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Keeping the Peace by Travis Anderson

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

"Don't let them get away!" Lani Lakowski demanded.

Calvin "Cal" Hudson glanced towards his aggravated 1st Officer and co-pilot as he snapped his Rapier-class raider around. The nimble Nathan Hale completed its flip and found its forward phaser array aimed squarely at the unidentified raider desperately trying to escape the system. With a yelp of sheer joy, Lani opened fire. Pulses of phaser fire ran the length of the other ship.

"Remember," Hudson warned, "we need them alive."

"No," Lani shot back, "you need one alive."

Lani's recent behaviour and temper had begun to worry Hudson. He couldn't imagine what it had been like for her to watch as the Cardassians burned her home with her two children trapped inside. He supposed he'd be a little unstable afterwards as well. She'd always been there for missions, and as long as that remained true, he had no regrets over choosing her as his lieutenant.

Hudson's role as Brigade Commander for the Maquis Council made everything he did symbolic to one Brigade cell or another. The Council was comprised of the commanders of the various cells. Each Brigade commander held a seat on the Council and could vote via transceiver or by vouchsafed proxy. Hudson and his cell were one of the few action Brigades not directly tied to one specific world.

"We're taking them alive dammit!" Hudson yelled at her.

She angrily held his gaze for a moment then relented. Her random phaser blasts became instruments of precise destruction and the other ship's engines were swiftly crippled. Cal opened the comm to the rear of the small 8-man craft and gave orders as to the transporting and imprisonment of their captives. He rose from his chair, pausing before leaving.

"Keep an eye out okay?" Hudson counselled, "They might have friends out here."

"I know my job." Lani sulked, "Go do yours."

Hudson shook his head as he traversed the narrow corridor running down the middle of the ship. To either side of the corridor lay modular compartments designed for passengers or cargo. Hudson had equipped the Hale with a med bay and a lounge/mess. The corridor ended, like the ship, in engineering. This was where the transporter resided as well.

As Hudson walked in, he got his first glance at the pilots of the ship that had targeted a freighter captained by a Maquis sympathiser by the name of Kasidy Yates. His heart sank as he saw what race they belonged to. Instead of the usual Cardassian paramilitaries, two pirates in wrist binders stared at Hudson's Vulcan engineer holding a phaser at them. Now Hudson knew why Ro Laren had called him.

"Cal" the intercom crackled, "We have two ships inbound."

"What do you make of them?" he asked.

"They just flipped their transponders on." Lani replied, "It's the Indomitable and the Odyssey."

Cal breathed a sigh of relief. Both ships were under Ro's command. The Indomitable served as the Ronaran cell's flagship. The Odyssey was a scoutship commanded by the cell's Intelligence Officer. Hudson had been surprised, nearly shocked, to get a request for aid from Ro Laren.

The Starfleet Lieutenant Ro Laren who'd served time in the stockade on Jaros II before coming aboard the Enterprise-D under Captain Jean-Luc Picard's command. After successfully completing the mission that secured her release, Picard convinced Ro to stay on. She left briefly to attend, and graduate from, Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training. Upon her return to the ship, she was sent undercover to infiltrate the Ronaran Maquis cell.

Ro's sympathies for the Maquis ultimately led her to betray Starfleet and join the same cell she'd infiltrated. Soon, she rose through the ranks and became the Commander of the Ronaran cell. The other Commanders comprising the Maquis Council swiftly respected her passion and professionalism. A large measure of the Ronaran brigade's success could be found in the form of Brin Macen.

Macen was an El-Aurian that arrived in the doomed freighter, Lakul. A refugee with a background in social sciences and his native world's Expeditionary Scouts, Starfleet gratefully accepted his enlistment application. His skills and talents soon led him to Starfleet Intelligence. Macen swiftly became an expert on Cardassia affairs during the Border Wars of the 2350's and the 2nd Cardassian War of the mid 2360's.

In light of his expertise on Cardassia, he was personally assigned by Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev to join the Maquis ranks in order to curb their activities and ensure that Maquis efforts would benefit the Federation. Like Ro, Macen had fallen in with his new comrades and become the Ronaran Brigade Intelligence Officer.

Ro and her cell tended to be rather insular but at least it provided for operational secrecy. Too many cells were now riddled with Cardassian informers. It also wasn't as though Ro wouldn't throw in to assist other Brigade Commanders with larger undertakings. She just didn't ask for help very often and she certainly never requested the aid of the Maquis Commander.

Hudson retook his seat in the Hale's cramped cockpit. He looked to his left and activated the comm screen. Ro's features lit the screen to life. Her heart shaped, angular looks startling yet attractive at the same time.

"Hello Ro," Hudson initiated the conversation, "you called and I came running. What's the situation?"

"I think you have two pieces of the problem in your engine room." Ro replied, "We've got a pirate infestation in need of extermination."

With the absence of fair, unbiased law enforcement in the Zone, the Maquis had assumed the role the Cardassian Militia was supposed to be providing. With the Constabulary a worse menace than the criminals they were supposed to be apprehending. Sensing the opportunities to be had, every form of vile criminality suddenly found a safe haven. Settlers across the DMZ found themselves besieged by drug dealers, con men, thieves, and plain old-fashioned protection rackets.

Unchecked by the paid-off Cardassians, the criminal activity grew increasingly flamboyant until the Maquis stepped. A phaser blast to the knee was a common punishment for drug dealers. Racketeers would awake to find themselves naked and hog-tied in the middle of town with their former victims having their way with them. Each crime brought a specific punishment tailor made for the offence.

It made heroes of the Maquis throughout the Zone. Barely tolerated and feared before, now the rebels were supported and respected. Recruiting was up and defections down. And although it had redirected attention that could have been spent on the Cardassians, the increase in manpower was paying off ten-fold. The pressures of fighting a full-time guerrilla war atop of maintaining civil order strained the Maquis' limited resources, but thus far the Maquis Council deemed the efforts worth the expenditure of time and people.

"I'm glad we could talk face to face Lieutenant." Hudson admitted, leaning back into the chair he was seated in, "I'd hate to plan an operation from orbit."

"I'm glad we agree, but you don't have to call me ‘Lieutenant'. I don't use my former rank any more than you do, ‘Commander'." Ro told him with a wry smile.

Being reminded of his former rank in Starfleet also brought associated memories of his last encounter with his dearest friend, Benjamin Sisko. As Commander of the Bajoran space station, Deep Space 9, Sisko was charged with protecting Federation interests in the Bajoran sector and this side of the DMZ. Hudson had hoped to enlist Sisko's assistance in arming and guiding the Maquis. Sadly that hadn't happened and Hudson had been forced to fire on his oldest comrade. It was an encounter that unsettled both men and destroyed a friendship spanning over a decade.

"All right." Hudson conceded, "I see your point. No more ranks. What's happening here?"

"I'd really like to bring in my Intel to help explain our investigation." Ro requested. Upon receiving Hudson's nod of assent, Ro pulled an old Starfleet surplus clamshell communicator from her belt.

It chirped as she flipped it open, "Ro to Macen."

"Macen here" followed a slight pause.

"I'd like you to debrief the Council Commander regarding our request for assistance."

"Roger that. I'll be there shortly." Macen complied.

Ro snapped the communicator shut and shrugged, "Now we wait."

Hudson smiled, "Isn't that always the hardest part?"

Situated in a storeroom underneath a vacated shop, the Ronaran cell had set up a makeshift cell. Despite being held behind forcefields, their wrist binders remained on. Ro's lieutenant Aric Tulley had arranged a watch rotation and had personally stayed on to tale the first watch. Tulley was a farmer that had lost his wife and children to Cardassian paramilitaries. It was deciding moment that turned a stoic, taciturn farmer into a resolute, unswayable guerrilla soldier.

Tulley wasn't the only audience member here for Macen's interrogation of the two captured pirates. Also present was Macen's Vulcan Chief of Operations. T'Kir was rather unique among in that she displayed her emotions and that she was mentally unstable. Vulcans and Romulan defectors had populated her home colony.

Like Dorvan V, Shial had been swept clean by the Cardassian military. T'Kir left school to return to the DMZ and join the Maquis. The longer she fought the Cardassians, the more emotionally unstable she became. Only Macen seemed to have any influence over her swings. Her agitation level was currently rising as the interrogation drug on.

Macen snapped his communicator shut, "I give up. T'Kir, do your thing."

She approached the two prisoners, one Bajoran and one Terran. She examined them bobbing and weaving like a predator testing her prey. She suddenly moved in close to one face, then another. She finally pulled back wearing a feral smile.

"You first." T'Kir announced and raised her hands around the human's head.

"No!" he proclaimed in a mixture of terror and defiance, "I thought Vulcans needed permission to read other people's minds."

"I'm not that kind of Vulcan." T'Kir replied with a shrug.

"Please don't." he whispered.

"Relax." T'Kir reassured him, "This'll hurt you a lot more than it will me."

Macen arrived at the meeting between Ro and Hudson with several answers as well as new questions to ponder, "I'm sorry I'm late but the prisoners proved highly resistant to both our standard and special methods of interrogation."

Hudson sighed, "Do I want to know?"

Sadly, it was common for interrogations to be conducted in ways that violated the Khitomer Accords. Hudson continually tried to warn his people of the fallacy of their methods but rage often clouded their judgement. Others just enjoyed the violence. He would never have suspected the Ronaran cell, even under the guidance of Macius, to engage in such behaviours.

"Relax, we have a pretty liberal Vulcan who'll perform mindmelds for the cause." Ro explained.

Hudson, though embarrassed his feelings had shown, nodded in approval, "I wish my resident Vulcan felt the same way more often."

Ro refocused her attention on Macen, "So, what did you find out?"

"Both these men belong to a loose cartel of various pirates, raiders, and petty thugs." Macen explained, "The reason there is a coalition is that they're trying to buy membership into the Andergani Oligarchy."

That information brought about a moment of silence. The Andergani were relatively minor race whose territory lay nestled between the Federation, the Tzenkethi and Cardassia. The mere fact that the Cardassians had never annexed their worlds demonstrated their limited value. The Andergani themselves, seeing how technologically backward they were, opted to try a bold new program for upgrading their technology base: they'd steal it.

Just as the Border Wars between the Federation and Cardassia erupted, so did the Oligarchy's forces. Freighters, passenger ships, and crippled starships all fell prey to the Andergani raiders. Eventually, their reputation grew so great that other marauders petitioned to join the Andergani forces. And so they did, but at a hefty price.

Membership included mastery over a colony planted on one continent or another on an existing Oligarchy world. Since slavery was legal, and even encouraged, under Andergani law, the newly recruited pirates could take prisoners and make them servants. Andergani incursions into Federation space ended with the Border Wars. Starfleet's increased vigilance had held the pirates in place until now…

"We're quite a ways from the Oligarchy's borders." Hudson remarked, "I doubt any of their ilk would be operating here."

"That logic is what the cartel is counting on." Macen explained, "All their ships need to do is get past the border checks. Once inside the Zone they can pretty much do as they want, a fact that's served us well."

"True, but they don't live here." Hudson reminded.

"That's not much of an advantage in a situation like ours." Ro observed, "Basically all this does is put us on a level playing field."

"So, now that we know what the problem is, what do we do about it?" Hudson asked.

"We take the bastards out." Ro's voice was throaty, "And we do it in a way that will send a message to every pirate in the whole damned quadrant."

Hudson thought Ro spoke his vote well enough but turned to Macen just in case, "And you?"

"Agreed." Macen said sombrely, "This needs to end."

"Well, brew two or three pots of coffee and call in your cell as well as mine." Hudson ordered, "this is going to be a long night."

The final plan was the Maquis hallmark of daring recklessness. Utilising a decrepit freighter, they would leak word out that the freighter was loaded with valuable all the goods and currency the pitiable Maquis treasury could safely boast and fake a run to Bajor. Hudson's ship would play the role of protector and escort cruiser. Ro would fire upon the Nathan Hale, driving Hudson off and open negotiations with the pirates. During all of this, Macen's Odyssey would be discreetly observing and mapping every movement and emission the pirate ship/s made.

Presumably the former Starfleet scoutship possessed more powerful sensors than anything the pirates could muster. Hudson would follow Macen's lead in pursuing the pirates accompanied by the Indomitable under Aric Tulley's command. Ro's only companions on the near derelict Fool's Gold would be Kalita, an original operative under Macius, and her cell's main engineering technician, Emjin Thool. His expertise would be invaluable in keeping the cranky centenarian running.

Thankfully, the week it took to refurbish the Fool's Gold also allowed the rumour of the funds transfer to spread. With no time left to the deadline built into the rumour, the Gold left its parking orbit over Durane II. The Nathan Hale followed closely while the Odyssey hung back. Although the scoutship was over fifty years old, it was among the most powerful and versatile in the makeshift Maquis fleet. The remainder being the few Peregrine, and Ju'day classes distributed amongst the various cells.

As they set out, the Fool's Gold's impulse manifold immediately went out and another four hour delay occurred. At the end of this obtrusion, the convoy finally got underway. They chugged away at a leisurely Warp 2, the most stress anyone felt safe applying to the antique engines. Even at faster than light speeds, their current velocity wouldn't let them see Bajor for another twenty-one hours. If the pirates were to strike, it would be in that timeframe.

Fortunately, the pirates were less patient than the Maquis. Six hours underway, a tubular ship with spearhead sections fore and aft appeared. Between these sections lay hexagonal pods that detached from the larger ship, revealing the tuning fork warp nacelles attached to the main ship's aft section. The pods swooped in to attack while the main ship covered the freighter and her protector.

The pirate ship rocked the Nathan Hale with two powerful disrupter bursts. On cue, Hudson turned and ran. The pods in turn attached themselves to various hull sections. Cutting torches made holes in the hull for the raiders to board through.

The pirates represented dozens of races but one individual stood out as he approached Ro, "My men tell me you claim to be captain of this vessel."

Ro gazed steadily into his eyes, "Who says I'm not?"

"I do." The man said, "I've got a way about these things. I know people."

"So do I." Ro replied confidently, "It take a lot for an Acamarian Gatherer to get kicked out of his clan. What'd you do? Get caught with the Clanlord's wife?"

"Wife and daughter." The disgraced Gatherer admitted, "Needless to say, I alienated the whole family at once."

"I'm surprised they let you leave all in one peace." Ro confessed.

"Who says they did?" The Acamarian sneered, "But as they say, synthetic is better than reality."

There were a chorus of chuckles that ended abruptly as the pirate leader raised his hand, "So who are you my pretty?"

Asks the man who would be the Pirate King, Ro mused before answering, "My name is Ro Laren. I was a Lieutenant in Starfleet before being assigned to infiltrate the Maquis. Starfleet set a trap for the Maquis and I was supposed to lead them into its net. The problem was that I couldn't do it. I double-crossed Starfleet and ended up here."

The Gatherer turned to another pirate with a data retrieval device who was frantically inputting details of Ro's story. It only took a moment for the other man's unit to announce its findings with a ‘beep'. The Acamarian and the computer man huddled around the data unit. With a satisfied grunt, the Gatherer returned his attention to Ro.

"Your story checks out." He thrust beefy hand out, "My name's Amon Rival. What's your execution of choice?"

"Whoa flyboy." Ro warned, "Don't count me out just yet."

"What're you sayin'?" Rival asked.

"Rather than kill us, let us join this operation of yours." Ro offered, "We'd be at least as valuable as the dregs you have working for you."

Several of Rival's companions bristled at this but he held up a restraining hand, "Our sources mark you as a Maquis. This freighter and this shipment are Maquis as well. Are you tellin' me you'd give up the ‘grand' cause and make a livin' keelhaulin' other ships?"

"You can believe what you want." Ro replied, "As for the Maquis, you can see how well they equip me. I may have had a fling with revolutionary zeal but I'm a survivor not a suicidal lunatic. If leaving is the only way to save my life, so be it. And seeing as how I have half of Starfleet looking for me, I guess life on the run is the only option I have left."

"You traitorous bitch!" Kalita snarled and leapt towards Ro. Thool held her back; trying to shelter Kalita from the murderous cutthroats already readily disposed to executing them. The Bolian knew Ro was carrying her usual Type I "Cricket" phaser in the small of her back. He also knew that Ro could never get all the pirates in one fell swoop and that meant he and Kalita would die.

"They'll change their minds soon enough." Ro shouted for the pirates' attention, "They're Maquis. That means they're survivalists first and foremost."

"Why should we even give them the chance to change their minds?" Rival asked.

"Because as much as you're trying to deny it, you want me to enlist with you." Ro countered.

Rival pulled an older Klingon disrupter from his belt and held it to her head, "What makes you think I won't just kill you were you stand?"

"The fact that all the secure containers on this bucket are keyed to my DNA and voice commands." Ro explained with steely confidence, "Most of the lockboxes are disguised or in other containers."

Ro smiled with gallows's humour, "The Maquis may be frugal with their ships and equipment, but they pay top dollar to protect their latinum."

"Captain!" a female pirate called out, "The Unrivalled is on the line, they are registering active sensor emissions nearby. They're requesting instructions."

"Damn it all to the Seven Hells!" Rival snapped. He stepped away from Ro then spun on his heels and aimed his disrupter at her again; "You'd better not be lying."

"I have better things to do than get my head blown off." Ro replied with a shrug.

"Rival to Unrivalled," the pirate captain spoke into a communicator that appeared older than Ro's, if that were possible, "transport all the cargo aboard and await the return of all boarding pods."

"Aye Captain."

Rival motioned with his pistol, "Come, you can ride in my pod."

Ro noticed that the woman who'd first fielded the communication from the main support ship seemed agitated by Rival's focus on her. Ro sidled up to Rival and began playing the role of the rescued damsel in distress. This was one trait shared by Starfleet and most pirate cartels. The idea of the heroic rogue seemed to permeate throughout most humanoid cultures. Yet, when confronted by the manifestation of this ideal, i.e. the Maquis, it evoked disapproval rather than support within the same government whose ideals they were trying to defend.

The classics always work best, Ro thought to herself, Divide and conquer it is!

She climbed into the assault pod behind Rival and promised herself a long shower after she got done with this assignment. No one in this "cartel" seemed to know what basic hygiene was much less a sonic shower. Ro hoped her "rival" for Rival had little patience. She could withstand a kiss or two from Rival, but anything more than that and he really would have a synthetic member.

"They're moving off." Lisea Danan, the Odyssey's sciences specialist, "All of the smaller support craft have reattached themselves to the primary ship and she's leaving."

"Transmit the data to Captains Hudson and Tulley." Macen ordered, "T'Kir, give it a moment, then lay in a pursuit course."

"How soon d'you want to catch them?" T'Kir inquired from the helm station.

"I don't want to." Macen explained, "I just want to get close enough to know where they're going. You'll be working closely with Lisea on this one."

"Oh, joy." T'Kir delivered woodenly as she swivelled back to face the main viewer.

Lisea Danan had only left Starfleet to join the Maquis at Macen's behest. The role of revolutionary disturbed her and she did not often draw satisfaction from her cell's successes. Oddly enough, she was also Macen's XO aboard the Odyssey. If she appreciated the irony of this situation, she never acknowledged it. A stellar cartographer and astrophysicist by vocation, Danan's expertise with the Odyssey's sensor suite made her an invaluable member of the crew. The fact she was also Macen's lover did not settle well with the erratic Vulcan.

"Please contain your enthusiasm." Danan baited.

"Oh, please!" T'Kir protested, "Like you don't hate me."

"I don't…" Lisea began to say.

"Ladies!" Macen interrupted, "I don't care if you like each other, hate each other, or are having an affair. Just work together and leave the rest of us in peace."

With that said, the bridge grew quiet.

Once aboard the Unrivalled, Kalita and Thool were promptly escorted to a quarantine cell that doubled as the pirates' brig. Ro was spared that particular indignity and was invited on a tour of the ship. Apparently Ro's pragmatic attitude appealed to Rival and he was making an effort to impress her. She certainly didn't mind since it would give her an advantage later when she effected her escape and Thool and Kalita's rescue.

"This here's the main bridge." Rival motioned towards the opening. Ro stepped through and instantly wondered what died. The Maquis weren't very picky about the status, past, or shape a ship was in, but there was a limit.

"Don't worry about the smell." A woman's voice suggested with barely hidden venom, "It grows on you."

"Do you mean that literally?" Ro snapped back, "Because I think I see bits of rot flaking off you."

The other woman's hand flew to her belt and the Romulan disrupter stored but Rival caught her in mid-motion, "Put it away Doreen, you'll live longer that way."

"You're tellin' her all our secrets." She protested.

Rival gave her a feral grin, "She'll either prove herself and fit in or she'll be dead. Make no mistakes about that me darlin'."

Doreen grabbed Rival and drove her tongue into his mouth. Ro had never seen such a desperate display before. Ro turned to look over the shoulder of the ship's pilot. The heading left only destination and it was one that surprised Ro.

"We're headed for the Badlands?"

Rival tilted his head back and laughed, "That we are darlin'. You Maquis aren't the only ones to go pokin' about in there."

Ro suddenly wanted to grab Rival's ponytailed head and bounce it off the bulkhead but she managed to restrain herself, "Look, I used to be the Flight Control Officer aboard the Enterprise and I'm probably one of the best Maquis pilots there is. Let me fly us in."

Rival mulled it over before nodding his assent, "Noqquay, you've been relieved. We'll see if Legs here can avoid more plasma streams than you."

I'll show you legs you pig, Ro thought to herself as she began submerging into the task ahead.

"Tell me you've got something." Cal Hudson pleaded with Macen as the Unrivalled began its entry into the Badlands.

"I've established a firm identity for the Captain crew. The information should be available to you and Aric on your displays." Macen informed them. A stocky fellow with a greasy ponytail and several scars appeared on the screen, "This Amon Rival was a Acamarian Gatherer. He was thrown out of the clan, and castrated, for the same crime: sleeping with the Clanlord's wife and daughter. Obviously he has more lust than brains. His criminal career consists of minor heists and protection rackets. The idea of slaves working for him was probably the hook that drew Rival to applying for Oligarchy membership."

The next image featured a human woman with raven black with flaming red and orange highlights, worn in such a way as to look like a burning flame, "This is Doreen Fiona Donegal. Her criminal past dates back over three generations, starting with her grandfather and her father. She's the 1st Officer of the Unrivalled and based upon the footage transmitted from the Fool's Gold, Rival's recurrent lover. Although based upon the imagery, Rival feels no real attachment despite Donegal's genuine loyalty."

"Rival looked at Ro like she was a piece of meat." Tulley growled, "If he does anything…"

"Ro Laren is a graduate of Starfleet's Advanced Tactical Training School." Hudson reminded Tulley, "Which means she knows dozens of ways to disarm, disable and kill more lifeforms then you'll ever encounter. I wouldn't worry so much about her. She can handle herself."

"Now, what about that ship?" Hudson asked, "I've never seen anything like her."

"Not a surprise since it's a variant of a Suliban podship." Macen answered.

"What's a Suliban and what's a podship?" Tulley inquired, "The answer's more confusing than the question."

"It would take too long to explain about the Suliban." Macen explained, "Needless to say, they're an aggressive alien species humans encountered during their first foray into deep space."

"They weren't mentioned in any history books I read." Hudson remarked, "And they certainly weren't mentioned at any point during my courses at Starfleet Academy."

"They're real." Macen assured him, "I know. I was in the Alpha Quadrant at the time." That sobered Hudson. He'd forgotten that despite Macen's relatively youthful appearance, he'd been born sometime in the 20th century and participating in interplanetary surveys starting around the 22nd century.

"Back to the subject," Macen continued as though his veracity had never been questioned, "podships were designed to piggyback several smaller ship on one larger control ship. The smaller ships have warp capability and a weapons capacity roughly equivalent to a Danube-class runabout. Their main limitations are that they lack torpedoes, micro or otherwise, and their limited storage capacity. That factor makes them an unfit choice for most raiders but they seem to have compensated by making the control ship larger."

"But where the hell did they get the plans?" an outraged Hudson demanded.

"They've been on public record at the Smithsonian since the latter 22nd century." Macen detailed, "And don't ask any more about Suliban ships or history. My time in the Alpha Quadrant was fairly brief and not very memorable."

Hudson knew a lie when he heard one but decided to let the matter drop, "So how will we track them?"

"Ro's wearing a transponder transmitting on an extremely low magnetic polarity. The distortion it makes won't effect subspace but it will create a distortion in real space." Macen explained, "How many ships have successfully traversed the Badlands at warp speed?"

Hudson smiled broadly, "None."

"Impressive, Ro Laren, most impressive." Rival admitted as Ro deftly manoeuvred the mothership and her pods around one shifting plasma stream after another; "You've done this before?"

"More times than you can count." Ro answered without breaking stride.

"D'ya think you could get one o' those fancy Galaxy-class cruisers through here?"

"Damn straight." Came Ro's fierce reply.

"That's what I wanted to hear!" Rival whooped, "Dammit all but I like your spirit. I truly hope you're playin' it straight with me, `cause I'd ta have ta kill ya."

"I wouldn't appreciate that either." Ro confessed dryly.

Rival stifled a chuckle before speaking again, "Okay, I'm done screwin' with yer head. Adjust course by 89.3 and adjust 5.6 zero degrees down bubble."

"What's there?" Ro asked.

"Yer new home." Rival informed her with a lascivious grin, "What else?"

Ro brought the Unrivalled onto an M-class asteroid that the Maquis had not yet discovered. Amon, named after its latest discoverer, had a desolate biosphere, dominated by low desert flora and fauna. Rival's base was the only unnatural edifice to be seen on the miniature world. It also looked too old and weather beaten for the pirate and his men to have built any of it.

When she voiced this opinion, he merely laughed; "I didn't build anything. The miners that first found this place thought they'd struck a goldmine. This asteroids literally laced through and through with latinum."

"I'm surprised you're digging for it then." Ro opined.

That elicited a rueful grin, "You don't dig for nothin' on this world. Absolutely nothin'."

"Why's that?" Ro asked out of morbid fascination.

"That's when they come out." Rival said dramatically.

"They what?"

"I dunno." Rival confessed, "The Tellarites that built this place cored nearly to the mantle. Along the way, they ran into something that doesn't like to be disturbed. Their recorder didn't get all the visuals. The ones it did get were bad enough and the audio was worse."

"Hey now, does the big bad pirate actually have feelings?" Ro half-teased.

"I'm not jokin' woman!" Rival snapped, "Pray you never have reason to test my story."

"I'll keep that in mind." Ro smirked.

Rival leaned in close to her, "Maybe takin' you in is a bad idea after all. Don't make the mistake of havin' me change my mind about you."

"Suggestion noted and logged." Ro replied crisply.

"Be sure that it is." Rival growled as he turned to walk away, "`Cause ya only get one opportunity to prove yourself."

Trusting sort, isn't he? Ro mused as she set out to betray his trust in every way possible.

Macen's image appeared on Hudson's monitor, "I have the co-ordinates."

Hudson straightened from his slouch, "Where are they?"

"At a position near a stable plasma stream." Macen explained, "Similar positions have previously yielded L- and M-class worlds or asteroids."

"That must be their hidden base." Hudson declared

"Agreed." Macen concurred, "So how d'you want to play this?"

Hudson pondered all the known facts available to him; "A straight frontal assault seems to be the best choice. With any luck we'll disable that podship and all her support vessels in one fell swoop."

"And their sensors will be just as blinded as ours." Macen pointed out.

"What do you think Tulley?" Hudson asked the third member of the subspace conference.

"I agree." Tulley declared, "Anything that gets Ro back sooner and safer."

I wonder if Tulley realises how much in love with Ro he is, Hudson pondered, or if he has even allowed himself to realise it at all.

Ro bounced on the balls of her feet. Anon had approximately the same gravity as Earth's moon. The pirates had laid gravity plates, stripped from one conquest or another, along the corridors of the mining settlement. The gravity field was patchy though owing to faulty and badly managed equipment. She was strolling through the various corridors in order to get a general sense of direction and test where the gravity lulled.

Following behind her, Doreen Donegal made no attempt to mask her spying. Ro felt sorry for her inept shadow. Rival obviously had her wrapped around his finger so tightly that he could copulate with whomever he pleased and she would still beg for the merest scrap of affection. It made Ro feel ill.

Ro wheeled on her heels to confront Doreen, who jumped in surprise, "Look, if you want to follow me around, so be it, but at least stop pretending like I don't know you're there."

"I know what you're after." Doreen hissed, "And you can't have him."

Ro rolled her eyes, "If he was really yours, you wouldn't be so scared right now.

"You don't know what you talking about!" Doreen hissed, "I was here first! He's mine. He always comes back to me when you whores are done with him."

"Trust me, this ‘whore' doesn't want him." Ro couldn't take it any more, "You want him? Take him, he's yours."

"You bitch." Doreen spat and then all hell broke loose.

"Its not only inhabitable, it's inhabited." Danan reported to Macen, Hudson, and Tulley.

"The pirate's base seems to an old mining station built along Tellarite lines." Macen detailed, "The podship is landed near the main dormitory. The gravity is one third of one G."

Tulley nodded his acknowledgement of that news. As the Maquis ships commenced their aerial assault on the podship, the Indie would be beaming every spare hand to the surface in order to help Ro and her comrades effect their escape. Since they didn't know where, or how, the prisoners were being held captive a transporter evacuation was impossible and that meant it devolved into a room by room search. While the initial assault team kept the pirates disoriented, Hudson would land and his crew would throw themselves into the fray.

"Let's get it on." Hudson ordered darkly.

There were no arguments.

Ro used the podship's explosive destruction to drive her knee up into Doreen's gut. Yanking her down one-handed by the collar, Ro delivered another blow just above the shoulder blades. She finished the pirate off with a sweeping kick that took Doreen's legs out from under her.

Navigating the corridors was even more treacherous now that the power to the few working gravity plates was fluctuating. She could hear the sounds of combat. She needed to find Thool and Kalita quickly and get all of her people out of here. More spooked by Rival's story than she cared to admit she had a bad feeling that things were about to go awry and didn't want to be around when they did.

"Captain Hudson's set down and is joining the assault team." Danan reported, "The pirate's seem to have been routed. They're… By the Sacred Pools!"

Macen lurched forward in his seat, "What?"

"There's something down there." Danan was still at a loss, "It's moving underground towards the camp at almost 100 kph."

"So, what is it?" T'Kir demanded.

"It's big." Came Danan's reply.

"Get me Hudson and Tulley." Macen ordered, "They need to know."

"There's a what?" Hudson asked into his comm badge.

"A native creature of immense size and unknown nature. Our sensors can't get a definite reading on this thing." Macen admitted.

"Damn," Hudson muttered in disgust, "why does it always have to be so difficult?"

"You love it, you know it." Macen joked.

"I must." Hudson sounded almost as weary as he felt, "Keep me posted on our phantom's progress."

"Will do." Macen promised.

Ro stopped as the ground rolled beneath her feet. She nearly reached the makeshift cell where Thool and Kalita were held when a tremorous wave skidded by underneath her feet. The confused guards noticed her too late to avoid being stunned by her "Cricket" phaser. It was then that Rival arrived.

"Damn you." he shouted, "You and yer pals. We're all dead now."

"I don't see how." Ro retorted, "You can eke out an existence here. Hell, you might even rebuild a few of those pods of yours and send someone for help."

"You don't get it, d'ya?" Rival was salivating now, "Those groundshocks were the calling card o' the things that killed the Tellarites. You've woken the damn things."

"Not my problem ‘friend'." Ro replied, "You should have thought of this before raiding Maquis settlements and attacking our friends. This is just our way of saying, ‘Get lost'."

Ro started to walk away when Rival went for his disrupter but Ro was ready and stunned him with a flick of her wrist. Set down to light stun, Rival was still awake when Ro crouched over him. She picked Rival's pistol up and pressed its barrel against his head, "Give me a reason."

Screams of terror began to be heard as the stench of burned flesh filled the air.

"There's your reason!" Rival screamed, "Kill me, I beg you."

"You won't get that lucky." Ro said as she pistol-whipped him.

"It's magma." Danan gasped, "It's a silicon based life-form that manifests itself in a magma composed form."

"Any way we can communicate with it?" Macen asked.

"Maybe if the pirates weren't too busy shooting at them. As things stand, people are getting trampled or burned to death."

It was true. Danan's displays showed vaguely humanoid lumpen shapes collapsing atop cornered humanoids. Magma creatures that had cooled to near immobility were drug back to the mining shaft they'd utilised to reach the surface

Most often, the creatures fell upon the offending sentient, encompassing them. As with normal molten rock, this had a deadly effect for the carbon-based life-form. Those not being burned alive were running over the top of each other to avoid the fate of the less fortunate.

"There's a new fissure forming." Danan reported as her readings changed, "They've pushed their way to the surface on the other side of the camp."

"How'd they know where to come up?" Macen wondered.

"Initial readings indicated the presence of an existing fissure." Danan began to theorise, "They may have been observing the pirates this entire time and chose to just ignore them."

"Or the pirates hadn't offended them." Macen countered, "This is a mining settlement without any miners. Why? The contents here would provide wealth beyond the dreams of the Grand Nagus yet its riches are untapped."

"Because the miners died after digging so deep they attracted the attention of our natives." Danan concluded, "And they stayed dormant until we woke them with our bombardment."

"Right." Macen agreed, "That's why I'm going down there to find Ro."

"What?!" Danan yelped, "You're the ship's CO. You can't leave, especially not alone."

"Well, you're the XO so that means you have to stay aboard during my absence." Macen faked pondering over the issue, "T'Kir, you're with me."

"But..?" Danan spoke but stopped as T'Kir strolled past with her tongue stuck out. The last thing she heard from the Vulcan was a raspberry as the lift doors closed.

Where the hell is Ro? Hudson wondered for what seemed the millionth time. He'd already sent his people back to the Nathan Hale to get her prepped for immediate launch. Lani had orders to dust off as soon as the thrusters were ready. He'd call for a beam out if any of those lava monsters got to close. Three of the Indie's crew had already been cut down either by pirates or these damned creatures. Hudson wondered if there was any means of communicating with these creatures. As one suddenly turned his way and came charging towards him, he gave up on that thought and had himself transported away.

Macen and T'Kir, thanks to her telepathic abilities, found Ro straightaway. Following Ro's lead, they tried to get to an outer courtyard and free from the distortions the malfunctioning gravity plates created in the transporter beam. Newer models could overcome such obstacles but the Maquis had no access to such resources. Unwittingly though, they ran straight into one of the natives.

"Whoa!" T'Kir screamed then stumbled backwards with her eyes and teeth clenched and her hands pressing against her temples.

"What is it?" Ro frantically asked.

"Too much imagery." T'Kir gasped, "Their minds race like mercury."

"Thank god." Ro sighed, "We've found our universal translator."

"Careful Laren." Macen advised, "She's obviously in pain. Don't get her permanently harmed."

Ro wondered if he knew how protective he sounded as she nodded, "Trust me, she'd find a way to haunt me otherwise. T'Kir, can you talk to them?"

"I…I think so."

"Tell them, ‘hello'."

T'Kir's eyes fluttered open, "They want to know if we're here to hurt them as the others did before."

"Tell them we have no interest in them except as explorers and hopefully, someday, friends." Ro instructed.

"And the ground shaking?"

"A mistake." Ro admitted, "We didn't know you existed. We came here to punish criminals and accidentally disturbed you. We apologise for this and promise it'll never happen again."

A long pause and then, "We accept your apology."

"Thank you."

"Criminals are disturbers?"

"Yes." Ro answered, a bit confused.

"Disturbers must be punished."

"We'll try but we don't have anywhere to put them… unless…" Ro faltered.

"Unless?"

"Unless they could stay here." Ro suggested, "We'd make sure they couldn't disturb you again by mining or through explosives."

Another long pause and then T'Kir's face broke into a feral grin, "We agree."

"Then that's settled." Ro said with relief, "Like I said, we'll hamper their tech base and then we'll be off. Would you like us to check in on you a few weeks from now?"

"No."

"After a few months? A year?"

"No." and with that, T'Kir was released.

"Oh, crap… talk about a headache."

Seeing as how neither Macen nor T'Kir were needed to accomplish the retrofitting of the mining colony into a penal settlement, they transported back to the Odyssey. Ro oversaw the work seeing as the Maquis Council had contacted Cal Hudson and he was off to avert some brewing crisis.

Ro had Tulley and Thool leading the technological sterilisation of the camp while Kalita and half the crew stood armed guard over the Indomitable. It wasn't the kindest arrangement Ro could have arrived at but it still gave the pirates a chance to redeem themselves and teach better values to their children. That chance was the most anyone could really ever hope for in this galaxy.

Ro didn't know if she'd ever get that chance. It'd never seemed a possibility. The hope for redemption part had flared to life during her brief stint aboard the Enterprise-D. And children? She'd never thought of children except as other people's. She'd turned herself into the perfect soldier and as such, found herself envying the pirates their second chance. The Maquis struggle with Cardassia wouldn't, couldn't, last forever. She just have to see where she went from there.

When the camp was stripped down, the Maquis returned to their ship and lifted off. Dozens of forlorn and baffled faces watched the Indie take off and race for orbit. Rival turned to speak the others and opened his arms in the wide expansive gesture he did before every raiding party only to find the others had turned and walked away. Everyone by Doreen, that is. She'd always been there, he realised, and now she always would.

And that isn't that bad a situation, he reflected.

 

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Last modified: 02 Jan 2014 
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