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Encircled by Travis Anderson

The tales from the Maquis

Chapter One

Starbase 621 was strategically located near the Federation's border with the Tzenkethi Coalition. It had stood vigil since the initial decades after first contact with the xenophobic race and the subsequent conflicts that had resulted. Unlike the Cardassians who had been first met near the same time, the Tzenkethi weren't overly aggressive but they were adamant about preventing the "contamination" of ideas and cultures with their own.

It was here that Harcourt Fenton Mudd III had chosen to auction off the secrets he had purloined from the Cardassians. He'd touted it as a super weapon, capable of changing the course of interstellar nations and their populations. Unbeknownst to all, the discovery had been made in neutral space located in a triangulation of the Bajoran colonies Free Haven, Golana, and Volnar situated between Breen and Cardassian space and the unknown reaches of the Alpha Quadrant.

Over two dozen representatives from various factions had arrived for the auction. Only Mudd himself never showed up. Angered that he had cut a supposed secret deal beneath their noses, the various reps destroyed Mudd's ship and began searching near and far space for him. They never knew he'd actually been kidnapped by the Maquis and was being held prisoner aboard the decommissioned Starfleet scoutship, Odyssey. The crew sat idly by until all of the rampaging had concluded and the searchers moved elsewhere.

But they'd only moved elsewhere because the Starfleet commander of Starbase 621 called in support. Two Starfleet Border Patrol Saber-class ships immediately responded as well as the Cheyenne-class USS Comanche, the Springfield-class USS Bolivar, and the Centaur-class USS Aristides. No single nation could face Starfleet's combined might and an alliance was out of the question. After all, the reason they were even there was to gain the upper hand on the rest.

The Odyssey, being a former Starfleet vessel owned and operated by a Federation privateer, was exempted from Starfleet's own search for Mudd. The ship's captain and first officer were also undercover Starfleet officers. Undercover officers that now acted as double agents having fallen in with the Maquis for real. Brin Macen had convinced Lisea Danan to follow him in his assignment but she'd done so willingly and her allegiances were her own choice. The rest of the crew was oblivious to their commanding officers' ongoing association with Starfleet.

As a Starfleet vessel, the Blackbird-class SS Odyssey had been designed with a single cell brig to hold Mudd in. The ship was designed to be operated by twenty crewmen and two officers. The Maquis crew totaled seven people. After the search evaporated, Macen ordered Tracy Ebert to set course for the Kalandra Sector. From there they would transit to the Bajoran Sector before entering the Demilitarized Zone between the Federation and the Cardassians Union. Then they would deliver Mudd to Ro Laren and the Maquis cell on Ronara Prime.

Elijah Waters, owner and operator of the DMZ Freight Delivery Contractors and Referral Service Agency, was also a former Deputy Director of Starfleet Intelligence. Waters arranged for cargo and courier contracts for Maquis assets so they could have legitimate reasons for being within range of potential targets. Macen had introduced Waters to the Maquis Council and Cal Hudson was familiar with Waters' record so he'd accepted the former admiral's claims at face value. Little did anyone realize that Waters had been recruited by the current Director of Starfleet Intelligence, Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev, to act as Macen's handler and to render aid and assistance to the Maquis.

Ro had recently learned that Waters had added two new staffers to his agency. Russia Dawes was Waters' office manager and Yohanna Iverson was their contract procurement and referral specialist. This left Kristiana Liu and the Bajoran Hana Rynn free to devote their time to setting up Maquis positions in coordination with Svetlana Korepanova's strategic planning group located on Deep Space Nine. Other than a few well informed Maquis cell commanders, no one knew that Sveta was the enigmatic "Architect" or about her group. Hudson referred to Korepanova as his "secret weapon".

Waters informed Ro of Macen's prize and that her El-Aurian intelligence chief was en route back to Ronara Prime. After her conversation concluded, Ro was approached by her own deputy, Aric Tulley, "Ro, Stephanie Gerin's chief of staff is here to see you."

Ro scowled. The lt. governor had arranged for Ro's cell to have access to the former Volunteer Militia headquarters they currently occupied. But that didn't give her or her chief of staff instant access to Ro. A point she decided to make.

At first Ro didn't know how to receive Vicki Azerenka. The chief of staff was barely twenty-three. That just seemed impossibly young to be running a governor's staff. Even if it was a lt. governor. What Ro hadn't yet realized is that it was a staff of one person besides herself. And the other staffer was only sixteen years old.

Gerin had previously admitted to Ro that Azerenka is the one that had found the plans and the location of the militia base and suggested they be handed over to Ro. Destroying all copies of the data, save what was handed over; Gerin had given Ro the access and command and control codes that operated the facility. Not even Gerin or Azerenka would have a copy but they would know the location. So Ro had made it a policy to keep tabs on the lt. governor and her staff.

Ro had only revealed the location and allowed access to her key fighters. Scattered urban cells littered the planet. They all reported to Ro in some way but they largely operated as independent units and had no knowledge of her cell's location. They thought she still operated out of the capital city.

"How can I help you?" Ro decided to try pleasantness. Physically, Ro felt overshadowed by Azerenka to a degree. Ro was quite tall for a Bajoran or a human. Her height coupled with her brusque and aggressive manner intimated most humanoids.

But Azerenka was even taller and just as competitive. Descended from White Russian stock, the Azerenka lineage included professional athletes amid Starfleet notables. This history stretched from the 21st century to the modern age. Gerin came from a similar background and she herself had been an interstellar-caliber athlete.

"Lt. Governor Gerin has sent me to warn you of a present danger," Azerenka told her.

"Stephanie has a name," Ro felt more than her share of equality with Gerin despite titles. She didn't have time for verbal fencing trying to establish dominance.

Fortunately for her, Azerenka let it drop, "Ahem, Stephanie has learned through Governor Donald White that the new Dorvan Sector commander, Gul Maret, is coming to Ronara Prime. In addition, the Joint Federation-Cardassian Antiterrorist Taskforce has been shut down but certain members are being reassigned to the DMZ permanently. Governor White has enlisted their aid in securing the capital for Gul Maret's inspection. The idea is for them to assist the local Constabulary in sweeping up the Maquis."

"And since White was installed into office by Evek you can easily wager his loyalties will lie with Maret," Azerenka reminded Ro, "And the few humans still with the Constabulary have been bought. There is another concern as well."

"What?" Ro wearily asked.

"There are surviving members of the militia that haven't joined the Maquis yet," Azerenka pointed out and handed Ro an isolinear data rod, "Here's the files on the disaffected that went underground. If the Cardassians find them first, they could compromise this facility."

"Understood," Ro tersely replied, "As soon as a problem my intelligence chief has rooted out is resolved, I'll look into it."

"Don't you think this should take precedence?" Azerenka asked sharply.

"No, I don't," Ro replied icily, "The Cardassians found a potential super weapon. I want to claim, harness it, or destroy it before they take possession."

"Oh," Azerenka said meekly.

Ro passed Azerenka off onto Vera Dragonuv who escorted out of the base. Tulley rejoined Ro, "Our spotters in the capital have reported spotting some of the former taskforce members."

"Which ones?" Ro asked.

"James Prine, Gina Caruthers, Kate Bloomingdale, Jack Cusack, Summer Gleeson and they're being accompanied by a guard contingent from the Galor-class cruiser Gul Maret decided to park in orbit," Tulley said ruefully.

"Does Starfleet know the Spoonheads have dragged a warship into the Demilitarized Zone?" Ro was exasperated, "Is there anything else?"

"Annabeth says there are more freighter captains and crews nosing around after us," Tulley stated.

Ro knew Annabeth Frink was so loyal because of her infatuation with Tulley, "Does she have any names?"

"Better, she collected DNA from several of them and passed the recordings on to me," Tulley bragged.

Ro decided then and there she was going to get the dumb sunovabitch to ask Annabeth out on a date or she would simply cripple him and leave him in the Old Biddy where Frink worked, "Who is in house that can run the samples?"

"With Macen's merry men away that leaves us Nat," Tulley reported.

Natalie Donner had once been a constable so her skill set included records searches. Ro nodded, "Get her working on it immediately."

"Liam can help her," Tulley smirked, "He would anyway."

Liam Hemingway had once been a park ranger that had worked in the same district Donner had been assigned to. They'd been friends well before joining the Maquis together. And they'd formed one of many unofficial partnerships inside the cell.

Tulley walked off as Ro's private transceiver began chirping. It only connected with identically phased equipment. Elijah Waters had one unit, Korepanova had another, and Macen had the fourth and final comm unit. This time it turned out to be Waters calling again.

"Has Brin told you what Mudd is selling yet?" Ro asked.

"No, and he won't. He's currently near Starbase 375 and running incognito. Starfleet still thinks of Macen as a freelance information broker and part-time smuggler," Waters told her, "And he is on their official watch list."

"As a smuggler or a spy?" Ro wondered.

"Both but primarily as a Maquis sympathizer," Waters explained, "Starfleet Command is uncomfortable with anyone with Macen's credentials spending an inordinate amount of time in the DMZ and surrounding space."

"What do they think of you then?" Ro wanted to know.

"I'm being watched as well," Waters admitted, "Rather clumsily I might add."

"Yet members of Starfleet Command still talk to you," Ro pointed out.

"I may know a sympathetic ear or two," Waters modestly deflected the implied praise.

"You contacted me," Ro reminded Waters, "What's on your mind?"

"Surely you know about Gul Maret's planned inspection tour?" Waters asked.

"He's already here and he brought a damn Galor-class cruiser and its troop complement with him," Ro grated.

"Starfleet is aware of the situation," Waters said enigmatically.

"But what are they going to do about it?" Ro wanted to know.

"Diplomatic exchanges and protests have been made," Waters read the official line.

"Great, so when they bombard the planet we'll take comfort in the fact the Diplomatic Corps did its job first," Ro's frustration was plain to hear.

"I have uncovered the identity of an undercover Federation Security Service agent on Ronara Prime," Waters distracted Ro.

Her transceiver's memory buffer triggered an alert to inform Ro that data had been received. Waters counseled Ro, "Do not underestimate Brittany Darque. She isn't all she appears to be."

"What the hell does that mean?" Ro asked as Waters terminated his transmission.

Governor White genuflected as Gul Maret strode into his presence. The military leader was trailed by his armed guard detachment and the former taskforce agents, "White, as you know I've replaced the late, vaguely lamented Evek as the Dorvan Sector commander. This places the Demilitarized Zone under my direct authority. This places you under my authority as well. The Maquis scum may have lured Evek to his destruction but I am no Evek. I intend to make your planet a showcase of Cardassian efficiency and law and order. Do you have any objections?"

"No, you are obviously a pillar of strength where Evek was weakness personified. I look forward to assisting you in rooting out terrorists and criminals," White practically knelt to lick Maret's boots.

"Heh. Evek's reports indicated you were a loyal toady. I'm pleased to see he was right about something," Maret commented.

"May I introduce Stephanie Gerin, my lt. governor?" White requested.

Maret drank in the sight of the athletic Gerin. Many Cardassians had developed a taste for Bajoran women during the Occupation. Evek had found there was little difference between a Bajoran and a human woman. So he'd gathered a harem of human "comfort women". Maret immediately had designs to include Gerin in their number. And her youthful aide could join him as well.

"Ah, my dear," Maret leered at Gerin, "perhaps you'll join me and the governor at the banquet he is holding in my honor this evening?"

White blinked. This was the first he'd heard of a fete. He desperately looked to his own chief of staff. Paloma Hope now caught Maret's attention as well. Her flame red hair and blonde fringe bangs appealed to his lecherous side. He was vaguely disappointed when she excused herself to begin preparations.

White's press secretary, Anne Pleasance, whispered to White she'd have a statement disseminated to the local press inside of twenty minutes. Maret inwardly sneered as the proof her dark eyebrows and brown eyes gave falsehood to her blonde locks. Cardassians didn't alter their hair color but humans seemed obsessed with it, he'd noted. He'd made it a private game to try and guess the veracity of the color by inspecting the women's naked bodies up close and personally.

"Well?" Maret still hadn't gotten his answer.

"Unlike some officials, I have actual work to do," Gerin said firmly, "Therefore I have to decline."

Gerin exited with Azerenka at her side. Maret turned to White and with a great deal of menace said, "She will attend tonight. They both will or I'll find someone to replace you. Understood?"

"Of course," White genuflected again as he backed away to exit and find Hope.

"Now, Special Agent-in-Charge Prine, let us discuss how you will be serving me," Maret preened.

"Sorry, Gul Maret, but the FSS doesn't serve Cardassian interests anymore. My people will be coordinating with yours but our operations will strictly be our own," Prine replied.

"You want to work with my constabulary?" Maret asked archly.

"With the planet's constabulary, yes," Prine sensed a trap being sprung.

"The planet is mine therefore the constabulary is mine. And you will work for me or leave Ronara Prime inside of five minutes or be arrested as terrorists yourselves," Maret countered.

Prine glared at Maret and Maret merely smirked, "Still here? Then I suppose you find my terms acceptable."

Maret motioned for the Chief Constable to join them, "Let's find a working space and begin our preparations."

Inside Gerin's office, she took Azerenka aside, "We have to get a message off to Ro."

"I already did that," Azerenka complained.

"But she needs to know firsthand what a colossal ass Maret is," Gerin fumed, "And we can't simply drive out there. Maret's ship will easily track an antigrav car. And I can't leave because the letch undoubtedly already has me being watched. So you have to go and make contact."

"Where?" Azerenka was baffled.

"There's a bartender at the Old Biddy that can contact Ro or her people. You have to find them and warn her," Gerin insisted.

"Which bartender?" Azerenka asked.

Gerin huffed, "I haven't a clue. But you'll figure it out."

"We need to be certain or I could queer the deal," Azerenka complained.

"Vicki!" Gerin snapped, "What would your mothers say?"

"They'd say I'm being just as prejudiced as the women on Solossus III are towards heteros. That's why they took me and left the planet even though they fit the mold. They didn't want a sexual orientation forced upon me," Azerenka shared.

"I know you haven't joined Ro because your moms would freak out," Gerin softened the blow, "But Ro needs this information even more than she needed the militia base. Only you can get the info to her."

"And what will you do while I'm gone?" Azerenka wondered.

"Figure out how to screw up Maret's plans as best as I can," Gerin promised.

"What about Krystal?" Azerenka asked about Gerin's younger sister.

"She's still the mayor and will be on Maret's 'to visit' list. She'll probably spend an hour screwing his brains out," Gerin sighed, "She'll suck up to anyone that will give her wealth and power and around here that's the Cardassians."

"Rumor has it she...pleased Evek in exchange for certain favors," Azerenka was revolted.

"I wish they were only rumors," Gerin made a face.

"God, that's so disgusting," Azerenka felt sick.

"No, disgusting is listening her brag about how Cardassian penises are ribbed for her pleasure," Gerin was feeling queasy as well.

"You're right," Azerenka was ashen as she headed for the door, "I could use the air."

Gerin was sorry she'd had to resort to bringing up her sister's vile escapades but it least it had worked.

Ro had been summoned to hear Donner and Hemingway's report. Tulley accompanied her. Donner had a personnel file open.

"No one hit any records outside of Brittany Darque," Donner reported, "Darque is a FSS agent as reported."

"She attractive," Tulley mused.

Ro wondered if Tulley realized there was a striking resemblance between Darque and Ro herself. She decided to be amused rather than worried. Donner and Hemingway also looked somewhat mirthful.

"There's a catch, Aric. Genetically she's male," Donner told him.

"Oh," Tulley blinked. Transgenders were fully embraced in the Federation but to the best of his knowledge he'd never met one. He supposed he still hadn't.

"I've never met a transgendered person," Tulley shared.

"Odds are you have already and just didn't realize it," Hemingway ventured, "Given modern science and medical practices only pre-op transgenders are obvious once disrobed. Those who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery would be practically impossible to spot but there are means."

"Like what?" Tulley couldn't help but ask.

"A female-to-male transgender will still retain their labial lips despite the construction of a penis," Donner pointed out, "And male-to-female vulvas and vaginas may be nearly indistinguishable but they aren't self lubricating during sex. External lube has to be applied."

Tulley paled while Hemingway continued, "The point is, there's a disparity between their minds and their genetically dictated gender. So science just matches the body with the mind."

Tulley reeled as he recalled his affair with Linda Thorndike before he'd married his wife. She'd complained about being "dry" but now he wondered if there was a deeper implication. He certainly hadn't been able to tell a difference.

"Okay, I'm not being fair," Tulley admitted.

"No, you're being a sexist pig," Donner accused.

Tulley vaguely wondered if Donner was holding back some pertinent information from the group.

Azerenka entered the shuttleport bar called the Old Biddy and wondered if she'd ever been in a seedier example. She figured she had but she couldn't remember when to save her life. Her business attire was distinctly out of place in the working sentient's atmosphere of the place.

She saw the bartending staff was currently made up of two human women and a Bajoran male. The women were both blonde despite one of them being of African descent. The Caucasian woman sent the darker skinned server out into the floor and then started to head for a door that could conceivably lead to an office.

Azerenka approached Frink, "Hi, I'm looking to pass a message on to Ro Laren."

"You and half the law enforcement in the DMZ," Frink retorted glibly.

"I need to get a message to her about Gul Maret," Azerenka insisted.

Frink stopped in her tracks, "What's that to me?"

"Aric Tulley once told me I could contact him through somebody on your staff," Azerenka rolled the dice, "I'm betting you know who that is."

"I may be able to contact someone who could in turn contact Tulley," Frink hedged, "Who would I say is sending the original message?"

"I'm Vicki Azerenka and I'm..." she began before being interrupted.

"I voted for your boss," Frink cut her off, "She's good people. I'm guessing you are too if she trusts you with this."

"If you could only..." Azerenka began.

"Shh. Just tell me the message," Frink requested, "And I'll pass it on to my friend who will pass it on as well."

Azerenka's bullshit detector was running in overdrive. Frink was going to call Tulley directly. But she played the game.

"Order up and I'll be back in a minute," Frink went into the office so Azerenka sidled up to the bar and requested a shot of vodka from the Bajoran behind the counter.

Azerenka was nursing a shot glass when Frink left the office and was muttering to herself as she approached, "Mule headed jackass."

"Problem?" Azerenka asked.

"None where you're concerned," Frink grumped, "I spoke with Aric and he vouched for you and your boss."

"And you were waiting for some other kind of response," Azerenka guessed.

"That obvious, huh?" Frink sat down on the stool next to Azerenka's.

"You're carrying a torch and he's oblivious," Azerenka continued.

Frink buried her face in her hands, "God, I'm pathetic."

"No, it just takes one to know one," Azerenka downed her shot and ordered up.

"I heard you were dating some mining heir," Frink admitted.

"'Was' being the operative word. Until I looked into why he and his sister were always disappearing together. Catching them having sex in every conceivable way, and then bragging about how they'd been doing it together since hitting puberty, just kind of soured the relationship," Azerenka confessed, "And don't go the whole pining away after the boss route, it sucks just as hardcore."

"You and Stephanie Gerin?" Frink was surprised.

"I'm not about gender," Azerenka clarified, "I'm about the person. And Steph is the one person that hasn't lied to me and used me."

"Well, Aric doesn't have any sisters and he is still carrying a torch for his wife. But the Cardies killed her and the kids so they're not so much rivals as pedestals to climb. And I think he's got it for Ro," Frink assessed.

"Well, tell him from me lusting after the boss rarely works out," Azerenka downed her shot and caught the Bajoran's attention.

"How many have you had?" Frink was getting worried.

"I lost count after four," Azerenka admitted.

"This isn't synthehol. You're facing real consequences here," Frink warned her.

"How does a dive like this get real alcohol?" Azerenka wondered, "No offense."

"None taken," Frink laughed, "Let just say we have an arrangement with the customs inspectors. Bribes are cheaper than tariffs."

"My god, it's a real life speakeasy. That's too cool," Azerenka was definitely feeling it now.

"Hab, I'm stepping out," Frink got Azerenka to her feet, "Can you point me to where you live?"

"Yeah," Azerenka said uncertainly, "I'm pretty sure."

The Bajoran watched them leave the establishment and returned to polishing glasses with a simple, "Meh."

 

Chapter Two

"We're exiting the Kalandra Sector and crossing into the Bajor Sector," Ebert announced.

"Take us to the nearest Starfleet checkpoint and route their inquiries to me," Macen instructed as he left the center seat and headed aft towards the briefing room.

The briefing room also served a secondary function as Macen's ersatz Ready Room. The door whistled after he entered and he bade the computer to open it. Christine Lacey strolled in.

"Mudd has finally settled down," the ship's weapons officer reported, "Or at least he isn't constantly protesting every second of the day."

"Has he tried to escape yet?" Macen wondered.

"Yet?" Lacey scoffed, "That's all he's been doing. He actually created enough of a power surge to warrant Tom and Heidi checking out the cell."

Tom Eckles was the ship's chief engineer and Heidi Darcy served as his engineer's mate. Macen shook his head, "I take it there was nothing wrong."

"Well, the lights inside the cell were out but otherwise there was no damage," Lacey smirked.

"You seem to have it in for Mudd," Macen observed.

"Before my parents could arrange off world passage for me to have my hormones adjusted to female norms I had to take a load of pills," Lacey recalled, "Mudd was one of the only suppliers to our colony. Anyway, he found a more profitable venue and stopped coming. You've never lived through your body going from what it should be back into what it was."

"Luckily," Macen agreed, "And Mudd did it out of simple greed. No wonder you hold a grudge."

"Grudge?" Lacey scoffed, "He messed with my self identity. Grudge doesn't cover it."

"Maybe you should tell Mudd about your shared history," Macen suggested.

"And I think I'll warn him certain emasculation awaits him if he gets out of that cell on his own initiative," Lacey brightened.

"Fates be with you," Macen called after her as she exited.

Macen sat down and picked up a waiting padd when the door chimed again, "What is this? A revolving door?"

The door opened to reveal Lisea Danan. Danan was a former Starfleet astrocartographer and his partner in crime. She had been his partner in life as well but had recently moved out of their shared quarters for a room of her own. Macen had a bad feeling that issue was about to be revisited.

"Took you long enough," Danan teased but he knew she often hid cutting remarks behind humor. It seemed to be a Trill thing.

"And how exactly was I supposed to know it was you?" Macen asked.

Danan's eyebrow arched as if to ask who else would it be. Instead she said, "Look, I'm just here to run interference."

"Between Starfleet and the ship?" Macen had to ask.

"Between T'Kir and you," Danan clarified.

"Ah," Macen had been right. They were going to revisit the reason behind the breakup.

"Brin, she only listens to you. And you're the only one that can get her cooperation in anything," Danan accused, "Don't you find that suspicious?"

"Not really," Macen confessed, "We all know how fragile T'Kir's mental and emotional states are."

"She's a nut job," Danan accused.

"Actually she's surprisingly stable for a Vulcan who is also one of a half dozen survivors from her home colony," Macen replied.

"She wasn't there!" Danan was growing exasperated, "She was off world when the massacre on Shial happened."

"And so was every other survivor," Macen pointed out, "That's why they survived."

"You're kidding," Danan was disappointed, "You're going to take her side?"

"I didn't know there were sides," Macen admitted, "Look this line of debate opened up when I started having private session with T'Kir trying to bring some balance into her life."

"Something I've always objected to," Danan reminded him, "And as your first officer you should consider my advice a little more."

"If I could be certain it was advice and not some jealous fit, I would," Macen regretted the words the moment he said them.

"Jealous?" Danan fumed, "Who the hell gives you the right to accuse me of jealousy?"

"It would be a natural reaction to what you think is happening," Macen told her.

"Shows what you know!" Danan snapped, "That little mind witch has openly threatened me and I've gotten no help from you."

"T'Kir is highly volatile and reacts to any threat, real or imagined," Macen shrugged.

"So I'm just supposed to bend over and take it up the ass?" Dana raged.

"Probably," Macen honestly didn't have an answer.

Danna stormed out. Macen sighed and started a five count. In truth he only counted down to 2 before the door chimed. Standing before it, he wasn't surprised when it opened to reveal T'Kir.

"What did y'say t'Lees?" T'Kir eagerly inquired.

Macen stepped around T'Kir and saw that only Ebert was still with her on the bridge, "What's our current status, Tracy?"

"We're in the queue to end all queues," Ebert grumbled.

Macen knew most teenagers weren't the pilots for a starship while fighting a guerilla war for the Maquis. But Ebert wasn't one of them. The Cardassians had slaughtered her family while they boarded her family's freighter. They'd inexplicably left her alive. So after they'd left she limped along to DS9 and then sold the ship to a shipping concern on Bajor.

Returning to the DMZ, she loitered about while trying to make contact with the Maquis. Instead, one of Waters' contacts had found her and passed on her information to the former admiral. Waters in turn knew Macen was trying to assemble a crew. The Odyssey had come later.

So Ebert had become a starship pilot. And it wasn't anywhere near as interesting as she'd thought it be. The Odyssey served as a reconnaissance vessel and not an active combat unit. Macen knew it frustrated her to fly through Cardassian space and visit Cardassian colonies without raining fire down upon them. But such was life.

"Tracy, go do something fun for a while," Macen ordered, "I'll let you know when we're ready to proceed."

Ebert looked ready to protest. But in the end she merely shrugged and complied. As the turbolift doors shut behind Ebert, T'Kir eagerly whirled on Macen.

"Finally! We're alone!" she said with relish.

"We need to talk about Lees," Macen warned her.

"What's t'discuss?" T'Kir pouted, "She hates me."

"That's not necessarily true," Macen replied.

"Then why the qualifier?" T'Kir arched her eyebrows with her fist planted akimbo on her hips.

Damn, she's got me there, Macen was suddenly glad T'Kir couldn't read his mind.

"Well?" T'Kir impatiently asked.

Her OPS console started beeping, "Damn!"

"Is it Starfleet?" Macen asked as she checked her display.

"No," she huffed, "It's that old guy y'always talk to," T'Kir frowned.

"Patch it into the briefing room," Macen started heading aft again.

"What if Starfleet does actually call?" T'Kir looked close to panic.

"Stall them," he shrugged.

The doors closed before he could see her tongue stick out at him. She muttered, "Stall 'em, my precocious ass."

Waters explained the situation with Gul Maret's cruiser parked over Ronara Prime, "So you may wish to stay away for a time."

"I'll take it under advisement," Macen replied tartly.

"Alynna also wants to know what Mudd has to sell," Waters added.

"I'll tell her as soon as I know, satisfied?" Macen lied.

Waters could see his old friend's intent, "You're playing a dangerous game here. You're actually falling in with these people. I can't support that. I'll be recommending that Alynna terminate the mission."

"Go ahead," Macen replied, "First you'd have to physically remove me from the DMZ."

"Listen to yourself!" Waters snapped, "Don't throw away your career. The Maquis aren't worth it."

"I sat on the sidelines for the first ten years of the Cardassian conflicts," Macen grated, "I read reports and analyzed troop movements. Then I was actually sent into the field with Elias Vaughn. I saw people die every day as the Cardassians ravaged their colonies. Now Starfleet has withdrawn its support and the people are dying in even greater numbers. I am not going to abandon them when their need is even greater than ever before."

"Dammit man! They're terrorists!" Waters hissed.

"Or they're freedom fighters. It all depends on your perspective," Macen retorted, "And perspective defines our personal realities."

"Don't do this," Waters pleaded.

"It's already done," Macen terminated the connection. He knew Waters had sacrificed the beginning of his retirement to serve as Macen's handler. It had been a personal favor to him and to Nechayev. Favors always came to an end.

Macen stepped out into the bridge, "Miss me?"

"F'r the luvva..." T'Kir growled, "What took y'so long? I've run outta ways t'stall these bastards."

"Patch them into the Library console," Macen instructed, "I'll deal with them there."

"Sure, laugh it up. I'll get y'later. I swear it," T'Kir offered fair warning.

"I'm sure you'll try," Macen chuckled, "Call Tracy back to the bridge. We'll be leaving in a minute."

Macen submitted the proper forms and they were cleared to enter the DMZ. Danan accompanied Ebert back onto the bridge. The turbolift doors opened just as Macen stepped off the rear dais. T'Kir flung herself into his arms and wrapped her own around his neck and gave him an all consuming kiss.

Breaking free, T'Kir flashed a wicked smile Danan's way, "Y'should ask him how comfy the briefing room table c'n be. Or d'you already know that?"

Ebert took off her spectacles and checked them to see if their Heads Up Display was interfering with her vision. Dana angrily pushed past Macen. Macen feebly started to say her name but her scathing glare cut him short.

"I'm sure you did," Danan snorted derisively.

Ebert just gaped at them. Macen sighed and turned to her, "We really need to get underway,"

"Um...okay?" Ebert was uncertain of how to respond so she just slid into the CONN station and began to input instructions and the ship slid forward and then got underway.

T'Kir sat beside her at OPS and practically hummed with satisfaction. She felt Macen's gaze on her back and she turned her head to wink at him. Danan growled in disgust from the Science station. Macen had to admit T'Kir was good to her word.

At Ronara Prime's planetary constabulary headquarters, Chief Constable Elin Karak had just finished briefing SAIC Prine. But Prine knew the constabulary was merely a tool of the Central Command. They supplied the Cardassian paramilitary groups on the planet with intel and arms. Assassinations were explained away as suicides. Mass killings of Federation colonists were whisked away as having been done by Maquis extremists.

Prine knew the Federation's Starfleet liaison with the Colonial Affairs Council on Volon III smelled bullshit but she couldn't get anyone outside of Starfleet to listen to her. Commander Milla Roberts had replaced Calvin Hudson in the post. She and her staff gathered as much testimonial evidence as they could against the Cardassian efforts in the DMZ but Starfleet only seemed concerned with capturing...or "neutralizing" the Maquis.

Prine reported to Roberts and instead was received by Lt. Commander Rodrigo. Rodrigo's features on the screen scowled, "I was informed of your mission, SAIC Prine. My security attaché will be coordinating with you on this matter. The Colonial Affairs Council has scheduled a referendum vote as a direct result of the Joint Taskforce that you led. They're expected to go from tacitly supporting the Maquis to throwing official endorsements of their cause towards the various Maquis cells."

"I was told I would be working with Commander Roberts," Prine didn't appreciate Rodrigo's scorn.

"Commander Roberts is trying to persuade the council to adopt a less provocative stance. As you probably can't imagine, that is talking up all of her time. As Starfleet's chief of security for the mission here on Volon III your efforts fall under my purview. As such, I'm foisting you off onto Lt. Harris. Good day."

The transmission segued to a Federation symbol as Prine was transferred from Rodrigo to Harris, "Sunovabitch."

Bloomingdale and Cusack shared office space with him and they looked over at his desk as he grumbled, "Bastard just can't foist me off on to a subordinate."

"It seems he already has," Bloomingdale quipped.

Dara Harris filled his screen and Prine was shocked by her appearance. She had a thick faux hawk atop her head and the sides were cut to a fine brown stubble. She also had a silver nose ring in each nostril and two black triangular earrings in each ear. She was amused by his consternation.

"I'm a Troglyte from Ardana IV. I was adopted as a child by humans. But they respected my culture and let me keep my tribal markings," Harris explained.

"I didn't think Starfleet allowed jewelry on active duty personnel," Prine admitted.

"Bajorans are allowed to wear their religious earrings now so why shouldn't Troglyte customs be accommodated?" Harris wondered.

Prine didn't know why but he wagered his brother Alec would, "Look Lt. Harris, I'm just after a little information."

"What type and why?" Harris inquired.

"What other Federation agents are on the ground on Ronara Prime and how do I contact them?" Prine asked.

"Let me get this straight," Harris paused, "your abortive Joint Taskforce has been effectively dismantled and you've returned to the Federation Security Service after being demoted and you want data your own agency won't give you?"

"The FSS left it to your prerogative to assess the strategic implications," Prine wanted to throttle the young woman.

"Let me get back to you," Harris skeptically deferred judgment.

"Why later and not now?" Prine pressed.

"Because I want to talk to your superiors and the n with their permission discuss the matter with the agents themselves and let them decide on whether they want to risk working with you," Harris laid it out, "Understood?"

"No," Prine said between clenched teeth.

"Undercover agents are typically buried within their targets' organizations. For them to risk associating with..." Harris faltered.

Known failures, Prine mentally supplied for her.

"With unknown elements," she finally finished, "It's a risk that might blow months' worth of work and endanger the agents themselves. Capiche?"

Harris signed off and Prine suddenly wondered just where had Harris grown up.

Brittany Darque watched the Falcon land at the shuttleport. Of course, the very name was a misnomer. The shuttleport easily accommodated medium sized freighters as well as shuttles and smaller ships. The Falcon was a family owned and operated medium light freighter of a class typically used by merchantmen across the Federation and beyond dating back to the 23rd century.

Darque had spent months at the port posing as a customs inspector. As such she'd compiled quite a list of suspects. Suspects of course were people Darque thought were covertly supplying the Maquis.

Harry Graff, the Falcon's captain and pilot, delivered contraband to merchants in town and Darque suspected him of running weapons to the Maquis. Many freighter captains brought contraband and arms into Ronara Prime. Some tried bribing her. Others offered exotic wares to get her to look the other way. Her personal favorite was Thadiun Okona. Okona romanced her.

Graff's co-pilot/navigator exited the craft first. He was a long-faced Iburon named Brient. But his local nickname was "Barfly Brett". And as usual, he was headed straight for the Old Biddy.

Graff's daughter, Veronica Jane, came out next and headed straight for Darque with a delighted smile. Ronnie usually handled the inspections while her father locked down the ship and contacted buyers. One of Darque's secret games was to guess which color Ronnie's hair would be when she next saw her. Six weeks ago it had been deep purple. Three weeks later when Ronnie had made planet fall again it had been a shiny silver. Now it was a rather average blonde with an inch of dark roots. Darque was vaguely disappointed.

"Hi, Brittany," Ronnie dutifully handed over the cargo manifest with a perky smile.

"Hi yourself," Darque couldn't help but be swayed by Ronnie's enthusiasm, "Isn't that hair color a little tame for you?"

Ronnie blushed, "Yeah well, I was practically dared to go natural again and I compromised by going blonde. But I'm thinking about letting get natural again just so I could see how it looks. It's been years since I wore it that way."

"You could do worse things," Darque admitted, "And I'm detecting some sense of attachment towards whoever dared you."

Ronnie turned a bright crimson, "Uh...kinda."

"I see you're helping my daughter exercise her vascular system, Agent Darque," Graff chuckled as he arrived to join the party.

Graff was into his seventies and Ronnie was barely twenty. Yet they were fixtures of the local transit lanes. Ronnie had left her mother after she turned thirteen to live with her father on his freighter. Her stepfather and stepsiblings had been more than happy to see her go.

"Yes, she's artfully dodging my questions regarding the mystery man or woman that prompted this latest change," Darque shared.

"She won't even tell me," Graff chuckled.

"Then I guess I'm sworn to secrecy if she should manage to confess," Darque winked conspiratorially to Ronnie.

"Outnumbered and out maneuvered at every turn," Graff mock grumped, "I'll see you both later."

Graff headed towards the Old Biddy to conduct his business there. Darque looked at Ronnie, "You look troubled."

"It's nothing," Ronnie mumbled.

"It doesn't look anything like 'nothing'," Darque remarked, "I know the face of 'trouble' and I know 'nothing'. Guess which one you're reflecting?"

"It's dad," Ronnie sighed, "He plans on leaving the ship and the operator's license to me when he finally retires."

"And you don't know if you want to carry on the family business," Darque correctly guessed.

"It's not exactly like that," Ronnie grew defensive, "I love my life. I wouldn't trade leaving mom and growing up with dad for anything."

"But..." Darque prompted.

"I know what it means to have an actual home. I don't know if I want to forgo that for the rest of my life," Ronnie tried to articulate.

"Particularly when someone somewhere else has caught your eye," Darque got it.

"It was just a fling," Ronnie tried to sound dismissive, "Okay, over a dozen flings over the last year. But he's just one guy."

"Have you had other 'flings' since meeting him?" Darque asked.

"Er...no," Ronnie admitted.

"And you've started being intimate," Darque hazarded.

"Yeah, over six months ago," Ronnie confessed.

"That does complicate matters," Darque said sagely.

"You say it like it's a bad thing," Ronnie accused.

"It's not bad. It's just...complicated," Darque repeated, "When mental calculus has the added weight of emotional math then the numbers sometimes get added sideways."

"I think I get that," Ronnie struggled.

"Look, romantic attachments just skew things," Darque amended.

"Like you and Okona," Ronnie brightened.

God, I hope not, Darque thought but she said, "Case in point. Thadiun has a reputation as a scoundrel and a smuggler. What do you think he would do if I caught him at it? Which is my job, by the way."

"He'd lie and try and get you to look the other way," Ronnie realized, "Which you probably wouldn't do."

"Probably not," Darque agreed.

"Which means it's a good thing we don't carry contraband," Ronnie grinned.

The gleam in her eye let Darque know she was eagerly lying.

The light freighter Official Secrets landed at the other end of the field. Inside, Senior Special Agent Conor Brosnan acted as captain. His pilot was Special Agent Yvainne Beart. Brosnan and Beart had been trying to enter the Maquis' supply pool for several months now. The DMZ Freight Delivery service had arranged for a meeting with a client who wanted crews to ferry "high risk" cargoes and were willing to pay extra for them.

The Boslic captain, Rionoj, had recommended Waters' agency to them so, given Rionoj's reputation, they figured it was a pipeline to the Maquis. They'd met with Russia Dawes and she'd compiled an agency profile on the ship and crew. Hana Rynn had taken them on as a client and she had arranged for their current meet.

Brosnan and Beart waited at a table in the Old Biddy. They spotted Vera Dragonuv and Tom Hennessy arrive and ask Frink if she knew the special agents. Pointing them out, Frink paid extra attention as the Maquis sat down with the ostensible freighter crew.

"Are you Captain Brosnan?" Hennessy asked with a Gaelic lilt.

Brosnan sized up the man. Hennessy still hadn't lost the Irish cultural traits from his youth whereas Brosnan had left Ireland as a teenager and now bore a Public School accent, "I am."

The Maquis sat down and Dragonuv asked a question with a Ukrainian accent lingering in her voice, "And you are?"

"I am Beart," she answered in French laden English.

"So it seems we're all present," Hennessey said with mock cheer, "God save all here."

Brosnan estimated Hennessy was at least ten years younger than his own sixty-three. And the man was in fantastic shape. He had the body language of a trained killer or soldier. And the eyes to match. He was cagey but cool and gave little away.

Brosnan rotated his ale mug so the handle pointed at the door. Beart casually mirrored his move. So they both were in agreement that their potential clients were Maquis.

"How does a bar in the DMZ get real Guinness?" Brosnan had to ask.

"It helps not to ask those types of questions around these parts," Hennessy advised them both.

"Sounds like a moral to a story," Beart quipped.

"The referral service said you were up for high risk, high yield cargoes," Dragonuv cut through the banter.

"That's right," Brosnan assured them, "Word is the DMZ is a region of opportunity."

"High risk cargoes can often lead to stints on penal colonies," Hennessy advised them.

"I didn't know you cared," Brosnan retorted.

"We're aware of that," Beart huffed a second later, "Just show us the latinum."

"In due time," Dragonuv cooled tempers, "You buy the shipments and we reimburse plus fifty percent of the price."

"Seventy," Brosnan countered, "After all, we're the ones facing a penal colony."

"Thirty," Dragonuv said slowly.

"That's not how this game works," Brosnan protested.

"Fifteen," Dragonuv countered.

"Take it back to fifty and we're in," Beart decided before the deal was blown.

"Done," Dragonuv agreed.

"Will there be a formal contract or is this a back alley deal?" Brosnan asked.

"What do you think?" Hennessy asked scornfully.

Dragonuv handed a padd to Beart, "Here are the coordinates, your letters of introduction, and your cargo manifest."

"This isn't much," Beart complained.

"Call the referral service and have...who arranged this again?" Dragonuv asked.

"Hana Rynn," Brosnan answered.

"Have Hana fill in you route. We're not in a hurry for delivery. At least not this time," Dragonuv assured them both, "This way everyone wins."

"Oh, and the shipping containers are sealed. We'll know if they've been tampered with or opened. That violates our unwritten contract and voids the deal. You'll have to take it elsewhere and fob it off on some unsuspecting sod," Hennessy warned them.

"Then I guess we'd best get started," Brosnan rose and Beart followed him out.

"They seem...overeager," Dragonuv concluded.

"Their type usually is," Hennessy complained, "Starfleet will sort them out if they're lazy or incompetent."

"I have a feeling the captain vaguely recognized me from somewhere," Dragonuv commented.

"Did you feel the same way?" Hennessy asked.

"Not at all," Dragonuv admitted.

"That's never good," Hennessy realized.

Back aboard the Official Secrets, Brosnan was searching through surveillance imagery of known Maquis operatives. Starfleet had a larger catalog of Maquis across the zone and on Ronara Prime then anyone in the Maquis yet realized. Brosnan quickly determined what he'd suspected.

"We were right," he confirmed with Beart, "The woman is all over these videos. Each time she has a different hair color and a different mode of dress. But she's present in locations before the Maquis show up in force. She's either a scout or the public face for Ro Laren. Probably both."

"Well, Lt. Harris passed on a message. A FSS SAIC named Prine wants to meet," Beart told him.

"Prine? As in the Joint Taskforce disaster?" Brosnan was surprised.

"Apparently one and the same," Beart grimaced.

"Bump the request to Deputy Director Fallon and see what she has to say," Brosnan suggested, "Meanwhile I have to contact Hana Rynn and arrange for more cargo."

 

Chapter Three

Ro gathered a team together. Christina Noble would lead it. But the team itself would be segmented into several sections. Amaktay, Rose Pinter, Kris Solo, Jai Hunter, Nick Locarno, and Emily Rossum would comprise the team. They would receive their shipment from Harry Graff. Typically such cargoes were left behind in rented warehouses and picked up at leisure. But given the nature of this particular cargo, a more personalized touch had been chosen.

The cargo came in three containers. One carried phaser rifles and pistols with three power packs per weapon. The second container contained two photon grenade launchers, an isomagnetics disintegrator, a photon mortar and twelve rounds for each. The final container held what warranted the special attention.

Ro had acquired an isolytic torpedo. Subspace weapons had been banned by the third Khitomer Accords but Ro's assault on Outpost 47 relied upon isolating and blinding the surveillance post. The subspace tear would make FTL travel impossible for years to come. And the yield was guaranteed to isolate three star systems around Outpost 47. So resupply or evacuation would be possible but it would be a lengthy and costly process. The station itself would likely be permanently damaged.

Ro found it ironic that even the Cardassians had joined the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, the Breen, the Tholians, the Gorn, and the Ferengi in outlawing the weapon type. But rogue groups such as the Son'a still produced them and sold them to interested parties. That the Son'a would deal with the Maquis had been a surprise. A slave labor operation run by the Son'a in Cardassian space had been shut down by the Maquis. But they seemed to view weapons sales as lucrative enough to make up for lost revenues on other fronts.

Korepanova's strategic planning group on DS9 had analyzed the potential repercussions before recommending approval for the project from Hudson. Korepanova's group was tied to the Bajoran Militia. Acted as consultants for the Militia. Those contacts proved Benjamin Sisko and the Starfleet presence on Deep Space Nine were ignorant of Ro's plan. And Ro had financed the purchases with funds derived from Macen's accounts that were part of his cover as a "free trader". A nautical term for "pirate".

The banquet was underway and despite their protests, Gerin and Azerenka were in attendance. White had indirectly threatened Gerin's office assistant and foster daughter, Nikki Miller. Azerenka had seen Gerin in suits and skirts but never a ball gown. To say she was amazed would have been an understatement.

"God, you look beautiful," Azerenka breathed.

"And so do you," Gerin promised.

"I look like a serf next to you," Azerenka complained.

"Vicki, you're twenty-three. At forty, I have to spend four hours a day in the gym to keep my ass half as perky as yours," Gerin complained.

"You think my ass is perky?" Azerenka's heart soared.

"Do I have to repeat you're only twenty-three? Of course your ass is perfect," Gerin was incredulous at the line of reasoning here.

Azerenka didn't know whether to be insulted at Gerin's unintentional slight towards her age or be ecstatic that Gerin thought at least part of her was perfect. Or that she'd noticed at all. Azerenka saw Maret enter the room.

"Look at him," she sneered, "Have you ever seen a Cardassian so in love with his own reflection?"

"He does seem to be having eye sex with every reflective surface in the room," Gerin mused.

"Oh shit! He's headed straight for us," Azerenka hissed.

"My, you two look so appetizing that I could eat you both," Maret oozed lascivious "charm".

"But you won't try to," Gerin advised him, "Or you'll eat those teeth of yours."

"Oh really?" this greatly amused Maret, "And how would you propose feeding me my teeth?"

"You don't know who this is, do you?" Azerenka asked.

"Should I?" Maret flippantly inquired.

"Before Stephanie Gerin entered politics she was a two time contestant at the Olympics," Azerenka enjoyed saying.

Maret was fascinated, "My people never participated in your farcical 'Olympics' but I understand a wide range of supposedly sentient creatures do. Tell me, which events did you compete in?"

"Judo and Greco-Roman wrestling," Gerin shared, "Three golds and a silver."

"Would you care to wrestle me?" Maret laughed.

"I know about your little harem of human 'comfort women'," Gerin warned him, "I also know most of them are sex trade professionals. I suppose you could unofficially count my sister as one of them. But get this, you'd have to kill me and pleasure yourself with my cooling corpse before I'd agree to have sex with you."

"How dare you!" Maret was instantly enraged.

"Heads up, sport. Cardassians aren't known as the nice guys in the universe. You're arrogant, exploitive, and unmercifully cruel. In fact, you're universally renowned as pretentious pricks," Gerin was enjoying herself now, "Do you know what drew me into politics?"

"I'd supposed it was to follow the wise example of your younger sister," Maret sniffed.

"No, Krystal's favorite games are sex and politics, in that order. I'm sure you've already sampled what she has to offer," Gerin elaborated, "My husband and I ran a gymnasium where I taught and coached young to teenage girls and managed a few local athletes. My husband had created and operated an interplanetary league that was a sports coalition. One day a squad of Cardassians arrived at our doorstep and ordered us to cease and desist all activities and transfer control of our gym to the Central Command."

"When my husband refused, they executed him on the spot," Gerin's voice was very low and full of menace now, "Then they tried to get 'comfort' from me. I crippled five of them before the last knocked me out and locked me in the broom closet where the janitor later found me."

"They hung my husband's body from a light pole and falsified the deed transfer," Gerin's eyes bored into the back of Maret's skull, "After all; these 'heroes of Cardassia' couldn't admit to anyone that a lone woman had inflicted that much damage. I wasn't allowed to bury my husband's remains after the birds finished picking at his corpse because it was 'evidence'. When the special election for lt. governor began, I threw my hat in."

"So just imagine how willing I'm going to be to bed one of you scum," Gerin grated.

Maret clapped his hands, "Garresh Merek, I want these women taken into custody and transferred to my ship!"

"Not so fast," Prine stepped in, "What's their crime, besides turning down your advances?"

"Sedition," Maret hissed, "She attacked Cardassian troopers."

"Actually they were posing as civilians," Gerin added.

"Yet the so-called colonists would've had to file charges but Ms. Gerin's file is clean. So what you're reacting to is hearsay," Prine informed Maret, "And I won't let you take these women into custody."

"I could simply have them killed," Maret leered, "And as she put it, pleasure myself with their corpses."

"The Federation wouldn't ignore outright murder," Prine warned him.

"Why?" Maret laughed, "It does so every day."

"Could I quote you on that?" Bloomingdale asked from behind Prine as she took a recording of the events with a tricorder.

"Ms. Gerin and Ms. Azerenka haven't broken any laws," Prine reiterated.

"Maybe not Federation laws but on Cardassia there are very real punishments when a woman defies a man," Maret snarled.

"This isn't Cardassian nor is it actually Cardassian territory," Cusack stepped in.

Maret's hateful glares would have sliced flesh, "Very well. Governor White, Ms. Gerin has just resigned."

"Oh my, we'll have to call another election," White fretted.

"No!" Maret raged, "No more elections! Cardassia will appoint governors and constables. The colonists be damned!"

"Great sound bite," Bloomingdale chuckled.

"SAIC Prine, I expect that recording in exchange for the women's lives," Maret demanded.

"Kate," Prine nodded at her.

She smirked as she pulled the data rod out of the tricorder. She handed it to Maret. He positively looked like a cat with a canary between its fangs.

"They have fifteen minutes to clear their trash out of the Government House," Maret decided, "Governor White, this party bores me. I'm returning to my ship."

The Cardassians marched out of the hall. Prine looked over to Bloomingdale, "You've still got it, I trust."

Bloomingdale grinned as she held up the actual data rod, "Of course."

"It's no wonder Cardassia is frozen in misogyny," Caruthers grumbled.

"What news service reporters are here tonight?" Prine asked.

"Clarice Starr of the Federation News Service, Deepika Padu of the United News Corporation, and a local affiliate reporter named Jane Martowski," Bloomingdale said crisply.

"Get that recording to them. Make as many copies as they need and then join us at Government House," Prine ordered, "Ladies, Maret strikes me as a very vengeful man. Allow my agents and I the honor of escorting you there and to safety afterwards."

"Didn't you used to work with the Cardassians?" Azerenka asked in bewilderment.

"Let's just say it was a steep learning curve," Prine said ruefully, "But your statements weren't very conducive to keeping the peace."

"I paid for peace with my husband's life," Gerin snapped, "I think I've bled enough for the cause."

"Point taken. But my agents and I will at least see you safely home," Prine insisted.

"I need to call my office assistant and have her meet us at our soon to be former offices," Gerin did her own insisting.

"Do it," Prine unsuccessfully tried to suppress a groan.

The FSS agents were startled to discover Nikki Miller was only sixteen year sold. She'd been one of hundreds orphaned by the Cardassians' push into the DMZ colonies. Miller had been a former student of Gerin's, and after the death of Gerin's husband and Miller's parents, Gerin had arranged for Miller's two younger twin sisters to be sent into the Federation. Miller herself insisted on staying. She'd been working odd jobs and moonlighting as a cabaret singer.

Gerin had taken her in and given steady employment on top of living quarters. The agents were also startled by Miller's appearance. Pale beyond measure, she'd also bleached her hair platinum white but had let three inches of jet black roots grow out. It gave her an otherworldly appearance. And with the gravitas of her demeanor it was easy to forget she was merely a teen.

While Azerenka and Miller did the actual clearing out, stuffing items and padds into duffel bags Miller had brought with her, Gerin kept the Federation security agents occupied. Cusack asked the obvious question, "Isn't that kid a little young to be working for you?"

"Nikki's an orphan and was providing for her younger sisters by singing in bars and clubs. Her synthpop stylings are quite popular. She could probably make a living at it," Gerin shared, "I gave her a roof to stay under but she was kind enough to come work for me."

"And your friend? The chief of staff?" Caruthers wondered.

"Vicki lives with her mothers and takes care of them when she's not taking care of Nikki and I," Gerin said warmly, "She was engaged to be married. For about thirty minutes."

"Why was it called off?" Bloomingdale wondered.

Gerin told them the whole torrid story and she was delighted when they all looked queasy afterwards, "And in case you're wondering, after Vicki left the equation the sibs decided to pull a Pharaoh of old and just started openly having sexual relations with each other. Apparently they found being 'outed' quit liberating."

"But there are laws," Caruthers practically gagged.

"But if you have enough latinum or leks no Cardassian based law official will enforce them," Gerin assured them, "Just recently her former fiancé announced his new engagements. To both his mother and his sister. And my sister, the mayor, will be officiating at our beloved sector commander's request."

Watching everyone's gag reflex go into overdrive amused Gerin, "And these are the same people you're here to help. Makes you feel good about yourselves, doesn't it?"

"We aren't here to serve Cardassia's interests," Prine insisted, "We're at the behest of the Federation Council to apprehend the Maquis."

"Which serves Cardassia's interest," Gerin said sagely, "It's a vicious circle. But once the Maquis are removed, so does any and all restraint against Cardassia's ambitions in the colonies."

"How can you say that?" Bloomingdale wondered.

"Because the Maquis are the only ones doing anything about my husband's death, the deaths of Nikki's parents, and the deaths of hundreds on this planet alone," Gerin angrily replied.

"You don't want justice, you want vengeance," Cusack accused.

"At this point they're one and the same," Gerin coldly told him, "If the Cardies choke on enough losses, they'll eventually pull out."

"This isn't Bajor," Prine warned her, "It won't work here."

"Only because the Federation is helping the Cardassians instead of staying out of it," Gerin argued, "If the Federation were to stay on their side of their border, then the Cardassians would be left to fight alone. And they would lose. They don't have the collective will for this type of fight. They're simply bullies with particle beam weapons."

"Like I said, this isn't Bajor. These are Federation colonies that will obey Federation laws and the terms of our treaty with Cardassia," Prine grated.

"No, these were Federation colonies. Now they're in neutral space and administrated by the Cardassian Union. The Federation sold our souls to the devil and yet still want their due. I say you can all go to hell," Gerin said slowly.

While the agents bristled to varying degrees, Azerenka and Miller finished up, "Ahem, we're done here."

Gerin heard Miller's interruption and subsided, "All Right Nikki, hand me something to carry."

Gerin received one of the heavier packs and a duffel. Azerenka had a similar load. Miller just had a backpack. It seemed incongruous for the ladies to be wearing formal attire and lugging around heavy articles. Only Miller wore jeans, boots, a halter top and a zippered hoodie.

"We could..." Prine began to offer.

"You can go back to the party," Gerin insisted, "We'll be fine."

"I think you killed the party," Caruthers quipped.

"No great loss then," Azerenka remarked. The trio left unescorted. Bloomingdale was pensive.

"Should we have Summer follow them?" she asked.

Prine considered it. The former Starfleet cadet and now a probationary Federation Security Service agent and was already incognito, "Good idea."

He gave Gleeson her marching orders and turned to see Cusack staring at a padd, "What do you have?"

"I thought it best to look up Gerin and Azerenka's kin in case of further reprisals. Gerin only has the girl, Miller. Azerenka though has two mothers. Her biological mother is a Natalia Azerenka and her other mother is an Anaer shen."

"I always wanted to be a shen!" Caruthers suddenly babbled.

"Excuse me?" Bloomingdale was startled.

"Think about it, the two male Andorian and Aenar sexes have to mate with the shen simultaneously before she can be impregnated and then she transfers the zygote to the zhen who brings the baby to term. It's awesome!"

"Gina, you need to get laid in the worst possible way," Bloomingdale scolded her.

"That's what I'm saying," Caruthers protested.

"I'm never one to turn down a teammate in need," Cusack offered.

"You're married," Caruthers did her own scolding.

"It's a very open marriage," Cusack oozed.

"Can I tell you the ick facto here ranks right up with the incestuous family affair?" Caruthers retorted.

"Not all of us are narrow minded," Cusack laughed.

"And not all of us are philandering pieces of shit," Caruthers shot back.

""Children, while you've been squabbling I dispatched Agent Gleeson to tail our intrepid, and potentially treasonous, trio. It should prove interesting to see who they will turn to in this moment of crisis," Prine announced.

"You can be one cold-hearted son of a bitch," Bloomingdale said with approval, "I like it."

"So we're agreed on this," Gerin surmised.

"I'm all in," Azerenka assured her.

"Then you'd best move in with Nikki and I," Gerin suggested, "We still have a spare bedroom and if we're suspected, your parents might become targets."

"Yeah, mom and momma would probably be dangled as bait to catch us. I'll see if I can get them to relocate outside the zone," Azerenka was saddened by the prospect but her heart had skipped a beat at Gerin's invitation.

""Which brings us to you, Nikki. You're the hub this revolves around," Gerin pointed out.

"You know I love singing," Miller replied with an eager grin, "And if I get to perform while you and Vicki do some good, who am I to say 'no'?"

"Good, because I'd probably die of a broken heart if I had to send you away now," Gerin confessed.

Miller threw herself into Gerin's arms and held her tight, "I'm not going anywhere. You're stuck with me."

"So we're headed to the Old Biddy?" Azerenka grinned, "Because I looked up who's performing this weekend. It's the Carlton sisters."

"Wow!" Miller gleamed with excitement.

Gerin had met Fiona and Apple Carlton. Apple was the elder by almost ten years and she was the instrumentalist. Fiona was the vocalist but could also play the piano when needed to."

"I need to talk to their agent and get a feel for how the business end of things is managed," Gerin realized, "After all, bookings pay better than open mike auditions and also travel more."

"Oh. My. God. I'm going to be the singing spy. They haven't even made holodramas about that yet!" Miller enthused.

Gerin and Azerenka shared a wry look. Miller would either learn to curb her enthusiasm or she'd face a firing squad. Or even worse, be consigned to a labor camp where she would be raped to death.

In the hidden Maquis base, Ro watched the overhead tactical display. It showed the Cardassian warship and several dozen heavy freighters in orbit over Ronara Prime. She looked down at the table before her. Its surface display tracked the constabulary as well as every known location utilized by Cardassian paramilitaries. They were all displayed in yellow.

Blue dots also moved across the planet's surface headed to the outlier settlements. This team was composed of Natalie Donner and Liam Hemingway. They were going to a mining camp to sabotage operations. The resultant disruption would make Azerenka's former fiancé late meeting his Cardassian set ore allocations and in turn ramp up the pressure on the entire family.

The Maquis pair had frequently toured the area in their former lives. But as Ro activated a third filter, the Federation's agents on the planet displayed in red. It seemed Maret had arrived in time to cast a net around Ronara Prime. In addition, the cargo containing the isolytic weapon had been inspected by an undercover security agent. No one knew if she'd detected the torpedo or not.

Ro had sent out Noble's team with a word of caution but little else. And doing so killed Ro. She was used to action. She was a doer not a wait and see type. If it hadn't been for Thool and Tulley threatening to stun her and lock her away, she would have relieved Noble and taken over the mission.

But Noble had understood Ro's concerns and Christina was prepared to take measures. Which left Ro with one lingering query. Where the hell was the Odyssey? Macen and his crew were five hours overdue. Which couldn't bode well.

Darque had contacted Prine in an effort to leave the Cardassians out of matters. But he'd brought the constabulary anyway. Darque had been dismayed to watch Ronnie eagerly follow Graff to the warehouse they'd offloaded the contraband in. Prine also seemed unnerved.

"I have an agent her age in the Old Biddy," he shared, "We'll do everything to take her down easy."

"As soon as we wrap up here, you can collect your agent," Darque promised.

Prine blinked. Darque was only six to eight years older than Ronnie or Gleeson. Yet she was the calmest of all of them. But that was only because Darque refused to let anyone see her panic.

Noble met with Graff and Ronnie. Noble was Gerin's age and a seasoned combat vet with the Maquis by now. Ro trusted her judgment and her reactions. So that, above all else, had persuaded Ro to stay behind. And the moment she saw Graff's discomfort, she knew things were going to sour rather quickly.

"I'm out," Graff said gruffly, "No more jumping at shadows. I empathize with your cause but I can't risk it anymore. I have family to think of."

"Dad!" Ronnie snapped, "There's only me and I think it's worth it."

"Now is not the time," Graff angrily retorted.

"You've been saying that all day," Ronnie was getting angrier herself.

"Then why don't you ask her why she's here?" Graff stabbed a finger Noble's way.

"Harrison Graff, I will break that finger if you don't pull it away," Noble said with such menace Graff almost recoiled, "The customs agent you know as Brittany Darque is actually a Federation Security Service operative here on Ronara Prime."

"Christ," Graff ran his hand through his close cropped gray hair.

"Britt?" Ronnie was crushed, "You have to be mistaken."

"I've seen her personnel jacket," Noble told her, "She's been an active agent for seven years."

"What are we going to do about the cargo?" Graff worried, "I can't have it found on my ship."

"It won't be," Noble promised, "Because it's already been offloaded."

"How?" Ronnie wondered.

"I'd rather not say," Noble replied, "Sorry."

"You mean in case they arrest us," Ronnie realized.

"I'm hoping to do all the arresting today," Noble revealed.

"I didn't think you people were set up to take prisoners," Graff was curious.

"There's an asteroid in the Badlands where we've detained a pirate crew. A few FSS agents could probably be used to keep the peace," Noble wore a wicked grin.

"So when are you springing this trap?" Graff asked.

"It's already sprung," Noble assured him.

Bloomingdale and Cusack came in through the rear entrance only to be stunned by Talin Tora and Elfi Hendryks. The Bajoran and the German retreated to Noble's position to lend her support. Meanwhile at the entrance, Amaktay and Kris Solo ambushed Prine and Caruthers. Prine simply called in the constables.

Amaktay was gunned down by Cardassia disruptors. To their dismay, they found the Quarran man still lived. They arranged to take him into custody. Scientists on Cardassia Prime would be very interested in a specimen from the Delta Quadrant.

Solo disarmed Caruthers only to find the agent was proficient in five martial arts and an expert in three more. Solo herself had been a boxer so they dueled until Caruthers knocked Solo out. Incoming fire from the rooftop from the opposing building made everyone seek cover. The return barrage from the constables blew away the entire corner that Jai Hunter was perched upon. A hundred meter fall with concrete landing atop of him killed him instantly.

Three constables surged forward to collect trophies from the dead. Solo had partially come to and dragged herself into an HVAC vent. Rose Pinter tried to fight but the Cardassians overwhelmed her. And as they drug her off they discussed the varied ways they'd explore whether or not her hair was naturally blue. Caruthers shot an accusing glare Prine's way and he merely shrugged.

Nick Locarno and Emily Rossum beamed into Noble's position. Locarno spoke fast, "The transporter relay is set. But we can only transfer two people at a time."

Noble nodded at Talin and Hendryks, "Go!"

Flipping open their clamshell communicators the requested a beam out from the orbiting shuttle. It in turn beamed them back to the surface at the waiting transporter station inside the Maquis headquarters. Noble urged Locarno and Rossum to go next.

"I can wait for any stragglers," she assured them.

Locarno was defiant but Rossum pleaded with him, "C'mon Nick, we can monitor things overhead."

Rossum suddenly screamed and collapsed to the ground with multiple smoking holes in her back. Locarno dropped to his knees and desperately tried to revive her. When he failed, he clutched her body close to him and began to sob such wracking sobs Noble was afraid he was having a seizure.

Darque pushed her way through the Cardassian crowd, "These are my prisoners. Go search the building for more of them."

As the constables dispersed, Darque turned to the Graffs, "Go! Just get out of here and never come back."

Graff pulled Ronnie along while she merely gaped at Darque in disbelief. Noble commented, "That was decent of you."

"Don't thank me because you're still under arrest," Darque warned her.

"Somehow I think the situation is far worse than that," Noble commented evenly.

Darque thought Christina Noble was probably the coldest person she'd ever met. But as Darque had refused to show her anxiety earlier, so Noble was refusing to reward her captors with her grief. But she knew her heart was broken in a way that would never mend. Like Locarno's.

In the end, the Federation forces found Solo, arrested Locarno, and they'd taken Noble without a fight. The Cardassians made off with Amaktay and Pinter. Hunter and Rossum were the only fatalities but Noble knew that was just semantics. Pinter and Amaktay would be dead within hours. One would be dissected, possibly while still alive and the other would gang raped to death in her cell at Constabulary headquarters.

Darque arranged for transportation off of Ronara Prime. Her cover there was blown. And anyone talking to the Graffs would discover her secret anyway.

 

Chapter Four

Inside the Old Biddy, Gerin spoke with Apple Carlton because it turned out she acted as the sisters' manager and agent. She pointed Gerin towards a booking service that she used. Miller spent the time after the show talking with Fiona. Fiona was only four years older than Miller so they had quite a bit in common.

Gerin's plan was simple. They would travel the DMZ and the Federation's border worlds and acquire information for Ro's Maquis cell. People in the venues would be prone to share amidst the alcohol and the emotional rush produced by the music and the dancing. Apple had shared that the booking service could arrange for auditions for musicians to accompany Miller.

After consulting with the Carltons, Gerin gave Frink a message to pass on to Ro. They were proceeding with or without the Bajoran's consent. Frink nodded her understanding.

Prine arrived to collect Gleeson. Gerin gave him a cold look and jerked her head towards where Gleeson was sitting in a corner. Prine almost blushed. It seemed Gleeson's quarry was on to her after all.

"The Cardassian cruiser has broken orbit," Lacey reported. Lacey practically spat the data out. She'd been the security chief for a colonial governor before she barely survived the Cardassians' coup that toppled the government. It had taken Macen all of three seconds to recruit her to the cause.

"Any chatter?" Macen asked T'Kir.

"Yah, the local news rags are talkin' 'bout how the frinxin' Gul Maret didn't like what he found on Ronara Prime. He kicked the lt. governor outta office and evaporated her position," T'Kir shared, "The news hags are sayin' that Maret might be comin' back with a whole invasion force next time."

"Somehow I doubt that or he would've done it already," Macen commented, "Still, where is Starfleet in all of this?"

"Don't know, don't care," T'Kir admitted, "The signals intercepts I got bouncin' back and forth between Maret and the Cardassia Sector are an older code but they're encryption is still pretty tough. And the computer is havin' fraggin' problems translating the Cardassians' stupid ideogram alphabet. Y'need to upgrade y'r translation matrix."

"I thought you were the computer genius," Macen quipped.

"Watch it, buddy," T'Kir growled.

"Tracy, take us into a standard orbit," he instructed Ebert and then he tapped the intercom button on his armrest, "Tom, I'll need you or Heidi in the transporter room inside of ten minutes."

"Seven," Ebert told him

"Make that seven," Macen grinned.

"Got it," Eckles cheerfully replied.

Macen moved to Danan's station. They were both back in neutral corners. But Danan was agitated and it wasn't about anything between them.

"And now we can finally beam down to Ro and deliver Mudd. And then we can finally solve this mystery if it isn't already too late," she said impatiently.

"I thought you were the one always urging caution while I blindly rushed in," Macen commented.

"I am," Danan was exasperated, "But the Cardassians may have already claimed Mudd's prize."

"Maybe, but I doubt it. I think the Spoonheads know what the prize but they don't know where it is," Macen remarked.

"What makes you say that?" Danan wondered.

"Check out our scans of Mudd's ship when we were approaching Starbase 621," Macen instructed.

Danan began reviewing sensor logs, "I don't understand. There's nothing..."

Macen knew she'd spotted it even before she breathed, "A Cardassian life sign."

"Mudd's technical expert to prove the worth of his item," Macen theorized, "He knew he'd need someone to authenticate whatever it is and in fact this person may have even approached Mudd to solicit his services to auction of the data."

"But why didn't anyone else spot him?" Danan asked.

"Mudd's holds were shielded. Our mystery guest was probably in them when the Miradorn blew the ship to hell," Macen guessed.

"By the Pools, Brin. How long did it take you to find this?" Danan wondered, "Because at least I had a time index to look through."

"I found it while we were skirting through the Kalandra Sector," Macen revealed, "I had a feeling Mudd was working with someone."

"And they were in the ship when it was destroyed," Danan realized.

"Unfortunately. We could've used their technical expertise," Macen complained.

"Not to mention someone died," Danan said ruefully.

"It was a Cardassian selling a potential weapon of mass destruction," Macen said coldly, "Forgive me if I forget to weep."

Danan chose to ignore Macen's malice, "Still, Mudd was rather clever to bring an expert on whatever it is to drive the price up."

"I should regale everyone with tales of Mudd's grandfather some time," Macen said with due seriousness.

"What's going to convince Mudd to give us the info we want?" Ebert asked.

"Because Harry Mudd is a survivor," Macen promised while Lacey cracked her knuckles, "And he's adverse to pain. Besides he stands to make a tidy profit and even get a new ship."

"From whom?" Danan asked crossly.

"Ro has a Mosquito-class runabout in inventory since we raided that ship depot. The class is used as a troop and cargo transport. Perfect for Harry's needs," Macen replied, "In fact the ship has been held in reserve precisely for a situation like this."

"Y'knew someone was going to be selling super weapons and they'd need a ship?" T'Kir didn't buy into it.

"Not this exact scenario but something along these lines," Macen rolled his eyes, "That's why Ro agreed to it."

"We're in orbit," Ebert announced.

"Okay, Lees and Tracy, you'll stay aboard with Tom and Heidi," Macen ordered, "We may be making a rapid departure."

"But why take Christine then?" Ebert sounded hurt.

"She'll be handling Mudd," Macen told her.

"I could d'it," T'Kir volunteered.

"I don't want him damaged," Macen warned her off.

"Oh. Right," T'Kir sulked, "But I'm comin' with. Right?"

Macen could feel Danan's gaze in his back, "Of course."

"Good," T'Kir flashed Danan a smug look.

"This is not the way to earn forgiveness," Danan pushed past Macen and got into the turbolift, "Take the next one."

"'Kay," T'Kir said jovially as Lacey joined Macen and gave him a rueful look.

The Odyssey trio immediately knew there was a crisis brewing and Mudd sensed it too. Lacey clamped down hard on his shoulder, "Don't. Even. Think. About. It."

"Not so hard," he whined.

Emjin Thool, the cell's Bolian chief engineer, manned the transporter controls, "Sorry about the confusion but there's been a complete disaster."

"Maybe we should come back later," Mudd suggested before he yelped, "Ow!"

Lacey gave Macen a satisfied look while Thool elaborated a bit, "Christina Noble took a team out. Only Hendryks and Talin made it back. The Federation News Service is running a breaking news story right now."

"We'll catch up with Ro and leave you standing by to receive anyone that comes back," Macen offered.

Thool gave him a grateful look as the trio escorted Mudd further into the base. When they reached the command center, they found Talin and Hendryks looked wracked with guilt. Hendryks was a young woman with silver streaks liberally splashed through her bangs. And not it seemed they were turning white.

"We should have stayed," Talin decided.

"You would have just been capture or killed as well," Ro tried to sound reassuring. But her own guilt clouded everything, "There's no telling what will happen to Amaktay and Rose in Cardassian custody."

"They'll probably end up dissected," Tulley's grimaced, "Hopefully they'll already be dead before the procedure begins."

"The only positive is Darque is out of the customs office," Donner reminded everyone.

"But Harry Graff is running scared," Hemingway left a comm panel, "But Annabeth says Ronnie has a whole new fire in her belly regarding the cause."

"And Maret dissolved the office of lt. governor so Gerin and Azerenka can't help us anymore," Leah Chaste reported.

"Don't count them out yet," Ro advised everyone, "They sent me a message through Annabeth. They're using Gerin's foster daughter to tour the DMZ as entertainers and they'll be reporting the trade gossip and Cardassian boasting during and between shows."

"Nikki is an entertainer?" Talin wondered.

"A singer to be precise, specializing in synthpop stylings," Donner explained, "She was actually making a living at it when Gerin tracked her down and adopted her."

"This could work," Tulley was amazed by that realization.

The comm panel whistled and Tulley answered. He looked up after a moment, "Annabeth is looking for the Donner party."

Macen couldn't help but laugh. Donner shot him an annoyed glance, obviously having got the reference, "Tell Annabeth I'll contact her later."

"Will do," Tulley went back to talking to Frink.

"Care to share with the group?" Ro asked.

Donner shot him a glare so Macen waved Ro off, "It's nothing."

Ro came to confront Mudd, "So you're Harry Mudd."

"Harcourt Fenton Mudd the Third to be precise," he boasted.

"I'm not impressed," Ro decided.

Mudd was a little crestfallen as he did a sweeping bow, "Still, how may I be of service?"

"You can give us details on what you were selling," Ro instructed.

"And how, may I ask, will I be compensated for sharing my precious knowledge?" Mudd shrewdly inquired.

"You'll get to walk out of this facility with both your legs intact," Ro said flatly.

"Come now," Mudd tsked her, "Threats of violence? How gauche."

"You'll receive monetary compensation, extended work contracts with the Maquis and this cell, and you'll get a new ship," Macen interjected to Ro's consternation.

"Do I need one?" Mudd was worried now.

"Thanks to the Miradorn," Macen informed him, "And you'll be needing a new Cardassian partner."

"Ah, Ennis," Mudd did not say fondly, "He was a bit of a reptile. But I daresay you owe me a ship anyway because mine got blown up because of you lot kidnapping me."

"An occupational hazard, Harry," Macen replied, "Do you really think any of your potential buyers were going to let you live and possibly undercut the deal you made with them?"

"Er...I suppose not," Mudd had been planning to do exactly that, "How much currency are we discussing here and what kind of rattle trap ship?"

Ro looked insulted and Mudd apologized, "Sorry m'dear, but you Maquis aren't known for your state of the art equipment."

"Neither are you," Ro growled.

"Touché," Mudd allowed, "Now, about my proposed fee?"

"Fifteen bars of gold pressed latinum and fifty thousand leks," Macen told him.

"Leks, eh? They're negotiable in most civilized ports of call," Mudd mulled it over, "And Ennis only cut me in for a flat fee and the bars of latinum throw the proposition your way. Let's talk ships."

"Ship, singular," Ro warned him, "We have a Starfleet Mosquito-class troop transport/runabout with valid Starfleet ID attached."

"However did you acquire that?" Mudd was fascinated.

"In someone's backyard where they hid it," Ro fended off the question.

"Still, I understand a Mosquito-class requires a crew of four," Mudd wrangled.

"And a skeleton crew of one," Ro dangled before him, "Are you telling me you aren't capable of being 'one'?"

"Harry, it's bigger than the current Danube-class, it'll get you past Starfleet, it's faster than your old freighter, and it's armed and has military grade shields," Macen added.

"Damn, you've almost convinced me," Mudd confessed.

"Take the deal or you'll spend the rest of your life on an asteroid guarded by lava monsters with pirates as your neighbors," Ro thought of Rival and his crew.

"No, no, I accept. After all I have children to think about," Mudd quickly agreed to the terms.

"Kids?' Tulley couldn't quite believe it.

"Mudd the Fourth and my little Harriet," Mudd proudly proclaimed.

"They're both teens now," Ro had read Mudd's criminal record.

"Teenagers need guidance too," Mudd protested.

"They're both in juvenile custody," Ro accused.

"The curse of being an absentee father," Mudd wailed.

"Brin, can I have a word with you?" Ro angrily asked.

They stepped out of the command center and into a nearby conference room. Mudd probed the remaining group for what was coming next, "Nice weather we're having, isn't it?"

"Spare us, Mudd. You're not learning our location," Tulley warned him.

Mudd had been observing T'Kir's mental tics, "Perhaps not."

"You really want to do this?" Ro finally asked of Macen.

"He's perfect for the smuggling role and he has information we vitally need," Macen asserted, "We need to move now or someone else will stumble on what he's hiding and exploits it."

"Fine," Ro huffed, "I'll have Thool prep the Phobos."

"And I'll have T'Kir devise some transponder options," Macen agreed, "That way Mudd can look like a Federation privateer one minute and a pirate the next. How can he ask for more?"

"He will," Ro warned him, "Just watch."

And Mudd did try haggling a bit more but in the end he accepted the offer as is.

Later, Macen paid the man out of the Odyssey's accounts. The coffers were running low but a few smuggling jobs bringing Federation and Bajoran luxury goods to wealthy Cardassians would more than replenish the bank.

Given a request to finally provide the long sought information, Mudd produced a Cardassian optolythic data rod from some hidden part of his person. Ro inserted it into one of the computer's reader ports. Mudd decided to warn them.

"I took this information from Ennis' computer so it may not be compatible with Federation systems," he said.

"Them's fightin' words," T'Kir growled and Mudd blanched as she shoved him aside and Ro stepped out of her way.

"T'Kir is our resident cyberwitch," Ro gruffly explained.

"I'm puttin' it on the table displays," T'Kir announced.

Layered sheets of display windows opened up on the table's optic surface. The touch screen capabilities allowed windows to be moved or contracted as desired. Mudd looked over the data streamed across its surface.

"Very good, m'dear," he mused.

"Next time make it hard, why don'cha?" T'Kir challenged him.

"Down girl," Macen advised.

"Woof y'rself," T'Kir flippantly remarked.

"Well, this looks disturbingly familiar," Ro commented upon looking at the visuals and schematics.

"Another Sulee-bon ship," Tulley whistled.

"Suliban," Macen corrected him.

"That's what I said," Tulley flippantly remarked.

"Why here and why another one?" Ro asked Macen.

"The Suliban were nomadic and only took notice of humans because of the Temporal Cold War. An unidentified humanoid from the 28th century directed the Suliban quest to prevent humanity from exploring space and to forgo the creation of the Federation," Macen told them all, "The reward they were given in exchange for services rendered were genetic enhancements far beyond the scope of what we could even accomplish in this era. But after the failure of the Temporal Cold War in the 22nd century, the Suliban drifted further into the reaches of the Alpha Quadrant and their last known sightings were in these regions in the mid-23rd century."

"Genetics," Mudd suddenly spoke up, "That's what Ennis said the ship was built around. A genetic resequencing chamber."

"Prophets!" Ro snarled, "You wanted to sell 28th century genetic engineering equipment to the highest bidder?"

"It seemed like a good idea at the time?" Mudd feebly defended his actions.

"So does taking you into orbit and seeing if you can freefall without an environment suit," Ro grated, "But I'm not going to do that. However gratifying it would be."

"Your charity is renowned," Mudd said hastily.

"Shut it or it won't be," Ro warned him.

Mudd just gulped while Tulley asked the next important question, "You said a Cardassian found this ship?"

"Um...yes," Mudd answered somewhat hesitantly.

"Why didn't he go straight to the Central Command with this discovery?" Tulley wanted to know.

"He did offer it to them...for a price," Mudd told them all, "Ennis grew up poor, which among Cardassians is an object lesson since most of them are already in poverty. But Ennis' parents had been castigated by the Central Command and therefore by the Labor and Trade Guilds as well. When the Central Command scoffed at his demands, he simply to get some coin from other interested parties. Ennis and I knew each other through mutual acquaintances. So a partnership was struck. For a flat fee I would shop around potential buyers and arrange for an auction. Then for a modest commission I would broker the auction and finalize the deal and the payment."

"You must be disappointed he's dead and we're buying then," Ro ventured.

"Actually, your price is above Ennis' fee and the commission was problematic at best," Mudd shrugged.

"And you already collected Ennis' fee," Macen pointed out.

"Well, there is that," Mudd admitted with false humility.

"Give us the coordinates where this ship can be found," Ro insisted.

"Gladly, if you hand over the command and control codes to my new ship," Mudd countered.

"T'Kir," Ro prompted.

The Vulcan handed over an isolinear rod with a smirk, "This'll make the computer recognize y'as command personnel. The rest of the program creates a subroutine in the Operations system that lets you reset the transponder ID at will to whatever fake identities and registrations y'want to."

"You really are a..." Mudd watched the manic gleam in her eyes, "something or other."

"I know," T'Kir happily agreed.

Macen and T'Kir escorted Mudd back to the transporter room. There, T'Kir took the controls and used the Type 6 shuttle parked in orbit as a relay to put Mudd down at the shuttleport next to his new ship. Mudd whistled appreciatively at the fifteen year old runabout. It was the newest ship he'd ever owned or operated. And he knew it had a top speed of Warp 8.8. Not only faster than other runabouts but even some older starships like Macen's own.

Mudd pulled the computer out of standby mode and let T'Kir's program do its work. Afterwards, when he'd assumed command he began working on forging his name and registration, "Ah, my lovely. I think you will become the Fame & Fortune."

Dragonuv and Hennessy delivered the isolytic weapon. Ronnie had left a message with Frink detailing where Graff had hidden the torpedo amongst the other containers in the warehouse. The conventional weapons had been confiscated...and probably redistributed amongst Cardassian paramilitaries throughout the DMZ. All the better to make atrocities appear to be committed by the Maquis.

Dragonuv explained the situation to Ro, "I don't think we'll be dealing with Harrison Graff again."

"No, but I wouldn't be surprised if we were to stay in contact with Veronica Jane Graff," Ro surmised.

Dragonuv grinned, "Ronnie would give you a piece of her mind over using her full name. She shares it with her mother and there's bad blood there."

"Anyway, Graff was one of our few actual sympathizers," Ro complained, "Other than Kassidy Yates we're in short supply of real friends running cargo. Everyone else is mercenary and mercs raise their prices when they smell blood in the water."

"Should we load the ordnance into the Indie?" Dragonuv inquired.

"No time," Ro said despite being tempted to," We're setting out straightaway as soon as the ship can launch."

"I take it we know what the dreaded 'super weapon' is now," Hennessy spoke up at last.

"A means for any sentient being to genetically modify themselves into their maximum evolutionary potential," Ro repeated what Macen had told her about the chamber's full capability, "Apparently the species that had this ship were guided by a being from the 28th century."

"So why did they abandon ship if they were so super?" Dragonuv wondered.

"Actually, I'm dreading that particular answer," Ro confessed.

"We're awfully shorthanded," Hennessy pointed out.

"We can go on recruiting drive after we get back," Ro smarted off, "Happy?"

Hennessy held his hands up in surrender while Dragonuv asked, "Who's manning the base while we're gone?"

Tulley brought Gerin, Azerenka, and Miller into the command center and Ro nodded their way, "They volunteered."

"Now, everyone else goes aboard the Indie," Ro hinted.

"Follow me," Tulley waved Dragonuv and Hennessy on while Ro remained to give the former government officials an impromptu tour.

Having showed them the surveillance systems she pointed at a panel with a bright red panic stop button, "If you get unwelcome visitors, hit this. The transporters are preset and will drop you off in a shuttle in orbit. You can either land the shuttle or beam down to the location of your choosing. But you shouldn't be bothered."

"If we are, what happens to the intruders?" Gerin wondered.

"They get a nasty reception," Ro gave her a fierce smile, "Now, we'll be off."

"Go kick some ass!" Miller enthused.

Ro smiled back, "We will. I promise."

Ro slid into the Indomitable's CONN station, "Have all stations reported in yet?"

"Thool says Engineering is a go," Hendryks reported from OPS.

"Weapons ready and Nat and Liam are standing by torpedo control," Tulley informed Ro.

"Sensors and Communications are a go," Chaste shared.

That left Dragonuv, Talin, and Hennessy manning engineering with Thool. Ro nodded to Chaste as she prepped the thrusters. Chaste hit the ship wide intercom, "All hands, prepare for lift off."

Ro smirked. The raider's inertial dampers were almost as old as the rest of the ship. Only the weapons systems were new. But even the shield generators, though cobbled together with modern components, were still twenty years old.

Ro used antigravs to lift the Indie. When the ship was high enough, she lowered the wings into their flight mode. Nudging the impulse engines, the Indomitable spilled out of the cavern that served as the cell's hangar. Utilizing RCS burns, Ro used the thrusters to guide the ship as it climbed out of the atmosphere.

Breaking free of Ronara Prime's gravity well, Ro set course and plotted a path that would traverse Cardassian space and thereby bypass the Federation checkpoints. They'd cross the Bajor Sector on its border with the Cardassia Sector and make their way to neutral space between the Cardassians and the Breen. As unclaimed space, every major power had access to it and most of them were looking for the fabled Suliban ship even if they didn't quite know what the prize was yet.

"Are we getting any help on this one?" Chaste asked her commander.

"The Odyssey set out an hour ago and her cruising speed is twice what we can do," Ro explained, "So they'll get there first and hold the ship until we arrive."

"And then?" Tulley asked.

"Then we figure out what makes the whole thing work," Ro announced.

 

Chapter Five

A day later, the Odyssey was entering the solar system the coordinates provided indicated. Macen asked Danan, "Anything?"

"No, but we aren't at the coordinate site," Danan intently studied her sensor hood.

A visual ripple distorted the view screen and suddenly Danan and Ebert both yelped, "What the hell?"

"Where did that come from?" Ebert asked now that the viewer was filled the image of a fully loaded Suliban cell ship.

"There's some of kind of reflective field akin to a cloak around the ship and it's near vicinity," Danan began adjusting her scanners, "It better than any known cloaking device because it's absolutely perfect. There were absolutely no emissions of any kind escaping the field."

"Probably 'cause the ship is dead," T'Kir popped off.

"Thank you for your help," Danan said icily.

"No prob," T'Kir dismissed it.

"Give me a rundown on this system," Macen requested.

"It's populated by seven Class-J gas giants and one Class-I super giant. The inner system has two Class-C geoinactive planets and the innermost is Class-B or geomorteus. Most of the planets are then orbited by Class-D planetoids or asteroids of no value. Basically we're talking a lot of unremarkable rocks and gas," Danan reported.

"Sounds like my last date," Lacey quipped.

"Anything hostile from the ship itself?" Macen asked her.

"Nope," Lacey shook her head, "Power is up and running and there's a breathable atmosphere. But that was probably from Mudd's partner poking around. Why exactly did these Suli-bananas abandon ship?"

"No one can even guess," Macen told her.

"Brin, I'm detecting the primary power core. It's a type I've never seen before. Its output is off the charts," Danan switched the data to an overhead display.

"It's Borg," Macen said grimly.

"You're certain?" Lacey asked, "Because what's a Suli-banana ship doing with a Borg reactor?"

"I don't know," Macen was more than frustrated, "Captain Archer's logs reported they couldn't identify the Suliban power sources. And the Borg were still a bad event waiting to happen. And there's no indication that the mysterious benefactor from the future was a Borg. Even the Borg Queen is an obvious cyborg."

"The Borg have a queen?" Danan latched onto that statement.

"Forget I said it," Macen requested.

"Too late," Ebert remarked.

"What haven't you told Starfleet?" Danan was accusatory.

"My people follow a code similar to the Prime Directive," Macen informed her, "We've told the Federation and Starfleet what they needed to know for now."

"But you could have possibly prevented Wolf 359 from happening," Danan was adamant, "You have a responsibility to save future lives."

"The Enterprise dealt with the Borg without my people's knowledge guiding them. They probably are the first humanoids in history to repel a Borg cube because they didn't know what they were facing and could pursue atypical solutions," Macen explained, "And why should we share our knowledge regarding the Delta Quadrant when there are no Starfleet vessels exploring that region? Life adapts to threats and cataclysmic change."

"I get it, I think," Ebert voiced her support, "If the El-Aurians were to shield us from predators we'd never grow to be strong enough to fend them off on our own."

"Thank you," Macen breathed.

"Suck up," T'Kir accused.

"You just wish you'd thought of it," Ebert retorted.

"Yup," T'Kir agreed.

"I'm still not sold," Lacey admitted.

"And I sure as hell am not," Danan said angrily, "You're a damn Starfleet Intelligence agent. You're betraying your oath by withholding data."

"I thought he was a former agent," T'Kir latched onto that.

Macen hung his head, "Thanks, Lees."

"Shit," Danan groaned.

"Care to explain?" Lacey asked with an edge to her voice.

"First call Tom and Heidi to the briefing room and then I'll explain," Macen promised.

Everyone knew Danan felt betrayed by Macen but this new revelation just added to it. And in turn, she'd obviously mishandled his trust. Neither Lacey nor Ebert could see a way back from this. T'Kir looked rather amused by the soap opera.

Ten more hours later, the Indomitable arrived in the system. T'Kir had found a way to patch a signal through the reflection field. Guiding the Indie in, the Odyssey crew looked forward to doing something besides simmering on bruised feelings.

"Leah, hail the Odyssey," Ro instructed.

A moment later, the sight of Macen in his command chair filled her screen, "Everything is quiet for now. But two Breen salvage ships have been nosing around. If it weren't for the ship's reflective field, we would have been discovered already."

"I see you're docked with the cell ship. How's the atmosphere readings?" Ro asked.

"The air is breathable and compatible with most humanoid requirements. Heat and lighting seems to be as well. Just a side note, the ship is powered by a Borg generator," Macen informed her.

"Borg?" Ro dreaded that name.

"Borg," he confirmed.

Forty-five minutes later, the Indomitable was also docked with the Suliban derelict and teams from both ships had met up. Macen had brought T'Kir, Lacey, and Darcy. Ro was accompanied by Tulley, Donner, Hemingway, Hennessy, and Dragonuv.

Ro split the group top explore the ship and to find Mudd's prize. Ro looked over to see T'Kir busy at what appeared to be a Master Systems Display, "What the hell is she doing?"

Macen shrugged, "Why don't you ask her?"

"What I really want to ask is where's Lisea?" Ro stared at him, "This scientific and she's a damn science officer."

Macen relayed the highlights of what had been transpiring. Ro shook her head, "I don't blame her. After all of that and you still chose the little slut over her."

"Hey! I heard that!" T'Kir protested.

"Good!" Ro snapped.

"Touchy," T'Kir muttered just loud enough to be heard.

"Bottom line here, will Lees leave your crew?" Ro asked, "Will she then leave the Maquis?"

"I doubt it," Macen told Ro, "Lees is highly committed to the cause and she prefers the fairly nonviolent role she plays as an officer on my ship. It's the best of all worlds for her."

"Except for being around you and the nutcase," Ro flippantly remarked.

T'Kir bit off another yelp of protest as Macen glared at her, "There is that. But Lees is a professional. Break ups happen aboard ships and starbases every day. The people involved learn to accommodate each other because they may still be working together in close quarters."

"You seem rather blasé about all of this," Ro realized.

"Danan is virtually immortal but Lisea isn't. She'll age, grow old and die while I'll remain relatively unchanged. And Danan's next host will be forbidden to engage in a romantic relationship with me," Macen reminded Ro, "That's the curse my people are living with right now since there are so few of us and the bulk of the other forty-six survivors are elderly."

"Guinan mentioned being married twenty-three times," Ro recalled.

"Guinan was something of an anomaly amongst El-Aurians before the Borg came because she married younger races. Now we're all facing that, presuming other survivors are out there scattered across the Gamma and Beta Quadrants," Macen shared, "Given those circumstances, races like the Vulcans, the Platonians, and the Gideonites all look very attractive to an El-Aurian looking for companionship."

"That's all rather...clinical," Ro disapproved, "And do you really want to...pursue this particular Vulcan?"

"T'Kir isn't well, so no," Macen replied.

Ro heard the unspoken but left dangling in the air, "Are you sure you want to throw away you relationship with Lees?"

"It's more like it slipped through my fingers," Macen confided, "And anyway, let it go Laren. It isn't your concern as long as we can perform our chosen role. And don't give me that look. I don't see you taking relational advice from anyone."

"True," Ro sighed in defeat, "T'Kir, are you making any kind of progress with the main computer?"

"Of course," T'Kir said haughtily before adding, "I just don't know where I'm progressin' to."

Ro looked over the Vulcan's shoulder and saw multiple display windows were open and all were displaying a foreign script no one had ever seen before, "Great."

"We'll stay here," Macen volunteered, "You push ahead."

Ro gave them both a dubious look before departing. T'Kir smirked, "She thinks we're gonna make out."

"But we won't," Macen replied.

"But it's tempting," T'Kir admitted. She was pleased when he didn't deny it.

The scouting parties all converged on what was determined to be the genetic modification chamber. The instructions for the device were written in hundreds of languages and they indicated that a single genome sample could enable the equipment to modify any sampled species. And the modified genetic characteristics would be passed down to later generations.

The chamber's logs showed how the Suliban had bred monsters. The few relatively stable Suliban that remained transported every misshapen experiment to an asteroid, including the geneticists themselves. So the ship had become an unmanned derelict waiting for Gar Ennis to find it a century later.

Darcy was the only true engineer amongst the group, "I don't see a way to disable this equipment. We'll have to destroy it."

"Yeah, because we can't let anyone use this," Donner was adamant.

"Easy, Nat. I don't intend to," Ro reassured her.

"We don't have enough explosive charges aboard the Indie to inflict irreparable damage," Tulley commented.

"We could use photon torpedoes rigged with detonators," Lacey suggested, "The detonators would be easy enough to cobble together. But the Mark IXs the Odyssey is carrying are tamper proof. We access the detonators and they whole things will be rendered inert."

"We have Mark VIs aboard the Indie," Hemingway pointed out, "Will those work?"

"Easily," Darcy interjected, "But Chris and I would need Natalie and Liam's assistance."

"Hell, Tom, Vera and I will throw in as well," Tulley volunteered everyone.

"You'll need to blow the computer core as well as the actual genetics chamber," Ro counseled them.

"How many torpedoes will we need?" Hennessy wondered.

"At least three," Lacey calculated the potential yield.

"Which is our entire inventory," Donner dryly remarked.

"Let's get to offloading while Darcy and Lacey rig detonators," Tulley barked, "Move it, people!"

As Ro rejoined Macen and T'Kir, Danan reported in, "Ro, those Breen salvage ships have returned and are making a dedicated search of the system. It's only a matter of time before we're discovered. And Breen privateers double as slavers."

"As soon we've offloaded the torpedoes we need to rig a bomb I'll cast off and intercept the Breen. The Odyssey can evacuate all remaining personnel," Ro instructed, "Brin's here with me and he's approving the plan."

"Understood," Danan said dispassionately.

Macen and Ro exchanged a wry look. Ro shook her head, "Good luck with that."

"Same to you," Macen saw Ro's blank look, "With the Breen."

"Oh. Right," Ro said absently as she returned to the airlock the Indomitable was hard docked to.

Tulley, Dragonuv, and Hennessy returned to the raider and Ro cast off, leaving Donner and Hemingway to assist Lacey and Darcy. With no torpedoes in inventory, there was no need to man the launchers and magazines. So everyone took their normal stations.

The Indomitable penetrated the reflection field and immediately became visible to the Breen sensors. The two privateers had split up. One searched the inner system while the other scoured the outer system. The derelict was in the inner system so that salvage ship was the immediate threat.

"Well, they've spotted us," Ro reported, "Now to piss them off."

"Shouldn't be too hard," Ro heard Hendryks mutter.

"Skipper, they're arming weapons and you weren't kidding. We're talking military grade equipment," Tulley reported.

"Breen use privateers as agents where they can't slip their military units into an area," Ro recalled from Starfleet Intelligence reports, "But who the hell arms freighters?"

Tulley decided to ignore the irony of being in an illegally armed civilian courier/scout boat, "I don't know. Who would do such a thing?"

"Don't be a smart ass," Ro retorted as the ship shuddered from a disruptor strike. The Breen used Class IV disruptors, the same as the Romulans and the Klingons.

Another strike and sparks flew from equipment and power junctions across the ship. Thool yelled into the intercom in protest, "Captain! She can't take this kind of pounding!"

"I know, I know. I'm trying," Ro protested.

"Try harder," the usually jovial Bolian snapped.

"Has anyone thought about giving him a raise?" Chaste wondered while Ro evaded disruptor fire.

"Why not?" Hendryks snorted, "We'll take it out of your imaginary salary. How's that?"

"No need to be snippy," Chaste chided her.

The ship shuddered again and more sparks flew. Ro grew irritated, "Okay, no more games."

"Thank you!" an exasperated Tully exclaimed.

"When I bring us around give them everything we've still got," Ro ordered.

"And what will I be shooting at?" Tulley asked.

"We're going straight down their damn throat," Ro growled, "Just rip it open."

T'Kir helped Donner and Hemingway with the detonator for the torpedo in the computer core. Macen assisted Lacey and Darcy with the other two in the genetics chamber. Darcy let go of a heavy sigh.

"In one way, this is a crying shame. This tech is incredible. The power source alone is worth a thousand lifetimes," she complained.

"No, it's just the result of assimilating over a thousand worlds and a trillion sentient beings and turning them into drones," Macen pointed out.

"I had no idea," Darcy gasped.

Macen pitied his Eurasian engineer. She'd simply been a cargo brat aboard a freighter who helped out in the engine room to while away the hours. Then the Cardassians struck.

Unlike so many other stories, the family survived intact. But the trauma convinced the rest of the family to vacate the DMZ. Darcy stayed in order to exact her revenge. Earlier, a Cardassian crowd had gang raped her girlfriend to death. So the Cardassians had just pushed Darcy too far.

Waters' scouts had found her and brought her to Macen. There she was interviewed by Eckles. Eckles had been outside his cargo runner in an environmental suit while making repairs. The Cardassian patrol destroyed Eckles' ship out from underneath thereby killing the entire crew. If it hadn't been for a Maquis raider investigating what had happened, Eckles would have eventually suffocated. But the experience still left him with agoraphobia.

Macen suddenly realized that he and Danan had been the only couple aboard the ship. Which just seemed unfair to him. So perhaps their separation served a higher good besides the obvious sticking points. But he still loved Danan and cared for her happiness. So he'd do what he could to see her happy.

"Got it!" Lacey announced, breaking Macen out of his reverie.

"So do I," Darcy said with some satisfaction.

Macen synced the detonators subspace receivers with his tricorder as T'Kir bounded into the room leading Donner and Hemingway, "We did it!"

"You have the detonation code?" Macen asked.

"Phooey! Y'r no fun," T'Kir pouted.

"Just remember that," Macen advised, "Now, the code?"

T'Kir rolled her eyes as she handed him the tricorder. He copied the code to his unit and copied his codes to hers, "Hold on to this."

"What'll y'give me as a reward?" T'Kir grinned mischievously.

"I won't leave you behind when we blow this ship up," Macen offered.

"Oh foo! Y'won't do that anyway. Y'need me," she confidently asserted.

"Well, that's debatable," Macen considered it.

"What do we do now, Captain?" Hemingway asked.

"Now we board the Odyssey and get to the minimum safe distance and blow the interior of this cell ship," Macen informed them all, "Then we reunite you with your own ship and crew."

Macen's communicator whistled and he flipped open the clamshell, "Macen."

"You all need to exit immediately! The second Breen ship has deduced where the derelict is. It would probably be best if you're not aboard when they dock," Danan urged.

"You heard her," Macen told the others, "Move it or become a Breen slave."

The Odyssey released docking clamps and shoved off as the Breen privateer penetrated the reflection field. It fired off a few shots at the departing scoutship but was more intent on docking with the Suliban derelict and deploying a boarding party. The Breen tried accessing the same information kiosk T'Kir had but the Breen found it as incomprehensible as the Maquis team had. Exploring the ship, the boarding party came upon the rigged photon torpedoes. They attempted to disarm them but the detonators had a failsafe that if they were disconnected or disabled they would transmit one last subspace radio burst and the torpedoes' own detonation systems would blow the weapons. So the interior of the cell ship was destroyed and the docked salvage ship was heavily damaged.

"Skipper, we're losing shields!" Tulley announced, "If we're going to finish these guys off, I suggest we do it now."

"Ro!" Chaste yelled, "The Odyssey is on track to attack the Breen."

They watched the main viewer as the scoutship unloaded photon torpedoes from her two forward launchers. It took four detonations to weaken the ship's shields enough that the next two torpedoes heavily damaged the privateer vessel, crippling her.

"I'm going to warp speed," Ro warned everyone.

The Ju'day-class raider departed the system at Warp 5, the ship's maximum speed. When they reached the Bajor Sector they'd drop to their rated cruising speed of Warp 3. The Odyssey easily passed them at the scout's maximum of Warp 8. Later she'd cruise to Ronara Prime at Warp 6. But first she'd visit Bajor and then Draygo in the Kalandra Sector.

"Macen is hailing, Skipper," Chaste alerted Ro.

"Put it on my screen," Ro instructed.

"Hello, Laren. My crew and I are headed to Bajor so we'll be borrowing Natalie and Liam for a little while. Then we have an appointment in the Kalandra Sector," Macen told her.

"You wouldn't happen to be visiting Elijah Waters would you?" Ro asked.

"Yes, I've received word Elijah has made decision on whether or not to retire a second time or not," Macen shared.

"And why would he feel driven to do that, I wonder?" Ro asked cheekily.

"Let's just say that Elijah fundamentally disagrees with Maquis operational methods so he's considering walking away," Macen stated.

"The Maquis as a whole or you in particular?" Ro wondered.

"At this point he can't discern a noticeable difference," Macen admitted, "So he's asked that I be recalled and the operation ended."

"Will it be?" Ro felt a sense of dread.

"We'll see, won't we? But even if I am recalled, that would mean my going AWOL would just make a convenient fiction a reality," Macen said, "But if you'll excuse me, Lees just popped into the briefing room for a little conference."

Ro suddenly felt a great weight off of her chest.

Epilogue

Ro contacted Svetlana Korepanova and briefed her, "And that accounts for what Harry Mudd was selling. Even the Breen won't be able to piece together all the debris to reconstruct anything useful."

"You're certain?" Korepanova asked.

"We strapped two photon torpedoes to the actual genetic modification chamber and one to the computer core. You know as well as I do, Sveta, that antimatter annihilations are a bitch," Ro smirked, "There aren't even component atoms left."

"Sounds comprehensive. What about Mudd?" Korepanova inquired.

"Mudd is now one of our suppliers," Ro explained, "It was Brin's idea. You know he's an El-Aurian Listener so I trust his judgment."

"I hope he's worth the trouble. His reputation as a scoundrel does proceed him," Korepanova warned her.

"He'd better be. He already cost me a heavy load runabout," Ro complained.

"You gave him the Phobos?" Korepanova was dismayed.

"Blame Brin," Ro grumped.

"Gladly," Korepanova laughed.

"Sveta, tell me what's really going on with Elijah Waters," Ro requested.

"I really don't know anything other than he warned me he might be standing down and handing the operation over to Kristiana Liu and Hana Rynn," Korepanova answered.

"Okay, try this one. Do you miss Chakotay?" Ro bluntly asked.

"Every day. But I know he's alive out there somewhere," Korepanova shared.

"Do you know what the odds against that are?" Ro wondered.

"Call it metaphysical but if he were dead, his spirit would have let me know already," Korepanova's confidence and sense of surety flapped the normally unflappable Ro.

"You think I'm being superstitious and foolish," Korepanova accused.

"No, I was a bohryas once and Geordi La Forge and I came back, so I know there's hope," Ro said, "I like that you're holding on to hope because then it means they might still come back someday."

"Careful, Ro Laren. You're dangerously close to becoming an optimist," Korepanova teased her.

"Not in this lifetime," Ro quipped and she signed off.

"We're being hailed by Prophet's Landing," Chaste reported.

"Tell them we're just passing by," Ro instructed.

"They acknowledge and wish as a pleasant journey," Chaste relayed.

Ro altered course to enter Cardassian space, "Here's hoping they get their wish.

The Odyssey crew stopped by Bajor long enough to pick several consignments of cargo and then they were off to Draygo in the neighboring Kalandra Sector. Eckles stayed aboard while the ship was in orbit. Danan herded Ebert, T'Kir, Lacey, and Darcy together and went looking for fun. Donner and Hemingway went forth to do the same together.

That left Macen visiting the office of the DMZ Freight Delivery Contractors and Referral Services agency alone. Russia Dawes inspected her spectacles and then adjust her tunic as she met Macen at the door, "Captain Macen, how can I be of service?"

"My pilot is allergic to the Retinax series as well. She still doesn't believe me that eyewear can be quite attractive and make its wearer alluring," Macen told her.

Dawes blushed slightly, "I'm sure you came here to discuss more than my eyeglasses."

"I need to speak with Elijah," he told at last.

"He cleared his schedule of everything but legal matters," Dawes told him, "But he also said to interrupt him if you were to come in."

"What legal matters?" Macen already knew but he had to actually hear it said.

"He's transferring the agency to Kristiana Liu," Dawes was saddened, "We're all going to miss him."

"Well, let's interrupt away," Macen urged. He stopped by Liu's office while Dawes did interrupt the former admiral.

"I guess congratulations are in order, Kristi," Macen tried to be cheerful.

"Dammit! This is Elijah's operation. He should see it to the end," Liu complained.

"You and Rynn will do fine," Macen consoled her.

"Where does our authorization even come from?" Liu asked, "He won't tell me. He said to ask you."

"Contact Starfleet Intelligence. You'll find you're now on a short list to speak with Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev. She'll explain everything," Macen offered.

"But...Starfleet..." Liu was even more confused than before.

"Just call Nechayev," Macen urged as Dawes retrieved him.

Waters activated his eavesdropping scramblers, "My last covert op."

"You could keep going," Macen suggested.

"Alynna heard my misgivings and I was excused from my post," Waters said gravely, "She thanked me for setting up this operation and then requested I return to civilian life."

"I thought she might," Macen admitted, "I'd hoped otherwise though."

"Brin, this operation is no longer skirting illegality. It's openly supporting terrorism," Waters protested, "We're in total defiance of Federation law."

"Federation law only applies in the Federation, which the DMZ is now outside of," Macen said sagely.

"Federation citizens are still under the law no matter where they are located," Waters argued.

"But the Maquis have had their citizenship revoked in practice if not in name," Macen reminded Waters, "So that doesn't apply either."

"But you and Lees are still citizens. Hell, you're Starfleet officers," Waters was growing agitated.

"Not according to the resignations we submitted and they were accepted in turn," Macen pointed out.

Waters had always overlooked that portion of their files, "I'll be damned."

"Lees and I are operating on behalf of Starfleet Intelligence in a civilian capacity," Macen told his old friend, "And so were you."

"Brin, what's so damned important that you'd throw away your career for these people?" Waters had to know.

So Macen explained it to him.

Ro met up with Gerin, Azerenka, and Miller as they got ready to start their first tour as an opening act, "You're taking an unnecessary risk. You all know that, right?"

"It's our risk to take," Miller shot back.

"Just so you know," Ro accepted their choice, "And you have the secure communicator?"

"It'll tap into any comm relay and route the message to you?" Gerin double checked.

"And can usually achieve real time conversations," Ro assured her.

"Steph, we're going to be late," Azerenka prodded Gerin.

"Good luck," Ro offered.

The trio boarded the transport shuttle they were sharing with the Carltons, who were the very act they would be opening for. Ro watched the craft lift off and then headed into the Old Biddy.

Ro entered to see Tulley deep in conversation with Frink. But probably only because Ro had threatened to kneecap him if he didn't talk to the woman. Tulley seemed to be enjoying himself but Frink was vaguely disappointed by something. Ro supposed that would happen when dreams become an uncertain reality.

Ro went to a corner booth where she could watch the room, and most importantly, the door. A well groomed and expensively dressed woman entered the bar and asked something of the bartender. The Bajoran pointed to Frink. Frink spoke with the woman and she strolled confidently up to Ro and slid into the booth.

She looked vaguely familiar but Ro couldn't place the resemblance, "Can I ask who the hell you are?"

"I'm Krystal Gerin. I believe you know my sister," the younger Gerin told her.

"You just missed her," Ro retorted.

"Intentionally, my sister doesn't approve of my choices in life," Gerin replied, "She lost her husband to some overzealous Cardassians so now she despises me because I bed them to get what I want."

"Yes, you're very high priced whore who doubles as the mayor of this settlement," Ro said flippantly.

"Well, this 'whore' has invaluable information you need to hear and I can get more from the same source," Gerin spoke to her.

"How can you get more?" Ro had her own suspicions.

"Spike a drink with a little truth agent and you have amazing pillow talk," Gerin smirked, "The type with strategic importance."

"All right," Ro decided to play along, "I'm listening."

 

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