RenegadeRenegade IIUniversalSIDSID TalesThe Cause
More StoriesStories in GermanEssaysFan Film Reviews

The Farside Mission - Part I by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter 1

Two weeks ago...

Lt. Commander Erim Zwinglet (Starfleet), hurried to hangar 4. The Special Projects Yards of Starfleet Intelligence boasted many similar facilities in their orbital construction zone. Built within the Utopia Planitia shipyards, the SPYards hid in plain sight. The SPYards were among the first of the massive construction yards orbiting Mars to be completed and they went into operation within hours of their Starfleet Corps of Engineers' certification.

If the arriving transports and disembarking troops meant anything, the SPYards' next customer was about to be the Starfleet Special Forces. The Special Forces were an elite branch of Starfleet Special Operations Command. The Special Forces had utilised the SPYards in the past to equip for various covert missions. This time, however, there were no orders releasing any assets over to the Special Forces' control, thus forming the basis for Commander Zwinglet's growing headache.

Leading the Special Forces detachment was Admiral Gideon Weisz. Weisz was a legendary figure amongst those occupying the rarefied world of clandestine operations. Weisz had first come to prominence as a Special Operations Commander during the Border Wars. He'd earned a Captaincy following the Cardassian War. The Dominion War brought Weisz his elevation to Rear Admiral.

Given Weisz's predilection for preserving military traditions from past eras, the Admiral preferred to be addressed as 'Commodore'. This trait, among others, was gracefully accepted by those under his command in exchange for the characteristic that endeared him to them: he never sent them into harm's way without leading them there himself. At just over fifty years of age, Weisz's physique was a testament towards the Special Forces' physical fitness regime. His black hair was just beginning to grey and his piercing brown eyes were keenly intelligent.

As Zwinglet arrived on the hangar floor, Weisz was already out of his shuttle and awaiting the supervising officer's arrival. Zwinglet had heard countless tales whispered about Weisz, but he'd never expected the Commodore to radiate such a raw intensity. Zwinglet found Weisz intimidating just standing there in his Starfleet uniform with his black Special Forces beret affixed atop his head, hands clasped behind his back. Without a word being spoken, Zwinglet recognised and acknowledged the fact that the Commodore could easily dispose of him with or without a weapon.

"I'm glad you could join us, Commander." Weisz said pleasantly, extending his hand.

"It's and honour and a privilege, sir." Zwinglet gushed, pumping Weisz's proffered hand.

Weisz smiled, "Now, don't go trying to butter the old man up." After a moment's pause, Weisz's smile faded and he began to stroll about the hangar, visually inspecting the progress of his troops while speaking with Zwinglet, "I need a ship, Commander. My troops and I are once again headed into the knife's edge. We'd stand a better chance of surviving if we were to be equipped with a craft loaded with your customary 'refinements'."

Zwinglet's answering smile to the compliment was tentative, "Unfortunately, we have no available ships at this time."

"Your commander, Admiral T'Jol, recommended a Miranda-class cruiser named the Sarah McLachlan. Was she mistaken? Is the ship still undergoing work?" Weisz seemed quite surprised.

"No, Commodore." Zwinglet confessed, "You're well informed. The McLachlan is ready to deploy. All she awaits is her crew."

"It was also my understanding that the crew would not be assembled for several more weeks." Weisz further revealed and retrieved a padd from his pocket and held it out towards Zwinglet, "Here a copy of my authorisation to assume temporary command of the McLachlan and to hold her within my custody during the duration of my mission. You'll find a copy of these orders in Admiral T'Jol's files."

"I wouldn't know." Zwinglet said as he reviewed the orders he'd been handed, "She didn't confide in me in regards to this matter."

"Not surprising." Weisz shrugged, "I've already stretched the limits of discretion in telling what you what I have."

"You haven't told me anything, sir." Zwinglet complained, "And I can't help noticing that these orders were written by you. Typically, our deployment orders originate with the Director of Starfleet Intelligence and are countersigned by the Chief of Starfleet Operations."

Weisz gave him a winning smile, "The prerogative of command. It opens many doors."

"I'm afraid it won't this time, sir." Zwinglet not until I can verify these orders with Starfleet Command."

"You do what you have to do, son." Weisz replied with a sad expression.

When the strike came, Zwinglet never saw it coming. The hypo merely pressed up against his neck and emptied its contents with a hiss. Zwinglet's vision blurred, then all went dark. Weisz caught his falling body as he slumped. A nearby lieutenant hurried over to the Commodore and relieved him of his burden.

"Hold on to him for now." Weisz instructed, "We'll drop him off in his office when we go to retrieve the operations codes and specifications for the McLachlan."

"What about the other prisoner, sir?" the lieutenant looked worried.

Weisz supposed he'd be worried too if he was a junior officer being charged with the security and safety of such an important charge, "Bring the President's daughter out and prepare to transfer her to the McLachlan."

Weisz waited while the lieutenant carried out his charge. As he stood there, he was joined by his Executive Officer, Commander Theriv'shran. Weisz studied the two platoons of Special Forces troops mustering and a grim smile played across his lips. Weisz glanced over towards his Andorian XO and saw a glimmer of emotion.

"Once more into the fray, eh Shran?"

Shran bared his teeth in a grimace that was the Andorian equivalent of a smile, "Once more to victory, Commodore."

"Do you really think so?" Weisz looked unconvinced, "Or do you think our plan will merely harden the President's resolve?"

"Holding his daughter will certainly garner his attention." Shran qualified, "What he does afterwards is anyone's guess."

"Don't you find it remotely sinister that we found allies ostensibly within our own ranks so swiftly after choosing our strategy?"

Shran's attenna twitched at that, "Whomever these 'Section 31' agents truly represent their stated mission of protecting the Federation by any means possible. Which I suppose means that by supporting our mission they consider this President an active threat to Federation security."

"And implies that we do as well." Weisz shook his head, "I swore an oath to obey my Commander-in-Chief and he in turn is sworn to uphold the sitting President. So where does that leave our actions here? Treason?"

"You knew that label would be applied to us. We all did. We've accepted that part and the fact that we will not be able to return to the Federation within the near future if ever. These are choices each man in your command struggled with and accepted before embarking on this mission. I suggest you put you doubts aside. The hardest part of our task is behind us."

Weisz sighed, "You're right of course. Call it angst brought on by age. I've seen too many missions derailed by the slightest complication. What we're doing is dependent upon too many variables and it could all start coming down around our ears without warning."

"I have faith in you, sir." Shran assured him, "We all do. If things hit the fan, then you'll find us a way out just like you always have."

Weisz's spirits were bolstered. He would not fail his troops. The assorted men, women, and polysexuals, officers and enlisted, under his command deserved his best and that's what he would provide. He would redeem their sacrifices and bring this plan to fruition.

Weisz's record of success, while not spotless, still shown as one of the best for his profession. He'd personally conceived and implemented this operation. He'd hand selected and recruited the soldiers under him. Each one had demonstrated unswerving loyalty in the past. Now Weisz was asking more of them than he ever had and they'd risen to the challenge.

He knew his introspection was a result of age and regrets. The devastating losses of the recent war had hit the Special Forces units especially hard. These losses had gutted Weisz, who strongly felt responsible for every life under his command. His responsibility to his fallen troops extended to preserving their honourable memory and that is what had brought him to this present crucible.

"Get the men ready to transfer to the McLachlan." Weisz ordered, "I'll need a detachment with me to return the good Commander to his office."

"What about his counter signature for your orders?" Shran inquired.

"Already taken care of." Weisz assured him, "Our mysterious allies provided me with Commander Zwinglet's authorisation code before we embarked on our little adventure."

"How considerate of them." Shran remarked dryly.

"Yes, wasn't it though? Makes you wonder what else they have access to."

Shran made a hissing sound as he sucked air in between his teeth, "At this point, I prefer not to know."

Weisz nodded, "Probably for the best." He exhaled heavily and placed his fists on his hips, "All right. Let's get to it."

Three days ago...

Naked, Tom Riker ran down the corridor, checking back over his shoulder occasionally. He waited for the cry of alarms but none had erupted to life yet. Although he was stiff and weakened from countless weeks of confinement, he pressed on as fast as his legs could carry him. Within moments, his goal was within sight.

The corridor opened up into a circular space. The outer ring of this circle was modular rooms. Most were laboratories, a fact the man had become all too familiar with during his stay here. One of the labs contained a subspace communication array. It was this room that the bedraggled figure stumbled toward.

Once ensconced within the protective walls of the lab, Riker sealed the door. It would prove a stopgap measure at best when his captors discovered his unconscious minder and traced his activities to this location. With any luck, he'd have time to inflict some major damage to the bastards' operations before he was recaptured. The potential side benefit of his plan was his own rescue from this hell.

Riker activated the comm panel. Unaware of his present location, he opted for an omnidirectional signal. Transmitting in the clear, Riker was enhancing his chances of a friendly party intercepting this message and passing it on to the Special Investigations Division of Starfleet Intelligence. As an SID agent missing in action, he felt his message best be personally addressed to the SID's Director, Admiral Amanda Drake.

He was halfway through his message when the alarms sounded. Riker swore and hurriedly tried to finish before the comm terminal was cut off from the primary communications array. He'd almost finished when the lights and indicators on his board went dead. Riker fumed. He'd been ready to reveal the most crucial aspect of the goings on at this facility when they'd severed his connection with the galaxy beyond.

Next came a pounding at the door. This was followed by several minutes of silence as the pursuing captors bypassed the door's locking mechanism. It rolled aside and two Starfleet Special Forces officers rushed in wielding stun batons. Stun batons were modelled after the traditional police baton but were equipped with a low intensity particle beam emitter on one end. They'd been designed for riot control for the M.A.C.O. forces of Earth's Starfleet. They'd since been adopted by most planetary constabularies since the absorption of Starfleet into the Federation. Starfleet Security forces had phased the devices out of their inventory since they were only called into crowd control situations that had progressed beyond the local authority's ability to manage.

Riker reared up to his full imposing height and readied himself for the two encroaching troopers. The one to his left feinted with a thrust at his ribs. It was a move designed to push Riker into the reach of the trooper on the right. Riker did the unexpected instead and moved in towards the attacking trooper. Riker locked a hand on the baton wielding wrist and shoved the baton aside.

Riker smashed his fist into the man's nose and he staggered backwards, releasing the baton. Riker quickly scooped up the abandoned baton and touched the wounded Special Forces soldier with it. The man groaned and slumped to the floor. Riker wheeled and prepared to deal with the other trooper.

She cast an evaluating eye over Riker's naked form. Her smile was cold and predatory. Riker immediately knew that she'd be trouble. She looked fast and powerfully built.

Riker thrust forward, wielding the baton like a sabre. The Special Forces trooper ducked under his reach and stepped forward to end up behind him. Once behind Riker, she turned the baton in her hand so that she held the emitter end pointed towards her elbow. She whirled and made a strike at his kidneys.

Riker quickly moved ahead and turned, sweeping the area with his baton. The trooper righted her grip on the baton and held it in a two handed grip like a short sword. Riker kept a single-handed grip and handled the baton as he would a club. He moved in quickly and brought a blow to bear on her shoulder.

She blocked the blow and forced him back. Riker could hear the footfall of approaching reinforcements. He charged forward, again thrusting with the baton. She freed one hand from her own baton and stepped aside. Using her free hand, she caught Riker's outstretched wrist and pulled him forward. As she did so, she rammed her knee into his solar plexus. She followed this up with an elbow strike to the kidneys.

Riker sank to his knees and tried to catch his breath. He looked up at his opponent to see her sadly shaking her head. She applied the stun baton to his shoulder and he stiffened and the world went dark. She waited for her comrades before attempting to move either Riker or her fellow fallen Special Forces trooper.

Present...

"And you can go to hell!" Amanda Drake snapped at Edward Jellico. The two, along with Alynna Nechayev, Bill Ross and Jaroess Marrine were assembled to conduct a meeting of the ultra top secret Council of Five. The Council had been charged with apprehending the renegade Admiral Weisz and facilitating the safe return of the Federation President's daughter. They'd searched the Alpha Quadrant twice over but with no success. It had now been conjectured that Weisz had sought refuge outside of the Federation.

Drake and Nechayev put forth the position that the search now required operatives with the credentials to operate outside the Federation. They had offered up the services of the SID as a whole and of one agent in particular. At the mention of that agent's name Jellico had become bellicose, refusing to authorise any action that included Brin Macen's participation. The antagonism between Macen and Jellico dated back to before Jellico's promotion to the Admiralty.

"Macen is not to be involved." Jellico growled, "That's final."

"Not so fast." Drake snapped back, "There are five members of this committee, remember?"

"A majority of whom are uncomfortable with your departments heavy reliance upon irregular forces."

"Starfleet Intelligence has utilised civilian irregulars and contract forces for centuries." Drake pointed out.

"But in a limited capacity and numbers." Jellico rejoined, "A full third of your investigative forces are civilian irregulars, not Starfleet officers."

"A full ninety percent of those civilians are former Starfleet officers, with all the necessary clearances and training." Drake contended, "The rest are former police officers that have been vetted by Starfleet Security and Intelligence both."

"That isn't always the case." Jellico countered, "Take your Commander Macen for instance. He has a former Maquis terrorist and a mercenary formerly in the employ of the Orion Syndicate on staff. This does not include the latest addition to his team: an Iotian starship captain. Who knows what form of espionage she is engaged in?"

"That particular starship captain convinced the Iotian Admiralty of the necessity of aiding Commander Macen's team during the mission to Magna Roma." Drake fumed, "When she turned up, having been stripped of her command, for her actions in bringing us aid, Macen felt compelled to grant her place within his team."

"The Magna Roma mission is just the perfect example of why we shouldn't involve Brin Macen. He was assigned to rescue Federation hostages, not launch a war between Iotia and Magna Roma."

"He accomplished the mission and neutralised a threat." Drake rejoined defiantly.

"He exceeded his authority." Jellico pronounced, "A trait of his, I should think."

"Fine." Drake threw her hands up in surrender, "How about this, we assign Macen to track down the source of Tom Riker's signal. He can make a preliminary assessment upon arrival, if it appears that Commodore Weisz and his forces are there, then Macen will get on the horn and request back-up. Would that satisfy you?"

"He won't engage in an ill advised rescue effort?"

"Only if Weisz and the President's daughter are elsewhere." Drake clarified, "Otherwise you can't expect Macen to simply leave his man in captivity."

"Negotiations first and foremost." Jellico demanded, "I don't want any unnecessary military operations."

"Agreed."

"Well, then," Jellico smiled, "let's put it to a vote."

The vote carried and Drake received her authorisation. Jellico, however, wasn't finished, "The matter of your irregulars isn't over, Amanda. We'll revisit the topic soon."

"What are you suggesting?" Drake asked coolly.

"That it may be better to have a unified force, a homogenised force to better serve Starfleet's needs."

Inwardly, Drake seethed. Outwardly, she shrugged and smiled coldly, "We'll have to take that up on a later date indeed."

Twenty minutes later, Drake and Admiral Nechayev were seated in Drake's office. They'd utilised the primary transporter station within Starfleet Headquarters to beam over to the SID's ultra modern headquarters located in Reading, adjacent to the venerable university of the same name. The university's famed International Relations course of yesteryear had evolved over the centuries to a formidable Interstellar Relations degree. More than a few graduates had found their way to the Starfleet Intelligence's Analysis Centre.

Drake's assistant, Lieutenant Ambril Delori, stood near the Admiral's desk awaiting her morning orders. Ambril was a waif-like brunette with deep set, brown eyes. Those same eyes were just beginning to crinkle with laugh lines. Her lips were generous and her nose bore the distinctive ridges common to Bajorans. As things presently stood, Ambril's lips were pursed and her hands were clasped in front of her.

"I take the meeting went badly." she ventured.

Nechayev snorted and Drake growled deep in her throat, "You know I can't discuss any details of the meeting, Ambril, but I will say this. Edward Jellico is an ass."

Ambril shifted her feet uncomfortably, "Is that really news?"

Drake sighed, "I guess not. God, I could do with a drink."

"Would you settle for tea or coffee?" Ambril piped up.

"Coffee for me, thanks. Alynna?"

"Tea please."

Ambril got them their drinks and resumed her stance before the desk, "Are you ready for your daily briefs?"

Drake rubbed her temples, "I'll get to those in a minute. I presume you did your usual astute prioritisation."

Ambril curtsied, "But of course. The Prophets grant wisdom to those in need."

"Why, Ambril. I never figured you for the religious type."

"Never turn down help where you can find it."

Drake chuckled, "First things first, get me transport to Deep Space 9."

Ambril gave her a questioning look and Drake relented, "It's the last know location of Brin Macen. I have to speak with him and I can't risk a subspace message getting intercepted and decoded."

"I don't suppose I can ask why or what." Ambril said in a helpless tone.

"Of course not." Drake gave her a humourless smile, "Now if you'd excuse us, the Admiral and I need to discuss a few matters."

Ambril nodded her acknowledgement, "Yes, ma'am."

The aide excused herself and Nechayev smiled warmly, "She's quite the firecracker. It goads her though, to be left out of the loop."

"God knows we could use another hundred like her." Drake agreed, "If we did, maybe the President's daughter would be safe at home. As far as Ambril's frustrations, she has nearly unlimited access to the Federation's greatest secrets. She just hates to be reminded that even she has limits."

"You respect her then?"

"I've asked the impossible of her a dozen times over and she's never failed me." Drake took a sip of her coffee, "And she's proven her loyalty beyond a shadow of a doubt."

"Well, she does have the mastoid monitoring device. It would be rather foolish of her to divulge any secrets." Nechayev reminded her, "Starfleet Security would be blowing her door down within moments."

"Remember when devices like that weren't considered necessary?" Drake said wistfully.

Nechayev gave her a pitying look, "Look Amanda, I don't know where this bout of melancholy is stemming from, but you know as well as I do that we needed to develop a system that would guarantee the sanctity of Starfleet Intelligence. Changelings can't host either a mastoid or cortical implant so we began implanting them in the most vital members of the staff. Although the war 'over there' no reason to discontinue the use of an appropriate security measure."

"Except for the fact that we're denying those people any form of privacy. For God's sake Alynna, we record every single utterance of an implantee." Drake was beginning to get passionate about her topic.

"Glad to see some of your usual fire." Nechayev gave Drake a calculating smile, "You can't let Eddie get to you like this."

"I know." Drake returned then raised her hands in surrender, "I know. But who does he think he is, dictating policy to me? The Council is largely an oversight committee. I answer to you and then the Commander-in-Chief. That's the chain of command."

"You are forgetting that the Council does have the authority to launch directives, implement procedures and demand internal reviews. We rarely exercise these functions but we do retain the powers." Nechayev gave a gentle reminder, "Edward has made it a personal vendetta to rid the SID of its irregular forces. His contention is that they are too unpredictable and reckless. Part of this argument stems from Brin Macen himself. Macen became an irregular after the shooting incident resulting in the destruction of a starship, a starship that had surrendered. Added to the gravity of this charge was the fact that Macen fired counter to a direct order from the commander on the scene."

"We made a compromise then that allowed Macen to remain within the framework of the SID. He would accept demotion and retire to the active reserve list and in return he would form a security and expeditionary firm and would contract with us for employment. We ceded a ship over to him and his team, those members serving in Starfleet, all transferred to the reserves as well."

"I do happen to know all of this, Alynna." Drake was slightly impatient, "What's your point?"

"Macen is the most illustrious of your agents." Nechayev explained, "He gets the toughest assignments and produces the most dramatic results. He was the first of the irregulars and they look to him for their example. It is this power that Eddie fears."

"Jellico?" Drake wondered, "Afraid? Bull-headed, yes, but afraid?"

"Edward Jellico fears only one thing: chaos. He sees Macen as an agent of chaos." Nechayev gave a half shrug, "This is easily understood since Macen sees himself the same way. The difference is that Macen is a student of Chaos Theory. He believes that enough random disorder eventually forms patterns of coherence."

"How do you know this?" Drake asked in a hushed voice.

"You forget, I've known for decades, since I was a very junior officer and before you classified his psyche evaluation. He's always played fast and loose with regulations and that trait earned him the ire of one Edward Jellico. His tendency to be correct was another irritant especially since Jellico and Macen endorsed opposing strategies for handling the Border Wars with the Cardassians."

"So my department and my operatives are just the latest casualties in an old grudge match." Drake said with disgust.

"As far as your department goes, Eddie truly does believe Starfleet would be best served if your agent pool were kept in-house. If the elimination of the irregular forces were to inconvenience Macen, that would just be an enjoyable bonus."

"Lovely." Drake grumped.

So," Nechayev slapped her knees, "what's next?"

"Well, as soon as Ambril secures a ride, she and I will be departing for DS9."

"Do you think Macen will be there?"

Drake shrugged, "He's been using it as his base of operations for this latest investigation. If he's not there, I'm certain Lieutenant Ro will know how to contact him."

"Yes." Nechayev mused, "An interesting bond of loyalty that those two share."

"It's all I have to go on." Drake sighed, "He's an independent. He reports in when he wants to."

"Another of Eddie's arguments to homogenise the force." Nechayev remarked with a wry smile.

Drake levelled a glare in reply and Nechayev raised a hand, "Sorry. Unfair of me. How about I offer you the use of my flagship in return?"

"The Sovereign?"

"Why not? I've a flag captain who is constantly wailing about his boredom with patrolling Sector 001. This will solve your problem and get both of you out of my hair."

"Deal" Drake tapped her comm badge and contacted Ambril, "Lieutenant? Stop what you're doing. The Admiral is going to arrange transportation for us."

"Thank the Prophets."

Nechayev smiled and Drake nearly laughed, "Go home and pack a bag, Ambril. I'll need you along on this one."

"Got it." Ambril replied with enthusiasm, "I suppose we'll need kits of the usual paraphernalia?"

"Good thinking. Gather everything up and I'll meet you back here in two hours."

"Aye, ma'am." the comm circuit went dead.

"With that all said and done, I need to get back to HQ and make arrangements."

"Thanks Alynna." Drake rose to see her out, "For the ship, the talk, for everything."

"You've earned it." Nechayev replied, "I gave you the task of creating and running a department that no one outside of Starfleet Intelligence believed in. Well, you've turned that goal into a reality and this division into a force to be reckoned with. You deserve a break or two after all the hard work and Jellico breathing down your neck."

Drake choked up for a moment then recovered herself, "All I can say is thank you."

"And all I can say is keep up the exemplary work and if ever need anything, don't hesitate to ask." With that said, Nechayev exited the office and headed for the transporter room.

Drake returned to her desk and cradled her mug in her hands. She slowly sipped the rapidly cooling beverage and pondered the events of the last hour. Drake was the youngest admiral in decades. She'd earned her captaincy and command of a Starfleet Intelligence ship while in her thirties. Now, a decade later, she was an admiral.

She'd been a damned fine intelligence officer but an admiral was a political animal. All her analyses of various regimes hadn't prepared for the trenches of Starfleet Command like she'd thought it had. Jellico, who'd slowly risen through the ranks and spent two decades in the captain's chair, held a distinct advantage in the games of backdoor politics.

The SID was her baby, virtually her creation. She'd founded this organisation on Brin Macen's shoulders and expanded it based upon his successes. She wasn't certain where it would go without him. Someday it would have to, but seeing as how Macen was an El-Aurian and expected to live a minimum of three hundred more years. All that was required for the SID to become a permanently viable entity was a wealth of experience and training to be passed down.

"So let's make certain we have a legacy to pass on." Drake toasted the empty walls of her office and took a celebratory sip of her cold coffee.

 

Chapter 2

"Welcome to Empok Nor." "Squibs" Bellantrix said. He held a phaser in his right hand, which he kept squarely aimed at Macen. The Iotian gunrunner and his cronies had Macen and his escorts surrounded. There were six smugglers to Macen's four.

Macen had his long time comrade in arms and current romantic partner, T'Kir, standing beside him. The Vulcan, in her seventies and relatively young for a member of her race, had served with Macen during her time in the Maquis. Then, as now, she served as his cybernetics systems specialist. A hacker by any other name was still a hacker, T'Kir just earned kudos for being arguably the best hacker in known space.

T'Kir defied most Vulcan stereotypes. Her body was best type described as voluptuous rather than the lean, ascetic look favoured by Vulcans. She possessed crystal blue eyes that pierced your soul. She had full, bee-stung lips, high cheekbones, and a slightly upturned nose. Her skin held a pale olive complexion that was the envy of most humans. Her raven hair reached her collerbones. Its permanently windblown appearance granted her an edgy appearance.

Another deviation was T'Kir's garb. She was dressed primarily in leathers. She'd donned her leather pants and collerless duster that she'd acquired from the Romulan Tal Shiar. Her boots, like her leathers, were black and reached mid-calf. Her top was a pine green zip front sweater with a hoodie.

The most prominent stereotype that she broke was her indulgence in emotional expression. T'Kir had been born and raised on Shial, a colony world in what would later become the Demilitarised Zone between the Cardassian Union and the United Federation of Planets. The colony had been populated by Vulcan dissidents and Romulan defectors. T'Kir's own stepfather had been a Romulan. She'd been raised to respect both cultures while still applying logical criticism to both. While she'd been off planet for schooling, the Cardassians had slaughtered the inhabitants of Shial.

T'Kir had sought the newly established Maquis and embraced their philosophy of armed resistance against the Cardassians. It was at this time that her last violation of Vulcan norms developed. Her telepathic abilities began to increase and fluctuate wildly. They soon grew out of T'Kir's ability to control and she was constantly reading the thoughts of those around her. This continual onslaught caused her to act erratically.

It was soon discovered that Macen was immune to her telepathy and in turn became the one person that could manage her. She was transferred to his command and he became a lifeline for her. After the fall of the Maquis, T'Kir was taken to the Andes Psychiatric Institute where she whiled away the war years. Macen liberated her from the Institute and offered her a place on his newly assembled crew. T'Kir accepted.

Macen introduced T'Kir to the results of his search of ancient Vulcan texts offering an herbal solution that would tame her telepathic powers. T'Kir began taking the remedy and her behaviour rapidly improved. Her telepathy was still far above that of a normal Vulcan but it was now within her ability to regulate. Despite a reckless and rebellious nature, T'Kir had shaped up to be one of the most versatile and valuable members of the SID team.

Standing behind T'Kir was the former Angosian super-soldier. Unlike Macen and T'Kir, who carried no visible weapons, Rab Daggit was heavily armed. In his hands, he held a surplus Bajoran Militia issue phaser rifle. This he kept aimed at the closest smuggler. Daggit wore a Bajoran phaser pistol on his hip. In the pouches of his utility belt were knives and photon grenades.

Daggit wore a black leather "speedster" jacket and grey/black mottled camouflage fatigues. He wore black combat boots of Angosian origin. Military surplus was readily available on Daggit's homeworld and he'd stocked up on the familiar footwear.

Scarred by years of war, Daggit's rugged features were heavily lined and creased. His sandy brown hair was slowly going grey. Daggit's ever vigilant eyes were haunted by what they'd witnessed during his native Tarsus Wars and fighting for the Federation in the Dominion War. Daggit's most impressive feature was his titanic physique. His countless hours in the gym had yielded a body of Olympic proportions.

The psychological conditioning and physical enhancements the Angosian scientists had provided transformed Daggit into the ultimate soldier. The drawback of this work was that the alterations had thus far proven to be permanent. Daggit's reaction to a violent confrontation was as predetermined as it was invariably lethal. The greatest tragedy of this was that no one had ever developed a method to aid the super-soldiers in dealing with the guilt that followed their predetermined actions. Daggit himself was prone to deep, abiding depressions.

Daggit had come to the SID by way of the Dominion War. Macen had been assigned as the intelligence officer that provided tactical analysis to the Angosian Commando Corps. Macen had impressed the Angosians with his willingness to personally gather data in the field. Daggit had been assigned to a squad charged with keeping Macen alive. Macen's adventures behind the lines often made that proposition seem unlikely.

When the war ended, Daggit received a transfer to the Enterprise-E. While serving aboard the "Big E" as a Tactical Officer, Daggit learned that Macen had joined a fledgling branch of Starfleet and was assembling a special action team. Daggit immediately put in for a transfer and was welcomed to the team by Macen. Finding life under Macen's command to be more intriguing that your average shipboard duties, Daggit requested to be placed on the reserve list when Macen was forced to retire and form an independent security and investigation firm.

Poised and ready for action beside Daggit was Radil Jenrya. Radil cut an imposing figure handling her portable phaser cannon. The cannon was strapped to Radil by two belts. The first fit around her waist and provided an elevation pivot point. The second strap fit across her chest like a bandoleer. On her back she wore a large cell.

Radil wore pants identical to Daggit's and wore a black hooded sweater similar to T'Kir's. Her boots were Bajoran Militia surplus. Added to this ensemble was a charcoal grey wool cap.

Radil's fierce visage added to her ruthless appearance. Her seething antagonism was well earned. These smugglers worked for the Orion Syndicate and Radil was a disgruntled ex-employee. She would still be working for the Syndicate if Daggit hadn't interfered.

During the course of an investigation, Daggit infiltrated a branch of the Orion Syndicate headed by an Orion pirate named Kharlack. Radil served in Kharlack's employ and was assigned as Daggit's mentor. She'd stayed close to him and was unexpectantly swept up with him in the transport beam that extracted him from the planet. Her supposed desertion placed Radil under a death sentence with the Syndicate.

In an effort to stave of her death at the hands of bounty hunters, Macen offered Radil two choices: join the team and rely upon its ranks for mutual protection and also the opportunity to undergo cosmetic surgery. Radil accepted both offers and underwent surgery to remove the nasal bone ridges that marked her as a Bajoran. The surgery had profound effect on this child of the Resistance. She'd become a staunch Bajoran nationalist and patriot, sometimes much to the annoyance of her teammates.

Despite her distinctive features, she had yet to be recognised by the smugglers. In some ways she resembled T'Kir. Radil possessed thick auburn hair that cascaded down to her shoulders. Her eyes were a pale green and frequently flashed with unrestrained passions. She also possessed oversized lips but that's where the resemblance ended. Radil's cheeks were smoother and her nose was smaller. Their skin tones separated them as well. Radil was porcelain fair against T'Kir's olive tan. Radil's husky contralto also contrasted against T'Kir's smooth soprano.

Situated slightly ahead of the others, with his hands clasped behind his back, stood Brin Macen. He was smiling in a slightly ironic fashion, as if he wasn't taking his present situation too seriously. This seemed to annoy Squibs, who had counted outnumbering his prospective partners and holding them at gunpoint to disarm them. Macen's "ho-hum" attitude stemmed from the fact that Squibs' actions were, and had been, perfectly predictable.

Macen had survived for over four hundred years by relying on his wits. When the Borg came to El-Auria and her colonies, Macen had been among those that rallied the survivors to seek out a new home amongst the stars. The experience changed his perspective on a great many things. He eschewed the predominant El-Aurian philosophy of total pacifism and began to seek alternative choices.

When confronted with the loss of the rapturous joys of the Nexus, Macen found a measure of comfort in witnessing the compassion and professionalism of his Starfleet "rescuers". After spending a year at a refugee centre, Macen applied to Starfleet Academy. He qualified for an accelerated track and graduated the Academy in two years with the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade.

Macen went aboard the Wellington as the staff A & A (Archaeology and Anthropology) officer. Macen drew the notice of his superiors and Starfleet Intelligence with his comprehensive, concise, and cohesive analyses of the beings he encountered. During Macen's third year aboard the Wellington, he was offered the opportunity to transfer to Starfleet Intelligence. Despite his CO's misgivings about releasing the recently promoted Lieutenant, Macen was transferred to Intelligence's auspices and history was about to be made.

At first, Macen was utilised as a general researcher. He'd receive an assignment to study a particular people or regime and produce an analysis of their viability as a threat to the Federation. It was a job that Macen excelled at. It at this post that he advanced from Lieutenant to Lt. Commander. It was also during this period that the Cardassians were encountered. First contact went horribly awry and Intelligence was tapped to discover why.

Macen sped off to the border and his first field assignment. He succeeded in making contact with a Cardassian mining camp. There he discovered a military junta known as the High Command ruled the Cardassians. The High Command was dedicated to an aggressive expansionist policy in order to replenish the ever dwindling resources on their over-exploited homeworld. The Cardassians had reached the edges of the Federation and they were going to attempt to seize the colonies for themselves.

Starfleet Command heralded Macen's report. Starships were dispatched to the border to increase patrols of the disputed region. All too swiftly the situation disintegrated into an undeclared war. In an effort to find an alternative to the violence, Macen was once again dispatched to the "front". He was given the rank of full commander to assist him in clearing away obstacles in the path of his investigation.

Macen's interrogations of Cardassian prisoners were unorthodox by Starfleet's standards and occasionally even bordered on the criminal. The Cardassians responded and he yielded results. Starfleet was willing to overlook his eccentricities in exchange for the information he pumped from the POWs. It was the beginning of a series of disputes between Macen and Starfleet regulations.

From the beginning, Macen advocated sterner responses than Command was willing to authorise. Matters came to a head when Macen confronted then-Captain Jellico, the local theatre commander, in a heated exchange and urged to adopt a "fire first" policy aimed at any Cardassian ship found to be across the border. Jellico refused and Macen went over his head. Macen's initiative was ultimately rejected but the seeds of Jellico and Macen's feud were sown.

Macen spent the duration of the Border Wars at the front. When the treaty ending the dispute ceded Federation colonies to Cardassian control, Macen was sent to the newly established Demilitarised Zone to assess the Federation colonists' reactions and moods. Macen had spent ten years fighting alongside these people and he had a great empathy for them. In truth, their plight held overtones of the Borg's assimilation of his world. The Cardassians were determined to make life so miserable for the Federation settlers that they'd leave or succumb and accept Cardassian domination of their lives and worlds.

When the Maquis took up arms under the banner of Cal Hudson, Macen secretly cheered. The Maquis soon made their presence felt throughout the sector and Macen received new orders: infiltrate the Maquis. Macen decided to enlist by approaching a Maquis leader he already knew. Ro Laren had been shocked to see him, and more than a little suspicious.

Macen revealed to her the nature of his orders. He also presented a viable alternative: Macen would come to work for Ro as her intelligence officer while still transmitting reports to Starfleet. These reports would be available for her censure and would be designed to promote the positive aspects of the Maquis' struggle. After careful consideration, and deliberation by her cell's membership, she agreed.

The only complication to Macen's admission was his partner in the infiltration mission, Lisea Danan. It took Macen's personal assurance of Danan's conduct and motives to gain her admission to the cell. The very first thing Macen set about doing was assembling an intelligence team. Danan was the first obvious recruit. Next, T'Kir was foisted off on Macen when Ro could no longer control her.

Together, they systematically harassed, misdirected and foiled the Cardassians so effectively that their group became the premier intelligence arm of the entire Maquis Rebellion. That all ended when Cardassia became a member of the Dominion and the Jem'Hadar purged the DMZ and the Badlands. Macen, his crew, Ro and her crew were barely able to escape.

Ro and Macen separated. Ro fled deeper into the DMZ and engaged in a guerrilla war against the Dominion. Macen, in turn, parlayed all his influence with Starfleet to negotiate an amicable surrender. His crew was guaranteed minimum sentences on a rehabilitation colony. T'Kir was taken for medical treatment, since she had tried to kill Macen during their flight from the Jem'Hadar. Macen and Danan were returned to active duty.

For Macen, this meant a return to the DMZ and the Badlands as the chief intelligence officer of an elite commando corps composed of Angosian soldiers. Macen's intimate knowledge of those regions proved invaluable. He spent the bulk of the two years of the war behind enemy lines. His intelligence coups literally shaped the face of major offensives as well as the surgical strikes of the commandos.

When the war ended, Macen was recalled to Starfleet Command. Upon his arrival in Admiral Nechayev's office, he learned he was to command a prototype ship and a specialised crew on a mission to investigate the possible existence of a gulag for political dissidents from across the Federation. Along with this command came a promotion to Captain. The mission reunited him with both Lisea Danan and T'Kir. It also served as the final hurrah for the romance between Danan and Macen.

The mission proved a success and Starfleet committed to forming a permanent department specialising in highly sensitive investigations. Macen was tapped to form the first investigative team for the newly founded Special Investigations Division. He assembled a group of highly skilled professionals. Some were known from previous days either in the Maquis or during the war. Others were recent introductions, having demonstrated their extraordinary talents over the course of the Gulag mission. He lost several crewmen from the Gulag mission, Lisea Danan being the most notable.

Macen's first assignment was to investigate rumours of Starfleet vessels operating as pirates near the Cardassian/Andergani border. The rumours proved to be accurate. Macen lost his ship during their first encounter. The pirates also captured his chief engineer. Macen awaited rescue and plotted retaliation.

The team split up to pursue several avenues of investigation simultaneously. Macen lost a teammate while on Cardassia Prime but was given invaluable assistance by Elim Garak. Daggit infiltrated the Orion Syndicate and accidentally "recruited" Radil Jenrya. T'Kir and Kort travelled to DS9 then set off towards Andergani space in order to track down the rogue officers. Dracas, Macen's Chief Engineer, escaped and rescued two other captives at the same time. Meanwhile, Grace was confronting her former Section 31 handler.

T'Kir and Kort managed to lead an uprising among the pirate's captives. Led by a subliminal link with T'Kir, Macen guided a small taskforce of starships to the pirate's colony world. The engagement between pirate and Starfleet was short and decisive. Ultimately it ended in a disaster that ended Macen's active service career. The pirate commander had surrendered but Macen refused to offer any quarter. The pirate's entire crew perished despite a direct order to the contrary. Macen was immediately arrested and placed in the brig for the return trip to Earth.

Macen's court-martial was convened in secret, as pertained in the Official Secrets Acts and Regulations adopted by the Federation Council and Starfleet Command in 2183 (old Earth reckoning) and last revised in 2374. The JAG prosecutor, a Vulcan, levelled his charges precisely and logically. Macen rebutted with the facts as he'd seen them. The pirate had hurt and killed members of his team and crew. He'd enslaved a sizeable population to build his colony and he was unrepentant regarding his actions. Macen saw no point in wasting resources on a penal colony while he could simply remove the problem.

In light of his impressive record, Macen was given a slap on the wrist. He was demoted back to Commander and retired to the active reserves. He was, however, still a member of the SID. Drake utilised Starfleet Intelligence's policy of contracting irregular forces. Macen was supplied with a business license and a letter of marque. Macen now had the ability to operate under the auspices of Starfleet while engaged in pursuing the interests of the Federation.

Once equipped with a ship and flying under the banner of the newly created Outbound Ventures, Inc. Macen ands the team were ready for action. They were based on the colony world of Barrinor. The colony was populated by Federation citizens but located outside of Federation borders. They were just as content to remain out of Federation borders for as long as possible.

Their next mission was a rescue operation. By this time, being uncomfortable with starship command and operations, Macen had recruited Tom Riker and a dedicated ship's crew to relieve the team's members. The mission to Magna Roma had quickly escalated. It ended with the toppling of the planet's dominant government. An unexpected twist brought Lisea Danan back into the fold as she signed up to be the team's sciences specialist.

Tragedy struck shortly thereafter when an engagement with an Omricon cruiser killed the bulk of the crew, including to all accounts, Tom Riker. Macen and most of his investigative team were beamed aboard a Section 31 scout-interceptor and brought to its commander. The ship's CO was an old nemesis of Macen, an antagonism that dated back to Macen's arrival in the Alpha Quadrant. The team escaped but not before Macen engineered the destruction of the ship.

The following months had been mild in comparison. There had been encounters with pirates. Macen and T'Kir had infiltrated a group of political insurgents. This was followed by a joint operation with the Tal Shiar investigating weapons smugglers. The team's most recent assignment had pitted them against the Iotians.

Over the course of the past year, Macen's life had radically changed and taken on new depths. His final break-up with Lisea had come as a relief. They'd been too opposed to one another. They were hurting each other more than anything else towards the end.

His relationship with T'Kir had surprised him. Oh, she'd floated the idea of various sexual unions between them at times but she'd been half off her lid at the time. Now that she was somewhat stable, he'd never expected her to carry a torch for him. What had profoundly shaken him to his core was his experience on Magna Roma. Sitting in the gladiatorial pens, waiting to fight, he'd had ample time to reflect on his life.

His one true regret was that he hadn't told T'Kir that he was madly in love with her. The mere admission to himself that he loved dramatically altered his worldview. Throughout his Starfleet career and beyond, Macen was constantly being cited for bravery and gallantry. The truth of the matter was that he simply didn't care if he lived or died. He'd suddenly found something worth fighting for and it sustained him until his rescue could be affected.

Much to his delight, and everlasting relief, she felt the same way. Their common background and years of friendship knit them together in a way both had once considered impossible. Her telepathy aided in that process. They'd developed a mild but permanent rapport that allowed them to monitor the other's surface thoughts at will.

Even T'Kir's instabilities proved beneficial. Macen's last psyche profile for the SID was rumoured to be classified and under lock and key, viewable at Admiral Drake's discretion. He remembered the diagnosis: acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Symptoms: Strong to violent reactions towards perceived threats, withdrawn behaviours, emotional instabilities, and inability to trust others. The Starfleet counsellors had accounted for his destroying both the Royalty and the Slipstream as a reflex inspired by his "condition".

Macen saw it differently. Their diagnosis may be well and truly accurate but it left out one important aspect of Macen's mentality. Macen believed death was inevitable, the only thing varied was how and when you met your fate. To Macen, fate was a tangible quantity in the universe. If Herbert Spencer had wanted to live, he wouldn't have led a mutiny and become a pirate. In Macen's paradigm once that choice was made his fate was sealed.

Now he stood surrounded by a group of thugs and his empathic senses, as minuscule as they were, could sense Squibs' fear. Macen stood there clad in black fatigue pants, a grey lightweight sweater, black combat boots and a brown "bomber" jacket. Squibs studied Macen for a moment, but there was nothing to be revealed. The El-Aurian appeared to be in his early thirties but looks were deceiving where that race was concerned. Orion intelligence had it on good authority that Macen was over four hundred years old.

Macen's reddish-gold hair was the same as before. His moustache and goatee were unchanged. His face was unmistakably his, still dominated by high cheekbones and a nose and lips that were slightly too large. Finally it dawned on Squibs what the change was: Macen's eyes had changed colour. He'd been told the El-Aurian's eyes shifted with what he wore but it difficult to believe until it was witnessed.

There was something else in those eyes. A hidden knowledge waiting to be revealed. There was a subtle glint of the eyes and Squibs started to shout a warning but it was too late. Macen's right hand whipped around with the Bajoran phaser he'd had holstered in the small of his back. His first shot took out Squibs. His second stunned the smuggler in front of T'Kir.

T'Kir, who'd managed to clear the compact phaser she carried out of the shoulder holster she wore. She frowned when the smuggler immediately in front of her went down. She turned left and shot the smuggler struggling to bring his phaser rifle to bear on Daggit. He sagged to the floor with a groan.

Daggit, ignoring the struggling smuggler to his left, wheeled about and took one of the rearguard criminals with his first shot. He took the second with his follow up salvo. Meanwhile, Radil swung her cannon about and caught the remaining gunrunner in the head with it. He collapsed in a heap and Radil grunted in disgust.

"Helluva thing. I lug this damned thing down here and I don't even get to shoot it." she complained.

"We'll try harder to provide you with a target next time." Macen tried to suppress an amused grin. He turned to find T'Kir glaring at him, arms akimbo, fists firmly planted on her hips, "What?" he asked helplessly.

"What the hell was that?" she demanded.

"What was 'what'?" he asked with some befuddlement.

"Shooting my bad guy." she explained, "What was that?"

"He was there, I was in motion and I took the shot."

"No hero-type macho crap about saving your girlfriend?" her glare intensified and she leaned in menacingly towards him.

"No." he looked at her as though she were crazy, "And step back before we really do have a problem."

T'Kir defiantly held her ground for a moment then relented and stepped back, "Party pooper."

"Fates, girl, but you like to live dangerously." Macen shook his head.

"Captain?" Daggit interrupted, "I don't know about Radil, but I think I need my eyes and ears scrubbed out."

"Uncomfortable Rab?" Macen asked with genuine delight.

"Let's just say I've seen too much." Daggit said heavily, "Your private business is yours. Please leave me out of it."

"Why Rab, I do believe we need to find you a woman." T'Kir said enthusiastically, "That'll loosen you up."

"But I don't want to be loosened up."

"Nonsense. It'll make a man out of you and all that rot." Macen said in his best imitation of Jean-Luc Picard.

"That's what they said when I joined the army." Daggit sighed, "All that did was turn me into a freak."

"Being a freak isn't bad." Macen countered, "Look at T'Kir and I. We're both mad as hatters and see where we've ended up. It's the so called 'normal' people you have to watch out for."

"That's such a comfort, sir." Daggit replied dryly.

"Can we shut the hell up and leave?" Radil fumed.

"Something wrong Radil?" Macen asked, "Something you'd feel like sharing?"

"Not at this time." Radil visibly restrained herself, "Maybe later."

"Fair enough." He tapped his comm badge and opened a circuit to the SS Solstice orbiting overhead, "Macen to Danan. Mission accomplished."

"Danan to Macen, is everyone in one piece?"

"Affirmative. Even the bad guys came out ahead on this one."

"Will you be requiring the transponder tags?"

"Yup. We have six snoozing villains. Have Dracas beam them directly to the cargo bay and have Jamie Kirk standing by to assist us in transporting these cretins to the brig."

"It looks like you'll be getting back just in time."

"Why's that?" Macen inquired.

"You've had a message from one Lieutenant Ro. She says you are ordered to return to DS9 post haste to meet with a representative of Starfleet Command."

"Ro said 'post haste'?" he asked in disbelief.

"No. I was editorialising for that bit." Danan admitted, "What she actually said was 'get here now' to meet with a, and I quote, 'a general staff officer'."

"My, Lees," Macen employed her nickname, "You just walked all over that one."

"My version sounded better." she said defensively.

"Whatever." Macen considered the message for a moment, "Someone must have been leaning on Ro to make her all stiff and withholding like that. I bet I know someone that isn't happy with a certain 'representative from Starfleet Command' right now."

"Well never mind that, have Dracas send down those transponders before Radil blows a gasket."

"You keep saying that." Danan complained, "What the hell is a gasket?"

"Ah, to be young again."

 

Chapter 3

Macen and the rest were beamed up to the Solstice's transporter room. The Blackbird-class' primary hull design dated back to 2318. The SPYards had recently built Macen's Blackbird from the keel up. Although its exterior matched that of its predecessors, the Solstice boasted capabilities never conceived of by those early engineers. They made the diminutive scoutship a match for a starship in a limited engagement.

Hal Dracas, affectionately known as the Chief, manned the transporter console, "Good to see you back in one piece." Dracas remarked dryly.

"It was no problem." Macen replied with a shrug, "Just some petty thugs."

"His only close call was with me." T'Kir declared and took hold of Macen's arm, leaning into him.

Dracas witnessed this tender gesture and was moved despite his reputation as the gruff old man of the group. It was true that Dracas was at least twenty years older than any other member of the team, excluding Macen and T'Kir. He shuddered to think that T'Kir was ten years older than he was and yet retained a youthfulness he didn't recall ever having. A childhood spent as a Troglyte on Ardanna IV was not an experience that Dracas would recommend to any sentient in the galaxy.

Dracas had been raised, as the bulk of Troglyte children were, in the mines. Thanks to progressive innovations made since the fateful visit by James Kirk and the Enterprise, Troglytes were now able to receive educations and move offworld if they secured gainful employment. Dracas had left as a teenager to join Starfleet. Recruited as an enlisted man, Dracas displayed a grasp of advanced engineering principles while still in training.

Upon completion of his training, Dracas was sent to an advanced engineering course. Next came courses on starship design and repair. He was assigned to the Utopia Planitia Yards upon graduating all of his training programs. He worked in the Yards for ten years before being transferred to the Advanced Starship Design Bureau.

At the ASDB, Dracas worked on classified projects. He was literally building prototypes of tomorrow's starships today. He spent fifteen contented years with the Bureau before his next challenge arrived. It arrived in the form of Admiral Alynna Nechayev.

Nechayev simply asked Dracas if there were anything more he wanted out of life. Dracas hesitantly admitted he'd like to see the fruits of his labour realised now not when he was an old man. Nechayev smiled and said he could do that. There was, she said, a division of Starfleet where the ASDB's concepts were transformed into reality. Dracas was hooked and his transfer to the SPYards was assured.

Dracas' motive behind his move from the SPYards to Macen's SID team was a little more mysterious. Dracas had simply said it was time for him to venture into the field and Macen had merely nodded and accepted the engineer's reasoning. Dracas signed aboard as the most private member of the team but, as was to be revealed, he was far from the only one with secrets. Even after all the team had been put through, Dracas still spent the bulk of his time alone. His only true friend among his teammates was Rab Daggit.

Now Dracas stood before his CO and his teammates clad in brown coveralls. They were of a type popular amongst Starfleet engineers in the 2260s. Underneath, he visibly wore an olive drab tee shirt. Like the rest of the team, Dracas wore a utility belt. Unlike the rest of the team, his was filled with tools and diagnostic equipment. He carried no weaponry while aboard ship.

Dracas himself bore the effects of age well. His thick hair was silver grey and worn in choppy spikes. His brown eyes glittered with intelligence. Dracas was the shortest male member of the team but that did little to affect his confidence. Although physically the most advanced in years, Dracas maintained his physical condition through a special exercise regime developed by Daggit for him.

"Kort said he'd be joining you in the cargo bay to assist in the transfer of the prisoners." Dracas informed Macen, "He mentioned something about checking on the prisoners' condition."

"Which is Kort-speak for 'Let's kick 'em while they're down'." Macen sighed and turned back towards Daggit and Radil, "We'd better go rescue the soon to be victims from our mad doctor."

Macen, T'Kir, Daggit and Radil arrived in the Cargo Bay to find Kort tapping one of their prisoners with a booted foot. Macen cleared his throat and Kort guiltily stepped away. It was a difficult thing to do to make a grown Klingon warrior, or warrior-medic in this case, look like an embarrassed six-year old child, but Macen succeeded. Kirk, on the other hand, put as much distance between herself and the Klingon as she could.

Kort was an enigma. Dishonoured and exiled from the Klingon Empire, he was also the most honourable Klingon Macen had ever met. Kort took his duties, and his oath to perform them, very gravely. Kort's biggest problem was that he couldn't control himself when he drank.

Alcohol was at the root of why Kort had been banished from the Empire. Although a specialist in combat medicine, Kort had been called upon to treat Chancellor Gowron's prized targs who had been wounded in a hunting accident. Sodden with drink, Kort was unable to save the beasts and was in turn arrested for their "murder". A short, and one-sided, trial before the High Council stripped Kort of House and name and forever banished him from the Empire.

Kort stumbled about the Federation before being recruited to work for Starfleet Intelligence by Admiral Nechayev. She knew of Kort's past and more importantly, his skills. Soon, Kort was serving as a medic for many of Intelligence's covert operations. When the Gulag mission came about and Macen requested a replacement for the mole that had infiltrated his crew in place of the real Chief Medical Officer, Kort came first to mind. Macen won Kort's undying loyalty within moments of his arrival and the exile found a home.

Despite his working for Starfleet, Kort had never surrendered his Klingon armour. It was stripped of clan insignia but it was still his. He wore it as his daily uniform. His only concession to being an employee of Outbound Ventures, and a member of the SID team, was his carrying a Bajoran phaser on his belt.

Kort was ruggedly handsome for a Klingon. He had a scar on his left cheek that made for an interesting conversation piece. He'd received it in battle against the Jem'Hadar. It was a topic he didn't enjoy discussing.

Standing beside Kort, and looking as though she wished she were anywhere else, was the crew's latest addition. Jamie Kirk was formerly Captain Kirk of the Iotian Starfleet. She'd been instrumental in convincing the Iotians to aid Tom Riker in his assault on Magna Roma. She'd also led the Iotian forces to victory over the Romans. Then had come the demands to reparations.

The Magna Romans had revolted at the notion of reparation payments to a foreign power and the newly installed government was powerless to stem this popular uprising. When the Iotians dispatched more forces to acquire their demands by any means necessary, the Romans met them with force. Even Nova Roma's traditional enemies aided her in this struggle. The foreign aggressor was beaten back at a heavy cost and the Iotians limped home in disgrace. It was the first time they had faced defeat.

Jamie Kirk was selected as a scapegoat. The contention was that if she had not involved them in Roman affairs in the beginning, the subsequent policy mistakes and strategic errors would not have occurred. Kirk said nothing in her own defence, believing that her record and her intentions spoke for themselves. She was thrown out of the service and it was quietly suggested that she leave Iotian space.

Kirk purchased a small scoutcraft and set out for the Federation. During the initial Roman campaign, she and Riker had paired up. The relationship looked to have promised, the only obstacle had been their respective duties. That obstacle had been removed from her life. She planned to find Riker and continue where they'd left off while she struggled to put together a new life.

Armed with the knowledge that Riker had worked for a security and expeditionary outfit called Outbound Ventures, she tracked down the company to its home base on Barrinor. Kirk arrived to find that Captain Macen and crew were out on an assignment. She scheduled the first available appointment and returned to her ship to await word of the Solstice's return. While lying in her bunk, her mind replayed the image of the strange look the office manager had given her when Kirk had left a message for Tom Riker.

Kirk waited for two weeks for the Solstice's return. It took another three days for her to receive the comm signal informing her of her impending meeting with Brin Macen the following day. Kirk barely slept that night and rose early to prepare for her appointment.

Kirk arrived at the Outbound Ventures offices to find Christine Pike, the office manager, sitting behind her desk. Pike motioned for Kirk to take a seat in the waiting area and activated a comm circuit and began speaking in hushed tones. Macen appeared a moment later. He smiled and shook her hand.

"Captain, it's good to see you again."

Kirk was surprised, and a little flattered, that Macen remembered her. The two only met briefly in the days following the fall of the Nova Roman emperor. They'd liased for some after action reports and then parted ways. The warmth in which he'd made his opening remark made her feel it was sincere.

"Thank you, Captain," Kirk replied, "but please, just call me Jamie. I'm no longer with the Iotian Starfleet."

"By choice?" Macen inquired.

"It was," Kirk paused then pressed forward, it was the best accommodation for all concerned."

"I see." Macen said and Kirk believed that he did. His powers of perception seemed to penetrate her, "Would you care to step back into my office to discuss whatever brought you here to Barrinor?"

"I'd be delighted." Kirk said and followed him through the doors he'd emerged from. Beyond lay a corridor leading to several other doors. The end of the corridor ended in a massive set of double doors. He stopped before a door with several sensor panels lining the door's edges.

Macen placed his palm against one panel. Next he stepped forward for a retina scan. Finally, he entered a code in a wall-mounted keyboard. The door slid open to reveal a Vulcan women that looked to be in her late twenties, but given the longevity of the race was probably far older than she appeared.

"I hope there's a good reason for this break-in, T'Kir." Macen said sternly but without any rancour.

"I've told you we need to tighten up the security measures and I've just proven it." she said proudly.

"You had an advantage." Macen replied, "You helped install and program this equipment."

"But I didn't know your key code." T'Kir said, "That was a snap to break."

"If you couldn't, I'd have to fire you."

She looked stunned, "You can't fire me. I'm your girlfriend."

"Out." Macen ordered.

"Fine." T'Kir huffed and got off his desk. On her way out she called back to Kirk, "Nice to see you again."

"Was that a Vulcan?" Kirk asked in disbelief.

"My one and only." Macen confirmed and took a seat behind his desk.

Kirk took a seat opposite him, "And what she said is true? You and she are a couple?"

"Yup." Macen said happily, "Wouldn't have it any other way."

He leaned forward, "Now, why don't we talk about why you're here."

And Kirk told him about the events following his team's departure from Roman space. She spoke of the Iotians' response and subsequent expulsion from Magna Roma. Next she described her court-martial and unofficial exile from Iotian territory. Finally, she told him of her brief relationship with Tom Riker and her hopes of rekindling the romantic fires that had once burned brightly.

Macen's face fell, "Fates! I wish I'd known. I could have told you sooner."

Kirk sat there in shock as Macen detailed the events surrounding Riker's death. As he spoke, Macen sensed that Riker had been Kirk's last toehold on hope. He couldn't abandon her to the vagaries awaiting her in the Alpha Quadrant. There was an alternative. It would just take some working around her knowledge gaps.

The Iotians had achieved a technological sophistication roughly equivalent to the latter half of the Federation's 23rd century. That meant Kirk was roughly a century behind the SID team. If he was to offer her a position on the team, and he knew he was about to, it would be with caveat that Kirk spend a great deal of her off duty hours studying. She leapt at the chance when the offer came.

Christine Pike drew up the employment contracts, casting a speculative eye Macen's way. The fact that Pike doubled as the company's SID liaison fuelled her scepticism. Macen gave her a dismissive eye roll and took Kirk back into the company complex to meet her new teammates. He escorted her back through the massive double doors and revealed to her the massive hangar complex. Situated within the complex, parked atop hydraulic lifts were the Solstice, the Danube-class runabout Corsair, and the Skylark-class scout Idiot's Delight.

Kirk went through the introductions on autopilot. Her eyes were fixed squarely on the Solstice. Macen understood her captivation. The scoutship was a thing of beauty. A fusion of the Excelsior and Ambassador-class designs, the Solstice was only 104 metres in length and was designed to be operated by a handful of crewmen. Heavily armed for her size, the Solstice lived up to the reputation the Blackbird-class ships had carved out during the Border Wars.

It was swiftly revealed that Kirk's background in the Operations division of the Iotian Starfleet would serve her well. The Iotians were on the verge of developing isolinear technology. Kirk's familiarity with the Iotian design efforts made her a quick study regarding engineering applications. The fact that she was a quick study aided her in swiftly grasping the other topics that were thrown at her. In order to make things more uniform, Macen had signed Kirk up for the Starfleet Academy prepatory course.

Kirk's hazel eyes surveyed the task at hand and she ran a hand through her sandy brown hair. Her hair was shortest on the sides and back and was a longer "mop" atop her head. The style had been all the fashion in the Federation during the 2260s. Kirk's thin lips readily curved into a smile. Her face was topped off by a pert little nose that seemed to compliment her petite size and height.

In the present though, she was paired up with Daggit and hauling unconscious criminals to the brig. Radil teamed up with Kort and Macen was, of course, matched with T'Kir. Despite the inherent difficulties with moving an inert body, the transfer went swiftly and smoothly. Afterwards, Kirk stood watch over the unconscious prisoners while Radil visited the armoury and stored her phaser cannon. Afterwards, Radil relieved Kirk.

Macen was grooming Kirk to be his second in command. She would essentially assume tactical command of the Solstice at that point. Macen would remain Mission Commander and would dictate the overall strategy the team pursued. It was a moment she yearned for. All she had to do is complete all her damned schooling. Kirk sighed and returned to her cabin for more studying.

The turbolift doors opened and Macen, T'Kir and Daggit emptied out onto the bridge. Lisea Danan rose out of the centre seat, deferring to Macen's presence. Hannah Grace excitedly leaned over as T'Kir took her station next to Grace's.

"Was it fun?" Grace whispered conspiratorially as T'Kir pinned her hair back, tucking stray strands behind her delicately curved ears.

"Always."

"Did the Captain get all protective?"

"Yes." T'Kir answered with smug satisfaction, "Of course, he won't admit it."

Grace sighed, "He loves you so much."

T'Kir squeezed her hand, "Your day will come, Hannah."

"I doubt it." Grace replied bitterly.

T'Kir had to admit to herself that the odds looked pretty bleak right now. They were much higher before Grace revealed she wasn't even human, appearances aside. She was a member of a mysterious extragalactic race known as the Kelvans. If Grace had been upfront with that information, she wouldn't be facing the questioning glances of some of her teammates or Starfleet's ire.

Grace had come to the SID by way of the 54th Fighter Squadron. Grace had reported to the squadron directly out of the Academy. She'd served in the final months of the Dominion War. This participation included being directly involved in the final campaigns against the Dominion and Cardassia.

Having established a spotless record filled with exploits of extraordinary accomplishments, Grace was approached by Starfleet Intelligence. Grace accepted Admiral Nechayev's invitation and was immediately put to work piloting a Pathfinder-class courier. Grace soon found herself assigned to the prototype USS Odyssey. Grace was the relief pilot under the command of one Lieutenant Hannah D'arte.

During the course of the mission, D'arte was exposed as a Section 31 mole. Grace assumed her duties and assisted Lisea Danan in dealing with the orbital forces sent to interdict the Odyssey. Macen beamed to the surface and revealed the existence of the Gulag and forced the Federation Council to take action. When the dust settled and Macen was tasked with recruiting the first SID team, Grace was asked to join up.

Unbeknownst to her teammates, Grace was a riddle laden with secrets. Besides hiding her ultimate identity and vocation as a Kelvan scout, Grace had been a member of Section 31. Recruited while still in the Academy, she'd performed minor functions for the covert agency until her acceptance of Macen's invitation to join the SID. She held that loyalty in much higher esteem than her perfunctory allegiance to Section 31.

Grace had transmitted a message to her handler tendering her resignation. He'd sought her out and taken her prisoner in order to negotiate a deal with Macen. Macen arrived and bargained for Grace's release from Section 31's clutches in exchange for a limited non-interference pact. Macen overlooked Grace's indiscretion in withholding her previous associations yet she still held fast to her final secret.

That secret came to light when Grace was forced to reveal her true nature, thereby saving her teammates from a mutinous crew. Macen's absence from the ship precluded his expressing an opinion regarding the whole event. As it was, most of Grace's teammates now regarded her with suspicion and more than a little fear. Once again it took Macen's continued acceptance of Grace to smooth matters over with the crew. Some resentment lingered and there was a general feeling that there were still surprises yet to come.

Grace possessed a round face with full lips and a broad nose. Her eyes were chocolate brown and shown with her zest for life. Her blond hair was cut in a bob that just reached midway between her cheekbones and her jaw.

On the other hand, the general consensus was that Lisea Danan possessed no secrets. Her return to the team had initially been heralded. Her time with the team since had only reinforced their high estimation of her. It why she kept her one secret hidden. It could potentially tear the team apart.

Danan lived in fear of discovery. Although she marvelled at T'Kir's recovery and progress, Danan feared her most of all. In lieu of confession, Danan buried herself in penitent acts. She acted as the unofficial ship's counsellor for most of the crew. Eight lifetimes of experience granted her remarkable insight into the nature of problems.

When Danan originally left the group, it had been because her relationship with Macen had just ended. Although it had ended on good terms, she didn't feel capable of dealing with him on a daily basis. She'd resigned from Starfleet and joined the Daystrom Institute. After years with the Maquis and covert operations work for Starfleet, the life of an ordinary researcher swiftly lost its appeal.

After her captivity on Magna Roma ended, Danan petitioned Macen to come and work for Outbound Ventures. He hired her and she was brought on as a scientific consultant. Danan expected to utilise her skills over the course of difficult cases. She'd never expected to become the team's acting executive officer after the loss of Tom Riker.

It was a role Danan was uncomfortable with. She tutored Jamie Kirk whenever their duty schedules allowed it. She was relieved to find out how bright Kirk was. Danan couldn't wait until she passed the reins of command to Kirk.

As far as Danan's physical description was concerned, she was the tallest female crewmember, taller than Dracas and on equal footing with Kort. However, Macen and Daggit still overshadowed her. Her eyes were sea green. Danan changed her naturally dark brown hair to a golden blonde. Her altered colour contrasted the dark spots that lined her face and body for Danan was a Trill and a host of a symbiont.

"We're set to make way for DS9." Danan reported.

"Then get underway." Macen ordered, "And Lees? Could you man the fort up here for a bit longer?"

Danan gave him a quizzical look and Macen's face adopted a wry expression, "Radil was shaken up by our experience down there. I think it has something to do with confronting members of the Orion Syndicate."

"Shouldn't I..?"

Macen shook his head, "I think this one requires a CO's touch."

"All right." Danan dubiously relented, "Call if you need me."

"Always."

Macen entered the brig to find Radil seated at the desk situated before the two security cells. Radil was leaned forward with her chin propped up in the palm of her hand. Her other hand was twirling her phaser atop the desk. He'd hoped to find her using the desk's computer to catch up on some reading or news but instead she was looking bored and hungry for a target.

"How are they?" Macen inquired.

"They're just starting to stir." came a surprisingly mild reply from the normally acerbic Radil. Her posture and gaze remained fixed.

"Could we speak out in the corridor for a moment?" Macen requested.

Radil glanced towards him, then back to the cells.

"Even if they manage to escape from the cells, their only escape route will take them right to us." Macen assured her.

Radil shrugged her shoulders and rose from her seat. She holstered her phaser and followed Macen out into the corridor. Both of them took up positions that offered them a clear field of fire of the brig door. An uncomfortable moment of silence passed while Macen determined what it was he should say.

"Look, Jenrya, I'll be blunt." he opted for the direct approach, "I know confronting agents of the Orion Syndicate was difficult for you."

"It was fine." Radil insisted.

"No." Macen replied firmly, "It wasn't. I know. I know how badly it twisted you up inside. It's why you're sitting in there ready to shoot the first person that recognises you."

Macen saw her rally for a defiant denial and then she subsided, almost deflating in on herself, "So, what if you're right?"

"Then I'd suggest recalling Jamie to relieve you." Macen suggested, "And I'd spend the time I have off talking to someone I trust about what's going on."

She mulled his words over and then slowly nodded, "Would you happen to know if Kort's on-duty right now?"

"Kort writes his own schedule." Macen said with a smile, "He said he was headed for the gym when we finished with the prisoner transfer. With luck you can still catch him there."

Radil hesitated then spoke, "Thank you."

"No problem." he replied, "Glad to help."

"I'm beginning to think I've been too critical about this team and you in particular."

Macen chuckled, "I won't argue but this is why we give and receive second chances."

"I'll keep that in mind." Radil said thoughtfully.

"Get going." Macen ordered, "I can hold the fort here until Jamie arrives.

Radil suddenly kissed Macen on the cheek, "For your kindness, just don't tell T'Kir. I don't need that mindwitch sifting around in my brain out of jealousy."

"My lips and thoughts are sealed." he promised and she left. Macen tapped his comm badge, "Jamie?"

"Yeah?" she sounded frustrated.

"How about a study break?"

"Doing what?"

"I've got a little job for you..."

 

Chapter 4

The transit between Empok Nor and DS9 was a relatively short jaunt, having been completed in just under four hours at warp 5. The Solstice then spent another hour clearing traffic control to dock at DS9. They were assigned to upper pylon 3. Grace brought the ship into position and the station's computers handled the final docking sequence.

"Look at that." Grace gasped, shifting the viewer image to display the Sovereign-class starship docked at pylon 1, "Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"

"Just one big, fat target." T'Kir said as she utilised her Ops board to connect the ship to the station's air, water, energy, and data networks, "We took out plenty of Galor-class cruisers with ships half as powerful as this one in our day."

Grace replied with a raspberry. Meanwhile, Macen rose from the command chair and headed for the turbolift.

"Where you headed, bub?" T'Kir demanded.

"To see if Security provided a welcoming committee." Macen answered, "Rab, you're with me."

Daggit left the Tactical console and followed Macen into the turbolift. The doors hissed closed and Macen asked for the Deck 3. The airlock door was located opposite of Sickbay, as was the brig. Deck 4 was Engineering and the deflector array and the anti-deuterium tanks took up Deck 5.

Macen cycled the airlock door and it sprang forward and slid aside. The umbilical linking the ship and the station was wide enough to allow such movement. The Cardassian designers of the station had attempted to accommodate as many possible variations of ship types as possible. Macen and Daggit strode to the station's airlock at the other end of the umbilical. Macen cycled the door and it rolled aside, looking all the while like a giant gear. The departing door revealed a certain Lieutenant Ro Laren standing within the station's corridors awaiting them.

Ro wore a wry smile as she saw Macen. She sported her Starfleet Security uniform that denoted her position as the station's Chief of Security. Accompanying her was a small squad of her men. All were armed.

"Expecting trouble?" Macen asked.

Ro shook her head, "They're just here to relieve you of your prisoners."

"Awfully considerate of you." Macen sounded sceptical, "Why do I feel there's more to this?"

"There are two more items on the agenda." Ro admitted ruefully, "I'm to bring you straightaway to Ops for your briefing with the Admiral."

"What's Nechayev want now?" Macen asked wearily.

"How did you know she was here?" Ro wondered.

"The Sovereign is her flagship. It doesn't travel very far without her."

"Well, she's not alone. She's brought another admiral with her." Ro informed him, "They arrived yesterday and suddenly took over things today. They briefed Captain Kira and Commander Vaughn earlier today but whatever they discussed is being kept hush hush. Right now they're holed up in the Captain's office waiting to talk to you."

"Wonderful." Macen grimaced, "Looks like it's time to save civilisation again."

"But you do it so well."

Macen rolled his eyes, "Want to know about your prisoners and their individual charges or d'you just want to read the reports?"

"I'll read the reports anyway but why don't you give me the skinny." Ro suggested.

"We arranged a buy to acquire some weapons grade trilithium." Macen informed her, "Only there was no trilithium. It was a sting set up by the Orion Syndicate. We arrived at the rendezvous and they tried to roll us."

"I take it they were unsuccessful." Ro remarked dryly.

"Very droll." Macen retorted, "You want them now?"

Ro motioned for her men to spring into action. Daggit motioned for them to follow him, "This way officers."

Macen tapped his comm badge, "Macen to Danan."

"Danan here."

"Inform the crew they are now on liberty."

A cheer could be heard from T'Kir and Grace, "Understood, Captain." Danan laughed.

"So are you and T'Kir still..?" Ro asked.

"Yes." he said patiently, "We're still together."

"She did try to kill you once, if you recall." Ro reminded him.

"That point's been made before." Macen assured her.

"Hey," she held her hands up as to wash her hands of it, "it's your funeral, pal."

T'Kir locked down the ship and the team moved to the station's Promenade. Radil and Kort went to dine at the Klingon restaurant. The rest of the team proceeded to Quark's. Ro caught Macen by the arm.

"You have a meeting, remember?"

Macen scowled and T'Kir spoke up, "Aw, tell 'em to get stuffed."

"And here we have a shining example of why you're not in command." Macen told her wryly.

T'Kir stuck her tongue out and Macen shrugged, "And there's another example."

"Get going before I forget why I love you." She shoved him away. Macen took hold of her and drew her in close to him. He passionately kissed her then stepped away and began walking after Ro towards the turbolift, "That's why you love me." he called back.

"Damn straight." she breathed then shook herself and followed her comrades into Quark's.

The turbolift deposited Macen and Ro at Ops. They stepped out of the lift and descended down the stairs towards the operations terminal. They passed between the science station and the primary engineering board. Commander Elias Vaughn, the station's XO and the displaced CO, Captain Kira Nerys were situated at the Ops board.

"Brin," Vaughn smiled warmly as he rose to shake Macen's hand, "good to see you again."

Kira extended her hand as well, "A pleasure, Captain."

"An unexpected one, Captain especially this soon after our last meeting."

Kira narrowly smiled, "It was memorable, wasn't it?"

It was then that Macen caught sight of Ambril Delori exiting the CO's office, "If you would excuse me, it would seem the powers-that-be have sent their angel of death to retrieve me."

Macen approached Ambril and gave a half-bow, "Lieutenant."

Despite herself, Ambril started to smile, "If I'm the angel of death, would that make you a vampire with a soul?"

"Pardon?"

"The Powers-That-Be selected a vampire cursed with a soul as their champion. Would that be your role in this metaphor?"

"I bow to your superior knowledge of the topic... and your acute hearing. I won't make that mistake again." Macen informed her.

"I shouldn't think so, not with you being paired up with a Vulcan and all."

"You're digging, Ambril. It's very beneath you." Macen chastised her, "So are Drake and Nechayev ready to see me?"

Ambril nodded, "Right this way."

Ro tagged along as Macen was led up the steps to the CO's office. Ambril pressed the door chime and the office doors spilt apart. Ambril proceeded straight to Kira's desk, currently occupied by Amanda Drake. Macen took up position halfway between the door and the desk. Ro stood alongside him.

Drake gave Ro a questioning glance and the Bajoran spoke, "I have brought Captain Brin Macen as ordered, ma'am."

"So you have." Drake replied, somewhat absent-mindedly, "You're dismissed Lieutenant."

"Ma'am?"

"Go away now. The following will be for Macen's ears alone."

"Very well." Ro clicked her heels together and departed with ramrod straight precision.

"Are all you ex-Maquis obstinate?" Drake wearily sighed.

"Pretty much." Macen replied happily, "Just remember, you're the one that seems to want us around."

"Oh, very well." Drake testily snapped, "Ambril, you can go as well."

"But, I..."

"Lieutenant, this rates above even your vaunted security clearance." Drake informed her, "So for your own sake, leave the bloody room."

Ambril straightened up and left with a "Yes ma'am."

With all non-essential personnel ejected, Drake focused her attention on Macen. She seemed to come more to life as her focus narrowed on him. It seemed to Macen as though she were desperately grasping at a dangling lifeline. The question was: what was drowning her?

"Would you care to take a seat?" Drake suggested, "There's a couch behind you."

Macen turned to find Nechayev occupying a third of the sofa."

"All right." he sounded dubious as he took a seat.

"Would you care for any refreshments?" Drake offered, "I understand you've had at least an eighteen-hour day."

"Coffee would be good. With vanilla creamer," Macen ordered, "and a blueberry scone."

Drake inputted the order into the replicator and momentarily waited for the synthesisers to produce the correct items. When a tray appeared with a steaming mug, a small pitcher filled with cream, and a small baked mound of dough. Drake personally served Macen, who sat the tray on an end table situated to the side of the sofa. Drake returned to the desk and Nechayev shifted her position so that she could observe Macen.

"I'm certain you're wondering why Admiral Nechayev and I are here." Drake began to speak.

Macen took a sip of coffee and placed his mug down on the table, "Not really. I presume you have a crisis that threatens the balance of the Federation and you feel my team and I are the best qualified to deal with the situation." He arched his right eyebrow as he stared down Drake, "Am I correct?"

Drake and Nechayev exchanged glances. Drake heaved a sigh, "We do have situation that affects the Federation President, and through him, potentially the rest of the Federation and Starfleet."

"Damn." Macen softly swore, "I hate being right."

"Just wait, it gets better." Drake warned, "The crisis is that the President's daughter has been kidnapped from her high-security quarters at Oxford University."

"How did Federation Security manage that?"

"By being outwitted by two platoons of renegade Starfleet Special Forces troopers. The kidnapping was masterminded and led by one Admiral Gideon Weisz." Macen winced and Drake continued, "'Commodore' Weisz, as he prefers to be called, personally contacted the President and claimed responsibility for these actions."

"He must have made a demand." Macen's voice was rather detached and clinical.

Nechayev took over at this point, "Since the end of the Dominion War, the President had been trying to quietly restructure Starfleet's existing units as well reprioritise the new units coming on line. As your intimately aware, Starfleet and the Federation have been involved in one conflict or another for over sixteen years."

"The President feels that perhaps we'll be more prone to seek diplomatic solutions if we downplay the military aspects of Starfleet."

"How did this affect Weisz?" Macen inquired.

"The President, through the C-n-C, has proposed decommissioning the Special Forces. The officers and enlisted men and women wouldn't be forcibly retired, they'd simply be assigned to mainstream units."

"Fates preserve us." Macen laughed coldly, "I'd be willing to bet that Weisz's inherent loyalty to Starfleet is all that contented him with merely kidnapping the daughter." He took a deep swig from his mug and held it out for Drake, "I think I'm going to need another. I still have cream."

Macen turned to Nechayev, "You still haven't outlined his demands."

Nechayev took a sip of her tea and replied with a feral smile, "Why, simply that the Special Forces not be disbanded."

"Well, that makes sense." Macen thought aloud, "When I encountered some of these Special Forces troops during the war, their lives revolved around the corps..."

"A very succinct observation."

Drake handed him his coffee, "So, when can you go in?"

"D'you have this guy's co-ordinates?" Macen asked sceptically.

"We have it narrowed to a single sector." Drake answered.

"That's still a lot of territory to search out and investigate every potential hidey-hole."

"You don't want the mission?" Drake sounded surprised.

"What I want is a break." Macen admitted, "My team and I have just completed four consecutive missions back to back. I owe those people a rest."

Nechayev broke the silence that followed, "Brin, there's more. Something I think you in particular need to see."

Macen gave her a suspicious glance but subsided, "Okay."

"Before Amanda plays the following transmission, I need to fill you in a few facts."

"That'll be a first."

Nechayev ignored the barb and pressed on, "For two weeks, we've been trying to determine any possible location where the President's daughter could be held. Five days ago, we received our first solid lead. The signal originated in the Cardassian farside region." The Cardassian farside was the part of the Union closest to the Gamma Quadrant.

"Be warned, Brin, you may find the following to be disturbing." Drake warned and activated the viewer. A large panel in the office wall slid aside to reveal a viewing screen. Drake supplied her authorisation code and playback began. Macen stiffened as he recognised Riker's image. He froze as Tom identified himself.

"To anyone receiving this, my name is Tom Riker. I'm a citizen of the United Federation of Planets and I'm being held prisoner against my will. I've been held for almost six months. I don't know the identities of my captors. Two weeks ago a new development occurred. The base is now filled with Starfleet Special Forces troops. I've overheard them referencing some high-ranking prisoner. I don't know who it is. Hopefully when, and if, Starfleet Intelligence receives this message they'll be able to determine who this other prisoner is."

"Now to the most important part of this message. This base is a research facility conducting experiments in..." there the message ended abruptly.

Macen sat transfixed at the final frozen frame. Riker looked haggard and worn. He'd noticeably lost weight, and from a survivor of a Cardassian labour camp, that took some doing. He was also obviously naked. There were signs of bruising across his chest and arms.

"Give me the sector designator." Macen said in a low voice that almost growled, "We'll be ready to leave in a few hours."

Macen began to rise and Drake called out, "Wait... there's more."

Macen stood regardless and fixed her with a cold stare, "More?"

"Your assignment is to locate Commodore Weisz and the President's daughter. If an opportunity for a negotiated release presents itself, then partake of it after you request reinforcements. If you manage to find Weisz's current lair, observe unless the aforementioned circumstances occur and await back-up."

"And Riker and this lab? Where do they fit in this equation?" Macen asked angrily.

"They don't." Drake answered with genuine remorse, "Riker is expendable and the lab will be so much collateral damage after your reinforcing squadron arrives."

"Go to Hell, Amanda." Macen told her, "I won't obey those orders."

"You don't have a choice!" Drake snapped, "If you don't, you've not only sealed your fate with the SID but the fate of every irregular that works for me. Consider that while you're busy feeling self-righteous."

"I'm afraid I can't." Macen admitted.

"Can't or won't?" Drake asked angrily.

Macen shrugged, "Take your pick."

"Then you're off the assignment." Drake said sadly, "Which is too bad, with you on the case that young woman stood a decent chance of coming home."

"But not Tom Riker." Macen reminded her.

"No, damn you. Not Tom Riker." Drake suddenly seemed weary, "You're dismissed."

Macen snapped off a sloppy salute and exited the office. Drake faced Nechayev and buried her face in her hands, "Thed caod hib gnn bttmn."

"Excuse me?" Nechayev prompted.

Drake lifted her face out of her hands, "That could have gone better."

Nechayev waved the thought away, "Nonsense. It couldn't have gone better."

"How can you say that?" Drake demanded, "Our best agent just walked out the door after I moved heaven and hell to get him the assignment in the first place."

"Oh, he's accepted the assignment." Nechayev assured her, "He just hasn't accepted it on your terms."

"My God, you think he'll undertake this mission on his own?"

"It grants us plausible deniability in case something goes wrong, and Tom Riker might just get a reprieve after all."

"'Plausible deniability'?" Drake asked distastefully, "Are you expecting trouble?"

"Commodore Weisz will never willingly surrender his hostage without his demands having been met." Nechayev asserted.

"And how do you know this?"

Nechayev softly laughed, "That's right. You've never met Weisz. He's what could be called a 'zealot'. Once he's chosen a cause, he'll pursue it with every fibre of his being. In that regard, he's rather like our friend, Macen."

"You truly see Macen that way?"

"How can I not?" Nechayev asked, "Once he's accepted a mission, he's relentless in pursuing it. He will resort to nearly any means necessary to complete it. The restrictions being that he will not kill indiscriminately and he will not accept any moral or sexual depravity. Any other methods are acceptable."

"I'd always just assumed these traits stemmed from his stubbornness." Drake admitted.

"Oh, he's stubborn. I've met few as stubborn as that man." Nechayev continued, "But that's not what drives him. You see, Macen is what could be best described as a 'true believer'."

"I hope you're going to explain that term." Drake said in exasperation.

Nechayev smiled warmly, "It is an expression that has fallen out of popular use. A 'true believer' is an idealist that believes wholeheartedly in their cause."

"Macen's always struck me as being something of a cynic."

"You've only known him after the wars. He's an idealist disguised by a mask of cynicism."

"So, what's his cause?" Drake wondered.

Nechayev smiled enigmatically, "Now there's the mystery."

"Got it!" T'Kir announced proudly as she passed a padd up over her head, "Everything you could want to know about 'ultra top secret' kidnappings and the suspected whereabouts of said kidnappers."

Macen accepted the padd and placed it in a pocket, "I knew there was a reason I loved you."

"No," T'Kir wore an impish grin, "you love me because of what I was doing to you two days ago."

Daggit cleared his throat, "My ears are so beyond burning."

"So are those of a few other patrons." Macen advised. They'd gone to the station's public data access centre to conduct their illegal "raid" of Starfleet's secure files.

"Rab," Macen addressed Daggit, "you and Radil get Kort back to the ship out of Quark's and back to the ship while he can still walk."

"Yessir." Daggit replied crisply and departed.

"What're we gonna do?" T'Kir asked.

"We'll round up the others and return to the ship."

"Already?" she pouted.

"'Fraid so."

"Could you at least give me a head's up as to what's going on?"

Macen stopped walking and turned to face her, "Tom Riker's alive. He's being held captive at an unknown facility and being guarded by two platoons of Starfleet Special Forces."

"Frinx me!" T'Kir breathed.

"Some other time." Macen replied with a grin, "Right now we need to concentrate on getting underway. The bad guys know Tom transmitted an SOS and are probably reinforcing as we speak."

"What're our odds?" she asked, her composure recovered.

"About the same as always."

"That bad?"

"Worse, actually." Macen gave T'Kir that devil-may-care grin of his and suddenly she felt relieved. She only worried when Macen was deathly serious.

"So you're certain that Macen will conduct the search for bar Weisz on his own initiative?"

"We dangled Tom Riker before him. That's bait he can't refuse."

"I hate to sound repetitive, but how do you know?"

"I've known the man for the better part of forty years." Nechayev elaborated, "In that time, he's never been able to abandon cohorts without first attempting to rescue them. It's the one behaviour in which he is utterly and dependably predictable."

"We didn't give him the sector designator or the details regarding bar Weisz's forces. How will they know where to go or what they'll be facing?"

"If T'Kir's living up to her reputation, they should have that information by now."

"My God!" Drake exclaimed, "Could she really pull it off?"

"She's your operative." Nechayev scolded, "Honestly, these people have worked for you for over eighteen months and yet you persist on underestimating them."

Drake looked suitably chastised for Nechayev to continue, "You probably have the most capable, most proficient, the... deadliest covert action team in the Alpha Quadrant. Don't ever confuse them with the average agent. The day you do, that'll be the day you lose them, down to the last sentient."

Drake nervously reached for her coffee and drank it in uncomfortable silence. Nechayev broke the silence with a sigh, "I really do suppose we'd ought to return this office to its rightful owner, either that or start disembarking liberty watches from the Sovereign."

"Why not do both?" Drake suggested, "That followed by a security patrol of the DMZ would allow us to monitor both the local situation as well as the progress of the Solstice and her crew."

Nechayev brightened, "Brilliant! I knew there was a reason I took you under my wing, Amanda."

Could've fooled me, Drake thought bitterly, reflecting on the tone of her discussion with her mentor.

 

Chapter 5

Aboard the Solstice, Macen addressed the crew in the briefing room. None of them were very happy to be there, Kort least of all. They'd had to inject him with a metabolic booster in order to sober him up. Now he sat in his seat, twitching, and with eyes darting to and fro.

Not that there was much room to twitch in. The space had been designed to fit all six officers of a twenty-two man crew. Macen and company currently made up nine. During a mission, the briefings were staggered for one half of the crew at a time. At port, it was better to be uncomfortable for a time that inefficient.

Macen explained about the kidnapping of the President's daughter, a certain Daphne Adams, by renegade Starfleet Special Forces units commanded by Commodore Gideon Weisz. Next he revealed the continued survival of Tom Riker. He played Riker's distress call for them and waited for reactions.

"It's been, what, six months?" Grace asked, "What've they been doing to him?"

Macen noticed Kirk wincing and opted to downplay the worst possible aspects of Riker's captivity, "He's alive, Hannah. That's more than we knew yesterday."

"Why are just sitting here talking?" Kirk erupted, "Let's rescue Tom and deal with the bastards that've done this."

"Easy, Jamie." Macen counselled, "We'll rescue Tom. It just so happens we'll have to face Weisz and his goons at the same time."

"What do you mean?" Daggit asked from his standing position behind the others.

"The Special Forces troopers Tom mentioned guarding the place are believed to be bar Weisz's troops. They're the only Special Forces operatives unaccounted for."

"So Commodore Weisz found a natural ally in whomever is holding Tom Riker." Daggit observed.

Macen nodded, "So it would appear." With that said, the conversation died down.

"So what do we do first?" Dracas prompted.

"You get the engines ready. We've a long journey ahead of us. Take on whatever fuel we'll need." Macen ordered, "Next we need all the information we can gather about our destination in order to narrower the search down."

"Pardon me for asking," Danan asked in a dry tone, "but where is our destination?"

"Sector 437." Macen answered.

"Out past the Black Cluster?" Danan asked, "That area is unclaimed and borders on Breen territory."

"You're the stellar cartographer." Macen replied, "Tell us what you know of that region."

"Next to nothing." Danan admitted, "All of Starfleet's imaging and sensor arrays along the Cardassian border were destroyed over a successive period. Our capabilities near the Black Cluster are currently very limited."

"So, you can't provide any useful tactical or strategic data." Macen pronounced grimly.

"That about sums it up." Danan concurred then added, "I can say this, Sector 437 is composed of thirty-nine star systems. Finding whatever installation they're holding Tom and the President's daughter at is going to be the proverbial search for the chyllic in the tide pool."

Macen gave Danan a blank stare. It continued until T'Kir tentatively spoke up. The fact that she was tentative was the strange bit in that equation. Normally T'Kir was amongst the most vocal and outspoken members of the team.

"Brin? I might have a solution."

Sensing T'Kir's discomfort, Macen excused everyone else to the bridge while he and T'Kir remained behind to talk, "Okay T'Kir, What's on your mind?"

"I know some representatives of a race that has widely travelled the Alpha Quadrant. More widely than us, anyway." T'Kir informed him, "I could contact them and arrange a meet for an exchange."

"What would we exchange for?"

"Survey maps of Sector 437."

"What would we exchange with?"

"I'm sure I could find something suitable."

"On this short of notice?"

"Bajor is just a few light minutes away." She said with a coy smile.

"All right then. Contact your...?"

"Sakarians."

"Your Sakarians and I'll get everyone else moving."

Macen exited the briefing room to find everyone else milling about on the bridge, "Chief!"

"Yes sir!" Dracas roused himself from the Ops station.

""You're in charge of the reprovisioning. Assess every need this tub has and address it."

"Aye, sir."

"The rest of you, do what he tells you. I'll be in the briefing room."

The door closed behind Macen and Radil remarked, "I'll bet they're snogging."

"'Snogging'?" Grace exclaimed, "Get a new universal translator. People 'make out', they do not 'snog'."

"I'll be sure to tell the Captain the comm badge he gave me is defective."

"Oops." Grace turned bright scarlet.

Tom Riker slowly recuperated in his cell and reflected on how he'd ended up in his current predicament. He'd been badly, if not mortally, injured on the bridge of the Eclipse when the rest of the team had been mysteriously, and miraculously, beamed off the ship. That was fine for them but it still left him in a spot of trouble. Fortunately, his miracle arrived a few seconds later.

He too was beamed off the doomed Eclipse. He lay on a biobed behind a forcefield in a ship of unknown design. An older man with hard features stood beyond the forcefield, studying Riker. Although the mysterious gentleman wore a Starfleet comm badge that Tom could recognise, his uniform was unknown. It consisted of a black jacket, grey tunic, black pants and boots.

"Who are you?" Riker croaked through the pain.

"That really doesn't matter, now does it?" the man replied with a fierce smile, "All that matters is that I am the captain of this rather remarkable vessel. You may address me as 'Captain'."

"Well Captain, am I going to live?" Riker inquired, "When my friends were extracted and I wasn't, well I had my doubts."

"The automated medical systems are tending to your vital needs for now. Anything more drastic can be addressed when we arrive at our destination." The Captain explained, "As far as your survival, originally you were considered expendable. Sorry, but that's the God's honest truth."

"I see." Riker replied through gritted teeth, "And what changed your mind?"

"Two things: the final scan records of the Slipstream gave us more details regarding your unique quantum signature and secondly, Brin Macen destroyed the Slipstream in response to your perceived death. There was an old and bitter rivalry between the two commanders. Macen made the ultimate choice and opted to eliminate the entire starship and crew. Macen and his team, with their usual good fortune, travelled back to Deep Space 9 and arranged passage to Earth."

"How can you be talking about this like it's the past?" Riker asked, "Macen and the team just left the Eclipse a few moments ago."

The Captain's smile hardened, "You'll hate yourself for asking that question Tom. You see, this is a timeship. I was sent back to retrieve you before you died and deliver you to one of our facilities."

"What kind of facility?" Tom had a sick feeling in his stomach.

"Research." The Captain answered, "We, and our allies, want to know what put you together, and if that accident can be duplicated."

"Suppose I help for awhile." Riker wondered, "out of gratitude for your help. When could I go home?"

The Captain's smile almost looked human, "Remember what I said about that question? Now that you know what no one's supposed to know, you're with us forever."

If Riker had been able to move he would have futilely thrown himself against the forcefield. He did, however, struggle against the stasis bonds that held him in place on the bed. All he truly accomplished was the rending of already broken bones and torn flesh. A cry of agony escaped hi lips and he ceased his resistance. The Captain shook his head.

"Valiant but your fate is sealed. Accept it and be done." With that said he turned from the ship's minuscule medbay and returned to the cockpit.

Riker was left to wonder as to his fate while the ship's highly advanced automatic doctor treated him. You had all the advantages of a holodoc without the quirks of a personality matrix. His wounds were tended and healed by the time the Captain announced they'd reached their destination. The stasis fields were released and Riker reared up to his full height.

"Are you going to drop the forcefield so we can beam down together?" Riker asked with a feral hunger.

The Captain's cruel smile diminished Tom's hopes, "No need to. You're going down alone laddie buck."

With that said, a transporter beam gripped Tom and his reality blurred into a halo of light only to be replaced by a new reality. Tom found himself standing a central, triangular space surrounded by what appeared to be scientific laboratories. Corridors ran between the labs, leading to this space. Riker also found himself sharing this central space.

Three black garbed human males awaited him. Each wielded a planetary constabulary's stun baton, surrounded him. They stood poised, as though he might attempt to flee. As it was, Tom was calculating his odds of taking all three down. Then a fourth man emerged from one of the three labs. He was slight of stature and build yet carried himself with an obvious air of authority. He also wore a uniform identical to that of the Captain.

"Greetings, Tom." The sandy haired man said affably, "My name is Jason. I hope we can accomplish great things together. I know we can if we co-operate with one another."

"As I told 'the Captain', I'm more than willing to help you people out for a spell."

Jason smiled, "Then I'm certain we can reach an accommodation."

"But," Tom continued as though he'd never been interrupted, "I'll eventually need to get on with my life."

"There's where it gets sticky." Jason sighed, "You've seen a vital piece of technology. A technology that isn't supposed to exist."

"And as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't exist."

Jason shook his head, "Not good enough. How would we explain your miraculous resurrection? Out there, you've been dead for three weeks. That won't be easy to explain."

"I don't see a problem with it. I was found adrift in a lifepod and brought here for medical assistance. No one need know a thing." Riker contested.

"No." Jason shook his head, "My Director has ordered that you remain here until we can unlock the secrets of your origins to the satisfaction of our allies."

"Bullshit!" Riker snarled and rushed one of the baton wielders. Caught unawares, Riker was able to deliver a crushing blow to the man's nose with his elbow. He lifted the baton and applied the end of it to the stricken man at his knees. The micro-phaser blast immediately knocked him out and Riker whirled around to face his next opponent.

Stun batons were designed like truncheons except the end used for striking emitted a low-level particle beam upon contact. The design dated back to the Starfleet M.A.C.O. units and had been utilised for riot control. When the Federation assumed control of Starfleet, the batons were phased out of Starfleet's inventory. Local, planetary constabularies and militias would carry them instead. The newly established Starfleet Security branch would only become involved when matters had escalated beyond local control and that would require greater firepower.

The next man came at Riker, swinging the baton like a sword. Tom blocked the blow and then sidestepped and spun on his heel. His opponent lurched past and Riker took a swing at him but just missed him. The third man moved in behind Tom and thrust forward just as the second man recovered and also made a thrusting attack. Riker merely stepped back out of the way and watched them stun each other.

Jason stood alone, clapping, "Impressive, especially considering your recent injuries and probable stiffness resulting from your confinement."

Jason's smile turned feral, "Now you just have me between you and freedom. Come and take it."

Although his skirmish with the three guards had been brief, Tom was slightly winded by it. Jason, on the other hand, was fresh and energetic. He may have counted on that factor for victory. Tom snorted derisively at any equation that didn't factor in his absolute determination to escape from this prison.

Riker thrust forward in a jab. Jason sidestepped the baton and took hold of Riker's wrist. He bent it in on itself and maintained the pressure until the pain caused Tom to release the baton. He shook his wrist loose and took a classic boxer's jab at Jason. The smaller man blocked it with an equally classic martial arts block.

Riker, who'd studied a broad spectrum of martial arts at the Academy, switched forms to match Jason. He jabbed, chopped, punched and kicked all to no avail. The smaller man was devilishly fast. Although Riker held the advantage in brute strength, Jason's agility made him a formidable opponent. Still, slowly but slowly, Riker backed Jason down towards one of the mysterious corridors.

A sudden blow to the side of Tom's head from a perfectly executed wheel kick brought him to his knees. Jason walked over to the stun baton he'd stripped from Riker, bent to retrieve it, and then returned to where Tom knelt, trying to regain his senses.

"Sorry," Jason said with what sounded like sincerity, "I'd hoped this would go smoothly but you chose your path. Hopefully things will settle down from now on."

That said, he applied the baton to Tom and Riker knew nothing else until he awoke in a gilded cell stripped of his clothes and wearing medical smocks. At first, he had exercise privileges escorted walks of the facility. These disappeared, as did his clothing, as punishments over his continued resistance to assisting the base's researchers in their efforts. Those efforts were simple: to replicate Tom. They wanted to create a transporter duplication device in order to circumvent the degradation factors inherent in cloning.

A person named Arinea was guiding these efforts. He had yet to encounter this mystery Director. He'd been surprised by the arrival of the Starfleet Special Forces units. Riker had initially feared this represented an official sanctioning of his treatment by Starfleet. His concerns were soon laid to rest as he overheard several officers arguing with Jason regarding his handling of Riker.

All of Riker's hopes lay in the message he'd managed to transmit. He had clues as to his location. The base that currently held him was a classic example of Cardassian architecture and design. If so, there were newly constructed listening posts along the Cardassian border. Although the Federation was supporting the newly installed democratic government on Cardassia Prime, democracy had historically had a short half-life in the Cardassian Union.

At one point, Riker would have accepted a rescue effort from any Starfleet starship. The presence of the Special Forces cast doubt as to the reliability of help from amongst the general personnel of Starfleet. Riker's last true hope lay in the message being relayed to the SID and through them to Brin Macen. Brin Macen had already tried to come to Riker's aid once on the past. Despite orders to the contrary, Macen undertook a rescue operation to extract Riker from the Cardassian labour camp he was assigned to.

Although Macen had only been peripherally involved in the planning stages of Tom's fateful mission, he still felt duty bound to make the ultimately futile attempt. He'd barely survived the effort.

Riker had no fears as to his commander's ability to extract him from this hellhole. Macen had learned much over the course of the Maquis Rebellion and the Dominion War. He'd learned more as the commander of a SID team. Add his implacable determination to the mix and one had one hell of an ally...or foe.

They couldn't strip hope from Tom Riker. Hope is what had allowed him to endure all those years on Nervala IV. Hope is what had led him to find a life for himself with the Maquis. Hope insured that he endured the cruelties of the labour camp. In every case, after some fashion, his hope had paid off. Now he was relying on hope again and waiting to see what would come.

"Just what the hell is going on?" Ro demanded.

Macen merely raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, "I see discretion has become your new middle name, Laren."

"Hah! Bajorans don't have middle names." Ro snorted, "And as far as discretion goes, you're the one that chose Quark's for this meeting."

"I'd hoped for a quiet dinner with an old friend while we talked some shop." Macen replied and started to rise, "If that's too much for you..."

"Sit down." Ro growled, she hesitated then sighed in defeat, "All right you win. Just answer two questions. One, why is your engineer requisitioning enough deuterium and antimatter to power two ships with your specs? And two, why has he ordered enough powerpacks to phaser a small moon into submission?"

Macen shrugged, "We're going on a trip and it could get a little rough."

Ro's sigh deepened, "That's what I was afraid of. Would this trip have anything to do with the recent visit by the Directors of Starfleet Intelligence and the SID?"

"Nope." Macen replied with a blank expression.

"Dammit!" Ro cursed, "You're hiding something, which means you're trying to protect me. I'm a big girl, Brin Macen, I've been around the quadrant a time or two."

"Trust me, Laren." Macen assured her, "I haven't been assigned the case."

"Which means you're doing it on your own." Ro shook her head, "You are the most obstinate jack-ass I've ever met."

Macen broke into a wry half-grin, "Why, thank you."

"You're welcome." Ro sat back and crossed her arms, "So what did you need to know?"

"You have access to the latest Cardassian fleet movements." Macen told her, "I need to know which ship is where and their patrol routes."

"Oh Prophets," Ro pinched the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes, "You're going to start a war, aren't you?"

"Actually, this information could prevent an interstellar incident from occurring."

"How comforting." Ro replied with gallows humour, "How soon do you need this information?"

"Our departure slot is in four hours." Macen smiled, "Plenty of time to have dinner. My treat."

"Damn straight it is." Ro mumbled, "Could you at least tell me why this is so important to you?"

"Tom Riker is still alive." Macen revealed, eyes ablaze, "I'm going to rescue him."

Ro's face fell then she recovered, "I guess I'll be getting you that information after all."

Once dinner was finished, Macen returned to the Solstice. Dracas had most of the team busy with the cargo transfers going into the storage bays on Deck 3. Conspicuously absent were Grace and T'Kir. T'Kir was awaiting word from the Sakarians. He had no idea what Grace was up to. The ship had little need of a pilot while moored to the station.

When he arrived at the bridge, he found Grace and T'Kir at their consoles. Grace was linked to the station's computers and was downloading every available Cardassian star chart and navigational guide. Macen came to stand between them and addressed Grace first.

"Hannah, I'm surprised to find you here."

"Yeah," she replied bitterly, "I'm a little surprised myself."

"What am I missing?" Macen wondered aloud.

"Chief 'I'm so high and mighty' Dracas won't allow Grace to help out down below."

"Why?" Macen reflexively asked then scrunched his eyes shut, "No. Wait. Let me guess: because you recently revealed you're a Kelvan."

"And because of that, I'm no longer trustworthy." Grace finished the thought.

"Right." Macen growled, "I'll deal with it. That man is just going to have to learn that his life would be better if he started putting faith in people."

T'Kir snorted.

"What's your deal?" Macen asked.

"You." T'Kir replied with great amusement, "Giving lectures on trust."

"And your point is?"

"You don't trust anyone." she accused.

"And I've lived a long time because of it."

T'Kir buried her face in her hands.

Macen rolled his eyes, "Have you at least received word from your contacts?"

T'Kir lifted her head, "Yes, a group I know were foraging in the DMZ. They're willing to meet us in the Badlands. I said Athos IV would be acceptable."

Macen had stiffened at the mention of the planet's name but he forced himself to relax, "Good work."

"Oh, and Brin," T'Kir wore a strange expression, "the Sakarians are a non-humanoid species. It'd probably be best if we minimise contact between the crews."

Macen shrugged, "Fine. You know best." With that said, he headed for the turbolift.

"Where are you headed?" T'Kir asked.

"To have a chat with the Chief." Macen replied as the turbolift doors began to close on him.

Macen found Dracas double-checking cargo manifests. The rest of the crew had just finished their labours and been sent away to rest while they could. Life would get interesting again a few hours.

"Chief, could I have a moment?"

Dracas sat his padd aside, "Certainly."

"I just had a chat with Hannah." Macen explained, "She says you wouldn't allow her to assist in taking on the supplies."

"That's right." Dracas replied firmly, "Want to know why?"

"Try me."

"That girl's a menace. She's consistently lied about her identity and her allegiances. On the bridge, she's well placed enough to kill us all. I'm not going to double my risks by giving her unrestricted access to antimatter and weaponry."

"Plenty of people on this boat have secrets, yourself included." Macen pointed out, as Dracas blanched, "Hannah hasn't done anything to threaten the lives or security of any member of this team. When that day comes, then I'll take issue with her."

Macen drew himself up and glowered at Dracas, "Until then, I want every member of this team to treat his or her teammates in a professional manner. Understood?"

"Yes sir." Dracas said weakly.

"I said is that understood, Chief?" Macen raised his voice.

"Yes sir!" Dracas practically shouted.

Macen smiled, "Good. Trust is a good thing, Chief. You should try it sometime."

Dracas bit back the obvious retort as he watched Macen's departing back. He fretted and wondered, Gods, what does he know?

 

Chapter 6

The departure from DS9 went smoothly. The ship's second watch took over to grant the 1st watch a few hours of rest before the excitement began.

Macen and T'Kir were in their quarters talking when the intercom chimed. Macen pressed the comm panel's "Answer/Receive" button. Grace's voice came over the circuit.

"I just returned to the bridge after my rest period and have determined our ETA to the Badlands at one hour."

"Thanks Hannah. We'll be up in a minute." With that said, he killed the circuit.

Just prior to the call, T'Kir had just finished dressing after a shower and found Macen staring at a holopicture of their old Maquis cell, all gathered together under the belly of the Ju'day-class raider, the SS Indomitable. Other pictures on the nightstand included a picture of Ro Laren in her new Starfleet Security uniform and one of the SID team taken at their base of operations on Barrinor. Tom Riker was featured in the SID picture.

"You miss them." T'Kir said leaning over the bed to gaze upon the holo he held, "The old members of our cell."

He nodded, "They became like a family. A dysfunctional one at best, but a family."

"You've got a family here." T'Kir suggested.

"What we have here is a team." Macen replied, "There's a difference. A family, for all its differences, is driven forward toward a common goal while retaining individual goals. A team gathers together for the common goal and excludes itself from all other purposes."

"Which d'you prefer?"

Macen shrugged, "A team is more effective. A family is more...comfortable."

"I think we have both." T'Kir informed him.

Really?" he sounded doubtful, "What makes you think that?"

She pointed to her temple, rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue, "I'm the mental vacuum cleaner remember. You think it, I suck it into my brainpan. Trust me, these people think of this unit as a family. A dysfunctional one at best, but a family."

Macen smiled at having his own words used against him, "Have you noticed that the two people that your the closest to are the very people you can't easily 'read'?"

"I think that was the first thing that drew me to you back in the day. My attraction to you just grew as I got to know you."

"It grew so much, you tried to kill me." He reminded her.

T'Kir sighed, "For the thousandth time, I was outta my head. A Vulcan in a jealous rage is dangerous enough, add to that the fact I was reading and being swayed by the thoughts of everyone on the bridge and you've got trouble."

"I know it." Macen told her, "I also know it doesn't bother me. If it did, you wouldn't be in that bed."

She laughed, "I don't know, I'm awfully seductive."

"Not that seductive." He said dryly, "I resisted your charms when you were doing you're best to snare me. I'm sure I could keep restraining myself."

"Hmmmph!" she replied dismissively, "You wanted to. I saw that clearly enough."

"How?" he asked, "You can barely scratch the surface of my thoughts. How could you get this inescapable insight?"

"I can't read your mind, but Lees' thoughts are an open book to me." T'Kir revealed, "She knows you better than you might think. She knew what was on your mind, and that your relationship with her was doomed. She accepted the turn of events and when helped sort things out when I finally called her to discuss matters."

"Plotting behind my back, eh?" he asked only half teasingly.

"Something like that." She replied with a coy, half smile, "Anyway, the consensus was that I should wait and let you reconcile your feelings on the matter. Once you decided how you wanted to proceed, I'd follow your lead."

"That must have been hard."

"Hardest thing I've ever had t'do in my life." T'Kir confessed, "I hate waiting and to make matters worse it was waiting to see if I'd get the thing I wanted more than anything else in the universe. That's trying."

"Well," Macen said thoughtfully, "you have what you wanted. I'm yours, mind body and soul. How do you feel about that?"

"Overwhelmed." T'Kir admitted then embraced Macen. They exchanged a fiery kiss that lasted for several minutes. This was followed by whispered intimacies. Finally, the moment they'd avoided came.

"Remember to put on your 'just had sex' face." T'Kir said as they readied themselves to leave their shared quarters, "The crew will have expected us to have had sex and will be counting on it."

"We did have sex." Macen said with a disgruntled tone.

"See?" T'Kir pushed him through the doorway and towards the turbolift, "It should be easy then."

"You're insane, woman."

"That's why you love me."

"You have a point."

Macen and T'Kir stepped out of the turbolift to find Daggit, Grace, and Danan watching them. They all exchanged knowing smiles.

"What?" Macen asked even as T'Kir simply proceeded to the Ops station and sat down.

"Nothing, sir." Daggit replied, "You just seem...exceptionally well rested."

"Whatever that means." Macen retorted and took his seat, "Hannah, what's our present ETA?"

"Our ETA to the Badlands is now forty-five minutes." Grace answered, "Our destination ETA is still over four days away."

"Damn." Macen muttered, "There's still no way of speeding things up?"

"We have to drop out of maximum warp after twelve hours or the stress factors will wear the engine out in a matter of hours. By dropping to a cruising speed of warp six and resuming max warp twelve hours later, we can balance out the wear factors with some maintenance." Grace reminded him.

"And fortunately we have an assistant for the Chief." Macen observed

"Yes," Danan remarked dryly, "it is fortunate that our recent recruit from a technologically backward world grasps our tech base so easily."

Macen sighed. They'd covered this ground before, "Lees, she's used to duotronics. That's one step away from isolinear technology."

"One step backwards." Danan argued, "How can she possibly make the leap forward as fast as she has unless she's dealt with isolinear tech before?"

"She probably has." Macen admitted, "During my interview with her she confessed that the Iotians had once again broken Starfleet's encryption protocols and were searching for new technology with which to upgrade their own Starfleet."

"And you're just now mentioning this?" Danan asked angrily.

"Admiral Drake was informed. I felt it was best to leave it at that."

"I'm your acting 1st Officer. You should have told me."

Macen's head bobbed slightly, "I'll make a note of it and try to b more circumspect in the future."

"Circumspect?" Danan's voice rose as her temper flared, "You've always made unilateral decisions. That's your style. But now it's almost a compulsion and its going to get someone killed. We thought it already had, thank the Pools, we were wrong."

"So Tom's apparent death was my fault." Macen's voice went very brittle and cold.

Danan realised what line she'd crossed and backpedalled, "The 'death' itself wasn't. That was Section 31. But we might have avoided the conflict with the Omricons if you'd solicited other opinions. You tend to think of the universe in terms of conflict. That isn't always the case and you used to know it once."

"I know its not all a damned conflict!" Macen snapped, "But a lot of it is. Take this operation for example, d'you seriously think Tom's captors are going to simply hand him over? That's not going to happen. We're going to have to go in, hard and fast, and take him back. That's my reality and it's the one we'll have to live by until I see evidence to the contrary."

Danan shook her head, "How did we end up here?"

Macen sighed, "It started with you complaining about my decision to bring Kirk aboard. Just what is your objection to her presence anyway?"

Now Danan sighed, "It had to do with the fact that it was another unilateral decision on your part. None of the rest of us even got to speak with her and she was suddenly a member of the team. I felt her potential teammates should have a greater role in approving her application." Danan shrugged, "That and I've never received a straight answer as to why she's now part of the team."

"She's a nexus of probabilities." Macen explained, "Potentialities converge around her. This is where she belongs until her path is made clear."

"This is more of that 'Currents' stuff, right? El-Aurian abilities to see fluxes in the space/time continuum and all that?"

"Yup."

"I thought you couldn't do that any more."

"My sensitivity is greatly diminished but my abilities are still there."

Danan threw her hands in the air, "Why didn't you say so in the first place. Then we could avoided all of this fighting." With that said, Danan strode off to the turbolift and vacated the bridge.

"And you said this wasn't a family." T'Kir teased.

Macen sat down, closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose and thought, Why me?

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

Not for the first time did Macen begrudge the telepathic link he shared with T'Kir. It allowed her to eavesdrop on his thoughts far more often than in the past. Also, he mused, life had been a lot simpler when Danan and T'Kir had hated each other's guts.

"Well, Hannah, are you up for a challenge?" Macen asked with a grin. He stood with one foot propped up on the rising body of the helm console.

"Looking forward to it." She said with a hungry gleam in her eye.

"Glad to hear it." He kicked off from her console and returned to his centre seat, "Take us in at your discretion."

Danan had returned to the bridge and was watching the viewer from the upper deck, transfixed by the hellscape stretched before them.

"So many memories." She murmured.

"It's like coming home." T'Kir remarked.

Grace's hands flew over her controls and the Solstice surged forward. There was a minor shudder as Grace adjusted for plasma fuelled turbulence. She threw the ship into a starboard leaning arc to avoid a plasma funnel. The funnel was attracted to their plasma based impulse engines and followed them for several seconds.

Clear of the funnel, she flew between the "floor" and "ceiling" of solid plasma. Another funnel loomed and she opted to go to port this time. Just for fun, she threw in a barrel roll. Grace was tempted to notch up her speed but wasn't certain how the rest of the crew would take it.

"Get ready to adjust course for our destination." Macen reminded.

"I can't believe there's a planet out here, much less a Class-M world." Grace admitted.

"There's entire solar systems if you know where to look." T'Kir informed her, "And fortunately, we do."

"Just what type of world is this Athos IV anyway?" Grace asked.

"The type you visit when you're desperate." Macen said and then diverted his attention to one of his display panels.

Grace looked towards T'Kir for help but only received a shrug, "I've never been on the surface. I was too...erratic and got stuck left aboard while the rest of the Odyssey's officers beamed down "

"Why the terse silence then?"

T'Kir sighed, "Athos IV was the site of the Maquis' last stand against the Dominion. Hundreds fought, a mere handful survived. It's not a place I look forwards to visiting."

"Oh." Grace said with sudden insight, "Gotcha."

"Probably not," T'Kir told her friend with infinite sadness, "but thanks for trying."

Grace was about to remind her friend that she came from a dying race desperately searching the universe for a home but opted not to. Although she hadn't been here during those final moments, T'Kir carried a great deal of pain over what had transpired. Grace noted it from Macen and Danan as well. She surmised that every surviving Maquis carried that same burden of survivor's guilt. Grace only hoped that visiting the surface of this world would prove cathartic in some way.

"We're in standard orbit over Athos IV." Grace announced, "What's next?"

"Now we go down and meet these mysterious Sakarians." Macen said, rising from his seat.

T'Kir rose as well, "As the only one here that's ever met a Sakarian, I think I should handle the mission."

"Fine." Macen shrugged, "You handle the diplomacy. I'll just be there as back-up."

"Brin, I think I should handle this alone."

"I just want to expand my horizons a little. The Sakarians are from the Beta Quadrant. How often are you going to get the chance to meet one?" Macen insisted

"Is this because you don't trust me?" she shot him a scathing look.

"I trust you!" he assured her, "It's that I rarely get to meet a new species, especially a non-humanoid one at that."

T'Kir shook her head and moved for the turbolift, "You are not going to enjoy this."

"We'll just see about that." He said with a confident smile.

Macen and T'Kir materialised in a fog filled tunnel that connected some of the various caverns littering Athos IV. T'Kir pulled her tricorder from her belt and took a reading.

"Well?" Macen asked, arms akimbo

"It's hard to be certain because of all the kelbonite in the cavern walls, but it looks like Arod is about to appear."

"Good." Macen grinned, "Then you can conclude our transaction and we can be on our way."

"Hopefully." T'Kir murmured

Soon a soft shuffling noise could be heard. This was followed by an indefinite shape in the fog. The shape approached and the fog began to lift. The fog cleared and Macen ripped his phaser out of its holster.

Arod was an arachnid roughly the size of a small pony. He wore a vocoder/universal translator strapped to his head, just behind his fangs and mouth organs. His first two forelimbs possessed true hands with two fingers and a thumb. His body was covered in thick, grey hair and his multi-faceted eyes warily watched Macen.

T'Kir began to take a step forward but was blocked by Macen. He advanced toward the Sakarian wielding his phaser in a two handed Weaver stance. Arod began to shuffle forward. Macen fired, missing the Sakarian by mere millimetres.

"Halt." Macen commanded. Arod froze. Macen thumbed up the power level of his phaser, "Can you understand me?"

"Brin?" T'Kir interrupted.

"Yes." Came the Sakarians synthesised "voice".

"Brin?" T'Kir repeated more forcefully.

"That was your only warning shot." Macen warned the Sakarian, "If you do not slowly turn around, I will kill you. Do you understand that?"

"Brin!" At this point, T'Kir walked up from behind Macen and placed her hand on the nerve cluster at the base of his neck and squeezed. Macen immediately went limp. She deftly caught him and lowered him gently to the ground. She did retrieve his phaser and keep it in her hands though.

"'Lo Arod. Been awhile." T'Kir said convivially, "I have to apologise about that. He's got a thing about spiders, even sentient ones."

"Yet he came to meet us?" Arod asked with some confusion.

"I, ah..." T'Kir hemmed and hawed, "I never exactly told him what type of species you were. I just mentioned that your people were non-humanoid."

"A partial truth that almost got me killed." Arod observed, "A unique way to end my life debt."

"Arod, that's ancient history. Forget about it " T'Kir insisted.

"One may be able to that in your culture, but in mine the great Webspinner reminds us of our debts and compels us to repay them." Arod said with conviction, "You saved my mates and I from extermination. We our lives and those of our hatchlings and of our future spawn to you."

The event Arod was referring to was an attempted survey mission by the Sakarians of the colony of Shial. Having previously encountered Vulcans, the eager arachnoids expected a cool, dispassionate response. What they received was pandemonium in the streets. These Vulcans embraced their passions, and worse yet, half the colony's population was made up of Romulan defectors.

The Romulan colonists rallied the Vulcans. They were obeying centuries of cultural imperatives to meet a threat with aggression. The unfortunate Sakarians quavered before the Romulans. They'd encountered Romulans before and these meetings had always ended with the destruction of the Sakarians.

As the Sakarians attempted to return to their ship they were cut off and surrounded. A Romulan leader emerged and demanded that the Sakarians defend their right to land upon Shial and terrify the inhabitants. They were about to be tried as terrorists by the mob. The Sakarians would have died if not for one event. A small Vulcan child stepped out of the crowd and interposed herself between the hungry, vengeful mob and the terrified arachnoids.

That child was T'Kir and she began to argue the Sakarians' case. As she debated, her mother stepped forward and joined her side and took up the debate. Finally, the Romulan leader, who'd always had a hard time debating his wife and stepdaughter, relented and began to persuade the town to not only let the creatures live but for the braver souls amongst the colonists to meet and greet them.

Honouring their traditions, Arod's clan pledged a life debt to the brave little girl that had defended them against an angry mob. Now they had an opportunity to repay a portion of that debt and they were happy to do so. Unfortunately, Macen's reaction had marred a happy reunion.

Who is he?" Arod gestured towards Macen, "Why were you compelled to bring him?"

"He's my captain." T'Kir answered, adding, "And my mate. Don't criticise him Arod. He told me the story of why he has difficulties with arachnids. I had nightmares myself after hearing the tale."

"And this was?"

"A survey team from his homeworld was dispatched to a remote forest moon. They made camp and settled in for the night and were awoken by screams. They switched on the lights to discover a member of the team encased in a wed and being eaten. The trees above and around them teemed with more spiders, the size of your people or larger. Brin's people were peaceful, and had no weapons at all. Using utility knives, they fashioned crude spear and set out for their ship.

Ten started out for that ship. Two made it. As it was, one of the survivors had been bitten and died after the ship broke orbit. Brin had always been uncomfortable around spiders. Let's just say this experience left him with a full blown phobia."

"And yet you neglected to mention what type of species we were?" Arod asked indignantly, "That was very dangerous."

"I thought that if he met a sentient arachnoid, he'd take a moment to reflect and realise not every spider is a threat." T'Kir explained with a shrug, "Didn't work out that way. I'm sorry."

"Your apology is accepted T'Kir." Arod replied, "We are used to humanoids reacting as Captain Brin did. We Sakarians wish that more of our cousins had achieved sentience. Then they would be able to differentiate friend from food. It makes life so very much easier."

Seeing T'Kir's bemused smile, Arod asked, "What have I said?"

"It's not Captain Brin. Brin is his given name. His surname is Macen.

"Ah, I see. Captain Macen....the Captain Macen?"

"As far as I know, he's the only one." T'Kir assured him.

"By the Webspinner, Captain Macen. We have heard of this man. He is a legend. I am honoured to meet him." Arod ogled Macen a bit more.

T'Kir rolled her eyes at this bit of hero worship, "Arod, he was ready to kill you."

"A simple cultural misunderstanding." Arod batted away her argument.

"Speaking of which, you do remember that this entire planet is considered a burial ground by my people?" T'Kir inquired

Arod's entire body bobbed, "Yes. We are performing rites over them as is customary to our people. Would you care to observe?'

"No." T'Kir said, her voice thick, "I thrust you to it, Arod. Besides I'd better stay with Brin."

Macen groaned and T'Kir refocused, "He's coming round. It'd probably be best if you were gone by the time he comes fully alert."

"Ah, yes." Arod said and reached back with an arm and grabbed an item with his true hand, "The datapad. This details our survey of the Cardassian farside."

"Some day you'll have to tell me how your people got your hands on a Romulan cloaking device."

Arod chuckled, "The Romulans arrogantly wander into other's territory. Not every scoutship returns home."

"So are your Romulan prisoners friend or food?" T'Kir asked.

"With the history between our two kinds, I think you know the answer to that question."

"Gotcha." T'Kir nodded, "Remind me never to piss any of your people off."

Macen stirred and T'Kir waved farewell to Arod, "Take care of your family. Give 'em my love."

"As you have ours, T'Kir." Arod assured her, "Until our webs cross again." With that he scuttled back from where he'd come.

T'Kir went to Macen's side and knelt beside him. His eyes fluttered open and he reached for the offended nerve cluster. He winced and rotated his neck.

"Vulcan nerve pinch?" he asked.

T'Kir nodded.

"You could've tried talking to me." Macen suggested.

"I did." T'Kir rolled her eyes, "You were in your 'take charge' mode. Besides that, you were threatening to kill our contact, a contact who's safety I'd personally vouched for."

"You've dealt with...him before?"

She nodded again.

"Then why did you neglect to mention that the Sakarians are an Arachnoid species when you said they were a non-humanoid race?"

"I dunno." She admitted, "I thought that maybe dealing with a sentient spider would force you to overcome part of your phobia."

"The Federation has Arachnoid species in it as well." Macen reminded her, "All dealing with any member of them did was to get me dragged kicking and screaming from the room they were in. Immersion therapy hasn't worked before, it's unlikely it'll work now."

"Can't blame a girl for trying." She said with a faint shrug.

"Did we at least get what we came for?" Macen said with a wry grin.

T'Kir held up the datapad, "Here the info. It'll take me awhile for me to interface it with the library computer. After that's accomplished it be available for download to padds. Then the whole crew'll have access to it."

"Any idea how long that'll take?" Macen inquired.

T'Kir shook her head, "The Sakarians use a database totally unlike ours. I'll have to figure out their programming architecture in order to create a translation matrix. That could take days.

Macen grinned it looks like you know what you'll be doing for the next few days."

"Ha ha." She deadpanned, "You ready to get out of here?"

"Yup." Macen rose to his feet and rotated his neck again, "You owe me a neck message."

"As if." T'Kir retorted.

Macen sighed and activated his comm badge, "Macen to Solstice, two to beam up."

A moment later the familiar feeling of the transporter's energy conversion beam caught them and the world blurred.

The Solstice broke orbit from Athos IV and got underway. Grace dodged, weaved, ducked and "jumped" over plasma funnels. Eventually the plasma storms receded and they returned to normal space. They'd also entered the Cardassian Union. Macen ordered a course be laid in for Sector 437 and they proceeded under maximum warp. Although the Federation maintained a friendly presence in Cardassia, too many Guls in remote regions of the former empire still believed the war was underway. The crew was relying on the information provided by Ro to keep them out of harm's way.

"I've got it!" T'Kir practically shouted, "I've finally nailed down this motherless sonuva..."

"I think we've all got the picture." Macen gently laid a restraining hand on her shoulder, "How long until you have a translation?"

She shrugged, "Gimme two hours for the translation matrix and two to four for the actual interpretation."

"We'll reach the Cardassian garrison that serves as sector command out here in six hours. You might not be leaving us with much time to determine what system we want to focus our efforts on."

As soon as he'd said those words, Macen knew they'd prove inflammatory. T'Kir immediately began to get defiant. He could see the old familiar spark of her wilfulness as she rose from her station. To be fair, she'd accomplished in two days what would have potentially taken a Starfleet cyberneticist a week or more to crack. It was time to acknowledge her efforts.

"However long it takes, we'll make do." He assured her, "You've done an incredible job to get us this far this fast. No one could expect any more from you."

"They'd better not." T'Kir huffed as she plopped back down into her seat.

"No one is." He affirmed.

"Good." She growled.

Macen chose that moment to give up and go confer with Daggit.

In the end it took slightly less then two hours for the translation matrix to work its magic. T'Kir was insufferably pleased when she declared the job completed in full. She downloaded the Sakarian data files to padds for easy distribution and assimilation. Macen immediately dispatched T'Kir to distribute the padds.

He accompanied her as far as Astrometrics. Asking her to join him there when she had completed her task, he stepped into Lisea Danan's sanctum sanctorum. The Trill was so engrossed in cataloguing the passing star systems that she hadn't heard the pneumatic hiss of the compartment's doors opening and closing. Macen stealthily approached her from behind and stood there a moment before making his presence known.

"Hi, Lees." He said with a carefree grin, "What'cha doing?"

Danan spun, clutching her chest and stumbled backwards into the console she'd been studying. The console beeped in protest and the console went into its stand-by mode. Danan turned around to inspect the status of her board. When she next faced Macen, her expression was one of rage.

"Dammit Brin, that wasn't funny!" she shouted, "You nearly cost me an hour's worth of work."

Macen tried to suppress his merriment, "We will be travelling back to Federation space. We could just as easily plot our course along this vector as any other."

"But is would be more prudent to alter our return course." Danan argued, "We have the opportunity to make preliminary charts of star systems that we can only generally view at great length. We're the first Federation ship to navigate this part of space, we can't waste any opportunity to chart new territory."

"Lees, I empathise. I truly do." Macen tried to console her for what he was about to say, "But our primary mission is to rescue Tom. I consider everything else to be of secondary importance."

Danan opened her mouth to protest but then closed it to reconsider her intended words. When she spoke it was with careful deliberation, "I'd never suggest doing anything to distract us from our rescue effort."

"Good." Macen interjected before she could elaborate further, "Then you won't mind taking some time away from your surveys to help us pinpoint the most likely solar systems in sector 437 to harbour a suitable base to hold Tom."

Macen recognised the flash of irritation that passed over her face, "I'll make it an order if I have to."

There was a moment's lingering stubbornness then she apologetically acquiesced. She placed her hand on his arm, "Sorry. I don't mean to be heartless."

"If you don't mind my saying, you've been fairly distant towards crew since rejoining the team. You offer yourself as an ersatz counsellor but you aren't availing yourself of any companionship. It's a cold, hard universe out there Lees. I don't recommend navigating it solo."

She squeezed his arm tightly, almost desperately, "Brin, I..."

At that moment the doors hissed open and T'Kir strolled in. She came up short when she took in the scene laid out before her. A clouded expression crossed over T'Kir's face as Danan hastily withdrew her hand from Macen's arm. Macen, on the other hand, was delighted by T'Kir's arrival.

"You made it in record time." He said happily, "How'd you do it?"

"Radil and Kirk were up and about despite being off duty." T'Kir answered, maintaining a wary eye on Danan; "Kirk was in Engineering for more lessons from Dracas. Radil, of course, was in Sickbay." She grinned slyly, "I think I interrupted something. Radil was definitely sporting bite marks on her neck."

"Already?" Macen was surprised, "I thought they'd keep things strictly casual for awhile yet before getting serious."

"Who says she is?" T'Kir asked.

Macen sighed, "Isn't this the sort of gossip you're supposed to share with Hannah?"

"She'll get her turn." she assured him, "Aren't you concerned with the welfare of your crew?"

"Yes." Macen conceded in a defeated tone, "But I'd also like to retain their privacy in the process."

"Not on a bucket this small, darlin'." T'Kir grinned like the proverbial Cheshire cat.

"Thanks for the warning." He deadpanned, "Now, are you two ready to start working."

There was a silent exchange between the two women. Macen wasn't certain what was transpiring but whatever it was, Danan was receiving the short end of it. T'Kir's lips curled up in a satisfied smile and she took a seat at the nearest workstation. After a moment's hesitation, Danan joined her.

"We're ready." T'Kir called out brightly. Macen shrugged and promised himself to pry the truth behind the confrontation from T'Kir later on.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

HomeTop
Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
http://fiction.ex-astris-scientia.org/farside1.htm