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Factions - Part III by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter 13

Macen and Danan opened the Briefing Room doors to find Carver waiting in the hallway. They weren’t concerned about eavesdropping, Starfleet had made its walls soundproof long ago. Carver was merely there to make sure they wouldn’t wander about unescorted. His hand was lowering to his side, indicating that he’d hit his comm badge as soon as the doors began to open.

"Captain, Commanders Macen and Danan have finished in the Briefing Room."

"Acknowledged, please stand by."

Macen tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a grin at the thought of Eyries standing by on the bridge trying to listen in to the encrypted message he’d just transmitted. He could picture her sitting n her Ready Room with mounting frustration as she discovered her command codes would not allow her this particular privilege. Danan gave him a scolding glance, knowing exactly what was on his mind.

Eyries came striding down the hallway. She seemed as put out as the two erstwhile Intelligence officers had expected. Carver seemed slightly discomfited by her demeanour, but Macen and Danan just ignored her glowering mood. Compared to having enraged Cardassians boarding with phasers blazing, a slightly miffed Starfleet commander was easily tolerated.

"I have just received instruction from Admiral Nechayev." Eyries informed them through gritted teeth, "I’m to send you on your way in your ship. Furthermore, I’m to stay in this sector in order to relay in messages that you can transmit."

It was obvious that this rankled Eyries, but Macen wasn’t ready to pity her quite yet, "Thank you for hospitality. I hope you enjoy your time in the sector."

Eyries’ eyes flashed angrily, "I don’t know whose side you’re really on, Commander, but whether it’s the Maquis or Starfleet I’m giving you warning now."

She stepped in closer so that she was mere inches from him, "If anything happens to this crew, I will hold you personally responsible. If that happens, the by God, I will spend the rest of my life making you pay."

"And the Federation’s social engineers say that vengeance is no longer a facet in our society." He replied wryly.

"This isn’t about revenge!" Eyries snapped, "Its about justice."

"Funny, that’s what the Maquis say too." Macen observed dryly, "I guess justice depends greatly upon whose dispensing it, eh?"

Eyries turned to Carver, "Get them off my ship."

"Yes, ma’am." He replied crisply.

With that said, Carver marched Macen and Danan to the Transporter Room. As they stepped onto the pads, Carver cleared his throat to get their attention. He looked even more uncomfortable than when Eyries had arrived from the Bridge. His voice was tight as he spoke.

"You’ll have to forgive the Captain. She’s been under a great deal of strain. This ship and crew have undergone quite an ordeal. If this was any other time, I think she would be far more receptive to your plight."

Danan gave him a warm smile, "Thank you, Commander. We understand how difficult this issue is. It isn’t easy to question your society, even if that society is practising hypocrisy."

Carver did not look relieved, but nodded his understanding. The Transporter Room faded in a shimmer as they dematerialised. Another Transporter Room flickered into spotty existence and coalesced into a solid reality. Hereford stood behind the controls with an anxious look on her face.

"Sirs?"

Macen gave Danan an amused grin, "After you, my good fellow."

She hit him in the stomach with her elbow, "Watch it buddy. I know where you sleep."

"I hope so." Macen teased, "I’d hate for you to forget where your quarters are."

"Yes, my quarters." Danan teased back, "And don’t you forget it."

"How could I forget?" he muttered.

The Odyssey leapt into warp and headed across the border for Havelock. They weren’t stopping in the system. The T’Lera would come alongside and beam Ro over. She would rejoin the Wanderer when it rendezvoused with the Odyssey. Danan was transmitting the co-ordinates now.

"Transport completed." Scott reported.

"Good." Macen replied somewhat distractedly, "Signal her commander and wish them luck on their next trip."

"So, can we go now?" T’Kir asked petulantly. She was less than enthusiastic about Ro’s coming aboard. Macen was beginning to realise how much tension there was between T’Kir and her former commander. He now understood why Ro was so willing to transfer her to his crew.

"Yes, we can go now." Macen replied. He suddenly felt like a parent. It was hard enough being a commanding officer. Macen had been trained as a historian and social scientist on his homeworld. Starfleet had trained him as an Intelligence analyst. Now, he was suddenly a CO and the authority figure for a group of headstrong rebels.

This isn’t a job I ever wanted. Macen admitted to himself, I’d gladly go back to a simple life of research if given the opportunity.

The turbolift doors opened and Ro stepped out, "We need to talk."

Her comment was unexpected as her manner. Ro was always rather sardonic and brusque, but this was an entirely new facet to those characteristics. She turned and entered Macen’s Briefing Room without waiting for his reply. Macen rose from his chair with a disgruntled expression.

"Danan, you have the bridge." He informed her as he strode for the Briefing Room door. Every eye on the bridge followed. T’Kir snickered. It was obvious she had a few comments to make but was wisely restraining them.

"Watch your console, T’Kir." Danan reminded her, "The Captain can take care of himself."

The doors closed behind Macen as he stopped halfway into the room. No physical force stopped him, merely the sight of Ro sitting in his chair with her feet propped across his desk. He respected Ro’s abilities, hell, he even liked her as a person but that didn’t mean she could waltz in here and take over. She was about to discover whose ship this really was.

"Excuse me," Macen growled, "I appreciate you taking the chill off my seat, but its warm now. You can be on your way."

Ro gave him a sceptical look, "I’m not here to warm your seat."

"But you realise its my seat." Macen remarked dryly, "So why are you still sitting in it?"

Ro’s eyes narrowed dangerously, "I think the question should be, ‘what’s to keep me from throwing you in the brig’, don’t you?"

"And why should I ask that question?" Macen said through clenched teeth.

"Because I know you were aboard that starship." She answered as her eyes dropped to his hands, "And keep your hands where I can see them."

Macen saw that the hand Ro had seemingly draped nonchalantly across her waist held a Type I phaser, "You know that Danan and I were Starfleet officers."

"So was I." Ro replied evenly, "They’d arrest me on sight as a deserter. Why didn’t they arrest you?"

"Because as far as they’re concerned, we’re still actively engaged in our last assignment." Macen admitted.

"Which was?" Ro asked through clenched teeth.

"To infiltrate the Maquis, observe them, and make a recommendation on how to deal with their existence."

"You bastard." Ro spat, "You’re a spy."

Macen’s lips curled into a wry expression, "You already knew that."

"For them!" she snapped. She raised the phaser, "I should kill you right now."

"That wouldn’t be a good idea."

"No?" she asked scornfully, "And why not?"

"Think about it." Macen calmly urged, "I took you and the others to a site that Starfleet doesn’t know about and revealed the existence of an organisation that the Federation can’t even admit exists. An organisation that makes them look like the hypocrites they are."

"It could have been part of your cover." Ro countered.

"It could’ve been, but that’s rather elaborate even for Alynna Nechayev." Macen remarked, "The truth is that Starfleet, at least for now, listens to my reports of the Maquis. I don’t reveal any details that aren’t already known and I present the movement in the best possible light."

"In other words, you’re playing both sides." Ro said in disgust.

"Nechayev knows that my loyalties lie with the Maquis." Macen informed her passionately, "She’s willing to let me go because she sees the Maquis as ‘useful assets’ to use against the Cardassians. That isn’t official Starfleet policy but we both know it happens."

"I do I know you’re not lying?"

"You would have already killed me if you thought I was lying to you." Macen said honestly, "You haven’t killed me, which means that you’ve already thought of all the reasons I just gave you."

Ro stared at him for several more moments before placing the phaser back into her jacket pocket, "Yeah, you’re right. I just wanted to hear you admit it."

"You could have just asked."

Her eyes shot daggers at him, "You could have freely admitted it."

"And do things the easy way?" he asked teasingly, "Where’s the fun in that?"

"It keeps one from getting shot." Ro retorted sourly.

"This from a professional smart-ass." Macen commented.

Ro broke into a grin. He definitely had her there. She’d always been the one giving authority figures grief. It was weird to suddenly find herself one of those authority figures.

She studied Macen for a moment. She wondered what he must have been like at Starfleet HQ. She knew that he was a career researcher and analyst. He’d never been interested in Command track, but here in the Maquis, that role had been thrust upon him.

He’d slid into the role over time. Macen’s naturally forceful personality made him a natural leader. She could see the clouds of regret that appeared in his eyes when he’d rather have the liberty to explore one his projects than mount an assault on some Cardassian outpost or supply centre. His sense of loyalty and duty compelled him to persevere and continue fighting.

"So now what?" she asked.

"I thought was supposed to be my question." Macen remarked, "After all, you’re still in the Captain’s spot."

Ro looked down. Although she was now standing, she was still firmly planted in front of Macen’s desk. She gave him a pleased smile as she patted the chair with satisfaction. She glanced around the Briefing Room.

"Pretty nice ship you’ve got here." Ro observed.

"Thanks." Macen replied, suspicious of her motive.

"Want to trade?"

"No." he replied flatly. That brought a smirk to her face, "I thought you didn’t want to command one of these any more?"

She sighed as she stepped away from the desk, allowing Macen access to his desk and chair. "I don’t. I may be a qualified starship bridge officer, but I’ve fought on the ground most of my life. I think better when I’m on a planet."

Macen nodded, "Three dimensions are easier to handle than four."

Ro grinned. That sounded like a lecture she’d received at the Academy. It came from Admiral Saavik after Ro had taken the Kobyashi Maru scenario. Ro had forgotten to take the additional factor of subspace into account as she tried to counter a Romulan task force.

Saavik had also observed Ro’s strong reaction to the test itself. Ro had declared the test unfair since there was "no way to win". The corners of the Admiral’s mouth had quirked upward at that. Ro had continued her tirade by declaring that the only thing the test taught was how to deal with people dying around you, a topic she already had considerable experience in.

Saavik had refrained from describing her own childhood and how she’d been the sole survivor of an abandoned Romulan outpost, the child of a Vulcan raped by Romulans. Those details Ro had learned years later while at a penal colony and wanted to brush up on her history. Saavik had merely looked at her with her dark brown eyes and rose a single eyebrow. She then asked Ro a single question that continued to haunt her until this day.

"How you deal with death is at least as important as how you deal with life, wouldn’t you say?"

Ro had offered no answer that day. She didn’t have one. She still didn’t have one. All she knew was that she stood a better chance of getting her people out alive if she was on the ground.

"Laren," Macen said, surprising Ro with his familiarity, "I know you think you lead better on the ground, but it’s not true."

"Really?" she replied sarcastically, "And what makes you an expert?"

He gave her an amused grin, "I’m an Intelligence analyst, remember? I’m supposed to know trivial details like who’s a good commander and who’s not."

His eyes bored into hers, "You’re one of the best we have, Laren. Don’t forsake your crew. They need you."

"Damn." She said, swiping at an eye, "You always seem to be counselling me."

"Its a racial thing." He said with a shrug, "Blame my genes."

The Wanderer, Liberty, and a half dozen other ships rendezvoused with the Odyssey at the designated co-ordinates. There were far fewer ships than either Macen or Ro had hoped would arrive. Most of them were the very ships they’d left behind to get back to Maquis space. They would not only have to face a superior foe, but they’d do it with untested troops.

Ro made this bitter observation. Macen merely gave her a wry smile, "Sounds like business as usual for the Maquis."

She shook her head while wearing a rueful grin. She’d begun to trust Macen again. His earlier confessions had only confirmed what she’d long suspected. She had to give him credit, he’d as much as told her and the other Maquis about his assignment. They’d merely chosen to ignore what he’d said.

What he’d said about business as usual was far more than a wisecrack. It was the literal truth. The Maquis had faced these same odds since the birth of the movement. With Cardassians on one side and Starfleet on the other, the only people around that the Maquis truly stood a chance of beating in an open contest were the Bajorans. It was a sad truth, but one they’d accepted.

"Great." Ro commented sourly, "Dying is also business as usual."

"That was true even in Starfleet." Macen reminded her.

"Such a comfort, isn’t he?" Danan asked dryly as she stepped into the Briefing Room.

"About as comforting as a Denebian mudworm." Ro replied.

"Hey."

"Yeah, he’s not great at trying to cheer people up." Danan added, "All those stories about El-Aurians are complete garbage where our buddy boy here is concerned."

"Hey!"

"At least he’s good at finding things out." Ro countered, "Otherwise, he’d be utterly useless and we’d have to throw him out the airlock."

Danan gave her a sly smile, "Well, he does have other uses too."

"Hey!"

Both Danan and Ro gave him pitying looks as he glanced at them anxiously, "Don’t you think we’ve insulted me enough yet?"

Danan and Ro’s eyes met. They smiled victoriously.

"No." they replied in unison.

Macen’s head dropped in defeat, "Okay, I give up."

"About time." Danan smirked, "What do I keep telling you? Resistance is futile."

Macen gave her a glare for using those particular words, but there was a twinkle in his eyes. Although he possessed a vestigial apprehension for the Borg Collective that assimilated his people, he was willing to joke about. He found most of his kinsmen’s inability to do so disturbing. Humour did not belittle a tragedy, it only offered a means of coping.

"When have I resisted?" he teased in kind, "At least since that first time in the Astrometrics lab?"

Danan blushed slightly, "You’ve got a point there."

"Excuse me?" Ro spoke up, "Do I really want to hear this?"

"That depends. Do you like to listen?" Macen quipped.

"Okay, you got me back." Ro assured him, "Can we get back to business?"

"Which business?" Macen asked, "Stopping Trist, or dying?"

"The former." Ro answered, "I’d like to avoid the latter, if you don’t mind."

"Fine with me." He glanced towards Danan, "Any thoughts?"

"I’m in no hurry to die." Lisea answered with a shrug, "The Danan symbiot may be able to survive in another host, but this is the only body I’ll ever have."

"And may I say, it’s a very nice body." Macen added quickly.

"You’d better." She warned.

"Are you two always this disgusting?" Ro asked wearily.

"Not usually." Macen said with a satisfied grin, "This is a special command performance in your honour."

"Well, stop." Ro said, reaching for her head, "It’s giving me headache."

"Poor dear." Danan patronised.

"Stop it, I really mean it." Ro growled.

"Anybody got a peanut?" Macen remarked. When he saw the blank stares he got in return, he waved his hand dismissively. "No one reads the classics any more." He complained bitterly.

The Briefing Room was soon crowded. The captains of every Maquis ship with them had beamed aboard. There was one notable addition to their ranks, Trevik had beamed aboard as well. Ro approached him as soon as he entered.

"Councillor Trevik, I had no idea you wanted to participate in this mission." she stammered.

He held up his hand, "I did not state my desire, nor did you enquire. It is meaningless since I am here now."

"If I’ve offended you, I’m so sorry."

"Offence would be illogical." Trevik assured her, "As I have already stated, no information was exchanged. It would be illogical to expect you to act upon that you which you never learned."

"Still, I..."

"Captain, the longer we spend in this irrelevant discourse, the less time we will have to attempt to stop Captain Trist and his cohorts."

Ro nodded, "I understand."

"Good." Trevik replied, "I trust that issue has been settled." He turned to the other commanders, "It seems we have a matter of great importance before us. What we decide here will forever alter the course of our common goal. I suggest we choose wisely."

 

Chapter 14

"How long until we reach our destination?" Trist asked, yet again.

"ETA three hours." Togray answered, "We should reach their sensor grid in half that."

"Meaning?" Trist growled.

"Shouldn’t we try and collect some intelligence on this system before attacking it? We know next to nothing about the system and absolutely nothing about its current status."

Trist was about to hurl a particularly harsh set of curses Togray’s way when the comm officer spoke up, "Sir, we are being hailed by Captain Hudson."

"Put it on viewer."

Hudson’s dark face appeared as his voice also began to be heard, "Trist, I think we should hold position here and send some probes into the system."

"We have the element of surprise." Trist replied through clenched teeth.

"Which will do us no good at all if we’re up against a gull squadron of Galor-class cruisers." Hudson reminded, shaking his head, "We still haven’t been detected. Let’s use this time to discover the enemy’s defences and determine how to defeat them."

"Very well." Trist huffed, "I can see that I stand alone on this issue. Launch your probes. They will reveal what I already know. This system is ours for the taking."

"I hope you’re right. Hudson out."

"Cowardly fools." Trist mumbled bitterly.

The Wanderer was in point, three light minutes out from the rest of the squadron. One of the older Maquis ships had already fallen out of formation and two others were threatening to do the same. The newly acquired ships were handling the stress of high velocity warp transit extremely well. Only the wizardry of Chakotay’s half-Klingon engineer enabled his ship to maintain Warp 6 for so long.

The same rang true of her craft. Only the modifications made by a Dervin named Kosk had granted the craft warp capability to begin with. It seemed his abilities were far beyond what anybody had suspected. Unfortunately, the Dervin had died under her command over six months ago.

Kosk had not been the first Maquis to die under her command, but it had affected her more than most. She didn’t know why that was. The Dervin had certainly seemed almost childlike in many ways and she wondered if her anguish had been the result of some latent maternal instinct she’d been previously unaware of. What she was aware of was that she was growing more dissatisfied with the course her life had taken.

She’d joined the Maquis out of a combination of frustration at Starfleet’s self-imposed inability to stop the Cardassians and her long-standing hatred of the same. She’d hated Cardassians her entire life. She could not fathom attempting to peacefully co-exist with them. She was now learning that hate could only carry a person so far.

Over the last two years she had expended every ounce of hatred she’d ever carried for the Cardassians. Now she fought for mere survival. Pride, bitterness, and possibly even shame prevented her from endorsing repeated Federation proposals to try and moderate talks between the Union and the Maquis. Being branded an outlaw by Starfleet had not stung her as deeply as it had others. Being condemned by her own people, there was the rub.

The Bajorans had fought the Cardassians for decades. The Resistance had occasionally employed tactics so severe that the Maquis had never dared emulating them. At least not yet, but Ro could see the fire in some Maquis’ eyes. The Bajorans had effectively inspired and birthed the Maquis and yet condemned them for fear of instigating trouble with Cardassia.

That was the bitterest irony of all. Ro could accept the Federation’s decision to abandon their colonies to appease Cardassia. She wouldn’t abide by the treaty, nor would she ever endorse it. The two governments had spent nearly two decades in an undeclared war. The hit and fade tactics of the Cardassians had produced the exact result the Maquis now sought, the Federation eventually no longer felt that territory was worth prolonged aggression.

Unlike Bajor, the Federation was filled with myriad races spread across light-years. They could afford to lose a few planets here and there. The Bajorans had one world and a few colonies. Races like Humans, Vulcans, Bolians, Deltans, Betazoids, Tellarites could thrive on worlds other than the one they sprang from. Only the Andorians had an equivalent of the religious and cultural legacy that demanded that inter-linked their survival to their homeworld that rivalled that of Bajor.

Ro snorted at the thought that it was a damned Andorian that had brought this latest trial upon the Maquis. They had been chasing Trist and his confederates for over hours now. She glanced at the chrono. They were six hours from their estimated intercept. That meant it was time for the Wanderer to drop back and allow the Odyssey to take point.

Macen leaned over Danan’s station and spoke softly, "Lisea, I need you to conduct detailed scans of upcoming systems. Tie into the Tactical databases and have Scott look for weapons platforms and ships. You can focus on sensor and communications arrays."

She gave him an apprehensive look of concern, "Brin, I don’t know how effective our scans will be."

"But..."

"If we were in a Nova, or even an Oberth-class, I could guarantee results. This scout has some fairly impressive hardware for its day, but it is over fifty years old. The sensors simply don’t have the capability of modern ships."

"I know that." He replied somewhat testily, "I joined Starfleet before this ship was built. Just do what you can. We’re flying into this situation blind. We need to gather as much data as we can."

She sighed, then shrugged her shoulders, "I’ll do what I can."

Danan and Rett scoured over the sensor readings. Danan stayed on the bridge while Rett analysed them from the Science Lab. Danan was increasingly impressed with the younger woman’s abilities. Rett was pure talent with little training.

Lisea wondered where Killa would be if she hadn’t been blocked from attending university by the cessation of her world three years before. It was sobering to realise that Rett wasn’t that much younger, and certainly had far less formal academic training, but may have even more natural ability than Danan. It made her suddenly feel old. She was only five years older, but felt decades older than that.

Rett was catching things she’d missed on her first pass. The Bajoran had enjoyed more rest over the last day or two, but that was no excuse. Danan had ten years of Starfleet experience, almost all of it spent in deep space. That alone should have made her more alert than her protege.

Despite that, they had made several important discoveries. The Maquis fleet was slowly approaching the system. They were two hours out and had not yet triggered the Cardassian’s sensor nets. They had also dropped to impulse in order to conduct their own scans of the system. That gave the squadron a chance to catch them.

There were five runabouts, seven raiders and two converted freighters in addition to the starship. That was more firepower than the Maquis had ever unleashed in a single strike before. The two sides were equal except for the starship. That was a decided advantage for Trist. If they couldn’t make the others see reason then there was a very real chance they might all die.

"We are now one hour from intercept." Danan informed Macen.

"Have they tried hailing us?"

"No, sir." Scott answered, "They are comm black."

That was an abbreviation signifying that the Maquis forces were under a subspace blackout. Communications between vessels that close could be done through pinpoint "whisker" lasers. It was a technique that had been largely abandoned by larger fleets but had been resurrected by the Maquis. It was useless for long range communications, but enabled ships within a light minute or two to communicate with ease and virtually no chance of detection.

"Hail them. A single burst, using the new encryption protocols."

"Aye, sir." Scott acknowledged.

Thirty minutes later, they still hadn’t received a reply to their hail. Macen ordered the ship to go to full alert. If Trist laid mines in his wake, Macen didn’t want the squadron to hit them. The fleet’s refusal to respond to the hail indicated their refusal to negotiate.

Hudson had beamed aboard the Fortitude in order to plan the upcoming assault with Trist. He and the Andorian had been pouring over the data they had gathered using probes. He had also been present when Macen’s hail had come through. He had also urged Trist to reply.

Trist had declined to do so, claiming that any replies would be dangerous. Hudson countered with the notion that replying would enable them to arrange for the incoming squadron to join in the formation without being accidentally fired upon. Trist not only ignored the suggestion, he ordered his own ship to battle stations. Hudson began to debate this decision when Trist turned on him.

"Silence!" Trist hissed, "Are you another craven coward? Do you wish to sit here any longer while glory and conquest await?"

"We aren’t here to conquer." Hudson argued in confusion, "We’re here to secure the freedom and safety of our colonies."

"Bah!" Trist spat, "That is a trite fantasy woven to seduce the soldiers into battle. We are both commanders here, such lies are unnecessary. We are sworn to slay the same foe. The glory shall be ours to." Trist leaned in close, his voice menacing, "That is, if you do not oppose me."

Hudson gave him a disturbed look, as though seeing him for the first time, "You’re insane."

"Get off my ship." Trist replied coldly.

"What?"

"Get off my ship!" Trist roared, "Leave of your own accord, or I will have my men carry you to the nearest airlock and jettison your useless carcass into the void."

Hudson stood, eyes boring in on Trist’s, "Very well. But I warn you, if you try to do anything stupid or reckless, my ship and I will not blindly follow you."

Trist spat on him to convey his disgust. Hudson wiped his cheek, his jaw muscles flexing. He smeared the saliva across Trist’s desk before leaving. Trist laughed after the doors closed.

"And I thought you were a warrior." He said derisively.

"The ships have gone to warp!" Danan reported.

"Damn." Macen sore under his breath, "Scotty, how soon until they reach the sensor net?"

"Sir," Scott said with a look of shocked pride across his face, "you called me ‘Scotty’."

"I’m sorry." Macen replied, "What about that estimate?"

"Don’t apologise." Scott said excitedly, "This is the proudest day of my life!"

"Mr. Scott." Macen said levelly, "I’ll have you relieved unless you answer my damn question."

"Uh... sorry." Scott said, glancing back at his console, "They’ll penetrate the sensor net in ten minutes."

"Are they in weapons range?"

"They will be in torpedo range in nine minutes."

"Break sub-space silence, open transmission." Macen ordered, "Warn them off."

"Sir?" Scott asked uncertainly, "The Cardassians will also receive and understand any open transmissions."

"I know that." Macen informed him, "Do it."

"Sir," the glinn at communications said to the gul in charge, "We are receiving a sub-space message."

"Encoded?"

"No, sir. It’s an open transmission."

"Put it on speakers." She ordered.

"Attention Maquis fleet. Break off your attack. Repeat, break off your attack. We will engage you if you do not comply. Please respond, or we will be forced to engage."

Gul Zhaasa turned to the glinn, "Source of the transmission?"

"Just outside our standard sensor perimeter."

"Activate all sensors. Alert all cruisers."

"Those bastards!" Trist shouted, "They’ve alerted the Cardassians to our presence!"

"Should we break off?" Togray asked.

"Patch me into the fleet." Trist ordered. Upon receiving the confirming nod from the Communications Station, he spoke, "Attention, all ships, turn about...and destroy the pursuing vessels."

"They’re coming about." Scott reported, "They... they’re also charging up weapons and shields." He gave Macen a stricken glance, "I think they’re preparing to attack us."

"You want me to what?" Gul Fromar, the commander of the squadron of Galor-class vessels assigned to this area asked.

"I want to deploy and investigate the source of an unknown transmission we intercepted." Gul Zhaasa answered.

Fromar laughed, "We want me to dispatch my entire squadron for that?"

"The transmission indicated a threat of Maquis attack." Dorcas replied hotly.

"That is worth three of my ships." Fromar informed her, "No more."

"But..."

"There is no but!" Fromar growled, "If I leave this system undefended, that will enable any other forces to enter unmolested. If this ‘mysterious’ transmission of yours is truly a ruse, then that would be the desired effect would it not?"

"Yes, I suppose it would." She consented.

"Then you will not object if I dispatch only three cruisers?"

"No."

"Excellent. Fromar out."

After the screen went dead Fromar turned to his First. With a look of disgust in his face he said, "Females in the military, pah!"

"Prepare a brace of torpedoes." Trist ordered, "Lock phasers on target."

"One minute until we reach torpedo range." Togray reported from the Weapons Station.

"Have the other ships complied with my orders?" Trist asked.

"Yes, sir." The Comm officer reported.

"Good, I may not have to execute them when we are done after all." Trist mused to himself.

"We are now within range." Togray reported.

"Fire!" Trist yelled.

 

Chapter 15

"Torpedoes inbound!" Scott shouted.

"Evasive." Macen replied calmly, "Execute a Trimble Twist."

T’Kir spun the ship into a barrel role that looped left and then angled upwards towards the attacking ships. It was a classic manoeuvre named after a Starfleet ensign that had first used it in a battle against Klingons. The next step was to fire torpedoes in response. Macen never hesitated.

"Return fire." He ordered, "Concentrate all firepower on the Fortitude."

"What about the other ships?" Scott asked.

"We’ll let the rest of the squadron deal with them." Macen replied grimly, "We’re the only ship that stands a chance against that starship. We’ll take her on."

"Sir, the rest of out fleet has engaged the incoming ships." Togray reported, "However, one of the ships is concentrating on us."

Trist laughed before asking, "Which ship is it?"

"The S.S. Odyssey, sir." Togray answered, a hint of nervousness in his voice, "It is a Starfleet scoutship. The same scoutship we engaged at the decommissioned shipyard."

"Macen." Trist hissed, then more loudly, "Destroy him."

The ship rocked from multiple phaser blasts. Sparks and flames erupted from overloaded systems as the shields tried to repel more energy than they were designed to handle. The scout was over fifty years old, but the starship was over fifty years older than that. That made it an even fight in tactical terms.

In strategic terms, the starship had all the advantages. Although the scoutship had an advantage in phaser power, the starship had a clear advantage in torpedoes. The larger ship carried nearly five times as many as its smaller progeny. In a conflict like this, the more powerful photon torpedoes could make all the difference.

The shields flickered as another blast battered them. Scott’s console exploded, hurling the Iotian out of his seat. The stench of burnt flesh filled the bridge. Danan called for medical personnel as Macen transferred Weapons to his console.

"Bring us to 376.3." Macen ordered. T’Kir altered their course accordingly. They were coming in on the starship’s starboard side. It’s phasers fired continuously at the scout, but its shields buckled under the rain of phaser fire and torpedoes the Odyssey rained upon it.

"Their engine room has taken damage." Danan reported, "They are now under auxiliary power."

"What’s our damage?" Macen asked.

"Six casualties reported by the medic." Danan answered, "That doesn’t include Scott."

"Our shields are at forty-two percent and the torpedo magazines are almost depleted." Macen informed her, "Have any suggestions?"

Danan gave him an apologetic look. Macen suppressed a deep sigh. He hoped Ro and the others were having an easier go of it. He was surprised when T’Kir turned her chair to face him with a sly grin on her face.

"I may have an idea." She said.

The Wanderer shuddered as phaser fire glanced off her shields. That in and of itself wasn’t anything new. The fact that the phasers were being projected by the Freedom Fighter made each blast more terrible than the least. Each shot seared another gaping wound into the fragile unity that held the Maquis together.

Like Starfleet, the Maquis were primarily human. That did not exclude non-human species from joining. In fact, the adversity they faced as a matter of daily ritual had united the different species in a different way than in the Federation, but just as powerfully. It had been a source of comfort and confidence in their struggle against the xenophobic Cardassians.

This battle of Maquis against Maquis threatened to unravel that unity. With their commonality sheared away, the rebels would be reduced to squabbling dissidents squabbling over petty issues and unable to strike against their true enemy. The madness had to end, and end soon. She was finding that piloting and trying to devise a means of cease-fire simultaneously was nigh impossible.

"Jamie," she spoke to the woman that had filled T’Kir’s role at Ops, "Get Trevik in here and try to patch him into the rest of the fleet."

"You got it!" MacGuyvers replied.

Maybe we can get somewhere, Ro thought, if I can keep Astraea from blowing as all to hell.

Calvin Hudson watched the tactical display closely. He had not ordered his ship into the widening fray. Nearly half of the fleet that accompanied Trist had not engaged their pursuing brethren. Now some of the reluctant ships were beginning to join the battle. Hudson felt the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders as he watched the scene unfold.

Hudson had resigned his command and left Starfleet in order to join the fledgling Maquis defend their worlds from the Cardassians. He had even faced his oldest friend, Ben Sisko, in pursuit of that goal. He knew Ben disapproved of his methods, if not his goals. Sisko had always been committed to Starfleet first.

Sisko had almost been shattered when his wife died at Wolf 359 facing the Borg. The man had doggedly stayed with Starfleet while raising his son on his own. His assignment to DS9 had been unexpected and unwanted. The upside of it was that Hudson had seen the healing effects of that change on Sisko.

Conversely, he could recognise the negative effects that Trist and that damned starship had had upon Hudson and the others. They had been blinded to the true source of their strength with the lure of a false hope, a swift sword with which to smite their foe. It had nothing to do with weaponry. That strength derived for their solidarity and the strength of their convictions.

It had to stop. It had to stop before they destroyed everything they had tried to build, before they gave victory to the Cardassians. Hudson ordered his Ops officer to patch him into the fleet. He was surprised to learn that another ship was already hailing all Maquis vessels.

"Y’know, it’s just crazy enough to work." Macen said with a grin.

"If we survive." Danan stressed.

"If we don’t stop Trist, our survival will be a moot issue." Macen replied, "Nearly everyone in the quadrant will be after us."

"It’s risky." Desrin’s voice added over the comm, "But I really don’t see a better alternative right now. We can’t continue to take this kind beating."

"How long do you need to get ready?" Macen asked.

"Five minutes." Came the answer.

"T’Kir, continue hit and fade evasion and attack patterns." Macen ordered, "In five minutes, take us down the Fortitude’s throat and we’ll see how well your idea works."

"You got it." She replied with much more enthusiasm then anyone else felt. Then again, T’Kir was very likely gliding down the slippery slope into insanity. If she was enthusiastic about a plan, it was probably for the best that no one else was. If the rest of the crew began to agree with her, then it was time to worry.

"This conflict must end." Trevik announced flatly.

"I agree." Hudson replied.

"Then we should be able convince the others." Trevik said, "I suggest we link our signal and work together to convince our feuding companions."

"The Wanderer’s shields are buckling." Astraea’s Weapons officer reported.

"Good." She replied grimly, "Finish her off."

"They are Maquis." The Weapons officer reminded her.

"Not for long."

"Shields at fifteen percent." Tulley reported, "One more direct hit and they’ll collapse."

"Throw all available power into the structural integrity field and hold on." Ro ordered, "I don’t know how well the inertial damper will handle the load."

With that, Ro threw the ship into a violent thruster slide. Sparks erupted across the bridge as the elderly inertial damper overloaded. She hated to think about what the engine room looked like at that moment. Pressure mounted as gravitic forces mounted.

The ship slid under the Freedom Fighter. The shields reacted off of each other creating a miasmic inferno of conflicting energy. The Wanderer’s shields flickered out of existence. Ro rolled the ship up over the Fighter’s hull and opened fire.

The Wanderer’s phasers lashed out. The bursts hammered the already weakened shields. The shields collapsed and the phasers cut into the hull. Ro ceased fire and turned away.

"That bitch!" Astraea shouted, "Bring us about. Concentrate all firepower on that damn ship!"

"Our shields are down!" her First Officer warned, "If they hit us with a torpedo, we’re dead."

"Then we’ll just have to kill them before they can launch one." Astraea snarled.

"They’re coming after us." Tulley reported as calmly as he would the weather. Ro admired that about the man. She also knew it derived from his personality and not from any kind of training. Experience had bolstered and reinforced this ability.

"What’s their status?" Ro asked.

"Their shields are down."

"Do they have any torpedoes left?" Ro asked.

"Unknown." Tulley answered, "They haven’t armed any at least."

"Do we have any left?"

"One."

"Have we armed it?"

"No."

"Why not?" she asked testily.

"I didn’t want them to know we still had one."

"I think now is a good time to tell them." Ro replied, "It might convince them that trying to kill us isn’t worth it."

"Then again," he countered, "it might make them desperate. Who knows how they’ll react if they’re desperate?"

"Just arm the damn thing!" she snapped.

"Aye, Skipper." Tulley said as unflappably as ever.

"Bring us about." Macen ordered sharply.

The Odyssey executed a tight loop. The manoeuvre was tighter than anything the Fortitude could hope to accomplish or counter. The scout was now directly on the starship’s "six". Predictably, Trist ordered his ship to reverse engines, exactly what T’Kir’s plan called for.

T’Kir guided the ship on an attack pattern that passed the scout bare metres over the starship’s warp nacelles. Macen fired phasers and torpedoes as they streaked over the top of the cruiser. While this bombardment occurred, Danan activated the transporter controls and beamed two modified torpedo casings one metre from the Fortitude’s shields one to either side of the ship’s drive section. The torpedoes had matter/anti-matter bottles affixed to them, quadrupling their normal yield.

The resultant explosion buckled the Fortitude’s shields, as well as a significant portion of her drive section. T’Kir brought the Odyssey about and came back towards the crippled starship. Danan shook her head as her scans probed the ruined vessel. Macen ran scans as well.

"Damage report!" Trist shouted from the smoke filled ruin of his bridge. He received no reply to his order. He pushed himself up onto his knees vowing vengeance upon Togray for ignoring his command. "Damn you Togray! How much damage of we taken?"

"Togray’s dead." The wavering voice of his communications officer reported.

Trist snorted. The incompetent fool deserved death. He’d failed his clan leader. Death was a mild punishment.

"Then you tell me how badly we are damaged."

The woman blanched, then recovered, "We have lost shields. Both main and auxiliary power are out. Warp drive, sensors, and weapons are off-line."

"Damn them." Trist snarled, "How can this have happened?"

"They beamed two augmented photon torpedoes to either side of us and remotely detonated them." The comm officer replied tiredly.

Trist drew his phaser and shot her. He stared across the wreckage of the bridge to the two surviving crewmen.

"Does anyone else feel insubordinate?"

Seeing that neither of them would express any dissenting opinions, Trist tapped the Engineering intercom button on the command chair, "Engineering, when will we have power restored?"

Silence

"Engineering?"

Silence

"Get someone down there!" Trist snapped at his two remaining subordinates, "Find out why those fools refuse to answer me."

Both Andorians opted to go. Trist never even realised they were gone. He sank into his command chair and sat staring at the blank viewer. His mind raged over the supposed failures of his crew.

"Fire!" Ro yelled. Tulley launched the last torpedo. It went streaking towards the Freedom Fighter. It would take less than two seconds to reach its target. There was no chance of evasion.

"Fire all phasers!" Astraea yelled.

"Cap’n!" her XO yelled, "Hudson just ordered the fleet to stand down.

"Cap, the Wanderer just fired a torpedo." The woman manning the weapons console reported.

"We’re dead." Astraea replied flatly.

The Freedom Fighter exploded just after her phasers began cutting through the Wanderer’s hull. The unshielded metal was sheared as though it were paper. Most of the crew that wasn’t killed by the blasts was sucked into the void as the hull was breached. The emergency systems of the bridge pod activated and detached the command module from the main hull.

The secondary explosion as the warp core destabilised buffeted the module. The remaining navigational shields overloaded. Overtaxed systems and power junctions exploded across the pod. The pod escaped a breach, but all of its systems were rendered inoperable. It glided through space deaf, blind, and defenceless.

"Trevik!" Hudson shouted into his comm panel. He glanced up at his Ops officer, "What happened?"

"The Wanderer and the Freedom Fighter just destroyed one another." Sveta Korepanova reported.

"My God." Hudson muttered under his breath, "I never thought it would come to this."

"Sir," Sveta spoke up, "the Liberty is reporting that the Wanderer’s command pod survived and that it contains two faint life signs."

"Can it be true?" Hudson asked warily, "It may be a trick to set an ambush. The Liberty arrived with the Wanderer. Her captain may be after revenge."

"I know Chakotay." Sveta replied, "I recruited him to the Maquis. If he says there are two life signs, then there are survivors. He’s an honourable man."

"All right." Hudson conceded, "Offer any assistance and patch me back into all ships. This ends now."

"I’m not reading anything from the Fortitude." Lisea reported, "I think we’ve stopped her."

"How badly were we hit?" Macen asked.

"I did a damage control check." T’Kir answered, "We’ve got two dead and six wounded. We’ve still got main power and warp capacity."

Macen grimaced. That was a third of his crew. The shields were operating just below fifty percent and their torpedo racks were nearly depleted. Both the ship and her crew needed this conflict to end.

"We’re receiving a hail from Calvin Hudson." T’Kir announced.

Macen routed through his board and played the message over the bridge speakers, "This is Captain Calvin Hudson to all Maquis ships. Cease hostilities. I repeat, cease hostilities. We must co-operate and leave this area as soon as possible. We must work together or see the future of our worlds collapse."

"Finally," Macen said scornfully, "someone recognises the situation for what it is."

"It may be too late." Danan said grimly, all colour draining from her face.

"What is it?" Macen asked in dread.

"Three Galor-class cruisers headed our way at warp 8." She said in a voice so low it was almost a whisper, "They’ll be here in fifteen minutes."

 

Chapter 16

"Raise the Fortitude!" Macen ordered.

"Brin, she’s dead in the water." Danan said with some confusion.

"And she may be the only hope the rest of us have of escaping this alive." Macen replied, "Trist created this fiasco. Now its time to see if he wants to be part of the solution."

"How badly is the fleet damaged?" Hudson asked Korepanova.

The platinum haired beauty double-checked her instruments before answering, "Not including the three destroyed ships, we have five cripples. They can manoeuvre, but their warp drives are off-line. They have also taken heavy casualties."

"And the Fortitude is among them?"

Sveta’s pale blue eyes never wavered as answered in the affirmative.

"Damn."

The viewer flickered as the starship’s communication signal wavered in and out. Trist could be seen sitting in "his" command chair. The bridge around him was a smoking ruin. There was no chance this once proud ship would ever fight again.

Trist’s eyes glowered with hate as he spoke, "If you are seeking my surrender, look elsewhere. I will never grovel before you!"

"Just shut up." Macen snapped, "I don’t want your surrender. I want you to blow yourself up."

The afterlife looks, well... different then I expected Ro mused as she opened her eyes groggily, I expected people to be happier. And I sure as hell assumed they’d be Bajoran!

It wasn’t until the woman that had been standing over her called for Chakotay that Ro realised she was still alive. She immediately tried to rise, but the ship’s internal gravity must have been having problems. She suddenly found her body too heavy to lift.

The medic noticed Ro’s difficulty and asked what was wrong.

"Has someone tinkered with the gravitic settings for this room?" Ro croaked. Prophets! Her voice sounded bad even to her.

The medic smiled, "No, ma’am."

Ro groaned as she closed her eyes, "Don’t call me that."

"Why not?"

"Because that makes it sound like I’m in command." Ro answered bitterly, "And I have nothing to be in command of."

"That’s not quite true." The medic replied, "One of your crew also survived."

Ro’s eyes snapped open, "Who?"

"Jamie MacGuyvers."

"Thank you." Ro sighed, then with slight hesitation, "Can I ask your name?"

The medic smiled brightly, "Tess Harper, ma’am."

"Call me Laren." Ro insisted then drifted back into unconsciousness.

"Captain," Hudson’s comm officer spoke up, "We’re being hailed by Captain Macen."

"Macen?" Hudson repeated, "Pipe it to my console!"

Hudson gave Macen a wry smile, "Hello Brin, it seems you may have been correct after all."

"Of course I was right." Macen replied wearily, "But forget all that for now, we have larger issues to deal with at this moment."

"Yes, and we only have eleven minutes to find a solution." Hudson grumbled, "Any brilliant suggestions?"

"As a matter of fact," Macen informed him with a satisfied smirk, "I do. In fact, I’ve already set a plan in motion."

"Are you going to update me, or are you just going to torture me with hints?"

Macen shrugged, "I haven’t completely decided yet."

"You bastard." Hudson muttered.

"Chakotay," Seska spoke up, "we’re getting new orders from Calvin Hudson... and Brin Macen."

"From both of them?" Chakotay asked, "Things must really be bad if they’re issuing joint orders. Route it to my console."

Seska frowned outwardly at his gallows humour, but inwardly cheered. She’d grown weary of portraying a Bajoran for Gul Evek and craved a return to her life as a Cardassian. She only hoped that when the cruisers arrived, she’d be able to disable the Liberty’s systems long enough for her to be captured. Once aboard a Cardassian cruiser, it would prove easy to claim this victory as her own.

"More survivors?" Seska complained, "Where are we going to put them?"

"We’re only getting three or four." Chakotay explained, "Five ships of the fleet are too badly damaged to escape."

"So, they’re staying behind." Terikof finished for him.

"Exactly." Chakotay replied happily.

"Five crippled ships still won’t slow three Galor-class ships for long." Seska retorted.

"That’s where the Fortitude comes in." Chakotay announced.

"The..?" Seska stammered, "But she’s dead in space!"

"Apparently not dead enough." Chakotay informed her cryptically.

"We could stay together and try to destroy them all."

"Too many of our ships are badly damaged." Chakotay said with a sad shake of his head, "Besides, they’ve undoubtedly signalled for reinforcements. If we stay to engage them, then we’ll all get sucked into a trap."

Which is precisely what I was hoping for. Damn you!

"All the personnel have been evacuated from the delaying force." Danan reported, "Only the volunteers remain aboard."

"Acknowledged." Macen replied grimly. The Weapons console had been repaired and Hereford had taken that station. That freed Macen’ s board to be utilised as a mirror to the navigation systems. He currently had a tactical display showing all the converging units into play.

The situation remained grim. Even if his gamble succeeded, and he was confident it would, the situation would still turn into a race for the Badlands. The Cardassians had all the advantages in speed and power. The Maquis would still have to pull some inspired manoeuvres out of their collective hats in order to get all of their ships to safety.

"Have you finished modifying the torpedoes?" Macen asked Desrin over the comm.

"Aye, sir." Desrin reported, "They’re ready."

Macen selected two points on the nav chart, "Beam them to these co-ordinates."

A moments pause, "They’re away."

"Thanks Chief." Macen acknowledged and killing the connection, "Hereford, transmit the control codes for the torpedoes to the Falling Star."

The Falling Star had been designated the command ship of the force being left behind. It was a dubious honour. No one ever wanted a suicide mission as his or her first command. The Star's captain had accepted the task with amazing aplomb.

"T’Kir, plot our course back to the Badlands. Keep us one light minute behind the fleet." T’Kir gave him a sceptical look.

Macen smiled grimly, "We’re the rear-guard."

He turned to Danan, whose look of resolve matched his own, "Lisea, keep a lookout for anything that we can use to slow the Cardies down."

She smirked at his use of the popular slur for the Cardassians. Macen generally avoided such things, but it quietly reflected his own unease. She knew that Macen had little faith in his own tactical abilities. His measures were generally the result of divine inspiration, or momentary insanity depending on the moment and the plan.

As long as she’d known him, in her various incarnations, she’d never learned quite where he came up with his seat of the pants "solutions". What she had learned over the decades was that the more desperate the crisis, the more outrageous the plan. She instinctively knew that she didn’t want to know what his demented brain would conceive this time. His fluctuations occasionally took a toll on her desire for an orderly universe and this was one of those times.

"Aye, sir." She managed to reply without adding, and just what the hell should I look for?

"The holding force has signalled its readiness," Sveta informed Hudson, "including Captain Trist."

Hudson snorted in surprise at the last. Maybe there is a God, he thought wryly, It would take an act by one to change Trist. Hudson knew that the simple truth was that the embittered, glory seeking Andorian had realised that his only chance to redeem his name among the Maquis ranks was to co-operate with this most desperate of gambits. Hudson nodded to Sveta.

"Ask Captain Trist if any of his crew are beaming aboard another vessel?"

Sveta shook her head, "They won’t. Trist is still their clan leader. They’ll follow him to the death."

Hudson sighed wearily. Their leader was an unworthy, untrustworthy lunatic and they would still lay down their lives for him. It still amazed him that the Andorians had ever joined the Federation at all. He supposed the only consolation was that most of Trist’s crew was already dead.

There’s a bitter irony. Hudson chided himself, Feelings of gratitude that those misguided souls already threw their lives away so that they wouldn’t have to turn around and have to do it later.

"Get me Burroughs." He said, referring to the acting commander of the Falling Star, "And signal the rest of the fleet. We’re moving out."

"The fleet’s moving." T’Kir announced.

"You know your course, Helm." Macen replied, "Hold to it."

"Laying course and holding to, aye."

Gul Fromar glanced at the glinn manning tactical, "How soon until we intercept?"

The glinn hesitated before answering, "The enemy has divided their forces. Six ships are remaining behind while the rest are fleeing."

"Composition of the remaining forces?"

"Five scoutships and what appears to be a Federation starship."

"A starship!?" Fromar choked, "You must be imagining things. The Federation has neither the stomach nor the strength to invade our territory. They are cowards, afraid of their own shadows. Even the Ferengi are less disgusting since they have no pretensions of courage."

"Nevertheless," the glinn insisted, "my readings indicate a starship."

"Very well." Fromar replied through gritted teeth, "Order all ships to converge on this ‘starship’ and we shall destroy it and these pathetic scouts before moving on to eradicate the other vermin."

"As you command."

Trist waited. The Galor-class ships were bearing in. They would be within range of the Fortitude’s death knell in one minute. Rather than rely upon the self-destruct, Trist’s surviving engineers had arranged to dump all of the remaining deuterium into the anti-deuterium tank without benefit of the intermix chamber. The resulting explosion would wreak havoc upon the warp signatures of the departing Maquis and would create a subspace "ripple" that distort the signs of any course changes they made after the blast.

Trist knew they were planning just such a change. That was why his ship’s destruction was so vital. The five remaining Maquis ships were merely here to slow the Cardassians down even more. The most pivotal aspect was timing his destruction.

Trist depressed the button on the Engineering console that would initiate the matter "dump". Yellow halos of energy appeared across the bridge, coalescing into Cardassian troops. Trist smiled even as they shot him in the chest. He died content knowing he would take some of the bastards with him.

Chaos erupted as the Fortitude exploded. The nearest Galor was still in the process of raising its shields, lowered in order to transport the boarding party, when the blast caught it amidships. Armour plating liquefied and became swept up in the torrent wave. The cruiser survived the blast but was severely crippled.

The other two ships shields were weakened and had overloaded several systems but were still battle worthy. The five Maquis ships swept in on impulse and engaged the beleaguered warships. The scouts fired their remaining torpedoes, further weakening their opponents’ shields. They darted in and out, hammering at the larger ships with phasers.

Freida Burroughs grimaced as her scout took another hit. Her remaining eye narrowed as damage reports continued to come in. Half of her face was wrapped in bandages, as was her left hand. Her right leg was now missing below her knee.

Burroughs’ injuries were stabilised and far from fatal. Maquis medical facilities were crude compared to Federation standards, just as they were exceptionally advanced in light of Cardassian practices, and she was crippled beyond their capacity to restore. Almost every one of her volunteers possessed similar injuries. This was their gift to their fellows, their last opportunity to actively engage the enemy.

For Burroughs, it was also an act of contrition. She’d allowed her festering hatred for the Cardies to cloud her judgement and lure her towards Trist’s mad vision. She’d seen the strike as her chance to lay the ghosts of her husband and children to rest. She’d allowed that false hope to persuade her into firing on her brethren.

Two of her ships had already been destroyed. The remaining three were barely holding together. She’d ordered them to begin an apparent retreat in order to convince the Cardassians to pursue them. The plan appeared to be working.

The Cardassian weapons crews were so intent on destroying their foes, they missed the torpedo casings they came along side of whilst in pursuit. The Maquis slowed, trying to minimise the distance between the cruisers and the bombs. Another Maquis ship was destroyed, the other two were ravaged by incoming fire. One of the cruiser’s shields nearly bumped a bomb before Burroughs activated it.

"Burn in hell." She whispered as she pressed the trigger.

Burroughs would never know if her final wish for the Cardassians was granted. Hell wasn’t necessary at this point; anti-matter made an equitable substitute. A final onslaught of photon torpedoes destroyed the remaining Maquis scouts just a millisecond before the anti-matter boosted torpedoes detonated. The cruiser closest to the bombs was instantly destroyed. The second lost hull integrity and its crew died slowly as their atmosphere bled into the void, asphyxiating the few survivors of the blast.

 

Chapter 17

"Incoming transmission." Hereford announced, "It’s from Captain Hudson."

"Patch it through to my board." Macen told her.

Calvin’s face appeared looking rather grim. The "fleet" had altered course three times since leaving their comrades behind. This had been necessary due to the Cardassians Command Datalink. It was likely that the High Command knew of their original course and had dispatched a squadron of ships to intercept them.

Macen hid his rueful appreciation of the Cardassian’s Datalink technology. The paranoia rampant in Cardassian culture extended to their own people. In response to that, the High Command had installed Datalinks in all Cardassian ships, civilian and military, to better track them and receive continuous reports from them. It would be laughable if it didn’t grant the ships an additional lethal ability.

Cardassian ships could link their fire control computers. In essence, this transformed all of ships within range into an oversized weapons platform. The accuracy of their fire control had proven decisive on several occasions during the Federation Union border conflicts. Since they had been within sensor range of the three pursuing Cardie cruisers when they lit out of the system, it was a certainty that High Command had already calculated where their original vector would take them.

"Brin." Hudson intoned sombrely.

"What’s up, Cal?" Macen asked with equal gravity, knowing that Hudson’s call was far from social.

"Our listening post on Tedri IX has sent a flash warning." Hudson informed him, "A Cardie squadron has begun a patrol there."

Macen reflected on that. Tedri was an asteroid on the periphery of the sea of plasma storms known as the Badlands. It was also several light hours away from the fleet’s planned insertion into those same plasma storms. There was a chance, a very minuscule chance, that the fleet could evade the Cardassian sensors by attempting a ballistic entry.

The only way to optimise the chances of success under that plan would be to cut drives, sensors and shields. The scoutships wouldn’t last a second against the raging plasma discharges within the Badlands unshielded. The only other option was a diversion. Macen’s ship was the only one that could travel faster than the current Warp 6 the fleet was holding as well as being the most heavily armed. The choice was simple.

"Maintain course." Macen told him, "We’ll push ahead and insure that your path is unobstructed."

"Thank you." Hudson said quietly, "Good luck and stay alive."

Macen gave him a lop-sided grin, "I’ll do my best."

Macen looked up from his board and found the rest of the bridge officers staring at him. Hereford looked positively stunned. T’Kir wore a manic grin that was rather disconcerting. Lisea’s expression was one of resignation.

"T’Kir, take us to maximum warp."

She turned with a shrug and manipulated her controls, "Warp 8, aye. We’re leaving the fleet behind."

"Now," he sighed heavily, "any suggestions?"

"Self-destruct sounds pretty good." T’Kir muttered.

"Stow that!" Hereford snapped, "I’m not committing suicide. Not now, not ever."

"What d’you call this?" T’Kir mumbled.

"Lisea, what about you?"

Danan met his eyes and held them. Outwardly, he remained calm but his eyes held a silent plea. She had been looking for a natural advantage to use against the Cardies and now it was time to report on what she’d found. Unfortunately, she had nothing except the very plasma storms they were headed for.

"Brin, I’m sorry. I don’t know..." he voice drifted as her eyes became unfocused as she delved inward for an answer.

"Maybe..." she mumbled as she turned to her station. She quickly ran several computations and pulled several files.

"Hot damn!" she exclaimed to herself, "It might actually work."

"What might work?" Macen asked impatiently.

She turned to face him, her voice flushed with excitement, "Okay, we all know the Badlands are an ongoing series of interconnected plasma storms." That drew nods of agreement(and in T’Kir’s case a contemptuous roll of the eyes), "The storms periphery is determined by the dissipation of the ionisation that sustains the plasma. The storms stop where the ion fields are no longer strong enough to compress the plasma streams into their relative cloud formations"

"So we need to increase the ionisation effect in order to project a plasma stream towards the Cardassians!" Hereford finished excitedly.

"Exactly Nancy!" Lisea beamed.

"Can we do it?" Macen asked.

"Well," Danan thought aloud, "If we modify two torpedoes, filling one with warp plasma and the other with an ion generator, we should get a discharge started."

"Problem." Hereford interjected, "We only have three torps left. If we don’t get the reaction we want on the first try, we won’t get a second."

Macen nodded, "Keep the third loaded on our aft launcher. How close will we have to get to the Badlands to start this reaction?"

"Good question." Danan replied, "I’ll have an answer before we get to the Badlands."

"Get Rett up here to relieve you." Macen ordered, "I want you in the Science Lab working on it. Nancy, call your relief as well. I want you assisting Desrin with the modifications to the torpedoes."

"Aye, sir." They replied in unison.

"When do I get a break?" T’Kir groused.

"After we kill the Cardassians."

"Great." T’Kir replied bitterly, "After my funeral then."

"Just think of it as a chance to show off that renowned Vulcan stamina."

"Who the hell said I even wanted to be Vulcan?"

"Biology, m’dear." Macen chuckled, "You’re a Vulcan whether you want to act like one or not."

Gul Drimin paced across the bridge of his ship. His predatory scowl and hungry eyes made many of his glinns think of the Shadragh monsters of ancient myth. Gul Evek had granted Drimin this assignment as a chance to prove his worthiness for greater responsibility. It was an opportunity he did not wish to squander.

Evek’s position as the Cardassian Gul in charge of the DMZ gave him access to the highest levels of the Union. Those under his wing could advance far and wide. But patronage did not come cheaply. Drimin had set out to do whatever was required to earn Evek’s patronage.

Drimin’s primary task was to exterminate as many Maquis as he could find. He knew that the Maquis had a listening post nearby. Half the damned sector knew there was a Maquis post nearby, the trick was finding the cursed thing. The Maquis had infiltrated and colonised the Badlands with a passion that bordered on insanity.

Insanity was the only way to describe a group that willing flew into the heart of the largest on-going plasma storms in the Quadrant. They not only flew in there, they’d settled the damned monstrosity. It was wildly rumoured that they’d discovered an "eye in the storm", so to speak, and settled on several class M worlds as well as other, less inviting geospheres found there.

Drimin’s forces frequently swept the outer planetoids drifting on the outer fringe of the Badlands. They also employed smaller ships to penetrate the unpredictable plasma eddies in an attempt to track down the potentially mythical secret bases. Cruisers rarely returned from forays into the inner depths of the Badlands. They did not possess the manoeuvrability to avoid the sudden, fiery discharges.

Drimin’s only hope was to catch the bastards before they entered the shifting miasma. He’d stretched his forces as thin as he could and still maintain oversight over them. He’d heard the Starfleet operated under near autonomous conditions. He couldn’t fathom that. How could any effective fighting force allow their commanders unilateral authority? It was no wonder they’d sued the Union for peace.

"ETA to the Badlands?" Macen asked.

"One hour, fifteen minutes." T’Kir replied grumpily, "Just enough time to change course before they detect us."

Macen rubbed his forehead, "Belay that, mister."

"Mister." She grumbled, "Man doesn’t even know the difference between male and female."

Macen commed Danan, "Any progress?"

"Yes, but we need to discuss what I’ve learned."

"I’ll expect you in my Briefing Room."

"Aye, sir."

Mere minutes passed before Danan appeared. Macen left his station and ushered her into the Briefing Room. Hereford was left in charge. She noticed the disgruntled expression T’Kir wore as she watched Macen and Danan retreat off the bridge.

"Unless of course, that female has spots." T’Kir muttered venomously.

"What’s the situation?" Macen asked without a preamble.

"We can trigger a plasma discharge." Danan informed him.

"But?"

"We need to be within 500 kilometres of the main storm and the discharge will only blanket an area of approximately 3 light minutes."

"Which means we need to get them grouped as closely as possible." He replied grimly.

"We also need to angle the torpedoes at a precise angle in order to vector a resultant discharge towards a specific target area."

Lisea shrugged, "I can prep Nancy on what she’ll have to aim at."

"No." Macen declared flatly.

"What?" Danan asked incredulously, "Brin, its a little late to alter the plan now."

"I’m not altering it." Macen replied, "I’m placing you in charge of it."

"What?!"

"We’ll transfer the torpedo fire controls to the command as well as sensor feeds." Macen explained, "That will give you fire discretion."

"Brin, I don’t want to lead this ship into combat unless I have to."

"You won’t have to worry about the tactical situation." He assured her, "I’ll still be in the bridge. Rett will have sensors and Hereford will have weapons. We’ll deal with the tactical end, you and T’Kir will have to take care of the strategic part."

"Oh, hell." She muttered under her breath, "We’re going to die."

"Come on," he urged, "I have complete faith in your abilities."

"I’m not worried about me." Lisea replied, "That psycho witch is going to get us all killed."

Macen chuckled, "So, she’s a little stressed and its making her act a little...odd."

"A little? She’s a few plasma coils short of a warp drive!"

Macen shrugged, "Laren trusted her. That’s enough for me. The kid’s gone through hell and I’m willing cut her some slack while she’s pulling herself together."

"And if she can’t?"

Macen met her eyes, but offered no reply. That was a possibility he would rather not dwell upon.

Lisea settled down into the command chair and switched torpedo controls to her board. Sensor feed also began to come in from the Science station. Rett had a broader range of scan ability available to her, but Danan had enough for what she needed to accomplish. Macen had settled in directly behind her, leaning against the railing that separated the bridge from the Briefing Room foyer.

Danan had never led a ship into combat. She’d never intended to lead a ship into combat. Up until now, she’d always provided informational support for Macen. Actually, he’d amazed her in his fulfilling that role.

The El-Aurians were a technocratic race to rival the Vulcans or the Trill. They had a highly developed, cosmopolitan mentality and were loathe to engage in violence. Both Macen and Danan came from scientific backgrounds that would have normally have kept them out of the command track. Now they were in command of vessels constantly in peril.

Life’s full of surprises, she mused.

"Targets acquired." Rett announced, "Six Galor-class cruisers, bearing 703 mark 5."

"Contacts confirmed." Hereford called.

"Set course 658 mark 3, ahead warp 4" Danan ordered.

T’Kir dutifully laid on the course correction and slowed the scout.

"Contact!" the glinn at Tracking declared.

"How many?" Drimin asked quickly.

"One."

"What? You must be mistaken."

"No, sir. There is only one ship."

Of all the wretched circumstances, Drimin fumed internally, I suppose it could be because the others were all destroyed, but I doubt it. These thrice-damned Maquis are masters at slipping through cracks.

"Where are they headed?"

"They are on an approach for patrol grid 56." The glinn answered.

"Can we intercept?"

"Easily, if we go to Warp 6."

"Do it."

"They’ve gone to warp." Rett reported.

"Time to intercept is now four minutes." Hereford announced.

"Drop to impulse two light minutes from the outer boundary of the Badlands and set course 197 by 45." Danan ordered, "That should give us one minute before they intercept."

Macen grinned appreciatively from behind her.

"They have dropped out of warp and have altered course." The Tracking glinn reported.

"Hah!" Drimin snorted, "They are fleeing."

"Actually, sir, they have dropped out of warp and have turned towards us."

"Drop out of warp. Order the squadron to go to battle stations."

"They’ve dropped out of warp and are arming all weapons systems." Hereford announced seconds before the first phaser blast rocked the ship.

"Evasive action." Danan replied while studying her board, "Try to lead them to these co-ordinates."

T’Kir stole a glance at the co-ordinates as they appeared on her board. She shrugged and began her manoeuvres. The rapid-fire evasions, although appearing random, all carefully edged closer and closer to the Badlands. The Cardassians were dutifully doing their best to kill them and T’Kir could only hope that Danan would order her to break of soon.

"Break right!" Danan shouted as the ship shuddered under another phaser blast, "Set 271."

The Odyssey dove away from the Cardassian cruisers. T’Kir performed a barrel roll just to annoy the Cardies and keep them in pursuit. She continued random jinks as she maintained a steady push along Danan’s co-ordinates. Then she received the orders she dreaded.

"Hold us on a steady course." Danan ordered, "I need to target our torpedoes precisely."

The ship shuddered as the shields took multiple blasts, "Shields are weakening." Hereford’s voice had a tinge of rising alarm.

"All six cruisers have spread out behind us." Rett reported, "They are now all bringing weapons to bear on us."

"I just need another few seconds." Danan replied as a concentrated blast rocked the ship. Alarms sounded and circuits fried as the shields collapsed under the volume of fire. With the shields down, they would not survive another direct hit.

"Damage report!" Macen called out, "Fire aft torpedo at the centre ship."

Hereford launched the torpedo. Macen hoped his guess that this was the command ship was correct. The unified barrage of fire compelled him to believe that the Cardassian Gul was employing the Command Datalink to control all the cruiser’s targeting arrays. If he could make that ship hesitate, they might survive long enough for Danan to reach a targeting solution.

"I’ve got it!" she announced exuberantly, "Torpedoes away!"

She turned to T’Kir, "Get us out of here!"

T’Kir’s practically lunged at her controls. The Odyssey banked sharply to her right and then the warp engines engaged. It was a wrenching transition since the inertial damper was still compensating for the high g turn. The Odyssey sped away, accelerating ever faster as she fled.

Drimin stared in horror as he realised what had happened. His assumption of control over all weapons systems had left the squadron incapable of responding while his system was momentarily disrupted by the anti-matter discharge of the torpedo. His eyes widened in horror as he watched the Badlands reach out for him and encircle his entire squadron in its lethal embrace. He perished knowing his arrogance and hunger for personal glory had slain his entire task force.

Calvin Hudson wore a grim expression as the Committee ended its session. The crisis brought about by Trist’s actions had called for immediate action and that action would have lasting repercussions. It had been decided that formal systems of government and military structure were required. Although cell networks would remain intact for intelligence purposes, individual commanders would no longer possess the sweeping powers of the past.

The civilian government and the military establishment were being formally separated. Owing to the ongoing struggle and the composition of the Maquis populace, no separation would be total. Calvin Hudson had been declared the first Admiral of the Maquis Defence Forces. In essence, he possessed more power than Greg Davis did as the first Secretary General of the Maquis Assembly.

The stubbornly independent nature of the Maquis colonists had necessitated a parliamentary form of government. Hudson, as Fleet Admiral, combined the offices of commander-in-chief and of President. He provided leadership and executed the decisions of the elected Assembly. As one of the few Maquis leaders to rise above the tragedy and own up to his culpability, his star had risen had the Committee had felt he represented the best chance to unify the factions that had formed.

Ro was making a full recovery. She’d been offered a new position, Commander of the Maquis Commandos. The organisation was presently a mere organisational chart, but that was expected to change swiftly. Growing discontent within the Federation over its Cardassian policies were being fed by recent hostilities by the Dominion. More and more Federation colonists were seeing their destiny as an arbitrary matter to the bureaucracies on Earth, Vulcan, and the other core worlds of the Federation.

Maquis recruiting efforts in the frontier had yielded an unexpected harvest of new blood. They joined because they saw their fates intertwined with that of the Maquis. If they were crushed due to being abandoned by the Federation, then who was to say their homes would not be next? These recruits did not come quietly, but broadcast their decision to the authorities before leaving their worlds. The unexpected press was favourable to the Maquis and had tripled their recruitment.

Ro sat up and gave Macen and Danan a wry smile as they entered.

Macen threw her a mock salute, "Hello, Colonel."

Ro glared at him, "Stop that, you know as well as I do that Colonel was the same rank as Captain in the old Starfleet Marines."

"I do." Macen grinned, "But most people don’t."

"Well, I hear another set of congratulations are in order." Ro said as she turned to Danan, "I hear it was your plan that took out an entire Cardie squadron."

Lisea’s cheeks coloured slightly, but she kept a straight face, "Yup."

"Good for you." Ro said proudly. She turned to Macen, "Watch your tail, she’s going to outpace you."

Macen laughed, "Let her."

"I thought you might say something like that.’ Ro chuckled, "I hear they tagged you for ‘bigger and better’ things as well."

Macen’s smile transformed into a grimace, "Yeah."

"So, how’s it feel to be the new spymaster of the Maquis?"

Macen rolled his eyes, "They’re just finally letting me pursue my speciality. I’m not running the Intelligence division."

"Right." She replied sceptically, "You’re staying in command of the Odyssey?"

He smiled, "It’s the best mobile command centre I could ask for. Every Cardassian that’s made an ID on her is dead. Our cover should hold and give us access to the DMZ and Federation space."

"Sounds like a plan." Ro commented.

"I hope so." Macen agreed.

"I hope so simply because I don’t want T’Kir back under my command." Ro said dryly, "But I’ll take Lisea any day."

"I don’t think so." Danan replied, "I’m more than happy stay aboard a starship. You can keep the dirtside action for yourself."

"Thanks." Ro groused.

"Sorry to cut this short," Macen interrupted, "but we need to oversee the repairs to the ship and screen out new crew applicants."

T’Kir saw Macen and Danan crossing the main corridor en route to the Odyssey. Her eyes narrowed as she watched them go. She respected Macen, he was willing to give her a chance. Her latent telepathic abilities gave her a taste of his thoughts and she could tell he respected her abilities.

Danan, on the other hand, distrusted her. She could feel the Trill’s apprehension every time they were near one another. She could also feel the abiding affection between Danan and Macen. She seethed inside as she realised that Macen continued to choose Danan over her.

Her guts twisted as she thought of that. She cursed inwardly as she realised that meant she was attracted to him. She wished Danan were out of the picture so she could find out what could happen. Her fists clenched in an unconscious reaction as she felt hate’s cold tendrils wrap around her heart.

Lisea sank into the couch with a sigh. Brin continued to pace around. They ‘d brought a few boxes of personal effects with them and had personalised their shared room. A rueful smirk flickered across his face.

"It appears as though you’ve won."

Brin stopped pacing. The look on his face was one of resigned disgust, "No, Lee, Alynna Nechayev won."

"You know this will actually help the Maquis."

He sighed heavily, "The problem is that I do realise that. I also know that our part in all of it, and in what’s coming, will aid them considerably."

His eyes revealed his inner anguish as he met her gaze, "Knowing all of that, why do I still feel torn?"

"Because your a man of conviction. You don’t believe in half measures."

"The Cardassians would certainly agree with you." He said sarcastically.

She rose from the couch and put her arms around him. He returned her embrace. They stood in silence. They were both drawn to a cause and yet couldn’t abandon the oaths they’d made to Starfleet. They existed in a limbo, caught between the parent and its forsaken child in a feud that was costing more and more lives. They sat in the centre trying to balance the extremes of the embittered relatives and keep a means of rapprochement open. They were discovering how lonely the centre was in a war of conflicting beliefs.

 

- The End -

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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