thought forlornly, then we would have already won this stupid war.

"Our informant on the Council has reported in." Rhiann reported as she entered Reynolds' cabin.

"And what did the dear fellow have to say?" Reynolds asked.

"She reported that the Council has dispatched Ro Laren and her cell to stop our operations." Rhiann explained, "Through any means necessary."

"Ro Laren." Reynolds repeated with some amusement, "Now that will be a challenge."

"Tom..." Rhiann hesitated, "Ro's good. She's at least as good as you."

"She's another student of Chakotay's." Reynolds replied, "Of course she's good."

Reynolds had been a merchant captain before joining the Maquis. His armed freighter, the Nike, had navigated the Cardassian border for over a decade under his command. He continued to ply his trade in the Zone after the Cardassian takeover. That all ended when a Galor-class cruiser blew his ship out of space on the suspicion that it might be supplying the Maquis.

The fact that he was supplying the Maquis did little to dissuade Reynolds' anger. In his mindset, people should have the right to revolt against a government they found oppressive. His anger was so great that he commed his contact within the Maquis and asked to enlist. That was when he met Chakotay.

Chakotay was a Maquis captain that was pioneering the concept of a mobile cell based on a ship. There would be no geographic ties binding the unit. They would free to strike and disappear at will. Reynolds served under the Native American captain for several months before receiving a ship of his own. He replicated Chakotay's style of combat and soon became a hero amongst the beleaguered Maquis.

Ro had learned combat techniques under Chakotay in Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training classes. She was capable of great guile and cunning as well as having the determination for a head to head, stand up fight. Reynolds would have to plan his next moves very carefully if Ro was dogging his heels. She would pounce upon any mistakes his group made.

"Tom?" Rhiann asked, "Are you all right?"

Reynolds nodded and considered his covert ops chief. Rhiann had come to him after her detainment by the Cardassian "constabulary" on her native colony of Gemini. They brutalized and raped her while she was in custody. Upon her release, she went home, gathered up her things and a hidden phaser rifle and returned to the police station that she'd been held in.

Rhiann drained an entire powerpack during her "visit". In the end, every Cardassian that had touched her was dead and she was a fugitive. The planet's Maquis cell found her and spirited her offworld. Cal Hudson had personally placed her with Reynolds.

It was after the advent of their partnership that Reynolds learned of the deep seated loathing Rhiann had for those she perceived as collaborators. Knowing there was a wellspring of similar feelings amongst the Maquis, Reynolds quietly began recruiting support personnel. These people often belonged to other cells but were willing to assist Reynolds in his efforts to quell the rising tendency of the colonial governments within the Zone to acquiesce to Cardassian control of their worlds.

This birthed Reynolds' campaign against both the Cardassians and the colonial civilians that placated them. He'd started out small at first, police stations, troop barracks, and city offices. The planetary parliament building on Deutschland was the highlight of their efforts thus far. But they had a larger target planned for next time.

"I'm just thinking of our next objective." Reynolds revealed, "It will pinpoint the biggest collaborator of all."

"Starfleet." Rhiann supplied.

Reynolds nodded, "And the man that recently handed over Tom Riker to the Cardassians: Benjamin Sisko. It'll be a two-fold operation and one that neither the Federation nor the Maquis will soon forget." With that said, Reynolds smiled.

Rhiann smiled with him and sat down to assist in the planning of the next operation.

"Well," Ro asked impatiently, "what do you think?"

Macen leaned back in his chair, "For Reynolds to attempt something this big, and in defiance of the Maquis Council's wartime strategy, he'd have to have moles in every cell ready to warn him of potential interference."

Ro's face twisted in disgust, "That's what I thought too."

"Then y'do know what you have t'do about it." Macen's Vulcan computer expert spoke up. T'Kir was a young woman that came from Shial. Shial was a colony populated by dissident Vulcans that believed in the expression of emotion. Joining the Vulcans were Romulan defectors. It was a world that realized Spock's dreams of reunification.

T'Kir had been offworld at university when the Cardassians visited her homeworld. The Cardassian attack had been swift, brutal, and invariably lethal. The colonists fought to the death but superior numbers won the day and Cardassia claimed the world.

The news of her family's fate unhinged T'Kir and she returned to the DMZ with vengeance on her mind. Demonstrating her superior electronic infiltration skills, she earned a place in Ro's command. Originally slotted as Ro's OPS officer, her relative instability earned her a transfer to Macen's intelligence unit. He alone seemed capable of restraining her manic impulses.

"Yes, T'Kir." Ro sighed, "It means we have to tap into everyone's communications and monitor them. Dammit! I didn't want to ever resort to something like this."

"Fortunes of war, Laren." Macen said consolingly, "We have a traitor in our midst. Measures have to be taken to catch him, her, or them."

"I know that!" Ro snapped, "It just goes against the grain of what we stand for. We stand for freedom and the rights of the individual. This smacks of the High Command's totalitarianism, the very thing we're fighting."

"As much as I hate to admit it," Tulley said quietly, "it's also necessary."

"I know." Ro sagged into her seat, "And that's the truly damnable part of it. All right, Brin. Unleash your little gremlin and let's see what we reel in."

"C'mon T'Kir," Macen grinned, "time to go to work."

T'Kir beamed as she followed Macen out of the shielded conference room. Ro ran a hand through her shoulder length hair and heaved a heavy sigh.

"Now we've gone where the Prophets fear to tread." she grimaced.

"I thought you weren't religious." Tulley smirked.

"I'm not. But when you've been 'dead', it makes you think." Ro confessed.

"What?" Tulley asked in bewilderment.

"I'll tell you someday." Ro rose out of her chair, "C'mon, let's plan what we're going to do to our traitor, if there is one."

"You still don't think there is one?"

Ro shook her head sadly, "No. All I have is hope."

"Then so do I." Tulley squeezed her shoulder in a comforting gesture.

"So what do we do when I'm wrong?" She forlornly asked.

Less than eight hours later, the Viper received a message from the mole on Ronara Prima. The message was brief but succinct. It said, "Beware. Ro has mobilized the bulk of the cell. They are looking for you. Out."

Reynolds reviewed the com log record of the transmission and shrugged, "It was only a matter of time. Are we ready to get underway?"

"We're still loading the special ordinance." Deirdre reported, "Give us another hour and we'll be ready."

"Good." A satisfied Reynolds replied, "The sooner we depart the less chance we have of one of the these fools stumbling into us."

"Gotcha!" T'Kir cried out, "We've nailed the bastard, or in this case, the bitch."

Ro hurried over to T'Kir's computer terminal aboard the Odyssey and leaned over the Vulcan's shoulder, "Who is it?"

T'Kir replayed the message for Ro. Ro's lips thinned and her eyes narrowed.

"Deirdre Armstrong." Ro said in a cool voice, "I think its time we have a little chat with Deirdre. Tulley, gather your men. When you've apprehended Armstrong, bring her here. "

Tulley nodded and headed for the turbolift. Ro turned to Macen, "I want you and T'Kir to sit in on the interrogation."

"Oh, goody!" T'Kir clapped her hands, "Mind reading."

Ro grimaced but didn't disagree with her.

Thirteen minutes later, Deirdre was brought onto the Odyssey's bridge. The scoutship had remained in Ronaran orbit while the rest of the cell's "fleet", including the Indomitable, had sailed. The ruse had been meant to confuse a potential spy. Judging by Armstrong's expression, it had worked.

"You...you can't be here." Deirdre stammered.

"Why?" Ro asked archly, "Because you've already told Reynolds that I departed with the Indomitable?"

Armstrong's jaw clenched and she remained mute.

"Where is he?" Ro demanded, "What's his target?"

Deirdre defiantly stared straight ahead. Ro sighed and nodded towards T'Kir, "All right. Do it."

T'Kir cocked her head her head to one side and broke into a feral smile, "With pleasure."

T'Kir came to stand in front of Deirdre. Her eyes gleamed intensely. A frenetic energy crackled from the Vulcan. Her sapphire blue eyes bored into Deirdre's hazel ones. T'Kir ran her left hand through her disheveled raven hair and then stroked Armstrong's cheek with it.

"Don't worry." T'Kir hoarsely whispered as she withdrew her hand. She leaned in, millimeters from Deirdre's face, "I won't even touch you."

Ro watched in near horror as this bizarre intimacy played out. T'Kir stepped back from Deirdre and merely stared at her. A minute passed by without any obvious effect. Ro opened her mouth to speak when Armstrong's eyes began to water.

Armstrong sputtered, saliva flying. Her eyes streamed tears and were locked onto T'Kir's boring gaze. Deirdre's body convulsed once, then twice. Her spine stiffened and Armstrong's body went rigid. T'Kir's eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed. Deirdre's spine arched and her mouth opened.

A bloodcurdling scream erupted from the wellspring of her soul. It was a sound of stark terror, utterly devoid of hope. Ro lurched forward in an attempt to stop T'Kir. Macen intercepted her.

"You initiated this, Laren." Macen hissed in her ear, "You have to let her finish it."

Armstrong's screams devolved into animal sounds and her knees buckled as she landed on the deck. She raised herself up upon her hands and knees. A split second later, she began vomiting across the deckplates. Ro started to reach out for Deirdre and took a half step forward only to find both Tulley and Macen blocking her path.

Standing in the middle of all of this was T'Kir. She'd never looked more wild, or more Vulcan in her life. It was a picture straight from Vulcan's past. Before Kohlinar and the tenets of logic.

"It's done." T'Kir announced with a glacial anger that only Macen had witnessed before. He strode over to T'Kir's side and wrapped his arms around her. She fiercely returned the embrace, as if clinging onto her very soul.

Still shaken by the events of the last ten minutes, Ro lashed out, "How can you console her? Look at what she's done to one of our own."

Macen wheeled on Ro, his eyes alight with a cold fury she'd never seen in his countenance before, "Spare me your hypocritical bullshit, Ro! This girl put out for you. If you haven't bothered to notice, she's as disturbed by it as our prisoner. And as far as our prisoner goes, I thought we agreed she was a traitor." Macen's eyes narrowed and Ro wondered if he was going to shoot her next, "In case you haven't noticed, Armstrong will live. She'll be a tad jumpy around shadows for a while. Other than that, she 's got a headache."

"And a subconscious suggestion for her to quit the Maquis and leave the Zone immediately." T'Kir added with a wan smile, "My own personal touch."

"So," Ro asked in revulsion, "did we get any useful data."

T'Kir closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, "She honestly doesn't know where Reynolds is our what his intended target is. Only that his mission is underway."

Ro sagged against the Tactical board. The Blackbird-class ships had a CIC layout nearly identical to that of the Galaxy-class Battle Bridges. There were three primary stations. First, the CONN situated forward and to the right of the Command chair. OPS was second, just to the left of the helm. Tactical came last, a standing position to the rear of the bridge. Command was located in the center of all the rest. To the very rear of the bridge, behind Tactical, was a door that led to the dual purpose briefing room and Captain's office. A space saving measure for a craft designed for a maximum crew of twenty-two officers and enlisted personnel.

"We have good news though," T'Kir brightened, "Armstrong didn't know anything about the Viper's destination, but she did have all sorts of information regarding their communications set up and encryption protocols."

"So what?" Ro enquired, "We can call them and ask them to stop their diabolical scheme?"

"No." T'Kir shook her head and spoke even more slowly, "It means I can hack their database and find out exactly what they're up to."

"You can do this?" Ro asked and T'Kir's head bounced excitedly, "Really?"

That earned her a reprimanding glare and T'Kir's arms akimbo on her hips. Ro held up her hands in surrender, "Sorry I doubted you. When can you start?"

"As soon as you clear a path to my station." T'Kir replied, making shooing motions with her hand. When Ro cleared out of the way, T'Kir plopped down at the OPS station and activated its screen, "Talk to me, baby."

While T'Kir readied her programs, Ro turned to Tulley, "Take her to the brig." she nodded at Deirdre's decrepit form, "And send someone up to clean up the mess on the deckplates. Prophets, does it stink."

Rhiann frowned as she answered the second hail from Deirdre Armstrong. It was highly unusual for a contact to com twice, much less twice in the same 24 hours. The message was text only, probably indicative of a hurried transmission made under observation. Rhiann reviewed the message and decided it was well worth Tom Reynolds' attention.

"Skipper," Rhiann said as she handed Reynolds a hardcopy flimsy of the transmission, "message from Ronara."

Reynolds mirrored Rhiann's earlier frown as he perused the text message. So, Reynolds mused, Ro's not only split her forces, she's remained behind while her flagship and light attack craft futilely searches for me. Reynolds indulgently smiled and handed the flimsy back to Rhiann. He then took a moment to observe the bridge crew. They were all relaxed and focused on the mission at hand. It was a good sign.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed activity at an unoccupied station. The library computer appeared to be running several searches. Reynolds' gut clenched and he began issuing orders.

"Rhiann, sever the communications link with Ronara!"

"Why?" a momentarily befuddled Rhiann replied.

"Because Deirdre's been compromised!" Reynolds yelled, "Someone's using her cipher to access our computer."

Rhiann stabbed at several keys but shook her head, "I can't cut the link."

"Clear a path!" Reynolds shouted and rose from his OPS station. His hand flew to the phaser on his hip and he deftly plucked it out of his belt. He thumbed the power setting to maximum and took aim. An orange particle blast lanced out towards the computer terminal, destroying it.

"The link's been severed." Rhiann reported rather belatedly.

"Those bastards!" Reynolds snarled, "They just cost me a perfectly functioning access terminal."

"Do you think they'll figure out what we're up to?" Rhiann asked softly.

Reynolds eyes narrowed in anger, "Of course they will. She's good. Make no mistake about it; Ro Laren is our worst nightmare. More than the Cardies, more than Starfleet, she's the one we need to worry about."

"Do we abort?" Rhiann almost whispered.

Reynolds shook his head and he wore a grim smile, "No. We just move faster and better than we ever have before. We pull that off and it won't matter what Ro does. DS9 will be a lifeless hulk floating in space and Starfleet will know we mean business."

"What did we get?" Ro asked as T'Kir began sorting through the data gleaned from the Viper's computer.

"A lot of material concerning previous hits." T'Kir said, frowning as she perused gigabytes worth of information, "The most recent downloads seem to revolve around DS9."

"What?" Ro leaned over T'Kir's seat.

"Schematics of Nor-class stations, navigational charts of the Bajoran system, approach vectors for the wormhole." T'Kir detailed, "Even the public access information on the station's senior staff."

"He's going to hit DS9." Ro realized with some shock, "But why?"

"Look at it from his perspective." Macen advised, "The Federation created the DMZ and handed over the colonies within it to the Cardassians. Ben Sisko walks the tightrope of negotiated settlement with the High Command on a daily basis. And lest we forget, he recently negotiated Tom Riker's surrender and handover to the Cardassians."

"Making him a collaborator in Reynolds' eyes." Ro finished.

"Exactly." Macen nodded.

"So how fast can this heap move?" Ro enquired.

"Faster than Reynolds' raider and for a longer period." Macen supplied, "Even if Reynolds has already launched and set out from a closer location, let's say the Badlands, we'd still come in right behind them."

"Which means that we still can't overtake them unless our assumptions are way off the mark." Ro grimaced, "And since the worst case scenario is usually the correct one in this conflict, that's what we'll run with."

Ro sat down at the CONN, "Take your stations people. We've a space station to save."

The Viper dropped out of warp at the outer edge of the Bajoran system and made way for Deep Space 9. Reynolds was quite satisfied with the approach until the station was close enough for high resolution scans. The station's docking pylons were full of docked ships. The berth that normally housed the Defiant, however, was empty.

Reynolds swore under his breath and activated a com link to the station, "This is Tom Reynolds, commanding the SS Viper, requesting permission to dock."

"This is Michael Eddington, what is the purpose of your visit?"

Reynolds, alone of his crew, knew that Eddington was a Maquis operative serving in Starfleet as the highest ranking Security officer aboard DS9, "Trade and commerce."

Eddington checked his board; "I can place you on docking pylon 9. Is that acceptable?"

"Perfectly." Reynolds flashed a predatory smile.

Eddington alone met Reynolds as the station's airlock cycled open, "Hello, you don't have to worry about any weapons you might be carrying. I've deactivated the interior security systems on the station."

Reynolds began to look worried, "Won't they be able to trace that back to you?"

Eddington wore an enigmatic smile, "Not exactly. I used Major Kira's override codes."

"You have the command staff's command codes?" Reynolds was in awe.

Eddington shook his head, "I don't have Commander Sisko's or Constable Odo's. Give me time though."

This time Reynolds shook his head, "You may not have that time. We're mounting a major operation here, something to rattle Starfleet's cage. When the chips settle down, your days here may be numbered."

Eddington smiled, "I've been thinking about taking a vacation from Starfleet anyway."

Reynolds patted him on the shoulder, "Good man. Stick to Ops and you'll be fine."

Eddington patted him on the shoulder, "Understood." Reynolds moved past and the covert action section of his cell followed suit. Eddington patted each of them on the back as the passed. Eddington looked inordinately pleased with himself as he proceeded back to Ops.

Thirty-five minutes after Eddington returned to Ops, he received a second hail. This one came from a decommissioned Starfleet Blackbird-class scoutship. Its registry listed it as the SS Odyssey. Eddington recognized the ship's ID transponder and wondered what merited this visit.

"Jenkins, I'll take this call in the Commander's office." the ensign manning Ops nodded and transferred the com signal.

Eddington sat behind Sisko's desk and activated the monitor. Not for the first time did Eddington feel that he should have merited such a command himself by now. Then he'd really be in a position to assist the Maquis. Eddington was surprised to see Ro Laren's face appear on the com screen.

"Captain Ro," Eddington greeted her with an ingratiating smile, "I was expecting to hear from Captain Macen."

"He's aboard," Ro acknowledged, "but this is my op. I need your help."

"What can I do?"

"I see the Viper has already docked. I assume they're busy at work even as we speak?"

Eddington nodded and wondered where this was going. He strongly suspected he wouldn't like it.

"Michael, these people are the ones responsible for the bombing on Deutschland." Ro revealed, "They were also involved in a number of smaller bombings across the Zone. The point is, they have no regard for the distinction between civilians and combatants. They're here to attack this station, and since the military portions of it are under guard, where do you think they'll strike?"

"The Promenade and the Habitat Ring." Eddington whispered.

"Got it in one." Ro remarked, "Now the question is: how are you going to help us?"

"I can alert Security. I placed viridian patches on all of them. I can track their individual movements throughout the station."

"Hudson wants to keep this an internal problem. That means an internal solution." Ro explained, "We can't operate on the Promenade. I'd alert Security and the Bajoran Deputies of potential mischief there. Give us the location of the others and we'll deal with them."

"I'll put you on lower pylon 3 and meet you and the airlock with tricorders set to their patches' frequencies." Eddington offered.

"Perfect." Ro said with a grim smile.

Eddington was there while the crew of the Odyssey rallied around the airlock. Ro organized them in pairs. The Chief Engineer, the Bolian Thool, was her partner over Tulley's objections. Tulley was guiding three others on a hunt after a group of four of Reynolds' men. The rest of the twenty-man crew was broken into pairs. All except Macen and T'Kir.

"I want you two aboard ship monitoring the situation. T'Kir, I'm certain you can hack into the internal sensors and track the movements of both forces. Brin, keep us appraised of shifts of tactics and strategy. If these psychos are about to blow their charges early, I want to know it."

Macen nodded, "You've got it."

"All right people, let's get to it!" Ro ordered and her people each grabbed a tricorder and moved out.

As they cleared out, Eddington thrust out a hand to Macen, "Commander, it's an honor."

"I'm sure the honor is mine." Macen replied as he accepted the other man's hand, "Your work here as been vital to the cause."

"But your reports to Starfleet are invaluable." Eddington gushed, "They're the fairest depiction of the Maquis and the cause available. And the work your intelligence unit does. The Maquis would be lost without you."

"I'm afraid I have to disagree." Macen shook his head; "The individual cells would each gather intel on their own without me and my group. But I'm afraid that we have a job to do and can't exchange compliments all day."

"I don't know." T'Kir grinned, "I could stand to hear more."

"Not now T'Kir." Macen took her by the arm and started dragging her back into the airlock, "It's been nice meeting you, Commander."

"You too." Eddington called out and then headed back to Ops with an amused grin on his face.

Reynolds and Rhiann stood over the bomb. Their's was the master in the circuit of explosives planted throughout the station. The computer attached to the bomb housing would activate all the other bombs and detonate them simultaneously. They were in the midst of programming the time delay into the computer when Ro and Thool happened upon them.

Ro leveled her phaser at Reynolds, "Stand up and back away from that bomb."

Reynolds finger hovered over the "Commit" button, "How fast do you really think you are."

Ro fired, stunning Reynolds, "Fast enough."

Rhiann let out a literal roar of rage and grief and lunged for Ro. Both Ro and Thool hit her with particle blasts and the Andorian collapsed into a heap on the deck. Ro ran to the bomb and motioned for Thool to join her.

"Can you disarm this thing?" Ro asked anxiously.

Thool shrugged, "I won't know until I try." With that, he bent over and began working on the bomb.

Ro hit her com badge, "Ro to Macen. How're we doing?"

Macen chuckled, "Most of the teams met with little resistance. Tulley's team engaged in a protracted phaser duel. They won but that was because one of Reynolds' men tried to shoot the bomb. The casing proved to be particle blast resistant and reflected the energy stream at her and her fellows. They received varying degrees of phaser burns."

"But they'll live?"

"Yup."

"Thank the Prophets."

"When did you become religious?"

"Shut it." Ro growled.

"Oops." Thool said suddenly, "Oh, hell."

"What's oops?" Ro asked urgently.

"I tried to remove the computer from the casing in order to deactivate the receiver."

"And?"

"It activated the program Reynolds programmed. We have forty minutes before everything blows."

"Brin, put T'Kir on the line."

"What'cha want?" the Vulcan's irreverently reply.

"I've got to diffuse a computer controlled bomb. Can you help?"

"Is it located near a computer interface you could use to plug the tricorder into the bomb and then into the interface?"

"We're at a maintenance crawlspace hatch. There's nothing." Ro informed her.

"Sorry." you could practically hear T'Kir's shrug, "I could be there in thirty."

"That wouldn't leave enough time to diffuse it." Thool ventured.

"Sounds like you're on your own." T'Kir commented.

"Thanks." Ro groused, "Thool, hand me the tricorder."

"You're not seriously going to try and diffuse this thing?"

"I'm not going to let these people die!" Ro shouted, "They taught me how to do this at Advanced Tactical Training. Now it's time to make that training pay off."

"May the gods be with you." Thool prayed.

Ro interfaced the tricorder with the bomb's computer. Lines and lines of code began scrolling down her screen. Fortunately, Ro recognized most of the algorithms. The computer was of Andorian manufacture with a standard Federation interface. Seeing as Reynolds deputy was an Andorian, it was little wonder they had access to Andorian military tech. Now it was merely a matter of sorting through the mountains of individual programs in time to deactivate the bomb.

Ro opted for another approach. She queried the bomb as to its current function. It told her, quite simply, that it was on a countdown to self-annihilation. She then requested to see the command pathways that led it to this point.

Studying the command structure, she was able to identify the program's triggers. She checked her chrono. She'd already used up thirty-three minutes of their window. Uncertain of what to do next, she began entering commands.

The first set of instructions was flatly rejected. She spared a minute to review the command structure again. She had four minutes left. She furiously began inputting commands.

When she'd finished, she sat back and waited for the computer to sort through them. One minute ticked by, then another. Ro was sweating furiously and Thool was engaged in a meditative prayer. One more minute passed by. Ro began trying to make peace with the gods she wasn't even certain she believed in.

The computer chimed and the countdown halted, then the display went blank. Ro checked her tricorder. Somehow she'd managed to deactivate the computer. Knowing the countdown and bomb detonation sequence were highly shielded, she'd gone another route and tried to turn the computer off. Now it seemed she'd pulled it off.

Thool opened one eye as Ro began laughing. They hugged each other fiercely. Thool went back to detaching the computer from the bomb's housing and Ro hit her comm badge.

"We did it!" she cried exultantly.

"I kind of figured the lack of explosions meant you'd been successful." Macen said dryly.

"Watch it." Ro warned, "Your assistant is rubbing off on you."

"Never!" Macen replied with mock indignation.

"Tell Eddington we're clearing out and he can begin collecting bombs and prisoners." Ro ordered.

"What about Reynolds?" he asked.

"Guide Tulley's team my way. We're taking Reynolds and his lieutenant with us." Ro ordered.

"Freeze!" a male voice called out. Ro turned to see two Militia Deputies holding phasers on them. Thool finished ripping the master circuit board out of the computer then dropped it.

The man assessed the scene and then holstered his phaser. The female Deputy did likewise. The man approached Ro and extended his hand.

"My name's Tannin Harb. I suppose I owe you the thanks of the entire station for stopping these bombers."

"Thanks." Ro replied and took his hand, "My name's..."

"Ro Laren." Tannin grinned mischievously, "I know. Now I don't know how you, or they, smuggled weapons aboard and right now I don't care. I suppose your partner just destroyed the detonator?"

Ro nodded and Tannin smiled, "Good enough. We'll take these prisoners into custody then."

Ro put a hand to Tannin's chest as he approached Reynolds, "I can't let you do that. That man and woman are in my custody. They're standing trial in the Zone."

"A Maquis trial, eh?" Tannin grinned, "All right. We did the same in the Resistance. I'll leave them to you."

Tulley and his team arrived at that moment. Tannin shook his head, "Not taking any chances are you?"

"Would you?" Ro asked.

Tannin chuckled, "No I guess not. You're free to go with your prisoners. You'll have to turn over your weapons though. It's the least you could do in exchange."

Ro glanced back at Tulley's team, who were tensing up. She then returned her focus to Tannin and nodded.

"Fair enough." She relented.

The Odyssey departed DS9 without further incident. They made it back into the DMZ and delivered Reynolds and Rhiann to the Maquis Council. Ro was once again excluded from the session and stood outside the council chambers fuming. Cal Hudson finally stepped out and spoke with her.

"Well?" she demanded.

"They've been sentenced to death." Hudson said bleakly, "I tried to reason with them, to persuade them to hand them over to the Federation, but they weren't buying."

"If I'd known they were simply going to die," Ro said bitterly, "I would have turned them over to DS9's security force."

"Hard choices." Hudson agreed, "But that's all we face in this conflict."

"But why execute them?" Ro wondered.

"We don't have any facilities to house prisoners." Hudson explained, "But most of all, the Council wants to set an example of what happens to those that defy the edicts of the Commander and Council."

"So, in the end, how did you vote Cal?"

Hudson silently stared at her and Ro smiled thinly, "That's what I thought."

"It was for the good of the cause." Hudson protested.

"So would have been putting them on trial, convicting them and handing them over to the Federation." Ro countered, "They at least have the facilities to deal with criminals like this. Executing them will just vilify us in the eyes of the Federation Council."

"The sessions not over, you could make your case to the Council."

"It'd be my pleasure." Ro growled.

The Indomitable met the USS Tirpitz along the Federation border to transfer the prisoners. The captain had expressed some surprise as to the nature of their rendezvous.

"To be honest, I thought you Maquis would settle for some kind of vigilante justice."

"Happy to disappoint." Ro retorted.

"Somehow I get the feeling you had something to do with that decision." the Captain's eyes twinkled.

"So," Reynolds said as he was being brought to the Indomitable's transporter room, "I hear I owe you for my life."

"You don't owe me anything." Ro said coldly, "Personally I hope they lock the two of you up in the stockade and throw away the key."

"You would know about stockades, wouldn't you?" Reynolds sneered.

Ro's eyes narrowed, "But I'm out. You're about to spend the rest of your life rotting away in prison. I hope you enjoy it."

Reynolds shoulder charged Ro but Tulley grabbed him from behind and ushered him along. Rhiann followed without any trouble. She was like a broken rag doll. She shuffled along with her eyes downcast and head hung low.

"Get them off my boat." Ro ordered and returned to the bridge. Once she was seated at her station, the reflections came

A high price to be paid, Ro thought, but they brought it on themselves. Now came the hard part, ensuring that no one else followed in their footsteps. The precedent had been set but so had the precedent for the consequences. Hopefully one would dissuade the other. Only time will tell, Ro mused, but I'll always stand ready to stop the psychopaths that crop up.

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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