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Counter Terror by Travis Anderson

The tales from the Maquis

Chapter One

The Volnar colony was a Bajoran settlement outside the Bajor sector and between the Cardassian, Tzenkethi, and Breen outer territories. The colony had been returned to Bajoran administration by the Cardassian Union but it still retained extensive trade ties with the Bajoran colony. So much so that the colony utilized the Cardassian lek as its primary currency.

As a hub of Cardassian commercial interests outside of Union space, Volnar colony had become a stopping point for those willing to trade in secrets. And this included professional intelligence agencies, as well as independent merchants, and such paramilitary entities as the Maquis. It was this factor that brought Brin Macen and the crew of the Blackbird-class scout, SS Odyssey, to Volnar to shop around.

The Odyssey had once been the USS Tiberius before Starfleet decommissioned her and Section 31 had stored her in an orbital depot. Of course, when the Maquis pilfered the shipyard no one had ever learned of Section 31's existence or its part in utilizing older starships to conduct covert operations. S31 used the yard to equip various persons and entities to engage in activities on its behalf. Leaking the existence of the yard and having specially stocked up had been no exception for the Maquis. The entire raid had been carefully orchestrated by a Senior S31 Agent named Luthor Sloan.

The Odyssey was incapable of terrestrial landings so she remained parked in orbit with her chief engineer, Tom Eckles, aboard. Macen led a landing party. Despite their best intentions, the crew drew attention. The ship's pilot, Tracy Ebert, was a bespectacled teenager. The OPS officer, a Vulcan named T'Kir, was mentally unstable and it showed. The engineer's mate, Heidi Darcy, was bleached blonde Asian, the weapons officer, Christine Lacey, was secretly a partially transitioned male-to-female transsexual. The XO was a disguised Trill named Lisea Danan and Macen was an El-Aurian. While Danan and Macen looked human, they gave off a distinctly alien vibe thanks to Danan's symbiot and Macen's Delta Quadrant origins.

Using the crewmen as a distraction, Macen and Danan slipped away to patron Choolie's. It was a Bolian bar and grill whose owner had purchased Volnar's hottest spot and repurposed it and now it was the most happening public house in the entire colony and it was also a hit with visiting traders. There, the choicest selection of secrets was made available.

The ex-Starfleet pair brought a wide degree of experience with them. Macen was a former Anthropology & Archeology Officer with the El-Aurian Exploratory Service before becoming 2nd Officer aboard the Lakul in order to earn passage to the Alpha Quadrant after the Borg assimilated the majority of his race. Macen arrived in the quadrant in the famous Nexus incident of 2293. In 2303, Macen joined Starfleet and served in Starfleet Intelligence from 2330-2369. In 2370, Macen resigned and travelled into the Federation's Demilitarized Zone with the Cardassians to join the Maquis.

Danan had been a stellar cartographer and astrophysicist assigned to a observatory in the Kalandra sector that had met Macen while he served Starfleet Intelligence on the front lines of the infamous Border Wars. Having fallen into a relationship five years prior to Macen's leaving Starfleet, Danan followed him to the DMZ and helped him assemble the Odyssey's crew while the operated a Rigellian made scout before graduating to the decommissioned starship they now commanded.

Danan had seen the potential within Macen that Starfleet had only begun to tap in the latter 2340's. The Maquis utilized every iota of Macen's skills with far fewer restrictions. Macen had approached Ro Laren after she succeeded others into being the leader of the Ronara Prime Maquis cell. The cell had taken several severe blows in recent times.

First the founding leader, Macius, had been killed. Santos, his immediate successor, was killed two months later before Ro accepted the position. The Odyssey crew had enlisted just mere weeks before Tom Riker led the theft of the USS Defiant from Deep Space Nine. Kalita had been Ro's lieutenant before her capture by the Federation while Riker surrendered to Gul Dukat to spare his crew's lives.

"There's Okona," Macen nodded to the table where Thadiun Okona sat alone. Okona was captain of the free trader Erstwhile and a supposed rogue. In reality, Okona championed any number of causes and sympathized with twice that number. The Maquis ranked amongst the sympathies.

Macen also knew Okona was expanding his territories and had begun exploring trade deals in the pocket of nonaligned space existing Volnar, Dreon, and Free Haven existed in. Word was, Okona had deep access into the Cardassian Union. So Macen and Danan just sat down across from him uninvited.

Okona grinned, "Macen. And more importantly, Danan."

"Word is you recently supplied Cardassia VIII with twenty kilotons of yamuck sauce. That's a lot for a penal colony," Macen said.

"What can I say?" Okona smirked, "The guards have a sweet tooth."

"Yamuck sauce isn't really my concern anyway," Macen shrugged.

"Then what is?" Okona was still nonchalant.

"Rumors are circulating in high places the Federation and Cardassia are uniting on a single front," Macen revealed, "My Federation and Starfleet contacts don't know anything specific. But you've been to Cardassia VIII recently while I haven't and scuttlebutt amongst bored guards can be invaluable."

Okona frowned, "It's more than a single front. It's a single issue. And what is the one issue that unites Cardassians and the Federation?"

"The Maquis," Macen's suspicions were all confirmed by a single thought.

"That'd be my guess," Okona agreed, "But look at the bright side; you've got a fast, tough little ship and a smuggling business that puts you in the Cardassians good graces."

"Maybe, but I have to doubt it," Macen replied, "They also know I'm a freelance information broker."

"A spy for hire," Okona snickered, "Let's be honest."

Macen signaled for a waiter, "His next purchase is on me, and open a bar tab. But only for his drinks. Not for any women he tries to seduce."

The waiter took Macen's thumbprint and walked away grinning. Okona looked deflated, "It just happens I was about to order a lavish meal."

"Knock yourself out," Macen urged.

Macen and Danan rose to leave and Okona spoke to Danan, "Care to join me, O' vision of loveliness?"

"Maybe some time," Danan smiled as she gestured at Macen and herself with a finger, "If things don't work out."

"Something to hope for then," Okona saluted her with his now empty glass.

"You believe him, don't you?" Danan inquired as she and Macen went in search of the crew.

They strolled through the central market as Macen spoke to her, "Sveta heard a few similar rumblings but like me, she couldn't penetrate anything or anyone inside the Federation. That meant the secret was compartmentalized. Which left the Cardassian end of things. If the High Command really endorsed this proposal then every gul would be informed and the guls would undoubtedly boast to the troops about how the Federation was sucking up to them to get help chasing down the Maquis."

Svetlana Korepanova was another ex-Starfleet officer code-named ‘the Architect' by the Maquis and served as their chief strategist. To go undercover she set up shop as a consultant and data acquisition expert on Deep Space Nine. Bajor was her largest client.

"So what's our play?" Danan asked.

"You're rounding up the children and telling them they have four hours to play with. Afterwards we break orbit," Macen told her.

"And what will you be doing?" Danan asked, "Mmm?"

"I'll be in conference with Elijah Waters," Macen informed her.

"Isn't it a little dangerous to involve him?" Danan was apprehensive.

"Lees, he was the Deputy Chief of Starfleet Intelligence before he retired and Fujisaki took over," Macen reminded her, "He knows tradecraft I've never dreamt of, and besides, the whole point of his taking over the Kalandra sector Cargo Referral and Consignment Service was to direct legitimate cargo towards Maquis operatives so they could have viable reasons for being in an area when a strike occurred."

Danan rolled eyes, "I know all of that. What I'm indelicately pointing out is that Elijah is one hundred and ten years old. Even with medical advances, that's old for a human. And don't you dare point out that Dr. McCoy is over one hundred and thity-five."

"Which is why Elijah recruited his own staff from Starfleet Operations and the Bajoran Militia," Macen made her recall, "He may be forced into a second retirement for any number of reasons, legal or medical. And Elias is ninety-seven and still serving Starfleet's Special Operations Command."

"But he's rarely in the field anymore," Danan retorted, "He's commanding missions rather than play commando every day."

"But he's still a serving line officer," Macen insisted on pointing out.

"Okay, I get it. Your friend Elias Vaughn is a living god. Can we please move on?" Danan was exasperated by this point, "Why aren't you contacting Laren first?"

"Because I want to get advice from an old superior whose better at this job than I am before turning over info to my boss," Macen told her, "And remember, the official fiction is we're independent contractors who merely hire on to work for Ro and the Ronaran cell on occasion. But we're still considered freelance which opens a lot of doors to us. A lot of mercenary traders would shun us if they knew the truth."

"I give up," Danan threw her hands in the air, "Make everything tend times harder than it needs to be."

"It's going to get even harder than that," Macen warned her, "We unleashed T'Kir on an unsuspecting population center if you recall."

"You love that fact, don't you?" Danan accused.

"It does keep life interesting," Macen mused.

Inspector Alexana Devos had resigned from being head of Rutia IV's police force a year before and accepted a voluntary demotion. Having volunteered to pursue Ansata terrorists abroad, Devos had traveled to Setlik III. The politics surrounding the colonies in the DMZ didn't concern Devos. But the fact that the Maquis were willing to train the Ansata in exchange for explosives and inverter bombs did plague Devos' conscience.

She'd traveled through several colonies before tracking Finn Riley to Setlik III. Now the pursuit had grown more difficult. Setlik III had been the site of a horrendous massacre of civilians several years prior to her arrival. Now that Cardassia had full jurisdiction and colonizing rights to the settlement, the original colonists had gladly taken up arms and those that didn't actively supported the local terrorists.

Devos casually stepped into a pub. With the reception she received, she thought she may have worn her uniform and badge. She didn't see Riley or his wife Sioran and his daughter Sheena, but she did mark six Maquis patrons. It seemed terrorists the galaxy over had the same demeanor and hunted disposition.

They certainly recognized what she represented if not the name of the organization and her planet of origin. Devos finished drinking down the beverage she'd ordered. A familiar burn in her throat accompanied it even if the liquor was unknown to her.

Fortunately, the bar's owner hadn't mounted a mirror behind the bar counter. Two flash bombs went off in midair before clattering to the ground. Devos turned to find two black clad humans wearing various pieces of ablative body armor storming into the pub with Federation produced phaser rifles aimed ahead of them. Four more similarly clad humans beamed into the room's corners and created a clean sweeping "kill" zone. Six streaming shots from rifles sounded off and the Maquis were all stunned at their various positions across the room.

A dark haired female had everyone sound off if they were all right. All six reported they were "Fine" after she included herself. The shooters converged on the Maquis and attached transponders to their clothes. An olive skinned male searched through a portable database before reporting that their proper targets had been secured. The other four law enforcement types swung into crowd control mode while the dark haired female signaled someone.

"Bloomingdale to Valdez. We have the suspects. Initiate transport on my mark," she paused, "Three…two…one…mark."

A transporter effect grabbed everyone including the Maquis. Devos exchanged stunned stares with other patrons. Her mind raced over who could have pulled off such an efficient arrest? They'd obviously beamed to a ship but Devos hadn't caught the name of it. Overhearing others, she realized no one else had either. Paying for another drink she downed it and then exited the pub before everyone recalled she'd been present and began to blame her.

From the street corner's shadows, Finn Riley had seen the black clad officers beam in at the entrance and storm the pub. Then Devos of all people exited. Riley thought it was high time to be moving his family off of Setlik III. Devos was a known quantity and that quality was that she was a relentless bitch.

Aboard the Java-class freighter, SS Valdez, the agents of the Joint Taskforce Counterterrorist Agency hauled their prisoners into holding cells before gathering for a debrief. The Java-class had been designed for Starfleet and the first vessel had been commissioned in 2320. The modular cargo pods attached to a central frame had been groundbreaking at the time. And Starfleet still largely used its fleet of commissioned Java-class freighters.

The Valdez differed in that the cargo pods had been welded to the frame and then they had been modified for various uses. Some served as living quarters, others as ward rooms, some as offices, and the bulk of them as holding cells. The ship's crew utilized their standard quarters and amenities. Twenty crewmen served aboard the Valdez rather than the usual complement of thirty.

There were three officers designated CO, XO, and 2nd Officer. Three helmsmen and two medics. That left six engineers manning the engine room in pairs per watch and three engineers manning the impulse drive, one per watch. The ship was barely armed. It had two forward phaser banks and one aft. There was even a single forward torpedo launcher with a four round magazine. The freighter had a max emergency speed of Warp 6.5 and a standard cruising speed of warp 5. Well above standard civilian freighters.

"You see Dalin Redak, this marks our agency's second successful arrest," James Prine, the agency director informed his Cardassian liaison. The rank of Dalin was congruent with a Starfleet Lt. Commander.

"What I see Director, is that the Federation continues to coddle criminals. Next you'll be transporting these prisoners to a Starfleet vessel or Starbase where you will transfer them to stand trial and be sent to a penal colony where they will live a life of relative ease and luxury. Perhaps they are secretly in Starfleet's employ, as many on Cardassia strongly suspect."

Bloomingdale reported directly to Prine's "office", "It was an easy mission, sir. However there was an unexpected element in the area. Inside the public house a Rutian sat drinking. I marked her as fellow law enforcement. Her presence could lend credence to the rumor the Maquis are exchanging hands on training for explosives and weapons."

"Mark in your official report, Kate. It'll get bumped up to the appropriate offices," Prine directed, "There just enough AWOL Starfleet officers joining up with the Maquis to give the Ansata concrete tactical instruction. The Federation Diplomatic Corps will want to inform Rutia IV. Maybe we'll even get free help that way."

"Gul Macet must also be apprised," Redak huffed.

"Macet may be the High Command's selection to oversee their part in this enterprise but I don't release information until it's been properly logged and analyzed," Prine coldly informed Redak, "Macet will receive an update as soon as we've finished debriefing our agents and can summarize the findings."

"Bah!" Redak spat in disgust, "More Federation lies so your pets can spread terrorism across the galaxy. The High Command shall hear of this!"

As the Cardassian stormed out of the office, Bloomingdale gave Prine a rueful look, "Unpleasant little toad, isn't he?"

"He's my personal cross to bear," Prine felt a headache coming on; "Ted is debriefing your arrest team while Special-Agents-in-Charge Ironmonger and Canton are managing the interrogations. Go join your team, Agent Bloomingdale. They need to hear about your observation."

The British agent departed and Prine wondered if his brother Alec ever had such days as XO of the Agrippa.

Bloomingdale joined her fellow agents. Ted Harris was Deputy Director of the agency. He was also a former captain in Starfleet Security. He was imminently qualified to handle the debrief.

Bloomingdale studied those that had accompanied her. Bloomingdale herself was a former SAIC with the Federation Bureau of Investigation before signing on as a Senior Agent with the Joint Taskforce. Oded Mehr was keeping his comments brief and succinct as befitted a former Starfleet SOC enlisted man.

Adeline Palicki was coaching Summer Gleeson on how to properly file an after action report. Palicki had been Starfleet Security before signing on and Gleeson had been a fourth year cadet in Starfleet Academy before transferring to the FBI Academy in preparation for this assignment. Today had been Gleeson's first taste of action. Bloomingdale wondered if it lived up to Gleeson's expectations.

Gina Caruthers and Jeremiah Cusack were comparing notes. They'd both been Federation Security Service veterans before being enlisted to serve the taskforce. Not present were Olivia Anderson, Jean-Claude Perrot, and Dolph Landers. Landers and Perrot had been Security crewmen assigned to the same starship. Anderson was a SOC junior officer trying to apply her skills to diffuse the DMZ's tensions.

Also unaccounted for was their undercover agent. Irene Holmes had been serving a life sentence in a Cardassian labor camp when she'd been offered a parole if she assisted the taskforce. So far she'd arranged the captures of the Valo I and Setlik III cell leadership.

Holmes herself was originally from Merricor so her usefulness there would be limited. Right now, Holmes was contacting various cells crying out about the "brutal" capture of the Setlik III cell leaders by masked vigilantes. That should garner her an invitation to meet with the selected planetary cell and then she could set up another Maquis group.

Later, on Volon III, Calvin Hudson, the original Maquis Commander was arguing with an image on a screen. That image belonged to Sveta Korepanova, "You can't find out anything?"

She heard the disbelief in his voice and shook her head, "Cal, the Bajoran Militia provides most of the intel I work from. It's not like the Maquis have a dedicated intelligence service. Every cell fends for itself. Only Ro, on Ronara Prime, has a truly professional spy working for her and Macen and his crew are rarely on Ronara."

Korepanova fixed him with a stern glare, "The Militia is withholding anything regarding this topic. Starfleet is clueless and the Federation Council is even more oblivious because they haven't even heard the rumors yet. I tried searching the backdoors for something related a ‘joint taskforce' and I hit an Executive Order level block. Whatever we're confronting, it has Presidential approval and protection."

A Presidential seal is only used for Ultra Top Secret level operations or if it's a matter damaging to the security of the Federation," Hudson recalled.

"In this case, it's probably both," Korepanova said sourly.

"Do your best and keep looking into it," Hudson requested, "We need a countermeasure before another cell gets hit."

"Always," Korepanova promised as she signed off.

Amaros had been waiting by the door for the conversation to end. Hudson turned to face him, "Yes?"

Amaros was a civil leader and a founding member of the Maquis as well as Hudson's co-pilot in their modified Peregrine-class courier, "Ro Laren is here to see you."

"Ro?" Hudson repeated in surprise, "We're a hell of a ways off from Ronara Prime. What does she want?"

"She said she'd only share that with you." Amaros admitted.

Hudson's surprise was unabated. Ro had been cleaning house since the Riker debacle. She was also close to Chakotay, which could prove problematic in the long term.

"She says it's urgent," Amaros pressed Hudson to make a call.

"I suppose it would have to be to bring her all the way here," Hudson commented, "Bring her in."

Amaros brought the Bajoran woman in and she in turn was tailed by a bald, heavily muscled human. Hudson wasn't pleased, "Who's your friend?"

"Meet Aric Tulley. Aric's been my Security Chief and now he's also my lieutenant," Ro explained.

"Because Kalita is in custody," Hudson surmised, "You have that much faith in him?"

"You should too," Ro urged.

"Well, you have a notoriously small inner circle so I guess I have to trust in your judgment," Hudson still didn't sound pleased though.

Tulley set up a portable comm array and then started out of the room, "It's set and ready to go. I'll be outside if you need me."

"You could have told me he was going to leave," Hudson complained.

"I needed you to have enough faith in him to set the array up," Ro explained, "Now, this is a secure transmitter. It only connects with identical transceivers, of which there are four. Two aren't being operated at this time but the third is. He's been standing by while I travelled to Volon III."

Ro activated the screen. A young, harried looking Bajoran woman filled it, "Oh Ro, it's you. I'll get Elijah."

Ro glanced over at Hudson, "That was Hana Rynn. She's ex-Resistance and an enlisted reservist in the Militia. She now works for Elijah Waters' cargo consignment company."

"Yes, Sveta told me about the company. They've hired some of our couriers to deliver cargo so we could be in position to strike out at shipping," Hudson remembered, "There was an Admiral Elijah Waters in Starfleet. He'd probably be upset to learn he has a namesake aiding the Maquis."

"You really think so?" Ro was amused by the prospect.

An elderly man with a full head of white hair and a snow white beard appeared on screen. Hudson gasped, "It actually is Admiral Waters."

Hudson learned that Waters also had a resonant, deep voice that didn't bear the weight of his age that also reflected his British Public School background, "Now Commander, I hardly think our former titles are apropos under these circumstances. Nor would I refer to Ro Laren as Lt. Ro. And little wonder why."

"I had no idea you were with us," Hudson confessed.

"Oh, I'm not ‘with' you. At least not in any of the ways you'd expect. I'm simply performing a favor for a friend," Waters chuckled, "Brin Macen convinced me your cause was just and he needed help establishing a cover identity as a smuggler to ingratiate himself with the Cardassians. So I acquired this agency and decided to also funnel legitimate work your way so you wouldn't have to beg, hat in hand, everyday."

"May I ask why you wanted to speak with me?" Hudson inquired.

"Macen shared data with certain individuals. Sveta Korepanova, Ro here, and I were on the short list of recipients," Waters answered, "By now Ms. Korepanova has convinced you of the validity of the Cardassian-Federation Joint Counterterrorist Taskforce Agency?"

"Yes," Hudson simply replied.

"Then you need to know that Macen discovered their next target," Waters said.

"Who is in danger now?" Hudson asked, "We need to warn them."

"That's what Ro and I are doing," Waters assured him.

It took a second for the implication to sink in with Hudson, "Me?"

"Your entire cell, actually," Waters clarified, "What could be more of a symbolic victory than capturing the very first Maquis cell?"

"I can't imagine I'm that important," Hudson admitted, "The Cause would move on without me."

"Perhaps but perception is everything. Every venture this mysterious agency has undertaken until this point was a test to reach this pinnacle," Waters assessed, "And once they have you, Ro will be their very next target."

Ro nodded, "It makes sense."

"Logistically it doesn't given the distance between Volon III and Ronara Prime. I'd think they'd move in-system against Volon II," Hudson argued.

"Again, it's all about perception," waters reminded him, "Ro was assigned to infiltrate the Maquis in an operation devised by Alynna Nechayev herself mere weeks before she ascended to being Starfleet Intelligence Chief. Ro's defection was a black eye not only to Nechayev's near perfect record but also to the commander of Starfleet's flagship. These insults have not been well received in the halls of power. And given her background in Advanced Tactical Training, Ro is perceived to be a greater threat than any others save you and Chakotay."

"But this is personal for Starfleet so she gets rated above Chakotay," Hudson realized.

"Precisely," Waters confirmed it.

"So, they're coming. What do you suggest we do about it?" Hudson wondered.

"I daresay, Ro has a few suggestions," Waters demurred.

"Ro?" Hudson turned to her.

"I have a plan," she smirked, "Your cell's leadership is leaving Volon III en masse."

"And where will we be going?" Hudson irritably wondered.

"To the last locations they'd look for you," Ro said confidently.

The Taskforce had just transferred its prisoners to Deep Space Nine's holding cells. The USS Armargosa was coming the next day to receive them. The station's CO, Commander Benjamin Sisko, had been less then pleased to learn of the agency's existence. Taking Federation law enforcement personnel and having them root out the Maquis wasn't a problem in Sisko's eyes. Having that agency answer to Cardassia was an issue. Gull Akellan Macet was a moderate by all accounts but he was still a High Command loyalist and the High Command's tactics in the DMZ had been less than honorable in the past. In fact, they'd defied the spirit and the written intent of the treaty.

Director Prine's Cardassian liaison, Dalin Redak, had done little to ingratiate himself to the Starfleet personnel administrating DS9. His constant references to "Terok Nor" and the glory days of Cardassia's occupation of Bajor had grated on everyone's nerves. Major Kira Nerys, Sisko's XO, had seemed on the verge of shoving him onto the Ops transporter pads and dispersing his atoms across the solar system.

Macet had arrived in his own Galor-class command to discuss the agency and its future with Sisko and Kira. It soon became obvious he was invested in the Taskforce's future. But an invested Cardassian commander was also prone to take any steps necessary to continue the viability of the project. Gul Skrain Dukat's atrocity's as Prefect of Bajor had been in the name of invested efficiency.

Macet explained to Sisko that the Taskforce answered to Cardassian oversight but was led by a human director. In fact, every agent serving with the taskforce was human. That had been a stipulation from the High Command. Humans were seen as centrally important to the Federation and would therefore project an air of neutrality. Dalin Redak was Macet's hands on liaison with Director Prine.

Maquis prisoners would be handed over to the Federation legal and penal system except in the rare exception when Cardassia requested extradition. Macet handed Sisko a pre-prepared list of names where extradition was already being sought. As Waters had predicted, Hudson, Chakotay, and Ro's names topped the list.

"I already sacrificed Tom Riker on the altar of peace," Sisko reminded Macet, "I know my legal limitations. However that does not mean I will not badger the Federation Diplomatic Corps into keeping tabs on the future prisoners for humanitarian reasons."

"Yes, my cousin, Dukat, informed me of your efforts in this arena. Please continue them, Commander. Truth be told, our legal system could use a little accountability," Macet admitted.

Admiral Nechayev had contacted Sisko before the Valdez arrived at the station to inform him of what and who he would be dealing with. She'd left strict instructions regarding where his duties lay and where they ended. Yet Sisko came away from the conversation that Nechayev knew far, far more than she was letting on.

Sisko knew Starfleet Intelligence had several agents in place with the Maquis. He'd even been sent a briefing packet concerning a Lt. Tuvok who was awaiting assignment as Tactical Officer aboard the USS Voyager when she deployed on her maiden assignment. But for now he was undercover aboard a Maquis raider captained by an ex-Starfleet Lt. Commander.

Sisko knew the murky outline of Nechayev's involvement with the Maquis. As a lieutenant she'd been on Bajor when the Cardassians annexed the planet and finally officially occupied it. Nechayev had spent the bulk of her career dealing with the Border Wars. When she made Admiral, word was that she was directly responsible for Starfleet SOC providing "humanitarian" assistance to the colonists in the Valo system and to the border colonies themselves.

As Kira would later point out, Nechayev was directly responsible for Starfleet's operations within the DMZ. If, as she claimed, Nechayev had just been briefed on the existence of the Joint Taskforce, then she'd had no time to brief her agents nestled in the Maquis and may have even been under orders to keep them in the dark. Those kinds of orders couldn't sit well with Nechayev's paradigm of protecting the Federation's security through nearly any means necessary. It wasn't the policy itself that would bother but the waste of resources.

Starfleet Intelligence coordinated an inordinate amount of operations with Bajoran Intelligence. Sisko decided to utilize Kira's contacts to unearth any and all additional information she could dig up. After all, it couldn't be any less than Macet and Prine had delivered to them.

Two days later, aboard the Valdez, Harris briefed the field agents, "As you know, we've arrived at Volon III. There is another Maquis cell on the sister colony on Volon II but it is ranked as a lower priority amongst our planners."

"You mean the Cardassians," Gleeson pointed out.

"Precisely, the Cardassian and Federation envoys to the DMZ meet with the various colonial reps on Volon III. It's presumed from Commander Hudson's contact with the local government and Commander Sisko's impressions of it that the government itself actively supports the Maquis cause. Gul Evek, who serves as the High Command's representative, is under the impression one of the Volon III councilmen, named Amaros, is a member of the Maquis Council composed of cell reps from every colony as well as Calvin Hudson's own deputy," Harris shared.

"Where is Hudson now?" Anderson asked.

"Irene Holmes' discreet inquires have discovered Hudson and Amaros along with four other top cell leaders are holed up in a park ranger outpost lodge in the planet's largest mountain chain," Harris reported, "They left for there while we were at Deep Space Nine and they haven't been seen since."

"How did Holmes come by this information?" Bloomingdale inquired.

"Amaros' public office tracked him down and our sensors confirmed the information. We would simply transport the group out but transport inhibitors are in place to cover the cabin and no one is coming out except for park rangers," Harris answered.

"May I suggest that the former Starfleet personnel be assigned to rooting them out?" Anderson wondered, "Dolph, Oded, Jean-Claude, Adeline, Summer, and I all have experience in these matters. No offense intended towards our FSS and FBI brethren."

"Oh, none taken," Caruthers' voice dripped sarcasm.

Bloomingdale stewed in her own bile while Cusack was affronted, "We hold our own, Olivia."

"Why aren't SAICs Ironmonger and Canton present?" Bloomingdale wanted to know.

"SAIC Canton will be joining all non-Starfleet background agents in the second briefing room. He has a special task for you all," Harris shared, "SAIC Ironmonger will be leading the rest of you in a takedown of the ranger station."

"So the idiot plan was always to follow Anderson's idea?" Cusack grumbled.

"That is the plan, Special Agent Cusack," Harris grated, "And you and your fellow agents are dismissed to attend your briefing."

After they exited, Ironmonger joined the ex-Starfleet members. Harris left as well. Ironmonger was a stout, barrel chest and lantern-jawed man with virtually no hair. He'd risen through the Starfleet Security ranks to the rank of Commander and had been a deputy chief of security for Utopia Planitia before signing on with the Joint Taskforce.

Displays lit up every terminal that the agents sat in front of and Ironmonger began his planning session, "As you can see, there are four life forms in the ranger station. We've contacted the ranger service through Holmes and determined that there are only four actual rangers posted at this station. Hudson, Amaros, and two other top Maquis leaders are hiding there. We can only assume the remaining two are gunmen posing as sentries."

"Hopefully, the locals in the ranger service didn't tip off those inside the outpost. Otherwise we could receive a rough greeting," Landers stated.

"It wouldn't matter," Ironmonger warned them all, "The High Command has given twenty-four hours to apprehend the fugitives. Prine can stretch that to forty-eight by blowing solar winds up their skirts. But time is of the essence. Evek is under orders to deploy two dozen Cardassian enlisted troopers in the area if we don't report a success before the time limit is up."

"The Cardassians would just spray and pray then count the bodies afterwards," Palicki warned everyone.

"I hate to agree, Adeline," Ironmonger stated, "But I do. That sort of indiscriminate official response is why tensions rose, the Maquis prospered, and our agency was created."

"I know that Director Prine wants to quickly establish our bonafides but he has to keep in mind we are all answerable to Federation law," Mehr pointed out.

"He's all too aware," Ironmonger assured them all.

 

Chapter Two

Canton briefed his fellow agents. Like most of them, he'd come out of the Federation Security Service. Seeing the FSS restructured in the light of the Tzenkethis' use of bioengineered assassins created from Starfleet prisoners, Canton's career had plateaued like so many other veteran agents. The Joint Taskforce was his last hope of reviving his career prospects.

"Our mission brief is simple enough," Canton was everything Ironmonger wasn't. Tall, slender, and possessing a full, graying head of hair, he laid out everything onto the terminal screens his agents sat behind, We're to investigate links between the official Volon III government, the all inclusive Federation Colonial Council, and the Maquis. Our chief suspect is a woman named Kobb. She has sat on the Council as a Volon III representative since before the Demilitarized Zone was created. She's a known associate of Councilman Amaros and he's a suspected Maquis."

"What function does the Council serve?" Caruthers inquired.

"They address colonial issues with the Federation and Cardassian envoys," Canton told them, "At least in theory. Mostly they point fingers and whine about supposed Cardassian atrocities and the Federation ‘betraying' them."

"Are any of their complaints legitimate?" Cusack wondered.

Canton grated, "Commander Sisko worked alongside Gul Dukat and proved the High Command was arming Cardassian settlers on the DMZ worlds. It wasn't a popular discovery for either side."

"Have the Cardassians continued to arm their settlers?" Bloomingdale wanted to know.

"We have no way of knowing," Canton confided, "We can't stop and inspect every freighter bound for the DMZ within the Bajoran and Federation flagged sectors. We can only stop Cardassian bound traffic with provable just cause. Who is to say they don't simply redirect traffic after it enters their borders?"

Canton glared at his three agents, "But our job is to stop the Maquis from ruining the peace not to prove the Cardassians are violating the treaty. That's for the diplomats."

"But what if they are violating the treaty and our standing by enables them to kill Federation citizens?" Caruthers asked.

"Leave your personal opinions at the door, Special Agent Caruthers," Canton instructed, "Do the job you were chosen for or request a transfer."

Silence fell like a pall. Canton broke it, "Your fellow agents will be deploying to observe the ranger station within the hour. At any time within the next forty-eight hours, they will apprehend the suspects. We will receive a signal before they move in and we will beam to the surface and detain the government. Understood?"

"Yes sir," they all said together.

"Then you're dismissed," Canton informed them.

The agents set up a command tent near the Tibulsa Ranger Station. Sensor occluding technology masked the tent's presence. As the agents spread out to surround the station, they wore sensor shrouds that made them display as native or imported life forms. Several times rangers emerged from the outpost to try and observe whatever life sign was hiding that particular agent. Perrot had no idea of what his shroud made him display as, but it had certainly excited the ranger staff. It took him several hours to move into position. After arriving, each special agent set up their own occluded tent and began their observations of the rangers and to see if any Maquis suspects ever emerged.

Once the supposed animals and "settled in", the four rangers deployed to try and collect data on the seemingly migrating fauna. They were all captured within minutes. Three of them were drug into Mehr, Palicki, or Landers' tents. Whisper collars were affixed to their throats so they couldn't speak above the proscribed decibel range.

The chief ranger, who turned out to be named Rosa Hermosa, was brought before Ironmonger. Ironmonger chose the direct approach, "We believe you're harboring fugitives."

"Fugitives from what?" Hermosa bitterly laughed, "Cardassian justice? Because that mockery is all that applied on this world. We simply endure it and wait for our turn to die."

Ironmonger lifted his right hand. It was a prosthetic. He'd been wounded in the Border Wars and lost his hand. The nerve damage was such a biosynthetic couldn't be utilized so he had what appeared to be a hand of Borg manufacture. He explained all of that to Hermosa.

"If sacrifices need to be made to preserve the fragile peace then you all volunteered by staying here when you could have been evacuated," Ironmonger snarled.

Ironmonger stepped away while Anderson dealt with the prisoner. He contacted Canton who was till aboard the Valdez, "Our timetable has been moved up. We captured the four forestry rangers. The sensor masks held up. They thought they were investigating wildlife."

"Will the Maquis suspect anything?" Canton wondered.

"Eventually, but they're common terrorists. They won't be able to refine the sensor scans enough to detect us," Ironmonger promised.

"Hudson may be able to," Canton warned, "I suggest you pursue your action plan. My group will mobilize in twenty minutes."

"Anderson has a good plan in place. SOC's loss is our gain," Ironmonger admitted, "Isn't she a native of these parts?"

"Solossus to be precise, why?" Canton asked.

"Why is she helping us when her home planet is in the DMZ?" Ironmonger wondered.

"You've never been there, even with all your time on the front lines," Canton guessed.

"What's it matter?" Ironmonger asked.

"The planetary population is entirely female. It's even legislated that way. A rival male colony is inside Federation space. They don't even allow transsexuals unless they're fully transitioned. The two worlds trade for sperm and the women are impregnated through in vitro means. Male progeny are sent to the male colony and girls stay on Solossus. Anderson left Solossus when she was seventeen and embarked on a quest to join Starfleet. She excelled at every course of study and every physical training session. Upon graduation, Anderson left Starfleet Academy and wrote her own ticket to Advanced Tactical Training and subsequently passed the qualification tests to join SOC," Canton informed him, "My best advice is never underestimate her."

"But why leave a feminine so-called paradise in the first place?" Ironmonger inquired.

"Olivia was an iconoclast in her society. She just never fit in. So she went in search of somewhere she would be accepted," Canton explained.

"The plan is to go in after sunset," Ironmonger explained, "That happens in two hours."

"We stand so advised," Canton replied, "Good luck."

"We won't need it," Ironmonger predicted.

Korepanova had set up a Data Acquisitions and Consulting Service office in the Habitat Ring aboard Deep Space Nine. The main living space served as a data center and the bedroom served as Korepanova's private quarters. She had five women working for her. All Maquis. The Bajoran Militia had also supplied personnel. Major Host Korb was the only male in the group and he never wore a uniform if he could help it. On the other hand, Lt. Hera Renra rarely took hers off. Other than the human Zara Morse, Hera was the youngest woman in the room.

Everyone's day was discombobulated when Macen led a small crew into the center. Korepanova warmly embraced Danan, "Lees, it's so good to see you. And still playing human I see."

"One does what one must to protect the Danan symbiot," she explained, "The Cardassians have been wanting to dissect a symbiot for years now."

Korepanova nodded. She and Danan had served together as junior officers aboard the Ambassador- class USS Excalibur. They'd both gone far and strayed from Starfleet's career path since then.

"Have we come at a bad time?" Danan asked.

"That remains to be seen," she said as she spotted the bulky case Darcy carried.

"First things first," Macen decided and he nodded at Darcy.

The young engineer sat the case down on the floor and activated it. Erecting a transmission bulb, she ran the array through several diagnostics, "It's ready."

"Hit it," Macen instructed.

A visible pulse of energy engulfed the room. Sparks flew from rivets throughout the area. Korepanova gasped.

"We do sweeps every day," she confessed, "How did Odo get those past us?"

"They were built into the walls when the station was constructed," Macen told her, "These were VIP quarters. This way Dukat could keep tabs on his ‘guests'."

"Who the hell are you anyway?" Bobbi Morian demanded to know.

Jayden Joyce, Pasha Kutain, Syl Martin, and Morse all added their voices to the demand. Only Host and Hera seemed to have a clue as to the El-Aurian's identity and those of his crewmen. Korepanova got them all to settle down.

"Bajoran Intelligence vouches for Captain Macen," Host assured them all.

"And if that isn't good enough, Brin and Lisea are personal friends and have been for over a decade," Korepanova told her "employees".

"So what were those exactly?" Morse asked.

Macen saw she was older than Ebert but still years younger than either Darcy or Hera, "They were biosensors. Sisko's orders prohibiting visual and audio surveillance inside business spaces and private quarters are still in effect and he has Odo's terminals randomly checked by Michael Eddington to ensure privacy. These quarters qualify on both counts."

"But they could still tell body counts and racial profiles of everyone in the room," Joyce grasped it.

"And those demographics are also taken in the docking ring and biosigns can be tracked throughout the station so it's a good bet Odo has a good idea of who has walked through your door at any given time since you set up shop," Danan told them all.

"Now that you've neutralized our pest problem, how can we help you?" Korepanova asked.

"You might want to wait a minute," Macen advised her, "Odo and a ragtag band of loyal Militia deputies should be knocking on your door any minute now."

The door chimed as if on cue. Korepanova looked predatory, "I'm going to enjoy this."

"Remember to leave them alive," Hera requested, "We need Starfleet to stay on the station."

Sisko observed a fuming Korepanova standing to his right and an equally angry Kira and Odo standing to his left. He had his fingers steepled as he weighed the matter, "Major, had Odo informed you of the nature of the sensors distributed throughout our VIP quarters?"

"Yes," Kira bluntly admitted.

"So you were aware of them when you assigned Ms. Korepanova to such quarters?" Sisko refused to refer to Korepanova by her former rank.

"Yes…no," Kira stumbled over the question.

"Which one is it, Major?" Sisko inquired.

"I didn't precisely know when I assigned the quarters. I allocated them based on size. But I was aware of the deactivated spy eyes in the rooms," Kira clarified, "It was only after the fact that Odo approached me with the details concerning the active biosensors."

"Am I correct in assuming every sensor was knocked out by the emitter Captain Macen's engineer brought aboard? Visual, audio, biosensor, and all of the above?" Sisko wanted to know.

"So Chief O'Brien states," Odo said gruffly.

"So I take it you ordered Odo to spy on Ms. Korepanova's staff and clientele," Sisko didn't ask a question.

"It was actually my intention anyway," Odo freely offered.

"Odo's just trying to protect me. He acted on my orders," Kira insisted.

"We can debate that at leisure," Sisko turned to Korepanova, "You have Starfleet's sincerest apologies."

"What about a room rental credit?" Korepanova asked, "Latinum talks."

"Take it up with Quark. If you can get the currency out of him, I may reimburse him," Sisko challenged her.

Korepanova stormed off. Sisko turned to his senior officers, "How many times are we going to have this conversation?"

"She's Maquis," Odo asserted, "They all are."

"Except for the Militia reps working with them," Kira countered, "And I only did what you asked."

"At what point did I ask you to break the law and station regulations?" Sisko had to wonder.

"When Korepanova came aboard and requested space to set up her little ‘enterprise'," Kira clarified, "And again when her tribe of women came aboard to work for her. You specifically said ‘keep an eye on them'."

Sisko resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands, "I realize growing up in a refugee center didn't give you the greatest background in metaphors. But have you ever tried stretching yourself?"

"Every day," Kira grated.

"So how do we keep tabs on Korepanova and her associates now?" Odo asked.

"The old fashioned way, Constable," Sisko answered him, "The old fashioned way."

Inside the Data Acquisitions office, Korepanova arrived to find her staff enchanted with T'Kir. Morse ran up to her, "Sveta! She's incredible!"

The young human hustled back to watch the Vulcan prodigy at work. Korepanova studied her for a bit before asking Danan, "Is she a bit…odd?"

"She's crazier than a March hare," Danan confided, "She's from Shial. Which explains why she's more than happy to get emotional in your face. But she was off world when the Cardies decimated the population. There were less than a dozen survivors of the actual attack and fewer still that were off planet at the time. Most of them are in psych wards. T'Kir was too but my wonderful, all wise captain talked the staff into letting him bring her with us."

Korepanova detected more than a little jealousy, "So what can I do for you?"

"We need you to hack the Cardassian military database and go through their archival records concerning a Joint Antiterrorist Taskforce," Macen said on cue.

"Why didn't I think of that?" Korepanova groaned.

"It's a simple oversight," Macen shrugged, "How often do you turn to the Cardassians for help?"

"Why not simply turn your wunderkind on it?" Korepanova asked.

"She doesn't read Cardassian ideograms," Macen replied, "We needed a living translator because a computerized translating device would be detected by their archive server."

"Point taken," Korepanova admitted, "I remember too many probes being blown or fed false data because of that very issue. God, as a civilian my mind is going to mush."

"Before you had Starfleet's resources to throw at the Cardies. It makes for easier strategic planning. Now you've got the limited constraints of the Maquis and whatever bones the Bajoran Militia throws our way," Macen reminded her.

"They're only involved so long as we protect the Valo system. They actually have advisors on the ground to train people on Valo II. The settlers on Valo I and Valo III have Kohn Ma experience added to the weight of the Militia experts," Korepanova nodded towards Host and Hera, "We basically use our logistics resources to supply the Kohn Ma and everyone stays happy."

"Vaughn and I used to train colonists to fight insurgent battles against Cardassian landing forces," Macen shared, "I handled the intelligence aspects and Elias and his SOC team would instruct on tactics. The overriding strategy was to hold out until Starfleet came. Only they don't come anymore."

"Whatever happened to Vaughn?" Korepanova asked.

"Elias was redeployed to parts unknown," Danan remarked, "Brin was pulled off the line while the thumbprints on the treaty were still being verified. As soon as the Demilitarized Zone was ratified by the Federation Council, Brin had his resignation on Nechayev's desk."

"Alynna Nechayev?" Korepanova asked, "What does she have to do with Starfleet Intelligence?"

"She's the new Director of Starfleet Intelligence," Macen told her.

"God, I feel sorry for everyone you left behind," Korepanova was aghast.

"Alynna actually isn't a bad sort," Macen amended, "But if the C-in-C asked her to bed a Cardassian in order to perform her duty and preserve the peace, she'd strip down and fornicate with Enabran Tain in a heartbeat."

"Gah! What wretched visual!" Korepanova gagged.

"Alynna also believes in keeping her options open for when official policy shifts," Macen informed her, "And policy always shifts."

"You worked with her as she rose through the ranks so I have to defer to your judgment. But I have serious doubts," Korepanova confessed.

"Can we get back to the topic at hand?" Danan was still disturbed by Macen's imagery as well. Her previous host had been a confidant of Nechayev's.

Korepanova sat down at her private computer in her own office, "I see your friend has locked onto the Cardassian subspace buoy near the Bajoran border. And she has Ops distracted from looking at us. So let's see what we can do."

"Brin told me you used to do this all the time when you were with Starfleet Strategic Operations," Danan said.

"I have my own Cardassian library card," Korepanova chuckled and then she got down to business, "Ah; I see they've created several false paths to sideline the uninitiated. Before doing this I bounced off a couple of dozen Federation buoys starting with Starbase 375 in the Kalandra sector. And it turns out your Vulcan hacker reversed the transmission fees so I'll actually earn latinum on this."

Korepanova frowned, "Okay, I've bounced around a few Cardie buoys as well and am relaying the signal through Outpost 47. Now I'll access the High Command's central node."

"And this can't be tracked back to DS9 or Bajor?" Danan worried.

"They'll blame either the Federation or the Bajorans regardless if they can prove it," Korepanova griped, "But unless the Obsidian Order takes over the investigation I doubt there will be many officers obsessive enough to retrace every step I've taken here. Besides you're involved in a supposedly ‘illegal' conflict against the Spoonheads. Why the worry?"

"Because I seriously doubt the Federation Council will appreciate us pushing them into a war, even if it's inadvertently," Danan explained, "And we could lose whatever sympathizers we still have in the Council."

"Look, they'd have to backtrack the signal. That means when they presented their evidence they'd have to admit Outpost 47 exists. We know it exists, Starfleet knows it exists thanks to the Argus Array, and half the quadrant knows it exists but Cardassian policy is to deny, deny, deny. So we'll just give them one more thing to deny," Korepanova quipped.

"Ugh. I don't know why I even bother. He doesn't listen very well either," Danan complained.

"I seem to remember Elijah Waters saying the same thing now and look what you've gotten him into," Korepanova smirked, "Okay, I'm in. Let's go digging."

Silence loomed before Korepanova herself broke it, "I found it. Oh. My. God. This is a list of security superstars. We have full bios and personnel jackets. Except for two SOC officers whose files have obviously been redacted. It's not just Starfleet though; it's also the FSS and the FBI."

"Copy everything and sever the connection," Macen instructed, "Who all has seen this?"

"It was distributed to all gul level officers and above," Korepanova carried out his order and confirmed his earlier theory he'd shared with Danan, "Okay, we have a complete download. What do you want to do with it?"

"We need to distribute this data," Macen said, "So every cell knows who they're dealing with."

"One problem," Korepanova warned him, "Hudson gave orders to shut down all interstellar communications between cells before disappearing. This taskforce was coming after him so the Maquis went comms dark. I couldn't forward the information on if I wanted to. And I want to."

"Who convinced Cal to do that?" Danan wondered.

"Ro," Korepanova sighed.

"It's a classic response to the kind of threat we're facing," Macen admitted, "That's why we exist in a cell structure to begin with. But we had just developed a semi-stable comms network inside the Federation's comm system. This throws everything out the airlock."

Korepanova argued, "Ro argued for increased security over ease of communications. I backed her up."

"Remind me to kill both of you at my leisure," Macen groaned, "You managed to chop off the head of the Maquis ever coordinating on major strikes ever again."

"You think I don't realize that?" Korepanova asked archly, "Remember who you're talking to."

"So is Ro even still on Ronara Prime?" Macen wondered.

"I have no means of finding out," Korepanova lamented, "Not until she contacts me through commercial means."

Macen reached into his utility belt and retrieved a small leather pouch filled with isolinear data rods, "Copy everything over them. I'll physically distribute one to every cell. Meanwhile, you can contact Elijah and forward him a copy as well."

"I thought Elijah was just a sympathizer," Korepanova admitted.

"He is sympathetic," Macen shared, "But he's also well connected. He can get word to the appropriate Federation Council beings what's happened."

"I also have contacts within the Federation News Service. Stories about the DMZ are hot topics amongst the populace. They don't really want to risk the peace by demanding the DMZ be dismantled or throw out the treaty itself, but we do get a steady stream of recruits because of their broadcasts," Korepanova stated.

"But remember this, your cover as a smuggler is a known pretense. The Cardassians know you also supply the Maquis so they keep an eye on you. But they believe your mercenary enough to sell out both sides equally," Korepanova reminded him, "But they'll have shared their suspicions with the taskforce. Which means you'll be a Maquis collaborator in their eyes. They'll be looking for you."

"Then it's a good thing I have a fast ship," Macen replied.

"He's in a mood," Danan counseled Korepanova, "He'll be intractable until he gets those rods in the hands of every cell."

"That's the Brin we all knew and loved," Korepanova smiled, "But it's you funeral. Don't make it mine as well."

"They won't capture us," Macen said with an air of finality.

"I won't ask," Korepanova decided, "But I'm not suggesting you get into a shooting match with peace officers."

"I'd be justified," Macen asserted, "But I'm not looking for a fight."

"Justified by whom?" Korepanova was understandably curious.

"Sveta, I answer to an authority much higher than some director of a piddly taskforce," Macen shared.

Korepanova cast a questioning look at Danan, "Lisea?"

"He does," Danan assured her, "Trust me."

Korepanova recalled Macen's statements regarding Nechayev and began to wonder, "Okay, this falls back into the ‘you have to trust me' territory. Which I do so I will."

"And your faith will be rewarded," Macen promised.

Korepanova realized Macen had a bad case of religious zeal. But what was his faith in?

Canton took Bloomingdale, Caruthers, and Cusack into Volon III's government house. The three special agents spread across the three story structure, rounding up the various staffers and council persons still present. Canton went straight for Kobb's office.

He marched Kobb's aide in at phaser point and she angrily demanded to know, "Who the hell are you and how dare you brandish a weapon in my office?"

"I'm certain you have your own," Canton sneered, "And if not, you could always request that your Maquis brethren arrive to take up arms for you."

"You don't look Cardassian but you certainly sound the part," Kobb said disdainfully.

Canton holstered his weapon, "That better? It's certainly a kindness neither Calvin Hudson nor your good comrade Amaros would offer."

"Commander Hudson has turned renegade but his heart is in the right place," Kobb retorted, "Amaros sees his actions as fulfilling his oath of office. Which bring us back to you. The term you're looking to apply to yourself is ‘collaborator'. The Bajorans used to have a simply solution for your type."

"Allow me to introduce myself, "Canton breezed past her commentary, "I'm Special-Agent-in-Charge Bryan Canton."

"Agent-in-Charge of what?" Kobb inquired sharply.

"The Cardassian-Federation Joint Counterterrorism Taskforce. Our agency has been tasked with apprehending the Maquis," Canton explained as he handed her a padd filled with his agency's credentials and the warrants for all known Maquis' arrests.

Kobb reviewed the data, "Let me get this straight, not only are you sleeping with the Cardassians but the Federation President is as well?"

"The Taskforce was created by Executive order," Canton confirmed it.

"So you're going to help the Cardies butcher us as well?" Kobb asked.

"No one is getting butchered in the DMZ," Canton rebutted her.

"Then we read different constabulary reports," Kobb thrust back at him.

"Those reports are fabrications. The official reports exonerate all parties involved. If anything, your colonists are at fault," Canton replied.

"Those ‘official' reports were written by the Cardassians put in charge of the constabulary forces by Gul Evek. Of course they're going to exonerate their own settlers," Kobb stated.

"A law enforcement officer is impartial above all else," Canton insisted.

"Not on Cardassia," Kobb said, "You'd best do your homework concerning your masters."

Canton scowled so Kobb decided to twist the metaphorical knife, "And what about the wounded I visit in the medical centers? I suppose they injure themselves just to blame the Cardassians."

"I wouldn't put it past the Maquis propaganda machine," Canton said cruelly, "But you already know all about that, don't you?"

"If you're accusing me of being a Maquis you've confused your facts," Kobb told him, "Now, if you don't even have enough on me to detain me for questioning, I suggest you get the hell out of my office and leave me and my staff alone."

"I will in a moment but first I wanted you to know that our agents have surrounded the Tibulsa Ranger Station. Hudson and Amaros are cut off with no means of escape. They'll be in custody within twenty minutes," Canton boasted.

"I wish your agents luck then," Kobb said with utter sincerity.

Canton was flabbergasted.

Anderson led the penetration team at the main entrance. Their sensor masks had gotten there unmolested and apparently undetected. Landers, Perrot, and Gleeson had the rear entrance. Palicki and Mehr were joining Anderson. In the command tent, Ironmonger monitored the area though satellite feeds and passive sensors.

Anderson tapped her comm badge twice. That made every agent's badge softly trill. After a three count, both squads burst through the entrances. And they met in middle at the observation room. There, bundled together on the floor, were six tricorders all set to emit a biosignature. And each signature corresponded to a fugitive.

Anderson commed Ironmonger and explained the situation. Landers, Gleeson, and Perrot were ordered to round up the four rangers and transport back to the ship. Ironmonger went with them while Anderson's team scanned for any signs Hudson had ever been there. Then they broke down the encampments and returned to the ship in failure.

"Where are they?" Canton roared at Kobb after getting the news.

"I honestly have no clue," Kobb admitted, "And if I was a collaborator, wouldn't that be expected? And let's say I did know. there isn't a legal method in the Federation arsenal to compel me to talk. Are you willing to resort to Cardassian methods?"

"She's telling the truth," Bloomingdale folded her tricorder shut, "She hasn't a clue."

"Will you finally release the building's staff?" Kobb asked irritably, "Or do you want to ask all of them the same pointless questions?"

Canton nodded his assent to Bloomingdale and she relayed the order to Cusack and Caruthers. Canton faced Kobb was last time, "This isn't over."

"It is for us," Kobb said with satisfaction, "Take your witch hunt off world."

 

Chapter Three

Cal Hudson approached the Peregrine-class courier that had arrived on Setlik III from Ronara Prime. A contact of the remaining local Maquis cell had tipped them off to the arrival. Hudson had named his and Amaros' identical ship Nathan Hale. This was more whimsically named Sparrow. Hudson realized he didn't recognize either the pilot or co-pilot for that matter.

At least he didn't recognize the pilot in the traditional sense. Nick Locarno was a near twin of Chakotay's recently acquired pilot named Tom Paris. And where Paris had been drummed out for falsifying reports after a negligent death, Locarno had led a ring of cadets to falsify testimony regarding an inquest into a death caused by performing illegal maneuvers. But Paris had been a lieutenant in Starfleet and Locarno had been a fourth year cadet.

The co-pilot was a human female. An attractive if way too young for Hudson's taste human. Emily Rossum's outstanding feature was silvery locks. Whether they were natural or affected wasn't readily apparent. If they were an affectation, they were a very expensive endeavor because such things were generally cost prohibitive in the DMZ. Yet people continued to have them done.

Hudson would later learn Rossum was originally from Cestus III. Her father was certified to repair nearly all civilian space faring platforms. He'd come to Ronara Prime to open his own shop knowing the border region was sorely lacking in qualified technicians. And the Cardassians had insured it would stay that way by killing Rossum Sr. This move finalized Cardassia's move to control a shipyard monopoly in and around the DMZ region.

It was plainly obvious though that Locarno was smitten with Rossum. She didn't seem to reciprocate at his level but she was interested. Hudson supposed such fancies gave one more to fight for.

"The Federation News Service is carrying a story on this newly appointed Joint Counterterrorist Taskforce. It was created by Executive order by the Federation President and the Cardassian High Command. Everything else you need to know is on this data rod," Rossum handed over the precious rod, "Here's another for the local cell. We're helping distribute one per cell across the DMZ."

"How is the public reacting to the story?" Hudson asked.

"Early reports have marked heated protests, the occasional riot, and lots of lobbying against the President," Rossum stated.

"But not enough to actually threaten his administration, correct?" Hudson asked sharply.

Rossum bit her lower lip, "Not yet."

Locarno apparently found the reaction adorable. Hudson resisted the urge to cuff his ear, "How did we acquire this information?"

"Macen returned from DS9 and said he'd had help uncovering the data," Locarno told him.

Hudson knew that meant Korepanova but they couldn't be privy to the Architect's location or identity. A discreet cough from behind him alerted Hudson to the presence of two more of Ro's cell members. He'd always considered himself stealthy but this pair put him to shame.

Natalie Donner and Liam Hemingway were his minders. Hemingway was younger than Locarno but had been leading big game safaris on Ronara Prime since childhood. Donner was a little more extreme. She shaved off nearly half a head of her long blonde locks. Intricate inscription tattoos ran from her temple across her bald pate down her neck and her arm. No one knew what they said and no one was asking.

Donner had been a constable apprentice when the Cardassian raided her home village. They'd butchered half the town before the local constables managed to drive the Cardassian paramilitaries out. The town constable had lost count of Donner's kills. She'd packed up and left the next day after finding her entire clan had been slain. Arriving in Ronara Prime's capitol, Tulley had quickly spotted her and sized her up. Now she was his deputy.

"Commander Hudson, you've been too exposed for too long," Donner said quietly but very firmly, "We need to get you under cover if you mean to continue this conversation."

"I'm not a ‘Commander' anymore," Hudson said a tad testily as Donner led the way and Hemingway kept a sharp watch.

"You're still the Maquis Commander," Donner replied nonchalantly, "You don't want the title? Change it."

The wisdom was consistent with what Hudson expected out of Donner now that he knew her. She led them to a parts and fabrication shed. Tools inside also showed it to be a machine shop for old fashioned manufacturing of modified parts. Hemingway stayed outside. Donner set herself up between Hudson and the door.

"This agency sprang the decoy trap you set up on Volon III," Locarno told him, "Ro said to expect an escalation as the agency struggles to overcome the bad press and the High Command's own foiled expectations."

"That's sound advice," Donner called over her shoulder.

Hudson gave her a withering look. She ignored him like he didn't exist to her. He knew better however.

"The Cardassians and the Federation are off balance now. And with political pressure rising, the agency will be forced to take drastic measures to insure their own viability," Donner spoke aloud, "That means they'll reach a tipping point where they'll have to decide just how Cardassian they truly want to become."

Everyone stared at Donner's back. Hudson cleared his throat, "You were a rural deputy constable?"

"I was a rural deputy constable apprentice," Donner corrected him, "But I had very good instructors."

"I bet," Hudson mused.

"And don't forget the Cardassian hubris involved at this point," Donner added, "They'll want revenge and they'll demand to have it sooner rather than later. Which means the pressure will be on the agency from both sides and will continue to mount until they get solid results again."

"Very…logical," Hudson wondered if the arcane script running down Donner's body was Vulcan.

Hudson turned to Locarno and Rossum again, "Tell Ro to send another courier in two days."

Locarno and Rossum gave each other imploringly glances. Hudson hung his head in defeat, "Have her send you two again. Tell her I'll have some suggestions on how to proceed next by then."

"Yes sir," Locarno said with Academy crispness.

"Bye," Rossum bubbled.

Donner knocked on the metal door. Three raps came back and she turned to the pilots, "The way is clear. Try not to draw attention to us as we withdraw,"

"Of course not," Rossum said breezily.

For the first time in days, Hudson saw Donner close to losing control of her temper. It made him feel better somehow, "We need to rejoin the locals."

"We have an alternate route mapped out," Donner told him, "We don't want to retrace our steps in case we were followed here."

Hudson could swear she'd attended Starfleet Academy's Tactics and Strategies classes.

Amaros was with the local cell on Marva IV. Jai Hunter and Christina Noble had been sent by Ro to protect him. Of course, he hardly felt he needed them.

The Odyssey orbited the planet. Macen had left a message at a prearranged message drop. Later he received a voice message to transport to a specific location. Macen and Danan beamed down together to be met by two unjoined Trill sisters. Arana and Shariani Dorr had been born on Marva IV after their mining consultant parents had been transferred to Marva to take over the local concern.

The Dorrs had refused to leave the planets and their mining company when the colony was relegated to the DMZ. Cardassian interests had muscled in seeking a majority share in the company if not outright right ownership. The senior Dorrs had refused and been killed for their troubles. Utilizing falsified paperwork, the Cardassian corporation claimed the majority stake had been transferred for them for a startling single lek.

The Dorr family home had later been destroyed by Cardassian paramilitaries by thermal charges. Orphaned and homeless, the Dorr sisters went from being socialites to terrorists virtually overnight. Rising to positions of trust, it was little wonder to find them in the greeting party.

Danan was ecstatic to find fellow Trills waiting for them. It seemed all sorts of irrelevant news tickled the sisters' fancy. They brought Macen and Danan to the cell leader, Agyness Darryn.

Darryn was a Gideonite who had come to Marva IV from her home planet. She descended from survivors of the planetary plague James T. Kirk had brought to Gideon and decimated the population. Darryn had left Gideon thirty years before but still retained a youthful appearance to rival an El-Aurian's.

The Dorrs had led Macen and Danan to a conference with Darryn's top lieutenants and guests Amaros, Hunter, and Noble. The Marva IV's leadership included Michael Jaden, Ryan Renauld, Aishwarya Gupta, Brenden Effleck, Bryan Willis, Denzel Worthington, Joseph Marsden, Taye Dylon, and Rosa MacDonald. Unlike the Ronaran cell Macen and Danan were most familiar with, it was definitively gender biased.

Marsden ran site security while participating in the ad hoc conference. Worthington served as Darryn's chief counsel. The elderly African slave descended man had founded the cell but stepped aside after Darryn joined and he saw her potential. He'd been a Chief Constable for the colony for two decades before stepping down when the Cardassians assumed oversight of the planetary constabulary.

Danan set up the mobile computer she'd brought. The briefcase sized unit possessed a holoemitter thanks to T'Kir and it displayed a floating six sided cube that displayed the agency data on every "screen". After it had finished, Danan retrieved the data rod and handed it to Darryn.

"They're really doing it," Renauld finally hissed, "The bastards are lining us up for the High Command to execute us."

"And the Spoonheads keep their prissy hands clean at the same time," Willis grated, "It's all in the name of ‘law and order'."

"Maybe it's not that bad," Gupta hoped beyond hope.

"Get real, Aish," Dylon snapped, "They're nothing but glorified bounty hunters."

Everyone shuddered at the recollection of the swarm of bounty hunters that had filled the colonial worlds after the Maquis had liberated the slave camps of Trelka V. The street fighting had been intense and on every Federation colony in the DMZ. The colonists had wavered in their support of the Maquis as a result. It was the first time in all the random violence that had occurred. The bounty hunters had finally withdrawn when several of their number tried to collect their reward and were sentenced to the same labor camps as their Maquis prizes. Ambition quickly died.

"How many drops have you made so far?" Darryn inquired.

"Between a Ronaran courier and ourselves we've made a dozen drops and we have just a few more to go," Macen shared, "The courier has the three colonies in the Valo system left to go. But that gets problematic."

Everyone realized he was speaking of the listening outpost inside Valo VI. The Obsidian Order had created it not only to monitor the Valo system but the entire Bajor sector. With the fall of the Order after the abortive attack on the Founders no one was quite certain who operated the post now. But Starfleet had confirmed that Valo VI still received discreet supply drops.

Valo I supported a marginal colony but its moon held an underground Maquis base that had once served the Bajoran Resistance leader, Oorta. Valo II had a cell that operated in secret even from its leader, Keev Falor. Valo III supported the Kohn Ma who beside the Maquis based there and the Bajoran Militia secretly supported the Kohn Ma fighters. After all, if Cardassia was distracted by Valo III they had less attention to spare on Bajor.

And the Bajoran Militia's ranks were filled with ex-Resistance fighters. How could they turn their backs on Bajoran colonies and Resistance cells still operating against the Cardassians? The simple truth was they refused to do so and in order to accomplish this they'd created a "black" project even the First Minister and the Council of Ministers were unaware of.

"I suggest you disseminate this information amongst your entire cell so they know who to watch out for," Macen suggested, "The simple truth is though, they're getting inside help. So everyone outside your cell from this point on is a suspect. If a stranger from an outside Maquis cell arrives, treat them with suspicion and deny even being Maquis. That includes everyone. Even if you do know them."

"Are we done then?" Darryn asked.

"Our portion is," Macen told her.

"We'll have to make plans based upon this data," Darryn stated, "You could both stay and join us for dinner afterwards."

The Dorrs were extremely interested in that possibility. Macen could tell Darryn was just hungry for conversation with someone from an "elder" race. He shook his head.

"Sorry, we need to move on and distribute more data rods," Macen replied, "The agents have us on a list of sympathizers so once they realize the information is out and we're distributing it we become an even bigger target."

"We understand," Worthington said to mask Darryn's crushing disappointment.

The Dorr sisters escorted Macen and Danan back to their original beam in site. Once back aboard the Odyssey, Macen used the transporter room intercom to contact the bridge, "Tracy, break orbit and set course for Haktor."

"Yes, Captain," Ebert sighed.

Macen cast a wry look Danan's way. Everyone aboard was tired but they had one last stop to go.

The Valdez made orbit over Ronara Prime. Holmes had arrived several days in advance and began looking for old Maquis contacts. All she had met with so far was failure. Word was the cell had gone to ground. A few outlier urban cells were still partially active but all they were accomplishing is harassing Cardassian paramilitary movements and efforts. The central cell, traditionally based in the capitol, had abruptly vanished after the agency's strike on Setlik III.

Holmes knew that the Maquis did fair business of recruiting and intelligence gathering in assorted public houses across the DMZ. The Ronaran cell was no exception. Their contact point was a pub called the Old Biddy. But just to be certain, Holmes did a pub crawl across the city.

Sticking to synthahol she managed to stay sober until she reached the Old Biddy. The bartender there wasn't very cooperative but she managed to steer Holmes towards some freighter crews that had bragged about knowing where "terrorists" were hiding. Holmes tipped the bartender two strips of latinum and then bought several bottles of actual Alderbaran whiskey for the crew she deemed likeliest to succumb to her charms.

Ro and what remained of her cell were ensconced within the old planetary militia bunker nestled inside the heart of a cave system born inside the mountain range outside of the capitol. Officially, the colonial government knew nothing of their presence. Technically true because it was Governor Donald Snow who knew nothing. Lt. Governor Stephanie Gerin knew about the Maquis' presence. Gerin had come out to meet Ro after the Maquis received a discreet "invitation" to use the site.

Ro had largely avoided domestic politics so she's been unaware of the fact Gerin was her own age. And while she wore business suits in her office for public appearances, she favored more flamboyant garb in private. Gerin had met Ro in a black leather "biker's" jacket, black leather pants and boots, with a leather Irish flat cap turned backwards on her head. Hardly a picture of a "lt. governor" in Ro's mind.

The meeting had been simple. Only two people knew of the Maquis' ongoing presence in the mountain retreat. Gerin and her chief of staff, a former militia intelligence guru. He was the one who had contacted Ro to begin with regarding its use.

Ro could hardly turn down their offer of unofficial support. The mountain cave base was perfect. Several caves were large enough to be utilized as hangars so the Maquis' entire inventory of couriers and its Ju'day-class raider nicely fit within them. The site's communications and sensor systems were already tied into the planet's and solar system's arrays and networks. In short it made one hell of a command center as it was duly designed to be.

Ro had few permanent personnel on her staff. Tulley was her deputy and her security boss. The Bolian, Emjin Thool, was the cell's engineering guru. Natalie Donner was Tulley's choice for security deputy. Liam Hemingway was Tulley's choice as his personal security agent. Locarno and Rossum were Ro's face to other cells. That left Macen, Danan, and their crew.

Ro had acquired Macen and Danan's official Starfleet personnel jackets. Macen had supposedly been the Chief Analyst of the Cardassian Section with Starfleet Intelligence until nearly 2350. Then he'd been transferred to the field. Given that Macen was well received and known by colonists throughout the DMZ and the ceded territories, his "desk jockey" routine wore thin. Too much of Macen's file had been obviously redacted or was classified 'Eyes Only' at the C-in-C and Presidential level.

Danan had seemed a simple stellar cartographer who'd followed her lover into the Maquis until Ro read her file. One of Danan's previous hosts had been a co-worker of Macen's in the Cardassian Section. Lisea was a supposedly simple cartographer and astrophysicist but she had all of that arcane knowledge in her head. And Danan had never been romantically linked with Macen until he met Lisea so the Trill prohibition regarding resuming past relationships didn't apply.

Five years ago, Danan fell off the grid. She'd been approached by undocumented parties and gone TDY with this mysterious party. She'd reappeared back at her old posting just after the Cardassian Treaty had been ratified. And then at Macen's behest she abruptly resigned and joined the Maquis.

Ro didn't know much about Macen's crew other than he and Danan trusted them implicitly. Which was good enough for Ro. And Ro understood why Macen and Danan flitted in and out of the cell so much. They were attached to Ro's cell not formal members despite being treated as such.

But such distance allowed Macen the freedom to vehemently object to Ro's severing the intercell comm network. Open communications were vital to operating a coordinated attack against a scattered enemy. The Cardassians certainly enjoyed a unified comm network and it gave them an unparalleled edge. Disabling the Maquis' just as it had been established destroyed all trust in it and reduced the various cells to blindly operating alone once again.

Ro knew Macen had only gone along with her decision because Hudson had as well and Macen recognized Ro has cell leader despite their disparity in official Starfleet ranks. But he was hardly happy. Which was fine with Ro. She was hardly happy as well.

Ro was used to leading from the field in the very front line. Being stuck blindly coordinating units she had no contact with rankled her sensibilities. And it was all her own fault for disabling the comm network.

Ro had nothing better to do than review where her people were posted across the DMZ. Locarno and Rossum were still acting as her eyes, ears, and voice. They were currently in the Valo system. Or should be at least.

Donner and Hemingway were still located on Setlik III minding Cal Hudson. Hunter and Noble should have been recently visited by Macen and Danan. Amaktay, Talin Tora, and Rose Pinter were assigned to guarding Dimitris, Natasha Legos, Amy Brilliance, and Carter Osten on Haktor.

Ro knew Macen had issues working with Amaktay. He was a Quarran male and from the Delta Quadrant like Macen. That's where the trouble stemmed from. Macen had more than passing experience with Amaktay's race. And there were hostile feelings involved.

Amaktay himself had been swallowed by an unstable wormhole that had collapsed after depositing him in the Alpha Quadrant. He'd emerged near Ronara Prime and landed. Taken in by a local family, Amaktay had taken up a trade and worked alongside the Stevens family until the Cardassians had killed them all while Amaktay was making deliveries.

Amaktay had sworn revenge and constructed plasma grenades and destroyed the machine shop and every Cardassian in it with them. Now a marked and unique fugitive he was offered shelter by Macius, who took him in and groomed the machinist into a weapons tech. So Amaktay had evolved into the cell's armorer.

Talin was a fellow Bajoran and Resistance veteran. She'd settled on Ronara Prime after marrying a human. But the Cardassian had arranged an "accident" that killed him. So Talin had taken up arms again.

Rose Pinter was "mostly" human. She had enough alien DNA to grant her naturally blue hair. Otherwise she was your average human being.

Kris Solo and Elfi Hendryks stood watch over Atara and Crenshaw inside Valo I's moon. Leah Chaste and Vera Dragonuv were Yuan and Stiles' sentries on Salva. Stiles was from one of Starfleet's "First Families". His ancestors had been in Starfleet since its creation when Earth unified.

They'd distinguished themselves in the Earth-Romulan War. His own grandfather had briefly commanded the prototype transwarp capable USS Excelsior. Only, the transwarp drive never functioned. Stiles had resorted to histrionics to try and push his and Spacedock's engineers into making the fabled drive system to work.

When the ship was refitted into having a traditional warp drive, Stiles was removed from command and replaced by Hikaru Sulu. Inadvertently drawn into the periphery of Admiral Cartwright and Colonel West's plot to start a war with the Klingons, Stiles had retired a broken man. He moved to Volon III and his immediate family and their families had travelled with him. His children were the first to ever leave Starfleet before retirement age and their sons and daughters never enlisted.

"Ro," Tulley broke her reverie, "I just got a personal call from Annabeth Frink."

"The weekend bartender at the Old Biddy?" Ro prompted him to remind her.

"The same," Tulley confirmed it, "A woman named Irene Holmes has been nosing around for the local Maquis cell. She knows pass codes and contact information but it's all out of date."

"Thank Frink and have her make certain Holmes doesn't get any information," Ro instructed.

"Ro, Jarrel and his team just arrived from Quad City and were pointed out by drunken freighter crews Holmes had been plying with drinks," Tulley could see Ro's pale face darken, "With Tom Hennessy and Kris Solo not there to mind them, Jarrel is in charge and he's an impetuous fool."

Hennessy had been sent to Volon II to help bolster security there. Ro scowled as she angrily responded, "Contact Jarrel and have him make an appearance and then return to their compound and expect a firefight."

"Should we prepare to assist them?" Tulley asked.

"Jarrel wants to be a hero," Ro said derisively, "Now's his chance. We'll be able to witness this ‘taskforce' in action."

"What about Holmes?" Tulley asked despondently.

"Grab Thool," Ro ordered, "We'll intercept her when she leaves the pub. Then we'll interrogate her and find out where she's from and why she's violating security."

Tulley numbly nodded as he exited the command center. Ro wrestled with her doubts after he'd gone. Her decision galled her. She'd never intentionally ordered people into an impossible situation where getting captured or killed was a certainty. She also realized it was just the kind of war she was fighting.

Jarrel lead the members of the Quad City urban cell back home. For all its pretensions, Quad City was basically a block of housing quads for those that wanted distance from the original settlement that now served as it capitol and primary spaceport. Caruthers and Gleeson followed the cell to its haunt in a stolen air car.

After calling in the location, the two agents retreated to an alley several blocks away. The entire field staff beamed down to them. While Caruthers and Gleeson geared up, the special agents deployed and soon surrounded the four story compound the Maquis had claimed as their own.

Holmes exited the Old Biddy and began to stroll down the street towards the spaceport where her warp capable shuttle currently resided. She planned on sleeping on one of the two cots available inside of it and wait for the alcoholic haze to fade. She never even saw Ro until after the Bajoran's fist connected with her jaw.

"What the hell?" she yelped and looked up to see her attacker, "Ro Laren!"

"Irene Holmes," Ro said distastefully, "Are we done with the introductions?"

Holmes started to reach for her jacket pocket and she felt a phaser rifle's beam emitter prod itself between her shoulder blades. Tulley warned her off, "I wouldn't do that."

Ro jerked her head towards Holmes to motivate Thool to join them. He had an older style tricorder that Starfleet issued circa 2330. He pointed at the jacket pocket she'd reached for, "She has a comm badge in her pocket."

Ro roughly handled Holmes as she ripped the badge out of the offending pocket, "Next?"

He pointed at Holmes' arm, "She also has a subcutaneous transponder crystal imbedded in her forearm."

"Show me the exact location," Ro directed.

Thool put his forefinger on Holmes' forearm, "Right here."

Ro pulled out a Cardassian combat knife and Thool clamped a hand over Holmes' mouth while Tulley braced her and kept her from struggling. Ro simply sliced Holmes' arm open and reached into the flesh and pulled the transponder out. She threw it down a sewer drain.

Ro nodded at Tulley and he stepped back and stunned the prisoner with his rifle. Ro helped Thool heft Holmes up with an arm over each of their shoulders, "We need to get away before we're noticed."

Tulley covered the street as Thool disengaged the air transport with his remote and then started it up, "We'll be back at base in less than thirty minutes."

They ingloriously dumped Holmes' limp body inside and then climbed aboard. The large transport vehicle lifted off the ground and Ro accessed the traffic grid. Plotting a course path several kilometers from their true destination she headed out ostensibly for another continent. After they left the capitol's traffic sensor range, Ro veered off and went straight back to the old militia headquarters.

Bloomingdale used invectives unused in the colonies for decades. Two of their Maquis suspects had died in a crossfire the agents had set up inside the housing unit. Three more had instantly been killed when a plasma grenade tossed by one of her fellow agents had detonated an arsenal of explosives stored within the home. Only Jarrel had been left alive and he was badly wounded.

Eighty percent of the Rigellian's body was covered in plasma burns and he'd lost an arm and it looked likely he'd lost both legs. Both eyes had been mutilated by the blast as well. During Bloomingdale's fifteen years with the FBI she'd seen arrests go badly but not as cocked up as this one had become.

The agents departed the scene as the fire brigade arrived. And their prize would probably die before he could be interrogated. But Vulcanoids were infamously hard to kill so there was a slim hope they could extract needed information from him.

Prine called Bloomingdale into his office, "What the hell happened, Kate?"

"They torched themselves," Bloomingdale angrily replied, "Or at least good as."

"Our Cardassian partners will be elated but the SecDef will be crawling up my ass over this," Prine complained.

"I'm certain your career will continue to ascend despite the obvious loss of life," Bloomingdale said snidely.

"You think I took this job because I wanted a promotion?" Prine was stunned.

"Didn't you?" Bloomingdale wondered, "No one would touch this posting until you swooped in to save the day. Afterwards there was no shortage of accolades and opportunities."

"Why I took the job is none of your damn business but for your analysis to be factual you have to recall that no one wanted the job because it was considered career suicide," Prine reminded her, "The Federation Council would hate whoever ran this program. The public would vilify them, and the President and SecDef would disavow them should anything go wrong. My probable career arc is to sit out the next twenty years on a penal colony after word of this program gets loose. And that's already happened, hasn't it?"

Bloomingdale swallowed hard as Prine continued, "But until I'm arrested and you all blame everything on me, you will work with me, your fellow agents, and God knows whoever the Cardassians throw our way or I'll bounce your ass back to the FBI in so much disgrace no one will ever let you work a case again. Understood?"

Bloomingdale nodded crisply, "Perfectly."

"Now, to make certain something is clearly understood. There's a policy struggle underway within our taskforce. The High Command allowed it to be a Federation operation but they run the show. And what they want is more carnage to further their objectives within the DMZ. The policies they want to enact would violate nine-tenths of Federation law. Every time we deploy, I'm in a struggle with holding back the more bloodthirsty tendencies of our overseers. The High Command feels they've relinquished too much authority to their Federation partners in this. And recent setbacks have exacerbated official Cardassian perception that the High Command is losing control of this taskforce. Cardassia agreed to allow a team of humans to be its enforcers because they see humans as soft, pliable, and easily manipulated. It's our job to prove them wrong."

"I can do that," Bloomingdale assured him.

"Good," Prine said with confidence, "It means I don't have to boot you out. Now for that briefing."

Bloomingdale gave him a blow by blow assisted with sensor readings. The Valdez's own sensors had been upgraded from their original 2320 specs to cutting edge technology. Using readings from tricorders, gun sights, and the ship, Bloomingdale presented a clear picture of the situation's disintegration.

"I see a null spot in the sensor readings," Prine pointed out, "Why didn't anyone take the time to investigate why a room was being shielded before lobbing grenades at it?"

"We were trying to corral the suspects into a central square located inside the housing quad," Bloomingdale explained, "After the first two deaths, the Maquis went ballistic. They'd surrendered to panic and were pinning us down with scattered, random fire while they tried to escape. We simply tried to push them into the open where we would have clean lines of fire with which we could stun the perps."

"Clean lines of fire started this train wreck," Prine groused.

"And Perrot and Landers are receiving disciplinary measures for elevating their weapon settings to a disruption level that could kill," Bloomingdale reported, "SAIC Ironmonger has taken it upon himself to make examples out of them."

"If they were still in Starfleet they'd be facing a Board of Inquiry preceding a potential court martial," Prine told her, "In this outfit, the High Command will probably pin medals on their chest."

"You don't like the Cardassians," Bloomingdale finally realized.

"It doesn't matter what or who I like," Prine replied, "I don't appreciate Klingons either but I'm directed to cooperate with them so I do. The same holds true for our Cardassian ‘friends'."

"What's the ultimate point to all of this?" Bloomingdale inquired, "This all stinks of realpolitik."

"The goal is to establish enough trust and cooperation to form a customs and security force that would patrol the DMZ and enforce basic law and order," Prine explained, "The force would be made up of Federation and Cardassian agents working together."

"I…see," Bloomingdale said sourly.

The door chimed and Prine sighed, "That'll be Redak. Ted and I are having a conference with him to go over the details of the raid."

"Be sure to use the precise words ‘cock up' and see how they translate," Bloomingdale advised before exiting.

Prine followed her out, "Follow me, Dalin."

Inside a conference room, Redak beamed, "I understand congratulations are in order. Five Maquis killed and one lingering on death. It should be a simple matter to extract information from him in exchange for that final release."

"We don't operate that way," Harris argued.

"Then it's fortuitous that the High Command has decreed that all interrogations henceforth will be done by Cardassian experts," Redak informed them.

"Why didn't Macet relay this information to me already?" Prine grated.

"He is doing so now. Through me," Redak informed them, "Gul Macet has found discussions with you to be counterproductive at best. The High Command will dictate, Gul Macet will relay the appropriate orders to me, and I shall interpret them for your human ears."

"That's not how things were originally arranged," Prine couldn't hide his anger.

"The arrangement was that the High Command could alter the arrangement at any given point," Redak said solicitously, "They have done so. Your duty now is to obey the High Command's dictates."

"I have to call my superiors," Prine warned him.

"Feel free," Redak said graciously, "But remember this, they already agreed to the very terms I laid out for you."

"How will you interrogate the prisoner?" Harris asked.

"Oh, I won't. We have experts in that field and they rarely fail," Redak shared, "Gul Madred is our ablest interrogator. I understand he holds to the premise that there are essentially five methods of interrogation: Blunt, Sharp, Hot, Energy, and Psychological. He is infamous for his tailored usages of specific blends depending upon an individual's capacity to resist."

"Now gentlemen, I must report your acquiescence in these matters," Redak rose and exited the room.

"He can't do this," Harris protested.

"He can and he knows it," Prine sagged in defeat, "I've read our charter forward and backward. Redak didn't misquote a single passage."

"My God, Jim," Harris breathed, "Do you know what kind of precedent this sets?"

"Is it any different than letting the Klingons utilize a mind sifter?" Prine wearily asked, "This is the very reason the Federation Council was bypassed in creating this taskforce."

"We're all going to be sentenced to penal colonies," Harris realized, "When word gets out…"

"That's why we have to eliminate the Maquis threat and make room for the customs and security force to be formed," Prine stated, "No one argues with success. Not even the most squeamish squeamish members of the Federation Council."

"But how can we?" Harris wondered, "We can't even find Cal Hudson yet?"

"Hudson is increasingly more and more of a figurehead," Prine assessed, "The truer threats are individuals like Chakotay and Ro Laren. An underground is softly forming up inside Starfleet's ranks. Not so much amongst the officer corps but the enlisted ranks are beginning to migrate in droves to the DMZ. Every one of them the hero in their own personal holo drama."

"Why Ro and Chakotay?" Harris wondered.

"Because of their training and their motivation," Prine explained, "Chakotay is infamous as a leader who can create a cohesive team out of a fractious crew. And they aren't tied to any planetary cell so no one knows where they are at any given moment until they strike. Ro Laren was always a loner. But an invaluable one at cracking Cardassian information systems. She was also a skilled shuttle pilot prior to her arrival in the Federation."

Prine continued, "Ro managed to leave Bajor and get herself to Valo II at age seven. She remained at the refugee camps there for ten years. Ro stole one of the colonies few interstellar flight capable vessels and left for Earth at age seventeen. With little more than a Federation primary school education, she passed the heightened requirements to join Starfleet Academy and somehow managed to persuade a command-level officer to sponsor her. And other them some disciplinary infractions she had a stellar academic career. No one knows what happened next on Garon II and she still won't talk about it. But when she was released from Jaros II's stockade, she intended to leave Starfleet yet Captain Jean-Luc Picard challenged her to stay on his ship. The rest is history," Prine shared, "So either one of them is more than competent to succeed Hudson. Although Chakotay is far more likely to do so. Tom Riker was another candidate in his brief time with the Maquis. But I think rotting away in a Cardassian labor camp excludes him at this point."

"What about the mysterious ‘Architect'?" Harris wanted to know.

"No face and no name means whoever it is, if they're not simply an urban myth, wants to stay hidden," Prine reasoned it out.

"And Elijah Waters?" Harris finally dared to bring the retired admiral up, "His so-called business is legitimate. But he's also hired a lot of potentially nefarious crews to deliver cargo to spots where Maquis attacks occur."

"It could be coincidence or it could be intentional," Prine admitted, "But according to Starfleet Intelligence, he's hand off."

"But if he is coordinating Maquis ships to be in striking distance of targets, shouldn't we at least investigate him?" Harris wondered, "And if Starfleet Intelligence has him in play, wouldn't that mean they're covertly supporting the Maquis?"

"Admiral Nechayev was explicit," Prine shrugged, "Waters interests are commercial but his hired couriers do mobilize Starfleet agents in and out of the DMZ."

"I still don't like the vibe Waters gives off. What the hell is a former Deputy Chief of Starfleet Intelligence doing running cargo in the DMZ?" Harris couldn't let it go.

"That's what Macet asked me as well," Prine pointed out, "The High Command wants Waters to at least face questioning. But I reminded him that Waters is operating off of Draygo and is within Starbase 310's jurisdiction and way outside of ours."

"Okay, I'll let it go," Harris conceded.

"Macet finally had to as well," Prine pointed out, "What's Holmes' status?"

"She's overdue and we've lost her transponder fix," Harris informed him.

"Send a team to the surface and retrace her last known steps," Prine instructed.

"I'll have Ironmonger work on the gory details," Harris rose but stopped before the door was triggered to open, "What if she's pulled a runner?"

"The Maquis are going to figure out she sold them out," Prine replied, "So she can't turn to them. The Federation will hand her back over to the Cardassians. And the Bajorans take a dim view on collaborators. The Xepolites don't allow foreigners to live with them. so who does that leave in this region?"

"I see your point," Harris exited.

Prine left as well and almost got run over by Redak, "Director, Gul Macet requires a moment of your time. We need to redeploy."

"We're currently recovering an asset. What could possibly prompt Macet to order us to change location?" Prine wanted to know.

"A Maquis raider has struck Gul Evek's flag headquarters. His cruiser is highly damaged and cannot pursue them. You must track these scum and apprehend them," Redak demanded.

"I'll talk to Macet and get the details," Prine wanted to sigh.

 

Chapter Four

Holmes awoke to find she was manacled to a chair. And it wasn't a very comfortable chair. Holmes struggled to break free but she found she couldn't.

Tulley entered into the room as the door slid open, "So you're awake. Good. Saves me the bother."

"Where am I?" Holmes craned her neck around, "This doesn't look like a housing quad. That's bare rock."

"Maybe you're lost. Or maybe we are. It doesn't matter. What matters is you betrayed some of your own," Tully said tersely.

"How'd they do?" Holmes was inquisitive, "I can't imagine they went down without a fight."

"There were six to begin with. You saw that," Tulley answered, "Five died in the explosion when the ordnance inside the quad detonated. Word is a dismembered survivor was beamed away."

"Then I guess you'd best evacuate. Whoever survived is going to talk," Holmes stated.

"No one in their urban cell knew about this location," Tulley told her, "So our only potential leak is you."

Holmes gulped, "Look, it wasn't supposed to be that way. Most of these people are cops or Starfleet Security. They're after prisoners."

"Lots of people die despite best wishes," Tulley pulled a combat knife identical to Ro's out a sheath, "Explain to me why I should let you live."

"Look!" Holmes fought a rising surge of desperation, "The Cardies offered me a deal. I could leave the labor camp if I helped a Federation law enforcement team track down the Maquis cells scattered throughout the DMZ. You don't know what it's like in a camp. You'd do anything to leave one too."

"Bad choice," Tulley's blade bit into her cheek, "Where are your friends going next?"

He pulled the knife away so she could speak without lacerating herself, "Marva IV! They're going to Marva IV next. A freighter captain sold the location to a Cardassian outpost. He said he'd spotted Amaros from Volon III there."

"That's enough," Ro had entered unseen, "Go get Thool and prep the Sparrow. We'll warn the locals ourselves."

"What happens now?" Holmes was still sobbing from Tulley's interrogation.

"Now I tie up a very loose end," Ro pulled her Type I "Cricket" phaser out of her holster at the small of her back and shot Holmes. The traitor slumped in her seat.

Tulley returned, "I'll deal with her. You need to brief Locarno and Rossum."

"The hydroponics could use some fertilizer," Ro grimly reminded Tulley as she headed for the hangars. She popped her head in again, "And go to town and then Annabeth for tipping us off."

"I could just record a message," Tulley protested.

"Aric, you need to do this in person. Annabeth would be especially appreciative if you did," Ro did leave this time hoping the hint was obvious enough.

Anderson, Mehr, Palicki, and Caruthers searched the areas around the Old Biddy. Getting word from the Valdez that the ship would be breaking orbit in ten minutes they beamed back to the freighter. Cusack and Gleeson returned from Holmes' loaned shuttle with nothing to report.

Tulley presented himself to Frink, "What can I say, Annabeth, you're a lifesaver."

"Well, some lives are more worth saving than others," she smiled brightly.

"I guess," Tulley nervously gulped.

"I'm assuming a quartet in coveralls that came in earlier were her friends. They looked serious. These people can handle themselves," Frink warned him, "The newscasts are obsessing over what happened in Quad City. You and your friends supply them with a lot of job security."

"Well, we play for real too. Thanks again," Tulley gave her jaunty smile and departed.

Frink scowled as a rather inebriated customer who she'd already cut off approached and tried flattery to get her to sell him another round. Frink grabbed the back of his neck and bounced his forehead off the counter. As he slumped to the floor everyone started estimating how soon last call would come tonight.

"No means no," Frink yelled at the fallen Boslic. Then she sullenly stared at the entrance and waited for someone who wasn't coming back tonight to return, "Damn it, Aric. Catch a frinxing clue."

The Valdez detected the Sparrow's launch and the Captain informed Prine, "Director, we have a Peregrine-class courier lifting from the surface. She ID's as the Sparrow. Other than some extensive weapons refits she scans as typical for her class."

"What kind of refits?" Prine asked.

"We're reading Type VI pulse phaser mounts and what looks like a disguised microtorpedo launcher," the Captain reported.

"Plot a pursuit," Prine ordered, "Stay outside of their sensor range but keep a fix on their warp signatures."

"Understood," the CO acknowledged.

Prine looked up at Redak, "It seems Gul Evek is going to have to wait."

"Now entering orbit over Haktor," Ebert announced, "Can we please go to bed now?"

Macen knew it took lot to push the normally eager Ebert into complaining, "We'll stand down for twelve hours. T'Kir, you'll take the first four hour watch. Tom, you've got the next four, and Christine, you're clean up gunner."

Kassidy Yates had recommended Ebert, Eckles, and Darcy to him when he and Danan were putting together a crew for a Rigellian scout. Lacey had come later when Macen when Macen went looking for someone with military experience to man his weapons systems. Waters had put together a list of Starfleet Security enlisted personnel that had resigned and returned to the DMZ. Lacey had been his first choice and she was an easy sell.

Next, Macen had heard rumors of various computer network shutdown and collapses stemming around a psychiatric institute on Kalandra. Visiting, the problems had all been traced back to T'Kir. Finding out her back story, it had been easy to recruit her as well. Especially given the fact she had a difficulty relating to other beings but she latched on to him because she had no problem interacting with him. But that had led too an interesting infatuation that seemed too have no boundaries.

The psychiatric staff had willingly, and rather excitedly, written up her discharge paperwork and transferred T'Kir into his custody. She was legally his responsibility now. And she'd become more than that. He had a personal stake in seeing her life improve now. All of which gave Danan fits.

"Just so I don't have to leave the ship," Eckles gratefully commed back.

The chief engineer was agoraphobic and hated spaces any larger than his engine compartment. He took great comfort in resting in Jeffries tubes. Even the cargo bays, such as they were, gave him difficulty when emptied.

The crew had a right to be exhausted. In the last twenty hours the ship had visited Deep Space Nine, Ronara Prime, Quatal Prime, Volon II, Marva IV, Solossus, Merricor, and Veloz Prime. As Ebert and Lacey left the bridge, T'Kir busied herself in some project or another. That left Macen and Danan unaccounted for.

"I noticed you left us off the watch rotation," she commented.

"That's because we're going straight down to the surface," Macen told her.

"And who will operate the transporter?' Danan wondered, "Because you just gave Tom and Heidi the night off."

"T'Kir?" Macen called out.

"Yeah?" she replied.

"Can you operate a transporter?" he asked.

"Of course not," she answered.

"See? We're golden," Macen stated.

"She said ‘no'," Danan pointed out.

"She's joking," Macen blew off the reply.

"T'Kir, were you joking?" Danan asked sternly.

"Of course not," T'Kir insisted.

"She'll learn," Macen assured Danan.

"Your solution does not inspire confidence," Danan warned him.

"I just need to contact Elijah before we beam down," Macen told her.

"Hurry up. I want to get there and get back. It's been a hellaciously long day," Macen knew it was bad when even Danan started complaining.

"I'll just be a bit," he assured her, "Why don't you take T'Kir to the transporter room and show her how the system operates."

"Hey nut job! Follow me," Danan waved at the turbolift.

T'Kir blew her a raspberry but she followed along. Macen utilized the main viewer to patch into Waters' private link after he plugged the dedicated transceiver in. Just as Korepanova was wont to do.

After a brief delay, Waters responded to the transmission. The elderly man looked tired as well. Macen felt contrite.

"Were you asleep?" he wondered.

"At this age, who actually sleeps anymore?" Waters genially chuckled.

"Lees and I are at our last stop," Macen informed him, "We're headed down to Haktor to provide a data rod to the local cell leader."

"If memory serves, she's a Joined Trill," Waters seemed to recall.

"Ayla is not only a Trill, she's a member of the minority species of Trills," Macen told him.

"Ah, the ones whose higher cognitive functions stem from the symbiot. I hear the hosts are rather childlike before being joined," Waters continued to muse, "Until the incident with Odan we only knew there were two types of Trill. We had no idea about symbiots and how the minority race's personalities are completely subsumed by the joining."

"Well, as you stated, the minority host lacks any true cognitive functions so a mass of neurotissue like a symbiot easily takes over all neurological functions," Macen told him, "But, no one ever guessed that Trills had any advantages derived from sentient vermiforms living within them. But I suppose we can't know everything all at once."

"That's a bad idea for an intelligence agent to have," Waters reprimanded him, "Has anyone guessed your true allegiance and mission yet?"

"I shared our double agent status with Ro. She would have eventually deduced it anyway," Macen informed him, "But she doesn't understand the full ramifications of our mission yet."

"Keep it that way," waters instructed, "And stop telling people."

"Ro can be fully trusted. After all, it's why she was chosen to be my ‘leader'," Macen reminded Waters.

"Has Alynna realized your feeding the Maquis more intel than your supplying our side?" Waters wondered.

"She knew my sympathies when she offered me this assignment," Macen replied.

"Of course she knew," Waters was greatly amused, "You were resigning over the DMZ and the Maquis."

Macen shrugged, "So nothing should be a surprise to her then. What's your status?"

"A Director James Prine contacted me and wanted me to come in for questioning," Waters chuckled, "I simply told him I was quite content to stay where I was. He then wanted to know why I was in the region. I meekly informed him old men have their hobbies and collecting rumors and innuendo from the DMZ happened to be mine."

"'Go to hell' would have sufficed," Macen said wryly.

"I'm amazed you ever made ‘Commander' with an attitude like that. Diplomacy greases many wheels even when one is styming one's adversary," Waters scolded him.

"Results matter to some people," Macen demurred, "And I have always provided them."

"If you ever get promoted to ‘Captain' it will be because a long list of candidates stretching forth before you have all suddenly died," Waters warned him.

"Your faith in me is underwhelming," Macen deadpanned, "And I'm already a captain."

"You know what I mean," Waters ruefully grumbled, "And I'm the one that first assigned you to start working with Elias Vaughn. He said you were his best pupil. He also said you'd use your newly acquired skills against Starfleet if the motivation were justified enough in your own mind. It seems he was right."

"I happen to think I'm working for the benefit of Starfleet in particular and the Federation as a whole," Macen responded, "However, I'm serving the ideals of the Federation and not its actual policies."

"This is why Nechayev asked me to step out of retirement and act as your handler," Waters reminded him, "She thought our decades working together would incline you to listen to me."

"You were bored anyway," Macen teased him; "Otherwise you'd be in skiff on Pacifica interviewing the fish on how they felt about our policies regarding the Cardassians. You came from Veloz Prime and you've never forgotten your home world. The DMZ rankles you as much as it does the Maquis."

"You're probably right," Waters hated to admit.

"I usually am," Macen said with a theatrically longsuffering air.

Korepanova yelped as she stubbed her toe. Biting back a curse she yelled in Russian, "Lights!"

The lights snapped on in her bedroom. But the alarm was tied to her private comp/comm in her office. She muttering her in her ancestral tongue, she made her way to her desk. When she was angry or depressed, she tended to express herself in the Slavic tongue.

Her coworkers had learned this the hard way and winced when her accent even began to thicken. Trudging along, Korepanova plopped down into her seat and gave all of the verbal and keystroked pass codes along with a retinal and thumbprint scan to unlock her system. Korepanova was almost relieved to see Waters' face on her screen. Almost.

"Elijah, do you have any idea of what time it is here?" Korepanova asked plaintively.

"2654 local time, exactly," Waters seemed smug about his knowledge.

Korepanova could hear the Slavic intonation in her voice increasing as she protested, "What could be so damn important? My team and I have been putting in twenty hour days between our Militia contracts and trying to guess where this ‘taskforce' will land next and how to respond to it. I just got word they struck Ronara Prime. Did they capture Ro?"

"No, but they did manage to kill five members of one of her urban cells as well as capture the deputy leader alive. Severely wounded, but alive. My contacts in Starfleet Intelligence tell me if the man lives through the next twenty-four hours and responds to treatment well enough to be questioned; he's to be turned over to the Cardassians. A certain Gul Madred is waiting for him," Waters told her.

"How did you learn all of this?" Korepanova had to wonder.

"Our Boslic friend, Rionoj, was on Cardassia recently and a glinn bragged to her about how the Cardassian were sending troops into the Demilitarized Zone at long last" Waters warned her, "It's a troop complement of twenty-four gorrs mixed with two garresh and all answerable to a Dalin Redak."

"They're actually sending troops in?" Korepanova was stunned, "I thought the whole point of using Federation personnel was to buy goodwill."

"Times and intentions change, especially amongst the Legates of High Command," Waters advised her, "You should know that better than most."

Korepanova winced. Her Starfleet career had been built on predicting Cardassian movements and how to counter them, "Have you told Brin? We need him to confirm this."

"Brin is on Haktor completing his distribution duties," Waters revealed, "And trying to warn Hudson is problematic at best. Only Ro and Macen know where he is and they're not sharing."

"Like you, I've worked with Brin for years but he's left me in the cold on this one," Korepanova admitted.

"That is because of your friendship with Chakotay," Waters shared with her.

"Chakotay is the most loyal Maquis there is!" Korepanova angrily defended her long time friend.

"No one doubts his verisimilitude but can you vouch for every member of his crew?" Waters asked, "You know as well as I we ran a counterintelligence probe into every cell by supplying each with specific information tailored to reveal a leak in their rank. Chakotay's group was one that bled information to Gul Evek."

"You baited everyone and waited to see who the Cardassians would snap at," Korepanova could barely speak English at this point.

"Even Hudson and Ro's cells were so involved. Chakotay himself knew of this process and even helped construct the alterations being fed to the various groups including his own," Waters divulged, "However, he was never informed of his crew rating a positive on having a collaborator in their midst."

"Then who knows?" Korepanova had to wonder.

"Hudson and Ro were told. No one else," Waters said.

"Then why tell me?" Korepanova asked.

"Because you can do your friend a favor and sanitize any and all information going out to him," Waters suggested, "And you may gently persuade him to plug the leak before it gets people killed. Including him and his crew."

"You always were a great believer in the adage ‘you either play the game or the game plays you'," Korepanova grimly recalled, "All right. I'll run my own test and get back to you."

"Do as you deem fit," Waters nodded to her and then terminated the transmission.

"Bastard!" she whispered.

Chakotay stepped away from the Val Jean's bridge to received Korepanova's message in the comm booth. He had no idea she was the Architect or that she was based on DS9. He thought she was a member of the Maquis planning council based on Volon III.

"It's good to hear from you, Sveta," he confessed.

"What do you know about current events in the DMZ?" the platinum haired Russian asked him.

"Not much. We've been on a Badlands' base until now. We just hit Evek's campaign headquarters and dealt his personal cruiser a crippling strike. Now we're headed for Outpost 47 to repeat the performance while the 5th Order revolves around Evek," he explained.

"There's a new Joint Cardassian-Federation Counterterrorist Taskforce operating in the DMZ. They've hit Valo I, Setlik III, Volon III, and Ronara Prime in succession. We got Cal and some others off world in time but the taskforce went to Ronara Prime looking for him. There were fatalities, I'm afraid. All on our side," Korepanova shared, "Cal's on Umoth hiding under the Cardies' noses. But steer clear of the colony or they'll catch on."

"Of course," Chakotay said with such trust and sincerity it broke Korepanova's heart to lie to him. But she had to know for herself if Waters had told her the truth.

"Good hunting," she wished him, "Between Outpost 47 and Valo VI we have far too many eyes and ears watching our movements."

"Not for long, " he chuckled and signed off. He collided with Seska in the corridor, "What are you doing up here?"

"I was looking for you," she admitted, "I wanted to find out if you wanted a bite to eat. Paris just evaded our pursuers by ducking in and out of the Badlands. We've entered the Valo system and are ready to traverse the DMZ to get to Outpost 47."

"Thanks, I appreciate the thought. I'll take whatever you're serving," Chakotay smiled appreciatively.

"I'll be right back then," Seska watched him reenter the bridge module. Then she ducked into the comm booth to report to Gul Evek.

Macen and Danan were brought to the cell's staging area by Ayla. Amaktay, Talin, and Pinter were still guarding their four human charges. Haktor was a rather urbane colony and "aliens" outnumbered humans. So Ro's cellmates blended right in while Hudson's people stood out.

But the local Maquis had found most of colonists willing to fight the Cardassians tended to be human. Gerae and Agriana were Ilirean exceptions. Nearly human, the pair bore slightly smaller spots than majority Trills and had tufted tails that marked them as "exotic" to most humans. They also frequently bedded males in pairs.

Danan passed on Hudson's well wishes to Dimitris, Brilliance, Osten, and Legos. Dimitris, and the two women were gratified to learn the taskforce was facing hostile scrutiny back in the Federation and on Cardassia. Osten looked vaguely disappointed since he'd been spending his nights frolicking with Gerae and Agriana.

Ayla gratefully received the pertinent data rod. After having concluded their business, Macen and Danan signaled T'Kir to be beamed back aboard the Odyssey. T'Kir had a message for Macen.

"Y'r ancient human friend wants t'talk t'you," she dutifully informed him before staring up at Danan, "But not you."

"Lees, can you man the bridge?" he asked.

"Whatever," she growled as she stared down the impertinent Vulcan.

When they exited the turbolift, Macen headed for the rear of the bridge compartment. A door separated the bridge from a briefing room. It also served as Macen's impromptu office.

Moments later Macen exited the briefing room, "T'Kir, man the CONN. Break orbit and set course for Starbase 621. Make way at Warp 5."

"Outside the Tzenkethi Coalition?" T'Kir yelped, "Are you crazy?"

Macen just silently stared her down. She swallowed, "I mean, are we crazy?"

"Not today," Macen assured her.

"`Kay," T'Kir relented before becoming enthused again, "Do Tzenkethi really glow? `Cause a talkin' desk lamp could be frinxin' awesome!"

Macen glanced over to see Danan giving him a pained expression. He couldn't blame her as she blamed him, "You brought her aboard."

Macen knew he couldn't deny it.

Redak burst into Prine's office, "You must accompany me. Gul Macet must speak with you at once!"

"Why doesn't he contact me directly?" Prine irritably inquired.

"Because the High Command had an independent Cardassian comm relay installed in this ship. We know our communications are secure whereas the Maquis have compromised yours," Redak said impatiently, "Are you coming?"

"Give me your wrist comm," Prine held out his hand.

Redak hesitated and Prine grated, "Do you want me to forcibly take it, arm and all?"

Redak reluctantly unlatched the cuff unit and handed it over. Prine hit the activation stud, "Macet? Is that you?"

"Listen carefully Prine, I am about to impart a state secret. We have agents within Maquis cells. We mastered the art of making our people appear Bajoran during our struggle with the Resistance. One such agent recently reported to Gul Evek that Calvin Hudson can be found on Umoth. Your orders are to proceed there at once. A transport ship with our reinforcement detail will meet you there. Understood?" Macet imparted to him.

"Understood," Prine terminated the connection and handed the communicator cuff back to Redak before he exploded, "Dammit! Ronara Prime is just a dozen light years from Umoth. We're chasing our tails here."

Locarno and Rossum sat at an outdoor café while the taskforce beamed down every special agent and the transport ship beamed down two dozen Cardassian soldiers. The Maquis had deviated course before altering their warp signature and ID transponder before racing to Umoth at Ro's order. Locarno looked victorious as he looked over at Rossum, "That's two strips of latinum you owe me."

"I just never thought I'd see the day Federation anything marched beside Cardassians," Rossum glumly admitted.

"Tell you what, instead of paying me directly, you buy lunch and we can spend the time finally getting to really know one another," Locarno suggested.

"So, you want to know me better," Rossum looked inordinately pleased with herself.

"Who wouldn't?" Locarno asked.

"I think I'm actually inclined to share with you," Rossum admitted, "Provided you do the same with me."

"Anything," Locarno promised.

"Well, this certainly takes the sting out of losing," Rossum said happily.

"So the Architect was right. The so-called taskforce descend in force upon Umoth working alongside Cardassian forces," Rossum reported from aboard the Sparrow.

"Which was expected. It was a contingency plan the High Command wrote into the agreement creating the taskforce in the first place," Ro related to her, "It's just early in the game for them to openly assert control."

"Where are we headed now?" Locarno asked.

"Head for Setlik III," Ro instructed, "The package needs to be advised of this development."

"Will do," Locarno said brightly, "Sparrow out."

"Someone's in a good mood," Tulley said from a nearby wall.

"It certainly isn't Annabeth Frink," Ro quipped.

Tulley had the decency to turn bright red. Ro turned to him, "You and Thool prep the Indie. We're going to Setlik III."

"Ro, she takes a crew of thirty-six. We have three people," Tulley protested.

"Ever hear of a skeleton crew?" Ro inquired snarkily.

"I don't want to be the skeleton," Tulley argued.

"No promises," Ro countered, "Now grab Thool and get busy."

Tulley sighed loudly as he departed. Ro contacted Waters' offices and got a hold of Kristiana Lui. Then she arranged to pick up a local consignment headed for Setlik III.

"Here's the transmission we intercepted, Director. It isn't definitively a Maquis communiqué but the craft transmitting off a comm buoy connected to parties on Ronara Prime. And it was another Peregrine-class courier. The ID was different but my engineering staff feels the pilots had altered their warp signatures and IFF transponder ID," the Captain reported.

"Warp signatures can be altered?" Prine wondered.

"It can be done. It's faster and easier if a contingency to do so is already in place," the CO told him, "I would think it would be SOP with the Maquis to have one in place aboard every craft."

Prine eyes the Skipper in a new light. The elderly gentleman chuckled, "Cargo isn't the only thing I've run in Cardassian space."

Prine listened to the transmission between Ro and the Sparrow crew, "The sign off. Wasn't the courier lifting from Ronara Prime ID'd as the Sparrow?"

"We noticed that too which why it's now sitting on your desk," the Captain told him.

"They mentioned someone labeled the ‘Architect'. There'd been rumors of a Maquis strategic planner going under that code name. But this ‘package' ion Setlik III. That has to be a euphemism for Calvin Hudson. Set course for Setlik III and for maximum warp as long as safety permits."

"Of course," the Captain excused himself and Ironmonger and Canton entered in next. Prine rose to greet them because both were agitated. Ironmonger spoke first.

"We have to ditch these Cardassian foot soldiers," he insisted, "They looted and pillaged their way through the human enclave. They also killed civilians indiscriminately. But we have no authority over them. Only Redak does."

"And I spoke with him as your reports came in," Prine said sorrowfully, "He refuses to discipline his troops for fear of ‘damaging their high morale'. Apparently such behavior is its own reward for being involved in a hostile action against non-Cardassians. Besides the entire troop complement is claiming self defense."

"The most hostile being they encountered was a grandmother wanging a pack of Cardassians attempting to rape her granddaughter with a skillet. They killed her," Canton grated.

"What happened to the granddaughter?' Prine was horrified.

"Anderson, Mehr, and Palicki intervened and got the girl out of their clutches. She was only thirteen," Ironmonger grimly informed Prine.

"Those must be the Cardassians who filed a report against our trio of agents," Prine slumped into his chair.

"Truth be told, Anderson shot the first would be offender's penis. He'll probably suffer from erectile dysfunction for a week or two," Canton said with some satisfaction.

"I hate to admit but this does lend credence to some of the Maquis' allegations," Ironmonger ceded, "This level of casual brutality doesn't just happen. This was ingrained behavior."

"Other than the Bajorans, we've never seen the Cardassians interact with any of their subject worlds," Prine admitted, "And Bajor was microcosm all its own. The Cardassians admittedly never met such stiff opposition to their rule before."

"Do you really think Macet is going to approach our diplomatic corps and lodge a protest over an attempted rape being foiled?" Canton wanted to know.

"Nothing the High Command could do at this juncture could possibly surprise anymore," Prine wearily confessed.

"I spent the bulk of my career investigating the Orion Syndicate," Canton shared, "And I never saw anything to rival today. I can see how these people could hit the breaking point."

"I think we can all agree the Maquis reached that limit but their choice of what to do next is as evil as what you witnessed in action today. You don't defeat an enemy by becoming him," Prine argued.

The two SAICs nodded their agreement and left. Moments later, Redak petitioned to enter again, "Director, a Cardassian base near the DMZ will come under attack within the next six hours. All available forces are responding to an assault on Gul Evek's headquarters. But our military attachés are available and close by."

"Send them to Outpost 47," Prine said gratefully.

"There is no such outpost," Redak sniffed.

"Whatever helps you sleep at night, Dalin," Prine said dismissively.

 

Chapter Five

The Sparrow had relayed a message through the service the local cell employed. Locarno and Rossum enjoyed the spaceport lounge until Jefferson Sans and Daniel Kwan arrived. Sans and Kwan recognized the pair from their message requesting a meet. A quick exchange of countersigns quickly verified everyone's bonafides.

With most of the cell's leadership captured and awaiting trial, Sans had inherited the role of leader. A silvery haired gentleman, Sans had enlisted in Starfleet as a teenager and returned to Setlik III a retired, twenty year veteran holding the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer in Security.

Although Sans had missed the famed massacre on his home world, he had fought engagements all across the border region. He'd also faced the Tzenkethi and fought a skirmish with the Gorn over some godforsaken rock in the middle of nowhere. Despite his experience and his competence for the role of cell leader, Sans had retired for a reason and only the Federation's wanton negligence had driven him to take up arms once again.

Owing to the colony's bad blood with all things Cardassian, the cell enjoyed nearly universal support. No other colony rivaled it. Only twenty percent of the current population were survivors of the massacre. Most had left Setlik III and sought greener pastures.

But the newcomers were just as disgusted by the Federation's abandonment of the colony and of the Cardassians' brutality. It was the same story across the DMZ worlds. And then poor worlds like Dorvan V had been completely ceded to Cardassian hands and now lived under their oppressive yoke despite official promises to treat the settlers with dignity.

Locarno explained their purpose and Sans and Kwan led them to a network of bunkers outside the colonial capitol. They'd been built in the wake of the first Federation treaty with Cardassia. During the war with the Cardassian Union, Starfleet had watched in horror as the Cardassians blew a bunker apart filled with colonists inside. Modern advancements in ordnance had rendered the bunkers obsolete with their very first use.

Inside, Hudson was still tended to by Donner and Hemingway. Sans gathered the cell. The remaining members included Rosemary O'Conner, Sheba Lockhart, Mark Harmony, and Russell Cameron. Hudson quietly entertained the prejudice that the cell was too small to be viable. But during his tenure with them, they'd destroyed two Cardassian freighters and bombed a Cardassian controlled constabulary station.

Locarno explained to Hudson on how the Architect had predicted the taskforce's movement to Umoth. Hudson was curious as to which leak Korepanova had manipulated to do so. And he wondered who had tipped her off in the first place. She'd been left out of the initial loop owing to her close association to Chakotay. Which meant either Amaros, Ro, or Macen had revealed the closely held secret. He had no idea of just how much information Macen shared with Waters.

"Sans, there's a message for you," O'Conner reported.

He stepped into the communications office to take it.

Moments later, Sans joined the others, "The SS Valdez just assumed orbit over Setlik III. As we know, it's the transport vessel for the taskforce we've heard so much about. My guess is we're in for a fight."

Hudson turned to Rossum, "Contact Ro and let her know. There's no need to be coy now."

"We've completed our surface scans. The Starfleet database lists a network of bunkers built outside of the capitol," the Captain reported to Prine, "They were abandoned after the war which resulted in our current treaty with Cardassia. If I were to wage a terrorist campaign, I'd do it from there."

"Very well, load all of the sensor data and the files on the bunkers and make them ready for our planning team," Prine instructed.

"Very well," the Captain deferred to Prine's judgment.

"We are being challenged," Tuvok reported to Chakotay, "By a military freighter indentified as the Groumak."

"Ignore their hails but prepare to lock phasers on them. Reserve our torpedoes for the actual base," Chakotay instructed.

"Understood," Tuvok said dispassionately.

It was moments like this Chakotay envied the Vulcan his emotional control, "Take us in hard and fast, Paris."

Tom Paris pushed the Val Jean into a steep dive towards the dwarf planet the base was built on. The Groumak loomed between the base and the raider. Tuvok announced that the freighter had locked weapons on them seconds before he opened fire with the raider's wingtip mounted Type VIII phasers.

The exchange of fire was completely one sided. Although the Val Jean had been lightly damaged by the freighter's disruptor strip, the crew had already locked down all damaged components and damage control was underway fixing the parts.

"Mr. Paris, you may wish to alter course before we collide with the Groumak," Tuvok implored.

"You're no fun, you know that, Tuvok?" Paris grinned as he altered coursed enough to barely avoid skimming the freighter's hull.

"I do not endeavor to be ‘fun'," Tuvok said matter-of-factly, "My only goal is to perform my duties with efficiency."

"It's like talking to a pocket calculator," Paris sighed.

Outpost 47's four disruptor cannons opened fire. Chakotay began issuing orders, "Concentrate all firepower on their point defense sensor grid. Employ two photons along with phasers."

"Understood," Tuvok began implementing the measures, "Torpedoes away. Their shields have been overloaded."

"Drop the last two photons on the sensor grid," Chakotay ordered, "That will disable their point defense cannons."

And Chakotay was proven right, "Level us out, Paris. Put is in synchronous orbit over the sensor dish assembly."

"Anything else?" Paris asked lightly.

Chakotay signaled for the demolition team to meet him in the cargo bay. B'Elanna Torres started out of her seat and Chakotay physically blocked her, "Not you, B'Elanna. I need you here ramroding the repairs."

"But…" she started to protest.

"Evek has dogged our every move for months now. What's to stop him from assuming command of another ship and following us here?" Chakotay wondered.

"Damn you, Chakotay!" Torres shouted at his back, "You need me!"

"Not this time," he called back.

"Lighten up," Paris cajoled her, "He obviously knows what he's doing."

"Shut up!" Torres shouted at him and she stalked off the bridge to oversee the ongoing repairs.

"I believe she doesn't like you," Tuvok offered his observation.

"Brilliant deduction," Paris said sarcastically.

The Maquis team all wore environment suits. The four person demolition team split to send one tech to each of the arrays junctions. A four person fire team divided up to accompany them. Hogan handled the explosives while Mariah Henley guarded him. Jackson did the honors while Chell stood vigil over him. Jarvin set the charges while being protected by Kenneth Dalby. And finally Ann Smithee placed her bombs while be watched over by Jor. Chakotay climbed a nearby rise and watched the outpost itself. The Cardassians' security force could still respond.

The teams set and primed their bombs in the locations determined by Tuvok. Chakotay signaled them all through their helmet radios, "We have incoming Spoonheads."

Chakotay double checked the charge on his disruptor rifle. He was glad Cardassians kept the design principles simple. Then he opened fire on the space suited quintuplets coming ever closer to the array.

"Final Charges set!" Smithee announced. Chakotay could see it was unnecessary to order them all back together. The Maquis all exchanged fire with the Cardassian security detail while Chakotay made way down the ridge and straight back towards his crew.

"Chakotay to Val Jean, we're ready for transport!" the transporter effect swept them away seconds later. They reappeared in the cargo bay.

Tuvok detonated the charges, blowing the array into fragmented segments. A warning from his console grabbed his attention, "There is a Lakat-class frigate entering the system at its rated maximum warp. Gul Evek is challenging us from within."

"Paris, get us the hell away from here," Ayala ordered. Then he contacted Chakotay and apprised him of the situation.

"Enter the DMZ and make our way back to the Badlands," Chakotay ordered.

"They'll track us," Ayala warned, "And they'll have a reception party outside the Valo system."

"But that's the Bajor sector. So unless they want to openly risk hostilities they'll have to sick Starfleet onto us," Chakotay reminded his second in command.

Ayala began issuing the orders. He decided Evek was just enough of a bastard to accept Starfleet's help when it suited his purpose. He'd certainly played the wounded party when the Enterprise had intercepted an attack on Evek's ship.

Redak beamed down with the agents. Ironmonger directed events from orbit utilizing the ship's sensors and the agents' own transponders to mark their positions. Canton led Caruthers and Cusack into the bunker network from one direction. Bloomingdale worked with Palicki and Gleeson on another approach.

Anderson led the largest unit. Landers, Perrot, and Mehr accompanied her on a feint towards the primary entrance into the bunkers. Redak followed them at a distance. He broke off when he spied an untended entrance into the underground system. The Federation officers never noticed his absence.

Canton and Bloomingdale's teams traced the EPS lines towards the reactor. Unbeknownst to them, Redak was doing the same. But when the Federation agents found the fusion reactor, they accessed its control node to discover where the power was being routed to. Then they followed that tunnel to flank the Maquis.

Anderson's group spread apart and formed a skirmish line. Anderson took the heart of it with Mehr off of her left. Perrot and Landers were to her right. They were within sight of one another so they could utilize hand signals and avoid employing their communicators.

Donner led the team that met Anderson's agents head on. Lockhart, Harmony, and Cameron accompanied her. They volleyed shots at the agents and drove them under cover. Then Donner held up a hand and then clenched her fist. The Maquis ceased fire.

Donner was startled. It was a textbook move and one she never saw coming from a group as undisciplined as the Maquis. She motioned for Perrot and Landers to move forward and press in on the right flank.

Phaser fire drove them to ground as though the move had been expected. Anderson realized this was no ordinary defensive move. Her group had been expected. Which mean someone in the traffic control office had warned the Maquis since they were the only locals the ship had dealt with. But that didn't explain how the girl with the half shaved head was directing combat tactics like a professional.

Landers fired several shots back at the Maquis. Perrot began to do the same and he waved Landers on while he provided cover fire. They never saw Hemingway's approach. Rather than utilize a phaser rifle, Hemingway had hunted large carnivores on Ronara Prime with a crossbow. So he'd brought one along.

The first bolt imbedded itself in Landers' leg just as he started sprinting. His anguished cry alerted Perrot to his plight. Perrot dragged Landers back behind cover while the Maquis opened fire again.

"Stay still and for God's sake don't try and pull the bolt out," Perrot's French accent thickened due to his anxiety.

"An arrow? I was shot with an arrow?" Landers was incredulous.

"Actually it's a crossbow bolt," Perrot could see Landers' disbelieving stare, "Never mind why I know that."

A bolt tore through the meat of Perrot's right arm and protruded out both ends of the wound, "Damn it!"

"Whoever it is they are on the move," Landers said between gritted teeth, "I got shot from the east and you got hit from the south."

"I have to risk calling Anderson," Perrot realized.

Anderson was even more incredulous over the entire affair after hearing Perrot's report, "Stabilize your wounds and lay down some panic fire at the Maquis. I'll dispatch Mehr to deal with our Robin Hood."

"Actually, Robin Hood's legend states he used a bow not a crossbow," Perrot added.

"Shut it, Perrot," Anderson ordered as the comm link terminated. She caught Mehr's attention and sent him south. Then she readied herself to fire a volley of shots where the Maquis were spread out. But a phaser burst hit her in the ribs.

She accidently dropped her rifle as she spun to confront her attacker. A second burst hit her chest and she went down. Breathing heavy she realized the shaved head girl was looming over her.

"You're quick but I don't have time to play," Donner warned her.

"That used to be some kind of uniform," Anderson realized.

"Point for you," Donner grudgingly acknowledged, "I was part of the constabulary on Ronara Prime before we got replaced by Cardies."

Anderson felt that explained a lot. Her hand slowly crept towards her hip holster. A phaser burst nearly singed her hand.

"Ah, ah, two finger and toss it aside," Donner advised, "And you're running low on ablative armor and my phaser is set for maximum disrupt so don't even think about it."

Anderson tossed aside the weapon. To Donner's credit her eyes stayed focused on Anderson and not the movement of the phaser. Anderson wondered what kind of criminals had existed on Ronara Prime to breed this type of law enforcement officer.

"For ex-SOC, you're awfully soft," Donner assessed.

"Do you really think this is all we threw at you?" Anderson tried to laugh but it hurt her scorched ribs, "We've already set up our ambush."

Donner wore a feral smile, "Except your people have to walk into ours to make the attempt."

Dread filled Anderson's heart and mind.

Canton arrived in the occupied portion of the bunker first. Sans and O'Conner held them pinned back from a barricaded corner. Bloomingdale's team arrived from another tunnel. Kwan and Hudson pushed then back with furious phaser fire. From the closed off communications room, Locarno and Rossum tried to reach Ro.

Suddenly lights began to flash and yellow warning lamps began to rotate. The network's computer began to bleat a warning, "Warning. Reactor destabilization has begun. Containment will be lost in Five minutes. Detonation imminent. Begin evacuation."

And then it began to repeat itself with a running countdown. Canton yelled over at Bloomingdale's group, "That idiot Cardassian has to be responsible for this."

"He's with Anderson's group. Can't she account for him?" Bloomingdale replied.

While Caruthers, Cusack, Palicki, and Gleeson fought the Maquis, Canton used his comm badge to try and contact Anderson. When she failed to respond, he tried each member of the team until he finally attempted to speak directly with Redak, "Dalin Redak, please respond."

"Have no fears, Agent Canton," Redak sneered, "There won't be any failures this time."

"Damn it!" Canton shouted, "He's going to blow us all up!"

"Then stop him already," Hudson called out, "Just withdraw and deal with your rogue element."

"It's not that simple," Canton warned him, "We can't leave without you in custody."

"Get used to disappointment," Hudson countered.

"Agent Bloomingdale, take your unit and stop Redak," Canton ordered.

"But Hudson…" Bloomingdale began to argue.

"You have your orders," Canton cut her off.

"Come along, ladies," Bloomingdale and her fellow agents withdrew.

"Throw down your weapons and you will not be harmed," Canton promised.

"At least not until we're turned over to the Cardassians," Hudson rejoined, "That's no way for anyone to die."

"So what should we do then, Commander? You're the terrorist. You tell me how we walk away from this," Canton requested.

"Now," Hudson told Kwan.

The other Maquis armed a plasma grenade and threw it at the huddled agents. As Canton and his two agents scrambled for cover, they were shot down by the Maquis. Kwan hurried to the grenade and disabled it.

"Should we approach the reactor?" O'Conner asked.

"You heard that agent. She's a zealot," Sans warned her, "The structure of this facility will shield the nearby areas but the passageways will be flooded with radiation. It's best if we evacuate and steer clear of the entrances."

"You heard the man," Hudson told them and he went to collect Locarno and Rossum.

Outside the bunker, the Maquis had used the agents' own binders to secure them. Hemingway reported the same when he rejoined the group. Anderson was incensed upon seeing Hemingway traveling alone.

"Did you kill him, you filth?" Anderson screamed at him.

"He's alive and wiser for his troubles," Hemingway calmly told her, "And maybe you should tell him how you really feel about him after we leave."

Rossum's communicator began to chirp. It had a relayed signal from the Sparrow. She listened to the other party and then grinned as she closed the clamshell shut, "Ro just arrived."

"I have the Valdez in my scopes," Tulley reported from the weapons station. Ro had the helm and Thool manned OPS and Engineering at the same time.

"I should be with the engines," Thool complained…again.

"And you will be if we get into a crisis," Ro grated, "Otherwise shut up."

Thool gulped at the vehemence in her voice, "Understood."

Ro hailed the Java-class freighter with an audio only transmission, "Attention Valdez, withdraw or be fired upon."

"Attention Indomitable, please repeat," the Captain stalled for time to bring his weapons systems, such as they were, to bear.

"You heard me correctly, Valdez. And I promise you, you won't train your phaser banks on me or manage to launch your four torpedoes," Ro advised them.

"They're locking all three phaser banks on us. They're all at the outer edge of their turrets range of motion," Tulley warned her.

"You've got to be kidding," Ro didn't believe it yet. Then all three banks opened fire and Ro threw up a hand helplessly, "Okay, let them have it."

Prine and Harris reached the bridge, "Captain, what the hell is going on? There's been explosions."

"We've been engaged by some pretty damn merciful Maquis," the Captain said in resignation.

"Come again?" Prine wanted to know.

"First they blew our phaser banks straight to hell. On their next pass they came straight at us and blew apart our photon launcher before turning their attention to the warp nacelles. Those they simply sheared off," The Skipper reported.

"All four of them?" Prine squeaked.

"Yup, but they left our impulse drive intact," the Captain consoled him, "So we can maintain orbit and even get some distance from Setlik III if we want to be met by a warp tug later."

"And how is this merciful?" Harris wondered.

"They didn't have to leave us alive at all," The CO reminded them.

"Don't do anything," Prine instructed.

"Like I could if I wanted to," the Skipper remarked.

Prine had Ironmonger try and contact the agents on the ground. He failed until Bloomingdale snapped at him, "Not now!"

"I think there's a problem," Ironmonger said woefully to Prine. The Director was watching his career go down in flames before his eyes.

"Bloody hell! He's disappeared," Bloomingdale complained seeing the reactor control room was vacant.

"I could track him," Palicki offered.

"Find that sonuvabitch and bring him back here," Bloomingdale instructed. She turned to Gleeson, "You minored in Engineering. Can you correct this?"

"I think so," Gleeson studied the control node, "Although a reactor is easier to destabilize than restabilize."

"Just do it or we're dead," Bloomingdale began to walk away, "But no pressure."

Bloomingdale returned to find Canton's team down and out. When she reached the outdoors, she spotted a large group of people in the distance in between various trees. Anderson was on her knees with her hands locked behind her back.

Bloomingdale raced towards them and then skidded onto one knee and brought her compressed phase rifle to bear, "Freeze!"

"Too late," Hudson waved goodbye as a transporter took hold of them all.

Aboard the Indomitable, Ro's cellmates stepped off the cargo transporter pads and Hudson joined them. Thool smiled, "Ready to go?"

"This is our colony," Sans reminded the Bolian, "We're staying. Just set us down at the spaceport."

Locarno and Rossum rejoined them, "Same goes for us, Thool. We need to bring the Sparrow back with us."

"Okay," Thool sighed forlornly.

"Cal, it was a pleasure," Sans told Hudson.

"Sorry it cost you a base," Hudson apologized.

"It was drafty anyway," Sans waved the thought aside, "We were looking to trade up anyway."

"Standby," Thool instructed and everyone faded from existence. He shut the transporter down and stepped away, "Maybe now I can go to the damn engine room."

As he stomped off Hudson cast an inquisitive look towards Donner and Hemingway. Donner shrugged, "It's a really long story."

Hudson joined Ro and Tulley on the bridge, "So is it over?"

"I think this is the failure they won't be able to walk away from," Ro opined, "It was an exercise in futility anyway."

"We can only hope," Hudson stated, "Let's go out and retrieve all our people."

"Happy to do so," Ro confessed.

The Val Jean slowed in the Valo system as a captured Starfleet shuttle came alongside. Atara and Crenshaw hailed Chakotay and asked to come aboard. They met with Chakotay on the bridge.

"Captain, there a Federation starship patrolling near the badlands and a Lakat-class frigate hovering near the border. Both are looking for you," Atara warned him.

"I think we can distract them but I need a volunteer," Chakotay mused, "I think I know just who to ask."

Paris and Torres worked together aboard the USS Tiburon. She'd completed the warp engine adjustments, "All right you'll read a warp signature identical to the Val Jean now. You just have to get a significant lead and set a course away from where we'll actually enter the Badlands from."

"I got it, trust me," Paris curiously eyed, "Sure you don't want to come with? I could use having an engineering genius aboard."

"Sorry flyboy, I don't chase loose cannons around," Torres retorted.

"Are you absolutely certain of that?" his words held a deeper meaning and Torres had the feeling she didn't want to explore it.

"Give Chakotay my love," Paris smirked.

Torres was now certain she didn't appreciate what he was implying. Losing her temper she slapped her surplus comm badge and snarled, "This Torres. Beam me back over."

"See you at the rendezvous," Paris managed to say before the annular confinement beam, grabbed her.

Hours later, the crew of the Val Jean was safe once again. There initial rendezvous site had been compromised when both Starfleet and the Cardassians orbited the Class-L planet they'd landed upon. Chakotay had evacuated while the two sides were facing each other down. He was under the impression Torres wanted to object.

"Is B'Elanna still keeping watch for Paris?" Ayala asked.

"Yes, but she shouldn't bother," Chakotay remarked.

"Why? The kid's a good pilot. He could've gotten away," Ayala commented.

"You're too trusting," Chakotay said bitterly, "Who do you think led Starfleet straight to us?"

Ayala had no reply.

The Odyssey orbited Starbase 621. Every docking port was filled and the near space around the station was filled with ships. All with a singular purpose.

"So Okona put you on to this?" Danan asked Macen after they left the public transporter station, "Why?"

"Because as much as he loves playing the scoundrel, Thadiun has a conscience that always plagues him," Macen shared with her.

"So what's Harry selling now?" Danan referred to Harcourt Fenton Mudd III, sometime smuggler and full time confidence artist.

"The Cardassians found something in the Gamma Quadrant. Some kind of artifact. The High Command desperately wants to acquire it. Only some enterprising person stole it," Macen explained, "And they wanted a fence to move it. Harry opted to auction it off for a percentage."

"That's entirely Harry Mudd," Danan realized, "So what is it?"

"No one exactly knows but there's lots of guesses. Apparently it was found in Dominion territory so the possibilities are endless," Macen told her.

"Of course they are," Danan said ruefully, "I had friends aboard the USS Odyssey."

She pondered the matter a little more before speaking again, "So on our approach we spotted a Romulan scout ship, a Cardassian Hideki-class shuttle, a Ferengi Marauder, a Gorn scout, an Orion blockade runner, a Tzenkethi orb ship, and a Breen privateer. Did I leave anyone out?"

"Just the Miradorn raider and a half dozen nonaligned flagged vessels," Macen replied, "Including a Talarian warship."

"Oh, we can't miss that," Danan said sardonically, "This this is going to be fun."

"Let's hope so," Macen grinned.

 

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Last modified: 23 Aug 2015 
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