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Fractures - Part II by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter Eleven

Fern met the Corsair after it had landed. He brought one guard with him. As the SID team members exited the runabout they each were startled by the fact that a Jarrot was in Cardassian armour. The mere fact an alien of any kind was in Cardassian service was difficult enough to believe regardless of race.

"Welcome Captain." Fern said with genuine respect, "Greetings to your crew as well."

"You're awfully friendly." Macen remarked.

He's a low-level telepath, T'Kir mentally warned him, he's trying to scan us.

Is he having any luck? Macen wondered.

Nah, T'Kir telepathically chuckled; I'm makin' sure all he gets is static. It's confusin' the piss outta him.

Good. Keep it up. Macen urged.

"I'll take you to your work area now." Fern offered, "You can leave your cases here."

"These cases represent our computer gear. Where we go, it goes." Macen informed him.

Unperturbed, Fern motioned for them to follow, "The processing lab is this way."

He led them through several warrens before arriving in what had once been a conference room. Cardassian terminals were laid out on several tables. Situated at the rear of the room was a Cardassian server and a desk with a monitoring station.

T'Kir put her case on one table. Macen and Rockford did likewise. Next they unclasp the locks and lifted the lids. Inside were the most powerful portable computers available.

Brin, T'Kir thoughtcast, 'Sides bein' real skittish 'bout the data, our keeper is nervous 'bout us discovering something else. Could be our little lost lambs.

Indeed it could. Macen replied in kind, Distract Fern while I get our folks situated.

"Gotcha." T'Kir said aloud. She fired up her computer. It would serve as the hub for the three Federation systems. Next she began seeking the Cardassian mainframe.

Fern stepped in, "I can link our server with your system and begin to load files into your trays."

"No need." T'Kir grinned, "I'm goin' to the source."

Using a subspace transceiver she linked to the Cardassian cruisers' shared network. Next, her system produced the cipher to crack the Cardassian encryption. She was in.

"How...? Fern gasped. T'Kir's grin was wicked as Fern scrambled to alert his superiors. Rockford networked with T'Kir's computer and the two of them began surfing files.

Meanwhile, Macen had the others gathered near the door. He began issuing orders.

"Joachim and Lees, I want you to locate the facility's power plant and arrange to shut it down at a moment's notice." He said, "Hannah and Gantz, there are two Starfleet officers being held here. Please find them and extricate them."

Having received their assignments, the team dispersed. Fern saw this while pushing his report through the chain of command.

"Hey!" he yelped, "Where are they going?"

"To find a replicator." Macen lied, "They're really hungry."

"We have one here." Fern protested.

"Oh," Macen at least sounded contrite, "they'll be so disappointed."

"They must be found..." Fern began.

"They're on foreign soil, surrounded by crack Cardassian and clone troops, what can happen?" Macen asked.

Fern began to subside when his console alerted him to the fact that he was being paged. Several tense minutes later Fern returned to T'Kir, "You have been granted direct access to our network."

"Mostly cus you can't figure out how to shut me down." T'Kir's eyes shone with a merry delight, "You've tried to boot me out and you can't."

Fern stalked away as Macen sat down and booted up his computer, "Anything interesting yet?"

"Nah. Progress reports and maintenance requests. It's gonna be slow goin', Boss." T'Kir quipped.

"Load me up." Macen suggested, "I'll see if I can help."

"I have noticed something." T'Kir's eyes narrowed as she focused on the holographic matrix sealing the document she was reviewing, "Gimme a minute. I may be on to something."

Rockford turned to Macen, "Do you have any idea what she's on about?"

"I don't know but Fern's coming our way." Macen warned.

Rockford rose from her seat, "I'll deal with it."

"Gently." Macen advised.

"Of course." A wounded Rockford replied.

Grace and Gantz wandered the corridors. They came to yet another junction. Yet again, Gantz pointed in one direction and said, "Thatta way."

This time, however, Grace protested, "What makes you think so?"

Gantz eyed her with pity, "Darlin' I've been doing this since before you were born. I've had to break a lot of skips outta jail in order to collect the bounty on them. You don't want to know how many prisons I cracked as a pirate."

Gantz took a deep breath, "The point is: prisons are an institution. This place is an institution. All institutions follow the same basic format. If we follow my nose, and it's never lied, we'll find our Starfleet bunnies."

Grace acquiesced, "Lead on then."

Gantz grimaced, "Thanks."

Dracas and Danan reached the entrance to the fusion plant. It was guarded by two Free Legionnaires. They demanded that the two SID agents stand and be recognised. They did so but the sentries were leery.

"You dress as one of us but you lack the mark." The leader said, "You're no clone."

"Point in fact, I am." Dracas replied, "Perhaps you've heard of me? I am Joachim Dracas and I am the only one of my series."

"Dracas?" the surprised clone repeated, "The traitor?"

Dracas pulled his phaser free and shot him, "I am no traitor, you nit."

Meanwhile Danan dispatched the other clone. Turning to Dracas she asked, "Did you kill him?"

"Of course not." Dracas said pointedly, "As I told him, I am no traitor."

"Just checking." Danan raised her hands in surrender.

"My man will have the access card." Dracas declared as he began to search the clone's tunic.

"How do you know?" Danan asked.

"The superior officer holds the card. The superior also makes the challenge and decides the petitioner's fate." Dracas explained. It had become easy to forget that Dracas had served in the Legion for most of his life.

Dracas retrieved the card and swiped it through the appropriate reader. The doors opened. Revealed inside was a massive fusion bottle. It easily produced fifty times the amount of power that the fortress normally required.

"This facility doubles as an orbital anti-intrusion battery," Dracas whispered to Danan.

"How can you tell?" she whispered back.

"I'm an engineer." Dracas answered, "The equipment speaks to me."

One of the facility's engineers noticed them. Shouting a warning, he made for an alarm button. Dracas gunned him down. Another almost reached a secondary alarm before Dracas' phaser found him. A third grabbed a massive wrench and rushed Dracas. Dracas stunned him before he'd reached thirty paces.

"Well, I was certainly useful." Danan groused.

"You will be." Dracas promised, "Follow me."

Danan silently complied.

Rockford swiftly discovered that Fern was a superior hand-to-hand combatant. He was so good, in fact, she was losing ground. Suddenly he clutched his head and screamed. He then wilted to the ground.

Both Rockford and Macen cast quizzical glances in T'Kir's direction. She merely shrugged, "He'll live."

Rockford retook her seat after encouragement from Macen. T'Kir began to explain her discovery, "The Cardassian use a holographic matrix to timestamp their subspace traffic and internal orders. Any alteration of the documents shows in the holographic matrix. The origination codes for the matrix are created and stored at a top secret facility no Federation eye has ever seen."

"The point of all o' this is that the holographic matrixes of the documents have been altered." T'Kir announced, "In short, they're all forgeries."

"Can you restore them?" Macen wondered.

T'Kir playfully winked, "I c'n d'better than that. I can get the originals."

"There it is." Gantz whispered from behind the corner he and Grace were hiding behind, "I make two external guards. There'll be more past that door."

"How can you tell?" Grace wondered.

"Doors that heavy always guard something valuable, something you don't want walking away, sorta like prisoners. Internal guards are there to prevent the prisoners from leavin' their cells. If the prisoners still manage to do that, it's these fellas' job to kill them inside o' the bottleneck of that door." Gantz explained.

"So we kill them first." Grace said. With that said, she swung into action. She pulled her phaser out of its holster and walked up and executed one guard and then the other before Gantz could respond.

"Ya didn't have to do that." Gantz grumbled, "We coulda interrogated them."

"So sue me." Grace flippantly remarked, "Search their pockets and get the key."

The prison door still possessed an old-fashioned turnkey locking mechanism. Gantz found and retrieved the key. He handed it to Grace.

"Unlock and open the door." Gantz ordered as he picked up a Cardassian disruptor rifle, "We'll do this my way."

They entered in. Outside, disruptor fire could be heard and then silence reigned. Inside, Grace looked around at the carnage.

"Yeah," she scornfully remarked, "your way's better."

"Okay," Gantz ruefully recanted, "I shouldn't have lectured you."

"Damn straight." Grace became all business, "I'll find the prisoners."

"I'll drag the corpses in here and start stuffing them into empty cells." Gantz replied.

"Good plan." Grace called back. She went down the corridor and swiftly discovered that besides the two officers in Starfleet flightsuits, there was a bevy of Roman officers. Ignoring the Romans, she unlocked Limerick and Jones.

"What about them?" Limerick asked.

"I'm with the SID." Grace explained, "Our orders include your extraction but nothing in our contract covers them. Therefore, they stay."

The Romans howled and spat obscenities as the Starfleet trio departed. Up ahead, Gantz was locking the Cardassian dead into a cell. Limerick was aghast.

"You killed them? Why?" he asked.

"It's a war out there." Gantz snapped back, "Over 700,000 Chinese are dead because of this little revolt. Now it's time for you to decide which side you're on."

Limerick was silent. Grace intervened, "Take these gunbelts, pistols, and rifles. You'll need them."

Next she strode over to the portable replicator and recycled the key. Gantz was alarmed, "Why did you do that? We needed that key to lock the door on our way out."

"I've got the door covered." Grace promised him, "Let's go."

As they exited, Grace swung the massive door shut. She held out her hand over the lock. Her brow knitted in concentration and within a minute the lock cycled. Smiling to herself, she caught up with Gantz and his party.

Aboard Litol's flagship, the cyber officer went for a stimulating drink. His duties were typically mundane. He monitored the computer core to insure that software did not become corrupted and that the men restricted themselves to the RAM areas of the system and didn't load their nonessential garbage onto the mainframe.

Life was routinely dull but he took comfort that as long as he was diligent, there would be no crises. Today, he discovered otherwise. He'd been amongst the techs that had altered the pertinent files and hidden the real, unaltered material in a highly encrypted, randomly rotating encryption driven folder. Now, someone had accessed that folder and was nearly done downloading all of its contents.

He hit the "Alert" button. Within seconds both Litol and the ship's gul were present. The officer explained the situation and that the process was already complete.

Litol was enraged, "You are reduced in rank from gil to garresh. Jilk, how many troopers do we still have aboard?"

"The anti-intrusion detail's fifty men." The Gul Jilk supplied the information.

"Take them to the surface and eliminate Macen and his personnel." Litol ordered.

"It will be done." Jilk promised.

"It had better," Litol warned, "or it will cost you your command."

"Yes sir!" Jilk barked and departed.

Litol rubbed his chin. No wonder Maret hated Macen so much. He would get the better of Macen, even where Maret and Sindis had failed. He would or he would die trying, he vowed.

 

Chapter Twelve

"Ma'am," the Tactical rating garnered Forger's attention, "There are nine Cardassian cruisers entering the outer system. They're making steam for Magna Roma."

"Ops," Forger decided it was time to break radio silence, "alert the Captain."

"I can't, Ma'am." Ops replied, "We're being jammed."

"Tactical! Position of the three orbiting Cardies?" Forger demanded.

"One of them is closing the distance between us." Jaycee reported.

"Activate defence fields!" Forger yelled, "Raise shields!"

The Tactical rating shook her head, "We raised the bridge defence fields in time but fifty Cardassian troops have boarded."

"Sound intruder alert." Forger ordered, "Security is going to need help in rounding up our unwanted guests."

Forger went to Ops, "Computer, set Intrusion Protocol One. Authorisation Forger-Delta-Two." Forger knew that the Main Computer was now on an encrypted stand-by mode and the only systems working were the secondary localised systems.

Forger grinned, "That ought to confuse our playmates."

Radil leaned against the railing separating the boardwalk from the beach. Beyond, the surf pounded into the beach. It was high tide and it seemed as though one could reach out and touch the waves. Behind her, Kort stirred.

"Jenrya," he said, "they've paged us. Our table's ready."

Radil turned to him. Her joy radiated on her face, "Oh, Kort, this was a wonderful idea. A commemoration tour of Abby and I's favourite places and things is the perfect way to focus on the good things we had."

Kort smiled, "Now is the time to wash away regrets and the might-have-beens. Hold on to what you had and grow from it."

Radil wrapped her arm around his, "Lead on, kind sir, for I am famished."

"With pleasure, Milady." Kort was beaming.

Later, inside the restaurant, the plates had been cleared and they were enjoying after dinner drinks. Kort, as a recovering alcoholic, stuck to raktajino. Radil enjoyed a glass of spring wine. She reached out and held one of his hands.

"Thank you so much." Radil graced him with a trouble-free smile, "I don't quite no what I was expecting when I turned up on your doorstep but whatever it was, you've gone way above and beyond anything I could have hoped for."

"I am your friend." Kort replied, "Your worriless joy is all the thanks I need."

"The past few days have certainly eliminated all of my worries." Radil admitted, "You're a good man, Kort."

"I'm glad you think so." Kort admitted, "It means a lot to me to hear you say that."

Radil was about to speak when a familiar voice interrupted, "So that's where you've been."

Kort and Radil turned to see Parva standing next to their table. Across the seating area, Daggit and Riker were enjoying a meal. Parva smiled, "Wanna join us?"

Radil shook her head, "Kort and I were just leaving. Thank you anyway."

Parva was stunned, "Really?"

"He's helping me cleanse my pagh." Radil explained, "And, quite frankly, I don't want to share his company. Have a nice dinner though."

"We will." Parva assured them, "Enjoy your night."

"Thanks. We will." Radil promised.

Parva sauntered back to her table and Kort and Radil excused themselves. Their next stop was a dance club Radil and Abby had frequented. Kort was leery but Radil assured him that they would have fun.

"As you wish." He conceded.

Kort had used that phrase repetitively over the last few days. There were also times when he flat out refused to budge, usually for her own good. She was delighted to find that she adored the new Kort. She'd liked the old model but the improved version was a scrumptious delight. She led him across town and waited to see how their next adventure would turn out.

Vaughn was working in Macen's Ready Room when the 'Intruder Alert' sounded. He'd accessed the Roman satellite system and was the data received to compile his report. Upon hearing the alarm he abandoned his place at the desk and stepped onto the bridge. Forger had opened the hidden weapons caches and was distributing phaser rifles. Vaughn took one and ushered Forger to one side.

"Have the internal sensors been compromised?" he asked.

"Not that we're aware of." She answered.

"Have your Tactical officer run an internal display one deck at a time starting with Deck 2." Vaughn instructed.

"You've got it." Forger grinned. As a former Starfleet Security and Tactical Officer, she appreciated where he was going with these orders, "Here comes the info on the main viewer."

Forger conferred with Jaycee before joining Vaughn at the command centre. She nodded towards the viewer, "As you can see, there are fifty Cardassian life signs scattered across the other seven decks of the ship. Main Engineering has eight lifesigns but the rest of the decks have seven Cardies apiece."

She continued, "The boarding parties are trying to consolidate their control of the ship. They are meeting the most resistance in the saucer section since it has the highest population. The most glaring difficulty is that ship's Security has been slow to respond. It's true that only four officers, including yourself, were on-duty but it's still a pretty lacklustre performance."

Vaughn nodded. The screen showed a dorsal schematic view of the second deck. Cardassian lifesigns were haloed in orange, ship's personnel in blue. Two blue halos were in Sickbay yet the Cardassians were bunched up together outside of that area.

"Who are the personnel in Sickbay?" Vaughn wondered.

"The 1st Watch nurse and orderly." Jaycee reported.

"Then why are the Cardies bunched up like that?" Vaughn asked.

Forger played a hunch, "Display the location of all holographic projections."

Suddenly a new green halo appeared. Vaughn asked, "Can we get visual on that area?"

The screen instantly shifted. Forger was puzzled, "Why is this important? Other areas of the ship...?"

Vaughn interjected, "Right now, other areas of the ship don't have Tessa. I want to see how this plays out. If Celeste is right, we should be in for quite a show."

"Okay." Forger warily replied.

Vaughn unleashed all of his considerable charm, "Trust me."

Forger felt like melting, "Of course."

"Look," Vaughn indicated, "the action is beginning."

"Look," Tessa said, "you don't belong here. Why don't you just go back to your ship?"

"Are you going to make us, little girl?" the senior garresh sneered.

Tessa's dark eyes narrowed. She hated being judged by her looks. Her creator, Felix, had melded the images of a Ukrainian actress and a Romanian pop star. Her features were dominantly Slavic with the darker complexion common to gypsies. She was pretty but in an average kind of way. Still, strangers viewed her as a wee slip of a girl and thought they could bully her. Well, she was sick and tired of it.

"You're gonna have to go through me." Tessa growled.

"Easily done." The garresh chuckled, "Men, take her down."

The six Cardassians rushed her. She kicked the leader in the throat, followed by a rabbit punch to the throat of the fellow behind him. The remaining four were more cautious now. One lunged forward and Tessa drove a knee into his testicles and then delivered a right cross.

As that trooper went down, a fourth came at her. Tessa delivered a stunning blow to his nose. She grabbed his head and twisted. He had to throw himself into a spin to avoid having his neck broken. When he settled on his feet, her knee drove into his face and rendered him unconscious.

The fifth Cardassian came at her. He blocked several of her blows and smiled. He threw a jab which Tessa deftly dodged. Grabbing his armour, she threw him face first into the bulkhead. She finished him off with a sidekick to his head, smashing his forehead into the wall.

Tessa drove towards the sixth trooper. She pulled a sliding tackle and swept the man's legs out from underneath him. As he fell forward, she snaked her hand out and cradled the back of his head. Driving it with all of the considerable force at her command, his head crush crashed into the deck.

Tessa extricated herself from his body and rose, "Still gonna try and pass me?"

"Yes." The garresh sneered and went for his gun.

As Tessa's fight began, Forger stared in wonder, "Where in the hell did she learn that?"

Vaughn grinned, "Celeste loaded her up with simulations of one hundred and fifty fighting styles. The truly great part is that she can analyse and synthesise them. She adapts to whatever fighting technique she's faced with and reacts with a blend of martial arts no one has ever seen before."

"How does she hold up against disruptors?" Forger wondered, nodding at the screen.

"I have no idea." Vaughn murmured in horror.

The first shot caught Tessa by surprise. She had no flesh to sear and no molecular bonds to dissolve but she was composed of forcefields and photons. The forcefields were destabilised and this caused a sensation analogous to pain.

Tessa doubled over. Looking up from her kneeling position, she said pleadingly, "Please..."

"You should have thought of that before you thrashed my squad, bitch." The garresh sneered and took aim at her head. With nothing left to say, Tessa disappeared. The garresh was horrified at first and then he shook his head, "It was a damn hologram all along."

With no foe to face, the garresh began tending to his troops. After checking on them he entered Sickbay and rousted out the medical personnel and forced them to begin treating his men's wounds. Next, he called the dalin in charge of this boarding action and warned him about Tessa. The dalin thanked him and then spread the word.

"Find me Tessa." Vaughn ordered, "And then tally up how many Security officers are still mobile."

"Tessa is in the cargo bay." Jaycee reported, "And only Deputy Chief Garrit is eluding capture. He's currently in Jeffries tube 86. Deputy Chief Gilan is moving to join him. They should rendezvous at any moment."

Vaughn pondered this. Garrit Gren was the Deputy Chief of Security. Gilan was the Deputy Chief of Engineering. Combined with Tessa's assistance, they could form quite a resistance squad.

Vaughn commed Garrit and warned him of his impending collision with Gilan. Next he ordered the two of them to meet him in the impulse reactor room. There was only one Cardassian stationed there. Tessa could easily surprise and overpower him.

Tessa proved a little harder to persuade. Still smarting from her disruptive encounter, she had lost much of her confidence. Vaughn delivered his patented "take up arms and stand for freedom" speech that he had delivered countless times over the last fifty years. It rallied her, however, and she proceeded directly to the reactor room.

Next, Vaughn encouraged Forger, "All right, Shannon, you've spent the better part of ten years preparing for this moment. Hold the bridge and keep the shields up. They'll eventually start utilising the Jeffries tubes, which means they'll come here. You can bottleneck them for hours and by then we should have liberated Engineering and other vital sections of the ship."

"Just keep them distracted and we'll do the rest." Vaughn promised as he manoeuvred his way into the closest tube, "Take care. Don't throw away any lives needlessly."

With that, he was gone and Forger replaced the tube's hatch. Celeste Rockford is one lucky woman. She thought to herself.

 

Chapter Thirteen

The fifty Cardassians led by Gul Jilk materialised. Jilk ordered them to fan out and search the premises. They went in squads of eight. Jilk proceeded to the base's command post.

Gantz, Grace, Limerick, and Jones ducked into the first open room they came across. It happened to be an armoury. Gantz grinned as he bolted the door shut.

"First of all, hope those Cardie bastards don't have tricorders." Gantz was still grinning, "Second of all, put on some Roman breastplates and helmets. I think we might just walk outta here yet."

The trio complied. As they were slipping on their borrowed gear, a pounding happened at the door. A moment's silence tensely ticked by. Muffled voices conferred and then the sounds of boots marching away.

Seeing that his companions were prepared, Gantz threw the bolt and opened the door. The quartet exited the base's walls. Now they had to traverse the open field that comprised the base's landing field.

"Now we hope for a distraction." Gantz muttered.

Dracas' comm badge warbled. He tapped it, "Yes?"

"Pull the plug." Macen's voice ordered, "It's time to go dark."

"Easily accomplished." Dracas promised, "Out."

Dracas turned to Danan, "On my signal, execute the two commands I told you about."

"Understood." Danan acknowledged. She readied her hands, poised above the "Commit" buttons.

Dracas tapped in instructions to the reactor's control system. He turned to Danan, "Now."

She tapped both touch screens. The orders to extinguish the reactor went through. Before the fusion bottle went dark, it flashed with the might of a collapsing miniature star. EPS conduits throughout the base overloaded and died. Dim emergency lights flickered on.

Dracas joined Danan and he pulled his phaser free and aimed it at her, "Remember, you're my prisoner."

"Whatever you say." She laughed, "You've got the gun."

"In that case, march towards the door." Dracas allowed himself the slightest of smiles.

"Aye, aye sir." Danan saluted and proceeded to march.

Dracas reminded himself of why he liked Danan. She understood him. After all, she'd once been a man.

Gantz couldn't help but smile. Here it was, the middle of the night, and all the lights suddenly exploded. He turned to the others.

"Now's our chance!"

The entire quartet needed no urging. Forcibly stopping themselves from sprinting, they crossed the field at a brisk pace. Wandering clone sentries shined lights on them but all they saw was the armour. They reached the Corsair without any troubles.

"Now if the others only fare so well." Limerick said as Grace led the way and boarded the runabout.

Dracas and Grace met no resistance. The Cardassians were satisfied with the explanation that Danan was Dracas' prisoner and being escorted to the dungeons. The other clones passed them on the Cardassians' recognisance. They quickly reached the runabout and Dracas joined Grace and Jones in the pre-flight checklist.

"But what about your captain and his companions?" Limerick asked.

"They'll be here." Danan assured him, "Those three have lived entire lives' worth of tougher scrapes. Besides, if they get captured, I'll kill them."

Macen, T'Kir, and Rockford finished securing their mobile computers and exited the computing lab. They deftly navigated the darkened halls. Between T'Kir's telepathy, ears, and Rockford's enhanced vision, they successfully avoided any entanglements with clones or Cardassians.

There was too much confusion on the field to offer any real resistance to their escape. Two sentries approached but T'Kir muddled their minds and they went away happy. The trio boarded the runabout in short order, much to the relief of the Corsair's crew and passengers.

"Are we ready for departure?" Macen asked as T'Kir relieved Jones.

"Nice to see you too." Danan wryly smirked.

"Happy to be here." Macen grinned back, "Now let's get the frinx out of here."

"I hear and obey; O Captain, my Captain." Grace remarked, "Everyone find a seat."

Macen hopped into the Sciences seat. Dracas took Engineering. Rockford extracted the auxiliary crash seat from the runabout cockpit's rear area. Danan and Gantz herded Limerick and Jones to the aft passenger lounge.

"Hold on to something." Grace advised, "The inertial damper isn't going to be able to relieve all of the g forces."

Grace activated the antigravs. The Corsair rose to three metres off of the ground. She activated the shields since the clones and Cardassians had opened fire upon the ship. Next, she throttled the impulse engines to maximum and darted off into the evening sky.

After the initial surge, the inertial damper caught up with the physical stresses of the flight. Rockford rose and attended to the Tactical station. She manipulated several controls and then frowned.

"I can't raise the Obsidian." She reported.

"Lemme see." T'Kir reconfigured her station. She laboured away for several minutes and then she also frowned.

"All subspace comms are jammed." T'Kir revealed, "I can't raise the Obsidian or the Hood. Hell, I can't even raise the Cardies. The native navsats and commsats are down as well. The Romans ain't talkin' either."

"Which way are we headed?" Macen asked Grace.

"West." She answered, "Roman territory seemed safer than where we've been."

"Good thinking." Macen commended her, "Set course for Nova Roma. We have information that Alaric needs to see."

"Yah!" T'Kir enthused, "I need to copy the data to the Corsair's mainframe and examine it."

"I'll pull it up as well." Macen turned to Rockford, "Celeste, there's a couple of comp/comms in the back. You can help sort through this as well. I need specific times and dates for the invasion plan."

Rockford nodded, "I'm on it."

"I'll look for the operational details of the plan." Macen informed them, "T'Kir, you verify the authenticity of the data."

"Already doin' it." She quipped.

"Okay then, I'll be in back with Celeste." Macen announced, "Comm me if we're about to be blown to bits."

"Okay," Grace heaved a dramatic sigh, "if you insist."

Macen rolled his eyes. He ushered Rockford onward back through the runabout. When they arrived in the passenger lounge, they separated and each occupied a computer station.

Limerick approached Macen, "Captain, I must ask what our next course of action is?"

"Commodore," Macen employed the naval tradition of elevating a visitor of identical rank, "we've set course for Nova Roma. We have proof of the Cardassian's ulterior motive. Once Alaric sees it, he'll request Federation assistance."

"The Cardassians intend to invade?" it was less a question than a statement.

"That's what I'm trying to prove." Macen replied.

"I shall leave you to it then." Limerick retook his seat.

Silence loomed. Finally, Macen found the data he wanted. He conferred with Rockford. She'd also had success. Checking with T'Kir, he verified that the information wasn't another double-blind.

Macen laid out the Cardassian documents for Alaric's appraisal. His commanders had already scoured the data. They awaited Caesar's pleasure so that they could present their recommendations.

Alaric looked to his advisors, "Your counsel?"

"Request the aid of the Federation, O Caesar." Gaius advised.

"Agreed." Astris concurred, "The Federation has been a flawless friend until now. Give them an opportunity to prove themselves as allies."

Alaric turned to Scipio, "And your advice?"

"As the Commander of the Praetorian, I say the Guard will stand by you." Scipio said, "As a man and a soldier, I say call in new allies. We are outmatched but the Federation has defeated these monsters in the past and they may prove invaluable in doing so again."

With a heavy heart, Alaric agreed, "Captain Limerick, call your superiors. Magna Roma needs your aid."

"It will be done." Limerick promised, "But now I need to find a way to get to my ship."

"No problem." Grace said from across the room, "I can get you there."

"No way." Jones said from beside her.

"Scared?" Grace taunted.

"Captain," Jones said forcefully, "let's do it."

Limerick turned to Macen, "Captain?"

"I can spare her for a few hours." Macen assured him, "If anyone has a chance of returning you to your ship, Hannah has."

"It is decided then." Limerick jovially said as he clapped his hands together, "Let's be off, shall we?"

As the trio departed, escorted by one Praetorian, Alaric gestured for all of Macen's remaining people to join the emperor's commanders in the war room. There, satellite imagery was displayed across hundreds of screens.

"How...?" Macen asked.

"We are employing older satellites." Alaric boasted, "They rely upon microwave and radio wave transmissions."

"As you can see," Gaius spoke up, "these 'Cardassians' have landed in force and are presently slaughtering our wayward clones. It seems that one of our problems is nearing resolution."

"How many Cardassians have landed?" Macen enquired.

"Their total numbers are approximately five thousand, counting the troops and the weapon crews." Gaius answered.

"So six more Keldon-class cruisers and probably Galor-class escorts." Macen recounted.

"Hope Hannah's up to it." T'Kir murmured.

"I hope we all are." Macen replied, "Okay, let's get started. I'll tell you everything I know about Cardies, which is quite a lot, and we'll give you what tactical advice that we can."

"I've fought Cardassians." Rockford spoke up, "I can prove useful."

"We will be glad of the help." Alaric assured them, "Please, instruct us."

"Where to begin..." Macen mused, "Let's start with Cardassian military units. They are comprised of..."

 

Chapter Fourteen

"Dammit!" Grace snarled, "Hold on! This is going to get woolly."

She threw the Corsair in a series of twists, turns, banks, and rolls. The inertial forces were immense. Even Jones, an experienced fighter pilot, groaned under the strain. But the results were positive. Nary a disruptor blast hit them.

Jones watched Grace in stunned silence. Grace's superhuman reflexes were almost faster than the human eye could track. She instinctively knew Grace was holding back owing to the limitations of the equipment. She was literally faster than the ship.

With the runabout sailing at maximum impulse and the Cardassian ships occupied with the planet, no hostile forces moved to pursue. Once the Corsair moved beyond the Cardassians' weapons range, the wild manoeuvres ended. After that they sailed straight and true for the Hood.

Limerick tried hailing the Galaxy-class Hood. He found that they cleared the jamming field upon breaking orbit. Havelik's porcine features appeared on his screen, "Sima! I'm even happy to see you."

"Captain!" his XO squealed, "Are you all right? What happened?"

"I was a captive and now I'm free." Limerick answered, "More importantly, the Cardassians are invading and we've been asked to intercede."

"Good." Havelik growled, "I contacted Starfleet Command when you'd been shot down. Help is already on its way."

"That's a relief." Limerick wore a rueful expression, "Unfortunately, it's up to us to act before then. We must hold out until the reinforcements arrive."

"Of course, sir." Havelik resisted her natural urge to argue. In Starfleet, there were times when it wasn't prudent.

The Corsair came to a full stop. She was floating just off of the Hood's port side. Limerick was already up, synching the runabout's transporter in with the larger starship's.

"We still have another spare fighter." Jones told Grace, "I could really use you out there."

Grace shook her head, "My team needs me. I have a history with them and I still feel the need to prove that I'll be there for them."

"Good luck then." Jones said, "If you can wait another fifteen minutes, the Rascals can launch and help you punch a hole through the Cardassian blockade."

"Like all the help I received getting here?" Grace wryly asked.

"Point taken." Jones replied, "But it would make me feel better."

"Okay." Grace sighed, "Since you asked nicely. Just don't get in my way."

Jones held up her right hand, "I swear."

Grace smirked, "Now that that's settled, I'd be happy to escort your people in."

"You..." Jones sputtered, "You're going to escort us?"

"Yup." Grace happily confirmed.

"Ladies," Limerick gently chided, "we need to break up this little soiree. Verity and I are needed aboard the Hood."

Jones stepped into the transporter frame, "See you in a few."

They dissolved out of existence and Grace returned to the CONN.

"Welcome back, Captain." Havelik said as Limerick entered the bridge. He still wore his flightsuit. Urgency was the rule now and frivolities such as uniforms were a luxury.

"Have our pilots been alerted?" Limerick asked as he took the centre seat.

"They're in Bay 1 prepping for launch." Havelik reported.

"I want them launched ASAP." Limerick ordered, "We're going into combat. Distribute phasers to all personnel. Have all Damage Control Teams standing by."

"Sir!" the Tactical Officer sounded urgent; "Three starships are translating out of subspace into normal space."

"ID?" Limerick despised the thought of engaging even more Cardassians.

"It's an Akira-class and two Defiant-class starships." Tactical happily reported, "ID transponders are now transmitting. They're the Intrepid, the Monitor, and the Merrimack."

Limerick smiled. He had extensive experience working with all three ships. The Intrepid, like the Hood, was a troubleshooter. If the spot were hot, the Intrepid would be there. The Monitor and the Merrimack, besides being two escort type ships, were permanently assigned to Starfleet Intelligence. Few people ever heard about their exploits. Limerick was privy to such information and he knew that their feats were legendary even amongst Starfleet's elite cadre.

James McKinley, CO of the Intrepid, had become famous as the XO of the prior ship of the same name. His career had spanned the length and breadth of situational crises. While Limerick was the senior officer, McKinley's insights would prove invaluable. Besides which, the Intrepid's fighter wing would come in handy.

Commander Alec Prine of the Merrimack was an old school American Southerner. Upon being tapped for command by Starfleet Intelligence, he'd been offered the next Defiant-class escort to be built at Utopia Planetia. He'd insisted that she be christened the Merrimack and the rest was history.

Commander Hev Calias of the Monitor had been a maverick and a rebel for most of his career. After a nearly explosive stint as the XO of the Beijing, Hev disappeared from the eyes of most of Starfleet's brass. Tapped as a covert agent for Nechayev, she utilised him on several hair raising adventures. Finally, he was posted as CO of the Monitor. Defying regulations, he selected Annis Valyn as his XO despite the fact that she was his lover.

"Hail the Intrepid." Limerick ordered as he turned to Havelik, "Contact the Monitor and the Merrimack. Give my regards to Captains Prine and Hev. Have them stand-by for orders."

As she moved to an auxiliary station to comply with the request, Tactical spoke; "I have Captain McKinley standing by. Should I transfer the signal to the main screen?"

"Please do." Limerick replied. He smiled as McKinley's sombre image appeared. Sitting to the other captain's left was his XO, Jonathan Striker. Neither looked particularly distressed, but then again, neither looked happy either.

"Jim," Limerick said with pleasant familiarity, "Your arrival is quite an unexpected and welcome surprise."

A slight smile tugged at McKinley's mouth, "Glad to be of service. We just happened to be delivering Admirals Johnson and Noyce to Sigma Iotia II when we received orders to race over here and save your sorry butt."

Limerick grinned, "My sorry butt thanks you. Are Bob and Ed aboard?"

McKinley shook his head, "No. We'd already delivered them when the word came down that you needed help. God knows where the Monitor and the Merrimack came from."

"Who wants to know?" Limerick quipped.

That loosened McKinley up and he laughed, "Not me, brother, not me." McKinley grew more serious, "You're senior, Merry. How do you want to play this?"

"I was thinking your Alpha and Beta Squadrons could link up with my Rascals and drive a wedge into the Cardassians while our two gunslingers follow them in. That'd leave the Intrepid and the Hood as the clean-up muscle."

"If you count the fighter squadrons as three separate assets," McKinley suggested, "That still leaves us facing seven to nine odds."

Limerick nodded, "We faced worse in the Battle for Deep Space 9."

McKinley grinned cockily, "I know. I just had to find out your take on this. Frankly, I don't think the Cardassians stand a chance."

"I like your thinking. Have you briefed your pilots yet?" Limerick wondered.

"Our Flight Control Officer, Liz Liefers, has been overhearing our conversation. She'll handle the fighter wing." McKinley informed Limerick.

"Liefers isn't going out with the squadrons?" Limerick was surprised.

McKinley shook his head, "I've finally convinced her that her place is on the bridge at her station. She doesn't like it but she's convinced."

"My CAG doesn't feel the same way. Our Flight Control Officer is a grounded pilot under her command." Limerick shared, "Speaking of which, it's been fifteen minutes. My people should be ready to launch."

"Mine will be clearing the decks in five more minutes." McKinley promised.

"MY XO is briefing Hev and Prine." Limerick disclosed, "They'll be ready any time now. I'll speak to them directly in a moment."

"I'll leave you to it." McKinley said, "My Tactical Officer will coordinate with yours and my CONN officer will synchronise helms with your CONN."

"Good thinking." Limerick nodded, "I should have thought of that. I must be getting old."

"I won't make a comment." McKinley wore a devilish grin, "Intrepid out."

"Sima," Limerick addressed his XO, "reroute Prine and Hev to the main screen. I want a word with them."

"Gladly." Havelik complied.

"Gentlemen," Limerick began, "The moment is upon us. We must..."

Justinian V surveyed the chaos. Half of his troops were dead, cut down by their own allies. He still had 150,000 men at his command here alone. He'd signalled the garrisons. The clones were emptying them. They'd released their officers and were now working with the Romans.

Justinian V's talks with Alaric had born fruit, this alliance against the Cardassians being the chief benefit, but he still felt uneasy. Caesar had avoided any discussions regarding the ultimate fate of the surviving clone population. His eyes had been hooded and his words vague.

Justinian V feared the worst but he had to shrug such thoughts aside. Magna Roma was their home and their home, clone and natural born alike, was threatened. The Cardassians had to be stopped regardless of the personal costs.

Octavius XII approached, "Legatus, the troops are ready to move out."

"Can't we bury our dead?" Marcus CLXII asked for the second time.

And for the second time, Justinian V said, "No. We must head west immediately. The Cardassian advance will be slowed at Nova Roma. We can arrive and attack their rear. Our fellows from across the globe will reinforce Nova Roma as will the Romans' natural born allies."

Marcus CLXII relented, "Of course. The men will be disappointed but they are behind you and will comply."

"Good." Justinian V replied, "The fate of the world may depend upon it."

Romans were digging and building earth works. Rockford oversaw the preparations. Heavy weapons stations had been built. Armoured units deployed and antiaircraft units situated. On top of it, a massive minefield had been laid. The Romans may not prove to be a match for the Cardassians but at least the invaders would know they were in a fight.

The bulk of the clone reinforcements were moving through Africa into Italia. The massive monument dedicated to the Eternal City would be passed as the troops headed inland. The rest were moving across the Pacifica and Atlantic Oceans.

The troops from Britannia, Eire, the Norselands, and free Germania had already arrived and were being incorporated as special operations units designed for flanking and swinging into the rear of the Cardassian force.

The Cardassians were moving across Eastern Europe with 4500 troops, 30 tanks, 60 armoured transports and scouts, 30 assault shuttles, and 18 antiaircraft batteries.

The Roman plan was to knock out the antiaircraft units, which were in the rear of the Cardassian column. That would free Roman and allied aircraft to saturate the field of battle with plasma fire and bombs. It was estimated that that could eliminate up to a third of the Cardassian troops. The minefield was thought to be capable of pairing those numbers further down. Then the trench warfare would begin.

First of all, the Cardassians had to penetrate the Maginot Line. This huge static defence encircled Gaul. Macen had explained the failure of another similarly named defensive structure and the Roman commanders no longer felt that it alone could stop the invaders.

Alaric and his counsel appreciated the clones' willingness to assist but they still viewed them as a necessary evil. An evil that had to be expunged at the earliest available opportunity. Magna Roma had to return to normalcy at all costs. The Senatorial law had been passed and Caesar must enforce it. Alaric hated it but he was firmly trying to establish the rule of law rather than the rule of whim.

His choice haunted him but he was resolved. The clones must die. His only real concern at that point was the fate of Joachim Dracas. If Dracas had stayed away, he wouldn't be considered a threat. As it stood now, Dracas was legally viewed as just another clone and the sentence of death hung above him.

Alaric's mind was racing trying to find an acceptable alternative. He thought he'd found a way but he had to play his cards carefully. If the Senate suspected his true motives they would block his scheme and all would be lost. But now wasn't the time for such thoughts. Now the battle was upon them and he had to fight. After all, he had a planet to save.

 

Chapter Fifteen

Gathered in the Impulse Control Room aboard the Obsidian, Vaughn stepped away from the small parts replicator. In his hands were three earpieces. He handed one to each flesh and blood member of his team.

Turning to Tessa, he said, "The blueprints are in the tactical database. You'll need one as well."

Tessa stared off into space for a moment and then she held out her hand and an earpiece appeared there, "Now what?"

"Now remove your comm badges." Vaughn instructed.

The shield-like badges came off. Except for being golden instead of silver, they could easily be mistaken for the badges carried and worn by the agents of the Federation Bureau of Investigation. The FBI issued such badges to privateers to identify them as licensed law enforcement agents. Bounty hunters and private investigators also received a badge. It was shaped like a star encircled by a ring.

Vaughn collected Gerrit and Gilan's badges. Tessa's simply disappeared. Vaughn set them on a counter and then also removed his. Slipping his earpiece in, he waited for the others to do the same.

Once they had, he explained, "These comm units are independent of the ship's comm array. They'll allow us to communicate without granting the Cardassians the privilege of tracking us down through the locators inside our comm badges."

"Makes sense." Gilan said, "They're just smaller than anything I've seen before. Who did the engineering?"

"Starfleet Intelligence's Q Branch." Vaughn replied.

"Never heard of it." Gilan admitted, "But then again, I was just an enlisted man in Starfleet. I wasn't privy to much."

"I've never heard of it either and the Militia is pretty tight with Starfleet Security." Gerrit confessed.

"Tessa?" Vaughn sought her input.

"I've checked every Starfleet database that we have access to." She frowned, "And I haven't matched a reference."

"Q Branch, like the Special Projects Yards, doesn't appear in any Starfleet record. They're blacker than black." Vaughn smiled.

"So why're you telling us about it?" Gerrit had to ask.

"You've kept the secret of the SPYards." Vaughn grinned, "I suppose you can be trusted with this. Besides, we need the equipment."

"That we do." Gerrit agreed, "What's the plan?"

"Gilan will guide us back to Engineering through the Jeffries tubes. When we're in position to strike, Tessa will appear in Engineering to scout." Vaughn explained, "Tessa, once you've reported their numbers pull a Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, whatever you want to call it. Take out as many as you can and then hightail it out of there on foot. They'll pursue. You can deal with them however you'd like there."

Tessa's head bobbed, "Gotcha."

"I recommend appearing behind the warp core." Gilan said, "It'll give you a wide view of the area. It'll also shield you. They'd have to be crazy to shoot at the core."

"After Tessa's gone we'll emerge from the access hatch behind the core." Vaughn revealed, "With all of the confusion surrounding your sudden appearance, we should be able to easily mop up those that are left."

Vaughn turned to Tessa, "We'll comm you when we're in position. It could take some time so don't be impatient."

"Understood." Tessa sombrely replied.

"Okay guys, let's move out." Vaughn released the Jeffries tube's hatch and Gilan entered in.

Vaughn went next. Gerrit followed. Tessa stayed behind and watched the hatch seal itself behind them.

The EMH was experiencing an ethical crisis. Her ethical subroutines demanded that she respect and nurture all life. However, the moment could soon arise where circumstances, or orders, would compel her to kill. She didn't know if she were capable of such an act. Her program might not allow it.

Then again, she'd already experienced some surprises today. She'd been careful not to inflict any permanent damage upon her Cardassian foes thus far but she had found that fighting easily came to her and she'd experienced what humanoids called "a rush." What had been unanticipated had been her vulnerability to particle beams.

Rockford had warned her of that possibility but in the heat of the moment she'd discarded that notion. Now she knew differently and she'd use her "blinking" abilities to her advantage. Now that she'd experienced pain first hand she vowed to be more empathetic towards her patients. She also wanted to avoid experiencing it again.

Still unsure of her potential reactions, Tessa determined to carry out Vaughn's plan to the best of her untested ability. The crew needed her. She was trying to prevent harm to the others and wasn't that the true duty of a doctor?

Verity Jones led her Rascals into the midst of the Cardassian ships and the battle began. The Intrepid's Alpha and Beta squadrons leapt into the fray right behind them. Eight of the nine Cardassian cruisers broke orbit and manoeuvred to engage the fighters and the oncoming Federation starships.

The Monitor and the Merrimack sailed into action. Engaged in strafing runs, their pulse phasers blazed as they unleashed quantum torpedoes. Between the fighters and the Defiant-class escorts, the Cardassians were hard pressed but the battle didn't truly begin until the Hood and the Intrepid joined the fight.

The Corsair navigated her way through the melee. Grace engaged in bone crushing manoeuvres and managed to clear the "battlefield." As she descended into Magna Roma's atmosphere, she scanned for the SID teams' comm badges. Seeing that the group was still located in Nova Roma she set course for the City of Lights.

Tessa appeared behind the warp core. There was a catwalk that allowed access to the antimatter injector and the plasma coolant circulation pump. Tessa crept closer to the edge so that she could peer around the intermix annihilation core.

She counted off eight Cardassians. Tapping her earpiece she called Vaughn and whispered the total of the enemy's strength. Then she sauntered into the open and strode purposefully towards the huddled intruders.

When they spotted her, the dalin in command of the boarding force ordered her capture. two of the eight approached her. They held rifles to her. Moving into action, she disarmed and incapacitated both of them in under a minute.

As the remaining six prepared to fire, she broke and ran. Four of the six took off in pursuit. They entered the corridor in time to see her racing headlong towards the aft end of the ship. Her destination was the shuttlebay and she was planning a trap.

"Rascal Six," Jones commed, "follow me in."

Jones and Six strafed a Galor V-class cruiser's engines. The Rascals were trying to disable the Cardassians' impulse engines and warp cores. The Alpha and Beta Squadrons were tasked with neutralising weapons systems. The Monitor and the Merrimack's goal was to collapse the cruisers' shields. The Hood and the Intrepid were slated with delivering the coup de grace.

"Pedrossi, 5 degrees down bubble. Bring us to heading zero three five." Striker ordered the Intrepid's helmsman.

"Aye, sir." The young lieutenant replied as his hands danced over the CONN.

"Mr. Delaney," McKinley addressed his Tactical Officer, "Target Hostile-One with a full phaser array salvo. Blanket Hostile-Two with a full spread of torpedoes."

"Yes, sir." Delaney complied. The two Galor V-class cruisers reeled from the additional damage wreaked upon them. Delaney paused, "Captain, the Corsair is being bracketed. Shall I redirect fire towards Hostile-Four and Hostile-Six to cover her?"

"By all means," McKinley smirked, "save your girlfriend. I'd hate to be on the receiving end of Macen's wrath if she were killed."

"Thanks." Delaney replied as he executed his suggested actions. The Cardies ceased fire and concentrated on covering their flanks. The Corsair entered the planet's atmosphere and got away. Hannah was safe!

"Hail the Hood," McKinley ordered, "We need to coordinate our next actions."

Delaney spared a moment to set up the link. McKinley took it as an audio channel.

"'Hello Merry." McKinley cheerfully said, "we seem to have them on the ropes."

"That may change in a moment." Limerick warned, "The Rascals are returning to the Hood to rearm."

"Lt. Liefers has already informed me that our squadrons are doing the same after their next run." McKinley informed him.

"I'm having the Monitor and the Merrimack concentrate on Hostiles –Three and –Five." Limerick shared, "They should cripple them with another pass. That leaves you –Seven and – Eight while we'll tackle –One and –Two. Hostiles –Four and –Six are straggling so we'll give them a momentary reprieve."

"Got it." McKinley replied, "When do we go?"

"In ninety seconds, on my mark." Limerick decided.

"Give the word." Was McKinley's response, "We'll be ready."

You could hear the confidence in Limerick's voice, "I have no doubts."

Vaughn crept towards the edge of the intermix chamber. He could see the three remaining Cardassians. The officer ordered a recovering garresh to investigate around the core since that's where Tessa had approached from.

Gerrit cleared the tube and moved up behind Vaughn. Vaughn counted down from three with his fingers. When his fist clenched, they sprang into action.

Vaughn shot the garresh as he cleared the core. Gerrit followed. He raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired. The particle stream struck a gorr and he went down.

The dalin sputtered and pulled his pistol free. Instead of aiming at Vaughn or Gerrit he chose a target amongst the assembled engineers. He was startled as they rushed him. He was swiftly toppled. The former hostages beat him half to death before they stopped.

Gilan moved up behind Vaughn and Gerrit, "You didn't leave me anything to do."

Vaughn grinned as he tapped his earpiece, "Vaughn to Forger."

"Forger here." He alone heard.

"Release the computer." He ordered, "We've retaken Engineering. Gilan and his fellows can hold it."

"You're sure?" Forger wondered.

"Positive." Vaughn replied, "Our next stop is the Security Office. From there we can trap the Cardassians in between forcefields and hold them indefinitely."

"All right." Forger relented, "Speaking of good points: how can you be in Engineering and the Impulse Control Room at the same time?"

"I'll explain later." Vaughn promised, "For now, release the computer and Gerrit and I will continue the campaign."

"Happy hunting." Forger wished them well.

Vaughn turned to Gerrit, "Let's head back into the tubes and make our way to the Security Office."

"Won't we need Tessa?" Gerrit asked.

"Good point." Vaughn frowned and he tapped his earpiece, "Vaughn to Tessa, come in."

Tessa ran for her life. Well, not her life exactly. She was running to avoid getting shot and getting shot hurt.

She erratically zigged and zagged like mad. The Cardassians pursuing her tried the occasional shot but by now they'd largely given up. Their singular goal at this point was to run her to ground.

She raced all the way to the end of the ship. She ran straight into the shuttlebay door. Instead of bouncing off, she phased through the door. The Cardassians halted. That sight had been particularly unnerving.

Cautiously, they opened the door and entered in. There was no one to be found even the small craft were missing. They fanned out and started visually sweeping the area.

One gorr headed for the shuttlebay control booth. As he stepped in Tessa appeared in the midst of the remaining gorrs. They all turned, inwardly facing the middle of the triangle they had formed.

Tessa grabbed one of the Cardassian troopers and spun him in front of her. She held him by the neck as a human shield while the other two Cardassians fired. He died in her arms and his body went slack. She pulled the corpse's pistol free and shot one of the troopers while she dropped the body of her ill-fated shield.

The third trooper levelled his rifle at her. The captured disruptor pistol clattered to the floor as she vanished. The beleaguered gorr frantically looked around. Tessa reappeared behind him, reached out and took hold of his head and twisted. His neck snapped.

The fourth gorr depressurised the bay and opened the bay door. Tessa simply disappeared. She appeared next to him and he cried out.

"No worries, dear." She purred, "This will only hurt forever."

She punched him in the face so hard that it caved in. Tessa looked at the gore on her hand. She dematerialised her hand for a second and the bloody detritus fell to the floor. Solidifying her hand, she tapped her comm unit as it sounded a tone in her "ear."

"Tessa here." She announced.

"I'll be calling in approximately fifteen minutes." Vaughn declared, "When I do, meet us near Jeffries hatch 85. I need you to scout out the Security Office so we can retake it."

"Roger that." Tessa replied.

"Have you run into any problems?" Vaughn asked.

Tessa viewed the results of her handiwork and then nonchalantly replied, "Nope."

"Good." Vaughn sounded relieved, "We'll see you in a few."

"Yup." Tessa agreed. She took one more look around. She guessed her moral crisis was solved. Just more proof that she could stretch beyond the limits of her original programming.

Tessa smiled as she gave the corpse before she delivered a final kick, "Life is good."

 

Chapter Sixteen

The Cardassian Militia forces had penetrated the Maginot Line. Now they were rapidly transiting the Gaulic countryside and headed directly for Nova Roma. However, despite the ominous tone of recent events, good news was on the way.

In the field command centre, the head of communication suddenly rushed into Alaric's presence, "Caesar! The subspace channels have cleared! What's even greater news is that the Cardassian assault shuttles have departed and broken orbit! The aliens have no air support!"

"Have you re-established communication with the clones' Star Legion assets?" Alaric wondered.

"Not yet." The comm chief answered, "We thought it wiser for Caesar to handle the matter."

"Just so." Alaric agreed, "Patch me into Justinian V. We must deploy the clones in support of our Federation allies."

Marcus CLXII moved across the cab of the command crawler. He handed Justinian V a headset, "You'll want to listen to this. It's Alaric Caesar. It's on a subspace comm channel."

"The jamming has lifted?" Justinian V asked.

"Apparently." Marcus CLXII replied.

Justinian V accepted the headset and upon putting it in said, "Alaric Caesar?"

"Justinian V," Alaric said without preamble, "you must contact your Star Legions forces and commit them to the battle in near space. The Federation ships face a new threat and it would be best of we responded to the danger in order to prove ourselves."

"Agreed." Justinian V replied, "I will make the call."

"Thank you, Legatus." Alaric said and then cut the channel.

"Marcus CLXII," Justinian V switched gears, "raise the Star Legion."

"Captain," Delaney said urgently, "the Cardassian assault shuttles have lifted from the planet and are headed for our fighter wings."

"How many?" McKinley enquired.

"All of them." Delaney replied.

McKinley shook his head. Delaney was teasing him. Oh, well. McKinley thought. Swivelling his chair around, he addressed Liefers, "Lt. Liefers, are you aware of the encroaching Cardassian shuttles?"

"I just alerted the fighter wings on the GUARD channel. They're responding as we speak." Liefers said and then hastily added, "Sir."

McKinley looked to Striker and started to laugh. The fighter pilots aboard the Intrepid were such an informal group that Liefers tended to forget the finer points of regulatory address. Still, her squadrons were amongst the best in Starfleet. Who was he to quibble?

"Lead to Rascals," Jones addressed her squadron, "as you've heard the Cardies are responding to us. Compared to us, the Cardassian assault shuttle is slow and clumsy but they are armed to the teeth. Come in fast and hard and we should minimise their chances of responding. Form up on your wingmen and follow me in."

Rascal squadron drove towards the Cardassians at maximum impulse. Weapons hot, Jones yelled, "Tally ho!" into the comm pickup and began to engage the shuttles.

McKinley's comm badge chirped. He tapped it, "Go ahead."

"Sir," it was Robert Caplan, his Chief Engineer, "Our damage control teams are stretched out to the max. Any chance of a reprieve for, let's say, thirty minutes or so?"

"Sorry Caplan." McKinley replied, "We're in the final moments of our assault. It won't be much longer. How's the warp core?"

"The intermix ratio is falling and surging." Caplan admitted. A hard admission for him, "We're on top of it for now but a sustained high demand may prove to be our downfall."

"Understood." McKinley acknowledged, "We'll try to knock the Cardassians out in the next fifteen minutes. Would that work for you?"

"That'd be terrific!" Caplan enthused.

McKinley chuckled, "We'll do our best. McKinley out."

"Engineers." Striker chuckled as well.

"We all have our foibles." McKinley said as he glanced over towards Liefers.

Striker responded with a knowing smile and a glance, "Shall we end this?"

"Take us in Jonathan." McKinley ordered, "The mop up is all yours."

Striker's answering smile possessed a predatory hint, "Aye, sir!"

"Pedrossi, set course 312 and accelerate to one quarter impulse." Striker ordered, "Delaney, lock phasers onto their weapons array. I want them neutered."

"Yes, sir!" Delaney grinned.

McKinley sat back and enjoyed the show. He was proud of his people. They had a reputation to rival that of the crews of the Enterprise, Defiant, Excalibur, and Titan. They'd get the job done...and in a timely manner so Caplan wouldn't have to worry.

The crossfire between the shuttles was brutal. The shuttles had linked their fire control computers. The fighters were bracketed as the passed by the lumbering shuttles.

The shields on the Lightning and Peregrine IV-class fighters were being eroded. Fortunately, the shields on the assault shuttles were near collapse. Jones decided it was time to up the ante.

"Rascals, arm photon torpedoes." She ordered, "Let's take these bastards out."

The Rascals clicked the comms to cheerfully respond. Jones set her vector and then poured on the speed. It was time to end this melee.

"Commander," Delaney interrupted, "the Romans are moving into attack position. They're dealing with Hostile-9."

The clone Star Legion forces had been an unknown variable up to this point. Seeing that their homeworld was under attack, they'd allowed the Starfleet ships violate the blockade but they'd stayed out of the fighting. It seemed that they'd finally decided whose team they were on.

"What are their estimated odds of success?" Striker wondered.

"The computer puts it at 40%." Delaney replied, "I'd give them an extra 10%."

"Why?" Striker was curious as to his reasoning.

"Their tech is analogous to our late 23rd Century ships." Delaney explained, "That dampens their chances but they're six-to-one and they're reported to be tenacious. If nothing else they'll pare down the Keldon's defences enough that we can easily deliver the hammer blow."

"Excellent summation." Striker congratulated his friend, "I couldn't have done it better myself."

Delaney shook his head. His XO was a former Starfleet Intelligence operative. He still enjoyed keeping his hand in the game so he probably realised every factor Delaney had presented even before Delaney spoke. Rather than feel used, Delaney was pleased that he had passed the impromptu test of his abilities.

A blinking telltale caught his eye. There was an incoming subspace message. The textual prologue indicated that it was Cardassian in nature. They wished to discuss terms of surrender.

Smiling, he alerted his CO, "Captain, it's the Cardassians. They wish to surrender."

Liefers was on the GUARD channel, "All fighter wings stand down. The Cardassians have surrendered. Repeat, the Cardassians have surrendered."

Jones commed her squadron, "Lead to Rascals, let's stay on station to make sure these cretins have really given up."

Through her transparent aluminium canopy she had a full view of the battlefield. Over half of the shuttles were destroyed outright. The remainder were lifeless hulks that drifted aimlessly.

Eight of the Cardassian cruisers were hammered to the point of placing them in the salvage yards. The Romans were still pounding the 9th cruiser. Up till now it had been excluded from the fighting as it supported ground operations. Apparently the Romans weren't feeling forgiving yet.

One of Jones' pilots had ejected and she and her seat were floating out in space waiting to be recovered. Two of her squadron mates had been killed as their fighters died around them. The Alpha and Beta Squadrons had fared little better. Beta had four losses, one recoverable. Alpha had lost three with two being recoverable.

At least it's over, she sighed to herself, No one else has to die today.

Vaughn cautiously extricated himself from Jeffries tube hatch 85. No one was present. Gerrit followed him. Other than the normal sounds of the ship's power plant pulsing, there were no sounds.

They found the Security Office deserted. It made sense. Even without the computer being frozen, all of the functions within the Security Office were locked down. Voiceprint and authorisation code recognition was the only means of utilising the office's equipment.

Vaughn summoned Tessa. She instantly appeared. What Vaughn didn't know is that she'd used her free time to pressurise the shuttlebay and stack the Cardassian corpses in a pile.

"I found them." Gerrit announced, "Two of the Cardassians are standing post outside of the Team Room. The other five are standing watch over the crew."

"That's this deck." Vaughn reminded Gerrit, "What about the rest of the ship?"

"Decks 4, 6, 7, and 8 have the spoonheads lumped together in fairly isolated areas." Gerrit explained, "However, they're on the move on Deck 2."

"All right." Vaughn wore a predatory smile, "Encase everyone in forcefields."

Gerrit manipulated the controls, "The Cardies on Deck 2 just went into the Jeffries tubes and the lift. Everyone else is netted."

Vaughn frowned, "Why the hell is the lift working?"

"It's on a manual override from Engineering." Gerrit explained, "But I've erected a forcefield at the entrance of the lift on Deck 1. Those bastards won't get on the bridge. I'm also locking the lift into position so they're trapped where they are."

Vaughn smiled as he tapped his earpiece, "Vaughn to Forger."

"Forger here."

"You have four Cardassians headed straight for you by way of the Jeffries tubes." Vaughn warned.

"We have them on our screens." Forger assured him, "We're prepared."

"Just checking. Vaughn out." Vaughn turned to Tessa, "Think you could take out those Cardassian sentries by the Team Room?"

Tessa cracked her knuckles, "Give me five minutes."

The battle for the bridge was swift and furious. The four Cardassians didn't stand a chance. When it was over, Forger and Rhiann surveyed the damage.

"Shannon, we have three wounded." Rhiann pointed out.

"I know Rhiann." Forger addressed the ceiling, "Computer, activate EMH."

Tessa had wiped out the Cardassians with a vicious chop to the throat for one and a mighty backspin kick for the other one. Both of her opponents were down and now she just had to wait. Suddenly her eyes went wide, "Oh my."

Tessa appeared on the bridge. She looked around and began issuing orders, "Get me all of your emergency medkits. Replicate pans of hot water. I'll need gauze and bandages. Move!"

Rhiann snapped into action. Forger, who had combat medicine training, acted as Tessa's nurse. She stabilised the other patients as the doctor worked on each individual. Rhiann joined in as soon as she was done with the fetch and carry aspects.

Vaughn and Gerrit came to the Team Room door. Vaughn frowned and tapped his earpiece, "Vaughn to Tessa."

"Tessa here."

"Where the hell are you?" Vaughn demanded.

"I'm on the bridge treating wounded." Tessa snapped back, "D'you mind? Tessa out!"

Vaughn felt ashamed. He'd grown so dependent on Tessa's "superpowers" that he'd forgotten her primary function as the ship's doctor. He and Gerrit would make do without her.

"Gerrit, what other access points does the Team Room have?" Vaughn wondered.

"There's a ventilation shaft which runs into the rear of the kitchen. I'm pretty sure I could use that to get in undetected." Gerrit informed him.

"Good." Vaughn strode to the nearest intercom, "While you're doing that, I'll be having a little chat with our malcontents."

Gerrit proceeded to the nearest access for the ventilation system. Vaughn activated the intercom, "Vaughn to Team Room, come in..."

 

Chapter Seventeen

"Vaughn to Team Room, come in." sounded inside of the canteen. The gil commanding the squad of Cardassians tensed.

"Vaughn to Cardassian commander, please respond." Vaughn tried again.

The gil cautiously approached the intercom. He studied it for a moment and then pressed his finger up against the appropriate touch screen button, "This is the Cardassian commander speaking. Go ahead."

"It's over." Vaughn informed him, "Your dalin and all of your cohorts are captured. Come out quietly and you'll be well treated."

"Federation lies!" the gil spat.

"Check with your other units." Vaughn suggested, "I'll contact you again in five minutes."

Gerrit reached the ventilation screen. It was held in place by light magnetic fields. He peered through the screen and ascertained that no one was in the kitchen.

Popping the screen loose, he gently lowered it to the deck. Next he extricated himself. Now that he had made it through the parts where he was the most vulnerable, he edged around a counter to take a look at the situation.

The gil was incensed. The dalin was incommunicado. In fact, half of the boarding party wasn't responding. Vaughn paged him again but the gil ignored it. He grabbed Kalista and pulled her onto her feet.

Gerrit commed Vaughn. He described the positions of the Cardassian troops. He also informed him that the spoonheads were taking human shields. Vaughn said to go!

Gerrit stood and levelled his rifle at the first Cardassian's back and fired. He took down another. The third closest pulled a maintenance tech in front of him. Gerrit paused.

The doors to the Team Room opened and Vaughn rushed in. He shot the Cardassian closest to the door. He had his rifle to his shoulder and aimed directly at the gil's head. The gil sneered.

"You won't harm me, Fed. Not while I have a hostage."

"It'll be all right, Kalista. I promise." Vaughn said.

"I know." Kalista nonchalantly replied.

"I have a shot." Gerrit announced, "Should I take it?"

"No!" the gorr cried and he threw his rifle aside and released his hostage.

"Coward." The gil spat as he shot and killed his own man.

"You're the coward." Vaughn growled.

"Liar!" the gil shouted as he turned his weapon away from Kalista towards Vaughn. Vaughn shot over Kalista's shoulder and hit the gil in the face. A stun blast to the head, no matter the distance, was lethal and the gil fell dead.

"Are you all right?" Vaughn asked Kalista.

She was chipper, "I'm fine. How're you?"

Vaughn was surprised, "I'm good."

"By the way, thanks." Kalista said, "If you drop by my quarters later, I'll thank you properly."

Vaughn grinned, "I thought you'd taken an oath of celibacy."

"I can make the occasional exception." She smiled.

"Sorry, but no thanks." Vaughn replied.

"Too bad. I could make you forget all about Celeste Rockford." She winked and strolled away.

Deltans, Vaughn thought, who can explain them?

"Andreja," McKinley was in Sickbay addressing his Chief Medical Officer, "How badly did we get hurt?"

Sikorsky wore a rueful expression, "Fifty-six casualties and twelve deaths. Considering how intense the fighting was, I'd say we got off lucky."

McKinley scowled, "We've faced greater odds and come out relatively unscathed."

She reached out and held his shoulder, "Jim, if you're looking for someone to blame, blame the Cardassians. They did the shooting."

McKinley's rueful expression said it all, "I know. All right, I won't dwell on it. In the meantime, get everyone back to their posts as fast as you can."

Sikorsky smiled, "Aye, aye, sir."

Enjoying the sudden repartee, McKinley smiled warmly; "Anything else to report, Doctor?"

Sikorsky's expression shifted to one of concern, "Have we heard from our friends aboard the Obsidian?"

"No." McKinley replied, "She's had her shields up throughout the battle and for the last twenty minutes of the mop up. She's incommunicado and not responding to our hails."

"Don't you think you ought to do something about that?" Sikorsky scolded.

McKinley gave her a wry look but before he could respond his comm badge sounded. Tapping it, he said; "McKinley here."

"Captain," Delaney said, "we've raised the Obsidian. Would you like to take the message at your present location?"

McKinley looked to Sikorsky. She nodded.

"Pipe it to our CMO's office." McKinley instructed, "I'll take it there."

"Yes, sir." Delaney sounded pleased.

McKinley and Sikorsky shared a knowing smile. They'd once been in love with each other so they understood the demands upon Delaney's heart.

Forger was relieved when McKinley's features fill the main viewer, "Hello Captain. Sorry it's taken so long to respond to your hails. We were busy."

McKinley's smile was a rueful one, "Unfortunately, so were we."

"From what our sensors show the Cardassians appear to be beaten." Forger said.

"They've surrendered." McKinley confirmed it, "Who knows how long they'll behave."

"We've got forty-six prisoners and a few corpses." Forger related, "Want some?"

McKinley looked surprised, "You have been busy."

"Yep." Forger replied, "Like I said, want to take some of them off our hands? Our brig's big enough for six of them."

McKinley did some fast calculations, "You're a civilian ship. Even though your privateers and licensed to make arrests, this is a matter of foreign policy. It's a Starfleet matter."

"If you want to level charges we'll be happy to hold them." McKinley grinned, "I can take fifteen of them and the rest can go to the Hood."

"That'd be appreciated." Forger admitted, "Now that the fighting's finished we'll lower our shields and you can collect them."

"We'll be with you in ten minutes." McKinley promised, "I take it Brin's on the surface?"

"Yes." Forger answered, "He took the entire SID team with him. We can't raise them so we have no idea how they're doing."

McKinley looked determined, "We'll see what we can do about that."

Forger smiled, "Thanks."

"Don't mention it." McKinley said, "I'd hate for Brin and T'Kir to haunt me because I didn't do everything that I could."

Forger laughed, "They would, wouldn't they?"

"I have no doubts." McKinley chuckled, "Intrepid out."

Limerick took the message in his Ready Room, "Jim! How can I help you?"

"How's the repatriation of the Cardassians going?" McKinley smirked.

Limerick grinned, "Jagul Litol is transferring all the survivors and wounded to his ship. They'll be heading out as soon as they collect their ground forces."

"Have the ground forces surrendered yet?" McKinley asked.

Limerick's countenance darkened, "No. They claim that there is a communications blackout and that their ground commander isn't responding."

"I bet." McKinley dryly responded.

"My thoughts exactly." Limerick opined, "I'll be sending down a Security detachment as soon as the near space situation is settled."

"I think I will too." McKinley decided.

Limerick paused, "Now, you look like you have something else on your mind."

"The Obsidian crew has forty-six prisoners. I can take fifteen. Can you handle the rest?" McKinley wondered.

"It'll be a strain but we can manage." Limerick shared, "So they've been fighting off a boarding party? No wonder they sat this one out."

"Macen and his team are on the ground." McKinley said.

"Yes, I know." Limerick revealed, "The good captain liberated me from my captors. I've been wondering as to how he's faring."

"Macen's XO said she couldn't raise him." McKinley relayed, "Have you tried?"

"Several times." Limerick nodded, "Cardassian ground troops typically utilise a subspace jammer. They must be close enough to the SID team to cut them off from us."

"That's what I'm afraid of." McKinley admitted, "I'm about to transfer some of the Obsidian's prisoners aboard. After that I can transport a detachment to the surface."

Limerick mulled it over, "Yes, that would be for the best. Good thinking."
"I'll let you know what we find." McKinley assured him.

"Good luck." Limerick replied, "Hood out."

McKinley thanked Sikorsky and made his way to the bridge. Delaney in particular was

relieved but the rest of the senior staff also took heart. Macen's crew was like extended family. Everyone was concerned.

McKinley set the wheels in motion and the crew carried out his orders. Everything ran smoothly. He could only hope that that's the way things were on Magna Roma as well.

 

Chapter Eighteen

The Cardassian hovertanks crashed through the trees and the underbrush. They were entering the massive field which had been cleared around Nova Roma's perimeter. The troops had been beamed in fifty at a time until all 4500 were present. The tanks and the troops began their advance.

Coming up behind them and then advancing in front of them were the tracked and wheeled scout vehicles. A tracked mobile command centre was next in the procession. Lastly were the AA batteries and the 500 troops assigned to protecting them.

The Roman artillery thundered and plasma shells rained down on the armoured units and the advance troops. The lightly armoured scout cars were destroyed under the barrage. The shielded tanks survived unscathed. The 500 advance troops died a fiery death.

The tanks opened fire and destroyed the artillery pieces. Another 500 troops advanced. They'd proceeded halfway across the field when the minefield was detonated by remote. Once again the tanks were unharmed but the troops died en masse.

Yet another 500 Cardassian troops went forth. They crossed the field. Soon they reached the Roman trenches and the battle was met in earnest. Infantry from both sides opened fire upon one another.

25% of the Roman Legion was equipped with phase pistols. It was considered an elite weapon and was widely distributed amongst the Star Legions. Most of the legionnaires wielded plasma rifles. Some were relegated to projectile weapons.

The phase pistols penetrated the Cardassians' personal armour but it dissipated the plasma surge and deflected the projectiles. In short, the Cardassians, although fewer in number were quickly overrunning the trenches. Something had to be done and in short order.

Alaric studied the battle's plotline. Rockford and Danan had prepped the troops as best as they could. Danan revealed a skeleton from her closet. One of her earlier hosts had been the planetary defence coordinator for Trill. It wasn't something she liked to advertise precisely because she'd be tapped to strategise warfare. In this case she made an exception. She'd fought Cardassians and she wouldn't wish their rule upon anyone.

Gantz had helped drill the troops. T'Kir had boosted the efficiency of the Romans' software. Macen had shared fifty years worth of experience and knowledge with them. Dracas had remained in the shadows since the visiting senators did not want to be reminded of his presence.

"It's time." Rockford advised.

Alaric gave the word and the Crusaders and the Germans went into action.

The AA batteries suddenly found themselves being destroyed by portable missile launchers. After destroying the batteries, the Briton and Irish Crusaders launched an offensive against the 500 Cardassians that had been supposed to guard the vehicles. The Germans joined in and the battle was met.

"Dal," Fern said from behind Hafet, "the assault on the Roman trenches is stalling."

"Have 1500 troops advance forward. That should get things moving again." Hafet ordered. The loss of his antiaircraft batteries and light armour had come as a surprise. The minefield hadn't been totally unexpected and the artillery barrage had been more effective than originally estimated but his troops had the Romans reeling now. It was only a matter of time before they capitulated.

"We need to stop those tanks." Alaric summarised their greatest obstacle.

"Their rear is vulnerable but I don't know if your rockets can penetrate their aft shields." Macen revealed.

"By Wotan, we have to try." Alaric declared.

Just then, a hovertank exploded.

The Corsair streaked in fast and low. Releasing all five of her photon torpedoes, Grace destroyed five of the tanks. She then darted off across the horizon.

Next the sky was filled with aircraft. They began dropping bomblets and the entire field of battle erupted as they carpet bombed it. The aircraft then flew off to rearm.

"Woo hoo!" T'Kir cheered, "Way t'go Hannah!"

Macen turned to Alaric, "Could we get transport out to that mobile command centre?"

"If your compatriot keeps the tanks busy we can." Alaric replied.

"She will." T'Kir boasted, "Trust me."

Grace brought the runabout to a hover and fired on a tank. She destroyed one and started on another. As the second tank died, the third targeted her. She rammed the throttle to full impulse and disappeared with a sonic boom. It soon became a game of who could shoot who first. By and large it was apparent to all, even the tank crews, that she was winning. The few surviving tanks popped their hatches and the crews surrendered to the Romans. The troops in the trenches followed suit.

The Crusaders and the Germans were retreating for their lives. Suddenly in distance behind the Cardassians swarms of aircraft and armoured transports appeared. The clones had arrived. The large air transports landed and their noses lifted and their rear ramps descended. The clones poured out by the thousands. The Crusaders and Germans wheeled around pressed the Cardassians again even as the clones launched into them.

"Commit our reserves to the rear!" Hafet shouted.

"Sir, the forces at the front are surrendering."

Hafet was apoplectic. The hatch to the centre suddenly exploded inward, caught two ratings and killed them. Hafet stared in impotent rage as Macen and his team entered the crawler.

Hafet had retrieved a Roman short sword from a corpse before setting out from Peking. Up till now he'd been spinning it in his hand as he sat, leaned forward, in his command chair. Now he lunged forward.

Dracas responded in a blur of motion. He deflected the blade with his own and delivered a jaw shattering blow. The Cardassian landed in a heap. Hatred spewing from his eyes, he pulled his disruptor free...but he killed himself.

Fern's heart wrenched. Macen pushed him over to the comm station, "Call of your troops."

"First Dan dies and now Hafet," Fern babbled, "what are we to do?"

"You surrender, that's what." Macen tersely replied.

Fern blinked. Macen said, "Now."

Fern opened the Cardassian equivalent of the GUARD channel and ordered the troops to surrender. Nearly 750 Cardassian lives were spared because of this. At least for now. They still had to face Roman justice.

"Now is the moment, Caesar, you must strike." Meacham ordered.

Alaric commed the aircraft wings. They were returning after rearming. Next he contacted his allies. The Crusaders and Germans withdrew, leaving the clones and the Cardassians wondering what was going on. As the aircraft passed by overhead and the bombs fell, they knew they'd been betrayed.

The mobile centre shook as a mighty thunder nearly deafened its occupants. Fern and the SID team ran outside. They beheld a fiery mushroom cloud rising above the trees.

"Elements." T'Kir breathed as she stepped closer to Macen. She hesitated for a second. A dark, cold anger radiated from him. He'd felt this way before and each instance had heralded death.

Airborne troopers descended from cargo transports and landed amidst the clone reserves and vehicles. The Crusaders and Germans reinforced the Roman troops. In horror and revulsion, Justinian V ordered the clones to surrender. They gave up without a fight.

Macen and the team were brought before Alaric. Macen stepped forward and landed a punch on the emperor's nose. The force of the blow knocked Alaric back into and over a table.

The Praetorians drew their swords. The SID team drew their weapons and a stand-off ensued. Alaric rose, staunching the blood flowing from his nose, and spoke.

"Stop! There has been enough killing already." Alaric commanded, "We do not kill our allies."

"Bull!" Macen growled, "Those clones were your allies and you slaughtered them."

"They were branded traitors to the empire." Alaric said forcefully, "They died a warrior's death. The others won't be so fortunate."

Meacham stepped up, "You see, Captain, all of the clones must be executed. They are guilty of mutiny, insurrection, murder, unlawful detention of superior officers, and stealing state property. On top of all of that, they are an abomination, an unnatural scourge that threatens our very way of life. They must be exterminated."

The Corsair set down next to the command podium, interrupting Macen's rebuttal. As the runabout's hatch opened, Ian Delaney and a detachment of the Intrepid's Security division transported down alongside the ship. Grace saw Delaney and she ran to him.

Throwing her arms around him, she hungrily kissed him. She broke it off after lingering for a minute. His subordinate's were whooping and hollering.

He smiled, "I missed you too."

"Yah," Grace grinned naughtily, "I got that from your response."

Delaney suddenly wished his uniform pants were tighter.

Macen turned from the display and faced Alaric, "What you've done is abominable. It has not only cost you my friendship, it cost you my respect as well. As far as I'm concerned, Magna Roma is a quarantined world all over again."

Alaric was stunned but it was Meacham who spoke, "Truly a pity, Captain, but a survivable one. Joachim Dracas! Caesar has convinced the Senate that he should have the powers of both the veto and the right to pardon prisoners. He has spared your life."

Meacham's false smile turned evil, "However, it is the finding of the Senate that you be banished from Magna Roma, never to return. Live out your banishment in peace."

Dracas stepped forward, "That is acceptable." He began stripping his armour off, "I am no longer a legionnaire so you can keep my uniform and equipment." He unbuckled his sword and held it out for Alaric to take, "You gave me this sword, Caesar, in happier days. Take it now. It would only serve to remind me of the shame I feel towards you now. My heart would break under such a burden."

With great sadness, Alaric accepted his gift back. Dracas spoke again, "Farewell Caesar. It was my honour to serve you. I cannot continue in your service without besmirching my honour so I obey the decree of the Senate and take my leave of you now."

"You have been a true son of my heart." Alaric replied, "I only wish circumstances had been different. Go now, and remember: strength and honour."

Macen turned and led the others to the runabout. Though she loathed to leave Delaney, Grace agreed to fly them back to the Obsidian, in exchange for time to see him aboard the Intrepid. Delaney expressed his delight in such an idea and kissed her one last time before she boarded the runabout.

Justinian V, Octavius XII, and Marcus CLXII were brought before the Senate. There, their charges were read and their sentence pronounced. Unlike the rest of the troops, who faced execution by sword, the commanding trio were sentenced to crucifixion.

They accepted their punishment in silence and departed with their guards. They were hung beside the Appian Way were all passing Romans could see the criminals suffer. A sign post erected next to them listed their crimes. Fortunately for them, they didn't last long.

Merry Limerick oversaw the proceedings. Later he approached the Emperor and the assembled senators, "Noble rulers, while the Federation does not approve or condone such acts as are being committed today, it is your sovereign right as an independent nation and the Federation is above all else committed to non-interference in the affairs of others."

"We were asked to participate in this battle by your emperor. We were pleased to do so. My government does not wish to see yours underfoot or suborned to another power." Limerick informed them, "With that in mind, we shall take our leave of you and let you be about your business."

This created quite a stir. Grachus spoke, "Kind sir, we do not wish to force the Federation away. Our dealings with you have always been beneficial. Your refusal to condemn us, as others have done, sparks hope for our relations. We would welcome another diplomatic mission from you."

"I cannot fulfil that request." Limerick replied, "My ship is badly damaged and must be tended to. Other starships will be here soon, some within the hour, and they will carry officers that can negotiate with you."

"That is acceptable." Grachus said, "It is all we can ask."

 

Chapter Nineteen

Forger and Vaughn sat opposite Macen in his Ready Room. They'd been briefing Macen on their "adventures" during his absence. Macen smiled.

"I have a feeling that Radil is going to be drilling our Security teams until they drop." He chuckled, "But the rest of you overcame incredible odds and retook the ship. I have to say that I'm impressed."

Macen shifted gears, "Tessa seems to have come out to be the star of the show."

"Yes, but..." Vaughn trailed off.

"'But' what?" Macen inquired.

"Can an EMH kill?" Vaughn asked.

Macen was surprised, "I don't think it's ever come up. Why? What happened?"

"Tessa brutally killed four Cardassians and nearly permanently crippled two of them." Vaughn explained.

"Our Tessa?" Macen couldn't believe it.

Vaughn sighed, "Celeste programmed her with just about every known unarmed fighting style across the Federation. However, she didn't program her for tactics and strategy. She's pretty much a hand to hand fighter."

"Why did you say she 'brutally' killed them?" Macen wondered.

"Brin, she caved one's skull in with her fist." Vaughn shared.

"Are you certain?" Macen asked.

"The physical evidence is there and I've seen the signs before." Vaughn disclosed.

Macen thought it over, "I'll have T'Kir check her program. Maybe there's a glitch."

"And if there isn't?" Vaughn had to ask.

"Then we may have a problem." Macen said glumly.

Caplan had requested that the Intrepid lay over for three days so that he could complete enough repairs to make the starship spaceworthy again. Dracas and a team of volunteers came aboard to assist. Caplan was pleased to receive the help.

"You didn't have to do this, Joachim." Caplan told Dracas, "My people can handle it."

"Yes, but there's no sense in working them to death." Dracas replied, "Besides, Robert, we are merely keeping station with your ship. I have nothing else to do."

Caplan laughed, "I'll hand you a spanner and put you to work. You'll find plenty to do aboard this ship right now."

Dracas smiled, "I enjoy a good challenge."

"Then welcome to the party." Caplan waved his volunteers on towards the main board to be assigned tasks.

Danan and Sikorsky were in BioLab 1. They were re-examining a piece of Omicron tissue that each had viewed a hundred times before. It was time to compare notes.

"So you agree that the Omicron are the result of genetic engineering?" Danan asked.

Sikorsky nodded, "It's the only logical explanation for what we're seeing."

Danan mulled it over. Finally she exploded, "Dammit Andreja, who has the capability of designing a lifeform this complex. Even the Dominion doesn't have this much skill. These people weren't a previously existing species that was modified; they were created from the ground up."

"Ground being the operative word since these guys are literally living mineral deposits." Sikorsky replied.

Danan stared at her and then she broke out laughing. Sikorsky joined her. After a moment they settled down.

"Pools, Andreja, who has this kind of power at their command?" Danan wondered.

"I don't know, Lees, and I'm not sure I want to know either." Sikorsky said.

"We have to present this to someone." Danan urged.

"Want to collaborate on a paper?" Sikorsky countered.

"I've already started a rough draft." Danan divulged, "I'll send you a copy and you can see what you think. Add what you will from your own research."

"I'd love to." Sikorsky admitted. She placed the sample back into a stasis cylinder, "Want to check out the holodeck? I've got a program I think you could appreciate right now."

Danan smiled, "Why not? I'm up for anything right now."

Sikorsky grinned, "In that case, you'll love my program."

Danan wondered what that meant. She shrugged. She'd find out soon enough.

Grace and Delaney stood in the observation lounge. They were gazing at the stars and Magna Roma in the distance. Still holding Grace's hand, Delaney turned towards Grace.

"So what did you do while I was on-duty?" he asked.

Grace faced him and smiled, "Verity Jones sent over the Hood's sensor logs of my flights from and to Magna Roma. She found my evading nine Cardassian cruisers to be impressive."

"It is." Delaney agreed, "Go on."

"Liz asked me to bring the flight recorder logs from the Corsair and brief her squadrons." Grace blushed, "It was more like a seminar with a fan club."

"You must've wowed them." Delaney ventured.

"To say the least." Grace confirmed, "But there wasn't anything I could teach them."

"Why not?" Delaney wondered.

"My flight was a result of my being Kelvan." Grace revealed, "My reflexes are at least three times faster than a human's. I also have complete situational awareness. I can monitor and react to every display, instrument, and sensor reading around me. That doesn't include the visual display. No human has that kind of perception."

Delaney was silent for a moment and then he grinned ear to ear, "Can I tell you how turned on I am at the moment?"

"My being an alien really does intrigue you, doesn't it?" Grace was pleasantly surprised.

"Yep." Delaney replied, "If I wanted a nice, normal Earth girl I'd have settled for Emily Johnson."

Grace's eyes narrowed, "I knew she was after you!"

"Em's a nice person. She made an offer, I refused, and we've stayed friends ever since." Delaney explained, "She's a sailing buddy and nothing more."

"I know." Grace admitted, "I trust you. I just didn't know that she'd made a play for you. It kinda kicked in my jealousy button."

"I noticed." Delaney laughed. He sobered up and began to shift uncomfortably, "Hannah, there's something... I've been meaning to... I'd really like to tell you..."

"Ian," Grace said lightly, "don't be a pussy. Just tell me that you love me."

Delaney was astonished, "You know?"

"Ian," she laughed, "everyone knows."

"Sort of like Robert and Liz." Delaney opined.

"Exactly." She wrapped her arms around his neck and his hands reached around her waist, "This area has a lovely view but I'm in the mood for a different kinda mood. Let's say we go back to your quarters?"

"I like the way you think." He smiled contentedly, "And I do. I really love you."

Grace drew him in for a kiss. After they'd finished, they strolled towards the closest turbolift hand in hand.

Caplan approached Dracas and they had a quiet word together, "Joachim, how're you doing?"

Dracas' eyebrows went up, "Why do you ask?"

"Well, you just got exiled from your planet." Caplan reminded him, "And all of your fellow clones have been killed. That has to bother you."

"Robert, I've essentially been an exile since I left Magna Roma. I was sent out in the service of my Emperor. Macen represented the Emperor so I obeyed him as I would Caesar Alaric." Dracas explained, "Now I serve Macen. And I will continue to serve him to the best of my ability for as long as I am able."

Dracas continued, "What this transition has done is enabled me to chart the course of my own life. I love a wonderful man and now I can honestly pursue him for more than recreational purposes. I have an entirely new universe laid out before me and I wish to explore it as never before."

Caplan clapped him on the shoulder, "More power to you, Joachim. If there's ever anything I can do to help, let me know."

Dracas nodded, "I will hold you to that."

"Good." Caplan smiled, "Now, about these injectors..."

Danan and Sikorsky exited the Holodeck. Danan was grinning, "I've never been to a spa populated entirely by Orions before."

"Orion men, you mean." Sikorsky laughed, "They're anatomically correct and fully functional as well."

Danan cast a sidelong glance her way. Sikorsky shrugged, "I'm a doctor. How could I resist?"

"Whatever excuse works." Danan surmised.

"So," Sikorsky wore a sly grin, "Are you and Tom Riker..."

Macen and T'Kir joined McKinley and Striker in the Captain's Ready Room. McKinley had his desk, Striker had a chair that he'd turned, and Macen and T'Kir shared the couch. She was snuggled into him.

"T'Kir, why don't you get comfortable?" McKinley asked.

"No thanks, Jim." T'Kir's grin was a naughty one, "I'm fine."

Striker and McKinley exchanged a glance. Her behaviour was nothing new. One made allowances for T'Kir.

Up until this point, Macen and T'Kir had been relating stories of the action on the surface of Magna Roma. In exchange, McKinley and Striker had described their own part of the Battle for Magna Roma. Each agreed that they wouldn't have wanted to trade positions.

Suddenly, McKinley asked, "Where's Elias? I invited him but he hasn't shown up yet."

"He's...indulging himself." Macen offered.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Striker wondered.

"It means Elias has a hottie." T'Kir said with relish.

"Oh, really?" Striker grinned.

Just then the door chimed. McKinley granted access and Vaughn and Rockford walked in. Vaughn was decked out in his Starfleet uniform again. Rockford was entirely civilian...except for the utility belt.

"I take it this is your girlfriend." McKinley grinned.

"I wouldn't presume to say...oof!" Vaughn stopped as Rockford's elbow jabbed him in the stomach.

"Just say 'Yes'." She instructed.

"Yes." He complied.

McKinley and Striker laughed. They each made introductions and Rockford did the same. The newcomers found a seat and Vaughn filled them in on the boarding action and the retaking of the Obsidian.

After congratulating Vaughn on his success McKinley called the meeting to order.

"All right, Brin," McKinley said, "you and your people wanted to share something with us?"

T'Kir moved and she handed out four padds. As McKinley gave her quizzical look concerning the third and fourth padds, she smiled, "Those are for Ian and your staff intelligence officer."

"Jennifer?" McKinley asked, "I could call her in."

"There's no need." Macen assured him, "We'll present everything to you and you can decide how much of this you will want to disseminate."

"I think you'd better begin." McKinley said with a frown.

Macen shared the facts regarding Bertram Sindis, his rise to power, and his ambitions. Seeing as how the Intrepid crew had been present for Maret's grab for power, he spared them a recitation of those events. Instead, he went on to detail Sindis' coaxing of Maret to engage in this intervention and invasion attempt.

Finally, he revealed the existence of "the Club". The band of Starfleet and privateer officers that were committed to stopping Sindis and Maret's goals. Macen confided that Amanda Forger knew of the group. Vaughn confirmed that Kira did too.

"So," Macen concluded, "what do you think?"

"Does Bob know any of this?" McKinley asked.

"No, but I expect you to fill him in." Macen smiled.

"Jonathan, what do you think?" McKinley asked.

"I think these men need to be stopped." Striker strongly asserted, "And I think we should help."

McKinley nodded, "I'm fairly certain Ian will feel the same way." Looking to Macen, McKinley said, "We're in."

Macen's relieved grin was a welcome sight, "Thanks. I don't know if we could pull it off without you."

"Flattery will get you everywhere." McKinley joked, "What's our first move?"

"For now to simply report anything you hear regarding Sindis, Maret, the Orion Syndicate, the Meirkus Conglomeration, and the Cardassian Union that strikes you as being important." Macen explained, "After we've collected enough data on Sindis and his movements, we'll strike."

"All right." McKinley agreed, "We'll bide our time. Call us when more is to be done."

"You can count on it." Macen promised.

"If there isn't anything else, let's go to the lounge and get something to drink." McKinley suggested. The party agreed. McKinley spoke to Striker, "Jonathan, why don't you escort Commander Vaughn and Ms. Rockford to the lounge."

Afterwards he turned to Macen and T'Kir, "Wait here." He tapped his comm badge, "McKinley to Massoli."

"Massoli here."

"Please report to my Ready Room." McKinley requested.

Moments later, Massoli appeared. She had a sultry quality about her, "You wanted to see me, Captain?"

"Lt. Commander Jennifer Marie Massoli," McKinley began the introductions, "meet Captain Brin Macen and T'Kir."

Massoli's eyes sparkled, "So you're the infamous couple. I've read a lot of reports detailing your exploits."

"We're completely innocent." Macen replied.

"Actually, I'm innocent." T'Kir jerked a thumb in Macen's direction, "He's guilty on all counts."

Massoli laughed, "I thought as much."

"Commander," McKinley interjected, "I was wondering how busy you were at this moment?"

"Not very." Massoli admitted, "Mostly I'm reviewing reports."

"How about an early dinner?" McKinley asked, "We'd love for you to join us."

Massoli sparkled, "I'd love to."

"Then it's settled." McKinley was pleased, "If you'd all follow me."

Macen ushered Massoli along and then escorted T'Kir. The evening was filled with stories and recollections. The hours whittled away and soon the guests had to return to their own ship.

Three days passed without being noticed. Soon farewells had to be made. Everyone parted wishing that their reunion could continue but their duties carried them in separate directions.

The Obsidian set course for DS9. The trip took another three days. It was a time of sharing and happy reminiscence.

T'Kir exulted in Grace's news. Gantz and Dracas celebrated Dracas' newfound sense of freedom and shared his sense of loss over the slaying of the clones. Danan shared her fears with Macen.

"You're certain this time?" Macen asked. Danan had shared similar fears when she'd first examined the Omicron tissue.

"It's undeniable." Danan answered, "They were built from the amino acids on up. They're a tailor-made lifeform. Added to that, they created the biotech that the Omicrons mastered."

"That's supposition. You think that the race that created them is still alive?" Macen inquired.

"Even of they're not there's still a dead civilisation out there with remnants of a technology that could radically revolutionise everything that our civilisation is built upon. That has to be worth searching for."

"I agree. It is." Macen concurred, "You're doing the right thing. Getting the Federation's scientific community galvanised and actively pursuing this matter is best for all."

"But can't we...?" Danan protested.

"No." Macen firmly replied, "We're not set up for it. We may be a science vessel but we don't have much of a scientific staff. We have you, Galen 3 and three other scientists of varying cross-specialities."

"We specialise in political and criminal investigations." Macen stressed, "Scientific inquiry supports our investigations. It isn't a pursuit for its own sake."

Danan looked glum, "I know. I just hoped, that's all."

"I'm sorry." Macen tried to console her, "I truly am."

Danan excused herself, "If it's all right with you, I'll go review my research now with Galen 3. Maybe he'll have new insights."

"Good idea, Lees." Macen replied, "See you later."

The Obsidian docked at DS9. Rockford was in Vaughn's quarters as he prepared to leave, "So, are you gonna say goodbye?"

His eyes met hers. His were full of warmth, "I was hoping it wasn't a goodbye. I prefer a 'see you later'."

The corner of her mouth lifted into a smirk, "All right. How about we catch up with each other ASAP?"

Vaughn took her in his arms and bent to kiss her. They pressed together for several moments and then parted. Rockford smiled.

"That certainly spells out encouragement." She admitted.

"Celeste, it's been a while since I truly shared myself with anyone." Vaughn admitted, "I honestly don't know if I can do it anymore."

Rockford smiled, "It's all right, Elias. I'm happy with what I can get. Who knows, we may have a brighter horizon together or apart. Nothing matters. I want what I can get now. For now, I want you."

"Fair enough." Vaughn grinned, "I pretty much feel the same way so all's fair."

"So it's settled." Rockford asserted.

"It is." Vaughn confirmed it.

"Then let me walk you to the airlock." Rockford offered.

"Nothing would please me more." Vaughn confessed.

T'Kir snuggled up to Macen as he lay on his back on their bed, "What'cha thinkin'?"

"Lees shared her findings with me." Macen told her.

"Were they as bad as you expected?" T'Kir asked.

"Yup." Macen answered.

"Frinx." T'Kir opined.

"Pretty much." Macen commented.

They lingered in silence for a time. Macen held her and she clung to him.

"It's gonna get bad, isn't it?" T'Kir wondered.

"Yes, it is." Macen confirmed it, "But we'll have each other. That's all that counts."

"Y'know, I love you." T'Kir smiled.

"I love you too." Macen held her tighter.

"Good night." She said.

"Lights off." Macen commanded and the room went dark. They lay together for quite some time, neither of them sleeping. Finally, they each drifted off listening to the other one breathing. The future was an unknown but there were dark portents that bespoke of horrors to come.

 

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