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Love and Starships - Part IV by Travis Anderson

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

Chapter Twenty-Six

Sindis joined Ryst in the Citadel's communication complex, "What news?"

"Jixm contacted us." Ryst informed him, "His agents have been captured without scoring a single kill."

"Pity." Sindis blithely remarked, "It was expected but it's still a pity."

"You should have learned from my experience that underestimating these people is dangerous." Ryst commented.

"My dear Annika," Sindis graciously began, "I have never underestimated our foe. I have seen Starfleet's files on these individuals and this team. They are quite illuminating and that is why I have expected all our previous ploys to fail."

Ryst snorted, "I've seen their records. They're nothing special."

"You've seen the declassified portions of their personnel jackets." Sindis revealed, "Their complete reports are far more enlightening...especially Macen's."

"We paid for the complete files." Ryst protested.

"You were obviously cheated." Sindis remarked, "An oversight that I'm certain B'nner will deal with later."

"Perhaps." Ryst pondered the situation for a moment, "Are the files available and can I see them?"

"Certainly." Sindis consented, "I'll authorise your access and you can view them when you wish."

"There's no time like the present." Ryst decided.

"Very well. Choose your padd or reader and we'll upload the data." Sindis offered, "We have a delightful reading nook that offers beverages and snacks along with a quiet, comfortable den perfect for reviewing reports. Some of the staff even use it for recreational reading."

A slight smile tugged at Ryst's mouth, "Lead on."

Macen studied the image on the viewer. Elias Vaughn's features were displayed. For the first time in their decades long association Macen could only use one word to describe Vaughn. That word was old.

Vaughn looked all of his one hundred and eight years. He'd been robbed of his vitality and enthusiasm for life. All that was left was a broken shell of a man. Macen couldn't believe it.

"Elias," Macen managed to say, "what happened?"

"You mean Ro hasn't told you?" Vaughn asked good naturedly, "She obviously alerted you to the fact that something's wrong."

"She said you'd been hurt." Macen replied, "I had no idea... What happened?"

"I met your target." Vaughn laughed.

"Sindis?" Macen sought clarification.

"The same." Vaughn confirmed, "I encountered him on Cardassia III. He was overseeing an influence peddling racket. The planetary governor was selling favours and Sindis was brokering the deals."

Macen remained silent and waited for Vaughn to continue, "Legate Macet called in Ro and I since Sindis is wanted in the Federation and the Cardassian Union was willing to extradite him. We brought our own handpicked team of Ro's Security officers."

Vaughn sifted in his seat, obviously in pain, "Macet led the team charged with arresting the governor. I understand that was a bloodless operation. Our group wasn't so lucky. We'd tracked down Sindis to an estate outside of the capitol. He was guarded by a mixed bag of Cardassian troops and mercenaries."

"Macet had attached a squad of Cardassian special forces to our unit. Their presence stopped the Cardassian regulars guarding Sindis from firing on us but that did nothing to prevent the mercs from opening up." Vaughn described, "However, the sight of mercenaries firing upon loyal Cardassian troops inspired the regulars to side with us and subdue the mercs."

Vaughn managed a weak smile, "In fact, the Cardassian infantry troops rounded up and disarmed the hired guns. The SpecFor troops proceeded with us inside the villa. The scene in there was one of pure panic. Assistants and technicians of every sort and species were scrambling about, all looking for a way out. Most of our forces opted to sort out the mess. Ro and I pressed on."

"We found Sindis holed up in what turned out to be their operations centre. Two techs were visible. Ro went first. Sindis disarmed her and knocked her out with a single blow. He wheeled on me and swatted the phaser out of my hand. I blocked the follow through but it fractured my wrist." Vaughn's voice was hollow, as though he'd rewitnessed these scenes countless times already, "He smiled and said, 'A touch fragile are we? You are a legend Mr. Vaughn. Let us see if we can deconstruct a legend today.' With that he proceeded to try and beat me to death. He's as strong as an average Romulan. Twenty year ago, I could have handled him."

Vaughn, who'd been stroking his beard, ran a hand through his thick shock of white hair; "Hell, I could have handled him now if my damn bones weren't crapping out on me. I just can't take impacts the way I used to. I get stress fractures from my workout routines."

"The worst part is," Vaughn let loose of a nasty chuckle, "when I was laying there with every major bone in my body broken and struggling to mount some kind of defence he looked down on me with something akin to disappointment and said, 'It seems the legends ring false. I'll leave you to suffer Mr. Vaughn. You're not worth the effort of granting you an honourable death.' With that he and his associates strolled out of the room and somehow avoided any of our forces."

"Since then I've spent the last three weeks convalescing." Vaughn spat, "Even with regeneration it takes twice as long to heal as it used to."

"You could always pull an Admiral McCoy and have all of your bones replaced with polymer replacements." Macen offered only half in jest.

"I'm tempted." Vaughn muttered, "I've never been so humiliated, Brin. I've never been helpless before. It's disconcerting. It's shattered everything I've always taken for granted."

"You knew this day was coming Elias." Macen softly reminded his friend, "You've given lectures on it. The only difference between then and now is that it's you facing the inevitable."

Vaughn managed a rueful grin, "It is. All right, no more whining. How can I help?"

"You can get cleared for active duty." Macen replied, "I have an operation in the works and it involves Starfleet. It would be nice to have a seasoned hand directing the ground pounders."

Vaughn's smile was fierce, "Try and keep me away."

"I'll see you there." Macen smiled back, "Call me if you need anything."

The screen went dark and T'Kir shifted in her position in the Ready Room's couch, "Sounds like he took a pasting."

"Like he said," Macen brooded, "he's not used to being helpless. It's either humbling or it can break you."

"And in this case?" T'Kir's eyebrow arched.

Macen shrugged, "I'd bet on him putting on a fight and pulling out of it. On the other hand, his days of frontline service may well be behind him."

T'Kir nursed her coffee, "Too bad. I like him."

Macen grinned, "The feelings mutual."

Macen's face twisted in an expression of distaste, "Don't we have a briefing to be getting to?"

"In eleven minutes." T'Kir sighed.

"Want to go and claim the best seats?" Macen wondered.

"'Bout time you had a decent idea!" T'Kir declared.

Sindis checked in on Ryst, "How are you doing?"

Ryst looked up from her reading, "I'm beginning to have a new appreciation for the opposition."

"Excellent!" Sindis smiled, "Why don't you take a break and sit in on a meeting I'm about to have with Captain Drake and his crew?"

"Is my presence necessary?" Ryst asked.

"No, but I would be appreciative of an ally who came." Sindis admitted.

"Give me a moment to gather my things." Ryst began scooping up her padds.

"You needn't worry about refreshments." Sindis remarked, "We're joining Drake in the East Mess. Trays have been prepared as well as an excellent beverage service."

"A cushion for the inevitable blow that transpires when you tell Drake he's going to be killing his wife?" Ryst wondered.

"Nonsense." Sindis dismissed the notion, "There won't be a blow because he'll never be told he's doing the deed."

This met with some scepticism from Ryst, "And he's still going to kill her?"

Sindis nodded and Ryst exploded, "And how do you plan to accomplish this miracle?"

"My psycho-engineers have perfected the processes that made you what you are." Sindis explained with no small amount of satisfaction, "What took months to create you can now be done in a matter of hours. I speak, of course, of the mental conditioning alone and not of the physical augmentations. We're still adapting those."

Ryst's reaction was a mixture of horror, shock, and outrage, "How dare you?!!"

Sindis was ruffled, "How dare I what?"

"How dare you repeat that monstrosity?" Ryst snarled, "Angosia didn't create soldiers. It created monsters."

"That is all well and fine." Sindis' smile was decidedly cruel, "I need weapons, pure unwitting weapons not soldiers."

"And Drake and his crew?" Ryst demanded, "They simply take the fall?"

"They will have done the deed so it's not 'taking a fall'." Sindis remarked, "The mental conditioning will be discovered but it won't be traced back to me. One might call it a perfect scenario."

Ryst's eyes narrowed, "You're a despicable bastard. I've done some evil things in my life but none compare to this."

"Evil is a relative term." Sindis informed her, "This is merely a standard practice amongst my people. I just happen to excel at it. Come now, you'll see it's all for the best."

"I'd rather not." Ryst said, "I'll return to the reading room."

Sindis was disappointed and voiced as much before adding, "Do what you may."

"I will." Ryst replied, "For what it's worth, I wish them well. Maybe some divine being will take pity on them. Paradise knows they'll receive none from you."

Sindis watched Ryst depart in silence. After she'd gone, he alerted the comm centre to be on the watch for her making any transmissions. If she did they were to terminate the connection and revoke her communications privileges. He would then deal with her afterwards.

Sindis was surprised to discover how deep his disappointment went. He'd been alone since his banishment from his people. Ryst was something of an equal, or at least she had been until now. His lonely vigil would continue unabated it seemed.

Sindis' attraction had been platonic. He craved intellectual and emotional companionship. His physical cravings could be satisfied by anyone. What he sought was a kindred spirit and so far he'd failed to find a likely candidate.

Ryst's sympathies towards his underlings could translate into weakness towards enemies. A committed soldier would not harbour such sympathies. A true fighter would place the objective above all other loyalties or considerations. That was the dedication of purpose that Sindis sought. Ryst had come close but like inhabitants of the Federation she had ultimately failed him.

Sindis composed himself and then proceeded to the mess hall where Drake and his compatriots waited for him. He had orders for them. Orders that would return them to the Federation and deliver them to Starfleet's eager hands. Sindis almost smiled at that thought but he controlled the urge as he entered the room.

Ryst ordered an espresso and then retook her previous seat. If Sindis expected her to try and contact Amanda Drake and warn her of his plot he would be sorely disappointed. Ryst had no love for Drake and certainly had no stake in her health. Her only objection was to Drake's husband being cruelly used and abandoned. Next time it could be Ryst herself and that she couldn't tolerate.

She'd considered contacting B'nner but if Sindis was having her communications monitored, and he undoubtedly was, then that would prove to be counterproductive. On top of it, B'nner was far away and even if he wasn't his power base was eroding. B'nner's advanced age, increasing infirmity, and desperate search for a suitable heir made him more of a liability than an asset.

Underscoring her restlessness was a pervasive loss of purpose. Ever since she'd been a teenager volunteering for the augmentation process, Ryst had served a cause. Granted, after the war and liberation from Angosia's lunar prison, her choices of mercenary contracts had only scratched the surface of that need.

Daveed B'nner had offered her salvation. He'd bestowed an overreaching mission upon her and given the means to accomplish it. Even when she'd accepted outside contracts she still served the needs of the Orion Syndicate. It had brought her the same measure of peace that fighting for her planet had done.

Those days were coming to an end. B'nner asked too many pointed questions about Sindis. He wanted to merge Sindis' organisation into the Syndicate and appoint Sindis as his heir. Worse yet, Sindis knew it and tailored his every reaction towards earning the reins of power.

Ryst had wanted to see Sindis as a faithful ally and as a potential employer but those fantasies had been shattered as she grew to know him. Sindis' ultimate goals still eluded her and that was worrisome. Like she'd mentioned to B'nner during one of their daily briefings, Sindis had political ambitions as well business objectives. As of right now, his ability to project his will was limited but with the Syndicate behind him his desires would be attainable.

Ryst knew she couldn't support Sindis. That meant that she would have to say farewell to the Syndicate. She'd already made the decision to do just that regardless of Sindis' assuming the throne or not.

Using her Celeste Rockford identity Ryst would be in a position to help people. That had been her goal when she enlisted in the Angosian armed services. To a degree it had been her goal with the Syndicate as well. It had just been subject to a narrower interpretation.

The only difficult part of permanently assuming the Rockford guise was that she would have to abandon her own name. Annika Ryst was wanted on Barrinor and in the Federation. She'd never be able to be completely herself again. Could she honestly live with that?

She thought long and hard about and came up with an affirmative answer. Being brutally honest with herself she realised that she was quite unhappy with who'd she become. If she weren't able to redeem herself under her own name then she would seek redemption however she could. Maybe she'd eventually clear her own name; after all, stranger things had happened.

Ryst shook herself loose of these thoughts and returned her attention to the padds she'd laid out in front of her. The history of Macen's group was fascinating. For the first time, Ryst wondered if she should oppose them or assist them. That was a question that haunted her.

"The plan is simple," Macen explained, "we proceed to Mityr and present ourselves as privateers hired by Starfleet to retrieve the two pirate crews that fled from Ekos."

"It's as simple as that?" Kort sneered.

"Let's discuss this privately." Macen rose from his seat, "Follow me."

Riker spoke up, "What about the briefing?"

"You know the plan." Macen remarked, "Carry on until I get back and I'll field any questions."

Riker looked pleased. His relationship with Macen had certainly evolved since the turbulent days of just a year ago. He turned to face the expectant faces staring at him, "Once we present our credentials we wait for Sindis to respond..."

Macen led Kort to the Klingon's quarters and waited for Kort to invite him in. Once the doctor did so Macen followed him inside and simply said, "Pack your things. I want you off the ship by 0800 tomorrow."

"What?" Kort exclaimed.

"Tessa can handle your responsibilities." Macen replied, "You can book passage back to Barrinor from here. It'll be on the company's nickel. Consider it part of your severance package."

"So I'm being dismissed." Kort growled.

"I'm excising a negative influence on the team's morale." Macen explained, "It's nothing personal. You want to leave and here's your opportunity."

Kort calmed himself, "It is rather convenient."

"It's best to go now before anything bad is said and animosities grow." Macen suggested.

"I will be ready by this evening." Kort declared.

"If you need lodgings charge them to Outbound Ventures." Macen said, "All part of the severance package."

"It has been an honour to serve with you Brin Macen." Kort intoned, "May success and glory always meet you."

"Good luck to you as well." Macen replied, "I hope you find what you're looking for."

"I shall." Kort confidently declared.

Macen returned to the briefing room only to find all of the questions revolved around Kort. Macen explained the situation and made them fidget for several minutes before dismissing them. T'Kir, Riker, and Danan stayed behind.

"I can't believe they didn't have any questions." Macen muttered.

"They did but I explained that those portions were classified as the "I'm making it up as I go" sections of the plan." Riker laughed.

"And they bought that?" Macen asked.

"They know their captain." Danan sagely pointed out.

"I don't do that." Macen protested.

"Sweetheart," T'Kir gently replied, "some of your plans are nothing but that."

"It seems to work." Macen mumbled.

"Which is why the crew loves you." T'Kir enthused.

"Okay." Macen sighed, "Next topic?"

"Can we get off this tub?" T'Kir wondered, "Hannah wants a haircut."

"Find out of you can schedule a time for the stylist to come aboard." Macen suggested.

"Oh!" T'Kir blinked, "I hadn't thought of that."

"Better hurry." Macen urged and T'Kir raced away.

"Now what?" Riker wondered.

"You do whatever it is you want to do as long as it's aboard ship and I liaise with Reyes' staff." Macen offered, "T'Kir and I still have interrogations to sit in on."

"Fun." Danan sarcastically remarked.

"Actually," Macen smirked, "it could prove to be hilarious."

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Marcine, the stylist, had an opening twenty minutes after T'Kir commed. She routinely came aboard vessels for private sessions with select clients. T'Kir's credit rating marked her as a 'preferred' customer.

Grace had chosen an asymmetrical bob with the right side of her hair being longer than the left. It looked good on her and both Marcine and T'Kir told her as much. The true test came when Daggit and Dracas ran into her in the corridor and fell all over themselves complimenting her. Grace took the compliments as intended, since neither man had ambitions towards her, and she smiled to herself as she and T'Kir proceeded to Macen's Ready Room.

Macen admitted them and he saw Grace's coiffure, "Hannah, you look amazing!"

"So what did I look like before?" Grace asked.

"I'm not falling for that trap." Macen replied, "You looked amazing before and now you do in a different way."

Grace nudged T'Kir with her elbow, "No wonder you like him."

"Yah." T'Kir grinned, "I think I'll keep him."

"Now that my future's been decided," Macen dryly remarked, "T'Kir and I have a date aboard the station."

"They're getting ready to take statements from yesterday's mercs?" T'Kir gleefully asked.

"Reyes and Barclay are waiting for us." Macen informed her.

"Later, Hannah." T'Kir said as she grabbed Macen's hand and began dragging him out of the room.

Grace laughed, "Have fun."

Macen and T'Kir joined the small crowd hanging out in front of Tabitha Cristal's cell. The massive bruise that had formed on her jaw before being taken into custody was gone. The medical officer's dermal regeneration treatments had cleared the soft tissues and the bone of all injury. Those tissues, however, were still quite tender and it showed.

"I'm not answering anything." Cristal belligerently declared, "My jaw hurts!"

"Whether you speak or not is up to you." Yancy, the young lawyer from the Public Defender's office, assured her.

"We're only taking a preliminary statement Captain Cristal." Reyes informed her.

"Major." Cristal coldly informed him, "My rank is Major."

Reyes did his best not to smile, "Thank you, Major. Our records seem to be incomplete. As I was saying, the purpose of our gathering is to take preliminary statements from you in response to the numerous witness statements that have accused you of murder and attempted murder."

"I have nothing to say." Cristal retorted, "Those witnesses are mistaken."

"You've been positively identified by every witness. They've said you directed the attack." Reyes pressed.

"What attack?" Cristal asked.

Macen quietly exited the detention facility as T'Kir approached Cristal's cell, "Come on, dearrie, why don't you tell them about the deal? Jixm's Razors get a nice fat contract with Bertram Sindis in exchange for killing the Obsidian officers."

Cristal was rattled but she quickly recovered, "You obviously have no proof or this little 'chat' would be of a different vein."

"Y'mean like if we knew about the padds containing your orders?" T'Kir asked with a grin.

Yancy protested, "Telepathic inquiries are considered hearsay and inadmissible."

"I'm aware of the law." Reyes reminded him.

A Security officer walked in at that point, "Sirs, we have a forensics team reporting finding a shielded compartment inside the mercs' ship. It seems to contain several padds and a cache of weapons."

"And how was this discovery made?" Yancy demanded.

"A citizen approached the team scanning the ship and tipped them off. It seems to have paid off in a major way." The chief reported.

"It does, doesn't it?" Yancy glared at T'Kir.

"Care to revise your statement, miss?" Reyes asked.

Cristal sighed, "Our orders were simple..."

Macen and T'Kir met up with Ro aboard the Obsidian. Ro had returned to wearing her Starfleet togs. She was radiant, glowing with inner happiness. T'Kir fixed her with a knowing smile.

"Had a good night, did'ya?" T'Kir relished Ro's blush.

Macen wrapped his arms around T'Kir's waist and pulled her close, "Never mind her, Laren. What counts is you had fun."

"Loads of it." Ro confessed conspiratorially, "With more to come."

"You go girl!" T'Kir enthused.

Ro took a bow, "I think I will!"

Macen stepped back and started to exit his shared quarters, "Congrats Laren. I'll probably get the dirt from T'Kir later. I have a meeting scheduled with Captain Reyes right now as we speak."

"Spoilsport!" T'Kir pouted as he left, "Now that he's gone, give me every nasty detail."

Macen's comm badge chirped and he tapped it, "Macen here."

"Are we supposed to be getting invaded by Station Security?" Radil asked.

"Not that I know of." Macen admitted, "Park them in the Team Room and I'll be there in a minute."

"Gotcha." Radil happily signed off.

"Now what?" Macen exasperatedly asked no one in particular as he proceeded down the corridor towards the turbolift.

Macen arrived in the Team Room to find seven Starfleet Security officers, Reyes, Barclay, and an as of yet unidentified Vulcan JAG officer. Radil and Abby Collins were also present. Chef, disgruntled at being confined to the ship while at a port of call offering delicacies, took out her frustration by cooking up a veritable feast. Macen wondered whether or not he should incur her wrath more often.

"Ah, Macen." Reyes called out with a smile, "Sorry but our meeting is taking place here and with witnesses."

Macen joined Reyes and his senior officers, "How can I help Starfleet today?"

Reyes deferred to the Vulcan, "May I introduce Lt. Commander Senecka? She's been assigned the role of prosecutor in this case."

Macen was intrigued by the Vulcan. She was roughly T'Kir's age but what was truly fascinating about her was that underneath her stoic veneer she was practically giddy with excitement. She offered the traditional Vulcan salute and Macen returned it. Macen sensed a delighted wave of emotion at that.

"If you wouldn't mind," Macen begged off for a minute, "I'd like to summon reinforcements."

"Of course." Senecka said coolly, "Please request the presences of you entire senior staff."

"Radil," Macen ordered, "gather up the team. I'll handle T'Kir personally."

Radil cheated by calling Riker who in turn summoned the others. T'Kir, at Macen's suggestion, brought Ro along. She and Reyes hovered near one another barely managing to avoid giving each other goo goo eyes. As for T'Kir, she also noted Senecka's aberrant responses.

She's practically an emotional deviant. T'Kir thoughtcast.

Sort of like you. Macen replied in kind, Can you sense what she's thinking?

She's a trained telepath. T'Kir pooh poohed, She'd detect a probe.

Reyes is motioning for me to join him. Macen thought, Keep on the Senecka problem.

Macen joined Reyes even as Dracas and Daggit entered the room. They saw the gathered Starfleet officials and immediately grew apprehensive. Kort came next, phalanxed by Riker and Danan. He was loudly complaining for all to hear that he was no longer a member of the crew and therefore exempt from interrogations.

"You would be except for the fact you are a participant in a violent action aboard this station and a witness to key events." Senecka informed him, "As such, your cooperation is requested and required."

"Who's she?" Kort demanded.

"She is the attorney assigned to prosecute the would-be assassins from Élan." Reyes answered, "She has a few extra questions as a result of this afternoon's interrogations and confessions of the suspects. When this is over, Doctor, you should be free to go."

Senecka turned to Macen, "We have brought numerous Security officers in order to take all of the statements at once and thereby liberate your crew as soon as possible."

"That's very appreciated, Commander." Again, she inwardly bubbled over with a gleeful satisfaction.

Macen telepathically queried T'Kir again. She still had no idea what was going on. As Senecka and Barclay began moving from one interview to another, Macen asked Reyes what he knew about Senecka.

Reyes smiled, "Not a whole lot. She only transferred to the station six weeks ago. She's reputed to be a brilliant lawyer. Hasn't proven to be a disciplinary problem but she did have some problems with the Vulcan Ministry for Orthodoxy."

"The what?" Macen blurted.

Reyes chuckled, "I'd never heard of it either until I ran across it in her records. Apparently when Vulcan was on the verge of attack during the Dominion War there were several outbreaks of mass hysteria. The government responded by actively enforcing logical behaviour. Thus the Ministry for Orthodoxy was born."

"And what did she do to run afoul of the KGB?" Macen wondered.

The historical allusion was lost on Reyes so he ignored it, "She has this talent for logically building a case while infusing it with irresistible emotional appeal. Apparently the Ministry thought she'd gotten too liberal with her emotional displays."

Somehow Macen doubted it but he remained silent and then Reyes started laughing, "She said you'd ask me these questions. See how good she is?"

If he only knew. T'Kir wryly broadcast; She set this little trap especially for us.

Especially for you. Macen amended, Her emotions went off the chart when you arrived.

Great, T'Kir dryly remarked, a groupie.

Don't laugh. Macen warned, I think you're on to something.

T'Kir was going to reply but something held her back. Macen knew she was seeing the same pattern he was and was beginning to suspect that this singular Vulcan's story was being duplicated en masse. As an unrepentant exhibitionist T'Kir could be something of a hero to these emotional dissidents.

Kort, Riker, and Danan got off lightly and were swiftly done with their interviews. As the principle combatants, Grace, Radil, Dracas, and Daggit were huddled together and asked group questions by Senecka herself. She soon ran out of these and dismissed them all. Reyes, Barclay, and the Security officers made to leave but Senecka begged off, stating that she had matters to discuss with Macen and T'Kir in private.

As the mixed SID and Outbound Ventures officers drifted out of the Team Room, Macen studied Senecka, "Would you prefer occupying my Ready Room? It's private and far more suited to group settings than our quarters."

"That would be acceptable." Senecka evenly replied but her emotional register spiked.

"I wonder if I should monitor Commander Senecka's conversation with Captain Macen?" Barclay remarked to Reyes as they left the Obsidian behind.

"Monitor it?" Reyes was taken aback, "Why would you do that?"

"I've been coordinating with the Ministry of Orthodoxy on surveillance surrounding the Commander's activities and conduct." Barclay answered, "It's all SOP."

"Not any more it's not!" Reyes thundered, "If the Vulcans want to spy on their own they can do their own goddamned legwork! Am I understood?"

"Yessir!" Barclay snapped off.

"Spying on one of our own for no good reason." Reyes muttered as he walked off, "What have we come to?"

Once they'd reached the private confines of the Ready Room, Senecka's cool veneer disappeared. Running to T'Kir, she began to fawn and gush.

"I can't tell you how exciting this is!" Senecka could hardly breathe, "You're my idol. Well, actually you're the idol to most of us. I'm part of one of your fan clubs and we have over 7500 members. 'Course, the Ministry also has spies in there but most of us are legit."

"A...a fan club?" T'Kir stammered.

"You'll have to forgive my wife's bout of unexpected modesty but you'll have to remember this all news to us." Macen interjected, "And before you rattle off again, would you like anything to eat or drink?"

"Sure." Senecka replied.

"Would you care to be more specific?" Macen laughed.

Senecka had the grace to blush, "Tarquillian tea and some shortbread biscuits please."

"Hon?" Macen asked after inputting Senecka's order.

"Hazelnut mocha." T'Kir replied in a dazed voice.

Macen delivered Senecka's items to her as she took a seat before his desk. Next he carried T'Kir's coffee to the couch were she sprawled. He ordered an eggnog latte for himself and then shifted his attention to Senecka.

"Now that you've totally unnerved T'Kir, perhaps you should explain what you're talking about." He suggested.

"Okay, it goes like this: a massive emotional exhibitionist movement has started amongst Vulcan youth. T'Kir, being a known, some say infamous, exhibitionist amongst government circles has become a symbol amongst the dissident youth. Her marriage to you is also something of a scandal since the Ministry must now approve of all alien marriages."

"Sarek must be turning over in his grave." Macen retorted.

"Exactly!" Senecka replied, "To make matters worse for the Ministry, T'Kir is a highly successful and highly respected individual. That makes the Ministry look bad."

"So what do they plan on doing about it?" Macen asked.

"Your basic smear campaign." Senecka shrugged, "Followed up with increased prosecution of offenders."

"Hold on," T'Kir was suddenly back in the game, "what can this Ministry do?"

"The Ministry can apprehend a suspect and then make them appear before a tribunal." Senecka replied, "The tribunal is charged with determining the extent of guilt and devising an appropriate punishment. The punishments are lessened if the guilty party recants of their delinquent ways."

"Is anyone ever innocent?" T'Kir asked with an edge to her voice.

"Of course not." Senecka laughed, "What good are the guardians if they aren't defending society from perfidy at every turn?"

"Point taken." Macen conceded, "The first rule for any organisation is that it must guarantee its own continued existence."

"You mentioned 'punishments'." T'Kir pointed out, "What kind of punishments can they dish out?"

"Loss of position, exile to a penal colony, public humiliation, and the like." Senecka revealed, "I was threatened with being expelled from Starfleet and being shipped off to a penal colony."

"Since when does Vulcan have penal colonies?" T'Kir demanded to know.

"They currently have five." Senecka explained, "The populations and cottage industries are kept below the viability point thus making them dependent upon the mother world."

"I'm assuming they'd get you out of Starfleet by branding you a criminal under the laws of your native world." Macen added.

"Precisely." Senecka confirmed it, "It's a neat little trap that they have going for them."

"I knew there was a reason why I hated these frinxing bastards." T'Kir growled.

"Please," Senecka grew concerned, "do not become actively involved in the resistance. This is a battle only Vulcan can fight. Your influence is best used by showing that emotional release isn't a fallacy. If you can successfully embrace them so can we."

"You used the term 'resistance'." Macen said, "Care to elaborate on that?"

Senecka blushed, "It is a philosophical movement back on Vulcan. It relies upon the maxim of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations and stresses that we are all equal no matter our temperament."

"Y'sure y'don't want me speaking at a pep rally?" T'Kir asked.

"If we ever have one I'll be sure to call." Senecka smiled.

"Name the time and place and I'll be there." T'Kir promised.

"Now I suppose I've worried Commander Barclay long enough." Senecka wore a wan smile, "Time to put my 'game face' on."

The transformation was startling and the SID officers said as much.

"Thank you." Senecka replied dispassionately, "If I may be escorted to the airlock?"

Macen paged Kalista and then explained, "It'll look better of one of our subordinates takes you to the lock."

"Agreed." Senecka said and then departed as the Deltan yeoman took her in tow.

T'Kir ordered another drink and curled up on the couch, "Scary stuff."

"The war changed a lot of people and a lot of governments." Macen opined, "Vulcan appears to be no exception."

"But regulating conduct?!" T'Kir protested.

Macen softly chuckled, "That's what criminal codes do. They establish what codes of conduct and behaviour will be tolerated and even encouraged by society at large. This is just that practice taken to its logical extreme and you know how Vulcans are for logic."

"The Federation can't know about this." T'Kir sought an avenue of attack.

"Vulcan probably filed the paperwork for incorporating a new law enforcement agency long before they began to assemble personnel. It'll be considered an internal matter and left alone."

"This sucks!" T'Kir hotly declared.

"True." Macen agreed, "But Senecka's way is best. It's a domestic issue for Vulcans. Let them sort it out."

"But I'm a Vulcan too." T'Kir argued.

"But you're not a Vulcan citizen." Macen reminded her, "You're a citizen of Shial. You've maintained your citizenry despite the fact that no one lives there any more. Which is a good thing."

"Cus otherwise I'd be sitting it out on some penal colony." T'Kir realised.

"Exactly." Macen encouraged this realisation, "So, we're stuck here for the rest of the day. What do you want to do?"

"Let's download some films from one of the shops on the Galleria and host a movie night for the crew." T'Kir was all enthusiasm again.

"Sounds like a plan." Macen was growing enthused as well, "Any thoughts?"

"Well, I heard..." T'Kir began.

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

The following day Starfleet Security determined that there were no further threats to the Obsidian crew aboard the station. Macen granted liberty to a grateful crew. He and T'Kir took the opportunity to see Ro and the Loki off. Reyes, as expected, was there finishing up his farewells. When the Station CO moved off, Macen and T'Kir made their goodbyes.

Macen handed Ro a padd, "Transmit this to Elias."

"Why don't you transmit it yourself?" Ro asked.

"I have a feeling my flash traffic is being monitored." Macen admitted, "I don't want to alert whomever to the fact that I'm bringing Elias into this."

"All right." Ro conceded, "When are you shoving off?"

"Tomorrow." Macen revealed, "I'll give the crew one night of decadence and then it's mission time."

"You're all heart." Ro said sarcastically.

"Take care, Laren." Macen said, "May your voyage be brief and uneventful."

"And may you be swiftly reunited with your honey." T'Kir grinned.

"Thanks...both of you." Ro made her way aboard the ship and the airlock sealed behind her.

"Well, there she goes." T'Kir quipped.

"We'll see her again." Macen replied.

"There you go again!" T'Kir rattled off, "Tellin' the future. Maybe I don't wanna know if I'm gonna see her again. Ever think of that?"

"Nope." Macen replied.

"Maybe you should." T'Kir huffed.

"I'll keep it in mind." Macen promised.

"Good." T'Kir was mollified as they strolled away.

Pensively, Reyes returned to his office and commed Admiral Drake. Ambril intercepted the call and informed him that the admiral would return his call within the next hour. Reyes busied himself amongst reports and the comm chimed before he expected it to.

Drake's visage appeared on his screen, "Alfonso, to what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I've just received my orders." Reyes was angry, "I don't like them."

"The orders stand." Drake firmly replied, "If Captain Macen or the Obsidian request assistance from you while they are in the Meirkus Conglomeration they are to be denied."

"You want me to abandon them?" Reyes demanded.

"If holding to the designated border means abandoning them, then yes, I want you to abandon them." Drake held her position.

"I won't do it." Reyes declared.

"Captain," Drake stressed his rank, "If you disobey this order you will be court-martialled, understood?"

"Understood, Admiral!" Reyes spat out her rank as he terminated the connection.

Drake stared at the screen for a moment and regretted using Reyes in this fashion but what had to be done had to be done. She activated the intercom, "Ambril, inform Admiral Nechayev that Captain Reyes has taken the bait."

The day and evening went well for the Obsidian crew. When their departure call came though the next day they were well rested and prepared. Reyes came down to see them off but he was distracted and irritable. Macen and T'Kir were glad to be leaving by the time Reyes finished his last impassioned plea for them to abandon their plan.

Macen wished the Captain well and boarded the Obsidian. T'Kir imparted some last minute dating tips for dealing with Ro Laren and then followed her husband aboard ship. The security officers stationed at the lock sealed her up and the station's automatic relays triggered, cutting off the ship from the station. Reyes swore to himself and then dejectedly returned to his office.

An hour and a half later, the Obsidian was clear of DS3 and making her way down an approach vector for Mityr. It was a least time approach but that still put it in the heart of Federation traffic bound for the Conglomeration. This pleased Macen. The chances of a violent encounter before their arrival at Mityr were cut down. What their reception would be upon reaching Mityr was anyone's guess.

The ship seemed a little colder not having Kort aboard. He'd served with Macen since before there was a SID. Only T'Kir had been with the team that long.

Tessa was excited to be taking over but sad to see Kort go. Hearing news of the holoemitters being installed in every space, crawlspace, and broom closet made her excitement grow. Macen had never encountered a giddy hologram before.

Macen had hidden away in his Ready Room throughout the disembarking from the station and during the trip to the Conglomeration's border. When they passed by the border patrol with only routine questioning, he finally began to relax. He called Riker in to join him.

"Sit down, Tom." Macen offered a chair. Riker took the couch. Macen grinned, "Don't let T'Kir see you do that."

"Actually," Riker's eyes sparkled, "I was going to suggest that you call her in."

Macen's expression became conspiratorial. He moved back behind the desk and summoned T'Kir. She bounded in and made for the couch. She suddenly stopped and she looked very confused.

Riker burst out laughing. T'Kir studied him for a moment and then frowned, "One big laugh at my expense, huh? Well, I know your number." She wheeled on Macen, "And you, going along with this juvenile little prank... Me and you. Later today it's gonna be me and you. Now don't call me unless you need me. No more wasting my time. Got it?"

She stormed out and Riker completely fell apart laughing, "Girl's got attitude."

"You're just now discovering this?" Macen dryly asked.

"Hell, Brin, I didn't mean to get you in trouble." Riker began to compose himself.

"Yes, you did." Macen calmly remarked, "But T'Kir and I spat all the time. We'll survive this."

Riker ran a hand through his greying hair, "Now that we're not distracted what did you call me in here for?"

"I just wanted to know if you'd thought any more about the captaincy of the Indomitable. She needs a skipper and she needs the best. Tempted yet?"

"You know I am but that would mean over half the team leaving you." Riker pointed out, "Can you cope with those losses?"

"I have plans." Macen replied.

"I've heard you say that when the team breaks apart you'd retire." Riker reminded him, "Does that still hold?"

"Retirement from active duty is still a ways off." Macen grinned, "I have plans."

"So you keep saying." Riker frowned, "Any hints?"

"Any decision on the Indie?" Macen asked.

"Lees and I decided to make the move." Riker revealed, "Now, hint?"

"My plans remain secret for now." Macen smirked, "They will be revealed in the fruition of time."

"You can really be a pain in the..." Riker was interrupted by his comm badge. He swatted it, "Riker."

"Commander," Grace's voice lilted into the room, "you wanted to be informed when we dropped out of warp."

They'd been travelling at warp 6 for over five hours. It was time for them to have reached Mityr's home system. The profusion of navigational hazards required that all incoming starships drop to impulse at the system boundary.

"I think I'll join you on the bridge." Macen said.

"Thanks, Hannah." Riker offered, "We'll be right out."

"All right Enrick Gaston," Sindis said pleasantly to the watch officer, "Why have you summoned me?"

The Lantilian wasn't fazed by the use of his surname, "Lord Sindis, the outer marker buoys have detected a vessel matching the description of the ship you marked for observation."

"A Federation Nova-class science ship?" Sindis asked, "Registered to Outbound Ventures, Incorporated and bearing the name Obsidian?"

Gaston nodded, "Exactly as you specified."

Sindis' smile grew, "Watch her closely. Do not impede her or molest her but be on guard. If she reacts with any hostility, destroy her."

Gaston bowed his head, "As you say, My Lord."

Macen sat in the Captain's chair and felt like an intruder. He marvelled at how few of the bridge officers he knew. There was Riker of course. Grace sat at her usual place at the Helm. Danan manned the Sciences station. Tactical, Ops, and Engineering were manned by faces Macen vaguely recalled.

As the SID team specialised more and more the less time they spent in serving shipboard functions. T'Kir and Daggit were rarely seen on the bridge. Radil was relying more and more heavily upon Abby Collins. Even Dracas was seen less and less often in Engineering.

One familiar face on the bridge was the relief helm officer. Ceryx stood at the MSD display and patiently waited his turn at the controls. Macen knew that the Tyrokian spent these wayward times drifting in and out of sleep. He'd come to in an instant and only required one solid hour of sleep but the intermittent naps helped keep his brain cool.

Tyrokians had the highest mineral count of any humanoid species, outside of Omicrons, known in the galaxy. Ceryx was essentially a semi-silicon based crustacean. His brain could overheat from overusage and this would render him deaf, dumb, and illiterate. Ceryx functioned best in the cold and his quarters were refrigerated.

Sitting was difficult for Ceryx so he usually stood. To man the helm he knelt. His carapace was so leavened with minerals and stone he was effectively immune from low and medium phaser settings.

What Macen appreciated most about Ceryx was his attitude. Ceryx could be absolutely relied upon to fulfil his duties. He was a rock in body and being. His cool demeanour often influenced his more volatile crewmates. Macen knew that Ceryx would always be a welcome addition to his crew and possibly even the SID team.

The Obsidian had flown through the outer system. She was coming up on the debris field that surrounded the inner system. The remains of the fourth planet were scattered amongst rubble of the starships and space stations. An outer boundary of debris also encircled Mityr. It was at this point that buoy challenged them.

"Mityr Traffic Control to starship Obsidian." A mechanical sounding organic voice rattled off, "Please state your business."

Riker began to speak but Macen waved him off, "This is Captain Brin Macen. Please inform Lord Sindis that our business is trade."

"What kind of trade?" The voice asked.

"Latinum for lives." Macen replied.

Sindis' smile became lupine, "I wonder if he truly means it? It is an offer I would consider."

Gaston looked askance, "Truly?"

"Of course!" Sindis laughed, "I am a businessman first and all offers must be honestly considered."

"As you say, Lord." Gaston bowed.

"Clear a lane for them." Sindis ordered, "I want to hear their proposal post haste."

"We are transmitting instructions." The voice informed the Obsidian staff, "Do not deviate from this vector."

A moment passed and then the Ops officer reported that the comm link had been broken. Riker commented, "You certainly got their attention."

Macen shrugged, "We'll see. I'll be in my Ready Room. Call me if we face a life threatening peril."

"Yes, Sahib." Riker chuckled.

T'Kir arrived on the bridge, stuck her tongue out at Riker, and proceeded directly to the Ready Room, "All right, Macen, I have only one thing to say to you."

Macen sat atop his desk, "Really?"

"I love you!" T'Kir gushed, "That apology letter made me to cry."

"Not what I intended but I'm glad that it moved you." Macen moved to his wife and wrapped her in his arms.

"Next time, don't be such an idiot." T'Kir ordered.

"Yes, ma'am." Macen murmured into her hair.

"D'you think...?" she started to ask.

"No time for that." Macen burst her bubble, "In case you hadn't noticed, we're there."

"I heard a rumour to that effect." T'Kir sighed, "By the way, Tessa forgives you as well."

"I wondered where you'd go with Hannah being occupied." Macen mused.

"Stop trying to figure out how I'll react." T'Kir warned, "It gets you into trouble."

"Yes, dear." Macen kissed her. It lengthened and grew in intensity. They parted and each sighed.

"That's a promise for later." Macen remarked.

"I'll hold you to that." T'Kir advised.

Macen's comm badge chirped, "Now what?"

"Riker here." Came the 1st Officer's voice, "We're slipping into orbit over Mityr. Sindis is on the line for you."

"Route it to my terminal." Macen requested.

"This should prove informative." T'Kir said as she curled into the couch.

"Won't it though." Macen murmured.

"Sorry Ceryx," Grace said as she rolled her chair back to make room for the Tyrokian, "I haven't left you much to do."

"That is fine Little One." Ceryx employed his pet name for her, "I shall content myself with identifying the other vessels surrounding us."

"Good luck with that." Grace laughed.

"So," Sindis purred, "We finally lay eyes upon one another."

"Close enough." Macen remarked.

"Why are you here, Captain?" Sindis cut to the chase, "Your reputation hardly lends itself to lightly travelling to such disreputable locales."

"Several days ago a pair of Miradorn raiders would have arrived here." Macen explained, "I can transmit their warp signatures to you. My desires are simple: I wish to apprehend the crews of these ships. The system they ravaged is offering a generous bounty in exchange for their capture. I've been contracted to take these sentients prisoner. I'm willing to offer you the bounty in exchange for their surrender."

"How generous is the bounty?" Sindis was intrigued.

"Fifty thousand bars." Macen revealed.

"That is generous." Sindis opined, "What provokes your generosity?"

"I'm being paid to bring them in by Starfleet." Macen admitted, "The bounty is surplus. Call it a means to conduct a fair trade."

Sindis pondered it for a moment, "Send me the warp signatures. I will locate the vessels and their crews. I will surrender them once they are all secured. In the meantime, why don't you and some of your officers dine with me tonight? Dinner will be served in three hours. Can you make it?"

"We'll be there." Macen promised.

"Excellent!" Sindis enthused, "This will be an evening to remember."

"It certainly will." Macen agreed and terminated the connection, "It will indeed."

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Macen, T'Kir, Daggit and Radil materialised on the executive landing platform storing Annika Ryst's runabout among others. They were met by one of Sindis' "Honour Guards". The sight of the armed SID team alarmed the guards and they waved their weapons about while yelling orders. The Federation agents stood their ground and ignored the threats. Sindis arrived fashionably late and he clapped his hands as he laughed.

"Delightful, Captain." Sindis remarked, "Never has one of my guests been so audacious. Seeing as how you are hopelessly outnumbered I shall permit you to retain your sidearms."

"You're too kind." Macen smarted off.

Sindis was strangely pleased by the comment, "If I may introduce one of my other guests?"

T'Kir took in a sharp breath. Macen soon discovered why as Annika Ryst emerged from the crowd of guards. She was also armed and wearing an olive drab pair of coveralls. Her emotional flavour was one of conflicted confusion. She honestly didn't know how to react to the SID team.

"Annika." Macen said by way of greeting.

Ryst's usual poise was shattered as she unsteadily replied, "Macen."

Macen sensed a wave of resolve pass through Ryst as she turned to Sindis, "Excuse me Sindis but I have a private message for Captain Macen."

For the first time, Sindis' aura of dominance slipped, "Yes, of course. I'll give you a moment."

After Sindis had passed out of earshot, Ryst grew urgent, "You have to leave. Now! He's going to kill you all."

"Of course." Macen laughed, "That's the game."

"So you're staying?" Ryst was crestfallen.

"We'll be fine." Macen assured her, "Sindis won't start anything until it's sporting."

"But..." Ryst hesitated as Sindis returned, "I guess you're right."

"Now, you hardly seem like mortal nemeses." Sindis opined.

"Enmity makes for strange relations." Macen replied.

"It does indeed." Sindis mused, "But enough of this. If you will follow me I will show you to the East Mess."

"We'd be delighted." Macen took hold of T'Kir's hand and followed Sindis. Ryst waited until everyone had passed by and then proceeded to her runabout. She had some calls to make.

"So," Sindis began as he swirled a glass of wine, "you were sent here by Starfleet but not to apprehend me."

"Technically Starfleet didn't send me here." Macen corrected him, "An Outbound Ventures ship was contracted to investigate commerce raiders in the Grannuck sector. This led to an encounter with five Miradorn raiders of unknown registration. Three were captured or destroyed and the remaining two fled the sector. Our ship pursued up until the raiders entered Conglomerate space."

"And why didn't they continue pursuit?" Sindis enquired.

"They were a crew with a prototype vessel." Macen explained, "It was decided at a corporate level that a more experienced ship should take over."

"That corporate level being you." Sindis mused. After a moment Sindis eyed Macen, "You are aware that there a great many holes in your story. My people place you in the Grannuck sector at the time of these events and they are usually right." Sindis' eyes narrowed, "What I find most distressing is that this all has the stink of the Special Investigations Division about it. Tell me, what will you do if I refuse to hand over the pirates?"

"I'll return to the Federation and let Starfleet handle the problem." Macen replied.

Sindis laughed in delight, "I believe you would! I wonder how the tenacious Amanda Drake would respond to that?"

Macen hesitated and Sindis smiled benevolently, "You'll be betraying no confidences, Captain. I have seen your file...your undoctored file. I am well aware of the true nature of your relationship with Starfleet. I also know that you are aware that I have neutralised three SID teams in the past and have no fear of you. You may as well become more candid with me or I will summarily decide against you and you will return to the Federation empty handed."

Macen smiled at that, "As long as we're being candid, we both know you won't release those crewmen into my custody. You can't afford to."

This amused Sindis, "And why can't I?"

"Because," Macen began, "rather than serving by oath or common principle like in an organisation like Starfleet or the Enforcers, your forces serve for profit and protection. They serve you in particular because you provide an ever increasing amount of both. You can't violate the protection clause by handing some of your men over to me without disaffecting the rest."

"True," Sindis admitted, "but that much latinum would further my larger goals."

"May I ask what those would be?" Macen enquired.

"I wish to expand the Conglomerate and create a truly viable political force. A collection of worlds to rival that of the Federation or the aegis of the Iridian Enforcers." Sindis revealed.

"And what will you do once this goal is achieved?" Macen wondered.

"Then the Conglomerate will reach an accommodation with the Federation." Sindis' smile turned feral.

"Using your expanded criminal enterprises as leverage to force the Federation to the bargaining table." Macen surmised.

Sindis wore a rueful expression, "Ever the analyst, eh Captain?"

"I'm no threat to you...at least not to your short term goals." Macen stated, "I'd gladly settle for the captains of those pirate craft and leave the rest to your tender mercies."

"Primarily because your brig is too small to accommodate any more prisoners." Sindis chuckled.

Macen shrugged, "We all have reasons behind our reasoning."

"One of my reasons is the influence of Robhurt B'nner." Sindis admitted, "He wants you dead and I want to be named his successor."

"So," Macen felt regret, "he's finally thrown off the cloak of detente."

"B'nner is under extreme pressure to prove his viability as a leader. Accomplishing your death is seen as a measure of competence." Sindis explained.

"And why am I such a threat to the Orion Syndicate?" Macen wondered.

Sindis laughed in delight, "Surely you are not so monumentally naïve? You killed Daveed B'nner. He was seen as the best of both the old and new generations of Syndicate associates. Although he was officially the don of the Syndicate's Alpha Quadrant operations he had largely assumed his father's mantle and the Syndicate was rolling in latinum as a result. His death was felt by all and you are seen as the cause of all their misery."

"I'd gotten that impression." Macen wryly quipped.

"Robhurt B'nner has no desire to hunt you down but if he loses control of his succession then the Syndicate will fall onto itself like wild targs and the organisation will be ripped apart."

"And this is a bad thing?" Macen asked.

"Is it better to face the enemy you know rather than the foe you have not yet imagined?" Sindis mused, "The resultant chaos would create a new breed of super criminal the likes of which you have never encountered."

"Sounds like you and your setup." Macen replied.

"I'm flattered that you think so but I am a known quantity." Sindis assured him, "I have few surprises left to play."

"I rather doubt that." Macen warned.

"Guys," T'Kir impatiently interrupted, "This is all sooo interesting but can someone tell me where Annika Ryst is?"

Sindis was amused, "She is communicating with Robhurt B'nner. By now she has undoubtedly learned of his decision to name me his successor."

"You've confirmed this?" Macen asked.

"He made the announcement upon hearing of your arrival here." Sindis revealed, "Now, enjoy your meal. It could be your last."

"What do you mean you announced his succession?" Ryst shouted at the viewscreen.

B'nner's image scowled, "Don't be impertinent. Two hours ago I handed over the reins of the Orion Syndicate to Sindis. The move was universally applauded."

"You old fool!" Ryst snapped, "You've signed your own death warrant."

B'nner bristled, "Mind your tongue. My influence made you. It can also break you. My position is secure since I have no part in Syndicate politics any more. I shall enjoy my retirement in peace. I will, however, be keenly observant of an Orion Syndicate led for the first time by a non-Orion."

"Let history be made on some other day, Robhurt." Ryst insisted, "I've already lost one patron. I won't lose another."

"Have no fear, Annika." B'nner chuckled, "My people are vigilant and loyal."

"Sindis can reach anyone." Ryst rebutted, "That includes you."

"I shall be on guard." B'nner assured her, "Now what do you intend to do about Macen? Will you strike out at him?"

"If I must." Ryst sullenly replied.

"You are my right hand in this." B'nner declared, "You must fulfil this one last request."

Ryst sighed, "All right. I'll do it for you."

B'nner smiled, "That's what I wanted to hear. May the gods of fortune smile upon you."

"Thanks." Ryst half-heartedly replied and then she terminated the connection, "Thanks a lot."

Ryst exited the runabout and headed for the reading nook. Sindis' dinner party was well under way and her sudden appearance would only be seen as a social gaff. She wanted to review some points in the SID files and she knew the nook would be all but deserted in favour of the party.

"Tom," Danan snapped Riker out of his reverie, "we have a ship breaking orbit."

"And your point is?" Riker had to ask.

"It's a ship Brin flagged." Danan explained, "It's the Helios. Her captain and crew are wanted by Starfleet for questioning."

"Lees, that's true of every ship in orbit besides us." Riker retorted.

"Not true." Danan said, "Five of the seven ships remaining in orbit around us are wanted for either questioning or have active warrants out for their arrest. The remaining two have no record of operating within Federation space and therefore have no outstanding warrants."

Riker sighed, "Give me the low-down on the Helios."

"She's a Barracuda-class scout captained by one Richard Drake." Danan reported.

"I wonder if he's...?" Riker mused.

"He's her husband." Danan supplied.

"Whose husband?" Riker asked.

"Admiral Drake's husband." Danan spoke as if to a particularly slow student.

Riker blinked, "I was only joking."

"I wasn't," Danan assured him, "and neither was Admiral Nechayev when she issued this alert."

"The Ice Queen issueth?" Riker mocked, "We'd better sound General Quarters."

"Laugh it up fuzzball." Danan quipped, "You don't know Alynna the way Brin and I do. She personally directed our infiltration of the Maquis and was our case handler until the fall of the Maquis and the outbreak of the Dominion War. Her reputation is undeserved."

"I'm sure it is." Riker said.

Danan knew she was being patronised and it angered her, "Listen here spud! I don't think you're funny. I gave you my opinion and you belittled it. If you think you can be unprofessional with me because we're close, guess again!"

A rather sobered Riker replied, "Okay, I'm thoroughly chastised. I see your point and I apologise. Just let me ask, do you even know what a "spud" is?"

Danan coloured, "It's a word a previous host encountered and it's kind of stuck with me. I have no idea what it means."

"Neither do I." Riker chuckled.

"It's colloquial reference to a Terran potato." Ceryx supplied from the helm, "Its usage is harmless enough."

"And how would you know this?" Danan had to know.

"I once knew a potato farmer." Was all Ceryx would say.

Riker and Danan waited for a moment for further elucidation. When it became obvious that none was coming their eyes met. In stereo they said, "He once knew a potato farmer."

Riker turned to Ceryx, "Can you plot the Helios' vector?"

"I already have." The Tyrokian informed him, "They are on a run towards the travel lane through the debris field. Their intended travel route beyond that point is incalculable at this time."

Riker gaped at Danan and she smiled, "Yep. I think he just sassed you."

"Ops," Riker regained his composure, "relay a signal off the closest comm satellite. I want to talk to Starfleet Intelligence."

 

Chapter Thirty

The landing party appeared on the Obsidian's transporter pads and the four figures visibly relaxed. Radil ran a hand through her short locks as they stepped into the outer corridor.

"I was on guard the whole time but when Sindis made that 'last meal' crack I was ready to start shooting." She admitted.

"He was just toying with us." Macen assured her, "He won't try anything until he views it as an intellectual challenge."

"Then the question is: what constitutes an intellectual challenge?" Daggit asked.

"A challenge would be laying down an elaborate trap with one or more hidden avenues of escape." Macen explained.

"And if we escape?" Radil wondered.

"Then we face another trap with even more difficult to find escape routes." Macen answered.

"So does he have any ideas in store for us?" Daggit asked their resident esper.

T'Kir shrugged, "I dunno. His mind is like Hannah's. It's so rigidly disciplined it prevents me from actively touching it."

"I've always wondered about that." Radil admitted, "Why does that work that way?"

T'Kir waited for the door to the briefing room to slide open and then stepped inside when it did so, "Imagine it this way: a typical mind has hundreds and thousands of random thoughts and memories readily floating about, ready to be plucked and examined. I can do this passively, without exerting any pressure on the mind to divulge info."

T'Kir took her usual seat next to Macen's customary place, "Hannah and Sindis' minds are composed of solid structures and steel walls. All of their thoughts and memories are safely hidden away in mental vaults. To try and dig their secrets out of them would probably fry their brains."

"How would that work?" Radil pressed, "How do you kill with your mind?"

T'Kir glanced over towards Macen. He shrugged and she slowly began to explain, "Y'know how a trained person can alter their metabolism, heart rate, and breathing all with their minds? I just use the mind to accelerate the heart rate and raise the blood pressure. By increasing the pressure inside the brain I create aneurysms. The resultant damage of their bursting destroys the mind and the individual dies."

Radil noted a touch of excitement creeping into T'Kir's voice, "So what do you get out of it?"

"You wanna find out?" T'Kir's bloodlust was naked for the world to see.

"T'Kir," Macen's voice broke her out of her trance, "we're all friends here. We don't need a demonstration of your powers."

"Oh foo." T'Kir pouted.

Macen reached out and squeezed her hand. She immediately quit sulking and smiled brightly. Meanwhile, Radil and Daggit exchanged worried glances.

It was Radil who gave voice to their concern, "I know your surgery was supposed to cure all of your problems but maybe you should consider going back on your meds."

T'Kir's blush gave her cheeks a creamy jade complexion, "Sorry 'bout that. I kinda get warmed up to my topic."

"Worked up?" Radil grew indignant, "You seemed ready to kill me for the fun of it."

T'Kir was uncustomarily speechless so Macen stepped in, "You weren't in any real danger. If she'd wanted to kill you you'd be dead by now."

"That's not the frinxing point." Radil argued, "I know that look. She wanted to kill me and she was going to enjoy it."

"I may as well fess up." T'Kir sighed, "Yes, I do enjoy killing people with my telepathy. It's quite a rush to feel someone being slowly smothered out of every thought and knowing you're the reason behind it. That being said, I also realise that it's usually wrong to do it so I try not to."

"'Try not to'?" Radil asked, "Honey, your moral compass is broken."

T'Kir snorted, "This is coming from a woman that used to kill for the highest bidder?"

Radil was outraged but Macen spoke before she could, "I think we should drop it."

"No." T'Kir retorted, "I want to know when she became a moral authority. Her principles have always been decided by the latinum involved. Who is she to judge my ethical crisis?"

Radil started to rise and her hand reached for her holster. T'Kir exploded out of her seat and drew her phaser in the blink of an eye.

Smirking, she said, "I'm smarter, faster, stronger, and far less confused about life. Who says I don't deserve to decide who lives and who dies?"

Radil raised her hands and slouched back into her seat. Macen spoke slowly in a soothing voice, "T'Kir, it's over. Holster the phaser and retake your seat."

She looked uncertainly towards him. Macen smiled, "It's all right, Honey. The briefing is going to take place in the next fifteen minutes. Let's exchange notes on our visit to the surface and get ready to brief those left behind."

T'Kir smiled and put the gun away. She plopped down into her seat, "What'cha wanna talk about?"

After the briefing T'Kir and Grace were hatching a new scheme to get Grace a date upon returning to Barrinor. Macen was in his Ready Room and the chime sounded. He ordered the computer to allow access and Danan and Riker entered in. They looked worried.

"I take it you've already heard about the incident with T'Kir?" Macen asked.

"In a roundabout way." Riker ruefully admitted, "Radil told Abby Collins. Abby told me."

"And Tom told me." Danan interjected.

"Well sit down before you get all a-twitter." Macen said and activated the comm, "T'Kir, can you please report to the Captain's Ready Room?"

"Is that necessary?" Riker wondered as he and Danan took the seats laid out before Macen's desk.

"Individuals have the right to face their accusers." Macen replied, "At least they do on this ship."

Both Riker and Danan were embarrassed. He had protested a basic civil right championed by the Federation. Excuses would only add to his shame.

"You're right of course." Riker admitted, "She should be here."

"Glad you think so." Macen smiled, "Now, can I get you something?"

T'Kir arrived with Grace firmly by her side. They occupied the couch. Danan swivelled her chair in order to face T'Kir. Riker's view remained halfway between the desk and the couch.

"So," Danan smirked as she shifted her attention to Grace, "I take it you've been in on this little secret?"

"The situation is under control." Grace asserted.

"That's a matter of opinion." Danan rebutted, "I understand Brin's proclivities and his own nefarious reasons behind shielding T'Kir but you surprise me."

"It shouldn't." Grace retorted, "You've had your suspicions about me and my inherited view of anyone non-Kelvan. My own disregard for humanoid life is just a step away from T'Kir's enjoyment of ending said life."

"I guess that covers your part in this." Danan said and she turned to Macen, "I knew you were a nihilist but hiding this goes a little too far."

"I'm not a nihilist and you know it, Lees." Macen dismissed her accusation, "I'm just a believer in a cause."

"Wait a minute." Riker insisted, "Give me enough information to catch up. Why are you arguing over whether or not Brin is a nihilist when it's T'Kir we're here to assess?"

"It's all part of the same package." Danan replied, "If you hadn't guessed it by now our dear Captain is an idealist. He was an idealist from a society of idealists. But he was a subversive. He is a Seeker of Truth and the Seekers are revolutionaries. They believe that the galaxy must undergo social rebirth in order to achieve balance."

"Unfortunately, their revolution comes at a price. The old must be torn down and stripped away through any means necessary. This includes violent means. We all know Brin has a heavy hand when it comes to dealing with foes but what remains a secret is that every death just draws us all together, one step closer to our destiny. For that he would kill billions."

"So hand him a weapon like a woman that can kill with her mind, silently, and unseen, and of course he's going to stow her safely away. This is what drove us apart. His ambitions became revealed during the Maquis rebellion and when the Dominion War ended it was painfully obvious these motives still drove him."

"Is this true?" Riker was almost afraid to ask Macen.

Macen nodded, "Her version is laced with a little hyperbole but it contains all the essential facts."

Riker turned to Danan, "Why didn't you report him?"

Danan gave him a pained expression, "Why do you think his personnel file is sealed? Starfleet knows, Tom. They're privy to all of his deep, dark ambitions. Admiral Nechayev finds him useful so there he sits: out of Starfleet but still a tool for Starfleet's use. We've just been caught up alongside him."

"Then it's a good thing you and I are getting off of the ship after this mission is over." Riker decided, "Now can we get back to determining what kind of threat T'Kir poses?"

T'Kir laughed, "I'm far less of a threat then I was a week ago. My abilities have been drastically pared down and it takes a great deal of effort to inflict any damage upon a brain. A psyche, however, is another matter."

"Look," T'Kir sighed, "I got out of hand. We all do that from time to time. Nothing happened and nothing's gonna happen. None of you have ever been threatened by me before."

"But the first time changes everything." Danan remarked.

"Why don't we let Radil decide if she feels threatened?" T'Kir challenged.

"I don't understand you." Abby Collins confessed, "You readily admit that you love me but you don't want to get together."

Radil graced her with a pitying look, "It's simple. I don't want to be just another infatuated fling for you. You've pursued every superior officer you ever had. Let's put you in a position where I'm not over you and let's see where you stand."

"Well, I'd like you to be over me." Collins paused and saw Radil's irritation, "Sorry. Bad joke."

"Just ill timed." Radil relented, "It's very simple. Commander Riker has offered you the Security position aboard the Indomitable. Serve in that capacity, where we're equals, and see if you're still attracted to me. After that, we'll talk about it."

Collins wanted to protest but she knew better, "All right. Until later."

The Helios docked at DS3. Having remotely secured the umbilicals and sealed the airlock connection, Drake ordered the hatch to be opened. Outside the ship the obligatory Customs inspectors were there to assess their cargo.

The inspectors examined the cargo manifest and then were escorted by Harmon Rappaport to the holds. Drake and the rest headed into the Galleria. They'd reached the food court when a detachment of Security officers surrounded them. Thomas Barclay ordered them to surrender. Drake signalled his crew to comply.

They were placed in restraints and marched back to the Security Office. There, Rappaport awaited them. His face betrayed his sense of guilt.

"Sorry Richard." He said miserably, "Those 'Customs' agents were really Security officers. They found the smuggling holds. They knew right where to look. Someone must have tipped them off."

"There are a few dozen possible informants." Drake opined, "Let's concentrate on protesting our innocence."

The various officers agreed and they went silent as the Barclay returned to oversee the removal of their restraints and their being placed in cells. An hour passed in silence and then Captain Reyes appeared. Drake was removed from his cell and taken to a private interviewing room where he was joined by Barclay and Reyes.

"Well, Captain Drake," Reyes was upbeat, "it seems you're in a world of trouble."

"I haven't done anything." Drake insisted, "My crew and I merely came here to unload some fruits and vegetables before setting sail for the Cardassian Union."

"That's odd." Barclay replied, "My officers found one crate of produce and fifteen hidden crates of Kolemi disruptor rifles. Do you know what the penalty for transporting Kolemi weapons into the Federation is?"

Drake's complexion turned cinereous, "We were on our way to the Cardassian Union."

"But the weapons are illegal there as well." Barclay continued, "In fact, they are prohibited by the Klingons, the Romulans, The Tzenkethi, and even the Tholians. The only power in the known Alpha and Beta Quadrants that will touch them is the Gorn. Problem is, you have to transport them without violating any other power's territory."

Barclay coldly regarded Drake, "You, my friend, are going to do time."

Reyes grew sombre, "Do you wish to speak with a lawyer?"

"I want to talk with Admiral Amanda Drake." Drake demanded, "I won't discuss anything with anyone else."

Reyes shook his head sadly, "Admiral Nechayev dispatched your wife to assist with the interrogation before your ship even docked. She'll be here in two days."

"Good." Drake said, "I'll talk to her. I'll tell her whatever she wants to know but the rest of you can go to hell."

"Good to know." Reyes commented and looked out past the forcefield guarding the door, "Please escort the prisoner back to his cell."

The outer guards complied and Reyes and Barclay conferred.

"What do you think?" Reyes asked.

"He has plans." Barclay opined, "I suggest we double security around Admiral Drake when she debriefs him."

"Agreed." Reyes replied before adding, "For all our sakes."

 

Chapter Thirty-One

"Two days!" T'Kir grumbled as she paced back and forth in Macen's Ready Room, "Two days of 'business meetings' and posturing. When's somethin' gonna happen?"

"I'd say be glad it hasn't." Riker countered. He and Daggit were sitting in on this little palaver regarding their developing strategy for dealing with Sindis' machinations, "From what his profile says when he does strike it'll be ruthless and deadly."

"Better'n waiting around." T'Kir groaned as she flung herself onto the couch.

"From what I can read off of him," Macen spoke up, "Sindis is seriously considering our offer. He leaves in two days to assume his mantle as the new Don of the Orion Syndicate. His position is secure so his impetus to kill us has waned. Now it's just a matter of weighing the effect it would have on his men."

"You got all of that in two days?" a disbelieving Riker asked.

"You've got to know what to ask and when to ask it." Macen grinned.

"It also helps to be slightly empathic." Daggit said softly.

"Now Rab," Macen scolded, "you know my empathic senses are practically useless. In fact, I can barely read you at this distance apart."

"So it was your skills as a Listener that led you to these conclusions?" Riker wondered.

"Pretty much." Macen confirmed it.

"Heaven help us all." Riker murmured.

T'Kir pounced upon that remark, "What's that supposed t'mean?"

"Come on," Riker insinuated, "Brin is probably the worst listener in the history of the El-Aurians and you know it."

"Maybe." T'Kir almost conceded, "But he reads the Currents better'n most."

"Oh really?" Riker mocked, "What do they say about me?"

"T'Kir." Macen warned her off.

"Your new command is gonna begin beautifully but heartbreak is gonna strike after a little while."

"Uh huh." Riker scoffed, "And when does this occur?"

T'Kir opened her mouth but Macen angrily cut her off, "T'Kir! That's enough!"

Her eyes became vacant for a moment and then she winced and became cognizant, "Yes, Boss. I'll be quiet now."

"What's this all mean?" Riker was agitated, "What aren't you telling me?"

"Relax Tom." Macen sought to soothe him, "It's all just a lot of superstitious mysticism you don't believe in."

Riker seemed unconvinced but he let the matter go, "So, what's on the agenda? Another meeting with Sindis?"

Macen sighed, "Yes. He's making his decision today."

"That means he'll set his trap today." Daggit surmised.

"If he's going to set one." Macen conceded, "Somehow I think we've been relegated to the 'secondary problem' category."

"Do you think we should take that chance?" Daggit wondered.

"Of course not." Macen chuckled, "When we reach the surface we'll be ready for a fight."

"When's the meet?" Riker asked.

Macen shrugged, "I don't know. Sindis is supposed to call and inform me of when he's available."

That elicited several eye rolls.

"We don't know why he's insisting on only speaking with you, Admiral, but we suspect malicious intent." Barclay informed Admiral Drake.

"Nothing would surprise me any more." Amanda Drake wearily admitted.

"You don't have to face him," Reyes put in, "at least not by yourself."

"The three Security officers you assigned to me will be right on the other side of the forcefield." Amanda Drake put a hand on his shoulder, "Come on Alfonso, you know I can handle myself."

"Against an average perp." Reyes countered, "For God's sake, this is your husband. You're here to assist us in this investigation. That means helping us interpret what he says as well as his nonverbal cues. Not even Nechayev could've anticipated you actively interrogating your own husband. This violates every aspect of the prohibition of working cases you have involvement with and you know it."

Drake coldly eyed him, "Are you done?"

Reyes' shoulders slumped, "For now."

"Good." Drake shouldered past him, "I have work to do."

The interrogation room had been altered for this particular debriefing. The customary full size table had been removed and a simple folding card table had been placed in front of the admiral's intended place. Stationary metal chairs had also replaced the rolling office chairs normally employed. The change was intended to evoke a spirit of intimacy...an intimacy Amanda no longer felt towards her estranged husband but it might prove to be a useful tool. The guards were to be vigilant in ensuring that Richard stayed on his side of the room.

Richard could freely move around the room but he was to stay on the opposite side of the card table. One step beyond the invisible boundary and the guards would rush in and stun him. The following interrogation would take place with Richard in wrist and ankle restraints.

Richard straightened up in his chair when he saw Amanda on the other side of the forcefield. She conferred with the senior guard, offering her last minute instructions. After that, Ensign Bishop dropped the forcefield and let Amanda into the room. She calmly and coolly crossed the room and then sat down at her place and spread her padds out before her. Richard looked so much like an eager puppy.

"Amanda! Thank God you're here!" Richard gushed, "I didn't know who else to call."

Amanda's eyes narrowed, "You should have called an attorney. At least he or she would be on your side. I represent Starfleet. My sole purpose to being here is to investigate your actions and motives for and towards breaking Federation laws."

The male Drake's enthusiasm remained undiminished, "I know I'll get fair treatment from you...despite everything that's recently happened between us."

That amused Amanda, "Don't try and cloud the issue at hand. Your course and flight logs indicate that you came from Mityr. Is that where you picked up the Kolemi disruptor rifles?"

"Yes." Richard admitted, "We received the rifles from agents of Bertram Sindis. We were to take them to Valo II in the Bajoran sector and meet with Cardassian agents. It was an exchange run. One thumbprint on a bank transfer form and we dropped off the rifles, never to see them again."

"Never to see the agents again or the rifles?" Amanda inquired.

"Either." Richard rose and began to pace, "Both. You never know in this business."

"And what business would that be?" Amanda sought clarification.

"Smuggling." Richard ran a hand through his thinning hair, "When we first hired on with Sindis' organisation we were commercial scouts. Smuggling happened to pay better so we jumped at the chance when it arose."

"And why do citizens of the Federation need cash?" Amanda pointedly asked.

Richard leaned against the wall and cast a dubious eye over her, "Surely you're not so blind as to miss the fact that latinum provides a great number of services and comforts even within the Federation?"

Amanda relented, "All right. I'll concede that you have a point. What kind of goods did you smuggle and who were your clients?"

Richard loosed a hollow laugh, "Even if I could remember I couldn't tell you that. It would cost me my life and the lives of my crew. I have to watch out for them."

"We can protect you." Amanda promised.

Richard pushed himself away from the wall and headed for the table, "No, you can't and you know it."

Richard reached the edge of the table and said, "Look, I could use a cup of coffee and you're looking like you need to stretch your legs. Why don't we take a break and fulfil our mutual needs?"

Amanda resisted. She hated the fact that he could read her so well. It had been his suggestion that she place the treadmill in her office. She used it constantly well trying to burn off nervous energy.

She stood and turned to face the forcefield, "Could we get two cappuccinos in here?"

Bishop turned to the third guard and repeated the request. The second guard turned as well. It was then that Richard struck. He lunged forward and scooped Amanda up in his arms. He then threw her in the air and her lower back crashed into the back of her chair. Her body bent like a bow and then she slid off to the side, crashing onto the floor.

She gasped as she struggled to rise. Pain lanced through her entire body. All except her legs that was. With a frightening clarity she realised that she couldn't feel anything below her hips.

Richard rounded the chair and hesitated for a split-second. A particle beam struck him and then another. Drake collapsed upon the ground, paralysed but still conscious. Bishop knelt by the struggling admiral. She was trying to push herself up off the floor. Bishop stopped her.

"Ma'am," Bishop was preternaturally calm, "You're injured. Tell me what's wrong."

Amanda spoke through gritted teeth, "M-my legs. I can't f-feel them."

"Just hang on, ma'am." Bishop tried to encourage her, "You'll have help in a moment."

Bishop tapped her comm badge, "Bishop to Infirmary. Lock on to Admiral Drake's comm badge and initiate emergency transport. Be advised, she has suffered a severe trauma to her lower back and she cannot feel or move her legs."

"So advised." Came a nurse's voice, "Stand clear of the patient."

With that, Amanda was transported to the Infirmary.

Seven hours later Reyes sat by Drake's bed while she napped. She awoke with a deep sigh and glanced about the room. Reyes sat up straight and managed a wan smile.

"Glad to see you again, Amanda." Reyes confided.

"You never lied this badly when we were classmates at the Academy, Alfonso." Drake wore a sceptical expression.

"Have the doctors told you...?" Reyes faltered.

"That I'm permanently paralysed from the waist down?" Drake tried to keep her sadness from creeping into her voice. She almost succeeded. "Yes. We've had a long discussion about it."

"I'm so sorry." Reyes' grief was genuine.

Tears glistened in Drake's eyes, "It's not your fault. If I'd listened to you..." Drake's voice choked off.

Reyes forced a smile, "So, what did they teach us about dealing with grief and loss?"

Drake graced him with an indulgent smile, "I hear that you've a new woman in your life. A certain Ro Laren to be precise. Do tell and tell me everything."

"I want this sonuvabitch and I want him served up on a platter." Nechayev snarled.

"Wait a second Alynna," Macen counselled, "how did Sindis arrange this attack?"

"Richard Drake's been conditioned using an Angosian technique, the mental footprints are unmistakeable, and his sole target was Amanda. The last person he saw was Sindis and Sindis specifically sent him to DS3." Nechayev grated, "I want him arrested and I want it done now!"

"In case you've forgotten," Macen replied, "we're not in the Federation and I have no legal jurisdiction here."

"Then assume some damned illegal jurisdiction." Nechayev snapped.

"Just clarifying the situation." Macen nodded, "We'll take care of it."

Macen signed off and looked at T'Kir, "Send Tom in here and round up Rab, Radil, and Joachim and have them join you in the briefing room. I'll be there in a minute."

"So we're going to war?" T'Kir asked as she rose.

"Looks that way." Macen confirmed.

"Poor Amanda." T'Kir opined, "She's a real pain in the butt but I like her."

"Don't worry," Macen assured her, "Sindis will get what's coming to him one way or another."

 

Chapter Thirty-Two

"People, we need a plan." Macen said as he faced those gathered at the briefing room table. Riker had insisted that he and Grace be allowed to join them. Their participation was in order to coordinate the starship's activities with those of the team on the ground.

"The site itself is a challenge." Dracas opined, "It's shielded against sensors and transporters. We can't know what or who is inside until we arrive. Our access points are also limited to those entrances allowed by the facility. Fortunately, we do have an idea of the interior layout thanks to T'Kir."

T'Kir half rose and took a mock bow. Unfazed, Dracas pulled up the schematics he wanted and continued, "As I understand it, the opposition was aware of her penetration but could not discover how she accessed the systems or what she perused while in contact with them."

He highlighted the upper section of the domed Citadel, "Visual sweeps indicated that the uppermost part of the fortress based Type V phaser banks. This has been proven to be correct. The technology behind the Type V dates back to the mid-23rd century. It had become widely available to colonial outposts during the mid-24th century, the time when Mityr was colonised by corporate interests from the Federation. The weapon is quite effective against civilian transports converted into raiders but ineffective against modern starships." He paused and then added, "Although its effects can prove to be rather annoying."

"I bet." Riker interjected, "It sounds like its intent is to keep a ship's shields up in order to prevent them from beaming anyone to the surface or launching shuttlecraft."

Dracas nodded agreement, "That was my assessment as well. Now, if you'll notice here, the middle layers of the citadel are the areas where we've had the greatest penetration so far. These include the conference rooms and the East Mess. Included in these areas are the personnel barracks, the guest suites, something referred to as the Reading Nook, and an infirmary."

The highlighted section of the diagram shifted to the base, "Here is the heart and soul of the operation. Tucked away at the heart of this stronghold is a command centre that doubles as a bunker. Attached to this are another briefing room and the Supreme Commander's private office. The latter presumably being Sindis' exclusive domain."

An area beneath the complex was now highlighted, "The 'basement' houses the facility's fusion reactor. It is roughly comparable to the Cardassian Neglin reactors that power the Nor-class space stations. In summary, that's our target. Now let's see how to take it apart."

"Thank you, Joachim." Macen said and received an acknowledging nod in return, "He got it right folks. How do we crack this egg?"

"We could hammer it with phasers and photon torpedoes from orbit." Grace suggested.

"It isn't feasible." Macen opined, "The Citadel is surrounded by the dependents of the workers inside. We'd be killing innocent men, women, and children."

Grace gave him a So what? look and Dracas intervened, "It would take quite a bit of work. The barrage would be meeting Cardassian shields designed for the aforementioned space stations. Only having to protect half of a sphere augments their strength."

"Also," Riker interjected, "I rather doubt the local traffic would leave us unmolested while we try to beat down their boss' door."

Grace raised her hands in surrender, "Okay, I give up. Bad idea."

"It seems to me that the first thing we need to do at this point is contact Starfleet." Daggit spoke up, "You did say they were in on this mission, right?"

A smile played at Macen's lips, "I activated our Starfleet assets before joining you here."

Riker opted to jump in at that moment, "It's true. I overheard it all."

Daggit was visibly relieved, "What's their ETA?"

"An hour and a half." Macen answered.

Radil joined the fray, "And are we waiting for the cavalry or are we doing our usual shtick?"

"The usual." Macen replied. This elicited several groans and he started to explain, "Once those starships arrive, we lose the element of surprise. If we strike first they'll still sound an alarm but we'll already be in the facility and on the move by the time they do."

"So what would our objectives be?" Radil enquired.

"I have to ask the same on behalf of the ship." Riker added.

"The Obsidian will be tasked with occupying as many of the orbital units as it can. The three Starfleet starships need a distraction in order to arrive undetected." Macen answered.

"The perimeter sensor buoys will still detect them." Grace pointed out.

"But the ground controllers will be distracted by us and the orbital traffic will be concentrating on you." Macen rebutted, "That will allow our Starfleet allies to slip in quietly."

"Our 'allies'?" Riker glibly remarked.

Macen grinned, "We have to call them something."

"What are our basic objectives?" Dracas refocused the group.

Macen deferred to T'Kir who answered, "We have three basic goals. The first being the capture of Sindis himself. The next one is returning Annika Ryst to custody. The last goal is to raid the pirate's databases and finding out who's on the payroll and where they're at."

"Are these your goals or ours?" Dracas wondered considering the source.

"They're 'our' goals." Macen clarified, "T'Kir and I brainstormed these ideas over the last two days."

"Very well." Dracas relented, "I just had to ask."

"Sure, sure," T'Kir teased, "question the nutcase why don'cha?"

Dracas looked embarrassed and Macen had to smile, "It's all right Joachim. She's just teasing you."

Dracas looked relieved and Macen addressed the group, "Those are our basic objectives. If anyone has any more to bring to the table, speak up. The question before us is how to accomplish these goals, and remember, we only have an hour before we need to launch this little endeavour."

"So what are you going to do about Macen?" Ryst asked in the privacy of Sindis' office.

"I'm planning on denying his request and then sending him on his way." Sindis answered.

"What about your promise to Robhurt?" Ryst asked.

"I made no promise." Sindis replied matter of factly, "I told him I would pursue the matter of Macen's destruction and I shall...at a later date."

Ryst's face contorted with rage, "You lying piece of shuk! How dare you presume to assume the mantle of the Syndicate?"

Sindis remained aloof, "I would watch my words at this point. B'nner is gone. I am the future of the Syndicate and your place in it is no longer assured."

Ryst's anger simmered and she latched on to a new topic, "What do you mean Robhurt is 'gone'?"

Sindis grew alarmed, "Hasn't anyone told you?"

"Told me what?" Ryst grated despite already knowing the answer.

"B'nner was found dead by one of his attendants. He apparently died of natural causes." Sindis smoothly reported.

Once again Ryst silently vowed revenge, "How long ago did this happen?"

"His condition was discovered nearly two hours ago." Sindis revealed.

"And I'm just now being informed?" Ryst archly inquired.

"The existing Syndicate bosses opted to leave that matter to me." Sindis said in oily tones.

"So, are you planning on having them eliminated as well?" Ryst coolly asked.

"Annika, what are you implying?" Sindis sounded and looked hurt, "You wound me."

"Spare me." Ryst sneered, "We both know you're capable and willing to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time."

Sindis brightened, "This reminds me, I have received happier news today. Admiral Drake has been struck down by my agent."

"So, the husband killed the wife." Ryst commented, "I suppose congratulations are in order."

"He didn't kill her." Sindis gloated, "He crippled her. The dear Admiral has lost the use of her legs."

"Won't this inspire her to come after you all the more?" Ryst enquired.

Sindis' smile was predatory, "Ah, yes. But now she intimately knows what you phrased so well. I can strike at her at any time at any place of my choosing. Meanwhile, I remain just out of reach."

"But for how long?" Ryst probed.

"That's the rub." Sindis chuckled, "My life will be in constant peril. I relish the thought."

For the first time Ryst considered the possibility that Sindis was insane. As if sensing her ruminations, Sindis tried to reassure her, "Don't worry. I'm not insane. I won't take the Syndicate down a mad spiral of destruction. The organisation and those in it are necessary for my goals. The Syndicate's prosperity ultimately ties in with my establishing a new commonwealth of independent states."

"Hasn't that been tried once already?" Ryst jested.

Sindis' ire was piqued, "Not like this. This Commonwealth will galvanise those powers neglected or overlooked by the Federation, her allies, and the Enforcers. It will become the envy of all those worlds and they will clamour for membership."

"So let me get this straight. You're going to unite the 'lawless frontier' and unleash them upon 'civilisation' in an effort to terrorise them into joining with your barely tamed rogue states. Afterwards, you're going to march off into the unknown seeking conquest and glory." Ryst cheekily surmised, "Does that about sum it up?"

Sindis was rapturously overjoyed, "You know me too well."

I certainly do, you megalomaniacal git. She thought inwardly to herself. Outwardly she said, "Nice plan. Good luck with it."

"You won't be joining me?" Sindis seemed saddened.

"I have one last job to do for Robhurt." Ryst confided, "After that I retire."

"Retire?" Sindis echoed, "You're a woman of passion and action. Retirement is not for you."

"I won't completely retire." Ryst amended, "I have several aliases and cover identities. Some of them have very interesting careers. I'd like to spend the next few decades mastering a few of them."

"I am certain you will master them all." Sindis confidently predicted, "I can count on your discretion regarding my endeavours?"

Ryst shrugged, "I don't know enough to reveal anything."

Sindis appraised her for a moment, "Yes, you have been quite discrete during your time here. It truly is a pity I cannot have you for an ally."

"Just be glad you don't have me as a foe." Ryst countered.

"But that doesn't rule out your being opposed to me in the future." Sindis mused, "It's just as well. If we were united the question of who was better would always creep up and eventually we would have to duel to the death to settle the matter."

"That would be a shame." Ryst drolly replied.

Sindis eyed her for a moment and then relaxed, "When will you depart?"

"I'll leave as soon as the Obsidian clears orbit." Ryst promised, "Maybe sooner."

Sindis held out his hand, "Good luck to you then. Would you like to remain here and oversee the final hours of Macen's visit?"

Ryst nodded after accepting Sindis' hand, "I think I would."

Sindis smiled, "Excellent."

"I've read your report," Reyes informed Drake, "I don't think you should be so harsh with yourself."

Drake loosed a bitter laugh, "Puh-lease Alfonso, I ignored every safety precaution and reg in the book because I thought my wifely insights into Richard would put me one step ahead of the game." Sadly, she added, "I didn't even see this one coming."

"No one did." Reyes replied, "Not even Richard. He sobbed like a baby when we told him what happened. The mental conditioning we discovered with Senecka's help seems to have taken over and driven his actions. He wasn't even consciously aware of them."

Drake pondered that for a moment, "That's some small comfort."

Reyes grew uncomfortable, "What happens now?"

"Tomorrow I get an antigrav chair." Drake revealed, "After that it's a few weeks of practice with the chair, lifestyle training to learn how to cope with the changes, and counselling to help with the trauma. After that I return to duty."

"What about housing?" Reyes asked, "Are you going to keep your flat?"

"House hunting are we?" Drake drolly replied, "No, I'm not keeping the flat. Alynna is finding me a handicap friendly environ. Starfleet has some specialised quarters available and it looks as though I could move into one of those."

Reyes grimaced, "It figures that Starfleet would be intimate with rarefied injuries."

"Be kind." Drake scolded, "It's not Starfleet Medical's fault that our duties are so hazardous or that nerve tissue won't regenerate."

"And there's no hope?" Reyes softly asked.

Drake shrugged, "There's always the next great breakthrough. But as things stand I'm basically screwed. It's funny, they repaired the fractured vertebrae that severed my spinal chord but they couldn't touch the chord itself. It's one of those things they don't teach at the Academy."

"Well," Reyes sighed, "it's just about certain that Sindis arranged this. So what happens on that front?"

"We'll see." Drake coolly remarked, "Anything is possible."

"Just as long as you're not out for revenge." Reyes commented.

"Revenge is a waste of time and resources." Drake opined, "I just want to see him arrested, tried, and his head stuck on a pike."

Reyes started to laugh and then he realised that she was serious. Drake was a changed woman he realised in that moment of clarity. He just wondered how the galaxy would fare under her purview.

 

Chapter Thirty-Three

Macen, T'Kir, Dracas, Radil, and Daggit materialised on the tarmac of the Citadel's executive landing pad. The guards manning the checkpoint at the entrance into the fortress immediately sounded the alarm upon seeing the transporter effects. Daggit and Dracas each shot the guards before they could fire upon the landing party.

"There goes the element of surprise." Daggit said grimly.

"We knew there was a chance this would happen." Macen reminded the group, "Let's be about our business."

They cautiously approached the entrance. Seeing that reinforcements weren't on their way yet, Macen turned to T'Kir, "Can you jam this door so that it stays open?"

She looked at the activating mechanism, threw a few switches, and then shot it. She gave him a perky smile, "Door's jammed."

Macen grinned, "I love you."

T'Kir's smile brightened all the more, "Good to know."

"Hey! You two!" Radil called back from where the rest of the landing party had scouted ahead, "We've found something you may want to see."

Macen and T'Kir strolled down the corridor. Signs written in Federation Basic designated what lay beyond each door they encountered. Most of the doors denoted conference rooms and other sundry type facilities. They passed an open door with glass walls. This was the West Mess. It was far less opulent than the East Mess and served the "enlisted" ranks.

The cooks inside were frantically using the comm, presumably to summon reinforcements, but no one appeared to be coming. That was the strangest part of all of this. Central Security had to have a good bead on them by now so where were the squads of armed guards?

They reached the door Radil wanted them to see. Again, the upper half of the outer wall was made of glass. The sign by the door read "Reading Nook". Macen had to smile.

"Good job." He motioned for Dracas to close in, "Do you still have your sensor shroud?"

"Of course." Dracas sniffed. His pride had been wounded by the merest suggestion that he was remiss in his duties. Macen ignored it.

The sensor shroud was one of Dracas' recent inventions. It hadn't been field tested yet. Theoretically it should mask the biosignature of whoever wore one. Since the task designated for the reading room would require time, this was a perfect time to test the devices.

"Good. You and T'Kir activate yours as planned." Macen turned to T'Kir, "While Joachim's shutting down the reactor copy every file they have."

"I know the plan, dear." T'Kir wore a wry smile, "I came up with it."

Macen swept her up into his arms and kissed her. It was a brief kiss but it transmitted a universe full of hopes. She smiled contentedly, "You should do that more often."

"You take care of yourself." Macen turned to Radil, "Remember, their safety is your primary concern."

Radil threw a jaunty salute, "You've got it Boss."

Macen and Daggit started to leave and T'Kir called out, "Watch your back!"

He waved and he and Daggit rounded a corner and disappeared. Radil took up station at the corner, "Well? Get busy."

T'Kir looked over to Dracas and shrugged. Dracas gave her an Imperial salute and ventured into the Reading Nook. T'Kir followed and soon they were immersed in code.

"Sir," one of the sensor techs alerted his superior, "I've lost two of them."

"Where did they go?" the senior officer asked.

"I don't know." The tech replied, "They just vanished."

The supervisor summoned Enrick Gaston, "We have a problem."

Gaston coolly scrutinised the supervisor's nervous appearance and manner, "Do you have a solution?"

"Er...no." the supervisor admitted.

"Then it does indeed appear that you have a problem." Gaston warned, "Describe the scenario to me."

After hearing the details of the situation from the supervisor and the tech, Gaston instructed them, "Wait here. Do nothing until I return."

Gaston then went to Sindis' command station in the centre of the room. Gaston leaned in close and whispered into Sindis' ear. Sindis took the news with calm aplomb. After considering the matter for a couple of seconds, he spoke.

"Is the backdoor option ready to move?" he asked.

Gaston nodded and Sindis instructed him to employ it. Sitting back down at the console next to Ryst he shook his head, "Pity. I wanted to save my reserves until the end."

"With Macen," Ryst sagely advised, "expect the unexpected."

"Apparently so." A bemused Sindis agreed, "That's good to know."

Aboard the Obsidian, Riker was issuing orders, "Shields up! Red Alert! Hannah, break orbit. We need room to manoeuvre."

Riker began to address the bridge officers, "Target anything that targets us and fire at will. Hold torpedoes for my command." The Tactical Officer acknowledged and began carrying out her orders. Riker continued, "Ops, keep the data lines clear and flowing to all stations. Give priority to the Tactical and CONN boards." Riker addressed Danan, "Sciences, keep a lookout for our reinforcements. Also, call out any enemy weaknesses or patterns that Tactical is missing."

"Yes, Dear." Danan replied with a carefree grin. The mood on the bridge relaxed and everyone refocused on their duties.

Outside on the landing pad two groups of twelve materialised. They were pirates sent from orbital raiders and they wanted blood. The utilisation of the cargo transporters had allowed them to beam down in greater numbers. It was standard practice for them as they often employed the technique while boarding their victim's craft.

The pirates were creatures of space. They hunted in space, took their prizes in space, lived, ate, and slept in space. Now they were on the surface of Mityr and they had a hunt to perform.

Like most pirates, these creatures were essentially cowards. They were brutish bullies who drew strength and resolve from hunting in packs. Unsophisticated thugs, they sought to simply overwhelm and destroy rather than encircle and snare. They were a blunt instrument and this was the reason why Sindis had delayed in deploying them. They offended his sensibilities.

Meanwhile, being blithely unaware of their master's distaste for them, the pirates surged forward into the fortress with a mighty yell. Their boisterous battle cry was full of bravado but it did little to ensure discretion. Radil heard them long before they'd even entered the Citadel.

She raced around the curved corridor to come upon the headlong corsairs at the entrance to the Reading Nook. No time for forethought, she fired several bursts into the midst of the pirates. Afterwards she turned and ran.

Seeing five of their number dead, the pirate horde hesitated. Their meagre reserves of courage faltered and they wondered what to do. Finally one yelled out, "Get her!"

Bolstered by the fact that Radil was running from them they took up the chase. They hurtled down the corridor in pursuit with a mighty, "Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!"

Back in the Reading Nook T'Kir and Dracas moved out from their hiding places. Dracas sheathed his sword, "I don't know whether to be disappointed or relieved."

T'Kir's face twisted up with a glum expression, "I know the feeling. I'm kinda torn between options. It's decided though so let's get back to work."

"It was pointless to hide." Dracas opined, "They could have spotted our active screens and deduced that someone was in here."

"You're assuming that they're observant." T'Kir grinned, "Trust me, they're pretty primitive."

Even after all this time, Dracas still overlooked T'Kir's telepathic abilities. This was quite a change from when he'd first joined the team. Her abilities had frightened him and he constantly worried about what she'd pluck from his mind. Now that he knew her and considered mostly benign, he never gave it another thought.

T'Kir smirked and Dracas wondered if she'd monitored his thoughts. It was of little consequence, she was the soul of discretion and Dracas had no fears.

"Back at it then?" Dracas asked.

"You read my mind." T'Kir winked and shifted her focus to her console.

Dracas shook his head as he resumed his project.

Macen and Daggit reached the vault door entrance to the bunker. It was open. Everything had been open up until this point. It smacked of a trap.

The facility had four stairwells and Macen and Daggit had warily descended one expecting to get caught in a lethal crossfire at any moment. That had not occurred. Instead they had reached their destination unmolested.

The two men stood to either side of the entrance. Daggit's rifle was poised. Macen held his phaser in a two-handed grip. At a signal from Macen Daggit rushed in to the command centre. Macen followed, ready to deal with anyone who shot at Daggit.

Daggit stopped just short of Sindis' control console. His rifle butt was tight against his shoulder and his body was slightly hunched. He had a commanding view of the bunker's interior and could sweep right or left and rake the facility with fire.

Macen settled into a modified Weaver stance to the Daggit's left. His coverage of the right side was weak and therefore that lane of fire had to be exclusively covered by Daggit. In exchange, Daggit ceded the left corner to Macen's attentive care.

"All right folks," Macen proclaimed to the techs and surveillance staff, "if you'll just step away from your consoles and proceed out of the command centre you'll be fine."

The staff, warned of this eventuality by Sindis, complied. One straggler made a move for an alarm toggle. Macen shot the console, spraying the staffer with sparks as the station's screen blew apart. He hurried out of the centre.

Sindis was greatly amused, "So now what?"

"We hold you here until reinforcements arrive." Macen replied.

"I think not." Sindis broke and ran. He ducked into his office and waited there.

Macen instructed Daggit, "Hold her here. I'll ferret Sindis out."

Ryst smiled at Daggit, "This isn't how you want it, is it? I'll tell you what, I'll lay down my arms and you lay down yours and we'll see who's left standing. Winner walks free."

Daggit pondered it, "Tempting."

Ryst slowly pulled her phaser free of its holster and tossed it aside, "There. Your turn."

Daggit laid his rifle down, then his pistol, his grenade launcher, and his knife; "Ready."

Ryst's smirk annoyed Daggit, "Remember Rab, you've never been able to beat me."

"That was then." Daggit gruffly replied, "This is now."

Ryst shrugged, "Have it your way."

Daggit slowly crept into the office. A hammer blow knocked the phaser from his hands. It flew across the room, hit the wall, and fell behind the desk.

Sindis smirked. "I'm disappointed, Captain. Your friend Vaughn fell for the same trick. Let's see if you're any sturdier."

 

Chapter Thirty-Four

Drake swore as she ran her antigrav chair into a table. She couldn't believe she was perspiring...after all, the damn chair was doing all the work. The idea was to tailor the chair's movements to her kinaesthetic. So far, in an hour and a half, all they'd managed to do is try to destroy a lot of furniture.

"Relax Admiral." Hoshi Sanchez, the medtech in charge of prosthetics and ambulatory devices advised, "Let me make another series of adjustments. I think I've nailed your reflex pattern this time."

"We'll see." Drake grumped. Sanchez was far too perky to be for real.

After tinkering with the chair for twenty minutes, Sanchez closed all the access hatches. Wearing her never fading smile, she instructed Drake to navigate the room. Drake straightened out her chair without any problem. She set her path for the maze of furniture that was the bane of her existence.

She easily dodged the chair and then the table. Next came the Ottoman followed by a couch. Reaching the end without incident, she accelerated and then collided with a love seat. Sanchez clapped her hands, "Very good, Admiral. If you hadn't thrown caution to the wind and accelerated at the end, you would have had a perfect run at it."

Drake blinked. That was the closest thing to an admonishment that Sanchez had uttered since they began. Maybe there was hope for her after all.

"All right, Admiral," Sanchez's smile had an evil edge to it, "Once more unto the breach and you'll have earned a reprieve for the day."

Drake silently vowed not to over-accelerate.

The Obsidian's deckplates shuddered as another explosion rocked the ship. Riker called out for a damage report. The Ops Officer provided it.

"We've sustained damage to the lateral nacelle brace. There's a hull breach on Deck 7, Section 12. Thirteen casualties reported so far. Engineering is on the line for you."

"Patch them in." Riker ordered.

Gilan, the acting Chief Engineer, spoke, "We need to jettison the warp core. She's going to breach in two minutes."

"Jettison away." Riker ordered.

Riker turned to the Tactical Officer, "What's our shield estimate after the breach?"

"Probably 30-40%." She answered.

"Hannah put some distance between us and that core." Riker urged.

"I'll try." Grace replied through gritted teeth.

"Core detonation in five...four...three...two... One!" the Ops Officer ticked off.

The ship convulsed. Circuits overloaded all over the ship. Afterwards Riker asked for a situation report. The damage toll was as expected but Ops had some good news.

"One of the enemy raiders was destroyed and two more are crippled. With the five we've already taken out that means we've cut the opposition in half." The man called out, "Unfortunately, with our warp core gone that means we're stuck here."

"That was always the case." Riker informed him, "We're here until the battle ends...one way or another."

The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Hood sailed through the traffic channel in the debris field surrounding Mityr. The Monitor and the Merrimack were Defiant-class escorts. The Hood was a Galaxy-class carrier. The carrier designation essentially meant that she carried a fighter wing rather than a full complement of shuttlecraft.

Aboard the Hood, Captain Merry Limerick was impatiently charting out the progress of his squadron. Limerick was an Elvin. Nearly undistinguishable from humans other than his pointed ears lacking earlobes and being attached directly to the skull.

The Elvins had visited primitive Earth and spawned many of the legends of faeries and elves. Sitting in his command seat with his silver hair tied back in a ponytail, one could very well imagine a fairy tale. This particular Elvin was known for his tactical expertise.

The Hood based the Rascal Squadron. It was reputed to be one of the best space superiority and ground support units in Starfleet. Also aboard were the Covert squads. Covert One and Covert Two were Special Operations Command teams and they were tasked with supporting Macen's landing party.

Commander Alec Prine was Captain of the Merrimack. Commander Hev Callas was CO of the Monitor. Both were veterans of SpecOps campaigns. Rather than bear the standard of Fleet Operations both vessels and crews bore the Intelligence designator.

A special guest aboard the Hood was one Commander Elias Vaughn. He was tasked as Mission Commander for the Covert teams. He still required a cane in order to walk normally but he was feeling fit and trim. Fiercely determined to see Sindis brought to justice, Vaughn had spent every moment since coming aboard getting to know his team members and familiarising himself with the Mission Specialist board on the Hood's bridge.

Limerick called Vaughn over, "It's almost time. Are you certain you're up for this Elias?"

"I've never been more ready for anything in my life, Merry." Vaughn assured him.

"Just watching out for you." Limerick grinned, "Halfa knows you've watched my back often enough."

"It's all been worth it to get to this moment." Vaughn smiled.

"Thanks." Limerick felt mildly embarrassed, "Man your station, Commander."

"Aye, aye, Captain." Vaughn went to his console and sat down.

"Captain," Sima Havelick, the ship's Tellarite XO, reported, "The Monitor and the Merrimack just signalled. They've cleared the field and the report that the Obsidian is being overwhelmed."

"Order them to flank speed." Limerick instructed her, "I want them to alleviate the Obsidian's situation ASAP."

Limerick turned to the laidback young woman standing to his other side, "Well, Commander, are you ready?"

Lt. Commander Verity Jones, Rascal Lead, grinned, "Give me launch authority and I'll show you ready."

"Get to the bay, Commander." Limerick instructed, "You launch in ten minutes."

Jones left with a rousing, "Woo hoo!"

Limerick shook his head, "She never ceases to amaze me."

"We're clear of the field." Havelick announced.

"Let's go to work." Limerick called out.

The Monitor and the Merrimack entered the fray with pulse phasers blazing. They made short work of the remaining raiders. Two managed to break away and they started to flee. Limerick called off any pursuit. The two escorts were put on near space patrol.

The Hood launched fighters before settling into orbit. The Citadel's Type V phaser cannons opened fire and began barraging the starship. Rascal Lead and Rascal Squadron were tasked with neutralising the threat.

"Rascal Lead to Rascal Six. Tighten up the formation." Jones ordered. The Rascals were flying the Double Delta. Six fighters to each formation.

The squadron flew the new Lightning-class fighter. It was named after the famed P-38 Lightning of Earth's early days of aviation. The space fighter superficially resembled the hallowed legend and hence the name.

"Rascal Lead to Rascals," Jones began issuing instructions, "Delta Two, assume Combat Air Patrol positions. Keep the skies clear while Delta One engages the target. Delta One form up on me and ready torpedoes. We're rolling in on target. Fifteen seconds out... Ten seconds... Five seconds... Three, two, one, Tally ho!"

The Type V blew apart while charging up for another burst. The resultant explosion rocked the fortress to its base. The Rascals joined their comrades in the air and secured the local airspace while monitoring ground traffic.

"What the hell was that?" T'Kir exclaimed as she steadied herself.

"Someone destroyed the phaser mount atop this facility." Dracas answered.

"And how do you know that?" T'Kir was incredulous.

"Phaser banks make a distinctive sound when they're destroyed." Dracas explained, "That was that sound."

"You're amazing, y'know that?" T'Kir asked.

"Of course I do." Dracas replied.

T'Kir grinned, "Ah, a type of modesty I can relate to. Are you almost done?"

"The overload from the phaser's destruction scrammed the reactor." Dracas replied, "My work was done for me."

"Whatever works." T'Kir counselled. Her console beeped and she withdrew an isolinear rod, "Now I'm done."

"Now what?" Dracas wondered.

"Now we bust heads and start takin' names." T'Kir resolved.

"I like it." Dracas smiled, "Where do we start?"

T'Kir tapped her comm badge, "T'Kir to Macen."

There was no reply so she tried again. Frowning, she tapped her comm badge again, "T'Kir to Daggit."

She repeated the request to no avail. Finally she tried Radil.

"What do you want?" a harried sounding Radil answered.

"Where are you?" T'Kir asked.

"I'm in the reactor room with half of the building's security force right outside the door trying to get in." Radil replied and then she swore.

"You all right?" T'Kir asked.

"Sure." Radil grumped, "Never better. Why don't you do something useful rather than pester me?"

"We're on our way." T'Kir promised and closed the line.

"Let's get going." Dracas was eager for some action.

"Waitaminute." T'Kir advised, "We've got company."

"Roger that, Commander Riker." Vaughn said, "I have their landing coordinates. I'm dispatching teams now."

Vaughn signalled the transporter rooms where the teams waited. He transferred the landing site coordinates to each. Covert One would be tasked with tracing Macen's team's steps. Covert Two would proceed to the main entrance and attempt a penetration.

Covert One was comprised of team leader, Lt. Commander Stan Guthrie, Lieutenant T'Kris, Master Chief Kell Seemus, Chief Petty Officer Thrall Beckham, Petty Officer Sally Forthright, and Petty Officer "Merrill" Thermer'rillyst. Vaughn had personally selected them for their task. They had all familiarised themselves with Macen, T'Kir, Daggit, and Radil's sanitised personnel jackets.

They gathered together on the transporter pads. They were alert and ready for anything. They disappeared in a halo of energy...

...and reappeared on the executive landing pad. Once they were done coalescing, they fanned out and appraised their situation. The two corpses by the fortress' entrance immediately stood out. They cautiously approached the bodies and inspected them.

"They are not members of Captain Macen's usual landing party." T'Kris decided, "Nor are they members of his crew." T'Kris had been tasked with familiarising herself with Macen's crew roster. If she tacitly declared these two to be hostiles, so be it. Her word was law.

Guthrie gave the signal and the Covert One team entered the facility by twos. In the lead Kell had his rifle poised while Thrall scanned the area with a tricorder. The two had served together in the same cell of the Bajoran Resistance. They had joined the Bajoran Militia's Special Forces and served there until they were offered a chance to join Starfleet. There, they quickly proved their mettle.

Guthrie and Merrill followed. Behind them T'Kris and Forthright brought up the rear. They slowly proceeded along until Thrall detected lifesigns in the Reading Nook. Thrall showed his readings to Guthrie who nodded his assent to storming the Nook.

T'Kir and Dracas had returned to their hiding spots. They waited for the imminent rush of bodies. Dracas had his sword drawn since it would be close quarters fighting. The psychological effect of having a Roman soldier hacking his way through the troops would also work in their favour.

Just as Kell, Thrall and Guthrie came storming into the room T'Kir jumped out for her hiding spot with her hands raised and her phaser holstered, "Don't shoot! I'm one of the good guys."

Guthrie hesitated, "T'Kir?"

"Bingo! You win a cookie." T'Kir snapped off a lazy salute, "You can come out Joachim. They're Starfleet. They're here to rescue us."

"Joachim?" Guthrie's voice perked up.

Dracas stepped out and exclaimed, "Stan!" He rushed forward and he and Guthrie embraced. Guthrie's teammates, unused to a public display of affection from their leader, gaped.

Detaching himself from Dracas' embrace Guthrie began rattling off, "What are you doing here? I thought you'd be aboard the Obsidian."

"My services were required here." Dracas offered, "As apparently are yours."

"My team's involvement has been planned since the beginning of your mission to Mityr." Guthrie explained.

"If I may," Dracas asked, "how did your team find us?"

"We picked up your biosigns with a tricorder." Guthrie answered.

"Damn." Dracas' shoulders slumped, "And here I'd been thinking the sensor shrouds were working."

"I think they were at one point." T'Kir said, "Those goons that stormed past us earlier didn't know we were here."

"Interesting." Dracas mused.

"Time to be a soldier and not an engineer." Guthrie jested.

Dracas sobered up, "Of course."

"Where are your teammates?" Guthrie asked T'Kir.

"Brin and Daggit are in the command module but we haven't been able to contact them." She replied.

"And this module is located...?" Guthrie asked.

"1st tier, second level." T'Kir answered, "I'll show you."

"Isn't there normally another member of the team?" Guthrie enquired.

T'Kir nodded, "That'd be Radil. She's pinned down in the reactor room."

"Sounds unhealthy." Guthrie grimaced.

"The reactor is shut down." Dracas revealed, "Everything is operating off of the emergency batteries."

Guthrie turned to Dracas, "Do you know where the reactor is located?"

"I will lead the way." Dracas assured him.

"T'Kris, take Thrall and Merrill with you and follow Chief Dracas to the reactor room and extricate his teammate." Guthrie ordered, "Seemus and Forthright, you're with me. We will assist T'Kir in assisting Captain Macen."

 

Chapter Thirty-Five

Daggit reeled as Ryst's heel slammed into his face as she completed her back spin kick. Ryst was faster and more agile. She landed a dozen blows to every one of Daggit's.

Unfortunately for Ryst, she was 5'4" to his 6'4". This meant she had to work twice as hard to land many of her blows. As things stood, Daggit was getting punchy but Ryst was starting to get winded. He blinked and shook his head to clear the mental cobwebs.

Ryst surged forward and delivered two more left jabs to his heads followed by a vicious right cross. Daggit went down onto one knee. Gathering all of his strength he threw a massive roundhouse blow. Ryst was knocked off of her feet but she nimbly got back up. Daggit's head fell and his shoulders slumped.

Ryst stood over him, "I told you Rab. You can't beat me. Just let me go. I swear I won't ever come after Macen or any member of his crew again."

Daggit lifted his head, "Not good enough."

The walls, ceiling, and floor shook. The lights winked off and then came back on. Ryst grimaced, "Time to decide Rab. I'm leaving whether you try to stop me or not."

"No, you're not." Daggit started to rise. Ryst removed a small ball from her belt, closed her eyes and dropped it. The flashbomb went off with a blinding intensity. Daggit cried out and tried to shield his eyes with his hands.

Ryst delivered a powerful kick to his head, toppling him. She then grabbed his grenade launcher and her own phaser and ran out of the command centre. Daggit lolled on the floor desperately trying to recover his vision. Ryst ran for all she was worth and never looked back.

Macen bounced off of the wall and back into Sindis' waiting fist. Macen went to the floor but he was still conscious. Moving with unfocused deliberation he rose to his feet and turned to face Sindis. The Iridian smiled.

"Vaughn is a better fighter but I think you are more tenacious." Sindis chuckled, "I shall enjoying breaking you."

Sindis struck Macen in the head almost felling the El-Aurian again, "You and your Federation are to blame for my endeavors. Your collective goal is to take things. Oh, you're far too benighted and evolved to covet crass material gains. Instead, you suffer from intellectual greed. You want to know everything." Sindis declared, "Don't you know there's a limit to mortal knowledge? You pursue meaningless abstracts like truth, justice, and harmony. Let me reify these for you: I am those things! I will make them a reality for you...all of you. All you have to do is submit."

The building shook and the lights flickered. Sindis was annoyed, "It seems you've recruited help. I must cut our meeting short, Captain. Stand aside."

"No." Macen slurred, "I can't let you leave."

Sindis tried to step around him. Macen unloaded a right cross, followed by another. A left roundhouse pummelled Sindis followed by another tremendous right. Sindis stepped back and wiped his nose and mouth. Cerulean blood pooled on his hand.

"Foolish, Captain." Sindis snarled and snapped off a vicious kick into Macen's chest.

Macen sailed over the desk and into the wall. He fell to the floor. Sindis shook his head and started around the desk. Chuckling, Macen rose to his feet. In his hand was his long lost phaser.

"Do you know how long it's taken me to get you to throw me over that desk?" Macen said in mocking tones.

Sindis was outraged, "How dare you pull a gun on me!"

"You're twice as strong, twice as fast, and twice the fighter that I am and you expect me to fist fight with you?" Macen scornfully asked.

Sindis' face twisted with hate but he fell silent. Macen warned him, "This phaser is set on maximum disrupt. That would even kill an Angosian."

Sindis lunged forward and Macen shot him. Sindis fell to the floor with a gurgle. Macen shrugged, "You shouldn't have tested me."

Just then, Daggit stumbled in. Macen shifted his aim from the Angosian to the floor, "Are you all right?"

Daggit nodded, "Mostly. She used a flashbomb to get past me. I'm still seeing spots."

"Any word on the others?" Macen moved away from the desk and leaned up against the wall next to the door.

"T'Kir is on her way with Starfleet reinforcements." Daggit's vision began to clear, "Are you all right? You look like you've been beaten half to death."

"You have no idea." Macen sighed, "Why don't you greet T'Kir. I think I'll just stay here and hold up this wall."

"You couldn't hold up dried paint." Daggit commented.

"Just go." Macen tiredly requested, "I'll be fine."

Daggit reluctantly exited the office space. Macen turned and noticed there was something odd about Sindis' corpse. The odd thing was that it was standing behind the desk and grinning.

"Farewell, Captain." Sindis said as he took his seat, "Better luck next time."

Macen raised his pistol but his vision was so blurry and his grip was so shaky he couldn't properly aim. Sindis keyed a sequence into the comp/comm and a portal opened up beneath Sindis' feet. The chair's seat dropped and Sindis found himself sliding into the tunnel revealed by the portal. Once inside he slid into an egg shaped jetpod that rocketed away to a safehouse hundreds of kilometres away.

Meanwhile, Macen's vision began to tunnel and he struggled to exit Sindis' office. As he cleared the doorway he heard T'Kir call out to him. He could sense, and hear, the concern emanating from her. He smiled wanly and tried to be chipper.

"How're you doing?" he enquired.

"Elements!" T'Kir exclaimed, "Brin! What happened to you?"

"Oh, m'fine." Macen was delirious, "Just havin' trouble focusing. I'll b'fine inna minute." With that, Macen collapsed.

"Brin!" T'Kir shrieked, "Elements!!! Somebody help!"

Guthrie and Forthright rushed to their side. Forthright, who was cross-trained as a medic, scanned Macen's still form, "He has a severe concussion, massive internal haemorrhaging. Most of his bones are fractured...several are acute breaks." She looked up at Guthrie, "He's going into shock. We need to evac him to medical facilities."

"Break out the stretcher." Guthrie ordered and then he tapped his comm badge, "Guthrie to T'Kris."

The Vulcan's cool voice came back a few minutes later, "T'Kris here, Commander. How may I be of assistance?"

"I need a sitrep." Guthrie informed her, marvelling at the serenity in her voice.

T'Kris' voice did not change one iota as she delivered the requested situation report, "We have met Covert Two. They have pursued the bulk of the facility's security forces as they fled to our present location. We now have the opposition caught in a crossfire."

"How're our two SID agents?" Guthrie asked.

"They seem satisfied with the turn of events." T'Kris replied.

That, Guthrie mused, was typical T'Kris. Succinct bordering on cryptic. After all, which of the pair seemed satisfied with what events? A little personal information would be nice.

Stop it. Guthrie chided himself; You're only doing this because Joachim's down there. Realising the truth of his observation, he subsided, "Good work T'Kris. Carry on. By the by, our team is bugging out. Captain Macen requires immediate medical attention. Are you certain Level One is clear?"

"Covert Two seemed confidant of their declaration." T'Kris answered.

"We'll trust their judgement." He decided, "Guthrie out."

He turned to see that Forthright and Seemus had extended and adjusted the stretcher. They gingerly lifted Macen and placed him atop of it. Daggit intervened at that point.

"I'll take that Master Chief." He said, "It sounds as though we may need an extra gunhand. My vision is still too spotty to be reliable. I can carry my Captain though. More to the point, my duty lies with him."

Seemus approved of this sentiment and acceded to the request. Daggit took the rear of the stretcher, carrying Macen's chest and upper torso, and lifted as Forthright did the same. With T'Kir leading the way they hustled Macen out of the centre and off towards the Citadel's main entrance.

After fleeing from the command bunker, Ryst went to a nearby stairwell. She crept the door open and discreetly listened. Echoing down the well came T'Kir's voice. Joining it were other voices, presumably Starfleet officers. After all, Macen's group couldn't have destroyed the phaser banks on their own.

Ryst slowly closed the door. She'd meant what she said to Daggit. She'd no longer try to kill Macen or his team. That included fighting with them.

Ryst had failed the last wishes of Robhurt B'nner and through him his son Daveed. She decided she didn't care. The path of vengeance led to her own early grave. She had her life and she had a bright new future to explore. She was determined to enjoy it.

Now, she just had to disappear. Starfleet wouldn't remain on Mityr forever. Once they were gone, and before Sindis could reassert control, she'd board her runabout and be away from here.

She slipped further down the corridor and entered an adjoining stairwell. She then climbed the stairs to the floor with the entrance to the executive landing platform. Between fighting Daggit and taking the stairs two at a time, she was feeling quite tired.

As she passed the pirate corpses, she realized her fatigue ran deeper than her joints and marrow. Her very soul ached. She fought the urge to laugh at herself. It had been years since she had believed in anything as ethereal as a soul. Maybe she was in for more drastic changes within herself then she'd initially expected.

Ryst crossed the landing platform and reached her runabout. Her voice recognition system coupled with her biosignature reader recognized her and granted her access to the runabout's interior. She sealed and locked the door behind her.

She moved to the cockpit and brought up auxiliary power. The ship had been resting on standby. This move would bring up all of the power systems. She placed the warp core on standby and moved out of the cockpit.

Slipping out of her clothes, she took a shower. Next she applied a dermal regenerator to her bruised and battered body. She simply dressed in a terrycloth robe and proceeded to her multimedia suite. She wasn't normally a fan of fictional distractions but the complimentary selections included several documentaries and textbooks. She engrossed herself in them and forgot about the world outside.

 

Chapter Thirty-Six

Guthrie's party exited the Citadel. They'd travelled its corridors unmolested and could now contact the ships in orbit. T'Kir immediately tapped her comm badge.

"T'Kir to Obsidian."

"Obsidian here." Came the Ops Officer's voice.

"Patch me in to the transporter room." T'Kir instructed.

"Roger that." Came the somewhat harried reply.

"T'Kir to Telrik." T'Kir said.

"Telrik here." Came the Tellarite's gruff reply. The tone softened somewhat with his next words, "How can I help you?"

"We have a medical emergency." T'Kir explained, "We need to be transported to Sickbay."

"I'll alert them that you're coming." Telrik replied, "Stand by for my signal."

The advantages of being an Emergency Medical Hologram, Tessa decided, included not feeling fatigued or overwhelmed by treating nearly half the crew for injuries in just under an hour. That included the Captain, who was far more severely injured than any of her other patients.

She'd forced Daggit to accept treatment from a nurse. His injuries, while far from minor, were not life threatening. Macen's were.

His broken ribs and sternum threatened his vital organs while his concussion and case of shock could prove fatal at any moment. A humanoid body could only withstand so much regeneration in a day. Macen bones would be healed but his bruises, internal and external, would have to heal the old fashioned way...and he was bruised from head to toe.

The trauma team had to cut his clothes off of him and drape a sheet over him for modesty's sake. Seeing Macen's battered form naked nearly brought T'Kir to tears. She stoically swallowed her grief and stood by as Tessa explained everything to her. Her mind reeled with each new revelation.

Grace rushed into Sickbay and took T'Kir into her arms. She guided T'Kir to an empty chair and sat her down. She saw to T'Kir's own forgotten needs even as Tessa and her specialists saw after Macen...

Guthrie, Seemus, and Forthright were met in the corridor outside of Sickbay by Danan. She graced them with a warm smile, "You look a little lost."

"No, ma'am." Guthrie replied, "We know the ship's layout."

"That's not what I meant." Danan corrected him, "Follow me and I'll show you where you can settle and wait for the rest of your team."

"We really should be returning to the Hood..." Guthrie trailed.

"Captain Limerick has made an allowance for you to stay aboard long enough to greet our Chief Engineer."

Guthrie blushed, "Yes, ma'am."

"Good boy." Danan patted him on the shoulder, "Now if you three would follow me?"

"Sorry but it looks as though we won't be able replace the warp core anytime soon." Riker informed Limerick, "Our entire Engineering department is busy bolstering a nacelle brace and sealing a hull breach."

"But no one is EVA?" Limerick was concerned.

Riker shook his head, "No. From this point on everything is interior work."

"Good." Limerick decided, "Captain Hev of the Monitor has reported that four Conglomerate heavies are in bound. Our orders are to avoid engagements or entanglements with the local authorities. We'll have to tow you. We can still make warp three with the tractor beam engaged."

"Whatever works." Riker chuckled, "I just don't want to get left behind."

Limerick laughed, "No worries there, Commander. We're bringing you to DS3 whether you want to be there or not."

"We're all looking forward to it." Riker grinned, "Trust me."

"I'll leave you to it then." Limerick signed off and turned to Vaughn, "So neither Covert One or Two confirmed Sindis' death?"

"He's not dead." Vaughn grimaced, "Trust me on this."

"I do." Limerick admitted, "That's what depresses me."

"Cheer up, Merry." Vaughn extolled, "You'll get another crack at him."

"I suppose." Limerick said and then straightened up, "Prepare tractor beam!"

Vaughn smiled as his Elvin friend issued orders and prepared for departure. He exited the bridge and returned to his guest quarters. His bones ached and the doctor had been nagging him to get some rest. He'd done his part in the mission and it hadn't been good enough. Maybe it was time to consider retirement after all...

The Hood tractored the Obsidian and set out. The Monitor and the Merrimack went ahead of them to run interference. Half of the Rascals were deployed around the carrier and her wounded kin. The rest were on alert.

The squadron proceeded to Deep Space 3. They weren't harassed and they met no opposition. They simply disappeared into the night.

Sindis wandered around the vacated command bunker in the massive Citadel complex. He motioned for Gaston to attend him and the faithful lieutenant dutifully snapped to, "Yes, my Lord?"

"Any word on Annika Ryst?" Sindis asked.

"None." Gaston answered, "A runabout matching the description of her ship took off and departed the system while our forces were securing the planet."

"Pity." Sindis mused, "I suppose she's on her own then."

Sindis brightened and turned to Gaston, "Any word from the Syndicate dons?"

"Yessir." Gaston replied, "They are outraged at Starfleet's blatant disregard for interstellar law. They stand united behind and look forward to your arrival."

This amused Sindis, "They really referred to a 'blatant disregard for interstellar law'?"

"Yes, sir."

Sindis chuckled, "Ironic coming from a criminal organisation."

Gaston grinned, "Yes, sir!"

"Come, Gaston." Sindis beckoned for the Lantilian to follow him, "There is always tomorrow. We have a coronation to prepare for."

"Yes, sir."

The following day found Macen sitting atop an examination table in Sickbay... His shirt was off and his body was an ugly purple/black/blue mass. He fidgeted while Tessa examined him.

"C'mon Tessa," he wheedled, "you've already had me here overnight. What else can you do?"

"I'm prescribing hot soaks, a highly modified regimen of exercise and stretches, and no strenuous activity of any kind."

T'Kir looked crestfallen at the last. Macen meekly acceded, "I don't feel like arguing much less disobeying."

"Good." Tessa huffed and deactivated herself.

A wry expression crossed Macen's face, "That's goodbye then."

"Shhhh. She can still hear you." T'Kir warned.

"So can I." Drake warned as the door finished cycling.

Macen scrutinised her wheelchair laden form and he knelt beside her, "Amanda, I'm so sorry."

"Ye gods, Brin," Drake chuckled darkly, "have you seen yourself lately? I'm the one that's sorry that you got ordered in there on my behalf."

"Amanda," Macen took her hand and squeezed, "I would have paid a greater price for you and never looked back."

Drake blinked back sudden tears and she looked up at T'Kir. T'Kir smiled warmly, "We all would have. But, just the same, I'm glad we didn't have to."

Drake unsuccessfully fought a sniffle, "All right. Put your shirt on. You look like a Jackson Pollock."

Macen slipped his Henley back on, "Do you have plans?"

"I plan on having lunch with you two." Drake declared, "And then we're going to inspect your guest suite."

Macen looked at T'Kir, "Do you have our bags packed?"

The Obsidian's crew was being housed on DS3 while the ship underwent repairs. The repairs would require two weeks. Macen had slated three weeks for their layover. They needed the rest, he'd decided. After that they were headed home.

"They're waiting at the airlock." T'Kir replied.

Macen kissed her, "Let's get going then."

Three weeks passed and the Obsidian passed her trials. The Outbound Ventures ship returned to Barrinor and her crew scattered. Macen and T'Kir took the Idiot's Delight and set course for DS9. After arriving, they paid a visit to Vaughn.

As the lift to Ops settled, Vaughn looked up from the report he was reading. Ruefully he asked, "Ro?"

"And Kira." Macen answered with an easy smile, "Want to talk?"

"Edgars!" Vaughn called out.

"Yo!"

"You have the watch." Vaughn informed him. He joined Macen and T'Kir on the lift and it descended.

Ro joined them at Quark's. They then proceeded to the holosuite containing Vic's Lounge. Vic Fontaine cut a jam session short to visit them.

"Hey Pallie," Fontaine said to Vaughn, "you've been hidin' out on me."

"I didn't mean..." Vaughn started to protest.

"Don't kid a kidder, chum." Fontaine warned, "You've been a Gloomy Gus and you're afraid this particular flashbulb is gonna cheer you up. Am I right?"

"You just sit here and order up." Fontaine urged, "Anything you want...on the house. Me and the boys are gonna continue with our little session. Don't mind us."

Vaughn reluctantly smiled, "I knew there was a reason I was avoiding this place."

"So what's on your mind, Elias?" Macen asked.

"Not wasting any time, eh Brin?" Vaughn chuckled mirthlessly.

"I really don't see the point in wasting time." Macen confessed, "So give."

"We've covered this ground before." Vaughn sighed, "I'm just wondering whether or not it's time to hang up my spurs."

"Let me ask you this: do you want Sindis to win?" Macen angrily asked.

"What?" Vaughn was startled.

"Do you want to quit Starfleet because Bertram Sindis has scared you into resigning?" Macen demanded.

"No." Vaughn growled.

"I didn't here that." Macen replied.

"No." Vaughn declared.

"I still can't hear you!" Macen yelled.

"No!" Vaughn yelled back.

"Are you a quitter?" Macen shouted.

"No!" Vaughn stormed.

"Are you gonna get the bastard?" Macen demanded.

"Yes!!!" Vaughn shouted from his toes. The cry for vengeance was plain.

Macen and Vaughn stood, eyes blazing, staring at one another. Macen spoke, "We'll get him. You and I, together, we'll take him down. He'll never do this to us again. Just don't quit. If you quit, you lose him. Understand? You'll lose him."

Vaughn's resolve was back and he looked forged from iron, "I understand."

"Then let's party!" Macen declared.

Harry Drumdore cautiously approached the office. He'd never done this sort of thing before. What if he were doing it wrong?

He hesitated. The sign on the door read: CELESTE ROCKFORD – PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR. Drumdore had checked up on Rockford. Normally there was a sign hanging on the door stating that Rockford was offworld on a case.

Drumdore considered himself fortunate that she was in. Her reputation was impeccable. Entire agencies survived off of the caseload crumbs she couldn't handle or accept. Drumdore prayed that she would hear him out as he opened the door. A receptionist took his name and a cursory outline of his problem and led him to a seat.

Fifteen minutes later, Annika Ryst appeared and stuck out her hand, "Hello Mr. Drumdore. I'm Celeste Rockford. How can I help?"

 


Proceed to Epilogue

 

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