The Rebel, The Doppelganger, The Traitor, The Soldier, The Exile, The
The Mercenary, The Stray, and one ship shared by all. The tale has merely begun...
Ro Laren brightly smiled at the scene before her. The Kelforna Market was alive and well once again. The Cardassians had kept the outdoor market alive during the Occupation but they'd been the only ones with enough coin to make purchases. Now farmers and artisans peddled their wares to fellow Bajorans and children ran through the marketplace followed by young mothers who fretted over their offspring's mischief.
Ro wore a flightsuit whose styling dated back to the earliest days of Bajoran Aeronautics. Her raven hair was worn to her shoulder and her enchanted expression garnered her many stares from the men perusing the market. Of course, her earring being worn on her left ear rather than her right earned her double takes from both sexes. Each and every one wondered if she were a member of the pagh-wraith cult.
An elderly vedek approached Ro and she said, "My child, is there some reason why you wear your jewelry as an apostate would?"
"Do you want to read my pagh?" Ro asked in return.
"Why, yes." The vedek answered.
"But you won't because of my earring." Ro wore an all too knowing smile, "Consider it a guarantor of privacy."
"You always were impertinent, Ro Laren." The vedek sighed.
Ro grew wary, "Do I know you?"
"You knew me as a child. Surely you remember Han Lisel?" seeing Ro's flash of recognition she confirmed the other woman's suspicions, "I am she."
"But you shouldn't be this..." Ro faltered.
"Old?" Han laughed, "A Cardassian labor camp will do that to you. At least it did to me"
"Sorry seems too inadequate." Ro said.
"Enough of that. I must get you away from here." Han insisted.
"Sorry. I'm looking for someone. I can't go until I find him." Ro declared.
"Winn Adjam has betrayed you. The constabulary is surrounding the marketplace as we speak but there is still a chance for escape if you come with me. A spiritual penitent is often overlooked on Bajor." Han revealed.
That was certainly true. This betrayal by Winn wasn't a surprise either. Winn was a smuggler frequently used by the Maquis, and it turned out, the Cardassians. It was for the latter reason that the Maquis Council had ordered his being brought before them and tried for "war crimes". Winn had supplied the sonic weapons project on Cevrus II. To betray his people and allies that way unforgiveable.
The fact that Winn was one of Kai Winn Adami's cousins made him virtually untouchable by Bajoran standards but he'd see justice done by the Maquis. The Maquis were after several notable smugglers for the same reason. Harry Mudd III was chief amongst them. Mudd knew he was wanted and was in hiding within Federation space but he would still be found and justice would be served.
Ro's cell had discovered the complicity of these and others of their kind. They'd been tasked with finding the "fugitives" by Marlo Wishram, the acting Maquis Commander. It was a rare show of faith by Wishram in Ro's group. Most times, Ro was at ideological odds with Wishram and therefore shunted to the aft thruster.
That consideration was due in two parts. One was the fact that Ro possessed the list of collaborators and second of all, that list had been obtained while Ro's cell destroyed a weapon of mass destruction aimed at the Maquis. They'd done so without Wishram's support or blessing so his sudden desire to support them now was an effort to save face and avoid further embarrassment. Fortunately Ro had few illusions when it came to the current Maquis Commander.
Wishram had plans; some said grand plans, for the Maquis. She saw the DMZ being transformed into a Commonwealth of Independent Worlds. She supposedly had a weapon guaranteed to secure the freedom of the Maquis worlds but only time would tell since Wishram was staying silent on the subject.
"Hurry, child. We must go quickly." Han insisted.
Ro saw constables beginning to enter the market square and she bowed her head and followed Han. Han gave her a tissue to bury her nose and mouth in. Several constables eyed them as they walked though their midst but they dismissed the sight.
Han led Ro across the square and across the street. They cautiously traversed a block and then they came to a Temple of the Prophets. A prylar met them at the door and Han greeted the old monk.
"Yes, yes, Bendi; I have her." Han assured the prylar.
The prylar ushered them into the living quarters in the rear of the temple. Ro asked if these were Han's quarters and the elderly vedek smiled.
"I share the cell with Bendi. She and I served in the same labor camp together and we have been fast friends and partners ever since." Han explained.
"So what happens now?" Ro asked.
"Now you contact your people and get the hell off of Bajor." Bendi said as she returned.
"Why are you doing this?" Ro had to ask.
"The Cardassians are terrorizing the DMZ like they used to lord it over Bajor. Over a million Bajorans reside in the DMZ and the Maquis look after them. You're Bajoran and you're Maquis. Either one of those facts would inspire us to help you but you have an added attractor: you're after Winn Adjam. He betrayed the Resistance cell I tended to the Cardassians. After the Occupation I was able to get him investigated by the Provisional Government but they never acted upon the results of that investigation after Winn Adami became Kai. That kind of hypocrisy cannot go unpunished." Han angrily tiraded.
Ro smirked, "Fortunately, I agree with you. Which is why Winn Adjam is coming with me."
"But how?" Han asked.
Ro's cargo pocket on her left thigh began beeping. She retrieved a Starfleet surplus communicator from the turn of the century from it and flipped the device open.
"Ro." She said.
"Skipper, it's Tulley. Macen and T'Kir gave me the signal. There pursuing Winn on foot. I'm picking up their trail right now but the Militia's Constabulary is crawling all around. I don't know if they can make an approach." Her lieutenant reported.
"Just stay on their heels. If an approach is possible, those two will attempt it." Ro ordered, "And Aric, make sure they have a plan before they move. They're usual brand of luck isn't going to be good enough with the deputies guarding Winn. I'll catch up when I can."
"Will do. And hurry. Brin doesn't listen to me the way he listens to you. And T'Kir doesn't listen to anyone but him." Tulley reminded her.
"I'm devising a plan as we speak." Ro assured him.
Ro closed down the communicator and addressed Han and Bendi, "I need robes, vedek or prylar, it doesn't matter. The trick is the uniform. People will see the uniform and not me. Even constables fall for that one."
"I think I can put something together." Bendi announced and disappeared.
"Do you truly feel this plan is wise?" Han asked.
"Vedek Han, I think this plan will get me in Winn's front door." Ro grinned.
As promised, Bendi gathered together the remnants of several different robes worn by different Orders. When they were done, Ro represented a dozen Orders and was completely unrecognizable. Her hair was pulled back in a messy up do and her earring was gone to be replaced by an ornamental bearer of religious achievement on the proper ear.
While the fitting took place, Ro thought of her team. Aric Tulley was her rock. A man of few words but one of solid convictions. A dedicated family man before the Cardassians killed his wife and children in order to persuade him to relinquish his interest in his farm, Tulley took the skills of hewing the earth, with all of the patience and insight that that took, and transformed it into a résumé for a guerilla fighter.
Brin Macen was her Chief Intelligence Officer. In fact, besides Ro and Tulley, it was his team playing lead on this one. His ship, the SS Odyssey, was in orbit being watched over by its crew and his XO. Lisea Danan was a Trill trained as a stellar cartographer and ship's science officer. She and Macen had joined the cell together, in every conceivable way. Their romance was a casualty of the Maquis' war
Macen was an El-Aurian, the only one of his kind to join Starfleet. He'd spent the Border Wars on said border and behind enemy lines. Now he fought beside the Maquis. His skills as a "listener" had made him a friendly ear for Ro and he was her occasional confidante.
Macen, Danan, and T'Kir made up the intelligence unit. T'Kir was a Vulcan but she was far from your typical Vulcan. She was born and raised on Shial, a world populated by Vulcan dissenters and Romulan defectors. The Vulcans followed the teachings of Sybok, who preached that emotional expression was the key to self fulfillment. If that were the case, T'Kir was extremely self fulfilled.
T'Kir's colony was obliterated by Cardassians and that shock had unhinged her. It also seemed to boost her telepathic senses. She could read a mind without touching the other person. She also seemed to have no control over this ability. Only Macen possessed strong enough mental shields to block her out and she clung to him like a lifeline.
T'Kir was a computer specialist and hacker beyond compare, which kept Ro from locking her up. It didn't mean she wanted to work with her though so she'd foisted her off onto Macen. She'd carved out a niche with his unit and she was brought under control...sort of.
If she knew her little scamps then Macen and T'Kir were about to get into trouble, as usual, and T'Kir was putting the moves on Macen, as usual. And as usually was the case, Tulley would be nearby watching with an amused air. That left Ro playing catch up and fretting about her little lost lambs. As usual.
At that moment, Macen and T'Kir were trailing Winn Adjam and a squad of six Militia troops as they proceeded up the street to Winn's home. These weren't Militia Constabulary but Militia soldiers. Their burgundy and grey uniforms stood out in the afternoon sun. So did the sidearms they conspicuously wore.
As Winn mounted the steps into his brownstone, two soldiers stayed at the door while the rest moved on, presumably for a wandering foot patrol. Macen stood still, studying the situation when T'Kir pulled him aside into an alcove.
"More's comin'." She whispered.
Macen leaned her into the door and whispered back, "Just play along and keep your eyes on the troop movements."
"What're ya goin'...?" T'Kir began to ask as he started to nuzzle her neck. She groaned with pleasure. Now this was a fantasy come true.
She dutifully kept her eyes open, at least most of the time, and she watched the Militia pass on by. Macen began to nibble on her earlobe and she moaned. This caught the attention of two Militiamen. They cast amused looks T'Kir's way as she began to writhe. Macen's tongue flicked in and out of her ear and she gasped.
Sensing something was amiss, he pulled back to see her with a blissful expression. She grinned, "I think I came."
"You're kidding." He whispered back.
Her expression changed to one of absolute hunger, "C'mere you."
She drew him in and their lips parted to make way for their tongues. Both of them seemed lost in the moment until they heard Tulley chuckle.
"I wish I could work this hard." He laconically drawled.
"We were avoidin' the Militia." T'Kir shot back.
"I hate to break it to you, folks, but the Militia is long gone." Tulley's grin just got bigger and bigger.
"I thought you were supposed to be watching them." Macen accused.
"Well 'scuse me f'r enjoyin' myself a little bit. If it's any consolation, my panties are wet an' I'd like t'change them but do I get to? Nooo." T'Kir snapped back.
"Are the two guards still minding the corner house?" Macen asked.
"Yup. Is that where they've stashed Winn?" Tulley wondered.
"Yes. I don't know if it's residence or a safe house. We have to assume that there are more guards on the inside." Macen said.
"I wonder where Ro is?" Tulley fretted.
"Alms for the poor?" a familiar voice called out to them. There stood Ro wearing her orange and red robes. Her hair and earring were immediately noticed and commented on.
"I always knew you could make good, Laren." Macen joked.
Tulley continued to be dumbstruck while T'Kir eked approval, "Y'should have let me have a go at y'r hair months ago."
"I take it the guards are for Winn?" Ro asked.
"Yup." Macen grinned, "But I think you just provided our way in."
"Put on some robes and everyone suddenly thinks I'm a miracle worker." Ro playfully grumped.
Ro led her procession to Winn's front door. The guards stopped them and wanted to know why aliens were travelling with Ro.
"They are the faithfully converted." Ro said with a sweet smile, "Surely you don't hold that the truth of the Prophets is for Bajor alone?"
"I...um." The corporal in charge hesitated. The private standing post with him wisely kept his counsel. Unnoticed, T'Kir moved in between them and then delivered a nerve pinch to each's neck. Macen and Tulley swooped in to catch them as they fell.
Ro rang Winn's door chime. He angrily threw open the door, "I told you! If you need to use the restroom, just walk in and use it!"
It wasn't until his tirade was over that he noticed Ro and her robes, "Vedek? Can I help you?"
Ro delivered an expert left jab into his nose and he staggered backwards. The Maquis rushed into the house. Macen and Tulley laid the guards out on the floor. Tulley swung the door shut while Macen retrieved the soldier's phasers. Tulley eyed him curiously.
"Take what you can get while it's available." Macen explained and handed Tulley a Militia phaser. The human didn't object and instead hefted it, testing its weight and balance.
"Whatever you've been paid to kill me, I can double it!" Winn pleaded.
"We're not from the Orion Syndicate, although they want your head too." Ro revealed, "We're here about Cevrus II."
"Cevrus?" Winn repeated and then recognition dawned on him, "The sonic project? You're here about that?"
"We take a dim view regarding collaborators." Ro announced.
"Collaborators?" Winn tested that word and then it clicked, "You're Maquis!"
"And the boy c'n be taught." T'Kir quipped.
"Wait! I can get you photon torpedoes, at cost!" Winn bargained.
"T'Kir." Ro growled. The Vulcan moved in swiftly, blocked a desperate punch from Winn, and squeezed the nerve cluster in his neck. Everyone gathered around his prone form. Knocking could be heard at the door followed by pounding.
"Ro to Odyssey, five to beam up." Ro said into her communicator and the Maquis and their prisoner disappeared in a halo of energy.
Outside, the lieutenant in charge of the patrol ordered Winn's door be broken down. They entered the house to find their two men unconscious on the floor. A private with a tricorder approached the officer.
"There were seven lifesigns, then a transporter effect, and then there were two remaining." He reported.
The officer narrowed her eyes, "Can you tell where they transported to?"
"No, ma'am." He replied.
"Then don't belabor the obvious." She snapped.
The Odyssey remained in orbit above Bajor for another 24 hours. The decommissioned Starfleet scout was in truth a small starship. Cosmetically, a blending of the Excelsior- and Ambassador-classes, the Blackbird-class ship boasted the latest developments of the turn of the century from which it dated.
The ship, and its siblings that survived the Border Wars, had been put out to pasture by Starfleet. She was available to approved civilians but Macen, her CO, was neither approved nor a civilian. Macen was a Commander in Starfleet Intelligence. Danan was also a Commander but in Starfleet Stellar Cartography.
Admiral Alynna Nechayev, the newly minted Director of Starfleet Intelligence, had assigned Macen to the task of recruiting Ro Laren for SI operations against the Cardassians. Instead, Ro had recruited Macen. She'd inadvertently been recruited anyway since Macen funneled information to her to keep her toeing Starfleet's line.
Danan had volunteered to play Macen's partner, convenient since they were romantically involved at the time. That relationship had been amongst the casualties of the Maquis' struggle against the Cardassians. Now everyone speculated on whether or not Macen and T'Kir were an item. She said "yes" and he said "not quite". No matter the truth of the matter, it didn't stop her from bedding every sentient that caught her fancy.
Although Macen was the ostensible captain of the ship that privilege gave way to Ro when she was aboard. It was she who sat in the center seat as the Odyssey broke orbit and set course for the DMZ. Although she'd effectively shanghaied command, she wasn't referred to by the title "Captain". That was reserved for Macen. Ro was affectionately referred to as "Skipper" by her Maquis cell and since it sounded less pretentious than "Admiral", she went by that.
Winn was locked up in the ship's brig. Tulley was watching over him. That left Macen's regular crew operating the ship. T'Kir was at OPS, Ebert sat at CONN, young Lacey manned the Weapons station, Danan controlled the Science station, Eckles ran Engineering, with Darcy as his assistant. Everyone but Macen, Eckles, Tulley, and of course Winn, was a woman. Macen had often been accused of recruiting a harem. It stemmed from jealousy.
Macen operated as an intelligence gatherer by posing as a smuggler of Federation and Bajoran luxury items. The Cardies would pay high prices to savor the former fruits of conquest. They'd grown used to easy access to such items and they hungered for more. Macen used his trips into the Union to scan with active and passive sensors everything along the route as he wandered to and fro.
As such, they were cutting through Cardassian territory to reach the DMZ. When they reached the Zone, they headed for their home base on Ronara Prime. Upon arrival, they encountered a Cardassian frigate in orbit over the planet. The frigate hailed them.
Since Macen was the ship's true master, he took the signal at the mission specialist board. The dal in charge of the frigate was aware of Macen's reputation, and of his recent departure from Bajor, and was interested in a bit of trade. Macen agreed to meet the dal and his quartermaster in the Odyssey's transporter room so they could inspect the holds and see what interested the Cardassians.
T'Kir accompanied Macen so she could operate the transporter. After an hour of inspection and haggling, the Cardies beamed several containers marked with isolinear tags directly to their cargo holds. The dal paid Macen via bank transfer and was then transported back to his ship along with the quartermaster.
Afterwards, T'Kir barely repressed a shudder; "Y'shoulda let me scramble their molecules."
"Not every Cardassian is an enemy." Macen informed her, "Kilkat is an honest officer trying to make do in the galaxy. Besides, his latinum just paid for the cell's next ordnance reload."
"Fine. But what if this ‘Kilkat' decides t'shoot at us?" T'Kir wondered.
"Then we blow him straight to hell and deal with his replacement when he arrives." Macen said nonchalantly.
"I knew there was a reason why I liked you." She beamed.
"It's because you're crazy." Macen said.
"That too." She happily proclaimed.
Ro received rendezvous coordinates from a ground based relay on Ronara. The Odyssey set sail for the Badlands. Outside of the Badlands, a triad of Maquis raiders intercepted the scoutship. Ro was intimate with the raiders since her own ship, the Indomitable, was of identical design.
Marlo Wishram, the acting Maquis Commander herself, was in command of the lead ship. She hailed Ro, "Why Laren, I didn't expect you back so soon."
"Or at all?" Ro sniped. She and Wishram were ideological foes and their rivalry was well known.
"Of course not. I always expected you to return. Somehow it's inevitable." Wishram chuckled.
Bitch, Ro bitterly thought. Aloud she said, "You're welcome to Winn. He shouldn't make too much trouble for you."
"Excellent. We'll beam him aboard and then you can take care of Harry Mudd." Wishram was all smiles.
Technically, Harry was Harcourt Fenton Mudd III. He'd not only supplied the weapons project at Cevrus II but he'd betrayed Ro to Starfleet. No Maquis cell would deal with him now and his life was forfeit in the DMZ, so Ro didn't see the pressing need to go after him and said as much.
"It's about power projection, Laren." Wishram happily lectured, "People will only take us for a stellar nation if we act like a stellar nation."
"Restraint is an aspect of being a stellar nation. Learn to live with what you have. Mudd is neutralized. Leave it at that." Ro suggested.
"Harry Mudd will stand trial before the Maquis Council or die on his way here. Either option is viable." Wishram replied, "Regardless of your feelings on the matter, you will bring Mudd back to us or your cell will be cut off from the rest of the Maquis. It's awfully cold and lonely out here."
"All right. You win. We'll bring Mudd back to stand trial." Ro surrendered.
Wishram's smile was as oily as Gul Dukat's, "That's all I ask."
The Odyssey's bridge module became the design predecessor to the Galaxy-class Battle Bridge. It had two forward stations, OPS and CONN. The command station was literally the center seat. On a raised platform behind the center seat sat the upright Weapons station and the seated Science and Mission Specialist stations. Off to one side was the door leading to the turbolift and on the other side lay a door that led to a briefing room. The command staff met in the briefing room while Ebert flew them towards Starbase 375.
"My sources place Harry on Corvat." Macen announced, "There are some things of interest surrounding Corvat though. It's a desert planet with one large continent and one great salt water ocean. The land/water ratio is roughly 50% both ways. Fresh water is supplied by underground aquifers and run off rivers descending from the mountain ranges."
"The main point of interest is the kelbonite deposits. Corvat is so plentiful in kelbonite that it infuses the desert sands. Sensors and transporters are useless in the deserts and mountains. Beam downs are possible in the starport towns of which there are three." Macen explained, "New Cairo is the largest and most prosperous of the starport town. Harry's ship, the Fame & Fortune, has been spotted there. No sign of Harry though. We'll probably be able to buy that information at the local watering holes."
Macen concluded with, "Last thing of note is that Corvat is now the site of an archeological dig that has discovered the remains of a city predating the Federation's presence on the planet."
"We'll be sure to put that on the tour." Ro dryly remarked, "Lees, any worries from the local primary?"
"Actually, it's primaries." Danan answered, "There's a fairly standard yellow giant and then a blue dwarf comprising a binary system. The system possesses nine planets, all gas giants except for Corvat which is the 3rd planet from the primaries."
"How close is it to the border?" Ro asked.
"It's within two light years of the Cardassian border." Danan replied.
"So, it's a safe bet the spoonheads keep an eye on the system." Ro surmised.
"During the war, Corvat was considered to be too inconsequential to occupy." Macen said, "Hence it's not being included in the DMZ."
"Hence." Ro quipped and then she grew serious, "So what are our options?"
"We could conduct a hard target search." Tulley suggested.
"Problematic." Macen countered, "New Cairo has a population of over 250,000 humanoids. However, the computer network is centralized into a single, massive database. We can track Harry through his gift credits and hard currency transactions."
"Will that be problem?" Ro asked T'Kir.
"Piece of cake." T'Kir assured her, "Just get me close t'the network and I'll gift wrap him f'r you."
"With a pretty little bow?" Tulley snickered.
T'Kir shot him an evil glare and Macen spoke up, "She can pull it off while we're on approach. Our search radius will be within one block of his location."
"Yah, what he said." T'Kir asserted.
"Brin, can you take the center seat? I'd like a private word with Aric. The rest of you can take your stations." Ro ordered.
The cell's intelligence unit exited the briefing room, leaving the cell leader and her lieutenant alone. Ro moved to the synthesizer and replicated a cup of coffee.
"What do you think of Brin and T'Kir's actions on Bajor?" she asked.
"You saw that display?" he wondered.
"Yes. Will it affect the unit or this ship?" Ro inquired.
"Brin and Lees were a couple for years and it never affected performance." Tulley pointed out.
"Yes, but Lisea isn't T'Kir. T'Kir's...unstable." Ro opined.
"It may be a moot point." Tulley revealed, "I asked Brin about it while we stashed Winn in the brig. He said T'Kir was ‘the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately, in his dreams she was healthy'. I think he knows he can't have anything serious with her so everything else is flirtation."
"This is going to end badly." Ro predicted.
"What're you going to do? Forbid them from fraternizing? That sets a dangerous precedent. The Maquis are about personal freedom above all else. The whole cell would turn on you if you interfered with Brin and T'Kir. It'll sort itself out." Tulley surmised.
"But will they both survive the fallout?" Ro asked.
Tulley chortled and Ro became more insistent, "I'm serious, Aric! That girl is dangerous."
"Maybe." Tulley conceded, "But Brin's a big boy. Remember, he may look like he just turned 30 but he's over 400 years old."
"Like you said, ‘maybe', but that doesn't mean he can't make a colossal mistake." Ro argued.
"It's his mistake to make." Tulley thrust back at her.
Ro fell silent and Tulley studied her. Finally she threw her hands up in surrender, "All right. It's their lives. I'll stay out of it."
"Or at least limit your comments to the boundaries of being a friend." Tulley suggested.
"Fine. I'll try it your way." Ro sullenly surrendered, "What about Harry?"
"What about him?" Tulley wondered where this left turn was going.
"Do we bag him?" she asked.
"We're going a helluva long way out of our way to just tickle his fancy." Tulley pointed out the obvious.
"There was something in the way that Wishram spoke about Winn. I think it's going to be a damned show trial worthy of the Cardassian courts." Ro sighed.
"You think the verdict was decided before we turned him over?" Tulley inquired.
"It was in Wishram's eyes. Winn's a dead man and we're partly to blame for that. I'm to blame for that. Does Harry deserve the same?" Ro asked.
"What do you suggest we do with him then? If we don't bag him another cell will be tasked with the chore." Tulley reminded her.
"I don't know." Ro admitted, "I don't know what our options look like yet."
"Whatever it turns out to be, it'd better be convincing or Wishram won't rest until Harry's a dead man." Tulley stated.
"That's what I'm afraid of." Ro confessed.
The Odyssey's long range sensors detected the planet long before the scoutship reached Corvat. They also detected dozens of ships in orbit. Six of which were of particular note.
"We have one Galor-class cruiser and five Lakgut-military freighter/transports in orbit over Corvat." Danan reported as her eyes studied the read-outs from the sensor hood.
"What're the damn Cardies doing here?" Ro cursed, "I thought you said this world was on the Federation side of the border."
"It is" Macen replied, "The Cardassians are in violation of treaty."
"Then where the hell is Starfleet?" Ro wondered.
"That's a good question." Macen opined, "Subspace comms aren't being jammed which begs the question of why hasn't anyone bothered to report a Cardassian presence in the system?"
"Well screw this. We're not entering this system." Tulley said from his position near the lift.
"Actually, I think it's vital that we do." Macen announced.
"Any particular reason why, or is your death wish exceptionally developed today?" Ro wondered.
"Something has drawn the Cardassians here, something worth risking a war over. We need to find out what that is." Macen argued.
"Brin, we're not Starfleet. Let them ride over the hillside like the damned cavalry and clear out the voles' nest." Ro countered.
"Laren, we've staked our reputations on defending the border colonists from the Cardassians. Only a quirk of politics kept this planet out of the DMZ or even on the Cardies' side of the border." Macen grew more intense, "We owe it to them to assess the situation and possibly lend a hand. If that hand ends up being running to Starfleet then I'm all for it. If it does turn out we can deal with it ourselves then I say we do so and earn the locals' gratitude." Macen concluded his stump.
Silence loomed over the bridge. Tulley was the first to speak, "I hate to say it but I think he's right."
"Aric?" Ro was surprised. Her second in command was naturally the cautious sort.
"Macen's ship is in the Cardassians registry so they won't suspect us of anything. Once we're on the ground we can size the situation up and decide whether to bolt out of here and call in Starfleet or to take action ourselves and earn a little respect from the natives. They've got kelbonite...more than we've ever dreamed of and if they're so inclined they might share." Tulley explained his reasoning.
"I'm for it." Danan said at last, "For all the reasons Brin and Aric said as well as a burning desire to see justice done if there's been a wrong."
"No one's asked me but I'll tell you anyway, I think we should go in." T'Kir announced, "Maybe my home colony could have been saved if someone intervened. Maybe not. But if we don't do anything, we'll always blame ourselves f'r not tryin'."
Ro gaped. T'Kir's impassioned plea was articulate, lucid, and well thought out. She didn't know the Vulcan had it in her.
"Never underestimate me, Skipper." T'Kir grinned.
Ro thought of a few particularly vile terms and T'Kir frowned, "The ‘C' word? Really? I woulda thought better of you."
Ro thought of one last phrase and T'Kir yelped, "Hey! I heard that!"
"Good." Ro growled.
T'Kir subsided and Ro realized every eye was turned towards her. It seemed her decision was made for her, "All right, Ebert. Take us in and make for standard orbit over Corvat."
"You got it!" the helmswoman enthused.
"What've I gotten us into?" Ro murmured.
"I heard that too." T'Kir shot back.
If it isn't her psi abilities then it's her damn ears, Ro thought miserably.
The Galor-class cruiser hailed them as they slipped into orbit. A harried looking dalin appeared on Macen's screen.
"Greetings, Captain Macen. The High Command's database lists you as a purveyor of high grade goods. Jagul Macet has a list of items that he would like to procure."
"Transmit your list. We'll see what we have in inventory and get back to you. I have business on the surface so allow me 24 Federation standard hours to see what I can put together." Macen requested.
"Take your time." The dalin said, "We'll be here for some time."
"Good to know." Macen said as he signed off, "Now what do you think Macet is doing here?"
Macet had earned the rank of jagul while replacing Evak as the Cardassian overseer of the DMZ and Maquis worlds in Cardassian territory. Macet had intensified the efforts to oust or kill the Maquis in Cardassian space. Training and supply for paramilitaries had tripled under his tenure. Despite having the bulk of his conventional forces transferred to the Klingon front, Macet had managed to tighten his grip on the DMZ.
His cruiser, the Irkitz, was the only Galor-class ship within a thousand light years. The Lakgut freighters could also be used as troop transports. Ostensibly, Macet could have gathered an invasion force but the questions remained, would he and could he keep it this quiet if he had? Only a trip to the surface would answer these riddles.
Ebert was left in command, essentially meaning that she oversaw the bridge while maintaining orbit. Lacey and Darcy went about filling Jagul Macet's wish list. Eckles took the unexpected downtime to tweak the synthesizers. He programmed dozens of new recipes into the protein sequencer. The rest of the crew was looking forward to trying out his latest concoctions. While he was good with a synthesizer, he was fabulous with fresh ingredients. He had a dedicated cryo unit just for his stores.
On the ground, Ro, Tulley, Macen, T'Kir, and Danan wandered about the busy bazaars in the midst of town. Surprisingly, uniformed Cardassians wandered freely from booth to booth. Their six-wheeled all terrain vehicles were parked to and fro. The locals didn't begrudge their presence and seemed grateful for the influx of hard currency.
Eying the scene with suspicion, Ro reminded everyone; "Don't forget the underlying reason why we're here. We need to find Harry Mudd."
"I bet Harry knows what's going on if anyone does." Macen opined.
"Brin, you Lees and T'Kir check out the watering holes on the east and south ends of the bazaar. Aric, we'll cover north and west." Ro ordered, "And remember, we're on a budget."
"Yez, Boss." T'Kir snapped off a sloppy salute.
"Just take her away. Now." Ro commanded.
Ro and Tulley entered the first bar they encountered. It was essentially an interconnecting set of tents with picnic tables set up underneath. The lighting filtered in from the canvas overheads. It was dark, dirty, and smelled like the sweat of over a dozen species.
Ro and Tulley exchanged a wry glance. Ro immediately launched into action. She proceeded to the bar counter and banged on the countertop.
"Hey! Who wants a free drink?" Ro yelled.
Every eye turned to her but there was dead silence. Finally, a small robed human male spoke, "What would I have to do?"
"Take me to see Harry Mudd." Ro announced.
Most turned back to the drinks in disgust. But two humans approached. One of them was the speaker.
The second human spoke with Ro but she quickly went away, disgruntled and unfulfilled. The original speaker approached when the woman had gone.
"You want Harry Mudd?" he asked.
"Yes, I do." Ro answered honestly.
"It will cost you five slips of latinum." He counter offered.
"I don't think so." Ro snorted.
"Then wander aimlessly around New Cairo and find him yourself." He countered.
"Two slips." Ro began to barter.
"Four." He knew the game as well.
"Three and no higher." Ro set her terms.
He held out his hand, "Done."
She doled out the latinum and said, "Where is he?"
"What time is it?" the man asked.
"How would I know? You're the local." Ro scoffed.
The man asked the bartender and then turned back to Ro, "You're in luck. I know exactly where he is."
"Lead on. And no tricks." Ro warned.
"No tricks, fine lady. But I may be asked to recall where I led you. For another slip I can guarantee that I will be too inebriated to remember." He smiled.
Ro grudgingly handed over another slip. He quickly pocketed his treasure and guided them out into the bazaar. They navigated through its heart and headed east. They reached another tavern, this one with a solid roof built on stilts and mosquito netting for walls.
"He is inside, Mistress." He declared.
"How can you be sure?" she asked.
"It is four o'clock. At four o'clock Harry Mudd frequents this establishment. From here he travels to his flat." The scrubby little man explained.
"All right. Take off and remember, you never saw us." Ro said.
"Saw who?" he laughed and traipsed back to his cantina of choice.
"Let's venture in." Ro said to Tulley.
"After you, Skipper." He held the entrance flap open.
Danan went her own way and checked out the southern watering hole. Macen and T'Kir headed east. They entered the tent pole establishment and as they cleared the mosquito netting they spotted Harry. He was engaged in a lively conversation with the bartender. They decided to mosey on up and eavesdrop.
"I get paid tomorrow so I'm good for it I tell you." Mudd argued.
"No coin, no drink." The bartender retorted.
"It's all right. I'll cover it." Macen said as he sat a slip down on the countertop. The bartender grunted and pulled out a bottle of Bushmills whiskey. Harry reached for the bottle and as he did so his eyes fell upon Macen's features.
"Oh. My. God." Mudd gasped.
"Hello, Harry." Macen calmly said, "Care for a drink? It's paid for."
Mudd's hand shook as he gathered up the bottle and the three glasses.
"You can leave the other two glasses. T'Kir and I won't be drinking." Macen informed him.
"Hey!" she protested.
"Get us some coffees and then join us." Macen instructed.
"Yah, yah." She flippantly replied.
"Find a seat." Macen ordered Mudd.
Mudd gulped and then shambled to a nearby table. He sat on one side and Macen sat opposite of him. T'Kir bounded over and sat the mugs of coffee down. She plopped down and scooted close to Macen.
"I know why you're here but what happened with Ro wasn't my fault. They were going to lock me up. I had no choice. In the end I told you how to escape." Mudd babbled.
"So you found him." Ro said as she came up from behind Macen.
"We walked in on him. How'd you find us?" Macen asked.
"It cost four slips of latinum." Ro complained.
"Aric, why don't you get some glasses for you and Laren? I'm sure Harry will share his whiskey beings I paid for it." Macen suggested.
"Yes, of course." Mudd desperately agreed.
Tulley returned with the glasses. Ro sat down beside Mudd. Tulley sat down at the end of the table. Harry was boxed in. He started sweating again.
"As you've probably guessed, Wishram has targeted you. She's tasked us with bringing you back to stand trial. I personally think that any trial called by Wishram will be a mockery of justice so I'm telling Wishram to go screw himself. However, this doesn't let you off. Before we ‘disappear' you you're going to tell us what's going on around here. What are the Cardassians doing here and why the hell isn't anyone doing anything about it?" Ro stated.
"You won't kill me or turn me over to Wishram?" Mudd asked.
"That's my intention. Don't do something stupid to change my mind." Ro warned.
"Believe me, my dear, I fully intend to cooperate. I've been feeling an urge to retire and rest on my laurels. Now seems like a good time to do so." Mudd admitted.
"Just keep thinking that way, Harry, and you'll go far." Ro said.
"You are an estimable woman, Ro Laren. Why I've always said..." Mudd began to rattle off.
"The Cardassians, Harry." Ro redirected him.
"Yes, of course." Mudd took a shot of whiskey to steady his nerves and poured a refill, "It all revolves around the archeological dig the Federation Science Council has going here. The FSC cut support to the project and the project leader contacted the Cardies as a means of continuing her work."
"What kind of archeologist turns to the Cardassians for help? Who's the project leader?" Ro asked.
"A woman named Taryn Argus." Mudd answered.
Macen suddenly looked stricken. His face lost all color and he suddenly felt ill down to his soul. T'Kir noticed immediately.
"What's wrong?" she inquired in a whisper.
"It's nothing." He whispered back.
"Bull. Y'r as white as a sheet." T'Kir hissed.
"Okay, but keep it quiet. I know Taryn Argus." Macen admitted.
"Do you two wish to share with the class?" Ro prodded.
"Brin knows her." T'Kir readily supplied.
Macen groaned as Ro latched onto that, "Who is she, Brin?"
"She's an El-Aurian A&A Officer." Macen said referring to the nomenclature for Anthropology and Archeology officers. The designator was used by the El-Aurian Expedition Service as well as Starfleet. Macen himself had been an A&A Officer, "Although technically her crossing training was in engineering, making her an unofficial A&E Officer."
"How well did you know her?" Ro wondered.
"We worked together for a couple of decades. She's dedicated to her projects. To the point that she would readily call in anyone that could support her in exchange for the opportunity to complete her dig." Macen supplied.
"Why would she be in charge of a project in the ass end of space?" Ro asked.
"Taryn's specialty is recovering ancient technological artifacts. Unfortunately, she's quite good. If the FSC thought there was a chance of uncovering a lost technological treasure here on Corvat, they'd put Taryn in charge of the operation." Macen opined.
"But what are they after? Why would the Cardassians take over funding a Federation excavation?" Ro's sharp gaze fell on Mudd, "What aren't you telling us, Harry?"
"Well, everything else is rumor and innuendo." Mudd hedged.
"Spill Harry or you spend your retirement with a voice synthesizer." Ro warned.
"They call Corvat a ‘Doomsday World'. Supposedly the planet itself is a weapon and Dr. Argus is excavating the control node." Mudd replied, "Their dig revealed a city buried in the sands east of here. The river used to run next to it but a landslide in the mountains rerouted it into its present banks that run alongside New Cairo."
"How far east?" Ro demanded.
"50 kilometers. I have a transport supplied by the Cardies. I sort of work as a facilitator between them and the local labor." Mudd revealed.
"Local labor?" Tulley grated.
"Well, the Cardies need diggers. They aren't about to engage in physical labor unnecessarily." Mudd explained.
Tulley bristled and Mudd became defensive, "Look, the locals are grateful for the work. It's arduous but the Cardassians pay in latinum."
"I wonder where they're getting the funds." Macen murmured.
"What do you mean?" Ro asked.
"They're fighting an epic war against the Klingons. That eats up national resources. Where are they getting the latinum to pay the local workers? Not to mention all the cash we saw the Cardassians throw around in the bazaar." Macen pointed out.
"Boy has a good point." Mudd acknowledged.
"Stay out of this, Harry." Ro growled.
"What d'you think is goin' on?" T'Kir asked.
"Macet's command, like Dukat's during the Occupation, is financially self supporting. I think he's funneling tax revenues designated for operational upkeep into this venture. If so, we seriously damage its infrastructure back at the colonies by tying up personnel and equipment here." Macen theorized.
"But what about this ‘Doomsday weapon'?" Ro wondered.
"I'd have to see it before I could venture an opinion." Macen admitted.
"So how about it Harry? Do you have room for guests?" Ro inquired of him.
"Sadly no. I have a one bedroom domicile but I do know a local innkeeper who owes me several favors. I could acquire rooms for you at a reasonable rate." Mudd confided.
"Let me call Lees and let her know what's going on." Ro flipped open her communicator, "Ro to Danan."
The Odyssey's comm system routed the call and Danan answered, "Danan here."
"Lees, it's Ro. We're getting rooms for the night. What's your status?" she replied.
"I've found an Archibald. I'll be good for the evening." Danan stated.
Ro looked to Macen, who was decidedly bemused; "Transport back to the ship when you can. In the morning we'll be examining the Cardassian operation in the desert. Stand by and await further instructions."
"Got it. Danan out." She terminated the connection.
Ro blinked. Turning to Macen, she asked, "What's an Archibald?"
"It's a code word. It means she's found a bed partner for the evening and is requesting time off for sex." Macen chuckled.
"You have code phrases for that?" Ro was stunned, "Maybe the talk about your crew is right after all."
"Relax, Laren. Lees certainly will." Macen smiled.
Ro hesitated and then finally turned to Mudd, "Okay Harry. Show us to your innkeeper."
Mudd downed the last of the whiskey and rose, "Follow me, gentlebeings."
The innkeeper turned out to have two rooms available. One had two beds and the other a single. Macen volunteered to share the bed with T'Kir while Ro and Tulley took the double beds. Ro was dubious.
"Are you sure you're not after your own Archibald?" she asked.
Macen smirked, "This wouldn't be the first time that I've shared a room or a bed with her. We're both adults. We can handle it."
"Just be careful." Ro advised.
"Always." Macen grinned and left with T'Kir and the pass key card to find their room. Ro and Tulley made their way to the second level of the establishment and secured their room. Tulley immediately stripped off his jacket, phaser, communicator, and boots but otherwise remained dressed.
Ro wore a light top and blazer. She shucked the blazer and her boots. Setting her gear aside, she slipped under the covers and turned off her light. Later she awoke to use the restroom and saw that Tulley had never turned off his light. He'd simply fallen asleep as soon as he lay down.
She covered him with sheets as best as she could and switched his light off. She used the toilet and made her way back to her bed. She was out again in minutes.
The next morning found Ro knocking on Macen's door. T'Kir opened the door wearing nothing but a tank top and bikini briefs. Her pixie cut hair was tousled and tossed all over. Her tattoos on her arm and ankle were bared to see. A Vulcan IDIC symbol adorned her left arm and the Maquis coat of arms was emblazoned on her right ankle. Ro immediately had a sinking feeling.
"Who is it?" Macen called out from the restroom.
"It's Laren and she's got a head fulla nasty ideas that woulda been fun." T'Kir called back testily.
Macen exited the bathroom and told her, "It's all yours. Don't spend all day in the sonic shower."
"Why not? Y'certainly did." She huffed. Gathering up the heap that was her clothing, she stormed off to the bathroom and slammed the door shut. As she stormed across the room, her lower back was revealed to also have a tattoo. A Romulan bird of prey was stamped on her lower back. Ro'd never realized that T'Kir was inked until now.
"What's up with her?" Ro wondered.
Macen grinned, "T'Kir had all the same ideas that you had when you came in here and she's frustrated that her designs didn't happen."
"So you and she didn't...?" Ro trailed off.
"Not that it's any of your business but no, we didn't." Macen replied.
"Why?" Ro blurted out and then she flushed, "I'm sorry. You don't have to answer that."
Macen's expression was a wry one, "I think maybe I do just so you'll stop worrying all the time. Have I slept with T'Kir? No. Would I like to? Yes. But she's a very sick girl and sex between El-Aurians is very metaphysical as well the usual bonding. Vulcans are the same. No pairings between the two have been attempted. In T'Kir's case it's possible her instabilities could rub off on me so there's been no physical merger. Once she's treated and hopefully saner, I could easily see something happen but that's a big if."
"I see...I think." Ro contemplated his words, "But the way you two flirt. She thinks something's going on between the two of you. How's she going to react when she finds out it's a road that leads nowhere?"
"I have no idea." Macen confessed.
The bathroom door opened and T'Kir bounded out, fully dressed; "Okay! It's me!"
"Grab your stuff, Snickerdoodle. We're checking out." Macen urged.
"Right! Phaser, communicator, microcomputer...got it!" she happily declared.
They exited the room and returned all the pass key cards to the innkeeper. It was first dawn, when the yellow giant rose in the horizon, and Mudd came pulling up in a Cardassian transport, "Hop in my fine fellows! I have breakfast and coffee for everyone."
The Maquis climbed aboard the six wheeled ATV and took seats where they could find them. Ro sat in the passenger seat next to Harry. Tulley grabbed the seat behind Mudd. The seat behind Ro remained empty as Macen and T'Kir plopped down in the bench seats in the rear of the vehicle. Tulley passed around the coffee and pitas.
"Brings back memories, yah?" T'Kir grinned.
"Somehow I don't think we'll end up rescuing the Chrysalis child this time around." Macen said dryly.
"Too bad." T'Kir sighed.
Mudd handed Ro a duffel bag en route to the dig. She rummaged through it and discovered that it was full of clothes. Robes and turbans like those worn by the bulk of the colonists to be precise.
"For blending in." Mudd explained.
Ro pulled out several items and sized them up. Eventually she settled on an outer garment and a shawl to wrap over her head and face. Tulley went next and found a large robe and a turban. Macen and T'Kir searched through the duffel. Macen managed to find a robe that was only one or two sizes too small. The turban fit after some rewrapping. T'Kir was dwarfed by her robes, which included a hood to be pulled over her head.
Harry proceeded to describe the dig site and its layout. The location of the guard posts was extremely valuable info. As was the description of the buildings that had been excavated thus far.
The city, called Sharray by Dr. Argus, had been buried by a series of sandstorms over the centuries. They'd been found by sonar echo location since standard sensors were useless in the kelbonite laced sand. Each building was accessed through holes in the roof created by removing great slabs of stone work. Each building was penetrated by ladders.
In the central control center, the main computer that ran the planetary weapons system had been operational...to a point. The primary crystalline "CPU" was fractured and the weapons systems were among those lost in the damage. The excavation was now searching out other buildings for a spare crystal matrix. The crystal appeared to be a softball sized diamond solitaire. It had cracked in half due to forces unknown and no spares had been found as of yet but the desperate search continued.
The weapons system appeared to be a series of polaron phaser arrays located across the continent. They fired beams which merged into one powerful emission that was capable of virtually splitting a planet open. They, like the control computer and the equipment at Sharray, were powered by geothermal taps.
The planet possessed its own shields and warp capability. They could literally deposit the planet in any system. Of course, the effects on celestial mechanics of a rogue planet suddenly appearing were another matter, as was the polaron array.
"You seem awfully well informed, Harry." Ro finally commented.
"It pays to keep one's ear to the ground, so to speak." Mudd replied, "And look, the outer checkpoint."
They passed the checkpoints with ease. The Cardassian sentries were used to seeing Mudd bring in new workers. They waved him through with nary an inspection. Mudd drove the ATV along the outskirts of the buried city. He eventually came to a post with a sign in Cardassian and Federation Standard that proclaimed Mudd's name.
"This is my private parking spot. No one will bother our vehicle here." Mudd jovially proclaimed.
"'Our' vehicle? When did you enlist?" Ro asked.
"My future is riding on this little endeavor as well as yours. I just felt that since we're sharing the risks we could share the perks as well." Mudd sniffed.
Ro looked to her compatriots. Tulley and Macen both grinned. T'Kir looked bewildered. The population had increased exponentially and her psychic shields, such as they were, were being barraged.
Macen had been coaching T'Kir in tuning out her telepathy but it hadn't helped much. Small groups, such as the Odyssey's crew, were fine but larger conflagrations overwhelmed her. Judging by what they'd seen so far, Ro estimated that there were at least 1,000 colonists working here with at least 250 Cardassian overseers.
"Well, take us to it." Ro insisted.
"To what, my dear? There are so many points of interest." Mudd stalled.
"Don't play dumb, Harry. It doesn't become you." Ro countered.
"Follow me." Mudd sighed.
The excavating was being done the old fashioned way: with a shovel. They passed a dozen sites where digging was actively going on. They came to a mound in the sand that was roped off. Mudd stopped.
"This is it." He said, "I'll wait for you here."
"You're not taking us inside?" Ro asked.
"I've never been inside so my knowledge, or lack thereof, is useless to you." Mudd insisted.
"He's right." Macen came to Mudd's rescue as Ro bit back a sharp retort, "If I'm right, we don't need Harry for this part of the endeavor."
"All right." Ro allowed, "But you're staying with him, Aric."
Tulley blinked, "Me?"
"You." Ro firmly replied.
Tulley's shoulders sagged, "All right."
"Now, can we find out what this is all about?" Ro demanded.
Macen grinned, "After you."
The trio descended down the ladders to the awaiting control center below. Dead center in the room stood an active console. It appeared to have a holographic display array built behind it. To the far edge of the room stood a column of sorts. It appeared to be able to be opened.
As they reached the floor level, they realized that there were several doors leading off to antechambers. This one seemed to be predominate though and its machinery was already up and running. Upon approach, Macen realized that he could read the arcane symbols that appeared to serve as a language for the controls.
"I can't make heads or tails of this." Ro complained, "Can you tell what it says?"
"Yup." Macen began toying with controls and holograms began to appear in the dead space between the console and the column.
"How the hell can you read this gibberish?" Ro wanted to know.
"Because it's El-Aurian, or at least an archaic form of El-Aurian. It's related to the modern tongue the same way Middle English is related to Federation Standard." Macen explained.
"Huh?" Ro and T'Kir said at the same time. Then they scowled at one another.
"I thought you El-Aurians were pacifists. Why would your ancestors build a planet sized weapon?" Ro asked.
"Not all El-Aurians are equal. I should be proof enough of that." Macen said. Seeing his explanation was lost on Ro, he continued; "It's like Surak's reformation on Vulcan. When logic and emotional control spread, the dissenters packed up and became Romulans after trekking across the quadrant."
"The same thing happened on El-Auria. Those that embraced violence left the planet and sought new worlds to conquer. In the end though, most of them went the same route as my people. Several actually developed faster. The Organians and the Metrons are long lost cousins of my people." Macen explained.
"Next you'll be claiming to be relatives of the Q." Ro scoffed.
Macen gave her a wry look, "This system was designed by relatives of my ancestors and someone has been searching its database trying to find out where the spare CPU is, isn't that right, Taryn?"
Taryn Argus stepped out of the antechamber she'd been searching for clues, "I should have known you'd come, of all people."
She walked until she was just out of reach, "It's been a long time, Brin."
"Maybe not long enough." Macen replied.
"Now don't get catty. You've seen what I've found. Imagine the possibilities." Argus said.
"All I see is the Cardassians blowing up planets. You've been awfully short sighted, Taryn. Even for you." Macen accused.
Argus pursed her lips and crossed her arms, "I never should have slept with you. You've been an arrogant ass ever since."
"Y'slept with her?" T'Kir blurted, "An' here I thought y'had taste."
"Watch your mouth." Argus snapped, "All I have to do is activate my communicator and I'll have two dozen Cardassian troops down here. Somehow I think they'll take a dim view on intruders."
The Maquis responded with silence. Argus filled it, "Brin, I heard you'd joined Starfleet. Surely Starfleet Command isn't so threatened by my project that they'd send you to sabotage it?"
"You'd be surprised what threatening to turn over a doomsday weapon to a hostile power does to one's thinking." Macen warned.
"But this is too overt for Starfleet." Argus kept at it, "They want to talk you to death. That leaves someone closer that has a grudge against the Cardassians. The Maquis?"
This time their silence spoke volumes. Argus smiled, "So you are Maquis. You always were a sucker for a lost cause, Brin. What do you think you can accomplish with three people? There are almost three hundred Cardassian on Corvat at any given time. You don't stand a chance."
Macen snap drew his phaser from his hip and shot Argus. T'Kir grew excited.
"Did y'kill her?" she enthusiastically wondered.
"No." Macen answered, much to her disappointment. He removed his robes and began keying in instructions into the computer. After several false starts, he finally got it to display a map and coordinates to a location northeast of their present position. It was in the mountains and looked to be a fortress.
"What did you ask it?" Ro asked.
"I asked it where the redoubt was. It was an old El-Aurian military policy to construct a fallback fortress that could theoretically hold out against an invasion. Taryn just hasn't thought o fit yet." He stated.
He handed T'Kir a Starfleet issue tricorder, "Can you create a map with that?"
"Why?" she wondered.
"Because we need driving instructions." Macen said.
She played with the device and then snapped it shut, "Got it!"
Macen played with the computer. He erased the data log and history files, "Now we can get Harry and Aric and get out of here."
"Someone might wanna tell, Lees what's goin' on so she can get help." T'Kir suggested. Embarrassed by the scrutiny she added, "Just don't tell her it was my idea."
Ro looked to Macen who shrugged, "She has a point. Lisea will never go for it if she knows it's from T'Kir."
Ro cast her eyes skyward and then went to the closest ladder and began to climb. Macen and T'Kir each took separate ladders and followed Ro up. Once topside, they gathered Tulley and Mudd and headed back through the dig to the waiting ATV.
After boarding the ATV Ro broke her silence. She requested to have the tricorder from T'Kir. The Vulcan dutifully handed it over and Ro activated it. Seeing how T'Kir had recorded the map, she set the tricorder up to be a directional guide.
"Follow the arrows, Harry, and we'll do fine." Ro ordered.
"But why?" Mudd asked.
"We're going after the replacement CPU crystal. We have to get there before the good Dr. Argus wakes up and figures out how to retrace our steps." Ro explained.
"Ohh, we're headed straight into trouble." Mudd bemoaned.
"Usually." Ro agreed.
Mudd sped out of the camp, leaving its cares behind. It took over an hour but Macet finally went to the control center for his daily consultation with Argus. He deeply regretted her being a Federation citizen. He had interesting ideas on how to properly "motivate" her.
"We need to bring in antigravs." Macet complained to the glinn accompanying him, "It is unseemly for someone of my rank to crawl up and down these cursed ladders."
"It is a great morale booster though." The glinn said, "The troops appreciate the equality of it."
"That's precisely why it has to end!" Macet thundered, "The troops can't see me as an equal. I must be elevated to godlike proportions above them so that they respect and obey my commands."
Argus suddenly groaned and Macet snapped, "What the hell was that?"
"Look sir!" the glinn pointed to Argus's prone form, "The Doctor has been injured. Should I call a medic?"
"Not yet." Macet saw a possibility of eliminating his demanding "partner" in this venture if she were critically injured, "Let's see how she is doing first."
In the moments directly after leaving the camp, Ro contacted Danan and let her in on the secret. She described her team's desperate actions and instructed Danan to take the Odyssey out of orbit and contact Starfleet ASAP.
"Brin wants you to tell them that this is a Revanche scenario. Got that?" Ro instructed.
Danan repeated the code phrase back and Ro smiled despite Danan's not being able to see it, "Good. Now get underway before the Cardies go ballistic and starting boarding every ship in orbit looking for us."
"Got it. I'll be back before you know it." Danan assured her.
"Somehow I doubt that." Ro grumbled before closing her communicator down.
Macet discovered that Argus was fine; she'd just received a stun blast from a phaser. He asked the obvious question, "Who did this to you?"
"Brin Macen." She testily answered.
"Who?" Macet had never heard of the chap.
"A fellow El-Aurian A&A Officer. He joined Starfleet after arriving in the Alpha Quadrant." Seeing Macet bristle she held up a hand, "Not to worry. I think he's working with the Maquis on this one."
That only increased Macet's ire, "Where is that fool of a security officer and why didn't he respond?"
They found the unfortunate gil in question asleep at his post. Macet erupted, "You idiot! You are hereby reduced three grades in rank and forfeit your pay for the next two months. Show us the attack on Dr. Argus!"
The now former officer replayed the recordings taken by discreetly mounted monitoring devices in the neighboring chamber. The Maquis were prominently displayed. Macet saw Ro and had her image enhanced.
"Ro Laren!" he snarled, "I still owe her for disrupting my gala. It was because of her efforts that the Federation maintains a presence in the DMZ. I had almost negotiated their withdrawal when she interfered."
"Mobilize the troops. I want her found!" Macet roared.
The glinn went off and started making calls on his wrist communicator. Argus was transfixed by what Macen did on the screen, "Did you see that?"
"See what?" Macet testily snapped.
"He pulled up a map. It has to be the location of the other crystal." She declared.
"How is it he can find it in mere minutes whereas you've had weeks of failure?" Macet snidely asked.
"He's good. Too damn good for his own well being." Argus commented, "Enhance this image and copy the information that gets displayed here."
Macet was fingering the peace strap on his disruptor's holster and Argus gave him a cocky smile, "You still need me, Macet. Only I can read the computer's glyphs and operate the weapons that you so desperately crave."
Macet scowled but he removed his hand from his weapon, "You misjudge me, dear Doctor."
"I bet." She smirked.
"Jagul, Harry Mudd drove out of camp headed into the wilderness. He was headed north by northeast when he left. He had four other people. Two humans, a Vulcan, and a Bajoran. The Bajoran was a woman matching Ro Laren's description." The glinn reported.
"You might make dalin sooner than expected after all." Macet mused, "So Mudd has betrayed my trust and for a lowly band of Maquis at that. This group matches the description of the party that raided my office during my gala."
"Except that one of the so-called ‘humans' is really an El-Aurian." Argus pointed out.
"He's a dead man regardless. So why quibble?" Macet inquired.
"I see your point." Argus relented.
"I have the data you required." The former gil reported.
"Input the data into the base database and download it into a dozen padds." Macet ordered.
"Round up a troop carrier and a dozen soldiers. Then alert the shuttles that they will be going operational. My personal shuttle will be included. It will transport me to these coordinates. Dr. Argus, you will accompany me." Macet barked orders.
"Of course." Argus complied.
"Good. We're going on a vole hunt and you get to be witness to my triumph." Macet boasted.
"Oh joy." Argus quipped.
Mudd followed the directional markers on the tricorder and ended up driving into a box canyon carved out of the hillside. As the drove in, one particular overhang warranted Macen's attention. He pointed it out to his companions.
"That's an observation tower." He announced, "We're on the right track."
"How can you be sure?" Ro wondered.
"Because I've done this before." Macen informed her.
"When?" Ro wanted to know.
"A long time ago. With Taryn." Macen revealed.
"Harrumph." T'Kir huffed.
"Calm down." Macen chided, "Our liaison was a long time ago. You have nothing to be jealous about, especially since Taryn's collaborating with the enemy."
"Really?" T'Kir leaned into Macen, lashes batting and a dreamy quality to her voice.
"Really, now..." Macen began to say.
"'Mind on the mission'. Yah, yah, heard it before." T'Kir interjected.
Macen looked mortified and she grinned, "Y'r gettin' predictable in y'r old age."
"Brin! Head's up!" Ro called back.
Ahead of them a façade was carved out of the living rock. It appeared to be a temple of sorts. Macen grinned, "That's it."
The Odyssey quietly slipped out of orbit and left the binary system at maximum impulse. Upon clearing the system's traffic boundary she went to Warp 5. The Irkitz received orders to pursue an hour later and she left the system at Warp 8. Following the older ship's warp signature, it was only a matter of time before the Cardassian warship overtook the scoutship.
Macen took the lead since he had the training and experience to deal with the dangers that lay ahead. They'd dismounted from the ATV, leaving Mudd behind, and mounted the steps that led to a cavernous open door. At the edge of the doorway stood a console. Ro, T'Kir, and Macen had stripped off their robes back at the Cardassian dig but Tulley still wore his. Macen asked for them and Tulley gladly complied.
Using the robes to brush off centuries of accumulated dirt and dust, Macen was able to read the glyphs and see the screen. He pressed the "On" button and the buttons' backlighting came to life. The holographic display flared and glyphs appeared in the air. They were instructions. Following them Macen placed his hand on the screen.
It registered the fact that he was an El-Aurian and lights began to blaze in the inner space beyond the door. The computer bid him to enter so he motioned for the others to follow him and he went into the redoubt. The interior was a square space littered with bodiless heads. They were mummified and gathered in front of the doorway that stood opposite of the Maquis.
To the side of the doorway hung glyphs in mid-air. Macen translated, "Humble yourselves before the might of the Selah."
"What's that mean?" T'Kir blurted what was on everyone's mind.
"'Selah' is obviously the tribal name for the group of El-Aurians that came here." Macen said nonchalantly, "The rest is an instruction for getting past this booby trap."
"What makes you think there's a booby trap?" Tulley asked.
"Do you really think all of these people chopped each others' heads off?" Macen asked dryly.
"Well, I..." Tulley stammered.
"Where's their frinxing bodies?" T'Kir asked the next obvious question.
Macen thumbed towards the open doorway, "In there."
"An' y'r goin' in there?" T'Kir was frantic now.
"Can't be helped." He said.
"Sure it c'n. Send Aric." T'Kir demanded.
Macen took hold of her shoulders and kissed her forehead, "Keep the faith."
She was distraught and he knew as he pressed onward. He hated to leave her that way. There really was no way of knowing how she'd react but he was the best equipped for the task. He just had to be smart enough to decipher the riddle. Which stunk because he was lousy with riddles.
Bodies littered the pathway on the right side. That meant whatever beheaded them swung from the left. Cobwebs filled the space and Macen's primordial fear of spiders temporarily robbed him of reason. He couldn't see any of the creatures but that didn't mean they weren't there.
He stood still. Thoughts of the riddle filled his mind. Humble? A humble man was penitent before his enemies. He took a step forward. A penitent man bowed before his enemy's might. Bowed? Duck!
Macen dropped to his knees just as a scythe flew by overhead. It continued to swing as he crawled beyond its reach. Rising, he spotted another illuminated control panel. He deactivated the mechanism and the scythe disappeared into the wall. He walked into its path and it didn't come out after him.
"It's okay. You can pass now." He called back to his comrades.
T'Kir barreled through the cobwebs and they clung to her as she tightly embraced Macen. It was a pleasant scene except for the fact that T'Kir was three times stronger than Macen and he was having difficulty breathing. Ro decided to intervene.
"T'Kir? You might want to loosen your grip or you'll suffocate him. Don't want to kill him right after he survived the ancient death trap." She suggested.
T'Kir released her death grip, "Oh! I'm so sorry!"
"It's okay." Macen gasped, "At least you let go."
T'Kir began to struggle with removing the cobwebs from Macen and herself. Ro and Tulley looked on with amusement since those two had blazed the trail and cleared a path. Ro took Macen aside after T'Kir had finished her ministrations.
"How bad was it?" she asked.
"I barely figured it out in time." He admitted, "Hopefully the others won't be any more difficult."
"That's a slim hope." She grumped.
"Tell me about it." He agreed.
They proceeded 100 meters down the path when they came to a stretch of walkway that was bathed in sunlight. Another illuminated panel stood by. Macen read it aloud for the others.
"Step into the light and ascend into the heavens." He translated.
"So we walk into the light." T'Kir pushed ahead.
Macen caught and held her up against the wall, "Not quite. El-Aurians believe in an afterlife. Ascending to heaven means you go to the afterlife. Which means the light kills you."
"Really?" she asked with wonder in her voice.
"Watch." He commanded.
He stood dead center of the walkway in the shadows leading to the light and thrust his hand into the light. He pulled it back just in time to avoid the spears that projected from either side of the pathway in the shadowed walls. Two mummified remains hung from the spears. They withdrew after a moment.
"Proceed single file and stay to the shadows." Macen instructed as he skirted the shadows and walked down the path. Ro came next. Tulley followed her and T'Kir brought up the rear.
She brushed up against one of the mummies and she fought the urge to recoil, "Eww!"
"Hang in there." Macen said as he pulled her out of the danger zone, "We may just be at the beginning of this craziness."
"Sucks, don't it?" T'Kir grinned.
"I could think of better things to do." Macen admitted.
"Mmm. So could I." she flashed him with her bedroom eyes.
"Back to business." Macen suddenly said and retook the lead.
"Dammit!" T'Kir snarled. Ro and Tulley just grinned.
The third challenge came in the form of an outcropping that stretched above a looming chasm. Handrails protected those to the right or left but the center was devoid of any barriers. Macen thought he had a nasty suspicion about this one. Fixed on the handrail next to the opening read another screen.
"The leap of faith will prove your worthiness." Macen read.
"So we're supposed to jump off?" Ro correctly deduced the nature of the test.
"That's the plan." Macen said.
"Screw that." T'Kir declared, "Y'r not jumpin'."
He grinned, "Too late."
Macen stepped off the edge and suddenly reappeared on an antigrav sled. It took him to the other side where there was a matching outcropping. It brought him up to where he could easily step off and then lowered itself and attached itself to a housing underneath the outcrop.
"There's three more sleds." Macen called across, "Destiny, eh?"
The other three Maquis exchanged worried glances. Finally, T'Kir bolted forward with a "Frinx it."
She whooped as the sled flew across the chasm. Macen helped her off of it and it likewise docked underneath the rock formation. With a shrug Ro went next. She misstepped and landed in Macen's waiting arms.
"Careful, Laren." He smiled, "I don't know what we'd do without you."
"You'd get by." She said.
Tulley hesitated for the longest time. Finally the catcalls from his teammates motivated him and he stepped out. The ride wasn't as bad as he expected and he landed safely.
Macen returned to leading the others as they entered a new chamber. This one appeared to be a replica of the control center at the Cardassian dig. The computer console was much larger though and the walls were lined with racks of weaponry.
"Boo wah!" Tulley crowed, "Imagine what we could do with those."
"I don't think so." Ro countered, "I already feel like I'm walking on someone's grave."
"You are." Macen said as he activated the rest of the lights and row upon row of seated mummies sat, "Meet the Selah."
"Ick." T'Kir complained.
Macen focused on the computer. The holographic display came to life and he confirmed his suspicion, "The crystal is in that central column."
"Great. How d'we get it?" T'Kir asked.
Macen pressed a control and the column split in half. Inside, on a web of connections sat the perfect crystal CPU. He pulled out a hand lamp from his belt, "You might want to grab these. When T'Kir pulls that out, the main systems are going to die."
"Will the antigrav sleds be part of the auxiliary systems?" Ro wondered.
"We'll find out." Macen replied.
"That's what I thought." She said.
T'Kir sat her lamp in the framework of the column and then began to disconnect the crystal. Systems across the facility crashed as she did so. Soon the lights died and they had to retrace their steps with the hand lamps. The crystal was put in a surveyor's bag from the ATV and Macen wore it slung bandolier style across his body. Then they left.
They reached the outcropping, Ro insisted on going first. Everyone argued with her but finally she explained, "A leader leads. I'm going first."
She tentatively stretched forth her foot and then she surged forward. The sled caught her and ferried her across. The others followed. T'Kir approached Ro.
"I'd follow you anywhere after that, Skipper." She confessed.
"Hopefully you won't have to." Ro said.
"Huh?" T'Kir pondered that one.
They skirted the shadows of the spear section just in case. The scythe was still inoperable and they easily cleared it. They shaded their eyes as they stepped out into the light. As their vision cleared they realized that the worst had happened. The Cardassians had arrived.
They had Mudd backed up against his ATV with two guards watching him. A larger troop transport had made it here and ten garresh noncoms stood with weapons poised. Two shuttles had also managed to squeeze into the canyon. Macet strode towards them from one of them.
Taryn Argus and an unknown glinn marched behind Macet. Macet looked as though he'd swallowed the proverbial canary. Ro wanted to bash him upside the head and remove the smirk from his face.
"Search them." Macet ordered his troops, "And remove that bag from the Maquis scum."
Rifles were held steady in front of the Marquis while troopers came behind them to pat them down. Their weapons, utility belts, communicators, and lamps were taken from them. Macen unwillingly surrendered the surveyor's bag but it was that or face execution.
"It seems that this time I have the upper hand, Ro Laren." Macet boasted.
"You remember me? I'm surprised. We spent hardly any time with each other." Ro bantered.
"Let's just say you left a lasting impression. I've considered your future and I think I'll spare Cardassia a trial. I'm leaving you five out here in this wilderness with nothing but relics to support you. I doubt you last a week." Macet chuckled, impressed with his own ingenuity.
"Anything can happen, so watch your back, Macet." Ro warned.
Macet laughed, "Come Doctor. Take the crystal and secure it. Then load it in a shuttle and transport it back to the camp."
"Of course." Argus agreed.
Macet proceeded directly to his personal shuttle and lifted off. The glinn and Argus were left in charge. More so the glinn than Argus. The good doctor was still a barely tolerated presence amongst the Cardassians.
They secured the crystal in a foam covered carry all. It was safely nestled with no chance of cracking. Having completed this task, they took a moment to down some water and eat some rations. What they didn't know is the Maquis were on the move.
The Maquis were being held at rifle point by three garresh. T'Kir moved closer and the guard hefted his rifle and aimed it at her chest.
"Y'r shoes untied." She said.
That puzzled the Cardassian since he was wearing boots. She smiled and pointed at his feet, "Y'might not believe it but y'r shoes are untied."
He looked down and she kicked him in the groin. With her formidable Vulcan strength, the Cardassian didn't stand a chance. He folded in on himself.
The other two began to react but they were rushed by her teammates. Macen fought hand to hand with one of them. The tide swiftly turned to the Cardassian's favor so T'Kir pinched his neck, only to discover his neck bones prevented the famed nerve pinch from working.
"Uh oh." She said and then rocked the Cardie with a left cross. He went down. Macen stripped the Cardassian of his rifle and pistol and as the garresh began to rise, Macen killed him with the rifle.
Ro smashed her Cardassian's face with a straight forward punch. Next she delivered a knee to the groin followed by a right cross. As he fell to his knees, she kicked him the face as hard as she could. He fell over and lay still.
They stripped the Cardies' of their weapons and retrieved their own. Strapping on his utility belt, Macen noted that they retrieved a photon grenade from the Cardassian guards. He grinned.
"Ever sabotaged a shuttle?" he asked Ro.
She accepted the grenade with a smile, "I think I'm about to."
They skirted the area and came upon the shuttle. Its rear loading ramp was down and the pilot was sitting in the cockpit, waiting for his chance to fly again. Ro crept up behind him and then shot him point blank with her captured disruptor. Even if she was unsuccessful in sabotaging this crate, it would still need a pilot.
She knelt down and popped the central hatch in the floor. Underneath sat the warp core. She set the timer on the grenade for 30 seconds and then pulled the pin and dropped it in. Running as hard as she could, she rounded the rocks the other Maquis and Mudd were hiding behind.
Argus and the glinn chose that moment to appear. The shuttle blew apart in a massive fireball. The concussive blast knocked them off of their feet. As soon as the glinn could hear, he commed the guard detachment. Getting no reply, he grabbed Argus.
"Come along, Doctor. The Maquis are afoot." He said.
"But how are we getting out?" she asked.
"We still have the troop transport and our reclaimed ATV." He explained as he frog-marched her to the truck, "I think we'll take the transport."
They got to the rear of the truck and her shouted out to the two garresh guarding the ATV, "Load up and follow us."
The troop transport rolled away leaving the two noncoms to follow in the ATV. The driver began to mount up when a disruptor beam struck him in the back, instantly killing him. The other garresh hopped down and hid behind the engine cowling. He was about to return fire when a rifle's phase emitter tapped his head.
The garresh dropped his pistol and Ro gathered it up while Tulley kept him covered. The Cardassian sneered, "You'll never recover the crystal."
"Who needs to recover it?" Ro asked, "Destroying it works as well."
The garresh started to lunge at her but Tulley shot him, killing him as well. Cardassian weapons had no "Stun" setting so they were immediately lethal or very damaging. However, Tulley didn't mind at all. Every dead Cardassian was payback for his murdered family. He wouldn't rest until every Cardassian was dead.
Of course, he didn't voice this goal to Ro. Ro still saw the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Tulley knew better. There would be no peace so long as a single Cardie remained alive.
"Harry, you're driving." Ro ordered as she swung herself up into passenger side. She stopped Tulley as he mounted the vehicle, "Sit behind me, Aric. I need the seat behind Harry empty."
"You got it, Skipper." He readily agreed.
The troop transport had travelled down the dry river bed. That was the method Mudd had used to get to the redoubt after leaving the dig site. Ro pointed at river bank.
"Stay above them until we can drop down atop them." Ro instructed.
Mudd fired up the engine and sped off in pursuit, "Do you really think we can catch them?"
"They're in a half-track. That'll slow them down as well as circumnavigating the leftover rocks and boulders." Ro asserted.
"And when we catch them?" Mudd wondered.
"Then you pull up alongside the passenger side door of the cab and I'll do the rest." She stated.
The look on Ro's face told Mudd that there would be a few less Cardassians in this universe after that.
"There they are!" T'Kir cried out, pointing as she leaned over the ATV's sidewall. They hit a rock and she started to hurtle out of the vehicle only to be caught by the waist by Macen. He brought her back in and planted her in a seat.
"I think we want to avoid flying just yet." He said as he sat next to her.
She leaned into him, "My hero. Here's your reward."
Her lips brushed his but another jag from a rock caused them to bump heads. T'Kir frowned and rubbed her offended forehead. Macen just grinned.
"Now is definitely not the time." He said.
"Is it ever?" she complained.
"Probably not. Not until we get you better." He shared.
She looked wounded and he could see her withdraw into herself. Macen regretted the comment but it had to be said. He hated to see her in pain but there was more of that coming if they carried on in any way.
Ro stood, holding on to the roll bar. She excitedly pointed ahead, "There! That's our ticket down."
Mudd recognized that the river bank flowed into the river at that place so he accelerated to meet the transport at it. The ATV surged forward and he swung it alongside the transport.
"Now what, my dear?" Mudd asked.
"Get as close to the door as you can." Ro instructed as she shifted to the seat behind Mudd's.
"Closer!" Ro yelled.
Mudd bumped the ATV against the transport. Ro jumped onto the running board and reached out and grabbed hold of the door's handle. Releasing the door, she opened it and then reached in and pulled the Cardassian rider out. He went under the wheels of the ATV.
"Eww." T'Kir crinkled her nose as they bounced over him.
Ro's advantage was that the transport had a separate modular cab for the driver and one passenger. She swung her legs into the cab and kicked the driver in the face. She followed this with another kick and then a third. The driver was practically insensate and the transport was weaving.
Ro took a risk and reached across the Cardassian driver to open his door and shove him out. She then motioned for Tulley to follow her. With a deep sigh, Mudd swung the ATV in again and Tulley jumped onto the running board and then he took up position beside her.
"What now, Skipper?" he asked with a broad grin.
"Those idiots in back have to have seen the bodies by now. They're going to react. The question is how?" Ro wondered.
The glinn thought he spotted the passenger's body alongside the trail. And weren't those tire tracks beside the transport? The driver's unconscious form just confirmed his suspicions.
"Traverse the side walls. I'll go overhead and ambush them from the roof." He ordered. His troops hesitated and he shouted at them, "Move!"
The ones to the driver's side exited without interference but the first one to step out on the passenger side was shot by Macen and T'Kir. The glinn assigned two garresh to subduing them.
"Keep them busy. The rest of you lot, out the other side." He commanded.
He then pulled himself up on top of the roof and he belly crawled towards the cab module. Ro looked at the rearview mirror on Tulley's side and saw disruptor fire. She then checked her own mirror and grimaced.
"Unh. The natives are restless." She observed.
"Why not use the embankment to brush them off?" Tulley wondered.
Ro smiled, "Good idea."
She swung the transport to her left and scraped it up against the dirt and sand embankment. Cardassians screamed as they were knocked off. One managed to hold on and Ro slammed the transport into the dirt. He released his grip.
Meanwhile, Macen and T'Kir had tagged another trooper. The remaining one took shelter inside of the troop compartment. He and Argus sat at the rear of the compartment and waited for the worst.
The glinn had crawled all the way to the cab. He took hold of the cargo rack atop of it and swung himself in through Ro's open window. She was knocked out of the driver's seat and straight into Tulley. Tulley's door popped open and he was thrown out of the cab. He held on to the door for dear life but its fastenings were popping loose.
The glinn punched Ro in the face. She recoiled but she had nowhere to go. He hit her again and then took hold of the back of her neck and bounced her head off of the dashboard. The door broke off and Tulley ended up on the riverbed, stranded except for the fact that Mudd had stopped the ATV and Tulley ran to catch up.
He climbed aboard, "Ro needs us!"
"Never fear, my good man. We shan't tarry here." Mudd said and gunned the engine.
Ro managed to push the next punch aside with a block. She then hit him in the face. He shoved her with both hands and she nearly fell out of the cab. Once again, she relied upon the strength of her legs.
She kicked the glinn's head. Another blow came into his face as he tried to drive. She scrambled over him and pushed him aside. Now she angled her body so one foot was on the accelerator and the other was free to kick the glinn. She caught him square in the chest and he sailed out of the command module.
Mudd accidently ran over the glinn in his hurry to join up with Ro. Tulley jumped onto the running board and Ro yelled at him, "Tell Harry to stop!"
He did so and she hit the brakes. Both vehicles came to a stop. Ro dismounted and Tulley followed her. Macen and T'Kir came with and all drew their weapons. Ro peeked around the corner and the remaining garresh shot at her.
"Listen up. There's four of us and one of you. If we rush you, you're dead. I'd advise surrender." Ro called out.
There was a pause and then, "I'm coming out. Don't shoot."
The garresh handed over his disruptor and stood with his hands up. Ro focused on Argus, "Hand over the case and we won't hurt you."
"Ha! You won't hurt me anyway." Argus argued.
"Wanna bet?" T'Kir growled and she turned the corner and fired.
Whether intentionally or not, her shot went wild. T'Kir cursed and took aim this time. Macen took hold of her shoulders and tried to move her away, only she wasn't budging.
Ro smirked, "Still think we won't hurt you? I'd say our Vulcan friend would like to do nothing more."
"Fine. I'll come out but the crystal won't do you any good. Macet's troops control the dig." Argus proclaimed.
"Why does everyone seem to think I want the weapon?" Ro asked, "I'm just as happy if no one gets it."
Argus climbed out, clutching the case and wearing a very confused expression. Ro turned to the garresh, "I'm going to give you a flesh wound. Then you can say we overpowered you."
"Thank you." He bobbed his head. She shot him in the thigh and he went down with a cry. She turned to Argus, "As for you..."
A right cross knocked the El-Aurian off of her feet. She spat blood and glared daggers in Ro's direction. Ro ignored her.
"You might want to pick up your comrades." Ro suggested with a sweet smile. Then the Maquis boarded the ATV and sped off.
Argus commed Macet's command and had them watch the riverbed but Mudd had wisely left the dry river and swung wide around the other side of the camp. He cut a wide enough swathe that they passed by unnoticed. The headed into New Cairo and Mudd traded places with Ro, borrowing her communicator in the process.
He adjusted the frequency and then activated it, "Omar? It's Harry Mudd, damn you."
"Omar here. What do you want?" a gruff and grumpy voice asked.
"You wanted to hurt the Cardassians? Well hiding my erstwhile companions and I will hurt them beyond measure." Mudd shared.
"How many of you are there?" Omar was suddenly intrigued.
"Five humanoids and an ATV." Mudd answered.
"Come to the garage. We'll be waiting for you." Omar replied and signed off.
"Who's Omar and where's the garage?" Ro asked.
"Omar hates the Cardassians even more than you do and he has several local business interests. One of them is a vehicle repair garage." Mudd explained.
Ro followed Mudd's instructions and pulled into a multi-bay garage. The doors sealed shut behind them and local craftsmen set up their carts and tents in front on the garage's doors. When Macet and his troops combed through town, they passed right on by.
Macet was on the verge of ordering a door to door search when Starfleet Security officers began beaming down all over town and Starfleet shuttles began to land. The troops were led by several officers, including one Macet knew of by reputation.
"Ah, Captain Picard! How good to see you." Macet tried false sincerity.
"Indeed? The crew of the Irkitz didn't feel the same way, I'm afraid." Jean-Luc Picard countered.
"What have you done to my ship?" Macet immediately grew hostile.
"I have sent her home...where you should be." Picard said, "You are in gross violation of the treaty between Cardassia and the Federation. In fact, it's an act of war."
Picard let that settle in for a moment before continuing, "Can the Cardassian Union truly afford a two front war at this time?" he asked.
"No, damn you." Macet snarled, "What are your terms?"
"You have two hours in which to withdraw." Picard commanded.
"I've lost the Irkitz; I won't be able to retrieve all of our equipment." Macet countered.
"You have two hours." Picard said flatly, "All Cardassian personnel must be gone by then. Equipment, on the other hand, may be freely left behind."
"That's blackmail!" Macet accused.
"Think of it as recompense to the locals." Picard offered.
Macet merely scowled, "I'll take my leave of you then. The dig site must be carefully managed."
"My people will accompany you. They'll be happy to assist however they can." Picard smiled.
Ro's communicator began to beep. She removed it from her belt and flipped it open, "Ro."
"It's Danan. I have signal patch for you. Stand by." Her voice came across.
The male voice that followed startled her, "Ro, it's Riker."
"Hello, Will." She said.
"Do you have any injured?" he asked.
"No. We're good." She replied, wondering where this was going.
"Do you have the crystal?" he asked.
"Sitting right in front of me." Ro revealed, "Why?"
"The Captain would like to arrange a hand over." Riker explained.
"And I suppose I'm to be arrested on sight." She said ruefully.
"Commander Danan negotiated an amnesty in exchange for the crystal. Your ship and crew are free to go once we have the command crystal." Riker assured her.
"Hold please." Ro hit the mute button, "Where do I meet him?"
"I have a cantina nearby." Omar said, "I can clear the building and you and your Starfleet captain can meet in privacy. I can be ready in ten minutes. Harry, you know the way."
"I do indeed." Mudd stated.
"Ten minutes, at Omar's watering hole." Ro dictated to Riker.
"He'll be there." He promised.
At the allotted time, Picard entered the tent pole structure that was Omar's. Ro was only distantly surprised to find that it was the establishment they'd first found Mudd in. Ro sat at a table near the bar. The bartender had brewed a carafe of Earl Grey tea and it was sitting before her along with a tea cup. She herself was drinking Egyptian coffee.
"Lieutenant Ro." Picard almost smiled.
"Please Captain, I'm no more a lieutenant now then you are a Maquis." Ro did smile.
"You seem fit enough...and I see you've lost none of your confidence." Picard observed.
"Please, have a seat." Ro motioned towards a chair.
Picard sat down. He sniffed the tea. He seemed surprised.
"You remember." He said with obvious satisfaction.
"You'd be surprised at what I remember." She chuckled.
"First things first. Do you have the crystal?" Picard got straight to business.
Ro hefted the case off of the ground by its carry strap. She sat it down on the table next to the carafe. He unlatched it to see the diamond-like crystal.
"So much potential destruction residing within something so beautiful." Picard mused.
"That's usually the way of it." Ro opined, "Tell me, what becomes of Taryn Argus?"
Picard looked like he'd tasted something bitter, "Dr. Argus is in custody and will face charges of treason."
"Oh really?" That certainly pleased Ro.
"It's a sad thing, Lieutenant." Picard disapproved of her evident glee.
"Of course it is." She placated him, all the while exulting in the news.
"Will..." she saw the look, "Commander Riker said something about an amnesty?"
"Yes. You and your band have done the Federation a great service today. You not only exposed a gross mistreatment of the colony's citizens, you prevented the Cardassians from acquiring a potentially unstoppable weapon." Picard recounted her deeds, "I'd say a little leniency is warranted."
"As long as we're talking leniency, we need to discuss Harry Mudd." Ro said.
Picard was confused, "Who?"
"Harry Mudd the Third, con artist, smuggler, and gun runner for hire. The Maquis and the Orion Syndicate have put out a price on his head. That's how he ended up here helping us." Ro explained.
"You were sent after him by Wishram." Realization dawned for Picard.
"Only, instead of a trial he'll be headed for a crucifixion. He deserves better than that, especially after today." Ro stated.
"So what do you suggest?" Picard inquired.
"He's willing to testify against the Syndicate in exchange for admission to the Witness Protection Program." Ro offered.
"And against the Maquis?" Picard had to ask.
Ro shook her head, "No. That's my price for negotiating the deal."
A thin smile formed on Picard's lips, "I see. I'll have to discuss it with the admiralty but I think it's a fair exchange."
Ro rose, "If that's all, my crew and I need to return to the DMZ."
"Lieutenant, just remember...you still have supporters within Starfleet. If you can find your way out of the Maquis and make your way to Bajor, their general amnesty for terrorists fighting the Cardassians would apply to you as well. It would be a fresh start and the Militia could use your talents." Picard suggested.
Ro nodded, "Actually, you're the second Starfleet officer to suggest that to me."
"Really?" Picard was surprised, "May I ask who the first was?"
"Elias Vaughn." Ro answered.
"A good man. You would do well to heed his, and mine, words." Picard counseled.
"I'll keep it in mind. In the meantime, I've a war to win." Ro replied.
"Ro, the war ended with a treaty." Picard lectured, "You're involved in a criminal act."
"Semantics, sir." Ro argued, "Don't let that crystal fall into the wrong hands."
"It shall be turned over to Starfleet Command." Picard promised her.
"Exactly my point." Ro countered, "Remember Admiral Kennelly?"
Picard fell silent and Ro exited the structure. Picard drank a cup of tea before signaling the Enterprise-E that he was ready for transport.
Ro rejoined the others at the garage and she gave Mudd the good news. He thanked them all profusely. Afterwards, the Maquis beamed back aboard the Odyssey. Ro took the center seat and ordered the scoutship set out for the DMZ via the Federation side of the border.
Later she retreated to her guest quarters. The door unexpectedly chimed and she bid it to open. Macen stood revealed.
"Who's minding the store?" she asked.
"Aric. He thinks he's a Starfleet commander." Macen smirked.
"We all have our foibles." Ro said.
"Yours is the tendency to brood too much." Macen pointed out.
"You wouldn't happen to be a bartender would you?" Ro asked wryly.
"Sorry. I can tell that something is bothering you though." Macen observed.
"What are we fighting for?" Ro suddenly blurted, "I mean, I'm all twisted in knots anymore because I'm being pulled one direction and then another."
"How long have you felt this way?" Macen asked.
"Ever since Eddington took over." Ro admitted, "He's like the villainous trickster that comes in and destroys everything while telling you life is grand. Having him detonate that biogenic weapon... And then of course, having Wishram step into his place."
"So why are you still at it?" Macen wondered.
"The people in the cell. They depend upon me. Only, I'm supposed to lead them in a fight I no longer believe in." Ro confessed.
"Sounds like you have a problem." Macen placated her.
"Oh really? I hadn't noticed." She said dryly.
"If you no longer believe in the cause, you should bow out." Macen advised, "You won't be doing anyone any good if you keep at half-heartedly."
"What about you?" Ro inquired, "Are you staying in?"
"I'm in until Nechayev pulls me out. Lees is leaving though." Macen revealed.
"When?" Ro was almost panic stricken.
"As soon as I drop you and Aric off on Ronara Prime, we're headed to Starbase 375 so she can reactivate her commission." He said.
"What does that mean for the Odyssey? What about the unit?" Ro asked.
"Lacey is a former Starfleet noncom. She's got a decent head on her. She can fill Lisea's shoes. As for the unit, there's still T'Kir and I." Macen described the impending changes.
"It sounds like we all need to retire." Ro admitted, "With Eddington in custody, it would seem to be a good time to bow out."
"From your lips to God's ear." Macen grinned.
"I'll stay on until I can find a successor, then I'll leave." Ro promised herself.
"Wouldn't that fall on Aric?" Macen wanted to know.
"I just have to show him the ropes. He knows most of the picture but not all of it." Ro explained.
"Sounds like a plan then." Macen smiled.
"Can you take the bridge?" Ro requested, "I want to break Aric in on the news."
"No problem." Macen headed out the door and Ro strode out behind him.
I wonder how he's going to react? She thought to herself.
Little did anyone aboard realize that the Dominion had just allied itself with Cardassia. The Maquis' days were numbered by scant days.
|Last modified: 02 Jan 2014