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The Farside Mission - Part II 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 7

"Damn, damn, damn, damn!" Danan cursed as she entered her quarters. Her quarters, like those of her teammates, were rather cramped and spartan. The Blackbird-class had been designed to accommodate twenty-two officers and enlisted personnel. The cabin Macen and T'Kir shared was nearly double that of the rest of the crew. No one minded since it housed a double occupancy and rank had its privileges.

What was I thinking? Danan berated herself, I'm not even certain myself. One thing is certain, that mindwitch certainly knows better than I know myself. I don't know what I was doing or thinking. One thing is damned certain, I'd better figure it out fast. That telepathic warning T'Kir gave me was clear enough. "Keep your hands to yourself, or you'll lose them." T'Kir had warned and Danan was taking heed of the admonition.

The herbal recipe T'Kir was on had vastly improved her mental stability but she was far from steady. She was still prone to unpredictable mood swings and accompanying reactions. Only Macen seemed capable of reining her in. Then again, only T'Kir seemed capable of tempering Macen. Danan dreaded the day when neither one of the pair deemed it necessary to counterbalance the other. On that day, the universe would experience a new force to be reckoned with.

On that day, madness will rule, Danan thought bitterly, and blood will flow. As far as this bloody encounter in Astrometrics, I knew damned well what I was doing. Let's face it, I let my loneliness override my common sense for a brief moment. I know Brin and I are bad for each other... so why do I still want him so bad?

It's not going to happen and I know that. We had our chance. I've got to fix this, before T'Kir comes looking for me. I've no illusions as to who would win an encounter between us. I'll leave the bravado to Radil.

With that last thought echoing in her mind, Danan turned in for her proscribed four hours of sleep.

Macen stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge and called out, "Fates preserve all here."

Grace halted her briefing of Radil to look over at him. Radil look over her shoulder from the helm and frowned. Daggit merely observed the scene with a wry smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. Macen waited for a reply then placed his arms akimbo on his hips and frowned.

"The proper reply is, 'and may the Fates save all here'."

"Sounds Bajoran." Radil commented dryly, "Substitute 'Prophets' for 'Fates' and it'd sound just right."

"To you, m'dear, everything sounds Bajoran." Macen observed.

That earned him a glower and Grace broke the tension by asking, "Where's Lisea? Won't she be relieving you?"

Macen broke into a half grin, "Ms. Danan recklessly whiled away the bulk of her off duty hours in the Astrometrics lab compiling survey maps of the systems we're presently travelling through. I've ordered her to get four hours sleep before reporting back to the bridge."

"Just four hours?" Radil snorted, "You're far too generous."

"I put up with your insubordination don't I?" Macen's gentle tone belied the gravity of his accusation.

Radil went white with rage and then her rage ebbed away to be replaced with a grudging acceptance, "You have me there."

"Trust me, Lees will do fine on just four hours sleep." Macen assured all present, "Heavens know we certainly got by on less in our day."

"Well, if you're set, I'll stand relieved then." Grace said to Radil.

"Be off with you." Radil laughingly growled.

"Hannah?" Macen stopped her in mid-stride, "I believe T'Kir's looking for you. She has news she's dying to share."

Grace grinned, "I just bet she has."

"Scoot, or I'll have you thrown off my bridge." Macen swivelled his chair about to face Daggit, "Well Rab, you're off-duty. Going to stick around to see how the other side lives?"

"Well, since my only engagement for the evening was trouncing you in a round of sparring, I might as well stick around." Daggit shrugged.

"Just don't stay here all 'night'." Macen warned, "I need you alert for the 1st watch."

"Yessir." Daggit replied crisply.

"Now," Macen rubbed his hands together, "for something to break the tedium."

"You should have seen her!" T'Kir fumed. She and Grace were seated in the small commissary that adjoined the recreation centre. The rec room wasn't large but it did have several electronic gaming machines as well as a billiards table and a dartboard. One corner of the rec room was set aside for three couches surrounding a large wall viewer. This was the ship's dedicated theatre system for watching cinema productions. While Grace and T'Kir shared a meal and conversation, Dracas, as was often his wont, was eating alone and watching a film.

I mean it." T'Kir emphasised more forcefully, "She was all over him."

"Having her hand on his arm doesn't qualify as 'all over' someone." Grace countered.

"I meant her thoughts were all over him, you nit!" T'Kir snapped.

"Sorry." Grace huffed. After a moment's reflection she spoke again, "I notice you're laying blame squarely on Lisea's shoulders. Is it possible that the Captain led her on, maybe without even knowing it?"

T'Kir shook her head, "We have a telepathic bond remember? Unless he intentionally tries to block me I can access all his surface thoughts. He was waaaaay too happy to see me. His only thoughts towards Lees were of concern."

"Concern?" Grace asked, puzzled.

"She's not fitting in very well with the rest of the team. She's distant and isolates herself when she's not on the bridge." T'Kir explained, "I've 'read' her. The crushing loneliness she endures is killing her. The only thing keeping her alive is her duties to the ship and crew."

"But why?" Grace, being an intimate of loneliness, demanded, "Why doesn't she reach out for help?"

"Because she believes that the only two people aboard that could help her are borderline psychotics." T'Kir answered matter-of-factly.

Grace mulled that one over for a moment then came to a conclusion, "You and the Captain?"

T'Kir nodded in the affirmative.

"But why?" Grace was truly baffled, "Why would she think you're insane? Even if she did, why wouldn't she turn to anyone else for help?"

"First off, Dear Heart, you have to admit that Brin and I tend towards some... eccentric behaviours." T'Kir wore a rueful smile as she spoke, "Conventional wisdom... and the doctors at the Andes Institute would question the finer points of my sanity."

"But you're cured." Grace protested, "The herbal concoction Captain Macen discovered dampened your telepathy. You're normal now."

T'Kir gently laughed, "Sweetie, I'll never be 'normal', nor would I choose to be. I'll always bear the weight of the psychic scars that I've earned over the years. They're a part of who I am, for good or bad. I'd like to think that it's been for more good than bad. Overall, I've turned out to be a person with a radically different perspective and outlook than your average Federation citizen. With that as my hallmark, I can do one of two things: make major contributions towards the society I'm from or, alternately, get locked away for the rest of my natural born life. They tried the latter already. Brin rescued me from that hellhole. Now I'm trying the former and if one Lisea Danan doesn't like my methods and refuses to confide in me, well screw her."

Grace pursed her lips but did not respond to T'Kir's diatribe.

"As far as why she didn't turn to the rest of you," T'Kir was very grim now, "its very simple, she doesn't trust the lot of you. Hasn't ever, perhaps she never will."

"I thought we'd established a connection of sorts." Grace said in a low voice, "When I was 'outed'. She seemed so understanding and fair."

"That's our Lees." T'Kir laughed, "She can analyse and sympathise but she can't be bothered to truly give a damn. It made her very unpopular amongst the Maquis as well. If hadn't been for Brin, we would have treated her far differently."

"Cruelly you mean." Grace waited for a rebuttal, seeing there wasn't going to be one, she continued; "Those days and that attitude still affect you. Look at how you want to treat even though you know better than anyone what she's suffering."

"Hey, don't get me wrong." T'Kir held up her hands in surrender, "I feel for the woman. I owe her. It was her admission that led to Brin and I getting together. I'll never forget that. In a way she's responsible for one of my greatest dreams coming true. If she'd ask me for help, I'd gladly give it. I'd do just about anything but give up my relationship with Brin, and that was the demand I got from her earlier. She can go to Hell if she thinks that's going to happen."

This was a development Grace hadn't expected, "So what are you going to do?"

"I'm not going to worry about Brin for starters." T'Kir's voice held steely conviction, "You were wrong when you said that I was the only one to know the depths of her pain. I'll let you in on a little secret: El-Aurians are low level empaths. That's what makes them such a great race of Listeners. Combine that temporal probability sensing ability of theirs with their other gift of sensing emotion and you've got a species the Borg would, and have, killed for."

"Can you access the Captain's abilities?" Grace asked in rapt fascination.

"No." T'Kir said thoughtfully, as though carefully considering her words, "Not as such. When Brin senses a flux in probabilities, like when we faced the Slipstream, or reads a person's emotional state, I can glean his surface thoughts and get an impression of what he experiences."

"And then there's your skills and talents." Grace brought up, "Put together, I'd say you two are the ultimate intelligence operative."

T'Kir broke into a feral grin, "Ask the Romulans about that."

"I've wondered about that." Grace admitted, "Since neither you nor the Captain will talk about your experiences on either Romulus or Remus, it's become something of a game amongst the crew to speculate about what happened."

"Then I won't spoil your fun by giving it all away." T'Kir said with an impish grin.

"You're a brat, y'know that?" Grace accused, sticking out her tongue.

"Always and forever." T'Kir vowed, "So, you done with dinner?"

"Yup."

"Then I'll see you in the gym in a few minutes." T'Kir informed her, "I have something to take care of before I join you."

"All right." Grace conceded and took both their trays to the replicator for recycling.

As Grace exited the rec room, T'Kir moved over to the couch where Dracas was seated watching a movie; "All right, old man, how much did you hear?"

Dracas paused the film and shifted in his seat in order to face T'Kir, "Enough to know you have a problem."

"Really?" she said snidely, "Do tell."

"I'll disregard your impertinent manners give you some valuable advice." Dracas replied with weary patience, "First and foremost, share your concerns with Macen. He may have a tendency to overreact in combat but you have to admit the man is loyal to his troops. That trait finds its ultimate expression in those that he loves, and by all the gods, the man truly loves you."

"So what does telling him accomplish?" she shifted her weight uncomfortably.

"It guarantees you an ally in your struggle to confront Danan and convince her to seek some help."

"Would that approach work on you?" T'Kir asked pointedly.

"What do you mean?" Dracas was instantly defensive.

"Chief, you have nothing to be ashamed of or to hide." T'Kir assured him, "Despite your fears, your teammates and friends will stand by you no matter what you disclose."

"Can you guarantee that?" Dracas whispered.

"Not one hundred percent." T'Kir admitted, "But you've spent over a year earning these peoples' respect. Trust in that if nothing else."

T'Kir made to leave and Dracas stopped her, "Does Macen know?"

"His suspicions were confirmed at Magna Roma." She informed him.

"And?"

"He obviously doesn't care." T'Kir told him, "He cares about you, not about who you sleep with."

Dracas slowly nodded, "Thanks."

"Think about it, Chief." T'Kir strongly urged, "This secret is killing you. Something's gotta give."

"Again, thank you." Dracas was slightly choked up, "You've given me something to think about."

"I hope so."

Kort chose that moment to enter the rec room, "Ah, T'Kir, there you are! Daggit and Macen have abandoned me. I need a sparring partner and I need one now."

T'Kir turned to Dracas and shrugged, "Duty calls."

"Thanks for keeping my secret." Dracas said in a low voice.

"Not a problem." T'Kir smiled brightly, "Why don't you come to the gym? The movie will always be there and how often d'you get a chance to see me dump Kort on his ass?"

"You've got a point." Dracas admitted, turned off the movie and rose to follow his teammates out the door.

Riker's cell door opened and a guard appeared in the doorway. Another sentry accompanied him. The guards had come in pairs ever since his escape. The guard blocking the doorway threw a bundle of clothing at Tom. The door then slid shut.

Tom found a hygiene kit wrapped in the bundle. He trimmed his beard and brushed his teeth before dressing. He combed his unruly hair and then sat down on the cot that served as his bed. He took a moment to reflect on the articles he'd just been given.

He refused to believe that all of these privileges, which he'd lost owing to his refusal to co-operate, were suddenly being reinstated, especially this soon after his escape attempt. He hadn't even been dressed in his usual lab scrubs, these were honest to God clothes. They were a simple pants and Henley-type shirt combination but they were clothes.

The door slid open again and the same two Special Forces guards were there. The door blocker motioned for Riker to step out into the corridor. Tom hesitated but complied. This variation in routine had him intrigued.

Another twist came when they put wrist shackles on him. The next variation came when they proceeded away from the lab section that he was normally escorted to. Fleetingly, Tom wondered if he was being marched off to his execution. When the formation finally came to a halt, a smiling Jason reassured Riker of his continued importance to the work being done at this Enforcer base.

"You've been given a great honour." Jason assured him, "The Director has asked to see you."

"Should I be touched?" Tom sneered.

At first Jason looked confused, then his expression hardened; "The Director is worthy of great respect. Her work against the Cardassians helped our forces achieve many victories. Forget that at your peril."

"An honest threat at long last." Tom smiled, "I'm proud of you Jason. I was beginning to wonder if you had it in you."

Jason glowered at Riker and angrily punched in an access code into the door that led to the Director's office. The door slid aside with a slight squeal, like all the automatic doors in this installation. Jason motioned for Riker to step through the threshold and he did so. What he found inside surprised Tom.

Jason had once told Tom that the Director had held her post for twenty years, despite all that history, the office was bare, almost spartan. There were no holopics or knickknacks lying about. The only item in the room that wasn't strictly utilitarian was a tapestry hanging behind the desk. Whoever this Arinea was, she certainly wasn't sentimental.

The door slid aside again and the guards cleared a path to admit a young woman in her late twenties or early thirties. It took Riker a moment to digest what he was seeing. She was human, or at least appeared to be. She had a heart shaped face framed by platinum hair. Her pale hair was contrasted by her dark brows. She possessed watery blue eyes and a rounded nose. Her right arm was exposed, revealing a tattoo that stretched from her shoulder to her elbow. It was reminiscent of a thick bramble of thorns with an unidentified symbol in the centre. Her right hand was gloved while her left was bare. Tom found himself attracted to her despite his screaming instincts.

"Can I ask who you represent?" Tom asked her, "It was my understanding that Starfleet is the guest at these facilities."

"They are, Lieutenant Riker." The mystery woman replied, "We each came to this facility by entirely separate means and for different purposes."

"You mean like the Captain?" Riker inquired with a scowl, "You're from the future, like he is?"

"No." she answered with a sigh, "The good Captain and his Temporal Cold War are none of our concern. We simply exchange the occasional favour."

"Then who are you?"

She laughed, a music sound to Riker's ears, "I am Arinea. I'm Director of this Institute."

Riker paled and Arinea put a hand to his cheek, "Dear boy, you look as though you've seen a ghost."

"I think I have." Riker confessed, "Jason said you'd been in the Protectorate for at least forty years but if your looks are any judge, I'd say that's a lie."

Arinea wore an enigmatic smile that reminded Riker of something, "Let's just say I'm infinitely older than you'd expect."

"I can imagine, especially if I'm right."

"About what?"

"About your being an El-Aurian."

She smiled that mysterious smile, "I see you're well informed."

"Would you happen to know a Brin Macen?"

Arinea was visibly shaken and hoarsely whispered, "What?"

"Macen." Riker repeated, "Brin Macen. Or how about a bartender named Guinan?"

"Brin Macen." She whispered the name, tasting the sound of it on her tongue. She regained her composure and her focus, "I take it Macen and Guinan are still alive?"

Riker nodded.

"How curious." Arinea commented then turned her full attention, and considerable charms, on Tom, "How would you like lunch?"

 

Chapter 8

The Solstice was on approach for Kilidahn III. Kilidahn served as the local Sector HQ. The Solstice had penetrated the Oort Cloud and entered the outer system before being challenged by a battle damaged Galor-class cruiser. The 2nd watch was left at their stations for this advance towards the Cardassian installation. Despite this, all of the 1st watch appeared on the bridge.

"You might as well take the weapons, Rab." Macen ordered, "Same for you T'Kir. Ops is waiting. Hannah?"

Grace shrugged but Radil summoned her over for a relief, "You're the better pilot. If things get dicey, I want you at the helm."

Grinning like a maniac, Grace took her position. Radil took up position alongside Daggit, who leaned over and whispered, "I'll let you shoot something."

Radil replied with a crude hand gesture. Daggit grinned then turned serious as a telltale on his board lit up, "They're hailing us."

"Open a channel." Macen instructed.

Daggit activated the comm array and a sallow, long faced Cardassian appeared on the viewer. His bulbous nose and prominent chin dominated his features. He was a rather comical looking fellow despite his rather serious mien.

"I am Gul Merkel." the Cardassian commander's reedy voice was the final imposition on his dignity, "Why have you invaded our sovereign space?"

"I was under the impression that Federation traffic was now welcome in the Cardassian Union." Macen replied.

"Federation traffic is welcome in the relief zone surrounding Cardassia Prime and the border regions." Merkel sneered, "You are not authorised to be here. You will heave to and prepare to be boarded. You are being arrested on charges of either espionage or smuggling."

"Either or?" Macen asked dubiously.

"We'll arrange for a charge to fit."

Macen shook his head, "I request a meeting with the Sector commander."

Merkel chuckled, "Oh really?"

"Tell him Brin Macen is calling." Macen instructed, "I'm sure he'll fit me in."

Merkel's confidence wavered, "Stand by." The screen went dark. Several minutes passed before Daggit announced they were again being hailed.

"You are to follow me in towards Kilidahn." Merkel informed them sulkily.

"Cheer up, Merkel." Macen told him before severing the connection, "You might still get to kill us." A smiling Merkel filled the screen before it reverted to its exterior view.

"Well," Macen said cheerfully, "follow that cruiser."

"What the hell d'you mean I can't go?" T'Kir fumed.

"I need you aboard to assist Hannah in case something goes wrong." Macen explained.

"'If?'" T'Kir scoffed, "Something always goes wrong."

"Which is why I need you here." Macen reiterated, "I don't honestly expect the local commander to give the information we need."

"So what's the plan?"

"I distract him while you extract the pertinent files from their database."

"And you think you can keep him distracted?"

"Oh yeah," Macen broke into a rueful half-smile, "the commander and I have a certain history."

"Such as?"

"I shot him and stole his woman." Macen said nonchalantly.

T'Kir's face was expressionless.

"She was a defector, for God's sake." Macen said in exasperation, "Get over it."

T'Kir took a deep breath, "So what are you gonna do about back-up? You need someone with you to cover your ass."

"I'll be taking someone." Macen assured her, "I just need to alert them."

"Rab," T'Kir called out, "get your butt in gear."

Macen motioned for Daggit to remain where he was, "Rab's staying here."

"Radil?"

Macen shook his head.

"Then just who the frinx are you taking?" T'Kir demanded.

"Jamie." his reply was innocuous.

"Jamie Kirk?" T'Kir asked in disbelief.

"She needs the experience." Macen replied, "Ands I think she's bored with studying."

"Well, who wouldn't be?" T'Kir huffed.

"You're cute when you fret." Macen confided.

"Oh, shut up."

Grinning, Macen turned to face Grace, "What's our ETA, Hannah?"

"Five minutes, boss."

"Hannah?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't call me 'boss'." he said sternly.

"Gotcha."

"Well," Macen clapped his hands together, "that gives me just enough time to alert Jamie and get ready. Wish me luck."

"I refuse to miss you if you get yourself killed." T'Kir informed him.

"We'll see." he remarked, "Besides, It's not gonna happen." With that said, Macen moved across the bridge and stepped into the turbolift.

After the doors closed, T'Kir whispered, "You'd better come back you big, dumb bastard."

Kirk met up with Macen in the transporter room. Dracas was there acting as the transporter chief. Kirk was checking the action of pulling her phaser from its holster.

"I know the Iotian Starfleet was an advocate of pre-emptive action, but we're here to simply talk." Macen advised her.

"Then why are we going in armed?" she asked sceptically.

"In case they don't want to." Macen delivered with a humourless smile.

Kirk's eyes flashed with anticipation.

The Sector HQ in orbit around Kilidahn was a Jas-class space station which predated the Nor type stations by at least fifty years. The station's designation was Ellik Jas. Whereas the more modern Nor-class stations were a central cylinder with overlapping and expanding habitat and cargo rings stemming from it, the Jas type stations were a barbell shaped cylinder. Absent were the upper and lower pylons of the Nor stations. Docking was accomplished via external pylons extending directly from the hull.

The Solstice was extended an invitation to put in but Danan, commanding in Macen's absence, declined. They assumed an orbital station around the station. Their escorting Galor-class cruiser took up position off their bow, pinning them between the ship and the station. Danan commed the transporter room.

"We're in position. Ready at your command."

"Good. Take care of everyone while I'm gone." Macen requested.

"Don't I always?" Danan replied far more glibly than she felt.

"All right, Chief. You should probably hold on here until we get back."

"Expecting trouble?" Dracas grunted.

"I happen to know the commander of this base." Macen explained, "Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen."

"I'll keep a constant lock on you then."

"Much appreciated." Macen and Kirk stepped up to the transport pads, "Energise."

A hand motion over the transporter controls later, they'd winked out of existence.

Macen and Kirk rematerialised in the station's commercial district. It was largely empty. It reminded Macen of DS9 right after the Cardassian withdrawal. The footfalls of the approaching Cardassian soldiers echoed throughout the nearly deserted corridors.

A full squad surrounded Macen and Kirk. The glinn in command broke into a nasty smile as she assessed her prisoners' chances of escape. Female officers were a rarity in the still predominantly sexist Cardassian military machine. Macen knew better than to underestimate any woman that had successfully advanced in spite of the considerable obstacles placed in her path.

"Your weapons." the glinn held out her hand.

"No." Macen replied firmly.

The glinn's smile widened, "Then we shall execute you."

Macen shook his head, "No you won't. Gul Dulcet wants to know why I'm here. He'd be... displeased if you killed me before he discovers that secret."

The glinn's smile disappeared to be replaced by a frown. Macen consoled her, "We'll surrender our weapons when we face Dulcet. You'll probably be ordered to slay us at that point anyway."

The glinn brightened and waved her disruptor down the corridor, "This way."

Dulcet's office was located in the stations Ops centre, overlooking the operations dais and the various stations surrounding it. In Macen's experience it was a design feature common to Cardassian facilities. Like the rest of the station, the Ops centre and Dulcet's office were smaller than their newer counterparts on a Nor-class station.

Kirk ushered to an unused corner and left behind with two guards. The glinn and the remaining guard escorted Macen into Dulcet's office. Once inside, They disarmed him and then each of Macen's minders stepped aside to grant him a wider berth. The glinn kept her disruptor poised, anticipating Macen's imminent demise as she set his phaser down on Dulcet's desk.

Sitting behind the desk was Gul Dulcet. Dulcet was portly for a Cardassian and had been for as long as Macen had known him. His bulk disguised an iron framework of muscle. Unlike Merkel, Dulcet's face was round and flushed. Right now, that face sported a broad smile.

"Ah, my old friend Brin Macen. Tell me, what have I done to deserve you?" Dulcet asked convivially, then he picked up the phaser and examined it, "Bajoran, no?"

"You've always been gifted at asking questions you already know the answer to." Macen replied noncommittally.

Dulcet's face flushed from irritation, "Then I will ask you a question I do not know the answer to. How is my beloved Kendri?"

"Well, as of ten years ago, she was happily forging a new life for herself among the Federation's artistic community." Macen answered, "I haven't had time to follow her career thanks to the various wars since our last meeting."

"But you and she... you were... how could you abandon her?" Dulcet was baffled beyond the capacity for rational thought.

"There was nothing between us... ever." Macen assured him, "Kendri loved you. She also felt you served a corrupt and morally bankrupt government. She couldn't stay and watch you destroy yourself by serving that government nor could she sit aside and do nothing to prevent them from inflicting greater harm than they already had."

"And how could she possibly accomplish this?" Dulcet scoffed, "She was a poet. She did not have access to military or state secrets."

"Yes, she did." Macen revealed, "Through you. Your personal passwords and security measures weren't as secure as you thought."

Dulcet's eyes widened in horrified realisation, "No. It cannot be true."

"I handled her debrief myself." Macen informed him, "I know what I'm talking about. The information she was able to provide saved thousands of lives."

"And undoubtedly cost our side an equal number." Dulcet bitterly groused.

"I can't estimate those figures." Macen replied, "My goal was to ascertain the political and military ambitions motivating the Cardassian psyche. It was felt that once we understood your people more completely, we could reach an amicable accord with you."

"You have now." bitterness laced every word, "We are conquered and you are the victor."

Macen shook his head, "Doesn't work that way. The Federation wants to be an ally, a partner, with the Cardassian people. It's all they've ever wanted."

"Is that what you've wanted?"

"I don't think my wants are at issue here." Macen said guardedly.

"Oh, but they are." Dulcet picked up Macen's phaser, "A renowned agent for Starfleet Intelligence, a member of the Maquis, a decorated war hero... all of these causes and all against my people. Tell me, honestly, do you want peace between our two civilisations?"

"Honestly?" Macen hesitated, "Yes. I want peace. Do I honestly expect peace to last? No. Ghemor's government may hold a slim majority for now but let's see how long this democracy lasts in the face of housing and food shortages. The medical system on Cardassia Prime has collapsed. They're exporting patients to subject worlds. Worlds that are now banding together and fomenting dissent across the Union. Soon there will be uprisings and revolutions and Starfleet will be unable to assist you in your hour of need. Personally, I don't think peace stands a chance in hell of succeeding."

"On this we are agreed." Dulcet nodded, "But your analyses have been wrong before?"

"Of course." Macen admitted, "No one's perfect."

"Or completely free of foolishness." Dulcet said, re-examining the phaser in his hands.

Macen suppressed a cold shudder that run down his spine, "Meaning?"

"Do you ever think of our last encounter?"

"Not often." Macen confessed.

"I do." Dulcet revealed, "Every day. You see, although my shoulder has been healed from where you shot it, it still aches every day." Dulcet smiled coldly and explained, "For you see, Cardassian medicine is designed strictly to restore utility to the affected body part. No analgesic considerations are factored in. We are encouraged to bear our scars proudly."

"I'll hate to see where this is going." Macen said with a sense of resignation.

"I owe you one." Dulcet's smile was ruthless now, "And I'm about to discharge my debt."

Dulcet took aim with Macen's phaser and Macen held up his hand and forcefully said, "Wait!"

Dulcet hesitated and Macen took a deep breath and plunged onward, "Haven't you ever wondered why I hit your shoulder when there's so much more of you to hit?"

Dulcet paused then inclined his head for Macen to continue, "You were losing the woman you loved. She'd broken your personal access and command codes and was delivering them to your enemy. While it was uncertain as to whether or not the High Command would ever trace the intelligence leak to you, it was a certainty they would exact a price from you for losing Kendri. My giving you a non-fatal wound assured the High Command that you'd diligently pursued us and were overpowered. You'd still be alive and Kendri could live with the knowledge you were still pursuing the career you loved albeit without her."

"Why?" Dulcet asked in shocked amazement.

"From Starfleet's perspective, Kendri would be more co-operative knowing you were alive and relatively safe from harm." Macen elaborated, "From my viewpoint, it was a professional courtesy."

"How so?"

"We were both soldiers." Macen explained, "What occurred that night went beyond the normal rules of combat. I was there to steal the woman you loved. Your response to that was a personal one, not a professional one. I stopped you so that I wouldn't have to kill you for reacting the same way I would have."

"I see." Dulcet lowered the phaser, "You've left me with a quandary. Why are you here? I know you are no longer with Starfleet so don't try and convince me that band of mercenaries travelling with you is a starship crew."

"We are privateers acting on behalf of the Federation but with out sanction from Starfleet." Macen admitted, "The mission is classified but the target is somewhere beyond the farside border."

"Do you know where?" an intrigued Dulcet asked.

"Our best analysis places it somewhere in one of these four systems." Macen removed a padd from a utility belt pouch, only to have rudely snatched away by the glinn. After examining the device, she passed it off to Dulcet's outstretched hand.

Macen continued, "Our only clue with which to determine the exact location as that our destination appears to be an abandoned Cardassian research facility."

Dulcet perused the files on the four systems and motioned for Macen to approach and retrieve the padd, "I am sorry, but I cannot help you."

"How can a peace be built between our two peoples if we cannot co-operate with one another?" Macen pressed.

"I have never said that I want peace to last." Dulcet confided, "Your arrival here violates the security of the Cardassian Union. As you once showed me a professional courtesy, I shall show you one. I will allow you on your way but I will not render any assistance that reveals past or current state secrets."

"And that's your final word on the matter?" Macen asked grimly.

"My friend, that is my only word on this matter." Dulcet emphasised.

"Then can I have my gun back?"

Dulcet smiled. He picked up the phaser and examined it yet again. Finding what he was looking for, he depressed the powerpack release button and ejected the powerpack. He then flipped the phaser around and handed it to Macen. As Macen accepted the powerless weapon, Dulcet handed him the powercell. Macen holstered the phaser and dropped the powerpack in another belt pouch.

"Glinn Zyster, if Captain Macen here attempts to re-arm that weapon, you have permission to execute him." Dulcet ordered.

"Afraid for the other shoulder?" Macen mirthfully inquired.

"What about his officer?" Zyster asked.

"She'll wait upon his orders." Dulcet replied, "If he does anything other than arrange transport back to his ship..."

"Kill him?" Zyster hungrily inquired.

"Precisely." Dulcet turned to Macen, "You see, the glinn here doesn't a debt to settle with you. She's free to act with impunity."

"Joy." Macen replied sarcastically.

"Farewell Macen. May our paths never cross again." Dulcet intoned and activated the door release. The double doors to his office split apart and Zyster motioned for Macen to step through them. He did so, and descended down the steps to the Ops dais. Zyster waved her two guards closer and they pushed Kirk forward.

"Watch it, you bastards!" she snarled.

Zyster trained her disruptor on Macen as he turned around. His glare could have melted duranium. Zyster laughed at his impotence. Her focus was distracted by her merriment and Macen made his move.

He snatched the Type I "cricket" phaser from his waistband and shot Zyster in the chest. He turned to his left and felled both of Kirk's guards before they could draw their disruptors. Kirk plucked her phaser from her holster and shot the remaining guard as he was drawing a bead on Macen.

The various officers manning Ops scattered. Alarms sounded and Macen headed up the stairs towards Dulcet's office. He disrupted the door locks with a particle blast. Once inside, he aimed his phaser squarely at Dulcet.

"Your pet killer failed." Macen said coldly.

"I spared your life. She acted of her own accord." Dulcet protested.

"I'm not buying it." Macen warned him.

Dulcet made a sudden move to get around his desk and head for the weapons mounted on a display on the wall.

Macen cut his legs out from underneath him in a scything motion, "You'll live but only as a further demonstration of professional courtesy."

"Captain?" Kirk hesitantly asked, "We need to get out of here before reinforcements arrive."

As if on cue, the turbolift rose to the Ops level.

"Oh hell." Macen muttered and slapped his comm badge, "Chief, get us out of here!"

 

Chapter 9

Macen and Kirk materialised on the transporter pads aboard the Solstice. Macen immediately slapped his comm badge and contacted the bridge, "Rab, cloak the ship! Hannah, plot us an exit vector out of this system. Head for the border and proceed at maximum warp."

Macen didn't wait for any acknowledgements of his orders. He leapt off the transporter pads and headed for the door. Dracas shook his head and sighed, "Looks like I'll be busy." he sighed as he followed Macen out into the corridor.

"Need a hand, Chief?" Kirk asked.

"Never turned down free help in my life." Dracas said with a lop-sided grin.

Macen exited the lift and stepped out into the bridge. Danan rose and surrendered the command chair.

"Status report?"

"Our situation is indefinite." Danan reported, "Although the Cardassian cruiser cannot target us, they are tracking our warp trail."

"Hannah, drop us out of warp." Macen ordered, "Alter course and return to maximum warp."

He activated a comm circuit with Dracas, "Chief, I need you to alter the warp signature of the engines."

"No problem." Dracas replied, "It'll just take a few minutes."

"Glad to hear it."

The ship slid out of subspace and Merkel's ship sped past them. Macen grinned as Grace inputted a new course, "Well, did we get the data?"

"Yup." T'Kir replied proudly, "I found our abandoned Cardassian research facility. It was right where the Sakarians estimated."

Macen shuddered at the thought of the arachnoids but brushed the more horrifying of his thoughts aside, "Transfer the co-ordinates to the helm. Hannah, set a course for the base after we cross the farside border."

"You got it." came her chipper reply.

"Lees, I need you to review the Sakarian data." Macen informed her, "Find us a place to lay low for a few hours."

"Problems?" her brow knitted.

Macen shook his head, "I just want to get everyone rested up before we waltz into harm's way.

"The Chief reports the engines are ready and our modified course has been laid in." T'Kir chimed.

"The Galor-class cruiser has come about and is headed in this direction." Daggit announced.

"Step on it, Hannah." Macen commanded and the Solstice bolted away.

Danan had gleaned the location of a marginal Class-M planetoid in orbit around a Class-J gas giant from the Sakarian database. The SID scoutship now orbited the large rock that in turn revolved around the immense protostar. Macen had relieved the crew, leaving one person on standing watch. They had a few hours to wile away before departing for the abandoned facility in the Gwentyr system.

Radil stepped into Sickbay and found it oddly quiet for this time of day. Kort usually stayed close to the infirmary while they were in action. His apparent absence was disquieting, as was the fact all the lights were turned off. Out of the corner of her eye, Radil thought she saw a flicker of movement.

Her hand dropped to the butt of her phaser even as she snarled, "Computer, lights!"

The lights snapped on to their full illumination. This elicited an unhappy grunt from the other occupant of the ship's infirmary. Radil had pulled her phaser free and had it aimed squarely at the elusive figure hiding in the corner. It took her a heartbeat to realise that it was Kort.

As he stepped back and tipped the flask to his lips and took a deep pull, she realised he was drunk. Radil holstered her sidearm with a sigh. She strode up to Kort and pulled his flask wielding arm away from his lips. Kort did a double take to focus his rather blurred vision and then he backhanded Radil.

"PetaQ!" Kort spat and took another swig.

Radil rose off of the deck and wiped the blood from her split lip. She cocked back her fist and let fly. Her punch caught the oblivious Klingon squarely on the nose. He bellowed in rage and dropped his flask.

As he blindly groped around, seeking his assailant, Radil stepped back and checked the power setting on her phaser. Adjusting it to the preferred level, she aimed fired from the hip. The particle beam struck Kort in the chest. He broke into a quizzical expression and then toppled over.

"What am I going to do with you?" she sighed despondently.

"Damn it!" Daggit exclaimed as Grace scored yet another perfect game.

"I don't why you insist on playing darts against me." Grace teased, "You know I'll win."

"I know you might win." Daggit corrected, "Hell, I even know you'll probably win but that doesn't mean I shouldn't take the chance."

"You feel that way about everything?" Grace asked as Daggit began throwing his first volley of darts.

Daggit completed his throws and went up to tally his score, "Yeah, pretty much. Why?"

"Well, does 'everything' include love?" Grace cautiously probed.

"Probably more than anything else." Daggit answered, "Except combat, of course. Love is a serious of risks. Each one can seem perilous at the time."

"So," Grace hesitated, "have you ever loved someone this way?"

"Sure." Daggit led Grace over to the rec room couches and took a seat, "Before the war, I was in love with this one woman. I thought the stars, the planets, and the moons orbited around her."

"Did she love you?" Grace was intrigued now.

"Passionately."

"So what happened?" Grace asked impatiently.

"The augmentation program and the war." Daggit revealed, "I came back and nothing was the same. She said I was haunted and violent. I heard about the order to round all of us augments up and I fled to her flat. I found an entire squad of law officers waiting for me. She'd called them to inform them that I would be coming by. I never saw her again."

"Does it make you angry?" Grace inquired.

Daggit shook his head and wore a philosophical air, "It used to make me sad. Now I know that she did what she thought she had to do. I made my choice when I enlisted in the Angosian military just as I did when I volunteered for the augmentation program."

Daggit chuckled darkly, "My choices to join Starfleet and the SID were all a result of her turning me in. My choice to remain part of the team when it went independent was also affected by her decisions and words. I don't regret any of my decisions so why should I regret hers?"

Grace studied Daggit for a moment and then slowly shook her head in amazement, "You truly are a remarkable man."

"I wouldn't go that far." Daggit protested, "I just don't see the point in holding a grudge."

"That's the amazing part." Grace informed him, "Have you ever thought about pursuing another relationship?"

"Sure."

"Possibly with a teammate?"

Daggit nodded, "Its occurred to me."

"Why haven't you done anything then?" she said with big, earnest eyes.

"Well," Daggit paused, gauging his words, "I think it's pretty obvious that Radil's affections lie with Kort."

"Oh, yeah." a crestfallen Grace replied, "Radil."

"Did you think I meant Lisea Danan?" Daggit asked, "Because she is an incredible woman."

"Oh, really?" Grace said sourly, "I hadn't noticed."

"Her multiple lifetimes of experience grant her an ability to relate to people on a scale I'd never encountered before." Daggit paused to ponder his words, "In fact it sounds as though I should be attempting to pursue her."

"Yeah, it sure does." Grace grumped

"So you think I should?" he asked with puppy-like innocence.

Grace wanted to lash out and declare her stymied intentions towards him but his endearing manner held her to a minimal amount of vitriol, "Well, why the hell not?" she manically urged.

"All right." Daggit nodded, "I think I will. Thanks Hannah. You're such a good friend."

Friend. Grace inwardly groaned, Maker, just kill me now.

"Ahhhh!" Kirk cried out as she stepped out onto the bridge, "I can't take it anymore!"

Danan, startled by the outburst, looked up from the science station read-outs that she'd been studying, "Problem?"

"Just how much frinxing studying am I expected to do?" Kirk groaned.

Danan bestowed a reassuring smile upon her, "You can stop any time you want."

"I can?" Kirk asked with some surprise.

"Of course, silly." Danan laughed, "The test is in the main computer. You can access it anytime and take it any time you feel comfortable."

"Oh." Kirk said, unwinding a bit.

"If you'd like, you could go back to your quarters and take the entrance exam right now."

"Sounds like a plan." Kirk started to return to the lift but paused, "Are you all right here?"

Danan waved her concerns aside, "I'm fine. I volunteered to watch the bridge until you relieve me. I've got the bridge science station tied into the astrometrics array and I'm making star charts of the surrounding regions of space."

"And you find this interesting?" Kirk asked sceptically.

Danan beamed, "Almost more than anything."

"Sensor sweeps." Kirk muttered as she walked away, "Give me a good boarding action any day over sensor sweeps."

"Good luck." Danan called out as Kirk stepped into the lift.

"Have fun." Kirk called back and as the doors shut, she whispered, "You freak."

Dracas put the technical journal he was trying to read down. His attention was scattered and any attempt to focus was futile. The Chief rose from his bed and went to his closet. He pulled out a clean set of coveralls and put them on. Like most of the corporate supplied items aboard ship, the coveralls were Starfleet surplus. Dracas preferred the brown pairs but he also frequently used the rust coloured ones.

Dracas exited his quarters and head for engineering. He found all as he'd left it. The warp core pulsed with a strong, steady thrum. It soothed Dracas just as it had since the first day he'd set foot in a starship's engine room.

Dracas had left the secure confines of the SPYards in order to tend to an engine of his own. So far, he'd had three. Dracas was growing fond of the Solstice and was really hoping that Macen would avoid getting the ship blown out from underneath him this time. Macen's shiphandling skills were improving but he was still, in Dracas' opinion, too inexperienced to command his own vessel.

Macen had only served aboard a starship for barely two years and even then as a science officer. His subsequent career was largely spent as a groundside covert operative and as a deskbound analyst. Even Macen's stint with the Maquis did little to build his command abilities. Macen's shipboard engagements were always fought under someone else's command.

Dracas felt absolute loyalty towards Macen. After all, Macen had come to rescue him from the clutches of renegade Starfleet officers and then seen him through the gladiatorial pits of Magna Roma. But he also felt Macen had pursued a wise course of action by bringing on Tom Riker to act as the ship's caretaker. Dracas knew that Jamie Kirk was being groomed for this same task but he wondered how the revelation of Riker's still being alive would alter these plans. Dracas liked Kirk and wanted to see her stay on with the team.

Dracas sighed. There were no pressing projects for him to work on. He detested busy work as a general principle but he also didn't like too much down time. It gave him too much opportunity to reflect.

Taking a deep breath, Dracas made a, for him, fateful decision. He tapped his comm. Badge and contacted Lisea Danan.

"Yeah, Chief?" Danan replied, "Can I help you?"

"I... I was wondering if you had a spare moment to talk."

"Sure, I'm just monitoring some automated cartographic scans I set up."

"I'll meet you on the bridge then with coffee and sandwiches."

"Sounds good." Danan signed off and wondered what had drawn Dracas out of his shell.

"My head." Kort groaned as he struggled to rise from the biobed.

Seated behind his desk, Radil gave him a dubious look, "Feeling better, or should I say, a little more sober?"

"What did you give me?" Kort groaned.

"Tri-ox." Radil replied, "15cc's. It helps oxygenate the blood. Sobriety is just a beneficial side effect. Doesn't do a damn thing for the hangover though."

"Tell me about it." Kort groused.

Radil strode over to Kort's position at the bed, "Hold on, let me check you over."

"What do you know of medicine?" Kort scoffed.

"I've been administering field trauma and combat remedies since I was twelve." Radil coolly informed him, "Treating drunkards after fierce engagements was just part of the standard fare."

"Is that how you think of me, as a drunkard?" Kort asked in a low voice.

"Well, let's just say your behaviour the last few days hasn't done anything to dispel that notion." Radil met his searching eyes with a level gaze, "How you choose to address the issue is up to you."

"I have disappointed you." Kort said sadly.

"Yes, you have." Radil replied honestly, "But if you think that gives you an excuse to feel sorry for yourself and crawl back into another bottle, you are deluded. We're all counting on you. I'm counting on you."

She pulled her phaser free and aimed it at his head, "I'll see you dead before I let you destroy yourself. You're too good a man to go that way. You claim to be a warrior, then prove it! Fight these demons of yours and be the fighter I know you are. I'll stand by you. Together we can overcome anything."

Kort took her gun hand by the wrist and pulled her towards him. He reached up with his other hand and took her by the nape of her neck. He pulled her face in towards his. Their lips met and she melted into his arms.

"Qapla'!" Kort bared his teeth as Radil's lips curved into a contented smile, which only encouraged him to pursue matters further.

Danan heard the turbolift doors open and looked up from her displays with brimming curiosity. Dracas arrived, as promised, with coffee and sandwiches. He'd even taken the pains to provide a vegetarian offering for Danan, as was her preference. Dracas' deviation from his normal querulous nature was reason enough to suspect his motives for being here but his approach to her indicated that he was finally ready to lower his shields somewhat.

The part of her that had once been a psychologist had long worried about Dracas' antisocial behaviours. A step, any step, no matter how large or small was a positive sign.

"Thought you might appreciate this." Dracas said as he handed her a cucumber sandwich.

"I'll take that, and the coffee, with ready thanks." Danan responded.

"Not a problem." Dracas replied phlegmatically.

"So..." Danan took a sip of her coffee, "What's on your mind Chief?"

"Well, I don't know if anything..."

"Don't bullshit me, Chief." Danan warned, "I've been around longer than anyone else aboard outside of Macen. I'm seeing straight through your little denial ploy."

Dracas actually looked sheepish, "Yeah, I suppose you are."

"So, once again, what's on your mind, Chief?" Danan gently prodded.

Dracas visibly wrestled with his next move. He reached a decision with a long, forlorn sigh, "I'm not like the rest of the team."

"We're all unique in our own way." Danan assured him.

"I'm not all that unique." Dracas insisted, "Statistically speaking, 11% of the population is like me."

Danan looked bewildered, "I don't understand."

"Look, you've been both male and female." Dracas offered as an explanation, "Even now, as a woman, don't you remember what it was like to be attracted to women?"

"Yes."

"And don't you find occasionally find yourself attracted to other women?"

"Sometimes." Danan admitted.

"I feel that way all the time." Dracas said at last.

"Attracted to women?" Danan wondered aloud and then saw the look of distaste on his face, "Oh, I see."

"That's right." Dracas confirmed, "I'm a homosexual."

"And this is what keeps you apart from the others?"

"Yes." His shoulders sagged in relief at her comprehension.

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why does it keep you apart?" Danan inquired, "We're all adults here. Even the Bajorans and Klingons have homosexual members of their societies. What's to separate you from the others?"

"But you're all heterosexuals." Dracas cried, "We're different."

"Not really." Danan replied, "We're all people. So far, the only one employing labels or classifying anyone is you. What are you really afraid of?"

Dracas assumed a defensive posture but that soon relaxed and he quietly, almost in a whisper, revealed, "I'm afraid they'll reject me."

"Chief, we already know you. Trust me, if we were going to reject you, it would have happened by now." Danan assured him, "Besides, look at Hannah. We've bent over backwards to accommodate that girl's revelations and I'm certain she still has a few curves left to throw at us. I'd say the odds are definitely in your favour."

"You really think so?" Dracas asked hopefully.

"Hey," Danan remarked, "the great and powerful Danan has spoken. Let what I have spoken come to pass."

"I could handle that." Dracas said.

"We all could." Danan observed.

The circumstances found Macen and T'Kir in their shared quarters. T'Kir, as was her wont, lay on the bed in the nude. She lay on her stomach and waited for Macen to conclude his ministrations in the head. As he emerged, she let loose a deep, contented sigh.

Unlike T'Kir, Macen wore cotton sweat shorts. He sat down next to her and began to trace the tattoo she had in the small of her back. Honouring her cultural heritages, she had a Romulan Imperial logo emblazoned on her lower back. She bore the Vulcan IDIC on her left arm, just below her shoulder. Her right ankle had a Maquis emblem inked into it.

"Keep that up, buster, and I may just start to get ideas." T'Kir playfully warned.

"Heavens forefend." Macen gasped in mock horror and stopped.

"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "I didn't say I didn't want to have ideas."

"For shame." Macen teasingly scolded, "What would the others think if they could hear?"

"Who gives a frinx?" T'Kir laughed.

"What would you say if someone broke in here right now and found you like this?"

"Same thing." T'Kir shrugged, "The only things that would change is that they'd know I have some body art and an incredibly gorgeous ass."

T'Kir craned her head around over her shoulder, "Besides, what would the crew think discovering that their captain has a mysterious sigil tattooed onto his right shoulder blade?"

"That I was corrupted by my girlfriend." Macen said deadpan.

T'Kir rolled over, propped herself up on one elbow and hit him with her free arm, "I wasn't even your girlfriend back then."

"See how seductive you were?" Macen just barely managed to keep a straight face.

"Smart ass." T'Kir accused.

Macen gave her a little bow from the waist. T'Kir quieted and her demeanour grew serious. She was deep in thought and Macen wondered if he was about to finally discover what had transpired between T'Kir and Danan earlier today.

"Hey," he said gently, "what's up?"

She pursed her lips and averted her gaze. Macen cut to the heart of the matter and asked, "What happened between you and Lees today?"

T'Kir fidgeted but remained silent until Macen pushed her, "Come on, tell me."

"She's just very confused." T'Kir explained.

"That much is obvious." Macen commented under his breath.

T'Kir responded with a reproving look, "She's convinced herself that her life will be better if you and she were to jump back into a romance."

"Is she nuts?!" Macen exclaimed and jumped off the bed, "I'm not going through that again."

"I thought you two separated on good terms." T'Kir asked with some confusion.

"'Good terms' means I got to retain my sanity not my emotional security." Macen elaborated, "By the end of our relationship, she was constantly accusing me of various things. Most of them involved you. It wasn't pretty."

"Those 'things'," T'Kir latched onto that concept, "did you think about doing them for real?"

Macen turned red and rubbed the back of his neck, "Yeah. I did."

"So, she did have a right to be worried."

"I wasn't going to do anything, not while she and I were together."

"You weren't really hers. I wouldn't stay either." T'Kir hesitated then probed further, "D'you ever regret that your relationship with Lisea didn't work out?"

"No." he asked with genuine horror, "I respect her, but my life is better without her being interconnected to it."

"Good." T'Kir suddenly wore a feral smile, "Because I 'told' her that if she came between us I'd kill her."

"You what?" a stunned Macen exclaimed.

"I told her I'd kill her." T'Kir answered matter-of-factly.

"You were kidding, right?" Macen said weakly.

"Nope." T'Kir firmly shook her head, "The bitch wants to come between me and my man, she's got to be prepared to pay the price."

"Great." Macen groaned.

"Hey, it won't be my first option."

"Well, thank the Fates for small favours." Macen replied sourly.

"Come over here and cuddle me," T'Kir urged, "before I freeze to death."

Keeping the room at a comfortable temperature was a struggle for them. T'Kir's ancestors were desert creatures. Although Shial had been cooler than Vulcan, the inhabitants had still required thick cloaks and pants in order to survive daily life. Macen came from a temperate world whose average temperatures were similar to that of Earth's northern climes. They compromised by setting the room's controls at a temperature slightly chilly for T'Kir and slightly hot for Macen.

Their varied biologies also prevented extended cuddling. Macen would swiftly devolve into a sticky puddle of sweat while T'Kir would just be comfortable. The compromise was found in keeping blankets available on T'Kir's side of the bed and allowing Macen to sleep under just a single sheet. These were the choices that accommodated love.

"Brin," T'Kir stressed, "come to bed. Lisea got the message. I doubt we'll have any trouble from her. What she needs t'do is make a few friends amongst the crew and then get laid."

Macen grinned despite himself, "She is rather uptight, isn't she?"

"Never understood what you saw in her." T'Kir confessed, "Not when you had fun-lovin' me around."

Macen pulled the covers up around her and slid down on the bed next to her. She rotated so that she faced the opposite direction. Macen pulled her in close so that they "spooned". He playfully nuzzled at her exposed ear.

"Careful, pal. Don't start anything you can't finish."

"Duly noted." He said throatily.

 

Chapter 10

"I passed!" Kirk exclaimed as she bounced onto the bridge, "I passed, I passed, I passed!"

Danan gave her an encouraging smile. The last few hours with Dracas had been both pleasant and revealing. After divulging his greatest secret, Dracas had continued to expose himself. He'd discussed his latent attraction to Rab Daggit and his subsequent realisation that their relationship would never be romantic.

Danan almost responded with her tale of unreciprocated allure. She opted to let the matter remain private. So long as T'Kir was around and involved with Macen's life, Danan had no intimate place in it. She'd already betrayed her innermost feelings to T'Kir and received a harsh rebuttal. It was time to merely place the past firmly behind her and move on with her life.

"So," she said to distract herself, "are you excited?"

"Damn straight!" Kirk replied boisterously, "I can finally do something around and stop being a damned passenger."

"We'll see about that." Danan laughed, infected by Kirk's enthusiasm, "I know Daggit has said you're a fair hand with a phaser and they'll need all the personnel for the extraction team that they can spare."

"Yeesss!" Kirk's fist pumped in the air.

"Have you slept at all?" Dracas inquired.

"No." Kirk replied.

"You might want to get some before you have to relieve Lisea here." Dracas suggested.

"Oh." Kirk's mouth formed a perfect "O", "I see your point."

As Jamie departed, Dracas broke into a guilty smile, "Now, where were we?"

Four hours later, Macen and T'Kir taking a break from sifting through the data they'd stolen, stepped into the rec room and headed for the meal replicators. Daggit was already there, as were Kort and Radil. Both Kort and Radil seemed to be sporting scratches and bruises they'd not had the night before. Macen made ready to make mention of this when T'Kir took hold of his forearm and gave him a significant glance.

The sight of T'Kir brought a rosy blush to Radil's cheeks. Macen decided to spare her any more discomfort and sat at a separate table. T'Kir was already launching into her breakfast when Grace arrived. Her mood looked to be as sour as Kort and Radil's was elated.

Before Macen could comment, T'Kir took hold of Grace's hand, "Honey, what's wrong?"

"Everything." Grace said heavily.

"Would it be out of place to ask what happened?" Macen spoke at last.

"No." Grace sighed, "Rab and I were playing darts and then..."

When her story ended, she concluded with, "...and then he started asking me for advice on who he should ask out. It was humiliating."

"Want me to scramble his brain like an Onterian omelette?" T'Kir asked fiercely.

"T'Kir!" Macen warned her sternly.

"It's okay." Grace replied sadly, "I just need to accept things and move on."

At that moment, the doors to the rec room slid open and Dracas and Danan entered. Grace's head slumped and her chin was propped up in her hand.

"There's Rab's new love interest in person." she grumped.

"Lisea Danan?" T'Kir exclaimed in a hoarse whisper.

"Say, this could work out." Macen brightened then noticed the glares he was receiving from the other occupants of his table. "But only in the evil Mirror Universe, of course." he quickly amended.

"Better." T'Kir commented, "Any ideas of how we can turn this to our advantage?"

"One," Macen remarked sourly, "but that suggestion was kyboshed."

"Give it a rest." T'Kir said impatiently.

"Well, has anyone tried explaining Hannah's feelings to Rab?" Macen asked, "People are funny. Their interest is usually piqued by knowing someone else is interested in them."

T'Kir saw the horror in Grace's eyes and tried to calm her friend down, "It really couldn't hurt."

Grace plumbed the depths of her soul and hesitantly nodded, "All right, but someone else has to do it."

"It'd be better coming from you, Hannah." T'Kir advised.

"It's this way or not at all." Grace insisted.

"Oooo-kay." T'Kir rubbed the back of her neck, "Who d'you want to have do it?"

"Could you?" Grace asked hopefully.

T'Kir shook her head, "Daggit doesn't entirely trust me. I'm not sure I'd be the best representative for your case."

"Captain?" Grace asked desperately.

"I don't think this is covered under the 'captain-like duties' clause of my contract." Macen opined.

T'Kir gave him a measured, meaningful look and Macen sighed, "But I'll make an exception just this once."

"Thank you!" Grace ran around the table and kissed him on the cheek.

"Cut that out before people think I've gone soft." Macen grumbled, "I swear, another few days like this and I'm changing the name of this boat to the SS Soap Opera."

"Isn't he cute when he's being all curmudgeonly?" T'Kir asked with a sigh.

"When am I curmudgeonly?" Macen demanded.

"It does have a certain charm." Grace agreed.

"Fine." Macen took the last bite of breakfast, "Have it your way. I'll see you in the briefing room in ten minutes."

As Macen exited, T'Kir laughed, "We embarrassed him."

"By calling him cute?"

"Yup." T'Kir grinned, "Works every time."

The entire team assembled in the briefing room. It was cramped but they managed to all squeeze in. Macen sat at the head of the table, underneath the main viewer. Padds were distributed before every seat and in a stack for those standing.

Macen activated the viewer and began speaking, "Represented in the viewer is a recreation of the Gwentyr system. As you can see, the system is comprised of twenty-one planets orbiting a binary pair. Gwentyr-A possesses most of the planets. There's also two large asteroid fields to take into account. Both fields are navigation hazards and must be approached cautiously."

"The good news is we've found our target." The image on the screen shifted, "The secondary moon orbiting Gwentyr-A VI is class-M moon. The Cardassians built a research station out here, or more specifically, the Obsidian Order built a research station out here in order to pursue scientific investigations banned even by Cardassia."

"Is the facility still manned?" Daggit asked.

"Oddly enough, no." Macen replied, "The Dominion built a Jem'Hadar breeding facility here. It wasn't very large, just enough to hold the planet against a theoretical invasion force."

"That could mean thousands of Jem'Hadar." Dracas observed.

"Two things make that event unlikely. First, the base was a secret. Even the High Command didn't know about it." Macen explained, "Second, the Dominion engineers utilised the existing structure, which wasn't very large to begin with."

Seeing that the sceptics in the room weren't mollified, Macen added, "Additionally, We know that two platoons of Starfleet Special Forces personnel are operating out of the base. It is highly unlikely that they and the Jem'Hadar would be co-existing."

"True." Kort conceded, "The Jem'Hadar do not co-mingle with anyone unless commanded to by the Vorta or the Founders."

"What I want to know," T'Kir spoke up, "is how the Special Forces guys knew this base was out here? I mean, even the High Command was unaware of its presence."

"And as far as I can tell, neither was Starfleet Intelligence." Macen informed them, "No, I think we're going to have to look elsewhere for the answer. Let's think back and see if we can recall the name of a shadowy intelligence agency that answers to no one and constantly seems to have information no one else has."

"Section 31." Grace muttered darkly.

"Bingo." Macen pointed at her, "I think we've stumbled into a 31 op."

"What makes you think so?" Radil asked.

"Commodore Weisz may have planned to kidnap the President's daughter, and I do believe that was entirely his operation, but I don't think he had a safe harbour in which to stow her while he negotiated her eventual release." Macen explained, "This location provides the perfect cover, especially since it was an unknown quantity to all but a handful of Cardassian and Dominion officials."

"So how do you know so much about it?" Kirk inquired.

"The data T'Kir extracted had a hidden file embedded into. The reference materials concerning Gwendyr VI and its moons also contained the info regarding the secret base, but you needed an ultra-top secret code to access them, or a really good hacker."

T'Kir polished her nails on her jacket, "Damn I'm good."

Macen gave T'Kir a sidelong glance then resumed, "I suspect Section 31's involvement because we still don't know the extent of their contact and resource base but it appears to be, in specialised areas, far beyond anything Starfleet Intelligence has. It's also within the character of the organisation to participate in a scheme such as Weisz's if they feel the security of the Federation is threatened through inaction. The most pressing question we have at this point isn't whether or not 31 is involved, it's what they were doing at this base, if they were in fact utilising it as a base of operations."

That sobered the assembled group. Finally Danan broke the silence, "The though of Section 31 getting their hands on Jem'Hadar breeding tanks is... unsettling at best."

"They've come close before." Macen revealed, "Their latest attempt was foiled by DS9's Julian Bashir, Ezri Dax, and Ro Laren. The mere fact that either the renegade Special Forces operatives, Section 31, or both may be employing these facilities is cause enough to look at them. It's also why you'll be part of the extraction team."

Danan blinked and pointed at herself, "Me?"

"Yes, you." Macen replied, "We need our scientific specialist to examine the equipment down there and determine what its been used for."

"I thought I'd be needed aboard the ship, like usual." Danan argued.

"Jamie will be in command of the Solstice. That makes your presence redundant." Macen countered patiently.

"Hey! I thought I'd be on the extraction team." Kirk protested.

"Not thirty minutes ago you were excitedly informing me of how you'd passed your entrance exams and proficiency tests. You've mastered the basics of 24th century technology, which were the only skills that were in question. Your leadership abilities have never been doubted. It's those skills that are most needed on this mission."

"Oh, okay." Kirk subsided.

"This'll be easier to count off those that'll be remaining aboard the ship." Macen announced, "Jamie, Hannah and the Chief will be the only crewmen remaining behind. The rest of us are going in."

Macen altered the image on the viewer again, "This is the last viable schematic of the installation and its lab facilities. This edition includes the modifications made to accommodate the Jem'Hadar birthing facilities."

"Rab," Macen singled Daggit out, "it'll take us four hours to reach Gwendyr VI. That means you have three and half hours to devise an assault plan and debrief the rest of the extraction team."

Daggit nodded, "Right."

"That's the basics behind what we we're about t'do. Any questions?" Macen closed.

There were no takers, "Everybody take your posts then. Radil, please report to Tactical to cover Rab while he fleshes out our mission plan."

"Not a problem." She said and with one final glance towards Kort positioned herself behind the appropriate console.

T'Kir held back as her teammates exited the briefing room. Macen could sense her apprehension, "What d'you think our chances are?"

"'Bout the same as they were when we were in the Maquis." Macen confessed.

"Now that's a comfort." T'Kir sniped.

"Well, don't ask the question if you don't want the answer." Macen advised, "This mission looked next to impossible when we merely faced Special Forces troops. If we're going up against Section 31 forces, not to mention the nightmare scenario of squaring off against Jem'Hadar, then the odds tip in the bad guys' favour."

"Frinx." T'Kir softly swore, "I liked the version you spun for the crew a lot better."

"Most of them haven't faced the odds we have." Macen shrugged, "Figured you could handle the naked truth."

"Yeah, I can." she sighed, "I just prefer the public relations version."

"Who doesn't?" Macen asked in a jaded tone.

Macen and Daggit holed up in Macen's office for the next three hours. The office filled the quarters adjacent to Macen and T'Kir's rooms. Macen was there to provide Daggit with intelligence reports and assessments. With half an hour to spare on their deadline, they'd completed a working plan for the rescue of the President's daughter and Tom Riker.

Daggit reconvened the insertion team's briefing in the conference room. The room was filled to seating capacity. This time, Daggit sat at the head of the table and Macen joined the crowd. This briefing lasted much longer than the previous one as the various team members argued or quibbled over minute points.

The intercom's chirping interrupted the general melee. Macen made his way to the intercom box next to the door and stabbed the activation button with his thumb, "Macen."

"We've cleared the second asteroid field and are proceeding to Gwendyr VI under cloak." Kirk reported.

"What's our ETA?"

"Forty-five minutes at half impulse."

"Maintain speed and keep a weather eye out for surprises." Macen ordered.

"Aye, sir."

Macen turned to the quieted team, "I suggest we finish up here and get a final meal. It may be the last you get for several hours."

By silent consensus, the group dispersed and headed for the galley. Macen conferred with Kirk while T'Kir busied herself at the Ops station. When she'd finished, she turned to Grace.

"Okay, Hannah, the worm program has been loaded." she explained, "If you get a SOS from the team, just input your authorisation code and type the word, 'commit' and the virus will be launched."

"And just where did you get my authorisation code?" Grace wondered.

"I didn't pull it from your head if that's what you're worried about." T'Kir assured her.

"Thanks." Grace wore a sour look, "That makes it worse. The computer is supposed to maintain separate secure files on each us. No one is supposed to be able to access anyone else's logs or codes."

"Hey," T'Kir grinned, "I own this computer, baby. It does whatever I tell it to."

"There's a frightening thought." Grace groused.

"Some friend you are." T'Kir pouted.

"That's exactly why I'm concerned." Grace confided, "Trust my experience. Don't reveal you have the power to alter people's lives. They resent it."

"I'm truly sorry 'bout that, Hannah." T'Kir consoled her friend, "Eventually, the crew will learn to forgive and to look past their fears of what you represent." T'Kir's expression became fierce, "And if they don't, I'll make 'em forget."

"You wouldn't!" Hannah said in horror, then asked, "Would you?"

"Course I would." T'Kir replied happily, "It'd serve them right too if they want to be that ignorant."

"Don't judge them too harshly." Grace implored, "My people did come as conquerors. They've been forced into learning peace. I'd like to set an example for them that sustained interaction with aliens is a good thing."

T'Kir have Grace a reassuring squeeze on her arm, "I have to go prep now. Hang in there and maybe we'll both see this thing through."

"I will if you will." Grace smiled.

Macen and T'Kir reached the galley to find the rest of the extraction team there. Kort and Radil had a table to themselves and were wolfishly attacking their meals. Daggit and Danan were seated together at an adjoining table. Macen and T'Kir got their meals and joined them.

Daggit was eating voraciously while Danan was listlessly moving her food around on her plate. Macen noticed Danan's discomfort and asked her about it, "What's wrong Lees?"

"This." she waved a hand at the assembled team, "It reminds me of the Maquis. One last hearty meal before you go off to die."

Macen grinned, "Who d'you think I stole the idea from?"

Danan shrugged, "Ro Laren?"

Macen pounded the table, "Damn straight! She always said, 'an army fights on its stomach' and she's right."

"Brin," Danan implored, "we're not an army."

"Daggit is." T'Kir muttered. Daggit stared at her and she met his gaze unflinchingly.

"Lees, everyone on this team has seen combat, including you." Macen reminded her, "You handled yourself quite well on the Gulag mission and you'll do fine here. You've certainly handled the shipboard scenarios while I'm on an investigative assignment."

Macen pointed at her, "Besides which, you've wanted to get more involved with the investigations. Here's your chance."

Danan sighed, "I just don't want to see you place everyone in harm's way unnecessarily."

"The Captain saw me through the Dominion War and again since I signed up for this crew." Daggit opined, "I trust his judgement."

"I suggest we put our concerns behind us and throw ourselves into the task." Macen informed her.

Danan hesitated, and then slowly nodded, "You're right."

Macen sat back with a perplexed look on his face, "Why d'you sound surprised by that?"

Grace silenced the alarm and reported to Kirk, "There's our problem. The Miranda-class starship McLachlan jut broke over the horizon and is scanning the entire region with her active sensors."

"Could she detect us?" Kirk asked pensively.

"There's always a possibility that we could leak electromagnetic radiation through our sensors or undergo a power spike that could penetrate the cloak." Grace explained.

"Could they detect the plasma trail of our impulse engines?"

"Yes." Grace informed her, "But it should read like a solar discharge."

"Could you guide us in ballistically and then set us in proper orbit, right on their tails, only using the manoeuvring thrusters?"

"Of course." Grace replied confidently, "But why bother?"

"Just to be certain that we deliver the extraction team as quietly as possible." Kirk elucidated.

Grace did a fast set of calculations and made minute course adjustments, "I've plotted a parabolic course that should use the moon's own gravity well to drop us in behind the McLachlan."

"Good work, Hannah." Kirk squeezed her shoulder, "I'll alert the Captain and the Chief they're on stand-by for the transporter."

The extraction team was gathered in the armoury. They'd changed into uniform and were now dressed in the dark/light grey "tiger stripe" uniforms introduced by the Earth MACO units. They all wore bronze coloured undershirts under the uniform tunic. Over the camouflaged top every person wore a black tactical vest to supplement their utility belts.

Kort and Danan sported phaser rifles along with their issue pistols. Radil had once again strapped on the portable phaser cannon and was adjusting its sights. The sight was tied into a pair of clear glasses that she wore. Daggit carried a photon grenade launcher. The pump action weapon closely resembled its pellet launching ancestors. Macen and T'Kir were content to rely upon their pistols.

In addition to the multitude of powerpacks every team member carried, each individual carried two stun grenades. Kort also carried a full medkit in a shoulder bag and a bat'leth strapped across his back. The utility belts carried the usual compliment of tricorders, wrist restraints, and various pieces of evidence gathering equipment.

Dracas commed Macen, "We're almost in position, sir."

"We're on our way, Chief."

"Slip us in right behind the McLachlan." Kirk ordered, "I want to be right off her aft quarter. Keep us far enough back that they don't detect our neutrino emissions but close enough to put the fear of the Great God in them if we decloak."

"Can do." Grace said with a slight furrowing of her brow as she made multiple adjustments to their course and speed.

Kirk activated the intercom to the transporter room, "All right Chief, you have five minutes until we're over the target."

"Right." Dracas drawled slowly, "The away team is just arriving now. I'll have 'em off on time."

The extraction team had had to divide into two groups to fit into the turbolift. This was mostly due to Radil's cannon. Radil, Kort and Danan took the car first. The others followed as soon as the lift cycled. They arrived to find Dracas completing his final diagnostics on the equipment.

The transporter room was arranged in an ovular shape. The pads were at one end of the room and the controls at the other. The pads were arranged in a block of four with two outcropping stations to either side of the central cluster. Radil and Daggit took the outcropping pads while the rest of the team sorted themselves out on the remaining four pads.

Dracas pressed an electrostatic "button" on his console that primed the transporter circuits. Watching the clock on his display, he waited for the numbers to countdown to "zero". With the countdown completed, Dracas pushed his hand upwards across his console. A corresponding measurement bar lit up.

The team was eclipsed in halos of light. Their bodies disappeared as they were transformed into energy and absorbed by the energy matrix surrounding them. The energy was then shunted and transferred to the emitter array. The energy patterns were transferred to the surface and returned to their physical patterns. Rechecking his monitors and sensors, Dracas was satisfied that the operation had gone well and placed the transporter on stand-by.

The mission was now underway.

 

Chapter 11

"I must say, I truly appreciate your increased spirit of co-operation." Arinea flashed a brilliant smile. Her chin rested upon her laced fingers and her eyes held Tom's in thrall, "It's refreshing to see after your months of oppositional behaviour."

"It's a lot easier to co-operate now that the more invasive procedures are over." Riker grinned in return. What surprised him was that they words rang true. Ever since he'd come to the personal attention of the Director of this facility and they'd begun to have daily contact, his attitude towards ongoing resistance had shifted somewhat.

If asked, Riker would have willingly confessed that he was beguiled by Arinea's charm and personality. She'd been fascinated by the tale of his life. Her only oddity seemed to be her utter fascination with Riker's association with Brin Macen. She'd delved deeply into his perspective and insights into the other man. At first it had merely been a curious tendency, now it was a trait that evoked jealousy.

Riker and Arinea were currently seated in the facility's commissary. Nearly a dozen Special Forces personnel were there as well. There were also representatives of the scientists in their white coveralls and the black garbed security forces that he'd initially encountered upon his arrival here. All the others gave Riker and the imminent Director a wide berth.

That was until Gideon Weisz approached and came to a very stiff "at ease" next to their table, "Director, we need to talk."

"So speak." Arinea smiled lazily at him.

Weisz remained unfazed, "In private, ma'am. It's important."

"Oh, very well." Arinea sighed and returned her focus to Riker, "I'm sorry out time today has to be shortened. I look forward to tomorrow's rendezvous."

"As do I." Riker confessed.

Arinea bestowed a brilliant, heart breaking smile upon him and summoned his escort. The two darkly clad Section 31 agents approached and silently stood by.

"Finish your meal, Tom. They'll wait all day if necessary." Arinea assured him with a squeeze of his arm. With that said, she exited the commissary in the company of Weisz. They navigated the labyrinthine corridors of the complex in silence until they reached her office. She keyed in her access and opened the door. Weisz followed in her wake as she entered and headed for her desk. She motioned for him to take one of the chairs laid out before the bureau.

Arinea stretched back in her chair, steepled her fingers, and wantonly played at her lower lip. When she spoke, all the warmth and honey that she had displayed in the commissary was absent, replaced by a cold precision, "How can I assist you, Commodore?"

"I merely have a few security concerns that I feel we should discuss before they pose a problem." Weisz answered.

"Oh, really?" Arinea arched an eyebrow, "And what exactly may these be?"

"Mr. Riker for one." Weisz confessed, "His increased mobility could prove problematic if he were to encounter our other 'guest'."

"Let me see if I have this straight," Arinea said incredulously, "when you first arrive, you object to my treatment of Mr. Riker as 'barbaric' and 'criminal'. Now that I'm giving him what you would consider humane treatment, you again have an objection."

"Well, of course I'm happy to see his conditions improve, but I never imagined you'd give him the run of the base." Weisz replied somewhat irritably.

"I've hardly given him 'the run of the base'." Arinea coldly clarified, "And if you believe for one moment that you influenced my decision to change tactics regarding Riker, think again. The standard interrogative methods were getting us nowhere. His time amongst the Cardassians hardened him to conventional influences. However, both his file and that of his 'twin' indicated that he was something of a womaniser. I chose to employ that tack. Furthermore, I opted to engage Riker myself since I knew my capabilities and had no idea of throwing one of my hapless researchers into a situation that may easily overwhelm them."

"You far more mercenary than I gave you credit for." Weisz admitted.

Arinea broke into a lopsided smile, the first genuine smile that had been seen from her in weeks. She nodded her head in acknowledgement, "Thank you, you're too kind."

"How are your negotiations with the President going?" Arinea asked suddenly.

"The usual delaying tactics." Weisz shrugged, "They're trying to buy time for one of the scattered starships to pick up our trail. They've assembled an attack squadron in the heart of the Federation to be deployed to wherever we're discovered to be."

"So no threats of imminent discovery?"

"The two closest starships are the Defiant and the T'Pol. My contacts indicate they are several sectors away from discovering us, even with Cardassian assistance." Weisz revealed.

"How good are your sources?"

"I'm obviously trusting them with my life, so I'd say they're pretty damned good."

Arinea nodded again, apparently satisfied, "That they survived the initial purge of the Special Forces ranks is an encouraging sign."

Weisz pursed his lips at this obvious reminder that Arinea had excellent sources of her own. Theirs was an alliance of convenience. Neither approved of the methods nor the motives of the other, all that mattered was that they both sought similar results. As long as this remained true, they would remain united.

The Outbound Ventures crew re-materialised on the surface of the secondary moon of Gwendyr VI. It was a rugged, barren terrain. The laboratory complex's entrance was built directly into the rock face of the slope of an extinct volcano. The facility itself was constructed within the lava tubes that riddled the mountain.

The first sound any of the team members heard was Daggit racking the slide action pump of his grenade launcher, chambering a round. They then broke up and sought cover. Boulders lay strewn about the landscape. Rock outcroppings also stretched forth from the mountain's slope. It was behind these natural barriers that the SID unit found shelter from the line of fire stemming from the base's entrance.

Macen was crouched behind a large rock. He held his phaser pistol in a two-handed grip, squarely aimed at the entrance. Across the landscape, the rest of the squad did likewise. The only exception was T'Kir.

T'Kir was crouched beside Macen. She held her phaser with her elbow bent, aimed at the sky. In her right hand, she held an active tricorders. She intently studied its various read-outs and displays. When she folded the device shut, she wore a buoyant smile.

"The door relies upon a simple electromagnetic spectrum sensor as its security alarm. The lock is a standard Cardassian cipher sequenced tumbler augmented with a Starfleet Security encrypter. Should be a piece of cake to spoof." she happily reported.

"They're relying upon their location as their primary defence." Macen observed, "That'll work to our advantage. They won't be expecting an uninvited rescue party. How soon can you begin jamming their sensors?"

"I'll fool their sensors into believing we're 'ghosts' in less then ten minutes." T'Kir replied confidently. In the end, it actually took twenty-two minutes. Next, Macen and T'Kir ran to the entrance door. Macen stood vigil over her while she utilised her second tricorders to insert a virus into the locking mechanism. This procedure did take less then ten minutes. The door cycled aside like a giant gear rolling out of the way.

Radil had come up behind Macen and T'Kir and took point as the door opened. Using the targeting sensors on her cannon, she utilised her Heads Up Display eyewear to survey the walkway stretching before them. A central catwalk proceeded straight ahead for a hundred metres then angled off to follow the catacomb tunnel they were entering. To either side of the walkway were "floor" to "ceiling" cylindrical vats intended to hold a vast quantity of some material. Macen pushed ahead to examine the labelling on one of the vats as the team spread out up and down the catwalk.

The label was written in both the Gamma Quadrant born script of the Dominion and Cardassian. Macen frowned, "Ketracel-white. Vats of the frinxing stuff. This bodes ill."

"How ill?" T'Kir asked, her ebullience fading.

"I don't know yet." Macen admitted, "By the time I do, it may be too late."

"Joy." T'Kir remarked sarcastically.

"Aren't you happy you came?" Macen managed to tease.

"Always." T'Kir replied smartly, but managed to actually mean it despite her sense of foreboding.

"Have you noticed the air?" Kort asked from his position across the way.

T'Kir sniffed as Macen shrugged, "It's fresher than it should be. Cardassian air scrubbers leave behind a tangy sourness. This smells like the work of Federation equipment. The only extra permeating scents are those of volcanic rock and soil."

Kort nodded, "Exactly."

"It's also the heat." Danan remarked from behind their position, "Its been lowered from Cardassian norms to human standards."

"Just another indication that they're here to stay." Macen commented, "C'mon, let's move out."

"Chief, how we doing down there?" Kirk asked via the intercom.

"The same as we were ten minutes ago when you asked." Dracas replied testily, "All of my equipment is fully functional."

Chastised, Kirk squeaked a, "Sorry." before closing the circuit. She rose from the command chair and took up position beside Grace, "Any sign that they've detected us?"

"Nope." Grace said as she re-checked her sensors, "Despite the fact that they're banging away with their active sensors, we're in their baffles, sheltered from their main sensor arrays. There is a chance they'd detect us if they fired up their impulse engines. Given our proximity to their estimated plasma exhaust, we'd absorb a great deal of heat from their impulse drivers. The heat plume we'd shed would be 'visible' even if every other aspect of the ship were cloaked."

"You have my permission to lob a couple of torpedoes up their engine baffles if they begin to prep their impulse engines." Kirk ordered.

Grace grinned, "Already programmed and auto-sequenced."

Kirk squeezed her shoulder, "I'd put you up for a commendation but its not like we're truly part of any fleet."

"Just tell the Captain." Grace requested, "That'll be enough."

"You've got it."

The extraction team had followed the twists and turns of the entrance tunnel until they reached the threshold of a large cavernous space. Macen went forward to see what the situation was. Hugging the rock "wall" and clinging to the shadows, he narrowly avoided discovery by a Special Forces trooper standing guard. The area itself possessed three hollowed out pockets that were converted into individual workspaces. These spaces were filled with equipment. It appeared scientific in nature. Unbeknownst to Macen, it was from this location that Tom Riker had transmitted his fateful SOS.

Macen slid back down the corridor to where the rest of the team anxiously waited. Macen motioned for Kort to come forward and pressed his fingers to his neck. Kort nodded in understanding and passed his phaser rifle to Danan. Radil moved forward with Kort. She stopped and took up position in a minor indentation in the tunnel's face. Kort crept into the rotunda between the labs.

Kort tread lightly, not daring to breath or make the slightest sound. His hand hovered over his phaser pistol as he stole ever closer to his target. His other hand withdrew a hypo from his vest pocket. He held it poised as he closed the distance between himself and the Special Forces soldier.

As though alerted by a sixth sense, the SF soldier turned suddenly and faced Kort. Kort rushed forward to meet him. Radil stepped out of her hiding spot but was unable to acquire a clear shot due to the proximity of the two combatants.

Kort quickly took hold of the sentry's pulse rifle with his free hand. The trooper swung the rifle butt upwards in an arc intended to connect with Kort's prominent jaw. Kort stepped back, evading the attack but he had to relinquish control of the rifle's barrel. The soldier attempted to aim at Kort's chest but the Klingon was already on the move.

Kort jumped forward, shoulder checking the Special Forces guard. The Bolian was thrown off balance and Kort made his move. He disarmed the trooper with a savage chop across the arms. Kort then drove his knee into the renegade Starfleet officer's stomach. Propping up the assailed sentry, Kort pressed the hypo to his neck.

The Bolian slumped in his arms and Kort waved his comrades forward. Radil paused, released a heated sigh and said, "That's my man."

Radil led the team into the rotunda. There were two other tunnels exiting the cavern. There were also the apparent lab facilities. Macen opted to deal with both at once.

"Daggit, Radil, pick a tunnel and guard it. Kort, stash the guard you incapacitated and then stand watch over the entrance tunnel. We know no one can beam through the kelbanite veins in the rock walls but they can easily beam down to the entrance and come up behind us." Macen ordered, "Lees, now's when you use your expertise to determine what this equipment is and what they've been using it for. T'Kir, you're with her. Unlock the computer systems so she can access the scientists' notes and models. I know there's some friction between you two right now but you're going to do your best to resolve your differences for the sake of the mission. Hate each other on your own time."

Thoroughly chastised, the pair separated and went to different lab modules. Macen went to Radil's position and took out his tricorders. He scanned down the corridor. After studying the results, he went to Daggit's holding and did the same.

"Well, that settles that." Macen frowned, "This route leads towards a higher concentration of lifesigns."

"Including our targets?" Daggit asked.

"There's no way to know." Macen shrugged.

"Then I'd suggest we go with the path of least resistance and do everything in our power to preserve the element of surprise."

"I agree." Macen nodded.

"I'm telling you, both our forces need to be hyper-vigilant." Arinea stressed, "Each day that passes brings Brin Macen closer to discovering us."

"I thought we'd just agreed that Starfleet posed no immediate threat to us." Weisz sighed.

"Starfleet doesn't." Arinea agreed, "Macen isn't Starfleet. Section 31 has extensive files on him. His list of accomplishments are quite impressive, and occasionally frustrating for my patrons."

Arinea squirmed slightly as she confessed, "I've had had more than a few dealings with the man myself. He can seem more a force of nature than a man. WE need to be careful."

"I'll take it under advisement." Weisz replied dryly, "I've heard of this Macen as well. He was compelled to leave Starfleet. He is reckless and headstrong. He'd never manage to penetrate our security, even if he managed to uncover our location."

Arinea narrowed her crystalline eyes, "My personal experiences with the man paints a far different picture, as do Tom Riker's accounts."

She leaned back and took a sip of her spring wine, "However, I leave the matter to your discretion."

Weisz swirled his Saurian brandy, then inquired, "You've mentioned having some experience with this Macen. Could I ask what kind of experience you've had?"

Arinea's laughter was earthy and sensual, "I most certainly do not think so."

"Then answer me this: will it aid us in defeating him?"

Her smile was predatory, "Of that, you can be assured."

"Enough said." Weisz raised his glass in a toast.

"Brin, we may have found something." Danan called out.

Macen joined Danan and T'Kir in the lab module where they were working at a computer station. Multiple read-outs were active, displaying different tracks of research.

"First off," Danan began, "let me begin by giving you an overview of what we've found. First off is this equipment. Most of it is general variety sensor table style hardware. This particular bed behind us is special, it's a biomolecular scanner. Its this particular item that caught my attention."

"The computer records T'Kir tapped into were both revealing and invaluable." Danan explained, "They've been utilising the molecular scanner to perform multiple examinations of Tom's cellular structure, right down to the quantum level."

Danan's eyes locked in on Macen's, "Brin, I think they're trying to duplicate the incident that created two Rikers."

"But why?" Macen asked, slightly stunned.

Danan swallowed before answering, "The files are all attached to a weapons program designed to augment troop replenishments in a renewed conflict against the Jem'Hadar."

Macen's eyes hardened and blazed with artic fury, dispassionately he asked, "Did these tests harm Tom?"

"No." Danan was relieved to reply, "But they had reached the end of their experiments. The results were inconclusive. Tom was slated to become a permanent "guest" of the facility until such time as relocation was deemed necessary."

"Well," Macen said through clenched teeth, "that's not going to happen. Wrap up in here. We're moving out in five minutes." With that said he stepped back out into the rotunda.

Danan glanced over towards T'Kir, "He certainly took that well. He seems to have grown cold as ice rather than get all hot-headed."

T'Kir shook her head, "You've got it wrong. He's more dangerous when he's like this, not less. He's rational, but utterly, relentlessly merciless."

"God help us." Danan whispered.

T'Kir's sensitive ears picked up the invocation, "I think we'd like God on our side right now."

Radil returned to point. She led the way down the tunnel she'd guarded. Daggit followed her. Macen came next quickly followed by T'Kir. Danan held back a couple of metres. Kort held the rear.

The tunnel slowly curved to the right before emptying into another large cavern. A Cardassian style fusion reactor filled the space. T'Kir flipped open her tricorder and risked a scan. After a moment, she held up three fingers. Daggit nodded and passed his grenade launcher to T'Kir, who then moved it along to Danan.

Macen, T'Kir and Daggit emerged from the tunnel's entrance. Radil stood poised to rush in and assist. T'Kir pointed upwards to the second tier of the scaffolding and monitors banks surrounding the reactor. Daggit took hold of the outer lattice comprising the scaffolding and began to climb.

Macen and T'Kir split up and started down the rows of equipment and conduits that led to the reactor control booth where the other two engineers monitored the station's power source. The two engineers consisted of a Trill and a Bajoran. They were oblivious to their surroundings, focused entirely on their read-outs and their conversation.

Suddenly the Trill's head jerked, "Did you hear that?"

The Bajoran listened then shook his head, "No. I didn't hear anything."

"I could've sworn I heard..." she cocked her head to one side, "There! Didn't you hear that?"

"You've been in Section 31 too long." the Bajoran joked, "You're imagining threats coming from everywhere."

"I'm checking this out." she insisted, "Stay here if you want."

"Fine. I will."

The Trill descended down the two steps separating their platform from the ground and cautiously began down one of the pathways that led to the main walkway that bisected the cavern. She paused every metre or so to look and listen. She froze as she thought she heard rustling coming from her right. She slowly crept closer to where she thought the noise stemmed from. She hated the thought of running into a large Cardassian vole. They'd spent months after claiming the base chasing the seemingly unkillable vermin.

The engineer slipped a torch from her pocket and switched it on. She spun the corner around a cluster of conduits and shone the torch towards her intended victim. Only, there was nothing there. Unfortunately, a hand clamped itself over her mouth and an arm hooked around her head. Her mysterious assailant began applying pressure, cutting off blood to her brain. She blacked out as her brain screamed out for oxygen.

Macen released his grip and gently lowered the engineer to the floor. Although she bore allegiance to Section 31, by her co-worker's own admission, she did not own any part of what had happened to Tom Riker. She was only guilty of poor judgement and bad associations. There was no need to kill her, as Macen had been tempted to do.

Meanwhile, T'Kir strolled up to the control platform and walked up the two steps. She came to a halt behind the Bajoran.

"So, did you find your gremlins?" he laughed.

Silence was his only answer. He swivelled his chair around to face his unrepentantly hesitant partner. To his surprise, she wasn't standing there. Instead, a strangely garbed, heavily armed Vulcan stood watching him. Then she did the eeriest thing he'd ever seen: she smiled.

He opened his mouth to shout an alert to their third teammate but her hand snaked out faster than the eye could follow and took hold of the nerve cluster at the base of his neck. One deft squeeze and he was out. He started to slump forward in his chair but T'Kir caught him and resettled him. Now he looked as though he were slumped down trying to sleep.

The third engineering technician finished taking his readings and moved to the end of his catwalk. From there, he could see past the reactor housing down to the control booth. He saw his Bajoran co-worker slack in his chair and both Macen and T'Kir standing before him. He turned to run back to the first monitor bank in order to trigger the general alarm. What he encountered instead was a perfectly executed wheel kick from Daggit. The technician found himself knocked off his feet, hitting his head on the railing on the way down, driving him into unconsciousness.

Daggit stepped over the techs still form and gave Macen a thumb's up. Macen murmured instructions to T'Kir and she headed out for the central walkway. Upon arrival, she signalled Radil to get the team moving onward.

Radil traversed the whole of the cavern with a purposeful stride, her cannon squarely aimed at the mouth of the adjoining tunnel. Daggit rejoined the main group and retrieved his launcher from Danan's possession. Daggit assumed the rearguard position while Danan and Kort followed T'Kir back to the reactor area. Once there, Macen briefed them as to their particular assignments.

Kort was to sedate the three Section 31 support personnel so that they wouldn't recover within the hour and raise the alarm. Danan was to determine the reactor's vulnerabilities. T'Kir was to write a tapeworm program that could be remotely activated, initiating a cascading shutdown of the power core. This plan contingency took roughly thirty minutes to prepare.

On the move again, the team came to an interconnecting tunnel. T'Kir once again risked using active sensors within the compound. Thankfully, she got away with it one more time. The new outcropping tunnel led to a high concentration of lifesigns and EM signatures. The "original" tunnel stretched onwards for several kilometres before ending abruptly. The scans indicated a large cavern dominated by a massive mound of volcanic rock at its heart.

"Looks like we're changing direction." Macen said in consultation with Daggit.

"I concur." Daggit replied grimly, "We'd best get prepared for some organised resistance."

"Unfortunately." Macen said sourly as he nodded in agreement.

The next "room" they encountered appeared to oddly deserted. It was a locker/equipment room of some sort. The room was two tiered, with several sets of stairs leading up to the upper veranda. The upper deck encircled the lower area and stretched back an unknown distance.

Radil crossed the room and waited for her teammates to follow suit. They did so following the usual arrangement. Radil entered the tunnel and proceeded down it. She was nearing the tunnel's exit when a Special Forces trooper suddenly appeared in the tunnel's entrance. His eyes widened and his hand went for his phaser.

Radil released a pulse blast that caught him squarely in the chest. Alarms began to sound. Macen ordered her to push on to the tunnel entrance. She arrived only to have to pull her head back from a hail of pulsed phaser fire. She exchanged a few shots with the assembled Special Forces troops before withdrawing.

"It's too hot!" she informed Macen.

"Let's pull back and try again from the initial entrance." Macen decided, "You two, cover our withdrawal. Kort! You're now on point."

"Qa'pla!" Kort bellowed and moved "forward".

The team remained spread out as before. Radil began to lay down a barrage of suppressive fire intended to keep the Special Forces personnel from daring to enter the tunnel. Daggit brought the grenade launcher to his shoulder and fired. The weapon discharged with a THOOM.

A miniaturised photon torpedo fired from the launcher and headed down the tunnel towards the opposition. The pursuing troopers dove for the deck and the grenade passed overhead. It exited the tunnel and slammed against an equipment bank constructed in the adjoining cavern. The grenade's outer casing shattered, releasing the antimatter stored within its housing. The resultant explosion, although controlled, was still spectacular,

Daggit "pumped" another round into his launcher's chamber. The Special Forces personnel on the ground stayed there a moment longer, now knowing what they faced. Radil kept her weapon trained at the prone men and women, alert to any hint of movement.

Kort reached the equipment room and cautiously entered into with his rifle poised and ready. Danan followed him, covering the right side of the room while he covered the left. Macen and T'Kir entered and began to keep their pistols drawn on the upper veranda. Daggit exited, still focused on the tunnel. Radil moved out of the tunnel and slid to the side of the entrance, where she could still target any attempt to pursue the team.

A Special Forces trooper suddenly appeared from the left and fired at Kort. She was supported by two of her comrades. Kort opened fire in return. Danan shifted her aim and cut down one of the Special Forces soldiers. Kort nailed another, leaving the third. She reached for a stun grenade but was brought up short by suddenly finding the barrel of Kort's rifle pressed against her head.

"Yield." He growled.

Her hands spread out from her sides and her rifle clattered to the floor. Overhead, the sound of approaching feet could be heard. Kort chopped the base of the Special Forces woman's neck, knocking her unconscious. He added to the effect by shooting her while she was down. Kort may have been proud, but he didn't want to risk getting shot in the back because he failed to properly immobilise an enemy.

He started back towards the other tunnel entrance when he heard shouts. Kort signalled for Danan to seek cover and did so himself. Troops began to spill forth from the entranceway. Kort and Danan opened fire on them, stunning most of the first wave. Next, phaser fire began raining down from the veranda. Macen and T'Kir exuberantly returned fire but they were woefully outnumbered.

Daggit turned from supporting Radil and lobbed a shell across the room at the rearmost deck of the veranda. The three gunmen trying to set up a firing position there scattered. The grenade shattered the veranda and a section of it swung down, teetering over the entrance to the tunnel, effectively blocking it. Daggit racked another round into the chamber of his launcher and sought another target.

Kort swore as the separated veranda section fell before the tunnel's mouth. His intended route was cut off. A near miss from a hostile phaser blast redirected his focus. He swung his rifle upward and began firing at the Special Forces cadre surrounding them on the veranda. Danan followed his example. This took the brunt off of Macen and T'Kir.

Daggit fired another round at the upper deck. The round merely split the metal decking in half. No pieces detached this time. It did force all of the Special Forces troopers that had been employing that position to re-deploy.

The firefight continued unabated until a lone voice called out for a cessation of hostilities. Commodore Weisz had arrived and he ordered his people to cease-fire and stand down. Weisz surveyed the scene below him and shook his head. He found it painfully hard to believe that a half a dozen sentients had inflicted this much damage on his forces.

"Identify yourselves." Weisz commanded.

Macen lowered his pistol and stepped out into the open, "Commander Brin Macen, Starfleet Special Investigations Division, Commodore. I'm here to liberate your prisoner and to place you under arrest."

Weisz almost did a double take upon hearing the name of the opposition commander, "They said you'd retired, Commander."

"They say a lot of things, Commodore." Macen rebutted, "Most things are truths but some are not."

"Here is a truth then: I still have you outnumbered and outgunned." Weisz replied.

"Here is a truth for you, Commodore: I'm not leaving here without Tom Riker or the President's daughter. I could care less about you. You can be some starship captain's headache."

"Somehow I believe you." Weisz mused, "But that does you little good. Throw your weapons on the deck and surrender."

"You know I can't give that order." Macen replied firmly.

"Starfleet officers have been ordered to lay down arms before in the face of superior forces." Weisz reminded him, "I'll repeat myself one last time, place your weapons on the deck and surrender."

"I won't give that order." Macen vowed.

"Then you will die." Weisz promised in return, "Do not force my hand."

"You make your own decisions." Macen charged.

Weisz's eyes narrowed and he hesitated, but only for a fraction of a second, "Squads form up! Ready! Take aim..."

 


Proceed to Part III

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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