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Fallout by Travis Anderson

The Spy, the Rebel, the Daredevil, the Fighter, the Lightbulb, the Muscle, the Fixer, the
Rock, the Brain, and one ship shared by all. The tale continues...

Chapter One

Laos II was a colony established around the time Vega Colony had been settled. Twelve star systems away, Laos was Vega's closest inhabited neighbor. Not as renowned as Vega Colony, Laos was known for several specialties that it did better than the rest of the Federation. One of the things that Laos was most famous for was private security agencies. Services ranging from a standby personal detail to an installation's coverage were easily handled at various levels of agencies that made Laos their home.

The competition between agencies was brutal and demanded the highest levels of skill and professionalism. Those that couldn't aspire to greatness quickly faded into obscurity. Conversely, this aspiration to be the best spilled over to other professions.

Private investigators split from security companies and either profited or completely floundered. It was on this world that Annika Ryst came to when she became Celeste Rockford and established Rockford Investigations. Rockford spent five years alone carving out her own brand of an empire before taking on associates. Once she was elevated to a rarified advisory capacity, Annika Ryst became more active as a soldier for hire once again.

Over the course of the Dominion War, Rockford's services were in high demand. Afterwards, she split her time up with the Annika Ryst persona as Ryst sought favor with the Orion Syndicate. Still, Rockford's personal successes when she was dominant coupled with the pure skill of her associates made it so she was able to spread branch offices across strategic Federation worlds.

But Laos II was where Celeste Rockford had been born and so this is where she returned for her wedding day. Rockford Investigations had begun in the capitol city of Lan Xang in the upscale Sisavang Vong district. Because of this, Rockford had arranged for the ceremony to take place in the nearby Pathet Lao Park.

Rockford's list of guests leaned heavily toward s Laotian law enforcement as well as law enforcement officials across the Federation. She also drew from her own pool of investigators. Some were too entrenched in time sensitive cases but she'd rather they continue with those then blow a client's gift credits by destroying a case just to attend a wedding. Even if it were hers.

Macen's list included the prerequisite crew of the Obsidian, the command staff of Serenity Station, and corporate officers of Outbound Ventures, Inc. But it also weighed disproportionately towards Starfleet admiralty.

Admirals Alynna Nechayev, Amanda Forger, and Robert Tavar Johnson were in attendance. Captain Ro Laren of Deep Space Nine wouldn't have been anywhere else and Captain Alfonso Reyes would have been anywhere Ro was. Elias Vaughn, Starfleet (Retired) had come out of isolation to attend of course. The senior staff of the USS Intrepid was also present. The deep ties between Jim McKinley's crew and Macen's guaranteed they'd be here.

Johnson was more than a mere guest. He was officiating the ceremony. Given the disparate backgrounds of both bride and groom, they decided to blend elements of traditions from both their peoples.

The bride wore a deep purple caftan with silver embroidery over a simple white dress. It was traditional Angosian styling. Her fellow Angosian teammate, Rab Daggit, felt a swell of pride over seeing her wear it.

The groom wore a Mandarin collared charcoal gray tunic with a black jacket. His pants were black with gray piping. The only deviation from El-Aurian norms was his black Starfleet boots.

The couple each recited a traditional vow from their home world. And then they spoke a few more words from the heart. As Bajorans gave pledge bracelets so too did Angosians give marriage bands. El-Aurians preferred to give symbolic pendants with the other spouse's name engraved upon it. The thought being you could keep one another close to each other's hearts.

As the ceremony ended, the veterans of Macen's marriage to T'Kir wondered how the sky would fall now. Only nothing occurred. Last time the Orion Syndicate had sought revenge and when that failed, they sent a team after the couple on their honeymoon. This was how Ryst had met Macen. She'd been a member of that team.

While the Orion Syndicate was hardly a threat to Macen and his team these days, the Typhon Pact, Section 31, and the Iridian Enforcers had each declared their ready enmity against the group. So as the venue shifted to the wedding reception, some were still wary.

Federation President Nanieta Bacco diligently worked away within the fifteenth floor of the Palais de la Concorde, the Federation's governmental hub. It was a fifteen story structure located within the Place de la Concorde in Paris, France. The very first floor was the legislative wing where the Federation Council met to decide policy for the United Federation of Planets. The second floor belonged to the Press Liaison and her staffers' offices.

The third floor was taken up by the legal counsels and their staffers. The fourth through the eleventh floors were utilized by the Federation Counselors and their requisite aides. The thirteenth through fifteenth floors were the presidential wing.

Various Cabinet members ran their departments out of the thirteenth and fourteenth floors. The President's Chief of Staff's office was on the fourteenth floor. The President shared the fifteenth floor with her administrative aide and a security detail. The Federation Security Service provided waiting rooms, an arsenal, and a medical facility with physicians on twenty-four hour alert seven days a week.

There were also three basement levels. Two levels were dedicated to secure briefings and policy planning sessions. The third level was the command center for the Interstellar Security Agency.

It was this agency's director that requested an emergency meeting with Bacco at the close of the normal work day. Bacco knew Director Humboldt wasn't prone to hyperbole so she requested he be fit in. When Humboldt arrived in her office, he sat a padd down on her desk.

"Read it," he said firmly.

She did and suddenly reviewed a summary of every discreet meeting she'd ever held with various Gorn officials and Romulan dignitaries including the Empress herself, "What is this?"

"In a word?" Humboldt snidely asked, "Treason."

"How so?" Bacco wondered.

"Every meeting precedes a concession granted to the Typhon Pact," Humboldt said stiffly, "In short, you've sold us all out."

"And just how would you know?" Bacco mused, "Your agents weren't present at any of these meetings. How could you possibly assume I sold this office out?"

"Security organs of the Federation were present. You just didn't know it at the time," Humboldt proudly declared.

"So this is based on the word of the shadowy Section 31 I've heard so much about," Bacco guessed.

"It doesn't end with our enemies," Humboldt stiffened, "In order to coerce Rekena Garan into signing into the Khitomer Accords you bribed her with dismantling the Demilitarized Zone and giving the territory to the Cardassians wholesale."

"First, I wouldn't call the Typhon Pact enemies quite yet. Very real rivals, yes. But 'enemy' is too strong a term," Bacco countered, "And no Federation citizens were present on any of those worlds that I ceded to the Cardassia. Only the Valo system contained any Federation colonies and that system was removed from the DMZ and placed back within Federation borders by my action."

"Pretty lies," Humboldt refuted her assertions, "Just because we're not at war with the Typhon Pact or the Cardassian Union doesn't mean they aren't hostile towards us. Hostility leads to open warfare."

"Except when those hostile forces are Klingons or Cardassians," Bacco argued.

"Tenuous allies at best," Humboldt insisted.

"You're calling the Klingons a shifty ally?" Bacco was stunned.

"We did fight a brief war with them when the changeling Martok had Gowron's ear," Humboldt reminded her.

"They were duped!" Bacco exclaimed.

"I think they knew all along and just finally revealed their true nature at long last," Humboldt retorted.

"Who is delusional here?" Bacco had to wonder.

"You will resign tonight or there will be repercussions," Humboldt finally declared.

"And if I refuse?" Bacco had to ask.

"You won't," Humboldt insisted with far too much confidence for Bacco's taste.

"Whatever puppet you place in my stead will only be in office sixty days before a general election will replace them," Bacco reminded Humboldt of the law.

"The selected President Pro Tempore will win the election," Humboldt boasted, "That's been guaranteed."

"You're forgetting that I haven't even resigned yet," Bacco had to point out.

"It doesn't matter," Humboldt smugly declared, "The Federation Council has already voted and selected your replacement."

"Then they're all in for a rude surprise," Bacco asserted.

"Your resignation is a formality but a necessary one," Humboldt agreed, "And we have the leverage to make it happen. If you do not resign, my associates will execute Raisa Shostakova first and then Esperanza Piniero."

Bacco wondered just how these women would be threatened. Or how could they? Piniero was more than her Chief Staff dating back to her days on Cestus III. Piniero was a former Starfleet officer who'd resigned to become Bacco's campaign manager for the governorship of Cestus III. She'd stayed on to be Bacco's Chief of Staff and then they had repeated history with the Presidency.

Shostakova was more than the Secretary for Defense. She was also a skilled combatant from a heavy g world. Subduing her would take a great deal of effort.

"Even if you resign now and spare them any harm, they will still leave office with you;" Humboldt delivered the final ultimatum.

"Raisa was one of yours," Bacco thrust back into Humboldt's conscience, "How could you do this to her?"

"She betrayed everything she believed in when she supported your actions," Humboldt threw right back into Bacco's face, "She would have been dealt with eventually anyway."

Humboldt saw the fire still in Bacco's eyes, "Perhaps you'd care to speak with them?"

"Yes, I would;" Bacco insisted.

Humboldt activated his comm badge, "Clear Channel Two."

He waved at Bacco's comp/comm, "Shostakova is waiting on Channel Two."

The image that met Bacco's gaze was of a battered and broken Shostakova. She was bruised and bleeding and from the cant of her stance, Bacco could tell she was kneeling and greater damage that couldn't be seen had been inflicted. Bacco was immediately outraged.

"Raisa, how are you?" Bacco demanded to know.

"I'll live but I really don't feel like it right now," Shostakova rasped.

"What have they told you?" Bacco asked, "Who are they?"

"They haven't said but they're very thorough. They know what they're doing," Shostakova admitted, "They want you to resign but I say tell them to go to hell."

An exit wound punched its way through Shostakova's head seconds before the signal terminated. Bacco looked up at Humboldt, "You bastard! There's was no need for that!"

"There was every need," Humboldt said calmly, "Should we repeat this exercise with Piniero?"

"What happens if I agree to your terms?" Bacco wondered.

"You and Piniero leave here tonight," Humboldt promised.

"We'll be set free?" Bacco knew they wouldn't but had to ask any way to see what he'd say.

"You'll be held in seclusion for sixty days," Humboldt shared, "After the election is over and our candidate has won, you'll be free to spread your pathetic story to anyone who will listen. But I can assure you, by that time, no one will care."

Bacco suddenly knew without a doubt that a crisis would be manufactured for the President Pro Tempore to handle so that he/she would play well to the voting public. A triumphant enough victory over the perceived enemy could engender hostility to Bacco's tale when she and Piniero were released. And they would be released because they'd no longer be a viable threat.

"I suppose you have my resignation letter prepared?" Bacco grated.

Humboldt slid another padd out of his jacket, "Of course."

Bacco sealed it with a thumbprint and handed it back, "Do your damage."

Humboldt paused, "You know, if you had any conviction at all you would have sacrificed Piniero. Then we would have resorted to an assassination to remove you from office. You could have died a hero."

"I still will," Bacco proclaimed.

Humboldt smirked, "Not when we're done."

On Cardassia IV Section 31 agents Sarina Douglas and T'Kir were reviewing the ranks of the Unionist provocateurs that they'd been training for last number of weeks. Now these Unionist agents would filter back into society on Cardassia Prime and began agitating for the dismantling of the elected government. Once chaos had erupted across the globe the Unionists' leader, the former Gul Maret, who had been elected as Legislator Maret, could lead the forces that would quash the uprising and thus cementing his position as the rightful ruler of the Cardassian Union.

Douglas and T'Kir eschewed boarding one of the mass transit ships and departed Cardassia IV in their own shuttle. Now they were headed for Cardassia Prime to coordinate with another agent in place to coordinate the overthrow of the Legislative Assembly and Castellan Rekena Garan.

The wedding reception was entering its second hour of blissful uneventfulness. Then Admirals Nechayev, Johnson, and Forger were all paged simultaneously. They each managed to find a modicum of privacy. Each was informed of Bacco's resignation by their fellow admiral, Leonard James Akaar, they converged once again to discuss the news.

"Personally, I find the timing to be suspicious;" Johnson opened with, "I conferred with her just yesterday while we were en route to Laos. She was outlining her new diplomatic emphasis for the coming year. She never said a word about resigning over 'health issues'."

"That's because she doesn't have any," Nechayev said sourly, "Ed Noyce and Starfleet Security are kept abreast of any president's health concerns. Bacco just underwent a full physical. She cleared it with a bill of outstanding health."

"What's the most troubling is Akaar saying Bacco had booked passage back to Cestus III and never made the flight or rescheduled," Forger put in, "He specifically said it was as though 'she'd fallen under a shadow'."

"It seems it was only a matter of time before this day arrived," Nechayev remarked, "I'm actually surprised it hasn't happened sooner."

"The loss of the Andorian Empire to the Typhon Pact has pushed a lot security agencies into espousing doomsday scenarios," Johnson grimaced, "And every one of them places the blame for Andoria's loss on Bacco."

"And you can't tell me someone executing Raisa Shostakova with a bullet wound to the head is merely coincidental," Forger fumed.

"A slug thrower wouldn't set off the internal sensors," Nechayev reminded her protégé, "It also makes one hell of a point."

"Ed Noyce is trying to keep the doors of communication open with the Federation Bureau of Investigation but he's being stonewalled. The FBI is deliberately keeping Starfleet out of the loop while they supposedly investigate Shostakova's murder and Bacco's disappearance."

"Like they're actually trying," Nechayev snorted.

"You really think they're white washing this whole thing?" Johnson was slightly incredulous.

"Someone is sanitizing this, Bob;" Forger stated, "The FBI is the perfect element to use to accomplish the task."

"And Eddie's insistence to utilize the SID as our lead investigative force is only going to throw antideuterium into the intermix chamber," Johnson pointed out.

"Do you have a better solution?" Nechayev wondered.

"Let Jim handle it. His people are skilled and they'll get results," Johnson pushed for Captain McKinley's crew to get involved.

"But our beloved C-in-C has mandated that the SID will take point," Nechayev thrust back at Johnson, "And despite Jellico's usual protesting, he's even selected the team."

"If we can convince Brin and Celeste to forgo their honeymoon," Forger reminded the group.

"I suggest we put our considerable charm and persuasiveness to use," Nechayev suggested.

Nechayev approached Macen and Rockford and asked them to follow her to a discreet location. Rockford shot Macen an irritated glare. The sight of Johnson and Forger waiting for them when they arrived at Nechayev's preferred location caused Rockford to audibly groan.

"Not now," Rockford grated.

"We're so sorry, Celeste, but something has come up;" Forger profusely apologized.

"Something always comes up," Rockford protested, "Don't you have other teams you can send instead?"

"I do," Forger agreed, "But these circumstances are special. First off, Admiral Jellico specifically asked for your team to be assigned this case."

Rockford was rueful but intrigued. She was well aware of Jellico's usual hostility towards her husband. She took a second to delight in using that term towards Macen before admitting the universe must be nearing heat death for Jellico to intentionally order their team to be given this task. Perhaps it would be a watershed moment that would recast relations between Jellico and Macen.

Forger explained what had happened to Bacco, officially and unofficially. Macen was quick to reply, "Piniero's involvement is obvious. Bacco has maternal feelings towards her dating back to before Piniero entered Starfleet. A threat to her would undermine Bacco's resistance."

"It wasn't just her;" Nechayev interjected at this point, "Raisa Shostakova was murdered in her own Cabinet office that same night. The FBI is investigating both incidents."

"Then why are we being asked to go in?" Macen pointedly inquired, "There's something you're not telling us and that information is why we're being asked to sacrifice our plans."

Nechayev and Forger exchanged pointed looks. Johnson intervened, "Tell them."

Forger did the honors, "When Akaar alerted us all to the situation, he employed a code phrase that alerts the Council of Five members to Section 31's involvement in a situation."

She let the newlyweds digest that fact before continuing, "We therefore have to assume Section 31 engineered Bacco's 'retirement' and Shostakova's murder. At this point, we're assuming that S31 has also suborned the FBI and the ISA into this plot as well."

"What corroborating evidence do you have for that assumption?" Rockford was already in investigative mode.

"The FBI volunteered to assume jurisdiction before Starfleet even had time to digest that there were abnormalities with the situation," Nechayev broached the topic, "The FBI has effectively shut Starfleet out of any and all investigations yet they don't seem to actually be conducting an investigation of their own. As for as the ISA goes, Director Humboldt was the last logged visitor that Bacco had prior to resigning."

"So who is the President Pro Tempore now?" Macen was well aware of the procedures and law.

"Gelt Macht," Johnson put in, "He's a Zakdorn who was a former strategist for the Interstellar Security Agency before retiring to focus on politics."

"You're neglecting to mention that Macht was on the periphery of Admiral Lehman's plot and resigned in a cloud of disgrace," Macen reminded Johnson.

"Extremist views often appeal to disgruntled voters," Johns did his own reminding; "Macht was elected to the Federation Council during the Dominion War. He's served in that post ever since eventually attaining positions on the Select Intelligence Committee and the Starfleet Oversight Board. He's very connected and very well respected amongst the Council members."

"And everyone just overlooks that he tried to overthrow that same Federation Council at one time?" Macen wryly asked.

"He downplays those incident sand plays up his strengths in security and strategic affairs," Johnson added.

While Macen grudgingly absorbed this facts Rockford stepped in again, "What aren't you saying?"

Johnson gave her a sad smile, "Macht was elected three hours before Bacco tendered her resignation in a nearly unanimous vote."

"Someone jumped the gun," Rockford mused.

"Can we have a moment to decide whether or not we'll get involved?" Macen requested.

"Certainly," Nechayev spoke for the assembled admiralty.

"This should be good," Rockford mused.

 

Chapter Two

"Okay, I'm going to be sad about missing our honeymoon for now but we have to help," Rockford insisted.

"I'll admit I'm slightly surprised," Macen confessed, "After all, this is your first marriage."

"It'd better be my only marriage, mister;" Rockford warned him.

"Bacco pardoned Annika Ryst," Rockford reminded Macen, "Therefore she pardoned me by extension especially since now all of Annika's former personas are now integrated into me. I'm not going to abandon her after that especially if I can actually help somehow."

Macen nodded soberly, "All right, let's gather the team and the ship's senior staff. I'll break down the bad news and Shannon and her staff can filter it down to the crew."

"I'll grab Ziva and gather up the team," Rockford volunteered, "You're on your own where Shannon is concerned."

The SID was all for going. The Obsidian's command staff was far less eager. They'd been promised extended leave and they were loath to abandon that concept. Macen promised that the crew would get at least some shore leave while the SID team was on Earth. Extended leave would still be granted once the ship returned to Serenity Station.

Shannon Forger spoke for the crew when she agreed to those terms, "Now I have to inform the crew. Should any lynch mobs form I expect to be rescued."

Of the entire SID group, Macen detected that P'ris was less than enthusiastic. While Forger hustled off to break the news to the ship's crew, Macen got P'ris off to the side; "So why does this turn of events unsettle you?"

Rockford joined them while P'ris protested her innocence. Rockford cut her short, "Bull, Talera. You're unnerved and you probably have good reason to be."

"Truly?" P'ris' tone was almost mocking.

"A sitting president has just vacated office and been replaced by a hard liner who has spent a lifetime railing against the evils of the Romulan Star Empire. That's bound to bleed down from the top. It could be a bad day to be a Romulan on Earth," Rockford summarized.

"My presence will hinder the investigation," P'ris prophesied.

"Let me worry about that," Macen asked her.

Hannah Grace had excused herself from her husband's presence to join Macen's briefing. Ian Delaney didn't realize that she hadn't returned straightaway after that briefing. Instead, Grace sought out the park groundskeeper's office. Inserting a specially programmed isolinear rod in the comp/comm, Grace contacted her Section 31 handler.

L'Haan greeted her coolly but that was typical of the Vulcan. Grace explained what had occurred over the last several minutes but the Vulcan remained as unflappable as ever, "You must continue in your role as 31's mole within Macen's SID team. Your task is to run interference so that Macen and his superiors do not realize the full scope of our plans."

"You sound as if you already knew Macen was going to be assigned this case," Grace pointed out.

"We have a source within the Special Investigations Division itself," L'Haan revealed.

"I was never informed of this," Grace curtly commented.

"And this asset is unaware of you as well," L'Haan said coldly, "It is best to keep things as such."

"I'll be sure to insert myself into every aspect of the investigation and throw Macen's conclusions off," Grace promised, "After all, Earth's heavy transporter traffic restricts the use of orbital transporter insertions. This means Macen will need a pilot and I'm his best."

"That is all well and good but recall that your future assignment aboard the Intrepid with your husband requires that Macen be eliminated first," L'Haan reminded Grace, "So make that happen."

"I will but dissuading Macen from investigating the Cardassian operation may be impossible to do," Grace warned, "Macen is a former Cardassian Affairs officer. He's particularly interested in that region of space."

"Convince him to stay away," L'Haan orders, "Your future depends upon it."

L'Haan terminated the connection while Grace ruefully realized it would be easy to diffuse a live grenade in midair then convince Macen to stay out of Cardassian space once that operation was fully underway.

Jennifer Marie Massoli, Liz Liefers, and Emily Johnson; all Intrepid officers, noted Grace's exit from the groundskeeper's office. Massoli asked Liefers and Johnson to keep an eye on Grace while she checked out the office. Massoli discovered the last function the comp/comm had was transmitting a signal yet the logs were clean. Transmissions before the hour were recorded but the recent transmission itself was scrubbed from them memory, if it had ever been there at all.

Massoli rejoined Liefers and Johnson to learn that Grace had simply rejoined Delaney. Grace and her husband were currently saying their farewells because the Obsidian had been called into action. Neither Grace nor Delaney looked pleased but they stoically went along with their respective duties.

Massoli filed all of this away mentally for a future conversation with Captain McKinley.

As the Obsidian got underway, Forger exited her office to head for the bridge when she literally ran into Dakota Bedford. Forger regarded Bedford with utter disdain. Bedford shared the sentiment towards Forger but also wore a smug expression of superiority having convinced Forger's former lover to have an affair with her and get him to forsake Forger for her.

Forger headed into the turbolift thinking that no amount of magenta lacing Bedford's raven hair would negate the fact she was a slut. And Bedford walked away still gloating over her recent acquisition. Although, she had plans to sleep her way to the very top.

P'ris oversaw the bridge while Forger met with Macen in his Ready Room. Forger saw Macen's stern demeanor and wanted to run, "Should I leave and let you rip someone else a new one?"

"I just had a disturbing discussion with Jim McKinley," Macen shared, "Jennifer Massoli witnessed the aftermath of Hannah breaking into the groundskeeper's office to use the comp/comm."

"Who'd she call?" Forger's curiosity was piqued.

"She couldn't find out. The unit registered that a call had been made but there was no record of what it was or to whom it had been sent," Macen explained.

Forger fidgeted, "I seem to remember trouble like this from before I came aboard."

"Precisely," Macen concurred, "Which is why we're shifting the flight roster. When we reach Earth and the team deploys, I want Wyn Mesa piloting the Corsair, not Hannah."

"She is not going to like that," Forger predicted.

"She doesn't have a choice," Macen warned Forger, "She either accepts or leaves the team and finds her own way home."

"Okay," Forger said philosophically, "It's been a while since I played hardball. Let her bring it."

Douglas and T'Kir met with Orim Maret at his estate on Cardassia Prime. Maret brought Section 31's technical expert, Dorian Collins, into the meeting. Collins was the sole surviving former member of Red Squad from the destruction of the USS Valiant. She was still a serving Starfleet officer but she was on temporary detached duty with the Cardassian Guard. As such, Maret had little trouble assigning her to his personal staff.

Maret's journey from the echelons of power, being the broker who ran the puppet Castellan, Iltz Ganan. Still the official head of the Unionist Party, he'd overcome the stigma attached to the party's brief hold on power. Elected to the Legislative Assembly, Maret used official channels to undermine Rekena Garan at every turn.

Douglas was impressed by Collins' progress thus far. Collins had rerouted control of the planetary communication and transporter grids to this manor. Collins had just completed usurping control of the ground based disruptor banks just prior to Douglas and T'Kir's arrival.

Unionist supporters were ensconced in every military, security, and law enforcement unit. They were prepared to seize control of whatever ship or base they served in at a moment's notice. T'Kir revealed her contribution, that being a computer virus to be inserted into the command codes of every Cardassian ship and installation. The virus would lock out any officer not authorized by Legate Akellen Macet. Macet was Maret's ally in this latest thrust to grab the reins of power.

"Macet is prepared to lock the fleet down but he is worried about potential incursions from the Breen and the Tzenkethi," Maret admitted.

"Tell him Admiral Ross has redeployed the Seventh Fleet to the Tzenkethi border and the Ninth Fleet to the Breens'. They will conduct war games intended to monopolize the Typhon Pact's attention," Douglas informed Maret.

Maret nodded like an eager juvenile. Douglas decided to remind him of the terms of their assistance, "After you have control of the Cardassian Union, you will focus on the uncharted regions of the Alpha Quadrant. Bajor and the rest of the Federation are off limits to you. You can do as you will with the Typhon Pact."

"What about Starfleet's own effort sat exploring the uncharted regions?" Maret wondered.

"Captain Data and the Enterprise are leading the effort. Data's a relatively untested commander. I highly doubt Starfleet would bother to recall him to intervene in the crisis we'll be creating. Captain Sisko and the USS Robinson are in the Gamma Quadrant," Douglas recited.

It was easy to see from Maret's reaction that he still harbored ill will for Sisko. Douglas decided to distract him before he could do something stupid, "Other notable commanders will be sidelined as well. Captain Ro of Deep Space Nine will be ordered to patrol the border in the Defiant but she will also be under orders not to interfere. Captain Dax of the Aventine has just been sent to the Demilitarized Zone on the Enforcer border. Captain Will Riker and the crew of the Titan are still in the Beta Quadrant. Captain Chakotay and the Voyager have returned to the Delta Quadrant employing their recently installed quantum slipstream drive."

"As far as closer notables, Captain Calhoun is still located in Thallonian space alongside Captain Mueller. Thereby accounting for the Excalibur and the Trident," Douglas shared, "President Pro Tempore Macht will keep Admiral Jellico on a very short leash. These ships will never draw near to Cardassian territory."

"I'm satisfied that all is as you say," Maret acknowledged her briefing, "My people will be ready to move in another twenty-seven hours."

"Then we will be too," Douglas promised.

"Shannon, do you have a minute?" Macen asked after entering her office.

"Sure," she said easily, "What's on your mind?"

"Shouldn't you be sleeping?" Macen inquired.

"Personnel problems," Forger grimaced, "And does my sister know that you let P'ris drive the ship?"

"She wouldn't care and personnel matters are why I'm here," Macen informed her, "We need to talk about Dakota Bedford."

Forger groaned, "The very thorn in my side. Almost no one wants to work beside her."

"I really don't know many of the personal details besides her and Eric's very public and very naked march through the corridors," Macen admitted.

"Yeah," Forger said ruefully, "Two swinging dicks by the sea."

"Gender is a non-issue here," Macen assured her.

"Then what is the issue?" Forger wondered.

"You said it yourself, Bedford is very divisive," Macen said, "So much so, people are lining up to take sides between the two of you."

"Who's winning the most adherents?" Forger grinned.

"You are, hands down;" Macen stated, "But that leads to the problem no one will work with her and Parva and Gilan have banned Eric from Engineering."

"Aw, poor baby;" Forger mock lamented.

"The safety of this ship depends upon the ability of its crew to come together as a single unit," Macen reminded Forger, "If that can't happen something needs to change."

"Oh really?" Forger mused.

"The only way to keep this petty bickering from blowing up into a full scale lynch mob is to get Eric and Bedford off the ship."

"Yes!" Forger pumped her fist.

"Shannon, if this could have gone down harmoniously they'd be staying. But Eric is armed and the rest of the crew is eyeballing the armory," Macen shared, "So when we reach Earth, they depart."

"So we're just ditching them?" Forger asked a little too gleefully for Macen's tastes.

"No, I've already booked them passage back to Serenity Station," Macen doused her enthusiasm, "Tom's agreed to take them on but I also doubt they'll stay for long. Eric will want to set up a shop again so I expect them to leave in a few months. Afterwards, when Bedford has ridden Eric as far as he will go physically emotionally, and financially, she'll leave him as well."

"Have you told them yet?" Forger asked slightly more subdued.

"I'm on my way now," Macen revealed.

Macen laid out the terms of his arrangement to McMasters and Bedford. Bedford looked stricken while McMasters was angry, "I'll take your damn deal just so I can set up my own shop again. If there were any way to get off this damn boat any sooner we'd take it."

He looked at Bedford, "Right?"

Bedford numbly nodded and McMasters began to spout off again, "I really can't believe you're siding with Shannon on this. She's made Dakota's life hell and it's no wonder the crew sided with her."

"Actually three quarters of the crew sided with Shannon," Macen coldly informed the pair, "At least according to Celeste's informal survey. And they're ready to come after the both of you with phasers drawn."

"Well, the hell with all of you!" McMasters snarled.

"Eric, you've run your own businesses before. If two employees disrupted your shop as much as the two of you have the atmosphere on this ship, what would you have done?"

"I'd stick up for the underdog," McMasters declared.

"Do you really think you're the underdog?" Macen inquired sharply, "You were the one found cheating with another woman. That makes Shannon the underdog in most of the crew's eyes."

"Fine, I'll work with the SPYards crew on Serenity like you've offered until I can afford to get the hell off of that cruddy station," McMasters grumbled.

Macen decided not to debate the merits of a Cardassian built Nor-class station, "Sounds like a plan. Good luck, Eric."

McMasters seethed as Macen departed without offering Bedford a similar goodbye.

Travelling from Sector 008 to Sector 001 took seventy-two hours at Warp 8. Forger arranged for a skeleton crew to man the Obsidian while she was in an orbital slip above Earth. Grace was angered to discover she'd been pulled from the flight roster and even angrier to learn she was the first watch officer.

Grace had to argue about though, "This isn't fair!"

"Wyn actually has more time in the Danube-class than you do," Forger pointed out, "And the Captain requested the change. So suck it up and deal with it."

After Forger left the bridge Grace employed the OPS station to scan for other ships in orbit. Not finding any that suited her needs; she began scanning Earth's surface. She hit pay dirt in China. Harri Mudd always had enjoyed Hong Kong.

Harriet Fedora Mudd was Harry Mudd III's other child. Overlooked in her father's efforts to groom her brother to take over the family legacy, he'd never noticed that Harri was a far superior criminal. With Harry IV cooling his heels on a penal colony, that left Harri the sole heir to the Mudd tradition.

Harri left the casino in Macau to discover she had messages queued up waiting for her in her ship. Mudd made her living as a freelancer. Smuggling, gun running, bounty hunting, thief, con artist, and the occasional assassination were all part of her résumé. Which is why Grace wanted to hire her on Section 31's behalf.

The Corsair was expertly flown by Wyn to Paris. The FBI had planted their headquarters there so as to hang on to the Federation Council's coattails. While the SID team could have used the transporters of the orbital docking facility to be routed to the FBI headquarters' complex, the facility's transporters were locked down to anything but official agency traffic. So the SID team had to employ the agency's private landing pads.

Deputy Director Mithral ch'Drien met them in the lobby. It was a surprise to find an Andorian chann still serving in such a sensitive post. Especially in an interim administration marked by paranoia.

The Andorian instructed the group to call him "Thrad", "How may I help you?"

The team consisted of Macen, Rockford, Delain and P'ris. Macen handed his writ of authorization to Thrad. He read it and handed it back.

"You've wasted your time and mine," Thrad decided, "Starfleet has no jurisdiction and even less right to information concerning our case. And you've brought a Cardassian and a Romulan with you."

"Cardassians are our allies now," Macen reminded the Andorian.

"We'll see how long that lasts," Thrad sniffed, "And the Romulan Star Empire is a member of the Typhon Pact. An alliance we are currently at a state of covert warfare with."

"I was unaware that we were in a state of war. An assertion that I'm certain the average Federation citizen is also unaware of," Macen retorted, "And isn't the Andorian Empire now a member of the Typhon Pact as well?"

"Allowances are made for select individuals who have proven their loyalty," Thrad said tersely.

"Then make an allowance here," Macen insisted, "Commander P'ris was given a Starfleet equivalent security clearance of 'Top Secret' by presidential order."

"Presidents change," Thrad smiled coldly.

"What's your interest in finding Nan Bacco?" Macen decided to find out.

"I have none," Thrad admitted, "It's just a routine assignment for me. Frankly I think the Federation is better off without her."

Thrad eyes suddenly gleamed, "But a warrant for Commander P'ris' arrest went out several hours ago. Thank you for delivering her to us. It saves us a manhunt."

Agents suddenly converged on the room with weapons drawn. Thrad grew quite eager, "Please, resist arrest."

Macen tensed up. P'ris intervened, "Please Captain, do not interfere. I shall be fine."

"I'll get you out of this," Macen promised.

"See that you do," P'ris wore a wan smile, "You are still under contract to protect me."

"Special Agent Haarvot, escort these people out of the building;" Thrad instructed.

The remaining SID team was marched out of the facility. Making their way back to the landing pads they found Wyn waiting for them, "Weren't there four of you a minute ago?"

Macen explained what had happened. Wyn asked the obvious question, "So what now?"

"Now we fly to England and report to Admiral Forger at SID headquarters," Macen instructed.

"Yes!" Wyn exclaimed. She then sheepishly explained her enthusiasm, "It's just that no one ever gets to go there except you. I'll be an instant legend amongst the crew."

Rockford was pleased to see Macen had rediscovered his smile.

When they went to meet with Forger, Wyn stayed out in the reception area with Ambril Delori. Wyn was pleased to chat with a fellow Bajoran expatriate while Ambril was happy to hear a firsthand account of recent events on Bajor. One thing that was swiftly established was that Ambril solidly approved of the new President Pro Tempore. She saw having a strategic affairs expert as the Federation's leader as a smart move towards having a strong hand steering the government.

"So what do you propose for your next step?" Forger asked Macen.

"Brin and I discussed it and I proposed that Ziva and I conduct our own investigation into Bacco's disappearance. We wouldn't have official support or cooperation but the SID doesn't have that now anyway," Rockford stated.

"Then how could you reasonably expect to succeed?" Forger wondered.

"People just don't disappear," Rockford replied, "They leave trails and most of those trails will lead to vague netherworld that currently exists between the established arms of officialdom and private security. We can find her. The question is merely how long it will take."

"Brin?" Forger handed off to him.

"I already endorsed the plan," Macen wistfully smiled.

"You have my full support," Forger agreed.

Rockford and Delain rose. Rockford leaned over and kissed Macen, "Don't let her get you killed. We have plans later."

They exited and Forger shook her head, "Sometimes I think she's psychic."

"So you do have a mission in mind," Macen surmised.

"Rekena Garan may not approve of Garak but she's willing to use him as a messenger," Forger reported, "Uprisings and civil disobedience have erupted across the Cardassian Union and is particularly concentrated on Cardassia Prime."

"Let me guess, all in support of Orim Maret," Macen groused.

"It seems he learned better than to utilize political machinations alone to usurp the government. Now he's honestly trying to garner popular support," Forger shared, "But you'll have official and unofficial assistance. Gul Malyn Ocett is in charge of the Legislative Assembly's security. Lyoti Mariska travelled with the Dervins to negotiate their return to Cardassian politics."

"What about Starfleet?" Macen inquired.

"Bill Ross redirected the Seventh and Ninth Fleets to the neighboring Typhon Pact borders," Forger grimaced, "An action guaranteed to keep them out of range of Cardassia. President Pro Tempore Macht issued a directive forcing Jellico to order Ro to conduct patrols throughout the Bajoran Sector and to keep Deep Space Nine secure against a potential 'renegade' Cardassian fleet."

"So it's becoming clear just who all is a part of this little movement," Macen mused.

"Be careful, Brin;" Forger urged, "L'Haan has reasons to want you dead and so do her top agents, Sarina Douglas and T'Kir. T'Kir's own twisted fantasies about killing you are reason enough to be cautious."

Macen rose, "Have no fears, Amanda. I'm well aware of dangers all around."

Macen exited before Forger could ask just what that pointed comment was about.

 

Chapter Three

The Corsair docked inside the Obsidian's shuttle bay. Wyn tended to flight logs while Macen reported to the bridge. Grace looked at him expectantly but he merely told her she was still on duty until she heard otherwise. He then went to his Ready Room.

Shannon Forger was the first person he contacted. Her older sister had already apprised her that the crew had a mission. Forger was already headed back to the ship.

"I figured I'd be in charge of the recall. After all, I live to take abuse on your behalf;" Forger quipped.

"That's why I keep you around," Macen retorted.

Wyn relieved Grace and the Kelvan retreated to her quarters. Signaling a subspace messaging account made in Ian Delaney's name, it wasn't her husband that answered but her Section 31 handler, L'Haan.

"I just learned from that pretentious Bajoran twit that thinks she can replace me that the ship is headed for Cardassia," Grace reported.

"Yes, I am aware of that eventuality;" L'Haan said with just a trace of smugness.

"Are you aware of the fact Rockford and Delain didn't return to the ship with Macen?" Grace pointedly inquired.

L'Haan's eyebrow arched, "Truly? I shall have to put my mole on it."

"I have a contingency running already," seeing L'Haan's intensely curious stare Grace explained about her arrangements with Mudd.

"Very well," L'Haan conceded, "Give me the contact information for this 'Harri Mudd' and I shall deal with her directly."

"What should I do about Macen?" Grace wondered.

"Agent Douglas has her own contingencies in place. One involves implicating a Federation commander and starship as being a puppet master of the current Castellan. From there, Maret will demand their execution as a means to sever ties between Cardassia and the Federation."

Grace smiled, "I like it already."

Rockford and Delain proceeded to the Rockford Agency's branch office on Earth. It was located in Beverly Hills in the North American District of California. The office specialized in the inquires and disappearances of the influential, wealthy, and famous. Rockford hadn't visited the branch office since selling the agency to Outbound Ventures and joining the SID.

The supervising detective was a former Acamarian bounty hunter recommended to Rockford by Gantz. Rockford had arranged a meeting with Melina while she and Delain traveled commercially from England to North America and then across the continent to Los Angeles.

"You said you already had a lead on Bacco," Rockford began without preamble, "What is it?"

"I have a friend in the Federation Security Service," Melina shared, "He occasionally worked on the Presidential detail. We talk between the sheets as it were and I learned he was on duty when Bacco was detained."

"She didn't leave willingly?" Rockford's attention locked on to Melina's every word.

"The ISA had Bacco in custody when she left. The FSS was told she was being transported to a facility in the Alps to recuperate. Her subdermal transponder died in the Alps which implied she'd had it removed or she'd died at that point," Melina recounted the tale, "My friend vanished after that."

"Intentionally or otherwise?" Rockford had to ask.

"I'd like to think he would've called but I can't be certain," Melina admitted.

"All right, Ziva. Dress warmly. We're going on an alpine holiday," Rockford enthused.

Delain didn't look as happy.

The Obsidian spent five days travelling at Warp 5 to reach the Cardassian border. There they were met by the Cardassian flagship Tralagar. The vessel served two functions. One of which was to lead the Home Fleet and the second was to act in the same capacity Starfleet One served in by transporting the Castellan off of Cardassia Prime and out into the galaxy beyond.

Gul Elin Skadar had been Gul Ocett's protégé. She'd come up through the ranks aboard Ocett's command before receiving command of the very flagship itself. Not to slight Ocett, the senior officer had been placed in command of Legislative Security. A post that was more important now than ever before.

Macen hailed Skadar, "Is Castellan Garan currently aboard?"

"No, she is in secure housing within the Legislative building itself," Skadar reported.

"You might want to change that," Macen advised.

"I will consult with Gul Ocett about it," Skadar promised, "The Unionists have been buying media time and continually pounding away at the government. Tell a lie often enough and it will be believed if it is the only thing heard. The ouster of President Bacco is seen as a slight on Castellan Garan's credibility."

"The Legislative Assembly is under intense public scrutiny and pressure from the military to either take the forefront in the Khitomer Accords bloc or withdraw altogether," Skadar shared, "Maret has already called five votes of no confidence against Castellan Garan. She has survived every one so far but by a narrowing margin. The next vote may every well be the one to remove her from office."

"As I left, Garan and Maret were holding a public debate. As the debate progressed, violent outbreaks rocked every city on Cardassia Prime. Garan was called away to deal with crisis and Maret has been holding court with the media ever since," Skadar shared.

"Cardassia boasts a very efficient constabulary. How is it they aren't able to assert control?" Macen wondered.

"Because the constabulary has joined in with the protesters by and large," Skadar fumed, "Legate Macet has ordered all troops to stay within their barracks and to only defend their own bases."

Macen was beginning to realize just how far things had gone wrong.

Garan ordered a media blackout but thanks to T'Kir and Collins that order could not be executed. Maret droned on endlessly about the incompetence of the elected government. Then he espoused the inherent greatness of the Cardassian people and their destiny to expand outwardly into the Alpha Quadrant. Not into Typhon Pact territory but into the uncharted regions and other nearby regions.

Douglas took note that Maret had just threatened Bajor, the rest of the Federation, and the Ferengi Alliance without actually naming a single target. Maret was now proclaiming that Cardassia required tribute worlds in order to survive and those worlds were ripe for the taking. Douglas quickly wrote down a message and transmitted it to L'Haan. It seemed their puppet wanted to cut his strings already.

The moment Section 31 had been waiting for arrived. Garan had Maret evicted from the press room and attempted to invoke martial law. Only, the sole place it was enforceable was on Legislative grounds.

The Obsidian and the Tralagar slipped into orbit over Cardassia Prime. No sooner had they done so then the Tralagar locked on to Garan and beamed her aboard. Garan was livid over the move but having heard Ocett and Skadar's arguments for it she finally resigned herself to her fate.

Macen also transported over with Daggit and met with Garan. Mariska transported aboard as well. It was decided that Mariska would serve as the liaison between Cardassia interests and Macen's command. Ocett attended the meeting through the use of a comm panel.

Mariska's appearance startled Macen. She was bruised and bloodied. But she was also obviously delighted to be wearing Cardassia armor again. It was Ocett and Mariska's contention that the riots were being remotely directed from a single location.

Macen shared the fact that Section 31 was involved and probably doing the directing while Maret had face time with the public during the orchestrated crisis. Garan cut in at that point, "And where is Starfleet in all of this? I asked for practical intervention not a spy ship."

Macen explained how Ross had maneuvered the fleets and that it would take a week for another fleet to be redeployed from their originally assigned area. He then added that the Home Sectors Fleet had been repositioned to box in the Andorian Empire. A provocative move combined with the war games on Typhon Pact borders could only raise tensions between the Khitomer Accords and the Typhon Pact.

"All the more reason to support an ally," Garan fumed.

"Castellan, I need access to Cardassia's military network;" Macen requested, "I need to know how Legate Macet is reacting to these developments."

"He is ignoring them entirely," Garan replied.

"Can you be certain?" Macen inquired.

Garan nodded to Mariska. Mariska smiled brightly, "It'll be nice working with you again. Maybe it'll be like old times. Unless you are still taking your relationship with Celeste Rockford seriously."

"I just got married to her," Macen let Mariska down.

"So you are still serious," Mariska took it in stride, "Does she know how your previous marriages ended?"

"Intimately," Macen assured her.

"Then let's see what Legate Macet is up to then," Mariska coded into the network.

Rockford and Delain had spent the last five days traveling across the Alps. They started in Italy and headed north. There were hundreds of private villas in the region. From Italy they traveled into Switzerland where the transponder had been deactivated. They found the Swiss to be very friendly.

But the high security accommodations were like those in Italy, frequented by celebrities and the politically elite. They went into Germany next. There they got a lead.

The Polizei spotted a presidential convoy headed into Poland. Discreetly followed, the law enforcement officers had spotted Bacco led into and out of a rest stop. They'd broken off surveillance when the convoy crossed over the border and was now out of German jurisdiction.

Once in Poland, Rockford approached the local Policja. She'd contacted the local law enforcement of every nation she'd traveled through. The locals had access to their nationwide network as well as the FBI databases.

The local Chief Inspector informed Rockford and Delain that the convoy had went to Ketrzyn. Once inside of the Masurian woods they'd eventually arrived at the Wolfsschanze. Seeing Rockford's beleaguered look he translated it into English: the Wolf's Lair.

"It is a relic of Earth's Second World War," the Chief Inspector added.

"There was more than one?" Rockford only had a vague grasp of Terran history before First Contact.

"You're not human, are you?" the Chief Inspector asked.

Rockford wore a rueful grin, "What was your first clue?"

"Until recently, the Wolf's Lair was a historical relic. Since its redesignation it's changed hands several times and been renovated as a highly secure but posh villa," the Chief Inspector explained and then he gave the origin story to the facility.

"The latest owners have renovated security back to standards equaling what it boasted as a theater command center," the Policja officer described, "Our drones witnessed the convoy enter and never exit."

"Thank you so much," Rockford smiled great big and she and Delain departed.

Using their groundcar, the private investigators eyeballed the Wolf's Lair's exterior. Delain made the first comment, "The security is as tight as that chief inspector implied."

Rockford lowered her macrobinoculars, "Maybe, but we're going to get help and that'll make things easier."

From whom?" Delain wryly asked.

"Let's call Melina," Rockford suggested, "I have some ideas of who to ask."

The SID team was all aboard the Tralagar now...including Grace. A holographic image of Cardassia Prime floated above the briefing room table. The areas displayed in red indicated crisis spots. Entire continents were colored red at this point.

Ocett was keeping Skadar apprised of her situation. The crowds had become openly hostile and Ocett was running out of nonlethal countermeasures. Garan had survived yet another vote of no confidence but Maret had another one scheduled within the hour.

Most disturbingly, Macet had pulled every Galor- and Keldon-class cruiser off of its assigned patrol route and was gathering them in the Chin'Toka system. From there it was a straight run at Cardassia Prime. Garan no longer had confidence in Macet.

Macen was routing new data streams into the displays and Mariska was vaguely disturbed by Macen's familiarity with Cardassian data networks despite knowing from experience that Macen had been a Cardassian Affairs officer during the Border Wars and later with the Maquis. The fact that he was still abreast of the upgraded systems bespoke of either professional curiosity or an unhealthy obsession.

Macen was currently narrowing communication bands down to a single wavelength. He'd discovered what Mariska and Ocett had alleged. There was a single transmission piping to each and every riot center. Data streams could be detected but not yet interpreted.

Mariska noted that there was a five second lag between queries from the rioters and answers from the control node. She pointed this out to Macen, "Could it be a universal translator in action?"

"A universal translator wouldn't be that slow on its own," Macen reminded her, "I think what you have is someone speaking the native language but they aren't fluent in it yet."

"Mariska, pull up the locations of troops still loyal to Garan," Macen requested.

She did so and they were all well away from North Torr where the communications signals originate. Macen shook his head, "Now that has to be intentional."

"Castellan, I'd like to transport to the surface and shut down this communications hub," Macen informed her, "I'd also like to apprehend any and all foreigners interfering in Cardassian affairs."

"As long as Dal Mariska accompanies you, I am fine with that;" Garan conceded, "Down there, she is your link to legitimacy. Without her the rioters will likely kill you without a qualm."

"Believe me, I know from hard won experience;" Macen divulged.

Garan looked to Mariska who mouthed the words, Long story.

Employing Rockford's guidelines Melina had a team assembled in five hours time. They'd assembled at a resort within the Masurian woods. Many of Rockford's candidates had been unavailable on such short notice so Melina had filled in the blanks. But even then she was occasionally using the second or even third candidate for that slot on the team.

The group was very diverse in many ways and yet surprisingly singly focused in others. Rockford and Delain were private investigators. Melina had been a bounty hunter and had trained to become a private investigator. Korik was a Klingon bounty hunter pure and simple. Tweb or "Tanker" was a Rigellian Chelon. He had transparent aluminum coating his shell and bolstered that with ablative plate armor. All in the name of bounty hunting.

Dorik Went started hunting down collaborators with the Bajoran Resistance. Together with his wife, Dorik Elita, they'd parlayed their natural skills and honed them into a profitable career. That left Harri Mudd.

Mudd had been the last one selected and only because a more trusted name had recommended her. Mudd was barely known as a bounty hunter but she had some experience at it. What she was famed for amongst bounty hunters was she was a galactic level thief and con artist and had never had a single warrant issued for her. Some of her marks were still trying to figure out if they'd been conned.

Mudd's skill set would prove valuable in getting them into the target site. Mudd was known for fabricating flawless identities replete with very realistic lives. Whatever they posed as being to gain access, the home network of that agency would list them all as agents.

Every eye fell on Mudd as she casually strolled into the meeting room. She confidently sat down and waited for things to begin. The fact that everyone knew she was guilty of dozens of verified crimes but couldn't apprehend her on a single charge titillated her.

Mudd had almost stumbled all over herself when Melina approached her about taking on a heist with Celeste Rockford. Mudd had been racking her brains on how to find the woman and now that same person had hired her to be in her inner circle. What were the odds?

Rockford had gotten Policja drone footage and showed the overhead view of the facility. Electrostatic fences ringed the base and it possessed two gatehouses. One at the turnoff from the main road and one at the main entrance itself. There were guards on regularly intervaled foot patrols. Dogs seemed to be randomly spread out as well.

Rockford laid out how their objective was to secure the release of Nan Bacco and Espy Piniero. The Interstellar Security Agency was holding them for reasons unknown but it seemed unlikely that they would be executed until they'd served their purpose. Which meant they had a little time but not much in the larger scheme of things.

"Does this imply Bacco didn't resign of her own free will?" Dorik Went inquired.

"That's what we've been hired to find out," Rockford shared.

"And if that's the case, would it threaten President Macht's administration?" Dorik Elita asked.

"If she was forced to resign it will probably threaten Macht's tenure in office if not remove him altogether," Rockford admitted, "In any case, Macht has to step down in less than sixty days anyway if he loses the election."

"He'll win," Dorik Went boasted, "I know it."

"Is freeing Bacco going to be an issue for the pair of you?" Rockford put it plainly out there.

"No," Dorik Elita promised, "If Macht did cheat somehow to get into office then he isn't the politician we think he is and deserves what he gets."

"Good," Rockford sighed in relief, "I'd really hate to have to replace you."

"So how are we getting in?" Mudd asked.

"The ISA brought her here so we'll pose as ISA agents," Rockford offered.

"And how will we do that?" Mudd wanted to know.

"Ziva, show them;" Rockford requested.

Delain held up an isolinear rod, "This holds the replicator patterns of ISA gear. Uniforms, phasers, restraints, you name it."

"And how did you get those?" Mudd was surprised.

"I have friends in high places," Rockford replied.

Mudd realized her contract with Section 31 had just gotten a lot harder. After Rockford had handed out padds containing a mission outline, Mudd stole away. Unfortunately for her, Delain followed her into the restroom.

"Do you mind?" Mudd asked irritably.

"Not at all," Delain continued to stand there until Mudd shut the stall door. Mudd decided she might as well use the facilities since she was already there. Delain followed her back to the meeting room.

Rockford smirked as they reentered the room, "You okay?"

"I can definitely tell you trust me," Mudd said dryly.

"You're largely an unknown quantity inserted into a mission with interstellar consequences. I don't have the time or faith to trust you," Rockford laid it out.

"Fair enough," Mudd grinned, "And you probably shouldn't."

"We have two days to hammer out the details and then like or not we're a go," Rockford warned, "So I'll give everyone time to settle in before we reconvene in two hours."

"Oh, and Harri?" Rockford wore an innocent smile, "I'm certain you'll enjoy bunking with Ziva here."

Delain gave Mudd a rather cold smile. Rockford had to admit she rather liked watching the thief squirm.

 

Chapter Four

The SID team transported down to the Torr Sector of Cardassia City, specifically the subdivision North Torr. This was the hive of Cardassian militancy and ambitions. Torr was a working class sector and North Torr had a long and distinguished line of military families to its credit. It was also the heart of the Unionist political base on Cardassia Prime.

Maret owned an expansive home here and it came as no surprise to anyone to discover Maret's home was the source of the signals they were tracking. Mariska thought was just too cute to be true. Macen reminded her that one foible amongst Maret and his people was the delusion they were invincible.

Grace was highly subdued while Daggit was the polar opposite. He was agitated that Parva had been brought along for a field assignment. Parva quietly chided him. Only she and Daggit knew Tessa had illegally resequenced Parva's DNA. Afterwards her cerebral function had rocketed off the charts and her damaged nerves had regenerated.

"I'm more qualified than ever to be here, Rab;" Parva lectured him, "And you need me whether your damn Angosian pride will admit it or not."

Parva left Daggit behind and approached Macen, "There a military grade transceiver built into the roof. You can see the power taps leading into the ground and that domed roof is perfect for housing a subspace communications array."

"Has anyone else noticed that the opulence of this place is in stark contrast to the surrounding area?" Macen observed.

"Guls are notoriously overindulgent," Mariska commented, "But Maret has boosted that reputation far and away. He easily toppled Dukat as the king of largesse."

"Maret is a politician now and not a soldier," Grace reminded her, "And Cardassian politicians are also notoriously extravagant."

Mariska exchanged a glance with Macen before replying, "Very true."

"And Cardassian officials are generally forgiven their habits," Grace elaborated.

"In the days of the troika comprised of the Central Command, the Obsidian Order, and the Detapa Council that was true as well," Mariska admitted, "But my people hold their elected officials to a higher standard now."

"Are you sure of that?" Grace countered.

Mariska knew Macen's already limited empathic abilities were useless concerning Grace. Yet he'd noticeably distanced himself from her. Daggit and Parva were also commenting on it amongst themselves.

Macen had discreetly advised Mariska to keep an eye on Grace. When queried as to why he'd simply said look for the unexpected. Mariska hardly knew the woman so how the hell would she know what was unexpected?

Mariska had also overheard Daggit and Parva wondering about the fate of a SID comrade named Talera P'ris. P'ris was a Romulan who had sought shelter with the group and in turn served beside them. Before beaming down to the surface Mariska had inquired as to Grace's thoughts on the matter. Grace had simply shrugged rather indifferently.

Mariska did know Grace's husband served on a Starfleet starship. Their last reunion had been cut short by this present mission. Perhaps she was merely distracted over that?

The team approached the outer gates to Maret's estate. The North Torr Constabulary arrived, what little of it was still serving and not rioting, "Hold there!"

Mariska approached the constables, "I'm Dal Mariska of the Fourth Order. This is a military operation that's currently underway."

"But they're human," a constable grated.

"Actually not a single one of them is human," Mariska corrected him, "One is El-Aurian, another a Kelvan, a third is Angosian, and the woman with the noticeably green skin is an Orion. But that is all beside the point. The Federation sent them in response to evidence that members of a rogue Federation security agency is responsible for all these violent outbreaks."

"What do you want us to do?" the leading constable inquired.

"Hold the perimeter and arrest anyone that exits," Mariska ordered them. Returning to Macen she said, "We're free to break in now."

Parva unlocked the gates and Daggit surged forward. Macen followed him. Parva came behind Macen and Grace followed her. Mariska brought up the rear.

Grace launched into action before they reached the front entrance. Everyone but Macen froze in place. Macen gave her a rueful look.

"Drop your phaser or I'll scatter their atoms to the wind," Grace warned.

"Oh really?" he asked sardonically.

"You're my sole target," Grace informed him, "They walk and they live."

Macen tossed his phaser aside. As he'd expected, her eyes followed it. He slammed into her and she backpedaled a few feet. Macen smashed a fist into her nose.

Grace drew her phaser and Macen slapped it out of her hand. He rocked her with a right cross followed by a knee to the gut. Grace blindly shoved him back.

Reaching for her phaser, it flew into her hand. Macen dove into a slide tackle and cut Grace's feet out from underneath her. She twisted in mid-air to try and get a shot off after she landed. She fell flat on her back and Macen chopped down on her throat with all his might.

Grace gagged for several seconds and then a wheezing sound emitted from her rapidly swelling throat. Finally there was no sound at all. The team regained the power to move as Grace's eyes bulged.

Macen picked up her dropped phaser and then he retrieved his own and holstered it. Looking to Daggit and Parva he issued the next set of orders, "We're going for a full breach. Hit them while they think Hannah still has you all pinned."

Daggit loaded his grenade launcher while Parva adjusted the settings on her phaser rifle. Meanwhile Macen returned to Grace's side. Her eyes shone with hate and desperation.

"Did you really think I'd be stupid enough to not suspect you still secretly worked for Section 31?" Macen scornfully inquired, "You're not the only who's served undercover for years at a time."

Grace began to convulse and Macen watched as she slowly calmed down and drifted off. The light in her eyes dimmed and eventually extinguished. Mariska softly approached Macen.

"Sometimes I think my people hardened you a little too much," she commented.

"That's a discussion for another day," Macen said with an utter lack of remorse of killing a woman that had served at his side for over fifteen years, "Rab, Parva, now is the time."

An explosion blew the front door in. Daggit lobbed off another round as he sprinted towards the door with Parva at his heels. Her phaser began to fire as soon as she cleared the wreckage of the door.

"It's our turn," Macen informed Mariska.

"After you," she insisted.

They entered to find Daggit and Parva held back at the foyer. Macen and Mariska opened fire. Daggit took aim and fired at one target after another. Parva, Macen, and Mariska fired at anyone who dared survive the blasts.

As Macen and Mariska picked off the panicked guards on the second floor landing, Daggit and Parva pushed forward. They reached the intersection where two hallways met. Parva chose the one to the right and began firing at the straggling guards.

Daggit shot two more photon rounds down the left. Then he turned his attention to the few Parva had left alive. Another photon round dispatched them to the afterlife.

Daggit began to reload his launcher, "We're clear!"

Macen and Mariska finished off the last of the second floor resistance and rejoined the couple. Mariska frowned, "Now where to?"

"The transmitter room is on this level," Parva said consulting her tricorder, "Wait a minute. There's an active senor shroud ten meters to the right. The power grid running to that site is enormous but it vanishes into the shroud."

"We've found our collaborators," Macen declared and no one doubted him.

Parva inspected the area surrounding the shroud field. She managed to find a discreet scanner hidden in the wall paneling. Spoofing it, the secret door slid open.

Phaser fire slashed out of the revealed room and it struck Daggit in the chest. He went down and Pave knelt beside him as Sarina Douglas bolted from the room. Mariska pinned Collins against the wall with an arm across her throat while Macen pursued Douglas.

The local constables were still on the scene but they stood aside as Douglas sprinted past them out into the street. An air skimmer arrived and levitated low enough for Douglas to climb aboard. Then it lifted and made a hasty exit. Still, Macen had recognized T'Kir at the controls.

Mariska joined Macen, "She got away I take it."

"The constables nicely cleared a path so she could hop into an air skimmer driven by T'Kir," Macen recounted.

"Isn't T'Kir dead?" Mariska wondered.

"She was cloned, brought back to life, she joined Section 31, and now she only lives to kill me;" Macen shared, "It's not a very interesting story."

"Why do all your former wives try and kill you?" Mariska wondered.

"Aren't you glad we didn't get married?" Macen smirked.

"Can you feeling the gratitude wafting off of me?" Mariska teased.

"Where's our prisoner?" Macen asked.

"I believe Parva is in the process of dislocating her arm in retaliation for shooting her husband," Mariska said philosophically.

"Well, it can always be relocated," Macen opined.

 

Chapter Five

Macen found Collins with her arm twisted behind her back by Parva and shoved face first into a wall. Daggit grimly stood watch over them. Whether to help or to moderate was anyone's guess at this point.

Macen nodded to Mariska and she requested transport to the Obsidian for her, Collins, and Daggit. Once aboard, Mariska then contacted Skadar and asked for an interrogation team be sent to the Federation surveyor. When informed that Mariska had captured a human prisoner, Skadar happily rounded up an interrogation unit and sent them on their way.

Down in North Torr, Macen and Parva inspected the hidden communications room. Parva was impressed, "This is tied into every comm network throughout Cardassian space."

"And this is T'Kir's work," Macen commented as he observed the fleet lockout program running. He studied the controls and then executed a purge of the virus from the Cardassian Guards' command and control network. Executive override privileges were now restored to most of the fleet. The assembling Galor- and Keldon-class ships seemed immune however.

The communications blackout was also lifted even as outside forces were trying to isolate and shutdown Macen's controls. Macen contacted Garan directly and asked her to try and employ her executive level overrides on the secure comm systems. She happily reported that her control over them had, at least temporarily, been restored. So T'Kir had been rebuffed for now.

Macen nodded to Parva who then applied disruptor charges to the systems. Stepping out into the hallway, Parva fused every piece of equipment, "That should slow them down for a while."

"But will it be long enough?" Macen wondered aloud.

Parva had no answers to that.

The Cardassians began by setting up a vertical frame with a half dome atop of it. They then strapped Collins into it and attached diodes to her head. She was quite amused by all the efforts.

"And what is this supposed to be?" she laughed.

"There are advantages to finding oneself allied with the Klingons," Mariska informed her, "Benefits such as this piece of equipment."

Collins chuckled, "I give. What is it?"

"A mind sifter," Mariska easily replied.

Collins paled, "But those are illegal."

"Only in the Federation," Mariska dismissed the notion, "Of course, they're only in limited usage amongst the Klingons these days. They prefer beatings and edged weapons as their usual recourse. But they are quite legal inside of the Cardassia Union and we've found them to be quit effective at extracting useful information. And as a side note, the one questioned usually survives to live the rest of their lives productively serving the state in a labor camp."

Mariska's eyes bored into Collins', "Ready to begin?"

"You can't do this," Collins protested.

"Oh, we generally prefer more surgical methods for interrogating prisoners but you and your companions have left as very little time so we have to settle for this blunt approach," Mariska explained.

"But I'm with Starfleet!" Collins yelped.

"Which is interesting because the only actively serving members of Starfleet on Cardassia Prime are with the defense liaison group located on Cardassia City's primary Cardassian Guard barracks. I checked with them and discovered you're not a member of their delegation," Mariska said coldly, "So that leads me to ask, just who are you and why are you tearing my civilization apart?"

"Look, I am with Starfleet;" Collins insisted, "Have the liaisons look up my file. I'm Lt. Dorian Collins and I'm on detached duty directly with the Cardassian Guard."

"Then you're way off the reservation," Macen said as he entered, "Because by orders of Legate Macet himself, the Cardassian Guard was to remove itself from this situation entirely. Of course, that doesn't account for the little fleet he's assembling in the Chin'Toka system, does it?"

Collins grew even paler as Macen continued, "And then there's the Prime Directive which strictly forbids destabilizing a foreign government much less that of an ally. Would you care to respond to any of these facts before we begin leveling charges and make you provide answers to them?"

Collins wore an expression of stark horror before Macen offered one last hope, "I can cut you a deal. If you willingly cooperate, and your answers are verified to be true, I can take you into custody and you'll face Federation justice by means of a court martial and probably at least ten years in the stockade on Jaros II. Otherwise, you'll remain in Cardassian hands and you'll discover that the Cardassian legal system is the one area where reforms have been slowest."

"I'll take the deal!" Collins said with a full measure of desperation.

Macen looked to the Cardassian team, "Please wait outside for further instructions."

"What do you mean?" Collins asked with apprehension.

"They'll be standing by in case I detect a note of falsehood from you," Macen warned her, "I'm an El-Aurian which means I'm also known as a 'Listener'. If I hear a lie come from your lips, I'm handing you right back into Cardassian hands. And to facilitate a smooth transition, Dal Mariska will be standing here right next to me as the interrogation commences. Do you understand all of this?"

Collins numbly nodded, "Yes."

"Good," Macen said sternly, "Now let's begin."

Only, Collins was startled when Mariska began asking the questions instead of Macen.

While Mariska questioned Collins, Macen's comm badge chirped twice. He exited the interrogation room and stepped into the observation room. There Daggit silently watched the proceedings along with the Cardassian interrogators. As an added inducement to spur on achieving results, Garan and Skadar had joined them.

"What is Dal Mariska doing?" Garan asked impatiently, "What difference does the woman's past make?"

"It establishes when Collins was recruited by Section 31 and how long she's been an active agent within Starfleet," Macen said. He moved to the interrogators, "You should join the Dal right about now."

They did and since Collins was still strapped into the mind sifter, she began answering questions in a rapid fire staccato. Mariska finally asked who else was involved in the plot to remove Garan from office. Collins froze up at that point. Macen walked in then.

"Lieutenant, you've just violated the terms by which I placed you in my custody. Your Cardassian fodder now," Macen said and then stepped out again.

She heard movement behind her and panicked, "The S31 agents were Sarina Douglas and T'Kir. We were handled by a Vulcan named L'Haan."

"Who were the Cardassian collaborators in this plot?" Mariska asked coldly.

Collins listed off Maret, Macet, Aflem Harek the Director of the Cardassian Information Bureau, Arena Gavik the Constabulary Commandant, and Civil Defense Commander Milt Drezen. She described how Section 31 approached Maret and he arranged the deal by which he would abandon the Khitomer Accords treaty and his ambitions towards the Federation in exchange for being placed in power.

"What was your contingency plan in case of failure?" Mariska demanded to know.

"There wasn't one," Collins answered.

"I don't believe you," Mariska admitted.

"Look, The Federation's Interstellar Security Agency and the Federation Bureau of Investigation are working with us. They've already unseated President Bacco and installed a politician favorable to our intended policies. Given we had the President Pro Tempore lapping up whatever directives Section 31 bestows upon him, it was thought the Cardassian element of the plan was foolproof. We had no idea that Starfleet's Special Investigation Division would become involved and side with Garan," Collins confessed.

"You didn't anticipate the SID participating on Castellan Garan's behalf and yet you had no expectation of Starfleet becoming involved as well," Mariska sharply probed.

"The President Pro Tempore controls Starfleet through edicts issued to the Starfleet Commander-in-Chief. The SID is largely a civilian agency outside of Starfleet's chain of command. So we couldn't anticipate their movements," Collins admitted, "We just tried to distract them."

"What happens with the plot to destabilize Cardassia now?" Mariska changed topics.

"Nothing," Collins said smugly, "Our task is done. Now everyone involved will just sit back and wait for Garan to be voted out of office in disgrace."

Macen turned to Garan, "You need to edit this footage eliminating my parts in it and transmit it so that your people across the Cardassian Union can see it," Macen suggested, "It's your best hope for staying in office."

Garan agreed and Macen summoned Edwin Zimbalist, the ship's OPS Officer, and instructed him to escort Garan to the SID briefing room. Then Macen paged Tessa asked her to lend a hand. She wanted to bring Galen 3 as well and Macen allowed it. After all it wasn't like his EMH or his Science Officer had much on their plate right now.

Macen returned to his Ready Room and contacted Admiral Forger. As soon as the connection was made it was subsequently broken. Macen immediately contacted Nechayev.

"The SID building has been sealed off. SID Security is staging a standoff with Starfleet Security," Nechayev reported.

"Why?" Macen wondered.

"Ten minutes ago I received an ultimatum. Amanda's life would be traded for Dorian Collins' release," Nechayev informed him, "I immediately told Ed Noyce and he sent Security to the site."

"Is Amanda even alive?" Macen wondered.

"I don't have full communications with her but I can tell you she's in her office and she's very much alive," Nechayev assured him, "Now I'm certain you have other pressing matters needing your attention. We'll deal with Section 31's SID mole and I'll get back to you."

Nechayev signed off before Macen could comment. Next he paged Jim McKinley. McKinley had obviously relocated to his Ready Room in the space of time before he answered.

"Hello Brin, this is unexpected;" McKinley stated.

"Unfortunately I have bad news," Macen said dourly.

"Oh God, who died?" McKinley asked.

"Hannah Grace," Macen said.

"In the line of duty?" McKinley hoped.

"Actually I killed her before she could assassinate three of my teammates with her Kelvan abilities," Macen said heavily.

"That...certainly puts a different spin on things," McKinley was almost in shock.

"Tell Ian that Hannah died defending what she believed in," Macen instructed, "Just don't tell him she believed in Section 31."

"You think she's been working for them all these years?" McKinley wondered.

"Without a doubt," Macen said with certainty.

"I'll tell him the cover story," McKinley promised, "I don't think he could bear the truth."

"Thank you," Macen said earnestly and signed off. Then he wondered about Amanda Forger.

Forger lay sprawled across her office floor at the time. She was paralyzed from the waist down again. Ambril Delori stood over her gloating.

"You never considered that your spinal shunt could be deactivated, did you?" Ambril snickered.

"Why?" Forger asked simply.

"Why what?" Ambril played stupid.

Forger sighed, "Why the betrayal?"

Ambril studied the admiral as if trying to determine if Forger was just plain naive or colossally stupid. Or maybe both.

"You're the one who has betrayed the Federation by ignoring an obvious threat in the Cardassians and endorsing the alliance between the Federation and her mortal enemies. Bacco deserved to be removed and she was. Garan may be an even greater fool than you and she's being removed from office. So I suppose it's only fitting you get taken down as well," Ambril declared.

"But it doesn't matter now," Ambril decided, "Because it's all been settled now."

"Not according to Macen," Forger enjoyed saying.

"A delusional fool who's being dealt with as well," Ambril snorted.

"That's what Sindis kept thinking," Forger warned.

"Don't compare me to that scum," Ambril hotly demanded, "He was a criminal psychopath. A monster."

"Sindis saw the ends justifying the means and your friends at Section 31 operate the same way," Forger asserted.

"But isn't that why you gave Macen a license to kill?" Ambril scoffed.

"That's fiction," Forger mentally cursed Ian Fleming.

"Sometimes facts are stranger or more brutal than fiction," Ambril waxed philosophical, "Like the Cardassians."

"Macen felt the same way until Admiral Kira and Captain Ro signed on to the treaty negotiations as well," Forger reminded Ambril, "Both of them have far greater reasons to hate Cardassians than you ever will."

"I may have been born on a Federation border colony during the Occupation but we still had the hell known as the Border Wars to deal with," Ambril snapped.

"All right, answer me this," Forger shifted approaches, "Why Maret? For a decade now he's espoused taking Bajor back through any means necessary. How does supporting him serve your needs?"

"Maret is predictable and manageable. He'll owe us too much to run counter to the program we give him," Ambril haughtily declared.

"Maret's first conquest won't be in the uncharted regions. It will be Bajor. And since Bajor is a Federation member that means our two societies will be at war once again," Forger desperately sought to make her former aide see reason.

"A war we'll easily win," Ambril had decided, "In any case, you're delusional. All you see is treachery and deceit."

"Is it any wonder?" Forger dryly asked.

"I'm not a traitor," Ambril huffed, "I'm a patriot."

"We all like to think so," Forger commented dismissively.

Two days went by and Rockford's team was read to move. Mudd had forged the IDs they needed and placed the prerequisite personnel jackets in the ISA's central database. Melina and the bounty hunters made their approach through the woods while Rockford, Mudd, and Delain went to penetrate the Wolf's Lair.

The trio drove a groundcar appropriated by the Doriks from the ISA's branch office in Warsaw. Tanker and Korik had proven adept at altering the markings and Melina had worked on the transponder herself. So now their car would identify as being from the Paris headquarters of the ISA.

Their ID badges alone got them past the road gate but they had to step out and be retina scanned at the entrance. Mudd's handiwork paid off and they were granted access. Taken to a waiting area, two guards minded them while higher officials were summoned. Finally L'Haan's adjunct, Jacen Worthington, appeared.

"May I ask why you are here?" he asked without preamble.

"Cut the crap," Rockford went on the offensive, "We both know our superiors have ordered Bacco to endorse Macht. In order to do that we need a thumbprint on an official document and a statement from someone that doesn't looked coerced. The thumbprint is a nonissue. That can be acquired at will. But my team is here to get the statement."

"She'll never cooperate," Worthington doused the idea, "Why is this statement even necessary?"

"Have you looked at the opinion polls?" Rockford inquired, "Macht trails third behind Gendis of Izar and Hatep Nos of Bajor. Bacco's endorsement could sway thing Macht's way once again."

"And why send you?" Worthington wondered, staring at Delain.

"I can wring a confession out of a corpse," Delain said smoothly, "Getting a living person to endorse another candidate should be child's play."

"This is all highly irregular," Worthington complained.

"And ousting sitting chiefs of state is?" Rockford wondered.

"Yes, it usually is;" Worthington remarked.

"Why am I not surprised?" Rockford mused, "Can we get underway?"

"I have to check in with the base commander," Worthington replied.

"Take your time," Rockford said breezily.

L'Haan greeted her adjunct as he returned to the command center, "Is there a difficulty, Mr. Worthington?"

"Supposedly the ISA sent a team to wring an endorsement for Macht out of Bacco," Worthington explained.

"I was not informed of such an event," L'Haan recalled.

"And nothing has been put on the schedule," Worthington corroborated, "Yet their orders and IDs read positive at ISA headquarters."

L'Haan moved to a monitor and pulled up an internal security feed. Her eyebrow arched, "You have done well to alert me of this. Two of these women are part of Brin Macen's SID team. Specifically they are private investigators included within the team's ranks. As a side note, Celeste Rockford just recently became Macen's wife. We had assumed they would be off celebrating the human honeymoon ritual. Apparently that thinking was a fallacy."

"Who is the third woman?" Worthington inquired.

"One Harriet Mudd. She is currently employed by our agency to find and eliminate Rockford and Delain not deliver them to our doorstep," L'Haan remarked.

"I didn't know we had a stringer named 'Mudd'," Worthington commented.

"We do not. Mudd is a general criminal for hire. Agent Grace contracted her services. It seems I shall have to reprimand her after these affairs conclude," L'Haan decided.

"Just out of curiosity, what was Mudd's contracted fee?" Worthington couldn't help but ask.

"One hundred bars of gold pressed latinum. A substantial amount under any circumstances. I rather doubt she will ever collect her fee," L'Haan opined.

"Shall I assemble a security team?" Worthington was all eager now.

"Yes but be cautious. Rockford is an Angosian Augment. Delain is a former constable and Mudd is unpredictable and her loyalties are fluidic," L'Haan warned.

"Yes ma'am," Worthington enthused.

"Mr. Worthington, I wish to speak with Mudd in an interrogation room. Confine her in the room but do nothing else. Leave observers in place and come and retrieve me. I will speak to her directly then," L'Haan instructed.

Worthington bowed his head and then departed.

A hidden door in the wall behind the insertion team opened up and armored troops spilled forth. More rushed up to fill the exit. More tromping boots could be heard in the corridor. Worthington made his way through the crowd.

"Agent L'Haan will speak with each and every one of you in turn, beginning with the one named 'Mudd'," Worthington announced.

Mudd blanched as Rockford and Delain shot her suspicious glares. Rockford snapped her phaser free of its holster and fired off a shot. To her amazement, Worthington dodged it.

The troopers behind Rockford hit her with stun pikes until the voltage knocked her out. Worthington wore a cold smile, "I advise the rest of you to cooperate."

Security guards carried Rockford to the detention center after stripping her of her utility belt. They also took Delain's belt and marched her to the detention bloc. Mudd followed Worthington but was consciously aware of the two troopers behind her. She surrendered her weaponry and stepped into the waiting interrogation room. She heard the locks cycle and gave the mirrored wall a rude gesture just to see if the guards on the other side would react.

Not getting what she wanted, Mudd took a seat and began to impatiently wait.

It took two days for Garan to convince the media outlets to broadcast her message. She'd relocated to the Tralagar twenty hours ago and had played the game of diplomatic waiting ever since. Now the news outlets were ready to receive her transmission.

In it, Collins' interrogation could be plainly viewed and heard. Afterwards, Garan had tacked on a personal message to her people. She watched the broadcast on several channels at once.

After Collins finished implicating just about everyone, Garan appeared and offered the Cardassia people a simple choice. While she'd waited on the media networks, she'd had the staff at the Legislative Assembly create a program in a dedicated server. Her suggestion to the entire Cardassian Union was to log onto the server and vote for who they wanted as Castellan. If Maret won, Garan would gladly step down.

Of course, she'd also be asking Macen for amnesty. But that was conjectural. Legate Macet had announced his intention to return to Cardassia Prime in six days to put down the so-called "uprising". The voting would end in five days, so that gave everyone time to formulate a response to Macet's impending arrival.

After the broadcast, Macen contacted Garan; "Congratulations. That was probably the best appeal to reason that I've ever heard. Considering I've almost lived five hundred years that says a lot."

"We'll see," Garan replied pragmatically.

"Yes, we will. In any case, I have to get my ship and crew prepared for Macet's arrival;" Macen warned her.

After cutting the connection to the Tralagar, Macen called Shannon Forger into his Ready Room; "Like it or not, we have to get prepared to see some action."

Forger was skeptical, "Times like this I miss the original Obsidian. At least the SPYards had given her a decent weapons system, quad redundant shield emitters, and ramped up impulse and warp engines. This is just a cookie cutter science vessel."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Macen wryly remarked.

"Let's face it, this bucket is going to get us killed;" Forger lamented.

"This isn't like you," Macen observed, "Are you giving up before the first shot is fired?"

"Hell no," Forger was adamant; "We'll take five or six of the bastards out before they destroy us."

"Actually, you're probably right;" Macen conceded.

Forger's jaw hung, "I am?"

"Macet is steaming in with the fleet's most powerful assets," Macen told her, "But his troops also know about the referendum. The Home Sector fleet answers to Gul Skadar so they'll throw in with whoever wins the ersatz vote of confidence."

"And Macet?" Forger asked.

"Akellen Macet is Skrain Dukat's first cousin and they seem to share more than a family resemblance," Macen commented, "Macet seems to share Dukat's thirst for power and notoriety. All of his previous moderation looks like it was all a pretense in order to win favor with the elected governments."

"So even if Maret wins, Macet is likely to steamroll the planet and set himself up as dictator-in-chief," Forger surmised.

"That's my read on it," Macen concurred, "Especially since Macet isn't beholden to Section 31 like Maret is."

"We are so screwed," Forger groaned.

"Actually we may be able to end this without a conflict," Macen suddenly said.

"How?" Forger was doubtful.

"If Garan loses the vote then she transfers aboard and we simply sail out of here," Macen told her, "I doubt Macet wants to risk a war with the Federation just to eliminate a defeated opponent. If she wins, that means she has a majority of the population of the Cardassian Union behind her. Macet will have a hard time pressuring his officers into supporting a coup after that."

"Now Maret wouldn't have a problem with coming in guns blazing despite the popular will," Macen explained, "But then, Maret was a career administrative officer while Macet is a career field officer. He has a field officer's mentality. That will work against him because loyalty is his badge of honor."

"I hope your right," Forger fervently wished.

"So do I," Macen agreed, "But in case I'm wrong we need the damage control teams and medics ready to move at a moment's notice."

"I'll jump start Tessa and her medical staff and then pound away at Parva in Engineering," Forger promised.

"Then scoot," Macen urged.

Mudd had been scanned and partially stripped searched while she waited. Now she was alone again and wondering just why she was being dicked around. Section 31 had Rockford and Delain, which is what they wanted. So why spend all this effort to piss her off?

Finally the door slid open and L'Haan strolled in. Mudd stifled a groan at the sight of a Vulcan, "Are you the sentient in charge here?"

"I am," L'Haan said placidly.

"I delivered Rockford and her partner to your doorstep. What you do with them from here on in is your business. I just want my fee transferred into my accounts and I'll be on my way," Mudd said easily.

"Your financial arrangement was made with Agent Grace," L'Haan's continued imperturbability was getting on Mudd's nerves, "Since I have recently learned that Agent Grace s now dead, it seems your 'deal' is with me and I do not require your services".

"No one told me Grace was dead," Mudd protested, "I delivered on good faith."

"Celeste Rockford was already on her way here," L'Haan countered, "Whatever stroke of fortune landed you in her company had nothing to do with her arrival here. In fact, it seemed you perpetuated the deception that actually got you admitted into the facility."

"How else was I to prove my good graces?" Mudd inquired, "I knew enough about your organization to know the subterfuge wouldn't work. So it all ends well."

"Does it?" L'Haan challenged Mudd, "I think not. Make yourself comfortable. I have to consider your future factoring in the fact that you know far too much about us to go free and I doubt you are a worthy recruit."

L'Haan turned on her heel and exited. Mudd rose from her chair and locked herself in the restroom. Stripping off her pants and underwear, she prepared to retrieve her "little surprise".

Mudd squatted and reached into herself and retrieved an oval container. Throughout the centuries, women on various planets had used their vaginas as storage areas in order to smuggle items. Usually the "mules" ferried narcotics across borders but occasionally it was a more esoteric object.

Mudd had dressed by the time the two observers came knocking on the door. She released the lock and it slid open. She subsequently shot both guards with her Type I "cricket" phaser. The container was made of kelbonite so it hadn't registered on sensors.

Mudd usually carried in explosives this way but she'd used the phaser trick before. Finding the door still unlocked by the guards, she stole out into the corridor. Section 31 was about to discover that strip searches had nothing on old fashioned major body cavity searches.

Bacco sat in her cell and wondered once again how Piniero was doing. The individual cells had sound damping equipment. Unless someone overrode it in order to speak directly with her, she never heard a noise outside of her cell.

Bacco had to wonder how she would ever leave this facility. Vertically or horizontally? Poor Piniero would share her fate just for being so loyal to her all of these years. Bacco had read Jellico's "Eyes Only" dossier on Section 31. She'd blinded herself to just how pervasive and desperate they'd become.

Bacco also knew Jellico and the Council of Five would have mobilized on this. They'd move secretly and subtly but they'd be on her trail. And her rescue would have to come from Starfleet. The ISA, the FBI, and presumably the FSS were all in collusion with Section 31.

Bacco found it ironic that she'd led the Federation through various crises involving the Borg, the Caelier, the Argyn, the Enforcers, the Andorian succession, the rise of the Typhon Pact and here she was undone by self-professed "patriots" from her own government. Bacco felt old and tired. But knowing Piniero's future would be cut short as well drove Bacco to fight on.

Bacco had nearly reached the century mark but her mind was still sharp and strong unlike her body. Section 31 wouldn't know what hit them. Now she just had to exit this damn cell.

Rockford considered it and realized that Mudd was probably in league with Section 31. Although, Mudd's shifting loyalties struck as an odd choice for a clandestine organization. Rockford knew that Mudd's payday would be in a different currency than she'd anticipated.

Someone aboard the Obsidian or in Admiral Forger's office was also a traitor. Probably both given Grace's past history. And the only one close enough to Admiral Forger to know Rockford's plans would be Ambril. So her husband was facing two fronts besides the Cardassians.

Rockford grimly thought, This is a helluva way to spend a honeymoon.

Delain studied her cell the way Rockford had well before her. Of course, Delain didn't attempt to simply walk through the force field. Rockford had discovered telescopic metal bars descended and ascended from the floor and ceiling when she tried.

Delain focused on the cell's accoutrements. There was a cot, a food replicator, and a reading terminal. Delain found it quite amusing that Section 31 had provided her with all the tools she needed to escape.

The replicator could be overloaded to create a surge in the EPS conduits and blow this section's power grid. The data terminal could also be overloaded and send a backlash through the ODN network that would blind the computer core and knock all internal systems off. Emergency systems wouldn't include internal sensors or visual recorders.

Delain knew this because one of the last prisoners she'd dealt with a constable on Cardassia Prime had been a Xepolite smuggler. He'd done the same to her precinct's detention cells. The entire station had been blinded and the Cardassians had to conduct a hard target search.

Delain had found him after he'd stolen a squad car and made a break for it. Traffic Control had his transponder locked in and they lead Delain straight to him. The Xepolite had boasted about what he'd done while Delain dragged him back to the precinct and Delain had taken mental notes.

Of course, her fellow officers had locked the smuggler into a tiny metal cage where they took turns urinating on him before they finally dragged him out and beat him half to death. Delain had resigned in protest and went independent. Afterwards she was blacklisted by the Constabulary so she left Cardassian space and went to Deep Space Nine.

The Unionists rose and fell from power after her arrival. Garak came to Deep Space Nine to escape Maret's wrath. Garan had left him in exile after she'd taken office. But Delain owed a great deal to Garak. He provided the connections and introductions to get her private investigator's agency up and running.

It was Garak that had introduced Delain to the impertinent Wyn Mesa. Wyn, on the other hand, had earned the attention of Ro Laren. Subsequent introductions were made and Ro looked for permanent work for the pair. And then Macen and Rockford had come back to the station.

Rockford had taken one look at Delain's case files and had been impressed. A discreet inquiry to Cardassian contacts had yielded Delain's official personnel jacket. Rockford had offered Delain two things: a chance to work for Rockford Investigations and to become her personal partner inside the SID team.

The pair was contractually free to undertake private cases when not employed by the SID but as Rockford had shared, that wasn't happening anytime soon. In fact, Macen and Rockford had barely squeezed in time to get married and they'd still sacrificed their honeymoon. Of which, Delain found the concept romantic. Cardassians had no concept of an after wedding getaway.

Delain didn't know if her effort would pay off like the Xepolite's had, especially since she was going by memory, but it was her best chance at earning freedom. In fact, it was her only chance.

 

Chapter Six

Mudd had confiscated the phasers of the guards she'd killed. Her cricket phaser was set to maximum disrupt, or "kill", while the others could wound without killing should she need to take a prisoner and get information from them. And Mudd was considering doing that since she was navigating the Wolf's Lair on her own as best she could.

Mudd finally backtracked her way to the entrance. Discreetly placing a comm beacon on it, she activated the beacon and simply walked away. When the two gate guards challenged her, she simply killed them before reentering the former bunker.

The comm beacon served a vital purpose. It summoned Melina's teams. They should have penetrated the electrostatic fence by now and begun neutralizing the roving patrols. Mudd stopped by a directory and pulled up the location of the detention center.

As she reached it, she was amazed that every light in the base suddenly went dark. Emergency lighting kicked in but that didn't surprise her. The sound of phaser fire up ahead did.

Delain was actually mildly surprised when her gambit succeeded. The lights blacking out and the force field disappearing informed her that it had. By the time the emergency lighting came up, the sound of phaser fire could be heard outside her cell because the sound dampening equipment was also shut down.

By the time Delain exited her cell; Rockford had already dealt with four guards and was snapping the neck of a fifth. A sixth guard bearing a compression phaser rifle was cut down by a phaser blast from the corridor. Then a second blast from the corridor took out the last guard just as he finished loading a photon grenade launcher. Mudd stepped into the detection center but kept her eyes on the outer corridor.

Rockford eased Bacco and Piniero out of their cells. Bacco recognized her and stood silently by while Rockford and Delain retrieved their personal gear. Delain picked up the compression rifle while Rockford favored the grenade launcher. Rockford then stripped down the captured Type II phasers. Revering their emitter arrays, she staggered them along the length of the detention center.

"Get them out of here," Rockford instructed Delain.

"But you'll kill these men and women," Bacco protested.

"They're already dead," Rockford tersely replied.

Bacco went quietly at that point. Rockford ran the length of the space, depressing phaser triggers as she went. She managed to clear the detention bloc and get behind cover before the explosions started.

"Let's see them put us back there now," she declared.

"Yeah, now they'll just kill us outright;" Mudd quipped.

Rockford shot her a warning glance before she led them all to a briefing room. Then she began to collect answers starting with Mudd, "I thought Section 31 had plans for you."

"So did they," Mudd replied, "I just didn't like what they were."

"So who knocked out the power grid?" Rockford inquired.

"That would be me," Delain happily answered, "It was a trick I learned from a rather slippery prisoner on Cardassia."

"You'll have to teach it to me some time," Rockford suggested, "Now, what about our retrieval team?"

"I squawked them before coming back for you," Mudd told her.

"Ziva, did you manage to grab your tricorder?" Rockford inquired.

"Of course," Delain said cheerfully.

"Then you're our detector. Both of my hands will be filled," Rockford informed her, "I'll have to thank Section 31 for providing an auto loading grenade launcher with a twenty round magazine."

"These people aren't necessarily our enemy, Detective Rockford;" Bacco insisted, "They're merely misguided."

"I beg to differ," Rockford said coolly, "You've been removed from office. The news from Cardassia Prime is that it's in flames, and Andoria is a member of the Typhon Pact thanks directly to Section 31's machinations. These people were prepared to kill you as soon as they assumed your usefulness had ended because you'd already signed a document and made a statement endorsing their presidential candidate. And they were going to extract these things by threatening your former chief of staff. So don't tell me they aren't my, or your, enemy."

"Then what is your plan?" Bacco wanted to know.

"We have a second team outside that will engage their security," Rockford explained, "While the focus is on them we'll sweep in from behind and punch our way to freedom. Once we're outside and clear of the shooting we'll transport to Starfleet's Spacedock facility."

"Will your second team be able to penetrate the site's defenses?" Bacco had to ask.

"They're professional bounty hunters," Rockford stated, "This is what they do."

Bacco wasn't reassured by the thought of civilian irregulars rescuing her.

Outside Melina's team had spent the last half hour disposing of the foot patrols before moving on the front entrance. It seemed someone had killed two guards there because the security teams that came to investigate the missing patrols found them dead and their agitation exploded like a breached warp core.

Tanker had started the fray when the signal began. The sight of an armored oversized humanoid turtle threw some of the guards into a panic. The added presence of Tanker's portable phaser cannon did nothing to dispel their fears.

Korik and Melina also opened fire from Tanker's flanks. The bulk of Section 31's on-site security detachment was now engaged in a firefight with the bounty hunters. During all of this, Melina's comm cuff chirped twice. She tapped it three times to acknowledge that the Doriks were now in position and authorized their strike.

The Doriks had reached the rear of the base with little trouble. They'd only dealt with three patrolling pairs and a few things Melina had said were called "dogs". Having received the "go" signal, Dorik Went proceeded to the outer wall and slapped a photon charge on it.

Giving his wife an encouraging nod, he returned to the tree line. Dorik Elita depressed the thumb stick trigger and the wall disappeared in a flash of thunder and light. Waiting, the Doriks were rewarded with the sight of the Wolf's Lair's few remaining security forces.

The interior of the Wolf's Lair shook as a thunderous noise echoed through it. Rockford turned to Delain, "Get the President to the entrance and start the break out process."

"Where are you going? Bacco asked worriedly, "And what was that explosion?"

"That explosion was intended to clear my path," Rockford tersely explained, "Now I'm going to deal with the real threat inside this installation."

"But..." Bacco started to protest but Rockford was already leaving.

"She's an Angosian, Nanieta;" Piniero reminded Bacco, "In fact, she's an elite breed even within the Augment community. Her role in the Angosians' war with Tarsis was to infiltrate enemy camps and eliminate everyone inside of them."

"God help these people then," Bacco shuddered.

"I think it's already too late for that," Piniero remarked.

"Mr. Worthington, respond please;" L'Haan requested through the command center's comm panel, "Mr. Worthington, repeat, you must respond."

"I really wouldn't bother with him. He's busy," Rockford commented from the room's entrance, "In fact, you shouldn't bother with much of anything anymore."

Rockford began firing grenades with the launcher in her right hand and releasing particle beam bursts with the phaser in her left hand. She didn't stop until both the launcher's magazine and the phaser's power pack were expended. Then she drew her own phaser and began searching the wreckage. Finding L'Haan pinned under a bank of fallen equipment too heavy to lift, Rockford broke into a chilling smile.

"Say good night," were her final words for L'Haan.

Delain tended to Bacco and Piniero while Mudd scouted ahead. Mudd eventually returned, "It looks like most of the base's security force is up ahead."

"That was the idea," Delain drolly commented.

Mudd turned to Piniero, "Weren't you a Starfleet officer once upon a time?"

"I rose to the rank of Commander," Piniero proudly answered.

"A simply 'yes' or 'no' would do," Mudd dryly quipped. She pulled a phaser off of her belt and gave it to Piniero. She then jerked a thumb towards to upcoming corner, "Keep them distracted while I prepare a surprise."

Delain went high and relied upon her captured compression rifle while Piniero went low. Mudd rigged her second phaser to overload and while the Cardassian and human team provided cover fire, Mudd lobbed it towards the security force. Retreating behind the corer, it was only a matter of second before an energy wave slammed the exposed part of the wall.

Mudd pulled her cricket phaser out from concealment. Tapping her comm badge, she spoke; "Mudd to Melina, time for Phase Three."

"Copy that," Melina replied, "I suggest you all stay under cover."

"Not a problem," Mudd herded Bacco and Piniero back with help from Delain, "The team is firing a photon missile into the guards. That should clear out the remaining opposition."

Another energy wave cascaded by as the building shook. Rockford rejoined them, "I see we're still on schedule."

Delain and Mudd swept forward and shot at the few survivors still struggling to fight. Rockford herded Bacco and Piniero along but also contacted Dorik Elita at the same time, "It's time to release the package."

"You've got it," Dorik Elita replied with satisfaction.

Moments later, a second photon missile tore through the facility's rear. Bacco was horrified, "Do you have any idea of how much damage you're inflicting on a site that was once a World Heritage Foundation center?"

"Some heritage," Rockford snorted.

"Sometimes it's best to confront the past in order not to repeat it," Bacco argued.

"My people buried their regrets in a lunar prison," Rockford grated, "The Federation rewarded this by denying my planet membership. Then the Dominion War came and my people were offered membership and a chance to dispose of their great shame by employing Augments as commandoes against the Jem'Hadar. So my people did it and bought their way into the ranks of the Federation. I couldn't stomach the hypocrisy so I went my own way."

"Nana, we need to get you out of here before the ISA and Section 31 send reinforcements this way," Piniero advised Bacco.

Rockford's entire team reunited at the outer gate. Rockford contacted Starfleet and a transporter locked onto all of them and moved them from Spacedock back to the planet arriving in San Francisco. Specifically they ended up at Starfleet Security's central command.

Nechayev and Noyce were on hand to greet them. Noyce and a team of Security officers ushered Bacco and Piniero away to safety. Jellico had already arranged a meeting with the Federation Council. Bacco would accompany him as well as a complete Security detail.

Nechayev took Rockford and Delain aside while Starfleet Intelligence officers paid out Melina and the others. Nechayev explained to Rockford about Amanda Forger's situation. Rockford surprised her by stating she already had deduced that Ambril was a Section 31 mole.

"Then do you have any suggestions on his to deal with her?" Nechayev wondered.

"First I want to know how Forger was taken down," Rockford requested.

"Ambril deactivated Amanda's spinal shunt and paralyzed her once again," Nechayev explained.

"I'd like to bring one of my team members along with us," Rockford stated.

"Take whomever you want to," Nechayev agreed.

Rockford tapped Mudd for the assignment and they transported to Reading, England.

Rockford presented her credentials to the Starfleet Security scene commander. Lt. Commander Irina Moretz was not impressed, "We have Starfleet Special Operations Command on scene and they will deal with the subject."

"Patch me into the SOC officer in charge," Rockford insisted.

"That would be Commander Stan Guthrie," Moretz sniffed.

Rockford's gut went cold upon hearing Joachim Dracas' boyfriend's name. Dracas had been killed during a mission and Guthrie, despite his own profession, had never forgiven the SID. Rockford was suddenly afraid Guthrie would use this mission as an excuse to splatter blood across the walls.

"Get me Guthrie," Rockford said in low menacing tones, "Now."

Moretz had enough sense to be afraid of Rockford. Rockford opened a channel to Guthrie, "Stan, it's Celeste Rockford. We need to talk about this situation."

"It's been a long time, Celeste. Need I remind you you're still a civilian contractor? This is a Starfleet operation. Stay the hell out of our way," Guthrie grated.

"Stan, I need time so my specialist can reverse the blockage of Admiral Forger's spinal shunt. If she can walk again she can also defend herself while Ambril panics when you breach," Rockford explained, "I think Starfleet Command would prefer keeping one of its admirals alive rather than letting her get picked off as a hostage."

"How long will it take your 'specialist'?" Guthrie barely refrained from sneering.

"I don't know yet. We just arrived on scene," Rockford admitted.

"You have thirty minutes and then we breach whether you have results or not," Guthrie decided.

"That may not be long enough," Rockford warned.

"Thirty minutes," Guthrie coldly declared and then signed off.

"Great," Rockford muttered. She went to Mudd and told what they needed to have happen. Arranging for access to the headquarters' internal sensors and comm array, Rockford forced Starfleet into providing all of the equipment Mudd could possibly need. All the while Moretz called into an ever escalating echelon of command at Starfleet headquarters to protest. In the end she was handed off to Noyce who simply told her to shut up and do as she was told.

While Moretz's attitude adjustment made life easier for Rockford and Delain, it didn't assist Mudd's efforts at all. Minutes ticked by too slowly in one perception and much too fast in another. Finally, with barely five minutes to spare, Mudd announced she'd isolated the signal Ambril was broadcasting.

"This shunt had to have been specifically designed with this eventuality in mind," Mudd told Rockford.

Mudd began pulling up data on prototype emitters that could broadcast this signal. Delain noted that Mudd seemed far too comfortable with Starfleet's records system. Mudd merely commented that she was hardly a virgin.

While Mudd isolated how to jam the signal that blocked the shunt from working, Rockford reflected on how Ambril had been embedded with the SID since its inception. But there were also the doctors that had designed Forger's spinal bypass and the engineers that built it. Any one of them could also be a Section 31 sleeper agent. Once you started seriously looking it seemed that anyone could be a potential foe. Now Rockford understood how humans felt after the Changelings reached Earth.

With two minutes remaining on Guthrie's deadline, Rockford asked Mudd; "Can you block the signal?"
"No, but I can modify it," Mudd said, "But we haven't discussed my fee yet."

"I can put you on retainer and throw lots of work your way if you'd just jam the damn signal," Rockford said between gritted teeth.

Mudd smirked, "Now you're appealing to my better nature."

 

Chapter Seven

Forger felt a tingling in her legs as the nerves became active again. Then they twitched a few times but fortunately Ambril was too obsessed with issuing orders to the building's civilian security force. She was demanding that the guards stage an assault on the surrounding Starfleet Security force and the guards were balking. Ambril was close to the end of her tether.

Forger rose other feet, "Oh Ambril, I think you've lost control of the situation."

Ambril swung around and depressed the activation button on her emitter wand several times. Snarling, she threw it at Forger. Ambril raised her phaser and took aim at the admiral.

The office door blew in and the SOC team swept the open area with phaser beams. Ambril was immediately stunned. SOC officers moved in and apprehended Ambril. Guthrie approached Forger.

Tapping his comm badge, he reported to Moretz; "The admiral is secure. We have a prisoner and require transport to Starfleet Security's central holding cells."

"Commander," Forger got his attention after he'd finished, "How did you manage to reactivate my spinal shunt?"

"We didn't," Guthrie was loath to admit, "Celeste Rockford arrived with a so-called 'expert' and they managed to reactivate your shunt."

"I see," Forger considered it, "Could you please ask them to join me here?"

Guthrie looked like he'd rather have all of his teeth extracted without anesthesia but he nodded his compliance.

Rockford and Delain reported in. Mudd hadn't been told to stay away so she tagged along just out of general curiosity. Of course, Mudd was willing to accept any and all applause for her contribution. Then she tried to convert it into latinum.

Forger merely smiled at that, "I just saw the news while you all were sorting things out at ground level. Nan Bacco has been reinstated as President. Macht is apparently spilling his guts regarding those that put him into office, however briefly, and Bacco has ordered forces to be deployed to Cardassia Prime."

"I thought the official word was no forces were available," Delain pointed out.

"That was Macht's agenda," Forger stated, "Bacco knows who her friends are and chief among them is Castellan Rekena Garan."

"How is Starfleet Command finding ships to send in?" Rockford had a vested interest in this just as Delain did.

"Elements of the Ninth and Seventh Fleets are being redirected," Forger shared, "Anything more than that and I'm going to have to ask Ms. Mudd to leave."

"You could always buy my silence," Mudd grinned.

"I'm sure," Forger dryly remarked.

In the Cardassia Union, the populace had largely voted in favor of Garan. She received an overwhelming majority over Maret. Now the popular call was for Maret to do as Garan had offered and step down from public office. A thing that he adamantly refused to do.

The Legislative Assembly was preparing charges for him to be impeached out of office. The Judicial General was filing charges against Maret for when he lost his legislative immunity. Something that now seemed inevitable. And since Cardassian judicial verdicts were decided well in advance of the trial, Maret was looking at a lifetime internment in Cardassia IV's labor camps.

While the voting was underway, the Obsidian slipped away from Cardassia Prime accompanied by Gul Ocett's Gormek. Their ambition was to dissuade the assembled Cardassian fleet from rolling in on Cardassia Prime. But in order to do so they had to reach Chin'Toka before Macet set course for Cardassia Prime.

As the Obsidian marginally slid faster than Warp 8 Parva railed against Macen through intership communications. Macen took it in stride, "I understand that we'll need a major refit once we reach a port facility, if we reach a port facility at, but I'm certain this challenge is worthy of your restored genius."

Parva fell silent. Now she knew Macen knew about her genetic resequencing. It made sense actually. Tessa was sworn to silence but Macen remained the one person whom she would tell her secrets too. Maybe Rockford as well.

Mace broke the silence, "It's an open secret, Parva. Everyone knows something reversed your brain damage. Only a few know the full truth."

Now Parva realized that Rockford did indeed know as well, "I'd appreciate your discretion in this matter."

"You've already had it," Macen replied, "But if any negative side effects develop, I'll be forced to confront the issue then."

"That's what Tessa said as well," Parva sighed.

"She knows what she's talking about," Macen replied, "For now all I ask is that you keep the ship together."

Parva left him alone after that.

The Obsidian arrived in the Chin'Toka system beside the Gormek. There they found four dozen Galor-class cruisers gathered with three dozen Keldon-class battleships. Ocett immediately hailed Macet with a tied in link that allowed Macen to witness the discussion.

"Why Malyn, I didn't expect you of all people to come to your senses and join us," Macet was quite chummy.

"I never left them," Ocett said disdainfully, "End this, Akellen. There's no reason to plunge Cardassia into a civil war."

"Who would resist us?" Macet asked haughtily, "The people crave order and we will supply it."

"While you've been skulking out here, the entire Cardassian Union has voted overwhelmingly in support of Garan's leadership. Maret is being removed from office by the Legislative Assembly even now and the Judicial General has already charged Maret with treason, conspiracy to overthrow the government, and collaborating with enemies of the state," Ocett informed him, "And if you'd unbury your head from the sand and peruse the news channels you'd already know all of this.

"You're a fine one to speak of collusion, Ocett;" Macet said scornfully, "You brought a Federation starship with you. Didn't you have the nerve to confront me on your own?"

"The Federation is Cardassia's ally. This is fact not fiction," Ocett replied, "Just as the Ferengi and the Klingons are our allies. Even the Talarian Republic is eager to ally with us now."

"I will view the news channel and get back to you," Macet said coolly.

"Just don't take too long," Ocett cautioned him.

Ocett switched her viewer to her link with Macen, "What do you think?"

"I think it'll take more than an argument to make Macet blink at this point," Macen opined.

Ocett sighed, "You're probably right."

"The good news that came while you spoke with him is the Home Fleet sided with Garan and Skadar is bring them here straightaway," Macen sought to encourage her.

"It will be interesting to see how Macet reacts to that sight," Ocett mused, "But until then, we simply wait."

It took four hours for Macet to reach his decision after pulling military intelligence reports from across the Cardassian Union. He'd also discovered his ally in the Cardassian Information Bureau had been removed from office. Although the deputy director had once been an ally as well, she no longer favored the Unionist cause of the restoration of the Central Command's control over the Union.

Macet hailed Ocett, "I've seen your news footage. Here's my problem, the footage takes place aboard a Federation ship. The Federation is invested in maintaining the status quo and they need Garan in office to accomplish that. Even now you come here with a Federation overseer. How am I to know that Cardassia Prime is truly free and the citizens operating of their own accord or if this is this all some manipulation by the Federation to save Garan's sickly administration?"

"Don't do this, Macet;" Ocett warned him, "The consequences will affect our entire race."

"No, it will only affect the losing side;" Macet countered.

Macet suddenly jerked his head to face his right and then the screen went dark. Ocett switched hr channel to Macen, "What happened?"

"Check out your sensors," Macen grinned.

Ocett ordered a tactical display and she realized Skadar and the Home Fleet had arrived. And then, behind the Chin'Toka system, the USS Aventine led units of the Seventh and Ninth Fleets to a position behind Macet's forces. Ocett appreciated the fact that Macet was now neatly boxed in. Maybe the idiot would finally see reason.

Skadar suddenly hailed Ocett. She wore an impish smirk, "Miss me?"

"Never so much in my life," Ocett breathed easier.

"We've been monitoring the secure transmission you've been sending of Macet's conversations. Castellan Garan has a reply," Skadar announced.

"We should make an example of him," Ocett suggested.

"Oh, she will;" Skadar promised, "But politely."

Captain Ezri Dax hailed Macen, "We really need to stop meeting this way. People will talk."

"Quite frankly I'd prefer to be happily on my honeymoon right now," Macen commented.

"Congratulations!" Dax enthused, "Lisea had been wondering how long it would take before you made the big leap."

"Lees should know," Macen mused, "She was at the ceremony."

"Still, I'm kind of surprised that you'd still want to go on another honeymoon after what happened to the last one," Dax said mirthfully, "I understand Celeste Rockford crashed that one as well in her own way."

"Celeste was a different person then," Macen smiled, "Literally."

"So they say," Dax smirked.

"Did you call just to give me a hard time?" Macen wondered.

"Actually, I was pulled from another assignment to lead elements of two different fleets here to support Castellan Garan's administration by order of President Bacco," Dax reported.

"So Celeste found her," Macen was truly smiling now.

"I take it your wife was one of the 'mysterious parties' that liberated Bacco," Dax quickly surmised, "It also seems she helped liberate Admiral Forger when she was a hostage in her own office."

"Really?" Macen was intrigued.

"Try answering your messages sometime," Dax dryly suggested, "I won't always be around to tell you the latest news."

"After this wraps up I will," Macen promised, "But my OPS Chief is telling me the Cardassians are piping a signal to all the Federation ships."

"Got it," Dax confirmed, "Let's see what's going on."

Skadar had hailed Macet and he actually responded. Skadar saw his expectant look so she proceeded, "Legate Macet, Castellan Garan has an amnesty deal to offer. Take it or leave it at your peril."

"You always were a yapping little rodent, Skadar;" Macet said derisively, "What does our 'beloved' Castellan have to say?"

"You are being removed from the chairmanship of the Central Command. Instead you are being transferred to the Farside frontier where you will assume command of the Expeditionary Forces. This will come after you have sworn an oath of allegiance to the Castellan," Skadar informed him, "Another condition is that you never reenter Cardassian space ever again."

"And the alternative?" Macet had to wonder.

"You will be tried and found guilty of treason. From there you will be placed in our deepest, darkest hole that we label a prison, never to be seen again. This will spare the populace of your incessant scheming and posturing. You will not leave prison alive."

"It seems Garan has learned something about governing after all," Macet mused.

"What's your answer?" Skadar wanted to know.

"Of course I accept her offer," Macet said snappishly.

"Then you will order all of your forces to return to their patrol routes and you will return to Cardassia Prime escorted by the Home Fleet," Skadar explained to him, "From there an 'honor' guard will escort you to the Castellan's presence and afterward you will be shipped out to the Farside Border."

"Very well," Macet sighed heavily, "Let's get on with it."

The Aventine accompanied the Obsidian back to Cardassia Prime to speak with Garan. She met with both commanding officers and she greeted them with news.

"Tomorrow Katreen Dervin will rightfully be crowned Queen of Cardassia Prime. Of course, her father will advise her until she is old enough to assume all of her responsibilities," Garan announced, "If those should happen again, both a castellan and a monarch will have to be removed from power and I think that should prove most difficult."

"I wish I could stay for the ceremony," Macen begged out of it, "But I have a bride waiting for me on Earth and my Chief Engineer has dropped a load of paperwork on me detailing all the work that now needs to be done to my ship at a proper dry dock facility."

"I also have to decline," Dax said, "I was in the middle of a delicate assignment when I was rerouted here. The fleet units have returned to their respective commands and I need to get back to what I was doing."

"I cannot thank the two of you enough," Garan espoused, "You both have literally saved the Cardassia that I know and love."

"And we'd do it again if our services were needed," Macen promised.

"Thank you, Captain;" Garan bowed her head slightly, "But I think you have an appointment elsewhere at this time."

It took five days cruising at speeds not exceeding Warp 5 to reach Earth. En route, Macen received word that their repairs would be conducted at the SPYards facility over Mars. An even greater surprise awaited him at the orbital yards. Rockford and Delain were there to greet them.

As the couple warmly reunited with a passionate kiss, Delain got the impression she might not even have bothered to be there since Macen and Rockford were only aware of one another. Then she witnessed Daggit and Parva disembarking. Daggit had Parva's arm and was 'guiding' Parva away from the ship. Delain wondered when Daggit would break down and begin dragging his wife. Also, she noted that Shannon Forger seemed insufferably pleased with herself as she departed.

The crew scattered across the globe, Mars, and Luna. Macen and Rockford disappeared in Ireland and no one seemed able to reach them. Delain explored this new strange planet with Wyn.

No one knew much about what Admiral Forger had said to Macen and Rockford, but their honeymoon was still on hold and the crew was reassembling in seven day's time with a mission already selected for them. Only no one knew what the mission was. They would have been startled to discover that neither Macen nor Rockford knew either. The command staff would find sealed orders awaiting them aboard the Obsidian.

 

Chapter Eight

Macen asked Forger and Rockford to join him in his Ready Room as the Obsidian departed Sector 001. Forger was a bundle of giddiness. So Rockford asked what was up with her.

"I underwent Sexual Reassignment Surgery!" Forger happily blurted, "I've fully transitioned and am completely female."

"Congratulations!" Rockford immediately responded.

Macen wasn't as quick, "I thought you were before and that you were happy as a non-op transsexual."

"I was and then I wasn't anymore," Forger admitted, "I listened to the way people spoke about Dakota Bedford. The crew thinks she's a cum slut walking dick. They didn't feel that way about me but they viewed her less than a complete woman. Now I'd had this argument time and again with myself but it finally boiled down to the fact I finally wanted to trade my penis in for a vagina."

Forger elaborated, "I realized that I kept my penis because it was what I knew. I'd never had a vagina before so I couldn't tell if my experiences with one would be. Now I know and I have to say it's opened a whole new universe for me."

"You already know?" Rockford was amused.

"I called and arranged a test drive before we ever reached Earth," Forger grinned like the proverbial Cheshire cat.

Macen pulled out three padds. Labels applied to each designated who they were for. Then the padds were secured and required a retinal scan to unlock. Eventually everyone began to peruse the crews' orders.

Topping the orders was an update on the ongoing search for Starfleet admiralty and command staff that collaborated in Bacco's removal from office. Bill Ross led the list. Two other admirals in Starfleet Operations were arrested as well. Nearly one hundred support staffers had been detained as well. Admirals Akaar and Noyce were conducting the sweep utilizing Starfleet Security and Intelligence.

The Aventine, the Intrepid, the Hood, the Monitor, and the Merrimack were all deployed and arresting select starship and starbase commanders. Even the commanding officers of Deep Space Two and DS5 had been caught in the sweep. Even though Ro and Reyes were considered beyond reproach, they'd been investigated as well.

The heart of the matter came in an announcement that unknown Federation citizens had liberated Julian Bashir from Andorian custody. Interrogations of various S31 sleepers had revealed that Section 31 had an ongoing presence in the Valo system. They'd taken over an abandoned Obsidian Order listening post on Valo VI. They'd also established bases on Valo I and its moon.

Ro was attached to the following mission. She would command the Defiant and engage Valo VI. With the listening post blinded, the Obsidian could easily approach Valo I. First its moon would have to be swept. The Bajoran Resistance fighter named Orta had made his base of operation within the moon.

A survey of the Valo I would have to be made in order to differentiate Bajoran colonists from Section 31 agents. Rockford questioned this section of the orders, "We don't have a sufficient security force to accomplish half of these orders."

"If you'd read down further you'd see we're not looking to get into a protracted fight," Macen counseled her, "We're to extract Bashir. That's our mission."

"Why Bashir?" Forger wondered.

"Because Sarina Douglas wants him. She risked an Andorian prison to keep him and maybe she'll risk a trap laid by Starfleet Security to get him back," Macen explained.

"Was that in your orders?" Forger asked Rockford, "Because it sure wasn't in mine."

"Sorry, I have it too;" Rockford apologized.

"Crap," Forger huffed, "I have to have a little talk with my sister."

"Shannon, get our course changed for the Valo system," Macen instructed, "And then have the SID team assemble in our briefing room."

"Yes, O Lord and Master;" Forger genuflected and then departed.

"She just sassed me," Macen observed.

"Caught that did you?" Rockford's dry tone could have dried Pacifica.

"I think I'll go check on P'ris," Rockford announced, "Bacco may have gotten her released but I think our resident Romulan still bears a grudge."

"I'll join you," Macen concurred, "I got her into the trouble in the first place."

"She won't think so," Rockford said knowingly.

The Defiant decloaked and ran straight towards Valo VI. The base commanders began issuing calls for help but the command group on Valo I left them to their own devices and chose to try and hide. The Defiant shattered the listening post's defenses in mere minutes. After hammering the rocky surface above the actual base with quantum torpedoes Ro began sending Security officers.

While Ro dealt with Valo VI, the Obsidian entered the system and plunged in towards Valo I. As the ship approached Valo I, another vessel lifted off of its moon. It appeared to be a Bajoran freighter but things were never as they seemed with Section 31.

Waiting on standby, the SID team received clearance to depart. Wyn flew the Corsair out of the Obsidian's shuttle bay and headed for the moon. Meanwhile, Forger brought the Obsidian about and headed off in pursuit of the freighter.

A new pilot sat at the Obsidian's helm. Aglaia was a Platonian who'd left her world and given up her formidable mental abilities to see the wider universe. She'd quickly mastered piloting starships and roamed the Alpha Quadrant selling her services.

Hearing discreet whispers of the opportunities afforded by the SID, Aglaia travelled to Earth and pitched her skills to a recruiter. Eventually Admiral Forger began using Aglaia for covert runs dropping off agents or ferrying vital information or personnel. Learning of Grace's death, Forger had immediately recommended Aglaia as her replacement. With Wyn aboard the Corsair that left Aglaia with a free hand with the Obsidian.

The freighter went to warp after clearing Valo IV. Aglaia pushed the SID ship to do the same. The Obsidian remained in pursuit as the freighter skirted the Breen border. Eventually it neared the Demilitarized Zone with the Enforcers.

After four hours of constant running, the freighter suddenly cloaked and a subspace ripple was detected as the ship accelerated. Shannon Forger cursed herself for blindly following a decoy. She ordered the ship hard about and hoped nothing had happened with the SID team in the meantime.

"I am detecting signals being exchanged from the greater moon to the planetary surface," P'ris reported.

"Put us in orbit around Valo I," Macen ordered Wyn.

"The colony is not listed as having this caliber of equipment," P'ris read off the intelligence files regarding the colony itself, "And in fact I am not reading any sign of advanced telecommunications gear amongst the various settlements. Except for one isolated settlement not recorded on any Bajoran surveys."

"Where is it?" Macen asked.

"One hundred kilometers due west of the largest settlement," P'ris answered.

"Log the coordinates," Macen instructed, "Wyn, take us there."

"You want a high pass or a low pass?" she inquired.

"Go high enough we won't be spotted and remember that two of these individuals are genetically enhanced," Macen counseled Wyn.

"There is a runabout in the periphery of the camp," P'ris saw, "It is not a fully developed settlement but an area littered with equipment and Quonset huts."

"Right," Macen mulled it over, "Take us out half a kilometer and then the team will beam to the surface. Monitor our approach. When we reach the outskirts of the camp, strafe it and destroy it."

"I am prepared," P'ris stated.

"Sorry, Talera. You're staying aboard. I need someone with command experience aboard to get us out of trouble if we get overwhelmed," Macen said gently.

"That and he doesn't trust me yet," Wyn quipped.

"Consider how you got this position and how I barely know you and maybe you'll reconsider that last remark," Macen suggested.

Wyn shrugged, "It's okay, Captain. I'm used to it."

P'ris gave Macen a wry look, "She is used to it."

Macen shook his head and went back to where the transporter was already in use. Daggit and Parva were already on the surface. Rockford and Delain were in the process of beaming down as he reached the device. The annular confinement beam locked on Rockford as she blew a kiss Macen's way. Macen went last and discovered how desolate Valo I was for himself.

The team set off hiking cross country. Daggit took point and Parva paced him from behind. Macen and Rockford walked close together because Rockford had a tricorder scanning ahead and he needed to be able to quickly and quietly get information from her. Delain brought up the rear.

Finally they hid behind a low rise bordering the camp. Rockford's tricorder was set to passively detect active sensors, "I'm not picking up anything. They may be as asleep as they appear."

"Would they detect a subspace carrier wave?" Macen asked.

"We have to assume they can," Rockford reminded him.

Macen looked to Daggit and Parva, "I want the pair of you to flank this camp and set up a subspace transmitter. I assume Wyn will get the signal and commence her attack run without us edging the site."

"We'll set it on a time release so that we can rejoin you here," Daggit decided.

"Because otherwise they'll be on us like a vole on a carcass," Parva remarked.

"I figured that was a given," Macen commented.

It took forty-five minutes for the couple to return. Meanwhile Macen, Rockford, and Delain had been observing the campsite with macrobinoculars. They'd reached a number of conclusions.

"They're pretty loosely organized," Rockford noted, "I think we've caught them with their collective flies open."

"The ship that tore off of the greater moon base may not have detected the Corsair's launch so they may not know about us," Macen surmised.

"And there are less than two dozen of them," Delain added.

"Too bad for them," Rockford remarked.

"Is there going to be a problem?" Macen idly wondered, "Normally you're looser than this."

"They made it personal," Rockford admitted, "I'll be fine as long as I'm not expected to take any prisoners."

"We need Bashir and Douglas alive if we can grab her," Macen insisted.

"That request is going to cost you," Rockford warned.

"Whatever it is, I'll pay it;" Macen decided.

"And if T'Kir shows her head?" Rockford wondered.

"She's expendable," Macen stated flatly.

"Good," Rockford seemed satisfied, "Because her life is my price for Douglas' survival."

Daggit and Parva returned just seconds before a cluster of Section 31 security agents rushed towards the side of the camp. The Corsair came flying in at maximum impulse. Phasers pounded the camp and then photon microtorpedoes volleyed forth, striking the other runabout and crippling it beyond repair.

"She's good," Macen admitted.

"I suggest we move in now," Daggit said tersely.

"Go!" Macen shouted and the team surged forward. Daggit and Rockford's aim was relentless and inescapable. Parva and Delain erected personal force fields and fired from behind cover.

Rockford followed Macen as he carved his way into the heart of the camp. Macen suddenly pointed across the way at Douglas, Bashir, and T'Kir, "There!"

Husband and wife tore across the camp while Daggit cleared moving obstacles. T'Kir spotted them and tried to shoot them. Douglas went to join her only to find her way blocked by Bashir.

"Remember your oath to Starfleet," Bashir implored her.

"That was my cover while I tried to recruit you, you idiot!" Douglas snapped. Then she realized what she'd said and wanted to take it back but she knew the damage was already done.

Macen arrived at Bashir's side, "Stand aside, Doctor."

"You really should have stayed away," Douglas grated.

Macen shot her and her knees wobbled but she stayed upright. So he tried a sustained burst but Bashir jumped in front of him, "I won't let you do this."

"She's a rogue agent for a renegade organization," Macen argued, "She's the antithesis of everything you've devoted your life to."

"Yes, but I love her;" Bashir said sadly.

Macen shoved Bashir aside only to find Douglas was nowhere in sight. Macen rounded on Bashir, "You may think that was a noble gesture but she'll make you pay for it."

"I think I've already begun to," Bashir held up his wrists.

T'Kir's first shot disarmed Rockford but Rockford closed the distance before the Vulcan could fire again. Rockford had known T'Kir was a martial artist in her previous life but she didn't know if the renegade was still in practice. It turned out she was.

It was a fairly even fight until Rockford leapt downwards, used her hand to swing her legs up and wrap them around T'Kir's neck. Then she twisted so that T'Kir toppled over. Lying on the ground, Rockford applied an ever increasing amount of pressure on T'Kir's neck.

Finally, with a twist, T'Kir's neck snapped and Rockford kept the pressure up for a few seconds more before releasing the slain Vulcan and rising to her own feet. Rockford looked down upon her victim and coldly said, "This time stay dead, bitch."

Macen called the Corsair in for a landing. Bashir was marched into the ship's holding cell, "What about the binders?"

"Get used to them," Macen said gruffly.

It took four more hours for the Obsidian to arrive but when it did, Forger sent the recall signal. Afterwards, the surveyor set course for Deep Space Nine.

"I'm sorry it has to be this way, Julian;" Ro confessed, "But you killed an emperor and the Andorians aren't going to rest until you're returned to custody."

"I understand completely," Bashir was still being agreeable.

Ro nodded and her Chief of Security hauled the doctor off.

Ro turned to Macen and Rockford, "Admiral Noyce has a handpicked team coming to retrieve Bashir and take him back to the Andorian Empire. Word is the Andorians have developed a special wing just for him with a supposedly escape proof cell."

"I bet Ziva Delain could get out," Rockford smirked.

"Bashir thwarted Douglas' attempts to shoot me," Macen informed Ro, "And then he blocked my opportunity to arrest her."

Ro looked defeated, "He always has been a sucker for a pretty face."

Ro took a deep breath, "So what are your plans now?"

"First we get the ship to Serenity Station and let the crew enjoy their four weeks of leave and Celeste and I finally go on our oft delayed honeymoon," Macen described.

"Well, I wish you well. After all, what else could go wrong at this point?" Ro wondered.

Macen and Rockford really didn't want to find out.

 

- The End -

 

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