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Covert Force by Travis Anderson

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

 

"How is our mystery ship doing?" Brin Macen asked as he stepped onto the bridge of the SS Eclipse.

The highly augmented Ju'day-class Maquis Raider served as the primary vessel of the flagship covert action team of Starfleet's Special Investigations Division. In truth, the team was composed of independent operatives that were contracted by Starfleet in a revolutionary change of Intelligence policy. This decision allowed both Starfleet and the team tremendous flexibility in operational planning and procedure.

The ship had been tracking a mysterious vessel displaying unknown power emissions reminiscent of those produced by a vessel recently encountered at the Roman world of 492 IV. The ship was the product of an enigmatic and previously unknown race called the Omricons. The Omricons had displayed an open intention to expand their interests into the Federation by means of conquest and therefore had become a top priority for the entire SID. Since Macen's team had been the first to make contact, they were they were the leading element assigned to the investigation of the Omricon, their intentions and their capabilities.

The sight of most of the team members manning their various stations welcomed Macen as he took his own post. As Mission Commander, he directed the overall mission and the investigative aspects of the task at hand. Harsh experience had taught him to relinquish command of his vessel to those better qualified at handling her. He'd made the perfect choice in Tom Riker.

"Not much," Riker reported, "They're holding steady on their current course. If they stay true to form, we'll leave the Black Cluster in another two hours and enter Cardassian space."

Riker was the ill-fated transporter doppelganger of Starfleet's Commander William T. Riker. "Created" on Nervala IV during an evacuation, Tom had subsequently been trapped in the abandoned Starfleet base while awaiting the 8 year window where the planet's atmosphere depolarised enough to allow transport to and from the surface. Reunited with his "twin", Tom swiftly discovered Starfleet considered him secondary to the "legitimate". Retaining his 8 year old rank of Lieutenant, Tom transferred to the USS Gandhi. Tom's restless quest to distinguish himself from Will Riker led to his transferring departments, leading to his becoming a courier shuttle pilot.

His first shuttle command led him into the DMZ on a medical relief mission. While there, he encountered and assisted a Maquis crew led by the ex-Starfleet officer and Advanced Tactical instructor, Chakotay. Sensing a kindred spirit in Tom's sense of the injustice created by the Federation's treaty with the Cardassians, Chakotay successfully recruited Tom to the Maquis cause.

Tom's experience in the Maquis was as nearly short-lived as his revived Starfleet career. His tenure ended when he and a select team recruited from Ro Laren's cell on Ronara Prime hijacked the USS Defiant and plunged deep into Cardassian territory. Riker accomplished his goal of exposing a hidden, and illegal, shipyard operated by the Obsidian Order. However, surrounded by elements of the High Command and the Order, he was forced to accept a surrender negotiated by Deep Space 9 Commander Benjamin Sisko and Gul Dukat. Riker was transferred to a Cardassian labour camp while the rest of his operations teams was tried and incarcerated in the Federation.

Riker was liberated through the efforts of a rogue Tal Shiar operative rescuing another agent sentenced to the camps. Over the course of time, Riker had befriended the elderly Romulan and when the unexpected rescue occurred, his friendship was rewarded with his freedom. After separating himself from the Romulans, Tom struck out n his own. Starting his own shuttle service, he laboured on the fringe of Federation space until being recruited by Macen to captain the Eclipse. He had subsequently proven his remarkable skills on an ongoing basis and was swiftly maturing into his own as a commander.

Like most of the ship's interior, the bridge borrowed heavily from Starfleet's Defiant-class warship. The ship's systems and weaponry also incorporated elements of the fearsome escort, belying the memory of the Eclipse's poorly equipped brethren. This raider was as powerful as it was innocuous in appearance.

Glancing about the bridge, Macen was heartened by the sight of other team mates at their posts. The alcove directly adjacent to his was the Ops station. As the Operational Systems Specialist, T'Kir currently occupied that station. It still seemed slightly odd to realise she and he were lovers after nearly a decade of friendship. The idea had seemed so taboo for so long that vestigial doubt lingered.

It wasn't as though the concept, or the reality, felt wrong. Quite the contrary, it seemed incredibly right and natural. It just made one wonder why they had waited so long and why they'd avoided attempting a romance for so long. Macen knew that initially he'd spent far too long trying to repair his disintegrating relationship with Lisea Danan. Also, in the earliest days of their acquaintance, T'Kir skirted the edge of madness.

Her mental instabilities had been largely stabilised since being "released" via breakout from the Andes Psychiatric Institute and recruited to the SID. Macen researched the problem on his own during the Gulag mission. Finding references to an obscure condition caused by uncontrollable telepathic power, Macen brewed up the herbal remedies suggested by the Vulcan text and gave it to T'Kir. Having her telepathic abilities hampered cured her of borderline insanity but did nothing about her self-derived erratic behaviour.

Born and raised on Shial, a colony established by Vulcan dissidents and Romulan defectors, T'Kir rejected the teachings of Surak at a young age. Feeling free to indulge her extreme Vulcan passions, T'Kir had always been a fiery, independent spirit. Over time she has garnered control over her emotions but frequently chooses to let them loose unchecked. The slaughter of the rest of her colony while she was off-world induced the trauma that ignited her full latent telepathic ability.

The tragedy threw T'Kir into the arms of the Maquis. Her unparalleled cybernetics skills made her an invaluable asset but her increasingly unstable behaviour soon beyond Ro Laren's ability to cope with. T'Kir was transferred to Macen's command since he was the only one she positively responded to. This established the friendship that would last them another seven years until romance blossomed.

The oddity did stem from any uncomfortability. Rather, it stemmed from the fact that their pairing felt so natural that it made one wonder why it had taken so long to occur. Intellectually, Macen knew why, but it still seemed as though a great opportunity had been denied for far too long. Fortunately, the intimacy of their friendship had compounded itself after each had shed the last trappings of denial.

T'Kir had reverted back to her naturally raven hair after a brief trial with being blonde. She had also tapered the back while wearing the top long. Her beestung lips and upswept ears were unadorned. Her vibrant blue eyes were almost as rare among Vulcans and her free spirit.

Parallel to Macen's station on the other side of the bridge sat Tactical I. Rab Daggit manned this post. The Angosian had come to the SID team via Starfleet. The original connection had been when Daggit worked alongside Macen during the Dominion War performing special operations work behind enemy lines. When Daggit learned of Macen's involvement with the SID, and of his recruiting personnel, he requested an immediate transfer. Macen gladly took him on and even made him team XO.

The sombre super-soldier often brooded about his past and the ease with which he killed even to this day. Raised a pacifist, the last two decades had worn on Daggit yet he couldn't abide seclusion and solitude was the only reliable measure to prevent his enhanced reflexes and psychotherapeutically installed killer instincts from activating. Daggit consoled himself he was using his abilities for a greater good and tried to live with his actions.

Adjacent to Daggit sat Radil Jenrya at the Tactical II/Communications station. Radil was a former Bajoran Resistance fighter turned mercenary. She'd been "recruited" by Daggit when he inadvertently kidnapped her. Knowing that her previous employers in the Orion Syndicate would place a death mark on her for disappearing while in their employ. Radil accepted Macen's offer to enlist in his SID team and quickly adapted to the team's methods.

Bad news swiftly arrived in the form of an assassin seeking to collect on the bounty on Radil's head. At Macen's encouragement, she underwent cosmetic surgery to remove her distinctive Bajoran nose ridges and stopped wearing her people's traditional earring. Now human in appearance, any bounty killer coming for the reward would hesitate due to her altered appearance. These precious seconds would be all the time Radil would need to mount a pre-emptive strike.

Her new appearance, however, made her quite bitter. She frequently vocalised criticism towards Terran culture in order to prove to herself that she wasn't human. Formerly an agnostic at the best of times, after her surgery Radil had begun to walk the Path of the Prophets with fervour. Despite her blustering rants about humans, she had started to display signs of attraction towards Tom Riker. Macen couldn't help but wonder where that would lead.

The last team member was the perky blond at the helm. Hannah Grace's inextinguishable enthusiasm brought as much to the team as her incomparable piloting skills. She had also brought as many secrets as skills to the mix. Most of these had recently been revealed.

Hannah Grace managed to enter Starfleet Academy despite the fact her physical revealed she was a perfect specimen of humanity. Medical examiners did not have access to classified records and therefore did not realise that Hannah was a descendent of the first Kelvan settlers to the Milky Way. Travelling from the Andromeda Galaxy, the Kelvans were forced to evacuate after conquering the bulk of their home galaxy. A resistance army had discovered a form of radiation lethal to the relentless oppressors and released it throughout the multitude of star systems.

The Kelvan's pilgrimage to the Milky Way was halted at the energy barrier surrounding our galaxy. Once they penetrated the barrier, they once again found themselves dying due to the different compositional elements of this galaxy. Happening upon a human settlement in the Outer Rim, the Kelvans utilised their advanced technology to assume human form. They landed upon a nearby planet and issued a distress beacon. It was here that Captain James Kirk found them.

The Kelvans reduced most of Kirk's crew into small cubes and hijacked the Enterprise in order to use it as a means of returning to their home galaxy and report on the potential for conquest to be found in the Milky Way. What the Kelvans did not yet realise was that their transformation into humanoids had been a complete and total one. Kirk and the few officers left intact in order to assist the Kelvans in operating the starship swiftly exploited this weakness. The Kelvans realised that they could no longer fit within the framework of their native society and returned to the colony world that the Enterprise encountered them and settled down to build a settlement of their own.

Unknown to Starfleet, or the Kelvan's fellow colonists, they developed transgalactic communication capabilities and contacted the Kelvan Empire. The remaining Imperials immediately set forth for the Milky Way. Advances in transwarp technology allowed the Kelvans to estimate an arrival date of just over a Terran century. That time has nearly expired.

In preparation for the Kelvan's arrival, Hannah Grace, offspring of Rhea and Raynar, was sent forth to Starfleet Academy to ascertain the reception Starfleet and the Federation would bestow upon the extragalactic refugees. With the Kelvans advanced technology, it was easy for Grace to slide past security checks and to alter memories and perceptions as needed. She graduated from the Academy with honours and departed for her first space assignment on a Sabre-class border patrol vessel. the USS Loki. It was during this assignment Grace was recruited by Section 31.

Section 31 arranged for her to be the relief pilot aboard the Hydra-class prototype under Brin Macen's command during the Gulag mission. Grace remained a part of the newly formed SID as well as part of Macen's group. After an encounter with rogue Starfleet vessels turned pirate, Grace's affiliation with Section 31 was revealed. Macen negotiated her release from their custody to his in exchange for an information exchange and a "favour".

Macen's kindness towards her has bound Grace's loyalty completely to him. She no longer reports to Section 31 and is subsequently considered a deserter. Only Macen's agreement secures her safety.

Grace displayed superhuman traits such as enhanced multitasking abilities, abnormal strength, superior sensory capability, inhuman reflexes, and rapid healing abilities. All of these enable her to be among the best pilots the Alpha Quadrant has ever known. Carrying the racial memories of her species as well as the piloting and navigational skills of her parents, Grace possessed a knowledge base rivalling that of a Trill symbiont.

Three members of the team were not present on the bridge. Their Medical Specialist, Kort, was rummaging around Sickbay. Lisea Danan, the Sciences Specialist, was currently in the Science lab ensconced in her studies of the subspace distortions emanating from the ship they were pursuing. Chief Engineer Dracas was in the engine room coaxing as much speed out his beloved class-M warp core as he could. These three rarely spent time on the bridge, all of them but Kort, being happy to stay within the confines of their specialised environments.

Kort was a prominent battlefield medic until being "promoted" to Chancellor Gowron's staff. Unfortunately, his position was that of caring for Gowron's pet targs' health. Kort fell into drinking his days and nights away. When his services were finally called upon, the patients died. Gowron banished Kort from the Empire and stripped him of name, house and rank.

Admiral Nechayev contacted Kort and offered him the position medic for her Intelligence operations. Assigned to the ill-fated USS Odyssey, Kort swiftly grew to admire Macen. When the SID formally announced its existence, Kort opted to stay with Macen's team. His skills and fierce determination made him irreplaceable, despite his ongoing drinking problems.

Lisea Danan accompanied Macen in his infiltration of the Maquis. There the lovers found their relationship tested to the breaking point. Danan spent the bulk of the Dominion War at the Daystrom Institute while Macen fought on and beyond the front lines. Reunited for the Gulag mission, the two briefly resumed their relationship.

After the mission's completion, Danan returned to the Daystrom Institute while Macen organised the SID team. She was once again reunited with the Macen after the Nova Romans of 492 IV captured her. After her release and the successful completion of the SID's mission, Danan rejoined the team.

Dracas came to Starfleet to escape his native world. Assigned to the Special Project Yards (SPYards), he spent eighteen years designing and building some of Starfleet Intelligence's most covert crafts, weapons, and intelligence gathering tools. Given the opportunity for fieldwork, Dracas readily signed on with Macen's SID team.

After his mistreatment at the hands of Andergani hired former Starfleet pirates, Dracas had to undergo radical cosmetic reconstruction. Now wearing a new face, Dracas has forgotten the traumas of the past and is instead focuses on ways to construct better equipment and coax greater performance out of the Eclipse.

That left the auxiliary crew for the Eclipse. They consisted of Nick Locarno, a disgraced cadet expelled from Starfleet Academy. Sito Jaxa, Locarno's former classmate and Enterprise-D Security officer captured by the Cardassians while on a covert mission. Bruis B'nner, an albino Orion giant who was also a mechanical genius. Emjin Thool, a former Maquis under Ro Laren's command and another engineer par excellence. Finally there was Livia, the stray former Commander of the Northern Armies on her native Nova Roma and now an exile due leading the revolution that overthrew the Emperor.

The auxiliary crew manned the ship when the SID team was gone or unavailable to man a post. When not on the bridge or in engineering, they performed routine maintenance or rested. Macen was still sceptical about Riker's concept but it had proven its worth at Nova Roma. It still troubled him though that an essentially civilian crew followed his team into life threatening situations on a routine basis.

"Danan to Macen," the ship's intercom came to life, "I've managed to get some solid readings on that ship, as well as the subspace distortions it's producing. Would you care to have a look?"

"I'll be right there." Macen replied, ignoring the glare coming from T'Kir.

Over at the Science/Astrometrics lab, Lisea Danan wondered how much trouble she'd just gotten her long time friend, and former lover, in. She had little fears Macen could handle the situation. A lifetime of 429 years taught one the art of negotiating life's little storms. Despite Kort's original gloomy prognosis after Macen's exposure to a bombardment of theta radiation, Brin still had at least another 800 years to live. Danan knew that had been but one of the factors that eroded her and Macen's relationship.

The fact he was an El-Aurian was another. Every El-Aurian, no matter how well adjusted they appeared, still bore open wounds over the assimilation of their homeworld by the Borg. Macen's scars ran deeper than most because he had guided the bulk of the refugees that settled in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants to their new homes and secondly because Macen had been ostracised by his own people. Macen's decision to join Starfleet flew in the face of the El-Aurian's traditional pacifistic beliefs. His willingness to use force, up to deadly force, terrified the others.

Danan realised that's why after a highly successful seventy-five year career in Starfleet Intelligence, Macen cast it all aside to join the Maquis. Intelligence had assigned Macen to go undercover and observe the brewing rebellion that forged the Maquis. Macen decided to actively participate with the rebels and report on their general activities. Only the intervention of Vice-Admiral Alynna Nechayev protected Macen's duplicity from being discovered. Seeing that Macen never rolled on any of her other agents, she deduced he was trying to work from within to moderate that Maquis' tactics and goals.

Unfortunately, his methodology was never given a chance to succeed. Cardassia signed a treaty with the Dominion and the Jem'Hadar butchered the Maquis. Ro Laren and Macen managed to elude the roving Dominion patrols and relocate their personnel to Bajor. Now under the jurisdiction of the Bajoran Militia, Macen struck a deal with 1st Minister Shakaar and Commander Elias Vaughn, representing Starfleet Special Operations.

It was a simple proposal; Macen and a group of Maquis volunteers would act as intelligence officers and guides for Starfleet commandos recruited from Angosia. Ro and Macen paired up with Rab Daggit's team and set off to undermine the Dominion's rear echelons near the former DMZ and the Badlands. Although uncredited, the various commando units made an incalculable contribution to the war by denying the Dominion frontlines reinforcements and supplies. The fact that Maquis had rallied and were again on the offensive served to erode Cardassian confidence as well.

Danan had left Macen's side before the Jem'Hadar incursion into Maquis space. She reunited with him when he was given the Gulag mission. That mission gave them their last chance to reconcile their differences but the differences proved too great. They still remained friends, however, and it was Danan who'd advised T'Kir to pursue her attraction towards Macen.

T'Kir was a perfect fit for Macen. Both had lost their homes and both wore scars from it, literally and figuratively. Like T'Kir, Macen had some instabilities in his personality and was an outcast amongst his own kind. Rather than accentuate each other's problems, they had a calming effect upon each other that made their union a stronger entity than the individuals apart. Now if T'Kir would just stop getting jealous every time Macen spent any time alone with Danan. Her thoughts were interrupted as the doors opened with a swoosh.

Seeing the irritation flash across his face she had to laugh, "That sound still bothers you?"

"Yeah, I know." he said with a mild flush rising, "After eighty years you'd think I'd be used to it." He shrugged, "So, what's up?"

"Thanks to T'Kir readjusting the sensors, I've finally got a bead on our mysterious smuggler and the wave signature of the subspace distortions she's causing."

That perked Macen up, "Let's see them."

"First the ship." Danan explained as a wedge-like ship sporting forward swept, knifelike wings came to being on the lab's main viewer, "The computer lists it as a Merkgesh-class, Type III. Commonly registered to and operated by..."

"Andergani smugglers." Macen completed for her, "No one had dare leak a word to Dracas."

Hal Dracas' treatment at the hands of Andergani agents had resulted in the Chief undergoing radical cosmetic surgery in order to have a different face to confront in the mirror. In Macen's opinion it had been pop psychology at its worst but it seemed to be working so who was he to complain. He just didn't want to test Dracas' stability this soon after his procedure by confronting him with the villains of his darkest nightmares. He needed the Chief at peak performance.

"So you recognise it." Danan was slightly irked, "How about this wave signature?"

Macen studied it and then went white, "Fates! It can't be... not after this long."

"What can't be?"

"Stay here." Macen ordered, "Release access to this data to the briefing room viewer." Before Danan could protest, Macen tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Riker."

"Riker here." came his disembodied voice.

"Tom, tell the relief crew to be on deck ASAP. Have them continue our surveillance of the ship but tell them not to engage. After they're set, have the team assemble in the briefing room."

And with that, Macen exited the lab, leaving a stunned Lisea Danan in his wake.

"I've seen these energy patterns before." Macen announced to a surprised audience. It was eighty-four years ago, right after I arrived in the Alpha Quadrant. That incident directly led to my joining Starfleet."

"What's causing the distortions then?" Danan asked, "I've never seen anything like it."

Macen knew it pained the astrophysicist to admit that, off to the side T'Kir smirked, "It's a quantum flux generator."

That created a stir, "That's insane! The mere theory of a quantum flux generator was deemed too dangerous to finish."

"I know." Macen assured Danan, "But the people who originally built this thing weren't technically part of the Federation yet and didn't feel bound by its regulations."

"They were El-Aurian, weren't they?" T'Kir asked.

Macen sighed, "Yes, they were. Their experiments could have destroyed the fabric of reality but they didn't care. All they could see was a potential way back into the Nexus."

"That weirdo energy ribbon?" T'Kir inquired.

"Yup, the very same."

"So, are y'gonna share what happened or leave us guessing?" T'Kir demanded.

Macen sighed again, "All right, but you in particular aren't going to like the story."

"Why?"

"You'll see. As I said before, it was eighty-four years ago. The Lakul had just been rescued from the Nexus by the Enterprise-B at the cost of Captain James T. Kirk's life..." 

"...and that drive system, like those of El-Aurian long-range cruisers, was powered by components made from organs harvested from dead members of my race."

There was a stony silence born of revulsion. T'Kir closely watched Macen, knowing what a price this revelation was bought at. He didn't know she'd previously seen glimpses of this secret in his mind during their most intimate moments. The knowledge had haunted him, and tainted his perception of his own people, for over eight decades.

"I... I can't believe that your people harvested their own organs to power space craft." Riker admitted at last.

"I can." Dracas sighed, "Even Cochrane's warp drive essentially follows organic lines. Like a metabolism, it utilises elemental laws that can't be altered but can be bent." this last was a nod to Daggit's plight, "Why not by-pass the inefficiencies of a purely technological approach and harness a biological resource instead?"

"That's disgusting." Radil hissed, "Using cloned organs is one thing, but actually using a sentient's tissue..."

"I never thought you'd be the moralist of the team." Kort broke in, "And besides, El-Aurian tissues cannot be cloned or reconstituted using recombinant DNA. They do not respond to such techniques."

"But where does this ability stem from?" Danan asked, still rattled by Macen's revelation, "What would cause a species to develop the ability to create subspace tears when united in pairs and subjected to radiation?"

"The same thing that allows us to sense probabilities and temporal distortions." Macen answered, "Millennia ago, a renegade member of the Q mated with one of my people and his five children sowed their seed across my world, creating modern El-Aurians."

"By the pools." Danan whispered.

"No wonder your people tried to escape the Borg." Grace whistled, "Giving them access to even the vestigial remnants of the powers of a Q would be disastrous."

"It also explains why my people headed for the Nexus. The Nexus was born during the death of the Q and one of his children. Sealing the surviving ships using this technology within the Nexus would have protected the rest of the scattered refugees while providing us with our dreams manifested into a pseudo-reality."

"So what were your dreams?" Daggit asked.

"I didn't have any left." Macen admitted, "My brief stay the Nexus consisted of floating in a timeless limbo while slowly going mad."

That caused an unsettled stir. T'Kir watched the others. She'd encountered this part of Macen's soul while serving beside him in the Maquis. Outwardly, he maintained a controlled façade but inwardly his mind was consumed with flames. It was a feeling she knew all too well.

"People!" Macen snapped, "I'm not insane. I just didn't have dreams left for the Nexus to materialise. They'd all be taken from me. Afterwards, I decided to carve out my own dreams. That's why I joined Starfleet."

"I dedicated my life to stopping those that proliferated El-Aurian technology as well those that were trying to acquire it. It seemed as though I'd accomplished those goals so I concentrated on foreign intelligence instead. I guess all my time spent trying create a perfect galaxy left the door open for malcontents to pick up their work, if this Andergani ship is any indication."

"Who wanted it before?" Daggit inquired.

"Section 31, although at the time I thought they were a product of someone else's imagination, and the Orions."

"The Orions are thugs." Radil commented bitterly, "Why would they be after this kind of technology."

"Because they're also amoral sons of..." Daggit began to say.

"The renegade S31 agent I mentioned before gave them a sample of the technology in order to use them as guinea pigs." Macen explained, "One Captain J. Titor to be exact. Ring any bells, Grace?"

"No, but my experience within Section 31 was very limited. I generally initiated contact through control agents." she elucidated, "I know I definitely never heard about any experiments into organic propulsion systems."

"Its just as well." Macen grunted, "Titor is a time-travelling survivor if the Eugenics wars."

"My God!" Riker exclaimed, "That would make him over four hundred years old."

"Just like me, eh?" Macen grinned, "Sorry, Tom. In standard Terran years, Titor was in his forties, maybe early fifties, when I met him. If we were to encounter him again during this latest incarnation of his scheme, and I believe he's probably behind it, then who knows how old he'll be?"

"You think he's replaying his previous scheme, only using the Andergani this time instead of the Orions?" T'Kir spoke at last, "And whatever happened to this Allarn?"

"Yup." Macen replied, "And I don't know. Halfway back to Earth, she suddenly changed, almost as though she were a different person altogether. Her last recollection was of boarding the Enterprise-B and that was all. She mysteriously had no recollection of any of the events I just described to you. I convinced her to play along with me in order to keep Titor at bay and we became separated upon reaching Spacedock. After that she resumed her life as a journalist and our paths never crossed again."

Unsatisfied, T'Kir opened her mouth to speak again but was cut off by the comm.

"Locarno to Briefing Room."

"Go ahead, Nick." Riker voiced.

"You'd all better get up here." Locarno's bodiless voice intoned, "The Andergani is changing course and accelerating."

"We're on our way." Macen informed the nervous ex-cadet.

Entering the bridge, the SID team members began relieving the Eclipse crew from their stations. In the process, Sito Jaxa accidentally brushed against the cloaking controls, dropping the cloak. Daggit scrambled to re-engage the system but it was too late. They had been visible for nearly fifteen seconds, an eternity when dealing with starship grade sensors.

"They're accelerating!" Grace announced.

"Dammit!" Riker swore under his breath, "Drop cloak, raise shields, arm weapons and pursue."

"Aye, sir." Grace replied crisply.

"Bridge, the Andergani's power signature has just spiked. Some kind of subspace fissure is opening around them." Danan reported from Astrometrics.

"Full stop!" Macen shouted urgently.

"Full stop, aye." Grace repeated as she brought the ship to a halt.

"What the hell?" Riker growled.

"Just watch." Macen ordered.

Before them, a small subspace tear resembling the Nexus formed, engulfing the Andergani ship. The ship, unable to withstand the tumultuous forces of the rift, exploded. The rift itself stayed open despite the destruction of the ship. The reason soon became clear.

"Bridge, the rift is being sustained by the Andergani's engines." Danan informed them, "Whatever they used to open this fissure is still operating."

"They used El-Aurian organs." Macen revealed, "As long as they're paired and bombarded with tetryon radiation, they'll maintain the fissure."

"What's the fissure's course and speed?" Riker asked.

"Maintaining the Andergani's previous course." Grace answered.

"We have to stop this thing and destroy that engine." Macen declared.

"You heard the man, let's do it!" Riker bellowed.

No sooner had Riker issued his order than another vessel appeared. It wavered into existence on the viewer. It's ray-like, body rippling as it absorbed solar particles for consumption. It was a ship-type they'd encountered before and were searching for the homeworld of its masters.

"Omicrons." T'Kir whispered when no one else dared breathe.

The Omricons were first encountered on 492 IV, better known as the quarantined Preserver world of Nova Roma. The obsidian skinned aliens had travelled there in order enlist the Romans' aid in their plans for conquest. The Romans gathered attention to themselves by capturing a Federation science ship in neutral territory. This led to the insertion of the SID team and eventually a civil war that deposed the sitting teenage emperor.

Over the course of events, Macen had made a personal enemy out of the Omricon commander of the mission. The commander, Ezexial, cryptically boasted of his races' resurgence into galactic affairs after millions of years of dormancy. The Omricon utilised an unknown form of biotech represented here by their ships. Their Intrepid-size cruisers boasted as much firepower as a Sovereign-class starship or a Romulan Valdore-class Warbird.

Their cloaking technology had proven impenetrable to Federation technology. Before stumbling across the Andergani smuggler, Macen and his team had spent weeks following clues as to the Omricons identity and location. So far it had proven a fruitless search, until now. It was strange what games the fates would upon you, Macen mused.

"What are the Omricons up to?" Macen wondered.

"It looks like they're trying to salvage the El-Aurian engine parts." T'Kir reported her sensor readings.

"Damn. That's what I was afraid of." Macen sighed, "Captain?"

Riker straightened in his chair, "Yes, Commander?"

"Convince them otherwise."

"Aye, sir!" Riker replied zealously, "Weapons, ready at my mark. Helm take us along a lateral strafing run."

"We're not going to hail them?" T'Kir asked.

"Not much point in it since they already know we're here and have ignored our pursuit of the Andergani." Riker replied, "Do you want to hail them?"

"Nope." T'Kir admitted, "Just thought I should ask."

"There's a farce." Kort muttered as he stepped onto the bridge, "The loon acting as the team's conscience."

"I heard that!" T'Kir snapped angrily the paused before adding, "And don't think I didn't catch that last thought either."

"You might also want to bear in mind," Macen spoke softly enough that only Riker, Kort, and T'Kir's sensitive Vulcan ears heard him, "that you talking about the woman I love. If you have a problem with that or her, then we need to have a little chat."

Recalling the "chat" he and Macen had upon his joining the crew, Kort declined; "That won't be necessary. I spoke dishonourably. It will not happen again."

"Damn straight it won't." T'Kir fidgeted irritably in her seat.

"T'Kir," Macen warned, "it's over."

"Can we get back to attacking the Omricons?" Riker asked impatiently.

"Feel free." Macen, T'Kir and Kort chorused together.

"I'm so happy to have everyone's permission." Riker grumbled, "Grace, begin the strafing run. Daggit and Radil, fire at will."

"You mean your ‘brother'?" Radil teased

"Shut up and shoot the damn ship." Riker sighed.

"Yessir, Captain sir." Radil remarked flippantly.

Not for the first time Riker hated the informal nature of the team. Spending half a lifetime preparing for a career revolving around ranks and structured hierarchy, Macen's SID seemed an anarchist's dream by comparison. Being the ship's "captain" yet answering to another individual aboard ship nettled him slightly. Macen was good enough to generally leave Riker's decisions untouched but then again; he couldn't launch an action, such as this attack, without Macen's consent.

Clearing his mind of such complaints, Riker focused on the task at hand. As previously discovered, the Omricon ship possessed vastly superior weapons to the Eclipse despite her pulse phaser cannons. It would take every erg of energy the warp core could produce in order for the diminutive ship to penetrate the alien vessel's shields much less her self "healing" hull.

Grace guided the ship into an elegant dive across the Omricon bow. Daggit activated the wingtip mounted Type-8 phasers as well as the pulse phasers. On a standard configuration, either system would have to be utilised independently rather than jointly. Owing to the Eclipse's small frame and minimal systems drawing on her power, her class-M warp core provided ample power to both systems. In fact, there was enough left over for Radil to target and unleash her photon torpedoes.

The first pass pummelled the living ship's shields but did not collapse them. Capitalising on the Eclipse's powerful impulse engines and nimble agility, Grace managed to flip the ship over in a manoeuvre that also evaded the Omricon response to the attack. The powerful energy beam lanced by the raider, narrowly missing the ship's electrostatic shield bubble. The second blow, however, struck true.

The shields around the Eclipse illuminated to life as the energy from the Omricon bioenergetic beam cascaded around the electrostatic barrier. Since the Omricon blast was partly comprised of electrical energy, it sapped the shield strength faster than a typical particle weapon. The outer hull took some hits, causing minor damage in secondary systems."

"Shields down to sixty-seven percent." Daggit announced calmly.

"Evasive!" Riker ordered.

"I am evading dammit!" Grace snapped, "This thing is as fast as I am."

Considering Hannah's considerable speed, it was quite the statement. The Eclipse rocked as an energy burst shot through her port wing. Backup systems across the bridge shorted out, cascading the area in sparks.

"Engine room, damage report?" Riker demanded.

Chief Dracas did not reply.

"Chief, what's your situation?" Riker asked, "Can you reply?"

His question was met with stony silence.

Confusion reigned in Engineering. Despite the sensors telling them the Omricon weapon should have no effect, systems were beginning to overload. Dracas stood amidst the storm, trying desperately to rally his ragtag band of engineers and designated "grease" monkeys.

"B'nner, recalibrate those shield harmonics." Dracas ordered, "Thool, give me a hand with the plasma injectors. Sito and Livia, check the fore and aft torpedo magazines. We can't afford a jam."

"What about me?" Locarno asked.

"The computer is fritzed, you'll have to manually regulate the matter-antimatter intermix chamber."

"What?" Locarno squawked, "I'm not rated for that!"

"Just keep the indicators green and we'll be fine."

"And if it turns red?"

"Boom." Dracas made a ballooning motion with his hands for emphasis.

"Great." Locarno groused as he took a look at the control panel.

Thool joined Dracas at the injector relay and began to open the casing. A popping noise met the Bolian's efforts. Dracas tried to cry out a warning but it was too late, warp plasma vented out of the damaged injector coupling. Dracas closed his eyes and waited for the tissue destroying plasma to wash over him.

Moving with a speed that belied his massive Orion bulk, B'nner used his broad shoulder to knock Dracas aside. He then waded into the plasma and secured the coupling, He turned to face Dracas but the bulk of his facial tissue, like his eyes, was melted away. The exposed muscles of his chest tremored one final time as his burnt out lungs exhaled their last breath. The valiant engineer fell to his knees, then collapsed into a heap on the floor.

Rattled, Dracas tried to tell Locarno to erect a forcefield but the stunned Ops rating was in shock. Dracas was vaguely aware of Riker's pleas for information. He ignored them as he tapped his communicator. He called Kort despite knowing both his engineers were dead.

"I'll be right there." the Klingon physician assured him.

"And tell Riker to shut the hell up." Dracas growled, "I'm working." 

Sito stumbled as the ship rocked from another blast. This one struck the rear quarter of the ship. The same rear quarter she'd left Livia behind in the aft torpedo room. The sudden shift in air pressure told Sito another hull breach had just been sealed by emergency forcefields.

Sito activated her communicator, "Livia, do you read me?"

No reply.

"Livia, respond if you can." Sito pleaded.

Nothing.

"Pah-wraiths!" Sito swore. Having become intimate with death after capture by the Cardassians while on a clandestine mission for Starfleet, Sito was able to shrug off the death of her newfound friend, preferring to grieve later. Squaring her shoulders, she resumed her march to the forward torpedo room.

The Eclipse tumbled as another blast penetrated the hull just behind the bridge module. Display panels across the bridge exploded, delivering minor wounds to the crew. Riker's Master Systems monitor erupted into flame, burning Riker's chest and arms. Macen rushed to Riker's side with a fire extinguisher while Daggit appeared with a med kit.

"Kort, report to the Bridge." Daggit ordered into the comm system, "We have a medical emergency."

"According to Dracas, I can't reach you." Kort informed them, "The hull section behind the bridge has been breached and the emergency forcefields are inoperative."

"We have to withdraw." Macen commanded, "We're getting killed here."

"I'll try." Grace responded, wiping blood from her forehead, "But the old girl doesn't have much left in her."

"Do what you can." Macen urged, then turned to Riker, "Same goes for you, Tom."

Riker shuddered as he struggled for breath, "`Fraid not, Brin. I was born by accident and it looks like I'll die because of one too."

"Don't you give up." Macen demanded, "You could still make it. Kort will get here somehow."

"No time." Riker wheezed, "The gig is up."

The ship shuddered violently before T'Kir reported, "We just lost the starboard wing and the pulse phasers have gone off-line."

"What about torpedoes?" Macen asked.

"Jammed." Radil reported, "The aft tubes are destroyed and Sito is trying to clear the forward magazines."

"Status Grace?" Macen inquired with a hint of desperation.

"Warp engines are out and we're down to half impulse." she answered in resigned tones, "Frankly, I don't see in any hope of escape."

"Belay that talk." Macen snapped angrily, "We'll make it. I don't know how yet, but I know we'll make it."

Macen returned his attention to the ailing Riker and Daggit's ministrations when the world began to fade as a transporter began to take effect.

Riker watched as the rest of the team shimmered out of existence. Fighting the intense pain gripping his every breath, he crawled to the Tactical station and activated the comm, "Is anybody else left aboard?"

"Aye sir." Sito replied from Torpedo Bay 1.

"Yes sir." Locarno reported from Engineering, "What the hell just happened, Captain? Chief Dracas and Dr. Kort just transported out of here."

"The same thing just happened to the rest of the team up here." Riker informed them.

"So who took them, and what's going to happen to us?" Sito asked as her stomach clenched in fear.

"I don't know." Riker admitted, "But those transporter effects looked to be of Federation origin. That gives me hope."

"But why them and not us?" Locarno demanded, panic lacing his voice.

"Maybe whoever it is met their transport capacity and we'll be part of the second lift." Riker suggested.

"I hope so." Locarno replied, "This ship is ready to explode and I'd rather be off her when she decides to go."

"Me too." Riker divulged, then silently confessed to himself, But I don't think that's going to happen.

Normal space "rippled" as the Pathfinder-class starship exited subspace. The Pathfinder was a four-nacelled variant of the Nova-class surveyor. Optimised for high-speed courier and scouting duties, the Pathfinders lacked the science labs and staff of their cousins. The courier also sacrificed atmospheric operational capability in exchange for increased speed, defensive capability and cargo capacity. Although Starfleet was the primary contractor, a civilian model was also available.

This particular ship, however, was neither a civilian nor a Starfleet craft. She operated under the auspices of Section 31 and as such carried the equipment necessary for her role. When Starfleet minimised their order of this class and authorised a civilian model, Section 31 purchased several hulls through a front company. These vessels were then outfitted by the Special Projects Yard shared by Starfleet Intelligence and Section 31.

Countless "black" projects passed through the SPYards and it became impossible for SI to track which projects were wholly theirs and which belonged to the unacknowledged security agency. Starfleet Intelligence's long-standing policy of looking the other way, or tacitly supporting, S31's activities created a situation rife with possibilities. SI's newfound interest in monitoring S31 barely dented S31's activities or appropriations. This ship, christened the URS Slipstream, was evidence enough of this failure.

The Slipstream did not happen open the pummelling of the Eclipse by accident. The S31 ship had been tracking the SID vessel for several days now. When the Eclipse stumbled across the ill-fated Andergani smuggler, the Slipstream tightened her surveillance. She'd waited just at the edge of her formidable sensor range and witnessed the entire exchange between the Omricon ship and the outmatched SID operatives. Now that the Eclipse was crippled, the Slipstream moved in. One opponent was easier to face than two.

The Omricon ship manoeuvred to confront the Slipstream. The S31 vessel did not wait but fired quantum torpedoes. The shots missed the Omricon ship and it began to charge its weapons. It wasn't until it was too late that the Omricons realised they were not the Slipstream's target.

The temporal/spatial distortion created by the El-Aurian engine design required two sets of glands mounted in a binary casing that bombarded them with Theta radiation. The elimination of even one component collapsed the distortion effect. The Slipstream's torpedoes were locked onto one of the two engine modules now orbiting each other within the distortion field. Although one torpedo was baffled by the temporal eddies ahead of it; the other remained true and struck its prey.

Macen and the Investigative team materialised in the Slipstream's main transporter room. Six men and women dressed in a black uniform vaguely reminiscent of Starfleet's retired "Horatio Hornblower" togs of the 2280's through the 2330's. Each of these individuals bore a hand phaser or pulse rifle. Startled and confused, it took a moment for them to adjust to their new surroundings... and notice who was missing from their ranks.

"Commander," Daggit whispered, "Riker's missing."

"So are Sito, Livia and Lucarno." Dracas added under his breath.

"We're pretty sure Livia died when the aft torpedo bay went." Macen replied in a strained tone, "I'm not certain what's become of the others."

"Are you Commander Brin Macen of the Special Investigation Division?" one of the ebon garbed troopers, a human mountain, asked.

"No point in denying it." Macen whispered to T'Kir before speaking up, "That'd be me."

"And this is your Investigative team?"

"Most of them."

"Excellent." the man said with an evident mix of satisfaction and relief, "Your presence has been requested on the bridge."

Macen shrugged, "Lead on then."

What about Tom and the others? T'Kir whispered in Macen's mind.

We'll find out more on the bridge than we will here, Macen replied in kind.

The Slipstream's bridge generally followed the conventions laid out in the standard Nova-class ships. The centre seats reserved for the CO and XO of the ship dominated the spherical bridge. A single helm station lay before them with the rest of the posts rotating around the room. Two access doors led away from the bridge; one to the Captain's Ready Room and the other to the turbolift.

Macen froze as he recognised the man seated in the Captain's chair. The dark-skinned man was slightly older than the last time Macen had encountered him but little else had changed over the intervening eighty-four years. This was partly due to the fact the man was a product of Khan's Eugenics wars and mostly because J. Titor was a time-traveller. While Macen had experienced every day of the last eight decades, Titor had undoubtedly once again skirted time and propelled himself into a future unprepared for his manipulative malevolence.

Despite himself, Macen was surprised to see Titor. He knew he shouldn't be. The last time he'd encountered the genetic "superman" was when Titor had collected the El-Aurian refugees off the Enterprise-B in an effort to harvest their organs in order to perfect the temporal drive. How Titor had discovered the secret o f El-Aurian long-range propulsion, a secret unknown to most El-Aurians, was still a mystery. Allarn, Macen's erstwhile partner in that adventure, had been too scattered to even theorise as to how Titor had obtained that information. Shortly after stymieing Titor's plans, Allarn herself collapsed and took on a second personality that had no recollection of her recent misadventures.

On the ship's main viewer was an image of the wounded Eclipse. Her keel was broken and her frame bent and battered but sections remained intact, holding out hope for survivors. Titor rose from his chair and approached the Tactical officer. He whispered orders in her ear. Whatever was said was spoken too low for most of Macen's team to hear but T'Kir stiffened, causing Macen to fear the worst

Two torpedoes could be seen streaking in on the helpless Raider. The SID watched in horrified silence as the detonating torpedoes created a warp core breach that destroyed what was left of the ship. No escape pods were launched. Not that any would have escaped the cataclysmic matter/antimatter reaction.

"Why," Macen growled through clenched teeth, "was that necessary?"

"Operational security." Titor answered with a slight smirk. He began to approach Macen. The S31 security force readied themselves for potential trouble.

"You're damn lucky Section 31 finds you and your team so valuable, otherwise you'd have joined your comrades." Titor advised, "I did warn you after all, at our last meeting, that our paths shouldn't cross again."

Macen regarded him with a glacial stare, "As I recall, I concurred. This reunion is unfortunate."

"And why is that?" Titor chuckled.

"This time I'll have to kill you." Macen replied with grim certainty.

Titor shook his head; "I don't think so. My so-called superiors may want you and Ms. Grace alive, but they never said anything about being comfortable. You'll sit out my recovery operation in the brig while your comrades serve as insurance that you won't try anything foolish this time around."

"What's there to recover?" Macen inquired.

Titor smiled unpleasantly, "I only destroyed one of the modified organs my dear boy. Once I recover that component, I merely need to harvest another gland to create the binary pair necessary to create a temporal drive."

"And you really think I'll just sit by and let you butcher one of my people?" Macen's tone belied the precarious nature of his current situation.

"I do indeed." Titor smirked, "If you interfere with my plans, I'll slaughter your friends and harvest the body parts I need from you. Just for thrills, I'll keep you alive while I do it. I understand losing a portion of your brain is quite painless but very... disquieting."

Macen managed, with great difficulty, to reign in his next response. There was no need to antagonise Titor further. The genetically enhanced madman was far too keen on killing his team mates. The smart move was to lay low and wait for an opportunity to present itself.

"Very well." Macen managed to say without choking, "We'll go quietly."

"Somehow I doubt that." Titor mused wryly, "But I could be wrong for once."

Dead wrong, Macen thought, emphasis on ‘dead'.

Macen and the team exited the turbolift on Deck 5. As before, it took two trips to bring all of the SID team and their guards to the same location. The team lined up in single file while the guards posted themselves in a staggered formation around the prisoners. The details commander proceeded Macen at the head of the line.

The guards' initial agitation was beginning to fade as the prisoners meekly proceeded along. Most of the guards had loosened their grips on their phasers as they approached the brig. Their attention already began to shift from their present duty to various activities to be engaged in after their shift ended. This spreading complacency was exactly what Macen had counted on.

The unsuspecting guards had no way of knowing that their wandering attention spans were being herded along by T'Kir. A discreet telepathic nudge here and there insured that all but the most disciplined minds were now thoroughly distracted. Only three guards ranked among the still alert. As fortune would have it, these three were alongside the three SID members most skilled at unarmed combat.

They're ready, T'Kir advised Macen through their telepathic link. Macen immediately took action. He dove into the squad leader before him. Macen shifted his weight and rose onto one knee, which was firmly planted between the squad leaders shoulder blades. He reached around the man's head and took hold of his jaw while gripping the back of his head. One savage twist produced the loud crack that signified the snapping of his neck vertebra. The smell of the man's bladder and bowels releasing confirmed what Macen already knew: the S31 agent was dead.

Meanwhile, Daggit snapped his outstretched fingers into the nearest guard's throat. The movement was almost faster than the unaided eye could track. He plucked the man's phaser off his belt as he collapsed, choking on his own Adam's apple. Resetting the phaser to stun, Daggit whirled to assess the others' situation.

Radil smashed her elbow into her guard's nose, breaking it. She then kneed the woman in the stomach, doubling her over. Mirroring Macen's manoeuvre, she broke the guard's neck. After the body hit the deck, Radil stripped the corpse of its weapons.

Kort lifted his guard off the deck and slammed him bodily into the corridor wall. The guard was unable to breathe due to having the wind knocked out of him and could only gasp in dread horror as Kort rotated his head in a lethal snapping motion. Yet another guard was neutralised in the scant seconds since Macen had initiated action.

T'Kir stomped on her guard's instep then snapped her elbow into the man's nose. He barely had time to stagger before her hand reached the nerve cluster at the base of his neck. Instead of merely applying enough pressure to render him unconscious, she continued to squeeze until the neural feedback caused his heart to flutter and arrest. It was a technique still taught to Vulcan masters of the martial arts but rarely used since the advent of Surak and his teachings.

Grace slammed her fist downward into her guard's groin. The man stumbled and wheezed. Grace whirled and punched him squarely in the nose. It broke with a satisfying crunch.

The guard stumbled into Dracas' grasp. The engineer slid his arm around the man's throat and applied pressure on his arteries. Dracas maintained his grip as the man slumped into unconsciousness. He let go only after being certain the guard would never rise again.

Lisea Danan stood off to one side as she witnessed the raw savagery of the SID team's actions. She knew they were angry over the death of their comrades but had not imagined their grief would lead to this. Seeing the hardened expression on Macen's face as he rose, she recognised it immediately. He'd worn the same look after her last engagement with the Maquis. It had been the reason she had left both the Maquis and Macen.

Despite his peaceful leanings, Macen could become a ruthless bastard when ideals, friends, or loved ones became threatened. His propensity for decisive action had always been apparent. This particular trait had become manifest during his time with the Maquis. It became perfected during the Dominion War.

She should have predicted his reaction by the cold hostility he displayed towards Titor. That was the hallmark of what was to come. He'd already mentally and verbally sentenced Titor. Now, the sentence would be carried out and heaven help whomever got in the way. No earthly power could intervene.

"Lees," Macen interrupted her troubled thoughts, "are you still with us?"

She hesitated, then nodded stiffly. She'd known what she was getting into when she'd rejoined the team. Hadn't she? I'd damned well better have, she thought glumly.

"Good." Macen replied with approval, "T'Kir, Dracas, what can you do in the way of sabotage?"

"Get me to a central access terminal and I'll turn this ship on its ear." T'Kir vowed.

"How about scuttling her?" Dracas suggested.

"Can you do it?"

"With T'Kir's help." Dracas announced with confidence. T'Kir took a bow.

"Rab, Kort, Radil, stow these bodies." Macen ordered, "Grace check out that Master Systems Display and find T'Kir and Dracas a quiet place to work. Try to keep it on this deck though. I want to stay close until we make our break for it."

Grace discovered that the deuterium storage/flow regulator was the closest control room with access to the ship's primary systems. This area was also two sections away from the brig. As with the takedown in the corridor, the team would have to silently neutralise the engineering techs monitoring the deuterium flow into the warp core. It also provided the perfect outlet for Dracas' destructive plan.

The team proceeded cautiously. The access to the Storage/Injection bay lay before the brig. For security reasons, the room was also internally sealed with access being granted either through inputting a security code or by the technicians within the control room. Since it was unlikely that the S31 techs would grant entrance, it was up to T'Kir's code-slicing skills to secure access.

She went to work on the terminal mounted in the wall. Muttering obscenities under her breath a few times as her brow furrowed in concentration, she quickly tapped out instructions that displayed on the unit's screen. A small chime sounded and T'Kir smiled triumphantly. The door slid open.

Daggit and Radil quickly and quietly dispatched the three engineers manning the regulator controls. Macen noted that Danan once again looked disquieted. Despite the stoic demeanour she'd adopted during her time with the Maquis and the inner strength she'd displayed at the Gulag and on Nova Roma, she appeared quite squeamish regarding the team's actions thus far. It was a weakness that could only be tolerated in as much as it did not interfere with the mission objectives.

As Macen defined them, the current mission objectives were clear and simple. First and foremost was stopping Titor in his quest to retrieve the remaining El-Aurian temporal drive component. Second was eliminating any trace of his research. Third, and last, was tracking down whoever was constructing the two temporal drives Titor had pursued already. Since all the known El-Aurian conspirators in Titor's plan had been arrested and jailed eighty-four years ago, that left an unknown conspirator or conspirators.

Macen would defy the Fates themselves in order to stop the building of any more temporal drives. He'd not known the secret behind their creation while at home in the Delta Quadrant. If he had, he would have attempted to halt the practice then. Few of his fellow El-Aurians had died since their escape from the Borg which meant that these organs were being harvested from freshly murdered victims. Since so few of his people remained, it became Macen's self-appointed duty to ensure what his former government couldn't. The source of El-Auria's temporal drive would remain an enigma forever.

"T'Kir, Dracas, are you ready?" Macen asked.

"Rarin'." T'Kir quipped as she took up position at one of the matter injector's computer access terminals. Dracas joined her and soon the two were quietly conferring as they tapped away at the control panels. Daggit and Radil took up station at the doors. Kort went to work stowing the bodies in a storage locker. Grace took up station at another terminal and pulled up the ship's MSD. Only Danan remained inactive... and she carefully avoided Macen's gaze as he joined Grace.

Macen recognised the source of Danan's discomfort. It was another example of why he and T'Kir got on so well. Grief and loss had taught them how to kill. Necessity had taught them to accept the consequences of their actions.

Experience had tempered them into soldiers. They killed without remorse but never without justification. They did not engage in lethal action on a whim, but once the decision was made all hell broke loose. It was an attitude Daggit and Radil could understand but few raised in the Federation could fathom.

Macen acknowledged his impulsive nature. He undoubtedly used lethal force when other options were still available. He couldn't change the outcome afterwards, all he could do was try and insure that he'd made the best decision. One problem was that T'Kir, his closest confidant, was as impetuous as he was.

Macen had always, and continued to, make split second decisions. On rare occasion, he'd found time to contemplate every facet of a situation before acting. Most of the time, he was in the midst of a crisis when immediate steps needed to be taken. Macen had always made those decisions with few qualms. His time with the Maquis had broadened the scope of both his skills and his methods.

"Got it!" T'Kir crowed triumphantly.

Macen shifted from Grace's position to where Dracas and T'Kir had been working, "You've finished?"

"Yup." T'Kir replied jovially, "Dracas took care of the self-destruct while I focused on the internal sensors and computer access records. If Titor queries the brig, he'll get a reply stating that we're buttoned up all nice and cosy. Internal sensors won't track us and every accessway will open for us. As an added bonus, I've encrypted every subroutine dealing with the warp core and the injection system. The core ejection system is off-line and will stay that way for as long as the ship lasts."

With those final words, Macen finally understood the finality of the situation. They were going to blow up the Slipstream and everyone aboard her. It was too late to back down, there were far too few of them to commandeer the ship, and the research data Titor had collected aboard this ship had to be destroyed at any cost. Macen had vowed to stop this once and for all, and this time he wasn't quitting until he was certain the task was completed.

Macen nodded in acknowledgement, "Impressive. How about you Chief? What nasty surprise have you cooked up?"

"Mine's really simple... as the best plans are." Dracas grinned maliciously; "Everything will run normally until they attempt to draw warp power. That'll set off a cascade effect where both injectors dump as much matter and anti-matter into the core as they can. The resulting uncontrolled reaction will overpower the shields and safeties and reduce this ship to molecules." His smile became a smirk, "And thanks to T'Kir, they won't be able to do a thing to stop the inevitable."

"Good work Chief." Macen shook his head ruefully, "A truly inspired piece of engineering. Now we just have to get off before this ship jumps to warp."

"That shouldn't be a problem." Grace replied, "They in the middle of their salvage effort. That should give us time to get to Deck Four and reach the access port to the Waverider shuttle docked there. She's a bit slow, topping out at warp three, but she has plenty of space for the whole team and is closer to the turbolift than the primary shuttle bay on Deck Four."

"Good work, Hannah." Macen beamed. Things were finally working out, "Let's get going people, we're on the clock."

The team reached the shuttle without further incident. The thinly stretched crew of the Slipstream was far too involved with the salvage operation to be overly concerned with guarding the ship's integral Waverider-class shuttle. The shuttle was designated the NUR 75531 USS Torrent. The surviving team members easily fit into the shuttle's spacious cabin.

The cockpit held four control stations arranged in similar fashion as a runabout. Grace took the helm. T'Kir manned Ops beside Grace. Daggit operated Tactical, just behind and left of the Conn station. Macen positioned himself at the Science station, opposite of Tactical.

Dracas took up position in the minute Engine room. Kort inspected the single occupancy Emergency Medical ward. In the passenger cabin, Radil cleaned and inspected the weapons confiscated from the fallen S31 agents while Danan busied herself with a padd tied into the shuttle's logs. Most of the recent entries were "mirror" records of the Slipstream's movements.

"Ship's up and running." Dracas reported over the intercom.

"Ready to detach?" Macen asked.

"Whenever." T'Kir replied.

"Grace?" Macen inquired.

"Give me a destination." Hannah growled.

"Detach the ship." Macen ordered.

T'Kir inputted a series of commands and the Torrent sealed her hatches, detached power and life support umbilicals, and released docking clamps. The Waverider shuttle dropped down from her recessed port in the underside of the Pathfinder's saucer section. Grace engaged impulse engines and moved the Torrent away from the host ship. The Slipstream still hadn't responded.

"They know something's up by now." Macen commented, "Grace, set course for Deep Space 9 and make way at best possible speed."

"Sir?" Grace remarked, "Deep Space 5 is closer."

"We have friends aboard DS9." Macen informed her, "Friends that can help resolve this matter."

"Yessir." Grace said happily as she inputted the commands into her board. The Torrent leapt to warp three in response.

"Dammit!" Titor snarled in response to the news of the Waverider's departure, "It's Macen. That man is proving to be a constant irritant. Helm, set an intercept course and pursue at maximum speed."

"The Slipstream has engaged her warp engines and is pursuing us." T'Kir reported, "Should just be a matter of time."

"I have it." Macen replied as he monitored the sensors, "Their warp core is flaring. Wait a minute... there it goes!"

The viewscreen showed the larger vessel erupt as a massive explosion engulfed her.

"Damn!" Macen swore under his breath.

"What?" T'Kir asked with concern.

"There was a massive chronometric surge just before the explosion." Macen explained.

"So?" Daggit asked as he watched anger etch its way across T'Kir's face.

"Titor escaped." Macen explained in flat tones, "He jumped into another time and place where the bastard can try this again."

"Not if we eliminate his logistical support?" Daggit suggested, "Right? After all, this guy has to be getting help from somewhere. How'd he originally discover El-Aurians could build transwarp engines out of corpses anyway?"

"El-Aurian engineers told him." Macen answered, each word a condemnation, "I thought we'd caught them all but obviously I was wrong."

"So how d'we find him, her, or them?" T'Kir prompted.

"I have a little ‘chat' with our captive friends and get the names out of them." Macen said, fierce determination lighting his eyes.

Daggit didn't know whether to be proud or afraid at that moment.

Ro Laren, a recently made Lieutenant in Starfleet Security, blinked twice as she reread the message on her screen. The message was definitely from Macen. He'd sent it encrypted in a code that Starfleet had never broken. It was a code she, Macen and T'Kir had specifically worked out for emergency communications between Maquis cell leaders.

Michael Eddington and Svetlana Korepanova were the last two Maquis leaders to know the code. Eddington had taken the code to the grave with him as he was cut down by the Jem'Hadar. Sveta had held on to it even as she faced a tribunal after surrendering to Starfleet during the Dominion purge of the DMZ. Sveta was free now but so were Macen and T'Kir.

Ro had thrown herself into her new role as DS9's Chief of Security. Although none of her previous postings as either a member of the Bajoran Militia's Special Forces or of Starfleet had worked out, this job had potential. Colonel, ahem... Captain Kira trusted her but their shared past as terrorists/freedom fighters bridged as many gaps as it created. Right now, the entire station was mopping up after the Parasite invasion of Bajor and of Bajor's subsequent admittance into the Federation. Surely no one would notice if Ro fulfilled Macen's requests.

"I see Brin contacted you as well." came a voice from the doorway.

Ro swivelled her chair in the direction of the voice with her hand on her phaser pistol. Her shoulders sagged in relief when she recognised who it was. Commander Elias Vaughn, DS9's 1st Officer and CO of the Defiant, stood before her wearing a wry grin. Eighty years serving in Starfleet Special Operations Branch had taught him to be stealthy.

"Sorry, Lieutenant." Vaughn apologised, "I didn't mean to startle you."

"Dammit Commander." Ro snapped, "I almost shot you."

"But you didn't." Vaughn replied, a twinkle in his eye, "So no harm done."

Ro sighed heavily, propping an elbow on her desk and resting her chin in her palm, "So, Macen sent you a message as well?"

"Yes." Vaughn replied cryptically.

"Did it have anything to do with needing assistance in reaching Earth?" Rio asked irritably.

"Yes." Vaughn conceded, neglecting to mention any and all references to Section 31. Ro had discovered more than she needed to know while assisting Dr. Bashir in shutting down a Jem'Hadar nursery being operated by a genetically enhanced S31 agent. Macen's message described a similar enough situation to make Vaughn play this turn of events close to the chest.

"So," Ro growled, "how are we going to help him?"

Vaughn smiled beatifically, "By loaning him a ship."

The Torrent arrived at DS9 nearly twenty hours after the destruction of the Slipstream. She lighted upon one of the empty landing pads and was lowered into the station's Habitat Ring. After the outer hatch shut, the landing bay pressurised and both heat and lights came on. By the time the shuttle's hatch opened, Ro and Vaughn were there to greet the occupants.

"Brin, you old space dog," Vaughn beamed, "you're well."

"Just barely." Macen grimaced, "We've lost half the crew."

"Wouldn't be the first time." Ro reminded him, her voice filled with regret.

"Oh, hello." T'Kir chorused in a flip tone, "Nice t'see you too."

"Hello T'Kir," Ro replied drolly, "You're looking well."

After a moment's pause, Ro had to admit T'Kir did look exceptionally well. Despite the recent turmoil and losses, she was amazingly stable and Macen was... and then it hit her.

"You've become lovers!" Ro blurted in amazement.

T'Kir actually had the modesty to blush green for once. Macen gave Ro a strained smile. In the background, the rest of the team tried to pay attention to anything else. Except for Danan, who merely looked relieved and uncomfortable at the same time.

I don't suppose it can be easy watching your ex-lover court your former rival, Ro admitted to herself. She remembered the looks on either Will Riker or Deanna Trio's faces each time the other took a new lover. According to the Starfleet grapevine, Riker and Trio were once again a couple, much to the joy and relief of their friends and loved ones. Their pairing, like that of Macen and T'Kir, was long overdue.

"Betcha never saw this coming." T'Kir gleefully teased.

"I can't say I'm not surprised." Ro confessed, "But I'm also happy for you. Everyone needs a fresh start." The last being drawn from personal experience.

"Thanks Laren." Macen said quietly.

"Thanks for foisting me off on his crew." T'Kir grinned, "You laid the groundwork by getting rid of me."

"Let's get everyone settled in guest quarters." Vaughn suggested, "They look tired and hungry. We can discuss your next move after you've had at least six hours of rest."

"We don't have time." Macen began to protest.

"Nonsense." Vaughn replied, dismissing Macen's argument, "Whoever's behind this has successfully hidden from you for eighty-four years. Another few days won't change that. You won't catch them if you can't think or see straight, so you might as well get some sleep and a meal." He smirked triumphantly, "Besides, I won't authorise the use of one of our runabouts until you do."

Macen's shoulders heaved, "You win Elias. Show us to our rooms."

Six hours later, Ro was walking along corridor six of the Habitat Ring. She saw Lisea Danan approaching and stopped to greet her old comrade in arms. Danan passed by as though Ro didn't exist. Stung by the insult, Ro stalked down the passageway until she reached the quarters she sought. She hit the door chime, half expecting to be turned away.

The door slid open to reveal Macen with his pants and boots on, pulling a sweater on. Ro recognised it with a mixed pang of grief and joy. It was a surplus Starfleet Captain's alternative uniform blouse in grey and black. Although a precursor of sorts of the current uniform Ro now wore, it had been retired with the adoption of the new togs. It had also been a personal favourite of Jean-Luc Picard during her service under him.

"I like the look." Ro commented as Macen straightened out the sweater. Black shoulders, grey chest and torso combined with black cargo pants and black leather ankle boots. Macen donned his holster/utility belt while Ro watched.

Outfitted with surplus Bajoran Militia gear, Macen truly looked the part of the privateer/mercenary role that was his cover. Ro knew that it was only partly fiction. Macen and his team were free to, and occasionally did, take on outside work with no relation to Starfleet or the Special Investigations Division. He was even free to refuse offered assignments. Because of their combined talent and skills, the team was only offered the most difficult of tasks and therefore there was no onus when and if Macen ever refused a job.

Ro noticed a harmonic background noise, "Is someone using the shower?"

Macen never batted an eye, "T'Kir should almost be done."

Right. They're a couple now Ro reminded herself, "Should I leave?"

"Only if you want to." Macen assured her, "I could use some friendly company if you don't mind."

"T'Kir won't mind?"

Macen shrugged, "If she does, she'll get over it once she knows it's you."

He paused, "Just don't be alarmed if she runs out here naked."

"She does that?" Ro asked, already alarmed.

Macen nodded, "Showers make her... frisky."

Oh God, Ro thought miserably.

The shower silenced and Ro and Macen sat in uncomfortable silence while waiting to see what would occur next. After a few moments, Macen visibly relaxed. This just made Ro all the more suspicious. Suspicion turned to anxiety and she grew rigid in her seat while trying to not visualise T'Kir prancing into the room wearing nothing but her olive tinged skin.

T'Kir came out of the ‘fresher with her wet hair slicked back and fully clothed. Her outfit was identical to Macen's minus the sweater. She wore a black turtleneck instead. She saw Ro's expression and stopped.

"What?" she asked apprehensively, recalling Ro's earlier condemnations of her.

"You're... clothed?" Ro stammered in confusion and relief.

"Duh." T'Kir grunted, "I heard you were here."

"Over a sonic shower?" Ro couldn't believe that T'Kir's sensitive Vulcan ears could hear anything over the pulsing sonic and ultrasonic frequencies used by the shower.

"No." T'Kir tapped her the side of her head impatiently, "I heard you were here. Macen warned me."

Ro turned on Macen as he broke out laughing, "You could've told me!"

"I'm sorry." he gasped, "You were just so... prudish."

"I was not!" Ro protested.

"Face it Laren, you were utterly terrified I was going to come out here utterly bare-assed and swinging in the breeze." T'Kir corrected her.

"I..."

"Hon?" Macen interrupted, "Technically, I don't thing you can swing in the breeze."

T'Kir stuck out her tongue, "It was a metaphor, you nit."

"A metaphor, yes." Macen agreed, "Anatomically correct, no."

"Drop it, will ya?" T'Kir groaned.

"I see you two haven't changed a bit." Ro said, reflecting on their years together under her command as the Ronaran Maquis cell leader. Now, there was a topic she didn't allow herself to reflect on very often. If it hadn't been for Picard's intervention, she'd be sitting in a cell on a penal colony thinking of little else.

"A funny thing that." Macen grinned, "The longer lived a race, the more ingrained their behaviours seem to be."

"You two are about the most ingrained people in the Alpha Quadrant," Ro weighed in, "and you both come from long-lived races, so I guess there might be some merit to this theory." Seeing Macen's victorious grin, she added, "Then again, you might just be the stubbornest jackasses I've ever met."

T'Kir perked up as Macen's joy ebbed. Much as Ro hated to admit it, they did make a good couple. T'Kir's turnabout from the psychotic loony who'd stabbed Macen to the caring lover was an entirely unexpected shift. She didn't know where T'Kir had found the strength to pull it off, and frankly she didn't care, Ro was just grateful T'Kir had managed this transformation so she didn't have to kill her."

"I heard that." T'Kir accused, "And it wasn't polite."

Ro sighed. Apparently, some things were a constant.

"So why the visit, Laren?" Macen asked.

"I wish it were unofficial," Ro confessed, "but Captain Kira somehow managed to learn of your arrival. She and Commander Vaughn are awaiting you in the main Briefing Room."

Macen sighed, "Lead the way."

"And this is your Executive Officer?" Kira asked as she shook Macen's hand.

"No." Macen informed her, "This is my Operations Specialist."

"I see." Kira replied, although it was obvious she didn't.

"Macen and his team are irregulars, Captain." Vaughn explained, "They don't operate under normal Starfleet guidelines. Special Operations functions under a similar disregard for the traditional chain of command."

Kira knew that Fleet admirals often bowed under the wishes of Elias Vaughn, "Now I do see. How can we be of assistance, Commander Macen?"

"Not to sound too prickly, but I guess I'd be referred to as ‘Captain' again, not by my former Starfleet rank or my role as Mission Commander." Macen said wearily.

"If you don't mind my asking," Kira inquired, "why is that?"

"My Ship's Captain and crew died alongside our vessel." Macen answered, voice tight, "With no one else to take Tom Riker's place, that puts me squarely back in the centre seat."

"Tom's dead?" Kira choked out. Kira had kept track of Riker since his kidnapping of her, theft of the Defiant, imprisonment and subsequent escape. As the CO of DS9, she'd been privy to intelligence alluding to Riker's recruitment by Macen's Outbound Ventures, Inc. and his subsequent adventures with the privateers/secret agents. Kira had found Tom attractive and personally appealing. The news of his death hit her unexpectedly hard.

"Tom frequently mentioned the time he spent with you, Captain." T'Kir added, "One of his ongoing ambitions was to validate your faith in him."

Ro knew how that felt, but remained silent. It seemed Kira did too.

"Tom was a good man." she said fiercely, "I won't let his killers go unpunished."

"Then loan us a runabout." Macen suggested, "The shuttle we arrived in is too slow and too lightly armed to get us to Earth in time. A fully loaded runabout, however, would not only get us there but it would get us there better equipped to handle whatever came our way."

Kira studied him for a moment, then a crooked smile spread across her face, "I'll do you one better. How would you like a ride aboard the Defiant?"

Macen was taken aback so Kira continued, "Commander Vaughn and his crew would be aboard." she nodded towards Ro, "As would Lt. Ro as my liaison with your team. Is any of this acceptable?"

"Of course!" Macen agreed eagerly.

"When can the Defiant depart, Commander?"

"Two hours, Captain." Vaughn replied with pleased grin.

"You and your team will board in an hour and half then." Kira informed Macen, "And Captain?"

"Yes?"

"Happy hunting." Kira wished with a feral gleam in her eye.

The Defiant departed DS9 smoothly. Vaughn sat in the command chair. His daughter Prynn Tenmei sat at the Helm. Lt. Sam Bowers manned Tactical while Dr. Bashir monitored Environmental. DS9's Science Officer, Lt. Shar, sat at the Science station. Lt. Ezri Dax sat at the rearward briefing table despite her being off-shift, ready to act in her role as the Defiant's 1st Officer.

Macen and the SID team had been shown to their cramped guest quarters. Ro had also been allocated quarters, and like the team, given no shipboard responsibilities. They spent the bulk of the days together huddled in the Mess, reminiscing over stories from the Dominion war or the Maquis' fight for independence. Vaughn and various senior officers would join them at varying parts of the day.

Lt. Nog racked Dracas' brain for new innovations on how to improve performance from the Defiant's recently overhauled systems. Bashir compared Federation medical practices and their Klingon counterparts with Kort. Tenmei and Grace discussed various manoeuvres, accompanied by rapid hand gestures and sound effects. Bowers engaged Radil and Daggit on various fighting tactics and gunnery suggestions. Danan's time was monopolised by either Shar or Dax, sometimes both.

Macen, T'Kir and Ro were occasionally joined by Vaughn. On the fourth day of their journey, Vaughn found Macen and the others. He wore a grim expression and Macen immediately knew what it meant. They'd reached Earth.

Macen, T'Kir and Ro beamed down to Starfleet's maximum-security stockade in Kabul. Ro accompanied the others to help facilitate their entrance into the prison. Despite having an authorisation order signed by the SID Director, Admiral Amanda Drake, having a Starfleet Security officer as your chaperone carried a lot of weight. If a guard were crazy enough to disregard Drake's orders, Ro gold shirt would still sway them.

Entrance proved to be a mere formality. Drake had called ahead in addition to issuing the visitation permit. The prisoners that Macen was about to see had become a SID responsibility upon the organisation's inception. Yet another classified problem foisted off on the new bureaucratic kid on the block.

Ro accompanied Macen and T'Kir as their monitor. Starfleet regs still insisted that someone "official' accompany visitors, despite their clearance level. Macen preferred Ro since she was unlikely to interfere with the questioning, despite Macen's intention to use ‘unauthorised', and therefore illegal, techniques. Federation law still disapproved of non-consensual telepathic inquiries despite their irrefutable accuracy. Macen didn't care if anyone gave their consent, and more importantly, neither did T'Kir. If Ro had a problem with it, she could remain outside the interrogation room and regulations be damned.

The interrogation room was cold and sterile. Three chairs were arranged facing five others on either side of a rectangular table. Macen, T'Kir and Ro took their places on the three chairs. Moments later, the side door slid open and five El-Aurian engineers sullenly walked into the room.

The group was comprised of three men and two women. The youngest was Macen's age, the oldest twice that. All of the engineers recognised Macen, just as he recognised them. Eighty-four years ago, he'd tracked them down and imprisoned them.

"Well, lookee here," the oldest, Vir Sullan, leered, "Looks like Macen boy has finally brought us some presents."

"I see prison hasn't helped your grammatical skills any, Sullan." Macen gibed.

"Leave him alone you monster!" the older female, Cal Erris, yelled as she charged towards the table. Her companions wisely held her back.

"What do you want Macen?" The youngest male, Cir Feurn, asked venomously.

"Who was the final member of your conspiracy?" Macen bluntly asked, "It's taken me awhile to catch on, but there were supposed to be three men and three women. Progenitors of a new El-Aurian race as it were. You'd sell out the secret of our temporal drive, and incidentally your own kind, in exchange for being left alone during the ensuing ‘harvest'." He paused, then added, "That, and genetic enhancements that would ensure that any mixed species offspring you had would be born wholly El-Aurian."

The five engineers stared mutely at Macen. Their expression ranged from outrage to defeat. They'd held onto their missing comrade's freedom as their final hope of escape. Now, that hope was dying, taking their dreams of a new El-Aurian homeworld born of Earth's progeny into the ashes with it.

"Got it." T'Kir said matter-of-factly, rising from her seat.

"Good." Macen said with a feral smile, "Let's collect their missing conspirator."

The five engineers moved forward, hate filling their eyes. The doors to the cellward side of the door opened just as the personnel side's door opened as well. A half-dozen goldshirts rushed in, phasers drawn and ready. Macen exited with a final mock salute. Screams of despair filled rage filled the prison corridors for several moments afterwards as Macen, T'Kir and Ro strode purposefully towards the exit.

The SID team gathered on the Defiant's transporter pads. T'Kir had plucked the name of the final conspirator, Mira Kenis, from her compatriots' minds. Having acquired the name, it was only a matter of time before an extensive search of Starfleet records revealed her present whereabouts. Even given the duplicity of the woman's past, her present location came as a surprise.

"Are you certain that you don't want Ro, Bowers or any of my Security staff with you?" Vaughn asked... again.

"Elias, we can handle her." Macen assured him.

"Brin, she's spent the last fifty years as a civilian consultant to Starfleet Intelligence's Special Project Yards. The SPYards are one of Starfleet's most closely guarded secrets. Do you have any idea what kind of screens and checks she's had to clear in order to maintain her position?" Vaughn argued, "All this while aiding Titor in his quest to obtain a fully functional temporal drive."

"Trust me Elias, I know." Macen heard Dracas mumbled bitterly under his breath, "We all know. Some of us have worked alongside this woman. I met her myself over ten years ago. She played it smart. She took engineering course after arriving in the Alpha Quadrant and did well, but not spectacularly well. She never visited or otherwise contacted the prisoners. She banked on Titor being so hungry for a stable temporal drive that she could throw in her comrades' freedom as part of the deal."

Macen's green eyes bored into Vaughn's blue, "Have I left anything out?"

"No." Vaughn bitterly agreed, "Except that if Titor's involved S31, then she also has friends in high places and will be well protected."

Macen jerked a thumb back towards the pads, "That's why I'm bringing them. Even in your heyday, they'd have run circles around you and your teams."

"Can you be sure?" Vaughn replied indignantly.

Macen smiled nastily, "I've seen both in action and I'd take my team any day."

The team materialised in three separate groups. Kenis lived in a Southwest corner flat. Group One, comprised of Macen and T'Kir, beamed down in front of her door. Group two, composed of Daggit and Dracas, appeared down the Southeast hallway. Group three, made of Radil and Kort, solidified in the Southwest hallway. Grace and Danan stood by on the Defiant in case the team needed additional support.

Everyone brandished a Bajoran phaser rifle in addition to their normal sidearms and utility belt. Also new was their SID badges clipped to their belts. Hopefully this would deter nosy neighbours from calling the local authorities if things got nasty. With Section 31 on the scene, things were bound to get nasty.

Macen buzzed the door chime. He waited for a few seconds, then buzzed again. Kenis' schedule indicated she was off-work today. Her SPYards comm badge was within her apartment as was her mastoid tracking implant's signal.

Macen was about to buzz again when the door slid open. A petite woman, roughly Sullan's age, stood in the entryway. Her eyes widened in recognition and she turned to flee. Two armed men appeared from the kitchen and the restroom. Macen and T'Kir ducked behind the edges of the doorway as particle blasts erupted from the living room.

Daggit double-timed down the hallway. He slid a pair of sensor goggle down over his eyes. He could see the infrared signatures of the two S31 agents as they approached the door utilising a duck and cover advance. Daggit reached his hand back towards Dracas, who promptly slapped a cylindrical device into it. Daggit attached the device to the end of his phaser rifle, aimed and fired.

The stun grenade flew into the living room, striking the opposing wall. The built in battery discharged all of its energy in one massive burst. The attached particle beam emitters blanketed the room with a low-level neural disrupter beam. The sensor goggles showed the two agents slumping to the floor.

Macen tapped his own comm badge, "Elias, shut down all communications from this room!"

"Copy." Vaughn replied coolly.

Macen raised his rifle and entered the flat. T'Kir followed first, Daggit second, Radil third. Kort and Dracas remained on station in the hallway to provide both backup and emergency technical support. Radil hefted the heavy blaster she sported strapped over her shoulder and activated the sensor scope. It revealed two humanoids in the adjoining bedroom.

"She has another bodyguard, boss." Radil whispered, "It looks like they're trying to call for help."

"Not if Vaughn has done his job." Macen whispered back, "This whole neighbourhood should be under a subspace dispersion field."

"How d'you want to take `em?" T'Kir asked in hushed tones.

"Radil, take point. The bodyguard is yours." Macen ordered, "I'll cover you and take Kenis. You two will back us up and extract us if necessary."

Neither T'Kir nor Daggit seemed very pleased by this turn of events but both remained silent. Radil readied herself and her weapon. Taking a deep breath, she turned and went through the open bedroom entrance.

Macen heard weapons fire even as he followed on her heels. Radil fired two shots into the Andorian female beside the bed then whirled towards the second figure. Macen drew his rifle to his shoulder as Kenis raised a Type I "cricket" phaser. He started too shout a warning but it was too late. She turned the weapon on herself even as Radil fired.

Kenis' phaser was set on maximum molecular disruption. She vanished in a sparkling burst of energy even as Radil's two shots passed through the energised molecular cloud. Her phaser dropped to the ground in silence as Macen and Radil mutely watched. Macen released a deep sigh as he exited the bedroom.

"What do you mean, ‘let them go'?" Macen demanded, "Those three prisoners are our last link to Titor!"

On the screen, Admiral Amanda Drake, the SID Director, scowled, "I know that Brin. Orders are orders. Admiral Ross wants them released, so they get released."

"But they're Section 31 cronies." he protested.

"Alleged S31 cronies." Drake corrected, "According to records, they're Starfleet Security officers assigned for Kenis' protection."

"What a bunch of bullsh-" Macen began.

"Save it Commander." Drake sighed, "I already agree with you. The good news is you've shut down Titor's operation."

"But now we have no way of how much if the tech she'd already delivered. He's made two flawed engines in the past. There's no telling when he'll try for a third time." Macen observed.

"True." Drake conceded, "But when he does, we'll have to trust that someone will be in place to stop him. Its called faith. It's what we rely on when we have nothing else. You've helped stop him twice before. I have faith either you or this mysterious Allarn will be there to stop him the next time he tries this."

"Who knows?" Macen shrugged, "She was too much of a wildcard for me to place much faith in her."

"Nevertheless, we'll have all of the SID watching for Titor now. We're bound to get him eventually." Drake assured him, "Besides, right now we have other matters to discuss, like the Omricons. How powerful was that ship?"

Macen suppressed the urge to swear again and began reciting details of their fateful encounter with the Omricon ship.

"I guess I'm supposed to drop you lot off at the SPYards facility at Utopia Planetia." Vaughn announced.

"We have another ship?" Dracas asked eagerly.

"Something the tech boys are saying will stand up to an Omricon cruiser." Vaughn smiled.

"Elias," Macen scolded, "you're not even supposed to know about the Omricons."

"What can I say?" Vaughn replied with a twinkle, "An old man needs his hobbies."

"All I can say is that I'm glad this mission is over." Macen admitted as T'Kir squeezed him tight, "It cost too much."

"They always do." Ro and Vaughn chorused as one. Ro looked embarrassed while Vaughn practically glowed with delight.

"But have you given up?" Vaughn asked quietly.

Even T'Kir seemed on edge as she awaited the answer, "Hell, no."

Vaughn clapped him on the shoulder, "Good man. You'll get a second chance at both Titor and the Omricons. Bet on it."

"I am." Macen said confidently, "And next time I'll be ready."

 

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