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Hostile Ground by Travis Anderson

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

"What the hell is this?" Ro Laren demanded, tossing the Cardassian padd onto the briefing room table of the Ronaran Maquis cell.

"You read it." Retorted Brin Macen, Ro's Intelligence Officer, "You tell us."

"You've already read the damn thing, and don't tell me otherwise." Ro snapped.

"I haven't." Complained T'Kir, Ro's cybernetics expert, "Lemme take a look."

"Wait your turn." Aric Tulley, Ro's lieutenant, said as he snatched the padd before T'Kir could get it. She shot him a very un-Vulcan-like venomous glare.

"Ro," Macen began tactfully, a vestige of his people's reputation as "Listeners", "Gul Evek has extended an olive branch here. He's invited key Maquis and Federation leaders to a party. There'll even be a Klingon contingent to guarantee everyone's safety. It's no secret that the Klingon's tacitly, and occasionally openly, support our cause."

"But it's a formal ball." Ro protested.

"And your point is?" Macen inquired.

"I don't want to have to wear a dress." Ro said petulantly.

"So don't wear one." Macen rejoined, "The Cardies would probably appreciate a peep show."

This earned him an elbow from Lisea Danan, the Trill woman sitting next to him, and a snicker from T'Kir. Ro merely shot him a look promising future retribution for the remark.

"I want to come too." T'Kir pleaded.

"No one's going." Ro promised, "And even if we were, you're one mind-meld away from a mental ward. I'm not taking you out anyway near the public."

"That's not nice." T'Kir said then her eyes narrowed and she paused as if reading Ro's very thoughts, "And neither is that."

Ro sighed and noticed Macen and Tulley both looking contemplative, "What?"

"I think we should go." Macen replied.

"So do I." Agreed Tulley.

Ro blinked in surprise. She expected this kind of thinking from Macen. Before coming to the Maquis, Macen had been a Commander with Starfleet Intelligence. In fact, his former rank exceeded that of Ro's abandoned commission yet he'd never once shown a qualm about accepting orders from her. He did, however, tend to plan intelligence gathering operations with inadequate support. He, Danan, and T'Kir made up her intelligence unit and they frequently worked alone.

Her taciturn second in command rarely agreed with Macen's propensity for risk taking. It stemmed from his background as a farmer just as Macen's attitude stemmed from his experiences. Tulley's wife and children had been "accidentally" killed during a Cardassian paramilitary squad's "persuasive argument" on why the Tulleys should leave the family land. Tulley had gone berserk and managed to disarm one of the Cardassians. Three dead bodies and a scattered paramilitary group later, Aric Tulley was a wanted man. The freshly appointed local Cardassian constable clucked his tongue at the deaths of Tulley's family but vowed vengeance for the deaths of the three slain paramilitaries. With the law set against him, Tulley was literally driven into the arms of the Maquis and he'd never looked back.

"Okay." Ro growled, "Either one of you mind explaining to me why this is such a grand idea? It smells like a trap to me."

"The ball is being held in Evek's base on Deiden IV." Macen explained, "That's his headquarters for his entire Demilitarized Zone command. We'd have access to the very heart of Cardassian operations. The function of the ball is to promote understanding and peace between the Maquis and the Cardassian Union and the Federation. All the extra bodies will mean their security will be stretched thin."

Ro snorted and turned to Tulley, "And your take is?"

"I don't think it's on the up and up." Tulley admitted, "But I think it would be a chance for us to put a positive face on our movement for the Federation. Plus, we can do whatever skulking about that Macen and T'Kir can come up with."

"Hey buster." T'Kir waved her hand in front of him, "I do not skulk."

"Yeah, yeah." Tulley said dismissively, "Whatever."

"Break it up you two." Ro ordered, "We have more important things to think about if we're going to do this."

"Like dresses and other pretties." T'Kir crowed and twirled a pirouette.

Ro resisted an eye roll and she wished Kalita were here. Damn her for allowing her trusted lieutenant to accompany Tom Riker on his fool's errand. What had it truly accomplished besides getting a half dozen good Maquis detained by the Federation and Riker sent to a Cardassian labor camp? As if sensing Ro's brooding thoughts, Lisea Danan smiled and approached her.

"Don't worry about it." Danan reassured her, "In my capable hands, you'll be the knockout sensation of the ball."

Ro wasn't certain she felt relieved or not.

"First thing we'll need to do is make for a port and pick up supplies." Macen advised.

"Such as?" Ro challenged him.

"Dresses and other formal attire," he supplied, "as well as...other sundry equipment."

"Who's in command here?" Ro huffed, "When did this become your operation?"

"You are in command O' Peerless Leader, as always." Macen riposted, "But authority does not automatically grant respect."

Ro glared at him for that and he pressed on, "And as far as usurping command, this is my area of expertise. Utilize me while you can."

"And what would that take?" she inquired.

"An act of god." Macen grinned devilishly.

The Ju'day-class Maquis raider, SS Indomitable, switched to a back-up ID for their transponder just outside of the station's sensor range.

"This is a bad idea." Ro muttered darkly as she handled the helm.

"You should have said something before this." Tulley chided from the weapons console.

"I did." Ro protested, "You were all blinded by Mr. Enthusiasm's dark influence."

"Be fair, Ro. You could have opted not to pursue this course of action and we would have followed your orders without question. All of us." Tulley reminded her.

"Yeah," Ro relented, "you're right." She checked her panels instrument readings, "Head's up people. We entering their sensor range."

"They just lit us up." T'Kir announced from the operations console, "And now they're hailing."

"Better hope that fake ID of yours holds up to scrutiny," Ro warned her, "other wise we'll be in for a very hairy getaway."

"It'll hold." T'Kir assured her and the rest of the bridge crew, "ID's are easy."

"Lees, you're on." Ro alerted Danan. The Trill cartographer would be playing the role of ship's captain for the station authorities, who would arrest Ro on sight.

"Fortunately, I was never somebody important in Starfleet." Danan murmured.

"No." Ro corrected, "Fortunately, Starfleet still thinks you and Macen are spying on us rather than working with us."

That was a truism. The deception perpetrated by Macen and Danan allowed them access to information and a freedom of operations unrivaled by other Maquis operatives. Macen had been spent to observe Ro and had defected, citing his ten years of toil and struggle alongside the border colonists before the new treaty creating the DMZ had been thumbprinted. Danan, who'd been sent to assist Macen and came from a world with ingrained inequalities, opted to switch allegiances with him

"True." Danan conceded, "Well, I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be. T'Kir, transfer the hail to my station."

"This is Major Kira, Executive Officer aboard Deep Space 9 to the SS Eclipse. Please respond Eclipse." The image of a Bajoran woman with a militant haircut and air about her appeared on Danan's screen.

"Greetings Major," Danan smiled, all teeth, "are we glad to see you. It's been a long haul since our last port of call."

"And where might that have been?" the Major asked in a neutral manner.

She's fishing, Danan thought, "Rigel VII. I have all my paperwork in order if you'd like to see it before I dock."

"That won't be necessary." Kira relented, "You can dock at docking port 6."

"Thank you." Danan smiled again, "We'll release our helm to your control whenever you're ready."

"We'll notify and advise you of that moment shortly." Kira informed them, "DS9 out."

The screen went blank and Danan sagged slightly from relief.

Ro patted her on the shoulder and smiled down upon her, "Good job."

Kira Nerys bit her lower lip and turned to the station's Science Officer, Jadzia Dax, "Have you ever heard of a Federation flagged ship named the Eclipse?"

Dax considered the question for a moment, probing seven lifetimes worth of experience, "No, but there's a lot of Federation shipping to run its ID against."

"Not in the DMZ." Kira growled, "That ship looks like a Maquis raider, hell, it even smells like a Maquis raider. I say we board the ship and arrest all aboard when she docks."

"And why would we do that?" Commander Benjamin Sisko, the station's CO, asked as he stepped out of his office.

"They're Maquis." She protested.

"Do you have proof of that, Major?" Sisko asked with the patience of having gone down this road before.

"I'll get it." Kira vowed.

"Without breaking Federation law or station regs." Sisko stipulated as he returned to his office.

Kira whirled and marched back to the Ops console, slapping her comm badge along the way, "Kira to Odo."

Macen, T'Kir and Danan were the only crew to disembark from the ship. A ship from the Zone, any ship, raised to suspicion. Their ship type would elevate suspicions further. The ID tag, once traced, would lead to a Starfleet registration for covert civilian vessels.

This data would confuse the station security chief until he saw the ship's crew and

downloaded files on each of them. Macen and Danan would register as undercover Starfleet Intelligence operatives. T'Kir would read as a cybernetics consultant. In short, security would have nothing to work with and could merely observe the crew as they moved about the station.

"They're Starfleet Nerys." Odo reported, tossing the Bajoran padds down on his desk, "At least two of them are. The third is an independent cybernetics consultant. She designs and programs computers on a freelance basis. Their ship is registered to Starfleet as a civilian covert operations vessel. We have nothing."

Kira frowned, "Where've they've gone?"

"Just to the Replimat and Garak's."

Her eyes widened, "There's something."

"Going to Garak's is hardly a crime." Odo advised, "Now Quark's..."

"Why Commander Macen, what a pleasant surprise." Garak said solicitously as Macen and the crew stepped into the confines of Garak's shop.

"Hit it T'Kir." Macen ordered.

T'Kir activated what appeared to be a modified Ferengi tricorder. Sparks and explosions erupted from every corner of Garak's shop and his displays. As the smoke cleared, the Cardassian shook his head.

"Perhaps your arrival isn't all that pleasant." Garak reconsidered.

"Conversations are best when kept between a client and his tailor. Don't you yourself believe that?" Macen retorted.

"I do indeed." Garak was suddenly all smiles again, "How may I help you?"

"We need evening wear." Macen explained, "For a gala."

"Ah, might I presume it might have something to do with the affair I hear Gul Evek is throwing?" Garak mused.

"You may presume." Macen allowed.

"What the frinx is this?" T'Kir suddenly exploded, "Why are we wasting time with this guy? Just order our clothes and let's get out of here!"

"My dear child," Garak replied, "it's obvious that you have been denied the services of a true artist such as myself. We will remedy that shortly, and you can thank me then."

"Our clothes will require the...usual additions as well." Macen informed Garak.

"Oh my, I see this will be an interesting party after all. A pity I wasn't invited." Garak chuckled.

"Now for a final favor?" Macen asked in a whisper.

"For you, anything." Garak was solicitous.

"We've taken holo scans of two of our friends, but for various reasons, they can't come aboard the station." Macen supplied.

"And you'd like me to do the final fittings aboard your ship." Garak bowed his head, "Consider it done."

As they exited, Danan leaned in close to Macen, "That poor sucker has no idea what he's just gotten himself into."

"You'd be surprised on how well informed Garak is. He'll probably come aboard just to meet the Captain." Macen replied.

"Why can't we use her name?" T'Kir huffed.

"Because m'dear, the only person on this station that's probably more paranoid than Garak is Constable Odo. I don't even want to think about how many monitors and microphones he has distributed throughout this station." Macen answered.

"Scary thought." T'Kir remarked.

"Well it was a Cardassian space station." Macen pointed out, "Even under new ownership and a new administration, some of the old tools will be too tempting to pass up."

"I wonder why they went into Garak's?" Kira wondered, leaning over the desk to peer more closely at Odo' monitors.

"Perhaps they want to get dressed for a party?" Odo offered facetiously, "I hear Gul Evek is throwing a gala."

"I can't hear them!" Kira protested, "Can't you get better audio tracking than this?"

"At one time, yes." Odo folded his hands across his chest and leaned back in his chair, "But with Federation administrators comes Federation policies that considered such devices as a violation of civil rights."

Kira swore and stalked out of his office. Odo was sorry to see the Major so upset, but what could he do? Commander Sisko dictated policy and Sisko had wanted the eavesdropping devices removed.

"You're a paranoid bastard." Lisea Danan shook her head.

"How d'you think I've survived for over four hundred years?" Macen asked.

"Through dumb luck and everyday circumstance." Danan bantered back.

"That may be how your symbiont lived through its first six hosts, but I hate to tell you this, your current incarnation is breaking all the molds." Macen retorted.

Macen spoke from experience. He'd worked alongside Danan's previous host at Starfleet Intelligence. It had been that experience that allowed them to assign Lisea, a stellar cartographer, as Macen's back-up on his infiltration mission. That and the necessity for an independent third party to verify Macen's intentions since Ro knew Macen and knew he was Intelligence.

Even with Macen and Danan's honest intentions to defect to the Maquis, they were still almost strung up before Ro was finally convinced by a call to another Maquis captain named Chakotay. Chakotay confided in Ro Macen's long held belief that the border colonists would eventually have to take matters into their own hands. Furthermore, he stressed Macen's conviction that he would have to take up arms with the settlers as a matter of conscience.

Ro had not only embraced Macen's membership into her Maquis cell; she'd turned it to her advantage. She now had her own double-agent feeding Starfleet information she wanted them to have and coming from the Maquis' perspective. In return, she had access to up to date intelligence data. Other than putting up with some of Macen's more eclectic quirks, there was no downside.

"So," T'Kir said guardedly, "I wonder how the Captain is doing?"

"What the hell is taking them so long?" Ro demanded as she stormed onto the bridge. Thool, her Bolian chief engineer, departed post haste with a few final remarks to Tulley.

"There's been nothing about them or any Maquis collaborators being posted on the public nets or alert channels." Tulley assured her, They're just taking their time and posing as relaxed scoutship crew." Tulley matched glaring scowls with her, "Just like you told them to."

"The sooner we're away from this station..." Ro began to mutter.

"The sooner we can attend Evek's party." Tulley brightened.

"I'm telling you this mission is suicide." She plopped down in her command chair with one leg draped over an armrest and her face propped up in her palm, "Why are you so keen to go to this party anyway?"

"I want to see you in a dress." Tulley confessed, "Hell, the whole damned crew does."

Ro stared at him in blank disbelief, "We're flying off to certain doom so my crew can see what I look like in a dress?"

"Well, not just any dress." Tulley amended, "An evening gown to be precise."

"Prophets!" Ro swore and dropped her forehead into her palm. One thing about joining the Maquis, her faith in her native religion hadn't grown one iota, but her usage of the local "colorful metaphors" had grown by leaps and bounds. She now considered herself bilingual for the first time in years. She wondered what her actual Bajoran sounded like.

"Tell the crew they could've simply asked." Ro said wearily.

"You would've said no." Tulley almost sing-songed

The biggest problem was that he was right, "You got me there but we are still going to get killed."

"We haven't even got there yet Boss." Tulley kicked his feet up on the weapons console, all safely locked down of course, "First we have to get away from this station. Lees may be a competent woman, but you've got her watching the two biggest squirrels on this boat. Somethin's gonna happen."

In the pit of Ro's stomach, she felt the same certainty she heard in Tulley's voice.

"Stand by for a quick departure then." Ro ordered grimly.

"Already on it. Helm's up and ready to go."

Ro felt a moment of pride in Tulley. He was her rock. She'd be half the leader she currently was without him.

"So are we finally gonna go see this Ferengi bartender guy?" T'Kir whined

"Yes." Macen revealed, "I think the time has come to pay a visit to Quark."

"I'm sure he'll remember you and embrace you with open arms." Danan murmured for Macen's benefit.

"Hey!" T'Kir protested, "I heard that. Why're you tryin' to leave me out of the conversation."

"I'm counting on his remembrance." Macen replied.

"No one's leaving you out of anything, dear." Danan assured T'Kir, "At least not with those ears."

"Damn straight your not." T'Kir huffed.

"Do you understand her?' Danan whispered to Macen.

"You'd be surprised by how often." He whispered back.

"Hey!" T'Kir protested.

Odo stepped out of his office. The suspect trio was making their way towards Quark's. If they tried anything nefarious in there, he'd have them. He set up one simple comm jammer and alerted Ops to be on the lookout for illicit signals from Quark's. Kira signaled her readiness and Odo was on his way in pursuit.

Macen, Danan, and T'Kir entered Quark's bar. Macen headed for the corner of the bar, near Morn's usual seat. Danan hung back near the center of the opening. T'Kir headed straight for the stairs leading to the upstairs eating areas and the holosuites. Quark was polishing a glass and blithely unaware of their presence.

Macen put his hands on the counter top and called out, "Oh, Qua-rk."

Quark looked up and his eyes went wide with fear. He immediately bolted for the other end of the counter. Seeing a wild haired Vulcan moving in to intercept, Quark made a dash towards the stockrooms. T'Kir followed, with Macen in close pursuit. Danan took a seat at the end of the bar and began to observe Odo. The Constable seemed greatly amused by the spectacle he'd just witnessed. She wondered how long it would be before he intervened in on the situation? Macen needed time conduct his affairs.

"It wasn't me." Quark squealed as he cringed up against the wall of his largest stockroom.

"I know it wasn't you." Macen replied, "It was that worthless cousin of yours. Nevertheless, I need my merchandise and I need it now."

"Now refresh my memory?" Quark rolled his tongue over his fangs, "What merchandise are we talking about?"

Macen pulled a Type I "Cricket" phaser out of the small of his back and held it to Quark's head, "This jog any memories?"

"Memories are so tricky. They can disappear until properly motivated to reappear." Quark said shakily.

Macen produced another Type I phaser and held one to each side of Quark's bulbous cranium, "Oh, that merchandise. I merely misplaced it is all. Let me take you to it."

"You'd do that for us?" Macen sarcastically asked.

Quark bobbed his head, "It would be my pleasure."

Odo began to move. Danan pressed her emergency beacon and made to intercept. In Ops, an alarm sounded and Kira slapped her comm badge, "Someone just tested our jamming field. I don't know if the signal got through or not."

"Acknowledged, Major." Odo said and turned to Danan, "Why hello, Commander Danan." He half-smiled, "Now you wouldn't be trying to delay me from investigating what business Commander Macen and your young friend have with Quark, would you?"

"No." Danan replied as she stepped out of the way, "Not at all."

"Change of plans Quark." Macen warned Quark as his emergency beacon sounded. "Station security is about to come busting down the door. If you don't want Odo to get the goods on you, I'd let Security examine our crates. After their done with them, have them moved to docking port 6. The crew of that vessel will transfer funds for it at that time."

"Deal." Quark said, "Now can I get back to running my bar?"

"That depends upon the Constable." Macen turned and faced a triumphant looking Odo, "Greetings Commander Macen. We have a lot to talk about."

"You're not cleared for a lot of it." Macen warned.

"We'll just see about that." Odo promised.

Macen sat in Odo's office but had not yet been confined to a holding cell. T'Kir and Danan were being held in the confinement area but not actually in cells. That told Macen Odo was still largely driven by suspicion. Suspicions could be evaded. Facts were much harder to dodge.

Major Kira was present as well but no Starfleet personnel were present. Macen had asked Odo to pass on his name along with a brief sketch of Kira and Odo's supposed case against him. He was expecting a reply any moment now. He didn't have to wait long and Sisko himself came to deliver the news.

"Release them Constable." Sisko ordered, "Now."

"What?" Kira erupted.

"Commander, I must protest. There are certain irregularities that merit further investigation." Odo argued his case.

"Those ‘irregularities' are the result of Commander Eddington's search of their ship. Nothing was found there. WE have no basis to hold them." Sisko replied

"Not a very thorough search." Kira demanded.

"I agree, Commander." Odo concurred, "I think an explanation is in order."

"Apparently, Starfleet doesn't." Sisko informed them.

"So," Macen spoke up at last, "am I free to go?"

"Yes." Sisko growled, "But in the future, I'd consider it a courtesy for you to be more cooperative."

Macen gave Sisko a lop-sided smile but it had no humor in it, "You do realize that Starfleet's policy of accusing first and never proving approach to the Maquis leaves some of us with a leery attitude?"

"I could order you off of the station." Sisko advised.

Macen shook his head, "Your only hold over me is as station commander, and that's a thin one since I've violated no station regulations or local laws."

"Get out." Sisko commanded, angry at being stymied.

"As soon as my people are released, I'll be gone" Macen promised. He turned to go then paused, "Constable, I'll be needing my phasers back."

"Not on my Promenade."

Macen smiled, "Very well, Constable. I hope you enjoy them."

Odo looked to Sisko who nodded, "Get his compatriots out of the holding area."

Macen's grin was cocksure and victorious, "Now, see how well we can get along?"

"Laren, they've been picked up." Tulley said, perusing the public nets.

"We'll mount a rescue..." Ro began.

"Laren, even you're not that good. The odds are too great." Tulley advised,

"Macen planned for this contingency. It'll work out."

After their release from Security, the intrepid trio returned to the Indie. They managed to enter the inner corridors of the Indomitable/Eclipse before getting ambushed by Ro.

"What the frinx were you thinking?" she demanded as she struck Macen's arm.

"Ow!" he dropped into a defensive ready stance, "What gives?"

"Do you know how worried I've been?" Ro questioned, "We saw on the public nets that you'd been picked up for questioning and we've been poised for action ever since, whether it be a rescue or a retreat."

"Laren, we're fine." Macen assured her, "See?"

"No thanks to you." Ro scowled, "Thool went aboard the station to make some discreet inquiries and heard that you challenged the station commander's authority."

"He had no legitimate grounds to hold us and he knew it." Macen replied, "Personally, I think they're just adding to the story to enhance Lees and I's cover."

"They know?" Ro wondered.

"Sisko was briefed by Nechayev herself as to our general mission." Macen explained, "I doubt she would have informed him of all the details of my operation due to his connection with Cal Hudson."

"I still can't believe Starfleet is willing to offer him an amnesty deal in exchange for the capture of the Maquis Council."

"They see it as a lucrative trade-off." Macen shrugged.

"I'd hate to comprehend the mind that could accept such a deal." Ro spat.

"More than their fair share would." Macen opined.

"Then we'll have to keep an eye out for more little errand boys like yourself." Ro said with dark humor.

"Undoubtedly." Macen replied grimly.

Macen, Danan, T'Kir and Thool went forth the next day to requisition parts from Chief O'Brien. Their next stop was a stop in the Infirmary to order medkits and emergency medical supplies from Dr. Bashir. Everything went routinely, as it should for a ship whose registry was in good standing. Neither man acted as if anything was amiss and Macen doubted if Sisko had taken them into his confidence regarding the true nature of the "Eclipse's" crew. They ended the outing with a quiet meal at Quark's.

At least it was relatively quiet. Thool was engaged with a female Deltan freighter pilot and she began exuding enough pheromones to begin affecting the tables around her. Danan had her tunic unzipped a few extra inches and was fanning herself while T'Kir stared at Macen in a way that was purely feral. He took them both by the arm and drug them out of the bar.

"Why'd ya do that?" T'Kir demanded.

"To keep you from doing something we'd both regret."

"Why weren't you affected?" Danan asked, controlling her breathing.

"Benefits of being born halfway on the other side of the galaxy." Macen explained, "My people are immune to Deltan pheromones."

"Lucky you." Danan breathed, "I was ready to...."

Macen gave her a curious look and she stopped, "Never you mind what I was ready to do."

"I'll tell you what I was ready t'do." T'Kir chimed up, "I'll even show you."

"Sorry T'Kir." Macen intoned gravely, "The moment's passed."

"Dammit!" she fussed and fumed while Macen and Danan discussed strategy.

"What now?" Danan inquired.

"We go back to the ship and wait for Garak to finish our clothes." Macen replied.

"What about Thool?" she asked.

"He'll be along when he's along. Bolians are fairly resistant to Deltan ‘charms' but then again, they seemed to just be getting on well enough without any chemical inducements."

"You are a scary man." Danan declared, "If you can simply call that a ‘chemical inducement'."

"What?" Macen protested, "It doesn't affect me. I have no frame of reference."

"It's like having the essence of passion and bliss well up in you and around you and then it's suddenly stripped away." Danan struggled to describe.

Macen nodded soberly, "Now that I'm intimately familiar with."

"What?" Danan asked in confusion, "How?"

"Remind me later to tell you about the Nexus." Macen confided.

"The what?" she was confused.

"Later." Macen made a sour face.

"Can we go back to the ship since we're not gonna ..?" T'Kir began before getting cut off.

"Yes!" came the answer in stereo.

"Let's get going right now." Macen suggested.

Thool returned to the Indie a few hours later with a self-satisfied air about him. Ship's crews, being the same the galaxy over, wanted to know every intimate detail. Thool, to his credit, would not kiss and tell. Now, anything not related to kissing or other amorous activities was wide open for discussion.

"Half the station thinks we're Maquis." He informed the crew, "And of those half, half again want us to get detained and sent to penal colonies while the other half want us to get away Scot-free."

"Anyone willing to help us get away if necessary?" Ro inquired.

Thool nodded, "A few freighter captains would be willing to run interference of the station's tractor beam and defenses. We'd just have to evade the runabouts and the Defiant on our own. No easy task but we face worse every day in the Zone."

"Okay, we haven't been busted nor are we going to be thanks to Macen and Danan's trickery." Ro announced, "Our clothes will be finished tomorrow and then we can leave and return to the relative safety of the Zone."

The next day, at the appointed time, Macen, Danan, and T'Kir exited docking port airlock 6. They proceeded straightaway to Garak's shop. By entering, they eluded the net of electronic surveillance Odo had cast about them. Odo merely sat back and bided his time.

"You are, I must say, a pleasure to fit as always." Garak flattered Macen as he tugged and pulled at the Tuxedo Macen was wearing, "And you will note the utter perfection of the cut. None of your...extraneous hardware is visible."

"What about me?" T'Kir asked as she stepped out of the dressing room. Both Macen and Danan did double-takes. The Vulcan was a vision in a Tholian spider silk pantsuit. The outfit cost something extra to make but it was nearly invulnerable to particle beams.

"Perfection, my dear." Garak purred as he studied her over clasped hands, "Absolute perfection."

"What d'you think?" T'Kir asked Macen with wanton eyes.

"I think you're a vision." This earned him a glare from Danan that he ignored as he guided her back to the dressing room, "You've done an impeccable job. Hopefully your last two fittings will go as smoothly."

"Hopefully we can get him aboard and off the ship in one piece." Danan muttered darkly.

"Never fear, Commander." Garak gave her a meaningful look, "A tailor is always prepared for a dissatisfied customer and takes pains to be prepared."

"Commander, Major, they're leaving Garak's shop...and Garak is accompanying them." Odo alerted his fellow officers.

"What are they carrying?" Kira wondered.

"Clothes." Odo snorted, "Macen's carrying two tuxedoes. The Vulcan is carrying a pantsuit in her size but Commander Danan is carrying a dress several centimeters too long for her."

Both Sisko and Kira stared at Odo and he shrugged, "Attention to the smallest details can often crack open a case."

"So we have an extra tuxedo, an evening gown with no owner, and a tailor." Sisko mused, "Sounds like a recipe for a fitting. I'd say someone's heading for a party."

"But for what?" Kira was baffled, "When I was in the Resistance, we were too busy fighting to hold galas."

That's when Sisko shared with them both the news of Gul Evek's party, "We were invited but Starfleet declined for us."

"Good." Kira huffed.

"It would have been advantages to have representatives from Starfleet's Bajoran Sector Administration, Major. The Bajor sector does parallel a portion of the DMZ." Sisko informed her.

Kira snorted derisively.

"Whatever the advantages of attending this gala, Starfleet Command made its decision." Sisko smiled mischievously, "But perhaps I should place a call to Gul Evek to warn him of whom to expect."

"We're not even sure who's in that ship." Kira complained.

"But we're fairly sure it's someone fairly notorious, otherwise why all the cloak and dagger maneuvers?" Sisko asked.

"Call it my tendency to side with the underdog, or any one opposed to the Cardassians, but I say let's leave well enough alone and let Evek discover for himself what kind of problems he created for himself when he invited the Maquis to a soiree." Kira remarked.

"Good point." Sisko agreed.

Aboard the Indie, the fittings were taking place in the galley. The room was packed, both with admirers of Ro and Tulley in their finery but also those who came to gawk at the Cardassian that had invaded their midst. The enemy up close and personal but not at all what he was supposed to be. It was tantamount to a crisis of faith for some of the less hardline or inexperienced Maquis.

Ro recognized what was happening and was trying to hurry Garak along, "I still don't think a Cardassian design is the best choice for my dress."

"Exactly the opposite my dear." Garak assuaged her concerns, "This dress will build an instant rapport with the Cardassians who view it. The mere fact that you, a Maquis still fighting the Cardassian state will only go to prove that you admire and respect the Cardassian culture even if you disagree with it politically."

Ro decided right then that Garak could sell natural fertilizer to a cow. The shielded pockets in the folds of her dress allowed her to carry a great deal of equipment. It was designed to come off in layered strips, leaving the top over utilitarian black pants. She was even smuggling in a pair of Bajoran boots to change into. Heels were not designed for covert operations.

Ro glanced over at Tulley, who looked very dapper in his tux before getting interrupted by Garak again, "I don't see why I needed to come aboard at all, not when you had the Head Costumer of the Symbiotic Theater at your disposal."

Danan blushed, "Tyren was my fifth host. I'm sure I'd make a poor substitute."

"Interesting that you're willing to utilize skills from your sixth host but not your fifth." Garak mused.

Danan gave Garak a frosty glare.

"Well," he announced, "my work here is finished. I'll be collecting my fee and returning to my shop."

"One question first." Ro interjected.

"Perhaps." Garak allowed.

"Why'd you help us?" she asked, "You know we'll probably utilize these clothes in an anti-Cardassian operation."

"I owe Commander Macen a great deal, or at least I did. Those debts have now been paid." Garak put plainly, "And secondly, I do not like Evek. He's a pompous windbag, and from among my people, that's saying a lot. He's an incompetent fool who has created an intolerable situation in the DMZ and he deserves whatever comes to him."

Garak bowed his head, "With that said, good luck Captain. If I may be shown out?"

"Macen will lead you out and settle the bill." Ro replied.

The Indie still traveling under the guise of the Eclipse separated moorings and docking clamps and began maneuvering away from the station. At that same moment, Odo strode into Sisko's office.

"Ro Laren!" he declared hotly, "Ro Laren is aboard that that Maquis ship."

"Are you certain?" Sisko asked

"When Garak and Macen concluded their business, Garak said, "Wish Captain Ro well for me.' He had to know my spyeyes were activated."

"But then again, so did Macen." Sisko countered, "And it's all moot anyway. Starfleet has declared them hands off and so they shall remain."

"They've already left the station haven't they?" Odo observed.

"Yes, dammit." Sisko growled, "And we didn't get them on one thing, not even an inspection violation. Their credentials and ratings were all valid."

"Then we'll have to wish Starfleet Security a better job at catching them than we had." Odo grunted.

"I'm surprised at you, Constable." Sisko admitted, "You're not usually this acquiescent."

"My suspects are not usually flying off to the Command Headquarters for the DMZ. That group will cause trouble, believe you me, and they'll be apprehended when they do." Odo opined.

"I'd still rather see them in Starfleet's hands than those of the Cardassians." Sisko expressed regretfully.

"They should choose their targets more carefully then." Odo opined.

The Indie made a rendezvous with a Starfleet Type 6 shuttle at the border near Deiden. The shuttle was vestige of Tom Riker's defection and viewed as a valuable tool for subterfuge. In this case, it was simple transportation. Evek had proscribed any armed vessels in orbit above Deiden beyond his own Galor-class cruiser. The shuttle was the only light transport the Ronaran cell had with the range and defenses to be suitable for the insertion into Cardassian space.

Ro, bedecked in her finery, took the helm of the shuttle, Virgil. T'Kir manned Ops. With no weapons board to monitor, Tulley was free to lounge in the passenger area. Macen, denied a tactical display, joined his compatriots in the joys of leisure. Danan remained aboard the Indie in temporary command as the raider awaited the shuttle's next signal.

A few hours into the flight, Ro turned back; "If it wouldn't be too much trouble for one of you layabouts, I need someone to watch the helm while I use the restroom."

Tulley ambled to his feet, "It'd be my pleasure ma'am."

"Ma'am?" Ro snorted, "I put on a dress and suddenly everyone's all respectful?"

"I'm not." T'Kir chimed up.

"Thanks for that reassurance." Ro rolled her eyes and headed aft towards the restroom.

"No problem." T'Kir called back.

The Virgil arrived ahead of schedule and was put in the landing queue. As it so happened, the shuttle set down next to the Starfleet shuttle Augustus. Ro exchanged a glance with T'Kir and merely shrugged. They were here under a flag of truce that was meant to apply to Starfleet as well. They might find out how binding it was in a matter of minutes.

A whole cadre of red, yellow, and blue dress uniforms disembarked from the shuttle and made their way towards the HQ building. A lone occupant remained. A young man wearing a standard red Class-A uniform, most likely the shuttle's pilot.

The young man openly stared as Ro exited the neighboring shuttle. He gulped nervously as she approached, vamping for all she was worth. It took a moment, but he finally recognized her. He began to say her name only to find Macen's fist smashing into his face. The ensign went out like a light.

"Ow!" Macen rubbed his knuckles, "I hate doing that."

"Should've let me nerve pinch him." T'Kir said, taking over tending to Macen's hand.

"Didn't know you'd offered." Macen said, luxuriating in the knuckle massage he was receiving before coming to his senses, "Stop that."

Macen pulled his hand away but the tension lingered between them.

"Do I need to separate you," Ro asked wryly, "or book you a room?"

"Neither." Macen replied as T'Kir opined, "Get a room."

Macen gave her a reproving glare that seemed to settle her down, "We'll be fine. The mission's the priority."

"Damn right it is." Ro concurred

They stashed the ensign in his shuttlecraft and then headed for the party.

The next moment of tension arrived at the main entrance. Guests were being scanned with tricorders to determine whether or not they were armed. Violators were being handled much more leniently than usual. They were merely disarmed rather than beaten.

The insertion team passed the scans despite their veritable arsenals. Garak had been as true to his word when he'd sown in the shielded pockets within their clothing. Now if the clothes lived up to their other advertised traits, they might escape this evening alive.

Ro and her party proceeded to the main banquet hall. There they were announced as "Captain Ro Laren and crew". Ro's appearance lived up to Garak's expectations. Being probably the first Bajoran in a Cardassian dress since the Occupation, she drew some stares. It also drew some appreciative smiles and nods of courtesy. It also garnered her the attention of the evening's host. Macen and T'Kir disappeared into the crowd together as the Cardassian approached.

"Why, Captain Ro, I have to tell you how pleased I am that you are here. Personally I didn't believe any of your Maquis ilk would arrive." He began smugly.

Ro wore a frosty smile, "I guess I had nothing better to do than sully my name."

"Impertinent bit..." Evek snapped but was cut off by Tulley's arrival.

"Perhaps we could begin again, Gul Evek." Ro suggested, "That is, after all, the point of diplomacy."

"How do you suggest we accomplish this new beginning?" Evek asked testily.

"If you could explain to Mr. Tulley here why it was necessary for Cardassian paramilitaries to murder his wife and child and take his land, maybe we'd have a good starting ground for negotiations."

"The Cardassian paramilitaries are not unlike the Maquis. They operate independently of the Cardassian state. You do not represent the Federation, they do not represent us." Evek fed her the official line.

"Interesting, since even Starfleet has caught you supplying and training the paramilitary units in the DMZ." Ro replied philosophically, "What is the more realistic scenario?"

"This why negotiations with the Maquis always fail!" Evek roared, scattering several guests, "They do nothing but cast blame on the Cardassian people."

"You might want to take a look as to why that is." Ro added then shrugged, "In the meantime, we'll simply enjoy ourselves and stay quiet."

"See that you do." Evek warned, "Security is tight and disturbances will not be tolerated."

Macen and T'Kir strolled the perimeter of the room. Macen studied the readiness of the Cardassian guards posted at regular intervals. T'Kir probed the situation far more subtlety. She perused the mental state of every guard as they passed.

Finally, as they passed one efficient but distracted looking guard she whispered, "It's him. He's guarding the main entrance to the facility."

"Your abilities are scary." Macen whispered back, "Have you thought about getting yourself checked?"

"And miss all this fun?" she grinned maniacally.

Macen was suddenly reassured in the fact that she couldn't easily read his thoughts. It took her a great deal of effort to break his normal layering of mental shielding. He could always add more if he felt her pressing in. He didn't expect it to happen, their bond seemed too strong, but ultimately one never knew

"We need a distraction." Ro said.

"On it, Boss." T'Kir cracked her knuckles and stalked off towards the other side of the room.

"D'you have any idea of what she's up to?" Tulley asked Macen.

"Not really." Macen admitted, "But whatever it is, it'll be loud and flamboyant so get ready to move."

T'Kir ambled up near the guard opposite their target. She furrowed her brow, narrowed her crystal blue eyes and plunged into the Cardie's mind. She rummaged about for a moment and found his worst fear, and then made it manifest before him. With a shrieking scream, the guard pulled his disruptor from his holster and held it towards the crowd in a trembling hand.

T'Kir strode back through the crowd as the other guards rushed forward to deal with their crazed comrade. As she approached their target, she could see he'd maintained his position. With an exasperated sigh, T'Kir marched up to him and waved her hands to either side of his head. The Cardie's eyes rolled back and he slumped down to the floor. The Maquis team doused him in kanar and opened the door. Once in the dimly lit corridors, T'Kir retrieved a padd from her jacket and activated a map-reader.

"This way." She said, pointing down a corridor. The team proceeded quickly until they reached a set of ornate double doors.

"Evek's office." Ro pronounced, "T'Kir, get to work."

T'Kir attached two filaments from her padd into the door lock. She began running permutations, ciphers and encryptions through the padd. After several tense moments, the doors popped open. Revealed on the other side was a rather plain adjunct's office...and another set of double doors.

Macen locked the first set of doors behind them and T'Kir went to work on the second set of locks. This time she actually had to engage the cipher program locking the door. Ro began pacing impatiently but then, with a satisfied smile, T'Kir jimmied the lock. The four Maquis spread out across Evek's inner sanctum sanctorum.

Ro stripped off the lower half of her dress and removed the boots from the sling she'd worn under her skirt. Macen withdrew a Bajoran Militia issue phaser from his jacket. Ro wasn't certain she wanted to know what else he was carrying. Tulley pulled an Andorian phaser from the rear of his cummerbund. T'Kir pulled a Type II phaser from circa 2330's from somewhere amongst her outfit. The young Vulcan was obviously taking lessons from her El-Aurian mentor.

That thought made Ro wonder what other lessons T'Kir was learning from Macen. She'd originally assigned the unstable Vulcan to Macen's care and unit in order to try and stabilize her. Her flights of insanity seemed further and farther in between but they were deeper and more profound when they occurred. Her growing telepathic abilities and her increased fixation on Macen spelled trouble.

More to the point, Ro couldn't tell when T'Kir could or couldn't read her mind. That did more than bother her. Ro had already determined that after this mission, T'Kir was to keep her distance from her. Let Macen deal with the storm brewing ahead. It already appeared as if he were the only one left capable of positively intervening.

Macen's intelligence unit had their own ship that they used for reconnaissance, electronic surveillance and the like. The ship, a decommissioned Blackbird-class scout, was a better ship than Ro's own Indomitable. As a former Starfleet vessel, the Odyssey carried legitimate papers as a scout and transport vessel. Her cover allowed her to go where no identified or suspected Maquis ship could travel.

T'Kir could remain aboard the Odyssey full time with Macen. Ro would even send along Danan, both to assist the crew and to watch out for Macen. Lisea Danan had come to the Maquis as Macen's assigned Starfleet fellow operative, but also as his lover.

Their passion had been born quickly and spent itself out. Ro was amazed at how well they get on. She supposed it was the literal hundreds of years of experience between them. Tremendous transitions and change in one's relationships would grow to be natural over the centuries. Longer lived species often found shorter lived races to be impatient in their dealings with each other and the universe. Macen and Danan considered their affair their flirtation with impatience.

T'Kir sat down at Evek's desk and activated the computer. It immediately requested a security code and she returned to work. Ro activated Evek's personal security system. It allowed her to monitor every corner of the facility. As best as she could tell, beyond the routinely posted guards, all the extra security revolved around the banquet hall...where they'd found their stupefied and apparently drunken guard.

"What's that?' Macen asked, pointing at a small screen to the side of the main bank of monitors.

"It's running a damned search!" Ro snarled and began manipulating the screen's controls.

"Careful." Macen warned, "Just freezing the image will alert them as swiftly as displaying the imagery of us disposing of the guard."

"Just great." Ro muttered and slowed the images down to a manageable speed, "They must have this thing wired to a remote access."

"That'd be my guess." Macen replied, "Tulley! Watch the door! We might have some unexpected company soon."

"Swell." The laconic farmer drawled as he took up a position near the doors.

"Anyone gonna ask how I'm doing?" T'Kir huffed.

"Wasn't planning on it." Ro retorted, "No."

Macen gave her a mild chastising look and Ro relented, "How much progress have you made?"

"I just accessed the mainframe." T'Kir answered, "And I could really use Macen's help in deciding what we want to download."

"You going to be all right here?" Macen asked Ro.

"Fine. Go." Ro nodded in T'Kir's direction.

As Macen leaned over T'Kir's shoulder and helped her sort through files, Ro was suddenly struck by how cute they looked as a couple. She shook her head to clear that particular mental cobweb. If nothing else, Ro was of the school that one did not dip into one's chain of command. Others were more freewheeling, such as Will Riker. She wondered where Macen came in on the issue.

Ro mentally shrugged. Macen was her friend but his romantic life was his own business. Ro made it a point to never get involved in her friend's intimate lives. It just seemed to complicate friendships. That's why she was grateful Tulley had never presented her with a romantic entanglement.

Had she known the truth, she would have shunned him, which is why she lived on in blissful ignorance. Once Tulley had finished grieving for his lost wife, he'd slowly found himself drawn towards his reclusive leader. Now he was smitten and everyone knew it but Ro, and if Tulley had his way, that's how it would stay. He was content just being near her, he needed nothing more. Ro, oblivious to any of this, trusted in his unaffected loyalty, not realizing the broader ramifications of his devotion.

The images showing the assault on the guard were approaching. Ro froze the images as Macen, Ro and Tulley were approaching but still facing away from the monitor. Ro could only hope T'Kir's absence in that conspicuous Spider Silk suit would throw Evek off the scent but she sincerely doubted it. She considered relocking the doors but reconsidered. The plan had never included a drawn out phaser duel with Evek's forces. In that way lay defeat. The trick was to face Evek but in such a manner that made him think that he'd already won.

The plan called for the confrontation to be in this room. It also called for them all to survive and leave here on their own recognizance. A tall order but one that could still happen if all went well. Now if T'Kir and Macen could just find the files they were looking for.

"Hurry up!" Ro urged, "Company's coming."

"We're finding it." Macen shot back.

Evek stormed through the corridors flanked by the bulk of the guards from the banquet. He'd left a skeleton force behind just in case this was a diversion but he doubted it. He knew the intruders had to be in his office. It was the only place from which they could have overridden his remote instructions to the security monitors.

Evek was laying even odds on whether or not the Maquis or Starfleet had staged this little break-in. Whoever it was going to pay. There were the doors to his adjunct's office, obviously opened. Soon now there would be a reckoning.

Evek's troops burst into the Gul's office. The lead trooper fired his disruptor at T'Kir, still seated at the computer. Macen cut him down with a responsive phaser blast. All Cardassian weapons were aimed at Macen. Macen calmly stared them down.

Evek strode in, "Throw down your weapons and you shall live."

"In a Cardassian labor camp?" Ro sneered, "No thanks."

"Actually, the Obsidian Order has an interesting proposition for all of you." Evek announced, "It would of course require you to renounce your current binding ties and loyalties but since you've done that once already it shouldn't pose a problem."

"What would this proposition constitute?" Ro inquired.

"You would be required to reinsert yourself into the Federation and probe its defenses for the Cardassian Union." Evek explained, "That's all you need to know. Will you accept this generous offer?"

"Not a chance in hell." Ro said and snapped her elbow into the face of the nearest Cardassian soldier. She followed that up with a knee to the groin and went to work on the next fellow. Tulley spun on his heel and caught the nearest guard in the throat with his fingers. He disarmed the Cardie as he fell and began gunning down guards going down their marching formation's precise line. Macen worked on the other end of Tulley's line-up. T'Kir rose from the floor and grabbed her phaser and shot Evek.

T'Kir strode over to Evek and kicked him in the ribs, a couple snapped, "Have me shot will ya?"

"Did you record his confession?" Ro asked breathlessly.

"Yup."

"And you have the data proving the military-paramilitary connection?"

"Of course."

"If you weren't a woman, I'd kiss you. As it is, I'm tempted." Ro confessed.

"I'll settle for you being the one to get shot next time." T'Kir informed her, "That hurt like hell."

"Thumbprint Evek's ‘confession' and let's get the hell out of here." Ro ordered.

"I suggest we collect our hardware on the way out." Macen said, retrieving his phaser, "It's going to be a running battle from here on in."

"Best be prepared." Ro said as she collected her phaser off the floor. She retrieved Tulley's as well since she was closer. He seemed to be malingering near the double doors. As she approached she could see he was cradling his left hand and that it was swollen and bruised.

"Oops." He simply said, "Looks like I broke it."

"Can you fire a phaser?" she asked with a steely look in her eye.

"Of course."

"Good." Ro growled, "We might have to fight our way out of here and we're not leaving anyone behind."

"Gotcha Boss." Tulley grimaced.

Ro handed him the Andorian phaser and checked the charge on hers. T'Kir and Macen signaled the completion of their task and Ro positioned herself alongside the doorframe. Tulley moved to the opposing side. Ro pivoted out from around the door, sweeping the room with her phaser as she did so.

Tulley mirrored her move but held his phaser in a single handed grip rather than her two handed stance. Three Cardassians had been left behind as a rear guard. They were swiftly dealt with and unconscious on the floor. Ro and Tulley held their positions

"Clear." Ro called out and Macen and T'Kir swept forward. They repeated the same movements as Ro and Tulley but did not encounter resistance. When they'd ascertained the corridor beyond was free of threats, Ro and Tulley moved forward and proceeded down the corridor towards the banquet hall. Macen and T'Kir brought up the rear.

The initial phaser blasts registered with the Security Office and the officers on duty disregarded them. They knew Gul Evek was personally on the hunt for some malefactors who'd infiltrated his party. They'd been informed to expect a few initial disruptor bursts as examples were made. The responding phaser blast had been a surprise but it had also been the last shot...for several minutes.

Now several shots had been fired and no on-site Cardassian guards could be reached. Security was now scrambling. Only the banquet hall was free from mandatory inspection. The hall had been under constant surveillance since before the soiree began. The plan now was to establish a perimeter at Gul Evek's office and begin a room by room search stemming from that location.

The Maquis heard the footsteps behind them and saw the rush of guards enter Evek's office. Moments later, another flood of sentries exited the office and saw the fleeing guerrilla fighters. The Maquis abandoned all pretense of looking lost amongst the corridors and began a headlong flight towards the banquet hall.

The Maquis pushed open the doors into the hall, knocking aside the posted guard. T'Kir passed Ro the padd with the purloined data as they ran towards the ranking Starfleet officer. The Admiral looked bemused at the brewing trouble stirred up by the Maquis.

"Admiral Yoshi, you have to take this information to Starfleet Intelligence." Ro demanded.

The elderly Asian woman smiled, "And why should I do this?"

"Because you have more credibility with Starfleet Command and Intelligence than I have and they need that data." Ro insisted.

"All right, dear." Yoshi assured her, "I have to admit I have something of a soft spot for you rebels. I'll pass your data along."

"Thanks. Got to go." And with that, Ro was off and running...literally.

The Maquis blasted their way passed the two sentries guarding the outer exit. They raced down the pathway towards their shuttle. They reached the Virgil at the same moment the hapless Starfleet ensign emerged from his shuttle. He saw the escaping Maquis and retreated back into his shuttle.

Ro fired up the shuttle's engines as T'Kir activated her Ops board. T'Kir tapped into the Cardassian communication and inserted a virus shutting down all subspace transmissions. The orbiting Galor-class cruiser was effectively isolated from the planet below until someone eliminated the virus or risked a beam in. Meanwhile, Macen used one of the shuttle's medkits to tend to Tulley's hand.

In truth, it took just over two hours for Evek to forsake trying to eradicate the infernal virus that had infected his systems. He opted for a site to site transport instead. Not inherently dangerous when communications are up and the transporter pads are clear. It took just under and hour, after beaming down uninfected field comm arrays to assemble his crew. One last task had been that of dispersing his guests.

Evek still suspected a certain amount of cooperation between the Starfleet envoys and the Maquis ‘delegates'. He'd dearly love to get to the heart of the matter but unfortunately, Admiral Yoshi would be missed. That left the Maquis. Their shuttle, a Starfleet model shuttle, was capable of warp two. That should allow Evek to intercept well before the DMZ border.

"Rendezvous in five minutes." Ro announced, "Good execution, Lees."

"Yeah, terrific." T'Kir said with a tinge of jealousy.

"We're ready to beam you aboard." Danan's voice announced.

"Transport away." Ro ordered.

The Indie reversed course and headed for the DMZ at warp six. The Virgil continued on along another vector. The Galor-class cruiser would first have to find and board the shuttle before returning to the rendezvous point and begin tracking the Indie. Hopefully that would give her time to lose herself in familiar territory.

Evek swore. The accursed shuttle was deserted. The sensor blind it had been projecting had fooled his crew completely. Now it was time to backtrack the shuttle's flight and sere where it rendezvoused with another ship and begin a new pursuit.

"So, here we go." Tulley said, mechanically flexing his healed hand.

"The Badlands." Ro announced, staring at the hellscape stretched out before the ship, "We have excellent charts to some very hospitable worlds. Besides, you have the premier pilot of the Maquis."

Catcalls and boos met that little self aggrandizement, "Take your seats people. It's supposed to be a rough ride."

"They've entered the Badlands, sir." Evek's glinn reported, "Should we pursue?"

"No. I won't risk this ship over mere scraps of data we can deny" Evek sighed wearily, "Damn them. Break off pursuit. They've won this round."

The crew of the Indomitable spent the next few days on the jungle world of Ha-jor, nestled within the heart of the Badlands. There, they were amused by Macen's preternatural fear of the local arboreal spiders. His general dislike of the species in general was well known but the extent of the deep-rooted nature of the fear had never been demonstrated before. T'Kir rose to the challenge and helped him calm down through various means.

Ro watched the verbal and telepathic exchanges between her chief intelligence team with avid interest. She came to a startling realization, separated they were fragmented, incomplete. T'Kir was slowly losing her mind and Macen could easily be pushed into dramatic, one might say irrational, action when certain situations arose. Together, the two balanced one another out. They acted cohesively and within a realm of reasonability.

Ro had a startling vision of Macen and T'Kir being romantically involved. T'Kir certainly wanted it. Macen was still too fresh from the break-up with Danan. Plus Ro saw the way he still looked at her. He wasn't quite done with that one. It would still be awhile before he said "goodbye".

Ro joined Tulley around the camp fire. Thool was currently telling stories from his days as an engineer on a freighter. For the last few hours before that, Danan had regaled them with stories from her previous hosts, including a few anecdotes regarding Macen as a junior officer. It was a rather one-sided affair since Macen and T'Kir had retreated into the depths of the ship. Thool had rigged up and distributed remotes to open the main hatch to allow access to the ship.

"Heard we were headed out today." Macen said as he approached Ro from behind.

She was nursing a mug of coffee and she noted that he was doing the same, "Guess that can't happen too soon for you."

Macen sighed, "Stupid irrational fear. I should fear the Borg but they're no problem."

Ro smiled, "I have the same problem with Cardassians. I should lose my water every time I'm around one but they just piss me off instead. What I can't abide is disappointing a father figure."

"Must have a few knots of guilt regarding Picard." Macen observed

"You're too shrewd for your own good." Ro said ruefully and then switched tacks, "So, just as an observer, what's up with you and T'Kir?"

"Call it a mental mutual aid society." Macen explained, "She helps me cope with my phobias and I help her stabilize her moods."

"Great." Ro groused as she took a sip of coffee, "My intelligence chief and his assistant are both loony."

"You don't want to see crazy, Laren." There was a hitch in his voice that disturbed her.

"Mind explaining that?" she asked.

"There are facets to everyone that can be released." Macen replied, "It's easier for some people than for others. Some of those facets are dark."

"How dark?"

"Utter blackness." Macen's voice was now steely and tight with control, "Which is why these aspects of a personality aren't often employed. I'm surprised they didn't teach you this in Advanced Tactical Training."

"I must have skipped that day." Ro remarked and sipped her coffee.

"Well, if we're really leaving, I'd better go see to my post." Macen remarked.

As he walked away, Ro pondered the implications of what she'd just learned. She'd long suspected that Macen had served as far more than a "Senior Analyst" out on the Cardassian Border for over a decade. His proclivity for "permanent" solutions emphasized the mindset he operated under. If he'd been trained as a Starfleet Special Agent, alongside Starfleet Special Operations Command personnel, it meant he was capable of far more than he was currently letting on. Was that the reason for the virtual confession?

She didn't have time to ponder this now. She heard a rustling and saw a spider the size of a bowling ball dropping from the trees on a gossamer web line. She pulled her phaser and shot it. She found the exercise a fitting metaphor for her entire life with the Maquis.

In the end, the mission was a failure. Despite Macen reporting the data's authenticity to Starfleet Intelligence, they accepted Gul Evek's word that the information had been coerced from him. In the interest of preserving the treaty, the matter was dropped.

"From now on, strictly military targets." Ro declared, "Macen, when can you and the crew of the Odyssey be ready to get underway?"

"How large of a target?" he asked.

"We'll be sending all four of our assault craft." She replied.

"Then in four hours, we'll set out to scout out an appropriate area for the ambush." Macen answered her.

"Let's see them ignore us this time." Ro growled to herself as Macen departed, "We'll put on a display so big neither side will be able to overlook it."

And so they did.

 

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